Sunday, May 31, 2009

Burgers - Two Ways

Our electric bill typically goes down by $20/month in the summer because we are out back grilling instead of baking. Here are two different delicious burger recipes to help you save some money this summer (or really, year round). First up, a twist on the turkey burger. Second, a twist on a cheeseburger.

First up is a Southwest inspired turkey burger served with guacamole and a coucous, quinoa, and orzo blend. As I've mentioned before, we're trying to add more variety into our diet and this is a great addition. One thing to note about the healthiest choice when you are choosing ground turkey: when you go to the store, the healthier choice is ground turkey breast, not just ground turkey. Ground turkey contains both white and dark meat and is not as low cal/low fat as the ground turkey breast.

A few recipe tips: The onions in the burgers help to keep them moist. I tried out a new trick I saw Bobby Flay do - after you form the burger patty, press down in the middle to give it a little indent. When the burgers cook, they usually puff up in the middle. By starting with the indent they will end up flat - not like a baseball. I'm happy to report that this worked. Check out the photo! Now on to the recipe:

Southwest Inspired Turkey Burger
1 lb. ground turkey breast
1/4 of a vidalia onion (helps keep burgers moist)
Handful of fresh cilantro, chopped
1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
1 teaspoon ground chili powder
A few shakes of green (jalapeno) Tabasco sauce
Salt and Pepper

Fire up the grill to medium-high heat
In a large bowl, mix all the ingredients together by hand
Split the mixture into four equal portions
Form four burger patties, pressing down in the middle to give them a little dent
Grill for a few minutes on each side

I toasted our whole wheat hamburger buns on the grill before serving
Top with guacamole and burgers and enjoy!

Prep time: 5-10 minutes
Cook time: 10 minutes
Cutting board and knife, bowl, plates, grill spatula, grill, and serving dishes

Makes 4 quarter-pound patties

Next up, a Non-Traditional Cheeseburger and Fries

Using another idea from one of the endless food shows I watch on TV, I decided to make a cheeseburger with the cheese inside the burger. We had some leftover mozzarella from the caprese sandwiches that I had for lunch during the week. Using my regular burger recipe, I added the cheese and voila! - a gourmet dinner at home. On the side, I made a delicious batch of no-fry fries. The recipe comes from an issue of a Better Homes and Gardens, "Simply Perfect Dinners" that I've had for a while (I just checked the magazine and the date is Spring 2000). There are 4-5 recipes in there that I always go back to - a great investment for $5.99! Here's the recipe.

Start the fries first, since they take longer than the burgers.

No-Fry Fries (adapted from Better Homes and Gardens)
Non-stick cooking spray
2 large baking potatoes (1 lb. total)
1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese
1/2 teaspoon paprika
1/8 teaspoon ground black pepper

Preheat the oven to 425 degrees
Lightly coat a large baking sheet with cooking spray
Cut potatoes lengthwise into thin wedges (I cut these in half again to make shorter fries)
Place the wedges into a ziplock bag and spray them with the non-stick cooking spray
In a small bowl, mix the cheese, paprika, and pepper
Pour the mixture into the ziplock bag, close bag, and toss until potatoes are well-coated
Pour out potatoes onto the baking sheet and arrange them in a single layer
Bake for 15 minutes and then turn the fries over
Bake for another 15 minutes until crisp and fork-tender

Prep time: 5 minutes
Cook time: 30 minutes
Cutting board and knife, ziplock bag, baking sheet, spatula

Nutrition info per serving: 155 calories, 3g total fat, 4mg cholesterol, 103mg sodium, 29g carbohydrates, 3g dietary fiber, 5g protein

Inside-out Sirloin Cheeseburgers
1/2 lb. ground sirloin
About 1 tablespoon diced vidalia onions
1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
1 teaspoon Montreal grill seasoning
2 1-inch squares of mozzarella cheese

Fire up the grill to medium-high
In a bowl, mix the sirloin, onions, Worcestershire, and grill seasoning by hand
Split into two even portions
Take one portion and split into to even pieces
Form each of the two pieces into a patty
Take one patty in your hand, place the mozzarella square in the middle, and top with the second patty
Crimp the edges to seal around the cheese
Repeat with the second portion of meat
You will have 2 quarter-pound burgers to grill
Grill for a few minutes on each side until desired doneness

We served ours with ketchup and mustard, lettuce, and tomato.

