After the horrendous heat wave (that we mostly escaped with the good grace and serendipity of an unrented vacation house), we came home at the end of the weekend to the most curious clouds and much, much cooler weather. Nearly 40 degrees difference from the day before, in the high 60’s, and the clouds in the sky were strange. So many different shapes and patterns and heights and depths, they looked false and deliberate and painted onto the sky. I looked to the hills and the high billowing thunderheads made me giddy. We don’t get many thunder storms here, and the prospect always gets me excited, though I rarely hold my breath.
We were awakened around 2:00 am to an electrical storm. And I mean AN ELECTRICAL STORM. I’ve only ever seen lightning like that once in my life and it was on the other side of the states. This was no thunder shower. It made any regular old little lightning strikes and claps of thunder we might get seem akin to someone snapping an old light switch on and off. It was incredible. I stood in the window and watched for a while, then snuggled back in bed, watching the curtains light up like so much daylight. The cat slept in my armpit all night, terrified. The storm lasted for hours, and I fought to stay awake and watch it.
We still had boomers in the morning when I got up for work, sending the cat skittering into the closet then under the blankets on the bed. It most certainly did not feel like June outside, I got out long sleeves and a warm vest and decided on soup for dinner.
Soups in summer are counter-intuitive to me. I’ve always loved the idea of minestrone and corn chowder in the summer, but bleurgh, who wants to eat them? Standing over a steaming pot sounds SO unattractive. Soup is meant to be warming, and when it’s blazing outside that is the very last thing I want. And cold soup? Nope. I just can’t get in to it. Gazpacho, fruit soups, doesn’t matter, I just can’t do it.
I could sneak one in, though, in all of this weird weather. Corn chowder with freshly picked and shucked corn, blistered under the broiler, all creamy and sweet summery goodness. It’s not something I’d normally do on a weeknight, but all told it only took about forty minutes of real hands on work. I multitasked around the kitchen, chopping onions and celery while the corn broiled, sautéing while the corn cooled, and finally having a glass of wine (very important for a weeknight chef) while dinner simmered. All with the balcony door open so I could smell the damp earth outside my door, for what was probably the last time in months.
Grilled Corn & Potato Chowder
4 ears of corn, shucked
3 small red potatoes, scrubbed and chopped into ½” cubes
1 small yellow onion, chopped (about ¾ c.)
1 celery rib, chopped
½ a red bell pepper, seeded and chopped
3 T. butter
1/8 t. smoked paprika
3 C. milk, 2% or whole
1 big thyme sprig
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
4 slices of bacon, cut into matchsticks and fried until crispy, for serving
2-3 green onions, thinly sliced, for serving
Preheat your grill to medium high heat, and grill the corn on all sides until lightly charred, about 15 minutes total. (Alternatively, do this under the broiler in your oven. Takes the same amount of time. I didn’t want to stand in the rain!). Remove from the heat and set aside to cool. When cool enough to handle, chop the corn off the cobs, discarding the cobs. Take 1 cup of corn and place in a blender with 1/2 c. of milk and puree until smooth.
Melt the butter in a soup pot over medium heat, and add onion, celery, and bell pepper, sautéing for 3-4 minutes until soft. Add the potato cubes and sauté for 10 more minutes. Add the corn, corn puree, milk, smoked paprika, and thyme, stirring to combine and allow to simmer, uncovered, for 35-40 minutes or until potatoes are soft. Serve topped with bacon bits and green onions.
Budget Meals, Dinner, Leftovers, Money Savers, Quick and Simple, Side Dish, Thinking Ahead
The second meal I made from that pork tenderloin and rice that we had on Sunday was Pork Fried Rice. Fried rice was a staple in my house, alongside egg burritos, when I was a poor hotel front desk employee. I made many meals for myself and friends out of a handful of this-and-that tossed in a pan.
Get crazy with your chopped vegetables. This dinner is a good Veg Drawer Cleaner Outer, use up that last sad stalk of celery, that wedge of bell pepper, hell you can even throw in lettuce if you’re not averse to warm greens. Seriously, use whatever here.
