Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Homestyle Chicken and Broccoli Casserole

Recipe #85:http://astro.ca/recipes/homestyle_chicken_and_broccoli_casserole/

This recipe was quite delicious as a finished product, but I struggled to get it to that point.

I have my friend Shellery to thank for reminding me that Astro's website has some excellent recipes with which to use up the yogurt in my fridge. This particular recipe calls for 2% plain yogurt and I only had enough of the fat-free on hand. As you'll see later, that might have been part of my problems.

A word of caution about sauteing the chicken breasts. I had our stove on "medium", was using the olive oil AND a non-stick pan, but still managed to burn two breasts and stuck one to the pan. Medium was too high for me. Also, beware of hot oil splattering everywhere. Mine was burning too. Could just be me, but I thought I'd mention it anyway.

I found that once I added the chicken stock (or in my case: part chicken, part beef stock after I ran out of chicken) to the flour and butter, it didn't really thicken much and I let it try for a while. I cooked some more butter and flour in a little saucepan (1 tbsp butter: 2 tbsp flour, I think?) and that thickened things up somewhat, but we were back to runny again after I added the yogurt. See my note at the beginning for more yogurt thoughts.

Those were really the only trouble spots I had. Two of my chicken breasts were more like implants compared to the others so I had to kind of squash them into the casserole dish. When you pour in your sauce, make sure all of the chicken is covered before you put it in the oven so that it doesn't dry out. I cooked mine with the lid on although the recipe doesn't say one way or the others. Opinions on this may vary.

When I cooked the jasmine brown rice, I followed the directions EXACTLY. Unfortunately, it was still kind of soupy at the end so I had to cook it longer with the lid canted to get rid of some of that liquid. This isn't really related to the recipe, other than the fact that the recipe is suggested to be served over rice.

The Meatatarian noticed a kind of tangy taste to the sauce which I noted to be from the yogurt. My mum cooked with yogurt in lieu of sour cream when we were growing up so it didn't phase me, but he wasn't completely keen on it so keep that in mind if you are expected a smooth, creamy taste. It might be a little edgy. Regardless, I liked this recipe a lot!

Friday, November 11, 2011

Ratatouille (Soup-ish edition)

A little while ago, I picked up a "Good Food Box" from school. Essentially, for $15 we got a random assortment of 15-20 lbs of produce. It's a really good deal and part of the fun is figuring out what to do with some of it. For example, this time we got (in part): red peppers (gave one away), a beet (didn't use it quickly enough, oops), and an eggplant. Eggplant? What the heck am I going to do with eggplant? I don't like eating it and none of my friends could be blackmailed or bribed into taking it. Thus, I started googling eggplant recipes in search of something I might possibly eat. The final decision to try this one came from the fact that I enjoyed the Disney movie, "Ratatouille".

This recipe has a lot of vegetables in it that I normally would never eat. However, in the interest of trying to expand my culinary horizons, I decided that I would try making something with things I don't like in it with the hopes that the blend of them together would turn into something I actually like eating. A little more nutrition never hurt anyone either. And so the experiment began...

Substitutions and modifications: I didn't change much of this recipe. In the mistaken hope that the Charmer would eat some of my ratatouille too, I bought one red pepper and one orange one because I heard him say before that he likes coloured peppers better than green ones. Due to my dislike of any peppers, I cut the ones I bought into really small pieces, the better to hide them from myself. I diced my onion because I'm still not really a fan of it. I've grown to tolerate it in cooking as long as the pieces are really small and it's well cooked. As for the tomato part, I ended up using two 540 mL (19 oz.) cans of diced tomatoes with Italian spices in them. This gave me more liquid than the recipe called for, but in the end, you'll see that worked in my favour. I used 4 small zucchinis, sliced pretty thinly. I added a couple of handfuls of sliced mushrooms, cooking them up with the garlic and onions. At the end of the cooking time, I also added 1 cup of chicken stock to make my version a little more soup-ish. I just couldn't stand the thought of eating a mouthful of vegetables I don't like unless they were part of a soup. I also added another tbsp of oil when I added the eggplant because the additional mushrooms changed the composition of my pot and things were sticking. Finally, I used squeeze-tube parsley, if anyone's keeping track.

Overall, this recipe wasn't too complex to cook. There's just a lot of prep although the Charmer pointed out that the food processor could help with all the chopping. Maybe next time. If I make this recipe again, I will add the zucchini sooner as mine was still kind of crunchy, even after an extra 10 minutes of cooking. I am not thrilled with crunchy zucchini. I'm also not excited to be the only person eating ALL of the ratatouille soup I made. It's pretty good, but it's a WHOLE lot of vegetables for one person to face down. Next time, I shall make sure others take some or I'll cut the recipe in half first. Maybe next time, I'll enlist a rat to help me with this recipe!

