Friday, November 28, 2008

Thanksgiving Day: Appetizers

We got to my parents house around noon, already starving. The house smelled amazing with the cooking turkey. My mom and I got right to work assembling the noshies:

... including olives:

... marinated mozzarella and sundried tomatoes:

... and fresh cooked shrimp with two dips (cocktail sauce and mayo mixed with grainy mustard:

Since pre-cooked shrimp rings from the supermarket tend to be overcooked and watery, I cooked the shrimp myself, with the shell still on, for only a minute and a half. I also made the two dips right before serving so they'd be fresh and tasty. We also had Boursin cheese and crackers:

I love Boursin cheese, with the pungent garlic and herb flavor. Yum! A great way to start the meal, although I have to admit I did overdo it a bit since I was so hungry.
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Thanksgiving Day: Breakfast

Happy Thanksgiving!! I hope everyone had a happy, safe and tasty holiday!!

This will be a post in three parts since the meal is so big, beginning with Thanksgiving breakfast:

Since this is my favorite food holiday of the year I don't like to eat a huge breakfast on Thanksgiving morning. I had half a sesame bagel, toasted, with cream cheese and one scrambled egg. I ate while we watched some of the parade to get into the festive holiday mood.
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Fall Gift Exchange

I recently participated in another gift exchange on a cooking board I frequent. I've been wanting a cupcake carrier for a long time now and I finally got one:

... along with some recipe index cards and little prep bowls. Thank you so much, Shannon!
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Bacon Double Cheeseburgers and Fries

I got it in my head recently to make bacon double cheeseburgers. SP asked for burgers on Wednesday so I cooked up some bacon, made the burger patties a bit thinner then usual and we had our bacon double cheeseburgers:

While the burgers were grilling I cooked some waffle fries in the oven until they were crispy.

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Penne alla Vodka and Garlic Bread

Whenever we've made penne alla vodka we always use Lidia's recipe. But while I was watching ATK over the weekend I saw them make penne alla vodka and decided to give it a try.

I really liked that they kept some of the tomatoes whole instead of pureed and I liked that there wasn't too much cream. I don't think SP was a fan because the vodka flavor wasn't very pronounced, but I thought it was fantastic. I also made some garlic bread topped with a little grated Pecorino cheese:

Penne alla Vodka
America Test Kitchen

1 (28 ounce) can whole tomatoes, drained, liquid reserved
2 tablespoons olive oil
1/2 small onion, minced (about 1/4 cup)
1 tablespoon tomato paste
2 medium cloves garlic, minced
1/4-1/2 teaspoon hot red pepper flakes
Table salt
1/3 cup vodka
1/2 cup heavy cream
1 pound penne pasta
2 tablespoons minced fresh basil leaves
Grated Parmesan cheese, for serving

Puree half of tomatoes in food processor until smooth. Dice remaining tomatoes into 1/2-inch pieces, discarding cores. Combine pureed and diced tomatoes in liquid measuring cup (you should have about 1 2/3 cups). Add reserved liquid to equal 2 cups.

Heat oil in large saucepan over medium heat until shimmering. Add onion and tomato paste and cook, stirring occasionally, until onions are light golden around edges, about 3 minutes. Add garlic and pepper flakes; cook, stirring constantly, until fragrant, about 30 seconds.

Stir in tomatoes and 1/2 teaspoon salt. Remove pan from heat and add vodka. Return pan to medium-high heat and simmer briskly until alcohol flavor is cooked off, 8 to 10 minutes; stir frequently and lower heat to medium if simmering becomes too vigorous. Stir in cream and cook until hot, about 1 minute.