Fried rice will literally cook in less than 7 minutes, so make sure your ingredients are measured and your food is all chopped up before you turn your pan on. The most cumbersome part of making something like this is dicing up all of the components, making this is a good task to share with a spouse or kitchen partner.
Pork Fried Rice
Makes enough for 4-6 servings
1 cup (more or less) leftover pork tenderloin
1 1/2 cups diced vegetables (I almost always use napa cabbage, and whatever else is in the fridge: bell peppers, scallions, carrot, zucchini)
1/2 thinly sliced onion
3 eggs, cracked into a cup and gently beaten
4 cups cold cooked rice (we used brown, but white will work too)
Leftover sauce from Pork Tenderloin
A mixture of 3 T. Soy Sauce or Tamari, 1 T. sherry, and 1/2 t. sugar or honey
4-5 T. canola oil (don’t use olive oil here, you want something with a higher smoke point)
Chop up and measure out all ingredients before heating your pan, as cooking goes QUICK. Break up any chunks in your refrigerated rice with tongs or a wooden spoon.
Get out your biggest, baddest, heaviest cast iron or non-stick skillet (I use my 12″ calphalon here and it’s BARELY big enough, you really want to be able to toss your food around). Heat your pan over high heat for a minute or two, and pour in a tablespoon-ish of oil. Swirl it around the pan and let it heat until shimmering and lightly smoking. Turn on your exhaust fan and prepare for battle.
Add onion to the pan and fry quickly (literally about a minute) until starting to char. Add in your mixed vegetable medley and fry for a couple minutes until also charring. Remove all vegetables from pan to a large heat-proof bowl.
Add more oil to the pan (2-3 tablespoons). When smokin’ hot, dump the rice into the pan and quickly fry, turning with a folding motion to get all of the rice in contact with the pan bottom and rotating it around. It takes a couple of minutes, don’t rush it.
Pour the beaten eggs over the hot rice and fold in gently (I like getting egg chunks in my rice, stir more vigorously to break them down if you want) until egg is barely cooked. Pour the leftover pork sauce or soy sauce mixture over the rice and egg and stir to mix.
Add vegetable/onion medley back to the pan and quickly toss to reheat all of it.
Serve in bowls with additional soy sauce, chili oil and/or sesame oil on the side.
Budget Meals, Dinner, Holidays, Money Savers, Pantry, Quick and Simple, Self Indulgence, Side Dish
Happy Cinco, campers! One last post for you about taco bar and side dishes, then I have to dash and get to work picking up my house.
Let’s have a quick coffee chat about refried beans. Coming from a taqueria they are silky, salty and savory. Coming out of a can from the grocery store, they are the consistency of brown paste.
And who likes a side of brown paste with their beautiful taco bar? Not me. Especially when they are so easy to make. I learned just how easy they are to make at home from my aunt’s best pal on a camping trip last summer, and I haven’t bought a can of refried beans since.
Serves 8 as a side
1 40 oz. can of pinto beans (I was taught to use Teasdale, if you can find them)
2 serrano peppers, washed and dried
2-3 slices of bacon, on the fatty side if you have it (alternatively, if you keep bacon grease like I do you’ll need about 2 tablespoons
Drain the pinto beans, reserving the liquid in a bowl or measuring cup. Don’t bother rinsing the beans.
In a very heavy pan (cast iron is best), render the fat from your bacon over medium low heat. The object isn’t to crisp the bacon, this is sacrificial bacon as it’s being used for it’s fat only. (Use it to make yourself a BLT while your beans are cooking, no reason to throw it out). Remove the bacon from the pan.
Alternatively, if you hoard bacon grease like I do, scoop a couple of tablespoons out of the jar in the fridge and drop it into your pan. Melt it over medium heat until it glistens.
When your bacon is rendered or your fat is melted, drop in your serrano peppers and let them blister and brown over medium heat (be careful because they will pop on you). Give them a squeeze with your spoon every now and again to get some of the oils out.
