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.

Parrot Head

I am a card-carrying member of the “parrotheads” elite.

And if you think I raise and breed birds you would be wrong.

For those who don’t know a “parrothead” is a big time fan of Jimmy Buffett’s music. We even have our own wiki page here!

So after having attended over 6 shows and many related events over the years, you would think I would have the lyrics to one of his most famous songs, “Cheeseburger In Paradise” perfectly memorized. Well I do, but recently I cleared up some grammatical confusion.

See I thought he was saying ” …not zucchini fettuccine or bulgar wheat…”  but what he was really saying was “not zucchini, fettuccine or bulgar wheat “

Small difference (see comma marked in red above) but it means the difference between 3 food items ( Zucchini AND Fettuccine AND Bulgar Wheat) instead of two food items. (Zucchini Fettuccine AND Bulgar Wheat)

Phew! glad I cleared that up!

zucchini 2

Actual “zucchini fettuccine” lightly sautéed in olive oil with fresh tomatoes, herbs, garlic,onions and a little feta cheese on top!

 

In case you want to verify the lyrics or maybe even catch a show…. www.margaritaville.com

Mother’s Day On The Porch

This year Mother’s Day also turned out to be the “season opener” for her deck. And nothing is better than an early evening supper on the porch of corn and tomatoes…

And of course I brought her “flowers” (the edible kind!)

rose

The next morning we enjoyed last night’s leftovers in a whole new way…a savory breakfast bread pudding!

I simply cubed up about 8 slices of good quality bread ( something alike a “pullman loaf” but really anything you have would do) and let them get all toasty and dry in a low oven for a few minutes. I piled them into a sprayed oven-proof dish and threw in all the rest of the leftover corn and tomatoes. I added some generous dashes of dried oregano, a couple good pinches of garlic powder, salt and pepper to taste, some pats of butter ( maybe like 4) and about 3 ounces of sharp cheddar. (Some grated and some chunked.) Now the wet stuff: whisk 6 large eggs with about 2 cups whole milk and make sure to use the back of your knife down the corn cobs and get all that delicious “milk” hiding in the cobs.  Pour it all over the top of everything.

Into a preheated 375 degree oven – covered tight with foil- for about 20-25 mins. No peeking under the foil. Remove the cover when the liquid is firm and edges just starting to take on some brown. (this is nice and easy to see in a glass baking dish!) Let it baked uncovered 8-10 mins longer just to dry out the top a bit as needed. Remove from the oven and let it cool a bit, just like lasagna, this is better served warm and not piping hot!

Read about my other “corn and tomato” adventures here!

A Match Made In Heaven

Name two things that are just destined to go together and I bet spinach and eggs would not be on the top of your list. But I often put these two together, in fact I almost always pair them up unless I am doing a straight up fried egg. (and even then a fried egg on a bed of wilted spinach would be great!)

Some classic pairings include:

spinach omelets

spinach salad with hard-boiled eggs

spinach frittata

scrambled eggs with spinach and Parmesan cheese

baked eggs in creamed spinach

There are probably more.

Here is one I made recently….

sliced

Spinach, potato and sweet onion frittata.

I happened to have some extra baked potatoes (because when I fire up the oven to bake two, I bake four.) and adding these in gives this frittata some “heft.” And my husband is more likely to eat it if it’s packing some “heft” in lieu of “meat.” :)

Production Notes:

Be sure to spray your pan liberally with cooking spray, and I use a large pat of butter as well, heat till bubbly on the cooktop and layer in the potatoes, onions, spinach and S &P to taste. Once that gets going, I pour in 6 eggs (+/- depending on pan size) that have been whisked with a little bit of (1/2 cup?) of whole milk or cream or half-n-half or whatever you have on hand. Add a little optional crumbled cheese (sharp cheddar or feta is nice) and some dried thyme and bake in a preheated 350 degree oven (right in the same oven proof skillet you started with on the cooktop) till firm and starting to brown and pull away from edges. (30 mins +/-)

Notice I am NOT using a non-stick pan… I am not afraid.

 

 

 

Easter Pineapple

Happy Easter and Happy “National Pineapple Upside Down Cake” Day!

yup its a real day and you can read all about it here.

While I didn’t make cake, I did make muffins. With one simple substitution to basic corn muffin mix I was able to turn something ordinary into something special.

pinneapple corn muffins

Simply substitute the oil called for in your cornbread recipe/mix with equal amounts of pureed pineapple. This gives a nice citrus zing to the muffins. If you want it a little sweeter, add in some honey or brown sugar to the batter – or better yet serve with honey butter!

 

On Another Note…

Please forgive my lack of blogging/cooking lately as I am finishing up a crucial semester in grad school and thesis deadlines are making it almost impossible to cook at all! Be done soon and looking forward to more cooking!

 

 

Not A New Idea

I thought I was on the cutting edge by adding pumpkin to my macaroni and cheese – after a quick check of google – I realized this was not a new idea!

That’s okay, it was new to my Thanksgiving table and that is all that counts right?

