Monday, November 28, 2011

Turkey Sloppy Joe's

It wasn't even lunch when I texted my husband today: "Sloppy Joe's for dinner?"  Maybe it was the overcast weather, or maybe I just needed to reconnect with a basic comfort food.  In any case, it made a perfect throw-together dinner.

This recipe is an amalgamation - bits and pieces from the sloppy joe recipes in Nanny's cookbook (my paternal grandmother... more on her and her fantastic recipes in upcoming posts), a bit of the recipe from America's Test Kitchen / Cook's Illustrated, and largely, whatever I have in my fridge.  That said, my exact recipe can vary; sometimes I'll use bell peppers instead of (or in addition to) mushrooms, but I really like the earthy, meaty quality that the mushrooms add when I'm using ground turkey. Tonight  I used small finger rolls (about the size of dinner rolls) to make sloppy joe sliders, but I top-cut them, New England style, to help make them not-quite-so-sloppy.

Saturday, November 5, 2011

Ridiculously Simple: Ham & Swiss Pinwheels

Here's a quick post for a ridiculously simple recipe (hardly a recipe at all, really) that I like to make and keep on hand in the event of last minute guests, or for a quick savory breakfast in the morning.  Store-bought puff pastry wraps around ham and Swiss cheese with a hint of homemade honey mustard.  I love making these during a quiet weeknight, popping the rolled pastry in the freezer, and then slicing and baking these up when company stops by.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Chili-Orange Spiced Walnuts

With Halloween, Thanksgiving, and Christmas all quickly approaching - and the gatherings that come with them - I'm always on the lookout for tasty snacks that can be prepared in advance and kept on hand in case of unexpected visitors.  Here's one that I whipped up this afternoon on a whim:  It's based on the classic recipe of an egg white and sugar coating walnuts or pecans, but with a spicy kick.  A touch of orange juice and extract combined with a fair amount of black pepper and chili powder make this recipe suitable for hungry cooks and cocktail parties alike.  This recipe also takes well to doubling - and if you've got a big crowd, these sweet-spicy nibbles will go quickly!

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Pumpkin Spice Bread

Happy October!  Also, Happy 50th Posting from The Lunchbox Tree!  I'm taking a few days off of my "day job" to go visit family in Texas, which I'm incredibly excited about.  But I made a quick batch of pumpkin bread for my coworkers before my departure.
    In the fall, you'll find me making at least one batch - ok, probably more like a half a dozen batches - of pumpkin breads, pumpkin muffins, pumpkin bread puddings, etc.  I love the smell of these quick breads as they bake in my oven.  I love eating them warm with a tiny smear of butter or cream cheese, or totally unadorned.  With a cup of hot coffee or tea, this makes the perfect mid-day snack for crisp autumn days. Not to mention, this recipe makes 2 loaves, so I can share one and keep one all to myself.

    I hope you all have a wonderful October!  Here's to the chilly nights and comforting foods that the season brings!

    Tuesday, September 13, 2011

    Breakfast Risotto

    Risotto for breakfast?  If you think it sounds strange, I'll admit that I agreed with you at first when I saw the original recipe on Bon Appetit's website.  And frankly, it didn't really scream "breakfast" to me at all.  Sure, it's got sausage, but I rarely make hot italian sausage to go with my eggs and toast.

    It started making sense when I thought back to the breakfasts of my childhood.  I used to eat rice for breakfast then, but instead of parmesan and sausage, those rice bowls were mixed with milk, a pat of butter, and sugar.  I'll still recreate that breakfast from time to time - only now I use a bit less sugar and add in cinnamon and raisins.  It's delicious... but what about when I crave something savory (which admittedly for me is most of the time).

    Monday, September 5, 2011

    Greek-Inspired Cucumber & Tomato Salad

    It was Memorial Day yesterday.  I swear it was.  Now it's Labor Day?  It's amazing how quickly this summer has flown by, and how many hello's and goodbye's (although actually most are only "goodbye-for-now") one season can hold.  This summer has been heavily weighted toward "bye-for-now":  My youngest brother joined the middle brother at Texas Tech this fall, while my parents have finally made the Dallas-area home after a lengthy transition from New Hampshire.  My father-in-law was given a wonderful job opportunity in Fairbanks, Alaska; and just last weekend, my mother-in-law successfully relocated to West Virginia to be nearer to family.  And my friend Tom and his lovely wife Tatiana have left Vermont for Ohio to advance their careers.

