Category Archives: Quick

Winging it without the cooktop

When the cook top goes on the fritz, a bit of ingenuity is in order.  A little more than a week ago the ignition switches on all six burners  suddenly started clicking furiously in the middle of the night. The racket was stopped only by shutting off the power. The repair man returns tomorrow to fix a faulty ignition switch, just in time for the holidays. Meanwhile I’ve winging it on our meal plan, relaying on the microwave and oven more than usual. Along the way we stumbled upon some tasty surprises:

Copycat pesto works for Meatless Monday

Sundried tomato pesto — A huge jar of sundried tomatoes is taking up more real estate in our refrigerator than I usually allow for a non-essential ingredient. My in-laws gifted the jar on their last visit and I’ve been searching for a quick and easy way to make haste with the batch, especially since the boys aren’t too crazy about them. Thus, there I stood in the market on Day one of our Cooktop Breakdown, pondering a menu change, when I spied a jar of Ciba naturals Sundried Tomato pesto. One look at the label and I knew what I’d be making … the perfect topping for roasted spaghetti squash:

INGREDIENTS: Organic extra virgin olive oil, canola oil, organic sun-dried tomatoes, roasted red peppers, walnuts, fresh garlic, rice vinegar, kosher salt, rosemary and black pepper.

Along with sole fillets with a Parmesan “Caesar” glaze, on a bed of fresh spinach, we ended up with a Meatless Monday meal more elegant than most.

I felt myself winging it as well the next evening since timing was tight before heading to a school concert.  Luckily Metropolitan Market came to the rescue with a Sicilian stuffed pork tenderloin that was so scrumptious I retrieved the packaging from the trash to study the ingredients:  Pork tenderloin stuffed with pesto, garlic, balsamic vinegar and topped with slices of provolone cheese and pancetta. I roasted it in a cast oven skillet with some chunks of yam. Serve an arugula salad with fennel and pomegranate on the side. At this point my husband wondered if we really missed the cooktop all that much.

The rest of the week’s meals weren’t quite so fancy — Zatarain’s Dirty Rice; Chicken with Green Curry Sauce.  By the weekend, when we had friends over for a holiday dinner, I resorted to igniting a burner or two with a lighter to regain some sense of normalcy at the stove.

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Rebounding with last-minute penne

So what happens when you walk into the kitchen with a half-baked plan? You end up baking something else altogether.  I was all set to whip together a quick green curry with chicken and eggplant, but I neglected to check the pantry beforehand. No coconut milk. Green curry was off the menu. But what to make? I was fixated on eating that eggplant.

Last minute penne with eggplant and more

The good news is it’s entirely possibly to start cooking at 5:45 and still produce a decent meal when you have a pressure cooker. With the clock ticking, the game plan went something like this:

— Start a pot of water on to boil; add whole grain penne

— chop up the eggplant, sprinkle with kosher salt (and pat dry about 5 minutes later); chop up half an onion, two cloves of garlic

— heat olive oil and a splash of red wine in the pressure cooker; add the eggplant, onions and garlic. Add a jar of puttanesca sauce. Top with the lid and cook for 12 minutes at low pressure.

— When time is up, add 1/3 cup sun-dried tomatoes and  2 T. capers to the sauce; mix in the drained penne and a cup of arugula.

— Put the pasta in a casserole; top with mozzarella cheese. Bake at 350 for 20  minutes.

— Listen to husband rave. 😉

It all worked just fine until son #1 returned home:

“Why did Mom put cheese sticks on the pasta?”

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Insta-meals will do for holiday chaos

There’s something about that crunch period between Thanksgiving and Christmas where every best-laid plan goes haywire. Including meal plans, of course. I’ve been out for weeknight holiday events; the boys have been immersed in final preparations for robotics competition. That leaves my husband wondering what’s for dinner in a bigger way.

Last week’s plan was so uninspired that it was barely scribbled on a card: shrimp and black bean quesadillas (they cooked); two rounds of that scrumptious turkey chowder I mentioned in my last post; pizza and salad.  I finally made it to the stove Friday night with an ad hoc concoction of  broccoli, ham, pancetta and pine nuts over pappardelle. Not bad!

This week’s plan hasn’t been much better. Quick salmon burgers and sweet potato fries before dashing to yoga on Meatless Monday; a quick Brazilian black bean and ham s0up for Tasty Tuesday. Last night I headed out to my monthly business dinner while the guys dined on hot dogs and beans (yep, that happens) – not exactly keeping with the theme of Whole Grain Wednesday.  Tonight I’m thinking about an adaptation of that chicken and eggplant dish, in green curry this time. Taking my chances on doing it in the pressure cooker. Guess I’d better get cracking!


