Tuesday, September 22, 2009

An Announcement

I just wanted to let it be known that I am still here and care about my blog, but I am in the process of getting a divorce and have not been able to post as often as I would like. I am going to be moving a few days and once things settle down a bit, I'll be back to posting more often.

There hasn't been much to post anyway! The other night I had a beurre blanc separate in the pan, I've accidentally baked some asparagus until it was crispy, and I've resorted to fruit salad for dinner a few nights. I think my cooking is going through the same adjustment period that my family is, so hopefully once I get back into a groove with the other aspects of my life, things in the kitchen will naturally fall back into place as well. Big thanks to everyone for understanding :)

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Worcestershire Roasted Carrots and Potatoes . . . Gratin?

Tonight I was seeking something quick and inexpensive to feed myself and the kids for dinner, and I really wanted to make something using all stuff I already had on hand because I did not feel like and could not really afford a trip to the grocery store. The result was a combination of roasted vegetables, grated cheese and panko that reminded me of a gratin. Either way it was gobbled down by both myself and my kids.

To make the "gratin":

Preheat your oven to 400. Begin by combining a quarter cup olive oil, a quarter cup worcestershire sauce, and a quarter cup dijon mustard with a liberal sprinkling of grated romano cheese in a medium bowl. Whisk everything together until it is emulsified, then set the bowl aside.

Give a small dice to one red bliss potato and three large carrots. Keep in mind that I was only feeding myself and two toddlers, so you can use however much more as you need for your own family. Add the vegetables to the dressing you already mixed and fold it all together until everything is thoroughly coated. Empty the entire contents of the bowl into a baking dish, taking care to spread it into as thin of a layer as possible. The larger the dish you use the thinner of a layer you'll be able to create and the thinner you spread everything the faster it will cook.

Pop it into the oven for about twenty minutes. After twenty minutes, stir the vegetables and sprinkle them with some panko and some more romano cheese. Cook for about another twenty minutes, but keep a good eye on things. You don't want your breadcrumbs to become blackened.

After the dish has cooked for the second time, remove it from the oven and stir again. It is now ready to serve. If you are trying to cut costs like me this is filling enough to eat on its own, but it's also a fantastic side dish. Potatoes and carrots are two of the cheapest vegetables you can buy, and you use such a small amount of romano cheese here that this dish is remarkably inexpensive to make, yet bursting with flavor in each and every bite. You will not be disappointed.

Bolognese Part Three; Sloppy Joes?

This is the third and final way that I found to use my bolognese leftovers. I'm sure I could have come up with more delicious ideas but alas, I used the last of the leftovers making this dinner so more applications for leftover bolognese will just have to wait until the next time I make it :) Ironically enough, the idea for this flavorful explosion of bolognese, shredded chicken and bacon came from my sister Robin, who is a vegetarian.

To make the bolognese sloppy joes:

Begin by seasoning five thin sliced chicken breasts with salt and pepper at least half an hour before you're ready to cook. When you're ready to cook, bring a thin coating of olive oil up to medium heat and cook the chicken breasts for about five minutes on each side. Remove them to a plate and place them in the fridge to cool. In the still hot skillet, cook about five strips of bacon (you can obviously use however much bacon as you like, but I got a pretty decent bacon flavor with five strips). Set the bacon aside to cool as well.

You will use the same (still hot) skillet to reduce down the bolognese leftovers. You need at least three cups of bolognese for this dinner. You should remove the bacon grease from the pan before you add the bolognese. Place the bolognese in the skillet and let it heat up, stirring occassionally. You will also want to add at least half a cup of ketchup; this thickens the bolognese and sweetens it a little. You should increase the heat to medium/high to get it bubbling slightly.

While the bolognese is bubbling, return your attention to the meat. You are going to shred the chicken by using two forks to pull it apart into strands. This may take awhile and feel a little tedious, but the difference in texture versus dicing it is so remarkable that you really must do it. After you have shredded all of the chicken, crumble all of the bacon strips.

You may have noticed that the bolognese is slightly less in the pan; this is good. Just like when we cooked the original pot of bolognese, reducing it this way really enhances the flavor. You may now add in all of the chicken and bacon and stir until it is thoroughly incorporated. Once you have all of the ingredients bubbling away in the skillet, cook until the mixture achieves the consistency you want. It can be finished/served at any time.

And there you have it! Sloppy joes, definitely not the way your mother used to make them. You get to eat an extremely super delicious dinner and use the rest of your leftovers. This one was a huge crowd pleaser with every member of my family, and the leftovers of this leftover dinner extraordinaire made a delicious lunch the next day. I served it on wheat bulky rolls.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Bolognese Part Two; Gourmet American Chop Suey

As promised, I'm going to tell you what to do with the leftovers of that delicious pot of bolognese that you spent all day making over the weekend. Spending a lot of time when you have it is a great way to ensure that you can still eat great when time is tight, like on a busy week night. The first way I used my bolognese leftovers was to make a casserole that ended up being very comparable to american chop suey. You aren't going to believe how quick and easy this one is.

