Entries from blogs tagged with “flying fork”

Community pot paella

Paella is a Spanish dish that traditionally consists of rice, rabbit, chicken and vegetables. In recent, years, though, a more "Americanized" version has emerged, and paella has become a sort of "catch-all" dish for proteins and vegetables of many sorts.

Traditional paella is cooked over an open fire of pine needles, but in their absence, a large skillet or a paella pan on the stovetop will suffice.

The key is to get a crisp bottom and to infuse the flavors slowly.

This paella lacks shellfish, which is a common "modern" ingredient, but makes up for it in the rich and smoky flavors of chorizo, prosciutto and roasted peppers. It's a beautifully colorful dish that is inexpensive to make (save for saffron threads, which are expensive but only necessary in very small amounts).

Party Paella for the Shellfish Intolerant

Party Paella for the Shellfish Intolerant by John Young

Party Paella for the Shellfish Intolerant
6 boneless chicken thighs, cut in half
8 oz pork chorizo
1/2 cup sliced prosciutto
3 cups rice (Arborio or short grain)
3 cups chicken or vegetable broth
1 cup peas
3 roasted bell peppers, sliced
4 large garlic cloves
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 teaspoon saffron threads
1 can diced tomatoes
Salt and pepper

In a large saucepan, heat the chicken broth and saffron threads, but do not boil. Keep at a simmer over low heat.

In a large skillet, heat 2 tablespoons of olive oil, and brown the chicken on both sides for about 2 minutes. Remove and set aside. In the same skillet, add the chorizo and heat through. Remove and set aside. In the left-behind oil, toss in the prosciutto and saute for about a minute. Remove and set aside.

Next, add garlic, tomatoes, roasted peppers and raise the heat. Add in the rice and stir to coat, about 2 minutes. Next, add the chicken broth/saffron mixture, stir to combine well, and add in the frozen peas. Put a lid on the skillet, reduce heat and simmer. Stir often.

As the rice cooks, allow a bit of a crust to form toward the end of the cooking process.

Serve with Spanish olives, good bread, and a green salad. It's a simple, hearty meal big enough for a crowd.

Serves 8.


‘Marry Me’ Thai chicken soup

My friends and I all agree that it's important to have a "Marry Me" meal in our cooking repertoires. For Kiley, it's a chicken-fried steak/mashed potato/Brookville corn situation. For me, at least as far as I know, it was manicotti that brought my husband to the alter all those years ago. For Amber, it's Thai chicken soup.

Amber is so certain of the husband-catching qualities of this soup, I had to go ahead and try to make some for myself. Not because I'm in the business of catching husbands, but because if it is good enough for the eligible bachelors of Lawrence, it must be good enough for me.

I'm not sure if this is just like Amber's recipe, but it includes a lot of things I love. Also, it's a slow-cooker recipe, which Amber and I both love. And it's full of spicy, lime-y, cilantro-y goodness, which are all things that are directly in my wheelhouse.

It requires a bit of chopping, but beyond that it's a fantastic one-pot meal good enough for company and this makes it an extremely attractive main dish.

Thai chicken soup

Thai chicken soup by John Young

Easy Thai Chicken Soup
2 tablespoons panang curry (or whatever you like)
2 cans coconut milk (I use light)
2 cups chicken broth
2 tablespoons honey
2 tablespoons peanut butter
4 large chicken breasts, cut into bite-sized pieces (or if you prefer dark meat, do 6 or 7 thighs)
1 red bell pepper, julienned
1 onion, sliced
1 tablespoon fresh ginger, minced
1/2 cup shredded carrots (you can buy them pre-shredded in the bag; I recommend)
1/2 cup soy sauce
1 tablespoon chili garlic paste
1 cup frozen peas
1 fresh lime
Cilantro for garnish
Cooked white rice (I like jasmine for this)
Spicy stuff as needed — I like to jazz mine up with Sriracha

Mix the wet ingredients and spices together in the slow cooker bowl. Add the chicken and vegetables and cook on high for 4 hours or on low for 6 to 7.

Serve over rice and garnish with lime, cilantro, and additional hot stuff.


Tomato soup brings a little summer to December

Last summer, when my tomato plants were rife with fruit, I followed a friend's advice and blanched and peeled about a bushel to freeze. Canning, it turns out, is a bit fussy for me. I can toss some stuff in a freezer bag like nobody's business though. And then I promptly forgot about the beauties in the back of the refrigerator in the garage.

But as the cold snap came upon us, my desire for soup grew, and I reached into the cabinet for a can of Campbell's Tomato Soup. (It's not bad in a pinch, OK?) But suddenly the bags of frozen beauties downstairs cried out to me, "BUT WHAT ABOUT US!?" Oh yes, my friends, a perfect frozen tomato application, at the perfect time of year.

I always think of tomato soup as Christmas-y food. Maybe it's just a color scheme thing, what with the rosy color and the bits of green basil. But it's a great thing for a crowd because it's easy to make a lot, and who doesn't love a grilled cheese sandwich?

It's nice to have on hand for the day after the big event, or for when everyone has grown tired of leftover ham and turkey. It can be made ahead and frozen to great results, and frozen tomatoes from the garden make it even a little more special.

My tomato soup is so very simple, which is another reason I am so fond of it. It's no fuss and always a hit.

Simple Tomato Soup

Simple Tomato Soup by John Young

Megan's Simple Tomato Soup
1 large can (46 oz) V8 juice
10 whole tomatoes, peeled and cored (about enough to fill a 1-gallon freezer bag, whole)
2 cups half and half
3 cloves garlic
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 tablespoon vegetable base (I like Better Than Bullion brand)
1/4 cup white onion, chopped
1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper (more or less to taste)
Juice of 1/2 lemon
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
6 or 7 large basil leaves
Salt and pepper to taste

Begin by sauteeing the chopped onion and the minced garlic in the olive oil. When they are softened but not brown, add the tomato/vegetable juice and the tomatoes (frozen is fine — no need to defrost if they are just out of the freezer).

Let that simmer until the tomatoes are warm and beginning to break down in the tomato juice.

Add the vegetable base, lemon juice, salt, pepper and cayenne, and simmer for 20 minutes. Finally, add half of the basil, chopped, and the half and half. With an immersion blender, puree until smooth.

