Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Brown Rice Tips....Perfect Brown Rice

Brown rice takes about 2x the cooking time as white rice.  That being said, I recommend making an entire five cup bag all at once and freezing into dinner size portions.   As always, label and date anything you put into the freezer.  Always use the FIFO method, first in, first out.  You can make some very quick dinners or side dishes out of thawed brown rice.  Try Vegetable Fried Brown Rice or add to soups, burritos, casseroles, meat loaf, and enchiladas, just to name a few.   See Quick Spanish Rice below for an excellent side to serve with tacos or to put into burritos.

*Quick tip*I cut back on the liquid when I make an entire bag of rice.  Whenever I add all of the liquid the recipe requires, I get mushy rice.  When I make a 5 cup bag of brown rice, I cut back the liquid by 1 cup.  Since the ratio is 2-1 water to rice, that would mean 9 cups total.  I do not completely cover the simmering rice, I leave the lid slightly ajar to allow moisture to escape while cooking. 

5 cups long grain brown rice
9 cups water
1 tablespoon kosher salt

1)  Add water and salt to pan over medium high heat and cover.  Once water is boiling, add rice.  Reduce heat to medium and cover with lid slightly ajar.  Cook for 35 minutes.  Cover completely, turn off the heat and allow to sit for an additional 5 minutes.  Uncover and use or begin the cooling process to store in freezer.
2)  Cool completely.  Rice is incredibly dense, so divide it up into several containers to allow the heat to escape.  Stir often while cooling.  Place in dated and labeled zip bags.  Remove as much air as possible and close bags.  Place in freezer apart from each other for the quickest freeze.  Makes 10 cups.

Saturday, August 28, 2010

Dinner Plans......

I love this time of year.  Although it is a little sad to see summer go, there is so much to look forward to.  I love that everyone is on a schedule again.  That being said, our people will be expecting dinner at a more regulated time, every night.  What to make? 

Once again, I go back to that well stocked pantry.  It's a great idea when cooking, to make extra and freeze.  It is much easier and energy efficient to make extra than to make that entire meal all over again,  it's incredibly "green".   It is a great relief when you've had a busy day to simply pull something delicious out of your freezer.  You will be so proud of yourself! (I will too!)

I find it very necessary to plan ahead.  No one wants to be thinking of what to make at 5 or 6:00 when everyone is starving!  This makes for expensive trips to the grocery store, take out, eating out, or drive through.   You will notice that each week I post a weekly menu.  That's my plan for the week. I list what I'll be making on the left side of my note book, then I make my shopping list down the right side.  I also do a quick inventory of what I have.  It only takes a few minutes and can save you money.   I also categorize my shopping list; dairy, meats, fresh produce, frozen.  This way you won't be walking up and down the isles backtracking.  (I've been known to wander aimlessly!) This will save you valuable time. 

You will notice that I plan for four nights.  We usually will go out one night a week.  I may serve a leftover pasta with a salad or leftover chicken with a different side dish, like the Tomato Garlic Spaghetti.  Using up your leftovers is also very green.  I find it very painful to waste food, especially when there are so many who go without.  If you have something you've made and you have quite a bit leftover, freeze it!  If you don't know what to do with something or want ideas, by all means, EMAIL ME!  I would be happy to help you.

When you sit down to plan your menu for the week, try not to overwhelm yourself with hugely complicated recipes.   If you have some favorites of your own, plan for those, they're familiar and won't take too much brain power.  Why not try something new once a week, if you love the recipe, put it into your rotation.  Some of my family fav's are Parmesan Encrusted Chicken Breast, Simple Rigatoni with Meat Sauce, and Oven Fried Chicken, (listed in the right hand column under archived recipes) just to name a few.  The Parmesan Encrusted Chicken and the meat sauce for the rigatoni can both be frozen.  The following week you could just pull it out of the freezer:-)

I hope you are enjoying the beautiful weather.  I am ready to crank up the oven for baking...get ready to put your apron on !


Friday, August 27, 2010

Baked Tortilla Chips and Strips.....