I was craving mac-n-cheese AND wanted to add seasonality to the dish so I could serve it at the holiday table, so that is how my “mash-up” came about. I simply started with my usual mac-n-cheese white sauce and added a little extra nutmeg and the tiniest pinch of ground cinnamon. For the cheese I decided to keep it kinda plain with a medium cheddar and lots of salty grated Romano. (You could use Parmesan, I just happen to have Romano) Next I stirred in 1 can of pure pumpkin. (Do I need to say.. “not pie filling, just pumpkin?”)

pumpkin mix

Next I combined it with al dente cooked penne pasta and topped it with some more cheese. You can stop here and let it cool and put it in the fridge till you are ready to bake it or even freeze it until then. Don’t you just love a good make-ahead-freezer dish? I sure do!

When you are ready, bake in a 350 degree preheated oven of for 30 mins (longer if frozen) until it is bubbly and brown on top!

This recipe is based on 1 regular box of pasta and 1 14oz +/- can of pumpkin. The basic white sauce recipe can vary for me depending on what’s on hand and how “saucy” I want the dish. But generally I start with 4oz butter and flour for the roux and add in 2 cups of whole milk. I probably used 8oz of grated cheddar and at least a cup of grated Parmesan and/or Romano. Don’t forget to season with S&P and what ever flavorings you like…dry mustard, smoked paprika, nutmeg etc.

This portions out beautifully for lunch leftovers….if there is any leftover!

pumpkin mac and cheese

A Round Dough In A Square Pan

dough

That’s what happens when you are coming off apple pie season and you realize your good pie/quiche dish has been lent out. (With a pie in it of course!)

I had no choice but to make it work…so into my glass brownie pan it went!

If you know me at all – you know that I will throw just about anything into a quiche. And I know for a fact that “real men do eat quiche!” Just ask my husband!

I have posted about quiche before, here and here, and I consider it the perfect vehicle for small bits of things: leftovers, extra parts, frozen things, you name it! So this time around I had some sweet peppers and onions to use up. Of course I always have a ham steak in the freezer if not in the fridge. Cheese of some sort is mandatory.

This is the latest version…I like to think of it as a Spicy Ham Italian Quiche – kinda like a “sandwich-as-quiche!”

Production Notes:

I poke the crust liberally with a fork and prebake the crust in a 400 degree oven for about 8 mins or so. This keeps the crust from getting soggy.

I usually use a filling ratio that is heavy on the eggs but has a little dairy (half and half or whole milk) in it too. I usually start with 6 eggs to about 1/4- 1/2 cup dairy but this dish was big, so 10 eggs plus enough dairy to make 2 cups of liquid, for this one.

I cover it loosely with foil for the first 20 mins of baking time so the crust edges wouldn’t get too dark. Uncover for the last 15-20 mins. Total baking time is around 40 mins but basically as soon as it is firm but tender – take it out!

Let it cool a bit before slicing – it will slice better!

Don’t forget to season! Salt, Pepper, Dried Oregano, Hot Chili flakes – whatever floats your boat!

And no I don’t make my own crust – mine comes rolled in a red box – get crazy and make your own if you want.

Add extra cheese about 10 mins before the end for extra yummy presentation!

ready to eat

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!

Summer “Boats”

peppers stuffed

This is my kind of “boat!” This lighter, summer version of stuffed peppers was inspired by the quinoa I had hanging around my pantry waiting to be cooked. (use your rice cooker!) I added in seasoned cooked lima beans to give it some texture. ( I love them!) But the real flavor boost comes from the herbaceous mixture that I started with. (Fresh herbs from my garden!)

herbs 1 I chopped them up and combined them with some finely diced, sautéed onion and garlic and dried “Herb de Provence.” flavor base

 

 

 

 

I also added in the extra bits of the peppers themselves.

And of course everything is better with a little cheese on top, so after baking in the oven for 35 mins or so covered, I added handfuls of cheese on top and bake uncovered for 10 mins more.

with cheese on top

The Recipe:

1/2 large onion diced

1/2 each sweet red & green bell pepper diced (or just the extra bits from trimming the peppers)

1-2 garlic cloves, minced

2 tb of butter or oil for saute

1 tb dried “Herb de Provence” mix

salt and pepper to taste

1 cup mixed fresh herbs, minced finely: I used basil, sage and parsley

2 cups seasoned, cooked quinoa

1 cup +/- seasoned, cooked lima beans

2 large peppers, cut in half, seeded and stemmed

1 1/2 cups +/- shredded cheese of choice

Saute the top 6 ingredients together until onions are soft and slightly colored. Take off the heat, let cool a bit and mix in the fresh herbs mix. Mix in the quinoa and beans.

Stuff the pepper halves in an oven proof dish. Add an inch of hot water to the dish around the peppers, trying not to get any water splashed into/onto the peppers. Bake covered* in a preheated 375 degree oven for 30-40 mins. Remove the cover, top with cheese and bake another 10 mins or until cheese is melted.

*Just a note: I covered the dish loosely, with foil and the peppers steamed nicely and the water evaporates, if you cover tightly with a lid – you may be able to reduce cooking time but may have water leftover.

(makes enough to stuff about 6-8 pepper halves, depending on the size.)

#1720

….That is how many hits come up when you search the term “mexican orzo.”