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Color matters


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Cauliflower, pre-roasted - still not too colorful


You know how it is when a song gets stuck in your head and you can’t shake it? And it’s usually a tune you never liked to begin with? This week’s tune was a reflection of our menus. A Whiter Shade of Pale. Argh. While autumn colors are nearing their peak on the outside, our plates were looking fairly anemic.

It’s not that the meals weren’t tasty.  Gnocchi with roasted cauliflower and celeriac salad with apples and walnuts made a perfectly fine duo for Meatless Monday.  But time ran short on Tuesday.  We ended up with a quick fix of Zatarain’s Dirty Rice with beef and baked cabbage with wine and thyme.  Tasty but, again, not too colorful.  I avoided the kitchen altogether on Wednesday for a business dinner and on Thursday for a night out with friends. As Friday rolled around, my husband pondered if I might cook (having tired of frozen lasagna and deli chicken).

“But I’ve run out of white food ideas,” I explained.  We settled for pizza, a popular option for “Fun Friday.” As I plan next week’s meals, I’m thinking in technicolor!

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Scheming with themed meals

We’re into our third week of themed menus.  No one has run away from home — yet.

I’ve learned to compromise.  Better to give in a little than to give up my commitment to healthier eating. This week’s Meatless Monday feature of Thai Broccoli Tofu Stirfry didn’t elicit as many “ew-www’s” as usual about tofu because I slipped the guys a side dish of leftover pot roast from Sunday.

My husband and I enjoyed the tofu from The Carb Conscious Vegetarian cookbook (on loan from the library; still debating whether it’s a keeper though it does have many fans online). A sprinkle of Gomasio (sesame seed seasoning) gave the stirfry a boost.

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Meatballs with the last harvest of Swiss Chard

Tasty Tuesday is understandably easier.  It’s my trump card, an opportunity to redeem myself if Meatless Monday has been particular rough on the young palates — like last week’s Chana Dal, sauteed swiss chard and rice. (I swear I could hear chanting in the background while we ate that one.) Last night’s “tasty” dinner was a quickie out of Real Simple — Pork Meatballs (with currants and pine nuts) with sauteed swiss chard (likely the last bunch to harvested from this year’s garden). I added Alexia julienned sweet potato fries because they’re yummy and add much more color to the plate than the baguette slices suggested by the magazine.  Score!

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Buckwheat Groats - fruit or grain?

And then there’s Whole Grain Wednesday — daunting to say the least. Let’s start with the rather unsavory website of the Whole Grains Council.  That baby needs a makeover. A few celebrity models, a few sexy headlines — something! Regardless, I have committed to WGW and expect a few missteps along the way. Tonight, for example, I was determined to make a recipe with buckwheat groats.  Then I discovered buckwheat is actually a fruit, somehow related to the rhubarb family. Never mind. I read elsewhere buckwheat hangs out with whole grains, perception-wise, so that’s close enough for me.  I recovered my well-worn copy of The Moosewood Kitchen Cooks at Home and found the recipe I made a few years ago for Kasha, a Russian-inspired dish of buckwheat simmered with onions and mushrooms, spiced with soy and dill. (Here’s a close version that looks even better than the one I used.) Added some pan-roasted chicken sausages with artichoke and garlic, plus an arugula salad with cherry tomatos, pine nuts, parmesan and balsamic vinaigrette.  Fellow diners were quiet tonight … until bedtime, that is. “Mom, that was just bland!”


Kasha - abused but worthwhile



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Simplicity for dinner

I’ve not thought much about food since returning from vacation. Our adventures in Costa Rica had far more to do with adrenaline and critters than our tastebuds.  I relished that feeling of moving freely throughout the day, with nary a thought of “What’s for Dinner?”

I’ve managed to persist in a non-cooking fantasy for the last two weeks. Some sort of nutrition made its way to the table most nights (check out the meal plans if you don’t believe me).  But meals lacked any concerted effort until I tried to reconstruct a casado – a simple plated meal of beans, rice, salad and meat – for dinner Saturday night.  My version featured BBQ ribs, which were a hit, but the rest of the meal was a disaster.  The boys spurned the simple lettuce salad and merely tolerated the beans and rice. I should have known better, having failed at “meal re-creation” in the past with everything from Greek coffee to Irish soda bread. Sure enough, casado tasted better near the Equator.

So it’s back to my own version of simple food for weeknight dinners.  Tonight’s was a keeper: Spiced Chicken with Couscous Salad from, you guessed it, Real Simple. Sugar snap peas and basil from our garden boosted the flavor.

