Saturday, September 29, 2012

The Calm Before the Storm (9/28)

While I have been busy for the last 18 hours in the kitchen, ended up with only a sandwich for dinner!  Preparing for my housewarminng party later this evening, where I will be serving tons of glorious appetizers!  May take me a while to get out of bed tomorrow and blog (after party sounds like it is going to be one to remember), but I stay tuned for an entire party's worth of recipes tomorrow! 

Friday, September 28, 2012

Date Night with The Goat (9/27)

Slacked off again last night, but for good reason:  date night with The Goat!  :-)  For those of you who are wondering, it's a term of endearment for the person who says I am "her reason for being", my mom.  Still confused?  G.O.A.T. = Greatest of All Time.  It's a long story... suffice to say the name stuck and even Pappy (mom's husband, Steve) uses it from time to time.  But, I digress...

So, last night, we were on a mission:  window treatments for my new apartment.  Anyone who knows anything about me knows that I can whip of a meal with no problem, but ask me to do anything else creative (sew, draw, etc.), and I am lost.  Since my mother's search engine skills are dangerous, I am not sure why I was even surprised that she can equipped with measurements and "how to" guides for several ideas, so we headed over to the fabric store.  Two hours later and footage on security cameras that will surely keep the staff cracking up for hours, we headed over to Kohl's to do some more damage.  Picked up a few essential items for my wardrobe (since my pants fell off last week, but that's another story), and we were finally on our way.  By then, it was too late to do any more shopping (we need to tackle Lowe's, too, which I am CONFIDENT will be the main event), so decided to grab some dinner at O'Charley's.  (If you are unfamiliar with that chain, it's like Applebees, only better.)  So, that was the inspiration for this post - a great steak dinner!  Pair up with a small side salad, crusty french bread and a good Cabernet Sauvignon, and you have a great go-to date night meal any day of the week!

Grilled Steak:
Steak (your choice, I prefer sirloin or strip)
Olive oil
Steak seasoning / rub

So, this is pretty easy.  First, don't forget to preheat your grill!  Then, grab your favorite cut of meat, drizzle with a bit of olive oil, season well with any good steak rub, and throw on the grill.  Depending on the thickness and doneness you prefer, grill about 4-5 minutes per side.  I probably should have mentioned in earlier posts, but I will do so now:  your goal is to turn the meat only ONCE during the cooking process.  The meat is ready be flipped when it no longer sticks to the grates of the grill.  Remember to always allow the meat to rest (otherwise tasty goodness escapes) and leave the grill on until you are sure the meat is done to your preference. 

Grilled Asparagus:
1 bunch asparagus
Olive oil

Asparagus intimidates a lot of folks, but it has become trendy over the last few years.  If you have never had it, trust me, try it once and you will be a believer!  I often make this recipe and eat them like french fries - YUM!  In order to remove the woody part of the asparagus, pull one from the bunch; grasp top with one hand and bottom with the other and bend until it snaps.  Then, use that as a guide for where to cut the rest of the bunch.  Discard the bottom portion (or save for a vegetable stock or asparagus soup), rince the top portion and drain well.  Toss in a bit of olive oil and season with salt and pepper.  You may either lay them on the grill grates (the opposite direction so that they don't fall through the cracks), or use a grill basket.  Grill for about 5 minutes and serve! 

Too cold to grill?  Looking to serve asparagus as side dish for another meal that you are baking?  No problem!  Instead of putting the asparagus on the grill, just spread in single layer on a sheet pan and bake at 400 degrees for 7-10 minutes (depending on the size of the asparagus). 

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Pizza Night - A Healthy Version (9/26)

So, I admit, I cheated two nights in a row!  :)  I had an appointment at my new Aveda salon and figured while I was out I would stop for a manicure and pedicure, too.  By the time I was sufficiently cute, it was well past 8:00pm, so I stopped and picked up a veggie pizza from The Mellow Mushroom.  But, just because I decided to have someone else cook my pizza last night, does not mean that I am not full capable of making a tasty one of my own! 

This is a slightly modified version of a Pampered Chef recipe, albeit quite old.  While you don't need a pizza stone or a mandolin (both of which I believe should be in every kitchen), it definitely makes things a lot easier!  In case you have never seen either of these two items before, I attached a few pics in case you decide to skip over to the store for a quick purchase!


