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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.

Steakhouse Mushrooms

22 May

We had steak for dinner last night (marinate flank steak all day in soy sauce, Worcestershire, lemon zest, garlic, honey, sherry, and red pepper flakes, blot it dry, spray it with a little olive oil, and broil it 3″ from the flame on a cooling rack in a baking sheet until the meat hits 145 degrees in the center, flipping once). I didn’t eat beef for a long time–12 years–and rarely missed it, but I’m glad it’s back in my diet. Lots of iron. Lots of yummy. Moderation.

The thing I did miss all that time, though was sauteed mushrooms. And I don’t know why on earth I didn’t just make some. They’re traditional to serve with steak, sure, but it’s so easy to whip some up and they go with so many things (I may or may not have had a bowl as a snack this week, all on their own) that I really should have made them much sooner. Spoon some over a burger. Serve them up with roast chicken. Snarf them down right out of the pan. Whatever suits your fancy.

These are super easy and very economical–use whatever cheapie mushrooms are in your grocery store. Buttons, baby bellas, whatever. You can make them with larger ‘shrooms too, but cut them up first. And they are delicious. Beefy tasting and yummy-savory-garlicky in a subtle kind of way, and the kind of thing you’d likely get aside your steak in one of those chi-chi restaurants none of us can afford.

Pull out your pan and a few pantry staples, kids (speaking of, my kids wouldn’t touch these. Fine with me–pile my plate high, picky people). You’re going to love these mushrooms. You need:

1 pint mushrooms, cleaned and sliced

About 1 tsp olive oil

2 tsp Worcestershire sauce

1 tsp soy sauce

1 clove garlic, very finely minced (or a Dorot frozen garlic cube, which is what I used)

salt

Put a small saucepan or saucier over a medium burner and let it heat up for a few minutes. Pour in the olive oil and swirl it around to coat the bottom of the pan. Dump in your mushrooms, hit ’em with a pinch or two of salt, and stir for a second. Then leave them alone for stretches of about 5 minutes. You’re going to see a lot of liquid in the pan and think things are going wrong, but have patience. After a little while, your mushrooms are going to start to brown and then they’re going to soak up all that liquid like magic.

Once your mushrooms get a nice light brown on them, stir in the Worcestershire and soy sauce, and then stir in five-minute increments again. Your mushrooms are going to soak up the sauce and then start to caramelize on the bottom of the pan. Once they are a deep golden brown, stir in your garlic and keep everything moving constantly for about two minutes–you want to get rid of the sharp raw garlic taste, but you don’t want to burn it. Take it off the heat and sing a little song to the mushroom gods, because this, my friends, is heaven.

Twofer! Cilantro-Lime Scented Rice, and Easy-Peasy Burrito Bowls

10 May

My poor blog.

My poor kitchen.

Ignored, ignored, ignored.

Y’all have these weeks, right? (Please say yes.) These weeks when the day starts and you blink and it’s over? Spring seems to be the worst for it. School is insane and work is crazy-busy (which is a good thing!) and activities are ramping up and the things that are non-necessary go right out the window for awhile? It’s been like that around here, and we’ve been eating lots of favorite dishes–the things I can make with my eyes closed and what’s in my freezer and pantry. Stuff I’ve already shared with you.

The other day, though, I moved my office into my kitchen and started playing with food in between returning calls and doing all the must-dos, and do you know what happened? Besides my house smelling glorious and my mood improving immensely (playing with food is zen!)?

My kids declared this the “best dinner ever.” Cleared their plates and asked for more, and it was healthy! Thank you, hour of happiness!

Today, you get a twofer. I’m going to tell you how to make my burrito bowls, which are a combination of cilantro-lime scented rice (I call it that because the flavors are subtle but delicious) and the fixings to turn that into a whole meal. Let’s start with the rice.

