Last Week’s Eats

I’m a little afraid of admitting it—I’d hate to jinx myself—but last week was a really successful week in the kitchen! A little sampling of the things I whipped up…

Black Bean Burgers:

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Sweet and Sour Chicken:

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Lasagna Rollups (without using a recipe!):

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Side note on the lasagna rollups: Toothpicks are a MUST. In every Pinterest post I’ve ever seen about lasagna rollups, there are NEVER toothpicks holding them together. Well, those people must have magical powers because if I wouldn’t have had toothpicks, these suckers just wouldn’t have happened.  Also, the curvy sides of lasagna noodles fall off MUCH too easily.  Someone should invent lasagna noodles that don’t do this.  It’s 2015, I’m sure it can be done.

Skinny Honey Lemon Chicken:

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The skinny honey lemon chicken was decent, but the sauce was more congealed and gel-like than I would have preferred. What bothers me more, however, is the fact that yet again, my final product looked nothing like the picture in the original recipe.

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It reminds me of this comparison of a marketing photo of a Big Mac, versus the actual product you get at McDonald’s. Of course the Skinny Honey Lemon Chicken looks like one of the best things I’ll ever eat, until I actually cook it and it looks like I stirred some chicken into a jar of Vaseline.  I realize blogs like Gimme Some Oven use professional photography and I use a non-fancy Canon with horrible lighting in my kitchen, but COME ON…

For the record, I did totally garnish mine with sesame seeds. You can’t even see them. Elusive, they are!

Also this week, I was going to make some oven-fried chicken until I spilled meatball casserole all over my oven and didn’t get around to cleaning it for several days.  So instead, I improvised a creamy noodle dish with seasoned sauteed chicken, and it was actually quite tasty!  I made the sauce from scratch, and it was by far the most flavorful sauce I’ve ever made without a recipe!

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This week I’ll be tackling squash browns (hash browns made out of spaghetti squash). It’s one of those things that will either go really well, or really terribly! Wish me luck!

Chili Mac in a Snap

I’m not a big fan of leftovers, with one exception: chili. And when I say “chili leftovers,” I’m not talking about the kind you stick in the fridge and eat the next day. I like to freeze my leftover chili and wait to stumble upon it a month later after I’ve forgotten about it—surprise, five minute dinner!

Earlier this week I realized I had two fewer chicken breasts than I originally thought, so I was picking through the freezer to find something else to cook for dinner. AHA! Deep in the freezer, I discovered some chili I’d frozen last month.

Normally the drill would be to thaw it overnight, heat it in a pot, and that would be that. On this particular occasion, however, inspiration struck.

I heated up the chili in one pot and boiled some ditalini pasta in another. While both were cooking, I grated some cheddar cheese. Feeling extra daring, I even tossed about a tablespoon of taco seasoning in with the chili.

Once the chili and the pasta were done, I combined the two and stirred in the cheese until I was left with an ooey gooey pot of wonder.

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Let me tell you, this tasted SO GOOD. I’m pretty sure it tasted even better just knowing it took only ten minutes of actual work to prepare. I honestly don’t know that I’ll ever just plain ol’ chili again when I freeze the leftovers!

What kinds of quick dishes do you like to make using leftovers from other meals?

Handmade pasta, take three: ravioli

After my last batch of homemade pasta turned out gray and smelly, I was doubting my decision to make homemade ravioli.  If there’s anything I’m good at, it’s learning from my mistakes–so, I figured out what went wrong and I fixed it and tried again.  In this case, my method of storing my fresh fettuccine in the refrigerator was to blame.  I proceeded with the ravioli, but this time I planned to freeze them until it was time to cook them.

I prepared the dough as usual (I’m getting to be a pro at this!) and used my pizza cutter to cut the dough into 2-inch squares–and yes, I measured them with a measuring tape!  Earlier in the night, I’d browned some ground beef and stirred in about 3/4 cup of ricotta.  In the middle of my first dough square, I plopped a small amount of beef mixture I’d measured using a melon baller (this was PERFECT).  I blanketed the mixture with another square of dough and squeezed the two squares together around the meat and cheese.  Then I trimmed the edges of the ravioli with the pizza cutter and I had my first, and damn near flawless, handmade ravioli!

It took me an hour to complete the rest of the ravioli–although, my stepson and even my husband contributed to the cause and made their own!  When the last of the dough had been used up, I was so proud of my ravioli I almost teared up a bit.  Never had I imagined I could pull off something like this:

I slipped these babies into a freezer storage bag and popped them in the freezer, crossing my fingers they’d be edible the next night.  When the next night (i.e., last night) rolled around, they cooked up fabulously!  I was slightly afraid they would come open in the boiling water and leak out beef and ricotta, but every single one stayed perfectly intact.  And–holy smokes–I couldn’t believe how good they tasted.  I will NEVER purchase pre-packaged ravioli again!

I had my doubts after the fettuccine incident, but I can say with certainty that this Two Week Technique has been my most successful yet.  Next up will be steaming, since my grandmother gifted me with an amazing steam pan set when I got married!

