Saturday, July 30, 2011

Lake Life

Since I was three, our family cottage in northern Michigan has been part of my summers. Now my sister, brother, and I are the third generation of care takers for this little slice of heaven. While some people may take valium or prozac, all I have to do is visualize the view of the lake to get calm when I feel stressed . Certain smells bring it immediately into my consciousness - mint grows along the rocky shoreline and the constant breeze is so clean and fresh. Spending so much time outside makes everyone extra hungry, but I'm too busy relaxing to spend a lot of time and effort it put together a meal. The temperatures here this summer have been warmer than I can ever remember, so grilling and microwaving seem to be a better alternative to heating up the tiny kitchen. Caroline was able to take a few days off to join us, and she and I had a lot of fun experimenting with Mexican "pizza" appetizer and perch on the grill. Later, the extra fixings were spiced up to make some jazzed chili dogs.

We misted heavy duty foil with cooking spray and placed the tortillas on it.
 After about four minutes, we flipped them over and put salsa, corn, black beans, tomatoes, and cheese on each.

We closed the cover until the cheese was melted and then enjoyed.

Uncle David is a master of coming up to the lake and grilling salmon on a plank, but Caroline and I had to settle on grilling fish on foil! We prepped the perch with lemon and butter and grilled it skin side up for three minutes. Then we flipped it over, sprinkled some dill on it, and grilled it four more minutes. It flaked easily with a fork and went well with a little cucumber dill sauce. This easy condiment is a combination of 1/2 cup of mayonaise, 1 tablespoon of vinegar, 1 teaspoon dill, and about 1/4 cup chopped and seeded cucumber (skin left on for color).

While grilling some hot dogs,the extra fixings for the Mexican "pizza" were combined in a bowl, along with a can of tomato sauce, a couple teaspoons of Tex/Mex seasoning blend (7/13/11), and some left over taco meat I had saved in the freezer (You could use frozen browned ground beef if you had some stored away in a zip lock bag). I zapped it in the microwave until hot, then spooned some over each hot dog and topped it off with cheddar cheese.

It was yummy!

Monday, July 25, 2011

Zesty Chicken Oregano - The "Little Black Dress" of Chicken Recipes

 Years ago, I stumbled on this recipe in The Betty Crocker International Cookbook which my mom gave to me as a wedding shower present in 1981. It turned out to be my favorite cookbook and Roy got to test out a lot of different cuisines ; some dishes were great,and some we still have a good laugh about! This particular one is so quick and easy, and it can be dressed up or down and take on a Greek, Mediterranean, Italian, or Tex/Mex vibe - it depends on the "accessories" you put with it.

 1. In a bowl whisk together 1/2 cup olive oil, 1/4 cup lemon juice (1 lemon), 1/2 teaspoon salt, 1/4 teaspoon pepper, 1/8 teaspoon garlic powder, and 2 teaspoons dried oregano.


2. Place 4 - 6 chicken breasts in above marinade and let sit in refridgerator for several hours or room temperature about 20 minutes.

3. Grill/broil about 7 minutes a side until a beautiful brown or bake at 350 degrees for about 50 minutes to an hour.

This is just delicious as is or sliced on a Greek salad (or any salad), thrown in a soup, or put in a casserole.  I always make extra and throw the leftovers into a ziplock freezer bag.  When I walk in the door at 6 p.m., it makes my life a whole lot easier if  I can reach in and pull this out! Then, whatever I decide to make for the night's meal is already half way done!  Yum!

Monday, July 18, 2011

Caprese - The Best Salad Allison Ever Had!

