Did you know National School Lunch week starts on October 14th? While it may seem like there’s a holiday for everything nowadays, NSLW started in 1962 when President John F. Kennedy decided to promote the importance of a healthy school lunch. JFK believed good food has a positive impact, both inside and outside the classroom. I couldn’t agree more!
I know entire households affected by what’s on the school lunch menu.
“Don’t make pizza tonight, Mom. We had that at school today.
Or the more expected, “Uh, Mom…could you pack my lunch? I really don’t like what they’re serving today.
Well, of course the answer to that question is ALWAYS yes. No mom wants to hear the dreaded shouts of I’m not eating that! No Mom wants to envision their starving child failing the math quiz because of malnourishment. Even the idea of your kids sleeping through recess because they’re too hungry to move is terrible.
I don’t know about you, but for me that kind of situation makes the June Cleaver in me kick in and I think:
What could I make to rival what the cool girls are eating?
I’ve seen some pretty nifty snacks packed in Oprah’s favorite insulated sack, leaving my grandkids’ school. There are real perils here! There are simply those days when buying school lunch is just not an option, and it’s my job to arm parents with something worthy of packing into one of those Oprah parvel fold-up bags.
Behold, Jorj’s fresh, scrumptious and healthy Mediterranean Tuna salad. The recipe yields enough to divvy up into brown bag lunches for a family of 4!
1 small orange (green or yellow) bell pepper, diced, about 3 tablespoons
2 tablespoons chopped fresh dill
½ cup mayonnaise
Juice of 1 lemon, about ¼ cup
2 tablespoons white balsamic vinegar
1 teaspoon kosher salt
½ teaspoon coarse black pepper
Place the tuna into a bowl. Add the capers, sun-dried tomatoes, fennel, bell pepper and dill. In another bowl, whisk together the mayonnaise with lemon juice and balsamic vinegar. Pour the dressing into the bowl with the tuna. Fold everything together. Taste and season with salt and pepper if needed.
Serve tuna in a sandwich between two slices of bread, or pack it up in an airtight container to spread on crackers.
My travels have taken me to the warm climates of Lisbon, Madrid and Barcelona. Besides the sites, the shopping, the restaurants, the art and the local taverns, a favorite activity of mine is to wander the streets in search of fresh markets. There I can find new varieties of fresh fruits and veggies, spices, meats and cheese. Often you can find street foods prepared by vendors. My favorites were the Tortilla Espanola (a combination of scalloped potatoes and a frittata), Patatas Bravas, (a variation on French fried potatoes with a spicy sauce over the top) and Churros (a Spanish fried dough doused in sugar and dipped in chocolate). I loved these so much, I created the home cook’s version of these recipes in my new book, Canvas & Cuisine.
In seeking out recipes for Cinco de Mayo, I turned my attention to the street foods of Mexico. They are similar. They have tortas and churros, but there are also different offerings like quesadillas, enchiladas and tacos. I thought I might just try to elevate my Latin American repertoire, beyond what I’ve tasted in Spain. In doing so I looked at the famous street food that Mexico offers… tacos!
Here is an elevated version of a taco that features two sauces, one with dried ancho chilis as a base, and one with an avocado cream. I used marinated skirt steak for the meat, Monterey Jack for the cheese, and thin red onion slices and cilantro for the garnish. The end result was delish and reminded me of the fresh markets featured in my new book.
Oh to travel those streets, portrayed as paintings again…
I could smell the sidewalks with hot sizzling food, cooked right in front of me – when simple ingredients come together over sizzling griddles heated over open flames. It’s the sauces that make the dish. The ones in this steak taco recipe are made from dried chilis and fresh vegetables, harvested from the backyards of local farmers. Chili seasoned meat drizzled with spicy red and creamy green sauce, garnished with fresh herbs make this street food taco an elevated Cinco de Mayo treat. Give it a try and let me know what you think.
