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Monthly Archives: January 2012

Your Own Hamburger Happy Meal

It’s Tuesday and it’s another mild day here in New York. While it may not have you thinking of using the grill just yet (although using it all year round would be nice), today’s dinner on the meal plan might help you think more towards summer. Today’s is Sean’s pick, and he has chosen Hamburgers and Fries with salad. Nothing special or fancy about it and everybody makes them. I love a good burger myself; I think it is probably one of my favorite things to eat and it’s great for lunch or dinner and can be made any time of the year, and it can be made quickly (which is always a plus).

Skillet Hamburgers

1 1/2 pounds (80 percent lean) ground beef

1 teaspoon salt

1/2 teaspoon pepper

2 tablespoons vegetable oil

4 hamburger rolls

Mix the beef, salt and pepper together. Divide the meat into 4 equal portions. Shape the meat into a loose ball, and using your hands, flatten the balls into 1-inch thick burgers. Press the center of the patty down with your fingertips to form an indentation that is about 1/4-inch deep. Heat the oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat until just smoking. Place the burgers in the skillet indentation-side up and cook until the bottoms are dark brown, about 3 minutes. Flip the burgers over and continue to cook to your desired doneness. Transfer the burgers to the buns and top as desired.

Everyone has their own variation of this and things they made to the meat before cooking, so do what you like the taste of best. Just a couple of recommendations on my part. Using 80 percent lean ground beef does seem to make a difference. Any more fat than this and the burgers are greasy, any less and the meat becomes dry and pretty bland. As for the indentation I put in the meat, it’s great for avoiding the puffy burgers that you often get while cooking and also leaves you a bit of a well for your toppings. As for the toppings, the list is endless. You can pretty much put anything on top of a burger, as most of us have seen thanks to cooking shows. Personally, I love sautéed onions, some pickle, maybe a slice of tomato or a slice of bacon, maybe even some sliced avocado some times. Sean goes for just American cheese and bacon on his burger. Michelle also goes for cheese and sautéed onions, and mixes in some ketchup and mayonnaise. Let me know what some of your favorite toppings are for burgers. I might be willing to try them out!

French fries almost seem a must if you are having a burger (although I do like onion rings too, or some homemade potato salad or cole slaw, but we’ll leave those recipes for summertime). Our house is mainly a tater tots kind of house as everyone seems to like them the best. I’ll be making some homemade fries when I make our Fish and Chips recipe on Friday, but here is a good recipe for homemade Oven Fries that I have made before. They turn out great and taste better than most things you’ll get out of a bag.

Oven Fries

3 large russet potatoes, peeled and cut lengthwise into 10 to 12 evenly sized wedges

5 tablespoons vegetable oil

Salt and pepper

Adjust an oven rack to the lowest position and heat the oven to 475 degrees. Place the potatoes in a large bowl, cover with hot tap water, and allow to soak for 10 minutes. While the potatoes are soaking, coat a heavy-duty rimmed baking sheet with 4 tablespoons of oil. Sprinkle the baking sheet evenly with 3/4 teaspoon of salt and 1/4 teaspoon pepper.

Drain the potatoes, spread them out over paper towels, and pat them dry thoroughly. Toss the dried potatoes with the remaining 1 tablespoon of oil. Arrange the potatoes, cut-side down, in a single layer over the prepared baking sheet. Cover the sheet tightly with foil and bake for 5 minutes.

Remove the foil and continue to bake until the sides of the potatoes touching the pan are crusty and golden, about 15 to 20 minutes, rotating the baking sheet after 10 minutes. Using a metal spatula, scrape to loosen the potatoes from the pan, then flip each wedge over, keeping the potatoes in a single layer. Continue to bake until the fries are golden and crisp on both sides, 10 to 15 minutes longer, rotating the pan as needed if the fries are browning unevenly. Transfer the fries to a paper towel-lined plate to drain and season with salt and pepper to taste.

Not too hard to do, if you ask me. Soaking the potatoes before you bake them is important in this recipe. They will cook much better, become crispy on the outside and be creamy on the inside. If you have a heavy-duty non-stick baking pan to use for this one, it does make your life easier as well. Just make sure you choose something to use that can hold up to the higher heat. A final note: I prefer using vegetable oil in this recipe. Olive oil leaves a distinct flavor on the potatoes that you may not want.

