Monday, July 28, 2014

Deja Vu Pasta

Tonight I made Deja Vu Chicken Pasta.  That's just a fancy way of saying we ate chicken again.  But I thought deja vu sounded better than leftover.  Yesterday, we had a BBQ for our employees.  I grilled so much chicken!  You would've thought I had 100 people coming over.  I get carried away.  I'd rather have too much than not enough so I tend to go overboard when cooking for a party.  Everyone ate till they were full, I sent some home with my guests and I still have a fridge full of left over grilled chicken.  So, like I said, tonight I made Deja Vu Chicken Pasta.  This recipe will work with any left over meat, beef, turkey, shrimp, etc.  Here's how easy it is to make:

DEJA VU PASTA

2 left over grilled chicken breasts
2 TBS canola oil
1 TBS butter (not necessary, but gives it good flavor)
1/2 onion, diced
1/4 bell pepper, diced
2 small cloves garlic, minced
1 cup chicken broth
salt/pepper
1 lb. pasta (I used rotini)
2 TBS chopped Italian flat leaf parsley
Grated Parmesan cheese, optional

Put a big pot of water on to boil the pasta.  While you wait for it to boil, dice the onion, bell pepper and garlic.  Then, cut the left over chicken into bite-size pieces.  Once the pasta water is boiling, salt it well then add the pasta.  Boil until al dente (still has a little bite to it).

Place a big skillet over medium heat and add the oil and butter.  Saute the onion and bell pepper for a few minutes then add the garlic (you add it later so it doesn't burn).



Saute for a minute or two.  Add the chicken and saute 5 minutes.  Salt and pepper to taste.  Then, add the chicken broth.  Let it simmer until the pasta is done (or about 10 minutes).




Before you drain the pasta, save a little of the pasta water (I dip a coffee cup in and scoop some out).  You may need this later.  Add the drained pasta to the skillet.  Stir well.  If your pasta is too dry, you can add a little of the reserved pasta water to loosen it up.  Taste it and see if it needs more salt and/or pepper.  Season to taste.  Garnish with chopped parsley and grated Parmesan cheese, if desired.




This is a quick, yummy way to use up left overs.  I have made this with chicken, turkey, shrimp and crawfish.  It is always good and I love how easy it is.  I always have these ingredients on hand so it's easy to throw together at the last minute.  Of course, you can use any pasta you have, any broth you have (even water in a pinch), and any herb you have.  You can make it vegetarian by using eggplant or zucchini instead of meat and vegetable broth instead of chicken broth.  That's what's so great about this dish, it's versatility.  Give it a try the next time you have left overs you need to use up.
  


Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Strawberry Cream Cheese Cobbler

My Mama's peach cobbler is the best dessert on the planet (according to me, anyway).  Her blackberry cobbler is a close second.  Cobbler is a big deal in the South.  There are many different ways to make it.  Some are cake-like, some are more like crumbles, some even have a biscuit-like topping.  My Mama's cobbler is sort of a mix between a cake and a pie.  It has a thickened fruit filling with a sweet, crunchy, cakey crust.  And the best part is... it's super easy to make!

I have made many variations of my Mama's cobbler.  This one has strawberries and cream cheese.  Nothing wrong with that.

STRAWBERRY CREAM CHEESE COBBLER

1 pint strawberries, cleaned and sliced
1/4 cup sugar

3 oz cream cheese, softened
1 TBS powdered sugar

1 stick butter, melted
1 cup all purpose flour
1 1/2 baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
1 cup sugar
1 cup milk
1 tsp vanilla extract

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Place sliced strawberries in a bowl and sprinkle 1/4 cup sugar over them.  Toss gently and set aside.  This breaks down the berries a bit and creates juice.


Pour melted butter into a 9 inch square baking dish (I used a square cast iron skillet and let the butter melt in the oven while it preheated).


In a large bowl, mix flour, baking powder and salt.  Add sugar, milk and vanilla extract.  Stir just until the lumps are gone.  Do not over mix or you will get a tough cobbler!  Pour the batter over the butter in the baking dish.


Next, evenly distribute the strawberries and their juice over the batter.


In a small bowl, mix softened cream cheese and 1 TBS powdered sugar thoroughly.  Dollop this mixture over the strawberries.




Bake in a hot oven (preheated to 350 degrees) for 45 minutes.  The cobbler will be almost set (still a little bit jiggly in the middle) and golden brown.  Tip:  place a cookie sheet with sides under your baking dish in case it bubbles over!



Let this sit and rest for about 20 minutes.  It will smell phenomenal and you will want to dig in immediately.  Don't.  It needs time to firm up.  I promise it will be worth the wait.



If you like strawberry cheesecake, you will like this cobbler.  It hits all those flavor notes but is so simple to throw together.  Top it with a scoop of Blue Bell Homemade Vanilla ice cream and you might just have perfection on a plate.  Enjoy!

Friday, July 18, 2014

Baked Ravioli

Today's post is about a recipe that isn't really a recipe.  It's so easy, I feel silly calling it a recipe.  But it is sooo good!  This is perfect for a night when you don't feel like cooking, but want comfort food.  Here's how you do it.

BAKED RAVIOLI

1 package frozen cheese ravioli
1 jar of your favorite spaghetti sauce (I like to doctor it up.  I'll tell you how  do it)
1/2 lb whole milk Mozzarella cheese (or you can use the pre-shredded stuff if you have it on hand)
grated Parmesan cheese

Preheat your oven to 400 degrees.  Then start a big pot of water boiling on the stove.  While you wait for the water to boil, put the spaghetti sauce into a small pot and heat it up.  If you want to doctor it up a bit, add a little sugar (about 3 TBS) and a palmful of grated Parmesan cheese (about 1/4 cup) and a little black pepper.  Just adding these few ingredients gives the sauce a whole new flavor and makes it taste more like homemade.  Let it simmer while you get everything else ready.




