November 2011

chicken-and-vegetable-pasta-in-white

Thanksgiving is over, and I think I have successfully stretched out my stomach for good. It took a lot of hard work, focus, and teamwork, but I did it. How do I know? Because on Sunday night when we returned home from Chicago, I wanted something light, fresh, and healthy. I arrived at the grocery store with no recipe and an open mind – I wanted the produce section to do the talking. Asparagus? Yes! Mushrooms? Yum! Peas? Definitely! Hm…what could I make with all of these fresh vegetables? It came to me immediately.

Pasta in a cream sauce with chicken and pancetta. And light went right out the window. But, delicious came in. We loved this.

Recipe:

  • 3 boneless skinless chicken breasts
  • Pancetta
  • Fetuccine
  • 1 bunch asparagus, chopped into 1-inch pieces
  • 1/2 bag frozen peas
  • 1 cup chopped mushrooms (portabella, cremini, baby bella, whatever!)
  • 3 T. butter
  • 1/4 cup plus 2 T. white wine
  • 1 cup chicken broth
  • 1/2 cup half and half
  • 1/4 cup milk
  • 2 T. corn starch
  • parsley
  • italian seasoning
  • salt & pepper
  • olive oil

Chop the chicken up into 1-inch pieces and place into a bowl. Drizzle generously with olive oil, then S&P and Italian seasoning. Toss and let sit at room temp for 15 minutes.

Heat a large skillet over medium heat, add a little olive oil (not much is needed), and add chicken. Cook for about 10 minutes, until done. Transfer to a plate.

In a separate skillet, heat 1 tablespoon of the butter over medium heat. Add the asparagus and cook for about 5 minutes, stirring in plenty of salt and pepper (1/2 t. each). Add the mushrooms, cook for another few minutes. Add the frozen peas. Continue stirring, adding more olive oil if necessary, for another 5 minutes.  Meanwhile, cook the pasta.

Pour the wine into the vegetable pan. Turn the heat up to medium-high and let it reduce a little. Reduce the heat to low.

Add the remaining 2 tablespoons of butter and chicken broth, stirring until melted. Pour in the cream and milk, cooking for a few more minutes. In a separate bowl whisk together the corn starch and 1/4 cup water…add to the pan, stirring and cooking to thicken.  Add the chicken back into the vegetable mixture now, and stir to combine. I would add the crumbled pancetta here as well, but Central Market was out!! Stupid Thanksgiving over-eaters.

When the pasta is done (I used fresh fetuccine from Central Market, it only took about 4 minutes after boiling) – drain it then return to low heat for a minute to dry them out a bit. Pour the cream/vegetable mixture into the pasta. Stir to combine, then top with parsley.  I added a pinch more half and half here, because we wanted it extra creamy.

Don’t worry, this was only half of my serving. A full plate of it looked a little excessive and disgusting for public display.

Add plenty of parmesan.
Then serve it with a fresh green salad, bread & butter, and fall in love with the world.

Braised Short Ribs

braised-short-ribs
Oh boy. If you haven’t ever experienced the pure bliss that is short ribs, do it now. I made them for the first time on Sunday night, and now I’m having an affair. Cheating on my husband with short ribs…is that allowed? I can’t stop thinking about them. And all they did was slow roast down into a tender, flavorful, melt-in-your-mouth meat…how is that for courtship? I think John tried a lot harder.
The funny thing about short ribs is the price. Have you ever ordered them in a restaurant? They’re not cheap. But in a grocery store, they’re one of the cheapest things in the meat case. What a pleasant surprise.
Recipe:
  • 2 lb bone-in short ribs
  • 2 slices bacon
  • 1 cup chopped carrots
  • 1 onion, chopped
  • 2 1/2 cups red wine, like Cabernet Sauvignon
  • 2-3 cups beef broth
  • Sprig of rosemary and thyme
  • olive oil
  • salt and pepper
  • flour
  • 3 tablespoons corn starch
Here they are, the new loves of my life:
Amazing, cute little fat short ribs. About to rock your world. Just kidding, that was weird. Let’s get to the point…
Start with the bacon. Cook the bacon in a dutch oven over medium heat until very crisp.
I used this very heavy cast iron pot that seals very tightly – it was perfect for this. Plus it looks good.
You’ll notice my oven is pulled away from the wall. It broke. I don’t know what happened but I think I made it work a little too hard. So, I ended up having to make these stovetop, but normally I would do the long slow-roasting part in the oven.  Anyway, back to the bacon.  Cook the bacon until very crisp, to render all the fat. Meanwhile, salt, pepper, and flour the short ribs (skip this if cooking GF). Transfer the bacon to a plate, and turn the heat to med-high. Place the floured short ribs in the hot pan to brown all sides….about 45 seconds on each side. Add a little olive oil if there is not enough fat in the pan from the bacon. That’s a gross sentence. But do it, add more fat. We all know this dinner isn’t on the Weight Watchers meal plan.
Once the meat is browned on all sides, transfer to a plate and reduce the heat to medium.
Add the carrots and onions to the pot, cooking for about 15 minutes.
 Keep stirring…
Reduce the heat to medium-low. Now it gets fun. Take out a bottle of wine.
And start pouring, about 2.5 cups.
Pour yourself a glass, preferably by a fireplace.
Those are both for me.
Continue cooking and stirring, bringing to a boil and then reducing it down…about 5 minutes.  Add an equal amount of beef broth, about 2 cups. Stir and cook for a couple minutes.  Add the meat back in the pot.
Then I picked some fresh thyme and rosemary from my herb garden.
And threw them in…
 Then the magic begins. Cover the pot, turn the heat to low, and simmer for a solid 2 1/2 hours. Or, you can put the pot in the oven at 350 degrees for 2 1/2 hours. That is probably easier, and the method I would have used had my oven not protested. Walk away, and leave it alone. The smell will make you want to sing from the rooftop, if you’re into that.
2 1/2 hours later…
Tender, fall-off-the-bone deliciousness….some of them will come right of the bone, by the way. That’s a good thing. Remove the meat to a plate. You’ll want to let it sit for about 15-20 minutes before serving, to let it settle.
Place the pot on the stove top and turn the heat up to medium-high to boil and thicken. Ladle out any fat that rises to the top. Mix the corn starch with about 1/4 cup water, and add to the gravy. It should really start to thicken up. If not, you can add more corn starch (always mixing with water first to avoid lumps).
Finally, it’s time. These should be served over something like mashed potatoes, to soak up the gravy and make this the best meal you ever had.
Get ready to eat your face off.
PS…these might even be better the next day, so if you need to make ahead, do it.

