Sunday, May 31, 2009

Herb-Crusted Salmon

I looked high and low for a recipe for Ranch Dressing Mix. I finally found one, and promptly proceeded to alter the ingredients so that I could coat salmon in it and grill the salmon.

YUM. (Although it doesn't taste at ALL like a packet of mix - which might not be a bad thing.)

The Recipe:
Serves 4

1 pound salmon fillet, cut into 4 pieces
2 cups buttermilk
1 Tbs mayonnaise (optional)
1 tsp garlic powder
1 Tbs dried minced onion
4 Tbs dried parsley
1 tsp salt
2 Tbs cracked black pepper
1 Tbs dried dill weed (optional - this doesn't actually appear in Ranch dressing; I just like it.)
1 Tbs dried dill seed (same note as for dill weed, above)
1 tsp ground coriander (also not part of Ranch dressing, but . . . well, you get the idea.)

Pour the buttermilk into a large bowl or into a casserole dish, and soak the salmon pieces for about 15 minutes. (This will remove the fishiness from the salmon.)

While the salmon soaks, combine all remaining ingredients except mayo in a shallow bowl.

Remove the salmon from the buttermilk and pat dry. If you're using the mayonnaise, rub some mayo THINLY over the fleshy part of each salmon piece. (Note: the ranch mixture will stick just fine without the mayo, but the mayo makes it a little crispier and moister.) Coat both sides of the salmon in the herb/Ranch mixture.

Using a non-stick grill pan (or a regular frying pan sprayed with non-stick spray), cook the salmon over medium heat for 5-7 minutes per side. (It will seem like too long. It's NOT. The salmon will get a little charred around the edges. That's GOOD. It needs to cook that long because it was soaking in liquid, but it won't be dry.) When the fish flakes easily with a fork, ta-da! You're done!

Friday, May 29, 2009

What I ate for Dinner - Spinach and Protein - Your Choice! - in Garlic and Butter

I love spinach with garlic and butter. LOVE. Add a little pepper, and I’m an even happier camper. Add a protein source, and EVEN BETTER.

You can use any protein source in this, or none at all. I used turkey Polish-style sausage because I had some in my fridge that I needed to use, and I was jonesing for a little comfort food. But you could use chicken, shrimp, beef, tofu, whatever. Garlic and butter go with pretty much anything. (Which is part of the reason I love them. I’d have garlic’s and butter’s babies if I could. It’d give a whole new meaning to the term butterball! Ok, ok, I’ll stop now.)

The Recipe
Serves 4

Nonstick spray
1 lb (approx) protein, your choice, cut into bite-size pieces (In the pic below, I used Jennie-O Turkey Polish-Style Sausage. Yes, it’s been that kind of a day.)
2 Tbs butter
2 cloves minced garlic (or 1 tsp garlic powder)
1 tsp dried minced onion
2 pounds fresh spinach (I used prepackaged salad spinach that was nearing the end of its freshness.)
Butter spray (or more butter) (I used I Can’t Believe It’s Not Butter Spray)
salt and pepper to taste

Spray a large pan with nonstick cooking spray, and add the protein. Saute over medium-high heat until cooked through, then remove it from the pan and put it on a plate. (We’ll come back to it.)

Turn the heat to low and add the butter, garlic and dried onion. When the butter is melted and the garlic is golden, add a couple of handfuls of fresh spinach. Use a pair of tongs to turn it until it’s wilted, then add a few more handfuls, spray on a little butter spray, and turn that batch. When it’s wilted, repeat. Keep adding spinach and butter spray until you’ve used up all the spinach and it’s all wilted down. Add a little salt and pepper, and toss the protein back into the pot. Heat through, and serve.

(As an FYI, the calorie content of the spinach alone works out to about 370 for the whole thing. So figure just over 90 calories per serving for the spinach part. And then whatever protein you add.)

(Note: The picture below would serve about 3. I was REALLY low on spinach – I had about a pound and a third – so there isn’t QUITE enough to serve 4. If you use 2 pounds of spinach, you’ll be fine.)

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Spinach and Mushrooms on a Zucchini "Crust"

Have I mentioned lately how MUCH I love my food processor?!

My dad's been in and out of the hospital for the last 6 weeks--right now, he's in and about to come out!--so I haven't had much time to cook!  My diet has consisted of restaurant food, for the most part.  Last night, I couldn't face this again, and I had these bits in my fridge, leftovers from things I'd hoped to make!  Ha!  The rest of my ingredients got tossed, and these remained.  

It was pretty great, if I do say so myself!  Ha!

