Archive | July, 2010

Quick Take-Along Egg Sandwich (No Pans Required!)

20 Jul

The to-go breakfast is really hard, isn’t it? Pop-Tarts make me crave sugar for the rest of the day, healthier cereal bars leave me hungry an hour later, and I have a hard time doing peanut butter, even on toast, before 10 a.m. And even on mornings when I’m not flying out the door, the thought of having a sink full of dishes to do is usually enough to convince me against anything hot for that all-important first meal.

A few months ago, I found the answer.

Did you know you can scramble eggs in your microwave? I did not. Now granted, I’m slower than most, but I always believed that eggs would explode in the food nuker. Happiness ensued when I read how simple it is to whip up the perfect scrambled egg right there in the microwave.

With that out of the way, making a hot breakfast that’s easy to take along was a snap.

Take-Along Egg Sandwich

1 egg

1 English muffin

1 slice cheese of your choice

Butter or butter spray

Pop your English muffin in the toaster. While that gets hot and yummy, spray the inside of a microwave-safe mug with cooking spray or olive oil, crack the egg in there, and give it a good whip with a fork. Do not add water! Nuke your egg for about 30 seconds, depending on the strength of your microwave.

When the muffin pops, butter it a little bit and lay your slice of cheese on one side. Tip the egg out of the mug on to the cheese, and top it with the other half-muffin. Wrap your sandwich in a bit of waxed paper, and off you go.

This morning, I put a slice of perfect farm-market tomato between the muffin and the cheese, and the hot egg melted the cheese and heated up my tomato, and I was in summer breakfast heaven. And not hungry several hours later.

Of course, you can jazz up your egg with chopped onion, peppers, spinach…whatever you like.

Easy peasy breakfast YUM!

The Turkey Sandwich, Elevated

19 Jul

What’s not to like about a turkey and cheese sandwich? Lots of protein, reliably tasty, and keeps you filled up for a few hours.

Only…boring. Turkey sandwiches can be boring. Because they’re always the same. Vary the cheese, and then it’s lettuce, tomato, and mayo or mustard, on the bread of your choice. Zzzzzzz.

Remember my thing about blueberry muffins? Same vacation…I discovered this wonderful turkey sandwich. Different shop. This one was a little cafe with a beautiful, shaded deck among the trees. And I normally get tuna there, because their tuna has fresh dill in it and it’s amazingly good. But this trip, I was trying to not eat quite so much mayo, and so I ordered this turkey and gouda sandwich because it sounded a bit more virtuous.

It was SO good. And now I re-create it at home for lunch pretty regularly. Just a few ingredients that I’d never thought to put together, and yum.

You’ll need…

Deli-style sliced turkey. I prefer honey smoked, but whatever floats your culinary boat. I use about four or five slices.

Deli-style sliced gouda cheese. My cafe uses smoked, but I can’t find that in the grocery stores here, so I use the smoked turkey and regular gouda.

Baby spinach leaves. The bagged stuff is fine. Rinse it first, though.

Roasted red peppers. The jarred kind. Pat dry and slice into thin strips.

A few thin slices of red onion. Don’t go overboard–those suckers are strong. You want just a hint.

Mayo. I like light Miracle Whip, but again…pick your own poison.

Hearty bread. Whole wheat, multiple-grain, etc. My favorite is sunflower and that’s what the cafe uses.

So the procedure is simple. It’s a sandwich. Spread a little mayo on the bread, and then layer the turkey, cheese, spinach, a few strips of pepper and onion, and then the other slice of bread. Slice and eat.

It’s not rocket science, and it’s not going to make me a chef anytime soon (I’m a family cook, not a chef. Toldja that already). But it’s quick and simple and pretty healthy, really, and makes my mouth happy. Could be worse…

Sweet Bakery-Style Corn Muffins

15 Jul

There’s this coffee shop at our favorite vacation destination that offers the most amazing blueberry muffins on the planet. You can actually taste the butter in them–I swear. They have this nummy strudel on top and this little crunch when you bite into their ginormous mushroom-style tops, and then the insides are all fluffy and buttery and blueberry-ey, and when I get there early enough in the morning to get one warm from the oven, I just about cry with gratitude.