And this post will make #1721!

I have to say I thought maybe I had an original on my hands one night, when I decided to make “mexican rice” and used orzo pasta instead of actual rice. But it looks like I was beat out of the gate.

These are the kinda friends to have hanging around your kitchen for easy weeknight dinners!

These are the kinda friends to have hanging around your kitchen for easy weeknight dinners!

That’s okay – because I still think mine was easiest!

Of course I had a little help from my friends——————->

To be honest, I had rice on hand – several kinds. I could have gone all healthy and high-brow using brown rice. But the truth is…(by the way isn’t that the name of some new internet facebook thing the kids are all doing these days?)…I had two boxes of orzo in the pantry to use up and I thought “why not?”

So I cooked the pasta (stopping it at very al dente) and poured it into a sprayed casserole dish and mixed in: 1 can ro*tel ( 10 oz -mild or hot) 1 can (80z) tomato sauce, 1/2 tsp +/- ground cumin, 1/2 tsp +/- seasoned salt, black pepper to taste, 1 medium onion that had been diced and sautéed in a little butter. You can also spice this up by adding more of any of the above ingredients, some of your favorite hot sauce or even sliced jalapenos. Not everybody in my house loves spicy so I kept it conservative.

Bake in the oven, covered in foil, for 25-30 mins on 350 degrees. Pull out, remove foil and add as much shredded cheese on top as you dare and bake another 5-10 mins until cheese bubbly and brown.

Tip: This can be made ahead, cooled and refrigerated and re-heated when it is time for the party! Or make it Gluten free by using the rice instead of the orzo pasta.

Serve with some “old standbys” like grilled chicken and fresh avocado salsa.

mexican-orzo      tex-mex dinner

Arroz con carne de cerdo

Rice with pork.

Not an expert here by any means – in fact had to look this title up – so hopefully we can trust the internet on this translation!

Anyway, that is what I made the other day. Some “spanish style rice” and some grilled pork chops to go along with it. A true “Arroz con carne de cerdo” or its cousin “Arroz con pollo” (chicken) would have the meat browned and finished with the rice. My variation was separate items, but still very yummy if I say so myself!

arroz con pork

I started with butter, onion, diced sweet red pepper and garlic in a pan. I added the dry rice to the pan after things were browned up nicely to toast it a bit. I also threw in my dry spices at this point to also “toast” them a bit. Adobo seasoning, ground cumin, smoked paprika, chile powder and ground annatto seed along with black pepper. A few mins after that, the liquids went in. I used both stock and a small can of tomato sauce. Simmer covered for 35-40 mins or until the rice is cooked and the liquid evaporated. Add some frozen peas in the last 10 minutes or so of cooking. Before serving, taste for seasoning. (you may want to add more salt or a bit of hot sauce)
As for measurements… just use your basic 2:1 ratio of dry rice to liquid and just sprinkle in a teaspoon or two of each seasoning depending on how much rice you are cooking.
Shhhhhhh.. I used healthy whole grain brown rice since the color was going to be hidden from my husband anyway!

Old Standby

Here in New England, once grilling season starts, dinner means lots of fresh veggies, meats and experimental marinades instead the “same ol’ same” casseroles.

And for me, grilling means putting every possible veggie and meat option on the grill. (Weather permitting, I not very hardcore!) I even put potatoes on the grill!

But one of my “old standbys” is grilled asparagus. Especially good when the bunch you have on hand is on the thick side in terms of stem. (The little thin ones tend to escape between the grates and they are delicious just raw anyway!)

But I am sure I’m not revealing anything new here – everybody puts everything on the grill these days right?

For the record, I rarely never blanch or precook the veggies before the grill – that just seems like too much work and defeats the simplicity of dinner on the grill outside. I like to make it as simple as possible with do-ahead sides!

check out a recent “stand-by” dinner…

Old Standby of grilled chicken tenders, asparagus and strips of sweet red bell pepper served with "make ahead" pasta salad, makes dinner time a cinch!

“old standby” of grilled chicken tenders, asparagus and strips of sweet red bell pepper, served with “make ahead” pasta salad, makes dinner time a cinch!

Grilling Tips

I find that a simple drizzle of oil, salt, pepper and garlic powder adds just enough pizzazz to vegetables. For any meat I enjoy an overnight marinade whenever possible but even a 30 minute bath is better than nothing!

One cooking tip I can offer is to set up “sides” to the grill – as in a “hot” side and a “cooler” side. Also good to put things onto the grill at different times to accommodate for longer or shorter cooking times needed.

I often let the veggies remain wet from the washing so that residual water on them kinda “steams” them at first, before charring a bit – this is good for thicker cut veggies.

Final tip: if you have the grill going anyway – go through the fridge and find anything you can put on the grill. (Some examples would be: miscellaneous veggies, random sausages, yummy steaks, spare chicken parts or even leftover bits of bread for grilled “croutons.”)  I figure I might as well make firing up the grill worth it and leftover grill food makes fantastic lunches, snacks and dinner later in the week. You can even toss the cut up grilled bits into the pasta salad to turn that into a “meal” on its own.

