Thursday, July 31, 2008

Chili Relleno Bake

This comforting and light casserole was inspired by two things and made rather late in the evening, when my energy level was uncharacteristically high.

First, I'm clearing out my over stocked freezer, pantry and refrigerator with things gone past their prime, discovering things I'd forgotten I purchased, discovering MANY duplicates purchased because I'd forgotten I already had it, all in preparation for making a "Pantry Inventory" to post on this blog.

I seriously overshop. I think part of it is entertainment and part of it is stress reducing, but I could blog about that for pages and bore you to tears. Fellow groceryovershoppers will already know. What I plan to do is post my inventory and begin crossing off some of the items as I use them, and invite suggestions from my fellow bloggers -- e.g., Hey, Kate, did you know you have every ingredient on your list to make my Grandma Ruby's Beanie Burger Surprise?

Second, I had a package of Sargento Ultra Thin Cheese to use and I do mean ultra thin. That stuff is like "Cheese Paper" -- which appeals to my delicate sensibilities. You can see your hand through it. I wanted the calorie content of this gossamer cheese slices, so I visited the Sargento website and landed on a recipe for Chile Rellano Bake. As I scanned the recipe, it occurred to me I had every single ingredient and best of all, many of them were on my "use it up quickly" list.

In a word: Delicious.

It's a cross between a lasagne-tamale pie and a chile rellano quiche. The torn tortillas mixed throughout make a masa flavored layer which helped puff up and support the eggy quiche. The ultra thin cheese I told you about? I used three slices to lay across the top before it baked. You can see how thin it is because all the ingredients show through.

This could be breakfast, lunch or dinner -- it's so versatile. I'm hoping it freezes well, as I'll have only a slice or two myself, and then cut it into portions to freeze for portable breakfast on weekday mornings.

On with the recipe!

Chili Relleno Bake

1-1/2 cups (6 oz.) shredded reduced fat Mexican flavored cheese, divided
(I used 1 cup of reduced fat mozzerella, 1/4 cup of low fat diced cheddar, and 3 ultra thin slices of cheddar)
1 can (12 oz.) evaporated skim milk
3/4 cup (6 oz.) Egg Beaters®
6 (6-inch) corn tortillas, torn into 2-inch pieces
(I had three kinds of small, 4-5 inch soft handmade corn tortillas almost past their prime. I used two each of plain, green chili, and mild red chili flavored tortillas)
2 cans (4 oz. each) chopped green chilies
(I used 2 whole, canned, green chilis, chopped and it was plenty)
1/2 cup mild chunky-style salsa
1/4 tsp. salt (optional)
2 Tbsp. chopped fresh cilantro
Fat-free or light sour cream (optional)

Coat 10-inch deep dish pie plate or 8x8-inch baking dish with nonstick cooking spray. Combine 1 cup cheese, milk, Egg Beaters, tortillas, chilies, salsa and salt, if desired, in medium bowl; pour into prepared dish. Bake in preheated 375°F oven 35 minutes or until set. Remove from oven; sprinkle with remaining cheese and cilantro. Bake 1 minute more or until cheese is melted. Serve with sour cream, if desired.

(I chose to mix all of the loose cheese in the custard, and only used 3 slices of thin cheese for the top, because the custard seemed awfully wet to me and I thought the cheese would help thicken it up. I need not have worried, the tortillas did their job. I'm not sorry I made this adaptaton, however. The filling was light and fluffy and just cheesy enough without melting into goo. I used an 8x16 inch pan so it was thinner, which made it cook and set more easily. I don't feel it required any sour cream -- skipped it).

Verdict: Seriously delicious
Skill: Not much (as if anything on this blog would require skill)
Repeat: Absolutely
Use It Up Factor: High. Used up stale tortillas, egg beaters, canned chilis, a few spoons of salsa left in a tub, and an oldish can of evaporated milk. Only the cheese was a recent purchase.

