Saturday, February 28, 2009

Short Ribs - In Short

I had a couple friends over for short ribs the other night. It wasn't raining, but I was in the mood to braise. We needed comfort food and there's nothing more comforting than meat falling off the bone with mashed potatoes.

So here's how you make comfort on a plate:

1. Salt and pepper the short ribs.

2. Pour flour in a shallow dish. Add lots of salt and pepper to it.

3. Toss the short ribs in the flour until they're covered. Tap off extra flour. You're looking for a light coat.

4. Heat olive oil on medium high in a pan on the stove top.

5. When oil is hot, brown the short ribs on all sides.

6. Remove them from your pan and set aside.

7. Lower heat.

8. Chop onions, celery and smash two or three garlic cloves. Add onions and celery to the pan.

9. When onions begin to soften, add garlic to the pan.

10. Saute for a few minutes. Then add one 28 oz. can diced tomatoes.

11. Add some red wine. About half a bottle of anything you'd enjoy drinking will do.

12. Stir it all together.

13. Put the short ribs in the liquid. Cover. Let them cook on low heat for 2 1/2 hours.

14. After 2 1/2 hours, add carrots and brussel sprouts to pan. Let them cook for about 30 minutes. (To make sure they're done, fork them. If the carrots and brussel sprouts fall off the fork, you're good to go.)

15. Enjoy!

Naturally, the ultimate comfort requires mashed potatoes. Here's how to make simple smashies:

1. Peel potatoes and cut them into chunks that are all about the same size.

2. Submerge them in a pot of salted cold water.

Potatoes cook evenly in cold water. If you put them in hot water, the outside cooks faster than the inside.

3. Boil for about 15 minutes. (Use the fork test. If your tater slides off the fork, it's done!)

4. Meanwhile, heat some milk and butter in a separate pot. Don't boil it, just heat it.

NOTE: Cold milk makes "pastatoes."

5. When the potatoes are done, add the milk and butter and mash them up.

6. Salt and pepper to taste.

In the end, you should have a fabulous meal of comfort food that looks like this:

The meat will fall apart in your mouth. And the flour you coated the ribs in helps to thicken the wine and tomato mixture into a heavenly gravy.

I recommend drinking the remainder of the wine with your meal. Red wine and beef are a beautiful couple.

Let me know how it turns out!


Thursday, February 26, 2009

Chicken Salad

I'm a chicken salad freak. When I was growing up, there was this mall nearby, and I worked at Contempo Casuals. (How 80's is THAT?) Every day, I ordered a chicken salad sandwich from the deli in the foodcourt. I don't know what they put in it, but sometimes, 20 years later, I still crave that chicken salad.

In an attempt to match it, here's what I've come up with:

1. Cube up your leftover roasted chicken. Put it in a bowl.
2. Chop celery and add it to the chicken.
3. Add some fresh chopped parsley.
4. Mix in equal parts mayonnaise and dijon mustard.
5. Sprinkle with salt and pepper.

Eat with greens or put on bread -- whatever you like. Enjoy!

And there you have it. Three meals out of one chicken. Can you think of other ways to enjoy leftovers without them tasting like leftovers?


Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Mixed Greens with Chicken

Now that you have leftover chicken, you may be wondering what to do with it. My favorite way to enjoy leftover chicken is to put it in a salad.

Leafy mixed greens are typically low in calories, low in fat, high in protein per calorie, high in dietary fiber, iron and calcium, and very high in phytochemicals such as vitamin C, carotenoids, lutein and folic acid.

Plus, they're delicious. Toss in your roasted chicken and you add a great source of lean protein. All good reasons to go salad, right?

You can combine any veggies and fruits you happen to have in your kitchen, but my favorite salad with chicken is this:

1. Remove chicken from the refrigerator and let it come to room temperature. It may be leftover, but it doesn't need to be cold.

2. Slice up the chicken into bite sized chunks.

3. Slice half an apple and cut it into chunks.

4. Add chives, green onions or red onion.

5. Top with blue cheese.

6. Dress with a balsamic vinaigrette.

7. Mix it up!

NOTE: I used a bottled dressing. But if you want to do it yourself, an easy way to make a vinaigrette is to use one part balsamic vinaigrette to two parts olive oil. Add salt, pepper and herbs. Toss in a spoonful of dijon mustard and shake it all up.

