Sunday, May 31, 2009

Strawberry-Rhubarb Pie

My in-laws and my brother came for lunch this weekend (including ribs and chipotle-cheddar potatoes). Because it was our first gathering at the house since the rhubarb plant sprouted in the yard (a whole two weeks ago), that can mean only one thing: strawberry-rhubarb pie.

Rhubarb is a plant that thrives 'round these parts, and almost everyone I know bakes with it. (Except my ma. She's not a fan, and she's yanked it out of every yard that she's owned.)

I didn't taste rhubarb until I was 22. The hubby (then a boyfriend) and I had visited his parents, and he mentioned that he'd really like a strawberry-rhubarb pie. I figured this was my shot to prove to him what a good little wifey I'd be someday, so I said, "Hey, no problem, I'll do it!"

This was good in theory. In application, I had never before baked any sort of pie, nor did I have the slightest inkling what rhubarb even looked like underneath its covering of leaves. But I dug this recipe out of the bowels of a Betty Crocker cookbook, and then proceeded to stare at the pile of rhubarb that my hopefully soon-to-be mother-in-law sent home with us. Finally, I caved and called her. She gave me two pieces of advice:
  • Don't eat the leaves. (I found this surprising. I thought that was the part of the rhubarb you were supposed to eat.) Apparently the leaves are inedible. Or maybe poisonous. Yes, those are two different concepts. In either case, don't eat the leaves.
  • Peel the outside layer of the rhubarb. The outside is the toughest and dirtiest part, but it peels off very easily in long ribbons, leaving the clean, more tender stalk exposed.

I gave it a whirl, and baked my first pie. Lo and behold, it turned out fabulous. The hubby thought it one of the best strawberry-rhubarb pies he'd ever tasted. This pie might be the reason he proposed, and it definitely is the reason he bought a rhubarb plant when we bought our first house. We dream of this pie each spring.

Strawberry-Rhubarb Pie
Serves 8

3 c. rhubarb (about 5-7 stalks)
3 c. strawberries (about 1 lb.)
2 c. sugar
2/3 c. flour
1 Tbsp. butter
Pastry for a double-crust pie

1. Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Clean and peel your rhubarb.

I just discovered that not everyone does this. Which is OK, I think. But I'll stick with my method. My mother-in-law does it. Guy Fieri does it. That's good enough for me.

2. Chop rhubarb into about 1/2" pieces.

Chopping rhubarb reminds me of chopping celery. Just thought I'd mention that.

3. Clean and hull your strawberries, and chop them into similar-sized pieces.

4. Combine rhubarb and strawberries with flour and sugar.

Rhubarb stalks -- even from the same plant -- can vary quite a bit in terms of how sweet or sour they are. (I think earlier rhubarb is sweeter.) I try to use some greener and some redder stalks, but it's a bit of a crapshoot; every pie turns out a bit different. It's a surprise every time!

5. Press bottom crust into a 9" pie plate, and pour filling mixture in. Dot with butter.

6. Place top crust on pie and crimp the edges. Cut slits in the top of the pie, and cover the edges with foil.

I have a Pie Crust Shield. I love it.

I also have a pie gate. I'm oddly protective of my pie.

7. Bake pie for 50-55 minutes, and let cool complete before serving. (I usually refrigerate it for a while before serving, too, just to help it set up. And because I grew up in a household where we refrigerated pies.)

Friday, May 29, 2009

Smoked Turkey, Bacon, and Pepperjack Paninis

This is quick not-quite-recipe/recipe-sort of idea, but it's been a busy day. Even though I had the day off, I've had a lot of appointments, company, shopping, and pies.

More on the pies later. They're still in the oven.

I picked up some good, chewy bread at the store this morning, so supper tonight was sammiches for the hubby and a panini for me. This is one of my favorite panini combinations of all time (and I'll put anything in a panini). I used to order something similar to this at a sandwich spot called 25th Street Market before it closed, and this sandwich was the reason I bought a panini maker. I missed them.

It's a super-quick weeknight meal, so you eat and bake more pies. You should always find time for pie.

Smoked Turkey, Bacon, and Pepperjack Paninis
Makes 1 panini

6-8 loaf good, chewy bread
Dried Italian seasoning
2-3 oz. deli smoked turkey
3 slices cooked bacon
1-2 slices pepperjack cheese

1. Preheat a panini grill or heavy skillet.

2. Slice bread in half horizontally. Butter the outsides of the bread and sprinkle with Italian seasoning.

3. Lay bottom bread in panini maker, and top with turkey, bacon, and cheese. Add top half of bread.

4. Cook using panini maker (or place a weighted skillet on the sandwich in the frying pan). Cook until golden brown and crispy, and cheese is melted.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Chile, Cheese, and Bacon Quesadillas

I still consider myself a relative newcomer to this whole blogging thing, and I really enjoy getting new visitors to my blog. I feel like I've been operating in a bubble, because I'm just now starting to learn more about the vast community of food bloggers out there.

