Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Greek Dinner Salad




As my quest for quick, easy, and yet delicious dinners continues, I remembered Greek Dinner Salad! Of course. How had I forgotten about something so yummy and so easy. As I've said before I adore mediterranean foods, the flavors. I believe, I've read somewhere, that the true Greek salad does not use lettuce. Lettuce is added for Americans, who feel a salad must have lettuce. I didn't have any lettuce, so I used a little (very little) arugula. My Greek salad, does not look anywhere near as good and creative as Peter's, but it was still quite tasty.




I didn't measure anything, because, hey, every once in a while I like to pretend I'm a chef. It's just a mix of green peppers, tomatoes, red onions, Greek olives (I like to use as many as I feel my waistline can handle), cucumbers, feta, and the above mentioned, optional lettuce. Toss with a little olive oil, the juice of 1/2 a lemon, dried oregano, salt and pepper and you have dinner. And what a fine dinner it was. Even though there was no meat, the olives and feta give you a very satisfied full feeling.

Monday, August 27, 2007

Dennis Lehane - Shutter Island


I love Dennis Lehane. Mystic River is one of my favorite books. So, I always look forward to reading one of Lehane's books. Shutter Island was very good. I don't think it was the caliber of Mystic River, but it was very entertaining.
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The story takes place in a mental institution for the criminally insane on an island. I know, I know...a mental institution on a island, kind of cliche. But I'm a fan of cliches, they are cliches because they have worked in the past and they will continue to work, long after I'm gone. So, anyway back to this mental institution, it seems that a patient has escaped and gone missing. So, two detectives Teddy Daniels and Chuck somebody (see why I don't write many book reviews) are sent to this island to find the missing patient.
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The two detectives share that wonderful banter that good detectives do in movies and in books. Again, it's cliche, but again, I find it enjoyable. It's kind of like if the Gilmore Girls became police officers. So, I'm reading along, enjoying the plot, enjoying the witty banter when I get to about 20 pages left in the 322 page book, and there is twist. A huge twist. The first thing I thought was, "oh, my gosh, I can't believe it", the second thing I thought was, "wait a minute, I've read this before". Yep, 300 pages into the story, I realize that I've read it before. That's kind of sad, isn't it. But I know I'm not alone. Nick Hornby once said that he could reread books and that they were always "fresh as a daisy". Just think about the world of books this opens up to me, not only can I read all the books that I've never read before, I can go back and reread books, and it's just like I've never read them at all!

Saturday, August 25, 2007

Rigatoni with Sausage




Now that school has started back up, I find that I am almost too tired to cook. So, even though cooking relaxes and soothes me, sometimes it's hard to get excited about it, when all I want to do is take a nap! I want to cook quick and easy meals, but still have them feel special. Tonight's dinner was quick and easy, but I feel like it was lacking in a few things. They say the devil is in the details (wonder where that phrase originated?), and I think the details are what makes or breaks a dish, especially this one.

This is hardly a recipe really, just a quick toss together.

Rigatoni with Sausage and Parsley
Serves 4ish
1 lb rigatoni
4-6 sweet (or hot) Italian sausage
1 coarsely chopped red bell pepper
1 cup chopped flat leaf parsley
1 red onion, coarsely chopped
1 cup chicken broth
1/2 cup shredded or grated parmesan cheese
salt and freshly ground black pepper

Bring a pot of water to boil for the rigatoni. Drizzle a pan with a couple tablespoons of olive oil and saute the onion and red bell pepper until crisp tender (about 2-3 minutes). Add the italian sausage and brown. Add the chicken stock to the pan and let simmer about 5 minutes.

Cook the rigatoni and add it to the pan. Toss with the fresh parsley, parmesan cheese and salt and pepper to taste.




