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.


Thursday, May 04, 2017

Shepherd's Pie, Of Sorts, May 4, 2017

In one of those old church cookbooks---you know, the ones where the recipes are never tested---I found a recipe for shepherd's pie that included ingredients (which I updated a bit, believe it or not) and what to do with them up to the baking point (largely, opening cans). Then, nada. Well, it was pretty easy to decide what to do after that, so I jumped in, thinking it sounded homey. It was pretty good, to me. To my wife, it was fabulous! She said it reminded her of the hamburger gravy they used to serve at her school. We had just been talking about school lunches the other day and she had told me how very much she loved hamburger gravy day. So, I was very happy I made it. Thanks, Punxsutawney UCC folks! I'd planned to serve this with salad and fruit, but I got lazy.

Shepherd's Pie, Of Sorts
1 lb. ground beef, browned (I use the 96% lean)
Salt & pepper
1 can cream of mushroom soup (low-fat & low sodium)
1 can green beans, drained well
1 package Bob Evans prepared mashed potatoes (or whatever brand you like)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Place ground beef in a 2-qt. casserole dish. Top with green beans and mushroom soup. Spread mashed potatoes evenly over the top. Bake 30-40 minutes. Serves 4-6. 











Warm Lentil Salad, May 3, 2017

My wife truly despises lentils, so I try to take advantage of her work trips as opportunities to have lentils for supper. That and sloppy joes, which I could probably eat every night for a week. Tonight, Wee Boy and I enjoyed a warm lentil salad with some cheddar, blue cheese, and rosemary gougères and fresh mandarin oranges. He is a big fan of legumes of any sort, so he was completely down with the lentil plan. Normally, I use sherry or red wine vinegar in lentils. Normally, I would never put honey in a savory dish like this. However, it seemed like it would be fun to fancy up the lentils this time. Next time, I'll go with my old standbys. This was good, don't get me wrong. It was just a tad more sweet than I would have liked.

Warm Lentil Salad
2 c. French green lentils
1/2 onion, chopped
14 baby carrots, diced (or 2 regular ones---I just had the minis on hand)
2 celery stalks, diced
3 c. water
4 strips bacon (optional)
2 tbsp. olive oil (if not using bacon)
Salt and pepper
A splash of balsamic vinegar
A small squeeze of lemon juice (fresh is highly recommended here)
A dollop of honey
Salad greens (I used spring mix)

Put lentils, onion, carrots, celery, and water in a pot and bring to a boil. Cover and reduce heat to low. Cook about 40 minutes. Drain, if necessary, and place in large bowl. Fry bacon until crisp. Drain, leaving a bit of the fat in the pan. Return lentils to pan and toss with bacon grease. If not using bacon, toss with warmed olive oil. Season with salt and pepper. Add balsamic, lemon, and honey. Mix well. Serve over greens. Serves 4-6. 

I never made or ate gougères before tonight, although I had long wanted to try them. Frankly, they are a bit too eggy for my taste, rather reminiscent of Yorkshire puddings. These were fine, but not something I would seek in the future. If you like eggy, though, you will love these. They're super simple, too. You can sub whatever cheeses you have on hand or love best. I jumped off from a Giant Eagle grocery chain free recipe, but switched both the cheese and the herbs. 

Cheddar, Blue Cheese, and Rosemary Gougères
1 c. water
5 tbsp. butter
3/4 c. flour
3 eggs
3 oz. grated sharp cheddar
A sprinkle of crumbled blue cheese
A sprinkle of rosemary

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Bring the water and butter to a boil. Over low heat, add flour and mix until batter is smooth and pulls away from the sides of the pan. Cool 5 minutes. Add eggs one at a time, mixing thoroughly. Add cheeses and rosemary. Drop by tablespoonfuls onto a greased baking sheet. Bake half an hour. Makes 3 dozen. You can also make them a bit bigger and bake just a smidge longer. 



