Chicken-Swiss sandwich with sun-dried tomato pesto mayo

Hearty sandwiches on good crusty bread have always been one of my weaknesses (and Paul’s too). Really, we could live on interesting cheeses, fresh raw or grilled vegetables and mixed greens (and sometimes, free-range, sustainably raised, fresh meats) all piled onto crusty artesian bread slathered in a recent mayonnaise-based sauce. Unfortunately, a sandwich of this complexity can be one of the more expensive meals if you get the good bread from the bakery, and the fancy cheese and the high-quality meat from the deli. But we treated ourselves last night. And here OS what we created: chicken breast with Swiss cheese, mixed greens and a sun-dried tomato pesto mayonnaise.

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Recipe for sun-dried tomato pesto:

8 oz sun-dried tomatoes (dehydrated/dried, not packed in oil or water)
1/4 c extra virgin olive oil
1/4 c grated Parmesan cheese
2-3 cloves garlic
Salt and pepper to taste

Place all items in a food processor or blender and blend until desired coarseness. Add additional olive oil if necessary to alter consistency. Use as is on pasta or sandwiches, or blend at a 1:1 ratio with mayonnaise for a creamier sandwich spread.

To make chicken-Swiss sandwich:

Sautéed chicken breast in olive oil, salting and peppering to taste. Toast desired bread (we used a La Brea French loaf from the bakery at our Kroger). Spread pesto mayo on both sides of bread, add thinly sliced swiss cheese to one slice of bread, and place cooked chicken breast on top of cheese (to melt cheese). Pile with mixed greens and top with second slice of bread. Enjoy while still warm!

Post Script (for those interested in the process by which the recipes on this blog originate):
This is probably the most collaborative Paul and I have ever gotten in creating a meal for a single night. The process went something like this.

Paul: How about some sort of turkey melt sandwich?
Jess: What about something with sun-dried tomatoes?
Paul: Chicken would probably go better with sun-dried tomatoes.
Jess: And we need a type of cheese. What about Swiss? And then we could pile some mixed greens on top.
Paul: So, use like a bakery, French bread or baguette?
Jess: Probably a loaf that we can slice would work better.

…And then we went to the grocery stores.

Pickling update

The pickled vegetables of my last post turned out marvelously! Exactly as I planned. The only change you might want to make is to blanch the vegetables beforehand if you like softer pickles. I like mine crunchy, so I’m not going to change a thing, however! YUM!ūüôā

Pickled vegetables

It’s summer, and with summer, comes more time to cook and more things to cook with: farmer’s market vegetables! Yesterday, I did a little experiment with my grandmother’s family pickle recipe and tried pickling some of my own vegetables. But here’s the catch: Paul hates pickles. So, I had to modify the recipe to make it taste like something Paul does like: our recipe for blanched kale with a dressing of sauteed onions and jalepenos in olive oil and balsamic vinegar. Here’s how I did it.

Spicy Pickled Vegetables

Step 1: Choose your vegetables

My choice of vegetables was heavily inspired by things I’ve had pickled successfully in the past: carrots, green beans, cauliflower, celery, red pepper, and cucumbers. I cut all of them into chunks that would pickle in roughly the same time and could also be eaten easily in one bite.

Step 2: Make your pickle juice!

The next order of business is to make your pickling liquid. My recipe was loosely based off my Grandma Martha’s pickle recipe, but modified to (hopefully) suit Paul’s taste. Here it is:

The page from my recipe book that I copied my Grandma's recipe onto before coming to Bloomington.

7 cups water
3/4 cup cider vinegar
about 3/8 cup balsamic vinegar
3/8 cup salt
2 tsp sugar
1 jalepeno, sliced into 1/4″ rounds
1/4 large onion, roughly chopped
1+ clove garlic, rough chopped

Heat all of the above ingredients in a saucepan, covered, just until boiling and then remove from heat and keep covered until ready to pour over vegetables.

Pickle juice on the stove

Step 3: Clean your jars.

This step is essential. Even though we’ll be pickling with the help of the refrigerator (and not the old fashioned way), it’s key that your jars (and tops) be extremely clean, because otherwise you’ll have mold growing in your pickles in just a few days and they won’t last for weeks like they will in clean jars.

Step 4: Build your vegetables.

Layer the vegetables into the jars in any order you please. You can do separate sets of vegetables in each jar, or mix and match. I like to mix because it looks pretty.

All in: green beans, carrots, celery, red pepper, and cauliflower.


All ready to be pickled!

Step 5: Pickle!

Pour the pickle juice over the vegetables, seal the jars, and put in the fridge. Test the vegetables every day or so, to see when they’re pickled to your desire of doneness. It can be anywhere from a day to a week, depending on the type of vegetables, the size of the slices, the temperature of your fridge, and your personal tastes. We’ll be trying ours tonight. I’ll keep you posted!

