Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Sloppy Joes

Who can resist a big, messy sloppy joe? A big sandwich, dripping with sweet and spicy tomato sauce, just begging for you to pick it up... doesn't it remind you of being a kid again?

Have some napkins ready for this meal, friends, especially if you choose to eat it like a sandwich. They call them sloppy joes for a reason, after all. More civilized folk would eat it with a knife and fork, though. (And we won't talk about what kind of person - ahem, like me - eats the warm leftovers right out of the gladware container because it's almost too good to share with the hamburger bun.)

This recipe is everything you'd expect from a sloppy joe. A large amount of sweet and tangy sauce, hearty ground beef, and just a little bit of kick. But it has some unexpected elements too - like peppers and pinto beans - that add a little something different and a lot of extra nutrition. The picky boy didn't even notice there were beans in it until I told him! Serve it with a light salad to balance the hefty sandwich, or go all out and have some onion rings or fries... or just have another serving, because who needs a side dish when the main attraction is so good?

Trust me... try this one and you'll never eat another girly-wich again. :)

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Swiss Steak with Garlic Mashed Potatoes

I'm honestly amazed I hadn't posted this recipe before.

This, my friends, is Dane's favorite meal. He's told me that if he were on his deathbed and got to choose his last meal, this would be it. And for good reason! The hour-long simmer renders the meat meltingly tender and the veggies candy-sweet. Put it on top of a fluffy bed of silky smooth, garlic-y mashed potatoes, and you've got some of the world's most comforting food. Give it a try and you'll completely understand why Dane practically begs for it to be on the menu every week.

And talk about a budget-friendly meal! Simmering allows you to use traditionally tougher, less expensive meats yet still reap flavorful and tender results. You can use round steak or cubed steak as you prefer - I've made it with both and had great results either way. I used cubed steak this time around because we happened to have some in our freezer. The rest of the ingredients - carrots, celery, onion - are things that most people already keep in their produce stockpile... at most you might have to buy the can of tomatoes, depending on whether you keep the Italian-seasoned ones on hand. The only downfall is the time it takes to cook, really. But the prep work is easy, and once you get it simmering you can just step away and use your free hour for all kinds of important things, like playing cafe world on facebook housework or watching last week's episode of Grey's anatomy studying or taking a bubble bath laundry.

So trust me... give it a try and you'll fall in love too. :)

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Bread of the Month: Fougasse

In the spirit of challenge and personal growth, I have set a goal for myself: a different kind of bread from my Dough cookbook every month for the next year. It's a fairly attainable goal - even with as busy as I am these days, it's easy enough to block out one afternoon a month to devote to the art of breadmaking. I bought this cookbook with the intention of putting it to good use, so why not make a project out of it? Plus, I'm one of those people who needs plans and deadlines, otherwise tasks as time-consuming as this one can easily get lost in the sea of ideas I have and fall prey to procrastination. So that's the plan! One bread recipe a month for a year.

This month's bread is one that looks way more complicated than it is: the fougasse. The author, Richard, says that he likes to use this as a beginner's recipe for the students in his breadmaking classes, because it's so simple and the results are impressive. It's a simple white bread recipe, cut into four or six pieces and then strategically cut to look like a leaf. That's it! 

However, as I mentioned in my original post about this book, the French method of working the dough is a different and interesting process. So, to briefly illustrate, I employed the help of my hubby-to-be to take pictures of me working the dough, so you can kind of see what I'm talking about. We were having issues getting the camera to focus well with the poor lighting in the kitchen, so bear with me, but I think you'll still get the idea. So, without further ado, let's make some bread!

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Sage-Rubbed Pork Chops with Warm Apple Slaw

Happy St. Patty's Day everyone!

