Saturday, December 9, 2006

Cheesy Sausage and Tortellini Toss

There was a used book sale at our local library branch and I bought two cookbooks! The first one is Cooking for Today: Better Homes and Gardens PASTA which seems to have lots of yummy but simple pasta recipes. This first one we tried was quick and simple because it calls for pre-cooked sausage. The original recipe suggested just dumping the sausage and broccoli in with the tortellini as it finishes cooking, but I chose to sauté the sausage first to get it browned, just because i feel like that give it more flavor (not really sure if it does). I also am not a big fan of swiss cheese, which the original recipe called for, so I used an italian cheeses blend. This came out pretty well, though I would suggest cutting the sausage and broccoli pieces so that they're about the same size as the tortellini. Also, a little salt and pepper goes a long way.

Cheesy Sausage and Tortellini Toss
from Cooking for Today: Better Homes and Gardens PASTA with mods.
Serves 2

1 1/2 - 2 cups dried tortellini
2 cups broccoli florets (i used frozen)
6 oz. fully cooked smoked Polish sausage, thinly bias-sliced
1/2 TBS butter
1/2 TBS flour
1 teaspoon caraway seed (I didn't have this so I used nutmeg)
1/2 cup milk (add more if the sauce is too thick)
1/2 cup shredded swiss or italian cheeses
1/2 TBS brown mustard

1) In a large pot cook tortellini in salted water, according to package directions, about 10 minutes. Add broccoli (and sausage, if you choose) and return to boiling, about 3 min, or until pasta is tender but slightly firm and broccoli is crisp-tender. Drain, keep warm.
2) Meanwhile, if you are sautéing the sausage instead of boiling, do so in a medium non-stick skillet over med-heat with just a drizzle of olive oil. Cook until sausage is slightly browned. Add to tortellini.
3) In same pan, melt butter. Gradually add flour while stirring until thick and blended. Add caraway or nutmeg and stir. Add milk all at once. Cook and stir until thickened and bubbly. Add cheese and mustard, stirring until cheese melts.
4) Pour sauce over tortellini mixture and toss to coat.

Saturday, November 18, 2006

Cream Cheese Chicken Roll-Ups

This is an old favorite of ours, but I've always run into the problem of not being able too cook the chicken all the way through, because the rolled up chicken makes it hard to cook the center. I was also afraid of using toothpicks because they might burn in the oven...and hence never cooked these stove top because they would come un-rolled. But I faced my fear! I used those toothpicks. By soaking them in water, I believe I prevented any major charring and the roll-ups stayed perfectly, well, rolled up.

Cooking them in the fry-pan first made ALL the difference. It helped to partially cook the chicken AND get the cornflake crumbs a nice, crispy golden brown. I also spread the cream cheese out over the whole chicken breast, rather than just rolling the chicken around one big lump of cream cheese, which I think may have helped with the cooking processes. You can by these super thin-cut breasts at your local grocery store (I used Perdue), but if you can't find them, pound out two regular chicken breasts to about a 1/4 inch thickness (or thinner if you can!) or slice the chicken thinly, length wise. The thinner the chicken, the more evenly it will cook. If you have some roll-ups that are smaller than others, take those out at the 10 minute mark, and leave the big boys to bake for a few minutes more.

This is a super easy recipe to size down for one, or size up for four. It does take a little while because of the breading, but is well worth the trouble.

Cream Cheese Chicken Roll-Ups
Serves 2

4 thinly sliced boneless, skinless, chicken breasts (can be bought pre-cut from store)
3-4 oz. cream cheese
1 TBS italian seasonings
2 tsp. garlic salt (to taste)
1 cup cornflake crumbs or breadcrumbs
1 egg, beaten with 1 tsp. water
2 TBS butter

1) Preheat oven to 350ºF. Soak 4 toothpicks in water for about 10 min. (this is to prevent them from burning).
2) Mix together cream cheese, seasonings, and garlic salt until blended (this is easier if the cream cheese is at room temperature).
3) Spread cream cheese thickly on each slice of chicken. Fold over sides and roll up tightly, securing the end with one of the soaked toothpicks.
4) Dip chicken roll-ups in eggwash then coat in crumbs.
5) Heat butter in a pan or skillet over med. heat until frothy. Add chicken roll-ups. Cook 2-3 min. or until bottom is golden brown. Rotate and cook 2-3 more minutes. Continue until the entire outside of the roll-up is a golden brown and the chicken has begun to cook through.
6) Transfer chicken to a baking dish (or, if your pan can go in the oven, simply put it straight in). Cook for 10-12 minutes more, depending on thickness of the roll up. Transfer to plates and remove toothpicks.

**For a neat little finishing sauce, after removing chicken from skillet, add some white wine to deglaze the pan. Add about 1/4 cup chicken broth, 1/4 cup milk, salt, pepper, and 1 TBS of flour. Whisk together and cook over med. heat until thickened. If it comes out lumpy (this happened to me, because I forgot to use a whisk with the flour) pour through a mesh strainer. Drizzle over finished chicken roll-ups.

Saturday, August 19, 2006

Penne with Chicken and Ham Sauce

I haven't used this cookbook in ages because, while it has some great recipes, alot of them seem kind of labor intensive or require tricky ingredients. But this recipe seemed pretty simple. The only hold up was finding "crème fraîche." Time for a quick cooking lesson, with some help from wikipedia:

"Crème fraîche [IPA: krɛm frɛʃ] (French for "fresh cream") is a heavy cream slightly soured with bacterial culture, but not as sour or as thick as sour cream. Originally a French product, today it is available throughout Europe (and in speciality stores in the States, such as Trader Joes where I eventually found it, pictured above).

