Friday, January 30, 2009

Dinner for a Super Hero

I am married to a Super Hero. I had no idea. I knew that he works hard to provide for us. I knew that he tries hard to make me happy and not disappoint me, but I had no idea that he possessed super human powers. It took an everyday matter that was scored with bad luck in only the way that my appliance purchases can be (which reminds me that someday I need to share the dramatic story of the purchase of my new range) for me to recognize the extent of my hubby's talents and devotion.

Our 20 year old washer died the other day. There was a small debate about purchasing locally or making a trip to the big city. It was pretty easily decided that having the local service available would be beneficial, and after a couple of phone calls and a little online research, I made a quick trip to an area business. The front window of the store was quite alluring with a beautiful red washer and dryer. I was incredibly tempted. I have written before about my infatuation with RED and my collection of red dishes, Kitchenaid, LeCrueset, shoes, scarves, iPod, (former) phone, and just about anything else in a crimson shade.

Red is a brilliant color, but considering that we only purchase new appliances every 20 years or so, was it right for my laundry room? Would I love it today, but a few years from now walk down the basement stairs and cringe as I would if I saw an avocado refrigerator of the 1970s? I still have some 80s hunter green in my upstairs bathroom, but that can be repainted when I have the time and energy. A red washer and dryer would be for keeps, for eternity, or so it would seem when I got tired of them.

So it was decided that I would order the dull, boring white version of the beautiful red washer and dryer. It would take almost a week for them to arrive, and a mountain of laundry would accumulate in that time, but that is just the way things go out here on the prairie. Purchases are seldom instantaneous.

The day of the appliances' arrival came. I called the store to confirm and was surprised to be told that they didn't know if the washer and dryer were there, or not. Huh? How do you not know if 2 big boxes are there? This should have been my first clue of how things were going. I should have known that my track record for appliance purchases was not improving. I should have just went back to bed and waited for the storm to pass. However, I didn't. I foolishly forged ahead with multiple phone calls until it was confirmed that the appliances were in the store, but could not be delivered that day. Ugh.

Hubby decided to step in and save the day by picking up and installing the washer and dryer himself. Great news, right? A seasoned DIYer, he had easily moved and installed our last set when we moved into this house. No problem, right? Hindsight tells us now that all future appliance purchases will include delivery, even if it means waiting until pigs fly. In my mind, flying pigs are infinitely better than what happened next.

There were high wind warnings that day, and my email inbox was full of weather alerts. The trees were whipping back and forth with the 50 mph gusts. But, living on the prairies of SD, wind is an every day occurrence. Unfazed, Hubby set out to the store, and the appliances were loaded into the box of his pickup. He has a toolbox that sits directly behind the cab, but there was still room to first load the dryer and strap it in, then the washer was securely tied into place. He set off down the road to return home, but travelled at a snails' pace as the winds hit the tall boxes in the back of his truck.

He had no clue that my bad appliance luck was going to slap him in the face. He was shocked and heartsick as a semi passed him on this windy day and SUCKED THE DRYER RIGHT OUT OF THE BACK OF HIS PICKUP. It did somersaults on the highway before coming to rest in the lane of traffic. Pigs didn't fly. My dryer did.

I was doing some last minute laundry room cleaning in order to be prepared for the arrival of my brand spanking new appliances when the phone rang. Hubby was quiet. He told me that he had some bad news. Given that he is a known prankster, I didn't panic at this moment, but did hold my breath as he revealed that the dryer had bounced on the highway. I couldn't help it. I sobbed.

When he arrived home, we were silent, and I fought back tears as we assessed the damage. The frame was obviously twisted, the side panels were dented, and the plastic front was cracked and broken. The glass door was miraculously still intact, though. Hubby insisted that I call the store and inquire about a new dryer. I hesitated about making a second thousand dollar purchase, but placed the call and learned that the closest dryer of the same make, model, and color was in Mankato and would take over another week to arrive. I put that thought on hold and went back outside to the mangled mess in the driveway.

At this point, Hubby had seen all he could stand of the dryer. He was pulling the cardboard packing from the washer and asked me to help him maneuver it into the house. Holy buckets of washer parts! I could shove my old washer around the basement all on my own. This new front load machine is heeeaavy, something-is-going-to-burst-in-a-place-that-I-never-knew-I-had heavy . We shoved, and pushed, and even with the handcart, could barely shift the thing into the basement entry of the house. My husband may be big and burly, but I am a wimp. I couldn't offer enough assistance to get the machine down our steep, old house basement stairs. We were forced to move it back into the driveway to sit forlornly in the snow.

Feeling very discouraged, our focus moved back to the dryer. Some discussion determined that it would be worth a try to move it into the house and see if it worked. What would we be out? Any glimmer of hope was better than the total loss we seemed to be looking at. The earlier flying act had proven that the dryer was obviously much, much lighter, and a few minutes and grunts later, we had it sitting in the middle of my now empty laundry room. Packing material fully removed, and electrical cord installed, we plugged it in, and held our breath as I pressed the power button. The drum turned. Heat vented out the back. It seemed to work, except for a bang, bang, bang as the rotating drum rubbed against the bent side panel. The electronics that allowed the dryer to function had not been damaged.

This is when Hubby's super powers started to come alive. He began to take apart the dryer, screw by screw, panel by panel, piece by broken, bent, twisted, and seemingly destroyed piece. Soon the dryer was in piles on the floor of the laundry room floor. I covered my ears as Hubby used a rubber mallet to pound the distorted pieces of metal back into shape. I stayed out of his way as he delicately used a heat gun and epoxy to mold the plastic front and glue it back into one piece. Several hours later, I celebrated when he stepped aside to reveal a dryer that looked nothing like the piece of junk that had been unloaded in my driveway. It wasn't exactly good as new, but to me, it appeared perfect. Yes, you can see a few dimples where the mallet was a little rambunctious, and there is no way to hide the cracks in the face around the controls, but it doesn't look bad, and most importantly, it works. My husband, the Super Hero, saved the day. Again, I cried.

