Wednesday, August 31, 2011

20 Dinners, 1 Day: Easy Brunswick Stew

I have no idea what Brunswick Stew is and have never heard of it before.  Whatever it is, it was such an easy and tasty stew that Abe had to pack his lunch portion pretty quickly or it would've been eaten up that night.

Using bagged frozen veggies made it crazy quick to make.  Abe actually questioned what kind of stew only needed 10 minutes to cook when he called to tell me he was on his way home from golf league and I told him I had to start the stew.  I admit, I wondered too.    But it was surprisingly good!  And talk about healthy.... I don't think you can cram anymore vegetables in there if you tried.  I sectioned off 1/2 of the stew before adding the pork for myself and added the pork to Abe's portion.  So tasty!  You could easily substitute chicken or even omit the meat altogether for a hearty vegetarian meal.

Oh and don't be a ding dong like me and look for the frozen combo of ALL of the veggies.  I spent a good 5 minutes looking through the freezer section for this elusive blend.  Only later when home did I reread the ingredients and realize it asked for bags of EACH veggies.  Duh.

Easy Brunswick Stew

1 onion, finely chopped
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 cups Pulled Pork
1 package (10 oz) each frozen corn, baby lima beans, sliced okra and peas-and-carrots combo, thawed
2 cups Tomato Sauce
2 cup beef broth (I used vegetable broth)
salt and pepper
4 slices crusty bread

In a large dutch oven (or pot), cook onion in olive oil over medium heat until tender, 5 minutes.  Add pork and cook 1 minute.  Add thawed vegetables, tomato sauce and broth.  Cover and simmer until vegetables are tender, 5 minutes.  Season with salt and pepper.  Serve with bread.

Monday, August 29, 2011

20 Dinners, 1 Day: Veggie Flatbreads with Hummus

I think I've found my new go-to dinner when things are harried and I haven't even thought about what to make for dinner.  Even Abe commented on how yummy these were and how quick of a dinner it makes.  I have a feeling once the school year/football practice season is in full swing,  I'll be cranking out a lot of these in different variations.

Who knew that hummus on pizza crust was so tasty?  Well, I guess Rachael Ray did since this is her recipe.  But honestly, who knew?  Abe did raise an eyebrow at the idea. Being Middle Eastern himself, I know he was thinking I was going to ruin a perfectly good hummus.   But, one bite, and he was sold.

I found the flatbreads in the bakery section.  If you can't find them, pocketless pitas will do too.

You might also think "Um, butternut squash and fennel on my pizza? Are you crazy?"  But I assure you, it's actually good.  The peppers and onion add just enough flavor to tone down the sweetness of the butternut and the fennel adds a nice twist, so it's a perfect compliment.  And, don't skimp on the olives.  Yum.

Veggie Flatbreads with Hummus

1 small fennel bulb, shaved
3 tablespoons olive oil
4 naan, flatbread or pocketless pitas
3/4 cup hummus
1 cup chopped Roasted Squash
1 cup chopped Roasted Peppers
1/4 cup chopped black olives
3 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley

Place racks in upper and lower thirds of oven and preheat to 500 degrees.  In bowl, combine fennel and 1 tablespoon olive oil.  Brush naan on both sides with remaining 2 tablespoon olive oil; place on 2 baking sheets.  Spread 3 tablespoon hummus on each naan; divide fennel among naan.  Bake until toasted, 10 minutes.  Sprinkle with squash, peppers, olives and bake until crisp, 5 minutes.  Top with parsley.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

20 Dinners, 1 Day: Butternut Squash and Spinach Strata

I know, I didn't know what a strata was either.  I had to look it up.  It's just a layered dish that usually has egg, cheese and bread.  I'm guessing it is called strata since strata means layers of something, like rock.