Three-Cheese Veggie Pizza:
  • 1 Pillsbury pizza dough (feel free to pick up a dough ball from a local pizzeria or try a prepared whole wheat crust from the deli)
  • 1 tsp minced garlic (use more or less depending on how much you like garlic)
  • 1 medium tomatoes, sliced wafer thin
  • 1 zucchini, sliced wafer thin
  • 1 medium onion, sliced wafer thin
  • 1c sliced mushrooms
  • 1 1/2 c shredded mozzerella cheese
  • 1/2 c shredded sharp cheddar cheese
  • 1/4 c shredded parmesean cheese (HIGHLY recommend parmesean reggiano)
  • 1 tsp italian seasoning (normally includes oregano, basil, etc.)
Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

Stretch pizza dough to fit pizza stone (about 12" x 15" or 15" round; be sure to roll some at the edges for the crust).  Bake for 7 minutes.  Remove from oven and spread with minced garlic.

While crust is baking, slice tomatoes, zucchini and onions (mandolin slicer on thinnest setting).

Top crust with a single layer of each vegetable (first tomatoes, then zucchini, onions and mushrooms).  Top with mozzerella and cheddar cheese and italian seasoning.  Return to oven and bake 15-18 minutes (will be golden brown).  Top with parmesean cheese; let sit for 5 minutes then slice and serve! 

Alternate versions:  
Craving more Greek than Italian?  Try sun-dried tomatoes, artichoke hearts, kalamata olives and feta!
Think vegetarian meal is for the birds?  Go ahead and throw on some pepperoni!
Monitoring carbs?  Use only 1/2 of the pizza crust and roll thin!
Kids don't like to share or cannot agree on toppings?  Cut the crust into 4 and let them choose how to top it!

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Fajita Fiesta! (9/25)

So, I cheated and did not cook last night; had dinner with a friend instead.  However, when I asked if there were any good Mexican restaurants in the area, she jumped on the idea to treat me to a great "hole in the wall" kind of place with awesome food!  Did I mention the meals are cheap and enough food to feed at least two or three?  Fantastic, I tell you!  That being said, I make fajitas at home quite often, so my "date night" inspired this post! 
I made these for my Virginia Beach family, and BOY were there they a hit!  Just so you can get the visual, Grandma B. takes a bite, closes her eyes, and very softly I hear, "Mmmmmmm..."  Clearly, she was a fan, and I found it very difficult to stifle the giggle.  :)    The memory that still makes me chuckle even now is the response from my father after he tasted my black bean salsa for the first time.  If you have ever met my dad you can appreciate this; if not, suffice to say Dad is not a talker - he is quiet (unless you get him on a topic that he is passionate about), resevered and pretty mellow.  The sheer number of times he said it was good was enough to make me smile, but he was just down-right EXCITED over the stuff, so much so he even told my grandfather about it the next day! 
Again, it's the little things that make you feel appreciated after you spend some time in the kitchen and the inspiration for my blog as a whole, so wanted to share that family moment.  Hopefully, your family will get the same enjoyment from this meal! 
  • Boneless, skinless chicken breast
  • Sirloin steak
  • Onions (cut into thick, round slices and do not separate)
  • Peppers (cut into 4 pieces by running knife from top to bottom next to the stem to avoid the seeds)
  • Olive Oil
  • Seasoning of your choice (I do not recommend the packaged fajita/taco seasoning since it is overpowering and full of salt; instead try a good steak seasoning like Grill Mates Cowboy Rub, which has a little heat, or any of the rubs from Weber Grill.)
I forgot to mention last time, but be sure to preheat your grill!  Light, crank to high for a good 10 minutes, get all the gunk off of the grates, then reduce to medium for best results.  No grill or don't want to freeze your tootsies off during the winter?  No biggie, you can use a good preheated cast iron grill pain for this recipe, too! 
Drizzle meat, onions and peppers with olive oil.  Sprinkle the meat with seasoning (liberally), a bit of salt and pepper for the onions and peppers (or you can go crazy with the seasoning), and grill.  Chicken will take about 5-6 minutes per side, while steak (depending on the thickness of the cut) should take about 4 minutes per side.  Leaving the onions in slices makes it very easy to grill, you just flip them over like small burgers!  These can be on grill the same as the meat, just be sure they are not on the direct heat.  Once you remove the meat from the grill, LET IT REST for at least 5 minutes, otherwise all of those tasty juices will run away!  Leave the grill on, after 5 minutes do a test cut to ensure it's coooked to your preference; no big deal to throw it back on the grill for a few.  After you know everything is perfect, then turn off the grill.  After meat rests, slice meat and peppers into thin strips; fluff up the onions and they will simply fall apart into tasty goodness.  Serve with corn or flour tortillas, black bean salsa and your choice of toppings!  (Personally, the black bean salsa has so much flavor, I don't add anything else which also allows you to avoid some of those calorie / fat traps like cheese and sour cream!)

