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Archive for March, 2010

Bacon…

…can make almost anything taste better.  I’m pretty sure I’ve made this statement before, but it is so true that it is worthy of repeating.  I saw the recipe for BLT Bowties last week onRR and it quickly made its way to our menu list for this week.  This pasta is inspired by a traditional BLT, putting a slight twist on the classic ingredients.  For example, of course you have the wonderful bacon, then cherry tomatoes.  But, instead of lettuce, nice spicy arugula is used.  The Panko-parmigiano topping is BY FAR the best part of this tasty pasta meal.  Get ready for taste bud joy.

You need:

  • extra-virgin olive oil, for drizzling, plus 2 tablespoons
  • 12 slices good quality  bacon, cut into half-inch dice
  • 1 1/2 cups Panko breadcrumbs
  • A handful of flat-leaf parsley, chopped(We cheated and used dried.  It was still amazing.)
  • A couple of generous handfuls grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese(score!!!)
  • 1 small red onion, finely chopped
  • 4 cloves garlic, grated
  • A pinch crushed red pepper flakes
  • 2 pints cherry tomatoes
  • Salt and pepper
  • 1 pound bowtie pasta(we used whole-grain)
  • 4 cups arugula,  coarsely chopped
  • 1 cup basil leaves, torn

Begin by heating up your skillet with a teeeeeeny bit of olive oil.  When it’s nice and hot, toss in your bacon and cook until it is nice and crispy.  Remove it from the pan and put it on a paper-towel lined plate to drain off a bit more of the fat.

Also, start boiling a pot of salted water for your bowties.  When it’s ready, drop them in and cook to al dente, about 7 minutes.  Before you drain, save a cup of the pasta water to add to your sauce later.

Clean out the skillet, but save a few tablespoons of the drippings to brown the Panko breadcrumbs in.  When they are nice and golden (stay with them, because they don’t take long at all to brown!!), stir in a few handful of glorious Parmigiano and the parsley.  Don’t forget to take it off the heat.  This part smells amazing, by the way.

In a skillet with a tight-fitting lid, heat a drizzle of oil.  Saute the onions and garlic until they are tender, then drop in the cherry tomatoes and red pepper flakes.  Add a pinch of freshly grated salt and pepper and toss a lid on the skillet.  Let the sauce cook for about 8 minutes, shaking the skillet occasionally to move the tomatoes around.  The tomatoes should start to burst and become very tender.  When 8 minutes is up, remove the lid and finish mashing the tomatoes with a potato masher.

Add the cup of pasta water to the sauce, then toss in the arugula to warm it through and wilt it down a bit; also, stir in your fresh, delicious basil.

When the greens are a bit wilted, toss in your bacon and pasta.  Swirl everything around to get everyone well acquainted, then top the pasta with the amazing Panko-cheese mixture.  Ta-da!!!  You now have a darn tasty plate of pasta in front of you.

We served ours with some spiced-up french bread that is very simple and tasty.  Simply divide your baguette down the middle and grate up a clove of garlic.  Rub the garlic “paste” over the bread, then cut a tomato in half and rub it on top of the garlic.  Finish by tossing the bread into the broiler or toaster for a few minutes to get it nice and crispy.  Delicious.

What a fantastic dinner.  It is a great transition meal for Winter to Spring because you have the hearty bacon and pasta mixed with the light spices of arugula and basil.  It’s also a perfect comfort food, as it has bacon and a crispy topping with delicious cheese.

Schatzi had had a very long, trying day at work, but as soon as he stepped through the door and smelled the combination of crispy bacon and toasting cheese, his troubles melted and he became one happy camper.  So.  Make it sometime.  I daresay you will be quite glad you did.  And, I must say that I am super glad we are having this for leftovers tonight.  Score!

*sc

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…are an absolutely fantastic invention, and Rachael Ray has, of course, perfected the art of making them.   When i say perfected, I mean it.  These “South by Southwest Seven-Layer Sliders” are basically beyond words.  The concept of a burger night was probably invented because of these.  Seriously.

