Archive | April, 2011

Spanish Rice Without the Box

20 Apr

I am embarrassed to tell you all that until the other night, I’d never made my own Spanish rice. Despite our frequent meals of fajitas and tacos and enchiladas, I’d never attempted the side dish. Ours always came out of the box.

Last week, I went to make fish tacos and opened my pantry, and there was no box. We were all out of Spanish rice. I stood there for a minute, drumming my fingers on the cabinet door and chewing on the corner of my mouth, pondering the situation. And then I thought about what I knew was in Spanish rice, figured “how hard could it be?”, shrugged a bit (I have fantastic conversations with myself, gestures included), and pulled a few things out to hit the stove.

It wasn’t hard at all, y’all. Everyone ate, nobody complained (score!!), and I am never buying another box of sodium-packed Spanish rice again. This was faster and easier and healthier, and I already had everything I needed in my cabinet. I bet you do too, and I hope you’ll try this and see how simple it really is. You only need:

1 cup of regular long-grain rice (Uncle Ben’s or something similar)

2 tbsp diced onion (I used a little hunk of onion hanging around in the fridge–measurement is approximate)

1 clove garlic, diced

1 14.5 oz can of diced tomatoes, undrained

1 1/4 cups of water or chicken/vegetable broth

1/2 tsp ground cumin

1/4 tsp ground turmeric (leave this out if you don’t have it–it just turns the rice yellow without much flavor)

Salt and pepper

Heat up a small saucepan over medium heat and give it a shot of olive oil to just coat the bottom. Stir together your rice, onion, and garlic, and let it toast for a minute or two. Add in everything else except the salt and pepper. Bring to a boil, lower heat to low, put a slightly-askew lid on the pot to let a tiny bit of steam out, and cook until the rice is tender, stirring after about 10 minutes (mine was done in about 20, but your stove’s power and pot thickness may change this). Salt and pepper to taste and enjoy!

Chicken Asparagus Stir Fry

19 Apr

Yesterday finally, finally felt like spring. Oh sure, it was cloudy (again), but the trees finally burst open with buds and flowers and my windows were open and a breeze filled my house with fresh air, and I dared to put the winter coats away (don’t tell!!).

Time for some lighter food.

Spring means asparagus. You can buy it all year these days, ’tis true, but it’s best right now, when it’s local and soft and at its freshest peak in the market. So I bought a big bundle and brought it home and started searching for jumping-off points to incorporate it into a light, fresh dinner.

This started as a recipe from Food Network, and we really enjoyed it. I messed with some of the liquids and spices in it, added lemon (They wrote an asparagus recipe without lemon, and the fruit compliments the vegetable so well that I had to add it back in.), and fiddled with proportions in a few places. This is light and tasty without being overpowering, and I am very much looking forward to leftovers tonight.

This would be great with other green vegetables, either in addition to or in place of the asparagus if you don’t like asparagus for some reason. Broccoli, snap peas, or even those long French green beans would be delicious in this. Just be sure to not overcook them on their first run through the pan. You want that fresh-veggie crunch in the finished dish. I served it over rice, but it would be really good over rice noodles, too.

Celebrate the spring with some seasonal produce. You’ll need:

1 pound boneless skinless chicken breasts, sliced thinly against the grain

2 cloves of garlic, minced

1 2-inch piece of garlic, either grated (I use my Microplane for this) or finely chopped

1 tbsp soy sauce (watch the label if you’re cooking this gluten-free)

3/4 tbsp sugar

1 tbsp cornstarch, plus another tsp

1 tbsp white wine

2/3 cup chicken broth

2 tbsp olive oil

1 bunch asparagus, ends removed and cut into 1-inch pieces

1 bunch scallions, chopped, greens only

In a large bowl, whisk together the soy sauce, wine, 1 tsp of the cornstarch, and half the garlic and ginger. Stir the chicken into this and let it marinate in the fridge for a half-hour, or on the counter for 15 minutes.

Heat up a large skillet or wok over medium-high heat. Add the oil, and then stir-fry the asparagus, scallions, half the garlic and half the ginger. Remove from the pan as soon as they’re bright green and crisp, and almost tender (they’ll cook a little more in a minute).

Put your tablespoon of cornstarch into a bowl and slowly whisk the chicken broth into it, so you don’t get lumps.