Nutritional Stats, compiled using my adaptations, and cut into 10 portions (cut the 16inch pan down the center, long direction, and then across, 4 times, for 10 pieces)

Calories 102.3 per serving
Fat 5.5 g
Cholesterol 18.2 mg
Sodium 187.4 mg
Potassium 203.4 mg
Carbohydrate 4.8 g
Dietary Fiber 0.2 g
Sugars 3.8 g
Protein 8.4 g

Saturday, July 26, 2008

French Toast and Sausage

My Mother was recently talking to my oldest brother about his high school years. I don't remember what prompted the conversation, but she asked him for his favorite or best high school memory. His answer, without hesitating first, was "The field trip lunches." Whenever we went on school outings and field trips, Mom would pack us elaborate lunches that included extra-special touches that didn't appear on normal school days. As if getting the day off to take a bus to Golden Gate Park in San Francisco or an Amusement Park or Swimming Pool wasn't fun enough, we'd unpack more than just a lunch -- it was a Child's Dream Picnic.

I remember those lunches of course, but that conversation prompted an examination of own food memories. Forget my high school memories. As soon as my brother mentioned lunches, I began to think what my favorite FOOD memories were, growing up.

My answer came just as quickly: Breakfast.

Breakfast at home, breakfast out while running errands. Breakfast next to a river for day camping, breakfast at the beach while on vacation.

Breakfast was a big deal in our family, and we had wonderful home cooked breakfasts every weekend. Weekdays were cereal and fruit, sometimes toast, but seldom the Full Monty. That came on the weekend when everyone joined in our big dining room. Eggs cooked over easy, toast, bacon, sausages, cinnamon rolls, boxed donuts, sometimes pancakes, and usually whipped orange juice. We had one of those vintage ice cream shake mixers on the counter and we'd throw in the orange juice and whip it until it was frothy.

When we went on vacation, we'd usually have a vacation rental house at the beach and my poor mother -- she gets to go on vacation and what is she doing? Making eggs and bacon in some other person's ill-equipped kitchen with funky bent frying pans and no spatula. Some mornings we'd get up early and go down to the beach and start a fire in one of those beach-side grills when it was still chilly and foggy, and make eggs and fried ham.

I remember once taking just a Day Trip up into the woods, when we lived in Colorado. We were surrounded by Aspens on a beautiful Rocky Mountain morning, and my father set up a green, folding, propane Coleman camp stove, and my mother fried eggs and ham and pancakes next to an ice cold rushing river. We placed a whole cantaloupe in a little eddy in the rocks to get it chilled, and the water washed away my Mom's melon. Off we went, trying to chase that melon down the rapids so it didn't get away from our breakfast. I remember kids screaming and laughing, chasing a bobbing melon while smelling food cooking.

Breakfast was always was a happy event for me. If we were at home, it meant the weekend was here. We'd usually run errands to thrift stores or hardware stores for Dad's weekend project supplies (which I strangely loved), go shopping or swimming, or just play. If we were on vacation, it meant the perfect start of a perfect day at a perfect beach in a perfect week.

One of the knacks my mother had, when she cooked our weekend breakfasts at home, was to give us the impression that certain entrees were Special Occasion only. I didn't really understand this until I was an adult, but I had it exactly backwards as a child. The normal breakfast was the special event -- laboriously frying up an entire pound of bacon for a family of six, an entire dozen eggs over easy, and then toasting half a loaf of bread, and bringing it all to the table at the same time, HOT -- or goodness, the sheer number of pancakes she had to make for a family of six -- that was the labor of love.

What I considered special, however, was the French Toast and Italian Sausage meal. My mother didn't take out a loaf of sandwich bread and just dip and fry perfect square slices. No, when we had French Toast, it was because she had a stale loaf of french bread -- usually a baguette -- left over from diner the night before. She'd bake these thick, small slices of eggy bread, butter and dust them with powdered sugar, and then give us a thick, brown piece of Italian Sausage. This couldn't be more simple and short-cut, because the entire pan of baguette slices and sausage baked and came to the table at the same time on a tray. EASY, right? THIS was my favorite, and I realize I overlooked how hard the others mornings had been. We'd oooh and ahhh and exclaim "French Toast! Our favorite!" and she'd must smile. Frankly, I'm glad she figured out a way to use up stale bread and give herself a much-needed break.

