Sunday, October 31, 2010

Halloween & Election Week Menu

It's STILL 80 degrees & sunny here in Texas so I've decided to cook like it's Fall, even if the weather won't cooperate.    Here's the menu:

Halloween: Moroccan Beef Stew
A sweet & savory quick stew with dried apricots & currants.  Sounds exotic but it's easy and smells amazing.  Added bonus of an excuse to open a bottle of wine and a "spooky" purple color make this a perfect meal before heading out to Trick or Treat!

Monday: Tandoori Chicken
Found the original for this recipe in Family Circle magazine and it's SO quick & easy that I don't even have to look it up anymore, I've got it memorized.

Tuesday: Pasta Fagioli
A classic Italian soup, but in an easy, slow-cooker version with a little bit of cheating to make it SUPER simple.

Wednesday: Chicken Parmesan
Baked, not fried, so it's actually a pretty healthy meal.

Thursday: My Mom's Cheese Soup
Chock full of whatever veggies looked good at the store, a rich, warm, comforting soup.  I love this stuff SO much that I don't even mind having to stop by the store that night to pick up fresh bread.  It's one of my favorite meals ever. 

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Cheez-it Chicken

Yep, it's what it sounds like!  Yummy.

Preheat oven to 400 degrees

1 package chicken tenderloins (or boneless skinless breasts, sliced into tenders)
Cheez-its (approx 2 cups whole, 1 cup crushed)
1 C. shredded cheddar
2 eggs

Scramble the eggs in a bowl and toss in the raw chicken so it all gets coated.

In a large plastic bag, mix the shredded cheese and the crushed Cheez-it's.  Then add in the egg-coated chicken strips.  Do these one at a time for the best coating. 

Lay the strips out on a cookie sheet and bake in a 400 degree oven for 20 min.  Serve with Ranch & BBQ sauce for dipping.

As sides, I serve steamed broccoli and sweet potato fries -- you can eat the whole meal with your fingers! 

SUPER kid friendly and, if you use the whole grain Cheez-it's, probably fairly healthy.  :)

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Jungle Salad (the dangers of multi-tasking)

I remembered thinking about Madeira Pork and put it on the menu... but was distracted and forgot that we actually have gorgeous weather (still 80 degrees and sunny!) and decided on a salad tonight.  Whoops!  Since I somehow managed to buy the stuff for both meals and the salad fixings won't keep... here's how to make Jungle Salad.

This salad was inspired by one that Houston's serves, but I've gone off on my own to create what works for my family... you can do the same.

1 bag salad greens
Leftover steak (rare, sliced thin - or jsut grill it rare & slice it super thin)
Peanut Dressing (bottled is fine, but I often mix leftover peanut sauce with rice vinegar & make my own)
Toppings (all the below would be chopped into bite sized pieces, vary these to whatever floats your boat and happens to be in your fridge)

Green Onions
Red bell pepper
Water chestnuts
Carrot (matchsticks)
Mandarin Oranges
Fresh Mint & Cilantro (we use TONS, but whatever works for you)
Sliced Almonds
Toss it all together and top with peanut dressing and serve.


Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Black Bean & Chicken Nachos

Preheat oven to 350

1 can black beans rinsed/drained
1 can corn drained
1 jalapeno, seeded minced
Leftover grilled chicken, chopped
Fistful of fresh cilantro, chopped
shredded cheese
Sour Cream

Put out shallow, oven proof plates/platters for each person (I use the Corningware ones we got for our wedding.  If you got married in the US in the past 20 yrs, you have 'em too.)

Layer tortilla chips out in a single layer on each platter.
Sprinkle lightly with cheese.  Top with black beans, corn, jalapeno & chicken then sprinkle again with cheese (helps hold all the toppings on). 

Bake for approx 15 min (cheese should be nice & melty).  Remove from oven & sprinkle with cilantro. 

Serve directly from the platters - set on trivets instead of placemats - give each person a small dish with sour cream & salsa. 

