Monday, October 22, 2007

Menu Plan Monday - Week of 10.22.07

Friday: leftovers/clean out the fridge night
Saturday: homemade pizza
Monday: sausage and peppers
Tuesday: pasta fagioli
Wednesday: leftover pasta fagioli
Thursday: chicken quesedillas
For more menus like this one, check out Laura's blog: The Org Junkie

Butternut Squash and Caramelized Onion Galette

How much better does food get in the fall than when you combine the best of the harvest in butternut squash with caramelized onions in a buttery and flakey crust? doesn't get much better than this. This one's is a winner, people. I knew immediately when I saw the post for this show up on my Google Reader that it would be making an appearance in my kitchen very shortly. I had all of the ingredients except the fresh sage, for which I substituted dry sage, and after having recently made a tart-like sweet version, I knew that I was capable of making this one. There was no question what I'd pair this with - the maple braised pork chops I had planned to make yesterday - which worked out perfectly since the chops were in the crockpot and I'd have some extra time to devote to preparing this galette.

As Deb at Smitten Kitchen encouraged her readers to make this, I'll do the same. This galette isn't something you should pass up because it might look a little intimidating - believe me, it's easier than any single or double-crusted pie you'll ever make. And the results are just phenomenal. The crust in one word: absolute perfection. It's flakey, buttery, and light...and the filling is all that I expected it to be soft, sweet, savory, with a little bit of a bite from the gruyere that I used rather than the fontina the recipe calls for. I'll make this again and again, and am considering making it this weekend for my girls-night-in dinner party.

I did follow the directions as they were written: freezing the flour mixture and butter for an hour first then preparing the dough by hand and refrigerating it for another hour. While at first glance, this seems a little time consuming, there's not a whole lot of actual preparation going on, and the refrigeration time gave me plenty of time to roast the squash, caramelize the onions, and do a few dishes. ;) Overall, the recipe was quite simple but result was extraordinary!

Butternut Squash and Caramelized Onion Galette
For the pastry:
  • 1¼ cups all-purpose flour
  • ¼ teaspoon salt
  • 8 tablespoons (1 stick) unsalted butter, cut intopieces
  • ¼ cup sour cream
  • 2 teaspoons fresh lemon juice
  • ¼ cup ice water

For the filling:

  • 1 small butternut squash (about one pound)
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 to 2 tablespoons butter (if you have only non-stick, the smaller amount will do)
  • 1 large onion, halved and thinly sliced in half-moons
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • Pinch of sugar
  • ¼ teaspoon cayenne, or to taste
  • ¾ cup fontina cheese (about 2½ ounces), grated or cut into small bits (I used gruyere)
  • 1½ teaspoons chopped fresh sage leaves
  1. Make pastry: In a bowl, combine the flour and salt. Place the butter in another bowl. Place both bowls in the freezer for 1 hour. Remove the bowls from the freezer and make a well in the center of the flour. Add the butter to the well and, using a pastry blender, cut it in until the mixture resembles coarse meal. Make another well in the center. In a small bowl, whisk together the sour cream, lemon juice and water and add half of this mixture to the well. With your fingertips, mix in the liquid until large lumps form. Remove the large lumps and repeat with the remaining liquid and flour-butter mixture. Pat the lumps into a ball; do not overwork the dough. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for 1 hour.
  2. Prepare squash: Preheat oven to 375 degrees F. Peel squash, then halve and scoop out seeds. Cut into a ½-inch dice. Toss pieces with olive oil and a half-teaspoon of the salt and roast on foil lined (for neatness sake) sheet for 30 minutes or until pieces are tender, turning it midway if your oven bakes unevenly. Set aside to cool slightly.
  3. Caramelize onions: While squash is roasting, melt butter in a heavy skillet and cook onion over low heat with the remaining half-teaspoon of salt and pinch of sugar, stirring occasionally, until soft and lightly golden brown, about 20 minutes. (This took more like 30 minutes on low to medium-low heat) Stir in cayenne.
  4. Raise the oven temperature to 400 degrees. Mix squash, caramelized onions, cheese and herbs together in a bowl.
  5. Assemble galette: On a floured work surface, roll the dough out into a 12-inch round. Transfer to an ungreased baking sheet. (I used a piece of parchment paper on the sheet) Spread squash, onions, cheese and herb mixture over the dough, leaving a 1 1/2-inch border. Fold the border over the squash, onion and cheese mixture, pleating the edge to make it fit. The center will be open.
  6. Bake until golden brown, 30 to 40 minutes. Remove from the oven, let stand for 5 minutes, then slide the galette onto a serving plate. Cut into wedges and serve hot, warm or at room temperature. Serves 6.

Active prep time: 40 minutes

Inactive prep time: 2 hrs

Serves: 6

Maple Braised Pork Chops

I'm always looking for a new recipe for pork chops because there are only so many times I can marinate them in Italian dressing and dry them out on the grill. Kyle and I have both come to love Giada's parmesan-crusted pork chops but in all honesty, they tend to be a bit unfriendly to those looking to watch calories. I ran across this recipe while perusing through Joelen's blog (a fellow member of my favorite cooking message board) and knew that I needed to try it. In fact, I passed the recipe along to one of my friends who made the chops (although the recipe does call for ribs) that same day and let me know that her hubby (who isn't a huge pork chop fan) raved about them...that's what sealed the deal for me.

I broke out the crockpot yesterday afternoon, determined to get my money out of it (even though I got it on sale at Williams-Sonoma last winter for about 40 bucks), mixed up the quick spice rub, rubbed the chops down, and got them cooking. The result was more than worth the 6 hour wait for them. The chops came out with the meat falling off the bone and flavor was a nice mix between sweet and savory; the maple in the background of everything is what made this dish. I'll admit they did come out a little dry so next time I'll cook them for 5 to 5 1/2 hours rather than 6, but because they tasted as good as they did, a little dryness didn't matter all that much.

Maple Braised Pork Ribs

1-2 lbs pork ribs (I used bone-in chops)
maple rub (recipe below)

Maple Rub
  • 2 tablespoons real maple syrup
  • 2 teaspoons cumin
  • 2 teaspoons chili powder
  • 2 teaspoons paprika
  • 2 teaspoons onion powder
  • 2 teaspoons garlic powder
  • 1 tablespoon brown sugar
  • splash of worchestershire sauce
  • salt & pepper to taste
  • 1/4 cup chicken stock for the bottom of the crockpot
  1. Combine above ingredients in a bowl. Consistency will slightly clumpy and paste like. Coat pork ribs with this paste using your hands - a basting brush isn't as effective.
  2. Place coated pork in a dutch oven or in a shallow baking pan. Bake in a preheated oven at 300 degrees for 3-4 hours OR Place coated pork in your crockpot and cook on low for 6 hours. (I think 5 to 5 1/2hrs in the crockpot would be enough time)

Prep time: 5-10 mintues

Cook time: Oven: 3-4hrs Crockpot: 5 to 5 1/2hrs

Serves: 4

Sunday, October 21, 2007

Pumpkin Swirl Cheesecake

Bring on the pumpkin!! Yes, another pumpkin post...but hey, it's fall so this is to be expected, isn't it?? I've never been a big cheesecake baker and only on a couple of occasions have I decided that my cheesecake has turned out well. Yet I keep trying...practice makes perfect, right?