Wednesday, May 03, 2017

Curried Turkey Pot Pie, May 2, 2017

Tonight's dinner was perfect for a cool, rainy evening. Wee boy gobbled everything up with gusto and I quite enjoyed it, as well. I did a simple curried turkey "pot pie" (in a casserole dish, with a Bisquick topping as the "crust"), with roasted cauliflower, as well as mashed potatoes inspired by a Madhur Jaffrey recipe for North Indian style mashed potatoes. The last was sent to me by my mom and I've been meaning to try it, as well as feeling skeptical about it, for ages. The dish sounded pretty odd to me, but ended up being quite tasty and definitely different. My baby, who usually is not a big fan of mashed potatoes, couldn't get enough of them. I just made regular mashed potatoes and added sprinkles of cayenne (not terribly much), cumin (more), chopped parsley (plenty), and lime juice (just a splash). As for the cauliflower, just toss florets with some olive oil, salt, and pepper before roasting 20-25 minutes in a preheated 425 degree oven.

Curried Turkey Pot Pie
1 c. chicken broth (I always use reduced sodium)
2 tbsp. flour
2 tsp. curry powder
1/4 tsp. cumin
1 large can Veg-All Homestyle or other large-cut veggies, well-drained
About half a pound of turkey, cubed (I just get the deli to slice me a nice, thick slab)
Salt & pepper
1 c. Bisquick
1/2 c. milk
1 egg, beaten
A handful of chopped parsley

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Whisk broth and flour until smooth. Heat the spices, stirring, until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Remove from heat and whisk in broth. Cook, stirring, until bubbling and thickened, 5-7 minutes. Add veggies, turkey, salt, and pepper. Mix well and turn into a casserole that has been coated with cooking spray. Mix the other ingredients. Spread evenly over the top of the casserole. Bake 1/2 hour. Let stand at least 5 minutes before serving. Serves 6.


Burgers in Pitas with Lemon-Mint Mayonnaise, May 1, 2017

Last night's dinner was so excellent, I did something I rarely do. I had the exact same thing for lunch today. I made burgers tucked into pita halves, with a lemon-mint mayonnaise and some spring mix for extra flavor. They were stellar, but not as wonderful as the salad I threw together, which tasted of spring and freshness and light-heartedness. My 17-month-old was crazy about the salad, too. He got a little confused about the cucumbers and kept asking for, "More pickle?" He was also sorry I wouldn't let him have more and more and more of the kalamata olives.

For the salad, I threw some chopped up green pepper, cucumber sliced in demi-lunes, pepperoncini rings, sliced red onion, halved kalamatas, red wine vinegar, olive oil, oregano, salt, and pepper together in a salad bowl. Then, I sprinkled it with a little crumbled feta and tossed it all. I like this kind of salad, absent of any lettuces or other delicate greens, because it's still terrific the next day.

Burgers in Pitas with Lemon-Mint Mayonnaise
1 lb. ground meat (to make it very Mediterranean, you'd use lamb. If you are not a lamb eater, 96% lean ground beef is excellent)
1/4 onion, chopped
1 tsp. oregano
Salt & pepper
1/4 c. mayonnaise (I used olive oil mayo)
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 tsp. lemon zest
1 squirt lemon juice
A handful of chopped mint
Pita halves
Salad greens

Lightly, but thoroughly, mix meat, onion, oregano, salt, and pepper. Shape into 4 patties. Coat a large skillet with cooking spray and heat on medium-high. Cook burgers until browned on both sides and cooked through. Mix mayonnaise with garlic, lemon zest and juice, mint. Spread on the insides of the pita halves. Adorn with salad greens, then add burgers. Serves 4. You could easily adapt this to be vegetarian or vegan by sautéing veggie burgers in onions, sprinkling them with the oregano, and then using a vegan mayo. 

For dessert, we had raspberry shortcake, using some biscuit-style shortcakes I found at Whole Foods. I macerated the raspberries with a smidge of sugar while dinner cooked and we ate. Then, I served them over the shortcake with a dollop of whipped cream. I could cheerfully have just eaten the berries, while my son eschewed the berries and went right for the shortcake. 