And I just wanted to say a quick thank you to those of you who take the time to read my rambling thoughts and leave kind comments (and give me awards, like girlichef!). I can't wait to read more of your own blogs. I'm already sucked in to so many of the recipes with their purty pictures.

Speaking of awards -- again, bubble -- do I pass those on to others? Anybody know? Bueller? Bueller? I eagerly await instructions.

In the meantime, quesadillas! I love them, and I fill them with everything, from my favorite I'm-home-sick-with-a-cold quesadillas (chicken, pepperjack, chile, and lime) to pizza quesadillas (pepperoni, cheese, and Italian seasoning, dipped in pizza sauce).

I also like stumbling upon more unique cominations. The hubby's favorite is a roasted potato and black bean concoction, which I almost made tonight, until he told me he's anti-quesadilla these days. (I think it's sympathy food aversions. He's very sweet.) So I made one of my favorite quesadillas, instead.

I found the idea for this recipe when I first started cooking, and it was either from Pillsbury or Betty Crocker, which was all I was brave enough to attempt at the time. And I've served these at countless parties since. You can't go wrong with quesadillas for a crowd, and if they've got bacon in them, all the better.

Note that I've always cooked my quesadillas in a dry skillet, sans fat, and I've never had a problem getting them cooked to perfection (it seems like an easy way to cut out some fat). But if you prefer to cook them in some oil or spread butter on the outsides, be my guest.

Chile, Cheese, and Bacon Quesadillas
Serves 4

4 8-9" flour tortillas
8 slices bacon, cooked until crisp
1 4-oz. can chopped green chiles
1 2.25-oz can sliced black olives
2 c. sharp cheddar cheese
Salsa, for dipping (optional)

1. Preheat a dry, nonstick skillet over medium-high heat.

2. Lay tortillas flat on a work surface. Top half of each tortilla with strips of bacon, crumbled, some green chiles and black olives (to taste), and about 1/2 c. cheese.

3. Fold tortillas over. Cook about 2-3 minutes on each side, or until golden and crispy.

4. Slice into wedges before serving.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Strawberries 'n' Cream Tart

When I was making a peanut butter pie to bring to my family's for the weekend, I also wanted to bring some sort of dessert to my mother-in-law's. However, time was at a premium, and I needed something that was sort of make-ahead.

I was hoping to use strawberries, because my mother-in-law adores strawberry pie. So I made a quick graham cracker tart crust, and then made a cream filling that used the same basis as the peanut butter pie. (But without the peanut butter, obviously.)

I packed up my crust, my filling, some strawberries, and some strawberry glaze, and assembled everything a few hours before lunch. My only casualty was losing a few of the tart crust edges on the trip; as mama always says, tart crusts don't like gravel roads.

The result was a sweet, light, and fruity dessert that was the perfect end for our grilled meal. It wasn't too filling or too heavy, but just right.

Strawberries 'n' Cream Tart
Serves 6-8

9 sheets honey graham crackers
2 Tbsp. sugar
4 Tbsp. butter, melted

8 oz. cream cheese
1/2 c. sugar
1/2 tsp. vanilla extract
1/4 tsp. almond extract
1/3 c. whipped topping

1/2 pint strawberries, washed and hulled
1/4 c. strawberry glaze or melted strawberry jam

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees, and spray a 10-inch tart pan with cooking spray.

2. Place crackers in blender or food processor, and process until crumbly. In a bowl, combine cracker crumbs, sugar, and butter.

3. Mix with a fork until well combined. Pour into tart pan and push down against bottoms and sides.

4. Bake crust for 10 minutes and let cool.

5. For filling, mix cream cheese and sugar in stand mixer until thoroughly mixed. Add extracts and mix again. Fold in whipped topping.

At this point, I put my crust in a cake carrier and my filling in a cold, covered bowl, and off we went.

6. To assemble, spread cream mixture evenly over crust.

7. Slice strawberries very thinly. And let someone else use the camera, because you need both hands.

8. Layer the strawberries either from the inside out or the outside in.

Hello, messy, wet hair. Hello, baby belly. Hello, glowing-eyes Charlie. (Whenever there's food involved, Charlie is watching.)

I prefer layering thin slices to using thicker pieces of strawberries because it's easier to serve and eat that way.

9. Drizzle with strawberry glaze or some melted strawberry jam -- just something to sweeten up the strawberries. (Sugar would tend to macerate them, or soften and break them down, but you want your strawberries to stay intact.)

