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Category Archives: Garlic

Salsa Chicken is a Simple Choice

It is frustrating at times to be a passive-aggressive indecisive person living with an equally passive-aggressive indecisive person.  Figuring out what to have for dinner often goes something like this:

Bill:  I’m starving.

Me:  Yep.  It’s getting to be about dinner time.

Bill:  It is.  Oh my God.  I’m starving.

Me:  Did we thaw any meat?

Bill:  What kind of meat do we have?

Me:  I’m guessing that’s a “no,” so we’re going to have to go out to eat or pick something up.

Bill:  OK.

Me:  What are you hungry for?

Bill:  (Playing Scrabble on smart phone) I don’t know.  What do you feel like?

Me:  I’m not the one who’s starving.

(Bill becomes re-absorbed in Scrabble and I go off to feed the dogs, who have blissfully eaten the exact same thing for dinner every night of their lives).

Bill:  (20 minutes later) So, what are we going to do for dinner?  I’m starving.

For a while, we thought we had this dilemma solved by inventing the ABC Restaurant Run game.  Starting with the letter A, each time we went out to eat, we would choose a restaurant beginning with the next letter of the alphabet.  Once we hit Z, I made up little pieces of paper with names of restaurants on them, and we would randomly draw one when we couldn’t make a decision.  I think I need to find those papers again…

Why is it so difficult for us to figure out where to get a simple meal?  Because we are JINXED, that’s why.  You see, far too often, when we have a hankering for a certain restaurant and actually make a hard and fast decision, we get thwarted.  To prove this point, within the past couple of weeks, here are some scenarios that we have encountered upon driving to our destination:

Chosen eatery:  Colombo Italia.  We decided to check out this restaurant in downtown Mt. Clemens that we had never tried.  It was pitch black inside–creepy even, with no sign of being inhabited anymore…except maybe by Freddy Krueger.  Which is entirely plausible, knowing what the basements of those old buildings are like.

Chosen eatery:  Firehouse Lounge (on Harper).  We got close and noticed that there were no cars in the parking lot, and there were no lights on.  There was a note on the door, but we didn’t even turn into the parking lot to read it.

Chosen eatery:  Quiznos.  Closed at that location. Forever.

Chosen eatery:  Zack’s Hot Dogs. I was craving a Rachel Dog.  Sadly, they no longer have dinner hours at that location.  Only lunch.

Chosen eatery:  Maya’s Deli.  This little place in downtown Mt. Clemens has some spectacular sandwiches!  Only, apparently, they are not open on the weekends.  So we decided just to get some tacos from Taco Bell.  Simple enough, right? I shit you not, our local Taco Bell, which we pass several times a week, has suddenly been reduced to a pile of rubble.  A pile of rubble! Because it knew we were coming.

This is why I am thankful for easy recipes, such as Salsa Chicken, that can be thrown together in a matter of minutes–even using oven ready tenders if we haven’t thawed anything–thus avoiding the drama of choosing a restaurant that will ultimately be unavailable.   For example, last week, after returning home from a party where we had just nibbled on appetizers, Bill uttered his famous words, “I’m starving.”  I yanked a package of breaded chicken tenders from the freezer, poured some salsa on them, topped them with cheese, and threw the whole thing in the oven.  When it came out, we garnished it with jalapenos and sour cream–and it was the perfect stomach filling, liquor absorbing, post-cocktail dinner.

Salsa Chicken has many variations.  For the meat, you can use boneless chicken breasts, tenders, breaded tenders or just about any other poultry parts that you know how to cook in an oven.  The salsa can be from a jar, the deli department, or homemade–hot, medium or mild.   Cheese?  You know me with cheese…the more, the better!

