Asian Spiced Turkey Meatball Skewers with Sweet Chili Sauce

Everything Tastes Better on a Stick:

Asian spiced meatball skewers with a sweet chili dipping sauce

Here’s the thing: it’s fun to eat with your fingers. Skewering food puts the fun in food, taking ordinary recipes and sticking it to them (pun intended), along with an assortment of dipping sauces – because dipping a stick in a sauce is half the fun of eating food on skewers. If you need to encourage your kids to eat their veggies, or if you wish to invite your 20 best friends to a cocktail party, food on a stick is the way to go.

These Asian spiced meatballs are a sweet and spicy blend of ground turkey, ginger, cilantro, and garlic. They are fragrant and addictively good. Dutifully skewered on sticks or speared with toothpicks, they put the fun in food. Paired with a sweet and sour chili sauce for dipping (or drizzling) they are guaranteed to be gobbled up.

and nd who doesn’t like meatballs? Besides, it’s ’s also fun to eat meatballs.

Asian Turkey Meatballs with Chili Sauce

Active Time:
Total Time:
Makes about 20 (1 1/2-inch) meatballs

Meatballs:
2 pounds lean ground turkey
1/4 cup panko bread crumbs
3 scallions, white parts finely chopped, green parts reserved for garnish
3 garlic cloves, minced
1 red jalapeño chile pepper, seeded, finely chopped
1/2 cup cilantro leaves, finely chopped
2 tablespoons soy sauce
1 tablespoon finely grated peeled fresh ginger
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon ground coriander
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

Chili Sauce:
1 cup unseasoned rice wine vinegar
1/2 cup sugar
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 tablespoon Sambal Oelek (red chili paste)
1 tablespoon soy sauce
1 tablespoon chopped cilantro leaves
1 tablespoon chopped mint leaves
2 teaspoons minced peeled fresh ginger

Vegetable oil for pan frying

1. Combine all of the meatball ingredients together in a large bowl and mix to combine without over-mixing. Form into 1 1/2-inch balls (wet your hands from time to time to prevent sticking). Arrange on a plate, loosely cover with plastic wrap, and refrigerate for 1 hour or up to 6 hours.

2. Prepare the chili sauce: Combine the vinegar and sugar in a small saucepan over medium heat. Heat until the sugar dissolves, stirring frequently. Remove from the heat and stir in the remaining ingredients. Cool to room temperature.

3. Heat 2 tablespoons vegetable oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat.  Add the meatballs in one layer without overcrowding and flatten slightly. Cook until brown on both sides and thoroughly cooked through the center, 6 to 8 minutes, turning as needed. Transfer to a plate lined with a paper towel. Repeat with remaining meatballs.

4. Spear the meatballs with small skewers. Thinly slice the reserved green scallions. Serve with the Chili Sauce for dipping or drizzling. Garnish with the green scallions.

 

Berries-and-Cream Vanilla Layer Cake

A light and fresh vanilla cake that’s all about summer berries:

When it comes to baking I keep it simple, preferring goodies that are fresh and light. This especially applies to cake. It was my daughter’s birthday recently, and her favorite cake is a Danish lagkage (layer cake) which is the  traditional birthday cake served at celebrations. It’s a simple and easy cake to make and eat, with thin layers of vanilla sponge, gobs of whipped cream, and fresh berries. It’s flexible, kid-friendly, and pretty to look at. No piping or fiddly decorations needed. The only bling is a pile of fresh berries smeared into the cream and piled on top, and, if you’re so inclined, pretty snipped sprigs and edible flowers from the garden.

I have messed around with different vanilla cake recipes over the years, and this is the one I currently favor. This sponge cake recipe is adapted from Cooks Illustrated. Make sure that all of the sponge cake ingredients are at room temperature before you begin.

Berries-and-Cream Vanilla Layer Cake

Active Time: 30 minutes
Total Time: 1 hour, plus cooling time
Serves: 8 to 10

Cake:
4 large eggs
1/2 cup whole milk
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 teaspoon finely grated lemon zest
2 cups cake flour
1 1/2 cups granulated sugar
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup unsalted butter, softened

Whipped Cream:
2 cups chilled heavy cream
2 tablespoons sifted confectioners sugar
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 cup fresh raspberries

1 cup good quality raspberry preserves
Assorted berries, such as raspberries, strawberries, currants, for garnish

