Monday, April 28, 2008

And when I'm very very lazy

And I'm talking lazy beyond the bounds of making quiche with a ready-made crust, I have a few quick kid-pleasers in my repertoire. Since this weekend was filled with feverish toddlers and rash covered preschoolers, I didn't do much cooking. I did a lot of reheating leftovers and some ordering take out, but neither of those seem worthy of a blog post, do they?

Instead, I'm going to talk about Naked Burritos. No, no actual nudity here. They are completely family friendly and completely modest. My current recipe has evolved from a one pot recipe I used as a single woman way back when I had time for pedicures and massages and such. Sigh. I used to call it Beans and Rice and Corn. The ingredients were pretty much that, with a few additions. Recently our nanny dubbed it Naked Burritos and I think that has a nicer ring to it. The ingredients are things that I commonly have in my pantry. The only time sink in this one is the rice, but if you are like me, you can freeze precooked rice and just have it on hand, or buy the precooked rice at Trader Joe's. Once mixed, it makes a great lunch box lunch and is just as good at room temperature as it is heated. Even the picky eater who used to be in our nanny-share would jump on this one, so I think it has universal appeal.

Naked Burritos
1 can of beans (black beans or pinto- I use the organic ones, but you don't have to)
1 bag of frozen sweet corn (you can use canned, but I like the roasted corn from Trader Joe's)
2 cups of cooked brown rice (again, you can use white rice, but why would you. Brown rice is so much tastier)
1/2 jar or tub salsa of your choice (fresh salsa is the tastiest, but if I'm working from the pantry I'll use a jar of prepared salsa.)
1 cup shredded sharp cheddar cheese (or jack, or that Mexican blend of shredded cheese- really any cheese you like will work)

In a large pan heat the beans corn and rice, add the shredded cheese and salsa, stir and eat. Too lazy for the pan? Put it in a big bowl and microwave it! See why I love this recipe?

If you're looking for extras, you can top it with sour cream, or low-fat yogurt (my choice). If I have them on hand, I'll toss in a big handful of chopped cilantro and some sliced black olives Sometimes I'll toss in some roasted green chilies or ground soy-meat. Roasted zucchini cubes also go in nicely if you have it laying around. I've added chopped spinach and broccoli at other times, both went over well. I haven't tried it, but I'm sure cauliflower would work too.
If you're a meat-eating type, you could add chicken or ground beef. I'm sure Mr. Dog would love it if I added a bit of shredded pork, but that's not likely to happen at my house. You could probably even toss in your leftover turkey if you were so inclined. I guess my point is that this recipe is really flexible.

Well, that's all you're getting out of me today. I've got some slacking to get back to.

Thursday, April 24, 2008

I need a tropical vacation

but since that isn't likely to happen any time soon, I guess I'll settle for some salsa. This week has been a killer and I am tired down to my core. The weather has been nuts, we've had everything from sunshine to snow. I kid you not, snow in late April? Just where am I living? Antarctica? No, Seattle. So odd.
I wish I could follow my sun-seeker instincts and fly off to some little island paradise. (Well, an island paradise where no one will see me in a bathing suit.) There is nothing I'd like better than to slap on some sunscreen and traipse along a deserted beach somewhere. I know that the likelihood of that happening now, or in the foreseeable future is about just about as likely as me looking great in a bikini in this lifetime. My solution? Mango salsa. Yes, salsa. Seriously, top a nice piece of fish with some of this sunshine in a bowl and I can almost imagine I'm warm. So here it is, my foolproof mango salsa recipe:

Beach Cabana in a Bowl:
1 large ripe mango, chopped into a smallish dice
1/2 medium red onion, finely chopped
1 jalapeƱo pepper, seeded and minced
1 lime
1 big handful of fresh cilantro, coarsely chopped
kosher salt

Here's the easy part, put all of the chopped items in a bowl, squeeze the juice of the lime over it, and mix. Add kosher salt to taste, yeah it sounds odd, but the sweet mango needs it to get the right bite. Let the salsa sit for about an hour before you use it. You can use it right away but letting it sit a while lets the flavors mingle a bit. I also like to squeeze the pulp left attached to the pit in my fist over the bowl of mango cubes just to get all of the $3-bucks-a-pop juicy goodness out of that bad boy, but you can omit that step if you want.

I like to serve it over broiled salmon fillets, but it works just as well as a dip for tortilla chips or a topping for tacos. Go wild.

Now, can someone pass me the sunscreen?

Friday, April 18, 2008

Mac and Cheese, two ways

What kid doesn't love Mac and Cheese, it is great stuff. Although in the Dog house, expect to be corrected if you call it Mac and Cheese. Around here is is Macaroni and Cheese, anything thing else will be immediately disputed by Big Dog. While most kids will scarf down the electric orange powder coating, our kids think of that as some other thing. Macaroni and Cheese is homemade, creamy and rich.

For most of Big Dog's Macaroni and Cheese eating career, I followed Martha Stewart's classic, Martharoni. Delicious. The first time I made it for Big Dog he out and out rejected the baked breadcrumb crust. Insane, yes, but as a good mom, I just omitted the final baking steps and served it from the saucepan right after mixing the pasta and sauce.

