Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Chicken and Wild Rice Soup

There are germs floating around my house. We're already one man down so I'm making chicken soup to keep myself healthy. I would hate to miss out on our class backpacking/rock climbing/hiking/caving weekend coming up in a few days!

I can't afford to shop at Whole Foods on any kind of regular basis but I'm certainly not above exploiting their website for recipe ideas. They have a good selection of healthy recipes, vegetarian ones too which come in handy at times. I do get a bit annoyed, however, because sometimes they measure things oddly. Take, for example, a line from the recipe in the link above:

2 tablespoons of chopped garlic.... why can't you just tell me how many cloves to chop? Maybe they are hoping people will buy the pre-chopped kind? I chopped 5 cloves (3 big, 2 smaller) and didn't measure the results. So there.

Ok, that's my rant done now.

As for alterations, I didn't do many to this recipe. I bought a bag brown wild rice (Canoe brand if you care) and the grains look long to me. I used one 900mL box of Campbell's reduced-sodium chicken broth and an additional 2 cups from a box of Campbell's vegetable broth. I used an entire medium yellow onion, not necessarily the prescribed 1 cup. Who wants bits of an onion left over if it measures to be more than you need? Heck, it adds flavour. In it goes. I dug a bag of boneless, skinless chicken thighs out of the freezer and chopped them up without caring how much they weighed. Are you sensing a theme here? If you're keeping track and really care, they weighed just under a pound. The mushrooms only came in a 7-oz package so I chopped them all up.

Hmmm, I just added the 1/4 cup of dried parsley that is called for, but I think they might have meant a 1/4 cup of fresh parsley. My soup looks a little green. Oh well, parsley doesn't have a really strong taste and I'm going to imagine that it's good for me too. Just keep in mind that if you're making this recipe, you might want to consider the parsley issue.

Well, if you're looking for a hearty cold-and-flu-season, I-need-to-stay-healthy-to-go-to-school, feel-good kind of soup, this one seems to do the trick. My version hasn't got a TON of flavour but it's tasty nonetheless. The rice is a nice touch of bulk and the garlic is plenty good for an immune system boost. Soup's on!

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Bruschetta Chicken Bake

My recipe productivity has slooooooowed.... I do still cook but not a whole lot and if I forget to take a photo, I tend not to blog it. Forgive me the crappy photo in this post.

This recipe was a request from the meatatarian. Although Alberta beef is very good, it's important to have variety too. Besides, the chicken was cheap.

All in all, this recipe is easy to make. I happen to have used the lower sodium stuffing mix because it's a better food choice. The stewed tomatoes came with italian seasoning in them and I finally bought dried basil after confirming for the nth time that I did not have any. Somewhat surprisingly, I actually had mozzarella cheese on hand instead of using whatever random cheese was already in the fridge. I added a bit of extra cheese for the meatacheeseatarian.

The one part I don't like about this recipe is the length of time to cook until chicken is done. I checked it after 30 min which is the initial cooking time suggested. I saw pink meat so I tried another 10 min. Still pink parts! I realize now that a subsequent 15 min was too long - the chicken is cooked but the topping and sides are a bit charred. My mistake.

In the end, the food was still good albeit a little crunchy in places. I'm not 100% sure how much actual time you'd need when cooking this, but I suggest it might be close to 45 min. Enjoy!

Friday, October 15, 2010

Cheese and Vegetable Pasta Bake

Another friend over for dinner, another excuse to get busy in the kitchen!

I was trying to find a way to use up a few ingredients I seem to always have hanging around: cheese, milk and bread crumbs. Strange combination but a true story. This recipe seemed the perfect way to kill 3 ingredients with one dinner.

I think next time I will add more pasta to this dish. It only calls for 1 1/2 cups of rotini, but I do love pasta and it seemed to me that the pasta got overwhelmed by the vegetables in the finished product form.

I was pleased with my choice of meat for this recipe. I waffled for a long time in the deli section before picking up a hunk of summer sausage. My trouble was: not all of the packages say that the meat is cooked so I looked first at the ones labelled so but didn't like any of them particularly. I thought long and hard and finally came to the conclusion that summer sausage is most likely cooked (in the form that I bought it) because I've seen people open it, cut it and eat it straight away. Mind you, I do that with hot dogs which aren't pre-cooked but that's not the point.

As for the creamy sauce, I am very pleased to tell you that I finally made a lump-free version! Turns out the secret ingredient is ridiculous amounts of patience. That, and one heck of a lot of whisking. The arm cramps will be worth it, however, when your masterpiece is nice and smooth. I was particularly happy that mine didn't taste like flour this time. I've done that before...

I didn't substitute anything major in this recipe. I used 1% milk that I already had, marble cheese for the same reason, salted butter, prefab parmesan cheese (too cheap to buy the real stuff often), a non-Italian-specific bag of frozen vegetables (I dislike most of the Italian-specific vegetables) and breadcrumbs with Italian seasoning built into them.

One piece of feedback that I did get from the diners is that I might want to tone down the cayenne pepper a bit next time. My tongue was tingling, yes, so I'll take that advice to heart. I admit it was a "rough" 1/2 tsp that I measured out in a hurry.

I probably wouldn't recommend this dish if you're watching your fat intake or weight in general. I mean, it's not horribly bad for you, but there is a lot of butter and cheese involved. If you're looking for a hot, vegetable-loaded creamy baked pasta dish with a nice crunchy topping, then I fully recommend this one!

