Thursday, September 24, 2009

Pot Luck Dinners: Bringing them back.

I want to plan a Pot Luck dinner. I think we should bring them back. I love them. I love the idea of everyone coming together to have dinner. I love that everyone brings something and it's likely there favorite thing and then you all get to enjoy a dinner of your favorite things.

What is the ideal way to host one of these dinners though? I'm thinking that I'll pick a day and make up a little invitation that will say:

I'm making pulled pork sandwiches for Saturday night - join us and bring a dish to pass.
BYOB. Water and Iced Tea will be available.

So if you were invited to my Pot Luck what would you bring?

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Orzo Salad

My mother in law makes this Orzo salad that is so delicious that I beg her to make it whenever she asks "Can I bring anything?".

What you need for the base:
1 small eggplant, peeled and diced (you can use zucchini or squash too)
2 colorful peppers diced
1 red onion peeled and diced
1/2 a package of frozen corn
2 cloves minced garlic
1/3 cup olive oil
1/2 teaspoon ground pepper
1 and 1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 lb Orzo

What you need for the dressing:
2 Lemons (squeezed)
1/3 cup olive oil
1 teaspoon kosker salt
1/2 teaspoon ground pepper.

1/4 cup pignolis
3/4 lb diced (not crumbled) feta
Diced Chicken or Sliced Steak or Tofu

Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Toss eggplant, peppers, corn, onion, garlic and olive oil with the salt and pepper on a large baking sheet. Roast for 40 minutes. Stir it up once.

Cook the Orzo until tender.

In a large bowl mix the roasted goodness and the Orzo. Add the dressing (which I mix before and make extra because it's a delicious light salad topper) and chill. Before serving mix in the nuts and the feta.

I love to have this as a side one night, and then I mix in some chicken or grill some sliced steak and have it on top for lunch or the next nights dinner.

You will hide the bowl behind all of the apple juice in your fridge so that no one asks to take some home. And if they find it. You'll fake sneeze on it while dishing it up. You will go to any means necessary to keep this within your possession.

Great for pot luck dinners.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Crockpot Sweet and Savory Beef Stew

You know what's awesome on a crisp autumn day? Stew. Steaming fresh from the crockpot.


I saw this recipe in Eating Well magazine but it was not a crock pot recipe. I however, want to make out with mine so I try and find every excuse to use it. I make stews often but never thought of doing this kind of thing - mixing sweet and savory - but I love sauerbraten so I thought the flavor pairings of the sage and thyme and cherries would be similar. It was awesome, easy, and delicious.

(As an aside, my personal Hell would have me cutting and peeling butternut squash for all eternity. After today's debacle with my boning knife, I hereby declare that unless I plan on roasting the thing in halves, I will buy the already chopped squash from now on. My sanity is just not worth it.)

This will make a giant pot of stew, enough for 4-6 people. I served it over egg noodles, but you can serve it in a bread bowl or with biscuits.

What you need:

-bottom round roast, around 2 pounds, cubed
-medium butternut squash
-32 oz beef broth
-2 large shallots, thinly sliced
-canola oil
-1 c. dried cherries
-2 tsp dried rubbed sage
-4 tsp dried thyme
-salt & pepper to taste

What you do:

1) Brown the meat briefly (you're not cooking it at this point, just a quick sear) in a pot with 2 tbsp canola oil.


2) Add meat to crock pot with 32 ounces beef broth, leaving oil and meat juices in pot

3) Toss the shallots and dried spices into the pot and cook on low for 2 minutes, adding more oil if necessary, and until the shallots are translucent.


4) Add shallots and spices into crock pot. Set on low for 6 hours.

5) Two hours in, add in cubed squash and cherries


6) Five hours in, you need to thicken your stew. See, it's too watery:


You can use a roux (a paste made from butter and flour, adding in broth from the stew until a paste is formed, then stirring back into crockpot) or a cornstarch slurry (will save calories). I, of course, use the roux.


7) Cook another hour to fully thicken and serve!


Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Salmon Cakes

Think crab cakes, but cooler, fresher, more sophisticated. Then think about baked potatoes and bacon and put all those thoughts together. This is what you get:


My mother called me the other night and said she saw this recipe on the Food Network and I had to try it. Since I could eat salmon eight days a week, I figured this was a good way to toss it up. It's a Melissa d'Arabian recipe and I followed it pretty much exactly, so she gets full credit. But it was easy, quick, and beyond delicious and I figured I'd put it here with photos so you guys could try it next time you have a salmon hankering.

What you need:

  • 2 strips bacon, cooked until crispy, crumbled, bacon fat reserved (I used three bacon strips because I'm a bacon ho')
  • 1/4 cup chopped onion
  • 1 egg
  • 1/2 cup mayonnaise
  • 2 teaspoons Dijon mustard
  • 1/2 teaspoon sugar
  • 1/2 lemon, zested
  • 1 (14-ounce) can wild salmon, checked for large bones (I used a fresh fillet, cooked earlier in the day and then cooled)
  • 1 baked or boiled russet potato, peeled, and fluffed with a fork
  • 1/4 cup bread crumbs
  • 2 tablespoons grated Parmesan
  • Freshly ground black pepper
  • 1/2 cup vegetable oil (I used canola)
What you do:

1) Fry up some BACON! (I used three slices instead of her recommended two)
frying bacon
(Seriously, is there anything more beautiful in the world than frying bacon?)

2) Remove bacon, place on paper towel, toss the onions into the bacon grease (Hey, I never said this was a low-fat recipe). Cook until see-through and let cool a bit.


3) Mix the bacon, onion, egg, mayonnaise, mustard, sugar, and lemon zest in a bowl.


4) Add the salmon


and potato


mixing gently after each addition.


5) In a shallow dish, combine the bread crumbs, Parmesan, and pepper, to taste.


6) Form patties (around 12 small ones or 9 medium) and coat them in the bread crumb topping.


7) Heat 1/4 cup of the oil in a large saute pan over medium heat, and cook the salmon cakes in batches until golden, about 3 to 4 minutes per side. Add more oil, as necessary.




Note: I whipped up a quick sauce with mayo, Dijon mustard, a splash of rice wine vinegar and some honey to serve with it, which was awesome, but it's totally a personal thing. Me, I'm a sauce girl. But this definitely had enough flavor that it wasn't necessary.

Saturday, September 12, 2009


By Country Girl

Who hosts a Greek wine tasting party? NO ONE. Except me. Because oh yeah I am trying to drink 100 wine varietals and that means I have to knock off some pretty obscure grapes like Moschofilero, Roditis, Savatiano, Agiorghitiko and Mavrodaphne. And if one is going to sit around and drink random Greek wine, shouldn't one have the appropriate cuisine to go with it? I really wanted to serve Saganaki but frankly me and flambe don't mix so I opted for that traditional Greek classic Moussaka.

OMG Y'all - why have I never made Moussaka before? Seriously - it's off the hook delicious. Also? Why the hell do I own this cookbook?

I have no idea. It's not like I am way into Greek food (although after this party I might be). But for whatever reason I own Rena Salaman's Little Greek Cookbook and that was my primary source for my Moussaka although I altered the recipe ever so slightly because 1) my kitchen situation is a bit abnormal right now and believe it or not, I don't have the necessary equipment to fry 2 pounds of eggplant (or aubergines as Rena calls them) and 2) I love cheese. She just did not call for enough cheese in her recipe.

So what is Moussaka? It's basically a layered casserole of eggplant, ground beef or lamb seasoned with tomatoes and spices, bechamel sauce and cheese. I saw recipes that included potatoes and zucchini and I am pretty sure you could doctor this up any way you wanted to but I pretty much stuck with this basic version.

To start, you will need 2 pounds of eggplant, trimmed and sliced in 1/4-inch thick slices. Immerse the eggplant slices in lightly salted water for 20 - 30 minutes.

