Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Bronco Beans

My mom used to make this rich bean dish when I was a kid. I hated it. Of course, I wasn't a very adventuresome eater back then--I didn't let my foods touch each other on the plate, much less in a casserole dish.

Now that I am older and more sophisticated, I recognize the simple beauty of a casserole that includes canned beans, bacon and ground beef. Bronco Beans are not low-calorie, low-fat or low- anything else; they are made up of a veritable truckload of carbs. The recipe calls for ketchup and brown sugar. It is lowbrow food at its sloppy finest, so if you are looking for something to serve at a swanky dinner party, do not make this.

If, however, you are having a barbecue or potluck and want to come home with an empty dish, this is a great go-to recipe.

And a small disclaimer: I lost my mother's recipe (sorry, Mom), so this may not be exactly her concoction per se, but it tastes pretty close. I'm sure if I've omitted anything truly important, she'll comment on it.

Bronco Beans

1/2 lb. bacon, cooked and crumbled
1 lb. ground beef, browned with 1 medium onion, diced
1 can pork and beans, undrained
1 can dark red kidney beans, drained
1 can butter beans (or Great northern beans, if you prefer), drained
1/2 c. ketchup
1 c. brown sugar
3 Tbsp. apple cider vinegar
1 tsp. mustard powder

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Combine bacon, beef and onion, pork and beans, kidney beans, and butter beans.

In a separate bowl, thoroughly mix the ketchup, sugar, vinegar, and mustard. Combine with the bean mixture in a large casserole dish.

Cover, and bake for 1 hour.

Serves 8 as a side dish.

Monday, August 27, 2007

Menu-Plan Monday

Nothing fancy this week, just good ol' comfort food. Have a good one!

Monday (lots of men working on our roof today)

Chef Salad

Crock Pot Baked Potatoes

Ravioli with Italian Sausage

Chicken Pasta Salad

Labor Day Weekend
Who the heck knows? Burgers? Brats? Grilled chicken? All of the above?
Potato Salad

Friday, August 24, 2007

Cilantro-Lime Rice and Black Beans

Mixed marriages are tough. To recap, my husband is a country boy and I am a city girl. He likes mushrooms, I think they look like brain matter and taste like dirt. He loves pork, and I am decidedly on the fence. But here's another: I love Qdoba. He does not.

Oh, he'll eat there every once in a while, just to humor me, but I know it's not his favorite.

How I love a Naked Burrito, though--that steaming bowl of cilantro-lime rice, black beans, pico de gallo, adobo chicken, and shredded cheese makes my soul sigh. Ahhhh, comfort.

Who wants to spend the money, though, when we have all of those components at our house? We can feast for pennies on the dollar of what a Qdoba meal for four would cost. So I decided to re-create Naked Burritos at our house, and I must say, the results were astonishing.

It was a little labor intensive, since I made everything from scratch. (Well, mostly: the beans I used were canned black beans, which I doctored with garlic, bay, cayenne, and cumin). I made two kinds of salsa--the pico de gallo salsa for me, and the roasted corn salsa for Abe. I even roasted the corn myself. And I had never made Adobo chicken before, but it was easy and fantastic.
But even with all of that tasty stuff, a Naked Burrito wouldn't be what it is without the fresh simplicity of Cilantro-Lime rice. And it couldn't be easier to prepare!

p.s. The whole meal came together in about 35-40 minutes, so while there are a lot of components to prepare, it still works as a weeknight dinner.

Cilantro-Lime Rice

1 c. basmati rice or other long-grain rice, well-rinsed
2 tsp. olive oil (keeps the rice grains separate a bit better)
1/2 tsp. salt
1 3/4 c. water
3 Tbsp. finely chopped fresh cilantro
2 Tbsp. fresh lime juice

Bring water to boil in a medium saucepan. Add olive oil, rice, and salt. Stir just to make sure the grains are separate, then cover and simmer over low heat for about 17 minutes. While the rice cooks, go find a clean dish towel or a couple paper towels; when the timer goes off for the rice, remove the rice from the heat, remove the lid, place the towel(s) over the pan, and replace the lid. This will catch some of the steam and keep the rice from getting gummy. Let the rice sit for about 10 minutes.

Remove the lid, and fluff the rice a bit to allow any remaining steam to escape.

Toss in cilantro, and drizzle with lime juice. Stir gently, just to combine.