Next, cut the Mozzarella into small, thin squares like this:




When your water is boiling, add a spoonful of salt.  Then gently drop in the ravioli.  Stir gently (you don't want them to fall apart).  They don't take very long, usually about 4 - 5 minutes.  Gently stir them every so often.  They float to the top when done.



Right before you remove the ravioli,  add a thin layer of sauce to a 9x13 baking dish.



Then, use a big slotted spoon to remove the ravioli from the water, making sure to let the excess water drain off (this is gentler than dumping them into a colander).  Then place them in the baking dish (on top of the sauce).




Spoon another thin layer of sauce over the ravioli and gently stir to make sure they are completely covered.




Place the Mozzarella over the top evenly, then sprinkle on a thin layer of grated Parmesan cheese.




Cover with foil and bake in a preheated oven (400 degrees) for 15 minutes.  Then, remove the foil and bake another 10 minutes or until the top is bubbly and brown.




Once out of the oven, let it sit for a few minutes.  This just helps it  come together nicely.  If you dig in right away, it'll just be a big old mess.  After it sits, dish it up with the extra sauce.  Delicious!  I serve this with garlic bread and green beans or a salad.  

This is an easy recipe with a comfort food payoff.  You get the same flavors as manicotti or stuffed shells, but without all the work.  I'm all for less work.  Enjoy!















Friday, July 11, 2014

Cooking 101

My daughter is starting college in the fall.  We have been preparing and packing, getting her ready.  Today, as we were discussing buying her a microwave, I started giving her tips on some basic cooking techniques.  She said, "You know what Mom?  You should do a blog post about that.  To help those of us living on our own for the first time".  So, that's what my next few posts will be about, basic techniques and tips for beginner cooks.

My friend, Nathalie, recently suggested I show how to cut onions, peppers, celery, etc.  She said she wasn't always sure of the best way to do it.  So that will be today's post, the easiest way to chop and dice.

Before we get cooking, let me remind you of a few safety tips (Mom moment).

*Wash your hands before you start!  I know, I know, but it's worth a reminder.

*Then, make sure you wash your produce.  Give everything a good rinse.  If you will be eating the peelings, scrub them with a vegetable brush (which you can pick up at the dollar store on the cheap).

*When you are cutting, curl your fingertips under a little bit on the hand you're using to hold the produce.  This will help keep your fingers safe from cuts.

*A sharp knife is your best friend in the kitchen.  A dull knife can lead to accidents!

Also, let me say, I did not go to culinary school.  I'm not a chef, I'm a cook.  This may not be the " proper" way but it works for me, and hopefully for you too.

(Do you know the difference between a chef and a cook?  A cook has to do her own dishes.  Haha!)

OK, let's get started.

Onions

First, I cut off the ends, just a little off each side.




Then, I cut it in half and peel the skins off.



Next, lay the onion cut-side down (this keeps it from rolling around).  Carefully slice it almost all the way through the middle, like this:



Then, cut from the top down several times across, like this:



Finally, cut from the top down in the opposite direction, like this:





This should result in perfect squares of onions.

This is a chop.  When you see "chopped onion" in a recipe, this is the size you want.

If you need "diced onion", that's just smaller pieces.  All you do to make the pieces smaller is to slice through the onion twice, like this:




Then make your cuts closer together, like this:




This will yield smaller pieces, giving you diced onions.
The pile on the left is chopped, the pile on the right is diced.


Celery

Lay the stalk on your cutting board and trim off the bottom.  No need to trim the top, the leaves have a ton of flavor!  But, if you want uniform pieces, you can.




Once trimmed, cut the stalk into manageable pieces.



Then, cut into strips.



Line up the strips in a row and cut them in the opposite direction to yield the size you want.  Cuts closer together for smaller pieces, farther apart for larger pieces.





Bell Pepper

There are many ways to cut a bell pepper.  It depends on what you're going to do with it.  If you want to stuff the pepper, just cut the very top off, like this:



Then scoop out the seeds and the ribs.


This is what you use to make stuffed bell peppers.  It also makes a great "bowl" to fill with dip for a party.  I like to fill them with ranch dip and sit them in the middle of a vegetable tray.

If you want slices to use on a vegetable tray or for fajitas, carefully cut from the top down the side to the bottom.  This will take off the entire "cheek".





Do this on all sides then take each cheek, lay it down shiny side down (the inside of the pepper should face up because it's easier to cut that way).  Then, slice each cheek into strips.




If you want chopped peppers, follow the steps for slices.  Then line up the slices and cut them into squares, like this:




For diced, just cut the slices thinner and the squares smaller.  Easy.

Garlic

First, let me give you a few definitions.  A clove of garlic is a single piece (shown on the right).  A head of garlic is the entire pod (on the left).  Sometimes that can be confusing.



There are all kinds of gadgets out there to peel and chop garlic.  They are cool, but you don't need them.  The easiest way to peel garlic is to whack it with a can (or a pot, or a coffee cup).  Just place the garlic on your cutting board, then gently hit it.  This will loosen the skin, making it easy to peel.








Once it's peeled, you just cut it into strips, then cut it in the opposite direction.





That's chopped garlic.  To mince it, just continue to run your knife over it, back and forth, in opposite directions until you get it as small as you want it.  (You may need to wipe it off your knife if it sticks to the blade.  Be very careful!)





So, there you go.  Easy, step by step directions you can follow until you get the hang of it.

I remember when I first started cooking.  It wasn't pretty.  I could barely follow a recipe in a cook book.  Now I have a blog where I share recipes that I've created.  It doesn't matter how you start out, it only matter where you end up.  Happy cooking!