Friday, May 29, 2009

Summertime! Taco Salad Supper

When it's hot and humid, as it so often is here in Virginia, it's hard to think about hot food, or even heating up the whole kitchen by turning on the oven, or boiling up things on the stove. I love a salad for dinner on days like that. My family, not so much. Since it's me and a bunch of boys, if I make a salad for supper, it's got to be one that qualifies as "real food". They wouldn't call baby greens topped with goat cheese and walnuts "real food", they would call it lunch!

Several years ago, I went to a covered dish luncheon and had a super taco salad made by one of our group members. The recipe is quick and easy, can be made mostly ahead of time and is family friendly in every way. It also "holds" well at room temperature, if you are having one of those days when everyone eats when they can, in between ball games, social events and running around playing taxi service. I first made this exactly as she wrote it, but have since "lightened" it up quite a bit, so I could make it and eat it without feeling guilty. I also added more seasoning to the meat, to suit our palates. You could make it bolder or simpler, to suit your family and their tastes.

Let me say that teenagers love this salad! I have made it many times for my sons and their friends and the bowl is always cleaned out. I mix everything together except the taco chips, and leave it out on the counter (in the a.c.) and let them help themselves. It's always a hit!

Taco Salad
1 lb. lean ground beef (93% lean)

1 T. chili powder

1 tsp. oregano

1 tsp. garlic salt

1/2 tsp. cumin

Brown above ingredients, crumbling hamburger.

1 c. shredded 2% (lowfat) cheddar cheese ( I like Cracker Barrel)

1 head iceberg lettuce torn into pieces or 1 bag romaine hearts (your preference)

2 tomatoes, diced, or 12 grape or cherry tomatoes, halved

4 green onions, white and green parts, sliced thinly

about 20 black olives, cut in half

1/2 bag baked Nacho Cheese Doritos, crushed


1/4 c. light mayo

1/4 c. light sour cream

1/2 c. taco sauce or salsa (your favorite kind)

1/4 c. catsup
Combine dressing ingredients in a small bowl. Salsa will make a chunkier dressing, taco sauce a smoother one. Don't leave out the catsup, though, it makes a difference.

After browning meat and seasonings, drain off any grease and cool to room temperature. Mix lettuce, tomatoes, cheese, onions and olives in a large bowl (the "top" of a tupperware cake server is just the right size and you can use it to take along for a picnic or covered dish supper). Add meat to lettuce mixture. Add the dressing and crushed taco chips right before serving.

If you need to "hold" this salad, simply prepare all the ingredients and keep them separate to fix when you need to eat it. Keep your greens cool, the meat at room temperature for up to an hour or 2, and the dressing on ice. Always add the chips at the very last minute so they stay crunchy.

The baked Doritos can sometimes be hard to find, so when I see them, I buy them and hide them in the pantry for use in this salad. It cuts way down on the fat and calories. The original recipe did not call for light sour cream, and used all mayo. Again, one ingredient can make a big difference in the fat and calorie count, and I actually prefer the taste the way I do it.

Makes 6 main dish sized portions, or 10 side salads.

Monday, May 18, 2009

Want to try some good wine?

If you read my blog and are curious about trying the wines I wrote about a few weeks ago, go to Vino Market at 3730 Winterfield Road…(near the intersection of Huguenot Trail). They are open for business now and are having a Grand Opening of sorts this Saturday from 12-4pm. They will be featuring the wines that we have been so fortunate to try in the comfort of our own home. Check it out!! Anyway, how can a wine tasting be a bad thing? A little free fun for the weekend! Enjoy it and find your new summer wine!

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Spinach Stuffed Chicken

The other night, we had on the Foodnetwork while I was cooking dinner, and Rachael Ray was stuffing chicken breasts, making fettuccine and chopping up a salad. It looked so good, my husband said, "Let's make that!", so last night, I did.

Let me say right up front, that to put this entire meal together in 30 minutes or less would be pretty impressive. There was no instruction given about prepping the chicken breasts, and as soon as I pulled mine out of the package, I knew the "stuffing" and rolling part was going to be pretty near impossible, considering the thickness of the breasts. So, out came the plastic wrap and the rolling pin, and I pounded away on all 6 of them for at least 10 minutes. Then, there was the board and rolling pin clean up, very important whenever you are dealing with raw chicken. When I make this recipe again, and I will, I would buy the thin, breast cutlets that you see in the case at the grocery store. It would make it lots easier, and a more realistic portion size. The whole breast, pounded out and stuffed with all the goodies, was a large portion to consume in one meal. I amended the original just slightly, but the idea and method came straight from Rachael.

