14 December, 2011

Cauliflower Mac & Cheese

I got tricked. Yep, I got tricked into making a bechamel sauce or as most would call it, a white sauce. I am not be a huge fan of eating or making white sauce as you probably can tell from the amount of red sauces my dishes contain. I have my own reasons that I will not share except that they require standing over a stove and stirring for minutes at a time.

I have always wanted to make a mac and cheese with cauliflower. My Mom sent me a cauliflower fresh from my Grandmother's garden and I thought this was the perfect opportunity. I started with a  gratin recipe and decided to tweak from there. I guess you could say my heart was already in it before my mind realized what I had committed to. Before I knew it I was standing over a pot of butter and flour, waiting patiently to add the heated milk. Yikes! It was too late. I was making a "white sauce". So I gave in and finished. Don't get me wrong, it was creamy and comforting and delicious. Dang it, you tricky white sauce!

Cauliflower Mac & Cheese
Adapted from
Smitten Kitchen, Adapted from Ina Garten
1/2 pound pasta
1 (3-pound) head cauliflower, cut into small florets
5 tablespoons unsalted butter, divided
3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
2 cups hot milk
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 1/2 cup freshly grated white cheddar
1 cup freshly grated Parmesan
1/2 cup fresh bread crumbs
Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F.
Cook pasta al dente and drain. Cook the cauliflower florets in a large pot of boiling salted water for 5 minutes, until tender and drain. Melt 3 tablespoons of the butter in a medium saucepan over low heat. Add the flour, stirring constantly with a spoon for 2 minutes. Pour the hot milk into the butter-flour mixture and stir until it comes to a boil. Boil, whisking constantly, for 1 minute, or until thickened. Off the heat, add 1 teaspoon of salt, the pepper, cheddar and 1/2 cup of the Parmesan.
Pour pasta on the bottom of an 9 x 12 inch baking dish. Place the drained cauliflower on top and then spread the sauce on top. Combine the bread crumbs with the remaining 1/2 cup of Parmesan and sprinkle on top. Melt the remaining 2 tablespoons of butter and drizzle over the gratin. Sprinkle with salt and pepper. Bake for 25 to 30 minutes, until the top is browned.

13 December, 2011

Fried Egg Bread

I have heard many times about a breakfast tradition that people remember as children involving a piece of bread with a hole in it and a fried egg in the middle. I thought surely this must have been an urgban legend since I never saw one of these and my family ate fried eggs and toast every morning. I finally set out to investigate this myth and what I found was truth. Fun, easy and yummy truth.

Fried Egg Bread (aka "Toad in the Hole")
1-2 tbsp butter
1 piece of toast
1 egg
Using a small glass, make a cirlce on the bread and use a knife to cut out the cirle. Melt butter in a hot skillet. Place the bread in the skillet for about 30 seconds and then crack the egg into the center. After the egg white is set, flip the bread and cook your egg to your preference. Remember to set the circle that you removed in the butter also and let it crisp up.

 Did someone make this dish for you growing up? What did you call it?

And if you are fancy like me, you can try to do four at a time:

17 November, 2011

Potato and Broccoli Soup

Today, I must complain. Yes, hold the phone. Today I will complain. Publicly. 
So my issue is the way some people treat the end of the year as one big rush to the finish line. A huge leap from October to December. I believe the retail industry may be partly to blame. Wait a minute Starbucks! Do you have Thanksgiving cups? Hold it Target! Halloween decor and Christmas lights don't mesh. We let them coax us into racing to the end without even a wave to October or a cozy fall meal in November. As soon as October 1st appears, the shotgun goes off and everyone is in competition to see who can get their Christmas tree up first.
Now I believe in letting folks do, say and think as they please. So go for it sprinters. Run! As for my me, I will jog. I will celebrate when October arrives with its first day of crisp, cool air. When November comes around the corner, I will cozy up to a comforting pot of soup (recipe below). And December. Ah yes, when December arrives I will brighten my home with lights and a tree and enjoy the walk to the finish line where I will meet those who arrived before me. (Starbucks and JC Penny)
Potato and Broccoli soup
Serves 4-5 as a meal 
4 tbsp butter
1/2 onion, chopped
3 stalks of celery, chopped
1 small head of broccoli, chopped
6-8 yukon gold potatoes (3 russet potatoes), cut into small cubes
2 cloves of garlic, minced
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 cup white wine
1 quart vegetable stock
1/2 cup half and half
Precook the potatoes in the microwave for about 5-6 minutes or until you can put a fork through them. Heat a stock pot on medium heat and melt butter. Add onion and celery and saute for 5 minutes. Add potatoes and saute for 10 minutes. Add broccoli and saute for 5 minutes. Add garlic, salt and pepper and stir. Add white wine and cook for 1-2 minutes. Add vegetable stock, bring to a boil and simmer on medium for 30 minutes stirring frequently. After 30 minutes, break up the potatoes by using a big spoon and just mashing them against the side of the pot. An immersion blender or potato masher will also get the job done. Turn heat to low, add half and half and stir. Serve with cheese, green onions and bacon on top.

