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Meaty (Meatless) Mushroom Pasta Sauce

19 Feb

sauce

Three things:

  1. The first thing DH asked me after he took a bite of this last night was whether there was meat in it. Answer: No. But the texture is just like a very hearty meat sauce. And my kids, who won’t touch identifiable mushrooms, ate some. Which was awesome.
  2. The next thing he said was that it may be the best pasta sauce he’s ever eaten. Score, ladies and gentlemen. Score.
  3. It’s super easy, very fast, and uses stuff you probably already have in your pantry. And it’s healthy.

I cannibalized this recipe from one in the defunct Gourmet magazine, which I miss very much and wish like heck would come back on paper or the iPad (did you know the iPad version is dead too? Sad, sad, sad.). Their recipe had chicken and rosemary and arugula and whole tomatoes and fancy-schmancy gourmet mushrooms and seemed like a bigger pain than necessary. I didn’t want chicken last night. I don’t like arugula despite its current trendiness. God made chopped tomatoes in cans and boxes for a reason (have you seen the boxed chopped tomatoes? My new favorite thing–they are amazingly good). I am a tightwad. And I don’t keep rosemary in the house. So improvisation was necessary.

We had this with pappardelle pasta, which is my favorite noodle of all time. The kids think it’s fine and DH isn’t much for it. You can’t win them all. This would work well on ziti or rotelle or shells, too. I am having more for lunch today, and am already smiling thinking about it–it’s really yummy.

pasta sauce

To make this, you need:

3 tbsp olive oil

1/2 a small onion, diced (I like Vidalias, but whatever makes you happy will work)

1/2 tsp salt

1/4 tsp black pepper

8 oz mushrooms, roughly chopped (I started with sliced button/white mushrooms and cut them into quarters).

3 cloves of garlic, minced

3 tbsp balsamic vinegar

1/4 cup chicken or vegetable broth (you can use water if you don’t have this, but the broth gives it a hint of extra yummy)

2 tsp dried basil, divided

1 28-oz can or box diced tomatoes, undrained

Pasta of your choice

Grated Parmesan cheese

Heat a large pan over medium heat and coat the bottom with the olive oil. Cook the onions until they’re soft but not brown–about 2 or 3 minutes if your pan is hot.

Stir in the mushrooms, garlic, salt, and pepper and cook until the mushrooms start to brown. They’re going to shrink and they’re going to give off their liquid. Do not panic. It’ll soak back up after a few minutes. When the mushrooms look like they’re starting to cook, stir in the chicken or veggie broth and let it go for a few minutes.

Once your mushrooms are brown, use the balsamic vinegar to deglaze the pan (stir it in and scrape up all the yummy brown bits o’ goodness up and into the mushrooms). Cook until the vinegar is thick and sticky, which is only a minute or two.

Stir in the tomatoes, pepper, and 1 tsp of the basil. Lower the heat and simmer for about 15 minutes, until the sauce thickens up a little bit. Stir in the rest of the basil, adjust salt and pepper, ladle over your cooked pasta, and top with grated Parmesan.

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Old-Fashioned Meat Sauce

31 Jan

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Know what’s weird? If you go to a restaurant and order spaghetti with meat sauce, the sauce is red. Buy it in a store? Red. I’ll even wager a guess that if your mom made meat sauce at home back in the day, it was red too. The meat sauce we all love (well, that I love, anyway) is red and tomato-y and comforting and the epitome of what Americanized Italian food is all about.

But. If you go online or to a cookbook and look up “meat sauce,” you’ll get a recipe for something that’s brown. Something that tastes more like seasoned beef than what we all know as spaghetti sauce. Bolognese, they say. It’s lovely, if what you’re looking for is a rich sauce that’s mostly meat. But in my house, we call that “smashed hamburger,” and it does not belong atop pasta.

We’re sophisticated like that.

So the other night, I cannibalized a few brown meat sauce recipes and came up with a red one that tastes like it should. It’s full of tomato and garlic and oregano and meat, and makes my Americanized palate very happy.

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This is not a fast recipe, but it is mostly hands-off. Make it on a day you have a few hours it can simmer on a very low burner. Totally worth it. This also makes a lot of sauce–the four of us had it for dinner twice, and I still have another dinner’s worth stashed in my freezer. It’s long, but it’s very simple. And it’s red. Which is good.