Stuffed Chicken Breasts with Prosciutto

6 chicken breasts, pounded, or thin chicken cutlets

1/2 c. low fat ricotta cheese

1 pkg. chopped, frozen spinach, thawed and drained

2 T. pine nuts, toasted

1 garlic clove, grated

1/4 c. freshly grated Parmigiano Reggiano

few gratings fresh nutmeg

few gratings of black pepper

6 slices procuitto di Parma (Italian Ham)

To toast your pine nuts, put them in a frying pan over medium heat until they are lightly browned. Watch them so they don't burn. Make your stuffing: Begin by squeezing all of the water out of your frozen chopped spinach. Place it in a bowl with the ricotta, parnigiano, toasted pine nuts and garlic. Mix it well, and grind a little nutmeg and black pepper into the mixture. Mixture will be kind of "stiff" and a little dry.

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

Lay your chicken breast on a clean work surface, and add a well rounded tablespoon or so of the stuffing mixture towards one end of the breast. Roll the breast up, jelly roll style and secure it with a toothpick. Wrap a slice of the ham around the rolled up chicken, so that the ham covers the opening where the ends come together. Put the 6 breasts in a 13X9" pan, coated with cooking spray.

Bake at 400 degrees for 25 - 30 minutes. They get done a little quicker than you would think! These were worth a little work and really tasty. I added the garlic to the recipe, but my family loves that taste. The nutmeg adds a lot too.


Wednesday, May 6, 2009

A little vino perhaps?

We've been having the most fun at our house recently. My oldest son's roomate sells wine...nice, French wine. When he does a tasting, he gets to keep and consume, at his discretion, the leftovers. Usually, only 1 - 3 people do the actual tastings he conducts. He has 11 bottles of different wines in his case, so that works out to lots of bottles that are at least half full. AND they must be consumed in a rather timely fashion.
Now, the fun comes in when he brings them to our house, in exchange for a mom cooked, home-made dinner. It's been educational as well as yummy! One thing I've discovered, is that I love a dry rose'. If you have not tried one, you should! I also like chardonnay, which I thought I did not. I just don't like the oak flavor that you get in most California chardonnays. The wine we sampled is aged in stainless steel barrels and when you take out the oak, I like it.

You can get these wines at various venues around the Richmond area (think CanCan and several others like it). The rose' I liked is Manon Cotes de Provence (pictured), and comes in a graceful, clear bottle. Another one that was a real treat, crisp and dry, was a Sauvinon Blanc: Haut-Poitou Sauvignon (pictured).

Keep in mind, I am usually a red wine only kind of girl, but these wines and a little education have changed my mind.

I highly recommend you make it a point to attend a wine tasting soon. They are all around the Richmond area, and it's a fun way to educate your brain and your palette!
**Cooks Note: I had some of the sauvignon blanc leftover from our tasting. Last night, I made salmon and used the wine as a "poaching" liquid. I don't have a big enough pan to "poach" on top of the stove, so I used a cookie sheet, with a 1" edge and laid the salmon on it. I spread 2 T. of Ken's Steakhouse Zesty Italian dressing on the top and carefully poured about 1/2 c. of the wine around the fish. I covered it w/foil and put it into a pre-heated 375 degree oven. After 15 minutes, I turned it down to 325 and continued to cook it for 15 more minutes. It was so good, moist and light. My husband said it was the best salmon I'd ever cooked, so I have to credit the vino!

What's For Dinner, Mom? part deux

What's for dinner, Mom? The dreaded afternoon question, heard round the world as the evening rolls in...As the mom of boys, it's the question that always hangs in the air, swirling around, ready to explode if there is no answer or an unsatisfactory one.

I've got an answer tonight...London Broil is on sale at Ukrops, $2.98/lb. London broil is a nice lean cut of meat that can lend itself to many dishes. Our favorite way is to marinate it and then grill it, nice and rare. You let it rest for a few minutes -- at least 5 -- and slice it thinly across the grain, like you do flank, flat iron or skirt steak.

Basic Beef Marinade

1/2 c. Wishbone Fat Free Italian dressing

1 tsp. Adolph's meat tenderizer (no msg type)

2 T. soy sauce
freshly ground black pepper

Put this into a large zip lock storage style bag along with your London Broil. Let it sit in the refrigerator at least 2 hours, or as long as overnight.

Be careful not to overcook the meat. The meat is medium rare when it "feels" like the fat pad at the base of your thumb. If it feels firmer, it's more well done, softer, it is rarer. I always think it's better to slightly undercook it, than to overcook it. You can always cook it a little more plus it does cook a little after it comes off the grill while it sits to recollect it's juices. Chefs and food TV types say to "Let the meat rest".