Back To Basics

Before TV networks were devoted to food, endless magazines dedicated food and in general a whole niche industry revolving around food (I am not complaining) there was… well just some basic recipes and every once in a while some relative or friend of the family might have a twist on a basic recipe.

Sometimes I just like to revisit the basics.

basic pasta salad

Nothing is more basic than standard pasta salad. This kind of pasta salad is as simple as it gets and in its “heyday” was the star of the summer side dishes. It still a great simple salad, it’s just been forgotten amid all the fancy variations these days. The only thing “new” about it is the tri-color rotini. (Remember when pasta only came in “white” and the tricolor was revolutionary? I do.)

The ingredient list is simple: boiled, drained and cooled al dente pasta, diced green bell pepper, diced red onion, diced pepperoni and a bottle of your favorite Italian dressing. This salad is easy and can feed a crowd. But it can be the basis for some other more exotic ideas too. Add sun-dried tomatoes and cubed mozzarella for a twist on antipasti. Add feta,olives and pepperoncini for a Greek-inspired version. Substitute the pepperoni  with chickpeas for a vegetarian version. You get the idea. Make it  your own.

or leave it as a good, solid basic.

 

Production Tip

As with all pasta salads, its good to dress it liberally with the dressing while the pasta is just a tiny bit still warm. Refrigerate, taste after a while and add a bit more dressing in. The pasta really soaks up the flavor if you do it this way.

Fruit Cubes

When I have extra fruit that I might not get to in time I like to puree it and freeze it for later use.  You can just simply puree the washed, clean fruit and freeze it or add some honey or sugar to it before freezing for instant drink mixes!

Certainly I didn’t invent this great idea but I do like to inspire and remind folks that it is a perfect way to have fruit on hand for blending smoothies, flavoring ice teas or my favorite adult beverage… “boat drinks!”

I use small 2-3 ounce containers so each one is just a portion size.

I use small 2-3 ounce containers so each one is just a portion size. (Make sure to leave a little room at the top for expansion!)

Empanadas #92

There was something about the turnip in my crisper drawer that spoke to me one day. It somehow begged to be roasted and stuffed into little dough pockets. And of course some diced ham seemed like a nice match too. Feeling like I needed something green to tuck in there too, frozen peas seemed easy. (Like “Samosas” according to my husband.)

So that is how these empanadas were created…

empanada

I bake mine but I can’t emphasize enough how delicious they would be/are deep fried!

Surprisingly easy, I prefer to roast rather than steam/boil my turnip. And yes that is some sweet potatoes on the pan too. I figure if I am roasting anyway why not throw some other stuff on there too. And I often roast the a day or two ahead when I have the time so these can come together quicker. Saute the onion and ham first to get a little more flavor and color on them. Be sure to let the filling cool before you stuff the dough rounds.

I usually use the larger “disco” dough rounds from brands like Goya or LeFey. These are found in the freezer section, perhaps in an ethnic foods part of the freezer. If you can’t find these you could definitely use some refrigerated dough product or if you are really ambitious maybe make your own. They are essentially just thin dough rounds that get stuffed, sealed and baked. Or Fried. Have I mentioned that these really are delicious deep-fried. Sadly (Insert sad sigh here) I never fry anything at home. I reserve fried treats to occasional indulges when out at restaurants. It’s the same with ice cream. (Another sad sigh here.)

ready-for-the-oven

bake at 375 degrees on parchment lined sheet pans for 20-30 mins until browned

These are great to make ahead and have around for parties, lunch/dinner on the go, or an office pot-luck. The only advantage to the non-fried version like these,  is they are good room temperature or warm and will re-heat easily and beautifully.

The Recipe:

dough rounds (10-15 of the larger 6″ +/-size or 20 of the smaller 4″+/- size) and it also depends on how full you fill each one…but the dough rounds can be frozen/re-frozen.

1 med turnip (couple pounds??) peeled, cut, roasted on  a sheet pan with a little oil oil, S&P at 400 degrees till tender and yummy. Mashed and cooled.

1/2 large sweet onion diced ( I used “Maui”)

1-2 cloves of garlic minced fine – more if you like

3/4 lb +/- diced cooked ham

2 tsp ground cumin

1/2 tsp chili flakes

3/4-1 cup of frozen peas

Salt and pepper to taste and a couple of tablespoons of olive oil to saute

Saute the onion garlic and ham in the Olive oil. Add the dry spices and stir for a minute or two. Add the frozen peas and stir a few more minutes. Take off heat and combine with the mashed turnip. Taste for seasoning. After the filling has cooled, spoon a few table spoons onto a dough round. Flap over the dough and use a little water on your finger on the outer edge to seal them shut. Now either use a fork along the edge or roll the edges onto themselves. Brush with melted butter or spray with butter spray and bake at 375 degrees on a parchment/silpat lined sheet in the preheated oven for 20-30 mins till puffed, golden brown and delicious. These freeze beautifully either stuffed and not baked off or baked and cooled.