You need:

Olive oil

1 small onion, diced

2 cloves garlic, minced

1 pound ground beef (use ground chicken if you don’t eat beef–it mimics the texture of beef much better than turkey does)

2 tbsp oregano

1 tsp crushed red pepper flakes

1/2 tsp salt

1/4 cup evaporated milk (I used low-fat. You could also use cream or half and half)

1 28 oz can or box crushed tomatoes

1 8 oz can tomato sauce

3 tbsp tomato paste

1/2 cup red wine

1/2 cup basil leaves, pretty finely chopped (you don’t want big chunks o’ leaf in your sauce)

Heat a large pan or pot over medium heat. Coat the bottom with olive oil, throw in your onions, and cook them until they’re soft and golden (not brown). Once that happens, stir in your garlic and let it cook about 1 minute, keeping it moving in the pan so it doesn’t brown.

Crumble in the ground beef and cook until it’s browned. Add the oregano and hot pepper flakes. Stir in the evaporated milk and let that cook for about 15 minutes, stirring every so often, until the milk has mostly evaporated.

When you don’t see the milk in the pan anymore, add in the tomatoes, sauce, tomato paste, and wine. Stir everything together, reduce the heat to low, put a cover on your pan, and let the sauce simmer gently for a long time–I let mine go four hours–giving it a stir every once in awhile so the meat doesn’t start to stick to the pan.

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About a half-hour before you want to eat, uncover the pan and let it keep simmering. Just before serving, stir in the basil and adjust your seasoning. Serve over pasta with grated Parmesan cheese.

De-Vegetarianized Three-Bean Chili

22 Jan

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It is flippin’ freezing here in the Washington, D.C. suburbs. My handy-dandy LL Bean thermometer tells me it’s currently 18.2 degrees outside my back door, and the wind is whipping like Harrison Ford in a pit of snakes. (AND the Ravens are going to the Superbowl! Yahoooo!!!) Which means, of course, that it’s a fantastic week for chili.

This is a recipe I cannibalized modified from Cooking Light. Theirs originally had squash in it. Nobody in my house likes squash (yes, we’ve tried. Many ways. Many varieties. Not happening. Sorry.). I tried it with chunks of sweet potato. I loved it; nobody else did (*sigh*). So I did what any red-blooded American mom did when she wants a mostly healthy meal on the table that nobody will complain about, and added bacon.

You heard me. Bacon. To the bean chili. Which is decidedly no longer vegetarian, but is super delicious and very easy to make.

(If you don’t have or don’t want bacon in your dish, get yourself a bottle of smoked chipotle Tabasco sauce and add about a half-teaspoon to the chili instead to give it a similar smokey flavor.)

I made a big pot tonight and am saving it for tomorrow, because this is one of those recipes that gets better the longer it hangs out in the refrigerator. It has joined my list of go-to meals to share with people who could use a home-cooked dinner dropped at their door. Everybody Most of my family loves it (nine-year-olds are impossible to please and I am not taking it personally). And it’s mostly healthy.

One quick note: I am going to tell you how to make roasted red peppers. It is super easy and they’re fun to peel when they’re all crunchy and black, and they’ve become something of an obsession with me lately. If you would prefer not to share my joy in this particular department, go ahead and buy yourself a jar of roasted red peppers and chop a half-cup or so for your chili. I won’t tell.

I hope your house is cozy and warm, and I hope you’ll try this yummy chili, even though it’s not at all what I’m sure the good editors at Cooking Light intended when they came up with the first version. You need:

2 red peppers (or a jar of roasted red peppers already done)

3 slices of bacon, chopped up

1/2 an onion, chopped (I use Vidalia, but any yellow onion is great)

2 tsp ground cumin (roasted if you can find it–McCormick makes one)

1 1/2 tsp smoked paprika

1 tsp crushed red pepper flakes (smoked chipotle if your market has them)

1/2 tsp salt

1 tsp chili powder

2 cloves of garlic, minced

2 cups chicken broth

1 28-oz can or box chopped tomatoes

1 15-oz can red kidney beans

1 15-oz can cannellini beans

1 15-oz can black beans

Heat a large soup pot over medium heat and spray it with olive oil. Toss your chopped bacon in there and let it crisp up.

