Tuesday, March 29, 2016

Strawberry Girl

How can I post about a strawberry recipe without some pictures of my strawberry girl?  Little turned THREE in February (maybe I haven't posted about her birthday because I'm in denial that my baby is so old!) and she is so sweet and good-natured.  If you remember, she was a strawberry for Halloween and has always loved strawberries - it's just one of the little special things about her.

Little and Middle also love cucumbers and I remembered this side dish to use up some extra berries that we had hanging around.  I was gifted this bottle of beautiful honey balsamic from Vom Fass in Claremont and it worked perfectly in this salad.

Strawberry & Cucumber Salad
from Trader Joe's Claremont

4 cups quartered strawberries
2 T thinly sliced basil
2 tsp. balsamic vinegar
1 tsp. sugar
6 small persian cucumbers, thinly sliced
1 tsp. fresh lemon juice
1/4 tsp. salt
1/4 tsp. pepper

Combine first 4 ingredients in a large bowl.  Toss gently to coat and cover and chill for 1 hour.

Combine the cucumbers and lemon juice and toss to coat.  Add cucumber, salt & pepper to chilled strawberries and gently toss together.

Top 10

What to make for dinner . . . the ongoing question.  I've been trying to be good about meal planning so I'm not faced with this dilemma every night but a couple of weeks ago, I asked my husband before he left for work what he wanted for dinner.  He said, "How about some scallops? And some arugula?"  I thought of a recipe from Cooking Light that I made a few years back and came up with some tweaks.  Instead of arugula, I bought a bag of baby kale from Trader Joe's instead and added the white beans and pancetta.  If you're not a kale fan, try baby spinach as a substitution.

Anyways, his idea and this dish turned out great.  So good, in fact, that my husband declared it one of the Top 10 meals.  I said, "top 10 that I've ever made?" and he said, "no, top 10 ever."  That is high praise from my husband!  I hope you like it as much as he did!  Another bonus (beside it being delicious and high in protein) is that it's really quick to the table so make sure you have everything ready to go when you start preparing the dish.

Scallops with wilted kale and white beans (serves 2)

1 pound scallops
1 cup chopped onion
4 oz diced pancetta
olive oil

1/4 tsp. red pepper
2 garlic cloves, minced
1/4 c. dry white wine
1 c. chicken broth (I used low-sodium fat free)
1 (19 oz) can cannellini beans (or other white beans), rinsed and drained 

8-10 oz fresh baby kale leaves
2 T fresh basil, thinly sliced (chiffonade)

Brown the pancetta in a large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat.  Remove the pancetta with a slotted spoon.  

Sprinkle the scallops with salt. Add them to the pan and cook for 2 minutes on each side. Remove from pan and keep warm.

Add a little olive oil and the onion to the pan and saute for 2 minutes. Add pepper and garlic and cook for 20 seconds, stirring constantly. Stir in wine and cook for 1 minute (most of the liquid will evaporate). Stir in broth, beans, the browned pancetta and cook for 2 minutes. Add kale; cook 1 minute or until wilted.  Remove from the heat. Stir in the basil.  Serve scallops over the kale mixture.

Tuesday, March 22, 2016

Spring Rolls for Spring!

On the first day of spring, we took the new Metro Goldline extension from the end in Azusa to the South Pasadena Station where we had breakfast, met up with Dad, and found a used bookstore ("It's a library where we can pay for the books and keep them").

The 6th member of our family who has been sleeping this winter woke up and played in the sprinkler.

And, we had some yummy spring rolls for dinner.

Chicken Hoisin Spring Rolls (makes 12)

12 rice paper wrappers
1.5 cups shredded cooked chicken
1 cup broccoli slaw
1/2 cup chopped cucumber
1/2 cup chopped red bell pepper
1/4 cup thinly sliced red onion
1-2 T hoisin sauce
1 T rice wine vinegar
2 tsp sesame oil

In a big bowl, whisk together the vinegar and sesame oil.  Add the chicken, broccoli slaw, and other vegetables.  Stir until combined.  Add the hoisin, 1 tablespoon at a time, and mix until it looks and tastes good to you.

Place each rice paper wrapper in warm water for 5-10 seconds.  Place on a flat surface and put a mound of the chicken filling in the middle.  Fold the right and left side in, over the filling.  Fold the top down and keep rolling until it's all rolled up.

Serve with additional hoisin or another dipping sauce of your choice.

Thursday, March 17, 2016

For the love of dinner . . .

I have a confession to make.  I have been feeding my family a lot of prepackaged crap lately.  If you're picturing Lunchables, Uncrustables, Kraft Mac & Cheese, and bags of frozen P.F. Chang's stir fry, you're on the right track.  But, I've been thinking about this book I read last year (and have mentioned on this blog ad nauseum, I know) "Bread and Wine" and her attitude towards cooking and food.  We had a disappointing day last month where baby girl got sick on the night we were supposed to meet my family for my birthday dinner.  The big girls had plans but we were staying home with Little and i had all intentions of getting take out.  But, I rallied, channeled my inner Shauna Niequiest and came up with the menu that included those Lemon Souffles.

