Saturday, July 30, 2011

Peanut Chicken Kabobs, Cucumber Salad, Quinoa Pilaf, and Chocolate Pudding

It's still summer, so hopefully your grill is still out and feeling the love.  You can make just about everything here ahead of time, and reheat the quinoa at the last minute. We love your comments, whether they are in person, by email, or on Facebook.  Please leave us comments on the blog as well, as we want to know if things worked really well, or you tweaked the recipe, or it was a total flop.  It keeps us motivated!

Peanut Chicken Kabobs
These are so yummy on the grill. I used dark soy sauce to make them, so the marinade came out darker than usual.  I like to reserve some of the excess marinade, heat it over the stove, and use it as extra sauce. We usually serve it with rice, or in this case, Quinoa Pilaf, below.  It's also great with Ginger Noodles.  This was a huge hit with Claire's family. 

Before tossing them on the grill...
2-4 chicken breasts, cut into kabob-sized chunks
1 c peanuts
2 T coriander seeds
2 cloves garlic
1 tsp red pepper
1 c green onions
3 T lemon juice
1/4 c soy sauce
2 T brown sugar
1/2 tsp pepper
1/2 c butter, melted
1/2 c chicken broth

Place all ingredients (except the chicken) into a blender or food processor until the peanuts are ground to your liking. Do it in batches if necessary. In a mixing bowl, let the chicken sit in the marinade for a few minutes while you slice other ingredients for the kabobs, such as zucchini, onions, or peppers. Load the chicken onto pre-soaked wooden skewers (to prevent burning), alternating with whatever other ingredients you have. Grill until the chicken is tender.

Cucumber Salad
This gets better if it's allowed to sit for a few hours ahead of time to let the ingredients blend.  My daughter had 3 helpings.  My son loves the ginger.  It's a great, refreshing summer side dish.  The sesame oil and ginger give it an Asian flair, but it's not overwhelming, so you can pair it with non-Asian main courses as well. 

3-4 medium to large cucumbers, quartered lengthwise and then sliced into chunks.
2-3 radishes, julienned
1/2 tsp grated ginger
2 scallions, chopped

1/3 c rice wine vinegar
1/4 c canola oil (not olive oil)
1/2 tsp sesame oil
1 1/2 tsp sugar
salt to taste, about 1/2 to 1 tsp

In a small mixing bowl, add rice wine vinegar, sesame oil, sugar, and salt. Whisk in oil until emulsified. Toss with the other ingredients.

Quinoa Pilaf
Quinoa is high in protein, and has more flavor than couscous.  It's always good, but especially if you are tired of rice. Quinoa (keen-wah) is also a super fun word for kids to say. Nothing better than a silly meal.

Quinoa has a denser, chewier texture than couscous. 
1 1/2 c quinoa
1 small carrot, diced
1/2 c diced onion
1/2 c diced zucchini
1/2 c chopped spinach
1/2 tsp salt
2 3/4 c total liquid, either water or chicken stock

I steam it all in a rice cooker.  You can also cook it on the stovetop.  Bring all ingredients to a boil.  Turn the heat down to simmer, and cover with a lid.  Cook for 15 minutes, remove from heat, and allow to sit another 5 minutes before removing lid and fluffing with a fork.

Easy Chocolate Pudding
I love chocolate pudding, but I really hate the stuff that comes out of a box.  It's got a weird aftertaste.  This pudding takes about 10 minutes- really.  Claire made it while I was still wrangling kabobs, and the next thing I knew it was done.  It takes almost as long to make the kind out of a box, and this is so much healthier. Okay, so maybe that's going a bit too far. But it tastes better, and it's from scratch.