1 large onion, sliced (I halved it and used my food processor!)
1 large garlic clove, minced
1 Tbs. fresh rosemary leaves, or 1 tsp. dried
1/4 tsp. salt
1/8 tsp. pepper
4 medium-large zucchini, sliced (again, I used my food processor!)
About 1 lb. sliced mushrooms (you guessed it:  f p!)
1/4 tsp. salt
1/8 tsp. pepper
10-12 oz. fresh spinach leaves
1/3 cup grated Parmesan cheese
4 oz. basil leaves, shredded (If you put the leaves on top of each other and roll them together, it makes the fine slicing easier.  The leaves stay put!)
4 green onions, thinly sliced
OPTIONAL:  12-16 roasted tomatoes

In a sprayed, large skillet, cook the onions until they're soft.  Add the garlic, rosemary, and salt and pepper, and cook until the garlic is soft, about a minute or two.  Add the zucchini and stir.  Turn the heat up to medium-high.  Cook the zucchini, stirring it often enough so that it doesn't burn, and cook until the water has evaporated out of it, perhaps 30 minutes or more, depending on your heat level.  Pour into a sprayed 9 x 13 baking dish, and set aside.

In the same skillet, pour the mushrooms.  Cook them until the water has evaporated--this won't take nearly as long as the zucchini!  Season with salt and pepper, stir, and add the spinach leaves.  Cook just long enough to wilt the spinach.  Spoon this over the zucchini mixture.  Sprinkle the Parmesan cheese over the top, and bake at 350 degrees F. for 30 minutes, or until the top is light brown.

To serve, place a square on a plate, and top with basil shreds and green onions.  If you're using roasted tomatoes, add them to the toppings.  The picture shows sundried tomatoes--an experiment--but I wouldn't recommend them!  Ha!  I didn't have tomatoes to roast!  Remember, this is from leftover ingredients!  Ha!

Also, you could add artichoke hearts to the mushroom part and delete the tomatoes all together!  Add them before the spinach and heat them through, and then proceed with the rest!

Sunday, May 24, 2009

(Veggie) Sausage and Grilled Onion Breakfast Casserole*

*with a healthier version below! ;)

Serves 6-ish

When I was growing up, every Christmas morning we had some sort of breakfast casserole (well, until I was about 12, and Mom got sick of making the same freakin’ thing every year; then we started having stuff like Shrimp fra Diavolo – for brunch!). There are 5 components to a breakfast casserole: meat, cheese, bread, milk and eggs. The varieties you use of each are interchangeable, and you can add whatever else you feel like adding, but those 5 things are the backbone of the recipe.

They’re also practically the definition of what’s wrong with the American diet. Not a fruit or veggie in sight! But if you grew up with some variation of the Standard American Diet (does anyone else notice that the acronym for that is SAD?), breakfast casseroles evoke either pleasant, warm, comforting feelings or the gag reflex. There doesn’t seem to be a middle ground. I fall into the former, though, and I needed some comfort food recently, so this is my version of the breakfast casserole. (And for good measure, I altered the recipe to make a frittata below – no bread, less milk, WAY healthier. But not QUITE as comforting on the nostalgia scale. I’m just sayin’.)

The Recipe (1):
1 Tbs canola or grapeseed oil
1 large white onion, halved and thinly sliced
4 croissants OR 6 slices of white bread (Don’t even bother with using whole-grain bread for this; it tastes weird. Just make the frittata below if you can’t bring yourself to buy white bread.)6-8 cooked sausage patties, chopped (I use Morningstar Farms veggie patties, just because I like them and they’re easy.)
2 cups grated jack-and-cheddar cheese blend (or 1 cup each, if you’re grating your own)
12 eggs
1 ¼ cups whole milk
½ -1 tsp hot sauce (Frank’s Red Hot is my favorite in this, although I’ve been known to use Sriracha sauce from the Asian food aisle.)
1 Tbs fennel seeds (optional: they add a lot of flavor, but it’ll still be good if you don’t have any on hand)
Salt and pepper

In a large skillet, heat the oil over medium-high heat and add the onions, breaking them up as you add them. Add a light sprinkle of salt, stir, and reduce the heat to low.

Spray a 8 ½ x 11 casserole dish with nonstick spray, and then shred half the bread of your choice into the bottom. You want pretty small pieces: maybe ½ an inch or so.

(Stir the onions. They should be getting soft by now, so turn the heat up to medium.)

Chop the sausages if you haven’t already, and add them to the casserole dish.

(Stir the onions. Continue to stir them whenever you have a minute. We want them to get really brown and soft. Altogether they’re going to spend about a half-hour on the stovetop, just FYI.)
In a LARGE bowl, crack the eggs. Whisk them together, then add the milk, hot sauce, fennel, salt and pepper. Stir to combine and set aside.

When the onions are done (read: pretty brown), spread them over the sausage in the casserole dish. Top with half the cheese. Shred the remaining bread over the mixture, then pour the egg mixture over THAT. Top with the remaining cheese and set aside.

