Are You Ready for Some Football (Food)?

Sorry, that was bad, but I couldn’t help it. We love this time of year – our favorite college teams play on Saturday, then all eyes turn to the NFL games to round out the weekend on Sunday. But what’s watching football without our favorite bites to enhance the day? Well, I don’t know and not sure I’d want to be watching that many games without some really great food! So I thought I’d kick off (ok, another bad pun) a post or two featuring our favorite football menus.

Call it charcuterie, call it small plates, in our house, this is perfect for a night kickoff because it’s flexible, adaptable, and gives everyone choices. And you don’t need to go wild preparing components – you can use what you have on hand. Yesterday, I grilled some smoked sausage (please don’t share it was turkey!), threw some frozen meatballs in the air fryer that had been tossed with BBQ sauce, and baked some prepared spanakopita triangles. Then of course, you need to have cheese! I like to include something with a bite (here an extra sharp Vermont cheddar), something milder (Swiss or Gouda always work), and something soft (this one was an Asiago spread we’d picked up on our adventures earlier in the day and was amazing!) Add your favorite crackers or baguette and enjoy!

But I will confess, I need something healthy on the side, so this cucumber, tomato salad fits the bill (and the small plates!)

Cut about a pound of cherry tomatoes in half (I love the brightness of having the different colors in the bowl) and toss with a pinch of salt, sugar and freshly ground pepper. Cut an English cucumber into thin slices and add to the bowl. Last step is to add half a red onion that’s been thinly sliced. Make the dressing in a mason jar by combining 1/2 cup Olive Oil, 1/2 cup red or white wine vinegar, 2 minced garlic cloves, freshly ground salt and pepper, 1 tsp sugar and 1 tsp dried oregano. Shake it all up to combine, then pour most of it on the veggies (I always save a bit in case I need it for serving). Mix in a little fresh parsley then let everything sit on the counter to marinade for a couple hours before serving.

Last but not least, we finished the weekend with sheet pan nachos. I always struggle with keeping these crispy, but a deep dive into Google today revealed the secret (strangely from the Cape Cod Times, not any cooking site). Preheat the oven to 375, spread the tortilla chips onto a baking sheet and cover the chips with about a cup and a half of cheese (I love a good Mexican blend). Bake for three minutes. Then they’re ready for topping. I always go with a meat (leftover chili, cooked chicken, ground beef or turkey cooked with taco seasoning), some salsa, and some diced jalapenos. Top with another half cup of so of cheese and return to the oven for 7 or 8 minutes till the cheese is melted. I top them with shredded lettuce, diced onion, and diced tomato (but choose your own adventure!). Serve with sour cream, guacamole, and/or pico de gallo.

That was a prefect menu to begin the first real weekend of football. What’s your go-to game day food? Whatever it is, I hope you enjoy it in the company of those you love and of course your favorite teams win!

Eat well my friends!

What’s Cooking This Week

August has gotten kind of crazy around here. It’s like the calendar flipped and we’re trying to squeeze all the summer things into the month. I’m not complaining – it’s been days filled with amazing weather and the company of good friends. And food of course!

It’s been all about the sides this week. Yellow squash is one of those vegetables that is always plentiful during the summer but it just doesn’t seem to have a whole lot of taste, so I’ve been experimenting with ways to bring out more flavor. This week I finally achieved my goal by adding sweet red peppers, oregano and rosemary-infused olive oil. I grilled it up with some fingerling potatoes (another summer favorite) tossed in garlic and oil. So good.

I grill so much in the summer, that a stormy day tends to throw me off my dinner game. So I went with a beef stir fry (I don’t mind grilling in the rain, but not much of a fan of grilling in a thunderstorm). I always begin with getting some basmati rice cooking then put together the rest (if you have everything prepped ahead of time, dinner will take as long as the rice). A couple lessons I’ve learned along the way is to make sure you cook the beef in batches so they have time to get a nice sear on. Crowding the pan can make the beef tough (and not so pleasant to look at!). And be sure to deglaze the pan after your beef is done so all the browned bits become a part of the cooking of the broccoli. The sauce never turns out the same way twice since I’m always throwing different spices in there. One constant is freshly grated ginger (cut one inch pieces and keep it in the freezer – it will keep longer and using a frozen chunk makes it easy to grate). The final constant is topping with freshly chopped scallions.

How are you enjoying the dog days of summer? No matter how you are, I hope you enjoy it in good health and surrounded by people who bring you joy!