11 November, 2011

Pita Chips

Make your own pita chips.
You won't reget it.
So buttery.
So garlicky.
Better than store bought.
No doubt.

Recipe from Super Natural Everyday by Heidi Swanson (slightly modified by SP)

4 whole wheat pitas, cut into bite size wedges
1-2 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
1-2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1-2 cloves garlic, minced
two pinches of salt
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Whisk butter, olive oil, garlic and salt. In a large bowl, pour mixture over pita and toss until well coated. Arrange pita onto a large baking sheet in a single layer. Bake for 10-15 minues until chips are golden and your kitchen smells amazing.

02 November, 2011

Enjoying 100% and Veggie Burritos

Most often we take our health for granted. We go about our daily lives with a headache here, a muscle ache there, some sinus or allergies issues; however, for the most part we feel good. We feel great! But we don't realize how great we feel until we get hit (bam) with some type of stomach bug (just for example). Then we feel awful. So awful it is hard to realize that it is only temporary and this too shall pass. Then we start to recover and we feel a bit better each hour, each day until we feel back to 100%. And on that day is the day we realize what 100% actually feels like. It feels awesome. And for most of us who aren't suffering from some serious condition or chronic pain, that 100% is probably what we are feeling a majority of the time. And that 100% is what we take for granted.

Today I am taking some time out to be thankful for my overall health and my 100%. What does this have to do with the recipe I am sharing with you today? Nothing. But it is still a good recipe so try it and enjoy your 100%. You can add chicken or steak to this recipe if you please.

Makes 4 Vegetable Burritos.
1/2 red pepper, chopped
1/2 green pepper, chopped
4 oz mushrooms, diced
1/2 tbsp chili powder
1/4 tsp paprika
1 tsp cumin
1/2 tsp salt
pinch of red pepper
4 flour tortillas
2 cups cooked rice
15 oz can of black beans, rinsed

Heat one tablespoon of olive oil in a skillet over medium heat. Add veggies and saute for about five minutes. Add spices and saute for about 3-5 more minutes then remove from heat.
Add sour cream, rice, beans, and veggies to tortilla and roll into a burrito. Top with salsa.

19 October, 2011

My Cousin, Tortilla Soup & Mushroom Quesadillas

Tortilla Soup & Mushroom Quesadillas are the new Tomato Soup & Grilled Cheese.

Once upon a time I had a cousin. Well I still have her and actually I have like a gazillion cousins, but stay with me. My beautiful and talented cousin was amazing in the kitchen. She could cook anything and never needed a recipe. My favorite thing she made was a tortilla soup. She taught me how to make it which involved touching and boiling an entire hen. If you know something about me, you know how much I dislike dealing with poultry. But she assured me this was the best and only way to get such a flavorful broth. And while she was likely right (dang her for being beautiful and right), I had to find a shortcut. Let's just say my tortilla soup is not her tortilla soup but it sure cured a craving and spared me the dance with the chicken.

This recipe serves about 3-4 so double it if you want leftovers or have a big crew to feed.

1 tbsp olive oil
1/2 green pepper, chopped
1/2 yellow pepper, chopped
1 small jalapeno, diced
1/2 onion, diced
1 clove of garlic, minced
1 tsp cumin
1/2 tsp chili powder
1/4 tsp garlic powder
1/4 tsp salt
1 lb boneless skinless chicken breasts*
5 oz diced tomatoes
16 oz chicken broth**
2 cups water
1 can pinto beans (rinsed)
cilantro, chopped

Drizzle olive oil onto chicken breast, sprinkle with seasoning mixture and cook in the oven on 350 degrees for 20 minutes or until cooked thoroughly. Remove from oven and shred with two forks and set aside. Add 1tbsp olive oil to a medium soup pot on medium-high heat. Add veggies and saute for a few minutes, add the remainder of the spice mixture and saute for a few minutes. You can use a packaged taco seasoning but making your own will eliminate excess salt and preservatives. Add shredded chicken, diced tomatoes, chicken broth and water. Bring to a boil, turn down and simmer for 45 minutes. Top the soup with cilantro and serve with mushroom quesadillas.

*So I did have to handle some chicken but way different than boiling a whole one. You can also use leftover chicken. If the seasonings are not tortilla soup friendly, rinse the chicken under water before adding to the soup.
** Try to find a good quality, less salt, no preservatives chicken broth. It is worth paying more money for a better tasting broth.

11 October, 2011

Creative Leftovers: Five Guys Breakfast

Some of us happen to be more creative than others. Creative energy comes from many places. It can come from a picture, a smell, a time of year, a weather forecast; however, most of the time it comes from another person. We get our creative energy from others, we give off our creative energy to others and it becomes one big snowball of energy rolling down a hill. Our ideas are rarely original without some form of inspiration from someone else. And the more creative we are, the more creative we become.

