Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Skirt steak

Tonight's Menu

  • broiled skirt steak with roasted salsa verde
  • multigrain tortilla chips
  • green salad "bar"
Fajitas are a staple for us during the summer months, and I've discovered that while the kids don't usually like assembling and eating the actual fajitas (I know -- freaks!), they do love the meat and will happily scarf down large quantities of that on its own.

So, I prepared the skirt steak pretty much the way I do when I'm making fajitas -- rub on both sides with a prepared fajita spice rub, then whisk some fresh lime juice with EVOO and pour that over the steak, marinating for at least a couple of hours in the fridge (I put it in a large plastic zipper bag -- you could use any non-reactive container). But instead of grilling it for four minutes or so per side over high heat, I stuck it under the broiler for the same amount of time. Not QUITE as good as grilled, but pretty darn close! I sliced it very thin across the grain and the kids both had seconds. In fact, there were no leftovers, which is rare for us!

I actually made the salsa verde ahead of time and just stuck it in the fridge until dinner was ready. All I did was remove the papery husks from several tomatillos, give them a rinse, and stick them on a cookie sheet with a huge anaheim pepper (you could also use a poblano) and several unpeeled garlic cloves. Drizzle with EVOO and stick in the oven at 400 degrees F for about 20 minutes, or until they get soft and a teensy bit brownish. Let cool, then remove the stem and seeds from the pepper and the papery peel from the garlic cloves. Then just whizz it all up in a food processor, adding a bit of lime juice if you like, and a bit of EVOO, and seasoning with salt to taste. I wish I had put some cilantro in this too, but we were all out. Oh well, it was still very yummy! I actually served this alongside the meat, picking up forkfuls of each for every bite, but it's great with chips, too (we LOVE Tostitos Multigrain tortilla chips)(they are not paying me to say that, but they totally SHOULD).

Tonight's salad bar was mixed green lettuces (romaine and butter, I think?) along with grape tomatoes, sliced carrots, sliced cucumber, and julienned jicama. If you've never had jicama, give it a try! All you do is peel it (like a potato) and then cut it into whatever shapes you like. It's very crunchy and juicy and to my palate tastes like a cross between an apple and a raw potato. The girl thought it tasted a bit like celery, and the boy said it was similar to cucumber, but "without the tang". He must have liked it, though -- he ate a HUGE quantity of it!

Sunday, January 27, 2008

Delicious chicken

Tonight's Menu

  • roasted chicken thighs & drumsticks
  • roasted Brussels sprouts
  • green salad "bar"
Oh dudes. I loves me some chicken legs.

I had six thighs and six drumsticks (bone-in, skin-on in both cases). I rinsed them, patted them dry, stuck them in a roasting pan, sprinkled them liberally with coarse salt, gave them a few shakes of freshly ground pepper, scattered some fresh thyme leaves and snipped fresh rosemary on top, then roasted them at 425 degrees F for about 45 minutes. Perfection.

I got the Brussels sprouts recipe from a recent post on Slashfood. Except I did them at 425 degrees instead of 400, because I cooked them alongside the chicken. I should have knocked back the cooking time accordingly, but I didn't, and they were a bit overdone (but still edible, especially for someone like me who will eat damn near anything).

Tonight's salad bar was butter lettuce and radicchio with sliced baby carrots and grape tomatoes on the side.

Saturday, January 26, 2008

Lazy dinner

Tonight's Menu

  • slow-cooker barbecued pork on buns
  • leftover coleslaw
This could not have been easier if we'd ordered takeout. All I did was dump a pork roast (sirloin, I think? or shoulder? you could use any cut you like) into the slow cooker, pour a bottle of Carolina-style barbecue sauce on top, cover and cook on low for about 8 hours. When it's done just shred the meat with two forks and ladle some of the sauce on top. Serve with some sandwich buns and thinly sliced sweet onion, and Bob's your uncle.

The coleslaw was leftover from Wednesday.

The girl child ate a pork sandwich AND some coleslaw. Unbelievable! I don't know who kidnapped my daughter and replaced her with this changeling who actually LIKES TO EAT, but I'm sorry, I'm keeping this one.

