Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Ranch Oyster Crackers

My last two posts have mentioned that evil chemical product otherwise known as ranch dressing. I can't bring myself to read the entire ingredient list on the back of the Hidden Valley Ranch bottle, that's how bad it is. But now and then it comes in handy to add some zip to a salad or sandwich. Happily, Mama Pea has come up with an all-natural way to enjoy those tangy ranch flavors with this recipe for Ranch Oyster Crackers. Thank you, Mama Pea.

In a happy side note, I developed a ranch dressing for a dairy-free/egg-free client yesterday using this same spice mix. I combined it with some Vegenaise, soy yogurt and red wine vinegar and voila - a ranch you can feel good about.

Ranch Oyster Crackers - by Mama Pea (my notes in parentheses)

2 t. garlic powder
2 t. onion powder
1/2 t. dry mustard
1/2 t. dry dill
2 t. dried parsley
1 t. dried chives (my addition)
1 t. kosher salt
3 T. canola oil
One 8-ounce package of oyster crackers

Preheat oven to 250 degrees.

In a large bowl, combine all the dry seasonings and mix well.

Add oil and stir to combine.

Pour the oyster crackers into the bowl and toss with a spatula to coat.
(at this point I started to taste them, and they were good even before cooking - always a good sign)

Transfer the crackers to a baking sheet (lined with parchment if you hate washing dishes like I do).

Bake for 20 minutes, stirring once halfway through.

Let cool completely and store in an airtight container.

Friday, December 16, 2011

Slow-Cooked Honey Barbecue Ribs and Bacon-Ranch Slaw

If you have a rib-lover in your house, you've got to put this recipe in your rotation. It practically cooks itself in the crock pot, leaving you hours to do other things - like put a CPK Barbecue Chicken Pizza in the oven for the family members who don't like ribs. I also managed to wrap all the Christmas gifts, finish writing out the holiday cards (if yours doesn't arrive soon, you're not getting one), walk the dog and do some paperwork while dinner was cooking.

I created the side dish knowing that slaw is a natural partner for barbecue spare ribs; however, my mayonnaise-hating crew won't touch it. So I substituted Ranch dressing for the mayo (brilliant, I know) and added another known entity, bacon, to make the side dish something they'd eat. And you know what? It worked. P.S. - The slaw was mighty tasty with the Barbecue Chicken Pizza, too.

Slow-Cooked Honey Barbecue Ribs and Bacon-Ranch Slaw
Serves 4

2 racks baby back pork ribs (about 2# each)
1 26-ounce carton reduced-sodium beef broth
2 - 3 T. honey mustard
1/4 cup honey
1/2 cup water
1/4 cup barbecue sauce
1/4 cup soy sauce
1/4 cup maple syrup
extra barbecue sauce for later

1 12-ounce bag Mann's Broccoli Slaw
reduced-fat Ranch dressing (whatever brand you like)
crumbled real bacon bits

1. Remove the silverskin from the ribs and cut them into 4-rib sections. Place in a greased crock pot.

2. Combine all the remaining rib ingredients in a large bowl (except for the "extra barbecue sauce for later") and stir to combine. Pour over the ribs in the crock pot. The ribs should be pretty much submerged.

3. Cover and cook on HIGH for 5 hours. After 4 hours, if you feel like it, open the lid a crack and use a fork or tongs to push down on the ribs that are sticking up out of the liquid.

4. Before serving, preheat your broiler and line a sheet pan with aluminum foil (for easier clean-up). Use tongs to remove the ribs from the crock pot. Lay them, meaty side up, on the baking sheet and pour some of the extra barbecue sauce over them. Broil for 4 minutes or so, just long enough to get the sauce sticking to the meat. Serve with more barbecue sauce if desired.


Pour the bag of broccoli slaw into a large bowl. Add a couple of glugs of Ranch dressing. Stir. If you'd like more Ranch, continue adding it until the slaw looks good to you. Use tongs to put on plates. Top servings with crumbled bacon bits.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Winter Salad with Sesame-Ginger Dressing

It's so easy to throw together a salad in the summer; in the winter, salads can get ho-hum. This bright salad can be made any time of year, but its colors and flavors are especially welcome in winter.

These vegetables will be quite happy with any sort of dressing, so please use anything you like - a simple vinaigrette, olive oil and lemon juice, or even (gasp) Ranch dressing would be just fine. I was in an Asian frame of mind, so I created the Sesame-Ginger dressing.

I enjoyed this as a side dish with an entree of Orange-Maple Glazed Scallops last night. Today, I had it for lunch on top of brown rice, with a bit of goat cheese crumbled on top. Who knows what I'll do with it tomorrow.

Winter Salad with Sesame-Ginger Dressing
Serves 4

1 head organic broccoli
1 bunch organic carrots, peeled and grated
1 cup of cooked chick peas
1 - 2 beets, peeled and grated
Optional: Sunflower seeds or sesame seeds


1 T. minced shallot
1 t. tahini
2 T. rice vinegar
1 t. Dijon mustard
2 T. canola oil
salt and pepper
squeeze of ginger

1. Cut florets from broccoli. Place in a glass bowl. Cover with a damp paper towel and microwave for 3 minutes, or until crisp-tender.

2. Combine steamed broccoli with shredded carrots and chick peas. DON'T ADD THE BEETS until you are ready to serve - otherwise they will turn the whole salad purple.

3. Make the dressing by combining all ingredients in the bowl of an immersion blender and blending until combined. Taste and tweak ingredients to you taste.

4. If preparing ahead, store the vegetables, beets and dressing separately. When ready to serve, add the beets to the salad and drizzle the dressing over the top.

5. Add sunflower seeds or sesame seeds if desired and serve cold or at room temperature.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Pasta with Roasted Butternut Squash, Baby Greens and Prosciutto

When I met my husband, he was amazed at so many of my qualities, foremost possibly being the enormous amount of pasta I could eat in one sitting. For my birthday, he decided to make me dinner - spaghetti. Twenty-five years later, he still cooks me spaghetti on my birthday. It's the only day of the year that he cooks, and he's much more streamlined than the first year, when he had to take half a day off of work to make the meal.

Pasta seems to fit the bill at any time of the day for me. In fact, I invented a Breakfast Pasta recently, but I couldn't find the camera (and I was starving), so that one never got posted. But it was good!

The Butternut Squash/Greens idea came to me because I've been seeing those boxes of Olivia's Organic Cooking Greens at the store, and my healthy side really wanted to do something with them. "Add pasta," said the devil on my right shoulder. "What else?" I wondered. "How about some of that good-looking butternut squash?" whispered the angel on my left shoulder. "Now I need something meaty or salty," I thought. "How about prosciutto?" offered the devil. "And some Parmesan, too!"