"Crème fraîche is made by inoculating unpasteurized heavy cream with Lactobacillus cultures, letting the bacteria grow until the cream is both soured and thick and then pasteurizing it to stop the process.Thus, it cannot be made at home with pasteurized cream—the lack of bacteria in the cream will cause it to spoil instead of sour. If unpasteurized heavy cream is not available, a substitute for crème fraîche can be produced by adding 1–2 tablespoon of cultured buttermilk to two cups of pasteurized (not ultra-pasteurized) heavy cream and letting the mixture stand at room temperature for 8 - 24 hours until thick. (time which I totally did not have and didn't want to even begin to attempt)

"In general, crème fraîche and sour cream can be used interchangeably in most recipes, but crème fraîche has two advantages over sour cream: it can be whipped, and it will not curdle if boiled. (since this recipe calls for you to bring the sauce to a boil AND I had never made it before AND the idea of curdled anything really grosses me out, I decided to just hunt down some crème fraîche myself)"

So, this dish, crème fraîche and all, was actually pretty easy and delicious. I used smoked gouda because I like it and it was cheaper, and it added a really great flavor to the dish (though I'm sure regular gouda would be delicious as well). The sauce is kind of strong, so make sure you have enough pasta to spread it out. I prepared the chicken myself before putting the whole thing together, but you can use pre-cooked chicken easily. I used canadian bacon again (personal preference) and added some peas at the end. This got a big thumbs up from the boy. We had it with thick slices of Garlic Basil Parmesan Bread from the farmers market.

Penne with Chicken and Ham Sauce
from Best-Ever Chicken ed. by Linda Fraser, with mods.
Serves 2-3

1 cup cooked chicken OR 1 boneless, skinless chicken breast--cubed small, garlic salt, and 1 TBS oil

2 cups penne
1 TBS butter
1/2 onion, chopped
1 garlic clove, chopped
1 bay leaf (I used some dried chopped bay leaf)
1 cup dry white wine
1/3 cup crème fraîche
1/3 cup cooked ham or canadian bacon
1/2 cup frozen peas, defrosted
3/4 cup grated (smoked) Gouda cheese
1/2 teaspoon dried mint (original recipe: 1/2 TBS fresh mint)
salt & pepper to taste

1) Cook pasta according to package directions (if you start the water boiling just as you begin cooking it should all be ready together).
2) If cooking chicken, heat oil in skillet and, when hot, add chicken and garlic salt and sauté. Add canadian bacon once the chicken loses it's raw color. Cook until browned, drain, and set aside.
3) Heat butter in skillet and fry onion until softened.
4) Add the garlic, bay leaf, and wine and bring to boil. Boil rapidly until reduced by half. Remove bay leaf, then stir in crème fraîche and bring back to boil.
5) Add chicken, ham, and cheese and simmer for 5 minutes, stirring occasionally until heated through. Add peas towards the end and mix.
6) Add the mint and seasoning. Drain pasta and toss in large serving bowl with sauce.

Kung Pao Chicken

Sorry for the delay my friends, we were out of town for a wedding for a while and what with the boy traveling a couple days every week and me starting a new job I haven't been cooking as much as I would like. But here is a new favorite which I made week or so ago that I've just been dying to share with you.

As you know, I have been experimenting in the world of Asian cuisine and have had fairly good success. I made dumplings again, and they were just as good the second time, if just as labor intensive. My latest attempt was Kung Pao Chicken, which I must say, came out very well. I cut the chicken into very small pieces, with the idea that you should try to keep all your ingredients the same size when cooking, and I really liked how that made the dish. I halved the recipe except when it came to the sauce, which was good because there was just enough... could have even done with a little more. I also added vegetables to this--red bell peppers, onion, and carrots. Serve with rice!

As usual, it called for using a wok, which I don't own, so I used a fry pan which seemed to work fine though I might slowly be killing it, alas. This recipe didn't sound like it would come out tasting like it does in chinese restaurants, but it did! Kind of. It was really good, I must say. Definitely a keeper.

Kung Pao Chicken
copied from with mods.
Serves 2

1/2 lb. boned, skinned chicken breasts - cubed very small
1 Tbls. soy sauce
1 1/2 Tbls. cornstarch mixed with 1 1/2 Tbls. cold water

2 Tbls. soy sauce
1 Tbls. dry sherry
1 Tbls. granulated sugar
1 tsp. cornstarch
1/2 tsp. salt
1 tsp. sesame oil

2 Tbls. vegetable oil - divided
1/4 cup unsalted roasted peanuts
2-4 dried red chili peppers - chopped (I used one smallish New Mexican dried chili pepper... all I could find)
1 slice peeled, fresh ginger - chopped
1 clove garlic - sliced
1/2 red bell pepper, diced
1/2 onion, diced
1 carrot, sliced or a handful of baby carrots, halved

1) Combine chicken, 1 Tbls. soy sauce, and cornstarch/water mixture; allow to marinate for 30 minutes.

2) Combine 2 Tbls. soy sauce, sherry, sugar, cornstarch, salt, and sesame oil; set aside.

3) In a hot wok, stir-fry the peanuts in 1 Tbls. vegetable oil until golden brown, remove peanuts from wok, and set aside. BE CAREFUL they brown up really fast and burnt peanuts are really gross.

4) Fill wok with vegetable oil for frying and heat to 350 degrees. Carefully slide the chicken into the wok, piece by piece, and fry for 1 minute.

5) Remove chicken from oil and drain on a brown paper bag (I found a sturdy paper towel doubled up works too). Remove oil from wok.

6) In hot wok, stir-fry the red peppers in 1 Tbls. vegetable oil until they turn dark. Add bell peppers and onions and cook until they begin to get tender. Add carrots, ginger, garlic, and chicken to the wok and fry, stirring constantly. Stir the prepared sauce and add to the wok. Stir and cook wok contents until the sauce is thickened. Stir in peanuts and serve.

Saturday, August 5, 2006

Greek-Style Pasta with Meat

I've made this several times and it's always a success and I always forget how easy it is! I always buy more ground beef than I need just for burgers or meat sauce, so this is a cool way to use up some of that extra chuck you have in the back of your freezer. The feta cheese is a must and the herbs might sound strange, but are perfect in this dish. I'm going to copy it straight from the cookbook, though I usually halve the recipe for the two of us. Also, I just use pre-ground beef, but I'm sure lamb would be delicious. And I just use diced tomatoes since crushed tomatoes only come in a huge can in my local grocery stores.