Pour the chicken mixture into the hot pan and stir-fry until the chicken is slightly brown and just cooked through. Stir the veggie mixture back into the chicken in the pan. Stir in the broth mixture and cook until it thickens up, which is about three minutes. Salt to taste and serve over rice.

Super-Fast Friday: Instantly Brown Bananas

15 Apr

You know those days you just have to bake something? Banana bread calls, right? Only there are no brown bananas in the house–only fresh yellow ones that don’t make for yummy baked goods.

I have the answer, and it’s super simple

Pick up a yellow banana and squeeze it. Be gentle–you don’t want to bust open the skin. But give the fruit a good massage, squishing it in your fist until you can feel that it’s all mushy inside there. And then, open the skin and dump the mushed-up nanner into your mixing bowl.

No muss, no fuss, ripe banana, just like that. 🙂

Not-From-The-Freezer Garlic Bread

12 Apr

I know. Those frozen garlic bread logs in the freezer at the grocery store are really easy. Lay them on a baking sheet, pop them in the oven, give them 15 minutes, and voila. Buttery, garlicky, carby goodness.

Guess what? Making it yourself is even faster. Pinky swear.

You need a small handful of ingredients and about 10 minutes for this, and the bread is crunchy on the outside and soft on the inside, and the best part is that you haven’t ingested tons of preservatives or an astounding amount of fat.

My kids love this. Beg for it. Which leads me to a secret I’ll share with you if you promise not to tell: I make this out of regular sandwich bread when I haven’t had time to grab a loaf of Italian at the store’s bakery. It’s just as good and takes garlic bread from a sometimes-treat to a regular indulgence (and a whole-wheat indulgence if you roll that way).

I use garlic bread seasoning I buy from The Spice Hunter. You can also use plain garlic powder with a sprinkle of Italian seasoning. It’s all good.

Next time you’re cooking Italian, give this a whirl. I promise you won’t go back to the freezer stuff. You only need:

1 loaf of Italian bread, sliced about an inch thick (or whatever bread you have)

Enough butter to lightly cover both sides of the slices

Garlic bread seasoning or garlic powder and Italian seasoning

Shredded Parmesan cheese

Line a baking sheet with foil. Pre-heat your broiler, on low if it has settings, and by just turning it on if not. Put your oven rack in the middle slot of your oven.

Lay your slices of bread on the baking sheet. Butter one side and sprinkle it with the spices. Put that under the broiler for just a few minutes, until it starts to golden-brown up. Take it out.

Flip the slices over. Butter the other side, sprinkle them with the spices, and then sprinkle them with the Parmesan. Put the bread back under the broiler for a minute until you see golden brown. Enjoy.

Spaghetti with Tomato Sauce and Sausage

11 Apr

We revived the big Sunday dinner last night, and I have to tell you, by the time this was all cooked up and ready, I was singing. Out loud, with wild abandon, completely content and happy.

Tell me that doesn’t rock.

It was a busy weekend. School fundraisers and baseball games and neighborhood parties and family commitments (and I had a few hours of real/paying work to do) and all sorts of things that led to my feeling like I couldn’t breathe by about 2:00 on Sunday. We were in a trillion different directions all weekend, and when DH came home from an outing after lunch and asked me where we’d go to dinner, and I realized I had one more meeting yet to attend last night, I grabbed the car keys and headed out to the store.

“I’m cooking,” I said. And I did–a big, traditional Sunday dinner that I made up on the fly based on a dish DH told me he’d had while visiting a friend in Florida a few weeks ago. Said friend epitomizes everything you’ve ever heard about New York Italians, and with him in my head, dinner was born.

Friends, it was spectacular. If I do say so my darned self. We all gathered around the table and connected, chatting and just breathing for a little while. And the chopping and cooking and stirring while listening to my kids shooting hoops out in the driveway was completely cathartic. Just what I needed.

DH proclaimed this delicious, and we all really enjoyed it. Next time you need to bring the family together over a simmering meal, I highly recommend this one. You need:

2 tbsp extra-virgin olive oil

1 28-oz can of crushed tomatoes (I like Furmano if you can find it)

1 14-oz can of diced tomatoes (or fresh-diced ‘maters in season)

About 1/3 cup diced onion (I used half of a sweet Spanish onion)

3 cloves of garlic, diced

1 tsp dried oregano

About 1/2 pound of hot Italian sausage (I used three sausages out of a one-pound, five-sausage package), cut into bites

About 1/2 cup of fresh basil, chopped finely

1 pound spaghetti noodles

In a large pot of salted water, cook your spaghetti to al dente. Drain.

