What I Cooked Last Night

Sometimes I make up these crazy meals that turn out to be wonderful. When that happens, i think it is worth sharing. Occasionally something turns out to be a total disaster, then it is the story, rather than the recipe that is worth sharing. My kitchen creativity is best used on leftovers. I can work tasty magic with leftovers. Be sure to read the first post, "About My Cooking Style" which will help in following recipes when given, or to recreate meals from my prose.

Wednesday, June 28, 2006

Compound Salads

The challenge: Create a tasty supper, without going to the grocery store, that is healthful and relatively low in fat. No time to go shopping, husband has high cholesterol, not much "fresh" food in the house.. Solution: compound salads!

I put a batch of brown rice in the oven and some lentils on to simmer. Lentils are the fast food of the dried legume world, they cook up in a jiffy. I added fresh thyme, bay leaf, salt and pepper to the cooking water. Meanwhile, having thawed a bone-in chicken breast I found in the deep freeze, I set about poaching it in some water and wine with some carrots, savory and parsley. After everything cooked up, I let it cool down before proceeding.

The chicken was shredded up and mixed with 2 cups cooked rice. I added some finely diced bell pepper, celery and onion. I also diced up the carrots that had cooked with the chicken. I tossed that all together with 1 tablespoon of light mayo, added salt & pepper and voila! Chicken & Rice Salad!

The lentils were inspired by a recipe from The Light Recipe from the people at Cook's Illustrated. It called for sherry vinegar, I had balsamic. It called for Dijon mustard, I had hearty deli style. I did not even have the right kind of lentils, and yet I dared to proceed. I even substituted finely diced Vidalia onions for the scallions I was supposed to use. So once the mustard, vinegar and olive oil (I did have that) were whisked together, I added some herbs and the resulting dressing with the lentils, onions and half a jar of roasted red peppers chopped fine. There you have it, lentil salad. Despite the obvious differences between the dish and the recipe, it was delish.

I had some lovely tomatoes from the Farmer's Market that rounded out the meal nicely. I sliced them, misted them with olive oil, drizzled on some balsamic vinegar and sprinkled on some salt and pepper. It was an easy, yummy and cool way to finish off a hot, humid, Southern summer day. Bread and butter would have really made it perfect, but I am trying to lose some weight and my husband has that pesky cholesterol problem.

Try this dishes to bring to picnics, covered dish suppers and cook-outs. They are sure to be hits.

Friday, June 09, 2006

Two meals at a time!

Last night, in anticipation of going out with friend tonight, I made two suppers, but from the same base recipe. Last night, we had stuffed bell peppers with garlic sauted spinach and grilled yellow squash. Tonight we had vegetable gumbo, a thick, tomatoey soup. Both meals started in the same place.

I cut the tops off of the red bell peppers, chopped them and threw them in the big skillet. I added one Vidalia onion (chopped) and a pound of Ground Charles. (Fancy, organic beef; too nice and too pricey to call ground chuck. It was on sale!) Once everything was browned up, I drained the (very little) grease off, added about two cups of cooked brown rice, a small can of tomato sauce, some water, oregano, basil, garlic, salt, pepper and Tabasco. Then I let it simmer for a little while. Once it was all good and blended, I divided it, removing half to a mixing bowl. The half in the skillet became my soup. I added more water, a can of diced tomatoes, a bag of frozen soup vegetables, a bay leaf and grated Parmiggiano-Reggiano cheese. I brought it to a gentle boil and let it simmer while I worked on the other meal. To the beef mixture in the mixing bowl I added grated mozzerella cheese, 2 beaten eggs, more oregano and whole wheat bread crumbs. This I stuffed into the bell peppers (whose ribs and seeds had been removed) and I baked them at 350 degrees, while the soup continued to simmer. I sliced the squash thin, sprayed it with olive oil and sprinkled it with salt and pepper. With the squash on the grill, I turned my attention to the spinach. I browned some butter in a skillet, added the baby spinach and some garlic. In minutes it was wilted and perfect. I grated a teeny bit of nutmeg over the top and added salt and pepper. Done! The soup cooled while we ate supper, and went into the ice box for the night. It was delicious tonight. The best part? No clean up!

We enjoyed the stuffed peppers for lunch today, and will finish off the soup for lunch tomorrow. It was unbelievably easy and convenient. I hope to come up with more two in one meals soon. They ended up so different that it didn't seem like a repeat. This will become a regular part of our menu.

To make it easier:

Soup & Stuffing

4 bell peppers
1 lb ground chuck
1 large sweet onion, chopped
2 cans tomato sauce
1 can diced tomatoes (or for real kick, use Ro-Tel)
2 cups cooked brown rice
1 cup bread crumbs
2 eggs, beaten
1 cup grated mozzarella cheese
1/4 cup grated Parmiggiano-Reggiano cheese
1 16 oz bag frozen vegetables for soup
Oregano, basil, salt, pepper, granulated garlic and Tabasco to taste
Bay leaf

Cut the tops off of the bell peppers, dice and set aside. Remove the ribs and seeds and discard. Brown beef, diced peppers and chopped onions. Drain. Add one can tomato sauce, 1 cup water, brown rice, seasonings to taste. Simmer about 20 minutes, or until most liquid is absorbed or evaporate. Divide.

To one half, add 1 can of tomato sauce, 1 cup water, can of tomatoes, parmesan cheese, bay leaf and frozen vegetables. Bring to a low boil and turn heat down. Simmer one hour.

To the other half, add everything else and mix well. Salt the inside of the peppers, then stuff with beef mixture. Top with additional cheese if desired, bake at 350 for 45 minutes.

Save the soup for the next day, enjoy the peppers tonight!

Adapt this bare bones recipe to your own taste. Subsitute salsa for the canned tomatoes. Add beef broth instead of water for added flavor. Use a mixture of ground meats. Try using Tex-Mex seasoning instead of Italian ones. Add kidney, black and pinto beans instead of frozen soup vegetables. My mixture had tomatoes, okra, carrots, lima beans, corn, green beans and potaotes, yours might be different. make it your own!!

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