Our tears were mostly dried by the time friends stopped by later that evening to help move the washer into place. Their muscles maneuvered it easily, and the empty test load was already running when they bid us a good night. Hubby was emotionally and physically exhausted (yes, that happens with super heroes, too), but I was still full of nervous energy and cleaned, rearranged, and reorganized the laundry room and did 4 loads of laundry before turning in for the night. When Hubby awoke the next morning, I could joyfully report that both appliances worked superbly.

Of course, if you know me, you know that I tend to show my appreciation with food. So...what does one feed a Super Hero? Whatever he requests, of course. My Super Hero has a thing for Asian food and particularly loves my homemade egg rolls. It is a recipe created by a friend and tweaked to suit things I have on hand and our tastes. They are not difficult, but for some reason, I just don't make the effort that often. The next evening, I brushed off the recipe and made the night of my Super Hero. Paired with Egg Drop Soup, it was heaven on the plate for him. In fact, of the dozen egg rolls that I created, Hubby ate 7 at that dinner and also devoured 3 servings of the soup. Yes, my Super Hero is also a bit of a pig, but he is mine, and you have no idea how much I appreciate all that he does for me.

My Take On Riff's Egg Rolls

1 lb ground pork (I use Jimmy Dean Sausage)
1 large onion, chopped
6 tablespoons garlic, minced
1-2 teaspoon fresh ginger
2-3 tablespoons Spicy Sweet Thai Chile Sauce
2 packages of coleslaw salad mix (shredded cabbage and carrots)
salt and pepper
25 egg roll wraps

Brown the meat in a large pan, breaking into small crumbles.
Add onion, garlic, ginger, and season with salt and pepper.
Stir in the chile sauce and coat all ingredients well.
Remove from heat and stir in coleslaw mix.
Drain this mixture VERY WELL. As Riff says, "moisture is you enemy in this recipe."
Place in a colander with a plate on top and a weight to press out the liquid.
Stir occasionally in the colander to release additional moisture and allow to cool completely.
To wrap the egg rolls, lay the wrapper so that one point is towards you.
Put about about 3 tablespoons of mixture across the wrapper.
At this point, you may want to add a bit of cilantro, green onion, chopped hot pepper, if desired...make it your own.
Fold the point that is pointing at you up over the mixture.
Now fold the corner on the right over that, now the point on the left and begin to roll till you get to the end.
Moisten the last point and finish the roll.
(At this point, you may freeze individually on a cookie sheet covered with plastic wrap, then place in freezer bags.)
To cook immediately, place in hot fryer (350 degrees) and cook until golden.
You may have to rotate the egg rolls to brown all sides in the fryer.
Enjoy with Sweet and Sour Sauce and/or Soy Sauce. (Makes 24-25 egg rolls

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Point and Shoot

I am just a point and shoot photographer. In fact, I shrink away at the thought of being called a photographer at all. I use my simple (and inexpensive) Canon PowerShot A550 to snap quick pictures of the food that I prepare. I have no fancy equipment, my props are my napkins and flatware, and I after the camera is put away, I actually eat what is on my plate.

I have always said that my main focus is the food, and the photos are just an afterthought. However, today I had to admit that there has been a slight shift in my focus. I cook a lot. I average 4 or 5 new (to me) recipes a week, but my posts here are limited to those dishes for which I have photos. I think that a visual is important to convey the appeal of the recipe. People eat first with their eyes.

And so, today it was 3pm and I found myself preparing dinner. No, we were not going to become a part of the Early Bird Diners Club. It was a beautiful, sunshiny day, and I wanted to take advantage of the good light to photograph a Cooking Light recipe that had made it to tonight's menu. I knew that we wouldn't eat until at least 6pm, if not later, but I thought that the meal could easily be reheated. I was crossing the line of having the meal be my focus. Photos were moving up in my priorities.

Some would argue that this shift is perfectly acceptable in my winter tundra. Lighting suitable for photography (at least the photography that I practice) is gone by 4:30pm. If I want to share the heartier meals that are usually reserved for dinner, I must compensate and compromise. I am not sure. Even if my reasoning is for a good cause, is it OK to let the photos sneak ahead of the food? Or, have they? We still savored a rich, but vibrant meal, even though it was reheated. The food did not go to waste, and Hubby has already claimed the leftovers for his breakfast in the morning. I guess that I am not going to fuss about it. Pointing and shooting my camera at the plated food has become as much of a part of meal preparations as chopping, stirring, and simmering. It is still about the food.

And, speaking of food...Gnocchi with Chicken Sausage, Bell Pepper, Onions, and Fennel was the dish that lured me to the kitchen this afternoon. It truly was worth the effort, although it wasn't difficult to prepare at all. We have a favorite spinach and garlic chicken sausage purchased from Sam's Club that are incredible. Paired with the bright, but earthy flavors of red peppers, fennel, and onions, it is all a good balance with the hearty potato dumplings and just the hint of Asiago cheese. To reheat the dish, I saved another 1/2 cup or so of the pasta water and added that to the ingredients and brought to a simmer before adding just a bit more grated cheese. It worked perfectly and if Hubby hadn't witnessed the early prep, he never would have known. Even after an early point and shoot session, Gnocchi with Chicken Sausage, Bell Pepper, Onions, and Fennel is a winner On My Plate.

