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Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Pasta dinner in less than an hour


Last night was surely a challenge for me.  I have a daughter who is trying a new diet that requires her to be finished eating by 8:00 p.m.  It get's a little tricky when I don't get home until after 6 and have to try to decide what to make for dinner.  Sometimes it takes longer than other times!   I decided the easiest thing to make would be one of my one-pan pasta meals.  My brain goes into comfort mode at this point.... Italian sausage, roasted red pepper, fresh basil and parsley, tomatoes, garlic (of course), onion, fresh spinach - a meal I am quite comfortable and have had great success with.

I begin by cooking the pasta.   While it is cooking, I get to work on cooking the other ingredients

Defrost, remove casings and quickly cook the sausage.  When done, put to the side and cook the onion and roughly chopped garlic.  Add the cooked sausage back in, peppers, spinach, tomatoes, a touch of crushed red pepper, basil and parsley.

As far as quantities are concerned, I never measure these things.  I go by how it looks in the pan.  I think I used a whole package of sausage, about 3-4 handfuls of spinach, and about 1/4 cup of basil and parsley.  Feel free to add more or less...

In keeping with what seems to be my forte, I found some leftover tomatoes and fresh mozzarella in my fridge and thought they would be a great addition, so I cut them up and added them in.  A generous handful of Parmesan cheese and it's on to the sauce...

Now for the pasta sauce.  I have a very easy recipe for sauce that I use all the time.  Simmer 1-2 cans of stewed tomatoes, 1 stick of butter and 1/2 - 1 whole Vidalia onion for about 30 minutes.  When the onion is nice and tender, use a hand blender and puree.  Add salt and pepper to taste along with some Parmesan cheese.  That is it!  Pure tomato flavor....

So there you have it.  I made it just under the wire and it came out delicious.  I really love these one-pan pasta dinners because they always come out a little different each time.   Without a set recipe, you can always find new things to add!

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Stuffed Pork Tenderloin...again - leftover rice reborn

I have come to the conclusion that what I share with you are whole dinners as opposed to individual recipes, which probably makes it difficult to find something in particular, such as a vegetable or other side dish I cook along with the main portion of the meal.  Some day I will have to organize things a bit better!  Hang in there with me.....

So, once again, I create a different stuffing for my pork tenderloin dinner.  I seem to make this when I have leftovers in the fridge and want to use them up.  This time I found some Jasmine Ginger rice that I had made a few nights ago.  The flavor was so delicious, I really wanted to incorporate it into my stuffing.   So here goes.....

Chop some fresh parsley and basil
1/2 cup of pine nuts
1/2 Vidalia onion chopped and partially cooked
2 ribs of celery, chopped and cooked with the onion
1/4 cup Craisins
6-8 slices of ham, diced
a few handfuls of fresh spinach torn up
Salt and Pepper
about 1/2 cup of goat cheese (you don't really need to measure this - add as little or as much as you like)

 Add all of this to your left over rice, and your stuffing is ready to go.  You know the drill from here... butterfly your tenderloin and pound flat.

Place a fair amount of stuffing onto the pork and roll up.  Tie up with some cooking twine just to keep it together.

To keep them from drying out in the oven, I painted them with a little Vidalia Onion dressing I had.  You can basically use anything you want, but I would probably stay away from barbecue sauce, as it probably wouldn't taste good with this particular stuffing.  Now, into a 375 degree oven for about 40-45 minutes.  When the internal temperature of the meat, and not the stuffing, gets to about 137 degrees, remove the pork from the oven and cover with foil.  As it rests, it will reach 140+ degrees.  The pork should be just slightly pink and will be nice and moist.

Roasted broccoli was requested to accompany the pork.  Clean, cut and drizzle with olive oil and sprinkle with salt and pepper.  You need a hot oven for this, about 400 degrees, but watch out you don't let the broccoli get too brown... Should take about 10 minutes. When done, I add some grated Parmesan cheese.  Yum.

This was our dinner.  I'm trying to eat healthy with more meat and vegetables, and less rice, potatoes, or pasta.  I figured the small amount of rice in the stuffing was more than enough!

Believe it or not, a couple of slices of this in a sandwich the next day is delicious!