Well...practice is what I will continue to do. I have no idea what went wrong with this one. I followed the recipe to the "T", which as I was so excited about to share, was from one of the most reputable blog sources in Peabody...but something, somewhere, went awry. Don't get me wrong, the actual cheesecake was perfect - just the way I like it - heavy and creamy....and pumpkiny of course! But the presentation of it leaves a little to be desired. This is the pumpkin swirl cheesecake that didn't swirl nor did it quite resemble Peabody's cheesecake whatsoever. And after the great results of my pumpkin spice cheesecake brownies, I was quite disappointed in how this one turned out (or at least looked because it tasted wonderful).

I'm not sure if my oven temp is way off kilter or what because the directions were to cook for about 2hrs at 350 degrees F. The cheesecake was already very brown at 1hr 15 min and I turned the oven off at 1hr 30min because the knive came out clean (with just a little bit stuck to it, as the directions indicated). In no way was the inside of the cheesecake overdone but I still don't know why the top browned so quickly. The browned top doesn't at all change the flavor, only the all-important appearance. But hey, what can ya do? I'll consider making this again if I can figure out what went wrong this time.

Pumpkin Swirl Cheesecake
  • 1 1/2 cups Gingersnaps
  • 1/4 cup melted butter
  • 2 1/2/bs cream cheese
  • 2 1/2 cups sugar
  • 2 TBSP flour
  • 5 large eggs
  • 2 egg yolks
  • 2 tsp vanilla
  • 1 cup pumpkin
  • 1 1/2 tsp cinnamon
  • 1 tsp nutmeg
  1. For crust, combine the gingersnaps, and butter. Press onto the bottom of a 10 inch spring form pan. Bake for 10 minutes in 350F oven. Set aside.
  2. For the filling, cream the cheese until soft. Add in the sugar and mix well. Add in the flour and mix to blend.
  3. Add in the eggs, one at a time, scraping th bowl down after each addition. Add in the yolks and vanilla. Mix well.
  4. Remove 3 cups of the batter and place in a bowl. In a seperate bowl, combine the pumpkin, cinnamon, and nutmeg. Stir in the 3 cups of plain cheesecake batter.
  5. Layer the two batters in the springform pan starting with the plain batter. Do three layers plain batter and two of the pumpkin batter. Swirl the batters to create a marbelized look.
  6. Place the cake on a sheet pan. Place in the oven and pour in hot water to create a water bath. Bake the cheesecake at 350 F for approx. 2 hours. A thin knife inserted in the center should come out almost clean.
  7. Cool the cake and then chill. Let sit overnight before unmolding.

Prep time: 30 minutes

Cook time: 1hr 30min to 2hrs

Serves: 12

Saturday, October 20, 2007

Simply Shortbread

One of life's guilty little pleasures for me (and for many others I suppose) is cookies. I like 'em in all shapes, colors, sizes, and flavors and the only requirement is that they don't have nuts. As I've been trying to branch out in my cookie-making skills over the past few of years, shortbread had never been something I attempted. Not sure why though...maybe because it was loaded with butter...or because of how delicate these cookies are, they seem like they would be difficult to make...or because the just seem so plain. I mean, what's a cookie without chocolate or coconut or some kind of dried fruit? Well...simply, it's shortbread.

Shortbread is like the red-headed stepchild of the cookie world - often forgotten because of how plain it looks but loaded with life once you give it a chance. While working in my last job, a new Fellow starting working with the two docs I worked for. Not only did she infuse the office with a certain "spunk," but she was a fabulous baker!! Nearly every week there was some new baked good in a pretty little tin sitting on one of the desks in the office...Tracy had been baking again. Where she had the time to do the kind of baking that she did, I don't know, but all conscious thought melted away after taking that first bite of whatever she brought in that day. Both Tracy and I have since moved on from that office (she, to Milwakee to start her first "real" job after so many years of medical and surgical training...and I, to the other side of campus to a new position), but I bring with me many fond memories of both Tracy and her heavenly baked goods.

This shortbread recipe was one of those heavenly baked goods and truly is one of the best shortbreads I've ever come upon. Tracy revealed to me one day in secrecy that this was a Martha Stewart recipe and I breathed a sigh of relief knowing that I'd be able to find the recipe and recreate it myself. I was afraid that I'd have to potentially beg her to reveal a secret family recipe.

So as this was shortly before Christmas last year, I knew I'd have the perfect opportunity to attempt the recipe...and my family would be the guinea pigs...heh heh heh. My mom, being one of the world's foremost shortbread connoisseurs (kinda sorta but not really), would be the only person who would be able to honestly let me know if this recipe was on target or not. And of course it was...after all, it IS a Martha recipe!! These came out perfectly and were so incredibly easy to make it's stinkin' ridiculous! I just made them again today for a church function tomorrow and am having a wee bit (ok A LOT) of trouble keeping my hands off them. I hope they make it to church in the morning.......

Basic Shortbread
source: Martha Stewart

This buttery cookie gets better with age: It can be stored up to a month, and over that time its flavor deepens. Dip the tips of the cookies in melted chocolate for a decorative touch.
  • 1 1/3 cups (2 sticks plus 6 tablespoons) unsalted butter, room temperature, plus more for pans
  • 2/3 cup sugar
  • 3/4 teaspoon salt
  • 3/4 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
  • 3 1/3 cups all-purpose flour
  1. Preheat oven to 275 degrees. Butter a 9-by-13-by-1-inch baking pan, and line bottom with parchment paper. (I didn't butter but just laid the parchment down in a dark non-stick pan.) In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream butter and sugar on medium speed until light and fluffy, about 2 minutes. Add salt and vanilla, and beat to combine. Add flour, 1 cup at a time, beating on low speed until just combined.
  2. Press dough into prepared pan, leveling and smoothing the top. Using a dough scraper or the back of a knife, cut dough lengthwise into nine strips, each slightly less than 1 inch wide. Cut the strips crosswise into thirty-six 3-inch bars. Using the tines of a fork or a wooden skewer, create a decorative pattern on the surface.
  3. Bake shortbread until evenly pale golden, but not browned, 70 to 85 minutes. (With a dark pan, don't cook for more than 70 minutes.) Transfer pan to a wire rack to cool. Invert pan, and remove parchment. Turn shortbread over, and carefully break, or cut with a serrated knife, into bars. Store in an airtight container for up to 1 month.
Prep time: 10 minutes
Cook time: 70 minutes
Yields: 36 cookies

Friday, October 19, 2007

Improving an already great meal

A while back I made Cooking Light's Baked Pasta with Sausage, Tomatoes, and Cheese and both Kyle and I were so impressed with how it turned out. Well, last night I took this meal to another level just by adding and substituting a couple of things.