What will your “Old StandBy” end up being?

The Sunflower Surprise

Lately I have been experimenting with oils other than olive. There is quite a lot out there when you really look.

I had been using walnut oil for my salad dressings but I found it to be fairly neutral in taste and kinda “oily.” I know that is weird because it IS oil but it was just not the same as olive oil.

Pumpkin seed oil is nice but very expensive.

So the other day I noticed “sunflower oil” on the shelf. Organic and “first cold pressed” no less. And a fairly reasonable price. So I bought it and tried it. To my surprise it was quite good. It has a distinct nutty flavor (obviously of sunflower seeds) and a great thick texture to it. It is like warm and cozy version of extra virgin olive oil. It doesn’t have the sometimes bitter, green taste that is prized in olive oils.

Although the label suggests to only use it for salad dressings and drizzles (which I will definitely do) I decided to use for roasting my veggies. Kinda like when people use EVOO for roasting and cooking even though it is meant to be used in dressings and drizzles.

So what veggie would I try this on?

Well, there has been a lot of conversation flying around the blogs about cauliflower lately – apparently some folks love it and some don’t. You know who you are ;-)

Well I love it and when I found this fresh beauty at the store recently, I knew I had to have it.

beautiful cauliflower

So I cut it up and tossed it with my new sunflower oil, salt, pepper and a little dried rosemary. And some carrots.

add a little oil and seasoning

Into a hot 400 degree oven until they were toasty and delicious!

roasted veggie goodness

Enjoyed on its own or as a tasty side dish to something else – these veggies were delicious wrapped in a subtle perfume of toasted sunflower seeds and rosemary.

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.

“Hakuna Frittata”

Loosely translates to “no worries egg dish”

Although a frittata IS an easy egg dish and a great way to use up whatever is hanging around your kitchen, for us, making one instantly has us singing tunes from “The Lion King.”    As in “Hakuna Frittata” – corny right?

(Kinda of like when I make “empanadas” and we sing the song “Desparado!”)

Anyway this one started out because I had a bag of spinach hanging around needing to be used up and some of the baby gold potatoes.

spinachin the pan

So I sliced up the baby gold potatoes (about a 1/4″ thick) and layered them in a well-sprayed, oven proof 10″ saute pan with some butter on med heat to start softening while I prepped (de-stem the spinach, crack eggs and pour cream) the other stuff. Turn the heat off and add all the goodies in first on top of the potatoes:

1/2 of an 8oz bag of spinach (raw), about 4 oz. crumbled feta, about 8 sundried tomatoes chopped small, plenty of salt and pepper, a shake of garlic powder for a little “warmth.”

And than the liquids get poured carefully over this – I used about a cup of “half and half” ( I was out of milk) and 8 large eggs. Make sure you whisk the eggs and cream (or milk) together first. A little more salt and pepper on top.

ready for the oven

Pop this into a preheated 350 degree oven for 35 mins or until the middle is set and fluffy. Kinda like this….

out of the oven

Now be patient and let it cool a bit – this is best served, and slices cleaner, if you let it cool significantly. This frittata is filling and satisfying, yet deceiving in that it is light. But it is by no means “diet food.” My husband loved it and that is saying a lot since he doesn’t eat anything that might seem at all like “diet food.”

Might I suggest a glass of wine and some crusty warm bread with this?

have a slice

Green Bling

Most girls would consider “bling” something along the lines of diamonds. Maybe even just some really nice costume jewelry.

But for me “bling” comes in the form of food.  “Food bling” is one those items that wasn’t on your grocery list. You weren’t even thinking about it when you walked in. But there from across the aisle, hiding behind some stacked bulk sale items, it catches your eye. Suddenly you have forgotten what you even came in for. Because all you can think about is rationalizing this “bling” purchase that you can’t live without!

My "green bling"

My “green bling”

When I saw this gorgeous asparagus, so fresh and healthy looking, everything else just faded away. I disregarded any seasonality, had no idea if it was organic, I just knew I had to have it. (Okay I admit, it was on sale too – that helped.)

But how would I use it?

With something equally glamorous of course….

"red rice"

“red rice”

My mom discovered this lovely colored, nutritional wonder on a recent trip. Upon returning home she has incorporated it into her diet and was nice enough to give me some extra cooked rice last time I was visiting. I was waiting for just the right partner to use it with.

Behold the red rice salad…

rice and asparagus salad

First I  jazzed things up by sauteing a small diced onion, minced garlic, and a pinch of red chili flakes in some olive oil. Than I added my freshly washed and cut asparagus. ( no pre-blanching for me – just let the water from washing them add a little “steam action” to your pan.) Once those were on their way, I added in my cooked rice – really just to heat it through and marry the flavors. Keep an eye on it – if it seems dry add some more olive oil or just a little water if you want to keep the fat/calories down. Salt and pepper to taste. ( don’t be shy with this – it is a simple dish)  At the end I splashed in a little rice vinegar to perk things up. (That easily could have been lemon juice instead.)  Topped it with a little crumbled feta. (low fat even!) Serve warm, serve room temperature, serve chilled. (but not cold) But whichever way you choose, you will be able to fully justify this “bling” once you taste it.