Now. If you’re going to cook this within an hour or so, I’d just leave it on the countertop. (Note: that is NOT recommended by the food safety folks, so proceed at your own risk. No one in my family has ever gotten sick doing that, but we’re pretty blasé about these things.) Otherwise, put it in the fridge and let it sit for a couple of hours. Take it out of the fridge about 40 minutes before you want to cook it, so it can come to room temperature.

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Bake the casserole covered for about 30 minutes, take the cover off, and bake it for about 15 more, so the cheese on top is melted. Allow to stand for 5-10 minutes so it sets before you cut it up.

This is great on its own, but if I’m serving it to guests, I usually put out extra cheese, some sour cream, ketchup, salsa, guacamole, cheese, whatever I can think of that I have on hand. Pretty much EVERYONE feels the need to mess with their eggs (including me).

Um, usually I have a picture here. But I had guests, and I served it before I thought about it. Oops.

The Recipe (2):
Serves 4-6

This is a little healthier. The key to the preparation on this is to use an oven-safe skillet. Otherwise it’s a HUGE pain. Don’t say I didn’t warn you.

1 Tbs canola or grapeseed oil
1 large white onion, halved and thinly sliced
6-8 cooked sausage patties, chopped (I use Morningstar Farms veggie patties, just because I like them and they’re easy.)
1 cup grated jack-and-cheddar cheese blend (or ½ cup each, if you’re grating your own)
6 eggs (8 if you have a BIG pan)
½ -1 tsp hot sauce (Frank’s Red Hot is my favorite in this, although I’ve been known to use Sriracha sauce from the Asian food aisle.)
1 Tbs fennel seeds (optional: they add a lot of flavor, but it’ll still be good if you don’t have any on hand)
Salt and pepper

Prepare the onion the same as above.

While the onion cooks, chop the sausages, and set aside.

When the onion is done, add the sausages to the pan and heat through. Spread the mixture out evenly over the pan.

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

In a separate bowl, beat the eggs, ½ the cheese, hot sauce, fennel, salt and pepper together. Pour the mixture over the sausage mixture in the pan, and allow to set – DON’T STIR IT. When the eggs start to solidify around the edges (it will still be liquid in the middle), sprinkle the remaining cheese on top, remove the pan from the heat, and put it (uncovered) into the oven. Bake for 30-40 minutes, or until a knife inserted in the center comes out clean. The cheese will be melted, and the frittata will get nice and puffy-looking. (It’s actually pretty impressive.)

Friday, May 22, 2009

What I Ate for Dinner - Old School Chicken Salad

I LOVE chicken salad. With lots of mayonnaise and celery and onions. I LOVE IT. But I have to admit that I don’t usually eat it on bread. My favorite way to eat it is spooned over a generous plate of cooked, chilled broccoli. I know, I know, it sounds weird. But it’s really, REALLY good, especially in the summer when it’s hot out, and the cool chicken salad and broccoli is a nice change from regular, lettuce-based salads.

The key here is to use LOTS of vegetables (well, lots for chicken salad, anyway) and REAL chicken, chopped. Don’t use canned chicken, although chopped pre-cooked chicken works just fine.


The Recipe:

1 pound cooked chicken, chopped
6-8 green onions, white and green parts, thinly sliced
5-7 large celery stalks, chopped
Mayo, salt and pepper to taste

Combine all the ingredients in a large bowl and stir to combine. Chill, and then serve over cooked, chilled broccoli.

FANTASTIC. Really. ;)

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Vegetable Curry

I ran across a blurb (Better Homes and Gardens) about research on bone health done at Tufts University.  It seems that, as you get older, your kidneys don't excrete acids as efficiently, so bones release alkaline stuff--including calcium--to restore the chemical balance.  When you eat fruits and vegetables, your body creates bicarbonate, which counteracts the high acid levels.  So, your bones are more likely to retain their calcium and stay stronger if your eat more produce!  Yet another reason for my being a vegetarian!  Ha! 

Here's a recipe for Thai curry that's mostly vegetables.  I looked up a bunch of curry recipes online to figure out the main ingredients, excluded the ones I couldn't buy here, and included the ones I could buy and liked!

We liked the result--except for Marste, who hates coconut milk!--and so did our neighbors!

I've used zucchini instead of mushrooms, and I've used zucchini with the mushrooms, but I like this combination best!  I haven't yet tried green beans, broccoli, or any of the other myriad vegetables, but I intend to!  Broccoli, in particular, interests me because of its stronger flavor!  So, broccoli and zucchini....

I hope you try this.  It's easier than it looks!

