Grilled Halibut and Vegetable Skewers

Maximize char-grilled flavor by skewering your fish:

Grilled Fish and Vegetable Skewers

Weekends are made for grilling, and this weekend was no different. California halibut is in season, and while halibut’s firm flesh is ideal for roasting thick filets on the grill, I prefer to cut the fish into chunks, quickly marinate them, and thread on skewers. By doing this, more of the fish flesh is exposed to the flavors of the marinade, and there are more edges and corners exposed to the flames of the grill to crisp and char (which are the best bits). I like to thread the fish with vegetables, such as colorful bell peppers and onion. The vegetables add flavor to the fish and bright color and freshness to the skewers – plus they are a great way to stretch pricey fish to feed a crowd.

The key to these skewers is the marinade, which has an unlikely ingredient: coarsely grated yellow onion. The onion pulp and juice add natural sweetness and bite to the marinade and nicely balance its salt and acidity. Any thick firm-flesh fish, such as halibut, tuna, swordfish, can handle a longer marinating time, upwards of 2 hours, but 30 minutes to 1 hour is sufficient to infuse flavor.

When assembling the skewers, make sure all of the ingredients are cut in uniform size, 1 to 1 ¼ inches, including any vegetables that may be threaded along with the fish, to ensure even cooking. Bamboo skewers should be soaked in warm water for at least 30 minutes before assembling. This will help to prevent them from burning while grilling.

Grilled Halibut and Vegetable Skewers

Active Time: 20 minutes
Total Time: 1 hour for marinating plus 20 minutes
Serves 4 to 6

Marinade:
1/4 cup coarsely grated yellow onion with juices, about 1/2 small onion
1/4 cup soy sauce or tamari
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 1/2 tablespoons Dijon mustard
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

2 pounds halibut, cut in 1-inch chunks
2 red, yellow, and/or green bell peppers, seeded, cut in 1-inch chunks
1 large red onion, cut in 1-inch chunks
Parsley sprigs for garnish (optional)
Lemon wedges for serving

1. Whisk the marinade ingredients in a large bowl. Add the halibut chunks and gently turn to coat. Cover and refrigerate 1 hour.

2. While the halibut is marinating, soak 8 (8-inch) bamboo skewers in warm water for at least 30 minutes.

3. Prepare the grill for direct cooking over medium-high heat. Thread the fish on the skewers, beginning and ending with the halibut and alternating with onions and peppers. Lightly brush the vegetables some of the marinade.

4. Grill the skewers over direct medium heat, until the fish is charred in places and just cooked through, about 8 minutes, turning as needed. Arrange the skewers on a serving platter, garnish with parsley sprigs and serve warm with lemon wedges.

Summer Pizza with Squash Blossoms and Sweet Peppers

Decorate your summer pizza with flowers – squash flowers, that is:

Grilled Pizza with Squash Blossoms

Squash blossoms might make this pizza sound pretty fancy, but it really isn’t. Delicate squash blossoms are everywhere at the farmers market at this time of year. I’ve been eyeing them, and contemplating ways to easily incorporate the floppy, sunny flowers into a meal. I’ve eaten blossoms fried and stuffed, but to be honest, I find them time consuming to prepare and often oily and rich. So I decided to simply layer them, with no other preparation, on a white pizza – or a pizza with no red sauce – and see what happened. The results were resoundingly good and a unanimous hit at the dinner table. The flowers shriveled and crisped while cooking, which concentrated their subtle and nutty flavor, which was nicely rounded out by sweet Jimmy Nardello peppers, onions, and a kick of heat from crushed red chili flakes. These fragile squash blossoms may be delicate, but it’s clear that they are no shrinking wall-flower.

For this recipe, you can make your own dough or purchase a good quality fresh dough from your supermarket, which is a simple shortcut for an easy meal. This recipe stretches one pound of fresh dough into a large rectangle, but you can also shape it into 2 smaller pizzas.