1/2 c sugar
1/2 c cocoa
1/8 t salt
1/3 c warm water
1 oz semisweet chocolate chips
       (this is about half of a 1/3 c measure)
2 c (total) milk or half-and-half
3 T cornstarch
1 1/2 tsp vanilla

Mix sugar, cocoa, and salt together in heavy saucepan. Gradually stir in water, making a smooth runny paste.  Bring to a boil while stirring constantly over med heat, then remove from heat.  Whisk in semisweet chocolate chips, and stir in  1 3/4 c half-and-half or milk.  In a separate bowl, whisk cornstarch and 1/2 c milk or half-and-half.  Whisk this paste into the chocolate mixture.  Stir contantly over medium heat until mixture begins to thicken.  Reduce heat and simmer for one minute. As mixture is cooling, add in vanilla. Serve with whipped cream and chocolate shavings.

My Trusty Little Friend
Meet my trusty little friend, my Cuisinart Mini-Prep. I have had this for about 10 years.  I pull it out every time I need to blend or food process something because, quite frankly, my larger Cuisinart is too heavy and cumbersome, and I have burnt out more than one blender so I am always nervous about using the blender. I keep this in a drawer, and it serves me well. Claire thought I should take a picture of it and include it on the blog, because I pretty much use it every time we cook.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Sweet and Sour Pork, Chinese Noodles, and Pear Custard Tart

Claire's been hankering for my Chinese noodles, so this week is an Asian post.  I take the rhythm and proportions of stir-fry somewhat for granted, but trying to write down these recipes has really forced me to think about it.  The order in which you do things is important.  Despite the implications of the term "stir-fry," you really cannot just throw everything into the pot and stir it all around.  Your veggies will be mush, and the meat won't be properly browned.  First, brown the meat. Don't be afraid to use oil, and don't stir it around for the first few minutes- it's got to brown! Next take the meat out, and set it aside. Heat oil, add garlic. Don't burn the garlic or it will ruin the flavor of your whole dish. Next add onions, and the firmer vegetables, like carrots or broccoli stems. When these are nearing tender, make a clearing in the center of the pan and add the meat.  NOW you can stir it all together. Add some chicken stock or water that's been mixed with a little cornstarch. (Or else you won't get a nice sauce to mix with your rice. Kids love this sauce!) At the very end, fold in the green onions. And spinach if you're obsessed with spinach like I am.

Homestyle Sweet and Sour Chicken or Pork
This sweet and sour recipe is not your thickly breaded sickly sweet sauce that you get at the grocery store or in bad Chinese restaurants. If that's your favorite, forget it and move on.  This is my mom's recipe.  You don't need to buy a jar of sauce with HFCS and who knows what else in it.  You just need ketchup. If you want to save some calories, you can skip the cornstarch and frying and just saute the pork (or chicken!) chunks first. But it won't taste as good.  Claire's oldest boy ate 4 helpings of this.  For lunch. 

1 1/2 lbs of pork or chicken, cut into 1" chunks
1/2  20 oz can pineapple chunks, 3/4 c juice reserved (I don't like to use the whole can- it's too much pineapple for my tastes.)
1 green pepper, cut into 1" chunks
1 carrot sliced diagonally into bite-sized pieces
1/2 onion, cut into 1" chunks
1 large clove of garlic, minced (about 2 tsp)
1/2 to 1 c cornstarch for dredging
1/2 c chicken stock
1/2 c ketchup
2 tsp sugar
salt to taste
1-2 green onions, diced
canola or vegetable oil for frying
Dredge the pork or chicken chunks in the cornstarch until they are coated and squeaky-feeling.  Heat the oil in a pan; use enough so that the meat can float a little.  It's hot enough when you flick a drop of water in it and it sizzles.  (Too cold and the meat will be greasy. Too hot and the meat will burn and be raw in the middle.)  Fry the meat chunks in batches, and as they finish, put them on a plate lined with a paper towel.

