Monthly Archives: March 2014

My Next Chapter, a Job and Meal Planning

When I began my “next chapter” nine months ago, I wasn’t sure where it would lead. I knew I wanted it to involve food and writing, my two passions. I also knew that at some point I was going to need to start earning money. My ultimate goal was/is to use my passions to make my living.

Woman can’t live by passion alone, so I’ve been seriously looking for a job, and I’m here to tell you, the market is tough. Hundreds of applications, a few interviews and finally a job that gives me the flexibility to cook, write and make a little money. I’m now a School Bus Monitor. I won’t bore you with the intricacies of the job because there aren’t any.file0001556825984

Even though I have a lot of free time in between my routes, I’ve had to change my time management strategy. To create wonderful food, take great pictures and write about it takes time and now that all has to fit into a narrower window.

Meal planning and planning ahead are my new mantras. It also helps in making healthy choices. I did this all the time when I was working full-time. Now that my “cooking time” is a little broken up, a game plan is a necessity , This week, dinners were on the drawing board by Sunday and I started prepping ingredients right away. DIGITAL CAMERALeeks went into Sunday’s sweet potatoes, but I sliced enough to use for soup later in the week. Sautéed asparagus went into a pasta dish, but I made extra to use in salads for lunch. Even something as simple as slicing the prosciutto and trimming and packaging chicken breasts saves a lot of time and keeps me on track.030

Planned creativity is different from standing in front of the open refrigerator or pantry waiting for inspiration, and I have to say, I rather like it. I planned a pasta dish that included asparagus, gorgonzola and prosciutto. Using whole wheat penne pasta gave the dish a bolder texture and chewiness. I always pick up Prosciutto Ends when I see them at the deli counter. Ends are exactly what the name implies, the last bit of the ham that won’t become a pretty slice…DIGITAL CAMERAThe slices are smaller than regular prosciutto, but they are perfect for recipes. The other bonus is that it is about half the price of the meat from higher up on the ham. My trusty food slicer came to the rescue once again and allowed me to have classically thin slices that worked perfectly in the pasta.

Pencil asparagus was the only type available when I shopped, While it’s not the best for steaming or grilling, it was perfect for the pasta dish. Onions and garlic joined in as well.DIGITAL CAMERA

 

My new best friend, Lower Sodium Chicken Broth aided in the sauteing as well as helping to create the sauce. Big flavors like Prosciutto and Gorgonzola Cheese need only be used in small amounts to create awesome taste.  All in all, this was a tasty and healthy dinner.DIGITAL CAMERA

Penne with Asparagus, Gorgonzola and Prosciutto
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Servings
4
Servings
4
Penne with Asparagus, Gorgonzola and Prosciutto
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Servings
4
Servings
4
Ingredients
Servings:
Instructions
  1. Cook pasta according to the package directions, cooking one minute less than directed. While the pasta cooks, prepare the sauce.
  2. In a large fry pan, heat the olive oil. Add the chicken pieces and brown stirring often, 3-4 minutes. Remove from the pan and set aside.
  3. Add the onions to the pan and cook for 2 minutes. Add the garlic and asparagus and cook for 3 minutes more. Remove from the pan and set aside.
  4. Add about a 1/2 cup of the broth to the pan and stir to loosen any brown bits. Add about another 3/4 cup of the broth and bring to a simmer.
  5. Add the cream cheese and stir until it melts into the broth. Add half of the gorgonzola to the pan and stir until it melts in.
  6. Return the chicken, and vegetables to the pan and stir to coat with the sauce. Cook over low heat for several minutes. Add about half of the prosciutto to the pan.
  7. Drain the pasta and add to the pan. Toss to mix everything together and cook for a minute or two. If the sauce seems too tight, add a little more chicken broth until the desired consistency.
  8. Serve in shallow bowls topped with the remaining cheese and prosciutto and a sprinkling of the toasted walnuts and a few grinds of black pepper.
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Another time and money-saving aspect of pre-planning is that many ingredients do double duty.  I bought 6 small sweet potatoes. i used three for a sweet potato and leek gratin on Sunday.DIGITAL CAMERA

I tossed the sweets and leeks with garlic, rosemary and a little olive oil. It baked it at 375 degrees for 40 minutes and was an easy and tasty side dish.

