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Fall Salad with Seared Maple Chicken and Roasted Vegetables

Tony writes: The first September morning that temps drop into the 40’s, I kinda lose my mind; as much as a person who has spent 38 winters in New England really should. I shorten the am dog-walking route, layer early and often (sweats, turtlenecks, whatever), and quickly evolve the way I think about dinner. This salad was my initial reaction to the season’s first cold spell: a pairing of roasted root vegetables – beets, potatoes, and members of the alium family-, lightly dressed greens, seared chicken breasts, and a maple vinaigrette. The method is ridiculously easy but produces a meal that’s warming and vaguely fancy. Here’s how:

– Treat chicken like duck: Searing duck breasts is one of those techniques you pick up quickly in the kinds of fancy shmancy restaurants where I worked in my 20’s. The process is simple: sear the breast skin side down so the skin browns and becomes crisp. Then flip and cook until just done; medium-rare for duck. Chicken and duck  may be different animals — duck is a whole lot fattier and richer –, but the skin in this method keeps the breast meat from drying out and adds flavor and texture. And if you brush the chicken breast with a little maple syrup after the initial sear (and before a brief roast in the oven), it will feel almost as fancy as duck and make for the perfect accompaniment to a fall salad .

The Recipe; Serves 4


1. Prep and roast the veg:  Heat the oven to 425F. Scrub and rinse 1 sweet potato (about 8 oz.) and 2 beets (about 8 oz.) and cut each in 1/4-inch half moons. Peel 3 small carrots (about 8 oz.) and quarter lengthwise. Peel and slice 1 shallot into thin disks. Add the vegetables to a rimmed baking sheet (lined with foil if you like), sprinkle with 2 Tbs. olive oil, 2 tsp. chopped fresh thyme, 1 tsp. kosher salt, and 1/2 tsp. black pepper and gently toss. Roast the vegetables, flipping after 8 min, until they brown and become tender, about 12 min.


2. Meanwhile, prep the chicken: Debone 4 split chicken breasts (about 3 lb.); (this how-to video is helpful); . Rinse the deboned breasts with cold water and then pat dry well with paper towel. Sprinkle with 1 tsp. chopped fresh thyme and 1 tsp. kosher salt and 3/4 tsp. black pepper.  Drizzle with 1 1/2 Tbs. olive oil and rub all over the breasts.


3. Sear-roast the chicken: Set a 12-inch cast-iron skillet (or heavy-based pan) over medium-high heat for 1 1/2 min. Set the chicken in the pan skin-side-down and evenly spaced and cook, undisturbed, until the skin browns around the edges and easily releases when you lift a corner, 3 to 4 min. Flip the chicken, brush the skin with 1/4 cup maple syrup and transfer the pan to the 425F oven. Roast until the chicken just cooks through (165F on an instant-read thermometer), about 5 min. Transfer the chicken to a cutting board to cool.


4. Make the vinaigrette and assemble the salad: In a small bowl, whisk 2 tsp. whole-grain mustard with 3 Tbs. cider vinegar, 1 Tbs. maple syrup and 1/2 tsp. each S+P. While still whisking, slowly drizzle in 1/2 cup olive oil so the mixture comes together in a uniform (emulsified) mixture.  Add 5 oz baby arugula (or baby spinach) and 1/2 cup shaved Parmigiano to a large bowl and toss with half of the vinaigrette. Arrange the roasted vegetables on 4 dinner plates. Top with the dressed arugula. Thinly slice the chicken and set atop the greens. Serve, drizzled with the remaining vinaigrette.


