Archive for March, 2008

Spaghetti with Italian Meat Sauce

March 30, 2008

Italian Meat Sauce

I had a craving for homemade slow-simmered spaghetti with meat sauce so I started looking for recipes online. Then I realized that the other day I had starred a recipe for meat sauce that Annie featured on her blog. Hmmm…seems like we have similar tastes because I keep starring recipes that she has featured! Anyway the original recipe was from Cook’s Illustrated which is one source that I ALWAYS can count on for amazing recipes. The recipe was delicious with a few slight spice additions that I made. Also, it doesn’t call for you to slow-simmer the sauce for hours but I did anyway. I feel like it can’t hurt…all it does is blend the flavors that much better! I was surprised by how thick the sauce was but it helped it adhere to the pasta really well.

Simple Italian Meat Sauce


Except for ground round (which tasters found spongy and bland), this recipe will work with most types of ground beef, as long as it is 85 percent lean. (Eighty percent lean beef will turn the sauce greasy; 90 percent will make it fibrous.) Use high-quality crushed tomatoes; our favorite brands are Tuttorosso, Muir Glen Organic, and Hunt’s Organic. If using dried oregano, add the entire amount with the canned tomato liquid in step 2. The sauce makes enough for nearly 2 pounds of pasta. Leftover sauce can be refrigerated in an airtight container for 3 days or frozen for 1 month.

Makes about 6 cups

4 ounces white mushrooms , cleaned, stems trimmed, and broken into rough pieces
1 large slice high-quality white sandwich bread , torn into quarters
2 tablespoons whole milk 
  Table salt and ground black pepper 
1 pound 85 percent lean ground beef (see note and related content)
1 tablespoon olive oil 
1 large onion , chopped fine (about 1 1/2 cups)
6 medium garlic cloves , minced or pressed through garlic press (about 2 tablespoons)
1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes (I used more-probably a full teaspoon b/c we love spicy!)

I also added about 1 tsp garlic salt, 1 tbsp salt, 1 tsp dried basil, and 1/2 tsp onion powder…it would have been bland without these additions, in my opinion!

1 tablespoon tomato paste 
1 (14.5-ounce) can diced tomatoes , drained, 1/4 cup liquid reserved
1 tablespoon minced fresh oregano leaves  or 1 teaspoon dried oregano (see note)
1 (28-ounce) can crushed tomatoes 
1/2 ounce grated Parmesan cheese (about 1/4 cup)

1. Process mushrooms in food processor until finely chopped, about eight 1-second pulses, scraping down side of bowl as needed; transfer to medium bowl. Add bread, milk, 1/2 teaspoon salt, and 1/2 teaspoon pepper to now-empty food processor and process until paste forms, about eight 1-second pulses. Add beef and pulse until mixture is well combined, about six 1-second pulses (I didn’t add the beef to the food processor b/c we only brought our mini-processor to Arizona with us. I just mixed the milk/bread mixture in with the beef by stirring with a wooden spoon in a bowl).

2. Heat oil in large saucepan over medium-high heat until just smoking. Add onion and mushrooms; cook, stirring frequently, until vegetables are browned and dark bits form on pan bottom, 6 to 12 minutes. Stir in garlic, pepper flakes, and tomato paste; cook until fragrant and tomato paste starts to brown, about 1 minute. Add 1/4 cup reserved tomato liquid and 2 teaspoons fresh oregano (if using dried, add full amount), scraping bottom of pan with wooden spoon to loosen browned bits. Add meat mixture and cook, breaking meat into small pieces with wooden spoon, until beef loses its raw color, 2 to 4 minutes, making sure that meat does not brown.