Wednesday, March 29, 2017

What I'm Cooking in April 2017

-Vegetable soup, Greek orzo salad, fruit
-Quesadillas, salad, refried beans, fruit
-Artichoke & egg spread sandwiches, chips, veggie slices, fruit
-Penne with kalamatas & pancetta, lemon, mint, & spinach salad, garlic bread
-Garbanzo & yogurt pitas, Greek salad, chips, fruit
-Vegetarian chili, corn muffins, pineapple raspberry salad
-Ham, asparagus quiche, potatoes au gratin, salad, rolls, some kind of lemony dessert or lamb cake
-Stir-fried pork/tofu, spicy green beans, veggies with Green Goddess dip, rice
-Hot dog & cheese casserole, salad, fruit
-Chicken with peanut ginger sauce, rice, baby carrots & snow peas, fruit
-Asian chicken salad, fruit salad, lemon bread
-Shrimp in beer, parmesan rice, kale salad, garlic artichoke bread, chocolate nemesis cake
-Panzanella, sausage potato soup, fruit
-Pork chops & scalloped potatoes, green beans, fruit
-Tamale pie, salad, fruit

-Pear ginger scones
-Skillet cake
-Chocolate damnation
-Cream cheese danish
-Asparagus & potato frittata
-Quiche
-Yogurt with granola crunch
-Seattle dogs
-Banana buttermilk pancakes
-Scrambled eggs with avocado, cream cheese, & dill

Tuesday, March 28, 2017

Hot Dogs, March 28, 2017

Wee Boy and I had an errand in Aurora today, so we treated ourselves to lunch at Cuba Bakery and Cafe. It's just a little storefront joint, with a big bakery case full of cakes and pastries (including my favorite, guava & cheese pastelitos), a lighted board of sandwich offerings (classics like the Cuban sandwich and the Medianoche---I am guessing they'd probably make me an Elena Ruz, if I asked), a steam table full of daily offerings like picadillo, carne con papas, ropa vieja, and masitas de puerco), and a scattering of tables. The walls are adorned with a mix of photos and classic "Visit Cuba" travel posters. Latin music made my son dance in his high chair. The staff is always friendly, chatting with most of the clientele in Spanish. I'm usually the only non-Spanish-speaker there and I'm always pretty sure they think I know nothing about Cuban food. Today, she described the picadillo to me simply as, "Ground beef."

I'm always hoping for masitas to show up on the steam table, but I've not lucked into those yet. Today, though, I had a styrofoam plate of well-seasoned picadillo, generous with the olives and bell peppers, accompanied by black beans, rice, and maduros. To wash it all down, I had a cafe con leche. Wee Boy shared my plate, devouring most of the beans and some picadillo, but steadfastly declining plantains.

So, I think we'd have a super-simple dinner. Looking in the fridge for inspiration, I spotted a pack of hot dogs and decided that sounded great. To counter-balance the processedness of the hot dogs, our sides were cucumber slices (Wee Boy yelled, "Moon! Moon!" and chomped down happily), grapes, and blackberries.

Pancakes, March 27, 2017

Usually, when I make breakfast for dinner, it's eggs of some sort. I'm not much for having the main event be sweet. If I do make some sort of sweet thing, though, it's almost always waffles, not pancakes. I am not a pancake fan, generally speaking, even though I have wonderful memories of my grandmom getting out the griddle on the weekends to whip up a batch of pancakes for us. She always mixed the pancakes in her Tupperware batter bowl/measuring cup, which was white with red markings. However, my wife and baby both really like pancakes. So, tonight, I made pancakes, sausage (just the Jimmy Dean sort you can warm in the microwave), and fruit salad (which, unfortunately, all absorbed the flavor of the blueberries and ended up tasting off).