Baked Tortilla Chips
Baked Tortilla Strips are great in salads

Why not bake your own tortilla chips?  They're much less expensive and have only 3 ingredients.  You will notice a big difference between these homemade chips and commercial ones, they have a true corn taste. You could also spice them up if you wanted to with a little chili powder and cumin, or a pinch of cayenne.

I love the baked tortilla strips.  When I make tacos for my kids I make a taco salad for myself with just a few of these.  Try these crunchy salad yummies on my Grilled Chicken Salad with Jicama.  Make a nice amount and store in an air tight container or a zip bag and they're ready to go the next time you need them. 

Baked Tortilla Chips or Strips

1 dozen corn tortillas, for chips cut into 4’s, or cut into thin strips
1 teaspoon canola or olive oil
2-3 pinches of kosher salt

1) Preheat oven to 300’.
2) Place cut tortillas into a medium size mixing bowl. Drizzle olive oil over and add salt. Toss carefully with your hands to evenly coat. Spread the chips/strips over a cookie sheet being careful not to overlap. You will have to bake in a couple of batches. Bake for 20-22 minutes or until completely dry. Cool completely and store in an air tight zip bag or container.

*Serve chips with your favorite dip or strips over salads

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Oven French Fries....

Who doesn't love french fries?  Hard to believe that it takes a few basic ingredients to make these.   Crispy oven french fries that actually taste like a potato, how original!  My kids go crazy over these.  Season them however you like.  Load up on the garlic or make them spicy with a few pinches of ground cayenne pepper.  Either way, guilt free french fries.  Zero trans fat.  Zero unpronounceable ingredients. Zero deep frying.  Enjoy!
Oven French Fries

4 large russet potatoes with skins or 2 lbs. potatoes
2 tablespoons canola or olive oil
½ teaspoon granulated garlic powder
1 teaspoon kosher salt
¼ teaspoon pepper
2 tablespoons flour
2 teaspoons dried parsley

1) Line a baking sheet with 1” sides with Reynold's non stick foil. (this is key) Set aside.
2) Wash potatoes and slice into ½” fries. Place in a large bowl and cover with water. Allow to soak for 20 minutes to an hour. (This removes much of the starch and allows for them to get crispy while in the oven.)
3) Preheat oven to 425’. Thoroughly drain potatoes in a colander, shake them up to release as much water as possible.
4) Put potatoes into dry bowl. Drizzle 1 tablespoon of oil over, toss. Sprinkle garlic powder, salt, and pepper over potatoes and toss to coat. Sprinkle flour over potatoes and toss to evenly coat.
5) Spread out over cookie sheet without overlapping. Drizzle remaining tablespoon of oil over potatoes.
6) Bake for 25 minutes, remove from the oven and carefully give them a turn. Place back into the oven for an additional 15-20 minutes or until browned to your liking.

Sprinkle parsley over potatoes. Serve immediately.

Friday, August 20, 2010

Peach Crisp...Dreamy!

I am a big cheater on this one.  In the past, I've gone through the trouble of blanching fresh peaches, then into ice water, peeling the skin, pitting and cutting up the peach.  I made this dish in winter and purchased the frozen, ready to use peaches....I could not tell the difference. Prep time for this dish is about 20 minutes.

Peach Crisp
For the peaches:

2 lbs. frozen peaches, thawed
½ cup sugar
1 tablespoon cornstarch
2 tablespoons lemon juice, fresh or bottled


¾ cup brown sugar
1 cup flour
1 ½ cups oatmeal, quick or old fashioned
1 teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon cinnamon
One pinch nutmeg
1 stick butter, softened

1) Butter or using cooking spray, coat  a  9 x 13 baking dish. Set aside. Place thawed peaches in a large heavy pot. Add sugar, cornstarch, and lemon juice. Cook over medium heat, stirring often, until it comes to a bubble, this should take 5-7 minutes.   Pour into prepared baking dish.
2) Preheat oven to 350’. In a medium bowl, combine all dry ingredients well.   Work butter in with your fingers.  Sprinkle crumbs evenly over cooked peaches.
3) Bake for 25 minutes. Serve warm with a scoop of vanilla ice cream. Serves 10-12.