Gnocchi with Chicken Sausage, Bell Pepper, Onions, and Fennel

1 (16-ounce) package vacuum-packed gnocchi
2 teaspoons olive oil, divided
6 ounces chicken sausage, casing removed and sliced (I used 3 sausages)
1 cup thinly sliced fennel
1 cup thinly sliced red bell pepper
1 cup thinly sliced onion
1/2 cup freshly grated Asiago cheese
1/8 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
2 tablespoons chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley

Cook the gnocchi according to package directions.
Drain the gnocchi in a colander over a bowl, reserving 1/4 cup cooking liquid.
Heat 1 teaspoon olive oil in large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat.
Add sausage to pan; saute 3 minutes or until lightly browned.
Remove sausage from skillet using a slotted spoon.
Heat remaining 1 teaspoon oil in pan.
Add fennel, bell pepper, and onion to pan; cook 13 minutes or until tender, stirring occasionally.
Add sausage, gnocchi, cheese, black pepper, and reserved cooking liquid to pan; cook 1 minute or until cheese melts, stirring constantly.
Remove from heat; stir in parsley. (Serves 4)

Monday, January 26, 2009

Eggs for Dinner

I am home alone tonight, and supper was simple. I decided that this post should be the same. No long story, no ambiguous tie-in, just an egg sandwich created with a nod to a similar Food Network recipe. It was simple, but incredible. Easy can be outstanding. In around just 15 minutes, I can land a Bistro Egg Sandwich On My Plate.

Bistro Egg Sandwiches

6 tablespoons butter, at room temperature
1 to 2 teaspoons Dijon mustard
1 to 2 teaspoons anchovy paste
1 baguette, cut into 4 pieces, each halved lengthwise
4 large eggs
kosher salt and fresh ground black pepper
12 thin slices (shaved) smoked ham
8 thin slices Swiss cheese
1 cup frisee or other greens
snipped chives, for garnish

Preheat broiler to high.
Mix 4 tablespoons butter with the mustard and anchovy paste until smooth.
Spread the anchovy butter on the cut sides of the bread; place buttered side up on a baking sheet and broil until toasted, 1-2 minutes. (Watch carefully to prevent burning.)
Melt the remaining butter in a large skillet over medium-high heat.
Add the eggs; season with salt and pepper and let cook until the yolks just begin to firm (but are still runny) and the edges are slightly crisp, about 3 minutes.
Assemble the sandwiches with toasted baguette, 3 slices of ham, egg, snipped chives, greens, and 2 slices of cheese; top with remaining baguette. (Serves 4)

Friday, January 23, 2009

A Modern Buffalo Hunt

Some time ago, I joined the social networking site, Twitter. Throughout my day, I connect with others by submitting small tidbits of my life. The tweets are only 140 characters and can include anything from what I am cooking for dinner, a question for which I am seeking an answer, excitement or outrage over an event, chit chat with another Tweep, or just a random, mundane thought. I even enrolled with TwitPic in order to submit photos when words fail me.

Through Twitter, I have come into contact with other South Dakotans with whom my path might not have crossed. One of these fellow Tweeps is TankaBar, a Native American Natural Foods producer. After several months of exchanging sporadic comments, my food curious self became interested in sampling a Tanka Bar. I checked out the website for the buffalo and cranberry energy bar, found that a store in a neighboring town carried the product, and planned to make a stop on my next trip out of town. However after the hour drive to the Main Street shop, I found it closed.

Now, this is where the story would have ended or been hit with a "to be continued" notice prior to my Twittering days. My quest for the Tanka Bar would have been put on hold until the next road trip. Not so in these technologically charged days. I fired off a Twitter text message to TankaBar asking about locations in the next town in my path. Unfortunately, while Twitter is a real-time service, few users are glued to their computer screens all the time. TankaBar did reply with 2 options in the next town, but I had already passed those suppliers on the way to my final destination.

He was not deterred. Soon, I had text messages rolling in with a variety of store locations carrying the Tanka Bar product in the city to which I was heading. As luck would have it, a couple of the businesses were even already on my list for other errands. With this generous help from a fellow Twitter user, my hunt would be over. The Tanka Bar could and would be mine. True to Twitter spirit, when I finally did make the much sought after purchase, I quickly snapped a photo with my phone and uploaded through TwitPic with the simple statement, "Mission accomplished."

Throughout all of this, other Tweeps were watching the exchange between TankaBar and myself. I was hit with requests for a review of the turkey-and-cranberry-sauce-with-a-jerky-kick snack. The outstanding customer service peaked interests, and more Tanka Bars were sold to new customers. You can't buy advertising like that. Interactive, personalized service through what is considered by many to be a highly self-centered micro-blogging source? Yes. This is the modern way to hunt buffalo.

My epic search across the prairie for the buffalo of the Tanka Bar brought ground buffalo to mind the next time I prepared my favorite meatballs for a simple spaghetti dinner. Why not use this lean meat in place of my usual ground beef? The meatballs already include spinach, and substituting the buffalo gives them another boost of healthfulness. I tried the new combination, and found it to be quite good. Actually, drenched in the Italian seasoned sauce, I don't think anyone would suspect the ground meat switch. The texture and flavor is quite similar to "normal" meatballs. I don't always have ground buffalo on hand, but believe that it is worth the pursuit for another meatball option. If you don't feel up to the chase,no worries; these meatballs never go wrong with ground beef. No Twitter necessary to land Spinach Meatballs On My Plate.

