Category Archives: Meals and Recipes

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.

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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.

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.

Eggplant Parmesan

Its been a while since I have done this.  I hope blogging is something like riding a bike, in that its something you don’t forget how to do.  Then again, I don’t particularly like riding bikes, though I don’t remember why.  I think I crashed once.  It probably hurt.  Anyways, it is enough to have kept me off a bike for the last 10 plus years.  But back to why we are here.  Jess has been on me for a long time to get something posted, but truth be told I am incredibly lazy and had trouble getting myself to do it.  But then Jess went home for Spring Break, and I ate frozen pizza and leftovers for a week straight.  After that, I am so excited to be eating fresh delicious food that I will gladly write about it here.

Today’s dinner put a serious hole in my “I don’t get full on a vegetarian diet” argument.  We decided to make eggplant parmesan, and it was fantastic.  We started with a tomato sauce made from tomatoes, garlic, a red onion, some red wine, and fresh herbs from Jess’ hydroponic AeroGarden.  We let these simmer all afternoon in our slow-cooker until we had a nice homemade sauce.  For the eggplant, we sliced them into 1 inch thick pieces and quickly browned both sides in a skillet with some oil.  It was then covered with a mixture of breadcrumbs, mozzarella cheese, and parmesan cheese, and placed in a bed of our tomato sauce to bake in the oven.  When it came out is was a beautiful golden brown, a lot more appetizing than the frozen leftovers I had grown accustomed to.  We served it over pasta, with a side of rainbow chard with some garlic, onion, and spicy peppers.

Now, when Jess and I discuss what meals we are having the following week, I always try to tell her I need a significant helping of meat to make sure I get full.  Unfortunately for a couple living off of loans and an AmeriCorps living allowance, meat doesn’t always fit into the budget.  So it is good finding vegetarian meals that bring me into food coma territory.  And this was definitely one of them.  One plate and I was stuffed, which is great because it means leftovers, and during my week of eating freezer food I had finished all of my lunch options, and was getting sick of peanut butter.

P.S. I will try to not let it get to be a whole month (maybe even more) before I post again.  and I wanted to thank whoever it was that periodically checked our blog for updates.  I hope it was worth the wait.

Kale and Red Grape salad

Kale is one of my favorite vegetables. And that’s saying a lot, because vegetables as a group are my favorite food. And nothing quite fits my needs tonight like this Kale and Red Grape salad I made up. It’s such a lovely balance of sweet and sour, with the good flavor provided by the olive oil.

Sorry, no pictures – I ate it all before I thought about the camera!

Kale and Red Grape salad

Ingredients:
1 bunch of green kale, very roughly chopped
1 handful red grapes, sliced in half
good quality balsamic vinegar and extra virgin olive oil
salt to taste

Directions:
Get an ice bath ready: place several ice cubes in a bowl large enough to fit all the chopped kale and fill 2/3 of the way with water. Fill the bottom of a large sauce pan with 1 inch of cold water. Place chopped kale in pan, cover, and heat just until kale is lightly steamed and bright green, moving greens around to prevent those on the bottom from boiling. Remove kale immediately from heat and into the cold water bath. Leave in water bath until kale is cold and an even brighter green. Remove from cold water, dry, and place in bowl. Drizzle with olive oil and balsamic, and add salt to taste. Add sliced grapes and mix well. Enjoy as a side to your favorite entree or on its own with some good quality bread for a light lunch or supper.