This is obviously just one way to do it.  We've used leftover smoked brisket and it's fantastic.  You could skip the meat altogether or add other fun stuff like black olives, green chilis, tomatoes (get 'em really dry first though or you'll have gross, soggy chips).   Get creative (or desperate) with what you've got on hand... you never know when you'll have an inspired combination. 

Monday, October 25, 2010

Grilled Cheese & Tomato Soup

For an evening when we have to get dinner on the table fast, not everyone is home and it's supposed to be a rainy evening, seems like Grilled Cheese & Tomato Soup is a natural.

I really like the Wolfgang Puck canned soups.  The Tomato Basil is really good (and certainly better than my one attempt at homemade tomato soup thickened with croutons... but that's a long & relatively disgusting story of a recipe gone horribly, horribly wrong).

I really don't do anything too special for Grilled Cheese but one little trick I use is to do them on the griddle (do 3-4 sandwiches at once) and, instead of buttering the bread, I take a cold stick of butter and rub it on the hot pan in each place I'm about to place a sandwich.  Saves time, tastes just as good.  I will probably put a slice of ham into each sandwich tonight for a little extra protein but it's certainly not necessary.

A big bowl full of bread & butter pickles and this is a quick meal that makes everyone feel happy & loved.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Rigatoni with Butternut Squash

1 Butternut squash - peeled, seeded and chopped into bite sized pieces
1 box Rigatoni (or other large, hearty pasta)
6-8 slices bacon (or the whole pkg - whatever) - chopped into bite sized pieces
2 shallots sliced very thin
6-8 fresh sage leaves (1 tsp dried sage)
leftover grilled chicken chopped into bite sized pieces (Optional)
1 cup grated parmesan cheese

** This is a cool technique where you cook the pasta most of the way, then pull about a cup of the cooking water out, toss the drained pasta with the ingredients & the cooking water.  It enables the pasta to soak up the oils & flavors of the ingredients and make it's own sauce.  Once you figure this out you can do tons of different things using the same idea. **

Toss  squash pieces with olive oil, salt & pepper.  Roast 10 min at 400, toss and cook another 10 min.

Start the water and boil the rigatoni the lowest amount of time on the package (if it says 11-13 min - just do the 11 - you want it very al dente because it'll cook more after you take it out).

In a pan fry the chopped up bacon.  When it's crispy, add the shallots and cook another minute.  Add in the chicken (if using) and toss to get everything coated and heated through. 

Wearing an oven mitt, use a heatproof measuring cup to remove about a cup of the water from the pasta & set aside.   Drain the pasta and then toss into pan with bacon.  Add about 1/2 of the reserved water and stir up all the bits from the bottom of the pan.   The pasta will soak up the bacon & water, giving it tons of flavor.  If the pasta isn't quite done or you need more time - add the rest of the water.  Then toss in the squash pieces and gently toss to combine (some smooshing will happen & that's okay).  Add in 3/4 of the cheese and the sage.  Toss to combine.  Pour into large bowl, top with the rest of the cheese and serve. 

** If you wanted to do this without bacon, you could brown butter and follow the recipe.  If you wanted to go vegetarian, you could brown butter and then, instead of bacon, you could toss in about 3/4 cup of walnuts and saute them in the butter as it browns.  I've not tried it but I bet that would be fantastic! **

October 24 - Menu

Sunday: Rigatoni with Butternut Squash
Rigatoni tossed with fresh sage & shallots, roasted butternut squash, parmesan and bacon. 

Monday: Grilled Cheese & Tomato Soup
Just what it sounds like... it's a busy night and this is quick & easy.

Tuesday: Black Bean & Chicken Nachos
Tortilla chips topped with grilled chicken, black beans, corn and cheese then baked to yummy goodness

Wednesday: Madeira Pork
Pork tenderloin sauteed with shallots & Madeira wine sauce, with asparagus & rice.  It's like fancy restaurant food, but actually a simple technique & fast enough for a weeknight.