Prep time: 5 minutes
Cook time: 10-15 minutes
Cutting board and knife, bowl, grill, and grilling utensils

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

When He Fends for Himself -- Mixed Grill

Yesterday was Tuesday, which means the regular cook was playing golf. So that leads to another edition of "When he fends for himself."

Because I've agreed to share my loner meals in this forum, I have begun to feel pressure to produce something of value. I don't want to waste this space with dribble. Therefore, I came home Tuesday with a plan. I knew we had marinated steak tips, half of an uncooked chicken kabob, and some asparagus waiting for me in the fridge. When I got home, I fired up the grill and started my prep.

I carefully placed the steak tips and chicken kabobs on a platter to bring out to the grill. On a separate plate, I drizzled olive oil and added some salt and pepper to the asparagus. I brilliantly balanced both plates as I carried them through a storm door as well as a screen door on the way out to the grill.

On the grill, I like to place the meat on the left and the veggies on the right. I have no idea why, but it makes me feel good and calm when that's the order. My mother always says I'm the messiest engineer she's ever met, but I can be particular about some things, apparently. (note from editor, i.e. doris: this does not necessarily mean that this type of organization is practiced "off the grill")

Once placed on the grill I did what I do best. I went inside and went horizontal. Five minutes later, I went back out, flipped the meat and took off the asparagus. Then, back to the couch. Again, once 4-5 minutes passed I went back out and collected my dinner.

I quickly plated my food and sat down in front of the TV to enjoy my impromptu mixed grill. I also added some leftover pasta salad (not pictured) to complete the meal.

All in all, I am quite proud of the dinner I prepared for myself. I know some of you might have been expecting a lot less from me. To that I will ask you not to lose faith. I will lose my motivation about trying to impress in this space, and I am sure to be writing about cereal and "snack dinners" soon enough. The ingredients to this meal were in place and I took advantage.
In the future, I promise you, that will not be the case...

New Treats for the Grill

It's easy to get into a routine and eat the same foods each week. In the spirit of grilling diversity, we're trying to add new items to our stable of grill friendly meals. I've posted about grilled portobellos before - this post is more about what went with the grilled portobellos. I get a weekly email from Whole Foods and they always have interesting recipe ideas. The latest edition had a recipe for portobello and pineapple grilled veggie burgers. I printed out the recipe, miraculously found almost the ingredients in our pantry, and got to work! Our burgers were served without buns (I think they were better that way!)

The teriyaki sauce was really tasty. I'd put it up against any bottled sauce at the store. When you can control the amount of salt in your sauces they always taste much better. For an easy meal, I served this on a nice green salad with carrots and green onions. No need for dressing - I just drizzled a little extra teriyaki on it.

I'll write up the teriyaki sauce here. For the full recipe and instructions, click on the link above. I marinated the pineapples and portobellos for about 30 minutes before grilling (we wanted to eat before 10 p.m.). Throw them on the grill and within a short amount of time you are ready to eat. Drizzle with extra sauce and enjoy!

Quick Homemade Teriyaki Sauce (courtesy of Whole Foods' recipe, with a few tweaks)

Juice from 1 (20-ounce) can pineapple rings
3 tablespoons tamari (or soy sauce)
2 tablespoons brown sugar (I only had dark)
1 tablespoon finely chopped garlic
1 tablespoon grated ginger
1 tablespoon toasted sesame oil (I didn't have any, so I added some toasted sesame seeds instead)
Canola oil
1/4 cup water
1 tablespoon cornstarch

Put 3/4 cup of the pineapple juice (save remaining for another use), soy sauce, sugar, garlic, ginger and sesame oil into a small bowl and whisk together to make a marinade

