Category Archives: quick dinners

A Green Feast

If you have kids, you know that sometimes getting them to eat their veggies is a chore. Even for some adults, getting in the recommended amount of veggies is tough. There are only so many ways to eat some vegetables, and I’m always trying to find new ways to eat my veggies that’s both palatable and easy to prepare.  I would also like to decrease the amount of meat that I consume, but having spent the last 38 years as a dedicated meat eater, this is going to be a tough task.  I would like to make an earnest go at it, and tonight’s dinner was a step in that direction.

Enter the (nearly) vegetarian fare I fixed for dinner this evening.  A few lazy afternoons ago, SB and I found ourselves watching Giada DeLaurentiis’ show on the Food Network, and she was preparing for a child’s party.  She was going to serve homemade fish sticks (which seem remarkably easy to make) with marinara, and grilled cheese with spinach cleverly hidden inside.  As she prepared the sandwich filling, I thought, “hey, that sounds pretty good, but certainly there is a way to cut the fat and boost the fiber content.”  Lo and behold:

The green grilled cheese can be eaten open-faced, as seen here, or smushed together as a proper sandwich. Either way, it's a good way to get in a serving of veggies and dairy.

For contrast, here’s what the first round of sandwiches looked like:

This one turned out a bit more done than I would have liked. It was still pretty tasty, just a bit overdone. Also, these are the sandwiches that had bacon in them.

I made mine with part-skim mozzarella and a touch of Monterrey Jack, used a canola oil/butter spread and by proportion, doubled the amount of spinach used.  I also served mine on whole wheat bread.  Giada’s recipe calls for pancetta, and I will admit, the first round of these sandwiches I made did have a couple of slices of bacon on them, but I felt the addition of bacon added too much fat.  The second attempt at the sandwiches, I left the bacon off, which made them much better.

Now, you can’t have grilled cheese without soup.  I’d been wanting to make a broccoli soup, but not the usual broccoli-cheese or cream of broccoli soup.  I felt both were too heavy for summer, and laden with more fat than we needed to consume–remember, we were eating grilled cheese as well!  Instead, I went the Gordon Ramsay route and kept it simple:  4 ingredients, easy to make and quite savory.  I think this soup would probably be good served cold as well, but I didn’t prepare it far enough in advance to chill it.  Perhaps next time I make it, I’ll try that.  But here’s how my version of Ramsay’s soup turned out:

A simple soup, this broccoli soup is full of antioxidants, fiber and flavor--all from just four ingredients.

Both of these recipes could be made completely vegetarian with the substitution of vegetable stock for the chicken stock in the soup.  I’m sure the recipes could be made vegan as well with the use of soy-based cheese for the sandwiches, but I am not certain as I have no familiarity with how well soy cheeses melt.

Here’s how you can recreate the Green Feast at your place.  You will need:

For the sandwiches:

  • 1 cup part-skim mozzarella, shredded
  • 1/4 cup Monterrey Jack cheese, shredded
  • 2 tablespoons Land O’ Lakes canola oil/butter spread (you can also use butter, softened)
  • 2 cups baby spinach
  • 8 slices whole wheat bread
  • Optional:  cooked bacon

Preheat your oven to 425 degrees F.  To make the spread for the sandwiches, pour the cheeses and butter spread into the bowl of a food processor.  Pulse until the cheeses and butter are combined, and then add the spinach a cup at a time, until the leaves are completely blended into the cheese-butter mixture.  The mixture should be easy to spread at this point.  Spread about 2 tablespoons of the spread on each of the bread slices.  If you would like to add bacon to your sandwiches, as I did for the first sandwiches we ate, place a slice of bacon on each piece of bread (this will give you 2 slices/sandwich).  Place the bread with the spread on a baking sheet and bake until the cheese is melted, about 7-9 minutes.  Enjoy while hot.

Additionally, you could use a panini press, if you have one, or cook them on a griddle on the stovetop.  I elected to use the oven so that both sandwiches I was preparing would be hot and ready at the same time.

For the soup:

  • 3 broccoli crowns, chopped into chunks (I used frozen ones we had that I had defrosted; fresh would work just as well)
  • 2 cups chicken stock (or vegetable stock if you want to make it vegetarian/vegan)
  • 1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon lemon juice
  • black pepper to season (4-6 turns of a grinder, if you’ve got one)

Heat the stock up in a saucepan on the stove until it just begins to boil.  Add your broccoli, reduce the heat and place a lid on the pan and allow it to cook in the stock for about 8-10 minutes, or until the broccoli is soft but has not lost its vibrant green color.

Once the broccoli has finished cooking, you have two options:

1.  Pour the cooked broccoli and stock into a large bowl and use a hand blender to puree the soup.  Add the lemon juice and pepper.  Serve the soup while hot.

