Monthly Archives: November 2010

meatless mondays: mexican food…

I don’t know about you, but I am over Thanksgiving dinner! I’ve had days of leftovers, stuffing myself over and over again. Casseroles, pies, and of course turkey (although I only had one piece so I can’t say I’m technically “turkey-ed out”.) I’m ready for something different and easy and….Mexican!

One of my favorite dinners is a big taco spread. There are so many variations. You can get as elaborate as you’d like with various side dishes and salsas, or just keep it super simple.

First you choose your main filling. My husband is a fan of ground beef seasoned with green chilis, cumin and chili powder. I love grilled fish with lime. Sometimes we stew a chicken in the crock pot with some salsa all day. Or on Meatless Monday, we might just have refried or black beans with grilled veggies!

For the outer shell, you can choose from hard corn tortilla, soft corn tortilla, white or whole wheat flour tortillas. Depending on the filling, I will often serve more than one choice. Different people have different preferences. Personally I’m a fan of doubled up corn tortillas for most fillings.

Grate some cheddar cheese or pick up the Chihuahua version at a local market to melt onto your filling of choice. Shred some lettuce or cabbage, dice some tomatoes and onions, and chop some cilantro and jalapenos for a garnish. Feel free to add your own variations, like sautéed mushrooms, or grilled green and red peppers.

Serve sour cream, guacamole, and salsa as additional toppings (or just to dip your chips in). It’s very easy to make your own pico de gallo, salsa, or guacamole, and it tastes so much better than the store-bought version. Spice it up with jalapenos, green chilis, cayenne pepper, or a specialty hot sauce.

There are so many sides that compliment a taco dinner. I really enjoy a Mango Avocado Salad or a hearty Quinoa and Black Bean dish. Sometimes I’ll make a green chili soup to accompany my dinner. Or you can keep it simple with Mexican Rice and Beans.

At the end of the meal, I often make a big taco salad to eat for lunch the next day. Just keep the sour cream, guac, and salsa on the side so that the lettuce doesn’t get soggy.

Recipe: Black Bean and Grilled Veggie Tacos

1 package corn tortillas
1 tsp olive oil
1 green pepper
1 red pepper
1 onion
1 tomato
1 head romaine or ice burg lettuce
1 can of black beans, rinsed and drained
Cumin & chili powder or taco seasoning
Cheddar cheese
Sour cream
Pico de gallo, salsa, hot sauce, or all 3!
Guacamole (optional)

Thinly slice 3/4 of the onion and both peppers. Saute in olive oil until tender. Heat the beans and mix in seasonings. Warm the corn tortillas (either in a towel in the microwave or on a skillet). Dice the tomato and remaining onion. Shred the lettuce and the cheese. Put each ingredient in a separate dish to serve.

Assemble your desired ingredients into the corn tortillas (I double them up so they don’t break as easily). Have fun mixing and matching the flavors!

Recipe: Pico de Gallo

3-4 ripe juicy tomatoes, diced
3/4 onion, diced (I prefer red onions for this)
~1 jalapeno, finely chopped (more or less, depending on their heat)
~1/2 cup cilantro, finely chopped
~1 tsp chopped garlic
~1/2 tsp cumin
~1/2 tsp chili powder
~1 Tbs lemon or lime juice
salt to taste

Mix all together and let mingle. The portions of each ingredient really depend on the taste and quality of the ingredient and your personal preference. Keep seasoning and adding to your salsa until you come up with the right balance!

Recipe: Mango and Avocado Salad (with Black Beans and Lime Vinaigrette)

2 ripe but firm avocados, halved, peeled and cubed
3 Tbs lime juice, divided
2 ripe but firm mangoes, peeled and cubed
1 jalapeno, finely chopped
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 tsp grated lime zest
1/4 tsp sugar
2 Tbs chopped cilantro, plus more for garnish
3 Tbs olive oil
1 can black beans, rinsed and drained

Gently toss avocado with 1 tablespoon of the lime juice in a medium bowl. Add mango, jalapeño and salt. Gently toss to combine.

Whisk together remaining 2 tablespoons lime juice, zest, sugar and cilantro in a large bowl. Whisk in oil until thoroughly combined to make a thick vinaigrette, then season with salt and pepper. Add black beans and avocado mixture and toss gently.


meatless mondays: mmm, gnocchi…

This week holds my biggest cooking day of the year: Thanksgiving! I’m saving up my mad kitchen skills for Thursday but still need to put a decent meal on the table tonight for Meatless Monday.