The rest of the sweet potatoes became part of a Broccoli and Sweet Potato Hash. This is another non-recipe recipe. I peeled the sweet potatoes and coarsely grated them. I tossed them with a bag of Broccoli Cole Slaw, one cup of thinly sliced red onion and a little olive oil. DIGITAL CAMERAI cooked it over high heat in a non-stick fry pan using a little lower sodium chicken broth to keep things moving and browning nicely. It took 15 minutes to become tender and golden brown and was a perfect accompaniment to Roasted Pork Tenderloin.DIGITAL CAMERA

 There were a few other dishes that came out of the kitchen this week. Broccoli and Cauliflower Soup and Cauliflower Mash (there’s that “two-fer” again) to name two. Look for these recipes in future posts here and on Face Book.

I’ve got my first week of work under my belt. Next week is Spring Break so I already have a vacation coming (and I’m actually going to California!).  I don’t know how long I will continue being the enforcer on a large yellow bus, but it will make an interesting footnote in my next chapter.

Love, Mama D

Memories of Highway One and Artichokes

One of my fondest memories of living in Northern California is traveling on Highway One. it was a relatively short trip over the Santa Cruz Mountains to arrive in the town of Half Moon Bay. There you hit Highway 1. Two lanes in many places with breathtaking views, this road runs off and on along the coast of California. Head north, and you’d wind up in San Francisco with all its iconic city sights. but if you turned left and headed south, an entirely different adventure awaited.highway one sign

Highway 1 heading south would take you to ruggedly beautiful beaches that were the perfect place for family adventures…Scan_Pic0032There were walls of rock that were fun to climb…Scan_Pic0033 There was plenty of sand and not a lot of people…Scan_Pic0041and for the young and brave of heart, surf to frolic in.Scan_Pic0028

The coast is also the gateway to some amazing farmland. If the jaw-dropping coastline gets boring (if that is possible), the other side of the road offers interesting  agricultural views. From cattle to Christmas trees, Brussels spouts to artichokes, the variety is astounding. I can remember the first time i saw an artichoke field. Seeing the beautiful green globes perched atop their ruffled thrones made me love them even more.artichoke field 1

The Central California Coast is artichoke country. In fact, virtually all artichokes come from here. The area is ideally suited to this beautifully edible thistle. Cool summers and mild winters make for happy artichokes. Castroville the self proclaimed “Artichoke Center of the World”, is home to nearly 2/3 of all artichokes. There’s even an Artichoke Festival held there. The season by the way, has just begun and will run through June. With luck the quality and price in stores will be better.

DIGITAL CAMERAArtichokes are an amazingly delicious vegetable. They also hold romantic memories for me. One of the first meals I shared with my husband when we were dating included artichokes that we dipped in butter. That is still my favorite way to prepare and eat artichokes. My children grew up eating artichokes. So did my grandson. In fact, they are on almost every “special dinner” menu. in our family.

I’ve found the easiest way to prepare them for eating whole is in the microwave. Cut the stems off even with the bottom so they will sit up when served and cut about 1/2 inch off the tops Use a scissors to snip off the pointy tips of the leaves. Wash then well and they are ready to cook.DIGITAL CAMERA

Place the artichokes in a microwave safe shallow dish (pie or quiche pans work well). Put water in the pan about a half an inch up on the artichoke. DIGITAL CAMERASqueeze half a lemon over the artichokes to flavor and preserve the color.DIGITAL CAMERA Add 3 smashed garlic cloves, the squeezed lemon, and drizzle it all with a little olive oil. Cover with plastic wrap and microwave for 18 minutes or until the bottoms feel soft,DIGITAL CAMERA

Simple and Delicious Artichokes
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This recipe is the essence of artichoke. These are wonderful warm or at room temperature.
Simple and Delicious Artichokes
Print Recipe
This recipe is the essence of artichoke. These are wonderful warm or at room temperature.
Ingredients
Servings:
Instructions
  1. Cut stems off artichokes even with the bottom. Slice 1/2 -3/4 inch off the top of the artichoke. Snip sharp ends off the leaves. Wash well and drain.
  2. Place the prepared artichokes top side down in a microwave safe shallow pan. Add enough water to come up about 1/2 inch on the artichokes.
  3. Squeeze the lemon half over the artichoke bottoms then place it in the center of the artichokes. Drizzle with the olive oil. Cover it all with plastic wrap
  4. Microwave on high for 15 minutes. Without removing the plastic, press on the bottom of the artichokes. They should yield easily to your touch. If they don't microwave another 3 - 5 minutes.
  5. Remove from microwave and carefully remove the plastic wrap. Allow to cool for at least 5 minutes. Place upright in individual bowls. Serve with your favorite dipping sauce.
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Eating an artichoke is a process. Every leaf has a tender bit on the end waiting to be Scraped off with your teeth. Dipping it in butter or the sauce of your choice adds another level of flavor. The coolest thing about the artichoke is that the tender bit on the leaves get bigger and better as you get closer to the heart. Oh, and the heart is so worth the wait. Protected by its choke, once exposed is pure heaven on the tongue.

