Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Revisiting Cajun Chicken

In keeping with my plan to revisit old favorites this week, tonight's dinner was Cajun Chicken:

I think I've finally got the right combination of spices for the Cajun seasoning so it's flavorful without being too spicy. I also added more heavy cream so it would be saucier and increased the amount of pasta as well in order to stretch it to four servings.
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Arizona Cheese Crisp

One of my favorite things to do these days is read food blogs. I love looking at (and drooling over) the pictures and reading about the good food my fellow food-lovers have eaten. One of my daily reads is Feasting in Phoenix. Seth, the blog's owner, loves Mexican food and whenever he goes to a Mexican restaurant he orders something called a cheese crisp. Apparently this is an Arizonian thing because before reading his blog I had never heard of a cheese crisp. A quesadilla, sure, but not a cheese crisp.

Since a trip to Arizona is far off in the future, I decided to make my own cheese crisp at home. It couldn't be more simple - all you need is a tortilla and some cheese.

I added a chopped scallion for some color and mild onion flavor, even though I know it's not traditional. I served my crisp with taco sauce (the stuff I've been using on my breakfast burritos) because I like the tang.

For something so simple, it was amazingly good. I got the tortilla nice and crispy so it held up to the melted cheese. It was a great snack. In fact, I liked it so much I made one for lunch today since I'm home sick:

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Monday, January 29, 2007

Revisiting Old Favorites

Over the past few weeks I've tried a lot of new recipes. Some were definite keepers while others were downright awful. About a week ago I decided I was done experimenting for awhile, so I paged back through the early months of my blog to find old tried and true meals. Of course spaghetti carbonara was at the top of the list.

I made this batch with fettuccine since I didn't have any spaghetti. It was silky, salty and creamy. Just what the doctor ordered.

I also made four breakfast burritos - one for my breakfast tomorrow using regular taco sauce, two for SP's breakfast using chipotle taco sauce and one for a freezing experiment. I wrapped it in wax paper and put it in a plastic bag. The plan is to try having it for breakfast next week so I can see how it holds up to a week in the freezer.
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Sunday, January 28, 2007

Stuffed Shells

Maybe it's the weather. Or maybe it's the curveballs life's been throwing me recently. Whatever the reason, I've been craving comfort food recently.

I've always wanted to make stuffed shells so today I used Lidia's recipe:

... which turned out really well. It made more shells than we were going to eat, so I froze about 10 for a quick meal another time. I didn't follow Lidia's sauce recipe since I always just throw together my own based on what vegetables I have on hand. We love cheesy garlic bread and I had half a baguette in the freezer, so I made some to go along with the shells.
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Relaxing Sunday

There's nothing better than spending a lazy Sunday cooking and prepping for the week ahead, especially when you've got cooking shows on in the background. SP's band had a gig last night so we didn't get home until after 2 a.m. We knew it was going to be a long night so we got all of our errands out of the way yesterday so we could spend Sunday at home.

After the success of the breakfast club burritos I decided to make some this morning:

... but I forgot to buy taco sauce at the store so I had to substiture salsa. They were still good, but I missed the tang of the taco sauce.

In addition to prepping all the ingredients for this week's meals I made a batch of chocolate chip banana muffins:

... with the same recipe I use for banana bread. I promised to bring one to a friend at work, but the others should make a nice snack or quick breakfast during the week.
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Friday, January 26, 2007

Pizza Friday

I think I finally have a good groove going with homemade pizza. Tonight's was topped with chunky tomato sauce, sliced black olives and thinly sliced pepperoni:

I really enjoy making pizza at home. It's easy to do and, with practice, my pies have become just as good as the ones we used to get in restaurants. And it's a lot cheaper.

I've been making pizza at home for a few months now and here are a few things I've learned that have really improved my pizzas:

1) You need to let the dough come to room temperature before rolling it out. Some people say not to roll the dough with a rolling pin, but I find it works better for me. Allowing the dough to come to room temperature ensures that the dough will stretch easily. I take the dough out of the fridge about 2 hours before I make dinner.

2) Less is more when it comes to cheese. We used to really pile on the mozzarella and I think it detracted from the overall flavor because it was masking the other ingredients.