Here is a link to the base recipe for SALSA CHICKEN that we’ve use for several years now:  http://allrecipes.com/recipe/salsa-chicken/detail.aspx

More about the salsa: In the summertime Bill and I make two different kinds, using a base recipe, but throwing in whatever kinds of tomatoes and peppers happen to be ripe in the garden.  The first salsa is good with chips and with the chicken, but because of the beans and corn it can also be eaten as a stand-alone side dish.  The second salsa is a nice fresh pico de gallo.  We adjust the heat by how many jalapeno seeds and membranes that we leave in.   I would give credit to the creator, but I’ve had that one in my recipe book for a while, and did not print the source.

Cilantro, Black Bean and Corn Salsa

CILANTRO, BLACK BEAN AND CORN SALSA

http://allrecipes.com/recipe/heathers-cilantro-black-bean-and-corn-salsa/detail.aspx

Fresh and Chunky Salsa

FRESH AND CHUNKY SALSA

Ingredients

  • 3 large ripe tomatoes
  • 3 tbsp onion, finely chopped
  • 2 small cloves garlic, minced
  • 2 hot chile peppers, Serrano or Jalapeno, finely chopped
  • 2-3 tbsp cilantro, minced
  • 1 1/2 -2 tbsp lime juice
  • salt and pepper

Preparation

1.   Boil enough water to cover tomatoes.  Dunk them in for a minute, take them out and plunge in cold water. Peel, seed and chop.

2.  Put chopped onion and garlic in a strainer; pour 2 cups of boiling water over them, then let drain thoroughly.  Discard water. Cool.

3.  Combine onion and garlic with chopped tomatoes, peppers, cilantro, lime juice, salt and pepper.

4.  Refrigerate for 2-4 hours to blend flavors.  Makes about 2 cups of salsa.

Click FRESH AND CHUNKY SALSA for a printable PDF of this recipe.

Broccoli and Cheese: A Favorite Combo

As a prelude to today’s recipes, I thought I’d haul out a little bit of fiction that’s been hiding on a CD of my old writing from 2004:

A Detective’s Tale

“Lemme tell you a little story about a dame named Madame Gruyere.  Brianne Gruyere to be exact.  She’s known as Brie to her friends, although I doubt she’d consider me a friend.  She was the main suspect in a case I was working on a couple of months ago.  I was investigating a burglary at the Sargento Cafe.  Made me real upset, cuz it’s my favorite pizza joint.  Anyway, the owners, they claimed a masked lady with a French accent was the perpetrator, so I hauled in one of their regular customers, this Madame Gruyere, for questioning.

I get her into the interrogation room, and give her the once-over. She’s the kind of broad who probably used to be a knockout: long legs, creamy skin, but she’s not aging all that great. She has stringy over-processed yellow hair, and her orange polyester dress is straight out of the 70’s —really cheesy.  I suppose not everyone’s born with good taste.  But there’s something about her–her eyes, I guess–that kinda makes me melt. 

I got a job to do, though, so I try to get her to talk.  Turns out she’s a smart-aleck with a sharp wit, and a grating laugh that makes my blood curdle. She mocks me for being American, and says she doesn’t understand our culture. Her sarcasm is so thick you can slice it with a knife. Finally, she opens up a bit and tells me she’s been feeling blue lately, ever since her boyfriend, Jack, moved across the country to Monterey.  She’s been flying between Philadelphia and there whenever she can afford it, and has also been hanging out at the cottage of a friend in Pinconning, Michigan.  She then proceeds to lay out a pathetic alibi for the night in question, and right away I can tell her story is full of holes.  I mean, it really stinks.

So after I’ve milked everything I can out of her, I do some digging into her affairs.  She’s got a clean record, although she seems to be pretty cozy with the Romano crime family.  And she used to have a rep as quite a whiz-kid.  That genius IQ means this lady should have some smarts —at least enough to make up a stronger alibi.  I manage to convince a judge to give me a warrant to search her house, but that turns out to be a bust.  Nothing suspicious there, except some statements from a Swiss bank account, which I skim though.  Nothing.  She’s already shredded any evidence of the crime, I’m sure of it.

So now it’s part of my cold case files.  And unless I can think of another way to approach this crime, it’ll remain unsolved. Who would want to steal a hundred pounds of mozzarella anyway?”

