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Saturday, August 24, 2013

Dinner for 15 people in one hour.....beginning with salmon

For some reason, I have gotten quite good at coming up with a meal in a short period of time and limited information!   Tonight was no exception.  This scenario involves being extremely organized, flexible... and patient.  My original meal plan consisted of grilled pork tenderloin, broiled salmon, corn and black bean salad, but once I learned that my numbers had increased, I decided to make a double batch of ginger Jasmine rice as well.

My organizational skills kick in big time....  I decide to get the salmon ready first.  I take out a stick of butter and let it soften.  Place it in a bowl and add in some thyme, garlic, Montreal Steak seasoning, dried onion and tarragon.   Spread the butter mixture on the fish and sprinkle with lemon juice.  I decide to cook this in the oven, instead of the grill, just because of logistics....I can't be inside cooking and outside grilling at the same time.

Next up, stuffed peppers....and why did I decide to make these?  I had made some the night before and naturally I made way too much stuffing as usual.  I thought this would be something great to serve and would use up my over-abundance of stuffing!  These I have made many times and have blogged...This time I used the croutons, fresh mozzarella, some leftover orzo I had made that had roasted asparagus, garlic, fresh tomatoes and spinach.  I added some cut up sliced ham instead of the usual sausage.  

It's all about improvising, using the ingredients you have on hand.   Once those were tucked into a 375 degree oven for about 30 minutes, I moved on to my next dish, corn and black bean salad.

This salad is easy, and the flavors are so bold and delicious.   Here's what you need:

2 cans of black beans, drained
1 large bag of frozen corn, thawed and cooked
4 scallion stalks cut up
a good handful of cilantro, stems removed and chopped
the juice of at least 5 limes
a couple of times around the bowl with olive oil
salt and pepper

The longer this sits, the better it tastes, so make it early on.  Every so often take a taste to see if it needs anything..

The basmati rice is pretty straightforward.  I always cook my rice in chicken broth instead of water.   I added about an inch of ginger that I grated.  When the rice is done, give it a stir to fluff it up, cover and set aside.

The last item on this menu is the pork tenderloin.

All I did to get the tenderloins ready to grill was to rub them with a combination of sugar, brown sugar, black pepper, cumin, salt, mustard powder, chili powder and garlic.  Once the grill was hot, I got to work.  The great thing about cooking pork tenderloins is they don't take very long.  I like to turn them every 5-10 minutes, and after about 30 minutes, they were perfectly cooked.  During the last 5 minutes on the grill, I painted barbecue sauce on all sides.

I don't know if you kept track, but I managed to create 4 dishes to feed 15 hungry people in less than an hour.   It was funny, comment I heard was "wow, this is an interested combination of food!"  I think I tried to direct my brain to come up with things that tasted good, were relatively easy to prepare, and that didn't take very long to cook.   Note to self:  next time, find out how many people are coming up front, and simplify!  would I ever consider just ordering pizzas?  probably not!

Grilled flat bread pizza - 3 ways

There is something about a flat bread pizza that I simply cannot resist.  Lately, every time I go out for a bite to eat, my eye searches the menu for new and interesting pizza offerings.  Maybe it's the light, thin crust?  Maybe it's the unique toppings?  Oh well, whatever the case may be, they are delicious.  My three favorites are fresh tomato, mozzarella, and basil pizza, Garlic mashed, steak, and cheese pizza, and shrimp, artichoke hearts and roasted red pepper pizza (with a lemon basil aioli sauce).

We were having friends over and because I couldn't decide, I made all three!  I'll try to explain them as best I can, but keep in mind that nothing, I repeat NOTHING is measured!    I will start with the tomato and mozzarella pizza.  I buy my pizza dough at the grocery store.  After prying it out of the bag, I stretch and flatten it as much as I can.  Once I have the shape I want, I bring it out to the grill and cook thee dough long enough until I get some good grill marks.  Now for the fun stuff.... the toppings.

The first crust gets a coat of olive oil.  I add a little crushed red pepper and some salt and pepper.  Place sliced Compari tomatoes that have been dried on some paper towels, along with some fresh mozzarella cheese and Parmesan cheese.  I bake it at 400 degrees for about 15 minutes.  When it looks done, I take it out and sprinkle the fresh basil all over the top.  This one is done and looks delicious.  Now on to my steak and garlic mashed pizza....

