Saturday, December 22, 2007

Four Generations of Baking

Any cooking plans must start with a good, long look at the cookbooks.

What joy there is when the right recipe is finally found!

Almost everyone joined in the action.

But the smart ones found a comfortable place to hang out and wait for samples.

(Who cares about the cookies with company like this?)

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Please join me for appetizers

I'm going to participate in a theme that I see in lots of blogs lately--apologizing for leaving you high and dry, and falling away from posting regularly. I think it's the hazard of real people with real jobs, also trying to honor the need to stay in touch with the world and share in this forum. It's not that I haven't cooked--it's just that I haven't been willing to add the stress to my life which ensues when I spend an extsra hour a day blogging about it. So, sorry. There. I've said it. Wanna see some food now?

We had our annual family picnic last weekend. I like to do several appetizers for my guests to nibble on before the main meal. Since this is an appetizer kind of time-of-year, I thought you might be interested in some of the hits.

The biggest hit? Same as it always is--good old-fashioned chip and onion dip (yes, the kind from the package of onion soup mix). It seems like even the most sophisticated palates keep going back to that bowl. Crazy, huh? Forgive me, but I'm not posting the recipe. It's a family secret, you know.

I also made a change-up of an old familiar recipe--Chex mix--from the December/January issue of Cook's Country magazine. This one, called Fisherman's Friend Party Mix, packed a not-so-subtle wallop of heat from Frank's Red Hot Sauce and Old Bay Seasoning. It was good, but we like spicy. The magazine also had a couple of other versions--BBQ Party Mix and Asian Firecracker Party Mix--but I haven't tried those.

One of my favorites were Cheddar Cheese Rounds, from the same magazine. These also had a back burn which cut through the richness of ground pecans, extra sharp cheddar cheese, and creamy sweet butter. They are flakey and crumbly. One hint, though: Label them. Everyone thought they were some kind of weird cookie, and didn't try them without prompting. Live and learn.

Normally, I cringe at the thought of Hot Spinach and Artichoke Dip. Too often, it's a gloppy, greasy, mayonnaise-tasting mess. Same magazine again--great recipe. The rich artichokes and spinach nicely balance a Parmesan cream sauce. Diagonally sliced mini-baguettes made the perfect dipper.

There was definitely a hot and spicy theme going on with the Honey-Chipotle Glazed Pecans as another appetizer offering. These go together in a snap. First, they take a bath in honey warmed with ground chipotle powder and cinnamon. They bake for about 10 minutes before showering in a mixture of sugar and salt. After a litlte drying time, they are ready to eat.

I'll come back later with some of the vegetarian/vegan foods we've been eating, as well as the results of our upcoming four-generation baking day. In the meantime, I hope you are able to live in the joy of the holiday spirit and focus on what matters. A blessed holiday to all of you.

Monday, November 26, 2007

Family Picnic

For those in the know--and you know who you are--it's time for the annual family Christmas picnic! You also know when--and where. (And you KNOW I'm not posting those details online.) What you might not know is what everyone is bringing. If you want to share your plans to avoid duplicates, just post a message to this post. Everyone can read them, and then everyone will know everyone else's business. And if you have a question--this is a good place to ask, too (at least if you're like me and you'd rather communicate electronically than pick up a phone). We look forward to seeing you all soon!

Sunday, September 9, 2007

So, after 40 years of sleep...

...Rip Van Winkle awakens. At least that's what it feels like. The weeks since my last post have remained extremely busy, as well as full of change in our house--at least where food is concerned. On August 13, we just decided to quit eating meat.

I suppose, really, that it wasn't just that simple. We had been weighing the idea for a couple of years, and would look at each other sometimes, with that knowing nod, and say, "You know, within a couple of years, I think we'll be vegetarian." It just seemed too foreign and overwhelming to manage that kind of a change in the midst of our crazy schedules and long work days. But something clicked on that Monday--the first day of school. It just seemed like the time.

So we did it. Just that simple. Simple...but as complex as it could possibly be. I'm still floundering around with what to cook and how to manage it all. For instance, I know that I have three nights (at least) that I will be at work from 7:00 a.m. until 8:00 p.m. I also spent this weekend sick, sick, sick with a respiratory infection that came on in a matter of hours and left me so weak and unable to breathe that I had to leave work and drive myself to urgent care (where I waited for three hours, sort of belying the "urgent" part of the care, but I digress). So here I am, two days later, having lost my weekend. I made it to Trader Joe's today and stocked up on some vegetarian frozen foods, but that really isn't my idea of culinary nirvana!

To complicate things even more, about a week into this dietary change, we decided that we should probably be vegan. Good-bye eggs, cheese, and milk. See ya sour cream and cream cheese. We are now having a courtship with some alternative products--soy sour cream and yogurt, almond milk, and rice cheese (it really isn't as bad as it sounds--I promise). We've also found that tofu doesn't have to be hideous. As soon as I have a little more down time, I will post some recipes that we've found that we actually like, among them a homemade chorizo substitute which went down nicely with some skillet roasted potatoes spiced up with chile powder and chipotle. At this point, we are probably a vegan minus. I just don't have the mental energy to peruse every label of every item to be sure it doesn't have milk protein or an egg buried in it somewhere.

I hope that this new journey won't leave you alienated from the blog. I hope to find and share recipes that "real" people who previously had total tofu aversions and a deep mistrust of anything vegan can make and enjoy with accessible, reasonable ingredients.

I can tell you that so far, we've slashed our grocery bill by 70%, I've lost 12 pounds and the Husband has lost about 7, we have very little grocery waste, and the strong upswing in our fiber and nutrient uptake HAS to be making us healthier. So stay with me...I'll try to make the ride with your while.

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Technical difficulties

Technically, I don't have time to post (or cook, either), as I have been working 15 hour days for the past two weeks. So...sorry, but it is what it is. I have made one new recipe, and have been falling back on some others. We are working on becoming vegetarians--we've talked about it, but decided to take the leap and just do it. May I just say that it might be better to undertake something like that when one has time to think (or sleep)? So, I'll check back in a few days from now, hopefully with something to share. TTFN.