Refrigerator Pickles

I’ve never gotten into canning and preserving and honestly, I’m in awe seeing pictures from friends making jams, canning the abundance of vegetables from their gardens… This is about as close as I get because we do love pickles (plus it is the season when I end up with a ton of cucumbers)

1 pound of cucumbers, sliced 1/2 inch thick (I did strips this time to mix things up)
1 large Vidalia onion, thinly sliced
1/4 cup sea salt
1/2 to 3/4 cup sugar
1/2 cup distilled white vinegar
1 tbsp mustard seed
1 tbsp coriander seed
1/4 tsp celery seed
1/2 tbsp pickling spices
Fresh dill (or dried dill)

In a medium bowl, combine cucumbers and onion. Toss with salt, combining really well. Top with ice and let everything stand for two hours on the counter.

In a pot, bring the sugar, vinegar and spices to a boil. Drain the cucumbers and onion. Add the vegetables to the vinegar mixture and bring almost back to a boil. Remove from heat and cool. Spoon the cucumbers and onion into a one quart jar (depending on how you sliced the cucumbers, you might need a couple). Add the pickling liquid, top with some dill, to the jar and seal tightly.

You can store these in the fridge for about 4 weeks (but I’ll confess we’ve never had them last that long). They’ll begin having that classic pickle flavor in about a couple hours in the fridge.

What’s Cooking This Week

I’m patiently waiting for the real return of Spring. Seems like this year, we’re stuck in a Groundhog Day loop of a day or two of spring followed by the return of winter which means we’re still in the comfort food mode to take the chill off the days.

When it comes to quick and comforting, nothing beats a stir fry. Plus it’s a great way to use up the vegetables that are in the fridge (yes, I’m still over-ordering from Misfits Markets). It all starts with cooking up a pot of basmati rice. I always use chicken stock instead of water for a little extra flavor punch. Then the stir fry came together with some skinless chicken breasts tossed with Chinese five spice and red pepper flakes and sautéed in some olive oil & sesame oil. I then added snow peas and red peppers, grated ginger and garlic, soy sauce, hoisin sauce and some stock till the veggies were crisp-tender. Everything goes back into the pan to coat the rice. Sprinkle with some chopped green onion and enjoy.

We also love a good pork tenderloin. I rubbed this one with brown sugar, ground mustard, garlic powder, smoked paprika, and pepper. I’ve discovered when I don’t want to make a potato, cooking some frozen hash browns in the air fryer works beautifully. Just toss with olive oil, garlic, paprika and red pepper flakes. Shake the basket every five minutes so everything gets crispy (a little spritz of olive oil helps make sure they don’t stick). These took me about 15 minutes. Rounding things off were steakhouse green beans (tossed with a mix of melted butter, brown sugar, Worcestershire sauce, and garlic).

On the rare days we enjoy some spring weather, nothing beats a relaxing evening around the fire pit after dinner. What are your favorite spring is almost here eats? No matter what the weather is tossing your way, eat well friends!

Easy Easter Treats

I was chatting with a friend the other day and I shared that I think of all the holidays, Easter is my favorite holiday to plan food for because it can be done pretty easily and relatively stress-free. Much as cherish them both, Christmas has so many moving parts and extra things going on and Thanksgiving just lends itself to an amazing feast of many dishes. I’ll share my Easter dinner menu, but let’s start with the important stuff: the sweet treats!

These mini-cini rolls are the perfect Easter morning bite (sorry, it’s a terrible name I came up with for them but what they lack in a proper title, they make up for in taste)

Roll Base
1 loaf Rhodes Bake-N-Serve Bread Dough (thawed)
1/2 butter, melted
1/2 cup sugar
ground cinnamon

Frosting
1 cup powdered sugar
1/4 cup melted butter
2 oz softened cream cheese
1 tsp maple syrup
1 tbsp milk (see note below)

Roll the thawed dough out into a 24″ x 8″ rectangle, spread melted butter over the top (reserve a bit to drizzle on the top before rolling). Sprinkle enough cinnamon to generously cover the whole dough. Add the sugar over the butter & cinnamon. Sprinkle the remaining butter on top (I always add a touch more sugar and cinnamon too, since it’s a holiday after all). Starting with the long side, roll the dough tightly, pinching the seam together when all rolled up. Slice the dough into 1″ pieces and lay into a greased springform pan. Bake at 375 for about 20-25 minutes or until the rolls are golden brown. While the rolls are baking, make the icing by beating the butter, sugar and cream cheese until smooth. Add the maple syrup and mix well. Cool the rolls slightly and top with the icing.*

Next up, I made Snickers brownie bites (better name I know). I am always so conflicted when it comes to holiday desserts. I want to serve something, but don’t want to something super rich or filling after a full meal. These fill the bill perfectly (especially with a bit of ice cream on the side)

One package of brownie mix (my go-to is Ghirardelli chocolate supreme**
1 bag of Snickers mini candy bars
1/4 cup M&M’s mini baking bits

Using the mix is a super-quick hack to speed things up. Mix according to directions, then line a mini muffin pan with 24 liners. Fill the cups with 1-2 tablespoons of the brownie base, press a Snickers bar into the cup, then top with a couple of the M&M’s (mine sunk in as the brownies baked, but it made for a fun surprise).