Bacon Wrapped Jalapeno Poppers

bacon-wrapped-jalapeno-poppers

This recipe is from my good friend and mentor at Lockheed Martin. A very brilliant man, Steve could sell F-16s to a jalapeno popper if he wanted to. I’m not sure why anyone would do that, but he could nonetheless.  I take his advice on literally everything work related, and it turns out he’s an expert in the kitchen as well.

Steve is the lucky owner of the Big Green Egg and is an avid smoker, griller, rib-and-steak maker. When he told me he had a bacon wrapped jalapeno popper recipe that was to die for (I don’t think he used those words, they sound more like my own) – I believed him and knew I had to try it. These really are SO GOOD. When the F-16 production line ends I think Steve should just head on home and start his own Jalapeno Popper production line.

You will notice there is a significant improvement in picture quality and detail in this post. That’s because Steve sent me his pictures, and they were so much better than my own that I stole them. Thanks Steve.

Recipe:

  • 20 (or so) jalapeno peppers, sliced and seeds removed
  • 1 8 oz package cream cheese
  • 1 cup shredded cheddar cheese
  • Bacon (same number of slices as jalapenos)
  • Toothpicks, soaked in water

Here are the stars of the show. Beautiful, shiny, fresh jalapenos.

Start by cutting them in half lengthwise.

Remove the seeds and cores, unless you want to burn your mouth off. I’m assuming you don’t.

See, I knew I really liked Steve for a reason. He buys Wisconsin cheddar. The choice of champions, the only way to go.

Place the jalapenos in a grill pan….

In a bowl, mix together the cream cheese and cheddar.

Then, you’ll want to LIGHTLY cook the bacon and lay them out on a paper towel to drain a little of the fat. This was a very good tip – I think that if you don’t cook the bacon at all prior to wrapping the jalapenos, they turn out far too fatty and soggy.  Let some of the fat soak out on the paper towel.

Now, let the stuffing begin!  Scoop the cream cheese mixture into the jalapeno halves….

These are not my hands.

Wrap a piece of bacon around each jalapeno, and secure with a toothpick. Yum…I want these to be done immediately.

Now, it’s time for the grill. Unless you’re fancy, like Steve. Then you would smoke them on the green egg. Since I just have a regular ol’ grill, I placed these over indirect heat (setting at medium-low), and cooked them until the bacon looked done. I don’t remember how long this took, but I’m guessing about 20 minutes. You could also put these in the oven at about 350-375 and bake them that way…but grilling is certainly more festive. Of course we live in Texas and it’s still 65 degrees here.

And here we are, in the presence of Texas greatness…if you’re still looking for a Thanksgiving appetizer, let this be it.

Thanks Steve, for this amazing recipe. Great work advice, great jalapeno advice, I’ll take your rib advice next. Can we set up a mentoring session for that?

Italian Chicken

italian-chicken

This recipe is easy peasy. Between this post and my previous one (Salmon Baked in Foil), one might conclude that I am turning into a lazy cook. This chicken takes about 4 minutes to prepare, with minimal chopping and manual labor. I assure you, however, I am not lazy. I promise to make an incredibly time intensive and tedious dinner this evening.

For a weeknight meal, however, you will love this. Despite the extremely easy preparation and minimal ingredients, this recipe has the look and taste of something far more gourmet than it is.

