Sunday, January 31, 2010

Tortellini & Spinach Pasta Lasagna - Basic, Simple Comfort Food for my Big Boy

I have a son who just turned 21 years old.  He's living on his own, since last September, sharing a very small apartment with a friend.  While I miss his presence at home, my son  was ready to leave the nest.  Come to think of it, I was 18 years old when I moved away from home, and I never looked back!  It's the best of both worlds, really.  Brian comes to visit, fairly often.  He always goes home with care packages-- cakes and cookies I've baked (and I don't need sitting around for me to indulge in), homemade soups (I make enough to feed an army) and a share of the Costco booty that I stock up on-- I mean, who needs twin packs of ketchup?  My son has quickly learned that eating fast food at drive-thru places is very expensive.  Much to my relief, Brian is learning how to cook-- and he is loving it!  He calls, often, asking me how to make one of his favorite dishes. This is one that I created on a whim.  So, I got to thinking-- I'm going to print a book of recipes that I think should be pretty easy for him to make!  This recipe is one of them.  I made this dish a couple of months ago, but never uploaded it. This is such a simple dish to make, and odds are, you've probably made this yourself!  For you, Brian, I am sharing how to make this-- and the cookbook will happen very soon!

Preheat the oven to 350F. You need one package of tortellini or ravioli.  I am using four-cheese, but choose what you like.  You need a package of fresh spinach-- you don't need baby spinach (a little more expensive and best for salads).  At Costco, the total cost of these ingredients are about $6.00.  Start a pot of water boiling, and be sure to season the water with lots of kosher salt; when the water boils, cook the pasta according to package directions-- yes, I've cooked frozen pasta without any problems.  In the meantime, heat a little olive oil and a couple of large cloves of garlic on LOW heat.  We want to infuse the flavor of the garlic into the oil, but we don't want to burn the garlic.  (Yes, you can thaw a package of frozen spinach, but you fresh is easy to work with and not that much more expensive).  Wait about 5 minutes, or so, and then add the whole package of spinach-- it looks like a lot, but it will wilt down to a fraction of what you put into the pan. Cook it on medium heat, and move the spinach around, a bit, with tongs-- until it's all wilted and limp.

 There ya go!  I toss the garlic, but go ahead and eat it if you want to.
You need marinara sauce.  This is my own quick version that I make will be posted at the bottom. Otherwise, I buy canned marinara sauce carefully. Trader Joe's makes a Tuscan brand that I like a lot-- including the ingredients. Otherwise, use a bottle of spaghetti sauce (crinkles nose at the thought of it).

Drain the pasta in a colander; I love my "spider" gadget. Either way works.  Start with a layer of marinara, then a layer of cooked pasta.  Add a layer of spinach.  You can add cheese, at this point-- mozzarella is good. I didn't this time, only because I had just enough cheese for the top.  You can repeat the process, depending on the size of your dish or how much pasta and sauce you have. Finish the top layer with cheese and bake for about 20 minutes or so.  You can everything bubbly and the cheese to be all melted.

This is not about perfection.  I used a blend of Cheddar, Jack & Mozzarella, because it's what I had. Let this sit a minute or two...

See? The sauce is a little runny. I probably didn't drain the pasta completely, or the spinach has a lot of moisture in it.  It doesn't matter, because it tastes good.

Dig in!

Now, doesn't that taste better than fast food in a paper bag that was handed to you from a drive-thru window?  Of course it does!  We made this together and you loved it-- and it cost about $2.00 a serving. 

Thank you all, for watching me teach my son how to make fast food, at home.  Brian and I made another  version of this dish, where we cooked cremini mushrooms in a little butter, garlic and a splash of white wine. We added a layer of mushrooms and spinach and it made a lot of food!   Over the next few weeks, I'm going to post what might appears as super simple meals-- and hopefully recipes without processed foods.  I've already posted Sloppy Joe's, which both of my boys love.  That's an easy meal to make, and a whole lot better than the canned stuff. This is Mama Love for my boy-- and anyone else who is just starting to learn how to cook.  I honestly believe that it is much cheaper to cook at home, and definitely a whole lot healthier.  The real bonus is if you get hooked on cooking and baking-- which is exactly why we food bloggers spend hours doing this, every single week!

