Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Schnitzel, cucumber salad, fries and cauliflower

My last post is from April 7th. It's not that I haven't eaten since then, but sometimes I forget to take pictures. And other times the food is just not "photo" worthy. As you can see with the picture of the refrigerator soup, it looks awful. It looks more like a swamp in a plate! The soup looks awful but tasted wonderful.

The reason why I took the picture of my dinner tonight is for several reasons. One, to show how important color is when presenting a meal. The food is all white or white-ish and looks like a terrible combination. The other reason why I took the picture is because at least three of the items on the plate remind me of dear friends and new people I've met.

The schnitzel was made with some pork that was leftover from a picnic roast I purchased several months ago. When I interviewed Ursula from Germany for Idaho's Melting Pot, she prepared these fabulous schnitzels from scratch. I love schnitzels but somehow had never fathomed the idea of making them myself (yeah, I know, I'm such a dork sometimes). When I saw how easy it was to make and how wonderful they tasted, I knew this was going to be a keeper!

The cucumber salad is something I learned from Ursula as well. Salting the slices helps to remove some of the water from the cukes and improve the cucumber flavor, and a dollop of sour cream adds silkiness, flavor and a great balance. A great dish that is a winner everytime!

The fries were home-cut and home-fried in the oven. When I visited Mark in West Virginia I made these fries for dinner one night. Mark loved them and said they were the best oven fries he had ever tasted. Quite a compliment from such a good cook!

And the cauliflower.....I had forgotten how great cauliflower tastes. When I saw a recipe for cauliflower on My Kitchen In Half Cups, I was inspired to make it. As usual, I'm useless with recipes and ended up doing my own thing. Still turned out great (cauliflower with cheese is SOOOO Dutch!) but the real surprise was the few raw florets that were left over in the colander. I munched on them while I prepared the rest of the food and was delighted with the fresh, crisp taste. Gotta remember that!

But most of all, the reason why I'm posting the picture and the recipes is because all four items are so simple and easy to make. And I believe that in there lies the charm of good food: simple, easy to make and yet so tasty.

4 boneless pork chops
1 egg
1 cup of panko or homemade breadcrumbs
1/2 teaspoon of garlic salt
1/4 teaspoon of italian herbs or your own favorite blend
1 tablespoon of butter or oil

Butterfly the pork chops, cover them with plastic film and pound them thin. Beat the egg in a plate, mix the panko and seasonings in another. Dip the meat on both sides in the egg, then dip it in the breadcrumbs so that each side of the meat is neatly covered. Pat the coating down carefully with a flat hand and repeat the process with the rest of the meat.

Heat the butter or oil in a skillet and brown the schnitzels on both sides, for about four minutes each. Since the meat is so thin, it doesn't need a lot of time to be ready.

German Cucumber Salad
1 medium size cucumber
1 teaspoon of salt
1 heaping tablespoon of sour cream
Pinch of dill and ground pepper

Peel the cucumber, then slice on a mandolin or cheese slicer into thin slices. Sprinkle the salt over the cucumber and mix well. Set aside for about 30 minutes. Pour off the excess water. Taste a slice. If it's too salty, you can rinse the cucumber and get rid of the saltiness. Stir in the sour cream, the dill and the pepper. Taste and adjust.

French fries
4 large Russett potatoes
4 tablespoons of olive oil, divided
Pinch of salt

Scrub the potatoes, dry them and cut into 6 wedges. Dry the cut pieces with a paper towel. Heat two tablespoons of oil on a rimmed baking sheet in a 450F oven. Toss the potatoes with the remaining oil and place the skin-side down in the hot oil. Bake for about 10 minutes, turn the potatoes on their side, bake for another ten minutes and turn them over on the other side. When they're golden brown, take them out, toss them in a bowl lined with paper towels and salt. Eat while hot.

Cauliflower with cheese
1 head of cauliflower, cut into florets
2 cloves of garlic
2 tablespoons of olive oil
Pinch of italian seasonings
1/2 cup of grated cheddar cheese

Parboil the florets in the microwave, two minutes. Toss with the olive oil, add the garlic and seasonings and bake in an oven dish for twenty minutes. Sprinkle the cheese on top, bake for several minutes more until the cheese is melted and serve.

See? Simple as can be, and yet so good, easy and affordable.