And so a new pasta dish was born. I enjoyed a bowl for dinner last night and another for lunch today, and I've gotta tell you, it's even better the second day. I am hoping that when I get up from the computer and go to the fridge, there's still more left so I can have it again tonight. And it's not even my birthday!

Pasta with Roasted Butternut Squash, Baby Greens and Prosciutto
Serves 4

The essentials:

1 package diced butternut squash
1 - 2 shallots, chopped very large
1 - 2 T. olive oil
salt and pepper
8 ounces pasta
1 box Olivia's Organics Cooking Greens

The other stuff - pick and choose what you like:

Wegman's Basting Oil
low-sodium chicken broth
prosciutto (or crumbled cooked sausage)
grated Parmesan Cheese
dried crushed red pepper flakes
a pat of butter

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Line a baking sheet with foil and spray with nonstick spray. Toss the cut up squash and shallots with the olive oil, salt and pepper on the sheet and roast for 30 - 45 minutes, or until the squash is tender but not mushy. Remove from oven.

Meanwhile, bring a large pot of water to a boil. Add a good pinch of salt and the pasta. Cook until done. Drain, saving about 1/2 cup of the pasta cooking water.

Time to multitask: At the same time you're roasting the squash and boiling the water, get out a skillet, heat over medium, and add a drizzle of olive oil. Add the greens and stir around until they start to wilt. Add a splash of stock if you want, and some salt and pepper, and cover the pan and let the greens wilt for a few minutes.

After you drain the pasta, place it in the skillet with the greens. Add the roasted squash and shallots. Toss it all together. Drizzle it with the Basting oil if you'd like. Add some salt, pepper and crushed red pepper if you'd like. Add some cooking water or more broth if you'd like. Add a pat of butter (that was the devilish side speaking). Stir until it tastes good to you.

Place the pasta/vegetable mixture in a serving bowl. Add bite-size strips of prosciutto and a good sprinkle of Parmesan cheese. Grind a little black pepper over the bowl and serve.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

African Vegetable Stew

I wish I could say that I invented this amazing concoction, but I did not. My friend Christine found it in the Peas and Thank You cookbook. Christine cooks for a vegan client and is always on the lookout for tasty veggie recipes.

You might be thinking, "What could possibly be so great about a bowl of cooked vegetables?" But this stew is so much more than that. Hearty, thick, spicy and soul-satisfying, it is a meal in a bowl. And here's more great news: this dish is totally hands-off once you get it started, because it cooks in the crock pot. This is my new favorite recipe!

African Vegetable Stew
Serves 4 easily

1 15-ounce can chick peas, drained and rinsed
1 sweet potato, peeled and cut into about 1-inch pieces
1 teaspoon curry powder (or more to taste)
3/4 teaspoon garam masala (or more to taste)
1 teaspoon cumin
big squeeze of ginger (I buy it in the tube)
2 cloves garlic, minced
little squirt of agave nectar
dash of cinnamon
1 14-ounce can of fire-roasted diced tomatoes, undrained
1 can of light coconut milk
2 cups of vegetable stock (chicken stock is fine, too, if you're not making this for a vegetarian)
2 Tablespoons peanut butter
1/2 cup quinoa, rinsed off very well

Optional garnishes: chopped fresh cilantro, a squeeze of lime, a dollop of yogurt or some chopped peanuts


1. Spray the inside of a small or medium-size crock pot with non-stick spray.

2. Place all of the ingredients, except the garnishes, in the crock pot. Stir and cover. Turn to HIGH for 1 hour to get things started. Then turn to LOW. The stew is done when the sweet potatoes are cooked through. This took 2 additional hours in my crock pot; it could take 4 or more hours in yours, so keep checking.

3. Serve stew topped with any of the optional garnishes.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Bruschetta Cod

When I went to the store yesterday, my plan was to pick up some salmon for dinner. John, my fishmonger, told me that scallops were the best pick in the case. If I'd been dining solo, scallops would have been perfect, but because the rest of my family doesn't like them, I asked John for another suggestion. He steered me toward the cod, saying it was really great. He was right, as usual.

Once home, I had to decide to how to prepare the cod. I was in an Italian-food mood, so I decided marinara sauce had to play a part in this preparation, and I happened to have an opened jar in the fridge. My family will eat almost anything with breadcrumbs on it, so those came out too. And so began the creation of "Bruschetta Cod," named after the appetizer featuring garlic-rubbed bread that's toasted and topped with tomatoes, basil and olive oil. I grabbed a few more things from the pantry and got to work. Within minutes, the cod was in the oven and I was on to steaming the vegetables. Twenty minutes later, we were sitting down to dinner.

Tip: Impress friends and family: The correct pronunciation of the word bruschetta is "bruce-ketta." Most people say "brew-shetta" which is incorrect.

Bruschetta Cod
Serves 3

1 pound fresh cod, cut into three equal-size pieces
salt and pepper
1/3 cup marinara sauce
a few diced sun-dried tomatoes
1/2 cup panko bread crumbs
2 T. olive oil, with a crushed garlic clove and some chopped parsley or basil mixed in
1 T. Parmesan cheese

1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Line a baking sheet with aluminum foil and spray with nonstick spray.

2. Rinse cod and pat dry with paper towels. Remove bones if necessary. Place three pieces of cod on the prepared baking sheet and sprinkle the top with salt and pepper.

3. Spread a nice layer of marinara sauce on top of each piece of fish. Place the sun-dried tomatoes on top of the marinara sauce.

4. In a small bowl, combine the panko with the garlic olive oil (or use Wegman's Basting Oil - it's already got garlic and herbs in it) and the Parmesan cheese. Season the bread crumbs with a little salt and pepper. Divide the bread crumbs evenly over each piece of fish.

5. Bake for about 18 minutes, or until fish is cooked throughout. Serve with a lemon wedge or extra marinara sauce and steamed vegetables of your choice.

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Chick Pea and Pasta Soup

When the leaves start to fall (or a freak October ice storm hits), I love a steaming bowl of soup. Hearty homemade soup is the ultimate comfort food, IMO. If you're stressed (say you have a new dog in the house), or cold, or just need a little warm comfort, make yourself a big pot of homemade soup.

My favorite soups contain lots of vegetables, often some beans, a little protein, a little starch (pasta or rice), often a Parmesan rind, and a good-quality broth. I know I should make my own stock and freeze it in quart containers. I've done that. Then we lost power. Twice in two months. So I keep some boxes of my favorite brands around.

The great thing about my favorite soups is that they taste even better the next day, and they freeze well, too. So the effort you put into the pot will reward you for days to come (unless of course you lose electricity for days because of an ice storm, hurricane, tropical storm or other weather event).

