Comfy Yum – This is How We Do It

Ooey, Gooey, Creamy, Cheesy, Crunchy, Buttery, Garlicky…got your attention?  Those words can be summed up by one – YUM!

As promised, I am sharing our last-night-of-winter-comfort-food-dinner: Asiago & Fontina Mac & Cheese. Or, should I call it -Sausage & Broccoli Mac & Cheese? Maybe – Crunchy-topped Asiago & Fontina Mac & Cheese with Turkey Italian Sausage and Fresh, Crisp Broccoli? I am not sure. What I am sure of, though, is that it satisfied that comfort food spot found deep in the soul. My whole family gobbled it up; and the other pan I was about to freeze for a quick warm-up dinner for my husband and kids, has been significantly eaten away every time I look in the fridge.

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Supermoon

Tonight is the night of the Supermoon. The night when the moon will be closer to the earth than it has been in more than 18 years.  At its peak, the supermoon of March may appear 14 percent larger and 30 percent brighter than a typical full moon. It is also the last day of winter. That is TRULY exciting! I may have mentioned before that I have a disdain for winter. Anyway, I felt we needed to celebrate.

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Date Night-In: Short Ribs

We’ve decided to forgo going out to eat for a while…

Though, we find “date night” to be really important. Day-to-day busyness and family responsibilities leave us wanting time and space to ourselves – as a couple…remember that? We really do have names that aren’t “Mom” & “Dad?”

But now, our date night is a weekly weeknight financial seminar that we are attending. What? That doesn’t sound romantic to you? Well, after the year(s) of economic H-E-Double- Hockey-Sticks we’ve experienced, becoming financially free sounds downright steamy to me. So, in the spirit of being financially careful and more responsible, we have stopped dining out for now. Though, after our seminars we’ve decided we will splurge and  go out for coffee, or a drink, or a dessert – on the cheap. And in lieu of date night dining out, I’ll be making a special dinner once a week, just for the two of us, at home.  Don’t worry – the kids won’t go hungry . . . I just make them something a little more their style, earlier.

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Breaking the Bottle Habit

Momma J's Ranch

I used to be one – a bottler. Long ago when I was a young mom and a newer cook, I used the bottle. The bottle of store-bought salad dressing. (DUN, DUN, DUN!!! – That’s scary music, in case you didn’t know. . .)

My daughter used to like Ranch dressing – a lot. She liked it with just about everything. She was not a picky eater to begin with, but once she discovered Ranch dressing – she wanted to dip everything into it.  My husband and I soon realized that she was not dipping anymore - instead the dip-ee was just becoming a vehicle for Ranch dressing to make its way into her mouth.  I wanted her to taste the foods she was eating, and not just the dressing. Since she did not start out a picky girl, I did not want to turn her into one. We cut her back and it was not offered or “available” as much. She ate without it (or much less) and she survived.

We used the bottle when I was growing up, too. My mom made some homemade dressing – Caesar salad was a specialty (coddled egg and all), and Roquefort dressing. One time, my mom accidentally served some dinner guests pancake batter as salad dressing, thinking it was her Roquefort; all the while telling them that it was her recipe. The looks on their faces were the tell-tale signs that something was wrong. The error was discovered and salads discarded.  We still laugh about that one.

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Summer Slackers Unite! (And Eat Salad.)

I’m a slacker.

Hey, it’s summer. You know? The lazy days of…? So, I’ve been lazy. Oh, I’ve been cooking- but being careful to measure, write down the recipes, take photos and blog? Nope. Not so much.  We have been leisurely eating dinner late, usually after sitting on the patio as the day winds down.  We’ve been eating well and I’m going to get back into the swing. Really I am.

I love summer and all it offers. Bountiful fresh fruit and vegetables, grilling, picnics and al fresco dining, salads of every kind.  Combine all of that then give me a cool drink and a hammock – bliss.

This salad uses both fresh yellow wax beans and green beans. It is light and goes alongside your choice of a grilled entrée or would be a welcome addition to any potluck table. Especially among a sea of white, gloppy creations, your fellow picnickers will thank you.

 

 

 

 

Yellow & Green Bean Salad with Two-Mustard Dressing

Serves 8

1 lb. fresh yellow wax beans, ends snapped off and strings removed

1 lb. fresh green beans, ends snapped off and strings removed

8 oz. grape tomatoes, halved

1 lg. shallot, cut in half & sliced thinly lengthwise (julienned)

*1/4 c. pine nuts, toasted (optional – see note)

Dressing:

1 tsp. whole-grain mustard

1 tsp. dijon mustard

1 tsp. honey

1 tsp. white balsamic vinegar

1 Tbsp. extra virgin olive oil

1/2 tsp. salt

freshly ground black pepper

Place a large pot of water on stove to boil.  Meanwhile, wash beans in colander. Once water is boiling, add about 1/2 Tbsp. of salt. Add beans and set colander aside. Boil in water until crisp-tender, about 5-7 minutes. Drain beans and run  very cold water over them, until they are completely cool. Let drain for several minutes, then pat dry with paper towels. Add to a large bowl, along with shallot, tomatoes and pine nuts, if using.