Monday, November 7, 2011

Lightened-Up Hummus

I made a recent discovery - I like hummus! I recently came into a 2lb. bag of carrots so I figured making my own hummus would be a good way to eat up some carrots. It's also a good way to use up some of the garlic and spices I have. I figured I'd try this recipe since it's a "lighter" version. It's also a good source of fibre with all the chickpeas.

The yogurt in this recipe was a PITA. Maybe my cheesecloth was too tightly knit? I checked it after 2 hours, then again last night, then again this morning. When I came home from school, it finally seemed to have reduced by half or so. You might want to leave some extra time for yours, just in case.

Aside from the yogurt incident and trying to find sesame oil at the grocery store, this recipe was straightforward and simple to make. I'm not 100% in love with the sesame flavour residue, but overall, the hummus is nearly the same as the stuff I was buying. Thankfully, it's cheaper when I make it myself, and it makes more than the equivalent of one container from the store. Now I just have to find a recipe to use up more of the sesame oil...

Quick Cheesy Shells & Beef

Omnomonmnom! This recipe is delicious. At least, the way I made it. This recipe showed up in my inbox this week - Thank you, Canadian Living Dinner Club.

I made a few substitutions: we didn't have the large pasta shells on hand so I used the rigatoni in the cupboard, I used half of a giant onion and a little onion that came from the community garden at Mount Royal Uni, and instead of the bottled strained tomatoes, I used a 540mL can of chopped tomatoes that happened to have spices and stuff in them. The red pepper flakes were optional and I added them to mine. Some of my stuff is a little bland so I thought I'd use a little more "zip". Oh yeah, and the ground beef was just shy of 1lb.

The only trouble I had with this recipe, and it may not happen to you if you don't substitute the tomato part like I did, was that the recipe was a little soupy at the end. I cooked it a little longer (maybe 10 minutes?) on low to try and get rid of some of the liquid. It was still a bit soupy when I added the pasta to the sauce, but the whole thing seemed better after the pasta got stirred in. The taste test was my favourite part because the end product is delicious!

Saturday, November 5, 2011

"Take-Five" Banana Bread

I'm not entirely sure how this recipe got its name. Perhaps, "take five ingredients, throw them in the oven, and voila!"? Regardless, there are only five ingredients.

I should probably tidy up the kitchen a little more some time soon. With only five ingredients, I was sure I had everything on hand, but when I went to make this recipe this morning, I couldn't find the sugar anywhere. I was pretty sure we had some, but the Chocolatarian was asleep and it seems my brain was, too. I ended up going to the store to get some cheesecloth for a different recipe so I picked up some more sugar. When I got home, I went to continue with this recipe when I suddenly saw the sugar I couldn't find sitting on the counter right in front of me - where it had been the whole time... sigh.

I chose this recipe because I found two ripe bananas in the freezer and I had another ripe one that I didn't want to eat. I don't like eating bananas when they taste too much like bananas, if you know what I mean. I left the frozen bananas out to thaw overnight so I could bake with them. In retrospect, this may have been a mistake. When I went to peel them for the recipe, the texture and consistency, along with the oozing of clear liquid, was making me gag. G-N-A-R-L-Y. The Chocolatarian, upon hearing this story later, recommended throwing them in the food processor frozen next time so you might want to consider it too.

Surprisingly, Miracle Whip was an ingredient in this recipe. I know - Miracle Whip?! Yep, and you wouldn't even know it by the delicious taste of the final product. I assume it helps keep it moist and sweet. I didn't substitute anything in this recipe. Substitution tends to be harder in baking than cooking. I have considered using Splenda instead of sugar next time, mostly because we have a huge bag of Splenda for some reason, but I'm not sure what it might do to the taste. Too sweet? Maybe. My friend also suggested (after the fact) adding walnuts and I had considered chocolate chips, but forgot them in the final process. That just means there's room for modifications in the future!

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Fettuccine Alfredo

I'm going to call my version, "Spagheccine Alfredo". As you might have guessed, I didn't have any fettuccine pasta on hand so I used spaghetti instead. I used the "smart" kind which looks like white pasta but has more fibre like whole wheat pasta. As is often the case, I didn't measure it. Instead, I cooked what was in the box and threw in a bunch when the recipe called for the pasta to be added to the sauce. I reserved the rest as cooked pasta for red sauce sometime later in the week.

I ended up using about 2.5 cloves of garlic because they were stuck together. I didn't add any salt and I ground a bunch of pepper into the sauce randomly. If it matters, my butter was salted because that's all I had, and the parsley was of the squeeze tube variety (my version of fresh). I didn't end up measuring the lemon zest, but it amounted to grating the heck out of one lemon and hoping for the best. *See note later on whether that was a good idea or not* I also did not add any of the reserved pasta water to my sauce because I found it to be the right consistancy without.

