Summer Watermelon Salad

It’s summer!  The time of fresh fruit and lazy days… the time when you want to be able to go outside and enjoy your friends and family… the time for easy or starter recipes…  This is when I like to have a few recipes on hand that make my life a little easier, especially on those days when the temperature is high and my energy is not.  For those days, I give you the Summer Watermelon Salad!

PicMonkey Image

This recipe couldn’t be easier… four ingredients and easy to adjust for the number of people you’re feeding!  This is actually one of my favorite lunches… light and simple, it just screams “SUMMER” to me.

Ingredients:

  • Watermelon – cut into bite-size pieces.  Use as much or as little as you like, but this is your *main* ingredient.  I typically use about 3 cups.
  • Feta cheese – I like to use crumbled *light* feta, but you can use whatever type makes you happy.   I dump in some from the container – about 1/2 cup.
  • Basil – if I have fresh, I take a small handful and cut into a chiffonade (little ribbons).  If not, I take a generous pinch of dried.  I’ve done both and fresh is definitely better in this – it’s a wonderful flavor!
  • White wine – I use what I have in my fridge, about 1/8-1/4 cup total.  I’ve used dry (Chardonnay and Pinot Gris/Grigio) and I’ve used semi-sweet/off-dry (Vidal Blanc and Viogner)… use what you like!

Directions:

  • Cut watermelon into bite-sized pieces and place in a large bowl.  Sprinkle with feta cheese and basil.  Toss lightly and adjust amounts as needed.
  • Thumb 1/8-1/4 cup of white wine over the salad and allow time to marinate before serving.
  • I typically drain a bit of the liquid off before serving.  This ends up being a mixture of wine and watermelon juice that isn’t really necessary.
  • Enjoy!

This is a great example of how I use “The Force” when cooking… so many variations to make this salad and it’s always delicious.  Hope you’ll try it and come up with your own favorite way to make this salad!

“Using The Force” for the first time

I was talking with a friend yesterday about what to make for dinner, when we stumbled upon the idea of having him “use The Force” to create a meal for him and his girlfriend.  We talked about a few recipes, contemplated different degrees of difficulty, and came up with the plan to use my Chicken Prosciutto Roll recipe.  He didn’t want to spend an inordinate amount of time on dinner, so we discussed ways he could “shortcut” the recipe and tailor it to their tastes.  I was so excited for him that I had to write a quick blog post to share this with you all.

AMUsingTheForce

Here’s his final product:

Doesn’t it look terrific?  THIS is what I mean when I say, if you’re planning to use one of my recipes,  that you should alter the original to fit what your family likes best, using the flavors and spices that you most enjoy.  He made his own version of a Chicken Prosciutto Roll and it turned out wonderfully.  He *did* use chicken breasts, Bourcin Cheese, and James River Cellars Gewurztraminer white wine, but swapped out ham for the prosciutto, since that’s what he had on hand.  More importantly than simply following the recipe, he used what he had at his disposal and took the time to prepare a meal that he and his girlfriend would enjoy.

My friend, AM, did a fabulous job of tailoring a basic recipe to make it his own.  I hope you’ll consider trying this same sort of thing in your own home.  It’s not hard to make dinner… it just takes a little thought and the ability to let your efforts shine as your own.

If you want me to blog about it and share your steps, just send me a message and take a few pics of the beginning/middle/end of your efforts so you can send them to me.  I’d be more than happy to help as you create dinners for your friends and loved ones… after all, it’s just food!

Enjoy the process…

Recipe: Re-Made Cinnamon Rolls

I love to pick up a package of pre-made Cinnamon Rolls and turn them into something a little different.  Turning something that’s already fairly “perfect” and changing things up can be a lot of fun and give you a whole new perspective on an old tradition.  Here’s what I did this morning with our breakfast.

CinnamonRollRedo

I started with a standard package of cinnamon rolls.  Any brand works well – this one just happened to be a huge package that was supposed to make only 5 rolls.  Great idea, but there are two of us and I didn’t really feel like picking up an entire roll to eat it.  I know that sounds goofy, but I really like using a fork to eat things like this so I can eat them in little pieces and not get my fingers dirty.  Girly girl… right?

Anyway, I had thought about baking the rolls in traditional muffin tins, but they just didn’t fit… too darn big!  At this point, I’d already sprayed the muffin tins with baking spray, so I really wanted to use them.  Instead of just cramming them into 5 of the muffin tins, I sliced each large roll three times (creating 6 rolls sections) and divided them equally into the 6 muffin tins.  Once they were all fairly even (it really did make 6 muffins this way, which is much simpler math than 5 divided by 2.  I popped the pan into a 350 degree oven for 20 minutes and set about playing with the icing that came with the cinnamon rolls.

