Dinner :: Beef and Ginger Stir Fry

Okay, I have to be honest with you. If you're reading this, you've probably noticed that I haven't posted in a really long time. Awhile ago, I thought it would be fun to make beef stir fry for dinner. I found a recipe for beef and ginger, and I've never actually cooked with fresh ginger so I wanted to give it a try. It also looked very simple, which I've become a fan of lately - not because I'm lazy, but because I think it tastes better.

This dish as a complete and utter disaster. Dis. Ast. Er. The thing about stir fries if you have to be quick on your feet, and not prone to anxiety attacks. I am neither of those two things. Well, at least when I'm in the kitchen. I'm a pretty level-headed person in general, though I wouldn't want to go through a major catastrophe or natural disaster with myself or anything.

First of all, I saw the train coming down the tracks at 90 mph before I even began. I knew to expect things to happen quickly, so I chopped everything ahead of time, grated the ginger, put it all in separate prep bowls so I could just dump it in and keep stirring, stirring, stirring. Yeah, that didn't work. Some of the prep bowls were out of arm's reach, and then the smoke alarm started going off in the bedroom, and then the one in the back stairway started going off. Panic! Panic! Panic!

And then, to top it all of, the meal tasted disgusting. It was bland and ick. I learned that I don't like ginger. And so I did something I'm ashamed to admit - I got disheartened and didn't want to write about it. Who wants to blog about something so unpleasant? But I've decided to renew my commitment to blogging, to cooking, and to trying new things. I'll get back in the saddle and hopefully you'll start hearing from me more regularly again soon!

Finally, so this post isn't a complete loss, I want to share the one success story from this dish. I've never been able to cook rice well by the method I've seen in most recipe books, which is using a little bit of water in a saucepan. I always end up losing half the rice because it sticks to the bottom. Well, Mark Bittman recommends cooking the rice more like pasta (which kind of makes sense). So you fill up the pot with water, bring it to a boil, add your rice and stir. Once it returns to a boil, you should probably lower the heat so it's just simmering, and just check on it until it's cooked. Easy! Why didn't I think of that?

So it wasn't a complete failure after all, I guess...

Dinner :: Skillet Lasagna

I can't say enough good things about this dish. It was simple, tasty, easy yet still rewarding to create. One of my favorite recipes! It's very important to get the right kind of lasagna noodles. This recipe calls for no-bake, so in other words, you want to get the noodles that need to be boiled in water (or in this case, tomato sauce).

Skillet Lasagna
Recipe courtesy of Aug/Sept 2009 Food Network Magazine

Heat 1/4 C. olive oil in a large skillet over medium-high. Add 4 sliced cloves of garlic; cook until golden (1 minute). Add 1.5 lbs. diced ripe tomatoes, 1 T. chopped basil/parley (your choice), 1/2 t. salt, and pepper to taste; cook until "saucy," about 5 minutes. Transfer to a blender and puree. Return 1 C. of the sauce to the skillet and reduce heat to low; reserve the remaining sauce.

Meanwhile, mix 1 C. ricotta cheese, 1 egg, 2 T. grated parmesan, 3 T. chopped herbs, 1/2 t. salt, and pepper to taste in a bowl. Wash and peel 1 carrot and 1 zucchini into ribbons (I used my potato peeler).

Place 2 sheets no-bake lasagna noodles over the sauce in the skillet. Layer half of the carrot and zucchini on top; drizzle with olive oil and season with slat and pepper. Cover with a layer of baby spinach (about 1.5-2 C.), half the ricotta mixture, a few pieces of thinly sliced mozzarella and 2-3 T. of the reserved tomato sauce. Repeat the layers, ending with noodles. Top with any remaining sauce and the rest of the mozzarella (in total, you'll want about 1/3 lb. of mozzarella). Cover and simmer until the lasagna is cooked and the cheese melts (20-25 minutes).

Let rest for a few minutes before slicing, Garnish with more parmesan and fresh herbs.

Checking on the status of the noodles - nope, not done yet!

The final product! I promise you, it tastes better than it looks (and don't look too hard because I burned some of the cheese...). Here's a trick if you don't have a cooling rack - turn your muffin tin upside down and put the dish on that.