Bake at 350 for about 18 minutes.

*OK, this can be a debate. As you see, I like the frosting on the thicker side. Some people prefer a glaze. If that’s your jam, just add a bit of milk to the frosting to thin it out.

**If you want to make the brownies yourself, melt 1 stick of butter and 4 ounces of unsweetened baking chocolate in a saucepan. Beat 1 1/3 cups of sugar, 3 large eggs, and 1 1/2 vanilla extract together with a hand mixer. Stir in 3/4 cup of flour, then add the chocolate & butter mixture

What’s Cooking This Week

This is a tale of a tasty dinner taking on new life as the leftovers were lovingly used for breakfast. When we’re empty nesting, I find I have a really hard time doing two things: buying meat in smaller quantities and portioning food that serves two people (not a small army). So while leftovers are always good for lunch, I’m still trying to think of new ways to use them!

Dinner began with a beef & veggie skillet. I tossed some sliced steaks in sesame oil and garlic, then gave them a quick stir fry. When the beef was done, I set it aside, deglazed the pan with a little stock, then cooked some peppers & spinach in the pan with some soy sauce. The meat makes a return to the pan and is topped with green onions. Normally, I serve rice with a dish like this, but we were feeling potatoes for some reason that night. So I scrubbed some russets and started them cooking in the microwave for 15 minutes. Then I drained them, patted them dry, tossed them in melted butter and smoked paprika and finished them off in the air fryer. I’ll admit, I would have liked them crispier, but the flavors were really good and worked with the steak and veggies.

As we were eating dinner that night, we got talking about this dish seeming like a deconstructed hash when potatoes were served instead of rice. Which gave me the idea for breakfast. I chopped the leftover steak and potatoes and added them to a pan to warm up a bit with the leftover veggies. Then I added some scrambled eggs and mixed everything together while the eggs cooked, finished with a bit of shredded cheddar cheese and wrapped everything up in a tortilla. So good.

As I head to the kitchen to get some Easter preparation going, what’s your favorite way to re-purpose leftovers?

Eat well friends!

Dilled Feta Ricotta Spread

I love quick appetizer/snack ideas. Especially ones that I feel a little healthier about instead of rummaging through the pantry for a bag of chips! This spread is easy to put together, can be made a few days in advance if you’re having a party, and works perfectly as a snack!

8 ounces of feta cheese (crumbled)
1 cup ricotta cheese
1/4 cup chopped scallions (whites and a bit of the green)
1/4 cup toasted pine nuts*
2 tsp dill
2 tsp lemon juice
1/4 cup finely chopped spinach

Mix the cheeses together then add in the scallion, spinach, and pine nuts until blended. Mix in the dill and lemon juice. That’s it. It’s that easy.

To serve, use toast points (I love pumpernickel toast squares), pita bread sliced into squares, or crackers.

* I discovered you can toast the pine nuts in the air fryer – just place them on foil to keep them from dropping into the bottom of the fryer and toast for about 5 minutes.

What’s Cooking This Week

It’s all about old and new favorites this week: one dish that is super easy to put together that we tried for the first time, and another that takes more time for the flavors to develop but is worth the time.

First the old favorite that takes some time: chicken curry with kale and sweet potatoes. About four months into the first wave of the pandemic, our public broadcasting station offered an online culinary experience. For a donation and event “ticket”, you got a box of ingredients delivered to cook along with Marcus Samuelsson. Ummm, yes please! I signed up as fast as my fingers could navigate that keyboard. I totally nerded out cooking along during the Zoom session and hearing his stories. I also realized I’d never make it as a professional chef because I certainly move at a more glacial pace in my kitchen! And I’ll confess, I wasn’t really sure how a culinary adventure would play out at my dining room table. Suffice it to say, it was an absolute hit! One thing I took from the cook-along was the importance of developing layers of flavors (like the heat of the poblanos working with sweetness of the coconut milk) which got me thinking of building profiles while I cook in a way I never had before.

