June 28, 2011

Weeknight Dinner: Sometimes its Delicious to "Cheat"

One of the challenges I've found in planning and making weeknight dinner, is keeping it just as delicious as the dinner prepared on the weekends, when time is usually much more plentiful.  Sometimes, the idea of eating something "simple and quick" at home doesn't sound as appealing as dinner out, which ends up with too much money spent at restaurants, eating food that probably isn't as good for you as homemade, and not enough downtime at home (which I love dearly).  So, sometimes I "cheat".

As I mentioned in my Father's Day post, I love marinades... and I often play around and make up my own.  However, on a weeknight, with only 3 hours to spend before I should go to bed, the last thing I want to do is cook dinner and come up with a marinade for dinner the following night... A good solution: pre-packaged marinated meat from the grocery store.  I know that sometimes the selection isn't very good, and I do try my best to stay away from the big brands that often add a lot of extra sodium to things to keep them "fresh"... but when you find a brand, (in my case, Wegman's store brand), or store that you trust, purchasing your meat ready-to-cook is a delicious time saver.

Tonight, we had grilled pork tenderloin- the Wegman's brand Brown Sugar BBQ marinated pork tenderloin- grilled corn and steamed green beans tossed in a lemon vinaigrette.  It was incredible!! With only about 5 minutes of prep, and 20 minutes of cooking, we had a delicious, healthy dinner, that reminded us of weekend relaxation.

Dinnertime is more than just food... sometimes it can be a mini vacation.

June 25, 2011

Comfort Food: Baked Macaroni & Cheese with Broccoli

It was a long week... a week that left me craving some comfort food, more specifically: baked macaroni and cheese.

My grandmother made delicious baked macaroni and cheese, a family favorite for years.  I remember the gooey richness of the cheese sauce and the salty crispness of the topping, (made of crushed Ritz crackers, sauteed in butter).  Her version of baked macaroni and cheese may be among the quintessential comfort foods, but I wanted to try to make up my own... and perhaps make it a little less decadent. That way, I wouldn't feel bad about indulging on a more regular basis.

Along with my craving for baked macaroni and cheese, I had an inexplicable craving for broccoli. So, I decided to combine the two into a more complete meal.

Baked Macaroni & Cheese with Broccoli (serves 6-8)

1 head of fresh broccoli
1 box (13.5oz) of whole wheat penne
2 tbsp. unsalted butter
2 tbsp. all purpose flour
2 1/2 cups 1% milk
8oz. sharp cheddar cheese, shredded
4oz. monterey jack cheese, shredded
1/4 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. black pepper
1/3 cup panko bread crumbs

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.
Spray 13x9 inch baking dish with cooking spray.
Cut broccoli into small florets, steam until crisp-tender. Set aside in large bowl.
Cook pasta per package instructions until al-dente. Strain and add to broccoli florets.

For cheese sauce:
Melt 2 tbsp. unsalted butter in medium saucepan over medium heat.  Add 2 tbsp. flour, whisk continuously and cook for 2 minutes, or until flour mixture, (or roux) is golden brown.  Slowly add milk, and cook about 5 minutes, stirring constantly.  Stir in all of the monterey jack cheese, and 1/2 of the cheddar.  Add the salt and black pepper to the sauce.  Pour the cheese sauce over the penne and broccoli, stir until coated.  Add in half of the remaining cheddar cheese.
Pour the macaroni mixture into baking dish.  Sprinkle top with remaining cheese and breadcrumbs.
Bake at 375 degrees for 30 minutes. Let rest 5 minutes before serving.

I hope that you find this recipe as delicious as I do!  The cheese sauce turned out to be very satisfying without being too heavy, and the topping was perfectly light and crispy.  The best part: the whole wheat pasta and broccoli make this indulgence slightly healthier... a comfort that you can feel a little better about enjoying.

June 19, 2011

Happy Father's Day!!

Today was a pretty special day in our house... It was my husband's first Father's Day! (We're counting it even though the baby hasn't been born yet...).  When I asked him what he would like me to cook for his big meal, he simply replied, "I dunno... kabobs?".
A pretty loose suggestion.  Here's the menu I came up with:

Father's Day Dinner
Beef and vegetable kabobs
Asparagus and Spinach Orzo Salad
Grilled Multigrain bread
Individual sponge cakes with fresh berries and cool whip

Overall, a very easy dinner, especially since I took a few shortcuts with dessert, and used store-bought cake and cool whip! It was simply too hot to bake today.

I started this morning by cutting up and marinating the sirloin (1.5lbs, which marinaded for about 7 hours).  I am a big fan of marinades, sometimes spending far-too-long agonizing over which one to pick in the condiment aisle, (you have to admit, there are waayyy too many choices), and sometimes just throwing things together and making up my own.
Today, I made my own:

Beef Marinade
1 cup low sodium soy sauce
2 tbsp. chili garlic paste
1/4 cup lemon juice
1 tsp. ground ginger
1 tsp. Dijon mustard
Fresh ground black pepper
A few sprigs of fresh rosemary

The vegetables I chose were yellow squash, red onion, red bell pepper, and mushrooms.  The great thing about kabobs is that you can mix and match proteins and veggies to suit your taste.  (And have fun skewering everything together.)

Tonight's orzo salad is a variation that I have not made before, but will definitely make again.  I have made "Greek" Orzo salads in the past, but I wanted to make a version that was "greener".  The dressing/vinaigrette is nice and light and refreshing.

