Thursday, March 31, 2011

Where Have I Been?

Someone please tell me it's still January. OK, no excuses, I have been cooking, I just haven't been able to get it all down here.

Today is the Galley Slave's birthday (no mention of age here). So this is a picture of one of his favorites. Nothing better than pasta with a Basic Red Sauce and calamari. Happy Birthday!

Here's my basic, it doesn't get any easier than this, you can embellish your heart out sauce. Enjoy and we are on track now.

Red Sauce (AKA Spaghetti Sauce)

1 small onion diced (about 1 – 1 ½ cups)
2-3 garlic cloves minced
1 - 28 oz. can crushed tomatoes
1 – 14.5 oz. can diced Fire Roasted tomatoes
½ tsp. crushed red pepper flakes (optional)
1 bay leaf
Salt and pepper

Coat a heavy pan with about 3 tblsp olive oil and place on a med. High burner. Add the onions and sauté until they become clear, about 2-3 minutes. Add the garlic and stir to mix in being careful not to burn. Add the crushed tomatoes, diced tomatoes, red pepper flakes and bay leaf. Add salt and pepper to taste. Be sure to taste your mixture before adding much salt, the canned tomatoes have salt so you shouldn’t need much more. When the mixture begins to bubble turn the heat down to low and simmer for about 45 minutes to 1 hour, stirring occasionally.

Serve over pasta of your choice. I prefer whole wheat pasta because it’s a great source of fiber and tastes delicious. If using whole wheat pasta cook it for 1 minute less than the box suggests. That way it won’t be overdone and gooey. Of course fresh parmesan cheese is good here too.

The EmbelishAsYouWish part.
If you like meat, then brown some Italian sausage (sweet or spicy) or ground beef. I usually brown the meat in the olive oil first, then continue with the onions, etc. This lets the flavor of the meat work it’s way into the sauce.
Veggies- yeah! They are great in red sauce. A favorite is mushrooms. I like the cremeni (baby portabellas) but you can use white ones or fancy ones. Just slice the mushrooms and add them after the sauce has cooked for about 25 minutes. Add some zucchini or yellow squash. Cut the squash in rings and add just after the mixture starts to bubble and before you turn it down.
I also tend to like spicy so I add the red pepper flakes. It doesn’t take much and they aren’t really hot but they do add a little kick, especially with veggies.

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Happy New Year!!

Wow, 2011 already. We are back on-line after a whirlwind December. As usual we all make New Year's resolutions revolving around dietary improvements. I always have the best intentions but somehow I'm not good with adhering to said intentions. This year I resolve to not make resolutions, this way I can't be disappointed. Okay, this is the lazy approach, but I am a realist.

I discovered something exciting to try for the new year. Grilled romaine lettuce. I've never tried this before but am always willing to experiment. The Galley Slave actually saw this recipe in "Bon Appetit" magazine so we gave it a whirl for New Year's Day dinner. Excellent choice.

Here's a real shocker. It was so good I didn't make any embellishments or adjustments to the recipe. The pickled onions are slightly sweet but when you pour the dijon/blue cheese vinaigrette over them they mellow to a tangy flavor. When you grill the romaine it picks up a slightly sweet flavor and the blue cheese just melts it all together.

Here's the link to the recipe. Grilled Romaine

Well, I did make a little adjustment. I only used about 1/4 cup blue cheese in the dressing mixture and then put just a couple extra pieces on top for garnish. I thought this was quite enough and I adore blue cheese, but that's still personal preference. I also used a Champagne wine vinegar because that's all I had. I think you could use any kind of vinegar and am thinking Red wine vinegar might be an interesting twist. Other than that, the recipe is perfect. I did only fix 1 romaine heart quartered for 2 people and I cut the pickled onion recipe in half using 1 medium size red onion. I made the entire vinaigrette recipe as written and had plenty leftover for another time.

I served this on New Year's with a calamari pasta and it was good, then I served it again with flank steak and chimichurri and it was better. This is more of a side dish than a salad and was excellent served with the meal. What a great way to start 2011!

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Patty Melt

The lowly Patty Melt, so simple yet so delicious. And I will add it is a fantastic remedy to "what am I gonna make for dinner when I don't want to cook?"