While I should be watching my carb/fat/calorie intake before the chow fest later this week, I’m throwing all butter caution to the wind and bringing you this easy to make delight:

Recipe: Gnocchi with Roasted Cauliflower

1 small head cauliflower, cut into small florets
12 fresh sage leaves
3 tablespoons olive oil
kosher salt and black pepper
1 pound gnocchi (fresh or frozen)
2 Tbs Butter
1/4 cup grated Parmesan (1 ounce)

Heat oven to 400º F. On a rimmed baking sheet, toss the cauliflower, sage, oil, 1⁄2 teaspoon salt, and 1⁄4 teaspoon pepper. Roast, tossing once, until the cauliflower is golden brown and tender, 25 to 30 minutes.

Boil the gnocchi according to the package directions. After draining, mix in butter, lightly coating the gnocchi. (Add a bit of the reserved pasta cooking water if the pasta seems dry after it’s been tossed with sauce.) Top with the cauliflower and parmesan.

Serve with a nice green salad full of crunchy vegetables and nuts.

meatless mondays: keen-wah…

One of my vegetarian staples is the ancient South American grain-like crop quinoa (pronounced keen-wah). I use it in place of rice or couscous in stir fry recipes or other accommodating dishes. I have several quinoa specific recipes too. My secret to flavorful quinoa is cooking it in vegetable broth (or almond milk, depending on the recipe) instead of water. I love the nutty flavor and slightly crunchy consistency it offers.

Quinoa isn’t technically a grain. It’s actually a seed that expands when boiled. Its protein content is much higher than typical grains, making it a great addition to a vegetarian diet. Quinoa is considered a complete protein and has a very balanced essential amino acid structure. It is a good source of fiber and is also high in magnesium and iron. Additionally, it is gluten-free. No wonder the ancient Incas called it the “mother of all grains”!

Don’t be afraid of this versatile little seed. If it doesn’t turn out perfect the first time you cook it, try another recipe or tweak the one you are using. If it isn’t cooked enough, it can be too crunchy and not very flavorful. If its overcooked, it can become mushy and sticky.

The average cook time for boiling/simmering quinoa in liquid is about 20-25 minutes. It is usually done when most of the liquid has absorbed and the seed has “popped” revealing a curly q tail. If all of the liquid has absorbed and you don’t notice a change in the shape of the seed, just add more water and continue to simmer. If it is too sticky, lower the heat and add more water until it is the right consistency.

Here are three recipes to try. One is sweet and savory, one is spicy, and one is more breakfast/dessert like. Enjoy!

Recipe: Hearty Quinoa with Sautéed Apples and Almonds

1 cup uncooked quinoa
2 teaspoons olive oil, divided
3/4 cup chopped onion
1 garlic clove, minced
2 cups organic vegetable broth
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon curry
1 1/2 cups finely diced apples
3 tablespoons slivered almonds, toasted
1/8 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

Heat 1 teaspoon oil in saucepan over medium-high heat. Add onion and garlic to pan; sauté 5 minutes or until onion is tender. Stir in broth, quinoa, salt, curry and cinnamon; bring to a boil. Cover, reduce heat, and simmer 20 minutes or until liquid is absorbed. Remove from heat. Fluff with a fork.

Heat remaining 1 teaspoon oil in a nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. Add apples to pan and sauté 7 minutes or until apple begins to brown. Add apple, almonds, and pepper to quinoa, tossing to combine. Serve warm.

(Pork chops would go nicely with this if you are so inclined…and it doesn’t happen to be meatless monday).

Recipe: Quinoa with Black Beans

1 teaspoon olive oil
1 onion, chopped
3 cloves garlic, peeled and chopped
3/4 cup uncooked quinoa
1 1/2 cups vegetable broth
2 teaspoons ground cumin
1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper
salt and pepper to taste
1 cup frozen corn kernels
1 or 2 cans black beans, rinsed and drained (1-2 depending on if you want it to be more bean-based or quinoa-based)
1/2 cup chopped fresh cilantro

Heat the oil in a medium saucepan over medium heat. Stir in the onion and garlic and saute until lightly browned.

Mix quinoa into the saucepan and cover with vegetable broth. Season with cumin, cayenne pepper, salt, and pepper. Bring the mixture to a boil. Cover, reduce heat, and simmer 20 minutes.

Stir frozen corn into the quinoa mix and continue to simmer about 5 minutes until heated through. Mix in the black beans and cilantro.

(I like to serve this with quesadillas or fish tacos).