To prepare for slider/burger heaven you need many fresh, fantastic things.  It WILL be worth it, I assure you.

  • 15 oz. can of re-fried beans
  • 2 pounds ground sirloin (Guess what, we used super-lean elk as usual and it was fantastic. Go lean on whatever choice of meat you have)
  • 1 tbsp. chili powder
  • 1 tbsp. smoked paprika
  • 3 garlic cloves, grated
  • 1 1/2 tbsp. steak seasoning
  • 1 cup beer (dark goes best with red meat)
  • extra-virgin olive oil
  • 6 slices pepper jack cheese, cut into mini squares
  • 1 Hass avocado
  • 1 tsp. grated lime zest
  • juice of 2 limes
  • 3 tbsp. chopped cilantro (need I say fresh?  I hope not.)
  • 1/2 red onion, chopped
  • 2 jalapenos, seeded and chopped
  • salt
  • 2 medium yellow tomatoes, chopped
  • 1/4 cup yellow mustard
  • 1 cup sour cream (we used Greek yogurt instead)
  • 1 tbsp. hot sauce
  • 1 tsp. ground cumin
  • 12 mini buns (we used potato rolls. perfect fit for sliders!)

Now that you have half of the produce department in your kitchen, begin by heating up the re-fried beans over medium-low.  Mix in a splash of water so they don’t get pasty.

Start heating a large skillet over medium-high.

Mix up the meat, chili powder, paprika, grated onion (just grate some of the other half of the red onion right down into the bowl), two cloves of garlic, steak seasoning, and the  beer.  At first, the mixture is quite soupy, but keep working it with your hands.  The meat will absorb the liquid and will just be incredibly moist, therefore, delicious.  Mound it all up and score it into 4 portions with your hand or a knife.  Then, make 3 small patties from each section.  Now, we only used about a pound of meat, so we got about 7 sliders.  If you use the full two pounds, you should get about 12.  Drizzle some olive oil on top of the little patties and plop them onto the hot skillet.  Cook for 6 minutes, turning once, for medium.

Then, add a 2 pieces of cheese to each burger and cover the pan to melt the cheese.

Time to multitask!  While the burgers are going, mash the avocado with the lime zest and juice.  PS. Tthe easiest way to cut into an avocado (the seed in the middle makes it a bit difficult) is to slice almost completely through, then twist the two halves until it comes apart.  Voila!  The pit is no longer a problem.  Anyway, add half the cilantro, half the red onion, half the jalapenos, salt, and the rest of the garlic.  Now you have a tasty guacamole!

Next, make a salsa.  Throw the tomatoes in a bowl with the rest of the cilantro, jalapenos, and onion.  Add some salt and the mustard.  Also, throw the buns in the toaster to brown them just a bit.  Done.

Last layer: sauce.  Mix the sour cream, cumin, and hot sauce.  I highly recommend replacing sour cream with plain Greek yogurt.  It tastes, feels, and looks exactly the same, but is a bit healthier.  Check this out:  a tbsp. of sour cream has 60 calories.  Yikes.  a CUP of Greek yogurt has 140 calories.  1 cup= 16 tbsp.  You do the math.

At last, it is time to assemble your glorious sliders!!!  Take a bun bottom, spread a spoonful of beans (it works as a great glue!) on it, add a tiny patty, then guacamole, salsa, sauce, and  throw on a bun top to complete your 7 layers.  YUM!!!!

To go alongside, we made tasty fajita fries.  Simply get some steak fries, toss them in olive oil, then in some fajita seasoning.  Bake them at 450 for 20 minutes, turning halfway through.  Does it get any simpler?

MAKE THESE.  I know I say that after almost every post, but if you love the  Spanish flavors of cilantro, chili, cumin, and lime, or you just love burgers, you must try them.  Absolutely fantastic.  We had them for burger night on Friday and are still talking about them.  Honestly.  You won’t believe how happy your taste buds are.

