The Sun and Moon
You’d think that after working 10 or more hours per day, six days a week, I might just want to come home and crash without even thinking about making dinner but, you’d be wrong. I came home today wanting to cook; needing to cook. I didn’t know what I was about to make but I needed to clear my head, let off some steam and spend some time doing something that I enjoy.
Now, before you get the idea that I’m some sort of iron man, I’m not. I’ve been working six days a week for the past several months and it’s wearing me down, physically and mentally. My wife, who has also been putting in extra hours at work, has taken up the mantle. She’s whipped up some spectacular dinners over the last several weeks and I’ve gobbled them up eagerly. Her manicotti makes me melt like slabs of butter on warm bread!
On the occasions that we both come home exhausted, we order out. We’ve been ordering out once or twice a week during the last several months. Before the Covid-19 ordeal changed our lives, we only ordered out, or dined out, once or twice per month!
Strange times, indeed.
So…what to do for dinner? Comfort food is what I need, today. This is the end of a stressful work week and I want something that I can enjoy making as well as something that I will enjoy eating. I want to achieve a happy balance between the time it takes to make something special and making something that can be prepared quickly.
Quesadillas can be made in as little as two minutes. Toss some grated cheese onto a flour tortilla and top it with another tortilla and bake it in a microwave oven for less than a minute, and voilà!, it’s quesadilla time! But that’s a sad quesadilla. I want a quesadilla that satisfies!
This recipe makes 5 quesadillas, 3 with chicken and 2 with shrimp. Slice each quesadillas into thirds to make 15 triangles.
I used vegetables from the garden and other items I had on hand but quesadillas can be made from anything you like. A few tortillas and some cheese is just the beginning. Make them to suit your taste.
25 to 30 cherry tomatoes (about 1 ½ cups)
2 garlic cloves, mashed
2 green onions
1 bell pepper, seeded and chopped
1 chile ancho, pequeña (a small, green ancho chile)
1 small red chile
1 tsp ground cumin
½ tsp chili powder
½ tsp Mexican oregano
½ tsp salt
¼ cup fresh spinach
7 jumbo shrimp (I used precooked shrimp)
1 lb chicken breast (about 2 chicken breasts)
8 ounces Monterrey Jack cheese
4 ounces Colby Jack cheese
1 Tbs butter
2 Tbs vegetable oil
1 cup shredded lettuce
½ cup sour cream (crème fraîche)
¼ cup fresh cilantro leaves
14 6” flour tortillas
Let’s make a zesty sauce!
Add the cherry tomatoes to a large skillet. Set the heat low/medium. Add about ¼ cup of water to the pan. Top the tomatoes with one chopped green onion and garlic.
Simmer for about 20 minutes, just until the tomatoes soften and break easily with a mixing spoon.
While the tomatoes cook, chop the bell pepper, jalapeño and other chiles. Set these aside, for now.
Add the cumin, chile powder, oregano and salt to the cooked tomatoes. Stir to combine.
Add the bell pepper, jalapeños and chiles. Turn the heat to low and simmer, stirring occasionally to prevent the sauce from burning.
Simmer until most of the moisture is gone from the sauce. Set the sauce aside, clean the pan and get ready to cook some chicken.
Add a few tablespoons of oil to the pan and set the heat to medium. Add the chicken breast and brown on both sides. Once the chicken develops a crispy exterior, remove the chicken to a paper towel lined plate.
Remove the tails from the precooked shrimp.
Slice the shrimp in half, lengthwise. Set aside.
Dice the chicken and set aside.
At this point, you have readied all of the ingredients for the quesadillas. Keep all of the ingredients close together to make assembly a quick process.
Clean the skillet again, unless you like using lots of pans, in that case, use a new pan.
Add a tablespoon of oil and a tablespoon of butter to the pan. Set heat to medium/low.
Assemble the quesadillas.
Lay a tortilla on a work surface and add scatter some cheese evenly across it.
Add some of the shrimp.
Add small dollops of the sauce.
Add a few spinach leaves.
Add some chopped green onion.
Finally, scatter some more cheese on top.
Cover with another tortilla and gently add the quesadilla to the skillet.
Brown the quesadilla for 30 to 40 seconds and turn, to brown the other side.
Press the quesadilla a spatula. This will compress the ingredients and help melt the cheese quickly.
