Entries Tagged 'meals' ↓

Olive Oil: sometimes it’s even better than butter

I am one of those people who would rather die than put margarine on anything. Butter is a staple in our household, and it’s excellent on almost everything. Ever fried bacon in butter? Your arteries will cringe, but your tastebuds will leap for joy, trust me. 

Sadly, I needed a grilled cheese sandwich, badly, one afternoon. No prob: I have some homemade bread, some american cheese (yeah, the kind wrapped in individual slices)…and –OH NOES–NO BUTTER! 

Rather than turn away from the kitchen and head out to the local store for butter, I grabbed the olive oil, spiraled a little bit around in the pan, and grilled the sandwich con olio d’oliva. You have to watch the sandwich carefully, since the oil will absorb into the bread, and the bread will burn more quickly than with butter. Keep the heat a little lower than you’re used to, and you should be fine. 

The end result was dee-lish. The olive oil imparted another layer of flavor to the sandwich, and next time I have some fancy brie or camembert laying around, I’ll try this recipe with that instead, for a more “authentic” eurpoean grilled cheese. In the photo at right you can see the darker areas of the bread where the oil swirls were…the oil does spread out from there, and the contrast in taste between the darker areas and lighter areas are lovely.

Hearty Stew

Hearty Stew
Okay, after what seems like forever I am finally posting something…

Since the weather is now getting cold, and I want to go out to the grocery even less than usual, I have started to make dinner with what ever is on hand. I tend to make a lot of soups and stews because I can make them in the morning or the day before and let them slow cook all day. They is very little prep involved and they cook a long time all by themselves. And let me say nothing is better to coming home to the yummy smell of stew cooking. I have never made two stews exactly the same and I don’t like to measure anything, but the basics of any stew are all the same. You need a base, some meat and/or veggies, some spices, and a Crock-pot. The following is the stew I made yesterday.

First, I browned some cube steak in dash of olive oil in a skillet. You can really use any cut of meat you have on hand, rump, round steak, cube, roast, what ever. I was using some of our lovely organic cow that we purchased this past summer. I must say that the better the quality of the meat the better the stew in the end. While you are browning the meat add whatever seasoning you like. It is best to add things that go well with the meat as this seasoning will not really penetrate the whole stew but will stay in the meat. I used some dry thyme, coriander, salt, cinnamon, and nutmeg. As far a how much of everything, they are in order of greatest to least… it was mostly thyme and a small dash of nutmeg. When the meat was browned on all sides, but not over cooked I covered it with red wine. I used pinot noir, but again use what you like. If you like to drink it, it will taste good in your stew.

For other stews I have used beer as the base, but had a bottle of wine opened so I used that. For beer I prefer the stouter variety for stew, but have used just about everything that is amber to black in color… My husband’s homebrew is my favorite.

While browning the meat I start to throw the other stuff into the Crock-pot. I used a can of chicken stock (beef, chicken, vegetable stock, whatever you have) Some more of the red wine, maybe a cup or two, kind of depends on how much stew you are making. The rule of thumb is that you just want enough liquid ingredients to cover the meat and veggies so nothing get scorched in the cooking process, also the liquid will cook down quite a bit. I added about 4 potatoes peeled and chopped, and handful of chopped carrots. I usually like more veggies, but having not gone to the store the pickings were slim this time. In the past I have used frozen and fresh veggies. Both work but the frozen tend to break down more than the fresh, they still taste great but kind of disappear visually. I also added a spoon full of horseradish, a good squirt of spicy mustard (you can use dry if you have it, but regular old sandwich mustard works just fine),a spoonful of beef bouillon, and some butter (about 1/4 a stick).

Next I added the meat to the Crock-pot and that’s it. Let cook for anywhere from 3-8 hours on low. Just cook till everything is nice and soft. You can turn it on in the morning before work and it will be nice and ready when you get home. One final thing you can do if you want is when you are about ready to eat take some of the broth out and put it in a jar and add a spoon or two of flour to it, shake vigorously to mix and then add back in to the stew and let cook for a few more minutes. This will thicken up the base a little bit and make it more stewy. Enjoy and have fun.

