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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.

Breakfast Quinoa

16 Apr

I have a super-healthy friend who loves quinoa (which makes total sense–the nutritional stats on this whole grain are unbelievable and it’s tasty too), and she mentioned to me this weekend that she was going to try to do something with it for breakfast. That sounded like an outstanding idea to me. I mean, if egg protein is good for you first thing in the morning, quinoa protein must just about knock breakfast out of the park from a staying-full-all-morning standpoint.

I came home and started thinking about making quinoa a little bit sweet and a little bit cereal-like, and that led to thoughts of rice pudding. If you’ve never had rice pudding, you should give it a try–it’s sweet and cinnamony and really not so bad for you as far as desserts go. Since quinoa cooks like rice and takes up flavors like rice, I decided to make a quinoa pudding out of it, using coconut milk (which is also really good for you) and similar spices to what I’d cook in a rice pudding.

To be honest, my first try was less than stellar. Quinoa needs a lot more liquid to get pudding-ish than rice does and I ended up with a good-tasting but too-dense bowl of grains. Whoops. But I made a second batch, let it chill out in the fridge overnight, and dished myself out some this morning with a little extra milk and some banana.

Yummy. A little bit goes a long way, what with the whole grain and the protein, and this has the outstanding benefits of being gluten-free and casein-free if you go with all coconut milk (which, for the record, does not taste like coconut. It’s just a sweeter milk than cow milk). Bananas were great with it, but blueberries would also be super yummy. Peaches or apples too.

My kids won’t touch this. Be prepared for that reaction. It’s fine, though. More yumminess for me without anybody asking to share. I got about four bowls from this recipe, and am looking forward to breakfast all week as a result. Which makes me happy. 🙂

Want to try quinoa for breakfast? You need:

1/2 cup quinoa, very well rinsed (it’s bitter–rinsing it really really well will get rid of that)

1 14-oz can of light coconut milk

3/4 cup regular milk (or more coconut milk if you’re going for dairy-free)

1/2 tsp cinnamon

1/4 tsp nutmeg

2 tsp brown sugar

1/4 tsp salt

1/4 cup coconut flakes (optional–I really like coconut, but skip this if you don’t)

In a medium-sized saucepan, whisk together your milks and spices. Stir in your rinsed quinoa, turn your burner on medium, and let it come to a boil. Keep an eye on this–coconut milk comes to a very fast, violent boil just like milk. As soon as you start seeing bubbles, lower your heat to medium-low and stir every 10 minutes or so for 30 to 45 minutes, or until the mixture takes on a cream-of-wheat kind of texture. I made this while we ate dinner, so the time and stirring wasn’t such a big deal.

Take it off the heat and stir in the coconut if you’re using it. Cool, cover, and pop into the refrigerator overnight. In the morning, dish yourself out a bit and add fruit and extra milk as desired. Be happy.

Leftover Magic: Honey Roasted Sweet Potatoes as Breakfast

5 Apr

See that up there? It doesn’t look like much, I know. But break the eggs and stir it all together and you have one of the most decadent-tasting, satisfying breakfasts I know of, and it’s a healthy way to start off your day. Swear.

I don’t have a cute family story to tell you about this one–my kids won’t touch this. Which is totally fine with me, because it’s one of my favorites and their disinterest means more for me, quite frankly, without anybody asking me to share. We moms share very well, but once in awhile, it’s nice to have something delicious that’s only touched by your own fork.

That said, we’re going to move straight onto the recipe, which is the best part of this–it’s so stinkin’ easy and such a great way to empty out some leftovers that I can’t wait to share. You need:

Leftover honey roasted sweet potatoes. Click on that if you need the recipe for those. I’d say about a half-cup, but any amount will work.

Eggs

Olive oil

That’s it.

Heat a small pan over medium heat and drizzle it with a little olive oil to keep things from sticking. Stir around your leftover potatoes until they warm through–keep them moving for a few minutes so the honey doesn’t burn.

Once they’re warm, spread them out (or bunch them up, depending how many you have) into a solid layer. Very carefully break your egg or eggs on top. Lower the burner to low, and pop a lid on that puppy.