The final part of the meal, as we have had before in our meal plan, is a simple salad. You can check out my list of salad and accompaniments here from a previous blog entry if you like. I will, however, post a new dressing recipe today. A lot of people seem to like Ranch dressing, and you might want some to dip your fries in or use for a dip for veggies, so here is a good one to try. One note about this recipe, use fresh herbs for it. I tried it with dried and it just doesn’t work out well.

Ranch Dressing

1/2 cup buttermilk

1/2 cup mayonnaise

6 tablespoons sour cream

1 tablespoon minced shallot

1 tablespoon minced fresh parsley

1 tablespoon minced fresh dill

1 garlic clove, minced

1 teaspoon fresh lemon juice

A pinch of sugar

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/4 teaspoon pepper

Whisk all of the ingredients together in a bowl until smooth. The dressing, covered, can be refrigerated for up to 4 days; whisk to re-combine before using.

If you want a low-fat option of this one, use non-fat buttermilk, non-fat sour cream and low-fat mayonnaise and increase the amount of lemon juice to 2 tablespoons.

That about does it for today’s meal. Tomorrow is one of Sean’s favorites and Michelle picked it. We’ll be having breakfast for dinner, but it is also going to be our meat-free meal this week, so no bacon or sausage. We will be making pancakes and hash browns, and maybe some eggs too, we’ll have to see how that goes. Sean will only go for the pancakes and hash browns anyway. Breakfast for dinner is always a good choice; everyone seems to like it. Enjoy the rest of your day, have fun cooking tonight, and enjoy the burgers, if you make them. As always, feel free to leave a comment or just say hello!

 

 
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Posted by on January 31, 2012 in Beef, Cooking, Dinner, Dressings, Potatoes, Salad

 

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A Mexican Dinner Monday

Time really got a hold of me today and I ended having more work than I thought to do, so today’s post is actually after I have already cooked dinner. Like the meals we have cooked over the last couple of weeks, this one is quick, easy and has a fast clean-up. Sean chose today’s dinner as it is one of his favorites. Today was Chicken Fajitas, Mexican Rice and Guacamole. None of them take long to make, and it’s easily a dinner you can do at the last minute and tastes great.

Chicken Fajitas

1 pound boneless, skinless chicken breasts, trimmed

Salt and pepper

2 tablespoons vegetable oil

2 tablespoons fresh lime juice

2 red, orange, yellow or green peppers, stemmed, seeded and sliced thin

1 onion, halved and sliced thin

1 teaspoon chili powder

1/2 teaspoon cumin

2 to 4 tablespoons water

1 teaspoon Tabasco

10 (6-inch) flour tortillas

Pat the chicken dry with paper towels, then slice it into 1/2-inch wide strips. Season with salt and pepper. Heat 1 tablespoon of the oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat until just smoking. Add the chicken and cook through, about 4 minutes. Transfer to a bowl and toss with the lime juice.

Add the remaining 1 tablespoon of oil to the skillet and return to medium-high heat until shimmering. Add the peppers, onion, chili powder,cumin, 1/2 teaspoon salt, and 2 tablespoons of water. Cook, scraping up any browned bits, until the onion is softened, about 5 minutes (Add the remaining 2 tablespoons of water as needed to prevent the pan from scorching).

Return the chicken with any accumulated juices to the skillet. Stir in the Tabasco and season with salt and pepper to taste. Transfer the mixture to a serving bowl.

Stack the tortillas on a microwave-safe plate, cover with plastic wrap, and microwave on high for 40 to 60 seconds (or you can warm the tortillas individually in a small skillet, turning after about 15 seconds). Place the chicken mixture, the warm tortillas and any accompaniments on the table and let everyone assemble their own fajitas.

We always have some chopped tomatoes, sour cream, shredded cheese and guacamole to use to add to the fajitas, but you could add whatever you would like to your own. As for the guacamole, I always like to make my own instead of buying the pre-made stuff from the store. It may not last as long (no preservatives) but it tastes much, much better. If you’re planning to make the guacamole the same day you but the avocados, get really soft ones to use. If you are planning your menu a few days ahead, buy harder ones and let them soften on the counter or in a paper bag.

