Monday, February 27, 2006

Easy Paella

We are all over the globe this month! Asian, Dutch and now Spanish. This is an easy paella, a rice dish with chicken and seafood, that will hopefully bring a little bit of sunshine on this stormy Monday afternoon.

I raided the freezer and found a couple of chicken tenders, half a pound of seafood mix* and a bag of yellow rice. Here we go!!

Easy Paella
1 tablespoon olive oil
2 chicken tenders (or a small chicken breast)
1 medium onion, peeled and minced
1 tomato, grated
2 cloves of garlic
1/2 pound of seafood mix (shrimp, squid, mussels etc)
1 bag of yellow rice mix (5 oz)
2 cups of warm water
1/4 of chicken bouillon cube
1/2 cup of green peas
strips of roasted red pepper
1 lemon

Cut the chicken in bitesize pieces, peel and chop the garlic and heat the oil in a flat base, non-stick skillet with a lid. Quickly cook the chicken, then remove from the skillet. Add the onion, the tomato and the garlic and cook while stirring until most of the liquid is gone and it almost becomes a paste. Add the seafood mix and stir regularly until the shrimp are cooked, then put the chicken back in. Mix it together, pour in the package of yellow rice, stir several times until the rice is coated with the olive oil and add the warm water and the quarter bouillon cube. Add the peas and stir everything together.

Bring everything to a boil, turn to simmer and place the lid on the pan. From this point on, do not stir the rice anymore. After about fifteen minutes, carefully lift the lid. If most of the liquid has gone, add the red roasted pepper strips on top and replace the lid. The rice should cook dry in about another five minutes, leaving you with a yummy pan full of yellow rice with chicken and seafood, i.e. easy paella.

Serve on warm plates, with a slice of lemon so you can add lemon juice to your taste.

Friday, February 24, 2006

Sometimes simple is nice....Beef broth with biscuits

I went out to dinner last night, to a place that had been recommended by a coworker. The food was alright but not great, and I was a little disappointed. I love good food and it's hard enough to get something good out here where I live, so I had high hopes. But the ragout was too salty, the salad bar had dried out cucumber slices and crusty pasta salad, and the focaccia was spongy and wet.

So today's lunch was so refreshing, a simple beef broth with pieces of meat, some celery and carrots, and homemade biscuits. Easy peasy and oh so nice!

Beef broth

1 piece of beef (roast cut) approximately 3/4 to 1 pound)
1 big peeled onion
3 ribs of celery
a handful of baby carrots or sliced and peeled carrots
1 cube of beef bouillon

Place the beef in a pan, add water to cover, add the onion and bring to a boil. Lower the heat and simmer on low for 2 hours. Set aside and cool. Make sure you refrigerate your stock within two hours.

The next day: cut and wash the celery and carrots, and brown quickly in a pan. Bring the broth to a boil, add the vegetables, the bouillon cube and turn down to simmer until the vegetables are cooked. Cut the meat in bitesize chunks and put back in the pan.

This broth is great the first day to serve with some ravioli, leaving enough liquid and reserving the meat and vegetables for a hearty lunch the day after.

Thursday, February 23, 2006

Teriyaki beef with rice and spinach

Why do we have so much stuff???? I am looking at the shelves in our refrigerator door, and there must be at least ten packages with sauces from fastfood chains, two jars of mustard, one of mayo, about a million (give or take a few) salad dressings, pickles and whatnots.

The packages with sauce go right in the trash, they've been there for eons so I am not even going to bother. I check expiration dates on all the salad dressings and but one or two are still good, so out they go too. Hey, I've instantly created some space ! While I'm at it, I also check what's in the crisper and what else needs to go, I have half of that roast left from yesterday. Ah...the crisper reveals fresh spinach that I bought the other day.