This recipe took a little longer than anticipated to complete, primarily because I managed to knock a favourite red glass off the counter and it smashed all over the floor. The clean-up took a while... Aside from that incident, the rest went fairly smoothly. Speaking of which, I found that using puree on the blender for a while was the secret to getting the cauliflower sauce to smooth out nicely. You can use a similar blade on your food processor if you don't keep forgetting to use it because it sits right in front of you on the counter...

The Meatatarian and I both noticed this recipe to be rather lemon-y in flavour. Perhaps I added too much? Or perhaps one does not need as much as is called for? Aside from that, it was pretty good. Cauliflower is a good source of fibre along with the whole wheat/"smart" pasta so I'm still full a few hours later. This recipe is a good way to sneak some vegetable(s) in for those who aren't terribly fond of them. Now I just need a recipe to use up the remaining evaporated milk...

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Roasted Tomato Soup

Recipe #79: http://www.foodnetwork.com/recipes/michael-chiarello/roasted-tomato-soup-with-croutons-recipe/index.html

Happy (Canadian) Thanksgiving! If you're looking to escape the turkey grind at this time of year, then here's the perfect recipe for you. I was inspired to try a roasted tomato soup recipe after eating a delicious version in a restaurant recently. Theirs had more kick to it than mine, but both were tasty.

Aside from trying to figure out what exactly a "non-reactive" baking sheet was (I came to the conclusion that it was one which wouldn't be affected by the acid in the tomatoes and vinegar), and attempting to make uninformed decisions about garlic, this recipe was pretty straightforward and simple. I didn't happen to make the crouton part of the recipe, but it seems easy enough for another time.

I ended up using about 8 "regular" tomatoes and 4 roma ones, if that matters to you. I don't think I had quite enough basil although I didn't formally measure it. I was looking for the squeeze-tube basil, but the store only had small packages of fresh so I bought a couple of them. I also added some basil from my half-dead plant in the backyard. I didn't measure the onion either - I just used an entire medium-sized yellow onion.

The only part where I got confused was with regards to the garlic. Yes, I added it to the bowl with the tomatoes, vinegar, etc. at the beginning, but then I didn't know whether the garlic got roasted with the tomatoes or not? I roasted them both. Then I wondered, "Do I add the garlic to the pot with the tomatoes?" Nope, I chucked the garlic at that point. I'm still not sure if it was the right thing to do since the recipe failed to make mention of garlic after the beginning.

In the end, my soup is very tomato-y. I guess that's a good thing since it's a tomato soup. It definitely doesn't have any spice kick to it so you can modify that part on your own if you want. But it's a nice, thicker soup for fall, and a perfect way to boost your vitamin C and lycopene intake. I ate mine with a fresh slice of the Meatatarian's homemade sourdough bread, mmmmm......

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Beef and Broccoli Supreme

Is it bad that I almost never taste my cookings before I finish them? I feel like I should be sampling along the way, like all the great chefs and cooks I know, but aside from eating the bits that I accidently drop on the floor, I rarely sample my creations in progress. Perhaps it will come when I graduate to the "dash of this and splash of that" level of cooking?

I've had this recipe card kicking around for a while. It's one that you pick up for free in the grocery store, and I finally got tired of moving it out of the way. Luckily, to save me from typing the darn thing out, I found a link to it online so you won't have to email me for the details.

As usual, there are a few alterations in my version. In lieu of ground beef, I dug some lean ground pork out of the freezer, thus freeing upa mere 3 cubic inches of space in an otherwise packed environment. It might be time to plug in the deep freeze soon, but we're trying to avoid it if we don't have to. I didn't add the ginger to my recipe. Unlike my grandma, I dislike ginger. I tolerate in the form of gingerbread and my mom's gingersnap cookies, but only in the winter during the holidays. Blech. We happened to have brown jasmine rice in the cupboard, not white, and my cream of chicken soup can was a low-fat version. I eyeballed the cheese measurement - not a bad thing to go over the recommended 1 cup when you live with a Cheese-a-tarian. I skipped adding the salt and was delighted to be able to measure my black pepper properly, now that I finally bought some in bulk. I got tired of grinding and grinding and grinding and grinding....

I struggled to cook the rice a bit (part of why I don't make rice very often), but eventually I coerced it into behaving properly. It might have been a smidge still watery when I was done, but not nearly as soupy as most of the rehydrated food I ate on a recent mountaineering expedition. Alas, I digress. As for the rest of the recipe, it actually came together pretty easily. I didn't accidently rub onion into my eye this time! I only ended up baking it for 30 minutes and the edges were quite bubbly by then. It's a teeny bit runny if that matters to anyone, but it's hot and delicious so I ate it anyway. The Cheese-a-tarian liked it too, and not just because I instructed him that he was going to like it whether it was actually good or not. Lucky for us, we've got leftovers for tomorrow now. Enjoy!

