Thursday, June 25, 2009

It’s a winner!

The lazy days of summer are bringing on boredom, and there’s no better way to break up the boredom than trying a new recipe, which is exactly what I did last night. Let me tell you, this was yummy! I made some modifications to the Chicken Rigatoni with Bell Peppers, Kalamata Olives, and Sun-Dried Tomatoes from the Top Chef cookbook.

Top Chef is one of my favorite shows, but the recipes always look so gourmet and exotic. Just for kicks I was browsing the show's website and happened on the recipe search function, and up came Chicken Rigatoni.

Since I’d never cooked this before, I prepped all of my ingredients before I heated up the pots and pans. This took some extra time, but at least I wasn’t running around trying to find the ingredients once the cooking started.

Once everything was chopped and set aside, I put the pasta water on to boil, and added the bacon to a cold stainless steel pan. Once the bacon was in, I turned the heat up to medium. Meanwhile, some pine nuts were toasting in my non-stick skillet. Once the nuts were slightly brown, I moved them to a bowl, and added a tablespoon of olive oil to the non-stick skillet. Next, I seasoned up the chicken chunks with salt and pepper, and browned them in the non-stick skillet. Once those were cooked, I moved them to a separate plate to hang out. After the bacon was crisp, it was removed with a slotted spoon to a plate with paper towels. The pasta was dropped into the now boiling water, and it was time for the vegetables to get sizzling in the bacon renderings!

To the bacon fat, I added one tablespoon of olive oil, the peppers, onions, scallions, and sun-dried tomatoes.

Once those veggies hit the pan, you know you are in for something good—it will smell like a fancy Italian restaurant in your kitchen. The veggies sweated for about 5 minutes until the softened up, and then I added the garlic, and let that cook for one minute more before adding in the chicken and dried rosemary.

Next, the pan was deglazed with the chicken broth, and I let that reduce until the pasta was ready. Once the pasta is cooked to al dente it was drained and added to the veggies along with the kalamata olives and pine nuts to heat through (which only takes a few moments). Next, the cheese and parsley were stirred in and the dish was served.

I really enjoyed this, and my picky hubby also liked it. I was thrilled he went back for seconds since it had olives in it (and he thinks he hates olives). The key to getting him to eat them was chopping them up very finely and not telling him they were in there!

Chicken Rigatoni from Top Chef (with my modifications. Click here for the original recipe).(3 BIG servings)

6 ounces of Rigatoni pasta

2 tablespoons of Extra-virgin olive oil

4 slices of center cut bacon, chopped

½ onion, thinly sliced

1 red bell pepper, cut into thin strips

2 shallots, minced

2 garlic cloves, minced

1/4 cup chopped sun-dried tomatoes

¼ cup of chicken stock

2 5-ounce boneless, skinless chicken breasts, cut into 1-inch pieces

Freshly ground black pepper


½ cup pitted & chopped kalamata olives

1/3 cup grated Parmesan cheese

1/3 cup pine nuts, toasted

1 tablespoon of chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley

½ teaspoon of dried rosemary

I had to make some modifications because of lack of ingredients, and I wanted to get three meals out of the dish (the original recipe makes two servings.) Bacon was substituted for pancetta, chicken broth for the wine, and dried rosemary instead of fresh. To make it a little healthier, I did not sauté the chicken in butter as the recipe calls for.

Monday, June 22, 2009

Check the Cupboard

I had every intention to follow Mr. Lieberman's recipe for apricot-glazed chicken with dried plums to the letter (except for the chicken parts-- I already had a Sam's Club-sized bag of frozen boneless skinless breasts in the freezer).

"They" say that the first time you cook a recipe, you should follow it to the letter. On subsequent attempts it's okay to experiment. (I don't know exactly who "they" are, but I think I heard Paula Deen say this once on her show). Frankly, I frequently find myself tweaking most recipes (except for baked goods), even the first time I cook them. But, on Sunday, I was dead set on following "their" advice.

Confident that I had every ingredient my kitchen cupboard/refrigerator/freezer, I set about making this dish for a welcome back meal for hubby, who had been out of town for four days. I set about gathering the rest of my ingredients from my well-stocked kitchen.

