Thursday, January 10, 2013

Taking a break

Despite my resolution to blog more in 2013, I'm not finding that to be possible right now. I still love cooking and eating and sharing recipes, but at this time I can't find enough minutes in the day to write about those things. Therefore, I am putting this blog on a hiatus...hopefully not a permanent one, but one long enough to allow me to finish some other projects that need attention (for instance, 6 years worth of photos that still aren't in albums).

Before I depart, I'll post a few awesome recipes I've made recently, and will definitely be making again.

Cheers!


Pasta, Kale, and White Bean Soup


1770 House Meatloaf 


Tuscan Garbanzo and Sun-dried Tomato Soup


Banana Blueberry Baked Oatmeal


And finally, my own invention:

Kale & Cabbage Caesar Slaw

Chop up some green cabbage and raw kale into small strips. Mix in your favorite caesar dressing (store bought or homemade). Refrigerate for an hour or so before serving to allow the kale to soften a bit. Serve!


Monday, December 3, 2012

Chicken with arugula pesto (aka: salad in a blender)

For some reason I've been incapable of making a salad since we moved to the east coast. Actually I do know the reason....it's cold here, and when I'm cold I want to eat warm things. I will probably get over it eventually (just like I learned to enjoy chili in Arizona even when it was 90 degrees outside), but for now I'm just not feeling the salad thing.

That's why this recipe from Food Network magazine seemed like a winner. I've made, bought, and eaten plenty of pesto before, but because this recipe calls for pesto made from arugula and almonds, it occurred to me that pesto is basically like a salad thrown in a blender. Or like a shot of salad. Either way, it's taking lots of the healthy stuff I haven't been eating enough of and putting it into a form that is yummy and winter-friendly. And because the recipe includes tomatoes, green beans, and pasta, it is a fantastic well-rounded meal. Obviously you could just make the chicken and pesto, and serve it with a different side dish, but the lazy side of me loved that it was a recipe for a whole, well-rounded meal and I didn't have to spend time figuring out a side dish. Plus, the extra pesto tastes great with the veggies and pasta so it all comes together nicely.

The other reason I like this arugula pesto is that it's a great way to use up arugula and almonds that you might already have sitting around your house. My issue with making homemade pesto has always been that fresh basil and pine nuts are so expensive, unless you grow your own basil. So this seemed like a cheaper alternative, and was every bit as delicious as regular pesto in my opinion.

You'll notice that I used cherry tomatoes instead of roasting regular tomatoes...that was just because I had them on hand and didn't feel like going to the effort of roasting tomatoes. But I bet the roasted ones would be yummy.

Here you go:

Chicken with Arugula Pesto (and green beans and pasta and roasted tomatoes).

(From Food Network Magazine)


Ingredients:

Kosher salt
6 ounces orecchiette (about 1 1/2 cups)
1/2 pound green beans, trimmed and cut into pieces
1/3 cup grated parmesan cheese
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 teaspoon finely grated lemon zest
3 cups baby arugula
1/2 cup firmly packed fresh parsley
2 tablespoons almonds or hazelnuts, toasted
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
4 small skinless, boneless chicken breasts (about 1 1/4 pounds)
2 medium tomatoes, halved
2 teaspoons whole-wheat breadcrumbs

Directions

Bring a pot of salted water to a boil. Add the pasta and cook as the label directs; about 3 minutes before the pasta is done, add the green beans. Drain the pasta and beans and rinse under cold water. Toss with half of the cheese, 1 tablespoon olive oil, the lemon zest and salt.

Preheat the broiler. Puree the arugula, parsley, nuts, lemon juice, 3 tablespoons water, the remaining cheese and 1 tablespoon olive oil, and salt to taste in a food processor. Transfer to a bowl.

Place the chicken breasts between two pieces of plastic wrap and pound to about 1/2 inch thick. Transfer to a foil-lined baking sheet and season with salt. Rub all over with 1/4 cup of the arugula pesto and broil, turning once, until cooked through, 4 to 5 minutes per side.

Arrange the tomatoes cut-side up on another baking sheet and broil 2 minutes. Spread each with some pesto and sprinkle with the breadcrumbs. Broil until golden, 1 more minute. Serve the chicken, tomatoes and pasta salad with the remaining pesto.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Trader Joe's pulled pork taco...to the rescue!

