Sunday, November 30, 2008

Hand-Tossed Pizza

My favorite Thanksgiving leftovers:

We’ve tackled those first four already, and after several days of sammiches, I needed to switch gears tonight and try some pizza. Now that I think I’ve created the perfect grilled pizza crust, I’m on a quest to perfect my indoor pizza versions, whether thin-crust, deep-dish, or hand-tossed.

This is a good, sturdy, hand-tossed pizza crust. It's a bit breadier and less chewy, so it can hold a lot of toppings. (I think this would be fabulous with a seasoned hamburger topping or for a taco pizza.) I also threw together some homemade sauce that went really well with the pepperoni, but might be a bit too strong to stand up to milder toppings.

And, of course, I tested this recipe with ham and pepperoni. Although I love most kinds of pizza toppings, this combo is my favorite. If it doesn't taste good with ham and pepperoni, it just won't do.

The dough recipe makes enough for about two 14” pizzas, and the sauce recipe is enough for at least 2 or 3 pizzas. You can bake the pizza on a regular pizza pan, but you might want to lower the oven temp and prebake the crust a bit to ensure that it cooks through before your toppings are annihilated by the heat.

Hand-Tossed Pizza
Makes 2 14”pizzas

1 pkg. active dry yeast
1 tsp. sugar
1 c. lukewarm water
¼ c. olive oil
2 tsp. salt
3 c. flour

6 oz. tomato paste
8 oz. tomato sauce
¼-½ c. water (depending on your preferred thickness)
2 tsp. Worcestershire sauce
½ Tbsp. dried parsley
¾ Tbsp. Italian seasoning
1 tsp. garlic powder
½ tsp. sugar
½ tsp. dried basil
¾ tsp. dried oregano
½ tsp. pizza seasoning
½ tsp. salt
1/8 tsp. pepper

Preferred toppings (chopped ham and pepperoni, in my case)
Cheese (I used about ¾ c. of a pizza blend and ¼ c. of mozzarella)

1. Preheat a pizza stone in your oven at 500 degrees.

2. In a stand mixer bowl with the dough hook attached, combine yeast, sugar, and warm water. Let sit about 10 minutes. Add olive oil and salt. Turn mixer on low and slowly add flour. Turn mixer to medium and knead dough about 3-5 minutes, or until thoroughly combined and dough is starting to come up around the edges of the bowl. Remove dough and knead by hand a few times. Form a ball and place in a greased bowl. Cover and let rise about an hour, or until dough is doubled in size.

3. Remove dough from bowl and divide in half. Form into two balls and return to bowl. Cover and let rest about 10 minutes.

4. Meanwhile, combine sauce ingredients in a small bowl.

5. Using a rolling pin or your hands (or both), spread dough into a 14” circle. Top with desired amount of sauce, toppings, and cheese.

6. Transfer pizza to stone and bake about 10-12 minutes, or until crust is cooked through.

Friday, November 28, 2008

Deep-Fried Turkey

I am the worst Thanksgiving food blogger ever. We hosted this year, and I was so busy cleaning and cooking and fluffing my pretty napkins that I forget to take pictures of everything I made. Or everything everyone else made. I had good intentions. For example, I took a picture of my dad stirring a pot of something that would eventually become gravy. But then people were arriving, and we were talking and hugging, and food needed to be transferred to serving bowls … it’s hell being popular.

Luckily the hubby was great about photographing his deep-fried turkey, which was more exciting than what I made, anyway. It’s crispy, and juicy, and so incredibly flavorful that I nearly weep with joy.

Deep-fried turkey has been a hubby specialty for years, and he studied the process and instructions thoroughly before attempting it. For example, the instruction booklet strictly forbade dogs from jumping into the turkey fryer; at no time have we allowed such a thing. (The instructions mentioned nothing about small children, but we just kind of assumed.)