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Crispy fishy

Tonight's Menu

  • pan-fried tilapia
  • coleslaw
  • leftover warm salad of caramelized veggies and spinach
Okay, so I was a little bored with my usual tilapia sauteed in EVOO and decided to try something a little different. It was a bit more time-consuming than usual but not at all difficult (because, you know, I don't DO difficult). Here are the steps as I went through them:
  1. Cut some boneless, skinless tilapia fillets in half lengthwise and put them in a shallow dish/pan of milk. Yes, milk. Stay with me here.
  2. Take another shallow dish/pan and put in some flour mixed with salt, pepper, dry mustard, dried dill, basically whatever herbs and spices your little heart desires.
  3. Take yet ANOTHER dish/pan (incidentally, pie pans and round cake pans work great for stuff like this), crack an egg into it, add about a tablespoon of water, and whisk to combine.
  4. Take a fourth dish/pan and pour a bunch of panko into it. (You should be able to find panko at your local market -- look in the Asian/ethnic food section or in the baking section with the bread crumbs and cornmeal and whatnot -- but if not you can order it from Amazon or some other online retailer.)
  5. Now you want to get a heavy-bottomed skillet with relatively high sides and pour in enough canola oil to cover the bottom about a half-inch deep. (You COULD do this in a deep-fryer, but deep-frying scares the hell out of me. I am a pan-fry kind of gal.) Heat the oil over medium-high heat for a couple of minutes.
  6. Okay, now the fun part! Take a (half) fillet out of the milk, dredge it in the seasoned flour, swish it in the egg mixture, then dredge it in the panko until it's entirely coated. Then oh-so-carefully place it into the hot oil.
  7. Repeat with other fillets, working in batches so as not to crowd the pan (that lowers the temperature of the oil and makes everything soggy). Watch fillets closely and turn when golden brown on the bottom (this only takes about 2-3 minutes, tops).
  8. Remove from pan when both sides are a nice, golden brown. Place on a plate lined with paper towels to drain.
That's all there is to it! It sounds like a lot of steps, but once you get all your little pans o' stuff ready it's an absolute breeze. The fish comes out moist on the inside and crispy-crunchy outside, not at all greasy, and because you made it from scratch, YOU control how much salt and fat is in this stuff (hello, have you ever read the label on a box of frozen, breaded fish? it ain't pretty, y'all).

Everyone absolutely raved about this fish tonight, and you longtime readers might want to sit down for this one: The girl. Had. SECONDS! The child who lives on cheese and crackers and air actually went back for more of this stuff! You KNOW it has to be good.

We've discussed coleslaw before, right? Just shred up some cabbage with a knife, combine a little mayo with equal parts sugar and white vinegar, maybe throw in a little celery seed, toss and chill? It's like the easiest salad in the world, y'all. I was feeling fancy today and added some grated carrot! WOO! We live on the edge around here.

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Brown sugar makes everything better

Tonight's Menu

  • grilled ham steaks
  • yet more beer bread
  • warm salad of caramelized veggies and spinach
I used to make this caramelized veggie salad all the time, but for some reason it's been ages since I've served it. It's actually pretty easy and REALLY delicious. The original recipe came from a Betty Crocker vegetarian cookbook, if you can believe it!

What I do is take some small red-skinned potatoes, cut them in halves or quarters, stick them in a big pot with about an inch of water, and bring it to a boil. While the water is heating I rinse some green beans, trim the stem ends, and cut them in half, adding them to the boiling water. Bring it all back up to the boil if necessary, then reduce to a simmer, cover, and leave them alone for about 10 minutes or until they're just tender. Drain and set aside.

Then cut up some sweet yellow onion and saute it in a skillet with about a third of a cup of butter until the onion is nice and golden and soft. Add equal amounts of balsamic vinegar and brown sugar (for a pound each of potatoes and beans, I use 1/4 cup each of the sugar and vinegar) along with a pinch or two of salt, and stir just until everything is combined and the sugar has dissolved a bit (but DON'T LET THE SUGAR BURN). Add the potatoes/beans to the skillet and toss to coat, then turn out onto a bed of baby spinach leaves. This is a nice, hearty side dish and the sweet, caramelly goodness really compliments a salty/cured meat like ham.

