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try everything once, including grilled cabbage

September 4th, 2013 | 2 Comments »

It’s pretty rare that I won’t try something new. For food, that’s a given; and I’m willing to try most everything once. You can never say that you don’t like something if you never try it, and more often than not, you should try a food a minimum of five times before declaring it off limits. Certain foods, however, I have taken one bite, just to say “I’ve tried this.” but there was never any chance of a repeat performance.

Like beef tongue. And for the record, I realize that it’s ‘beef’. But when you walk in to your culinary class at 6:45am, bleary eyed and in search of coffee and a massive, pale, gross looking slug of WHAT-THE-HELL-IS-THAT??? is laying on the counter, to which your instructor glibly tells you ‘That’s beef tongue.’, it truly turns your stomach. You cannot even imagine how enormous the tongue of a cow is unless it’s laying on the counter in front of you. Think of what you see, then add about 18 inches. Plus, cooking that thing is…. pungent. Then you have to peel it, and that’s as horrible as it sounds, because it’s truly wretched when you hear, and see it happening. I asked my instructor if my grade would be based on eating the beef tongue and he shook his head, thankfully. I took one taste, though, fresh with the memory of that pale slug looking thing, and the ripping of skin in my head and that was the end of that.

These days, the list of foods that I eat is extensive, no more surprising that 90% of them, I’m betting, were foods I didn’t touch even 10 years ago; beets, fennel, tomato, chard, spinach, mushrooms, eggplant (jury is still out on that one), salmon, onions, squash (both varieties), fresh herbs, olive oil, coconut oil, nuts…. it just goes on and on. The expansion of your palate will never be a quick and perfect thing, and that’s ok. As long as you never stop trying new foods, new methods of cooking foods and keeping an open mind to it all, there may come a day when mushrooms are on your plate because YOU put them there. This is no more surprising to me than being jabbed with a pin, as mushrooms were so revolting to me for so long that I nearly gagged just being in the same room with them.

My work allows me a constant window to people’s eating quirks. And even after 2-1/2 years at this  job, I still am surprised to come across food aversions. I’m not talking about avoidance for health reasons, such as lactose or gluten issues, I’m talking about people who visibly shudder when I serve salmon. “It’s fishy.” is the standard response. And they don’t want to hear that it’s only fishy when it isn’t fresh. That the cooking method goes miles towards making it taste good. That even if they haven’t eaten it in 20 years, they really should try it again. Once someone makes up their mind that they don’t like a food, it’s pointless to even open their minds again.

And that’s sad. If that had been me 10 years ago, my life, my meals and my mind would be terribly stagnant. And what’s the worse that can happen? You make a dish and end up not liking it? Maybe it was the method. The seasonings. It was overcooked, or undercooked. Did anyone really love kale the first time they ate it? I sure didn’t. But I kept on trying, because if nothing is ventured, nothing is gained.  Which brings me to Grilled Cabbage.

My only exposure to warm cabbage in a meal was when I was young and the corned beef with cabbage dinner was prepared in our house. The smell was nauseating, and I couldn’t eat the pale, limp cabbage that was the result. With this memory, I’m not sure how I decided that grilling it might be better, but I’m always willing to take a shot and see what I hit. Something about that additional smoky grilled taste caught in my head, and I drizzled olive oil over sliced cabbage in an oven safe skillet and sprinkled it with a bit of sea salt.

Then I set the entire pan in the middle of a very full grill.

This was totally new for me, and I wasn’t even sure I would like it, but I let it brown all over, tossing it occasionally with tongs as it cooked. When it seemed tender, but still a bit crisp, I took it off the heat and scattered a handful of crumbled blue cheese on it.

A tentative first bite, and contemplative chew revealed the smoky taste I was looking for, and a surprisingly crisp yield. A pop of blue cheese sealed the result; it was really good. Unbelievably, outrageously good; so good that I ate the entire pan, a half head of Napa cabbage, along with the rest of my dinner.

You know when you’ve had something extraordinary happen, and it seems to fill you with a sense of wonder? Like the air around you has shifted and you can almost feel a change taking hold of you? This, coupled with the start of September, a new month, and all around me seeing my friends children go off to school in new clothes, to new schools, from new homes and new states and begin brand new experiences and somewhere inside you, this time of year says ‘What was will never be the same again.’