Wait about three minutes and then start checking your eggs for doneness–you want them cooked through but with runny yolks. Once you get there, slide the whole beautiful shebang onto a plate, cut the yolks open, and smile because this, my friends, is good stuff.

Baked Eggs Florentine

28 Mar

You know those mornings when you wish you could snap your fingers and have a healthy, hot, delicious breakfast appear? This is kind of like that. You dump everything into a ramekin and toss it in the oven, and voila. Eggs and vegetables that magically bake together into something that’s sophisticated and yummy, and jam-packed with nutrients to boot.

This is a riff off the baked eggs I posted not long after this blog was born. That’s still a great recipe, but I had a bunch of spinach and mushrooms in the fridge this week. They, I decided, looked like breakfast. And so it was. The result reminds me of something you’d get in a fancy restaurant–chi-chi places love putting eggs over salad–and it’s perfect for breakfast, brunch, or lunch. If you have a bunch of ramekins, you could do this for a party–they’re quick and easy and the single portions are perfect for a late morning gathering. And because they’re low-carb, they should work for just about everyone you’d want to entertain.

I am making this again today, gang. It is that good. For one serving, you need:

A small handful of spinach leaves, rinsed well

Two mushrooms, sliced or broken

Two eggs

A pinch of Parmesan cheese (omit if you want, but I wouldn’t)

Olive oil

Other veggies you have laying around–tomatoes, broccoli, onion, asparagus would all be nummy.

Heat your oven to 400 degrees. Spray your ramekin with olive oil. Put it onto a small baking pan to make moving it into and out of the oven easier.

Smoosh your spinach leaves into the dish–it’ll cook down quite a bit, so put in a little more than you think looks reasonable. Give them a small drizzle of oil, and top with the other veggies. On top of that, carefully break your eggs.

Sprinkle with a touch of Parmesan cheese (it’s salty–you don’t need extra salt) and pepper if you so desire. Bake it for about 10 – 15 minutes, depending on your oven; take it out when it looks slightly undercooked, because it’ll keep cooking in the dish for a minute or two after you take it out of the hot box. Grab a spoon and enjoy.

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!

Swiss Oatmeal

13 Jan

I met a friend for breakfast at my favorite breakfasty joint last week. Breakfast is a great time for us to meet, right after school dropoff and right before the daily phone calls start coming and the work needs doing and the emails start flying and the insanity smacks us right in our “what just happened” faces.

This was my first breakfast out since my healthy lifestyle resolution (day 12!), and it took me a minute to ponder the menu–clearly, my regular choice of scrambled eggs, breakfast potatoes, and toast with butter and grape jam was out unless I started running (and ran to, say, San Diego before afternoon carpool). After ordering my coffee, I chose Swiss Oatmeal, which was a mixture of rolled oats, yogurt, a little sugar, and fruit, served cold.

I said cold. As in, the oats aren’t cooked. They were soft, though, which led me to believe the mixture hadn’t just been whipped up. And gang, it was absolutely delicious. I had to learn how to make this at home, because one of the most difficult parts of reasonable eating for me is finding a breakfast that keeps me full until lunch without blowing half my daily calorie allotment.

I tried a recipe I found online that involved soaking the oats in water overnight and then mixing them with the yogurt and add-ins. It was good, but not as creamy as what I had at the restaurant. And that creaminess was what I wanted. Healthy and decadent. Yes, please.

Last night, I mixed my oats up with some unflavored nonfat Greek yogurt; I use Greek when possible because it is heavier and creamier than American-style yogurt, and it is packed to the gills with protein, which helps keep my tummy from yelping around 10 a.m. I stirred a little bit of lowfat milk in there, covered it up, stuck it in the fridge, and went to bed.

This morning, I stirred in a touch of brown sugar and some chopped up Honeycrisp apples, and took a bite.

Heaven. I, my friends, have a new favorite breakfast. And three hours later, I am not even a touch hungry.

