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New Sandwiches & Back-to-School

It’s that time of year, when kids all over go back to school. It’s the time of year for new clothes, anxious bus stop waits, and bagged lunches. I tried to think back at the lunches that were packed for me, and sadly, I couldn’t remember. Were they that unremarkable? I think I had a ‘Garfield’ lunchbox.

Fast forward a few decades. I still have a bagged lunch. This time, I make them myself. I pack lunches for work because I’d rather have good, inexpensive, homemade lunches than whatever fast-food restaurant lingers near my workplace. Many times, my lunches consist of leftovers, with each little component packed neatly in individual containers. You should see some of the little spreads I create. Hot and cold courses separated. Condiments at the ready. Dressings in their own little jars. Real utensils.

Sometimes, I just have a sandwich.

I made this chicken specifically to make into sandwiches. I’m adding more Middle Eastern-inspired flavors into my repertoire. I’m enjoying the unusual combinations of spices and ingredients. Well, unusual for the average American. The Middle East is an area of interest, one that could take up a post all by itself. In the meantime, I will share this little bit with you. (Stay tuned at the end of the post. I’ll share a few more favorite sandwich creations)

Chicken Doner from the wok

Adapted from Oriental Basics

For the meat:

  • 1 1/2 lb chicken cutlets
  • 2 stalks mint
  • 2 garlic cloves
  • 1 medium onion
  • 1 tsp each sweet paprika, ground cumin, & ground corriander
  • 4 Tbsp olive oil
  • salt & pepper

For the topping:

  • 1 small cucumber (less than 1/2 lb)
  • 1 garlic clove
  • 1 cup plain Greek yogurt
  • salt & pepper
  • 2 sweet onions, sliced
  • 2 tomatoes, sliced
  • 4-8 lettuce leaves
  • sesame buns or small pitas (I only had French bread)
Inspired lunch

Inspired lunch

1. Cut the meat into thin strips. Wash and dry the mint, then finely chop. Peel the garlic and chop very fine with onion in a food processor. (Alternately, finely chop garlic, and grate onion.)

2. Combine spices with the oil, mint, garlic and onion, and stir well. Stir in meat strips and toss to coat thoroughly. Cover and chill in the fridge at least 4 hours, occasionally stirring.

3. To make the topping, peel cucumber then halve lengthwise. Scrape out the seeds with a spoon. Finely grate the cucumber. Peel and crush the garlic clove, then add to the yogurt. Stir in the cucumber, then season with salt and pepper.

4. Preheat a wok or large, heavy skillet over high heat. Cook the meat strips in two portions, without oil, and stir-fry for 2-3 minutes. Keep cooked meat warm on a covered plate while cooking remaining meat.

5. Divide chicken between buns or pitas. Top with yogurt mixture, lettuce, tomato and onion.

More favorite sandwiches:

Roast beef, sharp cheddar & horseradish on sourdough

Roast beef, crumbled blue cheese, lettuce & tomato, oil & vinegar, on French bread (steak house salad on bread!)

Ham, brie, tart apples & Dijon on a baguette

Ham, Swiss or brie & chutney on Sourdough

Roast chicken, goat cheese & oil-packed sun-dried tomatoes on a baguette

Roast chicken, goat cheese & chutney on French.

Wrapped in waxed paper, these pack well for a out-of-the-ordinary office lunch.

Tuna & Olive Pasta, And Rachael Ray

Give me a chance to explain.

I know Ms Ray is generally vilified, what with her “EVOO” and “delish”, along with her annoying daytime television show. Many people have the right to be irritated by her. I am. Sometimes. But I have to admit, I used to watch the original ’30 Minute Meals’, and I own several of her cookbooks.

No, I usually cannot make those ’30 Minute Meals’ in 30 minutes, but I think Ms Ray was on to something. She makes real food. I mean, have you really looked at her recipes? Have you actually tried any of them? The ones I’ve tried have all been rather tasty. And every one of them calls for real food. Rarely they will ask for a a bit of tortilla chips, or a pre-packaged cornbread mix (Ray doesn’t bake), and the occasional pesto. She does choose ingredients for convenience and speed, such as chicken cutlets or frozen spinach, but it’s still good food…if you purchase the ones right for you. If you want to buy fresh, organic spinach and cook it down for a recipe, go for it. It’s a recipe, not a mathematical equation.

