Monday, August 29, 2011

Shrimp Salad

"I cannot afford to feed shrimp to my family."

That is a lie from the demon of bad taste.

Are you thinking of the big, fat shrimp that sell for $15 a pound?

Leave those at the seafood counter, and walk with me to the freezer case.  Find a one pound bag of "salad shrimp" and be glad it's only $5.99 or something like that.

Then go buy a handful of really tasty olives, like the fat green ones stuffed with pimento, or some glossy black kalamatas.

Head out to your garden or farmer's market, and locate some green onions, bell pepper, summer squash, oregano, basil, tiny cherry tomatoes.  Check your fridge to see if you have some of the roasted red peppers I showed you how to make a couple weeks ago.  If you don't have them, get some at the store if they sound good to you.

Or ignore me, and pick out whatever vegetables, olives and herbs you think would be good in this.  I'm going for a light, lemony Mediterranean flavor profile.  Make what you'll love and your family will eat.  Then again, make what you love and your family will hate, and you can eat this for a few lunches in a row.

This shrimp salad is colorful, flavorful, and healthy.  From the basic finished recipe, you could choose to stir it into hot or cold pasta, serve it on a bed of mixed lettuces, stuff it into pita bread, or pile it on top of crostini or hearty crackers.  You can also eat it straight from the bowl, like I just did, cause I have to taste these things, you see, before I tell you all about them.

We're going to have ours atop lettuce. 

One pound of shrimp plus lots of veggies made plenty for salad for "most" of us this evening, and there will be leftover for Eric and I to each have a salad for lunch tomorrow.  I'm also roasting some chicken breasts so the non-shrimpy kids can make chicken salads.  So much for my preaching about how to feed picky kids . . .

Shrimp Salad

one pound "salad" size shrimp, thawed and roasted*  (see below)
3 tablespoons mayonnaise
grated zest from a whole lemon
1 tablespoon lemon juice (from half a lemon)
2 tablespoons white wine vinegar
3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
salt and pepper
red chile flakes to taste

handful of slivered fresh basil
handful of slivered fresh oregano

one small yellow summer squash, sliced
1 cup small cherry tomatoes, left whole
1/2 cup olives, halved if large
3 scallions, chopped
one green bell pepper, chopped
1/2 cup sliced roasted red pepper (optional)

Combine dressing ingredients in a large bowl, whisking to mix well.  Stir in the fresh herbs.  Add the vegetables, toss with the dressing.

*For extra flavor, you can oven roast your shrimp.  Take either raw or cooked shrimp, drizzle with a bit of olive oil and sprinkle with salt and pepper.  Spread out on a baking sheet and roast in a 425 degree oven until they just start to caramelize (a bit of browning) - watch the pre-cooked ones carefully, it happens in under 10 minutes.

Add shrimp to the salad, tossing to coat well in the dressing.  Refrigerate for at least an hour. 

Friday, August 26, 2011

Sausage Cheese Biscuits

No, not McD's anything anywhere near here.  That's not breakfast.

THESE are breakfast.  Or late night snack, or dinner, or really any old excuse to eat some dough-cheese-sausage goodness.

My sweet southern friend Emily, over at knows what she's doing when it comes to food.  I promise, some day, she and I are going to write a cookbook together.  Dixie and Yankee, ying and yang, all that.  Except for the whole okra part of the deal.

But I digress, again.

These biscuits are so good!  Simple to whip up, easy to modify, Emily says they freeze great, and I want one tomorrow morning, split with a fried egg sandwiched in there.  Anyone can pull one out of the freezer, heat it in the microwave or toaster oven, and have a protein/whole grain breakfast ready to go!

The sausage is up to you - I used kielbasa, Premio brand, from Costco.  You could use breakfast sausage, Italian sausage, or even ground beef seasoned as you like it.  It has to be RAW for this recipe.  It'll be ok, I promise.

The cheese is flexible, too.  Sharp cheddar is the best, but you could use swiss, colby, pepper jack, any cheese you prefer.

If you want it to increase the fiber amount, use at least half whole wheat flour.  Emily uses all whole wheat. 

And NOTE - the dough is really really sticky.  Don't add more flour!  Just flour your hands, or use a spoon to drop the biscuits on the baking sheet.  These are supposed to be moist.

This recipe makes 2 dozen good sized biscuits.  I would consider one biscuit a serving.