This dish was pretty good.  I wouldn't say that it was my favorite, but that's because I'm not the fondest of eggs.  If you like things like quiche or fritattas, you will like this one.    I do have to say that I loved the flavor of the butternut and spinach.  And it was extra good the next day, after the bread and cheese had time to really settle.  I'd almost say that you might want to make this the night before and really warm it up in the oven at dinnertime.

I'd say this dish could've used a bit of garlic and maybe even a bit of heat, like a shaking of red pepper flakes.  But I'm going to post it in its original form and let you decide.  After all, not everyone has an eggy aversion like I do and might like it, as is.

We don't eat white bread (I know, Jimi hates it with a vengeance), so I just bough some cheap $.79 loaf of bread.  It was ok, but I think next time I will use a nice french bread or something with some more flavor.  Hmmmm... that might be a good place to throw in some garlic oil or minced garlic. 

A neat trick to squeeze the liquid out of the spinach is to put it on a dinner plate, place another plate on top and then press the plates together over the sink. 

Butternut Squash and Spinach Strata

4 cups (4 oz.) torn white sandwich bread
1 tablespoon olive oil
2 cups Roasted Squash, coarsely chopped
1 1/2 cups shredded monterey jack 
1 lb. frozen spinach, thawed and squeezed dry (see tip above)
6 large eggs
1 1/2 cups whole milk
salt and pepper

In 8-inch square baking dish, toss together the bread and olive oil.  Top with squash; sprinkle with 3/4 cup of cheese.  Add spinach and remaining 3/4 cup cheese in layers.  In bowl, beat eggs, milk, 3/4 teaspoon salt and 1/4 teaspoon pepper with fork.  Pour into baking dish; let stand 10 minutes while you preheat oven to 400 degrees.  Bake until set in center, 40 to 45 minutes.  Let cool for 5 minutes before serving.

Monday, August 22, 2011

20 Dinners, 1 Day: Pasta with Chicken and Tomato Sauce

Onto dinner #3 with my 20-Dinner plan.  This time around, I wasn't nervous about Abe liking it..... I was nervous about Jimi eating it.  He, as many kids can be, tends to be a bit fussy.  He's not into "fancy eating" and doesn't like a list of things.  So, a lot of time, I save my food experiments for the days he's not with us.  Pasta would seem like a sure-fire winner, but it was the chicken that worried me.  I don't make pasta with meat, especially shredded chicken, so I wondered how he'd like it.

Both he and Abe loved it and ate 2 servings each.  I had managed to scoop out a bit before adding the chicken, so I can attest that it was tasty.  The sauce was delicious and the cheese added a nice yumminess to an already yummy dish.

I was supposed to use fusilli, but couldn't find it at the store, so I substituted rotini.  I accidentally used the monterey jack from another pending recipe in the dish... I threw in some of the mozzarella when I realized my mistake.  It still was tasty and we couldn't tell a difference at all.

Oh and excuse the horrible picture.  It was 9:30 at night and I was trying to get a pic quickly before the boys came up to devour their dinner.  I'll have to try to get a better picture the next time I make it.

Pasta with Chicken and Tomato Sauce

1 box (16 oz) pasta, like fusilli or rotini
2 tablespoons butter
3 cups Pulled Chicken
2 cups Tomato Sauce
6 oz. mozzarella
salt and pepper
1/3 cup grated parmesan
1/4 cup chopped fresh parsley

In a large pot of boiling, salted water, cook pasta until al dente.  Drain, reserving 1/2 cup cooking water.  Return pasta to pot, add butter and place over medium heat.  Add chicken and tomato sauce and toss well.  Add reserved pasta water and mozzarella; season with salt and pepper.  Top with parmesan and parsley.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

20 Dinners, 1 Day- Mango, Pork and Watercress Salad

After a successful first day to the 20 dinner project, I was a bit hesitant about the recipe for Day 2.  It was a salad, and while Abe is a salad eater, it had things in it that I know he's not that fond of.... mango (he doesn't like fruit in his salad), watercress and shallots.  But, hey, I told him at the beginning of this that he's eating what's on the menu this month, so I slid the bowl in front of him with a broad smile on my face. 