3) Letting the pizza stone preheat in the oven for 30 minutes helps you achieve a nice, crisp crust.

4) If you have a choice, get a square pizza stone. It might seem counterproductive because a pizza is round, but the round stones usually aren't big enough to hold a decent-sized pie.
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Breakfast Club

Last night I made 60 breakfast burritos.

No, I haven't suddenly developed an insatiable appetite - I was making them for SP's office breakfast club. Every Friday a pair of coworkers brings in breakfast for the office. Today was SP's turn and since I love to cook I always help. Over the years "helping" has turned into me being the guest chef for the morning. His partner brings in all the pastries, fruit, bagels, yogurt and cereal and I take care of the main dishes.

I wanted to do something different this time and when someone on Chowhound recommended breakfast burritos I thought that would be perfect.

I made 30 with green pepper, onion, cheddar cheese and sausage and 30 with everything but the sausage:

SP's partner brought in all the carbs:

... as well as the tater tots (a must-have at his office). We also cooked some extra breakfast sausage:

My plate with a sausage burrito, some tots and half a chocolate donut:

The burritos tasted like the ones you get at McDonald's, only 100 times better. Now that I know how easy they are to make, I think they'll become a staple at our house. I could probably make them, freeze them and then nuke them in the morning for a quick breakfast.
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Thursday, January 25, 2007

Nacho Bread Pizza

While reading through my usual list of food blogs I came across a recipe for Rachael Ray's Nacho Bread Pizza at Sweetnicks that looked and sounded tasty. I could even do some of the prep the night before, which is always a plus.

The result:

... was much better than I thought it would be. It was also very messy. I think the baguette I used was too small because even when I hollowed it out there wasn't much room for the toppings. But what matters most - taste - made this a winner. The beans were perfectly seasoned with hints of smokey cumin and hot sauce and the crunchy lettuce/red onion/stuffed olive/scallion topping really paired well with the bread and the beans. I would definitely make this again, although I might incorporate some ground beef for my meat-loving husband.
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Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Grilling in the Cold

We had some steaks in the freezer and a new bag of hardwood charcoal. For a man who's been deprived of grilling for most of his life this meant that, despite the below-freezing temperatures we've been having, SP wanted to grill tonight.

He's become quite good at it, too. The steaks:

... had a great char on the outside and a really nice smokey flavor but were still cooked medium-rare the way we like them. I made the couscous with some chopped scallion, chicken broth, a dab of butter and salt. When SP was prepping the beans they looked a little past their prime so he gave them a squirt of lemon juice to perk them up. Then I steamed them and served them with some butter, salt and pepper. The citrus bath gave them a nice tang and they were so good I think I'll prepare them that way from now on.
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Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Cauliflower Risotto

As my buddy D would say, this one isn't going in the book.

I saw this recipe on The Traveler's Lunchbox, a blog I found last week. The photo was breathtaking and the recipe sounded great, but my version just didn't taste good. All the components were there - garlic, onion, vermouth, cauliflower - but the end result did nothing for me.

I don't think it's the recipe's fault, though. For years I've loved risotto; loved eating it and making it. Then I met SP, who is decidedly anti-risotto. He's a good sport and he tries it whenever I make it, but he just isn't a fan. Over time I realized that it just didn't taste as good as it used to. I don't order it when we go out to eat anymore and the few times a year I make it at home I don't enjoy it.

I can't believe I'm saying this but I don't think I like risotto anymore. This is the end of an era.
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Monday, January 22, 2007

Pasta and Salad

I love being a homeowner for many reasons, but the current number one reason is my garage. With winter finally arriving in the Northeast it's been bitterly cold and there's nothing like pulling into your garage at night and getting out of the car without having to deal with freezing winds. Smelling cooked garlic and onion wafting in from the kitchen is an added bonus because it means dinner is ready.

SP cooked tonight and he decided to keep things simple with pasta and sauce:

... made with one can of Redpack and one jar of tomatoes my mother and I canned this summer. I finished the sauce just before serving with a dollop of ricotta cheese. It was a really nice touch. I also made some more of that pizza parlor salad that I'd made on Friday for S and C.