10. Slice and serve, and garnish as desired.

We kept things basic, but you could certainly top this with a dollop of whipped cream, some mint, toasted almonds, or whatever floats your boat.

Monday, May 25, 2009

Pizza Burgers

After the hubby and I visited my family this weekend, we went on to see my mother-in-law at her hobby ranch. It was a beautiful weekend, and we spent quite a bit of time outside. The hubby tilled my mother-in-law's garden. (We're still getting frosts here, so it's a been too risky to plant yet.)

I was slightly less productive. I supervised the burn barrel -- wind-free weekends are at a premium on the prairie -- and played with the horses. And then napped while the hubby made pizza for supper.

We each have our talents.

The next day, my sister-in-law was visiting, as well, and we decided to kick off the summer with some pizza burgers. This is a Rachael Ray recipe that I've been making for several years, and the hubby's family has always really liked them. (I offered to make them for my family once. My dad said they "sound like a waste of a good burger." Very well, then.)

Hamburger is mixed with pepperoni, a bit of tomato paste, and some seasonings, and then topped with cheese and pizza sauce. They're kind of an old-school favorite, like something you'd order from a drive-in.

Pizza Burgers
Serves 4

1 lb. ground beef (preferably 85% lean)
2 Tbsp. tomato paste
1/4 lb. chopped pepperoni
2 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 tsp. dried oregano
Salt and pepper
Grill seasoning (preferably Montreal Steak Seasoning by McCormick)
4 slices mozzarella or provolone (or shredded equivalent)
4 hamburger buns
Pizza sauce, for topping

1. In a large bowl, combine hamburger, tomato paste, pepperoni, garlic, oregano, salt, and pepper.

We made a double-batch. I'm eating for two.

2. Using your hands, combine the mixture until ingredients are well distributed. (This is a bit messy, like mixing a meatloaf). Form mixture into four patties.

As always with burgers, make a small hole in the middle so the center of your burger doesn't get taller than the rest.

3. Grill burgers over medium to medium-high heat. Sprinkle with grill seasoning.

The hubby is the best griller ever. These are picture-perfect.

4. Cook until burgers are at desired level of doneness, adding cheese for the last minute (about 10 minutes, total).

5. Meanwhile, heat your pizza sauce. And toast your buns, for good measure.

We typically use Stop-N-Go buns for our burgers, because they're fresh and soft and squishy. Aside from the hubby's, they're the best buns in town.

6. Serve burgers on toasted buns and top with pizza sauce. Don't forget your napkin.

Friday, May 22, 2009

Cool and Creamy Peanut Butter Pie

The hubby and I were in sick bay this week, but we're feeling better and getting ready to head out of town for the weekend. The first stop is to see my parents, and my brother and his girlfriend.

Whenever we visit family, we fall into the position of food providers for the weekend. I don't think anyone expects this of us; we've just always kind of done it. My theory is that I get so crabby when I'm hungry that the hubby wants to be sure we have full control over the food situation. We need to make sure that there is always something readily available for me to eat, or Very Bad Things happen.

Tonight, we'll be grilling with my dad and brother. We're doing the basics -- some grilled steak, beans, hot dogs, etc. -- but I wanted to throw together something for dessert, as well. I've only got a few hours this afternoon, so there's not a lot of time to bake something that requires cooling before it's packed up. Instead, I'll make something that starts off nice and cool.

I found this pie recipe in an old Taste of Home Quick Cooking magazine many moons ago. I used to make the pie on a very regular basis during the summer, but it somehow fell off the rotation. And I have no idea why, because it's really, really yummy. And simple. It's a great make-ahead dessert, and if you want to use a ready-made crust from the store, you don't even have to turn on the oven.

I'm not a huge fan of the ready-made crusts, so I made my own using the crust recipe from my fudge truffle cheesecake. I pressed the crust into a 9-inch pie plate and baked it at 350 degrees for 10 minutes.

Cool and Creamy Peanut Butter Pie
Serves 8

1 chocolate crumb crust (storebought or homemade)
8 oz. cream cheese, softened
1/2 c. sugar
1/3 c. peanut butter
1/3 c. whipped topping
10 regular-sized peanut butter cups, divided

1. Prepare and cool crust, if making your own.

2. In a stand mixer or by hand, beat cream cheese and sugar until smooth. Add peanut butter and mix thoroughly.

3. Fold in whipped topping.

4. Chop 5 peanut butter cups and fold into mixture.

5. Spoon mixture into crust. Chop remaining peanut butter cups and sprinkle over the top.

This is actually only 4 peanut butter cups sprinkled on top. I have NO idea where the fifth went.

