Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Spaghetti Squash

This is a photo-less post.
Until my camera is fixed or replaced,
please bear with me.

Last night's dinner was a yummy success.

Yesterday I went to a farm stand near work to see what they might have in terms of pumpkins. Nothing. Big fat zero. Well, that's a slight lie. They had some, but they were too giant, too marred and pitted, or just down right rotten. And you all know this right, the carving pumpkins are not ideal for cooking. They have had the flavor breed out of them, are tough and fiberous. So, no pumpkins.

But, they did have spaghetti squash and white sweet potatoes. The sweet potatoes I'm going to use on Friday night. I purchased two spaghetti squash, one for last night and another for later.

I also had some very lean pork chops. So...

Pork Chops with Spaghetti Squash and Tomatoes

Start prepping your squash. Cut off the bottom and top, discard those parts. Then, prop the squash up on its bottom and cut from the top to the bottom, giving you two large halves. Scoop out the seeds and discard. The seeds and fiberous inards of the squash are easily removed, they almost peel away in one large piece.

Drizzle a little olive oil on the inside of the squash and season liberally with salt and pepper. Place cut-side down on a parchment paper lined baking sheet and roast in the oven for 45 minutes at 375 degrees.

When roasting is complete, allow the squash to cool for a minute before taking a fork and scraping the spaghetti strands out of the fruit. Yes, fruit! Reserve the cooked spaghetti squash for use in a few minutes.

Season the pork chops with salt and pepper and other flavors you prefer. I've been using an old peppermill to grind fennel seeds and dried rosemary into a great seasoning for pork. It's equal parts of each and I used probably 1/2 tsp for four small chops.

Saute in one teaspoon of olive oil until they are golden brown and just cooked thru, about 8 minutes total--this depends on the thickness of your chops. When done, place on a warm plate.

In the same pan pour in one teaspoon of olive oil and when hot, toss in 2-3 finely chopped garlic cloves. Almost immediately (when you smell the garlic cooking), pour in 1/4 cup of dry white wine. Add 1/2 cup of diced tomatoes (I used canned tomatoes that I drained). Season with 1/2 teaspoon each of dried oregano and dried basil. Season with salt and pepper. Pour in any accumulated juices from the pork chops. Stir and simmer until most of the wine has evaporated. Carefully fold in the reserved spaghetti squash, heat thru. Serve with pork chops.

This was delicious and fairly fast; outside of the roasting of the squash. It was also pretty healthy. The pork chops were very lean and with the exception of about 2 additional teaspoons of olive oil, no fat. Lots of good fiber, lycopene, beta-carotene and other vitamins. And filling!!!

Monday, October 27, 2008


I love my little camera. It does so much for me. Simple me. Stupid me. As I was turning this little bugger on, while making dinner, it slipped and hit the floor. Now it's busted.

While I await word from Olympus, please say a nice prayer. Hopefully it can be fixed for a good price. If not, I'll have to find another camera...which normally would be exciting, but there's a reason I'm making all this budget conscience food. We need to cut back on our spending...this might be worthy of a credit card though? Suze O...what do you think???

Spicy Chicken and Coconut

Yesterday I had to work. On a stinky Sunday. Blah! All I could think about the entire time, was..."I'm so hungry I want to make dinner." Dinner was good. Nothing super special, but tasty and filling and used up more stuff I had at home. Gotta try to be as frugal as possible! And this wasn't a bad dish to be frugal with. Chicken--legs and thighs are great here!. Rice. Easy enough. A veg. I had a bell pepper and if I would have used my brain, some frozen veg as well. The only real specialty ingredient was a can of coconut milk!

This is an adaptation of another Everyday Food recipe.

Coconut Chicken Casserole

1 TB olive oil
1 lb boneless skinless chicken breast, but into large pieces
Coarse salt and ground pepper
1 can (14.5 ounces) coconut milk
1 ½ cups chicken broth
1 tsp Garam Masala
1 tsp Sweet Curry Powder
1 tsp hot sauce
2 tsp grated ginger
3 cloves of garlic, peeled and left whole
1 cup jasmine rice
1 red bell pepper (ribs and seeds removed), cut into 1-inch pieces

1. In a large pan or pot, heat oil over medium-high. Season chicken with salt and pepper. Working in batches if necessary, cook chicken until browned; transfer to a plate (chicken will cook more in step 2).

2. To pot, add coconut milk, broth, ½ cup water, and seasonings (garam masala, sweet curry powder, hot sauce, ginger, garlic cloves); bring to a boil, and stir in rice. Add chicken (with any juices), arranging pieces in a single layer. Cover, and reduce heat to medium-low. Cook, without stirring, until rice is almost tender, 15 minutes.

