Saturday, May 7, 2011

OhMy Spaghetti Sauce

Ok, I know I already posted my crock pot spaghetti sauce, but here's a new one, and I think it's even better! Plus, it's a great way to hide extra veggies for those picky eaters you know and love, and it's excellent either with meat or without. I'm going to post the vegetarian version, since that's what is pictured here.

That is actually a picture of our stuffed manicotti, a joint effort at our house. The whole dish is a bit of a pain (although very worth it), so I'm not posting it here. But the sauce works fantastically in this, or spaghetti, or pizza...

1 can Rotel tomatoes (as always, sub regular diced tomatoes if you don't like spicy)
1 large can tomato sauce
1 can tomato paste
2 or 3 carrots
1 squash (yellow or zucchini -- great either way)
1 small can black olives
1/2 an onion
onion powder

The only annoying part of this recipe is grating the carrots and squash. I use a potato peeler and just keep peeling until I can't hold onto the vegetable anymore. You could also use a cheese grater. So, grate the carrots and the squash, whichever way works best for you.

Next, melt some butter in a saucepan over medium heat and briefly saute some minced garlic in it. Then add the carrots and squash and saute them for a few minutes while you dice the onion. Add the tomatoes, tomato sauce, tomato paste, olives and onion. Mix well, then add the dill and onion powder (you know I don't measure seasonings! Just add however much looks right!) and mix well again. Keep stirring while you bring the sauce up to a bubble, then reduce heat to very low, cover, and simmer, stirring occasionally.

Here's the thing about this sauce -- the longer you simmer it, the better it's going to be. When we made that manicotti, the sauce simmered for a couple of hours, and it was amazing. As always, if you're in a hurry, you don't HAVE to do it that long, but it's not going to knock your socks off quite the same!

If you don't want to go vegetarian with it (although you really don't miss the meat), just brown 1 pound of ground beef, then add it to the sauce when you add everything else. If you don't want meat, but do want a little more meaty texture, add some mushrooms.

Squash Boats

So, WIC thinks we need to eat more beans, apparently. I'm not a big fan, but I didn't need four more cans of chickpeas, so we got a couple different kinds and I was determined that I would find something tasty to do with them. This is what I came up with for the pinto beans (I also needed to use up my last squash!).

1 large yellow squash
1 can pinto beans
1 can sliced olives
1/2 an onion
1 can Rotel tomatoes (if you don't like spicy, just sub regular diced tomatoes)
olive oil

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

First, slice the squash in half down the center (so that they're still round). Then slice them down the middle and scoop out the meaty part, leaving the rind intact. Drain the olives and tomatoes, and drain and rinse the beans. Dice the onion. In a bowl, combine the squash meat with the other veggies.

Once you have everything in the bowl, drizzle with olive oil, add some minced garlic, and mix well. Now brush some olive oil on the inside of the squash rinds, or boats. Scoop the veggie mix into the boats and bake for 10-15 minutes, depending on how well done you like your squash.

As long as your squash is not shaped oddly, you should be able to get 4 boats out of one squash. You will have lots of veggie mix left over, so you could either use more squash to make more boats, or do what I did -- I used the extra to cover some chicken legs and wings and baked them for about 45 minutes. I won't lie, though; the chicken was juicy and good, but not the high point of this dinner -- the veggie mix was!

The next time I make this, I am going to add some herbs and other stuff to the olive oil. Maybe cilantro, maybe dill, probably some lemon juice...I haven't decided yet. And definitely a little bit of corn.

Super Easy Potatoes

I made this tonight to go along with Vann's awesome barbecued chicken (he invented a wonderful sauce, but it takes forever to make). This is so easy and very tasty.

1 can of sliced new potatoes
1/2 an onion
5 mushrooms

6 Tablespoons olive oil
juice of 1 lemon
kosher or sea salt

Chop the onion and mushrooms. Drain the potatoes. Combine in a bowl.

In a jar or bottle (I used a glass baby bottle with a cap instead of a nipple), combine the oil and lemon juice with a dash each of salt and pepper. Put the lid on and shake very well.

