Its been unseasonably hot here in Belgium recently. With record breaking heat and houses that lack air conditioning, the last thing anyone wants to do is turn on the oven to cook. The same goes for grilling since, yes it is simply that hot. But, you’ve still got to eat. My solution when the temperatures soar is to go simple, light, and if possible, not turn on a single appliance.
These peaches wrapped in prosciutto from William Sonoma are meant to be an appetizer, and they do make a very tasty addition to dinner, but on a hot night, they are dinner. Peaches are in season right now so it is easy to find a perfectly ripe peach. When wrapped in a slice of salty prosciutto the combination is out of this world. If you like, serve them alongside crusty French bread and wash it all down with a chilled prosecco. And dinner is served.
PEACHES w/PROSCIUTTO & MINT
3 white peaches
8 thin prosciutto slices
24 fresh mint leaves
- Slice wach peach in half and remove the pit.
- Cut each peach half into four equal slices.
- Cut each prosciutto slice lengthwise into three strips.
- Place a mint leaf on each peach slice and wrap it with a strip of prosciutto.
If you love homemade macaroni and cheese but not the time it takes to make it, this is the dish for you. I think of it as middle of the week comfort food. The recipe is from Cooking Light so it is a healthier version of an old standby but it is so flavorful that you would never know that it is good for you. A combination of cheese, in this case mozzarella and parmesan makes the sauce taste rich while the roasted tomatoes add a deeper flavor than expected. And because the tomatoes are mixed right in, your kids will be so busy scooping up the pasta and sauce that they won’t even realize they are eating tomatoes. (At least that is the case in my house). Serve it with a salad—a Caprese salad would continue with the theme–and dinner is good to go.
CAPRESE MAC ‘n CHEESE
2 cups grape tomatoes, halved
2 tablespoons olive oil, divided
6 ounces uncooked penne, or other small tubular shaped pasta
3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
3/4 cup part-skim mozzarella cheese, shredded
1/3 cup Parmesan cheese, grated
1/2 cup torn fresh basil leaves
3 tablespoons panko crumbs
1/8 teaspoon crushed red pepper
- Preheat the broiler to high.
- Combine the tomatoes and 1 tablespoon of the olive oil on a rimmed baking sheet. Broil for 3 minutes or until the tomatoes begin to break down. Leave the broiler on.
- Cook the pasta in a large saucepan according to package instructions. Drain and return to the saucepan.
- Heat the remaining olive oil in a small saucepan set over medium heat. Add the garlic and saute for 1 minute, stirring frequently.
- Stir in the flour then add in the milk, salt and pepper, stirring continually with a wire whisk.
- Bring the mixture to a simmer then good for 1 minute or until the sauce has thickened.
- Remove the pan from the heat and stir in the cheeses until blended.
- Pour the cheese mixture over the pasta and toss well.
- Add the tomatoes and torn basil to the pasta and fold well to combine.
- Spoon the pasta mixture into 4 6-ounce gratin dishes which have been coated with non-stick cooking spray.
- Sprinkle the top of each dish with the panko crumbs and the crushed red pepper.
- Broil for 2 minute or until the panko is browned.
- Garnish with additional basil leaves if desired.
Radishes probably aren’t the first vegetable you think of when planning a vegetable side dish. Most often regulated to vegetable trays or as a garnish for an entrée platter, radishes are the overlooked vegetable than many people claim to not like. I personally love the peppery bite of radishes and am quite happy to eat them with dip or even as is but this dish is a whole way to enjoy this root vegetable.
This dish from Fine Cooking is fast and is the perfect accompaniment to roasted meat or chicken. The pepperiness of the radishes is tempered by the butter and sugar and is likely to convert even the most ardent radish hater into a fan. So give these veggies a try, you won’t be disappointed.
BUTTER BRAISED RADISHES
1 3/4 pounds radishes, tops removed and reserved
1 1/2 tablespoons unsalted butter
2/3 cup low sodium chicken broth
1 tablespoon cider vinegar
1 teaspoon sugar
- Trim the radishes and slice them crosswise into 1/3 inch thick rounds.
- Trim the stems from a small handful of the tops. Wash thoroughly, pat dry, and finely chop 2 tablespoons. Set aside.