Thursday: Cheezit Chicken
Yep, a favorite with the kiddo (and husband).  Chicken nuggets, broccoli & sweet potato fries. 

Friday, October 22, 2010

Go Rangers!!!

Our hometown team, the Texas Rangers, are one game away from the World Series and tonight we will be grabbing a quick dinner at one of our favorite local restaurants, Johnny G's, and then heading home to watch the Yankee's go DOWN!!

Johnny G's is a  Cajun/Italian place (sounds weird but it's fantastic) owned by a friend of ours.  Johnny is a great, natural cook and he learned to do really good, authentic Cajun food while stationed in Louisiana.  His mother, who cooks at the restaurant some nights, is from Italy - hence the odd combination. But it works and it's one of our favorites.  

Check it out at:

Hope you have some relaxing & yummy plans for the evening.  GO RANGERS!!!!

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Pork Milanese

Last night of the week for cooking and this one seems like more effort but it's worth the bit of prep it takes.  This is a simple, classic preparation for pork but you can do the same thing with almost any piece of meat or meaty vegetable (eggplant, zucchini). 

Start with your boneless, thin cut pork loin chops - trim them very well - no fat or icky bits left.
Working one at a time, pound each between two sheets of waxed paper (if you don't have a meat pounder, get one but the side of a can will work in a pinch).  The cutlets should be pretty thin but not see-through or shredded.  Looking for uniformity more than anything.   This process ensures even cooking and super tender meat.

Take out three shallow bowls (I use pasta bowls) and line them up:
   Bowl A: 3/4 cup flour,  1 tsp salt, several grinds of pepper & mix with fork to combine
   Bowl B: 2 eggs beaten with a fork
   Bowl C: 3/4 cup panko (you could use bread crumbs but panko is TOTALLY worth it).

Start a pan on the stove with about 1/3 inch of canola oil over medium heat. 

Working quickly, take pork and coat each in flour, shake off the excess and then into the egg.  When fully coated, press into the panko.  Scoop some panko out from the sides and press it on top, flip it over and do again.  Looking for a nice, even coating.  Gently set on a plate and repeat. 

Once oil is hot (drop a few bits of panko in there - if it sizzles, you're ready to go).  Gently place cutlets into oil one at a time. Do not crowd the pan - you don't want to cool the oil down too much.  You will probably need to work in batches.  Cook approx 4-5 min per side -- just go by the golden brown color.  The pork is so thin that you shouldn't have any problems with undercooking.  You want the coating to be an appealing, nutty/golden/brown.

When the pork is done, remove to a plate covered in paper towels and sprinkle liberally with salt.

While the pork is cooking, do the beans.
In a saucepan, heat 1 TB Olive Oil and add 1 clove chopped garlic - simmer 1 minute then add
2 cans Cannellini Beans - rinsed & drained
1 can diced tomatoes (it's totally fine to use the Italian seasoned ones)
add additional Thyme, Oregano if you like and then salt & pepper to taste.
Allow it all to come up to a slight simmer and then turn down the heat and keep warm until serving.

When you're done with the pork, pour off remaining grease.  There should still be a good coating in the pan.  Allow it to cool SLIGHTLY (med heat) and toss in 1 clove chopped garlic and stir up the bits for about 30 seconds.  Toss in entire bag of baby spinach and toss, toss, toss until fully wilted.

Serve with sliced lemons and squeeze the lemon over the pork and spinach.  A little drizzle of red wine vinegar is also super good if you don't have lemons.

That's it... enjoy!

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

BBQ Ranch Chicken Salad

I am NOT complaining... but (okay, maybe it is complaining) ... but it's 85 degrees and sunny.  Again.

I am so ready for Autumn.  For soups and risotto and stews and lots of carbs... but none of those sound good when it's so beautiful outside.  SO... here's tonights dinner: BBQ Ranch Chicken Salad

I got the idea for this from a fantastic salad at Chili's.  The ranch dressing at Chili's is the best and nothing else comes close - but all the other flavors in this salad help to make up for the lack of excitement in the dressing.