After you put the mushrooms and pineapples on the grill, drain the leftover marinade into a small saucepan
Bring to a boil over medium high heat
In a small bowl, stir together water and cornstarch
Then whisk the cornstarch mixture into the marinade in the saucepan and boil until thickened, about 1-2 minutes
Pour into a serving bowl
Serve with cooked mushrooms and pineapple

Prep time: 5 minutes
Cook time: Sauce - 5 minutes; Full meal - 10-15 minutes
Mixing bowl, bowl to marinate, small saucepan, serving bowl, spoon, whisk

We had more than enough sauce for our dinner. I put the extra in the fridge to save for another use. The next night we grilled some mahi-mahi and the sauce was delicious on top. On the side I made some snap peas and red peppers on the grill. I wrapped the veggies in a foil pack and seasoned them with ground ginger, garlic powder, and a little sesame oil. They only need about 5 minutes on the grill and they come out cooked with a nice crunch.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Fresh from the Garden - Pesto with Roasted Garlic

Our new basil plant is growing like crazy! Catching up a post from last week, this is a delicious pesto with roasted garlic. I tossed in some sauteed chicken breast and whole-wheat rotini for a healthy meal.

For the basil, I kept the ingredients simple. Fresh basil leaves, roasted garlic, olive oil, toasted pine nuts, salt and pepper. Put all except oil in the blender/food processor. Blend, slowly adding the oil so it emulsifies (gets completely blended). Here's a tip on quick roasted garlic. For those of you in Boston - it comes out just like what you get at Vinny T's!

Quick Roasted Garlic
2-3 cloves of garlic, not peeled
Olive oil

Heat oven to 400 degrees
Put a piece of foil on a baking sheet
Put garlic cloves on the baking sheet, drizzle with olive oil and sprinkle with salt
Cook for about 20 minutes, turning the cloves about halfway through

Peel and either enjoy with bread or add to your favorite recipe

Monday, May 25, 2009

Long Weekend...Time for Breakfast!

I've got a few posts to catch up on from the long weekend. While I'm busy working on those, here are a few ideas for your next weekend breakfast at home. Brew your favorite coffee, get the paper (or put on a good movie) and whip up one of these quick recipes! Cheaper and faster than your favorite diner.

Breakfast Idea #1 - Honey Nut Waffles with Banana

Waffle mix
1 to 1.5 tbsp. of honey (we keep Jiffy baking mix around the house)
2 tbsp. of chopped walnuts
1 tsp. vanilla (or vanilla extract)
A sprinkle of cinnamon
1 banana, peeled and sliced into quarter-sized rounds

Prepare your favorite waffle mix according to the directions on the box
Gently mix in the honey, walnuts, vanilla, and cinnamon
Preheat your waffle iron
Pour in about 1/4 cup of the waffle batter
Place 3-4 banana slice on top of the batter and close
Cook according to your waffle iron directions

Keep waffles in a 200 degree oven until you are done cooking all of the batter
Serve with honey or maple syrup

Makes 6-7 waffles depending on the size of your waffle iron. You can also make pancakes this way - just prepare your batter according to the pancake recipe on your mix.

Breakfast Idea #2 - Goat Cheese Omelet

I had some leftover goat cheese from the Farmer's Market on Friday. I decided to make a nice omelet and throw in the goat cheese. The trick to getting this nice and fluffy is to whisk the eggs really well, and then not to disturb them in the non-stick skillet. Just lift the edges and let the uncooked eggs run underneath. When it looks just about set, either flip it or use a large spatula to gently flip it over. Turn of the heat and top with the goat cheese. After about a minute, fold it in half and slide out onto your plate. Better (and less greasy) than any omelet you'll get at your favorite breakfast joint.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

"When He Fends For Himself"

This post is the first edition of what will be a regular feature on this blog titled, "When He Fends For Himself". More often than not, at least one night a week the main cook has evening plans which puts me on my own for dinner. Because I knew I wanted to blog about how I managed without her, the meal I choose for this week is a classic, a staple, and my favorite go to meal.
Macaroni and Cheese. In recent years I've switched from Kraft to Annie's. It was a great move on my part. Annie's is all organic (so I think it's good for me) and instead of yellow goop, the cheese is a nice white cheddar. Also, instead of traditional macaroni, it is in shell form. It is very tasty and I highly recommend it.

