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Pre-made Simmmer Sauce, Packaged Soup Mix: Is it cheating?

Lemon Artichoke Simmer Sauce

After a recent shopping trip that included World Market, I came away with a couple of packaged recipe starters – a simmer sauce and dried soup mixes. Although some purists may disagree, I don’t believe using such things for inspiration or a jumping off point is cheating. If I am adding 4 or more ingredients I have to prepare myself to make a complete dish, then it is merely one of the steps in the preparation. (Step 5. Dump in Simmer Sauce) Few of us have the time it would take to create a fresh sauce of this sort – at least in time for that evening’s dinner! The one I chose had lemon juice, artichokes and white wine as its main flavors – which sounded like a marvelous combination to me! I used boneless chicken thighs (1 1/2 lb) that I dredged in flour/ground pepper and then lightly browned in olive oil.

4 or more ingredients added? Not cheating!

I added chopped onion (1/2 c), sliced zucchini (2 small), canned artichoke quarters (14 oz., drained), and mushrooms (1 c sliced), as well as the sauce, and simmered for 35-40 minutes. I served it on Basmati rice to soak up the juices. Delicious!

My other recipe starter was World Market’s Bistro Style Lentil Soup Mix. Even though there were dehydrated vegetables in the mix, the instructions called for fresh ingredients like onion (1/2 onion, chopped), garlic (2 cloves – it called for 4!), and carrots (1 c chopped), as well as canned diced tomatoes (14.5 oz) and chicken broth (2 c). I took it a bit further and added mushrooms (1 c sliced), spinach (2 c)  and sliced cooked Aidell’s Sausage (1 pkg. chicken & apple).

Dried Soup Mix

The soup had to simmer for 1 1/2 to 2 hours, so this is not something you can decide to make on the spur of the moment! In all fairness, you would have simmer it that long if you gathered and measured all the lentils yourself. Undercooked lentils are crunchy and not really what you are going for in a soup. The house smelled amazing while it was cooking, by the way. I’m surprised there wasn’t a line of neighbors – or raccoons – outside the door by the time it was ready to be served! I chose a chewy ciabatta roll as an accompaniment to this soup, so we could swipe out our bowls!

Something that could have been done before adding the sausage and spinach (they were added with about 1/2 hour to go), would be to run it through a blender to make it smooth and creamy, but I had to dash out the door after bolting down a quick, still-simmering bowl, so maybe next time!

A hearty soup for a chilly day!

PS When I returned home, I grabbed a second bowl and my ciabatta roll – tasty! Plenty of leftovers, too!

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Posted by on October 20, 2011 in Information, Recipe

 

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A Recipe in Progress: Orzo & Red Rice

"I'm late - but dinner won't be!"

When they first came out, frozen dinners were a marvel of science; a product of convenience for the modern woman. Later they became a symbol of poor nutrition and of lack of finesse in the kitchen. Today, you can find frozen dinners that are tasty and healthy. One that I tried when I had a solo weekend was by Healthy Choice (I think) and called “Mediterranean Pasta.” I loved it! It had pasta, rice apples, cranberries, spinach – very flavorful. Naturally, it was discontinued, but not before I wrote down all the ingredients and attempted to re-create this dish for myself! As it says in the title of this post, it is a work in progress…

I still don’t think I have the spices down quite right – none were specifically mentioned on the package (curse them!), but who’s going to know the difference? They don’t make this one anymore! If this sounds like your kind of recipe, please give it a try and let me know what you thought; what changes you made; how it can be improved, etc.

And speaking of changes, I like the flavor of Swiss chard better than spinach and I added mushrooms (small, sliced Portabello mushrooms). I’m calling it “Orzo and Red Rice” because I already have a recipe I use with the original name.

