Tuesday, June 27, 2017

What I'm Cooking, July 2017

Dinners:

-Filet mignon with Stilton sauce, baked potatoes, corn on the cob, green salad, garlic cheese biscuits

-Cheeseburgers, garlicky new potatoes, green salad, tomatoes and cream, strawberry shortcake

-Penne with herbed zucchini, green salad, fruit, good bread

-Pimiento cheese sandwiches, chips, green salad, fruit

-Cream of broccoli soup, layered salad, pineapple muffins

-BBQ chicken, hot bean salsa with tortilla chips, corn on the cob, green salad

-Biscuits & gravy, fruit salad, sausage

-Hoppin' John, green salad, fruit

-Fried chicken, potato salad, pea salad, deviled eggs, fruit, strawberry slab pie

Special Breakfasts:
-Pancakes with fresh apricot jam

-Maple-glazed walnut biscuits

-Migas

Drinks & Nibbles:
-Herbed cheese spread

-Onion tea sandwiches

-Sweet & sour meatballs

-3-bean salad with Dijon-tarragon dressing

-Sour cherry lemonade

-Painkillers

Friday, June 16, 2017

BLTs, June 15, 2017

Last night was kind of a night of, "Oh, man" while I was fixing dinner. "Oh, man, I can't find the orzo." "Oh, man, this salad dressing is WAY too boozy!" "Oh, man, one of our tomatoes went bad." Oh, man, the multi-grain bread has gone moldy." And so forth. It's amazing how quickly bread & fruit go moldy (or dry out) here in Colorado! Luckily, I was able to salvage everything & we had a yummy dinner of BLTs on white bread (I put some blue cheese mashed with milk on mine), lemon parmesan penne (instead of orzo---just the juice of half a lemon, a little butter, & a little parmesan stirred into hot penne), a green bean & radish salad with prosciutto, inspired by a Bon Appetit recipe that called for sherry in the dressing, and watermelon, which Wee Boy and I completely wiped out!

Green Bean & Radish Salad with Prosciutto
14 oz. green beans
5 radishes, sliced paper thin
1 1/2 oz. prosciutto, cut into thin strips
1 1/2 tbsp. white wine vinegar
1/2 tbsp. Dijon mustard
1/2 tbsp. minced chives
1/8 c. olive oil
Salt & pepper
A few shavings campesino cheese (ricotta salata/mizithra/feta/pecorino)

Boil the beans until crisp tender, about 4 minutes. Drain and cool. Toss with radishes & prosciutto. Whisk the vinegar, mustard, and chives together. Slowly whisk in the olive oil, until it emulsifies. Season with salt & pepper. Toss with salad. Shave cheese over top. Serves 4. 

Thursday, June 15, 2017

A Taste of June 2017

I've been having such fun cooking this month! My wife has been home all month so far and, while it's great to cook just for myself and our wee boy, it's ever so much more nice to have her at the table, too. I'm taking a moment to play a little catch-up with some recipes from the start of the month.

The first dinner I cooked for us this month was basil scrambled eggs (just add chopped basil to however you make your scrambled eggs), hash browns (just frozen), bacon, a gorgeous cantaloupe, and oven-toasted cornbread.

On June 5th, in honor of what would have been my grandparents' 74th anniversary, I made their favorite summer dinner. On their way home from the rec center (where my granddad played table tennis and my grandmom enjoyed a water workout) on summer days, they would always stop at the farm stand by the river. They'd pick up juicy, sun-warm tomatoes, sweet corn, and a fragrant melon. Dinner would be Russian sandwiches (no clue why they were called that), which were slices of sturdy toast topped with tomatoes, crisp bacon, and extra-sharp cheddar (they liked Cabot and picked up a huge block at the Vermont Country Store on every visit to my auntie), then broiled until the cheese was melted. To accompany them, they always had sweet corn (boiled no more than a few minutes; they kept a special stick of butter, mostly wrapped but with one end exposed, in the fridge just to rub on sweet corn) and often melon. My granddad was allergic to stone fruits, so no glorious plums, peaches, nectarines, or cherries for him, poor guy. At least he could enjoy summer melon.

