Category Archives: SIDE DISH RECIPES

MEXICAN PINTO BEANS

I love dried beans. They are so terribly multitalented and the best part – they are really, really good for us. Let me count the ways! Source – Huffington Post, Bonnie Taub-Dix

  1. Beans contain an abundance of soluble fiber, which can lower cholesterol and triglyceride levels. In other words, they are heart healthy.
  2. Beans are low in fat (only 2-3 percent) and contain no cholesterol.
  3. Beans pack protein. Half a cup provides 7 grams of protein, the same amount as 1 ounce of chicken, meat, or fish. Beans are a terrific source of protein for vegetarians and vegans.
  4. Beans balance blood sugar. With a low glycemic index, beans contain a beautiful blend of complex carbohydrates and protein. Because of this, beans are digested slowly, which helps keep blood glucose levels stable, which in turn helps curtail fatigue and irritability.
  5. Beans cut the risk of cancer and chronic diseases. Scientists recommend that adults consume 3 cups of beans per week to promote health. Beans contain an abundance of antioxidants which prohibit (and in some cases even prevent), the oxidation of other molecules in the body. The benefits of antioxidants are very important to good health, because if free radicals are left unchallenged, they can cause a wide range of illnesses.
  6. Beans help our bodies stay regular. Filled with fiber, beans can promote regularity by preventing constipation. To maximize the benefit, always accompany high-fiber foods such as beans with ample amounts of water.
  7. Beans give us that “full” feeling. Because beans are metabolized more slowly than other complex carbs, they may aid in weight loss by keeping us feeling full without being excessively high in calories.
  8. Beans are convenient and inexpensive. Canned or dry, beans are a breeze to purchase, prepare, and store. They are also the least expensive source of protein, especially when compared to fresh meat.
  9. Beans are rich in nutrients. They contain a powerhouse of vitamins and minerals, such as copper, folate, iron, magnesium, manganese, phosphorous, potassium, and zinc. The Dietary Guidelines for Americans refer to many of these important nutrients as “shortfall nutrients,” meaning most of us aren’t getting enough of them.
  10. Beans are very versatile. They can be incorporated into a main dish (chili), side dish (rice and beans), appetizer (soup) or snack (dip). It’s easy to be creative when you have pinto beans, kidney beans, black beans, black-eyed peas, garbanzo beans (chickpeas), split peas, and lentils, etc. etc. in your pantry.

Now that you know the health reasons behind incorporating more beans into your diet, let me share with you the real reason I eat beans. They are just plain delicious! And this recipe, which is really simple to prepare, is a good example. But before you get too excited, I need to mention that this dish is never going to be the star of any Mexican meal. Think of this dish like you would the back-up singer in a band. Creates another level of enjoyment for the audience, would be missed if not on the stage, but not the reason you came to the concert in the first place.

Or think of how you order a meal in a Mexican restaurant. You never order “whole beans with an enchilada on the side”. Of course not. You order an enchilada which almost always comes with a side of beans! So this is that side of beans that is good on its own, but is really on the plate to compliment the enchilada, or tamale, or whatever!

And that’s exactly what happened last evening. I made Cheese Enchiladas with Red Chili Sauce, (on this site) and served these beans on the side. What a yummy meal. BTW, the Red Chili Sauce for the cheese enchiladas is absolutely the best Mexican red sauce I have ever tasted. I’ve been making it now since the mid 70’s, and like I said, I have never tasted one better. Even the restaurants in New Mexico, Arizona, or Colorado can’t make a red sauce as flavorful as this one! (And yes, I can boast about this sauce, because I didn’t invent it. I received it from my late friend Jan W.)

So, break out the tequila, put on a mariachi CD, and whip up a Mexican dinner for your family and/or friends. Don’t forget the Guacamole! (Recipe also on this site). Salud!

  • 1 lb. dry pinto beans (about 2½ cups)
  • 8 c. water, divided, or more as needed
  • 1 lg. bay leaf
  • ½ tsp. cumin
  • ½ tsp. smoked paprika
  • ½ tsp. granulated garlic
  • ½ tsp. onion powder
  • 1 tsp. chili powder
  • 1/8 tsp. cayenne pepper
  • 2 tsp. kosher salt
  • freshly ground black pepper (not too much)

Pour beans into a colander. Run water over the beans and remove any rocks, dirt, or misshaped beans. Add beans to a large covered pot. Pour in 6 cups of the water and bring to a boil. Cover and simmer on low for 1 hour. Stir periodically.