Sunday, August 5, 2007

The problem with "quick" cooking

30 minute meals? Hah! Quick fix meals? Hrmph. Quicker, maybe. I don't know if you've noticed, but it's almost impossible to make a Rachael Ray meal in half an hour, even if you DID prep all the veggies when you came home from the market. Robin Miller has lots of good ideas for getting meals on the table quicker, but for the most part, it still takes more time than many of us have--especially if you're making more than a single dish. I don't know about you, but I want something on the plate besides steak or chicken. It's not that each dish, individually, couldn't be put together quickly, but you can only stir so many pots at one time, no?

What I am taking from Robin Miller, though, is some new thinking about putting things aside for later. Instead of leaving extra portions for "hope-overs" (as in, "I hope somebody eats that before it grows green fuzzy stuff,") I'm taking leftovers from the plate to the freezer. Today, I cooked brown rice pilaf and coconut rice, and put four 2-cup portioms of each in the freezer.

I did do something today that is certainly not the norm--I cooked lunch and dinner. Usually, it's every man for himself for all but one meal. However, I hadn't gotten to the Chicken Enchiladas with Refried Beans and Jack Cheese from Quick Fix Meals. This is the meal I've been planning to cook since Thursday. (Don't worry; it's been hours since we ate, and no signs of food poisoning yet.) Instead of using raw strips of chicken and sauteeing them as the recipe calls for, I diced two precooked chicken breasts (the leftover Unbelievable Chicken), mixed them with sauteed onions, garlic, and green chiles, then mixed in some refried beans, enchilada sauce, and cilantro. The mixture was folded into whole wheat tortillas, topped with a bit more sauce and some cheese, and popped into the toaster oven for only about 15 minutes to bake. I'll be honest--I didn't love these. However, they work. They're honest, straightforward food that is healthy and, truly, quick. The Husband asked for me to make two more for his lunch tomorrow, and I put enough filling in the freezer to make probably four more.

This brings me to an interesting point about Miller's recipes. I don't think she has any true concept of yield. I didn't have to make the recipe to know that an onion, 1 1/4 pounds of chicken, and an entire can of beans was too much filling for four 8-inch tortillas. I don't know where she comes up with some her numbers. I saw this again when I made the Red Potatoes with Capers, Tomatoes, and Onions for tonight's dinner. She called for 6 small red potatoes to make 4 servings. Um....not where I live. So, if you use her book, use her time estimates and yields as rough estimates, at best.
These potatoes were very good, and could become my favorites. To reach that culinary height, though, I need to make some changes and apply my own skills and knowledge when a recipe leaves out something I know to be important. When making a potato salad (which this is, no matter what the recipe is called), I usually cook the potatoes whole to keep them from absorbing too much cooking water and diluting the dressing. Likewise, I usually toss them back in the pot for a couple of minutes after draining, to be absolutely sure they are dried out adequately. Then, while they are still hot, I add the dressing. In this case, the piquant dressing was watered down significantly from the potatoes' residual moisture. My fault. I know better. Outside of that, though, I loved this. Capers really appeal to me for reasons I don't quite understand. In this case, they beautifully offset the ripe plum tomatoes, sweet red onion, and the classic red wine vinegar and olive oil. We ate this at room temperature, which was fine, but I think it would have really been a standout served warm, as well. It would have even benefitted from a bit of crisped pancetta or crumbled bacon.

I still had some steaks in the freezer from a large Costco package. They seemed to be just right for the Pan Seared Steaks with Garlic-Rosemary Glaze which I topped with Sauteed Wild Mushrooms. Both of these were quite good, although I don't usually pan-sear steaks. I will do it more often now, though, as it allowed me to make a pan sauce of vermouth, onion, garlic, and rosemary which cooked down to a flavorful, silky coating on the meat. The mushrooms weren't really that different from what I do without a recipe, but we love sauteed mushrooms on meat. The key, I think, is too cook the mushrooms by themselves until the moisture has cooked out and a brown crust begins to develop. Then, and only then, do you add wetter vegetables like onions, along with the recipe's salt. The recipe doesn't necessarily follow this order, but in this case, I honored my knowledge and did it right!

Thursday, August 2, 2007

Attention, passengers. Tonight's menu has been delayed.

The flight is grounded until tomorrow. Maybe Saturday. When I get home 30 minutes before I need to go to bed to get my minimum RDA of sleep, I just can't handle the food. I'll try really hard for tomorrow, though.

Wednesday, August 1, 2007

Yes, as a matter of fact. I AM an optimist.

First, let's break the tension. I know it's wearing you down. Bread. That's it. The mystery kebab ingredient. And let me say that I don't want to disparage the fine recipe developers and editors at Bon Appetit Magazine. I'm sure they do a fine job. It had to be user error, really. How else to explain that I trashed the leftovers of this Sausage, Sourdough, and Bell Pepper Spiedini.
I had several reservations about this dish, but the whole bread-on-a-skewer-with-meat-and-veggies thing intrigued me. Let me break it down.
Neither the Husband nor myself like sausage. Can you tell from the picture (and the title of the recipe) what the meat is? That's right. Sausage. It was a bell pepper and onion chicken sausage I foolishly picked up at Trader Joe's, thinking we might like it. And if we did...whoa, baby. Fast meal. But we didn't. Just like we've never liked sausage. Of any kind. Anywhere.
Second, the Husband doesn't like mustard. This recipe calls for a mustard-heavy dressing that is both brushed on the kebabs and drizzled over the salad. Perhaps the Grey Poupon-ish dull yellow color won't give it away, and he won't notice the mustard. R-i-g-h-t. First thing out of his mouth--"Is that mustard?" It was doomed before he took a bite.
Third, I really couldn't see it taking 12 minutes for bread to toast over a medium-high grill. I also couldn't see bell peppers and onions cooking before the bread turned to charcoal. Just for the record...I was right. Good tasting charcoal, though. Really.
Fourth, and last, we got a new grill this summer which we have totally not figured out. We do know that it cost a lot of money. We also know that the infrared burner scares the holy crap out of both of us. It incinerates things in seconds. So we don't use it. Therefore, things are either not really grilled to that crackly crispy crunch that screams grilled, or they are burned. No happy medium, apparently.
So, is this worth making? Maybe. First, you have to like sausage. Second, you have to like mustard. Third, I would put the bread on separate skewers and cook them for just a few minutes toward the end. Last, you need to know how to work your grill.
I will say that the part that intrigued me most--the dressing-brushed bread cubes--really were good, even with the burned edges. I can totally see doing that as a side dish for something else. But squished all together on a single skewer? Never again in this lifetime, baby.
Tomorrow, I have plans for the leftover grilled chicken. I'm totally mangling another Robin Miller recipe. We'll see how it turns out. (Note to Ms. Miller: Look up enchiladas in the dictionary. You SO do not know what they really are.)

Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Wow! I've never seen THAT before!

I can't say that very often at my age. There aren't very many things that truly astound me. However, when I got home tonight, the wind was blowing so hard that it created waves in the pool high enough to slosh over the side. Yep. Who'da thunk it? It was crazy.

Which leads me to the apology. After driving home in said wind and struggling to keep the car on the road all the way, I had no desire--zip, zero, zilch--to stop at the grocery store then come to grill. So, when the going gets tough, the tough get going--to a drive through. Yes, I hate them, but sometimes, necessity calls. Tonight was one of those nights. So, hopefully, tomorrow night will be the mystery kebabs.

Monday, July 30, 2007

Believing the Unbelievable

Don't you hate it when everybody loves something, so you get all excited about trying it, then end up quite underwhelmed? That's what happened tonight. Lots of people have been raving about Lee Bailey's Unbelievable Chicken. It sounded promising. The chicken marinates overnight in a blend of cider vinegar, coarse ground mustard, garlic, lime, lemon, brown sugar, olive oil. Sounds delicious. It wasn't bad--but it wasn't great, either. What the marinade did do--in spades--was result in a fabulously moist grilled chicken breast. I'll give it that. Beyond that, the flavor didn't really seep into the meat like I thought it would. If I were to make this again (which I probably won't), I think I'd try boiling the marinade for 8 minutes or so--enough to make it safe, and to reduce it enough to make a sauce.

On the other hand, if you're looking for a good, moist grilled chicken for multiple uses, this would work. You could easily make a double batch and freeze the meat in individual or family portions. It is innocuous enough to work on a salad or in a casserole, even as the chicken in chicken tacos. So maybe I will make it again--just to put some in the freezer.

Since I never did any real grocery shopping, I just pulled a couple of frozen portions of the Broccoli and Rice Casserole out of the freezer and stuck it in the microwave while the chicken was on the grill. I didn't even take pictures. All the food was beige. And you've seen grilled chicken before, right? And since I ditched the grocery store, I don't even have any herbs or green onions--or anything--to garnish with. So, that's all for tonight. Hopefully, tomorrow's dinner will be a little more exciting. It's the mystery kebab. Check back to see!

Sunday, July 29, 2007

Welcome back to me!

Sorry to just abandon you out there. I have been out of town at a leadership conference held by my district. It was a great three days of focusing on our mission, networking with colleagues, and getting energized for the joys and challenges of the coming school year. We stayed at the beautiful Westward Look Resort in Tucson, Arizona. On our first night there (wish I'd taken the camera) we walked one of the nature trails where we encountered lots of local flora and fauna--including a big, gold and black tarantula who had been sunning himself on the rocks lining the path. Gorgeous. We also enjoyed a stroll through Chef Jamie's garden, and the air everywhere was redolent with herbs that were planted throughout the resort. It wasn't unusual to see one of the chefs out gathering sage for their herbal iced tea, or choosing tender buds of other herbs for various dishes. The hummingbird garden is not to be missed, as it is a prime opportunity to see the tiny dervishes everywhere--even stopping for a cool bath in the fountains.

Our meetings were held at the Omni Tucson National Resort just a few miles away. Sadly, the Omni is currently under construction for renovation, which is why we did not stay there this year. It promises, however, to be even better by the time they're finished.

Both venues served us lots of great food. By the time we had our final lunch, I could barely eat anything else. Usually, when I'm away, I miss my own cooking--but not this time!

I did cook before I left, but there just wasn't time to post. There are a couple of recipes I want to share, though. The first is Sticky Chicken, which I originally got off the CLBB and have made repeatedly since then. The beautiful thing about this is that a whole chicken is rubbed with savory spices, then tossed in the crockpot in the morning. By evening, there is a beautifully roasted, golden bird that falls off the bone...just ready to eat. This recipe can also be made in the oven, but that isn't nearly as convenient. In either case, periodically basting the bird with the cooking juices creates the "sticky" skin that is reminiscent of rotisserie chickens. Unfortunately, I have no pictures to show you. For some reason, they came out blurry.

Although not exciting, I can show you a picture of the Barefoot Contessa's Buttermilk Mashed Potatoes. These were excellent served alongside the chicken with some steamed broccoli to round out the meal. I used a ricer to mash the potatoes and it worked just fine, so don't worry if you don't have a food mill. These had a delicious, slighty tangy flavor. Certainly, they're a great choice for the timeis you want mashed potatoes, but perhaps won't be serving a gravy.

I'm not completely sure just yet what this week will bring in the cooking realm. I just haven't pulled it together enough to make a comprehensive shopping list and a real meal plan--that's never good! I'm just going to grill some burgers this afternoon and serve them on the leftover Moomie's Buns that are stashed in the freezer, and I think I'll roast some potato wedges to go with them. I have chicken thawing now to go into a sweet and tangy (supposedly) marinade for tomorrow night's dinner, and I'm also tossing around the possibility of another kebab dinner that has a surprising, new to me ingredient threaded onto the skewers with the meat and vegetables. That's assuming, of course, that I don't invoke the 12-hour rule! Check back in to see what happens.

Sunday, July 22, 2007

A Crazy Cooking Day!

Today, I apparently turned into a madwoman. I spent the whole day grocery shopping, cooking, packaging, and freezing. Oh, and doing dishes. Lots and lots of dishes. I'm pretty sure I used every cooking utensil, pot, pan, cutting board, and prep tool--and some of them twice. However, the net result was a growing stash of good food in the freezer.

It doesn't make sense to do anything else, really. I'm so careful to purchase organic food, humanely raised meat, and plan nutrient dense meals. Then, I have to work 14 hours, and I go to McDonald's. Yep, that makes sense. Deplete your body with stress and exhaustion, then eat crap. So, one of my efforts this year is to develop a freezer full of quick meals, or quick go-withs. Also, I'm trying to free myself of the expectation to always fix great food. Because, if I can't, then I buy more crap. And eat it. Frankly, I could cook something better than that, even if I only had 15 minutes-as long as my freezer was full.