3. Stir in crushed and drained diced tomatoes and bring to simmer; reduce heat to low and gently simmer until sauce has thickened and flavors have blended, about 30 minutes (I simmered on low heat for about 3 hours). Stir in cheese and remaining teaspoon fresh oregano; season with salt and pepper to taste.Source: Cook’s Illustrated

I took this picture to show the ridiculous portion of food Alex put on his plate but it ended up being a really cool action shot of him grating fresh parm! 🙂

Italian Meat Sauce


Mediterranean Chicken

March 30, 2008

Mediterranean Chicken

I originally planned to make Chicken Provencal on this night but alas, the stupid grocery store here didn’t have any Herbes de Provence. So at the last minute I had to rethink things. I went to trusty Allrecipes and typed in some of the ingredients I had on hand into the Ingredient Search (love that feature, by the way!. This was one of the recipes that popped up and it had good ratings so I decided to give it a shot. It was really good and quite healthy as well! I would definitely make again. This time I served it with brown rice because that’s what I had on hand but I would serve it with couscous next time!

Mediterranean Chicken

Mediterranean Chicken

Source: Allrecipes

Yields: 6 servings

2 teaspoons olive oil
2 tablespoons white wine
6 skinless, boneless chicken breast halves
3 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 cup diced onion
3 cups tomatoes, chopped
1/2 cup white wine
2 teaspoons chopped fresh thyme
1 tablespoon chopped fresh basil (omitted because I didn’t have any)
1/2 cup kalamata olives (I used more and chopped finely)
1/4 cup chopped fresh parsley
salt and pepper to taste (I also topped with Feta cheese that I had on hand)

1. Heat the oil and 2 tablespoons white wine in a large skillet over medium heat. Add chicken and saute about 4 to 6 minutes each side, until golden. Remove chicken from skillet and set aside.
2. Saute garlic in pan drippings for 30 seconds, then add onion and saute for 3 minutes. Add tomatoes and bring to a boil. Lower heat, add 1/2 cup white wine and simmer for 10 minutes. Add thyme and basil and simmer for 5 more minutes.
3. Return chicken to skillet and cover. Cook over low heat until the chicken is cooked through and no longer pink inside. Add olives and parsley to the skillet and cook for 1 minute. Season with salt and pepper to taste and serve. (Top with Feta cheese if you have it!)

Happy Easter!

March 24, 2008

Angel Lush Trifle

I hope everyone had a very happy Easter! Alex and I spent our first Easter as a married couple away from all of our family members, which is very sad. However, we received an invitation from one of Alex’s classmates to go over to his house and hang out this afternoon which we immediately jumped on. Despite the fact that we don’t have an oven in this darned hotel room, I was determined to bring a dessert. So I turned this Angel Lush recipe into a trifle because I didn’t bring my cake platter to Arizona with me. Unfortunately I was also not able to bring my Trifle Bowl so I just used a glass bowl that I had on hand. Not nearly as pretty as it could be but oh well! Everyone at the party loved this dessert.

Angel Lush Trifle (adapted from this recipe)
Prep Time:
15 min
Total Time:
1 hr 15 min
10 servings
1 can (20 oz.) crushed pineapple in juice, undrained
1 pkg. (4-serving size) JELL-O Vanilla Flavor Fat Free Sugar Free Instant Reduced Calorie Pudding & Pie Filling
1 cup thawed COOL WHIP LITE or COOL WHIP Sugar Free Whipped Topping
1 pkg. (10 oz.) round angel food cake
10 fresh strawberries, tops cut off and sliced length-wise
1 pint of fresh blueberries
MIX pineapple and dry pudding mix in medium bowl. Gently stir in whipped topping.CUT cake into bite-size chunks. Place a layer of angel food cake on the bottom of trifle dish; top with one-half of the pudding mixture. Place strawberry slices around the sides of the bowl so you can see them from the outside of bowl. Then place a layer of strawberries over the pudding and sprinkle half the blueberries over the layer. Repeat these steps starting with another layer of cake.

REFRIGERATE at least 1 hour. Store leftovers in refrigerator.