*If you make ahead, refrigerate. It is best to warm, uncovered,  in the oven at 350’ for 20-25 minutes to make the topping crisp again.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

The UFO is Stripped Toga Baby Eggplant.....

I needed a little help identifying my most recent UFO.  I called upon the expertise of my friend Dana Joy Altman of Real Food Rehab, a farmer's market guru.  She promptly sent me the link to Seed Savers Exchange.  I should have gotten a clue by their description; holds well in dried arrangements, yet not bitter.

I have to be honest  I wasn't impressed.  Having never made this particular UFO, I did some recipe searches and came up with nothing.    I decided to try doing a quick saute in olive oil, garlic, salt, and pepper.  This is quite delicious with regular eggplant.  I then added halved grape tomatoes and fresh parsley.  I was going to then make a soft bread crumb, parmesan, and melted butter topping and bake the dish.  I tasted the eggplant and decided to abort!  I'm not sure if I waited a day too long to use the eggplants.  They were a little tough and bitter.  I bought them on Saturday and did not use them until Monday.  They definitely did not look as plump and happy as they did when I bought them.  Not sure if I want to try again.  I will post something very soon with the purple eggplant variety that you can find most anywhere.

Onto something sweet....that'll make my flop a distant memory....

Have a great day!


Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Green Beans with Grape Tomatoes and Gorgonzola.....

As promised I am delivering a delicious twist on what can become a boring dinner vegetable.   The beans pictured are the purple beans I bought at the farmer's market.  They turned green after cooking.   Isnt' that interesting?     I used those delicious grape tomatoes from the farmer's market and fresh herbs from my garden.  I added flavorful olive oil and some crumbled gorgonzola cheese....so simple and so delicious!  Throw this together in 15 minutes.  Ideal for entertaining, make ahead, refrigerate, and serve. 

Green Beans with Grape Tomatoes, and Gorgonzola Cheese

½ lb. yellow wax beans, stems removed
½ lb. green/purple beans, stems removed
10 grape tomatoes, halved
2 tablespoons fresh chives, finely sliced
3 tablespoons fresh parsley, chopped
3 tablespoons crumbled gorgonzola or bleu cheese
2 tablespoons olive oil
¼ teaspoon kosher salt
2 pinches black pepper

1) Steam beans for 6 minutes. Drain and plunge immediately into cold water. This will stop the cooking. Put into large mixing bowl.
2) Add tomatoes, chives, parsley, and cheese. Drizzle with olive oil, gently toss to combine. Season with salt and pepper, toss gently to coat. Taste, add more seasoning if necessary.  Refrigerate.

*If you’d like a touch of vinegar, give the beans a splash just before serving. If you do it ahead, the acid will turn the beans to a dull green. I think cider or red wine vinegar would be best.

Monday, August 16, 2010

Farmer's Market Bliss....

I was in heaven today at the Oak Park Farmer's Market.  It was a sweltering 90', soon to be 95'!  I shopped quickly and efficiently.  Blackberries and raspberries were at the peek of freshness.  We are enjoying the pickles and grape tomatoes in our fresh salads.  You will also see the latest of my "UFOs."  Ever seen these beauties?  Are they peppers, tomatoes, squash?   Identification and recipe soon to come.....

Notice the lovely beans.....they are yellow and purple.  Interestingly, the purple beans turn completely green after cooking...a little disappointing, but still very delicious.  Tomorrow I will post a beautiful and simple salad I came up with for these beauties.

In addition to unbelievable produce, you will also find amazing preserves, honey, organic meats, cheeses, plants and flowers, just to name a few.  The Red Raspberry Preserves I purchased are from a farm in Benton Harbor, Michigan.  The name is Ellis Family Farms.  It is so refreshing to read an ingredient label that doesn't include corn syrup!  Let's not forget the true, raspberry flavor, unreal! 