To make it, you need:

1 1/2 cups of uncooked white rice

1 tbsp butter

The juice of a lime

A small bunch of cilantro (trust me–it’s not overpowering here)

2 3/4 cups of water

A dash of salt

Put a small saucepan over a medium flame and melt your butter in it. Stir in your lime juice and rice and cook it for just a moment or two, to let the rice soak up the flavors. Once the butter and juice have been absorbed, add your water, put a lid on it, and bring it to a boil. Then lower the heat, crack the lid a little bit (to avoid mushy rice), and let it simmer until all the liquid is gone–about 20 minutes(ish). Once that happens, chop your cilantro (you want a tablespoon or so of very finely chopped herb), remove the rice from the heat, and stir everything together. Eat immediately or pop this in the fridge for later–it reheats beautifully.

Easy, right? Smelling yummy? So now you need to make the rest of the stuff for your burrito bowls.

I’m using beef for this recipe. I bought a 3-pound pot roast and cut it in half. Half went into this dish, and the other half was wrapped tightly and put in the freezer for another night. Pot roast was on sale and we’ll get another dinner out of it. Always good. But you can use chicken or pork just the same–whatever you like. It’s all going to act pretty much the same.

This is one of those dishes, actually, that you should tailor for your own family. Use my directions more as a method than a recipe. Use the veggies you like, the toppings you like, the meat you like. Totally versatile. You could even do this with fish, but I’d recommend grilling it rather than putting it in the slow cooker as we’ll do with meat.

So. Burrito bowls. Best dinner ever. Ready? You need:

1.5 pounds of beef (use chicken, pork, or turkey if you’d rather)

2 cups of beef broth (use chicken broth if you’re going with white meat)

1 tbsp fajita seasoning (I get mine at the Spice Hunter; use the grocery store stuff if you want, but watch the salt)

1 tsp ground cumin

1 tsp garlic powder

1/2 tsp onion powder

1 onion, halved and cut into half-moon slices

2 peppers (I used red bell. Use whatever veggies you like)

Toppings: We used cheese, salsa, and chopped avocado.

Spray your slow cooker with olive oil. Pour the broth into it.

Combine all the spices above and gently rub your meat with them on all sides. Let it sit for 15-20 minutes at room temperature (you won’t die unless it’s a super hot day. Room temp for a bit lets the meat and rub get to know each other. If it’s super hot and you don’t have your A/C on, do this in the fridge for an hour or two.). Gently put it in the slow cooker and cook on low 8 hours or high 4, or a combination of the two.

I suspect you could pitch the veggies in the crock right along with the meat–if anybody tries that, please come back and let us know. But I made mine on the stovetop:

Heat a heavy skillet (I like cast iron for this) over medium heat and add a little olive oil. Immediately stir in your onions with a pinch of salt. Let those cook until they’re nice and dark brown and crunchy-like around the edges. Remove them from the pan and set aside.

Cut your pepper into strips and lay them, skin-side down, in the same skillet. Let them cook about 5 minutes or until charred. Put those to the side with the onions.

When your slow cooker time is done, carefully remove your meat to a cutting board and shred it with two forks. You’re ready to assemble your burrito bowls!

Put a scoop of rice into each bowl and top it with the charred veggies, meat, and toppings. How stinkin’ easy is that? Happy dinner! Ole!

 

Chicken Enchilada Pie

1 May

Y’all are going to have to forgive my photos today–it’s been one of those days. Apologies.

You know how you have those weeks (months, whatever) when you try to be inventive in the kitchen and you work with ingredients that everybody in your family likes, and then you put a steaming dish of deliciousness on the table and somebody under four feet tall pronounces it “disgusting”?

Been there. Been there a lot lately, actually. My daughter has decided that really, only mac n cheese (out of the blue box) and ham sandwiches are worthy of her increasingly discriminating palate. I’ve been doing a lot of shrugging and “more for me, then” talking, but it’s terribly frustrating, especially because she’s rejecting food I know she actually likes. And after awhile, it starts to wear a person down to the point that approaching the stove comes with a sigh, because the cook already knows that nothing is going to be good enough.

