Sunday, March 27, 2011

National Grilled Cheese Month!

When I was a little girl, traveling around with my career army family, the one thing that never failed to thrill my taste buds was a grilled cheese sandwich. I've had them everywhere, all over America and Europe, and I don't think I ever met one I didn't like! In honor of March being National Grilled Cheese Month, I pulled out my handy dandy sandwich grill and made a few entries that could possibly qualify for the Grilled Cheese Hall of Fame. Try them out and let me know what you think!

First, I made a Chicken Pesto with Roasted Red Peppers and Provolone. I used some good sourdough bread, slightly stale, that I found on the half price rack at the supermarket. I mixed up a quick pesto sauce with olive oil, pine nuts, garlic, basil and Parmesan (you can search my blog if you want exact proportions, I wrote them up a while ago). I had some a leftover grilled chicken breast in the frig, so I thinly sliced that up. I also had provolone cheese and a jar of roasted red peppers that was already opened. The assembly was easy: A slice of sourdough, a smear of pesto, a slice and a half of provolone, some chicken, a little roasted red pepper and some more provolone (after all, this IS a grilled CHEESE sandwich, no skimping on cheese!). I lightly brushed the grill with olive oil, thinly spread the sandwich with a little room temperature butter, and let it grill baby, GRILL! 

Second, I made a Classic Caprese Grilled Cheese. For this sandwich, I used Italian bread, sliced sort of thinly, a fresh mozzarella cheese (the round kind that is packed in water). I added on the classic caprese ingredients, sliced Roma tomatoes and thinly sliced basil leaves, topped with a little more cheese. Once again, a lightly oiled grill, and a little butter spread on the bread, and onto the grill.

Third, I mixed things up with a Mozarella, Pesto, Red Pepper and Chicken Grilled Cheese. For the third sammie, I used what I had on hand and just layered it up. I used another slice of the sourdough bread, smeared with a little pesto, some sliced grilled chicken and more of the fresh mozzarella. There was a big basil leaf left over, so I added that too, and back to the lightly oiled grill with another schmear of butter. Toasting away, grilled cheese heaven!

Don't be afraid to experiment around and celebrate the end of March Madness with a few new takes on that old favorite, Grilled Cheese! Happy Eating!

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Strawberry Time!

Fresh strawberries, red and ripe

Look what I found in the market today....fresh, Florida strawberries, and they smell and taste like STRAWBERRIES! A sure sign spring is here (I told you it was coming!) ...
Check back in a few days for a tribute to National Grill Cheese month!

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

More Comfort Food -- Not my Mom's Meatloaf

When I was growing up, meatloaf was the MOST dreaded dinner my mother served. Where she got her recipe, I'll never know, but it was awful. Terrible. Dreadful. I won't elaborate any further, except to say that for some misinformed reason, she made it with dried onions (not onion soup) and dried green peppers. Think leathery, chewy weird stuff in greasy ground beef. Yuck.

Let me add a disclaimer and say that, for the most part, my mom was a good cook. I made her fried chicken last night, and it simply can not be beat, nor can her chili, which I've blogged earlier. (Search chili at the top if you want to try it.)
Fast forward 15 or 20 years, and now I am the mom, on a budget, trying to figure out another way to serve ground beef. By this time, "hamburger" has progressed, so that you can purchase lower fat versions, and I've been around enough to have eaten meatloaf that actually tastes good. I experimented and finally hit on a recipe that my family loves (with the exception of one son who will remain nameless, like Voldemort). Try MY meatloaf, and forget greasy, nasty extended meat logs with chewy weird stuff.
Meatloaf Your Family Will Love

1 lb. 90% (or higher) lean ground beef

1 egg

1/3 c. minced onion

1/4 c. minced green pepper

1 T. worchestershire sauce

1 tsp. finely minced or grated garlic

1 T. Sauer's* barbeque sauce + 1 more for topping

2 T. V 8 juice

1 T. catsup + 1 more for topping

1 tsp. dried oregano

1/2 c. dried bread crumbs (use plain, but if you have Italian style, use that and eliminate the orgegano, salt and pepper)

1/3 c. parmesan cheese

pinch salt and pepper

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

In a medium to large bowl, mix together ground beef, egg, worchestershire sauce, onion, green pepper, garlic, V8, 1 T. of barbeque sauce and catsup, and oregano. Add in the salt and pepper, bread crumbs and parmesan until the mixture just holds togethera and the vegetables look evenly distributed. Spray a loaf pan with cooking spray and press your meatloaf mixture into it. Top the meatloaf with the remaining 1 T. of catsup and barbeque sauce.

Bake for about 45 minutes until the juices run clear.

Serve it with some roasted vegetables and garlic mashed potatoes, and don't forget to pass the catsup!

*We like Sauer's barbeque sauce because it is not too sweet, but you can use your family's favorite brand.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Old Fashioned Beef Stew

With a few common ingredients and a little prep time, you can create a hearty, comforting stew that will make everyone at the table feel right at home. I like to make this the night before or early in the morning and then put it into the crock pot to cook all day. Your house will be filled with a savory aroma that will call your family to the dinner table right on time! It's a humble stew, not much to look at, but delicious nonetheless.