I also made a cheese purchase from Prairie Fruits Farm located in Champaign, IL.  If you've read The Omnivores Dilemma, you will find their self sustaining farm completely fascinating.  They farm the way farming was meant to be, with respect and care for the land and animals.  Take a moment to visit their site.  Click on "Dinners on the Farm"....you can make reservations to dine on their farm.  It is very hard to get a reservation.  You will see that they are completely sold out for the summer and most likely into the next!  This is definitely on my bucket list!

Be sure to visit your local farmer's market.  Not only will you be supporting the very people who bring these amazing foods to your table, you have great opportunity to try something you've never had before.  Every time I go, I try at least one new fruit or vegetable, very exciting!

Eat well.

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Roasted Whole Chicken with Fresh Herbs, Wine, and Potatoes.....

We had our beloved newly engaged cousin Patrick and his lovely fiance, Shelygan over for dinner last night.  Mustn't forget that we also had Patrick's Mom, Sheila over as well.  Have I mentioned that she introduced Joe and I to each other roughly 8 years ago????  Another story for another time....

This was a very special occasion which of course, was very deserving of a very special celebratory menu.  I did what I usually do, I poured over different menus over and over again, changing every last detail of what I'd  be serving.  Whenever planning a menu for entertaining, I am sure to come up with something that will allow me to be with my guests, that's the point, isn't it?

Anyway, I've completely had it with the heat.  I confined myself to my kitchen, with a/c of course, and turned on my oven.  What's not to love about lots of garlic, fresh herbs, and wine?  You put all of the deliciousness under the skin so that the meat has unbelievable flavor, even if eaten without the skin.  This dish is special enough for company, and easy enough for a weeknight.  Don't forget to save the carcass for stock.  Wrap in plastic wrap and into a freezer bag, label and date.  Delicious stock for later!

Roasted Whole Chicken with Fresh Herbs, Garlic and Potatoes

1 3-4 lb. whole roasting or fryer chicken (roasters are larger, I love fryers)
3 sprigs of fresh rosemary
6 sprigs of fresh thyme
5 large cloves of garlic, minced
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 teaspoon kosher salt
½ teaspoon pepper
4 medium size russet potatoes, peeled and sliced into wedges
1 tablespoon olive oil
½ teaspoon kosher salt
¼ teaspoon pepper
1 ½ cups white wine, can be sauvignon blanc, chardonnay, pinot grigio
1 16 oz. package petite frozen peas

1) Line a baking sheet that has 1” sides with non stick foil. Preheat oven to 325’.
2) Peel potatoes and cut into wedges. **Place in large bowl, cover potatoes with water. Set aside.
3) Remove rosemary and thyme leaves from stems, chop finely. Put into a small bowl. Peel garlic and mince, put into herb bowl. Add olive oil,  1 teaspoon kosher salt and  1/2 teaspoon pepper. Mix well. If you make ahead, you must refrigerate.
4) Remove giblets and rinse chicken. Pat dry with paper towel. Carefully run your fingers under the chicken skin, just to make space for the spices and garlic. Generously rub the spice mixture under skin throughout the entire chicken. Rub remaining mixture on outside of chicken and don‘t forget the underside. Place on prepared sheet.
5) Roast chicken for an hour.
6) Drain potatoes well. Put back into large bowl and drizzle with olive oil, add  1/2 teaspoon salt and 1/4 teaspoon pepper. Mix well with your hands. Remove chicken from the oven and carefully arrange potatoes on same sheet as chicken trying not to overlap.
7) Roast another hour. Internal temperature of chicken should be 170’ or higher.
8) Remove from oven, allow to rest for about 10 minutes tented with foil. Carve and arrange chicken pieces, potatoes and peas on a serving platter. Pour juices over chicken and potatoes. YUM!
Makes 4-6 servings.

*If you would like to use chicken pieces instead of a whole chicken, simply put herbs under each piece. (4 breasts or a whole cut up chicken) Arrange potatoes and chicken on baking sheet at the same time. Bake at 375’ for 45 minutes. Add wine and bake another 15 minutes. Add peas and bake another 10 minutes.
**I soak the potatoes in water to keep them from turning brown while waiting to be cooked and to remove some of the starch.  I think they absorb more flavor after soaking.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Welcome Visitors from the US and Around the World!

