Since it is getting to the time of year where more of us invest time and money into fresh fruit and vegetables, this posting from Marcus Samuelsson seems to be a good one to pass on today. It gives you some great tips on the best way for you to treat and store your fresh fruit that you bring home this time of year so it lasts longer, stays fresher and tastes better. Check it out.
Category Archives: Produce
Yesterday I covered the side dishes I am making for Thanksgiving, and on Monday it was the soup for the day, and Sunday I wrote about the turkey, stuffing and gravy. There’s not much left to write about unless you want to make some appetizers for everyone before the meal. Here’s my advice on appetizers for the holidays. You have enough going on in the oven and on the stove, so try to do things that you don’t have to cook at all if you can avoid it. It’s just one less thing you have to cook for the day and you may not have the room or time to do it anyway. You can go simple, and just do a nice selections of cheeses and crackers, maybe some sliced apples and pears, some grapes and some pepperoni or sliced dry sausage. I am trying to keep it simple by doing some shrimp cocktail and some homemade horseradish cocktail sauce.
2 teaspoons fresh lemon juice
2 bay leaves
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon black peppercorns
1 teaspoon Old Bay Seasoning
1 pound extra-large shrimp, peeled and deveined
1 cup Horseradish Cocktail Sauce (recipe to follow)
Bring the lemon juice, bay leaves, salt, peppercorns, Old Bay and 4 cups of water to a boil in a medium saucepan for 2 minutes. Remove the pot from the heat and add the shrimp. Cover and steep off the heat until the shrimp are firm and pink, about 7 minutes. Drain the shrimp and plunge them immediately into ice water. Drain and refrigerate the shrimp until thoroughly chilled, about 1 hour. Arrange a platter and serve with the cocktail sauce.
Horseradish Cocktail Sauce
1 cup ketchup
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
2 tablespoons prepared horseradish, plus extra for seasoning
2 teaspoons Tabasco or other hot sauce, plus extra for seasoning
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon pepper
Stir all of the ingredients together in a small bowl. Season with additional horseradish and hot sauce as desired.
The cooked shrimp and the cocktail sauce can be refrigerated separately for up to 1 day, so you can make them ahead if you want to. If you get uncooked shrimp that is already peeled and deveined, you can save yourself some extra work and make things a little quicker for yourself.
You’re likely to have some people who don’t like shrimp cocktail, so you’ll need to have some other things available too. You can always put out an array of different chips and snacks or vegetables and have some dip for them. Instead of using the soup packet for your onion dip this year (I have nothing against it, I do it a lot, but it is often a little stale and always very salty), how about making a simple onion dip on your own. It’s not really any work and it tastes a lot fresher. You can just use straight sour cream or try this dip base and add the onions to it.
Simple Onion Dip
3/4 cup mayonnaise
3/4 cup sour cream
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
1/2 cup caramelized onions
2 garlic cloves, minced
Salt and pepper, to taste
Stir all of the ingredients together and season with salt and pepper to taste. Refrigerate the dip for at least 1 hour so all of the flavors can blend together nicely. The prepared dip can keep covered and refrigerated for up to 2 days.
For the caramelized onions, if you have never done it before, simply melt 1 tablespoon of butter with a tablespoon of vegetable oil over high heat. Add about 4 onions, halved and sliced thin, 1 teaspoon of light brown sugar and 1/2 teaspoon of salt. Cook until the onions are soft, about 5 minutes. Reduce the heat to medium and cook, stirring frequently, until the onions are deep brown, about 40 minutes. Take them off the heat, stir in 1 tablespoon of water, season with salt and pepper, and you’re done.
Yes, it takes some planning ahead if you are going to use caramelized onions, but they are so tasty, not just for dips but as a condiment for nearly anything.
If you want to make something ahead of time and like nuts, you can try this recipe for spiced nuts. I tried this with some mixed nuts and a spice blend I got from PepperMary’s Spice Blends and boy was it good. I used the Cajun Blend for the nuts, but Mary was kind enough to send me samples of her other spices, which I plan to try after Thanksgiving on some fish that I got. Thanks Mary, they are awesome. I also used the Mesquite Blend on a London broil I marinated last night for dinner and it had a nice taste and kick to it. Give her stuff a try if you get the chance.
1 egg white
1 tablespoon water
1 teaspoon salt
1 pound of mixed nuts, unsalted
2 tablespoons sugar, maple syrup or honey
4 teaspoons PepperMary Cajun Spice blend (or other spice blend you like) or:
2 teaspoons cumin, 1 teaspoon cayenne pepper and 1 teaspoon paprika
Adjust 2 oven racks to the upper and lower-middle positions and heat the oven to 275 degrees. Whisk the egg white, water and salt together in a medium bowl. Add the nuts and toss to coat. Drain in a colander for 5 minutes.
Toss the sugar, maple syrup or honey with the spice blend or desired spices with the nuts. Spread the nuts evenly on two parchment paper-lined baking sheets. Bake until the nuts are dry and crisp, about 50 minutes, stirring occasionally and rotating the baking sheets halfway through. Remove from the oven and let the nuts cool completely on the baking sheet, about 30 minutes. Break the nuts apart and serve.
