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Posts Tagged ‘quick ideas’

This may not be an authentic Eye-talian recipe, and it may not be the most exciting or original food ever, but when you are looking for a fast, easy, minimalist, yet filling and delicious dish to throw together, this is a good one to have on hand.  And it is really, really good.  Like whoa.  I have to say, this meal is definitely staying on my short list for visiting family and friends.

Skill Level:  EASY

Preparation time:  About 20-25 minutes.

Servings: 2.  Or one, if you’re me.

one fileted chicken breast, chopped into smaller pieces.

5 “nests” of spinach fettuccine

approx. 5-6 Tbsp fresh cream

about 3-4 pinches of shredded emmental cheese

2-3 dollops of creme fraiche

about 3-4 Tbsp grated parmesan

olive oil

salt and pepper to taste

This is your basic pasta recipe… nothing too shocking.  While you set the water to boil in a pot, rub some olive oil, salt and a small dash of pepper on the chicken and set to bake until it is white through and through.  For me, this is in my toaster oven for 15 min (I’m not sure what temperature it is).  Of course, you can also pan fry it, but baking is healthier and it also keeps a nice moist texture to the chicken.

Add a little bit of salt and a bit of oil when the water comes to a boil, before adding the pasta.

When the pasta has boiled, strain and place back in pot.  Over low heat, stir in about a Tbsp of oil, and the cream, creme fraiche, and the emmental and parmesan.  When this has reached a nice smooth consistency, give it a taste and add salt as needed.  Toss in the cooked chicken pieces (they should be done by now) and stir those in.  When everything is nicely coated with the creamy cheese sauce, transfer to plate, and top with a sprinkle of grated parmesan and freshly cracked black pepper.  Serve with toasted bread and a nice glass of chilled white wine for a nice, relaxing meal.

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Avocado mousse-stuffed smoked salmon rollsSeafood baked mac and cheese.  It seems that no matter how creative we try to be, someone has already thought of the same thing, or else something extremely similar.  But that doesn’t mean that there isn’t still plenty of room (and need) for creativity.  In fact, the wide range of internet recipes that mob the blogosphere is a great resource–we can find good ideas for new food pairings, improve the recipes we were already working with, and perhaps most importantly, learn from others’ mistakes!

So, when I tried to think of something to do with an avocado sitting on my shelf, I thought that avocado mousse would be a good idea.  Counting on the fact that I am not entirely original, I Googled it and found a slew of avocado mousse recipes, ranging from the savory to the sweet.  Of course, I had also thought of making a dessert with avocado, with banana and possibly with cocoa, and this list of recipes just proved that yet again, many, many people had already beat me to it.  The great thing about this is, I could compare and pick the best ideas and, of course, still add my own to the mix.

I saw that, basically speaking, to make a savory avocado mousse you just mix the avocado with cream cheese.  I also saw that most of the time, people pair the mousse with smoked salmon.  However, the friend of mine at whose house I was going to be eating this snack does not like smoked salmon.  So, I took the basic idea, picked up some specialty cured jamon ibérico to replace the salmon (and also used some leftover turkey slices sitting in my fridge), and grabbed a baguette from my local supermarket, and came up with this:

Skill Level:  EASY

Preparation time: 5-10 minutes.

Servings: Approx. 15 pieces, depending on the amount of mousse you spoon onto the bread pieces.

For base:

smoked salmon slices, turkey slices, cured ham slices, or whatever sliced soft meat you prefer (thin slices of muenster or another mild semi-soft cheese should make a good vegetarian option)

1 baguette (freshly baked or re-toasted prior to meal preparation)

For avocado mousse:

1 ripe avocado (peeled and pitted)

1/2 package of cream cheese (4 oz.)

1-2 teaspoons mustard (to taste–I find using dijon or other specialty mustard is better for this)

half a teaspoon of garlic butter (optional)

salt and pepper to taste

In a medium bowl, mix avocado, cream cheese, mustard, garlic butter (if used) and salt and pepper to taste.  I did this with a fork for a few minutes and it was fine, however if you really want to make it as smooth as possible, feel free to use a processor.  Slice the baguette in half down the middle, then into small pieces, 2-3 inches in length.  (I find that the step of slicing it down the middle makes it much easier to eat.)

Lay a small piece of sliced salmon, ham, turkey, or whatever you have chosen on the bread slices.

Note: These bread slices have NOT been sliced in half width-wise. Don't make my mistake!

Scoop about a tablespoon of the avocado cheese mixture onto each piece.

Easy, fast, minimalist, and tasty.  My favorite combination!

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I love cheesy potatoes au gratin, and I am especially a big fan of Betty Crocker boxed potatoes au gratin, having grown up on them. But I figured there had to be a way to make potatoes au gratin out of real, fresh potatoes and a block of cheese. I poked around on the internet and there are countless recipes, some of them adding onions, some adding flour. But I wanted to go simple, if only to prove the point that it really doesn’t take that much to make a satisfying side dish. This is what I came up with:

Take that, Betty!

Skill Level: EASY
Preparation time: About 25-30 minutes, including skinning and boiling the potatoes beforehand.
Cooking time: About 15 minutes.
Servings: 6 -8.

1 pound of potatoes (the smaller they are, the quicker they’ll cook)
Block of cheddar cheese (quarter pound ought to be sufficient)
Cream
Bread crumbs
Olive oil (optional)
Salt
2 Tbsp butter (optional)

Skin and boil potatoes. I actually cheated and used a vacuum-sealed pack of skinned and pre-cooked baby potatoes (although I did need to rinse off the ascorbic acid to separate the potatoes–ascorbic acid is a form of Vitamin C often used as an antioxidant to prevent produce from browning).