I had some leftover spinach (about 1/2 cup) from the frittata I made a few nights ago and decided that it would work great in the pasta dish, if not for some extra flavor then for some extra color as I couldn't add the fresh basil that the recipe called for because the basil I bought at the grocery store last weekend went bad in 2 freaking days. grrr. I didn't have any mozzarella cheese either but had plenty of fontina and gouda, which when mixed together totally made this dish. In the future, I'll forgo the mozzarella altogether and stick with the combo of these two fabulous cheeses. I did keep the Parmesan in the recipe and feel like the dish requires the little extra spike of flavor that the Parmesan adds. And lastly, I used whole wheat penne pasta rather than regular ziti and this really rounded out the meal. The w.w. penne was a hearty substitution and allowed both of us to feel more satisfied with a smaller portion because of the extra protein and fiber the w.w penne provides. And that means that there were plenty of leftovers for my lunch today! :)

So there you have it...a new twist on an older meal. I'm not going to repost the recipe - I linked to it above and you can see my previous modifications through the link as well. Enjoy!!

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Fabulous Frittata

When life gets hectic, the last thing I want to do is be a slave to the kitchen trying to cook dinner. I had a feeling yesterday would be one of those days and I'm so glad I planned early to make frittata for dinner, because it really was one of those days.

I had a 5pm dentist appt after work to have what I thought was a small filling put in as a preventative measure, which didn't have me worried at all because I don't need any novacaine for these types of things. In fact, the last time I had novacaine was over 20 years ago. Well.....this procedure proved to be different. The dentist numbed me gum as soon as I got in the chair then came at me with the novacaine needle - ummm....what??? I thought this was a small procedure!! As it turns out, the "spot" they originally saw two months ago progressed to a full-blown cavity IN BETWEEN my teeth and the dentist ended up having to drill down damn close to the nerve ending. OK, so I felt nothing whatsoever during the procedure but the novacaine left me feeling weird and slightly disoriented. To make matters worse, when I got back in the car, I realized that I had broken my glasses when I made the tranisition from glasses to sunglasses earlier in the afternoon. GREAT. Alright, not so much of a big deal because I'm not totally blind without my glasses and it was still semi-light out so I could handle it.

On the drive home, I decided to stop at Barnes & Noble to pick up my next book club book. I parked and got out of my car to put my jacket on and when I leaned back in the car to get my purse, I hit my head so hard on the top of the door jam that I literally saw stars. Woah!! Seriously, could the chain of events get any worse?? Thankfully it didn't and I was so happy to come home and only have to make frittata for dinner because if I had planned anything else, it would have been take-out for sure.

If you're still reading, this, I commend you...and if you're wondering, yes, I do still have an egg on the top of my head. But I digress...the frittata was fabulous!! I used up some thawed out frozen spinach, chopped red peppers, sliced roasted garlic chicken sausage and fontina cheese (my favorite!) and I couldn't be more pleased with how this turned out. Seriously, if you have trouble getting your kids to eat their veggies, put them (the veggies, not your kids) in a frittata! All of the flavors came together beautifully and not a single veggie screams out "I'M A VEGETABLE!!" I told Kyle that I was considering making this frittata again for dinner tonight! :)

Fabulous Frittata
source: Smells Like Home
  • 1 tbsp butter
  • 1 tbsp olive oil
  • 6 eggs
  • 2 tbsp heavy cream or heavy whipping cream
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1/4 tsp freshly ground black
  • 2 chicken sausages, sliced
  • 1/2 cup frozen spinach, thawed, and drained
  • 3/4 cup red pepper, diced small
  • 3 oz fontina cubed small
  1. In a large bowl, beat together eggs, cream, salt, and pepper. Set aside.
  2. Turn oven on to broil. In a 9 or 10 inch non-stick, oven-safe skillet, heat oil and butter over medium-high heat. Coat the sides of the pan with butter and oil mixture. Add spinach, peppers, and chicken sausage and cook for 3-4 minutes until tender crisp and heated through. Reduce heat to medium-low and add egg mixture then cheese. Cover and cook for 2 minutes until eggs have set but the top is still runny.
  3. Carefully move pan from stovetop to oven and broil for 4 minutes or until the top is browned and no longer runny. Remove from oven (handle will be hot!!) and let stand for 2 minutes. Loosen frittata with a non-stick spatula and slide onto serving plate.
Prep time: 5 minutes
Cook time: 15 minutes
Serves: 2-3

Monday, October 15, 2007

Menu Plan Monday - Week of 10.15.07

Friday: homemade pizza
Saturday: out for dinner
Monday: leftover soup

For more menus check out Laura's blog: The Org Junkie

Tomato Soup with Pancetta

Soup has never been my thing. To eat it? Yes, of course! To make it? No way. I've tried, really, I have. My attempt New England clam chowder...inedible. Creamy tomato tasteless liquid. Broccoli and tasteless liquid. And then there was the infamous attempt at making Manhattan clam chowder - from a tried and true recipe that my mom and grandmother have used for YEARS and is the only food guests ask about the presence of during my aunt and uncle's annual beach house party on Fire turned out so horrific that even the animals wouldn't eat it when it froze after I poured it outside in the middle of winter. I've watched enough Food Network in my life to have seen dozens of soups being made and not a single one of them looked too challenging to make - so WHY couldn't I do it??

I had pretty much given up on making homemade soups but something inside of me yelled out to tell me that I wasn't quite ready to resign to eating canned soup for the rest of my life. I searched and searched last week and finally came upon a tomato soup recipe that I was willing to make in the hopes of rejuvinating my efforts at making soup. It was Giada's tomato and pancetta soup and being that I've yet to fail at making any of Giada's recipes, I figured that this would be the right recipe to get me on the soup track.

The recipe sounded perfect except for adding chunks of bread which are supposed to aid in thickening the soup - to me it only sounded like soggy bread and I wasn't willing to risk another soup attempt on soggy bread. I've learned enough over the past couple of years about how to make substititions to recipes in order to make them "my own" and this would be another one of those times. Actually, my changes were minimal, only omitting the bread and adding about 1 1/2 tbsp of a cornstarch slurry, 1/2 cup heavy cream (I LOVE creamy tomato soup), and a package of fresh tortellini to really round out the soup as a meal. I also used my handy-dandy immersion blender before adding the tortellini and cream to smooth out the thick chunks of diced tomatoes as I knew Kyle would never try the soup with chunks of tomatoes floating around. If you don't have an immersion blender, you could puree the soup in a blender then return it to the pot.