To make the chop suey:

Begin by coarsely chopping 1 large onion and 3 cubanelle peppers. I really like the cubanelles because they're not hot but they're not really sweet either. You can easily use bell peppers in this recipe, or if you like it spicy, you can use a couple of jalapenos or anaheim chiles with your other peppers. Saute the onion and peppers in a skillet with some olive oil. Season with salt and pepper as they saute. You are going to take them off the heat when the onions are translucent and the peppers look soft.

While the vegetables saute, set a pot of water to boil and cook one pound of the pasta of your choice. I really favor rotini in an application like this because the shape of it makes the sauce stick to it, but anything you like will work. Elbows are more of a classic choice here.

Combine the cooked pasta and the cooked vegetables in a large bowl and add at least three cups of your leftover bolognese sauce. You are probably going to want to add more sauce, but three cups is a good jumping off point. Mix well, making sure everything is fully covered. Pour the entire contents of the bowl into a baking dish and bake at 350 for about ten minutes. Keep in mind that everything is already cooked so it really doesn't need that much time in the oven, and the longer you bake it the more you risk drying it out.

Voila! After just about fifteen minutes of prep time and ten minutes of bake time, you have a chop suey that tastes like it took much longer. The rich flavor of the bolognese sauce shares the stage with the earthy flavor of the peppers in this dish. Even though you are using something you just ate for dinner the other night, the peppers really make it taste like an entirely different dinner.

Up next, and I'm sure any of my regular followers saw this one coming . . . how to use your bolognese leftovers with bacon to put a very interesting twist on a comfort food classic.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

One Pot of Bolognese; Three Delicious Dinners

Last Sunday I spent the better part of the day in the kitchen cultivating a delicious bolognese sauce. Bolognese sauce is a labor of love because it does take awhile, but it is so, so worth it when you're done. I made a large batch so that my hours of cooking would pay off more than just once, and boy did they! We had bolognese over pasta for dinner on Sunday night, then I used it two other tantalizing ways during the week for a total of three hearty, filling suppers all from one pot of sauce. I'm going to tell you first how to make the bolognese, then how to use it in the other two creative ways I used it. Your taste buds will dance.

To make the bolognese:

Begin by dicing carrots, onions and celery. You will need 3 carrots, 3 ribs of celery and 1 small onion (or half of one large onion). Dice these as uniformly as possible. Some bolognese recipes call for the veggies to be pureed, but I like to see them in my sauce at the end and I love the added texture that you get by dicing them. Set them in a skillet with about a quarter of a cup of extra virgin olive oil on medium heat. Season with salt, pepper and garlic powder. I use garlic powder instead of fresh garlic so as not to burn the garlic during the lengthy cooking process. The vegetables are going to cook down for a long time, almost to the point of caramelization. They should look over done before you move on to the next step.

Once your vegetables begin to look brownish and soft, add one pound of ground beef to the skillet. Cook with the vegetables until the beef is brown, taking your time. There is no rush, and the longer you allow it to cook, the more flavorful it will be. If you want to make a vegetarian bolognese, you can replace the ground beef with three cups of small diced portabellas and two tablespoons of butter. Either way, the cooking should take about twenty minutes and you should mix the contents of the skillet around semi-frequently.

Once the beef is cooked, you're going to add 8oz. of tomato paste to the skillet and mix well to thoroughly coat all of your meat and vegetables. Again, you're going to allow the contents of the pan to cook for about 20 minutes, mixing occassionally. You want to sort of brown the tomato paste so that it is almost burned but not quite. This really, really intensifies the flavor of the paste.

After your tomato paste is starting to look brownish, you are going to add some red wine. You can really use any red wine, but a dryer wine will probably give more flavor. Red wine is like the heart and soul of a bolognese; there are many variations of bolognese, but all of them call for red wine. Red wine is where the distinctive flavor of the finished product really comes from. Now, you know I'm not a real big fan of measuring so what I typically do is add enough red wine to give me the consistency of a thick liquid once it's incorporated well. This should be at least two cups but really, just pour the wine into the pan and mix as you go, stopping whenever you think you've added enough. The wine will bubble up when it comes into contact with the hot skillet, so be careful. As you mix it in, run your spatula along the bottom of the pan to remove the scrapings from the cooking you've already done. The mixture should bubble as it cooks, again being stirred occassionally. During this stage of the cooking, you're going to be reducing the wine. You should see that the liquid becomes thicker as it cooks more. You're going to continue cooking it until it is almost the consistency of a paste again. The depth of flavor from combining the reduced red wine with the almost burned tomato paste is really out of this world.