Serves 4 as a side dish.

Today's bonus recipe, which pairs perfectly with the Cilantro-Lime Rice, is Black Beans. Both of these recipes are modified from recipes that appear on a vegan food blog called Nutrition Ambition. I can't take credit for these beans, but there you have it. They are so yum...

Black Beans

1 can black beans, undrained
pinch cayenne
1/2 tsp. ground cumin
1 crushed garlic clove
1 bay leaf

Combine all ingredients. Bring to a boil, then simmer for 10 minutes. Remove the bay leaf and garlic clove before serving. This recipe is easily doubled or tripled as you need!

Sunday, August 19, 2007

Menu-Plan Monday

Well, last week didn't go exactly as planned: we learned early in the week that my great-aunt had passed away, so the menu plan was rearranged to use up the fresh produce I'd already purchased so it didn't rot in the fridge while we traveled to Ohio for the funeral. As a result, you'll see some carry-over ingredients from last week, though I have tried to re-purpose some of them to suit my fickle tastes.

This week, I'm sticking with some comforting favorites. That's okay sometimes, right?

My Aglio e Olio with Roasted Chicken
Green Beans
French Bread (because I do eat carbs)

Naked Burritos

Garlic and Herb Pork Filet
Oven Roasted Potatoes
Glazed Carrots

Chicken Salad Sandwiches
Fruit Compote

Grilled Brats with caramelized onions
Grilled Corn on the Cob
Bronco Beans

Ham and Turkey Club Sandwiches on Brothers' Bread

Recipe to come this week: Bronco Beans

And I'd like to give a big shout out to my Aunt Mary, who promised she'd come by my blogs for a visit. Hope your trip home was uneventful and your dinner party successful!

Monday, August 13, 2007

Glazed Carrots

I first made this dish in college, long before my culinary journey really got underway. Here's the scene: five girls (all from 1st East Olson) and five guys (all from 1st West Wengatz) convene for a night of home cooking and a skit at the nearby home of one of the guys (put on by the girls, the skit was the hilarious yet poignant tale of the five guys' fate in the "Mr. Taylor" competition. More than eleven years later, it still makes me laugh).

The guys were hosting the evening, but the girls were planning it, and each girl was given a task. I don't remember all of the specifics of who did what, but I do remember that Liz and I, who most enjoyed cooking (and probably had a boy we wanted to impress), muscled our way into being the cooks, giving others tasks like "linens" and "table decoration." We made a baked chicken with a teriyaki-like sauce (pineapple juice and soy sauce thickened with a cornstarch slurry), hasselback potatoes, and glazed carrots. Elementary stuff, it was, but if memory serves, it still turned out pretty tasty. One of the guys, no doubt being flattering, even said, "You need to give my mom a cooking lesson." Perhaps an overstatement, Jeremy, but a nice sentiment anyway.

I remember thinking that the carrots were going to be a very bland element of the meal--indeed, none of the meal had real "punch," so I figured something was in order. And for some reason, even though the sauce for the chicken was on the sweet side, I decided to go with a sweet glaze for the carrots, too.

My current recipe varies only slightly from that original dish; back then, I didn't know the joy of steaming vegetables, so those carrots were boiled (and very likely overcooked). And I'm pretty sure I assembled the glaze in a saucepan, but now, I skip that unnecessary dish. But even with those changes, the spirit of the dish is still the same, after all these years: simple, tasty, and satisfying.

p.s. If I had known how things were going to turn out with the guy I was trying to impress, I woudn't have bothered trying to impress him. Then again, my husband loves these carrots, so perhaps it was for the best.

Glazed Carrots

4 large carrots
2 Tbsp. butter (approx.)
1 Tbsp. brown sugar (approx.)
salt and pepper to taste

Peel the carrots, and slice them to uniform thickness (about 1/4 in.), slightly on the diagonal. Slicing on the diagonal increases the surface area and, I believe, speeds up cooking time.

Steam carrots, either in a steamer basket in a pot on the stove, or in an electric rice cooker/steamer. I prefer the electric steamer, finding it a bit more foolproof, but a basket would certainly be a cheaper purchase, if you're looking to break into the world of steaming. Either way, be sure the carrots are not in any way submerged in the water, and steam to desired tenderness. I'm not going to tell you how long this takes, because the time will depend on both the thickness of the carrots and your preferred level of doneness. Just taste one after about 10 minutes and judge from there.

