Monthly Archives: June 2012

Dinner in a Skillet

My grandma used to fry potatoes and onions in a cast iron skillet, and I thought it was just about the best thing in the world to eat.  I still do, and every time I make it – or eat my Aunt Flori’s version – I think of her.

This takes the potatoes and onions a step further.  Add sausage and peppers and you have a whole meal in a skillet.  It’s one of my favorite lazy day comfort foods.  It’s also what I cook on the rare occasions I go camping.  I chop everything up ahead of time, throw it into a skillet over the campfire, and give it a stir once in a while until it’s all done.  Heaven on a plate.

This is a recipe definitely open for variation.  You can use whatever kind of potatoes, peppers or onions you like best.  If you want a vegetarian version, leave out the sausage, vary the herbs for different flavors, etc.  This is the version I made this time.

Potato & Sausage Skillet Dinner

Potato & Sausage Skillet Dinner

1-2 tbsp. olive oil
4-5 russet potatoes, peeled, halved and sliced
2-3 links of lean sausage or kielbasa, sliced
1 small red onion, chopped
1 red pepper, diced
1 tsp. Italian seasoning
Salt & pepper
1 tbsp fresh thyme
1 tbsp chopped chives

Heat a large skillet over medium-high heat.  Add oil and heat for a minute.  Add potatoes and sausage. (Note:  if you are using a higher fat sausage, I would recommend boiling or microwaving first to render some of the fat so the dish isn’t greasy.  I usually choose a leaner sausage so that’s not necessary).  Cover and cook potatoes and sausage, stirring once or twice with a spatula, for about 5 minutes.  Uncover.  Add onions and peppers.  Add salt & pepper and Italian seasoning.  Continue to cook, stirring once in a while until potatoes are tender.  Don’t stir too often, it’s nice to let it sit from time to time so you get some crunchy bits here and there.  Toss in the fresh herbs and cook a few more minutes.  Serve hot.  If you’re feeling healthy, eat it with a big salad, or just dig in to a big bowl of this.  If you have leftovers, it’s wonderful with scrambled eggs the next morning.

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Seared Scallops with Orzo & Herb Butter Sauce

My kids are out of town and I was feeling like giving myself a little treat.  So I made myself a fancy dinner, poured a glass of wine and watched R rated shows all evening.  It was lovely.

After cooking this dish, I was so impressed with myself I sent a photo of my plate to a friend and received the reply that it looked like something you’d pay $25 for in a restaurant!  And even better, it tasted like it too.  Simple to prepare, but elegant and oh, so delicious.

Seared Scallops with Herb Butter Sauce, served with Orzo & Snap Peas

Seared Scallops with Orzo & Herb Butter Sauce
(adapted from Cooking Light)

3/4  cup uncooked orzo
2 tbsp. chopped fresh parsley (divided)
2 tbsp. chopped fresh chives (divided)
2 tsp. olive oil
1/8 tsp. kosher salt
1/4 cup shredded parmesan
1 – 1 1/2 pounds large sea scallops (3-4 per person)
1/3 cup dry white wine
1 tbsp. chopped shallots
1 tbsp. white wine or sherry vinegar
3 tbsp. chilled butter, cubed
1 tsp. chopped fresh thyme

Cook orzo according to package directions and drain.  Return to pan, stir in 1 tbsp. parsley, 1 tbsp. chives, olive oil, salt and parmesan. Keep warm.

Heat a large skillet over medium-high heat.  Sprinkle scallops with salt & pepper.  Drizzle a bit of olive oil in the skillet, heat for a minute and then add scallops to the pan.  Cook 3 minutes on each side or until browned.  Remove from pan and keep warm.  Combine wine, shallots  and vinegar in a saucepan; bring to a boil. Cook 5 minutes or until liquid is reduced to 1 tbsp.  Reduce heat to low.  Add butter cubes, one at a time, whisking after each addition until butter is fully incorporated.  Stir in remaining herbs and 1/8 tsp. each of salt & pepper.  Drizzle over scallops and orzo.  Serves 4.

Seared Scallops…mmmmm!

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Thai Steak Salad

I love Thai food with its complex flavors and fresh ingredients.  A little sweet, a little tangy, a bit of salty, and a zip of heat.  But sometimes I only think about curries and noodles and forget about Thai salads.  This salad is as tasty as it is pretty and comes together in a snap.