These can also be made ahead and stored at room temperature wrapped tightly in plastic wrap for up to 1 week.
If you still aren’t sure what to make, you can always try going for an antipasto platter. This lets you put out a variety of meats, cheeses, olives and vegetables that people like and you can pretty much choose what suits your crowd the best. I put together just a few ideas in this one.
1/2 pound soppressata salami or other dry sausage, skin removed and sliced thin
2 cups mixed olives, black and green, marinated, such as Kalamata, Nicoise or others
1 jar marinated roasted red peppers
1 jar marinated artichoke hearts
1/2 pound fresh mozzarella, sliced thin
Arrange all the items on a platter for people to choose as finger foods. You could always add other cheeses, like marinated mozzarella, or other meats like ham, or even some marinated and grilled vegetables like eggplant, asparagus or zucchini, and some sliced tomato. The options are endless with this. Have some good extra-virgin olive oil on hand if you want to do any marinating of anything.
Okay, I think that covers the appetizers. There are a lot of other choices out there, that I didn’t go into, but I could be here all day writing suggestions and I still have prep work myself to do. Later on today, I will post a couple of dessert options if you are still looking for ideas. Check back and see what I have. Until then, enjoy the rest of your day!
Okay, so Sunday we did the turkey and stuffing, yesterday we did the soup, today we’ll do some side dishes. I wanted to choose some classic sides but maybe try something a little different with them, and I ended up choosing both of these recipes from Cook’s Country. The first takes the traditional sweet potato casserole and makes it a little differently. I am not a fan of marshmallow and didn’t want to make something that was going to use them and this recipe seems just perfect and it is not hard to make.
Sweet Potato Casserole with Bacon-Brown Sugar Topping
3 pounds sweet potatoes, peeled and cut into 1 1/2-inch pieces
1/4 cup packed brown sugar
5 slices bacon
4 tablespoons butter, cut into 6 pieces
1/4 cup heavy cream
1/2 teaspoon grated orange zest plus 2 tablespoons juice
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon pepper
1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper
Adjust an oven rack to the middle position and heat the oven to 400 degrees. Lay two 24 by 12-inch sheets of heavy-duty aluminum foil perpendicular to each other inside a rimmed baking sheet. Place the sweet potatoes in the center of the foil and sprinkle with 1 tablespoon of sugar. Fold opposite sides of the foil toward each other and crimp edges to seal tightly. Transfer the baking sheet to the oven and bake until the sweet potatoes are tender, about 60 minutes. Remove the baking sheet from the oven and heat the broiler.
Cook the bacon in a large skillet over medium heat until crispy, about 5 to 7 minutes. Transfer the bacon to a paper towel-lined plate. When the bacon is cool enough to handle, crumble it into bite-size pieces. Pulse the bacon and the remaining 3 tablespoons of sugar in a food processor until coarsely ground, about 10 pulses; set aside.
Carefully open 1 end of the foil pouch, taking care to avoid escaping steam, and pout the potatoes and accumulated liquid into the food processor. Add the butter, cream, orange zest and juice, salt cinnamon, pepper and cayenne and process until smooth, 30 to 60 seconds, scraping down the bowl as needed.
Transfer the potato puree to a 2-quart souffle dish and sprinkle evenly with the reserved bacon-sugar mixture. Broil the sweet potatoes until the topping is lightly browned and bubbling, about 2 to 4 minutes.
You can make part of this ahead of time to save you time on Thanksgiving. The processed potatoes can be refrigerated without the topping for up to 2 days. To serve it, cover the dish with aluminum foil and bake on the middle rack of a 400 degree oven until hot throughout, about 30 to 40 minutes. Remove the foil, add the bacon-sugar topping and broil as directed.
I think it is going to turn out quite nicely and I’ll be sure to take some pictures of it so you can see it on Thursday.
My second recipe frees up some stove or oven space for you by making good use of your slow cooker. it is a version of the classic green bean casserole, but made using the slow cooker to make things a little easier for you along the way.
Slow-Cooker Green Bean Casserole
1 cup canned fried onions
3 tablespoons butter
10 ounces cremini or white mushrooms, cut into 1/4-inch-thick slices
Salt and pepper
4 garlic cloves, minced
1/2 teaspoon dried thyme
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
1 1/4 cups chicken broth
1 1/4 cups heavy cream
2 pounds green beans, trimmed and cut into 1-inch pieces
2 slices white bread, torn into pieces
2 tablespoons butter, melted
2 cups canned fried onions
To make the sauce, pulse the canned onions in a food processor until finely ground; set aside. Melt the butter in a large skillet over medium heat. Add mushrooms, 3/4 teaspoon salt and 1/2 teaspoon pepper and cook until the mushrooms release their liquid, about 5 minutes. Increase the heat to medium-high and cook until the liquid is evaporated, about 5 minutes. Stir in the garlic and thyme and cook until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Add the flour and ground onions and cook until golden, about 1 minute. Stir in the broth and the cream and bring to a boil. reduce the heat to medium-low and simmer, stirring occasionally, until the sauce is thick and creamy, about 10 minutes.
Combine the sauce and the green beans in the slow cooker. Cover and cook on low until the beans are tender, 5 to 6 hours.