Friday, June 21, 2013

Yet another delicious chicken thigh recipe


Chicken thighs are quickly taking the place of chicken breasts in my kitchen these days.  Besides cooking quickly, they never dry out and have tons of flavor.  I also have been intrigued with how well maple syrup flavors certain foods such as scallops and chicken.  I have yet to try it on pork or beef, but I wouldn't be surprised if it worked well there too!

Start by heating your oven to 450 degrees.  The ingredients for the sauce are as follows:

1/3 cup Dijon mustard
1/3 cup spicy hone mustard (the pretzel dipping kind)
1/2 cup maple syrup
2 tsp white vinegar
1 tsp lemon juice
1 tsp dried rosemary

Clean and dry the chicken and arrange in a roasting pan.  Add salt and pepper, and pour the sauce over them and pop into the oven for about 40 minutes.  That's it!  so easy

I found a large box of leftover rice I had made earlier in the of my favorites, Jasmine rice.  I had cooked it with chicken broth and added grated fresh ginger.  I decided to jazz it up a little by adding a little more chicken broth, some sliced almonds, and some cinnamon.  It probably doesn't sound good to you but trust me.....the flavor is delicious, especially with the maple-flavored chicken.

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Potato encrusted haddock - the sauce makes this amazing!


I wanted to try a new coating for fish, something other than breadcrumbs.  I have tried crushed up potato chips, but I find them too salty.  I found a recipe on line where they coated the chicken in shredded potato, and I thought why not coat the fish with it? 
Make the sauce first so that it is ready when the fish is finished cooking.   The ingredients are:
1 Tbs. butter
2 shallots, diced
1 tsp chopped garlic
1 pinch of Thyme
2 Tbs Dijon mustard
1 Tbs flour
1 cup half and half (or whatever you have on hand)
salt and pepper to taste
2 tomatoes diced (or a small can of diced tomatoes)
Begin by cooking the shallots, tomatoes, garlic and thyme in the butter until they are tender.  Add the mustard and flour and whisk until smooth.  Whisk in the half and half, and season with the salt and pepper.
Now to the haddock.  Spread some Dijon mustard on top.  Shred 2-3 potatoes and season them with Parmesan cheese, salt and pepper.  Cover the tops of the fish and place them under the broiler just until the potato gets nice and brown.  Originally I wanted to brown the potato-coated fish by quickly frying it, but I will need to re-think how to get the potato to actually stay attached to the fish as it cooks!   When I tried to do this, all of the potato stuck to the pan!
My camera is acting up a bit...these look too yellow!

I tried to have a healthy dinner and roasted some brussel sprouts to go along with the haddock.  When they were tender and slightly browned, I tossed them with some shredded Parmesan cheese, salt and pepper, some fresh parsley and some lemon zest.

There you have it!  This dinner was surprisingly easy and I had all the ingredients on hand, so I didn't need to make any special trips to the grocery store, which is always a plus...

Sunday, June 16, 2013

The perfect roasted chicken dinner

The other night, I just felt like one of those "comfort dinners" know what I mean.  A roasted chicken that is cooked just right, some cranberry sauce, some kind of vegetable, and either potato, rice, or maybe a stuffing.  Well......this night was it.  I let a chicken come to room temperature, cleaned it out and dried it.  Now for what makes it delicious..... Sprinkle with onion powder, garlic powder, salt, pepper, and a little thyme.  I coat the top first, then spray with Pam.  I place the chicken in the roasting pan breast side down, and season the bottom.  After a quick spray with the Pam, I pop it into a 350 degree oven for about 1 1/2 hours (depending on the weight of the chicken, of course !

Check a roasting time table on line for how long you should cook your bird!  About half way through the cooking time, I turn the chicken over so that it will finish cooking right side up.  Doing it this way will guarantee that the breast meat will come out juicy and tender every time.

Now for my side dishes.  I had some fresh green beans and decide to make what's called a gremolata for them.  The gremolata is made by combining freshly chopped parsley (about 3 tbs), about a tablespoon of lemon zest and chopped fresh garlic.  To this, I add about 3 tablespoons of Parmesan cheese, and 2 tablespoons of pine nuts.

The key to  getting the beans just right is to blanch them for about 3-5 minutes (immerse them in boiling water quickly).  Once they are that beautiful bright green, pour them into a strainer and wash with cold water to stop them from cooking.  When you are ready to eat dinner, you will reheat them and add the "gremolata" mixture.

