Saturday, July 31, 2010

What, it's dinner time again?!

Um, good-bye July? Seriously?

I won't say it, I promise...

...OK, so maybe I will. Time flies. There, I said it. It's annoying, I know, everyone says it, too much. But for some reason Summer seems to be winding down, and this brings with it the likeness of a close friends' good-bye. Sure, if we use our time wisely, and fill it with great things, however small they may be, I think we live as though on a surf board, gliding through life with it's ups and downs at a tremendous speed, never stopping to look back with regret. Summer always goes by too fast, which is why I might slap you if I ever catch you complaining about it being too hot. Since now you see it, then suddenly, you don't. Of course, it's rather comforting to know Fall is next in line, like a big warm chunky knit blanket wrapped around us, telling us, don't worry - Summer will be back in a few months.

We didn't have much planned this season, there's family in town, friends to catch up with and our kids needed to be given the time and motivation to finally master swimming and riding their bikes. Those were our goals for this year, may I say simple, yet I love the idea of slowing down and taking time for small details as though they were hugely important to the overall scheme of life. And I suppose they are.

And as time flies by, so does dinner time. Here's one of my favourites:

Beef Enchiladas

1 lb extra lean, grass-fed organic ground beef
1 cup chopped green peppers
1 cup chopped red peppers
1-2 jalapeno peppers, seeded if desired, chopped
1/2 - 1 tsp salt
2 cups tomato salsa
1 (19 fl oz/540 mL) can black beans, drained
1/2 cup old Cheddar
1/2 cup Mozzarella
2 tbsp olive oil
1 cup finely chopped fresh cilantro
8 - 10 flour tortillas, about 7 inches in diameter

Preheat oven to 400 F.
Heat a large skillet to medium, add beef, all peppers and salt to taste. Cook until meat has browned. Add 1 cup salsa and the drained beans; simmer 3 - 4 minutes. Remove from heat and stir in 1/4 cup cheddar, 1/4 cup mozzarella and all but 3 tablespoons of the chopped cilantro.
Spread 1/4 cup of salsa onto the bottom of a 9 x 13 glass baking dish.
Using a pastry brush, lightly coat each tortilla with olive oil, stack on a plate, then cover with a dish towel and microwave about 25 seconds, or until just warm.
Immediately spoon 1/2 cup meat and bean filling down the center of each tortilla, roll up tightly and place in the prepared baking dish, seam side down. Repeat to fill all tortillas, laying them single file. If you have extra filling, spoon this on top of the tortillas with the remaining 3/4 cup salsa.
Cover with aluminum foil.
Bake covered for 20 minutes.
Remove foil, sprinkle with remaining cheeses and bake additional 2 - 3 minutes.
Top with 2 -3 tbsp chopped cilantro and serve immediately.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Itty bitty

We pack snacks and drinks. We make sure they are healthy, not messy and, hopefully, will keep bellies full for at least a little while. We are moms, and we panic when it comes to preparing snacks! (Or school lunches, for that matter.)

Here's an itty bitty look into what my kids get served on day trips: Cheese Quesadillas. Not only can I make a large amount of these in a very short time, they also travel well and are a completely balanced meal. Especially if you bring home made salsa. But that takes time, and since this is all about getting out the door quickly, I keep a bulk jug of good quality salsa in my fridge, most of the time.

To make:
Place a tortilla wrap in a dry saute pan, medium - low heat. Sprinkle desired amount of shredded cheese to cover, then place second tortilla wrap to cover. Heat for a couple of minutes, then flip to heat other side. Remove from pan and cool on a cookie rack. Repeat to make enough for all the kids, their friends, and possibly the parents too. Slice quesadillas in half, then into thirds. Divide into baggies when completely cooled. Portion salsa into small plastic containers, and you're off to the races.

OK, I know these wraps are super simple and most certainly not revolutionary, but it's these little things that make life just that itty bitty more enjoyable.

You're welcome.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Beefy, sloppy, goooooood

If you are on a diet, I strongly suggest you do not read on. Go to your favourites and find a different site. Don't think about juicy, tasty food. Or better yet, turn off your computer. It's for your own good. Now, for the rest of us that have noticed eating home made food, which is not always low in fat, carbs, or whatever the latest trend might be, is oddly enough healthier and lower in calories, chemicals, and sweat due to teenage "cooks" preparing our take out... drool on, um, I mean, stay with me.

