Archive | January, 2011

The Easiest Fish Tacos Ever (and I’m giving stuff away!!)

19 Jan

Confession: For years and years, I wrinkled up my nose at the thought of fish tacos.

I know. Ridiculous. But I’m from the east coast and we think of fish in totally different ways than you southwesterners, and the thought of fish + taco was just odd. Sort of testifies to my younger-self ignorance, doesn’t it?

I’ve since, in my old age, fallen for tacos with fish in them, and there’s not much argument against them. Done right, they don’t taste fishy. They’re light and healthier than their ground beef counterparts, and when I tell you I spent 10 minutes in my kitchen, start to finish, to make them, I tell the honest truth.

These work best with solid white fish. I used rockfish because I had a mess of it in my freezer from a fishing trip DH took last fall. It was very good. But cod would be good. Halibut would be good. Pollack would also do. If you’re feeling more adventurous, try shrimp or salmon. Buy it either frozen or fresh from a fishmonger you trust. You don’t want that fishy smell in your house or taste in your tacos.

There are a lot of recipes out there that call for all sorts of marinade for fish tacos. I’ve seen mayonnaise, sour cream, yogurt, tequila, vinegar…you name it. But I was going for light here, and so my fish got a simple spritz of lime juice and a shake of Mexican Seasoning, which you can buy by the jar from The Spice Hunter directly. No Mexican Seasoning around? Use fajita seasoning or a sprinkle of mixed chili powder, oregano, garlic powder, cumin, and maybe a chili flake or two. I wouldn’t use taco seasoning here–it’ll be too overpowering.

If you’re using an indoor grill pan or a regular saute pan, be sure you grease it well. Fish likes to stick! On an outside grill, I’d recommend a layer of foil beneath the fish so you don’t lose it between the grates, with an ample spray of nonstick cooking spray.

Toppings? Well, anything you’d use on tacos. We had salsa, cheese, and guacamole. But you could do chopped tomatoes, cabbage or lettuce, onions (raw or caramelized), jalapenos–the sky’s the limit. Put your taco shells or tortillas out on the counter with a plate of fish and a selection of toppings and let the family self-serve their dinner, making their tacos exactly the way they like them. Kids LOVE that, and it’s the best way to ensure everybody gets just what they like.

My daughter devoured two entire tacos tonight, which never happens with chicken. Then she asked if we could have fish tacos “a lot.” My son didn’t appreciate the fish with salsa, but picked it out of his taco shell and ate it naked. DH and I very much enjoyed these, and I have some fish left over, which will re-appear as lunch tomorrow on top of some Romaine lettuce with a little salsa, avocado, and chopped onion. Yum.

I had these with some Spanish rice–a Goya mix I found in the supermarket. Rice reheats wonderfully, so make it during the day or the night before and just nuke it when your fish is about cooked. Presto chango easyo dinnero. In minutes.

These are being added to our regular dinner rotation. To try it, you’ll need:

About a pound of firm fish filets or steaks (see suggestions above), fresh or frozen and thawed.

One fresh lime, halved, at room temperature (so it lets go of all its juice)

About a tablespoon of Mexican or Fajita Seasoning

Taco shells or tortillas (this is marked gluten-free, which it is depending on your choice of these)

Taco toppings of choice

Preheat your indoor grill pan over medium-high heat (use a regular skillet if you don’t have a grill, or cook these outside on your regular, manly-firey grill). Slice the fish across the narrow side into pieces about 1 inch thick. Squeeze a little lime juice on one side and sprinkle some seasoning on top.

When the grill is hot. spray it liberally with oil or cooking spray. Place the fish, juiced side down, on the grill–it should sizzle if it’s hot enough. Sprinkle the second side with juice and seasoning.

Let the fish cook about 2 minutes or until it appears cooked halfway through the slices. Gently turn over and cook the second side.

Carefully–really carefully–use tongs or a spatula to remove it from the grill. Serve with shells or tortillas and toppings, or as a salad. Enjoy!

NOW: The giveaway!

There’s a new button over there on the right (you’ll have to click through if you’re on email subscription, Kindle, or a blog reader–sorry!)? That’s for Playing With My Dinner’s brand-spanking new Facebook page, where our readers are already chatting, sharing ideas, and getting the inside scoop on the blog.

To celebrate its launch, I’m giving away a copy of Aviva Goldfarb’s newest cookbook, “SOS! The Six O’ Clock Scramble To The Rescue.” It’s all about making healthy, Earth-friendly meals your kids will love, and you’re going to love it.

