28 February 2009

Pasta in a Pique

Thursday night, in a fit of pique, I plonked my new issue of Cook's Country down on the kitchen counter and demanded The Husband pick a recipe for Friday's supper. He picked "Tuscan Garlic Chicken Pasta" and we tootled off to the store.

Where I should have bought penne, because when I started cooking on Friday night, I discovered I had no penne -- it was gemelli or bust. Happily, the dish turned out fine despite that substitution and we nommed away at it quite contentedly.

Tuscan Garlic Chicken Pasta

Not that the pasta shape was the only substitution I made -- it was merely the only unauthorized one. I did use baby spinach instead of arugula, but the recipe said I could!

The recipe was very easy:
  • Microwave minced garlic in olive oil until golden.
  • Sauté chicken a little of the garlic oil until beautifully browned on both sides.
  • Toss spinach with hot pasta, chopped up chicken, lemon juice, Parmesan, basil, and garlic oil.
  • Toss until spinach is wilted and all ingredients are well distributed.
  • Nom.
Tuscan Garlic Chicken Pasta

Next time, I will try this with penne and arugula. I will also season the chicken with a salt-free lemon-pepper blend rather than salt and pepper, because the chicken was a bit bland when compared to the lemony-garlicky pasta and spinach mixture. Or I might squeeze a bit of lemon over the chicken while it cooked. Or both.

I did not serve this dish with any sides as it was fine on its own. The recipe says it serves four to six and six seems about right. With only two of us, it made for many leftovers (but that just means I won't need to make supper on Monday).

23 February 2009

Red, White, and Yum!

This was my second attempt at "Red and White Tortellini" from about.com. I had made it once a year or so ago and must have liked the recipe well enough, because I didn't weed it from my recipe box, but I don't really remember. When I made it for Sunday's supper, I hoped it would be a bit like "Do-Ahead Ravioli-Sausage Lasagna" from the Betty Crocker Christmas Cookbook but cheesier.

Easy Cheesy Ravioli Casserole

And it was so.

Gooey, cheesy, creamy, tomato-y deliciousness. Not exactly healthy, but so cheesy-good that (cholesterol be damned) we couldn't say no to seconds. Quite simply, comfort food with knobs on.

And, considering all my ingredients were bought on sale, pretty darn thrifty.

I had to make some alterations to the original recipe as I didn't have ingredients in the exact quantities called for, but I'm pretty sure this is a recipe which would be hard to foul up. And, if you did, adding more cheese would probably fix it!
Tweaked Red & White Casserole
  •  2 (13 oz.) pkgs. Mama Rosie's frozen mini square cheese ravioli, not thawed
  • 25 oz. jar Prego Heart Smart Traditional Italian Sauce
  • 1½ cup water
  • 16 oz jar Classico Four Cheese Alfredo
  • 2 cups Kraft Natural Shredded Mozzarella
Preheat oven to 350°F. In baker, mix ravioli, tomato sauce, and water until pasta is thoroughly coated. Top with an even layer of cheese sauce. Sprinkled, evenly, with shredded mozzarella. Cover with foil and bake for 1 hour. Uncover and bake 10 minutes longer, until pasta is tender.

Original recipe says it serves eight, but I'd reckon six.

22 February 2009

You Say Cass-oo-lay, I Say Cass-oh-let

Made a quasi-cassoulet for Saturday's supper. I had been wanting something meaty and bean-y and tomato-y and what's a cassoulet if not those things? However, I didn't want to faff about with soaking beans overnight or simmering pots for three hours. I wanted the convenience food equivalent of cassoulet. Lazy American cassoulet, if you will.

So what shows up in Google Reader? "Quick Sausage Cassoulet" by Land O'Lakes. It was sign, I tell you.

Quick Sausage Cassoulet

I started prepping this recipe at 5:15 and by 6:30 we were supping. All I had to do was sauté diced carrots and onions with garlic in a bit of butter (you could use olive oil, of course) until everything was fragrant and the onions were translucent. Then I stirred in a small can of tomato sauce, thyme, and sliced up Hillshire Farm Beef Polska Kielbasa¹ and dumped it all in a greased casserole. Put the lid on and baked the dish about 35 minutes. Sprinkled the bubbly cassoulet with fresh parsley and served it up with salad.