While that happens, slice your red peppers into four slices each. Cover a baking sheet with foil, spray it with oil, lay the pepper strips skin side up on the foil, and stick that under the broiler for about 5 to 10 minutes, until they’re all black. Remove them with tongs from your baking sheet, seal them up in a plastic zip-top bag, and let them hang out in their own steam for about 15 minutes.

Once your bacon is all crunchy, remove it from the pot with a slotted spoon, set it aside for later, and drain most of the bacon grease from the pot. Then, dump in your onion, stir it around, and let it get all soft–about 10 minutes.

After your onion is all cooked, add in the spices and garlic and stir for about 2 minutes. Stir in the broth, being sure to scrape up the yummy brown stuff from the bottom of the pan while you stir it in, and then your tomatoes.

By now, your peppers have worked their magic. Carefully remove them from the bag, lay them on a cutting board, and peel the black skin off with your fingers (chuck it). Chop up the roasted pepper that’s left, stir it into the pot, cover, and let that mixture simmer for 15 minutes or so.

Rinse your beans well, and then stir them into the pot along with whatever bacon you didn’t eat already. Cover again, let cook for about 15 minutes, shut off the heat, and either eat right away or stow in a covered container overnight (I highly recommend letting it sit overnight for best flavor). Enjoy.

Chicken Enchilada Pie

1 May

Y’all are going to have to forgive my photos today–it’s been one of those days. Apologies.

You know how you have those weeks (months, whatever) when you try to be inventive in the kitchen and you work with ingredients that everybody in your family likes, and then you put a steaming dish of deliciousness on the table and somebody under four feet tall pronounces it “disgusting”?

Been there. Been there a lot lately, actually. My daughter has decided that really, only mac n cheese (out of the blue box) and ham sandwiches are worthy of her increasingly discriminating palate. I’ve been doing a lot of shrugging and “more for me, then” talking, but it’s terribly frustrating, especially because she’s rejecting food I know she actually likes. And after awhile, it starts to wear a person down to the point that approaching the stove comes with a sigh, because the cook already knows that nothing is going to be good enough.

Right? If it makes you feel any better, we all go there. Plowing through is tough, I know (especially if you kind of put your heart and soul into dinner), but must be done. So today, I bring you our dinner from last night, which my little darling actually ate without complaint. I’m not sure if she actually liked it or she was just tired of being hungry, but she ate it. I’m calling it a success; I liked it, anyway.

This is a great dinner to make ahead and there are several stopping points along the way. This is awesomeness for working parents or busy parents who may not have the full 45 minutes or so all in one shot to make this. If you do, rock on and get ‘er done in one fell swoop. It’s all good.

The inspiration for this was a Cooking Light recipe. That one used ground beef; I’m using whole chicken breasts. It also had one more tortilla layer in there and used commercial taco seasoning, which the rest of us know is mostly salt and pretty well horrendous and expensive. They called for canned broth. Because I started with chicken, I could skip that.  I used a few different methods than they did as well, to further cut calories and to simplify things a bit.

The result is a chicken enchilada dish without the rolling, that bakes in a pie plate. Kids think real food that looks like pie is cool. Who am I to argue?

To make chicken enchilada pie, you need:

1 pound chicken breasts

1 tbsp chili powder

1 tsp ground cumin

1/2 cup chopped onion (I used half a Vidalia)

2 cloves of garlic, minced (I used frozen Dorot garlic–look by the veggies in your grocery freezer)

1 1/2 tbsp flour

1 8-oz can tomato sauce

2 tsp fajita seasoning (I get mine at the Spice Hunter and use it for all sorts of things–it’s salt-free)

1/2 tsp dried oregano

2 tsp chili powder

1 tsp ground cumin

3 whole-wheat or regular flour tortillas

1/2 cup shredded Mexican cheese (cheddar, jack…whatever you like)

Garnishes of your choosing: Guacamole, salsa, olives, onions, jalapenos, sour cream, etc.