Saturday, September 10, 2011

STOVE TOP Spinach Balls

Well, here's a peek at a recipe that just came out in the latest issue of What's Cooking, in case you don't get the magazine yourself. I thought it would be a good way to ingest some more vegetables in my diet.

As far as ingredients go, this was not a challenging recipe. The magazine version recommended the "low sodium" version of the stuffing mix and "light" parmesan cheese. I used regular stuffing mix because it's all I had. It also only called for 1 cup of hot water, 3 eggs, 3/4 cup of onion, 1/4 cup of margarine (I used butter), and 1/2 cup of the parmesan. The magazine recipe says to cook for 25 to 30 minutes, or until lightly browned, rotating the pans after 15 minutes. Mine were done in 25 minutes.

I added a little something extra to my version of this recipe: roughly 1 lb of extra lean ground chicken. I cooked it thorougly first, let it cool a bit, then added it to the bowl with the spinach, eggs, etc. A nice little bit of lean protein to make this meal a little more complete and to go well with the salad I made.

I had some mixing issues and ended up combining the ingredients by hand. It was more fun anyway. Some of my spinach balls didn't stay together very well so you may have to use a firm hand. I thawed the spinach in the fridge overnight last night, then out in the sink while I was at work today. To get it drier, I squeezed and squished the water out of it in a colander. Mauling spinach was fun too.

The resulting spinach balls were fairly tasty, if a tiny bit bland. That could be fixed with some spices next time. They're an interesting shape for dinner and the spinach is very good for you. I'm not in love with the amount of onion I'm crunching on when I eat them, but that's because I don't like onion unless it's blended in and virtually unflavoured. The Meatatarian said they were good so at this point, I'll make them again. Try them yourself and let me know if you like them.

Monday, August 15, 2011

Cheese-Topped Grilled Tomatoes

This recipe was suggested to me by the Meatatarian, and since I like warm/hot tomatoes, I was game to try it. I'm glad I did.

A very straightforward recipe, this one. Not many ingredients and all I had to buy were the tomatoes since I am growing a tomato plant out back that refuses to produce any tomatoes as yet. With hindsight (and a full belly), I will be choosing more reasonable-sized tomatoes next time, not always the gigantic ones that are on sale. Not that there was anything wrong with the gigantic ones, but they take longer to heat through. Something to keep in mind. I was excited, however, to use some of the basil that has co-operatively been growing in the back. It is not the basil pot pictured in the photo above.

As far as modifications go, I guess you could call the gigantic tomatoes one of them. We gave our BBQ to my parents when we moved to Calgary last year so I had to put in a call on the batphone to my parents to figure out how to make this recipe in the oven. In the end, my mom reminded me I own a toaster oven which I used. I also didn't have a square foil pan so I ended up putting aluminum foil (into an improvised pan shape) on my toaster oven rack to contain the tomato mess.

Since my toaster oven is cute and small, and my tomatoes were gigantic, I could only bake two halves at a time. This gave me a chance to fiddle with baking times and temps. At first, I baked the halves at about 350 for 12 minutes which warmed the tomatoes through and melted the cheese. They weren't hot, but they were still good. For the second two halves, I baked them at 400 for 12 minutes, and to combat the tendency for the tomatoes to tip off their toppings, I hollowed out a section of each middle prior to topping them. It seemed to work pretty well along with propping them against each other in the oven.

When it came to eating my hot, gooey mess, my tomatoes seemed to slip and slide all over my plate. I cut them into pieces with a knife and fork, but I had to chase them around a bit. The cheese also had a tendency to fall off the tomato onto the plate so there was some scooping involved too. All in all, it was a hot, tasty meal with some entertainment value added. I will make it again!

Saturday, July 30, 2011

Zucchini Bread

I should probably make this clear from the start: I don't normally eat zucchini because I don't normally think I'll like it. However, I've been trying to eat more vegetables lately as part of eating healthier all around, and when I made a minestrone soup last week that had zucchini in it, I discovered that I might not hate it quite so much. Thus, another zucchini recipe tonight.