After an hour, add the remaining 2 cups water, bay leaf, cumin, smoked paprika, granulated garlic, onion powder, chili powder, cayenne pepper, salt, and black pepper; stir to combine. Bring to a boil. Cover, reduce heat, and simmer on low heat for an additional 60 to 90 minutes, stirring occasionally. Beans are done when they are soft and the liquid is creamy. (Add more water if the beans aren’t tender but most of the liquid has evaporated. If you have too much liquid, remove the lid and simmer gently until you achieve desired consistency.) Adjust seasonings as required.

 

FRIED RICE

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Yesterday while trying to decide what to fix for dinner, I remembered that I had some cooked white rice in the fridge. When I serve rice, it’s usually brown rice or some kind of pilaf. But the night before I had served a chicken curry, and I like curry best over white rice. (FYI – For my curry recipe, go to Curry Sauce for Chicken, Shrimp, Beef, or Lamb.) So with about 2 cups of cooked rice literally staring me in the face, I decided to make fried rice.

I have been making this recipe for decades. It is so tasty and the best part is that you can use as many or as few veggies as you happen to have on hand. I didn’t have any fresh mushrooms for example, so I used dry mushrooms. (Actually I prefer dried mushrooms in fried rice anyway. So no problem there.) Then I simply used the combination of veggies listed below, because they were what was in my veggie drawer. But you could add celery, bean sprouts, Fried Tofu (see recipe below), edamame, broccoli, or any other vegetable your little heart desires or you simply need to use up. (Soup and fried rice have a lot in common when it comes to using up fresh vegetables that scream at you every time you open the veggie crisper drawer!)

And the amounts listed below are merely a guideline. If you are crazy nuts about peas for example, add as many as you like. Hate mushrooms, leave them out. This recipe should be used as a simple road map to preparing a delicious side dish that is simple to make, inexpensive, and pretty to boot. And it goes well with just about any type of meat.

So do yourself and your family a favor. Get your wok out of storage, or your largest fry pan from its resting place, and build a treat for your family. Fried rice is simply an amazing dish. Kids don’t even realize they are eating veggies when they are gulping down this rice with its subtle Asian flavor. And what parent doesn’t like a little harmless subterfuge when it comes to providing their offspring with nutritious food? Or wife for that matter trying to get cruciferous veggies down her husband’s throat. (Not mentioning any names here, but I’m pretty sure you can figure out to which husband and wife team I am alluding!)

  • 2 eggs
  • ½ tsp. kosher salt, divided
  • 3 T. vegetable oil, divided
  • 3 tsp. sesame oil, divided
  • ½ c. chopped yellow onion
  • ¾ c. chopped button mushrooms or ½ c. chopped dry mushrooms, rehydrated and squeezed semi-dry
  • 2 c. cold cooked rice
  • 1/3 c. shredded carrot
  • ½ c. diced zucchini
  • ¾ c. finely sliced green cabbage
  • 2 T. vegetable, chicken, or beef broth
  • freshly ground black pepper
  • 3 T. Tamari, or more to taste (use GF Tamari to make this a GF dish)
  • ¼ c. frozen petite peas or fresh peapods, sliced
  • ½ c. sliced green onions

Beat eggs with ¼ teaspoon of the salt. Heat 1 tablespoons of the vegetable oil over medium heat in a wok or large fry pan. Pour in beaten eggs. Stir eggs continuously until cooked dry and separated into small pieces. Remove from pan and set aside.

Add the remaining 2 tablespoons vegetable oil and 1 teaspoon of the sesame oil to the pan. Turn burner to medium heat. Add the yellow onion, mushrooms, and rice to the pan. Stir fry for 5 minutes. Add the carrot, zucchini, and cabbage; stir fry for an additional 4 minutes. Add the broth, remaining ¼ teaspoon salt, pepper, and Tamari. Stir to mix well. Add the peas, green onion, cooked eggs, and remaining 2 teaspoons sesame oil. Bring up to heat. Adjust seasoning and serve immediately.