It's amazing what we keep in our refrigerator. After only eight minutes ( I timed it for your convenience), I have gotten rid of some items, rearranged some others, and found several ones that I didn't even know I had ( some mini wedges of brie cheese that will come in handy for the quiche I am making later this week!). I even wiped down some shelves and it all looks a lot better now! Set your timer and see how much you can get rid of, rearrange, clean and come up with in eight minutes, and drop me an email to let me know!

Time to fix dinner, I decided to cut the remainder of that beef roast in half. One half goes in a pot with water and an onion, for a nice beef soup, the other one I'm slicing for beef teriyaki. One more half empty bottle of sauce that I can get rid of :-)

Teriyaki Beef with rice and spinach

1 lb of beef, sliced in bitesize portions
2 cloves of garlic
teriyaki sauce (enough to cover and marinate meat)
a large handful of spinach per person
pinch of dried hot pepper seeds (like the ones you get with your pizza)
cup of rice
2 1/2 cups of water

Marinate the meat in the sauce for at least 30 minutes before preparation. Heat a teaspoon of oil in a nonstick pan and fish the pieces of meat out of the marinade, and brown the meat on both sides. Add the rest of the marinade with 1/2 cup of warm water and simmer while you prepare the rest of the food.

Put one cup of rice in a pan, add two cups of water, a pinch of salt and bring to a boil. Cover with lid, turn down to simmer and set the timer for 20 minutes. I cook on electric and this is the way it works for me, you may have to experiment in the beginning.

Peel and chop the two cloves of garlic, and stir quickly in another skillet that has a teaspoon of hot oil. Add the washed spinach to the garlic and stir until the spinach is limp, sprinkle the hot peppers over the spinach, a pinch of salt and black pepper and set to the side.

Put a spoonful or two of rice on a plate, add the spinach on one side, and meat with sauce on the other. You have yourself a quick and tasty meal, and a cleaner, more organized refrigerator to boot!

*if you don't have any teriyaki sauce, don't despair, you may have a salad dressing that will do the trick: there's a citrus vinaigrette that you can add a splash of soy sauce too (and why not open up one of those endless cans of mandarine oranges that you have in your pantry and add it to the meat?), there's a ginger and soy based salad dressing that is great with beef and crushed pineapple (ha! another can gone out of the pantry!) or just use soy sauce laced with crushed pineapple liquid for a marinade. and if you don't know, why don't you send me an email or leave me a comment with what you have, and we'll think of something!*

If you have any leftover rice, save it until the next morning, add a splash of milk and some cinnamon and brown sugar, nuke it in the microwave for a couple of minutes and breakfast is ready :-)

Tuesday, February 21, 2006

Beef Balsamico

I always get a chuckle out of reading restaurant's menu cards. The fancier the better, because I've noticed a tendency in this country that all that is foreign is good, even if we don't know what it means. Well, for Pete's sake, if you are going to put a dish on the menu, at least check how to spell it properly! If you're up for a chuckle, check out the website for some hilarious menu cards, translation mistakes and the likes.

And while I giggle about the PocariSweat soft drink, and wish I could have some 'cozy chocolates for heroines" (I am not joking! Talk about defined target audience!), I pull a piece of beef out of the freezer. Ah ! I guess we'll be eating "meat for the heroe of this house" today :-)

I was raised in a Dutch-Indonesian household, and while some of my traits are definitely more netherlandish, such as being thrifty and (sometimes very annoying) outspoken, my cooking habits are definitely more asian. This translates to cooking for ten when there are only two people in the household, which leads to food for eight frozen in the freezer, which leads to eh...well this blog for one! Slowly but surely I am learning to cut down on my portions.

The beef roast I have pulled out of the freezer is little over 3 pounds, so I cut it in half and put the other part in a ziploc bag in the refrigerator: we'll look at that in the next couple of days. Today we are making Beef Balsamico, a nice beef stew with vegetables, and a hint of summer.