It started with the Sunday night, I'm hungry but not really in the cooking mood, don't want to go to the store or call for pizza, let's look in the fridge and see what happens. I found about 1/2 pound of ground chuck, some onions, mushrooms, swiss cheese and some of the whole grain Italian loaf bread I had cut up earlier to make stuffing for Thanksgiving. Now what?

I pulled out the old griddle. I divided the ground chuck into 2 equal lumps and formed them to the oblong shape of the bread. Whatever kind of bread you have available is perfectly fine, it can be slightly stale as you are going to toast it. I seasoned the meat with salt and my spicy pepper mix (see earlier post) put them on the griddle on medium high heat and cooked them until they were medium well, then put them on a plate covered to keep warm. Then I sliced up the onions and mushrooms then sauteed them in about 1 TBLS each of olive oil and butter. You know you can NOT make a Patty Melt without butter! After the onions and mushrooms where soft, I thought they needed a little body, so I sprinkled on about 2 TBLS of flour and made a light roux. Then I poured about half a Bourbon Barrel beer into the mixture and let it thicken. Now you do not have to use beer, you could use broth of any kind or just water or you could just leave the onion and mushroom mixture alone and not thicken it, but if you use a beer then someone will have to drink what's left. When the onions and mushrooms were thickened I removed them from the griddle, wiped it down and got ready to assemble the Patty Melts.

Place a couple of slices of swiss cheese on one slice of bread, then place the beef patty on on top of the cheese and cover it with half of the mushroom/onion mixture. Smear some spicy brown mustard on the other piece of bread and place (mustard down) on top of the cheese. Repeat for the second sandwich. Melt 2 TBLS butter in the griddle on medium heat. Place the sandwiches on the griddle and place a weight on top, this makes your Patty Melt nice and flat and easy to eat. I used a plate and weighted it down with an iron skillet. Cook 2 - 4 minutes until golden brown, turn over and repeat for the other side. Now enjoy your masterpiece.

There are many variations and ways to embellish this simple sandwich. A lot depends on what's in your fridge. You know I'm always looking for ways to use up those little bits of leftovers. Ground turkey would be fine. You can use bell peppers and/or hot peppers if you have them. After I was finished I wished I had thrown some jalapenos in the mix. A chutney would be interesting as a topping. Leave out the mustard, add ketchup or both. Sun-dried tomatoes or a chopped chipotle in adobo would add a little kick. Chop some garlic. Any flavor cheese would be yum. If you have an electric Panini maker/griddle use it. The possibilities are endless

P.S. I did make a small mixed greens salad to go along with our Patty Melts, that made me feel better about the butter!

Monday, November 15, 2010


It's a well known fact in these parts that "mamma doesn't cook on Friday night". What that does mean is she cooks Saturday - Thursday and by Thursday there are lots of bits of this and that which need to get used. So this past week I decided to make this from that.

Sure it's pizza, but it's deep dish pizza made from all the left over veggies and meats from the previous week's dinners. This is a perfect way to clean out the fridge. Ok, I admit it, I adore pizza and will look for any excuse to create one.

This started with a new trial crust (recipe will follow the post) which turned out to be pretty good. I also made this in my spring form pan so it was easy to serve. Here's the scoop. I made a simple sauce of 1/2 half an onion chopped, sauteed in 1 TBLSP butter and 1 TBLSP Olive oil for about 3 minutes, then added 2 minced garlic cloves. Then I added 1 28 oz. can of crushed tomatoes, salt and pepper to taste (a pinch of crushed red pepper too) and simmered for about 15 minutes. Then I pulled all the veggies out of my fridge. I had 4 shitake mushrooms, 5 baby bella mushrooms, a piece of green pepper, a piece of red bell pepper, a jalapeno and some more onion. I sliced all these veggies and sauteed them slightly in some olive oil. I found a bit of spicy Italian sausage and cooked that up and then I found 2 stray pieces of Hot Capocollo that I sliced. All the makings for perfect pizza. Of course I had some mozzerella cheese to grate and I found a couple of slices of provolone.