After the wine has reduced, transfer the entire contents of the pan into a stock pot. Add another cup of red wine, and three cups of water. At this time, you will need to season with salt and pepper again, and you will also want to add in some thyme. Mix well and continue cooking at medium heat until the sauce is bubbling. Allow the sauce to boil for about ten minutes, stirring occassionally. After ten minutes, reduce the heat to low. You're going to simmer the sauce for about three hours, adding more water one cup at a time as you deem necessary. The sauce will reduce slowly as it cooks, which is why you'll need to add more water here and there. This slow cooking process really brings out the flavors of all of your ingredients. After about three hours, your sauce is finished! On the night that I cooked the bolognese, I just served it over some pasta with a crusty piece of italian bread.

Now stay tuned for the amazingly delicious ways I used this sauce for the rest of the week. We're going to bring a new meaning to the word "leftovers" people!

Sunday, August 2, 2009

Mango Cobbler with Oat Topping

After a somewhat lengthy absence I am finally back and ready to blog about the delicious goings on in my kitchen. To make up for lost time, here is a quick post about a delectable yet extremely easy dessert I started whipping up recently; mango cobbler. What's so wonderful about this dessert is that it is relatively good for you, and while you might have to pick up a couple of mangoes to make it, you should have everything else you need right on hand at home. It is so fast and easy to make, and a guaranteed crowd pleaser every time.

To make the cobbler:

Begin by skinning and pitting the mangoes. Dice them into small cubes and set aside in a bowl or on your cutting board. Melt a third of a stick of butter in a sauce pan on medium heat. Once the butter is melted, add in some sugar, cinnamon and vanilla extract. Now you know I'm not a real fan of measuring, but good approximations are 1 tbsp of sugar, 1 tbsp of cinnamon and half a capful of vanilla extract. Mix this well with the butter, then add in your mango cubes. You will cook the mango cubes in the butter mixture on medium heat for about ten minutes.

While they're cooking, preheat your oven to 350. Use the rest of the time to make the oat topping. In a microwave safe bowl, melt 1tbsp of butter. Add a small amount of sugar and cinnamon to the butter, then toss in half a cup of oats and mix well, coating all of the oats.

Remove the mangoes from the stove top and empty them into a baking dish. Top the mangoes with the oat topping and bake until the oats start to look golden brown (about 10 minutes).

What could be easier? This is a super easy way to indulge in dessert after dinner, and you don't have to feel bad about a dessert that is comprised mostly of fresh mango and oats. This dessert is also made using all fresh and natural ingredients, and it is also super inexpensive. No matter how you look at it, this is a dessert that should find its way to your table any day now.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Indoor Fajitas

I've been making super heavy comfort foods for Sunday dinners the past few weeks, so today I asked my husband what he was in the mood for. We both had busy, tiring days of serious cleaning and serious yard work, and he thought that tacos would be good because they were both light and filling. My problem with tacos is that I have not been able to make up the ground meat to go in them since I was pregnant with my daughter. We use to eat tacos all the time, but when I got pregnant with her, the smell, taste and texture of ground meat with taco seasoning just made me want to gag. For some reason . . . it still does. Tacos the way we used to have them were out, but he was right about that type of meal being right today. So I compromised and decided to make fajitas.

Then I had another obstacle standing in my way. No propane for the grill! But by now I really wanted fajitas so I was determined to find a way. What we ended up with was chicken strips and peppers that I quickly cooked in a skillet with some olive oil, seasoned with some salt and pepper.

To make the chicken and peppers:

Begin by slicing two bell peppers into thin strips. Coat a large frying pan with some olive oil and set it on medium heat. When the skillet is hot, put in the peppers. Stir until they are mostly coated with the oil, then season lightly with salt and pepper. Cook over the medium heat for about ten minutes, moving occassionally. Empty them into a bowl when they are finished.

While they're cooking, take out your chicken breasts and season them on both sides with salt and pepper. I used 5 thin cut chicken breasts to feed my family of four. Cook your chicken breasts in the same skillet as the peppers, over the same heat. They will take about five minutes on each side. Once they are cool enough to touch, slice them into strips. They are now ready to serve.

I also made a lime guacamole to go in the fajitas. I've been playing with my guacamole preparation, and tonight I went lime crazy it out to give a bold flavor.

To make the guacamole:

Begin by dicing half of a red onion very finely. Put it in a small bowl. Finely dice one anaheim chile and add it to the onion. Now, what you would really need to accomplish what I did would be a mortar and pestle, but I did not have that so I used the Pampered Chef tool that I use to make tarts :) I ground the onions with the chile to mash them slightly. Add the zest of one lime to the bowl, then juice half of the lime into the bowl. If you want really lime-tastic guac, you can juice the whole lime. Add the avocados to the bowl and mix with a fork. If you like chunky guac, don't mix it too much. This recipe requires no chilling. Your guacamole is ready to serve.

We ended up with a light yet filling dinner that was full of delicious flavors that pleased the whole family. I served the chicken, peppers and guacamole with other fajita fixings like sour cream, shredded cheddar, diced tomatoes and sliced black olives. Easy yet also delicious!