Fill a saucepan 2/3 of the way with water. Bring that to a boil. Add in the first amounts of chili powder and cumin, and then carefully drop in your chicken breasts. Poach them until they’re cooked through, about 15-20 minutes. Carefully fish them out (don’t dump the liquid–you need some) and shred them with two forks (do this while they’re hot–it’s easiest). If you’re stopping here, put the chicken in a bowl, cover, and refrigerate, and do the same with one cup of the cooking liquid.

Coat a pan with olive oil, heat it over a medium burner, and cook your onions until they’re soft, about 5 minutes. Add the garlic, give it a stir to incorporate it into the oil, and add the flour, stirring constantly for about two minutes (to get rid of the raw flour taste). After that, stir in the rest of your spices. Stir in the tomato sauce and one cup of the chicken poaching liquid, bring everything to a boil, and let it cook for about two minutes. Turn the heat off.

Scoop out 1/2 cup of the tomato sauce you just made and set it aside. Into the pan with the rest of the sauce, stir your chicken to coat it all–it will not be super wet.

Spray a deep pie dish with olive oil and lay a tortilla in the bottom. Spread half the chicken mixture over the tortilla, Top with another tortilla, and layer the rest of the chicken on top of that. Your last tortilla goes on top. Pour the reserved 1/2 cup of tomato sauce on top of that, sprinkle your cheese over the sauce. If you need to stop here, cover the pie with plastic wrap and pop it in the fridge. Otherwise, keep going.

When you’re ready to finish dinner, heat your oven to 400 degrees. Put your uncovered pie dish on a cookie sheet (just in case it bubbles over), and bake it for about 15-20 minutes, until the cheese is melted and everything is hot. Pull it out of the oven, let it sit for five minutes, cut into wedges (I got eight out of mine), and serve with your garnishes.

Don’t-Tell-‘Em-They’re-Whole-Wheat Pancakes

2 Apr

Before you shake your head and mutter about whole wheat flour and head off to Paula Deen’s site for some real pancakes for the love of Bisquick, give me a second to tell you about Friday night.

Friday night starts in the mountains of western Maryland where, about 10 minutes outside of a lakeside area that makes its money almost purely on tourism, stands Annie’s Kitchen, which is a third-generation (I think) working-class, meat and mashed potatoes, over-easy eggs and scrapple kind of restaurant. Linoleum floors, mismatched tables and chairs, diner coffee cups from before Crate & Barrel started making them, and waitresses who know everybody in town, and every thing about every body. You know the kind of place–the hole-in-the-wall you only tried because you wanted something off the beaten path, and any shake-shack of a dive with that many pickup trucks in the parking lot had to have something going for it.

Once you try it, of course, you understand that this may well be the best breakfast joint you’ve ever had the supreme pleasure of visiting, and that unless you want a heart attack before your 50th birthday, you’d best not visit all that often.

We were not in western Maryland on Friday night, but our story starts there because when we are, my kids beg to go to Annie’s for breakfast. Pancakes, they say. At Annie’s.

So. Friday night was a meat-free night for our family. DH and I had enjoyed a large, late lunch and weren’t particularly hungry at 6 p.m., but the kids were starving. Wanting something simple in both the cooking and the clean-up department, I promised them pancakes; we’ve talked before about how I always make a mess of them and stow the extras in the freezer for very fast hot breakfasts later on. Pancakes for dinner become a two-fer in my house, and two-fers are gold this time of year.

I pulled out my handy-dandy copy of How to Cook Everything and flipped to the basic pancake recipe, and decided right then and there that it would be an outstanding night to muck around with it and see if there was any magic to be had in the healthy-but-good department. And so I swapped out this for that, upped this other thing over here, figured out how to add in a simple chemical reaction to give me lots of air bubbles in the batter and lighten things up (thank you, years of Alton Brown), messed with the mixing part a little bit, and produced a whole-wheat pancake. Which I spread with a little butter and a touch of syrup and served, without a word, to my little guys.

The 8-year-old took a bite and nodded and told me hers were really good. And the 10-year-old…guess what he said about these healthier pancakes with their grainy goodness?

“Mom…you made Annie’s pancakes! These are Annie’s!”

