Greek Pasta Salad

Summertime is for BBQs, and this Greek Pasta Salad should be on every picnic table. It’s a great make-ahead option, tastes great cold or at room temperature, and since it’s not loaded up with mayo, it’s even a bit on the lighter side. Cool fresh vegetables, tangy artichokes and a salty pop from the feta is sure to be a crowd pleasing side for your favorite grilled entrees.

 

 

Ingredients:

1 lb. pasta (ditalini, orzo or rotini)
16 artichoke hearts (approx. 200g), stems removed and chopped
3 tbsp. (approx. 50g) sundried tomatoes, chopped
½ cup red onion, minced
1 cucumber, seeded and chopped
¼ cup crumbled feta cheese
Red wine vinaigrette (recipe below)
Chopped basil (optional garnish)

Red Wine Vinaigrette:
¾ cup red wine vinegar
2 tbsp. sugar
3 tbsp. olive oil
3 tbsp. Greek yogurt (plain or non-fat)
1 tsp. dill weed
2 tsp. Greek oregano
Salt and pepper*

Cook pasta in salted water according to package directions, drain and place in a bowl. Set in refrigerator to cool. In a small bowl, whisk together Red Wine Vinaigrette ingredients and pour over cooled pasta. Add chopped artichokes, sundried tomatoes, minced red onion, chopped cucumber and feta cheese. Gently toss to combine. Top with chopped basil and set in fridge for at least one hour. Toss again before serving and add salt and pepper, if necessary. Enjoy!

Note: taste pasta salad before adding additional salt. After cooking the pasta in salted water and adding the feta, it may be salty enough. Also, the sundried tomatoes and artichokes I use (both Trader Joe’s brand) are pre-marinated and add a little extra salt and olive oil to the pasta salad. If using a different brand, you might need to add a little salt and pepper or a drizzle of olive oil.

Grilled Shrimp and Guacamole Tostada Bites

Grilled Shrimp and Guacamole Tostada BitesIt’s not difficult to tell what season it is by looking at the dinner table in my house. If winter can be characterized by sauces, soups and stews, summer is represented by fresh herbs, salads and anything topped with vegetable slaws. Maybe it has something to do with not having a bulky sweater to hide behind, or a lighter appetite in the 100 degree Texas heat.

If you’ve ever been to Z’Tejas, a restaurant in downtown Austin, you’ve probably tried their Grilled Shrimp & Guacamole Tostada Bites appetizer. Crunchy tostadas, topped with a big dollop of guacamole and perfectly seasoned grilled shrimp, served with a tangy vegetable slaw. They are what an appetizer should be – a bite or two to help entice your appetite – which makes them a great anytime appetizer, but even better summertime appetizer!

Since I’m making a big batch of these for a get-together, I used store bought guacamole to save time, but you can certainly make your own. Speaking of saving time, have you tried out a stove top grill pan? I bought a fire engine red Le Creuset Double Burner Grill Pan from the William Sonoma outlet a few weeks ago and I am in love with my new toy. I probably buy one piece of Le Creuset cookware a year to add to my collection, and I’m like a little-kid-on-Christmas kind of excited whenever I get a new piece. It’s large enough to use over 2 burners, so it heats evenly and I even did all 30 shrimp in one batch!

Grilled Shrimp and Guacamole Tostada Bites 2Ingredients (makes 30 bite sized tostadas):

Vegetable Slaw:
2 tbsp. apple cider vinegar
1 tsp. sugar
1 tbsp. lime juice
1 tbsp. canola oil
1 red pepper, diced
½ red onion, diced
1 jalapeno, ribs and seeds removed, diced
¼ cup shredded carrots
½ cucumber, peeled, seeded and diced

Garlic Lime Shrimp:
30 peeled and deveined shrimp small/medium shrimp (approx. 30 per lb.)
2 cloves garlic, pressed or finely minced
Pinch crushed red pepper
Juice of 1 lime
1 tbsp. canola oil

30 tostada or pita rounds
1 pint store bought guacamole or see recipe for Restaurant Style Guacamole

Grilled Shrimp and Guacamole Tostada Bites 3To make the slaw:
In a small bowl, whisk together the apple cider vinegar, sugar and lime juice until sugar is dissolved. Add in canola oil and set aside. Mix together diced red pepper, red onion, jalapeno, shredded carrots and cucumber. Pour dressing mixture over the top and stir to combine. Set in refrigerator for 20 minutes while preparing the shrimp to let the vegetables marinate in the dressing.

To prepare the shrimp:
Combine shrimp with pressed or minced garlic, lime juice, crushed red pepper and canola oil. Season with salt and pepper. Spray grill pan with non-stick cooking spray and heat on medium. Grill shrimp 2-3 minutes per side until cooked throughout.

