Archive for Lunch

Recipe: Easy Egg Salad

If you made a bounty of colorful eggs for Easter and are still trying to eat your way through them, you’ve probably come to this realization by now: Eating plain, hard-boiled eggs gets boring rather quickly.

Solutions abound for ways to use hard-boiled eggs, from crumbling them over salads to making the party favorite of deviled eggs.

One of my favorite things to do with hard-boiled eggs is to transform them into egg salad, a delicious spread that can be used in sandwiches, wraps or served atop lettuce. Aside from being a snap to make, it is easily customizable.

Want some kick? Add a touch of cayenne powder. For a savory, earthy take, experiment with dried herbs like oregano or thyme. Once used, topping choices abound, from tomato and avocado to sprouts or even bacon bits. And you thought eggs and bacon were just for breakfast.

For this quick and easy version, I spruce up my chunky egg salad with cucumbers for crunch, paprika for color and taste, and a squeeze of lemon juice for extra tang. I add green onions for added visual appeal, but red or white onions can be substituted if that’s what you have on hand.

Oh, and if you’ve never hard-boiled an egg before, don’t worry: Your secret is safe with me. I’ll show you how to do that, too, and you’ll never have to buy those plastic Easter eggs again.

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How to make tortillas terrific

I’m an unabashed lover of Mexican food, and in my house, burritos, tacos and quesadillas are among my favorite things to make when I’m short on time and meal ideas. I know I’m not alone. Aside from the sheer variety of stuff you can wrap inside a tortilla – from the ubiquitous beans and cheese to grilled shrimp in a cilantro-lime dressing – these Mexican-food staples are popular far beyond our border because they are inexpensive and a cinch to make.

But while many of us focus on the innards of our tacos, burritos and quesadillas, too often the tortilla itself – that all-important culinary housing – is an afterthought. If you’re prone to wrapping your favored ingredients in a flour or corn tortilla that’s simply been microwaved or not even heated at all, know that there is one more step you can take that works miracles in moments. It all begins with the wrapping.

For the best flavor, texture and pliability, tortillas need to be heated properly before being used and eaten. And that really isn’t in a microwave, which can make them rubbery. If you skip heating altogether, tortillas tend to be stiff and fall apart in your hands. And no one wants a lapful of burrito filling.

For the solution, look to your stove, which can heat tortillas one of two ways: in a pan or directly over a flame.

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How to roast vegetables

When it comes to roasting, meaty dishes usually steal the show. Almost all of us have enjoyed a hot-out-of-the-oven Thanksgiving turkey, juicy prime rib or flavorful and flaky salmon fillet.

But roasting needn’t be relegated to meat, poultry and fish. The same properties of roasting that impart so much flavor to those protein-rich dishes work wonders for vegetables, too.

The easiest way to roast is in an oven, which uses hot air as the main vehicle to cook food. (You could also call this “baking,” though that term is often used in reference to breads, pastries and meat without bones. For our purpose here, either word is safe, but “roasting” sounds more appetizing, no?) Roasting yields vegetables that are firm yet not hard, browned and visually interesting, and that taste so much more potent than when steamed or simmered.

When you roast, you actually concentrate flavors inward, vs. leeching them out. For example, when you simmer meat or vegetables in water, many of the flavors and nutrients go into that water. That’s great if you’re making broth or stock, but it’s wasted if you don’t use the liquid.

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Easy recipe: Scrumptious split pea soup

Bean-based soups are amazing for their nutritional value and the sheer comfort they provide, not to mention that they cost so little to make. The problem with making most legume soups from scratch is the amount of time it takes to soak the beans – usually overnight – and then cook them, which can take hours more. If you don’t do it properly, instead of a soft bean, you’ll risk biting into something as hard as a rock.

Split pea soup doesn’t have these issues. Like lentils, the beauty of split peas is that they cook quickly – about 45 minutes – and require no soaking beforehand. Yet they pack plenty of fiber and protein, and about zero fat. Add the soup’s earthy taste and warm-your-belly satisfaction, and split pea is a winner. It’s also very cost-effective and can be tailored to a variety of tastes. You can buy a 1-pound bag of dried split peas in just about any grocery store for around $2 or less. The soup can be made vegetarian style or, for even more flavor, can include crisp, rendered bacon bits or a traditional ham hock.

While water can be used as the base liquid, I prefer broth or stock since it adds flavor. You can use chicken, vegetable, even turkey or beef broth, or a combination thereof.

[SEE HOW TO MAKE STOCK]

I like to mix low-sodium chicken broth and vegetable broth for mine. Furthermore, I bolster my split pea with potatoes, carrots and onions and garlic. The result is a big pot of soup that can feed an army.

If making homemade soup has daunted you all these years, start with split pea, and start right here.

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Recipe: Homemade cheese biscuits

It’s true: Some foods have a near-global appeal. No matter where you’re from or what your food preferences are, they speak the universal language of delicious.

Oftentimes these culinary all-stars are rather simple, and shine not just because they taste good, but because they have other inherently likable characteristics as well, such as an agreeable texture and ease of handling. One such food that immediately comes to my mind is the biscuit.

These simple, puffy clouds of carbohydrate goodness have a seemingly magical quality about them. Through the centuries they have been found everywhere from the sacks of traveling peasants to gilded baskets atop linen tablecloths.

They can be savory or sweet, and only get better when teamed with condiments such as butter, honey or gravy. Biscuits are also special in that they can be had for breakfast, lunch, dinner or a snack; eaten as a side; or, when cut in half, used for a sandwich.

When I told a colleague that I’d be making some, he asked if I use Bisquick. My eyes immediately shot daggers.