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Hearty Minestrone Soup

Happy (Canadian) Thanksgiving! This recipe has zero turkey, stuffing or pumpkin pie in it, but I happen to have made it leading into Thanksgiving weekend. It also serves as my "untraditional" Thanksgiving meal since I'm not able to do the family feast thing back home this year.

Well, they weren't kidding on the website when they billed this soup as "a meal in itself." It's very hearty and filling. I also took their suggestion of serving it with crusty bread and a green salad, all of which was well received by the dinner guests.

For the most part, this recipe is pretty easy to make. You will need to set aside time for chopping endless vegetables, especially if you're still slow at it like me. May I also recommend you don't go swimming without goggles on before you chop the onion. You will not enjoy the resulting pain and blindness. It may be better just to wear goggles for both the swimming and the chopping.

I made a few adjustments to the recipe, mostly for the sake of convenience but also for the sake of flavour in a few cases. I was going to buy a yellow onion as required, but it was recommended to me that a white onion would have more flavour. Since I dislike onion and know virtually nothing about them, I took the advice of my sage co-shopper. I used a mixture of chicken broth that I already had on hand along with the recommended vegetable broth. Out of curiosity, how does a vegetable broth differ from a "vegetarian vegetable" broth? Aren't vegetables the same as vegetables? But I digress....

Ah, yes. The Savoy cabbage. What the heck is a Savoy cabbage? It doesn't seem to exist in these parts; at least, not at the stores I went to to find it. I settled for ordinary green cabbage, buying the smallest one I could find. I've still got nearly all of it left over - free to a good home! As for the parsley and basil, I used my dried herbs at about 1.5 - 2 times the amount called for in fresh herbs. I really should start growing some herbs sometime soon.

I already had baby carrots on hand so I used them to make adult-sized carrot shapes on my cutting board before chopping them up. It seemed like a scientific method of substitution. It was also pretty fun. I happen to have bought the chopped tomatoes with some flavour built into them, and I used my tiny winged pasta (farfalline) on request instead of the fusilli. I completely forgot the salt & pepper!

Now, it does say to drain some of the canned ingredients and not others (which I followed precisely), but in the end, I had to add another approximately 1 cup of vegetable broth to the soup as it was quite thick by that point. Presumably this would not have been the case had I cooked it at a lower temperature, but if you're crunched for time like me and your dinner guests have already arrived, you may be turning up the heat so keep the extra liquids in mind. It turned out well in the end as the guests took second helpings of soup and I didn't have to store a partial box of broth in the fridge for days.

I'm not sure exactly how long I cooked my soup for. I used the microwave for a timer while cooking the first batch of ingredients, but what I had forgotten was that the microwave beeper had been silenced a while back so I've no idea how long past that point it went before I noticed. I did use a bit of extra cooking time to get that cabbage good and soft. This might not be required with Savoy cabbage, but I can't yet say that from experience.

Overall, the soup was well received even by the person who doesn't particularly love soup. This may have been helped by the fact that mine was thickened more like stew. I've just finished the last of the soup leftovers for breakfast so the quantities on the website will last you for a few meals, more if you haven't any more guests to split it with. Enjoy!

Thursday, September 30, 2010

Weeknight Ravioli Bake

Happy first birthday, blog! I see that I've been, er, neglecting you of late....

I saw this recipe on my most recent email from Kraft the other day, but I actually had another one in mind to try until this one got requested. One just needs baked pasta some days and today is one of those days.

I should warn you that although this is a Kraft recipe (a.k.a. "easy/simple"), I had a horrendous time trying to find the bloody pasta for it. Kind of a key ingredient that I can't really go without, you know? I went to two different stores. Neither had "frozen" ravioli, nor did the chilled ravioli selection they had come in the required size. Grrrr! Ok, fine. I'll buy the not-technically-frozen one. But it doesn't give me enough because the package is 700g (family size was cheaper) and I need a cumulative total of 900g. Argh. I ended up buying one of the 700g family size packages (spinach and cheese) as well as one of the 350g packages (beef? I forget). I used my trusty kitchen scale to carefully remove 150g of the errant package to freeze for a later date. Yes, I really am that anal in the kitchen.

I also nearly had an issue with the spinach. You'll notice that it's an optional-add item at the bottom of the recipe. I had only 3 items on my grocery list, but when I found the spinach (300g), I read my list wrong and thought I needed 2 x 450g packages. I did some quick mental math and threw 3 packages of spinach into my bag. A few aisles later while hunting for the pasta, I suddenly realized that my pasta was supposed to add up to 900g and the spinach was just one 300g package. That would have been a very healthy mistake if I hadn't noticed...

Overall, this recipe wasn't too bad if I disregard the pasta troubles. When I started to assemble the meal in the dish, the one cup of sauce on the bottom really didn't look like much. It seemed that there was an excessive amount of sauce left in the mixing bowl. I added another cup of sauce between the pasta layers, but that didn't leave me as much as I was probably supposed to have for the top layer. It still seems edible; just something to keep in mind if you try this recipe.

As for substitutions, I didn't have a whole lot. You already read about the stupid pasta. I used basil and tomato pasta sauce because the label was pretty and sugar wasn't one of the first 3 ingredients (Catelli Garden Selects). I couldn't find no-salt-added diced tomatoes so I used ones with however much salt comes with them. I really only had one option at the store. I already had medium cheddar cheese on hand so I used that instead of the fancy expensive kind they try to tell you that you need. And I grated it myself. So there.

