Saturday, December 15, 2007

More Roasted Veggies! This time, with couscous

Over at $40 A Week, a challenge was issued. Not being a faint-of-heart type, and being instead an "I have a problem in my over-stocked panty" type, I jumped on it. They want us to clean out our pantries - use the "just in case" supplies that are lurking. And in the process, we get to weed out the stuff we'll never use and give them to a food pantry.

So my box of food to give away is full of cups of ramen noodles, cans of vienna sausages and potted meat and other assorted things that have been lurking in the depths of my pantry for too long. Now? I have some extra shelf space that I get to fill up with things that I might - just might - actually use.

And I came up with three ingredients that I wanted to use in a meal:
Wild mushroom and herb couscous mix
black olives
canned salmon

I used up the bell pepper and onions in my fridge, threw in some tomatoes and a dish was born. I made some salmon patties out of the can of salmon - something I haven't done in years. Simple, but so good!

And once again, I found myself wanting to just pick the roasted vegetables off of the pan. I think I may have a new addiction.

I ended up only using a couple of things out of my pantry, but the recipe was created in the spirit of the thing. Which counts. I hope.

Roasted Veggie Couscous:

1 pint grape tomatoes, cut in halves
1/2 yellow bell pepper, cut in strips
1/2 orange bell pepper, cut in strips
1/2 red onion, cut in strips
1 tbsp olive oil
1 tsp minced garlic
black pepper, to taste
1 box Near East wild mushroom and herb couscous mix
1 can medium black olives, sliced
1/2 cup shredded smoked Gouda

Toss tomatoes, peppers, onion and garlic in olive oil and pepper. Spread on a baking sheet and cook at 350F for 30 minutes.

Prepare couscous.

Spread couscous in shallow casserole. Sprinkle the sliced olives on top, and then the roasted vegetables. Sprinkle the cheese over the whole she-bang, and broil for about 5 minutes or until the cheese is as melted and broiled as you like it.

Salmon Patties:

1 14 1/2 oz can of salmon
1/2 cup saltine cracker crumbs
1 egg
salt and pepper
1/2 tsp ground thyme

In a medium mixing bowl, combine all the ingredients. Form into 3 inch patties and cook in oil, about 2-3 minutes per side. Serve with lemon juice.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Shiny Happy Toys, or How Amazon Stole My Budget

Last week, Amazon was a having four-for-three sale. They might still be having it, for that matter, but I'm afraid to go look. I'm afraid because in one moment of weakness, I ordered 2 new cookie sheets, a new muffin pan and a gratin dish that is the prettiest shade of blue EVER - which I'm afraid to actually put food in it, because then I will have to wash it and that might destroy the pretty blueness.

Have a mentioned my need for therapy lately? Donations gladly accepted.

Anyway, thanks to Amazon's Awesome-ness, here is what I got free with the above items:

  • A micro plane grater (Yes, I caved and did the Amazon blow-out the day after I grated the oranges without one of these. My bank account can blame my oranges for having a smaller balance).
  • A subscription to my choice of Bon Apetit or Gourmet. I'm leaning towards Bon Apetit, but I haven't made my final decision - anyone out there with an opinion, informed or otherwise -tell me what you think.
  • Free shipping on everything!
So, see…I got so much free stuff that it totally outweighs the money that I spent. In fact, I think I saved more money than I spent! It's like everything was free!

I also think I'm channelling my godmother. God bless her for getting her hands on me while I was young.

I'm off to grate some clementines. Before I cave and go back to Amazon and notice the 70% off sale they have going on in the Kitchen.& Home section.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Roasted Acorn Squash Pasta

I learned something last night: Peeling raw acorn squash is not a job that I EVER want to do again. At the moment, I'm willing to accept that I did something wrong. I don't admit this often, so enjoy it while you can.