Wow, I can't believe August 13th was the last time I posted! I do have an excuse, and it's a good one. We moved across the country, and I have been in a whirlwind of unpacking boxes, buying furniture, returning furniture because I realize it's ugly when I get it home, navigating new and twisty city streets, learning to deal with mean city drivers, and just generally getting acclimated to life in Pennsylvania after six years in the desert.

One thing that was the most stressful about this move was getting back into a cooking groove. Not only did I have to throw away a ton of my staple ingredients and re-buy everything, but I also had to get used to a completely different kitchen set-up. I still have to open at least 2-3 drawers before I find what I'm looking for, but for the most part my kitchen is now stocked and organized, and I'm ready to get back into cooking with a vengeance!

I also hope to breathe some new life into this blog by posting more frequently (aiming for 2x a week), taking more pictures, and just generally giving it a face lift. I hesitate to put this in writing because then I'll be held accountable, but I guess I'll go ahead and do it anyway. :)

I'd like to kick off the new East Coast edition of Quinoa and Corn Chips with a recipe that was a lifesaver on a day I really needed one. It was a cold, gray, rainy day (there are lots of those here, I'm noticing), and I was trudging through Trader Joe's, craving a warm comforting dinner without a clue about what I wanted to make. Usually I have at least an inkling of something in mind...a certain meat I've thawed out, or a veggie I need to use before it goes bad. But on this particular day, my mind was completely blank.

Then I saw these cute little red sheets of paper tucked into a little bin along the wall in the meat section of the store:



I almost cried with relief: "Yes! This is it!" This is exactly what I want to make!" And to make it even better, it listed ingredients that were right there in that very store. No hunting down special cuts of meat or unique spices. Everything I needed was right there in that Trader Joe's, and to make it better YET, it was a crockpot dish. And not a complicated crockpot dish that requires lots of chopping and marinating and browning, it was a "dump everything in and turn it on" type of crockpot dish. The dinner fairy was definitely looking out for me that day. I don't know if these little recipe slips are at all Trader Joe's, or if it was just a nice gesture by an employee at this particular store, but either way I am grateful and wanted to share the wealth. Here is what the paper says, BTW:

Mexican Pulled Pork from Trader Joe's in King of Prussia, PA

1 package of taco seasoning
2 1/2 lb pork loin
1 can of organic diced and no salt added tomatoes*
3 garlic cloves
1/2 onion diced
1 bunch cilantro
1 tbs apple cider vinegar

Pour the can of tomatoes into your crock pot. Add the pork loin, next toss in the rest of the ingredients. Slow cook on high for 3 hours, then cook on low for the next 4-5 hours. Remove the pork loin and shred. Add the pork loin back to your crockpot so the meat can absorb the juices. Serve in a tortilla with your favorite toppings, or simply serve with Cuban Style Black Beans and Rice. Enjoy!

*Obviously they are promoting their own canned tomatoes, but any diced tomatoes will do. 

I took home my ingredients, dumped them in the crockpot, and had delicious pork tacos that night.



As always, I have a few personal notes about the recipe. 

1) The total cooking time is about 8 hours (not counting the shredding), so make sure you plan accordingly. If you don't start them until 3 pm, you'll be in trouble!

2) I chose to use hard shells instead of tortillas. Whatever you choose, just don't forget to buy the taco shell because it's not on the ingredient list. That's something I'd typically do, so I wanted to point it out.

3) The flavors in this recipe were fantastic, but one key ingredient was left out: salt. Make sure you season it thoroughly with salt before serving. And if you'd like to spice it up, you could also add diced chiles, jalapenos, or chipotle peppers...totally up to you.

4) The other thing that was left out was the fat removal. I have a huge issue with fatty meat, so I made sure to scrape off and discard all the visible fat after the meat was cooked, and only put the lean shredded pork back into the pot. 

