Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Grilled Nectarines with Blue Cheese and Basil

We've been enjoying having a grill this summer after several years of apartment grill-free living.   I was channel surfing and happened across Bobby Flay making these sweet grilled nectarines, dressed with blue cheese, citrus vinaigrette, and basil.  The flavor combo is one of a kind- the juicy caramelized fruit with the tangy blue cheese, sweet and tart vinaigrette, topped with fresh basil.  This dish would be a great appetizer and is also a nice side dish when paired with something spicy.  It could even pass as dessert, though it's not overly sweet.  Best of all, it is easy to make and by combining these few ingredients you have a upscale dish that is bound to please your guests. 
Cara Cara orange- looks like a grapefruit! Tastes like an orange.
  • 4 nectarines, barely ripe
  • 2 oz (about 1/4 cup) blue cheese
  • 1/2 lemon, juiced
  • 1/2 orange, juiced
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons honey
  • a few leaves of fresh basil, sliced in thin ribbons
  • salt & pepper
  • canola oil 

To make the vinaigrette, combine the lemon juice, orange juice, 2 tablespoons oil, honey, and a pinch or two of salt and pepper.  Whisk and set aside.  
Slice each nectarine in half, moving the knife around the pit and then gently pulling the two sides a part.  (This was harder than I thought it would be and I had to use a little extra effort on some of them)  Remove the pit, with your hands if it comes out easily, or using a knife if needed.  

With the grill over medium heat, brush the nectarines with oil and place face down directly on the grate.  (Hopefully it is clean!)  Let the nectarines cook for about 3 minutes, and remove once they have some nice grill marks forming.   It was too dark outside to get any pictures of the nectarines on the grill.
Next, scoop 1-2 teaspoons of blue cheese on to the center of each nectarine and then drizzle with the vinaigrette.  Top with sliced basil and serve warm.

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Roasted Shrimp & Orzo salad

I was instantly addicted to this salad the first time I ate it, and ever since then it never fails to disappoint every time I make it.  The recipe comes from Ina Garten and it introduces a few genius techniques that make it extra delicious.  The first is to drench the hot, freshly cooked orzo in the lemon vinaigrette, causing it to soak up the flavor instantly.  The second is to roast the shrimp in olive oil, salt, and pepper.  This is by far the easiest way to cook a perfect shrimp and they taste amazing.  I had a hard time saving enough to toss into the salad.  The remaining ingredients- a combination of herbs, veggies, and feta cheese really make the dish come together.  We took this to a 4th of July cook-out this year and it was a huge hit.  I only changed a few slight things from Ina's recipe, and I assure you it turns out just as delicious!  The end result is a light and refreshing dish that could be served as a side dish or a main course.  
  • 1 pound orzo pasta (rice-shaped pasta)
  • 1/2 cup freshly squeezed lemon juice (should take about 3 lemons)
  • Freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 1/2 pounds medium shrimp, peeled and deveined
  • 1 cup minced scallions, white and green parts
  • 1 cup chopped fresh dill
  • 1 cup chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
  • 1 cucumber, peeled, seeded, and medium-diced
  • 1/2 cup small-diced red onion
  • 1/2 pound block of feta cheese, medium-diced
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper


Fill a large pot with water, add 1 tablespoon of salt and bring the water to a boil. Add the orzo and simmer for about 1 minute less than the recommended lowest number of minutes.  (If the box says 9-11 minutes cook them for 8) This will help you avoid over-cooking the pasta, considering it will keep cooking a bit more sitting in the pot.  While the orzo is cooking, whisk together the lemon juice, 1/3 cup olive oil, 2 teaspoons salt and 1 teaspoon of pepper. When the pasta is done, drain and return to the pot.  Immediately pour the lemon juice mixture over the hot pasta and stir well.  Keep orzo in the pot off heat to let it cool down while you prepare the rest of the ingredients.

To cook the shrimp, preheat the oven to 400 degrees F.  Place the shrimp on a foil-covered sheet pan, drizzle with olive oil, and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Toss to combine and spread out in a single layer. Roast for about 4 minutes, until the shrimp are cooked through. You can tell once they start turning pink and have a somewhat firm touch to them that they are done.  Always err on the side of under- you can cook them for a minute longer if needed but you can't undo it once they are overcooked.  Try not to eat them all straight out from the oven!!
Add the shrimp to the orzo and then add the scallions, dill, parsley, cucumber, onion, 1 teaspoons salt, and 1/2 teaspoon pepper. Toss well and taste for more salt.  Add the feta and stir carefully. 

