From Scratch, With Love

Archive for the ‘Weekday Meals’ Category


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Meals that make good leftovers are a windfall in my house.  John loves hot lunches and I shudder at the idea of spending money on food while at work.  Leftovers are the ultimate solution.

Along comes shrimp and vegetable pilaf.  Pilaf, the way my dad makes it, is so delicious.  It’s a combination of onions, butter, rosemary, and rice that creates an aroma that seeps into your clothes.  My mouth waters just thinking about it.  Of course, I can’t live off pilaf.  At least, not in that form.  So one day, I looked at the ingredients I had on hand and decided to make pilaf into a complete (healthy) meal… and to make enough for leftovers.

The great thing about this dish is that most of the ingredients are either shelf stable or freezer-friendly.  It’s the kind of meal that you can put together quickly and just leave in the oven and watch West Wing while you wait.  For those of you who are into “easy,” look no further.  Also, it’s healthy.  Lots of vegetables, whole grains, lean protein, and low fat.  Can you ask for more?

Note that you can make this dish with white rice instead of brown rice, but the cooking time will have to be reduced.  You might want to cook the shrimp separately and add it at the end.

Shrimp and Vegetable Pilaf (Serves 4-6)

Preheat the oven to 375.

Thinly slice 2 onions.  Over medium heat, melt about a tablespoon of butter and saute the onions in a dutch oven or a large saute pan until soft.  You want to use a pan that can hold about 2 quarts and is oven safe.  If you don’t have one, have a casserole dish ready.

Once the onions are soft, add about a teaspoon each of rosemary and thyme.  Use more if you have fresh herbs available.  Add a few grinds of black pepper.  Add 2 cups of brown rice, substituting some wild rice for the brown rice if you have it on hand.  Stir the rice into the onions and after about a minute, add a quart of chicken stock.  Stop stirring.  Bring to a simmer and lightly salt.  Cover with an oven-safe lid or aluminum foil and put in the oven.  Set a timer for 30 minutes.

Meanwhile, peel about a pound of shrimp.  I like to use frozen shrimp because I can always have it on hand and I don’t have truly fresh shrimp available.  I usually defrost it by putting it in a colander and running it under cold water for about 5 minutes.

Cut up a crown of broccoli or asparagus or whatever vegetable you like best and set aside.

After the rice has been in the oven for 30 minutes, remove the lid and scatter the vegetables on top.  Most of the liquid should have already been absorbed.  Put in the oven for 5 more minutes, then scatter the shrimp on top.  Salt and pepper it and put it back in the oven for 15 minutes.

After 15 minutes, the shrimp should be pink and the dish should be aromatic.  Let it cool for about 5 minutes, then use a big ole spoon to mix it all together.  Eat.


Written by poperatzii

April 9, 2011 at 9:41 am

A Little Something from my Heritage

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So, you probably don’t know that I’m Latin.  You really can’t tell from looking at me or talking to me and it’s not really something that’s PC to ask.  “Hi, what are you?” is probably one of the most awkward questions ever.  Anyway, my mother immigrated to the US from Guatemala in 1982.  My father is American, but has traveled to Guatemala and has learned and adapted many Guatemalan dishes to his liking.  As a result, growing up, I had a lot of typical or semi-typical Guatemalan or Latin-inspired food.  When I go to Guatemala, which I haven’t done in a long time, I tend to go for the simpler dishes because I’m very picky.  I think on my next visit I will be more adventurous.  Basically when I have gone, I’ve eaten beans, rice, and tortillas.  When I was growing up I also ate lots of beans, rice, and tortillas.  The beans were almost always black beans, the rice was almost always white rice, and the tortillas were always (ALWAYS) corn tortillas.  Depending on the meal they were either store-bought or homemade.  I actually don’t think flour tortillas are part of most cuisines in Latin America, except perhaps in Northern Mexico.  Since a lot of food blogs give most of their attention to flour tortillas, I thought I’d give a little corn tortilla love today.

Corn tortillas are not made with cornmeal.  In order to make corn tortillas, you must use masa harina, which is a corn flour that has been treated in a special way with limewater.  You could make it yourself… if you work in a masa harina factory.  The brand we used growing up is called Maseca, and I believe it is the most commercially available brand, but the one I found in my Whole Foods (my local supermarket didn’t stock it at all) is called “Masa Brosa.”  Basically to make the dough for tortillas, you just mix the masa harina with warm water.  It is very simple, not because it’s a mix but because tortillas are a very simple food.  The tricky part is not making the dough too dry or too wet.  I’ve found the best way to do this is to add the warm water slowly using a measuring up in one hand, and mix the dough with the other hand until the consistency seems right (that’s right, by hand, not with a spoon).