If you like your beans with some heat, leave the peppers in and add your beans. If you prefer them mild, remove the peppers from the pan and add your beans. Add about 1/4 cup of the reserved bean liquid. Give the pan a stir and let it hang out for a bit.
For these beans, you’re going to almost completely cook out the liquid before adding more, over and over until they are the creamy consistency that you want them. I like mine with some chunks still but go ahead and let them break down completely if you’d like. Resist the urge to smash the beans, as the gentle cooking will do that for you. Give them a stir every now and again, being sure to scrape the bottom of the pan, but they don’t need babysitting. Total cook time is about 20-25 minutes. When you’re done, your beans should look approximately like this, for taqueria style beans:
Now, go pour yourself some sangria and finish putting together your taco bar. Your party is going to be a hit!
Budget Meals, Dinner, Entree, Money Savers, Pantry, Quick and Simple, Seasonal Cooking, Side Dish, Spring, Summer
A taco bar is one of the easiest, most festive buffets that you can lay out for people. I love having sit-down dinners for a handful of people, but sometimes we have open house-style get togethers where people are coming and going throughout an afternoon and it’s nice to be able to have food come out in waves, or to be able to replenish as the day goes on. With a little bit of careful planning and menu construction, you can have a full-blown taco bar for an entire day.
My favorite taco bar set-up includes the following:
Carnitas or Carne Asada
Margarita Marinated Chicken or Shrimp
Tortillas, corn and flour (because my gringo self loves a flour tortilla)
Salsas, rojo and tomatillo (green)
Diced green onions
Pickled red onions
Shredded cheddar and crumbled Cotija cheese
Shredded cabbage or iceberg lettuce
Many, many hot sauces (and in fact I have been known to host a hot-sauce competition, getting everyone to bring one and we vote on which is best)
Black bean and corn salad (mine is similar to this one, without the salad greens and sometimes with cucumber instead of mango)
Guacamole (lots and lots of guacamole)
And of course, beverages:
Sangria Rojo (or Blanco, but only if the weather is REALLY hot)
Mexican beer selection
Lots of cut up limes
What, no margaritas? Depends on the size of the crowd, but usually, no. I’m too cheap to buy stuff for marges, because I only like them top shelf. Tequila also has a way of turning a party into a Par-Tay so I usually steer away from it. I never turn a soul down that wants to bring them, though.
As for folks bringing things, you can make this a less expensive party if your friends are like ours and offer to bring things. Make a list of what you want on your bar (or snacks you’d like to have) and when people ask, say ‘why yes, if you’d bring four avocados it would be awesome!’ You can also word your invitation to have your pals bring a bottle of inexpensive red wine to keep the Sangria pot full or a 6 pack of their favorite Mexican beer. The hooch is by far the most expensive part of a party but spread out this way it becomes a lot more affordable for everyone involved.
On my taco bar, the condiment that always seems to fly off the buffet, that I can never seem to make enough of, is the pickled red onions. They’re not traditional by any means, but a smattering of them gives a nice vinegary brightness to the food that cuts through the richness of the fillings. And they are so, so easy to make.
Pickled Red Onions
In a saucepan, combine 3/4 cup of rice wine vinegar, 1/4 cup of freshly squeezed lime juice, a teaspoon of sugar and a teaspoon of salt. Bring up to a simmer, stirring occasionally, to dissolve the sugar and salt.
Meanwhile, dice a medium-large red onion and place in a non-reactive, heat proof bowl or jar (I use canning jars for this). Pour your vinegar mixture over the top of the onions, submerging them in the liquid. Make these several hours ahead of time so they can really get pickle-y, or even a day or two ahead and cross it off of your list.
Well, ask and you shall receive is what they tell you. I suddenly find myself with a LOT more time on my hands. Time to finish unpacking, time to get the house organized, time to sew and crochet and get my garden started, as I’ve been dreaming about for months now.