6. Refrigerate at least 4 hours before serving.

Monday, May 18, 2009

Top 10

My humble li'l blog was featured on Finest Foodies Friday last week, for which I am exceptionally flattered, and it looks like I have some newcomers following my blog. The hubby suggested I put together a top 10 list of the recipes that have become some of our favorites and that give a feel for the types of recipes on the site.

He's so smart. That's why I married him. That and his grilled steak.

This was a tough task for me. I wanted a top 75. But I agonized and bit my fingernails and managed to pare it down. So here it is, Angel in the Kitchen's Top 10 Recipes So Far, in No Particular Order, and Subject to Change at Any Time:
  • Roasted Red Pepper Meatballs: These are incredibly versatile as either an appetizer or in a variety of main dishes. Whenever I make them for parties or potlucks, people fawn over me. I like being fawned over.
  • Shrimp Scampi: I invented this recipe so the hubby didn't have to rely on restaurants; he says it tops every other version he's tried. He makes this more frequently than any other dish now. (You can also check out the chicken version.)
  • Spicy Grilled Potatoes: This recipe is a hubby invention, and can be spiced up or down to suit your tastes. It's our most popular summer side dish, and it pairs well with almost anything.
  • Fudge Truffle Cheesecake: This is the mother of all cheesecakes. It has unbeatable flavor and a perfectly rich texture. The hubby doesn't understand why I'd ever try any other cheesecake recipe, ever again, because this is It.
  • Steak and Pepper Fajitas: I wasn't present during the documentation of this recipe; I just attempted to put it all down on paper later. Food aside, this one is worth a read just for the hubby's photography.
  • Grilled Veggie-Stuffed Tomatoes: This is our most anticipated grilling recipe every year, especially when we're the lucky recipients of garden produce in late summer. I think the hubby would eat these every day. (Pardon the bad photography; I obviously hadn't yet discovered the concept of a "flash.")
  • Potstickers: I can't make these often enough, and again, the hubby and I think our version beats any other we've tried. Of course, we're biased. The hubby had me teach him how to make these. You know, in case things don't work out between us, and he wants to teach his next wife. He could possibly live without me, but he can't live without his potstickers.
  • Barbecued Pork Sandwiches: This is one of the easiest and cheapest meals I make, and it's easily my most requested recipe. In fact, it's so easy that I'm almost embarrassed to share it. But hey, if the shortcuts taste better than the long version ...
  • Chipotle-Cheddar Mashed Potatoes: These are our favorite mashed potatoes -- smokey and cheesy, but not overly spicy. (I've been told they're even kid friendly.) But be forewarned; once you've tried these, all other mashed potatoes are bland by comparison.
  • Jumbo Chocolate-Toffee-Cream Cheese Muffins: Jumbo muffun-making is a hobby, and I have several yummy inventions in my collection. (Some of which I have yet to post -- gasp!) Everyone has their favorite variety; the hubby and I both love these best. They take some work, but they taste like a decadent dessert rather than a dry, ol' muffin. But I still eat them for breakfast.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Scored Baked Potatoes

The hubby was grilling melt-in-your-mouth ribeyes for supper this evening, and as usual, I was suffering from side dish dilemma. Am I all alone in this? Does this happen to anyone else? Enquiring minds want to know.

Steak 'n' potatoes is obviousy a classic pairing, and rather than making a plain old baked potato, I halved and scored them, following a recipe I once saw in a Taste of Home issue. This allows the butter, salt, pepper, and other seasonings of choice to permeate the inside of the potato while it's baking.

The potatoes take a little while to cook, but this recipe is economical and so easy to put together. The prep time is under 5 minutes. And in between my routine Sunday afternoon nap and cleaning out the basement, I didn't really have more than 5 minutes to spare.

It worked out perfectly, and I couldn't have asked for a better supper. And to thank the hubby for his yummy steaks, I'm throwing in a pan of chewy-gooey bars for dessert. I highly recommend you do the same.

Scored Baked Potatoes
4 servings

4 large baking potatoes, preferably russets
2 Tbsp. butter or margarine, melted, divided
1/8-1/4 tsp. paprika or other preferred spice/seasoning, to taste
1 Tbsp. minced fresh parsley or 1 1/2 tsp. dried
Kosher salt and fresh black pepper, to taste

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

2. Scrub potatoes well, and cut them in half lengthwise. Slice each potato half six times or so widthwise, but be careful not to cut all the way through. (You still want each potato intact. I usually manage to do this for about 75% of my potatoes.)

3. Place potatoes in a shallow baking dish. Brush with 1 Tbsp. melted butter, and then sprinkle with paprika, parsley, salt, and pepper.