In a clean large saute pan or wok, heat 1 T of oil and add 1 tsp minced garlic. Add ketchup and whisk in 3/4 c reserved pineapple juice.  Add in soy sauce, sugar and a pinch of salt, taste. Adjust the seasonings to your liking.  BRing the sauce to a boil; it will thicken a little. Set aside.  Heat an additional 1 T of oil and add the rest of the minced garlic. Add the onion then the carrots. Stir until tender, adding a little liquid if necessary, then add green peppers and the meat.  Stir 1-2 tsp of cornstarch into the chicken stock, and add to the pot and saute until the sauce has thickened a little more. Fold in the scallions at the last minute and serve with your favorite rice.  (I like short grain sticky white rice.)

Chinese Stir-Fried Noodles
This is a go-to dish for us that uses up old veggies that can serve as a one-dish meal or as a side.  You can add chicken or beef or shrimp, but just cook that first, separately, and add at the end. I like to use Chinese noodles that are square and about the thickness of regular uncooked spaghetti.  Here, we can get them at the grocery store.  If you can't find them, you can substitute regular spaghetti noodles.  This is very popular with Claire's boys, although it took a backseat to the sweet and sour pork when we served it.
The noodles, if you look very closely, are square.
They cook very quickly.

1 carrot sliced thinly on the diagonal
2 heaping c total broccoli, zucchini, or sugar snap peas (or other vegetable except celery)
1 large handful chopped baby spinach leaves
1/2 onion, sliced into 1 inch pieces
2 tsp sesame oil
2-3 scallions, diced
2 T soy sauce
1 T cornstarch
1  c chicken stock or water
Chinese noodles, 1 package, cooked (about 12 oz uncooked)
salt to taste
dash white pepper (skip if you don't have it)

Boil the noodles al dente, about 3 1/2 minutes. Drain and set aside. Heat oil in a large wok or saute pan. Add the garlic. Add onions, then carrots.  Add a little liquid if it's too dry. Add the broccoli or sugar snap peas, then make a clearing in the center and add the noodles. (You can add cooked meat at this point if you are using meat.) Drizzle in the soy sauce and toss.  Add the cornstarch to the cup of chicken stock or water and stir, then add to the noodles. Add sesame oil and salt. Toss in the spinach and the green onions. Add a dash of white pepper, toss and serve.
It's tempting to add a lot of vegetables,
but you want the final proportions to work.

Purple flower courtesy of my daughter.

Pear Custard Tart with Macadamia Nuts
This was unbelievably good, and leaves you wanting another piece. It's a great dish for company, yet it doesn't take very long to prepare.  The macadamia nuts are a splurge, but worth it.

1/2 c butter, softened
3/4 c sugar
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
2/3 cup chopped macadamia nuts
3/4 c flour

1 package 8 oz. cream cheese, softened (reduced fat is fine)
1/2 cup sugar
1 egg
1 tsp vanilla
1 can 15 oz pear halves in heavy syrup
2 tsp sugar
2 tsp cinnamon

Cream butter and sugar.  Beat in flour & vanilla until combined.  Stir in nuts.  Press into greased 8 inch square baking pan.  Bake at 350 degrees for 20 minutes or until lightly browned.  Cool on wire rack for 15 minutes.  Increase oven heat to 375 degrees.

Beat cream cheese until smooth.  Add sugar, egg & vanilla.  Pour over crust.  Cut pears into 1/8" slices and arrange over filling.  Combine cinnamon and sugar and sprinkle over pears.  Bake at 375 degrees for 26 to 28 minutes.  Cool on wire rack for 45 minutes.  Cover and refrigerate for 2 hours before cutting.  (This is the most difficult part.

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Meatless Monday: Economical Spinach Pesto, Goat Cheese Croquettes, and S'mores Bars

My almost 9 year-old son asked whether or not vegans could wear wool.  I had to think about it, but it launched a whole conversation about vegetarianism, and I brought up the concept of Meatless Mondays.  The kids got really excited.  REALLY excited, to the point where it was almost disturbing. My son started talking about how we should do a whole meatless week at least once a year. My 5 year-old daughter was a little apprehensive about this, and asked, "But what about bacon???" I told her that we could probably live without bacon for a week. She's still skeptical. This week, coincidentally, Claire and I didn't really have any meat recipes anyway, so we decided to make it a meatless post. It's not a vegan post, so feel free to wear wool socks while you eat.