Artichoke season is short, but you can enjoy artichokes year round. The hearts come in cans, jars, and frozen. While not quite the experience of eating them whole, they are very versatile. Everyone loves Spinach and Artichoke dip. It’s become an institution. I’ve taken those two flavors and come up with a soup that is satisfying and healthy. Simple ingredients combine to make a satisfying soup.DIGITAL CAMERA

Spinach and Artichoke Soup with Chicken Sausage
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Servings
4
Servings
4
Spinach and Artichoke Soup with Chicken Sausage
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Servings
4
Servings
4
Ingredients
Stock Base
Soup
Servings:
Instructions
  1. For the Stock: Heat the olive oil in a large soup pot over medium heat. Add the leeks and garlic and cook stirring frequently for 5 minutes or so. Add the stock to the pan and raise heat to high. Bring to a boil, reduce the heat to simmer, Cover and cook 15 minutes. Remove from heat and allow to cool for a few minutes. Using an immersion blender puree until smooth. Add the Italian herb blend stir and set aside.
  2. While the stock cooks, prepare the soup ingredients. Heat the olive oil in a medium fry pan. add the chicken in a single layer and cook 2 minutes or until lightly browned on one side. Turn and brown other side. Remove the sausage from the pan and set aside.
  3. Add the onions and red pepper to the drippings in the pan. Cook about 5 minutes until the vegetables begin to soften. Add the garlic and spinach to the pan and cook another 3 minutes or so. Remove from heat and set aside.
  4. To Broil the Artichoke Heats: Pre-heat broiler.Spray a rimmed baking sheet with the non-stick spray. Lay the artichoke hearts on the tray making sure they are not touching. Spray lightly with the cooking spray and sprinkle with the Italian herb blend. Broil for 5 minutes. Turn the artichokes spray the other side lightly and sprinkle with a little more herb blend and broil another 5 minutes. Remove from broiler and allow to cool. Slice in half length-wise. Set Aside.
  5. Once all of the ingredients are prepared, return the pan of stock to the heat. Bring stock back up to temperature and add the onion spinach mixture, the sausage, and the artichoke hearts. simmer everything for 10-15 minutes to allow flavors to blend.
  6. Serve with shaved Parmesan or Romano cheese.
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A perfect supper that is much lower in fat than the decadent dip it’s based on.DIGITAL CAMERA
The time is right for giving artichokes a try. I know that once you try them they will be part of your spring vegetable parade every year. Love, Mama D

Springing Ahead with Quinoa

According to the calendar, Spring will be here in two weeks. According to what I see out my window… it may be here in name only. There is nearly two feet of snow in my yard, I have to put on a jacket to get the mail, and don’t even get me started on the pot holes and giant snow banks.

fat squirrelFor those of us in the Midwest this has been the Winter of Our Hibernation. As with many hibernating animals I have put on an extra layer of fat to sustain me through these frigid times. What was comfort from the cold is now displeasure in the mirror.

Comfort food gives us comfort, and I’ve taken more than my share of it lately. Now the time has come to look at  lighter and healthier food. First on the menu board is Quinoa  

This “super food” has been the darling of the food world for some time. It is rich in fiber and vitamins, and has essential amino acids that make it a complete protein. It cooks in the same manner and time as rice, but is a lot more interesting both in taste and appearance. The little spirals which are actually the germ make an interesting presentation especially in the red and black varieties.IMG_1416-1024x768colored quinoa

It makes a great side dish embellished or not, It can be eaten as a hot cereal for breakfast with dried fruit and a sprinkling of nuts. I haven’t found a vegetable that it doesn’t like, making  wonderful salads that put the  pasta variety to shame. I think Quinoa with a plethora of veggies and a light dressing is a great lunch or light supper.DIGITAL CAMERAThis is an Italian inspired salad. The quinoa is joined by sun-dried tomatoes, artichoke hearts, roasted red peppers, mushrooms and olives, Dressed with olive oil and balsamic vinegar, it is an antipasto tray that eats like a mealDIGITAL CAMERA