We had not, for the record, talked about Annie’s in weeks. Just so you know. And I am 99.99 percent confident that Annie’s pancakes are most definitely not whole wheat.

My kitchen smelled divine and I’ll have you know that my kids stuffed themselves with whole-wheat pancakes. The ingredient swaps and changes made them just as light and fluffy as regular flapjacks, and they froze and reheated beautifully so I still got my twofer. This recipe is absolutely our family’s new pancake standard, and I feel pretty darned good about that. I hope your family likes them just as much, because they are no more difficult than normal pancakes (which are really very easy). To make them, you need:

1 cup whole-wheat flour (I prefer King Arthur brand, which is soft and very easy to work with)

1 cup all-purpose flour

1 tbsp plus 1/2 tsp baking soda

1/2 tsp salt

1 egg plus two egg whites (the extra whites mean fluffy goodness with wheat flour)

2 tbsp vinegar mixed with enough milk to equal 1 1/2 cups (this’ll react with the baking soda for more fluffy stuff)

2 tbsp melted butter

Get your griddle heating up first–you want that bad boy to be screaming hot when the first pancake hits.

In a large bowl (I use my batter bowl), whisk together all the dry goods. Then, stir in the wet stuff with a whisk. Voila–your pancakes are ready to cook. Told you it was easy! Cook them on a hot griddle or fry pan until you see dry bubbles around the outer edges, and then flip them until they’re done.

Hint: The batter is going to fizz up a bit between batches as the baking soda and the vinegar get to know each other (and no you do not taste vinegar in these at all–trust me, my kids would revolt). Give the batter a quick stir before you pour each round of pancakes to get it to settle down and pour nicely for you. These are also going to want to stick to your griddle a bit, so give it a swipe of your nonstick goodness of choice between batches.

And don’t tell anybody our little wheat secret!

Perfect Lemon Cake

26 Mar

I noticed yesterday that the leaves on the Japanese red maple tree outside my dining room window have burst open from their buds. This makes me a bit giddy for two reasons: First, I wanted a Japanese red maple for years and finally received one as a Mother’s Day gift, and it’s right outside that window where I can see it from both my dining room and my kitchen, turning my happy place even happier this time of year (I am not a gardener–things that spring alive with color year after year without any intervention on my part are my favorites). And second, it’s the last tree in our yard to leaf out. When its little red leaves pop open, spring is officially here. And that, my friends, means it’s time for lemon. Lots and lots of lemon.

I become a lemon freak when the weather turns warm and the trees get their leaves and things seem lighter and fresher all-around. Salmon with lemon. Pasta with lemon. Asparagus with lemon. Lemon everywhere, and especially mixed with flour and sugar and butter and eggs, because lemon cake is among the most perfectly perfect desserts this time of year. This one I especially like because it’s light and airy and doesn’t put me into a food coma half an hour after eating a slice (or two).

I made this for dinner with friends on Friday night. It took about 10 minutes to put together the cake, which I cooled, wrapped in plastic, and let sit on my counter overnight; this is a great trick with anything lemon, because it lets that amazing citrus flavor develop and shine. The next morning, the icing came together in five minutes (Side note: this is the most amazing lemon frosting I’ve ever tried. I could easily eat it all by itself with a spoon and be very very happy). The cake was frosted, wrapped gently, and put in the fridge to await dinner.

This really is best served cold. It also dries out after day 3, mostly because you only frost the top of the layers, leaving the cake’s sides exposed. I doubt eating it all before then will be a problem. The recipe came from Cooking Light magazine, and I haven’t changed a thing except some of the more onerous directions that seemed pointless to me (we’ll talk about that soon). Definitely worth adding to your personal recipe box–it’s a favorite around here. To make it, you need:

For the cake:
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 cups sugar
1/2 cup unsalted butter, softened
3 large eggs
1 cup buttermilk (or 2 tbsp vinegar mixed into enough regular milk to measure 2 cups)
The zest of one lemon
2 tablespoons lemon juice

For the icing:
3 cups powdered sugar
1/4 cup unsalted butter, melted
The zest of one lemon
1/4 cup lemon juice

Preheat your oven to 350. Spray two 8-inch round baking pans with Baker’s Joy or another flour-added spray.