Please note: If you want to include meat in your fried rice, add as much cooked meat or cooked shrimp as you would like along with the peas, green onions, etc.

FRIED TOFU

  • ½ block extra firm tofu
  • 2 T. cornstarch, or more as needed
  • 2 tsp. vegetable oil
  • 1 tsp. sesame oil

Wrap tofu in a clean, absorbent towel and set something heavy on top, such as a cast iron skillet, to press out the liquid. Let sit for a few minutes. Cut tofu into ¼-inch slices and coat with cornstarch.  Combine the vegetable oil and sesame oil in a medium frying pan. Bring oil to medium heat and fry the tofu until both sides are a nice golden brown. Remove from pan and drain on a paper towel. When cool cut into bite size pieces. Set aside. Add to the fried rice along with the peas, green onions, etc. Stir gentle so the tofu doesn’t break up.

 

RICE AND PASTA PILAF

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OK, it’s time to fess up. When I am trailer camping, I almost always buy packaged rice mixes as a side dish for dinners. They are easy to store, simple to prepare, and usually make enough for 2 dinners. And one of my favorites is Rice-a-Roni. (Remember, I never said I was a gourmet!) And truly, there are some pretty good rice/risotto mixes on the market today. But even though they are perfect for camping, they are expensive (for what you get), and have that subtle background taste that I really don’t enjoy. I call that flavor – “packaged”. You find it in lots of products, from pancake mix to cake mix and beyond. (And yes, I still use cake mixes occasionally. In fact, some of my favorite dessert recipes start with a cake mix. But I digress…..)

So I have determined, after performing my own very unscientific analysis on the subject, that the unpleasant background flavor I don’t appreciate comes from the ingredients that I can’t pronounce and were never a part of my grandmother’s era. (My usual guideline for what I want to put in my mouth!)

So while looking for a fairly tame side dish to go with a simple ground beef pattie and steamed green beans dinner I was planning for last evening, I went on line for inspiration. And what I found was a recipe on Allrecipes by Sarah Billings for a homemade Rice-a-Roni. Oh the joy of finding one of my favorite guilty pleasures that I could duplicate at home. Of course I added/changed a couple of ingredients from the source recipe, and what I prepared was not quite like what comes in the little red boxes. It was much better! No “packaged” flavor. No ingredients that only a mad scientist could pronounce, and the right price since I had all the ingredients on hand. (Always a bonus!)

So if you too love a simple rice side dish, this is the recipe for you. And to change it up a bit, or even make it into a main dish, just add some cooked meat or seafood, additional veggies (mushrooms come to mind), a bit of whatever kind of cheese you happen to have, and you have a wonderful dish that is easy, fast, and economical to prepare. And bottom line, your kids are going to love it. It has that creamy mouth feel that makes macaroni and cheese such a favorite with children.

And just for the record, I am still going to buy packaged rice mixes when on trailer trips. But when I am at home, you can bet your last Golden Grain $1.00 off coupon that I am going to continue making all of my rice side dishes from scratch. And this recipe is now on the top of my list!   

  • 2 T. unsalted butter
  • ½ c. orzo pasta
  • ½ c. uncooked white rice  
  • ½ c. diced onion
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 2 c. chicken, beef, or vegetable broth
  • 1 tsp. seasoned salt
  • freshly ground black pepper
  • 2 sliced green onions
  • ¼ c. toasted slivered almonds

Melt the butter in a lidded pan over medium-low heat. Add the orzo pasta and rice and fry until just starting to turn golden brown. Stir in onion and cook for a couple of minutes. Add the garlic and cook for 1 minute. Stir in the broth, seasoned salt, and pepper. Increase heat to high and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to medium-low, cover, and simmer until the rice is tender, and the liquid has been absorbed, 20 to 25 minutes. Remove from heat and stir in the green onions and slivered almonds. Adjust seasoning. Let stand for 5 minutes, then fluff with a fork.

CREAMY GARLIC & ROSEMARY POLENTA

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This is a variation on a Barefoot Contessa recipe. It produces a delicious creamy polenta with a lovely subtle rosemary flavor. Absolutely perfect as a side dish or as the base for a ragù such as Bolognese.