For this meal, we had run out of the microwavable three-minute version, so I went the old-fashioned route and boiled some water. What I like to do when I boil water is turn on the burner to about half-way (this drives my wife nuts) so that the water can really ease its way into the boil. While I'm waiting for it to boil, I usually check my email, surf the net, watch TV, or just try to stay awake because the stove is on.

Once it's reached a boil, I pour in the shells, stir it once, and walk back to whatever it was I was doing as I was waiting for the water to boil. At some random time (8-12 minutes later, most likely), I return and strain the water. I then add a nice hunk of margarine. I like to add the margarine first so that it can begin the melting process. I then add some milk (half 'n' half makes it taste extra good) so that there is sufficient moisture available before mixing in the cheese.
Once the cheese is mixed in, I'll dump the whole contents of the pot into an extra large bowl (see picture) and dig in. About a minute later all the shells have been eaten and I am completely satisfied.

Really, the best part about eating macaroni and cheese alone is that I can eat the whole box. If the wife is around, she will say things like "Don't you know there is more than one serving in that box?" So, I'm guilt free until she gets home. Don't get me wrong, I've got to be the luckiest husband on earth because not only am I married to a beautiful, funny, and smart woman, but she also loves to cook. But there are nights when I'm on my own, and when I am, I'll let you know how I managed...

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

BBQ Sauce - From Indiana

This week's first guest post comes to you from Indianapolis, IN. Now that the weather is warm everyone is outside for a BBQ. Just in time for your Memorial Day Cookout (or Indy 500 Party), here is a great recipe for BBQ sauce from scratch. This is great on brisket, pulled pork, chicken, or your favorite grilled veggies (for those non-meat eaters out there). Enjoy!

"Brisket's Best Friend" aka Homemade BBQ Sauce
3 cups Ketchup
2/3 cups Apple Juice
1/3 cup apple cider vinegar
1/3 cup water
3 Tbsp. Honey or Maple Syrup
2 Tbsp. Molasses
1 Tbsp.Worcestershire sauce
2 Tbsp.Garlic Powder
2 Tbsp.Black Pepper
1 Tsp. Celery Salt (or your favorite variety of salt)
1 Tsp. Cayenne pepper
1 Tsp. Mustard Powder
Optional: Jalapenos, habeneros

Combine everything except ketchup, mollasses and honey in a medium sauce pan
Cook over medium heat until the mixture boils, stirring occasionally
Reduce heat to med-low and add remaining ingredients, stir to combine
Simmer for a minimum of 1 hour
Serve immediately or store in the refrigerator

Notes: This sauce comes out sweet, with a little bit of a kick at the end due to the cayenne. If you like a sweet sauce add more honey or maple syrup and reduce the cayenne. If you like a hot sauce add some jalapenos or habaneros. I recommend roasting them first. Use additional water or apple juice if you want to thin out the sauce.

Roasted Jalapenos
Using your grill or broil feature on the oven, char the outside of the jalapenos until the skin begins to turn black. Place the cooked peppers in a plastic bag and let them sit for a few minutes. This will help more easily separate the skin from the flesh of the pepper. Remove the seeds and mince your peeled jalapeno and throw it in the sauce. I recommend using at least two jalapenos for a nice kick.

Lunch! A Quick and Tasty Idea

I love free samples - and last week at Whole Foods they had a sample with fresh apples, sharp cheddar, fig spread, pressed and served warm on ciabatta bread. Since I had to run there on Monday for some dinner ingredients, I decided to create my own version. We had apples at home. I just picked up some bread and fig spread. I didn't heat mine - just served it with a simple salad and an Izze sparkling clementine soda. Delicious!