We didn't fuss around with silly things like Chocolate Chip Pancakes or Blueberry French Toast or Apple Cinnamon anything. That's not breakfast, that's silliness. We didn't feel neglected in any way by this. In fact, we probably felt we had better taste than anyone who would ruin French Toast by stuffing it with cream cheese or peanut butter.

When we did have French Toast or pancakes, we always had the same toppings. Butter, maple syrup, and a dusting of powdered sugar. You really don't need anything else. Leave the berries, whipped cream, and foolishness to the restaurants. In fact, even now when I see huge portions of French Toast cut into triangles from Texas Toast or large slices of bread, slathered in some gooey fruit sauce, I think it's gauche. It needs to be small, oval pieces of baguette or isn't "right."

The most remarkable thing about my mother's wonderful home cooked meals (with a few exceptions -- there are meals every child is bound to feel offended by), hearty, and cooked and served graciously, was this: My mother doesn't like to cook. She never let that affect the meals she served to her family, but she never minded taking a day off, either, if my Dad suggested we go out. Pity she got so few days off, even on vacation.

Here's to you, Mom. Breakfast with you is still my favorite meal.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Barefoot Bloggers: Seafood Salad, Two Ways

This week's Barefoot Bloggers Challenge is Smoked Salmon Spread, chosen by Ashley of The Spicy Skillet . I love most seafood so I didn't have the "oh oh" feeling many of my fellow bloggers had. Plus, I knew immediately I'd be dividing it up between two seafoods, because I had some crab to use. It was an "ah hah! That's what I'll make with that crab" moment. Like one ever needs help figuring how to eat crab.

This is another recipe which proves many spreads and dips are just as easy to make as they are to buy. I only had to pick up a small package of salmon from Trader Joe’s and I had everything else, and it came together very quickly.

That said, I thought it was under-seasoned as written, and I felt it needed more of all the basic flavor — salt, pepper, lemon, horseradish and dill. I added a little bit more of each of those things. In retrospect, I should have made it as is, and then seasoned it again later, before serving, giving the dill and lemon a chance to dance. By adding more dill and lemon immediately, I came to regret it because it was too dilly later on, when it ripened.

Finally, I split the recipe between two seafoods. I made the “base” and then divided it in half. To one half, I added the minced salmon. To the other half, I added jumbo lump crab meat. Between the two, I much preferred the crab dip. That’s the one I tucked into immediately, with crackers. The salmon will go to work with me tomorrow, with some bagels if my co workers are lucky.

And away we go: Making the base.

Smoked Salmon and Dill with Smokehouse Pepper

Lump Crab Meat Spread with Chives

About this challenge:The Barefoot Bloggers join forces and cook or bake recipes by Barefoot Contessa Ina Garten each month, chosen in order by members, and present them for discussion on two Thursdays each month. Our Next Challenge: Ina's Smoked Salmon Spread. Hungry? Please join us at the table!

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Barefoot Bloggers: Jalapeno Cheddar Corn Bread

I was looking forward to making this month's Barefoot Bloggers selection. It's Ina Garten's Jalapeno Cheddar Scallion Cornbread, selected by Sabrina and Alexander of Cooking With the Kids.

I'm a big fan of cornbread, and, as far as the two camps (sweet or plain), I'm usually in the sweet category, but I like most varieties: Sweet, savory, crumbly, firm, yellow, white, baked, or skillet. I've never made my OWN cheese based cornbread, however.

I wasn't gung ho to use Jalapeno peppers. I don't like peppers, particularly Jalapeno, although I DO like the cooked/pickled green chili that you'll find in eggs or so-called "Monterey" style dishes. I thought I had some, so didn't bother to shop for them. Turns out I had a can of pickled Jalapeno Peppers, whole, seeds and all. Not what I had in mind, but I did chop one up and use it anyway, to keep an open mind.

My adaptation, below, took into account the comments made by my fellow Barefoot Bloggers -- that the original recipe was not very corny. I made the ratio of corn flavor to AP flour more level, and, I scaled the entire recipe by half, using less butter as well, as suggested by another blogger.


