Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Update: Squash Casserole

Hey, remember this recipe? Squash Casserole?

This week, I was hit with inspiration. Inspiration in my new cure-for-all-ills: ricotta cheese. Lately, I have been addicted to the stuff. You wouldn't know that from my blog, but that's called "my real life".

This week, I decided to try another squash casserole. I wanted something that would hold together a little better than my last attempt. I decided I needed something a little more cohesion-building than sour cream - and the ricotta was just sitting there on my refrigerator shelf.

I think I have a winner here. The spice blend could be changed up in a quadrillion ways. Fresh herbs would be a wonderful substitute. I keep hoping McCormick's will send me a case of free seasoning, so I'm gonna blog about that option.

Squash Casserole

Olive Oil cooking spray
1 pound yellow squash (4 small), cut small
1 yellow onion, diced
1 cup ricotta cheese
1/2 cup sour cream
1 tsp McCormick's Roasted Garlic & Herb blend
1 cup? Mozzarella cheese
1/2 cup Italian flavored bread crumbs

Preheat oven to 350F.

Spray a medium skillet with Olive Oil cooking spray. Put the squash and onion in the pan, and then spray them with it, too. "Spread the Spray" could be my new motto.

I think I put a little salt and fresh ground pepper in there too.

Cook about 10 minutes, until veggies are soft.
In a small bowl, mix the ricotta, sour cream and seasoning.

This is my new seasoning love:

And this is the yummy goodness that will hold the squash together:

Toss mixture with veggies.

Spray a 2 quart cooking dish with more of the "Spread the Spray" love. Pour in the squash mixture.

Hmmm...that needs something.

Look at the squash casserole, and decide it needs some more seasoning. I know! More Roasted Garlic and Herb Blend!

It'll look better in a little while. I promise.

Bake for 30 minutes.

Getting Warmer...

In a small bowl, mix together cheese and bread crumbs.

Mmmmm....cheese and bread crumbs...

Spread cheese-bread-crumbs mixture over casserole.

Bake for another 15 minutes, or until casserole is bubbling around the crust.

Ohh Baby
Portion out for your next 3 lunches before you inhale the whole delicious creation.

Sunday, March 8, 2009

Chicken Pasta Salad

The whole thing started with a rotisserie chicken that I picked up today. I had simply planned on eating it over the next couple of days, but sometime between picking it up and getting it home, my brain started whispering "Pasta Salad...Pasta Salad". As I was putting my groceries away, I noticed the things languishing in the veggie drawer that really, really needed some attention. A half a bell pepper here, a few lonely stalks of asparagus there. It was enough to make a vegetarian cry at the neglect taking place in my fridge.

No vegetarians here, though, so I went on about my day. Talking to my sister later, I mentioned that I was thinking of making a chicken pasta salad later. And then she asked for pics and a recipe and I knew I was committed.

And also - hey! I can do Presto Pasta for the first time in ages (It's at What's Cooking this week)!

Chicken Pasta Salad
  • 2 cups? chopped chicken
  • 1 red bell pepper
  • 1/2 orange bell pepper
  • 3 stalks celery
  • 2 (small) carrots
  • 1 cup+ shredded mozzarella cheese
  • 12-ish stalks of asparagus
  • 1/2 cup sour cream
  • 1/2 cup salad dressing (I used Parmesan Romano, which is no longer to be found in stores)
  • 1 Tbsp minced garlic ( the dry kind, not the wet kind. You know, from the spice aisle, not the produce section)
  • 1/2 tsp celery salt
  • a bunch of fresh ground pepper
  • 8 oz uncooked pasta (I had Wacky Mac to use up)

First up: The asparagus needs to be roasted a little, because I'm not big on raw asparagus. If you are, you can skip this part and just chop it up with the other veggies. I tossed it with a drizzle of extra virgin olive oil, some freshly ground pepper and a little kosher salt. I know, that's not the most original way to roast asparagus - but you know why everyone cooks it like that? Because it's damn good.

Yes, my loaf pan is safe to cook in. It's just well-used.

Stick that in a 400F oven for about 4 minutes - not enough to really cook it, because I still wanted some crunch. Just enough to talk it down from the ledge. Even asparaguses (Aspargi?) need love.

While that's going on, mix the sour cream, salad dressing, celery salt, minced garlic and some fresh ground pepper together. Taste and adjust if you want more salt or pepper, then set aside.

A note about the salad dressing: I hate 99.999% of the ones out there. Ranch makes me gag. Bleu cheese is just gross. But I think that - if you're into that kind of thing - either of these would make good substitutes.

Cook your pasta, and drain.

Sidenote about Wacky Mac: There's actual vegetables in there. You knew that? Then you should have told me NOT to say out loud "Hey! There's beet powder in this!" Because then your beet-averse husband will not touch your food - or you, after you've eaten it.

While your pasta's cooking, chop up your chicken, bell peppers, celery, carrots and asparagus into small pieces. I got all fancy-pants and used my peeler to shave the carrots, but I only have that kind of energy once in a lifetime. Also, has anyone else noticed that organic carrots are much smaller than the doped-up ones? Makes me wonder what kind of carrot-growth-hormone I've been eating.

All those colors make me very happy.

Once everything's chopped up, you're home free.

Put the pasta in a big bowl - seriously, big is important here - and dump in the dressing, reserving about a 1/4 cup. The Pasta is gonna soak up dressing like a sponge over the next couple of days, so I keep some in reserve to mix with it each morning while I'm putting my lunch together. Mix it until the pasta's coated.

Now, this is the true test: Have you chosen a big enough bowl? Do you even OWN a big enough bowl? Because you need to not only get the chicken and veggies in with the pasta, but you have to have room to mix it around a lot. You don't want some piece of celery feeling left out because it didn't get it's share of the dressing-love. Half the time, I have to dirty a 2nd bowl because I've guessed wrong again. And that doesn't help my case with The Professor, because he thinks I dirty bowls just for the fun of it.

There's a recipe in progress somewhere in this post, right?

Time to mix in the cheese. I usually cut a chunk up into little pieces, but the shredded mozzarella in my fridge has been open for a week. I have no idea how much cheese was left, but I'm guessing between 1 1/2 and 2 cups. Give it another stir.

Now, this is a LOT of pasta salad! But I can go crazy on this stuff. It usually shakes down like this: I'll dump some in a bowl for a snack. And then get a refill. And then 2 more. And then I realize that "snack" just metamorphosed into dinner, and I haven't fed The Professor yet.

I just realized that I had planned on using some artichoke hearts as well, and completely forgot. I'm too lazy to go add them now, though.