Three great meals to start your week

Menu Planning 3/21/2021 with Bill and Terri

It’s not that we haven’t eaten since my last cooking post in January. And it’s not that I haven’t had time to write, what with covidisolation and all. I guess I’ve just gotten used to living in the spin cycle, watching the world go round and round outside my little glass window. In the immortal (hah!) words of Pink Floyd, I may have gotten comfortably numb in my cozy cocoon. Thankfully, some very kind words from a friend (Thanks, Donna!) prompted me to look back on some great meals we’ve had that I’d love to share with you. In fact, there are so many, I’m going to break this into two posts. First, let’s look at recipes with fowl as the protein. I’ll start with some photos to tease you; the recipes will follow after the pictures.

Sheet-pan Mediterranean Chicken, Brussels Sprouts and Gnocchi
Chili with Chipotle and Chocolate – looks messy, but best chili ever!
French Onion Meatloaf

This is a fast, fabulous one-dish meal that is sure to impress guests or that special someone. I may have added a couple of extra dried herbs, but this is great as-is.

Here is yet another one-dish meal that is quick, pretty easy, with stupendous depth of flavor. My only pet peeve here is … who sells ground turkey in 1.25 pound packages? We just use one pound, and it works out great. We are blown away every time we eat this – which we can do often, as it makes eight servings, or four great meals. We always have to have tortilla chips with this, add a beer, and what more can you ask for?

We have only make meatloaf a couple of times over the past 15 years, but one thing is certain – this is the ONLY recipe we will ever use again, and we will use it often going forward. And once again, it fits in perfectly with our Planned-over Menu and Recipes. I can attest that this also makes a mouth-watering meatloaf sandwich!

French Onion Meatloaf

Cooking Up A Storm

Tossed and turned by life and weather; nevertheless we persisted in cooking

The tidal wave of unprecedented events in 2020 threatened to completely overwhelm us in December, so we retreated to the kitchen and cooked up our own storm of wonderful meals, topped off with a fabulous scallop dish on Christmas Day. When I’m in the kitchen, I’m focused on the task at hand; sadness, anger, loneliness, wistfulness – all shrink to to nothingness while slicing, dicing, chopping, mixing, searing, sauteing, baking, boiling, plating, and finally, eating. Maybe the title for this blog should be “Cooking As Therapy?” Here are four of my favorite therapy sessions from last month. (Recipes follow the photos and commentary).

So yummy AND nutritious!

Seared Cod with bacon, braised fennel and kale. Well, for many reasons we chose to use turkey bacon instead of pork. The only downside is that no fat renders from the turkey bacon, so we replace the bacon drippings with a little extra olive oil. The only other change we made was to use standard size bell peppers, so the presentation is off a bit, but the taste remains the same. As you can see, we also added some roasted Brussels Sprouts, which paired well with the meal.

Invite someone special to share this meal!

Mediterranean-Style Stuffed Chicken. Tres’ Elegante! The picture does not do it justice, but this meal is on our shortlist of “Company Worthy” recipes. This is one of the few recipes I don’t mess with, and follow to the T. The make-or-break point is the tapenade. It is a bit tough to find in stores, but easy to make ahead. Here is a recipe from Alton Brown that is very similar to my homemade one. We used farro instead of rice, and served with rainbow chard for a perfect accompaniment.

It can be a bit tricky to slice the chicken breast just right to stuff the zucchini and tapenade, so take your time to get it right. Have fun and enjoy!

Just wow. You’ll think you are in Italy!

White Bean Soup with Tomato and Shrimp. Based on Italian puttanesca recipes, this is one delicious mouthful! It does have a bit of heat from the chili powder and crushed red pepper (not enough for us, so we are generous with the chili powder, and double the crushed red pepper), so be forewarned. The only other change I made was to add a generous portion of Penzy’s Tuscan Sunset, a mix of dried basil, oregano, red bell pepper, garlic, thyme, fennel, black pepper and anise seed. Don’t tell anyone, but this is my secret ingredient to add tons of flavor to a whole host of recipes. Seriously, if you haven’t ordered yours yet, you are missing out … and they have no idea I’m recommending this .

Be sure to pair this with a loaf of crusty artisan bread to soak up all the flavorful broth!

The secret here is in the sear

Grilled Scallops with Pea Pesto over Angel Hair Pasta is the pièce de résistance from our adventures in the kitchen for December 2020. We tried to get frozen scallops from our local supermarket, but they were out … then I remembered seeing a fish shack (actually MUCH nicer than it sounds) on a main highway not too far from us. I called them, and they had fresh, wild-harvested mussels from the North Atlantic. They were a bit pricey, but, hey, this was for our Christmas dinner. They were oh so worth it!

Our grill was stowed away for the winter, so we used our tried-and-true basic black cast-iron fry pan. The secret to cooking mussels is to have the pan screaming hot, almost scary hot. Put them in the pan, and watch them slightly change color/texture until there is 3/16th inch of sear on the bottom (or so) ; ) . Turn them just once to sear on the other side, then be prepared to serve immediately, so do this last. The only other tip is to use a very high quality olive oil, it really makes a difference. Once again, this is a dinner you can be proud to serve anyone!