Black Bean Salsa:
  • 1 can black beans, drained and rinsed thoroughly
  • 2 ears of corn (you may substitute one can of corn, be sure to drain and rinse)
  • 1 large tomato, seeded and chopped
  • 1 medium red onion, chopped
  • 2 avocadoes, cut into 1/2" pieces
  • 1/2 bunch of cilantro, minced
  • 1 jalapeno (optional), deveined, seeded and chopped
  • Juice of 3 limes
I highly recommend using the fresh corn on this one!  Just rub down with a bit of olive oil and throw on the grill.  Perfection is when you get nice charred grill marks on all sides.  Note:  "nice charred grill marks" does not mean black corn!  Once it's done, allow to cool, stand on end inside of a bowl and run knife along cob to get all of the kernels.  Regardless of your corn decision, just combine everything in one bowl and toss with lime juice.  Tip:  be sure to roll your limes with some pressure on the counter to get all of the juice out.  Not only does this make a great fajita topping, I also just roll it up in tortillas for lunch or serve at parties with chips! 

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Pork - The Other White Meat (9/24)

Just wanted something quick and easy tonight and since I absolutely LOVE my new grill, it made dinner even easier.  (My apartment only allows electric grills, which I don't recommend, but Charbroil just came out with a new Patio Electric Infared, which is quite awesome, for an electric grill, of course.) 

Main dish:  Grilled Pork Chops
Boneless pork loin chops
Olive Oil
Seasoning of your choice (recommend Grill Mates Cowboy Rub, but anything for steaks would be good substitute)
Drizzle pork with olive oil, sprinkle with seasoning (liberally), and grill (about 4 minutes per side).

Side 1:  Carrot Ginger Soup
Easy!  Buy at Trader Joe's, then heat in microwave or stove top. 

Side 2:  Whole Grains and Vegetables
1 package Steamfresh Multi-Grain Blend
1/2 can diced tomatoes in juice with basil, garlic and oregano, drained
Juice of 1 lemon
Another easy one!  Microwave Steamfresh according to package directions. Microwave tomatoes until hot.  Combine, top with lemon juice and stir.

And so it begins...

Over the years, I have been asked on several occasions to put together cookbooks, meal plans, recipes, you name it.  I love to cook, bake, grill, anything having to do with food; there's something about the feeling you get when others enjoy something you create!

Recently, I returned to Virginia Beach for several weekends in order to visit my ailing grandfather.  I stayed with my dad and step-mom, which presented an added bonus of quality time with them along with my step-grandmother.  After the first visit, I began to feel like I was "home" for those three days each week, so felt like it was best to contribute to the household and start helping with dinner!  Of course, having my Grandma B. in the kitchen with me made it even better still! 

Well, the last few weekends have been quite busy and weekly trips that took 5 hours there and back were costly in both time and money, so I decided to scale back my visits to once a month or so.  Two weeks ago, my dad called to wish me a happy birthday, and the conversation turned to the dates of my next visit.  Apparently, my family had become accustomed to our family dinners, so much so that earlier that day when my step mother was wondering what they were going to do for dinner, my dad and Grandma B. both told her, "If Charlene was here we would know!"  Gotta love cheerleaders!  :)  Dad went on to tell me the next time I am in town, we would be heading out to The Fresh Market (one of my favorite stores) with a blank sheet of paper so that I could write down a dinner ideas.  Clearly, the guilt card works!  I promised to send an email each week with 5 dinner ideas; well, I wrote them down in a notebook, but didn't send the email!

So, this is my blog, dedicated to my dad.  My plan is that each night I will update with what I had for dinner, how to prepare and include pics if it makes sense.  Some meals will be very simple while others will be a bit more complicated.  Of course, substitutions can make things even easier (Pillsbury pie crusts versus scratch-made, etc.).  It probably should be said that in general, I do NOT plan my meals and then shop.  I normally buy the things that are on sale at my local grocery and then decide what I want out of my freezer.  I do buy core things each week:  fresh veggies, fruits, herbs, milk, etc. (less than $25 per week), but anything in my pantry and/or freezer is 99% of the time there because it was a weekly special, so watch the front page of the local grocery ads. 

Well, that's it.   This is for you, Dad! And so it begins...