Sausage Cheese Biscuits

4 cups flour (half whole wheat, half white)
4 teaspoons baking powder
2 teaspoons salt
2 pounds uncooked bulk sausage of your choice
2 cups shredded cheese of your choice
2 1/2 cups milk

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Combine flour, baking powder and salt in a large bowl.  Add sausage and cheese, work it through the flour with your fingers.  Pour in the milk, and continue to mix with your hands until you have a very sticky dough.

Drop by golf-ball size amounts onto a parchment lined baking sheet.  Bake at 350 for 25-28 minutes, until tops are golden brown and sausage is cooked through.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Roasted Red Peppers - How To

The topic of what to do with a surplus of red bell peppers came up recently with some friends.  I said "roast them up, then you can do lots with them."  But hey!  How many people have actually roasted, steamed, peeled and sliced red peppers for themselves?


I've bought roasted red peppers in a jar oodles of times, and used them with great glee.  I've watched cooks on the telly go through the process.  It was easy to relay the information to someone else.

Today was the day to try it myself.  My store had the peppers on sale yesterday, so I bought a few and gave it a spin.  And I learned some things!  So here's what TO do and what NOT to do.

Buy nice, big, heavy peppers. 

Wash them off.

Put them on a baking sheet and place into a 450 degree oven for 20-30 minutes, and you have to watch them.  The skins should be fairly charred in several places, and you should hear some popping and sizzling and really be able to smell them roasting.  Black spots are ok!

I should have let mine got a bit longer, to get more charred spots.  Lesson learned.

Then, take them out and put them into a paper bag - any old paper bag will do that you can fold down the top and seal in the steam.  Get them in the bag RIGHT away and close it up.  Watch out, they're hot!

After 10 minutes, take ONE out of the bag and put IT on a plate.  Leave the others in the bag, which I did not.  As they cool, the skins get less easy to peel off.  Lesson learned.  The skins should be all wrinkly and funny looking.  Because I didn't roast mine long enough, they didn't wrinkle as much as I'd seen on tv.

Good wrinkle.

Now, you can do one of two methods - either just rub and peel the skins off with your fingers, or do the job under cool, running water.  I tried both, and preferred the non-water way.

When the skins are mostly off, cut or pull out the core, and BE CAREFUL because there's lots of hot liquid inside where the seeds are.  Dump it out, and brush out the seeds and any dangly rib parts. 

Now, just slice them into wedges sections, put them in a container, and refrigerate for a few days, or use right away in a recipe. 

RECIPE?  Sure.  These can be pureed and made into a spicy roasted red pepper soup, with or without tomato.  They can be sliced and added with some cheese to bread for a tasty snack.  They can be sliced and dressed with a vinaigrette and served as a salad.  Toss them into a pot of hot pasta with some herbs and maybe chicken or sausage.  Pizza topping?  Yum.  Dice and add to a pasta salad, or seafood salad (shrimp, mayo, these peppers, scallions, thyme, etc.).

Lots of possibilities . . .

Monday, August 15, 2011

Tomatoes and Cheese, Redux

Tired of tomato-basil-mozzarella yet?

Probably not.  It's only August 15th, after all.

BUT, if you want a twist, take a walk to the garden with me. 

Pick a half dozen tomatoes, a couple of jalapeno peppers, and a green bell pepper if you have one.

Go to the kitchen.  Wipe or rinse off the bounty.

Open your fridge, get out a hunk of leftover pepper-jack cheese.

Dice the tomatoes, the cheese, the bell pepper, and then mince up the jalapeno.  Dump it all into a bowl, add some red wine vinegar, a splash of olive oil, salt, pepper, and a teensy pinch of sugar.  Squeeze half a lime over the whole mess.

Let it sit and juice on the counter for a bit before dinner.


Sunday, August 14, 2011


The Sassy Family had a great showing at the Carver County Fair!

All the kids won ribbons for the Legos, poetry, weaving, painting, coloring, drawing, beadwork and more.  Eric won a red ribbon for his Survival Bracelet he entered in the "Hobby by Man" category.  Isn't that a great name for a category?

The long day of baking paid off for me!

White (3rd place) for Whole Wheat Bread and White Bread.

Red (2nd place) for Double Chocolate Brownies and French Bread.

Blue (1st place) for Nana Rolls and Cinnamon Swirl Bread.

AND a Grand Champion Purple Ribbon for the Cinnamon Swirl Bread!  Yee ha!

It was a great day.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Stuffed Zucchini

Zucchini.  Too many in the garden.  It just might be August where you live!

I don't mind zukes in abundance - they make great refrigerator pickles, are essential in ratatouille, and are delicious pan fried as well.  What I don't like are the big ones, when they start to get kind of "woody" and full of too many seeds.  6 inches is a lovely size to work with, but bigger than that, they lose their thrill for me.

