Friday, April 27, 2012

Don't Be Scared!

So my sister says to me the other day, "I think your blog might be intimidating because your pictures are so good".  OK. First, thanks Ouije for thinking my pictures are so good (although there are many that could be much better!) but second and more importantly- NOOOO! Don't say that.  The point of this blog was to get people to cook at home instead of eating out or buying processed foods all the time! Every recipe I have posted really is quite doable and to prove it, one of these days I'm going to rope my brother in law into trying one out (of course he'll have to let me take pictures!) and you will see.  I'm not saying he can't cook but he's more of a grill guy and I don't think he spends much time with recipes.  By the way we have not yet discussed this...but I've been meaning to ask him.  I'll get back to you on this matter.
Let's discuss what you should be scared of.  Hot Pockets. For real.  Check out this poster by graphic artist Justin Perricone .
This poster is an artful arrangement of all of the ingredients in a ham and cheese Hot Pocket.  No joke.  Scared yet?  You should be.  I have found an alternative in my trusty Food TV Magazine and although they take more than 30 seconds to make they are not exactly difficult.  Phoebe and I made Broccoli-Cheddar Pockets and Tomato Soup (not Campbell's).
The soup is really simple and really tasty.  It's a Rachel Ray recipe that I've been making for years.  Everything you need is in this photo.  You can get it going and let it simmer while you make the pockets.

Quick Tomato Soup (adapted from Rachel Ray)

2 15oz cans chicken broth
1 28oz can crushed tomatoes
1 cup half & half (she uses heavy cream but this works just as well)
Coarse salt and fresh cracked pepper
fresh basil

Combine broth and tomatoes over medium heat.  Once it comes to a light bubble, stir in half & half.  Season with salt and pepper and toss in a few tablespoons of chopped fresh basil.  Let simmer for 15 min.  Puree with immersion blender if needed.

OK, that was easy.  Now on to the pockets.  Obviously these would be better made with homemade bread dough (which I will attempt at a later date), but since most people are pressed for time during the week, a tube of French bread dough will do.  You're still going to knock about 50 or more ingredients off of that scary list above.
First you will bring a medium saucepan of lightly salted water to a boil.  Add the broccoli and cook for 1 minute.  Drain, rinse, pat, move on.
Next you will shred some cheddar and chop some chives and mix with light sour cream and the broccoli.
Next, cut the tube of dough into 4 pieces and roll out into rectangles (that's not much of a rectangle Nelsy).  Then you divide the filling into fourths and plop it in the center and fold it up like a burrito.
A little egg wash on top and pop them in the preheated 425 degree oven until golden brown.  About 15 min (hey! that's how long the soup needs to convenient).
There.  Now doesn't that look better than something that has 9 million ingredients and was cooked in the microwave?  It does, just admit it.

Broccoli-Cheddar Pockets (Food TV Magazine)

Kosher salt
1 1/2 cups chopped broccoli
1 3/4 cups grated sharp cheddar cheese
3 Tbs light sour cream
2 Tbs chopped fresh chives
vegetable oil for brushing
all purpose flour for dusting
1 11oz tube refrigerated French bread dough
1 egg

Bring a saucepan of lightly salted water to a boil.  Add broccoli and cook for 1 min.  Drain and rinse with cold water until cool; pat dry. Mix the broccoli, cheese, chives and sour cream in a bowl until combined, then squeeze the mixture together with your hands to make it compact. Brush a baking sheet with a little vegetable oil. On a floured surface cut dough into four equal pieces and roll out into rectangles. Add 1/4 of the filling to each one and fold in the sides like a burrito, pinching the dough to seal.  Place pockets seam side down on the sheet. Beat one egg and 1 Tbs water in a small bowl and brush over each pocket. Bake until golden brown, about 15 min.
There you go, a typically highly processed meal made a little more real. We've got a few ideas for some alternate fillings. I'll keep ya posted.

