Tip of the Hat

I'm sure you've wondered what I eat when I'm not cooking. I assure you every night is not a fun prepared meal although I wish it could be! Of course there are meals at restaurants, leftovers, and some prepared by other people such as a fab roomie!

This post is a Colbert-style Tip of the Hat to two of my favorite go-to easy meals.

The first Tip of the Hat goes to Birds Eye Voila stir-fry's! This is my favorite brand out of the many choices for a frozen dinner stir-fry. Every variety I've tried has been delicious. Patrick and I had "Beef Lo Mein" last week. Unfortunately I'll have to give a Wag of the Finger to the sodium levels in the dish. This is the only drawback so good thing it's not on my plate every night!

The second Tip of the Hat goes to Pulcinella's of Durham. This Italian restaurant is absolutely delicious. I have only savored these wonderful dishes in the comfort of my own home -- takeout is the way to go! I always order a specialty dish which includes bread and a salad. Patrick and I are able to share everything so it's perfect for two! Patrick's favorite dish is the Creamy Pink Sauce with penne pasta. And the house salad dressing is quite yummy too. If you don't live in Durham come visit soon and I'll treat you to Pulcinella's!

Chicken any night

This post isn't a recipe but more of a jumping off point and inspiration. It's quite simply a marinated meat and two sides of veggies! This post features marinated chicken with roasted corn and peas. Patrick and I were going to make a Sara Foster dish from her book (Fresh Every Day: More Great Recipes from Foster's Market) but decided we wanted something a little simpler. However we decided to try some recipes for the vegetables.

Just getting started! Corn soaking in the fridge; marinating chicken; and frozen peas! The peaches went into a dessert concoction (recipe to be featured at later date).
First note of the meal: the marinade was awful. It was Wish-Bone Raspberry Hazelnut. It was not good as a salad dressing and did not improve for the marinade. Anyway choose whatever marinade you'd like! 

Both the corn and peas were ideas from Fresh Every Day. I'll share with you what Sara had written about each.

She featured quite a few different corn preparations for the "Corn on the Cob Your Way" section. I chose oven-roasted corn: "Oven-roasting gives corn some of the smoky, charred flavor you get from an outdoor grill. Soak the unshucked ears in cold water for 10 to 15 minutes. Place the ears in a single layer on a baking sheet with sides and roast in a 400F oven for 20 to 25 minutes, until the kernels are tender but still slightly crisp. When the corn is cool enough to touch, remove the husks and silks."

While flipping through the cookbook a paragraph about mashed vegetables caught my eye. Read on: "Everyone loves mashed potatoes, but few people think to use the same method to make creamy, comforting sides with other vegetables: peas, parsnips, rutabagas, celery root, carrots, beets, eggplant, butter beans, and any winter squash. Not matter what vegetable you plan to mash, start by cooking it--steam, boil, sauté, or roast--until tender. Mash the tender veggies with some kind of liquid to make them rich and creamy. But just like you're thinking outside the recipe box with regards to the potatoes, think beyond butter and milk and experiment with olive oil, buttermilk, or sour cream. Cheese is a welcome addition to any mash: Swiss, Parmesan, fresh goat cheese, or smoked Gouda. You can also add flavors, such as roasted garlic, sauteed onions, fresh chopped spinach, or just-shucked uncooked summer corn. Add a baked apple or pear for extra sweetness and lots of fresh herbs for flavor and color. And of course sea salt and freshly ground black pepper are a must."

If you had my reaction then you're mildly curious about other mashed vegetables. She had a specific recipe for green peas so I tried that one. Here it is:

Smashed Green Peas
serves 4-6

1 16-oz bag frozen petite peas, rinsed and drained
4 tbsp unsalted butter
sea salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
2 tbsp heavy cream

1. Place the peas in a medium saucepan with 3/4 cup cold water, 2 tbsp of the butter, salt, and pepper and bring to a low boil over medium heat. Cover, reduce the heat, and simmer the peas for 15 to 20 minutes, until tender but still bright green.
2. Drain off the excess water. Add the remaining 2 tablespoons butter and the heavy cream and mash the peas with a potato masher until smooth. Season with additional salt and pepper to taste and serve warm.