2.  Carefully pour the broccoli and stock into a blender and puree, adding the lemon juice and pepper during the blending process.

Either way, you will get terrifically tasty soup!  I garnished mine with broccoli sprouts, as you can see in the picture.  SB garnished his with a tablespoon of cheddar cheese and said it was quite tasty with that addition.

The soup recipe made 4 cups of soup, and the sandwich recipe made 4 sandwiches.


Chicken-Asparagus Skillet

We’re entering Day 3 of our icy entrapment here in the northern ‘burbs, and to say cabin fever has set in is an understatement.  While I’m grateful I did the shopping Sunday, I’m concerned because now we are running low on staples like bread and milk, and there is no end to the ice in sight.  We’re expecting a slight warm-up on Saturday, but the lows will still be below freezing.  As long as the weather is nice for the Super Bowl, right?  That’s all that matters to most folks in the Metroplex right now, as we’re the host of the big game.  Needless to say, the visitors converging on our part of the world are not getting the taste of spring they would normally get this time of year here.

Like many others around the country right now, I too long for spring.  At least the warmth of it, anyway!  I can do without the bone-chilling cold that we’ve had for 3 days now.  The dinner I fixed tonight was a little taste of spring, and easy to fix.  Mind you, I did manage to slice open my index finger while washing a knife I was going to use, so I nearly called this dish “pollo de sangre,” but I didn’t think it would be terribly appetizing then.   If you’re a fan of asparagus, this dish is chock full of it.  I think even picky eaters would gobble this up.  I know we did!

A quick dinner that's reminiscent of spring, this is a light one-skillet meal that has a hint of basil and a kiss of citrus.

I served this with baby bowtie pasta, but you could serve it on its own, or with rice.  A good risotto might be an excellent accompaniment.  Here’s how I did it.  You will need:

  • 6 boneless, skinless chicken thighs, cut into bite-size pieces
  • 4 pieces of bacon, cut into lardons (pancetta would be outstanding here, but we had none)
  • 2 tablespoons dried basil leaves (fresh would be better, but we had none)
  • 1 teaspoon white pepper
  • 2 tablespoons lemon juice
  • 1 cup chicken stock
  • 2 tablespoons salted butter
  • 1 bunch asparagus, cut into bite-sized pieces (about 4 cups)
  • salt, to taste

In a large skillet, render the fat from the bacon and remove the pieces to a small bowl.  You will use them again later, so don’t nibble on them while you’re cooking the rest of the meal!

Using the bacon fat, cook the chicken over medium-high heat until nearly well-done, about 8 minutes.  When the chicken appears to be well-done, stir in the bacon, basil, lemon juice, pepper and chicken stock.  Cover the skillet and let the flavors combine for about 10 minutes.  Add the butter, and let it melt completely into the pan sauce you’ve created.  The butter adds a bit of richness without being too over the top.   Once the sauce is bubbly and the butter melted, add the asparagus and let it cook for about 4 minutes or so, or until the asparagus is bright green.  You don’t want to cook it until it is mushy, because you want it to have a bit of a tooth when you bite into it.

Remove the chicken and asparagus to a platter or bowl with rice or pasta (or nothing) and allow the pan sauce to reduce slightly so it thickens up.  Once the pan sauce has reduced, pour it over the chicken/asparagus and serve while hot.

This recipe made 6 generous servings.  I served this on a bed of cooked baby bowties, which I cooked from 2 cups of dry pasta according to package directions.

A couple of notes:  my husband added some grated Parmigiano Reggiano to his dish, which he said complemented it quite nicely.  Give it a try!

I also think using white wine in place of the chicken stock would add a good flavor here.  We didn’t have any or I would have tried it.

Quick Zucchini-Tomato Skillet with Pork

Have you ever had your mind made up about what you wanted to fix for dinner, and once you got in the kitchen to prepare the meal, you discovered that you were out of a key ingredient and had to change your game plan?

That’s exactly what happened to me tonight.  Normally I keep a very well-stocked kitchen, but apparently, I had run out of a critical spice I needed for the calabacitas I wanted to make and got thrown for a loop.  Since I’d gotten home from school late, I was tired and hungry and in no mood to cook something that would take longer than was absolutely necessary.  I also didn’t want to have to go BACK to the store to get anything, so I started thinking quickly.

Thankfully, my 15 years as a high school teacher has taught me to think fast on my feet, and I thought, “hey, thinly sliced pork + zucchini coins + tomato puree + spices = yum.”  And thus, dinner was born:

A quick dinner I threw together this evening that reminds me a bit of summer--the combination of zucchini and tomatoes is always a winner. Add some basil, garlic and lean pork and it's a filling, healthy meal!