I made a few modifications to this recipe. If you expand the first two reviews at the bottom of the recipe page, you'll see some suggestions I tried. I meant to substitute 1 cup of oil with unsweetened apple sauce, but it turns out I had less than 1 cup of oil on hand so I used it up and made up the difference (just over 1 cup) with unsweetened apple sauce. I also added an extra cup of zucchini (although I admit I was hesitant to do so). I made the crust as suggested by one of the reviews, but in hindsight, if I make it again, I will make half as much. There's crust crumbs falling all over the place now. At the suggestion of my friend Frankie, I added semi-sweet chips to each loaf. If it matters to you, the vanilla extract I used was artificial :)

I had to put in a call on the batphone to my kitchen-friendly relatives at the cottage to find out whether I needed to peel the zucchini first (no, keep the peel on). Then I had to ask whether I still needed to grease & flour the loaf pans if they were non-stick (yes, do it anyway because it can't hurt). Oh, and I discovered that my two zucchinis (totally 0.545 kg at the grocery store) will yield about 4 cups when grated so if anyone needs 1/2 a zucchini, I have some for free. My final question was to ask whether to stir the chocolate chips into the batter, then pour into the loaf pans, or vice versa, and to get an estimate of what amount to use (1/4 cup per loaf, added to batter after poured into loaf pan). It also gave me an excuse to chat with my family for a bit :)

Overall, this recipe was pretty easy to make. It was also pretty easy to make a hideous mess in my kitchen. I'm amazed at how many places zucchini can end up while being shredded, and how many walnut pieces can leap off the counter to end up under my feet. The other reason I like this recipe is because the only things I had to buy for it were the zucchini and apple sauce (the latter by choice) so it used up a lot of ingredients I already had on hand. Amazing how tasty vegetables can be!

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Low-Cal Oatmeal Cookies

This is a simple recipe to make, but I have one major problem with it: when was I supposed to add the raisins? Maybe I was supposed to eat them while I baked? Dear Food Network, please make that part of your instructions much more clear.

I think this might be the first recipe I've made with booze in it. Our ceilings started leaking on two levels of the house yesterday, causing a lot of damage and inconvenience so far, so I figured today would be a good day to add the booze to these cookies. If it matters to you, I used rum, not whiskey.

I didn't measure the amount of raisins I had. I just found a small container of them in the cupboard and used them up. When I added the rum to the raisins, I discovered that there were some dried cranberries in there too. Cool! As a matter of convenience, I bought the small individual packs of applesauce so that I can take the rest in my lunch. They were also on sale. The 1/4 cup you'll need is less than one little individual size so you'll have a little snack while you bake, especially if you eat the raisins. Since we're on a budget these days, I used the artificial vanilla that we already had.

Really simple cookies to make. And how have I never used parchment paper before? So easy to use, simple clean up, and it's recyclable when you've removed the cookies. The one who does most of the dishes (ME) loves parchment paper!

Now that they're cool enough to eat, these cookies are really yummy. The edges are a bit crispy-crunchy, and the middles are soft and chewy. I think I need to eat a few more to make sure that the quality is consistently delicious...

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Bankruptcy Stew

I get the giggles whenever I see the title of this recipe. I think I've figured out why it is called "bankruptcy": the meat for this recipe will set you back a bit. However, since I'm now in Alberta, at least I know the meat will be awesome.

As far as ingredients go, I made a few modifications. In the end, I added about 3 more cups of water, and about 3 more teaspoons of pasta/tomato sauce. Since I lacked the fresh parsley, I added a tablespoon of italian seasoning. I didn't have a whole yellow onion; instead, I chopped up the remaining half of a red onion that I already had on hand. Peppers are gross so I left that out. My carrots happened to be baby carrots so I guesstimated how many to use. I also drained a can of mushrooms and added them. Maybe next time I won't drain them first in order to have enough liquid.

A word of advice: when it says to simmer for an hour on medium, you should probably turn it down to simmer, or just above simmer. I had mine on medium as prescribed, but it seriously lacked in moisture which is why I added more to mine. It also stuck to the bottom of my pot, but that's because I didn't use a non-stick as suggested. Also, I ended up combining about 6oz. of water with about 2.5 tbsp of flour (shaken, not stirred) to thicken my liquid. That meant it simmered for about an additional 15 minutes.

It's hot, it's filling if a little bland, and I ate mine with a side of the Meatatarian's homemade sourdough bread. With the few adjustments I had to make, I think it still turned out well. And, unlike my last recipe (see Stuffed Shells in June 2011), this one didn't take hours and hours!

Sunday, June 5, 2011

Stuffed Shells

I wanted to make some more "healthy" recipes that we would both eat, but chef be warned: this one took me the entire length of the Canucks game last night, including the 13 seconds of overtime! If that makes no sense to you, I'll translate: Leave lots of time for cooking.

What I didn't realize when I picked this recipe is how many different "sections" there are to it. Cook this, set aside. Cook this, set aside. I tripped myself up a bit by not doing too much cooking at the same time; on the other hand, I didn't want too much craziness in the kitchen after having been out canoeing all day.