Remove the quesadilla to a cutting board and cut into thirds.
Repeat the process until all of the quesadillas are prepared. I made two shrimp quesadillas and three with chicken.
Add chopped lettuce and sour cream to the center of a serving platter and arrange the sliced quesadillas around the rim.
I’m pretty sure there’s a law that says we MUST grill something on Labor Day. Not being one to intentionally break the law, I will abide.
I’m sticking with an unconventional theme for today’s grilling, after yesterday’s Chicken Satay Salad. The law says we must grill but it doesn’t say what we must grill. So, today’s adventure includes red snapper filets, Portobello mushrooms and mini-eggplants.
As I ponder this seemingly odd grouping of food items I want to find taste sensations that will tie everything together. I’m going with citrus fruit, garlic and olive oil – – maybe this can be considered “Mediterranean meets the Gulf of Mexico”, who knows?
It’s a small affair this year…no big blow-out party, thanks to the persistent virus! This will serve three people.
The eggplant will take the longest to cook, followed by the mushrooms and red snapper.
8 to 10 mini-eggplants
3 garlic cloves sliced very thin
3 Tbs olive oil
1 Tbs balsamic vinegar
Salt and pepper to taste
1 orange, sliced into ½” thick rings and cut in half.
Cut the eggplants in half from tip to stem but stop short of cutting completely.
Place several slices of garlic inside each eggplant.
Place the eggplants in a cast iron skillet, or make a reinforced tray out of heavy-duty aluminum foil.
Drizzle olive oil and balsamic vinegar over the eggplants.
Add a few pinches of salt and pepper.
Bake on a hot grill (400°) for 30 to 45 minutes. The temperature of the coals will diminish during the grilling process but that’s ok. Cover the eggplants, if necessary to steam and soften them but finish by uncovering them.
The eggplants are done when they are soft.
Serve hot, with orange slices on the side.
Grilled Portobello Mushrooms
2 Tbs olive oil
½ tsp balsamic vinegar
2 tsp garlic powder
2 Portobello mushrooms, stems and gills removed
½ cup panko bread crumbs
1/3 cup shredded Mozzarella cheese
3 Tbs grated Parmesan cheese
1/4 cup chopped green onions
1 tsp oregano
½ tsp thyme
2 Tbs melted butter
Juice of ½ lemon
Using a spoon, scrape the gills out of the mushrooms. This will give you more room for the stuffing.
Mix the oil, balsamic vinegar and garlic powder together.
Marinate the mushrooms for about 10 minutes.
Mix panko bread crumbs, Mozzarella, Parmesan, green onions, oregano and thyme together. Drizzle the butter over the mixture.
Pack the center of the mushrooms with the stuffing, leaving a little room on the edges. Place the mushrooms on the hot grill and cook until the cheese melts and bubbles, (about 5 minutes). Remove from the grill, squirt a little lemon juice on the mushrooms and serve warm.
Grilled Red Snapper Filets
Salt and pepper to taste
Juice and zest of ½ lemon
Juice and zest of 1 lime
3 Tbs olive oil
Apply salt and pepper to both sides of the filets.
Squirt lime and lemon juice onto both sides of the fish.
Form a rimmed tray from aluminum foil.
Place a tablespoon of olive oil in the tray and smear both sides of the fish in the oil. Lay the fish on the foil, skin side down.
Grill for about 10 minutes over medium to high heat. The fish is done when it becomes firm to the touch and you start to see the oils in the fish sizzling on the foil.
Sprinkle lime and lemon zest over the fish before serving.
Okay, I have to admit, I was flying without a net on this one. This whole Covid-19 pandemic thing has kept me off balance, in every aspect of my life.
It’s not uncommon for me to rummage through my pantry or refrigerator to scrape together a meal. Often times, everything comes together nicely because I know which food items pair well with other items. Next thing you know, “Dinner is served!”
But this was a case of “Oh no, what am I going to do with all of this stuff?” That kind of thinking at the onset usually leads to questionable results.
