Saturday, July 31, 2010

Veggies Grilled, Roasted or Steamed

Think of your favorite veggies in spring,summer,fall and even winter. I like to buy veggies in season for freshness and lower price. Have you ever visited a local Farmer's Market? If not, take a little time to stroll through one. It can be an adventure! Imagine, purchasing veggies directly from the farmer who grew them? No shrink-wrapped packages, no box from a freezer from a supermarket. Hmmm, how much did that packaging cost you? Your veggies from a Farmer's Market did not take an airplane ride for you to spend more money to transport them.

Ok, so here is the prep: Wash, dry, peel if necessary any veggies of choice. Examples for grilling: Vidalia Onions (peeled,sliced); Zucchini (sliced lengthwise in thick strips); Peppers (cut into wide strips); Eggplant (unpeeled, sliced in wide, thick strips); Asparagus (cut off bottom tough ends.)

If grilling: use a mesh rack, place veggies on the rack. Brush with olive oil and sprinkle with Kosher salt. Have tongs ready to turn the veggies so they do not burn.

If roasting: Use a large baking sheet with rim (lined with parchment paper)or baking dish to serve in that can go into the oven. Brush the veggies with olive oil and sprinkle with Kosher salt. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Roast until veggies are soft and a little browned. The delicious smell will tell you when they are ready. Cooking time is about 20 minutes depending on your oven. Roasting brings out sweetness in veggies.

If steaming: Use a large pot with some water in the bottom. Use a steaming basket to put inside the pot. Cut your veggies of choice to fit in the steaming basket. Cover the pot when filled with veggies and turn heat first to a medium high, then when steaming begins, turn the heat down to low. Veggies take about five minutes to steam. The should not be soggy, but they should not be hard either. You will know when they are done with just a taste test.

Always make extra veggies as these make great leftovers to put into tomato sauces, egg scrambles, added to a sandwich, and even turned into a pureed soup with added broth.

Enjoy your veggies!

Friday, July 30, 2010

Grilled Chicken Made Easy

Platter of Grilled Chicken over fresh Garden Salad

It is amazing how a few ingredients make plain chicken tasty. It is summertime so get your grill fired up, oil the rack or use a mesh grid sprayed with Olive Oil or Canola Spray and get ready to grill some chicken breasts (boneless skinned) or bone in. Make extra chicken for lunch the next day. Cook once, eat twice!

Rinse your chicken pieces and pat dry. (Be sure to wash hands after touching raw chicken.) Put on mesh grid or a plate to bring to your grill. Brush chicken pieces with a little olive oil or drizzle a bit on each piece before placing on your grill. Sprinkle the chicken with a bit of salt. (Pepper after chicken is cooked, as pepper can burn at high heat.) That's it. Grill on medium heat and turn over once.

Serve: Prepare a side salad just before you put the chicken on the grill, but do not put dressing on the salad until you are ready to eat. This is a very healthy meal if you are cutting back on carbs. (You can always have a treat later after this kind of meal and not feel too guilty.)


Party Tips - Homemade Pita Chips

Having your friends over for an informal gathering does not have to send you into a panic attack. Have some go-to favorites in mind, quick trip to market and just make one thing, homemade pita chips. Your home will smell delicious and your friends will think you spent a lot of time preparing to entertain.

Homemade Pita Chips: Store bought pita bread. Olive Oil. Have a cutting board with serrated bread knife ready as well as a large baking sheet with rims. For easy clean-up, line the baking sheet with either parchment paper or foil. Preheat oven to about 375-400 degrees. Also have oven mitts ready to use.

Prep: On cutting board, cut each pita bread round into quarters, then cut each quarter in half. Carefully open and separate the pieces for individual pita chips. Put the chips on the lined baking sheet in a single layer. Drizzle or brush each chip with olive oil. Put the filled baking sheet into the preheated oven and standby for a few minutes until the chips look a bit browned. Don't burn them! The chips will smell delicious when done.

Serving: From the market (or if you dare to make your own) serve with your homemade pita chips: salsa, guacamole, hummus (assorted flavors).

Invite your friends to bring beer, wine or soft drinks and you have an instant party!


Thursday, July 29, 2010

Fresh Tomato Sauce - Quick and Flavorful

The simplicity of preparing fresh tomato sauce amazes me. This magical creation comes together in a very short time. In approximately fifteen minutes, pasta with vegetables is on my dinner plate, ready to comfort me and my tastebuds.
Knowing that once a large pot of water comes to an active boil, pasta usually takes about eight minutes to cook. At the same time, cooking chopped vegetables and adding a few more ingredients turns into a sauce for my pasta.
It is only minutes for my fork to be twirling around in the pasta in my fresh tomato sauce.
Being prepared to cook is the secret for enjoying the process of creating fresh, delicious food in minutes.

