Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Simply. Delicious. Pasta.

Looking for something, quick, easy, yet a little elegant? We're talking less than 30 minutes from the time the little light bulb in your overworked brain ignites to your first bite of yumminess at the table. The other great thing about this dish is that it requires few ingredients -many that you may already have- so pre-planning is not an issue. When push comes to shove in our house in the dinnertime battle, pasta is always a winner! So pour yourself a glass of vino, and savor the taste of victory.

Simply Delicious Shrimp Pasta
  • 1 pound (box) pasta
  • 1 pound large shrimp (raw, peeled, deveined, tail off)
  • 1 small carton cherry or grape tomatoes halved or quartered
  • 6 cloves fresh chopped garlic (or a good squeeze of the tubed stuff, or two heaping spoonfuls of the jarred minced stuff)
  • 1 pesto cube (see previous post Pesto, Presto!), or tablespoon of prepared pesto
  • Squeeze of lemon
  • 1 jar of marinated artichoke hears (cut into bite size chunks)
  • 1 TBSP butter
  • 3 TBSP soft goat cheese
  • Salt, pepper, extra virgin olive oil and dry white wine (I like sauvignon blanc or pinot grigio since I can also drink it, too!)
Start a pot of super salted water for pasta on high, and a large skillet with garlic, butter, and a good coat of olive oil over medium heat.

While both pans heat, slice tomatoes and artichokes.

As soon as the garlic is fragrant and butter is mostly melted, add shrimp.

Next, add in the tomatoes and artichoke.

Flip shrimp with a pair of tongs as soon as they begin to curl and quickly add some freshly cracked black pepper, salt, squeeze of lemon, and about 1/2 cup of white wine.

Allow liquids to bubble, then remove from heat to avoid overcooking shrimp.

When noodles are cooked to your liking, drain add to pan with shrimp and goodies.

Top with pesto and goat cheese, then mix. If it's a bit dry, add a drizzle of olive oil and one more squeeze of lemon.

A really fun, and yummy, garnish is a Parmesan chip. Make a few piles of shredded cheese (don't use the grated stuff in the shaker) on some foil, and put into toaster oven on 350 for a few minutes until bubbly and golden brown. Allow to cool, then peel off and place on top of each serving.

Enjoy with a glass of white wine, and viola! Done.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Chicken Soup for the Soul

One thing I can't resist is volunteering to deliver meals to families coping with illness, loss, deployment, new babies, sick babies, family difficulties, natural disasters, etc. I know it's a small thing, but sometimes it's all I can offer. And I know if my family were in need, I would be eternally grateful if others did the same for me. So, here is what's on the stove right now for a colleague who is hospitalized with an acute illness, and has precious small children and a working spouse at home.

Yummy Tummy Warming Tortellini Soup
1 rotisserie chicken (de-bone and shred or cube meat)
2-3 cartons low sodium chicken broth (you can use 2 and 2 cups water, but will need extra seasoning)
1 can cannellini beans rinsed and drained (white kidney beans)
1 or 1/2 frozen peas (depending on your taste)
2 bags frozen cheese stuffed tortellini
1 cube frozen pesto
Parmesan cheese
salt, pepper, thyme

Add broth, beans, peas to pot and bring to boil. Add frozen peas and tortellini. Cover. As it comes to a simmer, shred/chop chicken. Add chicken and salt, pepper, and thyme to pot. Soup will be ready to eat immediately after coming to a boil though it is best when you cover, turn off heat, and allow to sit for 5-10 minutes.

Serve in bowls, top with grated Parmesan cheese and pepper. A great side is some warm, crusty bread, simply drizzled with olive oil and seasoned with pepper. Dip into soup for a scrumptious bite! Heart-warming, tummy-warming, and just plain yummy on a chilly fall night.

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Gruyere Toasts with Caramelized Onions and Sherry

It's been a while since I've shared an appetizer from Concetta, the Party Ninja. This is a very savory and robustly flavored finger food that is perfect for a cocktail or dinner party. It would be excellent with a nice frosty micro brewed beer to cut through some of the tartness of the mustard and bring out the flavors of the rye bread. My current favorite beer of all time is Sierra Nevada Kellerweis.

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

Yummiest beer ever! A silky smooth Hefeweizen with subtle banana and clove. DE-LISH!
1/2 cup extra virigin olive oil
4 large onion thinly sliced
1/4 cup Fino Sherry
1 1/2 teaspoon caraway seeds, lightly toasted
Kosher salt and pepper to taste.
Rye cocktail bread
1/2 cup whole grain mustard
10 ozs Gruyere Cheese, shredded.

On the stove put olive oil, onions, caraway seeds, salt and pepper in pan and saute at med to med-high for 20 to 25 minutes or until onions are soft and translucent. Add Sherry and cook for another 2 minutes, set mixture aside.

Toasted cocktail rye with mustard, Gruyere cheese, and caramelized onion
Toast Rye bread for 3 minutes each side. Once cool, spread mustard on each slice, add onion mixture and cheese on top. Put on a cookie or baking sheet in oven for another 10 to 15 minutes until cheese is melted. Or, you can put oven on broil until the cheese is slightly browned.