Greek-Style Pasta with Meat
from Prevention's Ultimate Quick & Healthy Cookbook
Serves 4

6 oz. lean, trimmed boneless leg of lamb or beef top round cut into chunks (or grounds ahead)
2 tsp. olive oil
1 large onion, chopped
3 cloves garlic
1/4 tsp. dried oregano
1/4 tsp. dried thyme
1/4 tsp. dried mint
1/4 tsp. fresh ground black pepper
Large pinch of ground cinnamon (essential!!)
1 can (16 oz.) crushed tomatoes in purée or diced tomatoes
1 can (8 oz.) no-salt-added tomato sauce
10 oz. orzo pasta
1 oz feta cheese (or as much as you like!)

1) Bring large covered pot of water to boil over high heat
2) Process lamb or beef in food processor until just ground (obviously skip this if you're starting with ground meat)
3) Warm oil in a large, heavy skillet over med.-high heat. Add onions and garlic, sauté for 3-5 minutes or until onions are tender and lightly browned. . Crumble in ground meat and cook, stirring for 2-3 minutes or until no longer pink. Add a table spoon of water if the pan gets too dry. Stir in seasonings. Cook, stirring constantly for 30 seconds.
4) Stir in crushed tomatoes and tomato sauce and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to low and simmer, stirring occasionally for 10 min or until flavors are blended.
5) While sauce simmers, add pasta to boiling water, return to boil, cook for 6-8 minutes or according to package directions until al dente. Drain and transfer to serving bowl.
6) Spoon meat sauce over pasta and sprinkle with feta.


So my attempts at taco meat in the past have been mediocre at best. Tonight I discovered why... I was making things too complicated! Go simple! This came out AMAZING. The boy said it was even better than his mother's and he's not a big fan of tacos! The amounts for the seasonings are estimated because I don't remember exactly. Definitely use salt and pepper, and as much chili powder/red pepper as you like for heat.

Quick, easy, and hardly dirtied any dishes.

inspired by "Mexican Taco Salad" from Preventions Ultimate Quick & Healthy Cookbooks
Serves 2

4-6 flour tortillas or hard taco shells
8 oz. ground beef
1/2 tsp. olive oil
2 TBS beef broth
1/4 cup tomato, diced
1/4 cup onion, chopped
1/2 jalapeño, minced
1 TBS ketchup
1/4 tsp. ground red pepper
1/4 tsp. chili powder
1/2- 1 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. ground black pepper

shredded cheddar cheese
shredded lettuce
chopped tomatoes
sour cream

1) In medium skillet, heat oil over med. heat until hot. Crumble in beef, add broth and sauté for 2-3 minutes or until meat is no loner pink. Add tomatoes, onions, and jalapeño and sauté for 3-4 minutes. Add ketchup and seasonings to taste and sauté for another 2 minutes or until flavors are mingled.
2) Heat tortillas a/o taco shells according to package directions**. Fill with meat, cheese, and veggies as desired.

**Wait, are those homemade tortillas in that photo? Why yes they are!

Tequila Turkey Fettucini

So during the school year I became an avid watcher of "The Next Food Network Star." For the final episode, Guy Fieri, one of the final contestants (and eventual winner) cooked up his "Tequila Turkey Fettucini" which made us all drool just watching him make it. We decided to try it for ourselves and it became a quick favorite.

We made a few changes: we use chicken instead of turkey, and usually pre-cook it ourselves rather than buying it pre-cooked (though I'm sure leftovers would work perfectly). We leave out the cilantro (personal preference). We've also used other kinds of pasta, such as gemelli, which I think the boy actually liked better. This past time was the first time I made it myself and I discovered a couple things in trying to actually double a recipe rather than halve it. Add salt and up the lemon juice. The sauce came out a little bland until we added salt and squeezed our lime garnishes over top (essential... made it so good).

So here it is, copy and pasted from the website, with a couple of my comments. Enjoy!

Tequila Turkey Fettucini
from Guy Fieri of "The Next Food Network Star," Tequila Turkey Fettucini
Serves 1

1-ounce olive oil
1/4 red onion, cut into strips
1/2 tablespoon minced jalapeno
1 tablespoon minced garlic
5 ounces turkey breast, cooked, sliced (also can use chicken)
1-ounce tequila
4 ounces heavy cream
1/2-ounce fresh lemon juice (I would double this)
1 tablespoon chopped cilantro leaves
9 ounces fettuccini pasta, cooked (any kind of pasta will do)
2 tablespoons grated Parmesan (essential!)
2 lime wedges, for garnish (essential!)
2 sprigs cilantro, for garnish
2 tablespoons diced Roma tomato, for garnish (very yummy addition)
1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

1) In saute pan with high heat, add olive oil, onions, jalapeno and saute until translucent. Add garlic and continue to saute for 2 minutes. Add turkey, lightly mix ingredients, careful not to break turkey up to much.
2) Deglaze pan with tequila, pouring around the edge of the saute pan. Add cream, lemon juice and cilantro. Toss together, then add pasta, and toss ingredients while adding Parmesan cheese.
3) Nest pasta on plate, pour sauce over pasta. Lay sprigs of cilantro over top, sprinkle tomatoes on top, and crack pepper around the rim of the plate.

Thursday, August 3, 2006

Grilled Vegetables and Cheese Tortellini

I found the recipe as per request from the boy who wanted some sort of tortellini dish with a vinagrette and vegetables. Now, I must admit, I'm not a big fan of vinagrettes and I messed around alot with this one until it tasted ok to me. I don't remember the exact changes I made, but I'll note some ingredients you can add to change the taste. You can also buy your own favorite vinagrette dressing.

This is pretty quick and easy!

I loved this recipe because of all the different veggies and flavors and textures. Definitely a summer dish. The original recipe also called for using eggplant, but I replaced that with zucchini. Any summer vegetables will do. I used my grill pan, but you could easily toss these veggies straight onto your gas or charcoal grill. If it's winter, or you don't have any kind of grill, you can always sauté the vegetables as well... the recipe includes instructions for that.