Angel Lush Trifle

From-Scratch Beef Tacos

March 23, 2008

Beef Taco

This is probably my proudest blog update to date. Why, you ask? Because I FRIED something successfully and without burning myself or burning down the hotel room. Woohoo! When I was planning my menu for the week I decided beef tacos sounded good (since we both love Mexican food) but I wasn’t feelin’ the beef mixture made from a packet of seasoning and the pre-fab taco shells from a box. So I started searching the internet and found a recipe and a method for from-scratch beef tacos that I KNEW I could count on because it was from Cook’s Illustrated. I hate to gloat but Alex agreed with me so I must say, these were probably the BEST ground beef tacos I have ever had! I don’t know if we will every be able to eat tacos from a packet and pre-fab shells again. There’s just no comparison. The only downside is that doing it this way is definitely not the quick weeknight meal that you think of beef tacos being. However, you could fry the shells on the weekend, package them in a sealed plastic bag, and then just reheat in the oven on the day of the tacos. That would make it WAY more weeknight-friendly!

Beef Tacos

Home-Fried Taco Shells

Source: Cook’s Illustrated 5/2002 (see link for step-by-step pictures and instructions)

The taco shells can be fried before you make the filling and rewarmed in a 200-degree oven for about 10 minutes before serving.

Makes 8 taco shells, serving 4

  • 3/4 cup vegetable oil, corn oil, or canola oil (I used more than this b/c my skillet is larger than 8 inches. I’d say just get about a 1/2 inch of oil in the skillet.)
  • 8 corn tortillas (6 inch)

1. Heat oil in 8-inch heavy-bottomed skillet over medium heat to 350 degrees, about 5 minutes (oil should bubble when small piece of tortilla is dropped in; tortilla piece should rise to surface in 2 seconds and be light golden brown in about 1 1/2 minutes). Meanwhile, line rimmed baking sheet with double thickness of paper towels.

2. Following illustrations below, using tongs to hold tortilla, slip half of tortilla into hot oil. With metal spatula in other hand, keep half of tortilla submerged in oil. Fry until just set, but not brown, about 30 seconds.

3. Flip tortilla; hold tortilla open about 2 inches while keeping bottom submerged in oil. Fry until golden brown, about 1 1/2 minutes. Flip again and fry other side until golden brown, about 30 seconds.

4. Transfer shell upside down to prepared baking sheet to drain. Repeat with remaining tortillas, adjusting heat as necessary to keep oil between 350 and 375 degrees.


Ground Beef Tacos

Source: Cook’s Illustrated 5/2002

Tomato sauce is sold in cans in the same aisle that carries canned whole tomatoes. Do not use jarred pasta sauce in its place. We prefer to let diners top their own tacos with whatever fillings they prefer. There’s no need to prepare all of the toppings listed below, but cheese, lettuce, and tomatoes are, in our opinion, essential.

Makes 8 tacos, serving 4

Beef Filling
2 tablespoons vegetable oil or corn oil
1 small onion , chopped small (about 2/3 cup)
3 medium cloves garlic , minced or pressed through garlic press (about 1 tablespoon)
2 tablespoons chili powder
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1 teaspoon ground coriander
1/2 teaspoon dried oregano
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
  table salt
1 pound 90% lean ground beef (or leaner)
1/2 cup tomato sauce
1/2 cup low-sodium chicken broth
1 teaspoon brown sugar
2 teaspoons vinegar (preferably cider vinegar)
  Ground black pepper
Shells and Toppings
8 taco shells (warmed according to package instructions), or Home-Fried Taco Shells (see related recipe)
1 cup shredded cheddar cheese (4 ounces), or Monterey Jack cheese
2 cups shredded iceberg lettuce
2 small tomatoes , chopped small
1/2 cup sour cream
1 avocado , diced medium
1 small onion , chopped small
2 tablespoons minced fresh cilantro leaves
  hot pepper sauce , such as Tabasco

1. Heat oil in medium skillet over medium heat until hot and shimmering but not smoking, about 2 minutes; add onion and cook, stirring occasionally, until softened, about 4 minutes. Add garlic, spices, and 1/2 teaspoon salt; cook, stirring constantly, until fragrant, about 1 minute. Add ground beef and cook, breaking meat up with wooden spoon and scraping pan bottom to prevent scorching, until beef is no longer pink, about 5 minutes. Add tomato sauce, chicken broth, brown sugar, and vinegar; bring to simmer. Reduce heat to medium-low and simmer, uncovered, stirring frequently and breaking meat up so that no chunks remain, until liquid has reduced and thickened (mixture should not be completely dry), about 10 minutes. Adjust seasonings with salt and pepper.