1 cup of all purpose flour
3/4 cup of fine cornmeal
1/4 cup of corn flour
1/8 cup of sugar
1 tablespoon baking powder
1 teaspoon sea salt
1 cup of milk
1/3 cup egg beaters
3/4 stick of melted butter
4 oz sharp, grass fed New Zealand White Cheddar Cheese
Jalapeno, pickled, chopped
Penzey's Southwest Seasoning

Combine all dry ingredients and set aside. Combine the milk, egg beaters, and melted butter in a blender cup and whip. Pour into dry ingredients and gently mix. Add most of the grated cheese, a generous teaspoon of chopped Jalapeno (or more if you actually like it), and diced scallions to taste. Spread in a greased 8 inch square pan, and let it sit for 20 minutes. Just before baking, sprinkle with additional reserved grated cheese, more diced scallions, and I added a sprinkle of Penzey's Southwest Seasoning for color and smoke. Bake for 25 minutes at 350, or until browned and a skewer comes out clean.


I liked the bread, but if I made it again (on the fence on that one) I'd leave out the Jalapeno and just stick with the scallions. The cheese and scallions added quite a bit of flavor and "bite" and that would be enough for me. Or, if I had them, I'd use the pale green, very mild canned chili peppers that I *do* like. I'm not sure what the distinction is, other than no seeds and a much paler color.

Ok, if you're still reading this far, I've got to tell you a funny cornbread story. I went to a potluck hosted by the soul-filled Southern Family of a friend of mine, and the "Aunties" were lording over the buffet table, loading it with some fierce chicken, beans, greens, cornbread, you name it. I was eating Auntie's cornbread and said "Oh my, this is the best I've ever tasted. It's so light and fluffy, but grainy at the same time. How did you make this?!" She responded "Oh honey, that's 'jes a couple boxes of mix." "A mix? Which one!" I was really excited I could recreate this. "Oh you just take any cornbread you like, I used Jiffy this time, and you make up one box of cornbread mix just like the box tells you, and then you take one box of yellow cake mix, and you mix that up just like the box tells you, and than you just stir it all up and bake in a pan. That's my special cornbread!"

Well no, um ... that would be corn CAKE courtesy of Betty Crocker. And no wonder I liked it so dang much. No, I never made it. I can't fool myself into believing I'm not just eating a pan of cake.

About this challenge:
The Barefoot Bloggers join forces and cook or bake recipes by Barefoot Contessa Ina Garten each month, chosen in order by members, and present them for discussion on two Thursdays each month. Our Next Challenge: Ina's Smoked Salmon Spread. Hungry? Please join us at the table!

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Eat the Rainbow! BLT and Fruit

I was going to back a bento lunch today which had a Harriet the Spy style homegrown tomato sandwich, but then I remembered I had some pre-cooked bacon, and that was all she wrote.

Fruit Salad (Berries, Nectarine, Tangerine), 2 cubes of sharp cheddar cheese
Toasted bread
Slice of homegrown beefsteak tomato

I'm reminded that a B L T is the best sandwich. Ever. Even without homegrown tomatoes. WITH homegrown? It's almost sexual. Don't even try to deny it.

Monday, July 7, 2008

Simple Suppers: Egg Salad on Toast

It's really hot today. No cooking can be done tonight, so it's egg salad on toast with fresh tomato from my garden.

This simple sandwich always makes me think of my Mom. The men in our family wouldn't touch egg salad, so when she and I went up to the corner donut shop for lunch from time to time, this is what we ordered and split. They didn't muck it up with mustard or, Heaven forbid, pickle relish (which, although I like it, has NO place in tuna salad or egg salad), or even the tomato. It was just eggs, mayo, salt, pepper, lettuce, and do you want your white bread toasted, or untoasted? Pickle spear served on the side, with a baggie of chips. Nothing complicated.

Interestingly, another sandwich which I also identify with my mother and my youth involves eggs. She used to cut Armour Dried Beef (from a little jar) into strips with a pair of scissors, cut onions into long strips, saute them together with butter, and then add beaten eggs. This "Scrambled Egg with Chipped Beef and Onion" served on toast as a sandwich was absolutely delicious, but probably a sodium nightmare.

Tonight, my homegrown tomato was so vibrant and juicy, I may eat that as a sandwich tomorrow with nothing but mayo, salt and pepper. A Harriet the Spy Special -- from one of my favorite books as a young child.