The carrots were a bit on the firm side so I might bake this cassoulet for 45 minutes, next time, as I like firm veggies but The Husband (O, woe!) prefers squishier ones. Also, I would double or triple the amount of garlic and might substitute crushed tomatoes for the sauce to give the cassoulet a stronger, richer tomato flavor.

Obviously, chopping the veggies and draining the beans ahead of time would bring this cassoulet to the table even faster -- and that was my original plan, but I was too lazy to implement it.

¹ Annoyed to discover that these sausage now contain corn syrup and MSG. Gah. "Now More Flavorful," indeed.

15 February 2009

Love is Steak and Mashed Potatoes

We don't go out for Valentine's Day. There's too much (effusive faux) romance floating about and it makes me itch. We don't dress up, we don't get all smaltzy and profess undying devotion, we don't put ourselves in hock by purchasing the Most Romantic Gift Ever. Usually, I give The Husband flowers and make a nice supper. We might watch a "romantic" comedy like Unconditional Love or play Scrabble.

Frankly, we're boring stay-at-homes. Cheap, boring, stay-at-homes -- why go through the hassle of making reservations for a marked up meal when we could have a really nice steak supper at home?

♥ ~ ♥ ~ ♥

Our Romantic Stay-At-Home Supper

~ ♥ ~

~ Beef Tenderloin with Port Garlic Sauce ~
(Everything Tastes Better With Garlic)

~ Mashed Potatoes ~
(The America's Test Kitchen Family Cookbook)

~ Asparagus, Gold & White Corn, Baby Carrots Medley ~
(Birdseye Steamfresh)

~ ♥ ~

~ Chocolate Fudge 3-Layer Cake ~
(Pepperidge Farm)

~ Sliced Strawberries & Fresh Whipped Cream ~

♥ ~ ♥ ~ ♥

The big ticket item for this supper was, obviously, the beef fillets. I purchased two six-ounce tenderloin fillets from Whole Foods at twenty-eight dollars/pound. Yes, I could have shopped around and paid much less pretty much anywhere else. But. Would they have tasted as nice? Probably not. These were perfect fillets -- when cooked, they possessed a succulence and tenderness only beaten by the grass-fed beef tenderloin steaks we purchased at the Coventry Farmer's Market last summer.

Anyway, all the other ingredients had been previously bought on sale and/or with coupons. So there.

I started the potatoes ahead of the beef and, when the potatoes were on boil, seared the (seasoned) beef for about four minutes on every side. Then I popped the skillet in a 350° for about fifteen minutes. Removed the fillets to a plate, put the skillet back on heat, poured in (Cockburn's Special Reserve) port and (O Porto) balsamic vinegar, and whisked the pan to bring up all the crispy bits. When the liquids were reduced by about half and visibly thickened, I removed the skillet from heat and whisked in butter and minced garlic.

While the liquids reduced, I drained the potatoes. Mashed them until smooth, stirred in a stick of melted butter, and folded in about a cup of half-and-half. Then I covered the potatoes and put them on the warming element while I finished the sauce and microwaved the vegetables.

When plating, I drizzled a tablespoon of sauce over each fillet and served the rest on the side in a sauce boat. The sauce very rich and smooth with just a note of vinegar amongst the sweet meatiness.

Were the beef tenderloin fillets delicious? Yes. I will be copying the recipe down for later.

12 February 2009

Two Misses

Twice this week I have made food which was just Not Good. Twice.

The first time was, thankfully, fixable. I had made a batch of corn chowder in my slow cooker using Frontier Soup's "Illinois Prairie Corn Chowder Mix." I had made this soup back in October with faceplant-worthy results and had looked forward to a similarly tasty experience this time around.

Ah, but this time I used a slow cooker instead of preparing the chowder on the stove top. Liquids don't cook off in a slow cooker. Ergo, chowder does not thicken. I ended up with corn soup. A weirdly bland watery corn soup. Attacking the soup with a potato masher to pulverize the potatoes and then cooking the soup, uncovered, on high for about an hour helped somewhat. As did dumping in a whole bunch of salt, pepper, and salt-free chicken bouillon. While more edible, the chowder still wasn't great and I ended up tossing out the last few cups worth.