Meanwhile, pulse the bread and butter in a food processor until coarsely ground. Toast the bread crumbs and onions in a skillet over medium-high heat until golden brown, about 3 to 5 minutes. Top the green beans with bread-crumb mixture and serve.
You can also start making this ahead of time as well to save you some effort on Thanksgiving. The sauce and the topping can be made and refrigerated in separate airtight containers for 2 days. To finish it, microwave the sauce, covered, for 1 minute before proceeding with slow cooking. Crisp the bread-crumb mixture in a skillet before topping and serving.
I like the idea of using the slow cooker, but I also like the not using canned green beans or cream of mushroom soup to make it. Personally, I am not a big fan of canned vegetables and soups. If you like them better, stick with what you like, but I think giving the freshness is worth the little bit of extra time it takes to prep everything.
Okay, so we almost have a complete meal for Thursday. Tomorrow, I am going to talk a little bit about some appetizers and a dessert to round out the meal if you want to check back and see. Until then, enjoy the rest of your day and enjoy your meal!
What says summer better than a nice watermelon? We’ve all used them in fruit salads, but here, from Bon Appetit, are 10 interesting and unique recipes that are certainly worth looking at and giving a try next time you are trying to figure out what to do with that extra watermelon you may have. Check it out!
Michelle and I both decided that this week we are going to try to eat healthier. No more snacks, cutting back on carbs, more fruits and vegetables all the fun stuff nobody ever really wants to do. What better way to get things started than to have a good breakfast every day. I am really bad about eating in the morning. Normally I only have a cup of coffee and that’s it, but I know that is not the way to go. I decided to try to kill two birds with one stone by having breakfast and having something that will also be good for me and my cholesterol. I had made steel-cut oats before, but I saw a recipe on Saturday by Jamie Deen (Paula’s son) who has his own show on the Food Network now. The recipe looked simple, tasty and would make enough for Michelle and I to both have portions for the entire week.
Steel-Cut Oats with Bananas and Strawberries
1 tablespoon butter
1 cup steel-cut oats
1 cup milk
3 tablespoons light brown sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 ripe banana, sliced
2 cups strawberries, stemmed and sliced
Melt the butter over medium heat in a large saucepan. Add the oats and toast, while stirring, until they smell nutty, about 3 minutes. Add 3 cups of water, the milk, brown sugar, and salt. Turn up the heat, bring to a simmer and cover. Cook for 20 minutes, stirring occasionally to keep the oats from sticking to the bottom of the pan. Remove the lid and stir in the banana. Cover again and cook for 10 more minutes, stirring on occasion, until the oats are soft and creamy. Stir in the berries right before serving.
Just a couple of quick notes about this recipe. First, I actually cooked the oats for a little longer since both Michelle and I like oatmeal with less liquid. I added about another 5 to 10 minutes to the cooking time. Secondly, you can easily substitute other fruit into this if you don’t want to use bananas or strawberries. Blueberries would be a great alternative or even some diced apple.
Another great breakfast alternative is another recipe from the same episode from Jamie Deen. He made a very good-looking tropical fruit salad. I decided to alter it slightly since neither of us are fans of coconut, so I eliminated that part of the recipe. Of course, if you like coconut, go for it!
Tropical Fruit Salad with Honey and Lime
3/4 cup sweetened coconut flakes
2 tablespoons honey
2 tablespoons chiffonade of fresh mint
Zest and juice of 1 lime
2 kiwis, peeled and sliced
1 banana, peeled and sliced on the bias
1 small bunch red grapes
1 mango, peeled, pit removed and chopped
1/2 large pineapple, peeled, cored and chopped
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Spread the coconut out on a baking sheet. Toast until golden, about 5 minutes. Remove from the baking sheet to a small bowl to cool.
Whisk together the honey, mint, lime zest and lime juice. Add the kiwis, banana, grapes, mango and pineapple and toss, making sure all the fruit is coated with the dressing. Sprinkle with coconut before serving.
Fruit salad is so flexible that you can really do just about anything with it. Any kind of melon at all could be added, you could add some orange slices (I personally prefer mandarin oranges) or apple, or really any seasonal fruit at all will work. Make a cup to have for breakfast and you are all set.
Tomorrow night is going to be some tilapia since I got some fresh to make from the market. I’ll scout around for a good, healthy recipe and see what I can come up with. Check back tomorrow and see what I decide to make. Enjoy the rest of your evening and enjoy your meal!
It’s another nice day here in New York. So far I am loving this mild winter with warmer temperatures and no snow. I don’t get around too well in the snow and cold anymore, so this makes things a lot better for me as far as doing things outside and getting to go places. Since today is Sunday, we are relaxing at home, reading and listening to music, and it’s a great day to cook a nice family meal. While this meal is probably better in the summertime when you can grill outside, it’s still a good one and one of my favorites. Today we are making Pan Seared Steaks with a Red Wine Pan Sauce, Sautéed Mushrooms, Mashed Potatoes, Shrimp Scampi and Asparagus. It seems like a lot, but it really isn’t. You’ll probably spend more time peeling potatoes and shrimp than you will actually cooking, so if you can do some prep work ahead of time, your evening will go smoothly.
