Tag Archives: dinner

Celebration Scampi

This past weekend, I watched many friends celebrate their graduation from business school.  It was really nice to be a part of their happiness because I’ve seen them progress throughout their program for the past 18 months, and I know how excited they are to move on from school. 

While managing the various celebration receptions, I recalled a meal that I threw together a few years back when I concluded of a certain facet of undergraduate business school:  financial accounting.  I had two good study buddies in this class, and I still remember our late-night meet-ups to go over practice problems and concepts before any exams.  When we all passed the final and the class, we decided to celebrate with a delicious home-cooked meal.  And by that, I mean that I cooked and my friends (two guys who did not have the best kitchen skills back then) provided the home for it.

Celebration Scampi
Serves 4

8 to 10 oz. whole wheat pasta (linguine and penne both work well)
1 Tbsp. extra virgin olive oil
1 Tbsp. butter*
4 cloves garlic, minced
½ cup dry white wine, such as pinot grigio
1 Lb. medium, uncooked shrimp (veins removed)
Kosher salt and pepper, to taste
1 tsp. fresh lemon juice
Parsley and freshly grated parmesan cheese, garnish

*For a more traditional scampi, use 2 Tbsp. butter instead of 1 Tbsp. butter and 1 Tbsp. extra-virgin olive oil.

Cook pasta according to package directions.

While pasta cooks, heat olive oil and butter in a large pan over medium heat.  When melted, add garlic and saute for 3 to 4 minutes, stirring constantly so as not to burn the garlic.

Add wine to pan and stir to combine.  Let cook for 1 to 2 minutes so that the wine begins to reduce.  Then add the shrimp and cook for 3 to 4 minutes until shrimp are bright pink.  In the last minute of cooking, add in salt, pepper, and lemon juice, all to taste.

Pour pasta onto a large serving platter and top with the scampi sauce.  Garnish with parsley and/or freshley grated parmesan.

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Better than a Prescription

I must be sick.

It’s been beautiful the past three days and I haven’t stepped outside anymore than I’ve needed to.  There have been no runs in the sun, no walks in Duke Gardens, nothing outdoorsy taking place in my life.  Instead, I’ve felt like I’m going to sneeze every 20 seconds and my nose is starting to resemble Rudolph’s.

Allergies seem to be the culprit.  I think I could star in an Allegra or Claritin commercial right now and I wouldn’t even have to act that I’m sniffling, sneezing, coughing, wheezing.  It’s all real.

Thank goodness for soup.

Chicken Jalapeno Soup to Cure Anything
Makes 5 to 6 large servings

2 Tbsp. extra virgin olive oil
¾ cup onion, diced
4 medium carrots, chopped
3 jalapenos, chopped (remove the seeds for less heat)
3 garlic cloves, minced
2 tsp. cumin
1 ½ tsp. oregano
½ tsp. paprika
¾ cup golden hominy
¾ cup great northern beans (drained and rinsed if using the canned variety)
1 ½ cups shredded rotisserie chicken
32 oz. low-sodium chicken broth or stock
¾ to 1 cup water
salt and pepper to taste

In a large pot, heat olive oil over medium heat.  Once hot, add in onion,carrots, and jalapenos and saute for 3 minutes.  Add all seasonings (garlic through paprika) and stir to combine for about a minute. 

Add in hominy*, beans, and chicken**.  Mix well in the pot and let cook for 2 minutes to allow everything to warm together. 

Pour in chicken stock and water.  You want to make sure that everything is covered with liquid.  Reduce heat to medium-low and let simmer for 20 minutes.  Stir occassionally during the cooking process and adjust seasonings before serving.

Cook’s Notes:

*Hominy — a variety of corn (I affectionately call it “corn on steroids” because the kernels are huge) can be found in most grocery stores in the Mexican or Hispanic food section (it comes in a can).

**Rotisserie chicken — I simply bought a whole rotisserie chicken from the grocery store, let it cool, and then shredded the meat to use for this soup.  I removed the skin, but you can leave some on if you like the flavor. 

This soup is FILLING.  And it’s incredibly healthy — lots of vitamins and minerals from the vegetables, plus some healthy fats from the olive oil.  It’s a perfect dinner on it’s own and gets better and better the longer it sits, so this is a time when you can look forward to leftovers!  Plus, if you’re stuffed up like me, the spice from the peppers and seasonings will help decongest you. 

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Comfort Food

To me, one of the best feelings in the world is when you get home after a very long work week and know that you have a day off (or two, if you’re lucky).  It was a very comforting thought to know that when I left work yesterday, I had one whole day awaiting me in which I could do absolutely anything that I wanted to do.  It was only natural that I wanted food that comforted me last night.

If you asked 10 random people on the street what their top comfort food was, I bet that at least a couple of them would say pasta.  I would even venture to say that out of that 20%, one or both would say pasta with alfredo sauce.  Alfredo is the definition of comfort — rich, creamy, warm, and cheesy.  While all these things are wonderful, it doesn’t make alfredo the healthiest sauce either.  I decided to make a few changes to make it a little lighter in terms of fat and calories, but not give up anything on flavor.  I think it’s just as yummy as alfredo that you’d get at your local Italian restaurant and doubt you’ll even miss the heavy cream.