The ham itself was just grilled on the stovetop in my beloved IKEA grill pan.

And yes, we had beer bread AGAIN! We're not eating this every single night, I swear. It's just so damn EASY, and everyone loves it. This time I made it with Saint Arnold Texas Wheat beer and it was SO good -- not quite as sweet as when I used Leinenkugel Sunset Wheat and more, er, bread-like.

Saturday, January 19, 2008

My favorite food

Tonight's Menu

  • grilled fresh Italian sausages
  • "kitchen sink" veggie saute
  • green salad "bar"
Oh dudes. I do so love me some sausages. These were fresh (non-cured/non-dried) Italian sausages that were labeled as "sweet" but were actually pretty dang spicy. I didn't mind, but DH and the boy were not altogether happy with them, I don't think. More for me! I just simmered these in water for about 20 minutes to cook them through, then finished them on the grill pan to crisp up the skins a bit with some sexy grill marks. Dead easy.

The saute was one of those clean-out-the-vegetable-crisper deals. I cut up some sweet yellow onion, a red bell pepper, a couple of little zucchinis, and a hunk of green cabbage and just sauteed the whole lot in EVOO, adding a bit of fresh thyme, salt and freshly ground pepper near the end. Again, very easy, apart from all the chopping. I absolutely love sauteed veggies and could eat them at every meal, regardless of the actual veggies involved.

Salad was the usual -- a bowl of mixed lettuces, with small bowls of grape tomatoes, sliced cucumber, and sliced carrots alongside so folks can mix their own.

Thursday, January 17, 2008

Chili today, ... uh, still chili tomorrow, probably!

Tonight's Menu

  • chili con carne
  • beer bread
  • green salad "bar"
A cold front blew through central Texas last night, leaving us with chilly temperatures and a blustery wind today -- perfect chili weather! My go-to recipe for chili is this one from Martha Stewart, but I have yet to actually make it exactly as written. Here's how I made today's version.

canola oil
2-3 lbs. beef shoulder or chuck, cut into teensy dice (not quite a mince, but almost)
1 large sweet yellow onion, chopped
3 cloves garlic, minced
2 Tbs ancho chili powder
1 tsp. ground cumin
1 tsp. dried oregano
1 bay leaf
1 (28 oz.) can Muir Glen Organic Fire-Roasted Crushed Tomatoes (feel free to use whichever crushed tomatoes you like, or whole tomatoes whizzed in the blender)
2 (12 oz.) bottles beer (use a beer you would actually drink; I went with Dos Equis Amber)
coarse salt
1 Tbs white vinegar

Okay, once you've chopped/diced/minced the hell out of everything, begin browning the beef in batches in a big pot with a little canola oil. You'll be removing each batch of meat to a plate as it gets browned, and adding more oil as needed. Once all the meat is browned, dump the onions and garlic into the pot and stir over medium heat until they've gone a bit soft (DO NOT burn the garlic!). Then add the chili powder, cumin, oregano and bay leaf in with the onions and garlic, cooking and stirring for about a minute until it all goes nice and fragrant. Add the meat back into the pan, along with the tomatoes and beer. Bring it to a boil and then reduce heat and simmer uncovered, stirring occasionally, for about 2 hours or until the meat is tender and the broth has thickened a bit. Remove the bay leaf, salt to taste and stir in the vinegar (I have no idea what the vinegar is supposed to do, but Martha says to add it and I must obey). I serve this with shredded cheddar and sliced green onions on the side. Yum!

The beer bread is SO super easy to make, and so good! I use this recipe (with only 1/4 cup of butter) and it comes out perfect. Again, you will want to use a beer you would actually drink. DH is a fan of wheat beers and they work really well in this recipe. Tonight it was a bottle of Leinenkugel's Sunset Wheat, which made the bread a little bit sweet and almost cake-like. Delicious!

