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Tasty, Beautiful, Healthy: Grilled Veggie Kebabs

11 Jun Delicious and colorful...these veggie kebabs look fancy, but they are simplicity itself

More from our recent camping trip…veggie kebabs are crunchy and fresh accompaniments to all that heavy meat you are throwing on the grill. They are fun to make and fun to eat and look beautiful on a picnic table. The marinade has just five ingredients…the taste of summer produce shines through!

Bright and beautiful, these kebabs are sure to be a favorite of campers and grill-lovers!

Bright and beautiful, these kebabs are sure to be a favorite of campers and grill-lovers!


Dozen wooden skewers, soaked in water for 20 minutes (soak them as you cut vegetables)


3 Tbs extra virgin olive oil

2-3 cloves garlic, minced

1 generous tsp oregano

2-3 tsps fresh lemon juice

2 generous pinches salt


About 2 lbs quick-cooking mixed vegetables such as

1 Cup grape or cherry tomatoes (whole)

1 Cup green/red/yellow/orange peppers, cut into 1” squares

1 medium zucchini, sliced into rounds

1 medium yellow squash, sliced into rounds

8 oz. button mushrooms, wiped cleaned, stems trimmed and cut in half top to stem

(eggplant is not recommended for a mixed kebab as it takes much longer to cook; in general, stay away from dense vegetables for this)

Whisk together all marinade ingredients and place in a resealable 1-gallon plastic storage bag (or put them in the bag, seal, and shake vigorously until combined). Put all the vegetables in the bag, seal and shake to coat thoroughly. Let marinate at least 20 minutes. Get the grill going.

Now for the messy part. Spear mixed veggies onto the skewer in whichever order seems right to you (this is a great job for kids). Don’t  squeeze them together (you want them to have surface area between to cook quickly and evenly) and leave ample space for hands to hold them. Figure on 5-7 vegetables per skewer.

Lay on medium hot grill and cook for 5 minutes, turn, and cook more. They should be completely done in 15 minutes or so, depending on your grill. You are looking for blistering, even charring, skin on the tomatoes and peppers for doneness. You can move them about to different temperature areas on the grill as needed. Serve!

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Spanish-style Tortilla (modified for camp stoves)

Take your omelette to a new level....

Take your omelette to a new level….

Spider Dogs



Crunchy Creamy Zucchini Corn Fritters

8 Jun Light and luscious, the abundant corn kernels make this fun to eat

Just because we are camping, doesn’t mean Natalia is eternally rubbing sticks together to make fire and provide for her family, caveman-style.  I mean, it is a vacation, isn’t it? And a vacation to me means a judicious blend of rustic roughing-it at the campsite and delightful forays into civilization, where other people — preferably terrific local chefs — bring me my food and provide me with cloth napkins in exchange for my credit card.

Corn fritters with zucchini and onion

Corn fritters with zucchini and onion

So while camping at Hither Hills State Park last week we forayed to fishbar, where executive chef Jennifer Meadows (click here to learn about her and her experience on Chopped) serves up local goodness in clean and inventive ways. When we arrived –late of course — my parents — who always get a cottage of some sort nearby the campsite and were therefore bathed, fragrant, well-dressed and on-time — were already there, noshing on some corn fritters (because they knew it would be a while before we turned up). We all loved those fritters.

I wish I had a better photo of the fish tacos. They were love-ly!

I wish I had a better photo of the fish tacos. They were love-ly!

I could have probably asked for the recipe, but that would be too easy, wouldn’t it? So here is my take on corn fritters — which helped use up a couple of  cooked ears of corn and half a zucchini and a few other items in my fridge that needed gainful employment. Continue reading

Big Bang Burgers: Four Ingredients, Deliciously Juicy

7 Jun Fresh air makes for big appetites and this is a quick meal that will satisfy!

Do you buy frozen beef patties for summer grilling? Really? Please tell me you don’t. Or at least, please tell me that you have done it for the last time! When you see how easy it is to make tasty, juicy burgers that are infinitely superior to those tasteless wooden slabs, and only use four ingredients, I know you will make your own next time. And your family and guests will be glad you did.

Destined for the freezer

Destined for the freezer

We certainly were. Several days before our recent beach camping trip to Hither Hills State Park here on the East End of Long Island, I made about a dozen burgers (which took all of five minutes, even with Leandro doing the burger formation), cooked a couple for dinner, then wrapped and froze the rest. Ours are a variety of sizes, as a certain almost-six-year-old was in charge of forming the patties. I like having many sizes actually, because it suits different appetities. Adjust cooking times accordingly.

Here's one we ate at home

Here’s one we ate at home

Continue reading

Spider Dogs, Octo-Dogs:The Hottest Dogs for Kids!