Handmade pasta, take two: herbed fettuccine

I’m going to mentally return to my first batch of homemade pasta–the bowties that turned out to be such a success.  You see, revisiting the successful moments in my mind is what keeps a girl like me sane.  Otherwise, I’m left to dwell on my second (and failed) attempt at homemade pasta.

The goal of round two was to make basil-and-thyme fettuccine noodles.  In the beginning, all seemed perfect.

I did struggle a little cutting the dough; who has the patience to cut perfect, even fettuccine noodles by hand?  (Hint:  not me.)  Cutting the noodles so they were the same length and width was a challenge.  They still looked pretty good when I was finished, considering!

And that’s the last hopeful photo you’ll ever see of my basil-and-thyme fettuccine.  Since it would be a couple of days before I’d need the pasta, I followed the recipe’s instructions to store the noodles in an airtight container in the fridge.  My guess is that my container wasn’t quite airtight enough, because when I opened it, this is what I saw:

Gray.  Gray.  Gray.

They smelled funky, too.  Not “bad,” just not “good.”  Not like fresh pasta.  My fettuccine joined my Cream-Filled Cake Roll in food heaven.

Tonight I’m going to make some ravioli.  Somehow crossed fingers just don’t seem like enough.

Oh, before you move on from reading this:  does anyone else see the resemblance between this egg, soy sauce, and garlic mixture, and a big ol’ puddle of vomit?

Happy eating!

Handmade pasta, take one: bowties

As much as I’ve grown to love cooking, I didn’t miss it one bit while I was on my–wait for it–HONEYMOON!  After the most incredible week in San Diego with my husband, I half-assedly opened the bridal edition of my BH&G cookbook and struggled to find motivation to cook anything.  Following the excitement of our honeymoon–Seaworld, the San Diego Zoo, Mission Beach, zip lining over the Safari Park, and surviving rush hour traffic in a city three times the size of my own–standing over the stove felt like the equivalent of watching paint dry.

I’d flipped through half the cookbook with a peculiar absence of interest when I stumbled upon the chapter about handmade pasta.  Suddenly, my mojo was back.  Time for Two Week Technique:  Handmade Pasta Edition!

The biggest reserve I had about attempting handmade pasta was that I’d be doing it without a pasta press.  But hell, what would I be learning if I did things the easy way?

Surprisingly, rolling out the dough wasn’t nearly as difficult as I’d thought it would be.  Back in the day when I didn’t know a cheese grater from a garlic press, I couldn’t properly operate my rolling pin to save my life.  I’d primarily used it while trying to roll out sugar cookie dough, which resulted in a trip to the grocery store to purchase a tube of Pillsbury cookie dough because my own batch had stuck to the rolling pin like paste.

After I rolled out the dough, I cut it into a rectangle and then cut that rectangle into many rectangles.

At that point, I took each rectangle and squeezed together the top and the bottom to make bowtie shapes.  After the first of four batches, my stepson wanted to help and we busted out a whole tuxedo shop’s worth of pasta bowties.

The recipe stated the bowties could be dried for up to two hours.  At the two-hour mark, many of them were still pretty doughy and flexible, but I really wanted to follow the rules on this one.  I transferred them to a Pyrex container and crossed my fingers.

The bowties sat in my fridge for a night and tonight, I whipped up some turkey meatballs with spaghetti sauce to serve with the pasta.

Although I do feel I made the bowties just a smidge too big, the taste and texture were just what I had hoped for!  I’m definitely ready to take on more handmade pasta–next time, with a little bit of pizazz.  🙂

Creamy Pasta with Spinach and Kielbasa

Well, butter my butt and call me a biscuit.  Ladies and gents, I’ve pulled it off!  I envisioned a recipe of my own creation and for the first time, it came out EXACTLY like I was hoping it would.  Ohmyfreakinggoodness, I’m beaming with pride.  I have no idea what to call it, so I’ve dubbed it “Creamy Pasta with Spinach and Kielbasa.”  Okay, if I continue down this path of creating my own recipes, the names are going to need some work.  But for now, the obvious will have to do.

Here it is.  My pride and joy.

Some of you are probably skeptical.  Pictures can be deceiving, right?  My fiance says this was delicious–yes, he used the word “delicious” in regards to my cooking.  So for any non-believers, here is the recipe.  Try it out.  I promise that it won’t make you gag.

Ingredients:
-8 oz. dry linguine
-1/2 cup chopped onion
-2 cloves minced garlic
-1 cup finely chopped fresh spinach
-13 oz. turkey kielbasa, sliced into bite-sized chunks (or kielbasa of your choice, but I recommend the turkey)
-2 tbsp. butter
-2 tbsp. flour
-1 1/2 cups whole milk
-1 tsp. Italian seasoning
-Salt and pepper
-Cooking spray

1)  Cook pasta according to package directions.

2)  Spray a large skillet with cooking spray.  On medium-high heat, saute the onion and the garlic for 2 minutes.  Add the kielbasa pieces and cook 2-3 minutes or just until they begin to darken on the outside.