See some of my other stuffed creations here, here and here!

Convenient Calzone

Sometimes you just have to use convenience foods to get it done!

lazy fried peppersAnd this time around I used one of my favorite convenience foods… a jar of “fried peppers” from Mancini packing company. A nice little new England company with another factory in Florida as well – you can read about their history here.

This little jar packs lots of flavor – sweet bell peppers sautéed in olive oil and packed into the jar. An open jar is like arriving at the sausage carts lining Yawkey Way at Fenway. Just add Sausage.

And that is what I did. I managed to work up the effort to cut up a few sweet Italian sausages ( or hot if you prefer) and a white onion and get those into a pan for some browning and precooking.

Actual cooking here folks!

Actual cooking here folks!

Add in the jar of fried peppers and honestly dinner is almost ready! Even if I happen to have some fresh sweet bell peppers in the fridge and was inclined to slice them up, the long cooking time and patience required to get that “fresh from the sausage cart” flavor was more than I had this day.

After the sausage and onions had some brown to them and the peppers were mixed in, I also added a small can of tomato sauce (another favorite convenience item of mine) and a heavy pinch of Italian seasoning with some salt and pepper.

I let the mixture cool a bit while I rolled out some pre-made pizza dough (you see the “convenience” theme here!) and laid half the dough as the bottom on a parchment lined sheet pan. Next I spread the somewhat cooled filling onto the dough – not quite to the edges – and put the top half on, rolling up and crimping the edges.

Feeling slightly more energetic, I sprinkled some shredded Parmesan cheese on top with a little dash of garlic powder to just give some extra zip to the top.

Into a preheated 425 degree oven for about 20-25 minutes or until the dough seems done and not overdone like mine.

20 mins to prep, 20 mins to cook and very little clean up!

20 mins to prep, 20 mins to cook and very little clean up!

This makes about 9-12 large squares on a “half” size sheet pan, depending on how thin you stretch the dough. This cuts better if it is allowed to cool a bit first. (A tricky subject around my house!)

Notes: leave the cheese off the top for dairy-free and use any kind of sausage you want, including turkey or even tofu. I won’t tell, if you don’t tell!

Devils on Horseback

There are many obscure food nicknames/references in the world but with advent of the internet most of the time the origins of these can be tracked down. Not as easy with “devils on horseback.”  Or “angels on horseback.”

Google it and you will find some stories about English pub snacks and horseback warriors wielding meat-covered shields. However these snacks got invented and why they have this name, I may never really know. But in the meantime I shall just make and eat dozens of them.

I can’t take credit for inventing this. I first heard about these from a friend and colleague at work . We carpool once a week and torture ourselves discussing food all the way home, hungry for dinner after the work day!

She had the pleasure of eating at the Chicago restaurant, “Avec that invented these.  As she described them to me,  I knew immediately that I would need to make these.

My variation of "devils on horse back"

My variation of “devils on horse back” – dates split and stuffed with a lardon of smoked Spanish Chorizo and wrapped in bacon. Smothered in a smoky tomato and red pepper sauce.


Production Notes

The rolled, stuffed dates bake in a pre-heated 350 degree oven for 20-30 mins.

You can double roll them with bacon and if you do you may want to bake them on their end so all sides get a little crispy.

These could also be made with raw, uncooked Chorizo – just make sure to cook them long enough that they are done. Use a thermometer if need be to test for temperature.

The sauce is basically finely minced onion and garlic sautéed in a little olive oil, add a 7 ounce jar of roasted peppers diced up, a 15 ounce of diced tomatoes, some garlic powder, ground cumin and smoked hot paprika, salt and pepper. Let it simmer for 20-30 minutes on med-low. Taste for seasoning and add salt/pepper and a tiny bit of Agave to smooth it out. This makes plenty of sauce for the approximately 36 dates I made.

Scooby Snacks

Have you seen this new trend where 3 or 4 pictures give the whole recipe? Especially popular on Pinterest.

Well here is my version…

Any questions…

beauty shot

Production Notes

I used a smoked, fully cooked chorizo – but a raw version would work too – just make sure it cooks fully.

I also used a pre-made “crescent roll” dough that comes in a “blue can” – they have a seamless “1 piece” version but you could easily adapt this for the traditional crescent style. Or I guess if you are handy – make your own dough from scratch.

