Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Rocket Quinoa (Quinoa salad with black beans & peppers)

We hadn’t had a hamburger in awhile.
We knew we had one of those evenings where we needed to get down to the whole eating business pretty quickly. We happened to have some lean ground beef frozen. We decided to make burgers.
Only problem – we didn’t have a side to go with the burgers. We had some of the makings for a quinoa salad recipe that I saw in Food & Wine. If you’re not familiar, quinoa is a high-protein grain that can be cooked up like rice or couscous. We didn’t have all the ingredients, so, I improvised a bit:

  • 3/4 c. quinoa
  • 1 1/2 c. water
  • green pepper, chopped
  • roasted red peppers, a few, chopped
  • 1 can black beans, rinsed and drained
  • 3 oz. jar cocktail onions, drained and chopped
  • 1/2 c. cilantro, chopped
  • 3 tbsp. fresh lime juice
  • 1/2 tbsp. ground cumin
  • salt, pepper, olive oil
Put the quinoa in a saucepan with the water and some salt. Bring to a boil. Stir, cover, and cook over low heat for 15 minutes, stirring once. When cooked, spread on a baking sheet or in a baking pan and refrigerate for 20 minutes.
Combine the green pepper, roasted red peppers, beans, onions, and cilantro in a bowl. Stir to combine.
Whisk together cilantro, lime juice, and cumin. When quinoa has cooled, add it to the mixture with the dressing. Mix well. Put back in the fridge until you’re ready to eat. (You can refrigerate overnight if you wish.)
For the burgers, the SPinC made patties that included diced onion, garlic, Worcestershire sauce, salt, pepper, and dill. We decided on mushroom & swiss burgers topped with a little mayo. The final result looked like this:
While we used the quinoa salad as a side, it would make a really tasty main dish if you’re looking for a simple meatless meal.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Me and the [Roasted] Bean – Curried Cauliflower & Beans in Lemon Yogurt Sauce

Some of you may know that the Sweet Partner in Crime and I were out for my birthday dinner last night. We did the “tasting menu” at Hugo, which was an absolutely divine experience to kick off my year #40. The next morning, we remained stuffed (8 courses was a challenge -- but what a divine challenge!). We decided it’d be a good idea to have something relatively light the next day.

I saw a recipe in a Food & Wine that looked good, but with my level of energy and motivation that evening, there were a couple of steps too many. I didn't need to make my own croutons or cook down a bunch of spices. I tried to make the recipe as foolproof as possible. What I ended up with was a pretty scrumptious vegetarian meal. Lots of fiber here, my friends…

  • 1 good sized head cauliflower, cut into small florets
  • 1/2 a red onion, cut into thin strips
  • 1/2 lb. green beans, trimmed and cut into 2” pieces
  • 1 tbsp curry powder
  • 1 c. plain yogurt (I used Dannon, but the original recipe calls for Greek)
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • juice of 1/2 lemon
  • 1/3 c. minced fresh cilantro or 1 tbsp. dried
  • croutons
Preheat the oven to 425. Put the cauliflower and onion strips together in a bowl. Add about 3 tbsp. olive oil, the curry powder, salt, and pepper. Mix well. Put into a baking pan, sprayed with nonstick spray.IMG_0719
Put the beans in the same bowl. Add another tsp. of oil. Mix well. Put in a smaller baking pan, also sprayed.
Put both pans in the oven and roast, stirring a couple of times, until the vegetables are tender and slightly browned (about 15 min for the beans, 25 for the cauliflower mixture).
Meanwhile, whisk together the yogurt, garlic, lemon juice, cilantro, and salt and pepper.

When the veggies are roasted tender, put into bowl and stir to combine. Add a handful of croutons and stir again.
Plate up the veggies. Drizzle with the sauce. Chow down.


MEAC Annual Fundraiser -- "Wine & Wheels" -- This Friday!

(Cross-posted at The Naked Vine.)