One of the things I made was her risotto.  It did not disappoint!  I loved the process and the end result was the perfect complement to the lamb chops and roasted asparagus.  I used some chopped up thyme at the end because that was what was on the lamb.  I will be making this again soon - the mushroom version, probably.  And, it felt good to make a whole meal of real food that was more appealing than something that comes frozen or in a box.  I'm trying to keep that in mind and feed my family better!

Basic Risotto 
from Shauna Niequist
Reposted from here

6 cups chicken broth
2 cups arborio rice
4 cloves garlic
1 cup white wine
1 onion
parmesan cheese
salt and pepper

It's really hard to do this recipe justice, so here it is in her own words:

I put about six cups of chicken broth in a smaller pot to warm up, and then I chop a few onions.  You know, two, maybe.  And not a fine chop—just so that they’re slender and bite-able.  
I let a thin layer—not too thin, but not a pool–of olive oil heat up in the dutch oven, and then I add the onions.  I let them soften on medium to medium-low for five minutes or so while I press four or six cloves of garlic and throw them in the pan with the warm oil.  Then I give it maybe three more minutes, till the onions are translucent and the garlic smell fills the house. 
When the garlic and onion are translucent, smelling fantastic, throw in two cups of Arborio rice—that will make a whole lot of risotto, so be ready.  6 or 8 servings, but delicious leftovers.  The rice sizzles and pops in the oil for a while, so stir, stir, stir, and then when it seems to be coated thoroughly, add some wine.  
Really, I’m not picky about the wine.  I guess I like pinot grigio the best for risotto, or champagne.  But I’ve used whatever’s open—even red is fine, although it does turn the whole thing a little pink, which is not a problem at all, I’ve found.  
Add a big glass of wine, and stir, stir, stir.  Wooden spoon, by the way.   The wine will release a fantastic smell.  Give it a little time to soften, and then when the wine is absorbed, add a cup of warmed broth, and again, stir, stir, stir.
Basically, at this point, you’re trying to keep it from drowning, and keep it from drying out.  So add a little bit more, stir a little bit more, feel free to turn the heat down if it feels a little out of control.  David Tanis, in his fabulous cookbook A Platter of Figs, says that you want to see “sinkholes” and that’s a great way to put it.  Not aggressive boiling, not lazy simmering.  Sinkholes, exactly.  Keep adding broth cup by cup.  Stir every few minutes.
Every recipe I’ve read says 18-20 minutes from this point, but to be honest, it always takes me longer.  Keep tasting along the way, and when you’ve added six-ish cups of broth, and when the rice feels soft at first, but still with a bite in the middle, you’re there.
I think some people may get into trouble with risotto because they expect there to be no gritty hardness at the center of each grain, so they overcook by a long shot.  As long as you know there will always be that hard little center, you won’t overcook.
Just two more things to throw in at this point: parmesan, for sure.  A handful mixed in, and a small handful to throw on top right at the end.  As with anything, taste for salt, but I tend not to use much, because I find the broth and the parmesan add enough.   Finish with just a little bit of Italian flat leaf parsley for color, and there you go.
Other risotto variations: 
While you’re watching, stirring, and adding stock from time to time, slice up a whole bunch of mushrooms—as many kinds as you like–and soften them in a tablespoon or so of butter.  When they’re soft, pour in some cognac or white wine and cook just a little longer.  When the risotto is cooked, stir in the mushrooms and their yummy juices from the pan.
I love chopped sundried tomatoes, soaked in hot water if they were dried.  Fresh spinach and toasted pinenuts are great with the tomatoes.  Peas and asparagus and lemon zest are great.  I love shrimp in it, maybe with a little bacon and something green—arugula?  Artichokes?  Roasted chicken or chicken sausages are great, too.

Sunday, March 6, 2016

Chicken Burrito Bowls

This quarter I'm working until 6 or 6:30 on Mondays and Wednesdays so I've returned to my crock pot as a main way to get supper on the table.  This was a new recipe that I came up with one day by tossing a bunch of stuff in a crock pot when I hadn't planned ahead very well but it turned out yummy.  This is a great filling for burritos but we ended up making "burrito bowls" - sort of a variation on a taco salad.  .  I bought the flour tortilla bowl / boat things from Vons and put a bunch of shredded lettuce on the bottom and topped it with the chicken filling.  My girls ate theirs in tortillas like tacos.

Chicken Burrito Bowls (serves 4-6)

1 can diced tomatoes
1 can diced green chiles
1 can black beans
1/2 cup chicken broth
1/2 cup salsa
1 tsp. cumin
1 tsp. chile powder
1/2 tsp. salt
1 T dried onion (some diced fresh onion would work too - maybe 1/4 cup)
4 boneless skinless chicken thighs
1 cup cooked white rice
For serving (optional):  shredded lettuce, tortillas, tortilla bowls, shredded cheese, sour cream, more salsa, avocados, cilantro

Place the tomatoes, chiles, beans, broth and salsa in the crockpot and stir.  Place the chicken thighs on top and sprinkle the spices over the top of everything.  Cook on low for 5-7 hours.  Shred the chicken with a fork and give the whole thing a stir.  Stir in the cooked rice.

Serve over lettuce, in tortillas, in bowls, or by itself.  We like to add cheese and more salsa or avocados if we have them!  It's good with tortilla chips to dip into it or as a nacho topping.