Chick Pea and Pasta Soup
Makes about 10 cups

1/4 pound prosciutto -- diced (you can buy it already diced at Wegmans!)
1/2 cup red onion -- diced
2 medium carrots -- cut into 1/4 inch slices
2 stalks celery -- diced
1 1/2 teaspoons fresh rosemary -- chopped
3 tablespoons olive oil
2 14.5 oz. cans petite-diced tomato
2 15 oz. cans chick peas(garbanzos) -- rinsed and drained
4 cups low-sodium chicken broth
1 tablespoon tomato paste
1 bay leaf
1 Parmesan cheese rind
handful linguine -- broken into 1 1/2 inch pieces
dash Penzey's Northwoods seasoning

Saute prosciutto, onion, carrots, celery and rosemary in olive oil in soup pot until beginning to soften, about 10 min.

Add tomatoes and their juice, chick peas, broth, tomato paste, bay leaf and rind. Bring to a gentle simmer and cook for about 30 min. or until vegetables are tender. Add pasta during last 8 minutes of cooking time. Season with a dash of Northwoods seasoning. Serve with additional grated Parmesan if desired.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Vegetable Quiche Cups

Here's a portable, make-ahead breakfast that's low in calories, high in protein and bursting with vegetables. What's not to like?

The recipe comes from the South Beach Diet, which one of my clients is following. She loves these so much (I make her a double batch each and every week) that I decided I had to try them myself.

I have to say, I prefer my variation more than the original (I'm not a huge pepper and onion lover), but regardless, these little nuggets of eggyness are great to have handy for breakfast, a snack after working out, or even as an hors d'oeuvre before dinner.

Vegetable Quiche Cups
Makes 12

1 10-ounce package frozen chopped spinach, thawed and squeezed dry (see my tip below)
1 cup liquid egg substitute (I use Egg Beaters original)
3/4 cup shredded reduced-fat cheddar cheese
1/4 cup diced green bell peppers
1/4 cup diced yellow onions
pinch of salt and pepper

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

Line a 12-cup muffin tin with foil baking cups and spray each one with nonstick spray.

Combine all ingredients in a bowl and mix well. Divide the mixture evenly among the 12 muffin cups. Bake at 350 for 20 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in the center of a cup comes out clean.

These may be frozen and reheated in the microwave for about 10 seconds per cup. Remove foil liner before microwaving!

My Variation: Use 1/4 cup chopped sun-dried tomatoes and 3/4 cup feta cheese instead of peppers and cheddar cheese.

My Spinach Thawing Tip: Take spinach out of box and place on a microwave-safe plate. Microwave for 3 minutes. Remove plate from microwave and place spinach in a clean kitchen towel. Wrap it up and squeeze over the sink until all the liquid is released. Much easier than boiling and draining, or attempting to drain the spinach in a colander.

Recipe adapted from The South Beach Diet by Arthur Agatston, M.D.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Slow Cooked Apricot Chicken

When my daughter was younger, she called our crock pot the "slow maker." The irony is, every crock pot I've ever owned cooks food in double time. I am now on my third "slow maker," and have learned that if a recipe says "cook on LOW for 6 - 8 hours," my dish will be done in 3 hours.

Apricot Chicken was no exception. I loaded the crock pot with almost 2 pounds of boneless thighs (the package was 2 lbs.; by the time I was done hacking off the fat, I think I had about 1 1/2 pounds, so I threw in a boneless breast from the freezer as well) and topped the poultry with a sweet and tangy apricot sauce. In three hours, dinner was ready. I served this with brown rice and green beans.

"Slow Maker" Apricot Chicken
Serves 4

2 pounds boneless chicken thighs, fat removed
salt and pepper
1 (11-ounce) jar apricot preserves
1 teaspoon dried onion flakes
1 Tablespoon Dijon mustard
1 Tablespoon reduced-sodium soy sauce
1/4 teaspoon ground ginger
sesame seeds, optional
soy or hoisin sauce, optional

Spray crock pot with nonstick spray.

Season chicken with salt and pepper and place in greased crock pot.

In a medium bowl, whisk together remaining ingredients except for sesame seeds.
Pour sauce over chicken. Cover and cook on LOW for 6 - 8 hours, or HIGH for 3 - 4 hours (mine was done after 3 hours on LOW).

Serve over rice. Sprinkle servings with sesame seeds if desired. Serve with soy or hoisin sauce for drizzling.

Recipe adapted from Stephanie O'Dea, Make it Fast, Cook it Slow

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Orecchiette with Roasted Cauliflower, Arugula and Prosciutto

I've got a day off from cooking! So I sat at my desk this morning and sorted through the stack of papers on my desk, most of which are recipes I want to try. There might have been a few bills and school permission slips in the pile, too, but those weren't calling to me. Next, I did what any good personal chef would do on her day off - I cooked.

Inspiration was easy to come by this week, because we just got a Wegmans! I will not tell you how many visits I've made to the store since it opened four days ago because I'm pretty sure you wouldn't believe me. It's more than four. But I digress.

I've found some awesome products at Wegmans, which helped me pull this meal together in no time at all. I didn't even need a cutting board - talk about easy. I know we'll enjoy this for the next couple of days as we shuttle the kids to the school play and generally enjoy our hectic life.

In fact, if I know myself, I will keep adding things to this dish each time I eat it to make it a little different - I think sun-dried tomatoes or kalamata olives would be really great. See what you think.

Orecchiette with Roasted Cauliflower, Arugula and Prosciutto, a la Wegmans
Serves 4

1 pound of washed cauliflower florets, large ones cut in half (get them at Wegmans!)
1 pint of grape tomatoes, rinsed and dried
1 T. olive oil
salt and pepper
12 ounces dried orecchiette (or any other small pasta shape)
1 4-ounce package of diced prosciutto (get it at Wegmans)
2 T. Wegmans Basting Oil (guess where you can get this?)
4 - 5 ounces Wegmans baby arugula
1/4 - 3/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese

Heat oven to 400 degrees convection roast, or 425 degrees if you don't have convection. Line a large rimmed sheet pan with foil or parchment and spray with nonstick spray. Toss the cauliflower and tomatoes with 1 T. olive oil and a pinch of salt and pepper and roast for 10 minutes.

Meanwhile, bring a large pot of water to a boil. Add some salt and cook pasta as directed on package. Drain, reserving 1 cup of pasta cooking water. Place the pasta back in the pot.

After 10 minutes, remove the sheet pan from the oven and toss the diced prosciutto with the vegetables. Drizzle with 1 T. Wegmans Basting Oil. Roast for 5 - 10 more minutes, or until the vegetables are lightly browned.