Since I'm not much of a pancake-maker, I wasn't sure how they'd turn out. I started with less flour and the pancake batter was very, very thin. My first attempt spread way, way out across an entire half of the skillet, not quite a thin as crepe batter, but nearly so. I ended up doubling the flour before making any more. Jeannene, though, said she actually preferred the flimsier of the bunch, although she liked all of them. So, I present the original version, with the caveat that the batter may be way too thin.

If anyone has a really excellent pancake recipe, feel free to pass it along to me!

Pancakes
1 c. buttermilk (I used a scant cup of whole milk with a tbsp. of lemon juice, which I then allowed to stand and thicken for 10 minutes)
1 egg plus 1 yolk, beaten (Wee Boy helped whisk the eggs)
1 tbsp. oil
1/4 c. evaporated milk
1 tsp. vanilla extract
1/2 tbsp. sugar
1/2 tbsp. baking powder
1/2 tbsp. baking soda
1/4 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. yeast
1 c. flour

Mix everything together and whisk well. Pour by 1/3 cupfuls into a hot, greased skillet. Cook until you see lots of little bubbles appear atop the pancakes. Flip and cook until the other side is light golden brown. Makes 5 or 6. Serve with real maple syrup that's been gently warmed. 

Monday, March 27, 2017

Spaghetti, March 26, 2017

It was Jeannene's choice last night for dinner, but she has some big presentations coming up, so I told her I would be happy to cook, instead. I gave her the choice of either pancakes with sausage & fruit salad or pastitsio with Greek salad and fruit salad. She decided to make spaghetti. While we were out shopping for jeans for the wee boy, though, she asked if we had everything we needed for me to make my spaghetti. I was glad to hear that, as I've been hungry for my spaghetti (which is basically my grandmom's spaghetti) for a couple weeks. We picked up some Italian bread, but otherwise, everything was on-hand.

When I make spaghetti, it's nearly always incredibly low fuss. I doctor sauce from a jar (I often use Newman's Own Sockarooni or Marinara, but this time, it was some fancy brand of vodka sauce Jeannene found at Whole Foods) with some dried spices (usually a mix of Italian seasoning, basil, and oregano), a good shaking of grated parmesan (usually the crappy canned sort), and some browned ground beef. I added a smidge of water this time, as well. My favorite pasta shapes are tagliatelle, pappardelle, and bucatini. Last night, it was bucatini. We had bagged Caesar salad and garlic bread with it. I mixed garlic salt and chopped garlic from the jar my wife keeps in the fridge with some softened butter. I smeared it evenly on the halved Italian loaf and broiled until the edges started to brown. Oh, wait, that's Idealized Me. Real Me broiled until she exclaimed, "Oh, crap!!!" and dashed to the oven, then heaved a sigh of relief that only the edges got a little black.

Chicken and Black Bean Burrito Pizza, March 25, 2017

While I was making hollandaise sauce Saturday morning, my wife needed to run some errands. I didn't want to start poaching eggs and toasting English muffins for Eggs Benedict until she was home---nobody wants cold eggs. So, I started work on dinner, mixing up some tomatillo salsa and marinating chicken for our chicken & black bean burrito pizza. I popped those in the fridge and dinner was nearly done when we got home from the zoo. I even got to take a little nap before
I started cooking. I only used half the chicken on the pizza---the rest will be nice in soft tacos for lunch this week. The original recipe came from Todd Wilbur's fun cookbook, Top Secret Restaurant Recipes, and is his approximation of California Pizza Kitchen's Southwestern Burrito Pizza, which I've never had. If it's still on the menu, I'd like to try it! If you've not checked out this cookbook, you should pick up a copy and play with it. We had salad and Sumo orange sections with this.