Meanwhile, bring 4 quarts water to boil in large Dutch oven over high heat. Add 1 tablespoon salt and pasta. Cook until just shy of al dente, then drain pasta, reserving 1/4 cup cooking water, and transfer pasta back to Dutch oven. Add sauce to pasta and toss over medium heat until pasta absorbs some of sauce, 1 to 2 minutes, adding reserved cooking water if sauce is too thick. Stir in basil and adjust seasoning with salt. Divide among pasta bowls and serve immediately, passing Parmesan separately.
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Zesty Broccoli Casserole

I had some broccoli leftover from Sunday's dinner. I was talking to my friend Jenn, who mentioned she had made this recipe for Zesty Broccoli Casserole for her Sunday dinner. I decided to make it the night we had the Swedish meatballs as an experiment.

The gorgeous topping is made with panko and butter and got nicely golden brown in the oven. The casserole itself is basically broccoli and a creamy cheese sauce.

I used all full-fat ingredients (see my modified recipe below) and it was very rich. I think I had about half the amount of broccoli I needed for a full order but I didn't halve the sauce recipe. Next time I'll make sure the proportions are right.

I also left the water chestnuts out because I didn't have them but next time I'll add them in for extra crunch. I can't wait to make this again. Thanks for a great recipe, Jenn!

Zesty Broccoli Casserole
Modified from Cooking Light

3-4 broccoli crowns, cut into bite-size pieces
4 tablespoons butter, divided
1 1/2 cups milk
2 1/2 tablespoons flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon pepper
Pinch of nutmeg
3/4 cup shredded sharp cheddar cheese
1/2 cup cream cheese, softened
1 cup mayonnaise
3/4 cup chopped onion (about 1/2 medium)
1 (8-ounce) can sliced water chestnuts, drained
3/4 cup panko (Japanese breadcrumbs)

Preheat oven to 375°. Arrange broccoli in an even layer in an 11 x 7-inch baking dish coated with butter; set aside.

Melt two tablespoons butter in a large saucepan over medium-high heat then add flour. Cook for 1 minutes, then add milk, salt, pepper and nutmeg; bring to a boil. Cook 1 minute or until thick, whisking constantly. Remove from heat. Add cheddar and cream cheeses; stir until smooth. Stir in mayonnaise, onion, and water chestnuts. Spoon cheese mixture evenly over broccoli.

Place panko in a small bowl. Drizzle with remaining two tablespoons melted butter, and toss. Sprinkle breadcrumb mixture evenly over broccoli mixture. Bake for 25 minutes or until mixture begins to bubble and breadcrumbs brown.
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Swedish Meatballs with Egg Noodles

Whenever I don't know what to do with ground beef I make Swedish meatballs:

It's an easy recipe that tastes great, especially on a Monday night.
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Roast Chicken Breasts, Potato Gratin and Broccoli

I've been craving potato gratin and we had plenty of split chicken breasts in the freezer so I decided to do a version of a roast chicken dinner on Sunday:

I love this potato gratin recipe:

It's so simple to make but it tastes amazing. SP and I could eat the entire dish in one sitting if we didn't restrain ourselves. I always think about making a double batch but that would probably be a bad idea. I wanted to make sure the chicken had a lot of flavor so I made an herb butter to rub under the skin:

I combined rosemary, thyme and parsley with softened butter and then I salt and peppered the chicken before rubbing it with the butter. The breasts cooked for about 45 minutes in the oven while the gratin was cooking. I steamed some broccoli and dinner was served.
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Sunday Breakfast

On Sunday we had a nice hearty brunch when SP got home from the supermarket.

I made sausage patties, eggs over easy and O'Brien potatoes, which are potatoes cooked with onion and red pepper.
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Breakfast Quesadillas

I made this breakfast quesadilla last weekend:

I cooked one breakfast sausage patty and then chopped it into small pieces. I put it into a small pan with a few spoonfuls of Goya pico de gallo and cooked that for a few minutes. Then I added one egg, lightly beaten and cooked everything together. The mixture went onto half a tortilla that had been lightly fried in a little vegetable oil, topped with some cheddar cheese and one chopped scallion, and then folded over to make the quesadilla. I topped it with chopped cilantro and served it with sour cream for a delicious breakfast.
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Saturday, November 22, 2008