I also made a mayonnaise cake in their honor. This is a very simple chocolate cake, not overly rich or labor-intensive, and well-suited to an after-school snack or other low-key cake-eating occasion. If you need icing, feel free to add it.

Mayonnaise Cake
1 c. sugar
5 tbsp. cocoa
2 tsp. baking soda
1 c. warm water
1 3/4 c. flour
2 tsp. vanilla
Pinch salt
1 c. mayonnaise

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Combine sugar, cocoa, and baking soda. Add rest of ingredients and blend well. Pour into lightly greased 9x9 baking dish. Bake 30-40 minutes. Allow to cool before cutting. Serves 6-8. 

Another scrumptious dinner I made was an onion and cauliflower tart, with a beautiful green salad and some fresh pineapple. I'm not very proficient with tarts yet, so the sides fell in a bit and some of the filling ran out onto the baking sheet below, but I loved it and my wife and baby both gobbled it up, too. I might just make it in a pie plate next time for less mess. This recipe was adapted from Bon Appetit magazine.

Onion and Cauliflower Tart
1 small head cauliflower, cut into small florets and steamed or roasted
1 pie shell
1 thinly-sliced Vidalia or other sweet onion, caramelized & cooled*
1 tbsp. Dijon mustard
2 eggs
8 oz. mascarpone
1/2 c. whipping cream
Salt and pepper
A bit of freshly ground nutmeg (tinned is fine, as well)
1 c. grated Gruyère cheese
1 c. grated parmesan cheese

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Press pie shell into tart or pie pan (9"). Line with foil and top with pie weights/beans. Bake 20 minutes on a baking sheet. Remove weights and foil. Bake another 5 minutes. Cool. Brush pie shell with Dijon. Add onion and cauliflower. Whisk eggs with mascarpone, whipping cream, and seasonings. Add Gruyère. Pour into tart pan. Sprinkle with parmesan. If you then realize you forgot to add the Gruyère, as I did, you can just sprinkle it on top, too. Bake 40-45 minutes. Cool 15 minutes before cutting. Serves 8. 
*To caramelize onions, heat 1 1/2 tbsp. oil in a large skillet. Cook the onions, stirring occasionally, over medium-low heat, until deep golden brown, 40-45 minutes. To quick-"caramelize" onions, you can melt a tablespoon of butter in the skillet, then add the onions. Cook over medium heat, stirring often, until there's a pale brown color in the bottom of the skillet. This will take about 5 minutes. Add a couple tablespoons of water and stir to deglaze the pan. Continue this process until the onions are nicely brown and completely softened. This will take about 15 minutes and produces very acceptable onions for this purpose. This is also a decent technique for onions for burgers and that sort of thing. 

I went from this fairly gourmet meal to an old-school chicken and rice casserole, served with a green salad and fresh cherries. I'd meant to make lima beans, but the water took forever to boil and the rest of the food was done. I like to cook my limas about 20-25 minutes, so I decided to forego that side dish. It was good with just the salad and fruit. 

Chicken and Rice Casserole
2 c. diced, cooked chicken (and, honestly, if you don't have time to cook the chicken, it cooks just fine with the rest of the casserole)
2 c. diced celery
2 c. cooked rice (I used basmati because it was on hand)
10 oz. can cream of chicken soup*
1 c. crushed cornflakes
1/2 c. slivered almonds
2 tbsp. butter (can halve this)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Combine chicken, celery, rice, and soup. Put in 2 qt. casserole dish. Sauté cornflakes, almonds, and butter until everything is very slightly browned. Keep an eye on this or you will have to re-make it, like I did when I burned it. Spread across the top of the casserole. Bake 40-45 minutes. Serves 6-8. 