View From a Bridge in Venice - Photo By Alli

     A few years ago we visited Venice, Italy.  The day we arrived had been a long one; we had gotten up early and took the slow train through the Swiss and Italian Alps to Venice.  After arriving, we had to figure out how to get to our hotel, and the language barrier was more of a problem than we had anticipated.  Finally we figured out we could take a private water "taxi" or spring for a several day pass on a large boat that ferried people around to lots of different stops.  We opted for the big public boat, but misread the route map and got off a little too early.  Dragging our luggage with us, we twisted up and around tiny streets.  When we finally figured out how to reach our hotel, we were hot, tired, and hungry.  The desk staff recommended several outdoor cafes.  After dropping off our bags, we wandered around the main square until we stumbled on one of the places that had been mentioned.  The waiter suggested we try a Caprese salad.  It was so beautiful to look at - tiny Roma tomatoes were cut in half, fresh mozzarella was mingling with fresh basil, and it was drizzled with delicious Italian olive oil.  Alli took a bite and declared that it was the best salad she had ever had.  It was so pretty she took the picture of it shown below.  We really enjoyed eating that salad in the open square almost as much watching other families pushing luggage behind them while reading maps and trying to find hotels...

The Best Salad Allison Ever Had

The Yates Version
      We continue to love this simple salad!  I keep a small pot or two of fresh basil growing on my window sill which makes it easy to assemble this yummy combination - just add fresh mozzarella, sliced tomatoes, and a little splash of vinaigrette made with 1/4 cup red wine vinegar whisked with 1/2 cup olive oil, 1/2 teaspoon salt, 1/4 teaspoon pepper, and 1/4 teaspoon garlic powder.


Sunday, July 17, 2011

Salad Dressings 101

       It was so hot and humid Saturday that when Vanilla and I stepped out for a walk, I felt like I was moving through cotton. Afterwards I was starving, but only for a cool, crisp, crunchy salad.  Luckily, homemade salad dressings are so easy to make and so tasty that eating a salad is a yummy option and not a sacrifice!

The Acids: Vinegar and Citrus

Basic Salad Dressing
-1/2 cup of an oil (olive, canola, or mayonnaise)
-1/4 cup of an acid (vinegar or citrus juice)
-Seasoning (1/2 teaspoon salt,1/4 teaspoon pepper,1/8 teaspoon garlic powder)

    For salad dressings I usually use light olive oil so the other flavors come through - unless you have a wonderful bottle of imported extra virgin olive oil from Spain, and you want it to be "The Star of the Show"!  Apple cider vinegar is a good pick if the salad includes fruit or the main dish is pork.  Rice wine vinegar works well with Asian flavors.  Likewise, balsamic vinegar is very Italian.  On a regular day, I just follow the above recipe using red wine vinegar - however, there are endless variations on this basic recipe.  Here are three that are Yates favorites.

Jenn's Favorite Dressing

1/2 cup olive oil
2 tablespoons orange juice
2 tablespoons rice wine vinegar
1 1/2 teaspoons country Dijon mustard
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon coarse ground pepper
1/4 teaspoon garlic powder

This is a sunny little dressing that is great on a package of baby spinach leaves with some thin sliced red onions, 2 sliced avocados sprinkled with lemon juice, 3 clementines peeled and separated, 1/2 cup of toasted pecan pieces.

Allison's Favorite Dressing

1/2 cup olive oil
1/4 cup balsamic vinegar
1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
1 tablespoon lemon juice
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon pepper
a handful of fresh basil, washed and chopped (stems removed)
1/2 diced yellow onion

Delicious poured over cooked new red potatoes! It makes a great summer potato salad.

Caroline's Quick and Easy Raspberry Vinaigrette

1/2 cup olive oil
1/4 cup balsamic vinegar
1/4 cup raspberry jam ( I like to use Smucker's no sugar added or Simply Fruit)
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon pepper
1/8 teaspoon garlic powder
several green onions, sliced thin

This makes a  yummy raspberry chicken salad.  I double the recipe and put half aside for dressing the completed salad.  I brush the rest on chicken breasts and grill or bake them.  To mixed greens I add fresh raspberries, walnuts, thin slices of purple onion, and either blue or goat cheese.  I slice the cooked chicken breasts and put them on top of the salad.  Then sprinkle a few green onion slices on top and pass the raspberry vinegrette dressing.  You can make individual salads or one large one on a huge platter - very impressive!