2. Using wide, shallow spoon, divide filling evenly among taco shells; place two tacos on individual plates. Serve immediately, passing toppings separately. (I served them with shredded cheddar cheese and homeade fresh guacamole and they were PERFECT!)

Beef Tostadas

Simplest. Soup. Ever.

March 21, 2008

Black Bean and Salsa Soup

Today is Good Friday which means the last Friday of Lent which means the last Friday that we have to give up meat! Yay! Although I do believe on this last Friday of Lent we stumbled up on a recipe that we will continue to make, regardless of meat-free Lenten Fridays. I believe the recipe comes from but I copied and pasted it a long time ago without writing down who the source was. Sorry!

It really turned out quite delicious and even Alex, who used to claim he didn’t like black beans, raved about it. The original recipe called for garnishes of green onion, cheese, and sour cream (all of which we used), but I also HIGHLY recommend garnishing with fresh cilantro. It totally MADE the soup, in my opinion (but that’s coming from a self-proclaimed cilantro-lover). I served them with refried bean and cheese quesadillas on the side. Yummy!!!

Black Bean and Salsa Soup
2 cans black beans, drained and rinsed
1.5 c. vegetable broth
1 c. salsa
1 t. cumin
sour cream, green onion, shredded cheese for garnishing (I also highly recommend fresh cilantro as a garnish)

Combine beans, broth, salsa and cumin in a food processor (or use an immersion blender, which is what I did). Blend until fairly smooth. Heat soup in a saucepan over medium heat until thoroughly heated. Put soup in bowls and garnish as desired.

Source: Allrecipes

Rachael Ray Success

March 18, 2008

Beef Rice Noodle Soup

Ok, I admit it. I used to be a HUGE Rachael Ray fan. I watched her back to back episodes of 30 Minute Meals every single night when I got home from school. Since then, she has gradually started to wear on me with her little chuckles and cheesy dialog. I guess I started to see what other people (like my husband) always found so annoying about her. I do however respect the fact that she shows people the excuse “I don’t have time to cook” is not a valid one. Who doesn’t have 30 minutes?! It takes longer than that to go to the drive-thru and come back!

This is a recipe I bookmarked a LONG time ago and just recently stumbled across again. Alex and I both love Vietnamese noodles so I decided it was time to give it a try at home.  Although this is not an “authentic” Vietnamese noodle recipe, it tasted a lot like the ones we get at our favorite restaurant! I really liked the fact that it uses deli roast beef as the meat to save time. It was probably more like a 20-minute meal from start to finish. I admit I was a little apprehensive about how the deli roast beef would taste since it is not something I eat normally but it worked really well with the other flavors in the soup. Another thing, I just used regular vermicelli noodles because I couldn’t find “rice vermicelli”. Alex says this is a “keeper” and I “can make it again”.

Beef Rice-Noodle Soup

From Every Day with Rachael Ray
November 2006

Prep Time: 10 min
Cook Time: 10 min

  • 5 ounces rice noodles (rice vermicelli) I used regular vermicelli noodles
  • 2 cups bean sprouts (about 3/4 pound)
  • 1 pound deli roast beef, cut into 1/2-inch strips
  • 1 tablespoon vegetable oil
  • 1 jalapeño chile, seeded and thinly sliced crosswise
  • 3 scallions, thinly sliced (white and light green parts only)
  • One 14-ounce can beef broth
  •  Salt
  •  1/3 cup cilantro leaves
  •  Lime wedges, for serving

1. Add the rice noodles to a medium saucepan filled with water and bring to a boil. Cook until tender, about 3 minutes. Drain, rinse with cold water and drain again. Divide the cooked rice noodles, bean sprouts and roast beef strips among 4 soup bowls.
2. Heat the oil in the same pan over medium heat. Add the jalapeño and scallions and cook, stirring occasionally, until softened, about 2 minutes. Add the beef broth and 2 cups water and bring to a boil. Cook, uncovered, for 10 minutes. Season the soup with salt and divide among the bowls. Garnish with the cilantro leaves and lime wedges. (We added Sriacha hot sauce to kick it up a bit…so yummy!)