These muffins are a highlight of my summer vacation, and if you ever tried one, you’d understand why that is not a lame statement of my current mommy-hood and minivan-rocking existence. You know that Most Interesting Man In The World from those beer commercials? That dude would drop everything for one of these muffins.

So you can understand my complete despondence when I arrived at the coffee shop nice and early one day last year to find no blueberry muffins. Like, crap. And since it is a coffee shop, I was then forced to choose an alternative baked good for my breakfast without the benefit of caffeine beforehand.

I’m not a cranberry eater, and I’m not a bran girl (at least in my baked treats), and scones don’t sing the Alleluia Chorus for me first thing in the morning. My choice, therefore, was simple. A corn muffin. In a little paper bag. I could feel its warmness inside as I loped back out the door, shoulders sagging from disappointment.

Sadly, I took a little bite. And the world stopped, just for a moment. Because this little coffee shop that made the best blueberry muffin in the world also–impossibly–had come up with a corn muffin that was sweet and soft and crunchy on top. It was truly more cake than traditional corn muffin.

The sun rose and my day brightened, and I’ve been trying to replicate that same muffin ever since.

Corn muffins are usually a savory thing. They go with chili and tacos and spicy foods. This sweet bakery corn muffin is a hard thing to figure out.

This week, I came pretty darned close. The recipe I settled on (after fiddling) didn’t have the big crown of my coffee shop love (I’m going to try them again with some added baking powder, but my waistline can’t take it quite yet), but it was crunchy on top and sweet and soft inside, and I didn’t finish it wanting to pick bits of cornmeal out of my teeth, which happened a lot while I searched for these muffins.

If I had a bit of advice on corn muffins, it would be this: don’t use cornmeal labeled “grits” or “polenta.” I love Bob’s Red Mill products, but their cornmeal is just too coarse for a soft, sweet muffin, and you don’t get much corn taste from it in this particular application.

That’s my ode to corn muffins. Oddly, my coffee shop hasn’t offered them since that magical morning last summer, at least that I’ve seen. But now I can almost make them at home. And there’s always blueberry on vacation.

Bakery-Style Corn Muffins

1/2 stick unsalted butter, softened (that’s 1/4 cup)

8 tablespoons white sugar

2 eggs

2 tsp vanilla extract (I know. Odd for corn muffins. Go with it.)

1 1/4 cups baking mix (Bisquick works well)

2/3 cup cornmeal

1/4 cup milk

1/2 can cream-style corn (you can freeze the other 1/2 can for next time)

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Grease the top of a 12-cup muffin pan and line the cups with paper liners.

Cream together the butter and sugar. Add eggs and stir well. Add vanilla. To this, add baking mix and cornmeal, alternating with the milk, and then stir in the cream-style corn.

Scoop mixture into muffin tins–I find 1/3 cup in each tin is perfect. Over the top of each muffin, sprinkle a pinch each of granulated sugar and cornmeal (for that crunchy top). Bake 25 minutes, or until golden. Let cool in pans about 10 minutes, and then remove and cool completely.

I kept these for four days and the last were as good as the first.

Cookware

14 Jul

Every so often, we’ll chat about the stuff in our kitchens–what we like to use for different kinds of cooking and what we might not like so much. Gadgets, pans, tools, all that kind of stuff. Hope we can exchange thoughts and ideas and learn some new things along the way!

I used to be a nonstick pan girl. Many Christmases ago, my mom gave us a set of nonstick Calphalon from Target, and it served us well for a number of years.

And then I started reading about Teflon and what happens to it when it gets hot, and the fumes that may or may not fill the house when it’s on the stove, and how studies that had nothing to do with DuPont found that it maybe might not be something you want around your family.