Love, Mom
aka to my Foodie Friends,

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Saturday, January 30, 2010

Shredded Pork Taquitos -- Perfect for Super Bowl Sunday

While creating my new recipe index, I discovered my earliest recipe posts from a year ago.  I was horrified at how unappetizing the photos of this recipe were!   I deleted the original post and went to work recreating the recipe.  In a way, I'm glad that I decided to take new photographs of these taquitos, because they are really good.  The first time that I made this recipe, I used a Dutch oven.  I roasted my own poblano peppers to flavor the braising liquid.  This time, I decided to use my pressure cooker and I took one more shortcut.  I began with a hefty 3 pound pork shoulder butt roast. At $1.49 a pound, it cost less than $5.00.

Let's begin: Season the pork roast with kosher salt & fresh cracked pepper.  I make my own blend of Mexican Seasoning that has garlic powder, chili powder, oregano and cumin.  I rub a generous palm full of the rub mix and pat it onto the roast. 

Searing the meat before braising in a Dutch Oven, Slow Cooker or a Pressure Cooker is a step I don't like to skip. I think it adds a lot more flavor to the braising liquid-- and I like the crust it leaves.  Sear each side of the pork, with enough olive oil to coat the pan for about 5 minutes per side.  A splatter shield helps to reduce the mess.

20 minutes later it's time to braise the meat. 
I decided to use my electric digital pressure cooker, instead of the oven or a slow cooker.  The day was getting late, and I wanted to see if I liked the results.  Remove the pork and set it into your choice of cooking vessel.  I added 2 cups of chicken stock-- later wishing I had remembered to deglaze the pan with the chicken stock to grab all those bits of flavor. D'oh! 

On a whim, I took a shortcut.  I had forgotten about a bottle of Salsa Verde I had purchased at Trader Joe's. I poured that all over the pork roast, then added chopped onion and a couple large cloves of fresh garlic along the side.  You don't have to do this, of course. I've even fire roasted  poblano peppers for flavor, or you can buy them canned.  The idea is to flavor the braising liquid...

Ready to be braised... in an oven, it takes about 4 hours at 275F.  In a slow cooker, I'd set mine for 6-8 hours.  But, in a pressure cooker, I set it for 45 minutes! Yep, that's right! See why I love my pressure cooker?

It worked!  The meat was cooked, and I saved the braising liquid.  I strained it, and froze it and I'll think of a way to use it-- probably to flavor some rice.

With two forks, the pork shredded pretty easily.  I'll be honest with you-- I think slow cooking it would have made this meat even more tender.  But, when pressed for time, that's when pressure cookers will save the day!

That's a lot of pork, for two people!  I froze half of it, and cubed a few chunks for a Thai-Style Pineapple & Pork Fried Rice (I have yet to post).   It's taquito time!

Cotija cheese is my favorite choice for Mexican food.  Otherwise, Monterey Jack is my second choice.

The cheese has a "drier" texture, when grated. 

This might sound weird, but I quickly wet a short stack of corn tortillas, and shake off the excess water. I wrap them in a paper towel and microwave them for about 30-45 seconds.  The idea is to soften them, otherwise the tortillas tend to break apart when rolling them.  Or, you could cover them with plastic wrap (dry) and steam them in the microwave.  Whatever floats your boat...

This is how much pork I put in each tortilla.  You could add cheese, too. I prefer to garnish mine with cheese. I made about 2 dozen taquitos, and decided to cook only 1 dozen. The remainder were covered with plastic wrap and stored in the fridge.