Chicken- Check!
Apricot preserves-Check!
Olive Oil-Check!
Fresh Garlic Cloves-Check!
Sage leaves-Check!
Dried plums-Che--- oh, wait. I swore I had a half a box of prunes left... Guess I used them up the last time I made banana bread. Hmm, what to do, what to do-- ah yes! Raisins!
White vinegar-- Nope, but I was going to substitute apple cider vinegar. Oh, where is it! I thought for sure it would be here in the door of the fridge. Hmmm, red wine vinegar, rice wine vinegar... oooo, balsamic vinegar. I'll use that, it's sweet...

Now, the original recipe calls for 2 whole chickens to serve 8 people. I decided to par down the recipe for 5 portions, and used 5 boneless skinless chicken breasts. That being said, I guestimated on the amount of the glaze. In a glass measuring cup, I mixed up about 3/4 cup of the apricot preserves, 1/4 cup of raisins, about 2 tablespoons of extra-virgin olive oil, four crushed cloves of garlic, leaves from a couple of sprigs of sage (from the herb garden), a dash of balsamic vinegar, and the salt and pepper.

I put the chicken in a 9X13 pan coated with cooking spray, added the chicken, and poured on the glaze, and turned the chicken to coat in in the sauce. I baked it for 40 minutes at 385 degrees. Since I was using skinless chicken, I covered the dish in aluminum foil.

This adaptation turned out really well-- the fresh sage made all the difference. The chicken was moist, but some crispy skin would have been nice. The flavors are best suited for a fall or winter meal. Next time I get a hankering for a fruity chicken dish, I'll use bone-in, skin-on chicken, and make sure to buy some prunes (I mean dried plums-- that sounds much more sophisticated).

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Chicken Surprise!

Somestimes some of the best food is discovered by accident.

Since our kitchen table is covered in clutter while the house is being painted, we've had to eat in front of the TV for the last couple of days. This means cooking foods that don't require anything besides a fork to eat (I find it difficult to cut a piece of meat with a knife while it's sitting on lap, and then it's hard to balance the knife on the plate when you're not using it, etc.). On Tuesday the menu called for green beans, chicken, and rolls. After I sliced 1/2 of a small vidalia onion for the green beans, I decided to cook the other half of the onion with the chicken.

I sliced the remaining onion and put-it in my large non-stick skillet over medium heat. Next, I chopped two boneless, skinless chicken breasts. Then it was time to contemplate the chicken.

Usually, the only seasoning a piece of chicken gets during the week is grill seasoning, but Tuesday I was in the mood for something else. I stood in front of the spice cabinet contemplating what flavors to use. Cumin and chili powder for Tex-Mex Chicken? No, I'll save that for fajita night. Thyme and lemon? No, not in the mood for that. I was actually craving french fries, so I decided to use my usual fry seasoning on the chicken. After sprinkling the meat with grill seasoning, I used a little bit of garlic powder and a generous amount of paprika. I gave the two skinless & boneless chicken breasts (which were cut into 1-inch pieces) a toss to coat them in the spices, and then cooked them in the same pan as the onions. The meat browned nicely.

I was expecting it to be just okay, but the onions and the seasoning on the chicken worked really together. The sweet onion brought out the flavor of the spices, and added some moisture to the chicken. Dear hubby even went out of his way (without any prompting from me) to say how good it was. This will probably become a go-to dish in our house from now on.

My spur of the moment idea and simple seasoning resulted in a surprisingly delicious dish.

Onion Paprika Chicken ingredients (serves 2)
2 boneless skinless chicken breasts
1/2 vidalia onion
Grill Seasoning
Garlic powder

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Kitchen Chaos

Our house is in a state of chaos. We are having the living room, hallway, and bathrooms painted this week. We have an open floor plan so everything is affected. The stuff in the rooms being painted had to be moved to other places. At least the kitchen is operational since we're not having it painted, so at least I'll be able to cook. Unfortunately, we really don't have anywhere inside to eat! The dining room table is covered in cluttered, and the living room furniture is out of whack so no eating dinner in front of the TV tonight. My only hope is that we don't get an afternoon thunderstorm and can eat outside by the pool.

Hopefully life will return to normal tomorrow night or Thursday.

Monday, June 15, 2009

Peach Blueberry Cobbler

Yesterday dear hubby and I celebrated our 1st Anniversary. This is a cliche, but time really does fly. Only to think last summer we ate leftover wedding cake every week for three months. We did save one piece, which was retrieved from the deep freeze Sunday morning. A year in the freezer left it a bit stale and grainy in texture, so after eating a bite each, the rest of the slice met its bitter end in the kitchen trash.

Fortunately, we were not without dessert to our anniversary dinner since I had the foresight to realize year-old cake wouldn't be up to snuff.