Well, what are you waiting for? Summer is coming to an end, so get your party on!!

Saturday, July 30, 2011

Pesto... Presto!

Fresh basil, thyme, rosemary, and flat leave parsley from the garden rinsed and dried.

Toss in food processor with several peeled cloves of garlic, and bits of good Parmigiano Reggiano cheese..

Blend, then drizzle in extra virgin olive oil, and a season with salt and pepper. Blend again until evenly chopped..

Viola- pesto!! Spoon into an ice cube tray, cover, and freeze until firm. Empty into freezer bag or tupperware with lid and store in the freezer.

These pesto pops are awesome in the winter when garden fresh herbs don't exist, and on days when you are short on time, but need a fresh and flavorful finish.

Great for tossing in your marinara sauce (jarred or homemade), combined with lemon juice and hot sauce as an amazing marinade for meat or fish, or just add straight to a pot of cooked and drained noodles, toss in capers, cheese, and some balsamic vinegar for a fast and fresh side dish.

Warning: four cups of fresh herbs only yields about 10 ice cubes. So don't be disappointed. Each little cube packs a fresh flavor punch!

Monday, July 25, 2011

Is there a doctor in the house?

Cooking every meal from scratch with all natural, raw, and organic materials is like sitting on the beach from sunup to sundown sipping on cocktails. I would love to do it every day! Sadly, that is not the world in which I live. I guess that's why there is spray tan and jarred pasta sauce!

There are times when a little "doctoring up" of some ready made items can save the day and help you get a hot meal on the table without resorting to take out. I really don't subscribe to the Sandra Lee "Semi-Homemade" method nor have I used her recipes. But I DO appreciate having the ability to take shortcuts and still be able to do a home cooked meal in an economical and efficient way.

A couple of my favorite culinary doctoring procedures:

Pasta Sauce:  I buy organic marinara in a glass jar. You can get it with mushrooms, peppers, garlic, etc, etc. I personally prefer the traditional tomato, basil and garlic. It's a good base.
    • What it needs: more flavor and depth, freshness
    • How to get that: Start with a few tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil over medium-low heat.  Add about a teaspoon of sugar, either freshly chopped basil, or a good squeeze of the basil from the tube (see Arsenal of a Dinnertime Ninja). Optional- a few tablespoons of dry red wine. Mix and then quickly add the jar of sauce. Let it heat up until it starts to simmer and bubble. Reduce heat.  Serve over- whatever you want! Great for pasta dishes, chicken or eggplant Parmesan, casseroles, or on a meatball sandwich!
Pre-washed Salad Mix: They have so many varieties available, and even the organics are affordable.
    • What it needs: fresh veggies and homemade dressing
    • How to get that: I keep things like cucumbers, bell peppers, tomatoes, and onions on hand pretty much all of the time. Just slice them up, and toss on top of the salad mix. For a dressing just give a couple shakes of balsamic and red wine vinegar, kosher or sea salt, fresh cracked pepper, and dried herbs of your choice. Toss and coat the salad with the mix. Drizzle on a little extra virgin olive oil and top with crumbles of cheese (feta, blue, gorgonzola, goat cheese, parmesan...) toss again and viola! 
    • The darker the green, the more nutrient-rich it is. We love arugula, baby spinach and mache.
No MD required!

    Sunday, July 24, 2011

    I'm Winning!!

    Though you may not consider cooking a sport, I often do. I'm not talking about a Throwdown with Bobby Flay (though that would be fun!) but rather a competition with myself. My most recent triumph was an old favorite; Eggplant Parmesan. I've been making it for years, each time a little differently. It's been an arduous process of experimenting, tweaking, and trying to combine the very best methods from each preparation to get me to the ultimate, perfect, scrumptious version I gleefully prepared Friday evening. As you can see, I take my food very seriously. If I'm cooking over a hot stove in the summer, I darn well better make it worth it!

    Eggplant Parmigiana alla Angelina
    This dish is a bit of a labor of love. Though not difficult or requiring much technical skills, it does require several steps and a good dose of patience. I also find that I require a glass or two of wine to sip during the preparation.

    Round One:
    The skin is pretty, but tough to bite through... try slicing off stripes before slicing into rounds.
    Pick it: Select a firm and heavy (dense) feeling eggplant. Not too soft or bruised, but deep in color so you know it's ripe.
    Cut it: Slice off sections of the skin lengthwise, cut off top stem and bottom.
    Slice into 1/3 inch thick rounds.
    Eggplant rounds sweating on the stove top

