Sunday, May 30, 2010

Grilled chicken shish kebob

 This is a super easy meal to make on the grill—just right for a warm summer night. The hardest part is the prep work, and even that is truly not hard. I like to use boneless chicken breasts with onions and sweet peppers (in every color I can find!!), but you could add mushrooms or tomatoes, or even omit the vegetables completely to suit your taste.

I buy the boneless breasts whole, then cut them to size myself. The only trick is making sure the kebobs are evenly sized so they cook through at the same time. I also marinate the chicken in olive oil, vinegar and spices.
Here's what you need for the marinade:
1/2 cup of olive oil
1/4 cup of white wine or champagne vinegar (I use Trader Joe's orange muscat champagne vinegar)
Salt, pepper, rosemary and thyme to taste.

Whisk the marinade ingredients together, then pour over the chicken. Marinate for at least 2 hours.
I typically marinate meats in large Ziploc bags. It's easy and the clean up is a snap. I don't marinate the vegetables simply because I like my vegies on the crisp side, and I also like to taste my vegetables, especially when they are in season and loaded with their own delicious flavor.
I failed to mention that you also need some good metal skewers. A dozen is a nice amount to have on hand. You can also use the wooden skewers they sell at the grocery store, but honestly, I never have figured out how to use those without setting them on fire. The metal are inexpensive, easy to use and best of all, you will always have them.

Okay. When you are ready to cook, simply skewer the meat and vegetables, alternating so that each skewer has a little bit of everything. You can layer your meat and vegies in a pattern or not, whatever makes you happy.
Grill for a total of about 10 minutes. Our grill has one setting: Fire. For reasons I don't understand, we cannot adjust the temperature, but it doesn't matter, it works. If you like a little less charring on the edges, you might want to set your grill to a medium-high or medium temperature depending on how it cooks.
We've already had this meal twice in the last three weeks. I serve it with rice and either a green vegetable or a salad. Enjoy! It's fast becoming a family favorite.

Thursday, May 27, 2010


This post comes to you from the road! Our family vacation this year is a roadtrip to Peachtree City, GA, where we are doing our best to bike as many of the 90 miles of golf cart paths around which the town was planned. Which also means I am doing very little cooking. But I did bring a large bag of rolled oats, cinnamon, honey and brown sugar on the road and each night I've made a large batch of granola that gets packed in our panniers, alongside small cartons of yogurt and bananas, making for a delicious snack that packs a healthy energy boost for a pack of boys on the go. The recipe is so simple that you can make it in about 20 minutes and it is sure to please a sweet tooth any time of day.

(Sorry though, no pictures with this post as I can't seem to figure out how to download them to this borrowed laptop.)

You will need:

2 cups rolled oats
1/4 cup ground flax meal
1/4 cup wheat germ
1/2 cup almond slices
1 teaspoon salt
1 Tablespoon cinnamon
3 Tablespoons vegetable oil
1/3 cup honey
1/4 cup brown sugar
other dried fruit as desired
(I have successfully made this with reduced honey and brown sugar but it will not clump as well. This recipe makes a a granola with a very satisfying crunch.)

Pre-heat the oven to 350 degrees.
Mix the oats, flax and wheat germ together and spread on a non-stick baking sheet.
In a small pot on the stove, mix the salt, cinnamon, vegetable oil, honey and brown sugar and heat until the brown sugar is fully dissolved.
Pour the wet ingredients over the oats and mix well then cook for about ten minutes, stirring occasionally to avoid burning.
Then, sprinkle the almonds over the mixture and cook for an additional 10-15 minutes.
Remove oats from oven and allow to cool for a few minutes before adding the dried fruit.
Press the granola together to form small clumps.

Serve with milk or yogurt.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Chicken loaf

I have recently gone back to some meat eating. I am only eating organic, free range, hormone and antibiotic free. It still is only about 25% of my weekly protein, because of the expense. However, to me, it is worth the price.

As a result, this recipe has been revived in our household. It used to be an old standby and is actually a very healthy recipe, considering the source. Don't be mistaken, this is in no way a traditional "meatloaf".