It’s going to give me ample time to study for my bookkeeping class and get my resume reworked because heaven knows I’m going to need it coming up here soon. Finding oneself suddenly unemployed can be a terrifying vision, but I’m choosing to find the silver lining in all of this. I can finally RELAX and not be so goddamn stressed out all of the time. Even Nick told me to defrag for a bit before leaping back in to working. I’m going to make my move back in to employment very thoughtfully, because I find that increasingly I’d like to just be happy at work, doing whatever it is that I choose to do, even if it’s for less money than I was previously making. And what I choose to do could be anything right now. I’m not going to limit myself to anything at this point. Life’s too short.
Defrag I can do, even if it’s just for a bit. I can lay in bed and listen to the rain tippy tapping on the window with a cup of tea, and write to you about my new-found freedom. I can sit in a cafe and people watch while I work on my homework (OK who am I kidding, I won’t work on my homework). I can do yoga for a bit just because the mood strikes me and because, well, whatever else I’m doing can usually wait since I’m on my own time, my own deadline, my own schedule. My. Own. Schedule.
Today the cat and I are making limoncello out of the Meyer lemons from my tree, a pot of soup for dinner, a loaf of focaccia to dip in said soup, a streamlined grocery list, and some cookies for the cookie jar (because I have an empty jar that is just begging for some cookies. And a cookie scoop that was a Christmas gift that needs a maiden voyage). I cut out a pattern for a robe about, oh, six months ago that has been sitting in a pile with the instructions ever since, so I think I’ll work on that. I have some new dress patterns that I bought at a pattern sale to read and outline (and one of my 2012 Bucket List items is to sew a fitted dress and wear it proudly). I might take a short drive to the Salvation Army store up the road if I need to get out of the house, as it’s my favorite place to poke around and even if I find a treasure that I can’t live without, it will only set me back a couple of bucks. I justify this trip because I have some things to donate anyway, and there’s no harm in stopping in for a while. I’ll only take my driver’s license and $5 so I can’t spend any more than that.
But about that bread. There’s something about warm soft focaccia, dipped in good olive oil or a bowl of soup, that makes my heart sing. Fresh bread, almost any kind, is one of my favorite things, and this week it’s all about me, Summer of George style.
From Williams-Sonoma Cooking at Home
1 package of quick rise yeast (2 1/4 teaspoons)
1 1/4 cups lukewarm water (110*F)
2 tablespoons of olive oil, plus more for brushing
2 teaspoons table salt
3-3 1/2 cups of unbleached bread flour (or regular old flour, which is what I used and it worked out just fine)
Coarse salt for sprinkling
In a large bowl of the bowl of a stand mixer, dissolve the yeast in the lukewarm water. Stir in the oil and the salt. Slowly stir in 3 cups of flour to make a soft dough.
Knead by hand or with a stand mixer, adding flour as necessary. Knead by hand until smooth and elastic, about 10 minutes, or knead by stand mixer with dough hook on low speed until the dough is no longer sticky and pulls cleanly from the bowl sides, 6-7 minutes. Form the dough into a ball and place in a clean, oiled bowl, turning to coat all sides (I cheated and used the same mixer bowl – no one was looking). Cover the bowl with oiled plastic wrap and let rise in a warm place until doubled in volume, 45-60 minutes.
Oil and 11×17 inch heavy baking sheet. Turn dough out onto a lightly floured board and knead slightly. Place on prepared baking sheet and let rest for 5 minutes. Using your fingers, stretch out the dough so that it evenly covers the pan bottom. Cover with a clean kitchen towel and let rise until puffy, about 30 minutes.
Preheat the oven to 400*F. Using your fingertips, make a pattern of dimples at 2 inch intervals over the entire surface of the dough. Brush the surface with oil and lightly sprinkle with sea salt.
Bake until golden brown, 15-20 minutes. Serve warm.
Dinner, Entree, Holidays, Homemaking, Money Savers, Quick and Simple, Side Dish, Thrifty Tips
This time of year can be a little daunting on the Eating Healthily front. A two pound box of See’s delivered to the office here (‘Merry Christmas’ indeed), a plate of cookies from the neighbors there, a holiday party or three on one bustling Saturday. It’s tough to behave all the time, and I know we’re all trying to do our best without feeling like we can’t eat anything.