I'm a little ashamed to admit that I know very little about St. Patrick aside from the fact that he's the patron saint of Ireland. Can I use the fact that I'm not Irish as a decent excuse? After doing a little research (and I do mean a little), I discovered a legend about a man who banished snakes from Ireland, and a more believable story about a priest who used a shamrock to describe the holy trinity. Apparently March 17 is the widely accepted date of St. Patrick's death, and its celebration began as a day of feast to remember his his influence. So the whole corned beef and cabbage obsession makes sense... and while I'm sure St. Patrick wasn't a drinker himself, it's well-known that the Irish can't have a celebration without a healthy gratuitous amount of beer. :)

Another interesting tidbit I discovered is that corned beef is actually not a traditional Irish dish. Corned beef's popularity actually originated during the Irish immigration to America, and it's now served in Ireland more as tourist-friendly fare. The original Irish dish most-likely consisted of bacon or ham and cabbage, rather than beef. So, since I'm not a huge fan of super-salty corned beef, I decided I'd try this recipe for Pork Chops and Cabbage and Apple Slaw in honor of St. Patrick instead.

Up to this point, I had never actually tried the pork and apple combination. It seemed like such a popular pairing, though, that I knew I had to try it... and now that I have tried it I must say, I very much approve! The sour-sweetness of the Granny Smith apple was a surprisingly lovely complement to the juicy, savory pork chop. I think next time, though, for ease of preparation, I'll just buy a bag of pre-shredded cabbage and carrots, as shredding the carrots by hand proved to be both time consuming and a major pain. But it was worth it! So here's to you, St. Patrick... thanks for bringing Christianity to Ireland, and for giving us another excuse to celebrate. :)

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Asian Three-Bean Salad

Yesterday's irresistible teriyaki chicken thighs deserved a worthy side. Rice seemed like a no-brainer, but we eat so much rice and chicken that I could hardly stomach the thought of creating yet another chicken and rice dinner. Plus the flavorful chicken begged for something light and healthy and not too strongly flavored itself. A salad seemed like a logical choice but I knew Dane wouldn't go for plain greens, especially when the only dressing he really likes is thousand island (talk about a terrible combo with teriyaki... yuck). Then I came across this quick and easy three-bean "salad" recipe, and I knew we had a winner!

Now, the dressing I used for this salad is not what the original recipe called for... at all. The original recipe had a lot of canola oil, a little rice vinegar, and some apricot preserves - which sounds good and all, but I'm glad I tasted it before I poured it all over the beans, because it was way, way bland. All I could taste was the canola oil, and who wants that? I knew Dane certainly wouldn't eat it, and I was going to be lucky to get him to eat a side consisting of veggies and beans in the first place (as I'm sure you're figuring out, Dane is kind of a meat-and-potatoes kind of guy). So, since we both love the teriyaki sauce so much I thought, "why not use it for the dressing?" I made the exact same sauce I'd used to marinate the chicken (not the actual sauce I marinated the chicken in, don't worry) and added a little toasted sesame oil for an extra-special touch, and voila! A star was born.

My first thought upon digging into this plate of healthy goodness was that it would be perfect for a summer barbeque. It's best served at room temperature, in my opinion, but you could just as easily eat it chilled, and there's little worry about spoilage at warm temps since it doesn't contain any mayonnaise or eggs. Plus it has all of the lovely crunch of a good green salad without boring you to death or requiring gratuitous amounts of ranch dressing! Dane didn't care much for the black beans (go figure), so I think I'll keep playing around with it and maybe sub in some sugar snap peas next time in their place. Garbanzo beans could be a nice substitution too, since they tend to retain some crunch unlike the mushy black beans. The possibilities are endless! Try it yourself, and I guarantee you'll be hooked.

Monday, March 14, 2011

Sesame-Teriyaki Chicken Thighs

Today was a day deserving of a good glass of wine. Last week consisted of working 28 hours on top of classes and clinical, taking an online midterm that consisted of 7 essay questions and annihilated 5 hours of my time, and cramming for my lab midterm. Today I took said lab midterm and managed to not bomb it completely (at least I hope)... and I interviewed for my dream job! My interview went extremely well, so, with any luck, you may see me on here gloating about it in a few days! So between the stress of life and midterms and the excitement about my career, I felt a good glass of wine was definitely in order. (...and perhaps a nice, relaxing bath later too, tehe.)