- In a medium-sized skillet, melt the butter over medium heat. Add the radishes and cook, stirring occasionally, until they begin to soften, 5 to 7 minutes.
- Add the broth and bring to a simmer. Cover and cook until the radishes are crisp-tender, 5 to 7 minutes.
- Uncover and raise the heat to high. Add the vinegar, sugar, and 1/2 teaspoon of salt. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the liquid has reduced to a glaze, 2 to 3 minutes.
- Garnish with the chopped leaves and serve.
Sometimes it is the easiest dishes that are the best. This is often the case when it comes to appetizers. Don’t get me wrong, I love to eat and make fancy bite-sized treats as much as the next person. There is something special about a treat that you know took a lot of work and tastes great to boot. But other times, simple is the way to go. I think this is especially true as we move into warmer weather and want to put lighter, fresher, and yes, less time-consuming food on our tables. And perhaps the easiest solution of all is good old-fashioned dip with vegetables.
But we’re not talking your grandmother’s rich dip laden with heavy sour cream and dried French onion soup mix. Thanks to a combination of Greek yogurt and low-fat sour cream my dip, adapted from a Fine Cooking recipe, is lighter and filled with plenty of fresh herbs. I used parsley, dill, and thyme but feel free to put together any combination that appeals to you. The dip should sit for at least half an hour before serving but that will give you plenty of time to cut up the fresh veggies that you need for dipping. Your results will be tasty with no stove required.
BUTTERMILK HERB DIP w/FRESH VEGETABLE CRUDITE
1 cup plain Greek yogurt
1 cup low-fat sour cream
1 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
1/4 cup buttermilk
3 tablespoons chopped fresh dill
3 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley
2 tablespoons chopped fresh thyme
3 cloves minced garlic
1 tablespoon cider vinegar
1/4 teaspoon Tabasco sauce
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
1 1/2 teaspoons freshly ground black pepper
Crudite vegetables of your choice for dipping
- Combine all of the ingredients in a medium-sized bowl and stir until well mixed.
- Cover and refrigerate for at least 1/2 hour before serving.
Yields: 3 cups
These biscuits from America’s Test Kitchen are super easy to make and make a simple bowl of soup or stew into a complete meal. The key to their flaky texture is using very cold butter and baking the biscuits before the butter warms up; as the biscuits bake under high heat the butter will melt resulting in super flaking biscuits. You can use fresh buttermilk but since it isn’t always readily available, I like to use a powdered version from King Arthur Flour. It stores perfectly in the freezer so I alway have it on hand. Simply add the powder in with the dry ingredients and you are good to go.
I particularly love them served alongside beef and red wine stew, Guinness stout beef and barley soup, or pumpkin soup with spicy pumpkin seeds. But of course you can always eat the biscuits by themselves or for breakfast topped with a bit of butter and jam. Maybe you should make a double batch……
1 cup all-purpose flour
1 cup cake flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon sugar
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
8 tablespoons cold butter, cut into 1/4 inch cubes and well chilled
3/4 cup cold buttermilk
- Preheat the oven to 450 degrees.
- Pulse the flours sugar, baking powder, sugar, baking soda, and salt in the bowl of a food processor fitted with a steel blade.
- Scatter the butter pieces evenly over the top of the flour mixture and pulse to combine, about 12 pulses.
- Transfer the mixture to a large bowl and add the buttermilk. Use a rubber spatula to fold the liquid into the flour until a soft and sticky dough forms.
- Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured board and quickly roll in into a rough ball. Do not over mix.
- Use a sharp knife to divide the dough into 12 even pieces. Using your hands, quickly form each piece into a ball and place on a large baking sheet.
- Bake for 10 to 12 minutes until the biscuits are browned and flaky.
Yields: 12 biscuits
This super easy side dish is the perfect accompaniment to everything from enchiladas to grilled meats. The ingredient list is more of a suggestion rather than a hard and fast rule. Add or subtract other vegetables, or even fruits, as you like. And because the salad truly takes only minutes to make, it is the perfect side dish for any of my grilled Fast Friday meals. Enjoy……and let me know what you pair it with.