For once, I didn't have many substitutions/ommissions for my ingredients. The grocery store didn't have scallions so those were the only things I left out. While the ricotta was the suggested reduced-fat version, the mozzarella was the full-fat (regular) version. There's something about low-fat blocks of cheese that I just don't really enjoy. Since I used all of the ricotta, it didn't matter as much. I didn't measure the onion but I chopped up half of one. My basil plant died during the week (since replaced - keep your fingers crossed!), so I used an unmeasured amount of "squeeze tube" basil. I don't think my tomatoes were peeled - does it really matter? I ended up squishing them to heck with my hands (per recipe directions) so if I make this again, I'll buy the cans of chopped tomatoes. Oh, and I actually had fresh parsley! I chopped up a bunch of it and assumed it was about two tablespoons. For the spinach, I ended up buying two different size containers to get enough. I used all of the 10 oz. bin, and threw in about 2/3 of the 9 oz. bag, attempting to come up with 16 oz. (1 lb.) total.

I learned a few new things with this recipe, besides the time management issue outlined at the beginning. One, the spinach does not catch fire or dry out like I thought it would when cooking it by itself in the pot. Two, squeezing a handful of not-quite-cool-enough spinach really hurts. Seriously, let it cool. Three, the zucchini does not shrivel up or catch fire when cooked on its own either. And when you mix it into a recipe, it's bearable to eat. I picked this recipe in part to try some new vegetables, and to add more vegetables to our diet.

Aside from initially not being able to easily get the sauce to simmer, and it didn't seem to thicken very much by the end, this recipe wasn't technically difficult. And in addition to requiring a lot of time, it also needs a lot of counter space so keep that in mind too. In the end, when the game was over and the oven timer went off, the meal was hot and flavourful, if a little overdue. Not really an "in a jiffy" kind of dinner, but in terms of healthier options, it's on the list to try again.

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Vegetable Beef & Rice Soup

Another soup recipe so soon? Yes, because I thought the Charmer might eat this one and I wouldn't be stuck eating it all myself. He did ask for more meat last time.

**NOTE** The default servings on this recipe is 20; I changed it to 10. I still had to upgrade halfway through to a bigger pot. I don't like cooking the meat and softening the vegetables in the big silver pots because one has a warped bottom (uneven heat distribution, anyone? but I'm loath to part with it for sentimental reasons) and the other is hard to see down into (in my opinion) for meat and veggie cooking operations. If you make the recipe to feed 20 people, you're going to need a GIANT cauldron, er pot.

When the recipe is adjusted to 10 servings, it calls for 6 cups of beef stock and 3 cups of water. My boxes of 25% reduced-sodium beef stock were 900mL each. I ended up using both boxes (to reduce leftovers and add flavour) which equaled 8 cups of liquid so my version only had 1 cup of water in it. I also left out the red pepper - blech! My carrots were indeed large. Normally, I hate cooked carrots (usually as a side dish), but I'll eat them in this soup. We didn't have enough brown rice so I used jasmine rice instead. Not sure if it made any difference, but maybe a subtle flavour or texture one if any? I also didn't bother with the garnish when serving because I was hungry and didn't care about presentation to myself.

I may have cooked the beef a minute or two too long - by the time I finished washing the dishes and attended to the pot, there was no liquid fat to drain off. In my opinion, that was a good thing so that I didn't have gross liquid in the sink. Ha! I also grinded the pepper mill relentlessly at a few different points in the recipe to add flavour since I didn't add any salt. I figure using the extra beef stock was enough added salt unto itself.

My version of this recipe is hot, filling and tasty! I think you should try it too. I might get slightly smaller carrots next time - there are a lot of them although they're good for me. I just hope the Charmer doesn't mind them...

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Bean & Tortellini Zuppa

Recipe #70: http://www.runnersworld.com/cda/recipedetails/1,7173,s6-242-306-315-0-0-0-0-2053,00.html
Oops... I actually made this recipe near the end of April, but only now got around to posting it. I think I had writer's block after my last exam when my words no longer counted for marks.

If expediency is what you are looking for (in case you're as impatient as I am), then this recipe might be for you! If you don't own or like to use a microwave, then you'll have to adjust it for stove.

All in all, this recipe is easy to make. Easy, that is, if you can find the bloody zucchini in tomato sauce ingredient. I never did find it after two stores so I gave up and used a 398mL can of organic red kidney beans. They weren't kidding when the label says "very high in fibre". Speaking of which, my can of chickpeas was actually 19oz, not the 15oz called for. I figured since I love them, more was better, but The Boy tends to disagree. He suffers when I eat beans.

Since the box of reduced sodium chicken broth was cheaper than buying cans of same, I ended up using the whole box. Truthfully, I could have used even more by the 5th day of soup eating. That pasta really soaks it up. I rarely add salt to recipes unless I'm baking, and I never measure the ground black pepper. I just grind away until it looks like enough. The tortellini was nice - Olivieri brand Herb Tortellini with Three Cheeses. Fancy pants! I thought the Meatatarian might eat the soup if there was a lot of cheese in the tortellini, but not really being a soup eater, he stole a tortellini and called it a day. Oh well, I tried.

