the review: burgers, salads, and cake - oh my!

Ok, so we didn’t eat honey-ginger chicken with lime last night. Nor did we eat shrimp and grits on Sunday. Is this a recipe review blog or what? Maybe not. Maybe it will be again, but for now, let’s call it like it is. I am in perpetual catch-up mode. It could be that I’m also in mid-life crisis mode. My youngest children want to trade in our disguised mini-van (a.k.a. Acadia) for a convertible beetle. I’m actually considering it. Why not? Like I said, possible mid-life crisis. More on this later, I’m sure.

Read More

the review: salad with grilled chicken and cilantro-lime dressing

102413_grilled_chicx_salad_1.jpg

There is a Mexican restaurant where we live that makes an amazing salad. They deliver it in what would function as a serving bowl in my house, but it is actually your own individual bowl. Think Cheesecake Factory portions. Huge. You tell your dining companions that there is no way you could possibly eat the whole thing. But you do. You just can’t stop.

We have been trying to recreate that salad at home for years. It is really all in the dressing and the grilled chicken. Now, you know that I am not a recipe creator. This means that I have tried a lot of cilantro-lime dressing recipes. So far, this recipe from Dancing Carrots is the hands down winner.

For starters, any dressing that is made in the blender is my kind of dressing. No chopping or fussing around. This dressing is both sweet (honey) and spicy (jalapeño). It is creamy but has no dairy (combination of balsamic vinegar and honey, maybe?). My kids literally drown their salad in it. Maybe that isn’t a selling point to you, but I vote for anything that isn’t ranch or ketchup that gets kids to eat vegetables.

102413_cilantro_lime_dressing.JPG

As for the salad, we start with chopped romaine and add whatever we have. I usually add corn, black beans, avocado, and green onion. Spanish rice makes a nice addition. Tonight, I forgot about the rice until the last minute, so I cooked some basic white rice substituting a can of Rotel tomatoes for some of the water. Worked in a pinch. If you are feeling saucy, you can add some cheese too. And some crunched up corn chips. Top the salad with grilled chicken and/or grilled zucchini (toss both with a little olive oil, salt and pepper before grilling) and you have a winner.

This is an easy supper with lots of flavor and texture. Despite the moaning and complaining that comes with telling kids that tonight’s dinner is salad, I bet they will eat it. Mine had seconds. 

the review: calzones & chop salad

I always think I have more time to cook on Sunday than I do. I’m just saying, start the calzones early.

We made a run to Costco (60 miles away) on Saturday, after which I still seemed to have no actual food. I did, however, have a new pair of running shoes. And Abby found some cute boots. Not to be out done, Théa found some kicks herself.

101913 shoes.JPG

So Sunday’s meal started with a trip to the grocery store. At 3:30 PM. For bread flour and yeast to make the calzone dough. Let’s just say we weren’t going to be eating an early dinner.

the calzones

Bread flour in hand, the dough was remarkably simple. I do love my stand mixer. I had the dough set to rise by 4:15, scheduled to check it at 5:45. Plenty of time to make the filling. Which I didn’t start until 5:15.

Some tips. Use fresh mozzarella. The flavor is worth it. I really don’t see the point in grating it, though, because this took FOREVER. Maybe just chop it really fine? Or maybe go to a grocery store that has fresh mozzarella in more sizes than just teeny, tiny balls that shred your fingers when you grate them. Perhaps grating larger balls of mozzarella would take less time.

We decided on a combination of fillings in addition to the ricotta – sweet Italian sausage, red peppers, and spinach. I started by browning the sausage, then added the garlic and red pepper flakes as directed in the recipe for sausage and broccoli rabe. Once that was cooked, I turned it out onto paper towels to dry. Using the same pan, without wiping it clean, I sautéed the red peppers, then added the spinach to wilt.

102013_calzone_filling.JPG

We did not need a full pound of spinach. Because we were combining recipes, we used slightly less of each of the ingredients (except sausage) even though we were actually making 1 ½ times the calzone recipe. We did use the full batch of cheese mixture, but had extra of the veggie and meat mixture once the calzones were shaped.

Pay attention to the timing of the directions. The dough, once cut into balls, needs to sit for another 15-30 minutes and the oven needs to be preheated at 500° for 30 minutes before you start baking. I missed this step, which would have delayed dinner had I already made the salad. Winner for me there.

If you don’t have a pizza stone, and want one, I would suggest this. It is a set of six tiles that you can use separately for little pizzas or put together to fill either your grill or your oven. We have used them on both and love them. Also love that they pack up small, so you don’t have to figure out what to do with a 16” stone.

Big tip here. Use semolina flour to keep the dough from sticking to everything if you don’t have parchment. I did this, but did not use enough the first time. The dough ended up sticking to the wax paper we were using to separate the dough rounds, which resulted in a frantic effort to de-stick our dough rounds so that we could fill the calzones.

Needless to say, I do not have photos of this part of the awesome process. I will say, however, that this is where it totally helps to have a large family because we would not have eaten without the help of two of my kids. Thank you, Lauren and Logan.

We were able to successfully transfer the (slightly misshapen) calzones into the preheated oven with the pizza peal and no parchment. It is also helpful to have a big family here, because every time we opened the 500° oven, the smoke alarm went off. Thank you, Sam, for being at the ready with the broom to take care of that little nuisance.

I forgot to mention that while all this was going on, I had a pot of tomato sauce simmering. If you have a lot of extra tomatoes in your garden next year, try throwing them (chopped, skins on is fine) in your blender, then cooking down the puree for 8 hours or so until the water has evaporated. Freeze in whatever you have. You won’t be sorry.

All in all, these calzones were amazing. A lot of work, a bit of a smoke hazard, but fun. We served with a little tomato sauce on top and some of us indulged in additional parmesan.

102013_calzone_ricotta.JPG

Sorry for the iphone photo. It was a little hectic.

the chop salad

No recipe here. I chopped up a head of romaine and added chopped salami, fresh mozzarella, pepperoncini, kalamata olives, seeded cucumber, and garbanzo beans. I also added some dried basil, oregano, and parsley. We served it with Newman’s Own Oil and Vinegar dressing (except Lauren, whose plate is above and apparently used a balsamic dressing). It was excellent. And there was just enough left over for my lunch on Monday.

102013_chop_salad.JPG