One thing that we do around our house is make an extra concerted effort to eat better on the days we can control it. Not to say we can’t control what we eat every day (even when faced with three holiday parties full of good eats), but I’m going to be honest with you here: I’m not one of those people who believes in outright deprivation or strictness. If I want a piece of candy, I eat a piece of candy. Cheese plate looming in the distance? I’ll have a bite or two of my favorite. Cookie buffet in the corner? I’ll choose two that sound awesome or are something I don’t make, and stick to those. Being mindful that the first bite or two is enough, and reminding myself that a second helping will never taste as good as the first, are what I use as my aids.
What was I talking about? Eating mindfully, right. (My brain started to segue into cookies, sorry.) So, when the husband and I are staring down the barrel of a smorgasbord of parties or an upcoming family ravioli feed, I adjust our portion sizes and dinners accordingly around those days. I say dinner because I have no control (and no desire to control) what Nick eats during the day.
I stick to the basics of lean protein, tons and tons of veggies, and maybe a little starch or carby goodness. And since it’s a weeknight, it has to be pretty quick too because I’m not getting everything in the house dirty to lay out 3 courses, you get me? And necessity is the mother of invention as we all know, so most of the time I’m making it up as I go along.
One thing that you can add almost completely guilt-free is extra seasonings. More herbs, more spice, more flavor. It takes an otherwise boring entree and makes it more tasty, and is a simple way to feel indulgent on a Monday night. One way I like to accomplish this is to make a pot of infused olive oil. Our choice fat for everyday cooking, olive oil is one of the healthiest cooking staples we use.
The fancy pants infused stuff in your standard Overpriced Gourmet Grocer can cost you upward of $8 for a 6 ounce bottle (trust me, I’ve looked). And while it’s cutesy and makes a nice quick hostess gift in a hurry, I don’t buy stuff like this to have at home when I have all of the stuff to make it at home. I know, I’m so cheap, but I just can’t.
Infused oils perk everything up. A tiny bit on a salad tossed with some balsamic and it’s instant dressing. A little bit heated in a pan takes a boring boneless chicken breast to a pan-seared golden wonder. Used in conjunction with a bag of spinach and a quick saute it makes wonderful wilted greens for an amazing side dish (crack a couple eggs in there and dinner is done in one pan, more on that later). It takes a couple of minutes and a couple of ingredients to make something that will literally jazz up anything you dare to drizzle it on. And back to that hostess gift: poured into a clean bottle or jar with a lid, and presented with piece of ribbon and a sweet homemade tag it’s a welcome gift, even for those that don’t cook (labeled as Bread Dipping Oil for those folks).
Infused Olive Oil
2 cloves of garlic, crushed and peeled (no need to chop)
2 sprigs of fresh thyme, or 1 sprig of fresh rosemary
1 tsp. crushed red pepper flakes
1 c. olive oil
4 whole black peppercorns
In a small saucepan, combine all ingredients and place over medium-high heat until the herbs and garlic are sizzling. Reduce the heat and simmer for 10ish minutes. Remove from heat, cool to room temperature. Remove herb sprigs and garlic cloves and pour into a container with a lid. I’ve been told you should store this in the fridge but I personally never have. It doesn’t stick around long enough to ‘go bad’. Do as you wish. And get crazy with this idea, too: add citrus peels during the infusing process, more garlic, swap for shallots, different herbs. It’s your creation, have some fun with it.
And somehow, the Thanksgiving weekend is upon us. Time has certainly gotten to flying, and while I ordinarily would shrug at that, this year I really want it to slow down. Watching our friends’ kids getting older (the ‘first’ of the babies is going to be 5 in January), my youngest cousin turning 16 last week, and seeing my grandparents aging more quickly than I’d like makes me wistful and wishful for a set of brakes on Time.
I’m getting ready for the annual Thanksgiving feast up at my grandparents’ house, and for the very first time we’re all pitching in on the cooking. Mom is making desserts (of course, poor Mom always gets dessert because she’s the best baker – it’s a curse), my aunt is appetizers, I’m in charge of vegetables. Vegetables, for whatever reason, make me feel like I got the short end of the stick but it is what it is.