Post this one on your fridge and toss it together before you go to bed tonight. You’ll thank me tomorrow. You need:

1/2 cup old-fashioned rolled oats

About 3 tbsp nonfat plain Greek yogurt

About 1 tbsp nonfat or low-fat milk

Brown sugar to taste (I used about a teaspoon–honey will work too)

Fruit to your liking, along with cinnamon, raisins, or anything else your heart desires.

In a small bowl, mix together the oats, yogurt, and milk the night before your yummy breakfast. It’ll be thick–that’s good. Cover it with plastic wrap and tuck it into your fridge, and then head off for slumberland.

In the morning, give that mixture a stir and add in your sweetener and fruit. Enjoy.

Froached Eggs

10 Jan

Show of hands: How many of y’all are addicted to Pinterest?

Me too. It is the ultimate window shopping experience, only there are tons of fantabulous ideas and projects and recipes there right alongside stuff you can buy. Creative heaven and ginormous time suck. Addicting to the nth degree.

One of the recipes I’ve seen floating around recently has been the perfect fried egg. It caught my eye because it was ridiculously easy and used almost no fat, which makes it fit in very nicely with my healthier-living New Year’s resolution (day 10!). Eggs are delicious and filled with all sorts of nutrients, so enjoying them without added oil or butter was too temping to not try. I printed out the pin, followed the directions, and held my breath.

Breakfast, y’all. This really did make a perfect fried egg. Well, it’s a cross between a fried egg and a poached egg, so I’m calling it “froached” (because I’m clever like that). No matter what you call it, it was delicious with a smidge of No-Salt and a slice of warm toast, and cleanup was a total snap–you’re steaming the eggs at the end, and the steam lifts those beauties right off the pan for you. No-scrub eggs. Tell me that’s not brilliant.

Pinterest success! Give this a shot, and if you need a Pinterest invite, I have lots to share–just leave me a comment with your email address. For a perfectly froached breakfast you need:

Two eggs

Olive oil spray

A tablespoon of water

Heat a small pan over medium heat until it’s good and hot–give it a few minutes. Once you’re there, spray it with olive oil and immediately crack your eggs in there, taking care not to break the yolks. Cook them for one minute, and then add a tablespoon of water to the pan, lower the flame down to low, clamp a lid on it, and let it be for two or three minutes (mine took three, but it’s going to depend on your pan and your stove). Remove your perfect eggs with a slotted spatula and enjoy.

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.

Parchment Paper Means No Clean Up!

16 Nov

Hey gang! Please join me in welcoming cookbook author and food blogger Brette Sember to the blog today! Brette is one of my foodie heroes because of her commitment to yummy food that’s easy, and her new The Parchment Paper Cookbook is all about that. Thanks for visiting with us and for this fantastic recipe, Brette!

By Brette Sember

I love cooking, but sometimes the clean up gets to me. I set out to find a way to make dinner without having to do a sink full of dishes—and I found it in parchment paper! Parchment paper packet cooking is a wonderful, revolutionary method that decreases the amount of fat needed for cooking and locks in flavor and nutrients. Best of all, with parchment paper cooking, there is no mess to clean up– no pots and pans to scrub. The food cooks in a parchment paper packet in the oven, making this perfect for busy moms, people with small kitchens, and anyone tired of doing a sink full of dishes after dinner.

Parchment paper is recyclable and compostable. Cooking with parchment also means you can cook your entire meal in one oven without turning any burners or using lots of hot water to scrub pots and pans.

You can buy parchment paper in your grocery store next to the foil and plastic wrap, or online from sellers like Amazon. Wilton and Reynolds both make parchment. The secret of parchment paper is that it is coated with silicone, which keeps moisture and flavors in, and keeps food from sticking. You layer your food onto the paper (no pots, pans, or big mixing bowls needed), fold it and bake. It’s that simple!

Parchment paper packets are a snap to cook with. Cut off an 18-20 inch piece of parchment and place your food in the center. Leave at least 4 inches on the sides. Now, grab the long ends of the paper and have them meet in the air in the middle, then just fold them down until you get to the food. You’ll end up with a long package. Now all you have to do is simply twist each end. (You can see illustrations at: http://nopotcooking.com/index.php/technique/). Place the packets on a baking sheet or toaster oven tray for ease in moving them around.