The result was outstanding. I was truly astounded that I FINALLY made not only a decent soup, but one that we both loved and that I'm having for both lunch and dinner today! After pureeing with the immersion blender, the flavors really mingled nicely and the cornstarch and heavy cream did a wonderful job at thickening the soup just enough. Before making this, I read a lot of the reviews on FN and about half didn't like and wouldn't recommend putting the bread in the soup so I'm really glad I opted out of this. The reviews also highly recommended not omitting the mascaropone and sour cream mixture to dollop on the soup before serving, and I'm SO glad that I listened to the reviews. The mixture added the perfect touch to the warm soup and I ended up doubling the mixture because 1/2 cup didn't seem like enough for 6 servings of soup. Below you will find the recipe with my changes - the original recipe can be found here. I will definitely make Giada's tomato soup again, and thankfully, this recipe has restored my faith in my soup-making abilities.

Tomato Soup with Pancetta
source: Giada De Laurentiis

  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 3 ounces pancetta, chopped
  • 1 small onion, chopped
  • 6 cups canned low-salt chicken broth
  • 1 (28-ounce) can diced tomatoes with juices
  • 1/4 cup coarsely chopped fresh basil leaves
  • 1/2 teaspoon dried oregano
  • dash or 2 of dried crushed red pepper flakes
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper (I used about 1/2 tsp Kosher salt and maybe 1/4 tsp pepper)
  • 1 1/2 tbsp cornstarch plus 1 1/2 tbsp water, combined in a small bowl to make a slurry
  • 1/2 cup heavy cream
  • 12 oz tortellini, uncooked
  • 1/2 cup mascarpone cheese
  • 1/2 cup low-fat sour cream
  1. Heat the oil in a heavy large pot over medium heat. Add the pancetta and saute until crisp and golden, about 5 minutes. Add the onion and saute until tender, about 3 minutes. Add the broth, tomatoes, oregano, crushed red pepper, salt and pepper. Puree soup with the immersion blender.
  2. Bring the soup to a boil over medium-high heat and boil for 3-5 minutes. Add cornstartch/water slurry and tortellini. Allow to cook, covered, for 7-8 minutes. Reduce the heat to medium and stir in heavy cream. Cover and simmer for 5-10 minutes. Add basil during the last 2 minutes of cooking. Reseason soup with salt and pepper if necessary.
  3. Stir the mascarpone and sour cream in a small bowl to blend. Ladle the soup into bowls. Spoon a dollop of the mascarpone mixture atop the soup and serve.
Prep time: 5 mintues
Cook time: 25 mintues
Serves: 6-8

Friday, October 12, 2007

Vodka Sauce

Why is it that we often are reluctant to make dishes at home that we love so much at restaurants? Well, of course they won't taste the same, right? Wrong! My shining light, Giada, has a wonderful recipe for vodka sauce both in her Everyday Italian cookbook and it's also available on the Food Network website, which is where I came across it again earlier this week.

I never thought to make the sauce from the cookbook because 1.) how can it be better than what I can be served in a restaurant?, and 2.) Kyle is not at all a fan of vodka sauce (gasp!). I had thumbed past it a number of times but finally decided I would make it for myself for lunch on a day where I would be home for lunch...which happened to be today as I had taken the day off from work. Yay!

The result? ummm....YUM!!! This sauce really was one of the best vodka sauces I've ever had and it was so easy to put together! It was perfectly creamy and the vodka flavor really came through but wasn't at all overpowering. The recipe gives instruction for a homemade sauce but since I already had some on hand, I skipped that part and cut a good 45 minutes off the recipe. I halved the recipe and ended up freezing the 2 remaining servings in Ziploc bags layed flat in the freezer for the next time I have a craving for vodka sauce.

Vodka Sauce
source: Giada De Laurentiis
  • 1 quart Simple Tomato Sauce, recipe follows, or store-bought marinara sauce, blended until smooth
  • 1 cup vodka
  • 1/2 cup heavy cream, at room temperature
  • 1/2 cup grated Parmesan
  • 1 pound penne (I used tortellini)
  1. Simmer the tomato sauce and vodka in a heavy large skillet over low heat until the mixture reduces by 1/4, stirring often, about 20 minutes. Stir the cream into the tomato and vodka sauce. Simmer over low heat until the sauce is heated through. Stir in the Parmesan cheese until melted and well blended.
  2. Meanwhile, cook the pasta in a large pot of boiling salted water until al dente, tender but still firm to the bite, stirring occasionally, about 8 minutes. Drain the pasta and transfer it to the pan with the sauce, and toss to coat.

Simple Tomato Sauce:

  • 1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 small onion, chopped
  • 2 cloves garlic, chopped
  • 1 stalk celery chopped
  • 1 carrot, chopped
  • 2 (32-ounce) cans crushed tomatoes
  • 4 to 6 basil leaves
  • 2 dried bay leaves
  • Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 4 tablespoons unsalted butter, optional
  1. In a large casserole pot, heat oil over medium-high heat. Add onion and garlic and saute until soft and translucent, about 2 minutes. Add celery and carrot and season with salt and pepper. Saute until all the vegetables are soft, about 5 minutes. Add tomatoes, basil, and bay leaves and reduce the heat to low. Cover the pot and simmer for 1 hour or until thick.
  2. Remove bay leaves and taste for seasoning. If sauce tastes too acidic, add unsalted butter, 1 tablespoon at a time, to round out the flavor.
  3. Pour half the tomato sauce into the bowl of a food processor. Process until smooth. Continue with remaining tomato sauce.
  4. If not using all the sauce, allow it to cool completely and then pour 1 to 2 cup portions into plastic freezer bags. Freeze for up to 6 months.

Without making sauce:

Prep time: 2 minutes (without making sauce)

Cook time: 25 minutes

Serves: 6

Including making sauce:

Prep Time: 15 minutes

Cook Time: 1 hour, 10 minutes

Serves: 6

Cheesy Enchiladas with Chili Gravy

After years of avoiding making enchiladas at home because of the astronomical level of sodium in the pre-packaged meals and enchilada sauces available at the grocery store, I finally came across a recipe that not only sounded delicious, but it wasn't loaded with salt and ingredients that I don't normally have on hand in the pantry. It was Renea over at sweet-savory-southern who posted this recipe the night before last and after reading through her review and the recipe, I immediately decided that I would make these...and I didn't want to wait. I knew they would work out perfectly for dinner last night because I had gotten the "if you make chicken one more time this week" threat from Kyle and I didn't want to push the envelope, afraid that in chicken-protest, he would start his own creation in the kitchen and it would be hours again before I saw the countertops. So I made a run to the grocery after work yesterday to pick up what I needed and decided on ground beef rather than shredded chicken (which I would have much preferred by the way, but I digress...).