A layer of cream cheese or even just a sprinkle of Parmesan might have put these over the top – just sayin.

Dinner For Dinner

If you have been reading this blog for a while, you may already know that my husband and I share a common love of “dinner for breakfast.”

But lots of times we just have “dinner for dinner” and this basic pot roast is one of his favorites. (mine too!) Simple and tasty – this can be made in one pot and put into a slow oven until you are ready to eat and if you are using one of those heavy cast iron dutch ovens like I do, it will stay hot for a long time in case you have family or friends wandering thru at different times to be fed.

Over the years I have picked up a few tips to really help make the dish shine.

1. Add lots of seasoning to the meat and make sure to brown it. I really think being generous with your spices and seasoning sets up the meat for not only a flavorful crust but tasty “au jus.”

2.Sauté those carrots. Take the time to really cook those carrots a bit along with the onions – it makes a difference!

carrots and onions

For the record… this picture was taken as soon as I threw in the carrots, so they were still raw, but they did get a nice saute in the pan!

3. Potatoes on the side please!

I used to put the potatoes right in with the roast but they were never as good as I wanted them to be, so when a TV cook from Oklahoma once suggested serving the pot roast on a mound of yummy, rich mashed potatoes, I have been doing it that way ever since! (plus this gives opportunity for extra flavor – like “garlic mashed potatoes!”)

dinner plate
My husband made these delicious mashed potatoes!

Production Notes

My basic spice blend for the meat contains sea salt, course ground black pepper, garlic powder and celery seed. In addition to this I can change the flavor profile depending on what else I add. For example…ground cumin, paprika and a tiny bit of cinnamon for an “exotic” pot roast. Or  crushed red pepper flakes for a “spicy” version.  Let your imagination run wild.

My basic “go to” for liquid is water mixed with a generous amount of Worcestershire sauce to de-glaze the pan and become the cooking liquid for the pot roast meat and veggies. But you can use stock, cider, beer or wine too. Each of this will add/change the flavor profile.

I usually add a small can of tomato paste (or a couple squirts from the tube) to the pan after I have browned the meat and veggies but before I de-glaze to add a real depth of flavor to the pot roast liquid and because I love tomatoes!

If you want a thicker consistency for the “Au Jus” than add a tiny bit of cornstarch or an arrowroot slurry about an hour before serving.

Spicy Peppers

Spicy filling, sweet peppers!

Recently while visiting New Hampshire I acquired the most wonderful local goat cheese and the cutest mini sweet red peppers. (Thanks mom!)

After I got them home it occurred to me that with a little help from the basil and oregano lingering in my garden and a couple pantry ingredients I could have myself a nice little snack or game day party bites. GO RED SOX!!  So the “spice” in this case wasn’t from the peppers but the filling I made for them.

3 main ingredients

Little spicy bites!

pepper for sizeI mixed the goat cheese and chopped herbs with a healthy dose of seasoned salt, black pepper, plenty of spicy, red chili flakes, some dashes of hot sauce, dash of garlic powder and some EVO oil to thin the consistency and add flavor. I also added a very small amount of “half and half” (you could use milk or cream too) to make it more creamy and spreadable. The mixture becomes a wonderful mix of tang and spice!

Stuff it into peppers or dip into it with veggies or use as a sandwich spread!

If I wasn't so lazy, I would have used a piping bag to neatly and prettily fill the peppers. But they tasted just a good stuffed all messy with a spoon!

What a perfect snack for the Red Sox game! (oh and if I wasn’t so lazy, I would have used a piping bag to neatly and prettily fill the peppers. But they tasted just a good stuffed all messy with a spoon!)

Carol’s Kielbasa Dinner

Maybe it’s the fall nip in the air here in New England. Maybe it was the fact that I had the ingredients hanging around the refrigerator. Maybe I just wanted an excuse to serve one of my many mustard selections I keep on hand. Whatever the reason…I found myself putting together a “kielbasa roast” for dinner one night.

Serve informally and rustic on a Dinner for two served on a rustic wood tray and whole gran mustard. Don't forget a great dark beer!
Served informally and rustic as a dinner for two on a wood tray with whole grain mustard. What could be more romantic than sharing/dipping chucks of meat and veggies! Don’t forget a great dark beer to go along.
This can also serve as party food – served barely warm or even room temperature – guests can grab and dip.