————————————————

As you may have noticed, there is a bit of a theme running through the entire story.  Can you find all 31 cheese-related references?  Some of them are admittedly a bit of a reach, but they are in there nonetheless.

Oh, how I adore cheese!  When I was little, my mom would drench most vegetables in Cheese Whiz to get my sister and me to eat them.  Even our Thanksgiving dinner at my parents’ house–to this day–features a broccoli, rice and Cheese Whiz casserole.  As I have gotten older, I still love to enhance my veggies with cheese, although I no longer rely on pasteurized processed cheese-food products.  Rather, I prefer to make a sauce with the real stuff, preferably a nice sharp cheddar. The recipe that’s linked below is a cinch to whip up, and can be poured over broccoli, asparagus, cauliflower…you name it.

Broccoli with Onion Cheese Sauce

BROCCOLI WITH ONION CHEESE SAUCE:  http://www.food.com/recipe/broccoli-with-onion-cheese-sauce-133517

Also, I’ve included a link to a recipe for a Chicken and Broccoli Braid, which I tried out last week in my attempt to use some of the vast amounts of broccoli that I’ve picked from the garden lately.  I cut the recipe in half, since I was just cooking for two and used walnuts for crunch instead of almonds, because that’s what I happened to have.  I also did not have dill, so I used celery salt, as suggested by one reviewer.  Purple peppers from the garden stood in for the red peppers.   Truthfully, the whole thing looked like a toddler’s art project gone wrong before I put it in the oven, because the crescent roll dough was not braiding prettily as I had hoped.  It stretched and broke a lot, so I ended up just pinching it together haphazardly.  But when I took it out of the oven, it was actually appealing to look at–a nice golden brown with a bit of shine from the egg white.  And best of all, it was wonderfully cheesy!

Chicken and Broccoli Braid

CHICKEN AND BROCCOLI BRAID:  http://allrecipes.com/recipe/chicken-and-broccoli-braid/detail.aspx

30 Minute Chicken Parmesan with Speedy Homemade Tomato Sauce

Chicken Parmesan with Homemade Tomato Sauce

My usual energy level is only slightly greater than your average thee-toed sloth. This is one of the major reasons that, on this eve of the first day of school, I am relieved not to be teaching first grade again.  Having to deal with the thousands of issues that arise in a class of 29 feisty six year olds every day, all day, is the most mentally, physically and emotionally draining job I have ever done.  And I had to teach them on top of it all!  Putting in twelve hours each day in my unrealistic desire to do everything perfectly resulted in my gradual zombification.  I believe that the only thing that I was able to utter in a family or social setting for nine months was, “Uhhhhhh.”  And that happened only when the chronic laryngitis subsided long enough for my damaged vocal cords to produce sound.

To say that the munchkins sapped my energy is an understatement.  Since I had very little to start with,  and conjured incredible amounts for work, I was running on negative when it came to my personal life.  It took me several weeks of summer to begin to recuperate and rise out of my stupor.   Today, as we get ready to start another school year, I had what was–for me–an impressive burst of energy.  My first one in a year.  Here is what I proudly accomplished, in addition to my regular daily routine:

  • Did yoga in my living room
  • Weeded all the vegetable and flower beds
  • Mowed the lawn
  • Made dinner–the whole darn thing–not just a side dish
  • Got a haircut
  • Wrote a blog

The garden beds were in terrible shape.  We have been up north a lot lately, and so our maintenance of them has been less than impressive.  The cucumber vine had withered away to nothing, squash beetles were sucking the last bit of dignity out of the zucchini plants, and the corn is busy turning into the dried-out front porch decorations that they will become next month.   Also, weird shit has started to grow.  Mysterious flowers and plants have sprung up where they have never existed before.  I’m guessing the seeds were dropped via birds, kind of like how we ended up with a tomato plant growing in the dogs’ gravel potty area–unintentionally sown by Dieter, my tomato eating dog.

If you are talented in the identification of plants, could you please help me figure out what these are?

Hibiscus?