Cooking for a New Baby

Our next-door neighbors and good friends had their second daughter earlier this week. I thought it would be nice to bring over some food since I can imagine cooking is low on the priority list at the moment. The timing happened to work perfectly since they were coming home from the hospital on Friday and we were off from work that day. We woke up early and got busy in the kitchen making mac & cheese:

... meatballs and sauce:

... and pulled pork with SP's famous BBQ sauce:

Just look at how moist the pork was:

This was after it fell completely apart when I took it out of the crock pot. I knew it was going to be good when I saw it had bones and a nice cap of fat. SP snuck a few tastes and said it was sensational.

I hope everyone likes the food. We had a great time making it! Congrats K, D and Big Sister A on the birth of Baby E!
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Breakfast Bagel Sandwich

We had the day off from work yesterday and a lot of things to get done so SP got up early and went to our local bagel place for a few bagels. I made us both breakfast sandwiches:

Mine was a toasted sesame bagel topped with bacon and scrambled eggs with melted American cheese.
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Pulled Pork Quesadillas

In keeping with the easy meal theme this week I used some of the pulled pork from the freezer to make pulled pork quesadillas:

I shredded cheddar and Monterey Jack cheeses, chopped some cilantro and slow-cooked some slices of red onion. The quesadillas were gooey and cheesy:

I served them with salsa and sour cream, sprinkled with a little more cilantro.
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Friday, November 21, 2008

Fish Cakes with Red Pepper Gravy and Spinach Mashers

We've always liked these fish cakes with red pepper gravy and spinach mashed potatoes:

... so I made them for dinner on Wednesday. I prepped a lot of the ingredients ahead of time so it was pretty easy to assemble these on a weeknight. Can you tell I'm into quick cooking, easy meals these days?
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Mac & Cheese with Broccoli

I had some broccoli that needed to be used up so I decided to make a mac & cheese on Sunday that we could eat later in the week. I cut the two small broccoli crowns into small pieces and added it to the pot with the macaroni about 5 minutes before the pasta was finished cooking. Then I just finished the recipe with the cheese sauce as indicated in the recipe below.

When I got home from work on Tuesday I preheated the oven while I did my exercise video (I have to give a plug to the 30-Day it!) and then I put the dish in the oven to cook while I showered and got the salad ready.

We had some baby arugula in the fridge and a few mushrooms so I sliced the mushrooms and made a quick dressing with minced shallot, red wine vinegar, olive oil and a little Dijon:

Easy and tasty. I really love the new mac & cheese recipe. Once again, as much as I don't like the ATK/CI/CC philosophy, I can't argue with some of their recipes. This one is a recipe I saw on the new Cook's Country TV show. I don't follow it to the letter since I don't keep evaporated milk on hand and I like a little onion flavor in my mac & cheese, so below is my modified (gasp!) version.

Best Potluck Macaroni and Cheese
Cook's Country

3-4 slices hearty white sandwich bread, torn into large pieces
8 tablespoons unsalted butter, 4 tablespoons melted
1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese
1 pound elbow macaroni (I like to use cavatappi)
5 tablespoons all-purpose flour
4 cups milk
1 small onion, finely chopped
1/8 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon paprika
2 dried bay leaves
salt and pepper, to taste
2 cups shredded extra-sharp cheddar cheese
1 1/4 cups shredded American cheese, (use block American cheese from the deli counter. Prewrapped slices of American cheese will result in a drier sauce)
3/4 cup shredded Monterey Jack cheese

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Pulse bread, melted butter, and Parmesan in food processor until ground to coarse crumb. Transfer to bowl.

Cook pasta in boiling salted water until al dente. Drain and set aside.

Melt remaining 4 tablespoons butter in now-empty pot over medium-high heat until foaming. Stir in flour and cook, stirring constantly, until mixture turns light brown, about 1 minute. Slowly whisk in milk, onion, bay leaves, nutmeg, salt and pepper and cook until mixture begins to simmer and is slightly thickened, about 15 minutes, stirring occasionally. Remove from heat, remove bay leaves, then whisk in cheeses and stir until cheese melts. Stir in macaroni until completely coated.