Serve with another sprinkling of basil on top, and next to a perfectly browned, oppey-gooey grilled cheese sandwich. Prepare to be loved.


Mac and cheese with a secret ingredient

I got really inspired by the sweet potato fries I made last week, and I've been rocking the sweet potatoes ever since. I have to be careful, though, because my sweet potato-hating family will not go for obvious recipes, and I hate most sweet recipes anyway, so I shy away from things that have syrup or marshmallows or other sweeteners.

On Monday night I had a sick kid and not much time to cook, but I wanted to have a nice amount of food in the fridge if I or a sitter were going to have to stay home with him, so a big pan of oven mac and cheese sounded like an easy and appropriate solution.

As I started the water boiling, I spied a couple of sweet potatoes lounging in the produce bowl, and thought, "Why not?" I am here to tell you: There is no reason why not. To be honest, I didn't tell anyone it was in there, and no one noticed. So yeah, here's a way to hide some vitamins and fiber in that gooey mac and cheese, and then we all feel a little better about the whole thing.

Hidden Sweet Potato Mac and Cheese

Hidden Sweet Potato Mac and Cheese by John Young

Hidden Sweet Potato Mac and Cheese
1 box elbow macaroni
1 large block cheddar cheese, cut into cubes (about 2 cups)
1 cup cheese of your choice (I used mozzarella)
1/2 stick butter, cut into cubes
3 eggs
2/3 cup milk
2 sweet potatoes, peeled and diced
Salt and pepper

Boil and drain your macaroni. I reserved the hot water and boiled the sweet potatoes in it. Cut your cheese into 1 1/2 inch cubes and set aside.

When the the sweet potato pieces are cooked through, mash them with a potato masher. In a large bowl, mix them together with the noodles and toss in the cheese and butter as well. In a small bowl, whisk together the eggs and milk. Pour it into the potato/cheese/noodle mixture, and salt and pepper fairly liberally.

Move it all to a 9 x 13 casserole pan and bake at 350 F until it's melty and a little brown and crispy on top, about 25 minutes.


Cheesy gougeres for Thanksgiving gorging

One thing I do love about Thanksgiving is the bread. There is always a steaming pile of amazing dinner rolls, a crusty loaf, some baguette — whatever, I love it. I think I have come to love bread even more since I have made a long-term attempt to curb my carbs.

But on Thanksgiving, I splurge, I eat bread with butter and cranberry sauce and I don't even pretend to care.

In the world of bread, there is nothing I don't love. But in an effort to keep it fresh and exciting, this year, I bring you gougeres.

These cheesy little treats can be made large enough for dinner or small like a little appetizer, and either way, your family and guests will be knocked over.

They seem fancy and even have a fancy name, but you can make them quite simply with ingredients you always have on hand. Dress them up or down with fancier cheeses or plain old cheddar — no matter, they're still great.

Cheesy Thanksgiving Gougeres

1/4 cup white wine
1/4 cup water
1/4 cup butter
1/2 teaspoon white pepper
Pinch of salt
2/3 cup all-purpose flour
3 large eggs, room temperature
1/2 cup cheddar (or bleu, or Grueyere, or whatever you have)

Preheat your oven to 375 F.

Mix the first five ingredients in a saucepan and bring to a low boil. Gradually add in the flour until it forms a ball. If you have ever made cream puffs, this looks much the same.

Whisk your eggs in a separate bowl. Reserve a little for use later (maybe 2 tablespoons), and then gradually add the eggs to the flour mixture until it is all incorporated.

Add in your cheese. The dough will be wet and sticky — this is a good thing.

Drop them in heaping tablespoonfuls onto a lined baking sheet. This is a good application for a silpat if you have one. Brush tops with remaining egg.

Bake for 25 minutes or until they begin to brown.

These are wonderful also because you can do them ahead of time and freeze, though piping hot and fresh from the oven is always desirable.


Thanksgiving step No. 2: Ditch the boring sides with sweet potato fries

I realize I'm in the minority, but I do not get excited about Thanksgiving food. I can live forever without another piece of pumpkin pie. I detest Cool Whip. All the food seems sort of mushy and brown and, well, boring.

To Thanksgiving traditionalists (I'M TALKING TO YOU, MR. MEAT AND POTATOES), I say "Watch me!" and I do what I want. Why does it all have taste of sage or cloves? Why does spice not enter the flavor picture of Turkey Day? VIVA LA FLAVOR!

No one in my family really likes sweet potatoes, and I think it's because of the years of training with globs of marshmallows or layers of sticky sweet sugar on top of unrecognizable whipped potatoes.

Also, we're not that into sweet stuff. So I asked myself what in the world is wrong with a sweet potato fry. And I answered with a resounding "NOTHING."

There is nuthin' wrong with that. And why, I asked myself, is it taboo to serve a sweet potato fry on Thanksgiving?

So guess what? This year, sweet potato fries — crunchy, zesty, delicious fries — are being served at my Thanksgiving table. With spicy mayo dipping sauce. Not a sage leaf in sight. Not a marshmallow to be had. And they're relatively healthy, to boot.

Thanksgiving Sweet Potato Fries
3 large sweet potatoes
1 heaping tablespoon coconut oil, melted
Garlic powder
Kosher salt

Dipping Sauce
4 cloves roasted garlic (roast them with the fries)
1 cup mayo
2 teaspoons chipotle spice
2 teaspoons Sriracha
Pinch of salt

Preheat oven to 400 F

Slice the potatoes into fairly thin fries. I have a mandolin, and if I were doing more than 2 or 3 taters I'd break it out. But for this I just used a sharp knife. Leave the skins on.

Rinse them well in a colander for 4 or 5 minutes — you want them not-too-starchy.

Dry them well and arrange on a cookie sheet or two. Do not overcrowd.

Melt the coconut oil and pour it over, stirring around to coat fully. Other oils will work here, but I really do recommend the coconut as it really brings the right flavor to this party.

Sprinkle liberally with garlic powder and salt.

Pop in the oven for about 20 to 25 minutes, until they're brown but not burned. Watch closely. They can turn from perfect to black in a short time because of the sugar content.