Griddled Fresh Corn Cakes with Late Summer Vegetables and Ricotta

Tony writes: One of my favorite food memories is of the corn pancakes my Mom made one summer trip. I was young and kinda dumbfounded that a windmill could actually grind corn and that the resulting meal could then be whisked into pancakes. Ever since, I’ve been partial to corn cakes. I work them into my cooking often as I did recently when I created an Italian-ish, late summer (early-fall) meal of zucchini, red peppers, and sweet corn. I  folded the  fresh corn kernels into crisp corn cakes and then made the cakes the base for the grilled zucchini and red pepper. I had a small tub of ricotta in the fridge and mashed that into a spread with some fresh basil and topped that on the warm cakes along  with the grilled vegetables. Simple, but kinda elegant and, sadly, probably the last creative thing I do on the grill this year. Before the cold comes, here’s how:

The Recipe: Serves 4


1. Make the batter (up to 1 day ahead): Separately mix the wet and the dry ingredients. In a large bowl, whisk 1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour (about 6 3/4 oz) with 3/4 cup cornmeal, 2 tsp. baking powder1 tsp. table salt, and 1 tsp. sugar. In another bowl, whisk 2 cups buttermilk, 2 large eggs (beaten), the kernels of  2 ears sweet corn (about 1 1/2 cups), and 4 Tbs. melted butter. Make a well in the center of the flour mixture. Using a wooden spoon and stirring while you pour in the wet ingredients, add the wet ingredients to the dry. Stir gently until the mixture is mostly uniform (some lumps are ok; if you over-stir, the pancakes will become tough). You can make this batter up to 24 hr ahead.


2. Pan-fry the corn cakes: Heat a large cast-iron pan over medium heat for 2 minutes. Add a pat of unsalted butter and, once it’s melted, pour in 2-Tbs dollops of the corn cake batter, evenly spaced (you probably will only be able to fit 3 or 4 cakes per batch). Cook until the batter starts to bubble and brown around the edges, about 2 minutes. Flip, and cook the other side 2 minutes, or until the pancakes cook through. Cook the remaining pancakes in the same manner and keep warm in a 200F oven.


3. Grill the vegetables: Prepare a medium fire on a gas or charcoal grill. Core and quarter 1 red bell pepper and quarter lengthwise 2 medium zucchini (about 1 lb.). Sprinkle the vegetables with 1 Tbs. olive oil, 1 tsp. kosher salt, and 1/2 tsp. freshly ground black pepper. Grill the vegetables, flipping every couple of minutes, until they are browned and soft, about 6 minutes total. Transfer to a large cutting board to cool and then thinly slice.


4. Assemble and serve: In a medium bowl, mash 1 cup ricotta with 1 Tbs. heavy cream, 1/4 cup chopped fresh basil, 2 scallions (thinly sliced) and salt and pepper, to taste. Set the warm corn pancakes in the middle of plates, top with a generous schmear of ricotta and the vegetables. Sprinkle with more basil and serve.


Grilled Chili Dogs with Chipotle Beans and Smoked Cheddar

Bill asked me about chili dogs in a recent cooking class. My response was pretty blah. We were cooking beans for a soup and when he shifted topics, I kinda blanked. I sifted through my meal memory and quickly realized that I had never made chili dogs. It’s always seemed like the kind of thing you eat out, at some sort of a tailgating event. Or the “before” part of an antacid commercial (50-something actor pounds on his chest and makes a sour face). But then an unexpected, slightly ridiculous craving came on last week – a chili dog craving – and, suddenly, I started thinking about how one would go about the task: good, all-natural dogs, intense homemade chili, some sort of sharp cheese (smoked?), and some lively toppings. And I gave it a go, The results were good enough to share. Here’s how:

 The method: After a quick first pass at the grill, I realized that the trick to good chili dogs is to make the beans good and assertive to match their role in the preparation: basically, a hearty condiment. So on my second go-round, I grilled fresh corn and red onion to serve as a smoky base for the beans. Along with the grilled vegetables, I layered on canned chipotle and hits of chili powder and cumin. The finished beans were a little aggressive to eat on their own, but on top of the grilled hot dogs, they were perfect.

The Recipe; Serves 4


1. Grill the vegetables (for the beans): Prepare a moderate charcoal fire or heat a gas grill to medium-high. Thinly slice 1 red onion (peel and cut in 1/4-inch disks; try to keep the rings together). Peel 2 ears sweet corn. Drizzle the onion and corn with 2 Tbs. olive oil and a generous sprinkling S+P. Grill the vegetables, flipping, until browned and tender, 8 to 10 min. Transfer to a cutting board to cool for 5 minutes, then coarsely chop the onions and slice the corn kernels off the cob.