The one shown above is growing up under my June-blooming rose-bush.  I think it’s a hibiscus, right?  I honestly thought these only grew in Hawaii.

Mystery flower: Morning glory?

I found this purple one vining its way around my strawberry patch.  Is it a type of morning glory?

Pseudo Corn

I’ve posted a picture of this one before.  It is growing in the gateway to the alley behind the house.  I have been thinking it is corn, but although the stalk and leaves look similar, it is not producing ears, and the tassel on top resembles a squirrel tail.   I am calling it Pseudo Corn until I can figure out what the heck it is.

After I got done gardening and puzzling over mystery plants, I went inside to make dinner.  I mis-timed my yardwork, however, and due to an impending hair appointment, I did not have the 48 minutes of prep time I would need to make what I had originally planned.  So, taking advantage of my continued and unusual energy burst, I decided to improvise:  Chicken Parmesan with Homemade Tomato Sauce and corn on the cob.  And by George, I was going to make it all in 30 minutes (eat your heart out Rachael Ray).  It is this type of overly ambitious thinking that wore me out last year, but tonight it worked for me.

The corn was from a roadside stand, since ours has been done for a while. Here’s my impromptu recipe–portions made 2 servings:

CHICKEN PARMESAN WITH HOMEMADE TOMATO SAUCE

Ingredients:

  • Frozen breaded chicken breast tenders or patties
  • 2 cloves of garlic
  • 1 tbsp olive oil
  • 4 – 6 tomatoes
  • ketchup
  • dried basil and oregano (or Italian seasoning)
  • shredded mozzarella cheese, or blend of Italian cheeses

Directions:

  • Set a pot of water to boil (Cover it to make it boil faster.  I used the same pot and water to cook my corn).
  • Mince garlic.
  • When water boils, drop tomatoes into it for about a minute.  Take them out and put them in a dish of cold water.  Peel off skins, core and run fingers inside of them to expel all the seeds.
  • Bake chicken in oven according to package directions.
  • Roughly chop tomatoes.
  • In a small/medium saucepan, begin to cook garlic in olive oil until fragrant.
  • Add tomatoes, a squirt of ketchup, and a pinch of the dry spices to the garlic and cook over medium heat until bubbly.
  • Take pan off of stove and dump sauce into blender.  Puree for about 8 seconds.
  • When chicken has cooked, pour sauce over it, top with shredded cheese and put under the broiler until cheese melts.

This was so simple and tasty!  I may make more of this sauce and can it for the winter. Click CHICKEN PARMESAN WITH HOMEMADE TOMATO SAUCE for a printable PDF of this recipe.  I posted the directions for my homemade meat sauce earlier, but this is much quicker, with fewer ingredients.

Whew!  Now I only have a few minutes left before bed.  Time to relax and look forward to being a part-time reading support teacher this year.  Oh, and doing educational consulting and sales.  And some volunteering.  And taking classes toward a second master’s degree.   Hope I have enough energy for all that…

It’s Time for Some Naan-sense

One of my major pet peeves used to be seeing–and especially hearing–people eat on TV.  Those snack commercials with the close-ups of psychotically enthusiastic people crunching a chip grossed me out, and I could not understand why advertisers would feature people extolling the virtues of their product with full-mouth-induced speech impediments:  “Wow, thatsh sho tashty!”

Honestly, I still hate those commercials, but ironically, I love watching the Food Network and other food based reality shows.  For one thing, rarely are chewing or crunching sounds audible when food is sampled. Thank you, sound engineers.  And also, they seem to train their show hosts to speak clearly with a big honkin’ mouth full of a fussily arranged and pleasantly garnished dish.

Bill and I relax and unwind at night while watching The Next Food Network Star, America’s Next Great Restaurant, and Hell’s Kitchen, among others.  One of the appealing things about these shows–besides feeling superior when experienced chefs mess up a rudimentary task, such as cooking pasta–is that sometimes their creations and/or ingredients are intriguing.  This will occasionally inspire us to try new foods and new recipes.

