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.