I didn't use nearly as much oil, as you might think.  In fact, I used just enough olive oil to coat a nonstick skillet.  Starting seam side down, cook until golden brown (medium-high heat)-- 2-3 minutes. Then turn over and repeat.  Or you could take my friend, Frieda's suggestion and make a bunch of these taquitos, and roll them into a baking pan. Spray a little oil on top, bake at 375┬║for 15 min. or until crispy -or- put them in a baking pan, spray with oil, then FREEZE. When frozen, put in a freezer Ziploc bag. Then pull out as many as you need and bake.

For garnishes, I used sour cream (with lime juice and chopped cilantro stirred into it), salsa and I made guacamole. For the record, I prefer a very simple quacamole of fresh avocado, fresh lime juice, some kosher salt and a little bit of fresh garlic.  I don't like sour cream, mayo or any other gunk in my guacamole!  Lime juice, is essential.

These were a bit hit with my husband and me.  The next day, I cooked the remaining dozen taquitos, when my son came to visit. He loved them, too.  I have a feeling I'll be making these for Super Bowl Sunday, along with my chili con carne.  As for the rest of the shredded pork-- I have plans to make empenadas.  

I'm definitely on a Mexican food kick, these days.  I've been making dishes with coconut, flan, beans and rice.  If I can find the time to sit down and catch up with editing and posting recipes, I hope to have them uploaded very soon!  

For a printable recipe, please scroll to the bottom of this post.  You can search my recipe index by category or by alphabet, too!  Just look for the photo of the Recipe Box on either sidebar and you'll be directed to the indexes.  Last, but not least-- thank you Emily, of The Blog Fairy, for designing my new blog button.   Seriously, I had a few bloggers ask if I had a button, so Emily worked her magic and I love it!

Please feel free to copy this and add it to your blog. 

It's the weekend, and I'm happy to see some clear skies after two weeks of rain ~ I'm counting the days until Spring!

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Monday, January 25, 2010

Encore recipe - Ruby Red Grapefruit Sorbet

Every winter, I eagerly scan the citrus section of my grocery store. I'm on the hunt for grapefruit-- and not just any grapefruit. I am looking for Texas Ruby Red Grapefruit.

For those of you who might remember the grapefruit diet craze of the 70's, I jumped in on the promise that grapefruit burns fat.  I quickly learned that the Ruby Red's were sweeter than the pink or yellow grapefruit that I see year-round. Ruby Reds, at the peak of their season (usually January)  are so naturally sweet, that I didn't need any kind of sweetener.  While I love grapefruit slices in salads, a friend of mine mentioned that she once had a grapefruit sorbet that was really good. That gave me an idea, so I searched the internet for a recipe. The recipe I settled on used vodka (fine by me).  The idea is that vodka doesn't freeze, so adding just one tablespoon acts like an "anti-freeze"-- hence, the sorbet won't freeze into one solid ice block.   I originally posted this recipe one year ago-- December 2009. While organizing my new recipe index, I decided to re-shoot and update how to make this sorbet, since my earlier post had only one photo:

I was happy to recreate this frozen treat, so let's begin by making a simple syrup:

 To one cup of sugar, add 1/2 cup water. Bring to a boil, and stir to dissolve sugar. Remove from heat and cool completely. (I pop it into the freezer, for about 15-20 minutes to quick chill this.) You can make this a day ahead, and chill it in the freezer, too.

You need two Ruby Red Grapefruits (I bought them on sale 2/$1.00):

Grate the zest of one grapefruit (I used about 1 tablespoon of the zest), and juice them-- which yields about 2 cups of juice. Add the zest to the juice...

Measure 1 Tablespoon of vodka-- obviously, this isn't kid-friendly. It's mom friendly. Indulge. You can skip the vodka, though.  The recipe will still work. You also don't have to use grenadine, but I happened to have a bottle of it.

You need about 1 teaspoon of the grenadine (it's just for color)...

Just like that!  I put the whole container into the refrigerator. You could set this in a metal bowl with ice cubes-- but I don't. I just wait for at least an hour-- or more.