And then I held my breath....

He liked it!  (you old folk will remember the Mikey commercials).   He said the pork really made the dish.  I might start making extra when I make pulled pork and freezing a bit for future salad nights.  My man likes a bit of protein with his greens.

I couldn't find watercress anywhere, so I went with arugula, which has a nice peppery bite to it.  I will try it with the watercress next time.

I'd taste the salad after mixing it to see if it needs a bit more dressing.  It's dressed pretty lightly, which some like, but Abe thought it could've used a smidge more.

Oh and another dinner done in 10 minutes or less.  Take that, long work commute.

I used Building Block #1 (pulled pork) in this recipe.

Mango, Pork and Watercress Salad

1 tablespoon fresh lime juice
1 1/2 teaspoon honey
2 tablespoon olive oil
Salt and pepper
1 cup pulled pork
7 cups watercress (or arugula), 5 ounces
1 mango, thinly sliced
1 red bell pepper, thinly sliced
1 shallot, thinly sliced
1/2 cup sliced almonds, toasted

In large salad bowl, whisk together lime juice and honey.  Whisk in olive oil; season with 1/4 teaspoon salt.  Add pork and toss.  Add watercress, mango, bell pepper and shallot; season with salt and pepper.   Toss, then sprinkle almonds on top.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

20 Dinners, 1 Day- Spanish Rice with Shrimp

So, after a full afternoon of prep cooking, I was interested to see what the fruit of my labors would be.  I mean, supposedly, this was going to save me a ton of time during the week.  We'll see....

Um, dinner was done in 10 minutes.  And I think that was because I dragged it out since Abe had gone to shower after cutting the lawn, thinking he had plenty of time.  So, if it hadn't been for that, I think I would've been done in 5 minutes.  Abe even commented that dinner was finished in quicker time than it took him to clean up afterward.

Dinner, done, in 5-10 minutes?  Yes, please, sign me up.  And it was delicious.  Abe's not a shrimp fan, but he really liked it (ate 2 servings, plus the leftover off of Adam's plate... so that is a thumb's up).  So, if you're a seafood fan, you'll like it even more. 

It utilized 3 of the building blocks... rice pilaf (#5), roasted veggies (#3) and tomato sauce (#2).  Recipes in the intro..

Easy peasy (I know, only dorks say easy peasy.  I am comfortable with that).

Spanish Rice with Shrimp

4 cups Rice Pilaf
1/4 cup olive oil
4 cloves garlic, chopped
1 lb. peeled, devined shrimp
1 teaspoon smoked paprika
1 cup Tomato Sauce
1 cup chopped Roasted Peppers
1/4 cup chopped black olives
3 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley
4 lemon wedges

In a large skillet, heat pilaf in 2 tablespoons olive oil.  Transfer to bowl.  In same skillet, cook garlic, shrimp and paprika in remaining 2 tablespoons olive oil.  Add tomato sauce and peppers and heat through.  Return pilaf to pan, stir in olives and cook 1 minute.  Serve with parsley and lemon wedges.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Twenty Dinners, One Day- The Prep Work

When I saw this plan in my Rachael Ray magazine this month, the butterflies of excitement started welling up.  20 meals, all cooked in 1 day?  That's a month of weekday dinners!  Both insanity and thrilling at the same time.  Well, about as insane and thrilling as cooking can be. 

It's not technically 20 dinners exactly, but in one day you do the major prep work for 20 meals to be made later.  It's simple.... you make the "building blocks" in one day, freeze them in small servings and then use them in various recipes that month.  Sort of like the articles in Cosmo where the headline is "20 Outfits from 5 pieces!" and they show you how you can put Shirt A with Top E, add a belt and it looks completely different than Skirt A with Top C.

Do people even still read Cosmo anymore?  You get my point, though.....