Right? If it makes you feel any better, we all go there. Plowing through is tough, I know (especially if you kind of put your heart and soul into dinner), but must be done. So today, I bring you our dinner from last night, which my little darling actually ate without complaint. I’m not sure if she actually liked it or she was just tired of being hungry, but she ate it. I’m calling it a success; I liked it, anyway.

This is a great dinner to make ahead and there are several stopping points along the way. This is awesomeness for working parents or busy parents who may not have the full 45 minutes or so all in one shot to make this. If you do, rock on and get ‘er done in one fell swoop. It’s all good.

The inspiration for this was a Cooking Light recipe. That one used ground beef; I’m using whole chicken breasts. It also had one more tortilla layer in there and used commercial taco seasoning, which the rest of us know is mostly salt and pretty well horrendous and expensive. They called for canned broth. Because I started with chicken, I could skip that.  I used a few different methods than they did as well, to further cut calories and to simplify things a bit.

The result is a chicken enchilada dish without the rolling, that bakes in a pie plate. Kids think real food that looks like pie is cool. Who am I to argue?

To make chicken enchilada pie, you need:

1 pound chicken breasts

1 tbsp chili powder

1 tsp ground cumin

1/2 cup chopped onion (I used half a Vidalia)

2 cloves of garlic, minced (I used frozen Dorot garlic–look by the veggies in your grocery freezer)

1 1/2 tbsp flour

1 8-oz can tomato sauce

2 tsp fajita seasoning (I get mine at the Spice Hunter and use it for all sorts of things–it’s salt-free)

1/2 tsp dried oregano

2 tsp chili powder

1 tsp ground cumin

3 whole-wheat or regular flour tortillas

1/2 cup shredded Mexican cheese (cheddar, jack…whatever you like)

Garnishes of your choosing: Guacamole, salsa, olives, onions, jalapenos, sour cream, etc.

Fill a saucepan 2/3 of the way with water. Bring that to a boil. Add in the first amounts of chili powder and cumin, and then carefully drop in your chicken breasts. Poach them until they’re cooked through, about 15-20 minutes. Carefully fish them out (don’t dump the liquid–you need some) and shred them with two forks (do this while they’re hot–it’s easiest). If you’re stopping here, put the chicken in a bowl, cover, and refrigerate, and do the same with one cup of the cooking liquid.

Coat a pan with olive oil, heat it over a medium burner, and cook your onions until they’re soft, about 5 minutes. Add the garlic, give it a stir to incorporate it into the oil, and add the flour, stirring constantly for about two minutes (to get rid of the raw flour taste). After that, stir in the rest of your spices. Stir in the tomato sauce and one cup of the chicken poaching liquid, bring everything to a boil, and let it cook for about two minutes. Turn the heat off.

Scoop out 1/2 cup of the tomato sauce you just made and set it aside. Into the pan with the rest of the sauce, stir your chicken to coat it all–it will not be super wet.

Spray a deep pie dish with olive oil and lay a tortilla in the bottom. Spread half the chicken mixture over the tortilla, Top with another tortilla, and layer the rest of the chicken on top of that. Your last tortilla goes on top. Pour the reserved 1/2 cup of tomato sauce on top of that, sprinkle your cheese over the sauce. If you need to stop here, cover the pie with plastic wrap and pop it in the fridge. Otherwise, keep going.

When you’re ready to finish dinner, heat your oven to 400 degrees. Put your uncovered pie dish on a cookie sheet (just in case it bubbles over), and bake it for about 15-20 minutes, until the cheese is melted and everything is hot. Pull it out of the oven, let it sit for five minutes, cut into wedges (I got eight out of mine), and serve with your garnishes.

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.

Don’t-Tell-‘Em-They’re-Whole-Wheat Pancakes

2 Apr

Before you shake your head and mutter about whole wheat flour and head off to Paula Deen’s site for some real pancakes for the love of Bisquick, give me a second to tell you about Friday night.