2. Make the pot of beans: Rinse and drain a 28-oz can pinto beans. under cold, running water. Set a heavy-based pot over medium-high heat. Add 1 Tbs. olive oil, the chopped onions, and corn kernels and cook, stirring, until the onions soften completely, about 4 minutes. Add 2 tsp. ground cumin, 1 tsp. chili powder, and 1 garlic clove (minced) and cook, stirring, until the garlic becomes fragrant, about 30 seconds.  Add the beans, 3/4 cup chicken broth (or water), 1 canned chipotle pepper (minced), 1 Tbs. of the adobo sauce (from the can), 1 Tbs. tomato paste, and 1 Tbs. cider vinegar. Bring to a boil, then reduce to a simmer, and cook, stirring occasionally, until the broth thickens (add a splash of more broth or water as needed) and the flavors mix and meld, about 15 min.


3. Meanwhile, grill the dogs: Make slits in 4 large beef hot dogs. Grill the hot dogs, flipping occasionally, until they brown and heat through, about 5 min. Lightly toast 4 hot dog buns on the grill.


4. Assemble, garnish, and serve: To serve, set the hot dogs in the buns, top with a heaping spoonful of the beans, sprinkle with 1 1/2 cups grated cheese (I used smoked cheddar), 1 cup thinly sliced scallions, and 1 cup jarred jalapenos; eat any remaining beans on the side or reheat with rice and vegetables.

Rosemary Grilled Chicken with Italian Tomato and Bread Salad

Sarah writes: I got tomatoes! Lots of ’em! Cherry, plum, heirloom. Ideas?  Maybe a sauce? I have fresh basil, too.

Tony’s take: Early in the season, I might have directed you towards a sauce, but by this point in late August (scary, isn’t it?), why not get a littler crazy? Sure, you can  use any of the plum tomatoes in a sauce where they will do well  (try this recipe from an old Cook Angel post; substitute fresh for the canned). Buy why not try to use the heirloom and cherry tomatoes in something exciting like this grilled bread salad? It’s a dish I have been playing around with:  my take on Judy Rodger’s famous chicken dish from the Zuni Cafe in San Francisco.  Panzanella is an Italian thing, a way to use up stale loaves; tomatoes add moisture and bring the cubes of dry bread back to life. I like to give the preparation a twist by grilling the bread. The smoke adds another level of flavor; think bruschetta transformed into a side dish. And by setting a whole grilled chicken atop the bread salad, the juices from the bird soak into the bread, creating an intense, summery stuffing, perfect for cool, late August nights. Here’s how:


Serves 4: Prep time: 25 minutes.  Cook time: 45 minutes

What you’ll need: Ingredients: Chicken (a 4-lb bird), olive oil, garlic (1 to 2 cloves), fresh rosemary, S+P, bread (1 lb of something crusty like a ciabatta), tomatoes (2 to 3, about 1 1/2 lb), fresh basil, Kalamata olives (about 1 cup), red onion (about 1/2 small), Parmigiano (about 1/2 cup coarsely grated).

Equipment: Grill (gas will be quicker/easier to control for this technique, charcoal more flavorful), tongs,spatula , chef’s knife (and kitchen shears, if you have, for butterflying the chicken), cutting board, cheese grater.


1. Butterfly the chicken: Look up at the neck of a whole chicken and you’ll see the backbone running down its length (on the opposite side of the breasts). Cut out the 1-inch strip  that is the backbone, by using a chef’s knife or, even better, kitchen shears, and starting at one side of the neck, cut straight down through the breast bones (these should give way easily) all the way to and around the tailbone (there’s a little space between that and the bone from the thigh). Do the same on the other side of the tailbone so you cut off a 1-inch strip. This video is pretty good if you want a little visual assistance.

