Monthly Archives: September 2011

Blue Cheese Toast

Some days a freshly toasted slice of bread is all I need to satisfy my hunger. The crunch, the smell, the homey feeling fills my belly with love. There’s not much to do to a piece of toast to improve it in my book.

But I am a BIG lover of cheese, and I just can’t resist cheese toast. I thought this might be a nice upgrade on the simplicity of cheese toast. I could probably call this Crostini, and then you’d think it was a whole lot fancier than it is. That’s the reality. This is super easy and tastes fantastic and fancy. I don’t think great tasting food has to be complicated to be impressive.

Shopping List:

1 tablespoon unsalted butter, softened

2 tablespoons crumbled blue cheese

1/8 teaspoon ground pepper

2 teaspoons of sliced green onions

1 6-inch sandwich roll

Instructions:

1. Heat the oven (or toaster oven) to 450 degrees.

2. In a small bowl, mix with the back of a fork the butter, cheese, pepper and green onions.

2. Slice the roll into 6 1/2-inch slices. Divide and spread the cheese mixture on each peice of bread.

3. Cook these on a baking sheet in the oven (or toaster oven if you like) for 5-7 minutes, until the cheese is bubbly and bread is starting to brown.

This is a super easy and impressive appetizer.  Or serve alongside a salad or a soup too.

Pizza Pop ‘Ems

Pizza Pop 'ems

Even though we eat plenty of pizza around here, I am always looking for new ways to ways to serve food that’s fast and fun. These make a perfect afterschool snack or a portable lunch. Plus you can pop these in the freezer and just reheat them in the microwave for a minute and a half and you’re good to go. Hey, if you’re more adventurous than I am, make your own biscuits.

Shopping List:

1 package of refrigerated biscuit dough (8 biscuits)

1/3 cup of spaghetti sauce or my simple tomato sauce here

12 fresh mozzarella cheese balls

1/4 chopped pepperoni or mini pepperoni

1/4 cup parmesan cheese

1. Heat the oven to the temperature indicated on the dough package. Spray a 12-cup muffin tin with cooking spray.

2. Take each biscuit and separate it into 2 pieces horizontally. Press each half into  and up the sides of the muffin cup.

the before picture

3. Top each with a tablespoon of sauce, one mozzarella ball, a tablespoon of pepperoni and a tablespoon of parmesan.

4. Bake in the oven 12 minutes.

Makes 16 muffins

One Peppery Punch

It’s been a long week. Period. The end. No elaboration needed, right? It’s Friday, for God’s Sake!

What better way to end my week than to craft my version of one restaurant’s signature drink. So here’s to whatever bugged you this week, have a drink on me. 

Shopping List:

 1 package fresh raspberries

1 teaspoon honey

1/4 cup grapefruit juice

a pinch of freshly ground pepper

Instructions:

1. In a small bowl mix the raspberries with 2 Tablespoons of sugar. Mash it all together until it starts to get all drippy and syrupy. Yum. By the way, this concoction is fantastic on its own, so go ahead and sneak a spoonful.

2. Fill half of a cocktail shaker with ice cubes. Pour the juice, 1-2 ounces of vodka (this depends what kind of week you’ve had), 2 Tablespoons of the raspberry mixture, the pepper and the honey over the ice. As a side note, it’s best to fill your shaker in this order as opposed to the reverse because the honey will just freeze if it sits on the ice directly. I know this because that was what I did with the first one. Shake vigorously–get that aggression out!

3. Strain the ice out and pour the drink into a fun glass, not a sippy cup.

This makes 1 cocktail, but there will plenty of leftover raspberries to make at least 4 or 5 more, so have fun with it.

A Collection of Salads: Pasta, Hearty, Bean, Slaw and Spinach

Thai Carrot Slaw

We all know that summer truly came to an end a few weeks ago when the kids (and teachers) went back to school, but with the official change of seasons this week I thought it would be nice to compile some of my favorite salads that I’ve posted this summer along with a few new ones that I haven’t yet photographed.

Now, I have to preface this list with the fact that these are not the only salads I make. In fact, these are strictly my party salads (one’s that I serve at a party or bring to a potluck) and salads for lunch. For dinner I rarely make such a filling side dish, but often use spinach or romaine with a few other simple ingredients and a favorite dressing or a fast homemade one to round out my veggie intake.