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Super Supper

I'm pretty excited to share this latest discovery with those of you who love to cook and those who don't really cook much yet (hopefully you're changing your minds).  The other night we had another one of Giada DeLaurentis' fabulous recipes called Swordfish and Spaghetti with Citrus Pesto.  It has everything I like in a weeknight dinner.  Another idea for serving up fish to the family (remember twice a week is what we should shoot for), it involves pesto (which is the best because you pack in a ton of flavors with very little effort) and it is easy and quickly made.  If you have a food processor or a blender then you can make pesto and I suggest you do so very soon. 
I like to use my ultra fancy circa 1988 "La Machine I" for my food processing needs.  If you haven't noticed yet, my kitchen is where my Mom's old kitchen gadgets go to die.  Unfortunately some of them have incredible lifespans (I might have to kill this one myself so I can get a new one for my birthday this year).  I'm all for nostalgia but sometimes you just want to bring things up to date, ya know?
Now this pesto is much like your regular basil pesto but with the unexpected addition of orange and lemon.  What a lovely and fresh twist to an old favorite. 
Pick the leaves of one whole bunch of basil, toss in a clove (or three) of garlic and some pine nuts that you have carefully toasted (watching like a stalker so they don't burn because those suckers are not cheap).  I have been known to use pistachios if I don't have pine nuts on hand. Just as tasty.
You also add the zest and juice of one lemon and one orange.  No fancy tools needed for this task either.  We all had the box grater back in '76 did we not?  I'll admit, this is the newer and smaller replacement of the one my mother handed down to me (it eventually got pretty beat up, maybe a little rusty even).  So you add it all to the blender/processor and blend until finely chopped.  Then add olive oil to the running machine until smooth.  Transfer to a bowl and stir in Parmesan cheese.
The swordfish is a simple prep, salt, pepper and a drizzle of olive oil.  This fish was bought frozen in packages of two at about $16.00 total for all four.  It's not your cheapest  meal but again, comparing to eating out and the health benefits we get from eating fish, I say it's worth it to spend the money every once in a while if you can.  Grill the fish about 5 min on each side.  While the fish is grilling cook your spaghetti according to the package directions.
Drain the pasta and top with the pesto tossing until well combined (as you can see we threw some asparagus into the pasta water too!).
This would be great on it's own or even with chicken or grilled shrimp.  Definitely with grilled shrimp!
And there you have it.  An impressive meal with not much work involved, its a win-win!

Swordfish and Spaghetti with Citrus Pesto (Giada DeLaurentis)

1 lb spaghetti pasta
1 bunch fresh basil, about 3 cups leaves
1/2 cup pine nuts, toasted
1 clove garlic (I always use more than recommended)
1 lemon, zest grated and juiced
1 orange, zest grated and juiced
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp fresh ground pepper
1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil
1 cup grated Parmesan

Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil and cook spaghetti according to directions, about 9 min.  Drain pasta and reserve 1/2 cup of pasta water.

Blend basil, pine nuts, garlic, zests, juices, salt and pepper in a food processor until finely chopped.  With the machine running, gradually add oil until mixture is smooth and creamy.  Transfer to a bowl and stir in the Parm.  Toss with warm spaghetti and add reserved pasta water as needed to loosen.

Meanwhile, place a grill pan over med-high heat or preheat a charcoal or gas grill.  Brush both sides of fish with olive oil and season with salt and pepper.  Grill 4-5 min a side for 1 inch thick fillet. Serve along side or on top of pasta.
I recommend adding some asparagus or a green salad.  Dig in and enjoy!