What you will need for preparing this recipe:
Large pot with matching lid
Large frying pan
Chopping board
Kitchen knife
Wooden spoon
Large slotted spoon
Measuring spoons
Pot holders
Can opener
Large serving bowl
Large serving spoons

Cold water to fill the large pot about 3/4 full
Olive Oil, regular not extra virgin. About 3-4 tablespoons.
Onion, one small or half of a large onion
Garlic, 3 cloves chopped
Peppers, one green or red pepper cut into small pieces. (Assorted colors make a nice presentation.)
Zucchini, one small size cut into small pieces
Cherry tomatoes, one cup or more, washed and cut in halves.
Tomato paste from a tube, 3-4 squirts from the tube
Canned tomatoes with no salt, 28 oz. size
Pasta, one pound box of personal choice variety
Kosher salt, 1-2 teaspoons
Sugar, 1-2 teaspoons, determined by personal taste.
Dried herbs, one teaspoon or less of any of the following:
Oregano, basil, tarragon
Red pepper flakes, 1/4 to 1/2 teaspoons depending on personal taste.
Optional: chopped fresh parsley for garnish.

Fill the large pot with cold water and put the cover on the pot.
Put the covered pot of water on stove burner and turn heat up to medium-high.
Wash and cut all vegetables.
Open the can of tomatoes.
Have all dry herbs available to measure.
Put the large frying pan on another stove burner and put the olive oil in the pan. Turn stove burner up to medium-high. In a minute when olive oil is heated, add chopped onions and stir around with the wooden spoon.
Add some of the Kosher salt to the cooking onions to help release their moisture and keep stirring.
Add the chopped garlic and all the chopped vegetables. Keep stirring the mixture.
When the vegetables look softer after a few minutes, add the tomato paste and keep stirring with the wooden spoon for another minute.
Add the canned tomatoes and keep stirring the sauce. At this time add some cold water to half of this can and add to the cooking sauce.
Add the dried herbs, more Kosher salt and sugar. Keep stirring the sauce.
Turn the heat under the sauce pan to low heat.
Carefully taste the sauce and adjust seasonings with more salt or sugar (canned tomatoes may have an acid taste.)

When the pot of water has large bubbles, add the box of pasta and stir with the slotted spoon.
Cook pasta for about eight minutes, taste a cooled piece of pasta for a bit of firmness. If soft, but still firm in middle, transfer the pasta from the pot by spoonfuls and put into the fry pan of tomato sauce still cooking on low heat.
The liquid from the cooked pasta will thicken the tomato sauce. (Always put pasta into sauce, not sauce over pasta say the experts.)
Depending on the amount of prepared sauce and amount of pasta, you have an option to add a bit more of the water from the large pot that the pasta cooked in to thicken the tomato sauce even more. It is a personal choice for the thickness of the sauce.
Gently blend the pasta into the tomato sauce carefully to not break the pasta.
Transfer the mixed pasta and tomato sauce to a large serving bowl to bring to your dinner table.

Serving Options:
Grated cheese of choice can be added to your sauce at serving time. Or, have grated cheese in a bowl on the dinner table for individuals to add on their own plates.
Fresh, chopped Parsley spinkled on top of the Fresh Tomato Sauce gives a truly clean, fresh look to your sauce creation.
A drizzle of Olive Oil on top of your pasta adds more flavor.
You will experience a smooth, burst of flavor in your mouth from the freshness of this dish.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Couscous or Quinoa - Question of the day

Do you know the answer to this question of the day?
I am so pleased to have the answer to the culinary question of what to serve as a side dish besides rice, pasta or potatoes. The answer for me is both couscous and quinoa. Both are easy and fast to prepare. Both are easy to up the nutrition with added veggies. Both make a colorful addition to my dinner plate. This makes me very happy. Nice to know I can offer a glutenfree choice to family and friends with quinoa also.

I prefer to use Couscous Grande or Israeli Couscous found in supermarkets usually in the aisle with rice and pastas. These two variations of couscous are little tiny round balls of pasta. Follow cooking instructions on the package. It cooks up within a few minutes. This is a go-to carb when you don't know what to serve with your meal of chicken, meat or fish.