The hard thing about vegetables for a holiday is that everyone has The Standards. There are things that are required to be included on a holiday table. For Thanksgiving in our family, this is always the bird, stuffing, whipped potatoes (not mashed), candied yams (blech), gravy, rolls, cranberry sauce both jellied and whole berry, and a bunch of vegetables that no one eats which includes peas, corn, and I think green beans (but no one eats them, so I can’t remember). See why I got the short straw here? We usually have frozen vegetables. And with my love of cooking I can’t just go buy a bag of corn and slap it in the microwave. But will a new recipe be embraced, or deemed too exotic and banished to the other room?
New could be invigorating, I said, and a new recipe it will be. I hemmed, I hawed, I considered making Brussels sprouts with bacon, maybe some roasted squash glazed with a sweet chipotle something, even a salad. Salad could be interesting, I thought as I swirled my wine. We never have a salad, and it would be refreshing.
I made a similar salad to this one for an open house we had in September, where it was devoured so quickly that I was glad I made a ton of it. That time I made it with sweet potatoes alone, but since we already have two other potato dishes on the turkey table I thought I’d sub in the squash instead. Feel free to use both, though, as they’d both be delicious.
Roasted Autumn Salad
1 large orange fleshed sweet potato (about 1/2 lb), peeled and cut into 3/4″ cubes
1 large Delicata squash, gutted and cut into 3/4″ cubes
1 large or 2 small fresh poblano chiles, seeded and cut into 2″ x 1/2″ strips
1/4 lb of shallots, peeled and cut into rings
Salt and Pepper
A handful of dried tart cherries
1/2 c. or more of roughly chopped toasted pecans
2/3 c. salty crumbly cheese (cotija, feta, ricotta salata, something on these lines)
4 c. mixed salad greens (hearty types: arugula and spinach are perfect here, as are mustard greens)
Pepper Jelly Vinaigrette, recipe below
Preheat oven to 425*. Toss the potatoes or squash (or both if you’re daring) with a drizzle of olive oil (no need to measure), sprinkle on salt and a couple hearty cracks of fresh black pepper. Toss all to coat and spread out on a baking sheet in one layer. Roast for 15 minutes in the lower 1/3 of your oven, or until the cubes start to sizzle and brown. Meanwhile, toss together the chiles and shallots with a little more olive oil and salt and pepper.
After 15ish minutes, stir the potatoes/squash around so everybody gets brown on more than one side. At this point add in the peppers and shallots. Roast for another 15-20 minutes or until everything is browned to your liking. Pull from the oven and set aside and let cool to room temperature.
On a large serving, platter, lay out a bed of mixed salad greens. Top with the potato/squash mixture. Sprinkle on the cheese, nuts, and tart cherries. Drizzle on the pepper jelly vinaigrette (about 1/3 c) and serve. I pass the dressing with the salad for those who want more (myself included, I like a heavily dressed salad).
Have a very happy long weekend, everyone!
Pepper Jelly Vinaigrette
From Cooking Light magazine
1/4 c. pepper jelly
1/4 c. rice wine vinegar
1 T. fresh lime juice
1 T. grated onion
1 t. salt
1/4 t. pepper
1/4 c. vegetable or canola oil
Whisk together first 6 ingredients. Gradually add the oil in a slow, steady stream, whisking to incorporate. OR toss everything into your mini food-processor or bullet blender or use an immersion blender in a bowl and whiz together.
My Dad stopped in yesterday, took one look at my decorated mantel, and declared that it wasn’t fall yet and my motives are early. Yes, the weather is still in the low to mid 80s around here, but if football is on it means fall is either here or knocking on the door, if you know what I mean.
We aren’t big football people here at our house. We turn on the game because we like sports but baseball will always rule our airwaves. For me, football is an excuse to have a house full of rowdy folks and to cook up a storm to feed all of them. Cold beer, good food, loud shouts. It’s always a backdrop for a fun afternoon.