Transfer mixture to 9 by 13-inch lightly greased baking dish and top with bread crumb mixture. Bake until cheese is bubbling around edges and top is golden brown, 20 to 25 minutes. Let sit for 5 to 10 minutes before serving.
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Spaghetti and Meatballs with Cheesy Garlic Bread

Remember the last time I made spaghetti and meatballs how I made enough meatballs to freezer some for future meals? Well this week seemed like the perfect time to use some of those meatballs for an easy weeknight dinner:

SP made his sauce on Sunday and we cooked the meatballs in the sauce (just put them in frozen) until they heated through and transferred everything to a container. When I got home I put water on for the pasta and heated the sauce in a pot over low heat. Then it was just a matter of assembling and serving:

I also had half a ciabatta in the freezer so I made cheesy garlic bread:

... with mozzarella, cheddar and Pecorino cheeses and a garlic butter using garlic, salt and parsley. It was a sensational meal and super easy to get on the table on a weeknight. I love meals like this!
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Smothered Pork Chops

I've made this recipe for Smothered Pork Chops before with great success, but this time things didn't go quite as planned.

In addition to the pork chops I made some mashed potatoes and roasted broccoli. The potatoes were great but the broccoli was a little overdone.

***WARNING*** If you have a weak stomach, stop reading now.

I don't cook with pork chops often, but the last time we were at the wholesale club we bought a huge pack of bone-in pork chops. I defrosted them for this meal and when I went to dry them off before coating them in the seasoned flour I noticed there was blood near the bone. Now normally I'm not very squeamish when it comes to meat. I'll eat just about anything and I'm not naive about where the meat I eat comes from, but this was just gross. I tried to blot it away but obviously I didn't get it all because as the chops were cooking more blood came to the surface and started to cook. Again, I blotted it away, but when I transferred the chops back to the pan with the sauce more blood came out and discolored the sauce. We still ate a chop each for dinner (using sauce that hadn't been contaminated), but whether it was psychosomatic or not we both felt ill after eating. It's going to be a long, long time before either of us eats pork again.
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Monday, November 17, 2008

Sunday Breakfast

We like to have hearty breakfast on Sundays, but this was more like lunch after a rather hectic morning.

SP bought some cheese with chunks of black truffle a few weeks ago. We didn't want the last little bit to go to waste so I shredded it and scrambled it with some eggs. I also cooked up some bacon and shredded potatoes cooked until they were crispy hash browns.

Speaking of truffles, a few years ago we went to a truffle brunch at a local restaurant. At the time we couldn't taste any of the earthiness of the truffles and just assumed we were in the lucky minority for whom the essence of truffles is lost. Then we tried this cheese and now we get it. The flavor was incredible. Yum! I don't know if our palates changed or if the truffle brunch was just lacking in flavor. Either way, we are now converts.
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Chicken Tikka Masala

We've always loved this recipe for chicken tikka masala, but after making it on Thursday I'm wondering if I had ever marinated it overnight before. I must have done something different this time because the flavor was even better then I remembered.

The chicken marinates overnight in a yogurt and spice mixture and then you're supposed to grill it, but I never seem to make this during the warm months when grilling is easier. And I still haven't replaced my grill pan after the finish came off the last one, so I just cooked the chicken in a pan over very high heat. I had a minor mishap when I tried to make the sauce in the same pan and the yogurt mixture drippings started burning, but I just switched pans and everything was fine. Once again I served this over basmati rice (perfectly fluffy and tender) and it was a fantastic meal. I think I might leave in some more ribs and seeds from the jalapeno next time since the heat is a little tame for our tastes.
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Pasta with Marinara Sauce

On Wednesday I had planned to make chicken tikka masala for dinner, but when I got home and read the recipe I realized I needed to marinate the chicken overnight. Whoops! We didn't have much in the house but we always have pasta and canned tomatoes, so I decided to just make pasta and marinara sauce for dinner:

It's a simple, easy meal that comes together in the time it takes to boil the water and cook the pasta.
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I Love You This Much Award

My friend Colleen over at Cooking This and That recently gave me the I Love You This Much Award. Thank you SO much! I'm so glad that I was able to encourage your blogging in the early days. You rock!