I decide to cook my favorite rice, Jasmine rice with ginger.  It is so easy and quick.  Start with the correct measurements of liquid and rice for the amount of servings you need.  I use chicken broth instead of water.  I also grate in about a tablespoon of fresh ginger.  All that is left is to add some butter and salt and pepper.  The rice cooks in about 10 minutes, so keep an eye on it so it won't over cook.

Timing and technique is everything with this dinner.  By technique, I mean cooking the chicken upside down for the first half of the cooking time, blanching and not boiling the beans, and quickly cooking the jasmine rice with fresh ginger.  I do believe this whole dinner came together in a little less than 1 1/2 hours.  I checked to make sure the chicken was done the same way my mother did.... grab onto the leg bone and move it  up and down.  If it moves freely, the chicken is done.....every time!  I let it sit while I grab some cranberry sauce.

Every once in a while, we all need a dinner like that is straight forward and just delicious!

Thursday, June 6, 2013

Kickin' Cajun Shrimp with Couscous

The general consensus amongst the few that were home tonight was to have Cajun shrimp.  Where the heck that came from is beyond me, but it put me to work!  I must have read 50 different recipes for Cajun shrimp, looking for common and not-so-common ingredients.  Once I had a game plan, I got busy.

First things first.... cut up the celery, red pepper, and onion.  Quantities?  These ingredients don't need measuring.  I probably used about 5 ribs of celery, half of a red pepper, and maybe half of a Vidalia onion.  Saute them in a pan with a small amount of  olive oil until they are reasonably cooked and smell incredible.

Add one can of diced tomatoes.  I add my dish of seasonings:  1/2 teaspoon of Paprika and 1/4 teaspoon of the following:  onion powder, garlic powder, cayenne pepper, dried thyme, salt and pepper.  Also add about 4-5 cloves of garlic that have been chopped.  At this point, you can either add a 1/2 up of a good beer (like an IPA) or white wine, whichever you have on hand.  I shake about 5 drops of Worcestershire sauce in as well.  Throw in probably about a 1/4 cup of chopped fresh parsley.

At this point I taste my sauce and feel it needs more salt, some garlic powder and decide to add a tablespoon of sugar to cut the acidity.  Please taste your sauce and make it your own.  You decide what you are may not be the garlic!  You might like more onion, in which case add some onion powder.  There is no right or wrong.  You just want to taste all of the flavors.

Before adding your shrimp, prepare a pot of couscous, according to the package directions.   The only thing I change is substituting chicken broth for the water, and I usually add a little more butter than it calls for.  This should take about 5 minutes to cook!

The last ingredient to add are the shrimp.  I had cooked shrimp in my freezer, so I added them just before serving dinner.  If you are lucky enough to have some raw shrimp, just cook them until they begin to turn pink.  Please don't cook them too long....otherwise they will be tough.

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

What makes a good pasta salad?

I am a firm believer that what makes a really good pasta salad is not necessarily the ingredients, but the dressing.  Let's face it, most pasta salads consist of pasta, celery, carrots, red onion, tomatoes, maybe broccoli or snap peas,.......  the list goes on and on.  But to just pour a bottle of Italian salad dressing over it just turns it into a blah pasta salad!'

Recently I made a pasta salad consisting of the following:

red onion
quartered Compari tomatoes
fresh snap peas cut up
Bella mushrooms
black Greek olives
artichoke hearts (of course!)
corn cut from 5 leftover ears of corn
a few handfuls of fresh spinach
shredded Parmesan cheese

Once I had all this mixed together, I decided to experiment with the dressing.   I made a batch of Good Seasons Italian dressing.  To that, I added some fresh minced garlic, fresh chopped parsley, and some Tarragon (probably about 1 tsp of each, although I usually just add it freehand and taste as I go).  I wanted the dressing to be a little creamy, so I added about 2 tablespoons of mayonnaise and blended it with my stick blender (after googling this name, I have learned it is called an immersion blender!).  I needed to add a little salt and pepper, but that was it.  The flavor was perfect, exactly what I was looking for!

I poured about half of it over the pasta mixture and let it sit for about 30 minutes.  The pasta tends to absorb a lot of the dressing, so I add the other half  just before I serve the salad.  Although I was complimented on the fact that folks had never thought to add corn in their pasta salad, it was the dressing that everyone was raving about.