Green food is not always a bad thing…

March 18, 2008

Parmesan Crusted Pork Chops

Yes, you are seeing it right…those are GREEN mashed potatoes and green beer in the background. Haha…I get such a kick out of myself!  Happy St. Patrick’s Day! Instead of going out to eat or eating “authentic” Irish food like corned beef, I prefer to be quirky and come up with green food at home in my own kitchen. When else can you eat green food and not gross people out?!

Now enough about the green stuff…the main dish, Parmesan Crusted Pork Chops, is quite possibly my FAVORITE way to eat pork in the whole world. It is DEL-ICIOUS and so so easy. It’s a recipe from Giada De Laurentis on the Food Network which, to me, explains why it’s so darn good. I’ve tried very few of her recipes that I didn’t like. It had been a while since I had made this recipe and while eating Alex and I kept asking “Why don’t we make this more often?!?”

I am also submitting this recipe as my entry to the “Tasty Tools” event hosted by Joelen. The purpose of the event is to challenge participants to highlight their use of certain specified kitchen tools. This week’s tool was a microplane/grater which is one of my most frequently used tools in the kitchen. Most often I use my microplane for grating parmesan cheese into wonderfully fine shreds, but I also use it to zest citrus or grate whole nutmeg. For the Parmesan Crusted Pork I used my microplane to grate the parmesan and I also chose to add a bit of grated lemon zest to the coating.


Parmesan Crusted Pork Chops
Recipe Courtesy of Giada De Laurentiis

2 large eggs (I used Egg Beaters)

¾ cup dried Italian-style bread crumbs
¾ cup freshly grated Parmesan
4 pork chops
salt and pepper
3 tbsp. olive oil

Whisk the eggs in a bowl to blend. Place the bread crumbs in a plate. Place the parmesan cheese in another plate. Sprinkle the pork chops generously with salt and pepper. Coat the chops completely with the cheese, patting to adhere. Dip the chops into the egg, then coat completely with the bread crumbs, patting to adhere.

(I’m lazy and low on counter space so I just combine the parmesan and the bread crumbs in the same plate. I also added some lemon zest to the parm/bread crumb mixture. I dipped the chops in the egg and then dipped in the parm/crumb/zest mixture to coat. They turned out just as good as the first time when I followed the recipe instructions exactly.)

Heat the olive oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add the pork chops, in batches if necessary, and cook until golden brown, about 6 minutes per side. Transfer the chops to a plate and serve with lemon wedges.

Cookin’ Like a Midwesterner

March 16, 2008

I decided to participate in a Recipe Exchange event where you send in a recipe that represents the region where you are from and then you receive someone else’s recipe, cook it, and blog about it!

I received this recipe for Chicken Corn Chowder from the Midwest and thought it looked great and super-easy. I did cut out the bacon grease because we had pre-cooked the bacon from our breakfast this morning. Other than that, everything else was kept the same and it came out pretty tasty. I don’t know that I would classify it as Chowder though. It wasn’t what I was expecting when I heard “chowder”. I thought it was more like a Chicken Chili, but maybe I’m just trying to Tex-ify it! Maybe it’s the fact that Alex is from the Midwest originally (Kansas) but he could NOT STOP raving about how much he liked it. For me it was good, but not good enough that I would rave about it non-stop.

Chicken Corn Chowder

Chicken Corn Chowder

6 slices bacon
1 Tbsp. oil
1 c. chopped onion
1 c. chopped red bell pepper
2 boneless skinless chicken breast halves, cooked and shredded
1 c. chicken broth
1 c. milk
1 (16-oz.) can creamed corn
1 (4-oz.) can diced green chiles
1 pkg. taco seasoning (about 4 Tbsp.)