I served it last evening as a side for fried oysters along with some grilled veggies. It was one terrific meal, if I do say so myself. Actually Mr. C. was the one who first stated that last night’s dinner “so didn’t suck”. (Just about the best compliment anyone can receive in our crowd of food crazies and musical buddies.)

So if you too would like to fix a side dish that “so doesn’t suck”, give this recipe a try. And if you are one of those cooks who hasn’t tried polenta because you are worried about lumps, or having to hang over the polenta the entire cooking time – relax. The old wives tale that states that polenta has to be stirred continuously and then only with a wooden spoon, is just that – a tale for old wives. And since I clearly fit the demographic of “old and wife”, believe me when I say, your polenta can happily cook away and turn out beautifully even if you only give it a whisk or stir every few minutes. So meanwhile you can be preparing other fantastic dishes.

So be brave ladies and gentlemen. You too can fix a polenta just as delicious as any you would experience in even the classiest Italian restaurant. But let’s be honest here. Polenta is really just a fancy name for cornmeal mush. The difference lies in the additives and of course in the name. Polenta (Italian) versus corn meal mush (down home rural America). And they say, “what’s in a name”? In the case of polenta – everything! (Well that and a little butter, garlic, some herbs and spices, chicken stock, and Parmesan cheese.)

2 T. unsalted butter
2 T.  extra virgin olive oil
2 lg. garlic cloves, minced
1 T. minced fresh rosemary leaves
¼ tsp. crushed red pepper flakes
½ tsp. kosher salt
freshly ground black pepper
4 c. chicken stock
½ c. milk
1 c. cornmeal (not instant polenta, you need the real thing)
¾ c. grated Parmesan cheese 

Heat the butter and olive oil in a large heavy bottomed saucepan.  Add the garlic, rosemary, crushed red pepper flakes, salt, and pepper; sauté for 1 minute.  Add the chicken stock and milk; bring to a boil.

Slowly pour the cornmeal into the chicken stock while whisking.  Cook over low heat, whisking frequently, for 15 to 25 minutes or until thickened and bubbly. (The polenta should appear soft, moist, spreadable, creamy, and just barely flowing when done.) Remove from heat and whisk in the Parmesan.

SAVORY KALE AND MUSHROOM STRATA (BREAD PUDDING)

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I am always trying to come up with new and exciting side dishes. And especially side dishes that can be prepared ahead of time. So in trying to come up with a non-potato or rice dish to serve our hungry and discerning home concert guests this next Sunday, I thought about a savory bread pudding. And although I have two other delicious recipes for savory bread pudding on this site, Savory German Bread Pudding with Mushrooms and Wild Mushroom Bread Pudding, I wanted a strata that included kale and Gruyère cheese.

So never being one to leave well enough alone, I made some changes to a recipe I found on the New York Times web site. (I don’t know why I can’t just leave a recipe as is. But for whatever reason, most of the time I find it impossible to not tinker with a new recipe!) And in this case, I think the changes worked well.

The kale gives the strata a nice boost of color and vitamins, and the combination of cheeses lifts the overall flavor from mediocre to marvelous.

So if you too are bored with potato or rice side dishes, give this recipe a try. It’s easy to prepare, beautiful to look at, and delectable. It would also make a wonderful change from regular dressing at Thanksgiving or Christmas time. The pudding is flavorful enough to stand on its own, but if someone simply had to pour turkey gravy over it (that would be me!), the pudding would not be hurt in the least! (As if good turkey gravy ever hurt anything in the first place!)

  • 2 T. extra virgin olive oil
  • ¾ c. diced onion
  • 4 c. kale (stemmed, washed, cut into bite sized pieces, and dried in a salad spinner)   
  • ½ lb. button or crimini mushrooms, sliced
  • 2 garlic cloves, finely minced
  • 2 tsp. fresh thyme leaves, coarsely chopped
  • ½ tsp. kosher salt
  • freshly ground black pepper
  • ½ lb. rustic bread, cut into cubes (I like to use rustic sour dough bread)
  • scant 2 c. grated Gruyère cheese
  • scant 1 c. grated Parmesan cheese
  • 4 lg. eggs
  • 2 c. whole milk, or more as needed
  • 2 tsp. Dijon mustard
  • ½ tsp. ground nutmeg

Heat the olive oil over medium-high heat in a large frying pan. Add the onion and kale; cook until the onion becomes translucent, about 3 minutes. Add the mushrooms and cook for about 2 minutes. Add the garlic, thyme, salt, and pepper and cook for 1 minute. Remove from the heat, and set aside to cool.