Pour the lemon sauce over the vegetables and stir, then liberally sprinkle with dill and stir again. I recommend letting this marinate for 30 minutes or so, but you can go ahead and cook if you're in a hurry.

Melt some butter in a pan over medium heat and toss in a spoonful of minced garlic. Cook for 1 minute, then add your potato mixture. Reduce heat to low, cover and cook for about 10 minutes, stirring now and then, until the mushrooms are tender. Voila!

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Handheld Spinach Dip

My husband has been so good for me in so many ways. For one thing, because of him, I've tried so many foods that I always thought were...well, gross. ;) The ABCs, if you will -- Asparagus, Brussels sprouts, and Cooked spinach, to name a few of the recipes I've posted here that you wouldn't have caught me eating 10 years ago. ;) I'm still not up for oysters, but at least I was willing to try spinach dip, and thus was born this little treat.

Basically, mix up some spinach dip and then bake it in little frozen pie crusts. Oh, my goodness. It's rich and decadent and tasty!

You will need:
a 12oz bag of frozen spinach
an 8oz package of cream cheese
1/2 an onion
6 to 8 ounces grated cheese (i use a hot cheese, like pepperjack or jalapeno)
a little bit of cumin
minced garlic
frozen pastry shells like the ones seen above

Normally, I use fresh produce, rather than frozen. But for this, frozen works just as well.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Next, if you bought the type of frozen pastry shells that I did, they need to thaw a bit before you bake them (mine said 20 minutes). So take them out of their packaging and separate them, then just leave them alone to thaw while you do everything else.

If your cream cheese has just come out of the fridge, you'll want to microwave it for 30 seconds or so to get it nice and soft. Set it aside -- we'll need it soon.

Get out your spinach, open the bag, and dump the spinach into a colander. Run some hot water over it, then go chop your half onion up. Squeeze the water out of the spinach, then run some more hot water in it and let it sit. Melt some butter in a pan, then saute your onion and garlic in the butter. Sprinkle with some cumin, but be careful -- it's a powerful spice! Don't cook this too long, as you don't want your onions to be total mush by the time the whole dish is done. Just a couple minutes ought to do it.

Grate your cheese. I really prefer a hot cheese with this, but if you don't like hot, you could use plain jack or even mozzarella.

Keep running hot water over your spinach and then squeezing it out until most of the hard lumpy bits have gone. Then squeeze out most of the remaining water and dump the spinach into a bowl. Add the onion, the cheese, and the cream cheese. Mix very well.

By this point your shells are probably thawed. Poke a couple holes in the bottom of each of them with a fork, then spoon the spinach dip into the shells. The box of shells I bought had eight in it. I only made six, but there was more than enough to make eight. I just didn't think we could eat that many, so I greased a small casserole dish and scooped the rest of the dip into that, and baked it along side my little Handheld Spinach Dips. Bake for 30 minutes or so.

You're going to want to let these cool a little before trying to take them out of their tiny pie tins, or the shells will break. I hope you did what I did with the extra dip, because I recommend using this waiting time to eat some of the spare dip on some pita chips or Italian bread.

I got the basics of the spinach dip recipe from my sister-in-law, another fantastic cook, and then kinda tweaked it to make it my own. Thanks, girl!


My sister-in-law's original recipe called for a can of Rotel tomatoes. So, if you like spicy, use the hot cheese and add the tomatoes. I had just never had tomatoes in my spinach dip, so I skipped them this time, until I knew the recipe a little better.

And hey, if you're worried about the calories or fat in this dish, you can always use Neufchatel cheese instead of the cream cheese. It has 1/3 less fat, and you can also use a low or nonfat mozzarella. (Personally, I say you're probably not going to eat these every day, and a little decadence now and then is what makes life worth living!)

Sunday, February 27, 2011

Southwest Middle East Burritos

Lately I've been much more adventurous about trying foods I always thought, based on limited experience, that I hated. Brussels sprouts, for example. This recipe is an example of that. I tried hummus once and didn't like it. However, I found that homemade hummus, with a tweak or two, is FAR superior to the store bought stuff. I call these Southwest Middle East Burritos because I use cilantro and cumin in the hummus.

