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The Definitive Summer Grilled Cheese Sandwich

7 Aug

BOO!

Sorry for the quiet, gang. I really had no intention of taking the summer off like that. School ended and there were two business trips and the weather got hot and there were days at the pool and days out of town and playdates and work work work, and now here we are. August. I have ignored you for far too long, and I apologize and hope you’re still with me here.

I have a treat for you today, to try and make up for my inexcusable lack of yumminess lately. The first is my new obsession: garlic oil.

My kids and I wandered into World Market recently for some hazelnut coffee syrup, and this little bottle whispered to me from the shelf, next to a nearly identical big bottle. “I’m taaaaaaasty,” it said. “You’ll liiiiiiiike me.” I turned it over in my hand a few times, shrugged, and took it home to give it a whirl in my kitchen.

To say I’m addicted is a leetle understatement. This stuff is amazing. I roasted potatoes with it–brilliant. I dipped pita in it–delicious. And today, I made a grilled tomato, basil, mozzarella sandwich with it. Which rocked my world in ways that may not be legal. It was crispy and crunchy and garlicky and fresh and I am in love, my friends.

You can make your own garlic oil by simmering garlic in olive oil, but there’s a pretty good risk of contaminating it and sickening yourself. I have seen it in the grocery store with the olive oil. This bottle from World Market is divine, and I’m going back for his big brother in the next couple of weeks. Consider it endorsed.

More to come in the next few days, my loves. Thank you for reading–I’ve missed you all.

To make the world’s best sandwich, you need:

Bread. Anything you like–I used a honey wheat sandwich bread because that’s what we had.

Mozzarella cheese. I used shredded. Two half-handfuls.

Two slices of summer tomatoes.

A wee bit of basil, fresh or dried.

A sprinkle of salt or No Salt.

About a tablespoon of garlic oil.

 

Heat a small skillet over medium-low. Brush one side of each slice of bread with the oil. When the pan is hot, gently lay the first slice in, oil side down. Quickly top it with half the cheese, the tomato, the basil, the salt, the rest of the cheese, and the other slide of bread, this time oil side up.

Cook your beautiful lunch or dinner (or breakfast, really) until the bottom slice of bread is golden brown and delicious. Carefully flip, toast, remove to a plate. let cool for a few minutes, cut, and devour. But slowly–you’ll want to savor this one.

Easier, Healthier Oven-Cooked Bacon

24 Apr

Y’all still here? Sorry I haven’t been around. We headed out of town for spring break and then spent last week playing catch-up, and I haven’t cooked anything new in awhile. But today, I have a great tip for you!

Bacon has been the hot food for awhile, and while stovetop frying is still a delicious way to cook it up, it’s hugely greasy and very, very messy. And I for one do not enjoy splatter burns all over my hands, which is what I get frying bacon.

You probably already know you can “fry” bacon in the oven. The problem with that, of course, is that you generally end up with bacon that’s submerged in a pool of grease on the sheet pan. Not great for crisping, and, quite frankly, disgusting to contemplate.

Enter your cooling rack. Yes, the same one you use for cookies and breads and baked amazingness. Note: if you don’t have one of these, they are a true multi-tasker and make a huge difference in the kitchen–great for baking but also good for many other things. They’re like $5, and I highly recommend procuring one or two.

Here’s the trick: Line your baking sheet with foil and put your cooling rack on top of it, just like you would if you were cooling cookies on it. Spray it with olive oil or other nonstick stuff; bacon has a lot of fat, but it’s all going to run off and if you don’t spray your rack, you’re going to be scraping bacon bits off it for a good long time.

Lay your bacon on the sprayed rack and bake it at 425 degrees for about 20 minutes–start checking on it after 10, because your oven is going to cook differently than mine. When it reaches its desired done-ness and crispyness, pull it out. See how all the fat is on the baking sheet where it’s not touching your yummy bacon?

Neat, eh?

I hope you’ll try this soon. And I have an amazing recipe for you later this week–I promise!

 

Honey Roasted Sweet Potatoes

22 Mar

This is my favorite veggie dish of all time. Bar none. It’s sweet, it’s comforting, it’s packed with nutrients, and it’s super simple. I had a big bowl of it for lunch yesterday and I may well have another for dinner tonight. The leftovers are delicious heated up or cold, and don’t even get me started about recycling it as a breakfast dish with a poached egg on top (oh yummmmm).

You should make it, and that’s really all I have to say about it. Really–words don’t do it justice.