I am a scaredy cat when it comes to cancer. My mom had it when I was 12. My dad had it twice and it killed him on the second go-round. And this year, it took away my best friend at the ripe old age of 37. I gave up red meat because of it (more on that another day), I strongly encouraged my husband to replace our old charcoal grill with gas because of it (he did–God love him), and I am a sunscreen addict, all because of cancer. It’s a bad way to go and if I can avoid it, I will.

And so, the nonstick pots and pans were chucked. And slowly, one pan at a time, I started buying this:

That is Calphalon Commercial. It’s anodized aluminum, which I love for the way it conducts heat evenly and gets hot fast (I have one cast iron skillet and a cast iron grill pan that I also adore, but they take forever to get hot–forever doesn’t work for me when I’m rushing to get dinner on the table). And–here’s a trick for y’all–if you let it get good and hot before you add food and you give it a few extra minutes on the burner before you put anything in there, it’s almost as nonstick as the Teflon coated stuff I had before.

At the moment, I have an 8-inch omelet pan that I use for eggs and grilled cheese and infusing olive oil with garlic (YUM!!) and small cooking jobs. I have a massive 12-inch skillet that I use for browning chicken or sauteeing in dinner-size portions. There’s a saucier that’s used for anything and everything. I have a big pasta pot that I use for all sorts of boiling and soup-making and fun, and I have a big wok that’s awesome for Pad Thai and Chinese food and really big dishes. One of my favorites is the 12-inch Everyday Pan, which is usually available for a song online and is the ultimate everything pan. I also have a paella pan that doesn’t see much use, but is fantastic the once or twice a year I yank it out.

I never use nonstick spray on my pans. Over time, it leaves a sticky film that you’ll never get off. I spray them lightly with olive oil or coat the bottoms with a few teaspoons of oil before I start cooking (but after the pan gets hot). Cleanup is simple and easy, and I love that I can use metal utensils on them without worrying about scratches. And they’re ovenproof, which is another feature I don’t use much but is darn handy when I need it.

So that’s my cookware. It is expensive, but I use coupons and sales, and buy one piece a year, and it’s been worth it, both for its performance and for my peace of mind.

Do you have cookware you love? Post a comment and tell us. I can’t wait to hear what the rest of you use the most. 🙂

Double Chocolate Brownies

12 Jul

During a playdate last year, I asked my kids’ friends’ mom if they could have some brownies after lunch. She said sure, and I started pulling ingredients out of my pantry–chocolate, sugar, flour. I turned to say something to her, and she had this look on her face.

“What?” I said.

She laughed. “You make brownies without a mix? I had no idea you could really do that!”

Scratch brownies are the best, and these take so little time to throw together that mixes don’t tempt me one little bit. The microwave does most of the hard work, and the only hardware you need are a bowl, hand whisk, knife, and some measuring cups and spoons. Badda bing, badda boom, brownies.

The recipe is from an old church cookbook–you know the ones. Spiral bound with a cheesy image of a sunset on the cover, filled with parishoner-contributed recipes that generally have a lot of mayonnaise (aioli, lots of the ladies write)  or lard (!!) or pinches of ingredients. Recipes, in other words, that have been handed down through generations.

They. Are. The. Best.

This one is no exception. I give it to you un-doctored and un-messed-with, but for one thing: I usually toss a handful of chocolate chips in there. Give them a little crunch; I don’t like nuts in my brownies, you see.

One word: If you bake these in a metal pan and your oven temperature is true, they’ll be done-but-gooey in about 17 minutes. If you’re baking in Pyrex, as I do, you’ll need closer to 22 or 25 minutes.

Brownies. Off you go. Enjoy.

Double Chocolate Brownies

1/2 c unsalted butter

2 squares unsweetened baking chocolate, roughly chopped

1 c sugar

2 eggs

2/3 c flour

1 tsp vanilla

1 dash of salt

Heat oven to 350 degrees. Grease and flour 7 x 11 pan. Melt butter and chocolate together in the microwave, taking care not to scald chocolate. Mix in sugar, eggs, and vanilla. Stir in flour and add salt. Pour into pan. Bake 17 – 25 minutes. Let cool before slicing.