The quicker, and newest favorite, brings me back to our favorite appliance: the air fryer! I try to be really good before going to the grocery store to plan meals for the week. But inevitably there comes a day where I just don’t feel like cooking what I planned (usually because I’ve gotten distracted and waited too long to start dinner). I was gifted the Skinny Taste Air Fryer Dinner cookbook once I fell in love with the appliance and had to try the kielbasa, veggie and pierogis. Seriously friends, this could not be easier: as the title implies it’s really just peppers, onions, turkey kielbasa, and frozen pierogis (I used four cheese because that’s what was in my freezer). Working in a couple batches, I had dinner ready to go in about twenty minutes. It was incredibly delicious. You are supposed to add fresh asparagus as well but we aren’t fans (not to mention I didn’t have any on hand).

So here’s to old favorites and new ones! What’s cooking in your kitchen?

What’s Cooking This Week

When the pandemic wiped out so many things that we all loved & enjoyed, I vowed I would never gripe about getting busy again. I guess it’s the old you don’t appreciate what you have until you don’t have it! So as things are busy again, I’ve had to up my game on hearty and quick meals.

Am I the only one who ends up with vegetable remnants that are perfectly good but not enough to make a complete side dish? I l especially love having some leftover carrots so I can make beef stew. Once you brown some stew beef, add carrots, potatoes, peas, and (a family must), white pearl onions to 8 ounces of beef gravy, a can of French onion soup, and a tablespoon of Worcestershire sauce. If it’s too think, just add a bit of water. Just let everything simmer till the veggies are tender. Bonus: if you have some refrigerated French loaves, it’s an awesome treat to make bread bowls to serve the stew in. Just cut each loaf in half, shape into a ball, bake 18-20 minutes until they’re golden brown. To serve, slice the top off each round, use an ice cream scoop to form it, and fill it with stew. The tops can be (dare I say should be?) used for dipping.

My other on-the-run meal is any kind of stir fry. Beef was on sale when I went grocery shopping this week (plus I got snow peas in my Misfits order), so away we went. I sliced the beef thinly then tossed it in a quick marinade of 1/2 cup of low sodium soy sauce, a couple tablespoons of Worcestershire sauce, a couple tablespoons of brown sugar and about an inch piece of freshly grated ginger (a trick I discovered quite by accident: cut your fresh ginger into one inch pieces and freeze. It grates so easily, it’s magical). While that’s marinating, cook as much basmati rice as you want. Then heat some oil in a large frying pan and give the snow peas a quick sauté. Set them aside. Cook the beef in shifts so the pan doesn’t get over crowded (otherwise the meat gets gunky – that’s probably not a proper cooking term). The hotter the pan, the quicker this takes! Once the meat is brown, add everything back into the pan and heat with the leftover marinade. If the sauce is too thin, just slowly add a bit of cornstarch/water mix to thicken it it. Plate over the rice, top with crushed red pepper and sliced scallions!

What’s your favorite, go-to quick meal?

Eat well!

What’s Cooking This Week

It was a bit of a crazy week here. With Lent starting, the kitchen theme became Fat Tuesday and Ash Wednesday (I wish I could claim that I planned it that way, but alas it was pretty coincidental, yet delicious)

Our Tuesday meal was sheet pan porkchops, potatoes and green beans. You guessed it: the potatoes and green beans came from our weekly Misfits box. And I love sheet pan meals, especially when things are chaotic – you want a hearty meal everyone will enjoy, but you just don’t want to fuss around with a bunch of different dishes. This one is epically easy with a great ranch flavor. I use the Pioneer Woman’s recipe as a starting point. But a couple things I’ve learned while making this recipe: heat the oven to 425 degrees instead of the higher temp, depending on the cut of your potatoes (I love using fingerlings when I have them), give them a 10 minute start before adding the pork chops, and I find that the ranch dressing means you don’t have to add any extra salt. When I made it this week, we wanted a little more crunch on the potatoes but were afraid of drying out the pork chops, so I just tossed them in the air fryer for about 5 minutes while I was plating everything else!

Wednesday, I brought the world’s easiest tomato soup back into the rotation. (I don’t know why I only make it during Lent, but that seems to be how things go!) Start with half a cup of diced onion and carrots. Sautee them in a little olive oil till soft. Add one 28oz can of crushed tomatoes, two 5 ounce cans of tomato juice and heat to simmer. If you like your soup smooth, use an immersion blender to get things all nicely blended. Add your favorite spices – my go to’s are garlic powder, oregano, red pepper flakes and a pinch of salt and pepper. Add 1 – 2 cups of vegetable or chicken stock until the soup is the consistency you like (one cup will be on the thicker side, so I lean toward two). Simmer for about 15 minutes to let all the flavors combine and enjoy! If you’re feeling fancy, garnish with a little shredded parmesan and fresh basil.

As I’m thinking about planning this week’s menu, what was your kitchen success of the week?

Eat well!