Saturday, February 28, 2009

Where did the week go?

Sorry, busy week, no picture. :(

I held my first in-home cooking class this week and it was a huge hit all around, except for the fact that I had the camera sitting right there and never took a single picture. Oops.

The topic was "Fast, Flavorful Family Dinners," and after discussing dinnertime challenges, I shared some techniques and the participants got to work preparing two fabulous dishes: Costa Rican-Style Tilapia with Pineapple, Black Beans and Rice and Ranch Steak Salad. All of the women in the class did a fantastic job preparing the food, and we enjoyed a flavorful lunch together at noon. (Info about upcoming cooking lessons can be found on my website, under the "What's New?" tab.)

Other than that, I kept busy cooking for weekly clients, taking my daughter to the orthodontist and dance class, having lunch with a friend, menu planning and stopping at the Senior Center to volunteer as a Meals on Wheels driver. Throw in picking up the kids from school, scheduling hair cuts, my son's guitar lesson, my ongoing marketing efforts and the impromptu 8th grade get-together at our home last night, and I guess you can see why the camera never made it out of its protective case.

Friday, February 20, 2009

Meal Planning 101

Those two 3x5 cards taped together and hanging on the corner of the calendar are the answer to my dinnertime dilemmas.(Click on photo to see it more clearly.) It's our weekly meal plan. If you don't have one, I encourage you to try creating one.

- fewer trips to the grocery store
- less stress at dinnertime
- a varied diet
- no confusion about what's for dinner
- less wasted food
- fewer opportunities to eat out (not good for wallet or waistline!)

What I do is sit down with the calendar and write out a the days of the week on the card. Then, I make notes for things like kids' sports and lessons; nights any of us are not going to be home for dinner; and other events that may cut into dinnertime or dinner-prep time. I suppose I could do all of that on my Blackberry, but I'm not super techie like that.

Then, I fill in the blanks, thinking about variety, days I'm likely to go shopping, and any requests I've received from the family. If you're uber-organized, you can also use the supermarket's weekly sale flyers to help plan the meals. Sometimes I do that, but sometimes I don't.

For the plan here, I started yesterday because I realized my husband and I were going out to dinner and I should leave something for the cherubs to eat. I had some burritos in the freezer, which I thawed and heated up with cheese, made a big pot of rice, and we always have some salad in the fridge. Voila. I also made enough rice so that I'd have leftover to make Fried Rice tonight, to go along with the General Tso's Chicken that my daughter requested.

I realized I'd be out with the kids for several hours on Saturday at a Curling Party (I'll DEFINITELY post about that, having never curled before), and I know they're serving snacks, so I figured a) the kids won't be too hungry for dinner and b) I won't have much time to make dinner when we get home. Therefore, I've planned to have some soup I made last month and froze. I pulled the soup out of the freezer today and have it defrosting in the fridge.

I think we'll all be home Sunday and Monday, so I planned a couple of favorite meals for those nights. Then I thought the menu looked awfully meat-heavy, so I scheduled in some fish, chicken and turkey for the rest of the next week.

You might notice that I have Thursday off. It's one of my scheduled dinner and show nights with some friends. Though I'm sure there will be something in the house the family can eat, I'm leaving it up to them. I have the feeling they'll sneak off to Tasty Treat for something artery-clogging while I'm not looking.

Friday, February 13, 2009

Grilled Salmon Burgers

I would call these burgers the surprise "hit of the week." I'd never done the fresh salmon burger-thing before, and I must say, these were delish. The consistency of the raw burger is so soft that you have to grill these indoors, on a ridged grill pan, as I did. Perfect for winter in New England (summer, too, come to think of it. Nothing worse than standing outside at the grill when it's 90 degrees out). After tasting them, I decided they'd benefit greatly from a zesty little sauce, so I mixed up a lime mayo to go with them. I think my client will love them as much as I did!

Grilled Salmon Burgers with Lime Mayo

Serves 4

1 lb. skinless salmon fillet
1 T. Dijon mustard
1 T. minced fresh ginger
1 T. finely grated lime zest, divided (use a microplane)
1 T. minced fresh cilantro
1 scallion, minced
1 t. low-sodium soy sauce
salt and pepper
1 rice cake, crumbled very well
4 T. mayonnaise (full fat or low-fat, or whatever you like)
4 burger rolls or sandwich thins

Cut the salmon fillet into 1 inch pieces. Place in the bowl of a food processor and pulse until the salmon is coarsely ground. Transfer the salmon to a large bowl and add mustard, ginger, 1 t. lime zest, cilantro, scallion, soy sauce and salt and pepper. If your mixture seems really wet, like mine did, crumble a rice cake with your hands and mix it in (if you don't have a rice cake, other options would be a handful of panko or even some cooked rice). Place the bowl in the fridge for 30 minutes.

Meanwhile, mix the remaining lime zest with the mayonnaise and set aside.

Preheat a nonstick grill pan over medium heat on the stove. Form the chilled mixture into 4 thin patties. Place the patties in the preheated pan and cook for 3 - 4 minutes. Flip and cook 3 minutes more, or until cooked through. Serve patties on rolls with 1 T. of lime mayo.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

You win some, you lose some

What's not to love? Italian-Style Chicken and Chick Peas was fast, easy and tasty. I served it with Parmesan Couscous (cook a box of couscous and when it's done, stir in about 1/2 cup Parmesan cheese) and a Mixed Baby Green Salad with White Balsamic Vinaigrette and Candied Pecans.
"This is better than a restaurant meal," gushed DD (dear daughter), my biggest fan. Meanwhile, PTS (picky teenage son) was busy blotting his chicken to remove any trace of seasoning. "I love this chicken, Mom," he said as he went for seconds (blotting all the way). He won no points for sincerity, but at least he was eating.
Meanwhile, hubby was forcefully pushing each and every chick pea to the side of his plate and looking around the kitchen with frantic eyes for something else to eat.

