Friday, July 26, 2013

Hello?! ... Remember me?! ... And Red Pepper Pasta

I know. I know. I know. Every year I say I'm going to keep up my food blog, and it ends up going by the wayside, like most New Years' Resolutions. I have been busy this year, but that's no excuse, really. I'm always busy. But, I have been trying to remember to take pictures of some of the dishes I cook so that I can eventually, some day, maybe get them posted to my blog. A friend asked me about my blog last night, and I felt guilty that I had to tell him that I haven't kept it up this year. So, here's a post to get me started again. Hopefully, I'll keep at it.

Pioneer Woman's Red Pepper Pasta

I may have previously mentioned Ree Drummond a/k/a Pioneer Woman. Her blog is hilarious, her recipes delicious, and that cowboy husband of hers is hawwwwwwwtttttt! She posted a recipe for Red Pepper Pasta that sounded really yummy, so I decided to try it. I actually followed it almost exactly (you know I have to change at least one thing), AND I remembered to take some photos along the way.

You can follow the link to the recipe, so I'm not going to list it exactly here. But it contains onions, garlic, roasted red peppers, veggie or chicken broth, heavy cream, parmesan cheese, basil, parsley, and the pasta of your choice. I chose papperdelle pasta, which is basically broad, flat noodles.

First, I sauteed onions and garlic in butter.

Next, I added in the chopped red peppers and cooked them for a few minutes.

I poured the onions, garlic, and peppers into my food processor and pureed it.

I put my pasta on to boil while I sauteed some zucchini. This is where I deviated from Ree's recipe in that I decided to add in some zucchini.  I put the pepper puree back into the skillet with the zucchini and some broth, plus salt and pepper, and heated it back up, then added the cream.

By this time, my pasta was done so I drained it then mixed it in with the pasta along with parmesan cheese, basil, and parsley.

And, voila!

This entire dish only takes about 30 minutes to cook and tastes sooooooo good!  Most ingredients I would normally have on hand, so long as I remember to keep roasted red peppers in my pantry.  You can make this totally vegetarian by using veggie broth and not chicken broth. Otherwise, you could also put some grilled chicken on top or some grilled shrimp if you want to add in some protein.

I've passed this recipe on to several mommy friends, and their families all raved about it. I hope you enjoy it too!

Saturday, January 12, 2013

New Year's Day Dinner

I hate black-eyed peas! I mean, I think they are really, really disgusting! So I refuse to eat black-eyed peas on New Year's Day. I haven't had one in years, so I don't think I need them now. Therefore, I made an herb-crusted pork tenderloin, creamy mashed potatoes, and whiskey-glazed carrots for New Year's Day Dinner.

One of the reasons I started writing my blog again is that after I posted on Facebook about the pork tenderloin I was making, some of my friends asked for my recipe. I also knew I was going to be trying out some new gadgets, so I thought I should restart my blog.

Herb-Crusted Pork Tenderloin

Here's my recipe for pork tenderloin. It comes out really moist, tender, and flavorful and really is easy to make. I use one of the packaged pork tenderloins like you get from Walmart (this one came from Costco). Whenever I see these on sale, I buy a few and throw them in my freezer.

So take the pork out of the package, pat it dry then make a rub of garlic salt, onion powder, lemon pepper, italian seasoning, and rosemary and rub all over the pork. Rub minced garlic all over the pork too. I keep a jar of minced garlic in my fridge since I use it all the time. Put olive oil in a skillet (I didn't use my iron skillet for this once since it still had the brunch casserole in it) on medium high heat and sear the tenderloin on all sides until really good and browned and the herb rub is seared into the meat. The tenderloins I get are in two pieces so I just do this to both pieces. You could, however, put some fresh herbs in between the two and tie them with kitchen string and cook them as one piece, but I was going for quick and easy.

Slice a large yellow onion and put 2/3 of of the slices in the bottom of the crock pot. Lay the tenderloin on top of the onions. Put the rest of the onions on top of the meat. Sprinkle a small can of sliced mushrooms (yes, canned, I keep a bunch of them in my cabinet, fresh is fine too) on top of the meat and onions. 

In the skillet, pour in a cup of hot water and sprinkle one package of pork gravy mix over medium high heat. Whisk, removing the seared bits from the bottom, until gravy is dissolved and bubbling, and starts to thicken. Pour it over the meat in the crock pot. This is what mine looked like:

Cook on low for 5 hours. The crock pot that I use is this one.  I can program it so that it will switch to warm when it's done.  It also comes with a probe, but I only use that for large cuts of meat like a big beef roast.