Apple, Goat Cheese, and Fig Sandwich

1/4 of a gala apple, sliced thinly (use the other 3/4 for the salad or for a snack later)
Crumbled fresh goat cheese
1-2 tablespoons Fig spread
Ciabatta bread or a fresh roll

Cut apple into thin slices, set aside
Cut open bread, being careful not to cut all the way through
Spread fig spread on both sides of the bread
Spread the goat cheese on both sides
Top with apples, close bread

Monday, May 18, 2009

Sunday Night Pizza Night

It's not's homemade! For less time and less money we had a delicious pizza night to cap off our weekend.
Somehow we haven't made this in a while - it used to be a frequent addition in our menus. Last week I was watching a cooking show (can't remember who) and they were giving tips on how to make pizza. What I did take from the show was to use cornmeal on the counter to make sure the dough doesn't stick and to just push the dough with your fingertips (no rolling pin or fancy tossing).

This was a quick and easy dish. I'll break down the cost of the ingredients below. Some are pantry items and some are items that I bought just for the pizza. If I only used a portion of a package I adjusted the cost accordingly.

I like the crust a little crispy so that the piece stands on its on when you pick it up. To achieve this, I put my dough on a pizza stone and precook it for about 5 minutes before putting any toppings on. This keeps it from getting soggy.

We had a nice green salad alongside our pizza with goat cheese, portobello mushrooms, and diced tomatoes (no sauce).

Homemade Pizza
Pantry Items:
Fresh basil from our new plant
Olive oil
Salad Dressing
Salt and Pepper

Items Purchased Just for Pizza:
$2.00 - Whole wheat pizza dough
$2.25 - Half a small log of fresh goat cheese
$1.50 - 1 portobello mushroom (from a pack of 6)
$1.00 - 2 plum tomatoes
$.15 - 1 clove of garlic

Items Purchased for Salad:
$2.50 - Salad mix
$.75 - A few slices of vidalia onion

Total: $10.15

Preheat oven to 425 or 450 degrees

Dice portobello mushrooms into small pieces
Mince garlic
In a small skillet, heat a few tablespoons of olive oil over medium heat
Add in garlic and mushrooms and saute until just softened - 3-4 minutes
Remove from the heat and set aside

Cut open the tomatoes and scoop out the seeds
Dice the tomatoes into small pieces and set aside

Tear a few leaves of basil into small pieces and set aside

Put a piece of wax paper on the counter and put down a light dusting of cornmeal
Put the dough on top and use your fingertips to push the dough out until desired thickness
Transfer to a pizza stone or baking sheet (be sure to put a little cornmeal on the stone first)
Bake for 5 minutes and remove from oven

Drizzle a little olive oil on top of the pizza dough
Sprinkle tomatoes and mushrooms evenly on top of the pizza
Crumble goat cheese evenly on top
Sprinkle half the basil on top of the pizza

Bake for approximately 15 minutes (or longer for crispier crust)
Remove from oven, top with the remaining basil
Cut and enjoy!

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Trying a New Recipe

I've become a regular reader of, written by my friend Amy. She has a great "Foodie To Do List". I couldn't decide what to have for dinner, so I browsed her list and a link to Sushi Rice Salad caught my eye. Tonight I was on my own for dinner - my dining partner and resident dishwasher is on his way to a work conference for a few days - so I wanted something that didn't require too many dishes! With Grease 2 on the TV (don't laugh at me), I got to work preparing this quick meal.

A note about the rice. I was home sick today and ran out to the closest store (Whole Foods) to pick up a few ingredients for this recipe, including brown rice. Apparently there had been some disastrous spill in the Asian food aisle - also the rice aisle. After waiting for them to finish mopping, which they didn't, the very nice customer service man offered to get me the rice I needed. I didn't know I wanted, so he led me slowly down the aisle to pick it out. Once I was in this dangerous area I surveyed the rice options. Turns out that WF does not have any 10-minute brown rice or any quick-cooking plain brown rice of any kind. Strike! But I felt like I had to pick out something for all the trouble of shuffling down the aisle practically holding hands with the WF man (it was NOT that slippery, guess they are terrified of lawsuits). One of my upcoming meals will be accompanied by sesame ginger rice. I checked out and headed across the street to Trader Joe's. Trader Joe's had a completely opposite rice selection. Almost everything was pre-cooked rice in packaging designed to go in the microwave for 1-3 minutes for instant eating. So, I gave in and bought a pack of plain brown rice that cooked up in 1 minute.