Broccoli Confetti Slaw


Last weekend our friend Lori hosted an outrageous Survivor themed multi-cause celebration and potluck. Steve cooked up some awesome terkyaki burgers to go with. It was going to be another hot one in the 90’s, so I wanted to make something fresh and cool.

I always look at potlucks as a time to get creative. This is usually because I didn’t think ahead to have the ingredients on hand to do a specific recipe and improvisation becomes a necessity. Mother of invention and all that,.

Taking inventory of the fridge turned up lots of broccoli and carrots and luckily we had just been to the farmers market the day before so we also had some lovely basil, zucchini and green onions on hand.

My typical hunt of the internet for some recipes to borrow from turned up lots of ramen noodle varieties and a yummy sounding broccoli coleslaw recipe to work from.

Alas, we don’t have a decent shredder and only a mini food processor bought from a friend’s moving across the country sale years ago and never really put to the test. I tested its limits with this dish though and more or less it passed.

This one came out well enough that several people have asked for the recipe and there were no leftovers at the host’s house or ours.

Broccoli Confetti Slaw
About 3 cups shredded, finely diced or mini-food processed broccoli
About 1 and a half cups shredded, finely diced or mini-food processed carrots
and for fun and because they were fresh I threw in a couple baby zucchinis as I was pulsing and chopping.

The mini food processor yielded the confetti texture which bemused some folks and more than one person asked me what it was and how you eat it. Someone even put it on their burger, which looked good to me.

I also ran 2 cloves of garlic and a small bunch of green onions through the chopper and sliced up a bunch of basil as finely as I could.

Once I had the base well mixed, I toasted about a half a cup of pine nuts, let them cool and gave them a coarse chop and tossed them in.

I also used the mini processor for the dressing, which i haven’t done before but will again. The dressing consisted of:

  • 2 cloves of garlic which I roasted and cooled for a bit of sweetening,
  • another couple green onions,
  • 1/3 cup EVO (extra virgin olive oil),
  • 1/3 cup of apple cider vinegar (which was actually half balsamic vinegar)
  • some sea salt and fresh ground pepper.

I whirled it all up and poured it over.

I think as the original recipe author did, letting this sit together to blend, meld and get to know each other is a key ingredient. So thankfully I had my butt in gear early enough to allow for a decent setting time before we ate. I think I’ll make some more this week.

If you try this or adapt it let me know what you think.

Three Cans & a Box

I’ve been making up recipes for years. I think it all started when it was my job to have the family dinner on the table by the time mom came home from work. Ah nothing like the pressure of cooking everyday with limited store bought ingredients, but plenty of frozen & canned meats, fruits & veggies from the garden to get those creative juices flowing.

Here’s one I made up in college, flexing my skills on the fast, easy, available, pre-made foods. I gotta say it became a favorite among my friends. This one also works wonders for those last minute potlucks too. Just double the recipe to 6 cans & 2 boxes & use a larger cake pan. Guys at potlucks love this stuff & clean the plate every time! Go figure…

Three Cans & a Box

1 Can Tamales
1 Can Chili
1 Can Corn
1 Box Jiffy Corn Muffin Mix + milk & egg

Pre-heat oven 350°

Open can of tamales & dump into 9×9 pan. Remove the pieces of paper surrounding each tamale & chop into bite size pieces. Open can of chili & add the pan. Open can of corn, use lid to drain juice & add to the pan. Mix ingredients together. Make corn muffin mix by following directions on the back of the box. Spoon batter over the top of the chili mixture & bake until the top is golden brown.

Sweet Potato Stew

So I like the flavor of pozole, but the hominy, well, not so much. So this is what I came up with. It’s perfect for my oh too big 6-quart slow cooker crock pot thing, but I’m sure it can be slow-baked in one of those fancy enamel coated cast iron dutch ovens too. Don’t let the fact that it contains 5 jalapenos slow ya down either, after 8 hours they mellow into a flavorful sauce that won’t send you grasping frantically for your beer. I don’t measure when I cook so the amounts are approximate, just make it look & taste good to you.