Here's the meal!! Smashed peas don't look too appetizing but they're delicious.
Couple other notes from the meal:
-- I did not roast the corn at 400F but rather 350F because I wanted to cook the corn and chicken together. Therefore they were both in a 350F oven for about 30 minutes.
-- I did not have a potato masher handy. Do not try to smash peas with a fork...

Bolognese Sauce

My sister is quite the cook, and tried to help me get a head start on my own cooking when she came to visit me back in '08. I never forgot how super-delicious the bolognese that we made was, and I've thoroughly enjoyed it the two times that Whitney and I have prepared it since.

Because I don't have any notes of my own on the recipe, I'll just point you to Kathleen's post about it here (the original recipe is from Cook's Illustrated). Note that any extra sauce can be frozen and enjoyed later, which helps justify the long prep time (although I think the taste is sufficient!).

We let the food processor do the mincing for us.

Cooking some veggies!

Is it done yet?

Delicious! We made a side salad which included some of the leftover veggies.

Pizza Casserole

One day Whitney decided we should make a pizza casserole. When she described it to me, it just sounded like regular-old pasta in a casserole dish, so I made suggestions of including pizza crust and using pizza sauce. Unfortunately, the store didn't have big jars of pizza sauce and I didn't have a recipe for it while I was there, but we did get to try the crust idea, and it turned out great.

Sauce (We ended up just using a pasta sauce, but I would have liked to try it with a pizza sauce to give it more of an overall pizza flavor)
Mozzarella cheese
Bite-size pasta (We used rotini)
Pizza dough (We used Pillsbury pizza crust dough from a can)
Pizza toppings (Whatever you like on your pizza! We used mushrooms, onions, pepperoni)

1. Preheat oven for the pizza dough. Grease casserole dish and spread dough to cover it. Bake crust by itself just short of desired doneness and remove from oven.

2. Reduce oven heat to 325. Prepare toppings (for our version, sautéing onions and mushrooms) and cook pasta 2 minutes short of al dente.

3. Mix cheese, toppings, pasta, and sauce in bowl, and pour mixture into casserole dish. Bake for 15 minutes, top with cheese, and bake another five minutes. Serve and eat!

We mostly guessed on amounts, temperatures, and cooking times, so I'm sure there's plenty of flexibility there to experiment.

Step 1: Prepare crust!

Step 2: Prepare toppings and pasta!

Step 3: Mix sauce! Check out that action shot!

Ready to eat!

It tasted great, and made for very tasty leftovers. I'm excited to try more variations on this!

Stuffed Squash!

I love squash! The easiest way for me to cook it is sauteed in a little extra virgin olive oil with some onion! yummy! However when I have a bit more time I'll make stuffed squash. This side dish is a beautiful and fun dish to serve with a whole cooked chicken! ... or some other equally delicious meat. This recipe is from my mom. I originally fixed this after an email from her asking for the recipe. This is her email...

Mom's Stuffed Squash
"I do not really have a recipe, but what I did was to get little, tender
yellow squash. Wash them.  Boil them in water until mostly done (probably at
least 10-15 min).  Then let them cool so you can handle them.  Slice long
ways and scoop out the inside.

While they are boiling you can make the filling.  I usually saute some
onions (now I would do it in evoo) and whatever you wanted in there (like
green or red pepper, mushrooms, garlic,etc); mix with Pepperidge Farm
Stuffing mix and some of the insides of the cooked squash.  You can do
whatever proportions you want more of, but may try to do equal parts of
onion mix, squash, and stuffing mix.

Put in center of scooped out squash.  Sprinkle with paprika.  Put on cookie
sheet and bake (or broil.  Broil is quicker because is hotter, but you have
to watch more closely so won't burn) until warmed through.  Probably about
10-15 min.  Sometimes I would sprinkle cheese on at the last (or I guess you
could mix some in the mixture and bake).