A word of advice: make sure your container in the microwave is at least as big as the 3-quarts suggested. I think mine was just shy of that mark and I had some spillage. Aside from that , nuke and enjoy! My version was very flavourful and filling.

P.S. - Blogger changed some options. My photo inserted randomly! Bear with me while I figure it out over the next few posts.

Friday, March 25, 2011

Fresh Tomato Ravioli

Recipe #69: page 51 in the latest issue of "What's Cooking" magazine or

Now that I've finished two courses already this semester, and haven't had any hours at work all week, I decided I'd cook dinner tonight. I've done a bit of cooking since my last post, but haven't been in the mood to blog my efforts. You didn't miss anything spectacular.

As I was walking home from the bus today, I was dreaming of a gastronomical trip to Italy. Oh, what I wouldn't give for a week of unlimited pasta and pizza done right! Italian is my first foodie love - and before you call me a copycat, I had my fantasy long before Eat, Pray, Love was written. Sadly, for now, I'll have to settle for something a little more local.

When I got home, I found the new issue of Kraft's "What's Cooking" publication and flipped through it for ideas. Lo and behold - pasta! and there's no seafood in this one, hooray! Often, they ruin the recipe with gross things like peppers, onions, or seafood, but I lucked out tonight. Off to the grocery store.

I made but a few modifications in my version: I didn't find cheese ravioli at the store so I bought cheese with spinach, figuring the addition of spinach is a really healthy idea. I found a package of sliced mushrooms on sale so I cut them up a bit smaller and used them too. I didn't see the Extra Virgin Olive Oil version of the dressing so I opted for Calorie-Wise instead. Cherry tomatoes haven't been seen out here for a while so I bought grape ones. I used about 1/8 cup of squeeze-tube basil that I already had on hand (added to pot at same time as tomatoes and mushrooms), and I grated a bunch of mozzarella cheese into a bowl without measuring it. The meatatarian loves cheese so more is always better.

I had the water for the pasta on the burner first, but it seemed to take a really long time to heat up, as in long after I was finished with the rest of the dinner. Turns out the burner wasn't properly plugged in and the residual heat in it was from the oven. Might want to check yours before you start.

I chose to cook the mushrooms, basil, tomatoes and dressing for a bit longer than the suggested time of 2 minutes because the mushrooms needed to soften. Because of my burner problem, it worked out that I had lots of cooking time. I also seem to have lots of dressing left so maybe you'll want to put a little less into your verison.

Overall, this recipe is really nice. I especially enjoyed sampling the hot tomatoes with basil while they were cooking - divine! It's not quite Italy, and I don't profess to be as good a cook as my friend, the Italian Chef, but it's hot pasta on a night I was craving it so it's perfect for me. Better yet, it's STILL light out at 6:30pm!

Friday, February 18, 2011

Mushroom Broccoli Pasta

The poor meatatarian has been inadvertedly foiled again. I emailed him a copy of this recipe earlier in the week to see if he'd be willing to eat it if I made it. He said yes and I finally had time to cook tonight. Just as we were serving ourselves to eat, he asked me if the dinner had any meat in it. I replied that it didn't, and he just kind of stared at me. Later, I was informed that I could be arrested for serving meatless meals in the province of Alberta. Lucky for me, I'm still on grace time as I haven't yet lived here a year. Viva la vegetarian meals!

The only real problem I had while shopping for this meal was the mushroom measurement: 3 cups, yes, but is that before or after being chopped? BE SPECIFIC, Canadian Living! Some of your anal recipe users need to know stuff like that. I opted for 3-4 large handfuls of uncut mushrooms which translated to about 2.5 cups once chopped. I used reduced-sodium beef broth because I already had some, and I can never be bothered trying to measure the pepper. I just grind a bunch in and stir a lot, repeat if necessary. The only place I added salt was to the pasta water. My parsley was from the squeeze tube and it ended up being about 3/4 of the 1/4 cup. After the two weeks I've just survived at school, you'll have to do that math yourself if you want it measured differently. I also added ~1/4 tsp of italian spices to the mushroom pot for a bit of flavour. I happened to use whole wheat pasta (entire 300g box) although the meatatarian said he doesn't really like the whole wheat pasta because it tastes gritty. Something to keep in mind perhaps?

The recipe tells you to reserve 1/4 cup of the pasta water to add to the mushroom pot with the pasta. However, whether it was because my mushroom mix didn't simmer very well (I had to simmer it longer than the suggested 4 minutes to get the broccoli to soften) or some other reason, I already had plenty of liquid left by the time I added the pasta so I didn't end up using the extra water.

Overall, while the recipe lacks meat, it is tasty and filling. It's got lots of healthy stuff like calcium and vitamin C from the broccoli along with fibre from the whole wheat pasta. I'd make it again, but first I need to finish my last assignment before I can enjoy my Reading Week!