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Roux is the root of great recipes

Learning to cook is kind of like learning to read in that, once you have the foundations down, you can create just about anything.

If you’ll go with this analogy, you can think of roux as a single word. In communications, a word by itself may not do much, but combined with others, it can help make a literary masterpiece.

Roux (say, “roo”) by itself isn’t much, but it lays a foundation for much greater things. Roux is just flour and fat cooked together. The flour is usually white wheat flour such as the all-purpose kind you use for making pancakes and other staples, and the fat can be just about anything: butter, vegetable oil, bacon grease or drippings from other meat.

Roux is not meant to be eaten by itself. Rather, it is used to thicken recipes such as soups, stews and gravies. In culinary school, roux is among the first things you make, and from there you learn to use it in dishes that may require some time to make, but are among some of the most flavorful on the planet, among them the kind of mac ‘n cheese you see above.

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Homemade aioli is so easy

In the pantheon of culinary words, there are a few that seem to carry extra cachet. One of those is “aioli.” You may have seen this oddly spelled and easily mispronounced word (say “I-oh-lee”) on posh restaurant menus or heard it thrown around by your foodie friends.

No need to be overwhelmed. While the stuff is admittedly delicious, it’s also quite simple: Aioli is basically garlic mayonnaise, made with olive oil.

See, that wasn’t so bad.

Even better? You can make it. Easily. In a blender, no less.

Since aioli is basically mayonnaise with a couple extra ingredients, you can consider this recipe a two-fer: With it you can make homemade mayonnaise or aioli, depending on the ingredients you add.

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Bulk up with bulgur and try some tabbouleh

Looking for a way to gobble up your whole grains that doesn’t involve a piece of toast or a bowl and milk? Or maybe you’re over eating starchy pasta and white rice for the umpteenth time. Perhaps you just want a side dish that explodes with flavor and is as easy to make as it is filled with nutrients. If any of these apply to you, I’ve got one word for ya: bulgur.

Bulgur is nutritious. Bulgur is delicious. Bulgur is inexpensive. And bulgur is a mystery to many. Heck, it’s so little known and used here in America that even the spelling of its name is an issue. Some spell it as “bulgar,” or you might see it as “bulghur” or even “burghul.”

That’s all gonna change, starting now. Here’s the deal: Bulgur is whole-grain wheat that’s been parboiled, dried and ground. This is all good news for you because, like white rice, it cooks quickly, in less than 15 minutes. Unlike white rice, the bran has only been partially removed, meaning this stuff retains a ton of nutrients and good-for-your-body things like fiber, protein and even iron, while being low in fat, sodium and sugars. In that regard it’s like brown rice or wild rice, except it takes much less time to cook.

What’s it like? Chewy and a bit nutty in flavor, and it resembles super-size couscous when cooked. The stuff has been a staple in the Middle East and Mediterranean regions for ages, and is used for everything from breakfast to a fried snack. In the U.S., you can find it at health-minded markets such as Sprouts and some bigger grocers, as well as online as sites like Amazon.com.

If you’ve ever had the stuff, it’s likely been in tabbouleh, a salad that’s served slightly chilled or at room temperature that, in addition to being bulked up with bulgur, is loaded with fresh tomatoes, crisp cucumber, onion, parsley and mint, tossed lightly in lemon juice and olive oil. It’s amazing on a summer day and a very satisfying way to sneak in grains to fussy kids and adults alike. Think of this nutritious side as the antithesis to those fat-laden Chinese chicken salads that so many unsuspecting diners think are healthy.

You can make this at home with just a few dollars, and with the satisfaction that comes from making such a delicious and healthful dish so quickly and easily. Let’s get started.

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5 steps to perfect pasta

In the culinary universe, pasta should be as easy to make as a peanut butter and jelly sandwich. But if you’ve ever ended up with noodles that are flaccid and flavorless, something has gone awry. Many of us have been there. In fact, when I’m giving personal cooking lessons, I’m continually amazed at how many people bemoan the fact that their pasta never tastes quite right.

It doesn’t have to be this way. And after reading this, you’ll be equipped to make perfect pasta every time. Yes, the two main steps for turning dry, Italian-style pasta into a meal are boiling water and submerging the noodles. But for the perfect pasta, the devil is in the details. And so is the flavor, texture and even how well those oodles of noodles will hold their sauce.

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Linguine and Clams = luxurious and cheap

When I was a boy, my mom on occasion would make a certain meal that tasted and felt like we were living in the lap of luxury, even if our family’s bank account indicated otherwise. The dinner was a treat, an Italian classic like the kind that generations of her family ate in their home country: linguine and clam sauce.

Now that I make this dinner regularly, I can see why my mom counted on it so often. Aside from it coming together in less than 30 minutes – my mother worked hard in an office all day, too – it’s delicious, healthful and, at about $3 a serving, inexpensive. It can feed a young couple like my wife and me for less than the cost of a bowl of soup at many restaurants, and when the recipe is doubled in portion, will still feed a family of four for around $12 or less.

Using canned clams not only cuts the cost significantly, but also makes the dish way easier to prepare: no cleaning the clams, pan-steaming them, and then having to pry the meat from the shells. Sure, canned clams won’t taste as good as fresh, but keep in mind that in this dish they’ll be complemented by additional flavorful ingredients such as mushrooms, onions, garlic and capers, all mixed in with the pasta.

I buy canned clams on sale just to make this dish, and recently found name-brand ones for $1.50 at Vons, and even cheaper at 99 Cents Only.

It’s one clam dish (literally) in which you don’t need a lot of clams (figuratively) to make. Here’s how to do it:

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