Set aside at room temperature for 1 hour to allow the flavors to blend, or refrigerate overnight. If refrigerated, bring back to room temperature before serving.

Saturday, July 13, 2013

Fresh Jalapeno-Basil Lemonade

Sean has made this a couple times this summer, and it's a nice refreshing drink that also pairs wonderfully with gin or whiskey.  I like it because it's not too sweet, and the jalapeno and basil flavors really shine along with the lemons.  He used a home-made ginger simple syrup as the sweetener, and you can always adjust the amount to  your own taste depending on how sweet you prefer your lemonade.  A regular simple syrup would work just as well, but I do recommend a syrup over using plain sugar because you don't have to wait for it to dissolve.  Optionally, add a few berries to the bottom of your glass before serving.

  • 1 cup freshly squeezed lemon juice
  • 1 cup simple syrup
  • 1/2 bunch fresh basil, leaves only (green or purple)
  • 2 jalapenos, seeded and sliced thinly on the diagonal
  • water (and ice for serving)

Yes, that is an elephant tea pot in the background...
Combine the lemon juice, basil, and jalapeno in a large pitcher (ours is 2-quarts).  Gently muddle the mixture with a wooden spoon, pressing against the sides and bottom of the pitcher to pull some of the flavor out of the jalapeno and basil.  

By removing the seeds, the jalapeno flavor really comes through without being too spicy.  

Next, add the simple syrup and stir to combine.  Let this mixture sit for about an hour, refrigerated, to absorb the flavor from the basil and jalapenos. 

Add 5-6 cups water (until the pitcher is almost full) and taste.  Add more simple syrup or lemon juice if needed. You want it to be a little strong since you will serve it with ice.  Let it sit in the fridge for several hours before serving.  

When you are ready to serve, stir the lemonade before pouring into ice-filled glasses.  Add a couple berries for some extra sweetness if you have them on hand.  Enjoy!

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Classy Coasters

We came across some cool looking red tiles at the Community Forklift (which sells salvaged building materials) a few weeks ago and decided they would make great coasters.  They were made from heavy, durable material and I loved the color.  And at less than 25 cents each, they were a steal.  I was inspired to make my first set for a friend's housewarming gift, and I thought it would be nice to personalize them by spray-painting the first letter of their last initial on the top of each coaster.  I also found some felt with a cool print at the Hobby Lobby, which is where I found the rest of my supplies as well.  Below is the step-by-step instruction and end result!  

  • Four 4x4 tiles
  • Tacky glue
  • Cork roll (very thin cork)
  • Felt
  • Clear acrylic spray sealer (I used a gloss finish but the sell it flat as well)
  • Cardboard (if making a stencil)
  • Spray Paint (again, if making a stencil)


If your tiles are recycled like ours were, make sure you clean them off before starting your project.  These had some old glue that was pretty stuck to the bottom of them so I got off as much as I could and it was barely noticeable at the end that the bottoms started out uneven. 
To make your stencil, cut a piece of cardboard to be the same size as the tiles.  Trace the letter or shape into the cardboard and cut it out.  Tape the stencil to the top of the tile and spray it evenly (outside or away from any furniture!)  I only had one stencil so I waited for each tile to partially dry before moving it to the next one.  When you've finished all four tiles, spray them with the clear acrylic sealer, which will waterproof the coasters and prevent your design from rubbing off.  It also dries pretty quickly so you don't have to wait long to move on to the next step.

For the bottom of the coasters, I chose to do a thin layer of cork followed by a layer of thin felt.  It may not be necessary to do both, but since these tiles were somewhat uneven on the bottom I thought it would help.  Trace the tiles to cut squares of cork and felt the same size.  Use the tacky glue to dab the tile and press the cork firmly to the bottom of the tile.  

If the edges stick out a little, just trim them up with scissors.  Next do the same thing with the felt, again using the tacky glue.  

Let the coasters dry completely before using or giving as a gift.  These turned out super cute, and it was surprisingly easy!