Looking for a chance this weekend to get your wine tasting on? Want to support a really good cause? The Madisonville Education and Assistance Center (MEAC) is having its annual fundraiser on Friday evening. (For better or for worse, the event will be emceed by yours truly.) Admission to the event is $15. Last year, there were nearly a hundred wines to sample, so it's a fantastic deal. The relevant info:
MEAC’s annual wine tasting fundraiser, Wine and Wheels, will take place on April 23rd from 7:30 p.m. - 10:30 p.m. at the at the Volvo/Porsche/Maserati dealership located at 4113 Plainville Road, Cincinnati, OH 45227. Join us for this fun blind wine tasting with lite bites provided by area restaurants. Each team (up to 3 people) is asked to bring one bottle of Pinot Grigio and one bottle of Shiraz. Prizes will be given to the teams who bring the favorite red wine and the favorite white wine.

For more information about MEAC, click here. To register for the event, click here. Walk-ins are also welcome!

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Blue Rondo a la Turkey Burger (grilled turkey burgers with guacamole salad)

A bartender friend of mine once told me, “I like making drinks with vodka, because I get to show off. Rum, gin, tequila – they’ve all got flavors of their own, but vodka is the blank canvas where I can create…”

So it is with the humble turkey burger.

I love a good burger. One of my guilty pleasures is the Hardee’s mushroom ‘n’ swiss. Just love me some of that. But there’s a reason that it’s a guilty pleasure…

In the interest of waistlines, we end up cutting back, but that doesn’t mean that we have to eat tasteless, does it? Hell no! But turkey burgers? That almost defeats the purpose, no? There’s not much flavor inherent – especially if you’re getting the really lean stuff (usually 93/7). Doctoring up some ground turkey meat gives you the chance to eat healthy and make something very tasty.

This is another recipe where the Sweet Partner in Crime takes center stage. She’s got the touch with burger making. I handle the grilling part. So, round up:

  • 1 lb. or so lean ground turkeyIMG_0710
  • 1/2 a diced onion
  • Worcestershire sauce
  • salt & pepper
  • diced fresh herbs (we had some great fresh basil from our friend Rachel)
  • 2 avocadoes, diced
  • juice of a lemon
  • tomatoes for slicing, plus a couple more diced
  • minced garlic, cumin
  • lettuce, mustard, or other desired toppings

Put the turkey meat in a bowl. Season liberally with salt and pepper. Add the onion, salt & pepper to taste, and the herbs. You know, kind of like this:IMG_0711 Knead this all together. Then start adding the Worcestershire until it gets, in the SPinC’s words, “kind of meatloafy.” Coat form into patties, coat lightly in olive oil, and put it in the fridge for an hour or more. Make sure you get a chance to take it out to let it sit at room temperature for 20 minutes or so before you start grilling. During that time, slice your tomatoes, get your lettuce ready, toast your buns and whatnot. IMG_0714
Light the grill. When it’s good and hot, toss the burgers on there.
Grill the burgers over medium-high heat for about 5 minutes on a side or until the proverbial juices run clear. IMG_0715
While you’re letting the burgers rest, make the salad. Dice the tomatoes and avocado. Toss with salt, pepper, minced garlic, cumin, and lemon juice (basically, think unmashed guacamole). You’ll get something like this: IMG_0712
Put burgers on buns. Dress appropriately. Put the salad on the plates as a side. Serve it up and call it dinner. We decided to do a taste test with both an inexpensive New Zealand sauvignon blanc and a light red from the Languedoc region of France. Both ended up working out well:
The fun of turkey burgers is that you get to guiltlessly try different combinations of flavors. Grilling season is upon us. Give it a go.

Since you met Jessie Louise the Beagle last night, you should meet Mooch the Magnificent Mutt this evening. It’s only fair…

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Hole in my Bread (thin crust pizza with roasted tomatoes & mushrooms)

Pizza…ain’t it great? Meal sized finger food – what’s not to love? No matter how nice it is to have someone walk up to your door and hand you food – for about a quarter of the price, you can make one of your own in as little time as it would take for someone to make it to your house from Snappy Tomato.

Making a pizza is super-easy, too. Just make some dough, get it thin, throw on some toppings, throw in the oven, wait a few minutes…and voila! Dinner is served!