Guacamole

3 Haas avocados, pitted and cut into slices

1 small shallot, minced

2 tablespoons fresh lime juice

1 tablespoon chili powder

1/2 teaspoon cumin

1/4 teaspoon salt

Mash the avocados to a relatively smooth puree using a fork (I actually use a potato masher) in a medium bowl. Fold the remaining ingredients into the mashed avocados until mixed thoroughly.

The guacamole can be refrigerated, wrapped tightly in plastic wrap, for up to 24 hours. Make sure that the plastic wrap is touching the surface of the guacamole (I also put the pits in the guacamole if I am refrigerating it. it does seem to help preserve it). Bring to room temperature and season with additional fresh lime juice and salt before serving. I also sometimes throw a few diced cherry tomatoes into the mix for some extra flavor.

The last piece of today’s meal was actually the most time-consuming part of it. The Mexican rice takes about 40 minutes to prepare and cook, so leave yourself some extra time to do this one. I think it’s worth adding to the dish as it brings a nice flavor. Michelle likes to put some of the rice right on her fajitas when she eats them.

Mexican Rice

2 medium tomatoes, cored and quartered

1 onion, quartered, peeled and trimmed

1/3 cup vegetable oil

2 cups long grain rice

2 garlic cloves, minced

2 jalapeno chiles, stemmed, seeded and minced (optional)

2 cups chicken broth

1 tablespoon tomato paste

Salt

1/2 cup minced fresh cilantro

Pepper

Lime Wedges (for serving)

Adjust an oven rack to the middle position and heat the oven to 350 degrees. Puree the tomatoes and onion in the food processor until the smooth (You should have 2 cups of puree). Heat the oil in a large Dutch oven over medium heat until shimmering. Add the rice and saute, stirring frequently, until light golden, about 10 minutes.

Stir in the garlic, and two-thirds of the minced jalapenos. Cook until fragrant, about 15 seconds. Stir in the pureed tomato mixture, broth, tomato paste and 1 1/2 teaspoons of salt. Bring to a boil. Cover and bake in the oven until the rice is tender and the liquid is absorbed, 30 to 35 minutes, stirring well after 15 minutes.

Fluff the rice with a fork. Fold in the cilantro and remaining jalapenos. Season with salt and pepper to taste, Serve, passing the lime wedges separately.

It’s not a tough dish at all to make and you’ll likely have some leftovers to use for another meal later in the week. Even the post is late today, it’s still a good menu to try for any weeknight. Have an ice cold beer with it, and you’re all set (or a margarita, if you are so inclined). I will try to post tomorrow’s recipes earlier in the day tomorrow, but it’s a pretty simple one anyway. Tomorrow is also Sean’s choice, and he chose Hamburgers with Fries and a salad. It’s definitely not a tough menu, and even though I won’t be making homemade fries tomorrow (Sean wants tater tots), I will post a recipe for making your own fries if you ever feel like doing it. They taste really good if you have the time to put into them. If you have any questions or comments, please feel free to leave a comment or shoot me an email at IguanaFlats@msn.com. Thanks for following along and I’ll see you tomorrow!

 
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Posted by on January 30, 2012 in Uncategorized

 

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A Nice Sunday Dinner

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

Steaks

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.

Shrimp Scampi

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.

Broiled Asparagus

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!

 

 

 

 
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Posted by on January 29, 2012 in Beef, Cooking, Dinner, Potatoes, Produce, Sauce, Seafood, Vegetables

 

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Peter Piper Picked a Peck of Pepper Steak

It was a beautiful day here in New York, much warmer and nicer than a January usually is around here. It was so nice, I almost don’t feel like cooking dinner tonight, but since I already have the meat thawed and ready to go, we’re going to plow through and go for it. Today’s dinner selections was Michelle’s and we’re making Pepper Steak with Rice and Glazed Carrots. Pepper steak is a very simple dish, so you could add this one to our quick and easy, dinner in a jiffy list. It’s ready in about 30 minutes and that includes all the prep work and cooking, leaving you to enjoy the rest of your evening.