Enter - Stuffed Zucchini!  The perfect solution to the "hate to throw it out, the neighbors don't want any more, and I'm tired of zucchini muffins" problem.

All you need are a couple of zucchini, some fresh tomatoes, bread crumbs, garlic and herbs or a seasoning blend, some parmesan cheese and a drizzle of olive oil!  Super simple and oh-so-tasty.

In case you say "I don't like zucchini," remember that this dish is about the stuffing, not the zukes.  They are merely a vehicle for the glory contained within.

Stuffed Zucchini

2 - 3 medium zucchini
4 roma tomatoes, or the equivalent of your tomato of choice, chopped
1/3 cup bread or cracker crumbs
1/4 cup grated parmesan cheese
1 clove garlic, minced
fresh basil or parsley, chopped
salt and pepper
(or substitute a dry seasoning blend you like)
extra virgin olive oil

Preheat oven to 375 (400 if you're in a hurry like I was tonight).

Cut the zucchini lengthwise.  Carefully scrape out the seeds and fleshy part, leaving about 1/4 inch thickness all around.  Cut a thin slice off of each zuke bottom, so they will lay flat in the baking dish.  Place in the bottom of a 9x13 baking dish.

In a medium bowl, combine tomatoes, crumbs, cheese, garlic, herbs, salt and pepper.  Fill each hollow of zucchini, heaping it up nicely.  Drizzle the tops with a bit of olive oil.

Add water to the bottom of the baking dish, just enough to cover the bottom about 1/4 inch deep.

Bake at 375 for 35-40 minutes (400 will take less time, maybe 25-30) until the stuffing is golden on top.  The zucchini should be just tender, but not at all mushy.

I turned one over so you could see the "flat" side.

The stuffing.

Little boats, stuffed and ready to bake.

Golden and delicious.  It's about the stuffing, you see.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Black and Blue Cobbler

This recipe is from my friend Emily, who lives in Mississippi and knows how to cook, let me tell you.  Except she eats okra.

And it's FOR my husband's co-workers.  He has kindly promoted my little blog here to his office mates and they've enjoyed it, which is nice.  And now they're making requests!  Love that!

I made this berry cobbler the other night and Eric brought leftover to work as his breakfast.  Someone said "what's that????"  And here we are.  There's none left at my house, so you get no pictures, but it's lovely and delicious.  Great summer dessert, especially when served with vanilla ice cream.

You can use any berries you like.  I used blackberries and blueberries, hence the name "Black and Blue."  This makes a 9x13 pan which was plenty for our family and some guests, plus enough for some breakfasts the next day.  All depends on how hungry your crew is :)

Enjoy!  Hey, Palco Sports!

Black and Blue Cobbler

8 cups berries, a mixture of blackberries and blueberries
1/3 cup sugar
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
2 teaspoons cornstarch
juice from one lemon, or about 1 tablespoon

Toss the above together in a large bowl, to distribute evenly.

1 stick butter

Melt the butter in a 9x13 baking dish, in a 350 degree oven.  Add the berry mixture.

1 cup milk
1 cup flour
1 cup sugar

Mix this in a small bowl, the pour over the top of the berries.

Bake at 350 for 35 minutes, or until the edges of the crust start to get a bit golden.  Remove pan from oven and sprinkle top with 2 tablespoons sugar.  Return to oven and continue to bake for 10-15 more minutes until the entire top is golden and the berries are bubbly and juicy.

Serve warm with ice cream or whipped cream.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011


I spent the whole day baking, because it's the Carver County Fair entry day!

I'm entering my Double Chocolate Almond Brownies, Whole Wheat Bread, White Bread, Nana Rolls, Cinnamon Swirl Bread, and French Bread.

Of course, there's way too much of everything in my kitchen, as we had to choose the very best of what came out of the oven.  Good things my kids are a) hungry and b) not gluten-free.  The neighbors will get some treats, too.

Stay tuned for results, we'll know on Sunday.  The Sassy kids also entered a bunch of art, photography, poetry, Lego creations and jewelry.  Hoping for some ribbons to come home, but we all had fun with the making and doing part.

Here's a pic of the baked goods heading over to the fairgrounds right now:

Sunday, August 7, 2011

Quick Meals

Let's be real, not everyone is home all day to plan and cook dinner.  And those of us women and men who do enjoy the pleasure and work of being a stay-at-home?  We're busy, too!