When it's done, take the tenderloin out and put it on a plate to sit for 15 minutes. Scoop out the veggies in the gravy, turn back to high and thicken with a little corn starch/water mixture if necessary. Mine wasn't doing this fast enough, so I poured it into a pot and thickened it on the stove.  Slice the tenderloin and pour some of the gravy over the sliced tenderloin. I usually put the onions and mushrooms in a small bowl to put over the pork slices on the plate. This is what the sliced, finished pork looked like. It was yummy!

Because this pork cooks for so long, it will be very tender. I use an electric knife to cut it so that it mostly stays in slices.

Creamy Mashed Potatoes

I love mashed potatoes!!! At Thanksgiving, I made the Pioneer Woman's Creamy Mashed Potatoes, and they were a huge hit! I decided to make them again to go with the pork tenderloin. The only thing I usually do different with this recipe is to add a couple tablespoons of minced garlic to the water when boiling the potatoes. I also add some onion salt at the end when adding the seasoning salt (usually Tex-Joy) and pepper. This time, I used whipped cream cheese with chives instead of the standard block of cream cheese. This gave the potatoes a really good flavor!

Whiskey Glazed Carrots

I saw this recipe on the Pioneer Woman blog and was going to try it out at Thanksgiving. But I wasn't sure if the whole crowd would like something like this, so I just made regular steamed carrots with honey and butter. I didn't have large carrots, so I just used the small bag of baby carrots I had. Because her recipe calls for 2 - 3 lbs of sliced carrots and mine was only 1 lb, I cut back the ingredients a bit. I cut up the baby carrots into three pieces and then just followed the rest of the recipe. It came out really good, but I think next I will definitely use larger carrots. The baby carrots end up cooking down too small, I think.

To finish out the dinner, I heated up some corn and reheated the leftover Epic Mac & Cheese (recipe forthcoming someday) that we had at my End of the World Party. Yum! Yum! Yum!

Friday, January 4, 2013

Skillet Cooking - First Attempt

So I got a Lodge pre-seasoned 12" Cast Iron Skillet for Christmas (Thanks, Sis!!). I've never really used an iron skillet much, but decided I wanted to give it a whirl. All the cool kids are doing it, so why not me?!  For New Year's Day brunch, I decided to make a brunch casserole in my new skillet. I searched the interwebs for recipes and found this one.  I liked it because it included all the basic necessities of a breakfast skillet casserole: sausage, potatoes, eggs, cheese, etc. Of course, I changed the recipe, as I always do.

I put some extra oil on my skillet and heated it slowly to medium-high heat because that's what the Lodge instructions for my skillet said to do. Then I browned one pound of Jimmy Dean sausage. The recipe called for italian sausages but for breakfast, I prefer breakfast sausage, and it has to be Jimmy Dean!  Halfway through browning the sausage, I added in chopped onion and a can of sliced mushrooms. After the sausage was cooked through and the onions were tender, I took them out of the skillet and put them in a bowl. For the potatoes, I found in the refrigerated section at the grocery store a bag of cut up potatoes with onions. I put those in the skillet (turning the heat down a bit closer to medium) and cooked them according to the directions on the bag. However, I didn't look at the directions until after I had them in the skillet, and needed to put more oil in the bottom of the skillet, so my potatoes were sticking quite a bit. I'll remember this next time, maybe. I added some oil anyway, just a couple tablespoons of olive oil. After the potatoes were done, I put the sausage/onion/mushroom mixture back on top of the potatoes, and poured in the beaten eggs, stirring just a little to mix it up a bit. Oh, and because I used a pound of sausage instead of the 3/4 that the recipe called for, and because the bag of onions was more than the 2 cups the recipe called for, I used 10 eggs instead of 8.  The recipe said to just cook on top of the stove, but I didn't want to end up burning the bottom, so I put the skillet in the oven on 350 degrees for about 15 - 20 minutes, just until the eggs were set on top. Then I turned off the oven, put the cheese on top of the casserole in the skillet and put it back in the oven for about 5 minutes or so, just until the cheese was melted. I had that four-cheese Mexican cheese, and that was pretty good.

And voila! This is what it looked like:

It came out pretty yummy! Things I would do different next time: (1) Add some green onion and/or green pepper, (2) put more oil in the pan before cooking the potatoes (duh!), (3) add some salsa to my bowl when I ate it. It seemed a little dry to me, so salsa or better yet, some cream gravy (mmmmmm!), would be good on it.