    Sweat it: Lightly salt rounds with sea or kosher salt, and spread out onto cookie sheet. Put into oven on very low heat (200) until the rounds are beginning to wilt and brown. You can also do this in a large sautee pan on the stove top on the lowest setting. Flip the eggplant rounds and sweat for another 5-10 minutes. The purpose of this is to sweat out the excess water in the plant, and begin the cooking process to ensure tender, fully cooked eggplant in your final stage. If you skip this or don't sweat them long enough it will be like biting into raw zucchini. I am not a fan of that.
    Tip: They will seem slimy and weird, but that's the moisture being pulled out... and that moisture helps the flour stick in the next step!
    Eggplant rounds that have sweat it out in the oven and are ready for breading

    Round Two:
    Ready to bread with seasoned flour, egg wash, and special breadcrumb mix
    Bread it: Set up a breading station with 3 glass baking dishes. Dish one is flour seasoned with salt and pepper. Dish two is an egg wash with two eggs beaten with a tablespoon or two of water. In dish three is one of the secret weapons... a mix of panko (Japanese style) breadcrumbs and the traditional Italian seasoned breadcrumbs. Dredge the rounds in the flour, thoroughly coating both sides. Shake off excess flour gently, and place into egg wash, wetting both sides. Lastly, place into bread crumbs mix and pat firmly to be sure they stick and form a good coat all around. From here, they can go straight into a saute pan of olive oil heated over medium heat, or onto the baking sheet as a holding dock. It depends on how much you're making... if you can fit it all into one pan then put them straight in.
    Tip: Use tongs or another utensil to help or your fingers will become coated with more breading than the eggplant will.

    Brown it: In olive oil over medium heat (don't let it get to the smoking point) brown both sides of the breaded rounds. You may need to add in more oil before flipping since the breadcrumbs absorbs a bit. Once they are browned and crispy, set aside on paper towels back onto the cookie sheet.
    Tip: If cooking in multiple batches, it may be necessary to wipe out the pan with a paper towel to get rid of burnt pieces... just add a bit more oil and you're good to go!

    Breaded and fried eggplant rounds in baking dish
    Round Three:

    Bake it: Place crispy fried rounds into a baking dish with a very little bit of red sauce spread out on the bottom. Top with thinly sliced FRESH mozzarella cheese (not the hard brick or shredded stuff) and a dollop of sauce. Into a preheated oven they go, and bake at 375 for 15 minutes tops, until the cheese is melty and they sauce is bubbly.
    Eggplant rounds breaded, fried and ready to bake topped with fresh cheese and sauce

    While it bakes, cook up some Orzo pasta according to the box's directions. Orzo is a small, rice-looking pasta. But, it's NOT rice, it's pasta!! It has an awesome texture and size that is unique, easy to eat, and blends beautifully with the rest of the dish. Drain... do not rinse.

    Serve it: Finally, you are ready to enjoy the fruits of your labor! Serve up this scrumptions but surprisingly light dish by spooning out a bed of Orzo pasta onto the center of a plate, ladle on a bit of sauce, top with two rounds, another bit of sauce, and fresh basil.
    Eggplant Parmesan on Orzo pasta with fresh mozzarella and basil
    A FABULOUS side to accompany this is my Arugula Salad- with diced capicola ham, sweet grape tomatoes, capers, crumbles of aged Parmigiano Reggiano cheese, and homemade lemon vinaigrette. It is to. die.for. delicious and light and healthy. It's basically what you just read. But here is the dressing: Juice of 1/2 lemon, extra virgin olive oil, few splashes of balsamic vinegar, salt, pepper, thyme. Viola!  
    Tip: either add the ingredients to a container with lid and shake well, or wisk... OR add the lemon juice, vinegar, salt, pepper and thyme directly to the salad, toss well, and then drizzle on the olive oil. If you add the oil first, it coats the salad and repels the acid (vinegar) and it will taste oily and leave a puddle of vinegar at the bottom of the bowl.

    A piece of crusty bread, glass of wine, and you have yourself a $50 restaurant-quality meal! Only it's in your own home, doesn't cost as much, the booze is cheaper, and you don't have to tip anyone or drive home.

    Now that, is WINNING!

    Friday, June 10, 2011

    It's All About The Pot

    Oppressive heat and humidity can pretty much guaranty I will be looking for ways to feed the family that does NOT involve turning on the oven. Or stove top. Or toaster oven. Or microwave... This week we had plenty of that kind of weather, and a friend reminded me of the beauty of the crock pot. It puts off no heat while it sits quietly on the counter, cooking up whatever yummy concoctions you can come up with. The challenge for me was to overcome my image of crock pot food being heavy, comfort-type meals better suited for cold weather. I'm happy to say I made two successful crock pot meals that were equally easy, healthy, and enjoyable on a hot day.

    Crock pot meal #1: Crock Pot Turkey Joes
    My version of sloppy joe's has a sneaky way of adding in extra nutrition, and cutting down on fat. I was inspired by Jessica Seinfeld's book, but don't have the patience or time to make numerous purees of vegetables to "hide" in my kids' food. And, my kids do a pretty good job of eating their vegetables. But, nonetheless, sometimes an extra boost can help make up for the popsicles and ice cream truck treats that come with summer. I started this a little after noon, and it was great for dinner around 6:00. Best of all I didn't have to stand over a hot stove browning meat!
    • 1 pound lean ground turkey
    • 1/2 can black beans (drained and rinsed)
    • 1 packet Sloppy Joe seasoning
    • 1 small can tomato sauce
    • 1/4 cup ketchup
    • 1 jar organic/ all natural spinach and carrots baby food (trust me, you can't taste it a bit)
    With crock pot on high, mix in the turkey and seasoning packet (don't follow directions on packet to add water). The turkey will absorb the seasoning and begin to cook. Stir occasionally for the first half hour.