Meanwhile, mix your dipping sauce. You can make a honey mustard or use mayo with lime juice if you have people who fear spice, but around here, it's the spicier, the better. And at Thanksgiving I REALLY miss the heat.

I know it seems weird to mix both chipotle AND Sriracha, but trust me — they each do something special for the sauce and it's just right to balance the sweetness of the sweet potato fries.

Dip, and be delighted. And shake your finger at tradition. Your guests will love you for it.

Thanksgiving Sweet Potato Fries

Thanksgiving Sweet Potato Fries by John Young


Thanksgiving step No. 1: Brie and pears

So let's talk about Thanksgiving.

I've always admitted that it's not my favorite kind of food. I'm not into turkey, and all of the food is too brown and too rich for my tastes.

But my family is not ready to let me make lasagna for Thanksgiving, so I soldier on with most of the traditional meal fixings every year. I do, however, like to add in a little something for Mama now and then, even if it doesn't look like the food in a 1950s Campbell Soup advertisement.

Let's start at the beginning, shall we? Appetizers. Gone are the days of carrots and celery with ranch dip. I can't take it anymore. I need something a little sexier for my pre-meal noshing. Especially because most of the actual meal does not thrill me, I have to make something before the meal that makes my heart go pitty pat.

What is not to love about Brie and pears? So let's just put them together and call it a day. This is so simple, so fun, and so not your mama's relish tray.

Sake Poached Pears and Brie
1 medium-sized wheel of Brie
1 tablespoon butter
1/2 ripe pear
1 tablespoon brown sugar
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
1/8 teaspoon cloves
Pinch of salt
1 cup sake
Crackers, crostini, the other half of the pear, apple slices, etc. for dipping

Over medium-high heat, melt the butter. Roughly dice the half pear. Add in the sake, sugar, spices, salt and stir until the sugar is dissolved. Add in the pear chunks and simmer for 10 minutes until they're soft and the liquid begins to reduce.

Slice the top rind off the brie and warm in the microwave. About 1 minute and 15 seconds is enough. Pour the sugar/sake/pear mixture over the top, and serve with a variety of vehicles for snacking.

This looks fancy, tastes festive, and I don't think even the most conservative Thanksgiving eaters will complain about a nice melty pile of cheese for a snack.

Sake-poached Brie and pears

Sake-poached Brie and pears by Mike Yoder


Kansas food: Chili and cinnamon rolls

If you're from Kansas, you may remember eating chili and cinnamon rolls at school lunch. For me, it was one of the few school lunches I would eat.

My poor, long-suffering mother had to pack my lunch nearly every day of my public-school-going life because I was spoiled and picky, and beef tater bake was not going to pass my lips.

Thankfully, I've become much more liberal and willing in my food choices, but chili and cinnamon rolls remain in my repertoire of favorite food combinations and to this day represents the comforts of childhood.

When the weather turns fallish I am always the first to flip the food switch to warm stews, saucy pasta dishes, and, of course, chili. Which means I've had a lot of time to perfect a cinnamon roll recipe. I've tried a lot of things, and of course there's always room for improvement, but as of now, this is the best I've done.

Basically, I just use the dough from my Parker House Roll recipe and add gobs of butter, sugar and cinnamon. The Parker House dough is already sweet and laden with fat. Let's be honest; this will win no prizes for health. It is a treat, and should be considered as such. I don't make them but once or twice a year, which makes it all the more exciting.

Johnny, my 5-year-old, gets them so infrequently that he still calls them "Casse-rolls" on accident. The phrase "cinnamon roll" isn't quite firmly embedded in his vocabulary.

But because the Parker House rolls are already so soft and fluffy, and a little sweet, the dough is ideal for a cinnamon roll. It's almost embarrassingly easy to execute because the dough comes together so nicely and is virtually fool-proof. I know, because I'm a terrible baker, because of impatience and lack of attention to detail.

I usually make the dough on Saturday and then make the cinnamon rolls on Sunday morning. They rise all day and are ready for an early Sunday dinner with my favorite chili (which includes chipotle seasoning and hunks of steak, and while it never wins the prize at the St. Patrick's Day chili cook off, I know in my heart it's the best).

I will, heretofore, call these "Parker House Cinnamon Rolls". Because.

Parker House Cinnamon Rolls 5 cups of flour, plus more for rolling out
1 package active dry yeast
1 1/2 cups warm water
1/2 cup shortening, melted
1 teaspoon salt
2 eggs, lightly beaten
1/2 cup sugar
1 stick of butter, maybe more
1 cup sugar
Ample cinnamon (several tablespoons)

Add the yeast to the warm water and "proof" it for 5 minutes. Meanwhile, combine the sugar, 4 cups of the flour and salt in a large mixing bowl. With a dough hook on your stand mixer, combine the dry ingredients.

Add the yeast/water mixture to the dry goods and combine.

Add the melted shortening and stir.

Next, add the eggs and the last cup of flour, and stir everything together. Use your hands if necessary. The dough will be wet and rather pliable.

I let it rise until it doubles in size or more, about 2 hours. Then I punch it down, cover it with a tea towel, and put it in the refrigerator to rise again overnight.

The next morning, sprinkle some flour on the counter, divide the dough in half, and roll it out rather thinly (1/4 inch). Melt a stick of butter and slather half over the rolled-out dough. Sprinkle liberally with sugar and cinnamon. Roll it up into a long log (I like to start close to my body and roll away), and slice into 1 1/2-inch-thick slices. Place the slices into a cake pan, and repeat with the other half of the dough.

Bake at 350 F for about 13 minutes or until the tops begin to brown.

Remove from the oven and cool a little. Drizzle with the frosting of your choice. My favorite simple frosting is this:

1 bag (about 4 cups) powdered sugar
1/3 cup milk
1/2 teaspoon maple flavoring

Mix it together until you get the desired consistency (I like it rather runny so it soaks into the cinnamon rolls) and drizzle over the tops. Serve still warm, alongside a bowl of piping hot chili. Divided school lunch tray totally optional.