OK, OK – a couple of caveats. I’m a thin crust kinda guy. I get enough carbs in my diet as is. I don’t need to load up on extra starch at home. With good toppings, why mask the flavor with a bunch of buttery bread? If you want to make good thin crust pizza, you need one of these:
The pan is key.
This little gizmo is a wonderful invention. The crust cooks more quickly and more evenly. If you make your dough right, you don’t have to worry about it falling through the holes.
So, what about the dough? Yes, there are any number of really good, homemade crust recipes out there. But I’ll be honest. We cheat. We don’t make a lot of bread, anyway, so yeast isn’t something that I have lying around the house other than in the bottom of some homebrew bottles. For the sake of simplicity, I just get a Kroger brand pack of dry dough. Yeah, I’m probably wasting 30 cents. Sue me.

The dough’s easy enough. Basically just add water and knead. Check the package for specific directions. The Sweet Partner in Crime is particularly good at taking out her frustrations on that ball of flour and yeast. A tip? Clean your countertop really well before you start, scatter some flour, and knead it right there. Easier than trying to do it in a bowl or in a pan. Yes, you have to take some time to clean, but you have to do something while it’s baking, right?

When the dough is ready, spread it. You can roll it out, spin it, throw it around the kitchen – whatever floats your boat. Just make sure it ends up spread out on your holey pizza pan. Spread a little olive oil across the dough. Then top it.IMG_0698
In the case of this particular pie, we were in a roasting sort of mood. So, before we started making the dough, we preheated the oven to 425. We took some mushrooms and Roma tomatoes and sliced them thickly.

We sprayed a cookie sheet with nonstick, put the tomatoes and mushrooms on it, drizzled olive oil over them, then seasoned them with salt, pepper, and garlic powder. We roasted them for about half an hour, which is about the time it took to make and roll out the dough.

We let the roasted veggies cool for a few minutes, then put them on the pie. We added some sliced garlic-stuffed olives, crumbled feta, and basil.

Raise the heat to 475. In goes the pizza. Cook for 7-8 minutes, or until the crust gets to be about the color above. Take it out, let it sit to cool for a couple of minutes, then slice it.

Now, with this combination of flavors, I might consider cracking open an Italian red – but we went with our standby with just about any kind of pizza…dry sparkling wine. There may be some of you out there who haven’t tried this. I pity you. Champagne (and just about any other dry sparkler) is made to be drunk with fatty foods. Makes sense, doesn’t it? Bubbles cut through the fat on your tongue, and you get all the flavors instead of the coating on your palate.

If you really want to test this theory, get a bucket of KFC and open a bottle of dry sparkling wine. Or potato chips. Or Doritos. Seriously. You’ll love it.

This pizza was no exception to the rule. We had it with a bottle of dry cava, a Spanish sparkling wine. Yum.

Total time…about half an hour.

Oh, and just for the heck of it…meet the beagle:

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Simmer Overture (chicken thighs in orange-mustard sauce w/roasted potatoes, carrots & green beans)

I’ve focused a lot on meals you can make when you’re in a hurry, but what if you’re lucky enough to find yourself with a little extra time on your hand? Sure, you could go into a long, involved cooking session, but why not make something you can just check on while you’re doing other things?

I was poking around Epicurious to find something that might tickle my palate and I stumbled across a chicken thigh recipe that looked fairly interesting. I snagged the ingredients for it and a couple of sides.

In case you don’t know, chicken thighs are the bomb. Any recipe that calls for chicken breasts, I often will substitute thighs. Why? The meat’s juicier and more tender. Sure, you have to deal with an extra 70 calories, but pull the skin, trim the fat, and take a walk around the block afterwards. It’s one of the few things in the world that’s cheaper but tastes better. Worth the trouble.

So, your shopping list for this:

  • 6-8 chicken thighs, skin removed and fat trimmed
  • 1/2 c. orange juice
  • 1/2 c. chicken broth
  • 2 tbsp. stone ground mustard
  • 2 tsp. Tabasco
  • 2 tbsp. honey
  • 1 tsp. Creole seasoning
  • 1 1/2 lb. new potatoes, cut into chunks (I used gold, red would be prettier)
  • baby carrots
  • 1 tbsp. fresh rosemary or 1 1/2 tsp. dried
  • 1/2 a small onion, chopped
  • minced garlic
  • 3/4 lb. green beans, trimmed and halved if large
  • olive oil (I’m going to start leaving this out. If you don’t have this in your kitchen by now, there’s no hope for you.)