Dinner :: Pasta with Potatoes

My first Bittman!

After talking with my friend Raquel, a true food blogger, I learned of the amazing "How to Cook Everything" by Mark Bittman. We both saw Julia & Julia on Sunday (muuuuuch better than the book, by the way), and I was inspired and went out and bought it on my way home. [Notice that I wasn't inspired to get Mastering the Art of French Cooking; I was actually frightened away from it and will likely never attempt a single Julia Child recipe.]

"How to Cook Everything" reads more like a piece of non-fiction than a recipe book, and from what I can tell so far, it features fresh, simple, tasty food. Not knowing what I was getting myself into, I chose a simple - yet intriguing - first dish to attempt. I'd never had pasta + potatoes before, and since I love both so much, I had to give it a whirl.

The result was very satisfactory, though it would have been better suited to the winter months (which Bittman warned me, but I naively chose not to heed his advice).

*Note that the pasta in the recipe is "leftover pasta," meaning it's already cooked...

Pasta with Tomatoes
Recipe courtesy of Mark Bittman, How to Cook Everything

1. Combine 2 T. olive oil, 4 oz minced bacon, and 1 t. crushed red pepper flakes in a large soup kettle over medium heat. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the bacon becomes crisp, about 10 minutes. Add 1 T. chopped garlic; cook 1 minute more, then add 5 medium waxy potatoes, peeled and cut into bite-sized chunks. Raise the heat to medium-high, and cook, stirring occasionally, until the potatoes brown a bit, about 10 minutes.
2. Add 1 (28-oz) can whole plum tomatoes with their juices along with 1 C. hot water. Add about 1.5 lbs leftover pasta, and salt and pepper to taste. Simmer over low heat, uncovered, stirring occasionally to prevent sticking and adding hot water as necessary - the texture should remain thick and stewy, never dry.
3. About 30 minutes later, when the potatoes are tender and the pasta is much, it's done. Adjust seasoning, as necessary.

Snack :: Avocado Goat Cheese Dip

It's been a busy week! I'm actually quite proud of myself for cooking almost every night (more posts to come!), and being very efficient towards the end of the week by making one snack that would work for two laid-back occasions. On Thursday, Briana came over to watch the second episode of the new season of Project Runway, and Friday a small group of us went to Jenny and Mike's for one last evening of fun before they move.

Since Jenny is the Queen of Dips, I knew I wanted to go in that direction in her honor. Dips can be so boring after awhile, so I dug around online for a really unique one. Thank you, FoodNetwork.com, because I found the dip of my dreams! Each main ingredient is in my Top 10 list of things I can't live without, and needless to say it didn't last more than 20 minutes on Friday night.

Avocado Goat Cheese Dip
Recipe courtesy of FoodNetwork.com

In a bowl, combine 3 ripe avocados (peeled, pitted and cut into chunks), 2 cloves minced garlic, 1/2 t. cumin and 1/4 t. salt. Use an electric hand mixer to mix ingredients together. Add 3 T. lime juice, 4 oz. cream cheese and 4 oz goat cheese, pulsing until smooth and blended well. Add a bit more salt if necessary.

Dessert :: Sour Cream Peach Pie

I did not have a good track record with food this weekend. The avocado goat cheese dip didn't happen because my lame grocery store didn't have any avocados ripe enough to eat. And the hamburger stroganoff was... well, it was just gross. My bad.

I did, however, have some success with the dessert we made last night. We like to make some type of dessert every Sunday night and eat it throughout the week. Sometimes it's just a box of brownies, and sometimes we make something from scratch. This is sort of a combination of both - we used a ready made crust for a delicious pie. I've been craving peaches ever since seeing my grandparents' fresh crop a few weeks ago in Missouri, and this was just what I needed.

Sour Cream Peach Pie
Recipe courtesy of The Big Book of Easy Suppers by Maryana Vollstedt

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. In a medium bowl, toss together 3 medium fresh peaches, peeled*, pitted and sliced, 1/4 C. sugar, and 2 T flour. Transfer to a 9" graham cracker crust (unbaked). In another medium bowl, whisk 2 egg yolks. Add 1 C sour cream, 1/4 C brown sugar, and 1/4 t. salt and whisk to blend. Pour over the peaches. Bake until set, about 40 minutes. Let cool on a wire rack. Cut wedges to serve.