Pepper Steak

1 pound boneless beef sirloin steak, cut into strips (I am actually using a London broil myself, but you could use almost any type of steak for this)

2 tablespoons vegetable oil

1 garlic clove, minced

1 teaspoon ground ginger

1 teaspoon salt

1/2 teaspoon pepper

2-3 large peppers, thinly sliced (I use red, yellow and orange for a nice color)

1 large onion, thinly sliced

2 tablespoons all-purpose flour

1/2 cup beef broth

1/4 cup soy sauce

1/4 cup water

1/2 teaspoon sugar

In a large skillet over medium-high heat, heat the vegetable oil and meat, searing on both sides, about 5 minutes. Add garlic, ginger, salt and pepper; cook 1 minute. Remove meat to a plate and loosely cover with foil. Reduce heat on pan to medium. Add peppers and onions and saute for 5 minutes, until tender. Sprinkle flour over vegetables and cook 1 minute longer, stirring constantly. Whisk in broth, soy sauce, water and sugar until well blended. Add meat  back into the pan and coat with sauce. Cook and stir until mixture boils. Reduce heat to low and simmer for 5 minutes. Serve over rice.

We haven’t had too many meals easier than this one. I like to use orange, yellow or red peppers instead of the green. It’s a personal preference, but I find the green ones a bit more acidic and don’t have the same flavors as the other colors, but if you like the green ones better, than go ahead and use them. For the rice, well we’ve cooked rice a few times in the last few weeks so you can get my method of cooking the rice right here. This is a good dish for plain white rice since it will absorb some of the tasty sauce that comes with the meal.

You probably don’t need to add another vegetable to this dish if you don’t want to, but we came across a nice recipe for some glazed carrots that sounded yummy, so we wanted to try it. It’s very simple and you can use the baby carrots for this. We usually have the baby carrots around since they are a good snack food, but you could also just use your every day carrots and cut them into pieces if you like. Just a side not: this recipe calls for bourbon, but you could leave that out if you want, but I think it will add a nice flavor to the carrots.

Honey Glazed Baby Carrots

1/4 cup (1/2 stick) butter

1 pound baby carrots

1/2 a piece of fresh ginger, peeled and cut into 1/2-inch thick rounds

1/4 cup honey

1/4 cup orange juice

3 tablespoons bourbon

Salt and pepper

Melt the butter in a large skillet over medium heat. Add the carrots and saute until they are beginning to soften, about 10 minutes. Add the ginger and the honey. Cook for two minutes. Remove the skillet from heat; stir in the orange juice and the bourbon. Return the skillet to the heat and reduce the heat to medium-low. Cover the skillet and cook, stirring occasionally, until the carrots are fork-tender, about 5-7 minutes. Uncover and cook until all the liquid has been reduced to a syrupy consistency and the carrots are nicely glazed, about 6 minutes. Discard the ginger. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

The honey glaze and the ginger taste will add some excellent flavor to the carrots and the bourbon gives a nice kick of flavor of its own. As i said, you could omit the bourbon all together and I think the dish will turn out just fine.

Simple, simple, simple. I think the whole week has been pretty easy for meals, which is great if you don’t have a lot of time to put into meals during the week. Tomorrow will be a little more labor intensive, but not much. I like to make a little more elaborate meal on Sundays, so tomorrow we are having Pan-Seared Steaks with a Red Wine Pan Sauce, Shrimp Scampi, Mashed Potatoes, Sautéed Mushrooms and Asparagus. It sounds like a lot, but we are having guests over too, so it’s not too bad and none of the recipes are difficult to make. Tune in tomorrow and see for yourself how easy it all really is to do. As always, your suggestions and input is welcome and encouraged. Feel free to ask questions, let me know how you made out if you tried a recipe, or let me know how you improved upon it. You can post a comment here or send me an email at IguanaFlats@msn.com. Thanks for reading today and I hope you enjoyed this beautiful day. See you tomorrow!