Make the cake:
1. Preheat the oven to 350°F. Butter two (8 or 9-inch) cake pans. Line the bottoms with parchment and butter the parchment.
2. Whisk the eggs, milk, vanilla, and lemon zest in a medium bowl to combine.
3. Combine the flour, baking powder, sugar, and salt in the bowl of an electric mixer. Briefly mix on low speed to blend.
4. Add 1/3 of the butter and mix on slow speed to blend and then increase the speed to medium and mix for about 10 seconds.
5. Add half of the remaining butter and mix for 10 to 15 seconds to blend. Add the remaining butter and mix for 10 to 15 seconds. The mixture should be wet and granular.
Add half of the egg mixture and mix to just combine without over-mixing. Add the remaining egg mixture and mix until smooth without over-mixing.
6. Divide the batter between the pans. Transfer to the oven and bake until a skewer inserted in the center comes out clean, about 25 minutes. Cool on a rack for 10 minutes, then invert the cakes and cool completely. When cool, use a serrated knife to slice the cakes in half horizontally (optional).

Make the cream:
Whip the cream in the bowl of an electric mixer until traces of the whisk are apparent. Add the sugar and vanilla and beat until firm peaks form. Place the 1 cup raspberries in a medium bowl and mash with a fork. Add half of the whipped cream and gently fold in to combine.

Assemble:
Place one cake layer on a cake plate. Spread a thin layer of the raspberry preserves over the cake, and then smear a layer of raspberry-whipped cream (not too thick) over the preserves. Repeat with remaining layers. Spread the top and sides of the cake with the remaining whipped cream. (You can leave the sides “naked” if desired.) Garnish with more fresh berries and sprigs. Refrigerate until serving, up to 2 hours.

Fresh and Cheesy Nachos with Shrimp and Avocado

Call it Nacho Night – You Deserve It

Homemade Cheesy Nachos with Shrimp

I confess: Foodie I may be, parent I certainly am, and health-minded … almost without fail – but there is always a time and place for nachos. We can all do with a little cheesy nacho goodness from time to time to balance out a healthy diet, to dig into with our hands, and to wash down with an ice cold drink. And as a heaping platter of chips goes, this one is relatively, um, light. Is it possible to call nachos healthy? Where there is a will, there is a way.

This recipe for fun food isn’t as decadent as you might think. On the nacho scale of goop and weight, it scores relatively high on lightness and freshness. Sure, it’s layered with the requisite melty cheese (as any bonafide nacho plate should). Otherwise, it is not bogged down with mounds of meat, cream, and beans rendering its nest of chips soggy and heavy. Instead, there’s a generous helping of plump garlicky shrimp, and a colorful smattering of chopped fresh vegetables and herbs, such as tomato, onion, avocado, and cilantro, layered throughout the chips in the spirit of a deconstructed salsa.

The point is that these nachos are tasty, more-ish finger food, inviting interactive, family-style dining. And we can also all do with a little fun and togetherness when it comes to sharing our food and eating. These nacho score top points for that.

Shrimp Nachos

Active Time: 20 minutes
Total Time: 30 minutes
Serves 6

Shrimp:
1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
1 small garlic clove, minced
1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
1 pound medium (21/25) shrimp, shelled and deveined

1 large ripe, but not mushy, avocado, diced
2 tablespoons fresh lime juice
1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

8 to 10 ounces salted tortilla chips
4 cups grated sharp Cheddar and/or Monterey Jack cheese
3 scallions, white and green parts separated, thinly sliced
2 jalapeño peppers, stemmed and seeded, finely chopped
1 small red onion, finely chopped, about 1/2 cup
1 large vine-ripened tomato, cored and seeded, diced
1/2 cup cilantro leaves

1. Heat the oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add the garlic, cumin, and red pepper flakes, and stir until fragrant, about 20 seconds. Add the shrimp in one layer and cook until pink and just cooked through, turning once, 2 to 3 minutes. (It’s ok if the shrimp are a little under-done. They will continue to cook in the oven.) Transfer the shrimp to a plate lined with a paper towel.

2. Combine the avocado, lime juice, cumin, salt, and pepper in a small bowl and gently stir to coat.

3. Preheat the oven to 375°F. Spread half of the tortilla chips in a 9 by 13-inch baking dish or sheet pan. Sprinkle 1 1/2 cups cheese, half of the white scallions, half of the jalapeños, and half of the red onion over the chips. Spread the remaining chips over the top and sprinkle 1 1/2 cups cheese over the chips. Scatter the remaining white scallions, jalapeños, and red onion over the top. Bake in the oven until the cheese is melted and the nachos are hot, 10 to 12 minutes.  Remove the pan from the oven and turn on the broiler.