P.S. Happy Saint Patrick’s Day and Evacuation Day!

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!

Chasing JoJos

Still trying to recreate the mythical JoJos of my youth.

If you haven’t had or heard of JoJos – you can read my last posting about them here or if that is too much clicking here is a short review…

Potatoes, scrubbed but skin on, cut length-wise, quarters and maybe quarters again. Coated in a delicious crispy coating, crunchy on the outside, fluffy on the inside.

But these are not steak fries. They are JoJos – think “chicken fried potatoes.” Except the real ones are “broasted!”

But on this JoJo day I was inspired to make some crispy coated, oven-baked versions.

Mary was my husband’s uncle’s mother-in-law (better take a minute on that one) and she apparently made the best potatoes. One time last summer I actually had the pleasure of meeting her and of course I managed to work the topic into conversation and although no real recipe was given – I gleaned enough to get the idea that she was basically making an Italian oven-baked JoJo.

From what I could gather there was butter and lots of it. Some breadcrumbs. The seasoning – Italian blend in her case. And don’t “fahget the Paaaarmm Ma.” (That is Massachusetts vernacular for “don’t leave out the Parmesan cheese mom.”) And plenty of tossing and turning in the pan during cooking time.

So I blended up a mix of seasoned bread crumbs, grated Parmesan cheese, some seasonings (mostly Italian in nature) that I annoyingly and uncharacteristically forgot to write down and tossed the raw potato wedges in hot melted butter before coating them in the breadcrumb mix and baking in a hot (400-425 degrees) oven. I tossed them carefully, several times, during cooking to ensure even crispy-ness and to make sure no butter got left behind in the pan. About a total of 30 mins +/- Basically until the thickest wedge is fork tender.

They were delicious!

Crispy and delicious, but definitely not "broasted!"

Crispy and delicious, but definitely not “broasted!”

Rutabaga or Turnip? You Decide

I thought I knew the difference. I went to the store in search of turnips. I found them and thought “this might be big for a turnip”  but the store sign in the produce section said “turnips.”  I did think turnips were smaller and whiter and had purple tops. But then again this looked a lot like that too – just bigger.

But the scanner at checkout called it Rutabaga. Even the professionals don’t know!

Oh well… both are delicious.

But for the record, and after doing a little research, I now know I purchased a Rutabaga.

See “Exhibit A” below – unpeeled and peeled

turnip or rutabaga peeled

A Short History

Turnips are smaller, white and have purple tops and have been around “cultivar-ly” speaking for much longer. As in… the Romans were eating it.

Rutabagas are apparently a cross between cabbage and turnip and were really discovered in the early 1600′s. They are also much larger and have a yellow flesh which turns a full shade of orange with cooking.

Generally you would prepare them about the same. Peel them and steam or roast. Salt and pepper to taste with a little butter is really all you need. Since mine was huge and I wanted to cook it with ease. I peeled and cubed mine into large chunks, which I tossed with salt and pepper and a couple of tablespoons of butter and maybe a 1/4 cup of water and put in a covered dish to ‘bake-steam’ in the oven alongside my main event.

See “Exhibit B” below – uncooked and cooked

cubed and ready tocookcooked

To Mash or Not To Mash?

Now I thought they were delicious as is, but my traditional Irish-American husband who was reliving the turnips of his youth needed them mashed. Also very good. And if you bought a huge one like I did, you can freeze the extra cooked amount and heat up another time or use it for an interesting alternative to the mashed potato topping on Cottage or Shepard’s Pie!

mashed

Thanks Neighbor!

Recently a neighbor of ours had some extra gravel from a home improvement project so he very nicely offered it up to me. He knows I like to use the extra gravel to keep weeds at bay and neaten up some of the landscaping around the house.

So he dumped the un-used portion where it would be most convenient to spread. Thanks!


It turned out to be a huge pile!! I have definitely got some work ahead of me! So of course when I asked him if he would like anything in exchange – he is such a nice guy – he said “don’t worry about it.”

But I couldn’t help myself – what could I do to repay the favor? I decided that the best thing would be to make him dinner. As a typical bachelor and a 20+ year Army veteran (entering at 18 years old ) with 3 tours of duty in the middle east,  I am pretty sure he orders pizza more nights than not.

Dinner it would be!

A guy like that needs “man” food! Something homemade that would stick to his ribs…

Marinated Steak Tips on the grill

Fresh Corn Casserole

Warm Cheddar Biscuits

Sliced Tomato from my garden

(oh and no dishes to wash!)

The recipe

The steak tips were simply marinated in half a bottle of steak sauce, mixed with half a bottle of water and a couple squirts of Sriracha.

The biscuits came from a little blue box, but I fancied them up with a dash of Cayenne and some grated sharp cheddar. (Sorry I am not an accomplished baker – I take the help when I can.)

The fresh corn casserole was the real star of the show. I used the recipe from The Pioneer Women, but added my own touches in the form of half a medium onion diced, a couple shakes of garlic powder, some grated Asiago cheese for the top.

Meatloaf # 225

Fair-warning: This is a tomato-lovers meatloaf.