    Next, add tomato sauce, baby food, beans, and ketchup. I also sprinkle in onion powder and garlic powder, but it's not necessary. Mix well, put on the lid and let it go! I turned down the heat to "keep warm" after an hour and propped the lid open slightly to let out steam so I didn't end up with chili instead.
    Serve on your choice of whole grain bread or bun with a fresh fruit salad and you have yourself a tasty summer meal.

    Crock Pot Meal #2: Taco Bar Chicken with Rice
    This is a fun meal for entertaining or feeding a crowd without heating up the kitchen. The chicken and rice cook in the crock pot, leaving only fresh veggies and condiments to prepare. It's also nice for picky eaters since you serve it taco bar style allowing everyone to choose their own toppings.

    In the crock pot:
    • 2-4 cups shredded chicken (prepared store bought rotisserie chicken works great, or make your own shredded chicken in bulk, freeze and store for quick no-cook recipes in the future. Check out Making Bulk Shredded Chicken in Crock Pot)
    • 1/2 cup rice
    • 1/2 cup orzo pasta
    • taco seasoning packet
    • 1 can Ro-Tel tomatoes with green chili
    • 1/2 cup water
    • 1 TBSP olive oil
    • lime pepper (optional, to taste)
    On the side: (the possibilities are endless!)
    • diced tomatoes
    • diced jalepeno
    • shredded cheese
    • shredded lettuce
    • diced avocado or prepared guacamole
    • sour cream
    • taco and/or hot sauce
    • chopped onion
    • sliced black olives

    Combine all ingredients in the crock pot and mix well. Simmer on high for about 10 minutes covered, and then add in shredded chicken, replace lid, turn to low and let it go. Once all liquid is absorbed and rice is tender, mix well to fluff rice and pasta, and turn to "keep warm" until you are ready to eat.

    Serve with whole wheat soft tortillas, hard shell tacos (la Tierra brand is my all time favorite) or even pita pockets. I love a squeeze of lime and dash of chipotle powder on mine. Often, I don't even bother with a side dish for this, since you have the meat, rice, and vegetable toppings all rolled into one delicious package.

    What are your favorite crock pot recipes?

    Happy crock potting!

    Thursday, June 9, 2011

    Time to Hit the Sauce

    If it ain't broke, don't fix it! While normally this describes my attitude about pasta and sauce, there are times when adding a little extra zip to traditional marinara is all it takes to turn a boring Tuesday night spaghetti dinner into something special.

    Goat Week: Day 3

    Pasta Margherita

    This is a play on the original Pizza Margherita made with thin crust, fresh basil and buffalo mozzarella. The red, white, and green in the pasta version are marinara, goat cheese, and pesto. It's super quick and easy, and can be used on any type of pasta shape... and even on lasagna.

    Depending on your level of commitment, you can do this with homemade marinara and homemade pesto sauces. Or, to keep it simple and quick, you can use jarred sauces.
    •  Start with your favorite marinara sauce simmering on the stove. 
    • Add in prepared pesto sauce (chopped basil, pine nut, olive oil and garlic) and mix. 
    • Next add a package of goat cheese (chevre) and stir until it is smooth and creamy. The sauce will be slightly pinkish.
    • To be honest, you can't really do it wrong. Just go according to your taste. In general 1 part pesto, 1 part goat cheese to 5 parts marinara will get you there. 

    I'm fine with just pasta and sauce. But when I tell my husband we are having pasta for dinner, the first question is, "Does it have meat?" So if you are looking to add a protein to the dish, here are two delicious ideas.

    Meat option #1: Italian Sausage
    Brown the sausage, slice, and top your fettuccine.

    Meat option #2: Chicken Breast
    This is one of those times to cheat and use a rotisserie chicken to save time and trouble. Remove skin and cut the breast meat off of the bone. Or bake a few boneless, skinless chicken breasts with olive oil, salt, and pepper. Place on a bed of rigatoni and top with sauce.

    Viola! Dinner is done.

    Tuesday, June 7, 2011

    Is that a party in your pepper?

    It's summer... and it's HOT! There are many days this time of year when I crave something special, but have no desire to turn on the oven. Or even the toaster, for that matter. This simple yet sophisticated dish is a great snack, appetizer, or even side dish. It requires absolutely no cooking, and virtually no time to prepare. This makes it perfect for those impromptu neighborhood gatherings featuring cold beverages, lawn chairs, and snacks! The zesty flavor and freshness of these little guys is surprising... it's like a party in a pepper!