I for one LOVED the meal. If you want any of the above recipes, let me know. I'll share them once I'm done licking my wounds.

Editing to add: Two nights later, my son asked me to make "That chicken that was good" again. After asking 5 or 10 questions, I realized this was what he wanted.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

"Super Double Thumbs Up"

The title of this post is what the hubby and daughter said after eating tonight's dinner, which was basically a grilled sandwich. Go figure.

These sandwiches are based on a recipe for a pressed Cubano sandwich that appeared in Cooking Light years ago. Tonight I made them with Arnold's "Sandwich Thins, White Whole Wheat" and the tasters agreed that's part of what made them so good. I made them on my Cuisinart Griddler, but you could make them in a grill pan or any skillet, as long as you have something to press down on them to make them a little flatter. That's part of the appeal; if you eat two, you don't feel too bad because they're soooo thin. I served these with fruit salad.

Pressed Cubano Sandwich
Serves 4

1 T. olive oil
1 clove garlic, pressed or chopped
4 rolls (I used Arnold's Sandwich Thins)
yellow mustard
4 slices swiss cheese
8 slices bacon, cooked
dill pickle slices
fresh cilantro leaves
1/4 lb. or less shaved ham
1/4 lb. or less shaved turkey breast

Combine oil and garlic and set aside.

Open the rolls and spread mustard on each side of the rolls. If you don't like mustard, don't use it.

Place 1/2 cheese slice on the bottom of each roll. Top with one slice of bacon that's been cut in half, a couple slices of pickle and a couple of cilantro leaves. Divide ham and turkey evenly among the bottom halves of the rolls; top with other half of the swiss cheese slice and another slice of bacon, cut in half. Close the sandwich and brush garlic oil on the outside of the rolls.
Place the sandwiches on preheated Griddler, close and press. Cook for 2 minutes, or until outside has grill marks and cheese is melting. Alternately, cook the sandwiches in a nonstick skillet, and place a cast iron skillet on top of them to press them down. Flip after 2 minutes. Dinner's ready!

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Miso Soup

This idea literally "hit me" when I opened the cupboard and a bag of wakame fell out and hit me on the head. Wakame is an edible ocean plant, which I think is a nice way to say "seaweed you can eat."

The wakame was in my cupboard because I had used it to make Miso Soup eons ago, after I had gum surgery. I lived on the stuff for days, which is probably the reason I haven't made it since. I rehydrated the wakame in some cold water while I got everything else going, and before you could say "edible ocean plant," the soup was done. BTW, you can find wakame in the oriental foods section of Whole Foods; miso is in the refrigerated case in a little plastic tub like cream cheese.

Miso Soup

Serves 4

6 cups water or vegetable stock
1 medium carrot, sliced very thin
3 T. wakame, soaked in cold water for 5-10 minutes
2 scallions, sliced thin
some tofu, cubed, if desired
3-4 T. miso, any color

Bring water or stock to a simmer. Add carrots and simmer until tender, just a few minutes. Add wakame, scallions and tofu and continue to simmer. Take out some liquid and stir it into the miso in a small bowl. Once the miso is dissolved, pour it into the soup. Simmer (do not boil) for a few minutes to combine the flavors. Enjoy.

Thursday, February 5, 2009

Ranch Steak Salad

Zowie! Is that a word? That's how I'll describe tonight's dinner. It had lots of flavor coming at you from all different angles. First of all, the steak is rubbed with a peppery spice mixture; then, the tomato topping bursts with flavor thanks to fresh basil and minced shallot; and the horseradish-laced dressing adds the final punch to this knockout of a meal.

Ranch Steak Salad

Serves 4

2 t. black pepper
1 1/2 t. ground cumin
1 1/2 t. chili powder
1/2 t. salt
1 lb. petite sirloin, tenderloin, or flank steak
1/2 cup bottled ranch dressing
1 - 2 T. horseradish (not the creamy stuff-- real horseradish!)
1/4 cup minced shallots
1/4 cup chopped fresh basil
1/4 cup chopped roasted red peppers
1 T. fresh lemon juice
10 - 14 cherry or grape tomatoes, halved
salt and pepper
olive oil
4 cups salad greens of your choice (spinach, arugula, mixed greens, romaine...)
4 slices hearty bread, rubbed with garlic and toasted or grilled

Combine black pepper, cumin, chili powder and salt. Rub both sides of steak with the mixture and let sit at room temperature for 10 - 15 minutes.

Meanwhile, mix ranch dressing and horseradish in a small bowl and set aside.

Also, mix shallots, basil, roasted red peppers, lemon juice and tomatoes in a small bowl. Season with salt and pepper and set aside.

Heat a grill pan over medium heat. Brush steak with olive oil and grill for 3-4 minutes per side, or until done to your liking. Remove steak from pan and let sit for 10 - 15 minutes.

Arrange salad greens on plates. Top greens with a slice of grilled bread. Cut steak across the grain, and arrange on top of bread. Top with tomato mixture. Drizzle with ranch-horseradish dressing.

Serves 4.
Recipe adapted from Cooking Light.

Miss February

The Personal Chefs' Network, a professional organization to which I belong, chooses a "Pacesetter" each month, and you're talking to "Miss February" right now. Well, you're reading her words. I was amazed and grateful to be told I was receiving this award.

To read all about it, visit the Personal Chefs' Network and click on PACESETTER in the upper left corner.

Yes, I'm blushing. But it was either post this or another seafood recipe, and I thought maybe my handful of devotees was getting sick of all my seafood recipes.