This was good, a satisfying quick and easy week-night dinner. It was good, but not great. And as I said before it was all in the details. After tossing with the parmesan cheese and parsley, the dish sat too long before serving. I think the parsley cooked too much and the parmesan cheese all melted. I should have saved some of the parsley and some of the cheese to sprinklt on at the very end right before serving to brighten it up. The parsley was good, but I think a stronger herb would have been better. Next time I will use basil. This would also be good with some mushrooms. I also think that I didn't brown the sausage enough, it is turkey sausage, so looks kind of light. Perhaps I should have browned it first and then added the onions and the red bell pepper?

Sunday, August 19, 2007

Crumb Crusted Fish, Bok Choy, Cilantro Rice

I could have sworn that I had all ready posted this recipe for fish before, but I can't find it anywhere on my blog! I even remember what I said about it, because the first time I made this fish, I served it with side dishes that had a more Mediterranean flavor. Because I usually serve cod with potatoes, tomatoes and olives or some variation of that. The crust on this fish has a very Asian flavor to it, and needed to be accompanied by more Asian flavor side dishes, which is what I did today. The recipe comes from the Perfect Thai cookbook.

Baked Cod With a Curry Crust
Serves 4

1/2 tsp sesame oil
4 cod fillet pieces
1 1/2 cups fresh breadcrumbs
2 tbsp. blanched almonds, chopped (I didn't blanch)
2 tsp. Thai green curry paste (this is pretty hot, next time I will use 1)
finely grated rind of 1/2 lime, plus extra thinly pared rind to garnish
salt and pepper
lime slices, to garnish

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F. Brush the oil over the bottom of wide, shallow ovenproof dish or pan, then arrange the cod pieces in a single layer.

Mix the bread crumbs, almonds, curry paste, and grated lime rind together in a bowl, stirring to blend thoroughly and evenly. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

Carefully spoon the crumb mixture over the fish pieces, pressing lightly with your hand to hold it in place.

Bake the dish, uncovered, for 35-40 minutes.

Serve hot, garnished with lime slices.


The bok choy came from my CSA. I'm not sure what kind of bok choy it is. It's stems are much smaller than the kind I pick up at my local grocery store. The thing about this bok choy is that it is really bitter. I mean really, really bitter. We didn't even eat half of it, and we pretty much eat anything. The bok choy was stir fried with a little sesame oil and some toasted sesame seeds. Normally we love bok choy this way, but not this time. I still have another head of this bok choy and will probably get more next week. I think that maybe I'll try a sweeter sauce, maybe a hoisin type sauce, or something with brown sugar. Any ideas?
The rice was cooked in my rice cooker using coconut milk. Fresh cilantro was stirred in just before serving.

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Grilled Chicken, Beet Greens, and Couscous






I am so proud of myself! Tonight's cooking was done without a book! I decided to finally just go with my instincts, I had to have learned something from all that recipe following that I do.

Grilled Chicken - I marinated split chicken breasts in a little olive oil, lemon juice, salt, pepper, and fresh oregano. I did look at a book for grilling them..The Best Recipe: Grilling and Barbecue only because I wanted to be sure about grilling bone-in chicken breasts on my gas grill. I followed their instructions and the breasts came out perfectly. Basically, you preheat the grill on high for 15 minutes, then clean the grates. Lower 2 burners to med-low and keep one burner on high. Brown the chicken on each side for about 2-3 minutes on the high burner, then move them to the cooler part of the grill. Grill for 10 minutes on one side and about 5 on the other. They came out perfect! Not dried out, not overly browned, just right.

Couscous - I did the couscous in my rice cooker, only because I didn't feel like having another pot going on the stove. It's kind of silly really because coucsous is so easy. I tossed the cooked couscous with a little olive oil, salt, pepper, some crumbled goat cheese feta, and fresh basil. It was good, though I don't think I'm a big fan of couscous (but I've got several containers of it, so I will remain a fan, for at least awhile). I don't know, mine was kind of dry, maybe because I cooked it in the rice cooker? But still it was tasty and the flavors blended well.