    Friday, September 2, 2011

    Roasted Chicken for September

    It's been a heck of a week for Vermont.  With Tropical Storm Irene walloping the state on Sunday - particularly the towns in the southern and middle portions, like Waterbury, Windsor, and Mendon.  Living in Burlington, my husband and I were fortunate enough to have suffered little more than a power outage.  (We drove through most of Irene on our way back from West Virginia on Saturday and Sunday, but made it safely - and that's another story.)

    It's been amazing seeing the communities rallying around the hardest hit areas and jumping to help neighbors.  From the donations pouring in from lesser-affected Vermonters to community-wide efforts to clean up and begin recovery, it seems as though the whole state is banding together to move forward.  I could assemble a list of all of the ways readers from Vermont and beyond can assist, but so many others have done a much more thorough job than I could do.  So, check out:

    Saturday, August 20, 2011

    Blueberry Vodka / Blueberry Lemonade Martini

    A couple of weeks ago my husband and I were standing in line at Mad Hatter deli in Burlington and talking to the owner about the ridiculous costs of blueberries at the Burlington Farmer's Market.  The owner mentioned that he took his family to pick their own blueberries the previous weekend, and I let it slip that I'd never gone blueberry picking.  And hence, we decided that it was long overdue.

    It's not as though I've avoided going berry picking, but it wasn't one of those common summer activities in the homes of my childhood (northern Texas and central Illinois).  I actually think it's a great idea: pick the berries you want - I like the smaller, more tart ones - and save a few bucks in the process by doing some of the farmers' work.  So we made it out to Pelkey's U-Pick Berries over in Charlotte, VT, and picked away.

    Wednesday, August 17, 2011

    Simple Fish Stew (Tegamaccio)

    There's been a rainy chill in the air the past few days, which seemed to prompt declarations that the end of summer is here across the worlds of social media. I beg to differ, and I think that my favorite part of summer is just barely approaching. Picture it: the days are warm, sometimes sunny and sometimes not, but the nights have a chill to them that makes you reach for a light sweater. The leaves haven't changed yet and it still feels right to reach for a bottle of white wine over red. It's summer soup weather.

    Sunday, August 7, 2011

    Orange Cheesecake Bites

    Here's a great summer one-bite dessert that's ideal for passing around at summer BBQ's and parties.  I love making tiny cheesecakes, particularly in the summer, because they cook considerably quicker than a large cheesecake.  Granted, filling each little mini-muffin cup does take a bit of time, but it's time that can be spent without the oven on.  The brief oven time also means that the filling doesn't have much of an opportunity to dry out.

    Saturday, July 30, 2011

    Tying and Cooking Salmon Steaks

    Of all the lessons that writing a blog has taught me, one that I've recently learned is that my husband and I, by and large, consume a fairly limited group of main-dish protein sources. Salmon is definitely in the top 5. 

    Friday, July 15, 2011

    Strawberry-Honey Frozen Greek Yogurt

    I've been planning on using my old school, manual-crank ice cream maker for a few weeks; and with its metal canister taking up a large portion of my freezer space, I knew it was time to act.  I'd thought about a basic vanilla ice cream, but when I realized I had a surplus of greek yogurt hanging around the refrigerator, I began to brainstorm.  Greek yogurt is thicker and richer than regular yogurt, with more protein per ounce, making it a healthy yet satisfying ingredient for frozen treats.

    This version is creamy and smooth, flavored lightly with summer strawberries and blueberry honey, although orange blossom honey would also work nicely. A bit of sugar and a dash of vanilla round out the flavor while allowing the tartness of the yogurt to shine through.

    This recipe makes just shy of one quart, but could easily be doubled for a two-quart ice cream makers.  Remember, the colder your frozen yogurt mix is prior to using your ice cream maker, the better it will freeze.  I like to make my mix the night before I plan to make it and chill it.  That way, the mix is optimally chilled and the flavors have a chance to meld as well.

    Strawberry-Honey Frozen Greek Yogurt
    Makes about 1 quart
    Click here for a printable recipe

    3 c. plain whole-milk or 2% greek yogurt
    1/3 c. diced strawberries
    1/4 c. blueberry honey or orange blossom honey
    1/2 c. plus 1 T. sugar
    1/2 t. vanilla

    In 1 - 2 quart bowl, combine strawberries and 1T. sugar.  Let sit for 30 minutes or until strawberries have formed a syrup with the sugar.  (Note:  If you don't want chunks of fruit in your yogurt, add 1 T. of water and use a food processor or stick blender to puree the mix.)  Stir in yogurt, honey, 1/2 cup sugar, and vanilla, and mix until everything is well incorporated and strawberries are evenly distributed.  Chill for at least 1 hour; can be made one day in advance.