Thai Steak Salad

Thai Steak Salad
(from Cooking Light)

1 flank steak (or substitute sirloin or flatiron steak if not available)
1/2 tsp. ground black pepper
1/4 tsp. kosher salt
1/4 cup fresh lime juice
1 tbsp. brown sugar
2 tbsp. soy sauce
1 tbsp. fish sauce
2 tsp. minced fresh garlic
1 tsp. Sriracha (hot chile sauce)
1 1/2 cups thinly sliced red cabbage
1 1/4 cups fresh bean sprouts
3/4 cup julienne-cut carrots
1/3 cup fresh mint leaves
1/3 cup fresh cilantro leaves
1/3 cup fresh basil leaves

Heat large grill pan over medium-high heat.  Coat pan with cooking spray.  Sprinkle steak with salt & pepper.  Add steak to pan and cook 6 minutes on each side or to desired doneness.  Remove steak from pan and let stand 5 minutes.  Cut across grain into thin slices.

Combine lime juice, brown sugar, soy sauce, fish sauce, garlic and Sriracha in a small bowl.  Stir well with whisk.  In a large bowl combine cabbage, bean sprouts, carrots and herbs.  Add two tablespoons sauce to beef and toss.  Add remaining sauce to the cabbage mixture and toss well.  Toss steak and cabbage and eat!  Serves 4.

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The Cure For What Ails You

Rough day?  Head Cold?  Bad mood?  Bad weather?  Obviously, you need some chicken soup.  According to my grandma and old wives everywhere, it will cure what ails you.  I don’t know if that’s true, but I do know that when I’m not feeling well, or when it’s rainy outside I like to eat chicken soup and it makes me feel better. Of course, it’s also pretty tasty when you’re feeling just fine.

I usually start with a pretty basic chicken soup recipe, and then I tend to play with it.  Sometimes I go a little Italian, with tomatoes and herbs, sometimes it’s more of a Thai theme, with coconut milk and chiles.  For today, I wanted simple, but rich and creamy.  And that’s just what I got.

Creamy Pesto Chicken Noodle Soup

Creamy Pesto Chicken Noodle Soup

2 chicken breasts
1 onion, chopped
1 cup chopped celery
1 cup sliced or chopped carrots
6-8 cups chicken broth
1 bay leaf
1 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. pepper
4 oz. small shaped pasta, like shells
1/3 cup basil pesto
3/4 cup heavy cream

Combine chicken broth, chicken breasts, onion, celery, bay leaf and carrots in a soup pot and bring to a boil.   Reduce heat to a barely boil and cook for 20-30 minutes, until chicken is cooked through and veggies are tender.  Remove chicken and let it cool a bit, then shred by pulling it apart with two forks.  Add salt & pepper and shredded chicken to pot and bring soup back to a boil.  Add pasta.  Cook 5 minutes.  Stir in pesto and cream and cook another 5-10 minutes until pasta is tender.  Taste for seasoning; adjust salt & pepper if needed.  Makes 6-8 servings.

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Mini Polenta Pizzas

Polenta is one of those ingredients I forget about.  That is, until I have some and then I think, “oh yeah, I love this stuff!”.  There are two ways I really like it: one is cooked creamy, like rice or grits (although oddly, I don’t like grits), preferably loaded with some sort of creamy cheese.  The other way I love it is when it is set up solid, and then fried so it’s a little crispy on the outside.

To fry polenta, you can make it yourself and then cook it in a pan to set up solid, then cut it into pieces and pan-fry it.  Or, if you are rather lazy like me, you can buy it pre-made in a tube!  Now, usually food in a tube grosses me out, but this stuff is pretty good, without much in the way of added ingredients.  Simply remove it from the tube and slice it up into disks.  Fry or bake to your heart’s content or use it in whatever recipe strikes your fancy.

In this case, I was in the mood for pizza.  But I’m trying to eat more healthy, and also trying to cut down on gluten-heavy foods since they seem to love my hips (and why wouldn’t they?).  So the idea for using polenta disks instead of crust was born.  Since I had just broken in my new food processor by making the first batch of pesto out of my garden, I decided on pesto instead of red sauce and with a couple of fresh veggies and stretchy cheese…voila!  Pizza in a quickie, fairly healthy, bite-size form. Can I just say, I’m somewhat of a genius?

Mini Polenta Pizzas

Mini Polenta Pizzas

1 tube of pre-made polenta
Salt & pepper
Olive oil
1/2 cup basil pesto (store bought or homemade)
Fresh garden or vine-ripened tomatoes, sliced
Zucchini, sliced in disks or diced
Mozzarella cheese, shredded or thinly sliced

Preheat oven to 400˚.  Slice polenta into disks, about 1/2 inch thick.  Lay on a baking sheet and drizzle with a bit of olive oil.  Sprinkle with salt & pepper.  Bake for 10 minutes.  Take out of the oven and smear tops with pesto.


Build your pizza with your favorite toppings.  We used fresh tomatoes, thinly sliced zucchini and mozzarella cheese.

Fresh and beautiful toppings

Pop back into the oven and bake for 10-15 minutes, until cheese is melted and starting to brown in spots.  Remove from oven and let it sit for just a few minutes.  If you eat them when they are really hot, you’ll need a fork.  If you wait a little bit you can pick them up.  Up to you!  One tube of polenta yields about 10 mini pizzas.