And what goes better with football than buffalo chicken? Spicy wings, cool blue cheese to dip them in, and a cold beer to wash them down. Their drawbacks are that they’re messy to eat, messy if you make them fried, and if you grill them you have to watch them like a hawk because those little suckers burn up in a heartbeat. I don’t mind a guest appearance as grill master but I am so easily distracted when I’m hosting. And you know how I hate to burn things. Needless to say we don’t have them often unless someone else brings them.
One day it hit me: I have a recipe for pesto spirals, similar to cinnamon rolls but with savory dough and pesto filling. Why not do buffalo? With the shredded chicken and mozzarella and blue cheese and green onion rolled up into a lightly sweet wheat dough? How could this be bad?
Well they certainly don’t suck, I can tell you that much. One bite and we were in love, and I have my new favorite snack to take to anywhere we go for football. Super portable, too, as you can make them in a disposable foil pan, let them catch the second rise after slicing and forming, and bake them off either at home or on arrival at your party destination, if you are headed to a place where the hostess will let you drive her kitchen for a minute. You can serve blue cheese dressing and more hot sauce on the side for dipping, if you’d like, but as is this is a pretty tidy package.
Buffalo Chicken Spirals
Makes enough for hungry beer drinkers
– 1 recipe Wheat Bread Dough, sans almonds, or your favorite single loaf bread recipe, or a ball of frozen bread dough, thawed
– 1 boneless skinless chicken breast, grilled and chopped or shredded
– 1/2 c. hot sauce (and we love us some Frank’s Red Hot), plus more for drizzling and serving
– 1/2 c. shredded mozzarella
– 2/3 to 3/4 c. crumbled blue cheese
– 4 scallions, chopped
– 1 T. melted butter, for brushing
– Blue Cheese Dressing for serving (optional)
Preheat your oven to 400*F. Spray your pan (s) with olive oil cooking spray and set aside. Roll your bread out into a large rectangle on a lightly floured surface, about 12 x 20, with the long edge facing you:
Stir together the chicken and hot sauce, and spread gently over the dough, leaving a 1″ border on the far side. I splashed on a little more in the naked spots.
Evenly sprinkle on your cheeses and the scallions, and starting on the edge closest to you, roll the whole thing up like you would a cinnamon roll:
On the far edge, lightly brush the exposed edge with a little bit of water and seal. Turn the roll seam side down on your surface. Mark your roll into 1″ pieces with a serrated knife, and using same said knife quickly and cleanly slice the roll into sections. Try not to saw it too much or the roll will fall apart. Place them in to the pan cut sides down so the sides aren’t quite touching and let them rise for about a half an hour.
Brush the tops with the melted butter and pop in the oven. Place the pans in your preheated oven and bake for 15-20 minutes until the tops are light brown. Pull from the oven, cool for a minute or two and plate. Serve with more hot sauce and blue cheese dressing, if you’d like.
Coworker Jessica and I have been having a marvelous time bringing one another lunch each week. Have a food-obsessed but obediently healthy friend is a good thing to have, especially at work. We are both pleasantly surprised at the other’s lunchtime offering each week, but we have other coworkers sniffing around, wondering what we’re eating all the time.
This week we decided to share our love of lunch with them, joining forces to make soup and salad for everybody. We all tend to ‘eat in’ around the office, either bringing in a week’s worth of supplies, running out and grabbing something quick, or warming leftovers brought in from home, and eating mostly at our desks. It’s the perfect scenario for a surprise lunch. Jessica made our soup, a yummy black bean with lots of veggies and chipotle powder, and I volunteered to be salad.
We had a salad at our company retreat a few months back that I’ve been recreating. It was the most gorgeous salad I had ever seen, and chock-full of good things, great textures and wonderful flavors. I’m definitely of the sort that believes that ‘salad’ goes far beyond the lettuce, and the more stuff packed in one the better.