For this beauty, I begin with my grilled pizza dough.  I cheat a little with the next two ingredients, usually because I am short on time, but trust me when I say that this pizza gets raves every time!  I make a 3-4 serving size of instant mashed potatoes.  Once I have added the water, milk, and butter, I sprinkle enough garlic powder and salt and pepper so that you can taste it!  After combining the potatoes, I add some Parmesan cheese and spread them over the crust.  As for the steak?  I buy frozen sandwich steak.  It cooks up really quickly over medium-high heat.  Once all of the steak is cooked, I season it with a little Montreal Steak seasoning. and cut it up.  Scatter the steak over the potatoes, and top with cheese.  I used a combination of shredded Parmesan, Mozzarella and a little bit of cheddar cheese I had left over.  This one is done and ready to bake.

The last pizza was my attempt to duplicate one that I love to order at Not Your Average Joe's restaurant.  It is my favorite, probably because of the shrimp and artichoke hearts, but the flavors in the sauce that gets drizzled over the top is amazing as well.  I begin this pizza by painting on some seasoned olive oil.  I then load it up with shrimp that I partially cooked (once in the oven, they will finish cooking), thinly sliced roasted red peppers, and artichoke hearts.  This pizza gets feta cheese as well as some shredded mozzarella.  While it bakes, I make the Lemon Basil Aioli sauce:

1/2 cup of mayo
2 cloves of garlic, crushed
3 tbs lemon juice
1/2 tsp lemon zest
1-2 tbs  fresh basil, chopped (you can add as much as you like)

Let the pizza cool  slightly before adding the sauce.

All three of these pizzas were delicious.  Keep in mind that anything goes... add whatever you like, whether it be olives or mushrooms or chicken.... your options are endless!  

Sunday, August 11, 2013

Chicken thighs with a few of my favorite things....

Tonight was one of those nights when I had absolutely no idea what to make for dinner, nor did I have time to do any research.  So, left to my own devices, I opened the refrigerator to see what I had to work with.  Fortunately for me, I had three ingredients that I love...goat cheese, prosciutto, and marinated artichoke hearts.  Now all I had to do is figure out how to use them....Finally the light bulb went on.  I had some frozen boneless chicken thighs that would definitely come in handy.


My idea seemed really easy to prepare - I just hoped it would taste good.   I started with boneless skinless chicken thighs (you could use chicken breasts if you prefer).  I cut off all the fat and laid them out flat.  Sprinkle with fresh ground pepper and salt.

The next step was to spread some goat cheese over each thigh.  Lay a piece of prosciutto over the cheese, and top with one or two artichoke hearts.

Roll them up as best you can, and place in a casserole dish, seam side down.  I wanted a topping for them, but having run out of bread crumbs a few nights ago, I had to improvise.  I did have Ritz crackers, so I crushed up on sleeve of them.  Instead of mixing in some melted butter, I decided to use some of the marinade from the artichokes.  I thought that was a pretty good idea!  I spooned a little of the marinade over each rolled up thigh, then arranged the crumbs on top.

While this was cooking in a 350 degree oven (for about 30 minutes), I needed to come up with something to go with the chicken.  Earlier that day, we had been in Costco and they were sampling this really yummy package of Madras Lentils.

Dealing with some time constraints, I needed to come up with something that I could serve with the lentils.....couscous.  Fast, easy, and delicious.  I prepare it according to the package directions, and decided it was time to plate this creation!

Well, what do you think?  Looks pretty good.  Time to take a bite.

I have to say I was quite proud of myself!  The chicken was so delicious, and the fact that I didn't actually "make" the lentils was OK, because they really were yummy.  

Thursday, August 8, 2013

Stuffed Artichokes

This post is one that is dear and near to my heart.  I'm not sure how many of you are familiar with artichokes, but I began eating them at a very young age.  They were always a delicacy to me....a treat, something you only had on special occasions or as part of a Sunday dinner.  My wonderful mother would simmer the artichokes first.  She would then make a yummy Hollandaise sauce.  You would peel one leaf off at a time and dip it into the sauce, and pull it through your teeth to scrape off the small amount of deliciousness.

Now that I am all grown up, I decided to go outside the box and try something new for me....stuffed artichokes.  It is definitely a lot more work, but boy are they delicious.  Even my kids are hooked on them!  And the easiest thing about them is there is no measuring involved!

To get the artichokes ready to cook, cut the tips off of all the leaves.  Cut the stem as well so they will sit upright.  Sprinkle with a little lemon juice to prevent them from turning brown, and simmer in about 1 inch of water for about 20 minutes.  You want the artichokes to be fully cooked.  Remove them from the water and let them sit while you get your stuffing ready.

This time, my stuffing was very basic.  Please feel free to add anything you would like, whether sausage, or crab meat, or other veggies.  Just remember that only a small amount will be pressed between each leaf.