 

 


 
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Posted by on January 28, 2012 in Beef, Cooking, Dinner, Rice, Vegetables

 

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And the Mystery Fish is…

I finally did get to buy some fish today. I took a ride over to Adams Farms in Newburgh today and bought some fish and some produce. I wish they were a little closer because I would shop there all the time instead of every couple of weeks like I do now. Anyway, I did pick up some fish tonight and some for the freezer to use next week. Tonight, I decided we are going to have Fish Cakes, rice and mixed vegetables. The fish cakes seem like a good thing to make, are pretty easy to do, and take no time at all to cook. Like many of the meals we have made this week, they can also be customized to add flavors that you prefer over others. If you have a food processor, take it out for this one. It makes your life a lot easier.

Fish Cakes

4 slices firm white bread, torn into pieces (about 1 cup; you can just use store breadcrumbs if you prefer)

1 celery stalk, cut into chunks

1 pound boneless cod, haddock, halibut or other white fish fillets, cut into chunks

1 large egg, beaten

3/4 teaspoon salt

1/2 teaspoon pepper

1 pepper, cut diced (color is your choice. I prefer red, yellow or orange over the green)

2 teaspoons chopped parsley

2 to 4 tablespoons butter

Lemon wedges

Tartar Sauce ( I use store-bought myself [Gold’s is really good] but you could make your own)

Place the white bread in a food processor. Using on/off turns, process until very coarse crumbs form. Transfer the breadcrumbs to a large bowl. Using on/off turns, finely chop celery; add it to the bowl with the breadcrumbs. Using on/off turns, coarsely puree the fish; add it to the bowl. Add the egg, salt, pepper, diced pepper and parsley to the bowl. Mix gently but thoroughly. Transfer fish mixture to a work surface and shape into 4-6 fish cakes (use your best judgement on size, whatever thickness is reasonable to you). Place the cakes on a plate and refrigerate for 20 minutes to allow them to set.

In a large skillet over medium heat, melt the butter. Add the fish cakes and cook until brown on the bottom, about 5 minutes. Using a large spatula, carefully turn the fish cakes over and cook until the second side is brown and the center looks opaque, about 5 minutes longer. Serve with lemon wedges and tartar sauce.

The prep time for this dish is more than the cooking time, but it’s worth it. Your own fish cakes will taste better than anything you’ll find in the freezer section of the supermarket. As I said, you can really add whatever you would like to this recipe as far as spices and flavors. Try adding green onion, shallot, dill, cayenne pepper, garlic powder or whatever else you might like. I don’t like a lot of breading in cakes like this myself; I would rather taste the fish more than the breadcrumbs, so adjust the amount as you would like it. I am serving the fish with plain white rice, but you can use any type of rice that you would prefer. I think Jasmine rice might go nicely with this dish. You could also go with pasta if you would like, or even some egg noodles as a side dish.

For tonight’s vegetables, I am just steaming some mixed vegetables. I am using carrots, broccoli and cauliflower tonight and just steaming them in my steamer basket. Some sautéed spinach might go very nicely with this dish if you’re looking to make something different. Just rinse your spinach, toss it into a hot pan with some oil, maybe some minced garlic and some red pepper flakes, and saute just until the spinach is wilted, and you are all done.

So we’ve had an entire week of very easy meals, if I must say. The family laid out the menu for next week last night, so here’s a sneak preview of what we’ll be cooking next week.

Sunday – Ribeye Steaks with Mashed Potatoes and Asparagus (my pick)

Monday – Chicken Fajitas with Mexican Rice and Guacamole (Sean’s pick)

Tuesday – Hamburgers, French Fries and salad (also Sean’s pick)

Wednesday – Breakfast for Dinner (Michelle’s pick, this will also be our meatless night)

Thursday – We are leaving open as a leftovers day

Friday – Fish and Chips, and I haven’t picked a vegetable yet (my pick)

Saturday – Roast Chicken, Roasted Potatoes and Green Beans

We decided to work next week solely out of things we had in the freezer, so the only thing I had to shop for was the fish for the fish and chips, which will save us a lot of money on shopping next week. The cod for the dinner cost $7.00, and that’s all I have to buy for the week, with the exception of fresh veggies. Using what you have on hand can make things a lot easier on you as far as time for cooking and for your budget.