Goat Cheese Croquettes
I buy the cheese at Costco, where you can get a pound for about $6. These are unbelievably good. Freezing them for a bit before you fry them up helps them hold their shape a little better. Slice, dip, freeze, fry, eat.  That's really all there is to it.

With Balsamic Rooster Vinaigrette (recipe below).
I also added a few chopped scallions
and a handful of pistachios and ripe figs.
1-2 logs of Chevre cheese
1 - 2 cups bread crumbs, any type
canola oil for cooking

Slice the Chevre logs into 3/8 inch circles. Press each circle, front and back, into the bread crumbs and lay out on a plate. Put the plate in the freezer until you are just about ready to serve.   Heat enough oil in a small sautee pan so that the Chevre discs have enough to float. When the oil sizzles with a drop of water, carefully put the Chevre circles into the oil. Let them brown on one side, and flip after a few seconds.  You want the oil hot enough so that the cheese browns quickly. If you have it in the oil too long, it will melt and disintegrate. Serve immediately.

Balsamic Rooster Vinaigrette
Blanche, a co-worker who loves to cook, gave us this little hint for a nice variation from boring vinaigrette. The Rooster Sauce is easy to find in the Asian aisle, and just a few drops will not make the dressing spicy.  Keep this on file when you're tired of everything else, but once you've tried it it will become a go-to recipe.

1/3 c balsamic vinegar
2/3 c olive oil
1/2 tsp sugar or honey
2 squirts of Rooster sauce
1/4 tsp salt
freshly ground pepper

Shake or whisk all ingredients until emulsified.

Spinach Basil Pesto
When my boyfriend, now husband, and I were just out of college, we had a lot of strategies for stretching our dollar. At that time, fresh basil and pine nuts were specialty items and tended to be on the expensive side.  They can still be pretty pricey especially when out of season, and so one way to make the basil stretch is to use mostly spinach.  I also substitute sunflower seeds for pine nuts, and the flavor is still wonderful.  The spinach gives it a more saucey consistency, so I am able to use proportionately less oil. I've made an occasional batch with a handful of pistachios, which adds a wonderful fullness to the sauce. You can eyeball the ingredients.  My kids love this, and it also makes great dip!  Claire's boys listed this as one of their top three dinners. No joke.

1 cup fresh basil leaves
6 cups spinach leaves
3 cloves garlic, peeled
3/4 c sunflower seeds or pine nuts
1/4 cup olive oil
salt (don't skimp, but if the nuts are salted, don't overdo it)
freshly ground pepper

Chop the garlic finely in a food processor. Add the sunflower seeds or pine nuts and chop them with the garlic. You may need to add a little oil to get it to process well.  Take out half of the garlic/nut mixture and add in a handful or two of the spinach and basil leaves. Process in batches, adding oil as necessary, until the mixture is almost frothy. Salt and pepper to taste.  Drain and rinse your pasta, and put the pot back on the burner. Add the appropriate amount of pesto, and stir just for a minute before adding your cooked pasta and turning off the heat. Toss in fresh grated parmesan, and serve!
This is much lighter and less oily than traditional pesto.
It is more of a "sauce," yet retains that fresh basil nutty flavor.
I also like to use it as a pizza "sauce." The kids love it! 
Putting it together...
Tired of pasta?  Try these other tasty combinations... My recipe for Roasted Mini Sweet Peppers is on an earlier post,  I used regular sized red and yellow peppers this time.

Roasted Red Pepper and Goat Cheese Sandwich 
(with Spinach Pesto Spread)
Kale chips on the side!

Spinach Pesto and Roasted Sweet Pepper Pizza 
I added some pistachios and grated mozzarella cheese.  
This is also great with a combination of mozzarella and smoked Gruyere.