Parker House Cinnamon Rolls

Parker House Cinnamon Rolls by Mike Yoder


Veggie-ALE beef soup

There is nothing like cracking open a beer at 7:15 in the morning. On a Wednesday. And while I may or may not have done just that with the express purpose of consuming said beer in my younger and more exciting days, I still get pretty excited about it even if I'm just going to pour it into a slow cooker over a bunch of meat and veggies. Because BEER.

For this I used a triple IPA (India Pale Ale) but I've used Guinness or other IPAs to good results in the past. Do not, I repeat, do NOT use what we lovingly refer to in our house as "yellow beer." We love yellow beer, but it's not right for this application.

So there you have it, the secret to my amazing vegetable beef soup. A good ale or a bottle of Guinness brings flavor to the party like nothing else. And even if you think you're not a beer drinker, just trust me on this. You will like it. It's subtle, with all the other flavors in your pot, but it's a fine nuance above just beef broth or water or bouillon.

Other than the ale, my soup is pretty standard, but it's exactly how I like it, after many years of experimenting.

My kids like it (the alcohol cooks off, don't worry) and it makes a huge amount, which is great because sometimes I love not cooking.

Veggie-Ale Beef Soup

2 to 2 1/2 pounds stew meat

3 large carrots

3 stalks celery

1/2 large onion

1 bottle of beer - preferably Guinness or IPA (lots of flavor)

1 box beef broth

1 can diced tomatoes

4 medium-sized potatoes, peeled and diced

2 bay leaves

1/2 teaspoon garlic powder

1 teaspoon salt

1 teaspoon dried basil

1/2 teaspoon pepper (I like white pepper for this — it's finely ground)

1 tablespoon sugar

1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce

Heat a large skillet (I used cast iron) over high heat and add the stew meat in to brown thoroughly on all sides.

Meanwhile, peel and dice your potatoes (I like to have a little skin left on). Toss all that into your slow cooker, give the celery and carrots a rough chop, and add in a can of diced tomatoes. Cut the onion into large hunks and add it to the pot. Then pour the beer and beef broth over everything. Add in the spices and sugar, and put it on high to cook for at least 6 hours.

You can add whatever other veggies you like. I have thrown in a bag of peas, frozen green beans, even corn and kidney beans in the past. Whatever you have will work, but usually I prefer the uniformity of size and simplicity of the basic ingredients I have here.

I serve it with some crusty bread and nice cheddar cheese. And I am happy. Mostly because I have very few dishes to do, and dinner is ready when I walk in the door after work.


Meatball Wednesday? It’s going to be a thing

If Meatless Monday is a thing, then I see no reason I can't make Meatball Wednesday a thing as well. Because much as I am game to have a meatless meal once a week, I am extremely fond of meatballs.

I don't know what it is. I mean, I know that cheeseburgers are probably my guilty pleasure favorite food of all time, but meatballs run a close second. Then they go and come up with the meatball slider, and I kind of died a little inside with the awesomeness.

The thing about meatballs, I think, is that they are not only tasty little balls of meat usually covered in sauce (another of my favorite things), but they also hold a lot of potential that the traditional hamburger patty just doesn't. I can throw all manner of different flavors into a meatball. It's a good place to get creative and get all the savory flavors I love all in one little bite.

Recently, I was foraging through the refrigerator for dinner components, as I am wont to do, and I pulled out a little chorizo sausage and a couple of pounds of hamburger, and a plan was born. I dumped the meat into a mixing bowl and got to thinking about what else might go into this magic meatball.

Magic, it was. Weird? A little, in concept. But in taste, it was divine.

Chorizo-Beef and Bleu Cheese Meatballs 2 pounds ground beef
10 ounces pork chorizo
1/2 cup bleu cheese
3 green onions
1/4 cup grated Parmesan
3/4 cup panko bread crumbs or pulverized crackers (I just ran some through the food processor)
Pinch of salt (you don't need much with this)
Black pepper
2 1/2 cups (ish) marinara sauce (jarred or homemade, you pick)

In the food processor, run the green onions (I did the white parts and about 1/3 of the way up the green) and Parmesan cheese together.

If you don't have bread crumbs, run a few handfuls of crackers through as well until they're good and finely ground.

Dump those ingredients plus the bleu cheese in with the meat along with a small dash of salt and some cracked black pepper, and work it all in thoroughly so that it's all evenly distributed.

I use a small scoop for the making of the balls, but you can just eyeball it as well. Each one should be about 2 tablespoons of meat mixture. Form into balls and set aside.

Meanwhile, heat up a non-stick skillet and begin browning the meatballs in batches. I try to turn them to get all the sides. They won't be cooked through at this point.

As they come out of the skillet, move them to a casserole dish or Dutch oven. When they're all ready, pour your sauce over the top. I keep my homemade Sunday Gravy portioned out in my freezer all the time, but jarred would work just fine too.

Bake at 350 F for about 15 or 20 minutes to cook in the sauce and make sure the meat is cooked through.

I served with asparagus and mashed potatoes. Mr. Meat and Potatoes ate about five meatballs before I told him there was bleu cheese in there, at which time he spat his meatball back on the plate and told me he wished I'd not told him that, because up until that moment he was loving them. Sigh. Men.


Shrimp tortellini for the girlfriends

When my husband leaves or is out for an evening, I make girly food and invite my friends over.

Sometimes this looks like piles of fruit, cheese, crackers and snacks. Sometimes it looks like things with mushrooms or things that are meatless. Recently, it looked like tortellini in wine sauce with shrimp and fresh basil, and after I made it I felt a little bad because darn if he wouldn't have liked it, girly as it may have been.

Still, I served it to my girlfriend Heidi with a side of asparagus, some fancy bread from Wheatfields and some crisp white wine, and felt pretty girly about the whole thing. A day later, he ate it cold from a Tupperware container and was fairly pleased as well, so we all got something out of the deal.

This is a simple recipe with few ingredients, but they are so perfect together I wouldn't dare muck it up with a bunch of complicated additions. It's something fast to make for company and you can talk while you do it, though be careful because I totally burned the bread in the broiler on the first go-round. Blame that wine.

Shrimp Tortellini in White Wine Sauce

1 lb medium-sized shrimp
1 bag frozen tortellini
1/2 cup white wine
Handful of grape or cherry tomatoes, halved
4 tablespoons butter, divided
2 cloves of garlic
5 or 6 fresh basil leaves
Fresh Parmesan
Salt and pepper

Peel your shrimp, sprinkle with salt and pepper, and set aside.