Add the cooked vegetables and prosciutto to the pasta in the pot. Stir in the baby arugula and mix to combine. Moisten with a bit of the pasta cooking water. Stir in the cheese, a little at a time (we don't like it too cheesy so I only used 1/4 cup of Parmesan - we might add a little more at the table). Taste it. Add another T. of basting oil, if you'd like, or some salt and pepper.

Inspired by a recipe by Pamela Anderson in Fine Cooking.

Friday, October 14, 2011

Mediterranean Lunchbag Cod with Linguine

What a fun and healthy way to enjoy fresh fish! If your family likes Mediterranean flavors, I guarantee they will love this light, healthy dinner.

The recipe comes from Michael Chiarello, who used swordfish and red onions, two things my kids do not like. I adapted the recipe using vegetables and fish that we like - you can do likewise. Served with a side dish of Sauteed Spinach with Garlic, this was a delicious dinner.

Mediterranean Lunchbag Cod
Serves 4

1 can San Marzano whole tomatoes, cut into thin wedges
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 tablespoon finely chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
1 tablespoon fresh oregano, or 1 teaspoon dried oregano (I did not use)
1 tablespoon minced garlic
1/4 cup (1 small) minced red onion (optional - I didn't use)
2 tablespoons rinsed, drained capers
1/2 cup roasted red peppers, rinsed and coarsely chopped
12 pitted and sliced kalamata olives
1 can quartered artichoke hearts, well-drained (my addition)
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
pinch dried crushed red pepper flakes
6 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, divided
1/2 pound dried linguine
4 brown paper lunch bags or 4 large sheets parchment paper
4 (6-ounce) portions of fresh cod
freshly grated Parmesan cheese or Feta cheese, if desired


Put sliced tomatoes in a large bowl and season with pepper. Add parsley, garlic, onion, capers, peppers, olives, artichoke hearts, lemon juice, crushed red pepper, and 2 tablespoons of the olive oil. Stir gently just to mix and set aside.

Preheat oven to 450 degrees F.

Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil and cook linguine until al dente. Drain and toss with 1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil. Reserve.

To cook the fish: Place a small square of parchment or waxed paper at the bottom of each paper bag. Using tongs, place equal portions of the linguine in each of the bags. Top with a spoonful of the tomato-vegetable sauce. Lay a piece of fish on top and top with another spoonful of sauce. Drizzle with a little olive oil, and season with salt and pepper.

Fold over the tops of the bags, place them on a baking sheet, and bake for 15 minutes.

To serve, transfer the bags to 4 dinner plates and let each diner cut open the package to enjoy the aromas. Or, if your family is appalled at the sight of a lunch bag on their dinner plates (as mine was), cut open the bags yourself and gently slide each portion out onto a dinner plate.

Top with cheese if you must.

Recipe and photo credit: Michael Chiarello. Recipe ingredients and instructions were changed somewhat by yours truly.

Saturday, October 1, 2011

Fridge Benefits

It's pretty horrifying how much food goes to waste in the average American home. I've read statistics that state up to 50% of the food we buy ends up in the trash. I shudder when I have to go through the fridge and toss wilted or mushy produce, leftovers that have sat too long, and other unidentifiable (and stinky) objects.

Many of our best intentions are derailed each day. You want to cook great meals, eat more vegetables or cut down on fast food, but then life gets in the way.

Short of hiring a personal chef (I couldn't resist!), here's a terrific tip for you to try next time you're tempted to scrap making dinner in favor of a trip to the drive-thru: Open your fridge and use what you've got. (I don't have statistics on how much people spend each year on take-out food, but I'm sure the number is equally as horrifying as the waste statistics.)

Back to my fridge: I had purchased a beautiful looking bunch of locally grown kale at the farmer's market earlier in the week. If I didn't use it soon, it would be trash. The fridge also held an open jar of pasta sauce, a Parmesan cheese rind, half a carton of chicken broth and a small bowl of chick peas, all still viable. In the pantry, I noticed a half-full box of lasagna noodles that looked perfect for the meal. In the time it took to cook the pasta, we had a truly delicious (and very cheap) meal.

Like with many of my recipes, use this as a guideline or inspiration next time you're wondering what to make for dinner.

Pasta with Kale and Chick Peas
Serves 2

6 lasagna noodles, broken (or any pasta shape)
1 T. olive oil
2 cloves garlic, smashed
1 bunch fresh kale, leaves pulled off of stems and rinsed well
chicken broth
leftover chick peas (1/2 cup?)
crushed red pepper flakes
Parmesan cheese
marinara sauce
optional delicious additions: walnuts, sun-dried tomatoes, a dollop of pesto or ricotta cheese, grilled steak or shrimp...

1. Boil a pot of water. Add salt and pasta. Cook as directed and drain in a colander.

2. While the pasta is cooking, heat the oil in a skillet over medium-low heat. Add the garlic and stir it around until you can smell it. Then add the kale, tearing it up as you go. Stir it all around. When the kale is bright green (1 minute or so), pour in some broth. Cover the pan and let the kale cook for about 5 - 8 minutes.

3. When the kale is tender enough for you, throw in the chick peas and the cooked pasta. Stir it all around and taste it. You might want to add crushed red pepper flakes, salt, pepper and a drizzle of olive oil or a pat of butter. Make it taste good!

4. Spoon the pasta and kale into bowls. Top with a couple of spoonfuls of marinara sauce and some shaved or grated Parmesan cheese. Enjoy.

Monday, September 26, 2011

Meatless Monday

Although I eat meatless many days a week, it's not often on Monday. But tonight it worked out that I could celebrate my meatless-ness. This cosmic turn of events happened because 1.) my carnivore husband is out at a meeting, 2.) my son had a large lunch and didn't want dinner, and 3.) my daughter will eat anything I make.

I had some tofu in the fridge and decided to sear it and then glaze it with my friend Mary Beth's Peach-Habanero Jam. Wise decision. Alongside, a quick saute of zucchini and carrot ribbons, topped with walnuts and blue cheese was just perfect.

On days like this, I DO like Mondays.

Seared Tofu with Peach-Habanero Glaze
Serves 2

1 package firm tofu, pressed
seasoning of choice: salt, pepper, Cajun, Creole, Italian...
a few tablespoons of a fruity-spicy jam
a few tablespoons of citrus juice (lemon, lime or orange)

Slice tofu into 4 thin slabs. Season one side with whatever seasoning you feel like.

Heat a nonstick skillet over high heat. Add oil or nonstick spray to the skillet. Place the tofu, seasoned side down, in the skillet. Let cook for about 5 minutes, undisturbed, or until there's a nice brown crust on the underside. Season the naked side, flip it over and sear for 4 more minutes. Combine the jam and the juice. Remove the skillet from the heat and pour the jam/juice over the tofu. Let the sauce reduce in the hot pan for about a minute, spooning some over the tofu occasionally. Dinner's done.

