Onion and Herb Pasta

This weekend the fridge was pretty bare so I made this pasta dish, which I can pretty much make anytime with stuff I already have.

Originally, this dish was a Betty Crocker recipe for herbed chicken, but as I don’t eat the chicken anymore, I had to adapt.

You can make it with any kind of pasta, and usually I make it with linguine or spaghetti noodles, but this time I made it with penne and liked it better. We’ve been eating Barilla Plus, which has some whole grains in it but doesn’t really change the taste.

Onion and Herb Pasta

1 pound penne pasta
2 T. butter
2 T. vegetable oil
1 red or yellow onion, chopped
3 garlic cloves, minced
1/3 c. lemon juice
3 T. Worcestershire sauce
1 t. dried basil
1/2 t. dried marjoram
1/2 t. dried oregano
Parmesan cheese to taste

Boil the pasta while you prepare the sauce. In a deep skillet, heat the butter and vegetable oil over medium heat. Add the onions and garlic and saute until the onions are translucent. Add the lemon juice, Worcestershire and herbs.

Bring the sauce to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer for about 10 minutes. I usually add 1/4 cup of water at this point because the sauce can be a little tart.

Drain pasta and toss with the sauce in the pan. Serve in bowls with cheese sprinkled on top.

Make it meaty:
Melt the butter and oil in the oven in a 9X13 baking dish. Then add the rest of the ingredients (except the cheese) plus 4 boneless, skinless chicken breasts. Bake for about 40 minutes at 375 degrees, turning once during cooking. Serve chicken breasts and sauce over pasta.

My first time! (making risotto)

I am a huge foodie, and the older I get the more geeky I get about it. Every restaurant gets a thorough evaluation, whether I’m actually there to review it or not. It’s gone way beyond copyediting menus to things like making my tablemates feel guilty that they don’t know what arugula is. But if I’m gonna take on the calories (and you know I will) I want to at least know what I’m eating, where it came from and how one could possibly make a tiny cup of chilled rice pudding so incredibly good I could drink it.

However, when I get in the kitchen myself I instantly lose interest in cooking something that is a) meaty or b) hard to make. I just don’t have the patience for really involved recipes. The last time I cooked something that took 2 hours (an incredibly rich vegetable pot pie with saffron cream and homemade pastry from Barefoot Contessa) I immediately got bronchitis and laryngitis and was sick for two weeks. Mike is the patient baker. He loves anything he’s never made before. We are kitchen opposites for sure.

So one of those dishes I avoid like the plague is risotto. I’ve heard all kinds of things about how you have to stir it endlessly, keep adding broth, pray it doesn’t burn and then about 10 hours later you have….rice. Awesome!

But I saved a risotto recipe from a random issue of Rachael Ray’s magazine because it looked so lovely. (And by the way, I’m not sure what possessed me to buy a Rachael Ray magazine in the first place, except that I did spend a few months of my unemployed life watching at least 4 hours of Food Network a day. I don’t dislike her, I’m just overwhelmed by her). Anyway, it’s a creamy risotto with peas, parmesan and a little breadcrumb crusted on top. Last summer I had a similar version at a random cafe in Aix-en-Provence that was so incredible I could have licked the plate when I was finished proving to everyone French that Americans really are like that. So I knew the work could pay off, and I finally decided to try it. After a particularly stressful day it work. It seemed like it would become a total disaster, but I’m happy to report that risotto is not actually that hard to make and only took me about half an hour. Whew.

I even had an old chunk of parmesan in the fridge which I burned about 150 calories shredding. It was totally worth it.

Sweet Pea Risotto Gratin
Adapted from Everyday with Rachael Ray

10-oz. package frozen baby peas, thawed
6 c. chicken or no-chicken broth
5 tablespoons butter
1 medium yellow onion, finely chopped
1 pound arborio rice
1 c. Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese, grated
Salt and pepper to taste
1/4 c. plain dry bread crumbs

Puree half of the peas in a food processor (I used a blender. I hate cleaning all the food processor parts).

