Keep It Simple: Mixed Grill and Roasted Vegetables

mixed grill 
I really love playing host, but let’s face it, some nights I just want to keep things simple.  Here’s a great menu for a casual evening among friends, where we’ve put down our saffron and beurre blanc and picked up only the most basic ingredients: salt, pepper and olive oil.  You’ll be amazed at how satisfying such an elementary meal can be.

Total Kitchen Time: 1 hr
Makes: Your work seem effortless to 6 awed guests

Mixed Grill (pictured above):

  • 2 Free-range organic chickens
  • 2 lbs. uncooked bratwurst
  • 4 tbsp. olive oil (or canola oil)
  • kosher salt and freshly-ground pepper
  1. Preheat your oven to 400°F and place the top rack in the lower third of the oven.  This will be your chicken oven.
  2. Preheat a second oven (even better, your toaster oven) to 450°F.  Place the bratwurst directly on your oven rack or on a wire rack in the oven and bake for about 5 minutes until the top side has browned.  Flip the links and brown for another 5 minutes.
  3. Turn the heat on your brats (long “a” sound) down to 200°F and let them continue to roast, turning occasionally, until you’re ready to eat (or about an hour and a half).
  4. Rinse the chickens and pat them very, very dry with paper towels.  Make sure that all the nooks and crannies, including the inside cavity, are dry.  The reason?  Crispy skin comes from dry birds that don’t create steam as they cook (thanks, Thomas Keller!)
  5. Truss the birds and salt liberally.  Pepper them to taste, then rub the skin with oil.  The oil will add flavor, but also act as a conductor to help us in our quest of an all-over tan.
  6. Preheat 2 large skillets [may I recommend cast iron] over high heat until they have just started to smoke.  Place one bird in each skillet, breast side up.  Transfer the skillets to the oven 400°F and place side by side.  Roast for 45 minutes to 1 hour, or until a thermometer inserted into the breast reads 150°F.
  7. After the birds have rested for 10 minutes, carve them into quarters and place on a large platter.  Cut each bratwurst in half on a bias and place around the chicken.  Serve to an adoring crowd.

tossing vegetables 
For the roasted vegetables, chop yellow squash, zucchini, brussels sprouts and onions into 3/4″ chunks and toss with olive oil, kosher salt and pepper.  Roast on a baking sheet at 400°F for 25 minutes, or until golden brown spots of deliciousness appear.

beet and goat cheese salad
Round out your meal with a light beet and goat cheese salad.  Toss arugula and baby spinach with high quality olive oil, champagne vinegar and salt and pepper in a large bowl.  Top with crumbled goat cheese and sliced, boiled beets.

Serve this meal with a sweet wine such as a Gewürztraminer or an Alsatian Riesling.  You’ll look like a culinary hero, but for you, this was just “whipping something up”.  Bravo.

Shrimp Salad Niçoise

shrimp nicoise
I love me some niçoise.  Most people are a little shocked the first time they encounter this salad.  In the traditional preparation, lightly seared tuna is served on a bed of butter lettuce with hard boiled eggs, steamed green beans and potatoes.  To a newcomer, it might appear that the salad is actually three or four different dishes, haphazardly confined to a undersized plate.  However, the niçoise is no consequence of inadequate dishware – to the contrary, it is a delicate balance of fat, acid, crunch and tenderness.  My composition honor’s the spirit of its ancestor, it just costs less. 

Serves: 2 Nice People from Nice
Total Kitchen Time: 30 minutes

Shopping List:

  • 1/2 lb. medium shrimp (20-30 count), peeled and deveined, tails on
  • 1/2 lb small red potatoes (you can also use fingerling potatoes)
  • 1 head butter lettuce (sometimes labeled Boston or Bibb; if you use Iceberg, you’re not allowed to make this salad ever again.) cleaned and torn
  • 1 large handful arugula
  • 1/2 cup Niçoise olives (substitute with Kalamata in an emergency)
  • 1 tbsp. unsalted butter
  • 4 tbsp. high-quality extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 clove garlic, smashed
  • 1 tbsp. dijon mustard
  • 2 tbsp champagne vinegar or white wine vinegar
  • 2 tbsp honey
  • 1 tsp lemon juice
  • kosher salt and pepper to taste
  • 2 tbsp fresh parmesan cheese (optional)

       shrimp and a lemon

  1. Clean and halve the potatoes.  If the potatoes are more than an inch wide in any dimension, halve them again.  Big potatoes are not good for salad, but you probably knew that.
  2. Par-cook the potatoes until tender using your favorite method.  I like to submerge the cut potatoes in a shallow microwave-proof dish and nuke for a few minutes.  Also feel free to steam or boil the little buggers.  You’re looking for a doneness of fork-tender, but not quite to the point of cracking or falling apart.
  3. Using a large, heavy-bottomed skillet, sauté the potatoes with a very small drizzle of olive oil until they start to pick up a little color.  Set the potatoes aside and keep ’em warm.
  4. Make the dressing.  Combine the garlic, olive oil, mustard, lemon juice and honey in a small food processor.  Pulse for a while until it is emulsified.  Salt and pepper the dressing to taste.  Add half of the vinegar and taste again.  Adjust the final flavor by adding the remaining vinegar, a little at a time, until you’re satisfied or too hungry to care anymore. 
  5. Melt the butter in a large skillet over medium heat.  Once the butter is hot and a little foamy, add the shrimp and cook until they have turned completely pink, but not much longer than that.  The shrimp will finish cooking very quickly, so be careful not to over-exercise your sauté skills there, captain Benihana. 
  6. Arrange the salad with the lettuce, arugula, potatoes, olives, shrimp and dressing.  Top with a small amount of parmesan cheese, if you’d like.

This salad is also excellent with salmon, if you’d like to continue the variation on a theme.  If you’re looking for a salad with a little more, well, meat, look no further

Pear and Red Beet Salad – Minus the Salad

pear and beet salad Funny story… I prepared this “salad” for an elaborate, multi-course dinner party.  Halfway through chopping the beets, I realized that I forgot to buy lettuce!  My little oversight turned out to be quite an elegant first course.  Try this one out next time you have guests over – just don’t forget any other ingredients!

Makes: 6 guests forget all about greens
Total kitchen time: 10 minutes

Shopping list:

  • 3 ripe Bosc pears, skin on, cleaned well
  • 3 red beets, tops trimmed, skin on
  • 4 Oz. Stilton (a pungent blue cheese)
  • 2 cups candied walnuts
  • 1 clove garlic
  • 2 tbsp. extra virgin olive oil (use the best stuff you have)
  • 2 tbsp. aged balsamic vinegar
  • 2 tbsp. honey
  • 1/2 tsp. salt
  • 4 twists black pepper
  1. Boil the beets in a large pot of water until they are fork-tender, about 25 minutes.  Drain and let the beets cool.  Oh, by the way, you should probably change clothes right about now.  Beets will stain, and you probably don’t want bright red sleeves right before your soirée. 
  2. Peel the beets and chop them into thin slices, as pictured above.  Set aside.
  3. Combine the garlic, olive oil, balsamic vinegar, honey, salt and pepper in a food processor and blend until smooth.  Adjust with salt, pepper and balsamic vinegar if necessary.
  4. Trim the top 1/2 inch off of the pears.  Slice in half from pole to pole.  Use a melon baller or a metal 1 tsp. measure to remove the seeds from each half of the pear.  Remove the bottom stem by cutting a wedge out of the pear with your knife.
    chopping pears
  5. Slice the pears into 1/8″ pieces and arrange five or six slices on a plate.  Pile a small mound of sliced beets, a bit of stilton and some candied walnuts nearby.  Drizzle with the balsamic vinaigrette just before serving.

Now, you could add lettuce back to this recipe, but I don’t think it’s needed.  Have fun with the plating too – create a “tower of pears” or a “nest of beets”.  Your first course will set the mood for the rest of the meal, so have fun with it.  Oh, and don’t forget, uh, what was I saying?