Monday, October 25, 2010

Why Have I Waited This Long????

To make penne a la vodka, that is. I love this dish and order it frequently when I dine out. If I had known how quick and easy it is to make at home I would be eating it a hell of a lot more often. Maybe it's good that I waited so long because it's pretty calorie laden and I can eat a whole lot of it, LOL! What motivated me to make this was an error in my grocery delivery. My favorite market isn't all that close and lately they have been giving me free delivery so I have been totally taking advantage of that luxury! When I got my delivery this week there was a bag of stuff that wasn't mine. I immediately told the delivery person upon discovery, and quite frankly, she couldn't have given a rats ass. She had me sign my paperwork and took off sans bag. OK. Inside the magic bag of free goodies was a bunch or organic herbs and greens! WOO HOO! There was also two very thickly sliced pieces of prosciutto. I mean THICK! The only thing I could think to use them for was penne a la vodka and since I just happen to have some vodka in the house and some cream, there was no holding me back. Here is what I did.

First I got the pasta cooking in some salted boiling water.

To make the sauce, I chopped some onion and garlic finely using my little food processor and sauteed that in a saucepan with some olive oil. I trimmed and chopped the prosciutto and added that to the pot and kept it all moving until the onions were translucent. Then I added about a 1/4 Cup vodka and let that simmer a bit before adding a can of diced fire roasted tomatoes. I had a few garden tomatoes on the counter that were starting to get funky so I cut off the icky parts, gave them a quick dice and threw them into the pot too. To this I added a ladle full of the pasta water and let it simmer for a bit before hitting it with my immersion blender to smooth it out a bit. After that I added a little Parmesan cheese, basil and oregano and then the cream. I turned the heat off shortly after adding the cream. At this point the pasta was done so I drained it and returned it to the pot and poured the vodka sauce over it. A quick toss to combine and husband and I had ourselves one heck of a dinner!

0 to Dinner in Three Hours!

I know that doesn't sound all that impressive but I thought it was. The menu consisted of the following:

Fried Chicken (boneless breast)
Baked macaroni and cheese
Green bean casserole
glazed carrots

The bulk of the work definitely was the chicken and macaroni and cheese. The green bean casserole was the standard recipe on the side of the fried onion container and the carrots were cooked in butter and then sweetened with brown sugar. Easy Peasy.

For the macaroni and cheese, I adapted my recipe from Delilah's 7 cheese version. I shredded, using my handy food processor, velveeta, mozzarella, fontina, cheddar, smoked gouda (secret ingredient) and asiago cheeses, in whatever proportions looked ok based on what I had on hand. It was a LOT of freaking cheese, trust me on this. I debated adding pepper jack but opted not to this time around. To this I added a mixture of 5 beaten eggs, 2 sticks melted butter and a mixture of heavy cream and 1/2 and 1/2 that probably measured in around 4 Cups. Yeah, this ain't health food folks! Every thing was mixed into a HUGE bowl along with 2 pounds cooked pasta and some salt and pepper until all components were incorporated evenly. I put this in a baking pan and cooked it at 350 for about an hour. I topped it with crushed cheez-its crackers during the last few minutes of baking. I chose to use a disposable pan for this because I only have one oven rack and the pan had to be small enough to share oven space with the green bean casserole but deep enough to hold all that macaroni. It turned out to be a really smart move because it made clean up a hell of a lot easier! BONUS!

For the fried chicken I prepped the chicken breasts the night before and soaked them overnight in buttermilk. When it came time to bread them I seasoned a mixture of cornstarch and flour with salt, pepper, paprika, garlic powder, celery salt, basil, thyme and oregano. Each chicken piece was dipped in beaten egg, dredged in the seasoned flour and set on a rack to "get gummy" before cooking. Once the rack was full I heated the vegetable oil and deep fried the pieces, returning them to the rack to drain when done. (yes I washed the rack to prevent cross contamination). The resulting chicken was delicious! And as a feather in my cap, I managed to get it all done and on the table in about three hours without completely trashing my kitchen! YAY! With DH helping me, clean up was a snap and we got to spend some time afterwards with our dinner guests. Perfect!

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Now I Know Why!

Ladies and gentlemen, I learned something this week! I now know why stuffed cherry peppers are so damn expensive. It has a little to do with the fact that good provolone cheese and prosciutto ain't cheap but more to do with the fact that they are a TOTAL pain in the ass to make. The worst part - coring and seeding. Making these things seemed like a great idea until I had been coring and seeding little tiny peppers for an hour and a half! WTF! But I'll be damned if I don't finish what I start so I pressed on until they were all done.