So, this is what I did today. First, for the Sunday Game of the Week on the CLBB, I chose to cook from Sizzle with America's Top Chefs. This is more of a magazine supplement than an actual book, but it cost $10, so I'm counting it as a book. (Speaking of way to expensive stuff, did you know that you can print out unlimited coupons for Borders for 25% to 30% off any one item in the store? Who knew?) Anyway, nothing much appealed to me today, except...this Grilled Bread with Beans and Bitter Greens. Thick sliced rustic bread is grilled until toasty, rubbed with peeled garlic, then spread with a paste of white beans cooked with garlic. That's good, right there. But gets topped off with bitter greens (chard, escarole, turnip greens, etc.) which are sauteed with onion and garlic, then seasoned with red pepper flakes and red wine vinegar. This is probably my new favorite food. It was YUM-my! I could SO make this my lunch every day. It even beans out the goat cheese, roasted pepper, and arugula on a toasted English muffin. With food like this, I could become a vegetarian!

I also roasted a turkey breast, but I didn't eat any. No special reason. I just don't really like turkey. I had high hopes for this one, because it was a kosher turkey breast, and I really like kosher chicken. Alas, no. Leaves more for the Husband.

I needed something to eat too, and a Broccoli and Rice Casserole sounded good. So I made one. Hearty with brown basmati rice, full of antioxidant rich broccoli, onions, and garlic, and made with a lowfat white sauce, with some sharp cheese added for more protein, I can feel good about eating this.

I also stocked the freezer with pork wontons for Wonton Soup. This is another morph recipe left over from the Balsamic Roasted Pork Tenderloin. The filling was really good, and would make great lettuce wraps, especially if you added some chopped water chestnuts. I didn't take pictures today, but I will when I make the soup. These little wontons are really cute; hope they don't disintegrate once they hit the hot broth!

Of course, it wouldn't be dinner without dessert. We have an old favorite--a cheesecake concoction made with reduced fat products and Splenda. It's called Cheesecake Parfaits, but I quadruple the recipe (yes, really) and make it in a 9x13 pan so we have it all week. If anyone is low-carbing, the crust can be made with almond meal instead of graham crackers. It's just as good, if not better. However, this makes a great company dessert layered in stemmed glasses with fresh berries or frozen berries cooked until tender with Splenda and vanilla. Either way, it's very good--a nice, light finish to any meal. (It's also good for breakfast, not that I'd know from personal experience!

Saturday, July 21, 2007

Nice Buns! But don't get sloppy, Joe!

Moomie's Beautiful Burger Buns have long been a favorite around our house. I'm not sure where the recipe is from originally, but I think it might be from King Arthur Flour. I got it off the CLBB. This recipe easily lends itself to subbing healthier whole-grain flour for most, or all, of the white flour called for. (My favorite is King Arthur's White Whole Wheat Flour, which is lighter than regular whole wheat, but shares the same nutritional profile. It's just a different, lighter, type of whieat.) Granted, the bread is a little denser with whole-grain flour, but the addition of a heaping tablespoon of vital wheat gluten helps solve even that. I make these in the bread machine, where they truly are idiot-proof. I've also made them by hand, and even using the Kitchen Aid mixer and it's magical dough hook. As written, the recipe makes 8 really large hamburger buns. Typically, I make a dozen out of the recipe, which yields a more standard supermarket-sized bun. Frankly, I don't eat a burger patty big enough to fill these up when made to yield 8.

For dinner tonight, I made a "morph" recipe (Robin Miller's term for planned-overs) from Thursday's Balsamic Roasted Pork Tenderloin. (Other recipes included for the planned-overs include wonton soup and pork fried rice.) I morphed the recipe a little more, adding antioxidant rich red and green bell peppers and chopped onion. While her recipe calls for a 5-minute simmer, I threw everything in the pan, covered it, and went and did other things for about 45 minutes. I didn't have to, but I couldn't figure out how to shred the pork tenderloin in it's original form, so I just sliced it really thin, then simmered it until it began to fall apart. It didn't change the taste, just made me happier. And it IS all about me! I was a little uncertain about the corn in this, but it ended up being quite good. Unlike most sloppy joe recipes, this one contains cumin and chili powder. It is also thinner than most, due to the addition of a can of diced tomatoes and their juice. I upped the ketchup a bit; I don't know how much--I just eyeballed it. I just didn't have enough liquid, and I wanted what was there to be a bit thicker.

This recipe was by no means a jaw-dropping WOW!!! But, it would definitely work for a weeknight. In fact, I've already packaged up two nights' worth of sloppy joe mixture to pull out of the freezer at a later date. All part of my move toward eating at home instead of eating out. I mean, seriously. This may not be a WOW!!! but it's gotta be better than Taco Bell! I've also packaged up diced pork for the Pork Fried Rice, and sliced pork for a morph from another recipe. They're vacuum sealed and in the freezer, ready to pull out for some quick, easy dinners later. Another bonus--one pan dirty. That's it!

Friday, July 20, 2007

How to use up those Herb-Roasted Onions

A few nights ago, we really enjoyed Ina Garten's Herb Roasted Onions. I knew the recipe would make a ton, but I didn't cut it down, as I had tonight's dinner in mind. It wasn't anything special; I roasted a Southwest Marinated Tri-Tip from Trader Joe's, throwing the onions in the roasting pan for about 15 minutes at the end to freshen them up. Their lemony flavor was a nice complement to the tangy beef, guacamole, and sour cream--all rolled up in whole wheat tortillas. So, the purpose of this post is really just to pat myself on the back for this baby step toward using the groceries I purchase in an efficient way instead of tossing them out the night before the trash comes!

Thursday, July 19, 2007

Balsamic Roasted Pork Tenderloin

First of all, no pictures of this wonderful pork tenderloin recipe. Again. Sorry. It was late, we were starving, and the food wasn't pretty. It could've been pretty. I just didn't give a damn. It smelled good and we ate it. That's my only excuse. This is the first recipe I've made out of Robin Miller's Quick Fix Meals. Don't know if you've caught her on the Food Network yet; I think she's pretty new. She's also a little perky for my taste, but at least she doesn't cook with her exposed boobies waving about over the stove like Giada and Sandra Lee.