A day like today is also deserving of a scrumptious dinner. Now, before I share I must admit, I'm totally in love with this sauce. I'm almost tempted to claim it as a family secret and lock it away from the rest of the world, it's that good. Not that that would work though, considering Ellie Krieger's too busy blabbing about it in her book and on the Food Network website... but nevermind. Before this recipe came into our lives Dane and I used to get our teriyaki fix from store-bought Lawry's marinade, but no more! This sauce has everything we loved about Lawry's - sweet and just a little salty, with a hint of tasty vinegar - with the satisfaction of being homemade. And it's insanely easy to make... seriously, just dump and stir. It comes together in about the time it takes to get the freshness seal off the Lawry's bottle. And from this simple little sauce comes endless possibilities, from these satisfying marinated chicken thighs to kebabs on the grill, even to a simple dressing for an asian three-bean salad to go with said chicken thighs (recipe coming tomorrow). Try it once and you'll see what I mean... guaranteed, you'll fall in love too!

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Confetti Chili

It's funny how sometimes everything in the world seems to align to the same idea at the same time. Like, for instance, me coming across these adorable BSU soup mugs. Chili had been on the menu for last weekend for over two weeks and then suddenly, two days before I was going to make it, I ran across this irresistible find on my first trip to the Bronco Shop in a very long time. It was as if the Bronco Nation gods knew that I had chili (and cute dishes) on the brain. Then, Monday (and Tuesday), after last week's lovely string of 50-degree days, it snowed out of nowhere. Funny... perfect weather for a reheated bowl of chili. Oh, and it just so happens that I'll be super busy later this week and won't have time to cook... wouldn't it be nice if I could pull something out of the freezer for a quick meal without any effort? What was that? Did someone just say that chili freezes extremely well?

Chili is one of those weird things that, for some reason, Dane absolutely refuses to eat. Like won't even try it. Not even two bites. So it's something that's been on my list of recipes-to-try-when-the-boy-is-out-of-town for pretty much forever. I've bookmarked several prospective recipes over the last couple of years, but when I saw this recipe in (you guessed it) my Ellie Krieger cookbook I knew I had to pencil it in on the schedule.

Ellie calls this recipe "confetti" chili because it's speckled with all kinds of glorious colors from all the yummy, brightly-colored,  nutrient-packed veggies she managed to slam into it. But don't worry... it doesn't even remotely resemble beef stew like I was afraid it would. This recipe is a chili-lover's chili for sure. And even if you hate chipotle like I do follow the recipe at least once, because it's actually quite good! The amount she calls for is just enough to add a little flavor without overpowering the whole dish (like many recipes containing chipotle do). 

I can't wait to eat this again on Thursday and Friday! ...although I could totally do without the snow this time. :)

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Pesto Potato Salad

Isn't it amazing how pesto seems to make everything taste fantastic?

Today, on the first day of March, Mother Nature blessed us with a gorgeous spring day. Sunny, 55 degrees, with just a slight breeze... way too nice to spend the afternoon cooped up in the apartment doing homework (like I should have been). So, after being trapped indoors all winter, I laced up my tennies and went for a long-overdue walk on the greenbelt.  I've never been much of a runner but I do love going for walks. I can hardly handle a five-minute jog, but a brisk, hour-long walk? That I can do. Aside from being decent exercise, a long walk on a nice day is one of my favorite ways to de-stress... I put in my headphones and let my worries melt away in the good beat of a Sheryl Crow song and the warmth of the sun on my face. Just what I needed with only nine weeks left in the semester and midterms on the horizon.

This dish is the perfect complement to a warmer, hopeful day like today. Soft, comforting potatoes, crunchy peppers, and bright, sweet pesto - three simple ingredients, combined to create one super-flavorful dish. I've never met a pesto dish I didn't like, but this one definitely is a contender for the favorites list. The recipe calls for this to be served cold, like a traditional potato salad, but it's just as good warmed slightly, as Dane chose to eat it... perfect for a warm day in March or a scorcher in July. :)

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