What this does is draw out the eggplant's natural bitterness and trust me when I say - DON'T SKIP THIS STEP. In fact, you should always disgorge eggplant (that's what it's called - disgorging. Who's a show off with her fancy shmancy cooking terms? Not me.) because otherwise you will wind up with something bitter and nasty and OMG y'all - maybe this is why so many people have eggplant issues. Seriously.

Anyways, once the eggplant slices have soaked, remove them from the water, rinse them off and pat dry. Now you have 2 choices: Rena calls for lightly frying the eggplant slices in sunflower oil until lightly golden on both sides. I would have been frying eggplant til 2am so I actually brushed my eggplant slices with sunflower oil and threw them on the grill:

All I will say is this: grilled eggplant totally works but it's your call.

Next: take 1 large onion which has been finely diced and throw it in a pan with some sunflower oil. Cook for a few minutes until transparent and then add 1 pound of either ground beef, ground lamb, or a mixture. I went with straight lamb but ground lamb is not exactly available everywhere. Saute until it starts to brown and then add the following:

* 1 14-oz. can of tomatoes, finely chopped
* 3 Tbsp. tomato paste
* 1/4 tsp. ground cinnamon
* 1 tsp. dried oregano
* salt and pepper to taste.

So I added the tomato paste. Rena does not call for it. But I had seen it in another recipe and I liked the idea. Also? I am not the kind of girl to actually measure spices. I may have added a wee bit more than 1/4 tsp. of ground cinnamon and I will tell you what - a wee bit more is just the right amount. Cover the meat mixture and let it cook for 20 - 30 minutes until it is quite dry - like this:

Set it aside to cool.

To make the bechamel, melt 3/4 of a stick of butter in a heavy saucepan. Add 1/4 cup of plain flour and stir until well incorporated. Remove from the heat and add 2 cups of warm milk while stirring. Return to the heat, add a pinch of salt, and stir continuously for 8 - 10 minutes until the sauce thickens. Once it's thick, take off the heat and whisk in 1 egg yolk. Voila - bechamel:

Line a medium-sized baking dish (10x10) with the eggplant slices and season them:

Next, spread the cooled meat mixture evenly over them:

Cover with the bechamel:

Sprinkle with 1 cup of grated Parmesan cheese:

Again - this is where Rena and I had a slight disagreement. She calls for 2 Tbsp. of grated cheese on top. I saw recipes that called for as much as 3 cups. In the end, we compromised and went for 1 cup and it was perfect.

Bake at 350 degrees for 45 - 50 minutes until crisp and golden.

Let it rest for 10 minutes and then cut into squares and serve. OPA!

Friday, September 11, 2009

Dried Beans used to terrify me.

At work we are calling these "challenging times" and while our little family isn't panic stricken - we are certainly looking to be more cost conscious. On this note, I turn to a subject that terrifies me. Dried Beans.

Dried Beans are about 1/3 of the cost as the beans in the cans, sometimes even less - in addition to the price benefit of dried beans comes the health factor: the canned beans have sodium and preservatives that I'd rather be free of. But my fear of the dried bean preparation had me sticking with the canned beans - until this week.

I'm not a bean preparation wiz - this is my ONLY use of dried beans so far. And if you're like me - this will help you tip toe into the dark cool water of dried bean use.

Vegetarian Chili with Dried Beans in the Slow Cooker

The evening before I took 1/2 a bag of black beans, red beans and white beans (so 1.5 bags total) and rinsed and sorted them well - pick out any discolored or misshapen beans. Put them in a big pot of water and boil. Once the water boils turn of the burner and cover - let it sit for 3 hours or more (I let mine sit overnight because I forgot...oops...and it was just fine). DO NOT TRY TO TASTE A BEAN AND FOR GODS SAKE DON'T SMELL THE WATER. I tell you this because I did and it was AWFUL. The thing I learned after the fact and I spent an hour on google making sure I hadn't ruined everything is that beans lose most of their gas power through this process when you use dried beans (so less tooting - another huge win of Dried Beans!).