Last time, I would have licked out the pot.

Then, because one failure wasn't enough, the stupid "Cheddar, Corn, and Tortilla Casserole" from Weight Watchers All-Time Favorites (Wiley, 2008) came out so badly that we would not eat it. The disturbingly sweet mess of scrambled egg, vegetables, and mushy tortillas was simply inedible.

Maybe, if the vegetables were minced rather than sliced or the egg filling was more like a quiche and less like scrambled egg run through a sieve ... Maybe, it would have created a cohesive dish which was, at least, edible.

Unfortunately, this was the first recipe I had made using Weight Watchers All-Time Favorites (Wiley, 2008) and the casserole's failure throws suspicion on all the other recipes. Will "Country Chicken with Mushrooms and Leeks" be just as awful? Dare I find out? Or ought I donate the cookbook to the library and be done with it?

08 February 2009

As Close As I Will Ever Get to Tuscany

For Sunday's supper I made "Tuscan Chicken" and "Spinach-Parmesan Fettucine" from Weight Watchers' Five Ingredient 15 Minute Recipes cookbook (Oxmoor House, 2008). I had picked the cookbook up off a checkout display at the grocery store a few weeks ago and bookmarked a bunch of recipes, but not actually managed to make any. I had fully intended to make up a batch of "Santa Fe Ravioletti Soup" over the weekend, but slow cooker corn chowder happened, instead.

Anyway, I had chicken breasts in the freezer and grape tomatoes, fresh (plain) fettuccine, and Parmesan in the fridge. This meal was begging to be made! Who was I to say no?

This was an easy and fast meal to throw together, but I must admit it took me more than fifteen minutes even just to cook the chicken. Altogether, I'd say this was more of a thirty-minute meal. And thirty minutes is nothing to sneeze at, you know. I love Cook's Illustrated, but those recipes can be quite fiddly and time-consuming to make. Sometimes, I just want to boil some noodles and throw some chicken in a pan.

Which is pretty much what I did:

WW Tuscan Chicken w/ Parmesan Fettuccine

I pounded four small boneless skinless chicken breasts until they were about half an inch thick and then I liberally sprinkled them with my own "Italian" seasoning, salt, and pepper. Added the chicken to an olive oil-smeared skillet at medium-high heat and cooked them until golden brown on both sides. Then I tossed in a pint of grape tomatoes and cooked them until the tomatoes started to wrinkle or pop. Lastly, I poured in some balsamic vinegar and a splash of water and let the whole thing cook for four minutes.

I had put the pasta water on to boil when I started the chicken and the fettuccine was ready just before I added the balsamic vinegar and water to the chicken. I drained the pasta, tossed two pats of butter and an ounce of shredded Parmesan. Then I just let it sit, covered for the few minutes the chicken had left.

I served the chicken and tomatoes on a bed of fettuccine and that was Sunday supper in its entirety. No salad. No veg. It was perfect as it was.

What's in my "Italian" seasoning? Oregano, basil, marjoram, thyme and rosemary.

06 February 2009

Not My Mother's Stuffed Peppers

I love my mother's stuffed peppers and they are certainly one of the foundation foods of my childhood -- right up there with her meatloaf and stuffed cabbage. I have made her stuffed pepper recipe a few times now and enjoyed the results, but mine are never quite as good as my mother's. I don't know why my peppers come out differently -- is there some indefinable mom magic at play? Rather than keep tormenting myself with my inability to carbon copy Mom's peppers, I decided I needed a recipe of my own.

stuffed peppersOr, if not my own, then Cook's Illustrated's. For some time now, I had been flirting with the stuffed pepper recipes in The Best Light Recipe (America's Test Kitchen, 2006). Both "Stuffed Bell Peppers" and "Stuffed Bell Peppers with Black Beans and Corn" always sounded delicious, but I was nervous of making peppers so different from what we are used to eating.

It also didn't help matters that stuffed peppers were firmly ingrained in my head as Autumn Foods. My mother always (and thus I always) have made stuffed peppers throughout the autumn -- when the farm stands would sell baskets of huge peppers for pretty much nothing. Spending 3.99 a pound on organic red bell peppers in January just seemed wrong.

And then The Husband mentioned how we hadn't had stuffed peppers in a long time. And then he mentioned it again. And, ever so casually, again.