While spending some time with a creative friend and feeding off of her energy (or maybe sucking it out of her), we came up with an idea for reusing leftover french fries. Now I don't know if this will work for every leftover fry but if you have a Five Guys Burgers and Fries in your area I can guarantee success. And if you have a FG in your area and have experienced it you know three things: 1) they are getting rave reviews; 2) their employees are super friendly; and 3) you will never finish the fries they serve you even if you share a small. If you do not have an FG in your area try using crispy-wedge-potatoes from your dinner the night before.
leftover FG fries (or crispy wedge potatoes)
1/2 green pepper, diced
1/4 onion,diced
3 eggs
Heat olive oil over medium heat and saute onions and green peppers for a couple minutes. Toss in fries and saute for a couple more minutes.
 In another skillet cook an egg to your preference
Throw the egg on top. Serve. 

28 September, 2011

Mediterranean Tilapia and Quinoa Salad

Girl meets boy. Falls in love. Gets married. Buys a tiny space in the city. When something needs attention, Girl and Boy call Maintenance Man.
Girl and Boy move to the country. Buy a HOUSE. When things need attention, Girl and Boy spend their days at Home Depot bonding over the "how to".

Oh my friends, I hope I didn't leave you hungry. While your imagination and mine placed me in my new fabulous kitchen stirring up creative ideas during my month of blogger silence, this scenario was a bit different than reality. I spent some time in the kitchen, yes. But mostly I spent time at the home improvement store of choice buying blinds and lawn tools; listening to the insulation company in the attic and the gutter company on my roof; bringing my husband Gatorade, shoveling and moving gravel, and loving every minute of it. Well most minutes of it.

Anyway, enough about me. Let's talk about you and how hungry you are for more Simple Plates. It doesn't get any easier (and healthy) than fish my friends. So light and fresh and so easy to flavor. And it just might leave room in your caloric budget for some dessert. That is if you have done some shoveling or any other type of physical activity today.

Mediterranean Tilapia and Quinoa Salad
2 fillets of tilapia
2 tbsp olive oil
1 tbsp oregano
1/2 tsp salt
1 lemon
1 cup of quinoa
1 cup of vegetable broth
1 cup of water
10-15 kalamata olives, diced
1 cucumber, diced
1/4 red onion, finely diced
1/4-1/2 cup feta cheese, crumbled
Heat a small sauce pan on medium heat, add 1 tbsp olive oil and finely diced red onion. Saute onions for a couple minutes and then add 1 cup vegetable broth, 1 cup of water and 1 cup of quinoa. Stir the quinoa, bring liquid to a boil, turn to low heat and simmer for 15-20 minutes or until water is absorbed. Once the quinoa is done set aside in a bowl and let cool. Next add olives, cucumber and feta cheese and combine with quinoa. Preheat oven to 350 degrees, brush 1 tbsp olive oil onto tilapia fillets and add salt and oregano. Thinly slice some lemons and lay on top of the fish. Cook for 12-15 minutes or until fish is white and flaky. Serve fish immediately with a side of quinoa salad.

26 August, 2011

Mushroom, Spinach & Corn Stuffed Shells

I am kicking myself right now. (ouch) I made stuffed pasta shells about three weeks ago.  I cannot for the life of me find the notes I wrote on the recipe. So instead I present to you the "restimate". Yes, I made up that word.

Restimate: an estimate of ingredient measurements in a recipe with disclosure from the author that it may or may not be accurate. Now I will use it in a sentence: Please forgive me, but I have to admit that 50% of my recipes are actually restimates.

I would love to hear your creative variation to stuff the shells.
Beef, chorizo, seafood, eggplant? Bring it!

1/2 box of jumbo shell pasta (about 16 shells)
2 egg yolks, beaten
8 oz ricotta cheese
parmesan cheese
8 oz mushrooms, finely chopped in food processor
2 ears of corn,shucked
3 handfuls of fresh spinach
salt, pepper, oregano
1-2 cloves of garlic, minced
*2 cups tomato sauce
*use this simple recipe

Partially cook your pasta for about 6 minutes until tender. The pasta will continue to cook in the oven. Drain shells and lay them out on a sheet pan not touching each other to cool. Add olive oil to a medium hot skillet and cook your spinach until wilted. Add garlic at the end, turn off heat, and drain water. Combine ricotta, egg yolks, parmesan, mushrooms, corn, spinach, salt, pepper, and oregano. Stuff about two tablespoons in each shell. Add tomato sauce to the bottom of a casserole dish, add stuffed shells, top with tomato sauce and cheese. Bake for about 20-30 minutes in a 350 degree oven.

17 August, 2011


Simple Plates is getting an upgrade! Nope, not a better website but a new kitchen! We will be moving over the next couple of weeks. And among other things I am giddy about the following:

the brand new, never used, amazing gas range

 the ample cabinet space,

and the surplus of natural light streaming through the windows.