(I’m laughing at how horrible the color is in this photo. My summer goal is get smart with my new digital SLR – obviously I still have much to learn about white balance!)

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Chicken and couscous - boosted by snap peas and basil from the garden.


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Dinner in 20 minutes or less

Real Simple magazine is oh-so-clever. Near the back of the magazine is a page of perforated cards with highlights from various articles.  One is always a recipe.  This one caught my eye: “What’s a good go-to chicken recipe that’s ready in under 20 minutes?”

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Real Simple delivers with Chicken, Proscuitto and Zucchini

The answer: Chicken with Prosciutto and Zucchini. Score! Mondays are always hectic.  At 5:55 I realized I’d lost all sense of time and the boys needed to be out the door in less than an hour.  I don’t know about you, but it takes me a few minutes just to get acclimated when I walk in the kitchen.  Twenty minutes of cooking is more like the cardio segment of a workout routine. I need a few minutes to warm up and then a cool down period as well. Nonetheless, Real Simple’s quickie chicken dish worked like a charm for a busy Monday night.  With a side of buttered egg noodles, dinner was done in a flash.

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“The ultimate haute dog”

The New Otani Hotel - Tokyo

The Ryotei Gotenyama - Kaiseki cuisine in a tranquil Japanese setting

I first ate Kobe beef  in Tokyo nearly 10 years ago. A client treated me to dinner at a picturesque Ryotei restaurant serving kaiseki cuisine, the most formal of all Japanese dining experiences. The highlight of our meal was a serving of the highly prized marbled beef about the size of a deck of cards. We shared it; the tab for the meal was well into six figures.

My second time was last week — with a hot dog. A frankfurter billed as “the ultimate haute dog.”  I picked up a pound of American-Style Kobe Beef frankfurters as part of a grand opening promotion of Metropolitan Market (a dreamy grocery store with lofty prices off-set by value-priced teasers like fancy hot dogs). The marketing ploy worked.  I felt compelled to tee up our hot dog dinner with a certain flair:

“These hot dogs are made with a special style of beef called Kobe Beef.”

“But isn’t Kobe Beef in Japan,” Son #1 asked.

“Yes, but this is American-style.  And they’re using it in foods like hog dogs.”

“That’s weird,” Son #1 noted.

And not all that different from any “premium” hot dog, from what I could tell.  But the Kobe effect did inspire me to take the sides up a notch beyond the usual baked beans and coleslaw.  This time we opted for Trader Joe’s Cuban black beans over rice plus diced mango.  It worked.  Clean plates all around.

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Kobe beef "haute dog"


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Pickup sticks with pork and pineapple

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Pork & Pineapple Pickup Sticks - A Perfect Ten

Just the name of this recipe sounds delicious: Pork and Pineapple Pickup Sticks with Savory Mint Mayonnaise.  Shelia Lukins scored with this one from a new favorite addition to my cookbook shelf: Ten: All the Foods We Love. It’s the last book produced by the late Sheila Lukins and I think it’s her best. All the guys liked this one. No surprise there!

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Custard-filled cornbread – dinner or dessert?

When I first read the recipe for custard-filled cornbread in Molly Wizenberg’s book, A Homemade Life, I wondered why it lacked a warning label.  Two cups of whole milk, one cup of heavy cream, corn meal, flour, sugar. The fat warning zoomed straight to red on this one.

But oh, is it worth it. Molly discovered the recipe in Marion Cunningham’s The Breakfast Book.  You can find the recipe here. I was relieved to see that a square is only 213 calories; it tasted to be at least twice as much. Consider reducing the sugar by half if you’re serving it for dinner as I did.  But take Molly’s advice and replace that sweetness with a spoon of maple syrup.  The sweet gooey cake-like bread was the perfect side for the spicy main attraction on a weeknight: Louisiana Greens with Andouille Sausage, a recipe on the package of Trader Joe’s bagged greens of kale, mustard greens and chard.

We enjoyed more of the cornbread the following night with paprika-spiced pork chops and roasted cauliflower with red pepper and caper vinaigrette. Trader Joe’s came to the rescue again, allowing me to substitute the roasted red peppers in the original recipe with a few dollops of its Red Pepper spread.  I love this zesty mash of red peppers, garlic and eggplant on most anything that benefits from a kick just before serving: scrambled eggs; artichoke dip; chicken burgers.

With my husband out of town, I took advantage of short cuts on Wednesday (baked penne with marinara sauce and sausage) and skipped the kitchen altogether on Thursday with teriyaki take-out. No complaints from the guys on this plan!


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