For the recipe, I followed it pretty closely just tweaking the amount of some ingredients. For the original recipe check out I'll retype it below with my tweaks. Next time I'll make sure to get the right rice and will add more of it. Also, I will leave out the pickled ginger. I'm not a huge fan of it, but I left it in for this first try. I also added the wrong measurements for the dressing ingredients (which I didn't realize until I started typing up the recipe for this post). It still tasted great, but could have tasted a lot better. That's what I get for trying to follow a new recipe when I'm in a sudafed state. Next time will be better!

This would also be delicious with some sushi-grade tuna or salmon diced up in place of the tofu. Those are my notes - enjoy!

I love to chop veggies - so this recipe was perfect for me. Here's a shot of my chopping:

Sushi Rice Salad
Adapted from

1 package of pre-cooked brown rice (according to package, 3.5 servings of ½ cup each)
1/4 cup + 3 tbsp. rice wine vinegar, divided
1/4 cup sugar
1 1/2 tsp. salt
1 tablespoon sesame seeds, lightly toasted
2 tablespoons finely chopped pickled ginger
3 scallions, thinly sliced
1 carrot, shredded
1 English cucumber, seeded and chopped
8 oz. extra firm tofu, cut into small cubes
2 sheets nori (dried seaweed)
1 avocado

In a small saucepan bring 1/4 cup vinegar to boil with sugar and salt, stirring until sugar is dissolved and remove from heat
Cook rice, transfer rice to a large bowl and stir in vinegar mixture
Cool rice and drain excess liquid
Stir in sesame seeds, remaining 3 tbsp. vinegar, ginger, scallions, cucumber, tofu, and carrot
Cut nori sheets into 1 inch wide strips
Cut open and pit avocado
Score avocado with a sharp knife, making cubes
Use a spoon to remove from the skin and add avocado to salad with nori
Toss well

2 teaspoons wasabi paste (I accidentally did 2 tablespoons – SPICY!!)
1 tablespoon hot water
2 tablespoons cold water
2 tablespoons soy sauce
2 teaspoons ginger juice (from the jar of pickled ginger)

In a small bowl, whisk all ingredients together
Drizzle dressing over salad and mix carefully.

Serves 4-6

I didn’t use all the dressing I made, partly because I made the wrong amount! Reduce the amount of wasabi if you don’t want it as spicy.

Prep Time: 15 minutes of chopping and assembling
Cook Time: Less than 5 minutes
Cutting board and knife, bowls, sauce pan and spoon, serving bowl and utensils

And of course - fun chopsticks! I got these at Sunfest in Florida a few years back. They make it fun to eat!

Monday, May 11, 2009

Monday Night Stir-Fry...

Tonight's plan was for a fancy stir-fry with pan-fried tofu over rice. I had almost all the ingredients and the best intentions, but it didn't turn out so fancy. Don't get me wrong - it was edible (and tasty) - but it didn't turn out the way I hoped it would.

On some cooking show or in one of my cookbooks there was a tip to dust tofu with corn-starch before pan-frying it to get a nice golden brown crust. I tried it when I first found it and it was great - crunchy on the outside and still tender on the inside. Tonight I either had too much oil or the wrong temperature or I put the cornstarch on too early. My tofu kind of stuck to the pan and the nice crispy crunch came right off. Or maybe I should blame it on my resident dishwasher - the really non-stick pan was dirty so I used a different pan. Either way, it was still tofu and still tasty.

For the vegetable part of the stir-fry I stuck with a pretty basic mix. I served it over couscous (no rice in the pantry). We got a new cilantro plant and have a lot to use so I added that in at the end. Here's the veggie recipe. I'll skip the tofu recipe until I get it right!