Squash Blossom Pizza with Sweet Peppers, Onions and Pecorino

Active Time: 15 minutes
Total Time: 30 minutes
Makes one (10 x 15-inch) pizza

3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 garlic clove, minced
Salt
1 pound homemade or prepared fresh pizza dough
1 cup finely grated Pecorino Romano cheese
1 small yellow onion, thinly sliced, about 1/2 cup
1/2 cup thinly sliced sweet red peppers, such as Jimmy Nardello peppers
8 squash blossoms, quartered lengthwise
1 (8 ounce) fresh mozzarella ball, patted dry and thinly sliced
1 tablespoon chopped fresh oregano
1/4 teaspoon crushed red chili flakes
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

1. Preheat the grill for indirect cooking over high heat (about 500°F for a gas grill) and preheat a pizza stone for at least 15 minutes. (Or preheat the oven to 500°F. Place a pizza stone on the lowest oven rack and preheat for at least 15 minutes).
2. Whisk the oil, garlic, and a pinch of salt in a small bowl.
3. Stretch the dough out as thinly as possible and lay on large pizza peel (or rimless baking sheet lined with parchment). Lightly brush with the oil. Sprinkle half of the Pecorino over the pizza. Top with the onions and peppers. Arrange the squash blossoms over the vegetables, and then place the mozzarella around the squash. Sprinkle the oregano, chili flakes and pepper over the pizza and lightly season with salt. Top with the remaining Pecorino.
4. Slide the pizza onto the pizza stone. Close the grill lid and grill until the pizza is golden brown, about 15 minutes. Remove and brush the crust with some of the oil. Drizzle any remaining oil over the pizza. Cut into serving pieces and serve immediately.

Alaska Memories and a recipe for Shrimp, Kale and Pearl Couscous

Alaska Memories and a recipe for Shrimp, Kale and Pearl Couscous

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It would have been simpler to meditate. Instead, I traveled to Alaska. More specifically, I traveled 3,000 miles on three planes of diminishing size, and one water taxi to Tutka Bay Lodge. Tutka Bay sits at the mouth of a rugged seven-mile fjord stretching into the glacier capped Kenai mountains, 125 air miles south of Anchorage. It’s not accessible by road, only by sea plane or a water taxi which multitasks as a mail and food delivery service, garbage collection, and all-purpose passenger shuttle to and from Homer, the closest town accessible by road. If you want to get away from it all, this is for you. It’s well worth the trip.

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Before you pack your compass, first aid kit, and water purification tablets, let’s be perfectly clear. This is not roughing it. This is not even glamping. This is wilderness isolation in extreme comfort. You will find yourself in a lodge, tucked into plush beds in cozy private cabins, waited upon 24/7 by an attentive staff, and dining in a first class restaurant. Sure, you are in the remote wilderness on a spit of land flanked by a rugged fjord and craggy mountains dotted with old growth Sitka spruce. Yes, that’s an ancient volcano looming in the distance, waiting ever so patiently for another opportunity to express itself. Indeed, you will be sharing your outdoor space with resident bald eagles, floating otters, and possibly an orca or two. You will also be pampered, fed and catered to in a lodge staffed with servers doubling as mountain guides, valets doubling as naturalists, and professional chefs doubling as culinary instructors in a teaching kitchen converted from a re-purposed two-story crabbing boat.

Widgeon Lynda Balslev

Tutka Cooking Class Lynda Balslev

Halibut

The point is that there is something for everyone at Tutka, with the most notable activity being nothing. Because, while your every whim will be addressed and serviced, your tummy fed, your fitness itch scratched, your need for nature connected, you will find yourself in the most spectacular vignette of nowhere, amidst staggering scenery and blissful solitude. Activities are plentiful, and peace is everywhere, which yields the treasure of perspective and balance. So, whether you crave a weekend or a week to find your center, this is the the place to be. Just leave yourself a day to get there.

