The Fifteen Minute French Dip

I’ve been craving a French dip sandwich ever since I tasted the original at Philippe’s in Los Angeles (The original French dip) and the Italian beef Sandwich at Taste Chicago, all on the same night.

When Jan barbecued tri-tip for dinner and we had lots of leftovers, I knew I finally had my chance to have this delicious sandwich again. I put away the slices of tri-tip, which Jan had already thinly sliced, and added a French baguette to our shopping list for the next day. Continue reading

A Tostada Time Out

So much tiling, so much corned beef!  Phew!  Last week was exhausting!  With so much going on, Jan and I needed some delicious, quick, and easy-to-prepare food.

Enter the tostada dinner, an amazing meal that requires minimal time and effort.  When Jan brought home tostada shells (shortcut #1), we took a few more shortcuts to cook up a batch of tostadas in a matter of minutes.  It was such a surprisingly tasty dinner that we ate the same meal twice in the same week.

I started by sautéing some onions in a little bit of oil in a pan.  Once the onions started to become translucent, I added ground beef (didn’t grind our own this time, so shortcut #2) and spices to make my own blend of taco seasoning.  The blend included garlic powder, California chili powder (it’s not too spicy, but gives you that great reddish-brown color usually only achieved by pre-mixed taco seasoning), cumin, oregano, chili flakes, and salt.  I combined the meat with the spices, added a few tablespoons of water, and cooked over medium heat.

While the meat was cooking, I began heating up the beans (shortcut #3 is canned beans.  Jan prefers the refried beans while I prefer black beans, so we compromise by alternating which one we choose.)

This is also the time to start getting all the toppings ready, so we finely chopped lettuce or green cabbage (we usually stick with iceberg lettuce for beef tostadas or tacos, but use green cabbage on occasion, and definitely when making fish tacos).  We also got out sour cream and salsa from the refrigerator to add to our tostada-assembling station.  We shredded some Colby Jack cheese and made guacamole from a fresh avocado (there’s room for another shortcut here if you use the pre-made guacamole, I recommend both the Trader Joe’s and Costco varieties).  The last piece was the Tapatio.

Ingredients prepped, tostadas ready to assemble

Once the meat was done and beans were heated, it was time to assemble the tostadas.  Atop the shell, I started with the beans, then added the meat, then the lettuce and the rest of the toppings.  Inevitably, my tostadas were overloaded, and I had to break out my fork.  Then I enjoyed my tostadas and debated when I should tell Jan about his sour cream mustache (think milk mustache, but thicker).  In the meantime, we reflected on a successful corned beef and cabbage celebration.

Our first guest to arrive found a four-leaf clover in our front yard walking up to the front door (unfortunately I didn’t capture a picture of our good luck charm, but thanks to a lovely thank-you note from my friend Sarah, I have an image that looks pretty close to the original).

Jan cooked the massive amount of corned beef in a 15 gallon pot outdoors, and it was enough to fill one 2-foot by 1-foot wide chafing dish.  Our other full-size chafing dish was filled with green cabbage and potatoes.  I was amazed that everything was eaten pretty quickly—either everyone was starving, or the food was pretty good!

Despite both the orange of my carrot cake cupcakes not being the orange I desired, nor the green cream cheese frosting (I was going for the orange and green of the Irish flag but instead got the two unappetizing colors of rust orange and Easter egg green), those all got eaten too.  And lastly, for those dying to see what all the fuss over the tiled floors was about (see last week’s Prepping for St. Patrick’s Day), a picture of the newly installed tile.

For the moment, we’re taking at least a month’s break from tiling and large-scale entertaining.  We’re going to be lazy for a while.  Good thing we discovered the perfect lazy-night dinner.  I have a feeling we’re going to be eating a lot of tostadas.

Easy as Pie

A pizza pie, that is.  We used to mostly just eat pizza at a pizzeria or out of a delivery box, but now with so many more options for ready-made crust, it’s become one of our favorite things to make at home.  Before we discovered the refrigerated dough from Fresh and Easy, making pizza at home was this time-intensive process of making the dough, waiting for it to rise, and doing all this work before even getting to the fun part, which is putting on the toppings.  It was always worth the effort, but one of those things we just didn’t do very often because of the time involved.

But now, skipping all those dough-preparation steps gets us to the part we like faster—putting on the toppings—which is probably why pizza has been on the menu every week for the past month.  We’ve tried both the whole wheat and regular versions, and I think the regular dough comes out a bit crispier and crunchier (a good thing when making a thin crust pizza).

However, even though this pizza is easy, it’s not without challenges.  After letting the dough sit out for about 20 minutes before rolling out onto a pizza pan or stone, we face our first dilemma: deciding which toppings to use.  Our problem is that we always put on too much.  I’m convinced that my beautiful thin crust can’t stand up to the mountain of toppings always covering it, but it seems to be working out ok.  We bake the pizza longer than the suggested time of 10-15 minutes (about 20 minutes total) to get the crispy crust we like.  So, for about 10 minutes of work and some waiting time, we’ve got a simple, delicious dinner.

After topping with tomato sauce and cheese, the last pizza included: turkey pepperoni, spicy pork sausage, red onions, black olives, red bell peppers, mushrooms, and artichoke hearts.  You could hardly see the cheese underneath!  Jan says you can’t have too much of a good thing, but I think our next challenge will be pizza topping editing—paring down to fewer ingredients to get the best balance of flavors.  I’m always impressed by different and unusual combinations of toppings, but it’s hard to get out of our “combination” routine.  What other favorite pizza topping combinations should we try next?