In a bowl, combine seasoned bread crumbs, maybe 2 cups (I was a little short, so I used a little Pepperidge Farm stuffing mix to make up the difference)  The amount of breadcrumbs depends on how many artichokes you are making.  I made three this time.  Add in Parmesan cheese, parsley, garlic powder, onion (either dried or cooked, it doesn't matter), some olive oil, and chicken broth.  You want the stuffing to be moist enough to be pliable, because you will be packing the stuffing in between each leaf.

Once you have finished stuffing the artichokes, drizzle the tops with olive oil, cover with foil, and bake at 350 for about 30 minutes.  It is a good idea to let them sit once you take them out of the oven, so that they will get as tender as possible.

I could have made a meal out of just the artichokes, but my family needed a bit more, so I grilled some chicken thighs that were seasoned with a combination of cumin, coriander, cloves, nutmeg, cinnamon, cardamom, black pepper and paprika.  You could mix up a batch, maybe a 1/2 tsp of each ingredient, and keep it on hand.  It really is delicious.

And what meal would not be complete without a batch of rice pilaf?

Well, I hope that after you taste my stuffed artichokes, you too will become passionate about them!

Haddock and Veggies en Casserole

Usually I prepare fish by broiling it with some sort of sauce on top.  I wanted to try something different for a change, so I decided to make a casserole using a piece of haddock I had, along with some fresh veggies and pasta.  At this point I have no idea if this will work or not!

The veggies I used were cherry tomatoes,  zucchini, fresh spinach, and Vidalia onion.  While my pasta was cooking, I cut up the zucchini, tomatoes and onion.  Saute the onion in a little butter.  When the pasta is done, drain and save the water.  Throw the zucchini in the hot water for about 5 minutes.  I just wanted it to just begin to cook.

Saute half a Vidalia onion with 2 chopped garlic cloves.  When they are tender, add 2 tbs of flour.  Once blended in, begin to add milk, 1 cup at a time, until you get a good consistency ( I probably used about 1 1/2 cups).  Add about a cup of Parmesan cheese, as well as some shredded cheese you have on hand, and some salt and pepper.  Feel free to use whatever you have.

Pour into a casserole dish.  Cover with foil and bake in a 350 degree oven for about 20 minutes.  In a separate bowl, combine 1 sleeve of crushed Ritz crackers, a little garlic powder, and 1/2 of a stick of butter that has been melted.  Remove the foil and scatter the cracker crumb mixture over the top and back into the oven for another 10 minutes, just until the cracker crumbs begin to brown.

I have to say, this came out great.  The fish was cooked perfectly and I loved how light it was.  You can control how healthy this is by using 1% milk instead of cream.  Please experiment and use whatever veggies you have on hand.  This dinner is all about technique....making a casserole!

Friday, August 2, 2013

Would you believe Chicken Cupcakes???

I wanted to do something with boneless chicken breasts, and I love to roll and stuff things.... lots of things.  I had an idea of creating an individual "stuffed chicken" with it's own cranberry sauce!  How am I going to do this?  Well, to begin with,  chicken breasts are hard to keep rolled up, no matter how thin you pound them.  And, I like to put a lot of stuffing inside, which makes matters worse.  But..... I found a solution that was totally amazing and worked like a charm!  Use a large cupcake pan.  Read on!

I begin by getting my chicken ready.  Place one or two boneless chicken breasts in a ziplock bag and pound them as thin as possible.  Place the flattened chicken on paper towels while you prepare the stuffing.

Here's what I came up with for stuffing this time:

sauteed Vidalia onion
crushed garlic
fresh spinach
chopped Bella mushrooms
Parmesan cheese
Pepperidge Farm stuffing
olive oil
salt and pepper
pine nuts

The only ingredients that needed cooking were the onion, garlic, and the stuffing.  In one pan I saute the onion and garlic.  In another pan, I prepare 1 cup of Pepperidge Farm regular stuffing mix using the package directions.  I add some fresh parsley once the stuffing is done.


Using a bowl, combine all of the ingredients and drizzle with a little olive oil to moisten it.  Give it a taste to see if you would like to add anything else.  If not, you are ready to stuff and roll...

I had some leftover mashed cauliflower that was so delicious, I wanted to use it somehow, so I decided to spread some on the chicken before I added the stuffing..... brilliant, I thought (or hoped!).

Place a fair amount of stuffing on your chicken and roll it up.  Take your cupcake pan and spray each compartment with Pam.  Place the rolled chicken breast in the cup, seam side down.  When you have all six compartments filled, spray a little Pam on the tops and sprinkle with seasoned breadcrumbs.

Bake in a 350 degree oven for 30 minutes.  Done.  There is just something so cool about individual serving sizes of what is usually a huge dish!  So far on my blog, I have compartmentalized lasagna and now stuffed chicken!