Grilled Vegetables and Cheese Tortellini
from "Whole Foods Market : Recipes : Grilled Vegetables & Cheese Tortellini (with slight modifications)
Serves 2-3

9 oz. cheese tortellini
4 asparagus spears, tough ends snapped off
1 yellow summer squash, sliced lengthwise about 1/2" thick
1 zuchinni, sliced lengthwise about 1/2" thick
1 red pepper, corred and de-seeded
1 TBS olive oil
1/4 cup pitted black olives, such as kalamata
1/2 - 1 cup baby spinach
1/2 cup feta cheese, crumbled
1/2 cup red wine vinagrette

Red Wine Vinagrette
4 large basil leaves, chopped
3 TBS red wine vinegar (I would suggest replacing half or even all of this with balsamic)
1 garlic clove, minced
1/4 cup olive oil (up this if theres too much vinegar)
1 TBS dijon mustard (this adds ALOT of flavor, so go easy)
sea salt, to taste
ground pepper, to taste
*sugar, to taste (to cut the vinegar)

1) Cook tortellini according to package directions, drain and set aside. Whisk together vinagrette if preparing your own.
2a) Grilling Vegetables: Preheat grill to med. heat. Brush vegetables with olive oil. Grill 3-5 minutes on each side, or until veggies are tender. Pepper should be slightly charred when done. Chop up veggies into pieces of equal size.
2b) Sautéing Vegetables: Chop vegetables into bite-sized pieces. Heat olive oil in a large sauté pan over med-high heat and sauté veggies until tender.
3) Toss pasta with vegetables, olive, spinach, feta, and vinagrette.

French Bread Personal Pizzas

A delicious meal made of leftover ingredients! I discovered the small bakery near our house that makes wonderful rustic breads (The Breadsong Bakery, for those in Boston 'burbs). I was able to use my experience working at an italian pizzeria to my advantage.

For the bread, I bought a round, french bread, something with a good solid crust. This was good in that I could simply slice it in half length wise and have to round "crusts." But it made very large pizzas and the boy said that there was a little too much bread in proportion to the other ingredients. So I would also suggest a good crusty wide baguette. Something that you can cut length wise rather than slices. That way the crust of the bread will make sure the sauce doesn't seep through, like it might if you just used bread slices. You could also convert this recipe to use on bagels (mmm).

French Bread Personal Pizzas
Serves 2-4

1 round of French bread or a wide, french baguette.
14 oz. diced tomatoes
6 oz. tomato paste mixed with equal parts water
italian seasonings
**Note: I just used what I had leftover from the lasagna recipe. You can easily replace this with any tomato sauce or pizza sauce you like
1 cup mozzerella cheese, grated
2-3 slices provolone (or 1-1 1/2 cup grated)
margarine or butter
1 link of hot italian sausage, boiled and sliced thin
4 TBS ricotta cheese

1) Preheat oven to 375ºF. Slice the french bread length wise, leaving a thickness of no more than 1 inch. If using a round, slice a thin amount off the top slice so that it will sit evenly in the pan. Set aside.
2) Combine diced tomatoes and tomato paste/water in a food processor. Purée until smooth. Pour into sauce pan and heat thoroughly over med-low heat. Add italian seasonings to taste.
3) Clean out food processor and put in sliced provolone. Pulse until chopped. Add mozzerella and pulse gently until blended.
4) Assemble pizzas: spread a thin layer or margarine or butter on the top of french bread,( to prevent the sauce from making the bread really soggy). Cover each top with an even layer of sauce, to preference. Top with an even coating of cheese. Place sausage slices and ricotta cheese on top as desired.
5) Bake for approx. 25 min or until cheese is starting to brown.

Alton Brown's Meatloaf

This is kind of cheating on my part, but here is the recipe I used to make what is now my favorite meatloaf, directly from the website. I basically halved the recipe, but here it is in full. I also make my own croutons by cutting up stale bread, mixing it with some olive oil, s&p, and italian herbs, and then toasting it in the oven at 400ºF for 5-7 minutes or until golden brown. You could always, er, just go buy them.

Alton Brown's Meatloaf
from "The Food Network: Good Eats Meatloaf"
Serves 6-8

6 ounces garlic-flavored croutons
1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper
1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1 teaspoon chili powder
1 teaspoon dried thyme
1/2 onion, roughly chopped
1 carrot, peeled and broken
3 whole cloves garlic
1/2 red bell pepper
18 ounces ground chuck
18 ounces ground sirloin
1 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1 egg
For the glaze:
1/2 cup catsup
1 teaspoon ground cumin
Dash Worcestershire sauce
Dash hot pepper sauce
1 tablespoon honey

Heat oven to 325 degrees F.
In a food processor bowl, combine croutons, black pepper, cayenne pepper, chili powder, and thyme. Pulse until the mixture is of a fine texture. Place this mixture into a large bowl. Combine the onion, carrot, garlic, and red pepper in the food processor bowl. Pulse until the mixture is finely chopped, but not pureed. Combine the vegetable mixture, ground sirloin, and ground chuck with the bread crumb mixture. Season the meat mixture with the kosher salt. Add the egg and combine thoroughly, but avoid squeezing the meat.

Pack this mixture into a 10-inch loaf pan to mold the shape of the meatloaf. Onto a parchment paper-lined baking sheet, turn the meatloaf out of the pan onto the center of the tray. Insert a temperature probe at a 45 degree angle into the top of the meatloaf. Avoid touching the bottom of the tray with the probe. Set the probe for 155 degrees.

Combine the catsup, cumin, Worcestershire sauce, hot pepper sauce and honey. Brush the glaze onto the meatloaf after it has been cooking for about 10 minutes.

Thursday, July 20, 2006

Individual Lasagnas

I started out with high hopes for this recipe (the individualization being my own genius idea) and they were dashed when I tried to go the no-boil pasta route. Even by buying the smaller no-boil lasagna noodles, I had to pain-stakingly break the noodles to fit into the miniture loaf pans. In the future, though it takes a little extra effort, PLEASE go for boiled noodles. Sure it adds a little extra time, but lasagna is sort of a long process anyway, so whats a few extra minutes?

The neat things about this though is that you are making individual servings. So you can easily double or triple this for the freezer. To freeze, the recipe says "The assembled, unbaked lasagna, if wrapped tightly in plastic wrap and then in foil, will keep in the freezer for up to two months. To bake, defrost in the refridgerator for a day or tow and bake as directed, extending the baking time by about 5 minutes." Because these are much smaller, I doubt they would take long to defrost and I don't think it would hurt anything to leave them on the counter for a short while or defrost them in the microwave.

This would go great with some garlic bread. I think I also served it with asparagus and snow peas.