In a saute pan, melt 2 tablespoons of butter and drop in the tomatoes warm until they're soft and sweet. Add the garlic, and then the shrimp and cook for about three minutes on both sides over medium heat until they're all pink. Don't overcook the shrimp!

Meanwhile, boil water in a stock pot and add the tortellini. They only take a few minutes to cook in a boiling pot, so watch carefully.

Drain them well, return them to the stock pot, add the other 2 tablespoons of butter and the shrimp/tomato mixture. Keep it warm over medium-low heat and add in about 1/2 cup of white wine. When you are ready to serve, chiffonade the basil leaves and sprinkle them over with some grated fresh Parmesan.

This is aromatic, beautiful and gorgeous in its simplicity. I called it chick food, but really I can't think of many people (except possibly those with shellfish allergies) who wouldn't be delighted by this meal.


Late-summer veggie soft tacos

We are on a constant quest to use up the summer's bounty that graces our counters. I recently told a friend that I felt bad that some squashes were "languishing" in my fruit and veggie bowl, and vowed to not let it happen again. I'm tossing tomatoes, peppers, zucchinis, onions and corn into everything imaginable.

Recently, Mr. Meat and Potatoes grilled hamburgers and I put together some veggie kebabs of the summer goodness that was languishing on my counter top. Of course, my 4-year-old and his friend wanted nothing to do with them, so I had a few left over. So then a couple of days later, there they were in my refrigerator, making me sad. I cannot stand for things to waste away, so I incorporated them into some pretty bangin' chicken soft tacos, for a sort of combination soft taco/fajita. Also, I was able to hide them inside the taco, so this time, my kid unwittingly ate them.

Summer Veggie Chicken Soft Tacos 4 chicken breasts, thawed
1/2 red bell pepper, cut into strips
1/2 green bell pepper, cut into strips
1/3 red onion, cut into strips
2 tomatoes, roughly chopped
Several mushrooms, sliced
1/2 cup zucchini or squash, sliced
8 taco-sized flour tortillas
1/2 cup chicken broth
1 tablespoon olive oil
2 tablespoons chili powder, divided
1 teaspoon garlic powder, divided
2 teaspoons cumin, divided
Salt and pepper to taste

Begin by preheating your oven to 350 F and placing the chicken breasts on a baking sheet. Sprinkle with 1 tablespoon chili powder, 1/2 teaspoon garlic powder, 1 teaspoon cumin, salt and pepper.

Bake the chicken at 350 F for at least 20 minutes, until cooked through but not browned or crispy.

Heat the olive oil in a skillet and add the vegetables. Sprinkle with salt and pepper and saute until soft.

When the chicken is cooked, put it in a bowl and shred it with two forks, or do the lazy way like I do and toss it all in the Kitchen Aid mixer with the paddle attachment and beat for about 20 seconds. Add chicken broth and additional spices.

Serve tacos with chicken, vegetables, a sprinkling of cheese and whatever toppings (salsa, raw onion, tomato, sour cream, jalapenos, etc.) float your boat. This is a great combination of lean meat, fresh veggies and a kapow of flavor that even your kids might eat without complaint.

A little refried black beans and a dollop of Spanish rice or some chips and you've got yourself a big meal for a little price and a lot of nutrition. Taco Tuesday was a big hit this week at our house. The vegetarians out there could sub some black beans and skip the chicken altogether. Maybe I'll have this for Meatless Monday next week. Preparing now for the mutiny.


Popper chicken a paleo starting point

I'm not saying I'm going Paleo. I'm not even saying I know what Paleo is. But I am saying that I've known for a long time that for many of us, particularly me, carbs = unsightly bulges that grow and grow. This does not often deter me because tortellini. Pizza crust. Homemade crusty bread and crackers with cheese. But I am always game to try, and even if I improve just a little, that's well, a little. Which is better than none.

So I am trying, several nights a week, to cut the carby whiteness from our dinner plates. This means I have to work extra hard on the main course because if I am going to serve a meal to my Meat and Potatoes family sans potatoes, I better be distracting them with a pretty shiny object.

For Sunday dinner, I needed to use some chicken that my 5-year-old thawed for me by "helping" to unload the groceries and leaving one bag on the basement floor for a couple of hours before I discovered it. And I've said many times that I think chicken breasts are the most boring of the meats, but they do serve a purpose in the lean meat/inexpensive categories, so I buy them now and then and try to doctor them up as best I can.

For this meal, I needed to use up some jalapenos and other odds and ends in my refrigerator, which just happened to include a little cheese and bacon. Which just happen to be the main ingredients in jalapeno poppers, which everyone loves. Except our housemate and our kids. So let me rephrase. Jalapeno poppers, which Mr. Meat and Potatoes and I love — why not make the popper a chicken popper and get everything we love and some lean protein to boot? Is that not sparkly enough to distract from the lack of taters on the plate? I think so.

Jalapeno Popper Chicken

5 or 6 large chicken breasts
1 cup shredded cheddar cheese
1/3 cup mayo
1/3 cup sour cream
1/3 cup cream cheese
1 teaspoon cumin
1 clove garlic, minced
4 jalapenos
8 or so strips of bacon
Salt and pepper

Pound thin the chicken breasts and season on both sides with salt and pepper.

Preheat oven to 350 F. Fry your bacon. Real bacon bits in the bag work too, but this is better.

In a mixing bowl, combine sour cream, mayo, cheddar cheese and cream cheese (which you may have to soften in the microwave). Add in garlic, a pinch of salt and cumin.

Clean your jalapenos (wear gloves!) and slice them into flat slivers. I had to cut mine into about 8 pieces each to achieve flatness.

On top of each piece of chicken, lay several strips of jalapeno horizontally. Remember, you're going to need to roll this up.

Then smear with a tablespoon or two of the cheese mixture and top with some pieces of bacon. Roll up the chicken and secure with a toothpick or two. It would be good to roll this in panko or crushed crackers, which I didn't think of until after we ate.

Bake at 350 F for about 30 minutes or until the chicken is cooked through.