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Time Saver for Mexican: Mix Up a Mix

This post shares my all time favorite spice mix and 12 great recipes to use it in!

I love to mix a big batch of this up and put it in jar so I can grab it in a hurry.

Tex/Mex Spice Mix

The basic proportions:
2 teaspoons chili powder
2 teaspoons cumin
I/2 teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon pepper
¼ teaspoon garlic powder

1.  Mexican Chicken (or pork chops, tenderloin, steak)

Rub the spice mix into chicken breasts and bake (or grill!) at 350 degrees for about an hour. 

Quick thing to do with above meat - Top each piece of cooked meat with a tablespoon of salsa and a tablespoon of shredded cheese and broil until cheese melts.

Hint: I try to double the amount of meat I need so I can put half in a zip lock freezer bag  - then I have frozen cooked meat on hand to use in any of the following recipes – quickly!

2.  Easy Fajitas: 

Bake/broil the chicken above.

Mix together:1/2 cup olive oil1/4 cup white vinegar1/2 teaspoon salt1/4 teaspoon pepper1/4 teaspoon garlic powder1/4 teaspoon oregano

Slice different colors of peppers (green, red, yellow) in strips – about a large pepper and a half in total.  Thinly slice a large onion.  Put the peppers and onions in microwave safe bowl along with the oil and vinegar mix above and cook in microwave for 5 minutes.

Slice the baked chicken and put in a serving dish along with the micro-waved onion/pepper mix.

Serve as fajitas with tortillas, shredded cheese, drained and rinsed can of black beans that are also heated in microwave for about 4 minutes.  Or serve on salad.

Hint: If I ever see peppers on sale, I double this, throw half in a freezer bag, and freeze so it’s quicker next time.

3. Cheesy Chicken Sonora Pasta - o.k., I know this calls for processed cheese - but this is really yummy - get the 2% Velveeta if you feel guilty!

Bake/broil chicken above

Make Sauce:
 One 15 oz. undrained can of diced tomatoes with green chilies
24 ounces of cubed Velveeta cheese
One 15 oz. can of drained and rinsed black beans

Put in a pan over low heat until cheese melts – stir every now and then and watch the bottom of the pan and make sure sauce is not burning.

Boil penne pasta according to package directions (I use brown or whole grain)

Toss cooked pasta with cheese sauce. Put on serving platter and top with sliced chicken.  Garnish with chopped tomatoes and sliced green onions.

4.  Mexican Chicken (or pork!) with Tomatillo Sauce - Making this sauce takes a little more effort, yet it's not difficult - I just make sure I freeze some in a ziplock bag for next time!

Tomatillo Sauce

      1 pound or about 11 medium fresh tomatillos or 2 (13oz.) cans tomatillosChopped green chilies (2 small serranos or jalapenos) or 2 tablespoons canned green
6 chopped springs cilantro1 small onion chopped1 large clove of minced garlic or ½ teaspoon of garlic powder1 tablespoon of olive oil2 cups chicken or beef broth

Wash and husk tomatillos. Boil in salted water to cover along with green chilies for 10 minutes. (Don’t do this if using canned) Put in food processor (or blender if you don’t have processor) along with cilantro, onion, and garlic. Process but leave some texture.

Heat the oil in skillet over medium high heat until hot. Pour all the tomatillo mixture in at once and stir constantly for 4 minutes.  Then add the broth, return to a boil.  Reduce the heat to medium/low and simmer for 10 minutes  - stir every so often so it won’t burn.