One you’ve got the tortillas down, a whole world opens up.  You can make pupusas, which are filled tortillas that originate from El Salvador.  You can make tamales, which are little packets of meat filling wrapped in corn dough and corn husks and baked.  The possibilities are endless.  I highly recommend it.  In addition, you have bragging rights because it really is authentic and it seems no one in the country does it anymore.  Corn tortillas are best made fresh though, so don’t try to just keep a bunch in the fridge.

Real Corn Tortillas (Makes 8-12 tortillas)

Heat a griddle or pan over medium heat.

Pour 2 cups of masa harina in a bowl.  Slowly add 1 1/4 cups warm water, using your free hand to gently stir the dough so that it absorbs the water.  You might need more or less water. When the dough starts to hold together, stop adding water.  It should not be crumbly, but should also not be too sticky.

Divide the dough into 8-12 even balls and cover with a damp paper towel until ready to use.

I made a half recipe

To roll out the tortillas, you can either use your hands (labor-intensive), a rolling pin, or a tortillas press, which you can find in Latin markets.  It looks like this:

If using a rolling pin or a tortilla press, I recommend putting some plastic wrap on your work surface and on top of the dough to keep it from sticking.

When you’re ready to make the tortillas, lightly brush your hot griddle with canola oil, form the tortillas one at a time, and put them on the griddle.  After a minute or two, or when the edges of the tortillas begin to look dry, flip them.  Wrap the warm tortillas in a kitchen towel to keep warm until it’s time to serve.

I served these tortillas with leftover roast pork and freshly made black beans (gently boiled for  hours with an onion, garlic, and the bone from the roast pork, salted and peppered in the last half hour).  They are also great with eggs in the morning, perhaps with a little Hot Sauce.  A little mexican or mozzarella cheese wouldn’t hurt either.

Written by poperatzii

September 25, 2010 at 1:03 pm

Chili My Way

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Did you grow up on chili?  Me too.  Was your chili made with kidney beans and ground beef and cumin?  Oh.  It was?  Oh.  My family’s weird.

My dad makes chili a certain way.  It involved cubes or pork and pinto beans and lots of onions and some canned tomatoes.  There are peppers and not too many spices.  And there’s garlic.

I was sort of craving that.  But also a little lazy and cooking for just me and I had no beans soaking and I was at the grocery store without his recipe exactly with me.  Also, I didn’t feel like having onion breath for hours and hours and hours.  So I made his chili my way, in a small batch, using (gasp) canned beans.  Forgive me, Papa.  I served it with oven crisped tortilla chips and red wine.  I sprinkled with with some mexican cheese.  I ate the leftovers a couple days later served over rice.  Delish.

Andrea’s Weird Chili Concoction (4 servings)

Mince two cloves of garlic and thinly slice 4 green onions.  Mince a jalapeño.  Trim the fat from a pork chop (or some other lean cut of pork that’s cheap) and cut it into bite-sized cubes.

In a large saucepan, heat a tablespoon of olive oil over high heat.  Add the jalapeno and stir for about 30 seconds, until fragrant.  Add the garlic and green onions and stir for another 30 seconds.  Add the pork and stir until just barely cooked through.  Add a 14-oz can of diced tomatoes to the pan and bring to a simmer.  Reduce heat to medium-low.  Add about a teaspoon each of thyme and sage and a grind of black pepper.  Add a can of black beans and a can of pinto beans, both rinsed and drained.  Bring everything to a simmer and cover.  Cook gently for at least 30 minutes, so the flavors get absorbed.  After about 10 minutes of simmering, start salting and tasting until the flavors are to your liking.  Don’t burn your mouth!

Serve hot with tortilla chips, corn tortillas, or rice.  Try adding other ingredients to the chili and let me know what works!  It’s a cheap quick dish that lends itself to many variations and changes, so go ahead! Go wild.  Just, please, no cumin, kidney beans, or ground beef. That’s not what this chili is about.

Written by poperatzii

September 9, 2010 at 7:38 pm

Perfect Summer Entree Salad

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In high school, I had a friend, Clare, whose family made an amazing tossed salad that incorporated strawberries and balsamic vinaigrette.  They brought it to every crew food event we ever had.  Last night, I was in the mood to replicate it.  I’m sure it’s not very original to those of you who regularly use strawberries and balsamic vinaigrette, but it’s novel to my household.

Not having grown up on balsamic vinaigrette and never having made it before, I had to look online to see how it worked.  The basic idea seems to be 1 part olive oil, 1 part balsamic vinegar, garlic, salt, pepper, brown sugar, and dijon mustard.  Here’s how I did it.