Before I forget: beware the Oliveri brand of ravioli! They're kind of scam artists because a bunch of their cute little ravioli pieces were just pieces of pasta. Not stuffed with anything or even pretending to be stuffed (there were some of those too). I wasn't impressed. I wish my friend Chef could have come over to make me some fresh pasta again, but alas. He moved to Nova Scotia and I moved to Calgary.

Consumption notes: OMNOMNOMNOM!! It's quite good, very flavourful and delicious. I think if you use the spinach like I did, don't put sauce between the layers of ravioli. Put it on the top like you're supposed to. A few of my top ravioli pieces got a bit dried out due to lack of coverage. And if you drop any pieces of ravioli on the floor while attempting to transfer them to your plate, they make a nice "splat!" sound and a big mess. I'm just sayin'........

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Lemon Cream Cheese Cupcakes

Well, the previous recipe (Updated Fettuccine Carbonara) was a "healthier" recipe so this one is meant to offset all that healthy crap. What good is dessert if it can't be a little wicked now and then?

Now then, I made these cupcakes on a night with dinner guests coming over. I also made salad but that's boring. Normally, I don't like to make recipes for the first time when other people will be tasting them (drop-and-go visits don't count), but I figured I'd give it a shot this time. I also had to make these in a hurry because the other chef needed the kitchen to make his main-course lasagna. You didn't really think I fed my guests nothing but salad and cupcakes, did you?

Again, another Kraft recipe so hard to screw it up too badly. I had some trouble finding the required lemon pudding mix so I used lemon pie filling. Same difference, if you ask me. I already had cream cheese on hand (with only a wee bit used) so I just used that up. After a bad lemon juice experiment a while ago, I've taken to using a fresh lemon instead of buying a bottle of the juice, using a smidge, then letting it sit in the fridge for ages until foisting it on my parents when it came time for me to move. For the record, lemon juice is not supposed to foam when poured. Maybe an initial wee bit, but it shouldn't stay foamy. Sorry, Dad.

I liked the idea of adding a bit of lemon zest to the icing before smearing on cupcakes, but unfortunately, by the time I read that, I'd already chucked the remainder of my lemon. Alas. I didn't go so far as to garnish my cupcakes with a fancy bit of lemon peel either. Instead, the dinner guests got to garnish their own cupcakes with my large collection of different kinds of sprinkles! Much more fun if you ask me.

So how were the cupcakes, you ask? Well, everyone said they were really good. Not fancy like some of the ones you can get in the pricey shops that are springing up everywhere, but homemade (does using cake mix count as cheating if I did all the work?) and fun to accessorize. I might make them more lemon-y somehow next time, and one person said they didn't love the vanilla cake mix, but overall, they were well received. The cupcakes were competing with yummy homemade cookies at the same meal, so now this house has an awful lot of cupcakes. Oh, and you might want to half the icing segment. It makes a lot. Better yet, come on over and I'll give you free cupcakes and my leftover icing!

Updated Fettuccine Carbonara

Agh, cooking........ I'm so out of the pattern of late. I'm trying to get back in the kitchen more regularly so bear with me while I figure out my life.

Anyway, this recipe wasn't too complex. It IS a Kraft recipe. I was intrigued by the idea of them having "improved" on classic fettuccine carbonara to make it healthier. I do love my pasta, and healthier versions are better in the long run. If this isn't true, feel free to keep that tidbit to yourself.

Let's see: there was a pasta sale at the grocery store so you might see more pasta recipes in the near future. I didn't get the whole wheat kind this time. Lucky for me, it wasn't required to be such. I opted for store brand on the cream cheese and dressing, but if you don't tell Kraft, neither will I. Didn't have skim milk - this is the house of 1%. No fresh herbs live here. I can remember to water plants on occasion, but don't use herbs often enough so I used dried parsley for this recipe. The parmesan definitely wasn't of the light variety. I'm not usually the cheese purchaser in this house...

I could have done a better job with the sauce in terms of blending/whisking it into submission. My cream cheese kept trying to hide in the middle of the whisk and, retrospectively, I should have used a smaller saucepan. Next time. The sauce looked too thin to me prior to adding it to the noodle/pea combination, but it seemed to work out in the end. In the future, I will also cut the ham into pieces instead of strips to better fit with the peas. The strips of ham were a bit awkward.

Serving note: the peas have a tendency to fall to the bottom of the pot. And they like to jump off the counter onto the floor, just in time for you to accidently step on them in your bare feet.

Overall, this was a good meal. I found it filling for dinner last night and lunch today. Plus, it earned me a "thank you" for making dinner last night. :) What's not to like?

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Apricot Lentil Soup

Wow, my last food entry was in April? Given that today is July 25, I seem to have taken an extended vacation from the kitchen. I blame it on moving halfway across Canada.

Now that I've lived in Calgary for nearly two months, I figured it was time to start experimenting with new recipes again. After all, a girl's gotta eat! Some different grocery stores out here (thank you, Safeway) means a new source for recipe ideas.

Truthfully, I'm not yet sure how this recipe turned out. I mean, I can tell you what it looks like and you can see for yourself in the badly lit photo I post, but I haven't tasted the end product yet. I did, however, give some to some new friends of mine here in town so maybe I'll get a review from them at some point.