31 May Hurray!!

We’ll be camping and grilling again this summer, so here is a reminder for you (and me) on the coolest way to grill hot dogs for kids!

Click here for original post, or follow the directions below!

Quick grill idea for kids!

Quick grill idea for kids!

Grilled Spider-Dogs

Packaged hot dogs

1 skewer for each hotdog

You’ll want a hot grill going for this.

Stick a skewer halfway through each hot dog lengthwise.

Carefully cut the free half into quarters, lengthwise.

Lay the sliced ends of the hot dogs on the grill. The slices will curl back away from each other as they cook. When the sliced end is cooked and curled, carefully remove the dogs from their skewers, skewer through the cooked end and slice uncooked half into quarters lengthwise. Lay the uncooked ends of the dogs on the grill and cook until they are also curled back and you have a spider (or octo-) dog!



Hot, Cheap & Easy’s Five Top Posts and Wrap-Up for 2012

31 Dec DSC_0019

Whoo-hoo! This year I became a published book writer for the first time with Eat Your Way Around Puerto Rico – a digital dictionary that tells folks what to eat in Puerto Rico and how to ask for it! I also successfully transitioned my little guy to kindergarten (where he has only had the school lunch three times); was an invited speaker at a variety of events (more related to education than food, but an accomplishment nonetheless) and presenter at others; did a number of articles for publication; and did bunches of other things that I am happy about. In a year full of tension and tragedy, I feel very very fortunate to have made it through so well.

And of course Hot, Cheap & Easy has been rollicking along, with 141 new posts (current total is 291, including this one) getting visits from 149 countries and increasing visitors by 150% over last year. The blog has a Facebook page now (like it!) where I post food news and fun that doesn’t quite fit within the scope of the blog.

So here are the five most-visited posts of the year…followed by a shout-out to my most supportive fellow bloggers! I wish you all a delicious 2013….and THANK YOU, GRACIAS, MERCY BUCKETS for all your visits and comments and suggestions!

DSC_0020Hot, Cheap & Easy’s Top Five Countdown for 2012 Continue reading

Pasta e piselli (Pasta with Ham and Peas)

9 Nov 2012-10-08 06.35.22

These Northeastern storms (Sandy and the nor-easter) have brought out the darker side of humor in many of us, as in “What next: plagues of locusts? Frogs?”

The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse seem to have taken a liking to New York and environs; they are galloping through with thundering hooves and much of it is pretty horrible. Mind you, we are doing fine at my house, now that the power is back and school has started  – in fits and starts, actually, as sudden power outages have closed us down a few times. We are lucky!

Easy-peasy ham and peas….

But we are striving for normalcy and for me normal is blogging about food. Continue reading

Vegetarian Chili (or, yet another good bean recipe!)

16 Jul 2012-07-07 06.20.27

I hesitate in summertime to do beans from dry because I don’t want to simmer anything for an hour in this heat! (I am sure a slow-cooker would be a solution, but I don’t have one and don’t have room for one). So, it’s cans for me, and if they have a pull-off top, even better. I want to minimize all movement in the Hazy, Hot, Humidity of a Long Island summer (Ditto for wine bottles…a screw top is high up on my ratings rubric right now; corks take too much work!)

In fact, I want to keep cooking to a minimum, so rather than season my ground beef or even have to defrost and simmer the pre-made stuff I have stocked in the freezer, my “chili” has gone vegetarian. I call it “chili” because I add chili powder, but I make no claims to authenticity. If you want to call it rice and beans with chili seasoning, by all means do. “That which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet,” to quote a certain lovelorn 13-year-old from Verona.

Whatever you call it, it will be ready to eat in about 15 minutes, and I call that fast!

Vegetarian Chili (or rice and beans with chili powder!)

1 Tbs olive oil

½ medium onion, chopped fine (about 1/2 Cup)

½ medium red bell pepper chopped fine (about 1/2 Cup)

3 cloves garlic, minced

1 heaping Tbs tomato paste

15.5 oz can red kidney beans, rinsed and drained

½ tsp oregano

½ tsp chile powder

2 tsp chopped fresh cilantro

1 tsp thyme

Pinch red pepper flakes

1 bay leaf

Salt to taste

Heat olive oil at medium-high in a saucepan until loose and fragrant. Add onions, stir to coat and reduce heat to medium. Add red pepper and garlic and sauté for 5 minutes, or until vegetables are translucent and soft. Add tomato paste, stir in to coat and cook for a minute.  Stir in beans, oregano, chile powder, cilantro, thyme, red pepper flakes and bay leaf. Add ½ Cup water (more, if you want it more liquid) and cook for 15-20 minutes. Salt to taste and serve with white rice or wrapped in tortillas with cheese, shredded lettuce, salsa and all that fun Mexican restaurant-type stuff.