*To peel peaches, cut an X in the bloss
om end. Immerse in boiling water for 30 seconds, then drain and let cool; skins will peel off easily.

If it's good enough for Eve, it's good enough for me.

Dinner :: Ham and Potato Casserole

My love affair with casseroles began when my mom started including it in every holiday family dinner. But before that, casseroles were a major part of my life. Growing up in the midwest, we had as many types of casseroles as eskimos have words for snow. There was broccoli and cheese casserole, tuna casserole, green bean casserole, sweet potato casserole, chicken tettrazini casserole, spaghetti casserole, pepperoni pizza casserole, chicken and rice casserole, Mexican Frito casserole, hash brown casserole, tator tot casserole... I'm sure there are more, but I only wanted to list casseroles that came from my family's vault. We midwesterners pass down casserole recipes like heirlooms.

The beautiful thing about casseroles isn't actually in the taste, but in the way they make you feel. Casseroles were what you gave to people during major landmarks in their lives - holidays, yes, but also birthdays, deaths, anniversaries, divorce, graduation, as a "welcome to the neighborhood", when a loved one is sick, or loses a job, or gets a promotion. All of these things are acknowledged with a big dish of steaming love and compassion, evidenced by the energy and thought that went into making it. And now, when I make a casserole for my husband and myself on a normal weekday night, I still find comfort in it, and feel closer to home.

I don't think people in New England make enough casseroles. There's this strange aversion to mixing one's entire meal into a singular dish and baking it all together. When my good friend Anne invited us to her family's home for my first Thanksgiving away from family, I introduced corn casserole to their holiday spread. It was initially met with severe cynicism. (Really? This is comprised of a box of cornbread, 2 cans of corn, a stick of butter and cheese - and you want me to eat it?) But after one bite, I had made converts of every single one of them, and now they have it at every holiday meal.

No, this blog does not feature a recipe for my favorite of all casseroles - instead, it's a ham and potato casserole we ate earlier this week for dinner, which yielded enough leftovers for 4 lunches. However, if you're ever down on your luck, or on cloud nine, there's a good chance I'll be at your doorstep with my Pyrex dish, full of the best way I know how to share love - cheesy, sweet, hot corn. And I'll maybe even throw in the recipe for free...

Ham and Potato Casserole
Recipe courtesy of The Big Book of Easy Suppers by Maryana Vollstedt

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. In a lightly sprayed 8x10" glass baking dish, layer 2 Russet potatoes, peeled and sliced. Sprinkle with 1 T. flour and salt and pepper to taste. Layer on 1 lb. cubed cooked ham, half of a sliced onion (you'll use the other half later), and 2 C. grated Cheddar cheese. Add 2 more sliced potatoes, and season again with salt and pepper. Add remaining sliced onion half and top with another C. grated Cheddar. Pour 3/4 C. milk over all, cover with aluminum foil, and bake until bubbly and potatoes are tender, about 1 hour. Remove foil and let stand for 5 minutes before serving.

Dinner :: Chicken Florentine

Here's a super easy, super cheap, pretty healthy dish. I must warn, however, that mine came out quite bland. Perhaps adding more salt, or seasoning the chicken prior to cooking, or adding some garlic would help.

Chicken Florentine
Recipe courtesy of The Big Book of Easy Suppers by Maryana Vollstedt

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. In a large skillet over medium heat, melt 2 tablespoons butter. Add 2 boned and skinned chicken breast halves (about 1 pound), cut into 1-inch pieces and 1/2 cup chopped yellow onion and saute until chicken turns opaque and onions are tender, about 5 minutes. Stir in 3/4 cup long-grain white rice. Add 1 can (14 oz) chicken broth, 1/2 package (5 oz) frozen spinach that has been thawed and squeezed dry, 1/2 t. dried oregano, 1/4 t. salt, pepper to taste and a pinch of ground nutmeg and mix well. Transfer to a lightly sprayed 2-quart casserole and sprinkle with 1/4 cup grate Parmesan cheese. Cover and bake until liquid is absorbed and rice is tender, about 45 minutes.

