Wednesday, April 21, 2010

What do Alison Sweeney and Ham and Egg Sandwiches Have in Common?

I thought that might get your attention.

Tonight for dinner, I repeated the Lean Egg and Ham Sandwiches that I'd made and blogged about in February, though I simplified the process by not heating the ham and not using parsley tonight (that's a picture from last time). We got home from DD's lacross game after 6 pm, and I need to get dinner on the table quickly. Once again, these sandwiches came through. I served them with fruit salad, and the crowd was very happy.

Now, back to that title. As my husband was eating his second Ham and Egg sammy, he murmured, "These are marvelous." The last time I heard him use that adjective, he was watching Biggest Loser. Host Alison Sweeney appeared, looking, well, like only Alison Sweeney can. "She's marvelous," he purred.

I'm not sure if I should be green with envy or happy that he enjoyed his dinner so much.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Meal Planning 102

This is for those of you who've passed Meal Planning 101 and are ready for a higher level of meal planning. It takes into account the basics already covered in Meal Planning 101 but adds another element to streamline the process. Please open your laptops and we'll begin.

My latest attempt to make my life easier happened over the weekend, when I was trying to make my meal plan for the week. I decided to type up all the meals that at least 3 out of 4 of my family members like, by category. That ruled out categories like Tofu, Shellfish and Pork, since we don't have a majority who like any of those. What it left me with was Chicken/Turkey, Pasta, Beef, Seafood, and Salads/Light Meals. Not too shabby. I suppose I could have used different categories, like Italian, Chinese, All-American, Tex-Mex and Thai; or Grill, Oven, Crockpot, Saute, No Cook. Hmmm. Maybe next time around.

After deciding on the categories, I quickly typed in the names of recipes from my recipe binder that qualified as family favorites. I can always add new recipes, but for now I have 80+ recipes, which should keep us fed for quite a while.

The easy part was (and forever shall be) planning the meals for the week. By glancing at the list, I could pick a tried-and-true meal from each category for each night of the week. The best part is that the family has been so happy to see some of their old favorites at the table. We've enjoyed Asian-Grilled Chicken with Pot Stickers and Salisbury Steak with Mashed Potatoes and Peas.

Your homework is to make a list of meals your family likes, and see if it makes your meal planning any easier. Class dismissed.

Asian Grilled Chicken
Serves 4 - 6

One package boneless skinless chicken breasts (3 breast halves, about 1 1/2 lbs.: I used the package I got at the 5 for $25 sale!)
3/4 cup Soy Veh Teriyaki Sauce

Slice the chicken breasts horizontally so you get two equal size pieces from each breast (this is very easy to do if the breasts are slightly frozen). I do this because the thinner breast cooks very quickly on the grill.

Place the six pieces of chicken in a large ziplock bag with the Soy Veh sauce. Let marinate in the fridge for 2 - 6 hours.

Grill over medium heat for about 3 minutes per side, or until chicken is cooked through. Serve.

Friday, April 16, 2010

5 for $25

I'd never taken advantage of my grocery store's "5 for $25" meat special before this week, and now I'm not sure why. The meat is fresh and top-quality: I picked up three strip steaks, a package of chicken breasts and a package of turkey cutlets for $25. Other options included whole chickens, pork roasts, ground turkey breast, ground beef and Mrs. Budd's Chicken Pot Pies. Seriously.

According to my grocery receipt, I saved $10.15; the biggest savings came from the package of chicken breasts, which would have cost $8.94. So if I'd bought 5 packages of chicken breasts, I would have saved close to $20. But that's boring, in my opinion. I like variety.

I turned the strip steaks into Steak Shish Kebobs, following Amy's recipe, which I served with rice and corn. They were gone before you could say "mmmm."

I used my grill pan to make Grilled Turkey Cutlets in just three minutes. I sprinkled half of the cutlets with Penzey's Turkish Seasoning and half with salt and pepper, then brushed lightly with olive oil. I cooked them for 2 minutes on the first side, flipped and cooked for 1 minute longer. After placing on a serving platter, I brushed the spicier cutlets with barbecue sauce and left the others naked, for the less-adventurous eaters. I served the cutlets with a green salad and some pineapple, and it was one of the fastest dinners I've ever made.

