Friday, December 18, 2009

Cleanup Frenzy is Productive

Got to tidy up
Too much cabinet clutter
Making me crazy.

Must clean out the fridge.
Gravy is taking up space -
Or can it be soup?

I am a happy woman if the house is neat and tidy to all appearances. "Find it a home!"I tell my third-grade daughter when she brings in another precious object. My desk is orderly. In the kitchen and bathroom, residence is conditional: if we use it daily, it can stay on the counter. If not, underneath it goes. Messes, stacks, and stashes are stored within the confines of spaces behind doors; i.e., cabinets, closets, and the basement.

Out of sight, out of mind. Otherwise, the clutter drives me insane.

I don't think about what I can't see, including cans and jars of food that are hidden in the back recesses of cabinets and the pantry -- until I unpack groceries and I have to make them fit. Sometimes I stuff them in. But other times, I have the patience to get rid of the old and make way for the new.

So in a recent fit of impatient (read: furious) weeding out after a grocery run, when I didn't have the time to do it, I was in a mood to throw out everything that didn't appeal to me at the moment. I hesitated over a jar of gravy. How in the world did it get there? More than likely, I acquired it with my recent marriage and subsequent household merger. As I considered its source, benevolence overtook me. An "aha" moment told me how to use its convenience properties to advantage.

The gravy turned out to be perfectly delicious in this casserole. When I added sautéed mushrooms and vermouth, it had all the richness of a veloute sauce (homemade broth thickened with a blond roux). I may hoard a few more jars on purpose now.

Quick Cassoulet

6 skinless, boneless chicken thighs, cut into thirds
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground pepper
About 1 cup all-purpose flour
3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, divided
1 1/2 cups sliced fresh baby bella mushrooms
2 cloves garlic, crushed
1 teaspoon dried rosemary, crumbled
1 (12-ounce) jar chicken gravy
1/2 cup chicken broth
1 (15-ounce) can navy beans, drained
1 or 2 tablespoons dry vermouth
1/2 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
1/2 cup fine, dry breadcrumbs

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.

Sprinkle chicken thighs with salt and pepper; dredge in flour, shaking off excess. Heat a large heavy skillet over medium-high heat; add 2 tablespoons oil to skillet and heat until hot but not smoking. Add chicken; cook until browned and cooked through, 6 to 8 minutes. Place in a 1 1/2-quart baking dish, and set aside.

Reduce heat to medium and heat remaining 1 tablespoon olive oil in skillet. Add mushrooms, garlic, and rosemary; sauté until mushrooms are tender, about 5 minutes. Stir in gravy, broth, beans, and vermouth; pour over chicken. Combine Parmesan cheese and breadcrumbs; sprinkle evenly on top.

Bake until topping is golden brown and casserole is bubbly, about 30 minutes.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Back to our Roots

Vegetables mashed
It's smart to eat when you're stressed
Comfort food is best.

I believe we are supposed to eat vegetables in season. Just because we can get fresh asparagus in December doesn't mean we ought to be eating it. Our past generations ate off the land, thriving on the nutrition in what was easily accessible from the ground. People did not have a vast array of out-of-season foods at their fingertips. The taste and nutrients of freshly harvested vegetables have always been unsurpassed by those shipped over land and sea, perhaps even preserved in some manner.

When I'm out grocery shopping, I breeze by displays of corn and sugar snap peas that could not grow right now in my area; I glare at hothouse tomatoes like uninvited house guests, no matter how perfect they look on the outside. I did all those this past summer, when I couldn't get enough of blossoming summer squash, vine-ripened heirloom tomatoes, speckled beans, and others that basked in the sun on stalks and vines. (Don't get me wrong: I am a proponent of the colorful plate and eating a variety of fruits and vegetables. I just don't want to get ours from another country.)

Appropriately, my current food obsession is creamy mashed roots. When the weather outside is frightful and cold, it is coincidentally the time when underground root vegetables are ready to dig up out of their hibernation. And because this season is a little harried and dinner is the last thing on my mind as I rush around from work, holiday activities, shopping -- and just generally trying to keep life on track, I am grateful for this desire for simple, close-to-home-grown comfort food.

So I'll simmer or roast, then mash potatoes with celeriac or parsnips or sweet potatoes with rutabagas. We'll eat roots in soups and stews until the first stalks of asparagus push up through the dirt. By then, my mood will have changed and I'll be ready for green and other vibrant colors of spring vegetables and fruits. Until that happens, for the most part, the muted shades of winter roots, supplemented with winter greens and frozen and canned vegetables, will sustain us well.

Mashed Celeriac and Potatoes
3 cups diced peeled celeriac (1/2-inch dice)
12 ounce russet potato, peeled, cut into 1 1/2-inch chunks (about 2 1/2 cups)
3 tablespoons milk
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1/4 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
Pinch of ground nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground pepper
Cook celeriac in a large saucepan of boiling salted water until just tender, 10 to 15 minutes. Add potato and boil until both are very tender, about 15 minutes more. Drain. Return to saucepan over medium heat; cook and stir until vegetables are very dry. Mash until mostly smooth. Stir in milk, cheese, nutmeg, salt, and pepper.