Friday night starts in the mountains of western Maryland where, about 10 minutes outside of a lakeside area that makes its money almost purely on tourism, stands Annie’s Kitchen, which is a third-generation (I think) working-class, meat and mashed potatoes, over-easy eggs and scrapple kind of restaurant. Linoleum floors, mismatched tables and chairs, diner coffee cups from before Crate & Barrel started making them, and waitresses who know everybody in town, and every thing about every body. You know the kind of place–the hole-in-the-wall you only tried because you wanted something off the beaten path, and any shake-shack of a dive with that many pickup trucks in the parking lot had to have something going for it.

Once you try it, of course, you understand that this may well be the best breakfast joint you’ve ever had the supreme pleasure of visiting, and that unless you want a heart attack before your 50th birthday, you’d best not visit all that often.

We were not in western Maryland on Friday night, but our story starts there because when we are, my kids beg to go to Annie’s for breakfast. Pancakes, they say. At Annie’s.

So. Friday night was a meat-free night for our family. DH and I had enjoyed a large, late lunch and weren’t particularly hungry at 6 p.m., but the kids were starving. Wanting something simple in both the cooking and the clean-up department, I promised them pancakes; we’ve talked before about how I always make a mess of them and stow the extras in the freezer for very fast hot breakfasts later on. Pancakes for dinner become a two-fer in my house, and two-fers are gold this time of year.

I pulled out my handy-dandy copy of How to Cook Everything and flipped to the basic pancake recipe, and decided right then and there that it would be an outstanding night to muck around with it and see if there was any magic to be had in the healthy-but-good department. And so I swapped out this for that, upped this other thing over here, figured out how to add in a simple chemical reaction to give me lots of air bubbles in the batter and lighten things up (thank you, years of Alton Brown), messed with the mixing part a little bit, and produced a whole-wheat pancake. Which I spread with a little butter and a touch of syrup and served, without a word, to my little guys.

The 8-year-old took a bite and nodded and told me hers were really good. And the 10-year-old…guess what he said about these healthier pancakes with their grainy goodness?

“Mom…you made Annie’s pancakes! These are Annie’s!”

We had not, for the record, talked about Annie’s in weeks. Just so you know. And I am 99.99 percent confident that Annie’s pancakes are most definitely not whole wheat.

My kitchen smelled divine and I’ll have you know that my kids stuffed themselves with whole-wheat pancakes. The ingredient swaps and changes made them just as light and fluffy as regular flapjacks, and they froze and reheated beautifully so I still got my twofer. This recipe is absolutely our family’s new pancake standard, and I feel pretty darned good about that. I hope your family likes them just as much, because they are no more difficult than normal pancakes (which are really very easy). To make them, you need:

1 cup whole-wheat flour (I prefer King Arthur brand, which is soft and very easy to work with)

1 cup all-purpose flour

1 tbsp plus 1/2 tsp baking soda

1/2 tsp salt

1 egg plus two egg whites (the extra whites mean fluffy goodness with wheat flour)

2 tbsp vinegar mixed with enough milk to equal 1 1/2 cups (this’ll react with the baking soda for more fluffy stuff)

2 tbsp melted butter

Get your griddle heating up first–you want that bad boy to be screaming hot when the first pancake hits.

In a large bowl (I use my batter bowl), whisk together all the dry goods. Then, stir in the wet stuff with a whisk. Voila–your pancakes are ready to cook. Told you it was easy! Cook them on a hot griddle or fry pan until you see dry bubbles around the outer edges, and then flip them until they’re done.

Hint: The batter is going to fizz up a bit between batches as the baking soda and the vinegar get to know each other (and no you do not taste vinegar in these at all–trust me, my kids would revolt). Give the batter a quick stir before you pour each round of pancakes to get it to settle down and pour nicely for you. These are also going to want to stick to your griddle a bit, so give it a swipe of your nonstick goodness of choice between batches.

And don’t tell anybody our little wheat secret!

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