    Pour mixture into your ice cream maker and follow your manufacturer's instructions.  After being made, yogurt can be stored in an airtight container in the freezer for up to one week.

    Monday, July 11, 2011

    Mixed Mushroom Frittata

    As much as I possess an infatuation with eggs, as can be judged by the proliferation of egg-based recipes on the site, I rarely eat them for dinner.  This is in stark contrast to my childhood upbringing, where my parents would work side-by-side in the kitchen on hot Texas evenings: frying or scrambling eggs, cooking up bacon & plump patties of Jimmy Dean sausage, and toasting thick slices of bread ready to be slathered with butter and my grandma's homemade apricot preserves.  (A side-note to the TSA:  Your liquid rules have made it very difficult to get a supply of apricot preserves from Texas to Vermont when I visit family.  I am not amused.)

    So, why the dinner-time egg embargo? Honestly, I have no good reason other than the fact that I rarely think about eggs when I get home from work and am staring exhaustedly into the refrigerator trying to figure out what exactly we'll be doing for dinner tonight.  It's a shame really, because of all the different ways eggs can be cooked, I can't think of any that take much more than 30 minutes at max. 

    Saturday, July 2, 2011

    Raspberry-Blueberry Cobbler

    It's been a whirlwind summer, and I hadn't realized it had been so long since I last posted.  Since my last post, my father-in-law accepted a job at the University of Alaska at Fairbanks; my youngest brother graduated high school; and my immediate family has moved to Texas, joining the rest of my extended family.  (I'm holding the fort in Vermont and have an open offer to any of them to visit me to relieve themselves of the brutal southern heat.)  My husband and I also celebrated our 5th wedding anniversary by taking a week-long vacation and thoroughly gorging ourselves on local restaurant fare.

    Wednesday, June 8, 2011

    Apple Cinnamon Power Muffins

    Vermonters, have you heard that our First Lady, Michelle Obama, will be visiting the state on June 30th?  Politics aside, I agree that the U.S. has a growing problem with our waistlines (no pun intended) coinciding with shrinking nutritional value in many readily available foods.  With the White House focused more than ever on the availability of fresh, nutrient-rich foods, hopefully we can make a significant impact on this issue.

    Wednesday, May 25, 2011

    Ginger-Maple Salmon

    With summer - finally - approaching, my tastes lean away from hearty, slow cooked meals that have sustained me through the long winter; and slowly I begin working fresh vegetables, herbs, and seafood back into my daily diet. Decadent red wines are replaced with crisp, refreshing whites. (Side note: Notice all the buzz lately about the Portuguese wine called vinho verde? I've been drinking it for the past few summers and am madly in love with it's relatively low alcohol content, bright zing, and slight fizz.)

    Monday's dinner - a ginger and maple-glazed salmon fillet atop a salad - was a quick and easy way to use some of the produce that filled this week's grocery cart. The sugar snap peas in the salad were actually a last minute addition, but I'm glad I added them in; they provided a jewel-like pop of green color and just the right amount of sweetness and crunch. I dressed the salad in a bit of maple-tamari vinaigrette, and voila! Dinner was on the table in about 15 minutes.  A note:  Don't be intimidated by the seemingly long list of ingredients - many of the ingredients used twice - once in the glaze and once in the vinaigrette. 

    Sunday, May 22, 2011

    Planning ahead: Meals for the week

    My new year's resolution was to waste less food and cook more meals at home.  Some people may consider this two resolutions, but in fact by cooking more, I would inevitably end up wasting less.  Lamentably, I haven't done as well as I'd hoped in this first half of the year.  Now that summer is approaching and my work hours are shortening (I seem to be fortunate in that summers are almost always relatively quiet in my office), I intend to get back on the cook-more, waste-less bandwagon.

    To that end, I'm planning my dinner meals ahead of time so that the more perishable ingredients can be used first, while the pantry workhorses can be used later in the week.  I hear household gurus and budgeting mavens say constantly to plan your menu for the week, and make a shopping list around that.  Personally, I like to do just the opposite:  Go to the market; pick up whatever looks fresh, local, and/or within my budget; then come home and plan my menu.  Sure, I might end up with an odd piece of ginger that I have to find a creative use for -- perhaps a Ginger Simple Syrup to be used in drinks and on fruit? -- but that's the fun part!  If I went to the market with a set menu in mind, would I have ever made this? Or this?

    Saturday, May 14, 2011

    Bacon, Scallion, & Tomato Pasta Salad

    If my coworkers know anything about me, they know I love bacon.  And, really, can you blame me?  A small piece cooked and crumbled can infuse an entire dish with a smoky, salty, meaty goodness that's hard to obtain otherwise.  I remember my paternal grandmother cooking bacon in her well-used cast iron pan, and then frying up a few eggs in a bit of the leftover drippings.  Add a slice of toast to soak up the yolk once the egg has been cut and a cup of strong coffee, and you have the absolute best breakfast ever.  

