Category Archives: Menu planning

Tomato Gratin

I heard about this recipe on Smitten Kitchen (shocker) and then saw it pop up in a few other places. I haven’t had the best tomato summer, so I was looking for something to do with less than oh-my-god-this-is-heaven tomatoes. This definitely did the job. The tomato flavor comes through like a punch to the jaw, it’s easy, can be made days in advance and is a generally excellent veggie entree.

We had it 3 times so far….

1. Tomato gratin + green beans with toasted garlic + an insanely delicious salad of arugula, fresh cherries, marcona almonds, shaved parrano and balsamic vinaigrette

2. The next morning with a fried egg on top

3. Tomato gratin + asparagus with bacon and parm + a great salad of chopped romaine, shredded havarti dill, shredded carrots, tomatoes, chopped egg and a green chile Caesar dressing

The second time I made it, I went too light on the croutons and it was too loose and lacked some substance. Learn from my mistakes.

  • 3  Tablespoons olive oil
  • 2 cups diced bread, in a 1/2 inch dice with crusts removed (a good french bread works well, but just nothing sour)
  • 1 1/2 lb tomatoes, 1/2 inch dice
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 2 Tablespoons sugar
  • 2 teaspoons Kosher salt
  • 1 teaspoon fresh black pepper
  • 1/2 Cup fresh slivered basil
  • 1 Cup grated Parm
  1. Preheat oven to 350. Heat oil in large pan over medium high. Add croutons and toast thoroughly.
  2. Meanwhile, combine tomatoes, garlic, sugar, salt, and pepper in a large bowl. Let sit at least 3 minutes to release some juices
  3. When croutons are toasted, add tomato mixture and cook, stirring occasionally, for about 5 minutes.
  4. Remove from heat and stir in basil. Place in casserole dish (it won’t rise, so it can be pretty full) and top with cheese.
  5. Bake for 35-40 minutes until lightly browned and bubbly. 

Good breakfasts

During the week, breakfasts are designed to be fast and healthy. It’s a bonus if they are also delicious, but that is not the primary objective.

During the weekends, I usually turn up the dial a few notches. It may still be fast and healthy, but you better believe it’s delicious. Plus, it’s always consumed at the big kids’ table. No sitting at the bar or using the tv trays on the weekend. No sir.

Anyway, here are a few breakfasts that I’ve really loved recently:

  1. Chipotle black beans with yogurt + a corn tortilla + quick tomato salad + pineapple, grapes and mint
  2. Eggs scrabbled with pesto + multigrain bread with cheddar and feta + gazpacho + watermelon
  3. Eggs scrabbled with salsa, with Monterrey jack cheese in a whole wheat pita + watermelon

Some good meals that I am too lazy to post recipes for

1. Leftover (delicious) pot roast becomes a divine sandwich….pot roast, garden tomatoes, arugula, whole wheat bun and a smokey pickled ocra on the side.

2.  Roasted chicken, avocado and ricotta salata omelet, fresh corn, green chile and mushroom hash, and garden greens with garden serranos and lime juice

3.  Roasted salmon with tomato and basil relish, carrot mac and cheese, cucumber salad and garlic green beans

4.  Spicy Indian curry with chickpeas, garden peppers and tomatoes with garden cucumber raita

5. Tandoori chicken, garden tomatoes with sea salt and lime, and arugula, avocado and mango salad with spicy mango chutney dressing (ok, I’ll probably include that dressing because it was so scrumptious)

Good lunch!

This lunch reminds me so much of the time I really started cooking. It’s one of those “oh dear God, what is in my fridge” sort of meals. Basically, I took a look in my fridge and saw the following:

  • Too-salty, pre-marinated grilled lemon herb chicken breast
  • Greek yogurt
  • Mint
  • Watermelon
  • Arugula
  • Feta
  • Whole-wheat pita
  • Leftover roasted veggies
  • Cucumber
  • Etc.