Sunday, April 15, 2012

Dish To Pass

Summer is on the horizon and inevitably there will be events in which a dish to pass will be required.  I, admittedly, am not so adept at pasta salad.  I can whip one up but they usually bore me.  Some people are just better at it than others I've decided.  Maybe I'm missing the pasta salad gene.  Guess what, I don't care because last night I tried a new (non pasta) salad that is a perfect dish to pass.  So, I thought I'd share.  As usual, it came out of my Food TV Magazine.  It's called Lemon-Herb Rice Salad.  Now, there is only one thing I didn't love and that was the use of mint.  Many recipes call for mint and I stay away from them.  I just don't care for it.  I was brave though and I made it as directed.  Next time, I'm leaving out the mint.  You do whatever makes you happy.
While you cook up two cups of long-grain white rice as directed on the bag, you put a 1/4 cup of vegetable oil and a large piece of lemon rind on the stove over medium heat.  You're making lemon oil! Cool, right?   It takes about 5 min then let it cool.
While that's working you slice up some red onion and make a dressing of lemon juice, rice vinegar, light brown sugar, salt and pepper.  Then add the lemon oil and whisk it together.  You let the onions marinate in the dressing for 15 min (just about enough time to cool the rice to room temp).
While things are marinating and cooling and such, you can chop up some cucumber, shred a carrot,  and roughly chop some fresh basil, cilantro and mint.  Also a good time to wash off your greens if needed.  The recipe calls for watercress but we used some baby lettuce mix that we had on hand. 
Then you toss it all together with the dressing and wa-la!  A really great summer salad.  This will go perfectly with any cookout menu.

Lemon-Herb Rice Salad Food TV Magazine

2 lemons
1/4 cup vegetable oil
2 cups long-grain white rice
2 Tbs rice vinegar
2 tsp packed light brown sugar
salt and pepper
1/2 med red onion, thinly sliced
1 med carrot, shredded
1 Kirby cucumber (I used 1/2 a regular cucumber), seeded and diced
1/2 cup chopped salted roasted peanuts (just realized mine were whole-oops)
1/2 cup fresh cilantro, roughly chopped
1/2 cup fresh mint, roughly chopped
1/2 cup fresh basil, roughly chopped
1 bunch of watercress, tough stems removed, leaves torn (any baby lettuce will work if you cant find watercress).

Remove 2 wide strips of zest from 1 lemon with a vegetable peeler.  Combine 1 strip with the vegetable oil in a small saucepan over medium heat and cook until the edges of the zest turn slightly golden, about 5 min.  Let lemon oil cool.

Meanwhile, cook the rice as label directs, adding the other strip of zest to the water.  Transfer cooked rice to a large bowl, discarding zest, and fluff with a fork.  Let cool to room temp.

Meanwhile, make the dressing: Juice both lemons into a med bowl.  Add the vinegar, brown sugar, 1 1/4 tsp salt and 1/2 tsp pepper and whisk until the sugar dissolves.  Discard zest from lemon oil, then whisk oil into the dressing.  Add onion slices and let marinate 15 min.

Add carrot, cucumber, peanuts, cilantro, mint, basil and watercress to the bowl of rice.  Add the dressing mixture and gently toss.
We had it along side some grilled steak and steamed broccoli.  This recipe is going to get some serious use this summer, I hope you like it as much as I do!

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Jump Start

Are you a cereal eater?  I am on the weekends.  I don't love a lot of the cereals out there though.  I like Life but sometimes seems a little sweeter than I would like and I do like Cheerios but only if I have craisons on hand to make them less boring.  I honestly never considered making my own cereal.  That is until I caught an episode of The Chew a couple of months ago and now I'm hooked.  Clinton Kelly's Favorite Granola is super easy to make, really tasty and a good project for the kids if their looking for something to do.
You start with 3 cups of old fashioned oats.  Who couldn't use more oats in their life?  A great source of fiber and protein, they are a heart healthy food.
Add to that 1/2 cup almonds, 1/2 cup unsweetened coconut (which we had to go to a specialty store for that because our grocer only had the sweet stuff) and 1/2 cup sunflower seeds.  In another bowl mix 1/2 cup peanut oil and 1/2 cup honey.  Always measure oil out first because this makes the honey slide right out of the cup or off the spoon which ever the case may be.
Now mix the contents of both bowls together until well coated.  Add 1/2 cup raisins and 1/2 cup dried cranberries.  Obviously you can mix and match to your liking (I say this because I'm not a fan of raisins and will probably leave them out next time).
Spread the mixture on to two baking sheets and bake in a 250 oven for about an hour, stirring once or twice until browned to your liking.
This makes the house smell pretty darn good.  Let it cool before digging in. It gets crunchy as it cools.
I eat mine with low fat vanilla yogurt for breakfast but it can satisfy a sweet craving any time of day.
Visit The Chew for the printable version of this recipe.  Its a good way to jump start the day!

