Sunday, April 27, 2008

Quesadillas reloaded

Sometimes I find a recipe that looks like it would have potential if it weren't only halfway finished, like this one for veggie quesadillas.

I mean, for one thing, it refers to onions in the directions but not in the ingredients.

For another, it looks bland and not too healthy.

My fixes:
  • Added a small red onion, halved end-to-end and sliced along the short side.
  • Used olive oil instead of vegetable oil for the flavor and health benefits (in moderation, olive oil is good for your heart!).
  • Browned the quesadillas without oil to avoid needless fat.
  • Added the juice of 1 lime for extra-tangy flavor.
  • Added 1 clove of garlic halfway through cooking the peppers and onions -- and I'm not ashamed to admit that I cheated and used minced garlic from a jar to save time.
  • Used chili-flavored tortillas.
  • Substituted low-fat Mexican 4-cheese blend.
  • Used fresh deli salsa.

Next time:
  • Add some chopped cilantro, because I put it in everything.
  • Serve with low-fat sour cream for dipping.
  • Try a mango or habanero salsa.

And the result? A deliciously tangy, slightly spicy, absolutely incredible quesadilla.

Just ignore what the recipe says about taking 50 minutes from start to finish. They probably took my advice from the last post about drinking wine while cooking. I did this in half an hour.

(Pssst. Voga pinot grigio? PLEH! I've had $3 wines that taste better. This stuff was harsh and too tangy with an alcohol bite that I can only describe as excessive. We didn't even finish it. Standard disclaimers about preferring sweet beverages apply.)

Friday, April 25, 2008

Recipes from a time warp!

Does anyone really believe those cookbooks and TV shows that claim you can have dinner ready in 30 minutes, or 15 minutes, or before you even start cooking it?

How about reality-TV-ifying cooking shows? Let's see one where the sink is full, the chopping boards are dirty and the dishwasher didn't get everything clean. TV chefs' counters are never littered with beer bottle caps, crumbs, and suspiciously sticky empty glasses.

Oh, and let's see a kitchen that's actually smaller than my whole apartment.

So what's there to do when you don't have kitchen help?

  • Recruit kitchen help. Okay, so I haven't done this much, mainly because I'm a terrible teacher and The Mr. doesn't really cook. We would probably end up making a hilarious UR DOIN IT WRONG picture. But I save a lot of time and burns by calling for help when it's time to drain pasta.
  • Measure everything out before you start. I have a couple of tiny little dishes that a friend said are sushi dipping bowls or something. It helps to measure the spices out into little bowls first so that you don't have to hunt for spices and spoons at the risk of burning your food. Chop the veggies, open the cans, crack the eggs, measure the liquids. It probably doesn't save much time, but it can really save your sanity.
  • Buy ingredients the day before. I don't plan for a whole week, because it doesn't work. Someone works late, gets invited out to dinner, brings something home, the kitchen is messy, someone gets a craving for a specific restaurant's dish... Stuff happens. Food goes bad. Just plan for only two or three days in advance.
  • Frozen veggies aren't always bad. In fact, I'm going to use some in a couple of hours when I go home to make quesadillas. Mmm!
  • Some steps can be done ahead of time. Even if the recipe doesn't specifically suggest doing some of the prep work a day or two ahead, give it a thought. This takes a little bit of a sense of what will get yucky and what won't, but once you have that, it can save a lot of time.
  • And if all else fails: Wine. Dinner will still take the same amount of time. It may take longer. But you won't care anymore. Of course, you probably won't taste the food very well, and there's a better-than-average chance of lopping off a finger or burning the whole place down, but life is full of trade-offs, no? (I kid, I kid!)

Saturday, April 19, 2008

Feel that burn!

Well, I had too much week left at the end of the money Thursday night and had to make dinner out of whatever was hanging around in the kitchen.

In the toss-up between black bean fajita burritos and Asian noodles made with ramen as a base, the fajitas won.