A note about cleaning the iron skillet. I had heard and read in some places that you aren't supposed to wash them. What?! The potatoes, egg and cheese stuck a bit to the skillet, so it would definitely have to get washed. My Lodge instructions (can you believe I read the instructions for anything?!) said to wash with hot water but NO SOAP. Then dry immediately with a towel (not on the stovetop) and apply more vegetable oil while it's still warm.  This method worked pretty well.  I also gave my head dishwasher (my hubby) the skillet cleaning instructions.  :-)

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

New Year, New Adventures in Cooking

I know I started this whole blog thing a year ago, did a few posts, and then stopped ...

I think I need to be inspired when writing on this blog, so I guess I wasn't inspired much after that. But, it's now 2013, a new year, and with some additional cooking tools and a little inspiration, I'm going to begin new adventures in cooking and will hopefully blog about it as I go. No guarantees, it is me we're talking about here.

I got a couple new weapons for my cooking arsenal this year. My sister got me a Lodge 12" Seasoned Iron Skillet.  I had been reluctant to try using a cast iron skillet for many years. They're heavy, can be a pain to clean, etc.  But I know that all the best cooks use them, so I decided to put it on my Amazon Wish List and if it was meant to be, someone would get it for me for Christmas.  Alas, the stars aligned and I am now the proud owner of a cast iron skillet. I've made a couple of dishes with it already, and will blog those separately, along with the recipes and my notations (I can't ever leave a recipe totally alone).

The other item on my wish list that I got for Christmas is another pasta maker attachment for my Kitchen Aid Mixer. Last year I got the regular pasta roller attachments that make the flat pastas like fettuccine,  linguine, etc. After experimenting with that, and LOVING the pasta that it makes, I added the pasta extruder attachment to my wish list. The stars aligned again, and my wonderful husband got me that attachment as well. Now, I'll be able to make macaroni, rigatoni, spaghetti, etc.  I did buy myself a ravioli mold last year but have never gotten around to trying out ravioli yet. I've been kicking around a recipe idea in my head that is a different take on eggs benedict that involves a ravioli with an egg inside. I'll post that too if I ever try it.

Wish me luck on my new cooking adventures and that I'll actually get some of them posted this time.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Adventures in Pasta Making

I asked for and received for Christmas the pasta making attachments for my Kitchenaid Stand Mixer. Why would I want to go through the trouble of making my own pasta, you may ask? For one thing, I have tried several whole wheat pastas at the grocery store and don't like them much at all. We eat a lot of pasta at my house, and I want us to be able to eat "healthier" pasta. I figured if I make my own, I can experiment with several whole-wheat recipes until I find one I like. Also, making pasta reminds of playing with play-doh when I was little.

I finally had the time this week to give this pasta making thing a whirl. One of the reviews I read of the pasta making attachments discussed running a batch of "practice" dough through the attachments to clean out any residual oils, metal shavings, etc. that might still be left on the attachments from manufacturing. This seemed to make sense to me, and if I screwed up the pasta on my first time out, it wouldn't be a batch I intended to eat anyway.

This is the attachment set that I got for Christmas. It contains the pasta roller and two cutter attachments, one for fettuccine and one for spaghetti.

I used a Basic Pasta recipe I found online because this particular recipe only called for one cup of flour. Since I knew I wasn't going to eat this first batch, I didn't want to waste a lot of flour. A couple days later, I made a second batch and doubled this same Basic Pasta recipe so I could make more than the first practice batch yielded. The instructions for the pasta attachments said to mix the dough using the flat beater for about 30 seconds then use the dough hook on it for another 2 minutes.

I next had to hand knead the dough for about 2 minutes on a floured board. I bought this nice big board specifically for pasta making, and the fact that I only had a really tiny cutting board previously. Although, I'm thinking that I will only use this side that has the pastry markings on it for dry ingredients and may use the other side for non-raw meat cutting. I like my plastic cutting board for meat because I can just spray the hell out of it with bleach to clean all the germies. But I digress. After I kneaded the dough, it had to rest for 20 minutes. Not sure why the dough had to rest when I did all the hard work!

Next it was time to attach the roller. There is a lever I twist to unscrew the Kitchenaid logo cap on the front and then insert the roller and tighten it up. After I turned the mixer on, I was a bit confused because the part where you usually put the beater was still going around. I guess I thought it would stop and only the attachment on the front would run. But when I looked at the roller, it was indeed running. Whatever.