Cut the butter into smaller portions; slices are fine, or a dice. The goal is to get them to melt faster, so as long as it isn't just a huge hunk of butter, you'll be fine.

Place butter and brown sugar in the bottom of a medium bowl. When the carrots are done to your liking, discard the steaming water and dump the carrots into the bowl with the butter and sugar. Toss until the butter is melted and brown sugar is dissolved. Season with salt and pepper as desired, and serve.

*Note: you may also use baby carrots right out of the bag, but they will take a few more minutes to steam. They are just as delicious, though, so if these particular carrots are your millieu, go forth with gusto.

Serves 4.

Menu-Plan Monday

Finally, this week will be a bit cooler--we've been hovering at 90 or so for a few weeks now, and this week, we won't even see a day of 90s. In fact, they tell us Friday's high will be 75 degrees. Aaaah. Sweet relief.

So where, in past weeks, I have truly struggled to put together a menu plan because nothing sounds appetizing in such heat, this week, I feel that I have a renewed interest in food and the cooking thereof. Aaaah. Sweet relief.

Beef and Gravy over noodles
Buttered Steamed Peas

Garlic and Herb Pork filet
Oven Roasted Potatoes
Glazed Carrots

Chicken Parmesan

Grilled chicken salad (with field greens, feta, toasted almonds, strawberries, onions, cucumbers, and a raspberry vinaigrette--this is one of my favorite summer salads)


Saturday (roofing day)
Ham and Turkey Sandwiches on Brothers' Bread
Pasta Salad

Thursday, August 9, 2007

Insalata Caprese (Tomato, Mozzarella, and Basil Salad)

In my husband's family, it is a tradition to get together to celebrate birthdays with a big old stumble-from-the-table-No-please-can-we-wait-for-dessert meal. Part of the tradition is that the birthday boy or girl gets to select the menu, as thoroughly as he or she wishes; perhaps the only request is for Homemade Peach Ice Cream (Lindsay), or Banana Cream Pie (Abe), or perhaps the birthday girl has very specific wishes about every element of the meal (Moriah). Since my summer falls within prime grilling season, I usually ask for Grilled Chicken Kebabs with a fantastic Margarita Marinade. MMMM--good. This year, we're combining my birthday and Lindsay's for a big beach birthday bash. Now, the beach may be good for a lot of things, but it's not a great place to assemble raw chicken into kebabs. Apart from my standard kebabs, I didn't know what to ask for. Lindsay's request was the aforementioned Ice Cream, but I hadn't made any requests until my other sister-in-law, Beth, suggested adding this salad to the menu. When I saw this addition to the list, I made Insalata Caprese (of course, we just call it "That tomato-mozzarella-basil salad") my official birthday request, sealing its position in the birthday feast.

I first had this simple and simply astonishing dish while living with My Aunt Caroline and Uncle Lawrence in Massachusetts. I was fresh out of college, working as a day camp counselor while trying to figure out what to do next. My Aunt Caroline had, at that time, a strict policy about cooking dinner on Fridays: that was, she wouldn't. So regularly, Uncle Lawrence would bring home pizza from Pizzeria Regina or Papa Gino's (I don't recall which at the moment), and we'd feast on good, old-fashioned, greasy, thin-crust pizza. One one particular occasion, though, Aunt Caroline suggested we go out for dinner instead, so we kept with the Italian food theme and headed over to Bertucci's. Bertucci's serves Tuscan-style food--a departure from the food I had traditionally thought as Italian food, food like the rigatoni with meat sauce and hot dog bun garlic bread from Parasson's in Ohio (don't get me wrong--Parasson's was a big and very enjoyable part of my youth, and I'll go there even today). Being from the East Coast, Aunt Caroline and Uncle Lawrence are naturally much more sophisticated eaters than I was at the time, and when they ordered the Caprese Salad, I was timid to try it. It almost seemed too simple. The fresh mozzarella looked a bit...squishy. And I couldn't remember ever having fresh basil before--what on earth would it taste like?

A little slice of heaven, that's what it tasted like.

Meanwhile, in New Jersey, my future roommate-to-be, Beth, was enjoying the same salad. When we moved in together two years later, we both thought we'd introduce the other to this amazing concoction--only to discover that it already held a place on our respective Most Favorite Foods lists. We happily served this salad to guests at our apartment--that is, when it didn't get scarfed up before hitting the table.