Set the cooked potatoes in lukewarm or slightly cool water to cool them down to the touch, if necessary.  Then slice the potatoes into thin discs. Lay out in a casserole dish. In a small pot, mix over low heat a small dollop of olive oil, and enough cream to melt the block of cheese, which should be cut up into small pieces to help speed up the melting process, stirring constantly. Add butter if desired. Salt to taste.

Pour cheese-cream mixture over potatoes so that all potatoes are covered. Take a couple of small handfuls of bread crumbs and lightly dust over potatoes. Bake at 450˚F (250˚C) for 10-15 minutes or until the tops of the potatoes are browned. Remove and let cool for a few minutes before serving.

This dish was a surprisingly simple hit with my friends, and a nice option if you have to throw something together quickly but only have a few ingredients! If you have more time and more ingredients, feel free to add additional spices, some flour to thicken the sauce, onions, chopped peppers, or whatever you prefer!

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The slightly burnt crust didn't stop us

One of the easiest things I’ve ever made.  Can be made into a 9″ pie or 6 individual ramekin mini-pies.

Skill Level:  EASY
Preparation time:  About 10 minutes.
Cooking time:  10-15 minutes to cook, plus about 20 minutes to cool to room temperature.
Servings: 6-8.

4 eggs, separated and yolks beaten
Juice of 2 lemons
Grated rind of 1 lemon (see below for alternative)
1 cup water
1 cup sugar
2 tbsp. corn flour
2 1/2 cups of graham crackers, or digestive cookies (half a box is usually the right amount)
another tablespoon or so of sugar to match with the cookies
1/2 stick of butter or so
whipped cream (optional)

If you don’t have a grater (like me), just slice the rind of one lemon as thinly as possible.  Boil the water, sugar, juice, and rind for a few minutes.  If you have bits of rind because you couldn’t grate it, run it through the strainer to recollect the rind and pour the rest of the mixture back into the pot.  Add the corn flour slowly, trying to minimize any clumping.  Once the corn flour is blended in, remove from heat and stir in egg yolks.

Take the graham crackers or digestives and place in a ziploc bag.  Beat the living daylights out of it until you get nice even flour-like crumbs (some slightly larger crumbs are okay).  I like to use a large spoon or even a mallot to help me along.  Pour the pulverized cookies into a mixing bowl, and add the 1 1/2 tablespoon of sugar in slowly, to taste, so that you sweeten it but not too much.  Melt the half stick of butter and pour into the mixture.  You’re basically trying to achieve a moistness that will allow you to press the crumbs down into the pan (or mini-pans).  It will not become a dough, however.  If you are using an aluminum pie pan, you may want to lightly butter the pan before laying down the crumbs.  In any case, cover the rim of the crust with aluminum to prevent burning.

Take the egg whites and beat until stiff peaks form.  Then mix in two teaspoons or so of sugar.  If you don’t like merengue, skip this step and store the egg whites for breakfast tomorrow.  Pour the lemon mixture into the pressed crust.  Bake at 450˚F (we did 250˚C, which is 482˚F) for 10-15 minutes or until either the merengue is slightly browned or, if there is no merengue, until the top of the pie filling has formed a skin and gives a little resistance.  You can, of course, lower the temperature to say 350˚F (150˚C) and cook a bit longer.  The important thing is to keep your eye on the top of the pie.

Remove and let cool.  If you did not add merengue, you can add whipped cream to the top of the pie, especially if it’s been chilled.  However, we enjoyed the pie without anything at all on top.  In fact, it was gone by the next day!

I love how easy, quick, and minimalist this pie is.  I plan on playing with some variations in the near future and will post them!

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There is a fantastic tapas bar called “Mercado de la Reina” in Madrid that I take all my friends to when they visit.  The reason I enjoy the tapas so much at this bar in particular is that they take the “traditional” tapas recipes and tweak them just a bit, creating something familiar and yet entirely unique at the same time.

One of these dishes is a toasted piece of bread topped with spreadable Spanish sausage called sobrasada.  This sausage, originating from the island of Mallorca off the coast of Spain (which is gorgeous and also is the birthplace of the delicious ensaimada–more to come), is spiced and preserved with a lot of paprika, and is made from the “porc negre,” or “black pig,” which is apparently related to but slightly different from the oh-so-famous “jamón ibérico” on the mainland.

Spread the sobrasada over a fresh slice of baguette and top with a thin slice of brie, and toast lightly in an oven or toaster oven.  (You can also use a baguette that has gone stale if you can manage to break off a small piece.  The bread will soften as the toppings melt during toasting.)  For an added sweet kick–and in true Mercado de la Reina fashion–you can lightly drizzle the sobrasada with honey before placing the cheese on top and toasting.  Makes a fantastic snack or hors d’œuvre for a hosted event at your home.

I am not sure what the availability of sobrasada is abroad, but if there is none to be had, I found this recipe for the adventurous souls out there who might want to try to make a substitute.  The site also gives a U.S. substitute supplier.  For those who want to try their hand at curing their own sobrasada, the site suggests:

  • 2/3 of pork tenderloin
  • 1/3  fatback and lard in equal proportions.
  • Salt
  • Pepper
  • Hot paprika

Finely mince the meat, fatback, and lard and season with salt, pepper and hot paprika. Fill natural or artificial casings with the mixture and cure your sausages in a cool place of about 50ºF. For thinner sausages (about two inches in diameter) allow a minimum of two months for curing; for thicker ones (between three and five inches in diameter), allow four to five months.

I haven’t actually tried to cure sobrasada myself, so if you do it, please feel free to write in and share how it goes!  And if you are able to find some ready-made sobrasada, this really is the easiest, tastiest little treat that takes no time to make and is a unique addition to the menu!

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