No plans yet for the chicken breast, but I'm sure I'll think of something soon. And I'll definitely be stocking up at the next 5 for $25 sale.

Thursday, April 8, 2010

All in a day's work

Everything looked so colorful at today's cook date, I couldn't resist snapping a couple of pictures with my BlackBerry. While the colors don't pop quite as much as they did on the kitchen counter with the mid-day sun shining through the windows, I hope you get the picture.

On Thursdays, I cook for a family of six; they like simple foods that their kids will eat, and often request the same items each week. The top photo includes Baked Ziti (at the top of the picture - it's actually Unbaked Ziti - the client pops it in the oven the night they eat it); White Bean and Tomato Salad; Bacon and Cheese Quiche; and Emerald City Rice/Vegetable Salad.

The second photo includes the components for a Fresh Fruit Salad (black containers at the top); Chicken and Steak Fajitas with Onions and Peppers (two aluminum containers); and Hamburgers. The double aluminum pans are my cooling method: I place the hot food in one pan, which I place in a second pan full of ice. I stir the food and it cools quickly, enabling me to package it for the fridge or freezer without it being in the danger zone for any significant amount of time.

Today's Tip: I discovered that grilling a batch of hamburgers and then freezing them is the perfect way to have something for Picky Teenage Son to eat when he doesn't want what I'm serving for dinner. Or when he needs a meal at 3 pm. Or 11 pm.

Regardless of the time of day, all you have to do is take a frozen grilled patty from the freezer, place it on a microwave-safe plate, cover loosely and heat at 40% power for 2-3 minutes. The burger should be defrosted and warm at this point. Then flip the burger and heat for 1 more minute at 40% power (add cheese now if desired), and serve.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Dinner in a Pouch

Keeping with the "Meal-in-a-Container" theme, tonight I tried cooking fish in a foil packet, and guess what? It was really good! Want to see what it looked like? Keep reading...

The first step in this super-simple operation was tearing off a piece of heavy-duty aluminum foil for each piece of fish. For years I resisted buying heavy-duty aluminum foil, because I thought it was a waste of money. Well, as my husband's grandmother used to say, "You thought wrong." The stuff is priceless: I use it to line my baking sheet when I cook bacon in the oven and I have almost no grease to clean up; I use it wrap brisket and it doesn't leak, and tonight I used it for the fish packets, and again it came through for me.

I bought about 3/4 pound of salmon, cut it into two pieces, and put about 1 T. of a very secret mixture (see below) on each piece. Then I topped each piece with sliced pineapple and a sprinkle of crushed red pepper flakes. Could it get any easier?

Here's the fish after I prepped it, but before I sealed it up and put it in the oven.

And 20 minutes later, heeeeeere's dinner:

I served the salmon with vegetable fried rice (using whatever vegetables I had in the fridge) as well as some roasted asparagus. A simply delicious dinner!

Salmon in a Pouch
Serves 2 (can adjust quantities to serve 1 - 100)

heavy-duty aluminum foil!
1 T. teriyaki sauce
1 T. hoisin sauce
2 6-ounce pieces of salmon, skin removed
4 rings of pineapple, fresh or canned
sprinkle of crushed red pepper flakes

Tear off a piece of foil for each piece of fish. I would say my foil was about 10 - 12 inches by 18 inches. Spray with nonstick spray and place a piece of fish on each piece of foil.

Combine the teriyaki and the hoisin sauce in a small bowl. Spoon 1 T. of sauce over each piece of fish. Place two pineapple slices on top of the fish and sprinkle with crushed red pepper to taste. Seal the packet by bringing the top and bottom pieces of foil up and folding, then folding in the sides.

Packets can be prepared 8 hours ahead of time and refrigerated until ready to bake.

When ready to bake, preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Place the foil packets on a cookie sheet and bake for 20 minutes (if your salmon fillets are very thin, they will be done sooner; if very thick, they may need an extra couple of minutes). Remove from the oven, open carefully and serve.

Idea from Hungry Girl 1-2-3 by Lisa Lillien

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Cup o' Breakfast

What do you eat for breakfast? It's every man for himself around here, and typical breakfasts are toast, bagels, frozen waffles or cereal: quick, easy and energy-providing, what with all those carbs. Another bonus is there's not much to clean up afterward; we each put our dishes in the dishwasher and off we go.