    Mini sweet peppers stuffed with herbed goat cheese

    Goat Cheese Stuffed Sweet Peppers (Goat Week: Day 2)
    • 1 package of sweet mini peppers (wash and dry)
    • 8 oz chevre (soft goat cheese)
    • balsamic vinegar (or glaze if you can find it)
    • extra virgin olive oil
    • sea salt
    • fresh cracked black pepper
    • fresh chopped basil or squeeze tube (optional)
    • black pepper
    • pinch of thyme (optional)
    Roasted mini peppers stuffed with herbed goat cheese
    There are two ways to prep the peppers. Either cut the tops off, empty seeds and stuff the whole empty pepper; or, slice in half lengthwise and fill the hollowed center. Sometimes the halved peppers are easier to bite through all the way and don't end up squirting the filling out. It also yields more servings which is helpful if you are entertaining and want to maximize the quantity of bites for the amount of ingredients.
    In a bowl mix cheese, salt, pepper, and herbs to taste. Drizzle in a touch of olive oil and 2 teaspoons of balsamic vinegar. *If using the balsamic glaze do not add to mix, reserve it to finish the dish. Whip together with a fork, and spoon into peppers.

    Now, you have two options here. You can serve them raw, chilled, crisp, and delicious at this point (with balsamic glaze drizzled over top if that is what you are using).
    You can put them in a 400 degree oven for about 20 minutes and roast the peppers, melting the cheese, to make a hot, savory, mouth-watering bite. Then drizzle with glaze and allow to cool slightly before serving.

    Both versions are delectable!

    Cherry tomatoes stuffed with herbed goat cheese filling. YUM!
    But wait! There's more! You could also use cherry or roma tomatoes for this dish... just scoop out the seeds and fill. AND you could do the cold or roasted version with those as well. So here you have glorious goat cheese done four ways. I know I couldn't ask for more!

      Monday, June 6, 2011

      La semaine de la chèvre!

      I would eat it in a box, I would eat it with a fox. I would eat it in a car. I would eat it near or far.

      Chevre (goat cheese
      Actually, I love it on pizza, pasta, sandwiches, in salads and sauces, with fruit, eggs and veggies... What is this mystical and magical food? Goat cheese! Specifically Chevre. It's the tangy, creamy and smooth, spreadable cheese that comes in a log. And in an attempt to justify my insatiable appetite for this product, I am going to open my bag of tricks and dump it all out on the table. 

      Several years ago when I was first introduced to goat cheese, I shuddered a bit at the thought of it. It was just not something I had grown up eating, so it seemed odd. Here in the Midwest we are used to cow's milk products, and not much more exotic than that. But, to my delight, one of my favorite delicacies is becoming more and more mainstream and widely available. So whether you are a goat cheese aficionado, or reluctant virgin, I hope you'll find something you love.
      Enjoy "la semaine de la chèvre!"
       (Goat week sounds less appetizing in English) 

      Goat Week: Day One

      Ode-to-Chevre Brushetta 
      (contributed by the lovely Consetta)
      Bruschetta with goat cheese, olives, tomatoes and herbs

      • 1 baguette
      • 5 tablespoons olive oil
      • 2 lbs firm ripe tomatoes, diced
      • 1 1/2 tablespoons lemon juice
      • 1 1/2 teaspoons dijon mustard
      • 1/4 cup chopped Kalamata olives (pitted)
      • 3 tablespoons chopped basil
      • 2 cloves crushed garlic
      • 6 oz Chevre cheese
      • salt and pepper to taste

      Slice baguette, drizzle with olive oil, bake at 425 for 5 minutes. Once cool, spread Chevre on each slice of baguette. In mixing bowl add all other ingredients and mix, spoon over Chevre and serve.

      Sunday, June 5, 2011

      Marry Me!

      I LOVE steak. Juicy, rare, and right off of the grill. And right now it's prime grilling season! In fact, as I type this, there is a giant, thick cut sirloin marinading in the fridge. My mouth is watering just thinking about it!

      I have found that there are two kinds of steak eaters in the world. The first is the traditional set that subscribes to the belief that simplicity is best. My husband is one of these. He doesn't like anything but a simply seasoned piece of meat. He is happy with some kosher salt, pepper, and olive oil. And I agree it is tasty, and even fantastic for chicken, pork, or fish. But I stand firmly with the second group of steak eaters: those that enjoy creative and bold seasonings and sauces. If I were to have a celebrity chef prepare my steak, I'd choose Bobby Flay.

      Whichever team you are on, I have a marinade recipe for you to test at your next cookout. It adds enough flavor for bold and spicy craving carnivores like me, but is not overpowering enough to put off the traditional meat eaters. It's a lovely compromise. And compromise is the key to any successful relationship. Steak eaters- unite!