1/2 cup brown basmati rice
1 cup water
1/2 tsp. salt
1/4 tsp. pepper
1 can unsweetened coconut milk (not fat-free!*), shaken before opening to recombine the milk and the fat
1 bunch fresh cilantro, chopped**
1 Tbs. micro-grated, or finely minced, ginger
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 lb. eggplant, unpeeled, cut into even pieces
1/2 lb. mushrooms, sliced
1 Tbs. canola oil
3/4 c. green onions, sliced
1 Tbs. curry powder
Small pinch of red pepper flakes (We thought 1/8 tsp. made it too hot, but we don't like a lot of heat!)
1/2 tsp. salt
1 1/2 cup grape tomatoes
1/4 cup cashews (you can also use peanuts, if you don't like cashews!)
1 lime, quartered

Combine rice, water, salt, and pepper.  Bring to a boil, cover, and simmer on lowest heat for 45 minutes.  In a blender, or food processor, put 1/2 cup coconut milk, cilantro, 1 tsp. ginger, and 2 cloves garlic, and buzz until it's smooth.  When the rice is cooked, stir this mixture into the rice.  Set aside, and keep it warm.

Heat the oil in a large skillet.  Cook the eggplant over medium high heat.  Turn the pieces occasionally, until they're all brown on every side.  (I usually do "almost" every side; I'm learning not to be perfectionistic!  Ha!)   Add the mushrooms, and cook until they're soft and all the water has evaporated.  In other words, the pan is dry!  Add the green onions, curry powder, pepper flakes, salt, 1 clove garlic, and 2 tsp. ginger, and cook until green onions are slightly softened, about 1-2 minutes.  Add the remainder of the coconut milk (about 1 1/4 cups), and stir it in.  Add the tomatoes, and heat through.  

To serve:
Spoon some rice on a plate, and ladle some of the vegetables and sauce over it.  Sprinkle a few cashews over the top.  If it's needed, add salt and pepper to taste.  Add a lime quarter to the plate, so each diner can squeeze as much as s/he likes.  Enjoy!

*Coconut milk with the coconut fat will mitigate the heat of the red pepper flakes, in case you get heavy-handed.  Also, the coconut fat is a plant fat, as opposed to animal fat, and it's considered good for you!

**More nutrition trivia:  cilantro is a very cleansing herb.  There are studies (that I read online) that say it helps the body release toxins, including heavy metals.  It also has many beneficial nutrients.  I consider these a bonus; I'd eat it anyway, because I just like it!  

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Summer Salsa "Soup"

This is for Emily, who needed something that her whole family would eat! Hopefully this works. :)

I love salsa. I mean, I could eat it with a spoon, straight from the container (and have been known to do just that). I’m talking about the salsa from the refrigerated section, full of tomatoe-y, garlicky goodness. I finally figured that maybe I should stop eating salsa from the container because a) it gets expensive (seriously – do you know how much those little containers COST?) and b) it’s not really all that good for you. I came up with this to split the difference. One of the things I like best about this recipe is the "build your own" component with all the add-ons at the bottom. I usually have all but the tortilla chips on hand, and I just throw things together as they sound good. It adds nice variety, and if you're serving this to guests (or families), everyone gets something they like.

The most important thing below is to make sure that you have RIPE tomatoes. Don’t even bother making this in the wintertime, and if you shoot for early summer or early fall, at the beginning and end of tomato season, it’s probably best to get tomatoes on the vine. Get the big round ones, too, not the skinny little Roma ones. You need the JUICE for this to work. Don’t say I didn’t warn you.

The Recipe:
Serves 6

6 large hothouse tomatoes or tomatoes on the vine, chopped
1 medium white or yellow onion, chopped
1 green pepper, chopped
1 cucumber, chopped
2 cloves garlic, FINELY minced
1 bunch cilantro, chopped
juice from 4 limes
½ -1 jalapeno pepper, seeded and FINELY minced (if you like spicy food, use the whole pepper; if you HATE spicy food, just leave it out)
¼ cup olive oil
2 10 ¾-oz cans broth (I prefer beef broth, but vegetable broth works, too. Chicken broth tastes WEIRD, though. Just FYI.)
1 pound cooked steak strips (optional – I don’t usually include them, but sometimes I need some extra protein)
sour cream, for serving
guacamole, for serving
crushed tortilla chips, for serving
shredded Mexican cheese blend, for serving

Combine everything not labeled “for serving” above in a LARGE bowl. (The picture below is a 4-qt. bowl, and it has no steak in it. This makes a LOT of soup.) Stir to combine, and (ideally) refrigerate several hours or (even better) overnight. (Note: it’ll be good even if you don’t have time to refrigerate it, but it’ll be FANTASTIC if you do.) Also, you probably will NOT need salt for this. I know, I know, I’m the salt queen, but the broth is already salted. Mix it up, let it chill and taste it before you add salt. Seriously. I’m NOT KIDDING. You might be sorry otherwise.