Astute readers will note that tonight's dinner contained THREE BOTTLES of beer. And that's not including the beer with which we washed it all down. Perhaps that had something to do with how delicious we found this particular meal!

There was no leftover bread, but quite a bit of leftover chili. Tomorrow's dinner: Frito Pie!

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Eat your heart out, Jamie Oliver

Tonight's Menu

  • herb and lemon roasted coro coro fillets
  • chuffed potatoes
  • green salad "bar"
So here's what happened: while at my local sucky supermarket buying tilapia, I saw that they had this relatively inexpensive fish called coro coro. I had never heard of it before, but it was cheap-ish and I was up for an adventure, so what the heck?

I had no idea what to do with it, but it appeared relatively meaty and had the skin still on, so I decided to roast it a la Jamie Oliver. First I slashed the skin with a knife and sprinkled both sides with salt and pepper. Then I cut two lemons into quarters, squeezed a bit of juice into my giant mortar, added some EVOO and sprigs of fresh thyme, rosemary and oregano, and bashed away at them. I fished out the larger sprigs that were still intact and layered them along with the lemon quarters (including the ones I'd already squeezed) in the bottom of a shallow baking pan, then I rubbed the leftover herby oil all over the fillets and placed them skin side up on top of the lemons/herbs. Then I roasted them in the oven at 450 degrees F for about 13 minutes or so (they were fairly thick -- a good rule of thumb is 10 minutes per inch of thickness). After they came out of the oven, I grabbed a lemon wedge with tongs and squeezed it on the fish again. This came out really good! If anything, it could have used even MORE herbs. Next time I will really go nuts, and maybe throw in some capers or something.

The potatoes were the usual, small red-skinned potatoes parboiled until tender and then tossed around in a hot pan with some butter.

The salad bar tonight was stocked with mixed lettuces, sliced cucumber, sliced carrots, and grape tomatoes. Yum!

We were in kind of a hurry tonight (the boy was participating in his school spelling bee this evening -- he took 12th place! woo!) and this was actually relatively quick, believe it or not!

Monday, January 07, 2008

Steak frites with a twist

Tonight's Menu

  • stovetop grilled boneless strip steaks
  • oven sweet potato fries
  • steamed broccoli
Purists might claim that this meal bears no resemblance to authentic steak frites whatsoever, given that I used fairly thick-cut strip steaks and did not actually fry my, er, fries. But I would say to those purists: I DON'T CARE. It was steak and fries, okay? I'm serving them to my family, not charging $25 a plate for them at some brasserie downtown. Close enough for government work, as they say (and I can say that, having worked for the government, however briefly).

Okay, moving right along! Two of the three steaks I made were done thusly: rubbed on both sides with EVOO, sprinkled with kosher salt and freshly ground pepper, grilled a couple of minutes per side on the IKEA grill pan, then finished in the oven (on a cookie sheet at 425 degrees for just a few minutes).

The other one was made like this: a medium-sized garlic clove was forced through a press, then mashed up with a tablespoon or so of EVOO in the mortar and pestle and left to steep for about 20 minutes. Rub garlicky goodness on steak, proceed as above except skip the oven step. Because the person eating the third steak (guess who?) likes hers garlicky and RARE.

Sweet potato fries were made the same way as last time. These are SO GOOD.

Broccoli was steamed in the microwave.

Pretty easy dinner, except for peeling the sweet potatoes, a chore I hate with a white-hot passion. It does not help that my local sucky supermarket doesn't seem to carry any sweet potatoes under like 10 pounds each. Seriously, those mofos are the size of footballs! It only took ONE to make four servings of fries! Gah!

Sunday, January 06, 2008

Enough with the spices?

Tonight's Menu

  • tilapia
  • spaghetti squash
  • green salad "bar"
A couple of months ago, as you may recall, I discovered (ha! kind of like how Columbus "discovered" America) a recipe for spaghetti squash with Moroccan spices, and that became my favorite way to cook not only spaghetti squash, but tilapia as well. I loved it SO much, in fact, that it became my go-to tilapia meal and I haven't made tilapia or spaghetti squash any other way since.