This recipe is from Emeril's Louisiana Real & Rustic cookbook. I adapted it for our family, because I have no need for a loaf that takes 2 and 1/2 pounds of meat! It isn't super spicy, despite the cayenne and tabasco, but little tongues might not appreciate it. This might be better for a grown-up night, because those flavors truly make this loaf.

1 lb ground chicken or turkey (I used ground turkey breast)
1/2 c chopped onion
1 T chopped garlic
1/4 c chopped celery
1/4 c chopped bell peppers
1 T chopped parsley
1 egg
1 tsp salt
1/4 tsp ground pepper
1/2 tsp cayenne
1/4 tsp Worcestershire sauce
1/8 tsp Tabasco
1/2 c dried bread crumbs

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
2. Combine the chicken/turkey, garlic, celery, bell peppers and parsley together in a mixing bowl.
3. Add the egg, salt, black pepper, cayenne, Worcestershire, Tabasco and bread crumbs. Using your hands, mix thoroughly. Mold the mixture into a 5 x 10 inch loaf and place on a baking sheet lined with aluminum foil. Bake for one hour, or until juices run clear.
4. Remove from oven and let stand for 10 minutes before slicing to serve.

Um... Bam.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Eggplant marinara

This may be one of the easiest, most delicious and satisfying meals I've ever made.

In our efforts to eat less and less meat (we're cutting our consumption down to 2-3 times per week), I have been experimenting with new-to-me foods.

Eggplant isn't necessarily new to me, I've eaten it many, many times. I've just not ever prepared it.

It's astonishingly easy to prepare. And super healthy. A whole, unpeeled eggplant (which I can easily eat myself) has 19 grams of fiber and 6 grams of protein. It's also loaded with a some good vitamins as well. And because it's so filling, it's a satisfying substitute for meat.

My sister, who told me how to make this dish, advised salting the eggplant first. She said she's made eggplant both ways (salting and without salting) and she always regrets not salting. According to my cooking Bible, The Joy of Cooking, salting is not always necessary. And the Google U answers were mixed.

I erred on the side of caution and salted. Salting eggplant draws out the bitter juices that eggplant is sometimes known for.

First, I washed my eggplants but did not peel them. I sliced them into rounds and generously salted (with Kosher salt) them. I layered them in a colander and placed a plate on top of them which I weighted with a heavy can.

I let them salt (aka sweating) for half an hour. My sister tells me another option is to salt them and place them in a Ziploc baggie in the fridge and let them salt for several hours. I'll probably do that next time.

Next, thoroughly rinse them to remove all the salt. Some of my slices were not rinsed all the way and definitely tasted too salty.

Then, I put some minced garlic in olive oil and brushed that on top of my eggplant rounds.

I placed them in the oven at 400 degrees and let them bake until they were soft. Maybe about 15 minutes. It doesn't matter how long you bake them. It's a vegetable - bake them till they look/feel like what works for you.

Meanwhile, at some point make some marinara sauce (or open a jar - whatever suits you). I make a simple marinara by sauteing fresh onions and garlic in olive oil, adding tomato sauce and "Italian" herbs (like basil and oregano), and just letting it simmer.

Serve warm, sprinkle with Parmesan cheese, and enjoy.

We loved this dish so much it's going into frequent rotation.

Monday, May 24, 2010

Beef and bean chili

Yes, it's true. I'm Texan and I put beans in my chili. Purists will recoil, but they don't have to feed five people using organic beef on a budget. Beans add bulk, flavor, and nutrition, and they are very, very cheap. Viven los frijoles!

Brown about a pound of beef in oil (I also add about a half cup of water) with one medium-sized chopped onion and a couple of cloves of garlic. When the beef is thoroughly browned and crumbled, cover it, visually speaking, with several shakes of chili powder. You'll need to do this to the level of spice that you can bear. I probably end up putting a few tablespoons in. A couple of shakes of cumin (about the equivalent of maybe a tablespoon), and salt and pepper to taste. Stir it up nicely and let simmer for a few minutes.