Serve with optional garnishes (not shown below):
sour cream
crushed tortilla chips
shredded cheese

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Stuffed Zucchini with Lime

Sorry about the late time!  I tried to schedule it, since I knew I wouldn't be around to post it today!  Obviously, I still have a lot to learn!  Ha!

This isn't hard to do, if you have a grapefruit spoon!  They're inexpensive, and they're in grocery stores, so they're easy to acquire!  I really like the varied tastes and textures of this!

Nezu, this fits your criteria, I think!  And Emily, if you add quartered orange slices as "sails," your guys might like it, too.  Also, if I'm serving it to young kids, I omit the lime juice in the mix, instead serving the boats with lime wedges.  Squeezing the juice over the cooked stuffed zucchini appeals to adults but not always to kids!  I'm often surprised, though!  Ha!

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

1/2 cup slivered, or sliced, almonds
1 large onion, diced
2 cloves garlic, minced
4 medium zucchini, halved lengthwise and scooped out, being sure to leave enough on the sides so the zucchini boats don't collapse!  Reserve pulp, and chop it.
6 Morningstar Farms breakfast sausage patties, diced  (This is in frozen foods in most grocery stores with other meatless "meats," like Boca burgers.  It doesn't have as much soy!)
Juice of 1 lime
1 tsp. dried oregano leaves, crushed
1/2 cup shredded cheddar cheese

In a large, pre-sprayed skillet, cook the almonds on low heat for just a couple of minutes until they're lightly browned, and set aside.

In the same skillet, heat 1 Tbs. canola oil.  Sauté onions until they're soft.  Add the garlic.  Cook 1 minute.  Add the zucchini pulp, and cook it until the water has evaporated, 20-30 minutes.  Add sausage, oregano, lime juice, and toasted almonds.  Heat through, and fill the zucchini shells.  Sprinkle cheddar cheese over the stuffed zucchini boats.  Bake 1/2 hour at 350 degrees, or until the cheese is melted and starting to brown.

Friday, May 8, 2009

Less Congestion Pot Roast for Dad

This is the second dinner I made for my dad.  Beef is really too fatty to benefit congestion, but it does have some stuff he needs (iron, e.g.), and he requested it!  Ha!  I agreed, as long as it he agreed not to add potatoes, which contribute to his congestion.  So, with that compromise, here's what I did!  (And the stuff that helps congestion is in bold print!)

3 lbs. beef for slow cooking!
1 14-oz. can beef broth
1 huge onion, or 2 smaller ones
2 large cloves garlic, chopped
4 medium zucchini, cut into 4 chunks each
6 medium carrots, cut into 5 or 6 chunks each

Into a 6-qt. slow cooker, place beef.  Sprinkle with a little salt and a lot of pepper.  Add the onion and the garlic.  Pour the broth around the edges.  Cook on high heat for 5-6 hours.

Add the carrots, making sure they're in the broth.  Add the zucchini chunks, placing them on top of the roast and carrots.  This way, they won't be completely mushy when everything else is done!  Cook for another 1-1 1/2 hours, or until the carrots are tender when you poke them with a fork.  (AKA "fork tender.)

Dad wanted bread to substitute for his beloved potatoes, so I bought him some bread made of half quinoa and half wheat, because wheat worsens his congestion, too.  I toasted a slice of bread, buttered it, laid it on a plate, put meat on it, and ladled the beef broth over it.  With vegetables on the side, he felt he'd been given manna!  Ha!  He ate all of it!

And now, I have both chicken and beef to shred for tacos and other dishes that I can use more of the peppery spices that seem to do the best work for de-congesting!  Woohoo!

I'll keep you posted on our progress!  At this point, he's actually walking farther than he was 3 days ago!  I'm excited!  He's breathing better, so he's not as breathless as quickly!  He's even feeling optimistic, so that's a plus, too!

What I Ate for Dinner - the Half-A$$ed hors d'oeuvres

Ok kids, I'm dealing with some bug issues at my apartment, so this is a SERIOUSLY compromised post. There will also be no Sunday post, as I will be scrubbing everything down after fogging the WHOLE FREAKIN' PLACE.

Not that I'm frustrated. Ahem.

BUT! There's still a half-a$$ed post for today! Woo-hoo!

This is for Karen L., who asked about hors d'oeuvres to serve at parties: preferably easy ones that didn't look like they came from a package. THIS is my specialty, folks: finger foods that look WAY more impressive than they are. (Because I love feeding people, but at some point I WANT TO PLAY, TOO.)