    In any case, as I grew up, my love of bacon grew with me.  I partially credit the BLT sandwich with teaching me to actually enjoy eating tomatoes.  So naturally, when I was staring at the tomatoes in my windowsill that would over-ripen at any second,  I thought to myself "Do I have bacon?  Of course I do; that's a stupid question."

    Saturday, May 7, 2011

    Caramel and Pecan Turtle Squares

    I don't have a big sweet tooth, but every once in awhile the craving strikes.  These little caramel and chocolate squares do the trick.  Coming together fairly quickly and cut into 1-inch squares, I almost always have enough to both satisfy my sugar lust while still leaving several to bring to work or gathering of friends.

    No long post this week - the sun is shining and I fully intend to take advantage of it!  See you soon!

    Saturday, April 23, 2011

    Weekday Breakfast: Tomato, Basil & Parmesan Tiny Frittata

    I'm not sure why the idea had never hit me before, but this week I started using the toaster oven in my office's kitchen to its full potential.  A bit of background:  I'm not happy with breakfast unless it includes a good source of protein.  Peanut butter will sometimes do the trick, but generally I like to start my day out with an egg.  I had tried to satisfy my egg lust with those microwave egg cookers (which worked ok), frozen pre-prepared breakfast items (of which I quickly grew tired), or the breakfast sandwiches from my local market (expensive on a daily basis).

    Thursday, April 21, 2011

    Ginger Sparkler

    I've been making simple syrups lately, and I don't see an end in sight.  Simple syrup 101:

    1 part sugar + 1 part water + 3 minutes boiling time = Simple Syrup 

    Pretty simple, right?  I imagine that's how the name came about! To make flavored simple syrups, just through a flavorful ingredient into the mix.  Lately I've used Meyer lemons, oranges, and mint, but my ginger simple syrup has been repeated several times in the past month.  I vary from the traditional 1-to-1 ratio for the ginger syrup, going with a heaping half cup of sugar to 1 1/4 cups water, which lets the bite of the ginger really shine through.

    Sunday, April 10, 2011

    Orzo Salad with Cumin Vinaigrette

    After the threat of snow loomed on April 1st (very funny, Mother Nature!), and passed over Burlington leaving not more than a few flurries, I was more ready for spring than ever.  I made a quick trip to the market, and found tiny zucchini, yellow squash, leeks, a small fennel bulb, and grape tomatoes, all sent to Vermont from warmer climates where the frost is a distant memory.

    After some scrummaging, I found a half-box of orzo left in my pantry from a soup I made last month, and decided a pasta salad was in order.  To complement the sweet anise flavor of the fennel I assembled a cumin vinaigrette flecked with oregano, which gave the assembled salad a distinctly Mediterranean aroma.  Roasting the vegetables with an additional sprinkle of cumin along with some olive oil and garlic amplified the flavor and lent a nice caramelization to the vegetable mixture.

    As I sit happily eating, I hope that I'll soon find fresh spring and summer produce at the local farmer's market.  I'm particularly looking forward to baby artichokes (cooked and served with melted garlic butter) and the multitudinous heirloom tomatoes, which I'm happy slicing and eating with a sprinkle of salt.

    Orzo Salad with Roasted Vegetables and Cumin Vinaigrette
    Serves 4-6 as a light meal, or 8-12 as a side dish

    8 ox (1/2 box) orzo pasta
    1 1/2 c. grape tomatoes, halved or quartered depending on size
    1 small fennel bulb, cored and diced
    1 medium leek, well cleaned and diced
    1 small zucchini, seeds scraped out and diced
    1 small yellow squash, seeds scraped out and diced
    1 clove garlic, minced finely
    1/4 c. plus 2 T. olive oil
    1/3 c. white wine vinegar
    1 T. plus 1 t. ground cumin
    1 1/2 t. oregano, finely chopped
    Salt & Pepper, to taste

    Pre-heat oven to 425 degrees.  Toss together tomatoes, fennel, leek, zucchini, and squash with garlic, 1 t. cumin and 2 T. olive oil.  Spread evenly onto rimmed baking sheet, and let roast in oven 10 minutes or until vegetables have started to brown slightly.  Meanwhile, make the vinaigrette: whisk together remaining 1/4 c. olive oil, white wine vinegar, remaining 1 T. cumin, oregano, and salt and pepper to taste.  When vegetables have completed roasting, the baking sheet can be set aside to let the vegetable mixture cool slightly.