Today I did the prep work and I will tell you, plan on having an entire Saturday or Sunday available.  You won't be working the entire time, but you need to be near the kitchen to monitor stuff.  It does take a bit of organization and doing one thing on the stove top while another thing is cooking in the oven.  But overall, the process was pretty easy.

I won't list the entire group of recipes, but they include many different cultural flavors... including Mexican, Italian, Mediterranean and Asian.  Each recipe is a simple combination of the Building Blocks you made in that one day, pulled from the freezer that morning, with some extras from your pantry (or, as in my house, the shelves by the dryer) or from the store.  Most recipes are supposed to take around 20 minutes to make.

Now, wouldn't 1 month's worth of dinners done in around 20 minutes (some even less!) make that one Sunday where you cooked all day, while listening to your favorite tunes and drinking your favorite wine (or again, in my house, listening to your toddler ask what you're doing and if they can have yet another snack and drinking cold coffee that you put down somewhere and forgot about it)?

How I'm going to do this is this entry will be the Building Block recipes and tips on how to do it efficiently.  Then I will blog each of the 20 recipes, unless they are horrendous and don't deserve mention on this blog.  Each Building Block recipe will be labeled with a number, for easier reference when cooking later.

Here is a list of the recipes that will be created with the building blocks:

Spanish Rice with Shrimp (#2, 3 & 5)
Mango, Pork and Watercress Salad (#1)
Fusilli with Chicken and Tomato Sauce (#2 & 4)
Pork and Avocado Tacos (#1)
Butternut Squash and Spinach Strata (#3)
Easy Brunswick Stew (#1 & 2)
Veggie Flatbreads with Hummus (#3)
Lemon Chicken Frittata (#4 & 5)
Pulled Pork and Slaw Sandwiches (#1)
Creamy Chicken with Soft Polenta (#3 & 4)
Pork and Ginger Noodle Soup (#1)
Cheesy Spinach and Pepper Calzones (#2 & 3)
Pork Fried Rice (#1 & 5)
Swiss Chard with Bacon and Eggs (#3)
Roast Pork with Veggie Burritos (#1, 3 & 5)
Warm Chicken Salad (#4)
Pork Chilaquiles (#1 & 2)
Mediterranean Chicken Salad Pitas (#3 & 4)
Rigatoni with Apple and Squash (#3)
Mexican Chicken and Rice Soup(#4 & 5)

For each Building Block, you will need plenty of resealable sandwich bags and 2-gallon freezer bags.

Building Block #1- Pulled Pork
Makes about 15 cups
Prep- 15 minutes (plus standing)   Roast- 2 1/2 hours

2 boneless pork shoulder roasts (about 5 lbs each), cut into 2-to-3 inch chunks and excessive fat discarded (I used pork shoulder blade roast and just pulled bone out at end)

6 cloves garlic, finely chopped

2 lemons, zested

Salt and pepper

1/2 cup white wine (optional)

1. Position racks in the upper and lower thirds of the oven and preheat to 450 degrees.  Place all of the pork in a large roasting pan.  Sprinkle with the garlic, lemon zest, 1 tablespoon salt and 1 1/2 teaspoon pepper.  Toss well, massaging the garlic and zest into the meat.  Transfer half of the pork to a large rimmed baking sheet and place both the roasting pan and baking sheet in the oven.  Roast until the meat is browned on top, about 30 minutes.  Turn the pork chunks over and roast to brown the other side, 15 minutes.  Remove both pans from the oven and lower the oven temperature to 325 degrees.

2. Using tongs, transfer the pork from the baking sheet to the pork in the roasting pan.  Pour the pan juices from the baking sheet over the pork and add the wine (if using).  Tightly cover the pan with foil.  Continue roasting the pork until nicely tender, about 1 hour, 45 minutes.  Meanwhile, wash and dry the baking sheet and set aside.

3. Let the pork cool for at least 15 minutes, then, using 2 forks, shred it a few pieces at at time.  As you work, transfer the shredded pork to the clean baking sheet and let cook completely.  Pour the juices into a bowl to cool.  Skim and discard the fat.