Friday, April 6, 2012

Leftover Pizza

How often does pizza make the weekly lineup in your house?  We don't have it every week but sometimes more than others.  We have gotten so that we like homemade pizza better than take out. I think its because it a little less greasy (part-skim mozzarella makes a big difference!) and we can make how ever many kinds we want.  Another reason I like to make it at home is because its the perfect way to use up leftovers from during the week. 
We usually pick up a ball of dough or two at a local pizza shop or bakery.  Its cheaper and tastier than the grocery store dough.
My very favorite pizza sauce comes in a can.  I'm pretty particular when it comes to pizza and I think this sauce is really good.  It doesn't need any doctoring and I'll admit, I kind of just like retro feel of the can too. 
Years ago, my brother lived in the North End of Boston.  I cannot even tell you how fantastic the smells in the streets are there.  Walking along the bumpy brick roads where elderly women lean out of their windows and yell to each other in Italian from the other side of the street, the smell of garlic, basil and other aromas fill the air.  It is really something to experience. We went to one little pizza shop about 13 years ago and I had a piece of pizza that I will never forget.  Chicken, potato and pepperoncini pizza to this day remains my fave.  Phoebe is hooked now too.  If you're a central New Yorker,  you probably eat your fair share of salt potatoes (or as my Oregonian husband calls them-little potatoes cooked with lots of salt).  We always end up with a few leftovers so here is a great way to use them up.  I chop up some leftover chicken and slice up some spuds.  I like to heat them up with a touch of olive oil and some garlic powder in a non stick pan first to give them a little crisp.

The pepperoncini's make it even better.  There you have it, leftover pizza.  Pizza made from leftovers. 
Since I frequently use fresh mozzarella and fresh basil, sometimes I have just enough left over to use up on a pizza.  Mmmm a Margherita pizza is a very good thing.

This one has some leftover asparagus on half of it.  I once went through a phase in high school when I was always making pizza with green beans on it (remember that Mom?).
Now this is not something I usually make, Prosciutto and Arugula pizza.  This fancy pizza was made for Nelsy's 40th birthday party (among other things of course!).  It was a major hit.  I had no idea that it would go over as big as it did.
So there you have it, a nice pizza and salad dinner, less greasy and you got to clean out the fridge!

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Paprika! I got it!

Lately, I seem to have a thing for paprika.  Gone are the days when I thought it's sole purpose was to fancy up a deviled egg or make the tuna noodle look a little less...tuna noodley.  I really dig the stuff now so when I see a recipe that flaunts it, I'm in.  Last night I made Spanish Chicken and Potato Roast from my trusty Food TV Magazine.  It was really easy and had a weekend feel on a busy week night.  I followed the recipe and did not make any changes (well, I used bone in chicken thighs instead of boneless but all that did was make it take a lot longer to cook!).  I'm not sure if I'm becoming salt sensitive or what but this did seem a tad salty so next time I will be cutting back.
First you preheat your oven with a cast-iron skillet or pot in it to 500 degrees (you might want to clean that apple pie spill off of the oven floor before you get your oven that hot...just trust me on that).  While that's heating up you chop up some spuds and a few cloves of garlic, a little oil, salt and a splash of water and cover with plastic wrap and microwave for 8 min (this smells so good that you'll forget about the burning apple pie spill so don't worry about it after all).
While that's going on you season up your chicken thighs with some salt, pepper and a hearty dose of paprika.  I had no idea that raw chicken could photograph so well.
Next you'll juice a lemon (this was my Gram's reamer, my mother in law actually collects these things!). 
Then you toss that lemon juice and some parsley in there and stir to coat and set it aside.  By this time your oven is likely preheated and your microwave is beeping at you.
Carefully take the screaming hot skillet from the oven and very carefully put your potatoes in the pan, the oil will splatter so beware! Top the layer of potatoes with some sliced red onions and return to the oven until they start to brown.  After that you place the chicken and juices on top of the potatoes and roast until the chicken is cooked through, about 12 min (or WAY more if you leave the bones in).
How about some fresh green beans with your chicken and potatoes?  You can get those steamed up while the chicken cooks.
When all is said and done you've got one fine dinner on your hands.  We really liked this and will definitely make it again.