Then add a couple of cans of tomatoes stewed with poblano peppers. Here we use RoTel, which comes in regular or spicy, but any kind of canned chopped tomatoes with poblanos will do, or separate cans of each. I drain the cans first or the chili gets too acidy. Stir that in, then add in one or two cans of pinto beans. Please do not use kidney beans or I will have to come to your house, confiscate the "chili," and turn you into the Tex-Mex police for violation of Code 7.21, "Thou Shalt Not Use Kidney Beans in Any Dish Purporting to Be of Mexican or Tex-Mex Origin." Next in the code comes 7.22, which reads, "Black Olives Are Not Really Part of Tex-Mex or Mexican Cuisine."

At this point, I rinse the each can by filling it about a quarter to a third full with good water, swirling it, and then depositing the liquid into the chili, too. This gives it a good consistency for serving over rice, etc.

Stir it up. Let it simmer for about a half hour, stirring occasionally. We serve this over steamed rice or bean and cheese tamales or regular tamales, with cheese sprinkled on top (colby/jack mix is our choice) and corn chips--decent ones--on the side. It's satisfying as it can be, and with the beans added, you might just get two dinners' worth out of it for your family.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Quick braised chicken with rosemary and new potatoes

I love borrowing cookbooks from the library. (I've been known to read them like novels, especially as some light bedtime reading.) One of the books I currently have out is The Deen Bros. Take It Easy: Quick and Affordable Meals the Whole Family Will Love by Jamie and Bobby Deen, sons of Paula. 

Like their mom, the Deen brothers are food celebrities in their own right. The premise of their cookbook is that, while their mother's food is delicious and the centerpiece of their family life and livelihoods, their schedules don't often allow for the slow Southern way of cooking. Jamie and Bobby Deen strive to give their readers - and their mama's fans - the same down home goodness in less than 45 minutes of preparation.

Jamie and Bobby live up to expectations in Take It Easy. There's something for everyone in this book - yes, even the vegetarian! - although many of the recipes draw (or should that be drawl? :) on their Southern heritage. Recipes abound for meat, poultry, fish, pasta dishes, crockpot meals, main-course salads, kid-friendly foods (Jamie has a 3 year old, so he knows toddlers' picky tastebuds) and of course, desserts.  All the photographs are beautiful and written in such a style that you just want to sit down at the table with the Deen family for dinner and listen to them talk.

Here's one of the recipes from the book that the kids and I enjoyed on a night that The Husband was working late (he doesn't eat meat, so I usually make a chicken dish on those evenings).

Quick Braised Chicken with Rosemary and New Potatoes

3 pounds chicken legs, cut into thighs and drumsticks (or just use one or the other)
2 Teaspoons salt, plus additional for seasoning
1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper, plus additional for seasoning
1 pound small new red potatoes, cut into eighths
3 tablespoons olive oil
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 1/2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice
1 tablespoon chopped fresh rosemary or 1 teaspoon dried rosemary

1. Preheat the oven to 400°F.

2. In a small bowl, whisk together the 2 teaspoons salt, 1 teaspoon pepper, the olive oil, garlic, lemon juice, and rosemary.

3. Place the chicken in a large broiler-proof baking pan and season with additional salt and pepper. Add the potatoes to the pan. Pour the rosemary mixture over the chicken and potatoes and toss to coat.

(My note: you will notice that I forgot the potatoes, and didn't have any new potatoes on hand.  Fortunately, I had some canned potatoes in the pantry. Not ideal, but better than nothing.)

4. Cover the pan with aluminum foil and bake for 30 minutes. Uncover the pan and transfer to the broiler. Broil, 4 inches from the heat, for about 10 minutes, or until the juices run clear when the chicken is pricked with a fork. Serve hot, with pan juices spooned on top. (my note: this needed a little more cooking time in my oven ... at the 45 minute mark, it seemed more done).

The chicken in the other pan was used as my lunch and the kids' dinner the next day. It was easier to cook the entire package of chicken legs instead of freezing the ones I didn't use.

The kids and I enjoyed this very much. It was really simple and will be a good dinner to make whenever chicken legs happen to be on sale.

Monday, May 17, 2010

Marinated flank steak

A lot of years ago, my mother used to make grilled flank steak. Then it fell out of her rotation, maybe fell out of favor for some reason, and I forgot about it. After all, it's not the tenderest cut of meat and if you are having steak, there are other, better melt-in-your-mouth choices.