1 bag of salad greens - rinsed & chilled
1 handful of fresh cilantro, rinsed/chopped (I toss this in the salad spinner with the lettuce but don't chop it too small or it'll flow out the vents.  Trust me on that one.)

Grill 2 boneless/skinless chicken breasts and baste with BBQ sauce (Sweet Baby Ray's is my favorite). 
Chop & set aside (this is also GREAT for leftover chicken - just chop & toss with BBQ sauce).

1 can black beans, rinsed/drained
1 can Niblets, drained
1 avocado, chopped
1 lime - juiced

toss the avocado with the lime & ranch dressing.  Then toss it all with the salad/cilantro and place into bowls.
Top with a handful of corn/black beans and then the BBQ chicken.

Easy peasy.  Great additions would be: chopped peppers, BACON, cheese - you could surely sub out taco meat -- but this is a big favorite in my house and my six year old ALWAYS eats several bowls of salad when I serve this. 

That's it!!  Hope you enjoy!

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Taco Tuesday!!

I'm really not sure why, but Taco Tuesday never fails to make me happy.

Simple dinner, happy family... I guess it's not a big mystery.

We do our tacos "Taco Johns' Style"  - meaning that we take a soft, flour tortilla (warmed in the microwave for a few seconds) - spread it with some refried beans and then wrap it around a crispy, corn taco shell filled with meat, cheese, sour cream, tomatoes, lettuce & salsa. 

It's easier for kiddos to handle, less messy for the adults and, honestly, don't refried beans just taste SO good??

For the taco meat, I don't use the taco seasoning packets, but you can if you like.  If you want to do your own, here's how:
Brown the beef
when browned but still with some juices in pan, add:
- 1/2 tsp granulated garlic
- 1 TB cumin
- 1 TB chili powder
- 1/2 tsp oregano
- dash of dried onion (if you like)
salt & pepper to taste
then just brown it off until the juices are fully evaporated & serve it up.

In case you don't agree with me about the refritos... here's my secret:  Bacon fat.  Yep, not gonna lie.  I buy the vegetarian refried beans (because I read the ingredients once).  I feel SO virtuous at the grocery store and then I come home, plop that mess into a sauce pan with a dollop of bacon grease.  Melt it all together and enjoy the happiness that only pork-fat can render (pun intended). 

Happy Taco Tuesday!!  Enjoy

Monday, October 18, 2010

Jewel's Jasmine-Turkey Burgers

This one sounds like a lot of ingredients but it's actually pretty quick & easy.

I posted the link to the original recipe on the "Recipes" page - but I've tweaked it a bit by grilling (healthier and it doesn't stink up the house the way frying does). 

These burgers go a long way - they're dense and full of flavor.  Even my 6-yr old scarfs down this whole meal every time.  The pickles are a HUGE hit and even the mayo gets rave reviews - I recommend starting with the pickles so that they have time to marinate.  Make more than you think you need because they are SUPER yummy!

Sunday, October 17, 2010

This weeks menu!

Sunday:  Amazon Chicken
Grilled boneless skinless chicken breasts
Corn/Blackbean Salsa
Cilantro/lime rice
"Amazon" sauce - cilantro/garlic mayo

Monday: Turkey Burgers
Turkey burgers
Ginger/Wasabi Mayo
Japanese pickles

Tuesday: Taco Night!!
Hard shelled tacos wrapped in soft-shells

Wednesday: Chicken Ranch Salad
Bagged salad, grilled chicken with BBQ sauce
balck beans, avocados, corn, cilantro & ranch

Thursday: Pork Milanese
Sauteed & breaded pork cutlets
Sauteed spinach
Cannelini Beans & tomatoes

Shopping list is on the link at the top of the page.