In a large skillet or medium saucepan, heat the olive oil until it shimmers, over medium heat. Add the onions and cook until they start to soften. Stir in the garlic, give it a minute, and then add the sausage and cook, stirring occasionally, until it’s browned on the outside. Stir in oregano.

Pour the crushed tomatoes and diced tomatoes (drain them well) into the onion/sausage mixture, stir well, and lower the heat to low. Let this simmer as long as you can–mine went about a half-hour. Just before serving, stir in the basil. Serve over the hot spaghetti.

We had this with my super-simple garlic bread–I’ll show you that one tomorrow!


Lunchbox Magic: DIY Lunchables

7 Apr

How many of you, now that it’s April, are in a lunchbox rut? How many of our kids are starting to scowl when they eye their lunches on the counter before school, knowing it’s the same old sandwich or Thermos o’ pasta in there? And how many of us could use some new ideas?

Can I get an “Amen!”?


My kids are forever begging me to buy Lunchables. I am forever refusing (have you ever read the ingredients in those things?  Or figured out the price-per-plastic-package? *shudder* No thank you very much.). The concept, though, is a great one. They do make lunchtime more fun, in theory. And there’s a super-simple solution to both giving in without really giving in and in shaking up the lunchbox a bit.

Make your own.

I’ll admit I was a little nervous the first time I cut up some meat and cheese, bagged the slices up with some whole-wheat crackers, and sent them in my daughter’s sandwich box. (I have a Bento box on order to ditch the baggies before the Green Police come after me.) DIY anything was a terrible social sin when I went to grade school, and I was slightly afraid she’d catch an earful from her table-mates.

Know what the first thing out of a child’s mouth was?

“You are SOOO lucky.”


I like this because I control the ingredients, and I can use up the little bits of lunch fixings that are left at the end of the school week. My kids like it because they get to “make” their own lunch, playing with different ingredients and eating with their fingers (bonus!) Today’s DIY Lunchable has one slice of bologna, cut into sixths; three slices of turkey, cut into thirds; and a slice each of American and Muenster cheese, quartered; plus some wheat crackers. This works with any meats, cheeses, or veggies you have in the fridge.

Healthy, easy, economical, fun, and not the same old thing. It’s a winner.

Help Me Out: Party Food

6 Apr

Hi gang.

Today, I have a question for all of you, and am hoping you’ll all chime in on this one–the more, the merrier.

We have a first communion this spring. Ceremony at church with a little family soiree at my house afterwards. I’ll want to feed people, which is normally no problem. But we have a hiccup: The ceremony is at 11:30, which will put me back home around 1 with a house full of hungry people with little patience for me to heat something up.

Last time, I did pulled chicken in the Crock pot with some potato rolls and cold sides. It was fantastic, but it’s the same crowd this time and I’d rather do something different. I thought about slow cooker lasagna, but we have two lactose-sensitive folks who can’t have all the cheese. We’re not big cold-cut eaters, either.

So–help a girl out, woulja? Please (pretty please) leave me a comment with your suggestions. I can’t wait to hear!!


Recipe Revisit: Spring-ier Egg Sandwich

5 Apr

Remember my Quick Take-Along Egg Sandwich?

I made it better.

OK, not necessarily better. But more spring-like. Fresher. Using up a few things I had in my fridge anyway.

I’d chopped an onion up to make some sweet potato hash the other night, and put the un-used bits into my fridge in a zip-top bag. I also had some fresh asparagus in there. So…I grabbed a little bit of the onion and a stalk of asparagus, which I broke up with my fingers. I put those into my microwave-safe mug with about a quarter-teaspoon of water and nuked that up for 30 seconds, while I toasted an English muffin.

Once the veggies were nuked, I cracked an egg into that same mug, added another splash of water, whipped it up with a fork, and nuked that for 40 seconds. By then, my English muffin was toasty. A little butter on that, a slice of cheese, and my mug omelette, and I had a delicious breakfast and only one cup and a fork to clean.

