Tuesday, May 29, 2012

What is Your Get out of Jail Free Card?

I realize it can be defeating to refer to dinner as 'jail', but there are some nights where the 'D' word can feel a little like it. You know those nights where maybe your train was delayed due to Occupy Oakland protestors raiding a BART station, or you realize that you left the chicken for that night's dinner in the fridge at work, or you look at your weekly menu and say to yourself, "Not gonna happen. No way. Do not pass go, do not collect $200."

In our house, my husband and I refer to the items we keep stashed in the freezer on nights like these as our "Get Out of Jail Free" cards. While these delights are great to lean on in a pinch, we do try to serve them with some kind of vegetable, which we jokingly refer to as "The Obligatory C.P.S. Vegetable."

Below is a list of our favorite Get Out of Jail Free dinners that we keep in the Community Chest... or what most would call the freezer.

I realize our freezer dinners aren't that healthy, so no need to get all organi-sanctimonious on me. Let's leave that for the unhappy, judgmental people.

Cheese Tortellini: I buy these in bulk from Costco and keep them in the freezer for nights described above. Tossed with butter and parmesan (maybe some CPS-worthy frozen peas thrown in) and dinner is served.

Aidell's Chicken Apple Sausages (with Andouille for me): While *I* am not a fan of fruit mixed with meat, my whole family loves those sausages. So I always keep a package of chicken apple and andouille sausages in the freezer. Defrosted and grilled, maybe served alongside some good bread and whatever vegetable is in the fridge makes all four of us happy.

Frozen Pizza: My kids know they hit the lottery when I am out for the night and my husband pulls out a Trader Joe's frozen pizza. I secretly love the squishy texture. However, I don't want to know why it's squishy.

Trader Joe's Mandarin Orange Chicken: I am not even sure this is really chicken, so we reserve these for special use and it violates my "No sweet meat" rule, so I eat a few pieces without much sauce. Serve this with frozen brown rice (again Trader Joe's) and you are golden.

Trader Joe's Fish Sticks: I am not going to lie, I kind of like these. What can I say? I am both ashamed and oddly thrilled to be showing you this. My husband was particularly proud one night when he served these with a side baby carrots. 

Monday, May 28, 2012

Dinners for May 27 - June 2, 2012

For the rest of the United States it is warm and sunny, which makes for perfect grilling weather. But in San Francisco it is cool and foggy (and I wouldn't have it any other way) so it is Beef Stew weather for us. I am a sucker for traditions so we are grilling regardless of the whipping winds and wet fog for this Memorial Day. How about you?

Sunday: Crock Pot Beef Stew

Monday: Yogurt-marinated chicken on the grill with vegetables and Rice and black bean salad

Tuesday: Chicken, Kale and Sweet Potato Hash (adapted from this Everyday Food recipe)

Wednesday: Leftovers

Thursday: Roasted salmon with green beans

Friday: Dinner out

Saturday: TBD

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Fried Quinoa

My grandmother always made fried rice with the leftover white rice and it has always been one of my favorite ways to use up leftover rice. As a kid, I loved it so much that there were times when I would cut back on my rice consumption at dinner the night before so I could guarantee that we’d have fried rice for dinner the next night. Needless to say, I’ve never met a fried rice dish that I didn’t like. 

About two months ago I went out to dinner with a group of friends at Eos in San Francisco’s Cole Valley. I had scanned the menu online ahead of time and the Fried Quinoa with Peanuts immediately caught my eye.  

We shared our dishes family-style, but I went back for seconds and then thirds of the fried quinoa. I loved it so much that I stole the menu (Hey, the waiter said they were going out of business the very next week!) to 
recreate the dish at home. I could practically hear my mother say, "You could totally make that."

Fortunately, fried rice for dinner is an easy sell with our kids, but lately I've been trying to add new grains into our diet without turning our meals into something that tastes like it came from the forest floor. I knew the added element of quinoa and kale would raise some eyebrows and it might cause a revolt at the table. But why not just serve it without saying a word about the new additions? It had the same exact taste as our favorite Fried Rice with Shrimp but it looked a little different. I was lucky that night because they were hungry and everyone ate their portions without a complaint – this is not always the case, believe me.

This recipe is best made with quinoa that has been cooked and cooled ahead of time. But if you don’t have time for that then you could cook the quinoa according to the package directions and spread it out in a thin layer on a cookie sheet to cool off quickly. 

Fried Quinoa and Shrimp with Blistered Peanuts     

1/2 cup shelled peanuts (I used Trader Joe’s Roasted and Unsalted peanuts)
2 Tbls. vegetable oil, divided
1 Tsp. sesame oil
2 large eggs, whisked
1 bunch of kale, tough stems removed and chopped into bite-size pieces
1 medium onion, diced
2 garlic cloves, minced
3 ½ cups quinoa, cooked and cooled
1 pound shrimp, deveined and tails removed
3 Tbls. rice vinegar
3 Tbls. soy sauce

In a large skillet, heat 1 Tbls. vegetable oil over medium heat and add the peanuts, moving them around to coat with oil and fry till blistered and lightly browned. Reserving the oil in the skillet, remove the peanuts with a slotted spoon onto a plate. Add the whisked eggs to the skillet with some salt and pepper and cook until set like a pancake – about two minutes on one side, then flip the eggs over and let it cook through for another minute. Remove the eggs from the skillet and let cool on a cutting board. When cool enough to handle, roll the egg up and slice thinly crosswise.