Individual Lasagnas
from The New Best Recipe with modifications and individualization
Serves 2.5

1/2 TBS olive oil
1/2 onion, chopped fine
2-3 cloves garlic, minced
1/4 lb ground chuck
1/4 lb italian sausage (removed from casings)
1/4 tsp. salt
1/4 tsp. pepper
1/4 cup heavy cream
14 oz. diced tomatoes
6 oz. tomato paste mixed with equal parts water

Cheese and Pasta layers
8 oz ricotta cheese
1 1/4 oz parmesan cheese
1/4 cup chopped fresh basil
1/2 egg, lightly beaten
lasagna noodles
1/2 lb shredded mozzerella

3 mini loaf pans

1) Preheat oven to 375º
2) Prepare lasagna noodles according to box directions (if you are making a large lasagna, feel free to go the no-boil route).
3) Heat oil in sauce pan over medium heat until shimmering but not smoking. Add onion and cook, stirring occasionally until soft, about 2 min. Add garlic and cook until fragrant.
4) Increase heat to medium high and add ground meat, salt and pepper, breaking th meat into small pieces with a wooden spoon until meat loses it's raw color., about 4 min. Add cream and simmer, stirring occasioanlly, until liquid ecaporates and only fat remains, about 4 minutes. Add tomatoes and bring to simmer. Reduce heat to low and simmer slowly until flacores are bleneded, about 3 min. Set sauce aside.
**If you find the sauce is too acidic or "tomato-y" try adding some sugar. That will cut back on the sharp taste.
5) Mix ricotta, half of the parmesan, basil, egg, salt, and pepper in medium bowl with a fork until well combined. Set aside.
6) Spray mini-loaf pans with non-stick cooking spray. Coat the bottom of each pan with sauce, avoiding large chunks of meat. Place a noodle on top to create the first layer. Drop 2-3 TBS ricotta mixture on to the noodle and spread evenly. Sprinkle evenly with mozzerella cheese. Spoon 1/2-3/4 cup of the meat sauce evenly over the cheese. Repeat layering until you reach the top of the pan. Place a noodle ontop and coat with sauce. Sprinkle with mozzerella and remaining parmesan. Lightly spray a sheet of foil with cooking spray and cover lasagnas.
7) Bake for 5 minutes, then remove foil. Reutrn the lasagna to the oven and continue to bake until the cheese is spotty brown and the sauce is bubbling, abotu 25 minutes longer. Cool the lasagna about 10 minutes.
8) To serve, carefully flip the lasagna out of the pan and onto a serving plate. If you have any left, top with sauce and cheese or simply serve as is.

Tuesday, July 11, 2006

Pork and Vegetable Stir-fry

My first attempts at food photo art!

This is a pretty easy and yummy recipe. My only real comments are to double the amount of "marinade" and use that as a sauce at the end if you're a big sauce person (which I will change in the recipe). I was fine, but the boy wanted a bit more. Also, the original recipe called for pork tenderloin rather than a pork chop, and then white mushrooms, carrots, snow peas, and scallions. I obviously took a few creative liberties with the vegetables, so you should too!

Pork and Vegetable Stir-fry
from Wok & Stir-Fry (with modifications)
Serves 2 (with rice)

1-2 boneless pork-chops, ~1" thick
1 TBS soy sauce
1 tsp brown sugar
1 tsp chinese rice wine or dry sherry
2 tsp cornstarch paste (equal parts water and cornstarch, blended to a paste)
2 oz. snow peas
1/2 red bell pepper
1/4 cup broccoli florets
1/4 cup onions, chopped fine
2 oz. baby carrots, halved
1/4 cup vegetable oil

1) Cut the pork into thin slices, each about the size of a postage stamp. Blend soy sauce, brown sugar, wine/sherry, and cornstarch paste. Pour half of this misture over the pork to marinate for at least 15 minutes.
2) Trim the snow peas, chop up the onion and red pepper, halve the carrots, etc. with any other vegetables you choose to add. With the exception of the onion, try to keep the vegetable pieces about the same size as the meat pieces.
3) Heat the oil in a preheated wok/skillet. Add pork and stir-fry for 1-2 minutes until color changes. Remove with slotted spoon and set aside.
4) Add heartier vegetables first, such as broccoli, and sauté until it turns a bright green. Add remaining veggies and stir-fry for about 2 minutes. Add salt (to taste) and pork (if the pan looks a little dry, add some chicken broth). Continue cooking and stirring for about one minute, then add remaining marinade sauce and blend well.
5) Serve over white rice.

Sunday, July 9, 2006

Strawberry Milkshakes

Basic Strawberry Milkshake

4 - 6 large strawberries
Breyers French Vanilla Ice cream
1/2 cup milk
1 - 2 tsp sugar

1) Slice the strawberries and place in a bowl. Sprinkle with sugar and cover. Refridgerate for at least 15 minutes (the longer you let them sit, the more strawberry juice you get!)
2) Using your NEW FOOD PROCESSOR a/o WAND MIXER, purée the strawberries.
3) Add 3 large scoops of ice cream and milk to processor. Pulse until creamy! (if it keeps getting stuck, add more milk)
4) Drink up!

Chicken and Pasta Salad

Also prepared just before leaving for the 4th, I tried this recipe for "Spicy Chicken and Pasta Salad" mostly because I wouldn't need to buy any new ingredients. I had the sour cream from the fajitas, a jalapeño from salsa making, scallions from the dumplings, mayonaise and lemon from my last pasta salad, chicken broth from the penne and ham dish, parsely from just about everything, and vegetables from general salad making.

This was very easy to make and the vegetables were delicious and making them the way this recipe called for, is now my new favorite way to prepare these veggies to go in a pasta dish. The dressing was a bit unexciting and not at all spicy, which I attribute to the lack of a food processor. I also attempted to reduce too little chicken broth. The boy also complained of too much mayo, even though I used less than half of what the recipe called for for the mayo and all of what it called for for sour cream. So in the recipe I'll list what I feel is the appropriate amount of broth, mayo, and sour cream, but feel free to adjust as you see fit. It could also certainly do with a spot of salt and pepper.

This dish was by no means bad, but certainly has room for improvement. A nice light meal that would work just as well chilled as warm. Perhaps letting the flavors mingle in the fridge overnight would enhance the flavor.