Remember, you can put whatever you want in your salad. Berries, grapes, carrots, tomatoes, herbs, anything goes. And it's fun to come up with creative combos. This just happens to be my favorite.

What do you like to put in your salads?


Monday, February 23, 2009

Chicken, Chicken and More Chicken

A great way to save money and eat healthy is to roast a chicken and use the leftovers for other meals. Sounds boring, I know, but it's not, if you do it right.

For example, today I roasted a chicken. I'll admit, I did not buy this chicken on sale. It was in my freezer and it cost about $8.00. But when you do find them on sale, you can get them for as low as $4.00 and when you consider that you're going to make several meals out of one chicken, you're saving big bucks. Here's how:

1. Preheat your oven to 400 degrees.

2. Remove the innards from your chicken. Rinse the chicken inside and out and pat it dry with paper towels.

3. Rub olive oil all over the exerior of the chicken and salt and pepper both the skin and the cavity.

4. Now you need to flavor it. The best way to do this is from the inside out. So I went out to my garden and grabbed a lemon and some rosemary. Then I cut up an onion, smashed some garlic and mixed it all together in a bowl with olive oil, salt and pepper. It looked like this:
I do realize that not everyone has rosemary and lemons in their yards. And that's totally cool because the good thing is, you can flavor your chicken with anything you want. If you don't have a lemon, use an orange or a lime. Or skip the citrus. Simply stuff it with garlic and /or onions and your favorite herb. And any herb will do. Time, Oregano, Sage, Parsley. Whatever - they're all scrumptous.

5. Next, stuff the chicken with whatever you've got going on. Put it in a baking dish, sprinkle some more of the herb of your choice on top and pop it in the oven.
6. Now you have to do a little math. A good rule is to roast chicken about 15 minutes for every pound. Since I had a 5lb bird today, I roasted it for about an hour and 15 minutes. To make sure it was done, I jiggled a leg. If the leg jiggles loosely, take it out. If the leg resists jiggling, keep it in a little longer.

NOTE: Before you put the chicken in the oven, jiggle a leg so you know how it feels when it's not cooked. That way you'll be able to identify what you're not looking for.

7. I set my timer for 45 minutes. When it went off, I tossed some veggies in the pan. I had brussel sprouts, onions and carrots in the fridge, so that's what went in. Again, you can use whatever you have. Got mushrooms? Turnips? Parsnips? Potatoes? Whatever. Toss 'em in.

8. When it's ready, pull the chicken out and let it sit for about 10 minutes to redistribute the juices. (I know you know the whole juice reditribution trick by now, I'm just sticking to the rules.)

It should look like this:

Since I was eating by myself, I cut off the wings and a thigh and drumstick and ate them with the veggies. Then I carved the rest of the chicken (two breasts, a drumstick and thigh) put the leftovers in tupperware and stored them in refrigerator.

I will use some of the chicken in one of my favorite salads tomorrow and post the details here. I've already enjoyed one meal for $8. Can't wait to make it two!

So while we're talking chicken, what are some of your favorite chicken dishes? Are there any you'd like to learn how to make?


Friday, February 20, 2009

Grilled Pork Tenderloin

My friend Todd came over to advise me on a little home improvement project yesterday. In return, I made him lunch.

I dug into the freezer and pulled out my favorite standby - pork tenderloin. It's not expensive. Usually about $7 (or less if on sale) a tenderloin. And one will feed three people.

Here's how to make a delicious pork tenderloin every time:

1. Chop two cloves of garlic. Let it sit for 15 minutes to activate its cancer fighting elements.

2. Pour some olive oil in a bowl.

3. Add garlic and a fresh woody herb like rosemary, thyme or sage.

4. Mix up the oil, herbs and garlic.

5. Sprinkle your tenderloin with salt and pepper. Then smother it with the oil mixture.

6. Let it sit for 15 minutes or a half hour or longer if you have it. It looks like this:

7. Heat your grill to medium high and the toss on the tenderloin.

8. Cook it about 10 minutes on each side. You'll know it's ready when you pick it up in the center with tongs and it's not floppy. When you have a solid piece of meat, take it off the grill.

9. Let it sit for 10 minutes so the juices can redistribute.

NOTE: Never cut into a piece of meat right after you take it off the heat. The juices will run everywhere and your meat will be dry. Let it sit for a few minutes so the juices can redistribute evenly.