1 ripe avocado, peeled, pitted and cubed
1- 15 ounce can corn
4 roasted red peppers, diced
1/4 cup minced green onions
1/4 cup fresh cilantro, minced
Juice of 1 lime
Salt & pepper to taste
- Place all of the ingredients in a medium-sized bowl and toss well to combine.
- Allow to sit at room temperature for 15 minutes then adjust seasonings and serve.
We lucked out and were able to move into our house a lot sooner than we had initially expected. As such, this is my final “Hot Plate Cooking” post. As much as I’ve enjoyed them, I have to say I’m relieved. So what did I make for my final hotel room meal? One of my favorite standbys for when I am short on time, or in this case space………..risotto of course!
I had some ham leftover from an earlier dinner and had planned on adding that to my risotto with a bit of parmesan cheese. But then I saw the asparagus. I love asparagus and will eat it whenever the opportunity arises. Of course, living in Albania it was impossible to find it fresh and I quickly discovered that the frozen or jarred versions are just not the same. So, with the exception of a blissful spring week in Budapest where I savored complete meals out of nothing by asparagus, I put my cravings on hold for two and a half years. Until now. So when I saw the asparagus sitting in the produce case of Carrefour, I knew I had to buy it. I think it is always good but it also pairs perfectly with the ham and cheese, resulting in a wonderful early spring (I can hope, can’t I) meal. Yum….and here’s to now having a real kitchen again!
HAM & CHEESE RISOTTO w/ ASPARAGUS
3 cups vegetable broth
1 cup dry white wine
3 tablespoons butter
1 shallot, minced
1 ½ cups risotto rice
1 cup cooked ham, cut into cubes
1 pound fresh asparagus, cut into 1 inch pieces and lightly steamed
½ cup grated parmesan cheese
- Meanwhile, heat the vegetable broth and white wine in a medium-sized saucepan set over medium-high heat. Adjust the heat to keep the broth mixture at a low simmer. Or, if you are short on burner space the way I am, heat the broth and wine mixture into a microwave safe bowl for 5 minutes or until hot.
- In a large saucepan, melt the butter over medium-high heat. Add the shallot and sauté until soft and translucent, approximately 3-4 minutes.
- Add the rice to the onions and stir to combine. Add one ladle of the broth to the pot and stir well. Stirring occasionally, continue cooking the rice until most of the liquid is absorbed before adding additional broth.
- Repeat this process until the rice is al dente. You may not need to use all of the broth.
- Add the ham and asparagus with the last of your broth. Fold gently to combine.
- Remove the pan from the heat and stir in the grated parmesan cheese. Serve immediately.
Pound cake is a classic. Topped with fruit, chocolate, or cream it can make a simple yet satisfying dessert. It can accompany a cup of tea as an afternoon snack or even work as a breakfast on the go. Done right it isn’t overly sweet.
This recipe from America’s Test Kitchen has been repeatedly tested to get it right. There are flavored versions that add lemon, orange, ginger, or even chocolate but my favorite is the version made with the fewest ingredients. Butter, sugar, and milk combined with flour is all it takes. Because there are so few ingredients, make sure the ones you use are of the best quality you can find. Here in Europe butter has a higher fat content than butter in the United States resulting in a rich cake. If you are stateside try to find a European butter (President is a brand sold in some U.S. markets). The results will be worth it.
CLASSIC POUND CAKE
1 1/2 cups cake flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 1/4 cup sugar
4 large eggs, at room temperature
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
16 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted and hot
- Pre-heat the oven to 350 degrees. Lightly coat a 9 x 5 inch loaf pan with cooking spray and set aside.
- In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder, and salt. Set aside.
- Process the sugar, eggs, and vanilla in a food processor until combined, about 10 seconds.
- With the machine running, pour the melted butter through the feed tube in a steady stream. The process should take about 30 seconds. Pour the mixture into a large bowl.
- Sift one-third of the flour mixture over the egg mixture and whisk in. Repeat twice more with the remaining flour mixture and continue to whisk the batter gently until most lumps are gone (do not over mix).
- Pour the batter into the prepared pan and smooth the top.
- Bake 50-60 minutes or until a wooden skewer inserted into the center of the cake comes out with only a few crumbs attached.