Andrea’s Fruity Summer Salad (2 main courses or 4-6 side salads)

In a measuring cup or small bowl, whisk together

2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1 teaspoon unpacked brown sugar
1 teaspoon dijon mustard
1 clove of garlic, minced
Freshly ground black pepper, to taste
Salt, to taste

For the salad, rinse 2 cups of red leaf lettuce and 2 cups of baby spinach and place in a large salad bowl (or whatever greens you prefer).  Add the following, in bite-sized peices:

1 1/2 cups sliced strawberries
1/2 an avocado
2-3 very thin slices of red onion
1 cooked chicken breast

Add 1/2 cup raisins or craisins and 1/2 cup crumbled feta or goat cheese. Chopped walnuts or fried goat cheese might also be a nice addition.  Just before serving, add the vinaigrette and toss gently so that the salad components are mixed together and the dressing is well distributed.  Divide onto plates or allow guests to self-serve.

Written by poperatzii

June 17, 2010 at 7:34 pm

Something Fishy

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Allow me to begin by saying that I’m not a big seafood person.  I’ve only recently been able to eat seafood, and the seafood I will eat is very limited.  Honestly, the only reason I even want to learn to eat seafood is because I think it will make me a better cook – admirable right?  The sacrifices I make for my art.  I like squid, but only when its batter-fried.  I like shrimp.  And now I will eat salmon but I’m not quite at the point where I will get excited about it.

SO at some point in the last year, John decided he wanted to eat salmon and I said Okay, I’ll make it.  But I won’t eat it.  I looked in my dad’s cookbook and there’s a salmon recipe that he and my brother rave about so I made it and John LOVED it.  So I started making it every so often because even though I don’t eat it, it is very fun to make and tends to be a good accompaniment for pasta.

THEN, as I got more serious about running and a little less squeamish, I started reading more and more than salmon is a superfood for runners, so I tried a little the next time I made it.  It wasn’t bad.  I could handle it.  Now I can make it as a meal, have fun, eat some, and know that I’m doing good things for my body.  So here’s my salmon recipe.  I hope you enjoy making it as much as I do and enjoy eating it as much as John does.

Papa’s Seared Salmon (served 2)

Preheat the oven to 450.

Mince 2 cloves of garlic and thinly slice 2 green onions (or chop some white onion).  Set aside.

Line a broiling pan or other baking pan with foil and grease lightly with some olive oil.  Place 12 oz of your choice of salmon (I use farmed Atlantic salmon) on a plate.  Rub in, one at a time, dried or fresh dill, thyme, black pepper, the minced garlic, and green onion, in that order (from the finest to the coarsest, is the rule).  The amounts are to taste, but probably about a teaspoon of each herb and a few grinds of the pepper.

Next, heat a skillet over high heat.  Add about a tablespoon of olive oil and swirl it around so it’s evenly distributed throughout the pan.  Add the salmon, seasoned-side down (try to get as much of the green onions under the salmon as you can, even though it will tend to fall off when you flip it) and let it sear for about 3-4 minutes.  Once it has seared, and the salmon begins to turn white on the part closest to the pan, transfer to the broiling pan.  Drizzle with any remaining olive oil from the skillet and sprinkle with salt, to taste.

Bake in the oven for about 15 minutes, or until the center of the salmon is pale pink (as opposed to the deep pink you started out with.  Once you remove it from the oven, drizzle the juice from half a lemon on top.

Now, the salmon sort of demands a side dish, and I love making pasta using the same ingredients I used in the salmon sooooo…

Andrea’s Stir-Fried Pasta

Start water boiling for pasta.  I hope you know how much water you need to use for pasta, but if not, look on the box.  I usually stick to 2 oz of pasta per person for this side dish.

Thinly slice 2 green onions.  Mince 2 loves of garlic.  Cut 2 pints of cherry tomatoes in half.

In a large bowl, add 1 tsp dried or 1 Tbs fresh dill, 1 tsp thyme, a few grinds of black pepper, juice from half a lemon, and a pinch of salt.  Once the water starts boiling, add 4 oz of whole wheat pasta (that’s about 2 cups of shapes or 1/4 box of spaghetti).  Heat about a tablespoon of olive oil on a skillet and add the green onions and tomatoes.  After about a minute of stirring, add the garlic and about 1/2 tsp of red pepper flakes.  Once the green onions start to soften and the mixture gives off a nice aroma (should only take a couple minutes), take the skillet off the heat (turn off the stove!) and add to the bowl that you’re prepared with herbs.  Once the pasta is cooked, add it to the bowl and give it a toss.  Done!  If you’ve timed everything correctly, the salmon should be ready by now too and you can sprinkle some parmesan cheese on the pasta and serve the delicious meal you’d just created (only took about a half hour, too!).

Written by poperatzii

June 12, 2010 at 11:45 am


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In case you’ve been wondering where I’ve been… I moved.  And during the move I did not cook.  I did however eat… a lot… of junk food.  And then shortly after the move I realized I misplaced my camera.  I’m hoping that at some point during the unpacking process I find it because I can’t really update a blog post without pictures, can I?