During the school year, my mornings from 8-12 are busy teaching my own children.  Then there's lunch, house stuff, probably some leftover school things, and maybe someone has a lesson or activity.  I do have the ability to plop something in the crockpot between phonics and fractions, or get a batch of dough rising while I'm heating up lunch.  Some days.

We're all BUSY, aren't we?

Planning is the key.  I would be lost without meal planning.  Many people like it in theory but don't put it into practice, and then are left with the daily decision of what to make for dinner, and often at the moment they get home from work and have to face a hungry and tired family.

Even if you don't nail down the details of exactly what to make each night, it's helpful to have a general plan of basic, quick, healthy meals that take 30 minutes or so to put together.  If you have the ingredients in your fridge, freezer and pantry to mix and match, you can come up with at least a month's worth of meals from those basic elements.

Make a list of 20-30 dinners that you and your people like to eat.  And that doesn't mean 20 pasta dinners!  Include crock pot meals, soups, stews, meatless, stir fry, pasta, etc.  When you look at that list, think of what items you need to have on hand to make them - and then GO BUY THEM!

Do you have one evening or afternoon a month to do a bit of prep work?  Even something simple as putting chicken pieces into smaller bags, browning some ground beef-onion-garlic mixture, cooking a pot of rice, making a pot of Red Sauce, baking bread or rolls, making a large batch of waffles.  Even grilling up some sausages or chicken breasts ahead of time can take many minutes of prep work off your weekday evening rush.

Plan aheads are excellent ways to save time, too.  For example, on a Monday morning, put a beef or pork roast into your crock pot with seasonings, set it on low, and head to work or off on your daily routine.  When you get home from work, put some baby potatoes and carrots on a baking sheet and roast in the oven at 400 for 30 minutes.  Add a salad to your meal and there you go.  BUT, make sure your roast is way bigger than your family will eat that night.  After dinner, shred the meat, or chop it into smaller pieces and put it in the fridge.  Tomorrow night's dinner?  Tortillas with shredded beef, cheese, lettuce, salsa and whatever else you like in there.  OR, add the beef to the leftover potatoes in a skillet and make a quick hash.  That beef could also become soup, combined with broth you have in your freezer or pantry, some of the leftover potatoes and carrots (or a handful of rice and some fresh vegetables).  Add bread or rolls for a simple supper of comforting and healthy soup.

Several chicken breasts grilled on a Saturday afternoon can become the base of a pasta, a rice and broccoli and cheese dish, an entree salad, or a stew.  Pre-browned ground beef starts about a million meals, from chili to tacos to shepherd's pie and more.

Use your crockpot!  Really, it's not rocket science.  Find a crockpot cookbook, or a website (A Year of Slow Cooking) and browse the recipes.  Something you put in the pot in the morning that becomes your dinner when you walk in the door is a miracle to me.  It never ceases to amaze me that I can do almost nothing to make a good meal.

Basic, Quick Meal Ideas

CHICKEN:  Individual pieces (bone in or not), thawed in the fridge all day.  Toss in a bit of olive oil, place on a rimmed baking sheet and season as you like with seasoned salt, herbs, etc.  Bake at 375 or 400 until done, about 30 minutes.  On another baking sheet, do the same with some vegetables - oven roast!  Carrots, potatoes, parsnips, brussels sprouts, leeks, beets, peppers, asparagus - they all roast beautifully and at the same temp as the chicken, but possibly less time depending on the vegetable.  While that is in the oven, make a quick pot of couscous, rice, or pasta, and season simply with butter, salt and herbs.  Open a bag of salad.  Dinner is done.

PORK:  Pork roast or tenderloin or chops can be sliced and seasoned with  barbecue sauce, apricot jelly, mustard and wine, or anything else you like.  Pan fry, oven bake, or grill.  Again, serve with a starch you want, or some bread if you prefer, add a salad and include some raw vegetables.

BEEF:  Ground beef "steaks" are great in a skillet, smothered with sliced onions, or just cooked simply and served with roasted or mashed potatoes.  Small steaks can be pan-fried as well, and finished with a splash of red wine or balsamic vinegar and a pat or two of butter for a silky pan sauce.

MEATLESS:  Beans you've cooked earlier, or from a can, can be combined with rice and spices and even a can of diced tomatoes.  Top with cheese or not.  Serve with a salad or a plate of raw veggies and dip.  Pasta, combined with fresh or canned tomatoes, canned garbanzo or white beans, and some basil or sage makes a complete protein.  If you add nuts or cheese or hardboiled eggs to a lettuce and vegetable salad, you've got protein and veggies and you can call it dinner.