That’s what recipes are for…at least to me. They give you a guideline to follow, making adjustments or substitutions as you see fit. A recipe is a technique. Mix and match (or omit) ingredients depending on your mood or your market. Eat good food, and have fun.

The following isn’t a recipe by Rachael Ray, but it was inspired by her ‘Tuna Pasta Puttanesca’ in Just In Time.

Looks tasty to me

Looks tasty to me


Spicy Tuna & Olive Pasta

  • 1/2 lb spaghetti, cooked
  • 2 cans tuna in water, drained
  • 2 cloves garlic, chopped
  • 1/2 tsp red pepper flakes
  • 1/4 c chopped mixed olives (I used a spicy mix from the olive bar at the market)
  • 14 oz. can diced tomatoes (I used a pint I had in the cupboard)
  • 2 Tbsp olive oil
  • scant 1/4 c vermouth

Heat olive oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add garlic and pepper flakes, and cook until garlic is fragrant. Add tuna and olives. Cook for about a minute, then stir in the vermouth. Cook down the vermouth about 5 min, then add tomatoes. Simmer on low for 5-10 minutes. Add pasta to skillet and toss to combine. (I simmered it for a few minutes to allow the pasta to absorb some of the sauce.)

Spring stew & sunny day blessings.

I sat down and wrote up this post a little over two weeks ago. All I wanted was some belly warming food because of the chilly Spring. I didn’t realize, just two weeks later, I would want comfort food for a decidedly different reason. On a sunny April day – Patriot’s Day here in Massachusetts – two bombs exploded at a marathon, some 15 miles north of my workplace. Thankfully, I wasn’t affected, nor was anyone I know. But almost 200 were. It’s still a bit jarring to have a terrorist attack so close to home. Then the explosion happened in West, Texas. Such a week of tragedy.

I’m not going to give a long winded response of how things like this put things into perspective, or anything like that. I just am thankful that my loved ones, friends and I are still able to move about our lives, blessed with more sunny days.

So, I’m still going to share this post. What is below is what I originally wrote (pics later…) I hope everyone can be blessed with sunny days and good food.

The calendar says Spring, but the weather can’t decide. I usually don’t mind, but I really want some warm days that allow me to drive with the windows down. I want to sit on the balcony and sip coffee. Or a beer. Ah, to dream…

But no. The days have been a bit chilly still, or wicked breezy (like today). The night lows are still tickling the upper 20s and low 30s. Days like this call for hearty, cold weather food. Spaghetti with meat sauce is often a go-to dish. But I want stew. I’ve been seeing recipes all winter for lovely stews, but I never got around to making any.

I finally said “to heck with it” and bought the stew meat. Most stew ingredients I usually have on hand-carrots, onions, flavorings. Then I went looking for inspiration. Sadly, I came across a recipe at FoodNetwork.com that was perfect. It was simple. I only changed one thing; I used marjoram instead of thyme. And the results were amazing.

Beef Stew with Caramelized Onions and Amber Ale

  • 1/4 cup  vegetable oil
  • 2 1/2  beef stew meat,  cut into 1-inch  chunks
  • 1 1/2 pound  yellow onions, sliced
  • 1 tablespoon  butter
  • 2 teaspoons sugar
  • 2 tablespoons all-purpose (plain) flour
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons dried thyme
  • 3 carrots, sliced
  • 1 bottle good-quality amber lager or pale ale*
  • 1 cup  beef or chicken broth
  • 1 tablespoon tomato paste
  • Salt and ground pepper

In a large, heavy pot, warm the oil over high heat until hot but not smoking. Working in batches, brown the meat well on all sides, 5 to 7 minutes. Adjust the heat as necessary to keep the meat from scorching. Transfer the browned meat to a plate and repeat until all the meat is browned.

Add the onions and butter to the pot and stir over high heat until the onions start to soften, about 5 minutes. Reduce the heat to medium and sprinkle in the sugar. Continue to cook the onions, stirring occasionally, until golden brown, about 15 minutes. Add the flour, thyme and carrots and raise the heat to high. Stir for 1 minute, then pour in the lager or ale, letting it come to a vigorous boil. Stir in the broth and tomato paste and return to a boil.

Return the meat and any accumulated juices on the plate to the pot, let the liquid come just to a boil, then reduce the heat to low, cover, and simmer until the meat is tender when pierced and the sauce is slightly thickened, 1 1/2 to 2 hours. Season to taste with salt and pepper.
*I used Wachusetts Brewery’s Amber Ale
Read more at: http://www.foodnetwork.com/recipes/beef-stew-with-caramelized-onions-and-amber-lager-recipe/index.html?oc=linkback

Dreary days and spicy tomato soup.