Friday, December 4, 2009

Roughy-ing It

To show my deep love,
I make a wholesome dinner.
"Yuck, Mom. What is that?"

I love fish, but like many people, I find it intimidating to cook sometimes. This is compounded by the fact that my two kids rarely are enthusiastic about the results.

But my recent desire to branch out beyond my old stand-by salmon recipes, combined with that leftover bunch of celery in my fridge, helped me screw up my courage and try something new. And this time, I purposefully didn't make enough for the kids. Good thing, too, because this experiment turned out quite well, and my husband and I didn't want to share! The kids had fish sticks from a box - and everyone was happy.

Poached Orange Roughy
This simple dish requires a skillet that can move into a hot oven, but that just makes you look like a fancier cook!
1 tablespoon butter
2 teaspoons olive oil
1 1/2 cups baby carrots, sliced lengthwise
1 1/2 cups celery, coarsely chopped (about 1 1/2 inch lengths)
1/2 cup dry white wine
2/3 lb. fresh orange roughy filet or other firm white fish

Melt butter and oil over medium-high heat in a large skillet.

Add carrots and celery, and saute until vegetables soften slightly and begin to caramelize. Add wine and stir briefly to de-glaze.

Lay fish over vegetable and wine mixture. Allow it to steam on the stovetop for 1-2 minutes, then transfer skillet into the oven. Bake until fish flakes easily with a fork, 10-20 minutes. (Time depends on type of fish and thickness of filet, so check every 10 minutes or so.)

Thursday, December 3, 2009

The joy of new discoveries

Why is "stinky" cheese
Considered a gourmet food
When it smells like socks?

Last weekend, I discovered something new. Something I would never have tried based on the sound of it, but something that was truly yummy.

It was lemon stilton cheese.

"Stinky" cheese with candied lemon rind? Are you kidding me? But it was light and slightly tangy and infinitely refreshing. And, it inspired this simple and also refreshing salad, which turned out to be a nice rebound after Thanksgiving's carb-fest!

Green Salad with Pears and Lemon Stilton
1 small head romaine lettuce, chopped
1 ripe Bosc or other pear, thinly sliced
4 tablespoons crumbled lemon stilton cheese

Creamy Orange Vinegarette Dressing
1/4 cup light mayonaise
3 tablespoons white wine vinegar
2 tablespoons orange juice

Arrange lettuce on 4 plates, top with pear slices and sprinkle with 1 tablespoon of cheese. Whisk dressing ingredients together, drizzle over salad and serve!

Monday, November 30, 2009

The Best Thanksgiving Recipes You'll Never Get

Secret recipe
Guarded for generations
But blabbed on the Web

Ah, Thanksgiving, the carbo-holiday!!

Debby and I did a team effort this year. As we planned our menu and divvied up the work, we realized that we both have "non-negotiable" side dishes that must make their annual command appearance.

Hers include sweet potatoes and stuffing. Mine are butternut squash souffle and sour cream green beans.
Fortunately for us, these dishes have stood the test of time and become family favorites.

Sadly for you, dear readers, I can't share mine, under penalty of death and disownment from my own mother. See, we come from a place and time before the Internet age, before television - heck, maybe even before radio, when recipes were almost a form of identity.

Think you've got a cool Twitter handle? Check out my top-secret rhubarb pie. The word spread and the reputation grew in the same manner it does now, only much more slowly, so you could savor every bite. My mother honors this tradition religiously. Holding these recipes close is perhaps a way of holding the memory of the women who shared them close as well.

But that leaves me in an Internet age with an eager (I hope) audience that is hungry for both posts and recipes. So here's another recipe that I've made the past few years and like a LOT. And because I've forgotten where it came from, I'd say the likelihood of blowing anyone's secret tradition is pretty slim.

Cranberry Chutney
2 cups fresh cranberries
2 cups sugar
3 tablespoons water
1 chopped apple (I like Granny Smith for this)
2 ribs celery, chopped
1 tablespoon grated orange rind
1 cup orange juice
1 cup golden raisins
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
1/4 teaspoon ground cloves

Cook cranberries, sugar and water over medium heat for about 5 minutes, until sugar is completely dissolved. Add remaining ingredients and simmer for 35 minutes, stirring frequently.

Remove from heat and chill. Store in the refrigerator in an airtight container for up to 3 weeks.

Makes 2 1/2 cups.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

The Deconstructed Stir Fry

Hobgoblin of little minds
And a saving grace

Debby's last post resonated at my house, too. My daughter also has influence beyond her wildest imagination — but let's keep that between us.

In our case, it came from stir fry. Being mostly vegetarian, we have a stir fry about once a week, and Anne Elise almost always rolls her eyes and asks for something different. I refuse to be a short-order cook, so "something different" in my kitchen is either a peanut butter sandwich or a bowl of cereal.

This time, however, she looked over the ingredients I was prepping: onion, red and green pepper, broccoli, edamame. They were almost all things she liked, and she realized that it was the way that I cooked them that was a turn-off for her. (The child loves salty things but doesn't like soy sauce in stir fry. Go figure.)

Instead of whining about it, she got creative, suggesting that I keep a portion of each of her chosen ingredients off to the side, spread them over the white rice I had going, top them with a little cheese, and heat it all in the microwave. In other words, she completely deconstructed my intended meal, and rebuilt it to suit her taste.