Next I rolled out the pizza dough, put it in my pan (I sprayed the pan with cooking spray and drizzled a bit of olive oil in the bottom first). I then put the pizza dough pan in the oven (425 degrees with the pizza stone) for 8 minutes. This made sure the crust would be crispy before the filling. In the bottom of the pan I put down the slices of provolone cheese and the mozzarella to cover. On top of this I layered my veggies and meat and then spread the sauce all over the top making sure to seal the edges. I didn't quite use all the sauce, but it really depends on how big your pan is. Then I sprinkled some fresh grated parmesan cheese and a little Italian Herb mix on the top and a little drizzle of olive oil. Put the whole thing back in the oven on top of the pizza stone for 20 minutes or until it's golden brown and bubbly. After you remove the pizza from the oven be sure to let it rest for at least 10 minutes before you try to serve or it will fall apart. Here's what I ended up with.

The best part was I used all the bits and pieces of leftover cooking. You can use anything that makes you happy. Whatever pizza flavors you like will work. Olives and artichokes are a great addition. Leave out the meat if you don't have any or don't want it. If you want a short cut you can open a jar of pasta sauce instead. The possibilities are endless. This is the perfect way to embellish your heart out.

Saturday, November 6, 2010

Happy Halloween!

So Halloween is over, but here's something to let you know we did have some fun! And they say you shouldn't play with your food!

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Comfort Food

When the weather starts to cool down my stomach starts to ask for hearty comfort food. And the perfect solution is Chicken Pot Pie.(And we're not talking about those frozen blocks you can buy in your grocer's freezer) This has always been a staple in our household. My kids could eat pot pie every meal. It also keeps well and makes great leftovers.

Chicken Pot Pie is one of those labors of love. It can be a little involved if you are stewing your own chicken, but it is so worth it. It's also easy to prepare the chicken and the filling the day before and then make your biscuits or pie crust and bake the next day after work. Trust me, your family will make you an instant hero when you serve this dish. And it's a good way to put some vegetables down some picky eaters. Who can resist all that great filling and biscuits?

The recipe for this delicious meal follows along with a recipe for easy baking powder biscuits. The pictures above show the Pot Pie made with a flaky butter pie crust, but 95% of the time I put biscuits on the top, that seems to be the favorite crust. While this might look like a lengthy process, I have include some alternate methods which make this a meal you could put on the table in a jiff. Enjoy all the smiles you'll receive.

Chicken Pot Pie
1 chicken stewed and the meat taken off the bone and torn into chunks(reserve the stock) see below
8 cups chicken stock
½ stick butter and ¼ cup olive oil
¾ cup all purpose flour
1 large onion chopped
3 -4 garlic cloves minced
4 carrots halved lengthwise and sliced in ¼ inch pieces
2 medium potatoes peeled and cut into 1 inch chunks
1 cup small dry pasta such as Ditalini
1 cup frozen lima beans
1 cup frozen corn
1 cup frozen peas
1 recipe pie crust or 1 recipe baking powder biscuits

In a large pot on the stove over medium heat, melt the butter with the olive oil. Add the onions and garlic to this and cook until the onions are wilted about 2 -3 minutes. Stir being careful the garlic does not burn. To this mixture add the flour and whisk together with the onions and garlic until smooth. Keep stirring for a minute or 2 so the flour with cook. Next add about 4 cups of chicken stock and whisk until smooth, add the remaining stock and let it all come to a slow simmer.
When the stock is bubbling slightly, add the carrots, potatoes and pasta. Bring to a boil then reduce the heat to medium and cook until the pasta is al dente and the potatoes are fork tender, approximately 10 minutes. Be sure to stir this mixture frequently as the pasta has a tendency to stick to the bottom of the pan. When the potatoes and pasta are finished add the lima beans, corn and peas and cook for 6-8 more minutes until they are heated through. If you think your mixture is too thick you can add more broth, but remember, it is a stew and the biscuits will soak up quite a bit of liquid. Remove the pan from the heat and add the chicken.
Pie Crust Version
Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Coat a 9 X 13 pan with cooking spray. Roll out the bottom crust to be approximately the size of the pan, place it in the bottom. Don’t try to make it go up the sides, this is just to give a nice crunch bottom. Pour the chicken mixture on top of the bottom crust making sure to leave about ½ inch at the top (you may have extra filling, that’s ok, you can make a small potpie or you can freeze this for another time). Roll out the top crust a little larger than the pan opening and place on the top. I usually crimp the edges down inside the pan, that gives you a little extra crust on the sides. Coat the top of the potpie with egg wash. Place this pan on a baking sheet (this protects your oven in the event of spill overs) and bake for 20 – 30 minutes or until golden brown and bubbly. Let it cool for about 10 minutes before serving.
Baking Powder Biscuit Version
Preheat the oven to 425 degrees. Coat a 9 X 13 pan with cooking spray. Pour the chicken mixture into the pan leaving about 1 inch clearance to the top of the pan. Arrange the biscuits on top leaving about ¼ inch between them. It’s ok to have them close, they will just puff up and it’s good to have lots of biscuits when eating. If you like, you can brush a little melted butter on top of the biscuits before baking. Place the pan on a baking sheet (this protects your oven in the event of spill overs) and bake for 20 – 25 minutes until the biscuits are golden brown. Let it cool for about 10 minutes before serving.