There is plenty of space for my loved ones to gather around and lend a hand or sit back and keep me company. Posts may be few and far between until the dust settles, but rest assured the new digs are expected to inspire new and exciting meals.

10 August, 2011

Mango Salsa

va·ca·tion [vey-key-shuhn] noun
 a period of suspension of work, study, or other activity, usually used for rest, recreation, or travel
Sunrises on the water
Palm trees in the wind
Hammocks in the shade
Laughter from family
The art of just existing while activity churns around you.
Mango Salsa 
2 ripe mangos, chopped
1/2 jalapeno, finely diced (use a whole one for more heat)
1/2 red onion, finely diced
1 green bellpepper, chopped
handful of cilantro, chopped
juice of 1/2 lime

Combine all ingredients, chill and serve. Good with tortilla chips, pita chips, plantain chips and lobster.

27 July, 2011

Simple Summer Pasta

Today I am sharing an idea.
A recipe without measurements.
This is how I like to cook.

I know there is always pasta in my pantry, veggies on my counter and cheese in my fridge.
Cook pasta. Cut veggies. (squash and tomatoes in this picture)
Combine in a casserole dish with olive oil, salt, and pepper.
Fold in some parmesan cheese or feta.
Bake in 350 degree oven for 20 minutes.
Add grilled chicken if you please.
Fresh. Simple.Yum.

21 July, 2011

Stuffed Portobello Mushrooms

Confession...I might have not tasted a dish because I did not like its ingredients. And I might have missed out on a great dish. Sometimes we decide we don't like a certain food and so we never try it again. We should try it again. And again. And again. Foods combined with different ingredients, prepared a certain way, or cooked with an alternate method usually taste completely different. Sometimes it is the consistency, the accompaniments, the presentation, or the dipping sauce that can make the difference.

Here are just a couple of my own personal examples:
I do not like maraschino cherries. I adore fresh cherries.
I do not feast on spicy tuna sushi rolls. I dig raw tuna and grilled tuna.
I do not enjoy raw cauliflower. I love cauliflower soup and cauliflower gratins.
I do not care for hamburgers and despise meatloaf. I am giddy for meatballs.
I do not appreciate grilled chicken breast. I fancy chicken skewers with a dipping sauce. 
I hate green peas (yes, the "h word"). I tolerate frozen green peas and admire fresh green peas.
Do you have a personal example?

I have never been a huge fan of portobello burgers; however I would join the facebook fan page for grilled and stuffed mushrooms if there was one. "Simple Plates like this"

Stuffed Portobello Mushrooms
Adapted from Marinated Mushroom Caps, Whole Living Magazine, June 2011
juice of 2 lemons
1 tsp grated lemon zest*
4 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 tsp salt
4 small portobello mushroom caps
1/2 cup raw cashews **
1 ear corn, shucked
Whisk lemon juice, lemon zest, oil, garlic and salt. (*I never measure lemon zest)
Arrange mushrooms round side down in a shallow dish and pierce them with a knife or fork.
Soak cashews in warm water for at least 30 minutes, drain, and pulse in a food processor until the consistency of a hummus. Taste and season with salt.
Once mushrooms are done marinating, remove them from their dish, spoon cashew puree into the caps, and top with corn. You can bake, grill, or broil these to your desired consistency. I put them in a 350 degree toaster oven for about 15 minutes and finished them off under the broiler for a couple minutes until the corn achieved some char.

**Vegans and those on raw food diets use cashews to make "cheese" and "cream". You can stuff your mushrooms with lots of different ingredients but I urge you to try the cashew cheese.

15 July, 2011

Whipped Sorbet

Cheers to Friday!
Don't let summer or its bounty pass you by.

Whipped Sorbet
Whole Living Magazine August 2011
3 bananas, peeled and frozen
1 cup frozen berries
Puree ingredients in a food processor until smooth. Serve immediately.

12 July, 2011

Wing It: One Year of Simple Plates

One year ago I started a project called Simple Plates. As I nervously pressed the publish button I wondered about the future of this project. Would I be able to keep it up for a year or longer? Would my ideas dry up or would the outlet help them flow? Would I enjoy it or would it become a burden? Would I get positive feedback or any feedback at all? I am known as a planner and am not much of a risk taker. I like to stay on the trail, follow an agenda, and have multiple contingency plans. The lesson learned is that while planning and analyzing works for most decisions there are times when we should just follow our hearts, trust our instincts and wing it.  My biggest reward has been the feedback received from my family, my friends and complete strangers. I hope that Simple Plates has provided something for you whether that may be dinner ideas ripe for tweaking, motivation to get into the kitchen, or just a bit of entertainment. Balance is my goal. Learning to appreciate the art of winging it just so happened along the way.