Chicken and Pasta Salad
from Prevention's Ultimate Quick & Healthy Cookbook, "Spicy Chicken and Pasta Salad"
Serves 2

1/2 cup chicken broth (i tried with 1/4 cup and failed)
1 large chicken breast, cut into 1/2 inch strips
8 oz. gemelli pasta
1 cup broccoli florets
1/2 cup carrot sticks (I quartered baby carrots)
1/2 cup snow peas
2 TBS fresh parsley
1 scallion, diced
1/4 - 1/2 fresh jalapeño, cut into chunks (depending on how spicy)
1 TBS mayonaise
2 - 3 TBS sour cream
1 TBS lemon juice

1) Bring a large pot of water to boil over high heat.
2) Bring the chicken broth to boil in a covered medium sauce pan over high heat. Stir in the chicken strips, return to boil, and reduce the heat to low. Cover and simmer, turning occasionally, for 3-4 minutes or until chicken is cooked through. Transfer chicken to plate and cover loosely with foil. Increase heat to high and boil broth fro 3-5 minutes or until reduced to a syrupy consistency. Remove pan from heat.
3) Add pasta to boiling water and return to boil. Cook 8 - 10 minutes or according to package directions until al dente. About 4 minutes before the pasta is done, add the broccoli and carrots. One minute before the pasta is done, add the snow peas. Cook until veggies are crispt and tender and pasta is done. Drain and cool under cold running water. Drain again. Transfer to large salad bowl.
4) Combine parsley, scallion, jalapeño, mayo, sour cream, lemon juice, and reduced broth to food processor. Process until puréed.
5) Pour dressing over pasta and veggies, add chicken, and toss to combine.

Grilled Steak Fajitas

Sorry for the delay in updating, we went away for the 4th of July. My first soloing adventure with the grill took place before the weekend and it was also my first attempt at fajitas. They came out very well if I do say so myself.

Now, likw I said, I've never made fajitas before and I've always felt that steak fajitas had the leg up on chicken fajitas. But I didn't know what cut of meat to use or how to prepare the steak so that it would come out, well, like a fajita. This recipe worked out wonderfully and was very easy! The meat seasoning/flavor was nothing spectacular, but combined with the other ingredients (especially the sour cream!) they tasted fantastic. I would suggest serving this with spanish rice (from a box!), chips, and salsa.

I'm sure that this would re-heat well for lunch the next day. Also, if you don't have a grill, a cast iron skillet or a grill pan would do. I think you could also get away with broiling, but I would check the cooking times.

Grilled Steak Fajitas
from The New Best Recipe
Serves 2

1/2 - 3/4 lb flank steak (I used the other half of what I used for the beef broccoli!)
1/4 cup lime juice
1/2 red bell pepper
1/4 onion, cut into thick rounds (~ 2)
4 - 6 8" flour tortillas

sour cream*** (a must!)
shredded cheddar/pepper jack cheese

1) Sprinkle the flank steak with lime juice, salt, and pepper.
2) Over high heat, grill the steak until well seared and dark brown on one side, ~5-7 minutes. Using tongs, flip steak and grill about 2-5 minutes for rare/med-rare, 4-6 minutes for med-well/well, or until the interior of the meat is slightly less done that you want it to be when you eat it. Cooking times depend on the thickness of the steak.
3) Transfer steak to cutting board. Tent loosely with foil and let rest until you are about to serve.
4) When the heat has been lowered to medium, place onion rounds and peppers on the grill, turning them occasionally, until the onions are slightly charred (~6 minutes) and the peppers are streaked (~8 minutes). Remove vegetables to cutting board and slice into thin strips.
5) Place tortillas around the edge of the grill where the heat is low. Heat for about 20 seconds on each side or until warm. Be careful not to let them dry out. Wrap in a towel to keep warm until serving.
6) Slice the steak thinly on the bias across the grain. Serve immediately with vegetables, tortillas, with the condiments on the side!

Tuesday, June 27, 2006

Pasta with Sweet Peppers and Canadian Bacon

So first of all, last night we tested out the grill with some pork chops and a very basic marinade. Paired with steamed fresh snap and snow peas and some leftover pasta salad, it was delish. I now want to grill all the time, but I'm not sure if I can persuade the boy. We will have to see. I'm totally willing to do the grilling, but I'm not sure if his man-pride will allow it. We shall see.

But back to the real story. Tonight's dinner was a re-attempt at a recipe that I had marked "Good" for it's general flavor, but was rather unexciting: "Pasta with Sweet Peppers and Ham." I love pasta and peppers and, while not a big ham eater, was willing to take the plunge, esp. since the fiancé likes ham. But the original attempt was rather bland. I am now able to attribute that to, of all things, the ham that I used. I originally bought "Diced ham in water" which sounded about as close as I could get to "boiled ham, diced" without going out and buying a ham steak, boiling it, and actually dicing it up myself. Needless to say, the ham was pretty blah so it did nothing to enhance the flavor of the dish, leaving it sorely lacking. This time, a fortuitous lack of "Diced ham in water" at my ever stockless local grocery, caused me to purchase canadian bacon as a subsitute. I thought that it might spice up the flavor, while still being of the same general consistency and, at least, animal.

I think it was what really made the dish (that and me going a little crazy on the red pepper and adding a dash of garlic salt). The bacon brought a nice smokiness to the dish that made me wish for more by the end. The peppers and onions added a delicious sweetness that paired very nicely with the saltiness of the pork. The red pepper flakes gave it that extra kick. Next time I think I'll cut back a little on the pepper, but definitely go for the canadian bacon again. Though I'm sure good leftover ham steak would work as well. Just go for the good stuff.

This is really quick and easy--you can prepare the sauce in the same time that it takes for the pasta to cook so it's all done together. Huzzah!