Spinach Meatballs

1 lb lean ground beef or ground buffalo
1 (10 ounce) frozen chopped spinach, thawed and drained well
1 egg, beaten
1 teaspoon onion powder
1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
1/3 cup Italian seasoned breadcrumbs
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon pepper
1 (10 1/2 ounce) jar prepared spaghetti sauce (or your favorite homemade)
8 ounces uncooked pasta
grated Parmesan cheese

Preheat oven to 350°F.
Combine ground beef, spinach, egg, onion powder, garlic powder, bread crumbs, salt & pepper.
Mix all ingredients well and form into small meatballs.
Place meatballs on jelly roll pan and place into preheated oven; bake for 40-50 minutes.
While meatballs are cooking, prepare pasta according to package directions, drain and keep warm.
In a large skillet or sauce pan, heat spaghetti sauce.
When meatballs are fully cooked, remove from oven and place in sauce.
Simmer on medium heat 6-8 minutes.
Serve meatballs and sauce over cooked pasta.
Top with grated Parmesan cheese. (Serves 4)

Thursday, January 22, 2009

I Smell Summertime In My Backyard

Today's temps hit the 50s, and the sun stayed high in the sky and shone brightly. Even the winds were calm, making it an absolutely picture perfect day. It was like summertime in the middle of January as kids shed their coats and ran the streets in just T-shirts. I bet if I would have looked hard enough, I could have even found some brave souls in shorts.

I didn't take it that far. I ran my errands in a long sleeved T-shirt, but jeans were a better choice for me (and everyone) with my pasty, winter, white legs. I couldn't, however, resist the lure of the grill. Beautiful, clear January days like this don't happen that often on the prairie. It was time to light the charcoal.

Strip steaks only need a rub with our favorite steak seasoning before being placed over the coals. Potatoes are a standard side, but that seemed to cling to the heaviness of winter. This unseasonably warm day required that I pull out a variation of a lighter side dish that is very popular with us during the summer months. Garden fresh herbs and vegetables always make a sauteed veggie side dish that is full of flavor. However, since gardening is still months away, canned tomatoes make an appearance but don't disappoint one bit in a Zucchini and Tomato Toss.

Of course, I couldn't serve a meal here in the heartland without the required starch, and since potatoes were dropped, My Favorite Cheesy Garlic Bread is mandatory. It pairs perfectly with the steaks and vegetables to round out a hearty meal, but the topping could easily be spread on baguette slices and toasted as an appetizer or served with a green salad for an incredible lunch.

The coals of the grill are ready, and my backyard smells like summertime. I am ready for a first-rate summer dinner in January to land On My Plate.

Zucchini and Tomato Toss

1 large fresh zucchini, sliced
1 medium onion, chopped
1 clove garlic, minced
olive oil
seasoning salt
fresh ground pepper
1 can diced tomatoes with Italian seasonings
fresh basil
fresh oregano
grated Parmesan cheese

Heat oil in a saute pan.
Saute the onion until tender, add garlic.
Add the sliced zucchini and cook until tender-crisp.
Season to taste with seasoning salt and fresh ground pepper.
Add the tomatoes and herbs; simmer a few minutes for the flavors to meld.
Remove from heat and serve with Parmesan cheese on top. (Serves 4)

My Favorite Cheesy Garlic Bread

1 loaf French bread, thickly sliced or halved lengthwise
olive oil
6 cloves garlic, minced
3/4 cup mayonnaise
1 cup grated Parmesan cheese
fresh parsley, chopped for garnish

Slice or halve the bread and brush one side of slices, or cut side of halves, with olive oil.
Place the bread under the broiler to toast. Watch closely and remove before too browned.
Mix the garlic, mayonnaise, and Parmesan together.
Spread on toasted bread.
Return bread to under the broiler until the topping is bubbly and slightly browned.
Garnish with parsley. (Serves 8)

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Cauliflower and Politics

I don't often speak of politics. In fact, this may be the only slightly political submission that I will ever make to this record of my menus with a little life thrown in. Take it; leave it. Agree; disagree. As always, in the United States of America, the choice is up to you.

Yesterday's inauguration of our 44th president was a historic event that seems to have unleashed a new stream of hatred among those not in favor of Barack Obama's political platform. The nature of this great land is to allow us all our own points of view and the right to express them. We don't have to agree, but we do have to work together. From the statements of many, I think that the work together part is forgotten. I hear much venom. All believe that they have sound reasoning behind their belittling and degrading statements. However, venom is venom. It doesn't matter on which side of the issues you stand, how wrong you may think your opponent is, or what power you feel is behind you, ugliness is ugliness. A good leader will listen to the people, but what value can come from venom? As I see it, if you want to help the country, you don't do it by being ugly. Take it; leave it. Agree; disagree. The choice and more importantly, the action is up to you.

Now, since the main purpose of my blog is to share the food that I have enjoyed, here is a recipe for a very simple, but good Cauliflower and Cheddar Cheese Soup. I found it while flipping through an issue of Fine Cooking, and immediately knew that with my love of sharp cheddar, and my Hubby's love of cauliflower, it would be a satisfying meal for us. By the way, I should point out that I believe cauliflower to be a lacking vegetable while Hubby can't stop singing its praises, but we have chosen to agree to disagree about this. No need for venom and ugliness.