Chicken and Black Bean Pizza
Juice of 2 limes
3 tbsp. olive oil 
2 tbsp. soy sauce (I used reduced-sodium)
5 cloves of garlic, peeled & smashed
2 tsp. salt
1 tsp. crushed red pepper flakes
1 lb. skinless, boneless chicken breasts, cut into bite-sized chunks
14 oz. can refried black beans
Baked pizza crust
1/4 onion, sliced into slivers
1/2-1 c. shredded quesadilla cheese or Monterey Jack
1/2-1 c. shredded cheddar (I used mild)
Tomatillo salsa
Sour cream
Hot sauce

Mix lime juice, 2 tbsp. olive oil, soy sauce, garlic, salt, and red pepper. Add chicken & marinate at least 2 hours. Preheat oven to 450 degrees. Heat remaining tbsp. olive oil in skillet. Remove chicken from marinade to skillet, using a slotted spoon, and cook through. Spread beans evenly on crust. Sprinkle with onion slivers. Scatter chicken evenly across the pizza. Top with cheeses. Place pizza in oven and bake 12-17 minutes. Serve with tomatillo salsa, sour cream, and hot sauce. Serves 4. 


Eggs Benedict, Saturday Brunch, March 25, 2017

Saturday morning found me making breakfast for the family. I've decided it would be fun to make some kind of special family breakfast on Saturday mornings, time permitting. I've only managed to do it one other time this month, a batch of granola, which was much appreciated by my wife. Saturday, Bear got scrambled eggs, as he hasn't yet acquired a taste for poached or fried eggs, but I made Eggs Benedict for the grown folks in the house. If you can believe it, I had never made hollandaise sauce before Saturday. I looked up the recipe in Craig Claiborne's New York Times Cookbook and decided to go with the quick blender version, although a smidge altered. I added more lemon and used (O heresy!) salted butter. I doubt real chefs would approve, but I thought it turned out beautifully lemony and smooth.

Heretical Blender Hollandaise & Eggs Benedict
Melt a stick of butter over low heat. Place three egg yolks, the juice of one lemon, 1/4 tsp. salt, and a pinch of cayenne in your blender. With the lid on and the speed on low, very slowly drizzle in the melted butter. Blend until the sauce pulls together and thickens. Makes enough for 3-6 portions of Eggs Benedict. For Eggs Benedict, you'll want to poach 1-2 eggs for each person. Martha Stewart offers good directions here. Heat some ham slices or Candian bacon. Place the ham, then eggs on toasted English muffins. Pour hollandaise over eggs. If you only have 2 diners and have a bunch of Hollandaise left, you can always use it on veggies at dinner. 






Frozen Pizza, March 24, 2017

Friday night, we decided to grocery shop. Usually, we do it Saturday or Sunday, which eats away at weekend time more than shopping Friday feels like it's doing. So, Wee Boy and I met Jeannene at work and visited with her colleagues there. We got to try some purple sweet potato pie and some chocolate pie I suspect was vegan. Both were made by folks from work. Both were tasty. The sweet potato pie reminded me of Asian desserts starring red bean paste.

We went to Whole Foods first, then met back up at the King Soopers closest to our house. We'd considered dinner out, but couldn't come to a conclusion on where we'd like to go. So, I thought I would make the burrito pizza I'd not made earlier in the week. However, when we got home, lo and behold, I'd forgotten that the chicken on the pizza needed to be marinated. We'd bought a pepperoni pizza and a BBQ chicken one, both California Pizza Kitchen, in the frozen section, so I decided to make the pepperoni one. It was just what we needed. We had some salad left from the night before and peeled a glorious Sumo orange for dessert.

Friday, March 24, 2017

Anthony's Delivery, March 23, 2017

Tonight was Jeannene's night to choose. She was in the mood for Italian and asked me whether I wanted to go out or have her cook something Italian. I was happy with either choice. She makes yummy pasta dishes and there's an Italian place in town that we drive by often, but have not yet visited. I have been in the mood for my own spaghetti, too, so I offered to make that, if she wanted me to. When she got home, she had been thinking it over, but asked what I wanted to do. The baby was asleep, so we thought it might be best for her just to run out and pick up either ingredients or take-out. Then, we remembered that one of the local pizza places, Anthony's, also delivers pasta---and it's quite good.