However, I like some protein at breakfast. It helps keep me full longer and makes me feel less bloated than a massive load of carbohydrates. I love eggs, but rarely want to whip out the skillet to cook them on a weekday morning, what with a full day of cooking ahead of me (not to mention all the dishes I end up doing while I cook).

Today I tried something new, and in the time it takes to toast a bagel, I had a mug full of steaming hot eggs and vegetarian sausage that was packed with protein and flavor. Inspiration came from Hungry Girl 1-2-3, Lisa Lillien's new cookbook of easy, low-calorie recipes. I don't use lots of the processed foods she promotes, but I do like her ideas and flavor combinations, so I used her egg mug idea with (gasp) real eggs and came up with a great breakfast with infinite possibilities (not to mention 20 grams of protein).

My Breakfast Mug
Serves 1

1 egg
1 egg white
1 Morningstar Farms Veggie Breakfast Sausage patty, thawed*

Spray a microwave-safe mug with nonstick cooking spray. Crack the egg and the egg white into the mug and mix it with a fork. Microwave on high for 30 seconds. Stir the eggs again and microwave for 20 more seconds, or until eggs are cooked through.
Crumble the sausage patty into the eggs and eat.

168 calories, 8 g. fat, 4 g. carbs, 20 grams of protein (made with above ingredients)

*Other possible add-ins in place of the sausage: shredded cheese, salsa, finely chopped vegetables, smoked salmon, bacon bits, chopped ham or turkey

Sunday, April 4, 2010

Snow Peas with Toasted Almonds

Last night's dinner proved once again that a dish using just a few quality ingredients almost always prevails as my favorite part of the meal. The fresh tastes sing out; there's nothing muddled or confusing; it's just clear, bright and delicious.

Let's take it from the top. I prepared Chicken Saute with Caramelized Ginger Sauce with side dishes Snow Peas with Toasted Almonds and brown jasmine rice. Despite an ingredient list that's twice as long as that of the side dish, the Chicken Saute wasn't twice as good. In fact, it didn't compare.

You can find both recipes by clicking on the links provided above; try them both. Or just try the Snow Peas, and let me know if you agree.

Friday, April 2, 2010

They Fought the Slaw (and I won)

The word "slaw" is not greeted with enthusiasm at my house, because my three taste-testers believe America's third-favorite condiment, mayonnaise, should be outlawed. You'll never find potato salad, egg salad, tuna salad or coleslaw gracing our dinner table. Even the minuscule amount of mayo I use to bind my crab cakes together has gotten me in trouble with the family.

Last night I was planning to make grilled wrap sandwiches on the panini press (prosciutto and shredded Gruyere on Joseph's Wheat and Flax Flatbread - outstanding!) and thought slaw would be the perfect partner, especially since I had a variety of crunchy vegetables doing time in the veggie drawer. The dressing would have to be something familiar and mayo-free, so I got out a couple of Asian condiments and went to town.

The family waived their right to remain silent and gave high praise to the mayo-free slaw. What they didn't know was that they were getting a powerhouse of nutrients in every bite; I'll keep that information on the QT for now.

Asian Slaw
Make a little or make a lot

A variety of crunchy vegetables, shredded or sliced thin (red cabbage, green cabbage, bok choy, carrots, scallions, snow peas, cilantro... use what you've got. A bag of broccoli slaw from the produce section would be great, too.)

low-sodium soy sauce
toasted sesame oil
fresh ginger, grated, or a gingery condiment such as chutney

A handful of toasted nuts or seeds for more crunch

Toss all the vegetables in a large bowl. In a small bowl, mix up the soy sauce and sesame oil with a whisk; start with about 2 T. soy sauce and a scant tablespoon of sesame oil for 2 - 3 cups of raw vegetables. Add some fresh grated ginger or something else gingery to amp up the flavor. I happened to have some very gingery mango chutney open, so I added about a tablespoon of that. Taste the dressing and see what you think. If you like it, pour it over the vegetables and toss well. They should be lightly coated with the dressing and not swimming in it.

Before serving, toss in the nuts or seeds for another layer of crunch. Enjoy!