I consider meatloaf the ultimate in “cabinet stews.”   You can hide put anything into them; use up all kinds of odds and ends!

My plain Irish husband secretly wishes I would just stick to one boring, plain meatloaf recipe but over the years he has learned to be a good sport about my experimentation and many versions. I can’t help it – I am all about variety!

Someday I am going to compile all my versions into a book titled: 365 days of meatloaf!

really it is just another version of “corn and tomatoes!” 

The recipe

Based on crazy odds and ends that I had in my kitchen at the time

1/2 lb ground beef

1/2 lb ground pork

1 egg, lightly beaten

1/2 cup seasoned bread crumbs -The loaf was a very moist and but not very firm – perhaps more bread crumbs for a firmer loaf?

1 tsp seasoned salt ( I like Penzey’s brand)

3 springs of fresh basil, leaves only – chop fine (about 2 tablespoons)

3 springs of fresh oregano leaves – chop fine if leaves are large (about 2 tablespoons)

small onion grated (yes GRATED)

1 6oz can of tomato paste

1/2 cup of  tomato juice (you could use a V8)

fresh ground black pepper to taste

Mix lightly but thoroughly and put into a loaf pan. Bake in preheated 375 degree oven for 45mins or so until done. It should smell good and the edges will be a little crispy. Use a meat thermometer to be sure, and remember it will be pink in color no matter what because of the tomato juice and paste!

I served it with oven roasted potatoes and corn. Simply tossed with oil, S&P, and some dried herbs of your choosing. Start the potatoes with the meatloaf and add the corn in about halfway. Toss a couple of times during cooking.

Pineapple Rice

I have made this several times and yet it never really comes out they way I had it the first time when a co-worker brought some in for an office potluck. Shame on me for not getting the recipe. Shame on me for not researching the recipe from the at least 6 million that reside on the internet and several versions in cookbooks on my own shelves.

I just wing it every time and think that I can make it like the one I fell in love with. The versions I have made are okay, but they lack some certain depth of flavor that I can’t seem to get right.

Sometimes when I sit down to write a blog post (like say for example “pineapple rice”) I do a little internet search. Just seeing what is out there, where I might stand in the ranks. That sorta thing. What I realized is that I should have done that BEFORE I attempted my own version of pineapple rice. Because than I would have realized that the certain something mine always lacked was being FRIED.  As in pineapple FRIED rice!

Next time.

Yummy all alone or served with grilled chicken as shown here.

The recipe I used but…

I made this version entirely in my rice cooker which saved on labor but it would be more delicious if you just cooked the plain rice in the cooker and then “stir-fry” it with the other ingredients. Look at one of the millions of recipes on the internet for directions :-)

2 TB butter (or oil if you like)

1 smallish-mediumish onion diced

2 cups (measure dry) rinsed rice of your choice

2 cups +/- sliced sweet bell peppers – red and green mix

1 can (20oz) pineapple chunks – reserve the liquid separately (about 1 cup)

1 can (8oz) sliced water chestnuts

1 cup water or low-sodium stock of choice

2 tsp ground cumin

1/4 cup soy sauce ( I use a wheat free Tamari)

Salt and Pepper to taste

Non-stick cooking spray

Spray your rice cooker with non-stick cooking spray. Add the butter or oil in. Now layer the onions. Next the rice. Now the peppers. Turn on your rice cooker and give it about 10 mins. (mine only has 2 settings: cook and warm- I used “cook”) After about 10 min, open it up, stir things around. Nothing should be burning or sticking. Add the water chestnuts. Sprinkle the cumin, salt and pepper on. Now add the liquids: soy sauce, stock or water, reserved juice. Reset the rice cooker to “cook” and let it cycle through to “cook” rice as it normally would. When it switches over to “warm” ( that is what mine does when it is done) add the pineapple chunks, stir and serve when you are ready.

Radish Love

Like father like daughter goes the saying. And certainly when it comes to radishes that is very true for me.

My dad would sit down at night and watch TV with a bowl of freshly washed, trimmed radishes and eat them like candy bonbons. Now I love radishes too, but I generally don’t eat that many in one sitting. And frankly given a choice I would choose the bonbons over the radishes!

But I still incorporate radishes whenever I can into recipes. Recently that meant a spicy, salty, slightly sweet, extra crunchy coleslaw! This is delicious all on its own but is nice with BBQ, grilled meats or traditional hamburgers and hot dogs. You can make ahead -it will stay crunchy – but give it a toss before serving as the juices can settle at the bottom.

The Recipe (makes a ton!)

Slaw:

1 head of green cabbage shredded ( I got about 8 cups out of mine that day)

1 lb of radishes, shredded (wash and trim tops, bottom and any blemishes first)

a dozen or so very skinny green onions, wash, trim and slice small

2 cups fresh Cilantro – washed and chopped fairly fine. (loose pack, measure after chopping)

1 cup honey-roasted peanuts chopped (measure whole than chop) – keep a handful of whole ones for garnish

Combine the all the above ingredients and add dressing.