Since I’ve been in Massachusetts there has been 4 snow storms. I’ve been here 2 months. Welcome to New England, right? I usually love snow, but this year I’m waiting for Spring. I’m craving brightness. I want the freshness of Spring. I guess I’m looking the rebirth that comes with the season to coincide with my new beginning. I’m waiting for the crocuses to emerge, the asparagus to appear in the market, the sun to warm my bones.

Bright flowers for a dreary day

Bright flowers for a dreary day

But right now it’s snowing.

The (financial) demands of moving have kept my cupboards lean. Thankfully I preserved a lot last summer, both in jars and frozen. (Yes, I packed up all my frozen produce and moved it from Ohio to Massachusetts.) Fortunately/unfortunately, you have to get creative sometimes during lean times. Sure, I have some preserved things, some beans (uncooked), rice, pasta…. But what to do when you don’t want to wait for beans to cook, and you’re tired of pasta with tomato sauce? Flipping through my cookbook collection just made me more frustrated as I kept finding recipes I wanted to make only to find I was missing a major ingredient. Normally, I substitute. Sometimes when I’m tired and hungry, I don’t want to think about flavor combinations and what could fill the giant void of ‘X’ main ingredient. Too technical. Blah.

So, I stared at my cupboard. Tomatoes. Chicken stock. Cumin. Onions. Tomato soup! Wait! I have squash in the freezer. Southwest-style tomato soup!

Warms from within

Warms from within

And here ya go…

Spicy Tomato & Squash Soup

  • 1 qt, or 1-28oz cans- chopped tomatoes
  • 1-2 c chopped zucchini, cooked
  • 1/2 med onion, diced
  • 1-2 jalapenos, minced (or any spicy pepper, such as chipotles)
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • 2 Tbsp tomato paste
  • 2 tsp cumin
  • 2 c chicken stock
  • 1/4 c chopped cilantro
  • salt & pepper to taste
  • juice of 1 lime (optional)

In a large pot, heat 1 Tbsp olive oil over medium heat. Add onion, jalapeno and garlic, and cook until onion is translucent. Add tomato paste, cumin, salt & pepper, thoroughly combining. Cook until tomato paste just takes on a brown color. Add tomatoes and zucchini; cook for 5 min. Finally, add chicken stock. Bring soup to a boil, reduce heat and let simmer for 30 min, stirring occasionally. Adjust seasonings as needed. Right before serving, stir in cilantro and lime juice.

Notes:

*I used yellow squash, but any summer squash will work. *Adding shredded rotisserie chicken will make a heartier soup. *Adding crisp tortilla strips and avocado will make this like a tortilla soup. *Switch up the cumin for other spices to take this soup around the world. *make this vegetarian by using vegetable stock or water.

A new chapter in New England. And baked beans.

A few weeks ago, I made the move from Ohio to Massachusetts. I’d visited Rhode Island many times, and love it up here. I figured I’d try to live up here for a bit. I mean, we only live once, right?

My new kitchen, while bigger than my previous kitchens, is in desperate need of counter space. It’s greatly lacking. And by lacking I mean non-existent. There is a built in hutch/cabinet made to look like a Hoosier cabinet that has some space, but not enough to do any work. Lucky for me, I own a 50s metal cabinet that is perfect counter height. It only offers about 3 feet of counter space, but it’s better than nothing!

Inspired by my new digs, and the freezing temperatures, I decided to make a pot of traditional-style New England Baked Beans. I’ve made a few batches in the past, and I’m still tweaking the recipe, but this batch turned out pretty good. This is a good recipe to make for a crowd as it makes a lot. Lucky for you, I’ve included an idea of what to do when you’re sick of eating baked beans every day.

New England Baked Beans

  • 1 lb dried navy beans
  • 1/4 lb salt pork, or 1/2 lb bacon, chopped
  • 1 medium onion, cut into quarters, root end left on
  • 1/4 c brown sugar
  • 1/2 c real maple syrup
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • 1 tsp dry mustard
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1 tsp pepper
  • whole cloves

Soak beans overnight.

The next morning, bring beans to a boil, then simmer until tender (parboil), 45-60 minutes. Preheat oven to 250°

Reserve 2 c bean cooking liquid.