I'll post recipes & techniques through the week. 

Enjoy!!  Please let me know if you have thoughts, ideas, comments...

Friday, October 15, 2010

Friday Free Day!

As you may have gathered from the title of my blog - I do not cook on Friday.  Like... ever. 

Tonight we headed over to Marcus High School with a rowdy crew of friends to partake in a Texas tradition: Friday Night Lights!  Marcus VS. Plano in high school football.  Good times, lousy food.  Popcorn, ballpark nachos and no beer.  (How did I not remember that they don't serve beer at high school football games?)

Thankfully, we were able to grab some Chinese take-out at Empress before the game.  Singapore style curry noodles with chicken and some lo mein starts an evening off right. 

That's it!  Happy Friday!!  I'll post a menu & grocery list on Sunday.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Pasta Carbonara is oh so good!

The first time I made pasta carbonara, my family loved it but they refused to eat the salad I had made to go along with it, indulging, instead, in second helpings of the pasta.  So when I saw a recipe that included spinach IN the dish - I had to try it.

I put the recipe on the "Recipes" page but it's super easy, fast and tastes great.  The spinach goes really well and didn't detract at all from the flavor. 

One note - as you work in the spinach, it starts out looking like a LOT of spinach - as it wilts, you'll have no problem but I did drop several leaves out on the floor.  My dog was VERY disappointed to discover that, although he could smell bacon, eggs and cheese ... what fell on the floor was spinach.  Not his favorite moment of the day.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Stubbs Pork on the grill!

Okay... it's not actually Wednesday YET... but I figured I'd get directions for dinner out early since it is best if you give it time to marinate.

I didn't put Stubbs Marinade for Pork on my grocery list or staples because I happened to have WAY over-bought not too long ago (somehow I have two unopened bottles and a half in the fridge).  So ... if you don't have it, use something else or just do some salt & pepper... it's a simple meal for a night when you really, really just need to get through it.  But, I gotta say - it is the BEST pork marinade I've ever had.  Props to Mr. Stubbs.  It's the goods.

SO... if you have the marinade, shake & pour into a plastic gallon bag (about a 1/2 bottle or so).  I use the thin cut, bone in pork loin chops - but whatever floats your boat.  These are fast cooking and have TONS of flavor because they have so much surface area.

Wednesday Night: 
Preheat the oven to 375
Peel the sweet potatoes and slice into thin (1/4 in or slightly thinner)  rounds.  Toss in a bowl with olive oil, salt, pepper, garlic powder, cumin and a dash of cayenne.  Pour onto a rimmed baking sheet and pop into oven for 15 minutes.   Then flip 'em and do another 15 min.

While that's cooking, clean the broccoli and chop into florets.  Steam it until just bright green but still crisp.  Toss the broccoli to dry it a bit, put into serving bowl, crack some pepper ovre it and then put a generous handful of parmesan cheese over top of the broccoli.
In a SMALL saucepan, melt 2 TB butter on medium heat - keep an eye on it once it's gotten past that bubbly/frothy stage.  It'll start to brown and then it'll froth again - kinda keep swirling it - once it's turned a nutty brown color pull it off the heat and pour it over the cheese/broccoli.  Trust me - it's so good.

Somewhere about the time you're starting the broccoli - send your husband out to grill the pork chops.  They should be over high/direct heat for about 3 min per side.  I usually serve this with a side of apple sauce because I dig apples & pork together - but it's not critical.

Toss the sweet potatoes with some sea salt and plate up dinner.   It's easier than it sounds and the whole thing should be ready in about 30 mintues -- as you get used to the rhythm things will flow... I promise.

That's it... enjoy!!

Monday, October 11, 2010

Shredded potato crusted pie

So last night we wound up drinking our dinner with friends Annie & Ryan.  It was fun and totally worth it, but that meant that tonight we had the salmon (and it was fantastic).

