Spice up your Labor Day!
Spicy Biscotti

By Tina Wasserman

Labor Day is the unofficial end to summer. Children are back in school, the Halloween candy is already on the supermarket shelves and a bathing suit is almost impossible to purchase if you need one. However, the heat is still high and the grill outside is still being utilized more than the oven inside. Although we, in Texas, seem to use our grills most of the year because of our temperate weather, Labor Day is always a big grilling holiday.

The following recipes will “spice” up your gathering and the salad and dessert can easily be transported to a friend’s home. Enjoy, and remember, The High Holidays are around the corner, so I’ll get you geared up for that later in September. 

Watermelon Salad with Pineapple and Jalapeño

When I’m on vacation, experimenting with recipes is my happy pastime. An article in the New York Times piqued my interest with the fruit combination and then I adapted it to what I had in the kitchen. Cool and refreshing for a Labor Day BBQ or any time that the fruit is sweet.

  • 3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • 2 tablespoons white balsamic vinegar
  • Zest of one lime
  • 2 tablespoons fresh lime juice, approximately ½ lime
  • 1 tablespoon wildflower honey, optional if vinegar is slightly sweetened
  • 1 jalapeño, thinly sliced with seeds and membrane attached
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • 1/3 cup finely chopped red onion
  • 1½-2 pounds watermelon, rind and seeds removed and cut into 1-inch cubes
  • 1½ -2 pounds fresh pineapple, cut into 1-inch cubes
  • ¾ cup crumbled feta cheese
  • ½ cup mint or basil leaves, chiffonade* (see tidbit)
  • Tajin seasoning for garnish, optional

1. Using a 4-quart bowl, add the olive oil, vinegar, zest, juice, honey (if using) and the jalapeño slices and combine well. Season with salt and pepper. Add the onion and set aside for 10 minutes.

2. Add the watermelon and pineapple and toss to coat. Prepare seasonings and refrigerate until ready to serve.

3. When ready to serve, add the feta and herbs and toss well. Place in serving dish and sprinkle with tajin, if using.

Serves 8-10 people

Tina’s Tidbits:

  • Although leftovers can be eaten days after preparation, the acid in the pineapple will lighten the color of the onion, and the salt and honey will draw some juices out of the fruit. My recommendation is to have all components ready — dressing, fruit and herbs — and then mix them together an hour before serving so that flavors have a chance to meld without softening the fruit.
  • To chiffonade means to pile the leaves on top of each other, roll them into a long cylinder and then cut it crosswise to get little strips of herbs. It gets its name because when tossed in the air or sprinkled on a dish they will float like chiffon.
  • Tajin is readily available in supermarkets and is a chili-lime seasoning that “brightens” the flavors in the dish.

Grilled Spiced Chicken Thighs 

I used to be a chicken white-meat aficionado but, for entertaining, nothing beats cooking with chicken thighs, especially boneless chicken thighs. The meat is moist, easily absorbs good flavors from marinades and holds well without drying out. This recipe is one of my new favorites for its ease of preparation and its delicious flavor. You don’t use all the rub so the remainder can be refrigerated for a few weeks or frozen for later use.

  • 1¼ teaspoons ground coriander seed
  • 1 teaspoon ginger
  • 2 teaspoons Korean gochugaru or red pepper flakes
  • 1 teaspoon ground cardamom
  • 1 teaspoon turmeric
  • 1 tablespoon Colman’s dry mustard
  • 1 teaspoon ground nutmeg
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1 teaspoon allspice
  • 1 teaspoon cayenne
  • ¾ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 2 tablespoons kosher salt
  • 4 tablespoons sweet paprika, Moroccan or Hungarian
  • ½ cup dry red or white wine
  • ¼ cup peanut or corn oil
  • Juice of 1 medium orange (about ¼ cup)
  • 8 chicken thighs or 4 thighs and 4 legs

1. Add all 13 spices to a 10-inch frying pan and heat over medium heat, stirring and shaking the pan until the spices are warmed and give off a fragrant aroma. Do not let spices burn.

2. Add the wine and stir until a paste is formed and all the wine has evaporated. Turn off the heat and allow the mixture to cool for a while.

3. When cool to slightly warm, add the oil and orange juice and stir to thoroughly combine. Cover and refrigerate for at least ½ hour.

4. At least 30 minutes before grilling, rub some of the spice mixture all over the chicken parts and place on a tray.

5. Heat a grill so that the heat is around 500 degrees or Medium on a grill gauge.

6. Grill the chicken for 15-20 minutes, turning chicken over every 5 minutes to uniformly grill. Chicken is done when the flesh feels firm but not hard when gently pressed.

7. Remove from the grill and let the parts rest for 5 minutes before serving so the juices are reabsorbed.

Serves 4 or more if other meats are grilled as well.

Tina’s Tidbits:

  • In many cuisines, seeds are lightly roasted to bring out the flavors of the spices. Here, to help the Western cook, I have used ground spices so roasting is VERY quick and care should be taken not to burn the spices.
  • This spice rub will last in the refrigerator for weeks, assuming the mixture hasn’t been contaminated by fingers or a utensil that touched raw chicken.
  • I prefer to use boneless chicken thighs because they cook fast and stay moist. Boneless breasts can be used as well, but they take longer to cook if not previously pounded to an even thickness and tend to dry out rapidly while grilling.
  • Using whole pieces of chicken gives a great flavor to the meat and you get crispy skin as well. These cuts just need more attention while grilling. 

Spicy Biscotti

People often think of pepper as only the spouse of salt but, if you think of the flavor of pepper and compare it to cloves or allspice or any other seed, you can see where pepper, especially a mixed pepper blend, could add a great flavor to a baked good.

  • 2 cups flour
  • ½ teaspoon baking soda
  • ½ teaspoon baking powder
  • Pinch of salt
  • 1 teaspoon freshly ground 5-pepper mixture or black pepper
  • 1 stick unsalted butter
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 2 eggs
  • Grated zest of ½ orange
  • Grated zest of ½ lemon
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla
  • 1 cup toasted pecan pieces
  • ½ cup toasted slivered almonds

1. Combine the flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt and pepper in a small bowl and set aside.

2. Cream the butter and sugar together with an electric mixer until light and fluffy. Add the eggs and beat until light and lemon-colored. Add the zests and vanilla and mix to thoroughly combine.

3. Add the flour mixture, pecans and almonds and stir just until a ball of dough is formed.

4. Cover a cookie sheet with parchment paper and divide the dough in half.

5. Lightly flour or oil your hands and shape the dough halves into flattened logs about 2 inches wide and 10 or 12 inches long. Place on the prepared cookie sheet and bake in a 350-degree oven for 20 to 25 minutes.

6. Remove from oven when logs are lightly golden, and cool for 5 minutes.

7. Cut each log widthwise into diagonal slices ½ inch wide and place cut side down on the used cookie sheet.

8. Return cookies to the oven and bake for 7 minutes or until golden. Turn the cookies over and bake for another 7 minutes until golden as well. Remove from oven and cool before serving or storing.

Tina’s Tidbits:

  • When a baked good calls for zest, it is best to use a fine grater or microplane so that the flavors permeate the entire dough.
  • Freshly ground pepper is enormously more flavorful than the canned ground variety.
  • I estimate that 25 turns of a grinder will yield about ¼ teaspoon, but for more accuracy you can grind your pepper over a piece of paper and then measure it.
  • Biscotti are baked on both sides after the original baking to dry out the cookie. This was originally done so that they could be taken on merchant ships and not get moldy or soggy from the moist air at sea.

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