One lucky reader will find a copy in his or her mailbox, and all you have to do to enter is “like” the blog over on Facebook before February 5. I’ll use a random number generator to pick our winner.

So c’mon over! Visit the page, hit that “like” button, and join in the conversation on the wall. See you there!!

Day-Before Chicken Enchiladas

17 Jan

That, my friends, is the last lonely chicken enchilada from this weekend. Which is good for me–helllooooo, lunch!–but also speaks to the hit these were. We had 16 of them Saturday night, and they were all gone by yesterday. They’re fast and easy and healthy (really!!!) and everybody ate them, and this makes me happy. πŸ™‚

You can make these all at once. Just skip the “cover and refrigerate overnight”. But done the way it’s written, this recipe is perfect for game day or a party day or some other time when you won’t have an hour to make dinner or you don’t want to miss an event in your own house. Prep the day before, refrigerate overnight, and pop them into the oven on the night you want to eat them. Simple, simple, simple.

These would be equally good with beef, beans, or just cheese inside. For those of you who aren’t that into chicken.

Not much else to say. Give these a shot and give an OLE! for a simple restaurant-style meal that’s easy on your wallet, your clock, and your waistline. You’ll need:

1.5 to 2 pounds of boneless skinless chicken breasts

1/2 a large sweet onion, diced

1 clove garlic, minced

One 26 to 28-oz can of red enchilada sauce (yes, you can make your own. I was hurrying)

1 tsp ground cumin

About 2 cups lowfat Mexican blend cheese, divided

16 corn tortillas

Fill a large pot with water and bring to a boil. Add chicken breasts and poach until cooked through, about 10 minutes or so. Remove them from the water, use two forks to shred them up, and place into a bowl.

While chicken is poaching, coat a large skillet with olive oil over medium heat. Cook the onions until they’re crisp-tender, about 5 minutes. Stir in the garlic, and then pour in the enchilada sauce. Bring to a simmer and let cook about 10 minutes.

To the chicken in the bowl, stir in the cumin and 1/2 cup of the cheese.

Spray two 9 x 13″ baking dishes with nonstick spray. Wrap about six tortillas in a damp paper towel and microwave for about 40 seconds, until they’re hot and pliable (the hotter, the more flexible–they crumble if they’re not heated and damp). Roll a small amount (about 1/4 cup) of chicken mixture into each tortilla. Lay them seam-side down in the baking dishes. Repeat until all of the tortillas have been used.

Pour the enchilada sauce evenly over the rolled enchiladas. Cover and refrigerate overnight (or just keep going).

When you’re about ready for dinner, heat your oven to 350 degrees. Sprinkle the enchiladas with the remaining cheese, and cover with foil. Bake 30 minutes. Uncover and bake another 5 minutes. Let them sit about 5 minutes before serving. Enjoy your dinner!

Party Day and Game Day Strategy

14 Jan

In five hours, there will be six little girls in my kitchen.

I know. I’ve lost my mind.

My daughter has watched me go to bookclub since she was born. She loves to read, and when she asked me if she could have her own bookclub, I had to say yes. I mean, how awesome is that–a bookclub of seven-year-olds? Making reading fun, and it was her idea. Love it.

She picked her first book (the first in the “Ivy and Bean” series) and we scheduled an afterschool meeting for three weeks later, and that day is today. Our school has half-day Fridays, so we’ll have lunch, talk about the book (I have some questions written up to nudge things along), and do a little craft (Ivy and Bean make magic wands, so we’re going to use craft sticks, ribbons, and all sorts of sparkly stuff to make magic wand bookmarks).

I thought about making something for lunch, but we have a few pickier eaters in the bunch. So easy is the way to go. I have a bowl of pretzels, orange juice and milk and water, paper plates and plastic cups, and we’re ordering pizza. There’s yogurt in the fridge if any of them doesn’t like pizza–tho I doubt that’s going to happen–and for dessert, I took some very simple refrigerated sugar cookie dough, baked it up with pink sprinkles on top, and dipped the final cookies in chocolate across their bottoms. Voila.

Now tomorrow. Tomorrow is a playoff game that I intend to watch (GO RAVENS! Whoops. Out loud again. Sorry.) at 4:30, which interferes pretty darn solidly with dinnertime. I neither want to miss the game cooking nor miss the game eating out, as is our Saturday night tradition, and I need something ready to go that we’ll all eat. And that I, at least, can eat in front of the television without trashing the carpet below.