As recipes goes, this one is pretty straightforward. The tricky part might be measuring enough lentils if you buy them in bulk like I did, but if you've got excellent lentil karma like me, you'll somehow eyeball out EXACTLY enough lentils at the store. On the good side, you won't be stuck with any pesky leftover lentils; on the flip side, you won't have any lentils to spare if you spill part of the bag all over the counter like I always seem to do.

Also, if you buy your chicken stock in the 900 mL tetra packs like me, you'll have leftovers in the second container. Have a plan to use it soon. I haven't got that far yet...

I wasn't sure whether to chop up the dried apricots for this recipe. The recipe doesn't say to chop them up, but you're dicing the onion and chopping the tomatoes and mincing the garlic which means if you leave the apricots whole like me, they might be kind of odd in the soup as the random big pieces. Unless, of course, if you manage to find them all in the soup and blend them at the end. I didn't.

I actually preferred the colour of the soup prior to adding the lentils when it was just apricots, onions, garlic and broth. I'm not loving the "creamy-ish" appearance that it is now, but as the old saying goes, "Don't judge a soup by its appearance".... or something like that.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Apple Cinnamon Baked Oatmeal

Question: How to use up two cans of evaporated milk in the cupboard?
Answer: this recipe!

Don't mind the photo of what looks like browny-orange sludge. Terrible light in the kitchen tonight....

I didn't have to buy a thing for this recipe. I do enjoy ones like that. The only modification (very slight) that I made was to use one can of skim evaporated milk while the other was 2%. I had no choice; those were all I had on hand.

This recipe is very simple to make, thankfully. I did end up having to cook mine an extra 13 minutes to get (most of) the milk to be absorbed. Maybe it's because my evaporated milks weren't the same, or maybe it was from the really juicy apple I used (Royal Gala, if you care), or maybe it was because today is Tuesday. Who knows?

Considering I just ate dinner and have now burned my mouth while destroying my taste buds by eating Flaming Hot Cheetos (thank you, cross-border shopping), I *think* this recipe tastes pretty good. Truthfully, I can't really taste anything right now and the heat of the Cheetos is making my nose run. I'll have to do a proper sampling in the morning when I sit down to some homemade apple cinnamon oatmeal for breakfast.

Saturday, April 24, 2010

Quick Broccoli and Cheddar Quiche

If the previous recipe (Mini Chip Butter Crisps) was about using up butter, this recipe aims to plow through my dozen eggs and giant bar of cheese.

I didn't alter this recipe terribly. I used whole wheat flour and marble cheese because they were already on hand. I smashed some whole wheat crackers that I found in the cupboard and skipped adding the salt. I didn't have any mustard on hand so I shook in "some" mustard powder. I couldn't find my measuring spoons so that's as precise as you'll get. My tomatoes were grape ones, and by using brown eggs, it was easier to find the egg shells in the bowl to fish them out.

When I printed this recipe to have as a reference while cooking, it added a segment that I don't see on the website. It gave me suggestions on how to best arrive at the smashed crackers so I chucked them in a bag and gave them a good beating with my rolling pin. A fun way to make breakfast!

Well, my version of this crust-less quiche is quite good! As a bonus, it's also healthy. I can't really taste any mustard as a stand out flavour so that went well. In fact, I might add more of it next time since there isn't a whole lot of flavour to the whole thing. The only drawback that I should mention is that steeping your tea while the quiche cooks for 30 minutes (because you forgot your tea was steeping) makes for some VERY strong tea. Add a lot of milk...

Mini Chip Butter Crisps

Erm, well, my version doesn't look exactly like the photo in the recipe, but mine are still yummy. If you like shortbread or shortbread-esque cookies, you might want to try this one with the whole wheat flour like I did. I don't know what the all-purpose flour version tastes like, but mine is strongly reminiscent of shortbread.

So yes, I used whole wheat flour for my cookies because I don't have any white flour on hand. That's the only substitution I made which is a good thing since there aren't many ingredients! The only drawback to the whole wheat flour is that it's somewhat difficult to discern when the cookies have baked enough. It's all very well to wait until they're golden brown, but if they start out brown, well... I ended up baking all of mine for about 14 minutes per batch.

This recipe is a great way to start using up the 2 lbs of butter that you discovered in the deep freeze while spring cleaning. I recommend the cookies and the cleaning!

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Lemon Squares

I don't normally eat a lot of dessert, but I've got an awful lot of baking ingredients lying around, begging me to use them up. I found this recipe under the "Healthy" section so I thought I'd give it a try.

I think next time, mostly for esthetic reasons, I'll use regular white flour for this recipe. I only had whole wheat flour on hand and wasn't going to go buy more just for this recipe. It does make the crust a little difficult to discern when it has baked to a golden brown, and the lemon topping looks a little weird with whole wheat flour in it, but overall, it doesn't seem to affect the taste and might even enhance the "healthy" factor. I didn't substitute any other ingredients and actually added the salt which I don't normally do when cooking.

I went and bought a pasty blender to try with this recipe, but it didn't really work all that well. It eventually got the job done, but seemed to clog very easily with the ingredients it was supposed to be blending. First time for everything. I managed to separate the egg without incident, but spilled flour and sugar all over the counter when they surged unexpectedly quickly out of their respective bags. I squeezed the lemon into a separate little dish before adding to the big bowl of ingredients which turned out to be a stroke of brilliance on my part. It's easier to pick out the seeds from the smaller bowl.

You might want to read ahead as I failed to do, and notice that you're supposed to pour the filling onto the cooled, baked base. The operative word here is cool because when my filling was ready, my base was still blazing hot, having just recently been snatched from the oven. A trip downstairs to the "cold cellar", and an eventual stay in the freezer finally chilled the temperature enough for my impatient self.