Whatever goes. You can use any vegetables you like. I adore lima beans so I put them in everything, but you don’t’ have to. You could add a few fresh mushrooms when you add the potatoes. You can add fresh green beans, asparagus or broccoli. Just cut them in bite size pieces and add to the broth.
If you wanted to make this vegetarian, omit the chicken and substitute vegetable broth.
Here are some shortcuts. Instead of fresh carrots, use a bag of frozen peas and carrots, it works fine. You can also use a bag of frozen vegetables that includes corn, beans, and carrots. If you do not want to go to the trouble of stewing a chicken, buy a rotisserie chicken in the grocery, it works just fine. Then you just need to buy a couple of cartons of chicken broth to substitute for the stock. This is a great short cut and gets food on the table faster.
You can substitute canned biscuits for the topping. You could also substitute pie crust from the refrigerator case in the grocery store.>

Baking Powder Biscuits

2 cups All Purpose Flour
3 tsp baking powder
1 tsp salt
1/2 cup shortening
1 cup milk

In a medium mixing bowl, combine the flour, baking powder and salt. Cut in the shortening using a pastry blender or 2 knives. Add the milk and stir to mix. The mixture will be a little sticky, if not add a bit more milk, if it’s too sticky add a bit more flour.
Turn out on to a lightly floured surface. Pat the dough into a round about ½ inch thick. Cut using a biscuit cutter dipped in flour or you can use a small drinking glass to cut. Place on an ungreased sheet pan leaving a one inch space between the biscuits. Bake at 425 degrees for 12 – 15 minutes or until the tops are golden brown.

Note: You can substitute buttermilk for regular milk, it may take a bit more though. Sometimes I use half milk and half buttermilk, just depends on what I have on hand.>

Here's a biscuit version.

Monday, October 11, 2010

Sometimes Less is More

I love steamed vegetables. Broccoli is hands down the favorite in our household. Someone once asked me what kind of steamer I use for these veggies. I'm sure I had a puzzled look on my face because I had never really considered an "official steamer" as being part of my cooking equipment. I have always used a Pyrex mixing bowl and a plate. I bet you have a similar set up in your kitchen right now. All you need is a glass mixing bowl and a plate that fits snugly on the top.

Now this is not a fancy arrangement but it will turn out perfectly steamed microwaved vegetables every time. This was broccoli and I threw in some Baby Bella mushrooms. Layer the vegetables in the bowl, add some butter or olive oil, salt and pepper as desired, place the "lid" on the top and microwave for 3 minutes. Check for doneness and microwave in 30 sec. intervals until finished. No water needed, if the lid/plate is a tight fit steam will be created. Remember, when you take the bowl out of the microwave it will still keep cooking as long as the lid is on, and be careful when removing so you don't get burned by the steam.

It's magic, it's easy, it's healthy (but don't tell any one), it's quick and it's good. I think that about covers all the high points.

This works for any and all vegetables. You can totally omit the butter or olive oil if you are watching the fats, but a little sure does add to the flavor. I totally forgot to take a picture of the finished result, but I do have a picture of the broccoli on the plate with the rest of the meal. I'll leave you with this.