That’s all I have for today’s blog. I know I am glad it’s Friday and am looking forward to the weekend, even if it means doing some chores around the house. As always, if you have any questions, comments or just want to say hello, feel free to leave a comment or send me an email at IguanaFlats@msn.com. Thanks for reading today and happy cooking!

 

 
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Posted by on January 27, 2012 in Cooking, Dinner, Rice, Seafood, Uncategorized, Vegetables

 

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Warm Chicken Salad on a Chilly Day

It’s a nasty, rainy, cold day here in Harriman today. Today would have been better suited for the potato soup we made on Tuesday, but that’s the way the menu kind of fell out this week. Michelle and I used to eat Warm Chicken Salad at least once a week when we first got married, before Sean was born. It’s such a quick, easy meal that could be thrown together at the last-minute. it’s also great to make for a buffet-style party to put out with other foods, giving a healthier choice for people to eat. Another nice thing about this recipe is that you can really put in as many or as few ingredients as you like. We all like different things in a salad, and this gives a great opportunity to “customize” your meal however you would like it.

Warm Chicken Salad

1 1/2 cups breadcrumbs ( I am using my own, but you could use panko or other store-bought if you like)

3 tablespoons olive oil

1/2 cup all-purpose flour

1 egg, lightly beaten

1 tablespoon water

2 boneless, skinless chicken breasts, trimmed of excess fat

1 package mixed salad greens, such as romaine, spinach, arugula, mesclun or Bibb lettuce

Salad additions (recommendations to follow recipe)

Heat 1 tablespoon olive oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add the breadcrumbs and toast until golden brown, stirring often, about 8 minutes. Place the breadcrumbs in a shallow dish and set aside to cool. Wipe the skillet clean. In a separate shallow dish, add the flour and 1 teaspoon salt and 1/2 teaspoon of pepper. In a third shallow dish, add the egg and water and lightly combine. Dredge the chicken in the flour, lightly shaking off any excess. Then dip in the egg mixture and then dip in the breadcrumbs. Press on the breadcrumbs to make sure they adhere. Over medium-high heat, heat the remaining 2 tablespoons of olive oil in the skillet. Add in the chicken and saute until golden brown on the first side, about 5 minutes. Flip the chicken over and continue to cook until it is no longer pink in the center, about 5 minutes longer.Transfer the chicken to a plate and slice crosswise into 1/4-inch thick pieces. Arrange the chicken with the salad and any accompaniments. Toss lightly and serve.

The nice thing about salad is you can add whatever you want to it. Here is a list of a few suggestions:

Cucumbers (I prefer the English ones myself)

Shaved Carrots

Olives (any kind you like really)

Artichoke hearts

Tomatoes – I find the cherry tomatoes work best in a salad

Avocados

Radishes

Scallions

Peppers – if you want a bit of  color

Hard-boiled eggs – you could just add the whites if you don’t like the yolks

Crumbled bacon

Cheese – whatever kind you like really – feta, cheddar, Asiago, blue cheese

Nuts – sliced almonds or walnuts work well

Beans – chickpeas and black beans are both great in salad

The combinations are virtually endless. They are so many different ways to serve this dish that alone it could probably make 20 different recipes. This also makes a great lunch if you just refrigerate the chicken after sauteing and want to have some the next day. Three more things about salad I want to say. One, fresh, clean greens are essential to a good salad. If you don’t have a salad spinner, I think you should invest in one. You don’t have to spend a lot of money on it and you will notice the difference in the way the greens of your salad turn out. Two, dressings, as I have said before, seem to be a personal choice. You don’t even need a dressing for this dish if you don’t want one (Many times we don’t use one). For this salad, I think just about any dressing is a great addition, although something creamy like a ranch, a blue cheese or a creamy garlic might be the best. There are lots of good brands available that you might like, or feel free to send me a message and I would be glad to supply a recipe for one to you. Third, I love a salad with croutons. Homemade croutons taste far better than anything you will buy at the store, and the store-bought ones are usually loaded with preservatives anyway. Besides saving money by making them yourself, you can add whatever spices you like to them for extra flavor. Here is a recipe for some simple garlic croutons.