Sweet Potato Stew

4 Pork Shoulder Steaks
Salt & Pepper
2 Onions, sliced thin
3 Jalapeno chilis, seeded & minced
1 Tbsp Chef Paul Prudhomme’s Meat Magic
6 Cloves Garlic, pressed
1 28oz can diced tomatoes in juice
2 Oranges (Peel a strip of zest with a potato peeler, about 12″ or so, then juice the oranges)
2 Chipotle Chilis in Adobo sauce, minced
1 Tsp dried oregano leaves
2 largish Sweet Potatoes, washed & chopped about 1/2″ cubes
Chicken Broth
corn starch
1/2 bunch Cilantro, remove the big stems & chopped

Salt & pepper then brown steaks one at a time in a dutch oven over medium-high heat. You won’t need oil, there should be enough fat on the steaks. Stack them up in the middle of your slow cooker.

Add some oil if there isn’t juices in the pan from the meat. Add the onions, jalapenos & meat magic to the pan. Cook until the onions are softened & the rendered juices have cooked out. Add the garlic & just warm it on top, don’t brown the garlic. Add the tomatoes, using the juices to scrape up all the goodness stuck on the bottom of the pan. Bring to a simmer, then add it the slow cooker.

Distribute the onions & peppers between the steaks, but keep them stacked in the center of the slow cooker. Add the orange juice, chipotles and oregano to the slow cooker & stir. Nestle the sweet potatoes & orange zest strip around the edges. Add the chicken broth until the meat & potatoes are covered.

My cooker has a low 8 hour setting. Cook for 8 hours, go to work, go to bed, whatever, just don’t stir or mess with it. If you are using the oven, cover tightly, 300° for 4 hours or so, until potatoes are soft & the meat is starting to fall apart.

Turn off slow cooker & pull the meat out & set aside to cool. Pull the potatoes out & set aside. Discard the orange zest strip. Let the juices settle & skim off the fat. Mix some corn starch with water. Add to the juices & turn slow cooker on to high to thicken sauce. Add potatoes back in & the cilantro. When the meat is cool enough to handle, pull the bones, gristle & fat bits out & toss the meat chunks back into the pot.

Spoon into bowls & serve with a daub of sour cream & some tortillas, a spritz of fresh lime, & the beer of course! Mmmm

This freezes well too.

Sweet & Sour Salmon Patties

Once again there has been too much to do and no time to shop. And yet we need to eat. Foraging in the freezer I turned up the last 2 salmon patties from Costco – wild alaskan salmon in burger format, one of our favorites. We were out of bread products but still had the last packet of Trader Joe frozen Jasmine rice. So we have protein and carbs – but what about veggies?

Rummaging through the crisper (my friend says it should more accurately be called the rotter) I turned up a few mushrooms and a bit of kale that needed some serious sorting through. Not quite enough for a meal for 2 so I needed something else. The cupboards yielded pineapple which inspired a sweet and sour stir fry. It turned out amazingly well considering its origins.

Here’s how it went down:

Fried up the salmon patties in a little oil and removed to keep them crisp. Quick and easy – about 4 minutes a side.
In the same pan I added the mushrooms, a bit of onion, kale and finally half a can of pineapple with just a bit of the juice.

For flavor some soy sauces and sweet chili sauce and for sour some rice wine vinegar.

I let that cook down a bit and poured the lot over the salmon patties nested on a bed of rice.

Turns out that pineapple works well with salmon after all and does a bang up job standing in for vegetables some times.

Penne alla Vodka

Well New Years has come and gone and all thats left of the parties are hazy memories and a cabinet of leftover liquor. So what do you do with the three bottles of Stoli you were convinced would not be enough – never mind the fact that the amount you purchased worked out to like 10 White Russians or 20 martini’s a piece. The answer lies in a spicy pasta sauce originating the Bologna region of Italy. I first experienced this dish growing up in NY/NJ where it first gained popularity in America. It’s most commonly served with chicken or prawns but you could really use any protein that can stand up to a strong sauce.