The wee boy woke up before we ordered, so we asked him if he'd rather have spaghetti or pizza. He gleefully chose pizza, so we ordered him a white pizza with spinach. It should have been really good, but instead, it turned out to be dry and flavorless. What a pity! I don't know if their other pizza is as bland, but I would definitely never order that again. The boy thought the cat might eat it, but he certainly didn't want to.

He did, however, quite happily dig into our ravioli (me) and lasagna rollatini (his Momma). We also had a beautiful Mediterranean salad. I didn't like the heaviness of the Caesar dressing with the fresh, cold crispness of the salad, so I ate it without any dressing at all---it was heavenly! The rest of the family agreed.

Thursday, March 23, 2017

Ropa Vieja, March 22, 2017

Yesterday morning, I started a batch of ropa vieja, one of my favorite Cuban dishes, going in the crockpot. The name literally translates to "old clothes" in English. The messy, stringy appearance the beef gets makes it look, they say, like a pile of old clothes. The smell of it perfumed the air all afternoon, making my stomach growl. When it was nearly ready, I fixed a batch of lime rice, heated some Goya black bean soup, and had supper all done. The finished product tasted really good to my wife. To me, it needed something. It was good, just not as good as in Miami, a bit insipid. I think next time, I'll toss in some tomato paste and red wine, to give it a fuller-bodied flavor.

Slow Cooker Ropa Vieja
1/2 c. chicken broth (I will use beef broth next time)
1/4 c. red wine vinegar
1/2 lg. onion, chopped
3 cloves garlic, minced
2 green pepper, chopped
1 bay leaf
15 oz. can diced tomatoes
1/2 tbsp. cumin
Salt & pepper
1 1/2 lb. flank steak
Lime wedges

Mix broth, vinegar, onion, garlic, green pepper, bay leaf, and tomatoes together in your slow cooker. Combine the cumin, salt, & pepper. Rub all over the meat. Submerge in sauce. Cook 8 hours on low or 4 hours on high. Remove from pot and let rest about 10 minutes on a cutting board. Shred and mix back into the sauce. Serve with lime wedges. Serves 4-6.

Lime Rice
2 tsp. olive oil
3 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 lg. onion, chopped
1 c. rice (I like jasmine)
2 c. chicken broth
1/2 tsp. salt
Juice of 2 limes

Cook onion and garlic in oil until onion is translucent. Add rice. Stir and cook a couple minutes. Add broth, salt, and lime juice. Bring to a boil. Cover and cook on low heat 15-20 minutes. Fluff with fork. Serves 4-6. 

Chili's, March 21, 2017

After my wife got home from work the other night, we sallied forth to look for spring jackets for our wee boy. We managed to find him some very cute clothes, indeed. My favorite new item is a Jimi Hendrix t-shirt. I hope he will like Hendrix when he's older. He does now.

Anyway, we decided it made sense to stop on the way home for dinner, rather than going to the grocery, then going home and cooking. There's not a whole lot to choose from close to our home, so we ended up at Chili's. It was either that or Buffalo Wild Wings. We ordered some boneless wings for an appetizer. I was surprised at how delicious their ranch dressing was. The wings were good, too.

For a main course, I got a pick-three sort of deal, with a beef tostada, a chicken sour cream enchilada, and a salad. The enchilada was yummy, but the tostada was so heavily laden with toppings that it became sodden and not-so-wonderful. The meal came with black beans and rice, but I find their rice to be quite dry, so I subbed mashed potatoes. Jeannene had a combo of ribs and some sort of honey BBQ chicken strips. We ordered pizza with broccoli for the boy, who is actually getting old enough to, when presented with two choices, tell us which he wants. That's pretty cool! He filled up on my black beans, though, so it was pizza and broccoli for lunch yesterday.

