Main Dishes

10 years ago, if you’d told me that I’d move to the far west, cookie-cutter suburbs of Houston and judge most of the restaurants frequent-visit list by the quality of their playground and not necessarily the food, I might have laughed in your face.

Probably would have, actually. All those margaritas I made with Mrs Ts neon-green bottled mix would have no-doubt left me pretty giggly.

But here we are 10 years later. In the far west, cookie-cutter suburbs of Houston. And we judge most of the restaurants that we frequently visit by the presence of a playground, the quality of said playground, and lastly: the food.

One of those restaurants shoots to the top of that list simply because of the playground. Because why else would anyone pay more for average TexMex when you can get better, for less?

But we have a 4 year old with endless amounts of squeals and climb-up-the-slide energy. And they have free ice cream and a covered playground smack-dab in the middle of the cookie-cutter suburbs. They are, as you can imagine, raging successful.

And sometimes being able to talk over a bowl of chips and green sauce on a patio while The Little plays 20 feet away is totally worth it. So you pick your battles. And I made peace with it once I discovered their Fish Tacos with double Cucumber-Mango salsa. Because the fresh, crunchy, and sweet salsa has been the best thing I’ve tasted there.

At home, we ditch the oily coleslaw and heavy chipotle mayo that comes on the restaurant version in favor of keeping it light and simple: chile-lime grilled fish, thin slices of avocado, cucumber-mango salsa, and whatever crumbled cheese I have (queso fresco or goat cheese).

Fresh, bright, light, and flavorful. And if we had a rocking playground like that our backyard, we’d never have to go back.

Grilled Chile-Lime Fish Tacos with Cucumber-Mango Salsa

Flaky white fish seasoned with chile and lime is topped with a sweet, fresh scoop of cucumber and mango salsa and queso fresco.

Ingredients

  • For the fish:
  • 1 lb tilapia
  • 1 lime, cut into wedges
  • Chile powder (I used chipotle)
  • Salt
  • Pepper
  • Olive oil
  • For serving:
  • 1/2 cup diced mango
  • 1/2 cup diced cucumber
  • 1/4 cup diced red onion
  • Small handful of cilantro, chopped
  • 1 small jalapeno, seeded and chopped
  • Tortillas
  • Crumbled cheese (queso fresco or goat cheese)

Instructions

  1. Preheat your grill to medium-high.
  2. Squeeze a couple of lime wedges over the fish and then season both sides with salt, pepper, and dust with chile powder.
  3. When the grill is heated, lightly spray/brush the filets with olive oil and cook for ~4 minutes each side.
  4. In a medium bowl, stir together the mango, cucumber, red onion, cilantro, and jalapeno with a pinch of salt and the juice from 1-2 lime wedges (to taste).
  5. Squeeze the remaining limes over the fish when it comes off the grill.
  6. Flake the fish into large bite-sized pieces and serve on tortillas topped with a generous scoop of salsa and crumbled cheese.

Notes

Yields: ~6 servings

Source: Confections of a Foodie Bride

Estimated time: 30 minutes

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Grilled Zucchini and Herbed Ricotta Sandwiches

I planted a second round of tomatoes in the garden last week. And while I was at it, I went ahead and stuck a new zucchini plant in.

Because this is the first year I haven’t wanted to wretch at the mere sound of “zucchini” before the 4th of July. I seriously cannot get enough of it. And I haven’t even made zucchini bread, the sure sign that Zucchini Fatigue has set in, once.

(Muffins are a different story. For next week.)

But this dish. Pure zucchini amazingness. I took my favorite summer side dish (that has already gotten the sandwich treatment plenty this summer) and gave it the Annie’s Eats sandwich treatment: served on some crusty ciabatta with a beautifully simple and creamy herbed ricotta.

I made my own ricotta. You don’t have to. But I highly recommend it. Because it takes like 20 minutes, a candy thermometer, and some $3 cheesecloth.