Put chicken breasts (or pork) prepared in #1 above on plate and top with:

Tomatillo sauce, Some drained/rinsed/heated black beans, Some shredded pepper jack cheese

5.  Arizona Chicken and Rice

Season uncooked chicken (or pork or tenderloin) with spice mix

Put 2 tablespoons olive oil in a skillet and brown meat on both sides (can skip)

Take meat out of pan for a moment and put aside

To the pan add:
1 minced onion
2 shallots (optional)
2 minced cloves of garlic
2 cups rice (brown quick cook or whatever)

Sauté above in the pan for a moment then add and stir in:
2 cans (15 oz.) of chicken broth

Then place the chicken back in the pan, cover the pan with foil or a lid and cook for about 20 more minutes or until the chicken and rice are completely cooked.
 Before serving sprinkle a little bit of parsley on top for color.  You could also just throw every thing in an oven safe dish, and bake at 350 degrees for about an hour until rice is done.

6.  Clean and Healthy Tostadas (Adapted from The Family Chef by Jewels and Jennifer Elmore)

Rub chicken breasts with above spice mix. Broil, bake, or grill chicken.

Spray foil lined cookie sheet with Pam and put corn tortillas on it.  Lightly spray the top of the tortillas also. Lightly sprinkle tops with chili powder for a little color if you want to.  Carefully bake at 350 for about 10 minutes to crisp them up – might have to turn them over at some point. They can burn pretty fast.

Rinse and drain 15 oz. can of black beans. Put in microwave safe bowl. Add 1 tablespoon lime juice and 2 teapsoons of Tex/Mex spice mix from above. Microwave 4 minutes.

Make salad:

¼ head cabbage¼ head lettuce1 bunch cilantro leaves chopped2 chopped tomatoes1 sliced avocado (I dip the slices in the vinegar from the onions below so they don’t get brown)Pickled red onion 

To make pickled red onions place following ingredients in a bowl and let sit at least 10 minutes:1 red onion thinly sliced¾ cup vinegar (addition of 1/4 teaspoon each salt & sugar optional)

To make dressing for salad mix ¼ cup of vinegar used for red onions with ½ cup of olive oil

To assemble: place crisped tortilla on plate top with salad, beans, sliced chicken, pickled red onion, shredded Mexican cheese blend, and sprinkle with some salad dressing.

7.   White Bean Chili:


Two 15 oz. cans of chicken brothOne 15 oz. can butter beans, rinsed and draiOne 15 oz. can great northern beans, rinsed and drained2 cooked and diced chicken breastOne diced onion2 diced stalks of celery2 tablespoons of Tex/Mex seasoning mixture from above

Using about 2 tablespoons of olive oil, sauté onion and celery until tender. (Sometimes I just put the onion, celery and a little olive oil in a microwave safe bowl covered by a plate or wax paper and microwave it for about 4 or 5 minutes)   Add everything else, bring to a boil, then turn down heat and simmer for 10 minutes or so.                 

Serve with shredded pepper jack  cheese  on top.

8.  Chicken  Soup: 

At the lake - Some of Alli's buddies enjoying Mexican soup

2 cooked and diced chicken breasts

2 (15 oz.) cans of chicken broth

1 (15 oz.) can black beans, rinsed and drained

1(15 oz.) can whole kernel corn, rinsed and drained

1 (15 oz. can diced tomatoes with the juice

1 medium sized yellow onion, diced

2 celery stalks, diced

2 carrots, diced

2 tablespoons Tex/Mex seasoning from above 

Using about 2 tablespoons of olive oil, sauté onion, celery, and carrots until tender. (See the microwave trick in #7 above)

Add everything else to sauted veggies above, bring to a boil, and simmer for about 10 minutes or so.

Serve with tortilla chips, diced up avocado.  You can also add cooked rice to this if you want.

9.  Chili:

  One pound of hamburger 

 1 diced onion

 One 15 oz. can of diced tomatoes 

 One 15 oz. can of tomato sauce  

 One 15 oz. can of dark red kidney beans, rinsed and drained 

 1 tablespoon of Tex/Mex seasoning

Brown a pound of hamburger along with some diced onions. (Leave some diced onions out to serve on top of finished chili.) Drain the grease.  Add everything else and simmer for 15 minutes. Serve with chopped onions, shredded cheddar cheese, fritos, oyster crackers, sour cream for toppings

10.  Taco Meat:  (When you forgot to buy that easy little taco seasoning packet at the store!)

1 pound of hamburger,browned and drained

One 15 oz. can of tomato sauce

1 tablespoon of Tex/Mex seasoning from above

Serve with taco shells, shredded cheese, diced tomato, shredded lettuce etc.

