Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Entertaining Your Family: Easy Weeknight Meal, all on the Grill

I just got back from a wonderful, and outrageously spontaneous, trip to Santiago, Chile of all places! My hubby has been in S. America since the first of June, and when his trip got extended for another couple of weeks he called and asked my daughter and I (who is not quite 2 yet so still free to fly) to join him. After a mulling it over for a couple of hours, the thought of 3 more weeks of single mom-hood took over (TOTALLY have new respect for all you single parents out there), and I decided that well, "If Mohammed won't come to the mountain, ...", and 24 hours later we were out the door and on a plane.

Now, I just mentioned I have a toddler. To put this into perspective let me also mention that the trip from Calgary, Alberta Canada to Santiago, Chile South America is not exactly a hop, skip and a jump. To make matters worse, when we landed in Dallas after our first 4 hour leg of the journey I found out our overnight flight to Santiago had been cancelled, and I was stuck at a Dallas hotel with no luggage, minimal diapers, lacking in toys to entertain my child, and of course no hubby.

Needless to say after a very LONG journey we did make it Santiago, and it was fantastic. I was amazed by how wonderful everything was, the food, the wine, the Pisco sours (I may even post a recipe for these one day...we bought some Pisco, we took some pictures of locals making them, and as soon as I perfect this refreshing cocktail at home it will be passed on), and I got a much needed break with hubby around to change a few diapers.

Well, I'm home now (and he's still there), and let me tell you I forgot once I got to my destination in Santiago that I'd have to travel back - for 20 hours - with a toddler - by myself. I'm pooped.

But, we have to eat. And I don't know about you but after traveling for 10 days and eating in restaurants breakfast, lunch and dinner, I just can't do too much more take-out. Sure, the first night we got back I ordered in - couldn't even wrap my head around the idea of turning on the stove and tossing in a frozen pizza, but now I need to cook something.

Of course I had to hit the grocery store, so while I was there I picked up some chicken legs. Nothing fancy, and great on the grill (less dishes - perfect for tired cooking). When I got home I marinated them in red wine vinegar, a couple cloves of garlic, olive oil, and fresh rosemary (I happen to have got the inspiration for this recipe when I was at the grocery store, and picked up the fresh rosemary while I was there - but you can use dried no problem). I'm not going to give you a recipe for this because I just eye-balled it and you should too.

Then, into a plastic bag it all went, back into the fridge, and I forgot about them for 24 hours. When it came time for dinner tonight I fired up the BBQ (yes, I grill - my husband travels lots remember), and first prepared a tinfoil packet of red potatoes by cutting up the potatoes and laying them on a large sheet of the foil. Top with a tablespoon or so of butter, s&p, a small sprig of the rosemary (again whatever you have on hand will do) and about 3 tablespoons of water. Seal it up with another piece of foil and fold over all edges to make a tight pocket. That went on the top rack of the BBQ first where they will bake/steam as the rest of the food cooks. Then, on went my marinated chicken legs, and about 7 or so minutes before everything was done I threw on some seasoned (in olive oil and s&p) asparagus to char a little.

That was dinner. All on the grill for minimal cleanup, all homemade to make me feel human again, and all super easy so I didn't burst into tears out of exhaustion in the middle of it all!

It's good to be home, it's good to cook again, and it will be good to be totally back to normal very soon!

Sunday, June 7, 2009

Entertaining your Family: Homemade Shortcakes with Drunken Strawberries

This weekend for me was all about strawberry shortcake. I came upon it kind of accidentally actually - basically a result of buying too much fruit at the grocery store earlier this week, and realizing that it would be difficult for my daughter and I to consume 2 pineapples, 5 bananas, 6 apples, a large bag of grapes, about a dozen kiwis, and a whole large flat of strawberries before some of it started to go south on me (though I must say the grapes are long gone, and we've made a serious dent in the second pineapple already, so we aren't doing that bad!).

Anyway, when friends invited me for dinner this weekend, I figured that this was a good time to offer to bring a dessert, and strawberry shortcakes immediately came to mind. I've been meaning to come up with my own shortcake recipe for ages now, and with several fresh smelling strawberries consuming my senses at every turn, I decided this was the weekend. Unfortunately though, my husband is out of town - with the camera - so I couldn't document my progress (hence the borrowed picture witch I got from here).

So, onto the shortcakes. I looked at SEVERAL recipes before my first attempt, as I had a few stipulations. One, I didn't want to have to use buttermilk in my recipe. I didn't have any, and I was in no mood to a) go to the store to get some, and b) fuss about with vinegar and what have you to make my own. I wanted this recipe to be as approachable as possible, and buttermilk just isn't something people have on hand every day. The other thing I wanted was for the batter to be tasty, but not too sweet. I planned on adding sugar and booze to my strawberries, topping them with sweetened whipped cream, and dusting the whole lot with icing sugar. That's sweet enough. The shortcake I envisioned was going to be pillowy and soft, but not overpowering to the point that it would take away from the star ingredient (hello, strawberries!).

So, my first attempt was not good. The biscuits didn't rise properly, they had no colour whatsoever, and they were pretty much tasteless. Nope, simply would not do. Batch number two on the other hand...

Here is the recipe:

2 cups flour
2 1/2 tablespoons sugar
1 1/2 tablespoons baking powder
pinch of salt (if your butter is salted), or 1/8 of a teaspoon if it is not
1/2 cup (1 stick) very cold butter, cut into small pieces
zest of half a lemon
3/4 cup milk
2 tablespoon heaving cream (or 1 beaten egg mixed with a little milk) for brushing

Preheat oven to 400F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper, set aside. Combine flour, sugar and salt in a food processor. Add the butter. Pulse mixture 5 or 6 times until the mixture reassembles a coarse meal (there should be little lumps of butter throughout) do not over mix. Add lemon zest and milk and pulse 3 or 4 more times until mixture just starts to come together into a ball.

Divide the dough into 6 equal portions and drop on prepared baking sheet. Lightly pat the dough into rounds, 3 to 3 1/2 inches in diameter and lightly brush the tops with the cream or egg mixture.

Bake the shortcakes in the center of the oven for 20 minutes or until golden brown. Cool on a wire rack.

For the strawberries, I borrowed a topping from another recipe. Jazzing them up with a little booze just makes the dessert more elegant!

Drunken Strawberries:
2 pounds of strawberries, washed, hulled and quartered
2 - 3 tablespoons of Grand Marnier or Cointreau
2 tablespoons sugar
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice

Combine all ingredients in a bowl, cover and refrigerate for at least 2 hours.

To serve the shortcakes:
Cut the top 1/3 portion off the shortcake, set aside. Place bottom piece on a serving plate and top with about a cup of the strawberry mixture. Dollop with whipped cream, and place the "lid" back on the top. Garnish with an extra dollop of whipped cream (if desired) some additional strawberries and good dusting of icing sugar. Serve.

It was good...really good. Well worth the fact that I had to make them twice (and I'll most definitely be making them again...soon).