Cardamom-Almond Biscotti

9 Jul

I never liked biscotti.

Shocked? I know. But I never did. I didn’t like that they were rock-hard, and I didn’t like that they weren’t very sweet, and I really didn’t like that the chocolate-dipped ones (chocolate can make up for a myriad of culinary sins) melted on my fingers while I chipped teeth gnawing through the rest of this so-called cookie.

My mother-in-law, though, loves biscotti. Only she calls them Zweiback. Back in the day, she made them all the time for her five kids.

These days, she’s not cooking much and I felt terrible when I saw the plastic containers o’ rock-hard biscotti from a warehouse club on her pantry shelf. Ick. So I went looking for a recipe that might redeem biscotti in both of our eyes.

I found it. Well, kind of. I found a recipe for cardamom-almond biscotti that I knew she’d love–she’s ape about cardamom–but that had bits of almond in the cookies. Which meant my father-in-law had to stay away. Nut issues.

So I fiddled with the recipe. And what I came up with is a biscotti you can eat happily without dunking it in liquid first (what is that about??), that sings with cardamom and almond in a sweet, but not too sweet, crunchy but not rock-hard, cookie that’s easy to make and lasts a good long time in a plastic container or zip-top bag. And that’s safe for non-nut-eaters. And yes, my kids love them too. Bonus.

Cardamom-Almond Biscotti

3/4 cup sugar

1/2 cup butter (1 stick, unsalted)

2 eggs

1/2 tsp vanilla extract

1/2 tsp almond extract (the fake stuff if you’re dealing with a nut sensitivity)

2 cups flour (You can do up to 1/2 cup wheat flour if you want, but more toughens these up)

1 1/2 tsp ground cardamom (ground, people. Not the pod kind)

1 1/2 tsp baking powder

Preheat your oven to 350 degrees.

Beat butter and sugar until creamy. Add eggs, one at a time, beating after each. Beat in extracts.

Combine your dry ingredients (I don’t sift, but knock yourself out if you like to do that) and stir them into the wet goods.

Divide your dough (it’s sticky–coat your hands in cooking spray first) into two pieces. On parchment paper, pat each half into a 2 x 10 inch rectangle. Bake those 25 minutes.

After the 25 minutes, pull them out and let them rest 5 minutes. Then carefully, with a serrated knife and a light hand, slice the logs width-wise into 1/2 inch slices. Place those cut-side down back on the baking sheet, and bake them another 12 minutes.  Let cool completely.

Simple, easy, yummy. Makes my mother-in-law happy. And that makes everybody happy.

Tomato Cucumber Salad

8 Jul

Let’s start with the obvious: This is hardly a novel idea. Nor complicated, sophisticated, or terribly chef-ish. But like I told you in my first post here, I’m a working mom cooking for my family. This works for us.

We eat this salad all summer long, when produce is its freshest and the tomatoes (garden or farm market, please–none of those grocery store marbles) burst with flavor straight from their container. I’ve been known to cook up a half-pound of Rotini or shell pasta and toss it in here along with some shrimp to make a light entree.

Notice there are no proportions to this recipe. You make as much or as little as your family will eat. It’ll keep in the fridge for a day or two, but just-made is best.

You’ll need:

Tomatoes. I prefer Campari for their size and sweetness, but any variety will do.

Cucumbers. I prefer English, but again…whatever works.

A handful of fresh basil leaves

Extra-virgin olive oil

Balsamic vinegar.

Slice the tomatoes and put into a bowl. Give your cuke a quick peel, slice it, and add it to the tomatoes. Then, shred your basil leaves (you know how, right? Stack the leaves, roll them up into a cigar, and slice the cigar into shreds) and sprinkle that over top. Drizzle with the oil and vinegar (I prefer about a 4 to 1 ratio of vinegar to oil), and enjoy.

Happy summer.

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