A few tips for safe turkey frying this holiday season:
  • Set up your turkey fryer on stable, level ground, such as concrete. You really don’t want your bubbling turkey fryer to tip over onto, say, your foot.
  • Keep the temperature of your oil around 325 to 350 degrees. If you get around that 375 to 400 or so mark, your oil can smoke and/or ignite. (I’m not expert, but I think ignited oil is bad.)
  • Choose a modestly sized turkey (or two). We usually do in the vicinity of 14-17 pounds. Any bigger, and the oil can bubble over the top of the pot. (The instruction fryer for your manual should recommend the appropriately sized turkey.)
  • Thaw your turkey completely. Otherwise the frozen turkey can cause the oil to bubble over the top of the pot.
  • Do not fill your fryer too full of oil. Otherwise the oil can bubble over the top of the pot.
  • Do not put your turkey in the fryer too quickly. Otherwise the oil can bubble over the top of the pot.

Clearly, the oil bubbling over the top of the pot is less than desirable. Why? Because the oil can run down into the flame under the pot, causing a greasefire, which can ignite the hose that leads to the propane tank, which can cause the propane tank to go boom. (I’m sure you can find videos online.)

So you’ve got a fully thawed turkey; what’s next? First you want to remove the neck and giblets. Trim any extra skin and fat from the tail and neck area. Hey, ya know what?

Turkey butt. Hahahahaha, I kill me. Next, rinse the poor thing.

Then, if you’re smart, you’ll inject and rub your bird. We’ve tried several rubs and marinades, both storebought and homemade, and this is our favorite by far.

Yes, the turkey doctor is in. The hubby rubs some dry mixture over the top of the turkey, and then combines the rest of the marinade with water and injects the turkey. Go ahead and poke ‘em all over. It tickles.

Then fill your turkey fryer with peanut oil. You really do want to use peanut oil, despite the prohibitive price (more than $11 per gallon, oh my!). Depending on the size of your turkey pot, you’ll need 3-4 gallons. Again, the instructions are your friend. (Some instructions recommend filling your pot with water and the turkey first to estimate the amount of oil you’ll need; if you do this, leave a lot of extra room for bubblage. Yes, I made up that word.) Preheat the oil to between 350 to 375.

Insert the turkey hanger hook (this comes with your fryer) into the turkey, and carry the turkey to the fryer using the hanger. Hold the hanger and, VERY SLOWLY, lower the turkey into the oil. This isn’t like tossing mozzarella sticks into the deep fryer; you need to lower the turkey slightly, and then give the oil time to adjust so the bubblage starts to calm down. Then lower slightly, etc. (In all, this can take 2-3 minutes.)

When the turkey is complete submerged in the oil, remove the hanger, put a lid on it, and … don’t forget about it. Ideally, you shouldn’t leave your turkey fryer’s side. In real life, you’ll want to run out and check the temperature gauge about every 10 minutes. If it’s running too cool, increase the propane flow. Decrease the flow if it’s running too hot.

As far as timing the turkey, a pretty reliable calculation is 3 1/2 minutes per pound, if you’re keeping your oil temperature in that 325 to 350 range.

Then grab your trusty hanger and a pal to hold the door while you carry your precious cargo. First, shut the valve on your propane tank. (Safety first!) Then remove the lid, insert your hanger back into the hanger hook, and lift the turkey from the oil. Hold the turkey above the pot for a minute or two to drain any excess oil before bringing the turkey inside.

Let the turkey sit and cool for about 15 minutes. Delight in the oohs and aahs of your stunned guests before carving.

And stop taking photos so you can get it while the gettin’s good. There’s only so much skin to go around.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Fudge, Part I

I’m hosting Thanksgiving this year, and while I’m usually a control freak about such things, I decided to relinquish control a bit and actually let others bring food. As a result, aside from cleaning, I don’t have a lot to do before the big meal. (This gives me more time to focus on my cloth napkin/napkin ring obsession.)

I do, however, have serious concerns about how my body will respond to eating at the godforsaken hour of 1 p.m., so I decided to make a few goodies today for the crew to munch on while we’re carving turkeys and slicing hams and whisking gravies. Those are important tasks; we'll need to keep our energy up.

I started this morning by making my mother-in-law’s recipe for fudge. I’ve never actually made typical fudge – the kind that starts with chocolate or chocolate chips. I’ve never even seen anyone make it. I’m not really a fudge person. Which is shocking, because I’m really a chocolate person. But as far as traditional fudge is concerned, my mother-in-law’s is the best I’ve tasted, and the hubby loves it. (And it’ll be totally cute on my little crystal candy plate.) I was thoroughly nervous the entire time I made this, but it turned out really well. It’s almost foolproof.