Israeli Couscous Spa Salad

Pasta Salad My favorite recreation this year is probably a Trader Joe’s inspired Israeli Couscous Spa Salad. For over a year I was buying a pre-made salad similar to this one at the market when I realized that I could reinvent this salad at home pretty easily. As a result I decided to combine it with some Waldorf-like ingredients to make a really fresh and filling meal and not so much like the romaine based one at the food chain.

Hearty Salad One that stands the test of time for my family is the Marinated Mushroom Salad, which is so simple and hearty that you could certainly toss it with some cooked pasta to make a meal too. The great thing about this one is that the ingredients like bacon and garlic add a lovely robust flavor to the meal and it’s darn easy to make, I mean you just pile it all in a bowl and let it sit at room temperature until you’re ready to serve it. That’s why this one always makes an appearance at holiday meals.

Marinated Mushroom Salad

Bean Salad Another hearty one is the White Bean Picnic Salad. The flavors here are so fresh and clean that they pop against the creaminess of the white beans. The nice thing about this one is that you control the sodium since you’re not using canned beans. But hey, you certainly could cut down on the time involved by using a canned low sodium white bean of your choice. I’m not against using those  types of shortcuts that make our lives simpler, but in this case I was trying to cut the salt down in our diet. That’s the great part about eating flavorful food, you don’t need as much of that other stuff, like salt, if you’ve wonderful food.

White Bean Picnic Salad

Slaw Ok so eventually I move to slaws. As far as slaws go, they’re normally too sweet for me, and the mayo in most of them really grosses me out. So I tend to toss my coleslaw mix with a store-bought Asian Dressing, but I also like to make this Thai Carrot Slaw, which would be really fun for a Halloween party.

Spinach Salad So my favorite spinach salad has to be one that I copied from the Marriott Desert Springs Spa. They no longer have this one on their menu, weep weep, but I ordered it so many times before they took it off that I have got the flavor profile down, and now I feel that I own it.

I haven’t taken any pictures of it, crazy since I just made it for our back to school party, but I thought as I was accumulating ideas I couldn’t ignore this one. It’s pretty simple. Here it goes. In a serving bowl combine one pound of baby spinach, one sweet potato (peel it, cube it, then steam for 4 minutes in the microwave) , a kid-sized box of raisins, a couple of handfuls of pecans toasted, a handful or two or dried cranberries and a few slivers of red onion. Toss with your favorite dressing. A sweet one like a honey mustard works well. To mix your own Honey Mustard vinaigrette simply combine 1 tablespoon honey, 1 tablespoon Dijon, 1/4 cup olive oil, 2 tablespoons red wine vinegar and a pinch of salt and pepper. Or… I often use my go to party dressing in a pinch, Girard’s White Balsamic Vinaigrette. This one serves 3-4 as a meal.

As summer’s end officially makes it’s mark on the calendar, we all know the weather hasn’t followed the rules this year, so go ahead and continue to make some salads as a light dinner. Maybe this collection will give you a few more in your repettoire.

Thai Carrot Slaw

Thai Carrot Slaw

I’m not a big fan of coleslaw, in fact, I really hate most that I encounter. If I am served one, I simply doctor it up a bit. I find that they are too sweet for my taste. And don’t even get me started on mayonnaise. I know some of you love this condiment, but I am purely creeped out by it! It’s eggs and oil and it’s supposed to taste like something other than fat? I just don’t get it.

I digress. Although I have a strong distaste for slaws, I do like shredded cabbage as an alternative to lettuce  for a quick salad. And since there’s more good stuff in cabbage than romaine, so I’ve come to topping my tacos as well as serving a shredded cabbage salad tossed with a store-bought Asian Vinaigrette. Paul Newman’s is my favorite right now, and its low fat too.

But this is not a cabbage slaw. It is a shredded carrot slaw with a homemade dressing. And it’s the Big Boy’s favorite salad of the moment.

Shopping List:

2 Tablespoons cilantro leaves, chopped

2 Cups shredded carrots (I used the pre-cut ones from the veggie aisle)

3 cups shredded cabbage

2 Tablespoons chopped roasted peanuts

for the dressing:

4 Tablespoons olive oil

4 Tablespoons seasoned rice vinegar

2 teaspoons honey

a pinch of salt

1/2 teaspoon ground ginger

1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon

Instructions:

1. Place carrots, cabbage and cilantro in a serving bowl.

2. In a small Tupperware container mix dressing ingredients together. Put the lid on the Tupperware and shake it vigorously to combine it all.