This simple dinner came together easily. I spread rough cut potatoes and chunks of raw onion on a sprayed foil-lined sheet pan. I used a little bit of olive oil to lightly coat everything and sprinkled my favorite all purpose roasting spice blend liberally on top. My choice of spice blend is something called “Northwoods Seasoning” from Penzeys, but you could use your favorite blend or even just a simple mix of seasoned salt, black pepper and ground cumin. Into a preheated hot 425 degree oven for about 20 minutes and then a quick toss and flip. Back into the oven for about 10 more minutes. Add the sliced kielbasa and green veggie of choice, cook another 10 minutes or so. Feel free to toss and moisten everything with a little more olive oil if needed along the way. But remember that the fatty meat will release some of its fat and flavor as it cooks.

Technique Notes:  The kielbasa is a fully cooked product so I am simply getting some color and flavor on it here. I cut my pieces about 1/2″ thick. Trying to keep a uniform cooking time. But I did give the potatoes and onions a head start as the potatoes need longer and the onions develop into a “caramelized” deliciousness. I choose a frozen Italian green beans because that is what I had hanging around in my freezer but I think florets of broccoli would be delicious here! Use your judgement with cooking time to get the level of brown crispness that you are looking for.

roasting sheet

On the roasting sheet – keep a close eye on things so they don’t overcook and be sure to toss and turn a few times. ( keep it “light’ if you must with a great quality turkey kielbasa)

Urban Hike: North End

Recently while researching the blog posting about Anthony I had myself a genuine urban hike around the historic North End neighborhood of Boston. Don’t get me wrong I have been there many times as I work and go to school in Boston every day. This time I actually got out of the car and walked around a bit. ( As opposed to the usual double parking to run in for pastries!)

Have a look around this famous Italian neighborhood with me… (hint: click on a photo for an enlarged slide show)

And of course no visit to the North End is complete without sampling some of its famous Italian delights… mainly pastries, bread and pizza!

But obviously it always comes down to the ultimate choice when visiting the North End… Just ask anybody…they’ll let you know! ( Mikes or Modern!)

Well whatever you choose you won’t go wrong – they are both delicious!

But make sure you start here, at Galleria Umberto, because one they sell out of their famous pizza, calzone and arancini- and there ain’t no more till the next day! The line goes out the door at 11:30am!

Are you full yet? Only one last thing to do… Sit down and take a load off like this famous character from the neighborhood! (and believe me there are lots!)

napping guy

Farmstand Nachos

Who doesn’t love nachos? To me nachos mean anything on a tortilla chip! So why not put one of my favorite combinations – corn and tomatoes – on some chips.

nacho 3

I lightly sautéed some finely diced onion and some fresh corn off a random couple of leftover cobs.

I added some leftover white garlic sauce to the pan to heat through. And a little extra shake of grated Parmesan cheese.

I simply poured this on top of my chips with some freshly halved cherry tomatoes and torn basil leaves. Fresh cracked pepper completed the dish.

Fresh ingredients from the farm stand (or your backyard) make these a great snack or party appetizer for a late summer evening!

All Star Cookout

Recently I had a friend from grad school and her husband over for a cookout. They are from China and when they had us over, they gave us a full cultural experience. It was delicious and fun!

So I thought I would return the favor and have an “all American” cookout.  Featuring only “all-star” cookout items!

Cheeseburgers, hotdogs, chips and dip, deviled eggs, potato salad and for dessert… a toss-up between strawberry shortcake or apple pie!  Apple pie and ice cream won out.

even upside down - you just know this burger was delicious1

even upside down – you just know this burger was delicious!

Lettuce, tomato, Heinz 57…..you know the song! I put out all the burger fixin’s and let everybody build their own. But cheese was mandatory. Seriously who eats a burger without cheese?!

no cook out is complete without TWO kinds of chips!

TWO kinds of chips AND watermelon!

Everybody has their favorite potato salad recipe, but I went with a standard mix of mayonnaise, finely diced onion, seasoned salt, black pepper and a splash of vinegar and a couple of pinches of celery seed.

Devilishly delicious!

The secret is a little pickle juice!

I finally got to use my special deviled egg server. The thing that holds the eggs is actually filled with liquid – so you put it in the freezer until it is cold – it keeps the eggs cold while they are served!

It also has a cover so you can travel with it and the insert is reversible to accommodate veggies and dip too! It seemed like a great purchase at the time but I admit it is one of those gadgets that doesn’t get used too often! Also notice the use of paprika here…very 1970s!

You just can't beat pie and ice cream!

You just can’t beat pie and ice cream!

A little early in the season for apple pie but oh what a wonderful preview of fall – which is just around the corner now!

An Evening on The Marsh

Author’s note: Sorry I have been slow about new postings but have just emerged from summer session final projects. So will now be able to resume my usual pace of cooking and eating. Stay tuned for lots of new posts!
 
 

Recently I took a little time out of my summer semester at grad school to attend a 50th birthday party of a friend and colleague. It was my first time over to her house and what a spot she has!

daily sunsets such as these! Can you even imagine!

view from the edge of the backyard – daily sunsets such as these! Can you even imagine!