However, I do have pictures from one meal I made before the move.  One day, I was all set to make a “Carolina Casserole” recipe from a healthy cookbook I have called Healthy Eating for Two (Or Just You), which I like because it uses real ingredients and real cooking skills.  It has some good stuff.  Anyway, I was going to make this recipe.  However, the recipe calls for cooking the the microwave, which I do not approve of, and mushrooms, which I did not have.  So, I made a few modifications and the dish ended up somewhat different.  The result was sort of a pilaf-y risotto-y rice dish.  It was also delish.  I call it pilaf-y because I sort of used the same method I usually use for pilaf, and it’s risotto-y because it ended up very creamy, much like risotto.  It’s also a great weeknight meal because it’s quick, not too involved, and low in calories (about 400 per serving, in case you were wondering).

Andrea’s Pilaf-Risotto (serves 2)

Preheat the oven to 375.

Thinly slice 1/2 an onion.  In a medium pot, melt 1 tablespoon of butter over medium-high heat. Add the onion and about a teaspoon of dried, or a tablespoon of fresh, minced rosemary.  Stir until the onions have softened and become translucent, but not quite brown.  Add 1/2 cup of white rice and 2/3 cup of diced cooked chicken or turkey.  Cook, stirring, for about a minute, then add 1 1/2 cups of chicken broth or stock.  Add a few grinds of black pepper and 1/2 teaspoon of dried thyme.  Stop stirring, bring to a simmer, add salt (to taste) and 2/3 cup milk.  If your pot is not oven-proof, transfer to a casserole dish, cover, and put in the oven.

After 20 minutes, uncover the pot/ dish and add 1/2 cup of frozen green peas.  Return to the oven for another 10 minutes.  The rice should be tender and most of the liquid should have been absorbed.  DONE.  After you take it out of the oven, you can add sprinkle some grated parmesan cheese on top.  Serve hot.

Written by poperatzii

June 10, 2010 at 7:18 pm

The Unexpected Psychological Benefits of Pork (it’s Science)

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I stayed up late last night watching the Lost series finale (so good!) and as a result I was in a bad mood today.  Sleepiness mixed with the unhappiness that comes with the end of a weekend (a very productive weekend, I might add) is not a good combination.  By the time I got home at 7 I was cranky, hungry, and tired.  However, I had been looking forward to the dinner I had planned, so I shoved some peanuts in my mouth and got to work. Then something magical happened – I felt better.  Pork is magical.

This is actually my first time really making pork chops (one of my father’s many creations), but I had a craving for pork and I had a roasted potato recipe I wanted to try (unfortunately I was unaware that the recipe took an hour so I nixed that and made delicious mashed potatoes).  My brother, Camilo, makes pork chops regularly and enjoys them immensely so I thought I’d give them a shot.

Also, I’d like to point out how All-American this meal is for me. I guess it’s because Memorial Day is coming up and I’m feeling patriotic.

Seared Pork Chops

Serves 2 (feel free to increase the portions proportionately for a bigger family or leftovers – which are delicious!)

Preheat the oven to 375.

If you’re making mashed potatoes, start those potato chunks boiling.

Line a broiler pan or baking sheet with foil for easy cleanup.  Thinly slice 1/4 an onion.  Wash and deseed a jalapeño or serrano pepper and slice it into thin slivers.  Mince 2 cloves of garlic.

Lay 2 pork chops (mine were about 3/4 an inch thick and 5 oz each) on a plate and rub thyme, black pepper, rosemary (minced, if fresh), and the garlic into the flesh, in that order.  Pile the onions and slivered peppers on top.

Heat a medium skillet over high heat until very hot.  Drizzle a little olive oil into the pan and let it heat for 30 second or so.  Place the chops, seasoned side down, into the pan, trying to get as much of the onion and pepper under the pork chop as you can.

Allow the chops to sear for about five minutes.  The onion and pepper should blacken some.  Remove them using a spatula and quickly (yet gently!) flip onto the broiler pan/ baking sheet and sprinkle with salt to taste.  Bake in the preheated oven for 10 minutes.

If you’re planning of having peas or broccoli, now’s a good time to start them steaming!  The potatoes are probably done cooking by now so you can drain most of the liquid, add butter and milk or cream, mash away, and season with herbs and spices of your choosing (don’t forget salt!).

After 10 minutes, remove the pork chops.  If they’re still a little pink in the middle, put them back in the oven for 2 or 3 more minutes.

Chow down!

Note: my father uses this method for “country-style” ribs.  You can do so as well, but the cooking time will have to be increased to about 45 minutes.  The result is a very juicy piece of pork!

Written by poperatzii

May 24, 2010 at 8:51 pm

Posted in Pork, Weekday Meals

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