Preheat oven to 425. Put the potatoes, onion, & carrots in a roasting pan. Season with salt and pepper. Drizzle liberally with olive oil. Stir the lot to coat. Put it in the oven for 45 minutes, stirring about every 15 .

Whisk together the orange juice, broth, mustard, Tabasco, honey, and Creole seasoning. Heat olive oil in a large heavy skillet over medium high heat. Season chicken thighs with salt & pepper on both sides and put in skillet. Brown on both sides for about 3 minutes, then add the juice/broth mixture. Bring to a boil, reduce heat to low, and simmer uncovered for about 20 minutes, flipping the chicken after 10. Check for doneness. If the chicken is done, remove from heat. If not, simmer until it is. (Start this step around the time you’ve stirred the potatoes & carrots for the second time.)

Meanwhile, put the beans in a small roasting pan and add a couple of cloves of minced garlic, olive oil, salt, and pepper. Stir it all together. When the potatoes have cooked for 45 minutes, take them out of the oven. Add a splash of olive oil and the rosemary to the potatoes. Stir. Put both the potatoes and beans back in the oven for 15 minutes.IMG_0700

If you want, you can take the chicken out of the sauce, boil the sauce down, and make a thicker version. Myself, I just plated everything up and ladled a little of the sauce over the chicken and splashed the beans with it. Making the liquid into an actual sauce would be very tasty, though. If you take the time to reduce the sauce, throw the chicken back in there at the end for a minute to warm it back up.

You’ll end up with something like this. Looks tasty, no?

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Torn Between Two Recipes… (Roast chicken with asparagus, fontina, and tomatoes)

After you’ve been cooking for yourself for awhile, you’ll start to notice flavors and flavor combinations that you especially like. You’ll find yourself collecting recipes that mirror those likes. Since you like them so much, they’re pleasurable – and since they’re similar, it occasionally starts blending together.

If you remember from back over on The Naked Vine, on one of our New Year’s Eves, the Sweet Partner in Crime went nuts with Giuliano Hazan’s “Every Night Italian.” We worked our way through great chunks of that cookbook, and there were two recipes we really liked: “Grilled chicken breast stuffed with asparagus and fontina” and “Chicken Breast Fillets Rolled with Pancetta, Rosemary, and Sage.”

When we went to the store, we ended up getting a mishmash of ingredients. We did get the chicken breasts, but we ended up with prosciutto instead of pancetta, asparagus, fontina, and some random grape tomatoes.
IMG_0694First off, the actual recipe called for wrapping these things up and grilling. But two things prevented that: 1) I was tired and wanted no part of the grill that night, and 2) the chicken breasts, even after butterflying, were not easily rolled with the stuffing. Since everything was falling out anyway, we made two major adjustments: 1) cooking the chicken on stove instead of on the grill and 2) not rolling ingredients into cooked chicken....just putting everything on top instead.

Anyway, sans grill, we cooked the chicken in about 1 T of oil until slightly brown, about 3-4 minutes per side, adding the prosciutto halfway through. We then essentially braised the chicken and prosciutto (with lid on) in 3/4 cup of white wine until more or less done (about 10-15 minutes). At that point, all the wine had cooked off or cooked into the chicken (yummy). We also "pre-cooked" the asparagus in a skillet on high heat with a cup of water and salt for 4-5 minutes, then drained it. We added the cheese, asparagus and tomatoes to the chicken and put the whole thing under the broiler for about 3-5 minutes. 

If you're following this recipe, at this point, take it out and check for done-ness.
If it’s done, then plate it up, crack a bottle of light Italian red, and go to town.

The moral of this story isn’t that you need to make sure you have every ingredient you need clearly listed when you head to the store. It’s that when you start to figure out the tastes you like, you can grab things you like (in our case, chicken, tomatoes, asparagus) and cobble something together that both looks and tastes good when you’re pressed for time. Whether you’ve had a tiring day at the office or made a last minute dinner invite, trust what you like and you won’t go wrong.

(Many thanks to the SPinC for some corrections to the recipe.)