Wednesday, April 07, 2010

Shrimp Florentine

Sometimes some of these dishes are so easy, it's not even funny. You get home, throw some stuff in the pan, cook some pasta, toss it all together and make an amazing meal. And sometimes you spend hours slaving over the stove and when you finally sit down to eat, you think "hmmm, all that work for this?".

Today was a typical amazing meal day. It had been a long one with car troubles, work issues and having to meet with people that are in the past for a reason, so by the time I walked in the door, I had no time or desire to do anything fancy. Hurray for the freezer, I say! Because I pulled out a package of shrimp that I stuffed in there somewhere, grabbed a handful of spinach, some shredded cheese from the fridge and used up the rest of that half-and-half that was bought for the butter chicken and within fifteen minutes, I had a tasty, flavorful meal. You can do the same!!

Shrimp Florentine
1 package of whole wheat spaghetti (or the pasta of your choice)
3 garlic cloves
1 tablespoon of butter
2 cups of fresh spinach
Shrimp (this very much depends on how big they are, how many you have: just get enough for everyone)
1/2 cup of half-and-half
1/2 cup of warm chicken stock
1 cup of shredded Italian cheese (I use a 6 cheese mix: parmesan, asiago, mozzarella etc)

Add the package of spaghetti to a pot with enough boiling water. While the pasta cooks, peel and mince the garlic. Heat the butter in a Dutch oven and caramelize the garlic until golden, then quickly add the spinach. Stir for a minute or two, then add the shrimp, continue to stir until the shrimp are heated through or pink, then add the half and half and the stock, stir until well blended and add in the cheese. Keep stirring until the cheese is melted and the sauce thickens, then taste and adjust with salt and/or pepper. Drain the spaghetti and toss with the sauce.

See? Nothing to it and soooo yummie!! If you don't have shrimp, you can use chicken.

Friday, April 02, 2010

Refrigerator Soup

I have days where I'm running around doing ten million things and I don't have (or want to make) time to focus on eating. Luckily, I'm not picky in that sense and take pleasure in even the smallest things, like a cracker with Brie or a slice of bread with butter and a piece of chocolate. But when it's cold outside, the body wants something more than just a bite: it's time for something warm, comforting and with substance to it! That's when it's "refrigerator soup" time. I put a pot on the stove, do some of the basics and let it slowly simmer while I do the running around. By the time I'm done, the soup's ready to eat!

I always keep a package of brats in the freezer, they're easy to fix and versatile: you can make Brat buns, use them for a stew or cook them up and eat cold with a piece of bread and some mustard. Pretty much any kind of bratwurst will do, although I do tend to favor the original brats.

The main ingredients to my refrigerator soup is: brats, onion, celery, carrot and anything you can find in the crisper of your refrigerator. The "crisper" is the bottom drawer of your refrigerator where you are supposed to keep fresh vegetables so that they stay crisp. In my case, the crisper is right on top of the freezer, so often I find my veggies frozen stuck to the bottom. Some people also call their crisper, "slimer" since veggies turn into unsightly squishy blobs if they stay in there too long. Well, here's a recipe to prevent that from happening!

Refrigerator Soup
2 brats, sliced
1/2 cup of diced onion
1/4 cup of diced celery
1/4 cup of diced carrot
3 cups of water
1 cup of canned beans, drained and rinsed
2 cups of diced, shredded, cut up vegetables
1/2 a bouillon cube
Pinch of salt and pepper

This doesn't seem much of a recipe but it's all about what you have. I always have fresh carrot, celery and onions in the house, but I also keep these in dehydrated form. Go through the fridge and see what you can come up with: half a jar of salsa that needs to go? Throw it in. Some leftover broccoli from last Sunday's dinner? Use it up. Don't use anything that needs to go for real though: if it's moldy, slimey, or if it smells funky, throw it out. This soup is not going to save it!

Fry the slices of bratwurst in a Dutch oven until they are golden brown. Pour off some of the fat but keep enough to have approximately one tablespoon (some brats are fattier than others) in the pan. Add the onion, celery and carrot and stir in the hot fat until the onions are translucent and the carrot and celery are softening a bit. Pour in the water, add the beans and whatever vegetables you were able to find.

I had some leftover kale from a boerenkool dish I made a week or so ago and two tomatoes that looked rather tired. It really doesn't take much to make a sturdy soup!