*sc

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Schatzi’s Coffee Corner

Hi there. I’m not Lauren, I’m Michael. I am Lauren’s husband. I am known on this site as Schatzi, which is a very adorable name for me, which is nice. I come from here, but I will come to this site to talk about coffee, because Lauren loves coffee, and I love coffee, and we love each other, and coffee coffee coffee.

First off, though, I must say a few words about how I came to love coffee. I didn’t. Coffee changed until I loved it. Ok, that isn’t true. I’ll start over.

I can’t remember the first time I tried coffee because it was not memorable. The easiest place to find coffee is either a workplace or just a coffee shop. Sadly, at both places they either make it poorly or make it too drinkable by adding too much sugar or cream or whatnot. I definitely did not like coffee at first because the stuff I drank was burned rubbish that I had to use cream and sugar to be able to drink. I worked at a coffee shop during high school for a bit and that did not improve my experience. It was too difficult to learn how to make all the different combinations and again, I just didn’t like what the machines at that location produced. It was too burned, or too bitter, or it had been sitting in the pot for too long.

During college, I used coffee to keep me awake or to wake me up for early classes. Lauren would make me some at times, but due to our inexperience, again I had to fill it with half cream and half sugar, and see if the coffee had any room left. It tasted okay but only because the tastes I could find were sugar and vanilla, no more.

I’m here to wipe that all away. I thought I loved coffee, but I loved caffeine, and sugar, and cream. I thought I was cool, drinking coffee and talking about it. We even got a [blade] grinder so we could grind beans right before brewing like we were told, but we still didn’t know about good coffee. Due to what I thought was an obsession with coffee (even though it certainly is an obsession now) I researched what made coffee good. What goes into the beans, how they’re made, what actually makes a good cup of coffee, etc. I learned a lot. I’m practically a different man. I am a different man after my morning coffee. Let me share why:

I drink black coffee. You just said, “what?” or “eww,” or “they make that?” or something like that, or maybe you even said “what a cool dude.” Yes black coffee. I love it. I drink it at least once a day, sometimes twice. I can’t get enough! I love how it almost burns my tongue if I drink it too soon. I love how deep the flavors are. I love that I don’t put any more cream or sugar in (I used to put in 3 creamers and 4 sugars or something ridiculous like that). Really, it is awesome, and it probably doesn’t taste like any coffee you’ve had before.

Probably the most important difference is in the grind. If you want your coffee to be awesome from the start, get a burr grinder. A conical burr grinder. This is practically a must. Never mind it is a must. I have this one, Lauren got it for me! It works really well and is a great introductory burr grinder for what you need. I’ll go more in-depth on these later, but trust me for the time being. With a burr grinder, you can get different types of grinds ranging from fine to really fine or coarse or just plain medium. This is coarse and a penny for comparison:

This is important for the following section.

How To Make French Press Coffee

It’s in the name, you need a French Press. This is what I have.

It allows you to control the amount of coffee grinds, the amount of water, the heat of the water, and the time brewed. It also has neat filters to keep the grinds out of your coffee, which make for a bitter taste.

Next, you need to get some water pretty hot. You don’t want to pour boiling water on the grounds, but you do want hot coffee, no? While it is boiling, prepare the French Press and get the beans ready to grind. You don’t want to grind them until you are ready to go. When the water begins to boil, grind the beans and pour 1 heaping tablespoon per 4 oz of water into the French Press, like so:

Then get the water off the heat, and get ready to go. You’ll need a spoon, so grab that, and by the time you grab a spoon and come back, the water is close to the right temperature to pour, so start pouring the water on the beans, but slowly! If you pour too fast, it will excite the coffee and make it release all the delicious flavors more into the air than into the water. You also want to pour the water over all of the grounds, just go in a circle while you pour.