Hi! I'm glad you're still here. Since I am about to share with you this yummy in your tummy, super fast, husband pleasing meaty sandwich you're sure to make again and again.

For an added bonus, I've got a beer pairing tip: Rickard's Dark ale is rich, satisfying and perfect with zippy beef and onions. I've only recently discovered the vast world, or dare I say culture, of beer pairing. Until now I left that to wine and somewhat sophisticated dinners. I have news! Beer is not just a drinkers brew, for unruly college students or folks living a few miles outside of the nearest town. It's all grown up, just like you and me.

Caramelized Onion and Beef Sloppy Sandwich
Inspired by Ree Drummond

2 medium white onions
1 tbsp brown sugar
hot sauce, to taste
1 1/2 pounds lean ground beef
fresh ground pepper
salt, to taste
1/2 tbsp thyme
1/2 cup Worcestershire sauce
4 whole sausage buns
mozzarella cheese

Peel, halve and slice onions. Heat a saute pan to medium-high heat, add about 2 tbsp butter, then onions, brown sugar and a few splashes of hot sauce. Cook onions are soft, about 5 - 7 minutes.
Remove onions, and set aside.
Season ground beef with salt, pepper and thyme.
Add 2 tbsp butter to saute pan from which onions were removed. Heat until lightly browned, then cook beef in the butter until about half done. Don't stir much, the more you stir, the tougher the meat gets. At the half way point, add Worcestershire sauce and about 5 splashes of hot sauce. Cook until evenly browned throughout.
Add onions and yet another 2 tbsp butter to the pan, stir to combine. Remove from heat.
Turn the oven to broil.
Butter halved sausage buns and lay flat on a cookie sheet.
Broil until toasted, about 2 - 4 minutes. Watch carefully to avoid burning.
Remove from oven and divide meat and onions between the buns. Top with slices of mozzarella.
Return to oven. Heat until cheese is melted, about 3 minutes. Remove from oven, close sandwiches and enjoy!

Saturday, July 17, 2010

Scrumptious Spinach with Crispy Bacon

Well, it's a quick one today.

Because today I said good-bye to my nicely blackened, shame-on-you-if-you-don't-have-one, pizza stone. It cracked. Into 8 pieces. I took a photo of my dear friend's last moment, but I am too upset to share it. I do think of myself as quite the multi tasker, but today, that's just not the way it went.

Brick Chicken was prepped and on the BBQ. Somewhere in between making broth with the discarded chicken backbone, baking a cheesecake and turning out a super scrumptious spinach side dish, I left the BBQ heat on high, for a really long time. Long enough to crack the stone. Yes, with the chicken smoking away underneath.

Thank goodness they are only $9.99. (Shame on you if you don't have one yet, at that price!)

But hey, did ya know that even if you char (um, burn) a whole chicken, it's most likely just the skin? Chickens have some serious skin going on, as we still enjoyed moist and tenderly falling off the bone meat for dinner, although peeling off burnt skin is not much fun.

OK, so maybe the yummy chicken made losing the stone a little more bearable. However to really make me feel better, will you try this spinach? It's irresistible!

Crispy Bacon Sauteed Spinach

1 lb fresh spinach, washed and torn or shredded
1 lb bacon, sliced
2 pieces of thick, white bread, crusts removed and cut into 3/4 inch cubes
2 tbsp olive oil

In a large saute pan, on high heat, cook the bacon until crisp. Remove with a slotted spoon, and rest on paper towel.
Drain all but 2 - 3 tbsp of the bacon fat, then, still on high heat, crisp the cubed bread until golden, to make croutons. Remove.
Add 2 tbsp olive oil to the saute pan, and toss spinach to wilt, about 2 - 3 minutes.
Place spinach in a serving dish, sprinkle with bacon and croutons.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Simple satisfaction

There is certain beauty in perfectly sculptured cakes, in cotton candy and foods made to look like another. Stunning in a much grander way, I often think, is nature put on a plate, with all it's colors and textures. It makes my mouth water and my tummy growl... roasting veggies either in the oven, or if you are much smarter than I this time of year, on the barbecue. I love getting a veggie craving, as it is easily satisfied, not only to the palate, but also to the eye.