Beef Balsamico

1 1/2 pound beef, cubed
1 1/2 cup beef bouillon (1 1/2 cup hot water and one beef bouillon cube)
2 tbsp balsamico vinegar
2 cups of pepper stir fry, or other vegetables (broccoli, corn, carrots, green beans, whatever you have in the freezer or pantry that needs to go)
2 medium potatoes, peeled and diced
1 medium onion
3 cloves of garlic, peeled and chopped
1/2 tsp dried thyme
1 tsp olive oil
sour cream (optional)

Heat the olive oil in a skillet and brown. Add onion, garlic and potatoes and stir occasionally until onions are transparent, be careful not to burn the garlic! In the meantime, set your crockpot to high. Add the bouillon to the skillet, add the vegetables and the thyme, stir in the balsamico and bring to a boil. Pour the contents of the skillet into the crockpot and cook on high for approximately 2 hours, or until beef is tender. The length of time depends on the beef and on your crockpot, so keep an eye on it. If you prefer your veggies crunchy, do not add them in until the last thirty minutes of cooking.

Serve in a bowl, hot, with a good piece of bread and a dollop of sour cream. This is good, whether you're a heroine or not!

Saturday, February 18, 2006

Ham & Cheese Breakfast Eh.....Something

Grocery stores often have a clearance or quick sale rack, mainly with bakery items. The Joe store has this awesome Almond Poppy Seed cake that's a great buy at their discount prices, but it's hard to find because everybody else seems to love that particular cake too. So when I am able to score one, I am thrilled. And so are my arteries, I am sure, since this cake is riddled with all kinds of sugars and fatty stuff. Another item to find on these racks is day old Italian loaves, at less than a dollar a piece, and that's what we're cooking with today.

Every now and then I will take home one of those loaves, slice and wrap it and freeze it for later use. It's the basis for a great breakfast/brunch dish, so let's get started. I just don't know what to call it, so if you have a suggestion, do mail me!

Ham and Cheese Breakfast Something

1/2 loaf of day old italian loaf, cubed
6 eggs
1 1/2 cup of cheese
1/2 cup of milk
1 medium onion, peeled and chopped
6 slices of ham, cut into 1 inch pieces (you can also use salami, bologna or turkey)
1 tablespoon butter or olive oil
3 tablespoons of mustard
pepper, optional

*if you don't care for mustard, you could also try adding fresh garlic and some black olives for a more mediterranean dish. Stir in a teaspoon of your favorite herbs, such as rosemary, thyme or italian seasoning for extra dimension. *

Grease an ovendish
with half of the butter or olive oil. Add the rest to a bowl, add the onion and microwave for three minutes or until onion is soft. In another bowl, beat the eggs with the milk and mustard, add pepper if you wish. Toss the bread with the onion, and one cup of cheese and the ham pieces and lay out in the greased ovendish, pour over the milk/egg mixture, add the rest of the cheese on top and bake in an oven at 350 for approximately 30 minutes. You can check to see if the dish is ready by inserting a knife in the middle, if it comes out clean it's done.

This is great served immediately with some ketchup and a hot cup of coffee, especially on a cold day such as today!

Thursday, February 16, 2006

Black Beans with Spicy Salsa and Sour Cream

"Beans, beans, the magical fruit......." my ex-husband used to sing when I told him we'd be eating beans for dinner. Not necessarily the romantic serenade one expects to hear on Valentine's Day but I'll take it! Beans offer protein without much saturated fat and with plenty of healthful fiber and micronutrients, and will offset nicely all the other junk we're eating today such as chocolates and cupcakes. Besides, our pantry shelves are stacked with bags of beans, lentils and split peas, and it's time to get those babies soaking.

This whole project started with wanting, or needing, to clean out the freezer and making some more space. I had so much food in my pantries, garages, shelves, kitchen cupboards and freezer that it was starting to look like the Grocery Outlet, or the Canned Food Morgue, as some people gently put it. I am a sucker for a good deal, so I've been hoarding food for years. Image the overwhelming amount of food I had!