3. Scatter bell peppers on top of chicken mixture; cover, and cook until vegetables are crisp-tender, 8 to 10 minutes.

The chicken and rice are bubbling away. The original recipe called for chicken legs. They would be delicious, as would thighs. So juicy and flavorful. The chicken breast are what I had on hand and worked very well. Next time when I plan this recipe in advance, that's what I will be doing! Cheaper too!

Half way done. Just a few more minutes. Again, the original recipe called for green beans and more bell pepper. I used one pepper as I'm saving the other for later and I forgot the green beans. I'm sure you could add just about any veg you like. Just give it ample time to cook until tender.

Done. Very filling. It was spicy from the heat in the sweet curry and the hot sauce. I didn't have the listed Red Curry Paste--I thought I did, but must have thrown it out. I like the spice combos I used. I think with just coconut and garam masala, it would almost be sweet, so the curry and hot sauce took over a little. Next time a little less hot sauce for a milder spice.

And it's a ONE POT MEAL! Less dishes!

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Wine Tasting Celebration

My birthday celebration was nearly a month ago and I'm finally getting to posting more details. Previously I talked about the food. The cheese, the dessert and the main event. We tasted wines. Eleven types of wine and what fun it was. I'm going to try to share as much as I can remember from the evening. I didn't take very good notes, so many of the notes you see are from J-lo.

Tasting 1:
Pretty Bubbles
Charles De Fere
Blanc De Blancs Sparkling Wine
France, non-vintage*
Blend of Chardonnay grapes

*This is a sparkling wine, not Champagne, due to the fact it it produced just outside of the Champagne region of France. Also, it is non-vintage. Most sparkling wines & champagnes are non-vintage. This allows the big wineries to have a consistent quality of wine. They can save up to 20% of the juice/wine from year to year to blend with the current year's juice/wine. So every year when you pop a bottle of bubbles from Perrier Jouet, it's going to taste the same as it did the year before. Unless of course, it is a vintage wine, from a specific year.

•Small-to-medium “beads”
•Flavor like a raspberry SweetTart
•Would serve well as a mixer for mimosas

French vs. New Zealand (The Sauvignon Blanc Wars of 2007)
Sauvignon Blanc
Marlborough, New Zealand, 2007
$13.99 (estimate)

This is our favorite wine of the summer. Well, SB's have been a favorite white wine for awhile, but we had this bottle this summer and have since consumed over half a case!

During this tasting, the two SBs, we learned the difference between acidic and high alcohol content and how to tell the difference. Acidic wines will make your mouth water and your jaw feel tight, like Sour Patch Kids. High alcohol content will make your mouth feel hot. Very interesting.

•Smells like baked corn or other vegetable, manure, barnyard, milk
•Grassy flavor with strong grapefruit overtones
•Perfect pairing for spicy foods

Petit Bourgeois
Sauvignon Blanc
France, Loire Valley, 2007

Of the two SBs, tasted side by side, this was my favorite. Comparatively speaking.

•Aroma of powdered lime, limestone & goldenrod
•Flavors of gerbera daisy and lemon
•Acidic but very drinkable

France vs. California (The Oaky/Buttery Battles of 2006)
California/Russian River Valley/Sonoma County, 2006

•Smells of vanilla and oak
•Resin flavor reminiscent of plum pudding
•The oaky flavor meshes well with a heavy butter or cream sauce

La Lande
France, Gascony, 2006

•Acidic notes in the nose
•Lemony acid flavor finishes like a Sauvignon Blanc
•Great for serving with cream sauce

The Chardonnays. Well, I'm not a fan of Chards. I feel they are always buttery and oaky. I've learned that is not a bad thing, particularly when the wine is paired with the appropriate food. This tasting actually had a food pairing, for just this experience. I made Ravioli with Rosemary Cream Sauce. It was amazing how well they played together. You might ask why we did a Chard tasting, when I know I'm not a fan. It is one of the noble grapes and I want to understand it better. So, why not try it with the supervision of an expert!

What's that funny white wine?
Argentina, Salta Region, 2007

•Scents range from honeysuckle to grape jelly and over ripe cantaloupe, honeydew
•Flavor like spearmint, or fruit near the pit
•Great summer wine – full flavor but refreshing
•Similar to Menage a Trois, a wine we really liked this summer

This was an incredible bottle of wine. I had never heard of it and had no idea what to expect. What a nice treat. A perfect bottle of wine for a warm summer day when you're chillin outside enjoying life. Very drinkable, no pretension.