She is perched right on the edge of Boston, just 10 mins from a local “T” station. (that’s subway for the rest of you folks) But a world’s away in atmosphere.

I always love a party for the obvious reasons, but I secretly really love the food and drink the best!

She not only had great food but great style AND bravery.

First the style: Sangria!

sangria

red!!

red!!

no plastic ware for her, just really gorgeous fruit with some great Spanish wine ( choice of red/white sangria) and you topped it off with a flavored or non-flavored fizzy of your choosing.

Second the Bravery: Paella

paella

Brave because she cooked this BEAUTIFUL pan of paella on her outdoor fire pit. I could never trust my fire-skills with a such a dish. You can’t tell from this photo but this pan was about 24-30″ across! It took 2 guys to get it on and off the fire. And she even offered up a second pan with a vegetarian version.

Of course there were other yummy things to eat and fine folks brought other offerings. The mango salsa was to die for! So simple and yet delicious! But the paella simply stole the show!

So the moral of the story is anyone can have style but “BE BRAVE!” at your next party! ( oh and be sure to swap recipes!)

party

early in the party

Patriotic Dessert

What is more American than apple pie?

A “red, white and blue” berry dessert of course!

IMG_5107

Served in a little mason jar for fun and enjoyed in the most beautiful dining room!

or if you want to be a little fancier you can break out a pretty dessert bowl…

IMG_5109

…and yes that is a bit of cubed pound cake you spy. Think “trifle” in a personal size.

Production notes

Strawberries were lightly sweetened with honey and mashed just a bit to get them nice and juicy. The whipped cream (homemade) is sweetened with a bit of vanilla and agave. The blueberries didn’t need a thing. The pound cake was purchased and cubed up. The mason jar version could be made ahead ( not too far – but like a couple of hours) and stored with lids on, in the refrigerator till party time.

Or what about using ice cream instead of pound cake?

Strawberry Memories

The month of June means a lot of different things to people.

To my dad it made him think of D-Day and actually landing on Normandy beach  in 1944 as an innocent 18-year-old kid. To my brother it means a birthday.  And of course to my mom that same special day of June reminds her of giving birth to my brother, her first baby.

For me: it is strawberries.

I can mark my “Junes” throughout my life by strawberry memories…

homegrown

Homegrown: not perfectly shaped but sweeter than any supermarket variety!

As a small child sitting among the PYO fields in New Hampshire – eating more than I was picking, wishing we could get out of the hot sun.

Later as a middle-school child visiting the relatives in California and having my first real “diner-style” strawberry pie. I remember picking it out from the glass case and how REALLY delicious it was. (We went back for another piece the next day!)

In high school, on a family trip to France, we strolled through a farmer’s market outside of Chartres Cathedral near Paris and discovered the most delicious strawberry tart ever.  To this day. Just sat there in the sun and enjoyed every bite of it.

In my 20’s, living away from home, returning to visit mom and having her famous strawberry shortcake on the porch. We have been known as a family to eat that, and only that, for dinner.

And now as a grown up, with my own house, with strawberries growing in my front yard. The sunny patch has grown from one small pot to rambling all over the place, among the grass and  flowers at the base of the chimney. Each year yields more and so far this year I have harvested about a quart!

However, strawberry shortcake season is short, and one needs to supplement the fruit with purchases from the local market or farm stand. That way you can have  lots of “strawberry shortcake dinners!”

strawberries shortcake dessert

Big, ripe, perfect, in-season strawberries can not be beat in the beauty department!

P.S. If you are not a baker, or gluten-free, or just don’t want the biscuit
- I find serving this with vanilla ice cream instead just divine!
 
P.P.S In case you missed it, June 14 was National Strawberry Shortcake day!

Wrap Versus Fold

The question at hand…

is a burrito really a quesadilla that has been wrapped instead of folded? Or perhaps a quesadilla is really a burrito that has been folded?

Either way they are delicious on the grill – which is exactly what I did with my burritos the other night.

I actually took the step of grilling my marinated chicken tenders on the grill first, then stuffing them with some other  fresh ingredients into a flour tortilla, rolling it all up burrito style before grilling the whole thing again.

I felt the need to secure them with a toothpick during the grilling because I am a classic “over stuffer” and I was worried everything would end up at the bottom of the grill. I also took liberties and sprayed my favorite butter “product” on them before grilling just to keep things tasty. Don’t judge me because I use this product – it is just really convenient, especially when I am “un-frying.”  If you are feeling “au natural” you could brush them with olive oil or melted butter.