I had planned this recipe for a future post, but was prompted by a comment from Gregg to add it now. Great timing, Gregg! Check out his comment on the Apricot-Glazed Pork Chops post. (If you've been reading this blog, you might remember Gregg's mom from my ode to Chicken Salad.)

This is a great salad, but be aware--only the freshest ingredients will make it taste the way nature (or the Italians that invented it) intended. Use fresh, vine-ripened tomatoes (nothing from a greenhouse), fresh basil (not dried), and fresh mozzarella. Not shredded, not sliced--fresh mozzarella has a much softer texture. You might find it in little balls packed in water, called bocconcini. You might just find it in your gourmet cheese case. You probably won't find it near the pre-shredded stuff. Is all this "Fresh ONLY! Or you'll be SORRY!" talk a little food-snobbish? Maybe. But I've tried it with the shortcuts (hothouse tomatoes, shredded mozzarella, dried basil), and it just doesn't hit the mark.

Here it is:

Insalata Caprese

4 medium to large vine-ripened tomatoes, sliced into 1/4-in. slices
1 lb. fresh mozzarella, sliced to similar thickness
1 c. fresh basil leaves, chiffonaded (finely chopped into thin ribbons)
2-3 Tbsp. extra-virgin olive oil
sea salt to taste
freshly ground pepper to taste

Layer tomato and mozzarella slices, in such a way that each tomato slice is accompanied by a slice of mozzarella. You could do this in a fan-like arrangement, or simply in flat layers--I don't think it makes much difference. Season the tomatoes and mozzarella with salt and pepper, sprinkle with basil, then drizzle olive oil over all.

*To chiffonade, stack basil leaves and roll into a log. Slice through the log to produce these fine, ribbon-like pieces of basil.
*Some people also use vinegar on this salad. You may if you wish, but my understanding is that vinegar tends to "toughen" the mozzarella and "wilt" the tomatoes, so I usually refrain.

Wednesday, August 8, 2007

Apricot-Glazed Pork Chops

They say opposites attract, and I'm inclined to believe it's true. My husband grew up on a 5-acre farm; I grew up on a (roughly speaking) .05-acre city plot. His family raised beef cattle, chickens, and turkeys; mine raised dogs and cats (indoor only). He loves his country music; I love it when he turns off his country music. And most significantly for this post, he grew up eating pork; I did not.

No, we were a chicken-and-beef sort of family. Thanks to my mom, I can cook chicken eight ways to Sunday. (What does that mean?) Or give me a pound of ground beef, and I'll sling it into a delectable melange of flavors and colors the likes of which you have never seen (because I just made it up). Chicken! and Beef! How much more versatile can you get?

But pork...pork is...hmmmm. I grew up believing that pork is the other white meat. And I mean other in a pejorative sense, as in: "That pork is from the other side of the tracks." No good. Risky. Definitely Not To Be Associated With. You know the type.

My dear pork-eating husband revealed to me some time ago that his favorite animal to eat (doesn't that sound lovely?) is pig: "Think about it," he said. "Ham. Bacon. Sausage. Pork chops. Pork roast. I love all of those things!" Inwardly, I cringed. I like ham, bacon, and sausage as much as the next girl, but I don't want to cook pork chops or roasts, I thought. Pork is evil, isn't it? Bland? Dry?

But I love him, and I want him to be happy. (He also likes mushrooms, and I won't cook them for him anymore, but that's a story for another post.) So I buy pork and cook it. I know it's all psychological, but I don't love the flavor of it, so my favorite pork to cook is pork smothered in sauce or covered in spices, and he doesn't seem to mind that. Heck, a few weeks ago I even overcooked some pork chops, and my, my, were they dry. But I covered them in a tasty sauce, and my hubby ate them all with gusto and delight, none the wiser.

At any rate, every time I prepare pork chops or pork medallions, as I plan to do tonight, I search allrecipes.com or myrecipes.com for a "glazed pork chop" recipe that looks appetizing to me. Inevitably, I wade through many in search of something that doesn't have "balsamic" in the title, and wouldn't you know it? I've selected this recipe on more than one occasion. So it must be good.