Then, once all the water is in, and the beans are at the top, use the spoon and give it a swirl to shake up the grounds a bit; this should produce a really nice crema at the top like so:

Now put the top on, but don’t press it all the way down, just get it sealed, and wait 4 minutes.

Once the 4 minutes are up, slowly, very slowly, push the little knob all the way down, while holding on the top to keep it steady. If you go too fast, the grounds can escape into the upper chamber and mix in with the liquid, and it will be too bitter.

Now, just pour it all out, simple! Don’t leave coffee in there though, it’ll keep brewing and make a pot that is too strong, and too bitter, so pour it into a thermos or something if you have to. Voila! Perfect coffee every time!

– Michael

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SMB…

…is honestly one of my favorite parts of the week.  I know I’ve said this many a time, but really.  It’s pretty darn hard to beat waking up on a Saturday morning and cooking a delicious breakfast with the love of my life!  This morning, we made crunch-berry pancakes and were in breakfast heaven.  I found the recipe in this month’s issue of Every Day.  Go figure.

For a great new twist on pancakes, grab:

  • 1 1/2 cups low-fat vanilla yogurt
  • 1 egg and 2 egg whites (use the 2-bowl method to get your whites!)
  • 1 tsp. baking powder
  • 1 tsp. salt
  • 1 1/4 cups flour
  • 1 1/2 cups low-fat granola
  • 1 1/2 cups raspberries, chopped (blackberries=equally delicious)
  • 1 cup blueberries
  • 2 tbsp. vegetable oil
  • unsalted butter
  • powdered sugar

Start by heating your nonstick skillet over medium.  While that’s going, whisk together all the eggs, yogurt, and 1/2 cup water until the mixture is nice and smooth.  Then, whisk in the baking soda and salt, followed by the flour.  Mix this until everything is just combined; don’t over-mix or your pancakes will be chewy.  No good.

Add 1/2 cup of granola, the black/raspberries, blueberries, and 1 tbsp. oil.

Add about a tsp. of oil to the hot skillet and drop 1/4 cup of batter in.  Sprinkle a couple pinches of granola on top and cook until bubbles pop up on the surface (it takes about 3 minutes).  Then, flip the pancake and cook for another minute.

Top your pancake with a bit of the butter, a dusting of powdered sugar, and a few more berries.  We added some leftover strawberries to our toppings.  Delicious.

Add this to your list of breakfast foods to try.  It would make an excellent brunch or even a Brinner, I daresay.  Bonus:  you’re using a lot of reduced-fat foods, fresh fruit, and no maple syrup.  Thus, these pancakes really aren’t that terrible for you–the calorie count comes in under 500 for about 4 pancakes, if you can eat that many!  Heads up, though: read the labels on your reduced-fat yogurt.  A lot of the time, “reduced-fat” means they’ve just replaced the sugar with aspartame, and that really doesn’t do anybody any good!  I know that we personally choose to just take the extra calories of real sugar and exercise a bit longer on the Wii Fit or something.

*sc

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…for different folks.  Or cooks, in this matter.  A popular question is, “what are the top (insert number here) tools used in your kitchen?”  I could probably throw together quite an extensive list of things that make my life easier when I cook, but, here are my absolute must-haves:

A solid set of sharp knives.      

A hand-grater.  I first saw these on RR and yes.  They are absolutely wonderful for grating garlic, vegetables, spices, or basically anything and everything. 

A good, sturdy, nonstick skillet with a tight-fitting lid.

Now, this next list includes the stuff, just for funsies, that I use all the time and would rather have than have not.  However, they are not essential items I suppose…

A food processor (it doesn’t have to be huge).

A burr grinder.  If you love coffee as much as we do, this is not optional!!!  It really and truly DOES change the taste of your bliss in a mug.  I was not a believer until I got Schatzi this Capresso burr grinder he had been wanting for Christmas.  Now, i am a total convert from a plain old blade grinder.