You can make your own dough, or in a pinch,
pre-made pizza dough is easily available at the grocery.
Kale Chips
You may find this hard to believe, but once you make these, it's hard to stop eating them.  They are crisp and light.  I like them just shy of burnt.  My kids LOVE them. My toddlers will jam fistfuls into their mouths. The basic premise is high heat, short time. My son reminded me to mention that it's better if you trim the stems, which don't crisp well.  And the flatter the kale, the better. 

I usually like them just a little more done than this.
The reason there are so few kale chips in the photo is
that we ate a lot of them between the oven and the table.
Wash and prepare kale by trimming off the stems and breaking the leaves into bite size pieces.  If you have Russian kale or another flat-leafed variety, you can use the whole leaf, but still trim the thick stem. Toss with a light drizzle of olive oil and arrange on a single layer on a baking sheet. Sprinkle with coarse sea salt. Bake at 450 degrees for 4-5 minutes, until they are dark green.  You can also broil on high for 4-5 minutes.

S'mores Cookie Bars
Claire found this recipe on another cooking blog, and we had to try them. You may want to just make two batches up front.

1/2 cup butter, room temperature
1/4 cup brown sugar
1/2 cup sugar
1 large egg
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 1/3 cups all purpose flour
3/4 cup graham cracker crumbs
1 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp salt
2 king-sized milk chocolate bars (e.g. Hershey’s)
1 1/2 cups marshmallow creme/fluff (not melted marshmallows)

Preheat oven to 350°F. Grease an 8-inch square baking pan. In a large bowl, cream together butter and sugar until light. Beat in egg and vanilla. In a small bowl, whisk together flour, graham cracker crumbs, baking powder and salt. Add to butter mixture and mix at a low speed until combined.
Divide dough in half and press half of dough into an even layer on the bottom of the prepared pan. Place chocolate bars over dough. 2 king-sized Hershey’s bars should fit perfectly side by side, but break the chocolate (if necessary) to get it to fit in a single layer no more than 1/4 inch thick. Spread chocolate with marshmallow creme or fluff. Place remaining dough in a single layer on top of the fluff (most easily achieved by flattening the dough into small shingles and laying them together).

Bake for 30 to 35 minutes, until lightly browned. Cool completely before cutting into bars.  Makes 16 cookie bars.

Huy Fong Sriracha Hot Chili Sauce (28oz)
Rooster sauce.

Saturday, July 2, 2011

Slow Cooked Ribs, Asian Slaw, and Easy Shortcake Biscuits

This was our Father's Day Dinner.  We went to the Farmers' Market, and the strawberries were half gone by the end of the night.  Something about this menu says "summer," even though it was a cloudy day.   Make the ribs and cole slaw ahead of time, and then it's only about 30-40 minutes to get everything together at the end. 

Slow-cooked, Dry Rub Baby Back Ribs

The dry rub is an adaptation of the Neely Family Seasoning Mix (Food Network).  It's simple and good.  You probably have the ingredients already.  I wanted a recipe that you could make in the oven, and not have to stand out in the rain attending to the grill or own a smoker. The meat was so tender.  Not a single rib left. You can speed up the cooking time by increasing the heat to 350 degrees. 

1 rack of baby back ribs

Dry Rub Mix (Neely's Dry Rub, slightly adapted)
    1/2 cup smoked paprika (original recipe calls for paprika)
    1/4 cup sugar
    1 Tbs onion powder

The night before, rub the dry rub mix into the ribs.  Keep refrigerated overnight.  Preheat the oven to 250 degrees. Place the ribs meat side down, bone side up on a baking sheet, covered in foil, into the oven for 3 1/2 hours. Remove foil and carefully flip the rack over so the meat side is now up. Bake another 1 hour uncovered.  

Look at that lovely, lovely crust.