I cut the squash in half, scooped out the insides, and then sliced it along it's dips (as opposed to its ridges). The problem with acorn squash is that while it is quite possibly one of the cutest and most adorable looking of the squashes, it's a royal pain in the backside to get the peel off of the good stuff when it's not cooked. As I was almost finished getting the blasted peel off of the blasted squash, I realized my melon baller would probably have handled it a lot more gracefully than me and my knife.

Why do my moments of genius always come 10 minutes too late?

Roasted Acorn Squash Pasta

  • 1 small acorn squash, peel removed (in whatever manner you prefer) and cut into 1 inch pieces

  • 1 medium yellow onion, sliced

  • 1 yellow bell pepper, sliced

  • 2 small green bell peppers (or 1 large), sliced

  • 1 Tbsp olive oil

  • Salt and pepper to taste

  • 2 tsp dried rubbed sage

  • 6 oz pasta (penne, bow tie, etc)

  • 1 can diced tomatoes

  • ½ cup shredded smoked Gouda

  • ¼ cup shredded Parmesan
Preheat oven to 450F.

Toss squash, onion and bell peppers in olive oil, sage, salt and pepper. Put on a cookie sheet and bake until everything is getting a beautiful deep golden color, about 20 minutes, stirring half way through.

While the veggies are roasting, cook your pasta to what ever degree of al-dente-ness you prefer.

Toss the veggies, pasta, tomatoes and Gouda together (making sure to leave the most carmelized pieces of onion sticking to the pan, so that when you serve yourself, you can be sure to add them to your bowl. Hey! Cooks get certain privelages).

Serve with Parmesan sprinkled on top.

Notes: It's Presto Pasta Night again! I am loving this excuse to cook pasta once a week!

Oh my oh my oh my did I love the taste of the acorn squash. I usually either cook it with brown sugar to bring out the sweetness or make a "stuffed" squash. But roasting it made it buttery and good. I could have eaten the squash all by itself. It would make a great side dish. Or a main course ALL for me.

I also cooked up about a pound and a half of chicken breasts, cubed them and threw them in to satisfy the The Professor's carnivorous habbits.

I had originally planned to bake this after I mxed everything together, but the veggies and the pasta were hot enough to warm the tomatoes and melt the cheese. And I was starving.

Sunday, December 9, 2007

Gnocchi, Vodka Sauce and Flour All OVER My Kitchen

Ever since I fried up the last of my in-laws gnocchi a few weeks ago, I’ve been wanting to make it on my own. I knew this was dangerous territory, because The Professor worships at the shrine of his parents’ gnocchi. But my father-in-law had written down the very simple recipe for me (only 3 ingredients!) and given me a step-by-step tutorial. So I figured I could probably follow it.

And in The Professor’s World (which sounds like a really bad name for a XXX rated spin-off to Gilligan’s Island), gnocchi MUST be served with vodka sauce. Which I had not gotten the sacrosanct recipe for. Dammit! I needed someone that I knew would love my attempt, even though it might not taste exactly the same as every other time she’s ever eaten it before in her life. Change is HEALTHY, Professor!
As this was obviously a job for The Bestest Friend EVER, I told her that her presence was requested for dinner. Even if the sauce tastes just a wee bit different, she loves whatever I put in her mouth. Which makes her sound like she’d have a recurring role on The Professor’s World and that’s just disturbing, so we’re going to move on to discussing the recipes, mmmkay?

Gnocchi Dough:
  • 16 oz ricotta
  • 1 egg
  • 2 cups all purpose flour

Vodka Sauce:

  • 1 tsp olive oil
  • 1 onion, diced
  • 1 tablespoon minced garlic
  • 1 can diced tomatoes
  • 1 cup vegetable stock
  • 1 tsp dried basil
  • 1 tsp dried oregano ½ cup vodka
  • 1 ½ cups half and half
  • ½ cup grated parmesan

OK, first up: The Gnocchi. If you like to keep your kitchen pristine, you do not ever want to see me make this.

Mix all three ingredients together in a mixer until it forms a dough.
Form the dough into medium size balls and sprinkle with flour.
Sprinkle your work surface – in my case, the kitchen counter – with more flour.
Sprinkle your hands with yet more flour.