Zucchini and Carrot Ribbons

Serves 2

1 tablespoon good olive oil
1/2 small shallot, chopped
2 small zucchini, washed, ends trimmed, and peeled down to core
2 carrots, washed, ends trimmed, peeled down to core
salt and pepper
1 tablespoon or so of chopped walnuts
1 tablespoon or so of crumbled blue cheese

Heat the oil in a large nonstick skillet. Saute the shallot over low heat until soft, about 5 minutes. Turn the heat up a bit and add the zucchini and carrot ribbons. Saute for about 2 minutes, or until softened. Season with salt and pepper. Remove from heat and place on serving dish. Scatter walnuts and blue cheese on top and serve.

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Tuna Cup Salad

I always have Chicken of the Sea Tuna Cups around. They're the perfect size for making tuna salad for one, which is ideal because I'm the only family member who enjoys tuna. They're also transportable and easy to open, and with just 80 calories and 18 grams of protein per cup, I think they're a nutrition bargain.

Today I decided to use equal parts tuna and vegetables to make a super-healthy tuna salad.

After opening and draining the tuna, I put it in a mixing bowl. Then I filled the empty tuna cup with an assortment of chopped and shredded vegetables - whatever I could find, which included celery, carrots and scallions. Any raw or slightly cooked vegetables would work - use what you've got.

I tossed those in with the tuna and mixed with a fork. All that was needed was a binder or flavoring. Salad dressing, mayonnaise, oil and lemon juice, and salsa came to mind. I decided on a little squeeze of low-fat ranch dressing and a dab of Hellman's with Olive Oil (my favorite). I seasoned the salad with pepper and was about to dig in when I noticed some leftover cooked rotini in the fridge. So I threw a few pasta twists into the salad.

This great little lunch weighs in at around 250 calories, is low in fat and carbs and high in protein and fiber, and won't weigh you down.

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Baked Spaghetti AND Roasted Broccoli

Cooler weather has arrived, and I was ready with this dish of hearty Baked Spaghetti tonight. The kids and I ate it up - my husband's en route from St. Louis, but I predict he will eat whatever's left for breakfast tomorrow. He's good like that.

My favorite part of the meal was the Roasted Broccoli, which was surprising because up to this point in my 40+ years, I have detested any roasted broccoli I've ever eaten. Mr. Alton Brown and his roasting method have converted me. Maybe he (and I) will convert you, too.

There are two recipes here - so pay attention!

Baked Spaghetti
Serves 4

8 ounces spaghetti, broken up a bit
1 egg
1/2 cup milk
salt and pepper
Parmesan cheese
3/4 pound ground beef (I use 90% lean hormone-free ground beef - use whatever kind your family likes)
1/2 small onion, chopped
optional - other chopped vegetables such as peppers or mushrooms
1/2 teaspoon Italian seasoning
more salt and pepper
1 - 1 1/2 cups jarred pasta sauce
4 ounces (1/2 can) tomato sauce
1 - 2 cups shredded mozzarella cheese

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

2. Cook spaghetti in boiling salted water for 8 minutes, or as long as the box says. Drain and rinse with cool water.

2. In a large bowl, beat the egg, milk, salt and pepper. Toss with the slightly cooled spaghetti (if the pasta's too hot, it will scramble the egg). Sprinkle with a little bit of Parmesan cheese and pour the pasta into a greased 9x9 pan or a greased deep-dish pie dish.

3. While the spaghetti's cooking, cook the ground beef and vegetables in nonstick skillet. Sprinkle with the Italian seasoning, salt and pepper and cook until the beef is no longer pink. Drain the fat. Stir the pasta sauce and tomato sauce into the meat mixture. Pour this over the pasta in the baking dish.

4. Bake uncovered at 350 degrees for 20 minutes. Top with the mozzarella cheese and bake 5 minutes longer, or until the cheese has melted. Let stand a few minutes before cutting and serving.

Roasted Broccoli
Serves 4
Technique courtesy of Alton Brown

1 head of broccoli, rinsed and cut into bite-sized pieces
2 Tablespoons olive oil
1 - 2 cloves of garlic, minced
salt and pepper
1/3 cup panko breadcrumbs

1. Preheat oven to 425 degrees.

2. In a large bowl, toss broccoli with oil, garlic, salt and pepper.

3. Place panko in a 9x13 metal baking dish. Place in the preheated oven and bake for 2 minutes. Panko should be lightly toasted. (Confession: I had to feed the cat during this step and I burned the first batch of breadcrumbs. Don't stray too far!)

4. Remove the panko from the oven and pour over the broccoli. Pour the whole thing back into the metal baking pan and put back in the 425 oven for 8 minutes, or until the broccoli is tender.

5. Alton says to toss the finished dish with 1/4 cup of grated sharp cheddar or Parmesan - I did not because I thought tonight's dinner was cheesy enough. He also says leftovers are excellent. I will see if he's right tomorrow.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Late Summer Dinner Salad

Today was the quintessential summer day - 80+ degrees with clear blue skies and low humidity - which felt kind of weird since school's back in session and my white shorts have been put away for over a week now. But I decided to capitalize on today's feeling of summer by grilling our dinner and using some of our last warm-weather local produce.

This salad can serve as inspiration for you, depending upon where you live and which vegetables are at their peak. Today I used local tomatoes and corn and headed in a Greek direction with my flavors; I could have gone Tex-Mex with the addition of avocado and jalapeno in the salad and different seasoning on the shrimp, or even Italian by roasting the tomatoes with garlic and adding some shaved Parmesan cheese.

Late Summer Dinner Salad
Serves 4

1 1/3 pounds large shrimp, peeled and deveined
marinade for shrimp (I used olive oil and Penzey's Greek Seasoning)

2 large ears local corn, husked and marinated (I used dried oregano, olive oil, white vinegar, salt and pepper)

lettuce of some sort - I used arugula

other vegetables and such - I used cherry tomatoes and kalamata olives

1. Place shrimp in a bowl. Drizzle with olive oil and seasonings. Set aside.

2. Place corn in a large ziplock bag or shallow glass baking dish. Pour marinade over the corn and let sit.

3. Go out and light the grill.

4. While the grill is heating up, make a salad. I made mine with baby arugula, cherry tomatoes and kalamata olives. I also cut up a lemon because I had one one hand, but I never ended up using it.

5. Thread the shrimp on skewers. It doesn't matter how many shrimp are on the skewer; you will remove it before serving.

6. Grill the shrimp and corn over medium heat. The shrimp will take just a couple of minutes per side. Remove and set aside. The corn will take 8 - 10 minutes to get a good char.

