Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Chopped and Served

I admit to an addiction. Addictions are compelling, you know. They grab onto you and force you to aberrant behaviors, behaviors you never thought YOU would be snared by. Yes, that’s right. I watch too much TV. I am addicted to the Food Network, and the show Chopped is especially egregious.

[Side note: “egregious” is one of those words that has undergone amelioration (improvement) in meaning over the centuries; it used to mean “remarkably good” in contrast to today’s “outstandingly bad”]

I was thrilled with the Iron Chef shows that had the mystery ingredient. What fun to watch these world-class chefs figure out what to do with lizard brains! But Chopped took it to another level. A whole basket with mystery ingredients. I loved imagining what I could do with them.

When I first watched Chopped, I was not impressed, and on some level that is still the case. Shoot! A bunch of disparate ingredients to throw together in a few minutes? At my house, I call that dinner!

After all, isn’t that what happens at your house? [Opening refrigerator whilst simultaneously scouring pantry shelves] “Hmm. Dinner. What can I put together?” Seriously! They made a TV show out of every busy mom’s daily experience??? Who are they trying to kid?

So here’s a tip to make that daily experience do-able: Develop a kitchen-awareness for foods on hand.

Okay, admittedly, unlike Chopped, I don’t typically have frog legs, kumquats, graham cracker crumbs, and mustard greens I have to combine, but the principle is the same. Every mom I know looks at the possibilities and puts them together and calls it dinner. So take that, Chopped!
Recently, I had spaghetti, some cherry tomatoes on their way to becoming dried tomatoes, cheese, some chopped veggies left from a salad (peppers, green onion), and some leftover roast chicken and chicken au jus.

I cooked the spaghetti and after draining added the au jus and chicken. I tossed in the veggies and added shaved Asiago cheese. Dinner in ten minutes!

What’s sitting around in your refrig? Leftover meatloaf? Add a can of chiles, black beans, Mexicorn, diced tomatoes, salsa, and Mexican cheese. Pop the casserole into the microwave for ten minutes. Dinner is served!

Two pork chops and four people for dinner? Slice the pork chops and put half in the bottom of a casserole dish. Cut up 2 white and/or sweet potatoes (or use leftovers) and put half on top of the pork. Drizzle on some cream and add cheese. Repeat layers. Cover and bake in 375 degree oven for 45 minutes (reduce time if potatoes are cooked). Uncover and bake for another 5-10 minutes to brown up.

See? How easy is that? Look at what you’ve got and throw it together. Odds are very good that you will create a memorable meal. And un-replicable since you will never have the same combo again!

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Catch-Up and a New Project

I am excited about a new venture. I am doing a monthly food column for a small community paper in Northern Arizona. The Quick Cook will provide tips and recipes assembled easily to make meals appear effortless.

The Pinewood News already runs one monthly cooking column, The Creative Kitchen, but that columnist cut back the number she wrote. This way every issue of the paper (twice a month in the warm times; once a month in winter) will provide the readers with recipes and cooking ideas.

I needed something new to do, right? And, the column will provide me with a new and different reader base for my culinary mysteries. It’s all marketing, isn’t it?

Too cynical? Nah! I wouldn’t do this if I didn’t love cooking and writing about cooking. First column, for November, is done and ready to e-mail off. The next three are roughed out. Hey, it’s only 500 words. I can hardly say “hello” in that amount of words!

Here’s the first tip in my first column:
QC tip #1: Always keep some basic mixes in the fridge for quick cooking.

For me, that means my Savory Butter (done in an earlier column in this blog) and my delicious, adaptable Cream Cheese Spread.

Here’s the recipe:
8 ounces cream cheese (low fat okay)
3 tablespoons prepared horseradish (not creamy)

Soften cream cheese at room temperature. Vigorously stir in horseradish. After use, cover and refrigerate.

I use this as a sandwich spread in wraps, as a dip for fruits and veggies ,mixed with cooked, hot hamburg for a chip dip, and to sauté mushrooms or other veggies as a side dish or appetizer.

You like? Try both and see what other uses you can create for my Quick Cook mixes.