Asparagus and Spinach Orzo Salad (serves 6)
8 oz. Orzo pasta, cooked
1/2 bunch asparagus, cut into 1 inch pieces and blanched
11/2 cups torn baby spinach leaves
1 pint cherry tomatoes, halved
1/4 cup crumbled feta cheese, plus more for garnish
Juice of 1 lemon
1/4 cup (approx.) balsamic vinegar
Extra Virgin Olive Oil, whisked in until desired consistency
Kosher salt and fresh pepper to taste

For the pasta: cook pasta as per package directions, adding both salt, and 1-2 tbsp. of olive oil to the water. (I find that the oil keeps the pasta from clumping together). Strain, and let cool.

For the asparagus: Bring salted water to a boil.  Clean and cut asparagus spears into 1 inch pieces.  Prepare a bowl of ice water.  When water comes to a boil, toss in your cut asparagus and cook about 3 minutes (until asparagus turns bright green).  Scoop the cooked asparagus out of the boiling water with a slotted spoon, and immediately place in the ice water bath.  The ice water will stop the cooking and leave you with fresh-tasting crisp asparagus pieces.

Strain asparagus pieces and place into a medium-sized mixing bowl.  Add in your cut cherry tomatoes and torn baby spinach.  Next, toss in the feta cheese.  Mix in the orzo pasta, (if it's not completely cooled, don't worry!! The spinach wilts just a little bit, making it nice and tender, and the feta will become creamy and distribute throughout the salad nicely!).  In a separate bowl, whisk together lemon juice, balsamic vinegar and olive oil.  Toss salad with dressing and add salt and pepper to taste.  Put into refrigerator to cool. Just before serving, top with crumbled feta cheese garnish.

Grilled bread is about as easy as it gets... but it's also one of the most delicious grill menu items out there. Tonight's bread was a loaf of multi-grain that I picked up at the farmer's market yesterday.  I cut the loaf into slices, (setting aside the ends), then brushed both sides of the slices with extra virgin olive oil and sprinkled them with kosher salt and fresh thyme leaves.  Then, they were grilled on each side until crisp and grill-marked.

Tonight's dessert was all about the fresh berries.  I love raspberries and blackberries, (and they happened to be on sale), so they took center stage.  I wanted a nice light, fresh, summery dessert to top off our very summery meal... and it was perfect.

I hope that everyone had a wonderful, and delicious, Father's Day!!

Our "daughter" Honey

June 17, 2011

What to pack for lunch?!?

Working five days a week, I quickly realized some things about lunching at work: 1. It's expensive to buy lunch everyday; 2. Hospital cafeteria? Not always appealing.; 3. You can't always count on leftovers; 4. Peanut butter and jelly gets old really fast.  On top of all of that, once you take into account that I'm supposed to be limiting my intake of lunch meat and tuna fish... there's a huge lunchtime dilemma.

Some of my biggest brown-bag breakthroughs have started with thinking about what I like to eat when I eat out.  Recreating things that I would typically order off of a menu and making them my way at home has proven to be delicious in the past, and I decided to apply the same way of thinking to sandwich making. 

My inspiration: the Mediterranean Veggie Sandwich at Panera

Although delicious, their version would cost me about $7 per day, and really isn't logistically possible.  In addition to saving money, I can customize my version to use whatever ingredients I feel like/have on hand, using the basic equation: Bread+ Hummus+ Veggies= Yummy Sandwich. 

Today's sandwich was made with multi grain bread, jalapeño hummus, reduced-fat feta cheese, roasted red peppers, and cucumber slices.  To start, I spread the hummus on both sides of the bread (to make sure that the veggies didn't make my bread soggy by lunch time); then I just topped it with my feta, fresh cucumbers and roasted red pepper slices. The result was both filling and healthy, and added some much needed spice and variety to my day.  I'm looking forward to future variations on this simple idea... and to the something-chocolate that it left me craving... 

June 16, 2011

It has been too long...

It has been far too long since I last spent time with people food.  A lot has changed in my life since my last post. I started a new job, changing from three 12 hour days to five 8.5 hour days per week. However, even more tiring, more drastic, and certainly more of the reason that I've been away: I'm pregnant!

In fact, my last post (about the roast beef), marked the last time for about 8 weeks that I willingly cooked dinner.

There were days when the sight or smell of any food whatsoever made me want to run the other way, weeks when the only way I got through the day without "tossing my cookies" was by eating salt and vinegar potato chips, and a few months during which the mere mention of chicken made my stomach curdle. I am now to the laid back 24 week mark in pregnancy, and can happily report that I am taking joy in food again.  Both the taste and the preparation.

Don't get me wrong: there are still many things about my eating habits that have changed.  For example, chicken is still such a touchy subject, that I won't eat it unless: 1. it's in the form of a Wendy's Spicy Chicken Sandwich; or 2. I cook it myself.  All of my life I have been known to some members of my family as the "bread girl" because I would always happily forgo pretty much anything else being offered to have more bread. I have found, however, that due to pregnancy and it's evil cousin heartburn, I am no longer able to indulge in my favorite food group. (Which, ironically, I found out on Mother's Day...).  More enjoyably, I don't remember a day that has gone by in the last 3 months or so that I haven't eaten pineapple.  I always loved pineapple, but now I crave it so strongly that I can't imagine a day without it and (even though I don't need it), I have a great "excuse" to eat it whenever I want.  Perhaps the best food-related pregnancy side effect is the fact that I have made more of an effort to eat a variety of good foods.  I have discovered a love for mangoes, hummus of many varieties, and other healthy bites.  Don't get me wrong, I still indulge myself with chocolate-chip cookies, (fed by my co-workers), ice pops and an occasional gelato, but for the most part, I think I'm making more balanced food choices.

I've had a few food adventures in the last few months, which I will share... (better late than never, right?).  I have missed people food.  Now that I feel like I'm eating and cooking more like a person again, I am going to recommit myself to sharing my food and life experiences here.  Bon appetit!!