with Tomatillo-Ancho Chili Sauce and Avocado Cream
45 minute cuisine (plus marinating)
1 (12 to 16-ounce) skirt steak
2 tablespoons chili powder
Juice of 1 lime, about 2 tablespoons
1 teaspoon kosher salt
2 to 4 tablespoons olive oil
4 to 6 small (6-inch) corn tortillas
4 to 6 ounces shredded Monterey Jack cheese
½ red onion peeled and thinly sliced
Chopped fresh cilantro
For Chili Sauce:
3 dried ancho chilis, seeded and stems removed
5 medium tomatillos, husks removed and rinsed
2 large garlic cloves, peeled
1 cup chopped tomatoes
Juice of ½ lime, about 2 tablespoons
For Avocado Cream:
2 medium avocados, pitted and peeled
Juice of 2 limes, about ¼ cup
1/3 cup half and half
2 tablespoons chopped fresh cilantro
Place the skirt steak into a large baking dish. Season both sides with chili powder and drizzle with lime juice. Cover the dish with plastic wrap and place in the fridge for at least 30 minutes and as much as overnight.
Place the chilis in a skillet over medium heat. Turn often and toast until the skin begins to puff (but not char), about 2 to 3 minutes. Place the toasted chilis, tomatillos and garlic cloves in a pot. Cover the veggies with water (about 1 ½ cup). Cover the pot and simmer until the tomatillos are soft and pale green, about 15 minutes. Remove from the heat and cool to room temperature. Transfer the veggies to a blender or food processor. Add the tomatoes and lime juice. Add about 1 cup of the cooking liquid from the pot. Pulse to combine. Season with salt. You can add more cooking liquid to reach the consistency of a drizzling sauce.
Place the avocados into a blender or bowl of a food processor. Add the lime juice, half and half and cilantro. Season with salt. Pulse to combine. Add enough water to reach a thin, drizzling consistency.
Remove the skirt steak from the fridge and cut into very small cubes (about ¼ -inch squares). Season with salt. Heat 2 tablespoon olive oil on a griddle in large sauté pan over medium heat. Place the steak into the hot oil and cook until browned, about 3 to 5 minutes. Transfer to a platter. Add additional oil to the pan to coat the bottom.
Lay 4 to 6 (depending on the size of your griddle) tortillas into the hot oil. Once the bottom begins to brown and the tortilla begins to puff, turn and flip over. (This happens quickly.) Top the tortilla with some of the cheese. Top the cheese with seasoned steak. Cook until the cheese melts, about 2 minutes. Drizzle the tacos with chili sauce and then with avocado cream. Garnish with thin slices of red onion and fresh cilantro. Serve with a fork as an open faced taco or fold over and eat with your hands!
This year, New Orleans is striking up the Mardi Gras band on March 5th, and you know what that means: Lent is starting and Easter is just 40 days away. I love the colors, flavor, parades and pageantry surrounding this time of year – but I can’t get to Louisiana for Fat Tuesday this go around. That’s why I’m devoting this week’s post and next Monday’s to the signature dish on Mardi Gras Day: KING CAKE!!!!
Instead of that classic cake, I took its yummy ingredients and turned it into something perfect for sharing with family and friends. Today it’s bread and next Monday, get ready for some King Cake Cookies, Jorj style!
The Fancy Sprinkles Company was my muse.
A while back I ordered some Fancy Sprinkles made just for Mardi Gras. I put on my thinking cap on what to do with them, and came up with my own Mardi Gras Bread recipe. It’s a sweet treat you can serve at breakfast with cinnamon honey butter, for lunch with peanut butter and jam, or after dinner for a late night snack. Anytime is the perfect time for this bread.
This recipe makes two loaves – one for you and one to wrap up and give to a lucky friend. Give them a big hug and wish them a happy Mardi Gras! Spring is on the way!
Mardis Gras Bread
Yield 2 loaves
2 ½ hour cuisine
2 envelopes active dry yeast (about 4 ½ teaspoons)
5 ½ cups bread flour
3 tablespoons granulated sugar
1 tablespoon kosher salt
3 tablespoons unsalted butter, room temperature
8 ounce package cream cheese, room temperature
½ cup granulated sugar
3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
½ teaspoon dried grated lemon peel
2 cups confectioners’ sugar
¼ cup buttermilk
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
Yellow, purple and green sprinkles
Stir the yeast in a bowl with ½ cup warm water. Let sit until foamy, about 5 minutes.