Recently a co-worker told me about Fine Cooking Magazine. She raved about it in fact. Not being currently subscribed to any cooking magazines I decided to sign up. The first issue I received contained a recipe for, yep, you guessed it Macaroni and Cheese. I decided to give it a whirl. It took a few steps off the beaten path, it has thyme, mustard and Worcestershire sauce in the cheese sauce which sounded really interesting. And when I gave it a try, it was an instant hit. It is a little bolder than the other recipe and for some reason it makes me think of something that should be paired with a nice hoppy beer. Well, maybe not for the kids, but the adults should feel free to imbibe.

Recently the boys went nuts over a lasagna I made that had a crusty cheese topping, so I've been baking the Macaroni and Cheese with the breadcrumb topping. If Big Dog remembers disliking it or even being a bit suspicious of it, that doesn't show as he and Little Dog fight over the biggest piece of baked crusty topping.

Either way, these two recipes rock. They make a nice enough dinner for guests and the leftovers are great to have on hand for weekend lunches.

One of these days I'm planning on inviting a few of their buddies over for a Macaroni and Cheese tasting. We'll serve both and have them vote for their favorite. Just looking for an excuse for a party really, but I'll take what I can get.

Sorry I'm crapping out by linking this one, but it is much easier than transcribing it, since they've already done all that work for me.

Fine Cooking's Beer Cravin' Macaroni and Cheese
(from memory, so it may vary from the published recipe)
8 Tbsp unsalted butter
6 Tbsp all purpose flour
1 medium onion, finely chopped
1 large sprig thyme plus 1 tsp chopped fresh thyme
1 bay leaf (I never use the bay leaf, I don't have any in the house)
1 quart milk
4 oz Monterey jack cheese, shredded
8 oz Sharp cheddar cheese, shredded (use the sharpest cheese you can get, it is worth it.)
1 Tbsp Dijon mustard (I personally use 2 Tbsp)
1/2 tsp Worcestershire sauce (I used 1 tsp)
2 cups fresh bread crumbs
2 Tbsp olive oil
1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese
1 lb pasta of your chosen shape (I like penne, and I use whole wheat or Barilla's high protein pasta)

Preheat oven to 375 and butter a 9x13 oven safe pan.
In a large pan heat the butter until melted. Add the chopped onion and sweat until the onion is soft and translucent. When the onion is soft, add the flour, cooking until the flour loses the raw flavor and it sizzles slightly. Add the milk, whisking in about 1 cup at first to ensure the rue mixes well with the milk then adding the rest. Add the sprig of thyme and the bay leaf. Reduce the heat under the pan, but stir frequently until the sauce thickens. Let the sauce simmer for about 15 minutes until the thyme and bay leaf have fully flavored the sauce, then remove the bay and thyme.
While the sauce is simmering, boil pasta and remove from pan about 1 minute before the pasta is cooked al dente. Drain and set aside.
Remove from the heat and add the cheese stirring until it has melted into the sauce and the sauce is smooth again. Add the mustard and Worcestershire sauce.
Mix the pasta and cheese sauce and pour into a buttered 9x13 pan.
In a smaller bowl mix the shredded Parmesan cheese, bread crumbs and chopped thyme leaves. spread evenly over the cheese and pasta mixture in the pan.
Bake for 20 minutes or until the bread crumb topping is golden and the cheese sauce is bubbly.

I like to serve this with steamed broccoli or peas. (well, the boys like me to serve it with peas, I hate them) Tonight I also serve it with rocket tossed with olive oil, lemon juice and kosher salt. I much preferred this combination, but the boys still heaped on the peas.

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Let me tell you about my MAD risotto skills.

I don't usually like to brag like this, but is it really bragging when you are stating a fact? I am the world's best risotto maker. Really. I could take on any of those personality-free Top Chef nutjobs any day. Hell, bring on short, bald Tom himself, he'd be weeping at the perfection on his plate.

Last night's dinner was my latest risotto creation. For simplicity sake, let's call it "Heaven on a Plate", I'll transcribe the recipe as best I can, but I am prone to inspiration in the kitchen that may have altered the recipe a bit in practice.

Heaven on a Plate:
5 medium zucchini, cut into a large dice
2 tbsp olive oil
French Sea Salt
Toss the diced zucchini in olive oil and sea salt and spread on a baking pan. Place under the broiler, tossing occasionally until the zucchini cubes have a slight golden brown color. Set aside

2 Tbsp Butter
2 cups Arborio rice
3/4 cup chopped shallots
1 tsp dried thyme (use fresh if you have it, I didn't)
5 cups veggie broth ( I used better than bullion, it was goooood)
1 cups white wine
2 tsp. lemon zest
1/2-3/4 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
In a heavy bottomed pan over medium heat, melt the butter and sweat the shallots until they are soft and translucent. Add the rice and stir until the grains are all coated with butter and they become translucent (about 3 minutes). Add the dry thyme (wait until later if you have fresh)
One cup at a time, stir in the vegetable broth waiting until it is fully absorbed. Once the broth is all absorbed, add the wine, one cup at a time. Yeah, it seems like a lot of wine, but it gives it a really nice flavor. At the end of the additions, the risotto should be creamy and slightly fluid with all of the grains of rice fully cooked and tender.
Stir in the lemon zest and the Parmesan cheese.
Fold in the previously cooked zucchini and pat yourself on the back for making a delicious meal.

I like to serve this with baby romaine salad with a nice vinegar-y vinegarette. (a big splash of balsamic, a big spoonful of dijon, a smaller splash of olive oil, a couple grinds of pepper and a few pinches of kosher salt).
And it does a beautiful double duty in lunches. Mine in a tupperware, Big Dog's in a bento box, expertly shaped into bear heads with my spankin' new rice mold.