A Camping Week Come-a-Cropper…And What We Cooked

8 Jun 2012 Hither Hills 059

Some camping trips are divine: perfect weather, happy children, equipment fully-functional, bugs bugging someone else, and The Great Outdoors is, well, great.

The Montauk Lighthouse.

Then there are the camping trips that are more, shall we say, character-building.

A tick-free hiker is a happy hiker!

We’ve just come back from a trip that was a bit of a mixed bag. We were on the beach at the East End of Long Island in Spring, which can be a hit-or-miss deal. You might have sun and breeze. Or you might have 30 mph winds, cold temperatures, and chilling rain. We mostly had the latter, but in the end, managed to pull out one spectacular beach day, the requisite s’mores, several yummy, grilled meals, and a couple of tick-free hikes. And anyone who has ever camped by a body of water will understand the sheer joy of spending a week living outdoors Without One Single Mosquito Bite. (Even if you had to freeze your miserable ass off, huddled around a smoky damp wood fire gripping desperately to a plastic tumbler of boxed Malbec to achieve it).

There were other umbrellas that might have come in handier on this trip, but funnily enough, these were the only ones I had!

I like to say that the best friendships are forged by shared suffering, so Ashley, Marianne, and I have done yet another round of forging and are already planning for next year! (Leandro may have other ideas, but I have the deciding vote as long as I am paying.)

This trip was rather light on cooking – it happens when you are hit with gale force winds, blustery rain, and a shitty, shitty, shitty propane stove which is headed straight for the Island of Misfit Toys even as we speak.

Look out, Bobby Flay…here comes Leandro and His License to Grill

But, cook one must and following  are two of the recipes that came up during this trip. I hope to post a couple more in the next few days, but I am still doing laundry and catching up with the wreckage that is post-camping! And really, I am deciding whether to ‘fess up on how we cheated on the camping thing, discuss Leandro’s stomach issues; and am hoping to sort out a nifty vodka cocktail we adjusted our attitudes with…we shall see…

(for other camp-friendly recipes, see Spaghetti a la Carbonara, Spider Dogs (the coolest hot dogs EVER), Spanish tortilla with zucchini, Quesadillas, Scrambled Eggs, Aglio, Olio & Peperoncino – Pasta with Garlic, Oil and Hot Pepper, Grilled Tomato Pasta Sauce, Cannelini and Tomato Salad, Black Bean and Sweet Corn Salad, and Five Minute Black Beans).

Goat Cheese and Crackers – with Cucumber or Green Grapes!

Spread your favorite crackers with goat cheese (which keeps very nicely in a cooler). Top with cucumber slices or halved green grapes and served. Apple slices would also be lovely.

Skewered Vegetables

Fire up the grill. While the coals are heating up, soak ten wooden skewers in water for 15 minutes.

Meanwhile, cut up a mix of vegetables – figure about 4 cup, but this is a very flexible recipe

(Notes: Peppers, zucchini, mushrooms, onions, are especially recommended. Eggplant is not, as it takes so long to cook through that everything else will be burnt if you put them together on a skewer. Grape tomatoes should also be skewered separately, as they cook faster than anything!

Also, try to cut the vegetables so that they cook evenly: denser vegetables should be smaller; more porous vegetables should be thicker.)

Skewer the vegetables, leaving a bit of space between them so they cook evenly.

In a separate bowl, whisk  – or use a fork! -  2-3 Tbs olive oil; 1-2 cloves garlic, minced fine; a pinch of salt; the juice of half a lemon; 1/2 tsp sugar; and 1 tsp oregano (or your favorite herb).

Brush the skewered vegetables with the oil mixture, using a brush, paper towel or your fingertips, or use a shallow plate to dip them lengthwise.

Place on grill and turn every two minutes or so, depending on your grill. When the vegetables exchange their crisp look for something more translucent and maybe even a bit charred, serve!

Spaghetti a la Carbonara (or bacon and eggs Italian-style!)

15 Feb 2012 Feb calabaza, alubias 002

Nowhere does it say that Hot, Cheap & Easy means low-fat, low-carb or low-cholesterol. As it happens, a lot of what I prepare and eat is on the lighter, greener, and grainier side, but I am never averse to bacon and eggs; in fact, sometimes I feel that they are the only possible answer.

Bacon and eggs for dinner? Yeah.

Bacon and eggs and pasta for dinner? Double yeah.

Bacon and eggs and pasta and cheese for dinner? Bring It On.

Thus spaghetti alla carbonara, a dish from Rome that  shows once again, no matter the state of their government, economy or traffic, no one can as consistently make as many people happy with food as effortlessly as the Italians.

