Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Fancy Soup for a Sick Husband

We were so excited in November for our annual anniversary trip to Solvang (yes, I'm just blogging from November, don't judge).  We had a great hotel booked, we had booked a limo for wine-tasting (since we both taste, we always get a designated driver of some sort), and we were really looking forward to our chosen restaurants.  The day before we were scheduled to leave, my husband broke the news: he was really not feeling well.  We went back & forth, but decided to go on our trip, just cancelling the alcohol portions of the trip.  More to follow on Solvang.  The night before we left, I knew that my husband would want soup for dinner, but I really wanted to start celebrating and didn't want to heat up Campbells Soup.  I decided to go with this Tortellini Soup with Beans and Spinach, which I saw on both Annie's Eats and Elly Says Opa and adapted to my needs.  By adding hot Italian Turkey Sausage instead of the beans, this soup had a real kick that was perfect for my husband's cold, but was really hearty as well.  I think beans and sausage would be great, too (I forgot the beans).  I was sorry that I had to make it under these circumstances, but it was a tasty new recipe!

Tortellini Soup with Sausage and Spinach
1/2 lb hot Italian Turkey Sausage
1 tsp olive oil
1 medium onion
3 cloves garlic
14.5 oz can diced tomatoes, undrained
1 quart low sodium chicken stock
1/2 tsp crushed red pepper
Oregano, basil, Italian Seasoning, to taste
1 small package fresh tortellini
1 bag fresh baby spinach
Cook sausage in olive oil in large stock pot until no longer pink.  Push to the sides of the pan and add onion, cooking until just golden.  Add garlic and cook until fragrant, about 1 minute.  Add tomatoes and stock and bring to a boil.  Add spices and simmer for 10 minutes.  Add tortellini and cook about 7 minutes or until tender.  Turn off heat and stir in spinach until just wilted.  Serve immediately, topped with parmesan cheese if desired.

Sunday, January 29, 2012

Easy Peasy Mac & Cheesy

I have finally found a stove top Macaroni & Cheese recipe that measures up to the "Blue Box."  I'm so thankful to "Confections of a Foodie Bride" for the most important tip: American cheese.  I know most of us bloggers like to think of ourselves as a step beyond the processed cheese food product, but lets face it, I can't exactly pretend I'm so food-snobbish when I'm looking for a replacement recipe for Kraft Mac & Cheese, right?  While I used the American cheese tip, I kind of combined the recipe with my standard white sauce technique instead of using the Greek yogurt, mostly because I completely forgot to get any at the store before making this recipe.  I really liked how this came out with my non-fat white sauce mixed with American cheese, lots of peas and some cubed ham.  A very easy, but filling recipe, especially when using whole wheat pasta as I did here.  I made this on a night that the husband wasn't around, but I was really surprised to find that he enjoyed the leftovers as much as I did.  I guess some flavors from our childhoods have universal life-long appeal, and American cheese is one of those flavors.  I couldn't stop eating my little slices of American cheese (I bought thick slices in the deli section and thinly sliced those slices instead of shredding, since we have no blocks of American cheese for sale)!

Stovetop Macaroni & Cheese with Ham & Peas (Inspired by Confections of a Foodie Bride)
8 oz macaroni or short pasta of your choice (I used whole wheat rotini)
8 oz American cheese, grated (or sliced as described above)
1 Tbs Unsalted Butter
1 Tbs All Purpose Flour
1 Cup fat free milk
1-1 1/2 cups frozen peas, thawed (I threw mine in with the pasta for the last couple minutes)
1/2 cup diced ham
Cook pasta according to package directions until al dente (throwing in peas to thaw for last 2-3 minutes of cooking time).  Meanwhile, in a medium saucepan, melt butter and add flour, making a roux.  Cook for about 1 minute.  Add milk and stir continuously and vigorously to ensure no lumps.  When sauce just comes to a boil, it will be thickened.  Add cheese gradually, stirring well until melted before adding next handful.  Pour over drained pasta/peas, add ham, and mix well.  Season with salt and pepper and serve warm.  Makes about 4 servings.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Black Bean Corn Quesadillas

When I was younger, my favorite after school snack was a flour tortilla and juice (my, I loved my carbs back then, too!).  At some point, I realized that there was a concoction called a "quesadilla" which involved yummy melted cheese folded in between said tortilla, and I was set.  In my opinion, cheese tastes so much better when melted, and added to the yummy that is a warm tortilla, I had my perfect snack.  Now of course, I try to avoid such heavy things as snacks (seriously, where was the fresh fruit in my youth?).  But lately I've been loving the black bean, corn and bell pepper combination and I thought that putting that all together in quesadilla form wouldn't be a bad idea.  I searched the internet for some ideas and found this recipe from allrecipes that I used as a base for proportions, but changed it quite a bit using my own ideas and one of the comments regarding oven baking and still getting crispy/gooey results.  I originally intended to add chicken, but honestly, just ran out of room on the tortilla and found I didn't miss it at all.  This is a great way to enjoy quesadillas as a main meal.  The beans are so creamy that you don't need to add nearly as much cheese, and the spices, plus the crunchy sweetness of the bell pepper and corn add up to a perfect combination of flavors and textures.  This is actually going on the meal plan again in the next week!