In the morning drain your beans and rinse again, pour them into your crockpot add in two cans of diced tomatoes (if you're using fresh add them later), 1 can of tomato sauce, 1 (or more if you like yours meatier) bag of Morningstar meatless crumples, 1 bag of frozen corn, 1 onion diced and 2 peppers diced, 1 packet of chili seasoning. Crockpot on low all day.

I can't taste the difference between REAL meat and the meatless crumples - but its been a while so maybe I just don't remember how it tastes - but if you're trying to cut costs, improve your health and sneak your way into this vegetarian occasionally lifestyle this is a good first step.

I also through some baby goldfish crackers on top and that was a huge yummy topping.

ps - I know that these posts are better with photos. I know that I have an awesome camera. I also know that with a little girl pulling my yoga pants down, a dog praying to the food fairy and a general lack of coordination that it's just not going to fly. Trust me though- it looks divine and tastes damn good too.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Baked Zucchini Fries

As I mentioned in my previous post, I may or may not have bought 89 million zucchinis just because they were on sale. I can't help it, people! I have a problem!

So after I made 40 loaves and 20 muffins (ok, I'm exaggerating a little) my zucchini carrot pineapple bread, I STILL had some left and decided I wanted a healthier version of the fried zucchini sticks you can find at some restaurants.

These came out crispy and delicious dipped in marinara sauce.


What You Need:

1-2 large zucchinis
eggs (or egg whites)
1 c. breadcrumbs
1/2 tsp. garlic powder
1 tsp. Italian spices (not necessary if you use Italian-flavored bread crumbs)
1 tbsp. Parmesan cheese

What you do:

1) Using a mandolin (makes life so much easier) or by hand, chop the zucchini into long cubed strips.


2) Mix in the garlic powder (I used Tastefully Simple's Garlic Garlic which I LOVE), cheese, and spices into the breadcrumbs on a plate.


3) Dip the zucchini stripes into the beaten eggs and then into the breadcrumb mixture. Lay on a non-stick cookie sheet. At this point, I use a little spray olive oil (like Pam) over the top of the sticks. It helps the breadcrumbs get crunchier.


4) Bake at 400 degrees for about 30 minutes or until adequately browned and crispy.

5) Serve with marinara for dipping and enjoy!


Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Zucchini Pineapple Carrot Bread

I don't know if you have a "reduced produce" section of your local grocery store, but I'm a sucker for mine. It's perfectly fine produce that is nearing it's end that they move to make room for the new stuff and reduce down to a ridiculously low price. It's all still good but needs to be used that day or the following - but for $0.49 for six zucchinis, I'll take it.

So, because I'm an impulse shopper and don't know how to pass up a deal - even when I don't really need six zucchinis - I bought them and decided to make my famous recipe. I've changed this recipe around so many times trying to perfect it, and never wrote it down. Finally, it's perfect and I have it stashed safely away in my Hippo Trapper Keeper where I keep all my Very Important Recipes.

Because I'm feeling generous and love this recipe, I'm sharing it here finally. I promise everyone will love it - kids included.

What you need:

2 c. grated zucchini
1 c. grated carrot
1 c. light brown sugar
3/4 c. white sugar
8 oz. canned crushed pineapple
2 eggs
1/2 c. vegetable/canola oil
1/2 stick softened butter
2 c. flour
1 tsp. baking soda
1/2 tsp. salt
1 tsp. vanilla
1 tsp. cinnamon
1 tsp. nutmeg

What you do:

1) Grate the zucchini and carrot. If you have a minion, have her to the dirty work:



2) Using your hands, make sure you squeeze all of the shredded zucchini to remove any extra water.

3) Mix dry ingredients and set aside.

4) In a mixer, beat butter and sugars until light and fluffy. Add eggs, oil, vanilla, and beat 1-2 minutes.

5) Add in canned pineapple and shredded zucchini and carrots.

6) Gradually add in dry ingredients.

7) You make muffins (Bake at 350 for 20-25 minutes or until passes the toothpick test)


or bread (Bake at 350 for 35-45 minutes or until passes the toothpick test).



If you want an awesome cream cheese frosting recipe to go on top of this, use this one. It's the best one I've ever tried and the only one I ever use now.