In same skillet, heat remaining 1 Tbls. vegetable oil and 1 Tsp. sesame oil over medium-high heat. Add kale, onion, and garlic and stir, seasoning with salt and pepper (the skillet will be very full). Stir frequently until the kale and onion soften, about 5 minutes. Push the kale mixture to the side of the skillet and add in the shrimp, cooking through for three minutes. Add in the cooked quinoa, sliced eggs, rice vinegar and soy sauce to the pan. Stir ingredients together till combined and warmed through. Divide into bowls and serve with blistered peanuts on top.

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Dinners for May 20-27, 2012

This week's menu was inspired by son's request for three ingredients to be use in our dinners this week: Sausage, Rice and Mashed Potatoes. I like how he neglected to mention kale as if he didn't hear my public declaration that it will be a permanent menu fixture till we make a dent in our garden.

Sunday: Turkey meatloaves with mashed potatoes and sauteed kale w/ almonds and red onion

Monday: Fish cakes (use up those leftover mashed potatoes) with roasted sweet potatoes and kale

Tuesday: I'm out for the night - Chef's (Dad's) choice: Sausage, kale and pasta toss

Wednesday: Dinner with family from out of town (Hello, Wisconsin!)

Thursday: Chicken teriyaki with Gwyneth Paltrow's Green Rice

Friday: Movie night - Pizza? Indian?

Saturday: TBD

Friday, May 18, 2012

Loving: Kale is Coming Out of Our Ears

I never thought this would happen, but we overplanted kale this year. My husband got a little excited about the options at the nursery and purchased Lacinto Kale AND Red Russian Kale for our raised vegetable beds in the backyard. (BTW - he built those beds himself using this tutorial).

Strawberries, green beans and broccoli... oh my!

Now we have kale blooming all over the place.  I've never been one to hide vegetables in my children's food, but Chocolate Kale Muffins might be making an appearance around here soon.

Below is a round up of our favorite recipes so far.
  •  Kale Chips modified by me, (source: Dinner: A Love Story)

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Simple is Best

Every single time I make these drumsticks, I wonder why I don't think to make them on those nights when

a) BART is delayed
b) I answered my phone at work five minutes before I have to catch the 5:10 train
c) Opened up my son's backpack to discover an insane amount of homework
d) I can't muster the strength to make dinner

This dinner doesn't get any simpler. It's easy enough, my kids cheer when I make it, and I always seem to have the ingredients in my fridge or freezer. Behold! The Wonder Dinner guaranteed to stop you from putting your favorite take out joint on speed dial (not that there is anything wrong with that... Hola La Corneta!) 

Apricot-glazed drumsticks: Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Cover a cookie sheet with foil and lightly cover non-stick cooking spray. Place 6-8 drumsticks on the pan and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Put two heaping spoonfuls of apricot preserves in a small bowl and brush it over the drumsticks. After 15 minutes of roasting, flip over the drumsticks and brush them with more preserves. Roast for another 15 minutes.

Sauteed sugar snap peas: Heat a few glugs of olive oil, a pat of butter and a pinch of chili pepper flakes in a skillet and sautee sugar snap peas till slightly tender, about 7 minutes.

Warmed baguette: Wrap a store bought baguette in foil and throw it in the oven with the drumsticks. Remove it when the drumsticks are done.

I realize this isn't gourmet, but it's homemade and as my mom would say, "There is plenty of green on the plate." The kids were infinitely more thrilled with this meal than with my attempts to convince them that Ratatouille is actually not a rat, but a delicious vegetable stew. They didn't buy it.

Monday, May 14, 2012

Fava Beans: What The Recipe Writers Won't Tell You

Deceptive packaging
A family friend gave my mother a sack of fava beans to bring along with her while she was in town visiting us this past weekend. This friend grows them in her garden in a huge patch alongside her house. Many years ago, I house sat for her (not the same friend whose kitchen I almost burnt down) and I was impressed with the size of her fava bean garden - it was huge! I remember thinking, "Boy, she must really love fava beans." It turns out that she merely *likes* fava beans, but thinks that growing them is a good way to return nitrates to the soil. 

I am here to tell you the truth about fava beans. They are the most deceptive vegetable out there.

Alright, alright... I know that is a bold statement to say about such a great vegetable, but do you even know how many steps it takes to get them on your plate? All I can say is: Do not attempt to make these on a weeknight with two kids nipping at your heels for dinner.

I'll show you in pictures what a piece of work these beans really are.

Step 1: Fava beans come in gigantic pods (pictured above) that have small beans nestled in a fur-lined pod. Break these open and remove the beans from their pods.

Wait a second... this is all we got from those huge pods?
Step 2: Dump the beans into a pot of boiling, salted water for about 1 minute.

