Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Ten Dollar Dinners: Reality Check

I'm a big fan of The Next Food Network Star, a reality series that gives ordinary people a chance to prove they have what it takes to star in their own show on the Food Network. This month, Melissa D'Arabian, a stay-at-home mom, beat out nine other contestants with her down-to-earth tips and bubbly personality to win Season 5. She's gone on to star in Ten Dollar Dinners with Melissa D'Arabian, which I have watched just once. The premise of the show is that you can make a delicious meal for four people for $10.

The episode I watched featured Crispy-Skinned Chicken a l'Orange, Perfect Crispy Potatoes and Fennel and Cabbage Slaw. When the show ended, my daughter and I agreed we should make that dinner for our family. So tonight I did (see photo above; for recipes visit the "Ten Dollar Dinners" link provided). We thought it was delicious, but I do have a question for Melissa (or whoever does her shopping): Ten dollars? Are you out of your mind?

My bill today:
3 Idaho potatoes $3.34
2 bone-in chicken breasts $9.22 (recipe calls for 3 but I wasn't feeding 4 people so I only got 2)
Frozen OJ concentrate: $1.39
Total: $13.95

I am not adding in the cost of oil, butter or honey, all of which I had here, OR the cost for the slaw ingredients, because I happened to have all of them here as well (except the bacon for the slaw, so I skipped it). So I spent over $10 and didn't even buy all the ingredients for the dinner. Bottom line: Tasty meal, but over the promised price point.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Spinach Salad with Honey-Mustard Dressing

I couldn't believe it when I realized we hadn't eaten dinner as a family since last Saturday night, on Cape Cod. I'll spare you the crazy details, which involve a cat's hospitalization, DD's cheerleading schedule and a wacky pool party/barbecue at an old friend's house.

I guess that's what summer's all about, but I for one missed the family dinner. Tonight I was pretty sure we'd all be here, so I grilled a flank steak, made some roasted potatoes and threw together this spinach salad. DH liked the dressing so much he ended up drizzling it on his steak. 'Nuff said.

Spinach Salad with Honey-Mustard Dressing
Serves 6 - 8

1 tablespoon dijon mustard
1/2 tablespoon whole grain mustard
1/4 cup white vinegar
1/4 cup honey
1/4 cup olive oil
1/4 cup canola oil
1 scallion -- chopped
salt and pepper
1 box baby spinach
Toppings: Choose whatever you like
2 hard boiled eggs -- chopped
1/4 cup crumbled blue cheese
12 cherry tomatoes, halved
4 white mushrooms, sliced
8 strip bacon -- cooked, chopped
1/4 cup sunflower seed kernels

Mix dressing ingredients together until emulsified (an immersion blender works great for this).
Place spinach on a platter or in a bowl. Arrange toppings around the edge. Let your guests choose what they like, or toss the salad together and drizzle with dressing.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Comfort Food for Gluten- and Dairy-Free Client

The above picture represents the comfort food portion of yesterday's cookdate, and it's all gluten-free and dairy-free. This special-diet client loves comfort food, and requested Lasagna Rollups and Tex-Mex Tortilla Bake as two of her four entrees for yesterday's cookdate. My usual style of cooking is a little lighter and with more emphasis on fresh vegetables, but I have definitely put a healthy spin on these traditional foods.

The Lasagna Rollups are a new recipe that I knew she'd like, because they include tofu, spinach and kalamata olives, some of her favorites. I used Tinkyada rice lasagna noodles, which cooked and rolled up beautifully, as well as soy cheeses and lots of fresh basil. I prepared the rollups and divided them up between two dishes, one for her fridge and one for the freezer.

The Tex-Mex Tortilla Bake is an old family favorite which I've adapted for her, taking out a few things she can't have (black beans, corn and cheese), switching from flour tortillas to rice tortillas, and using soy cheese to replace the cheddar/jack combo I would normally use. The dish includes lean ground turkey and some great spices. After baking this dish, I cut it into 4 large pieces and package two fresh and two frozen.

Tex-Mex Tortilla Bake (gluten-free, diary-free)
Serves 4

1 tablespoon olive oil
1 small onion -- chopped
2 cloves garlic -- chopped
1 1/4 pounds ground turkey
1 large can tomato sauce (Muir Glen is gluten-free)
1 tablespoon chili powder
1 teaspoon cumin
2 rice tortillas
1/2 package soy cheese (jack or cheddar)
3 tablespoons fresh cilantro

Heat oil in skillet. Saute onion and garlic for a few minutes. Add turkey. Cook all until done. Drain fat from skillet.

Stir in tomato sauce, chili powder and cumin. Taste and adjust seasonings. Add salt and pepper.

Place one tortilla in a sprayed 9x9 dish. Top with a spinkling of cheese, half of the meat, a sprinkling of cilantro, and more cheese. Repeat, ending with cheese. Cover with sprayed aluminum foil and bake 350 degrees for 20 minutes. Let cool for several minutes. Cut into 4 wedges.