It was an easy, healthy fix. She was happy. I was happy. And next time she can make it herself!

But for those of you who aren't deconstructionists, here's the full recipe:

Red and Green Stir Fry
1 tablespoon canola oil
1/2 medium onion, chopped
1 red bell pepper, chopped
1 green bell pepper, chopped
1 1/2 cups broccoli florets, cut into small pieces
1 8-oz bag frozen, shelled edamame
1/3 cup seasoned rice wine vinegar
1 tablespoon bottled chili sauce
3-4 tablespoons soy sauce (or to taste)
1/2 teaspoon Chinese 5-spice powder
1 tablespoon sesame oil

Heat oil over medium high heat in a wok or large frying pan until hot. (I drop in a piece of chopped onion and wait for it to sizzle.) Add onion and peppers, stirring often, and fry for about 5 minutes or until onion becomes translucent. Add broccoli and edamame and stir for another 2-3 minutes.

Stir in rice wine vinegar, chili sauce, soy sauce, 5-spice powder and sesame oil. Continue cooking, stirring frequently, until all vegetables are heated through and coated with seasonings. Serve over white, brown or sushi rice.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

What We Learn From Our Daughters

My daughter, in third grade, brings home a spelling assignment each Monday that has 4 activities to accomplish during the week; they are supposed to glue the words to her brain for the test on Friday. For one, she can choose between a poem, story, or song to fit all 10 words into. Up until now, she has chosen to write a story because that is where she feels comfortable; in her words, a story is easier. But today she stretched. She decided to configure haiku.

She has heard all about this blog. She knows the construction of the three metrical phrases of Japanese haiku. And she wanted to extend her wings and go for it.

Eleni does her homework at a table in the kitchen. Today, when she came home from school armored up to write, I was in there silently fuming that I did not feel like pulling together a decent dinner. Even though I had just come back from the grocery store with random food and the refrigerator was fairly full with the week's produce, I absolutely did not feel like fooling with it.

With one question and a remark, she changed my attitude: "Mom, isn't haiku 5-7-5? I want to write one with my words."

I realized that if she could step out of her zone, so could I. And if she is showing an interest in learning from me, I'll take a lesson from her. Go for it. Here's what we ate, and it was 30 minutes of pleasure to cook.

And I'll share her haiku efforts, too, with the spelling words italicized:
I'd hope to be in
High society later
In November, yes.

Community and
Character are not really
Alike that much now.

Values and science
And finally are also
Not a thing alike.

Whole Grain Pasta with Tomatoes, Peppers, and Shrimp

1 pound peeled and deveined medium shrimp, uncooked
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, divided
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt, divided
1/2 pound whole grain fettucini, uncooked
1 small onion, chopped
1 red bell pepper, chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 (14.5-ounce) can fire-roasted diced tomatoes, undrained
1/4 cup dry white wine
1/4 cup pitted kalamata olives, halved

Toss shrimp with 1 tablespoon olive oil and 1/4 teaspoon salt. Let stand 5 minutes.

Meanwhile, cook pasta in boiling salted water according to package directions; drain and keep warm.

Heat a large, heavy skillet over medium-high heat; add shrimp mixture and saute just until shrimp are opaque, about 3 minutes. Transfer to a plate. Heat remaining 1 tablespoon olive oil in skillet; add onion and peppers. Saute until tender, 12 to 15 minutes. Stir in garlic; saute 1 minute. Stir in tomatoes and wine; bring to a boil. Cover, reduce heat, and simmer 5 minutes. Stir in olives and shrimp; heat thoroughly. Add pasta; toss. Makes 4 servings.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Why Sweet Potatoes Rule

The sweet potato
It's completely versatile
My new role model

Is there anything better in fall than sweet potatoes? I use them for fries, as a pureed side dish, in stir fry, pie, or just baked and split open with cinnamon and butter as a side or a meal.

In addition to being super-nutritious, they taste decadent and sinful. What could be better? (Okay, uninterrupted sleep, free babysitting, a date with Colin Firth - but who's counting?)

I admit that their versatility and overall appeal make me feel a little inferior, especially when you consider that the sweet potato has rougher skin and a more lumpy appearance than I do, yet it's still so delicious, I can't hold a grudge. Heck, in Jackson, Mississippi, my hometown, the sweet potato has even developed a cult following of "Sweet Potato Queens," who show up in the annual St. Patrick's Day parade.

A friend of mine served a dish similar to this several years ago where butternut squash played the leading role. That was very memorable, and since then, I've played with many variations. But since a sweet potato was what I had in my pantry yesterday, this is the result. Even my eight-year-old liked it!

Baked Rigatoni with Sweet Potato and Leeks
l lb. of rigatoni, cooked al dente
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 1/2 cups sliced leeks
2 cloves garlic, minced
1/4 cup dry white wine
1 large sweet potato, cut into 1/2-inch dice
4 cups fresh baby spinach
1 cup shredded Fontina cheese

As you cook the pasta, steam spinach in a basket above boiling water for 2 minutes, or plunge briefly into hot pasta water to blanch. Set aside.