7. If you have picky children in the house, put some hot dogs or hamburgers on the grill now to avoid any dinnertime meltdowns.

8. To compose the salad, place 4 or 5 grilled shrimp on top of the salad greens. Add the kernels from 1/2 an ear of grilled corn. Taste. You might want to drizzle with some oil or squirt with a squeeze of lemon, but it might be just perfect as is. Add some cheese if you must. Serve.

Friday, September 9, 2011

Pepperoni Calzones

When I'm planning dinners for the week, I take into account that on Friday nights, we'll most likely have some under-age visitors at our dinner table. Tonight's plan was Pepperoni Calzones (and a few without 'roni, in case there were any vegetarians in the house). These are easy to make (my daughter helped) and totally crowd-pleasing. I serve them with extra marinara sauce for dipping and a salad or fruit on the side.

Pepperoni Calzones

Makes 4 (serving size is 1 calzone, unless you're a very hungry person, in which case you might eat 2 so plan accordingly - the recipe can be doubled)

1 tube Pillsbury French Loaf dough (unbaked)
1 jar of your favorite marinara sauce
1 cup of mozzarella cheese
40 slices turkey pepperoni*
1 egg white, lightly beaten
sesame seeds or Parmesan cheese

1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Place foil or parchment paper on a large baking sheet and spray with nonstick spray.

2. Unroll the loaf on the cookie sheet. Cut it into 4 rectangles.

3. Spread 2 Tablespoons of marinara sauce on the bottom half of each rectangle. Leave a little border of dough on the bottom and sides so you'll have room to seal all the goodness inside.

4. Place a heaping 1/4 cup of mozzarella cheese on top of the sauce. Layer 10 pepperoni slices on top of the cheese.

5. Fold the top of the dough over the filling on the bottom half, pressing the edges to seal. Seal the edges again with a fork. If stuff is leaking out, it's OK.

6. Cut three slits in each calzone, to let the steam escape. Brush the tops with the beaten egg white and sprinkle with sesame seeds or Parmesan cheese.

7. Bake for 15 - 18 minutes, or until golden brown. Let cool at least 5 minutes before serving with the additional (warm) marinara sauce for dipping.

*when I was experimenting with this recipe, I made a few calzones with regular (pork) pepperoni and some with turkey pepperoni. My family unanimously chose the turkey pepperoni because the calzones were much less greasy than those made with the regular pepperoni. That's why I strongly recommend the turkey 'roni. We like Hormel brand.

Monday, September 5, 2011

Post-Hurricane Stir Fry

Hurricane Irene hit my town hard. We lost power for 38 hours, and I lost the contents of my refrigerator and freezer. With hurricane season still upon us, I refuse to restock the fridge with anything but the bare necessities.

Last night's stir-fry used chicken and vegetables I picked up at Whole Foods earlier in the week. It is very hard for me to walk through Whole Foods and not stock up, but I resisted. The memory of melted ice cubes, soggy bags of Alexia frozen potatoes and thawed seafood in my freezer was still very fresh in my mind.

The stir-fry combined any and all vegetables I had in the fridge, freezer and pantry (carrots, sugar snap peas, onion, garlic and edamame), along with a make-shift sauce dictated by my daughter, who was standing nearby. I served it alongside some brown rice. I've written the recipe as a guideline - use any protein, vegetables and sauces you like.

Post-Hurricane Stir Fry
Serves 4

2 - 4 T. canola or peanut oil for stir-frying
1 pound of any protein, thinly sliced if applicable (chicken, steak, tofu, seafood)
salt and pepper
3 cups of vegetables, sliced or chopped uniformly
1 large clove of garlic, minced
(fresh ginger would be good here - I didn't have any)
about 1/4 cup sauce of your choice (soy, teriyaki, hoisin, barbecue...)
1 teaspoon cornstarch mixed with 1 tablespoon water
sesame seeds to garnish, if you have them

1. Heat a very large nonstick skillet or wok over medium-high heat. Add a drizzle of oil to coat the pan. Season the protein with salt and pepper. Add the protein to the skillet in batches, being careful not to crowd the pan. Stir fry for 1 - 2 minutes, or until cooked through. Remove the cooked meat and place on a clean plate. Continue stir frying, in batches if necessary, until all the protein is cooked. Set aside.

2. Add a bit more oil to the skillet and add the hardest, crunchiest vegetables. Stir fry for 2 - 3 minutes, until they brighten in color and are getting a tiny bit softer. Add the more delicate vegetables now and stir fry another minute or two. Finally, add the garlic and stir-fry for 30 seconds.

3. Pour your cooked protein, and any juices that have accumulated, back into the skillet with the vegetables. Toss to combine. Turn the heat down a little so you don't overcook the protein.

4. Drizzle the sauce over the contents of the skillet and toss again. We used a drizzle of hoisin sauce, a drizzle of barbecue sauce and a splash of soy sauce. Finally, add the cornstarch mixture and toss everything together. The cornstarch mixture isn't essential, but it will help thicken the sauce and add a little gloss to the dish.

5. Serve over rice or noodles, sprinkled with sesame seeds if you have them.

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Herb-Roasted Turkey Breast

Why wait until November to enjoy a turkey dinner? That's what my Thursday clients must have been thinking when they requested a roasted turkey breast, stuffing and cranberry sauce as one of their four meals this week.

I recently made a vow to make dinnertime less stressful at my house*, so I decided to roast a second turkey breast while I was at my client's, to serve my family this evening. When 6:15 pm rolled around, I felt like I had my own Personal Chef - all I had to do was heat and serve, which made everyone happy, most especially me (the chief dish washer was pretty pleased, too).

I adapted my recipe from this one. We're not a gravy-loving family, which is fine because this breast is so moist, it really doesn't need a sauce.

*this is kind of a funny story, involving Hurricane Irene, our 38-hour power shortage, and my very honest child - let me know if you want to hear the rest

Herb-Roasted Turkey Breast
Serves 8 (two breasts)

1 very small onion (or 1/2 large onion) -- peeled and coarsely chopped
1/2 lemon, zested
6 fresh sage leaves
1 large handful fresh flat leaf parsley
1 1/2 tablespoons olive oil
salt and pepper
2 bay leaves
6 tablespoons butter
two 2 lb. - 2 1/2-lb. turkey breast -- skin on, boneless or bone-in
(you can prepare one breast; this recipe makes enough herb rub for 2 breasts)

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Line a roasting pan with foil. Place a rack in it. Spray with nonstick spray.

Put the onion and lemon zest into the bowl of mini food processor; process until fine. Add the sage, parsley and olive oil and a pinch of salt. Pulse until it forms a coarse paste (my paste comes out a little different every time - it's OK).