4. Bake, uncovered, for 50 minutes or unti tender. Drizzle with remaining butter before serving.

Yeah, I wasn't in the mood for veggies tonight. But parsley counts, right?

Friday, May 15, 2009

Smoked Paprika Shrimp with Sweet Roasted Red Pepper Sauce

The hubby and I spent most of our free time this week shopping for a TV and a daycare. We're batting .500. This may surprise you, but a TV is actually a lot easier to find. I'm getting a lot of that whole "Don't call us; we'll call you" thing. I assume that means "We don't want your kind here," not "We don't have any open spots."

After a busy day of daycare tours and naps, I had just enough time to throw together a recipe the hubby had been wanting to try. This is a modified version of a McCormick recipe that the hubby saw in bon appetit.

Yes, he reads it for the pictures.

This dish makes a good light main course, and would be perfect as an appetizer or an addition to a tapas party. Note that the sauce recipe makes a ton; if you plan on doubling or even quadrupling the shrimp, you can make the same amount of sauce and be fine. You can also substitute chicken for the shrimp, if you're so inclined. I'm not a shrimp person, so I made a batch of each.

This recipe did call for agave nectar, which I couldn't find. (I was going to run over and ask to borrow some from the neighbor, but he was gone.) Apparently honey is an approved substitute. So if you can find the agave nectar, give it a try, but don't sweat it.

Smoked Paprika Shrimp with Sweet Roasted Red Pepper Sauce
Makes 2 main dish servings

1 Tbsp. olive oil
1/4 c. chopped red onion
3 Tbsp. agave nectar or honey
1 12-oz. jar roasted red peppers, drained
1/2 c. chicken broth
1/2 c. heavy cream
1 Tbsp. tomato paste

1 lb. large shrimp, peeled and deveined
2 Tbsp. olive oil, divided
2 tsp. smoked paprika
1/4-1/2 tsp. cayenne pepper (optional)
1/2 tsp. Sicilian Sea Salt (obviously, McCormick would like you to use theirs; I had hickory smoked sea salt on hand, so I used that)
1/2 tsp. freshly ground black pepper
2 green onions, thinly sliced

1. Heat 1 Tbsp. olive oil in a small skillet over medium heat. Add onion; cook and stir until softened, about 2-3 minutes. Add agave nectar or honey; cook and stir until onion starts to caramelize, about 1 minute.

2. Place onion mixture, roasted peppers, broth, cream, and tomato paste in blender or food processor. Puree until smooth.

3. Pour sauce into a medium saucepan. Bring to a boil over medium heat. Cook 10-12 minutes, stirring occasionally, until sauce is slightly thickened.

4. Meanwhile, toss shrimp with 1 Tbsp. olive oil. Sprinkle with paprika, cayenne, salt, and pepper, and mix up with your hands or a fork.

Although we use fresh shrimp on occasion, we typically use frozen because that's what we always keep on hand. North Dakota is the geographical center of North America. That means we're as far as you can get from a fresh seafood supply.

Toss THAT one out during a conversational lull at your next cocktail party, huh?

5. Heat 1 Tbsp. olive oil in a nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. Add shrimp. Cook and stir about 3 minutes, or until shrimp turn pink.

6. Sprinkle shrimp with green onion, and serve with sauce.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Spicy Chicken and Sausage Alfredo

Today is Mother's Day, and I'm lucky enough to have the best mom in the world. My mom is also my best friend. She's cute, smart, funny, and loyal -- everything you could want in a friend. But she also loves me unconditionally, offers me money on a regular basis, and will hopefully clip and paint my toenails now that I can barely reach them myself.

And if she actually read my blog, she'd be totally flattered right now.

Isn't she cute?

She's the one sandwiched in between me and my Aunt Gwynne. And I'm the only person in this photo who looks even remotely close to my own age. It's freaky.

My mom and I are a lot alike, except when it comes to food. For example, Mom isn't big on meat, cheese, sweets, oil, fatty foods, and spicy foods. If you've been following this blog, you know that I am certainly a fan of all those things. It's not that Mom is a frequent dieter, despite her tiny size. She eats a lot. She just eats a lot of only a few foods. (Like an entire watermelon in one sitting. Salted, including the seeds.) She loves grapes, Diet Coke, Slim Fast (for the taste), Cool Whip, popcorn, melons, squash, and butter (as a food, not a condiment).

And then there are the food combinations. Foods My Mom Eats could be its own blog. There are the crab legs in hot dog buns with ketchup and mustard, salad with cottage cheese topped with canned mushrooms and cold canned soup, and the Cool Whip sandwiches topped with hot coffee, just to name a few.