You know it's cold when your cat starts hibernating. I swear he spends most of the day snoozing on our bed. Usually he just sleeps on top of the down comforter, but yesterday I found him snuggled under a blanket SP had left balled up on the bed:

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Friday, January 19, 2007

Pizza Friday

Tonight we had our friends S and C over for Pizza Friday. This is the first time I've made pizza for anyone other than SP. I was a little worried about timing since we only have one pizza stone, but everything worked out fine.

Since we had company I decided to make a pizza parlor salad I saw Dave Lieberman make:

... with iceburg lettuce, feta, black olives, thinly sliced red onion and a tangy dressing.

When I asked S if he and C liked cheesy garlic bread he responded so enthusiastically that I knew I had to add it to the menu:

As always I slathered a baguette with a parsley and garlic butter and covered it with shredded cheddar, mozzarella and Pecorino. It baked in the oven along with the second pizza.

Since S and C are vegetarians I made broccoli pizza:

... only this time I made sure to add dollops of ricotta. This pizza was outstanding. I cooked the broccoli in oil with some garlic and red pepper flakes like last time, but the addition of the ricotta really made the pizza. All the components came together perfectly.

The other pizza was made with a spicy marinara, sausage, peppers and onions:

... and this, too, was outstanding. I don't mean to pat myself on the back, but I was really impressed with how the whole meal turned out. Everything tasted wonderful.
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Hoagies and Suits

It was one of those days where, despite your best intentions, things just don't go right. We were going to have grilled steaks for dinner, but they were still frozen this morning. Then SP found out he needed a suit for his meeting today, but the ones he owns don't really fit him. He drove to the mall after work, but after 2 1/2 hours of fruitless searching, he gave up. At least he didn't come home empty handed. Hoagies from our favorite local deli and crispy onion rings always hit the spot. And as an extra bonus, I have the other half of my sandwich for lunch today.

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Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Chicken with Apples

It's been awhile since I made this dish and I'd almost completely forgotten about it. I don't know what caused me to remember it, but once I did I had to make it. When I was growing up my mom made a lot of dishes like this, ones with thick, creamy sauces. We all know how much I like sauces. SP says it's the Polish in me.

I'm not sure where the recipe for Chicken with Apples came from***:

... but it is definitely comfort food. Like with most dishes, the meat is secondary for me. I love the egg noodles mixed with chunks of apple, celery and onion swimming in the thick, sour-cream laden sauce. Usually I make this dish with chicken breasts on the bone or even chicken thighs because they stay juicier, but I had a ton of boneless chicken breasts in the freezer so I used some of those. That was a mistake - the chicken was dry and tough. But the rest of the dish was great, even though I used white wine and chicken stock instead of the apple juice the recipe calls for.

UPDATE: Here's the recipe.

Chicken with Apples

4 chicken breasts, with the bone (this is crucial or the chicken will be dry)
1 medium onion, cut into large dice
2 celery stalks, cut into large dice
1 large Red Delicious apple, cut into large dice
1 tablespoon flour
1 cup apple juice or white wine
1 cup sour cream
salt and pepper

Heat some oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat and brown the chicken breasts on both sides. Place into a baking dish and cover with the apple, onion and celery. Pour off all but 1 tablespoon of oil from the skillet and add the flour, stirring until it's incorporated. Add the apple juice and cook until thickened, then add the sour cream and turn off the heat. Add salt and pepper to taste and pour the sauce over the chicken. Cover with foil and bake at 350 degrees for an hour. Uncover and bake another 30 minutes. Serve over egg noodles.

*** 2nd UPDATE - My mother reads my blog and she provided the back story for this recipe: The recipe for chicken with apples was first made by me in the summer of 1973. This was the first summer (while I was in college) that I did not go home. I was looking for a recipe to make, probably for a boyfriend, and came across this one. I really don't know where I first got it, but it was written to have wine instead of apple juice. One time I was making it for a group of people and didn't have wine so I decided to substitute apple juice. I like it this way now. So this recipe is tried and true and going on 34 years of satisfying hungry diners. And it makes a knock-out chicken salad the next day!
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Monday, January 15, 2007

Sausage with Peppers and Onions

Tonight's dinner came to me in a dream. Maybe it was because I'd seen Giada make sausage sandwiches Saturday afternoon, but as I was laying in bed half awake Sunday morning I thought "sausage, peppers and onions with a tomato sauce over mashed potatoes."

