Friday, March 26, 2010

Making leftover vegetables into the star attraction: Orzo with Balsamic and Garlic Roasted Vegetables

Last night we made more of that wonderful life giving chicken stock and hearty chicken vegetable soup.  (The "how" is a story for an upcoming post).

But what to do with the 4-5 cups of chopped zucchini, squash, broccoli and other veggies that just wouldn't fit into the pot?  Normally they might sit in the crisper until there was nothing crisp about them.  But today was different.  Maybe it was the sunny Spring day that motivated us to take another tack.

And voila.  Orzo with Balsamic and Garlic Roasted Vegetables.  Probably the most simple thing we've made in forever.  And among the most delicious.  Here goes...

6 cups chopped vegetables (more or less) -- just pick your favorites.  A recent trip to the DeKalb Farmers Market meant that, in addition to broccoli, squash and zucchini, we had red peppers, large scallions, button mushrooms.  And garlic, of course.
4 cups chicken stock
8 oz. orzo
Balsamic vinegar
Olive oil
1 T each chopped flatleaf parsley and rosemary
2 t chopped thyme
Salt and Pepper to taste

Place a large roasting pan in the oven and preheat to 500 degrees.  You want the oven and the pan scorching hot.
Bring chicken stock to a boil in a saucepan and cook the orzo as directed on the box.
Combine all chopped vegetables in a large bowl.  Coat with olive oil and balsamic vinegar; add chopped herbs; toss with salt and pepper.  CAREFULLY pour the vegetables on the sizzling roasting plan and let cook for 10-15 minutes.
When the pasta and vegetables are both cooked to your liking, combine them in a large bowl.  Add more olive oil, vinegar and salt and pepper to taste.  Sprinkle with chopped fresh flat leaf parsley. 
Serve immediately.

Saturday, March 20, 2010

When enough is finally enough

I'm officially on strike.  For the moment, at least.  Against what horrendous injustice, you ask?

Hospital food, I answer.

Here's today's lunch offering -- meatloaf with tomato gravy, mashed potatoes and sauteed squash.  All foods I love and look forward to making and eating at home.  Even for folks like me with a compromised immune system (hence, a strict "bacteria reduced" diet), it ain't a bad deal.

But I just.  Can't.  Do.  It.  Even.  One.  More.  Time.

And I'm not sure why.  Is it a small way of rebelling against the man for making me be in the hospital for the 11th time in six months on this gorgeous first day of spring?  Surely that's part of it.  Is it that the food is truly inedible?  Not necessarily.  They make some really tasty items around here.  Nothing creative, mind you.  But sometimes pretty decent.  Is it because I'm getting old and only like eating my own cooking?  Wow...wouldn't that suck.

As predictable an eater as I may be (Spaghetti?  Yes, please.) I really can't handle the fact that the menu never changes.  Monday lunch?  Always the same three choices.  Thursday dinner?  Always the same three choices.  You get the idea.

And it definitely all kinda tastes the same.

So as of today I think I'm just plain done.  No more hospital food when I can help it.  And when I have to, I might be invoking my special secret cancer patient privileges and ordering hamburgers and fries off the a la carte menu.

Anybody know if Everybody's Pizza delivers to patient rooms?  And do you have the number?

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Me gotta go float da pirogue down da bayou...

About five years ago, Dino contacted the Food department at the Atlanta Journal-Constitution and nominated me for their weekly column on amateur chefs.  They bit, and Deborah Geering wrote a great story about me and featured a recipe for Shrimp Creole -- a New Orleans favorite.

Ironically, I've probably only prepared the dish once since the article appeared.  So it was WAY past time to make it again when I needed something tasty (but easy) to welcome my longtime friend Angie, who was visiting from Memphis this week for a meeting of cardiologists.  Yesterday was definitely a poor energy day, as my blood counts are at their usual low a week after chemo.  I needed something full of flavor but not intense to prepare.