Roll a ball of dough in your hands between your palms so that it begins to lengthen into a log.
When the log is longer than your hands, lay it on the floured surface and continue rolling, moving your hands from the center to the edges of the roll. Keep rolling until the dough-log-thing is about an inch thick.
Cut the log into one-inch long pieces with a sharp knife.

Ok, here’s the tricky part. You can buy special little boards to help you form ridges; my in-laws have perfected a dimple-roll method that they can perform at lightening speeds. Whatever method you use, you’re basically making a way for the gnocchi to hold more sauce. So if you want, just poke the tip of your finger into the middle of each one.

Move the gnocchi onto a cookie sheet and put in the freezer for about 30 minutes, so that when you put them in the boiling water, they don’t coalesce into one big gnocchi ball that would defeat the purpose of all the rolling and dimpling you just did.

Continue with the rest of the dough until it’s all done.
While the gnocchi is freezing, start your sauce.

Heat olive oil in large skillet.
Add onions, and sauté until translucent.
Add garlic, stir and cook for 1 minute.
Add can of diced tomatoes and vegetable stock.
Simmer for 15 minutes.

Heat water for gnocchi in pot (add 2 tbsp oil, if you want)
Whenever the water starts boiling, add frozen gnocchi.

Add basil and oregano to sauce; simmer for 10 minutes.
Pulse sauce in food processor.
Put back in skillet, add vodka and simmer some more.
Stir in parmesan and half and half. Simmer simmer simmer.
Continue cooking and stirring occasionally for 5-10 minutes.

Gnocchi should be boiling and floating; scoop them out of the water with a spider or slotted spoon.

Serve sauce over gnocchi, sprinkle with a little grated Parmesan and devour.

Friday, December 7, 2007

Mango Orange Trifle

The Professor’s department Christmas party was last night. Free booze, free food, and high-falutin’ conversation (seriously, the discussion on the philosophies of Bertrand Russell versus Ludwig Wittgenstein made me long for another glass bottle of wine). The annual party is always an adventure. And, it always gives me a really good reason to pull out one of my favorite dishes: my trifle bowl.

I do not use this nearly enough, considering that even a disaster looks like an angelic creation in a trifle bowl. I think you could layer cat food and bat guano in these things and as long as you topped it off with some whipped cream, it would make your mouth water.

Public Service Announcement: I do not use bat guano in my kitchen. Also, I would never fight my cats for their food because they would hurt me badly.

Hmm. Maybe I shouldn't mention bat guano when I’m trying to convince you that I made something worth eating?

Maybe this will make you feel better:

Mango Orange Trifle

  • Sponge Cake or Angel Food Cake
  • 2 Oranges
  • 1 cup orange juice
  • ¼ cup mango rum
  • 3 ½ cups of sliced mango (I used frozen that I thawed overnight in my beautiful new fridge, but fresh would be even better)
  • 2 boxes instant cheesecake pudding
  • 1 pint heavy cream
  • 1 cup half and half


Step One: Make the sponge cake. I originally found a recipe online and made it. But it was a complete flop. There was nothing spongy about it. In desperation, I bought an Angel Food Cake to use instead.

Step Two: Make the creamy-goodness:
Grate the rind of 1 ½ oranges.
Whip the pudding mix and creams until thick and luscious. Fold in the orange zest.
Take a wee taste of the creamy-goodness to make sure it is both creamy and goodness-y enough.

Step 3: Begin assembling process

Drain the mangoes, if necessary.
If you’re a feisty sort, get the juice out of your oranges.

Cut the cakes into 2” pieces.

Mix enough orange juice with the fresh squeezed stuff to make 1 cup. Add the the mango rum and stir.

Layer half of the cake on the bottom of the trifle. Drizzle with the rum/juice concoction, but don’t over-saturate.
Spread half of the creamy goodness on top of the cake.
Arrange half of the mango on top of the cake.