*If your wife graciously does the grocery shopping so you can stay with the sleeping baby and she forgets the soup, you can make a version that is great in recipes, but not something you would eat as soup, necessarily. Just melt 3 tbsp. butter in a saucepan. Slowly stir in 3 tbsp. flour and cook, stirring, until it's fully mixed and thick. Gradually whisk in 1/2 c. chicken broth (I use low-sodium) and 1/2 c. milk (I used 2%). Cook and whisk until it's smooth. Bring to a gentle boil, then cook, whisking, until thickened. Season with salt & pepper. This makes an equivalent amount to a can of the condensed stuff. 

Earlier this week, I made pork & artichoke enchiladas, which were quite yummy, and served them with canned refried beans, Mexican rice, salad, and cherries. Imagining enchiladas to be incredibly labor-intensive, I had always just stuck to enchilada casseroles. However, I finally decided to play around with making some. My wife really loves Tex-Mex and she oohed and aahed over these. 

Pork and Artichoke Enchiladas
1 lb. pork, cooked & shredded (I ended up using pork chops, since that was what we had in the freezer, and just cutting them in thin strips and sautéing them)
4 tbsp. olive oil
1/2 lg. onion, finely-chopped
14 oz. artichoke hearts, drained and chopped
5 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 tsp. oregano
1/2 tsp. cumin
1/4 tsp. cinnamon
2-3 tbsp. chili powder (I used 2)
1 tbsp. flour
Salt & pepper
2-2 1/2 c. chicken broth
8 5-6" flour tortillas (corn are fine, too)
2 c. shredded jack cheese (or, if using pre-shredded, Mexican blend is fine)
1/2 c. sliced black olives

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Cook half the onion with the artichoke hearts and seasonings in 2 tbsp. oil, covered, for about 10 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add chili and flour and cook another few minutes, stirring. Gradually whisk in broth. Bring to a low boil and cook, stirring occasionally, until thickened and slightly creamy. Heat 1 tsp. oil in a small skillet. Cook the tortillas about 20 seconds per side in this oil, setting each on a paper towel lined plate when done. Spread 1/2 c. sauce in 13x9" baking pan. Mix half the rest of the sauce with the pork. Put a small amount of pork, a little shredded cheese, a few olive slices, and a scattering of onions in each tortilla. Roll up and place, seam-side-down, in the baking dish. Cover with remaining sauce and cheese. Cover with foil and bake 20 minutes. remove foil and bake another 10 minutes. Let stand 5-10 minutes before serving. Serves 4 very hungry or 8 not as hungry people. 

Mexican Rice
1/2 onion, chopped
1 jar chunky salsa ( I like Newman's Own Medium)
Salt & pepper
2 c. hot cooked rice
1 c. shredded cheddar

Mix everything together & heat through. Serves 4-6. This also makes a good vegetarian main dish with the addition of beans. I like dark red kidney beans for this. 

Since Jeannene also loves Italian food, I made her an Italian dinner Tuesday night. It was easy and delicious, fettuccine with rosa sauce, a big green salad, and some fresh Italian bread, still warm from the grocery store bakery. 

Fettuccine with Rosa Sauce
1 lb. fettuccine (or whatever your favorite pasta shape is)
1-2 tbsp. olive oil
1-2 tbsp. butter
1 onion, chopped
5 cloves garlic, minced
29 oz. tomato sauce
Salt & pepper
A pinch of sugar
1 c. heavy cream (can sub milk, but use a smidge less)
1 c. shredded parmesan (can use less)
Chopped basil

Cook & drain the pasta. While it cooks, sauté onion and garlic in olive oil and butter until softened and translucent. Add tomato sauce, salt, pepper, and sugar. Heat through. Add cream and parmesan. Heat through. Add pasta and toss to coat. Serve with more parmesan and basil. Serves 6-8. 

After a weekend of Jeannene's yummy burgers & dogs, some mediocre Indian food at a new place in town, and two nights of leftovers, I got back to cooking last Tuesday. Well, it was sort of cooking, at least. I made some delicious sandwiches with garlic & herb jack cheese, avocado, and mixed greens. We had chips and green salad with those.

Wednesday, I made a very homey dinner, perhaps better suited to winter than summer, but good even now. We had meatball stroganoff over egg noodles, with salad and sweet cherries. Honestly, I like plain old hamburger stroganoff better and it's less work. 