In a large bowl, combine the bread cubes, the mushroom and kale mixture, and the Gruyère and Parmesan cheeses. Pour into a buttered large casserole dish or baking pan.*

Whisk the eggs, milk, mustard, nutmeg, a pinch of kosher salt, and some fresh ground pepper together. Pour over the bread mixture. Press down just a bit so bread cubes are mostly covered by the liquid. (If the bread cubes stick up above the liquid, add just a bit more milk.) Let sit for at least an hour before baking uncovered in a pre-heated 350 degree oven for 40 to 50 minutes, or until puffed and very lightly browned. Remove from oven and serve warm.

WILD AND BROWN RICE PILAF WITH DRIED CRANBERRIES AND TOASTED PECANS

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I love to cook and bake with both fresh and dried cranberries, especially during the holidays. There is just something about the sweet/tart flavor of the cranberry that beautifully offsets the richness of about everything else being served. (And yes I know I am not the first person to realize that cranberries go extremely well with such dishes as roast turkey! As a child, did I not hate that red jelly like stuff that came in a can and was on our dinner table every Thanksgiving and Christmas?) Well of course I did. I was a smart child! Even at the ripe old age of 5, I knew that anything that jiggled was sure to be awful. Even at that early an age I had already developed a loathing for Jell-O that, BTW, has never wavered. To the point where my own sweet darlings never experienced Jell-O as children. So as a child myself, that red stuff that wiggled when you plopped it out of the can never really had a chance.

As a young adult however, being entertained by people with more sophisticated palates than my parents, and learning how to prepare cranberry sauce myself from fresh berries, I never looked back on that canned jellied stuff I hated as a kid. But back to this recipe. (I have no idea how or why I get off on some of my tangents, but eventually I get back on track, so please bear with me. Perhaps I have this problem because I didn’t eat enough Jell-O as a child? I can’t for the life of me think of any other possible reason!)

Anyway – this recipe for pilaf is especially wonderful when served with a rich main dish. Be it roast chicken, pork, or beef, the sweet and savory flavor and subtle tartness are just a wonderful accompaniment to the rich flavor of the meat. Served with a simple green salad or green veggie, this side dish is bound to become one of your favorites. And the fact that it bakes in the oven leaving you free to finish the other dishes you are serving or sit down and enjoy a glass of wine, is just an added bonus. So give it a try. You will not be disappointed.

  • 2 T. unsalted butter
  • ½ c. minced shallots
  • 1 c. wild rice
  • 1 c. short-grain brown rice
  • 4 c. chicken or vegetable stock
  • ½ c. dried cranberries
  • 1 bay leaf
  • ¾ tsp. chopped fresh thyme leaves or ¼ tsp. dried thyme
  • ½ tsp. kosher salt
  • freshly ground black pepper
  • ½ c. pecans, toasted and coarsely chopped
  • ¼ c. minced fresh flat-leaf parsley

In a heavy 2-qt. saucepan over medium heat, melt the butter. Add the shallots and sauté until translucent, 2 to 3 minutes. Add the wild rice and the brown rice and stir until the grains are well coated, about 3 minutes. Stir in the stock, dried cranberries, bay leaf, thyme, salt, and pepper. Bring to a simmer, stir and cover. Transfer the pan to a pre-heated 375 degree oven and bake until all the liquid has been absorbed and the rice is tender, 50-60 minutes. Remove from the oven. Discard the bay leaf. Adjust seasonings. Stir in the pecans and parsley. Serve hot or warm.

Recipe Adapted from Williams-Sonoma Collection Series, Christmas, by Carolyn Miller (Simon & Schuster, 2003).

 

OVEN-BAKED BROWN RICE

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This is one of those rather non-descript side dish recipes that is good for you, but doesn’t necessarily taste like its’ good for you. You know, the kind that has nutritional value, not too much fat or salt, but is flavorful non-the-less. And I know. This is not the kind or recipe that you fall madly in love with and immediately after dinner call your best friend to tell him or her all about it. Not going to happen. But seriously, there is a need for this kind of dish in every good cooks’ repertoire. Allow me to elucidate.

