Monday, March 1, 2010

Good Eats for Everyone...... Easy, Nutritious and Colorful!

While trying to clean up my files, finding so many treasures, old familiar "tastes, aromas and colors" came to mind and were so vivid it gave me great ideas for main dishes or "sides" that will always serve you well. Doesn't matter what time of year it is nor your budget since all are well within anyone's reach and offer so much .... they're worth revisiting.

It's said that "variety is the spice of life..." and nothing is more true when it comes to food and for some reason we tend to fall into a "rut" every now and then repeating the same menu's over and over. Fortunately (or maybe unfortunately sometimes if I'm being lazy) my family is so used to a large variety in "what's for dinner.." that they keep me from falling into a comfortable rut and keep me searching for variations on a theme constantly.

You'll find that once you get used to "mixing it up" often, changing around your dishes will get easier with time, making you more creative and showing you the infinite possibilities that food can bring. Cooking more than fulfills my creative side and you'll find that once you loosen the reins, the sky's the limit and the similarities between cultures are closer (at least food wise) than that which sets us apart.

Anyway, I went on a big food shop this week after planning out my menu's for the next couple of weeks (I find that if you have the space and are able to take advantage of your locations seasonal and store offerings this will give you the most flexibility when it comes to rotation of menu's for your family while allowing "leftover night" and "clean out the fridge day") and I must admit that it was a true marathon session after having visited 7 different markets (yes, I know- this is madness) but each had more than several items that were specific to my goal while giving me the best value as well (or I wouldn't have done it - if it's not worth it, skip it) and now I have a pantry bursting at the seams with goodies from around the globe that will move and inspire me.

Here are some tasty tidbits for you to try and I hope you'll let me know how these work for you:

Patatas Riojana.- From the small region of La Rioja in Northern Spain known for it's wine, spices and cheese comes this very traditional preparation for potatoes that we love! A hearty and flavorful dish that can be changed to include lamb, pork or beef ribs and even chicken or left as is for a vegetarian option:

2 lbs potatoes, peeled and cut in medium cubes
1 onion, chopped
2 green peppers in slices
2 red peppers in slices
3-4 garlic cloves, peeled and chopped in slices
Olive Oil
2 Laurel/Bay leaves, dry (or 4 if fresh)
1 Chile Guajillo, dry- deseeded and cut in thin strips
1 4" section of Chorizo (preferably Spanish style), cut in slices
2 tsp paprika (or Spanish "pimenton")
1 small hot pepper (or 1 tsp red pepper flakes)- optional
1-2 tbl parsley, chopped fine
Salt & pepper to taste

In a deep pan with some of the oil and brought to temperature, we add the onions and garlic and stir for 1-2 min. The green and red peppers are added and then the potatoes and mix well. Add the paprika or pimenton, bay leaves, hot pepper, dry chile and chorizo and mix well so everything gets some oil and gets heated through. You can add 1 tsp of salt and 1/2 tsp pepper. Add enough water to cover the potatoes and bring to a boil before lowering the heat and simmering for about 30 min or until the potatoes are tender. Before serving adjust the seasonings.
NOTE: if you are adding any of the meats mentioned, salt & pepper the meat and sear in oil and reserve, then you add it back in the pan before adding the water and cooking it all together until the meat is tender. If you're using a tough cut of meat that will take longer to cook than the potatoes, add all the ingredients, except the potatoes and cook 30-45min (or use a pressure cooker for 30 min) and add the potatoes after and cook until the potatoes are tender.

Stuffed Chicken Breasts.- A lighter version of a lovely dish that's easy to make and creates and impression too. Easily fits into anyone's diet and tastes.