Apricot-Glazed Pork Chops

1/4 teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon black pepper
4 (4-ounce) boneless center-cut loin pork chops (about 1/2 inch thick) (or you can use a pork tenderloin cut into 1/2-in.-thick medallions)
1 teaspoon olive oil
1/3 cup apricot preserves
1/3 cup Riesling or other slightly sweet white wine
1/4 tsp. ground ginger

Heat olive oil in a large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat; add pork. Cook 2 minutes on each side or until browned. Remove pork from pan, and keep warm. Season with salt and pepper.

Warm preserves in microwave (approx. 20 seconds on high) to thin. Combine preserves, wine, and ginger in a small bowl, stirring with a whisk. Add preserves mixture to pan; simmer 4 minutes or until mixture thickens. Return pork to pan; cook 1 minute, turning to coat.

Serves 4.

adapted from Cooking Light, APRIL 2005

Monday, August 6, 2007

Menu-Plan Monday

Here's what's on the menu for this very hot week.

Steak with brown butter sauce
Garden Salad
Green Beans Amandine

Fried Chicken (purchased)
Cheesy Broccoli Rice

Pork Tenderloin Medallions
Baked Potatoes

Crock Pot Chicken


Shredded Italian Beef Sandwiches
Potato Salad

Beach day; I'm guessing we'll grill brats and make peach ice cream, among other things...

Wednesday, August 1, 2007

Chicken Salad with Grapes

When I was a Junior in High School, I was hanging with a bunch of youth group friends at the Nagel's house--Gregg was a Junior, too, and Amanda was, I think, a freshman. Brad was still an annoying little punk. Now everybody is all grown up and married with families and careers and stuff--how time flies. It should take longer to get old.

Anyway, Gregg's mom, Shirley, is a very good cook. She had already introduced me to the wonderful world of Quesadillas, but on this particular day, she opened a much more significant door for me--the door to Chicken Salad.

It looked funny; it had chicken and celery, but also...grapes? And mayonnaise? Gross! Naturally, never having tasted any sort of chicken salad, I was skeptical, and curious why anyone would combine these ingredients, much less enjoy them. But I took some to be polite ('cause that's how my mama raised me), and I'm glad I did--it was a taste sensation. I'm pretty sure I went back for seconds and thirds, probably rearranging the remaining salad so it didn't look as if I had just eaten half of it. Which I had.

I didn't ask for the recipe, but over the years, I've developed two Chicken Salad recipes of my own. This particular recipe, while it's not Shirley's, at least channels her chicken-salad-making spirit. It's a very summery combination of chicken, celery, onions, seedless red grapes, and a tangy dressing. I hope you enjoy it as I did so many (many, many) years ago.

Chicken Salad with Grapes

3 c. diced cooked chicken
1/2 c. diced celery
1/4 c. minced onion
1 c. red seedless grapes, halved
1/3 c. mayonnaise
1-1 1/2 tsp. lemon juice
1 tsp. Paula Deen's House seasoning (recipe follows)
1 Tbsp. dried parsley

Combine the chicken, celery, onion, and grapes.

In a separate bowl, combine remaining ingredients, mixing well.

Thoroughly combine dressing with chicken mixture, and chill at least 1 hour before serving. Serve on bread or rolls as a sandwich or over greens for a lovely salad. Serves 4.

Paula Deen's House Seasoning

1 c. salt
1/4 c. ground black pepper
1/4 c. garlic powder

Mix well, and store in an airtight container. Useful for seasoning just about anything!

Menu-Plan Monday (on Wednesday)

One of my dearest life-long friends, Stephanie, visited us this week--in fact, she just left.I didn't take time to post my menu plan (and also, come to think of it, didn't actually have a connection to the internet until Tuesday), but I did have one... and here it is.

Crock Pot Western-Style Ribs
Baked Potatoes
Corn on the Cob

(Steph and I ate out, but on Monday I also made some Chicken Salad, so maybe they ate that? They're still thriving, so they must have taken some nourishment, but I took the night off, so I'm not going to worry about it...)

Tacos/Taco Salad
Yellow Rice
Black Beans

Sweet and Sour Meatballs
Basmati Rice
Pan-fried Green Beans with Sesame

Pulled Pork Sandwiches
Bacon Ranch Pasta Salad with peas
Steamed Broccoli

Leftovers, etc. The guys will work on Friday instead of Saturday this week, so I won't actually have to cook on Saturday! We will just be raiding the fridge for scraps...