Beet greens - I have become very fond of beet greens, though I noticed last night that these tasted almost exactly like spinach. To cook them, I sauteed some garlic and red pepper flakes in olive oil, added the greens and let them wilt down. I finshed them off with the juice from 1/2 a lemon. They were great. I had read somewhere that Greeks also like to eat their greens cold the next day. I have to agree with them, I had some of these leftover for lunch and they were excellent.



So...hurrah..I can cook without a book! But since I just bought Everyday Food: Great Food Fast and everything in it looks so wonderful and so simple, I will definitely be cooking from that book in the very near future.

Sunday, August 12, 2007

Stubborn


Tomatoes are like people, some are more stubborn than others.

Saturday, August 11, 2007

WHB - Salmon and Thai Rice Salad

I stated in one of my earlier posts that I rarely make the same thing twice. There are just soooo many recipes out there that I want to try, that I have a hard time resisting the temptation. As a matter of fact, I bought another new cookbook today, only hours after telling myself that I wasn't going to buy anymore new cookbooks. But then I decided to just stop off at the bookstore (after all I was right there, and it's not like I was using extra gas or anything), and just look at the book. That's all just look. And really it is all your fault, all you people in food blogging land who have posted recipes fromEveryday Food: Great Food Fast. If you hadn't posted all those wonderful looking pictures, I wouldn't have been so tempted. So, I looked at it and then I bought it. What can I say...I am addicted to cookbooks. There should be a cookbooks anonymous group. Sorry, little tagent onto cookbooks, back to the subject at hand, recipes cooked more than once.
As, I was saying, I rarely cook anything more than once. But the following recipe is so simple and easy, with clean, fresh flavors that I make it at least once every time salmon is on sale. It is one of my favorite salmon recipes. It came out of a specialty book put out by Food & Wine magazine called Quick From Scratch One-Dish Meals. I found it at one of those book warehouse places for only $4.99! I have copied the recipe from the Food & Wine Website.

Salmon with Thai Rice Salad
FAST
SERVES: 4

Rich broiled salmon rests atop a lean vegetable-and-rice salad to make a beautifully balanced meal. The Asian dressing includes big-impact flavors--fish sauce, lime juice, and cayenne--but very little oil.

ingredients
1 1/2 cups long-grain rice
3 tablespoons lime juice (from about 2 limes)
3 tablespoons Asian fish sauce (nam pla or nuoc mam)
2 tablespoons cooking oil
3 1/2 teaspoons sugar
Pinch cayenne
1 cucumber, peeled, halved lengthwise, seeded, and cut into 1/4-inch dice
3 carrots, grated
4 scallions including green tops, chopped
6 tablespoons chopped cilantro or fresh parsley
2 pounds skinless center-cut salmon fillet, cut into 4 pieces
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon fresh-ground black pepper

directions
Stir the rice into a medium pot of boiling, salted water and cook until just done, about 10 minutes. Drain. Rinse with cold water and drain thoroughly.
In a large glass or stainless-steel bowl, combine the lime juice, fish sauce, 1 tablespoon of the oil, the sugar, and cayenne. Let sit for about 5 minutes. Stir in the rice, cucumber, carrots, scallions, and cilantro.
Heat the broiler. Oil a broiler pan or baking sheet. Coat the salmon with the remaining 1 tablespoon oil and sprinkle with the salt and pepper. Put the salmon on the pan. Broil until just barely done (the fish should still be translucent in the center), about 5 minutes for a 1-inch-thick fillet. Put the rice salad on plates and top with the salmon.
NOTES Asian fish sauce is available at Asian markets and many supermarkets.
Since this recipe contains one of my very favorite herbs, cilantro, I have decided to use it for my Weekend Herb Blogging. Click on the picture below to find out about this wonderful food blogging event. All of this weeks entries will be posted at Cooking Diva, so be sure and check it out!