Freeze it!  Divide the pork into 1-cup portions and transfer to resealable sandwich bags.  Pour a bit of the pork juices into each, squeeze out the air and flatten.  Seal and store flat in 2-gallon freezer bags.

Building Block #2-  Tomato Sauce
Makes about 10 cups
Prep- 10 minutes  Cook- 2 1/2 hours

1/4 cup olive oil
8 cloves garlic, smashed and peeled
6 oil-packed anchovy fillets, chopped (optional)
1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper
1 cup red wine (2 cups for a more intense sauce)
4 cans (28 oz. each) or 3 cans (35 oz. each) crushed tomatoes (the recipe called for san marzano tomatoes, but I couldn't stomach paying the extra price.  If you can, go for it)

1.  In a 5-to-6 qt. heavy dutch oven (or pot), combine the olive oil, garlic, anchovies (if using) and crushed red pepper.  Cook over medium heat, stirring constantly, until the garlic is golden and the anchovies fall apart, 3 to 4 minutes.  Pour in the wine, then add the tomatoes.  Increase the heat to high and bring to a boil, stirring occasionally, about 10 minutes.

2. Lower the heat, partially cover and simmer, stirring occasionally, until the sauce is thick and reduced by one-third, about 2 hours, 15 minutes.  Season with salt (and with a pinch of sugar if it needs some sweetness).  Let the sauce cool completely.

Freeze it!  Store in 1-and 2- cup containers. (You'll need at least two 1-cup containers)

Building Block #3- Roasted Vegetables
Makes about 16 cups
Prep- 25 minutes  Roast- 30 minutes

4 lbs. bell peppers (10-12 medium, in mixed colors), cut into 1-inch strips
2 large onions, halved and sliced 1/2 inch thick
3 cloves garlic, minced
Salt and pepper
5 tablespoon olive oil
1 large butternut squash (4 to 4 1/2 lbs.)- peeled, seeded and cut into 3/4-inch cubes (about 8 cups)

1.  Position racks in the upper and lower thirds of the oven and preheat to 450 degrees.  Combine the bell peppers and onions on a large rimmed baking sheet.  Sprinkle the garlic, 1 teaspoon salt and 1/2 teaspoon pepper on top.  Toss with 3 tablespoon olive oil and spread evenly on the sheet.  Place in the lower third of the oven and cook for 10 minutes.

2.  Meanwhile, place the butternut squash on another baking sheet.  Drizzle with remaining 2 tablespoons olive oil and sprinkle with 1/2 teaspoon salt and 1/4 teaspoon pepper; toss and spread evenly in the pan.  Once the peppers and onions have cooked for 10 minutes, add the squash to the upper third of the oven and roast, along with the peppers and onions, until fork-tender, 15 minutes.  Let the vegetables cool completely on their pans.

Freeze it!  Divide into 1-cup portions, keeping the peppers-onion mixture and the squash separate.  Transfer to resealable plastic sandwich bags.  Squeeze out the air and flatten the bags.  Seal and store flat in 2-gallon freezer bags.

Building Block #4:  Pulled Chicken
Makes about 12 cups
Prep-  15 minutes   Roast- 50 minutes

4 lbs. skin-on, bone-in chicken breasts
4 lbs. skin-on, bone-in chicken thighs
2 tablespoon olive oil
2 lemons, cut into wedges
1 teaspoon paprika
1 teaspoon dried thyme
Salt and pepper

1. Position racks in the upper and lower thirds of the oven and preheat the oven to 400 degrees.  Line 2 large rimmed baking sheets with parchment.  Place the chicken breasts on 1 sheet and the thighs on another.  Drizzle with the olive oil and squeeze the lemons on top (put squeezed lemons on sheet with chicken).  Sprinkle with the paprika and thyme and season with salt and pepper.  Roast until the skin is crisp and the juices run clear when the pieces are pierced with the tip of a sharp knife, 45 to 50 minutes.  Let cool for 15 minutes.

