Food, Wine, Rock & Roll

Part food blog, part jam session

Homecooking is Hard

Posted by Becca On September - 17 - 20101 COMMENT

As the school year gets underway, I’m sure we all find ourselves growing more & more busy.  I know I do.  Because of this, I find I have less & less time to make fresh, home cooked meals.  And, if you are anything like me, the temptation to simply stop at a fast-food restaurant & grab a quick meal increases as the year progresses.  So how does one fight this temptation that, when given in to, not only effects your health but also your wallet? Easy!  I have found some excellent time-saving, pre-packaged foods (both at the grocery store & online) that are not only delicious, but are also relatively healthy & easy on the budget.

1. Tony Chachere dinner mixes: These are awesome if you like Creole food.  My favorites are the etouffe mix, the gumbo (both the dinner mix & the gumbo base mix), & the jambalaya mix.  They take anywhere from 5 minutes (the etouffe) to 30 minutes (the jambalaya) to cook.  Combine them with shrimp, andouille sausage, chicken, &/or crawfish, serve them with warm bread & butter, & you have an instant Creole dinner to serve your family.  The Tony Chachere line also has a wide variety of spices, meats, & marinades for your cooking needs.

2. Bertoli: I love pretty much everything Bertoli makes.  I use the olive oil for regular cooking, enjoy their pasta sauces, & love the frozen meals.  I especially love their frozen meals.  They are tasty and only take about ten minutes to cook.  The classic meals include a nice variety of classic pasta dishes (my favorite is the Chicken Florentine & Farfalle pasta), the Mediterranean style meals are a little lighter, & the oven bake meals are perfect when you want something bubbly and warm from the oven.  Most of these meals are perfect for two people.

3. Bear Creek Soups: As Fall approaches & the nights grow cooler, I begin to crave hearty soups & stews for dinner.  Bear Creek Soups are dry soup mixes that can be found in the soup aisle of your grocery store (usually down by the Lipton soup mix area).  They are inexpensive, quick & easy to make, & can feed lots of people (the small size serves four).  Just add water, cook for 30 minutes, & you have a delicious soup or stew that tastes home-made.  My absolute favorite is the tortilla soup which I like to serve with Mexican cheese, sour cream, avocado slices, & warmed tortillas.  If you have time, you can also mix in shredded chicken to add a bit of protein.  I also like the Creamy Potato & the Cheddar Potato; combine the two for a delicious Creamy Cheesy Potato soup that everyone will love.

4. Amy’s Kitchen: If organic & vegetarian is what you are in to, then Amy’s is the way to go.  This line has a HUGE variety of frozen meals, snacks, pizzas, burgers, international foods, deserts, breakfasts, etc.  You name it, Amy’s has it (as long as it’s vegetarian & organic).  I have enjoyed everything I have ever tried in this brand.  My favorites are the burritos, especially the bean & cheese.

5. Knorr Sides: This used to be the Lipton Rice/Pasta Sides.  These take less than ten minutes to cook &, when combined with a protein, make a great, quick meal sure to make the whole family happy.  I really like to brown hamburger meat & combine it with the Mushroom rice for an instant rice casserole.

6. Comfort Foods/Desert Gardens: I first came across this brand when I was spending a summer in the mountains of New Mexico and instantly fell in love.  The line includes dip mixes, spices, salsas, soup & stew mixes, & even breads & desserts.  The Desert Garden products bring the Southwest straight into your home, while the Country Gardens line is more conventional comfort food style mixes.  I generally stick with the Desert Garden line, simply because I have a deep love for the flavors of New Mexico.  The dip mixes are great & perfect for any party or quick afternoon snack (my favorite is the green chile dip).  My favorite soups/stews are the Tortilla soup & the Green Chile stew, which packs a lot of spicy heat.  I have not been able to find this brand in stores outside of New Mexico so I order in bulk online.  They are reasonably priced & ship very quickly.

7. Mahatma Rice: Mix with your choice of protein & you have an instant dinner.  I like the red beans & rice mixed with andouille sausage or the Saffron yellow rice with chicken.