Pasta with Sweet Peppers and Canadian Bacon
from Prevention's Ultimate Quick & Healthy Cookbook (with obvious modifications)
Serves 2

1 tsp olive oil
1 red bell pepper, diced
1/2 onion, diced
2 cloves garlic, minced
1/4 tsp dried oregano
1/8 tsp red pepper flakes
a dash of garlic salt!
3 oz canadian bacon (or other good ham), diced
1/3 cup chicken broth
1/2 lb penne pasta
1 oz parmesan cheese
2 TBS chopped fresh parsley
black pepper (to taste)

1) Bring a pot of water to boil for the pasta. Cook according to package directions until al dente. Reserve 1/4 cup cooking liquid, drain pasta, and place in serving bowl.
2) Meanwhile in a medium sauce pan, warm oil until very hot but not smoking. Add bell pepper, onions, garlic, oregano, garlic salt, and red pepper flakes. Sauté, stirring, for 2 -3 minutes or until the vegetables begin to soften and relase their juices. Add canadian bacon and sauté until the bacon begins to brown. Add 2 tablespoons of broth and bring to a simmer. Reduce the heat to medium, cover, and simmer, stirring occasionally for 8 - 9 minutes, or until vegetables are very tender (I found this took a little longer). If the pan gets too dry, add another tablespoon of broth.
3) Add remaining broth and reserved liquid to the mixture. Turn heat to high and bring to a boil and simmer for 3 minutes, until liquid is reduced slightly.
4) Pour sauce over pasta. Add parmesan, parsley, and black pepper. Toss to coat well and serve!

Saturday, June 24, 2006

Stove-top Barbecue

So we invited the boy's friend over for dinner. Having just recieved a portable Weber grill as a housewarming gift, I was eager to try it out. Alas, there were copious amounts of rain so we resorted to cooking the burgers stove-top and roasting corn in the oven. Here was the menu and recipes! We washed it all down with a pitcher of Minute Maid frozen lemonade.

Basic Hamburgers
Serves 3-4

1/2 lb ground sirloin
1/2 lb ground beef (chuck if you can get it)
pepper or hamburger seasonings

1) Combine ingredients without squeezing the meat too much. Form into patties about 1/2 inch thick (should make about 4)
2) Heat a cast iron pan or flat skillet until drops of water sizzle on the surface. Place two patties towards the center. Allow to cook for 3 minutes. Flip and repeat, for medium rare.
3) For medium well/well done, continue cooking for an additional 2 minutes or so on each side. Don't press down on the meat. Test by piercing with a fork. If the meat feels solid and the juices run clear, the meat is done.
4) Serve on toasted buns with a platter of cheese, lettuce, tomato, onion and various condiments.

Melon Salad
Serves 4

1/3 cantelope
1/3 watermelon

Cube, toss, chill, then serve!

Traditional Pasta Salad
from The New Best Recipe's "Macaroni Salad"
Serves 4-6

1/2 lb gemelli pasta, cooked, drained and dry
2 hard boiled eggs, chopped
1/4 cup chopped red onion
2 TBS chopped fresh parsley
1 teaspoon mustard
1 TBS mayonaise
2-3 TBS lemon juice (to taste)
2 TBS chopped dill pickles (or sweet, depending on your preference)

1) Combine all ingredients and season with salt and pepper. Add as much mayo as pleases your tastes.

Roasted Corn on the Cob
Serves 3

3 cobs of corn
2-3 TBS olive oil spread, butter, or margarine
tin foil!

1) Preheat the oven to 350º. Husk and wash the corn.
2) Spread butter liberally over corn and season with salt and pepper. Wrap tightly in tin foil, twisting the ends so butter doesn't drip out.
3) Bake for 25-30 minutes or until cooking corn smells delicious. Unwrap carefully and serve.

Strawberry Shortcake
courtesy of my dear fiancé
Serves 3

1 pint fresh strawberries
~1/2 cup sugar
whipped cream

1) Wash and slice strawberries, placing them in a medium sized bowl. Add sugar and mix. Taste to make sure it's sweet enough! If not, add more sugar :) Cover and refridgerate for at least 1 hour, or until juice has gathered at the bottom of the bowl.
2) Prepare biscuits according to Bisquick box. Should take about 10-15 to bake.
3) Place two biscuits in each bowl and butter. Top with strawberries and whipped cream!

Friday, June 23, 2006

Asian Dinner Part I: Dumplings

I usually shy away from Asian recipes because they usually require ingredients that are hard to find or that I would use infrequently. But I was having a hankering for steamed dumplings and I found a pretty easy looking beef broccoli recipe. So I decided it would be my big experimental dinner for the week.

Got off to a sour start when shopping for the dumpling ingredients: I could find neither sesame oil nor ground pork in the grocery store. I'm new to the area so I wasn't really sure where else to go and it was getting late in the day. I finally found a large bottle of sesame oil for the ridiculous price of $11. I picked up ground chicken to replace the pork. But I wasted a good twenty minutes checking and re-checking their tiny Asian section, their organic section, AND their oils section. Needless to say, I was a bit frustrated when I got home and actually got down to the prep work.

A neat short cut I discovered was when it came to the cabbage. I'm only cooking for two so I certainly didn't want to make the full amount of dumplings that the recipe purported it could make (80-90!?!?). So I certainly didn't need a full head of cabbage or bok choy. Instead, in the bagged salad section I discovered a coleslaw blend of white cabbage, red cabbage, and carrots. The perfect easy combo to go in my dumplings. In the recipe it called for "blanching" the cabbage, which I thought might be a step I could pass up, using the pre-chopped variety. Not true. Once I took the coleslaw out of the bag, I could tell it would be too stiff and raw to deal with. Dropping it in a pot of boiling water for 30 seconds softened it right up.

A couple notes going into this: Give yourself plenty of time to make the dumplings (actually forming them is the time consuming part... they cook up really fast). Also, use as much flour as you need to make the dumpling dough the right consistency. In attempting to halve the recipe, I found myself using the full amount of flour and only half the water and it was still kind of stick to deal with and I wound up with extra filling. I was afraid the flour might affect the flavor or consistency of the dumpling dough but they came out perfect (if a little funny looking). I also just used a regular pot (I don't own a wok) and for poaching the dumplings, it worked just fine. I was actually able to do all the dumplings at once without a problem.

from Wok and Stir Fry ed. Linda Doeser (with modifications)
Makes about 25

2 1/2 cups flour
1 cup water

1/2 bag of raw coleslaw blend
1/2 lb ground pork or chicken
1/2 TBS chopped scallions
1/2 tsp fresh ginger
1 tsp salt
1/2 tsp brown sugar
1 1/2 TBS soy sauce
1 TBS dry sherry (or rice wine)
1 tsp sesame oil