I cooked sweet Italian sausage in a pan with some oil until they were golden brown and then removed them to a plate. To the pan I added the sliced green pepper and onion and covered it. Those steamed for about 10 minutes and then I added 2 tablespoons of tomato paste, salt, pepper and 1/2 a teaspoon dried oregano. I mixed that around and then added a 14.5-ounce can of fire roasted tomatoes that I'd pureed, along with some red pepper flakes. The sausages went back in and the whole thing simmered for about 15 more minutes.

I served the sausage mixture over mashed potatoes I made with about 4 cloves of garlic boiled along with the potatoes and then mashed together with salt, pepper, butter and some half and half. The potatoes were nice and garlicky, a perfect pairing with the sausage mixture which was sweet from the peppers and onions but also had a nice kick from the red pepper flakes.

We also had the rest of the salad from last night's dinner, along with the dressing my mom made.
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Sunday, January 14, 2007

Sunday Dinner

My aunt, uncle and cousin were visiting from out of town so we had them over for dinner since they didn't come up for Christmas and hadn't seen our new house yet. The weather has been rainy and dreary so I decided comfort food was in order. Macaroni and cheese:

... is always a favorite. My aunt is a vegetarian so I needed something meatless that would still be a substantial meal. I think this was the best mac & cheese I've ever made. I made a traditional bechamel using butter, flour and milk, added some minced onion, bay leaves and smoked paprika, along with salt and pepper. For the cheeses I used cheddar and a little Swiss. As I was adjusting the seasonings I remembered reading somewhere that dry mustard or a little Dijon adds a nice kick to mac & cheese so I added 1/2 a teaspoon. You couldn't pick it out, but it definitely added to the overall flavor. Instead of elbows I used cavatappi, which is a corkscrew-shaped pasta. I thought it really added texture to the dish. For the topping I mixed Italian bread crumbs with some grated Pecorino and dabbed the top with butter and as a special touch I sliced some tomato to bake on top. Roasting the tomatoes really brought out their essence.

As always, Mom supplied the salad:

... made with romaine, cucumbers, Craisins, radishes, grated carrot and some croutons. And, of course, her special three-mustard dressing. I could eat that stuff like soup.
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Thursday, January 11, 2007

Buffalo Chicken Sandwiches

My mother-in-law is taking us out to dinner tomorrow to celebrate my birthday so I there won't be any pizza for Pizza Friday. Since we're such fans of buffalo chicken pizza I decided to make buffalo chicken sandwiches tonight using the same ingredients I put on the pizza:

The chicken breasts were coated with Frank's hot sauce and then baked at 350 degrees for 25 minutes. I slathered the top and bottom of the roll with blue cheese dressing and some more Frank's, added a chicken breast and then melted mozzarella cheese on top. I finished the sandwich with a few pieces of lettuce (more for the pretense of being healthy then for any added texture or flavor) and dinner was served. This was one messy sandwich, but it was incredibly tasty. I love the way the kick from the hot sauce is mellowed by the tang of the blue cheese. And baking the chicken breasts ensures they remain moist.
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Wednesday, January 10, 2007

Cajun Chicken

Tonight we revisited an old favorite, Cajun Chicken Fettuccine, only this time I made it with rigatoni:

... because that way all the components of the dish were roughly the same size.
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Tuesday, January 09, 2007


B.L.A.T - bacon, lettuce, avocado and tomato on toasted white bread slathered with mayo:

A simple dinner made with good ingredients is always satisfying, even if tomatoes aren't in season. The avocados were perfectly ripe and extra tasty with a squeeze of lemon and some salt and pepper.
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Monday, January 08, 2007

Spaghetti with Red Clam Sauce

Tonight SP made spaghetti with red clam sauce:

... from a newspaper article about pantry cooking. It was a great dish, with just a hint of spice from the red pepper flakes and some slight brininess from the clams. SP even cooked the pasta perfectly. If we didn't always save half our dinner for lunch the next day I definitely would have had seconds.