Dressing:

1 cup Mayo or Miracle whip – your choice

1/4 rice vinegar – unseasoned

1/4 cup white wine vinegar (apple cider would be nice too)

plenty of salt and pepper to taste

1/2 cup regular white sugar (but you could probably use agave or sugar substitute – just start with less and taste as you go to determine perfect amount)

1 tb Sriracha -more if you like spicy (I use “Huy Fong” brand hot chili sauce)

1 tsp celery seed (a nod to tradition!)

mix vinegars and sugar until mostly dissolved. Add the rest and toss with the slaw. Refrigerate until nice and cold. Serve.

Corn & Tomatoes

Corn and tomatoes are a traditional marriage of flavors in New England and probably all over the country. But while I wait for tomato season to start here in Massachusetts, I decided to make a twist on this flavor combination. Sun-dried tomatoes and creamed corn! Before you click to another blog, let me clarify that I used this as a filling for some empanadas. And my husband (who tells it like it is) thought they were delicious.

The filling was simply: 1 and half 8oz blocks of cream cheese (softened at near room temp is best); approximately 20 sun-dried tomatoes, reconstituted and drained; 1 clove of garlic; 1 can (14.4 oz) creamed corn; salt and pepper to taste. Combine all into a food processor until smooth. Remove the mixture. For texture and more corn flavor, add 1 cup (+/-) of frozen corn kernels that are defrosted and have been roasted on a sheet pan with salt,pepper and oil in the oven.

Stuff 20 defrosted “discos”  dough rounds with a couple teaspoons of this mixture and fold over the edges, sealing with a little water and a fork crimp. Bake in a preheated 400 degree oven on sheet pans until the empanadas are puffy, golden brown and “polka-dotted.” For the non-dieters out there try frying these little beauties instead of baking.

“polka-dotted” empanadas!

The Artichoke Experiment

The fact that they were huge and on-sale gave me some sort of false confidence that I actually knew how to cook them.

I decided to stuff them. Although undocumented, I have a vague memory of successfully preparing stuffed artichokes in the past. And I have certainly enjoyed eating many an artichoke heart. Usually from a jar.  So all things considered, I felt like enough of an expert.  I “nosed” around a few artichoke recipes to be sure and it was all as I suspected trim and remove the center choke, hold in lemon water till the last-minute. I did utilize the tip about “roasting-steaming” the stuffed artichokes in the water to save time/steps. Usually you steam first til tender than stuff and roast.

They took a LONG time to get tender – maybe it was the size? Maybe I should have steamed them traditionally first?

But the real challenge was cleaning them..Cleaning out the choke specifically. I should have steamed them, then removed the choke, then stuffed and roasted but I didn’t. I was determined to get that choke out first! I ended up splitting them in half !

There are some things in life that are just worth paying more for. De-veined shrimp, shelled walnuts, coconut flakes. And now I will add to this list: Artichokes.  Just waaaaaay easier to buy the hearts all ready to go (that’s the best part anyway) or eat your stuffed artichokes out at a restaurant where the labor charges are built-in.

The Recipe

I just used a fairly standard mix of crumbled sweet Italian sausage, finely diced onion, grated parm cheese, seasoned bread crumbs, melted butter and chopped fresh herbs.

As for technique…you are own your own here. I can’t help you.

Meatloaf #94

I have said it before and I will say it again… I love lamb.

American lamb. Not that “gamey” stuff from New Zealand. Sorry Kiwis!

And around these big-city-Boston-neck-of-the-woods-parts, lamb in many forms is readily available and quite economical. In fact I sometimes find ground lamb cheaper per pound than ground chuck!

So that, plus the fact that I was dying to use my Penzeys Lamb Seasoning caused me to make a lamb meatloaf!

Of course I had also been inspired by some crumbled blue cheese I had just purchased and I needed something for that to go on. So what better than butter-sauteed mushrooms, onions and Brussels sprouts I ask?

As for the polenta…well I am still perfecting my methods, but it came out pretty good. I kept it plain since everything else was already so flavorful.

The Meatloaf Recipe

1.5lbs +/- ground lamb

2 small eggs or 1 jumbo, lightly whisked

1 cup +/- fresh ground breadcrumbs (you could use dried- I just happened to be out and ground up some bread)

1 can of Campbell’s Soup -Healthy Request® Cream of Mushroom soup – pantry-cleaning out mood, what can I say!

1 Tablespoon Penzeys Lamb Seasoning

1 Teaspoon granulated garlic powder – of course you can use fresh minced, I was just lazy.

mix all, gently, with your hands. If it seems too dry add a tiny bit of milk. If it seems too wet, add a bit more bread crumbs.

Form a loaf and place on a sprayed sheet pan or use a meatloaf pan and bake 1 hour in a preheated 375 degree oven. Use a thermometer, 160 F.

The Crispy Bits

We all know the crispy bits are the best. The crispy bacon. The crispy edges of the brownies. The crispy pizza crust. Shall I go on?

Well I also think the crispy bits of hash are the best – whether a traditional corned beef variety or an all veggie one as I made this time.

Sweet & white potatoes with onion & apples hash served with apple sauce but would be divine with sour cream!

