Real Food for Real Life

Saturday, January 29, 2011

This sauce is good on anything...

Grilled Chicken, Brown Basmati Rice, and Steamed Broccoli
with Thai Red Curry Peanut Sauce


This is the most amazing sauce and would taste good on any protein you may want slather it one...I was even dipping tortilla chips in the leftover sauce, it's that good.  If you make it with the 2 oz. of red curry paste, it will have a bit of heat, but not so over powering that non-lovers of the hot and spicy can't enjoy it too...if you do like things warm, add more curry, or do like Ben and I did and dribble on a bit of Sriracha.

Thai Red Curry Peanut Sauce


2 cups coconut milk (or 1 can)
2oz. Thai red curry paste (or more, to taste)
3/4 cup smooth peanut butter
1/2 cup sugar (you may need a bit more if using natural peanut butter)
3 cloves garlic, minced (1 tbs.)
2 tbs. Thai fish sauce
1 tsp. coarse salt

Combine the ingredients in a small sauce pan and simmer for 10 minutes to blend the flavors.

Friday, January 28, 2011

More Tex Mex goodness...

Texas Style Chili with Beer and Masa

I was paging through the November 2010 of Food and Wine magazine and the recipe for this chili set off strong cravings for me.  Don't be intimidated by the number or type of ingredients- I get my dried chilies and masa at Aldi or Kroger, they're easy to find.  This chili was so rich and delicious...perfect for a cold, wet day.

Texas Style Chili with Beer and Masa
adapted from Food and Wine magazine, Nov. 2010

ancho chiles, stemmed and seeded
pasilla chiles, stemmed and seeded
guajillo chiles, stemmed and seeded
about 2 cups boiling water
1 cup strong brewed coffee
one 12-ounce bottle/can of beer
2 tablespoons canola oil
3 pounds beef stew meat, cut into 1-inch cubes
coarse salt and freshly ground pepper
1 large onion, diced
3 garlic cloves, minced (1 tbs.)
1 tsp. ground coriander
1 tsp. ground cumin
1/2 tsp. ground cinnamon
1/8 tsp. ground cloves
4 cups beef stock
1/4 cup masa harina, or fine cornmeal
1/4 cup cocoa
chipotle hot sauce
shredded cheddar cheese, diced onion, diced avocado and warm corn tortillas, for serving

Heat a large skillet. Add the ancho, pasilla and guajillo chiles and toast over moderately low heat, turning, until lightly charred, about 4 minutes. Transfer the chiles to a heatproof bowl. Cover with the boiling water and let stand until softened, about 20 minutes.  Drain the chiles and transfer to a blender. Add the chipotles and coffee and puree until smooth. Add the beer; pulse until blended.

Heat the oil in a large, enameled cast-iron casserole. Season the beef with salt and pepper and add half to the pot. Cook over moderately high heat until browned all over, about 8 minutes. Using a slotted spoon, transfer the meat to a plate. Lower the heat to moderate and brown the remaining beef. Return all of the meat to the casserole and cook until heated through, about 1 minute.  Add the onion and garlic to the casserole and cook over moderately high heat until softened, about 3 minutes. Add the coriander, cumin, cinnamon and cloves and cook until fragrant. Add the chile-beer mixture, cocoa, and the beef stock; bring to a simmer, stirring. Cover partially and simmer over low heat until the meat is very tender and the sauce is slightly reduced, about 2 hours.

Ladle 1 cups of the sauce into a measuring cup and whisk in the masa harina. Whisk the mixture into the pot and simmer until the sauce thickens, 15 minutes. Season the chili with salt and hot sauce; serve with cheddar, onion, avocado, and tortillas.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Pork chops made (super) easy...

Pork Chops with Mustard Cream Sauce,
Gnocchi and Steamed Veggies

Some pork chops purchased on sale, a few tablespoons of mustard and sour cream make for one of the easiest week night dinner imaginable.   My little man Christopher absolutely adored this dish, even picking up the bone to make sure he chewed off all the meat...I didn't dare tell him that the sauce was mustard based!

Pork Chops with Mustard Cream Sauce

4 nice pork chops, bone-in or not
salt and fresh ground black pepper
canola oil, just enough to keep chops from sticking
2 heaping tablespoons grainy mustard
1 cup sour cream (heavy cream would work too, but I used light sour cream)
1 cup chicken stock

Season the chops well with salt and pepper; heat just enough oil to coat the bottom of a heavy skillet over medium high heat until the pan is very hot.  Brown the chops for four minutes per side, working in batches if necessary to prevent crowding the pan.

Remove the chops from the pan and set aside,  Use the stock to deglaze the pan, making sure to scrape up all the yummy brown bits.  Whisk in the mustard and sour cream.  Nestle the chops into the sauce, including any juices that have accumulated on the plate; reduce the heat to medium and cook for 15-20 minutes or so to finish cooking the pork chops through, being careful not to overcook.  Serve, spooning the sauce over the pork and whatever starch you choose, and enjoy the easy deliciousness.