10. Then cut and serve. (The peas are optional. Todd's a picky veggie guy but he likes peas. Therefore I kept it simple.)

So there you go. Enjoy your pork!


Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Granny's Stew

When it comes to my cooking, my friend Rob says, "If it's got 'Granny' in the name I'm eating it!"
My Granny was an amazing cook. I spent a lot of time in the kitchen with her, watching, washing and cutting. She'd tell me stories as she casually tossed foods together and created amazing dishes.

She never measured and I don't either. So be prepared for that when you see a header with "Granny" in it. But try her recipes. They're easy and they're sooo good.

It's been raining here. So I've been braising meat. When it rains I make pot roasts, soups, stews. Anything I can cook low and slow until the meat falls apart. Braising warms the house and transforms an ugly storm outside into a cozy day inside. And yesterday, I made Granny's Stew.

1. Buy a tough cut of beef. Chuck roast or a seven blade roast. Or purchase stew meat. Sometimes markets will cube it up and sell it in packs. These cuts are inexpensive and the longer you let them cook, the more they fall apart.

2. Cube up your meat. If it's already cubed, liberally apply kosher salt and pepper.

3. Pour olive oil in a heavy bottomed pot. Heat it medium high on the stove.

4. Drop in the meat.

5. Brown it on all sides.

6. Meanwhile dice an onion. They can be big chunks, like the size of the meat.

7. Take the meat out and set it aside.

8. Add a little more olive oil if necessary. Drop the onions in the pot. Scrape the meaty bits off the bottom.

9. When onions start to get soft, add two chopped garlic cloves, salt, pepper and oregano.

10. Make sure garlic does not brown. Just let it soften.

11. Put the meat back in the pot.

12. Add enough diced canned tomatoes to cover the meat.

13. Drop in a bay leaf and some red pepper flakes.

14. Cover and cook on low heat for two hours. Stir once in a while.

15. After two hours, dice up potatoes and carrots. Drop them in the pot. Cover the pot. Let it cook on low for another 45 minutes or until potatoes and carrots slide off a fork when pricked.

16. Turn off heat. Add a can of peas with liquid. Stir and let stew sit for 10 minutes.

17. Serve with crusty bread.

Mmm. Just like Granny's. Next time it rains, give it a try.

NOTE: One pot meals are an excellent way to make a lot of food without spending much money. For example, I made enough stew to feed four people. Roughly, I used $6 worth of stew meat, 3 carrots - maybe $1, one potato - add another buck, one can organic peas - $1.19 and one can organic diced tomatoes - $1.49. So, for $10.68 you could not only warm up your house with the delicious aroma of stew, but feed your family dinner too.

What do you like to cook when it rains?


Sunday, February 15, 2009

Fishy Facts

My sister sent me an email that read, "I'd like some tips on cooking fish for frightened newbies. I love love love fish (and it's so good for you!!!), but never cook it for myself because I am certain I will destroy it. I know you have the secrets."

Well, yes, dear sister, I do.

The secret is, don't freak out about cooking fish. It's not rocket science. It's just food. And you won't destroy it.

First let's be clear about why fish is good for you. Fish are full of Omega 3 fatty acids which are essential for visual, mental, metabolic, hormone and heart health. And while we get some Omega 3s from the flax and wheat germ in our morning smoothie, there are some Omega 3s that can only be found in fish.

So it's important to incorporate fish into your diet. Aim to have three servings of wild caught fish (less chemicals, antibiotics, dyes and mercury than farm raised) a week and your body and brain should be getting what they want.

The easiest and most delicious route to cooking fish is grilling it. But since the Angelino skies poured a sea down on us when I made my last fish, I pan roasted it, just like the lamb chops.

1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

2. Coat halibut with olive oil, salt and pepper.

3. Heat metal handled pan on stove top at medium high.

4. When hot, put fish in pan. Brown one side, flip, pop in the oven for four minutes. (For a thicker fish go longer.)

5. After four minutes, plate fish, squeeze lemon over it.

6. Enjoy!

This method will work with any meaty fish like salmon, halibut, swordfish, seabass or tuna. But when it comes to flaky fishes like flounder, tilapia, orange roughy or red snapper, you can simply saute it. Since they're so thin, you don't want to overcook them in the oven. (More on that in posts to come.)