Place the flour, sugar and salt into the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with a dough hook. Stir to combine. With the motor running on slow, add the yeast and 1 ½ cups more warm water. Once the flour is moistened, increase the speed and mix until the dough forms around the hook, about 5 to 8 minutes. Increase the speed again and continue to mix adding in the butter just a bit at a time. Mix until the dough is tight and shiny, about another 8 to 10 minutes. Turn the dough out onto your work surface and knead for about 2 to 3 minutes. Form the dough into a ball and place it into a bowl sprayed with vegetable oil spray. Cover with plastic and set in a warm, dry place to rise.
Place the cream cheese, ½ cup granulated sugar, all-purpose flour, egg and lemon peel into the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with a whisk attachment. Mix to combine.
Spray two 9x5x5” loaf pans with vegetable oil spray. Check the dough after 45 minutes. The dough should spring back slowly when you poke your finger into it. Divide the dough in half and form into two balls. Take one ball of dough and use your hands to spread into a 10×6” rectangle. Spread half of the filling onto the dough. Roll the dough (jelly-roll style) over the filling. Place the rolled dough into the loaf pan. Repeat with the second ball of dough. Again, cover the loaf pans with plastic wrap and set aside to rise.
Preheat the oven to 400°. Check the dough after 30 to 45 minutes. The dough should rise to about ½-inch from the top of the loaf pan. Place the pans into the oven and bake until the tops are deeply golden, about 35 to 40 minutes. Remove the loaves from the oven and transfer from the pan to a wire rack. Cool completely.
Whisk together confectioners’ sugar and buttermilk. Stir in vanilla extract. The glaze should be thick yet pourable. Drizzle the glaze over the loaves. Shake sprinkles over the glaze.
Or should I say “splat” –tomatoes, especially from the farmer’s market, are extra juicy this time of year. As we sweat out the last of the summer, I’m sure there’s nothing better than a sweet tasting, ripe tomato – just look at all the varieties for sale right now – tomatoes in every size and color!
Heirloom, Roma, or standard, I love tomatoes on everything from sandwiches to salads, from breakfast to supper, from January through December.
I love them most right now. Something about the taste of heirloom tomatoes brings memories of those last days of sun-filled warmth; gets you ready for the crisp change in the air that’s soon to come.
This tomato tart takes advantage of every size, shape and color tomato you have ripening on your counter top. Then we take it over the top by adding cheese! Here’s my creation, a few minutes before it goes into the oven…
Since we are all about the tomato here, it’s okay (well, it’s maybe, sort of a crime…) to ignore the homemade pie crust portion of this recipe and use store-bought. Do give this crust a try if you’re feeling up to it! So far as pastry goes, it’s easy, rich, flaky; just the thing you need to elevate this dish into the perfect dinner. It’s an upscale version of a tomato pie, and a great way to hold onto summer just a little bit longer in every bite…
Let me know what you think!
Heirloom Tomato Tart
serves 6 to 8
20 minute cuisine, plus 50 minutes baking
1 ½ cups unbleached all-purpose flour
¼ teaspoon kosher salt, plus ½ teaspoon for tomatoes
12 tablespoons, cold unsalted butter, cut into small pieces, 1 ½ stick
2 large egg yolks
¼ to ½ cup chilled water
4 to 6 heirloom tomatoes, cut into ¼-inch slices
1 bunch fresh Italian parsley, about ½ cup
1 bunch fresh basil, about ½ cup
1 bunch fresh dill, about ¼ cup
3 large garlic cloves, peeled
½ teaspoon coarse black pepper
½ cup olive oil
¼ cup Dijon-style mustard
¾ pound Gruyere cheese, grated, about 3 cups
¼ pound Parmesan cheese, grated, about 1 cup
Place the flour and salt into the bowl of a food processor. Add the chilled butter pieces. Pulse to form crumbs. Add the egg yolks and pulse to combine. Add some of the water and pulse to form a dough. Add more water as needed. Pour out the dough to your lightly floured work surface. Pat the dough into a disk, wrap in plastic, and chill in the fridge for 30 minutes.