Friday, January 21, 2011

For you garlic lovers out there (2)...

Baked Shrimp Scampi

I just wanted to share with you a couple of the dishes I made using the mojo de ajó.  The first is a redux of the baked shrimp scampi that I made back in April, but in keeping with the Mexican theme, I used fine egg noodles instead of the ravioletti.  If you decide to try this, just make sure you leave the pasta a bit undercooked before you layer on the shrimp and everything else.

This was delicious served with a salad of avocado topped romaine dressed with a bit of lime juice and extra virgin olive oil.  And to wash it all down?  Why a refreshing margarita of course!!



Mojo de Ajó and Balsamic Marinated Steak
with Mojo de Ajó Roasted Zucchini and Bell Peppers

This dish was both fantastically easy and fantastically delicious.  I mixed a few spoonfuls of the mojo de ajó with some balsamic vinegar in a gallon zippered bag before adding a flatiron steak to marinate for the day in the fridge. 

The steak was grilled to a nice medium rare, and while it was resting I mixed together some more mojo and balsamic on a cutting board to make a board dressing.  The steak was laid on the dressing, sliced thin, and give a nice swish in the dressing before serving, um, um, good.
For the veg I just tossed sliced zucchini, a diced onion, and yellow bell pepper with a few spoonfuls of the mojo before roasting in a large glass baking dish at 450 degrees for about a half hour, stirring a few times during the roasting.  Crusty bread to clean up the plate was perfect with this.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

For the garlic lovers out there...


I love Rick Bayless and his take on Mexican food.  I''d been watching recorded episodes of his show Mexico: One Plate at a Time (I do love our DVR )and savoring every moment, but when he made mojo de ajó I knew I had to make it too.  Mojo de ajó is basically a sauce made of garlic roasted in olive oil and it is also used used as the base for many other recipes.  This made two pint jars that I stowed in the fridge and used for the next few weeks to season many wonderfully tasty dishes.

Mojo de Ajó

4 heads garlic, peeled, cloves left whole

2 cups olive oil (don't use your extra virgin here)
1 tsp. coarse salt

Bake in a small covered dish at 325 degrees for 50 minutes.  Add...

juice of one lime 
1/2 tsp. (or more) of crushed red pepper flakes.

Bake for another 20 minutes and allow to cool before mashing well.  Stored in the refrigerator this is supposed to last one month, but if you're anything like me it won't last that long.

Monday, January 17, 2011

Isn't a burger just a chopped steak?

Pepper "Steak" with Garlic Mashed Potatoes

I grew up eating both pepper (with a tomato gravy) and salisbury steak (with a brown gravy), and still find them delicious, easy, and comforting (not to mention cheap) dishes to make, especially with mashed potatoes.  Mom always made pepper steak with green bell peppers (which for some reason she called mangoes) and used condensed tomato soup for the gravy.  I much prefer red bell peppers and will use these over green if given the chance, and rarely use condensed soups anymore for cooking (although they did play a huge role while I was learning to cook :).  I was really craving this for dinner one (cold) evening, but a search of the freezer turned up no cubed steak.  What I did find was a package of burgers made from ground round...same thing!!  

Pepper Steak

4-6 nice sized chopped steaks or burgers
1 large onion, peeled, quartered, and cut into thick slices
2 large bell peppers, seeded, quartered, and cut into thick slices
coarse salt and fresh ground black pepper
2 cups (16 oz.) tomato sauce
1 cup beef broth

Season the beef well with salt and pepper before browning on both sides in a heavy lidded pan, working in batches if necessary so as to not crowd the pan.  Remove the beef and set aside, reserving the drippings.

Add the sliced onion and peppers to the drippings in the pan, season with salt and pepper, and saute over medium high heat until tender, about 10 minutes.

Once the onions and peppers are tender, stir in the tomato sauce and beef broth.  Nestle the beef into the future gravy and bring to a boil.  Cover and reduce the heat to a simmer for an hour.  Serve with mashed potatoes, rice. or egg noodles, thinning the gravy with a bit more broth if necessary.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

A cold weather make over...

Hot Chicken Salad Sandwich and
Homemade Chicken Noodle Soup


Chicken salad is a fail safe go to for leftover chicken or that rotisserie bird you picked up on the cheap from the grocery, but the chilly air of the season demands something a bit more substantial, and well, just not so picnic-like.  This cold weather makeover was just the ticket served up with some leftover chicken noodle soup, a combo sure to knock the chill off you.