Instead of using shrimp or fish stock, I substituted some reduced chicken stock from the giant batch I made on Sunday.  (It's become tradition to make stock every week so that we can have soup or other healthy meals, and the puppies get the chicken and carrots from the pot).

So here goes.  My take on Shrimp Creole.

2 T olive oil
1 T butter
1 large onion, diced
3 stalks celery
3/4 cup peppers (I prefer red, yellow or orange peppers to green, and keep a freezer full of the frozen stuff year round so I'm never without)
3 cloves garlic
Pinch red pepper flakes
Creole seasoning -- Tony Chachere's is my favorite
2 heaping T flour
1/4 to 1/2 cup white wine
1 28 oz peeled tomatoes, seeds removed and diced small
2 T Worcestershire sauce
1 T (or more) pepper sauce -- Tabasco, Frank's, etc.
2 cups stock (chicken's okay -- seafood is probably better)
1 lb (or more) peeled and deveined shrimp.
1 bay leaf
2 T fresh flat leaf parsley
Salt and Pepper to taste

1.  Saute the onions in the olive oil and melted butter in a large dutch over (my favorite cooking vessel of all time).  About five minutes in, add the celery and peppers, plus salt and pepper.  Continue cooking until the vegetables are soft, about another 5 minutes.

2.  Add in chopped garlic, bay leaf and creole seasoning, red pepper flakes, hot sauce and Worcestershire.  Saute 1 minute to soften the garlic and bloom the spices.

3.  Stir in the flour (you're making a thin roux) and cook another 5 minutes or so on medium heat to get rid of the raw flour taste.

4.  Stir in the wine and deglaze the bottom of the pot.

5.  Add the tomatoes (and juice from the can) and stock.  Bring to a boil, then reduce and let simmer.  At least 30 minutes, but longer if you have time.

6.  About 5 minutes before you're ready to serve, drop in the shrimp and cook until done (which is faster that you'd expect).  You can add some zip by pre-seasoning the shrimp with a little Creole seasoning or cayenne pepper 30 minutes before you plan to add them to the stew.  Also add the parsley.

7.  Serve over brown rice (for the nutritional boost) with warm fresh bread.  Give guests the option of added Creole seasoning or pepper sauce if they want more heat.

And voila.  An easy and zesty Louisiana meal.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Why do I crave really good vinegar these days?

Ever since I finally got over the pure nausea my cancer (NonHodgkins Lymphoma, diagnosed October 09, in remission) gave me any time I even though about food, I have these incredible cravings.  Stronger...much stronger...than I've ever had before in my life.

Lately I've been hot for really good balsamic vinegar.  So last night's dinner was a Garlic Balsalmic Glazed Baked Salmon with Brown Rice and Sauteed Vegetables.

As usual, I borrowed and modified a recipe from

Sautee a couple of cloves of garlic in olive oil and butter just until they soften.  Add...
1 heaping T horseradish mustard
1T white wine
1T honey
1/3 cup balsamic vinegar

Stir and let cook for 3-5 minutes just to thicken it up a little.  Cool and pour on the salmon filets as a maranade.  Refrigerate 1 hour.  Bake 15-20 minutes at 400 degrees until the fish is flaky.

Perfect.  And easy.  Which salmon usually is.  Now I just need to get creative and venture on to other fish to expand my seafood repetoire.

Monday, March 8, 2010

Make it your own

Another great source for recipes is

Whenever I'm looking to make something I've never made before I hunt down the best rated recipe or two in the category -- then figure out how to make it my own.  Ya gotta expect that a recipe that 1500 people give four or more stars has gotta be a great place to start.

Like this cheesecake.  I'd definitely do it again (even though, truth be told, cheesecake's not on my short list of favorite desserts).

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

REALLY perfect chocolate chip cookies

I am a BIG fan of America's Test Kitchen and their other brands... including Cook's Illustrated magazine and web site.

So while I don't often bake, I HAD to try their PERFECT chocolate chip cookies. Instead of creaming the butter, you melt and brown it a la beurre noisette (someone's been reading Julia Child's cookbooks lately, right?).

Here's the recipe.