I was inspired to make this one a little spicy by adding my favorite spice, ground cumin, but also a little BBQ seasoning. I happen to have a fresh supply on hand thanks to Aunt Barbara, so I used a little “BBQ 3000″ from Penzey’s.

Also I used a secret ingredient to keep things moist. But speaking of moist…make sure to squeeze out every last bit of water from the veggies after shredding them or you will have to wait a long time to get those crispy bits – if you get them at all.

But back to the secret ingredient…which I am actually afraid to admit to.

Mayonnaise or in my case Miracle Whip since that is what I had in my fridge.

Well you know how some folks spread that on the outside of their grilled cheese to get it extra crispy and brown -I was trying to channel that technique. So I figured why not. I went ahead and just added in a small amount to the whole mix. The raw mix shouldn’t look “mayonnaise-y” or white it should just “moisten things up.”

And yes it did help get lots of crispy bits!

Disco Party

I had a disco party last weekend.

And although we do actually own a mirrored disco ball (rumored to be an actual relic from the now defunct “Palace nightclub” in Saugus, MA!) it wasn’t that kind of party. It was the kind that uses the frozen dough rounds called discos from brands like Goya and LeFey. You find them in the freezer section and you can make instant little savory empanadas or delicious little hand-pies with them.

I made both that day.

Savory filling on the left: 1/4 lb of ground lamb with 1 small sweet Italian sausage crumbled, browned and cooled. 1 tiny jar (5oz) of pumpkin butter, 1 tablespoon of dried, rubbed sage and 1 can (15.5oz) of black beans, drained and rinsed. Pulse it in the Cuisinart and fill 7 discos, seal, bake and devour.

Sweet filling on the right: 1 small package (6oz) of blackberries, 6 teaspoons of brown sugar, 3 teaspoons of salted butter – divide 3 ingredients equally between 3 discos, seal, bake and devour.

Discos make fun “game day” food!

Maiden Voyage

I have a dirty little secret.

Until recently I didn’t own a Cuisinart. There I have admitted it.

Oh sure I had one those little, tiny mini choppers and I used it for small pesto batches and the occasional bread crumb processing. It barely holds a cup and frankly I think the motor on it is going. So when my husband said “what do you want for your birthday?” I immediately decided this was the year to forgo all jewelry, electronics and other usual requests and ask for an appliance. I knew he would take this suggestion seriously and immediately get started on researching the best model at the best price. He is the best bargain shopper you ever met – in fact he is such a willing and great shopper that I hardly remember the last time I went shopping – he just does it all!

The Cuisinart Premier Series 7-Cup Processor is a beauty! After thinking long and hard about what to make with it on its maiden voyage, I finally settled on potato pancakes. I know what you are thinking – why not a pie crust? Or a homemade mayonnaise? Or something that just seems more “Cuisinart-like.” Well frankly he happen to walk by as I was watching some TV chefs make potato pancakes and since he LOVES these he said “I wish I had some of those right now!” So a few days later I thought I would make those for him with the ease of just throwing the potatoes (peel and all) into the shredder attachment of the new Cuisinart! I shredded the onion too! It worked so well I hardly believed how easy it was. And quiet too!

The potato pancakes were delicious and couldn’t have been easier. I might even give it a permanent place of honor on my precious little amount of counter space.

Get the really easy, delicious recipe from the TV chefs that I used here at “The Chew.”

Now maybe I will tackle that homemade mayonnaise next!

p.s. I don’t own a microwave either!

“Wacky” Winter Salad

Now this dish is a true “cabinet stew.”

I had one leftover uncooked chicken breast in the fridge.  And a bag of those “Wacky Mac” pasta spirals hanging around in my cabinet. I have used them before and they are okay. They make an easy “flashy” pasta salad.

But the real instigator was the leftover half jar of Chimichurri sauce hanging in my fridge door. Yes, around these parts, I have the luxury of buying a very good version in a jar from my favorite spice brand – Badia. I sometimes make it from scratch in the summer when the herbs are fresh and abundant. And typically I use the Chimichurri sauce more traditionally with grilled beef but grilling season is over here in New England.  Even with the unseasonable but enjoyable mild weather we have been having – I haven’t had the urge to extend the grilling season.

So between the craving for Chimichurri sauce, the chicken breast and the wacky pasta – I decided to throw it all together and make “Wacky Winter Salad.”  Definitely not my usual “go to” recipe in early December. But it made for some excellent brown bag lunches at the office for a couple of days.

Of course two of my favorite pantry items had to make an appearance: canned black olives and canned tomatoes. Muir’s organic, fire-roasted, chopped tomatoes to be specific and they added some great flavor. And while I was at it, I threw in the leftover peas from dinner the night before. I simply pan-seared the chicken until done and cut it up into bite sizes pieces. Tossed it all together and used the Chimichurri sauce as my “vinaigrette” for the pasta salad. It is packed full of instant flavor. You can add a little olive oil and red wine vinegar to adjust this to your preferred level of dressing and sharpness but it might just need only a little salt and pepper, so taste it first. For a vegetarian option leave out the chicken and thrown in a can of chickpeas or chopped tofu.

Who says you can’t have a little taste of summer in winter?

Especially with the “wacky” weather we have been having!