      Depending on your taste preferences, you can go a little easy or extra heavy on specific ingredients. Normally I am a rib-eye loving girl, but this marinade makes even an inexpensive sirloin scrumptious. We used one large steak that can serve 2-4 diners, and this is enough marinade. Adjust quantity and measurements for your needs and tastes!
      • olive oil 1/3 cup roughly
      • apple cider vinegar 1-2 cap fulls
      • Worcestershire sauce 2-3 tablespoons
      • soy sauce (either go really easy on this, or use the lite/low sodium to avoid over saltiness) 2 teaspoons
      • prepared horseradish 1 teaspoon
      • fresh garlic 3-4 cloves
      • kosher or sea salt
      • black pepper
      • fresh or dried basil and (flat leaf) parsley 2-3 tablespoons dried or a handful of fresh
      Add all ingredients to food processor if using fresh whole garlic cloves and herbs, and pulse until it's all finely chopped. If using dried herbs and you don't mind chopping garlic (or are using the jarred minced garlic) then you can simply whisk it together or shake it well in a container with lid. Then pour marinade over meat in a glass baking dish, or into large plastic bag. Refrigerate and allow to marinate for up to 8 hours. The longer it sits, the more the flavors will marry and tenderize the meat. For a zesty topping or dipping sauce, whisk together a teaspoon of horseradish or wasabi, few drops of honey, and few tablespoons of Worcestershire sauce.

      I have recently become a grilling ninja, and have learned lots of tips and secrets that make any steak at home as delicious and appealing as any from a restaurant. Perhaps you are already a grill master and know what I'm about to tell you. Well goody for you! These are things I've leaned from my favorite chefs and from my own experimenting.
      1. When marinating steak in the refrigerator, it's important to remove it up to an hour before you plan to grill and allow the meat to come to room temperature to help it to cook evenly. That's important because it prevents well done steak from burning on the outside and drying out. It will also help a rare to medium rare steak get a nice sear on the outside and a warm, juicy center. I love a rare steak, but a cold, raw center is not appealing! 
      2. Preheat the grill with all burners on high for at least 15 minutes, and use a steel brush to clean the grates. This will get you a good sear on the meat with those pretty grill marks and avoid that gas smell and taste meat absorbs if you put it on too soon. 
      3. Only turn the meat once! And keep the grill closed as much as possible. This keeps the cooking temperature even. When it is time to flip, use an open area on the grate for a good sear on the second side and more good grill marks! Second side takes less time, so don't go too long. You can always put it back on, but if you over cook it, you're stuck with it.
      4. Let the meat rest! And avoid the temptation to cut into it to check the doneness. Let it sit, loosely covered, for 5 minutes before doing any cutting. The juices will redistribute and it will finalize the cooking process.


      Sunday, May 1, 2011

      A May Day Basket Case

      And I don't even like chocolate!
      Easter baskets. An arch nemesis to anyone with kids who is trying to lose weight and promote healthy eating. I'm not even a chocolate fan, but when they are strictly forbidden, they somehow have more allure. (Yes, I dated a bad boy in high school, too.) In second place to all of sweets are the brightly colored hard boiled eggs just begging to be deviled! So now I have chocolate, sugar, and the potential for egg yolks whipped with mayo staring me in the face. So today, May Day, I am going Ninja on all of the leftover Easter Basket evils.

      I believe it's serendipitous that I totally forgot to purchase anything to make May Day goodie baskets. Here is an opportunity to use that leftover candy! And there is always a random selection of cups leftover from birthday parties that take up space in the cabinet, yet I don't want to throw away. Two of my problems solved! Now all I need to do is whip out a few stickers, glitter paints and pom poms left in our winter survival craft kit and, VIOLA! Instant May Day baskets that rid my home of sweets and clutter. That's so ninja.

      Now, on to the serious business of those eggs. I LOVE deviled eggs. I LOVE egg salad sandwiches. However, they love me so much, too, that they stay on my butt wherever I go! Time to do a little maneuvering to turn an old foe into a friend. Just the name devil'ed eggs tells you something!

      Angel'ed Eggs
      There are a few options for this. If you are on a specific diet plan (like me) and limiting fat, you will want to use half or less of  the yolks. If you are just wanting to eliminate the fat of the mayo, etc, and are ok with yolks, then by all means, use every one of those yummy little guys. They are not as high in cholesterol and fat as once believed, though they certainly do have some. Also, you can do this as an egg salad by chopping whites rather than halving and refilling.
      Again, I don't use specific measurements. You can eyeball it, taste it along the way, and make adjustments for quantity and taste.

      Ditch the devil'ed eggs and go for Angel'ed Eggs!
      • 1 dozen hard bolied eggs (remove yolks and chop whites)
      • salt, pepper
      • fresh chopped flat parsley, or tarragon, or cilantro, or scallion
      • finely diced celery (optional)
      • 1-2 small containers plain Greek yogurt (I like Dannon) drain whey
      • 2 Tbsp Dijon mustard (naturally fat free)
      • paprika (I like to use smoked sparingly, but either is fine)
      • 3+ drops of Tobasco or similar hot sauce (optional)

      In a bowl mix yolks, yogurt and mustard, and hot sauce until smooth. Add herbs and seasonings, and fold in diced celery. If you choose do do as egg salad, fold in the chopped egg whites, cover and refrigerate. If it's deviled style you desire, spoon into hollowed whites, sprinkle with paprika and a little bit of the fresh herbs to garnish.