Sealed up tight!


Sitting tight in the fridge, pickling away.

Shrimp and spinach alfredo

Just some quick pictures and a recipe today. No story associated with this one. (Which I supposed is good, because it means there were no catastrophes worth reporting, yes?)

Shrimp and spinach alfredo (on a budget)

Makes enough for a meal for 2-3 depending on how hungry your eaters are.

Ingredients:

1/2 lb frozen pre-cooked shrimp (you can add more if you’re not on a budget; or use fresh shrimp, but cook them before adding to the sauce)
4 cups fresh spinach
2 cups chopped or sliced fresh mushrooms
Alfredo sauce:
3/4 stick of butter
1-2 tbsp flour
2 cups of cream or milk (Paul and I usually just use 2%, or whatever we have in the house – we’ve even used soymilk)
4 oz. shredded cheese of your choice (our favorite is gruyere)
1/2 cup grated parmesan
Salt and pepper to taste

Directions:

Melt butter in saucepan on medium heat (make sure to not let it bubble). Add flour and stir until a rich caramel color (I think I heard them say that on Food Network once). Add milk and heat while stirring constantly (bring to not quite a simmer but until you see steam coming off the pot). Make sure not to let the milk scald. When milk is steaming, add cheeses gradually, mixing as you do. Stir until mixture begins to thicken and is slightly thicker than the final consistency you’d desire your sauce.* Add (thawed) shrimp (tails on or off, your preference), and spinach, and mushrooms. (If you desire, you can saute the mushrooms in butter or olive oil and garlic first to draw off some of their liquid and speed up the whole process.) Stir until all ingredients are heated and cooked through. Ladle sauce over your choice of pasta and enjoy!

*Tips for sauce that won’t thicken: First, ALWAYS thicken the sauce before adding anything else, e.g., chicken, mushrooms, spinach, shrimp, veggies, chunks of anything. Otherwise it won’t thicken properly and the following solutions can’t be used. Second, BE PATIENT. It can take upwards of 30 minutes of stirring for sauce to thicken properly sometimes. Finally, you can add more flour to speed up the thickening process. This can be done two ways: (1) Sprinkle in sifted flour directly into the sauce in teaspoon increments until the sauce starts to thicken. Sprinkle in no more than 4 or 5 teaspoons, however, otherwise the sauce will start to taste doughy, like bread. Gross. (2) Mix up 3 teaspoons of flour with 1 teaspoon of water (or white wine, if you like that flavor in sauce), and pour into sauce slowly. Repeat up to 3 times until sauce has reached desired consistency.

More pictures of the sauce to tickle your taste buds. And some of the bread I made to go with the meal.

Alllllll byyyy myyyy seee-eh-eelf

FYI, you’re supposed to sing (go to 0:58) the title of the post.

Well, it’s crunch time at school. And I’m alone tonight, trying to cram down some food between doing the massive amounts of paper writing, presentation making, and number crunching I have to do before the semester winds to a close in two weeks. BUT that doesn’t mean I don’t have time for a good meal. Or sorta.

Here is what I’m eating right now:

Looks yummy, huh? A pile of farmer’s market mixed mustard greens grilled cheese on homemade sourdough bread. Except those of you with a keen eye might recognize that orange-yellow goo oozing out of my sandwich as none other than – no! Can it be!? Oh yes, it is. – Kraft American Singles Pasteurized Prepared Cheese Product!

Now, I’m well aware that just even having this stuff in the fridge soils our reputation, and that reporting it here is close to food blogger suicide. But what can I say? Paul occasionally cooks for small children at work, as you all know, and sometimes they have leftovers. And a few months ago, they made grilled cheese on the cheap (a.k.a., out of Paul’s pocket, because they didn’t have cooking club funds) and had 3 packages of leftover Kraft Singles. Lucky us! And, because this stuff lasts forever, I only just tonight opened up the last package.

And you know what? It was absolutely every bit as delicious as the kids on the commercials make it look.

So there.

We’re ba-ack! With black bean, corn and okra soup

We’re back! After a long hiatus from writing recipes for this blog, it’s almost summer and we have more time again to cook and write. So, with no further ado, this week’s challenge is cooking from things left over in our house. The task: How many meals can we cook from miscellaneous things already in our kitchen without going grocery shopping? I was feeling creative last Friday and so I scoured around and made a list of 17 main dishes, 9 starch-y side dishes, and 5 vegetable side dishes, and this week we’ll be picking and choosing from the list. Today is black bean, corn and okra soup and home made corn bread from scratch. Here are the recipes:

Black bean, corn, and okra soup
Ingredients:
Spice mix:
1 1/2 teaspoon each: ground coriander, ground sweet or smoked paprika, ground cumin seed.
1 teaspoon (or less, if you’re not one for spice) ground cayenne pepper
1/2 teaspoon each: dried thyme, crushed bay leaves (or 1 whole bay leaf and then remember to take it out at the end)
Broth:
1 cup tomato sauce
3-4 cups chicken broth/stock
8+oz beer
Vegetables:
2 cans black beans
1 bag frozen corn
1 bag of frozen okra, sliced
1 whole diced onion
4 cloves chopped fresh garlic (or 2 tablespoons jarred garlic)
Misc:
1/2 – 1 cup orzo, large cous cous, or cooked rice (optional, mostly for bulk and texture)
1 tablespoon olive or cooking oil.

