CRISPY Potluck Night

 We're finally back to somewhat regular potlucks! ... maybe. The last time everyone was over I had them write a potluck suggestion and kept them all in a cup. Now for the next two months I will draw these names out of the cup and we will commence with that themed potluck. The lucky theme this week was CRISPY! For fall potlucks I will not feature recipes but know they are available!

CRISPY [from top left to bottom right]: Potato croquettes, crisp cucumber salad, bacon guacamole, homemade mozzarella sticks, twice baked potato casserole, and baked parmesan crisps.

Twice Baked Potato Casserole by Ryan

Homemade Mozzarella Sticks by Tim

Bacon Guacamole and chips by Romin

Crisp Cucumber Salad with Apples and Cranberries by Natalie

Potato Croquettes by Richard (baked, not fried!)

Fruit Tart with Orange Glaze by Mimi

Rice Krispy Treats by Patrick

Steak Piperade

Mixed colored peppers sounded yummy on our CSA list so I found this recipe to utilize those. The recipe is from my Williams-Sonoma Simple Suppers cookbook (in the Food Made Fast series). These cookbooks are great; they've been featured in this post, this post, and this post!

1 1/2 lb skirt or flank steak
salt and freshly ground pepper
2 tbsp unsalted butter
2 tbsp olive oil
1 red onion, chopped
3 red or yellow bell peppers, seeded and thinly sliced
3 garlic cloves, minced
1 tbsp fresh thyme, chopped
1/2 cup dry white wine
114.5-oz can diced tomatoes

Brown the steak. Season the steak generously with salt and pepper. In a large frying pan over high heat, warm 1 tbsp each of the butter and oil. Add the steak and cook, turning once, for 4-6 minutes total for medium-rare, or until done to your liking. Transfer the meat to a carving board and tent with aluminum foil.

Make the sauce. Warm the remaining 1 tbsp each butter and oil in the pan over medium heat. Add the onions, peppers, garlic, and thyme and saute until the onion is barely softened, 3-4 minutes. Add the wine, bring to a boil, stirring to scrape up the browned bits on the pan bottom, and boil for about 30 seconds. Stir in the tomatoes and their juice and simmer until the liquid is slightly reduced, about 5 minutes. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

Slice the meat. Slice the meat thinly across the grain on a diagonal. Arrange the sliced on dinner plates or on a serving platter, spoon the sauce over the slices, and serve.

Deconstructed Zucchini Lasagna

Zucchini must be in abundance out on our CSA farm. They're cheap! Martha Stewart must've known this too. I received an email from her Everyday Food subscription with the subject "60 Zucchini Recipes."

Here's the link to the slideshow of all the recipes; this is the one that caught my eye though: No-Bake Summer Lasagna. If you visit the site you'll notice our preparation was quite a bit different. I didn't like the lasagna noodles so decided to substitute for short pasta and just have everything thrown together. We also decided not to use the ricotta. The totally different recipe below is what we did!

3 tablespoons grated Parmesan
3 tablespoons plus 2 teaspoons extra-virgin olive oil
Coarse salt and ground pepper
1/2 lb small tubular pasta, we used penne
1 small garlic clove, minced
1 pints grape tomatoes, halved
2 zucchini (about 1 pound total), halved if large and thinly sliced
1 tablespoon torn fresh basil leaves, plus more for serving

In a large pot of boiling salted water, cook noodles according to package instructions; drain. Reserve some pasta water.

Meanwhile, in a large skillet, heat 2 tablespoons oil over medium-high. Add garlic and zucchini to skillet; season with salt and pepper. Cook, stirring, until zucchini are tender, about 5 minutes. Add tomatoes; season with salt and pepper. Cook, stirring, until slightly broken down, about 3 minutes. Stir in basil.

Add skillet mixture of tomatoes and zucchini to drained pasta in pot. Slowly sprinkle and stir in the parmesan while stirring. If the cheese needs to be loosened, add in some reserved pasta water until desired consistency.

Chicken with Mushrooms and Sun Dried Tomatoes

The last time we visited Costco Patrick wanted some sun dried tomatoes and of course now we have a gigantic jar of sun dried tomatoes. Last week for lunch I served orzo with sauteed peppers, onions, and sun dried tomatoes. With that big jar I didn't even noticed I used some of the sun dried tomatoes! This recipe was included on the jar.

Chicken with Mushrooms and Sun Dried Tomatoes
1 cup sun dried tomatoes (in olive oil) drained and thinly sliced
1/4 cup reserved oil from sun dried tomatoes
4 large boneless, skinless chicken breast halves
1 large onion, finely chopped
4 large garlic cloves, minced
1 1/2 tsp dried basil
1 1/2 lb mushrooms, sliced
1 cup dry red wine (optional)
1 cup chicken broth
1/4 cup tomato paste
1/2 cup parsley, minced
1 tbsp softened unsalted butter
1 tbsp flour

In a heavy skillet, heat reserved tomato oil over moderately high heat and brown chicken breasts (season with salt and pepper to taste). Transfer chicken to a separate bowl or plate.** In the remaining oil, saute onion, garlic, and basil until onion is soft. Add mushrooms and tomatoes, season with salt and pepper to taste. Add chicken to skillet and bring liquid to a boil. Simmer 15 minutes until chicken is cooked through. Transfer chicken to a platter and keep warm.** Cut butter and flour together and whisk into the sauce to simmer, whisking every few minutes until thickened. Stir in parsley and pour over chicken.