2. Remove the chicken skin, then pull and cut the meat off of the bones.  Tear the meat into shreds.  (Save the bones, skin and juices to make a broth, if you want to.  My Rosemary Chicken recipe talks about how to make broth).

Freeze it!  Divide into 1 1/2 cup portions and transfer to resealable plastic sandwich bags.  Squeeze out the air and flatten the bags.  Seal and store flat in 2-gallon freezer bags.

Building Block #5Rice Pilaf
Makes 15 cups
Prep- 20 minutes  Cook- 50 minutes

3 tablespoon olive oil
3 onions, cut int 1/2-inch pieces (about 4 1/2 cups)
3 1/4 cups long-grain rice
2 1/4 cups chicken or vegetable stock
4 bay leaves
16 ounce frozen peas

1.  In a 7- qt. pot, heat the olive oil over medium-high heat.  Add the onions, 1/2 teaspoon salt and 1/4 teaspoon pepper and cook, stirring often, until golden and translucent, about 8 to 10 minutes.

2.  Add the rice and cook, stirring for 1 minute.  Add 2 1/4 cups water, the broth, bay leaves, 2 teaspoon salt and 1 teaspoon pepper and bring to a boil.  Stir, cover, lower the heat and simmer, undisturbed (really, don't peek!  You get sticky rice that way), until the liquid is absorbed and the rice is tender, about 20 to 25 minutes.  Remove from the heat and fluff with a fork.  Quickly scatter the peas on top, cover and let stand for 5 minutes. Uncover and let cool completely, tossing once or twice.  Discard the bay leaves.

Freeze it!-  Divide into 1-cup portions and transfer to resealable plastic sandwich bag.  Squeeze out the air and flatten the bags.  Seal and store flat in 2-gallon bags.

Timeline for Prep Day

Pork- Preheat the oven and get the meat going.

Tomato Sauce- While the pork is in the oven, start the sauce so it can simmer at the same time.

Veggies-   Next up, vegetable prep.  Arrange the cut veggies on the baking sheets and as soon as the pork is out of the oven, increase the oven temp and pop them in.

Chicken-  Have all the ingredients ready.  If you need the baking sheets the vegetables are on, scrap the veggies onto a platter or cutting board to cool.  Simply line the sheets with parchment and get roasting.

Rice-  While the chicken cooks, make the pilaf.

And now you're all ready to make a whole month's worth of dinners!  Phew!  Reward yourself with a bowl of ice cream and the left over wine. 

Stay tuned for the first recipe of the menu-  Spanish Rice with Shrimp, using Building Blocks #2, 3 and 5.

Monday, August 8, 2011

Broiled Salmon with Citrus Glaze

Sometimes with cooking, as with life, less is more.  This recipe is so basic, yet so flavorful you could serve it up to company.  Just make sure you have extra since it will go fast.  Abe loved every single bite and kept saying "Mmmmm.... this is good!" the whole time.

I served it with mashed potatoes and steamed asparagus.

I got the recipe from

Broiled Salmon with Citrus Glaze
Serves 4

1 side, skin-on salmon, 1 1/2 to 2 pounds, pin bones removed
1/3 cup dark brown sugar
2 tablespoons lemon zest
1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

Position a rack in the oven 3 inches from the broiler. Line a cookie sheet with aluminum foil and place the salmon on the pan.

Place the sugar, zest, salt, and pepper into a food processor and process for 1 minute or until well combined. Evenly spread the mixture onto the salmon and allow to sit for 45 minutes, at room temperature.

Turn the oven on to the high broiler setting for 2 minutes. After 2 minutes, place the salmon into the oven and broil for 6 to 8 minutes or until the thickest part of the fish reaches an internal temperature of 131 degrees F on an instant-read thermometer. Remove the salmon from the oven and allow to rest, uncovered, for 8 to 10 minutes. Serve immediately.