Allow me to bring my kids into this once again - subject: Brussel Sprouts.

In a somewhat odd way I enjoyed the comments they were giving me at the grocery store as I picked out a few handfuls of what should be cute to most girls, as Brussel Sprouts are mini cabbages, after all. "Noooo, mom, you can't buy those!" (They have figured out that whatever lands in the cart, will also be a must try on their plates.) "Gross! Yuck!" It's a mystery to me why most of us shudder at the thought of these cute little green guys. That's me included: in 10 years of marriage, I've only cooked them twice. Not very often for a dedicated veggie lover. It's the color that draws me in, as it brings balance to my other red, brown and purple veggies. Yes, I do pick my veg according to color. It's a thing of beauty, one we can all achieve even if we're not talented cake designers.

If you love your slow cooker, you're going to love this: Veggies and sausage roast at the same temperature, for the same amount of time. And dinner is ready in 30 minutes, not 4 - 8 hours.

Start with 5 - 7 different vegetables, including mini potatoes, chopping each individual kind into 20-minute-cook-sizes. That's 1.5 cm thickness for potatoes, quarters for mushrooms, and chunky slivers of red onion. You get the idea. Grab some trusty olive oil, drizzle to lightly coat. Kosher salt, fresh black pepper. You can't beat flavour like this. Spread in a glass baking dish, bake at 425 F for 20 - 25 minutes, along side a baking dish with sausage in single file (uncovered). After roasting, drizzle the medley with just a little more olive oil. Yup, that's right, it's amazing! I do love to add a little coarse salt here, too, as it brings out especially the potato just that little bit more.

Now before I get any of this in motion, I always run out to my herb garden, to do a little snipping and chopping. Parsley can be super underrated, but I love adding it right at the end of cooking, as parsley adds a layer freshness like none other. I also love my chives, as you know, onions are near and dear to my heart. I save some of these herbs to stir into the roasted vegetables, but most of them I use for this yummy accompaniment:

1/4 cup real mayonnaise
2 tbsp Dijon mustard
2 tbsp horseradish
salt & pepper
few tablespoons of fresh chopped herbs

There's just more love on the plate with a sauce like this.

PS: The children ate all of the Brussel Sprouts, um, may I add, with no complaints (ok, not until after much convincing the first bite). You just never know until you try. My biggest surprise, was, my enjoyment of them... as roasting them with other vegetables creates a rather lovely Sprout.

Friday, July 9, 2010

Learning makes our brains grow

So I am feeling a tad out of step.

School's out and, oddly enough, boredom must be cured. Do children not realize how lucky they are to be out of school? I am sure my sisters and I experienced the same. Chores come to mind, especially window washing, seemingly always a good way to stop four sisters from bickering. To the credit of my beautiful girlies, they do have an imagination to be rivaled, and although our home is a disaster, it's good to know all those toys were worth their purchase. But how is it they need new excitement around each corner, what's so bad about a lazy nap, I ask.

My personal out-of-stepness, if you will, probably comes from a lack of challenging myself in the kitchen since that last school bell rang. When hubby and kids can't believe their eyes at hot dogs being offered, a break welcomed by myself also, I know it's time to step it up again and lose myself over new culinary techniques.

Regardless, there are some staples that have mouths watering, no matter how often they are made. Here's my number 1 Marble Cake:

Marble Cake

2 cups all purpose flour
2 tsp aluminum free baking powder
1/2 tsp table salt
1 cup white sugar
1/2 cup butter, room temperature
2 eggs
1 tsp pure vanilla extract
1 cup milk
2 1/2 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder

Preheat the oven to 350 F. Grease and flour a loaf pan.
In a large bowl, whisk butter with sugar and eggs until creamy and light.
Add flour, baking powder, salt, sugar, eggs, vanilla and milk.
Incorporate slowly with whisk, then beat for 2 minutes.
Reserve 1 cup of batter, and pour remaining into prepared loaf pan.
Stir cocoa into reserved batter, pour evenly onto white batter, and using a knife, swirl cocoa batter into the white to incorporate in a marble effect.
Bake in preheated oven for 50 - 60 minutes, until a wooden pick comes out clean.