Right out of the oven. And those crunchy cheese bits on the pan all got eaten too!

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I’m Not Sweet In The Morning

You can keep your french toast and your waffles.  When it comes to breakfast I want something savory.  I guess you could just say I’m not all that sweet in the morning. 🙂

I hardly ever order omelets in restaurants.  They are either waaay too big (really, who needs to eat 6 eggs in one sitting?), or the cheese isn’t melted, or the eggs are overcooked, or there is too much stuff in it, or…something.  I just like mine better.  And they are so easy to make.  I usually make a 2 egg omelet, but you could make it with three if you have a bigger appetite.

In this case, I had a few simple ingredients on hand.  Basil from my own garden, some organic grape tomatoes from the fruit stand, and fresh feta from farmer’s market.  With ingredients that good, there was no need for anything else.

Tomato Feta Omelet

Tomato Feta Omelet

2 eggs
1/4 cup chopped grape or cherry tomatoes
1-2 tbsp sliced fresh basil
2 tbsp crumbled feta
Salt & pepper
Olive oil for cooking

Heat a small skillet (I use a 6 or 8″ non-stick pan for omelets) over medium heat.  Make sure your pan is hot before you cook!  Get all of your ingredients ready, it will come together quickly once you start.  Beat eggs with a pinch of salt & pepper in a small bowl with a fork or whisk until very well combined. When your pan is hot add a drizzle of olive oil and swirl it around.  If you flick a few drops of water in the pan and they sizzle, your pan is ready.  Pour in the eggs and swirl around to cover the bottom of the pan.  Using a spatula, push in or lift up the edges in different spots, tilting the pan to let the runny egg fill the spot and then doing another spot.  You’ll end up with a bumpy moon-surface sort of omelet bed with no runny egg left, but eggs still a little glossy on top.

Making the omelet. Note bumpy surface from moving the eggs around. That’s the secret to a great omelet that doesn’t have runny stuff in the middle and isn’t overcooked on the outside.

When the eggs stop running (but aren’t quite finished cooking), sprinkle cheese.  Then put your other ingredients on one half.  When the cheese is pretty much melted, carefully fold the bare half over the half with the ingredients, cook for another 30 seconds or so and slide off onto a plate.


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Sesame Snap Peas & Noodles

Pasta is so good, but unfortunately not that great for you in large quantities.  That’s why I’m always trying to find ways to make it a little more healthy.  And that usually means piling on the veggies.  Luckily, my kitchen is usually well-stocked with vegetables of all sorts since I tend to buy everything that looks good at farmer’s markets on the weekends.  And believe me, EVERYTHING looks good this time of year!

I love this Asian take on noodles and veggies.  It’s such a quick and satisfying meal.  I used brown rice noodles, keeping with the Asian theme and also keeping it gluten-free.  As far as gluten-free noodles go, I really like these; they are very similar to regular pasta in taste and texture.  But any type of pasta will work great.  In this dish, I love the contrast of the cool noodles with the hot stir-fried veggies and light, zippy sauce.  Perfect for a summer dinner.

Sesame Snap Peas & Noodles

Sesame Snap Peas & Noodles

8 oz. thin spaghetti or angel hair
1 tsp. garlic chile paste
2 tbsp soy sauce
1 tsp. lime juice
1 tbsp sesame oil
1/4 tsp. sugar
1 pound snap peas, strings pulled and sliced in half
1 tbsp minced fresh ginger
1 tbsp mince fresh garlic
1 orange or red bell pepper, diced
1 spring onion, sliced or diced
1 tbsp. toasted sesame seeds

Cook noodles until tender, but firm to the bite, 6-8 minutes.  Rinse with cool water and set aside.  Meanwhile, in a small bowl, combine, garlic chile paste, soy sauce, lime juice, sesame oil and sugar.  Set aside.  Heat a large skillet over medium heat and add a drizzle of canola oil.  Add snap peas, ginger, garlic, bell pepper, and onion.  Stir fry a few minutes until veggies are crisp tender.  Add bowl of sauce and sesame seeds and stir well to combine.  Cook for another minute or so.  Toss with noodles and serve.  Serves 4.

Sesame Snap Peas & Noodles

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Easy Roasted Shrimp & Green Beans

Green beans are my favorite vegetable.  Fun to eat, crunchy and good.  This time of year, farmer’s market has them by the bucket so I picked some up last time I went. Roasting is my preferred method to cook just about any vegetable, and the only thing easier is to go ahead and throw the other ingredients for dinner on the pan with it.

This dish has all the yumminess of shrimp scampi (without the gobs of butter) plus the crunchiness of the roasted green beans.  Serve with some simple couscous for an easy, delicious dinner that’s actually good for you.  If you don’t like mushrooms, leave them out.  Same goes with the crushed red pepper. This is one that is very easy to adapt to your own tastes.