Then, not too long ago, a friend shared a recipe for a flank steak marinade and I decided to give it a try.

The end result: flank steak transformed. The key to this cut of meat is the marinade. It needs it. For tenderizing and flavoring. And when handled properly, the end result very well will melt in your mouth. It's become a favorite at our table during the "grilling" season and since a two pound cut will feed about four adults and one small boy, it's an affordable alternative to filet mignon or NY strip steaks.

Here's what you need to marinate a 2-pound flank steak:

1 small onion, diced
3 garlic cloves, minced
1/2 cup of olive oil
1/4 cup of white wine vinegar
2 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce
2 teaspoons of sugar
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon pepper

Mix up the marinade in a bowl, making sure the ingredients are well-blended. I like to marinate meats in large Ziploc bags because they are easy to flip and turn and they keep the meat nicely coated. So... 

Put your steak in a bag. Then pour the marinade on top. Zip the bag closed, letting out the excess air. Now knead the bag gently with your hands to make sure the meat is nicely coated.

Trust me when I tell you to marinate the steak at least 8 hours or overnight. Put it in a shallow bowl and stick it in the fridge. Every few hours or so, give the bag a flip. Then forget about it. You probably aren't eating this until tomorrow anyway (unless, of course, you got up at dawn to shop and make your marinade.)

When you're ready...

Fire up the grill. This really needs to be cooked outside. I think you could probably do it under the broiler, but you won't get that charred, crispy coating and frankly, I think that's the best part.

Grill about 7-8 minutes per side. Please don't overcook it. The meat will continue to cook for a bit once you take it off the grill, so keep that in mind. Cut meat diagonally across the grain.

I usually keep this dinner simple. Some green beans, mashed potatoes, a light salad—perfect for a warm evening.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Spicy Garbanzos

You guys! I made this recipe twice in the last two weeks. But did I manage to take even one picture of it? Noooooooo. Of course not. Even though I knew I was going to want to write about it here. Even though I knew I was going to want to write about it here this week.

Sigh. Yes, that's what it's been like around here lately.

And so, for my penance, I'm going to give you more bang for your blogging buck and provide you with not one but two sorta-different versions of this recipe. The first is from the Weight Watchers Fast & Fabulous Cookbook; I used to make all it the time back some years ago when I was doing Weight Watchers online and found this book down in my mother's basement. I continued to make it long after I'd stopped doing Weight Watchers online (or anywhere else), because I loved it so much.

And then there's the second version, the one I "created" just last week when I realized I needed a quick, easy, slow-cooker-based vegetarian potluck recipe using the ingredients I had around the house. It was--if I do say so mayself--even better than the original. Or, at least, definitely just as good. But I warn you: It may be the world's least precise recipe ever.

So let's start with the one that uses measurements and such. You know, the one written by real recipe writers, and not harried mothers.

Weight Watchers' Spicy Garbanzos

1 teaspoon vegetable oil
1/4 cup diced onion
1 garlic clove, minced
1/2 cup chopped green bell peper
1/2 teaspoon chili powder
1/8 teaspoon ground cumin
3/4 cup canned crushed tomatoes
1/2 cup water
Dash of hot sauce
12 ounces drained canned garbanzo beans
1/8 teaspoon each salt and pepper

1. Heat oil in saucepan; add onion and garlic, and saute until onion is softened.

2. Add green pepper; saute for five minutes longer.

3. Stir in chili powder and cumin.

4. Add tomatoes, water, and hot sauce; cover and let simmer for 10 minutes.

5. Stir in garbanzo beans, salt, and pepper, and let simmer, uncovered, until beans are heated through and sauce is slightly thickened, about 10 minutes longer.

Couldn't be easier, right? Wrong! This is easier.