This is Fudge, Part I, because I also attempted to make my dad’s fudge recipe. That recipe is almost fool-guaranteed. It’s an old family recipe from my dad’s side, and it is old-fashioned candy-making at its best: cream, sugar, and cocoa. Apparently I didn’t inherit the gene for knowing when the fudge is done. (“Use a candy thermometer,” you say? “Thermometers, bah,” my dad says.) I’ve watched him make fudge dozens of times, but I’m still missing something. Perhaps next time I’ll videotape it so I can study the process in slow motion. I will master this, and we will have a day of reckoning that shall be Fudge, Part II.

On a side note, I accidentally invented fudge-flavored taffy.

But back to traditional fudge.

Makes 16 pieces (you can double the ingredients and use a 9x13 pan)

2/3 c. evaporated milk
1½ c. sugar
½ tsp. salt
1½ c. chocolate chips
1 tsp. vanilla
1½ c. miniature marshmallows
½ c. chopped walnuts (optional; I think nuts ruin fudge)

1. In a medium saucepan, bring evaporated milk, sugar, and salt to a full boil. Cook 5 minutes, stirring constantly.

2. Remove from heat and add vanilla, chocolate chips, and marshmallows. Stir until combined and marshmallows are melted.

3. Put in an 8x8 pan and set aside to cool until thoroughly set. Cut into squares.

Peanut Blossoms

Peanut blossoms have been a favorite of mine since I was a kid – there was just something exciting about nibbling the edges of the cookie to get to the chocolate star or Hershey’s kiss in the middle. (I’ve always been easily amused.) But the cookie part was always secondary to the chocolate.

Enter these peanut blossoms, which several people have mentioned are the best they’ve ever tasted. (Thank you, thankyouverymuch.) The cookie definitely holds its own. The secret? They’re flourless. Just as a flourless cake is much more dense and rich than its flour-filled counterpart, these cookies have fabulous flavor and texture.

You can use chocolate stars, Hershey’s kisses, peanut butter cups, or pretty much any candy in the center. I prefer the kisses. Especially the green ones. They taste the best.

I think I just found my new screensaver.

You can also use Splenda for baking and sugar-free Hershey’s kisses, if you’re baking for a diabetic. (I made these for my grandpa earlier this year with great results.)

Now hold on to your hats, ladies and gentlemen. This is a pretty complex recipe.

Peanut Blossoms
Makes 24

1 c. peanut butter (I highly recommend Skippy creamy style)
1 c. brown sugar
1 egg
24 Hershey’s kisses, unwrapped, chocolate stars, or other candies (I love recipes that specify to unwrap the candy)

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

2. Combine peanut butter and sugar. Add eggs and mix thoroughly.

3. Divide dough into 24 pieces and roll into balls. (It will look very sticky, but trust me, it’ll roll.)

4. Place dough on a baking sheet and bake 10-12 minutes.

5. Let cool about 2-3 minutes, then press candies into the middle of the cookies.

6. Let sit on pan about 7-8 minutes, then transfer to a cooling rack.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Steak Quesadillas with Barbecued Black Beans

I love Thanksgiving as much as the next person, but for a few days beforehand, I like to eat foods that are as far from Thanksgiving fare as possible. (I’ll be getting my monthly quota of gravy on Thursday afternoon, thank you very much. ) I don’t grow as weary of leftovers that way.

I really had nothing in mind for supper this evening, although I knew the hubby left a steak in the fridge. Because I dropped it on my foot this morning. But I got increasingly hungry for quesadillas as the day grew on. I’m the quesadilla queen; I can put anything in a tortilla with melty cheese and it will be great.

I did a quick marinade for the steak and hurried out to grill it in the dark. Then I threw on some black beans to stew for a bit to make a sort of barbecued black bean topping for the quesadillas. I could have put them directly in the tortillas, but that would have been messy. And I’m quite dainty, you know.