I was going to make cheesy garlic bread to go with dinner, but the store was out of baguettes so I threw together a salad:

... of romaine hearts, sliced mushrooms and scallions. I had mine with Caesar vinaigrette and SP had his with bleu cheese. It was a very yummy and satisfying dinner made with stuff we keep on hand (except for the canned clams, although we could easily keep a few cans in the pantry).
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Sunday, January 07, 2007

Sunday Dinner

I want to thank everyone who wished me a happy birthday. I had a great weekend of celebrations and good food, especially Friday night when SP and I went out for sushi. Everything was so good we're already planning our next visit.

Tonight's dinner was a joint effort - SP made the pork chops with Dijon sauce and I made the mashed sweet potatoes and the skillet broccoli with creamy garlic sauce:

The sweet potatoes were Rachael Ray's recipe from 30-Minute Meal Get Togethers.

Here's a close-up shot of the broccoli just because, thanks to The Food Pornographer, I finally figured out how to take them:

The recipe for the skillet broccoli came from Lidia's Family Table. The creamy garlic sauce was a little too strong for SP so next time I think I'd only use one head of garlic instead of two.
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Wednesday, January 03, 2007

Spaghetti with Anchovies and Capers

It was SP's night to cook and he decided to try a new Lidia recipe. After thumbing through a few of her cookbooks he settled on spaghetti with anchovies and capers:

... which was pretty tasty. It's not something I think I'll find myself craving, but it was still good. And it couldn't have been easier since all it entailed was cooking pasta and making a "sauce" using oil, chopped garlic, anchovy filets and capers. He finished it off with some parsley and cheese and dinner was served.

A Taste of Home will be taking a brief hiatus for the next few days. Friday is my birthday so we'll be going out to dinner tomorrow, Friday and Saturday to celebrate. The cooking will resume on Sunday as I get ready for next week.
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Tuesday, January 02, 2007

Mac & Cheese with Chicken and Broccoli

When I initially planned the menu for this week I was going to make one of the recipes from Rachael Ray's 365: No Repeats cookbook, a variation on the mushroom egg noodle bake that involved chicken and broccoli. At work yesterday I was searching for the recipe online, but I couldn't find it. I did, however, find this other RR recipe for Mac and Cheddar Cheese with Chicken and Broccoli that sounded even better than the one I was planning to make.

I made a few alterations in the cooking method, but otherwise everything is the same. To save time I cooked the chicken last night in some olive oil. When I got home tonight I started the sauce by melting some butter in a pot and cooking the chopped onion. Once that cooked for about 7 minutes I added the flour, cayenne and paprika to make the roux. Since I was using egg noodles (they come in 12-ounce packages), I only used 2 cups of milk and 1 cup of chicken broth. Once the sauce was thick I added the Dijon, salt and pepper to taste and the cooked chicken so it could warm through. After the noodles and broccoli cooked, I added the cheese to the sauce and then the sauce to the noodles and broccoli.

I really enjoyed this dish. The Dijon added a nice kick and there was some mild spiciness from the cayenne. The broccoli was perfectly cooked (not too mushy, but not crunchy) and the chicken was tender. It's definitely a keeper in my book. We'll see what SP thinks when he gets home.
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Monday, January 01, 2007

Tex-Mex Chili Cheese Meatloaf

The New Year started off rainy and gloomy, the perfect weather for some comfort food. Since I had to work today I prepped the meatloaf last night for Tex-Mex Chili Cheese Meatloaf:

It was good, but it needed more of a kick. The recipe called for 2-3 jalapenos, but I only used one. Next time I'll definitely add more. The cheesy layer on top was a nice touch, though. Alongside the meatloaf I served mashed potatoes mixed with pepper Jack and cheddar cheeses and some sour cream. If I'd had any scallions I would have thrown those in, too. For the veggie I made chili-garlic roasted broccoli, a Rachael Ray standby.
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