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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.

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.

 

Summery Balsamic Quinoa Salad

16 Feb

See this?

Stick a fork in winter and call it done, y’all. I am ready for summer. Bring on sunshine and short sleeves and flip-flops and days at the pool, and bring on some fresh summer produce!

Sadly, I have little to no pull with Mother Nature, so I’m making do with recipes that make the most of summer-ish fruits and veggies I can find in my supermarket in February. They’re not as tasty as their summer siblings, but give me a little burst of July when stirred into dishes with the right flavors. Balsamic vinegar, olive oil, and Parmesan cheese are some of the ingredients that make not-so-spectacular produce pop a bit more, and I broke them out this morning to make something new for lunch.

Quinoa salads aren’t unique–they’re everywhere. What I don’t get, though, is why most of them call for cooking your quinoa (you know quinoa, yes? Cook it like rice and enjoy its perfect protein?) in one pot and your veggies and aromatics in another. Dudes, quinoa is just like rice–it’ll suck up whatever flavors you cook it in. And softening onion and garlic on the stove makes for some darn tasty bits on the bottom of your pot. Why not stir the quinoa grains right in there and make the most of them?

This recipe came out of the space between my ears. It’s not Julia Child–go ahead and mess with it. I added pine nuts for crunch, but it’s just as good without them. Throw in mushrooms or chicken or shrimp or tofu to make this a substantial entree. Ease up on the cheese. Whatever makes you happy. Quinoa, just like rice, is very forgiving. Play around without fear.

This made a big bowl o’ salad that’s happily resting in my fridge. I have lunch for a few days here. And every day. it’s going to be like pulling out a little bit of summer, which sounds really good right now. Want some? You need:

1 cup quinoa, rinsed well (I find it at Target now–check your market near the grains or in the health/organic aisle)

1/2 a yellow onion, diced finely

1 clove of garlic, diced finely

1 tbsp olive oil

1 1/2 cups broth–I used chicken but veggie would work

Salt

About 1/2 cup of grape tomatoes, halved

About 1/3 of an English cucumber, diced (These come in plastic wrap–the skins are thinner than regular cukes)

1/2 cup pine nuts (leave out if you want–no harm, no foul)

About 1/4 cup shredded Parmesan cheese

A handful of fresh basil leaves, chopped

About another tablespoon olive oil

About 2 tbsp Balsamic vinegar

In a medium saucepan, heat your olive oil over a medium flame and then stir in your onion. Cook that until it softens up, and then stir in your garlic. Immediately stir in your quinoa grains and stir them around for a minute to let them toast a little bit. Then stir in your broth, stick a lid on the pot, and let it cook for about a half-hour, stirring every 10 minutes or so, until the liquid is absorbed and you see little rings around the outside of your quinoa grains. Take it off the flame and let it cool to room temperature.

(note: this is a great thing to do while you’re making dinner at night. You’re going to refrigerate this anyway, so make it the night before when you have time–it’s just one more pot to clean)

Once the quinoa has cooled, stir in the tomato, cucumber, pine nuts, Parmesan, basil and olive oil and Balsamic. Stir it up, pop it in the fridge, and look forward to a summer lunch!

Chicken Tortilla Soup

18 Jan

Hey gang!

I am drowning in deadlines this week. This is a good thing (we who are self employed much prefer drowning in deadlines to twiddling our thumbs), but it is presenting an extra challenge for my health eating lifestyle (day 18!). Lunch, especially, is hard. These are the days I used to grab peanut butter and white bread or a frozen entree, just to make life easy.

No more. In between editing things on Monday, I whipped up a batch of Mango & Tomato’s Chicken Tortilla Soup, and I’ve been eating it for lunch every day. It is delicious–creamy without the cream, satisfying without fat and salt, and wonderfully comforting when the cold wind blows outside my window.

I’m not going to repost her recipe–it’s hers, after all–but I’ll tell you a few things I did differently, just because my pantry didn’t cooperate on Monday. I didn’t have fire-roasted tomatoes, so I used regular diced tomatoes and added about a tablespoon of smoked chipotle Tabasco, which is one of my top 3 condiments–not hot, but deliciously smoky. I also didn’t have fresh corn, so I added a can of rinsed salt-free kernels, and I used a can of rinsed black beans as well.

