Archive | July, 2011

Super Simple Take-Along Asparagus

25 Jul

We spent the weekend at our favorite vacation spot and, as luck would have it, got a call from some very good friends about dinner; they also happened to be in town. Fun! They invited us to dinner and we quite happily accepted, and then I offered to bring a dish and was asked for a side.

No problem, right? Except that, being on vacation, I didn’t have my usual arsenal of pots and pans and Yummy Things in Jars and Bottles. Also, being a working girl, I didn’t want to run out and buy $30 worth of condiments and spices and such for one dinner party, and then haul it all back home where it would sit for awhile (being duplicates of what I already have) until I didn’t want to use it anymore. So I hopped in the car and visited the local market to see what was fresh and in season, and would avoid both one person’s soy allergy and another’s gluten sensitivity.

This was perfect. In-season asparagus, a lemon, a little cheese, and a sprinkling of oil, and I had the perfect side–allergy-friendly, truly delicious, and perfect at room temperature, so there was no pressure to make room in her oven when we got there. It was gobbled up, and I’ll definitely do it again.

You need:

A bunch or two of asparagus (I used a bunch and a half for four adults)

One lemon

A little shaved or shredded Parmesan cheese (ask the deli for a sample, or just buy a hunk and know it’ll last forever)

Olive oil spray

Heat the oven to 425 degrees and spray a baking sheet with the oil.

Snap off the woody ends from the asparagus and lay it in a single layer on the baking sheet. Give it a scant shot of oil on its top side.

Cut the lemon in half, and sprinkle the asparagus with the juice of half  of it.

Put it in the oven and let it roast until it starts to caramelize and is crisp-tender. That was about 10 minutes in my oven, but keep an eye on it.

Pull it out of the oven, sprinkle it with the juice of the rest of the lemon, and sprinkle the cheese on top (it’ll melt just enough to stick to the spears…mmmmm). Let cool, package up, take along, and enjoy.

Baby, It’s HOT Outside!

22 Jul

I was going to share a super-fast veggie recipe with you today for Super Fast Friday, but I’ve heard from a bunch of you this week, wondering if I have any strategies for cooking in the heat. And it’s no wonder–walking outside my house yesterday made my sunglasses immediately fog up, and my poor air conditioning unit is barely keeping the house comfortable. Today’s supposed to be even hotter.

There are several ways I keep food coming to the table when the weather outside is frightful in a Dante’s Inferno kind of way. And the first? I don’t cook. Doesn’t mean we don’t eat, but we rely on things like tuna on crusty bread, salads made with lots of summer-fresh veggies and some rotisserie chicken or pre-cooked fish, and, to be totally honest, cereal some nights. Good enough for breakfast; good enough for dinner, I say. Take-out is another totally fine option too. Give yourself a break, y’all. There is nothing wrong with food out of cartons from time to time.

I posted something about a roasted chicken on Twitter the other day, and somebody asked me if I was really cooking in the heat. Yeah, I was. But I tossed the bird into the oven at something like 9 a.m., so he was all ready to go by 10:30. He went into the fridge, the oven was turned off well before temps got unbearable, and by lunchtime, the kitchen felt like the rest of the house. Dinnertime meant popping his parts into the microwave, which doesn’t heat things up at all (he was also delicious cold, by the way).

Meals that don’t need much stove time are also fantastic in this weather. Think scrambled eggs, quesadillas, grilled cheese, stir-fry. Yes, you have to turn the stove on, but for like 10 minutes. Wham, bam, thank you dinner.

You know those small cooking appliances hiding underneath your countertops? Your Crock Pot? Your Foreman Grill or panini press? Those are your friends this time of year. The slow cooker makes delicious light meals without heating up the house, and the indoor grills/presses don’t generate enough heat to make a difference in the kitchen.

Want to hear a secret? C’mere. Ready?

I have been known to plug in my slow cooker and my Foreman out on the back deck when there is no threat of rain. Seriously. They work just as well, and there’s no heat in the house (it also keeps food smells out, which is great if you’re expecting company the next morning or your house is on the market or something like that). Just take care to set them on a level, non-flammable surface, and keep your eyes to the skies so you don’t fry the poor things.

Those are just a few hot summer day strategies. I’d love to hear yours!

Extreme Nonsense

20 Jul

I caught my first episode of Extreme Couponing the other day and it provoked a rant. You’ve been warned.

Yes, you can save a bajillion dollars at the store by clipping hundreds of coupons and doubling up and watching sales and all of that. I actually do some of that by matching up coupons with sales or using a store coupon on top of a manufacturer’s coupon or bonus card deals. On average, I save about $20 off my family’s $150 weekly grocery bill that way. That’s not my problem with this show. If you have the time and energy for such things, have at it and rock on.

Here’s my issue: the woman I watched on my inaugural episode saved something like $430 off a $500 grocery order. Fine. Know what she bought?

Dozens of boxes of candy.

Several cases of soda.

A cart full of toilet paper.

Multiple boxes of breakfast pastries.

Cases of canned soup.

The list goes on. Sugar, fat, salt, chemical preservatives, and some paper, pretty much. Which left me wondering exactly what she must feed her family.

Listen, I am no angel. Take me to a restaurant and the first thing I’m going to do is order a Coke–high-test, full-sugar, and totally caffeinated (I don’t, though, keep any in the house, so points for me there). You’ll find a box of Pop Tarts in my pantry that DH picks from all week long, and the kids get Doritos in their lunch boxes. They’ve had Twinkies and Spaghetti-O’s and Easy Mac and all that good stuff. Not regularly, but they know what they taste like. And yes, we buy toilet paper and paper towels in bulk.