Here is what I put in mine…

the filling

Yup – you are not seeing things, those are indeed lentils. Why? Cause that is what I had hanging around in my freezer, leftover from my last lentil purchase from TJ’s.

Just as yummy as black beans and hey even “Mikey liked it.” ( oh and in case you were wondering that is Cilantro)

Here is how they got assembled….

the assembly

Please don’t notice that I may have left the chicken on a teensy bit long. But it was still somewhat juicy and good due to the long marinade!

And here is what they looked like being served after grilling….

the presentation

I took the toothpicks out before plating and added a lime-cumin cream made from Greek yogurt. ( just add salt, pepper, lime juice and cumin to the yogurt)

And here is what you got when you ate them! Yum…….

the inside

(See, that chicken held up even with all its “charred bits.”)

The best thing about these that I realized is they could be stuffed, wrapped and grilled ahead of time and then you can wrap them in foil for reheat later when the party crowd arrives. ( or frozen for that matter) I used an 8-10″ tortilla size and stuffed each with 1 good size chicken tender plus the fresh ingredients. This meant that 2 burritos per person with dipping cream/salsa makes a great portion especially if served with rice and sliced fresh avocados!

Production Notes:

The Marinade…good for about a 1.5 lbs to 2 lbs of chicken cuts of your choice

1/2 cup of fresh lime juice

1 -2 tsp of seasoned salt ( your favorite brand)

1 healthy Tbsp of minced garlic

1/2 tsp ground cumin

1 healthy Tbsp of agave nectar ( or sweetener of choice, like honey, maple syrup etc)

couple healthy squirts of Sriracha ( use another kind of hot sauce if you like it better)

Whisk it all together and marinade the chicken at least 2-3 hours. The heavy amount of lime juice might “cook” the chicken a bit if you go overnight but I think it would still be okay.

Too Much Quinoa!

“Wait! There can never be too much quinoa!”  That was just what you were thinking, right?

Well I love this new darling of the culinary world as much as the next person, but sometimes you just get tired of eating the same leftovers again and again – even if it is a super food!

It started out innocently enough with plans for a quinoa salad that I could munch on for a couple of days this week. I got my rice cooker out because that is how I cook my quinoa – it’s perfect every time.

I also had some leftover carrot and celery sticks, and some extra fresh herbs and cherry tomatoes in the fridge.

So I started a mirepoix:

mire poix

When the veggies were softened, off  the heat, I added: a pint of split cherry tomatoes, 2-3 tablespoons of chopped basil, 1  jar of capers, (3.5oz -drained) 1/2 cup of fresh chopped parsley, the juice and zest of 1 large lemon and 1 tablespoon of Herb de Provence seasoning.

Looks good just as it is right?

delicious on it's own!

I mean personally I could stop right there and eat this by the spoonful. Or on toasted bread or mixed with pasta. Or with a can of white beans. Which is exactly what I added because I thought that might really give some “heft” to this salad. Again, at this point with the beans added, you had a complete meal all done. You could just stop there.

But I decided it would be terrific with my cooked and cooled quinoa.

All 6+ cups of it!!!

Why 6 cups??   Because as I was pouring out a dry cup of uncooked quinoa, I thought.. “why don’t I double it because it is great to have in the fridge to throw in stuff. Right?” So two cups of dry quinoa went into the rice cooker with 4 cups of water. Math not really being my strong point, I didn’t think about the fact that this would yield at least 6 cups of cooked quinoa.

So I ended up with a giant party-sized bowl of salad. It needed a little seasoning adjustment, salt, pepper-more lemon at the end because although the initial mix was super flavorful, it got a little diluted in the “sea of quinoa.”

quinoa salad

My advice is next time use half as much quinoa or double the amount of the other stuff and invite 12 people over.

Check out a “winter salad” version here.

Thank You TJ’s

That is “Trader Joe’s” for the uninitiated.  I like this store for certain things – organic frozen items, unusual but healthy snack things, and prepared things like: already cooked beets or in this case already cooked lentils. Yup admitting it right here and now. I purchased precooked lentils. And I can justify the under $3 price for like 10 servings of lentils. (I already threw the box out, but it was a lot, like enough-for-a-party-lot.)

And by the time I truck over to “whole paycheck” and buy in bulk, bring them home and inevitably over cook them, I already have enjoyed a quick nutritious lunch. For several days.

It couldn’t have been simpler: A chopped sweet red pepper, some finely diced red onion, some cubed bits of cucumber, some crumbled feta and a quick dressing of oil, vinegar and Italian seasoning. What could be easier. That is why I thank TJ’s – for making my healthy eating just a little bit more convenient.

lentil salad

P.S. for some fun reading check out the raging debate over these very lentils at chowhound. Jeez these people ought to lighten up!