Thus, I made stuffed peppers today. And they made a delicious meal which was perfectly appropriate for a blustery twenty-odd degree day in February.

This was a very easy recipe to follow. Yes, more than a few steps, but all pretty straight-forward. If I were to make any changes, it would be to cooked the peppers for an extra minute (we prefer softer peppers) and would have used all the drained tomato juice and twice as much ketchup as a little gravy would have been welcome -- especially if I had served these peppers with mashed potatoes.

So were they as good as Mom's? Impossible to say, because they differed so widely from each other. While they didn't taste anything like my mother's, they're pretty darned awesome and well worth repeating. Cooked as directed, the pepper shells were vibrant, just-this-side-of-tender, and surprisingly sweet. The filling of ground chicken, rice, Parmesan, and fresh parsley was wonderfully flavorful without being heavy or greasy.

(I really loved the idea of cooking the rice in the bell pepper water -- so fast and economical!)

03 February 2009

Oh Noes! They Be Recalling My Cookies!

Well, I've been feeling pretty smug because my household hasn't been effected by the enormous FDA recall of peanut butter products produced by one utterly disgusting Peanut Corporation of America factory. Salmonella Typhimurium wasn't to be found anywere in my house, I was certain.

Until this morning. This fine morning, Kashi issued a voluntary nationwide recall of (among other things)
Kashi TLC Chewy Cookies in Oatmeal Dark Chocolate, Happy Trail Mix and Oatmeal Raisin Flax varieties only, 8.5-ounce box with a “Best If Used Before” date prior to July 30, 2009, with the following UPC codes: 1862732467, 1862742593, 1862762001, 1862762002, 1862762003.
What was in my cupboard? An 8.5 ounce box of Kashi TLC Chewy Oatmeal Dark Chocolate Cookies with UPC code 1862762001 and a best before date of May 18th, 2009!

Now, I've eaten two of these cookies over the last month and not been sick from them, but a recall is a recall so the box has been binned. I admit I thought about composting the cookies, but wasn't sure what kind of biohazard might spawn from them.

I also called Kashi Consumer Response Center at 877-701-5868 and followed the voice prompts for a refund which, I presume, will be a coupon for another box of cookies. Which is fine, because I purchased the recalled box with a coupon, too!

01 February 2009

Enchiladas I Got I Got ... In My Crock-Pot

While I used six leftover corn tortillas in "Beefy Tortilla Casserole" two weeks ago, there are still a few ghosting around our refrigerator since the Enchilada Affair (almost a month ago!).

I keep eating them, I swear to cake, and yet there are always more. While I wouldn't mind it if my refrigerator were some kind of l-space for cake, I am not sure about corn tortillas.

Flipping through my slow cooker books, I found a recipe in Rival Crock-pot: The Original and #1 Brand Slow Cooker: Slow Cooker Recipes (Publications International, 2005) for "Mile-High Enchilada Pie." I'm not certain how this dish comes to reference pie as it is arguably more like cake (but who ever heard of a savory cake?). I guess the flavors are moderately "Mexican" so I can give the enchilada reference a pass, but really this is not a recipe for enchiladas. Alas, I suspect "Corn Tortillas Layered with Salsa, Chicken, Beans, and Cheese" would be a bit too prosaic for most editors. Besides, "mile-high" and "pie" rhyme better.

Mile-High Enchilada Pie

  1. Assembled ingredients (five!)
  2. Foil handles made by criss-crossing folded sheets of aluminium foil.
  3. Corn tortillas layered with salsa, beans, shredded chicken, and cheese.
  4. Finished pie (six hours on Low).
So, how did the pie taste? Not bad. Not yet something I would make for company, but it shows definite promise. The chicken, salsa, cheese, and tortillas came together very well, but the beans didn't seem quite right. They seemed too pronounced -- too big, even -- when compared with the other ingredients. Next time, I will try using small red beans or, perhaps, a mix of black beans and corn.

The recipe says the pie serves four to six and four is probably the right number. If serving six, you would need another side (some lovely rice, perhaps) or plan on serving dessert. We topped our generous slices of pie with guacamole and ate it with a nice green salad. We followed it all up with fresh strawberries and pretended we were good, virtuous diners.