At any rate, I really like the premise of her book. She has some really quick-fix meals, meal kits, and lots of "morph" recipes, where you cook LOTS of one thing, but there are numerous alternate recipes in which to use it. She's also big on pre-preparation of food for easy weeknight eating. All of her recipes include an "If you stop here" note, letting you know what to put together if you're not eating it the day it is originally prepped. She also has lots of variations, and doesn't get hung up on the "follow the recipe, stupid" like some others do. Not that that's a bad thing! Her recipes also include a note identifying prep time, active cooking time, and walk-away time, so you should be able to plan pretty well to make these meals fit into your life.

They certainly aren't all gourmet, but there are lots that sound promising. She also tries to focus on healthier choices and ingredients. I think this is going to be my current focus for cooking--until I get distracted by something else.

Anyway, back to tonight's dinner. One of the options she mentions is to halve or quarter some Yukon Gold or red potatoes and toss them in the roasting pan with the pork and sauce. I did, and man, were those some good eatin'. They soaked up the sweet and tangy sauce and meat drippings, but also roasted to a crispy golden brown. We ended up just having meat and potatoes, but it was enough. They were yummmmmmy!

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Reviving an old favorite

I used to make this Buttermilk Grilled Chicken all the time. The recipe somehow fell off my radar, and I hadn't thought about it for at least a couple of years. Then, while I was cleaning out a closet, I found it--and a bunch of other old favorites--crammed into a box. An overnight soak in a spice and aromatic laden buttermilk bath leaves the chicken tender and moist. It takes only a few minutes on a grill to finish this off. The buttermilk marinade includes ginger, cayenne pepper, garlic, and several other flavorful additions. None of them dominates the chicken, but they all marry into a flavorful final product. Sorry; I have no pictures. I got home really late, and eating was more of a priority than photographing tonight.

I urge you to put this recipe in your to-try pile, though. A few minutes of marinade assembly the night before leaves you with a company worthy dish. I hear a rumor that it's good with pork chops, too, but I haven't tried it yet.

Monday, July 16, 2007

It's like getting the Hope Diamond wrapped in the comics

When I was a young cook, just getting my feet wet, I always thought things had to be fancy to prove my skill. Ina Garten has probably done more than anyone to prove that wrong. Two of tonight's recipes came from Barefoot Contessa at Home: Chicken Piccata and Herb Roasted Onions. Each of these dishes would get a five out of five stars from me, and together, they were perfect. But...there was nothing complicated. No long, crazy list of obscure ingredients. Olive oil. Lemons. Bread crumbs. Chicken. Parsley. The very humble onion. That's about it.
The Chicken Piccata picked up an extra hit of lemon from the preparation method. Remember yesterday, when I said I would reveal a slightly different way of making this dish? In the preparation of the pan sauce, you boil the four lemon halves left from squeezing the juice in the juice and white wine. It adds a distinctive and strong lemon taste. The roasted onions also have a citrusy zing, as they are doused in a mixture of lemon juice, olive oil, and herbs before roasting, then the remainder is added as a dressing when they come out of the oven. By cutting through the root, the wedges of onion stay together just enough to look delicate and feathery--almost flowerlike. But again, this is nothing more than squeezing some citrus and roasting a pan of vegetables. Easy, peasy.
As an add-on, I made sauteed zucchini and summer squash from James Peterson's Vegetables. This book just doesn't get enough press. Again, a simple preparation, and just five ingredients--including salt and pepper. This is the dish that got my squash-hating husband to love zucchini.

To prove what a truly unselfish person I am, I packed up the leftovers for the Husband's lunch. It wasn't easy, though. He owes me...maybe the Hope Diamond.

Sunday, July 15, 2007

It's been a busy, busy day--and a busy weekend. Following a busy week. I guess they all are. I suppose my life will be happier when I remove the concept of "down time" from my thoughts. Tomorrow is back to work after five weeks off, and I'm just having some trouble gearing up for it.

We went out for lunch at a new neighborhood place today, and after that, really felt the need for some good, home-cooked food. I did cheat a little; I had some Trader Joe's Garlic and Herb "Marinated" Shrimp in the freezer. I say "Marinated" because I think somebody told a little white lie. If they were REALLY marinated, they probably would not have been cardboard dry. Whatever. Note to self: This is why you don't buy things in boxes in the freezer case!

I did make some Broccoli Rabe with Garlic from The Barefoot Contessa at Home (bet you thought she was gone, didn't you?), and had a replay of her Mustard-Roasted Potatoes. I'm pretty sure that roasted potatoes in any form will be what we eat all day in Heaven; yum. I also made some corn on the cob, but despite it's nice, full appearance, it wasn't very good. It didn't pass the fingernail-pop test, so I should've known.

There is cooking planned for tomorrow, again from Barefoot Contessa. In case you're wondering, this cookbook came up on the Sunday Game of the Week over the Cooking Light Bulletin Board. It's number 141 on my book shelf--this week's lucky number. I have a couple more recipes planned from that, then an old stand-by that I haven't seen for years. I found it when I was cleaning out a closet. Stay tuned, and I'll reveal that one on Tuesday.

Thursday, July 12, 2007

Where's the little umbrella in my drink?

It's not my fault. Really, it's not. It all started with a trip to Trader Joe's. Normally, I don't even look at premarinated meat, but the Maui Short Ribs were calling to me. Somehow, they ended up in my basket, and have been staring at me every time I open the refrigerator since then. Somehow, the purchase of this convenience product resulted in a developing a couple of recipes and an afternoon of cooking. Very convenient, huh?

The "Maui" in the meat led my thoughts to pineapple, in two forms. The first was a Pineapple Vinaigrette drizzled over smokey greens and scallions wilted on the barbecue while the meat cooked, then given a rough chop before hitting the salad plate. I'd still like to work with this dressing a little bit, but it was very good even on this first go-round. I used some coconut oil in the dressing to continue the tropical theme. A little bit of serrano chile added just enough heat to wake up the taste buds.