Garlic Croutons

3 tablespoons olive oil (it really does taste better if you can use olive oil for this one)

2 garlic cloves, minced

1/4 teaspoon salt

4 cups (1/2-inch) bread cubes (I don’t think it matters what kind of bread you use for this, as long as you cube it to a uniform size)

Adjust an oven rack to the center position and heat the oven to 350 degrees. Whisk the oil, garlic and salt together in a large bowl. Add the bread cubes and toss until thoroughly coated. Spread the bread onto a baking sheet and bake until golden brown, 20 to 25 minutes. Allow the croutons to cool at room temperature before serving.

Like the salad, you can add lots of things to the taste of the croutons, like chili powder, rosemary, thyme, oregano, Parmesan cheese, paprika, whatever you might like to taste.

That’s all that’s to dinner tonight. Light, healthy and quick, just the way we wanted it to be. Tomorrow I really am going to the fish market to see what I can get, so it’s kind of a mystery as to what I’ll be cooking (just don’t think of it as the Manager’s Choice that used to appear on the lunch menu in school). We’ll also be laying out the meal plan for next week tonight, so I will post that as well if you’re interested. If you’re interested in using the meal plan, here it is if you want to print it out:family_meal_planner. As always, if you have any questions, comments (good or bad, I’m not sensitive, I can take it) or just want to say hello, please feel free to leave a comment or a message. hopefully you’re enjoying the recipes and can use some of the ideas for your own cooking. Until tomorrow, enjoy your evening and try to stay warm if you’re here in the Northeast. Might be a good night for hot cocoa, or an Irish coffee!

 

 
3 Comments

Posted by on January 26, 2012 in Dinner, Equipment, Lunch, Salad, Vegetables

 

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(Meat)Loafing Around

I love meatloaf. It is probably one of my favorite things to eat, and not just for dinner. I love a nice meatloaf sandwich for lunch the day after, either cold on some rye bread, or warm as an open-faced sandwich with some gravy on it. Either way, it’s good with me. I was really looking forward to making this meal of Meatloaf, Mashed Potatoes with Gravy, and Corn.

I’m sure everyone has their own meatloaf recipe that they swear by. I actually have 3 or 4 different recipes that I use, depending on what I feel like having. Sometimes I wrap the meatloaf in slices of bacon, sometimes I use sautéed vegetables in the ingredients and sometimes I hollow out a loaf of Italian bread and bake the meatloaf inside it. Any of them are good recipes to use, but for today I am just going to make the standard meatloaf that I make. There’s nothing hard or fancy about it, it doesn’t take very long to make and you could even double the recipe if you’re feeding a crowd.

Meatloaf

1 pound meatloaf mix (this is a mix of beef, pork and veal that you can get at most grocery stores)

1 teaspoon dry mustard

1 teaspoon celery salt

2 teaspoons Worcestershire sauce

1/4 teaspoon dried oregano

1/4 teaspoon pepper

1 teaspoon onion powder (or you could use 1 onion, chopped fine and sautéed)

3/4 cup fresh breadcrumbs (or dried, if you’re using store-bough)

1 large egg

1/2 cup ketchup

Tomato paste

Adjust an oven rack to the middle position and heat the oven to 350 degrees. Mix the meatloaf mix, dry mustard, celery salt, Worcestershire, oregano, pepper and onion powder  until evenly blended. Add in the breadcrumbs and egg and mix again until blended, then add in the ketchup and mix again (I mix this all by hand to really work things in. It’s messy, but the results are worth it). Form the mixture into a free-form loaf onto a foil lined baking sheet. Coat the mixture with tomato paste (as much or as little as desired. I use more to get a nice coating on it). Bake the loaf for 45 minutes to 1 hour, until an instant-read thermometer inserted in the center reads 160 degrees. Let cool 10 minutes before slicing and serving.

I have found that baking the loaf free-form results in a crustier exterior all around and tastes better than the sogginess that happens when you bake it in a loaf pan. As I said before, everyone has their own take on what they add to meatloaf. Some people use saltines in the mix with breadcrumbs, some make it spicier with Tabasco, some add bacon inside and out, some add cheese, the choice is really yours. i would love to hear how other people make meatloaf. I am always looking for a new recipe for it to try out.