Yes, this is my culinary heritage. Needless to say, my mother rarely eats what I cook. When she comes to visit, she gets her own special meals, like a grilled chicken breast, some veggies, and a baked potato. With fruit and Cool Whip for dessert.

Alas, I won't be seeing Mom until next weekend, so I am making a non-Mom-approved dish for supper this evening. She might like this if I left out the sausage. And the pasta. And the sauce.

This is a modification of a Cuisine at Home recipe, which is a low-fat twist on pasta with Alfredo sauce. I made many changes, because while the hubby isn't a big fan of Alfredo, he does like spicier pasta dishes with cream sauces. The verdict? Not only did it look impressive ("This looks like something I'd order in a restaurant"), but the hubby really, really liked it, and suggested adding some shrimp in next time. (I like it when he says there will be a next time.) I think this earned a spot on our permanent recipe roster.

Note: I updated the instructions to include the shrimp. We've made this a bazillion times since, always with shrimp. It's a hit!

Spicy Chicken and Sausage Alfredo
Serves 6-8

8 oz. farfalle (bowtie) pasta
1 c. low-fat evaporated milk
1/2 c. shredded Parmesan cheese
2 egg yolks
Dash of cayenne pepper (optional)
Cooking spray
1 lb. boneless, skinless chicken breast, cut in short, thin slices
1/2 lb. shrimp, peeled and deveined (feel free to use frozen)

2-3 tsp. Cajun or Creole seasoning (I used Tony Chachere's)
1 tsp. olive oil
8 oz. sausage, sliced on the diagonal (use turkey kielbasa to keep this lower in fat; I used andouille for some extra kick)
1 c. sliced button mushrooms
1 onion, chopped
1 small or 1/2 large red bell pepper, chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
1/4 c. reserved pasta water
1 c. frozen peas (optional; the hubby hates peas, so we don't eat them)
2 green onions, thinly sliced

1. Cook pasta in salted water, according to package directions.

2. Whisk together evaporated milk, Parmesan, egg yolks, and cayenne pepper. Set aside.

3. Heat a saute pan over medium-high heat and spray with cooking spray. Sprinkle chicken and shrimp with Creole or Cajun seasoning and add to pan. Saute until chicken and shrimp are browned and fully cooked, about 4 minutes. (The shrimp might finish sooner; just remove that from the pan, first.)

4. Remove chicken from pan, and then add oil to pan.

5. Add sausage, mushrooms, onion, red pepper, and garlic. Cook until sausage starts to brown and veggies are crisp-tender, about 4 minutes.

6. Add 1/4 c. pasta water to pan and deglaze, scraping up any brown bits on the bottom. Cook until water is nearly evaporated.

7. Add chicken and shrimp, and peas, if using. Add sauce mixture, stirring until thickened, about 2-3 minutes.

8. Drain pasta and add to pan, tossing to combine and coat. Sprinkle with scallions before serving.

I love how random pictures appear on my camera. This is Babe. The hubby won him for me in the claw machine at the movie theater yesterday. Apparently Babe likes the pasta, too.

A few random Sunday notes

And yes, these are very random.
  • Due to popular demand (one request), I added a "low-fat" tag for my recipes that are lighter. I mention this only because I apologize if this messed up your RSS feeds. I'll try not to do it again.
  • The hubby recommends: Norman's Prime Steaks & Seafood. We went here for our anniversary, and the hubby had the best steak of his life (even better than what he ate in Chicago). Also, the staff wrote "Happy Anniversary" in hot fudge on our cheesecake plate.
  • The hubby recommends even more: Kobe's, at the old Mandarin location. (And thanks to Sarah K. for the heads-up on this opening.) We've eaten there twice in the past week, and I think the hubby wants to move in. The ingredients are exceptionally fresh, the sushi was right up there with anything the hubby has had, and the plating is gorgeous. Seriously. The hubby's plate of peppered tuna had a fiber optic light under the bean sprouts.
  • See Star Trek, even if you're not a Trekkie. Especially if you're not a Trekkie. ESPECIALLY if you're not a Trekkie, but you're married to one. Even if you're narcoleptic and pregnant and your Trekkie spouse wants to go see it at 10 p.m. on opening night, which is also a school night. You won't regret it.
  • Our basement is now water-free. We were on water restrictions for most of last week because we had an unknown leak. That meant no dishwasher. Which meant no cooking. (Someone mentioned "washing dishes by hand." I don't understand.)

That is all. Live long and prosper.

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Oatmeal Scotchie Cookies

My dad is a very busy guy. He is the advisor of Northern Lights Youth Services, which operates the state chapter of SADD, among other things, and they're always in need of additional fund-raising. One annual event that they put on is a community steak and chicken feed.