Directions:
Dice onion and sauté in the bottom of a soup pot in the oil for 3-4 minutes. Mix together spices while onion is softening. Add garlic and spices and continue to sauté for another 3 minutes. Add tomato sauce, chicken broth and beer. Bring to a boil, and then simmer covered for about 10 minutes. Add corn, okra and black beans. Cover and simmer for another 10 minutes. Add orzo, cous cous or cooked rice (optional). Simmer until orzo or cous cous is cooked, or rice is heated through. Serve with corn bread or whole grain bread for dipping.


Homemade Corn Bread

Ingredients:
1 1/2 cup each: coarse ground corn meal (or polenta), all purpose flour
1/3 cup sugar
5 teaspoons baking powder
1 1/2 cup milk
1/2 cup cooking oil
2 medium eggs

Directions:
Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Mix together dry ingredients in large mixing bowl. Mix together wet ingredients in a separate mixing bowl. Add wet ingredients to dry and mix well. Pour into 8×8 in baking pan. Bake in preheated oven for 25-35 minutes. Bread is done cooking when a toothpick inserted into center comes out clean.

California Rolls, They’re Unforgettable (Also Goodbye For Now)

Alas, I fear the time has come here at Cramped Kitchen to step away from the blog for the time being.¬† While I have immensely enjoyed opening my culinary world and sharing with you my many mishaps and occasional accidental successes, I find myself needing to take a prolonged break.¬† As my AmeriCorps term comes to a close in late August, it is time once again to begin job hunting, and when you add that on top of the 60 hour weeks I am currently doing at the Boys and Girls Club, I find myself with not a lot of free time.¬† It was a long and arduous decision, but in the end common sense and George Washington’s face helped me realize that those precious few free¬†minutes every day should be spent with Jess rather than working on the blog (stupid heads, I should have known tails never fails).¬† Jess will continue to post here, and I hope to return in the fall when I find myself a full-time job.¬† I have had such a great time cooking and writing this for you, and I appreciate those of you who took the time to read it.¬† Even if you only read it once.¬† Or stumbled upon it¬†by accident.¬† Or had to read it because I am your son and you are required to love me.¬† Regardless, thanks, and I hope you have enjoyed it.

Being that this is the last post for a while, I thought I would wait for something good to post about, and tonight is definitely the night.  We love cooking Asian-style food, and tonight we made chicken fried rice and homemade sushi rolls.  Now some of the people I went to college with are sushi snobs and would probably turn up their nose to our efforts, but I thought it was amazing.  We went with simple California rolls, which is crab, avocado, and cucumber rolled up with rice in seaweed.  It is actually a lot easier than you might think.  The key is spending the time to get the rice right.  We started with sushi rice, which we were able to buy in bulk for very cheap.  We used about 3 cups of dry rice, and ended up with 5 rolls.  The first step is to wash the rice thoroughly, rinsing until the water is no longer cloudy.  We then boiled it, as we do not have a rice cooker.  While the rice was cooking we heated some salt and sugar in rice vinegar until completely dissolved.  This mixture was mixed in with the rice after it had finished cooking and was set aside to cool.  Now I am not a big rice person, it was always too bland for me, but this simple addition added so much great flavor to the rice that I would have eaten it by itself.  Once the rice was done it was simply a matter of putting everything together.  Thin slices of avocado, cucumber, and imitation crab were placed on a bed of rice and rolled up in a sheet of seaweed.  It really was not a lot of work, and the taste was fantastic.  And considering it cost us less than $2 per roll to make, we will be trying this again very soon.  Maybe next time we will be more creative and try a more difficult roll.

The other part of our meal was a simple chicken fried rice, something I have been craving since I have been away from Appleton and separated from my baby.  This too was a simple dish.  We started with about 2 cups of rice, (we actually just made 1 big pot of rice for the sushi and the fried rice), and then stir fried it in our wok with mushrooms, carrots, peas, chicken, garlic, ginger, and some red pepper.  Once again, after cooking the rice, it is simply a matter of minutes to throw this dish together.  It was the perfect meal to go out on (temporarily).  It was so easy that I could make it, and it was so delicious I would recommend it to anyone and everyone.  And just like restaurant style Asian food, I ate half a plate and was full for about an hour, at which point I found myself starving again.

Check out more pictures here.