This morning, I’m making enchiladas (I’ll share the recipe next week if they’re worthy). I can cook the meat and assemble everything in a casserole dish today, cover it with plastic wrap, and just bake it off tomorrow. I’ll make some Spanish rice in the morning and nuke it up during a commercial break, and we’ll take advantage of grocery store chips and guacamole at halftime.

Much as I love playing in the kitchen, sometimes, it’s better to keep things simple. As I’m forever saying, take help where you can get it. Order pizza for little kids. Make dinner ahead of time if you don’t want to be left out of the party. Think ahead to make life easy when you need it to be.

Have a great weekend!

Crockpot (or not) Beef or Chicken Chili

12 Jan


Not so much. We got a whopping inch. Enough to throw the TV weather guys and county schools directors into apoplexy but not quite enough to make us abandon our cars on major highways. But we came close! And between that and football playoffs this weekend (GO RAVENS! Was that out loud? Sorry.), it’s a great week for chili.

There’s a widely-held belief out there that chicken chili has to be white. White, my friends, makes for a lovely stew or soup or pot pie, but not chili. Chili is red and spicy and hearty and warms you for hours after the bowl is gone. And chicken, as we’ve discussed before, will take on the flavor of whatever it’s cooked with. So there’s no reason to avoid red chicken chili–I’ve made it for years and lightening hasn’t struck me yet.

This is a pretty straightforward recipe. There’s no mystery here. And you can make this a dice-and-dump if you’re in a hurry–just chuck everything into the slow cooker and let ‘er rip. I like to brown my meat with the onions first to give it a little texture, but feel free to skip that if you’d rather. The final taste will be the same.

Chili is a great meal for the winter, and this one gets better as it sits–leftovers are divine. It freezes perfectly as well. I hope you enjoy it. You need:

1 pound chicken breast or beef/steak (I use stew meat), cut into bite-size pieces

1/2 sweet onion, finely diced

2 cloves of garlic, finely minced (or two frozen garlic cubes)

1 14.5 oz can of diced tomatoes with chilis (try Ro-Tel)

1 14.5 oz can of plain diced tomatoes

12 oz tomato paste

30-ish oz canned kidney beans, rinsed and drained (I use one can of light and one can of dark)

2 bell peppers, chopped (I use one red and one green)

2 tbsp chili powder

1 tbsp ground cumin

1 bay leaf

Chili flakes, to taste (more = way hotter)

In a pan over medium-high heat, brown the meat and onion until they’re golden on the outside (you’re not cooking; you’re just searing the outside). Stir in the garlic and cook another minute. Remove from heat and pour into large soup pot or slow cooker.

Add tomatoes (I drain them if I’m using the slow cooker, and just dump them in if I’m cooking this on the stove), tomato paste, beans, peppers, and spices. Stir well. In a slow cooker, cook on low 6-8 hours. On the stove, bring to a simmer and cook 1-4 hours (more cooking means a more developed flavor). Taste and add spices as needed–I usually add more chili powder and stir in some Smoked Chipotle Tabasco at the end). Serve alone or over rice or pasta.

The Spices of My Life

11 Jan

That up there is one of two spice drawers in my kitchen. Inside the godforsaken freezer is a stack of more, in plastic containers with tight lids. And over there in the glass-fronted shelving unit are a line of pretty glass jars that hold even more.

Know what’s annoying? Buying a spice for a recipe and never using it again. Sadly, many of the jars that line my spice storage areas fall into that category. I suspect many of you have the same issue, which is why I thought we’d talk about staple spices today–the jars and containers of sweet-smelling bits that you really should have to make most recipes.

First, let’s talk about buying spices. The grocery store is not your friend here. Lord only knows how long those little jars have languished on the shelves or in a warehouse before that. I have a few grocery store jars in my drawers, but not a whole lot–they’re normally my last resort when I go to make a recipe and realize I’m missing a spice. Mail-order or a fresh foods market is a better bet, if you want your spices as fresh and potent as possible. I really like The Spice Hunter, both because their spices are delicious and because they have an amazing array of salt-free spice blends that are indistinguishable from their salt-laden grocery store cousins. Other people swear by Penzey’s, which has wonderful spices but not as many salt-free options unless you buy in huge bulk (lots of jars at a time), which I don’t.

My other favorite is an Amish bulk market that’s near our favorite vacation destination. They mark their spices with the date they were processed, so I know exactly what’s good. These come in bulk; I transfer small amounts to airtight glass jars for immediate use, and keep their original plastic containers in the freezer for later.