Stir-Fried Veggies
1 red pepper, seeded and cut into 1/4 inch pieces
1/2 cup fresh green beans, cut into 1/4 inch pieces
1 small can of sliced water chestnuts, rinsed
1/4 white onion, diced

Sauce and Spices
Couple tablespoons of Tamari (or soy sauce)
1 tsp. of Thai fish sauce
Dash of ground ginger
Dash of garlic powder
Salt and Pepper
Juice from 1/4 lemon
Handful of cilantro leaves chopped

Heat a large skillet over medium heat
Add a tablespoon or two of vegetable oil (enough to cover the pan)
Toss in veggies
Cook for 4-5 minutes and then stir
Cook for another 3-4 minutes until veggies are cooked through, but still have some crunch

Mix all sauce ingredients (except cilantro) and pour over veggies
Sprinkle cilantro over the skillet and stir
Serve and enjoy!

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Sun-dried Tomato Pesto...from scratch!

Inspired by the new basil plant that I bought over the weekend and some leftover sun-dried tomatoes from the couscous salad last week, tonight's dinner was penne pasta with homemade sun-dried tomato pesto. Instead of searching for a recipe to try - I made this one up! It was delicious and would be great on a baguette as an appetizer or on a sandwich with mozzarella. Yum!

I'm not sure if I've mentioned this, but bread is my favorite food (followed closely by cheese). So what better to go with pasta than more carbs! I made biscuits (Jiffy mix) but for a special twist I added about 1 teaspoon of lemon zest to the batter. I can't believe I haven't tried this before. The lemon gave it a nice fresh, bright taste and tied in with the lemon in the pesto.

Sun-dried Tomato Pesto

8-10 leaves of fresh basil
7-8 sun-dried tomatoes packed in oil
About 1 tbsp. lemon zest
2 cloves of garlic
About 1/4 cup of olive oil

Add basil, sun-dried tomatoes, lemon zest and garlic to a food processor
Put the lid on and begin to pulse
As you are pulsing slowly pour in the olive oil through the hole in the lid
Continue pulsing until you get a consistent texture

I mixed in some grated Parmesan cheese after pulsing it in the food processor

Quick note: traditional pesto calls for toasted pine nuts. I didn't have any on hand so I just skipped them. I was planning to add in walnuts for another flavor, but I totally forgot too add them in.

Cook pasta according to instructions on the package
Drain and return to the warm pot
Add pesto and toss until well combined
Garnish with fresh basil leaves and serve!

Prep Time: 5 minutes
Cook Time: 10 minutes
Food processor, pasta pot, colander, serving dishes and utensils.

Monday, May 4, 2009

Keeping it Simple - Taco Night

This is a favorite meal at our house. Whenever we can't think of something to eat we decide on tacos. Very customizable and always delicious. Skip those sodium packed taco seasoning packets and make your own. It's quick and a much better value. I've stopped measuring - but I'll do my best to give you an accurate recipe below.

My biggest pet peeve about making tacos is that they don't sell hard taco shells in packs of less than 10. With two of us, that's 5 servings of tacos! That's why this gets categorized in the 'good for leftovers section'. Make 1.5 lbs of beef and you're set for a few lunches and dinners. Or invite a few friends over for game night and eat it all!

Along with the meat, toppings include:
Fresh shredded sharp cheddar cheese (you could also buy the pre-shredded)
Shredded lettuce
Chopped black olives
Salsa (store-bought)
Fresh guacamole (see the last post)

Good side dish options:
Black Beans
Refried beans
Yellow rice

Taco Seasoning - without the excess sodium
2 tbsp. chili powder
1 tbsp. ground cumin
1 tsp. dried cilantro
1 tsp. garlic powder
A few shakes of salt
A few grinds of black pepper
About 2 tbsp. tomato paste (2 good squeezes from the tube)

Brown 1-1.5 lbs. ground sirloin over medium-high heat
Drain excess fat and return to the skillet on medium heat
Add 1/4 cup of water and all of the seasonings
Mix well and cook until the water is absorbed

You could also substitute ground turkey or chicken for a different twist.

Sunday, May 3, 2009

Mmm...muffins...meatloaf muffins

About three or four years ago I watched a 30 Minute Meals episode where Rachael Ray made meatloaf muffins. Growing up, we never had meatloaf. When I moved out on my own, I never thought about it as an option. Since I found this recipe I've been making this regularly! The technique lends itself to a lot of creative ingredient combinations. Stick with the basic meat, egg, and breadcrumbs and then its all up to your mood and your ingredients. Sometimes smoky and BBQ flavored, sometimes salsa and southwestern. This was a pretty traditional interpretation. We had leftover jicama salad as our side dish. Great combination of hot and cold, crunchy and smooth!