Pan-Seared Steaks with Red Wine Pan Sauce
4 boneless beef steaks, 1 to 1 1/4 inches thick, trimmed (I am using boneless ribeyes, but you could easily use any type of boneless steak for this one, Check and see what’s on sale)
Salt and pepper
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
Red Wine Sauce
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
1 shallot, minced
3/4 cup chicken broth (use your own or store-bought)
1/2 cup dry red wine
2 teaspoons brown sugar
3 tablespoons butter, cut into 3 pieces and chilled (it does make a difference if it’s chilled)
1 teaspoon minced fresh thyme, or 1/4 teaspoon dried
Salt and pepper
For the steaks: pat the steaks dry with paper towels, then season with salt and pepper. Heat the oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat until just smoking. Brown the steaks on the first side, about 4 minutes. Flip the steaks over and continue to cook until the desired doneness (I prefer medium), another 4 to 6 minutes. Transfer the steaks to a clean plate, tent with foil, and let them rest for 5 minutes.
For the sauce, add oil to the skillet and return to medium-high heat until shimmering. Add the shallot and cook until softened, about 2 minutes. Stir in the broth, wine and brown sugar, scraping up any browned bits, and simmer until thickened, about 5 minutes. Stir in any accumulated meat juice. Turn the heat to low and whisk in the butter, one piece at a time. Off the heat, stir in the thyme and season with salt and pepper to taste. Spoon the sauce over the steaks before serving.
It’s a very easy recipe to use. A couple of notes about cooking the steak. If you’re using larger steak and have more than one, cook only one at a time. Crowding them into the pan won’t sear them, it will only boil them and you won’t get a nice crust on them. Make sure you get your pan REALLY hot before putting the steaks in. If the oil smokes when it’s in the pan, it’s hot enough. Also, make sure you pat the steaks dry before you put them in the pan. If the steaks have been sitting in their own liquid before they are cooked, their exterior won’t brown nicely; they are just going to steam. Finally, use a conventional surface skillet for this one to make sure you get the nice browned bits for the sauce.
Now that the steaks are done, let’s move on to the shrimp. I love shrimp, made just about any way, and scampi is one of my favorites. This is great as a meal on its own served over white rice, but today we are using it as an accompaniment to the steaks.
1 pound large shrimp, peeled and deveined
Salt and pepper
1/8 teaspoon sugar
1 tablespoon olive oil
2 tablespoons butter
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
1 tablespoon fresh minced parsley
1/2 tablespoon dry white wine or vermouth
Pinch of cayenne pepper
Pat the shrimp dry with paper towels, then season with 1/4 teaspoon salt, 1/8 teaspoon pepper and the sugar. Heat the olive oil in a nonstick skillet over high heat until smoking. Add half the shrimp to the pan in a single layer. Cook until the shrimp are curled and pink on both sides, about 2 minutes. Transfer the shrimp to a bowl and cover with foil. Repeat with the remaining shrimp.
Add 1 tablespoon of the butter to the skillet and melt over medium heat. Add the garlic and cook until fragrant, about 15 seconds (garlic burns fast, you need to watch it!) Off the heat, stir in the lemon juice parsley, wine and cayenne. Whisk in the remaining butter. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Return the shrimp with any accumulated juice to the skillet. Toss the shrimp until they are well coated with the sauce.
The shrimp takes next to no time to cook, so you could do this while your steaks are resting. Don’t cook the shrimp too long, they will be rubbery and you’ll regret it. Also, I often buy shrimp in the shell and save the shells when you are peeling; they can be used to make some fish stock for future recipes.
Okay we have our steak and our shrimp. We have made mashed potatoes before, but if you missed them, here’s my technique for making them from a past blog. Now we can move on to our other sides for the day. The first is sautéed mushrooms. They aren’t hard to cook, but take a little longer than the steak or the shrimp, so you may want to start them earlier.
Sautéed Mushrooms with Shallot and Thyme
1 tablespoon butter
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 shallot, minced
1 pound white or cremini mushrooms, halved if small, quartered if large
1/2 teaspoon minced fresh thyme, or 1/8 teaspoon dried
Salt and pepper
Melt the butter in a large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. Add the oil and the shallot and cook until the shallot is soft, about 2 minutes. Add the mushrooms and thyme and cook, stirring occasionally, until the mushrooms have released their liquid and are lightly browned, about 12 minutes. Season with salt and pepper to taste.
Leave the mushrooms in chunks instead of slicing them thin, They give you a more meaty, substantial texture this way and don’t dry out like the thinner slices can.
They are lots of ways to cook asparagus (steamed, sautéed, boiled) but I am going to broil them today. I like the way they taste, and frankly I don’t have room on the stove top today with all the other dishes going on, so it works out well. You can serve the asparagus fresh from the oven, room temperature, or even chilled if you prefer.
1 pound asparagus, tough ends trimmed off
1 tablespoon olive oil
Salt and pepper
Fresh lemon juice (optional)
Adjust an oven rack 6 inches from the broiler element and heat the broiler. Toss the asparagus with oil and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Lay the spears in a single layer on a rimmed baking sheet. Broil the asparagus, shaking the pan occasionally, until they are tender and lightly browned, about 10 minutes. Sprinkle with lemon juice (if using) before serving.
