Monday, February 25, 2013

Circumstantial Cooking: Weekly Menu 2/25/13

Sometimes getting dinner on the table is based on a precarious set of if-then scenarios tied to family and work schedules. If we get home by five, maybe we can eat by six. If I have a box of pasta in the pantry, I might be able to pull something together that doesn't involve cereal for dinner.

Despite my attempts to plan a weekly menu, the circumstances of the day always affect what makes it to the table. Here are some of my personal scenarios  - the clock's ticking, the motivation to cook again is low at best, and the cupboard is relatively bare - and favorite dishes that will get the job done.


I have *maybe* thirty minutes total to get a dinner on the table.

Easy Asian Beef and Noodles

Ramen noodles with ribeye steak and sliced green onions

Sides: This is a one-bowl meal, so you don't really need sides. If I do serve a side, it's usually fresh sliced oranges, Asian pears or other fruit.

Make Ahead Notes
  • Trim and slice rib-eye and set aside in fridge for later
  • Cut green onions and set aside for later
  • 1 (8-ounce) rib-eye steak 
  • 1 teaspoon dark sesame oil, divided
  • 1 cup (1-inch) sliced green onions  
  • 2 cups prepackaged coleslaw (the kind without dressing)
  • 2 (2.8-ounce) packages beef-flavor ramen noodle soup
  • 1 1/2 cups water
  • 1 tablespoon low-sodium soy sauce
  • Trim fat from steak; cut diagonally across grain into thin slices. Heat 1/2 teaspoon oil in a large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. Add steak and onions; stir-fry 1 minute. Remove steak mixture from pan; keep warm. Heat 1/2 teaspoon oil until hot. Add slaw; stir-fry 30 seconds. Remove slaw from pan and add to the cooked beef; keep warm.
  • Remove noodles from packages; reserve 1 seasoning packet for another use. Add the water and remaining seasoning packet to pan; bring to a boil. Break noodles in half; add noodles to water mixture. Cook noodles 2 minutes or until most of the liquid is absorbed, stirring frequently. Stir in steak mixture, slaw, and soy sauce; cook briefly until thoroughly heated. Service with fresh green onions as a garnish.
 Recipe from MyRecipes

Italian Sausage Soup

Quick Italian Sausage Soup with fresh grated Parmesan cheese on top

Sides: Garlic bread

Make Ahead Notes
  • Grate Parmesan or Romano cheese
  • Rinse and chop basil - set aside, but do not refrigerate
  • 1 lb mild or sweet Italian sausage
  • 4 cups fat-free, less-sodium chicken broth
  • 2 (14.5-ounce) can diced tomatoes with basil, garlic, and oregano
  • 1 cup uncooked small shell pasta
  • 3-4 cups bagged baby spinach leaves
  • 4 tablespoons grated fresh Parmesan or Romano cheese
  • 4 tablespoons chopped fresh basil
  • Heat a pot over medium heat. Remove casings from sausage. Add sausage to pan, and cook about 5 minutes or until browned, stirring to crumble. Drain any excess fat.
  • Add broth, tomatoes, and pasta to pan, and bring to a boil over high heat. Cover, reduce heat, and simmer 10 minutes or until pasta is done. Remove from heat; stir in spinach until wilted. Sprinkle each serving with cheese and basil.

 Recipe from

No dinner mojo left this week. Take it easy on me.

Slow Cooker Shredded Salsa Verde Beef

Sides: Corn bread, guacamole and any other toppings you like, such as shredded cheese, salsa, sour cream, hot sauce and lettuce

  • 2 lbs boneless beef chuck roast (or any humble beef roast)
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon pepper
  • 1 teaspoon garlic powder
  • 2 cups salsa verde (I used Herdez Salsa Verde)
  • Tortillas
  • Place roast in crock pot. Sprinkle with salt, pepper and garlic salt. Pour salsa verde over roast.
  • Cover, and cook on Low for 8 hours. When done, the roast should shred easily with a fork.

Recipe from

Salmon with Hoisin Glaze

Sides: Steamed edamame beans and pan-fried pot stickers (I like Trader Joe's). Serve pot stickers with soy sauce seasoned with a few drops each of sesame oil and rice vinegar.