8. Freschetta: The brick oven pizzas are amazing!

These are just a few of the brands I like to use when time is short but don’t want to give in to the temptation of fast-food.  Hopefully I have given you some great ideas for feeding your self & your family when time is short but the want for healthy meals isn’t.

Spiced Pork Tenderloin

Posted by Becca On September - 13 - 2010ADD COMMENTS

For the longest time, I used to buy pre-seasoned pork tenderloins from the grocery store.  They came in a variety of flavors & were super easy to just throw on the grill after a long day at work.  And then I found this recipe.  Never again would I waste money on a more expensive product just because it was fast & easy.  This recipe is just as quick, is far tastier than the preservative filled packaged versions, & significantly easier on the wallet.  While I like to cook the tenderloin on the grill, it can also be cooked in the oven.

Ingredients

  • 1 teaspoon sugar
  • 1 teaspoon garlic powder
  • 3/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground allspice
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
  • 1/4 teaspoon dried thyme
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground red pepper
  • 1 (1 lb.) pork tenderloin
  • 2 teaspoons olive oil

Preparation

Rub spices over pork & allow to stand for 20 minutes.

After cooking, let the pork rest for 10 minutes.  Cut into 1/2-inch thick slices.

Grill Preparation

Preheat grill to medium-high heat (350°-400°).  Lightly brush the grill with olive oil to prevent sticking.

Place pork on the grill & cook for 28-30 minutes, rotating frequently (about every 4-5 minutes).

Oven Preparation

Preheat oven to 350°.

Heat the olive oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat.  Add the pork to the pan & cook for 4 minutes, browning on all sides.

Transfer pork to roasting pan and bake in the oven for 15 minutes.

Drinks

This dish can be accompanied by either beer or wine, depending on your preference or mood.  If I’m more in a beer mood, I like to turn to one of my all-time favorite beers: Warsteiner.  I am a huge fan of German beers & this one ranks at the very top of them all.  There are two versions of this gift from the German beer gods: the standard Premium Verum (the standard pilsener) or the Premium Dunkel (a dark pilsener).  Both are delightful with this dish.  If wine is what I’m wanting, Peace Family Vineyard is where I like to look.  Their red wine (a blend of Shiraz, Cabernet, Grenache, & Mataro) is just sweet enough to complement the sweeter spices on the pork.

Music

Van Morrison’s Moondance is an incredible album to turn on during any occasion, especially when preparing this dish.  It is such a mellow album that it makes everything around you just slow down & seem so much better; it’s impossible to not smile when you listen to it.  The simplicity of this dish combined with the full flavor of the spice coating makes it equally pleasing & mellow.  When you combine the pork with the music, you have a combination that is sure to keep you smiling for a while.

Cornmeal-Crusted Tilapia

Posted by Becca On September - 9 - 2010ADD COMMENTS

Much to my husband’s disappointment, I generally don’t like fish.  As a result, I almost never cook it.  Over the years, however, I have challenged myself to find types of fish I can eat and enjoy; tilapia has become one of the few I truly like.  It is a very mild white fish that can be quite versatile in the kitchen.  This recipe is wonderful for its simplicity and freshness.  The chili powder coating under the cornmeal crust and the tomatillo salsa add an amazing kick of heat that make this fish flavorful and delicious.  Pair it with a side of black beans, poblano corn, or even some plain couscous and you have a tasty meal.

Ingredients

  • 1/4 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1/4 cup cornmeal
  • 1 Tablespoon water
  • 1 egg whaite
  • 4 tilapia fillets
  • 3/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon chili powder
  • 1 Tablespoon olive oil

Preparation

Combine flour & cornmeal in a shallow dish.  Combine 1 tablespoon of water and egg white in a shallow dish, stirring well.

Sprinkle both sides of the fish evenly with salt & chili powder.

Heat the oil in a large n0n-stick skillet over medium-high heat.  Be careful that it does not get too hot in order to avoid scorching the outside of the fish.

Dip the fish in the egg mixture, then dredge in the flour mixture.

Add fish to the heated pan, cooking for 2-3 minutes on each side or until fish flakes easily when tested with a fork.