You see a lot of spices in the drawer up there. Sadly, few are everyday, must-have-in-your-pantry options. Those I classify as that are:

  1. Salt. I know. I don’t use much salt. I do use a lot of No-Salt, which tastes just like real salt but with no sodium. Salt wakes up almost all flavors, from chocolate to tomato to honeydew melon (try it!), so you really need it. You’ll want a good table salt and a Kosher salt in the house.
  2. Pepper. Ditto for above–good on just about everything. Buy whole peppercorns and grind them yourself for the best flavor.
  3. Garlic powder. I love fresh garlic, but sometimes garlic powder is best (think garlic bread, for one thing). I always have this around.
  4. Lemon pepper. Good on chicken. Good on fish. Good on broccoli. Great on asparagus. A great wake-up-the-flavor spice.
  5. Chili powder. Self-explanatory.
  6. Ground cumin. Lends a wonderful smokey flavor to a ton of dishes, from chili to pasta to seafood.
  7. Dried bay leaves. Same as cumin, only more subtle and deep.
  8. Italian Seasoning. All those recipes that call for basil and oregano and thyme and such? A pinch of Italian Seasoning. Take the help where you can get it.
  9. Dried oregano. Next time you make pizza, sprinkle some on the sauce, under the cheese. Thank me later. πŸ˜‰
  10. Dried onion flakes. Toss these into meatballs, burgers, pasta sauce…anything on the wet side that calls for onion. Delicious and crunchy.
  11. Fajita seasoning. I love my fajitas dry, and this stuff is awesome. Sprinkle it on your beef or chicken or shrimp and grill away. Delicious. Also good in tacos or on grilled meat you’d like to have a little Mexican flair.
  12. Dill. I prefer fresh, but dried is really good too. Excellent on scrambled eggs, in tuna salad, on top of grilled fish, in salads, or anywhere you’d like a little fresh snap.
  13. Dried chili flakes. Drop a few into your pasta sauce next time. It won’t be hot. It’ll just wake it up a bit. Also delicious in a simple olive oil and garlic pasta, in tomato-based soups and stews, and sometimes in dark chocolate dishes.
  14. Cream of Tartar. If you like Snickerdoodles, you must have this. Ditto for whipped cream. It helps food stand up Β and fluff up. Good stuff.
  15. Cinnamon. Self-explanatory–good almost everywhere.
  16. Nutmeg. Whole ones. Grate them with a Microplane. Great in baked goods but also sprinkled over cooked greens.
  17. Ground ginger. I have no patience for peeling and grating ginger. This stuff saves me. You can’t tell the difference.

I have other must-haves (cardamom, Garam Masala, Mrs. Dash original blend), but they’re unique to my family and foods we enjoy. I’d love to hear about yours!

Deli-Style Egg Salad (and how to hard-boil an egg)

7 Jan

Egg salad, in my opinion, is one of the world’s best comfort foods. Slather a spoonful onto soft white bread (I’m aware that we’re not supposed to eat that anymore. Tough simple carb noogies) and flash back to elementary school and simpler times. Yum.

It’s taken me a whole long time to figure out why my egg salad never tasted as good as the stuff from the deli counter, but a Google search for simple recipes this morning educated me.

It’s sugar. Just a pinch turns this simple food from pretty good to yeah, that’s the stuff. Amazing that it never occurred to me.

The next hurdle is hard-boiling eggs, which can be tricky business. And the first tip here is to use eggs that aren’t the freshest in the case. You want a little oxygen between the egg and the shell to make for easy peeling, and uber-fresh eggs don’t have that.

Put your eggs in a saucepan and cover them with about two inches of water. Place that over a burner on medium-high and let it come to a boil, uncovered. As soon as it boils, shut the heat off, clap the lid on your pot. and let it sit there. Fourteen minutes. I know most people say 12, but I prefer my eggs a touch firmer. So 14 it is.

At 14 minutes, use a spoon to lift the eggs out of the hot water and plunge them into ice water in a bowl. Leave them there for a good 10 minutes, and then pop them in the fridge for later or peel right away for now.

So. Egg salad. There’s a lot of debate over crunchy vs smooth, relish vs. plain, celery vs. none. The rule is that there is no rule. Make it the way you like it. My recipe is for very basic, plain-Jane egg salad, but feel free to toss some pickle relish in, or a little dried dill, onions, celery…whatever you like. I doubt Mrs. Cleaver spent a lot of time obsessing over this one, and you shouldn’t either.