Spring Equinox Dinner, March 20, 2017

Eons ago, I read an article, or perhaps in some book, that the author made salmon cakes, new potatoes, and asparagus every year on the first day of spring. That sounded like a fine and delicious tradition to me. When I was growing up, I always hated asparagus. In fact, it rather horrified me. I couldn't understand why my mom liked it so much. It wasn't until my friend, Ben, invited me over for dinner one night when I was about 18 that I began to like it. I can't recall what the meat was, but his mom put plates holding not only asparagus, but squash, in front of us. I thought, "Oh, my lord! I'm going to have to choke this stuff down and pretend to like it." I was astonished to find that I quite liked both vegetables. I've been an asparagus fan ever since! My favorite way to eat is simply steamed, so it's just tender, and then plunged into an ice bath to retain the brightness and keep it from becoming overcooked. Sometimes, though, I get lazy and skip the ice bath. I am always disappointed in myself when that happens.

Fish cakes, on the other hand, have always been something I really liked. My grandmom made both tuna & salmon patties when I was a kid and I happily gobbled them up. So, when I decided to make salmon cakes every year for the spring equinox, I did what my grandmom did. I start by sorting the bones and skin out from a (drained) large can of salmon (about 15 ounces). You don't even have to do that, actually. The skin and bones are both perfectly okay to eat. They just really skeeve me out. My cat's birthday is the first day of spring, so he always gets the parts I don't like, along with some of the legit meat, as a birthday treat. I flake the salmon, then mix it with a lightly beaten egg, about half a sleeve of saltine crackers, salt, pepper, and a dash of worcestershire sauce. I heat some oil in a skillet and form the salmon mixture into 4 cakes. When the oil is properly hot, I add the salmon cakes and cook them until they're browned on each side and heated through.

As for the potatoes, I boil them whole, for the most part, with the skin on. If there are a few larger ones, I will halve those. When they are tender, I drain them and stir in butter, salt, pepper, and snipped dill. When I was in middle school, my friend, Charisma, had me to supper and her mom served us potatoes made that way. They seemed very fancy to me!

I always have the impulse to make some sort of lemony dessert---a layer cake, meringues served with lemon curd, lemon meringue pie. That seems like the perfect spring treat, to me. My wife, however, hates all things tart. So, this year, I cut up some organic strawberries before dinner, added a smidge of sugar, stirred them up, and let them macerate during supper. After the main course, I dished them up into our pretty new pastel bowls and set out a can of whipped cream. My wife proceeded to show our wee boy how to eat whipped cream from the can. He just wasn't at all sure what to think of that, but it did make him giggle.

Happy Spring!

Thursday, January 05, 2017

Cannellini Beans & Spinach, January 3, 2017

My sweetie knows how much I love cookbooks, so I got three for Christmas. She got me the King Arthur Flour cookbook, one by Martina McBride, and Ina Garten's Cooking for Jeffrey. The other night, I tried a recipe for Italian white beans and escarole from the Ina cookbook for our supper. Sadly, the grocery had neither escarole nor kale, which I had suggested to my wife as a suitable alternative, should the grocery not have escarole. So, we ended up with spinach and it was delicious. I served it with good bread and pineapple chunks. When dinner was ready, Jeannene said, "This is dinner? I thought you were making something else." It is suggested as a side in the cookbook, but it made a fine dinner, too, and would be nice for vegetarians---and even vegans.

Cannellini Beans and Spinach
2 15 oz. cans cannellini beans, drained & rinsed
1/4-1/2 c. olive oil
7 cloves garlic, minced
1 1/2 c. chicken or veggie broth
A pinch of crushed red pepper flakes
Salt and pepper, to taste
1 large bunch spinach, well-washed and trimmed
1 c. shaved parmesan (grated is fine, too, just use the good stuff & not the shaky stuff in the green can) (vegans can use some nutritional yeast to add flavor in place of the cheese)

Heat the oil in a pot. Add garlic & cook just until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Add everything but spinach and parmesan. Bring to a boil, then lower heat and simmer 5 minutes. Mash half the beans. Simmer another 5 minutes. Cut the spinach into 2-3" wide strips. Add to the pot, cover, and cook another 5 minutes, stirring halfway through the time. Remove from heat and add cheese. Adjust seasonings. Serves 2-4 as a main course, 6 as a side.