France vs. California in The Grape Debate

This was the most unique tasting and the one to spur the most debate and conversation. One grape, three completely different types of wine!
Louis Latour
Pinot Noir
France, Burgundy 2006

•Aromatic wine that smells like rubbing alcohol mellowing to mushrooms
•Strong flavors of red currant and oak
•Finish is short, not lingering on the palate
•Recommended for Thanksgiving

Cartlidge & Brown
Pinot Noir
California, 2007

•Smells like raisins smoked in brandy
•Flavor is almost “chewy” and is strong in brandy notes

This wine was a gift from The Sommeliatrix, (aka Caroline). The bottle came with a long story--basically it couldn't be sold and it might have been damaged for compromised in some way, so the store would put it on the shelf. YET, it's a wine that can age and show great resilience. So, there was a caveat as the bottle was opened, "it might be bad."
Morey Saint Denis
Pinot Noir
France, Burgundy

•Vanilla and oak aroma has a background like a damp, musty basement.
•Nose changes over the course of the evening. Sweet vanilla one sniff. Sour, damp, musty the next.
•Flavor varies with each sip – tasted blackberry, black tea, roasted peppers, tart cherry and allspice
•Expensive wine proves it is worth the cost

What an unbelievable tasting! Half the room liked the Louis Latour, but didn't like the Morey Saint Denis. Or half the room liked the Saint Denis, but didn't like the Louis Latour. Both French Burgundies! The general feeling was to skip the California/Cartlidge & Browne. Both French pinots would be good with salmon.

Burning Rubber
Graham Beck
South Africa, 2007

•Benzene aroma
•High alcohol content makes the mouth feel hot
•Flavor is unpleasant like rubber but mellows and pairs well with creamy cheeses

This wine was offered because "once you experience Pinotage, you will always know Pinotage." This unique grape is so distinctive in its aroma and flavors, you can't mistake it for something else. Although not a wine we loved, the experience of trying something with a personality unlike any other was fun.

Fruity Maryland Wine for Dessert
Loew Vineyard
Blueberry Wine
Maryland, Frederick County
$18.99 (estimate)

The only note I have on this...I didn't taste any blueberry, it was very light in the aroma. I tasted something like regular wine, not fruit wine. Nice! We picked this up over the summer when we did our little Maryland Wine & Food day trip.

There you have it. An evening of tasting wine!

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Sesame Chicken

This weekend we did some things around the house. Including shut down the garden for the season. We didn't have a very successful summer. We tried. And that's ok. No tomatoes as the squirrels ate them all. We had a few radishes and 2 okra. Here's the remainder of our summer harvest!

Sad! The carrot was super good, we but it in half and each had a small taste. The radishes were radishy. The pepper...squishy.

Oh well. Next year I think we're going to focus on flowers and herbs and continue to get our summer veg from the Community Market.

Saturday night I made another quick recipe that I received in my email from Everyday Food. A "lighter" version of Sesame Chicken. It was good, but I realized while I was making it that I had an extra dark version of the soy sauce, so my final dish was really dark and rich, with a flavor almost of molasses.

Sesame Chicken from Everyday Food
The sauce of honey, soy, sesame seeds.

I don't like broccoli, so I used carrots. Use a veg you like.

Seriously...one of the most used kitchen gadgets I have. Outside of the toaster and the coffee pot, this is used more than the mixer or food processor. Takes all the guess work out making perfect rice. And funny...today the Washington Post has an article about Rice Cookers.

The final dish. Tasty, but like a side, a darker, heavier flavor than I expected.

Lighter Sesame Chicken
¾ cup brown rice
3 TB honey
2 TB sesame seeds
2 TB soy sauce
1 garlic clove, finely chopped or crushed with a garlic press
2 large egg whites
¼ cup cornstarch
1 ½ pounds boneless, skinless chicken breast halves, cut into 2-inch chunks
Coarse salt and ground pepper
2 TB vegetable oil, such as safflower
4 scallions, thinly sliced
1 ½ pounds broccoli, cut into large florets, stems peeled and thinly sliced

1. Place a steamer basket in a large saucepan, and fill with 1 inch water; set aside for broccoli. Cook rice according to package instructions.

2. Meanwhile, make sauce: In a small bowl, combine honey, sesame seeds, soy sauce, and garlic; set aside. In a large bowl, whisk together egg whites and cornstarch*. Add chicken; season with salt and pepper, and toss to coat.

3. In a large nonstick skillet, heat 1 tablespoon oil over medium-high. Add half the chicken; cook, turning occasionally, until golden and opaque throughout, 6 to 8 minutes. Transfer to a plate; repeat with remaining tablespoon oil and chicken. Return all the chicken to skillet; add reserved sauce and scallions, and toss to coat.

4. Meanwhile, place saucepan with steamer basket over high heat; bring water to a boil. Add broccoli, and cook until crisp-tender, 4 to 6 minutes. Serve sesame chicken with broccoli and rice.

*As I noted in the two previous recipes I made using this method (here & here), for one pound of boneless, skinless chicken breast 1 egg white and 1-2 teaspoons of cornstarch create enough of a batter for the chicken.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

It's getting chili

I love a big bowl of chili. I've been making it for years and I rarely make it the same way. Unless I'm making the Cincinnati Chili recipe, it's different each time. After a few times of making chili, you start to get an idea of what you're going to put in the pot. Which spices, how much meat, whether or not you're using tomatoes, how you're serving it...it becomes second nature.