Asian Cole Slaw with Spicy Thai Vinaigrette
adapted from Joe's Farm Grill via Guy Fieri
Use whatever you have on hand, and toss with dressing.  Being a "slaw," cabbage should probably be one of the priority ingredients.  You can also use napa cabbage, red cabbage, red pepper, or bean sprouts. The dressing has a list of ingredients a mile long, but it's complex and wonderful. The only thing I didn't have was mint leaves, so I left them out.   It's better if you make this ahead of time, like when you put the ribs in the oven, and then let it sit in the fridge so that the flavors can marry.  This is also great on sandwiches or turkey burgers. 

2 cups finely shredded cabbage
1/2 c matchstick cut carrots
1/2 c diagonally sliced sugar snap peas
2 scallions, diagonally cut
1/4 c cilantro, chopped
1/2 c spinach leaves, thinly sliced
1/2 yellow bell pepper, thinly sliced

Spicy Thai Vinaigrette

Combine the veggies in a large mixing bowl.  In a smaller mixing bowl, combine all the ingredients for the dressing except the canola oil.  While whisking, drizzle the canola oil into the other ingredients in a small stream until it is emulsified. Mix the dressing in with the veggies. 

Garlic and Parsley Potato Wedges aka Home Fries
You can't have ribs without some sort of potato to stick to them. And this was faster than potato salad.  The kids dipped theirs in ketchup.  I also added 1/2 c of chopped spinach to the mix, because I like to add spinach to everything. 

6 potatoes, cut into 1/2 inch wedges
Handful of carrots cut similar thickness
2 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 c chopped parsley
1 sliced leek or 1/4 c chopped onion
1/4 c olive oil or enough to lightly coat potatoes
salt and pepper

Toss all ingredients together and place in a single layer on a large baking sheet. Bake for 30 minutes at 350 degrees. Take out and turn.  To finish them off, broil on high for 3 minutes or until golden.

Orange Vinaigrette
No dinner is complete without at least two veggie side dishes.  And the potatoes don't count. I'm always looking for new salad dressings. The kids love ranch dressing, but ranch gets so boring. This one is a great salad dressing, quick to make with ingredients that are already on hand. Adapted from

  • 1/4 cup orange juice
  • 2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
  • 1 tablespoon Dijon-style prepared mustard
  • 2 teaspoons honey
  • 1/8 teaspoon ground black pepper
  • 1/8 tsp salt
  • 1/8 c olive oil

In a small mixing bowl, mix the all the ingredients together except the oil.  Whisk while drizzling the oil into the other ingredients until emulsified. 

Easy Shortcake Biscuits
My family used to sell fresh strawberries at our roadside stand.  In the spring, we had strawberries just about every night for dessert. We used to use Hungry Jack biscuits for our shortcake.  We would bake them with a small pat of butter and a sprinkle of granulated sugar. I used to love hearing the *pop* of that can.  I still use Hungry Jack biscuits, but my husband thinks this is weird. Unfortunately, many recipes call for buttermilk or shortening, and I just don't keep those on hand.  This recipe is quick and uses ingredients that you already have. It took me less than 10 minutes to put it all together, and 10 minutes to bake.  I garnished these with some cane sugar crystals. 

2 c flour
pinch salt
4 T sugar
4 tsp baking powder
1/2 c cold butter
3/4 c milk
1/2 tsp vanilla

Preheat oven to 450 degrees.  Whisk dry ingredients together in a medium mixing bowl.  Cut the butter into chunks and blend into the flour with your fingertips or a pastry cutter until the mixture resembles coarse cornmeal or breadcrumbs. Do this quickly so that the butter doesn't get too warm!  Blend the milk and vanilla mixture in with a fork just until the flour is moist.  Take large spoonfuls of dough (bigger than a golf ball, smaller than a baseball) and place on a greased baking sheet, about 1-2 inches apart.  Bake for 10 minutes. Makes 8 biscuits.

Something's missing here...
There we go.  We didn't have whip cream on hand,
but vanilla ice cream always saves the day.

Please leave any suggestions or comments!

Kuhn Rikon Vase Whisk, BlackNeelys Original BBQ SeasoningChili Garlic Sauce Huy Fong 16 Oz