I’ve named this one Jewel Box Salad, because it looks like just that: mixed baby greens and radicchio, blue cheese crumbles, roasted cubes of orange Delicata squash, dried cranberries, and sweet-spicy pecans. I added some Clementine orange segments to add sweetness and another shape, caramelized shallots for salty sweetness, and made a spicy balsamic based vinaigrette spiked with Chili Raspberry jam to drizzle over the top. Like all salads, this can be adjusted up or down for as many or few people as you will be entertaining. I’ve listed ingredients and methods below, but no real quantities, except for the dressing. You should adjust and add in whatever you feel is the right amount of anything. Not a blue cheese lover? Try adding in some feta, or goat cheese crumbles, or shave in some Parmesan curls. Nut allergy? Make or buy some croutons to add for crunch. Pomegranate arils are a beautiful touch, and one that I usually add to this too, but my grocery didn’t have any pomegranates (I was quite sad). The only things I really stick to for this one are the two shining stars: the roasted squash and the caramelized shallots.
Pardon the washed out picture, it came from my phone (I prepped the salad right before lunch).
For the squash, I use a Delicata, an oblong, smallish squash that can eaten peel and all. I cut it in half down center, scoop out the guts, and cube it in 1/2 inch pieces. I then toss them with a little drizzle of olive oil and salt and pepper, and roast them in a 425 oven for about 25 minutes, stirring once.
The shallots are caramelized in a small cast-iron pan over low heat in equal parts butter and olive oil. The butter is used to keep them from singeing. If you’ve ever tried to mess with shallots in a pan that’s too hot you know how quickly they scorch.
Our surprise lunch was a hit today at the office: its a cold, rainy afternoon and a nice bowl of soup and salad was welcomed with open arms by our coworkers.
Happy Valentine’s Everyone!
So like many gardeners this time of year, my zucchini runneth over. Unlike many gardeners, I had the prudence and foresight to plant only one zucchini and one patty pan squash, rather than the multitude of varieties that I really wanted to have. There are only two of us in our house, and the cat does not eat his vegetables like a good boy. And yet, I still find myself wondering what to do with the sizeable hill of squash overtaking my vegetable bin. How does this happen with just two plants and a not-so-hot summer?
Thus, here is the first of a couple of posts that include recipes for zucchini. I don’t know about you but I get sick of the same old sauté and long for something more interesting. This recipe came from Cooking Light magazine, but like all recipes I can’t leave well enough alone and had to riff on it to add more Cadi-ness to it. My changes are starred at the end of each paragraph. This is hearty enough to be dinner alone, and it halves easily so you aren’t stuck eating it for many moons.
Squash Rice Casserole
Adapted from Cooking Light, Makes 8 Generous Servings
8 cups sliced zucchini(about 2 1/2 pounds)
1 cup chopped onion
1/2 cup fat-free, less-sodium chicken broth
2 cups cooked rice
1 cup (4 ounces) shredded reduced-fat sharp cheddar cheese
1 cup fat-free sour cream
1/4 cup (1 ounce) grated fresh Parmesan cheese, divided
1/4 cup Italian-seasoned breadcrumbs
1 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
2 large eggs, lightly beaten
Preheat oven to 350°.
Combine first 3 ingredients in a Dutch oven; bring to a boil. Cover, reduce heat, and simmer 20 minutes or until tender. Drain; partially mash with a potato masher. *I’m not a big fan of boiled squash. I sliced mine thinly and sautéed it with the onion in a nonstick pan with a teaspoon of olive oil, Trader Joe’s 21 Seasoning, and salt and pepper to taste. I then added ¼ cup of water, put on a lid, and steamed the squash for a minute or two until it was soft but not mushy. I didn’t bother to mash any of it either.*
Combine zucchini mixture, rice, cheddar cheese, sour cream, 2 tablespoons Parmesan cheese, breadcrumbs, salt, pepper, and eggs in a bowl; stir gently. Spoon mixture into a 13 x 9-inch baking dish coated with cooking spray; sprinkle with 2 tablespoons Parmesan cheese. Bake at 350° for 30 minutes or until bubbly.
Preheat broiler. Broil 1 minute or until lightly browned.