Cauliflower and Cheddar Cheese Soup

Kosher salt
1/2 head cauliflower (about 1 lb.), cut into 1-1/2-inch florets
2 Tbs. unsalted butter
1 medium yellow onion, diced
1 medium clove garlic, minced
2 Tbs. all-purpose flour
1/4 tsp. freshly grated nutmeg
1/8 tsp. cayenne
2 cups chicken broth
1/2 cup heavy cream
3 sprigs fresh thyme
4 cups grated sharp or extra-sharp white Cheddar (about 14 oz.)
Freshly ground black pepper

Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil.
Boil the cauliflower until tender. Drain and let cool slightly.
Trim the stems from 18 of the cauliflower pieces and cut the crowns into mini florets about 1/2 inch wide; set aside.
Reserve the trimmed stems with the remaining larger pieces.
Melt the butter in a 4-quart saucepan over medium-low heat.
Add the onion and 1/4 tsp. salt and cook, stirring frequently, until soft.
Add the garlic and cook until the aroma subsides.
Increase the heat to medium, add the flour, nutmeg, and cayenne and cook for 3 minutes, stirring constantly.
Whisk in the broth, cream, and 2 cups water.
Add the thyme and bring to a simmer.
Stir in the cheese until melted and simmer for 5 minutes to develop the flavors.
Remove and discard the thyme stems and stir in the larger cauliflower pieces and reserved stems.
Purée the soup, season with salt and black pepper to taste.
Add the mini cauliflower florets and reheat gently before serving.(Serves 6-8)

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Rooting for a Copycat

This morning, I had a root canal. Honestly, it was a simple and almost painless procedure. I actually felt as if I spent more time in the waiting room than in the dental chair. Afterward, I took the recommended hefty dosage of ibuprofen and promptly crashed into an incredibly restful nap. I was still free of any major discomfort when I awoke and found myself feeling as if I would be missing out on something if I didn't take the opportunity to go out in the "Big City."

I hadn't made plans because I was unsure of how I would feel after my rendezvous with the dentist. I didn't want to burden any friends with my whining because let's face it, it is no newsflash that I can be a whiner when I don't feel well. I had thought it best just to be on my own. With Advil keeping my whining at bay, I grabbed my phone and made a call.

Luckily, a friend was up for a last minute dinner out. In less than half an hour, we were sitting at a local establishment sipping a glass of wine and catching up on our lives. When the waitress asked for our order, we had been chatting so much that I hadn't even bothered to look at the menu. It didn't matter. I quickly selected an entree that I have enjoyed on previous occasions. Jalapeno Garlic Tilapia is a spicy dish served over angel hair pasta. The fish is mild and flaky, but the creamy sauce makes your mouth burn with the pleasure of the jalapenos. This spicy tilapia is even brought into the lunch menu in the form of a panini. I have sampled that several times, as well, and am always extremely happy with the choice. In fact, I like it so well that I have developed my own copycat version of the recipe. No need to schedule a root canal and make the 3 hour drive to the "Big City." I now can make and enjoy a Jalapeno Garlic Tilapia Panini to land On My Plate any time, friends and wine always welcome.

Jalapeno Garlic Tilapia Panini

4 tilapia fillets
1 cup Club crackers, finely crushed
1/4 teaspoon fresh ground black pepper
1 egg, beaten
1 tablespoon butter
1 small jalapeno, finely diced
1 garlic clove, minced
1 1/2 tablespoons flour
1 cup chicken broth
1/4 cup sour cream
8 slices hearty country Italian bread
2 tablespoons olive oil or butter
2 roma tomatoes, sliced thinly
8 slices provolone cheese

For the tilapia:
Crush crackers and combine with pepper.
Dip fish fillets into beaten egg, and then coat with cracker crumbs.
Fry in 350 degree oil until breading is golden and fish flakes easily.
Remove to an oven-proof plate in a warm oven.
For the sauce:
Melt butter on low heat. Add jalapeño and garlic. Sauté until jalapeño is softened, but be careful not to burn garlic.
Add flour and stir while heating about a minute.
Add chicken broth and cook stirring until sauce thickens. Stir in sour cream.
Set aside until ready to assemble the panini's.
For the panini:
Preheat panini grill.
Brush one side of each slice of bread with olive oil or spread with butter.
Assemble sandwiches with oiled/buttered side of bread to the outside, layering provolone cheese, sliced tomatoes, tilapia fillet, cream sauce and final slice of bread.
Place sandwich on grill.
Grill until bread is toasted and the cheese has melted. (Serves 4)
(To create the Jalapeno Garlic Tilapia with angel hair pasta, skip the breading of the fish and pan sear; double the sauce; add a handful of baby spinach leaves to the boiling pasta, just to wilt; layer pasta on the plate, then tilapia fillet, and top with sauce; garnish with chopped and seeded tomatoes and a grating of Parmesan cheese.)

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Wrap It Up

I am not a fan of gift bags. I do use them on occasion, but am never satisfied with their presentation. I would rather wrap a gift with glossy paper and tie it up with pretty ribbon. During the holidays, I usually set aside one evening just to sit on the floor surrounded by twinkling Christmas lights, piles of unwrapped gifts, rolls of wrapping paper, and streamers of gorgeous ribbon. I find great satisfaction and comfort in the rhythmic process of measuring, cutting, taping, and finally finishing off each gift with my hand-tied bows. It is better than any therapy for me.

This past holiday season, I found myself falling back on the wrap method for some super easy appetizers. With just a couple ingredients, I created nibbles for parties and gatherings that were just as appealing to the palate as to the eye.

Asparagus Spirals are just what they appear to be. Strips of puff pastry are wrapped around fresh stalks of the elegant vegetable. A sprinkling of grated Parmesan cheese and some fresh cracked pepper add another pop of flavor. This recipe has been around for ages, and some variations include wrapping prosciutto with the puff pastry. I was reminded of it after seeing it in the holiday issue of Everyday With Rachael Ray. Their photo showed perfectly plump tips of asparagus, but mine got a little overdone while trying to brown the pastry. However, they still had a great roasted asparagus.

Asparagus Spirals

2 tablespoons Parmesan cheese, grated
1 sheet puff pastry
15 asparagus spears
fresh ground black pepper

Sprinkle 1 thawed puff pastry sheet with grated Parmesan, then cut lengthwise into 15 strips.
Wrap each of 15 asparagus spears with a pastry strip.
Season with pepper.
Bake in a 400 degree oven until golden, about 20 minutes. (15 appetizers)

Olive Puffs are also just as simple. Use your favorite olives: Queen, Spanish, Garlic, Jalapeno, or Bleu Cheese stuffed, any will work. If you don't want to make a full batch, save the small strips of pastry left after wrapping the asparagus and twist them around the olives. The saltiness of the olives intensifies with the heat of the oven, and makes this appetizer a savory lovers delight.