Wednesday, August 8, 2007

Sad Day

I don't feel much like posting about food today. On Sunday, one of our cats didn't come home for dinner. We looked all over for him and posted flyers in the neighborhood. He was not the kind of cat to wander off. Well, last night we found him, unfortunately he wasn't alive. Out of all of our cats, he was the sweetest. He was never moody, always ready to give and receive love. While I am relieved to have found him (not knowing was so hard), I can't believe that we will not have this sweet cat around.

Tuesday, August 7, 2007

Beet and Goat Cheese Arugula Salad

Okay, remember back here, when I said that I had found my beet recipe. That I no longer needed to search for a beet recipe. Well, I lied. Well, actually, I didn't lie, I accidentally stumbled upon this recipe, while I was paging through Giada's Family Dinners. I had just been to the Greenlife Grocery (kind of like a Whole Foods, only smaller), and had picked up, among other things, dried cranberries and walnuts. I all ready had the beets, arugula and avacado, so all I needed to pick up was some goats cheese. I am always looking for an excuse to pick up goats cheese, so it sounded like a winner.

And...it was a huge winner! The combinations are fantastic. The beets tasted just like the honey that they were roasted with. You know how when the food is so good, you just keep moaning, while your eating it? This was like that. The beets were sweet, the goat cheese was tangy, the avacado was creamy, the nuts added crunch. Just imagine how good this is for you, with the beets and the healthy fat in the avacado and the walnuts. I served it with some fresh baked bread. I wish I could get more uneven holes in my bread, but oh well.
There was plenty of dressing left over and I used it the next day on another salad. But I think if you wanted to turn this into a more substantial main dish salad, you could try what I am trying tonight, which is marinating some chicken breasts in the rest of the dressing, sauteing or grilling them and slicing them over the top. I'll let you know how it turns out.

Sunday, August 5, 2007

Panzanella (Italian Bread Salad)


I love that other countries have all these interesting ways to use up old, stale food. One of my favorite things to do with stale bread is to make panzanella. Today, a trip to the farmers market, yielded some gorgeous heirloom tomatoes. Well, they weren't really gorgeous, they were kind of gnarly and deformed looking. But all of that ugliness promised of beauty within. When I brought the tomatoes home and set them on the counter, they ended up right next to a half loaf of french bread that I had made earlier in the week. It was fate. I'm sorry I'm getting kind of melodramatic and poetic, but heirloom tomatoes do that to me.

Recipes for panzanella can be found all over the place. It really is hardly a recipe, but for guidance (since I don't trust myself), I turned to Mark Bittman's
How to Cook Everything: Simple Recipes for Great Food.

Panzanella
(adapated from Mark Bittman's How to Cook Everything)

4 medium perfectly ripe tomatoes, cored and peeled (we didn't peel them)
about 1/2 teaspoon salt
1 clove garlic, peeled
8 thick slices bread, preferably a couple of days old)
1 teaspoon fresh oregano, marjoram, or thyme leaves or 1/4 cup minced fresh basil or parsely leaves (we used oregano)
1/3 cup of extra virgin olive oil
1 tablespoon balsamic or other good vinegar, or to taste
fresh ground black pepper

1. Remove the center and seeds from the tomatoes. Place the tomatoes in a strainer over a bowl, sprinkle with about 1/2 teaspoon of the salt and set aside.

2. Toast the bread (he recommends a broiler, but we used a toaster oven). Tear into bite sized pieces. Place them in the bowl with the juice extracted from the tomatoes.

3. Discard the tomato seeds and chop the meat of the tomatoes into smaller pieces. When the bread has softened a bit, add the tomatoes, herb, oil, vinegar and some black pepper.




This was so good. It really allows the flavor of the tomatoes to shine. Next year I would really like to grow some heirloom tomatoes. Do you think I could grow them in pots? I'm growing some hot peppers in pots this year and they are really doing well.