11.  Enchiladas

Combine and let simmer for 10 minutes:
                                          Two 15 oz. cans of tomato sauce
                                      2 tablespoons olive oil
                                      2 tablespoons Tex/Mex Seasoning

Measure out 1 ½ cups of the above sauce and set aside.  To the sauce that is left add:
            2 diced cooked chicken breasts
            1 diced tomato
            2 tablespoons canned green chilies (1 small can has 4 tablespoons)
            1 pound of shredded cheddar jack cheese
           One 15 oz. can stewed tomatoes drained and cut up.

Mix the sauce that was set aside with another 15 oz can of drained stewed tomatoes and another 2 tablespoons of canned greened chilies.   

Put some sauce mixture on bottom of baking dish.
  Put filling in flour tortillas and place in pan.  Cover with the rest of the sauce. Bake 350 for about an hour.  Put some shredded cheddar jack cheese on top the last 5 minutes of baking time.

12. Uncle Michael’s Guacamole:               

  2 or 3 avocados
  ¼ cup salsa
 2/3 teaspoons of Tex/Mex spice mix
  2 teaspoons lemon Juice
 (Jenn adds 1 tablespoon finely diced onions and diced tomato)

I like to use  the bottom of a wide glass and smash the above all together in a bowl.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Marinades for Marina!

     Today Marina and I went to school for a little while.  She put up tons of colorful wall decorations that her ENL kids will love; I spent much of my time deleting useless and obsolete emails. We planned to stay no later than 2:00, but at 12:30 she popped her head and my room and said, "What if we stopped at Cosco on the way home and get berries?" I suggested we just do it right then, so away we went!  As we chatted about what we might find at Cosco, she remarked that a coworker said Cosco and Sam's Club have really good meat. The conversation meandered around to the topic of her trip to Colombia last Christmas Break.  She loved the warm people, the yummy food, and the breathtaking scenery. She was reminiscing about a particularly great flank steak she was served while she was there. I looked at her and squealed, "Let's see if we can find flank steak at Cosco!"  Indeed we did - large ones, two to a package!  Marina's family doesn't eat a lot of meat and she needed some coaching on how to prepare a flank steak - so Marina - this is for you!

Three Marinades for Flank Steak

#1 Hint of Asian Flavors

Mix together:
Juice of one lime (lemon)
1/3 cup soy sauce (I use light soy sauce)
1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar
1 tablespoon sesame oil
2 teaspoons olive oil
1 tablespoon honey ( I usually leave out)
Pinch of hot red pepper flakes
1 tablespoon chopped garlic
1 green onion with green stem, finely sliced (I use several)

#2  No Oil Marinade

2 tablespoons soy sauce
1/2 cup pineapple juice
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 teaspoon ginger
1/2 teaspoon onion powder

#3 My Mother's Marinade (circa 1960 - it makes a ton!)

1 1/2 cups olive oil
1/2 cup soy sauce
1/2 cup red wine vinegar
1/3 cup lemon juice
1 clove garlic, put through a press (minced)
3 tablespoons worcestershire sauce
2 tablespoons dry mustard
2 teaspoons fresh ground pepper
(Her recipe goes on to say "Serve with 1/2 cup melted butter, 2 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley, and 1 teaspoon salt")

Mix up the marinade of your choice.
Place flank steak in dish with sides and spoon marinade over meat.  Let sit at room temperature for 10 minutes or in the refridgerator up to 24 hours.  Grill out side or inside under broiler. About 5 minutes per side. After removing from heat let sit for 5 minutes before cutting into it.