I wanted to use the chicken, but it really is too dang salty. I figured if I chopped it up and mixed it with some Greek yogurt, that would balance out the flavors. To zest it up and add some veggies, I grated a cucumber and crushed a garlic clove into the yogurt. Now I had a yummy Greek chicken salad to fill my pita with…and it wasn’t too salty! Add a sliced tomato from my squirrel-infested garden, and we are good to go!

I made a quick watermelon salad with the arugula, feta, watermelon and a quick red wine vinaigrette. Yum!

All you can eat shrimp!

A few weeks ago, I decided I better scoop up some good Gulf shrimp while the gettin’s good. My market generally has both fresh and frozen gulf shrimp. It’s great to buy the frozen shrimp before they thaw it, so you can just put it straight in the freezer (they are able to flash freeze those suckers on the boat, so they stay really yummy for at least a month or two). So, I knew I would freeze a pound, but wanted 1) a intensely shrimp-y dish to cook up right away, 2) something intensely shrimp-y that I could make and put in the freezer. The problem with frozen shrimp dishes is that the texture of the shrimp ends up wonky- sort of mushy and nasty. A dilemma, no?

After pouring through a few cookbooks and websites, I decided I would try shrimp potstickers. They freeze beautifully and I loved the idea of just being able to pull out a few at a time. You know what? They are awesome! They are perfumed with shrimp flavor- light, fresh, delicate and insanely delicious. AND nowhere near as much trouble as I thought they’d be. Honestly. The filling is made in a food processor and then I rolled them the next day (while watching Dirty Harry, thank you very much). Check it out:

Before sealing:

All sealed up (and creepy looking):

Ready to eat:

As for my ready-to-eat, intensely shrimp-y dinner, I opted for New Orleans-style BBQ shrimp. Lordy. It was my first time making the dish and Michael’s first time eating it. It was soooooo good. The basic idea is to cook unpeeled shrimp in a skillet with a shrimp stock, Worcestershire sauce, butter and creole seasoning. Serve it in the skillet with French Bread.

I made some tasso maque choux and kale on the side. And, yes, that is Coors Light you see.It’s leftover from a party, so lay off.

In summary, BP can suck it.

Big, bad, beautiful brunch

My MIL just moved to Austin and we decided to host a brunch to welcome her to the land of the weird. I was traveling aaaalllll week, so I wanted something super easy. Well, easy and delicious…I have a rep to maintain, yo. I decided early on that a bagel bar was the ticket. Easy, filling and yummy. That would allow me to only make a few small items to fill in the holes. Here’s where we landed:

  • Plain and pumpernickel bagels with chive cream cheese, lox, red onions, tomatoes and capers
  • Sesame bagels with candied ginger cream cheese and shaved Granny Smith apples
  • Cinnamon raisin and cranberry bagels with plain cream cheese
  • Curry dip with veggies
  • Delicious yellow honey dew melon
  • The creamiest, dreamiest cheese grits with andouille and shrimp, served with a green tabasco cream sauce
  • Individual pavlovas (courtesy of my increasingly skilled sister-in-law) with mixed berries and almond Greek yogurt
  • Mimosas
  • The BEST Bloody Marys ever. (period)
  • Topo Chico sparkling water

I think it was a big success. The flavored cream cheeses are badass. Just let some cream cheese soften, chop up some herbs or whatever, fold in and serve in a cute container. The candied ginger cream cheese was TO DIE FOR.

Breakfast of champions

I know it’s not rocket science, but we had the loveliest breakfast with my father-in-law on Saturday. Little banana and pecan muffins (from the freezer!), greek yogurt, and the prettiest plate of fruit with a squeeze of lime. I need to get the banana nut recipe from my moms, because they were fantastic straight out of the freezer. I want them in my life on a far more regular basis. Sigh.

Holy deliciousness

We had quite the super supper at the Feferdome on Saturday. M’s dad was in town, so we had his sis, her honey and some cousins over. 7 people- not so bad. Except Saturday was crazy packed and this meal was supposed to be a less of sorts for M’s sis. I wouldn’t normally pick such a large meal for a cooking lesson, but she doesn’t need much instruction anymore and I was happy for the help.