The bread salad was served with pork medallions, browned and finished with a lemon and white wine sauce. The flavors really complemented the bread salad. This was such a refreshing dinner, perfect for this miserably hot day!

Saturday, August 4, 2007

Abandoning a Book



Do you have trouble abandoning a book? I do, especially when it's a book that is a classic, or has very favorable reviews. I feel like I should like it. I am currently reading Invisible Man by Ralph Ellison. I am on page 113 and there are 581 pages total, and I just don't think I am going to make it! I consider myself fairly intelligent, but I find myself reading and reading the sentences. But worse than that, I find myself skipping over sentences, just lightly skimming the words. Which is bad, because this author has sentences that are about 1/2 a page long.

Here is a sentence (background, he is in church):

And my mind rushing for relief away from the spring dusk and flower scents, away from the time-scene of the crucifixion to the time-mood of the birth; from spring-dusk and vespers to the high, clear, lucid moon of winter and snow clinging upon the dwarfed pines where instead of the bells, the organ and trombone choir speak carols to the distances drifted with snow, makinig of the night air a sea of crystal water lapping the slumbering land to the farthest reaches of sound, for endless miles, bringing the new dispensation even to the Goden Day, even unto the house of madness.
And here is another sentence:
And here, sitting rigid, I remember the evenings spent before the sweeping platform in awe and pleasure, and in the pleasure of the awe; remember the short formal sermons intoned from the the pulpit there, rendered in smooth articulate tones, with calm assurance purged of that wild emotion of the crude preachers most of us knew in our home towns and of whom we were deeply ashamed, those logical appeals which reached us more like the thrust of a firm and formal design requiring nothing more than the lucidity of uncluttered periods, the lulling movement of multisyllabic words to thrill and console us.

Now, I can appreciate the talent that it took to write those sentences. And I understand what each sentence is saying, it's just that by the time I get to the end of the sentence, I've lost track of where we started. I know that this is a classic, with an important concept, but I work too hard during the day, to work this hard at night, when I want to be relaxing. I like my reading to challenge me, but in a good way, not in a frustrating way.

Friday, August 3, 2007

WHB - Grilled Rosemary Potato Packets



I am almost embarrassed to be calling this a recipe, and especially for using it for Weekend Herb Blogging. But it is so simple and so good, you really have to try it. Weekend Herb Blogging is being held by Kaylyn this week.

Grilled Rosemary Potato Packets

sliced potatoes
olive oil
salt & freshly ground pepper
fresh rosemary sprigs

Preheat grill. On a sheet of aluminum foil, drizzle a little olive oil. Place enough sliced potatoes for one person. Salt and pepper to taste and place a fresh rosemary sprig on top. Close packet by crimping foil. Grill rosemary side down, for 7-8 minutes, turn over and grill for another 7-8 minutes (you want it for a total of about 15 minues). Be careful when you open the packets, the steam is hot.

I use rosemary, I feel it has such an affinity for potatoes, but you could use any herb of your choice. I place the rosemary side down first, because that allows it to really brown first and start flavoring the potatoes right away. Sorry I don't have an "after" picture, but we all just started eating them, they were so good, and forgot to snap a pic!

Thursday, August 2, 2007

Tagged by Lori!

I have been tagged by Lori at I Spend Most of My Life in the Kitchen, for the infamous, 8 random things about myself. Everything about me is random, so this might be difficult to narrow it down to 8. First I most post the rules:

1. Post the rules on your site. 2. Players start with eight random facts/habits about themselves. 3. People who are tagged need to write on their own blog about their eight things and post these rules. 4. At the end of your blog, you need to choose eight people to get tagged and list their names. 5. Don’t forget to leave them a comment telling them they’re tagged, and to read your blog.

And now for my 8 random things:

1. I have 2 college degrees, one in computer science and one in special education. Though they sound completely different, they actually have a lot in common. Both involve trying to make something work that sometimes doesn't want to.