Recipe:
  • 2 boneless skinless chicken breasts (obviously more or less depending on servings)
  • 1 bottle light italian dressing
  • 1 package Lipton onion soup mix
  • Paprika
  • 2 cups Cremini Mushrooms, stems removed
  • 3 medium tomatoes, sliced and seeded

I only took the one picture of the final product, because there are so few steps in this process. Plus, I’ve come to conclude that my photographs really don’t add any positive appeal to my recipes. I need to take a class.

Preheat the oven to 350. Place the chicken in a baking dish, and pour the italian dressing and soup mix over them. Flip the chicken a couple times to fully coat. Generously salt and pepper. Let the chicken marinate at room temperature for about 15-20 minutes. Then, sprinkle the chicken with paprika (about 1/4-1/2 teaspoon total), cover the dish with foil, and place in the oven. Bake for 35 minutes.

Take the dish out of the oven, uncover, and add the tomatoes and mushrooms. Bake uncovered for another 15-20 minutes. To make this even easier, you could use cherry tomatoes and not do any chopping or seeding. Those would be delicious, but I only had vine tomatoes so I used those. Here is the same picture, again, I just wanted to remind you how good it is. Oh yeah, and I added a bay leaf. I just caught that floating in the middle of the picture.

salmon-baked-in-foil-with-herbs
Perfect weeknight meal. Super fast. Super healthy. Super good.
Recipe:
  • 2 6-8 oz. Salmon fillets
  • 3 medium sized tomatoes, chopped and seeded
  • 1/2 sweet onion, chopped or sliced
  • 1 lemon
  • 1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar
  • 1/2 teaspoon oregano
  • 1/2 teaspoon thyme
  • S&P
  • Olive oil
Preheat oven to 400. Place each piece of salmon on a sheet of foil.  Cut the lemon in half and squeeze the juice from half over both pieces. Generously salt and pepper.
In a bowl, mix the onions, tomatoes, balsamic vinegar, herbs, remaining lemon juice, and a dash of olive oil.
Pour the mixture over the salmon.
Seal the foil. This picture makes me laugh for some reason. Two sleeping salmons.
Bake at 400 for 20 minutes. Remove salmon from the oven, open the foil to let the steam escape, and turn on the broiler. Broil for 5-8 minutes. Dunzo, in less than 35 minutes.

Hot Beef Pitas

Making one of your husband’s favorite childhood recipes is incredibly stressful.  Can I live up to my mother-in-law’s hot beef pitas that sound like they are nothing short of magical? I’ve avoided making these for nearly 2 years for that very reason: fear. Ok, I am exaggerating a little, but my dad STILL says ‘my mother’s used to be so creamy’ every time my mom makes mashed potatoes. Which is pretty much every week.  Trying to recreate the fond and loving memories from your mother-in-law’s kitchen is a lot to live up to. 
So, I finally decided to attempt the hot beef pitas. But I added beer. Why? Because then if they didn’t turn out I could say, ‘it must have been the beer.’ And it wouldn’t be my overall cooking skill or magical cooking hand (or lack thereof).
Anyway. These sandwiches? Awesome. The beef is so flavorful yet very simple…the idea to put them in a pita? Genius. Pure genius. Thank you Jane Braley.
Recipe:
  • 2 lbs boneless rump or chuck roast
  • 1 package Lipton onion soup mix
  • Beef broth (3-4 cups)
  • 1-2 cans beer
  • 1/4 cup sugar
  • Pitas
  • Sour cream, cheddar cheese for serving
I used rump roast for these sandwiches, but I would recommend either that or chuck roast. I think chuck roast might be a little cheaper. Both meats will cook down enough to shred quite easily.
Preheat the oven to 350.  Pat the meat dry with a paper towel, and flour all sides (you can skip this if cooking GF).  Heat a couple tablespoons of olive oil in a large dutch oven, over medium-high heat. Place the meat in the pot, and brown all sides. This should take 3-4 minutes per side.
Reduce the heat to medium. Pour in about 3 cups beef broth, beer, and onion soup mix. Mix together. Pour in more beef broth if necessary, until it nearly covers the meat.
Stir in the sugar. This was another minor modification…not necessary but I wanted to sweeten it up a bit.
Place the lid on the dutch oven, and slow roast in the oven for about 4 hours. You can check after about 3.5…you want the meat to shred easily with a fork.
When the meat can be easily shredded, turn off the heat. Shred the entire roast with a fork (or 2). We left it in the sauce for serving, but you could also remove the meat to another bowl to make it a little easier. You will still want to pour a little of the sauce in the sandwich, it is so delicious. Meanwhile, toast the pitas! This is not an opinion, this is a fact.
Then, stuff away. Pitas are so fun! We made some with cheddar cheese.
And some with caramelized onions and sour cream.
You could also serve the beef on regular hamburger buns, on tortillas, over nachos…oh the opportunities here are endless. Our dinner was complete with Corn Casserole and Apple and Goat Cheese Salad.
There are several football Sundays left in the season – make these if you would like to become the lady (or man) with the great hot beef recipe.
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