Heat olive oil in large skillet. Add leeks, garlic and sweet potato and saute for 3-5 minutes, stirring occasionally. When leeks begin to brown, deglaze with white wine. Reduce heat and simmer until sweet potatoes are tender.

Combine pasta, sweet potato mixture, spinach and shredded cheese in a large bowl, then spoon into a 9x13 casserole dish coated with cooking spray. Bake at 350 for 25-30 minutes, until cheese is thoroughly melted and pasta is warmed through.

Out of Africa

Humming, toes tapping,
Music awakens hunger.
Even Barney must eat.

I was sharing with a friend one of my favorite youTube videos: Perpetuum Jazzile, a choir from Slovenia, sings Toto's "Africa" a capella; they simulate a storm with their hands and feet, sing a beautiful rendition of the lyrics, and make instruments with their voices -- piano keys, guitar licks, percussion beats, and more.

I couldn't get the music out of my head when it was over. But it was time to throw lunch together, so while I sang "I bless the rains down in Africa," I looked through pantry and fridge for a focal point on which to base my efforts.

I'm a right brain girl....listening to music and singing feed my creativity. I never write a column or develop a recipe without music on in the background. So I was primed, and when I saw the can of hominy in the pantry, the sweet potato on the counter, and the leftover pulled pork from last night's barbecue takeout in the fridge, I knew what I would make.

While chili and posole aren't directly from South Africa, maize is one of the staple foods from that region, and hominy is dried corn with the germ and outer hull removed. It's a stretch, I know, but they also eat sweet potatoes, so....

Feeling quite inspired, I put together this quick and yummy, albeit different, chili-soup.

Chili Verde with Hominy and Squash
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
1 cup chopped onion
1 poblano chili, chopped (optional)

2 teaspoons chili powder
1 teaspoon ground cumin
4 cloves garlic, minced
3 1/2 cups chicken broth
1 cup salsa verde
1 (15-ounce) can hominy, drained
2 cups cubed peeled sweet potato
2 cups cooked pulled pork
Salt and pepper to taste
Garnishes: cilantro leaves, sliced green onion, corn tortilla strips, sour cream

Heat a heavy, medium saucepan over medium heat. Add oil and heat; add onion and poblano chili, if using, and sauté until onion is very tender. Stir in cumin and garlic; sauté 30 seconds. Pour in chicken broth, salsa, hominy, and squash; bring to a boil. Cover, reduce heat, and simmer until squash is tender, stirring occasionally, about 10 minutes. Stir in pork; simmer 5 minutes. Stir in salt and pepper to taste. Serve in bowls with garnishes to sprinkle over chili. Makes 4 servings.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Burgers Are Better When They're Babies

It's the little things:
Cupcakes, canapes, cat naps
That make life a treat.

Debby has been cooking sliders for at least 6 years and never realized it. Her 8-year-old daughter, Eleni, would rather eat a handful of baby burgers than a large juicy one. They have become default dinner when Debby is not in the mood to think about it.

Betsey is a vegetarian. Her daughter, also 8, spends a lot of time with Eleni. Especially around lunchtime, when Anne Elise knows she can put away some sliders on the sly.

Gourmet and Bon Appetit magazines and the Food Network all have umpteen slider recipes, dressed up with fancy titles and flavors. The small burgers have gained such popularity in restaurants that Pepperidge Farm figured there was a market for home cooks and began selling mini sandwich buns called "sliders" -- small, perfectly-sized buns for 1 1/2-ounce burgers.

And although the term "slyder" meant the trademarked, silver-dollar pancake-size burger sold by White Castle, any tiny two-bite sandwich on a roll or small bun is a slider on restaurant and catering menus.

Now that they are cool to eat, Debby has embellished baby burgers with some of her own ideas, moving them up to preferred status. (Betsey thinks grilled baby bellas make a respectable slider for vegetarians. She adapts Debby's seasonings into marinades and happily loads on all her suggested condiments!)

Bombay Turkey Sliders
1 1/4 pounds ground turkey
1/3 cup minced fresh cilantro
1/3 cup minced green onion
1/4 cup mayonnaise
1 1/2 tablespoons grated fresh ginger
1 teaspoon curry powder
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
2 tablespoons canola oil
Condiments: Chutney Mayo, small bibb lettuce leaves, sliced tomatoes, pickled sliced banana peppers
12 slider buns, such as Pepperidge Farm

Place turkey, cilantro, green onion, mayonnaise, ginger, curry powder, and salt in a large bowl. Mix lightly, but well; using wet hands, separate mixture into 12 portions, and form into patties to fit the buns.

Heat 1 tablespoon oil in a heavy skillet over medium heat. Add patties, in batches, and cook through, 2 to 3 minutes on each side; add additional oil to skillet if necessary.

Serve patties with condiments in buns. Makes 4 servings (3 sliders per serving).

Chutney Mayo:
3 tablespoons chutney
1/2 cup mayonnaise

Finely chop large pieces in chutney; mix chutney and mayonnaise. Makes about 2/3 cup.