BUT if you're making the potato pie - here's what you do:

Preheat oven to 425.
In large bowl combine bag of Simply Potatoes, 2 eggs and 1/3 C Parmesan cheese.  Press into greased high sided casserole dish and pop in oven for 15 min (the edges may have started to brown & it should be fairly dry)... if it cooks a bit longer, it's not a big deal.

While that is cooking, saute together:
1 zucchini sliced
1 sm summer squash sliced
1/2 sweet yellow onion
1 red pepper chopped
1/2 bag frozen corn
1/2 C chopped ham (optional - I do a bunch of slices of honey ham and just chop 'em)
-- you can pretty much do anything here - I LOVE the crispy/sweet of the corn/peppers but whatever floats your boat.  I've done green beans, asparagus, mushrooms - you name it.  it worksl

once that's all sauteed  and crisp/tender (approx 10 min), pull off heat.  Stir in 1/4 Cup milk beaten with 2 eggs, 1 tsp dried basil (or a few chopped fresh leaves if you've got it) and about 1 cup of shredded cheddar cheese.

Pour the gloppy mess into the potato crust and top with more cheese.  Back into the oven for about 20 more minutes (typical doneness characteristics - should be set firm, browning but not browned).  I"d let it cool on the counter about 5 min before slicing so it can settle.

This is adapted from an ad I saw for Simply Potatoes about 15 years ago... (credit where it's due) but I've tweaked it a lot. 

That's it... hope you like it.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Shouldn't it be colder outside?

Fifteen years in Texas and it still throws me to have 80+ days... I feel like I should be roasting, braising and stewing... but it's just too nice outside for that.  I'm not complaining about our fantastic weather... it's just throwing off my menu mojo a bit.

Here's this weeks' menu.  It's kind of a crazy week with soccer games and my boss in town, so all easy/fast and very low on creativity.  It'll get better... I promise!  

I'll post recipes/techniques later in the week.  For now, here is the menu:

Sunday: Salmon grilled with an Asian glaze, rice with sesame/orange and sauteed spinach.

Monday: Potato pie (shredded potato crust filled with zucchini, ham, sweet corn and red peppers)

Tuesday: Soccer game, I'm out and a fundraiser for Becca's school so they're going to Schlotzky's

Wednesday: Pork chops on the grill, broccoli and roasted sweet potatoes

Thursday: Pasta Carbonara (but I'm going to try to add a tiny bit of redeeming value by adding in some fresh spinach - idea from Food & Wine).

Here's how to make dinner tonight:

zest & juice two oranges - put half aside for rice
to the remaining zest/juice add:
2 TB dark brown sugar
1 tsp grated ginger (I buy the jarred stuff in the produce section)
1 tsp crushed garlic (fresh is better but I often use the jarred stuff)
1 tsp sesame oil
1 TB soy sauce
all amounts are approximate - it should be kind of thick/glossy

grill the salmon and brush on the glaze, heat remainder on stovetop as a sauce.
Prepare white rice and when it's done, stir in the juice/zest and about a teaspoon of sesame oil, stir and set aside for about 5 min.

heat olive oil & garlic in pan, toss in the spinach and saute for about 2-3 min - until JUST wilted. 

Done.  Hope you enjoy...

Friday, October 8, 2010

Pantry Items

Organization is the best tool in the world for a working mom.  One system we have in our house is a list on the fridge of things we need to add to the weeks list.  Every year I seem to get a few of these little magnetic pads from real estate agents, garnders and financial planners so they get stuck on the fridge.  Whenever we run low on any basics (Olive Oil, peppercorns, etc) that we wouldn't normally even check for, we just put it on the list and when I sit down to figure out the menu, I always grab that list for the grocery list.  Simple step but saves a Wednesday night meltdown when I realize that we don't have any crushed tomatoes and I'm making pasta, right?

As I figure out this blog thing, I'll put together a list of basics for the pantry that could be used when you're embarking on a new mission of home-cooked meals, better organization and calmer evenings.

Happy Friday!!