And your 4 year old will look at you with complete wide-eyed amazement because she just helped you make cheese. “Real cheese but it’s cheese that we eat with a spoon.” (And eat with a spoon she will until you take it away.)

Grilled Zucchini and Herbed Ricotta Sandwiches

Creamy herbed ricotta and grilled vegetables served on crusty, grilled ciabatta bread.

Ingredients

  • 1 lb zucchini, sliced into 1/3-inch rounds
  • 1 red onion, sliced into 1/2-inch rounds
  • 1/4 cup olive oil + more for spraying/brushing
  • Salt
  • Pepper
  • 1 1/2 cup ricotta
  • Zest and juice from 1 lemon
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • 3-4 large basil leaves, minced
  • 1 lb loaf of ciabatta

Instructions

  1. Heat grill to medium.
  2. Carefully thread the onion rounds onto skewers (this will keep them in tact as rounds while grilling), making sure the skewer goes through every onion ring.
  3. Brush onions and zucchini rounds with 1/4 cup olive oil and season liberally with salt and pepper.
  4. Grill vegetables 9-10 minutes each side, until nicely caramelized.
  5. Cut the ciabatta loaf in half horizontally and lightly spray/brush with olive oil - transfer to the grill for 1-2 minutes until crisped.
  6. Stir the ricotta with the lemon juice and zest, garlic, and basil leaves in a small bowl. Add salt and pepper to taste.
  7. Spread ricotta over the bottom half and top with zucchini and red onion slices.
  8. Spread any remaining ricotta on the top half of the bread, place on top, and then cut into serving sizes (smaller for appetizer; larger for entree).

Notes

Yields: Servings vary

Adapted from Annie's Eats

Estimated time: 30 minutes

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Watermelon Salad with Tequila Lime Vinaigrette

Last week, a picture of a pumpkin cheesecake popped up in my Facebook feed and I was like no.

And then I went all Tracy-Morgan-from-Cop-Out.

NO. NONONONONONO.

HELL. NO.

It’s July. And I want no part of pumpkin creamy salted apple Thanksgiving caramel candy corn baked casserole pumpkin anything.

What I do want? Sweet, figure-friendly summer fruit. Doused in figure-unfriendly tequila.

And we all know that fruit and tequila go together perfectly.

Watermelon Salad with Tequila Lime Vinaigrette

One of my favorite throw-together summer side salads is watermelon, red onion, feta, jalapeno, and a big handful of cilantro, sprinkled with just a little salt and a squeeze of lime. It has everything you could want in a summer side, except tequila.

Cut in larger chunks, it makes a fabulous salad. Cut in smaller dice, it’s makes a fabulous salsa for a no-cook chips-and-salsa dinner on the patio.

So it’s no surprise that one of my favorite recipes from Pastry Queen Parties is a similar blend of flavors taken to the next level with a tequila-lime vinaigrette. It has everything you could want in a summer side, including tequila.

The Pastry Queen serves her spiked watermelon salad in scooped out personal-sized watermelon bowls. So fancy. I opt for the no-fuss approach: a 12-year-old tupperware bowl that’s missing its lid.

Watermelon Salad with Tequila-Lime Vinaigrette

Watermelon and feta salad get a summery kick from a tequila and lime vinaigrette.

Ingredients

  • For the salad:
  • 5 generous cups 1.5-inch dice watermelon (about 1 small watermelon)
  • 1 small red onion, thinly sliced
  • Handful of cilantro, chopped
  • 3 oz crumbled feta
  • 1 jalapeno, diced (optional - but go for it)
  • For the vinaigrette:
  • 3 Tbsp lime juice
  • 1 1/2 Tbsp tequila
  • 1-2 Tbsp honey
  • Pinch of salt
  • 1 Tbsp red wine vinegar

Instructions

  1. Lightly toss the watermelon, onion, cilantro, feta, and jalapeno in a large bowl.
  2. In a small bowl, whisk the lime juice, tequila, 1 Tbsp honey, salt and red wine vinegar together.
  3. Taste for sweetness and whisk in the extra honey, if desired.
  4. Pour over immediately before serving.
  5. If you anticipate having leftovers, only dress half the salad with half the dressing - the watermelon will water down the dressing the longer it sits. Dress additional salad as needed.