Last night was no different, but I did write down what I was doing (a habit I'm trying to get in to).

Chili served over pasta with cheese

2 tsp vegetable oil
1 lb ground beef
1 tsp Mrs. Dash seasoning
1 tsp salt
1/2 tsp ground black pepper
1 onion, small dice
4 garlic cloves, minced
2 TB chili con carne
2 tsp red & green bell pepper
1 tsp dried oregano
1/2 tsp ground chimayo chile
1/4 tsp ground cinnamon
1/4 tsp cocoa powder
1/4 tsp ground chipotle chile
1/4 tsp ground mustard
1/4 tsp ground celery seed
1 TB tomato paste
1 14 oz can of whole, peeled tomatoes (roughly chopped*)
1 10 oz can tomato sauce

*Why buy cans of whole, peeled tomatoes vs. cans of diced tomatoes? They are processed for a shorter period of time, so they maintain a fresher flavor--fresher for canned. The difference probably isn't noticeable in this application, but it's worth keeping in mind in all recipes you use canned tomatoes in.

In a large pot, heat the oil over medium high heat and add the beef. Break the beef up in to pieces and add the salt, pepper, Mrs. Dash (I've used this so much ground beef doesn't taste right to me without it.)

When the ground beef if browned, add the onions and garlic. Cook for about 5 minutes until the onions are softened. Add the spices and stir to incorporate and allow the spices to heat up and toast in the oil/fat in the pan, about 2 minutes. Add the tomato paste and cook for one minute. Add the canned tomatoes.

Cover and bring to a simmer. I let my pot of chili simmer for about 30 minutes before serving. The longer the better and if you want, bring to a simmer, turn of the heat, allow to cool, and stick in the fridge...everyone knows chili is better the second!

Serve with pasta, cornbread, corn chips, cheese, sour cream...whatever you like.

NOTE: If I understand correctly "CHILI" is the dish, the meal, the food and can also be a blend of seasonings/peppers/spices and "CHILE" is the the pepper, singular (chimayo chile, chipotle chile.) If I'm not lying, you now know something new.

Monday, October 20, 2008

A Sunday Kind of Love

We had a little gathering of friends over yesterday to play a rousing game of Killer Bunnies. This is a fun game. Pretty easy to pick up, with a few moments of "what am I doing?" The gist--keep your bunnies alive and kill your opponent's bunnies. This is just a game, not real life!

So with people coming over, I had to make some nibbles.

Mini-pigs in blankets. It was a cooler day, so the blankets were necessary. I took the mini weinies and wrapped them with small sections of packaged puff pastry. I brushed them with a little melted butter and baked them at 400 for 18 minutes. Delish.

I also make some Cheesey Sausage Balls. Mix 1 pound of sausage, 1 2-cup package of shredded cheddar cheese and 2 cups of Bisquick until well blended. Roll 1 TB of mixture into round balls and place on a rimmed baking sheet. Bake at 350 for 20 minutes. Yum.

I made a double batch of my hummus. Who knew I would ever like hummus? I used to dislike it, but now enjoy it. If you can, use freshly roasted garlic for the best flavor.

This picture is not a finished product, but I have to share anyway. It is DOWNRIGHT ridiculous and worth every calorie. Turtle Cheesecake Dip! A cheesecake-like dip with pecans and chocolate chips. Later it was drizzled with chocolate sauce and caramel. I served with Nilla Wafers. You almost want to cry. There was one proclamation of "I'm marrying this dip." That didn't come from me, but I was ready to face plant into the middle of that bowl!

This is what happens to Boomer after she has a little of her wet food...she curls up and naps with a smile on her face...yes, my Kitty is related to me...I do (or wish I could) take a nap after my meals.

Friday, October 17, 2008

Yogurt Curry Chicken

This was a fun recipe to make. And for me, super affordable! I have to admit that all the ingredients you see in the marinade, I had on hand. Except for the yogurt. Everything else was in my pantry. If you don't have an addictive spice habit, this could be more expensive if you decide to buy all the spices I've used. But it was fun and I really love this photo:

There's the ingredient list. Add some boneless, skinless chicken breast, allow to marinate for 30-60 minutes, put in the oven for 15 minutes, then under the broiler for 5 minutes.

1 cup Greek yogurt, or plain yogurt strained over night (instructions at the end of this post)
1 tsp salt
1/2 tsp ground black pepper
1 TB olive oil
4 cloves garlic, grated
2 tsp ginger, grated
1/2 jalapeno, finely diced
Juice from 1/2 a lemon
1/2 tsp ground fenugreek
1/2 tsp Tandoori seasoning
1/2 tsp hot curry
1/2 tsp ground coriander
1 tsp ground cumin
1 heaping tsp garam masala
2 tsp sweet curry
1/4 cup finely chopped cilantro (if you have it/like it. I do, but didn't have any and the store shelf was empty)

Mix. Add up to 2 pounds chicken (boneless skinless breasts, thighs, other parts...whatever you have, it just changes the time it takes to cook).