Leandro and I threw this dish together in less than 20 minutes. He is getting very handy with the egg-cracking and beating and whether it was pride in his own handiwork, or just the ineffable joy of bacon grease and cheese, he made short work of two heaping bowls of it. We will be doing this on our next camping trip; I may try to make it a one-pot affair and will keep you posted!

Spaghetti alla Carbonara

1-2 Tbs olive oil

1-2 Tbs butter

4 oz bacon (about four rashers), or pancetta if you’ve got, cut into ¼ inch squares

1 lb spaghetti or other long pasta

4-5 fresh eggs*, well beaten

½ Cup grated Parmigiano Reggiano or Grana Padano or, more typically Roman: Pecorino

Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste

Heat the oil and butter in a skillet; add the bacon and sauté until golden and crisping up. Remove from fat and drain on paper towels.

Cook the pasta according to package directions. Make sure you have the next step completed before that pasta is cooked so the pasta is piping hot when you turn it into the bowl.

While the pasta is cooking, beat the eggs, ¼ Cup of the grated cheese, and pepper in a large serving bowl. As soon as you drain the pasta, turn it into the bowl and toss well. (If you are worried that the egg hasn’t cooked enough, return it to the pasta pot and stir it around over the still warm burner or a low flame for a minute or two). Add the remaining cheese and serve.

*To make sure eggs are fresh, place them in a bowl of water to cover. A very fresh egg will stay completely submerged. A relatively fresh egg will float up on one end, while the other end remains on the bottom. An egg that floats is an egg that is rotten.

Bits and Bobs Broccoli Pasta (FAST)

9 Oct Typical Leandro lunch: pasta, yogurt and mini-muffins for dipping

My dad took Leandro for a haircut when we got home from the workday– they love to do the man thing at the barber together  — so I dashed off to do some solo grocery shopping which I find heavenly (It is a sad commentary on the state of my life that an unaccompanied trip to the supermarket has replaced dinner and a show on my top-five list of things to do). Then it was off to the farm for pick-up and then I headed home with no time to fuss over dinner, but nothing prepared and a child about to realize – with the suddenness of an improvised explosive device — that he is STARVING.

I did call my dad on the way home to see if he could get water on the boil, which he did! Masha danki, Padushi! (Mark Bittman – the NYTimes Minimalist food writer and one of my heroes — says whenever you get home you should get the water going, so you can throw anything in there, inspired or not). So on the rest of the 15-minute drive home, I did a mental inventory of all the scraps in my fridge and larder that needed using – Multigrain pasta, check. Leftover olive oil from tortillas, check. Unused peeled onion halves from another dish, yup. Too many peppers from the farm, uh-huh. The ever-present broccoli that represents probably 50 percent of Leandro’s vegetable consumption (heavy sigh), right. Dab of tomato paste I didn’t need for the meatloaf…etc. etc.

And by the time I got home, I was good to go and get dinner on the table in about 15 minutes (6-minute pasta was key). You should note that tomato paste is a great thing to add tomato tang and depth. I guess it is thanks to its concentration that it releases its flavors with just a bit of sauteing (unlike purees or whole peeled tomatoes, which much be cooked for a while to get really good). That’s a criollo trick I learned in Puerto Rico!

In this recent version, I used two tablespoons of the reserved olive oil that I had used to saute the onions and potatoes for a recent tortilla, which adds a nice flavor, but you can just use extra virgin olive oil as stated in the recipe.

Not only did this work for Leandro’s evening meal, but he asked for the leftovers for lunch the following day and I was very happy to oblige. You can see the lunch he took to school here!

Typical Leandro lunch: pasta, yogurt and mini-muffins for dipping

Bang Together Bits and Bobs Broccoli Pasta (makes two kid servings)

6 oz whole grain medium pasta shells(about half a 13.5 oz box)

A handful of broccoli florets separated into forkfuls (and peeled and chopped stems, if you like)

2 Tbs extra virgin olive oil

½ onion, peeled and chopped fine (about ¼-1/2 Cup)

½ green pepper (Cubanelle, sweet or bell are fine), chopped fine

1 clove garlic, peeled and chopped

1 Tbs tomato paste

2 tsp chopped herbs of your choice (basil, oregano, thyme, culantro; halve for dried herbs)

Grated cheese (such as Parmigiano Reggiano or Gran Padano) or nutritional yeast (optional)

Prepare pasta according to package directions in a medium to large pot, adding the broccoli 3-4 minutes before the boiling is finished. Drain, reserving ½ Cup cooking liquid.

Let the same pot dry over the burner, add the olive oil and heat at medium high until loose and fragrant. Add the onion and green pepper and stir to coat. Add garlic and lower heat to medium and cook for a minute. Add tomato paste and herbs and stir around until fully incorporated. Add the pasta and mix thoroughly (if you find it too dry, add tablespoons of the reserved cooking liquid). Add cheese and serve.


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