Easy Greek Chicken

Each packet serves 1

1/2 cup cooked couscous
1 boneless skinless chicken breast
1/4 cup packed fresh baby spinach leaves
2 slices tomato
Salt and pepper to taste
1/8 teaspoon Greek seasoning (substitute oregano if you don’t have this mix)
1/8 teaspoon onion powder
1/4 cup feta cheese

Preheat oven to 400 and prepare parchment paper. Place the couscous on the paper in roughly the shape of the chicken breast. Place the breast on top and place the spinach over that, then the tomatoes. Season with salt, pepper, Greek seasoning and onion powder and crumble the feta cheese over it. Fold the parchment and bake for about 35 minutes.

You can also add 1/8 cup sliced black olives to this or substitute one canned whole tomato, chopped, for the tomato slices.

Brette Sember is the author of The Parchment Paper Cookbook, published by Adams Media. She blogs about parchment paper cooking at www.NoPotCooking.com.

Roast Chicken, Party of One

3 Nov

I figured out the roast chicken thing, and I am a happy camper today.

I’ve told you before that my family is not a fan of roast chicken. Bunch of freaks. I mean really–ask any professional chef what their last meal on earth would be if they could choose, and chances are the answer will be roast chicken (somebody actually did that, by the way, and that really was the answer. I think there’s a book about it.). Cooked properly, a whole chicken is divine. It is simple and delicious and comforting and relatively simple, and my husband and my children complain about it as if I’ve snuck cyanide beneath its wings every time I pull one out of the oven.

It’s been a significant bone of contention around here, to be honest. I continue cooking meatballs and pizza quesadillas and all sorts of things they love (I love them too, but still), and I avoid the beautiful roasters at the grocery store just so I don’t have to listen to the moaning over a bird.

A BIRD. Honestly. It’s ridiculous.

So last night, DH was out at some work event and I grilled up a piece of beef for the kids, and I pulled a chicken breast out of the fridge and wondered what would happen if I roasted it just like a chicken–just that one piece. And I tried that.

What happened was what common sense says: I had a wonderful roast chicken dinner, just for me, and it was a thing of beauty.

The best part of this is that it is a one-dish meal, and it’s a dice-and-dump to boot. Chop chop, dump it in the pan, throw it in the oven, wait a bit, and voila. Dinner. Dinner worthy of a last meal, in fact, if we’re going to go there. I admit that I hummed to myself as I ate it, because the simple act of roasting a bit of a bird all for myself was a true delight.

I know some of you have the same chicken issue as I, and I highly recommend making yourself a lovely dinner once in awhile. It’s simple and easy and inexpensive, and there’s really no reason on earth not to do it. Head for your ovens, ladies. You need:

1 chicken breast, bone-in and skin-on

1/2 an onion (I use sweet onions) roughly chopped

1 sweet potato, peeled and cut into bite-sized pieces

1 orange or 1 lemon (I used orange, but either will be yummy), sliced into three slices

2 cloves of garlic, peeled and left whole

A sliver of butter (maybe 1/8 or 1/4 of a tablespoon)

Olive oil

Heat your oven to 400 degrees and spray a small casserole dish or baking dish (a bread pan would be great, but line it with foil so your next loaf isn’t savory) with olive oil or cooking spray.

In the dish, stir together your butter, onions, and sweet potatoes and give them a little dose of salt and pepper. Top the veggies with two citrus slices, and balance one clove of garlic on top of that. Add about a tablespoon of water to the dish:

Take your chicken breast and loosen the skin with your fingers to form a pocket. Into that pocket, slide your last fruit slice and the other clove of garlic. Spray that baby with olive oil, and gently lay it on top of the fruit and garlic in the pan.

Slide it into the oven and roast it until it’s done (160 degrees internally), which was about 40 minutes for me. Let the chicken sit for at least five minutes before you cut into it, to let its juices resettle, and then enjoy your perfect dinner for one.

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