Dipping Sauce
1 TBS of red chili oil or 1 tsp red pepper
1 TBS soy sauce
1 tsp chopped garlic
1 TBS chopped scallions

1) Mix flour and water until it forms a firm dough. Knead until smooth on a floured surface, then cover with a damp towel and set aside for 25-30 minutes.
2) Blanch the coleslaw blend until soft. Drain and mix with chicken, scallions, ginger, salt, sugar, soy sauce, sherry, and sesame oil.
3) Flour a work surface. Kneed and roll dough into a long sausage about 1 inch in diameter. Cut into 20-30 slices, and flatten each slice with the palm of your hand.
4) Using a rolling pin, roll out each piece into a thin pancake about 2 1/2 inches in diameter.
5) Place about 1 1/2 teaspoons of filling in the center of each pancake and fold into a half-moon pouch. Pinch the edges firmly until tightly sealed.
6) Bring about 2 quarts of water to boil. Add dumplings and poach for two minutes. Remove from heat and leave the dumplings in the water for another 15 minutes.
7) Whisk together ingredients for dipping sauce. Serve in a small dish along side the dumplings.

Asian Dinner Part II: Beef and Broccoli

I recently bought The New Best Recipes cookbook and have eagerly been perusing it for the past few weeks. I tried their recipes for Macaroni and Cheese as well as their Red Salsa with great success. So when I discovered their fairly basic recipe for beef and broccoli, I was inspired to try it. I was worried about the dominance of "oyster sauce," not being a huge seafood fan, but I think it was what made the dish taste so good. The boy commented that it was "not as sweet" as the typical Chinese restaurant dish, but it was still quite delicious.

The key here is to make sure you have everything prepped and ready to go when it comes time to start the actual cooking process. It makes life so much easier. If you are making this in conjuction with dumplings as I did, put the dumplings in to poach right around the time you start to make the beef broccoli. That way they should be done around the same time, or you could serve up the steaming dumplings to hungry guests while you put the finishing touches on the main course.

Beef and Broccoli
from The New Best Recipe
Serves 2

1/2 lb flank steak, sliced across the grain into thin 1 inch pieces
2 TBS soy sauce

1/2 TBS dry sherry
1 TBS chicken broth
3 TBS oyster sauce
1/2 TBS brown sugar
1/2 tsp sesame oil
1/2 tsp cornstarch
3 medium cloves of garlic, minced or pressed
1/2 TBS minced ginger
1 1/2 TBS vegetable or peanut oil
1/2 lb broccoli florets
2 TBS water
1/2 red bell pepper, chopped
1 med scallion, chopped

1) Combine beef and soy sauce in bowl. Cover with plastic wrap and refridgerate for at least 10 minutes or up to an hour, stirring once.
2) Whisk together sherry, chicken broth, oyster sauce, brown sugar, sesame oil, and cornstarch in a measuring cup. Set aside.
3) Combine garlic, ginger, and 1 teaspoon of vegetable oil in a small bowl. Set aside.
4) Drain beef and discard liquid. Heat 1 teaspoon of vegetable oil in a non-stick skillet over high heat until smoking. Add beef to skillet and break up clumps. Cook without stirring for one minute, then stir and cook until beef is browned. (If doubling the meat, cook in batches). Transfer beef to a bowl and set aside.
5) Add 1/2 TBS oil until just smoking. Add broccoli and cook for 30 seconds. Add water and cover, lowering heat to medium. Steam until tender, about 2 minutes. Transfer to paper towel lined plate.
6) Add remaining oil (~1 teaspoon) to skillet. Increase heat to high and heat until just smoking. Add bell pepper and cook, stirring frequently until browning, about 2 minutes.
7) Clear the center of the skillet, add the garlic and ginger mixture to the clearing and cook, mashing the misture with a spoon, until fragrant, abotu 15 - 20 seconds, then stir the mixture into the peppers. Return the beef and broccoli to the skillet and toss to combine. Whisk the sauce to recombine, then add to skillet. Cook, stirring constantly, until the sauce is thickened and evenly distributed, about 1 minute. Transfer to serving platter, sprinkle with scallions, and serve.

Thursday, June 22, 2006

Balsamic Chicken and Pesto Pasta Salad

So the pasta salad came out pretty well. I tried to fake it by not actually cooking the sauce and instead mixing the chilled ingredients, but the consistency came out floury from the mix, so definitely take the time to cook the pesto. The Balsamic Chicken was pretty good, but could have used a little more pizzaz. Perhaps it needed more of the herb rub, since the amount given only covered the top of each breast, rather than the entire thing. Served with fresh wheat bread.

Pasta Salad
Serves 2
On a scale of 1 - 10: 8/10 (if prepared correctly)

1/3 packet of creamy pesto sauce mix
1 1/2 TBS milk
1 TBS olive oil spread

1/2 tomato, chopped (or halved cherry tomatoes)
4-5 kalamata olives, sliced thinly
1/4 cup petit pois

2 cups dried gemelli pasta
parmesan cheese

1) Prepare pasta according to package directions. When tender, drain and rinse with cold water until pasta is cool.
2) In a small sauce pan, blend pesto mix, milk, and olive oil spread until creamy. Simmer until thickened, about 5 min.
3) Toss the remaining ingredients with the pasta and sauce. Add parmesan cheese to taste. Chill for optimal flavor.

Balsamic Chicken
(courtesy of greg's mother's custom cookbook)
Serves 2
Scale of 1-10: 7/10

2 boneless, skinless chicken breasts
1 clove garlic
1/4 tsp salt
1/4 tsp pepper
1/2 tsp rosemary

1/8 cup balsamic vinegar
1 TBS olive oil
dry sherry or white wine

1) Combine garlic, salt, pepper, and rosemary. Rub chicken with herb mixture and drizzle with olive oil. Cover and refridgerate overnight.
2) Preheat oven to 475ºF. Place chicken in a roasting pan and bake for 10 minutes. Flip the chicken. Add a few splashes of the sherry or wine to help scrape the bottom of the pan. Bake for an additional 10 minutes and repeat.
3) Bake for additional minutes, then remove from oven. Drizzle with balsamic vinegar. Remove chicken to plate. Stir the remaining liquid and serve over the chicken.