Serve with tomatillo salsa (recipe listed separately)

Drinks

The combination of the mildness of the fish makes this dish difficult to pair with beer but the heat and acidity of the tomatillo salsa makes it a little difficult to pair with a wine.  However, through much testing, I finally found a wine that is a perfect match: Gaetano D’Aquino winery’s Pinot Grigio Delle Venezie.  It has the perfect balance of fruity sweetness, which complements the fish beautifully, and a hint of acidity that blends very well with the tomatillo salsa.

Music

Since fish is a little out of the ordinary for most of my dining preferences, I like to listen to something completely different & incredibly fun while making this dish.  Putamayo’s Brasileiro features a diverse range of music from Brazilian artists, which makes it a great album to turn on while making this meal.  My favorite track on the album, “Mama Africa,” makes it impossible to NOT dance around the kitchen.

Tomatillo Salsa

Posted by Becca On September - 5 - 2010ADD COMMENTS

I found the recipe for this amazing salsa in the recipe for Cornmeal-Crusted Tilapia (full recipe posted separately) and quickly discovered I had found something really special.  Not only is it terrific with the tilapia, it is equally terrific to have as a snack with tortilla chips or as a side with any Mexican dish.  Even when I make this in order to serve with the tilapia, there is still plenty left over to use at a later time.  It keeps in the refrigerator for up to two weeks and is sure to be an instant favorite.

Ingredients

  • 1/2 cup fresh cilantro leaves
  • 1/2 cup chopped onion
  • 1 Tablespoon fresh lime juice
  • 2 serrano chilies, seeded and coarsely chopped
  • 1 (11 oz.) can tomatillos, drained
  • 1 garlic clove, minced

Preparation

Combine all ingredients in a blender or food processor. Chop until smooth.

Mediterranean Chicken

Posted by Becca On September - 1 - 20102 COMMENTS

I got this recipe from one of my husband’s former co-workers who was also an avid home-chef.  It’s simple, quick, and very filling (oh, and it makes great leftovers…are we seeing a pattern yet?).  The sauce is creamy with just a hint of bite because of the feta, which balances very well with the basil, artichokes, and olives.  The sun-dried tomatoes give the dish just a touch of sweetness that rounds out this wonderfully delicious dish.

Ingredients

  • 3 Tbsp. olive oil
  • 1 pound skinless boneless chicken breasts, cut into 1 inch chunks
  • 1/4 cup sun-dried tomatoes, julienned
  • 2 tablespoons garlic, minced
  • 1/4 cup fresh basil, roughly torn
  • 1/2 cup – 1 cup artichoke hearts in water, quartered and drained
  • 1/4 cup kalamata olives, pitted
  • 6 oz. low fat feta cheese, crumbled
  • 1/4 cup fat free half & half
  • 1/2 lb angel hair pasta
  • 2 teaspoons dried oregano
  • Salt & pepper to taste

Preparation

Boil water for pasta and cook until tender

Heat oil in a skillet over medium heat.  Brown chicken until no longer pink – about 3-4 minutes.

Add sun-dried tomatoes and garlic to skillet. Saute for 2 minutes.

Add the basil, artichoke hearts, olives, and feta cheese to the skillet.  Saute for 1 minute then stir in the cream.

Strain the pasta and transfer to a large pasta bowl.  Add the chicken saute to the pasta and toss.  Season with oregano, salt and pepper before serving.

Drinks

I recently discovered an incredibly inexpensive wine that is really quite good (it’s made by the same folks who make Two-Buck Chuck) at Sprouts Farmers Market.  Crane Lake’s Chardonnay goes very well with this dish because it has just a hint of sweetness that complements the fresh basil and sun-dried tomatoes and has a very smooth finish that goes well with the creaminess of the sauce.

Music

In the past, I have listened to a fairly wide array of albums while making this dish.  My current favorite album to throw on while making this yummy dish is the self-titled album released by the collaborative effort band, Broken Bells (composed of Danger Mouse & the lead singer of The Shins).  It’s an amazing album that, at times, seems inspired by some music from the early 80s (The Cure, Modern English, etc).  It’s great to listen to while making this dish because, while it is mellow & easy to groove to, it has some rather surprising moments that just sweeten up the whole experience.