You might notice from my photo that my light dusting of confectioner's sugar is rather heavy-handed. Once again, the sugar threw itself out of the tipped bag in a giant pile before I could correct the angle at which I was pouring it. Nothing ventured, nothing gained. Besides, the white top helps to disguise the strange appearance of the filling.

The ratio of filling to crust seems a little low to me. While the filling has a nice lemon flavour, there just isn't very much of it and most of my mouthfuls consist of salty-ish crust and excessive amounts of sickeningly sweet icing sugar, the latter being my own fault. I also don't seem to have prepared my pan well enough as I have to fight with my squares to remove them which results in a lot of messy lemon square destruction. Oh well, at least they're tasty.

Rice Krispie "Squares"

Haha, we're kicking it old school this morning. I needed a way to use up a box of Rice Krispies, and since I don't really like them as cereal because they go soggy about 1.26 seconds after milk makes contact, I decided to make some squares. It was also a good way to use up the remainder of a bag of marshmallows that I found.

I had a bit of a bad experience the last time I tried this recipe. Back then, I used stale marshmallows and semi-stale cereal which resulted in a discovery that not all marshmallows will melt, no matter how much heat is applied to them. I tried melting mine (last time) in the traditional stove method, but when I ended up with a gooey blob of butter-coated marshmallows, I resorted to the microwave method. That netted me an overflowing bowl of mostly unmelted, butter-coated marshmallow goo, and a big, sticky mess to clean later. When I finally threw it back in the pot with a thunk, the cereal refused to stick to it no matter how much I stirred. It was damn ugly. I threw it out and started again. My cousin Jenny told me later that she once melted a spatula into her marshmallow mix so at least there are two of us who've messed up such a basic recipe.

This time around, having learned from my past mistakes, I had fresh ingredients. Once again, I started with the stovetop method for no particular reason other than the fact that I like cooking with my big camping pot. It's kind of ghetto in a fun way. Only problem is, the bottom of the pot is rather concave so it doesn't all touch the burner. Not only does this result in uneven heat distribution, but all the butter ran to the outside edges of the bottom as it melted. Meh, who cares?

I used exactly 41 big marshmallows because that's how many were left in the bag. They melted in a satisfactory manner, but glued themselves quite strongly to the pot in the process. I told you: ghetto. This glue-like property of my marshmallow mess made things rather difficult when it came time to stir in the cereal. The marshmallows seemed to prefer to stick to the pot, but eventually, with the help of a spatula and a wooden spoon, I convinced most of the marshmallow mess to adhere to the cereal.

I put the finished product downstairs in my front entryway which serves as a cold cellar this time of year. It cooled pretty quickly and nicely, resulting in a most delicious giant dessert. Yum!

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Baked Chicken with Brown Rice and Veggies

Recipe #51: http://recipes.runnersworld.com/Recipe/baked-chicken-with-brown-rice-and-veggies.aspx

Well, I lucked out on this recipe in terms of groceries. I didn't need to buy any. The best kind of recipe!

I didn't have the precise chicken bits that they called for so I used my last two chicken breasts. My soup wasn't the no-fat, no-fun version, just the regular version. I used my newly discovered no-salt-added chicken broth, and since I had an extra 3/4 of a cup to finish off the container, I threw it in the dish and added an extra 1/3 cup of brown rice to compensate. No scallions here. Don't like them and didn't have any. I didn't bother with the pepper and added the paprika after uncovering the chicken. The veggies I used are a peculiar mixed batch that I probably won't buy again, containing such things as yellow zucchini and lima beans. I also used an 8x8 glass pan instead of the recommended 9x13 size.

I had an epiphany the other day when I discovered that I could use the 1/2 tsp twice to fit into a spice container when the 1 tsp spoon wouldn't fit. Genius! Saved me shaking the bloody spice all over the counter as has happened before.

After the chicken finished cooking, there was a bit of rice stuck to the edges of the dish, but overall, the soupiness that I had seen earlier was gone. Stir in some veggies, cover, and chuck back in the oven for a few more minutes.

End result? Tasty! LOTS of rice in my version, but hopefully you will abide by the suggestions laid forth in the actual recipe. I just realized I was so hungry and my food was so good that I forgot to take a picture for the blog...bon appetit!

Saturday, April 10, 2010

Spice-Rubbed Steak with White Beans and Cherry Tomatoes

Wow, my blog just turned 50. Weird... and yet, I'm proud at the same time.

This recipe is a pretty easy, quick one if you're in the mood for such a thing. Not particularly vegetarian-friendly, but tasty for the meat-eaters out there. It's also high in fibre and low in calories since much of the flavour comes from the spices. As usual, I omitted the added salt and plumb forgot to add the pepper.

I wasn't quite sure what this recipe meant by "white beans" since there are a few different types of beans which are white: navy, kidney, chick peas are kind of white. I went with white kidney beans since they looked similar to the picture. The cans I bought were 19 oz each since they don't come in 15 oz size. Beans are good for me anyway. I couldn't find cherry tomatoes so I got a pint of grape tomatoes.

I'm not terribly well-versed in cooking meat yet so I called in the meat-a-tarian for some expert advice on the steak. I spread a little olive oil on one side, then sprinkled on the spices, and gave the chunk of dead cow a nice little massage. After it was carefully added to the heated pan, I did the same for the other side. The meat-a-tarian provided some good advice so I fed him some deceased animal as a thanks.