And I don’t think I’ll look at a plain head of cabbage again, now that I know what heat and smoke can do to it. So try something new, and keep your mind open to possibilities and just TRY those foods that you maybe once hated, that maybe made you gag or roll your eyes. You just never know, do you?

What are some foods that you eat now that you once couldn’t stand??

Grilled Cabbage

Napa cabbage, shredded, but not too fine
Olive Oil
Sea Salt
Blue cheese crumbles (or feta, if you are so inclined)

Heat grill to high, or prepare coals to make a good hot base.

In an oven safe skillet, or a cast iron pan, lay cabbage in one layer as best as possible. It will shrink a bit, so you can wedge it together at the beginning. Drizzle with about 1/4 cup of olive oil and sprinkle with a teaspoon of sea salt, or to taste. Place pan on grill grate and shut the lid. (Remember…. the handle will be HOT. Keep an oven mitt or towel close by, with a set of tongs)

Allow to sit, undisturbed, for about 15 minutes, then toss lightly, pressing it back to one layer. This helps with the browning, which provides tons of flavor. Cook, tossing occasionally, until cabbage is wilted and browned all over. How long you cook it depends on how crisp or soft you wish it to be. My pan was probably on the grill for (maybe) a half hour, possibly less, and the end result was crisp, but still tender.

Remove from heat and toss blue cheese on top. Allow to cool slightly, and consume warm. Season with pepper, if need be.

grilled bok choy

July 10th, 2013 | 2 Comments »

We rolled right in to July with perfect Summer weather. Our CSA share started too, and we’ve been enjoying a lot of wonderfully fresh organic fare, including some large and sumptuous heads of Bok Choy (Joi Choi). I promptly split one in half, dropped it on a searing hot grill and called it dinner.


Come in to my kitchen…

pizza like you’ve never seen before

July 20th, 2011 | 6 Comments »

I do realize that’s a pretty strong statement, given the evolution of pizza from your basic tomato pie with sausage or pepperoni to the amazing creations available at any number of fancy wood and coal-fired joints around town. Pizza is one of those food items that’s tireless in it’s ability to transform itself, often gravitating out to an entire new plain before charging back to it’s humble beginnings once more. What’s old is new again, right? Pizza. Hand held food, and a very personal statement if ever one existed. Everyone has their own ideas about what makes good pizza; what kind of sauce tastes best, what toppings make for the most flavor, the amount of cheese, thin crust or thick, crunchy or soft.

My personal favorite was always sausage, green pepper and black olive. Something about that combination made perfect sense to my mouth. I could handle pepperoni, plain with no additions but given a choice, sausage ruled. The cheese had to be ample, enough to stretch happily out from the crust as I bit in to it, and it always, always needed several shakes of grated parmesan cheese on top. I can still put away a few slices of this perennial favorite, but my tummy wouldn’t be too happy with me. These days, I’m far more content to cover my pizza crust (thin, but not crispy) with a number of vegetables and a much less substantial amount of cheese. I’ve been known to eschew pizza sauce in favor or pesto, or no sauce at all. I’ve rubbed crushed roasted garlic over the crust before placing the toppings on it and I’ve tried lots of variations on the pizza theme, including dessert pizza. I may grow and evolve with my tastes, but I still love pizza. And often I think that I’ve tried most ways possible to eat the ultimate hand-held meal.

Then I made this pizza:

And wow, did I realize how wrong I was.

Because all the pizza I’d made involved creating a pie with toppings that baked in the oven. A scatter of diced red peppers, chunks of portabella mushrooms, spinach leaves etc etc…. you place them on the crust and let the oven do it’s work.

This pizza, however, required a bit of foresight. The tomatoes must be roasted ahead of time, and the mushrooms need a nice dousing of good balsamic vinegar and a turn on a superbly hot grill before they can be placed on your pizza crust, covered with a bit of cheese and given a quick dash in to a scorching 500° oven. But the prep is worth it; this pizza has more incredible flavor than what might normally be rendered from placing regular cherry tomatoes and portabella mushrooms on pizza crust.

Recently, I attended a dinner at Levain in Minneapolis, and one of the courses was served with roasted balsamic oyster and shiitake mushrooms. I’m learning to enjoy mushrooms in many forms, having been one of those foods that I simply could not eat for a very long time. But given that I grew up with canned mushrooms in my meals, really, can you blame me? I am a recent convert to balsamic grilled portabella mushrooms at home, loving how flavorful they are, and these mushrooms at Levain delighted me to no end. In fact, many of the other attendees to this dinner stated that these deliciously flavored mushrooms turned them around from their dislike of the fungi and made them happy fanatics. I was in heaven, savoring each tender, savory bite and in the days since, dreamed of those mushrooms gracing my dinner plate.