TC's Slow-Cooked, Perfect-for-a-Potluck Spicy Garbanzos

3 cans of garbanzo beans (or more...or fewer...depends on how many people you want to feed)
1 big can of diced or whole tomatoes (whatever you have in your pantry)
Frozen corn
About a teaspoon or so of minced or chopped garlic (I use the premade stuff in a jar that I keep in the fridge for when I don't have time to chop and/or mince)
Chili powder
Ground cumin
Ground coriander (because I have a baggie full of coriander I ground myself from cilantro that went to seed in my garden; it's been in my freezer for I-don't-want-to-say-how-long, and I use it in whatever recipe could possibly support it; this one supports it nicely)
Hot sauce (my husband's all about the sriracha these days, so that's what I have on hand)
Salt (I use kosher in pretty much all my cooking)
Freshly ground pepper

1. Drain the garbanzo beans; throw them into the slow cooker.

2. Open the tomatoes; throw them into the slow cooker.

3. Dump a bunch of frozen corn into the slow cooker. I have literally no idea how much; I do it by eye, stirring the stuff around until it looks right.

4. Add the garlic, chili, cumin, coriander, hot sauce, salt and papper. Again, I do this entirely by eye--or maybe I should say by feel. I know I like a lot of cumin and coriander, for instance, and enough pepper so that you can taste it. I know that you need more kosher salt than you'd think, but that too much is not good. I know that my husband will add more hot sauce, so I don't have to overdo. That sort of thing.

5. If the whole mixture looks dry, add a little bit of water; you don't need much water when you're cooking in a slow cooker, though.

6. Cook on high for no more than three hours, if that long.

7. When I go to a potluck, I just take it in the crockery part of the slow cooker with me, and I'm done with it. When I serve it to myself at home, I like to put it over brown rice or sticky sushi rice...or, really, whatever leftover rice I have around so I don't have to go to the trouble of firing up the rice cooker. I'm all about the lazy.

I made these substitutions, by the way, so that I don't have to do any real prep work--no dicing or slicing needed. In fact, one of the potlucks I brought this to was at my workplace; I threw all the ingredients into the slow cooker in the morning in under five minutes, put the whole thing in my car, and plugged it in in my friend's office--where it cooked all morning long and was absolutely perfect when lunchtime rolled around.

So now I feel comfortable saying that it could not be easier. Also? It could not be more delicious.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Pizza crust

To me, there is nothing better than homemade pizza. It beats any delivery pizza out there. But, the trick is to get a good crust by having a pizza stone (or unfinished tiles), a hot, hot oven and letting the dough rest long enough.

1 pkg active dry yeast
1 tsp sugar
1/2 c warm water
1 and 1/4 c all-purpose flour
1/4 tsp kosher salt
2 tsp yellow cornmeal

Dissolve yeast & sugar in 1/2 c warm water in large bowl; let stand 5 minutes. Gradually stir in flour and salt into yeast mixture to form soft dough. Turn out onto lightly floured surface. Knead 5 minutes. Add more flour, if necessary.
Place in bowl, coat with oil. Cover & let rise at least 1 hour or until doubled in size. (press dough; if indent stays, dough is risen enough)
Punch dough down, cover & let rest 5 minutes. Sprinkle pizza stone with cornmeal. Roll into circle onto lightly floured surface (or I prefer to roll it right on the pizza stone).
Preheat to 450 degrees. Place on lowest oven rack, bake 10 minutes or until golden. Remove, top with sauce, toppings & cheese. Increase to 500 degrees. Bake 5-7 minutes on lowest rack, until cheese is lightly browned.
Rest 5 minutes before serving. Mmmmmmm.

Monday, May 10, 2010

Feta- and jalapeno-stuffed, bacon-wrapped pork loin with scalloped potatoes

I know there's been a lot of pork around here lately, but it's what I have scheduled to give you today,'s some more pork. Lots of it, actually. As Homer Simpson would say, it is indeed a wonderful, magical animal.

You'll need a nice pork loin, some feta, some pickled, diced jalapenos, and some good bacon. Slice the loin almost completely through lengthwise, but leave the two halves just attached. Mix together until well combined about a third of a cup of feta cheese with about a quarter of a cup of jalapenos (adjust this to your spicy, adventurous tastes). Put this mixture into the pork loin groove, filling it from end to end. Then take the bacon--I end up using about six slices--and tightly wrap it around the loin. The final result looks unfortunately like a large, meaty caterpillar, but I promise, it's good.