Have fun experimenting!"

My notes: I pretty much followed this. I did not use paprika but did sprinkle with cheese!

Patrick sprinkling with cheese... then these little squash boats are heading to the oven!
Nice and bubbly... Right out of the oven!

Cooking a Whole Chicken!

I first thought that cooking a whole chicken was a daunting undertaking... but then I cooked one! Christine brought one home last spring and since this time I've cooked three chickens -- and now there's no looking back! Obviously cooking a whole chicken takes a much longer time to cook than just baking some chicken breasts and even though I have to plan my week around which day I actually have enough time to cook a whole chicken, it's definitely worth it! Each time I cooked the chicken a little differently as far as what I used to baste it, put inside the chicken cavity, or vegetables I put around it. The following is what I did the last and is probably the easiest.

Herb-Roasted Chicken
1 whole chicken
extra virgin olive oil

Here's what I used! Extra virgin olive oil, marjoram, thyme, basil, salt (not pictured), and pepper!!
--Mix together oil and seasonings.
--If necessary, remove giblets and neck from chicken, and reserve for another use. Rinse chickens with cold water; pat dry.
--Loosen and lift skin from chicken breasts with fingers (do not totally detach skin). Rub olive oil mixture evenly underneath skin of chicken. Carefully replace skin. Flip over and repeat. Rub remaining olive oil mixture over the chicken. Place chicken on a lightly greased wire rack in a pan.
--Bake at 425f for 20 minutes per pound and then an extra 20 minutes. Let stand 15 minutes before slicing.

The hardest part of baking the chicken is carving! This particular chicken was served with stuffed squash and fried okra. Be on the lookout for stuffed squash!

Champagne Chicken and Mushrooms

Snipped this out of one of my mom's Southern Living magazines to try. This recipe had a nice introduction so I'll let it do the talking. I served the chicken and sauce with brown rice and green beans!

Champagne lends this dish delicate flavor, but you could use white wine also. Ask your butcher to bone the chicken breasts, which offer the best results, or use skinned and boned breasts. Makes 6 servings

1/2  cup all-purpose flour
1  teaspoon salt
1/2  teaspoon pepper
6  skin-on, boned chicken breasts --> I used Purdue's thinly sliced chicken breasts
2  tablespoons unsalted butter
2  tablespoons olive oil
1/2  cup  minced shallots (about 3 medium)
2  (3.5-ounce) packages shiitake mushrooms, stems removed and sliced --> I decided to splurge and use the shiitake mushrooms but I think the cremini mushrooms could easily be substituted
3  garlic cloves, minced
2  cups Champagne or sparkling wine --> I used a sparkling wine
2  teaspoons chopped fresh thyme
1/2  cup whipping cream
Salt and pepper to taste

Prep: 30 min., Stand: 15 min., Cook: 50 min. 
  1. Stir together first 3 ingredients in a shallow bowl. Dredge chicken in flour mixture; place on a wire rack. Let stand 15 minutes. Dredge chicken in flour mixture again; return to rack.
  2. Melt butter with olive oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Cook chicken, in batches, 5 minutes on each side or until golden brown. Remove chicken to a plate.
  3. Add shallots to skillet; cook, stirring often, 2 minutes or until golden brown. Add mushrooms and garlic, and cook, stirring often, 10 minutes or until mushrooms are tender.
Just added the shallots! As you can see the chicken has been cooked (right), the green beans are sauteing (left), and the rice is boiling! Exciting things happening in the kitchen!

  4. Stir in Champagne and thyme; bring to a boil, stirring to loosen browned particles from bottom of skillet. Reduce heat, and return chicken to skillet. Cover and simmer 10 minutes or until done.
  5.Transfer chicken to a serving platter. Stir cream into mushroom mixture. Cook 5 to 6 minutes or until thickened. Add salt and pepper to taste. Serve sauce immediately over chicken.
Contributed by Wes Hollowell, Birmingham, Alabama, Southern Living, MARCH 2006
Why, I think I'll have some champagne with this lovely meal!