Beef Sliders with Caramelized Onions and Goat Cheese
1 large red onion, cut vertically into thin slices
3 tablespoons butter
1 teaspoon balsamic vinegar
1 1/4 pounds lean ground beef
Greek seasoning, such as Cavender's
12 slider buns, such as Pepperidge Farm
3 to 4 ounces goat cheese
Condiments: small bibb lettuce leaves, thinly sliced cucumber

Cook onion in butter in a heavy, medium skillet over medium heat until lightly browned, about 15 minutes. Stir in vinegar; set aside.

Form beef into 12 patties; sprinkle with Greek seasoning. Cook in skillet over medium heat until cooked to desired doneness, 2 to 3 minutes on each side.

Place burgers on lettuce- or cucumber-lined bottom buns; crumble goat cheese on burgers. Top with onion and replace tops. Makes 4 servings (3 sliders per serving).

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Don't Think, Just Cook

If I do so much,
How can it be that I don't
Do anything well?

Work late or school play?
Boss or child to disappoint?
Who will pout the most?

There's always justification for the axiom that "simple foods are the best." Sure, with the freshest ingredients and a loving, honest touch even the plainest of meals can shine. But that's not why we love simple meals so much.

We love them because they're fast, easy and satisfying when we're slow, overwhelmed or frazzled.

So here's something that will not pluck the energy out of the evening. You don't have to think, just get into the kitchen and do it. Enjoy having time to ponder other issues one night this week, at least.

Bistro Beans and Sausage
Serve with crusty bread for dunking.
3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, divided
4 fresh chicken sausages (preferably seasoned with fennel), about 6 to 8 ounces, uncooked
1 cup diced onion
4 or 5 sage leaves, whole, optional
2 pints cherry tomatoes
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 (15-ounce) can cannellini beans, rinsed and drained
1 cup chicken broth
12 to 16 pitted kalamata olives, halved

Heat a large, deep skillet over medium heat. Add 1 tablespoon oil and heat a few seconds or until hot. Add sausages and cook until browned and cooked through, 12 to 14 minutes. Transfer sausages to a plate.

Heat remaining olive oil in skillet. Add onion and sage leaves; cook until onion is just beginning to brown, about 4 minutes. Add tomatoes and garlic; cook until tomatoes begin to burst, about 3 minutes. Add beans and broth; cook, stirring frequently, until tomatoes are very soft and beans are hot, 4 to 5 minutes. Add sausage and olives to skillet; cook, stirring, until hot, about 1 minute. Remove sage leaves; serve in bowls. Makes 4 to 6 servings.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Even Kids Can Nest

Pink lip out, mad eyes
She's my eight-year-old daughter
And she's just like me

Home-cooked traditions
Our stories and attitudes
Are all in the mix

I believe my third-grade daughter, Eleni, is nesting. As I write this, she is sitting beside me sewing, repairing holes in a dress-up costume, a small rip in her favorite snuggle pillow, and she is fashioning a dress for a large stuffed bear. All I have to do is knot the thread for her.

We recently moved, and the first thing she wanted out of the boxes was her sewing kit, knitting project, and ingredients for her “yummy stuff.” The first two surprised me, because she has not touched either one in 6 months.

But the “yummy stuff” is family tradition. As a younger child, Eleni often watched as her older sister stirred up her version of comfort food-- a cocoa-based buttercream frosting that she ate, like pudding, from a bowl. Now the spatula has been passed to Eleni, and she also considers making and eating “yummy stuff” a process of pleasure and, on some level, relief.

Lately, Eleni’s cooking interests have expanded to helping me concoct meat marinades, and in knowing the difference between cuts of meat, such as pork tenderloin and pork chops. I like it that she wants to know more about the mechanics of her meals.

Fingers crossed that she will continue to turn to cooking for soothing and reassurance.

- Debby

Eleni’s Pork Tenderloin
This is our go-to marinade for pork, chicken, and flank steak. The first two can be cooked about 2 hours after marinating, but the flank steak will benefit from a longer period – from 6 hours up to overnight.
1 large lemon
1 large clove garlic, crushed with garlic press
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt or to taste
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground pepper
1/4 cup olive oil
Optional add-ins: 1 tablespoon honey and 2 teaspoons grated fresh ginger, 1/2 teaspoon dried oregano, 2 tablespoons minced fresh rosemary, 1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
1 (1-pound) unseasoned pork tenderloin, trimmed

Finely grate the lemon rind, staying away from the white pith and place in a small bowl. Squeeze the lemon into the bowl and stir in the garlic, salt, and pepper. Whisk in the olive oil and any desired add-ins.

Place the pork tenderloin in a large, heavy-duty zip top bag; pour the marinade over. Seal the bag and squeeze it to distribute the marinade. Refrigerate 2 to 4 hours.

Remove the pork from the bag and grill over medium heat, turning frequently, until an instant-read thermometer inserted into the thickest part reads 155 degrees F., about 18 minutes. Transfer to a platter and let it rest 10 minutes before slicing.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Easy Ways to Put Whole Grains into Quick Meals

Big hug from my son.
"Mommy," he says, "I love you.
Why are your arms so fat?"

Forget textile art
Aging bodies crave whole grains
That's fiber magic!

My daughter recently forwarded a link to test my “real age.” I assume she was reminding me to do what I can to stick around.