5) And of course you'll probably want some accompaniments to the tacos, so in addition to the ingredients listed, I recommend having any or all the following on hand:

Chopped tomatoes and/or salsa
Chopped red onion
Chopped cilantro
Shredded cheese
Shredded lettuce
Sliced avocado
Hot sauce
Sliced jalapenos

I forgot to take a photo of the finished tacos because I was too busy shoveling them in my face. So just close your eyes and envision some delicious, tender, shredded pork in a crispy shell, topped with all of the things I listed above. Yum! And since there was so much left over, I put it in a freezer bag to have on some other cold, gray, rainy day (which I'm sure will be tomorrow) And this time the prep will be even easier. Thanks Trader Joe's! :)

Monday, August 13, 2012

Yummy stuff to grill

I know this sounds really lame coming from someone who loves to cook, but I went almost two years without a grill. And this sounds extra lame, but one of the reasons I went so long without a grill is that grills scare me a little. I've always viewed them as sort of a "man thing." Perhaps it's the open flame, the big chunks of meat, or the endless commercials featuring men holding court over their grills, opening a new set of tongs for father's day, or donning a cheesy apron that says "Grill on grill action."

Anyway, I decided that if I'm going to call myself a decent cook, I had to get over my grill issues. So, a short trip to Home Depot and a few hundred bucks later, we became the proud owners of a new grill. It's nothing fancy--just a regular old gas grill.
But this time, I refuse to shy away from it.

So here are three recipes I've made on the grill over the last few months. They are all awesome and highly recommended by me and the people I've fed. One thing that all of these recipes have in common is big, bold flavor. I know that the act of grilling itself imparts a delicious charcoal flavor to food, but if you're a fan of slightly spicy, power-packed flavors, these recipes are for you.

1) Chile-Rubbed Grilled Chicken with Salsa

A lot of grill aficionados say to avoid grilling boneless, skinless chicken breast, as it can be dry and rubbery. I made this recipe three times, and not once was it dry or rubbery. The key is to use the freshest, highest quality chicken you can find, and to be careful not to overcook it.

*A note: When I first made this dish, I didn't read carefully and I ended up using all 4 teaspoons of lime juice in the rub (you were supposed to use 1 tsp and save the rest for the salsa...whoops). BUT, it turned out awesome! It made the rub a little more moist and kind of paste-like, so it adhered to the chicken better. Consequently, I recommend making the same mistake I did. I also OD'ed a little bit on the chipotle powder, which I also recommend if you like things spicy.

2) Grilled Pork Tenderloin with Corn on the Cob (aka Grilled Pork Tenderloin with "Vomit Sauce")

Yes, I am aware that including the word "vomit" in a recipe is really disgusting and probably the least appetizing thing one can do. But what can I say? It was a nickname that stuck. Here's the thing...the sauce that accompanies the pork in this recipe (which includes apple cider vinegar, ketchup, brown sugar, and red pepper flakes) smells really terrible while it's cooking. It really does smell like, well, vomit. It got so bad that my husband made me set the pot outside until it was time to eat.

But when you serve it alongside the spice-crusted pork? Pure deliciousness! I did tweak it a bit though. When I followed the recipe for the sauce exactly, it was a little too vinegary. So I added some more sweetness (a little extra brown sugar, as well as some maple syrup), and a little more heat (some hot sauce).

Oh, and I didn't make the corn part of the recipe, so I can't vouch for that. But the pork and sauce was definitely a keeper. I just hope my kids don't go to school and tell their teacher they have vomit sauce for dinner sometimes.

3) Chipotle-Mango Barbecue Chicken with Cilantro Chimichurri

This dish is definitely a labor of love. It requires peeling mangos (which I find to be a huge pain) and using a food processor or blender two separate times--once for the chipotle-mango sauce and once for the chimichurri. Therefore, I recommend making this for a special occasion or weekend BBQ, not a Tuesday night dinner. The leftovers heat up well, though, so you could make a bunch and have it twice in one week.

Also, although I didn't do it myself, I am sure either or both sauces would be excellent used in a different dish - perhaps with shrimp or another seafood.


Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Summer food! Summer vegetable bake and cherry tomato salad

There are many factors to blame for my post-slacking, but the most prominent one would have to be a case of the blahs in terms of finding exciting new recipes that are both delicious and fairly healthy. But now...well, that's all over. Because summer is here! I've discovered that, despite the sometimes brutal heat, spring and summer are my favorite times of the year for making meals. The heat brings out a natural inclination to eat fresh, nutritious foods (who wants a heavy, creamy, cheesy fried thing when it's 110 degrees outside?). And the stores and farmers markets are stocked with colorful fruits and vegetables that are just begging to be bought and experimented with.