Season the chicken: Now, flip the chicken over (breast side up) and press it down so it lays flat.  Give the chicken a rinse and pat it completely dry. Rub the bird all over with olive oil (1 to 2 Tbs.) and then sprinkle with kosher salt (about 2 tsp.), some black pepper (about 1 tsp.),  chopped fresh rosemary (1 to 2 tsp.), and some minced garlic (1 to 2 cloves). Let sit at room temperature while you light up the grill, or refrigerate for up to 2 days so the flavors seep in.


Grill the chicken and the bread: Heat half of the burners on a gas grill to medium high and the other half to low or light up a charcoal fire and spread 3/4 of the coals to one side (so the other side has just a sparse, thin layer). Grill the chicken (breast side down) over the hotter part of the fire until it starts to brown and get good grill marks (about 5 minutes); transfer the chicken to the cooler zone immediately if it starts to burn (chicken skin has a tendency to flare up, especially if the fire is hot). Flip (so the chicken is breast side up), transfer the chicken to the cooler zone, cover the grill (with the vents open on a charcoal fire) and grill until the chicken cooks through, about 20 to 25 more minutes – an instant read thermometer inserted into the thickest part of the thighs and breasts should register 165F or make a nick to check that it’s cooked through.


While, the chicken is grilling, make the bread salad: Cut the bread into 1-inch slices. Cut a  garlic clove in half and gently scrape along the cut sides of the bread (the garlic might break up a bit – that’s ok). Brush the bread with some olive oil (about 2 Tbs.) and sprinkle lightly with salt. Grill the bread (over the hotter zone) until it has good grill marks, about 2 minutes. Flip and grill the other side in the same manner. Transfer to a cutting board to cool. Then slice into 1-inch cubes and toss into a large bowl. Add the tomatoes (cut in 1/2-inch dice – use a serrated blade), 1/2 red onion (finely diced), 1 cup pitted Kalamata olives, 12 torn basil leaves, and 1/2 cup grated Parmigiano. Toss well with 1/4 cup olive oil, 2 Tbs. red wine vinegar,  1 tsp. salt and 1/2 tsp. pepper. Let sit for 10 minutes and then toss with more salt and pepper to taste.


Serve: Transfer the bread salad to a large platter. Set the cooked chicken on top to cool for 5 minutes. Then, cut the chicken into pieces and serve with the bread salad.


Grilled Sesame and Jalapeno Pepper Shrimp

tonyr_cook_k Tony writes: I’d eat a worn shoe sole if it were cooked Chinese “salt and pepper” style: lightly battered and fried and then tossed with chopped jalapeno, scallions, and garlic (or ginger). I know, the preparation sounds simple, but it produces nuanced results. The earthy heat of the jalapenos matches the intensity of the chopped aromatics, each soaking into the coating of the fried food. I don’t like to fry much at home, so occasionally I like to recreate this dish on the grill. The results aren’t quite as good as frying (what is??), but this technique is tasty and super easy and vaguely exotic for weeknight grilling. Here’s how:

The shrimp: I find myself buying only shrimp that’s wild-caught these days; if there isn’t any available, I keep on moving. I’m sure there is good farm-raised stuff, just not where I shop. Do look for 16-20 ct for this recipe (a size which means between 16 and 20 shrimp make up 1 lb.); this is large enough to skewer easily, but not obscenely expensive. Though there are culinary camps that insist on grilling shrimp shell-on, I prefer peeled, the better to pick up smoky flavor. shrimp.9 – Grill and toss: Few things replicate the drying heat of perfectly fried food (crisp coating, moist interior), but grilling comes close. The trick is to toss grilled or fried food with flavorings the moment they’re done cooking. The food’s residual heat semi-cooks aromatics and herbs, creating its own dry sauce as it were (if that makes sense). shrimp.10 The recipe; Serves 4.

1. Prep the shrimp: Prepare a medium hot charcoal fire or light a gas grill to medium high. Meanwhile, peel 1 1/4 lb shrimp (preferably 16-20 ct), devein, rinse under cold water, and pat dry (leave on a paper towel until just before grilling).