Now on to another great part of having meatloaf – having the mashed potatoes with it. Nothing else seems to go better (although my Dad would tell you that french fries go better, but he ate fries with everything). Mashed potatoes, like the meatloaf, are very easy to make and don’t take a lot of time.

Mashed Potatoes

2 pounds russet potatoes (4 medium), peeled, quartered, and cut into 1-inch chunks

8 tablespoons (1 stick) butter, melted

1 cup milk, hot (or half and half, whichever you prefer)

Salt and Pepper

Cover the potatoes by 1 inch of water in a large saucepan. Bring to a boil, then reduce to a simmer and cook until the potatoes are tender and a fork can be slipped easily into the center, about 20 to 25 minutes. Drain the potatoes in a colander, tossing to remove any excess water. Wipe the saucepan dry. Add the potatoes back to the pot and mash to a uniform consistency (or process through a food mill or potato ricer back into the dry pot. Using a flexible rubber spatula, fold in the melted butter until just incorporated. Fold in 3/4 of the milk, adding the remaining 1/4 as needed to adjust the consistency. Season with salt and pepper to taste.

I always used to mash the potatoes by hand or use a mixer until I started using the potato ricer and I am glad I did. The potatoes don’t get the air into them that they would get with a mixer and they become finer than mashing by hand. The result is a much denser puree that tastes better, in my opinion.

The gravy recipe I am using is the same one I used earlier in the week for the turkey meatballs. Actually, I am just using the same exact gravy since we have it left over, so that makes it simple for me. I’ll post the recipe here again or you can check out Monday’s blog if you would like to see the whole thing.

All Purpose Gravy

3 tablespoons butter

1 carrot, peeled and chopped fine

1 rib celery, chopped fine

1 onion, minced

1/4 cup all-purpose flour

2 cups chicken broth (used canned, box or your own. I am using my own because I have it. otherwise, use low sodium)

2 cups beef broth (same as the chicken. i don’t have my own right now, so I am using Swanson’s low sodium)

1 bay leaf

1 teaspoon minced fresh thyme, or 1/4 teaspoon dried

5 whole black peppercorns

Salt and pepper

Melt the butter in a large saucepan over medium-high heat. Add the vegetables and cook until softened and well browned, about 9 minutes. Stir in the flour and cook, stirring constantly, until thoroughly browned, about 5 minutes. Gradually whisk in the broths and bring to a boil. Add the bay leaf, thyme, and peppercorns and simmer, stirring occasionally, until thickened, about 20-25 minutes, skimming off any foam that forms on the surface.

Pour the gravy through a fine-mesh strainer (or gravy separator) into a clean saucepan, pressing on the solids to extract as much liquid as possible. Discard the solids. Season the gravy with salt and pepper to taste.

You can make the gravy ahead of time and refrigerate it in an airtight container for up to 4 days, or freeze it for up to 2 months. Just re-heat it over low heat, stirring to recombine, until warm and smooth.

That just leaves the corn for tonight’s dinner. I am just using frozen corn kernels tonight, since you can’t get good corn here this time of year. The frozen kernels taste fine (better than the frozen cobs do, I think. Sean disagrees with me and loves the frozen corn on the cob) and take no time at all to make. Nowadays, you can but the steamer bags for your microwave and cook them that way in about 5-7 minutes.

Gee, we’ve really gotten good at making these easy dinners, haven’t we? Nice, simple dinners make the weeknights so much better after a long day of work and an afternoon of doing homework. it’s great that there are so many meals we can make either ahead of time or in practically no time at all. I’d love to hear some input or ideas on some other quick meals that can be made. if you have any, please feel free to share. Tomorrow is supposed to be fish day if I can get to the market to check out the fish. If not, we’ll be substituting the Warm Chicken Salad into tomorrow. It’s Michelle’s pick and one that we like to make often (another quick, easy meal, or lunch for that matter). Until then, enjoy your evening and see you tomorrow!

 
10 Comments

Posted by on January 25, 2012 in Beef, Cooking, Dinner, Gravy, Potatoes, Uncategorized, Vegetables

 

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