Meatball Stroganoff
1 lb. ground beef (I use the 94-96% lean)
1 small onion, chopped
1 slice white bread, torn into small pieces
1 egg, lightly beaten
3 cloves garlic, minced
Salt and pepper
1 can cream of mushroom soup (I use the lower sodium & fat sort)
10 oz. can beef consommé (regular beef broth is fine, too)
3 oz. cream cheese, cubed and softened 
1/2 c. sour cream
1 tsp. dill

Mix together beef, onion, bread, egg, garlic, salt, and pepper. Shape into 16-20 balls. Brown in a skillet that's been coated with cooking spray. Remove to a paper-towel-lined plate. Wipe out skillet. In same skillet, mix soups and cream cheese, stirring until it's smooth and well-blended. Add meatballs, cover, and simmer 10 minutes or so. Mix sour cream with dill. Stir into sauce and heat through. Serves 6. 

Thursday night, I'd planned to make lemon chicken with rice salad and zucchini sticks. However, when we were invited at the last minute to join friends for dinner at Taco Loco and a free concert in the park, how could I say no? Turns out Taco Loco has scrumptious carnitas. Wee Boy really enjoyed his flautas, too. 

Friday night, I picked Jeannene up from the airport and we headed directly out to shop for some capris to get me through the summer. There's a Rusty Bucket in the shopping center we went to, so we had supper there, a beer cheese burger for me (pretty bland) and a great Buffalo chicken sandwich for her. We tried Wee Boy on chicken fingers, but he was much more interested in my burger!

Saturday night, Jeannene made brat burgers, served with chips and melon. She'd found the burgers in the freezer section and they are very tasty! Sunday night, it was white chicken chili by the wife for us grown folks. She thought it would be too spicy for Wee Boy, so she made him macaroni and cheese. He got corn and beans from our chili, though, and we all had honeydew melon for dessert. 

Last night, I did a classic cook-out menu of hot dogs, baked beans, potato salad, green salad, and cantaloupe. The twist on the hot dogs was that I put cream cheese, mustard, and chopped onions on them, Seattle-style. I'd never tried that before---I give it a thumbs-up! I used the Neelys' potato salad recipe, except I used mayonnaise, instead of Miracle Whip. I think I'll try the Miracle Whip next time, as it seemed a bit bland. It may also be better today. Haven't tried it yet. I did the baked beans in the crockpot, just Bush's that I doctored up a bit. I used the country-style Bush's, the 28-oz. can. I stirred in about half a small onion, chopped, 1/3 c. Sweet Baby Ray's BBQ sauce, 1/4 c. dark brown sugar, and almost a tablespoon of yellow mustard. Then, I covered them & cooked them on low about 4 hours. 

Tonight, we're waiting on pizza, which I'll serve with green salad, honeydew, and Rainier cherries.

Wednesday, May 10, 2017

Spinach & Feta Melts, May 9, 2017

Continuing with my sandwiches for dinner theme, last night, I made spinach & feta melts. I have a loaf of 100% rye bread from the farmers' market, bought specifically with this meal in mind. I toasted slices of the dense, fragrant bread. Then, I topped them with fresh spinach leaves, sliced kalamata olives, and slabs of imported feta cheese. I broiled them until the cheese was soft and starting to brown around the edges. I served these open-faced sandwiches with hummus, pita, baby carrots, and mango-based fruit salad from the grocery. I'd intended to make a more complicated dinner, but this was really yummy and gave me extra time to play with my little Bear. That little Bear, by the way, was a big fan of the sandwiches---especially the olives.

Tuna Sandwiches, May 8, 2017

I'd intended to make a real dinner Monday night, but I'd been hungry for tuna salad and had all the ingredients. My wee boy had been asking for tuna a couple days before, so I think that was also in my head. I wasn't sure he'd ever had tuna, but he very clearly asked for it. So, Monday night, I chopped celery, doled out mayonnaise, tipped in a bit of pickle relish, mixed it all with tuna, seasoned with salt and pepper, and we had a nice batch of tuna salad. We'd picked up a beautiful loaf of sourdough at the farmers' market, so we had it on that. Delicious, although I think I got a little overly enthusiastic with the relish. Ah, well. I served it with chips, cucumber slices, and a fruit salad, starring mango, we picked up at the grocery.