P.P.S. I did not receive any promotional considerations for this product review but TJ’s if you are listening.. feel free to send free stuff!

To All My Acquaintances…

..old and new, here is a little something I put together for you.

(be sure to turn on the speakers!)
Thanks for stopping by and I look forward to next year’s menu!

Stuffed Three “Different” Ways

For anybody reading along, you might remember the trio of stuffed mushrooms I made back in April this year.

Well I made more than enough stuffing for the mushrooms that day and I froze the extra stuffing – thinking I would defrost and stuff more mushrooms at some point.

However I decided to use it up in other ways – mostly ones that involved puff pastry!!! Oh how I love anything stuffed into puff pastry! And some chicken. That was good too.

The Chicken -

Simply oil and season the chicken with your favorite spice blend, split it open and stuff, bake in preheated 375 degree oven until cooked through. (165 degrees on the thermometer) Serve with veggies and starch of choice.

The good stuff -

Simply roll out the two squares of puff pastry that come in the famous red box to make them just a bit larger and get rid of any seams. Fill each down the middle and flap the sides together.

If you leave the top open a bit as I did, then no need for vent holes. If you don’t, make vents. One style note – if you really seal the edges, especially the overlapped flaps than it makes a nicer presentation. The top one (creamed spinach filling) puffed WIDE open in the oven because it wasn’t secured enough. But really you could do this in any configuration you want: Individual size, round, square, whatever.

Be sure to let cool a bit before cutting or the filling will ooze out onto the pan!

Dad’s Pear Tree

There is a pear tree in my parent’s yard. It has been there forever. I don’t know if my dad planted it or if it was there when they bought the property and built the house over 40 years ago. It’s just always been there.

It has seen some history: I wiped out on my bicycle on the driveway below it and I am sure I had some near misses with it as a new car driver. I know my dad bit into a pear every year only to be disappointed in its impossibly tough and sometimes wormy interior. He would complain and ponder why such a promising fruit tree never amounted too much.

Then my dad passed away in early spring 2011 and that very year and this year too it made the most wonderful pears. Large and unblemished. He would have loved them.

So when my mother brought down a whole bag full on recent visit to my house, I decided to bake with them.

There is nothing easier than pulling open the freezer and grabbing a package of pre-made dough rounds, otherwise know as “discos.” So I mixed up the diced pears with a little brown sugar, ground ginger, dash of ground nutmeg, dash of salt , bit of cornstarch and a pat of butter for each little pear turnover.

Brush them with a little melted butter and sprinkle a little sugar on, bake them at 400 degrees until done. Don’t burn your mouth on the hot filling!

He would have loved these!

Grilled Jumble

Also known as “mixed grill.”

I love to just make the whole meal simply on the grill. Who wouldn’t?

I use one of those grill baskets or grill trays for the smaller stuff, so it doesn’t fall thru and the meat just cooks along side. As for a “starch” – it never bothers me to not have one but sometimes (as in this case) I grilled some baby potatoes too. Nope I didn’t boil them first – that just defeats the purpose of everything cooked on the grill. I just got baby ones and cut them up even smaller. But I’ve just cut up regular ones too, that works.

Speaking of Size

Size matters when you are grilling!  Make the quick cooking things a bit bigger to even out the cooking time with their smaller-cut-but-longer-cooking cousins!

Technique

Just toss all the non-meat items together to marinade in one bowl with oil, vinegar and seasonings of your choice!

Marinade the meat in a separate bowl with the some of same blend! Once you put the meat on…and depending on the cut and type this may be way ahead of the veggies to get a head start…go inside, put the meat bowl in the dishwasher, grab a fresh drink, your bowl of marinading veggies and head back out.

Now all you have to do is put the veggies on, drink your drink and watch the grill do all the work. Once everything is done I toss it all together back in the original veggie bowl. This cuts down on dishes, the trips back into the house and any leftover marinade in the bowl just coats everything in a little fresh flavor. Ready to serve!

The Breakdown on My Latest Jumble

full disclosure…I did take the extra step of tossing in fresh chopped tomatoes and basil with the warm meat and veggies – Delicious!

Perfect Party Salad

Are you looking for a light, refreshing salad to serve at your next summer party? Something different from the standard potato and pasta salad?

Well not to toot my own horn but…”toot toot”….I have got just the thing for you!

Rice salad with veggies and a lemon-basil dressing.

I served this alongside some grilled pork tips that I marinated overnight but those could just as easily be fish, chicken, beef or turkey – whatever floats your boat!