Step 3: Quickly strain the beans and put them into a bowl of ice water to stop the cooking process.

Step 4: Remove the gray outer skin, like my mom did below (What? You think she doesn't have to work in the kitchen on Mother's Day? Think again)

Hmmm... these beans are getting smaller and smaller.

Step 5: Stare in horror and curse under your breath at how few fava beans you actually have for your Mother's Day Dinner, all 1-1/3 cups of them. Oh snap!

All this for 3 adults and 2 kids!?!

Step 6: Soldier on and cook your beans (again). We chose to sautee them in a little olive oil, a pinch of chili pepper flakes, a squeeze of lemon and some salt and pepper. Everyone got 1-1/2 spoonful of fava beans which was a comically small serving next to our steaks, but we ate every single last bean.

The moral of this story is to judge a book by it's cover. Fava beans deserve to be judged. And always buy more than you think you'll need.

And if you need to return nitrates to the soil... well, you might want to consider just buying some mulch.

Dinners for May 13 - 19, 2012

Sunday: Grilled steak, sauteed fava beans and bread

Monday: School fundraiser dinner

Tuesday: Roasted chicken with strawberry surprise salad

Wednesday: Pasta with carmelized onions, spinach and parmesan

Thursday: Dad is on his own with the kids = chef's choice!

Friday: Homemade pizza

Saturday: TBD

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

An Open Letter to Green Onions

Dear Green Onion,
  Nothing annoys me in my kitchen more than wasting food. This feeling has been passed down from my grandmother who thought nothing of cutting the mold off of cheese and serving it to my friends visiting after school (one time she mentioned this fact after we ate the cheese sandwiches, oh yes, she really did). I may not be able to smell, but you and I don't really get along too well. It's pretty obvious when you start to knock on death's door. Your green ends go yellow, your white tips turn brown and you start to emit liquids that I didn't know you had. You turn ugly fast, Green Onion.
  I've talked about some of the usual suspects that meet their demise in my fridge. But Green Onion you really take the cake (oh, if only I could put you into cake!). You pretend to be fancy by using a pseudonym like Scallion, but we all know who you really are. I resent the way you come packaged in bunches of ten like we could always use an extra one of you. I don't want more than five or six at at time, yet you put yourself out there like we want more of you. Don't even get me started on how Trader Joe's manages to put in nearly 15 green onions into one package. There was a time when I would scour books trying to plan a week's worth of meals around one measly package of green onions and it never worked. I'd start with a spinach feta quiche (six green onions gone!), then I'd do a stir fry (three green onions gone!) and then I'd lose steam and watch the remaining green onions wither away into a liquidy green mess.
  But not anymore, Green Onion. You will not break me. You will no longer be left at the bottom of my veggie drawer waiting for a turn in the compost bin, I'll leave that to the marscapone cheese and sour cream. I managed to find three recipes which used every green onion in the bunch this week and you will not be wasted for once.

Can you believe I just wrote three paragraphs about green onions? It's a slow week, people.

Sunday: Orzo Cucumber salad (three green onions)

Monday: Black Bean Tostadas with corn relish (two green onions)

Tuesday: Pollo ala Cacciatore (six green onions)

Afraid No More

Sunday, May 6, 2012

Dinners for May 6-12, 2012

I am going to start keeping our Saturday 'TBD' because by the end of the week, both my mind and the veggie drawer are empty. Something comes together but it all depends on weather, spontaneous plans and our mood. 

Sunday: Grilled chicken with orzo cucumber salad

Monday: Black bean tostadas with corn relish (I love this relish because it gets better with time so I make it the night before)

Tuesday: Pollo ala Cacciatore

Wednesday: Dinner out with family - my birthday!

Thursday: Pork chard hash (I subbed in pork tenderloin)

Friday: TBD

Saturday: TBD

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Smelling Famous

I saw a quick strawberry sauce recipe in a magazine recently, but I couldn't find the article when I needed it this past weekend. We had a surplus of strawberries from the farmers market with a limited shelf life and I recalled the basic principle behind the recipe: Clean, simmer, add some maple syrup and cornstarch. This may be the year of winging recipes for me.

Since breakfast around here is only "fancy" on the weekends, it felt pretty special to make waffles AND cook a sauce on the stovetop. However, as I cooked the sauce on the stove my son walked by and commented, "Wow, that sauce smells famous." With that kind of ringing endorsement, this sauce is worth the extra pot to clean.

Quick and Easy Strawberry Sauce

2 cups washed and hulled strawberries
2 Tbls. maple syrup (adjust depending on the sweetness of your strawberries)
1/2 Tbls. corn starch

In a pot combine strawberries and maple syrup and turn on the heat to medium-high. As it starts to bubble, add cornstarch and mash the strawberries with a fork to break them down a bit (I like it chunky). Let it simmer for about 3 minutes or till thickened. Transfer to a bowl and let it cool.

This recipe makes about 1 1/2 cups of sauce. In addition to our weekend waffles, I used it as a topping on Greek yogurt and also just ate it by the spoonful. It lasted less than six hours in this house, but maybe you can make it last longer in your home.