Then along came this pizza. With tomatoes slowly roasted in the oven until they sizzled and popped. But it needed something else, a rich deep something to balance that tender sweet flavor and these mushrooms, liberally doused in balsamic and olive oil, then cooked lickety-split on a searing hot grill made for a heavenly companion.

The cherry tomatoes themselves are created with enough flavor to please all on their own; a quick toss with crushed garlic, thinly sliced shallot and a generous handful of panko breadcrumbs, they are then dressed in a bit of olive oil and some fresh thyme and set under the broiler. The heat renders the cherry tomatoes sweeter than you could imagine, with a nice crumb mixture, bits of crunchy shallot and garlic, and here’s where I think the pizza reaches new heights because that browned, seasoned bread crumb on top of your pizza crust makes for a flavor  you just can’t get from bread alone.

It all just requires a bit more thought. And every bite is worth it too. Even a few days later as I pulled the last slice from the fridge and ate it cold. It was all worth it.

What’s your absolute favorite way to eat pizza?

Pizza with Charred Cherry Tomato & Balsamic Mushrooms

2 pints cherry tomatoes, washed.
1/2 c. panko bread crumbs
4 cloves garlic, smashed and crushed
2 shallots, thinly sliced
1-2 t. fresh thyme
1 pkg Portabella mushrooms slices
1/4 c. olive oil
2 T. good quality balsamic vinegar

Pizza dough and cheese topping of choice

Preheat your broiler. In a bowl, combine the cherry tomato, panko, garlic, shallot and thyme. Season to taste with salt and pepper and drizzle the mixture with about 2-3 tablespoon of olive oil. Toss gently to coat. Spread mixture on a large cookie sheet and place under the broiler, watching carefully, until the tomatoes begin to sizzle, and brown in spots. It should take maybe 10 minutes or so, being careful not to allow the panko to burn. Remove from the oven and set aside.

Whisk 1/4 c. oil and the balsamic together until emulsified. Pour over the mushrooms in a bowl, and gently toss with a rubber spatula until all the emulsion is absorbed. Do not add more oil or vinegar. The mushrooms can be grilled, or they can also be broiled until they are richly browned and tender.

Heat your oven to 500° and if you have a pizza stone, heat it in the oven for up to 30 minutes. Roll out your pizza dough to desired size and thickness on parchment paper. Scoop some of the cherry tomato mixture on to the crust, then scatter the mushrooms. Add your cheese and place parchment on heated pizza stone. Bake the pizza until crust is golden and topping sizzle. It shouldn’t take long at all.

Original recipe from Food & Wine, with heavy modifications.

Kate says: I used a pizza dough recipe from Cooks Illustrated. Wish I could give it to you but they don’t like it when bloggers share their recipes, the meanies. Any scratch pizza dough you like will work.

grilled guacamole

July 23rd, 2010 | 11 Comments »

No, that isn’t a misprint. I made guacamole on the grill.


The idea came from The Minimalist’s 101 Grilling ideas column in the New York Times Dining section, and since we’re huge fans of Guacamole in this house, it wasn’t long before the desire to create it, and the assembled ingredients were ready for my initial attempt.

I’m no stranger to grilling onions or tomatoes. In previous summers, I’ve made a topping for bruschetta with grilled tomato and sweet onions that I’ve devoured shamelessly, and this summer for some reason, the desire for grilled onions on any number of dishes has been almost an obsession. I’m finding more and more to like about onions, whether they’re roasted, caramelized in a pan or like this, charred and slightly smoky from the grill.

There’s no technique to making this Guacamole at all. The key is mostly in preparing the items for the grill. Tomato and avocado should be ripe, but not too ripe due to the fact that they soften intensely on the grill. My avocados were more firm than I would have chosen for a standard preparation, but they worked beautifully in the intense heat of the grill. Carve them in half and remove the pit, then brush a little oil over them. Halve your tomatoes, and slice the onions into thick rounds so they are easy to handle. Give those a smear of oil too.  And be sure not to forget the limes! They become a sweeter version of their usual tart self from the heat of the flames.