Make Ahead Tips:
  • Combine the sauce for the salmon; marinate the salmon
  • Combine the dipping sauce for the pot stickers
  • 2 tablespoons hoisin sauce
  • 2 teaspoons low-sodium soy sauce
  • 1/2 teaspoon dark sesame oil
  • 4 (6-ounce) skinless wild salmon fillets
  • Cooking spray
  • 1 teaspoon sesame seeds
  • Preheat oven to 400
  • Combine first 3 ingredients in a shallow dish, such as a pie plate. Add fish to dish, turning to coat. Marinate at room temperature 8 minutes, turning occasionally
  • Remove fish from marinade; discard marinade. Place fish on a baking sheet coated with cooking spray. Sprinkle fish evenly with sesame seeds. Bake at 400° for 8 minutes or until fish flakes easily when tested with a fork.
  Recipe is originally from MyRecipes


I'm scraping together ingredients from the fridge and pantry.

Vegetarian Burritos

Burritos filled with beans, rice, cheese and tomatoes

Sides: Tortilla chips, salsa and guacamole

  • Buy pre-shredded cheese
  • Get layered Mexican dip at your grocery store to serve with the burritos instead of separate toppings
  • Use pre-cooked, bagged rice, such as Uncle Ben’s or Trader Joe's
Make Ahead Notes:
  • Cook rice earlier in the day, if not buying pre-cooked rice
  • You can make the whole thing early in the day, cover it and throw it in the fridge to bake later. If you do that, wait to put the salsa and cheese on until right before baking. Sometimes I’ll prep this while the kids eat breakfast because the effort level is that low. If you have the pre-cooked rice, you can make these up in about 15-20 minutes, tops.
  • 10 flour tortillas
  • 1 can refried beans
  • 1 can pinto or black beans, rinsed and drained
  • 1 (14.5 oz.) can of Mexican style diced tomatoes, with juice
  • 1 envelope of taco seasoning
  • 8 oz. shredded Cheddar cheese, plus extra for sprinkling on top of burritos
  • 2 cups of cooked rice, white or brown (if using pre-cooked, bagged rice, follow package directions to warm)
  • 1 cup of salsa (I prefer the fresh kind found in tubs in refrigerated section at grocery store)
  • Chopped green onions (optional)
  • Toppings to go on burritos: sour cream, chopped green onions, guacamole, salsa, hot sauce
  • Preheat oven to 350.
  • Lightly coat a 9x13 pan with cooking spray
  • In a large skillet over medium heat, stir together all beans, tomatoes with juice and taco seasoning. The refried beans will be chunky, so gently break them up as you mix. When mixture is heated through and well-combined, about 3-5 minutes, remove from heat.
  • Set up an assembly line with the tortillas, the rice in a bowl, the cheese in a bowl, the tomato-bean mixture in the pan and the baking dish on the end.
  • One by one, fill tortillas with about 3 tbsp. each of rice, tomato mixture and cheese. Try to save some cheese to sprinkle on top of burritos when baking. Roll up each tortilla gently and place seam-side down in pan. The amounts of rice, tomatoes/beans and cheese that go into each burrito don’t matter much – you really can’t go wrong. You may find that you fill only 6 burritos because you like them fuller, or 8-10 if you go a little lighter on the filling. Pour salsa over burritos and sprinkle extra cheese on top.
  • Cover with foil and bake 20 minutes, or until heated through. Remove foil and cook 5 more minutes or so until the cheese on top is slightly browned and melty.

Spaghetti Carbonara

Spaghetti dish cooked with bacon, eggs and Parmesan cheese

Sides: Arugula or spinach salad and your favorite vinaigrette

  • Buy pre-grated or shredded Parmesan cheese from the deli section
  • Use jarred, minced garlic
 Make Ahead Notes:
  • Fill water pot and set on stove for later
  • Cut up bacon and refrigerate for later
  • Rinse and chop parsley or if you have a kid who's handy with scissors, have them do the chopping into a bowl

  • 2 eggs 
  • 3 ounces Parmesan cheese, finely grated or shredded
  • 1/2 cup loosely packed flat-leaf parsley leaves
  • 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper, plus more for garnish
  • 1/4 pound thin-cut bacon
  • 2 cloves minced garlic
  • 3 tablespoons olive oil 
  • 1/2 cup dry white wine 
  • 1 tablespoon salt
  • 1 pound spaghetti or spaghettini 
  • Put a large pot of water on to boil. Crack eggs into a large bowl and beat lightly. Add 1/2 cup of the grated or shredded cheese to eggs, and set the rest of the cheese aside. Finely chop parsley and add to eggs. Add pepper and whisk to combine well. Set aside.
  • Cut bacon into 1/4" pieces, set aside. Heat oil in a small frying pan over medium-high heat. Add bacon and cook, stirring occasionally, until it starts to brown. Add garlic and cook, stirring, until fragrant, about 1 minute. Add wine and cook until liquid is reduced by about half. Remove from heat and set aside.
  • When water boils, add salt and spaghetti. Boil pasta until it is tender to the bite. Drain well and immediately pour pasta into bowl with egg mixture. Toss to thoroughly coat pasta with egg mixture (the heat from the pasta will partly cook the egg and melt the cheese). Pour bacon mixture on top of pasta and toss to combine thoroughly. Sprinkle with remaining cheese and pepper to taste. Serve immediately.