4. Arrange the shrimp over the cheese. Sprinkle the remaining 1 cup cheese over the shrimp. Transfer to the oven and broil until the cheese melts, 1 to 2 minutes. Remove the pan from the oven and scatter the avocado, tomatoes, green scallions, and cilantro evenly over the top. Serve immediately.

Farmers Market Potato Salad

Tasting Potatoes, Danish-style

I discovered this fresh and light-handed salad years ago when I lived in Denmark. Most likely it was at one of our frequent family gatherings, seated outdoors at a long wooden picnic table in the shadow of a thatched roof farmhouse with the summer sun hanging, as if caught on the hook of the horizon, refusing to sink as the evening set in. It was certainly summer, because that’s when new potatoes are at their peak in Denmark, and considered not only a staple but a delicacy to be greedily devoured.

I was smitten by the salad’s restraint, simply tossed with oil and vinegar, and generously layered with freshly snipped flowering sprigs and herbs from the garden. As an American, my experience with potato salads to that point had been the heavy-handed mayo and egg sort, tasty for sure, but more of a cloak and disguise to the mild-mannered potato. I would prod a fork through those murky salads swathed in cream, sugar, and oil in an attempt to fish out any intact morsel of potato, which by then had no flavor except that of the coating with which it was blanketed. The Danish potato salad was delightfully different, and appropriately Scandinavian in its understatement and use of fresh ingredients, celebrating the humble potato with a confetti of garden herbs. Most importantly: I could taste the potato.  And when the season’s newest potatoes are available, delicately sweet and faintly redolent of butter, there is nothing as sublime as the taste of potato.

As you can see, I chose blue potatoes for this salad, since I love their unusual color and how they contrast with the flowering yellow mustard greens I found at the farmers market. You can also use yellow or red new or small potatoes. The combination of herbs is up to your taste and whatever might be growing in your garden or stashed in your fridge. If you can find flowering mustard, add it to the mix or use it as a garnish, since it adds a nice peppery bite and vibrant color to the salad.

Danish Potato Salad with Garden Herbs

Active Time: 20 minutes
Total Time: 20 minutes plus cooling time
Serves 6

3 pounds new potatoes or small potatoes (red, white, or blue), washed
Salt
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
1/4 cup white balsamic vinegar
1 garlic clove, minced
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
3 cups fresh herbs, such as parsley, mint, dill, chervil, chives, tarragon, coarsely chopped
Flowering mustard sprigs for garnish

1. Place the potatoes in a large pot. Cover with cold water and add 2 teaspoons salt. Bring to a boil over medium-high heat. Partially cover the pot and cook until the potatoes are fork tender, but not mushy, 10 to 15 minutes depending on the potatoes. Drain the potatoes and let stand for 5 minutes to cool slightly.

2. Cut the potatoes in half or large bite-size pieces. Add the potatoes, the oil, vinegar, scallions, garlic, 1 teaspoon salt, and the black pepper to a large bowl and stir to thoroughly combine. Cool to room temperature.

3. Before serving, taste for seasoning and add more salt and pepper if desired. Add the fresh herbs and stir to blend. If the salad is too dry, add additional olive oil. Serve at room temperature.

Frozen Meringue Cream with Summer Berry Compote

Berries and Cream 2.0

Summer Berry Compote and Frozen Whipped Cream

Who doesn’t like berries and whipped cream for a simple summer dessert? Sweet, freshly picked summer berries and cream are the height of ease and good flavor, and a combination I rely on throughout the summer season. Sometimes, though, if I want to up the presentation a notch, I make this frozen dessert. The good news is that this version is also easy to make, and it should be prepared at least 8 hours in advance of serving, so it’s a great do-ahead dessert when entertaining.

To make it, I fold crumbled store-bought meringues into the whipped cream and freeze the cream in a loaf pan. The meringues add a nice light crunch and a jolt of sugar to the cream. Once frozen, the “loaf” can be sliced and served with fresh berries spooned on top. It’s fresh, light, and luscious, and always a crowd pleaser.