Worth a try, my friends…

Sweet Potato Hash, Diner-Style

4 Apr

Back in the day, before desktop publishing took over on university campuses, I was editor of my college paper, The Greyhound. We published on Tuesdays, which meant that a core group of about 10 staff members stayed up all night every Monday, banging on huge typesetting machines, cutting the type into columns with X-Acto knives, and pasting it down onto boards with hot wax (and wolfing down Berger cookies and dancing around to all kinds of alternative music and riding down deserted hallways on our office chairs…but those are stories for another day). And then, in the wee hours of the morning, three or four of us would pile into my LeBaron GTS for the 30-mile drive to the printer.

After that? The diner around the corner, punch-drunk and happy, for some comfort food on a college student’s meager budget, before a very quiet drive back to school and 8 a.m. classes.

Some 20 years later, I still crave a diner breakfast when I’m physically or emotionally worn out. Of course, I have little guys running around my house, and so my late-night grease runs are momentarily delayed. Armed with my cast-iron skillet and a few cheap ingredients, though, I get my fix right in my own house, which is often the best place to be if one is in a diner-food kind of mood.

Technically, this is a breakfast dish. But I had it for dinner last night, fresh off a long drive with my little guys and our young (read: hyper and barky) labrador retriever, and a weekend of fun away. It was perfect–comforting and delicious and easy and cheap, and I couldn’t shovel it into my mouth fast enough, if we’re all being honest.

The trick to this is a hot pan. You want your onions to caramelize and the potatoes to get crispy and dark, dark brown on the bottom. The flavors all come together into a sweet-salty, crunchy-creamy plate of pure heaven. It’s the perfect at-home diner food. I ate mine with two eggs on top, but those are optional–if you’re making this for a crowd, stop with the hash, pile it into a bowl, and serve it family-style, all by itself.  Either way, you will not be disappointed.

(You can, actually, make this much healthier–skip the bacon, use a very thin coating of olive oil on the bottom of the pan for your onions and potatoes, and then go from there. Just make sure your pan is screaming hot when you start, or all the dark brown crunchy parts will stick)

To make this amazing, simple dish, you’ll need:

2 slices of bacon, in one-inch pieces (I used turkey, but any kind will work)

1/2 a sweet onion, diced

1 – 2 sweet potatoes, peeled and cut into small cubes



2 eggs (optional)

Get a cast-iron or other heavy skillet screaming hot, over medium-high heat. Cook the bacon until it’s crispy, and then fish it out and set it aside.

In the bacon grease, cook the onions until they turn soft and translucent–about 3 or 4 minutes. Stir in the sweet potatoes, toss them with the onion, and flatten them into a single layer in the pan. Turn your heat down to medium and let it sit about 5 minutes, until the bottom of the potatoes starts to brown. Carefully flip them over, give them another 5 minutes, and then cook, stirring every few minutes, until the potatoes are crispy outside and soft inside.

Stir potatoes up with your reserved bacon and salt and pepper to taste. For a side dish, stop now. Otherwise, mound the potato mixture into a lump in the middle of the pan and crack two eggs over it. Put a lid on it and cook it about 4 minutes, until the eggs are cooked but soft. Carefully turn out on to a plate and enjoy as an entree.

Super-Fast Friday: The Perpetual List

1 Apr

That up there is my life saver.

It’s a simple thing–a notebook with a magnet on the back, that I picked up at the craft store for less than $1. It hangs on my refrigerator all the time. And it’s my perpetual grocery list. Anytime I run out of an ingredient or run low on something, or run across a recipe I’d like to try, I jot down the thing I need on that notepad. I do the same on Sundays, when I plan our meals for the week–everything I need goes on the list.

On grocery store or Target or warehouse club days, I just rip off the top sheet, gather my coupons, and head out. I don’t spend a half-hour figuring out what I need, or risk forgetting that I ran out of olive oil or flour last Tuesday. It’s all right there, ready to go.

That’s a huge time-saver. It’s a great system for our family, especially now that the kids are old enough to jot down that they ate the last yogurt or piece of sting cheese. DH uses it too, letting me know when we’re about to run out of the things he tracks around our house. I know what’s low and we don’t forget much (“anything” is probably a bit optimistic, but I really rarely forget to get something this way).

Not bad for less than $1.

Have a great weekend!

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