Black Bean and Corn Quesadillas (inspired by allrecipes)
2 teaspoons olive oil
1/4 of small onion, finely chopped
1/2 of  1 (15.5 ounce) can black beans, drained and rinsed
1/2 cup frozen corn kernels
1/2 red bell pepper, diced
1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes
1/2 teaspoon cumin
1/4 teaspoon ground oregano
4 soft taco size (8 inch) flour tortillas
2/3 cups shredded cheddar or Mexican cheese blend
Cooking Spray

Preheat oven to 450 degrees.  In a skillet or saute pan, heat oil over medium high heat.  Add onion and cook until soft.  Add peppers and cook until onions start to carmelize.  Add beans, corn and spices and heat until warmed through, about 3 minutes.  On a pizza stone or cookie sheet sprayed with cooking spray, lay out two tortillas.  Top with warm veggie mixture and 1/3 cup cheese each, then top with the remaining tortillas.  Spray tops of tortillas with cooking spray.  Bake in oven for 10 minutes or until cheese is melted and tops reach desired golden brown color.  Enjoy with sour cream, salsa and/or guacamole.  Makes 2 quesadillas.

Friday, January 13, 2012

Lets Hear it for the Lemons!

This blog periodically hints at the fact that I'm from Santa Barbara.  I'm really lucky to live here and I definitely try and live it up by enjoying the lifestyle as much as I can.  What most readers don't realize is that while I was raised in Santa Barbara proper, I've lived in the neighboring city, Goleta, for the last 15 years (wow, I had to calculate that a few times to realize how long it has been!).  Goleta hosts the California Lemon Festival every year in October, and the park in which it is held is quite close to where we live.  It is really a great little festival and includes a really cool classic car show on Saturday.  2011 was the first year in a long time that the husband and I were able to go to the Lemon Festival together, and the first year ever for him to actually see the classic cars.  We really made quite a day out of it, strolling through the cars, eating some yummy treats and waiting in a really long line for the above treat, only to be told they were out of whole pies, so we had to come back and wait in the really long line AGAIN!  It was definitely worth it.  I highly recommend other Californians to visit Santa Barbara's lesser known sibling, Goleta, for the Lemon Festival and to get at least a slice of pie.  You won't regret it!

Full disclaimer: Usually I wouldn't post something about a pie I didn't bake, but my husband really wanted this up on the blog, he was so excited about this pie.  Now back to your regular (or not so regular) posts!

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Eggplant Parmesan Stacks

There is no doubt that the picky eating that I stuck with in my youth was inherited from my daddy. My brother, sister and I learned "eeewww" from the best, and we're all slowly recovering from that in our adulthood. I was recently talking to my dad about my vegetable delivery service and how it made me realize how much I really love eggplant. I got a classic crinkly nose from my daddy, and even as I tried to explain that if it is cooked properly, eggplant is delicious, he kept arguing that he just KNOWS he doesn't like it, no matter how it is cooked (along with all squash, all of which, he says, is too squishy). Really, I'm happy with more eggplant for me! I've learned some tricks, including buying eggplant on the smaller side and slicing/salting/sitting for a little bit (and rinsing) before using in a recipe. All of this keeps the texture just firm enough and the flavor slightly sweet. I found this recipe on Cooking This and That and thought it would be the perfect way to use the small eggplants I received in my vegetable delivery basket (one of my last ones before I chose to cancel for the winter). As I'm reading the recipe to see what I changed, I realize that I changed quite a lot! I made these into stacks, but didn't create a lasagna style filling the way the original recipe called for. This is baked, not fried, but still had lots of flavor. After baking, I just stacked up the eggplant disks with a spoonful of (heated) pasta sauce and one leaf of fresh basil. The top slice received a generous amount of mozzarella before I covered the pan to simmer and melt everything together. My husband, who likes eggplant okay, but isn't a huge fan, thought this was a great Eggplant Parmesan. I will definitely make this again next summer when eggplant is in season again.