Beat sugar and butter together until they’re light and fluffy. Beat in your eggs.

Stir in 1 cup of the flour and all of your baking powder, baking soda, and salt. Then mix in your buttermilk (or substitute), and then mix in the last cup of flour–stir in the flour on your mixer’s lowest speed so it stays light and fluffy and doesn’t activate the glutens. Finally, stir in your lemon zest and juice.

Split your batter between the two pans. Give each one a good, firm whack on the counter to get rid of any air bubbles (this helps you get an even-topped cake). Bake for about a half-hour, or until a toothpick stuck into the center comes out clean. Let cool, wrap, and leave on your counter overnight (if you have overnight–if not, just let them cool all the way before you frost them).

To make the frosting, dump all of your ingredients into your mixer and let it beat it all together. Gently frost the top of your bottom cake layer, then carefully stack the layers and frost the top of layer #2. Wrap carefully and store in the refrigerator.

DIY Brownie Bites

12 Mar

Those boxes of pre-packaged mini-muffins and mini-brownies torture me in the grocery store. It’s not because I want them (at all), but because my kids do. They see friends snarfing them down at lunchtime and it’s all “Mom, please!” and “I’ll never ask for anything ever again,” and “You can have some too!”

Bleh.

You can’t explain (well, you can, but it won’t matter) to a 10 year old that those packages only loosely fit into the category of “food.” The kids don’t care that almost nothing on the ingredient labels of those things is found on the shelf of any grocery store, and they also don’t care that four or five mini-muffins is more than any one child needs at any one sitting. You can explain all of this, but it won’t help. They still want them. They’re fun! And cool! And yummy!

Ick.

Know what helps? Taking 10 minutes to throw together your own mini-snacks out of real ingredients that you can identify and control, and then dividing them up into reasonable portions and tossing them into your freezer for later lunchbox distribution. It helps even more if you involve your kids in making the goodies, because everything tastes better when you had a hand in it, yes?

We talked about this awhile ago, and I shared my DIY Little Bites recipe with you (it’s still a hit around here). Yesterday, my daughter donned her pink apron and her chef’s hat and her oven mitt, and we spent those 10 minutes making bite-sized brownies to bag and freeze and put into lunchboxes today in pairs, which are far more reasonable than the portion size in the boxes of the factory-made bites.

This is my favorite brownie recipe (note: if you’re making brownies from a mix, please go read the labels. Recognize all of what’s there? Any of what’s there? Right. This seriously takes seconds to throw together.) with a little baking powder thrown in; that helps lighten these and make them rise just a touch, so they look like the commercially-produced brownie bites. They taste better, though, and they’re not full of dexty-hywhatsis or poly-bythingies. Simple, pure ingredients. Sweet.

Don’t skip the paper muffin liners on these. I tried it. It wasn’t pretty. Just a hint. 🙂

DD and I had a ball making these and they’re happy in my freezer and a welcome, much more reasonable treat than the stuff my kids used to beg for at the Giant. To make them, you need:

6 tbsp butter

2 squares (1 oz each) unsweetened baking chocolate

1 cup sugar

2 eggs

2/3 cup flour

1 tsp vanilla

1/4 tsp salt

1/4 tsp baking powder

Heat your oven to 350 degrees and line a mini-muffin tin with paper liners.

Chop your chocolate (roughly) and cut your butter into tablespoons. Put those into a microwave-safe mixing bowl and nuke it for one minute. Take it out and stir it for a minute to melt the rest of the chocolate; if it doesn’t melt after stirring, nuke it again in 15-second increments, stirring well after each (over-nuking scorches chocolate. That’s gross.). If you don’t have a microwave, you can melt them together in the bowl set on top of a pan filled with water on the stove.

Once the chocolate is melted into the butter, stir in the sugar. Then, stir in the vanilla and eggs. Finally, stir in everything else. Drop by tablespoons into your mini-muffin tins and bake for about 12 minutes, or until done. Let cool.

I put mine into snack-sized bags, two in each bag, and then put all of those bags into a freezer bag and popped the whole mess into the cold box. In the morning, I pull out however many bags I want and put them into lunchboxes; they thaw in about 15 minutes.

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