I have created a facebook page to celebrate the one year anniversary of Simple Plates. If you are a fan please "like" my new page and help pass on the word to others. Also, you can join as a Simple Plate follower by clicking the "join this site" button on the right and signing in with any email and password. Thank your for reading! Here are some favorites from the past year:
My Family's Favorite: Turkey Pot Pie
Favorite Summer Recipe: Corn Summer Salad
Favorite Rainy Day Recipe: Taco Soup
Favorite Recipe for large group: Back Pocket Lasagna
Favorite Picture : Slaw Dogs with Mango
Simplest of the Simple Plates: Egg Tomato Toast

06 July, 2011

Strawberry Oat Date Bar

I only have a handful of vivid childhood memories. However, my sister seems to remember everything from the womb to the present day. In one of my memories my sisters and I are in black leotards standing on a chair at our kitchen table making date bars with one of my many favorite aunts. Maybe I cheated on this memory as there is also a photograph from this day. This memory is what I think of when I think of dates. The other day I came across a recipe for strawberry date oat bars in Whole Living magazine and decided to give it a try. You know for old time's sake.
What is a date? Is it the big sister of the raisin, the cousin of a prune, an in-law of the fig? Or just a reason to get dressed up on a Saturday night and wear perfume? Well maybe, but mostly it is a fruit that happens to be high in fiber, calcium and potasium. Dates are sticky and and when ground into a paste you can use them as a natural sweetner for baking. Or you can use them as the star of the recipe. Date night anyone?
Makes 6 servings
1.5 cups pitted dates
1/4 cup raw macadamia nuts *
2 tbsp old fashioned rolled oats
Pinch of sea salt
1 cup strawberries thinly sliced

Pulse dates, nuts, oats, and salt in a food processor until combined. The mixture will first turn into a sandy consistency but after a few minutes it will all come together. Press the date mixture onto a cutting board into a square or circle. Put half of your strawberries into the food processor until they look like a jam. Spread the jam onto the top of the date bar and set in the refrigerator for about 30 minues. Remove from refrigerator, cut into bars, and add sliced strawberries on top.

*In this recipe I used cashews instead of macadamia nuts and imagine a bit of honey would be a good addition. The bars are the consistency of a really chewy and gooey granola bar and I imagine you could tweak this recipe to make some really creative treats.

25 June, 2011

Grilled Chicken Pitas with Tzatziki Sauce

For most of our lives we settle into a routine and mill about in a very comfortable space. However, there are some situations we can expect to go through  that will cause us to become uncomfortable. If you ever move to a new place you have to go through a transition phase that can feel quite awkward. You may have to find a new job, new doctors, new friends, a new home. No one enjoys being uncomfortable but most often we come out on the other side with a different view of ourselves. A routine can rob us of a new favorite food, restaurant, workout, brand of shoes, best friend. If you have been comfortable for a considerable amount of time I urge you to do one thing to break out of this zone. Being challenged is what pushes us along on our journey and teaches us about ourselves and others.

Last week I tried making a dish I had never made before. I am in love with tzatziki sauce. Tzatziki is a yogurt based dip or condiment served at Mediterranean restaurants with pita bread, veggies, or on top of skewers. Think of it as salsa to Mexican food. I tried it. It was uncomfortable. It was simple. It was great.
Herb marinated chicken- Serves 4
1.5 pounds chicken breast
olive oil
1/2 tsp thyme
1/2 tsp oregano
1 tsp ground cumin
salt, pepper
pita bread
fresh spinach, sliced red pepper

2 medium cucumbers
1 clove garlic
3 cups of yogurt
juice of 1 lemon
1-2 tbsp dill
*This recipe makes way more than you need so you may want to cut it in half

Wash, peel, and scoop out seeds of two medium cucumbers. Chop and salt the cucumbers and let them drain for 30 minutes. (Seeding and salting the cucumbers is important to eliminate water so that you have a thick consistency). Add garlic, dill, and cucumbers to a food processor and chop finely. Add mixture to yogurt and refrigerate for at least one hour.
Cut chicken into one inch cubes and marinate with olive oil, thyme, oregano, cumin, and salt. Refrigerate for at least 30 minutes, skewer and then grill for 15 minutes or until done. Grill pita until warm then top with spinach, red pepper, chicken and tzatziki.

15 June, 2011

Slaw dogs with Mango

I do not get many requests from Mr. Simple Plates. He eats what he is served and hopes it's still hot after the photo shoot is done. However, the other day while we were in a checkout line at the grocery store he pointed to a magazine with three fabulous looking gourmet hotdogs on the cover. They each had a different colorful topping and I had to admit it was something I hadn't done before. I took some time searching for a sausage to use with the least amount of ingredients and the most natural ingredients. I also made an effort to serve a light salad topped with shrimp the night before and a vegetarian dish the night after. Balance. I topped the dogs with broccoli slaw and mango and served with a side of sweet potatoes. The sweetness of the mango with the salty sausage and the crispy slaw turned out to be a great combination. However, if I am going to recommend serving your family hot dogs I have to ask that you follow some rules:

*DO NOT use "wieners".
Yeah, you know the pink ones that are made up of the stuff that is left over in a meat packing plant. Do not use those.Try to find a good quality, natural sausage with as few ingredients as possible. A homemade deer or pork sausage would be perfect for you hunters out there. For you vegetarians, you can use a soy dog.