Well, I feel better already after this therapy session, don’t you? Let’s hope and pray 2021 is a bit more gentle with us than 2020. And if not, just head to the kitchen and cook those blues away!


Three Winners and an Also-Ran

The avocado, jalapeno slices and sour cream really makes this meal a flavor bomb!

It’s not that we haven’t eaten since my last menu planning post, but we actually found a number of things to fill our days and steal our time. Hope you’ve had great days and fabulous food in the meantime, especially for Thanksgiving! This post brings you two of our all-time favorites, a brand-new favorite, and an also-ran that should work well for lunches. 

One-Pot Chicken Thighs with Rice, Black Beans and Chilis. Most of these meals are cooked in a single pot, or on a sheet pan, which makes clean-up easier – especially helpful during these crazy times. We like to have a bowl of Juanita’s Tortilla Corn Chips alongside this dish for extra texture.

Brown Sugar Salmon with Maple Mustard Dill Sauce. How does this look for an easy-but-fancy dinner? Not only is salmon a very healthy protein choice, it’s also very flavorful. Costco has Wild Sockeye Salmon in perfect serving sizes, individually wrapped in their freezer section. The Maple/Dill Sauce really puts this recipe over the top.

To make the Smashed Potatoes, use small potatoes, microwave until nearly done. Use a measuring cup to smash the potatoes; coat with olive oil, add salt and pepper, and put in a fry pan (a little butter there will make them extra crispy). Cook until golden crunchy, flip once.

Oh boy, Sumac Chicken! Can’t wait to dig in!

Sumac Chicken with Carrots and Cauliflower remains one of our all-time favorites. Very little prep, lots of great flavor, and easy clean-up. If you haven’t gotten your Sumac from Penzy’s yet, you are missing out on a unique and wonderful flavor.

While this dish can stand on its own, a green salad would add freshness to the meal that would be a nice complement.

Note extra spices in recipe margin

“Is it Chili in here, or is it just me?

Menu Planning for week of 11/8/2020

“I don’t always eat Vegetarian Chili, but when I do, it has to be kicka..”

So, yeah, I get emails from several sources every day that are filled with recipes I’ve never tried. Every once in a while, I find one or two that look irresistible, and despite being vegetarian, this one caught my eye with the list of ingredients, starting with two TABLESPOONS of chili powder. Adding in cumin and chipotle powder AND cinnamon make it look like a real winner. If you like your chili to have some heat, then this is your recipe. This one made me sweat when I ate it, but that did not take away from all the amazing flavors. It does take a wee bit of time to prepare, but is SO worth every minute!

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Pair this with a nice Spanish wine for best results

“Have we ever made this Spicy Shrimp and Spanish Rice recipe?” I asked Terri as I was thumbing through our seafood favorites. “I don’t think so … that is a recipe I brought with me that was sooo good.” Once again, the list of ingredients looked promising – and they did not disappoint!

A couple of notes here; after reading about how shrimp and tilapia are raised in farms, and what they are fed, we buy ONLY wild caught shrimp. They can be a bit harder to find, but worth it. Also, the recipe calls for eight cups of rice! The serving size of two cups of rice seemed a bit excessive to me, although it was so good, I ate every bite, but 1 1/2 cups is more than enough for most appetites. Freeze what you don’t use for a later meal.

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Looks so good, but …

So, there is the occasional miss, for whatever reason. We had cooked this Bolognese before, and both really liked it. It photographed well, and tasted good, but not great. I’m thinking it’s because I followed the recipe this time. I made no notes last time I made it, but I’ll just bet I kicked it up several notches, including adding some chili powder, which I guess technically it would then no longer be a Bolognese.  I’m including it here with that caveat – a very hearty Italian meal that would be great for most people, but needs some help for people like me.

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This post seems to be mostly recipes with massive flavors, and this one is no exception. In fact, the Southwestern Turkey Soup was so good, I forgot to take a picture, so you’ll just have to picture this one in your mind’s eye. This one preps and cooks quickly, but sacrifices nothing in flavor. We used chicken thighs instead of turkey tenderloin since we find that more flavorful, but use what works best for you.

Boy howdy, did we eat well this last week, and we have planned-overs to last us awhile! While Fall is my third favorite season for weather, it may be my favorite one for cooking with all our great – and growing – repertorie of chili’s, soups and stews. Feel free to send me YOUR favorites, or let me know if you try and like any of these.

All the recipes for the meals above are below. Now, Let’s Get Cooking!

If you try only one recipe here, THIS is the one to try!
Resurrected from the archives to become an instant new favorite.
We used ground turkey in place of the pork and sirloin. I’d add a teaspoon of Italian Seasoning, and a half-teaspoon each of granulated onion, powdered garlic, and either medium chili powder or sumac.

Menu Planning Week of 10/25/2020

Another mixed bag this week. One amazingly great recipe, one recipe that we tried once; after we highly modified it, it is now a keeper, and another that got eliminated. That’s right folks, you only get the best of the best here. Sorry for the late post; hopefully you had some planned-overs to get you through until today.