We don't grill much because it's hot here, so we just do this one in the oven. I cover it with foil or a good lid and have it at about 425-450 F until the meat thermometer confirms it's at a temperature suitable for pork (about ~160-170 degrees internally)--maybe about an hour, depending on the heft of the loin. Once it's hit that temperature goal, I remove the foil or lid and let it crisp a bit because the bacon's better that way.

I served this up last time with scalloped potatoes that I baked at the same time. To make these, I sliced small, peeled Yukon golds into 1/8 inch slices and layered them in a buttered baking dish as follows: potatoes, salt, pepper, bit o' olive oil, grated cheese (your choice; I like gruyere when I have it) until I was out of potatoes. Then, I mixed in a separate bowl about a half cup to a cup of whole cream or half 'n' half with another half cup or so of the grated cheese and pour on top. Your amount will vary with how much you're making. My goal is to get the liquid at least halfway up the depth of the potatoes. Cover with foil or a good lid and bake until potatoes are tender. Remove foil or lid and let the cheese that's on top get a nice golden-brown color.

Slice the loin, spoon out the potatoes, make a good salad to go with it...and you're done. The feta with the jalapenos, bacon, and tender loin is simply a taste sensation.

Thursday, May 6, 2010

Coconut cream pork with apples

In 2007 my family switched from store-bought meat to buying in bulk directly from the farm once a year. That first season when we unloaded the coolers full of meat into our newly purchased chest freezer, I looked down on all the bundles neatly wrapped in butcher paper with a mixture of satisfaction and uneasiness. I was going to have to cook all that meat. Not only that but I had never cooked most of the cuts before. I didn't even know what some of those cuts were! One such cut was simply labeled: Ham. Now I know what a ham is, but this piece of meat was not cured and it looked nothing like the ham that my mother traditionally served up every Christmas. It looked more like a big steak. After lots and lots of trial and error, I finally developed this recipe and it has won a spot in the family cookbook because I've found that everyone, even our pickiest eater, will eat it.

I'm including a picture of the meat, pre-cooking, so that you can see what I'm working with. I'd love to know if anyone else has successful recipes for this cut. Every other thing I've tried has come out dry.
 For this recipe you will need:

2-3lb pork
1 large yellow onion, coarsely cut
4-5 crisp apples (I used Granny Smith), cut into small cubes
Lemon pepper
1 Tablespoon cinnamon
vegetable oil
1/2- 3/4 cup coconut cream/milk
3-4 slices bacon
1 Tablespoon light brown sugar (optional)
red pepper flakes

To begin, rinse the pork and pat dry. Rub lemon pepper well into both sides of the meat (I used about 3 Tablespoons), then place it in the middle of a glass 9x13 baking dish.  In a heavy skillet saute the onions in a tablespoon or so of vegetable oil until they are tender. Add the cubed apples and the cinnamon and cook for five minutes.
While the apples are cooking, place the bacon in strips over the top of the meat in the baking dish. I used un-cured bacon so I first tossed it with kosher salt and black pepper.

Spoon the onion and apple mixture over the meat, covering it completely. Spoon the coconut milk over the apples. Sprinkle with red pepper flakes and a bit of kosher salt if your lemon pepper doesn't already have salt in it (mine didn't).

Cook uncovered in the oven at 350 degrees for 1 hour.

After the first 45 minutes, use a spatula to move the apples and onions to the sides of the pan so that the bacon has a chance to brown up a bit.  While you have the oven open, sprinkle the the brown sugar over the meat and the apples. 

When the meat is done, remove the dish from the oven, place the meat on a large cutting board, trim and discard fat, then cut into small pieces. Finally, mix the meat with the apples and onion mixture. The resulting dish will be a nice mixture of sweet and peppery.

Serve with garlic fried rice.

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Tomato-basil panzanella

Here on this part of the East Coast, this weekend ushered in a burst of summertime weather typically more conducive to early August instead of early May.  It was downright HOT outside and I had zero interest in turning on the oven (or doing much cooking, truth be told).