It is peach season in South Carolina, with farm stands all over the place, which led me to bake the Peach Blueberry Cobbler from King Arthur's Flour Whole Grain Baking. Also, if I was going to have a lot of leftovers that wouldn't freeze well, I wanted something that I could eat without feeling too guilty.

It was pretty easy to put together, but the finished product tasted.... well... healthy. It isn't an overwhelming sweet cobbler (when I think of cobbler I think of syrupy-sweet goodness), and the whole wheat flavor comes through in the topping. I thought there was a lack of buttery flavor. This would be a good dessert for those who don't have a big sweet tooth. I liked it, but it wasn't the treat I was hoping for.

For those of you who would like to try this, here is the recipe.

Peach Blueberry Cobbler (from Whole Grain Baking)
For the topping
2 cups of white whole wheat flour
2 1/2 teaspoons of baking powder
1/2 teaspoon of salt
1/2 teaspoon of ground nutmeg
1/2 cup (1 stick) of unsalted butter, chilled
2 tablespoons of packed brown sugar
1 large egg, beaten
2/3 cup of milk

For the filling
3 cups (1 1/4 lbs.) of sliced peaches
2 cups (10 oz.) of blueberries
1/2 cup of packed brown sugar
2 tablespoons of cornstarch
1/2 teaspoon of ground nutmeg
Pinch of salt
1 tablespoon of lemon juice

I started out by preheating the oven to 450 degrees.Then I peeled and chopped up the peaches. Then I put the blueberries and peaches in a large mixing bowl. In a smaller bowl, I combined the cornstarch, nutmeg, salt, and sugar, and then added that mixture to the fruit. Then, the cornstarch mixture and fruit was tossed together and put in a 9X9 baking dish, and then drizzled with the lemon juice.

I let that sit while I made the topping. Simple enough, just mix the flour, baking powder, salt, and nutmeg in a bowl, and put in the butter (in pats). I started out using a knife to cut the butter in, but that was taking too long so I used my fingers in integrate everything until the butter pieces were the size of peas. Next, I mixed in the brown sugar. In a measuring cup, I beat the milk and egg together, and then mixed that with the flour batter.

At this point a took a break to let the batter rest and do a quick clean-up. I finished up the topping by turning the dough onto a floured cutting board, and I patted it out into a 3/4-1 inch thick round. My biscuit cutters are MIA, so I used a knife to cut it into squares, and put the squares on top of the fruit. Into the oven it went for 45 minutes. The hardest part of the entire process was waiting another 10 minutes after it came out of the office so it would be cool enough to eat.

I served it with a big scoop of vanilla ice cream.

I had a problem with with the filling--the fruit juices didn't thicken up, despite mixing it with 2 tablespoons of cornstarch. Maybe it thickens the longer it sits? I will have another piece tonight and report back...

Monday, June 8, 2009

Summer Garden Lentil and Pasta Salad

To switch things up a bit this week, I made a pasta salad on Sunday for dinner with plans to eat the leftovers for lunch this week (I'm growing very tired of turkey sandwiches).

This is salad is very good, but if I make it again I would increase the amount on the vinaigrette to give it more flavor. Plus, the flavor of the dish seems to mellow after being refrigerated.

I started out making the vinaigrette in my handy-dandy mini-food processor. It's simple enough, just combine balsamic vinegar, shallot, garlic, dijon mustard, extra-virgin olive oil, salt, and pepper. I did this first and let it sit for all the flavors to meld together.

Next, I tackled the lentils. I had never cooked lentils before on their own, and suffice to say I managed to cook them without burning them. Simmering them in chicken stock gives them a lovely flavor.

While the lentils cooked, I set about cutting up the veggies and cooking the pasta shells. I used a whole red bell pepper (the recipe calls for red and yellow peppers, but the yellow peppers didn't look so great at the store), half of a red onion, a small zucchini, and a little over half of a container of grape tomatoes. All of the herbs came from my herb pot, with the exception of oregano. I had to leave that out since I was also out of the dried.

The Parmesan cheese was also (inadvertently) omitted, but the salad was still very tasty. I have been adding cheese to the leftover pasta salad and it does bump up the flavor.

This is suppose to make 4 servings, but I should get at least 5 or 6 meals out of the batch. It would be great for a cookout since there is no mayo.