Serve with soy sour cream and cilantro-avocado salsa (mix fresh cilantro, chopped avocado, chopped tomato with some salt, chili powder and lemon or lime juice).

Monday, August 17, 2009

Hummus for lunch

Pre-Vacation Meal: Crabcakes, Swordfish Kebabs, Pasta Salad, Green Salad

Post-Vacation Meal: Hummus and Vegetables

We're just back from a few days on the Cape, where I ate exclusively vegetarian with the exception of a fantastic lobster on Wednesday night. My veggie streak continued today, as I returned home to a very empty fridge and quite sick of peanut butter (my road trip staple). So I whipped up some hummus for lunch. It's a very easy and economical dip to have around, and you can jazz it up by altering the amounts of garlic, lemon or hot sauce, or even add in some roasted red peppers, olives or fresh herbs (none of which I have in my sad post-vacation fridge).

The better looking meal was created before we left on vacation. My brother and his family stopped by on their way to Cape Cod, and I made a tasty dinner featuring seafood and salads. I also made those irresistable sliders for the kids, which they gobbled up. Time to get to the grocery store.


Makes about 1 1/2 cups

1 can chick peas, drained and rinsed
1 - 2 (or more) cloves of garlic, crushed
1 lemon (or more), juiced
3 T. tahini
3 T. olive oil
3 T. water (maybe)
hot sauce

Place chick peas, crushed garlic, lemon juice and tahini in bowl of food processor. Process until very finely chopped, scraping the sides of the bowl once. With motor running, pour in olive oil and continue to process. Add some water if it looks too thick. Add a pinch of salt and a few dashes of hot sauce. Turn off the motor and taste. Add more salt and/or lemon if desired. Serve with raw or blanched vegetables, pita chips or crackers.

Friday, August 7, 2009

Did someone say summer?

This week I had the opportunity to check out a nearby farmers' market AND visit my favorite farmstand, so I'm swimming in local produce (not to mention the loaf of Honey Whole Wheat bread that called to me from the Great Harvest Bread Co tent).

Tonight I'm planning to grill a couple of flank steaks to serve with my locally-grown corn and Stacked Tomato-Basil-Mozzarella Salad. The tomatoes and basil were grown a few miles from here, and the mozzarella traveled from Vermont, so I consider it local in that it's not from Italy, or New Jersey. For dessert, maybe some fresh peaches and ice cream. Mmmmm.

Stacked Tomato-Basil-Mozzarella Salad
Serves 4 or so

4 - 5 locally grown tomatoes, such as beefsteak or heirloom varieties
1/2 lb. fresh mozzarella cheese (you may want more if you like thick slices of cheese)
12 - 14 fresh basil leaves
freshly ground black pepper
about 1 T. highest quality extra virgin olive oil
sea salt

Using a serrated knife, slice the tomatoes and lay on a cutting board. Sprinkle with pepper. Wash the knife and use it to slice the mozzarella in thin slices. Assemble your stacks by placing a large tomato slice on the bottom, followed by a slice of mozzarella and a basil leaf. Repeat, ending with a small tomato slice. Slide a fancy toothpick through the center of the stack and place it on a plate. Repeat with remaining ingredients until you have 6 or so stacks. Drizzle the stacks with about 1 T. of extra virgin olive oil and sprinkle with sea salt. Serve.

Sunday, August 2, 2009

Beef and Broccoli Stir-Fry

Everyone at my house enjoys Asian flavors, and TS is on an all-out beef bender, so I thought this would make a great dinner for us tonight. Although the recipe seems very bland, it was perfect for the non-adventurous palates at the table. Think of this recipe as a starting point: feel free to add ginger, different vegetables, more red pepper flakes, orange zest or some hot chile oil to customize this to your tastes. For my group, it was perfect as is.

Beef and Broccoli Stir-Fry
Serves 3 - 4

1 1/2 T. cornstarch
1/4 t. salt
1/4 t. pepper
1 pound sirloin tips, sliced against the grain very thinly
2 T. canola or peanut oil
10 ounces broccoli florets, steamed for 2 min. in microwave
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 t. dark sesame oil
3 T. low-sodium soy sauce
1/4 cup water
pinch of red pepper flakes

In a large bowl, combine cornstarch, salt and pepper. Add sliced beef and toss to coat.

Meanwhile, steam the broccoli in the microwave (Zip n Steam bags work great for this).

Heat 2 T. canola oil in large nonstick skillet or wok until very hot, but not smoking. Add beef (in batches if necessary) and stir fry until cooked through, about 2 min. Transfer to a clean bowl.

Add steamed broccoli and garlic to skillet. Drizzle with sesame oil and stir-fry over moderately high heat until broccoli is tender and garlic is pale golden, about 1 - 2 min. Add soy sauce and water to skillet and bring to a boil. Return meat to skillet and cook, stirring, until sauce thickens, about 1 min. Scatter pinch of red pepper flakes over all and serve.