In a saucepan heat the broth and keep it warm. Grease a 2-court casserole and set aside.

In a large saucepan heat 3 tablespoons of the butter over medium. Stir in the onion and cook until translucent, about 4 minutes. Add the rice and stir well to coat the grains with butter. Add 1 cup of chicken broth, lower the heat slightly and stir until the broth is absorbed. Continue adding broth in half-cup increments, letting the rice absorb the liquid (about 3 minutes) after each addition, and stirring almost constantly until the rice is cooked, 20-25 minutes. The finished rice will be creamy but firm to the bite.

A few minutes before the risotto is done, stir in the pureed and whole peas. Turn on the broiler.

Remove the cooked rice from the heat and stir in the remaining 2 tablespoons of butter and 3/4 cup of cheese. Season with salt and pepper. Stir the remaining 1/4 cup of cheese and bread crumbs together. Transfer the risotto to the casserole dish and top with the bread crumb mixture. Place the dish about 6 inches from the heat source and broil for 6-8 minutes or until the top is golden.

(Not) Beef Stroganoff

I really don’t miss gnawing on beef cubes. But I do miss my dad’s beef stroganoff (minus the mushrooms, of course).

This version is adapted from Campbell’s Shortcut Stroganoff. I can part with a lot of the foods I grew up with, but cream of mushroom soup has been a major holdout (yes, I am strangely picky and like mushroom flavor but not actual mushrooms). So, I give you my version of beef stroganoff, minus just about all the things that make it original. But look at it! It’s a fine substitute, I think.

(Not) Beef Stroganoff

1 T. olive oil
1 package Morningstar Farms breakfast sausage (or your favorite)
1 can Campbell’s cream of mushroom soup (I have found the store brand is NOT the same here)
2 c. no-chicken or vegetable broth
2 T. Worcestershire sauce (not vegetarian, but OK for fish eaters)
3 c. egg noodles
1/4 c. half and half

Heat soup, broth, Worcestershire sauce and egg noodles in a deep skillet over medium-high heat until it starts to boil. Reduce heat to medium and cook about 15 minutes or until noodles are soft and sauce is thickened.

While that’s cooking, heat oil in another pan over medium. Drop in your sausages and cook until heated through and slightly brown on both sides. Chop them into fourths.

Turn off the heat on both pans. Add the half and half to the noodles and stir. Then mix in the sausage pieces.

To make it meaty:
You know, the beef cubes.

Throw a bag of Steamfresh in the microwave and you’ve got dinner in less than half an hour. That’s my kind of dinner.

Rice pudding

Rice pudding is one of those dishes that I never thought I would like until I tried it. Mixing something that’s usually considered savory with sugar and cream just seemed strange. But the first time I had good, chilled rice pudding I gave in completely.

My favorite recipe so far is from Barefoot Contessa. I believe she uses raisins and a splash of rum, but I skip those and have it plain.

Rice Pudding

3/4 c. white basmati rice
1/2 t. kosher salt
5 c. half-and-half (really)
1/2 c. sugar
1 large egg, beaten
1-1/2 t. pure vanilla extract
1/2 t. cinnamon

Combine the rice and salt with 1-1/2 cups water in a medium heavy-bottomed saucepan. Bring it to a boil, stir once and simmer, covered, on low heat for 8 to 9 minutes, until most of the water is absorbed.

Stir in 4 cups half-and-half and sugar and bring to a boil. Simmer, uncovered, for 25 minutes, until the rice is very soft. Stir often, particularly toward the end.

Temper the egg by adding a few ladles of liquid before stirring it into the pot (this is optional — it will still taste great without the egg). Cook for 1 minute more. Off the heat, add the remaining cup of half-and-half, vanilla and cinnamon. Stir well. Chill and serve.