But back to the salad…

Fresh, light and lemony – This can be made the night before (perfect party food!) and than just toss and re-season before serving. It would be nice to garnish with some lemon wedges, a fact I didn’t think about until after I took the picture. A food stylist I am not.

I used some of my favorite veggies – partly for taste and partly for color. (Zucchini and yellow bell pepper respectively)

Of course no dish is complete unless I can find a way to get tomatoes into it!

However can you guess what is missing? And I didn’t even miss it…. CHEESE!  Add some at your own option. Some crumbled feta might be nice.

The recipe

Serves A LOT – like 10-15 servings. Cut in half if you are not having a party.

2 cups raw rice cooked via your favorite method to yield about 6+/- cups cooked rice, cooled

1 medium zucchini, sliced thin (think “mandolin”) lengthwise to create ribbons, but you could just as easily dice.

1 large sweet yellow bell pepper, fine dice

3 small tomatoes, diced

2 cups chiffonade cut basil leaves (loose pack, measure after cutting)

3 lemons, zested and juiced. Will need about 3/4 to 1 cup juice.

1/2 + 1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil or other oil of choice

1 teaspoon of Dijon mustard

Fresh minced garlic to taste, I like a couple teaspoons.

Plenty of salt and pepper

Combine the cooked rice, zucchini, lemon zest, yellow pepper and tomatoes by lightly tossing. Now gently stir in the 1/4 cup of oil to just moisten things.  In a separate bowl whisk together the remaining 1/2 cup of oil, lemon juice, mustard, garlic and some salt/pepper. Now pour this dressing over the rice and veggies. Add the basil and gently fold to combine. You don’t want to bruise the basil leaves. Taste for seasoning – add more salt and pepper. Refrigerate for at least an hour – longer if your cooked rice was still a little warm.

Production Notes

I used a nice white, long grain, Basmati rice and made sure to cook it carefully so the grains would be separate and fluffy. You could use your favorite rice instead – even brown! But I think a “sticky rice” (like sushi rice) might not make as nice of a fluffy salad.

Stuffed – Three Ways!

Inspiration comes in many forms. But for me it is usually roaming the aisles of the grocery store with no plan in mind.

That is when I saw the 40 oz (yup 2 1/2 lbs!) of giant stuffing size mushrooms on sale. I just knew immediately that I wanted to stuff them and not just one way. So I started gathering all the ingredients for stuffing these mushrooms in three different ways.

From left to right:

Ham & Swiss, Creamed Spinach, Italian Sausage & Peppers

Word to the wise… invite some friends over for a party because the 40 oz package was about 32 mushrooms. 32 HUGE mushrooms. You could probably freeze the stuffed, cooked mushrooms but we will just eat them over the next few days instead. Breakfast, lunch and dinner!

Production notes

No real recipe was used. I simply cleaned and de-stemmed the mushrooms, chopping the stems and using them in the stuffing for the sausage and the ham/swiss versions. I oiled them really well (use your favorite oil) and the pan they were baked on. I did whiz up a sleeve of Ritz crackers and that was split between the three mixtures before stuffing. I did freeze the extra stuffing.

Ham & Swiss: I sautéed (almost caramelized) a small amount of diced white onion in butter, added diced stems and ham, sautéed a bit more.  Let it cool, off the heat for a few and stirred in finely shredded swiss cheese. Mix in the Ritz cracker crumb. Salt and pepper to taste and you are ready to stuff.

Sweet Sausage and Pepper: I took some sausage out of its casing, crumbled it and lightly browned it with some diced red, green & yellow sweet peppers , the diced mushroom stems and diced white onions. Turn off the heat and mix in a palm full of finely grated Pecorino Romano cheese. Mix in the Ritz cracker crumb. Salt and pepper to taste and you are ready to stuff.

Creamed Spinach: Use your favorite recipe – maybe cut it in half if you are not doing so many mushrooms. But mine was basically sautéed onion in butter, add a pinch of nutmeg  and a bigger pinch of granulated garlic. Add some heavy cream and let simmer to reduce and thicken, add lots of finely grated Pecorino Romano and maybe a little of that swiss cheese. Add the fresh, washed, dried and torn up spinach. Cook awhile longer. Turn off the heat and while piping hot,  mix in the Ritz cracker crumb. Salt and pepper to taste. Let cool a bit and you are ready to stuff.

I baked all of them at the same time on a couple of sheet pans in a 400 degree preheated oven for 15-20 mins. I personally think they could have gone a tiny bit longer since these were huge mushrooms. Or maybe even pre-roasting them for a few minutes before stuffing could be an option. A drizzle of oil across the top of the stuffed mushrooms before putting them into bake will also keep things moist.

Do you think this is lucky? Like getting a double yolk egg?