I did make the chicken the way she suggests, plain in a cast-iron skillet until it got delicously brown and crunchy, and I have a new favorite way to make chicken for soups and salads now. It is so very simple and absolutely delicious, and it added a ton of flavor to my pot of soup. I also used my immersion blender as she suggests; they are cheap and a nice investment if you don’t have one. You could, of course, use a regular blender or food processor, but blending it in the pot is so much easier that I recommend it if you can make it happen.

I am having more of this for lunch today, and I can’t wait. Thank you, Mango & Tomato!

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.

Chipotle-esque Quinoa (and Bonus Veggie Bowl)

29 Nov

My name is Kim and I am a Chipotle addict.

Sadly, DH doesn’t feel the same way. He is Chipotle-ed out. I sympathize, but I still love me a big honkin’ veggie bowl, filled with their fantastic lime-kissed rice, beans, grilled vegetables, salsa, and a dollop of guacamole. Seriously–besides the 10 million calories and hefty dose of simple carbs, what’s not to like?

(Can you tell I ate too much over Thanksgiving? Oink.)

I could squelch my cravings at lunchtime, theoretically. But the Chipotle near my house is mobbed with high school students mid-day–we’re talking lines that literally stretch out the door–and I have no patience for it. And then the carb thing and the calorie thing kicks in and I feel way too guilty to go snarf down one of their amazing meals.

Thankfully, the cook thing kicked in yesterday and I came up with a substitute that is seriously delicious and satisfied my Chipotle tooth without filling me with white rice and a ton of oil. The answer?

Quinoa.

If you haven’t tried this miracle grain yet, it’s time. It cooks up just like rice but has a ton of protein in it, is gluten-free, and is just as versatile as the rices you’re used to. The trick to it is to measure it out, pour it into a mesh sieve, and rinse it really well before you start cooking. Quinoa has a bitter thing going on, but a nice pre-stove shower will remove it and leave you a blank slate to cook with.

I have a big container of this in my fridge this morning and this makes me happy–I cannot wait for more of this meal for lunch today. I get my Chipotle on and my healthy on, and my taste buds get their happy on at the same time. Which rocks. To join me, you need:

1 tsp olive oil

1 tbsp fresh chopped cilantro

1 lime

1 cup quinoa, rinsed well

1 1/3 cups water

Zest your lime and set the zest to the side (note: this makes the quinoa super lime-y. If you like that, rock on with me. If you don’t want so much lime, skip the zest and start with the next step).

Heat a small saucepan on medium and add in your oil. Let that heat for a minute, and add the juice from your lime and your quinoa. Stir that all together–you want to coat the grains with the yumminess before it starts cooking. Then, add the water and lime zest (if you’re using it), bring it to a boil, lower your heat to low, cover, and cook for about 15 – 25 minutes, until most of the liquid is absorbed and you start to see little rings around your quinoa grains, which will turn kind of translucent.

When that happens, uncover the pot, give your quinoa a stir, and add the cilantro. Continue cooking until it seems fairly dry.

Remove from heat, fluff with a fork, and enjoy.

If you want a veggie bowl like this:

While your quinoa is cooking, heat a pan (I use my cast iron wonder) over medium-high heat. Into that, toss together another teaspoon of oil, half a sliced onion, and a sliced green or red bell pepper. Cook until everything in there is seared up nicely.

Spoon your quinoa into a bowl. On top, layer beans (black or kidney, drained and rinsed), some of your cooked veggie mixture, some salsa, and a dollop of guacamole or piece of avocado. Keep your leftovers in a covered container in the fridge–they make awesome leftovers. Tell me who rocks Chipotle now!

Autumn Veggie and Sausage Soup

4 Oct

We’re a month or so into the school year and the whole lunch thing is dragging me down.

Not the kids’ lunches. We’re set there. It’s my lunch that’s the issue. I am sandwiched and salad-ed out, completely over frozen entrees, and too busy (and cheap) to run out to eat every day or cook myself something new at 11 each morning.

Yesterday was rainy and cold and generally disgusting around here (again! paging Noah…), and it felt like a great day to break out the soup pot for a simple recipe that would last all week.