Another go-with was Tyler Florence's Cold Sesame Noodles. These were good, although I think I need to step away from the Asian influence for a few days. The same notes are showing up too often! The Sesame Noodles would be a great picnic dish, as there is absolutely nothing in there to go bad, and they can be served cold or at room temperature.

We finished off with a dessert of pineapple and bananas brushed with coconut oil, brown sugar, and cinnamon before being sizzled on the grill, then topped with honey-sweetened Greek yogurt and chopped almonds. (I wanted macadamia nuts, but they were $20 a pound at Whole Foods--and they were rancid. Um...thanks anyway!) I also used a little bit of Tuesday night's fresh raspberry sauce to decorate the plate and add another burst of flavor.

The best thing about this meal? I was going to say that it only required six tiny minutes at the grill. But...I think the really best thing was the Husband's satisfied noises as he proclaimed each and every dish a keeper. For isn't that why we engage in this game of cooking? To satisfy the hearts and bellies of those we love.

Pineapple Vinaigrette

In the mixing bowl of a food processor, combine the following:

1/2 cup fresh pineapple chunks

1 tablespoon honey

1 tablespoon coconut oil

3 tablespoons mild oil, such as canola oil

1/4 serrano chile, seeds and ribs removed

1 tablespoon chopped cilantro


White pepper

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Great for Grilling-A Balmy 101 Degrees

What a cold snap! It was actually a nice day out today. I took the dog for a walk, and even at 8:30 in the morning, it was cool enough that we didn't have to worry about burned paws. The rabbits sure did need to worry, however, as she got up on her back legs and danced whenever she saw or heard them scurrying about their business in the desert. When we got home, I went for a swim, and it was nirvana. The water was a perfect 84 degrees, and the air almost the same. Water cool enough to be refreshing, air warm enough to prevent a chill. I could've stayed out all day.

However, there was work calling to me. I am back in the office next week, and I'm really feeling the pressure of all the things I need to get done at home. I need to feel like my nest is neat and orderly, and I'm about six months behind on that project! I also messed up my calendar and showed an appointment today that was tomorrow, so that was two hours out of my day as I had to get dressed and drive the 30 miles, only to have to go back tomorrow. Grrrr. I did want to stop at Whole Foods, though, and it was almost on the way home (only about 5 miles out of the way). Stop I did, and shop I did. I loaded up on beautiful organic produce, and I'm pretty sure I had my first taste of what a plum is supposed to taste like. I bit into one of those beauties, and it was like no other plum I've eaten. It was summer in my mouth, with a rich, jammy flavor.

While at Whole Foods, I picked up some ahi tuna, one of the few kinds of fish I can bear to eat. The August, 2007 issue of Bon Appetit has 13 must-try summer recipes, and I was drawn in by the Tuna Kebabs with Ginger-Chile Marinade. This really looked good, and it was. All the classic Asian flavors came into play, with rice vinegar, garlic, sesame oil, soy, honey, and cilantro, along with the mouth-awakening heat from a serrano chile. The tuna chunks were skewered with red bell pepper and Vidalia onions, and grilled until just done. (We haven't been able to master the rare tuna yet!)

As a go-with, I made the Japanese Eggplant and Tofu in Garlic Sauce from Weight Watcher's Take Out Tonight. You'll notice that the picture and recipe are conspicuously absent. It's not too often that the Husband declines leftovers for lunch, but he did with this. He did better than I, as I declined first-overs for dinner, too. It was looking pretty good, but the "extra firm" tofu chunks called for fell apart into tofu crumbles, and it looked like....well, it sort of looked like it had been previously eaten.

We consoled ourselves with another recipe out of Bon Appetit: Grilled Peaches with Fresh Raspberry Sauce. If you make this, don't leave out the lemon. I tasted it (a few times) before adding the lemon, and was amazed at the difference after stirring in the bright tasting juice. This is the first time I had grilled fruit, but it sure won't be the last. The magazine editors suggest serving this with a scoop of ice cream and shortbread cookies. We didn't do that, as we are working on losing weight instead of gaining it, but it would definitely be good.

I probably won't blog tomorrow, as I am meeting Nonni for dinner. However, there is a fun, tropical-inspired menu planned for Thursday, so be sure to check back then.

Monday, July 9, 2007

Channeling Del Mar

It's hard to believe, but just two very, very short weeks ago, we had just returned from our trip to Del Mar, California. I planned to blog about that, but the night before we returned home, we got the phone call that led us to the difficult decision to put our lab to sleep. It sort of wiped out the good memories of the trip.

In fact, while the whole family was trying to reach us, we were having a fabulous dinner--the best of our trip--at Sammy's Pizza. The Husband had a hankering for a pie, and we decided to check it out. We did get our pizza, but started with some selections off the tapas menu: hummus with grilled flat bread, and a wonderful chicken satay. When we got back to our room, where we had uncharacteristically left our cell phones, the sheer number of missed calls alerted me that something was seriously wrong.

Now that we've had some time, and another trip in between, I decided to recreate that meal--minus the pizza. Continuing to cook out of Weight Watcher's Take Out Tonight, and having some leftover chicken breast to use up, I made the Coconut Curry Pork Satay--but with chicken. I have no idea where the "curry" in the title comes from. I've checked the recipe twice--thrice even--and there is no curry in there. Whatever...just a disclaimer! I also made hummus from scratch for the first time. Why, oh why, haven't I done that before? I will fearlessly take on a 25-step dessert, but I've avoided making my own hummus for years. Never again.

Although it was 110 degrees outside, instead of the 65 degrees we enjoyed during our first dinner, this meal transported us back. Somehow, it was all perfect, and had an emotional impact far beyond the food. The plating just worked, and the Husband and I piled on to the couch with the food between us, and my favorite leaf-shaped appetizer plates in hand, complemented by the delicately printed green and black Ikea napkins I just picked up. I don't know what could have made it better.

The chicken satay carried just a hint of the sesame oil in which it marinated before grilling, and the sauce had a nice blend of salty and sweet, with just enough peanut taste to know it was there. The creamy hummus tasted great on its own, but the drizzle of olive oil over the top added an extra dimension, the paprika added a slightly smokey note, and the parsley brightened it all up. The flatbread, heated on the grill and brushed with olive oil, was rich and luxurious when used to scoop up the hummus. As a bonus, this went together very quickly, making it an easy repeater for any weeknight. Actually, with a little bit of prep the night before, this could be put together in the time it takes to heat the grill.