Stud onion quarters with whole cloves, 2-3 per quarter.

Baked Beans & chili 001

Fill  a bean pot (or deep casserole) with half of the beans. Place 2 quarters of the onion and 1/2 of the pork, or bacon, on beans, then fill with remaining beans. Top with remaining onion and pork, or bacon. Combine remaining ingredients with bean liquid; pour over beans.

Baked Beans & chili 002

Cover and bake 6-8 hours, checking occasionally to make sure it doesn’t dry out. Uncover the last 1/2 hour of cooking.

New England Baked Beans

New England Baked Beans

Baked Bean Chili

Amounts will vary depending on how much beans are left

  • left-over New England Baked Beans (I had almost 2 c)
  • crushed tomatoes (I used 1 jarred pint)
  • diced onion (1 small)
  • chopped, roasted chilies, jarred or frozen. (I used about 1/4 c)
  • garlic, minced
  • chili powder
  • cumin

Sauté onion and garlic in a large sauce pan until soft. Add chilies. Combine the rest of the ingredients in pan, and simmer, about 30 minutes. Serve with shredded sharp Vermont cheddar, crackers and diced onion. Or whatever you like on your chili.

Baked beans & chili fixin's

Baked beans & chili fixin’s

This is a unique, but surprisingly good, take on chili. It makes a thick, hearty meal. Great for chilly New England nights.

Yum!

Yum!

Super quick holiday appetizer…good for anytime.

I had some Maytag Blue cheese sitting in the fridge that needed used up quick. I love blue cheeses, but there comes a time when I just want something different. I usually crumble it atop salads. This is especially a good winter salad option. Crumble blue cheese on a study winter green, add pears and pecans (I don’t like walnuts), and toss with a simple vinaigrette.

But like I said. Something different. I remember reading this recipe in the At Home in Provence cookbook by Patricia Wells. (I’ve mentioned my love of France in previous posts). Many times, I’m missing an ingredient or two for these recipes. This time, I had everything. Or a close enough substitute.

Cheers!

Cheers!

This will make a nice snack spread for crackers or toasted bread, or a chunky dip for crudites (think celery). I think it would be wonderful for casual cocktail parties. Does anyone still have cocktail parties? Or just make a half recipe for weekday lunches. That’s what I did. Cheers!

Roquefort Dip

from Patricia Wells At Home in Provence

  • 2 c full-fat or low-fat cottage cheese
  • 3 Tbsp fresh chives, snipped with scissors (I used green onion tops)
  • 2 1/2 oz Roquefort cheese, at room temperature & broken into pieces (I used Maytag Blue)
  • Sea salt & pepper to taste

Place cottage cheese in the bowl of a food processor and pulse just to break up the curds. Add the chives and Roquefort, and process briefly, pulsing once or twice just to blend. Season to taste. Pulse again to distribute the seasonings. Transfer to a container, cover securely, and refrigerate at least 1 day to allow the flavors to blend. Bring to room temperature before serving.

Election Day soup. A quick post

It’s that day again, the culmination of the long campaign season. We’ve had to endure ads, speeches and rallies. Now it’s the day to do your civic duty and vote. I don’t care who you vote for, as long as you do. And that’s as political as I’m going to get.

Most people will have to squeeze in voting between their lives, and then wake up tomorrow to find out who the next president will be. I would love to throw a returns watching party. I’m a bit of a geek that way. But I’m one of those that has to vote, then go to work. It will be late when I get home, so I’m just going to grab a bowl of soup and watch the returns.

Your civic duty

Since this is a food blog, I will share the recipe for my soup. It’s truly one of the easiest soups I’ve ever made. A great soup for busy people. And it’s great for chilly days.

French Onion Beef Barley Soup

  • 1/2 lb stew beef, cut into 1/2″ cubes
  • 1 medium onion, sliced thin
  • 1 Tbsp olive oil
  • 1 Tbsp butter
  • 4 c beef broth or stock
  • 2 c water
  • 3/4 c pearl barley
  • 1 tsp thyme
  • salt & pepper to taste

In a stock pot,  heat oil over med heat.Season beef. Brown beef in batches; set aside. Turn down heat to med-low.

In the same pot, melt butter. Add onion and cook slowly until caramelized, about 20 minutes. Return beef to stock pot. Add thyme, broth, water and barley. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat to low and simmer until barley is cooked, about 60 minutes.

Note: feel free to add diced carrots when you add the beef back to the pot.