Switching between the different roller and cutter attachments was pretty easy.  The reviews I read about the attachments said that being able to make pasta with the Kitchenaid attachments versus a hand-roller pasta maker is that you can use both hands to guide the dough in and out of the roller or cutter. I fully understand this now, especially when I was trying to use one hand to take photos with my iPhone while I was guiding the dough in and out. I can't imagine trying to do this with a hand-roller.

The dough gets put through the roller several times on 1, then I start increasing it until I reach the desired thinness of the dough, which for fettuccine was 5, for the spaghetti I went to 6. I apologize for any blurriness in these photos. Like I said earlier, trying to take photos and guide the dough at the same time was not easy. And, my photo taking abilities leave a lot to be desired.

This is the fettuccine going through the cutter. 

This is the spaghetti. 

I also got this nifty drying rack for drying the pasta. The instructions said that you don't need to dry it if you're going to cook it right away. Otherwise, if you want to use it later, then dry for an hour.



I cooked the fettuccine (I guess I didn't really have to dry it after all, but whatever) so I could have it for dinner. With the spaghetti, I used my handy dandy food sealer to put the pasta in an airtight package and put it in the fridge. The directions say it can stay in the fridge for a month or for a year in the freezer. I found when taking the pasta off the bars of the rack, it sometimes broke. Not sure if there is a better method for removal so as not to break the pasta in half. If I figure out a better way, I'll update in a subsequent post.

The fettuccine took about 8 minutes to cook. I don't like my pasta al dente, otherwise it probably would have been done in about 5 - 6 minutes.

I made a simple Alfredo Sauce then added a couple tablespoons of jar pesto that I had in the fridge. I LOVE pesto!! Once I get my herb garden going again (my hydroponic herb garden will be the subject of subsequent posts), then I'll have more basil to make my own pesto. I digress again, I got distracted by the pesto. I have whipped up this Alfredo Sauce before. It's quite yummy and quick to put together. I did not use evaporated milk or whipping cream (I didn't have any) as the recipe calls for; I used 2% milk instead which I think would make the sauce lighter in calories and fat. If I was making this sauce for someone besides myself, I would use heavy cream and fresh-grated parmigiano reggiano rather than the Kraft Parmesan Cheese I had on hand. But even the ghetto version still tasted good though.

Voila! Finished product!

Next time I will start to experiment with different whole wheat pasta recipes until I come up with a recipe that I like. I also want to experiment with making ravioli, but I'll need to buy a ravioli cutter. I saw a nifty one in the SkyMall magazine on a flight to Virginia last month, but I can't find it on their website. I fly again in a couple weeks, maybe I'll find it this time and actually write down the name of it. 

Overall, I have to say making pasta was really pretty easy and painless. I will likely make up large batches on weekends and then seal them up and refrigerate and/or freeze them. So, the next time I invite you to dinner, you may just be eating some of my homemade pasta!

ADDENDUM: As I was editing this post and adding in the hyperlinks, I found the attachment that makes rigatoni, macaroni, etc. WooHoo!!! I know what's going on my Amazon Wish List next!!!

Sunday, January 8, 2012

Cooking in the Modern Age

I've already confessed my cookbook addiction and mentioned my recipe collection on my computer in my last post. This digital collection started several years ago. I subscribe to various cooking newsletters, and have some recipe gadgets on my iGoogle page. As I would come across recipes that I wanted to keep, I would print them as a PDF and save them to a folder on my hard drive called "Recipes".  Thus began my digital recipe collection. I currently have about 300 recipes in this folder. I would peruse this folder when making out a menu for the week, then print the recipe when I was ready to cook. I have a drawer with many of these printed recipes, so I don't always have to re-print them.

Then, I got an iPad and my whole world changed. Ok, I'm being a bit dramatic, but it did change the way I collect recipes. I have used Microsoft OneNote from time to time and like how it gives me the ability to collect different bits of information from various sources about a particular topic and organize it into a notebook. But, it doesn't work that well for my recipe collection. After I got my iPad, I started reading various articles and ebooks that discussed different apps for the iPad. A former coworker actually turned me on to Evernote when he got his iPad. It's a much simpler version of OneNote but includes the ability to save your notes to the "cloud" meaning they are accessible from anywhere. OneNote can do this too but it's kind of convoluted and a pain to use. My use of Evernote completely changed the way I collect recipes.

I have the Evernote app installed on my iPad and iPhone, and I have it installed on my desktop PC. Now when I come across a recipe online, I can select all the text of the recipe on the webpage (I usually first choose the Print option on the recipe to put it in a better format for copying). Next, there is an option on my browser right-click menu called "Evernote web clipper" that lets me clip the selected text. The selected text automatically gets copied as a new note in Evernote which then pops up on my status bar with a notification that a new note has been created with an option to edit the note. At this point, I have options to put the note into my Recipes folder in Evernote and can add "tags" that let me further categorize the recipe such as beef, chicken, pasta, soup, appetizer, vegetarian, etc. you get the idea.