Thursday, June 28, 2007

I've Got a Rocket in my Pocket!

With Independence Day right around the corner, who could resist a recipe with the word rocket in the title? Not me! Any guesses about what the American equivalent of rocket might be? Arugula. It sort of makes sense, with the spicy, assertive, attention-getting taste of this green.

I'm continuing my Sunday Game of the Week quest by cooking exclusively out of Donna Hay's Modern Classics I. Tonight, I made two recipes--the Spaghetti with Lemon, Capers, and Rocket...and...Garlic Prawns (aka Shrimp Scampi). Both were very, very good. The pasta had all of my favorite flavors, so there was no way that one was going to be bad. The shrimp were rich, succulent, and had plenty of garlicky olive oil/butter for dipping. Had we had some crusty bread, it would have been great to soak up some of that yummy goodness.

This post will pretty much wrap up the week for me. We're off to Sedona tomorrow, where four generations will enjoy time together, good food, and the beautiful scenery. If we cook anything exciting, I'll post it, but so far, everyone is just choosing tried and true favorites. So...I'll see you back here in a week!

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Don't roll your eyes! What if they get stuck that way?

But I couldn't help it. I cooked again tonight out of Donna Hay' Modern Classics, and my eyes rolled back in my head after the first bite. The Thai Pork with Noodles delivered everything the Bolognese Sauce lacked. This dish was vibrant with flavors--browned pork, thinly sliced red chilis, lemongrass, red onion, and mint leaves, and a sweet-sour snap from a dressing of fish sauce, brown sugar, and lime. There was just as much variety in the textures, with the crisp, fresh vegetables contrasting with the chewy mung bean vermicelli. This one is a definite keeper.
Since we don't exactly have a thriving farmer's market here in the summer (my car thermometer registered 117 degrees outside while I was running errands, and it's still 101 here at 10:15 tonight), I have to get my summer produce fix at places like Whole Foods. This afternoon, I couldn't resist the heirloom tomatoes. I also picked up a basket of black figs that are at their succulent peak, bursting with juice and tasting like candy. I do envy those of you, though, who can stroll through the stalls and talk to the growers, buying locally. Somehow, talking to the Whole Foods produce guy just doesn't feel the same.

Monday, June 25, 2007

Britain and Italy do not Good Bedfellows Make

Although we're still reeling a bit from the loss of our furbaby, we had to re-enter the real world today. On top of everything else, the Husband had a two-hour dental procedure done, so I knew he needed something for dinner that would nourish his body and soul, without being too hard to chew. When someone needs comfort food, it would probaby be best to stick with tried and true, but I didn't. Instead, I decided to honor his request for spaghetti with meat sauce by pulling a recipe (yes, beloved daughters--a recipe. For spaghetti sauce) from Donna Hay's Modern Classics: Book 1. Ordinarily, I would make my own rich, flavorful sauce, but I wanted to play the Sunday Game of the Week on the Cooking Light boards. This game has been going on for over a year, and it just hasn't worked out. The basic premise is that a number is picked, and you go to your cookbook shelf (or shelves), find the book that holds that position, and cook something out of it.

So, Ms. Hay, being the British cooking princess that she is, had earned spot #47 on the shelf, the Husband wanted spaghetti, and there it was--Classic Bolognese Sauce. When I looked at the recipe, I knew better. I really did. It had no oregano. No basil. No balsamic vinegar. No tomato paste. In other words, it wasn't the way I--or anyone else I know--makes it. What it did have, that was new to me, was a cup of beef broth added with pureed tomatoes, to cook down and create a sauce for the sauteed garlic, onions, and minced beef. A final stir-in of chopped parsley, salt, and pepper were all the spices designed to flavor the sauce. I tried it. Really. Then I got out the oregano, basil, and balsamic vinegar and flavored away. I'm not even posting the recipe unless someone asks for it, because I just don't think it was worth it.

In the end, the sauce wasn't bad--it just didn't have the rich, thick, tomato-ey taste we love. I plan to mke a couple of other recipes from the book, so hopefully, they will be better.

Saturday, June 23, 2007

Rest in Peace, Sweet Boy


November 2, 1998 - June 23, 2007
Today, we lost a faithful friend to the ravages of Valley Fever, a disease unique to only two areas in the world. Although our beautiful boy could be a stinker, we loved him very much, and had to make a very difficult decision to end his life peacefully and humanely. Although we weren't there when he was born, he most likely popped into the world with tail wagging, and left it the same way. We know he will be waiting for us on the Rainbow Bridge when our time comes to enter Heaven. He loved all creatures, and seemed sure that every human on Earth was put here to love him back. He also loved food, and learned to open the pantry door--along with any other door in the house. Although much of our house looked empty because he would take down and eat anything within six feet of the floor, it was full of his very big heart. We miss him already.

Sunday, June 3, 2007

Embracing the East While Rooted in the West

Apparently, we like Thai food. Who knew? That's one of the things I like about cooking through a cookbook. As long as I don't have to eat lamb. I'm not making those recipes. Or rabbit. I'm not into rabbit. And scallops, salmon, brains, tripe....okay, I'm only so adventurous. Anyway, we traveled the Thai road again tonight with a dish that, in its basic form, has graced many a Midwest Sunday dinner table--roast chicken. This roast chicken, however, was generously rubbed with ginger, lemongrass, and onion before roasting, then drizzled with a glaze of coconut milk, lime juice, brown sugar, soy sauce, nam pla, sesame oil, and basil, simmered to a thick, rich reduction. I don't even know how to describe the way these flavors dance across the tongue. Every bite of this Roasted Chicken with Coconut-Lime Glaze delights the palate as it moves through the mouth. There's the vague sweetness of the brown-sugar sweetened coconut milk, the acidic bite of lime, and the hints of anise in the chopped basil. This would have been great with coconut rice, but I made the roasted potatoes from the Greek Lemon Roasted Chicken again. The flavors were a nice compliment to one another. And a bubbly glass of Pelligrino with a twist of lime was the final touch to a delightful meal.