The Stuff (because you know, it's not really a recipe):

Hands-down, the easiest thing (which is still impressive-looking):

But wait! It's better than it sounds.
Salami: Get a good quality salami. You can get something presliced, but if it came from Oscar Mayer, pass on by. Get a package (or 2) of the Columbus brand (found in the fancy cheese case). They have regular AND peppered, and I usually grab one of each package.

Cheese: At least two kinds. I like a double- or triple- cream Brie and a soft blue, and occasionally a Jack or Cheddar, if I'm not sure of my guests' tastes (Cheddar is a SUPER safe choice). Trader Joe's makes a FABULOUS soft blue (Castello? Costello? Something like that. Squeeze it a little: it will be as soft as a good Brie. When you find that blue - or bleu - cheese, that's it! Buy it! Buy a LOT of it! YUM . . . )

Crackers: Two words, folks: WATER. CRACKERS. Doesn't really matter what brand. Whole-grain crackers work, too, but only the fancy kinds. Don't go busting out the Triscuits, ok? (Although I DO love some Triscuits, I won't lie.)

Fruit: The part that makes your spread look fancy! Red grapes or sliced apples. If you slice apples, squeeze some lemon juice over them. It'll change the taste a little, but it will still be good with the other ingredients. I'm not gonna lie though, red grapes are my FAVORITE. They're AMAZING with salami and blue/bleu cheese.

The key to that spread is to put everything on plates, and ARRANGE it. It doesn't really matter HOW you arrange it; just don't dump it all on there, and it will look fantastic.

So there's that. Depending on the gathering, you also can't go wrong with potato chips and onion dip. I'm working on a substitute for the packaged dip, but honestly that Lipton crap hits people right in the nostalgic part of their brain. It's ALWAYS a winner.

Cookie dough! Even from a package, in teeny-tiny cupcake holders. These are a little time-consuming though, and be advised that they don't keep out on a table very well for very long: they turn a funny color. Yeesh. But a few at a time are always good. I use a cookie dough scooper (yes, really - STOP LAUGHING AT ME!), which forms them into little balls, so they look cute(that's the part that's time-consuming), and then sprinkle some cocoa powder over the top of them. Mmmmmm.

Ummm . . .

Bruschetta is easy if you have a broiler. Get a baguette, slice it up the night before, toss it in the fridge with a package of Bruschetta topping. The next day, arrange the slices on a broiler sheet, top them with the Bruschetta topping and broil them for about 3 minutes. Ta-da!

Alternately, you can brush the bread slices with some olive oil (or if you're lazy like me, just pour some olive oil on a plate and dip the bread in), sprinkle them with garlic powder (or add minced garlic to the oil on the plate), salt and pepper, and then dust them with grated Parmesan. Broil for the usual 3 minutes, and they'll be nice and toasty without TOO much cheese.

Olives! Olives are great and easy. Toss them in a pretty dish, put a smaller dish of toothpicks on the side, and you're done! But go to the olive bar for these, and get a couple of kinds: Kalamata, maybe some cheese- or garlic-stuffed green ones, whatever looks good. Do not, I repeat, DO NOT buy your olives in the jar in the middle aisles of the store. They taste funny for this type of thing. DO. NOT. Seriously.

Antipasto platters are also good. Remember that baguette? Slice it up and arrange it on a platter. Now on a separate platter, pile up some prosciutto (or thinly sliced ham), a little salami, some jarred roasted red peppers, some jarred sun-dried tomatoes, a little bit of olive tapenade, and some knives to spread all the stuff with. Let people build their own almost-crostini ('cause you know, crostini are toasted, and these aren't)! If you're feeling REALLY adventurous, add some pickled vegetables. (Giardiniera is fabulous - and I probably misspelled it - I never can remember how to spell it. But it's pickled carrots, cauliflower and pepperoncinis. YUM.)

Put out a dish of cleaned radishes. Next to that put a dish of butter and some salt. You dip the radish in the butter, sprinkle a little salt over it, and you're done! (Yes, really. It's good. I SWEAR.)

Watercress sandwiches! Ok, I know that sounds weird. But they're YUMMY. You need a baguette, sliced (are you seeing a theme here?). Put some butter on each slice and top it with some watercress. The watercress has sort of a peppery bite to it, and the butter balances it out nicely. Sprinkle a little coarse sea salt over the top, and it's pretty, too!

What else can I think of? Hmm . . .

OH! Meatballs! But not in BBQ or Teriyaki sauce, because EVERYBODY does that (unless you make a REALLY, REALLY good one). Serve meatballs in marinara sauce, with a little dish of toothpicks on the side. (You can either make your own marinara, or buy a good quality version from the store. Either way works.) Seriously, I know it seems sort of pedestrian, but people love meatballs. Sprinkle a little Parmesan cheese over them if you want it to look fancy.