* 2 1/2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
* 1 tablespoon minced shallots
* 1 1/2 teaspoons minced fresh garlic
* 1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
* 1 1/2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
* 1/8 teaspoon salt
* 1/8 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

* 1 cup fat-free, less-sodium chicken broth
* 1/2 cup dried petite green lentils
* 1 bay leaf
* 2 cups uncooked orecchiette pasta ("little ears" pasta)- These are also labeled as "small sea shells
* 1 cup diced zucchini
* 3/4 cup halved cherry tomatoes
* 1/2 cup diced red bell pepper
* 1/2 cup diced yellow bell pepper
* 1/2 cup diced red onion
* 2 tablespoons chopped fresh basil
* 2 tablespoons chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
* 2 tablespoons grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese
* 1 1/2 teaspoons chopped fresh or
* 1/2 teaspoon dried oregano
* 1 1/2 teaspoons chopped fresh or 1/2 teaspoon dried thyme
* 1/4 teaspoon salt
* 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Double Duty: Flank Steak

Last Saturday we had a classic steak and baked potato supper. Since we made the trip to the "big city" 30 minutes down the road, we made sure to pick up a flank steak. (We can't find this in any grocery stores in our town-my husband went to the butcher shop and the butcher said it's not a very popular cut of meat.)

At any rate, armed with our steak and a beautiful day to grill outside, I used a marinade from Rachael Ray. The meat only needs to hang out for about 20-30 minutes before it's ready to grill. I usually grill a flank steak for 6 minutes on each side over medium heat-- comes out perfectly medium every time.

Flank Steak Marinade (from Rachael Ray)
3 cloves of minced garlic
1 tablespoon of grill seasoning
1 teaspoon of cumin
2 teaspoons of hot sauce
1 tablespoon of Worcestershire sauce
2 tablespoons of red win vinegar
1/3 cup extra-virgin olive oil

  • Combine the ingredients in a plastic bag and add your steak.
  • Seal the bag and make sure the steak gets coated in the marinade.

Since the two of us only finished half of the meat, I had leftovers to contemplate. Since we hadn't eaten Asian food in a while, I decided to use the beef in a steak and broccoli stir-fry. This was super simple and tasty, but in no way authentic Asian cuisine.

Steak & Broccoli Stir-Fry (this made about 3 servings)
1/2 lb. cooked flanked steak, sliced thin
1 onion
1 head of broccoli with the florets cut up
2 teaspoons minced garlic
1 tablespoon of minced or grated ginger

Stir-fry Sauce
1/4 cup of low-sodium soy sauce
1/4 cup of hoisin sauce
Couple of teaspoons of hot sauce OR garlic chili paste OR spicy sweet Thai chili sauce

I sauteed a sliced onion in canola oil over medium-high heat until the onions became tender. Then added a couple of teaspoons of minced garlic, a tablespoon of grated ginger, and the broccoli. Seas on with a little bit of salt and pepper. After the broccoli is tender but still has a bite to it, add in the slices of steak.

In the meantime, make the sauce. For the sauce, combine the hoisin, soy sauce, and hot sauce in a separate bowl. When the meat has heated through, pour the sauce over the stir-fry and toss to combine.

This dish was another Rachael Ray adaptation (see the recipe for the Hoisin noodle bowls).

I usually serve stir-fry with brown rice or noodles. Usually I use whole wheat spaghetti, but this time I had some linguine in the pantry. If you choose to use noodles, put the cooked noodles into the stir-fry pan, then add the sauce to the veggies/meat/pasta and toss to combine so the noodles soak up the sauce.

This stir-fry sauce works with any combination of meats and veggies. One of my favorite variations of this stir-fry is onions, mushrooms, broccoli, and scrambled egg. Yummy!

Monday, June 1, 2009

Double Duty: Chicken

You may remember the Chile-Garlic Spiced chicken from a couple of posts ago. There were a few cups of chicken leftover, so I had an idea to turn it into a BBQ chicken sandwich with a Tex-Mex twist. The final product resembled more of a sloppy joe sandwich, hence the post title. Instead of barbecue sauce, I added 1 cup of enchilada sauce (made from scratch, though the spices/seasoning were a little off) to 1 1/2 cups of shredded chicken, and heated the mixture on the stove top. I used toasted whole wheat hamburger buns I bought from the Wal-Mart bakery (they were really crusty and held up well to all of the sauce.)

In hindsight, I could have added some minced jalapeno and cheese to the sandwich, but the meal still got an A+ from my #1 tester. You could also use a store-bought can of enchilada sauce if you don't want to make your own. I served this with a side of roasted broccoli.