Let’s talk about ingredients: Red rice is an interesting choice and you may need to look hard for it, but I think a wild rice would be an acceptable substitute, nutrition and texture-wise. Fontina cheese is similar to mozzarella, but I’ve also substituted smoked extra sharp cheddar – the recipe only calls for 1/2 cup, so it is not a huge issue. Swiss chard is a fairly new vegetable for me – we bought a farm-share one summer and ended up with a lot of it. My research indicated that the stems are not eaten and the big vein down the middle should be removed, so that is how I prepare it. Also – a bunch makes a big pile of chard shards! Don’t panic because it will cook down in a few minutes. Like most of the other meatless main dish I make, my husband thinks it would be better if it included sausage or some other meat. Up to you! Apple juice was listed in the original ingredients’ list, but that is not something I keep around much. I usually end up buying a 3 pack of 100% apple juice in little boxes. (Hence, I chose 6 oz. as the amount of apple juice needed in the recipe!)

Ready to serve!

This recipe takes about 45 minutes, including prep., so it is very doable on a busy night. It all goes into one pot – in my case, a deep, 12 inch covered skillet (one of my most-used pans!), so you don’t have too much to clean up afterward- especially if you have a dog who will snap up that apple piece you dropped!

Be sure to let me know how/if you liked it and any other comments you wish to make!

 
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Posted by on September 20, 2011 in Asking for Feedback, Recipe

 

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Searching for Inspiration…

Two things you should not do at a grocery store: 1) Go when you’re hungry and, 2) Go with the intent to become inspired. Actually, there are many more things you shouldn’t do – pilfering and nudity both spring to mind – but perhaps we can cover those things in another post… Mind you, I have gone to the grocery store hungry and in search of inspiration and it usually does not end well. Junk food leaps into my cart and I finger the chocolate bars near the check-out with obvious yearning. Inspirational choices usually end up being something frozen or deli purchased and – while not all bad – that’s not really cooking, is it? In the best of all possible worlds, I like to head to the store with a good list, including meal planning notes – and a fist full of coupons.

A good start is to check the weekly ads of your local grocery stores. You can figure out what types of ingredients are available for the best price that week. Next, find a good recipe website. I really like All Recipes.com. It has a good search engine for helping you find recipes and reviews. If you put in “chicken” and “rice,” for example, you get 399 recipes to choose from! The reviews are invaluable as these are written by real people with varying degrees of cooking skills who tell what substitutions they may have made, how it turns out and whether they will use it again. You are certain to find something that will work for you and your family. They also have an iPad app that is fabulous (and, even better, FREE!) so that I can use my iPad as a recipe book – very cool!

Brown Rice & Broccoli - Parmesan cheese on top - yum!

If you are fortunate enough to live near a Central Market in Kitsap, Snohomish or King counties in Washington, it is actually feasible to stop in and find inspiration at their Culinary Resource Center (the store in Kitsap county has the center located in the produce). They have chef’s preparing samples of some of their wonderful tested recipes with ingredients found in the store. If you don’t live near any, don’t despair! They have a website with all their recipes available for printing on the Culinary Resource Center page. The recipes cater to all levels of cooking and include a variety of ingredients. My husband and I were in the store recently and taste-tested their Brown Rice and Broccoli recipe – very tasty! I grabbed a copy and gathered the easily located ingredients to make for an upcoming event and it went over quite well! The recipe is here.

The great thing about both of these sites is that you can print out the recipes for future use – no need to try and find it again on the web. All Recipes.com also allows you to keep a “recipe box” to store favorites when you set up a free account. I usually print them out and put them in plastic sleeves in my large recipe binder – it works better for me. Central Market’s site will help you set up a shopping list, but I don’t think you can actually save the recipe on the site. If you live in the area, you can buy one of their special binders to keep the recipe cards organized with the included category dividers.

There are many other options for cooking inspiration – cooking blogs, foodie tv shows, etc., but these two sites should help you get started – who knows what else you might find! If you have a favorite recipe site/source, please let me know what it is in a comment below!

 
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Posted by on June 10, 2011 in Information, Recipe

 

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Cinco de Mayo: My Enchiladas

Sunset Magazine published one of my recipes a number of years ago. They named it “Kid-Friendly Enchiladas.” It was a recipe I developed when my kids were younger and didn’t like spicy foods. (Now, of course, I’m buying bottles of hot sauce for my son’s Christmas stocking and Easter basket!) The beauty of this recipe – of any good recipe – is the flexibility to adjust it to your individual taste. It doesn’t contain meat, so it also could be considered vegetarian.

Look for this one or Mahatma, which has a similar package.