As soon as I walked in the door, I got a-cooking, expecting that it would be at least an hour before we ate...but I was oh so wrong. I had the enchiladas on the table ( table...) inside of 35 minutes. They were just so easy!! And as a testatment to how good they were, as I was taking photos, Kyle had already started eating. I shouted in to him, "how are they?" and he responded, "can't talk - eating" as he shoveled another forkful into his mouth. That there says it all. These enchiladas will be seen again on my [coffee] table and I won't hesitate to use chicken the next time I make them.

Chicken Enchiladas

  • 2 boneless, skinless chicken breasts, cooked and shredded (I used about 1 1/4lb ground beef)
  • 1/2 a green bell pepper, finely chopped (I used a red pepper because it's what I had)
  • 1/2 onion, finely chopped
  • 2 Tbsp olive oil (I didn't use oil because I cooked the peppers and onions in with the beef)
  • 1 tsp garlic powder
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • 2 cups chili gravy (recipe follows)
  • 4 flour tortillas (1 1/4lb beef yielded enough filling for 6 tortillas)
  • 1 cup shredded cheddar cheese (I used shredded cheddar with chipotle peppers made by Sargento)
  1. Preheat oven to 350. Heat olive oil in a skillet over medium heat.
  2. Add onion and peppers and cook for about 5 min. Add shredded chicken and stir. Add salt, pepper, and garlic powder. Remove from pan and set aside. Using the same pan, make the chili gravy as follows.

Chili Gravy

  • 1/4 cup lard (I used vegetable oil - so did I)
  • 1/4 cup flour
  • 1/2 tsp black pepper
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1-1/2 tsp powdered garlic (I used closer to 2 tsp)
  • 2 tsp ground cumin
  • 1/2 tsp dried oregano (Mexican oregano is preferred if it’s available)
  • 2 T chili powder (either homemade or a dark brand such as Gebhardt’s or Whole Foods or McCormick)
  • 2 cups chicken broth (or water) (I used half water, half chicken stock)
  1. Heat the oil in a skillet over medium-high heat. Stir in the flour and continue stirring for 3 to 4 minutes, or until it makes a light brown roux.
  2. Add all the dry ingredients and continue to cook for 1 minute, constantly stirring and blending ingredients. Add chicken broth or water, mixing and stirring until the sauce thickens. Turn heat to low and let sauce simmer for 15 minutes. (It took about 8 minutes for me) Add water to adjust the thickness. (didn't need extra water) Makes 2 cups.
  3. Once the chili gravy is done, add 1/2 a cup to the chicken mixture and stir. Spoon the chicken mixture into the flour tortilla shells and roll up. Spread another half cup of the sauce in the bottom of a baking dish and place the rolled tortillas in the dish. Top with the remaining cup of sauce and shredded cheese. Cover with foil and bake for 20-25 min. I baked for 20 minutes then took off the foil and broiled for 3-4 minutes. I topped with a dollop of sour cream and would have added a sprinkle of cilantro but it went bad on me this week and I had to toss it.

Prep time: 12-15 minutes

Cook time: 20-25 minutes

Serves: 3 to 6 (depending on appetites)

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Marinated Steak and Gouda Twice Baked Potatoes

I've been spoiled. I rarely, if ever, order steak at a restaurant (with the exception of Outback Steakhouse who has awesome steaks) because I'm afraid it won't be as good as the ones I grill at home. In fact, the first weekend I returned home from college as a freshman, my only request for meals was steak with this marinade and a baked potato. So, for a good part of the last 10 or 12 years, I've been eating steak that's been marinated in this fabulous marinade; a recipe that my mom got at a Weight Watchers meeting many moons ago. I know it might sound like soy sauce, honey, garlic, and scallions would produce an Asian-flavored marinade but this isn't the case at all. The soy sauce flavor is dramatically toned down by the honey, water, and oil during the marinating time and all of the flavors come together beautifully.

In my own humble [but not often subtle] opinion, if you're going to grill a steak, you MUST have some sort of potato on the side. Mashed, smashed, scalloped, au gratin, doesn't matter what variety you choose as long as it's there. Twice baked potatoes are a real treat and last night, I decided that I deserved that treat.

As I was waiting for Kyle to return home from a side job, I got peckish (read: starving). It was nearing 8:00 and my tummy needed some dinner. I poked around the pantry and then the fridge for something to nibble on and decided to break out the gouda cheese that had been calling my name for the past week. It's been ages since I've had gouda and HOLY MOLY!! My dear Gouda: where have you been all this time?? I had forgotten how much I love you! While nibbling away like a little mouse, I decided on the spot that my regular baked potatoes would become...Gouda twice-baked potatoes.

Overall, this really was one of the best meals I've had/made in a while. The cut of steak (I think it was a rib-eye) was just perfect, I didn't over-grill the steak (for once), the marinade was of course, fantastic, and the twice-baked potato was well...out of this world! The flavor of the gouda really came through and refined the consistency of the potato stuffing as it melted throughout. I'm not one to repeat meals from week to week, but since I'm having trouble thinking about much else as I prepare my menu for next week, I might just have to.

Steak Marinade
source: Weight Watchers
7 WW points
  • 3/4 cup reduce-sodium soy sauce
  • 1/4 cup canola oil (I use extra virgin olive oil)
  • 1/4 cup honey
  • 1/4 cup water
  • 3 scallions, chopped (I use 1 tbsp dried onion flakes)
  • 3-4 cloves garlic, roughly chopped
  • 18 oz flank steak*
  1. Combine all ingredients except the steak in a large Ziploc bag. Close the zipper and squeeze ingredients to combine, making sure to incorporate the honey.
  2. Add the steak to the bag and release as much air as possible before closing the zipper.
  3. Refrigerate for at least 2 hours or overnight, remembering to turn the bag over every few hours.
  4. Grill to your liking.

* Note: I almost can never find flank steak so I use NY strip, rib-eye, or London broil. Usually London broil is a large cut of meat so I increase the marinade recipe by 1/2 or even double, if necessary.