I didn't measure how much cumin and cayenne I used. Nor did I measure the tears that were running down my face from the heat. I'd guess that I used at least half a teaspoon of cayenne and probably a bit less cumin. If cayenne is too much for you, just add freshly ground black pepper at step 2.

  • 1 can of black beans
  • 1/2 green bell pepper, cut into strips (go ahead and use the last, sad, shrively one, just chop off the wrinkled parts). If you're really masochistic, use jalapeƱos.
  • 1 small red onion, halved and thickly sliced (is the core turning green? Pull it out of the slices!)
  • 1 clove of garlic, finely chopped
  • cumin
  • cayenne
  • juice of 1 lime
  • 2 flour tortillas
  • shredded cheese (cheddar, Jack, whatever's in the fridge)
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 2 tablespoons hopped cilantro
  1. Heat the olive oil in a saucepan. Saute the garlic for 1 minute, then add the onions and peppers. Sprinkle with cumin and cayenne to taste. Saute until soft.
  2. Add the black beans, lime juice, and cilantro. Cook until heated through.
  3. Spoon the mixture onto two flour tortillas. Top with the shredded cheese and fold burrito-style.
  4. Heat a skillet. Place the burritos, folded side down, on the skillet and cook until browned. Repeat with the other side. Remove from heat and slice in half.

Sunday, April 13, 2008

Pad Thai is love

After two failed attempts at making Thai food (the pad prik was inedible and the burgers made me sick), I was a little reluctant to try again.

The pad Thai I just made was delicious, which I'm sure is because I didn't bother making my own sauce this time. Instead, I got a package that came with noodles and sauce at Trader Joe's.

This is so easy. Anyone can make pad Thai -- just buy the sauce. Is it cheating? Maybe. But you can make up for that by adding fresh veggies. Just check out the international aisle at the grocery store. Thai Kitchen sells rice noodles and pad Thai sauce. Then get yourself over to the produce department, 'cause most of what you're gonna need is fresh veggies:

  • 1 egg, beaten
  • 3 tablespoons vegetable oil
  • 4 Thai chiles (if you can't find them, get serrano chiles instead)
  • 3 green onions
  • 1 Roma tomato
  • a handful of snow peas
  • 1/4 cup crushed peanuts (just put unsalted peanuts in a baggie, seal it, and release your aggression)
  • 1 lime, cut into wedges
  • 1/2 cup bean sprouts
  • 4oz chicken, meat, shrimp, or tofu
  • thin rice noodles
  • pad Thai sauce
  1. Cook the noodles according to package instructions (mine said to boil water, turn off the heat, add the 9-oz package of noodles, and let sit for 3-5 minutes or until soft but firm).
  2. Drain the noodles, rinse with cold water, and set aside.
  3. Heat 1T oil in a skillet and scramble the egg. Set the egg aside for later.
  4. Heat the remaining 2T oil and stir-fry your meat or tofu, chiles, and snow peas for about 2 minutes.
  5. Add the noodles, pad Thai sauce, and bean sprouts. Stir-fry for another 3-5 minutes, until the bean sprouts are cooked and the mixture is heated through.
  6. Turn off the heat. Add the tomato, egg, onion, and peanuts; stir until well combined. Garnish with the lime wedges, (pssst -- encourage everyone to squeeze the limes over the noodles. Yum!).
I'm telling you, you can't mess this up!

Wednesday, April 9, 2008

Black beans & corn for lunch

I got to come home for lunch today because class was canceled. When I make myself lunch, I often make black beans, because they're filling without being fattening.

So I threw together this delicious mixture of black beans and corn. It makes enough for two people, or you can just put half of it in the fridge, because it really gets better with time. Oh yeah, and it's also ridiculously cheap.