The only reason I had angel hair pasta was because I picked it up by accident. I meant to get spaghetti…you know, real spaghetti, not the dainty, angel haired variety. I have found that I am not very observant in the grocery store, now that I’m wearing a mask and trying not to over-handle items on the shelves. The chicken sausage looked interesting, so I picked it up. It was stuffed with chopped basil leaves and it seemed like something fun to try. I had sun dried tomatoes, packed away in my freezer, a few fresh tomatoes, a few pieces of broccoli, some Parmesan cheese and a few semi-fresh hot dog buns in my pantry. All of those ingredients are worthy, in their own right, and could be put to good use but my mind drew a blank when it came time to put everything together.
As it turned out, the dish qualified as real food. The sauce was a little too thick but, the leftovers were great! I added a cup of water to the leftovers and put it in the microwave for two minutes and voila! Perfectly, creamy.
I mention all of this to illustrate a point. Being a home cook isn’t easy, especially with the added stress of a pandemic and civil unrest. Some home cooks, myself included, come home every evening and are faced with the daunting task of making something delicious and nutritious and…something that we haven’t already had three times this week, for goodness sake!
3 cloves roasted garlic, mashed
½ cup sun dried tomatoes
1 ripe Roma tomato, sliced into 1/2” discs
1 tsp fresh rosemary, diced
1 tsp cracked black pepper
1 tsp coarse salt
2 Tbs butter
¼ cup half and half (milk and cream)
2 cups water
2 large pieces of broccoli, stems and leaves included
8 oz chicken sausage (4 links)
2 cups cooked angel hair pasta
½ cup shredded Parmesan cheese
A few hot dog buns
In a hot skillet, add 1 tablespoon of butter and 1 tsp of mashed roasted garlic. Simmer for a minute.
Add the half and half and 1 cup of water and cook for a few minutes. Add the Parmesan cheese and turn the heat off. Remove the cheese sauce to a bowl and keep warm.
In a separate pan, boil some water and add the broccoli. Cook until tender. Remove and slice into long pieces. Set aside.
Slice the tomato and set aside.
Cook the pasta according to the directions, drain and set aside.
In a large pan, add a little olive oil and then add a teaspoon of mashed, roasted garlic. Simmer for a minute and then add the chicken sausage. Simmer at medium heat, turning the sausages occasionally.
Remove the sausages and cut into 1” pieces.
Return the sausage back to the pan and sauté for a few minutes.
Add the sun dried tomatoes and rosemary, stir for a minute. Add the fresh tomatoes and simmer at low/medium heat for five minutes.
Add the melted cheese mixture. Stir briefly.
Add 1 cup of water and the cooked broccoli and stir to combine. Add the cooked pasta and mix. Top with a little more grated Parmesan cheese. Serve warm with toasted, buttered hot dog buns.
Remember, making dinner is really just an invitation for families to sit together. Conversation at the dinner table is the real prize. Dinner-time conversations will linger in hearts and minds long after the food is gone!
This is a fun and easy way to add variety to a meal and a good way to spice up ho-hum potatoes. You don’t have to serve this with a curry dish but it certainly goes well with one. This could be served with baked chicken and vegetables or anything else you desire.
I had just finished making a vegetable stock from vegetable scraps and I boiled the potatoes in the stock, instead of boiling them in water. Regular water would have worked just fine, but the broth seemed right for the dish.
3 large red potatoes, washed, peeled and diced into ½ inch cubes
1 medium onion, finely chopped
2 cloves garlic, mashed and minced
1 tsp fresh ginger, minced
Salt, to taste
½ tsp turmeric
1 tsp Garam Masala
1 tsp cumin
1 Tbs lemon juice
1 dry chile de arbol
2 Tbs cooking oil
Cilantro, for garnish
Boil the potatoes for about 15 minutes, or until the potatoes are nearly cooked. Strain potatoes and rinse under cold water. Set aside.
Heat oil in a wok and add the chile de arbol.
Remove the chile de arbol after 30 seconds. Add chopped onions and fry for 2 to 3 minutes on medium heat.
Add ginger and garlic and fry for 2 minutes until the onions are lightly browned.
Add the spices, along with salt to taste.
Add diced potatoes and stir for a minute or two.
Sprinkle some water over the potatoes and cover the wok and cook for 5-8 minutes. Stir occasionally to prevent the potatoes from sticking to the wok.
Sprinkle a little more water if needed and cook for another 3-5 minutes until the potatoes are thoroughly cooked.
Turn off the heat and add lemon juice. Add chopped cilantro and serve.