Once all the peppers were cored and seeded they were quickly rinsed and allowed to drain before going into a plastic bucket of white vinegar. I weighted them down with a plate to ensure they stayed completely covered. The peppers soaked in the vinegar for 24 hours. After the soaking I rinsed them again and allowed them to drain. Then I got a nice block of sharp provolone and cut cubes to fit inside each pepper. Each cheese cube was wrapped with a piece of prosciutto before being shoved into the hollowed out pepper. I used the back of a spoon to tuck in any pieces of prosciutto that were being "resistant", LOL! I ended up with about two and a half quarts of peppers! Once all were stuffed they went into containers and I poured Olive oil over them to cover. Husband was very happy to see these when he got home. So happy in fact that he took them all! It's okay though, I really had made them for him anyway.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Fall Dinner

It was a late dinner on account of Husband having a meeting after work and his daughter having class but it was delicious nonetheless and fairly easy to prepare. Last night I made a simple roast stuffed pork loin with roasted carrots and potatoes. I served it with the summer squash casserole I talked about in a previous post. The dishes went together beautifully and allowed for enough short cuts with the use of prepared ingredients that I wasn't completely wiped out making it after a long day at work. First I butterflied a 2-3 pound pork loin. To make extra room for stuffing I used a "V" shaped cut so I could open the loin kind of like a tri-fold pamphlet. I hope that makes sense. I opened the loin up and laid it flat and spread the inside with a generic boxed pork stuffing that I had prepared and added some shredded carrots to. I though about adding some chopped sauteed apples but then decided that was too much work. LOL! Once the stuffing was spread on the loin, I rolled it up jelly-roll style and tied it up with some twine and put it in an oiled roasting pan. Then I rubbed the loin with some oil, salt, garlic powder and rosemary. Then I surrounded the loin with some cubed carrots and red potatoes that I had tossed in the same oil, salt, garlic and rosemary mixture. I baked the whole thing at 350 for about an hour and let it rest another 20 minutes or so before cutting into it. It was delicious!

Thursday, October 7, 2010


I DID IT! I baked bread and it wasn't a total disaster! I started off a little shaky but managed to save my efforts and turn out some pretty darn tasty bread. Woo Hoo! I used the recipe below (Tomato, Basil, & Garlic Filled Pane Bianco) - with a few modifications (some voluntary and some not). I tried to make the recipe in my bread machine initially but then discovered it was more than my little machine could handle, LOL! By the time the kneading process had ended only half the ingredients were mixed. OH CRAP! So, out came the trusty Kitchenaid. The greatest invention EVER! I quickly dumped my half-mixed bread into the bowl, slapped on the bread hook and got back on track. To make matters worse the recipe called for 4 tsp yeast. I had three of those little paper packages of yeast in the cupboard and thought it would be plenty. Then I read the packet - 1/4 tsp in each. DOUBLE CRAP! But then I thought 4 tsp sure did sound like an awful lot of yeast. 1 packet has always been enough yeast for every other bread disaster I have had (LOL). I said, "screw it", and dumped all three in. After about 5 minutes of kneading in the kitchenaid, I turned the dough out. It seemed kind of lumpy but I followed the directions and oiled it, covered it, and put it in a warm place to rise. Rise it did! Beautifully! I formed half into the shape the recipe called for. I filled it with Parmesan,basil and oregano. I had too much going on to pat dry sun-dried tomatoes. Maybe next time. The other half I rolled out onto an oiled pizza pan so that I could make pizza strips like you get in Rhode Island. I let both rise again for about 40 minutes. Then I took the pizza batch and spread it with sauce, sprinkled it with Parmesan and baked it at 350 for a good half hour. When that was done, in went the fancy loaf. Both came out great! Husband, being a Rhode Island native, loved the pizza strips so much I think he fell in love with me all over again! LOL! They really were delicious. They tasted just like the ones you get from Palmieri's! I can't wait to make them again. Oh, and the other loaf tasted good too. LOL! I plan to experiment with fillings in the near future.

ri pizza strips Pictures, Images and Photos

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Scratch that Itch....Maybe????

It's been weeks since I posted that I had the urge to bake something and that urge has yet to be fulfilled. Sigh. I am the first to admit that I am one terrible baker. I lack the patience and finesse required to be a truly good baker. I like to think I make up for it in enthusiasm. I really WANT to be good at it. So today, if I can get home from work early enough, I am going to attempt to make this bread that has been rolling around in my head ever since I first learned of it's existence. Those people over at King Arthur Flour are evil geniuses! LOL!