In a small bowl, whisk together dressing ingredients, mustards through the vinegar. Add salt & pepper. While whisking, slowly drizzle in olive oil. Whisk until thoroughly combined. Pour dressing over salad and toss to coat. Chill until ready to serve.

*Note – to toast nuts, place in a dry skillet over low heat, stirring occasionally, until fragrant and slightly golden. If serving salad several hours later, keep pine nuts out until ready to serve; toss to combine.

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This Sauce? Quite a Tomato!

 

I got an e-mail from my cousin.

She was requesting a recipe for a dip that I made for her bridal shower last year.  In addition, she asked if I had a good “Roasted Red Pepper Marinara” recipe.

Hold the phone.

“Should I?” I wondered. Weird feelings of inferiority began to set in…because I didn’t. But, the thought set the wheels in motion. “I do love  roasted peppers…and they would add a nice sweet element to a marinara sauce…but, it’s summer. I’m thinking grilling, rather than roasting”

Yeah, that’s it! That’s the ticket!

Grilled Marinara.

Of course! It makes perfect sense…summer; bumper crops of produce; grilling…delicious!

I ran over to my local farmstand and picked up some beautiful, fresh tomatoes and red peppers, brought them home, washed and cut them up and started grilling!

(On a side note, I also discovered that my favorite little stand from years past does not seem to be operating this year. This place was (is?) adorable. A little stand right in the person’s driveway with fresh homegrown produce harvested daily…and the very best sweet corn, I might add. The most adorable part, though? It was strictly on the honor system! Don’t you just love that?!?  Me too!  And now, sadly, it seems to be no more… I am grieving.)

If you are familiar with this blog, you probably know that I am a big fan of simple, but delicious food. I love using straightforward ingredients and blending flavors to get something that doesn’t need to be fussy. There is a place for complicated food (sometimes), it just usually is not in my kitchen. There are also times when things are overly thought over and ruined. I love creativity on a chef’s part, but sometimes it is just too much; too overwhelming to the senses and the palette.  I would rather have something with a few ingredients whose flavors play off and complement one another, and make me think, “Wow! Who knew (blank) could taste like this?”  For me, such is the case with this sauce. It is smoky and slighty sweet with just a very faint hint of heat.  It has some depth from a little bit of Pecorino Romano and is brought together by freshness  by the basil.  In other words: uncluttered, classic,  and absolutely delectable.

This sauce starts off with getting your grill fired up, (I do have a little bias about grilling – charcoal – there is nothing like the smoky flavor that it provides.) wash and cut up your vegetables – tomatoes, red peppers, sweet onion, and jalapeno.  Make a little garlic oil on the stove to brush on to your vegetables, make those babies look browned, blistered, and beautiful on the grill – and voila!- you are practically there! Blend it up, add your basil and cheese, adjust with a bit of salt and pepper and dinner is ready!  Oh yeah, cook some pasta sometime in between there; and throw together a salad.  There you go…DINNER!

The tomatoes get cored, seeded, and cut crosswise. To seed, just hold them over a bowl or a sink and poke a finger into the little pockets. The seeds and liquid will come out. If you are using a tomato raw, try to leave as much of this “filling” in, as it contains a lot of flavor and a ton of the Vitamin C; however, it would just come pouring out on the grill anyway and cause lots of unnecessary spattering and flare ups.

When I cut peppers, I always do it this way: Cut off the top and bottom. Save them, don’t throw them out! Sometimes the stem pops right out, or you can cut around it. Then, stand it up and cut down the sides, in between the membranes – let the “seams” be your guide. Then you are left with the inside, core and all, and you do not have to deal with those seeds flying everywhere – it is all contained in its own little package.  Take the sides and cut them up; but for this recipe, I left them in this size so I could easily grill them. I also used jalapeno in this dish.  Italian – no…but who cares. Aren’t we just a big melting pot, anyway? I wanted to add a bit of heat, and keeping with the grilled theme, I went for it.  Just a note, I would make this again using 2 or even 3 jalapenos next time.  For any nervous nellies: this only added a bit of background, not smoking hot at all, or even barely there. Go for it.

 Grill the tomatoes until they are just starting to singe and are blistering. Slip off the skins if they are coming loose – a sign that it is cooked. Pile up all the vegetables in a bowl, as you are grilling in batches to allow them to steam and continue cooking together, ensuring they are tender. I used a Vidalia onion, just in case it was not completely cooked through, it would still be sweet. This wasn’t an issue. I started out with the peppers and onions, allowing them more time to sit and steam together. I also cut the onion in half crosswise, and then sliced them in half moons, keeping them together as much as possible on the grill. (I do not own a grill basket.)  It worked great and they turned out lovely!

This sauce made enough to cover one pound of pasta, and enough for a second meal…I am thinking pizza? Anyway, divide in half, if you wish. (I wouldn’t, if I were you…it is too good.)