My beans ended up a little mushy, accidently headed toward refried, because I kept stirring them in the pan, afraid they would burn otherwise. I did add 1 tbsp of water after adding the beans since the pan was hissing in a rather menacing way. Next time, I'll add the beans, stir them in a bit with the tbsp of water, then let it all sit and warm itself instead of stirring them to death. I might add more garlic next time for a bit more kick. It's good for me too.

All in all, the meat was tender and flavourful, and the bean/tomato combination was tasty too. I also heated some peas and canned mushrooms so the dinner was heavy on the vegetables. My stomach is happy with both new recipes today.

Kale, Lentil & Chicken Soup

This recipe has a few firsts in it for me: first time buying and using kale, same applies to lentils, and it was the first time I would discover a no-salt-added chicken broth (PC Blue Menu brand, found at Real Canadian Superstore).

A suggestion about kale, if I might: I bought mine on Thursday after work, kept it in the fridge as I thought it might need, but by the time I went to use it on Saturday morning, about half of it was already limp. I used it anyway because when it gets cooked into soup, no one is any the wiser about how it looked before it entered the pot, especially if you don't tell them.... You might want to wait until the day you plan to use it before buying kale. Also, the bunch that I bought (only way it was sold) is more than what's required for the recipe, so either use it all in the soup or have an alternate plan for the leftovers. I'm still working on the latter...

The making of this recipe was fairly uneventful, even after having been out of cooking practice for a while recently. The only mishap was when I added the red lentils to the pot, but failed to notice that the bag was not entirely over the pot. Now I have lentils in the pot, on the stove, under the burner, on the counter, and under my bare feet on the floor. I managed to salvage most of what was on the stove and counter, but accidently added a lot more to the floor in the process. Grrrr!

I ended up with more than 1 cup of onion because I just chopped up one onion. I also had 9.35 oz of kale instead of the suggested 8 oz. I used baby carrots and just chopped them as I always do, and used 2 large cloves of garlic because garlic is good for me. I had fresh basil but it wasn't snipped; I just squeezed 1 tbsp worth out of the tube that I keep in the fridge. As usual, I didn't add any salt and just ground a bunch of black pepper into the pot. I gave up measuring black pepper ages ago after my friend laughed hysterically while watching me attempt to grind pepper into a 1/4 tsp measuring spoon. If you're really anal about it, I've seen ground pepper in the spice racks at the grocery store.

The simmer-and-wait intervals for this recipe provide the cook with time to do some dishes, tidy up, or if you're me, surf the internet on your laptop that you brought into the kitchen with you because the recipe is online. The end result (lentil disaster notwithstanding) is hot and tasty. The kale feels a little strange in the mouth at first because it has very ruffled edges, but the overall result has me heading to the pot for a second helping.

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Beef and Black Bean Chili

Recipe #48: http://www.canadianliving.com/food/quick_and_easy/beef_and_black_bean_chili.php

As recipes go, this one is pretty straight forward and easy if you don't mind all the chopping, draining, and other prep steps. I don't have a photo of my results just yet because my camera is suddenly acting strange. I'll post it later if I get a chance.

There were a few substitutions/modifications for my version of this recipe. I found only 1/2 lb of ground beef in the freezer so I thawed the additional 1/2 lb of ground pork that I found in there too. And by the way, 1 lb of meat as called for in this recipe is a LOT of meat at the end.... I couldn't find lime juice at the store so I skipped it altogether. I used canned corn and added an extra handful. I passed on the red pepper on principle since I don't like peppers. I only had dried coriander so I used 3 tbsp of it and I keep forgetting to serve myself the cheddar cheese on my chili.

I can tell I've been away from cooking for a while: my eyes keep streaming when I'm chopping onions. My immunity seems to have worn off while I was in New Zealand. I had to guesstimate how many baby carrots to chop to make up the 1 carrot I was supposed to be dicing, but I just used as many to make a slightly bigger pile than the celery. I'm learning not to be perfect.

Final result in my version is good! I had it for lunch today. It's got some pretty good flavour which is a stretch from my usual bland choices. Your guts will thank you for the fibre in the beans too :)

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Carnation Shepherd's Pie

Recipe #47: http://www.carnationmilk.ca/recipe-details.aspx?rid=974

Hallo again! I've returned to the kitchen, semi-reluctantly, after a prolonged absence mostly spent on the other side of the world. You should be proud of me; I ate goat cheese, edam cheese, curry, Tim Tams, and some weird kind of sandwich meat while I was gone. Not to mention the odd pieces of dirt and sandflies too.

So, back to Canada now, and back to the grind of post-vacation life. This means I need to cook for myself again. Back to the drawing board....and since it's spring, that means it's also time to use up all the crap in the deep freeze, cupboards, and shelves! I'm tired of being stared at by the same old ingredients.

I had what I thought was a smart-ass idea the other day, and I posted a Facebook status saying I was looking for recipes to use up ground beef and evaporated milk. "Surely", I chuckled to myself, "those two things NEVER belong together! Let's see if anyone else notices." But suddenly I did get a reaction - an unexpected one from my friend Donald who came up with Shepherd's Pie. To humour him (and myself), I opened the Carnation website and found a recipe that matched. Who knew? So I tried it...