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Tutka kayaks Lynda Balslev
Needless to say, the seafood is glorious in this part of the world. The following recipe is inspired by a meal I enjoyed at Tutka Bay Lodge.

Shrimp Kale and Pearl Cousous
Serves 4 to 6Alaska Shrimp Tutka

Ingredients:
Extra-virgin olive oil
2 cups pearl (Israeli) cousous
2 cups plus 1/4 cup chicken stock
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
1 teaspoon finely grated lemon zest plus extra for garnish
1/2 teaspoon sweet paprika
1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
Salt
Freshly ground black pepper
1 pound large (18/20) shrimp, peeled and deveined, tails intact
1/2 teaspoon red chile flakes
1 bunch purple or curly green kale, tough ribs removed, torn into 2-inch pieces
1 garlic clove, minced
1/4 cup fresh thyme leaves, chopped fresh oregano leaves and chives

Method:
1. Heat 1 tablespoon oil in a wide skillet over medium heat. Add the couscous, stir to coat, and cook until the couscous is toasted light golden, about 2 minutes, stirring frequently. Carefully add the 2 cups stock (it will sizzle). Reduce the heat to low, cover the skillet and simmer until all of the liquid is absorbed and the couscous is tender. Remove from the heat and stir in the lemon juice and zest, the paprika, cumin, 1 teaspoon salt, and 1/2 teaspoon black pepper. Keep warm.

2. Heat 1 tablespoon oil in a clean skillet (preferably cast iron) over medium heat. Season the shrimp with salt and pepper. Add the shrimp in one layer to the skillet. Cook until bright pink and lightly seared on both sides and cooked through, 3 to 4 minutes, turning once. Transfer with a slotted spoon to a plate.

3. In the same skillet, heat 1 tablespoon oil and the red chili flakes over medium heat. Add the kale and garlic and sauté until the kale leaves begin to wilt, 1 to 2 minutes. Add the 1/4 cup stock and continue to sauté until the liquid evaporates, about 1 minute. Remove from the heat and season with salt.

4. To serve, divide the couscous between serving plates or shallow bowls. Top with the kale. Arrange the shrimp over the kale. Garnish with the fresh herbs and additional lemon zest.

Homer View Lynda Balslev

 

Jamaican Jerk Chicken

Beat the heat with Caribbean-style Jerk Chicken:

Grilled Jerk Chicken Legs

Jamaican Jerk is a thick and heady Afro-Caribbean marinade chock-a-block full of ingredients. Don’t let the lengthy list of spices and aromatics deter you. All you need is the fire of a grill to unify the flavors and create a spicy-sweet finger licking dinner – perfect for a summer barbecue. The heat in the marinade traditionally comes from Scotch Bonnet peppers (super hot). I’ve modified that with jalapeños – but feel free to go all out with a scotch bonnet (carefully seeded with gloved hands!) if you dare. And remember – as with most meat marinades, the longer the chicken can soak in the marinade, the better the flavor.

Jerk Chicken
Serves 6

Marinade:
6 garlic cloves
4 scallions, chopped
2 jalapeños, stemmed, seeded (optional)
1 (2-inch) knob ginger, peeled, chopped
1/4 cup fresh lime juice
3 tablespoons soy sauce or tamari
2 tablespoons brown sugar
1 tablespoon fresh thyme leaves
1 tablespoon black peppercorns
1 tablespoon canola oil
2 teaspoons salt
1 teaspoon ground coriander
1/2 teaspoon ground allspice
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon

6 chicken legs and/or breasts with skin and ribs

Method:
1. Place the marinade ingredients in the bowl of a food processor and process to form a paste. Arrange the chicken in a large baking dish. Rub the marinade all over the chicken and under the skin where possible. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 4 hours or overnight.
2. Prepare the grill for indirect cooking over medium heat. Grill the chicken over indirect heat until charred and golden brown and thoroughly cooked through, 30 to 45 minutes, depending on size and thickness. During the last few moments of grilling, move the chicken to direct heat to char the skin as needed.
3. Serve garnished with fresh chopped parsley.