Shipwreck stew

This is one of those recipes that came out of a random cookbook, probably from the ’70s, and became a fixture in our home growing up. It’s called Shipwreck Stew, but it’s really a casserole you bake for two hours. Make it on a Sunday and you’ll have dinner a couple nights that week.

Originally it was made with ground beef and chopped tomatoes, which became really dry on top. I adapted it several times when I became vegetarian and am finally satisfied with this version.

Shipwreck Stew

1 large onion, chopped
4 ribs celery, chopped
2 T. butter
3 c. peeled and diced golden potatoes
1/2 c. uncooked basmati rice
1 28-oz. can dark kidney beans, drained
1 28-oz. can crushed tomatoes
1 T. Worcestershire sauce
1 T. chili powder

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Brown onions and celery in skillet in butter over medium heat. Mix Worcestershire sauce and chili powder into can of crushed tomatoes. Layer half of the onions/celery, then potatoes, rice, beans and tomatoes in 9X13 baking dish and repeat with other half. Cover with foil and bake for two hours. Check on it once to make sure the rice is not drying out.

To make it meaty: Add a layer of ground beef (raw, so it will cook in the 2 hours).

*Update! My dad shared with me the story of where this recipe came from. Thanks, dad!

In 1973 or so my girlfriend at the time in Manhattan lived in a kind of commune hippy house with several other people. They each shared cooking duties and prepared meals for the whole house. One of the members (a guy of course) had really no experience in cooking, so he began perusing cookbooks for something relatively easy that would serve 8 people. At last he found a recipe called Shipwreck stew in one of the cookbooks that belonged to my girlfriend. With its simple ingredients and preparation the resulting dish was much loved by all the hippies in the house! Anyway somehow the cookbook ended up at my apartment and didn’t make it back to her after we parted ways. So I kept the cookbook and now you and Megan have experienced the magic of the hippy commune Shipwreck stew. I’m sure that it will be shared with friends and future generations to come.

Accidental pizza

I’m kind of obsessive compulsive when it comes to using up leftovers. I was raised not to waste food, and it drives me crazy when things languish in our fridge. So today when I was making dinner I realized I had the makings of a little pizza that would use up some soy sausage and homemade tomato sauce that were sitting in two little Glad containers.

I spread the sauce – a mixture of tomatoes, onions and basil – on a pita (cut in half so Mike and I could each have some) and then sprinkled the Italian sausage flavored soy crumbles on top. Then I added some shredded mozzarella and heated it in a 400-degree oven for about 5 minutes.

It was wonderful! One of the best things I’ve ever created with leftovers. And if you use the soy crumbles and only eat half, you can consider it a pretty healthy snack.

Pesto Genovese

As soon as you walk into our garden you smell the sweet basil, and it just brings a smile to your face. So now that our plants are thriving I decided to pick a bunch of leaves and make pesto.

I have a great recipe from my friend Alessandra, who is from Viterbo, Italy. It’s your classic basil pesto with a LOT of garlic. She tosses it with pasta, and that’s what we did, too.

I find that this makes just enough to mix with a pound of pasta and have a little left over to spread on a grilled veggie sandwich.

Pesto alla Genovese for 4

2 cups of fresh basil leaves, washed and dried
3 tablespoons of pine nuts
5 garlic cloves, peeled (Yup, that’s 5.)
2 tablespoons of Pecorino cheese
4 tablespoons of Parmigiano cheese (or use all parmigiano)
Olive oil (maybe 1/3 cup?)
Salt to taste

Toss basil leaves, pine nuts, garlic, a pinch of salt and cheese in a food processor or blender.

Add olive oil and pulse a few times until blended. At this point you’ll want to taste it and make sure the texture is smooth and moist. If it’s too dry, add more oil and pulse again.

That’s it. You’re done. Pesto is ridiculously easy to make. You don’t even have to cook it. Just toss it with cooked penne (I like Barilla Plus) and top with a little more cheese.