Here's the marinade ready to be used. I had 1 pound of chicken and there was plenty for another pound of chicken.

Earlier this week, I bought a pack of chicken and cleaned and cut it all at once for the three meals. For this meal, I decided to do chicken strips.

After 15 minutes at 350 in the oven, then 5 minutes under the broiler set to high.

Dinner is done. I served with some garam masala spiced rice, topped with toasted almonds and strips of roasted bell pepper seasoned with salt, pepper and olive oil. Delicious meal. Now, the yogurt marinade made for some spicy chicken. I had to improvise to help the burning mouth. So I took 2-3 TB of sour cream and mixed some more garam masala (sweeter flavors) and lemon juice. This worked really well in cooling my mouth. I wish I would have had saved a little of the yogurt and had some cucumber to make a nice, bright sauce, but either would have worked.

PS: Make sure you cover you pans with foil, it'll save you the time of cleaning up a nasty mess at the end...

OK, the yogurt. I'm thrilled that I'm able to find Greek yogurt at my Giant. This hasn't always been the case. It used to be I'd have to go to Whole Foods to get it. If your store isn't carrying Greek Yogurt, look for plain, full fat yogurt (not vanilla!) and strain it. Take a fine sieve and line it with 2 layers of cheese cloth. Place this over a bowl and pour in your plain yogurt in, cover and place in the fridge overnight. What will happen? The yogurt will leak excess liquid, making for a thicker yogurt, perfect for use as a marinade, or even for dips and sauces.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

A Spicy Melange

For a Good Time, Click to Embiggen

This was fun and tasty!

Stay Tuned for more info...

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Thank you General

General Tso's Chicken--a lighter version
(lighter than delivery/take-out)
(My photo is sloppy, I spilled while plating up)

Last night's dinner came via email from Everyday Food. A lighter version of General Tso's Chicken. It was delicious, filling, not too difficult and it seemed pretty close to the take-out version in flavor, with a lighter, crispy coating.

A note before I get started. The recipe says this is for four people. I'm not too sure about that, we got two servings, no left0vers. I used 1/2 the full amount of veggies, because I'm stretching the veggies I bought to get me through a few meals. Perhaps with the full amount you might be 2 dinners and 2 small lunches...but I'm not sure you'd get four dinners.

Lighter General Tso's Chicken
from Everyday Food

Serves 4.

1 ¼ cups long-grain brown rice
¼ cup cornstarch
1 pound snow peas, trimmed and halved crosswise
4 garlic cloves, sliced
2 tsp fresh ginger, grated and peeled
3 TB light-brown sugar
2 TB soy sauce
½ tsp red-pepper flakes
2 large egg whites
Coarse salt and ground pepper
1 pound boneless, skinless chicken breasts, cut into 1-inch pieces
2 TB vegetable oil, such as safflower


1. Cook rice according to package instructions. Meanwhile, in a large bowl, stir together 1 tablespoon cornstarch and ½ cup cold water until smooth. Add snow peas, garlic, ginger, sugar, soy sauce, and red-pepper flakes; toss to combine, and set aside.

2. In another bowl, whisk together egg whites, remaining 3 tablespoons cornstarch, ½ teaspoon salt, and ¼ teaspoon pepper. Add chicken, and toss to coat.

3. In a large nonstick skillet, heat 1 tablespoon oil over medium-high. Lift half the chicken from egg-white mixture (shaking off excess), and add to skillet. Cook, turning occasionally, until golden, 6 to 8 minutes. Transfer to a plate; repeat with remaining oil and chicken, and set aside (reserve skillet).

4. Add snow-pea mixture to skillet. Cover; cook until snow peas are tender and sauce has thickened, 3 to 5 minutes. Return chicken to skillet (with any juices); toss to coat. Serve with rice.

*Use whatever rice you have. Brown rice is better for you; less processed, but don't run out and get brown, just for this recipe.
*This recipe calls for snow peas. I used green beans, as that's what I had. It works. Use broccoli if you like, as it is traditional with this dish. Use other veggies if you like. If you use broccoli or other larger veg, you may need to steam it first, so it doesn't have to cook for a longer time in the sauce.
*Red pepper flakes. I might use a full 1 tsp next time. I could use more spice. Use as much as you like.
*And the oil, I wouldn't use olive oil, but other oils work fine.

*Step one calls for ½ cup of cold water. It wasn't enough. When I poured the sauce mixture into my pan it seized up immediately and nearly started burning. I probably used a full cup of water. If you're comfortable, start with the ½ cup of water, but have more handy if you need, then add until you get the consistency you want for the sauce.
*Step two is the same as when I made the sweet & sour chicken earlier this month. You do need to work in batches, so your time is needed, but it's worth it. The coating is light and crisp with a subtle flavor. Also, I only used 1 ½ TB of cornstarch and 1 egg white for this recipe, half what is listed. It was plenty, so I got to save an egg for later!