Spinach & Gruyère Strata, Weekend Brunch, May 7, 2017

We didn't have fancy dinners on Saturday or Sunday. We always, always end up throwing away entirely too many leftovers, so I decided to institute a weekly Leftoverpalooza. It's going to work out especially nicely the weeks my wife has to travel for work, as they won't even seem like leftovers to her. That was true this week. She was eager to sample the curried turkey pot pie and North Indian style mashed potatoes I made while she was in New Jersey. I heated some for myself, too, but took longer to get the baby to sleep than expected and then fell asleep in the nursery chair. Oops! When I awoke, it was 3 a.m. and my wife was asleep on the couch. My leftovers had long since gotten cold and didn't seem at all appealing. So, I had a bowl of raisin bran and prepped a strata for our breakfast before climbing into bed.

As I was sautéing onions at 3:30 in the morning, I was questioning my sanity and thinking it'd be far better just to go to bed and have fried eggs in the morning. However, when we actually ate the strata, I was congratulating myself for going ahead with my plan, ever how late it may have been when I did. It was truly delicious. I'd wanted to create a wonderful meal for Jeannene before she had to fly out to Montreal that evening and I succeeded quite well. This dish would make for an excellent one to serve guests, as it's impressive and super simple. Plus, you can make it the night before and you just have to pop it in the oven in the morning. The original recipe came from Gourmet Magazine back in 2003 and I've altered it only very slightly.

Spinach and Gruyère Strata
1/4 onion, chopped
1 tbsp. butter or olive oil
Salt & pepper
A grating of fresh nutmeg
5 oz. frozen, chopped spinach, thawed and squeezed dry
1/2 loaf French bread (4 c.), cubed
3 oz. Gruyère cheese, grated
2 oz. parmesan, grated
1 1/2 c. milk (2% or skim is fine)
5 eggs
1 tbsp. Dijon mustard

Sauté onion in butter/oil until softened and translucent, about 5 minutes. Season with salt, pepper, and nutmeg. Add spinach and cook another minute or so. Place 1/3 of the bread into a greased (I use cooking spray) 2-quart casserole dish. Top with 1/3 of the spinach mixture. Sprinkle with 1/3 of the cheeses. Repeat with another two sets of layers. Whisk everything else together, adding a bit more salt & pepper, if desired. Pour evenly over the layers in the casserole dish. Cover and chill 8 hours or so. Let stand at room temperature half an hour. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Bake until puffed golden, and cooked through, 45-55 minutes. Serves 4-6. 

We had early dinner Sunday, too. We found a gorgeous heirloom tomato at the farmers' market that I just had to use in Russian sandwiches, an open-faced concoction beloved in my family for at least 4 generations. Apparently, if you Google "Russian sandwich," you will find a sandwich with salad as the filling. This is not that Russian sandwich---in fact, there's not much Russian about it. My friend, Lisann, says, "Except people will be rushin' to eat it." It's basically toast with a layer of tomato, a layer of crisp bacon, and a layer of extra-sharp cheddar. I made this round on flax & sunflower bread. I served our sandwiches with kale salad ((recipe here) and had angel food cake (from the grocery) topped with macerated strawberries and whipped cream.

Tacos, May 5, 2017

This post will prove to some of my readers who think we always have fancy dinners and might, perhaps, be food snobs, that neither is the case. With it being Cinco de Mayo and our son's 18-month birthday, my wife, whose turn it was to pick dinner, decided to make tacos and refried beans for our supper. Simple and sustaining. For the tacos, she used an Old El Paso kit, which she, as always, doctored up a bit. We were concerned that the meat would be too spicy for our wee boy, but he was happy to eat it with soft tortillas. He always loves beans.