*Create a healthy topping.
Broccoli or cabbage slaw, mango, grilled pineapple, sauteed mushrooms, onions and peppers. Use your imagination and use some color.

*Serve a vegetarian dish immediatly following the next night

Agreed? Great. This could be a really fun dish to serve for your Fourth of July cookout.

Natural Sausages (you promised!)
Whole wheat hot dog buns
Broccoli slaw
1-2 tbsp of Mayo
Mango, diced

Combine broccoli slaw or cabbage slaw (found in the produce section with the packaged greens) with 1-2 tbsp mayo, salt and pepper. Dice your mango into chunks. Grill your sausages and top with mango and slaw.

03 June, 2011

Surviving Summer with a Toaster Oven

For the last five years I have spent my summers rolling around in the San Francisco fog with my rain boots and down vests while enjoying a steaming bowl of oatmeal. All the while I was feeling sorry for my family as I read their cries for help on Facebook. This year I join them in their plight as I try to find creative ways to adjust to the humidity and keep my core temperature cool. You know you are in the South when you it's 90 degrees at 8pm, you drive around for ten minutes looking for a shady parking spot and you take a minimum of three showers a day.

In our frugal home we made a decision to take precautions to keep our apartment cool and keep our electricity bill low. When this decision involved purchasing a toaster oven to avoid heating up our space with the conventional oven I was definitely on board.  While half of my household expected this new bundle of joy to lower our electricity bill, the other half of our household expected  some wiggle room in the electricity budget to keep the AC lower at night. Whatever the reason, I have fallen in love with this new addition. I originally imagined that after a few uses it would be sitting in the corner growing dust and gathering keys, mail and anything else that needed a place to land. I was wrong. (You hear that happy husband, I was wrong. In writing. For all the world to see). This toaster oven has assisted me in roasted veggies, pizzas, open face sandwiches, toast, baked eggs, baked fish, chicken, meatballs and banana nut bread. I am constantly impressed at its abilities and five minute preheat regardless of the temperature. Below is an egg recipe and some pictures.

Wherever you may live, whatever the temps might be, I hope you enjoy your summer.

Baked Eggs-Serves 2
3 eggs
1 tbsp milk
3/4 cup diced potatoes, microwaved for 2 minutes
1/2 red pepper, diced
handful of cheese
salt, pepper
Grease a small casserole dish and layer your veggies of choice at the bottom. I used potatoes and red pepper but any of your favorites will do. Make three small wells to crack your eggs in and add salt and pepper. Pour a splash of milk on top each egg. This will keep them from drying out. Sprinkle the top with cheese. Cook for 35 minutes or until egg whites are done completely.

Action shot.
Homemade pizza fresh out the oven.

Yep, it even does meatballs.

25 May, 2011

Garden Summer Squash and Potato Pie

When I was a kid my Dad had a garden in our backyard. I didn't notice. I also didn't notice how amazing the Grand Canyon was when we went to visit. I was preoccupied with important kid things. Growing and killing our own food seemed very "country" to me and I would rather have Hamburger Helper, hold the veggies please.

Fast forward 20 years and a cross country move to California, I now prefer my food to be served from the garden, the farmer's market or the produce section, hold the meat please. I return to the South and  find my Dad hard at work keeping up my Grandfather's garden after his recent passing. Cauliflower, broccoli, green beans, tomatoes, cucumber, potatoes and squash. I drool at the sound of the "Farmer's Market" right in my Grandmother's front yard. I would love to bring my reusable bags and load up.

Why is it that we appreciate things more when we are older? Is there a way that I could get my future kids to appreciate a garden now and not when they are 30? Why do things taste different? Why do we now enjoy being around our parents? Why do we talk and care about the weather more? Why do we drive slower? I often hear people reminiscing and wishing they could be younger and go back to the "good old days". I disagree, personally I would like to be right where I am trying out a recipe using the squash and potatoes from my Grandfather's garden.

Recipe adapted from Smitten Kitchen, adapted from Bon Appetite June 2001

Serves 3-4 as a side dish
1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese
1/2 cup crumbled feta
1 tablespoons all purpose flour
1/2 tablespoon chopped fresh thyme
3/4 teaspoons salt
1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper
1 pound potatoes, peeled, cut into thin rounds
2 medium yellow summer squash, cut into thin rounds
3 teaspoons olive oil

Preheat oven to 375°F. Grease one 8-inch-diameter cake pan. Toss cheese, flour, thyme, salt and pepper in medium bowl to blend. Layer potatoes in bottom of pan, overlapping slightly. Next, make a layer of squash, drizzle with 1 teaspoon oil and sprinkle with cheese mixture. Repeat until you reach the top and have enough room to finish with a layer of potatoes and the remainder of the cheese mixture. Press potatoes down to flatten. It will likely be about five or less layers. Cover pan with foil and bake until potatoes are almost tender, about 35 minutes. Remove foil; bake uncovered until potatoes are tender and the top begins to brown, about 20 minutes longer.