Go forth and conquer.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Baked Ziti

We've been eating a wee bit more frugally lately. In addition, I've been trying to force myself to make dinners that save well for lunches. Too that end, we had another pasta/casserole type meal last night that used plenty of pantry staples and two ingredients I had on hand in the fridge from previous meals.

Baked Ziti with Ground Pork

This is a version of the Double Cheese Penne I've made many times before. And for meat & dairy eaters, what's not to like. Pasta! Pork/Sausage! Double Cheese!!!

This version:
1/2 ground pork
1 tsp olive oil
ground fennel


1/2 pound loose/bulk sausage.

Cook pork until cooked through. Try not to break the meat up into too small of bites. Most of it will break up on it's own. If some pieces stay more bite size, leave them. The texture is nice with the sauce and the cheese later.

When cooked through, set aside in a bowl.

Using the same pan, add

1 TB olive oil
4-6 cloves of garlic, minced
1 14 oz. can tomato puree (or 1 can diced tomatoes whizzed in the food processor)
1/2 heaping tsp dried basil
1/2 tsp sugar (my sauce seemed bitter--maybe from the garlic, so I balanced with some sweetness)
1/2 8 oz can of tomato sauce

Cook the garlic in the olive oil until fragrant. Add the basil and stir to incorporate. Add the tomato puree and sauce. Simmer for five minutes. Taste and adjust for seasoning.

Add the ground pork to the tomato sauce.

Cook 1/2 lb of ziti or other tubular pasta. When al dente, add to the sauce.

Pour pasta/sauce mix into a baking dish. Sprinkle with:

1/2 cup grated parmesan
1 cup shredded mozzarella

Bake for 15 minutes until melted, gooey and golden brown. Delicious.

We both had plenty for dinner and two containers for lunch! Woot.

And because it's fun...

A kitteh in a box. Boomer has developed a fondness for her empty box. When I'm annoying her and invading her personal space, she retreats to her box for a little R&R away from my grasp. The mouse...her second favorite toy. Her first? A torn strip of linen. She's always up for a rousing game of ribbon batting. Like kids, she's just as excited by the empty box and torn fabric as she is by the store bought toy!

Sunday, October 12, 2008

And it's not from a box

Shells & Cheese

A favorite comfort food in our house is Shells & Cheese from a yellow box with a foil pouch of a cheese-like sauce. It's alright. That's J-lo's preferred box. Mine is the old school blue box of Mac & Cheese.

Well tonight it was shells and cheese. From scratch. Mmm.

You don't have to use shells, but they take the sauce really well.

(beware, estimate quantities-I didn't measure)

3/4 lb pasta, cooked al dente

3-4 TB butter
3-4 TB flour
1/2 tsp dry mustard
1/2 tsp cayenne pepper
pinch of onion powder & garlic powder
fresh black pepper and salt

Melt butter of medium heat. Add the flour. Stir until all the butter is absorbed. Add the rest of the ingredients, stirring for 3-5 minutes. This will cook out the flour taste. You know have a flavorful roux.

1 cup water or light broth
1 1/2 cup half & half

Add the water and stir. The mixture will bubble, blurt and maybe even spit a little. When smooth add the half & half. Stir to incorporate.

1 1/2 cup shredded cheddar cheese
1 cup blended "Italian" shredded cheese (includes mozzarella, parm, provolone and others)

Add the cheese to the sauce in handfuls. Stir to incorporate. Add another handful. Continue until all the cheese in mixed in.

Taste the sauce and adjust seasoning as you see fit.

Pour sauce over the cooked pasta and stir until blended. Dump pasta into a baking dish.

Add some seasoned breadcrumbs to the top.

2 TB butter
1 tsp each of dried parsley, thyme and oregano
A few grinds of pepper and pinch of salt
1/2-3/4 cup dried, prepared bread crumbs

Melt butter in pan. Add the seasoning, pepper and salt. Stir in breadcrumbs and toast for 3-5 minutes until fragrant and nutty.

Once the crumbs are added to the top of the shells & cheese, toss the whole mess into the oven for 15 minutes at 350.


Thursday, October 09, 2008


PDX isn't a new airport in Philly...it's a Pennsylvanian winery called Paradocx...after the owners, a pair of doctors...pair of docs...paradocx! HILARIOUS!

When were were up in Philly in August, The Duchess took us to the Paradox tasting room outside of Philly and we had a great time. Our host was wonderful, full of information, friendly, attentive and willing to share a little extra taste of wine for some comparison shopping. We left with three bottles and a few weeks ago, finished two of them.

This Viognier was crisp and full of great flavor. The floral nose that is familiar to viognier drinkers was present but not obnoxious. Very pleasant.