Sauteeing veggies of choice in regular olive oil with garlic and onions enhances the couscous dish as well as stretches the number of servings. Make extra for another meal the next day. Cook once, eat twice!

Quinoa is so easy to prepare and so healthy for you. Quinoa (pronounced keen-wah) is also found in supermarkets in the aisle with rice and pastas. Follow the cooking instructions on the package. It will say give a quick rinse of this small grain first. Again, very easy to do. Serve as is after fluffing up when cooked, like rice. Add sauteed veggies for added flavor, color and nutrients as you would with a rice dish or a couscous dish.


Hamburger Stretch

It is possible to get five burgers from one pound of ground beef by adding some flavor. Depending on the servings for yourself or your family, this is an economical way to stretch food on a budget. Cooking for two? You then have lunch the next day or two.

Prep: Purchase a good quality ground beef. Bring out one egg, ketchup, Worcestshire Sauce, salt & ground pepper, bread crumbs or Panko crumbs (crispy, Japanese crumbs). Optional: add chopped onions, green/red peppers, chopped baby spinach. Have your chopping board and sharp knife ready along with a large bowl. A smaller bowl for cracking open the egg. Also have a clean plate ready to put the formed burgers on before cooking. (Can prepare formed burgers uncooked, keeping them covered with plastic wrap in the refrigerator for an hour or two.)

Mixing ingredients: No measuring required. With clean hands, put the ground beef in a large bowl. Crack open the egg in a smaller bowl to make sure the egg is fresh, then put the egg on top of the ground beef. Continue to add the rest of the wet ingredients, then the veggies, saving the crumbs for last for the desired consistency. When using the wet ingredients, use amounts that you feel comfortable with a few shakes at a time. The ground beef should be loose a bit. After adding some crumbs, use your clean hands to gently blend in all the ingredients.

Make hamburger patties for your desired size burger, putting them on a clean plate to transfer to a frypan or outdoor grill. Be sure to use a spray Canola oil for frypan or grill rack. (Canola oil can be brushed in a pan or on a grill. Canola oil holds up to a high heat. A vegetable oil also, but olive oil requires a lower heat.)

Important point when cooking burgers: Do Not Press Down with a Spatula. This will release juices and make a very dry burger. A simple test for doneness in meat is: press a clean finger gently to the center. The firmer the meat, the more well done the meat is. A medium well burger is done with just a little press in the center.

Serving tip: Allow cooked burgers to rest a few minutes on a clean plate before serving. Use this time to have desired condiments available at the table to build your custom burger. If using a bun, add some fresh lettuce or baby spinach (washed), have sliced tomatoes available to include veggie servings during your meal. Or serve a burger on a plate with a side salad.

With a tasty, custom burger prepared at home, you will not miss a take-out burger and will WOW your family and friends. Your burgers will be healthier prepared with the control you have over the ingredients you put into your food.


Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Zucchini & Vidalia Onions

Summertime easy sidedish: Zucchini & Vidalia Onions

Prep: Wash & dry zucchini (s) Take skin off onion(s) Numbers depend on servings. It is a good idea to prepare more than you need for one meal because using leftovers makes meal prep easier for your next meal. Cook once, eat twice!

On cutting board, cut zucchini into small pieces/chunks; chopp onion into small pieces.
Have Kosher salt and ground pepper nearby ready to use.
Have a saute pan or frypan chosen for size required.
Have some good olive oil available to put into frypan (about 1-2 tbs) or as needed for cut veggies.
For some flavor (heat) have some red pepper flakes available (a pinch).
Have wooden spoon available for stirring.

Heat olive oil into frypan on med.high heat; add chopped onions and stir around.
Add sprinkle of salt to bring out juice of onions. When onions are shiny, add chopped zucchini and stir around with cooking onions.
Add some ground pepper and keep stirring the veggies. (lower heat if cooking too fast.)
Sprinkle in the red pepper flakes (to taste).
Ready when zucchini is cooked.

Options: Add cut fresh red peppers (for a nice colorful, healthy dish.)
Use leftover cooked veggies in an eggwhite scramble for breakfast!

No calorie counting for now. Concentrate on veggies, flavor & quick prep.

Food Blogging Adventure Begins Today

My food blogging adventure begins today. Looking forward to sharing simple, quick, meal planning with you. You say you cannot cook? Willing to take a first step into homecooking land?
Give yourself a gift of good nutrition with lots of flavor! As I learn to post some of my favorite dishes here, please feel free to email me personally with your questions or concerns.
The Souper