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 then...it 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.