And mix it up! Use different herbs and spices. Try a cajun rub on halibut or swordfish. Give it your own spin.

Fishy Terms

Unless you live where you can buy fresh fish off a boat (and if you do, I'm totally envious), you're going to have a hard time finding good fresh fish. Of course there are local fish markets but it can get pricey, so I try to purchase wild caught flash frozen fish when I can. Flash frozen means it's been frozen on the boat. So it's as close to fresh as you can get.

You can find inexpensive flash frozen fish at Trader Joe's and most likely in your local supermarket. Believe it or not, Whole Foods sometimes has specials on flash frozen fish too. Although it's tough to buy it because the $25 per lb fresh stuff sitting in the case next to you is sooo enticing.

Most of the fish at the supermarket is Previously Frozen. That's a weird term because it's vague. When was it frozen? How long did it sit on a boat? And if it was previously frozen, now it's sort of thawing so you need to cook it that day. Because you can't re-freeze previously frozen fish.

So, that's the skinny on fish. If you have any fishy questions (or non-fishy questions) ask them!


Thursday, February 12, 2009

Pan Roasted Lamb Chops in Less Than 15 Minutes

Pan Roasted: Seared on the stove top then finished off in the oven. Gives food a tasty golden outside and a juicy inside. You can pan roast anything - chops, steaks, fish, chicken. Heck, I pan roasted a turkey breast on Thanksgiving once. Yummy.

Okay, so remember the lamb chops I bought on sale on Wednesday? They were yesterday's lunch. If you're not a super chef, don't get intimidated by lamb chops or any chop for that matter, I'm a regular person just like you. I don't want to spend hours in the kitchen creating culinary masterpieces.

I want to eat.

So here's a step by step on how to make Pan Roasted Lamb Chops and Spinach Sauteed with Garlic in less than 15 minutes:

Pre-step: 10 minutes ahead of time, chop one clove of garlic and let it sit. Crushing or chopping garlic and letting it sit 10-15 minutes ahead of cooking it activates its cancer fighting components.

1. Pre-heat your oven to 350 degrees.

2. Coat your chops with olive oil. Then sprinkle with salt (preferably kosher or sea salt) and pepper.

3. On the stove top, heat a non-stick pan with a metal handle over medium high heat. NOTE: This is going in the oven, so you must use a metal handled pan.

4. Sprinkle some kosher salt on the bottom of the pan. (Prevents any sticking.)

5. When it's hot, place the chops in the pan and let them sear on one side. It should look like this:

6. Next, pour olive oil into another pan (with any kind of handle since it's not going in the oven) and heat the garlic in it.

7. Once the garlic is soft (make sure it doesn't brown - it doesn't taste good) add your spinach to the pan. Sprinkle it with salt, pepper and cover it.

8. After two or three minutes, when your lamb chops are nicely browned on the bottom, flip them and turn off the stove. Then sprinkle some fresh rosemary on top, like this:

9. Then pop the chops in the oven for three minutes. Unless you have double cut chops, these are single cut (meaning just one bone). If yours are double cut (two bones), roast them for about six or seven minutes for medium rare.

10. Check on your spinach. It should look like this:

If your spinach is wilted, like in the picture, turn off the heat.

11. Use an oven mitt to remove your chops from the oven. To test for doneness, poke your chop. If it feels mushy, it's not ready. If it feels firm, yet gives a little bit, it's done.

Plate them immediately. If you let them sit in the pan they will continue to cook. Let them rest on a plate, loosely tented with tin foil, for five minutes.

NOTE: If you cut into meat immediately, all the juices will run everywhere. Let juices redistribute after cooking any cut of meat.

12. Enjoy!

See how easy that is?

I'm excited to explain away your kitchen fears. I've already got requests for fish and chicken info. I'll cover them over the next few days. What else do you want to know?


Mmm...Delicious Smoothie

1 cup frozen organic mixed berries (strawberries, raspberries, blackberries, blueberries)
1 cup organic apple juice
1/4 cup raw organic wheat germ
2 tbsp organic ground flax meal

Blend it up!

Five reasons why you should have a smoothie for breakfast:

1. Two servings of fruit.
It's not easy to get five servings of fruits and vegetables a day. But it's really important. A smoothie is a great way to knock out two.