2. Prep the salad:  While the grill heats, in a large bowl, toss 4 cups thinly sliced Napa cabbage (about 1/2 lb.), 2 cups grated carrots (from 2 carrots), and 1/2 cup fresh cilantro leaves (rinsed and patted dry). Toss with 1 Tbs. granulated sugar and 1 tsp. kosher salt and let sit for 10 min. Then toss with 1 Tbs. rice vinegar and 2 tsp. toasted sesame oil; season with more salt or sugar to taste.    shrimp.83. Grill the shrimp: Skewer the shrimp, brush with 2 Tbs. canola oil or peanut oil and sprinkle with 1/2 tsp. each kosher salt and black pepper.  Grill the shrimp until it browns and becomes bright pink on 1 side, about 2 min. Flip and cook the other side until it browns and the shrimp become firm to the touch, about 2 more min.shrimp.74. Toss with the jalapeno mix: Immediately transfer the shrimp to a large bowl (use a towel and a set of tongs so you don’t burn yourself). Toss with 4 scallions (trimmed and thinly sliced), 2 jalapenos (seeded and chopped), 1 Tbs. toasted sesame seeds1 garlic clove (minced) and 1/4 tsp. kosher salt.  shrimp.65. Serve: Scatter the dressed Napa cabbage on a platter, top with the shrimp, and serve with steamed brown rice. shrimp.1shrimp.3

Summery Grilled Tandoori Chicken Salad

Tony writes:  Every year as the weather warms, I try to run more and ice cream less. I switch to brown rice and steer towards main courses that are light enough to feel good, but food enough to be dinner. All of which has gotten me to thinking about salads (as dinner) and this pairing. The yogurt tandoori marinade makes plain old chicken breasts feel like they almost had skin. And it’s easy to make; throw it together with the chicken on a Sunday and then grab and grill later in the week. Partner with some grilled vegeables – corn, zucchini, red onion – that are all queueing up for their local harvest and will be around for a couple of months and you have  your new  go-to all summer long. Here’s how:


The Recipe; Serves 4-6.

1. Marinate the chicken: In a large bowl, whisk together 1 cup Greek yogurt with 1 Tbs. Sriracha, 1 Tbs. curry powder, 1 Tbs. granulated sugar,  2  tsp. kosher salt, and 1 tsp. black pepper. Rub all over  2 lb. boneless skinless chicken breasts, transfer to a zip-top bag, and marinate in the refrigerator for up to 4 days.


2. Get everything prepped:  Prepare a medium charcoal fire or heat a gas grill to medium-high. Meanwhile, peel 2 ears corn, wash, trim, and quarter lengthwise 1 lb. zucchini (about 3 small), and cut 1 large red onion (about 3/4 lb.) into 1/4-inch disks.  Sprinkle generously with S+P and with 2 Tbs. olive oil.


3. Grill the chicken and vegetables: Give the grill a good scrape with a brush, spray lightly with oil (so the chicken doesn’t stick) and set the vegetables and chicken on the grill. Cook the vegetables, flipping after a couple of minutes, until they are brown and tender: about 6 min for the zucchini, 8 min for the corn, and 10 min for the onions (you can move them to a cooler zone if they start to burn). Grill the chicken, flipping after 4 min (use a sturdy spatula to help with the process), until it has good grill marks and is cooked through (slice into a thicker piece), about 8 minutes total.


3. Assemble the salad: Toss a 5-oz pack baby arugula with 4 Tbs. olive oil and 2 Tbs. red wine vinegar and a generous sprinkling of salt. Coarsely chop the grilled onion and zucchini and remove the kernels from the cob. Halve 1 pint grape tomatoes and dice 1 avocado.  Arrange the arugula on 4 dinner plates. Top with the zucchini, onion, tomato, avocado, and corn kernels. Sprinkle with 1 cup coarsely chopped fresh cilantro. Thinly slice the chicken, set on top of the greens and serve with lime for squeezing.