Cornbread and Chili

With gray skies outside and only a few days of sunshine peeking through every so often, it’s been a couple of weeks for stews, soups, and chili.  Since everyone seems to have their favorite winning chili cook-off recipe, I’m starting out with cornbread, since for me, chili without cornbread is like a hamburger without a bun, apple pie without vanilla ice cream, cereal without milk; it just won’t do.

I’ve tried a variety of cornbread recipes ranging from the one on the cornmeal package to the recipes from several books, and it’s one of the simplest breads to make.  There are no critical times for resting dough, babying yeast, and too-early opening of the oven door, and therefore, perfect for me. Cornbread’s straightforward ingredients and process make it generally foolproof.  Its simplicity has provided the perfect jumping off point for experimentation, especially when I’m missing an ingredient or two.  One day I ran out of all purpose flour and substituted some whole wheat flour and a little more corn meal.  No problem!  It tasted great, and we enjoyed more rustic-looking bread, as the color was earthier, instead of the usual bright yellow.

Another time I ran out of sugar, and I used honey instead to another successful result, of course, with the distinctive flavor of honey.  I’ve been curious to make it with fresh corn kernels, but haven’t since Jan has voted against it—that may go over OK at Sweet Tomatoes, but he wants his cornbread smooth.

My current recipe is a result of several experiments, with the understanding that there will be more experimentation in the future, depending on what my pantry may be missing that day.

Cornbread

Print recipe

Ingredients

  • ½ cup all purpose flour
  • ½ cup whole wheat flour
  • ¾ cup cornmeal
  • 1 tablespoon sugar
  • 1 tablespoon honey
  • 1 tablespoon baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 egg
  • 2/3 cup milk
  • 1/3 cup vegetable oil

Directions

  1. Preheat oven to 425 degrees F.
  2. Grease a 8”x8” pan with butter.
  3. Mix together dry ingredients in a bowl.
  4. In a separate small bowl, combine the wet ingredients, then add to dry ingredients.
  5. Bake 25 minutes until golden.

Simple solo supper

When Jan comes back from being away at a fire assignment, he’ll often ask me what I ate while he was gone. It’s a simple enough question, but I’m always embarrassed to answer. See the thing is, I don’t always feel like going to great lengths cooking dinner when it’s just me. Really, I’m lazy. When Jan returns, I’ll go through my list of lunch and dinner dates catching up with friends, or my rundown of what I ate at my dad’s house. 

But I’m really just putting off his question with a bunch of distractions. He cracks up when I finally answer with one word: chicken. 

Chicken ten ways, I call it. 

Or more precisely, Costco rotisserie chicken (and you can’t beat the price at $4.99), cooked and ready to enjoy. There’s no end to all the different meals I can make with it, besides just eating the chicken by itself. I’ll eat the drumstick and thigh the same night I buy it, still often finger-burning-hot by the time I get it home. Then I use the rest for a variety of other meals over the course of a week, including Chinese chicken salad, chicken noodle soup, chicken tacos, and chicken enchiladas. 

 
The short list of dinner ingredients

I recently shared the first night dinner (when you eat the chicken right away when it is fresh and hot) with my friend Nevin, and she was impressed by the simplicity of it.

That day, I came home from a visit to my dad’s with a bounty of eggplant, squash, tomatoes, figs, and some gourds I have no name for. But for this dinner, I was focusing on the fresh tomatoes. 
From dad's garden

I sautéed some spinach in olive oil and garlic, along with some tomatoes. After plating, I sprinkled the vegetables with some parmesan cheese and enjoyed.   

When I told Jan about this dinner, he only shook his head. On one hand, I think he’s glad my diet hadn’t consisted solely of Cheerios and rocky road ice cream, while on the other, he’s disappointed at my lack of creativity in the kitchen. After all, he had either been eating hearty catered meals at fire camp, or helicoptered-in MREs out in the wilderness (MRE=Meal, Ready to Eat, also known as military rations). With my access to a kitchen full of ingredients, he’d hoped I’d be eating better than him. 

But with this year’s fire season keeping Jan closer to home, somewhere along the way, he started to open his mind up a little more to this Costco chicken. He started brainstorming dishes outside of my usual salads and Tex-Mex, and while he has yet to purchase a chicken on his own, he may be getting close.  

I’m hoping this post will serve as part one in a series about all the great things we can do with a pre-cooked Costco rotisserie chicken, with more semi-lazy dinners and lunches to come.

Lazy night nacho supper

Lazy night nacho supperWith everything under the sun blooming in the fields nearby, allergies have left us both feeling sniffly. Last night was the perfect time for a TV dinner. Jan tried out some organic ground beef that was on sale at Vons and cooked it with garlic, onion, cumin and chili powder. The beef was added atop a bed of tortilla chips, along with refried pinto beans (from the can), grated sharp cheddar and Colby Jack cheese, and sliced black olives. After a quick spin in the microwave, the nachos were topped with a spoonful of low-fat sour cream and Bobby Salazar’s salsa. It was so good I’m still feeling guilty about eating them lying on the sofa with my feet up.