Sunday, March 20, 2011

Dinner Diva's Delightful Dozen

It may be an odd time for a top ten list, but I felt like sharing my very best, my very favorite recipes. Most of them are easy and quick to prepare, and the ones that aren't are worth the extra effort. And, ten wasn't enough, so here's two weeks' worth, in no particular order, of Dinner Diva's (and her family's) favorites:

Sunday: Beef and Barley Soup

I found this in my Eating For Life cookbook, which is the compilation of recipes from the Body For Life diet and exercise plan. It's a fabulous cookbook, and it has a ton of good, easy recipes that are healthy, non fattening, and truly delicious. If you want to buy more cookbooks but don't know which ones are good, this one gets Dinner Diva's approval.

Monday: Sweet Orange Salmon, Steamed Edamame, Fresh Orange Slices

The first time I made this I kept looking at the recipe for something else to do. I couldn't believe I was already done. This is one of my fastest recipes, and I mean that it is fast in prep time and it is also fast to disappear at the table. If your kids think they don't like salmon, try this. It is definitely kid-friendly! My kids devour it, but since they like salmon anyway they're not good testers. My brother's kids don't generally like salmon, but they cleaned this fish off their plates without much prompting!

Tuesday: Onion-Smothered Pork Tenderloin, Oven-Roasted Red Potatoes, Spinach Salad

This is another virtually effortless recipe, and it looks fabulous and tastes even better. This is one that I recommend for family dinners OR entertaining, as it is an impressive sight on the table.

Wednesday: Pumpkin Chocolate Chip Pancakes, Fresh cut pineapple

When I announce breakfast for dinner, it is always met with cheers. My whole family loves it. I love how easy it is, especially on a sports night. Pumpkin is one of the healthiest vegetables to eat, yet it is rarely included in meals. These pancakes are tasty and about as healthy as pancakes can get. They are moist and sweet and do not even need syrup.

I learned how to cut a pineapple while I was living in Australia. Don't be intimidated into avoiding fresh pineapples. They really are easy to cut, and pretty inexpensive. Canned are okay, but nothing compared to a fresh one. Don't cut it too soon; wait until it smells like a pineapple and is a little yellow at the bottom. You can even buy them green and they will ripen at room temperature in a few days.

Thursday: Grilled Whole Chicken, Oven Roasted Veggies

Okay, it's no secret I love my grill. Grilling is a great way to add flavor without adding calories. Bonus: it's cheaper to use a gas grill than to use an electric oven. Double bonus: if the grill is in use, your kitchen is either cool and clean or able to be used to prepare other foods. This meal does require at least an hour, but it really only takes about 10 minutes of the chef's time.

To grill a whole chicken, rinse and pat dry the chicken. Coat a foil roasting pan with cooking spray. Place chicken in foil pan, and dust with kosher salt and fresh ground pepper. Place in preheated grill over indirect medium heat (uncovered) for about 15 min per pound. No basting, no turning, no nothing. Your chicken will come out golden brown and crusty-skinned, with juicy tender meat inside.

For the roasted vegetables, choose several different veggies. We like fingerling potatoes, baby carrots, yellow onions, acorn squash, and sweet potatoes. Wash and prepare the veggies, then place in single layer on a baking sheet. Drizzle with a little olive oil, and sprinkle generously with kosher salt and fresh ground pepper. Roast at 400 for about 45 min or until tender.

Friday: Simple Grilled Steak, Baked Sweet Potatoes, Oven-Roasted Green Beans

This is, hands down, my all time favorite meal. When we eat out, I order steak and my husband orders chicken, and the waitpeople almost always bring me the chicken and my husband the steak. Apparently steak is not ladylike. So be it!

The trick with steak is to buy a decent cut. It should be thick and marbled. If it's too thin, it will cook too quickly and end up being tough and overdone. If it's too lean, there won't be enough fat to flavor and tenderize the steak as it cooks. The leanest steak is sirloin, but I prefer New York Strip, or my favorite, Ribeye. To me, it's worth the extra calories in a sometimes meal.

I count sweet potatoes as a vegetable or as a starch, depending on the other side being served. They are actually so loaded with nutrients they are considered a green vegetable. However, they are also so loaded with natural sugars that they are considered a starch or a carb. Those sugars make them taste so good that I eat them plain baked, but my kids and husband like a sprinkling of brown sugar on theirs.

Saturday: Grilled Pizza!

Saturday has traditionally been our pizza night. Admittedly, we usually opt for frozen pizza. I know, not very Dinner Diva-ish! Life is full of compromises, and this is ours. We put a picnic blanket down, turn on a movie, and enjoy tv dinner of sorts. However, since frozen pizza is NOT even close to one of my favorites, I've linked to my favorite homemade pizza recipe.