You could dress these up if you want with some Balsamic Vinaigrette like we made in an earlier recipe or sprinkle on a little Parmesan cheese or fresh herbs instead of the lemon juice. Even just tossing with some sesame seeds and a little soy sauce would be good.
Wow, we made a lot of food today and none of the recipes were difficult. I don’t normally make dessert, and it is Sunday, when we usually have dessert, but Julie is bringing dessert over today and she is a much better baker than I am, so whatever she brings would be better than what I could put together. At some point I’ll post dessert recipes on here if anyone asks for one, but I know a lot of family members who are much better at baking, so maybe they would like to provide us with some good dessert recipes (subtle hint). Enjoy your Sunday dinner and relax before the rest of the week begins. Have a glass of wine or a martini and kick back, listen to some music and start thinking about all the snacks we’ll make for Super Bowl next week (I have some good recipes I will post on Thursday!) Have a great day!
It’s Thursday, and I’ve actually been doing this for a whole week now and it’s still going. I hope you’re enjoying it as much as I am. Today’s menu involves a little more work than the previous ones, but it’s not so labor intensive that you couldn’t do it on a weeknight, you just need a little time to do it. It might be better suited for a Saturday or Sunday meal, but since I have the time today to do it, we are going to give it a shot. Today I am making Pork Chops with Butternut Squash and Apple Stuffing, Roasted Potatoes, and Swiss Chard with Garlic and Shallots. It sounds fancy, but it’s pretty easy to make. There are a few ingredients that you may not have around the house for this one, so you may have to do some shopping. It’s one of the things I use the family meal planner for at the beginning of the week:family_meal_planner.
There are a lot of different variations of pork chops available for use with this recipe. The only thing to keep in mind is that you want chops large enough for you to stuff. Whether you choose them on the bone or not is up to you. Today, I am using some large boneless chops I found at the store this week that were on sale. Bone-in chops work really well this recipe also. I also bought butternut squash that was already peeled and diced to make things a little easier for me, but you could easily do it yourself.
Pork Chops with Butternut Squash and Apple Stuffing
1 1/2 cups peeled and diced butternut squash
1 cup diced celery
1 cup diced Granny Smith apple (or any apple you prefer)
6 tablespoons olive oil
Salt and pepper, to taste
1 large shallot, diced
1 1/2 teaspoon minced garlic
2 teaspoons chopped fresh thyme (about 1/2 this if using dried)
1 1/4 cups bread crumbs
4 pork loin chops (bone in if you choose; I am actually using boneless center cut chops this time)
1 onion, diced
1 Granny Smith apple, peeled, cored and diced
1 tablespoon all-purpose flour
1 1/2 cups water
3 teaspoons chicken stock
1 tablespoon apple cider vinegar
Preheat oven to 400 degrees F.
In a large bowl, stir together the butternut squash, celery, apple and 2 tablespoons of the olive oil, and season with salt and pepper. Set aside.
In a large pan over medium-high heat, warm 2 tablespoons of the olive oil. Add the shallot and cook, stirring, until softened, about 1 minute. Add the garlic and thyme and cook, stirring frequently, about 10 seconds. Add the squash mixture and cook until just softened, about 7 minutes. Season with salt and pepper. Remove the heat and let cool. Stir in the bread crumbs.
Season the pork chops on both sides with salt and pepper. Insert a sharp knife into the side of the chop (opposite the bone if you are using bone-in) making a long slit all the way down. Wiggle the knife to form a large pocket. Repeat with the remaining chops. Stuff each chop with 1/2 cup stuffing, packing it into the pocket with your fingers.
Set a pan over medium-high heat and add 1 tablespoon of olive oil. Brown the chops, turning once, 3 to 4 minutes per side. Transfer to the oven. Roast until an instant-read thermometer inserted in the stuffing reads 160 degrees F, about 20 minutes. Transfer the chops to a platter. Cover loosely with foil and let rest for 5 minutes. Strain any juices into a smaller bowl; set aside.
In a small saucepan over medium-high heat, warm the remaining 1 tablespoon olive oil. Add the onion and apple and cook, stirring, until softened, 7 to 8 minutes. Add the flour and cook, stirring, 1 to 2 minutes. Add the water, chicken stock, and reserved pan juices and bring to a simmer. Cook until the sauce begins to thicken, 2 to 3 minutes, then stir in the vinegar. Using an immersion blender (or blender, or food processor) puree the sauce until smooth. Place the pork chops on individual plates and drizzle with the sauce.
Not too bad, right? A little more work and a little more equipment used in this one, but it’s still not a tough one to do. I have extra butternut squash from the package I bought, so I can use that either for a side dish for another meal or get a little more squash and make some soup with it later on in the week. I don’t use a lot of apple cider vinegar, but I do have a small bottle on hand to use. You just have to watch the expiration date if you don’t use it often.
The roasted potatoes are fairly easy, they just take a little time to cook. I am using fingerling potatoes, but you could use red potatoes, or new potatoes, or really any potato you like to use and have on hand. Roasted sweet potatoes are great. It’s very simple and straightforward.