Notes

Yields: ~8 servings

Adapted from The Pastry Queen Parties

Estimated time: 20 minutes

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Margarita-Glazed Baby Back Ribs

Everyone has someone in their family that is the go-to person for cooking a specific dish. In my family, I am not that person for ribs.

But I have not given up.

Margarita-Glazed Baby Back Ribs

At a cookout in 2011, with a Fine Cooking magazine in one hand and a margarita in the other (possibly my problem), I slapped my very first rack of ribs on the grill while a hungry group of people salivated.

30 minutes later, I was in the kitchen trying to pick off scorched foil from scorched meat – or maybe it was bone… it was all black, hard, and crusty and there was very little distinguishing the two. And Jason was outside trying to prevent the garage from catching fire.

It wasn’t a total loss. Just maybe half the ribs. And 7/8 of my pride.

Margarita-Glazed Baby Back Ribs

This year, with my trusty ol’ Fine Cooking magazine in one hand (I still had it and just dropped it into the recycling bin today) and a margarita in the other (clearly not the problem!), I slapped my I-have-lost-count rack of ribs on the grill while (fewer) hungry people salivated. And then 2 hours later, I texted my little brother: My streak of not burning the ribs and my house down is at 3 years!

These are, hands down, my very favorite ribs that my little brother doesn’t make. And only partly because the recipe uses 4 shots of tequila.

Baby back ribs are marinated overnight in a tequila-citrus-chile powder marinade that’s reduced with – wait for it – more tequila and citrus. The grilled, fall-off-the-bone-tender ribs are finished with the “margarita glaze” before they are inhaled by your family and everyone is left staring at you wondering why you didn’t make more.

Margarita Glazed Baby Back Ribs

Tender baby back ribs are marinated and glazed with tequila and citrus.

Ingredients

  • For the marinade:
  • 2 racks (~4 lbs) pork baby back ribs
  • 1/3 cup orange juice
  • Juice of two limes, zest from 1
  • 1/4 cup tequila
  • 2 Tbsp honey
  • 3 Tbsp olive oil
  • 2 Tbsp soy sauce
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 Tbsp ancho chile powder
  • 1 tsp ground cumin
  • Salt
  • Pepper
  • For the glaze:
  • 1/2 cup tequila
  • 1/2 cup orange juice
  • 1/4 lime juice
  • 2 Tbsp honey
  • Fresh cilantro

Instructions

  1. Cut each rack of ribs in half and place 2 sections each in a gallon zipper bag.
  2. In a medium bowl, whisk together the marinade ingredients and pour half into each bag.
  3. Seal the bags, turn to coat, and place in a baking dish in the fridge.
  4. Let marinate overnight, turning a couple of times.
  5. Transfer the marinade to a pot and add the glaze ingredients. Bring to a boil and then reduce heat to a simmer.
  6. Reduce glaze to a thick sauce.
  7. Heat grill to 250-300 degrees.
  8. Wrap each rib section in a foil pouch and cook (indirect heat recommended but my grill isn't big enough to accommodate two racks over indirect heat).
  9. Cook for ~90 minutes and tear into one of the pouches to see if the meat is tender and is pulling from the bone.
  10. Carefully open the foil pouches and glaze the ribs, leaving the foil peeled back so the sauce will caramelize.
  11. Cook for 5 minutes and then glaze again.
  12. Repeat and then transfer to a foil-tented platter to rest for 10 minutes.
  13. Cut ribs and serve any remaining glaze on the side as a sauce.

Notes

Yields: "12" servings (don't count on it)

Barely adapted from Fine Cooking

Estimated time: 14 hours 30 minutes

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