The first thing I did was toss anything that was past the due date. A deal is a deal, but botulism is not part of it, so in the trash went many a can. What a waste of money, and how shameful to know that so many are hungry in this world while I am throwing out food. God calls us to be good stewards of our (his) money, and this was definitely not a good way to do it. I sorted the cans that were left and realized that the cat was going to have a ball: twentyfour cans of tuna alone were sitting on a shelf, and you might remember that I am not a big fish eater!

But this mindset also translated to other areas in the house: one of the things I noticed is that I always had so much laundry. Or do I have too many clothes? Slowly but surely I have started to sort my clothes, by what stays and what goes to the women's shelter or the thrift store. And what is with all the paper clutter? So out went the daily newspaper. I don't have time, or take the time, to read it every day and now that I only get the weekend issue, I don't feel so guilty and I save a bunch of money.

Anyway, back to the beans. A couple of weeks ago, the local Joe store had a great deal on legumes, so I bought several bags of black, red, white, pinto, lentils and split peas. They're cheap, they're full of good stuff and they're easy to prepare, what more does a hard working girl want? Today we're fixing Black Beans, topped with spicy salsa, sour cream and a handful of your favorite tortilla chips, a great meal for lunch or dinner.

Black Beans with Salsa and Sour Cream
1 cup of black beans, washed and drained
3 cups of water
1 bouillon cube (chicken w/ tomato is my favorite for this)
2 tablespoons of tomato paste
1 cup of frozen vegetables (mix of corn, peppers, broccoli, green beans, carrots: think color)
spicy salsa
sour cream
tortilla chips

Soak the beans overnight in water if you remember, or add them to a crockpot with three cups of water and the bouillon cube. Follow the cooking instructions on the bag, or set the crockpot on high and cook until tender. Stir in the tomato paste, a spoonful or two of your favorite salsa, salt and pepper to taste. In the microwave, heat up your veggies until hot. (You could also stir them in with the beans in the crockpot, but then they all go black and ugly. If you don't mind go for it, it will save you a dish or two to wash!)

Ladle the
beans in a bowl, add the veggies, and top with salsa and sour cream. Grab a handful of your favorite tortilla chips and enjoy!

Sunday, February 12, 2006

Chicken gravy with mushrooms

Ahhh this is the best part of making roast chicken with yesterday's recipe! Remember the two quarts of water, bouillon and drippings that were left after roasting the chicken? Let's make that into something tasteful and use up another can out of the pantry.

Chicken Gravy with Mushrooms

cups of chicken
remainder of drippings and liquid from the roasting pan
1 can of mushrooms, drained
1/2 cup of flour

the remainder of the roast chicken off the bones, and remove any leftover skins. Heat the remainder of the drippings and liquid from the roasting pan, and slowly whisk in the flour. Bring the liquid to a rolling boil, boil for one minute, then lower the heat. Fold in the chicken meat, the drained mushrooms and warm up. Serve over biscuits or toast.

freezer is slowly but surely showing some open space. How about yours?

Saturday, February 11, 2006

Roast Chicken with Rosemary and Garlic

For our wedding we received wonderful gifts, one of which is a nice large roaster (kinda like a crockpot but with a metal liner and a roasting rack). Since all our cooking is done with electric, and our ovens are rather large to cook for just the two of us, I much prefer to do my baking and roasting in our roaster. Especially chicken comes out crisp, juicy and quick! I love chicken. It is versatile, price efficient and easy to prepare, and I always keep two or three whole fryers in the freezer. Whole fryers are usually 99 cents a pound, and a 4-5 pounder will be sufficient for two for dinner and leave you enough chicken for a nice roast chicken salad, or chicken sandwiches the next day. You will love this easy recipe!

Roast Chicken with Rosemary and Garlic

1 whole fryer
2 tbsp olive oil
1 tsp salt
1 tsp pepper
3 cloves of garlic
1 tsp dried rosemary (or fresh if you keep a herb box in your kitchen!)
1 cube of chicken broth
2 cups of hot water

Remove the giblets from the chicken (save them for dog cookies!), and rinse it, inside and out. Dry with kitchen paper. Preheat the roaster according to instructions, and add two cups of hot water to the bottom of the roaster. Drop in the cube of chicken broth.