I served with an ear of fresh sweet corn, fruit, and a green salad. I know corn is pretty carby, but hey, it's not a pile of potatoes and we have to start somewhere, right?

No one complained about the lack of white starch on the plate. I got one raised eyebrow, but then he saw the oozy gooey chicken and quickly got over it.


Turkey Taco Burger

I am using ground turkey more and more in my cooking, but I'll be honest: I have to be fairly creative about it. Mr. Meat and Potatoes and his progeny are getting better at knowing when I've sneakily subbed turkey for their precious ground beef. The best applications for us are ones wherein the turkey has lots of other flavors to help it along. We don't need all the juicy fat of hamburger if we have lots of other flavors to perk up the lean turkey.

I meant to make sloppy joes recently, but realized too late that I didn't have the proper seasonings, so instead I turned the project into a taco burger, which is something my family is totally into. I felt pretty good about the whole thing, because I stuffed them full of summer vegetables grown in my back yard of the back yards of my friends.

Summer Turkey Taco Burgers

2 lbs lean ground turkey
1 small summer squash
1 red bell pepper
1/2 cup diced onion
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 can chili beans (whatever level of heat you prefer)
1 can tomato sauce
1 tablespoon chili powder
1 teaspoon cumin
1/4 teaspoon garlic powder
dash hot sauce

Chop the bell pepper, summer squash, and onion into small pieces and saute in the olive oil until just beginning to soften. Meanwhile, brown your ground turkey.

Transfer the vegetables to the same pan with the turkey after you've drained any fat the turkey produced, which won't be much.

Add the can of beans and the tomato sauce. It might not take the entire can - just keep adding until you get the right consistency of saucy but not runny; you want your mixture to hang together. Add in the spices.

Stir together, serve on a toasted bun. Then pat yourself on the back for having gotten your kids to eat squash.


Lamb chops, who knew?

I've been in a cooking rut for oh, say, four years. Part of that is my fault and is directly linked to "I am too tired to try very hard" after work and part of it is linked to "I am tired of making things my family will not eat or even try." But even the laziest cooks eventually need a little variety in life, so I started putting my mind to things that might be new and different enough to appease my needs but same old same old enough for my 4-year-old and my red-meat-loving husband.

Enter: the lamb chop. My recent trip to Sloane Farms yielded not only a beautiful leg of lamb but also a pack of lamb chops A perfect opportunity of newness, wrapped in white butcher paper. Excited, I embarked on a project.

So excited I was, I decided to challenge myself Top Chef-style and give myself only 30 minutes to put together a somewhat-inspired meal with the thawed lamb chops and whatever else I had just hanging out in my kitchen. (That is code for "I forgot to plan for this meal and am too tired to go to the store and I want it and I want it now.")

Out of this, though, came a beautiful and local meal fit for company, if I'd had enough and my husband and I hadn't fought over the last lovely lamb chop in the pan.

I had some veggies that had been gifted to me via various gardening friends and some this or that just ready to go, and dang if I didn't produce something I was proud enough of in less than 30 minutes.

I began by pre-heating a cast-iron skillet that already had a little fat in it, but you could add olive oil if you needed to. I just salt and peppered the chops liberally with Kosher salt and cracked black pepper, and when the pan was hot, I tossed them in to sear on each side. Meanwhile, I heated the oven to 250 F.

I removed the chops and put them in the oven and used the "fond" (leftover bits and grease in the skillet) to make a little pan sauce. I added a pat of butter for richness, and finely minced the following: a red pepper, a hatch chili, a clove of garlic, and half a red onion. Then I added in a large tomato I'd seeded and diced, and sauteed everything for a few minutes until softened. Next, I "deglazed" the pan with white wine. That just means that I poured wine over the hot pan to release all the good brown bits left by the chops and continued to stir. I finished it with a couple of teaspoons of honey, and it was ready to go in minutes.

This all took about 10 minutes, just long enough for the (smallish) chops to finish in the oven. I pulled them out, spooned a bit of the sauce over the top and clapped my hands for it was so pretty.

For a side dish, I wanted something fun but fuss-free, so I just diced up a few red potatoes and put them in a pot to boil, skins on. When they were soft, I drained them and gently stirred in a pinch of salt, a half teaspoon of chipotle powder and a drizzle of olive oil. Perfecto!

A little salad on the side for green (I always have some in the fridge pre-made), and a delightful meal was plated in about 27 minutes.

Lamb chops are lovely because they're fast to cook and a nice alternative to steak for a meat-loving family. Also, when you've received them as a gift from someone you admire, they taste even better.


Mashed potato-stuffed red peppers: grilling renewed

Summer is not over, people. You might be feeling a bit "grill fatigued" at this point, but there are new things to do on your outdoor stove. Or, at least, they were new things to me.

My neighbors do a great job of bringing exciting new things to my attention every summer as we try to get together for outdoor meals as often as possible. In the winter, we all retreat into our basements and our Netflix accounts. And then in the summer we all emerge again, renewed and armed with excellent new things to throw on the ole Weber and share.

Here is one of those things: Loaded mashed potato-stuffed peppers.

That's right. Gone are the days of dry and crumbly rice stuffed peppers. Gone are all notions that mashed potatoes are just for winter when we cook indoors and add our outer winter lining. Bring together two of my son Johnny's favorite things. Make everyone happy. Put mashed potatoes inside your bell peppers. Because mashed potatoes? THEY ARE NOW HEALTH FOOD.

You're welcome. (Thank you, Monica, for this gem. You are a goddess.)

Loaded Mashed Potato-Stuffed Peppers

4 large red bell peppers (yellow or orange would work too, though I don't prefer green)
8 smallish red potatoes (fewer if they're larger)
4 strips bacon, cooked and crumbled
1/2 cup mayo
1 stick of butter (1/2 cup)
1/2 cup shredded cheddar cheese
1/4 teaspoon garlic powder
Healthy sprinkling of kosher salt or Lawry's

Cut your peppers in half from top to bottom and remove the seeds and ribs. Set aside.

Cut your potatoes in halves or quarters and boil until soft but not mushy. I would leave the skins on but that is up to you.

Drain the water and add the mayo, butter, seasonings and mash well with a potato masher.