Here is a screenshot of my recipe collection in Evernote.

The two best reasons for keeping my recipe collection in Evernote are: (1) accessibility, and (2) search.

These recipes are accessible to me via my desktop PC, my iPad, and my iPhone. I suppose I can log in from any computer with internet access, I just haven't tried. If I am at the grocery store and remember a recipe I want to make, I can open the recipe from Evernote on my iPhone and get the list of ingredients. When I am in the kitchen, I can open the recipe from Evernote on my iPad to follow the directions.

Having the ability to search my recipes means that in addition to using the tag definitions I've placed on the recipes, I can also use keyword searches for specific ingredients. For instance, say someone gave me a bottle of Brandy and I wanted to find any recipes I had that included Brandy. I can search across all my recipes for Brandy.

I was also able to import my existing PDF recipe collection as notes into Evernote. Now I have all of my digital recipes in one location. Evernote provides me two more advantages: (1) I always have a backup because my Evernote recipe collection is saved in the cloud, and (2) Evernote provides a sharing capability that allows me to share my recipe collection with others. So, if you want access to my recipe collection on Evernote, send me an email, and I will send you an invite to access my recipe collection. I haven't tried this before, so I apologize in advance if there are some kinks to work out.

While using Evernote provides me much flexibility in my recipe collection, I still really enjoy sitting down with a cookbook, thumbing through the pages, looking at the pictures. Perhaps one day I will get ambitious enough to scan some of my favorite recipes and put them in Evernote.

Saturday, January 7, 2012

Confession: My Addiction

Hi. My name is Lori. And I'm a cookbook-aholic. I know the first step is admitting you have a problem. I LOVE cookbooks! I have 50+ cookbooks. That may seem excessive to some and not that much to others. The reason I don't have more is that I really resist in buying more as much as I can. I'm afraid to go into Half Price Books for fear of buying more. You know it actually never occurred to me to go there for cookbooks until just now as I was writing this. Oh crap! I may be in trouble now.

So do I use all of these cookbooks? Yes, some of them. Usually when I get a new cookbook, I thumb through it on a lazy Saturday or Sunday afternoon and put Post-it notes on all the recipes that I would like to try. Then when I am ready to make a menu for the week, I'll look at the marked pages to see if I want to make any of those recipes that week and then make out my shopping list.

Now just because I have all these cookbooks doesn't mean that we eat a different dish every night of the week. There are some recipes that are favorites or easy to fall back on when trying to decide what we want for dinner, especially if I haven't taken meat out of the freezer until the afternoon.

So what kinds of recipes do I like? I like simple recipes in that they don't require a lot of ingredients or ingredients that I wouldn't necessarily have on hand or can't find easy enough at the store. I don't like recipes that take a lot of preparation unless it's REALLY worth the trouble. One of my favorite cookbooks is by Sandra Lee, of the Semi-Homemade fame, called The Complete Cookbook. I like that her recipes cut corners where it doesn't affect the quality of a dish but still gets you to the end result faster. I mean, c'mon. Is it really necessary to spend all day making a marinara sauce when you can pop a jar on one, add your own stuff to it, just to dump it on chicken parmesan and spaghetti? Jarred spaghetti sauce is a great base for just about any good italian meal. I always add my own fresh onions and peppers, spices, etc. anyway.

I also like cookbooks that give you instructions and tutorials on cooking techniques. I've learned many of these along the way, but enjoy learning something new and finding out that it's really not that hard to begin with. One really good one is Better Homes & Gardens New Cook Book. It has great reference information and color photo techniques and tips pages. Anyone wanting to learn how to cook should have this cookbook. Another good one for those of us that are Southern cooks is Paula Deen's Southern Cooking Bible. Yes, I have a signed copy because I'm an addict. When I read through this book, I was one part disappointed and one part excited that I knew so many recipes and techniques that she discusses for Southern cooking. I thought I would learn more, but then I realized that I really am a good Southern cook, so I was excited that so much of it was familiar to me.

So now you know the truth about my addiction, or most of it anyway. I also have hundreds of recipes saved on my computer and subscribe to many cooking/recipe newsletters. But, that's a topic for a future post. In the meantime, I may need to make a run over to Half Price Books.  ;-p