Grilled Marinara Sauce

5 lbs. tomatoes (about 15 medium) – cored, cut in half crosswise, and seeded

4 medium red bell peppers – cut in large chunks

1-2 jalapeno peppers, seeded and quartered

1 large sweet onion, cut in half moons

1/2 c. olive oil

4 cloves garlic, minced

1 cup basil, loosely packed

3/4 c. grated Pecorino Romano cheese

kosher salt

freshly ground black pepper

Prepare grill. Arrange vegetables in a single layer in a pan, cut sides facing up. Heat olive oil in small pan on stove top, over moderate heat. Heat until surface of oil is moving away from the center. Remove from heat, and while swirling pan gently, add minced garlic carefully. (It may spatter.) Brush oil over vegetables and season with salt and pepper.

When grill is ready, place peppers and onions cut side down, working in batches. Grill for about 5 minutes, or until softening and beginning to brown. Brush with additional garlic oil and turn over to grill. Allow to grill for an additional 3-5 minutes, or until cooked through. Move to a large bowl. Repeat process with tomatoes, allowing to grill about 3 minutes each side. Remove any loose skins and discard. Transfer to the large bowl when finished and let sit for 2-3 minutes. Place vegetables in the bowl of a food processor and puree, working in batches, transferring to a bowl or saucepan, as you work.  Add basil and cheese to last batch. Puree and mix in with the rest of the prepared sauce.  Adjust seasoning with salt and pepper; reheat slightly over stove, if necessary. Serve over pasta with additional Romano cheese.

 

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Summer Rolls…Make Me Feel Fine…

  

Ever since my kids were old enough to stand up on a chair pulled up at the counter, they have been helping me in the kitchen.  I am a firm believer in a few things:

Kids need to help out ’round the house 

Kids are more likely to eat what they have had a hand in preparing.

Less pickiness =good!

Knowing one’s way around the kitchen is a valuable, learned skill which utilizes and sharpens other skills such as: art & creativity, science, math, fine motor skills, hand-eye coordination, following directions, etc, etc!!!                                                     

Hanging out with your kids opens up opportunities for great conversation and connection, which is priceless.  

In other words…get your kids in the kitchen with you!  Give them age-appropriate, safe tasks and applaud them for their efforts (However it all turns out). They can tear up lettuce for the salad, or wash produce. They can pour, whisk, shake, whatever.  A big favorite in our house is to put clean, fresh herbs in a coffee mug, put the kitchen shears in, and while keeping the point down and in the cup, the wee ones use both hands to cut them up – almost like using pruning shears, pointing down.  They take turns with this task because they love to do it so much.  Ahhh, the little things! 

Summer has arrived in Chicagoland. We have had some very hot and humid days, and those days call for cool, light dinners. A favorite of ours that is fun to make and eat are (aptly) Summer Rolls.  The little ones love to help with these because they are made with rice paper that “magically” turns from hard and inflexible to soft and pliable only by a dip in some water. Don’t you wish some people were that easily transformed?  Oh no, you didn’t!  Yes, I did! 

 Plus, they look like giant fly eyes and that is cool, too. 

I adapted a recipe that I found in Food & Wine last summer. Their recipe is for deli roast beef, which does not appeal to me very much and I had some leftover grilled chicken. (I usually grill lots of extra chicken anytime I use it for future use – so much to do with cooked, shredded chicken!) I added a touch of sweetness with the mango, and think also peach or nectarine could sub quite nicely. If fruit with your meat is not your thing, just leave it out – no biggie. I love this recipe with the easy slaw filling and the refreshing dipping sauce. We love to make these and eat them, too.  Roll up your sleeves, get your kids in the kitchen with you and knock these babies out in 20 minutes! 

*These are also great for hors d’oeuvres – just quarter your rice paper after it has been soaked and roll up some minis. 

Regular size – serves 6. 

Chicken & Mango Summer Rolls 

1 large garlic clove, minced 

1 1/2 Tbsp. light brown sugar 

1 tsp. Thai green curry paste 

2 Tbsp. fresh lime juice 

2 Tbsp. Asian fish sauce 

1/4 c. chopped cilantro 

1/4 c. chopped mint 

1/3 c. mayonnaise 

1 (16 oz.) bag of coleslaw mix 

3/4 pound of cooked and shredded chicken 

1 large mango, peeled and chopped finely 

24 six-inch-round rice paper wrappers, plus more in case of breakage 

Whisk garlic, brown sugar, curry paste, lime juice, fish sauce and 3 Tbsp. of water together in a bowl. Add half  of the cilantro and the mint.  In a separate large bowl, mix mayonnaise with 1 Tbsp. of green curry dipping sauce. Add coleslaw mix, chicken and mango. Toss and reserve. 

Fill a pie plate, or sheet tray with warm water. One at a time, add 2 or 3 rice paper wrappers to the water until they have softened, about 1 minute. Carefully spread them out on a work surface and fill bottom 1/3 with about 3 Tbsp. of chicken-mango filling. Roll the wrappers into tight cylinders, tucking in sides as you go. Transfer rolls to waxed paper or plastic lined sheet pan and repeat with remaining wrappers. 

Just before serving, cut each roll in half and serve with dipping sauce.

                                                                                                        

 

The kiddos did great, didn’t they?

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