You need:

Sweet potatoes (about 1 per person)

Honey (1 tbsp per potato)

Olive oil (1 tbsp per potato)

Salt to taste (I use about 1/4 tsp per potato)

Preheat your oven to 425 degrees. Cover a baking sheet with foil and spray it with olive oil or your nonstick goodness of choice. Do not skip this step–you will be very sad when your nuggets of sweet potato deliciousness stick like cement later.

Peel your potatoes and cut them into 2-inch pieces (I half them lengthwise, then cut each half into a half lengthwise, and then cut them into slices cross-wise). Plop them into a bowl and stir them up with the oil, honey, and salt. Lay them onto your nonsticked sheet pan with their flat sides down–they’re gonna get all brown and crunchy against the pan, and you want the biggest side to do that because it is so stinkin’ delicious that your taste buds will throw their own little party right there in your mouth.

Slide your pan into the oven and let those babies roast for about 20 minutes, until their bottoms start to crunch up. Flip them over, give them another 15 minutes or so, and serve.

 

Toasted Oats

21 Feb

Just so you know, this isn’t much of a recipe. It’s more of a technique or an idea. But it’s well worth learning because it is so simple and you’ll find a lot of uses for it.

As part of my eating-healthier challenge, I’m trying really hard to like yogurt. It’s loaded with calcium and all kinds of good stuff, and the Greek variety has a ton of protein, which helps keep me full until lunch. It’s cold and creamy and comes in a ton of flavors, and in theory, I should like it.

Sadly, it’s a struggle. Plain yogurt does nothing for me except make me grimace. I’ve tried all the flavors and all the brands and all the varieties, and I just can’t do it. I’ve found, though, that stirring in other things helps a lot–fruit, granola, nuts. Unfortunately, my favorite is granola and that can be really calorie-dense and full of sugar despite the beautiful T.V. commercials with fit people crunching away on mountaintops.

I really like cold Swiss style oats in the morning (which is a mixture of yogurt and uncooked oats), but I’m not always good at thinking ahead far enough to mix it together so the oats soak up some of the yogurt and get soft. And if I don’t give it enough time, the oats are chewy. I don’t enjoy chewy raw oats.

This morning, I drank my coffee and smacked myself in the forehead. Because toasting the oats takes all of 10 minutes and makes them deliciously nutty tasting and wonderfully crunchy, which is the perfectly perfect thing to stir into Greek yogurt. Why didn’t I think of that sooner?

This is so super easy: You preheat your oven to 400 degrees and spray a pan with a tiny bit of olive oil. I used a 7 x 12 pan, but you can really use anything you have. Pour plain oats (rolled, not quick) into that pan and shake them out into a layer or two–you want as many individual oats touching the bottom of the pan as possible. Pop that into your preheated oven and let those oats toast in there for 10-15 minutes, giving the pan a good stir every five minutes so the oats trade places on the bottom and none of them burn.

See the difference between raw and toasted oats? The raw ones to the left are chewy. The toasted ones at the right are a gorgeous golden brown (channeling Anne Burrell–brown food tastes good!). No sugar. No preservatives. No fat. No billions of calories. Just toasty, crunchy goodness that’s perfect on vanilla yogurt with some blueberries, or whatever yumminess you like–these would also be delicious on pudding or frozen yogurt or anything else that needs a little crunch.

Toasted oats have rocked my world, y’all (or at least my breakfast table). I made up a mess of ’em and stored them in a container to use all week. So simple and easy, and such a nice thing to have around. Hope you’ll try it!

Peanut Butter-Free Blossom Cookies

13 Feb

Y’all have seen the idea on Pinterest by now: You take a peanut butter blossom cookie recipe and make it with a heart-shaped Dove chocolate for Valentine’s Day. Cute, cute, cute.

Here’s the thing, though: peanut allergies are rampant, and if you want to send these little cuties in as a surprise in your kids’ lunchboxes, as I do, they can’t rightly have peanut butter in them. At least, I won’t send them that way. I know too many kids and one of my favorite people on earth who have nut allergies, and couldn’t live with myself if a cookie put them in harm’s way.

So today, I made up a batch of sugar cookie dough. Any one will do–choose your favorite. Only instead of rolling them out to cut with cookie cutters, use your palms to roll them into balls, with about a tablespoon of dough in each ball. Don’t squeeze them, or you’ll melt the butter inside and they’ll spread in the oven. You want a gentle roll. No heat.