Tomato, Basil, & Garlic Filled Pane Bianco

The winning recipe from the first-ever National Festival of Breads, this white bread filled with fresh basil, sun-dried tomatoes, garlic powder, and shredded cheese has a wonderful soft texture and is packed with flavor. The unique shape is simple to achieve and makes an impressive presentation. Congratulations and thanks to Dianna Wara of Washington, Illinois, for creating this recipe — it's a winner, for sure!

1/2 cup warm water
1/4 cup sugar
4 teaspoons instant yeast
1 cup warm low-fat milk
1/3 cup extra-virgin olive oil
2 large eggs
2 teaspoons salt
6 cups King Arthur Unbleached Bread Flour
1 (8 1/2-ounce) jar oil-packed sun-dried tomatoes
3/4 teaspoon granulated garlic or garlic powder
1 1/2 cups shredded Italian blend cheese, divided
2/3 cup chopped fresh basil

1) Combine the water, sugar, yeast, milk, olive oil, eggs, salt, and flour, and mix and knead - by hand, stand mixer, or bread machine - until you've made a cohesive, soft dough. If you're kneading in a stand mixer, it should take 5 to 7 minutes at second speed, and the dough should barely clean the sides of the bowl, perhaps sticking a bit at the bottom. In a bread machine (or by hand), it should form a smooth ball. Place the dough in a greased bowl, and turn to grease the top. Cover and let rise in a warm place until double, about 45 minutes.

2) Meanwhile, thoroughly drain the sun-dried tomatoes; lay them on a paper towel to absorb any excess oil. Using kitchen shears, finely chop the tomatoes.

3) Line two baking sheets with parchment. Gently deflate the dough and divide it in half. Roll one piece into a 22" x 8 1/2" rectangle. Sprinkle on half the garlic, cheese, basil, and tomatoes.

4) Starting with one long edge, roll the dough into a log the long way. Pinch the edges to seal.

5) Place the log seam-side down on a baking sheet. Using kitchen shears, start 1/2" from one end and cut the log lengthwise down the center about 1" deep, to within 1/2" of the other end.

6) Keeping the cut side up, form an "S" shape. Tuck both ends under the center of the "S" to form a "figure 8"; pinch the ends together to seal. Cover and let rise in a warm place until double, 45 to 60 minutes. Repeat with the remaining dough.

7) While the loaves are rising, preheat the oven to 350°F.

8) Bake the first loaf for 35 to 40 minutes. Tent the loaf with foil after 15 to 20 minutes to prevent over-browning. Bake the remaining loaf.

9) Remove loaves from their pans; cool on racks. Store any leftovers well-wrapped, at room temperature.

Yield: 2 loaves.

DOES THAT NOT LOOK AND SOUND DIVINE! I hope mine comes out well. Good thing there are step-by-step pictorial instructions on the KA website for me to follow. Fingers crossed everyone! It should go wonderfully with the petite fillets we will be grilling for dinner and I think my DH will enjoy coming home to the smell of freshly baked bread. I know I would!

Monday, October 4, 2010

Summer is OVER!

Yes, and in a big way, too! Ever since October started the days have been damp and dreary and downright depressing! The only positive note in this sad song is it's got me in the mood to make soups and stews. I am in such a mood to make soup, however, I am having a hard time deciding what kind to make! They all sound so good! My poor husband is sick with that nasty stuff I had last week so chicken noodle is definately an option. I even have leftover cutlets in the fridge that I could use. But some tomato soup with mini ravioli in it also sounds enticing. Then there is my favorite autumn sausage stew that I make with cabbage and apple juice in it. RECIPE OVERLOAD! Since we had already planned on cheesesteak sandwiches for dinner I think I am going to go with a simple tomato basil soup to go with it. I am still pretty worn out from the weekend AND the addition of a 12 week old puppy in my life. Best to keep things simple.

Basic Tomato Soup

1 tablespoon butter
1 medium onion, thinly sliced
3 cloves garlic, pressed
2 big cans tomatoes - fire roasted if possible
1 dash celery seed
2/3 cup cream
handful of fresh basil, chopped
1t or so fresh oregano, chopped
S & P to taste

Heat the butter in a large saucepan and sauté the onion and garlic 5 minutes, or until translucent. Add the tomatoes, cream and seasonings. Bring to a boil, then turn down to a simmer for 15 minutes. Add vegetable broth, tomato juice or water if mixture seems too thick. Remove from the heat and puree in batches in a blender. Return the soup to the pot and reheat to a simmer, seasoning to taste with more salt and pepper. Serve with seasoned croutons and/or grated cheese (Parmesan, mozzarella, provolone) or a nice grilled cheese sandwich.