Meg’s Penne Alfredo

Serves 3

6oz. penne pasta
1 tsp. butter
1 garlic clove, minced
½ tsp. flour
2/3 cup skim milk
4oz. mozzarella cheese, cubed
¼ cup freshly grated parmesan cheese
¼ tsp. cayenne pepper
¼ tsp. black pepper
¼ tsp. salt
¼ tsp. dried ground mustard
8oz. Mori-Nu Silken Tofu, Firm (about 2/3 of package)
dash of ground nutmeg

In a large pot, boil water and prepare pasta according to package directions.

In a pan, saute garlic in butter over medium-low heat.  When butter is melted, add in flour and stir well to combine.

Slowly add in milk and bring to a soft boil over medium heat.  Stir constantly for 1 to 2 minutes while milk lightly boils until sauce thickens slightly.  Reduce to medium-low heat.

Add cheeses, tofu, and all seasonings to sauce.  Break up tofu with a spoon and allow cheese to melt, taking about 5 to 7 minutes.  When cheese is done melting, transfer sauce to a blender and blend for 30 seconds or so until smooth. 

Add sauce to drained pasta and stir to combine.  Top with fresh parsley or more parmesan and enjoy.

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Red Beans and Ricely Yours…

Trivia question of the day:  Who used to sign cards and letters with the above statement in order to show his love for red beans and rice?  Answer appears at the bottom of this post!

So, hi there!  It’s been a while.  Hectic week or so yet again, but hopefully I can make up for it.  Today is Fat Tuesday after all.  Happy Mardi Gras to all Cajuns, Creoles, and wannabes (like me) out there! 

Today, I was in the mood to make something spicy and of course, in honor of the holiday.  One of my grandads is from Louisiana, and I’ve grown up loving Cajun and Creole food of all sorts.  Shrimp étouffé, gumbo, jambalaya, okra in general…I love it all.  Tony Chachere’s is a staple in my pantry, and I continuously turn friends onto it that have never heard of this seasoning blend sent from the gods.  If you don’t know Tony….you need to meet him at your local grocery store ASAP.  He will change your life. 

 

After mentally debating about what to make for dinner tonight, I settled on red beans and rice.    It’s a classic Creole dish that’s hearty, healthy, and wholesome.  It has delicious spice to it, but more so in the flavor than heat.

I made mine a little healthier than normal since I didn’t use a ham hock, but that’s just me.  If you have an extra hock around the house, by all means, put it to good use!  My version may not be the most traditional, and yes I took a shortcut with canned beans, but I think it will satisfy any craving you have for good N’awlins-style food today!

Red Beans and Rice
Serves 2 to 3 as an entrée

1 Tbsp. canola or vegetable oil
½ Tbsp. butter or margarine
½ cup finely chopped yellow onion
½ cup finely chopped green pepper (typically bell, but you can use jalapeno for a little more heat and smokiness)
1 celery stalk, finely chopped
1 garlic clove, finely minced
½ tsp. dried oregano
¼ tsp. ground thyme
¼ tsp. ground red pepper
½ tsp. Tony Chachere’s Creole Seasoning Blend
1- 14.5oz can dark red kidney beans, drained and rinsed
½ cup water or low-sodium chicken broth
dash of hot sauce (such as Tabasco)
1 cup rice
2 cups water

In a large pan, heat oil and butter or margarine over medium-low to medium heat.  Add in the holy trinity (onion, pepper, celery), stir to coat in oil, and cook for 2 minutes. 

Add in garlic and all seasonings, and cook for another minute.  Add beans to pan, and lightly smash some down using the back of a spoon.  Pour in the water or broth, and bring pan to a simmer over medium-low heat.  Let cook for 10 to 15 minutes.  When bean mixture is thickened, taste and add hot sauce.

Serve over rice prepared according to package.

 

 

And in case you’re feeling a tad….thirsty…..here’s a drink recipe to help you feel a little closer to the French Quarter.  I made these once in college with a roommate.  A hurricane was headed straight towards our school, which cracked me up because I’m from Florida, and I couldn’t even escape from the storms while living in western Virginia.  There was no better way to celebrate a potential hurricane-day off from school than by making a special trip to the liquor store and concocting these on a Tuesday night.  I miss college.


New Orleans Hurricane
Makes 1 drink

2 oz. dark rum
1 oz. white rum
3 oz. passionfruit juice (use orange if you can’t find passionfruit)
3 oz. pineapple juice
splash of grenadine
citrus slice for garnish

Add rums and juices to a mixer filled with ice and shake or stir well to combine.  Pour over ice and add a splash of grenadine for color.  Serve with an orange or lime slice.

These are the actual drinks we made that night...still have the picture!