*Pesto freezing tip: If you want to save some pesto to drop into sauces or spread on sandwiches later, prepare the pesto without the cheese, and freeze it in an ice cube tray. When you’re ready to use, thaw a couple cubes and mix in the cheese.

Melt-in-your-mouth home fries

My boyfriend, Mike, is obsessed with making hash browns. Inspired by the Waveland Cafe, a greasy spoon that we once lived 2 blocks from (and patronized regularly), he’s been trying to emulate their crispy-on-the-outside, soft-inside version. He’s tried different graters, the food processor, different methods of squeezing out the excess water – just about everything. And I don’t think he’s got it yet, but we’ve had some pretty tasty hash browns in the process.

So I decided one day to try my hand at a different kind of breakfast potatoes, and I am more than happy with the recipe I created. It tastes so good because it appears to be drowning in butter. But I determined that it comes out to about a tablespoon per person, which is only 100 calories. Yes, they’re all from fat, but we can’t have everything…

There’s also a kick of cayenne pepper. Add or subtract the amount depending on how much kick you like before noon.

You need:
2 large gold potatoes, thin sliced into 1-inch pieces
1/2 an onion, thin sliced
4 T. butter
2 t. salt
1 t. pepper
1/2 t. cayenne pepper

1. Heat a large skillet over medium and melt your butter. Then add the potatoes and onions. While they’re cooking, season with salt, pepper and cayenne.

2. Cover, and continue cooking on medium about 10 minutes, or until the potatoes are soft. At this point, taste your taters, and if they’re a little bland, hit ’em with a little more seasoning (and if you’re brave, another pat of butter).

Mmmm, taters. And butter.

Biscuits and Gravy, my way

Two years ago I decided to try being a vegetarian. Just try it for a week and see what happens. I was living in Boulder at the time, a place where being vegetarian is like, well, being a meat eater anywhere else. It was actually pretty easy. And though I never quit eating seafood, I did keep my meatless ways even when I moved back to pork-chop-on-a-stick-lovin’ Iowa.

Just like I always did with recipes, I tend to change vegetarian recipes to my liking. I don’t like mushrooms, which is a major meat substitute. And for a long time I didn’t care for tofu either. I find gluten disgusting, and I still haven’t warmed up to things like seitan and tempeh. But, BUT, I have come to appreciate a lot of meat substitutes, like Quorn, and I use them often because they keep me feeling like what I eat is still pretty much like what everyone else eats. Just healthier. And better for the environment.

I find that a lot of times when you try to eat vegetarian at a restaurant the offerings are either really limited (pasta with vegetables, woo hoo!) or so different from what I’m used to eating that I don’t care for it either. I like to make recipes that remind me of what I grew up eating, but fit in better with my dietary limitations.

One thing I’ve never seen in a restaurant is a vegetarian version of biscuits and gravy. And anymore, it’s not a hard thing to make. So here is my version. It takes about a half hour to make on a Sunday morning. (Unless you make your own biscuits. And if you like to make your own from scratch, by all means do it!).

You need:
1 package ready-to-bake biscuits
1 package (about a pound) meat-free sausage – I like the Boca or Morningstar versions that come in patties, but GimmeLean is great, too.
3 T vegetable oil
4 T butter
4 T flour
2 t. tamari or soy sauce
3 c. milk
Salt and pepper to taste

Do this:
1. Preheat your oven for the biscuts.
2. Heat the oil over medium in a skillet. Brown the sausage in the oil. When it’s done, break it up into 1-inch pieces and drain on paper towels. Put your biscuits in the oven to bake.

3. Keeping the heat on medium, melt the butter. Then add the flour and whisk together.
4. Add the milk and tamari or soy sauce, whisking together. Raise the heat to medium-high until the milk starts to bubble.

Then reduce the heat to medium-low and simmer for 10 minutes or until the gravy reaches desired thickness. Season with salt and pepper and dump in the sausage pieces.

Be careful not to burn your biscuits! They tend to get brown on the bottom before the top.

Voila! Vegetarian biscuits and gravy.