I had this for lunch yesterday and it really hit the spot. To make it, you’ll need:

2 eggs, hard-boiled and peeled.

2 tbsp mayonnaise (I use the light variety)

1 tsp yellow mustard

1/4 tsp sugar

a shake of salt

Chop eggs into small bits and place in a bowl. Combine with other ingredients, stirring gently with a spoon (don’t mush it up!). Add in crunchy, spicy, or savory bits at your whim. Refrigerate for a bit to let flavors combine, and then smooth it onto white bread and enjoy.

Not Your Mom’s Spaghetti and Meat Sauce

6 Jan

I told you the other day that I’m re-introducing beef into my diet after 13 years. I made cheeseburgers for New Year’s Day and couldn’t think of a better way to use an extra pound of ground beef (I bought one of those big value packs at the grocery store and froze the leftover) than spaghetti and meat sauce. There are days I have the palate of a five-year-old, and what five-year-old doesn’t love pasketti?

That said, this recipe for meat sauce has some grown-up flair. I’ve added some balsamic vinegar to it, which gives it a little sophisticated oomph. This isn’t the sweet sauce you’ll find at your local Italian chain restaurant. It’s a bit cacciatore-ish, and I think that’s a very good thing.

There are a few tricks to this. First, if you have one, use your food processor to pulverize your onions. I learned that trick when I complained to a friend that my husband hated anything with chunks of onion. She had the same issue, and taught me that giving them a spin in the Cuisinart turns them into bits so small that the most onion-hating hater out there won’t know the veggies are in the recipe, but you still get their flavor. In this case, softening them for a few minutes makes them wonderfully sweet.

You’ll see that once the onions and spices and garlic are yummy and soft, you remove them from the pan, crank the heat, salt it a little, and put the meat in. You want the meat really brown. Caramelized. It gives the sauce a wonderful texture–far from mushy or boring–and a heartier taste. Don’t mess with the meat too much. Lay it in the pan, let it brown up, and then simply flip it over and brown the second side. Then break it up and stir.

I made this sauce at lunchtime, sealed it up in a Rubbermaid container, and let it sit in the fridge until dinnertime, and then I made the pasta and combined our servings together. That few hours makes a remarkable difference in the flavor–it mellows and matures in the cold box. Just don’t mix everything together in one shot if you want leftovers–the spaghetti will get mushy by day 2. Put the pasta on plates, top with sauce, and mix together each serving individually, and then store the pasta and sauce separately for the second meal.

Now, just because I’m eating beef again doesn’t mean you have to. If you’re not a cow-ivore, use ground chicken in this recipe. It mimics the texture of beef better than ground turkey and absorbs whatever flavor you cook it with. It’ll taste just about the same as the beef version.

This is both young and mature, comforting and intriguing, and really delicious. My son loved it and had two servings. My daughter doesn’t like spaghetti (freak) so doesn’t count. DH liked it but probably would have preferred a sweeter, more traditional red sauce–that may be my fault for not warning him about the difference before he started eating. I thought it was really good. I hope you’ll try. You’ll need:

2 tbsp olive oil

1 medium or 1/2 large sweet onion, chopped very fine

1/4 tsp red pepper flakes

2 tsp Italian seasoning, divided

3 cloves of garlic, minced


1 pound ground beef

28 oz canned crushed tomatoes

2 tsp sugar

1 1/2 tsp balsamic vinegar

salt and pepper to taste

In a large saute pan, heat the olive oil over medium heat. Add onion, 1 tsp Italian seasoning and the red pepper flakes. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the onion is soft and translucent. Add garlic and cook about 1 more minute, stirring constantly.

Remove onion mixture from pan into a bowl. Set aside. Raise heat to medium-high to high, depending on your stove’s power.

Sprinkle the pan with salt. Crumble ground beef into the pan in a single layer and leave it alone for about 4 to 5 minutes, until the bottom side is a deep golden brown. Carefully use a spatula to flip the beef over (you’re not stirring), and let the second side brown.

Break up the beef with your spatula. Stir in onion mixture and second teaspoon of Italian seasoning. Stir in tomatoes, sugar, and balsamic. Lower heat to low and simmer about a half-hour, stirring occasionally. Salt and pepper to taste. Put in a glass or plastic container and refrigerate until dinner. Serve over hot cooked pasta with grated Parmesan cheese.

I marked this as gluten-free because the sauce itself is–you’d obviously have to use GF pasta to get the whole recipe that way. πŸ™‚

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