Put bay leaves and butter in microwave-safe bowl. Nuke 1 minute to melt butter. Remove from heat and set aside.

Put turkey breast(s) on a work surface. Carefully run your fingers between the skin and the flesh from one end, being careful not to pull it completely off, creating a pocket. Season the turkey breasts generously with salt and pepper and spread the herb paste under the skin of breasts. Transfer the breasts to the roasting pan. Baste the breasts with half of the bay butter. Place turkey into the oven. After 30 minutes, baste the turkey with remaining butter and roast for an additional 30 minutes. At this point, take the temperature of the breast. It will probably be around 110 degrees. Cover with foil if the skin is getting really dark and roast about 20 minutes more, or until the internal temperature of the turkey is 165 degrees.

Remove the pan from oven, transfer the breasts to a platter, cover, and let rest at least for 10 minutes before slicing. (Can also be prepared hours ahead, cooled, placed in fridge and heated in a covered pan at 350 degrees for 20 minutes. Uncover and heat 5 - 10 more minutes, or until skin crisps up and turkey is heated through.)

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Mango Salad with Spicy Cashews

I was invited to a friend's house for lunch yesterday. She was preparing an Oriental Shrimp Salad and my job was to come up with a side dish that would complement the main dish. My first thought was something with pineapple or mango - I love those fruits paired with Asian-flavored dishes. Because I wanted a side dish rather than a dessert, I knew some sort of greenery was necessary. The sweet-spicy cashews add a special touch and also tie in nicely with the Asian meal.

As a bonus, not only is this salad colorful and bursting with all sorts of interesting flavors (sweet! juicy! spicy! peppery!) - it takes all of 4 1/2 minutes to prepare. It's so good (and easy to make) that I just made a second batch to enjoy here at home today. Please feel free to mess with the proportions (more mango/less arugula) or make up another dressing (my Cilantro-Lime Vinaigrette would be superb with this).

Mango Salad with Spicy Cashews
Serves 2 - 3 as a side dish

1/2 cup unsalted cashews
1 tsp. olive oil (or less)
sprinkling of kosher salt
sprinkling of chipotle powder (or cayenne)
drizzle of honey

Several large handfuls of arugula
1 lime
a little more olive oil
1 ripe mango, peeled and diced

This is very easy! I swear to you!

Step 1: Heat a small nonstick skillet over medium heat. Add the smallest little drizzle of olive oil (I didn't measure but I'm guessing it's 1 teaspoon or less). When the oil's warm, pour in the cashews. Stir to coat. Sprinkle the nuts with the salt and chipotle powder or cayenne pepper. Stir to coat. Drizzle with honey. Stir to coat and remove from heat. The nuts can be used warm on the salad, or prepared hours ahead and used cold.

Step 2: When you're ready to eat, place the arugula in a serving bowl. Drizzle lightly with a little more olive oil and a squeeze or two of lime juice (or any dressing you like). Top the greens with the chopped mango and the spiced cashews and a little sprinkle of salt and serve.

Sunday, August 7, 2011

A Very Berry Crisp

The picture doesn't do this baby justice. It was bursting with berries, sweet and tangy, with an incomparable crispy brown sugar-oat topping. It was so scrumptious, that sadly, it was gone before I realized the picture stinks.

I guess the blame for the stinky picture is half my fault, as the photographer, and half my husband's fault, as the server of the crisp.

But really, who would serve such a carefully constructed dessert with no regard for the top or bottom of the thing? Especially after his wife carefully prepared this special dessert in such a manner that the berries were on the bottom of the dish and the topping was resting nicely on top (duh). But after the server spooned it out, there was topping all over the place, a slightly grumpy photographer/chef and a less-than-ideal photo.

Fortunately, the taste wasn't affected by the presentation. And this has taught me that I need to stop taking pictures with my cellphone at 8 pm with no natural light. And I will. As soon as I can find the camera.

A Very Berry Crisp
Serves 4 - 6


Mix together:
1/2 cup old-fashioned rolled oats
1/2 cup light brown sugar
1/4 cup flour
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
a pinch of salt
1/4 cup cold butter, cut into small bits


Toss together in a large bowl:
5 cups assorted berries such as blueberries, raspberries and/or blackberries, rinsed, dried and stems removed
1/4 to 1/2 cup granulated white sugar
1 to 2 Tablespoons flour

Lightly grease a 9-inch glass pie pan or 9x9 glass baking dish (this just helps at cleanup time). Place berry mixture in pan. Spread topping over all. Bake at 350 degrees for 30 - 40 minutes, or until topping is light golden brown and berries are bubbling out around the edges. Serve warm, cold or any which way. Vanilla ice cream on top is good, too.

Friday, August 5, 2011

The Yin Yang of Tex-Mex

My kids have been at camp for three weeks, and my husband and I have been out and about like nobody's business. I had been pushing for one more dinner out before they return home (TOMORROW!), but we both agreed we'd be better off eating at home tonight. Of course he agreed - I'm doing the cooking. But my most recent dining out experience involved a turkey burger which was not my buddy for the next 48 hours - enough said. Dinner at home actually seemed like a pretty good idea.

Given his druthers, my husband would happily eat at Chipotle at least once a week. Tonight, I decided to make a Chipotle-style dinner at home, featuring Refried Bean Burritos with Green Rice and a Chopped Salad with Cilantro-Lime Dressing.

The yin yang of this meal is twofold. First off, there's the contrast between the creamy, rich and spicy burritos and the crispy salad with a slightly sweet dressing. Then there's the fact that it's the perfect meal for us: Mr. Simply Delicious loves refried beans, and I never want to see meat again. Yin yang Tex-Mex.

Refried Bean Burritos
Makes 4 burritos

The rice:
1 small can Old El Paso chopped green chiles
1 handful fresh cilantro
1 1/2 cups low-sodium chicken broth, divided
1 Tablespoon olive oil
1 small onion, chopped fine
1 clove garlic, minced
1 cup white rice

The rest of it:
1 can Amy's Organic Refried Beans
- as much shredded cheese as you like
- whatever salsa you like
4 nice tortillas (I discovered Chi Chi's Cafe-Style Tortillas, made with Corn Flour, which were excellent)

In a small blender or the cup of an immersion blender, combine the chiles, cilantro and 1/2 cup of broth. Set aside.

Heat the oil in a medium size saucepan over medium heat. Add the onion and saute until it starts to soften, about 2 - 4 minutes. Add the garlic and the rice and stir until the rice is coated with the oil and onions. Then add the pureed pepper mixture along with the rest of the broth (this should total 2 cups of liquid; if it doesn't, add more broth or water). Stir well and bring to a simmer. Cover the pot and simmer over very low heat for 15 minutes. After 15 minutes, turn off the heat and leave the rice in the pan for 10 - 15 minutes longer (don't lift the lid at all during all of this). When you do lift the lid, the rice should be cooked and all the liquid absorbed.