The Pinot Blanc was also a friendly wine. Again, crisp and dry, with a light body. This would be a great wine on a hot, humid day in the middle of summer.

When we were at the tasting room, a customer came in carrying a paint can. Odd. Well, turns out that instead of selling Box Wine, they do sell canned wine for parties. One paint can full of wine. But they sell very well and have sold out on numerous occassions. And you get a stir stick with your can! The host was sweet on us and gave us a stick for hell of it.

The PDX wines don't fall in the $10 or under category; I think the bottles were $16-$30 each. Which is fine, they are a small winery and are not producing vast quantities of wine each year. Makes you appreciate the quality a bit more.

*A note on the labels. One of the doctor's mother is a painter and those are her paintings. Not something I'd decorate my house with, but very lovely on a wine bottle.

I'm so excited about lunch today

Last night, while inhaling my dinner (I wanted a second helping, but didn't..I was good), I started thinking about how exciting lunch was going to be tomorrow. I'm a little sad that way. In the middle of one meal I start thinking about the next.

So what did we have? Perhaps one of the best meatloaf recipes I've ever had. As I've said before, this is a big statement and one that elicit many responses, but of the meatloafs I've had, this is by far the best!

The recipe is: 72 Markets Street Meatloaf, which happens to be one of the top Google searches that bring readers to my site.

This recipe isn't hard, but it does take some time to get all the ingredients together. Let's get started!

Melt some butter so you can saute your vegetables. What kind of butter? Kerrygold Butter of course! Again, I'm not paid by them to say that...but I would happily take them as a sponsor!

Finely chopped veggies. Last time I manually diced everything. That can take some time, because you do want them finely diced. This time I whizzed them quickly in the food processor. We have onions, garlic, celery, red and green bell pepper and carrots. Missing--green onions...I used them the night before! Forgot they were for two recipes!

Saute the veg for 10 minutes, to cook out excess moisture and get them tender.

This mixture is blended with beef, pork (or sausage) and a moist mixture of eggs, spices, 1/2 & 1/2 and ketchup. Bake for 45-60 minutes. This is a sloppy mess and doesn't photograph well. Looks like it fell out of the ugly tree and hit every branch on the way down.

I started when I got home at 6pm and was hoping to have dinner by 730pm...we sat down to eat at 740pm...pretty good timing, but the prep for the meatloaf and later the mashed potatoes had me going virtually the entire time.

Was it worth it. YES!

Meatloaf is best served with mashed potatoes and gravy. The gravy here isn't the same gravy that comes with the original recipe. I sauted some shallots in butter and herbs, added flour to make a roux, added broth and simmered until thick and delicious. If you want further details, let me know and I can get more detailed.

Not Pictured: The green beans I forgot to steam and serve, they are still in the fridge for another day. Oops. Mashed potatoes make me forget things like: eat your vegetables.


Wednesday, October 08, 2008

It's getting chilly-time for soup!

A big bowl of savory soup, spicy soup. And easy!

I've made this before. I sort of made it up as I went. Called Asian Noodle Soup, the primary flavors are ginger, garlic, lime, jalapeno, cilantro*, soy sauce and fish sauce.

Here are the approximate quantities of the items in the soup, I threw this together, so I don't really know.

4 cups broth (chicken this time, pork last time)
2 inch knob of ginger, peeled and sliced
4 garlic cloves, peeled and smashed
1 small onion, diced (this time I used a leek)
2 carrots, cut into matchsticks
1 small jalapeno, diced
2 tsp olive oil
1 TB soy sauce
1 tsp fish sauce
2 tsp hot sauce
1 small chicken breast, sliced (optional)
Juice from 1 lime
Noodles, this bowl is lo-mein noodles

For garnishes: bean sprouts, cilantro, scallions

Simmer broth with garlic and ginger. Strain out garlic and ginger before serving.

Saute onion, jalapeno and carrot until fragrant, in the olive oil. Pour in the broth. Bring to a light simmer. Add the chicken if you are using.

When noodles are cooked, pour broth over the noodles. Garnish with sprouts, scallions or cilantro. Drizzle some lime juice.

Slurp away.

*Cilantro...try to use it. I grabbed the wrong bunch at the store...the one bunch of flat leaf parsley tucked into the basket of cilantro and I didn't notice it. The parsley was fine, but the cilantro actually has some flavor that works nicely here. Boo.

Monday, October 06, 2008

Pork or Beef?

Mahogany Stew with Pork

This was last night's dinner. The original recipe is Mahogany Beef Stew. It comes together quickly, then cooks in the oven until tender. Served here with couscous. Rich and tasty.

The change was instead of beef, I used some boneless pork spareribs that I cleaned of excess fat and cut into large chunks. They worked very well with the sauce. The rich meat held up to the rich gravy. In looking back at the recipe I missed a few things. I used less hoisin sauce, only 1/4 of a cup. I forgot the tomato paste and oregano. Didn't notice either missing. The tomato paste might have added a little acidity, which could balance the sweetness a little, but over all no noticeable difference.