2 pounds fingerling potatoes (or any potato you like), quartered
1/4 cup olive oil (or less, I usually just eyeball this)
1/2 tablespoon chopped fresh thyme (1/2 this if using dried)
Salt and pepper, to taste
Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F. In a bowl combine the potatoes, oil, thyme, salt and pepper and stir to coat the potatoes evenly. Transfer to a baking pan or rimmed baking sheet and roast until the potatoes are tender, golden brown and crisp, about 45 minutes.
A very easy dish to complete, I think. Now on to the Swiss chard. It’s not something I make very often. As a matter of fact, I don’t think Sean has ever had it. Chard is a bitter, leafy vegetable with colorful stems. It is a member of the beet family and is highly nutritious. It’s used a lot in Mediterranean cooking and I thought it might be something different to try. When sautéed, it’s a lot like spinach and a lot of the bitterness cooks out. if you’re wary of trying it, you could easily substitute spinach into this recipe and it would work fine. I have leftover broccoli from earlier dinners this week on standby in case Sean won’t eat this.
Swiss Chard with Garlic and Shallots
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 large shallots, thinly sliced
3 garlic cloves, minced
1/8 teaspoon red pepper flakes (optional, I am leaving them out because I want Sean to at least try it)
3 bunches Swiss chard, stems and ribs removed, leaves cut into 1/2-inch strips
Salt and pepper, to taste
In a large fry pan over medium-high heat, warm the olive oil. Add the shallots and cook, stirring occasionally, until softened, about 6 minutes. Add the garlic and red pepper flakes (if using) and cook, stirring constantly, until fragrant, about 30 seconds.
Add the chard to the pan in batches, about one-third at a time, waiting until each batch wilts slightly before adding more (it cooks down quite a bit and quickly, like spinach). Cook, stirring occasionally, until the chard is wilted and tender, about 5 minutes. Season with salt and pepper and serve.
If your family won’t go for the Swiss chard or spinach, you could substitute any vegetable you feel like having for the evening. Just about anything will go well with the pork chops and potatoes. And I am sure you could add in some applesauce, if you desire.
So another recipe is in the books for the day. Please feel free to leave any comments or suggestions you may have. Tomorrow night is the non-meat night of the week, and Sean has chosen, what else, but pizza for the dinner. We’ll actually be making our own, so check in for that one and I would love everyone’s suggestions for pizza night. I think lots of people make some great and interesting pizzas. We’ll be having salad along with it, because every meal needs a vegetable, so I am going to try to find a good dressing for the salad as well. Pass along any suggestions you might have for that as well. I’ll also print out the meal planner for next week and start filling that in. I’ll let you know what everyone picks, and if you have ideas of what you might like to see, pass them along!
It’s Monday and it’s time to start off the week with a meal plan. My family meal plan started a while ago, and it worked well while we stuck to it, but then we kind of drifted away from it and things got a little out of hand again. By out of hand I mean we didn’t plan ahead on any meals. which led to a lot of meals thrown together at the last-minute or just getting take-out or eating out. In the long run, it wasn’t benefiting us as far as our health and being together as a family, so I decided we needed to get back to the meal plan.
Here is how our meal plan works. We, as a family, decide on the meals each week. While it sounds like a challenge right away by letting kids choose meals (who wants chicken nuggets or pizza every day?) I have tried to make it so that, since there are 3 of us, we each pick 2 meals for the week and the extra day we eat leftovers. Once a month we take the extra day and either go out or get take out. The stipulations on the meals are this: the week’s meals have to be one night of red meat, two nights of poultry, one night of seafood, one night of pasta/grain/vegetarian, and two nights using whatever we have as leftovers to make a meal. I also had to add in that we couldn’t pick the same meal on consecutive weeks, otherwise Sean would have us eating burgers and pizza every week. Each meal has to have some type of vegetable and some type of protein. The protein doesn’t have to be meat, but there has to be one there somewhere. Once the meals have been picked out, we go through and which one fits best on which day of the week for that week. Like any family, some weeks for us can get a little hectic and some nights are better suited to leftovers than others, so we try to work with that. Once that is done, I do the shopping list of the supplies we need for the week to make the meals, we outline the everyone’s duties for the week as far as the meals go and then we move ahead with the week. Here is the print out I use for our meal planning. I have found it a big help for planning and for shopping because I tend to stick closely to it and shop only for the things that we really need for the meals that week so we can stay on budget a little better: family_meal_planner.
Now that the basics are laid out, we can talk about today’s dinner plan. Today is pretty simple. Sean picked today’s meal and since he is off from school today, he gets to help cook it too. It’s straightforward, spaghetti and meatballs. He chose broccoli as his vegetable for the day and we’re going to make some garlic bread as well. I don’t make my own bread, so we’ll cheat a little there and buy a loaf and make it garlic bread, but if you make your own, it will probably be very tasty.
The spaghetti itself is pretty easy and painless. I don’t eat pasta, I never have. I just don’t like the texture of the store-bought pasta. I think if I had the counter space to make my own pasta, I would probably eat it because I think the taste of fresh pasta would be much better. But hey, just because I don’t eat doesn’t mean I won’t cook it (and if you cook it and I am invited over, you can be sure I’ll eat it, no questions asked. My momma raised me right ).Tonight, it’s just plain spaghetti (I am eating white rice) and I think most people can handle cooking it, so I am not going to spend time on it. Instead, I’ll focus on the sauce, meatballs and garlic bread.