While we are on the subject of coffee, a good french press.  This is the ONLY way to make outstanding black coffee.  Yes, a good pot can be made with a quality automatic (make sure you sprinkle a bit of kosher salt on top of the grounds to get rid of that bitter taste an automatic often adds), but a french press really is the way to go.  Ours is by Bodum and we love it!

A potato masher.  I use mine for everything from yes, potato mashing, to breaking up meat for a sauce.  It just makes things go so much more quickly and easily!

A scraper.  I don’t know what the technical term is, but this guy makes it a lot easier to transfer something such as chopped onions from the cutting board to the skillet.  This way, you don’t have to juggle a huge cutting board while trying not to throw onion all over the floor instead of into the pan.

A bar of garlic soap.  This is actually a bar made of some type of metal, and if you “wash” your hands with it after handling garlic, the smell magically disappears!  Truly one of the coolest inventions there is.

Salt and pepper grinders/shakers.  When it comes to salt and pepper, fresh really can’t be beat.

An onion keeper.  Sometimes recipes don’t call for an entire onion, and you don’t want to just throw it out!  Then, it stinks up your fridge and doesn’t keep terribly long.  I found this guy at TJ Maxx and it works wonders.  I also have one for lemons and limes.  You won’t believe how well it works!

A wooden fork of some sort.  Because they aren’t made of plastic or metal, they don’t get hot and burn you on the stove.

And, a wonderful husband who helps with the dishes is a GREAT addition/luxury!!

Well, there you have it.  Cooking always makes for a fantastic time, but for me, these gadgets really tip the awesome scale.  So, if you cook a lot, I really recommend pampering yourself once in awhile and adding a few to your collection of kitchen tools.

*sc

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Fajitas…

…are just plain awesome.  If you like Spanish food, you know that a good fajita is hard to beat.  However, they also pack quite a punch in the calorie department.  In the days of old, if you were on a diet, no fajitas for you!  Fortunately, dearest chef Rocco has come through, yet again, and remade steak fajitas into something nutritious and delicious.  Long live Rocco!!

I was absolutely psyched to make these fajitas last night, and they do not disappoint.  Oh no.  They are some of the best I’ve had!  Add the following to your grocery list for a great Tex-Mex night:

  • 12 oz. of a lean filet (he says 2 6 oz. lean filet mignons; we got a super big piece of lean steak)
  • half of a 1-oz. package of fajita seasoning
  • nonfat cooking spray
  • 1 large onion, chopped
  • 1 large green bell pepper, chopped into thin strips
  • 1/2 ripe avocado, peeled
  • 1 cup store-bought salsa (fresh if you can find it, or make your own)
  • 1/2 cup chopped fresh cilantro
  • 8 6″ wheat tortillas, or low-calorie ones
  • 1/2 cup nonfat Greek yogurt

Start by heating your skillet over high heat.  Season up the steaks with half of the fajita seasoning, then spray them lightly with the cooking spray.  This really helps the seasoning hang on to the meat.  When your pan gets nice and hot, throw on the steaks and grill them 3-4 minutes a side for medium-rare.  Pop them onto a plate to let them rest and allow the juices to redistribute throughout the meat; tent the plate with aluminum foil to keep them warm.

Then, move on to the veggies.  Toss your onion and pepper together and spray them lightly with the cooking spray.  I used olive oil spray and am now obsessed.  It works so well and doesn’t add the calories or buttery taste that regular spray does.  Anyway, move on to toss in the rest of the fajita seasoning and throw the whole mixture in the pan you were using to cook the steaks.  Grill the veggies until they are charred and crisp-tender, which will take about 6 minutes.  Bonus: the kitchen will start to smell seriously amazing.  Toss the charred veggies in a covered bowl to keep them warm.

Meanwhile, multitask by making some great fresh guacamole.  Mash the avocado a bit with a fork and mix in the salsa and cilantro.  Delicious.  Annnd, multitask again by toasting the tortillas a bit in your broiler.

Now it is time to cut the absolutely mouth-watering steak into thin slices.