Chop the garlic and mix with one tablespoon of olive oil and the salt and pepper. Rub the chicken with half of this mixture. Carefully loosen the skin on the chicken breast, and rub the rest of the mixture on the flesh, then pat the skin back into place. Drizzle the rest of the olive oil over the chicken, tuck in the wings, tie its legs together with some kitchen string and place the whole chicken on its back on the roaster, then put the lid in place, kick back and relax.

It will take approximately 25 minutes per pound to be ready, but after an hour you may want to check and see how the chicken is faring. The skin should be crisp and brown, and the temperature on the meat thermometer should read 180F when inserted deep into the thigh.

Remove the chicken from the roaster, and let it rest for ten minutes on a cutting board before you cut it up in pieces. Serve with a nice salad and some crunchy bread, yummmm !!!

By the way, save the leftovers and the liquid in the roaster for tomorrow's chicken ragout with mushrooms. Easy to make, and excellent on toast!

Friday, February 10, 2006

Spaghetti alla Bolognesa

...or just plain ole "spagbog", as we call it.

At this rate, I am never going to get that freezer cleaned out. Don't you know it, when you start something new, life always gets in the way. Finally ready to write that book? Your house floods. Wanna lose some weight? The store has an all-time sale on your favorite chocolate bar. Etc etc etc. Devilish distractions, I call them. So too with this freezer fun. Now that I have my mind set of getting this thing taken care of, I often get home late, or eat on the road (I'm getting better at ordering smaller portions and not taking anything home!). But if you can prepare a little ahead, this dish can be ready and on the table in 30 minutes. Hurray!!!

One of the ways to be ready for situations like this is to cook your hamburger meat beforehand. Having some browned beef in the freezer, appropriately marked and wrapped, will have you serve nachos in no time, or whip up this spaghetti dish in less than thirty minutes. Do make sure that, if you decide to cook and freeze the meat, you cook it thoroughly and let it cool down sufficiently before you do so!

I cook for two (one portion for dinner and one for lunch the next day), but you can easily double the portions. This is another great recipe that will make a dent in your freezer and your pantry!

Spaghetti alla Bolognesa
1 medium onion, peeled and chopped
2 cloves of garlic, peeled and minced
1 tsp olive oil
1 can of mushrooms (approx. 7 ounces), drained
2 cans of diced tomatoes, italian style
1 small can of tomato sauce
1 lb ground beef
1 tsp of dried thyme
1 tsp of italian herbs (or oregano, basil and rosemary)
1 bay leaf
1 can of medium pitted black olives, drained and chopped
1/4 cup of warm milk

2 servings of whole wheat spaghetti
parmesan cheese

Add the olive oil to a non-stick pan and cook the onion and garlic until clear and smelling yummy. Don't let the garlic burn! Add the hamburger meat and stir for several minutes, then add the mushrooms. Cook for a couple of minutes, until the meat is done, then add the cans of italian diced tomatoes. Stir and add the small can of tomato sauce. Bring to a boil, and turn down the heat. Add the herbs and the bay leaf and simmer for about twenty minutes on a low heat.

In the meantime, cook the spaghetti al dente (whole wheat pasta is great, a bit chewier and with more body than the plain old white pasta, try it sometime!) according to instructions. Drain.

Taste your spagbog sauce, salt and pepper to taste, or add more herbs. I love thyme so I am very generous with this, but not everybody likes it. Stir in the chopped black olives and heat for a couple of minutes more. Retire your pan from the heat, stir in the warm milk (this will tone down the acidity of your sauce and make for a wonderful, velvety flavor).

Put a big serving of spaghetti on a deep plate, top with the meaty sauce and sprinkle parmesan on top, if desired. Dried and grated parmesan will do, but if you can afford it, buy a little piece of parmesan at the store and grate it yourself, it's fabulous!