I would like to extend a special THANK YOU  to visitors from Australia, Ireland, Canada, Colombia, South Africa, France, UK, Malaysia, Finland, Switzerland, Brazil, Germany, Italy, Slovakia, and Costa Rica.

I am thrilled  that you've been visiting and I would like to enthusiastically WELCOME you to my site!  If are so inclined to share a specialty in your recipe box, please do.  I am very interested in unusual fruits and vegetables and how to prepare them.

I wish to also thank those of you from the US who have consistently been visiting my site, it means the world to me!!!  Your comments and emails inspire and motivate me on a daily basis, thank you again.

Enjoy your day.


Bring on Fall....

I've had enough sweating after showering, being ambushed by swarms of mosquitoes, too many people around in the house on a daily basis, and breezes that feel like a hair dryer. 

Bring on school and fall.  Bring on cool temperatures, comfort foods, baking on a whim, sweatshirts, and jeans.

Anybody with me?


Monday, August 9, 2010

Homemade Italian Turkey Sausage....

This is so incredibly simple and can be used in omelets, as a pizza topping, in quick pasta dishes, soups, *meat balls, and other traditional Italian dishes, just to name a few.  I like to toast the fennel first to bring out the flavor, this will give a true Italian sausage flavor.  If you like hot sausage, simply add more red pepper flakes.  Enjoy!

Turkey Italian Sausage

1 tablespoon whole fennel seeds, toasted
2 teaspoons olive oil
2 teaspoons dried oregano
1 teaspoon granulated garlic powder
½ teaspoon granulated onion powder
¼ teaspoon red pepper flakes (or more)
1 ¼ lbs. 93/7 ground turkey
½ teaspoon salt

1) Heat a small skillet over medium heat and toast the fennel seeds for a couple of minutes, watch closely and give the pan a shake every 30 seconds.  You will start to smell a lovely licorice scent.
2) Add olive oil to pan. Add garlic powder, onion powder, and red pepper flakes. Give a quick stir and add ground turkey. Season with salt.  Cook through, stirring often and breaking up meat with a spoon.

*For meat balls, simply toast the fennel, allow to cool, and mix all seasonings and raw ground turkey together in a mixing bowl until well blended.  Add to traditional meat ball ingredients.
*For breakfast sausage, simply add 1 teaspoon ground sage to the raw mixture.  Shape into patties and cook in a hot pan with a little olive oil.  Enjoy with Vanilla Yogurt Whole Grain Pancakes.

Saturday, August 7, 2010

Ten things you don't know about me....

1)   Favorite vegetable:  Onion.  I do not use as a condiment!  I ate them as a young child.
2)   I played professional volleyball in 1986 and 1987 for the Chicago Breeze.
3)    Have huge soft spot for babies, elderly people, and animals.
4)   I am intrigued by the medicinal properties of food.
5)   Very first food I prepared were fried potatoes, suffered a pencil eraser size 3rd degree burn, they were delicious!
6)   Love fried foods, try not to eat them.  Do TONS of oven frying.  More recipes soon!
7)   All time favorite seasonings:  salt and pepper
8)   I am in LOVE with nature.  Dream job would be to be an organic vegetable farmer, I look good in overalls.
9)   Would love to go to culinary school just to say I did.
10) Favorite dessert:  chocolate.

Aren't you glad to know these things? 

Have a happy, healthy day!

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Simple Grilled Steak with Rub....

Who doesn't love grilled steak and potatoes?  It is a summer staple here in the US.  I think the leanest and most flavorful cuts are sirloin and flank steak.  Cook them from medium (warm pink center, sirloin picture above), medium rare(cool redish pink center), to rare (pretty dang red, or "moo-ing") for the most tender result.  The more well done they become, the less tender.  Marinate the sirloin for 30 minutes to a couple of hours, it is a pretty tender cut of meat.   Marinate a flank steak anywhere from 2-24 hours.  The key with the flank steak is to slice it thinly against the grain.   Be sure to serve with those delicious juices you see on the plate.  Serve with Twice Baked Potato Casserole (below) and a crisp salad with a homemade Creamy Yogurt Ranch Dressing.  Delicious!