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Taco Soup

I'm not really sure why Kraft refers to this recipe as "Taco Soup". Personally, I wouldn't put any of the ingredients (except the cheese and beef, and regular chopped tomato) in a taco. I'd call this soup more of a "runny chili", especially with the Superbowl looming on the horizon this weekend. I guess their title sounds more appealing or something.

I did a few alterations with this recipe. I used up the last of the beef stock (with 25% less sodium, huzzah!) that was in the fridge (just shy of 2.25 cups in total) in lieu of water, the cheese is marble because I already had it, I used a can of corn instead of frozen, my taco seasoning was some mexican stuff meant for eggs that I got for free from an egg farmer at the Stampede last summer, and my tomato products both came with fancy spices and such things in them.

My version turned out pretty well. If I could remember not to rub my eyes before washing my hands while chopping onions, it would probably be even better. It's got good flavour (I was a bit worried the Stampede mexican stuff would overpower everything) and it's hearty to fill me up. High in fibre too! I recommend that on a regular basis. I don't, however, recommend editing an assignment due tomorrow morning while cooking dinner...

Saturday, January 29, 2011

Chocolate Chip Cookies

Recipe #66: Page 766-767 in the 75th anniversary edition of the Joy of Cooking. Yep, you'll have to look it up the old-school way, on paper.

Well, some days you just need something familiar to cheer you up so I figured a day of snow and cold temperatures would be a good time to make a familiar recipe for chocolate chip cookies. My mom makes these for my dad on occasion so I asked her for the recipe. Turns out it's in my very own copy of the Joy of Cooking that I got for Christmas in 2009.

I didn't really do much in the way of substitution for this recipe. That's not as easy in baking as it can be in cooking, or so I'm learning. The only thing I did differently was use Splenda in lieu of the (white) sugar called for.

I always thought this recipe would take a long time to make, but it's pretty quick. I'm glad I was wrong. My mom said she usually doubles it but since I'm not making mine for the masses, I used the original quantities. The book says it yields about 36 2.5 inch cookies.... I got 18 obese ones.

That reminds me of the time my best friend and I made this recipe in a fit of domesticity when we were young. She's always been better in the kitchen whereas I'm the better reader, but somehow between the two of us, we overlooked the fact that these are "drop" cookies, and we carefully flattened each of ours before chucking them in the oven. We ended up with two giant cookies pretty much the exact dimensions of our cookie sheets...

In truth and in fact, I prefer these cookies when my mom makes them. Hers are probably the proper size which means the middles aren't thick and almost not-quite-baked-enough like mine. Hers are a bit crisper overall too. If you like big, soft, chewy chocolate chip cookies, then by all means use their "heaping teaspoon" measurement literally like I did when dumping them on the cookie pans. Otherwise, maybe you'd better ask her what she does differently. Mine are still edible but things taste better when they're made by a mom with love.

Monday, January 17, 2011

20-Minute Chicken Linguine

Right, so I've been off the air for a while, haven't I? I seem to have done nothing in the kitchen (worth blogging) for the month of December. Well, now that I've returned to school and am still working, which translates to even less spare time than when I was only working, I'm hoping to keep up better with the blog.

Tonight's recipe was a bit of a whim. It got emailed to me in the weekly suggestion list from Canadian Living. A few emails home to see whether a) the recipe would be agreed to for dinner, and if that was successful, then b) what ingredients I already had on hand. A couple of hours of rock climbing after work then a trip to the grocery store on the way home and I'm ready to go.

I'm not sure who thought to give a time definition for this recipe. It certainly took me far longer than 20 minutes - more like nearly an hour. Not good when I've been up since 0530 and I'm eating dinner at 2100. Mind you, some of the delay came from my having to thaw the chicken while I chopped garlic and onion (and mistakenly rubbed my eye afterward). Regardless, it wasn't 20 minutes at this house.

As for alterations: I had chicken thighs already, not breasts. I just used all the thighs in the bag but it probably equated what the recipe called for. I couldn't find cherry tomatoes so I used grape ones. We didn't have linguine at home so I used up the remainder of the vermicelli. I opted for spinach instead of raddichio as the Charmer doesn't like raddichio. I passed on the green onion altogether. Blech.

I chose to roughly measure the S&P into the plastic bag that had held the chicken, then returned the now-sliced chicken to the bag and shook it up to season it. The advantage to having used the vermicelli is that it took 5 minutes to cook al dente whereas the recipe calls for linguine that takes 10 minutes. I'm hungry and really tired. I haven't got an extra 5 minutes to wait for food.

So the end result it surprisingly tasty. I'm always a little skeptical of pasta without some kind of traditional "sauce" (white, red, blush), but this one still has good flavour. It has the added bonus of good-for-you-ness with the garlic, tomatoes, olive oil and spinach. Give it a try and tell me how yours turns out.