Steak Quesadillas with Barbecued Black Beans
Serves 4-6

1 lb. steak

2 Tbsp. lime juice
¼ c. soy sauce
2 Tbsp. Worcestshire sauce
½ tsp. cayenne pepper
Salt and pepper
2 cloves garlic, minced

1 can black beans, rinsed and drained
¼ c. chicken broth
½ tsp. Worcestershire sauce
½ tsp. chipotle Tabasco
1 tsp. brown sugar
2 Tbsp. barbecue sauce

4-6 10” flour tortillas
Pepperjack or three-pepper cheese, shredded

1. Combine marinade ingredients and pour over steak. Let sit at room temperature for about 10 minutes. Grill until steak is cooked to medium, about 15 minutes. Let steak rest about 5 minutes.

2. Add beans to small saucepan over medium heat. Add remaining ingredients and stir. Let simmer about 10 minutes, or until beans are slightly thickened. (You can also cook your beans in a pot on the grill, alongside the steak. Rumor has it that the beans don’t burn on the grill.)

3. Cut steak in small, thin pieces. Add steak to half the tortilla and top with cheese.

Fold empty side of tortilla over.

4. Heat a large frying pan over high heat. Cook the quesadilla on both sides until toasted.

5. Cut each quesadilla in four wedges and serve with black beans.

Monday, November 24, 2008

Spicy Chicken Stir-Fry

I tried a Fine Cooking recipe for chicken stir-fry this evening, and was so proud of myself because it’s the first time that I’ve perfectly cooked every single element of the stir-fry. The chicken was nice and tender, and the veggies were still crisp – no limp broccoli here! I even made rice. Shocking.

I swapped out the veggies in the original recipe for those I liked better – broccoli, pepper, and onion. The hubby dubbed the stir-fry just “OK,” but I really liked it. Although they weren’t kidding with the “spicy” part. I ended up making a separate, milder sauce to add to the stir-fry after I tried it, both to make the dish a bit saucier and to dilute the spice. It really did the trick. So this recipe includes my version of the sauce.

And the best thing about the hubby just thinking it’s “OK” is that I get all the leftovers. Woo-hoo!

Spicy Chicken Stir-Fry
Serves 4

1 lb. chicken, cut in ¼” slices
Salt and white pepper
2 tsp. wok oil or vegetable oil, divided
1 small head broccoli, cut in bite-size florets
1 green bell pepper, cut in thin slices
1 small red onion, halved and thinly sliced
1 Tbsp. water
1 scallion, thinly sliced
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 tsp. grated fresh ginger

3 tsp. cornstarch
3 tsp. soy sauce
½ c. chicken broth
½ Tbsp. hoisin sauce
2 Tbsp. dry sherry
1 Tbsp. honey
½-1 Tbsp. sambal oelek
½ scallion, thinly sliced
½ tsp. grated ginger
½ tsp. minced garlic

1. Combine sauce ingredients. Sprinkle chicken with salt and white pepper.

2. Heat wok over high heat for 2 minutes. Add 1 tsp. oil, then add chicken. Stir-fry about 5 minutes, stirring occasionally, or until chicken is slightly browned and cooked through.

Remove chicken from pan.

3. Heat remaining 1 tsp. oil in wok. Add broccoli, pepper, onion, and water. Stir-fry 1 minute, stirring constantly. Add scallion, garlic, and ginger. Cook about 30 seconds, stirring. Return chicken to pan and stir-fry 1-2 minutes, or until veggies are crisp-tender.

4. Add sauce mixture to wok. Stir and remove from heat (sauce should thicken immediately). Serve over rice.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Steak and Pepper Fajitas

This dish is one that the hubby has been making for, well, longer than he’s known me. He cooked this on one of our first dates, and his technique has only improved since then. The steak and peppers are simmered with wine, lemon juice, and lime juice, which keeps the steak tender and flavorful.

I was busy elsewhere in the house while the hubby was cooking this evening (OK, so I was watching DVDs in the basement). I yelled up once to ensure that the hubby was appropriately photographing the event for my post, and then didn’t talk to him again until he brought me a plate.

And the camera.

Now, I’ve never actually cooked this dish myself. But I really had no idea about the magic it takes to pull these fajitas together. I never would have guessed what happens in my kitchen when I’m not there.

Steak and Pepper Fajitas
Serves 6

1 ¼ lbs. steak
Wok oil or vegetable
2 green bell peppers
Lemon juice
Lime juice
White wine
Pepperjack cheese
Flour tortillas (8”-10”)

1. Trim steak and cut in ¼”-½” slices. Stem and seed peppers, and cut in thin strips.

You know, small enough to fit in the palm of your hand.