A few years ago, my dad booked Outback Steakhouse to cook a charity dinner, where the organization would receive a certain percentage of each ticket sale. But a few days beforehand, Outback canceled. Dad's group had already sold hundreds of tickets and had no way of contacting everyone, so Dad got to work.

He bought steaks and chicken breasts through a local food distributorship, bought potatoes from a local farmer, and purchased some sides and cookies to go with. The hubby, my brother Cory, and I grilled all afternoon. It was a lovely, humid, 85-degree day, and we were standing in the sun in front of a few gas grills and a HUGE charcoal grill. (That day will live in infamy as The Day the Hubby Lost His Arm Hair.) The food ended up being better than Outback's food, with a much higher profit margin for the organization.

So we do this every year now, although we're a bit more organized. The hubby, Cory, and other volunteers grill steaks, chicken, and burgers for the kiddies. We have a covered veranda, and we use only gas grills (easier to control, less loss of arm hair).

I am also on grill duty this year, because Cory's in Iceland. (On a side note, we hope he's still alive. He let us know a week ago that he arrived safely, after a 25-hour delay in JFK, and we haven't heard from him since. I baby-sat this kid nearly every day for 10 years. I taught him to read and write. I went to all his baseball games and spent my precious money on bottle after bottle of blue PowerAid. And this is how he repays me???)

Not that I worry.

Anyway, the steak and chicken feed becomes kind of an extended-family affair. My dad oversees everything. My mom and her friends Sandy and Virginia prepare the food on the buffet table and keep everything stocked. Sandy's sister bakes the potatoes, and a few parents help man the kitchen and the ticket table.

Smoke inhalation and cleanup aside, it's a rather fun way to spend the day.

Instead of buying cookies this year, Mom and Dad decided on homemade. Mom and Virginia called dibs on anything with chocolate (how mean), so I was asked to make several dozen cookies that contain no chocolate or nuts. And that might appeal to more of an old-fashioned crowd.

So I'm making some snickerdoodles, and I was going to make just some plain oatmeal cookies (the hubby won't allow a raisin in our home). But I thought I could make things a bit more interesting by adding some butterscotch and toffee. You know me, always thinkin'. I think it worked.

Oatmeal Scotchie Cookies
Makes 3 dozen

1 c. butter-flavored shortening
1½ c. brown sugar
1 tsp. vanilla extract
2 eggs
1 tsp. salt
1 tsp. baking soda
1½ c. flour
2 c. quick-cooking oatmeal
1 c. butterscotch chips

1/2 c. almond toffee bits

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

2. Using a mixer, beat together shortening and sugar until smooth. Add vanilla and eggs and mix well.

3. Add salt, baking soda, and flour, and mix until combined. Add oats and mix thoroughly.

4. Stir in chips and toffee bits.

5. Take heaping tablespoons of dough and form them into flattened balls. Place on a cookie sheet.

6. Bake 10-12 minutes. Cool on pan for about 2-3 minutes, and then move to a cooling rack.

Monday, May 4, 2009

Italian Tortellini Soup

I had a meeting over my lunch hour today, and it ran longer than scheduled. I'm one of those low-blood-sugar types who have to eat every few hours or bad things happen. So I waited too long to eat lunch, and then ended up with a headache I couldn't recover from.

My personality also couldn't recover. Anyone who knows me know that when Alyssa's hungry, ain't nobody gonna be happy.

What's that? Why yes, I AM an editor. Why do you ask? (I writeth as I speaketh. But not at worketh.)

Anyway, I attempted to play through the pain this afternoon, but it wasn't working. So I went home, had some juice and crackers, and slept until the hubby came home. And woke up feeling like a new woman. And a nice one, too.

And a hungry one, although I wanted something a bit lighter, and something quick that would require minimal effort. Because I had big plans for the evening: watching baseball, and attempting to figure out the source of the mystery water in our basement.

So I raided the pantry and the freezer to come up with this soup, which hit the spot perfectly. And now I'm ready for another nap.

Italian Tortellini Soup
Serves 4-6

1 lb. lean ground beef or Italian sausage
Salt, pepper, garlic salt, and onion salt
1 14.5-ounce can diced tomatoes with basil, garlic, and oregano
4 c. beef broth
1 tsp. Italian seasoning
2 c. fresh, frozen, or dried cheese tortellini
Additional salt and pepper, to taste

1. Heat a pot over medium-high heat. Brown hamburger, seasoning with salt, pepper, garlic salt, and onion salt.

2. Add tomatoes, broth, and Italian seasoning. Bring to a boil and cook 5 minutes.

3. Lower heat to medium and add tortellini. Cook until tortellini are cooked through, about 7 minutes.

Sunday, May 3, 2009

Dave's Feta Burgers

Spring has finally arrived on the prairie. My rhubarb is growing (yay!). And so is our lawn. Because we get more snow in our yard than anyone else on the block, we had a tall field of prairie grass by the time the snow melted and dried up. So the hubby and I spent some time this weekend cleaning up the yard, mowing, and dragging out some patio furniture.