Quinoa Bowl with Tomato, Corn, and Avocado

Summer Salad Tomato Corn Avocado

When it’s too hot to cook, try serving a big summery salad for your main meal. Not just a simple garden salad, but a satisfying bowl layered with crisp veggies, grains or legumes, and fresh herbs. The combination is fresh, filling, and light – guaranteed to hit the spot on a warm day. This salad bowl includes the classic summer veggie trio of sweet corn, tomato, and avocado – tumbled together with protein-rich quinoa and mounded over a bed of kale. No need to cook the corn – summer corn is juicy and naturally sweet, and it’s crispness adds great texture to the quinoa. As always, you can tweak the ingredients to your taste. Feel free to substitute another grain for the quinoa, such as wild rice or bulgur. As for the kale, a quick rub of the hardy leaves with oil and salt helps to soften them and coax out their flavor. Alternatively, choose another more tender green, such as arugula or spinach, and skip the rubbing step.

Tomato, Corn, and Quinoa Bowl with Kale and Avocado

Prep time: 15 minutes
Total time: 15 minutes
Serves 4

Dressing:
2 tablespoons fresh lime juice
1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar
1 small garlic clove
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
1 teaspoon honey
1/4 teaspoon salt, or to taste
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
Dash of hot sauce, such as Tabasco
1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil 

Salad:
1 small bunch Tuscan/Lacinato kale, ribs removed, torn into bite-size pieces
Extra-virgin olive oil
Salt
3 scallions, white and green parts thinly sliced
2 ears of corn, uncooked, husked, kernels cut from the cobs
1 red bell pepper, seeded and diced
1 poblano pepper, seeded and diced
1 cup cherry or grape tomatoes, halved
1/2 cup tricolor or red quinoa, cooked and cooled
1 small handful Italian parsley leaves, chopped, about 1/2 cup
1 small handful cilantro leaves, chopped, about 1/2 cup
1 ripe but firm avocado, cut into 1/2 inch pieces

1. Whisk the lime juice, vinegar, garlic, mustard, honey, salt, black pepper, and Tabasco in a small bowl. Add the oil in a steady stream, whisking constantly to emulsify.
2. Place the kale in a large bowl. Drizzle 1 to 2 teaspoons oil over the leaves and season with a generous pinch of salt. Rub the leaves until thoroughly coated (this will help to soften them).
3. Combine the scallions, corn, peppers, tomatoes, quinoa, parsley, and cilantro in a separate bowl. Pour about 1/4 cup of the dressing over the salad and gently stir to combine. Mound the salad over the kale. (Or divide between individual serving bowls.) Top with the avocado and drizzle with additional dressing to taste.

Father’s Day Grilled Baby Back Pork Ribs

BBQ Ribs – The Secret is in the Rub:
Grilled Baby Back Pork Ribs

Grilled ribs are the perfect way to kick off summer and, more importantly, celebrate Father’s Day. There are many ways to grill ribs, but my favorite method is to generously rub them with a dry spice rub, and then simply grill them low and slow until the meat is tender with a crispy crust. I may baste them with a sauce in the final moments of grilling for a shiny shellac, but I usually leave them as they are. The succulent meat provides enough moistness, without softening the crispy coating. For sauce aficionados, I’ll pass a bowl at the table for brushing and dipping.

When ribs are prepared this simply, the key to flavor perfection lies in the rub. A good rib rub should have a robust balance of sweet, salt, and heat that will coat and permeate the meat as it slowly cooks. While the amount of heat (cayenne) may be adjusted to your taste, there should be a generous amount of the salt, sugar, and flavorful spices, such as cumin, chili powder, and paprika.


This method is also ridiculously easy. All you need is time for the slow cooking. Start cooking the ribs early in the afternoon; place them over indirect low heat on the grill or pop them into the oven and forget about them for 3 hours. Thirty minutes before serving, finish the ribs on the grill, cooking them over direct heat just long enough for them to caramelize and crisp.