    Cook orzo in a large pot according to the package directions, and drain in a colander.  Return to the pot and drizzle 1/2 of the vinaigrette over the hot orzo.  Toss to combine.  Add vegetables, and add additional vinaigrette as needed to coat the salad.  Transfer to a serving bowl and cover; let refrigerate for at least an hour to allow flavors to meld.  Serve cold or at room temperature.  (Any additional vinaigrette can be stored for up to a week, and added to the pasta salad if it seems dry after refrigeration.)

    Sunday, March 27, 2011

    Food Blogger on a Diet: Thai-Style Chicken Salad

    I spent the better part of last week eating without abandon in honor of my birthday.  It was a fantastically indulgent week and I have no regrets; but now, the snow is nearly melted (fingers crossed that it continues!) and I can't hide under heavy sweaters for much longer.  Yes, it's time - and pardon the four letter word - to DIET.

    Luckily, I don't look at dieting with total dread.  I use the time to cut back on cheese and wine (my caloric Achilles heel), and spend a little more money on fresh produce, bright condiments, and fresh seafood.

    Monday, March 21, 2011

    Creamy Mushroom Soup with Thyme

    I think the fact that I eat mushrooms at all must astound and confuse my family (just ask my mom about "the mushroom incident").  I used to wince just at their mention - and if I found a mushroom hiding in a salad or on a pizza, there was a strong possibility I would give up on that meal altogether.

    So how did I grow to love mushrooms so much that they ended up the star ingredient of this simple soup?  I think it started when a group of coworkers decided we should share a mushroom and caramelized onion pizza at a local restaurant.  Not wanting to complain, I took a bite of the small slice I had taken - but the paper-thin slices of cremini complemented the sweet unctuousness of the onions so well, they began to prove their culinary mettle.

    Sunday, March 13, 2011

    Crispy Fried Leek Rings

    It's finally March - unfortunately, the winter weather isn't giving up without a fight.  A surprise storm dropped two feet of snow in northern Vermont last week, but luckily it seems to be melting off fairly quickly.  While waiting for the weather to warm up, I've started adding my favorite spring ingredients to my recipes.  The leeks at the local market looked so gorgeous this week that I wanted to let their flavor shine through in a simple preparation.

    I decided on a super-light breading, a quick high-heat fry, and a sprinkle of sea salt.  These crispy little beauties look like baby onion rings, but have the crisp of a potato chip and a bright, fresh flavor that no bulb onion can match.  Fried leek rings would make a great snack to go with a round of St. Paddy's Day pints - but make several, because they're delicious and may disappear quickly.

    Tuesday, February 22, 2011

    Pasta Salad with Lemony Basil Vinaigrette

    When I started this blog, I had every intention to post weekly; unfortunately, it seems I'm spending more time working than I had planned when I started writing this past summer.  Most recently, I got called to Charlotte, NC for a week - and while I love getting to travel and meet my coworkers from other offices, at the end of the week I'm always craving something that I didn't order from a restaurant.

    This pasta salad came together on a whim while I was shopping this weekend - first, I spotted a box of whole wheat rotini, then a few delectable black olives from the olive bar, some of spring's first asparagus, tiny radishes, a little onion, and a bell pepper.  Throw in some salami and parmesan, and toss it with a lemony basil vinaigrette - and voila, there's lunch for the week. Side note: You may have noticed I'm a huge bell pepper eater.  It's always in my fridge and inevitably ends up in most of my dishes.  Feel free to omit it or make substitutions if you don't have the same attachment to it that I do.

    Sunday, February 6, 2011

    Ridiculously Simple Tomato Soup

    Photo by Keenan Stansbury-Farrell
    After a billion or so inches of snow, I'm craving some comfort food.  On the other hand, my waistline probably wouldn't benefit from a big dish of mac & cheese or plate of enchiladas - two of my favorites.  Enter go-to food number three: tomato soup.

    I grew up with Campbell's condensed tomato soup, usually served with a grilled cheese sandwich made with regular sandwich bread and yellow American cheese... the processed, individually wrapped kind.  I have to admit that in the depths of winter, this is the food I crave.  My goal was to satisfy my memory of those foods while making something fresher and a little more "grown up."

    Sunday, January 23, 2011

    Whiskey-Glazed Brussels Sprouts

    The Brussels sprout gets a bad rap.  I personally was never forced to eat them as a child, but I've heard horror stories of grayish-green sprouts boiled to the point of no return... complete with the "old gym sock" smell.  Luckily, I think I've crafted a recipe that is a far cry from the sprouts of so many people's nightmares.