This meal takes under 30 minutes, and makes 3 burritos. You will have leftover hummus, though, so feel free to make more chicken than I did, and you could probably easily serve 4 or 5 with this recipe.

You will need:

for the hummus:
1 can chickpeas (garbanzo beans), 15 or 16 ounces
1/4 cup tahini (basically, a paste made out of sesame seeds)(this is a little harder to find -- in my area you can't get it at Walmart, but you CAN find it at Kroger, either in the organic food aisle or the Asian food aisle)
1 lemon
1 heaping spoonful of minced garlic
cilantro, cumin, and salt
olive oil

for the chicken:
1.5 boneless skinless chicken thighs (I just grabbed some out of the freezer and got a whole one and a half and decided it was enough for the two of us) (or 1 breast if you prefer)
1 heaping spoonful of minced garlic
lemon juice (i just used the lemon juice from the store rather than juicing another lemon)

for the burrito or wrap:
tortillas or flatbread -- tonight i used some spinach tortillas that I found at Walmart -- fantastic!
1 tomato (actually, you really only need half a tomato or so)

First cut your chicken up into little cubes. Melt some butter in a skillet over medium heat, then add the garlic and cook for a couple minutes, until you start to see the garlic brown a little. Toss in your chicken, and squirt fairly liberally with the lemon juice. Stir once in a while while you're attending to the rest of the recipe.

Pour the entire contents of your can of chickpeas into a small saucepan, juice and all. Bring to a boil and boil for about six minutes.

While your chicken is cooking and your chickpeas are boiling, juice your lemon (I had a medium lemon and it yielded just under 1/4 cup of lemon juice). If you have a juicer attached to a cup to catch the juice, like I do, add the lemon juice to your food processor last, to make sure that everything that is going to drip through has had a chance.

Measure your 1/4 cup tahini and place into your food processor or blender. Add cilantro and cumin. I didn't measure those (I rarely measure herbs) but if you're not used to using them, be careful. They are both pretty potent, and you don't want to overdo it. Be especially careful with the cumin. Now add your juice of the lemon. Don't blend yet.

Chop your tomato.

When your chickpeas are done, drain them in the colander. I've found that you don't want to add all of them to the food processor at once, at least if you have a smallish one like I do. So add about 1/4 of the chickpeas, blend, stop, mix it up, maybe add some more, blend, stir. Here's where the olive oil comes in.

Originally this recipe called for more tahini, but we didn't like quite ALL that sesame flavor, so I cut back on the tahini and I substitute olive oil as needed to make the consistency come out right. So I would add some chickpeas, blend, stir, add some olive oil some more chickpeas, and so forth. I know this sounds complicated and time consuming, but it really isn't. I was done with this part in a matter of minutes. I wasn't measuring the olive oil, but I'm guessing I used 1/3 cup or so, when all was said and done.

Don't worry about trying to get it completely smooth. You will end up with a few chickpeas still intact, or nearly intact, but it actually enhances the dish, in my opinion.

By now, your chicken is cooked, so drain that too. Now lay out one of your tortillas on a plate. Here's the part that is difficult to explain, if you don't know how to roll a burrito. I tried to find a video for you online, but none of them roll the way I do. I'm not saying my way is better, and if you have a way you like, then by all means, go for it! (My husband used to work at Moe's, and he actually rolled the one in the picture, so it's probably not my method either, but if anyone wants to know how to make it look like the one in the picture, I will ask him and post it)

At this point, basically, you make a burrito by smearing some hummus on the tortilla, topping with chicken and chopped tomato, then rolling it up. I like to fold one side up, turn the plate, and then roll fairly tightly till it's a burrito. Simple, but pretty effective. I know a lot of people like to fold both sides up and make both end tucked in, but I like the front open, myself.