To make the frozen cream, first lightly oil the loaf pan, and then line it with plastic wrap. This allows for easy removal from the pan once frozen. The whipped cream is delicate, so should only be frozen for 8 to 24 hours. Once the loaf is removed from the pan and sliced, eat it immediately, because the cream will quickly begin to soften. Also, in the past I’ve added berries to the loaf, but I find that they remain frozen while the cream softens, which is not ideal for eating, so I spoon fresh berries, or, in this case, a compote over the top. 

Iced Meringues and Cream with Berry Compote

Active Time: 25 minutes
Total Time: 25 minutes, plus freezing time and cooling time
Serves 8.

Iced Meringue Cream:
3 ounces meringues, divided
2 cups heavy cream
3 tablespoons sifted confectioners sugar
1/4 teaspoon vanilla extract

Compote:
3/4 pound fresh berries, such as raspberries, blackberries, strawberries
2 tablespoons sugar
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice

1. Lightly oil a 9 x 5-inch loaf pan. Line with plastic wrap, leaving a 3-inch overhang on all sides. Crumble 1/3 of the meringues, leaving large chunks intact, and spread over the bottom of the pan.

2. Beat the cream in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with a whisk attachment until traces of the whisk appear. Add the sugar and vanilla and continue to beat until soft peaks form.

3. Crumble the remaining meringues and gently fold into the cream. Pour into the pan and spread the cream evenly on top. Cover with the plastic overhang, and then cover the pan entirely with another piece of plastic wrap. Freeze for at least 8 hours or overnight.

4. Prepare the compote: Combine the berries, sugar and lemon juice in a medium saucepan over medium-low heat. Cook until the sugar dissolves and the berries break down and release their juices, 5 to 7 minutes, stirring frequently. Remove from the heat and cool completely.

5. To serve, remove the frozen meringue cream from the freezer. Unwrap the plastic and invert the cream onto a serving platter. Remove any remaining plastic. Cut into serving slices and serve with the compote spooned over each slice.

Chipotle Braised Pork Carnitas

Getting Piggy with Carnitas:

Chipotle Braised Pork Carnitas

Now that it’s summer, it’s time to dig into spicy, meaty, two-fisted pork carnitas. Carnitas are perfect party food. They are fun to assemble and messy to eat, best washed down with a cold beer while eaten outdoors. What could be more fun?

The key to carnitas is to let the meat cook low and slow until it’s fork tender. In this recipe, the pork braises in a smoky, citrus-infused beer broth that imbues the meat with flavor and spice. The cooking process takes several hours, but it’s relatively hands off, simply requiring the occasional turn. The biggest challenge will be the wafting aroma of the simmering pork, which will surely test your patience. Hang in there. You can do it.

The final step is optional but highly recommended. Once the meat is shredded, arrange it in a baking dish or grill pan, toss with some of the basting juices and grill or broil at high heat until the meat begins to caramelize. Pile the meat on tortillas with salsa, guacamole, or your favorite fixings, and you are good to go. (Just remember the napkins.) If you have any leftovers, use the meat in sandwiches or loaded on homemade nachos the next day.

The pork can be grilled, which will keep the heat outdoors on a warm day, or it can be cooked in an oven. If using a grill, then brown the meat on the grates before transferring to a deep grill pan or grill-proof Dutch oven with the braising liquid.

Chipotle Beer Braised Pork Carnitas

Active Time: 40 minutes
Total Time: about 5 hours
Serves 6 to 8

1 tablespoon ground cumin
1 tablespoon sweet paprika
1 tablespoon chili powder
1 tablespoon granulated sugar
2 teaspoons salt
2 teaspoons freshly ground black pepper
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
1 (4 pound) boneless pork shoulder, excess fat trimmed
1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
6 garlic cloves, smashed but intact
1 medium onion, coarsely chopped
1 cup Mexican beer
1 cup fresh orange juice
1/4 cup chipotle chiles in adobo sauce
1/4 cup fresh lime juice
1 tablespoon brown sugar

Accompaniments:
Warm flour or corn tortillas
Guacamole
Salsa
Fresh cilantro
Sliced green onions