A nice variation.

Friday, October 03, 2008

Road Trip

This place sounds like a little bit of heaven! Has anyone been?

I will be planning a trip to check it out. Mmm, German food.

Source: The DC Traveler

PS: Not only are we in the midst of Oktoberfest...today is also Tag der deutschen Einheit. The Day of German Unity, celebrating the reunification of Germany in 1990!

Thursday, October 02, 2008

Not Too Sweet & Sour Chicken

Last night I made Sweet & Sour Chicken with a recipe from Simply Recipe which came by way of Jaden's Steamy Kitchen, both great blogs!!! Having made a chicken with this type of coating before I was a little apprehensive. You see, the last time I made chicken like this, it turned out awful. So, I approached cautiously and too my time cooking the chicken. Guess what? It was great!

The big key here is to take your time and work in batches. Don't let your pan get overcrowded with chicken pieces, add them one at a time and make sure your pan it hot.

Start by letting your chicken rest in a marinade/coating of egg whites, salt and cornstarch. It's a small quantity, but coats the chicken sufficiently. This is the "style" of cooking I was referring to. The egg white/cornstarch batter. The last time I made it, I hurried the cooking along by dumping the chicken into the pan...along with the excess batter and got gross chicken...BTW...that's what that recipe had said to do, so I did what I was told...

I've added the chicken to the pan and made sure there was space between the bits. If the chicken is too close to one another, then as they cook, steam will generate and you won't get golden, crisp chicken, but soggy, gray chicken.

As the chicken cooks, you need to turn the pieces to make sure they get golden, brown and delicious on both sides. When these were done, they were very tasty. I'm sure they can be used for many different applications! They are almost 'batter fried' chicken bites, but with MUCH less oil and no flour. They would be great coated in any number of sauces, including a General Tso's or even a Buffalo sauce!

After the chicken is done, remove and keep warm on a plate. Then start your vegetables. I had two carrots and one bell pepper, so that's what I used. The recipe calls for one red and one yellow pepper. I'm sure you can add just about any veg you want. If you use carrots, give them about two minutes of solo cooking time before you add the peppers. They take the longest amount of time to cook. Add the peppers, cook, ginger, cook and then the pineapple. I don't love big chunks of pineapple in my sweet & sour, so I cut the chunks in half. My preference. I also only used about 1 cup of pineapple, vs. the whole can.

Once the veg have cooked most of the way, you add the sauce...brown sugar, vinegar, pineapple juice and ketchup. Some salt as well. Bring to a simmer.

Add the chicken back in and stir to coat. Cook for one final minute in the simmering sauce.

Serve over rice if you like. Sweet, not cloying and yet very tangy! This is a keeper.

Sweet and Sour Chicken
from Simply Recipe

* 1 pound of boneless and skinless chicken thighs or breasts, cut into 1" chunks
* 1 egg white
* 1/2 tsp kosher salt (1/4 tsp table salt)
* 2 tsp cornstarch
* 1 10-ounce can pineapple chunks (reserve juice)
* 1/4 cup juice from the canned pineapple
* 1/4 cup white vinegar
* 1/4 cup ketchup
* 1/2 tsp kosher salt (1/4 tsp table salt)
* 2-3 TB brown sugar
* 1 TB + 1 tsp cooking oil
* 1 red bell pepper, cut into 1 inch chunks
* 1 yellow bell pepper, cut into 1 inch chunks
* 1 tsp grated fresh ginger

1. In a bowl, combine the chicken with the egg white, salt and cornstarch. Stir to coat the chicken evenly. Let sit for 15 minutes at room temperature or up to overnight in the refrigerator.

2. In the meantime, whisk together the pineapple juice, vinegar, ketchup, salt, and brown sugar.

3. Heat a large frying pan or wok over high heat until a bead of water instantly sizzles and evaporates. Pour in the 1 tablespoon of cooking oil and swirl to coat. It's important that the pan is very hot. Add the chicken and spread the chicken out in one layer. Let the chicken fry, untouched for 1 minute, until the bottoms are browned. Flip and fry the other side the same for 1 minute. The chicken should still be pinkish in the middle. Dish out the chicken onto a clean plate, leaving as much oil in the pan as possible.

4. Turn the heat to medium and add the remaining 1 teaspoon of cooking oil. Let the oil heat up and then add the bell pepper chunks and ginger. Fry for 1 minute. Add the pineapple chunks and the sweet and sour sauce. Turn the heat to high and when the sauce is simmering, add the chicken pieces back in. Let simmer for 1-2 minutes, until the chicken is cooked through. Timing depends on how thick you've cut your chicken. The best way to tell if the chicken is done is to take a piece out and cut into it. If it's pink, add another minute to the cooking.

Taste the sauce and add more brown sugar if you’d like.