For example, Bill’s mouth was watering like Homer Simpson dreaming of donuts while watching The Next Food Network Star last week.  Contestant Vic Vegas Moea was making lamb burgers, and lamb is one of Bill’s favorites.  So, the next day we hit the grocery store so that he could buy the ingredients and try it out.   While he was in the bakery department, futilely searching for individual hamburger buns (he really didn’t need a package of eight), I wandered around perusing the rest of the baked goods, doing my own Homer Simpson impression.  I snagged a bag of pretzel bagels and skipped over to add them to the cart, just as Bill noticed packages of freshly baked Tandoori Naan.

Naan is a type of bread that we have seen on various cooking shows–usually used by Indian-influenced chefs.  It is a leavened flatbread cooked in a tandoor (a clay oven).   We had never tasted it before, and Bill decided on the spur of the moment that he was going to use it, instead of a bun, for his lamb burger.   We got home, and Bill went to work on Vic’s recipe, while I tried to decide what I was going to have for lunch–I do not eat lamb.

I took a look at what we had around the kitchen, and decided to do a bruschetta type of creation.  I brushed both sides of my piece of naan with olive oil, topped it with sliced golden tomatoes and basil from our garden, and finished it with some fresh grated parmesan cheese.  I put it under the broiler just long enough to melt the cheese.  Holy cow, was it ever spectacular!  The naan was pillow-y soft, with just a bit of chew.  I will be purchasing it often from now on.  I truly think just about anything would taste better on it or with it, but it really was a fantastic complement to my simple toppings.  Just consider it my Italian-Indian fusion experiment.  Sounds classy–like it could be on one of those shows.

Here is the link to the lamb burger, which Bill describes as one the best things he’s ever eaten!  (He didn’t use anything from our garden, but I had to post the recipe since he liked it so much.  The “mayoli” has garlic in it, and we do grow garlic–it just isn’t ready yet.  And it calls for dried basil–guess he could have used fresh, but he stuck to the directions on this one).

LAMB BURGERS WITH CARAMELIZED RED ONIONS, MAYOLI AND FETA

http://www.foodnetwork.com/recipes/lamb-burgers-with-caramelized-red-onions-mayoli-and-feta-recipe/index.html

An Unforgettable Dish: Cheese Ravioli with Fresh Tomatoes and Artichoke Sauce

Cheese Ravioli with Fresh Tomato and Artichoke Sauce

There are some things that are best forgotten:  embarrassing moments, old grudges, unfortunate hairstyles, and anything done after five or more cocktails.  On the other hand, it is best not to forget things like birthdays, anniversaries, making the mortgage payment and bathing.  I have been particularly forgetful lately, and it is driving me bananas.  Although my hygiene has been properly maintained and home foreclosure is not imminent, in the past couple of days I have neglected to: remember to buy necessary items at the grocery store, write a blog post, make a doctor’s appointment, and pick the rest of the corn from the garden.

Not picking the corn was a serious oversight–critters made a feast out of five of our beautiful ears!  Only two were left intact, which I immediately pulled off and took inside.  I am very sad and am mourning the tragic loss of our tasty little crop.  I am also kicking myself, because when I picked two ears for dinner a couple of nights ago, I gleefully noticed that the ears were perfect, and I made a mental note to go out and get the rest of them before the neighborhood wildlife discovered them.  Which I promptly forgot to do.

My memory has been so flighty the past few months that even my attempts to help myself are inadequate.  I’ll make a list to take to the grocery store and either forget to include important items, or forget the entire list on the kitchen table.  I’ll diligently enter an appointment in my cell phone and set an alarm to notify me of it an hour in advance.  But then I’ll forget to charge my cell phone or to keep it nearby, so I never hear the alarm.  I’ll write things on sticky notes and forget where I stuck them.  *Sigh.*

Bill and I are especially bad about remembering to take out meat to thaw for dinner.  This is why, during the school year when we are both working, we end up getting a lot of fast food.  We do manage to plan for those kinds of days once in a while, though.  We try to keep some items on hand that do not require thawing or loads of preparation, such as frozen or refrigerated cheese-filled pasta.  We boil it up, toss it with a bit of pesto and serve with some garlic bread and/or a salad for a filling meatless meal.