Spanish Chicken and Potato Roast (Food TV Magazine)

1 1/2 lbs Yukon gold potatoes, cut into 1 1/2 inch pieces
4 cloves garlic, smashed and coarsely chopped
2 Tbs extra-virgin olive oil
Kosher salt
1 1/2 lbs boneless, skinless chicken thighs (5-6 thighs)
2 tsps paprika
Freshly ground pepper
4 Tbs roughly chopped fresh parsley
2 lemons (1 juiced, 1 cut into wedges)
2 large or 3 med red onions, halved and thinly sliced

Position a rack in the upper third of the oven.  Place a large cast- iron skillet or baking dish on the rack and pre-heat to 500.  Put the potatoes, garlic, olive oil, 1 Tbs water and 1/2 tsp salt (I'd do less) in a microwave safe dish and toss to coat.  Cover with plastic wrap, pierce in a few places with a knife and microwave for 8 min.

Meanwhile pat the chicken dry and transfer to a bowl.  Sprinkle with paprika, 1 tsp salt and 1/2 tsp pepper.  Add 2 Tbs parsley and the lemon juice; toss to coat.  Set aside.

Remove the hot pan from the oven and Carefully add the potatoes and spread into an even layer.  Scatter onions on top, roast until they start to brown, about 12 min.

Flip the potatoes and lay the chicken pieces on top, adding any juices from the bowl.  Return to the oven and roast until the chicken is cooked through, about 12-15 more min.  Remove from oven and top with remaining parsley and serve with lemon wedges.
I wish this was a better picture but I had a third grade chorus concert to get to so...

Sunday, April 1, 2012

Back to Reality

We have been on vacation for the past eight days and it was a ton of fun! Two and a half days at Disney and five days at the beach.  We had a really good time visiting with our friends from Oregon and hanging out with my parents, a couple of snowbirds.
I could stand a few more days soaking up the surf and sun in the Gulf of Mexico for sure.  With reality looming it's a lovely 38 degrees and raining in central New York today.  Yuck.
The only thing I was ready for upon our return home was to eat something not prepared in a restaurant.  I love to go out to eat, but every day for a week gets to be a bit much.  I start to crave vegetables like nobodies business.  I'm sure I haven't always felt that way but for the past few years or so I notice it more and more after a period of eating out often.  I thought today would be the perfect day to tip you all off on that fabulous quinoa recipe I made before vacation.  I had never had quinoa before and I'm not sure why because I loved it!
The recipe I tried was from Giada De Laurentis, Orange-Scented Quinoa, which includes one of my faves, chick peas.  There are two minor changes I will make the next time I make this (which will likely be very soon).  I think a little less olive oil could be used (I think that was the reason the kids didn't love it, because the oil taste was pretty strong).  And since I don't add salt when I cook rice, I wouldn't add it to the quinoa either, I don't think it needs it.

Orange-Scented Quinoa (Giada De Laurentis)

1 1/2 cups quinoa
zest of 1 orange
kosher salt


1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
1/4 cup fresh orange juice (about one orange)
2 Tbs fresh lemon juice
Kosher salt and fresh ground pepper
1 15oz can of garbanzo beans, drained and rinsed
1/3 cup chopped fresh parsley

In a medium sauce pan, bring 2 cups of water, the quinoa, orange zest and 1 tsp (or a half) of salt to a boil over medium high heat.  Reduce heat to a simmer.  Cover and cook until all water has been absorbed, 10-12 min.  Fluff with a fork, cover and let sit for 10-12 more min.

In a small, bowl whisk together the olive oil, orange juice, lemon juice, 1tsp salt and 1/2 tsp pepper until smooth.

Place quinoa in a large serving bowl.  Add the dressing, beans and parsley.  Toss until coated.  Add salt and pepper to taste.

I served mine up with some grilled shrimp and summer squash.  This meal screams of summer...just as the beach I just left does.