After the mushrooms and sun-dried tomatoes were added.

**We switched up the chicken preparation. Rather than cooking it in the skillet we baked it with a little evoo, salt, and pepper in a 350F oven for 25 minutes. Then in the skillet we started with the onion and garlic. After the chicken was baked, I cut it up into chunks then placed into the sauce right after the butter and flour had thickened.

Served this right on top of some couscous!

Meal Planning!

With the weekly CSA and more nights off meal planning for the week is finally coming together! I went to the grocery store and got ingredients for 4 nights. Here's a quick peek at what's to come.

Tuesday: Chicken with Mushrooms and Sun Dried Tomatoes
   From the store: onion, mushrooms, tomato paste
   In kitchen stock: sun dried tomatoes (Patrick's pick from Costco), chicken breast (from freezer), garlic cloves, basil, dry red wine, chicken broth, butter, flour

Wednesday: Girls Dinner Date (Patrick is on his own!)

Thursday: Deconstructed Zucchini Lasagna
   From the store: nothing! hooray!
   From the CSA: grape tomatoes, zucchini
   In kitchen stock: Parmesan (bought in a wedge), whole wheat pasta, garlic, basil

Friday: Eggplant Parmesan (We've cooked this before--it's from the blog!)
   From the store: lemon, San Marzano tomatoes, provolone
   From the CSA: eggplants
   In kitchen stock: flour, eggs, bread crumbs, Parmesan, garlic, pesto (made with our basil, almonds, garlic, and evoo)

Since the featured post is pre-picture days here 's Eggplant Parmesan!
 Saturday: Steak Piperade
   From the store: steak, diced tomatoes
   From the CSA: colored bell peppers
   In kitchen stock: butter, onion, garlic, thyme, white wine

SUMMER Potlucks!

Here's a conglomeration of some of our summer potlucks! The summer blues got me a little bit. These were largely loosely themed. Themes included: No Pasta, Simple Supper, Favorite Summertime Dish, Southern Summer Sunday Buffet, and Stacked Stuffed & Topped.I only think I remember which photos correspond with the theme; unfortunately not every theme will have a photo.

No Pasta

Simple Supper

Favorite Summertime Dish

Fresh Chunky Marinara

More tortellini! As we've mentioned in a few previous posts (here and here) we love the easy and quick aspect of prepared tortellini. This week with all the extra summer tomatoes around we made a quick fresh chunky marinara sauce and tossed it with tortellini. Obviously the star of this post is the sauce. We consulted a few different places but primarily we followed the one from Cook's Illustrated The New Best Recipe. Here's what we did:

3 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
2 medium garlic cloves, pressed or minced
2 lbs ripe tomatoes, cored, peeled, seeded, and chopped**
1 onion, diced
2 tbsp fresh basil leaves, chopped
splash of red wine

Heat 2 tbsp oil in a medium skillet over medium heat. Add onion and saute until soft (5-7 minutes); then add the garlic and saute until garlic is fragrant but not browned (1-2 minutes). Stir in the tomatoes; increase the heat to medium-high and cook until any liquid given off by the tomatoes evaporates and the tomato pieces lose their shape to form a chunky sauce, about 10 minutes. Stir in the basil, splash of wine, and salt to taste; simmer for about 10 minutes. Toss with tortellini or other preferred pasta!

**Peeling tomatoes can be a bit tricky. The easiest way is with a boiling method (check out this website for more details) but it's a bit time consuming. I just peeled them with a knife and used my fingers to remove the seeds and squeezed out excess liquid.

Creamed Corn and Okra Cakes

Every now and then I like to remind Patrick he's in the South! This meal is a perfect example--can't get much more Southern than creamed corn and fried okra. He commented during the meal that it was great and that he loves the South!

Creamed Corn
Melt 1 tbsp butter in a pan over medium heat; I used a nonstick skillet. Then add fresh corn kernels (from ~5 ears) and cook for 2-3 minutes. Sprinkle with 1/2 tbsp sugar and stir constantly for another 2 minutes. Whisk in 1 tbsp cornmeal. I then added some fresh chives. Finally incorporate 1/2 cup cream and cook another 2-3 minutes until soft.

Okra Cakes
20-30 medium okra
1 egg
2 tsp salt
1/4 c sugar
1/2 c flour
1/4 c milk
cooking oil
Wash and slice okra. Mix okra, sugar, salt egg, flour, and milk to make a thick batter. Turn into well oiled frying pan, and cook until underside is browned. Cut into squares and turn until other side is browned.