Add the bacon and cheese, and then scoop into your pepper "shells."

Give the outside of the peppers a light rub with olive oil and grill over medium heat for about 8 minutes or until the outsides begin to soften and brown a little.

Did you know that bell peppers have more vitamin C than an orange? That's right. You're welcome. Health food.

Reply 1 comment from Paulina Piskorz

Chili gravy: a love letter

Dear Chili Gravy,

I love you.

Love, Megan

I have published a lot of enchilada recipes over the years, and I'm not ashamed of it. I really love enchiladas. I always order them when I go to Mexican restaurants, even though that's boring. I am a connoisseur of enchiladas. I am constantly working on perfecting the enchilada. But you see, it can't be done. Because the enchilada can be as varied as the stars in the sky, and I mostly love them all.

Kiley, our roommate/sister wife/baby sitter/friend/life-saver-in-general, and I were discussing the enchilada the other day, as I made 30 of them for my family's annual trip to Grand Lake, and we agreed that everyone thinks their enchilada is "right." To her, an enchilada should be in a flour tortilla, it should be stuffed with ground beef and cheese (no "taco" seasonings on the meat, thankyouverymuch) and easy on the sauce.

I'm not quite so specific. As I said, I have never really met an enchilada I didn't like. But in my ideal world, an enchilada will be in a corn tortilla, will have beef and onion and cheese, and will be drenched in chili gravy.

For my family at the lake, I made four different kinds, because I am crazy, and I had bowls of "toppings" out for folks to add what they want to their basic enchilada. I had bowls of jalapenos, black olives, tomatoes and cilantro, because in my family, all of those items are controversial. For enchiladas, I used corn tortillas with beef and some with chicken and green chilies, and I had flour with plain beef and flour with beef plus onions.

Sounds like a pain, but it's really not. I have a system. You just bake the chicken breasts in the oven with a little salt, pepper, cumin and chili powder. While they bake, you brown ground beef and in another pan, saute some diced onions.

For corn tortillas, you need to fry them quickly in a little vegetable oil. I don't think that step is necessary with flour.

Make up some chili gravy (or a lot).

4 tablespoons fat from ground beef (or melted butter)
3 heaping tablespoons flour
3 tablespoons chili powder
Make a "roux" over medium-high heat.
Gradually add chicken or beef broth (I prefer beef for this), up to 4 cups, whisking continuously, until you get your desired consistency.
a teaspoon of cumin, a dash of salt and a dash of garlic powder and whisk thoroughly, making sure there are no lumps.
Heat it up if you like with cayenne or hot sauce.

So, to make my perfect enchilada, you start with these basic things: a lightly fried corn tortilla, some chili gravy, some ground beef and sauteed onions, and good, freshly grated sharp cheddar cheese. (That bagged and shredded stuff is for the BIRDS. No, wait, don't even give it to the birds.)

In an assembly line fashion, do the following: spread a bit of chili gravy all over the bottom on a casserole dish. Take your fried tortilla (that has had a chance to drain a bit into a paper towel), and dip it on both sides into a little chili gravy mixed with water to a thin consistency, barely more than that of water. Do it quickly — don't make a soggy tortilla.

Put a couple of tablespoons of meat/onion mixture down the center, and a healthy pinch of cheese. Roll up tightly, and repeat. When you're finished, use chili gravy to liberally cover the top of everything, and sprinkle again with cheese.

Bake, covered with foil, at 350 F for about 25 minutes or until heated through.

Simple, basic and yet so delicious. Chips, salsa, a little salad, maybe some black beans. It doesn't get better than this.


Kebabs perfect for dinner parties

When we moved into our neighborhood, we were so lucky to have a nest of people around us who were already friends or who easily became friends in the first five minutes. We treasure those relationships, as will our kids for the many years we remain in the "Stone Buffalo" neighborhood.

Recently some new neighbors arrived in the neighborhood, and while I didn't know them personally, I knew their kin and they were already well-acquainted with some other neighbors, so it seemed like a no-brainer to have them over as a little "welcome to the insanity" gesture.

But not knowing them personally, I wasn't sure what to cook. Are they vegetarians? Are their kids picky eaters? Are they afraid of spicy food or carbs? It was a risky prospect, especially because I count on them becoming the next set of neighborhood BFF's, so I wanted to get it right.

Enter: the kebab. This way, everyone gets what he or she wants, and really, I get out of cooking. Genius, I know. I marinated chicken and beef, and cut up some produce from the gardens in my life, and poof, a dinner was born.

I wanted something more special than just regular old beef and chicken, so I created some seasoning marinades to elevate the kebabs just a bit.

For the beef, I did a balsamic molasses marinade, and for the chicken I did a buttermilk marinade with just a little kick. I do think this made for a better bite of meat and something a little unexpected.

Balsamic Molasses Kebab Marinade
3 tablespoons olive oil
1/2 cup balsamic vinegar
2 tablespoons molasses
1 teaspoon lemon juice
3 cloves minced garlic
1 teaspoon salt
Dash of cracked black pepper

I used a flatiron steak and just cut it into cubes, and then left it in the marinade for about 30 minutes, which I mixed directly in a 9-by-9-inch Pyrex baking dish.

Buttermilk Chicken Marinade
1 1/2 cups buttermilk
2 tablespoons mustard (I used a sweet-hot mustard but Dijon would be nice as well)
2 tablespoons Sriracha
1 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons honey

This, I mixed in a 9-by-13-inch casserole. I had five good-sized chicken breasts, which I had cut into large bite-sized hunks. Again, I left it in there for about 30 minutes while I chopped other vegetables and prepared the sides.

You can put whatever you like on a kebab. For this, I went fairly traditional, not knowing what kind of eaters I was feeding: bell peppers in three colors, red onion, garden tomatoes, mushrooms.

I just left everything on the kitchen counter so people could assemble their own kebabs the way they like. My husband won't touch a mushroom, and my kid will eat a sweet pepper and meat only. I, on the other hand, loaded mine up with everything in sight.

Hint: If you use wood or bamboo skewers, be sure to soak them for half an hour or so before you build your kebabs, or the skewers will burn up to nothing on the grill. Not that that has ever happened to me.