 

Trivia answer:  If you said Louis Armstrong, famous New Orleanian jazz trumpeter and singer, you were right!  Give yourself a pat on the back and laissez les bon temps rouler!

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Bon! Ratatouille

You know the stereotype about American women loving foreign accents, particulary British or Australian?  While I’m sure that’s true, I am here to tell you that there is nothing American women find more irrisitible than a man with a French accent and a fabulous joie de vivre.

Meet J.M.

J.M. is a Quebeçois on-call cook where I work.  He used to be a sous chef, but decided he wanted to pursue more college degrees and teach philosophy at a local university.  He simply stays on-call because he loves to cook and enjoys mingling with the variety of people that come through the hotel.  Whenever I see J.M. at work, I immediately get a smile on my face because he is like a breath of fresh air.  He is incredibly bubbly, looks like a jolly Père Noël, and always gives excellent wine suggestions.  I never tire of hearing him say, “Ahh, bon!” after finishing off a fruit display or setting up a buffet.  Everyone could use a little more “Bon!” in their life.

The thing that gets me everytime about this friendly French Canadian is how J.M. attracts women.  It is like moths to a flame.  The chefs and I tend to make a sport of guessing how many women he can charm in the course of an hour while working the dinner buffet because it is so fun to watch.  J.M. is probably in his mid-50s, but females of all ages blush immediately when he says, “Bon soir, how are you tonight?  Now do not forget dessert, all women (pronounced wooo-man) must enjoy un petit chocolat today.”

I think he should record his voice and sell Podcasts on iTunes of him simply speaking nonsense.  He could make millions.  And he would make millions of women happier all over the world. 

Read on, there’s more!

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Cheesy Beer Bread

My last recipe for sweet potato chili may have left you wondering what to make to serve alongside it.  Well look no further because here is a simple and delicious bread recipe.  This cheesy loaf is perfect for dipping into chili (or any soup, or served plain, or with butter on top…).  I first made this back in November with a bottle of pumpkin beer, but feel free to use whatever brew you have available in your fridge.

Cheesy Beer Bread
Makes 1 Loaf

Pumpkin beer and a pumpkin candle...I obviously love fall a little too much.

1 cup diced onions
1 Tbsp. extra-virgin olive oil
2 cups whole wheat flour
1 cup all-purpose flour
2 tsp. baking powder
1 tsp. salt
½ tsp. ground thyme
½ tsp. ground cayenne pepper
1 tsp. garlic powder
12 to 15oz. of bottled beer
1 ¼ cup shredded Colby-Jack cheese, separated

1.  Heat olive oil in a small pan over medium heat.  Add onion, reduce heat to medium-low, and caramelize for 20 to 30 minutes. 
2.  In a large bowl, combine the next 7 ingredients (whole wheat flour through garlic powder). 
3. Dig a small hole in the middle of the mixture, and add 1 cup grated cheese and caramelized onions. 
4.  Pour beer into bowl, and stir until combined.
5.  Pour batter into a greased loaf pan (or spray with non-stick cooking spray).  Top with remaining cheese if desired and bake at 375 degrees for 40 to 50 minutes. 

 

Extra, extra!

Wine of the WeekMain Street Merlot from California.  Like the description on their website suggests…

“It is family dinners on Sundays,
It is the heartbeat of a holiday,
It is the comfort of home,
Where familiar places line the streets and friendly faces welcome you every time,
This is your Main Street.”

 

 

…I did enjoy this with some friends over dinner on Sunday, and it was very smooth and fruity.  Another thing I like about their website is the Fact Sheet that describes exactly what goes into this varietal. 

 

Extra, extra!  Take 2:  Read Mark Bittman’s take on McDonald’s newest menu arrival:  oatmeal.  I pretty much agree with what he says and also ask the question, “Why?”

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Slow Down with Sweet Potato Chili

If you read yesterday’s post, you learned that I was the recipient of some bad luck in that ice cream exploded all over me twice before 8am.  How this came to happen makes me laugh because I think I only have myself to blame.  

I am a very curious person.  I tend to notice things that other people don’t, and then wonder why things are the way they are.  So, when I saw a milky substance leaking over the floor of the employee break room yesterday morning at work, my first thought was, “What is milk doing on the ground and how did it get here?  I’ll open up the cooler.” 

Turns out it wasn’t milk — it was ice cream.  That one of my employees left in the refrigerator overnight because it was too big to fit in the freezer.  **Shakes head** 

Well, you think I would learn.  Sadly, I did not.  Because 20 minutes later when I noticed a milky substance pooling underneath the ice cream machine in the dining room again my immediate thought was, “Why is this milk here?  I should open the ice cream machine and see what’s wrong.” 

Side note….but do you remember Gusher fruit candies and how the juice squirts out as soon as you bite into a piece?  Imagine that, but with ice cream rather than fruit juice; that’s exactly what happened when I opened the machine’s door.  Melted ice cream splattered everywhere and left a huge mess over me and the floor.  I just started laughing, went back into the kitchen and poured myself a third cup of coffee because I knew it would be “one of those days.” 

Read on…

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