Sloppy Joes

Sloppy Joe time!! Patrick loves these and so do I. Until now sloppy joes had always come out of the can but we saw a quick cooking segment on the local news (straight from Time Warner Cable's News 14 Carolina) featuring homemade sloppy joes and then away I went to the kitchen. I didn't write the recipe down and changed a few things around so my notes are in red.

1 pound lean ground beef
2-3 Tbs olive oil
1/2 cup diced onion
1/2 cup diced celery
1/2 cup diced pepper (of any color)
2 cloves garlic, minced
1/8 tsp ground cayenne (or more to taste)--replaced this with a squirt of Sriracha sauce
1/4-1/2 tsp ground cumin--did not use this
1/4 tsp dried thyme--replaced with fresh!
1/2 tsp ground chili powder--did not use this since the Sriracha is so hot!
1/2 cup barbecue sauce
1/2 cup ketchup
1 15-ounce can diced or crushed tomatoes--replaced with peeled, seeded, & chopped fresh tomatoes!
2-3 tsp Worcestershire
2 large or 4 small rolls, halved
Sliced tomatoes as needed
Sliced cheddar cheese as needed

--Add a splash of olive oil to a large skillet or heavy bottomed pan on the stove top and saute 1/2 cup diced onion, 1/2 cup diced celery, 1/2 cup diced pepper and 2 minced cloves of garlic to soften.
--At that point, add 1 pound ground beef. Break that up, stir it around and cook it until it is browned and cooked all the way through.
--Cook that on high heat so the meat has a chance to brown up.....and then, at that point, add a little sprinkling of cayenne pepper, a little ground cumin, a shake of dried thyme, a sprinkle of chili powder, 1/2 cup barbecue sauce and 1 15-ounce can diced tomatoes and stir to combine. I added the fresh tomatoes first and let them break down a little bit for a few minutes. Then added the barbeque sauce, ketchup, fresh thyme, and sriracha sauce.
--Turn the heat way down on that and add a little shake of Worcestershire and then let it simmer along like that for 10 minutes or so.
--Count on half of a large roll, or one whole small roll, per serving and, while the sloppy joe mix is cooking along on the stove top, top each half with sliced tomato and thinly sliced cheddar cheese and place the tray underneath the broiler to melt the cheese.

Top the tomato cheddar melt with the sloppy joe mix to serve.
 So yummy; the tomato and cheddar really adds a lot. This again was something I'd never tried with a sloppy joe.

Handy Cooking Stuff

Right next to the stove you'll find easy access to the items we use the most in cooking--extra virgin olive oil, salt, pepper, and a spoon rest.

Since Patrick and I began cooking we've certainly found trends and items we really like to use. One of these items is extra virgin olive oil. We found this olive oil bottle with dispenser in Chicago so it serves double duty. One as its meant to function and two as a souvenir! As you can see its almost empty because we've been using it so much!

The salt cellar and pepper mill are new additions to the kitchen; of course salt and pepper are not new additions to our cooking! We decided to upgrade the salt and pepper this summer. We opted for a salt cellar rather than a salt mill because we like pinches and dashes of salt rather than grindings. Recently we've been using coarse Kosher salt. We researched the pepper mills and found this small one that had been reviewed highly. It features an adjustable grind size selection and flips over to distribute the pepper so you won't make a big mess on your counter. Both of these items can be found at Crate & Barrel! (link to salt cellar and pepper mill)

And then you can't forget a spoon rest! This one is from a local pottery shop.

Pasta with Roasted Garlic and Eggplant

This week, Whitney and I picked out eggplant and cherry tomatoes for our CSA box, which led us to choose this recipe from our Williams-Sonoma pasta cookbook. The yellow cherry tomatoes were very tasty, and on the whole, this was a delicious, nutritious veggie pasta dish.

2 small eggplants (1.5 lb), cut crosswise into 1/2 in. slices
Olive oil
1 head garlic
1 lb cherry tomatoes, halved
1/2 cup fresh basil
1 lb medium-sized pasta (we used rotini)
3 oz fresh mozzarella, cut into small pieces

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Brush both sides of eggplant slices with olive oil and season with salt and pepper. Cut garlic head in half crosswise and drizzle both halves with olive oil. Place garlic and eggplant slices on baking sheet, making sure eggplant slices are not touching. Roast until eggplant is browned, 20-25 minutes. Remove from oven and let cool. Continue to roast garlic until soft and fragrant, about 20 minutes longer. Cut eggplant slices into small pieces.

"No, this isn't right."
Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Squeeze garlic pulp from cloves. In a large serving bowl, combine garlic with 4 tbsp oil, mashing and blending well. Stir in tomatoes, basil, 1/2 tsp salt, and pepper to taste. Meanwhile, add 2 tbsp salt and pasta to the water. Cook until al dente and drain, reserving 1/2 cup pasta water. Add pasta to sauce along with eggplant and mozzarella. Toss to combine, and add pasta water as needed to loosen sauce.

We love colorful dishes!