Benito's Hot Sauce

I went to my good friend Jenny's home town for the annual Bolton Fair and had an absolute blast. Between the tightrope walking, hog races, martial arts demos, barnyard animals and local craft vendors, I got to sample a few local food products.

I'm most excited about using the Benito's Hot Sauce that we discovered. I like hot foods, so I bought one of the spicier flavors - Benito's Original Naranja - which, according to the site, is an "all natural blend made with organic orange habaneros, fresh orange bell peppers, garlic, carrots and white onions." He had several other interesting flavors that I'm sure I'll try at some point. (And just FYI, Benito was there - in the flesh - and he is a very nice guy!)

I'm trying to get better at cooking meals without recipes, so if you have a favorite use for hot sauce, please share it with me!

Dinner :: Chicken Burgers with Roasted Poblano and Onion

I'm from the Midwest, which automatically means I love red meat. Unfortunately, now that I'm getting a little older and my metabolism is slowing down, I actually need to start watching what I eat a little. So I've been looking for ways to substitute chicken for ground beef whenever possible, and I found this recipe that looked simple and yummy.

Unfortunately, I could not track down a poblano chile the day I needed to cook this, so I just used a jalapeno instead. Also, Martha Stewart recommends eating these burgers with "watermelon and cucumber, plus lime wedges dipped in a mix of ancho chile powder and salt." Yeah, I just made generic frozen tator tots.

Chicken Burger with Roasted Poblano and Onion
Recipe courtesy of the July/August 2009 issue of Everyday Food

Over a low gas flame or under the broiler, roast poblano chile until charred, about 6 minutes, turning frequently. Place in a bowl and cover bowl tightly with plastic wrap. Let chile steam for 20 minutes, then rub with a paper towel to remove skin. Remove stem and seeds. Slice chile into 2-inch strips and return to bowl.

In a large skillet, heat 2 teaspoons oil over medium-high. Add 1 large white onion, halved and thinly sliced lengthwise and season with salt and pepper. Cook until onion is soft and translucent, about 10 minutes. Add onion to bowl with chile and stir to combine.

Form 1.25 lbs ground chicken breast into four 4-inch-wide patties and season with salt and pepper. Heat a large nonstick skillet over medium high. Add 2 teaspoons oil and swirl to coat. Working in batches, cook burgers 2 minutes. Flip, top each with slice of sharp yellow cheddar, and cook until cooked through, about 4 minutes more.

Meanwhile, heat broiler. Butter inside of whole-wheat burger buns and place on a baking sheet, buttered side up. Toast under broiler. Place burgers on buns and top with onion and chile mixture.

Bon Voyage, Marissa!

I was off the hook for dinner last night because Marissa had everyone over for a going away BBQ. Here's a photo of some of us Grad Admissions ladies:
Raquel, Justina, Marissa, Me

Good luck in Maryland, Marissa! We'll miss you!

Dinner :: Stuffed Peppers

Google "budget recipes" and every resulting website will have a recipe for stuffed peppers. Trust me - I've been without a job for almost a month now, so I'm very familiar with all internet searches that include the word "budget." Examples include budget haircuts, budget date nights, budget fashion, budget cable bills, which is a particularly interesting one: sign up for 12-month bundle deals that are only available to first-time customers, then just change cable providers every year. Voila!

I've copied the recipe verbatim, but I would recommend changing two small things. First, I'd use 4 peppers rather than six; and second, I'd cook the rice in the skillet for at least 20 minutes. Also, I have no idea what "blanching" means, so I just skipped that step.

Stuffed Peppers
Recipe courtesy of the First United Methodist Church of St. Charles Cookbook

Blanche 6 lg. whole green peppers, seeds removed in boiling water and set upright in a baking dish. Brown 1 lb. ground beef and 1/3 c. chopped onion until done. Add 1/2 tsp. salt, 1/8 tsp. pepper, 1 (16-0z) can diced tomatoes, 1/2 c. water and 1/2 c. uncooked rice. Cover and cook for 15 minutes, until rice is tender. Add 1 tsp. Worcestershire sauce and 1 c. shredded American cheese. Stir until the cheese is melted. Put the beef and rice mixture in the pepper cups. Bake, uncovered, at 350 degrees for about 20 minutes.