2. I can't stand to see an animal get hurt. My mother remembers taking me to see "Walking Tall", (are you old enough to remember Billy Jack movies?). Anyway, during the movie people are getting killed and beat up all over the place and I sit there stoically. But then the german shepard gets killed and I fall to pieces.

3. Speaking of fall to pieces, I love Patsy Cline.

4. After it rains, I run outside and try to save all the worms that have washed out onto the driveway. I pick them up and place them back in the grass before they (a) get eaten by a bird, (b) get squished by a car, or (c) they dry up.

5. I love to flower garden. Or rather, I love looking at my flower garden. The whole zen thing of pulling weeds and digging in the dirt, just doesn't work for me. I see it as a necessary evil, a means to an end. I probably don't like it because...

6. I hate hot weather. I hate to be hot and sweaty, I would much rather be cold than hot. One spring break during college, I actually came back home from Florida after 4 days because it was just too hot. And because I would rather be cold...

7. I love snow. I love to look at it, play in it, and I even love to drive in it. As a teacher, I get to look forward to snow days as much as when I was a little kid. Unfortunately, after moving to Southeast Tennessee, my snow days are few and far between. But luckily, here, a mere dusting of snow, will call off school.

8. I have a fabric obsession. I love fabric and textiles. I have fabric and vintage linens stored in every possible storage place in my house.

And now, I am supposed to tag 8 people. The problem is that I am new to blogging, I've only been blogging since June. I'm sure many of you have been tagged before, and I don't want to tag someone who has all ready been it. So, I'm tagging my daugher, at Write Me Beautiful, because I know she hasn't been tagged. But if you reading this, and you haven't been tagged and you'd like to be, leave me a comment and I'll tag you!

Wednesday, August 1, 2007

No Cooking Instinct

I am frustrated. I feel that I have no cooking instinct. Maybe it's not that I have no instinct, maybe it's just that I'm afraid to try. I have always cooked using a recipe. I plan out my week's menu after pouring over my cookbook collection and my grocery store's sales flyer. Now, I know that I've read that it's a good idea to plan your menus, that you spend less at the grocery store when you do. And I think I do spend less, because I try to use up everything. So, that if I have a recipe that uses 1 cup of sour cream, I try to find another recipe to use up whatever I have left, so there is little waste. But still, I admire people who can open up their fridge and whip up dinner from whatever they find.

I want to cook more simply and intuitively. I am currently reading Animal, Vegetable, Miracle: A Year of Food Life by Barbara Kingsolver. I cannot recommend it enough, it is a fascinating account of her families attempt at eating locally. It is really making me think about what I am cooking, or more to the point, the ingredients with which I am cooking. I admit that I am guilty of using cucumbers in December, and I don't think I can give up the assortment of fruits and vegetables that are available year round. But I do want to try to eat locally at least during the local growing season. My CSA shipments are helping with that and I plan to visit my local farmer's market on Sunday.

I think what is making this so difficult for me is that I usually approach what to cook based on the protein. For my menu planning I try to have it balanced between chicken, fish, pork, vegetarian, and occasionally beef. So, now, when I'm sitting here with a bunch of bok choy or some arugula, I draw a blank. I'm not used to trying to figure out what to cook based on the the vegetables. This is the problem from always using recipes, and especially from always trying new recipes. I don't really "know" how to cook, I know how to read recipes. I want to try to change that.

What's going to make this plan more difficult is that school starts back up tomorrow. So, I will not have as much time to plan. And I do have to plan, even if it's nothing more than saying Friday is fish, with some sort of greens and some sort of rice. I have to have a plan, I can't come home from school, tired, and not at least have an idea of what I am doing. I'm sorry for rambling, and if you are still reading this, any suggestions to help me with my process would be appreciated!

No food pictures today, but here a couple from garden that I took recently, sort of a before and after shot!