2. Heat wok over medium heat. Add oil, and then add steak. Cover wok and cook until the steak is brown and tender, about 30 minutes.

Hop on the stove and give it a stir every once in a while.

3. Add peppers to pan.

4. Gather your wine, lemon juice, and lime juice.

Santa and the hubby prefer white Zinfandel, and they like the lemon and lime squeezers 'cause they're cute.

5. Add a few good splashes of wine (about ¼ c.) and a few splashes of lemon juice and lime juice (a few teaspoons). Cover and cook until peppers are tender, about 10 minutes. Add a few more splashes of lemon juice and lime juice while peppers are softening.

6. Meanwhile, heat your tortillas. Fetch your cheese from the fridge using whatever means necessary.

7. Slice cheese into thin strips. This may require the use of a very large knife.

8. Assemble.

Now really, eat, Santa. Eat. Nobody likes a skinny Santa.

Place heated tortilla on plate. Add a layer of beef and peppers, and top with slices of cheese.

9. Nuke in the microwave for about 15 seconds or so to make the cheese melty.

10. Ask the elves to clean the kitchen and relax with a big ol’ mug of caramel cocoa sipper.

And to all a good night!

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Shredded French Dip Sammiches

I've been sick this week. Very sick. Haven't-eaten-solid-food-since-the-weekend sick. This doesn't sit well with me for a variety of reasons, not the least of which is that most of the foods I enjoy are, indeed, solid. And my puppies are pretty freaked out. They're not used to such a low-protein diet, or -- God forbid -- dog food.

But today, we're all hungry for normal people food, and I've been craving my shredded French dip sammiches. This is one of the easiest meals that I make -- it's another slow cooker delight -- and one of my favorite recipes of all time.

And it came about by accident because I don't always finish reading recipes while I'm making them. Apparenty the au jus part of the French dip was originally supposed to be far jus-ier, with the addition of several cups of water. Which you can certainly add, or use some beef broth, instead, if you want more jus for dipping.

I don't happen to like a lot of au jus with my sammiches. It's a soggy-bread thing. I like just enough to keep the meat moist, and to me, the more intense flavor of the sauce makes these sammiches heavenly. Along with the shredded meat, of course. I do so enjoy my shredded meat.

A few tips, based on many, many iterations of this recipe:
  • You can use virtually any cut of roast here, but trim any fat around the edges.
  • I recommending using straight ol' Kikkoman soy sauce here. I've tried using darker and thicker soy sauces with poor results.
  • I don't recommend using fresh herbs. They don't withstand the long cooking process as well, and if you add them later, you miss out on the flavors getting fully infused.
  • I put my peppercorns and bay leaf in a bit of cheesecloth in the slow cooker, but you can add them as is if you're willing to fish them out later. Or if you enjoy biting into peppercorns.

Shredded French Dip Sammiches
Serves 8-10

1 3-lb. boneless beef roast, trimmed
1/2 c. soy sauce
1 beef bouillion cube
1 bay leaf
3 whole black peppercorns
1 tsp. dried rosemary, crushed
1 tsp. dried thyme
1 tsp. garlic powder

1. Place roast in slow cooker. Top with remaining ingredients.

2. Cover and cook on low 6-8 hours, or until meat is tender.

3. Remove roast and shred meat with two forks.

4. Return meat to broth and heat through. Serve on rolls.

General Tso’s Chicken

General Tso’s is one of those wildly popular Chinese dishes that can seem quite intimidating to make at home. Whether it’s the deep-frying or the somewhat touchy sauce mixture, most people seem to enjoy this only at Chinese restaurants.

This has been one of our favorite dishes for years, although it kind of fell off our cooking radar for a while. (We make a point to limit our deep-frying.) But the hubby and I took a Chinese cooking class last month, and not only were we paired up to cook together, but this was our assigned dish. And it’s almost exactly the same as the recipe I’d been using.

The perfect sauce combination can be a bit tricky to achieve; note that the vinegar tastes overpowering in the raw sauce, but will mellow a bit when cooked. And while the dried hot peppers are optional, to us, it’s not General Tso’s without them.