IMHO (in my humble opinion), there’s never enough icing in these packages.  I’m sure there’s enough for “normal people”, but we really love icing, so I always plan using The Force on this part of most pre-packaged breakfast foods.

I started with the icing that came with the rolls and added 1/4 cup confectioner’s sugar, some Blue Bee Apple Juice, and a wedge of Laughing Cow light swiss cheese wedge (tastes like cream cheese to me).  I whisked all this together and added a little more confectioner’s sugar to get the consistency I wanted.  Remember, I use The Force when I cook, so this is always the way I make icing.  I start with something and then just keep adding things until it turns out the way I want (or close enough that it’ll work).  As you can see by the photo, there was plenty of icing and it really did taste amazing.  The apple juice from Blue Bee was a great addition – I could also have used a light white wine (and have on occasion) but the apple juice was a great touch.

Totally unique twist on an already yummy product… and a fun way to let me stretch a “single serve” item into something we could have used for 3 or 4 people.  Yea!

Have a great time playing with your food!

Recipe: Easy Merlot Steak Sauce with caramelized onions

I made a great steak sauce the other night… one that took my slices of steak from “tasty” to “wow” in such a short amount of time that even I was impressed.  I wanted to come up with something that would bump up the flavor of dinner and, while my non-wine loving guys were unimpressed, I thought it turned out really well.

I heated some olive oil in a saute pan, then added in some thinly sliced onions and let them cook for a good half hour, stirring occasionally.  There’s really no shortcut to caramelizing onions – time and low heat are needed to get that toasty sweet taste from an onion – but it is entirely worth the effort.  I started the sauce as soon as I walked in the door from work and made that the focus of the meal, time-wise.  I still had dinner on the table within 40 minutes, but it was the sauce that needed the brunt of cooking time and attention.  While this is an incredibly easy sauce, it’s not going to be quick.Merlot Steak Sauce

Once the onions hit that “toasty/caramelized” stage, I poured in some Merlot from James River Cellars Winery.  I was using The Force for this recipe, so amounts were going to be approximations no matter how much sauce I was making.  You might be able to tell by the pictures that I only used one onion and about a cup of wine… if you’re making this for a group of wine lovers, I would definitely increase everything for this recipe.

Once the wine was reduced to an acceptable thickness (by about 60% or so), I added a pat of butter to “gloss the sauce”, so to speak.  This bit of fat contributed a shininess to the visual presentation of the sauce on my steak and I later went back and topped some of my roasted potatoes and steamed broccoli with sauce as well.  Since I was the only one sampling, I had enough to spread throughout my dinner and, wow, was it ever tasty.  Whoever said that a sauce for your steak wouldn’t make other foods taste good as well was (IMHO) nuts!

Easy, simple sauce… that’s what I was hoping to create, and that’s what I got.  As I said earlier, it did take time, but the effort was truly minimal for the amount of flavor that I gained.

Feel free to mix up some of the ingredients in this recipe to cater to the favorites in your own family.  You could easily replace the onions with mushrooms… swap out the Merlot for a Cabernet Franc or Cabernet Sauvignon… this is a basic recipe, meant to allow you to tailor flavors to your preferences.

Have fun playing with your food… that’s what makes cooking so enjoyable!

Recipe: Merlot Risotto with Goat Cheese and Carmelized Onions

This is one of those “O M G” recipes for those of you who like a creamy rice dish.  It’s got flavor and just enough texture… it’s decadent yet simple enough to make for a quick dinner… and it’s got lots of ingredients that can be flipped around to suit almost any finicky guest.  Even better, it’s based on a recipe that my boss uses at her house!  It became a staple in her house after her trip to Rome… it’s going to become a staple in my own house because it’s just so darn tasty.  You’ll have to try it and see what YOU think.

Merlot Risotto

Ingredients:

4 Tablespoons of olive oil (divided 2T +2T)

Garlic (to taste – I like a lot, so I use 3-4 cloves worth)

1 1/4 cup arborio rice (I used a medium-length rice since I couldn’t find arborio but might use a short-grain next time)

1 cup James River Cellars’ Merlot (You can also use Cabernet Franc or another deep red wine of your choosing)

3 cups beef stock (If you’re making this for a vegetarian, simply use vegetable stock instead)

4 oz goat cheese (Use what you like and the amount you prefer – it’s the creaminess that you want here)

2 large, thinly sliced onions (You can substitute 3 cups of mushrooms or a mixture of both if you prefer)