Hot Chicken Salad

1 rotisserie chicken, meat removed and shredded
1 small onion, finely diced
leafy center of a head of celery, diced
1/2 cup slivered almonds, toasted
1 tbs. lemon juice
coarse salt and fresh ground black pepper
1 cup light mayo
1 cup (or more) 2% shredded sharp cheddar cheese


Combine the chicken, onion, celery and lemon juice; season to taste with salt and pepper.  Lightly mix in just enough mayo to moisten lightly, about one cup.  Spread into a lightly sprayed baking dish and sprinkle with the cheese.  Bake at 350 degrees until the cheese is nicely browned.

We had this on some crusty whole grain bread with some leafy lettuce.  The leftovers made fantastic wraps for lunch for the next few days.




Saturday, January 15, 2011

An almost guilt-free treat for upcoming games...

I made this dip last week when Miami played in the GoDaddy.com Bowl.  It is almost completely guilt free and the cayenne added a nice bite (but not overly hot).  If you put it in a large bread bowl like I did, you will probably want to double the recipe (I wish I had).

This dip was a riff on the recipe I use for the Cucumber Dill Sauce I like to serve with salmon.  In the past when I have been using a recipe from my blog, or a bookmark, I lug my big (17"!) laptop to the kitchen and plop it on the counter, where it takes up way too much room.  My sweet husband gave me an iPad for Christmas and this was the perfect opportunity to test it out in the kitchen.

Cucumber Dip with Dill

1 cup fat free sour cream
1 cup light nayo
1 cucumber, seeded and finely diced, keeping the peel if at all possible
3 cloves garlic, minced (1 tbs.)
1 tbs. dried dill
1/2 tsp. cayenne
coarse salt and fresh ground black pepper, to taste

Mix the ingredients well and refrigerate several hours or overnight to meld the flavors.  Serve in a pretty bowl or a hollowed out bread round, using the cut up insides as dippers.

Ben couldn't wait...

Saturday, January 8, 2011

It started with a bag of peppers...

The two pound bag of wonderful that started it all...
 chilies rellanos con arroz blanco y ensalada aguacate
Mexican stuffed peppers with white rice and avocado salad

 We were given a Costco membership for Christmas (thanks Becky!) and headed down after the new year to check it out (spending $60 we didn't need to while we were at it)...One of my "must have" purchases was a two pound bag of mini sweet peppers.  I know you've all heard it before, but sweet bell peppers (especially the red ones) are one of my all time favorite things to eat and there were just so darn cute (did I just say that food was cute?).  I decided in the produce aisle that I was going to make stuffed pepper, but figured on something reminiscent of those I grew up eating (hamburger and rice anyone?).


pulling off the casings
The peppers came home and were stashed away in the veggie bin for a few days, awaiting a free day to do some cooking.  In the meantime, my thoughts traveled to Italy and I decided to stuff the peppers with Italian sausage and top it all with fresh mozzarella.  Then I stopped at Kroger for a few things...and my thoughts traveled to Mexico (I'm an international traveler don't ya know).  What did I find on sale but chorizo links (smiling here), and knowing that I had queso chihuahua at home, chilies rellanos was now the direction I was going.  


not many seeds to remove
When you think of chilies rellanos you probably think of the ubiquitous breaded and deep fried ones found in most Mexican restaurants...but a chili rellano is really just a stuffed pepper (chili), usually with a tomato sauce, that can have a wide variety of fillings, may be fried (or not), and may even use chilies other than the traditional poblano...and the chilies themselves may be fresh, dried, or (gasp) canned.


I mused several possibilities for my (finally) chosen direction, but decided to go as simply as possible and let the ingredients speak for themselves.  Three ingredients for the chilies, four for the sauce (and one of those was salt!) and we had for dinner a dish that Ben declared one of the most flavorful dishes he has had anywhere, at any time.  I must say I agree...this one is a keeper that I will be making again, and even though I've been really, really good about not getting seconds, with this one I just had too...


Chilies Rellanos


1 to 1 1/2 lbs. small chilies of choice (I think jalapeños would have been fantastic)
1 lb. fresh chorizo, removed from casings if necessary
7-8oz. queso chihuahua, or jack cheese, shredded
1 28oz. can tomato sauce
 2 chipotle cubes, or 2 canned chipotles in adobo, minced
3-4 cloves garlic, minced (1 heaping tbs.)
big three finger pinch of coarse salt

Brown the chorizo, breaking it up into fairly small bits; drain well and set aside to cool.  Cut off the tops of the chilies and pull out whatever little membrane and seeds are inside- I did as many as fit in a 9"x13" dish without crowding.  Simmer the tomato sauce with the chipotle, garlic and salt for 10-15 minutes to marry the flavors (and make sure the cubes are dissolved, if using).  While the sauce is simmering, toss the shredded cheese with the cooled chorizo to mix well.  Stuff the peppers, using the tip of your index finger to really pack in the filling, and set them aside on a plate...it won't be the end of the world if a pepper splits a little, you'll just put that side down in the dish. 