Old Fashioned Beef Stew

1 1/3 lb. stew beef
2 T. olive oil
1 large chopped onion
1 tsp. chopped garlic
a little sprinkle of both salt and fresh ground pepper
1 T. A-1 Steak Sauce (deepens the color)
3 T. Worcestershire sauce
1 can beef consomme'
1 bay leaf
1/2 tsp dried thyme (or 1 tsp. fresh)
1/3 cup + 2 T. flour, divided use
1/2 c. dry red wine
3 1/2 c. water
3 T. tomato paste
1 c. sliced carrots
3 large all purpose potatoes, peeled and cubed
1+ tsp. salt (to taste)
1/2 tsp. fresh ground black pepper
1 c. halved mushrooms + 1 tsp. butter (optional)

Cut your beef into 1 to 1 1/2" cubes, removing any excess fatty bits. In a dutch oven, heat your olive oil over medium high heat, and add beef, stirring to sear on all sides. Sprinkle with salt and freshly ground pepper (it's important to season as you go along, it helps develop the flavors).

When the beef is browned, add the onion and the garlic, and continue to stir until the onion starts to soften. Add the Worcestershire sauce, the A-1 and then 1/3 c. of flour, making sure all of the flour gets incorporated into the beef mixture (that means no white shows). Let this brown for a few minutes, and add the consomme', water, wine, bay leaf and tomato paste. Stir well and bring this to a boil. Stir in the thyme, carrots and potatoes. Season the stew with the remaining salt and pepper.

At this point, you have several options. You can put the stew into a crock pot, and leave it to simmer for 8 hours. OR you can finish the stew in the oven, set at 325 degrees for 3 hours. OR you can let it simmer on low heat on the stove for 2 - 3 hours. If you opt for stove top cooking, you will need to stir the stew at least every 30 minutes to make sure nothing sticks to the bottom. About an hour before you plan to serve, check the stew for thickness and seasoning. If it does not seem thick enough, shake the 2 T. flour in a small jar with a little water until the flour dissolves and add it to the stew. You should also add your mushrooms at this point if you are using them. I like to saute them briefly in a tsp. of butter before adding them to the stew. This is a trick I saw Ina Garten do on TV and it definitely gives a nice rich flavor, right there at the end of the cooking process.
Make sure to taste the stew, because the potatoes absorb alot of salt and you may need to add a little more.

Serve this with some crusty bread and perhaps a simple romaine lettuce salad. Or serve it all alone, after all, it's got everything you need for a well rounded dinner cooked right in!

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Stuffed Portobello Mushrooms

Here's a light, springtime dish that can easily serve as a vegetarian main dish, a side dish or an appetizer: Stuffed Portobello Mushrooms. I made this up as I went along, using what I had in my pantry and refrigerator, and the results were so good, I've concluded it must be hard to mess this dish up! Man oh man, were they delish! We ate this alonside a piece of tilapia, that I "oven poached". The hearty mushrooms balanced nicely with the delicate fish, and we hardly knew we were eating healthy -- something I have to sometimes hide from my family! My son does not care for mushrooms, so I set aside some stuffing for him to eat as a side dish. The extra used as a side dish was really good too, so don't hesitate to try this even if you don't like mushrooms! If you have not tried Portobellos, because of the cost, which I admit can be daunting, check your local big box store or Trader Joe's, where they are a little more affordable. If you don't want to spring for Portobellos, there is no reason this could not be stuffed into white mushroom caps. That way, they would be a perfect appetizer bite!

Stuffed Portobello Mushrooms

2 Portobello mushrooms

1 medium onion (about 2/3 c.)

2 minced garlic cloves

2 T. olive oil, divided use

2-3 big handfulls baby spinach, stemmed, washed and dried

2 pieces whole grain bread, stale is better, toasted

6 stems fresh thyme

1/4 c. dry white wine

salt and pepper

a few drops of balsamic vinegar

a few shavings of parmesan reggiano, optional

Over medium heat, in a large, shallow skillet, add one T. olive oil, the onion and garlic. Saute for several minutes, until the onion begins to get translucent. Remove the mushroom stems, wipe them down, chop them (small pieces, discarding any part that seems too "woody") and add to the skillet. Rough chop the spinach and add to the onion mixture. Season with salt and pepper. Strip the leaves from the thyme stems and add this also. Continue to saute over low heat, while you preheat your oven to 350 degrees and prepare your mushroom caps.

To prepare the mushrooms, dampen a clean dish towel or a heavy duty paper towel. Wipe the exterior of the mushrooms clean of all debris, and peal off any of the looser "skin"from the outside of the caps -- it will kind of come off in strips. Don't worry if it all does not come off, just make sure they are wiped cleanly. With a teaspoon, make a shallow indentation in the center where the stem was -- you can add this little bit to the skillet also.

Add a tablespoon of white wine to the skillet and stir this in.Crumble up your toast, into small pieces and add to the mixture, incorporating it well. Taste and correct the seasoning -- you may need a little more salt at this point. Stuff the mixture into the mushrooms, mounding it up slightly. This amount will make more than enough for 2 mushrooms, with a little left over for another mushroom (or 2) or a side dish for a non-mushroom eating teenager.

Place the mushrooms into a casserole and pour the rest of the wine around the sides. Put them into the oven for approximately 30 minutes, until the mushrooms soften. When you remove them, sprinkle a drop or 2 of balsamic vinegar over each. Top with a shave or 2 of parmesan reggiano, if desired.

I bet you are going to love this dish! Let me know what you think!