Active prep time: 5 minutes

Inactive prep time: 2 to 24hours

Cook time: approx 7 minutes per side, depending on weight

Serves: 2 - 6 (depending on cut of meat)

Gouda Twice-Baked Potato

  • 2 large Russet or Idaho potatoes (10-12 oz each)
  • 1/2 cup plus 2 tbsp shredded gouda cheese
  • 1 tbsp butter
  • 1 tsp garlic powder
  • 2-3 tbsp reduced-fat sour cream
  • salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
  1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees F.
  2. Wash and stick potatoes with a fork a couple of times. To cut down on oven cooking time, I pre-cook the potatoes in the microwave oven for about 7 minutes on high - depending on weight - then transfer them to the oven for 45 minutes, turning over once. The potatoes should be soft on the inside but the skin should be almost crispy. (You can also skip the microwave stage and bake potatoes for 45 minutes then turn over and bake for an additional 30 minutes.)
  3. Remove potatoes from oven and with a sharp knife, slice off the top of the potato. Scoop out potato into a medium bowl, being careful not to push through the skin and leaving enough potato so that the skin doesn't become floppy.
  4. Add only 1/2 cup gouda and all remaining ingredients to the bowl and stir until mixture becomes creamy - do not over stir. If mixture is too stiff, add a little more sour cream or a dash of milk.
  5. With a spoon, carefully refill potato skins with potato mixture. Sprinkle each potato with 1 tbsp remaining shredded gouda.
  6. Place potatoes on a baking sheet and return to hot oven. Bake for an additional 10 minutes then turn the broiler on for 2 minutes to melt and slightly brown cheese topping.

Prep time: 10 minutes

Cook time: 55 minutes

Serves: 2

Chicken Chow Mein...or is it Chop Suey??

Why the confusion about what this meal is called? I might ask my mom the same thing but for whatever reason, I've yet to ask. My mom wrote this recipe out years ago and chicken chow mein/chop suey and made it to our dinner table on a number of occasions. I have no idea why the title has two names and I really can't tell you which it is - I don't think I've ever ordered either from a Chinese restaurant so I just don't know which the meal more closely resembles...or if it resembles either at all!

To be honest, I had completely forgotten that my mom used to make this until Kyle asked me to make "American Chop Suey," a dish his mom used to serve that involved elbow macaroni, ground beef, onions, and canned tomato sauce...and that's it. gag. It's like a homemade version of Hamburger Helper and while I did try it once because I couldn't say I didn't like it without trying it, I vowed to never make it again.

OK, so I got a little off topic there...Kyle's request for his mom's meal jogged my memory and I had my mom make a copy of her recipe for me. This meal is a great way to use up leftover chicken and gravy and I often make it with leftovers from a Sunday roast chicken. It's so easy to make and usually fulfills my craving for Chinese food but is so much healthier. I serve it over rice or spaghetti (this time I used penne because I was out of spaghetti) and top it with a few crunchy noodles.

Chicken Chow Mein/Chop Suey
  • 1 tbsp olive oil
  • 2-3 stalks celery, chopped small
  • 1 carrot, peeled and julienned
  • 1 1/2 medium onions
  • 3/4 cup bean sprouts, washed and drained
  • 1 1/2 cups chicken gravy (either homemade, jarred, or a combo of both)
  • 1 chicken bouillon cube plus 1/2 cup water (I use 3/4 cup chicken stock)
  • a good pinch of salt, freshly ground pepper, and garlic powder
  • 1/4 tsp ground ginger
  • 1 - 2 tsp reduced-sodium soy sauce (I used more like 2 tbsp)
  • 1 tbsp sugar or molasses (I use sugar)
  • 1 tsp gravy master if you don't use molasses
  • 1 1/2 cups diced or nearly shredded cooked chicken (or pork)
  • 1 tbsp cornstarch mixed with 2 tbsp water (if needed)
  1. In a large non-stick frying pan, heat oil over medium-high heat, then add celery and carrot and cook for 5 minutes. Add onions and cook for 3-5 minutes, or until everything starts to soften.
  2. Add bean sprouts and stir to combine. Turn heat to medium-low. Add gravy and bouillon cube and water or chicken stock. Add salt, pepper, garlic powder, ginger, and soy sauce. Stir to combine and cook for 5 minutes.
  3. Stir in sugar or molasses and gravy master (again, if not using molasses). Cook for 3 minutes or until sauce is bubbly.
  4. Add in chicken (or pork) and cook until chicken is heated through and sauce is thick. If sauce doesn't thicken, add the cornstarch.
  5. Serve over rice or pasta. Freezes well (without pasta).

Prep time: 5-8 minutes

Cook time: 15-20 minutes

Serves: 4

Monday, October 8, 2007

Menu Plan Monday - Week of 10.8.07

Friday: take-out pizza
Saturday: cheeseburgers (w/o bun) and sauteed butternut squash with sage
Sunday: Dinner: Pad Thai Dessert: Ina's apple crostata
Monday: chicken chow mein/chop suey (homemade)
Tuesday: balsamic chicken, brown rice, and steamed broccoli
Wednesday: grilled chicken over toss salad

For other menus, check out Laura's blog: The Org Junkie

Apple Crostata

Autumn's abundant apples!! I love the fact that my grocery store sells little totes of apples (1/2 peck) because it allows me to generally have apples in the house all the time during the fall. Mostly I eat them for a snack during the day but sometimes I need to splurge, ya know? So when I feel the need to splurge, rest assured, apples will most likely be involved.

I stumbled across this mouth-watering Ina Garten recipe last week and after seeing her make it a couple of weeks ago, I decided to have a hand at it. Let it be said that I've never, ever, made my own pie or pastry dough but Ina has a way of making dough preparation look so easy. So as many times as I've watched her make dough, I decided that I worked up my confidence enough to give it a shot....

As you are all my witnesses, I vow to never buy another store-bought pie/pastry dough again. This really was as easy as Ina has made it out to be and by allowing the dough to chill in the fridge for a couple of hours thereby breaking the recipe prep steps in half, the recipe was all that much easier to prepare. The dough came together in a snap, even when using my crappy and difficult to use 7 cup Black and Decker food processor - purchased years ago. :: Note to self: put 11 cup Cuisinart food processor on Christmas list :: And because I made sure to use cold (read: nearly frozen) butter, the crust came out perfectly flaky and just sweet enough to complement the apples and crumble topping. In the future, I will double the pastry dough recipe and freeze one to have on hand for another time.

Ina's apple crostata is a keeper in my house from here on out. It is an easy and more rustic alternative to apple pie (not to mention a few less calories because there is only a bottom crust) and can really be whipped up quickly in case of unexpected autumnal house guests. Once again, another wonderful Ina recipe!!