The following recipe is great if you are going meatless or just forgot to buy or thaw meat.  In the winter, we use canned diced tomatoes for a super quick dinner.  But in the summer, when the garden tomatoes are fresh and abundant, we chop up a bunch of those instead.   The recipe calls for roma tomatoes, but we use whatever the garden is producing.

CHEESE RAVIOLI WITH FRESH TOMATO AND ARTICHOKE SAUCE:

http://allrecipes.com/recipe/cheese-ravioli-with-fresh-tomato-and-artichoke-sauce/detail.aspx

A Cucumber-iffic Meal with Special Guest Appearances by Zucchini, Cherry Tomatoes, Purple Pepper & Basil

Giant cucumbers picked recently:  10.   Cucumbers left at the end of the day yesterday: 0.  Whew!  Lucky for us, our cleaning lady likes cucumbers and took a few off of our hands.  We delivered a couple more–along with a monster zucchini–to some friends.  (Bonus:  Got some homemade blackberry jam in return that we can’t wait to break into!)  Bill made some experimental pickles with a couple more, and finally, we finished them off by using making some cucumber-based recipes for dinner with Bill’s parents.

To serve with our appetizers, we prepared Tzatziki sauce for the first time.  We followed the recipe on that one exactly, except that our cucumbers are not English cucumbers.  I wrangled as much water as I could out of the shredded cuke by salting it and mashing it between paper towels and then using centrifugal force in the salad spinner.  We were glad that we chose to add the optional dill, since that really enhanced the taste.  The sauce turned out nice and thick, and we paired it with both mini pita breads and Fried Zucchini “Crab” Cakes.  Just a tip:  Unless you are actively trying to repel vampires, it is not advisable to use Garlic Cloves of Unusual Size, like we did.  Regular sized cloves would be quite sufficient.  Although, we did sit outside all evening and I didn’t get a single mosquito bite, so perhaps the pungent garlic scent emanating from my every pore kept those blood-sucking demons at bay.

The Fried Zucchini “Crab” Cakes were a spur-of-the-moment decision by Bill, who wisely began preparing them without my knowledge while I was on the computer blogging.  By the time his parents arrived and I saw that he had a pan of EXTREMELY FLAMMABLE oil on the barbecue with fire licking up around it, there was not much I could do except for whimper softly and internally berate myself for always forgetting to buy a fire extinguisher.  Fortunately, all turned out well.  The cakes were crispy and delicious, and we did not have to bother the nice men at the fire department.  When making the cakes, Bill used Panko breadcrumbs and seasoned them with paprika, garlic powder, cayenne, salt and pepper–rather than Old Bay.

For our dinner, Bill grilled up some steaks and I put together a Quinoa Greek Salad.  Quinoa (keen-wa) is such an intriguing little grain.  It has a good deal of protein, which I love, since I am prone to getting dizzy and shaky between meals if I eat too many carbs.  So, I actively seek out sources of protein such as Greek yogurt (used in the Tzatziki), nuts, and soy-enhanced cereal and meal replacement bars.  This salad was lemony and refreshing, and I definitely will be adding it to our regular rotation.  I stuck to the recipe fairly closely, except that rather than red and green bell peppers, I used a purple pepper from the garden.  I also added some of our cherry tomatoes, but served the feta cheese on the side, since Bill’s parents are not big on it.  Also, I lightly browned the quinoa in a bit of butter before adding the chicken stock in order give it a bit of a toasted flavor.

TZATZIKI: http://www.food.com/recipe/tzatziki-59336

FRIED ZUCCHINI “CRAB” CAKES: http://allrecipes.com/recipe/connies-zucchini-crab-cakes/detail.aspx

QUINOA GREEK SALAD:  http://www.food.com/recipe/quinoa-greek-salad-97764