Meanwhile, lay the tortillas on a clean work surface. Divide the refried beans evenly over the 4 tortillas. Sprinkle with some cheese. Spread some of the cooked rice over the cheese (you won't use all the rice). Top with a bit of salsa and some more cheese. Roll up and place in a greased baking dish. Cover with foil and heat at 350 degrees for 20 - 30 minutes, or until heated through. Serve with additional salsa and sour cream, if desired. Serve the rest of the rice on the side if you're angry that the recipe made more than you needed (my friend Mary Beth's pet peeve about recipes).

Chopped Salad with Cilantro-Lime Dressing
Serves 4

1 lime, juiced
2 T. canola oil
2 T. olive oil
2 T. honey
2 T. fresh cilantro leaves
1 clove garlic, minced (optional)
salt and pepper

- any kind of lettuce you like - chopped
- any vegetables you like, chopped - I used carrots, leftover corn on the cob, celery, cucumber, red bell pepper and tomato. Black beans are great in this salad, but I didn't want to overload us on beans tonight
- mild white cheese - optional - mild feta, goat cheese or cotija would add a creamy element to the salad

Blend all the dressing ingredients until combined. This will be a thin dressing. Toss with the chopped salad ingredients and top with cheese if desired.

Monday, July 25, 2011

Slow-Cooked Sweet and Sour Chicken Lettuce Wraps

File this under "Brilliant Summer Meals."

Lettuce wraps are always a cool, crisp, light meal, perfect for a hot summer day. But how about preparing them in the slow cooker, to further ensure the cook doesn't break a sweat?

And if you can't be home to turn on the crock pot 3 - 4 hours before dinner, you can prepare everything ahead of time, refrigerate it, and ask one of your vacationing kids to put it in the heating unit and turn it on at the designated time. Ah, summer!

Slow-Cooked Sweet and Sour Chicken Lettuce Wraps
Serves 4

1 1/2 pounds boneless, skinless chicken breast and/or thigh pieces
salt and pepper
1 jar (about 10 ounces) apricot jam
1/4 cup orange juice
3 T. soy sauce
1 T. sesame oil
1/2 teaspoon chili-garlic sauce (more or less to taste)
1 (1-inch) piece of fresh ginger, peeled and grated
1/2 red onion, chopped or sliced thin
1 T. peanut butter (optional)
1 head Boston lettuce, leaves separated and washed and dried
1 cucumber, half-peeled, seeded and chopped
1 ripe mango, peeled and sliced thin
fresh chopped cilantro
Hoisin sauce

Spray your slow cooker with nonstick spray. Season chicken with salt and pepper and place in slow cooker. Combine jam, orange juice, soy sauce, sesame oil, chili-garlic sauce, ginger and onion and whisk until combined. Pour over the chicken. (You can cover and refrigerate the mixture for several hours at this point, if necessary.)

(After you finish prepping the chicken and putting it in the crock pot, wash the lettuce, chop the cucumber and slice the mango, so you have less to do at dinner time.)

When ready to cook, place the covered crock pot into the heating unit and cook on Low heat until done - this could take anywhere from 2 1/2 to 4 1/2 hours or longer. The time depends on the heat of your slow cooker, how cold your chicken mixture is and whether you use dark or light meat.(I used boneless breasts, cut in half, and they were done in 2 1/2 hours. Dark meat usually takes a bit longer.)

Once the chicken is done, stir in the peanut butter, if desired, to flavor and thicken the sauce. Shred the chicken with your (clean) fingers and pile it on the lettuce leaves. Top with fresh chopped cilantro, chopped cucumber and sliced mango. Drizzle with Hoisin sauce if desired and serve.

Recipe adapted from Stephanie O'Dea, Make it Fast, Cook it Slow

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Peas, Love and Understanding

Dear Woman I Met at the Farm Stand,

Hi! Remember me? We met when we were looking over the English Peas at Idylwilde Farm on Sunday. We were both trying to figure out how the peas from Lexington, MA, were different from the peas from Acton, MA. I popped open a few pods and declared the peas from Lexington looked much better to me.

We each ended up filling a bag with the peas from Lexington. Then I said, "You know, I'm going to take a few of these other peas and see how they compare." I'm pretty sure by then you had had enough of me, so you didn't respond.

I cooked the Lexington peas on Monday and they didn't blow my socks off.

Tonight, I cooked the Acton peas. The ones grown at Idylwilde Farm, that looked big and weird on Sunday, rattling around in their oversize pods. Turns out the Acton peas are delicious and sweet and just really perfect. From what I've read, it turns out that the longer the peas sit around after picking, the greater the likelihood that the sugars will turn to starches... possibly explaining why the peas picked right there at the farm tasted better: they were fresher.

I'd like to remain friends, or at least comrades-in-arms, as we work our way through this summer's produce. Hope to see you again soon at the farm stand.



P.S. In case you haven't cooked your peas yet, here's what I did. Shuck the peas. Put the shucked peas into a pot of boiling salted water. Cook for about 1 minute. Then begin to taste the peas. When they taste good to you, pour into a colander to drain. (The Lexington peas tasted raw until about 6 - 7 minutes in. The Acton peas were sweet and ready in about 1 1/2 minutes.) Place the cooked peas in a serving bowl and add butter and coarse salt.

Friday, July 8, 2011

Should I blog or should I go?

Does anyone still read blogs? I ask because I was thinking, I have a years' worth of stories, recipes and crazy antics that someone might enjoy reading. But my daughter, who started me blogging almost exactly three years ago (see my first post ever!) said, "Mom, blogs are like fashion. And right now, they are out of style. Besides, all of your friends already know all of your stories."

That's what I get for asking her, and for having my office in the middle of our family room.

I visited my personal trainer today and asked her if she'd read my blog. She didn't know what a blog was, but since she's heard a lot of my stories, and she pretends to find them hilarious, she said her fiance might like to read my blog. Then she started me on a series of moves so strenuous I couldn't speak for the remainder of the session. I didn't take it personally. That's what I pay her to do.

Last, I asked my husband if he still reads blogs. He said yes, he reads about eight blogs every day. All political. What he meant was, "I don't have time for frou-frou blogs about other people's lives, except for people who agree with my political POV." I know this because we've been married for over 20 years, and I can now read his mind. I also don't always agree with his political POV, so I'm guessing he won't read my blog, either.

So, the future of "It's a Simply Delicious Life" hangs in the balance. What are your thoughts?