If you don't own an ice cream maker, I highly recommend buying one. This model retails for about $50.00, but I found it on clearance for $15.00.  The bowl stays in my freezer, so I don't need to deal with ice and salt. Easy!  I mixed the simple syrup into the grapefruit juice blend, turned on the machine and poured the mixture in... and I wait for about 20 minutes.

You want to freeze this for at least two more hours.  When it's time to serve, let it sit for about 10-15 minutes to soften enough to scoop easily. Maybe some of you folks are shivering from cold winters, but I can only buy this grapefruit this time of year! We're soaking wet in California, but I still find this treat to be refreshing. I just love it! My husband likes it, too.

There's something about this sorbet that truly is a "palate cleanser".  It's a light dessert, not too loaded with sugar-- and, unless you put in more than 1 Tablespoon of vodka-- you won't get loaded!  What makes me sad is that I haven't seen another Texas Ruby Red Grapefruit since I bought my own two.  What happened? I've found website that will ship them to me, but I don't want to pay $2.00 each, and get a case of them. Sigh.
This is the sorbet recipe that I use for blood oranges and even Myer lemons-- which are all in season right now.

If you'll excuse me, I think I'll have a small scoop.  I sure hope these red globes of sweetness will make an encore appearance, so I won't have to wait another year!


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Saturday, January 23, 2010

Jaden's Broccoli Beef, from The Pioneer Woman

My quest to post recipes that I've made weeks ago, continues-- and this recipe, is no exception.  I've finally accepted that I can only  post recipes 1-2 times a week, only because my work and other obligations don't allow enough time for me to blog on a daily basis.  How so many of you manage to post, daily,  leaves me feeling in awe and a bit envious-- in a good way!  The beauty of blogging meals that have been enjoyed, long ago, is that I can make "repeats" of my favorite recipes-- and to take a break from photographing each step. I think my husband appreciates my "foodography" hiatus, because dinner can be ready in half the time and he doesn't have to wait for me to photograph his dinner.  Many of you must certainly relate to this!

About this recipe-- it comes from The Pioneer Woman's blog, but it's really Jaden, from Steamy Kitchen's Recipe Blog and her new cookbook.  Truthfully, I wasn't thrilled with my photographs-- hence, my reluctance to post this. I was in a hurry to get dinner on the table, and I had run out of natural light. So much for excuses-- I'm going to post the recipe, anyway, because it was super fast to make and I liked it.  Let's begin:

Ree used flank steak, but I had just purchased some Carne Asada think sliced beef. It was very inexpensive. The ingredients are staples that I keep on hand. While I'm very much a beginner with Asian recipes, I am wanting to learn how to make simple dishes like this. I used mirin, oyster sauce and soy sauce.

The sauce is simple to make-- but I strongly suggest that you double...even triple...the stir fry sauce-- which is made with rice wine (or Mirin), balsamic vinegar (I didn't have Chinese Black vinegar) and oyster sauce.

For the record-- I don't care for oysters.  My oyster sauce is labeled "Oyster Flavored Sauce". It's inexpensive, easy to find and it really gives great flavor to Asian dishes. Try it! It's really good in sauces. You also need to make a beef marinade, which consists of cornstarch, soy sauce and cooking oil.  The beef is marinated, with this sauce, for about 10 minutes...

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Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Zwiebel Schweinebraten mit Kartoffel Knoedel - or, Pork Roast with Carmelized Onions and Potato Dumplings