Olive Puffs

24 olives
1 (17 1/4 ounce) package puff pastry

Preheat oven to 400 degrees F.
Cut puff pastry into strips about 6 inches long and 1/2 inch wide.
Wrap each olive with a strip of pastry.
Place on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper.
Bake for 20 minutes, or until golden brown. (Serves 12)

Finally, Salami and Wonton Wraps are the simplest of all. Puff pastry involves a little planning ahead to defrost before baking. Hard salami and wontons wrappers can be standard ingredients in the fridge (with fairly long expiration dates). I can wrap up a tray of these in minutes, with no advanced notice, and seem like the hostess with the mostest. A dipping sauce can be offered on the side, such as mustard or even marinara. However, with a good salami, I think that they are perfect served just as is, and even wonderful at room temperature.

Salami and Wonton Wraps

1 (16 ounce) package wonton wrappers
1/2 lb thinly sliced hard salami, from the deli

Lay wonton skin on table so that a corner is toward you.
Place slice of salami on the skin.
Roll up like a cigar from corner to corner, moisten tip of wonton with a little water to help hold together.
Place on a cookie sheet seam side down.
Bake at 375 for about 10 minutes or until they turn lightly golden. (Serves 4-6)

Sharing wrapped gifts is a joyous part my holidays. Sharing wrapped appetizers can be a joyous event any time and any season with recipes and ideas as simple as these. I want to wrap it up and get it On My Plate and yours.

Monday, January 12, 2009

Ye Ole Sandwich Shoppe

Sunday seemed to be sandwich day here. After preparing the New York Breakfast sandwiches for our brunch, I then decided that a steak sandwich would be just the ticket for dinner. I wasn't into the Philly version loaded with onions, peppers, and cheese. I wanted something more simple, with bold flavors and a few fresh veggies. A recipe borrowed from Rachael Ray fit my desires.

Rachael is known for simple recipes, and Grilled Steak on Bleu Cheese Biscuits couldn't be easier. The biscuits start with a mix, and the marinade for the steak only takes 10 minutes. Thin slices of fresh onion and tomato add lightness, and a dollop of sour cream balances the boldness of the flavor of the bleu cheese. It's the kind of sandwich that makes your mouth crave another bite. Served with Roasted Green Beans for a complete meal, nobody will be complaining about a sandwich supper when Grilled Steak on Bleu Cheese Biscuits lands On My Plate.

Grilled Steak on Bleu Cheese Biscuits

3 cloves garlic, minced
2 tablespoons Mc Cormick's Montreal Steak Seasoning
1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
fresh ground pepper
3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
2 lbs flank steaks (I used flat iron steak.)
1 (8 ounce) package Jiffy buttermilk biscuit mix
1/2 cup blue cheese, crumbled
1 tomato
1/2 red onion
1 cup fresh baby spinach leaves
4 tablespoons sour cream

Preheat the oven to 450.
Preheat a grill pan or outdoor grill to high heat.
Mix together the garlic, grill seasoning, Worcestershire sauce, salt, and pepper. Whisk in the extra-virgin olive oil. Pour into a glass dish.
Add the steak and coat it evenly in the marinade. Let it stand for 10 minutes.
While the steak is marinating, prepare the biscuits. Place the biscuit mix in a bowl, add the blue cheese crumbles, and mix with a fork to distribute.
Add water, according to the package directions. Once combined, dump the biscuit mix out on a cutting board, adding flour to the board to prevent sticking.
Using fingertips, press out the mix into a 1-inch-thick square. Divide the square with a knife into 4 squares.
Arrange the biscuits on a foil-lined cookie sheet and bake for 10 to 12 minutes, or until the biscuits are cooked through and the bottoms are golden brown. Remove from the oven and let cool.
Grill the steak for 6 to 7 minutes on each side or to your preferred doneness.
Remove the flank steak from the grill and let rest for the juices to redistribute before slicing.
Thinly slice the tomato and red onion, coarsely chop the spinach.
To serve, thinly slice the rested meat on an angle, cutting against the grain. Split each of the four biscuits in half.
Arrange a slice or two of tomato and some of the rings of the onion on the bottom of each biscuit. Season the tomatoes with salt and pepper. Top with some of the sliced steak.
Top that with a dollop of sour cream and a little of the chopped spinach. Set the biscuit top in place. (Serves 4)

Sunday, January 11, 2009

New Year, New Foods

There is never a down day on the farm for Hubby. Livestock can't be ignored. Even on Sundays, chores need to / have to be done. On a good day with no problems, this often takes all morning. Following this, there are usually other tasks to be completed in preparation for the work of the coming week. These days, if he is home by 2:00 or 3:00pm on a Sunday, I consider myself lucky. But, it never fails, when he arrives he is starved. It's an odd time of the day...too late for lunch, too early for dinner. Often, snacks fill up the void and then compete with any dinner I may prepare.

Today, I decided to offer something different from his usual cheese and crackers, popcorn, chips or veggies and dip, or can of soup snacks. I had seen a New York Breakfast Sandwich on a popular website, and picked up the ingredients the other day during a visit to the grocery store. It seemed a perfect Sunday brunch item, even if the clock was approaching dinner time. I thought the bright flavors would satisfy his hunger, but still be a lighter option to leave room for dinner.