One more thing! The recipe that I adapted the hummus from called for 1/2 a lemon, not a whole lemon, and they weren't expecting it to be served with garlic lemon chicken. So, if you're not crazy about lemon, season your chicken some other way, and cut the lemon back to a half. Just know you might have to add more tahini or olive oil to make the consistency come out right. As it is, this recipe is NOT a subtle one. ;) But it is SOOO tasty! Like I said, I didn't think I liked hummus at all, and I polished off my dinner burrito. Oh, and this reheats pretty well, as I discovered when I decided to eat half of the burrito in the picture later. ;) It was that good. I challenge you to try it!

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Italian Crusted Smothered Chicken

Easy, quick, and tasty -- who could ask for more?

2 boneless skinless chicken breasts
Italian dressing
bread crumbs (they even make Italian herb bread crumbs if you want some extra Italian in your dinner)
3 large mushrooms
3 slices provolone cheese

Marinate your chicken breasts in the Italian dressing. Thirty minutes will do it, but if you have time to give it an hour or two, so much the better.

When you're just about ready to get started, chop up your mushrooms. Pour some bread crumbs onto a plate. Heat some oil in a skillet over medium heat and add the mushrooms, then stir them around really well to get them coated, then push them to one side of the skillet to leave room for the chicken. Add a little more oil in the empty side of the skillet. While the mushrooms are beginning to cook, bread your chicken breasts in the crumbs and place them in the skillet, top side down.

Cook the chicken for about 7 minutes on that side, then flip and cook for about another 3 minutes. You'll be wanting to move your mushrooms around a little during this. After you've flipped and cooked your breasts for another 3 minutes, scoop the mushrooms onto the breasts and cover with the provolone cheese. I found it took 3 slices to completely cover the chicken and mushrooms. Now, cover, reduce heat SLIGHTLY and cook for another 3 minutes.

Make sure your chicken is done, either with a meat thermometer, or by cutting into the thickest part of the chicken and making sure it isn't all pink inside.

This goes well with any of the veggies I've previously posted. Tonight it was served with Brussels sprouts.

Roasted...Brussels Sprouts?

Ok, almost anyone who knows me knows that I hate Brussels sprouts. Ask my parents. They remember the look on my face when I was a kid. And I've never gone near them again since that night that I couldn't leave the table until I had eaten just one. I was there for hours. I couldn't get past the smell.

So...for Valentine's Day, I made my husband some Brussels sprouts. He loves them, but he hasn't had them in forever because I insist they are gross and don't want them stinking up my house. Imagine my surprise when I found a recipe that a) doesn't stink, and b) actually tastes pretty darn good!

Now, I hope you have a cast iron skillet, because you need an oven-safe skillet, and the only one I had was our new cast iron. I am not sure if it was the cast iron or the fact that I only made about 1/4 of what the recipe called for, but mine was done in half the time that the recipe called for. So my advice is to watch the suckers.

You will need:
Brussels sprouts (1 pound makes four servings, but I was only expecting my husband to eat it, so I made 1/4 pound)
whole garlic cloves (the 1 pound recipe calls for 5 peeled cloves...I used that many for the 1/4 pound version, heehee)
1/4 cup olive oil
salt and pepper
balsamic vinegar

Heat oven to 450.

So, cut the hard ends off, cut the sprouts in half, and brush off any loose leaves. Heat the olive oil in your oven-safe skillet. When it is hot, add the sprouts, cut side down, and then toss in your garlic. Cook for a couple minutes, until the bottoms of the sprouts are lightly browned.

Put the skillet in the oven and cook for 30 minutes, shaking occasionally (here is where you watch the suckers!). Remove from oven and drizzle with balsamic vinegar. Good served hot or warm, so if they get done a little quicker than you expected, just put the skillet on a cold burner on the stove top and cover it until everything else is done (this works especially well with cast iron, since it holds heat very well).

These are good even without the balsamic vinegar, but if you're hesitant about B. sprouts, then you'll probably want to add the vinegar, because it makes them almost sweet. My husband was in heaven, since it's been YEARS since he had Brussels sprouts. And since Wal-mart sells B. sprouts by the pound, I have enough to try this again, and maybe find another recipe or two to try as well, now that I know that Brussels sprouts aren't hideous!