      Happy May Day! Or, as it's also known, National Ding-dong Ditch Day!

      Saturday, April 30, 2011

      Restraining the Ninja

      Well, in an attempt to go Ninja on my flab, I have embarked on a new, challenging, and controversial endeavor. The hCG diet. It's a protocol utilizing homeopathic hCG drops and following a very strict regimen of 500 calories a day for 21 days. Of course, you can't consume 500 calories worth of pasta and cream sauce, either. So, for the next few weeks, I am attempting to make lemonade out of this lemon by creatively using herbs and spices along with unique combination of foods from the very short list of approved foods. No fats or oils are allowed, nor are any starches. So this is a challenge for someone with EVOO coursing through her veins and pasta always on the brain.

      If you know me at all, you know I will quickly bore of an apple and boneless skinless chicken breast for dinner. Actually if you know me at all, you'll realize I would never make myself eat a boneless skinless chicken matter how fat I am! So in an effort to keep things tasty, satisfying, and interesting... here we go!

      Ground Turkey with Curry and Curly Mustard Greens
      The pungent flavors of the curry and greens help satisfy your taste buds without using oil or fatty sauces. Plus the nutritional value of this, thanks to the greens, is through the roof! Another bonus-utilizing spices like cinnamon and cayenne boost your metabolism naturally.

      1 pound extra lean all natural ground turkey
      1 small diced white onion
      1 lime
      curry powder
      cayenne pepper
      sea or kosher salt and pepper
      1 cup organic low sodium chicken stock
      3 cups organic curly mustard greens (take a minute to chop them a bit smaller than they come, rinse, and wring out with your hands)

      Heat a large skillet over medium-high heat, and add turkey and onions. Break up the turkey and keep mixing, to avoid any scorching. There is little to no fat in the turkey and you are not adding any to the pan, so you have to keep it moving. Season with salt, pepper, 2-3 tablespoons of curry power, a dash of cinnamon and cayenne. Mix. Slowly add the chicken stock and then the greens. Mix until the greens wilt down, then top with juice of half a lime. Mix, cover, reduce to medium heat, and allow to simmer for a few minutes- turkey should be fully cooked and greens wilted and soften a bit. Serve hot with a lime wedge.

      A great side to this is a cucumber salad. Peel and slice cucumber. Add thinly sliced onion. Allow to marinate in red wine vinegar, salt and pepper (add dill if you like) for 10-15 minutes in the fridge before serving.
      If you are not limiting carbs, whole wheat couscous would be a wonderful addition to the meal.

      *Well wishers are welcome, but don't comment negatively on my choice of diet plan. I really don't need it. Thank you!

      Thursday, April 21, 2011

      My Current Obsession

      Once in a while I come up with a recipe that I love so much, I'll eat it every day for weeks. I recently threw together a salad that has become my obsession this month. It is ridiculously simple, yet astoundingly delicious. It's not your ordinary iceberg lettuce salad with ranch dressing, and makes a wonderful side dish with a beautifully grilled rib eye steak. It's easy to make a large quantity to serve at dinner parties, and has an elegance about it.

      Baby Arugula with Spicy Cappacola and Lemon Vinaigrette 

      What you need:
      • 1 bag of pre-washed organic baby arugula
      • spicy cappacola ham
      • freshly shaved imported parmigiano reggiano cheese (blue or Gorgonzola cheese crumbles can substitute)
      • juice of 1 lemon
      • extra virgin olive oil
      • sea salt, fresh cracked black pepper
      • splash of balsamic vinegar
      • dried thyme
      • handful of sweet grape tomatoes, halved

      Place arugula in large bowl.  Roll up several slices of cappacola and slice into strips. Add ham, halved tomatoes, and cheese to the greens and gently toss.

      Splurge for the actual Italian (aged and imported) Parmigiano Reggiano- it's worth it's weight in gold. There is just nothing that comes close. If you don't want to spend the ten bucks for a wedge, or don't care for it, you can do the crumbled gogonzola, blue, or feta cheese. I strongly advise against the substitution of American Parmesan. It has no taste and the consistency is like wax. 
      Lemon Vinaigrette:
      I don't measure, but there are some general proportions you can follow in order to adjust the quantity to your needs. Obviously you can adjust to your taste. (Word of warning, you can't judge it alone by dipping a finger in it. Dip a leaf and sample a bite to get a true assessment.)

      Use one part fresh squeezed lemon juice to 2 parts extra virgin olive oil. Season generously with fresh cracked pepper and sea salt. Add a dash of dried thyme, and two spashes of balsamic vinegar. The sweetness of the balsamic balances the sour of the lemon and it ends up with such a fresh, light, yet lively flavor. You'll want to whisk or shake to blend well, then drizzle onto salad and toss.