For the original recipe, click here. My version:

Meatloaf Muffins - This week's version

1 pound ground sirloin (or lean ground beef)
1 yellow onion, cut into quarters
1 orange or red pepper, seeds removed and cut into chunks
1 jalapeno, seeded and cut into chunks
1 egg, lightly beaten
1/2 cup of ketchup + extra for topping
1/2 cup of smoky barbecue sauce
1-2 tablespoons of Montreal Steak Seasoning
1/2 cup of bread crumbs
Oil to grease the muffin tins

Preheat the oven to 450 degrees.
Place the ground beef in a large bowl
Place the onion, pepper, and jalapeno into a food processor
Pulse until finely chopped and then add to the bowl with the meat
Add egg, ketchup, BBQ sauce and seasoning to the bowl and mix
Add bread crumbs and mix until well combined (but don't over mix)
Brush muffin tins with either vegetable oil or extra virgin olive oil
I use a 1/4 cup dry measuring cup to scoop the meatloaf mixture into the tins and pat them down
Top each muffin with BBQ sauce (I didn't have any extra sauce, so I used ketchup on top)
Bake for about 20 minutes or until cooked through
Use a spoon to remove from the pan

Makes about 8-10 muffins.

Prep time: 10 minutes
Cook time: 20-25 minutes
Food processor, cutting board and knife, muffin tin, 1/4 cup dry measuring cup, spoon

Fresh Flavors....Jicama!

Some nights you just really don't feel like making a labor-intensive dinner. We had grilled some sirloin tips along with the mushrooms from the other night and were planning to take the steak for lunch. Instead, we heated them up and served them with homemade guacamole and a jicama salad. It's easy to get into a vegetable rut - asparagus, green beans, peas - and just keep repeating. One of my goals is to use more variety in our meals. This is a simple as checking out the new arrivals in the produce section and choosing seasonal veggies.

Since the steak was already cooked, it just needed a quick warm up. Guacamole is our favorite condiment and can be done in less than 3 minutes. The jicama salad is also very easy and quick. You just need a sharp knife and your ingredients! I used an assortment of veggies that we had in the fridge to create the salad. You could add and subtract ingredients according to your taste. It tasted great the next day too!

Jicama Salad with Citrus Dressing
1 jicama root, peeled
1/2 of a seedless cucumber (English cucumber)
1/4 of a red onion, sliced into 1/4 inch slices
1 orange (any variety)
Juice of 1 lime
Juice of 1 lemon
1-2 teaspoons of cilantro
Dash of salt

Peel jicama root, removing the outer skin
Using a sharp knife, cut the jicama into 1/4 inch sticks and place in serving bowl
Cut cucumber into 1/4 inch sticks and place into bowl
Slice onion and add to bowl
Cut the orange in half, then cut each half into 2 pieces
Using a knife, cut the peel way from the flesh making sure to cut off all the white pith
Cut into small wedges and add to bowl
In a measuring cup or small bowl, combine the lemon and lime juice and cilantro
Pour over the salad and toss well
Refrigerate for about 20 minutes before serving

Makes about 6 servings as a side dish.

Prep time: 10 minutes
Cook time: None!
Sharp knife, cutting board, measuring cup or small bowl, serving dish, serving utensils

Lara's Guacamole
1 avocado
About 2-3 tablespoons of diced red onion
Diced fresh jalapeno (seeded) - amount varies based on personal taste
Juice from half a lime

Using sharp knife, cut avocado in half and remove the pit
Score the avocado into cubes on the inside (it will come out in cubes)
Scoop out the avocado into a serving bowl and mash until desired consistency
Add onion, jalapeno, lime juice and seasoning
Stir and serve immediately

Serves 2.

Prep time: 2-3 minutes
Cook time: None!
Knife, spoon, fork or masher, and bowl


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