To kick off what I hope will be an abundance of awesome summer recipes, I offer my new favorite veggie dish. Isn't it lovely? And the best part is, it's super simple and easy to prep ahead of time, which makes it BBQ or potluck friendly. 

Summer Veggie Bake

Ingredients

1 onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, diced
4-5 yellow squash, sliced in thin rounds
4-5 zucchini, sliced in thin rounds
4-5 tomatoes, sliced in thin rounds
fresh basil
salt
pepper
olive oil
1 bag mozzarella cheese
Italian seasoning or oregano (optional)

Directions

Saute the onion in olive oil until soft. Add the garlic and cook until fragrant (be careful not to burn). Spread the onion and garlic mixture onto the bottom of a 13x9 inch casserole dish (if you want to make less, use a 8x8 square pan). 

Season the tomatoes, squash, and zucchini with some salt, pepper, and (if you like), some italian seasoning or dried oregano. Stack the veggies on their edges, alternating between the squash, zucchini, and tomato. Once the pan is full, tear off the basil leaves and poke them down in between some of the veggies (use as much or as little as you want). 

Cover the pan with aluminum foil and bake at 400 degrees for approx 30 minutes, or until the vegetables are tender. Remove the foil and sprinkle mozzarella cheese over the whole pan, spreading evenly. Put the pan back in the oven and cook until the cheese is melted and bubbly. You may want to turn on the broiler to get that nice brownish crust on the top of the cheese.

*I haven't tried this yet, but it just occurred to me that this might be really good served with a little warm marinara sauce spooned over the top - especially if you're serving it to kids.

And secondly, I offer you a link to a cherry tomato salad I recently made, which was also delicious, light, easy, and BBQ friendly. When my husband saw the recipe lying on the counter, he said "Buttermilk? That's not light." Oh, but it is! Thanks to my obsessive Food Network watching, I know that buttermilk is very low in fat. The reason it's called buttermilk, is that it's the residual liquid left over after butter is churned. The dressing on this salad tastes like ranch, but is much lighter while still remaining totally natural (unlike the "lite" version of most ranch dressings).

Patrick and Gina Neely's Cherry Tomato Salad with Buttermilk Basil Dressing





Monday, March 19, 2012

Best crock pot recipe ever (brined pork chops)

It's been a while since I've made a blog-worthy meal, and it's also been a while since I've made anything worth mentioning in a crock pot. I have a bit of a love/hate relationship with crock pot meals. Obviously the idea of throwing a bunch of stuff into a pot in the morning, and having a delicious meal all ready and waiting at dinner time is a wonderful one... But usually all of the crock pot recipes I make turn out to be riffs on mushy meat stew in some sort of a tomato-based sauce.

I was excited when I saw this recipe for Alton Brown's slow cooked pork chops featured as the "Recipe of the Day" on the Food Network website. For one, I'd been making so much chicken lately that my whole family was really chickening out (Sorry, I heart cheesy puns). Secondly, it was something unique, unlike typical crock pot fare.

This recipe was super flavorful, and really tender. Pork chops can tend to be dry and flavorless, and these were just the opposite.

I do have to warn you, this dish is pretty labor intensive, as crock pot dishes go. First you have to brine the pork chops overnight (not a big deal, but it takes some advance planning). Secondly, you have to spend probably 30-45 minutes the next morning browning the pork chops before they go into the crock pot. So if you're looking for something where you can just dump some stuff into the crock pot and turn it on, this recipe isn't for you. But if you're looking to make a delicious, guest-worthy meal that you can prepare well ahead of dinner time, then you need to try this.

Note: Make sure you buy fairly thick, bone-in pork chops for this dish. And go ahead and make more than you think you'll need...the leftovers are fabulous too.

Another note: Some of the reviews on the Food Network website mention that the dish is too salty/peppery, but I disagree. I made it exactly as directed and thought the flavor was spot-on. Then again, I do love me some salt. If you're not a big salt fan, you can tone it down by using water or some wine in place of the chicken broth at the end.