Smoked salmon is not new to me. I am a major fan of bagels and lox, and sometimes even snip it into my favorite egg salad (and toss in some capers). Most every Christmas season sees me preparing a smoked salmon spread for snacking with crackers. However, until now, it has mostly been a solo indulgence for me. While I did believe that Hubby would appreciate the savory flavor, I usually prepare heartier options for meals with him. It's a new year, and I think it is time to give him some new options on his plate.

He cautiously watched me prepare the first open faced sandwich. I layered on the ingredients and refused to listen to his request to omit the paper thin slices of cucumber. A couple of slices of cucumber weren't going to make him burp any more than the Mountain Dew that he was guzzling. He took a first uncertain bite, then another, and by the third chomp, I knew that I had won him over. I had just completed my own sandwich preparations when he joined me at the cutting board to make another for himself. I think that lighter options, like the New York Breakfast Sandwich, will be appearing On Our Plates a little more often in the new year.

New York Breakfast Sandwich

8 slices pumpernickel bread
1/4 cup whipped cream cheese
8 oz. thinly sliced smoked salmon
1/2 red onion, thinly sliced
1/4 English cucumber, thinly sliced
2 medium ripe tomatoes, cored, seeded, and diced
2 tsp. chopped green onions
2 tsp. capers
Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

Toast the bread.
Spread 1-1/2 tsp. of cream cheese on top of each slice.
Put a slice of smoked salmon, a couple of slices of onion, a slice or two of cucumber, and about 1 Tbs. of chopped tomato on top.
Sprinkle with the green onions and capers.
Season with salt and pepper. (Serves 4)

Wednesday, January 07, 2009

Close Your Eyes and Eat

A White Bean and Artichoke Soup recipe has been floating back and forth from my desk to the kitchen, in and out of my "to try" folder, tempting and taunting me. It is the kind of simple recipe that I make for myself for lunch and savor small bowls full each day until it's gone. Given that my recent lunches have consisted of toast and honey, I decided that today was a good time to whip up a pot of soup for some real nourishment.

Onions sauteing in olive oil create a heavenly aroma, adding flavorful ingredients such as artichokes, roasted red peppers, and garlic make it even better when simmered in broth with simple white beans. I didn't use the Cannellini beans that seem to be scarce on my grocer's shelves. Since it is a blended soup, I thought that the softer texture of Great Northern beans would be fine; and, they were.

But, blending the soup is when I wondered at the wisdom of choosing this recipe today. I am just recently recovered from the flu, and when I first placed the immersion blender into the pot and created a swirl of foamy, creamy soup, I had to look away. The appearance wasn't that appetizing. It reminded me too much of somethings that I probably shouldn't mention in a food blog. Still, the aroma of the mingled ingredients won me over, and a tentative spoonful made me reach for my bowl and the soup ladle. It is fragrant, and flavorful, and filling, and...I just won't look at it right now.

I will just close my eyes and eat White Bean and Artichoke Soup On My Plate.

White Bean and Artichoke Soup

1 tablespoon olive oil
1/2 medium onion, chopped
1 (13 ounce) jar artichoke hearts, chopped
1 roasted red pepper, chopped
4 garlic cloves, minced
2 sage leaves, chopped
2 cups vegetable broth
2 cups small white beans (canned or cooked)
juice of a small lemon
salt and black pepper

In a stockpot, saute onion in the olive oil until translucent (approx. 3-5 minutes).
Add the artichoke hearts, garlic, roasted red pepper, and sage. Stir for 1 minute.
Add the vegetable broth and beans. Bring to a boil.
Reduce heat and simmer for five minutes or until the beans are heated through. In batches, transfer soup to a blender and puree until smooth, or use an immersion blender right in the pot.
Add soup back to stockpot and stir in lemon juice. Adjust the salt and pepper to taste. (Serves 6)

Sunday, January 04, 2009

The Craving Heard Around the World

A month or so ago, I woke up craving biscuits and gravy. Being the dork that I am, I changed my Facebook status to reflect this. You see, I have this little problem. I am addicted to a word game on Facebook. Wordscraper is like Scrabble, and I play frequently, some might say incessantly, with a variety of friends. In between games, I have developed the habit of posting mundane facts or observations in my status bar. I don't know which is worse, my feverish need to form letter tiles into words, or my willingness to announce to the world my eating, cleaning, shopping, and basic living habits. Maybe I have more than one little problem. :-)

But, back to the biscuits and gravy...I posted something about thinking about biscuits and gravy, but settling for oatmeal. It wasn't long before one friend commented about her favorite diner location for biscuits, gravy and hash browns. Another friend asked about my biscuit preference and provided her family's favorites. Yet, another friend declared a love for this simple treat and offered a creamed chicken alternative for those who didn't care for sausage.

Before the day was over, my status update had a string of comments as long as my arm. People heard my craving and responded, people that I had reconnected with on Facebook, but hadn't seen in the 20 years since high school; people that live in the next town, but just don't seem to cross my day to day path; people that I talk to everyday; people that I have never met in real life, but have grown to know through other websites. Some had no clue who the other was, but all of us had biscuits and gravy in common. From Iowa, to Virginia, to Washington, to South Korea and back to my hometown, the craving for biscuits and gravy brought us together.

Ultimately, some did give into that seed of the craving I had planted. They posted their delight on savoring the fluffy biscuits topped with creamy, rich gravy. I was jealous. I still hadn't had my chance to enjoy this comfort food. It was the midst of the holidays, and demands on my time and menus were many. Biscuits and gravy weren't fitting into the schedule...until today.

Today, I tried a new idea on that favorite. Rolling the cooked sausage up Stromboli-style inside prepared dough and baking gives this a slight upscale twist. The gravy is prepared in the sausage pan (don't waste those drippings) and ladled over the slices of the crusty sausage-filled roll. I used HOT Jimmy Dean sausage for maximum flavor and due to ingredients on hand, used half skim milk and half heavy cream in my gravy (although the posted recipe does not reflect that). I heard the craving and responded. I finally have biscuits and gravy On My Plate.