Can you say that?   I'll help you out-- say "Zweebel". Yeah, that's it!  That means onion.  You are looking at my all time, very favorite, sweet childhood memories of a dish my mother used to make for her kids.  I have two brothers, who-- to this day-- can't get enough of my mother's Austrian Goulash with Bavarian Bread Dumplings.  But, for me, my all-time favorite is Kartoffel Knoedel.  I just love these!  They are also called Kartoffel (potato) Kloesse-- but, I'll stick to my mother's deep Bavarian roots and I call them "knoedel".  It's a tongue twister, if you don't speak German.  Never mind!  I love to eat these unique "dumplings" with a roasted pork roast and a gravy.   I made this dish in early December, and I kept procrastinating posting this. The truth is, I cooked simply by instinct.  I didn't measure a thing, and I wasn't sure I could explain how to make this. It's so simple, to me, but then again-- I grew up with this dish, and I've made it many times.  I had used half of a boneless pork shoulder roast, when I made Transylvanian Goulash.  Ideally, I like to make this with a pork loin roast.  However, I improvised and made this meal in about an hour, using the other half of the pork loin roast-- let me show you how:

Bring the pork to room temperature (about 30-60 minutes).  Thinly sliced two large onions and drizzle a little bit of olive oil-- gently combine to distribute the oil, evenly. Preheat the oven to 425F. If your oven runs really hot-- then preheat to 375F. Season the pork roast with kosher salt & pepper. If desired, use about 1 tablespoon of caraway seeds-- I didn't, this time, since my husband isn't crazy about them.

In an oven-proof skillet (or a Dutch oven), add just enough olive oil to coat the pan. Crank the heat up and wait for the oil to shimmer-- and just start to smoke. Go for it!  Without moving the roast, sear each side until golden brown-- about 5 minutes per side.  Splatter shields are very useful, because it does make a bit of a mess-- but it's worth the flavor. The gravy has so much flavor, this way!  Once the roast is evenly seared, add the onion all around the roast-- and put it into the oven (uncovered) until it reaches between 145-150F (the roast will continue to cook.)  Depending on the size of your roast, this can take an average of 40 minutes. A thermometer is invaluable, so you don't cook the pork to death-- and it's turns out dry.  I prefer my pork slightly pink, contrary to my mother's generation that believed you had to cook it to death! So there!

Remove the roast, loosely cover with foil and set aside.  With a slotted spoon, remove the onion and set that aside.

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Monday, January 18, 2010

Guilt-free German Chocolate Cake that tastes sinfully good! Yes, it's very possible

To be truthful-- I'm a hard sell when I see a reduced-calorie recipe for cake. Somehow, "Reduced Fat" and "Cake" translates as an oxymoron to me.  I've made low-fat cookies and cakes, and I've not been impressed with the results.  I've given in to my own philosophy that I'd rather make a cake, in it's full glory of sugar, butter and frosting-- then, eat one piece, and give away the rest! 

Then my newest issue of Cook's Country Magazine arrived, and I spotted their "Reduced Fat German Chocolate Cake, I felt a glimmer of hope. Is it possible, that my very favorite chocolate cake-- with that gooey, caramel coconut and pecan frosting-- could taste delicious and have a lot less calories and fat?  Here's what Cook's Country (which is owned by Cooks Illustrated/America's Test Kitchen) had to say about this recipe "makeover":
  • Although we usually don’t cut portion size to reduce calorie count, a triple-layer cake was too over-the-top. Two layers provided an ample serving.
  • We rejected traditional German’s chocolate (which gave the cake its name), as it tastes more of sugar than anything else, and used a combination of chopped milk chocolate and Dutch-processed cocoa instead.
  • For frosting with deep caramel flavor, we relied entirely on brown sugar.
  • Fatty egg yolks typically thicken the frosting, but we found cornstarch worked equally well, without so many added calories.
  • Traditional recipes have 740 calories, 45 grams of fat, and 23 grams of saturated fat per serving. Our changes brought the numbers down to 340 calories, 13 grams of fat, and 7 grams of saturated fat.

A few facts about German Chocolate cake--   You won't find this in Germany. Like Chop Suey being an American invented dish--so is German Chocolate Cake!   This German Chocolate cake's main flavor component is that  milk chocolate is used, rather than dark chocolate.  While I really like my Dark Chocolate cake recipe,  and this Chocolate Sheet Cake,  I am a bigger fan of white chocolate (which isn't really chocolate) and milk chocolate.

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