Anyway,  R requested that tabouli, pavlova and some salmon preparation be included. Those are easy, healthy, and can mostly be made in advance. Boom. I just needed to round it out with more of the same. So, here’s where we landed:

  • Appetizers: Dolmas, Castelvetrano olives, frozen spanakopita, and Linguica sausage (Portugese lamb and pork) with romesco sauce
  • Roasted king salmon with dill buerre blanc
  • Roasted beet and goat cheese towers with Mediterranean micro greens and vinaigrette
  • Tabouli
  • This delicious grilled eggplant dish that M’s cousin brought- yum
  • Individual pavlovas with almond Greek yogurt and mixed berries

It was really special.  Dang, I wish someone would upload all these recipes for me now.

Roasted pears with vanilla

I made this for dessert a bit back and it was good…not chocolate, but good. It was, however, an insanely delicious breakfast. Plus, it’s easy to do in advance and serve for a group. Just serve it with some doctored up greek yogurt (honey & walnuts, splenda and almond extract, etc. ) or with oatmeal. Serious crowd pleaser. This adapted from an adaptation that also suggested it as an accompaniment to a cheese platter. I rarely make cheese platters (too dang pricey compared to other apps), but that does sound super good, especially for you perverts that like blue cheese.

Finally, I would just like to note that pears + butter + sugar * roasting = pear caramel sauce. The pears may be the movie stars of this dish, but the sauce is the starlet in the background, silently plotting a revolution.

1/4 cup sugar
1/2 vanilla bean
1 1/2 pounds firm medium pears, peeled, halved though the stem and cored
2 tablespoons lemon juice
2 tablespoons water
2 tablespoon unsalted butter

  1. Preheat oven to 375°F. Place the sugar in a small bowl. With a thin, sharp knife, split the vanilla bean lengthwise in half and scrape out the seeds. Stir the seeds into the sugar.
  2. Carefully toss the pears with the lemon juice, then sugar mixture. Arrange the pears in a large baking dish, cut-side up. Nestle the vanilla pod among the fruit (I first slit my halves lengthwise into quarters). Pour the water into the dish. Dot each pear with some butter.
  3. Roast the pears 30 minutes brushing them occasionally with the pan juices. Flip the pears over and continue roasting, basting once or twice, until tender and caramelized, 20 to 25 minutes longer. My pears were big and took about 50 min total, but if the pears are small, test for doneness after 35 or 40 minutes of cooking- – a paring knife poked into the thickest part of one should meet with no resistance.
  4. Serve warm, spooned with the caramelized pear drippings from the pan. If your pear caramel separates a bit, just combine it in a small saucepan over low heat.

More than the sum of its parts

I made a really yummy dinner on Tuesday night. Not an A+, but a solid A. The thing is, I wouldn’t really give any of the individual dishes a great grade, but it just all worked together. Funny how that works. I tried a few new recipes and would only make a few of them again…or rather, I would only make that exact version of those recipes again. A  few tweaks might save the day. Anyway, here’s how it looked:

The dressing on the butternut squash salad was really good, but more importantly was really thick. It gave me a good idea how to thicken up Liza’s tahini dressing.

The French carrot salad is never the most delicious thing in the whole world, but it is easy, fast, healthy, really good and gorgeous on a plate.

I almost got the artichoke right…FINALLY. I think if I just trim the top a little less this time, we’re there. The dipping sauce was sick delicious. It would be great on fish. This sauce is officially in my recipe book now.

I’m trying to broaden the array of veggies and fruits that live in my fridge/on my counter/eventually in my belly. This roasted rhubarb was pretty darn good and I’ve loved having it with yogurt for breakfast. Probably not everyone’s cup of tea, but I dug it. Next time, I’m cutting the pieces a bit smaller and roasting it uncovered. Maybe that will keep it from turning into a stringy goop.