Finish up by assembling the fajitas!   Grab a tortilla and take some steak and veggie mixture, then add the guacamole.  Now here is a rather nifty trick: instead of topping the whole thing off with sour cream and adding a billion calories, just add a dollop of reduced-fat Greek yogurt.  Seriously!  You won’t even be able to tell the difference.  We were absolutely shocked and are basically going to start replacing sour cream as a condiment with Greek yogurt.  Oh yes, it is just that good.  You’re done!  Fajita time!

We also made Spanish rice to serve alongside, and probably canceled out all the nutritious value of our fajitas by doing so.  Oh well.  This is one fantastic Tex-Mex meal, anyway.  Best part:

old fajitas:                                                new fajitas:

fat: 60 grams (WHAT?!)                      12.3 grams(I can deal with that!)

calories: 1,165 (painful.)                    331 (yes, please!)

Super-duper yummy.  Enjoy!

*sc

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Hummus…

…is delicious, nutritious, and super-easy to make.  The weather is quickly changing, and I daresay spring has sprung.  This calls for a change of pace in our typical lunch menu.  Plus, everyone simply needs a break from ye old standard turkey sandwich, no?

A great alternative to boring lunches that will help usher in the feeling of Spring is a hummus wrap.  Here is a great recipe for hummus to get you on your way out of midday monotony:

  • 1 (15-ounce) can chickpeas, rinsed and drained
  • 3/4 cup water
  • 1/2 cup Tahini (crushed sesame seeds in oil=delicious. a bit like moist peanut butter)
  • 5 tablespoons plus 2 teaspoons lemon juice
  • 1 1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1 or 2 cloves garlic
  • 3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • Freshly ground black pepper
  • 2 tablespoons chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley leaves (dried will work as well)

Get out your food processor and combine the chickpeas, Tahini, water, 5 tbsp. of lemon juice, salt, and garlic.  Puree it until it’s smooth in the processor.  Then, start slowly streaming in the oil while the motor is going.  When everything is well-mixed, add in some fresh black pepper.  Pop it in the fridge for a bit to let the flavors really develop, then add the rest of the lemon juice and the parsley.   Hummus, done.  I haven’t made a ton of hummus yet, but this recipe is fantastic, most likely because of the Tahini–it adds a rich nutty flavor and helps make the hummus quite smooth.  We will probably be making it often!

Now, to make a tasty lunch wrap, get some pitas (preferably whole grain!) and toast them.  You can also make a delicious and healthy flatbread that is quite easy to throw together:

  • 3/4 cup whole-wheat flour
  • 3/4 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1 tsp. kosher salt
  • 1 tbsp. extra-virgin olive oil

First, combine the flours and salt and make a well in the middle.  Add 1/2 cup warm water and the olive oil and mix to make a sticky dough (it’s also a bit crumbly, don’t worry).  Turn it out onto a floured surface and knead the dough until it becomes soft and pliable.  Brush a bowl (make sure it has a lid!) with olive oil and put the dough in it. Cover it and wait about 30 minutes.  The dough will absorb the oil, so don’t worry about it being dry at first.

Divide the dough into 6 even balls.  On a floured surface, roll each ball into a thin round.  Then, heat a skillet over medium-high.  Brush each round with olive oil on both sides and place one by one in the skillet.   Cook until the middle is bubbling and then flip and cook another minute.  They will char a bit on either side.  Super tasty and healthy.

So, now that we have hummus and a homemade pita, it’s time to build our wrap.  Simply spread some of the hummus on the pita and top it with diced cucumber, jarred red bell peppers, and spinach.  Season everything up with a dash of paprika and cumin, if you would like.  You can also serve it with hot sauce on the side.  Absolutely fantastic, and surprisingly filling!

 

Now, in this picture, we used a store-bought wholegrain pita.  However, the pita recipe featured above looks quite similar! 🙂  So.  Swap out your PB&J for a tasty treat this week.  You’ll be glad you did!

*sc

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