Slow Cooker Pepper Pork Chops (from Alton Brown via www.foodnetwork.com)

Ingredients:

2 cups vegetable broth
1/2 cup kosher salt
1/2 cup light brown sugar
2 tbsp black peppercorns, slightly crushed
1 lb ice
4 , 1 to 1 1/2 inch thick pork chops, bone in
2 tsp kosher salt
3 oz dried apple slices
2 tbsp olive oil
1 large onion, julienned
1 1/2 cups chicken broth (and perhaps a smidge of white wine)
1 tbsp black pepper
1 tsp dried thyme

Directions:

Combine the broth, salt, brown sugar, and peppercorns in a medium sauce pan over medium high heat. Cook until the salt and sugar dissolve, and remove from heat and add the ice. Place the pork chops into a large ziplock bag and pour the mixture inside. Seal and refrigerate overnight.

In the morning...remove the chops from the brine, rinse and pat dry. Season on both sides with kosher salt and set aside.

Place the apples in the slow cooker. Heat 1 1/2 tsp of the olive oil in a large saute pan. Over medium high heat, sear both sides of the pork chops until golden brown, about 5-6 minutes per side. Once browned, put the chops into the crock pot atop the apples.

Add the remaining olive oil to the pan and saute the onions until soft and beginning to brown. Add the chicken broth to the pan to deglaze. (I used a little bit of white wine to deglaze, and then added the chicken broth). Add the black pepper and thyme. Transfer to the slow cooker. Set to high for 1 1/2 hours, and then turn to low. Continue cooking another 4-5 hours or until the pork is tender and falling away from the bone.

*If you're not going to be home to turn down the crock pot, just set it to low the whole time.

These chops would go great with just about any side dish you can think of. The sauce would be great to soak up with some rice, roasted potatoes, cauliflower, etc.


Wednesday, February 29, 2012

30 minute meal (for real): Sausage with white beans and kale

I recently read an article about how the abundance of cooking shows and "food tv" does both good and bad things to the morale of the home cook. On one hand, the 'round the clock cooking shows often provide great recipes and solid instruction. On the other hand, it often makes us feel insecure if we can't come up with an inspired, expertly executed dish with a handful of ingredients and a ticking clock (ie: the Iron Chef).

One such show that's often encouraged, yet discouraged me, is 30 Minute Meals with Rachel Ray. Rachel's mantra is that anyone can throw together an amazing, multi-course meal (sometimes even with homemade dessert!) in 30 minutes. The problem is that those 30 minutes don't account for all of the pre-rinsing/chopping/measuring that goes into her recipes, nor the fact that she has more ovens and kitchen gadgets than most home cooks. Perhaps most importantly, it ignores the major clean-up that has to occur when one uses multiple pots, pans, and utensils to make that cute little 30 minute meal.

That's why I love this new recipe that I recently made. It was something that I really did throw together in its entirety in under 30 minutes. It's hearty, healthy, and contains only a handful of ingredients. And the whole thing only requires one pan. I know...kale seems kind of scary to the vegetable-averse, and it really took me a long time (I'm talking years) to work up the courage to cook with it. But I promise you it's good in this recipe. My kids even ate it. Here you go...

Sausage with Kale and White Beans

Ingredients:

2-3 large links of quality lean sausage (I usually use chicken basil sausage made at our grocery store)
1 large bunch of kale
2 cans of white beans (cannellini or navy beans)
chicken stock
1 clove of garlic, chopped (optional)
white wine (optional)
lemon (optional)
salt

Directions:

Saute the sausage in a large saute pan or stock pot until nicely browned and cooked through. Remove to a cutting board and slice on the diagonal into 1/2 inch slices.

Separate the kale from the stem and roughly chop into bite-size pieces. Return the pan that the sausage was cooked in to the stove and set at medium-low. Pour in a little bit of stock or white wine, stirring and scraping with a wooden spoon until the browned bits come up from the bottom. Add the kale leaves to the pan and cook, stirring occasionally, until it begins to wilt. Add the beans, some chopped garlic, and enough stock to make it slightly soupy without actually being soup. Continue cooking until the beans and kale are soft. Add some salt to taste. If you want to boost the flavor a bit, you can also squeeze in a little lemon juice and/or add a splash of white wine.

Add the sausage slices back into the pan until everything is warmed through. Serve in a bowl with, of course, some crusty bread.