Apple Crostata
source: Ina Garten
Inspired by George German & Johanne Killeen Cucina Simpatica

For the pastry:

  • 1 cup all-purpose flour
  • 2 tablespoons granulated or superfine sugar (I used granulated)
  • 1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1/4 pound (1 stick) very cold unsalted butter, diced
  • 2 tablespoons ice water

For the filling:

  • 1 1/2 pounds McIntosh, Macoun, or Empire apples (3 large)
  • 1/4 teaspoon grated orange zest
  • 1/4 cup flour
  • 1/4 cup granulated or superfine sugar
  • 1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon (I used 1/2 tsp)
  • 1/8 teaspoon ground allspice
  • 4 tablespoons (1/2 stick) cold unsalted butter, diced
  1. For the pastry, place the flour, sugar, and salt in the bowl of a food processor fitted with a steel blade. Pulse a few times to combine. Add the butter and pulse 12 to 15 times, or until the butter is the size of peas. With the motor running, add the ice water all at once through the feed tube. Keep hitting the pulse button to combine, but stop the machine just before the dough becomes a solid mass. Turn the dough onto a well-floured board and form into a disk. Wrap with plastic and refrigerate for at least 1 hour. (I chilled the dough for about 3 1/2 hours.)
  2. Preheat the oven to 450 degrees F.
  3. Flour a rolling pin and roll the pastry into an 11-inch circle on a lightly floured surface. Transfer it to a baking sheet.
  4. For the filling, peel, core, and cut the apples into 8ths. Cut each wedge into 3 chunks. Toss the chunks with the orange zest. Cover the tart dough with the apple chunks leaving a 1 1/2-inch border.
  5. Combine the flour, sugar, salt, cinnamon, and allspice in the bowl of a food processor fitted with a steel blade. Add the butter and pulse until the mixture is crumbly. Pour into a bowl and rub it with your fingers until it starts holding together. Sprinkle evenly on the apples. Gently fold the border over the apples to enclose the dough, pleating it to make a circle.
  6. Bake the crostata for 20 to 25 minutes (mine needed about 28-30 minutes), until the crust is golden and the apples are tender. Allow to cool. Serve warm or at room temperature.

Active prep time: 20 minutes

Inactive prep time: 1 to 4 hours

Cook time: 25 - 30 minutes

Serves: 6-8

Pad Thai

After only eating thai food twice in my life, the last time being about 3 1/2 years ago, I'm not really sure what possessed me to taking on making a thai dish at home. It might have been that I stumbled upon a pad thai recipe on the Williams-Sonoma website and that every W-S recipe I've read about in other people's blogs (like Annie's Eats) has turned out wonderful. It probably also had something to do with the fact that I had nearly every ingredient on the lengthy list in my pantry and would only need to purchase one or two things outside of chicken and shrimp.

So last night, I took to the kitchen and cooked up a pretty damn good pad thai dish! Kyle gave it an 8.5 (on the 'ol 10-point scale) and that was after he took a taste from the pan before it was finished cooking and made a God-awful face. (duh.) I do admit there was a bit of veggie prep (I highly recommended prepping everything before you start cooking this dish) but once things started moving, the cooking part was quite basic. And the results....MMMM!! I'll admit that I was a little skeptical while cooking because the recipe doesn't call for any spices but it really turned into a wonderful dish. I only very slightly modified the recipe which you can see in italics below but overall, I really stuck to the recipe. DEFINITELY give this one a shot!!

Pad Thai
source: Williams-Sonoma

This simple home-style noodle dish made with chicken and shrimp is quick and easy to prepare. The right noodle is essential. Look in Asian markets and well-stocked food stores for the flat ribbon-shaped noodle called sen lek in Thai. They are 1/8 inch wide and made with rice flour.
  • 1/2 lb. dried rice ribbon noodles (I couldn't find ribbon so I used regular flat rice noodles)
  • 2 Tbs. vegetable oil, or as needed
  • 1 boneless, skinless chicken breast half, about 1/4 lb., cut into strips 1/8 inch thick (I used 1lb chicken)
  • 1/4 lb. medium shrimp, peeled and deveined
  • 3 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1/4 cup minced shallot or yellow onion (I used shallot)
  • 3 Tbs. tomato ketchup or tomato paste (I used tomato paste)
  • 2 Tbs. plus 1 1/2 tsp. Thai fish sauce
  • 2 Tbs. lime juice or rice vinegar
  • 1 Tbs. sugar
  • 1 egg
  • Large pinch of red pepper flakes (small pinch for me)
  • 4 Tbs. chicken stock (I used about 1/2 cup)
  • 1/2 lb. mung bean sprouts
  • 6 green onions, including tender green portions, cut into 2-inch pieces
  • 1 carrot, peeled and julienned
  • 1/3 cup chopped roasted peanuts (omitted)
  • 1/2 cup fresh cilantro leaves (for garnish - omitted - forgot)
  • 1 lime, cut into 6 wedges (for garnish - omitted)
  1. Place the noodles in a bowl, add warm water to cover and soak until soft and pliable, about 15 minutes. Drain and set aside.
  2. In a nonstick wok (I used a 12 inch non-stick frying pan) over medium-high heat, warm 1 Tbs. of the oil. Add the chicken and toss and stir until opaque, about 1 minute. Add the shrimp and toss and stir until bright pink, about 1 minute more. Transfer to a bowl and set aside.
  3. Return the wok to medium-high heat and add the remaining 1 Tbs. oil. Add the garlic and shallot and toss and stir until golden, about 1 minute. Increase the heat to high and add the ketchup, fish sauce, lime juice and sugar. Toss and stir until thickened, about 30 seconds.
  4. Crack the egg into the middle of the wok and lightly beat. Cook, without stirring, until set, about 20 seconds. Gently fold the egg into the sauce; tiny egg flecks should peek through the sauce. Add the noodles and red pepper flakes and, using tongs, toss to coat with the sauce.
  5. Add the stock, 2 Tbs. at a time, to moisten the stiff noodles, and cook until the noodles begin to cling together and are almost tender, about 3 minutes. Add the bean sprouts, green onions, carrot, chicken-shrimp mixture and half of the peanuts. Toss to combine and cook until the bean sprouts begin to wilt, about 3 minutes. (I probably cooked the dish for an extra 4 minutes or so while adding about 1/4 cup chicken stock at the end and letting it cook down in order to finish cooking the noodles. The noodles were al dente when I served up the pad thai.)
  6. Divide among individual plates and top with the remaining peanuts and the cilantro. Squeeze the lime wedges over the noodles. Serve hot or at room temperature.

Adapted from Williams-Sonoma Lifestyles Series, Asian Flavors, by Joyce Jue (Time-Life Books, 1999).

Prep time: 20 minutes

Cook time: 15 minutes

Serves: 6

Wednesday, October 3, 2007

Pumpkin-Spice Cheesecake Brownies

The pumpkin frenzy has hit my house with avengence and I'm honestly going to have a tough time letting it go at the end of the autumn. I seem to come across at least one new pumpkin recipe that peaks my interest everyday and I'm starting to have a difficult time narrowing down the recipes to make. I can't possibly make them all for fear of blowing my healthy eating resolution. Thankfully, I've implemented a couple of adjustments to the recipes I do make so that I can try to feel less guilty about eating the mouthwatering pumpkiny results.