It turned out to be something sort of Italian rather than Mexican, which was okay by me.  Here’s how I did it.  You will need:

  • 1 1/2 pounds boneless pork chops, cut on the bias into strips
  • 6 cups zucchini, sliced into coins
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 tablespoon minced garlic
  • 1 teaspoon granulated garlic
  • 1 teaspoon white pepper
  • 2 teaspoons dried basil
  • 1 cup chicken broth
  • 1 28 oz. can tomato puree (I used Muir Glen)
  • Salt, to taste

In a large skillet or Dutch oven, heat your olive oil.  Place the minced garlic and  pork chop strips in the oil and cook the meat until done, about 5-6 minutes.  Remove them from the pan to a bowl for the time being.  Reserve the pan juices so that you can cook the zucchini in them.

Add the zucchini, garlic powder, salt and pepper to the pan and stir to distribute the pan juices over the veggies.  Add the cup of chicken broth and cover the pan so the zucchini has a chance to soften slightly, about 10 minutes.

After the 10 minutes is up, stir in the tomato puree and dried basil.  Fresh basil would work here just as well.  Add the pork strips back in and stir the mixture around so that the sauce is evenly distributed around the zucchini and pork.  Allow this to cook for another 10-15 minutes over medium-high heat until bubbly.  Serve with pasta or rice, or eat as-is.  Top with mozzarella or Parmesan cheese if desired.  Additionally, you could also add onions and red pepper flakes for more of a punch.  Finally, if you’re vegetarian, leave out the chicken broth and pork and you’ve got not only a vegetarian meal, but a vegan one that’s also gluten-free, so long as you don’t add pasta or cheese.

This made 8 servings.  I served our portions with 1 cup cooked baby bowtie pasta each.   It was really quite good, very filling and a great way to get your daily veggies.  It was also a nice reminder of summer’s bounty of produce, and made me nostalgic for trips to the farmer’s market.  I’m so over winter already, and ready for the good greens and sweet fruits of spring and summer!

Turkey Picadillo Taco Filling

When I was growing up, most of the time when my mom cooked dinner, it was usually something that was traditional Mexican cuisine.  In fact, most of the memorable meals I ate growing up were Mexican in origin, and to this day, Mexican food (and its bastard cousin, Tex-Mex) is still my favorite thing to eat.

One of the things my mom always used to fix was this taco filling that was basically ground beef, diced potatoes and seasoning.  I didn’t know until about 3 years ago when I ate a picadillo taco from Fuel City (one of the best tacos EVER, Texas Monthly says so) that this was picadillo filling.  Picadillo is a type of hash, really, that has many variants depending on what part of Latin American you hail from.  Some picadillos have olives, pimientos, carrots, bell peppers or even cinnamon as ingredients.   The picadillo recipe I’ve developed is a healthier version of the one Mom used to make, since it uses ground turkey rather than ground beef, and it’s a bit spicier since I add a few spices to it that she did not.

The result?  A really tasty, easy dinner.

A dinner staple at our house, these tacos are easy to make and a healthy version of a traditional Mexican favorite.

I serve mine on whole wheat tortillas, with a bit of shredded cheese and a squeeze of lime juice.  Here’s how I did it.

You will need:

  • 1 pound ground turkey (use the 93/7 mixture; ground turkey breast is too dry for this)
  • 4 large red skin potatoes, peeled and diced
  • 1 teaspoon ground cumin
  • 1 teaspoon red pepper flakes (I used medium heat ones since it was all I had; usually I use very hot ones)
  • 1 teaspoon ancho chili powder (adds a nice smokiness)
  • 1/2 teaspoon smoked paprika
  • 1 teaspoon minced garlic
  • 1 teaspoon white pepper
  • salt to taste

NOTE: Onions would be an excellent addition here, and I would add a half cup of diced onion if I could.

In a large skillet, brown the turkey with the garlic, stirring periodically to break it up.  Do not drain the meat.  There is not a lot of fat here anyway, and the resultant liquid will help flavor your potatoes.  Once the meat is done browning, add the potatoes and 2 cups of water, plus all the seasonings.  Stir the potatoes in with the meat until everything is thoroughly mixed.  Cover the skillet and let the mixture simmer for about 20 minutes, or until the potatoes soften.  You can then adjust the salt levels to however you like.

Serve in warm tortillas with your favorite taco accompaniments.  These are especially good with a squeeze of lime and Monterrey jack cheese.  We ate ours with a leafy green salad, but usual sides for this dish are rice and beans.

This recipe made 6 medium-sized tacos, with leftovers to make 2 more medium-sized tacos.  If we had used smaller tortillas, this recipe could have easily made a dozen tacos.