I was pretty sick this evening, so I left the hubby to do the work while I supervised from my blanket-and-pillow spot on the floor just outside the kitchen. (Hey, supervising is hard work.) So I have yet to try the finished product this time around, but the hubby assures me it was yummy and his tummy is full.

General Tso’s Chicken
Serves 6

2½-3 lbs. boneless, skinless chicken breast, cubed

¼ c. soy sauce
1 tsp. white pepper (you can substitute black pepper, but it’s not quite as strong)
1 egg, beaten
¾ c. cornstarch
Vegetable oil to fill a large saucepan or deep fryer

¼ c. cornstarch
½ c. soy sauce
Scant ¼ c. white vinegar (tread lightly; you can always add more)
¼ c. dry sherry
½-¾ c. sugar
1½ tsp. dry chicken bouillion or 1½ c. hot chicken broth

1 tsp. vegetable oil or wok oil
1½ tsp. minced garlic
1½ tsp. minced or grated ginger
2 tsp. dried red chile peppers, crushed

½ c. scallions, chopped

1. Combine chicken, soy sauce, and white pepper in a bowl. Add beaten egg. Preheat oil in a pan. When oil is hot, add cornstarch to chicken and combine thoroughly.

2. Fry chicken in batches until brown and cooked through, about 5-6 minutes per batch.

(Note: Use a larger pan and don’t fill your pan too full, or the oil can overflow.)
(Note #2: If you fill the pan too full, don’t use a plastic measuring cup to remove oil. Hot oil melts plastic. Just guessing here, of course.)

3. Let chicken drain on a plate lined with paper towels.

4. Combine sauce ingredients in a medium bowl.

5. Heat a wok to medium heat and add oil. Saute garlic, ginger, and crushed chile about 30 seconds, or until garlic starts to brown. Add sauce. Stir constantly until sauce starts to thicken, about 1 minute. Add scallions.

6. Return chicken to pan and stir until chicken is coated with sauce.

7. Serve over hot rice.

Saturday, November 15, 2008


The hubby and I were ranch-sitting for my mother-in-law this weekend, and when we’re at the homestead, we tend to make the more traditional recipes that we grew up with. This recipe has been in the hubby’s family for years and years; my mother-in-law received the recipe when she was younger, so it was a staple in their household, and is now a staple in ours.

The hubby first made this for me when we had just started dating, and it wasn’t at all what I expected when he said he was making pizza. (Although who isn’t impressed by a man who can make his own pizza dough? Huh? Huh?) It’s a thicker, bready crust with a mild tomato sauce, topped with hamburger and Colby cheese. This is also a great meal for kids. There’s nothing scary about it, it’s not too spicy, and seriously, what kid doesn’t like hamburger and cheese?

I have to admit that I was surprised to see the hubby put raw hamburger on this pizza when he first made it. I was worried that it wouldn’t cook through. But because the crust is thicker and takes a while to cook, the hamburger cooks through completely. I would recommend a leaner hamburger (we prefer 93% lean) to keep the top of the pizza from getting too greasy.

Longhorn Colby is the best option for this pizza, but regular Colby will do, too. We never buy preshredded Colby, because my only job is to shred the cheese while the hubby does everything else. (He says I’m great at cutting the cheese. I have NO idea what he’s talking about.)

Serves 4

3 Tbsp. sugar
1 c. warm water
2 packets quick-rise yeast
½ tsp. salt
4 Tbsp. shortening
3–3½ c. flour

1 8-oz. can tomato sauce
1 can condensed tomato soup
Onion salt
Garlic salt
Dried oregano
Dried parsley
1 lb. lean hamburger
16 oz. (4 c.) Colby cheese

1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees.

2. Combine sugar and water. Add yeast and let sit 3 minutes. Add salt and shortening, and stir. Gradually add flour and knead it into the dough.

3. Cover and let rise at least an hour, or until dough has doubled.

This is how you know it’s done. There’s a thumbs-up next to it.

4. Grease an 11½” x 17” pan and spread dough out. (You might not need all the dough to cover the entire pan.)

5. Combine tomato sauce and condensed soup. Spread sauce onto crust. (Again, you might not need it all.) Sprinkle liberally with onion salt, garlic salt, oregano, and parsley.