I started thinking I’d make a bean and sausage soup recipe I found online, but reviews of it said it needed more ingredients and was pretty blah as written. I went to the grocery store and started picking out things that looked good, and before I knew it, the original recipe was right out the window and a new one was born, filled with fresh, seasonal ingredients. Which is really the ideal way to cook and eat, saving yourself from older produce that’s been hauled cross-country, maximizing flavor, and keeping a little cash in your pocket.

This calls for a parmesan rind. I always keep a hunk of fresh parmesan in the house for grating over pasta and veggies. It seems expensive, I know, but you only use a little bit at a time and it’ll last almost forever wrapped tightly in plastic and stored in the fridge. For this recipe, you cut off the (inedible) rind and toss it into the pot, and then fish it out at the end. It adds a wonderful, subtle nutty flavor to the soup and is well worth the step. If you don’t have one, no worries. Go ahead without it.

I used smoked turkey sausage in this because that’s what I like. You can use whatever you enjoy, or substitute ham or bacon for a similar smoky flavor in the soup. Non-meat eaters can add extra beans to beef up the soup and toss in a little liquid smoke (a LITTLE–that stuff is potent) or smoked chipotle Tabasco for a similar effect.

This was warm and creamy (from the beans–neat trick, eh?) and smoky and comforting, and perfectly perfect for yet another cold, rainy day. I’m looking forward to my second bowl today and would love to hear what you think if you try it. You need:

Olive oil

4 cups fat-free, low-sodium chicken broth

1/2 a sweet onion, diced

2 cloves garlic, minced

1/2 a butternut squash, peeled and diced (about a cup and a half of diced squash)

7 oz smoked sausage (I used turkey; mine comes in 14 oz packages, so I used half and froze the other half for another time), chopped into bites

1 15-oz can cannellini beans, drained and rinsed well

1 zucchini, diced

The rind of a hunk of Parmesan cheese (I always have a hunk around. Add a little salt if you don’t have this)

A dried bay leaf

About 2 cups of chopped fresh kale (use spinach if you can’t find kale)

Salt

Pepper

About 1/2 tsp Italian seasoning

Half a lemon

Heat your soup pot over medium heat. Coat the bottom of the pot with olive oil. Saute the onion and sausage until the sausage just starts to brown a bit. Stir in the garlic and keep it moving for about a minute.

Pour in the chicken broth and add all of the rest of the ingredients except the kale and lemon. Stir, cover, bring to a boil, and simmer for about 15 minutes or until the butternut squash softens, stirring every so often.

Stir in the kale, cook 10 more minutes, and fish out the Parmesan rind and the bay leaf. Squeeze the lemon over the pot, stir in the juice, and enjoy. Makes about four servings.

Yummy Asian Noodle Soup

6 Sep

I had this past weekend to myself.

Did you hear that??

To. Myself. As in, the husband took the children away for two and a half days and I had my own house to my own self, with just me in it, totally alone. For a weekend. A long weekend. A long, quiet, uninterrupted weekend. For the first time in more than 10 years.

It. Was. Beautiful.

Don’t get me wrong–I adore my family. Love them, love them, love them. But do you have any idea what you can do with two and a half days all alone in your own house that you live in? You guys should see the pile of stuff I have outside for charity pick-up today (I’d take a picture but it’s raining and I don’t really do wet more than necessary). And you should see my immaculate basement and my spotless kitchen and my gorgeously clean and organized bathrooms, and the way things are folded and stacked just so in my linen closet. AND I watched two girly movies all by myself and slept late both days and did a little shopping (shhhh!).

Right?? Wonderful and amazing, and I was super glad to see my gang pull in the driveway yesterday afternoon, because I’d had a fabulous couple of days to regroup and recharge, which makes all the difference every so often.

I also cooked. For myself. Things that my family would complain madly but that I made and enjoyed greatly because they weren’t here. It was fun, gang. Serious fun.

One of the things I made was this delicious Asian Noodle Soup from Words to Eat By, which is among my favorite food blogs, especially for moms and dads who have precious little time to get a healthy, tasty meal on the table every day. I give it a big thumbs-up! I had it for lunch and dinner one day, and I have another bowl ready for my lunch today (I also borrowed her photo, which was much better than mine). A few notes:

I used dried garlic and dried ginger from The Spice Hunter in this. The simmering reconstituted it, and sometimes it’s just easier than using fresh, especially in a soup. I used about a tablespoon of each.