16 May, 2011

The Tiny Sous-Chef and the Tortilla Scramble

A few weekends ago my parents and my 5 year old niece came to visit us in our new home (apartment). My niece was elated to discover we had a huge pool. She has been swimming like a fish since she was about 3 years old. I can't even begin to describe how much she loves swimming. I would not be exaggerating to say that she would swim all day, everyday if she could. On Sunday as she was saying her goodbyes I asked her what was her favorite thing about the weekend and she said "cooking with you". I was shocked and so very excited. My thought immediately turned to the rising percentages of childhood obesity. Could getting our kids in the kitchen be the answer or at least a stepping stone to a healthy relationship with food? Below is the recipe my niece and I cooked together.

Serves 4-5
8 eggs
1 tbsp skim milk
corn tortillas
1/2 large green bellpepper, diced
3/4 cup cheddar cheese, shredded
salt, pepper, salsa

Beat eggs with milk, salt, pepper, and set aside. Heat 1 tbsp butter on medium-high in a skillet. Working in batches, add tortillas and let cook for a minute or two on each side. They will get brown and crisp up a bit.  Once all tortillas are done, cut them into small triangles and set aside. Next add oil to a skillet on medium heat, add green pepper and let soften for about 4 minutes. Add eggs, let them set and continue to scramble. A minute or two before the eggs are done to your liking, add tortillas and cheese and combine. Remove from heat, top with salsa and serve. 

09 May, 2011

Stranded Shrimp Scampi (with a team of red pepper and asparagus)

When I was younger a team didn't really mean much to me except the other kids in my PE class who had the unfortunate luck of having me participate in their volleyball, basketball or softball game. In my older and wiser years I find myself thinking about teams and team work often in my everyday life. The day I married my husband we committed to be team members for life in every and all decisions and challenges that come our way.

A few weekends ago I was in an unusual situation in which after a minor accident I was stranded and in need of rescue. However, I was not alone. I had a team that consisted of the eternal optimist best friend, the supportive and intelligent husband, and the experienced and level headed father. After several uncomfortable hours and a lot of calm decision making we were safely rescued by an upbeat and persistent team of two. While stranded I kept thinking about how different this experience and every experience could be with a different team. I thought about how blessed we were that no one was seriously injured. I thought about how comfortable our daily living situations are. And lastly, of course I thought about cooking and trying new recipes. And while that brings me to the recipe below it also brings me to the conclusion that your life is only as safe, as comfortable, as challenging, as positive, as smart as the team you surround yourself with.

Shrimp Scampi, serves 3-4
Original recipe adapted from one of my favorite blogs written by Ree better known as The Pioneer Woman.

1.5 tbsp olive oil
3 tbsp butter
1/2 white onion, diced
3 cloves of garlic, minced
1 small red pepper, chopped
1/2 pound of asparagus, chopped into 1.5 inch pieces
1/2 pound of angel hair pasta cooked al dente
1/2 pound shrimp, cooked (I used boiled shrimp, you can broil in oven like this recipe)
juice from 1/2 a lemon
1/4 cup white wine
2-3 shakes of hot sauce
salt and pepper to taste
2 tbsp chopped fresh parsley
parmesan cheese

Heat olive oil and butter in skillet on medium heat. Add onion and garlic and let cook for two to four minutes, add asparagus and red pepper and let cook for two to four minutes. Add shrimp, lemon juice, wine, hot sauce, salt and pepper. Once combined turn off heat and add parsley. Top with parmesan cheese and serve.

 A shrimp tale that also resulted from this same weekend:
Experienced and level headed Dad: These shrimp weren't too bad at $5/lb
Simple Plates: $5/lb! I just paid $8/lb the other day in my neighborhood
Eternal optimist best friend visiting from Cali: $8/lb! I paid $19.99 the other day!
Location, location, location.

29 April, 2011

Baked French Toast

If you know a little bit about me, you know that I believe in a balanced life. Especially when it comes to food and nutrition. I strongly believe there is room in one's diet for dessert on a birthday, a beer after work, or an afternoon piece of chocolate. A wise person once said "life is too short to skip dessert and too long to have large amounts of it everyday". Wait, that was me! I am not well versed in the rules on quoting yourself. Can that be done?

I recently made a baked french toast recipe for a leisurely weekend brunch. I found the original recipe here on one of my favorite food blogs. It's an easy throw together and since it's baked you won't have to stand over the skillet while it cooks. I feel like I should mention that I tried making a double batch of this for my family during the Easter holidays and it bombed. I'm not sure what I did wrong but these things happen and we pout and move on. The recipe above is the one shown in the picture (yum) and it was scrumptious as it looks. So go on, pour a second cup of coffee and linger over your weekend.