  • 1 can of black beans, drained and rinsed
  • 1 can of corn, drained and rinsed
  • 1/4 cup coarsely chopped cilantro
  • 3 green onions, sliced
  • juice of 1 lime
  • 1-2 tablespoons of spicy salsa (I used deli salsa because I'm a salsa snob)
  • salt
  • freshly ground black pepper
  • garlic powder
  1. Combine beans, corn, cilantro, onions, salsa, and lime juice in a saucepan. Season to taste with the salt, pepper, and garlic powder.
  2. Cook over medium heat until heated through, about 5 minutes.

Tuesday, April 8, 2008

Quick, easy, healthy snack

I had a bad case of the Mondays last night that only a bottle of wine would cure.

But what about a snack to go with it? It was 9:30 P.M.! It had to be healthy! And quick!

Done and done. Seriously, you don't even have to measure this stuff. It's so ridiculously simple.

  • Roma tomatoes
  • Grated Parmesan (or shredded Parmesan, or mozzarella)
  • Freshly ground black pepper
  • Salt
  • Crushed red pepper flakes
  1. Heat the oven to 400 degrees. If you have a toaster oven, that's even better (and I am very jealous).
  2. Slice the tomatoes. Lay them on a baking sheet. Sprinkle with pepper, salt, cheese, and red pepper flakes.
  3. Bake at the bottom of the oven for 10 minutes.
  4. Serve. Drink wine. Feel better.
(The wine, by the way, was too dry. But then, I like super-sweet drinks.)

Saturday, April 5, 2008

Italian pasta salad

My mom made pasta salad a lot when I lived at home: some pasta, some peppers, onions, and olives, and some Italian dressing. So (along with pancakes for dinner) it's kind of comfort food to me.

But I got to thinking: could I make it healthier by bulking it up with more veggies?

Yes. Yes I can. And now you can, too.

  • 1 lb rigatoni
  • 1 bell pepper, chopped
  • 3 Roma tomatoes, seeded and chopped
  • 1 broccoli crown, cut into bite-sized florets
  • 1 medium onion, chopped
  • about 15 black olives, sliced
  • 1T capers, chopped
  • 1t red pepper flakes
  • 1/2 cup of your favorite Italian salad dressing
  • freshly ground black pepper
  • grated parmesan for dusting
  1. Cook the pasta until al dente. Drain and rinse with cold water.
  2. Cook the broccoli in boiling water 1 minute. Drain and rinse with cold water. Add to the pasta.
  3. Add the pepper, tomatoes, broccoli, onion, olives, capers, pepper flakes, black pepper, and salad dressing. Toss until well mixed, then chill for 30 minutes.
  4. Sprinkle the parmesan onto individual portions just before serving.
  • Some salami or bacon would be a tasty addition. I meant to add the leftover bacon from the grilled cheese sandwiches, but I forgot. Oops.
  • Maybe try some pickled cherry peppers instead of the crushed red pepper flakes, for heat with extra flavor.
  • I'll probably use zucchini next time.
  • Mushrooms might be good if you're into that kind of thing.

Thursday, April 3, 2008

It's like mac & cheese, only better

Well, I survived the trip, barely -- how his parents restrained themselves from
assassinating me with a rolled-up dollar bill I will never know. (Hey, I like to listen to death metal while I drive! Nothing wrong with that... right? Right? Guys?)

It took me a day or so to have enough energy to do something for dinner besides take-out. And when I did want to cook, I wanted comfort food.

So, I made some baked macaroni and cheese Tuesday night, except it wasn't quite mac and cheese.

I used spinach fettuccine.

I thought it might come out too runny or soggy, but you know what? It was great. I'd do it again. Probably when I have more people over, because the leftovers don't microwave well, but I will definitely make this again.

Oh, also -- if you like things all brown and crispy, use more bread crumbs and parmesan cheese. The amount the recipe calls for isn't enough to make the top all brown and crispy and yummy.

Tomorrow night: pasta salad! I'm going to throw some stuff into a bowl and see what happens!