And then, the hubby broke out the Weber grill and invited my sisters-in-law and brother-in-law for supper. Because we were rushing off to a movie right afterward, we wanted to serve something simple but yummy. And the hubby has been craving feta burgers all winter.

We got this recipe from our pal Dave, and it's something that he and his and wife Sarah served us last year. The hubby absolutely loved them. This is Dave's modified version of an Atkin's recipe -- although we eat them 'cause they're yummy, not because we're low-carb types. Obviously.

Dave's Feta Burgers
Serves 3-4

1 lb. 85% lean ground beef
1 green onion, chopped
1/2 c. chopped fresh spinach
1/4 c. chopped tomato
1 4-oz carton tomato and basil feta crumbles
1/2 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. pepper

1. Combine all ingredients in a large bowl, and form 3 or 4 patties (depending on how big you like your burgers).

And a tip, which I first learned from Dave: always leave a little hole in the middle of your patties. That will fill in as the burgers cook, but the burgers won't become peaked in the middle.

2. Grill over medium heat to desired doneness.

3. Attempt to get a picture in the melee that ensues when we're all trying to eat and rush off.

4. Try to catch the hubby mid-bite.

5. Give up and go to the movie.

Baked Beans (for People Who Don't Like Baked Beans)

I grew up in an anti-vegetable family, and baked beans were about the sole exception. We had them at almost every meal (except when we had pizza, so about half the time), and they continue to make an appearance at every family event on my dad's side. My dad LOVES baked beans. If he were stranded on a desert island with only five foods to eat for the rest of his life, I think he'd choose baked beans, ham, Barrel o' Fun barbecue chips, M&Ms, and ... maybe gravy.

So whether it's just a matter of taste or overexposure, I'm not really a fan of baked beans. I find them too sweet and I don't care for the texture. But at cousin's wedding several years ago, my aunt made some that were fantastic. They actually tasted like Dad's barbecue with baked beans mixed in -- not too sweet, and the texture was more cooked down. So I began experimenting, and I came up with this mixture that starts with canned baked beans, and tastes like a good side dish at a BBQ joint.

I've made these dozens of times since then, and they always get rave reviews, even from people who don't like baked beans (including me). They've been a hit at potlucks. I bring them to reunions. My father-in-law once made sandwiches with the leftovers. People really, really like them.

One of the ingredients I use in these is Watkins concentrated BBQ sauce. (I love Watkins. This is the BBQ sauce I grew up with, and I have a Pavlovian craving for it every time I see a Weber grill. They also make my vanilla extract and my furniture polish. Justs FYI.) Because the flavor of BBQ sauces can vary so much, you might need to decrease the amount of ketchup and liquid smoke accordingly. Mine is a very tangy, concentrated sauce that is intended to be mixed with ketchup, so I tend to use more of it.

The key is to taste as you go along, until you get to the point where you think, "Yum." If it's still too sweet, add more BBQ sauce, or even a dash of vinegar. If it's too BBQ-ish, add some more ketchup, and maybe a pinch of brown sugar.

As luck would have it, my parents stopped by unexpectedly late in the afternoon, while we were just finishing our supper preparations. So Dad was just in time for charcoal-grilled burgers and baked beans, which he ate while watching the Tigers win on TV.

Baked Beans
Serves 12

1 lb. lean ground beef
Salt and pepper
1/3 c. water
1/2 to 1 c. ketchup, to taste
1 tsp. mustard
2 28-oz cans baked beans (I prefer Bush's Best Homestyle)
1/2 to 2/3 c. BBQ sauce, to taste
1 to 1 1/2 tsp. hickory liquid smoke

1. Heat a pot over medium-high heat and add ground beef, seasoning with salt and pepper. Cook until brown.

2. Reduce heat to medium-low. Add water, ketchup and mustard, and mix until combined.

3. Add remaining ingredients, starting with the lower quantities and adding more to taste.

4. Increase heat to medium, and cook, uncovered, about 10 minutes. Reduce heat to simmer and continue cooking, uncovered, about 1 hour (or so), stirring and tasting frequently.

It's also a good idea to sit in front of the stove and sniff frequently, hoping some baked beans will fall from the sky.

5. When the beans have cooked down and thickened, serve.