Biscuits and Gravy Breakfast Roll

1 Pillsbury refrigerated crusty French loaf
1 (16 ounce roll) Jimmy Dean Hot pork sausage (or your favorite)
4 tablespoons pan drippings
3 tablespoons flour (for this, I prefer Wondra flour, as it seems to clump less)
2 cups 2% or whole milk

Crumble sausage into skillet and brown.
Tilt pan at an angle to filter drippings to one side, push sausage up out of drippings to drain slightly.
Spray a foil (or parchment) lined cookie sheet with Pam.
Open the French loaf and find seam.
Unroll the loaf onto the cookie sheet.
Spread an even layer of the cooked, crumbled, and drained sausage over the dough.
Leave about an inch border on one long side of the dough without sausage.
Starting at the other side, carefully roll up the dough and sausage jelly-roll style using the inch border without sausage to seal the dough on the final roll.
Place seam side down on the cookie sheet.
Bake at 350 for 15-20 minutes, or until browned and baked through. (Mine actually took about 25 minutes.)
Meanwhile, reheat the pan with sausage drippings.
When hot, add the flour and stir to loosen the crust bits in skillet.
Slowly add the milk and continue to stir until creamy and smooth.
Add more milk if gravy thickens too fast.
Slice the baked sausage breakfast roll and serve topped with gravy. (Serves 4-6)

Thursday, January 01, 2009


What other topic could a January 1 blog post have other than resolutions? Many of us make them and break them. Some try harder than others to achieve their goals, and some just can't be bothered. In the past, I honestly wasn't one for making resolutions. I would think about those few pounds I wanted to drop, or the lack of a consistently healthy diet, or my neglect to my treadmill, or those credit card purchases that I probably shouldn't have made, but never really made any New Year's promises to myself.

Last year, I changed that. I made my first real resolution. Surprisingly, given my food obsession, it wasn't about food, or dieting, or even working out in order to be able to eat more food. I decided to better my life by changing the way I was living.

On the surface, my home has usually appeared clean and tidy. However, don't open any door without permission or you might be met with piles that would threaten to avalanche at any moment. Every nook and cranny of my home was filled to capacity, and yet I continued to stuff more into the already crowded drawers, closets, and cupboards. I was becoming my my mother. The pack rat gene had taken hold.

It was time to halt the madness. I resolved to clear one piece of clutter a day. I knew that if I made grand plans, I would fail. I am not a grand plan kind of gal. I take things step by step and see what happens. My anal side does require that I have a plan, but I fly by the seat of my pants to achieve it. I did the same with my clutter. One day's clutter might simply be dealing with the mail as soon as I received it. Toss the junk; file the bills and important stuff. Easy, right? I could do that. The next day, I would have more time and decide that everything from the deep, dark recesses of the front closet had to come out and be sorted. Of course, piling it all on the sofa required that I have my task complete by the time Hubby returned home, or we would have no where to lounge in the evening. I sometimes needed those kinds of incentives to kick myself in the butt. But, I did it all bit by bit, piece by piece, junk by junk, and in some cases, trash by trash.

I am happy to report that I did succeed in keeping last year's resolution. Most of my home is now clutter free. I am not afraid of people peeping into my closets or of asking someone to get something from the pantry for me. The local Thrift Store has been thrilled with my donations while the trash collectors have cussed at the weight of my garbage can, and my home is happier for it. I still have a few spots that need some polishing, and I don't lie to myself that this job will ever be complete. Keeping a clean and tidy home inside and out is work, but I am not afraid. I am resolved to conquer clutter.

This year, I have new resolutions. Again, no food, dieting, or working out is involved (not that those areas of my life don't need a little help now and then). Oddly enough, I found my inspiration imprinted on some of my holiday gift wrap. LIVE JOYFULLY; GIVE GENEROUSLY; BELIEVE COMPLETELY; CELEBRATE LOVINGLY Good, huh? Aspirations that, hopefully, will make me a better person. I have no doubts that this will be harder than conquering clutter. I will need to be aware of myself and the effect of my actions on others. There will probably be times that I would rather clean the inside of a closet than clean the inside of my soul. Still, I am going to give it a go. What's the worst that can happen? I will be bad and know it? Isn't being aware still better than just being bad? I talking in circles and being crazy? Probably. I still hope to live, give, believe, and celebrate to the best of my abilities in 2009.

But now, since my blog is entitled On My Plate, I should probably post a recipe, huh? How about something for those of you that HAVE resolved to improve your diet, drop a few pounds, work out more, be healthier, or eat more veggies? In addition to cleaning drawers and crawl spaces last year, I did manage to drop those ugly extra pounds that I had been carrying around. I searched out some healthy ways to fill my tummy and fuel my food obsession. This Slow Cooker Vegetable Soup is a great light meal or snack that is satisfying, and most importantly, full of flavor. Because, after all, if it doesn't taste good, I don't want it On My Plate.

Slow Cooker Vegetable Soup

10 ounces baby spinach, washed
2 medium carrots, chopped
2 medium celery ribs, chopped
1 large onion, chopped
1 garlic clove, minced
4 cups low sodium chicken broth
1 (28 ounce) can diced tomatoes with garlic and olive oil
2 leaves bay leaves
1 tablespoon dried basil
1 teaspoon dried oregano
1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes, crushed

Place all ingredients in a slow cooker.
Cover and cook on high for 5 hours or low for 8-10 hours.
Remove bay leaves before serving. (About 8 (1 cup) servings)
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