4 boneless chicken breasts, slightly flattened between plastic wrap
2 carrots, peeled and cut in strips
2-3 turnips, peeled and cut in strips
1 onion, chopped
1 cup mushrooms, cleaned and chopped
1 tbl sour cream
1 tbl parsley, chopped fine
1/3 cup flour
1/4 tsp cayenne pepper
salt & pepper
oil for frying

For the Sauce:

1 onion, chopped
1 red pepper, de-seeded and chopped
1 tbl olive oil
1 tsp thyme, dried
1/4-1/3 cup chicken stock
salt & pepper

In a pan with some salted water, cook the carrot and turnip. Drain, Cool and reserve.
To make the sauce put the oil in a pan and add the onion, red pepper and thyme and cook about 10 min. Add salt and pepper and put everything in a blender, add the stock and make into a smooth sauce. You can run it through a sieve if you want to take the thyme specks out of it, if not, leave as is.

In a pan with some oil, add the onion and fry for 2-3 min. Add the mushrooms, salt & pepper until tender. When done, add the sour cream and mix well. It should be kind of dry. Add the parsley and set aside to cool.

Take the flattened chicken breasts, salt and pepper on both sides and put some of the mushroom mix in the middle, roll up and secure with a toothpick. Add some salt & pepper and the cayenne to the flour and roll the secured chicken breasts in the flour before frying them in a pan with some of the oil on all sides.

Serve with some of the vegetables on the side and with some of the sauce as a complement. Sprinkle lightly with some chopped parsley.
NOTE: You can substitute thin beef or pork loin steaks for the chicken too.

Seafood Linguine.- A wonderful and easy dish that you can enjoy with your family any time of the year!

Spaghetti or Linguine
1 lb Mussels, can be frozen or fresh
1 lb Squid, cleaned and cut into rings / tentacles left whole
1 lb Med Shrimp, de-veined and cleaned- reserve the shells & heads
1 onion, chopped
1 small carrot, chopped in large chunks
4-5 garlic cloves, crushed
1-2 tsp red pepper flakes
Olive oil
salt & pepper to taste
1-2 tbl parsley, chopped
1/2 cup White wine (optional)
1 cup Cherry tomatoes cut in half
1 tsp red chili flakes

Clean the shrimp and take the heads and reserved shells and put in a pan with 2 of the garlic cloves, some salt & pepper and the carrot. Cover with water and bring to a boil, lower the heat and cook for about 15-20 min. Turn heat off. Reserve. If you are using fresh mussels and they are closed, go ahead and add these here too.

Cook the pasta while you make the sauce. In a large pan with some oil, bring to temperature over med-high heat, add the onion, garlic, red pepper, wine, squid, shrimp, mussels and tomatoes and stir fry for a couple of minutes (don't overcook). Add salt and pepper and 1/2 cup of the shrimp liquid. Adjust and taste the seasonings. As soon as the pasta is done (be sure to leave it "al dente" which means it still needs 1-2 min of cooking), add it to the pan with the seafood to finish cooking. Mix well.

Top with the chopped parsley and serve at once.
NOTE: I have used bags of mixed seafood that I've found in the market for this on occasion since I keep these in the freezer for an "impromptu meal".... and it works great plus they're economical.

Oaxacan Stew with Spicy Tomatillo Sauce.- Here is a dish with lots of culinary history yet it can be adapted for modern families and whether you make it spicy or not, the flavor is great!

1/4 dried avocado leaves (you can find in Latin markets or use banana leaves)
4 lb beef short ribs or lamb shanks (you could also use chicken)
2 oz costeño rojo chiles, wiped clean (can use Guajillo Chiles too)
2 1/4 lb fresh tomatillos, husked and rinsed
1/2 lb tomatoes
1/2 onion
2 garlic cloves, coarsely chopped
2 1/2 cups chopped cilantro
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
salt & pepper

Preheat oven to 300°F with rack in middle. Put avocado leaves in bottom of a heavy medium pot with a tight-fitting lid. Sprinkle short ribs all over with 2 tsp salt and pepper and arrange in pot (it doesn’t have to be in 1 layer). Roast, covered, until meat is very tender, about 3 hours. Add 1/2 cup water and check as they roast so they don't run dry. You can add a little more water while cooking.(You can use a pressure cooker too for this)

Meanwhile, slit chiles lengthwise, then stem, seed, and devein. Tear chiles into roughly 1-inch pieces. Heat a comal or large heavy skillet over medium heat until hot, then toast chiles, stirring constantly, until more pliable and slightly changed in color, 1 to 2 minutes. Transfer to a bowl. (Chiles will crisp as they cool.)