I'm not going to pass this along to specific people this time since I always have such a hard time choosing from all my fantastic blogging friends and I don't want to leave anyone out. Instead I encourage you to check out my blogroll on the righthand side of this page and visit the amazing blogs found there.
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Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Fettuccine Alfredo with Sausage, Onions and Peas

I have a lot of hot Italian sausage in the freezer and no real idea of what to do with it so I looked back through my blog for inspiration. I found this post for Linguine with Sausage, Onions and Peas and decided that sounded like a good plan for dinner last night:

I got home late last night so this ended up being a great meal choice since it took almost no time at all to cook. I'd already cut the onion a few weeks ago when I made the caramelized onion orzo, so I didn't even have to chop anything. While the pasta water came to a boil I cooked the sausage and onions, then added cream and chicken stock, simmered that until it thickened, added about a cup of peas and the pasta and tossed to combine. I love easy meals like this.
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Salisbury Steak, Smashed Potatoes and Creamed Spinach

This Rachael Ray TV Dinner (aka Salisbury Steak with Mushroom Gravy, Smashed Potatoes and Creamed Spinach) is one of our favorite comfort food meals in the cold months. Since I still have a ton of ground beef in the freezer I made this for dinner on Monday:

Everything was fantastic, as always, but the smashed potatoes really made the meal. They were so good I could have eaten a big bowl of them and called it a day. I used red potatoes and left the skins on for flavor, color and texture (and some much-needed vitamins). I also added about five cloves of smashed garlic to the pot as the potatoes were cooking. Once the potatoes were cooked and drained I added the rest of the blue and mascarpone cheeses I had leftover from the caramelized onion and blue cheese orzo I made a few weeks ago, three finely minced scallions, a little salt and pepper and maybe a tablespoon of butter. I mashed everything together and took a taste. Holy cow! These were the best smashed potatoes I've ever made. The tang from the blue cheese, the creaminess of the mascarpone, the mild garlic and onion flavor all worked in perfect harmony. Insanely good.
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Sunday, November 09, 2008

Mini Thanksgiving Dinner

Just look at this gorgeous plate:

No, it's not the fourth Thursday in November, but this is a Thanksgiving meal. Our friends C & D came over for a pre-Thanksgiving meal to get us ready for the big day in a few weeks. We split the menu so neither of us was cooking the whole meal. D made the turkey:

...which he carved before bringing it over to make reheating it easier. He told us he rubbed the turkey with a bunch of seasonings and then cooked it at high heat to seal in the juices and brown the skin and then finished it low and slow to keep it moist, basting it with apple cider along the way. It was sensational - moist, tender and very flavorful. He also made the stuffing:

... and the gravy:

I was in charge of sides, including a fresh take on green bean casserole:

... where everything was fresh instead of canned. Green bean casserole isn't a staple on our holiday table, but I've been interested in trying a fresh version and this didn't disappoint. Even D, who isn't a fan of green bean casserole, had two huge helpings. I also did mashed potatoes:

... roasted sweet potatoes:

... two kinds of cranberry sauce (jellied and jellied with whole fruit):

... and SP's famous biscuits:

I actually made this batch of biscuits since SP had been cleaning the house all day and didn't want to get any chemical residue in the dough. He walked me through each step and the biscuits were really good, with a nice tang from the buttermilk. C & D were also in charge of dessert, and C made a double chocolate cake:

She even made chocolate leaves to go on top of the cake. It was decadent and very good. After all this food we needed a long walk around the neighborhood. I think we're all sufficiently ready for Turkey Day on the 27th.
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