2. Fiber.
You've heard it's important to eat fiber. But do you know why? It helps maintain a healthy digestive system and colon, but fiber is also extremely important for heart health. And ground flax and raw wheat germ go a long way when it comes to proper pumping. They act as cleansers in your arteries, reducing plaque. So your good cholesterol goes up and your bad cholesterol goes down.

A woman my age needs about 25 grams of fiber a day. This smoothie provides about 13. (4 - wheat germ, 4 - ground flax, 5 - berries) That's half of what I need before I even get in the shower. But 25 grams is a lot. And if you think you're going to hit that by simply having a salad for lunch, you're wrong. So start early and track your grams during the day.

3. It's filling.
It seems like they wouldn't be, but smoothies will fill you up. The added grains really help to fight hunger.

4. It's a great way to kickstart your day.
If you don't eat breakfast, start. Your body needs nutrients to get going. Plus, berries are brainfood. Start feeding your brain and your body early and you'll feel more energetic throughout the day. In addition, a healthy breakfast revs up your metabolism so you keep burning more calories throughout the day.

5. Smoothies are cheap.
Bags of blueberries and mixed berries are about $3.00 each. Two will get me through a week of smoothies. Raw Wheat Germ runs about $2.00 and Organic ground flax meal is about $4.00. A bag of each will last about a month.

I'm no mathematician, but based on berry cost alone, you can eat breakfast for less than a $1 a day and also feel good about eating something healthy.

So, what do you think? Will you give smoothies a try?


Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Why the Blog

Two young college kids unloaded the contents of a toppling grocery cart onto the checkout belt. As they piled up canned soups, hot dogs, white hot dog buns, frozen chimichangas, frozen pizzas, and enough Chef Boyardee Ravioli to feed a grade school cafeteria, all I could think is, "These guys are going to die."

In addition, they were wasting an obscene amount of money. I can teach you how to make a huge pot of beef and veggie stew for less than $10 that will keep you warm happy for half the winter. Without all the sodium, preservatives and other ingredients that are packed into the Campbells they were buying.

There is no reason to eat that way. The bottom line is, cooking simple, healthy meals with fresh food is not hard to do. My friends talk about how they can't cook all the time and I'm here to tell all of you, you can.

My first tips are:

1. Get a vacuum sealer. It will become your best friend. Vacuum sealers allow you to buy food in bulk on sale and freeze it. You can also use it to seal and freeze leftovers or single portions of my above mentioned stew. (It's my Granny's recipe and as I continue to blog, I will eventually share its ridiculous goodness with you.)

2. Always buy on sale. Get your store circulars. Clip coupons. Join Find out what's on sale when. For example, today, lamb chops were on sale for $7.99 per lb. I am a lamb chop lover. So I bought a bunch and will seal them in serving sizes. (They're usually $19.99 per lb. I saved $15.84!) So when I feel like lamb chops for dinner, I'll just pull out a Suzie sized pack.

Strawberries were on sale for $1.50 per lb today. (Down from $4.99.) They're plump, delicious and a great source of vitamin C. So, I grabbed those too and snacked up on them right before I started to blog.

3. Buy organic when you can. I know it's hard right now, but when you can, buy organic meats, cereals and fruits. We don't know what kind of pesticides and chemicals are on our foods and I could rant for pages about the antibiotics and hormones in our meats, but I won't. Instead, I'll just say, "try."

4. Shop along the exterior of your supermarket. Produce, dairy, meats, fish, all the things you should eat a lot of, are along the perimeter of the supermarket. Think about what's on the inside - meals in boxes, chips, processed stuff. Sure, there are some good-for-you items in there, like granola, but think before you pick up the Ring Dings.

5. Get the basics. Olive oil, salt and pepper go a long way. Toss in some (preferably fresh) herbs and you're just about ready to tackle anything. Make sure you always have them in the kitchen.

6. Get a non-stick pan with a metal handle. I'm going to be writing a lot about pan roasting here. That means you sear something on the stove top, then finish it off in the oven. You need a metal handle for that. And a thick oven mitt.

7. Get good knives. I mean this seriously. All you need is one good knife. You can really get hurt with dull or cheap knives.

8. Keep it simple. You don't need to spend hours preparing meals. Most of my meals are made, start to finish, in 30 minutes or less.

And tomorrow, I'm going to tell you how to make one. Thanks for stopping by!