3)  Add the spinach to the skillet and cook about a minute, until it begins to wilt.  Transfer the onion, garlic, kielbasa, and spinach to a bowl and reduce heat to medium.  Return the skillet to the burner.

4)  Add the butter to the skillet.  Once it has melted, add the flour and whisk until it has formed a roux.  Stir in the milk, and continue to stir until the mixture is thick and bubbly.  Add the Italian seasoning and salt and pepper to taste.

5)  Return the onion, garlic, kielbasa, and spinach to the skillet; stir them together with the sauce.

6)  Drain the pasta and add it to the sauce.  Stir until everything is well combined.  Serve, and enjoy!

 

(Below:  random butter picture.  Because who doesn’t start drooling at the sight of sizzling, melting butter?)

Pinterest-free week, day four: Chicken Tetrazzini

I’ve been wanting to make Chicken Tetrazzini (sans mushrooms) for some time now.  Last night, I pulled chicken out to thaw so I could make it tonight.  Then, on somewhat short notice, it was decided that my mom would be joining my fiance and me for dinner.

Cue the suspenseful music.

I fretted about it all day.  I thought at least a dozen times of making something else, something I’d be less likely to ruin.  Finally, I settled on making the Chicken Tetrazzini and I promised my mom I’d buy her a hamburger if it didn’t turn out well.

When she arrived at my house, she was horribly stoked that I was cooking her dinner.  In case you’re wondering, yes, my mother reads my blog.  She knew what she was getting herself into.

Anyhow, this is how things started:  two minutes after my mom arrived, she watched me dump a tenth of a box of pasta directly onto the floor.  Ten minutes later, as I juggled the tasks of stirring the pasta, cooking the chicken, and whisking the sauce, from the dining room she heard nothing but me mumbling, “Okay, it’s okay, this is still salvageable.”  This was uttered when I discovered, after nearly burning my green onions and butter, that I had been sauteeing them on high heat instead of medium.

There were a few more little hiccups along the way, but I finally got the pan in the oven so it could bake for 15 minutes.  This is where I got REALLY nervous.  After all, my last attempt at baking long pasta was a big flop.  Knowing that my mom, a truly GREAT cook, was going to be eating this Chicken Tetrazzini, I was superbly anxious to see how it turned out.

Fifteen minutes later:

To my great relief, when we dished it up, it was nice and gooey, just like a creamy pasta dish should be.

The best part (oooooo, I’m going to squeal just thinking about it):  my mom, my fiance, and I all thought it was delicious!  Ohmygod it was so stinking good.  So good, in fact, that I had to take this picture:

Here’s the thing with Chicken Tetrazzini.  I’d held off on making it in the past because I was looking at recipes online and on Pinterest, and they all made it seem more complicated than it really is.  None of the online recipes I read made it look like something I could pull off.  What encouraged me to make it was the recipe I found in my Better Homes & Gardens cookbook (they should really start paying me to market that sucker).  I couldn’t believe how easy it was to follow.  And look what it got me?  THREE CLEAN PLATES!

Weak sauce

I can’t decide which is worse:  food that tastes bad, or food that tastes like nothing.  Last night marked my second meal in a row that was as bland as a glass of water.

Earlier in the week, I whipped up some simple pork meatballs:  ground pork, egg, bread crumbs, garlic, and onions.  While they baked in the oven, I combined butter, maple syrup, and soy sauce for a glaze.  I didn’t follow a recipe, although I had used several maple glaze recipes for inspiration.  I did make sure to taste test along the way and it truly was pretty tasty.  When the meatballs came out of the oven, I dumped them in the pot of glaze and let them simmer in the sticky mixture for a bit before I spooned the finished product over a bed of white rice.  The glaze was pretty good by itself, but once it was on the meatballs and the meatballs were on the rice, you could hardly taste it.  It was like eating plain meatballs and plain white rice.  *Pout*

So I tried again last night.  I didn’t have anything planned for dinner and wasn’t up for a trip to the grocery store.  Using what I had in my kitchen, I made up a pasta dish.  I sauteed chicken breast pieces in a ridiculous amount of garlic, and then I added butter to the remaining juices and made a simple white sauce.  To the white sauce, I added corn, black pepper, and two strips of chopped bacon.  I stirred the chicken into the sauce and poured it all over a serving of egg noodles.

On the bright side, I have finally mastered the thick, creamy texture of your basic white sauce.  The downside:  the sauce tasted like liquid flour.  Even with the garlic, the chicken juices, the pepper, and the bacon, it tasted like a whole lot of nothin’.  How could I have been so stupid to not taste it before I served it?  After my first bite, I made a face at my fiance and reached for the salt shaker.  I’d assumed that since I was adding bacon, the sauce wouldn’t need any salt.  My fiance laughed when I said this, informing me that it would take WAY more than two strips of bacon to flavor a sauce to that extent.  Guess I’m not a bacon expert quite yet…

I’m really struggling with the concept of flavor.  I try to keep it simple because I’m still learning which flavors work well together and which flavors don’t, but simple is equating to bland, bland, bland.  What’s the best way to learn how to combine flavors when cooking?