      To make this into an entree, simply add sliced chicken breast (see my post Cheater Cheater Chicken Eater) and toasted walnuts. See if it becomes your lunch break obsession, too!

      Wednesday, April 20, 2011

      Wasssuuuuppp? Wasabi!

      Looking for inspiration? Craving something different? Sometimes it's hard to break out of the routine. But here is an easy and delicious way to do it! Kick it island style with a little Sesame Crusted Ahi Tuna with Wasabi Dipping Sauce.

      I got my inspiration for this dish from one of my favorite places on St. Thomas in the US Virgin Islands. While a nanny for a family on the island, I used to cherish my Sundays "off duty" and hit Iggy's Beach Bar at Bolongo Bay Beach Resort. The skewered tuna with wasabi sauce was my favorite thing to snack on while sitting on the deck and marveling at the clear waters and powdery white sands.

      You can find individually frozen ahi tuna "steaks" in packages in your grocer's freezer section. Or, if you are lucky enough to live somewhere you can get the fresh stuff, well then I am jealous. If it's the frozen variety you'll be using, you really only need to partially thaw it according to the package directions. This is a fish that really should be prepared rare to medium-rare, otherwise it quickly resembles tuna from a can and is extremely dry. Fresh, or completely thawed fish will require very little cook time.

      Marinade the tuna (10-20 minutes) in a glass dish or plastic bag in a mixture of a little sesame oil, low sodium soy sauce, honey, salt, pepper, and fresh lime juice. Heat a pan to medium-high with about a tablespoon of sesame oil. While it heats, remove the tuna from the marinade and roll in sesame seeds (white and black) until it is covered in a nice crust. Sear the fish for approximately 2 minutes on first side, 1 on the other. The sesame seeds should brown, and the fish will be medium rare. If you just can't stand the thought of medium rare, cook additional 2 minutes on the flip side to bring it to medium. If it rests for any amount of time, residual heat will cook it slightly more.

      Dipping sauce: Whip up plain Greek yogurt or mayo, wasabi, a dash of soy sauce, drop of sesame oil, squeeze of lime, and garnish with sesame seeds .

      Serve with simple sides like a micro green salad dressed with a little oil, lemon juice, salt and pepper; and bed of whole wheat couscous. Now kick back and imagine the sound of the waves crashing and sip on a fruity drink!

      Sunday, April 3, 2011

      Cheater Cheater Chicken Eater

      If you've read previous posts, then you may be aware that I have a poultry aversion. Particularly to chicken. But I have made huge strides to overcome this, thanks to a few amazing recipes and one super-fantastic-too-good-to-pass-up item... the store prepared rotisserie chicken!

      I mean, seriously. How can you not love this? They are all natural whole chickens seasoned and cooked rotisserie style right in the deli section of the supermarket. They're hot, juicy and ready to go! Plus, they range in price from $4.99 to $6.99 depending on when you buy them. The later in the evening you shop, the lower the price!

      These babies are so delicious and so versatile. And it's the greatest shortcut for those nights when you need a good meal fast. It's like cheating! Only guilt-free and harmless.

      There are so many ways to utilize the ready to eat rotisserie chicken. Here are my favorites.

      Chicken dinner: The most obvious option is to eat it hot right off the bone. Whip up a fresh green salad, some rice pilaf, and steamed asparagus, and you've got a healthy meal in less than 30 minutes.

      Chicken salad: Just stick it directly into the refrigerator and the next day remove the breast meat (ditch the skin), and cube into small pieces. Add some diced celery, crumbled bacon (use turkey bacon if you prefer), chopped scallions and a little bit of plain Greek yogurt and dollop of mayo for that familiar flavor. Season with a little salt, pepper, and feel free to throw in some fresh chopped flat leaf parsley or dill. This makes a delicious lunch on a whole grain role. Add sprouts or spinach leves and sliced tomatoes to the sandwich to really jazz it up.

      Entree Salad: This is filling and satisfying enough to eat as your main entree. Remove the and breast meat from refrigerated chicken. Slice or shred. Serve on top of arugula, add halved grape tomatoes, blue cheese crumbles and toss with lemon vinaigrette. Some diced cappcola ham is a fabulous addition. (Dressing: juice of half lemon, 1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil, dash of balsamic vinegar, sea salt, fresh black pepper and a pinch of thyme)

      Enchiladas: Remove skin, cut out the breast and leg meat, etc, and shred. Combine with sliced black olives, diced onion, a little sour cream (optional), drained can of green chilies, and shredded cheese.  Add 1/3 of a can of enchilada sauce and mix. Fill tortillas and place in glass baking dish (lightly coat bottom of dish with the enchilada sauce to prevent sticking). Top with remaining sauce and sprinkle with shredded cheese. Bake until hot and cheese is melted. Serve topped with diced tomato, chopped lettuce, onion, sour cream, black olives, and jalapenos. A side of beans and avocado salad round out this meal. (Avocado salad: sliced avocados, fresh lime juice, salt, halved grape tomatoes.)

      What are your favorite ways to go ninja on these types of convenience items from the deli?