Creamy Chicken and Wold Rice Soup. This turned out to be a bit of work, but worth it in the end! Perfect for our fall weather.
Wasabi Crusted Tuna Steaks. We couldn’t stop raving about this as we ate. It was Terri’s idea to saute the onion and snap peas, and was the perfect addition to the meal.
Hoisin Salmon with Bok Choy. We liked it originally, but not so much this time.
Page 1 NOTES: We used turkey bacon cooked in a bit of canola oil; less fat and sodium than pork. We NEVER use rotisserie chicken due to the huge salt load, so we made our own. We also took more time in each of the cooking steps to get it where we wanted, but worth it since it made three meals for us. We substituted regualr rice; the regualr and wild mix would make this even better.
Page 2 Note: This was waay too watery the first time we made it. We eliminated the 1 cup of water, and that helped immensely. Note I heavily doctored it with lots of extra herbs and spices. If you’ve never tried Sumac, it is now one of our favorite spices – halfway between pepper and a mild chili powder. Sunny Paris is available from Penzy’s Spices; it is a mix o purple shallots, chives, green peppercorns, French basil, French tarragon, chervil, bay leaf, and dill weed. Adds an amazing herbal note to any meal!
This recipe may not be for everyone. Wasabi is definately an aquired taste – if you like horseradish, you should like wasabi. In place of the tamari, we used a 50/50 blend of Worcestershire sauce and a thick, aged balsamic vinegar. This is also our low-sodium substiture for Soy Sauce, which you could use instead of the tamari.

Well, that’s it for this week, hope you find a recipe that you love. We have some incredible meals coming up next, so stay tuned, and Let’s Get Cooking!

Menu Planning for week of 10/17/2020

By now, you are familiar with our own private cookbook, full of our very favorite recipes. We love every one of them, but we reamain curious whenever we see something that looks great. Sometimes they are winners, and sometimes just meh. That’s what happened when we were cooking up a storm before we left for the Long Beach Peninsula recently. One recipe turned out much better than expected, and will be going in our Favorites. The other was quite disappointing, very flat and one-dimensional. I’m including it here just because maybe you can figure out what’s missing, and share it with the rest of us. I did slather it with Sriracha last night, and that did help.

As a bonus, I’m including a recipe for the Best Fried Chicken Ever, which we used in place of the frozen, store-bought, over-salted chicken fingers. We cut the breasts in half, followed the recipe, then cut them into fingers for the Hawaiian Chicken Casserole. It worked out great, and the recipe was stunning. Hope you like it!

Seriously, this Hawaiian Chicken Casserole was super-tasty! We served it with Roasted Brussels Sprouts.
Doesn’t this Ropa Viejo look good! Just severely lacking in flavor. Maybe adding a couple of Jalepenos and another handful of spices would have helped.
I added even more ginger, which helped put it over the top.
Terri suggested topping this with roasted, low-sodium peanuts, and it was the perfect addition to a great recipe.
We used chicken thighs on the bone, then shredded them after cooking. I think draining the tomatoes (below) might have helped as well.
Crockpots cook at different “speeds.” Ours is pretty fast, so check on it by using a meat thermometer after 4 hours or so. Maybe adding some jalepenos and maybe some Ground Chipolte would make it better.

Menu for week of 10/11/2020

WE kicked it up a notch in the kitchen this week! Tryng a new layout – Meni first, followed by photos, and then the recipes with notes. Hope you get a chance to try a few of these … let me know what you think!

Seriously good! We used cod, worked great. This would make a great home-made salt-free Jerk Seasoning.
Traditionally a breakfast dish, we added ground meat (we prefer turkey) and LOTS of extra spices to make this one of our favorite dinners.
Classic Italian cooking. Not as in-your-face with intense flavors, but immensely satisfying on a fall evening.
Recipe calls for this to be cooked at 500 degrees, just seemed way to hot for me. I cut it to 400, but then should have put it under the broiler for 3 – 5 minutes to crip up the crust.
Oh my gosh, this is amazing! Make SURE to make the cheesy grits as well, perfect accompaniment for this meal. We used cod, our favorite affordable white fish. Tilapia has too many issues (google it), and sole and pollock too delicate.
What more can I say? Ya gotta trust me on this one.
The cinnamon is the key to the unique flavor in this dish. It cries for a Sangiovese or Chianti for the perfect pairing.
Friends don’t let friends eat farmed fish – no Atlantic Salmon, please! My favorite is Alaska Sockeye Salmon, reasonably priced in the frozen section of Costco; King Salmon is also good.

Menu for week of 10/4/2020

Welcome to this weeks menu and recipes. We had some GREAT meals, most pretty easy, and packed with flavor. Hope you enjoy Cooking with Bill and Terri!

Halibut Meuniere Note: halibut is awesome, but expensive. We used cod, it worked great.

We almost always cut the salt in half to keep our blood pressure at a reasonable level, and does not impact the taste at all.