Simple Steak Rub

2 ½ lbs flank steak or lean sirloin steak
1 fresh lime, zested and juiced
2 teaspoons canola oil

For the rub:

1 teaspoon salt, I like kosher
1 teaspoon each:
 Dried oregano
 Black pepper
 Garlic powder
 Onion powder
¼ teaspoon cayenne
Zest of the lime you will be using above

1) You will need a large container with a lid, I like to use one large enough that the steak can lay flat. Zest lime, set zest aside and spread out on a small plate to dry. (it will dry quickly on the counter) Juice the lime and rub the juice into the steak. Rub the canola oil into the steak as well, evenly coat.
2) Mix all dry rub ingredients together, add zest. Rub generously into prepared meat, coat evenly. (be careful not to "contaminate" the rub by touching the steak and going directly into the rub)  Allow to marinate in refrigerator for 1 hour or as long as you like. Save any remaining rub in an air tight container, label with contents and date. 
3) Grill over medium heat on preheated grill. For a 1” thick piece of steak, medium, grill for 5 minutes per side allow to rest tented with foil for at least 15 minutes before carving. For flank steak, slice thinly on a diagonal, against the grain. Serve with the au jus.

The sure fire way to know the doneness of a piece of meat is with an instant read thermometer.  You can pick one up at most any store with a kitchen department.  They cost from $5-10.  You simply insert into the thickest part of the meat and wait for a couple of minutes for it to completely register.  Do not leave in meat while cooking in the oven or on the grill with the cover closed!  Meat continues cooking when you remove it from the heat, so always allow it to "rest" for 15 minutes to retain juices and finish the cooking process.

*Internal temperatures for different degrees of doneness:
Rare-120' to 130'
Medium rare- 130' to 140'
Medium- 140' to 150'
Medium well- 150' to 160'
Well- 160+

Twice Baked Potato Casserole....

Often times, potatoes on sale in the bag have varied sizes in them. What to do with the small potatoes? This is the perfect recipe for small potatoes you wouldn’t necessarily bake or stuff. I like that that small potatoes don’t require an hour of baking time like the large ones. You don’t have to be particularly careful when scooping out the flesh of the potato like when you are making a typical twice baked potato. The not so perfect skins line the bottom of the dish. If you’re like me and love the skins, you are going to love this recipe!

Twice Baked Potato Casserole

2 lbs. small or medium baking potatoes
2 tablespoons butter + 2 teaspoons for buttering the baking dish
¼ cup sour cream
½ cup milk
½ teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon pepper
8 oz. shredded sharp cheddar cheese
2 tablespoons fresh chives or green onions thinly sliced

1) Preheat oven to 400’. Butter a 2 quart baking dish with 2 teaspoons butter, set aside. Bake potatoes for 30-40 minutes, or until soft.
2) Remove from oven and let stand at room temperature for 10 minutes.
3) Line your hand with a clean kitchen towel to hold the warm potato. Cut potatoes in half and scoop out center and place into a medium mixing bowl. Line your baking dish with the potato skins on the bottom and partially up the sides. (You will have an over abundance of skins, if you really love them, break them into small pieces and throw them into the bowl with the flesh, remember the skins contain most of the vitamins!)
4) Add 2 tablespoons butter, sour cream, milk, salt, and pepper to the potatoes in the bowl. Using an electric mixer, beat for about 30 seconds. If too thick, add more milk. Fold in half of the cheese. Carefully pour potatoes over skins in baking dish. Spread evenly. Add remaining cheese. Bake at 350’ for 15 minutes, or until cheese is melted. Top with chives or green onions.

*If you choose to make these potatoes ahead and go from refrigerator to oven, bake in preheated 350’ oven for 30-35 minutes.
*These do NOT freeze well.
*Feel free to top with crumbled bacon:-)