Repeat with another layer of sponge cake, rum/juice, creamy goodness and mangoes.
Sprinkle the remaining orange zest on the top.

I made the cake the night before and thawed the mangoes in the fridge over night, then whipped the cream and assembled the pieces about an hour before we left for the party.

The sponge cakes I made did NOT rise, which indicates to me that I need to do some research on proper-sponge-cake procedures.

This is not low fat. It is not low sugar. It is NOT low carb. Other than the mangoes, there is very little in it that is remotely healthy. And those are the precise reasons that I loved it.

Wednesday, December 5, 2007

Chicken Pasta with Creamy Brie Sauce

I've been drooling over Presto Pasta Nights for so long now. Every week I get my fix, and this week I dare to join in...

I tried something new for dinner last night. I love creamy cheesy pasta sauces (I also love herby-tomatoey sauces, and simple olive oil, and rivers of vodka sauce…but we’ll focus on one addiction at a time). And last night, I wanted something other than parmesan or romano melted into my clog-your-arteries butter and cream creation. If I’m going to kill myself with fat content, I might as well do it with varying tastes of high fat content. Right?

Chicken Pasta with Brie Cream Sauce

2 boneless, skinless chicken breasts
8 oz pasta (I used penne)
2 Tbsp butter
1 green bell pepper, sliced
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 tsp Red pepper flakes
2 tsp Thyme
2 tsp Oregano
1 Tbsp butter
1/2 cup chicken stock
1 cup half and half
4 oz brie, rind cut off, cut as small as possible and divided
1 cup Italian bread crumbs

Preheat oven to 350F.
Cook pasta, drain and move to a large bowl.

Cook chicken completely and cut into cubes.

Add bell pepper strips and garlic to butter in the skillet and sauté for 5 minutes so they are crisp-tender. Stir in the red pepper, thyme and oregano and cook for another minute. Add it and the cubed chicken to pasta, making to sure to scrape the pan.

Add 2 Tbsp butter and chicken stock to skillet and melt; add cream and stir constantly until it starts to thicken. Add half of the brie and continue stirring. When the brie is melted and the sauce starts to thicken, turn off the heat and stir for another minute.

Pour sauce over the vegetables and pasta, and toss until everything is…well tossed.

Pour in a 2 quart casserole and top with bread crumbs and then the remaining brie. Bake for about 20 minutes, until the top starts making your mouth drool with it’s golden goodness.

Next time, all of the brie is going in the sauce. It didn't melt very well on top.I used the same skillet for everything , and I didn't wipe it out between any of the steps, so that I could be sure and get all of the stuff that stuck to the pan when it was time to make the sauce.

The Professor claimed that this was too spicy, but as we all know by now, he's kind of a pansy when it comes to spicy foods (I love you honey!). It does have a little heat, so if you don't like that kind of thing, cut the red pepper flakes in half.

Be smarter than I was: remember to cut the rind off the brie before you start cutting it into itty bitty pieces.

I’m wondering how this would taste with smoked Gouda…???

Tuesday, December 4, 2007

Shiny and New

I got a new toy yesterday!:

Look! Do you see the ice maker? An Ice Maker! I have finally entered the 21st century, my friends.

We put the old one in the garage. I am drooling over the fact that between the two, I have more than twice as much freezer room now. The stocks I will save! The meat I will buy on sale and freeze! The meals I can make ahead of time!

And oh, my goodness - the amount of ice I will now have for my beloved mango rum!

Monday, December 3, 2007

Venison Casseroles and Rice Balls

I hide it well, but I’m a lazy person. Which is why I have a blog about food and not interior decorating. Because if I had to post pictures of my house, you would be afraid to admit you had even seen the picture. It would taint your color-coordinated, matched-candlesticks soul forever.
{You wouldn’t know this, but that last paragraph wore me out so much, I took a 10 minutes power nap.)