Recipe: Quinoa Porridge

3/4 cup quinoa
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 1/2 cups almond milk
1/2 cup water
2 tablespoons brown sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 pinch salt

Heat a saucepan over medium heat and measure in the quinoa. Season with cinnamon and cook until toasted, stirring frequently, about 3 minutes. Pour in the almond milk, water and vanilla and stir in the brown sugar and salt. Bring to a boil, then cook over low heat until the porridge is thick and grains are tender, about 25 minutes. Add more water if needed if the liquid has dried up before it finishes cooking. Stir occasionally, especially at the end, to prevent burning.

***If you buy “unrinsed” quinoa, follow the soaking directions on the package to remove the bitter husk. Most common brands come pre-rinsed.

table for 20…

I walk into the packed restaurant, all eyes on me. My old boss throws an apron at me and tells me I’m late. “Take the back patio and pick up the kickball team at table 38. Hurry up!” When did this place get a patio?? Customers are spilling their orders out to me as fast as I can jot them down. I miraculously remember to ask all the right questions about sides and how they want things done and make a run for the kitchen. I can do this. I’m an excellent waitress. Deep breath.

I’m trying to fill the drink orders but there isn’t ice and then the damn keg blows. I return to the floor without my order pad and have no idea who my full tray of warm, flat drinks might belong to. My face is burning as I feel the tears starting to surface. I realize suddenly that I’m barefoot and wearing a completely inappropriate bra without a shirt and…wait a minute, this isn’t real, this is a…WAITRESSING NIGHTMARE!!!

I started waitressing when I was 15. I had the coffee/breakfast shift at the little café in my hometown. I had my regular farmers whose orders I memorized. I kept their coffee full and they in turn tipped me well and flattered me with their compliments. I made so much more than the dumb girls who worked at the trendy retail stores. When I started college, I worked at a breakfast chain where they sat as many people in your section as humanly possible. You basically threw their food at them and turned over as many tables as you could for $3 apiece.

I turned 21 and hit the big time…cocktailing! Same story, different product: alcohol. I continued this through the first few years of my “professional” post college career, working at comedy clubs and sports bars on the weekends to make ends meet.

I finally worked my way up to bartender. On Sundays. During football season. Near the stadium. Ugh. Talk about a nightmare, I lived one every Sunday for 3 years. I never made the switch over to fine dining or I’d probably still be in the industry. Fewer tables, much larger tabs and tips. I’m going on 7 years “Service-Industry-Free” but I still have the reoccurring dreams.

Recently, I had the adventure of dining in a large group. Not my favorite thing to do. I anticipate every single thing that could go wrong with any given member of the table. Blame it on my 15+ years of waitressing and bartending. It doesn’t always have to end up as a negative experience, and usually it turns out ok. But I always envision the worst. Little Miss Sunshine, I am!

I become extremely uncomfortable in the face of any conflict with the hostess, waiter, manager, etc. Its ok that our reservation won’t be ready for another 45 minutes, we’ll wait at the bar! No really, the 4 person rocking table by the bathroom door is fine for the 7 of us! Agreeable customers are appreciated. Complaining nasty ones are given the stink eye by the whole crew (I know what kind of b*tching goes down in the kitchen). And that bread that was dropped on the floor? Ya, send that over to the big group at table 38.

I’ve found as I’ve gotten older and my dining companions more mature, that at least we end up with too much money at the end and not always coming up short. I hate the part of the night where everyone examines the bill and mentally notes that Johnny ordered that expensive bottle of wine or Jane had the lobster. I like balanced, equitable outings where we all gauge what the table is doing and order accordingly. Yes, we would all like to share that. Yes, we are all having a salad first. Yes, let’s split the bill “even-steven” 6 ways!

Some of my favorite group dining experiences are with my best girlfriends who (try to) meet up annually from all over the country. We’ve known each other for almost 20 years and are pros at traveling and eating out together. On our last big trip, we somehow fell into a beautiful symbiotic paying system. The 7 of us each took turns paying for whole meals. Seriously. And I think it worked out for everyone based on what they could afford.

So friends, for your next celebration or large gathering, please consider having it: a) at your own house b) at a friend’s house c) catered d) paid for upfront, or e) prix-fix. I’m just saying… And PLEASE, whatever you do, don’t make the restaurant staff gather around your table, clapping their hands, singing in unison to a terrible, horrible made up birthday song!

***please note that I do enjoy eating out and would still like to be included in your extravagant birthday plans…I’ll just be the one who slips the waiter an extra $20 for his patience!