Originally from this recipe on MyRecipes

Monday, February 11, 2013

Comfort Food: Weekly Menu 2/11/13

It's winter and even in L.A., we're turning on the heat at night these days, which means that the last thing we feel like eating for dinner is anything cold. This is a meaty kind of a menu, but as I've said before, there are at least three members of my family who could probably live on  meat and chocolate alone. So how could I not make some cookies for dessert with these dinners? This chocolate cookie recipe comes right from the bag of Gold Medal Flour and it is my absolute favorite. For those in town, come on over, I still have some.

If comfort food is up your alley these days, here are some favorites from past Weekly Menus that you might like:


All American Chili

All American Chili
The addition of sausage to this chili sets it apart. This makes a big batch and we found that the leftovers tasted great - maybe even better - a couple of days later. 

Sides: Toppings like shredded cheddar, sour cream, green onions and hot sauce; cornbread

  • Use pre-chopped onion from the produce section
Make Ahead Notes
  • Combine dry seasonings ahead and set aside for later
  • Chop onion and bell pepper and set aside for later 
  • Rinse and drain beans and set aside for later
  • 6 ounces mild or sweet turkey Italian sausage
  • 2 cups chopped onion
  • 1 cup chopped green bell pepper
  • 8 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1 pound ground sirloin
  • 1 jalapeño pepper, chopped (optional)
  • 2 tablespoons chili powder
  • 2 tablespoons brown sugar
  • 1 tablespoon ground cumin
  • 3 tablespoons tomato paste
  • 1 teaspoon dried oregano
  • 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 1 1/4 cups Merlot or other fruity red wine
  • 2 (28-ounce) cans diced tomatoes, undrained
  • 2 (15-ounce) cans kidney beans, drained

  • Heat a large Dutch oven over medium-high heat. Remove casings from sausage. Add sausage, onion, and the next 4 ingredients (onion through jalapeño) to pan; cook 8 minutes or until sausage and beef are browned, stirring to crumble.
  • Add chili powder and the next 7 ingredients (chili powder through bay leaves), and cook for 1 minute, stirring constantly. Stir in wine, tomatoes, and kidney beans; bring to a boil. Cover, reduce heat, and simmer 1 hour, stirring occasionally.
  • Uncover and cook for 30 minutes, stirring occasionally. Discard the bay leaves. Serve with toppings.
Adapted from this Cooking Light recipe

Crispy Pork Medallions

Crispy Pork Medallions
This dish broke us out of our usual go-to marinated pork tenderloin recipes.

Sides: Baked sweet potatoes, sauteed or steamed sugar snap peas

Make Ahead Notes
  • Combine dry seasonings and set aside for later
  • 2 tablespoons Dijon mustard
  • 1 (1-pound) pork tenderloin, trimmed and cut into 8 medallions
  • 1/2 cup panko (Japanese breadcrumbs)
  • 1 tablespoon chopped fresh thyme (I used about a tsp of dried instead)
  • 1 tablespoon minced fresh parsley
  • 1/8 teaspoon salt
  • 1/8 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • Preheat oven to 450°.
  • Rub mustard evenly over pork medallions. Combine panko, thyme, parsley, salt, and pepper in a large bowl. Dredge pork in panko mixture. Heat a large ovenproof skillet over medium-high heat. Add oil to pan; swirl to coat. Add pork; sauté 2 minutes or until golden brown. Turn pork. Place skillet in oven; bake at 450° for 8 minutes or until pork reaches 145°. Let stand 3 minutes.
 Recipe from Cooking Light


Mozzarella-Stuffed Pesto Turkey Meatballs

Mozzarella stuffed pesto turkey meatballs
You break into a meatball and melty mozzarella oozes out. It's hard to resist a meatball with pesto AND a gooey center. I halved this recipe and still had leftovers.