Most of the time, when meat is the star of the show, and it is gussied up with the like of sauce or gravy, it requires a side that tastes and looks good, but doesn’t get in the way of the ooh/ahh that the meat wants so desperately to receive. (Kind of like the VP of the United States. He/she needs to be there to help the President, but God help him or her if they outshine the true leader/star of the show!)

But in the defense of this lowly dish, it really is tasty on its own. And the best part – it bakes in the oven which frees you up to pander to the needs of the star/meat. How terrific is that?

What I also love about this dish – the grains of rice don’t stick together. They just fluff up beautifully after the dish is out of the oven.

So when you have occasions which require a side dish/starch that can stand up for itself, but not be so presumptuous as to want to be the star, this is the dish for you. Easy, uncomplicated, tasty, nutritious, and unassuming. In other words – perfect in every respect! 

  • 1 tsp. unsalted butter
  • 1 T. extra virgin olive oil
  • ½ medium onion, diced
  • 1 lg. clove garlic, finely minced
  • 1 tsp. salt
  • freshly ground black pepper
  • ¾ tsp. dried thyme
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 2 c. long grain brown rice
  • 2 c. chicken stock or water
  • 1½ c. water

In the bottom of a heavy, covered, oven proof pan, melt the butter and oil together over medium heat. Add the onion and garlic and cook for 1 minute. Add the salt, pepper, thyme, and bay leaf and cook for an additional minute. Add rice, stir well to combine, and fry for 2 minutes. Add the chicken stock and water; bring to a boil. Stir the rice, cover, and place in the middle of the oven. Bake for 40 minutes in a pre-heated 375 degree oven. Remove from oven, let sit covered for 10 minutes. Remove bay leaf and discard. Fluff with a fork and serve.

ZUCCHINI PANCAKES

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I think of all the vegetables, I like zucchini just about the best. And I think that’s because it is so versatile and of course so tasty. Not to mention – inexpensive. Especially in the summer when you can easily grow your own, or beg your neighbors for any extra zucchini they might possibly have just laying around. (Like your neighbors aren’t going to be thrilled that someone is actually asking them for zucchini. So much nicer for them than having to leave “care-packages” of zucchini on people’s front porches in the dead of night!)

As I was saying, zucchini is a marvelous vegetable. So when I happened to be watching the Food Network a couple of days ago and saw Ina Garten make these pancakes, I was hooked. Of course, I had to change the ingredients up a bit, because that’s what I do! But the bones of the recipe are strictly Ina.

I just figured, and rightly so I feel, that seasoned salt, olive oil instead of vegetable oil, additional onion, a bit of Parmesan cheese, and a dollop of sour cream could not possibly hurt the basic recipe. And I do believe it made a difference.

So if you too are zucchini lovers, or even if you aren’t particularly fond of this mild mannered, non-presumptuous vegetable, give these pancakes a try. They make just a stunning side dish. Plus they are different. And what cook doesn’t love serving something different to their family and friends?

So get thee to the store and buy yourself some zucchini. You will be amazed at how easy the batter comes together. And the fact that the pancakes are so versatile. They go perfectly with any type of meat. And they contain (but you don’t have to announce this to your children) a green vegetable. (In some cases, sneaky is OK. I believe this is one of those times!)

  • 7 T. all-purpose flour, or more as needed
  • 1 tsp. baking powder
  • 1 tsp. seasoned salt
  • freshly ground black pepper
  • ¼ c. finely grated Parmesan cheese
  • 2 lg. eggs
  • 2 med. zucchini (a healthy ¾ lb.)
  • 3 T. finely minced red onion
  • unsalted butter
  • olive oil
  • sour cream (Mexican crema agria is the best), opt.

Whisk together the flour, baking powder, seasoned salt, and pepper. Stir in the Parmesan until all bits are coated with the flour; set aside. Whisk the eggs in a good sized bowl. Grate the zucchini using the large grating side of a box grater*. Add to the eggs along with the onion. Stir well to mix the ingredients. Stir in the flour mixture only until thoroughly combined. The batter should be fairly thin (like regular pancake batter).