Easy Roasted Shrimp & Green Beans

Easy Roasted Shrimp & Green Beans

1 pound of fresh green beans
1 pound peeled shrimp
A handful of small mushrooms, if you like them
5 cloves garlic, sliced
1/2 tsp. crushed red pepper (add more or less to adjust spiciness to your taste)
2 lemons
Salt & pepper
1 tbsp. olive oil

Preheat oven to 400˚. Line large baking sheet with foil or parchment (this is mostly for easy clean up, you don’t have to do it if you don’t want to).  Combine shrimp, green beans, garlic, crushed red pepper and zest from both lemons.  Spread out in pan.  Sprinkle with salt & pepper.  Squeeze juice of one lemon over the top.  Drizzle the whole thing with a bit of olive oil (you don’t need much).  Bake for 20 minutes until green beans are tender but still have a bite and shrimp are cooked through.  Cut the other lemon into wedges for garnish and to squeeze over the top of both the shrimp and couscous if desired.  Serves 4.

Fresh out of the oven. Yum!

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Where’s The Tortilla in Tortilla Soup?

When I was in art school I had a great job for a while, working at Denver Art Supply.  Not only did I get a discount on all my art supplies for school, I learned all sorts of fun things and I had the pleasure of working with a great group of people.  One of the people I looked up to was a girl named Jennifer, who although only in her mid-20’s, was a wife and mother and artist and knew all sorts of interesting things.  One of the things she taught me was how to make tortilla soup, which to this day, although I’ve played with it a little bit, is still very similar to that original recipe.

Of course one of the great mysteries (to me) about tortilla soup is that there are not any tortillas in it.  I’ve come up with some answers to this, mostly just because I like answers to questions.  One is that there USED to be tortillas and the recipe has somehow evolved to not need them anymore, perhaps because someone discovered it’s just better to crunch up chips in at the end instead.  Or maybe it’s because it’s really great when you eat it WITH tortillas, scooping some of the soup up with a torn off bit and making a total mess of yourself in the process.  Either way, it’s delicious!

Chicken Tortilla Soup. Not a tortilla in sight, but it’s still awesome!

Chicken Tortilla Soup

1/2 pound chicken thighs, cut into bite-sized pieces
1 onion, chopped
1 jalapeno, chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
3 cups chicken broth
3 cups beef broth
1 cup tomato juice
1 tsp. worcestershire sauce
1 can black beans, drained
2/3 cup uncooked rice
1-2 tsp. cumin
1-2 tsp. chili powder
Salt & pepper

Saute onions, garlic & jalapeño in a little canola oil for a couple of minutes.  Add chicken and continue to cook until onions are soft and chicken is no longer pink.  Add broth, tomato juice and worcestershire.  Bring to a boil and then turn down to medium and cook for 10 minutes or so.  Add beans, rice and seasonings.  Stir to combine and cook for another 15-20 minutes, until rice is done.  Top with a squeeze of lime, avocado, cheese, sour cream or tortilla chips (or all of the above)!

The leftovers freeze great, so I highly recommend making a double batch!

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I Grew Something, and Then I Ate It!

My lettuce is growing!  That’s right.  I, the plant killer, have successfully grown something.  Not only that, but I grew enough of it for an actual meal.  If this was a video blog, I would post a clip of my happy dance.  But you’ll just have to use your imagination.

To celebrate our victory, we made salad for dinner.  The star of the dish was, of course, the 5 varieties of leaf and butter lettuce we grew.  Combined with some grapefruit and toasted nuts and chickpeas, it was a fresh, summery treat.  You can section fresh grapefruit if you have the time, but I was in the mood for something quick and easy, so I bought sectioned grapefruit (packed in its own juice) in the produce section.

Toasted Walnut and Grapefruit Salad with Roasted Chickpeas

Toasted Walnut & Grapefruit Salad

6-8 cups mixed leaf  and/or butter lettuces
1 26-oz jar unsweetened ruby red grapefruit sections (reserve the juice)
2 tsp. olive oil
1 tbsp. honey
1/4 tsp. salt
1/4 tsp. pepper
1/2 cup coarsely chopped walnuts, toasted
1 can chickpeas, roasted

Combine 1/4 cup grapefruit juice from the jar with the olive oil, honey, salt & pepper.  Whisk or shake in a jar until combined.  In a bowl gently toss the grapefruit sections with the lettuce.  To toast walnuts, bake in the oven for 5-10 minutes at 375˚.  For roasted chickpeas, see my recipe here.  Top lettuce and grapefruit mixture with toasted walnuts and chickpeas.  Drizzle with dressing and enjoy.

Roasted chickpeas. Great on the salad, or on the side. Or both!

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