Eggplant Parmesan Stacks (adapted from Bite This via Cooking This and That )
2 lbs of eggplant (two small) sliced into 1/2 inch disks
1 egg, lightly beaten
1 cup bread crumbs (I used standard Italian Seasoned)
1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese
Cooking Spray
1 24 oz jar pasta sauce
1 cup mozzarella cheese

Place slices of eggplant into a colander. Sprinkle salt on both sides and allow to sit about 15 minutes. Rinse to remove salt and any "goop" that develops, then dry each slice well. Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Set up dipping trays: one tray with the lightly beaten egg, one with the bread crumbs and parmesan cheese mixed together. Dip each eggplant slice in egg and then bread crumbs, flipping to cover both sides. Place each slice on a cookie cooling rack on top of a foil lined cookie sheet (this set up allows for really crispy oven fried goodness, I highly recommend it!). Bake for 20-30 minutes until golden and crispy, rotating once. Meanwhile, gently heat pasta sauce in a large skillet. Dip both sides of eggplant in the sauce, then top with a basil leaf before stacking with the next sauce dipped eggplant slice. Continue until 3-4 slices high, then top with about a 1/4 cup of mozzarella. Repeat with other eggplant slices until you have 4 stacks. Cover and simmer until mozzarella is just melted. Serve with pasta and remaining sauce.

Monday, January 9, 2012

Spicy French Dip Sandwiches

I hear it all the time in the blog world: "I wish I could use my slow cooker more often, it is so convenient!"  But often, bloggers don't like the "cream of..." soups that go with a lot of slow cooker meals.  When I saw this recipe on Cooking With Christen, I knew it had potential.  I stuck with the original recipe from A Year of Slow Cooking because I loved how simple it was - Beef, Peperoncinis... that's it!  After the recipe finished up and I gave it a quick taste test, I also added about a teaspoon of Tabasco sauce to spice it up to our tastes.  This was a good recipe, but if I make it again, it will be for a crowd, as it was way too much food for just the two of us, and I can't eat that much beef anyway because I get a "stomach full of anger" (thank you Tour de France racer Andy Schleck for that awesome and totally unrelated to digestion quote!).

Peperoncini Beef Sandwiches (from A Year of Slow Cooking via Cooking with Christen)
2 lbs Beef Chuck Roast
1 16 oz jar whole peperoncini peppers
1 tsp Tabasco Sauce
6 Slices cheese (mozzarella, swiss, or provolone as shown here)
12 slices toasted bread or 6 toasted sandwich rolls

Place beef and entire contents of pepper jar into 4-6 quart slow cooker.  Cook all day (8+ hours) on low setting.  Add Tabasco if needed.  Shred meat with 2 forks.  Dish onto bread and top with cheese.  If cheese needs help melting, place open sandwich in toaster oven on broil for about 30 seconds. 

Sunday, January 8, 2012

Caramelized Scallops

I thought about not blogging this particular recipe.  It was probably my least successful scallop recipe I've ever cooked.  However, I think my problems were entirely due to my ridiculous stovetop and not the recipe, so I'm going to go ahead and blog about it in the hopes that some of my readers actually have stoves that have gradiation (you know, like turn dials)  instead of the ever-so-ancient electric push button style I've got.  My stove just doesn't get hot enough, even when I've got my "number 3" hottest setting, to caramelize the scallops nor cook down the sauce fast enough.  The scallops pictured here were not the rich golden color I prefer, the sauce was a little runny, and the absolute worst was the fact that the scallops got a little rubbery while I waited for the sauce to thicken up.  Bummer, since the most important tip to delicious scallops is to err on the side of undercooking.  Scallops are expensive, too, so I would have loved for this recipe to have turned out.  But, again, I do believe all my issues had to do with my poor stovetop, which really suffers from lack of subtlety in temperature.  Hopefully, someday soon, I will finally be able to leave my (adult) lifetime of apartment living behind and will move into a condo with a better stove (fingers crossed for 2012!), but until then, I probably can't afford scallops anyway!


Caramelized Scallops (from Annie's Eats)
12 large sea scallops
Pinch of kosher salt
Freshly ground black pepper
4 tablespoons butter
½ cup white sugar, spread on a flat plate
½ cup dry white wine
Juice of one lemon, freshly squeezed
1 tbsp. finely chopped flat parsley
8 chives
1 tbsp. lemon zest
Rinse and dry the scallops well. Season both sides of the scallops with salt and pepper.  Heat a skillet on medium-high for 2 minutes. Add the butter and swirl to coat the pan. When the butter begins to foam, prepare the scallops quickly. Working efficiently, coat one side of each scallop in sugar, grasping the sides and using a gentle twisting motion to help the sugar adhere. Place the scallops sugar side down in the skillet and sauté for 2½ minutes. If the sugar starts to brown too quickly, reduce the heat. Flip the scallops over and cook for 1 minute more. Add the white wine and lemon juice to the pan and reduce by half, about 1½ minutes. Transfer the scallops to a platter or serving dishes. Pour the pan juices over the top and garnish with chopped parsley, chives and lemon zest. Serve immediately.