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But if the batter is too thin, add additional flour 1 tablespoon at a time. Note: Do not prepare the batter ahead of time or it will get soggy and won’t fry up properly.

Heat a very large fry pan over medium heat. Add equal amounts of butter and olive oil to liberally coat the bottom of the pan. When the butter and oil are hot, drop heaping spoonful’s of batter into the pan. (Make sure they are not touching. Kind of like kids in the back seat of a car.) Cook the pancakes about 2 minutes on each side, or until each side is brown and crispy. When the pancakes are done, serve immediately, or place on an oven-proof plate and keep warm in a pre-heated 300 degree oven. If your pan is not large enough to fry all the pancakes at once, wipe out the pan with a dry paper towel, add more butter and oil to the pan, and continue to fry the pancakes until all the batter is used. (The pancakes can stay warm in the oven for up to 30 minutes.) Serve hot with a dollop of sour cream.

*If you grate the zucchini ahead of time, place in a colander to allow liquid to drain. Then squeeze lightly just before adding to the eggs.

 

SWISS STEAK WITH CHEDDAR CHEESE POLENTA

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And I know, everyone else puts Parmesan cheese in their polenta. Well I do too! Most of the time! But there are just times when I want cheddar cheese in my polenta, darn it! And for this dish, cheddar cheese is perfect. And yes, I do know that potatoes are traditionally served with Swiss steak. But serving Swiss steak with polenta is my nod to staying current with culinary fads. (Plus Mr. C. loves polenta. Potatoes, not so much!)

Of course serving Swiss steak in the first place is kind of Betty Crocker 50s. But I’m hoping by posting this recipe that those who have never tasted Swiss steak will be so enraptured by the whole ease of preparation and use of fairly inexpensive ingredients that they will gravitate to this recipe like cats to a Christmas tree. Or that those who may remember their mother’s Swiss steak, but have relegated it to the past along with bell-bottom jeans and Cracker Jacks, might just be forced to recall how delicious Swiss steak actually is. And of course learn how easy and relatively inexpensive it is to prepare. (Oh wait, I already mentioned that! Too late, it’s already in print. But truly, can you ever say something is easy and inexpensive to prepare too many times? Especially right after Christmas? I think not!)

This Swiss steak simply melts in your mouth and the cheesy polenta has a wonderful flavor along with a delightful mouth feel. And truly, who cares if Swiss Steak may only appear on the menu of a roadhouse somewhere along Route 66 along with Chicken Fried Steak and Liver and Onions. Good old- fashioned road houses still know what’s tasty and “down home”. And so will you if you give this recipe a try.

So if you want a wonderful “new” and delightful combination of dishes to serve to your family, especially now that it’s officially winter, give these two recipes a try. Each is wonderful on its own. But in combination with a green veggie or salad, you have a winter dinner your family is sure to love. Let it snow, let it snow, let it snow! Ho ho………..

  • 1½ lbs. London broil or thick round steak, trimmed of excess fat and cut into 7-9 pieces
  • 2 tsp. kosher salt
  • freshly ground black pepper
  • 1/3 c. all-purpose flour
  • 2-3 T. olive oil or bacon grease
  • 1 large onion, chopped
  • 4 cloves garlic, minced
  • 2 stalks celery, chopped
  • 6-8 button mushrooms, sliced
  • ½ c. dry red wine
  • 2 T. tomato paste
  • 1 (14.5-ounce) can diced tomatoes
  • 1 tsp. smoked paprika
  • 1 tsp. sweet paprika
  • 1 tsp. dried thyme
  • 1 T. Worcestershire sauce
  • 1 c. beef broth

Tenderize the pieces of meat with a table fork, pricking the meat on both sides. Season with salt and pepper. Place the flour in a paper or plastic bag and shake until all the pieces are coated with flour.  Heat the olive oil or bacon grease in a large covered Dutch oven. Add the meat and brown on both sides.   Remove the steaks to a plate and repeat until all of the steaks have been browned.