Broiled Fish Steaks with Tarragon Cheese Sauce served with Tempura style Green Bell Pepper strips

This fish recipe is from my Better Homes & Garden Big Book of 30-Minute Dinners. This book truly puts Rachael Ray's 30-minute recipes to shame. It really did seem to take about 30 minutes from start to finish and it was delicious!

The complete meal!

1 1/4 pounds fresh or frozen salmon, swordfish, or tuna steaks (about 3/4in thick)
1/2 cup plain yogurt or light dairy sour cream
1/2 cup shredded mozzarella or Monterey Jack cheese
2 tsp snipped fresh tarragon or 1/2 tsp dried tarragon, crushed
ground black pepper
hot cooked pasta (optional)
fresh tarragon sprigs (optional)
red sweet pepper strips (optional)

Obviously this recipe has a lot of different options.
Option 1: Fish -- I used tuna medallions and loved the flavor with this recipe. We didn't think salmon would be quite as tasty with this meal.
Option 2: Yogurt/Sour Cream -- We used the light sour cream. I thought it would a little more flavor and it turned out well.
Option 3: Cheese -- We used mozzarella. I leaned a little more towards trying the Monterey Jack but I let Patrick make this decision! He chose mozz.
Option 4: Hot cooked pasta -- yes! We served the tuna medallions atop tri-color rotini.
Option 5: Tarragon -- we of course used dried tarragon. It was a bit pricey but definitely worth it and hopefully we'll find some more recipes in the future to use it!
Option 5: Red Sweet Pepper Strips -- Instead of the this I opted for tempura style green bell pepper strips. This added a little crunch to the recipe. I placed these right on top of the tuna. Recipe to follow.

Prep time 10 minutes
Broiling time 6 1/2 minutes
Serves 4

1. Rinse fish; pat dry. Cut fish steaks into 4 equal portions, if necessary.
2. Stir together the yogurt or sour cream, cheese, and tarragon. Set aside.
3. Place fish on unheated rack of broiler pan. Sprinkle fish with salt and ground pepper. Broil 4 inches from the heat for 6 to 9 minutes or until fish flakes easily when tested with a fork. Spoon yogurt mixture over fish steaks. Broil 30 to 60 seconds more until heated through and cheese starts to melt. If desired, serve over hot cooked pasta and garnish with fresh tarragon sprigs and red pepper strips.

Preparation photo: The fish has just come out of the broiler with the melted tarragon cheese sauce (left).The tempura style green bell pepper strips have just turned a nice golden brown (right)! The pasta has already been taken to drain!
Tempura Style Green Bell Pepper Strips
  There were many tempura batter recipes. I chose a very simple one -- 1 cup flour, 1 cup ice cold water, and 1 egg. Tossed the pepper in the batter and then fried in a little vegetable oil. I did this while the fish was boiling.

Ready to eat!
Nutrition Facts per Serving (for the fish)
188 calories, 8 g total fat, 3 g saturated fat, 36 mg cholesterol, 236 mg sodium, 3 g carbohydrates, 25 g protein

Blog Update!

Hello! Just a quick update for my few readers regarding the blog >> it's changed! Please enjoy a new name and layout! Of course the direction of the blog changed from its original inception just a few months after blogging.

I'm also learning the blog is a fun tool for myself to browse previous recipes and use them as jumping off points for a supper. Therefore I am going to try to blog more so I can have more recipes at my disposal! So enjoy! There have been many times when I go to cook something I know I've cooked before but didn't blog or really have a recipe. Sometimes I'm too much like Granny in the kitchen (dash of this and a dab of that) but I'm not a seasoned vet in the kitchen like her so two of my dishes are never the same!

Patrick particularly refers to the blog for dinner ideas. In the past month he has chosen to cook a recently featured dish, Easiest Pasta Dish Ever 7/30/10, and a memorable dish from February, Sausage and Rigatoni Fake-Bake 2/22/10!