Salt and pepper to taste

  1. In a large skillet, heat 2T olive oil over low heat, then add onions.  Allow to slowly cook for 20-25 minutes, stirring occasionally, until onions are caramelized.  If you’re using mushrooms in any form, this is where you’re going to cook them.
  2. While onions are cooking, heat remaining 2T olive oil in a large saucepan (don’t use something too small!).  Add garlic and cook until fragrant.  Add rice, tossing to coat in the oil, and allow to toast for 3-5 minutes, stirring occasionally.  Add in wine, stirring occasionally.  Once the wine is absorbed, add in 1 cup of stock and allow the rice to absorb the stock as it did with the wine.  Repeat this 2 more times until all the stock has been added and absorbed.  I didn’t stir this constantly – I didn’t feel it was necessary.  I kept an eye on it and then tasted the rice when all the liquid was absorbed – if you like a softer consistency, feel free to add another cup of stock to the rice and stir as before.
  3. Reduce the heat to low and add salt/pepper, goat cheese and onions, then stir.  I like the cheese to be thoroughly incorporated before I serve it, so I don’t top each serving with bits of cheese, but feel free if that’s what you prefer.

You’ll notice that this post looks like an actual recipe… because I started with an actual recipe.  I’ve added tons of places where you can alter things to fit your preferences, but this is your starting point.  If you want to add some protein, feel free!  There’s no “RISOTTO POLICE” who will come and tell you that you’re doing things wrong.  As with any recipe where I use The Force to create a new rendition, feel free to make your own changes.  The idea is to help you think outside the box and come up with a dish that will become a favorite at your house.

After all… don’t you think the famous chefs took some inspiration from the food they ate when they were out?  It’s scary, but try it every once in awhile.  You might create a new “famous” recipe too!

Beware, I cook using “The Force”

When I was first married, I followed recipes.  I would go to the grocery store with the purpose of picking up specific ingredients for a singular recipe and then go along, step-by-step, to hopefully come out with the picture-perfect dish that would make my new husband swoon with happiness.  After all, wasn’t the way to a man’s heart through his stomach?

It didn’t take me long to realize that this age-old phrase was simply that… a phrase.  The way to my own love’s heart was simply to be part of his life, whether I was cooking dinner in the kitchen or sitting across from him in a restaurant.  It wasn’t the three-course meal that was important; it was the thought behind the preparation… the plan behind the action… the love that was shown simply by paying attention and trying.

So I started to “wing it” when it came to food.  I know there are those of you who are cringing right now… cooking is a science and should be treated as such.  As much as I do agree that there’s a huge amount of science that goes along with cooking the right ingredients and the right temperature to achieve the right result, I also would insist that cooking existed for millions of years before we had oven thermometers and Pyrex measuring cups.  I simply don’t want to be tied down to a full-on planned recipe every time I want to make dinner.  It’s just not “me”…

So, I use “The Force” when I cook.  You know, the reference from Star Wars?  “May The Force be with you”?  I look to recipes for ideas, inspiration, and basic constructs of a dish… and then I branch out.  Sure it’s scary sometimes… but when it all comes together and makes a meal that everyone agrees is a WINNER, it’s a totally hyped experience.  Yes, there are those times when the recipe fails miserably, but thankfully those have become fewer and fewer over the years.

Take my chocolate chip cookie recipe, for example.  I started out using the standard Toll House Cookie recipe from the back of the package.  It’s tasty… it’s traditional… and it’s what everyone uses when they first start out making cookies.  It just started getting boring to make the same recipe over and over again.  My chocolate chip cookie recipe is a bit more “flamboyant”… for lack of a better word.  I’ve learned that I like to have some unique ingredients in my recipe, to add different back-notes of flavors to the cookie.  Over the years, my recipe has included chili powder, ground ginger, almond extract, espresso, blood orange balsamic vinegar, and yes… WINE.   Lest you think that I’ve abandoned the focus of my blog so soon, I will say that I do add red wine to my chocolate chip cookie dough.   It adds a lovely fudginess to the cookies and my guys seem to love it, which is why I’ll probably be making another double batch of dough to keep in the fridge before the weekend rolls around.

Many people like recipes to read like directions (step 1, step 2, step 3, etc) while others tend to allow for some creativity to flow when following a recipe.  It’s seen as more of a guideline than a directive.  For those of you who fall into the second category, you will understand my recipes much easier than those of you who crave the specifics of teaspoons, tablespoons, and quarter cups of ingredients.  In any case, I hope that you find some entertainment value in my cooking… I believe that it’s the journey that’s just as important as the final dish or destination.

Try using The Force in your cooking sometime… you might find a creative soul just waiting for the opportunity to shine!