6. Spread hamburger in a thin layer over the salt. (Keeping the layer flat will help it cook and brown more evenly.)

7. Top with cheese. You must use all the cheese. It's a rule.

Oh, and try to get the cheese as close to the edge as possible. That way it bubbles over the edge of the pan, falls onto the bottom of the oven, and smokes up the entire house. The hubby LOVES it when I do this.

8. Bake about 20-25 minutes, or until crust is baked and hamburger is cooked through. (You can lift the crust with a spatula to see if it’s sufficiently brown on the bottom.)

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Slow Cooker Beef and Tortellini

I love my slow cookers. All three of them. I couldn't pick a favorite -- it would be like choosing my favorite child. I love them equally, but differently. One is older and even-tempered; she never really comes to a boil. One is young and feisty; he runs pretty hot. And one is rather unattractive and forgotten about, but steps up in a pinch. (That's the middle slow cooker.)

As a result, I have a ton of favorite slow cooker recipes. I know, it's very Midwestern of me. I love the easy preparation and cleanup, and coming home to a meal that's already prepared is very refreshing.

Plus, I have an obsession with shredded meats, and nothing does it better than a slow cooker. (Crockpot, as we call 'em 'round these parts.)

I found this recipe in an old Betty Crocker cookbook, and it's about as easy as it gets. You throw in the meat and sauce, let it cook, add zucchini and tortellini toward the end, and you're good to go -- a balanced pasta meal. With shredded meat.

Slow Cooker Beef and Tortellini
Serves 4-6

1 1/2-2 lbs. beef roast (usually chuck or rump), cut in 5 or 6 large pieces
1/2 tsp. seasoned salt
1/4 tsp. pepper
1 26-oz. jar pasta sauce
1 c. zucchini, chopped in bite-size pieces (leave the peel on or it will mush up)
9 oz. fresh or frozen cheese tortellini

1. Place beef in slow cooker and sprinkle with seasoned salt and pepper.

2. Pour pasta sauce over beef. Cover and cook on low 6-8 hours.

3. Add zucchini and tortellini, and stir.

4. Cover and cook on high 20-30 minutes, or until tender.

Impromptu Greek Pork Tacos

I had a yen for pork gyros today. Alas, I was lacking some key ingredients for my gyros, and had no ambition to trek to the store. So it was an improv supper. No recipe, no plan; just cooking on the fly.

OK, so it wasn't completely on the fly. I actually had some thawed pork in the fridge, about a pound of boneless pork loin.

I butterflied pork so it would be easier to cook through without burning the outside. I decided on a quick, room temperature marinade. So first, I poked the pork a bunch of times with a fork. I don't know if this actually accomplishes anything, but I have this illusion that it makes the flavor seep in better. I drizzled the pork with some olive oil and topped it with some minced garlic -- about four cloves. Then I squeezed on some lemon juice -- maybe a few tablespoons overall -- and sprinkled the pork liberally with salt, pepper, and oregano. Oregano makes me happy.

I decided to grill a red onion to throw in. So I chopped it in four thick slices and sprinkled it with some olive oil, lemon juice, salt, pepper, and oregano -- basically, the same treatment as the pork, minus the garlic.

Time to grill. I was going to grill outside, but it was chilly and dark. You should never grill pork in the dark. If you haven't warned your children yet, start now. Thank goodness for grill pans.

My onions finished grilling loooong before my pork (I should have seen that coming), and my pork had a tendency to really stick. (I'm kind of stingy with the olive oil.) I just deglazed the pan with wine from time to time, instead. (I am not stingy with the wine.)

Then, the sauce. Traditional tzatziki, or yogurt sauce, includes yogurt, salt, mint, lemon, garlic, and sometimes cucumber. I had half of these items. So I chopped up scallions and mixed them with some salt and plain, nonfat Greek yogurt.

My pork still wasn't done, so I shredded some lettuce. And ate some Doritos. And watched the hubby eat sushi. And, finally, pondered the pita question. Thankfully, I am never without tortillas, which taste better than most store-bought pita breads, anyway. I sliced up the pork, served on toasted tortillas with the lettuce and yogurt sauce, and voila! Greek pork tacos.