Sides: Spaghetti with marinara sauce, green salad

  • Use quality pre-grated Parmesan cheese
Make Ahead Notes
  • Chop parsley and onion and set aside for later  -  if you have a mini food chopper, throw the onion and parsley in together
  • Cut mozzarella into cubes and set aside in the fridge for later
  • 3 pounds ground turkey
  • 1 cup finely chopped onion
  • 4 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1 egg
  • 1 cup Italian-style bread crumbs
  • 1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese
  • 1/2 cup chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
  • 1/4 cup prepared pesto
  • 1/4 cup milk
  • 1 tablespoon salt
  • 2 teaspoons fresh ground black pepper
  • 1 pound fresh mozzarella, cut into small cubes
  • 3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • 2 (24 ounce) jars marinara sauce
  • Preheat an oven to 375 degrees.
  • Place the ground turkey, onion, garlic, egg, bread crumbs, Parmesan cheese, parsley, pesto, milk, salt, and black pepper in a bowl. Mix until evenly blended, then form into 1 3/4-inch meatballs. Make a hole in the meatball with your finger and place a cheese cube in the hole. Seal the meatball around the cheese and place on a nonstick baking sheet. Drizzle the olive oil over the meatballs. 
  • Bake in the preheated oven until the meatballs are no longer pink in the center, about 30 minutes. Heat the marinara sauce in a saucepan over low heat. Bring to a simmer, and place the baked meatballs in the marinara sauce for about 2 minutes.
Recipe from

Extra Credit: Perfect Chocolate Chip Cookies

Chocolate chip cookies
 I'm not a fan of crispy, flat cookies, so these, in my opinion, are perfection. They turn out chewy and chunky every time. I recommend you only slightly soften your butter and then take some time to chill the dough before baking. If the dough is too warm, your cookies will indeed spread and be flatter than you might like.

Make Ahead Notes
  • Measure out dry ingredients and set aside for later
  • Set butter out to soften a bit 
  • 1 1/2 cups butter, slightly softened
  • 1 1/4 cups granulated sugar
  • 1 1/4 cups brown sugar, packed
  • 1 tablespoon vanilla
  • 2 eggs
  • 4 cups all-purpose flour
  • 2 teaspoons baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 (24 ounce) bag semi-sweet chocolate chips
  • Heat oven to 350 degrees F. 
  • In large bowl, beat butter, sugars, vanilla and eggs on medium speed until light and fluffy.
  • Stir in flour, baking soda and salt (dough will be stiff).
  • Stir in chocolate chips.
  • On ungreased cookie sheet, drop dough by tablespoonfuls or a cookie/ice cream scoop 2 inches apart.
  • Bake 11-13 minutes or until light brown (centers will be soft). Cool 1-2 minutes, remove from cookie sheet to cooling rack.

Recipe from Gold Medal Flour bag and originally called "Extraordinary Chocolate Chip Cookies"

Monday, February 4, 2013

New Dish Challenge Pt 2: Weekly Menu 2/4/13

Hello friends, and I'm sorry for the recent hiatus. Sometimes life is anything but easier, simpler or better, and that's what it's been like here as a home improvement project that should have taken a week dragged on for five. Five weeks with spotty access to the kitchen and no access to a table, plus a lot of take-out kind of slowed me down in the cooking department. So I shifted my "try new dishes" challenge and am continuing it into this month. I can feel the cooking energy coming back!

Sometimes you try a new dish and right away you know you're going to want to make it a LOT. That's the case with Italian Chicken, which my hairdresser shared with me last month. Make it and report back.


Italian Chicken

Italian Chicken
Does this look pretty or what? It's totally company-ready.

Sides: Freshly  cooked pasta

Make Ahead Notes
  • Chop tomatoes and artichokes; combine and set aside until later
  • Chop fresh basil and set aside for later
  • Though I haven't tried this, I think you could use drained, canned diced tomatoes instead of fresh in a pinch
  • 4-5 ripe Roma tomatoes, coarsely chopped
  • 2 chopped garlic cloves
  • 1 can artichoke hearts (plain, not marinated), drained and chopped
  • 2-3 TBSP extra virgin olive oil
  • 1/4 tsp each of salt & pepper
  • 1 tsp sugar
  • 2 TBSP flour
  • 5-6 boneless, skinless chicken breasts, seasoned with S&P
  • 3/4 to 1 cup of shredded mozzarella cheese ( I used an Italian cheese blend from Trader Joe's)
  • 1/4 cup chopped fresh basil