3. Toss the salad with the dressing and serve with chopped peanuts.

Serves: 4 as a side dish

Man,- I-Need-a-Beer Chicken

TGIF! At the end of the work week when dinner time creeps up all I really want is a beer, even though I don’t drink beer normally. It’s the idea, really. The opportunity to kick up my feet and relax instead of rushing around like I do all week. Well, this recipe is just what I need after a busy week. It cooks itself, while I toss back a cold one. Instead of ordering take-out pizza at the end of the week, treat yourself to a beer in your chicken.

Ok, so I think this recipe needs a little backstory. I’m sure you all are thinking What made Suzanne pour a beer over her chicken? It was no accident, although that would be a good story. It really came from our trip to Peru this summer. After tasting a cilantro infused lamb stew while, I became obsessed (to put it mildly) with recreating the recipe at home. After dinning at a few local Peruvian restaurants, I came to the realization that the dish that I loved so much in Peru, didn’t really exist in the Peruvian-American restaurants here.

After a little experimentation, I discovered the secret ingredient…beer! This is such an easy dish, you’ll want to make it mid-week too. Don’t worry, I won’t tell anyone. Enjoy!

Shopping List:

1 tablespoon olive oil

2 cloves whole garlic

6 boneless and skinless chicken thighs

1/4 teaspoon salt

1/2 teaspoon ground pepper

1 red or yellow pepper, roughly chopped

1 4-ounce can chopped green chiles

1 cup (approximately 1 bunch) of cilantro chopped

1 12-ounce dark beer (and an extra one for you)

1 cup no-salt added chicken stock

Instructions:

1. In a large ziploc bag place 1/4 cup flour and all of the chicken. Shake it around a bit so that each piece is coated.

2. Then, in a 6-quart pot on medium-high heat sear chicken in the olive oil and garlic for 3 minutes per side.

3. Pour in the remaining ingredients, cover it and let it come to a boil.

4.Once it comes to a boil, reduce the heat to medium/low and let it simmer uncovered for approximately 20 minutes, or until the chicken is cooked through. The sauce will thicken as it cooks.

5. Serve over rice or with crusty bread, but don’t forget to squeeze that lime over the bowl before you dig in. And if you’ve finished that beer that you started…get yourself another. It is Friday after all.

Serves 3-4.

Oatmeal Streusel Muffins

The overwhelming smell of brown sugar and cinnamon baking in the oven takes over the kitchen. And I begin to swoon. Of course it becomes unavoidable that I will devour this streusel topping. Oh yeah, there’s a muffin attached to it. Did I mention that? I mean look at that photo. It’s begging me to gobble it up. Quickly I am snapped back to reality when the question is posed: “Mommy,when will the muffins be ready?”

My Big Boy was hoping I would make these for the first day of school and that’s when I realized why not try to substitute some of the flour with oatmeal.  This is yet another validation of my love of muffins. They turned out fab!

Shopping List:

2 cups all-purpose flour

1/2 cup quick cook  dry oatmeal

1 1/2 cups packed brown sugar

2/3 cup butter or shortening

2 teaspoons baking powder

1/2 teaspoon baking soda

1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon

1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg

2 eggs, beaten

1 1/3 cups buttermilk ( or 1 1/3 cups milk plus 1 tablespoon and 1 teaspoon lemon juice mixed together)

1/2 cup chopped nuts (optional, I didn’t use them in this batch).

Instructions:

1. Heat the oven to 350 degrees. Prepare a 12-cup muffin pan with cooking spray or cupcake liners.

2.  In a large mixing bowl combine flour, oatmeal, brown sugar and salt. Cut in the butter or shortening until the mixture resembles coarse crumbs. Set aside 1/2 cup of the crumb mixture.

3. To the remaining crumb mixture add baking powder, baking soda, cinnamon and nutmeg.

4. In a separate small bowl combine buttermilk and eggs. Add the egg mixture to the dry ingredients and mix well.

5. Divide batter amongst the 12 muffin cups. Stir together reserved crumb mixture and nuts if using them. Divide this mixture over each muffin cup. Bake for 17-22 minutes. Poke it with a toothpick or knife and check that it comes out clean.

Makes 12 muffins.

Adapted from: Better Homes and Gardens New Baking Book, page 308.