Cover tomatillos, tomatoes and onion with water in a medium saucepan and simmer, uncovered, until tender, about 10 minutes. Drain well, then purée with chiles, garlic, cilantro, and 1 1/2 tsp salt in a blender (in batches if necessary) until chiles are ground to small flecks. Run through a sieve to remove chili pieces that might remain if you like).

Transfer short ribs to a cutting board to cool. Strain meat juices remaining in pot into a glass measuring cup. Let fat rise to top and skim off. Coarsely chop or shred meat, discarding bones. Heat oil in a heavy medium pot over medium-high heat until it shimmers, then cook one fourth of tomatillo sauce (it will spatter), stirring, until slightly thickened, about 2 minutes. Add remaining sauce and meat juices and simmer, stirring occasionally, 10 minutes. Add meat. Thin sauce with water if necessary. Simmer, stirring occasionally, until heated through, about 4 minutes.

Meat can be roasted and shredded 3 days ahead and chilled. Chill juices separately; discard solidified fat. Meat in sauce can be made 2 days ahead and chilled (covered once cool).

Pasta with Spicy Tomato & Tuna Sauce.- An easy dish you can make when time is short but appetites are waiting..... A "while the pasta cooks" kind of dish....

Spaghetti or Fettucini (but you could use any kind of pasta you like)
4-5 Anchovy fillets
4-5 garlic cloves
1/2 med onion, chopped
1 can whole tomatoes (preferably Italian ones, but any will do)
1 cup stuffed olives, cut in half (pimento stuffed)
2 cans tuna in oil (but you can use drained tuna in water too)
1-2 tsp red pepper flakes
2 tsp capers (optional)
1 tbl lemon juice
olive oil (in case you used the water packed tuna)
salt & pepper to taste
1-2 tbl parsley, chopped fine

Put the pasta to cook in salted water. In a large pan with some oil and over med-high heat, add the onion, garlic and anchovies and cook 2-3 min until the anchovies melt and almost disappear.
Add the red pepper flakes and stir for 1 min. Add the tomato sauce, break up the tomatoes with your hand, add the tuna and capers, olives and lemon juice and allow to boil. Lower the heat to med and taste to adjust seasonings.

As soon as the pasta is "al dente" add to the pan, mix well and allow to cook in the sauce for 2-3 min to finish cooking. Serve at once with the parsley on top.

Pears and Grapes "al Forno".- A summery dessert that you can serve as is or with some ice cream.

2 cups seedless red grapes
1 cup sugar
2/3 cup Moscato or other fruity white wine
Juice of 2 lemons
2 tablespoons apricot jam
1 tsp vanilla
3 ripe but firm Bosc pears

Preheat the oven to 375 F. Place the grapes in an 11 x 7- inch baking dish. Stir the sugar, Moscato, lemon juice, apricot jam, and vanilla together in a bowl until blended. Pour over the grapes. Cut the pears in half through the core and remove the stems, cores, and seeds. Nestle the pear halves, cut side up, into the grapes. Bake, uncovered, until the pears are tender and the liquid around the grapes is thick and syrupy, about 50 minutes to 1 hour. Remove the pears and let stand until the pan syrup thickens, about 10 minutes. Serve the pears hot or warm, with some of the grapes and their pan syrup spooned around them.

I'm still working on other projects while researching new recipes to share with you very soon. In the meantime I hope you will try some of the dishes I've enclosed and let me know how they turned out.

Hopefully, soon Spring will arrive and everyone will have lighter and fresher foods available once more! Our best wishes to everyone..... Talk soon!

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