Well, my family has gently indicated that they'd be a-OK with me giving the Moroccan spices a bit of a rest, so tonight I went a different (more boring, but still yummy) route.

The tilapia was simply seasoned with salt and freshly ground pepper, then sauteed in a skillet with EVOO. The girl child blew my mind by actually trying some -- she still only eats maybe 20% of the dinners I make -- and she said it tasted a bit like white meat chicken. But she only ate a piece the size of a dime, and then didn't want any more. WHATEVER. The boy loved it.

I did the spaghetti squash in the microwave this time (as indicated in the Epicurious recipe linked above), mostly due to a lack of advance planning on my part because it takes a while to do in the oven. It came out fine, and after I shredded it into a bowl, I added a knob of butter, some salt and freshly ground pepper, and topped it with freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano. Yes, the real $tuff -- I splurged on a little hunk over the holidays. This was really yummy even without all the spices. I GUESS. (No, it was, really!)

Our salad bar this evening featured mixed lettuces (I dunno, I buy them in the package already mixed), sliced cucumbers, sliced baby carrots and chopped snow peas.

Thursday, January 03, 2008

Shrimps on sticks!

Tonight's Menu

  • stovetop-grilled shrimp on rosemary skewers
  • quinoa
  • spinach salad (sort of)
Oh, internets! I have neglected you horribly these past couple of months, I know. And I'm REALLY REALLY sorry. Blame it on The Pre-Holiday Slump That Almost Ate My Brain. But hey, it's January now, and my brain and I are back! And we are COOKING, bitches!

Okay, so the shrimp! This was kind of an experiment. What I did was cut some branches of rosemary (old/firm branches, not young/bendy ones) from the bushes out front, strip them of leaves to about an inch or so from the tip, then cut the ends (opposite the tips, yo) on an angle so they were fairly sharp. Then I cleaned about a pound of large-ish shrimp and threaded them onto the branches, alternating which direction the tails were facing (they lay a little more flat on the grill that way). I would have liked to brush them with something yummy at this point, but with the girl being allergic to soy and both kids complaining of itchy throats every time they eat garlic lately (please God, do not let my children be allergic to garlic on top of everything else), I gave up and just brushed them with EVOO.

Then I got my beloved IKEA grill pan screaming hot, and this is where the fun began, because the shrimps weren't making good contact with the grill. Since the grill pan isn't covered (because hello, it's a GRILL PAN), they were in danger of not getting cooked through or of getting burned/tough on the outside in order to be done in the middle. SO, after flipping them (I gave them maybe 2 - 3 minutes per side) I covered the pan with a cookie sheet for about a minute. This allowed them to get grilled as normal on the second side while still cooking through. As an added bonus, the leaves on the tips of the skewers were making contact just fine and were smoking a bit as a result, so covering the pan gave the shrimp a mini rosemary smoke infusion that really boosted the flavor. I cut wedges of lemon for folks to squeeze themselves and hardly missed the garlic at all (sniff!).

We've talked about how to cook quinoa (pronounced keen-wah), right? Just put a cup of it in a pan along with two cups of water (like for rice), bring to a boil, cover, reduce heat and simmer for about 15 minutes. Then take it off the heat and just let it sit, covered, for five minutes or so before tossing with a fork to fluff it up. I always stir in a little salt and pepper before serving, but you can also go whole-hog and make a sort of pilaf with sauteed veggies (we just had it plain last night). This is a really great substitute for rice, particularly white rice, because it's a whole grain but doesn't have that sometimes unpleasant texture of brown rice (or whole-wheat pasta, shudder!).

Finally, the spinach salad. I say it was sort of a spinach salad because lately the boy child has requested that all our salads be served in "bar" fashion. In other words, a big bowl of greens with lots of little bowls of veggies or whatever surrounding it, so folks can mix their own. I thought this was a swell idea so that's what we've been doing. Last night it was a bowl of baby spinach with canned mandarin orange segments on the side. Dried cranberries and toasted nuts are great options, too, but we didn't have any.

Okay! So! Back to the kitchen!