- Last night, we had barbecued chicken legs. Yes, it's winter, so no, I didn't actually grill them, nor would I know how (I know, I have to learn — but it scares me). I put six legs in a Le Creuset baking dish, brushed them with BBQ sauce and cooked them at 350 degrees for one hour, basting with more sauce when they were about eight minutes shy. And we didn't even eat them the night I baked them; I was worried they'd go bad another night in the fridge so Sergio made a batch of his famous apple chicken (sorry, can't divulge that recipe here) and these we reheated last night. Excellent right out of the micro; paired them with brown rice and fruit. YUM.
- One of my signature recipes, although admittedly adapted from Nemo's Miami Beach, is strip steak with blue cheese and beets, brown sauce and mushrooms. Take the chill off your meat and season it. Heat some butter or EVOO in a skillet and cook down the mushrooms until they're tender; season with salt and pepper as you go. Remove from heat and drop in the steaks, browning and flipping. When they could use another few minutes, throw the mushrooms back in and add more butter and either some broth or cream and Better Than Bouillion. If you need to thicken the sauce more, mix some flour and soft butter together and work that in. Lay some sliced beets on top (canned are fine!), crumble over some blue cheese and voila. Amazing.
- Another signature dish in this house is bolognese sauce. Probably not made the traditional way, but it's a BIG hit every time (we practically cook it for every guest's first dinner party here). Take the chill off your meat and put the water on to boil for the pasta (we use whole-wheat rotini). Season the ground beef — turkey is too dry here — with whatever you have; we usually use a combo of dried oregano, basil and parsley, plus salt and pepper. Brown it over medium-high heat; when that's done add a jar of your favorite tomato sauce. You're not done yet, though. Jarred sauce is usually too acidic and thick for our taste. We add some sugar and hot water at this point, plus a bay leaf and more seasoning to make it "ours." And — do NOT forget this part — preferably a healthy splash of Marsala wine, or any red if you don't have that. Let it cook off a bit, taste as you go (pasta should be cooking by now), and serve when the sauce is to your liking. There, that's our secret recipe. The Marsala secret got out months ago, so I don't feel so bad letting it go here! And Bethenny would kill me for saying this, but we serve this with a good three-cheese semolina bread from La Brea. Hey, at least I'm skipping the glass of wine with dinner now that I'm preggo.
- Easy as ever: Quesadillas. Heat a tortilla over medium-high heat so it gets a little brown and puffy; flip it a few times for good measure. Add shredded cheese (preferably not mozzarella, unless you make it all Italian-style) to one half; top with pre-cooked chicken if you want, but definitely chopped tomatoes and bell peppers. Top with more cheese, fold over the other half of the tortilla and keep it warm in the oven or microwave (I sometimes zap them to finish melting the cheese) until you finish the rest. Black beans also make a good filler. My favorite touch is, at the end I sprinkle the tops of the tortillas with a little chili powder. It just gives it some color and ZING. This is good served with a bright citrus fruit salad and some whole-grain rice.
- An interesting twist on stuffed tomatoes: This is an Argentine adaptation, and the filling is one of the first things my husband ever "cooked" for me when we were dating — simple, healthy and affordable. Cook brown rice according to package instructions; meanwhile, cut the tops off tomatoes and de-gunk/de-seed. We usually save this for a tomato salad on the side. When done, mix rice with a pouch of chunk-light tuna and, if you're not allergic like I am, canned peas and corn (my latest version had black beans and roasted red pepper strips instead). Season with EVOO, salt, pepper and Parmesan cheese OR what they call "golf sauce" in Argentina (no idea why) — olive oil-based mayo mixed with ketchup. It's actually very good and I imagine more kid friendly. Chill this mixture and stuff your tomatoes with it when the time comes. So easy to put together, and yet I feel I'm divulging another family secret! (Shh!)
- Grilled cheese and soup is a great winter go-to; not much to say here except that you MUST use soft butter to butter the outsides of your bread before "grilling" it in the pan. I was once challenged to a grilled-cheese cook-off I'm so proud of my results, although we never got around to the actual contest part, we just ate a lot of sandwiches. Start the heat low and slow so the cheese melts nice and gooey; be patient. Only crank it up a bit at the end to get a nice browning on both sides of the bread. As for the soup, Pacific and Imagine have some nice healthy ones of the creamy variety. Yummy!
- Eggs. You can do so much so quickly with this affordable go-to non-recipe ingredient. I like them scrambled with veg (shredded zucchini is fab here) and a bit of salsa on the side (one of those condiments you can keep trying and trying and never stop finding new good ones, or make your own pico de gallo), and toast, of course, as an accompaniment; they're also good a la Julia Louis-Dreyfus "fried" with a bit of cooking spray plus honeyed toast on the side. Serve with OJ and you have a complete breakfast for dinner.
- Breaded chicken breasts. Whether you have store-bought bread crumbs or make your own, jazz them up with Parmesan cheese and extra dried herbs/black pepper. Pound out the chicken breasts and — egg or not — smack the breadcrumbs down over them while the oven preheats. Cook time and temp will depend on the thickness, so I usually Google it just before cooking as a refresher. I tend to serve this with steamed green beans (almondine often) and fruit. It's nice and unexpected every few weeks.
- Gnocchi with brown butter and sage. This is another really simple but AMAZINGLY DELICIOUS treat. Boil some water for your gnocchi, preferably the whole-wheat sweet potato kind. While that's going, start to brown your butter over low heat so it doesn't burn — if you've never done this before, you literally just keep heating and heating the butter in a pan until it starts to turn brown and becomes fragrant, almost nutty-smelling. Swirl it around in the pan periodically and add some fresh sage leaves, whole, or thyme, to the butter while it's cooking. This infuses wonderful flavor with minimal effort. Cook the gnocchi according to package instructions; once done toss with the brown butter (remove the sage). Top with freshly grated cheese and while this isn't low fat, it's a spectacular indulgence every once in a while. Can't remember the last time we had this, so it's time! Few ingredients, cheap, astounding.