For my close friends and family, you know the past few weeks have brought lots of sadness and anxiety with the disaster that has unfolded in Montecito. For those that don’t know me personally but read my blog know that my last post focused on the fabulous trip we just took to Montecito and the Santa Barbara area and all the tasty food we enjoyed on that visit. For many people not in CA, Montecito is familiar because it’s where Oprah and Ellen live- for me it’s where three of my favorite people on the planet live and love. The devastation that has occurred there is mind boggling. Families have been forever changed. The tight-knit community who was still so raw from the fires in December have had to endure hours, days and now weeks of trauma and uncertainty. As I write this, the main freeway that runs through this darling little town has only just opened in the past 24 hours but residents still remain shut off from their homes and neighborhood and will continue to be for more than a week. All I can say is that the feeling of helplessness is a terrible feeling and all I have wanted to do the past two weeks is scoop up these three, transport them to my town and nurture and comfort them with every warm and tasty dish I know how to make. If praying is your kind of thing, please continue to include the town of Montecito in your prayers. There is still much uncertainty and a massive clean up effort to continue.
For now, we focus on feeding the souls of our friends and family whenever possible. Below are some recipes that I have made in the past week or are on my meal calendar for the week ahead. I hope you find something to try and enjoy.
As always, thanks for reading and happy meal planning!
Salted Butter and Chocolate Chunk Shortbread
I’m not sure what to say about these other than they are absolutely delicious and dangerous to have in my kitchen- I made them a few days ago and they disappeared in no time. They are buttery, chocolatey and have the best crunch from the turbinado sugar. I am planning on making a few batches of these this week for my husband to bring to work. Just a mid-week treat of cookies to get them through the week!
Classic Italian-American Stuffed Shells
I made this dish this past week and split it between two foil pans- one for my kids and grandma to have while Eric and I were out for the night and one for the freezer to take to a friend who just had a new baby. It’s flavorful, comfort food at its best! This recipe is your standard spinach ricotta filling but with an extra step or two to soak up the moisture of the spinach and ricotta. If you have a few extra minutes, it’s worth the additional steps. I used a jar of Rao’s Homemade Sauce- it’s a great weeknight solution and a quality brand that is almost always on sale at Safeway. Or try Marcella Hazan’s Tomato Sauce. It’s the best sauce I think I’ve ever had and super easy- 3 ingredients and 45 minutes of simmer time.
This is the easiest soup to make and full of flavor. My entire family loves it. I make it as written, but always double the recipe and we either eat it for a few meals or put it in smaller containers and freeze it. The only thing you need to do if eating it for leftovers is to thin it a bit with water or stock before heating it up. I used leftover ham (Cook’s Illustrated Holiday Ham with Cherry Port Sauce) I had in the freezer from the holidays. We have this with a side of kale salad. Yum!
Chickpea, Barley and Kale Soup
Everyone needs to have an easy super healthy soup like this one in their repertoire. And, everyone needs to have a friend like my friend Patricia! She brought me this soup about a year ago when I wasn’t feeling awesome and I loved it so much that I promptly requested the recipe. I’ve made it many times since and it’s a hit with my family. The only changes I usually make are to use vegetable or chicken stock instead of the water and bullion cubes and I also double the amount of kale, carrots and celery- can never have enough veggies! My kids love to sprinkle Tajin seasoning salt on the top so I am sure to keep the salt to taste at a minimum. A garlic toast to dip is the perfect side.
Slow Roasted Salmon with Pesto
Recently, we were visiting my mom and she offered us the yummiest baked salmon for lunch. It is so simple using prepared pesto and it cooks beginning in a COLD oven so you don’t even need to take time to preheat! We ate it cold, as my mom usually does, and it was delicious. I cannot think of a healthier option to have in your fridge during the week for a quick lunch. Bonus- cold salmon means you can take it to work and not stink up the company kitchen! I cannot think of anyone who might have done this while teaching about 10 years ago- but, you only do that once before learning your lesson.
My mom’s “recipe” in a text message. We are fancy like that.
“Hi Sweetie! Cannot find the exact recipe but here’s what I do: olive oil in the bottom of a shallow casserole, put Costco prepared Pesto on top of salmon after I season with a little salt and pepper. Spread about 2 Tbsp. depending on size of filet. Set oven to 400°. Place casserole on middle rack in cold oven and after temp reaches 400° I turn off the oven and let it sit in the oven for another 5 or 10 minutes. It all depends on the size of the fillet. You can check for desired firmness and also for the milky white liquid to disappear.”
If you need an exact recipe: Pioneer Woman puts salmon filet in a cold oven, then turns on the heat to 400 degrees and cooks for 25 minutes. Both preparations couldn’t be more simple! I hope you enjoy.
Crispy Dijon Chicken Sandwiches
When I was growing up we loved going to Burger King and instead of getting a burger we often got their “healthier” (ha!) chicken sandwiches on a roll. They were so simple but so delicious. And, because they were several dollars a sandwich and my parents had 4 teenagers at once with big appetites, it added up. My mom recreated it at home for much cheaper and included it in our family collection of recipes. Using organic chicken- which I would- would definitely not make this more affordable, but certainly worth making for my family to satisfy my fond childhood memory.
The only tip I would give is to put your pan in the oven to get really hot and when your chicken is ready to go in the oven, pull your pan out, grease it with olive oil (my mom would use more butter) and quickly place your prepared chicken on the hot pan and put it back in the oven. I tried this with breaded eggplant recently and it produced the most crispy coating- I am certain it would work great with this recipe.
PS- the recipe below would be for boneless, skinless chicken. Using “thin cut” chicken breasts would be a good idea as well. I recently saw this organic option at the store.
Shrimp Tacos with Pickled Red Onion
This is hardly a recipe either, but one of the easiest dinners that I can quickly make and always have the ingredients on hand is shrimp tacos. I keep a bag of frozen shrimp in the freezer (Trader Joe’s), tortillas in the refrigerator, and a packet of taco seasoning (Trader Joe’s brand is a great one) in the pantry. I toss 1 lb of defrosted shrimp in half a packet of taco seasoning, put a little oil in a hot pan and saute the shrimp for about 3 minutes and then turn over and saute for another minute or two. A few pieces of cooked shrimp, a little shredded lettuce topped with a mixture of Greek yogurt and sriracha sauce wrapped with a corn or flour tortilla is pretty delicious.
If we are feeling fancy on a particular Taco Tuesday evening, I’ll do a quick batch of pickled red onions to sit while I’m sauteing the shrimp and heating up some frozen corn and a can of black beans as a side. My kids eat these pickled onions right out of the jar. I follow the recipe exactly with the exception of the vinegar- I prefer using red wine vinegar but almost any vinegar besides the big jug of white distilled vinegar would work great. Apparently it has too strong of a flavor for the best pickled red onion. It’s a super quick- dinner on the table- in 20 minutes.
PS: Thaw frozen shrimp quickly in a colander placed in the sink with cold water running over it for a few minutes. Be sure to take a shorter shower that day to make up for the wasted water- sorry. It’s the only way and I have no good use for shrimp water so it goes down the drain.