But if you open my refrigerator, you’ll also find oranges. Plums. Grapes. Cherries. Lettuce. Cucumbers. Milk. Fresh, antibiotic-free poultry. Whole oats. My grocery cart is overwhelmingly filled with unprocessed ingredients in their natural state, complimented by some convenience foods (we’re addicted to low-fat Wheat Thins and the occasional granola bar) and the occasional treat–low-fat ice cream sandwiches, at the moment.

You will not find 37 boxes of Warheads. You will not see my children drinking soda; they’ve never tried it, have never asked for it, and I have no plans to change that, knowing what we know about it. And you absolutely will not see me buying boxed or canned crap food just because I can save a lot of money.

Which, of course, is what Extreme Couponing is all about–shopping to the coupons, buying whatever’s cheap, and taking the easiest, most chemical-laden way out when it comes to the “food” that goes into their families’ mouths.

I get the Sunday paper for the coupons. As far as I’m concerned, it’s the only reason to subscribe, as the actual newspaper suffers from a sad dearth of actual information. And every Sunday, I sit and cut them out, and read the sale fliers to try and save what I can. But I will not shop to the coupons. And I’m pretty well disgusted at the television network for holding such a strategy up to the rest of us as some kind of example.

Check out the show. Look at what these people are putting in their carts. Think about the reasons we all work hard at our jobs–for the health and well-being of our families, yes? The two seem pretty mutually exclusive to me.

I hope someday there’s a show about real people shopping for real families that shows us how to save money and still eat in a reasonable manner. Until then, you don’t have to stand in line behind me for Extreme Couponing. That’s one train wreck I’ll gladly avert my eyes from, any day of the week.

Grilled Tuna with Fresh Herbs

19 Jul

Let’s get something out of the way right here at the tippy-top. I know you’re not all fish eaters. Fish is fishy, you don’t like the texture, it’s expensive, it smells up the house. I hear you, and I respect that choice.

But.

This isn’t fishy. The texture is a lot like steak if you cook it all the way through (more on that in a sec.). I found mine on sale for about the same price as chicken boobs. And my house smells like it always does a few hours later; you wouldn’t come in and ask what fish we had for dinner.

Today, we’re talking tuna steaks. I know–$18 per pound at the fish counter. But go on over to your frozen seafood aisle and take a gander. I found these beauties there, vacuum-packed and flash-frozen, for about $5 per pound, and they grilled up beautifully. Tuna is healthy and light and firm and delicious, and does not smell (OK, the canned stuff smells. This is not that. See?).

This recipe is super simple–it’s based on a Mark Bittman classic and took me about five minutes of hands-on time to prepare, plus about 15 minutes on the grill pan. Yep, I cooked this inside on my cast iron pan. You could absolutely toss it onto your outside grill, and ’tis the season.

I used herbs from my garden, so I grabbed handfuls of what I had. If you have a favorite fresh herb, go ahead and play with this–anything goes. Dried herbs will burn, so definitely find some fresh either in somebody’s yard or at the farm market. I served this with wild rice, steamed broccoli, and my tomato-cucumber salad, and I know it was a hit because dinnertime was silent. Just eating. Beautiful.

Give this a try, even if you’re not a fish eater. Your heart and your mouth will thank you. No air freshener needed. You’ll need:

Tuna steaks, one per person (the rest of my ingredients are based on two steaks, because that’s what I cooked)

Two cloves of garlic, minced, or two frozen garlic cubes

About two tablespoons of fresh minced herbs; I used basil, thyme, and oregano

The zest of half a lemon (reserve the naked fruit for later)

Olive oil

Salt and pepper

Heat your grill or grill pan to screaming hot over medium-high heat.

Mix together the garlic, herbs, and lemon zest in a small bowl with a fork. Add a squirt of lemon juice to moisten it to a paste-like consistency.

Dry your tuna steaks with paper towels. Lay them on a board or plate. Sprinkle them lightly with salt, and then rub the top side with the herb mixture.

Spray or rub your grill with olive oil, reduce the heat to medium, and lay the steaks on it, herbed side down. On the grill, salt and rub down the other side while the first side cooks. Leave them alone (stop nudging them around!) for about five minutes, or until you can see them start to cook through the middle:

Flip and grill until they’re to your desired level of done-ness. Mine was raw in the middle because I took it off a few minutes in; DH’s was cooked through after about 10 minutes.

Sprinkle lemon juice on cooked tuna, and enjoy.

Grilled Sweet Potato Wedges

13 Jul

Fly-by post, y’all, of something simple and yummy.

I grilled, on an outside grill, for the first time ever the other night. I know, right? It took me a bit to get the flame just right, but dinner of burgers and sweet potato wedges was yummy. And I could have done the ‘taters in the oven, but this gave them a beautiful char that was delicious, without heating up the house.

Easy peasy: Peel two or three sweet potatoes and cut them in half (same way you’d half a lemon–right through the short side, in the middle). Cut the halves into wedges (I got six wedges out of each half). Boil them in water on the stove for 5 minutes, drain in a colander, and let them sit until they’re almost all the way dry.

Heat your grill up. Spray or lightly pat your potato wedges with oil, and put them on the grill. Turn after a few minutes, when they start to char up, until all sides are crispy. Sprinkle with a little salt (brown sugar would also be yummy) and enjoy.

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