You will need: 1 pkg. *Vigo or Mahatma Black Beans & Rice Mix (cook according to package directions), Gordita-sized flour tortillas (8-10), Shredded cheddar cheese (2 c., more or less), 1 (14 oz) can tomato sauce, 1 c. or so of your favorite salsa (choose your heat!)

Stir tomato sauce and salsa in a medium bowl – you should have about 3 cups. Spray a 9×13 pan with non-stick spray. Pour 1 coup of salsa mixture into prepared pan and spread to cover bottom; set aside. Scoop 1/4-1/3 c black beans & rice and place in center of tortilla, add a tablespoon or 2 of shredded cheese. Roll into a tube and place at one end (parallel to short side) of baking pan. Repeat until beans & rice mixture is gone. You may need to nudge the filled tortillas together so that at least 8 will fit in your pan. Pour remaining salsa mixture over the top and spread w the back of a spoon to cover the tortillas. Sprinkle remaining cheese on top.

Bake in pre-heated 350 degree oven for 30 minutes. Serve while hot with your favorite Cinco de Mayo condiments. Add a green salad and a pan of cornbread and you’ve got a fiesta feast!

*I use Vigo or Mahatma because I like the spice combination in those mixes and it makes a good amount for the filling. It is also the base for another of my original recipes, “Northern White Girl Jamalaya.” (to be posted at a later date – stay tuned!)

 
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Posted by on May 4, 2011 in Recipe

 

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Super Easy Rice Bowls

I love ordering the Coconut Shrimp Rice Bowl at Anthony’s Beach Cafe in Edmonds and Silver City Brewery in Silverdale used to have a Teryaki Salmon Rice Bowl that was to die for – these were the inspirations for creating my own Rice Bowl recipe. We had grilled some salmon one day and had a good-sized chunk left over (how did that happen?), so I decided to give a variation on the Teriyaki Rice Bowl a shot.I purposefully did not list amounts here because this is a flexible recipe that can be tailored to your own likes/dislikes and desired serving size.

First – the rice. I’ve been making rice for a long time and quite frequently as we use it as a “mix in” for our dog’s meals (shh! She thinks it’s cheese!). I make my rice on the stove top – 1 part rice to 2 parts water. I put it at medium heat, covered, with an occasional stir for about 10 minutes and when the bubbles keep threatening a boil over, I lower the heat for another 10 minutes. That usually does it. We like basmati or jasmine rice better than regular white rice – that’s just us! If you want really special rice, use a can of unsweetened coconut milk for part of the liquid – yum!

Vegetables: Birdseye makes steam packs of vegetables that are fabulous for rice bowls – quick and easy! I usually get the one with broccoli, cauliflower, carrots, snow peas and water chestnuts. You can also prep some raw veggies and steam them until bright and hot. Keep them warm until you are ready to assemble “the bowl.”

Protein: Like I said, I used leftover salmon the first time I did this, but any leftover beef/chicken/seafood will most likely do. Packaged precooked chicken or beef is readily available at the grocery stores and can be kept on hand for – “Hey – it’s nearly 7 o’clock – what do you want for dinner?” nights. For this bowl, I divided the salmon, drizzled some teriyaki sauce over it and nuked it in the microwave until warm.

Assemble the Bowl!: Spoon the desired amount of rice into each bowl. Drizzle a little teriyaki sauce over the rice and add vegetables. Place the salmon (or whatever) on top. I think the first time I made this, I also pulled some baby arugula and frisse from a mixed baby greens “bag-o-salad” to garnish, but I have devolved from that practice! Serve immediately. I usually make enough so that we can throw together one extra bowl for my hubby to take in for lunch – one bowl is plenty for us for an evening meal.

Other sauces: We will also use sweet and sour sauce, orange sauce or a mild curry sauce for these bowls – everyone can pick their own favorite flavor! When doing the bowls this way, however, you wouldn’t put any sauce on the meat before hand to avoid those “ewww! you got sweet and sour in my curry!” moments.

PS: The rice bowl pictured is not one I made – I never think to take pictures of the everyday stuff so this is a generic shot.

 
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Posted by on March 4, 2011 in Information, Recipe

 

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