There are lots of sauces available right out of the jar or can, and some of them taste good. They are quick and easy to use and make our lives simple, but personally, if I have the time to make sauce, I am going to make it. It doesn’t have to be labor intensive and take all day. As a matter of fact, I find that sauce cooked too long tends to lose some of its flavor (this is for a sauce with no meat in it). In a perfect world, I would use fresh tomatoes, but, as I discussed previously, the tomatoes available here in the stores are generally pretty flavorless and not ripe. I have found that using diced and crushed tomatoes for sauce works just fine for me. This is a simple sauce recipe. It’s quick, it’s easy, has few ingredients, and tastes good:
Simple Tomato Sauce
3 tablespoons olive oil
3 garlic cloves, minced
1 (28-ounce) can crushed tomatoes
1 (14.5-ounce) can diced tomatoes
3 tablespoons minced fresh basil (if you’re using dried basil, cut this in at least half)
1/4 teaspoon sugar
Cook the oil and garlic in a saucepan over medium heat, stirring often until fragrant but not browned, about 2 minutes (don’t scorch the garlic, it tastes pretty bad when you do. As soon as you can smell it, you’re ready for the next step). Stir in the crushed tomatoes and diced tomatoes with their juice. Bring to a simmer and cook until slightly thickened, 15 to 20 minutes. Stir in the basil and sugar. Season with salt to taste.
You can easily double this recipe to make more sauce, just add about another 10 minutes of cooking time. Freeze extra so you have it on hand at a moment’s notice for a quick meal.
On to the meatballs. There are several brands of frozen meatballs that are good, and we usually have some in the freezer to use for quick meals or as appetizers when people are over. Like the sauce, if I have the time, i want to make my own. Sean likes the frozen ones better, and since it’s his choice tonight, we’ll probably use them, but I am going to give my recipe for meatballs anyway. You don’t have to use the beef, pork, veal mix that I do (I use the same mix for meatloaf and you can find it in most supermarkets). Chicken or turkey works just as well if that’s what you prefer. You also don’t have to use your own bread, but I find it tastes and binds better with fresh bread instead of dried breadcrumbs. Just my personal choice.
2 slices of white sandwich bread (I prefer Pepperidge Farm, it works well for me)
1/3 cup milk (whatever type you have will work here)
1 pound beef, pork, veal mixture
1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese
2 tablespoons minced fresh parsley
1 egg yolk
1 garlic clove, minced
Salt and pepper
Remove and discard the crusts from the bread then tear the bread into small pieces. Use a fork to mash the bread pieces and milk to a smooth paste in a large bowl. Add the beef, pork and veal mixture, Parmesan, parsley, egg yolk, garlic, 3/4 teaspoon salt, a dash of pepper (or more if you like) to the mashed bread. Stir the mixture gently until combined and uniform (I always use my hands – it gets messy but it mixes better. Take your rings off before you do this). Form the mixture into 1 1/2 inch round meatballs (about 12 meatballs if make them this big, if you want smaller, go for it and you’ll get more).
Pour the oil into a 12 inch skillet and heat over medium high heat until shimmering. Add the meatballs in a single layer and cook until nicely browned on all sides, about 10 minutes. Transfer the meatballs to a paper towel-lined plate and discard any oil left in the skillet.
Place the skillet back over medium heat and add the tomato sauce, Bring to a simmer, reduce the heat to low, and add the meatballs. Continue to simmer, turning the meatballs occasionally, until heated through, about 5 minutes.
Okay, now you have your pasta, your sauce, and your meatballs. Our vegetable of choice today is broccoli, although we’ll be having salad along with it too (which Sean won’t eat, hence the broccoli). There are lots of ways to cook broccoli (steaming, roasting, braising, sauteing) and Sean prefers simple steaming, so that’s how we’re going with it today. Later on in the week I’ll be roasting some and I have the recipe for that for you. I do use a steaming basket in my dutch oven to do this, Placing the basket in with water just to the bottom of it, bringing the water to a boil and then adding the vegetables. Steam the broccoli for about 4 to 6 minutes until bright green and tender. Add some more water if you find that the water is boiling away before the broccoli is done.
Garlic bread itself is a pretty simple endeavor:
1 loaf Italian bread
4 tablespoons butter, softened (use less if you like, I often do)
2 teaspoons olive oil
3 cloves garlic, crushed
1 teaspoon dried oregano
1 cup shredded mozzarella cheese (or other cheese of your liking, or no cheese at all, it’s optional)
Preheat the broiler. Cut the loaf of bread in half lengthwise. In a small bowl, mix the butter, oil, garlic and oregano. Spread the mixture evenly on the bread. On a baking sheet, place the bread under the broiler for 3-5 minutes, or until slightly browned. Check frequently to make sure it doesn’t burn. Remove from the broiler and serve, or, if using the cheese, sprinkle cheese over the bread and place under the broiler for another 2 minutes, or until cheese is melted and slightly brown.