Saturday, June 2, 2007

Tower of Terror

It was about this time a year ago that Nonni moved back into our house while we, along with the doctors, tried to figure out what was going on with her health. Well, one brain/skull/spinal surgery later (last August), she's good as new--at least as good as she's going to get, and flew out of the nest again a few weeks ago.

When she came to live with us again, we had to do a little reconfiguring of the spaces in our house to give her a place to sleep and put her stuff. That meant that, among other things, my cookbook collection had to be incorporated into the rest of the house--somewhere. The only place that gigantamongous book case would fit was in the hall, which really wasn't a bad solution. Until we found out that the Beast had an appetite. For cookbooks. For vegetarian cookbooks, to be precise. I know labs will eat anything, but this one really pushes his luck--and my patience!

For the past few months, in an effort to salvage the cookbook collection, the book case has been wrapped in lovely green plastic garden fencing, with the dining room chairs pushed up against it for insurance. Just a few weeks ago, I came home to find that the chairs had been moved, the fencing unraveled, and at least 20 cookbooks in various states of "chew" were strewn around the living room. Good thing Nonni moved out, because those cookbooks had to be moved back to safety. In an interim attempt to protect them, I moved them into the granddaughters' bedroom, since they don't come over that often until school is out. The size of the piles they made was a little bit frightening. Oh, and that box you see in the room? That's new ones I ordered and haven't even unpacked yet. They're keeping company with the pair of shoes I ordered from Zappo's right before they casted my foot, so I haven't even tried them on to see if they fit. Hope so, because I think I would be stretching even Zappo's generous return policy to try to send them back now!

Anyway, after a couple of good workouts at the gym, it was time to move the bookcase and replace the books. The Husband helped with part A, but wasn't really interested in part B. That's fine, because it was a chance for me to get acquainted with old friends. The only hard part was to keep working, and not sit down in the floor, thumbing through all the cookbooks. Since he had a work function, it was a good night for me to just have my goat cheese and arugula sandwich and move books. It was a lot of work, but I'm enjoying the end result.

Friday, June 1, 2007

Ketchup day...or is it Catch Up?

Where did the rest of the week go? It was just busy, busy, busy. Somehow, I find it almost impossible to work late, run errands, go to physical therapy or the gym, cook dinner and clean up...and post in my blog, all in the same night. So, I've done it all...except post here. Sorry, but today I'll recap. There is no dinner tonight, because I spent too much time planning and shopping, plus there are lots of leftovers in the refrigerator. Time to get rid of them!

Let's start with Wednesday. On Wednesday, I fell in love, but not with my husband. Oh, I'll still let him hang around, but if my new favorite sandwich is on the horizon, he'd better get out of the way! This one is from the deli section of Take Out Tonight. These Roasted Red Pepper and Goat Cheese sandwiches are simplicity itself, but absolutely crave-able. Start with a crisp, toasted English muffin. My favorite is the Thomas Light Whole-Grain English Muffin. At only 100 calories and 8 grams of fiber, this provides a perfect, toasty background to a thick spread of goat cheese. A silky roasted red pepper and a bloom of peppery arugula top off the sandwich and provide layers of flavor. I've had this for lunch every day since Wednesday (and twice for breakfast, too).

Wednesday night, I ventured into the Greek section of the cookbook and turned out the Lemon Garlic Roast Chicken. All I can say is "Opa!" My only regret is not using kosher chicken. I've gotten so used to the moist, flavorful results from kosher chicken that I am never satisfied with grocery stick chicken any more. However, once I tasted the potatoes, the chicken didn't matter. Quartered red potatoes begin to brown in a hot oven by themselves, and after 20 minutes, the chicken is added on a rack, and the remaining garlic and lemon infused marinade and a bit of water are poured over the potatoes. They continue to cook until they are crispy and caramelized outside, but moist and silky inside. Portion control was very difficult for this one.

Do you notice what's wrong with this picture? Yep--there is a distinctly monochromatic look to the plate.I have an excuse though, really. It was 9:30 by the time dinner was ready, and the grilled hearts of romaine and grilled zucchini I planned to serve alongside just didn't happen. When I plated up dinner, the Husband looked at it and said, "Even I know the food isn't all supposed to be the same color." Everybody can be an armchair quarterback!

Last night, we had a fiesta with Skinny Chimichangas. In this dish, ground turkey (I used 97%
lean beef instead) simmers in tomato sauce, Mexican spices, and green chills. The mixture is rolled into tortillas (we used some high fiber ones) and sprinkled with a little grated cheese. The resulting burritos are sprayed with cooking spray and baked at 400 degrees until they crisp up, which they did surprisingly well. I served mine with a spoonful of nonfat Greek yogurt and a bit of salsa on top. We both really liked these.

In an effort to use up some odds and ends, as well as up the overall nutritional value of the meal, I put together a side dish consisting of a can of black beans, zucchini in a 1/4" dice, corn, minced jalapeno, minced onion, some chopped red and yellow peppers, and garlic. I started the zucchini first, letting it sit over a medium-low heat until it developed a brown, caramelized surface, then turning it to let the other sides brown as well. Only then did I add the fresh vegetables and turn up the heat, letting the flavors meld. I added the black beans at the end, giving them time only to heat up. I finished the dish with salt, pepper, and smoked Spanish paprika, which provided a nice hint of smokey heat. I think this would be fabulous served over brown rice, with a little bit of tofu, feta cheese, or diced chicken added in.

I went through the cookbook today, and it looks like it has about 30 main-dish recipes I'd like to make, so it should keep things moving along here for at least a couple of months. So...check back often. There are lots of delicious-sounding meals on the list for the coming week.

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Hello, General Tso

Tonight's theme was Asian, with General Tso's Chicken and Broccoli with Garlic Sauce, both from Weight Watchers Take Out Tonight. I served a Cook's Illustrated Tart-and-Sweet Cucumber Salad, spiced up with minced jalapenos, alongside. I wasn't sure it would work, but it did. I personally would've liked the chicken a little hotter, but the Husband declared it another "keeper." My taste might still be off because of my cold, but I still think I'll add extra crushed red pepper the next time. I overcooked the broccoli a bit, so I'll be more careful of that the next time, as well. The flavor was good, but the texture was off. Short posting tonight, as I'm ready to go back to bed, although I've slept most of the day. Hopefully, tomorrow I will once again be able to participate in the fine sport of breathing through my nose!