It is not my nature to indulge in taking random internet quizzes, especially in the middle of this busy week, but I was begging for a distraction (anything to quit doing the mundane stuff on my desk) and found myself lured into the website’s evaluation of my health habits. I was curious: I do not consider myself “old.” (Frantic maybe, but not ancient.) What age do those "real age" people think I am?

After answering the questions about my daily habits as truthfully as I wanted to, my age was not revealed to be 25-30 as I suspected. The hard reality is that if I eat more whole grains, fruit, and fish, I will shave off at least 10 years. That sounds pretty good to me, but when I am in a hurry to cook dinner, spending 45 minutes on a pot of brown rice or wheat berries is not my idea of quick.

But I do know about Kashi’s heat-and-serve grain pilafs. These are not empty carbs; the 7 whole grain pilaf sides are bags of textured grains, full of fiber and protein. If for no other reason, I will buy these packages of precooked mixed grains for the wheat berries. They are nutty in flavor and pleasantly chewy, but traditionally can take an hour to boil. Now we can eat them in an instant.

This bag of grains is my latest food compulsion; here are a couple of experiments that we have enjoyed as meatless mains.

- Debby

Mediterranean Grains with Feta, Olives, and Tomatoes
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1/2 cup chopped onion
1 (8.5-ounce) package Kashi 7 whole grain pilaf
1 cup quartered cherry tomatoes
3 tablespoons chopped fresh Italian flat-leaf parsley
3 tablespoons chopped Kalamata olives
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground pepper
1/3 cup crumbled feta cheese

Heat olive oil in a large heavy skillet over medium-high heat. Add onion, and sauté until golden, about 4 minutes. Reduce heat to medium, and add tomatoes; sauté 1 minute. Add pilaf, parsley, olives, salt, and pepper; cook, stirring to break up pilaf, until hot, about 3 minutes. Transfer to a bowl; toss with feta cheese. Makes 3 servings.

Grains Pilaf with Spinach, Walnuts, and Goat Cheese
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, divided
1/2 cup chopped walnuts
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 (8.5-ounce) package Kashi 7 whole grain pilaf
3 (packed) cups baby spinach leaves
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground pepper
2 to 3 ounces goat cheese, crumbled
Heat a large heavy skillet over medium-high heat. Add walnuts, and cook, stirring or shaking pan constantly, until fragrant and toasted, about 4 to 6 minutes. Transfer to a bowl, and set aside.
Reduce heat to medium. Heat 2 tablespoons olive oil in skillet; add garlic and sauté until golden, about 45 seconds. Add pilaf and spinach; cover and cook 2 minutes, stirring to break up pilaf. Uncover and sauté until pilaf is hot and spinach is wilted, about 2 minutes. Stir in salt and pepper.
Transfer to bowl of walnuts; toss. Sprinkle each serving with goat cheese.

Saturday, November 7, 2009

Fridge-clearing pizza

True food recycling.
If it's not for fresh eating.
It's pizza topping.

Every Friday night is pizza night at Betsey's house. I'd like to say that I use a time-honored crust recipe that I wheedled away from a little Italian grandmother on a romantic trip to New York — but I confess it's just Jiffy mix from a box.

For the younger family members, toppings are a simple affair. Three-year-old Owen is a straight up, from-the-jar red-sauce and cheese man. Eight-year-old Anne Elise likes the same base, but she throws on a few slices of onion and kalamata olives.

For the grown ups, topping the Friday pizza is always an adventure. See, Friday at my house is the end of the grocery week. What's available for pizza is what's left in the fridge. And while I absolutely agree that spanking fresh ingredients make the best meals, I also know that you can disguise a lot of tired produce with some melted cheese and a super-hot oven. (I also believe that just about any leftover can make a worthy burrito filling - but that's another topic for another day.)

This week, we happened to get lucky. Here's what we ended up with.

Green Pizza
3/4 cup thinly sliced leek
1 1/2 cups broccoli florets
minced garlic to taste
1/4 cup kalamata olives, pitted and halved
white truffle or olive oil
1/3 cup feta cheese, crumbled
1/4 cup shredded fontina cheese
1/4 cup shredded mozzerella

Preheat oven to 425.

Saute leeks in a small amount of olive oil or butter (with a few random onion slices if you have some left from your daughter's pizza) over medium heat until soft and beginning to caramelize. Stir in minced garlic and broccoli florets until thoroughly heated.

Brush truffle oil (or olive oil if you don't have it) onto pizza crust. Spread sauteed mixture evenly over the top. Arrange olives over that.

Sprinkle on feta, fontina and mozzeralla.

Bake until cheese is completely melted and edges of crust begin to brown, about 15 minutes.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

comfort food from a can of soup

In my frazzled state,

The can opener beckons

My seductive friend...

I'm using canned soup.

But if I don't confess it

Then is it cheating?

I know my mother relied on it often, anticipating a casserole to die for, but if I decide to start dinner from a can of cream soup, I am being supremely lazy. If I make a casserole, usually every layer is homemade. From scratch – not a can.

But I wanted a creamy pasta casserole for dinner – comfort food. Getting over a cold, I was in the mood for something yummy but I did not have the energy to go all out. So I decided to use a can of soup instead of homemade white sauce in chicken lasagna.

This recipe was just the ticket.