I’ve written the recipe as I think it’s best but many of the ingredients can be substituted to suit different tastes or availability of ingredients. There are two exceptions: first, the vodka. Use good vodka. I’ll elaborate in a minute. The second exception is the cheese – Pecorino Romano is a sharp, salty, semi-hard sheep’s milk cheese that really makes this dish sing. Feel free to substitute parmesan cheese, or get creative if you like, but if you enjoy this dish enough to make it a second time I urge you to try it with the romano cheese and let me know what you think.

Ok, back to the Vodka. Like I said, use good vodka. This is a rule I follow religiously with all forms of liquor, beer, wine, olive oil, spices – you get the idea. To quote Papa John – Better ingredients make a better pizza. Now chances are you already have decent vodka at your disposal but if not I’d suggest rethinking why you have so much vodka leftover in the first place. My personal favorite for this dish is Monopolowa but I’m willing to bet any mid-range vodka will yield pleasing results.

Penne alla Vodka
(Serves 3-4)


  • 1 1/2C vodka
  • 1 can Muir Glen fire roasted tomatoes (for extra tomato flavor add tomato paste or fresh tomatoes)
  • 1 lg onion, medium dice
  • 1 head garlic, minced (you could use less – but why?)
  • 1 Tbs cayenne pepper (a jalapeño or other hot pepper will also work)
  • 1 C heavy cream (often called whipping cream or heavy whipping cream)
  • 2 Tbs butter, softened (professional chefs use unsalted – if you use salted go easy on the cheese which will be salty)
  • 1/2 C Fresh grated Pecorino Romano Cheese


  1. Sweat the onions in oil or butter over med-high heat. Cook until translucent or even golden but do not brown or burn.
  2. Add garlic and saute briefly – until pungent garlic smell is noticed; usually about 30 seconds.
  3. Add caned tomatoes including any juice and cayenne pepper. Saute until nearly all liquid has cooked off. Stir frequently enough to prevent scorching of tomatoes.
  4. Add vodka and again cook until most the liquid is evaporated being careful not to scorch.
  5. Add heavy cream and reduce heat to medium. Reduce cream by about 1/3rd.
  6. Turn off heat and finish with grated cheese and softened butter (butter is optional but will add richness and sheen to the sauce).

The taste should be a creamy tomato with a strong cheesy richness and a pronounced heat. If any of these parts are off the flavor will seem a little lacking – play with the recipe until you get it to your liking. All that’s left is to serve it with a hollow pasta such as rigatoni, ziti or penne.

Garnish with fresh basil.


Chanterelle Steak – a new New Year’s tradition

steakOk, so wow – so very happy that we delayed last nights dinner plan until today. Our mealtime adventure started as when, as sometimes happens, Jim did a little impulse buying … he came home a few days ago with a gigundo organic rib eye steak and declared –   “I think we should start eating steak”.

This being one of my all time favorite foods (except for my stint as a vegetarian) I couldn’t find any fault with his logic. There just remained the question of what to do with it to fully celebrate the flavor and luxury. We don’t often cook meat in the house due to the intense interest our cats have in it and the fact that we don’t often eat meat just out of habit. To say I am rusty at preparing such things would be overly kind. But its hard to go too terribly wrong with great ingredients, which we happened to have on hand.

The first would be the cup or so of semi-sauted Chanterelle mushrooms from the freezer. This fall we went mushroom gathering for the first time and harvested many more than a sane person could eat in a month. We were giddy from the hunt and brought them all home. After giving some away we still had an excess, and our mushroom mentor Linda said that by quick frying them halfway in butter you could store them in the freezer. New Year’s steak seemed the perfect time to finish off the last batch.

In supporting roles would be some lovely organic purple kale and a couple of shallots left from Thanksgiving preparations. Here is how it went…

In my very largest frying pan I defrosted the chanterelles with a bit of extra butter and a couple of finely diced shallots until it was all becoming a lovely golden color. Then I added some chopped kale on top and mixed it together until the kale was wilty and brightly colored. I removed this from the pan leaving as much butter behind as possible and added a bit more.