This calls for homemade dough. If you don't like to make your own yeast breads and doughs, feel free to use frozen bread dough as an alternative. Don't try to use the canned pizza dough; it's too wet and sticky for use on the grill. Frozen bread dough works perfectly!

My favorite toppings for grilled pizza are roasted red bell peppers, pepperoni, and asiago cheese.

To roast a pepper:

Preheat broiler. Prepare a cookie sheet or jelly roll pan by lining it with foil and spraying the foil with cooking spray. Wash pepper. Cut it in half lengthwise and remove stem, seeds, and membranes. Place cut peppers skin side up on jelly roll pan and flatten them with your hand. They will crack, and that's okay. Place pan in oven. Broil for 7 minutes or until skins are blackened. Using tongs, place peppers into a ziptop bag and seal. Allow to cool for 15 minutes. Remove from bag and peel skins off. They will peel easily. Slice to the size you want, and set aside. (Refrigerate if you're not going to use right away.)

Sunday: Herb-Rubbed Ribs with Cherry Zinfandel BBQ Sauce, Homemade Applesauce, Cornbread


I use about 2 med apples for every serving...about 8 for my family, and I mix the apples (2-3 fuji, 2-3 granny, and 1-2 gala or other..if you can find honey crisp, buy them. They are wonderful!)

peel, core and coarsely chop apples

mix in 1/3 cup honey, 1 T. olive oil, 1 t. cinnamon, a pinch each of cloves, ginger, orange peel, and nutmeg

arrange apples on a cookie sheet bake at 400 for 45 min to an hour, or until apples are soft; use a potato masher or a large tined fork (serving fork) to smash them; they will be gorgeously lumpy. Place in a serving bowl and enjoy warm. (if you don't like glorious chunks in your applesauce, use your blender instead of hand mashing...but I'll call you a wimp behind your back)

This recipe is straight off the Quaker White Corn Meal box!

Monday: Cavatappi with Spinach, White Beans, and Asiago, French Bread

It sounds a little "out there," and beyond "normal" food, but I'm telling you this is good. Take a chance, try something new.

Tuesday: Bacon Wrapped Pork Tenderloin, Asiago Cheese Bread, Spring Greens Salad

Wednesday: French Toast with Sautee'd apples, Fresh Strawberries

Using the leftover french bread from Monday's meal, this french toast will clean out some of your leftovers AND feed your family an awesome meal!

For the apples, peel and core 8-10 apples, of any variety. Cut into 1" pieces, and combine with 1 t. cinnamon, 1/4 t. ginger, 1/4 t. nutmeg, and a pinch of cloves and a pinch of orange zest if you have it. Melt 4 T. butter in a large nonstick pan. Add apples and stir until well combined. Cook over med. heat, stirring occasionally, until apples are tender and sauce is thick, about 20 minutes. Spoon hot apples over french toast.

Thursday: Tomato-Cheese Ravioli Soup, Whole Grain Crackers
This is a superfast, super good recipe that doesn't require very many ingredients. I haven't met anyone who has tried this and didn't like it.

Friday: Grilled Hamburgers with Homemade Buns, Grilled Pineapple, Roasted Potato Wedges

Try this recipe for homemade buns from the bread machine:
1 C. water
1 large egg
4 T. butter, cut into pieces
2 T. sugar
3 C. bread flour
1/4 C. nonfat milk (I use powdered buttermilk)
1 T. gluten
1 1/2 t. salt
2 1/4 t. bread machine yeast

Combine all ingredients in bread pan; set for dough and press start. When machine beeps at end of cycle, turn dough out onto a lightly floured surface. Divide dough into 8 equal portions. Shape each portion into a tight round and place on a parchment lined baking sheet. Flatten each round slightly with the palm of your hand. Cover loosely with plastic wrap and let rise for 30 minutes. Preheat oven to 375. Brush rolls with an egg glaze made from 1 egg yolk beaten with 1 T. water. Sprinkle with sesame seeds. Bake 15-22 minutes, until lightly browned.

Grilled Pineapple:

1 whole pineapple, stemmed and rind removed. (It is not necessary to remove the core--it is edible--but you can at your option.)
Cooking spray

Slice pineapple into 1/2 inch thick disks. Spray each side with cooking spray, and spray clean grill racks with cooking spray.

Preheat grill over med. heat. Arrange pineapple slices on rack of preheated grill. Cook for 3-4 minutes, then flip and cook 3-4 min longer or until tender. Serve.

Roasted Potato Wedges

5-6 baking potatoes, cut into wedges
1/4 c. veg. oil
1-2 T. kosher salt
1/2 t. fresh ground pepper

Heat oven to 400. Toss wedges with oil, salt, and pepper until wedges are well coated. Arrange wedges in a single layer on a jelly roll pan. Place in oven. Cook 30-40 min or until cooked through and beginning to brown.

Saturday: Spinach-Ricotta Pizza