Bake your dough balls as directed in your sugar cookie recipe. When they come out of the oven, gently press a Dove heart (or a Hershey Kiss) into the center of each cookie, and let them cool. My Dove hearts liquified (they held their heart shape, but they got soft and gooey), so I stuck them in the fridge after a few minutes to harden back up. And I have a perfect, nut-free treat to send in with my loves for lunch tomorrow (including the one I married–nobody tell!).

Happy, save, Valentine’s Day, gang!!

Lemony Quinoa

5 Jan

I’d planned to mess around with this recipe today and post it for y’all tomorrow, but I just finished wolfing down a bowl of its deliciousness and couldn’t wait to share. If you were here (live and in person), I’d be shoving spoonfuls at your face and demanding that you try it. Because it is that good and so very healthy.

Quinoa is a grain that’s gluten-free and a pretty darned perfect source of protein, which makes it an allergy sufferer’s dream. I don’t fall into that category; I eat it because it’s super easy to cook, very versatile, and fills me up for a long time.

You can use it just like rice if you want to, but I like it as a main dish. This recipe was my lunch today. Turn it into a more substantial lunch or dinner entree with some cooked shrimp, chicken, tofu, or even smoked salmon stirred in at the end. Asparagus would also be a lovely addition, but any veggie you have in the house would probably work beautifully in this dish. That said, this would be a really good side dish alongside grilled chicken or fish.

I found the idea for this online, but the original called for raw red onions, cumin, and red pepper. And I’m sure that’s all good, but I have to talk to people in the afternoon, so raw red onion isn’t going to work for me (it’s super potent stuff), and I wanted more fresh and light than smoky this time around. I substituted cooked regular onion (you could use dried onion flakes too), swapped out the seasoning, and cooked it in broth instead of water to give it a little more flavor.

You’ll see lemon juice in this recipe. If you like lemon–like, really like it–go ahead and zest your fruit, and stir the zest in at the end. It’s really lemony that way. I happen to like lemony, but you might want to give this a try without that step the first time around and see if you think you need more citrus. I’m betting you could also use orange for a different flavor.

You’ll also see sliced almonds. I like them for their crunch, but you can leave them out and use more celery or chuck in some raw carrot for the same kind of mouth feel without nuts.

This is one of my favorite new healthy recipes, and I can’t wait for leftovers tomorrow. You need:

1/2 cup quinoa, rinsed well (gets rid of the bitterness) and drained

The juice of one lemon

A dash of salt

About a cup and a quarter of chicken or vegetable broth

About 2 tbsp of sweet onion, diced

1 stalk celery, diced

1/4 cup sliced almonds (or a crunchy vegetable if you don’t want nuts in the dish)

About 3 tbsp chopped fresh basil

About 2 tbsp shredded or grated parmesan cheese

Heat a small/medium saucepan over medium heat. Spray it with something nonstick and saute the onions until they’re soft and translucent.

In the meantime, juice your lemon into a 2-cup measuring cup. To the juice, add broth until you have 1 1/2 cups of liquid. Once the onions are cooked, pour that mixture into the pan and stir in your rinsed quinoa grains and salt. Bring that to a boil, clamp a lid on it, and cook it over medium-low heat until most of the liquid is gone (just like rice).

Remove the quinoa from the heat and stir in the basil, celery, almonds (or substitute), and, if you want a lotta lemon, the zest from your lemon. Stir everything together and let it sit about 5 minutes. Spoon it into bowls (2 for entrees, 4 for side dishes) and sprinkle it with the parmesan.

Whipped Cream Redux

22 Nov

You might remember that last August (2010), DH sprayed “Happy Birthday” in our driveway with a can of whipped cream, and that a few weeks later, it hadn’t quite vanished. Which made our family rethink that stuff that comes in the cans.

That picture up there? I took that this morning. Fifteen months after the sweet message landed on our concrete. Fifteen months of rain (including a hurricane) and snow and basketball and cars and people and garbage cans, and a lot of stuff…a lot more than goes in inside your body.

See what I’m saying, y’all?

You can see my original post on how easy it is to make whipped cream, and now that you’ve seen a real-world science experiment with that canned stuff, I’d urge you to rethink the convenience route. To make it a little more special for Thanksgiving, drizzle a little maple syrup in there while you’re whipping–it’s fantabulous. If you need it to travel, add a few pinched of cream of tartar, which will help it stand up longer.

Happy Thanksgiving, gang!

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