Chicken Basil Lasagna

1 (10 3/4-ounce) can cream of chicken soup

1 (8-ounce) container ricotta cheese

1 roasted red pepper from a jar, drained and cut into strips

2 cups chopped cooked chicken

1/2 cup refrigerated grated Asiago cheese

1/3 cup chopped fresh basil

1/2 teaspoon freshly ground pepper

6 no-boil lasagna noodles

2 cups (8 ounces) shredded provolone cheese, divided

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Mix soup and next 6 ingredients in a large bowl.

Layer 2 lasagna noodles on bottom of a lightly greased 9-inch square baking dish; spoon and spread one-third of soup mixture on noodles. Sprinkle with one-third of cheese. Repeat layers three times.

Cover with foil and bake 40 minutes. Uncover and bake until hot and bubbly, about 15 minutes . Let stand 10 minutes before cutting. Makes 4 to 6 servings.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Chicken Soup for Grown-Ups!

Chills. Fever. Aching.
No matter who's the sick one,
Chicken soup for all.

While all around us friends were losing their heads to colds and coughs this fall, I was so proud that we skirted the issue. Until two days ago: we lost the upper-respiratory health war.

My daughter came back from trick-or-treating with tricks, and she has not even looked at her bag of treats. It is hard to believe, but all she wanted was chicken noodle soup. From a can. 

My motherly instincts mutinied, and I insisted on at least partially homemade. We compromised: I used canned broth and a rotisserie chicken, but I cooked the noodles. Does that equate me with Clara Barton? Maybe not, but I felt better.

My husband and I are not sick, however, so we wanted something of substance, with plenty of taste. I made my girl her plain soup, then I embellished some for us.

Here’s hoping you are cold-free this winter, and you can try these easy soups just because you have a craving.

Vaccines have their place,
But my Mama's chicken soup
Kicks some flu germ butt.

Thai Chicken Noodle Chowder
1 (14.1-ounce) can organic Thai coconut soup, such as Amy’s
2 ounces stick rice noodles, broken in half
1 cup canned fat-free, less-sodium chicken broth
3/4 cup shredded cooked chicken breast
1 tablespoons minced fresh cilantro
Lime wedges
Cook noodles in boiling water 5 minutes or until done. Drain and rinse with cold water; drain well.
Combine soup, broth, and chicken in a medium saucepan; add chicken and noodles. Bring to a simmer, stirring frequently. Simmer 1 minute. Remove from heat, and stir in cilantro. Serve in bowls with lemon wedges. Makes 2 servings.

Spicy Tomato Chicken Soup
If you can’t find this soup, use condensed tomato bisque soup and dilute it according to package directions.
1 (14.5-ounce) can chunky tomato bisque soup, such as Amy’s
3/4 cup chicken broth
3/4 cup shredded cooked chicken breast
1/2 cup salsa
1/2 cup chili beans, undrained
1/4 cup frozen or canned corn kernels
1 or 2 teaspoons chili powder
Heat all ingredients in a medium saucepan until simmering; simmer 5 minutes, stirring frequently. Makes 2 servings.

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Halloween's a Scream!

A scream of horror!
In the Halloween frenzy
I forgot candy!

It's Halloween night.
Goblin hands reach for candy
To start flu season.

Halloween was a blast in our neighborhood. Our good friend Cate pulled out the stops and created a pot-luck spook-fest that was outta this world for kids and grown-ups alike. Being good neighbors, we brought a couple of treats ourselves. Debby went for creative and fun with the Screaming Man. Betsey for gory and fattening Bloody Eyeball Dip. Either way's a winner!

Bloody Eyeball Dip
2 cans refried black beans
1 package taco seasoning mix
1 1/2 cups shredded sharp cheddar cheese
1 cup sour cream
Taco sauce
Pimento-stuffed Manzanilla or other medium-sized green olives

Thoroughly mix beans and taco seasoning in a bowl. Spread evenly in a 9x13 casserole dish coated with cooking spray. Sprinkle cheese over bean mixture.

Bake at 350 for 15 minutes or until cheese is melted and beans are heated through.

Spread sour cream over melted cheese and beans.

Push olives into sour cream and beans, with red "pupils" facing up. (Having them "look" in different directions adds an extra creepy factor.)

Drip or drizzle taco sauce over olives and sour cream. (Practice on a few corn chips first if you want to hone the bloody technique.)

Serve warm or at room temperature with corn chips.

The Screaming Man (and a pile of bones)

Make the perfect man.
Shape and spice him with your hands
DO play with your food!

You can make this poor guy large or small; just adjust the recipe ingredient amounts and use an appropriately sized platter to splay him on. Serve a pile of skeleton bones with The Screaming Man: unroll a refrigerated tube of breadstick dough and separate into sticks at the perforation marks. Make 1 1/2-inch-deep slashes in the ends, and curl the cut edges into dog bone shapes. Place them on greased baking sheets and sprinkle with coarse salt. Bake in a preheated oven at 350 degrees F. for about 15 minutes or until they are light golden brown.