Serves 2-4

5 pc of bread (I used Nature's Own 100% whole wheat, sugar free bread)
2 eggs, beaten
1.5 cups milk
1tbs orange liqueur
1 tsp vanilla
1 tbsp honey
1tbsp sugar
1/4 tsp salt
1/4 cup pecans, chopped
berries and maple syrup

Preheat oven to 425 degrees. In a 8x8 casserole dish, lay out two layers of bread. You may have to break some pieces to make them fit. Combine eggs, milk, orange liqueur, vanilla, honey, sugar, and salt. Pour mixture into the casserole dish making sure to soak each slice of bread. Top with pecans and a few sprinkles of cinnamon. Bake until bread is puffed (see picture) and the middle is the consistency you like your french toast (wet or dry). This will take between 30-40 minutes and varies depending on the oven. If you happen to go too long the maple syrup will take care of the dryness. Top with berries and make someone smile (it might just be you).

23 April, 2011

Craving Crunchy Cabbage Salad with Shrimp

crave [kreyv] verb, craved, crav·ing
1. to long for; want greatly; desire eagerly 2. to require; need

There is a theory that people crave things because their bodies need it nutritionally. I take this theory a bit more seriously when I crave cabbage salad than when I crave dark chocolate covered peanut butter cups from Trader Joe's.  Although I am convinced there is room for both in a healthy diet.

Cabbage salad is like a fancy coleslaw with crispy veggies and without the watery mayo sugar juice lurking at the bottom of the bowl. Using olive oil and vinegar as a dressing keeps the cabbage crunchy and bright. Top it off with some spicy broiled shrimp and you got yourself a meal.

Serves 2
1/2 pound shrimp
1 tbsp olive oil
 salt, pepper, hot sauce (to taste)
1 bag shredded cabbage*
(*use any combination of fresh or bagged coleslaw mix or red and green cabbage)
1.5 tbsp white wine vinegar
1.5 tbsp olive oil
red bell pepper, diced
1/2 green bell pepper, diced
1/2 cup peanuts

Peel and devein a 1/2 pound of shrimp. Marinate shrimp with olive oil, salt, pepper, hot sauce and set in the refrigerator. In a bowl, mix cabbage, red pepper, green pepper, peanuts, olive oil, vinegar, salt and pepper to taste. Remove shrimp from fridge and put under the oven broiler for about 8-10 minutes flipping the shrimp halfway through.Top cabbage salad with shrimp and serve.

11 April, 2011

BBQ Chicken Pineapple Sandwich: How A Pizza Inspired a Sandwich

Someone in my family loves "Hawaiian pizza" and honestly it just bores me to tears with its processed little bits of ham and canned pineapple...until I met a pizza in Lubbock, Texas. I was fully expecting and had come to terms with having a mediocre meal at some chain restaurant and then West Crust Pizza happened. They had a veggie pizza on their menu but were serving a special this night with portabello mushrooms, jalapenos, cilantro, red onion, mozzarella, parmesan and fresh pineapple. I think that we must have been the first to order this dish because I heard the cashier reading the ingredients off the special's board to the chef as he prepared our pizza. And when the waiter put this delightful pizza in front of us he said "this is a special we are trying so if you don't like it please let us know and we will make you something else". We did not ask him to make us something else. I loved the taste of the sweet pineapple with the heat of the jalapenos together and that is a the long story on how a pizza inspired a sandwich.

I haven't done the "food dance" in awhile. This sandwich made me do the "food dance". Yeah, you know that little jig of the head or swing of the hips you do while proclaiming "oooweee" after you take a bite of something that you really like. Right, like you've never done it.

Serves 4
4-5 cups of cabbage slaw mix
1 or 2 jalapenos, finely diced
2 tablespoons mayonnaise
4 chicken breasts (I used thinly sliced breasts)
BBQ sauce* (recipe to make your own)
grapeseed oil
salt and pepper
one fresh pineapple cut into rings, Click here for instructions
whole grain ciabatta buns (or bread of your choice)

Mix cabbage slaw, diced jalapeno, salt, pepper, and mayonnaise in a bowl and set aside in the refrigerator. Rub chicken breast with grapeseed oil, salt, pepper and BBQ sauce. Grill for about 10 minutes on each side (will vary by chicken breast) and remove from heat when cooked. While chicken is grilling throw on the pineapple slices for about 3 minutes on each side and toast bread on the grill. Assemble sandwich with one or two pineapple rings, chicken breast and top with lots of coleslaw.

*If you don't want to take the time to make your own BBQ sauce but don't want all the sugar, look for Kraft Original Light. It has 3 grams of sugar compared to 12-15 grams in most BBQ sauces.