Friday, February 25, 2011

Jack's Minestrone

This is Jack.

Light of my life, apple of my eye, the reason why I rarely get to cook on weeknights. Jack's a good eater, and he's also our resident flexitarian. He adores beans, veggies, and pasta; most meat or poultry receives a lukewarm reception, at best, and is usually outright ignored. (The exception? Duh, bacon.)

This is another soup recipe that combines some of Jack's favorite foods, and that's easy for us to reheat for him a few times during the week. I threw in some ground beef, because I am not a flexitarian, and I wanted soup, too. But I might just take a page from Jack's book (no pun intended) and leave out the ground beef next time. The soup is pretty hearty without it, and the broth is oh so tasty.

Jack's Minestrone
Serves 6

1 tsp. vegetable or canola oil
3/4 lb. ground beef (optional)
2 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 medium onion, finely chopped
2 medium potatoes, peeled and chopped
1 small zucchini, peeled and chopped
1 large carrot, peeled and chopped
Salt and pepper
2 tsp. Italian seasoning
1 bay leaf
15 oz. tomato sauce
32 oz. chicken broth
2 cans small white beans, drained
Additional salt and pepper, to taste
Cooked pasta

1. Heat oil in a medium pot over medium-high heat. Add hamburger, garlic, and onion, and cook until brown.

2. Add the veggies, a sprinkle of salt and pepper, and the Italian seasoning and bay leaf. Cook about 2-3 minutes, or until veggies start to sweat.

3. Add tomato sauce and broth, and stir. Bring soup to a boil. Cover, reduce heat, and simmer about 15 minutes, or until the veggies are tender.

4. Meanwhile, cook pasta according to package directions. You can use any size or shape. Smaller pasta, such as ditalini, is probably more traditional, but I use rotini or even cheese tortellini so it's easier for the little man to eat.

When making soups that include pasta, I usually prefer to cook the pasta separately and add it to the soup later, so the pasta doesn't absorb all the broth from the soup. (It's even more important to store them separately if you have leftovers, or you'll end up with some sort of mushy casserole concoction.)

5. Add beans to soup and heat through. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Add pasta to individual servings.

Monday, February 7, 2011

Italian Ham Bites

The hubby is morally opposed to the concept of Super Bowl parties -- something about wanting to watch the game, yadda, yadda -- but we did have my brother and the hubby's sister over for supper and to watch the big game. (Because they actually watch the big game.)

I used to make these lovely little appetizers/snacks quite frequently, way back when the hubby and I used to entertain on a regular basis. I would spend weeks preparing menus of perfectly matched appetizers, entrees, sides, and desserts.

But man, I've lost my touch. Our food theme this year was obviously something along the lines of "Things that taste good and hopefully provide some leftovers for the week." We had some Mexican. Some Cajun. And these adorable (and low-fat!) little Italian nibbles.

This is an adaptation of a Betty Crocker recipe, and aside from the taste (and the low-fat-ness!), the best thing about these is that you can easily make them ahead of time. In fact, these little guys need to sit in the fridge for at least a few hours before you slice 'em.

You can use any kind of deli meat with these, and I've tried several varieties, but the ham is still my favorite. Black Forest, if you've got it.

Italian Ham Bites
Makes 25 appetizers

5 slices deli ham
3 Tbsp. flavored, reduced-fat spreadable cheese
Fresh basil leaves
5 strips roasted red pepper, patted dry
5 pieces string cheese

1. Place ham on a work surface and pat dry.

Patting the ingredients dry is a common theme here. If your ham has too much moisture, the spreadable cheese won't stick. And if the ham and peppers have too much moisture, everything will be kind of soggy and slimy. We here at Angel in the Kitchen are not fans of soggy and slimy food.

2. If necessary, trim ham to be the same width as the string cheese, and about 4 or so inches high.

You don't want the bites from the ends of the rolls to have no string cheese, and you also don't want everything to be too hammy. We here at Angel in the Kitchen are not fans of too hammy.

3. Spread ham with 1 1/2 to 2 tsp. spreadable cheese.

I sometimes use flavored cream cheese, like garden herb. This time I used a few wedges of Laughing Cow garlic and herb cheese.

We here at Angel in the Kitchen are fans of Laughing Cow. And laughing cows. Okay, I'll stop.

4. Add a few basil leaves, or one ginormous basil leaf. Place a row of pepper strips across the bottom edge of the ham, and place a piece of string cheese above the peppers. Like so.

5. Starting at the bottom, roll everything up securely.

6. Repeat these steps for each roll.

I obviously made more than 5 rolls. Just making sure you're paying attention.

7. Wrap rolls in plastic wrap and refrigerate at least 2 hours or overnight.

8. Unwrap rolls and place seam side down. Cut each roll into 5 pieces. Pierce with toothpicks if you want to be all fancy-pants. (These were for me, and I don't need no stinkin' toothpicks.)

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Monster Cookie Bars

I got this recipe courtesy of my friend Tashia, who was one of those incredibly awesome people you could only meet in college. She also has excellent taste in food, so when she recommends something, I'm always interested. (According to Tashia, she didn't create this recipe, but found it elsewhere on the interweb. So to the creator, thank you.)

Monster cookies are among my favorites, and I've tried a few other bar cookie versions, but they've always ended up too cakey. These bars are thinner and don't have any flour, so they end up tasting exactly like a monster cookie should -- peanut buttery and full of chocolate and chewy oats. But without the hassle of shaping and baking individual cookies.

Also, these bars are very versatile. I mean, if a recipe calls for 4 1/2 cups of oatmeal, that counts as breakfast, right? Right.

Monster Cookie Bars
Makes about 2 1/2 dozen

1/2 c. butter, softened
1 c. sugar
1 c. brown sugar
3 eggs
1 1/2 c. creamy peanut butter
1 tsp. vanilla
2 tsp. baking soda
1/2 tsp. salt
4 1/2 c. oats (Tashia used half quick and half regular, so that's what I did, too)
1 c. M&Ms
3/4-1 c. chocolate chips

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease a jelly roll pan or spray it with cooking spray.

2. In a large bowl, cream together butter and sugars. Stir in eggs, peanut butter, vanilla, baking soda, and salt, until well blended. Stir in oats, M&Ms, and chocolate chips.

3. Using your hands, press batter evenly into pan.

4. Bake about 20 minutes, or until golden. Let cool a bit before cutting into squares.