 

Italian Quinoa Salad
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This protein rich, meatless salad can be a one dish meal for four or a side dish for 6.
Servings
4
Servings
4
Italian Quinoa Salad
Print Recipe
This protein rich, meatless salad can be a one dish meal for four or a side dish for 6.
Servings
4
Servings
4
Ingredients
Salad
Dressing
Servings:
Instructions
  1. Heat the 1 tablespoon of olive oil in a medium skillet. Add the onion and cook for 3 minutes. Add the Cubanelle and mushrooms. cook another 3 minutes. Add the garlic and cook 2 minutes more. Remove from heat and allow to cool.
  2. Put the cooked quinoa in a large mixing bowl. Add the roasted peppers, artichoke hearts, sun-dried tomatoes and olives and toss to combine.
  3. Add the cooled onion mixture to the bowl and toss once again.
  4. In a small jar with a lid add all of the dressing ingredients (except salt and pepper). Close tightly and shake until the ingredients are emulsified.
  5. Pour the dressing over the quinoa and vegetables and toss to coat. Cover and refrigerate for several hours. Remove from refrigerator 15 minutes before serving. Taste and add salt and pepper as needed.
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Southwestern flavors also have an affinity with quinoa. This is possibly my favorite Quinoa salad. Roasted poblano peppers and corn, black beans, red bell peppers, onions and tomatoes are combined with cilantro, avocado and a garlic lime dressing. 

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The Southwestern flavors coupled with the nutty chewiness of the quinoa make a one dish meal the is good and good for you. The veggies are chopped in small dice that compliment the quinoa and make for easy eating.

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The dressing starts with canola oil that gently heats with minced garlic and cumin seeds. Lime zest, ancho chili powder, smoked paprika, and a touch of Agave Nectar combine with lime juice and ground cumin to create a flavor burst that brings the whole thing together.DIGITAL CAMERA

 

Southwestern Quinoa Salad
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The nutrition of quinoa and the flavors of the southwest come together in a healthy and flavorful meatless main dish salad. It's also great as a side dish.
Servings
4
Servings
4
Southwestern Quinoa Salad
Print Recipe
The nutrition of quinoa and the flavors of the southwest come together in a healthy and flavorful meatless main dish salad. It's also great as a side dish.
Servings
4
Servings
4
Ingredients
Dressing
Servings:
Instructions
  1. To roast Poblanos: Place poblanos under the broiler for 10 minutes or so, turning as the skin blisters. It should be blistered on all sides. Remove the peppers to a shallow bowl and cover with plastic wrap. Allow to sit for 5-8 minutes. At this point the skin should come off easily. Remove the stem and seeds and chop.
  2. Put the quinoa, bell peppers, poblano, onion, corn and black beans in a large mixing bowl. Toss to combine.
  3. Add the avocado and cilantro to the bowl and toss gently to combine.
  4. Pour the canola oil into a small fry pan. Add the garlic and the cumin seeds and heat over low heat until the garlic stats to sizzle. Remove from heat (do not let the garlic brown) and set aside to cool before adding to the dressing jar.
  5. Combine all of the dressing ingredients in a jar with a lid. Cover tightly and shake until ingredients emulsify.
  6. Pour the dressing over the ingredients in the bowl and toss gently to combine.
  7. Cover the salad and chill for several hours. Remove from refrigerator 15 minutes before serving. This serves 4 as a main dish and 6 or more as a side dish.
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NOTE: To make 3 cups of cooked quinoa; Rinse 1 cup of quinoa under cold water for 2 minutes and allow to drain. Combine with 2 cups of water in a saucepan. Add a pinch of salt. Bring to a boil. reduce heat and cover. Simmer for about 15 minutes. Quinoa should be al dente. Drain off any water that might be left in the pan.DIGITAL CAMERA

Make either of these salads at least a few hours ahead so that the flavors have chance to get acquainted. They can mellow in the refrigerator, but let them sit out for about 15 minutes before serving. The color and texture are interesting and the flavor is incredible.

I’m taking the first steps to lighter and healthier food. Just like Winter is the season for comfort, Spring is the season for light and bright in the air and in the kitchen.

Love, Mama D