So, when I made the lasagna last month and had about 2 pounds of venison left over, I decided to make a huge casserole for dinner, split most of it up into pans and freeze it. It sounds like I was thinking ahead. In reality, I was thinking of how much more time I would have to lie around on the couch and be lazy on my internets if I had three less dinners to plan in my life. I scrounged around my refrigerator and pantry and found various things to throw in a bowl and call “dinner”.

The frozen version:

The first time I thawed one out, I added some diced tomatoes and tons of basil and oregano; I topped it off with bread crumbs and parmesan cheese, and then baked it until the top was nice and golden. Alas, my laziness made me forget to take a picture.

Last week, I used the second one. After it thawed I added a couple of eggs and some bread crumbs, then formed it into balls and rolled it in more breadcrumbs and cooked them in a couple of inches of vegetable oil.

I made a sauce by heating up a can of diced tomatoes, and then smashing the ever-loving heck out of them with my potato masher, and added some crushed red pepper flakes, thyme and basil.

These rice balls were incredible. So incredible, that I think I’ll do the same thing with the last pan of it that I have in the fridge, although I was planning on adding some corn and chili powder and then topping it off with crushed tortilla chips and cheddar cheese.

The basic casserole:

  • 2?? cups uncooked rice
  • 2 pounds of ground meat (I used up the venison left
  • 1 large yellow onion, diced
  • 2 green bell peppers, diced
  • 1 carrot, diced
  • 5 cloves of garlic, minced
  • 2 four ounce cans of mushrooms
  • 1 very large can of cream of mushroom soup
Cook rice.
Brown meat in the skillet.
Sautee the veggies in another skillet.
Mix everything together with some salt and pepper, then divide into dishes.

You can add just about anything to this. The first night, before any of it was frozen, I just dumped some hot sauce on it. The Professor mixed in some barbeque sauce. We were both simultaneously disgusted by the other’s choice, and more than happy with our own.

Saturday, December 1, 2007

Salvaging the Vegetables with Butter

I found some meat on sale at the grocery store on Thursday; London Broil, which I have never cooked in my life. But it was red meat - which I've been craving lately - and it was on sale! But London Broil isn't something I'm very familiar with.

Poking around the nets, I discovered that I'd have to cook it medium rare if I wanted to be able to cut it. Which is fine with me, but the sight of blood sends The Professor running for the nearest take-out Chinese place. But I decided I'd cook it medium rare, and if he didn't like it I'd just cook the hell out of it and make him pretend to enjoy the shoe leather.

Karma's a bitch.

I overcooked the whole darn thing. One minute it was smelling heavenly, nearing perfection...the next minute it was obvious that I'd be better off trying to turn it into some kind of jerkey. The Professor was pleased, though, because I wasn't trying to turn him into a "blood sucking vampire" by feeding him "raw meat".

But the vegetables!! Oh, those were good. Even though I got started on them a little late, they were so yummy that I'm already dreaming of cooking them again. I cooked them a bit in the skillet and then tucked them around the meat in the oven.
Healthy? No.
Cheap? Yes.
Eye-closingly butterry good? Absolutely.
2/3 is a majority, so I'll be doing these again. Soon. Very soon.

Buttery Veggies

  • 3 carrots, cut into bite size chunks
  • 1 yellow bell pepper, cut into bite size chunks
  • 1 tbsp olive oil
  • 3 Tbsp butter
  • 1 heaping teaspoon minced garlic
  • 1 heaping tsp dried savory (or thyme)

    Heat the olive oil in a medium skillet; add the carrots and saute on medium-high heat for about 5 or 6 minutes. Add the bell pepper, and continue cooking for another 2 or 3 minutes.

    In a small bowl, combine the rest of the ingredients (and then add a quick twist of pepper, simply because you can never resist your pepper mill).

    Put the vegetables in a small oven-safe dish - something just big enough to hold the vegetables - and dollop the butter mixture all over them. Cook in the oven until the carrots are soft and they're all floating in more butter than your thighs want to think about - approximately 15-20 minutes.