Ok, I think I'm tapped for now. (Nope, one more: if your friends are like MY friends, put out some hummus and pita chips. But put the hummus in a bowl and drizzle a little olive oil over the top. A LITTLE, I'm not kidding about that part. But it makes it look more gourmet. If people only knew . . . )

Ok, NOW I'm tapped out. No pictures today (I can't even IMAGINE cooking all that for a post), so you'll have to use your imagination! And if you have any other ideas that have worked well for you in the past, by all means post them in the comments!

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Zucchini-wrapped Spinach and Carrots with Parmesan Asparagus Spears

I apologize for no picture--Chelsea's not here to help me!  Ha!  I do have a picture, and I'll try to add it later tonight!

This is for Emily, who had several guidelines for us.  She wanted to know if we could come up with dishes that were low in fat and carbs, more vegetables than meat, didn't include a lot of processed soy products, would appeal to her son who "lives on carbs," and also would appeal to her 2-year-old son!  Last, but not least, both sons are becoming pickier eaters.  A CHALLENGE!

My three adult daughters were each 2 at one time!  Ha!  One loved pasta, one loved granola, and one loved broccoli and mushrooms!  And whatever ONE loved, the other two hated!  So, I spent some time thinking about this stuff.  On days when I was fried, we ate cheese or pepperoni pizza, which they all seemed to think was okay.  We ate a lot of pizza in some phases of life!  Ha!

I was a meat-eater then, but I remember some of the criteria:  color, fun, simple tastes.  Interestingly, I found this easier to accomplish with vegetables!

Baby carrots that number the same as the zucchini slices--next item!  (I'm assuming the carrots are the fatter version, like Costco's or a grocery store's.  If you're using thinner ones, like the ones from Trader Joe's in the snack-sized bags, 2 or 3 per zucchini slice would be better.)
2 medium zucchinis, sliced with a potato peeler into about 30-35 slices  (It has to be thin enough to roll!)
Garlic salt
Onion powder
1 bunch spinach, rinsed and stems removed (or 1 bag of baby spinach, with plans to use the rest for salad--which is what I did!)
30-35 toothpicks
1 can vegetable broth
Veggie Dressing (See below, or look at March 24's post!)
1 lb. asparagus spears
1 Tbs. olive oil
1/2 tsp. salt
1/4 tsp. pepper
1/3 cup Parmesan cheese
Pasta for Simon!  (Maybe tossed in a little oil and garlic salt?)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Steam, or microwave (about 2-4 minutes--depends on thickness), the carrots until they're crisp/tender.  Set aside.

Lay zucchini slices on a cutting board.  Sprinkle with a little of each:  garlic salt, pepper, and onion powder.  (If my own kids saw onion pieces or bits, they wouldn't eat this!  So, I used powder, which became "invisible" but imparted the taste, so Steve and I could eat it, too!)  Top with a few spinach leaves, just enough to cover the zucchini slice.  Place the carrot at one end, and roll the zucchini slice with the spinach leaves around the carrot.  Secure with a toothpick, and set it in a pre-sprayed 7 x 12 baking dish.  Continue until all the zucchini slices with spinach leaves and carrots have been wrapped.  (This sounds like a horrific time-consumer, but it was surprisingly fast!)

Pour the broth around the edges of the baking dish.  (I used a smaller baking dish, because I wanted the rolls touching, so they wouldn't dry out in the oven.)  Do not cover!  (If you cover it, the rolls will fall apart when you remove the toothpicks!  This way, they dry a bit and stick together better.)  Set aside, and fix the asparagus. 


Wash and break ends off asparagus spears.  In a plastic bag or container that seals tightly, put asparagus spears, vegetable oil, salt, and pepper.  Toss to coat.  Lay asparagus spears in a baking dish.  Sprinkle with Parmesan cheese.  Do not cover!

Put both dishes in the oven at 350 degrees for 30 minutes.

Heat water and boil pasta.  To serve:  remove the toothpicks, and put the rolls and a few asparagus spears on a plate.  Drizzle a little Veggie Dressing over the top of the rolls.  Add a spoonful of pasta (or rice or?).  Enjoy!

NOTE:  This is something you can make in bits during the day.  For example, the zucchinis can be quickly sliced while you're waiting for toast to pop up, and then tossed into a bag and into the refrigerator.  The carrots can be zapped any time.  Same for tossing the asparagus.

Also, I added wild rice pilaf (as the picture shows), because I was experimenting with a recipe.

Veggie Dressing:

3/4 tsp. salt
1/4 tsp. pepper
1/8 tsp. garlic powder
1/4 tsp. onion powder
1 tsp. thyme leaves, crushed
2 Tbs. water
1 cup olive, or vegetable, oil

Put everything but the oil into a container that pours--I use a squeeze bottle that used to contain honey.  Shake to dissolve powders and salt.  Add oil, shake, and pour--or squeeze!