That’s it, you have our first meal plan. We usually only do dessert about once a week, and usually on the weekends so you’ve done it! Clean up for this one should be relatively easy, and I try to clean up as I go along to make things easier. If you have any suggestions or variations for this meal, please feel free to add them. I am always looking to try something new. Have fun cooking tonight and I’ll see you tomorrow. Tomorrow night Sean and Michelle are out for the night at a fundraiser, so I’ll be cooking for one (which makes tomorrow a leftovers night this week), so I’ll have to come up for a topic for tomorrow. Any suggestions?
No, he’s not a jazz musician, but I hope it got your attention. You probably don’t need to have garam masala in your pantry (unless of course you make a lot of Indian or Asian food, in which case you might), but there are lots of other things that I think would go very well in your pantry. I am going to name a few things that I use on a regular basis that help me tremendously in the kitchen. Most of them you probably have around all the time, and if you do, it can help you create a meal on the fly for a quick weeknight dinner when you don’t want to put a lot of effort in, or for when you have unexpected guests drop by and need something quick to throw together. When it comes to items in your pantry, brand is a personal choice. Use what you and your family like best and has the best flavor for you. There are a few brands I will recommend that I really like using, but do what fits your taste and budget the best.
Everyone has their own list of things they like to keep around in the pantry based on what their family likes best. There are basics like flour, salt, sugar, pepper, butter and milk that most people have around in one variation or another, depending on what you like and what your dietary restrictions may be.These are a few things I always have in the house:
Rice – I always have whole grain rice, sometimes brown rice, but always whole grain. It doesn’t take long to cook and to me tastes better than any quick rice or minute rice.
Eggs – We always have a dozen eggs on head and use them for baking, breakfast, hard boiling to have for lunches or appetizers, or when we have “breakfast for dinner.”
Pasta – While I personally don’t eat it, we always have it in the house, usually in a couple of varieties. If I had the counter space, I would like to make my own, but since our kitchen is the size of a closet, we make do. If you have pasta around, you always have a meal. There are dozens of quick sauces to throw together, or just saute or roast some vegetables to go with it, and you’re done.
Oil – I always have vegetable oil on hand as well as olive oil. I probably use the vegetable oil more, but the olive oil is good for making dressings and sauces. I also keep some cooking spray on hand to use to keep things from sticking.
Vinegar – again, it’s good to have on hand for dressings for salad, and I usually keep white, red wine, balsamic and apple cider vinegar to use with various recipes.
Herbs & Spices – There are hundreds of different herbs and spices you could get (like garam masala), but I have found that I really only use about ten or so regularly. I try to use fresh parsley, thyme and basil, as there is a real taste difference over the dried versions. For dried spices, I use oregano, bay leaves, garlic powder, onion powder, red pepper flakes, paprika, chili powder and cumin. I have others, but rarely use them. Check you dried spices after about 6 months because they tend to lose their potency by then.
Tomatoes – Sadly, fresh tomatoes available in stores here in New York have been bad, to say the least. Unless you grow your own around here, I have found that the canned tomatoes are better. I buy diced tomatoes often to use for things like chili, and keep a couple of jars of crushed tomatoes around for sauce. I do love fresh tomatoes, and ripe ones give great flavor, we just haven’t had good ones in a while.
Broth – I make my own broths now.It may sound like a lot of work, but it really isn’t and it is so worth it. Homemade chicken stock tastes 100 times better than anything in a box or can and is very easy to make. The same goes for beef, fish or vegetable broth and you can freeze them to use whenever you need them (I plan to use a day of blogging to talk about stocks). If you don’t have the time to make your own, I have found that Swanson’s seems to taste the best among the chicken and beef broths available.
Beans – We always have some kind of beans on hand, either dried or canned. They are a great source of protein and can be used in a lot of side dishes, soups, stews and chili. I almost always have red kidney beans, white beans or black beans around to use.
Produce- If you are going to have produce around, you should always have carrots, celery and onions. Use those three and you can pretty much make anything. They are a great base for most sauces, soups, and stews or great for roasting with meat or poultry.I also regularly have white potatoes and garlic on hand to use as well. I try to use fresh produce for our vegetables every day, and when I can’t I do buy some frozen items to have on hand. I am not a fan of canned vegetables – they have a metallic taste to me, usually have too much salt in them to preserve them, and don’t seem to taste as good once cooked. I also always have some kind of fresh fruit on hand, depending on the season. Fresh fruit can be a simple and quick dessert anytime, a nice addition to breakfast, or a great afterschool snack.
Beyond that, there are things I buy from week to week, varying on what our meal plan for that week is going to be. I’ll get more into the meal plan itself tomorrow when I start writing about what’s cooking for the week, but the plan itself basically maps out my shopping list for the week so I know what I am going to buy. I try not to stray beyond that list, with the exceptions of items that may be household necessities that week (i.e. toilet paper, garbage bags, paper towels, Sean’s lunch snacks, etc.). It helps me budget our food shopping for the week and keeps me from buying empty calorie foods we don’t need or shouldn’t have.
So tomorrow we get started on the meal plan. I can tell you, tomorrow’s dinner is nothing fancy, it’s pretty straightforward and easy, but I think that works for a lot of weeknight meals. We don’t often have time for an elaborate meal during the week, so I do try to keep things simple. Get your equipment ready and your pantry set, and we’ll hit the kitchen tomorrow!