Then one big steak was seared on both sides until it was just about done (or so I thought) when I added back the veggies and a handfull of finely chopped parsley. The steak was seasoned with salt, pepper and a dash of worcestershire sauce. I had some trouble getting all of the meat to the same level of done-ness and ended up cutting it in half so I could rotate things around. I removed the greens and mushrooms to the plates as a bed for the steak and splashed brandy on the steak in an impromtu tribute to Steak Diane.

As seems to always happen we started in eating before I thought to get a photo for the blog, so the plating is sloppy and its not the best image – it was so incredibly tasty though. I am going to try to be more mindful of taking the pictures in the future.

Jim has declared this better than restaurant steak (although not topping Ruth’s Chris) and wants to start a weekly steak tradition. Unfortunately many parts were a overdone (medium rather than medium rare) so we only had glimpses of how great this meal could have truly been. But it gave us a goal and so starts our quest for 2008 – the perfect steak.

More Fun With Pumpkin

Happy New Year
Its been too long since I have posted and I did miss some stellar opportunities with holiday foods I pretty much invented. Then today, we needed lunch and didn’t want to spoil our appetites for our special new year’s dinner, so I did the combine leftovers thing – lentil soup and pumpkin (not the same can as the previous post!). Rummaging in the cupboard I came up with the additions of paprika and hot sauce this soup proves that the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. I might do this again on purpose since the pumpkin made it creamy and smooth and the paprika added both color and sparkle. Anyone have another example of this to share? Here’s to a great new year of making things up as we go along.

Pumpkin Chicken Curry or Rainy Day Leftovers

Due to circumstances beyond my control we ended up with most of a large can of pumpkin and half of a rotisserie chicken in the fridge. I knew there must be some way of combining these items and using them both up before they were forcibly migrated to the back and forgotten until they evolved to something capable of self-directed movement. I started thinking about a local Thai restaurant’s awesome Asian pumpkin curry and an experiment was born.

pumkin curryAs I often do I started looking through recipes for somewhere to start. Hard rains were taking down the internet at the time so I was limited to what I have at hand and not much insight turned up as to what exactly might be added (note to self – need more cookbooks containing curries). So armed only with my general accumulated knowledge of what spices pumpkin usually has as friends and that its pretty hard to mess up chicken – this is what I came up with:

In a large soup pot heat up –
1 Tbsp of olive oil
2 cloves crushed garlic
about 1 Tbsp shredded fresh ginger (I keep it in the freezer)

Add the shredded meat of about one half of a cooked rotisserie chicken to brown while adding a quarter of red onion sliced fine and some cumin, coriander and about 1/4 cup of chopped cilantro (mine was frozen). Once the onions have done their thing (become translucent) I added in the pumpkin (about a cup and a half I think – big can minus a bit) and about 8 oz of chicken stock. The stock was actually made on the spot with a Tbsp of “better than bouillon” with 8 oz of boiling water added, so I think this made it extra salty.

Once that is well mixed and over medium heat or a bit lower I added more spices like cinnamon, nutmeg and a bit of chili powder. At this point I started to get a little nervous because it was getting thick and I was on the fence about adding canned tomatoes. I know they go in some curries but all I had were ones with Italian herbs so I opted to look for something else instead – in the end I think it was a good call.

Being somewhat quick on my feet, a bit fearless and generally not too bright I decided to stir in about a quarter cup of yogurt. This was a good call as it turned out because not only did nothing bad happen but the texture became something new and interesting – somewhat along the lines of a good sag paneer – creamy, light and fluffy. I added some more chopped cilantro and running out of that about a quarter cup of chopped parsley. Taste tests proved – there was still something missing so…

I turned to my usual all purpose back up ingredient – hot sauce. I was pretty careful and end up not using too much. On a whim I also through in a couple of tablespoons of Avjar (hungarian red pepper sauce/spread) which really perked things up and pretty much finished things off.

A quick simmer to meld things together yielded something pretty wonderful and we couldn’t stop eating it. I still think there might be one more ingredient missing but can’t put my finger on it – anyone have any ideas on what to add next time? Because I am pretty sure there will be a next time even if fate doesn’t arrange for me to have a can of pumpkin and a rotisserie chicken sitting next to each other in the refrigerator.