  •  Preheat oven to 350. Lightly grease a 13x9 baking pan.
  • Combine the first seven ingredients well (tomatoes through flour) in a medium bowl.
  • Lay the chicken breasts in the pan and add the tomato mixture around the edges of the pan and between the chicken breasts (don't cover the breasts completely)
  • Bake at 350 for about 30-35 minutes or until *nearly* cooked through. Turn oven to broil setting.
  • Pull out the dish and sprinkle the chicken evenly with the cheese. Return to the oven and broil 3-5 minutes or until the cheese is golden brown.
  • Sprinkle with the fresh basil and serve.

Honey Mustard Chicken Thighs

Honey Mustard Chicken Thighs with rosemary
 Keep the skin on to roast the chicken even if you're not a skin fan. The chicken will stay much juicier that way. Other than the chicken, you probably have all the ingredients on hand for this dish.

Sides: Fresh steamed, sliced carrots and rice or couscous

Make Ahead Notes
  • Combine honey, mustard, oil and salt and set aside for later

  • 1/4 to 1/3 cup smooth Dijon mustard
  • 1/4 to 1/3 cup honey
  • 1 Tbsp olive oil
  • 2-3 pounds chicken thighs (or legs)
  • Salt
  • 2 sprigs rosemary (or a generous sprinkling of dried rosemary)
  • Freshly ground black pepper

  • Preheat the oven to 350°. In a large bowl, mix mustard with the honey, and olive oil. Add a pinch of salt and taste. Add more salt and mustard until you get the flavor where you want it.
  • Salt the chicken lightly and lay the pieces skin-side up in a shallow casserole dish. Spoon the honey mustard sauce over the chicken. Place the rosemary sprigs in between the pieces of chicken.
  • Bake for 45 minutes, or until the thighs read 175° on a meat thermometer, or the juices run clear when the meat is pierced with a knife. Remove the casserole pan from the oven, use a spoon to spoon off any excess chicken fat that has rendered during the cooking.
  • Sprinkle some freshly ground black pepper over the chicken before you serve.
Recipe from Simply Recipes

Pasta with Pork Bolognese

Pasta with Pork Bolognese
Open the wine and dinner is ready in under 30 minutes. For real.

Sides:  Salad with Caesar dressing or Balsamic vinaigrette

Make Ahead Notes:
  • Chop basil and set aside for later
  • Grate carrot and set aside for later

  • 9 ounces refrigerated fettuccine(I used dried tagliatelle from Trader Joe's instead)
  • 2 teaspoons olive oil
  • 12 ounces lean ground pork
  • 1/2 cup grated carrot
  • 3 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1/3 cup red wine
  • 1 2/3 cups marinara sauce
  • 1/2 cup chopped fresh basil, divided
  • 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon black pepper
  • Freshly grated Parmesan cheese (optional)

  • Cook pasta per directions. Drain.
  • Heat olive oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add pork, carrot, and garlic; sauté 4 minutes or until pork is done. Add wine; cook 1 minute. Add marinara, 1/4 cup basil, salt, and pepper; bring to a simmer. Pour sauce over pasta. Sprinkle with remaining 1/4 cup basil.
 Recipe from Cooking Light


Extra Credit: Roasted Green Beans & Potatoes

Roasted Green Beans and Potatoes
One pan, one oven, one temperature... two side dishes. Wish I could do this more often!

Make Ahead Notes
  • Scrub potatoes. If you want to cut them ahead, submerge them in a bowl of cold water until you're ready to use them to prevent browning
  • Rinse and cut green beans
  • Buy a bag of pre-rinsed, trimmed green beans
  • 1 lb red potatoes, quartered or small golden potatoes
  • 1 tbsp olive oil, divided
  • 2 garlic cloves, sliced or quartered, divided
  • 1/4 tsp  each coarse salt and pepper, or to taste
  • 8 oz fresh green beans, trimmed & halved
  • Preheat the oven to 425F with a rimmed baking sheet inside. 
  • Toss potatoes with half of the oil and garlic, then season with salt, pepper. Transfer potatoes to preheated baking sheet and roast for 15 minutes. 
  • Toss the green beans with half of the oil and garlic, then season with salt, pepper. Add to the baking sheet with the potatoes. Turn potatoes once.
  • Roast for 10 more minutes.
Recipe adapted from The Curious Country Cook