Add the onions, garlic, celery, and mushrooms to the pot. Sauté for 1 to 2 minutes. Add the wine and tomato paste and stir to combine. Add the canned tomatoes, smoked and regular paprika, thyme, Worcestershire sauce, and beef broth; stir to combine. Return the meat to the pot, submerging it in the liquid. Cover the pot and place it in a pre-heated 350 degree oven for 1½ to 2 hours or until the meat is tender and falling apart. Check after an hour and make sure there is enough liquid. Add a bit of water if necessary. Serve with polenta, mashed potatoes, or noodles.

CHEDDAR CHEESE POLENTA

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  • 1 c. whole milk
  • 3 c. water
  • ½ tsp. kosher salt
  • freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 c. polenta/cornmeal
  • 2 T. unsalted butter
  • 1 c. shredded sharp cheddar cheese

Bring the milk, water, salt, and pepper to a boil in a medium saucepan. Pour polenta slowly into boiling liquid, whisking constantly until all polenta is stirred in and there are no lumps. Reduce heat to low and simmer, whisking often, until polenta starts to thicken, about 5 minutes. Polenta mixture should still be slightly loose. Cover and cook for 30 minutes, whisking every 5 to 6 minutes. When polenta is too thick to whisk, stir with a wooden spoon. Polenta is done when texture is creamy and the individual grains are tender. Turn off heat and gently stir butter into the polenta until butter partially melts; then mix cheese into polenta until cheese has melted completely. Cover and let stand 5 minutes to thicken; stir and taste for salt before transferring to a serving bowl.

 

VEGETARIAN BAKED BEANS

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So, I have to tell you, starting a pot of baked beans without first frying up about a pound of bacon just felt sick and wrong. I mean really, how could baked beans taste right without this quintessential ingredient? But I wanted a vegetarian side dish that could, if need be, stand in as the compulsory protein if one of my guests didn’t eat meat. So I took my standard recipe and simply left out the first ingredient. Then I added a tablespoon of olive oil to replace the bacon fat for browning up the onion and garlic. (And yes, if you simply can’t imagine life without bacon in your baked beans, by all means start this recipe with as much bacon as you like. Just chop up the bacon, fry it till it’s crisp, remove it from the pan, set it aside, discard most of the bacon fat, and proceed as written, excluding the olive oil. Add the pre-cooked bacon anytime after the onions and garlic have been browned.)

But if you would like to step over to the dark side with me, I suggest you give this recipe a try as written. It produces absolutely lovely baked beans and I promise you will not miss the bacon in the slightest. Even Mr. C, whose middle name should have been “bacon” loved the beans and didn’t miss it in the least.

So next time you invite the gang over for a backyard BBQ, include these beans in your menu planning. They are perfectly delicious and the best part – they are truly at their finest when they have had a day or two to mellow out in the refrigerator. So, for you, that means one less dish to prepare on the day of the event. (As you know, I am crazy nuts about dishes that can and really should be prepared ahead of time.)

For additional recipes that are fun to serve at a picnic/BBQ, search under the heading BBQ & PICNIC RECIPES. Cheers to the lazy, hazy, crazy days of summer!

  • 4 c. navy or pinto beans
  • water
  • 1 T. extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 lg. onion, chopped
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 6 c. water
  • 1 (6-oz.) can tomato paste
  • ½ c. brown sugar
  • 2/3 c. molasses
  • ½ c. dark rum, opt.
  • ¼ c. coarse ground Dijon mustard
  • 2 T. Worcestershire sauce
  • 2 tsp. paprika
  • 1 T. seasoned salt
  • ½ tsp. dried thyme leaves
  • freshly ground black pepper

Carefully wash the beans removing any matter that doesn’t look like a healthy, fat dried bean. Place in a large bowl and cover with water by about 3 inches. Place in refrigerator overnight. Next day, drain the beans and set aside.

Pour olive oil into a large heavy covered Dutch oven. Add the onion and cook until translucent. Add the garlic and cook for one minute. Add the water, tomato paste, brown sugar, molasses, dark rum, mustard, Worcestershire sauce, paprika, seasoned salt, dried thyme, and black pepper. Bring to a boil, cover, transfer to a pre-heated 275 degree oven, and bake for about 4½ hours. (Check the beans periodically to make certain they are not getting too dry. Add water as needed.) Uncover the beans the last hour to brown them up a bit. Best made the day ahead and either re-warmed or served at room temperature.