Tonight, I broke out Cara's (aka Pumpkin Queen) pumpkin-spice cheesecake brownies. Oh yeah. You read that right...that's brownies. with cheesecake. and pumpkin...all in one dessert!! I did end up using 1/2 cup applesauce (and 1/4 cup butter) and low-fat cream cheese to attempt at making these a little more figure-friendly...attempt being the optimal word there.

They turned out beautifully and so delicious!! Let me tell you...they are going FAST! I've only had the chance to indulge in a couple of them as Kyle is plowing through them at some unGodly rate. This one is definitely a keeper and will most likely make a reappearance sometime this fall. Thanks Cara!!!

Pumpkin-Spice Cheesecake Brownies
source: Cara at Cara's Cravings

Brownie Batter

  • 3/4 cup butter, melted (I used 1/4 cup butter, 1/2 cup applesauce)
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1 tbsp pure vanilla extract
  • 2 eggs
  • 1/2 cup all purpose flour
  • 1/2 cup cocoa powder
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 2 tsp cinnamon

Cheesecake Batter

  • 6 oz cream cheese, softened
  • 1 egg
  • 1/3 cup sugar
  • 2 tbsp flour
  • 1/2 cup pumpkin puree
  • 1/4 tsp pure vanilla extract
  • 1/2 tsp cinnamon
  • 1/4 tsp each ground ginger and ground cloves
  1. Preheat oven to 350F. Grease an 8x8" square metal baking pan.
  2. Beat together melted butter, sugar, and vanilla, then beat in eggs one at a time. Combine dry ingredients and then gradually stir into butter mixture with a wooden spoon. In separate bowl, beat together cheesecake batter ingredients.
  3. Spread about 2/3 of chocolate batter into prepared pan, and spoon cheesecake batter over. Dollop remaining brownie batter over cheesecake batter. Swirl the batters together by running a butter knife (or toothpick) back and forth through the pan.
  4. Bake for 40 minutes (I baked for 35 minutes), or until center is set. Cool completely on wire rack and chill before cutting and serving.

Prep time: 20 minutes

Cook time: 35 - 40 minutes

Yields: 12 - 16 brownies

Here is how I dolloped the batter and how the brownies looked just out of the oven:

Crockpot Salsa Chicken

One little joy in life that makes me happy over and over is my crockpot. Can it get any easier than to prep a meal in the morning, throw it in a pot, and have it be ready when I return home from work? Probably not...and this time, Kyle and ate our dinners at two completely different times of day and the meal was ready for both of us to eat when we needed to.

I got up extra early so that the chicken would be ready when Kyle needed to eat at 11am before leaving for his afternoon/evening shift today. After tossing everything into the crockpot at 6:30am, I set it to low and let it cook on low for 1 1/2 hrs, then turned it to high and it cooked for an additional 3 hrs. After Kyle served up his serving, he turned it to the warm setting to keep it warm for the afternoon.

After I got home, I turned it back on low for 30 minutes to reheat and I was all set to go. Love it! And let me tell the time I got home after having thought about this cooking all day, I couldn't wait to dig in! I had also made some mexican rice this morning while I got ready for work so that it would be ready for both of us when we were ready to eat. What a treat this whole meal was!!

Crockpot Salsa Chicken

  • 2 or 3 boneless skinless chicken breasts
  • 1 jar salsa
  • 1 can (15oz) black beans, rinsed and drained
  • 1/2 cup water
  • 1/2 tsp cumin
  • 1/2 tsp ground corinader (optional)
  • 1/4 tsp chili powder
  • dash of chipotle chili powder (optional)
  1. Put chicken on the bottom of the crockpot. Cover with salsa then beans. Add water to bottom of the crockpot around the chicken. Sprinkle with dry spices.
  2. Cook on low for 8 hours or high for 3 1/2 to 4 hours.
  3. Serve with rice, sour cream, shredded cheese and garnish with chopped cilantro. You can also shred the chicken and make burritos if you have tortillas in the fridge.

Prep time: 5 minutes

Cook time: 8hrs on low or 3 1/2 to 4hr on high

Serves: 2-4

Tuesday, October 2, 2007

Creamy Pumpkin Sauce with Roasted Garlic Chicken Sausage

The original version of this meal was simply roasted garlic chicken sausage in homemade spaghetti sauce over whole wheat pasta. Easy enough meal to make for myself being that Kyle is working evenings this week, right?

Well...I got thinking this afternoon about things I wanted to get accomplished tonight and it clicked...Kyle is working evenings this week...evenings this week...hmmm...YES!! It's not that I don't love spending time with my husband because I very much do, but the time alone for dinner certainly gives me a little more latitude about what I can cook for myself. "What do I have in the fridge to beef up my pasta dish tonight? .... PUMPKIN!!" I thought to myself - it was leftover from the pumpkin pancakes I made over the weekend. I had been reading through Cara's blog today and came across her hazelnut sage ravioli with pumpkin cream sauce and after the pumpkin light bulb went off in my brain, I decided to do a savory creamy pumpkin sauce tonight. Yes, yes...I realize that I would be taking a chance with this one - garlic chicken sausage with pumpkin sauce?? But you only live once and since I had to opportunity to possibly ruin only one meal, rather than two, tonight, I decided I'd better take advantage.

The ideas raced around my head during my 45 minute drive home and when I got in the house, I got right to work in the kitchen without even changing out of my work clothes. I was on a mission. Oh...did I mention this mission had to be lower in calories and fat since Kyle and I have started a healthy eating plan that involves only eating a certain amount of calories per day? Right...there would be no heavy cream in this sauce and instead skim milk, which I've always found works beautifully when making creamy sauces.

So here's what I did:

  1. Melt 1 - 2 tsp butter in a small saucepan over medium heat. Add 2 tsp flour to melted butter and stir to make a liquidy roux. Stir in about 1/4 tsp of cinnamon, a dash of nutmeg, 1/4 tsp salt, and a pinch of black pepper. Cook for 30-60 seconds.
  2. Turn heat to low and whisk in 1/2 to 3/4 cup skim milk, whisking until there are no lumps. Stir in 1/4 cup pumpkin puree until well-incorporated. Cook on low stirring frequently for 5-8 minutes or until thickened to desired consistency.

I cut up and heated one pre-cooked roasted garlic chicken sausage and served the sausage on top of whole wheat pasta and the pumpkin sauce. Before eating, I sprinkled another dash of cinnamon on top and garnished with a few strips of Parmesan cheese. This was SO good and SO easy!! The mix of flavors from the sweet pumpkin and cinnamon along with the savory chicken sausage and Parmesan cheese was just delightful. And knowing that the sauce was low cal/low fat made eating the meal so much more satisfying! This is definitely a keeper...and maybe next time I'll attempt it when Kyle IS home for dinner.