1/2 cup minced red onion
1/2 cup sundried tomatoes
Boiling water
1 (10-ounce) log goat cheese, softened
1 (8-ounce) package cream cheese, softened
1/2 cup finely chopped pitted Kalamata olives
For body: minced fresh parsley, finely chopped toasted walnuts or whole pine nuts
For fingernails and toenails: whole almonds
For hair: tiny fresh broccoli flowerets
For eyes: carrot slices or dried plum halves
For mouth: thin slice from a narrow red bell pepper

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Spread the minced onion in a single layer on a baking sheet lined with nonstick aluminum foil; bake until light golden brown, about 20 minutes. Let the onion cool. (You can skip this step and just put in the minced red onion.)

Let dried tomatoes soak in boiling water 15 minutes. Drain well and finely chop.

Mash goat cheese and cream cheese together in a medium bowl until very smooth. (Or you can use a food processor for this step, but transfer the mixture back to a bowl to stir in the remaining ingredients.) Stir in the onion, tomatoes, and olives. Refrigerate, if necessary, until the cheese spread is firm enough to mold.

On a platter, form the cheese spread into the shape of a man, with a rather large head and arms and legs akimbo. The more at odd angles his extremities are, the more he has cause to scream.

Sprinkle the nuts over his torso where his shirt would be; sprinkle the parsley over the lower region for pants, pressing them in lightly. Arrange almonds for his fingers and toes. Place small broccoli florets around the top of his head for hair; add carrots or dried plum halves for eyes. Add the pepper slice for his screaming mouth. Cover and refrigerate until ready to serve. Makes about 20 appetizer servings.

Playing "Chicken"

My boss’ face fades
I savagely pound the breast
An awesome feeling

One cannot have too many chicken recipes, especially those with 5 ingredients that take 15 minutes to cook. And let’s face it – when you've had a stressful day and need to work off some steam, nothing submits to a satisfying pounding quite like a chicken breast.

But we always want something imaginative to go with it — besides steamed broccoli. So we have devised a few “chicken toppers” that will turn simple, quick dinners into pleasing entrees. Stash these recipes away for company, too.

The 15-minute dinner prep starts with pounding chicken breast halves between pieces of waxed paper or plastic wrap. (A rolling pin works perfectly, but if you have a meat mallet, that is even more fun to pound. It is, quite literally, hammering your meal together. Very powerful, indeed.) Lightly mash the chicken breast into an even thickness; it will end up being about 3/4-inch thick. Salt and pepper the chicken, and you are ready to cook.

Brown the chicken breasts just to sear them; they will continue cooking as you heat the chicken with the toppings in the oven.

What to top with? Here are some winning combos:

Chicken Topped with Bacon, Cheddar, and Corn (“The All-American”)

4 slices bacon
1 cup fresh or frozen corn kernels
1/2 cup diced onion
4 (6-ounce) skinless, boneless chicken breast halves
Salt and freshly ground pepper
4 ounces thinly sliced Cheddar cheese

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
Cook bacon in a nonstick skillet until browned and crisp; remove bacon and drain on paper towels. Reserve drippings in skillet.
Pound chicken between pieces of plastic wrap to even thickness.
Sprinkle with salt and pepper. Heat bacon drippings in skillet over medium high
heat; add chicken, in batches, and cook until browned, about 2 minutes on each side. Transfer chicken to a baking dish. Add corn and onion to skillet; sauté until tender.
Place cheese slices on chicken; spoon corn mixture on top. Halve bacon strips and place on top. Bake until chicken is cooked and cheese is melted, 5 to 8 minutes. Makes 4 servings.

Special additions: Stir diced roasted red pepper and minced basil to the corn mixture after sautéing

Chicken Topped with Provolone, Avocado, and Sprouts (“The Californian”)

4 (6-ounce) skinless, boneless chicken breast halves
Salt and freshly ground pepper
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
4 ounces thinly sliced Provolone cheese
1 or 2 firm, ripe avocados, peeled and sliced
Alfalfa sprouts
Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.
Pound chicken between pieces of plastic wrap to even thickness. Sprinkle with salt and pepper. Heat olive oil in skillet over medium-high heat; add chicken and cook until browned, about 2 minutes on each side. Transfer chicken to a baking dish. Top chicken with cheese and avocado slices. Bake until chicken is cooked and cheese is melted, 5 to 8 minutes. Transfer to serving plates; top with sprouts. Makes 4 servings.

Special additions: Layer sliced tomatoes and bacon strips on top of the cheese for a “California Club”.

Chicken Topped with Tomatoes, Feta, and Pine Nuts (“Greek-Style”)

2 (6-ounce) skinless, boneless chicken breast halves
Greek seasoning
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
2 ripe tomatoes sliced
3 ounces crumbled feta cheese or sliced goat cheese
3 tablespoons pine nuts, toasted (optional)
Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.
Pound chicken between pieces of plastic wrap to even thickness. Sprinkle with salt and pepper. Heat olive oil in skillet over medium-high heat; add chicken and cook until browned, about 2 minutes on each side. Transfer chicken to a baking dish. Top chicken with tomato slices, goat cheese, and pine nuts, if using. Bake until chicken is cooked and cheese is melted, 5 to 8 minutes. Makes 4 servings.

Special additions: Sprinkle quartered Kalamata olives and chopped fresh oregano on top.

Chicken is easy.
Pound. Sear. Chop. Top. Bake. Melt. Serve.
Everybody wins!