Line tostadas on a serving tray. Top each tostada with a heaping teaspoon of guacamole and a grilled shrimp. Spoon vegetable slaw over shrimp, serving the rest on the side in a small bowl. Enjoy!

Best Baby Back Ribs

Best Baby Back RibsLiving in Texas, good BBQ is everywhere. I love baby back ribs, but not everyone is lucky enough to be able to smoke ribs at home or pick some up at the local BBQ joint. This is the easiest way to make tender, juicy ribs, and takes no special equipment – just an oven.  You won’t get the same smoky flavor as traditional BBQ, but with the right spices and sauce, you won’t miss it.  Use your favorite store bought spice rub and BBQ sauce, or if you are feeling fancy, make your own!

 

 

Best Baby Back Ribs 3The key is to cook the ribs long enough that the meat is tender and juicy, but retaining enough structure that you can sink your teeth into the juicy meat to pull it cleanly off the bone. If the ribs are overcooked, they can dry out, or even worse, completely fall apart and become mushy.

Good ribs need to have good texture. These are words to live by.

 

 

Best Baby Back Ribs 2Ingredients:
3 lb. rack baby back ribs
¼ cup spice rub
1 cup BBQ sauce

 

 

 

Best Baby Back Ribs 4Preheat oven to 275 degrees. Rub spice mixture on rack and place ribs (curved rib side down) on a baking sheet. Cover with foil and bake 2.5 hours. Remove from oven and turn broiler to low. Discard foil, brush with BBQ sauce and finish under broiler until starting to caramelize, 5-10 minutes (depending on broiler flame and how close top rack is to flame). Let rest 5 minutes, slice and serve with extra BBQ sauce for dipping. Enjoy!

Wine Pairings:
District 7 Cabernet Sauvignon 2014
Montgo Monastrell 2012
Solanera Vinas Viejas 2013

Restaurant Style Guacamole

Restaurant Style GuacamoleGuacamole is a summer mainstay here in Austin, and you can get it at nearly every restaurant in town. Back in my native New York, it is seldom found outside of a Mexican restaurant. This Restaurant Style Guacamole is easy to make, uses lots of fresh veggies and herbs, and everyone should have access to good Guac! It’s perfect to make for a BBQ, when making Corn and Black Bean Salad as a summery side, so you can put the leftover red onion, cilantro and lime from that dish to good use. Making them at the same time cuts down on prep time, and there is less to buy at the grocery store!

Restaurant Style Guacamole 2Ingredients:
1 large or 2 small avocados
1 Roma tomato, diced
1 jalapeno pepper, seeds and ribs removed, diced
2 tbsp. red onion, minced
2 tbsp. chopped cilantro leaves, stems removed
Juice of ½ lime
Salt and pepper

Restaurant Style Guacamole 3In a medium bowl, scoop out avocado and mash with a fork. Mix in diced tomatoes, jalapeno pepper, red onion, cilantro, and lime juice until creamy. Season with salt and pepper and serve immediately with tortilla chips. Enjoy!

Corn and Black Bean Salad

Corn and Black Bean SaladSummer means grilling, and if the cooking is being done outside, it’s time to whip up some easy sides that are packed with veggies and don’t require turning on the oven. I love making dishes that use a bunch of fresh ingredients, but sometimes if I’m using a piece of an onion or half a bunch of cilantro, as much as I plan to make something with the other half, a few days later I wind up throwing a wilted bunch of cilantro in the trash. Making this Corn and Black Bean Salad on a night when I also make Guacamole for an appetizer, uses several of the same ingredients, so less waste and the flavors complement each other nicely. Besides, everyone loves to snack on Guacamole while waiting for dinner!

Corn and Black Bean Salad 2Ingredients:
16 oz. bag frozen corn, thawed and drained
1 can black beans, drained and rinsed
1 red bell pepper, diced
1 jalapeno pepper, seeds and ribs removed, diced
2 tbsp. red onion, minced
2 tbsp. cilantro leaves, stems removed and chopped

For the dressing:
1/3 cup apple cider vinegar
Juice of ½ lime
3 tbsp. sugar
2 tbsp. canola oil
¼ tsp. cumin
Salt and pepper

Corn and Black Bean Salad 3In a medium bowl, mix together corn, black beans, diced bell pepper, diced jalapeno, minced red onion and chopped cilantro. In a separate bowl, whisk together apple cider vinegar, lime juice and sugar until sugar is dissolved. Stir in canola oil, cumin, salt and pepper and pour dressing over vegetable mixture. Stir and refrigerate for one hour before serving to let flavors fully incorporate.

Enjoy!

 

Note: this makes a great summer side, but I’ve also been known to make this as an appetizer and scoop it up with some chips!