I like that the veggie bit of this is wide open so you can use what you want. I used spinach (a lot of it–it shrinks down markedly when you cook it), mushrooms, scallions, a few carrots, and a can of Chinese stir-fry vegetables I found in the Asian aisle of my supermarket, which were perfect for this. You could, of course, ditch the chicken or tofu and make this an Asian vegetable soup as well.

Get the mirin (also on the Asian aisle at the supermarket). You could substitute sherry with some sugar, but I think the mirin makes a huge flavor difference, and it keeps for a very long time so you’ll use it all up. That’s also where you’ll find the soba noodles, which leads me to…

If you’re going to have leftovers or you’re making this for a few days, don’t add the noodles to the soup in the pot. Instead, put some noodles in your bowl and ladle the soup over it, and then store the noodles in the fridge by themselves. Each time you heat a bowl up, add noodles. That way, they won’t disintegrate into mush by day 2.

This would be delicious with a shot of sriracha or other hot sauce if you like your Chinese food spicy. As it was, it reminded me greatly of my favorite soba noodle soup from my favorite Asian restaurant, and was perfect for my calm, productive weekend at home. I hope you try it, and thanks to Debbie for writing it!

Barbecue Chicken Chopped Salad

24 Aug

A couple of you asked me to explain this salad yesterday when I mentioned it in a post about roasting canned or frozen corn to freshen it up. Your wish is my command, loves.

First up, I’ll admit–that photo above isn’t mine. That’s the chopped barbecue salad at Panera Bread, which inspired me to roast some corn in the first place. I took a photo of my salad yesterday, but the chicken didn’t look so much like chicken (we’ve established that I am not a photographer) and that didn’t seem right.

On to the good stuff. This works equally well with pulled chicken already mixed with barbecue sauce, or plain sliced chicken (poached, roasted, or rotisserie) onto which you pour a little BBQ. I’ve seen it done both ways. I prefer pulled only because I am a barbecue sauce fiend and enjoy a lot of it on my greens, but you do what makes you happy.

My only solid recommendation for this salad is that you stick with romaine lettuce. It’s crunchy and crisp and mild, so it doesn’t overwhelm the rest of the salad. You can still taste everything else. I’ve tried other lettuces and they’re either too watery (iceberg), too limp (butter) or too strong in flavor (everything else).

This is a layered salad. I usually layer all the ingredients except the chicken and dressing in a big bowl, cover it with plastic wrap, and keep it in the fridge for a few days, scooping out what I want at any moment, adding chicken and dressing to that, and returning the rest of the naked greens and veggies to the icebox for the next day.

Be creative with this. If you don’t like beans, leave them out or change them up. Ditto for cheese, onion, or anything else. This is a very flexible plan for a yummy salad. My only other bit of advice is to go easy on the dressing–you really just want a drizzle to perk up the barbecue sauce a bit. Too much, and your sauce will be overwhelmed and the whole thing will taste a bit off.

So. On with the party! In a big bowl, layer all or some of the following according to your taste:

Romaine lettuce

Corn kernels (roasted as we chatted about yesterday, or plain)

Black or pinto beans, rinsed well and drained

Tomato, either cherry/grape or big and chopped

Onion. I prefer red and chopped small, but caramelized sweet onion is also delicious.

Cucumber, peeled and chopped.

Cheddar cheese or queso fresco

All of the above will store in the fridge for several days. When you’re ready to eat some, scoop it into a bowl and add:

Chopped avocado

A drizzle of ranch dressing

Pulled chicken (or rotisserie/roasted/poached chicken with bbq sauce on top)

 

Mix together and enjoy!

 

Don’t forget my giveaway!! It’s super easy!

1) “Like” Playing With My Dinner on Facebook and post a note on the wall saying hi so I know you’re new in town, or

2) Convince a friend to “like” the blog and post a note telling me you referred them, and…

You can win a $30 giftcard to Williams-Sonoma! Buy yourself a super fun present to have even more fun by the stove! Like the blog or refer a friend by September 1 to enter!

 

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!”?

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.”

Score!

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.

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