I'm taking a new approach to grocery shopping these days. No longer am I going to buy in "stockpile" mode; instead, I will shop for what I need and use up stuff at home as much as I can. This means that since the recipe called for 1.5 lbs of ground beef and I'd only thawed about 1 lb, it's a bit lighter on the meat in my version. I added a bit more frozen vegetables to compensate, and I certainly have more than enough potato. Next time, I need to remember that I don't like peppers or lima beans when I'm shopping for frozen veggies. Blech!

Ah yes, the potato topping. Last time I made Shepherd's Pie, I had the bare minimum of topping. Not a problem this time! The only issues with the potatoes arose when I went to peel them and couldn't find my peeler. Admittedly, I couldn't really remember what it even looked like although I was 95% sure I actually owned one. I ended up cutting off the peel, but next time, I'll probably just wash them loads and leave the peel on. The colour is part of the appeal when I buy red potatoes.

After I'd cooked them to death, it was time to mash. By now, I'd found the peeler (now that I no longer needed it) and my eyes were no longer streaming from the onion, so I tried to figure out a way to smash a vegetable residing in a deep camping pot, knowing for an almost certain fact that I do not own a potato masher. I tried a couple of ideas, no go, but suddenly I was hit with a brilliant brain wave and ended up using my hand mixer to create some lovely smashed potato!

I left out most of the salt because I just don't need a ton of added salt in my life, and I also left out the red pepper because there were already gross peppers in the frozen vegetable mix. The ketchup was a bit of a gong show but seems to have been for the good. I used up what was left in the ketchup bottle, then I used up what was left in the BBQ sauce bottle, then I made up the remainder of the 1/3 cup called for with more BBQ sauce of unknown origin. I don't normally like BBQ sauce, but I figured this was a good way to not realize I'm eating it and it adds flavour.

My first dish to put into the oven was too big (I didn't have the required measurements so I had to improvise), but my second choice turned out well. Too bad I didn't know that first or I wouldn't have additional dishes to wash. Ah well, c'est la vie. It bubbled away for about 30 minutes and I had some today for lunch. I'd have to say it's pretty tasty although my version is a wee bit runny. I'm not exactly sure why, but I think it had something to do with the remainder of the can of evaporated milk, or maybe from the frozen vegetables thawing. Who cares, really? It's good enough to have again for lunch tomorrow.

Friday, January 22, 2010

Cheesecake Cupcakes

Don't ask me how I managed to stumble upon a website called "Cooking For Engineers". I think I had googled "Dirty Rice" and it was listed as having an explanation. Things escalated from there. I still think it's a hilarious concept, cooking for engineers. The good part, that I've discovered so far, is that the few recipes I've read over come with explanations about the "why" of cooking/baking. Hurray! I have one of those brains that is always wondering why.

I thought I'd make this recipe as a lark. I try not to bake much because I'm usually the only one eating the goods, and ingesting a lot of baking would most likely accelerate the secretary spread process that I am already constantly fighting with my sedentary job. Luckily, I was invited to a games night at my friend Carmen's place tonight so I had a good reason to try this recipe. I can lick the beaters and foist the rest on my friends. We all win! If they like the cupcakes, I might even get asked back some other time.

As recipes go, this one is dead easy, aside from the extra step that my anal-retentive self took in using my beloved kitchen scale to measure out the EXACT weight of required cream cheese. I was pooling 3 different sources, and each of the complete sources weighed 250g. Using two complete resources would have been too much weight (would it have mattered?), but since I'm baking for other people, I thought I'd go exactly by the recipe for the first time.

I softened the cream cheese and used room-temperature eggs. I read somewhere that was a good idea. Sorry to say, but I used the artificial vanilla since I'm trying to get rid of it. I also used Splenda instead of sugar so that if my friends become diabetic after tonight, I'll not be to blame. I happened to top my cupcakes with mandarin orange segments because then I get to eat the rest of the tin of oranges, yum!

I'm not a big cheesecake eater. In fact, I almost never eat it because I find it so very rich. My favourite dessert is fresh fruit and I'm not saying that to make the sweets cravers feel bad. Ask my mom; I've loved fruit since I was wee. Since I almost never eat cheesecake, I've never made it before, and I figured little cheesecakes like this recipe would be a good starting point. That, and no one at the party has to feel that they need to be the first to cut a piece from a giant cheesecake. There's also less to dispose of in this format if you don't like it. Ties in well with my cupcake obsession of late too.

I must admit that, at the time of this posting, I haven't actually sampled the final product. I did lick the beaters a bit, but wanted to deliver the goods intact to Carmen's party. That, and I haven't eaten dinner yet. I'll try to get a review from the girls to post here later.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Cajun Dirty Rice

Recipe #45: http://www.irun.ca/issues/article.php?id=210&intIssueID=13

Don't ask me what the "Dirty Rice" part means. I rinsed mine as directed. Is it dirty because the rice is brown instead of white? Bah, I'm so not Cajun-wise.

Well, I made almost this entire recipe while on the phone with a friend. Hats off to me for multi-tasking! Luckily, it wasn't a horribly complicated recipe or I probably would have messed it up somehow.

So, the alterations: I didn't use chicken liver (are you KIDDING me??), soy replacement (barf), ground pork or ground beef. I used ground chicken instead, because I can. It was more expensive than ground beef, but it's leaner so I thought I'd give it a try. I didn't have authentic big carrots to cut so I hacked up some baby carrots, roughly a handful. I used a tin of chopped tomatoes (you'll have lots of liquid at the end, fyi), and about 3 large handfuls of baby spinach because the grocery store didn't sell it in bags. I happend to choose chicken broth because it was where my hand landed in the cupboard, and I used a small dab of coriander from the squeeze tube because I couldn't find cilantro at the store and they both start with "C". I skipped the salt and pepper because I forgot about them (I was on the phone, remember?), and used olive oil to saute my vegetables.