I served with "hobo" potatoes in foil packets on the grill, and our neighbors supplied beautiful salads and dessert. The kids swam, and we sat with full bellies and talked of times past and future. And I wasn't exhausted from cooking dinner.

My husband, on the other hand, had to man the grill in 94 degree heat, so this may not have been a plan he was as excited about.


Friends with benefits, or how I got to roast a leg of lamb

I know the very best people. I know you think you do, but you're wrong. Because I do. So there.

So, one of the people I know that falls into that "best" category is my friend Lynnette. And Lynnette just happens to be the daughter of some more "best" people: Tom and Gail Sloan. As in Representative Tom Sloan. That's right. See what I did there? I just let you all know that I am so important I actually know a state representative.

Tom and Gail have mountains of accolades. They are community-minded. They have big, fancy degrees, and run big, fancy businesses. They're also really cool and fun, and they also have a farm. That's right, they are sheep farmers.

Gail and Tom have raised sheep for 33 years. They raise registered Columbia sheep, a dual-purpose meat and wool breed. Their animals are raised on grass and grain with no added hormones or other medications in the feed. All of this just means that they are more cool than you can imagine.

They recently invited me and my children out to see the sheep (and the llama!) and take home a sampling of their wares.

I had never before cooked a leg of lamb. I mean, I know that's dumb, because lamb is good and it's a neat thing for Easter. While I've eaten it, I'd never purchased and cooked one.

So out we go to see the sheep and home I come, toting a lamb's leg in a thermal bag. My husband, Mr. Meat and Potatoes, almost came unglued. This was epic. I was going to roast a leg of lamb right there in the house, and he was going to get to eat it, and see what I mean? Best. People.

So I did it. I had a sack of peaches sitting around and I needed to use them up and my kids, it turns out, neither one are fans of the fresh peach (what is wrong with them? I'll never understand). So I turned those suckers into a rosemary-peach glaze and I roasted that leg of lamb like a boss.

Let me also just let you know that I did this on a weeknight and it wasn't all that hard, but if you want to look like a total goddess to your husband, go ahead and work all day, run home and toss a leg of lamb in the oven with some carrots, and whip up some mashed potatoes. And then stop doing laundry and dishes for a week because you are already winning.

Roasted Leg of Lamb with Rosemary-Peach Glaze

My theory was that this thing was too large to sear, so I wanted to sort of "sear" it in the oven. That meant high temp for about 20 minutes and low temp for another 2 hours. So yes, try to start this before 6 p.m. unless you are into eating at 9 p.m., which we are not.

Begin with the meat at room temperature. Preheat the oven to 400 F.

Give the meat a liberal coating of salt and cracked pepper. Drizzle a little olive oil in the bottom of your roasting pan (or, if you are me, in a large Pyrex because you threw out your roasting pan in a fit of anger over its filthiness), and toss in a few whole carrots because they will cook along with the lamb, and boom, there's your veggie.

Pop it in there and let it cook until you get a good sizzle on it. Then remove it, turn down the heat to 300 F, and cover the meat with your rosemary-peach glaze.

Return to the oven until you get an internal temperature of 145 F, about 2 hours depending on the size of your leg of lamb.

Rosemary-Peach Glaze

6 or 8 peaches, peeled, pitted and cut into bite-sized pieces
2 cups water
2 tablespoons brown sugar
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 teaspoons chopped rosemary (fresh is by far the best here)
1/2 teaspoon Worcestershire
1 tablespoon apple cider vinegar

Combine all of the ingredients in a saucepan and simmer over medium-low heat until the peaches begin to break down and the sauce reduces and thickens. Stir often.

That is it! This is a beautiful meal that looks like you require a degree from some fancy culinary college, but really it's just a matter of time and large-capacity cookware.

Visit the Sloan farm if you ever get the opportunity. I can't promise you a free leg of lamb, but I can promise you'll be happy you went. They are, after all, among the best people, and they welcome visitors!

They have hosted groups as diverse as the Douglas County Dads and their children and Kansas School for the Blind students and family members. One day I hope to take the kiddos I work with at Ballard Community Services out to see the animals and maybe get a little civics lesson to boot.


Summer on a plate: strawberry and kale salad

This is summer. This is what it should taste like: Fresh, bright but a little earthy, too. Food that is meant to be eaten outside, in the sunshine, next to a body of water.

A beloved neighbor recently moved across town, far away from us, so we had a little goodbye dinner in the backyard for her, and she brought this delectable contribution. I ate my weight in it and then asked her for the recipe. It tastes better when you eat it among good friends, and better if you consume it outside, near water. But really, it will be perfection if you eat it huddled in a broom closet at work as well.

I've said before that I'm a bit new to the kale bandwagon, so I'm still learning things. Like, baby kale. Who knew! Even better. Less aggressive, nicer kale. You will pay a bit more for the kinder, gentler kale, but it is worth it for the occasional splurge. In the winter I am fond of frozen kale for casseroles and hot dishes, and in the summer, I'm all up on this baby kale. I'll make up for the cost of my summer kale fix with my winter frozen fare. It makes sense, doesn't it? SAY IT DOES.

Strawberry and Kale Salad

For the salad
6 cups fresh baby kale
1 pint strawberries, sliced
2 avocados, diced
4 ounces crumbled goat cheese or feta
1/4 cup sliced almonds (bonus points if you toast them in a little sugar)
1/4 cup red onion, thinly sliced

For the vinaigrette
1/3 cup olive oil
1/4 cup white balsamic vinegar
4 tablespoons honey
1/2 teaspoon salt, preferably kosher or sea salt
Healthy dose of cracked black pepper

Gently toss the salad ingredients together, careful not to smear the cheese around too much or bruise the berries.

Shake the vinaigrette ingredients up together in a mason jar with the lid screwed on tightly, and then pour enough over the entire salad to get it covered but not sopping. I like to let the salad sit in the dressing for a little while before I serve it, because it kind of marinates the berries and gets everything nice and married.

I'm not saying this salad is inexpensive to create, so save it for a special occasion. But special, it is. Almost as special as my neighbor who moved three miles away from us and now feels like a pen pal. Julie, come back. And bring that salad with you.


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