I keep this on hand in my refrigerator door.  My whole family LOVES this stuff!  Even my brother and father will eat vegetables with this!  If you decide to double the recipe, as in the March 24th entry, DON'T double the herbs and spices!  Just double the oil!

Sunday, May 3, 2009

Make Your Own: Marinara Sauce

Every once in a while I come across a recipe (or two or three) for something I take for granted. And when I realize how simple it is to make my own (ok, it’s not always simple, but it is in this case), I stop buying ready-made altogether. So this is my homemade Marinara Sauce. It’s FANTASTIC, if I do say so myself. ;)

The Recipe
Makes 3 cups

1 tsp, plus 2 Tbs olive oil
4 cloves minced garlic
1 28-oz can (or 2 14-oz cans) petite diced tomatoes*
¼ tsp sugar (don’t omit this; it keeps the garlic from tasting sour or overpowering)
3 Tbs chopped fresh basil

In a saucepan, sauté the garlic in 1 tsp of olive oil until golden. Add all the tomatoes, and the juice from the can, along with the sugar. Stir well, cover, and cook over low heat for 20 minutes. Uncover and stir again, using your spoon to break up some of the tomato pieces against the side of the pan (this will thicken the sauce a little). Add the basil, stir, and re-cover. Cook over low heat for 10 more minutes. Take the pan off the heat, add the remaining 2 Tbs of olive oil and stir gently to combine.

If you like a spicier sauce, add 1/8 – ¼ tsp red pepper flakes when you add the sugar.
If you’d like a creamier variation, add 1 cup of half and half when you add the olive oil, and heat through.

*If you prefer, you can use canned, peeled, whole tomatoes and crush them in your hands. This will give you a thin sauce with large chunks, whereas petite-diced tomatoes will give you a thicker sauce with more uniform chunks. Either way will work; it’s just a matter of preference. (In the picture below I used whole tomatoes, but only because I couldn’t find petite diced San Marzanos. Normally I use the petite diced ones for convenience.)

Random info: traditional Italian cooking usually involves adding the olive oil at the end of the dish, so that the flavor of the oil isn’t compromised. Also, if you’re serving this with pasta, do NOT rinse the pasta after you’ve drained it, and do NOT add oil to the boiling pasta water. Both of those things prevent starch from clinging to the cooked pasta noodles, and that starchy coating is what will absorb the sauce into the pasta. If you add oil to your pasta pot, or if you rinse the pasta, you wash away that starchiness, and the sauce won’t stick.

Ta-da! That’s it! SO. GOOD.

Friday, May 1, 2009

Speedy Chicken Stir-Fry

Stir-fries are the go-to meal for the time-crunched, and with good reason. This particular stir-fry took me literally 20 minutes, from the time I turned on the burner, to the time the finished meal hit the plate. Full disclosure: I was so tired tonight that I almost didn’t post this, because I did NOT want to cook anything, and I knew that I had a backup post or two in the Drafts section of Blogger. But since I’d already defrosted the veggies, I figured I might as well go ahead – and boy, was I glad I did! Nothing makes you feel better than a quick hot meal before bed! Those prepackaged dinners (I’m looking at you, Lean Cuisine) have got NOTHING on real food!

This particular stir-fry works well (and comes together fast) for a few reasons:
First, the vegetables are defrosted when they go into the pot – no waiting around for frozen veggies to thaw! (I just throw them in the fridge before I leave for work in the morning, but if you’re doing this at the last minute, defrost them in the microwave. It’s still faster than trying to cook them through in the pan.)
Next, oyster sauce and soy sauce both are PACKED with flavor, so you don’t really need any other seasonings (although I add salt to EVERYTHING, but that’s my problem – ha!).
And by using prechopped veggies and chicken, you save a BUNCH of prep time.


The Recipe
Serves 4

1 Tbs canola, grapeseed or peanut oil (suitable for the high heat of a stir-fry)
1 pound chicken tenders or strips (if you want to make this vegetarian, add an extra package of mixed vegetables or 1 pound of tofu)
1 10-oz package cabbage-based coleslaw mix
1 16-oz package mixed vegetables (I used the Harvest Hodgepodge from Trader Joe’s), DEFROSTED
3 Tbs low-sodium soy sauce
3 Tbs oyster sauce
1 tsp garlic powder or 2 garlic cloves, minced
Salt and pepper to taste
Hot sauce on the side (optional)

Heat the oil in a large pan. Add the chicken and sauté, stirring, until cooked through (about 5 minutes). Add the cabbage and stir until it begins to wilt (about 3 minutes). Add the vegetables, soy sauce, oyster sauce and garlic powder, and heat through.

That’s it! You’re done! Just set out the salt, pepper and hot sauce for folks to add as they go along.