Spray a 9"x13" baking dish well with non-stick spray (the sauce will splatter a bit while baking and this will really ease your cleanup) and pour the tomato sauce into the bottom.  Lay in the stuffed chilies and place uncovered into a 350 degree oven.  Don't worry if it seems like a lot of sauce, it will reduce during cooking.  Bake for 40-45 minutes, or until the peppers are very tender and the sauce is thickened and bubbly.  Serve the chilies with white rice, spooning some of the sauce over the rice.

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Did you have ham for the holidays?

 Kale and White Beans with Ham

 We had family over New Year's Eve for a late lunch/early dinner and enjoyed a delicious ham.  Once the family had departed and the cleanup was underway. I dropped the ham (with lots and lots of meat still on it) right into a stock pot.  I put in just enough water to cover and set the pot to simmer for an hour while I dealt with the house.  Before we started our House marathon for the evening (yes, we had an exciting evening planned :), I set the pot aside and let everything cool in the wonderfully rich broth.  During a break in episodes I took all the meat from the bone and shredded it back into the broth before stashing it away in the downstairs fridge.

Fast forward three days later...I pull the pot from the fridge and scoop off the layer of fat that has collected and solidified at the top, and bring the whole thing to a boil- I figure there are 4 or 5 cups of broth- before adding a pound of kale, prewashed and cut curtoesy of Glory Foods.  Some seasonings, a simmer and some canned white beans and we had a whole pot of deliciousness.  The broth was so good I had to sop up every drop in my bowl with the crusty whole grain bread I bought just for the occasion.  This made so much that we ate half for dinner and I put the other half away in the freezer for one of those soon to be here again school nights when I don't feel like cooking.

Kale and White Beans with Ham

the meat and broth from one meaty ham bone
1 lb. prepared kale
1/2 cup apple cider vinegar
2 tbs. sugar
coarse salt and fresh ground black pepper
crushed red pepper flakes, to taste (optional)
2 15oz. cans great northern beans

 Bring the broth to a boil, add the kale, sugar, vinegar, a big pinch of salt, a generous grinding of pepper, and a sprinkle of pepper flakes (if using); bring to a boil again before reducing the heat, covering and simmering for an hour (or so)  Uncover and add the beans, draining only if you are worried about the sodium content or want a less soupy finish.  Simmer to warm the beans through and taste the broth to adjust the seasonings.  Serve in shallow bowls with crusty bread.

Monday, January 3, 2011

Tasty on the skinny...

 Future Skinny Buffalo Dip...

Ben and I love Buffalo Chicken Dip, but it's not the friendliest thing to eat for one's figure so it was time for a makeover.  I've tried using fat free cream cheese before but was never a fan of the taste, so I use the 1/3 less fat, or Neufchatel, for daily use.  I figured that it would be okay here thought since I was using so much hot sauce, and it was, giving the creamy consistency needed without the extra fat.  I also opted to skip adding bleu cheese crumbles or topping it with the usual shredded cheddar and it still tasted very good with the celery sticks and baked tortilla chips I had just for this purpose.

Skinny Buffalo Dip

8oz. pkg. fat free cream cheese
8-10 oz. can chicken breast, well drained 
1/2 cup Frank's Red Hot (or more, to taste)


Mix the ingredients well and you're ready to go.  Keep it super skinny and microwave or bake in a small dish until hot.  If you are serving to company you may want to bake it sprinkled with a handful of 2% sharp cheddar cheese (fat free cheese doesn't melt right).  Serve with celery sticks and baked tortilla chips.

Sunday, January 2, 2011

A decadent New Year's treat...

 Baked Lobster Tail, Fillet Mignon,Harvest Rice Blend,
and Bleu Cheese and Pomegraaete Topped Salad

 Usually we have  corned beef boil on New Year's Day, but this year we wanted to change it up a bit and went all out.  Earlier in the week I had seen Tyler Florence do an ultimate surf and turf with baked lobster, and having both lobster tails and some nice beef fillet in the freezer I knew exactly what we were going to have.  This lobster was so buttery and delicious, and I have to agree with all the reviewers who said the crumb topping would be good on anything...I even topped the fillets with them before popping them under the broiler.

I did deviate from the recipe and used some leftover slices of roasted garlic bread to make the crumbs and skipped adding additional garlic (if you look closely at the bread you will see that it is full of whole roasted cloves).  We had the tails and fillets with a rice blend of brown, red, and wild rices (a steal at Costco) and a salad dressed with balsamic vinaigrette and topped with bleu cheese crumbles and pomegranate arils.  You have to give this super easy to make luxury a try sometime soon...get the recipe here.

 Making the crumbs in the food processor.
 Rather than splitting the tails, I used kitchen shears and snipped off the bottom shell.
This huge container of rice was only $6 and change at Costco and it was so nutty and delicious.
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