What sandwiches instantly remind you of your youth?

Friday, July 4, 2008

Pretzel Chicken with Honey Mustard Sauce

I would never have attempted something like this concoction of my own imagination (albeit a very simple concoction) had it not been for Barefoot Bloggers. One of our assigned recipes was Parmesan Chicken and it was the first time I'd ever breaded a cutlet in a three step process and cooked it myself. I confess -- in the past, it's just been too damn easy to defrost some Trader Joe's breaded chicken tenders. How much better could they be? Well, a lot better in fact, and "tender" like a chicken tender should be. Which got me to thinking ... I love pretzel flavored anything, wouldn't pretzel crumbs make an excellent Pretzel Chicken?

Yes. They do.

What's also interesting to me, is, I don't like "honey mustard" or "ranch" or typical restaurant industry bottled dressings, chips, pretzel nuggets, infused in anything like that. There is a restaurant near me that my boyfriend LOVES and they use Honey Mustard on every sandwich. I hate it. Give me Best Foods or nothing. I'm a purist. There are virtually no good pre-bottled salad or sandwich dressings in my opinion (don't even get me started on the abomination which is Miracle Whip).

That said, I thought honey mustard would be a good combo with pretzels and chicken, so I gave my own sauce a whirl, and I confess, it was tasty as heck and really complimented the chicken. I'd still never buy it in a bottle, but I'd make this again, as well.

Pretzel Chicken
4 chicken tenders
1 cup of pretzels, whirled in a bullet blender until finely crumbed

Pound the chicken tenders (if you like) to an even thinness. Crumb the pretzels. Season flour with pepper. Beat an egg with water until frothy. Dip one chicken tender first in the flour, then the egg, and then the pretzel crumbs. Quick fry in a hot skillet with veg oil and a tidbit of butter for flavor, until deeply brown. I thought, because the pretzels were salted, no additional salt would be required, but after frying and tasting, I was wrong. I needed to grind a bit of sea salt for more flavor. Do so to taste, and set aside.

Honey Mustard Sauce
Small blob of yellow mustard
Small blob of Dijonaise
Small blob of Best Foods Mayo
Juice of 1/2 lemon
Many grinds of peppercorns
A few shakes of Penzey's Green Goddess spice blend, although you can add any spices you like

In a small bowl or cup, whisk together all ingredients, tasting as you go, to taste. That's it.

Verdict: My my, very tasty, tasty.
Skill: Moderate, more time consuming than usual
Repeat: Absolutely.
Cost: Minimal.

Thursday, July 3, 2008

Tea Sandwiches with the Slice a Slice

Hooray, it's here! The vintage Slice a Slice which I first saw on Robin Sue's Big Red Kitchen blog is now mine, courtesy of eBay.

I knew, as soon as I saw her post, that was something I had to have. I can't stand thick, messy, so-called "Four Napkin" style sandwiches or burgers. The Carl's Jr. commercials with the "If it's not all over your face" or "the place" or whatever that tag line is, and the dripping ketchup and meat juice, are an abomination to me.

I love thin, delicate sandwiches. I may eat more than one, true, but I'd rather eat two very thin sandwiches than one monster sandwich that I have to open my mouth like a python to take a bite. No one looks good doing that.

The appeal of this vintage sandwich slicer is two-fold. First, I can't get thin-sliced bread in my area. Thin sliced varieties are available to East Coasters in the grocery store, but for some reason, brands like Pepperidge Farm won't sell them in California. It's difficult to slice your own that thin, unless the bread is sturdy. Bakeries don't slice it thin enough for my taste either, and when it's really fresh, it tends to mush and tear when they try. Second, the effect of reducing your sandwich to one slice of bread is a calorie and carb savings. Unless you eat more than one sandwich of course!

It has rubber feet which keep it solid on the counter. There is a wooden rod at the base, where your knife travels down. The holes in the device are slightly jagged, so the bread stays put (but doesn't get punctured) and believe it or not, the knife slides very easily down the center of the bread when it's being squeezed fairly tight. I'm thinking I'd get an even cleaner cut if the bread was slightly frozen.

So here it is ... one slice of bread, one slice of ham, one slice of cheese. Perfect!