1. Heat the oven to 300°F (or prepare the grill for indirect cooking over medium-low heat, 275 to 300°F).
2. Mix the cumin, paprika, chili powder, sugar, salt, and pepper in a small bowl. Rub the spices all over the meat. Let stand at room temperature for 30 minutes. (Or refrigerate for up to 24 hours, and remove from the refrigerator 30 minutes before cooking.)
3. If using the oven, heat the 1 tablespoon vegetable oil in a large Dutch-oven over medium heat on the stovetop. Add the pork and brown on all sides, turning as needed, about 8 minutes. Remove the pork and pour off the fat. (If using the grill, brown the pork over direct medium heat on the grill grates, and pre-heat a grill-proof Dutch oven over indirect heat while the pork is browning.)
4. Add the garlic, onion, beer, orange juice, chipotles, lime juice, and brown sugar to the Dutch oven. Bring to a boil over medium heat, scraping up any brown bits if on the stovetop.
5. Add the pork to the pot. Cover the pot with a lid or aluminum foil and transfer to the oven (or transfer to indirect low heat on the grill). Braise the pork until fork tender, about 4 hours, turning every hour or so.
6. Remove the pork from the braising liquid and transfer to a cutting board to cool while you reduce the sauce. When cool enough to handle, shred the meat. Place the meat in a baking dish or grill pan.
7. Boil the braising sauce over medium-high heat until reduced to a sauce consistency, 8 to 10 minutes. Strain the sauce, and drizzle some of it over the shredded pork (the pork should be lightly coated but not wet).
8. Grill or broil the pork at high heat until the meat begins to caramelize, 2 to 4 minutes.
9. To serve, spoon some of the pork in the center of a tortilla. Top with guacamole, salsa, fresh cilantro, and scallions. Roll up and eat.

Roasted Carrot and Pearl Couscous Salad

Here’s a party-worthy salad layered with flavor, that you can call a main course or a sumptuous side:

Carrot Couscous Salad Platter

This salad does not hold back on herbs and spice. Handfuls of garden herbs and a shake of the contents of your spice drawer build layers of flavor and freshness into this bright and festive couscous platter. Israeli couscous (also known as pearl couscous) is made of wheat flour and semolina which is rolled into tiny “pearl” balls and then toasted. The dried couscous, once purchased, is simmered in a liquid to soften. I like to toast the dried couscous in the pan first, before adding the liquid to simmer, which essentially means the couscous is doubly toasted. This extra step adds satisfying nutty flavor and golden color to the sturdy little semolina balls.

Carrot Couscous Salad with Pine Nuts

Purchase rainbow carrots for this salad, if possible, since they add a brilliant array of color to the platter. Choose thin carrots of uniform size to ensure similar cooking time. If necessary cut thicker carrots in half lengthwise.

Roasted Carrot and Israeli Couscous Salad with Pine Nuts and Arugula

Active Time: 40 minutes
Total Time: 40 minutes
Serves 6 to 8

2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, divided
2 cups Israeli (pearl) couscous
2 1/4 cups water
Salt
1 small red chile pepper, minced
1 clove garlic, minced
2 tablespoons lemon juice
1 teaspoon finely grated lemon zest
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1/2 teaspoon ground coriander
1/4 teaspoon cayenne
1 ½ pounds thin rainbow carrots, peeled, halved lengthwise if thick
Freshly ground black pepper

Gremolata:
1/4 cup chopped Italian parsley
1/4 cup chopped cilantro
2 tablespoons chopped dill
1 small garlic clove, minced
1 teaspoon finely grated lemon zest
Pinch each of salt and freshly ground black pepper

3 to 4 cups baby arugula
2 to 3 tablespoons toasted pine nuts
1/2 lemon, plus wedges for serving

1. Heat 1 tablespoon oil in a skillet. Add the couscous and toast over medium heat until golden, 1 to 2 minutes, stirring frequently. Add the water and 1/2 teaspoon salt. Cover the skillet and simmer over medium-low heat until the liquid is absorbed and the couscous is tender, about 10 minutes. Transfer the couscous to a bowl and stir in the chile pepper, garlic, lemon juice, lemon zest, cumin, coriander, and cayenne. Let stand at room temperature while you roast the carrots.
2. Heat the oven to 425°F.
3. Place the carrots in a large bowl, drizzle with the remaining 1 tablespoon oil, and lightly season with salt and freshly ground black pepper. Spread the carrots on a rimmed baking sheet and roast in the oven until lightly charred and crisp tender, about 20 minutes. Remove and cool slightly or to room temperature.
4. Make the gremolata: Mix the parsley, cilantro, dill, garlic, lemon zest, salt, and black pepper in a small bowl.
5. Scatter the arugula on a serving platter or in a wide shallow serving bowl. Spoon the couscous over and around the arugula and arrange the carrots on top. Squeeze the half lemon over the salad and sprinkle evenly with the gremolata. Garnish the platter with the lemon wedges and serve.