Place the slices of tomatoes onto a platter or into a shallow bowl. Place the parsley, basil, dill and garlic into the bowl of a food processor. Pulse to finely chop the herbs. Season with salt and pepper. With the machine running, slowly pour in the olive oil. Spread this herb-olive oil over the tomatoes.
Preheat the oven to 400°. Pull the dough from the fridge and place between two sheets of plastic wrap. Roll out the dough to about ¼-inch thick. It’s your choice to shape the dough as you wish, either a rectangle or circle. Use the plastic wrap to transfer the dough to a baking sheet. Remove the wrap. Use your finger to form a crust around the edges. Spray a sheet of aluminum foil with vegetable oil spray (so it doesn’t stick) and gently push it down and over the dough. Use pie weights or dried beans to hold the foil in place. Bake for 15 minutes. Remove the foil (with the pie weights) and bake until golden, about 8 to 10 minutes more. If the pastry puffs up during baking, use a fork to gently pierce the bubbles. You want it to be a flat tart. Remove the tart from the oven and cool to room temperature.
Lower the oven temperature to 375°. Brush the mustard onto the bottom of the tart. Place half of the Gruyere cheese over the mustard. Arrange the tomato slices over the cheese. Top the tomatoes with the remaining Gruyere and the Parmesan cheeses. Place the tart back into the oven and bake until the cheese is melted, about 20 to 30 minutes. Serve the tart warm from the oven or at room temperature.
The absolute best thing about living in the South is the barbecue. Slow-roasted, smoked, seasoned, sauced it’s all just delicious! Just riding down the road you spy place after place after place, touting their version of the best barbecue in town. You can’t possibly eat at every mom and pop, checkered table-clothed, pass-the-pickles restaurant that there is, but if you are like me, you just might try!
Sometimes, you have a barbecue craving that just can’t wait. It’s a desperation kinda thing! You long for the twang of the sauce, whether it be molasses-thick, or vinegary tart. The meat has to be sliced thin enough, or perhaps just thick enough with crispy brown edges that snap in your mouth. The bun is soft, the cole slaw piled on top and yes…. you might just have a side or two of hush puppies to go along with your cue.
Want to know how to get that slow-roasted, barbecue flavor at home, in just under an hour? I have a secret. Please don’t give me away to any of the locals, because this just ain’t a bit authentic, and we know how important traditions are in these parts. But, it will work just fine – especially if you are in another part of the country, and just can’t go on down the road to satisfy your hankerin’ for Southern-style barbecue.
Slow Roasted Pork Tenderloin
A video of making this magic is coming to Youtube soon!
Serves 6 to 8
60 Minute Cuisine
3 tablespoons bacon fat (substitute with a combination of butter and olive oil)
2 (1-pound) pork tenderloins
1 tablespoon prepared steak seasoning (substitute with a combination of garlic salt and onion salt)
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1 teaspoon coarse black pepper
1 cup barbecue sauce
6 to 8 soft hamburger buns
Preheat the oven to 300°. Heat the bacon fat in a cast iron skillet over medium-high heat. Season the tenderloins with steak seasoning, salt and pepper. Place the tenderloins into the hot fat (it will spit back at you so be careful). Brown the pork on all sides, about 5 minutes. Use a pot holder to place the skillet into the oven. Roast the pork for 45 minutes. Carefully remove the skillet from the oven. Pour 1 cup (or more) barbecue sauce over the pork. Return the skillet to the oven and cook for 15 minutes more.
Remove the skillet from the oven. DO NOT forget to use your pot holder! Cover the meat with aluminum foil and rest for 10 minutes. Transfer the pork to your work surface and slice. Pile sliced pork onto the buns. Top the meat with extra sauce, cole-slaw and pickles. Yee haw!!