Heat soup pot over medium heat. Add bacon and cook until crispy. Remove from pot and drain on paper towels. Crumble bacon.

Raise heat to medium-high. Add oil to bacon grease. Add onion and bell pepper, and cook until browned. Add chicken to warm.

Add remaining ingredients (including bacon) and mix well. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat to medium-low and simmer for 10-15 minutes. Serve.

Campin’ and Cookin’

March 16, 2008

Alex and I randomly decided to go camping for one night this weekend. Neither of us has been camping since we were kids. Well, Alex is in the Army so it’s not like he doesn’t sleep outside for work a lot but not “officially” camping. The site where we camped had an outdoor grill that we used to cook this dinner. The recipe was originally a foil packet chicken meal that you cook in the oven but I figured it could easily be changed to cook on a grill. It came out really well but next time I would add more seasoning and spice. I saw the recipe on Kandice’s Cooking Creations and it was originally from Kraft Foods. I served this with pasta salad that I had made ahead and for dessert we had the classic camp food dessert, S’mores!

Sorry about the terrible, blurry pic but c’mon, we were camping!

Foil Pack Taco Chicken


Prep Time:10 min
Total Time:50 min
Makes:4 servings, one packet each

4 small boneless skinless chicken breast halves (1 lb.)
4 tsp. Taco Seasoning Mix
1/2 lb. red potatoes, thinly sliced (about 2 cups)
1/2 cup Salsa
3/4 cup 2% Milk Shredded Reduced Fat Four Cheese Mexican Style Cheese
1/4 cup Reduced Fat or Light Sour Cream

~PREHEAT oven to 400°F. Sprinkle chicken with seasoning mix. Place 1/2 cup of the potatoes on center of each of four large sheets of heavy-duty foil; top each with chicken, salsa and cheese.
~BRING up foil sides. Double fold top and both ends to seal each packet, leaving room for heat circulation inside. Place in 15x10x1-inch baking pan.
~BAKE 30 to 35 min. or until chicken is cooked through (165°F). Remove packets from oven. Let stand 5 min. Cut slits in foil to release steam before opening. Serve with sour cream. We just grilled on a charcoal grill for probably 35-40 minutes.

Total Comfort Food a la Mom

March 16, 2008

Chicken N Dumplings

This recipe was a regular fixture in our house growing up. This is also the recipe that my brother and I always requested when we came home from college. It’s good ‘ole fashion comfort food that you just can’t get in a college dormitory cafeteria. I had never made it before because it was always my mom’s “thing” but knowing that I wasn’t going to be able to get her to make it for me anytime soon with us moving to Arizona I decided it was time to take things into my own hands. I was totally surprised at how easy it was, granted I did the “cheater’s version” by buying a rotisserie chicken and using boxed stock. Alex loves this recipe too!

By the way, I almost FREAKED when I realized I had forgotten to buy Lawry’s Seasoned Salt because that is what makes this recipe. However, Alex came to the rescue and whipped up a “homemade” seasoned salt based on some recipes he found online. It was delicious and worked just as well.

Edit: My father has “demanded” that I notate the fact that he turned me on to putting Lawry’s Seasoning Salt on mom’s Chicken and Dumplings. Ok Dad. Whatever you say. And I promise I’ll start featuring some more “Texan” foods from here on out.

Mom’s Chicken ‘n Dumplins

· Boil 1 whole chicken in water w/celery, carrots, onion & peppercorns until tender (or cheat and buy rotisserie chicken and a couple boxes of stock)

· Debone chicken & cut into bite-size chunks

· Saute chopped onion, celery, garlic & carrots in some veg. oil until tender (not the ones from stock…I don’t measure veggies…just however much you like)

· Add stock & chicken and bring to boil

· Make dumpling recipe on box of Bisquick (I make 1-1/2 recipe b/c we like LOTS of dumplings)

· Drop dumplings into boiling stock…cook 10 minutes uncovered & 10 minutes covered (it tells you on box)

· Add Lawry’s season salt to taste! 🙂