Dry Spice Rubbed Baby Back Pork Ribs

Prep Time: 15 minutes
Total Time: 3 1/2 hours
Serves 6

For the rub:
1/4 cup granulated sugar
1/4 cup light brown sugar
3 tablespoons salt
2 tablespoons freshly ground black pepper
2 tablespoons sweet paprika
2 tablespoons chili powder
2 tablespoons ground cumin
1 tablespoon cayenne (or to taste)

3 racks baby back pork ribs

1. Prepare the grill for indirect cooking over low heat (or preheat the oven to 200° F).
2. Combine all of the rub ingredients together in a bowl and mix well.
3. Pat the ribs dry with a paper towel. Arrange in one layer on rimmed baking sheets. Rub the spices all over the ribs on both sides, coating well.
4. Transfer to the grill and grill over indirect low heat, with the lid closed, for 3 hours, turning once or twice. (If cooking in the oven, transfer the ribs to the oven and cook for 3 hours, turning once or twice.)
5. To finish the ribs, grill the ribs over direct medium heat, with the lid closed, until the meat darkens and crisps, about 10 minutes, turning as needed. If using a sauce, baste the ribs with your favorite sauce a few minutes before removing them from the grill. Serve with additional sauce on the side. 

Beet Ricotta Bruschetta

Beet Crostini

Open-faced sandwich are unfailingly pleasing. When a sandwich is open, its filling becomes the topping, which is a lovely reflection of the sum of its parts and a visual tease, beckoning a bite. While the sandwiches vary, often these tasty bites creatively incorporate simple ingredients, or leftovers layered over a smear of olive oil or soft cheese on sturdy or day-old bread refreshed on the grill or in the oven. The presentation is fresh, minimal, and artful, with a few fresh leaves or sprigs for garnish.

These bruschette include fresh ricotta topped with roasted beets and a spoonful of garden pesto. I call it a garden pesto because I use handfuls of the fresh new herbs that have popped up in my garden at this time of year. When the garden isn’t ready, I simply combine the supermarket herbs I’ve collected in my refrigerator. This can include any combination of parsley, mint, chives, dill, chervil, and oregano. The idea is that there is a mix of at least 3 to 4 herbs, so that one flavor doesn’t overwhelm the others. The result is a brightly green and herbaceous coulis that is delicious served with vegetables, fish, chicken, or mixed with rice and pasta. In this case, it’s a vibrant garnish to these bruschette.

Ricotta Beet Bruschetta with Garden Pesto

Prep Time: 30 minutes
Total Time: 30 minutes
Serves 6

Garden Pesto:
3 cups (packed) fresh herbs, such as parsley, mint, dill, chives, chervil, plus extra for garnish
1 small garlic clove
1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil, plus extra as needed
1/2 teaspoon finely grated lemon zest
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

6 slices ciabatta or levain bread, each about 1/2-inch thick
Extra-virgin olive oil
1 cup fresh ricotta cheese
6 to 8 roasted and peeled baby beets, cut into wedges
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

1. Make the pesto: Place the herbs and garlic in the bowl of a food processor. Process until finely chopped. With the motor running add the oil in a steady stream until blended. If too thick, add extra oil to your desired consistency. Add the lemon zest, salt, and pepper and pulse once or twice to blend. Taste for seasoning.
2. Heat the oven broiler or a grill. Lightly brush the bread slices with oil. Broil or grill, until toasted golden on both sides but still tender in the center, about 2 minutes. Remove and cool the bread for 5 minutes.
3. Smear the ricotta on the bread, then drizzle some of the pesto over the ricotta (You will not use all of the pesto. Cover with plastic and refrigerate for another use for up to one day.)
4. Top the bruschette with the beets. Brush the beets with a little oil and lightly season the bruschette with salt and pepper. Garnish with fresh herb sprigs and serve whole or cut in half for smaller bites.