COLD:  One of our favorites!  Pick up a couple new cheeses to try, some crusty bread or crackers, canned fishies if you like (sardines or anchovies!), a few olives, apples or pears or dried fruit.  You've got every single thing covered, it will taste great, everyone can graze at a leisurely pace, and your family will think you are genius.  If your man needs some "meat" with his meal, grab a salami or chorizo and slice it up.  Many of the elements of this meal can be kept in the pantry, and the cheese and meat picked up at the last minute.  Serve it on the floor, in front of the fire, or around the coffee table.

BREAKFAST DINNER:  It takes 30 minutes or less to make pancakes, waffles, french toast or eggs.  Bacon or sausage is great to have, but not necessary.  Open a bag of frozen berries and heat in a pan on the stove with a bit of sugar, some cornstarch and a squeeze of lemon to make a yummy berry compote to serve instead of (or in addition to) maple syrup.  Drink milk or orange juice, or yogurt/fruit smoothies.  A simple cheese and herb omelet takes less than 5 minutes to make. For a family of 4, you can even do "made to order" in that 30 minute time.  If you don't like the idea of breakfast for dinner, get over it, because your kids will love it.

TORTILLAS:  Our go-to for leftover meat.  Shredded beef, grilled chicken, baked fish, or just rice and beans go into the tortilla (corn or flour).  Lettuce, salsa, cheese, peppers, sour cream, hot sauce, guacamole can all be added as each person makes their own.

I'll leave you with a recipe that tastes exotic but uses 4 ingredients and takes 30 minutes to make.  You can probably find Thai Green Curry seasoning at a nicer grocery store, or international store, but you can also find the ingredients on the web and make up your own seasoning blend.  My friend Melissa makes this and she's lived and traveled all over Asia, so I trust her statement "it's the real deal."

Thai Fish Curry

4 fish fillets (cod, halibut, tilapia, whatever you like, even salmon I think)
1 can coconut cream (coconut milk will work in a pinch)
Thai green curry seasoning (in the dried herb aisle of a good store, or make your own from a recipe that you can find on the web) - a VERY generous sprinkling
Fresh cilantro for garnish

Place the fish in a casserole dish.  Pour the can of coconut cream over the fish.  Sprinkle the entire surface with a good bit of the curry seasoning.  Cover the dish with foil and bake at 350 for 30 minutes.

You might as well make Melissa's rice while you're at it.  You can do it in a rice cooker or in a pot on the stove.

Melissa's Rice

2 cups white rice (brown rice is better for you, white is traditional)
3 cloves garlic, chopped
large pinch of red chile flakes
handful of chopped cilantro leaves and stems
4 cups chicken broth or water

Combine all ingredients.  Cook according to your rice cooker directions, or in a pot on the stove for 20 minutes until the liquid is all absorbed.  Let stand 5 minutes, then fluff and serve.

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Summer Squash Relish

My very nice friend Brenda gave me a big pile of yellow summer squash the other day.  Technically, her son Ethan is the gardener, and you should see the gigantic vegetable garden this teenage boy works and manages!

I always plant yellow squash and zucchini in my garden, but too often I get squash vine borer, or powdery mildew, or in the case of this year, a bunch of male flowers with no females producing the fruit.  Sexist plants.

Summer squash isn't my favorite raw vegetable.  But I do love it oven roasted, or stuffed and baked, or pureed in soup - yummy stuff!  Oven roasting makes everything better, and I'm pretty sure I've said that a couple times before.

For this "relish" I cut the vegetables into chunks, not dice.  You can really use any combination of ingredients you prefer or that you have in abundance.  Today I used a bunch of the yellow squash, some red bell pepper and purple onion, adding fresh garlic and chopped cilantro when it came out of the oven.  This is good served fresh and hot, but it does nicely in the refrigerator and then served at room temperature.

It's pretty basic!  Start with a few not-too-big summer squash, a whole red bell pepper, about half of a purple onion, all cut into bite sized chunks.  Give it a drizzle of extra virgin olive oil and a generous sprinkling of salt and pepper.

Roast it on a rimmed baking sheet in the oven at 400 for about 30-40 minutes, or until some of it is golden brown and it smells good.  That's a technical term, see.

Let it cool for a while, then put it in a large bowl and add fresh chopped garlic (one clove),  a big handful of chopped fresh cilantro, the juice of half a lemon, and more salt and pepper to taste.  If you want a bit of heat, a big or little pinch of red pepper flakes would be good, or a finely diced jalapeno pepper with the seeds removed.

Before you serve it, give it another stir and taste for seasoning.  I'd serve this on top of grilled meat of any kind, or on a burger, or just as a side to other summery food!