I did, however, have a craving for one of my absolute favorite summertime dishes, a simple panzanella salad. That's a fancy way of saying "bread salad."  I could eat this as a meal and on Saturday night when everyone else in the family had leftover pizza, that's exactly what I did. 

My go-to-panzanella recipe comes from page 42 of Veggie Meals, by Rachael Ray. For Saturday's salad, I halved the ingredients since it was just me having the salad.  (The Husband and Boo sampled some of it.)  According to Rach, this serves 2 as a supper and 4 as a starter.

3 medium vine-ripe tomatoes, diced
20 leaves fresh basil, stacked, rolled into logs, then thinly sliced
1/2 pound fresh mozzarella, cubed into bite-size pieces (optional)
2 crusty, chewy rolls, cubed (day-old Italian is fine)
3 tbsps. extra-virgin olive oil (3 turns around the bowl)
1.5 tbsps red wine vinegar (a couple splashes)
coarse salt and black pepper, to taste

(My notes: on Thursday, I purchased some delicious breadsticks from the farmer's market.  They were already seasoned with basil and oregano, so I just added a little dried basil - didn't have fresh - to the salad.  The three breadsticks that I used were perfect, as they were the perfect amount of staleness for this.  I substituted some shredded mozzarella for the fresh.  Not quite the same, but in my book, any mozzarella is better than no mozzarella. Finally, I added in some diced cucumber.)

Combine all ingredients in a large bowl.  Let stand for 10 minutes to allow bread to absorb juices, then serve.

Seriously, could this be any easier? (No, it really couldn't.) Plus, it is especially delicious the next day, after the flavors have had time to blend overnight ... and you can make this in advance for any summertime get-togethers or when you need a simple dinner.

Monday, May 3, 2010

Bubbly cheddar tomatoes/Roasted vegetable and cheese canapes

A couple weeks ago, I went to a demonstration class at the local Viking Culinary Center. On the menu: five great appetizers. I don't make a lot of appetizers when I entertain—I might throw together a cheese platter and some fresh vegies, hummus and pita, maybe a selection of olives, but I've never really considered myself an "appetizer" sort of gal. I'm really more about the main course—and dessert.

But it was a fun night and the recipes were fairly simple and easy to prepare. So, when my friend—who also attended the class—suggested we make two of the appetizers for a recent family party, I grabbed my camera and my wooden spoon and got to work.

Bubbly Cheddar Tomatoes

40 large cherry tomatoes
3 oz of aged cheddar cheese, cut into 1/4 inch cubes
1/4 cup prepared pesto
1/4 cup crushed herb croutons
1 tablespoon melted butter
40 small shrimp: peeled, deveined, tail off

(Yes, I'm still allergic to shellfish, and can only say that it is perfectly fine to completely omit the shrimp from this recipe.)

Preheat the oven to 450 degrees. With a sharp knife, slice the tops off of each tomato and using a small spoon, remove the membrane and seeds from inside. Then slice a small piece off the bottom so that the tomatoes will sit flat without rolling.
Place the tomatoes on a baking sheet and then spoon in some pesto and top with a cube of cheese.

Combine the crushed croutons with the melted butter and sprinkle over the top of the tomatoes. Bake for 5 minutes or until bubbly.
While the tomatoes are baking, saute the shrimp in a bit of butter and garlic until pink. Top each tomato with a piece of shrimp. Serve warm.

Roasted vegetable and Boursin canapes

1/2 of a small red bell pepper, finely diced
1/2 of a small red onion, finely diced
1/2 of a small eggplant, finely diced
1/2 of a medium zucchini, finely diced
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
salt and pepper to taste
15 frozen miniature phyllo tart shells
a small container of Boursin cheese
chopped fresh basil (for garnish)

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Combine the bell pepper, onion, eggplant and zucchini in a bowl. Drizzle with olive oil, salt and pepper and mix well.
Spread the vegies out in a shallow roasting pan and roast for about 20 minutes or until tender and golden brown.
Place the frozen pyhllo shells on a baking sheet and fill each cup with about a teaspoon of the Boursin cheese.
Top with the vegetables and bake for about 8 to 10 minutes, or until the shells are a light golden brown. Garnish with fresh basil and serve either warm or at room temperature.