- Let the cake cool in the pan for 10 minutes then flip it onto a wire rack. Turn the cake right side up and let cool to room temperature, about 3 hours.
One of my favorite go-to dinners is stuffed baked potatoes. They are the perfect blank canvas on which to build a satisfying dinner. Because each potato is topped individually, you can customize them to accommodate all of your family’s culinary preferences. And, as I discovered, they can easily and effortlessly be made in my makeshift kitchen. In my opinion, this makes for a win-win all around!
This go around I used sweet potatoes instead of white baking potatoes but feel free to use whatever variety of potatoes your family prefers. I love sweet potatoes, and after a two-year time span of not being able to find them in the grocery store, I buy them whenever I have a chance. They are also more nutritious than regular white potatoes and because they are sweet, even the smallest member of my family will eat them. These toppings are just suggestions; feel free to add or use whatever you feel like or have on hand. Most of all, enjoy.
HAM & CHEESE STUFFED SWEET POTATOES
2 large sweet potatoes
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 cup cooked ham, cubed
1 head broccoli, cut into florets
1/2 cup shredded cheddar cheese
1/4 cup reduced fat sour cream
Salt & pepper to taste
- Scrub the potatoes and pierce all over with a fork or sharp knife. Place in the microwave and cook on high for 10 minutes. After 10 minutes test the potatoes for doneness by inserting a fork into the center of each potato. The fork should slide into the potatoes effortlessly. If it doesn’t, continue cooking the potatoes in 5 minute increments until tender. The amount of time you need to cook the potatoes will depend on the strength of your microwave and the size of your potatoes. (Alternatively, you can bake the potatoes in a 400 degree oven for 45-60 minutes).
- While the potatoes are cooking, heat the olive oil in a small skillet. When the oil shimmers, add the ham and cook, stirring frequently, until browned and heated through. Set aside.
- Steam the broccoli in an inch of water in a small saucepan until tender crisp. Drain and set aside.
- When the potatoes are cooked through, place on individual plates. Slice along the length of each potato and use a fork to loosen the flesh.
- Generously sprinkle each potato with salt and pepper then divide the shredded cheese evenly between the potatoes.
- Top with the ham and broccoli then add a dollop of sour cream to each potato.
- Eat immediately.
Breakfast on weekday mornings usually involves coffee on the run. Since breakfast really is my favorite meal of the day I try to make something special for those weekend mornings when we are home and have the time to eat a leisurely meal. Because it is the first meal of the day and I’m not fully functional until the first cup of coffee has kicked it, whatever I make needs to be relatively easy and quick; I don’t do multi bowl recipes first thing in the morning.
This dish, adapted from Cooking Light Magazine, is essentially a giant popover doctored up with chocolate chips and bananas. It reminds me of the German pancakes my mom used to make when I was growing up. For a simpler presentation you can omit the chocolate chips and top the pancake with fresh berries once it comes out of the oven. I’ve used strawberries, blueberries, and peaches when they are in season. When fresh berries aren’t available, bananas work nicely with the addition of coffee liqueur kicking the dish up a notch. Because it is breakfast, after all, I forgo the whipped cream but add it and this pancake could easily be served as dessert at the end of a dinner.
CHOCOLATE CHIP DUTCH BABY WITH COFFEE BANANAS
3/4 cup 2% reduced-fat milk
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
2 tablespoons sugar
1/4 teaspoon salt
2 large eggs
2 tablespoons butter, divided
1/2 cup mini semisweet chocolate chips
2 large firm bananas, sliced into coins
1/2 cup coffee-flavored liqueur (I like Lilly brand)
Whipped cream (if desired)
- Preheat oven to 450°.
- Place a 9-inch cast-iron skillet in a 450° oven for 15 minutes.
- Combine first 5 ingredients, stirring with a whisk until smooth.
- Melt 1 tablespoon butter in preheated pan until browned, swirling to evenly coat pan.
- Add batter; sprinkle evenly with chocolate chips. Bake at 450° for 10 minutes or until puffed and browned.
- Cut banana halves into coins. Melt 1 tablespoon butter in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add bananas; cook 2 minutes on each side or until browned. Add liqueur; simmer 1 minute.
- Serve with Dutch baby; top with whipped cream if desired.