Place all the items face down on the grill. And here’s where your personal preference will come in. Do you like a lightly toasted taste? Or do you prefer a nice grill-marked char? Do be careful about the tomato; if you overdo it, it will collapse into the fire. I prefer to put the tomato on the hottest part of the grill and watch it carefully until I notice the edges beginning to soften just a little, becoming dark where it touches the grill. I flip it over and let it cook for a few more minutes, then remove it to a pan to rest. The skin usually comes off.

For the rest of the items, leave them in place until they are nicely marked and beginning to soften. Turn the avocado over so the peel side is down on the grate and cook them until they become soft and compliant. Flip over the lime halves too so the rind is down, and watch for the pulp to almost collapse. At this point, you’re not going to get juice from the limes, but you will get a deliciously smoky lime pulp for your Guacamole that gives it that familiar and tangy ‘Zing!’ that only a good lime can offer. And those onions can be cooked to any degree you wish.

Once you’ve got all the grilling done, allow everything to cool off. Chop the tomato and onion, scoop out the avocado and squeeze the limes into a bowl. Do be cautious of the amount of lime you put in; remember that the pulp will become more intense from being heated, and you may not need as much as you think. Add in whatever seasonings you prefer.

There was no photo of the finished version of this Guacamole because, well…. Guacamole all mixed up isn’t exactly photogenic. It didn’t look any different than what you would make normally, but the flavor was stunning. Smoky and rich, it had depth that I wouldn’t have imagined Guacamole could have. Everything became sweeter, and deeply flavorful from the heat and flames of the grill. Our love for Guacamole was definitely enhanced by this version. It didn’t last long at all and I can’t wait to make it again.

This girl is a happy chef

July 10th, 2009 | 4 Comments »

Anyone remember this?


Ok, so I’m not trying to compare myself with some crazy looking statue….one that’s squatting, for goodness sakes, but yesterday was a day to make me one utterly happy and excited home chef.

I got a brand new grill!

quinoa and grilled veg salad 001

Our old grill hung around for nearly seven years, but should have been replaced at least two years ago. The shield over the burners was corroded and crumbling, it didn’t heat or cook evenly and the ignition was busted, requiring a torchiere to light it every time. The burners were not very well protected, and a strong wind would blow out the flames if you weren’t paying attention. I don’t have to tell you how dangerous a running propane tank can be now, do I?

This grill is the same that resides at our lake home. We loved it so much that as soon as we spotted it on sale this year we snatched one for home. It has a huge cooking area.
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The four burners are highly conductive, providing even heat all around. The grates are super sturdy cast iron, and it provides terrific conditions for indirect cooking or smoking methods. It’s also fully protected, and despite strong breezes off the lake it has never been snuffed out by the wind.

There’s also a lip at the edge of the grates so that nothing can roll or slip off.
quinoa and grilled veg salad 006

This is perfect if you, like we do, regularly grill hot dogs or bratwurst. Nothing like a little crunchy grit on the ol’ dogs, huh?

So, with a bounty of produce from the Farmer’s Market and a kid-free evening, I made this amazing Grilled Vegetable and Quinoa Salad for Mike and I. The summer night wasn’t all that warm, but the salad was perfect; light, flavorful and simple, not to mention just chock full of nutrition. Our tummies were so very happy!

It started with some perfectly roasted gold beets.
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Some delightful grilled zucchini…

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I added in roasted red pepper, cubed fresh mozzarella and half of an avocado.

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Drizzled it with lemon juice and some good olive oil, seasoning with fresh ground pepper and a bit of Penzeys Shallot salt.

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And served it with quinoa, topped with unsalted roasted almonds.

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Variations are endless with this fresh and wonderful salad. I thought some chickpeas might make a nice touch. You could try a more southwestern touch with the seasonings, like cumin, chili powder or chipotle powder, use roasted poblanos or jalapenos,  stir in some black beans and use lime juice instead of lemon. Eggplant would be a nice addition too, as it grills up some beautifully. If you like raw onion, use some minced red. Add some goat cheese or feta instead of the fresh mozzarella. Grilled tomato or sweet onions would also be delightful. Millet, wheatberries or possibly even barley would make a good substitute for the quinoa.

Regardless, it’s a terrific, light and easy summer option for the abundance of summer produce, and those warm and muggy nights.