I didn't adjust the amount of liquid I added to the recipe so my liquid hadn't quite evaporated/been absorbed as it was supposed to. After the 15 minutes of covered cooking, I still had lots of liquid left so I just turned the heat up a bit and left the lid off, stirring periodically until most of the remaining liquid had disappeared.

My version of this recipe is quite tasty. I have no idea how cilantro would have tasted instead of coriander, but I like what I made. Good thing since there's a lot of it and only me to eat it. The only thing I will mention is that the ground chicken looks a little white and pasty in the dish, in case that's something that might bother you. I'm sure ground beef would give a nice, darker contrast and perhaps a more favourable flavour? Try it and let me know :)

Friday, January 15, 2010

Black Bean-And-Cheese Chicken Fingers

Recipe #44: http://www.rachaelraymag.com//Recipes/rachael-ray-magazine-recipe-index/appetizer-starter-recipes/Black-Bean-and-Cheese-Chicken-Fingers

Oh boy, this recipe is REALLY good! I'm a little surprised at that statement, but it's completely true in my opinion. Funny, I came home from work today and almost made spaghetti instead. I'm glad I stuck with my decision to try this recipe.

I have to say that I thought this recipe sounded a little ghetto when I read that I was supposed to be using corn chips. I'm glad I was pleasantly surprised to find that their crunchy saltiness blends well with the rest of the ingredients. By using them, I also got rid of the corn chip temptation lying around the kitchen. 9.75 oz was a lot more corn chips than I figured I would need. I had a lot of fun smashing them up with the rolling pin.

I made a few minor adjustments to this recipe as I so often do. I ran out of regular flour while measuring the 1/2 cup so I made up the difference with whole wheat flour. I don't think I did a precise job of cutting the chicken breasts as directed, but hey, I got the job done and they taste good so who cares if they look a little strange? I opted to use plain yogurt in lieu of sour cream, and my can of black beans was 19 oz, not 15 oz. Don't tell Rachael on me. I skipped the scallions because they're gross, and used marble cheese not cheddar because that's what was in the fridge.

This was my first dip-dip-dip recipe, and by that I mean the kind of recipe where you dip something in something, then dip it in something else, etc... You get the idea. My fingers got pretty gross and gunky and disgusting pretty quickly so be prepared for that. You'll have leftovers of your dipping ingredients too, but trust me, you won't want to eat the leftover corn chips. Even I, queen of keep-it-forever ingredients, threw mine out afterward.

The assembly of the finished product where you add the beans and the sour cream/yogurt and the tomatoes is a bit tricky. I used the beans as a base and pressed them onto the chicken fingers. Then I used the yogurt as a glue to keep the tomatoes from falling off the top. It might not be pretty but it worked pretty well.

If I had to describe what this recipe tastes most like, I would describe it as either a crunchy chicken burrito or a chicken taco with black beans. Either way, I loved it! I'm glad I've got leftovers....

Monday, January 4, 2010

Timesaver Beef and Tomato

Well, since I've been off the recipe track for a while, I thought I'd start back with a fairly simple one. It was chosen predominantly to fulfill my desire to eat up meat and soup at home, both of which I seem to have a lot of.

Nothing terribly exciting or complicated about this recipe, and only a few substitution/modifications on my part. I didn't have fresh oregano (I haven't been home much over the last couple of weeks) so I used 2 generous tbsp of dried oregano. I may have used a bit too much, in hindsight, but at least the dish has flavour of some kind. I got to crack open my garlic powder for the first time which was kind of exciting. Best not to get too carried away with that one.

I used a mixture of omega-3 and multigrain rotini pasta to finish off the box of one and open a new box of the other. They had the same cooking time so I figured what the hell, live dangerously! The suggested mozzarella cheese became what little cheddar I had left, and the difference in marble that I had just bought. Mozzarella is probably a better suggestion if you have a choice. I just didn't want to be stuck with a lot of mozzarella cheese afterward so I picked the marble which I would eat by itself. I bought sliced (fresh) mushrooms since they were the same price as the diy ones, but I'd recommend hacking some of those giant pieces up to cook them. I just used the side of my spatula while they were in the pot, but I guess most people would use a knife before adding them.

I didn't really cry at all while chopping the onion for this recipe. That's a big improvement since August. Maybe my cooking heart is becoming more hardened, ha! I drained the meat/mushroom/onion mixture after cooking it even though the recipe didn't mention draining. I'd recommend doing so unless your meat doesn't leach any moisture when you cook it. I used extra lean ground beef, just in case you're taking notes. I had some difficulty with the draining because I suddenly realized that my other crappy oven mitt was at the bottom of the clean laundry hamper in the other room that I hadn't folded yet, and I was too lazy to go dig it out so I used two potholders. Pretty tricky and the contents are hot. I'd recommend oven mitts but not mine.

I noted late that the cheese was supposed to be sprinkled on, but I vigorously mixed mine in after sprinkling it so my photo looks different than the Campbell's one. Mine's better :) It's a tasty recipe, filling too. There's a bit more meat in it than what I'm used to of late, but if that doesn't bother you, then you'll probably like this recipe too.