Retirement Day

or as some might call it … Superbowl Sunday.

I call it Retirement Day because I am hoping a certain quarterback has enough sense to make this his last game. As a Patriots fan I think it’s better to get this guy his last ring and get him outta here.  So that is why today I root for the arch-enemy and not the new young talented star who probably actually deserves the win.

No matter what you call the day, it definitely involves food!

I suggest some nontraditional game day food of stuffed peppers. Filled with spicy Chorizo sausage, rice and tomato sauce – they are big on flavor and easy to make.

(Notice my subtle nod to team colors today.)

The Recipe

2 links ( about 1- 1 1/2 cups) chorizo sausage diced small (I use a fully cooked, locally made version, but you can use your favorite brand)

1 small (about 3/4 cup) sweet onion fine diced

2 large sweet bell peppers – your choice of colors, tops cut off and diced, seed/ribs removed

2 cups +/- cooked rice

8oz can of tomato sauce (I like the “Spanish style”)

(2) 1/4 cup hot water (separate)

1 tsp sugar (or sweetener of choice)

shredded or grated Parmesan cheese to top each pepper ( a couple of tablespoons apiece)

Salt and Pepper to taste

spray a baking dish with cooking spray, add 1 of the 1/4 cups of hot water. Place the peppers in the dish either on their side split in half (as I did in photo) or upright on their ends. Cover tightly with foil and bake 20 mins in preheated 350 degree oven. While those are cooking, saute the chorizo, onion, pepper tops, salt and pepper in a medium hot saute pan till the sausage starts to get a little crispy, the onions are browning and soft. The pan probably won’t need any oil to start as the sausage is quite fatty – but if you feel like it needs it start with a tablespoon of oil or so in the saute.  Turn the heat down and add the rice and the 2nd 1/4 cup of hot water to help re-moisten the cooked rice and de-glaze the pan. Once all combined and the water is incorporated. Add the tomato sauce and sugar and turn off heat. Mix thoroughly and taste for seasoning adjustment. Pull the peppers out of the oven, drain off excess water – they should be a little soft but holding their shape. Fill each of the peppers with plenty of filling, top with some cheese and return to oven uncovered for another 20 mins at 350 degrees.

 

 

Freezer Stew

and cabinet too.

Recently I was searching for dinner in my kitchen. I wanted something that could be prepared quickly, with ingredients already on hand, and of course healthy and delicious.  Not that I am making that cliché New Year’s resolution mistake of starting a diet or anything. no. not me. (okay maybe just a little – but to be fair the office treats were out of hand!)

I always have an assortment of frozen veggies and veggie blends in the freezer along with leftover cooked rice. ( yup I freeze that too!) Onions of course are a staple in any kitchen. Having some chicken breast was just lucky.

A simple stir-fry sauce can be made with soy sauce, ground ginger, garlic, salt and pepper.

I start my chicken pieces in a little oil and get them about 75 percent cooked before adding the frozen veggies. If you are using fresh onion – go ahead and put that in right away with the chicken. After the frozen veggies go in (bonus that the ice crystals melt and deglaze the pan!) toss everything around for a few minutes. I prefer my veggies not overly done. If you like things a bit more tender, put them in a little earlier and leave them on longer. Once all the ingredients are basically cooked to your liking, add your stir-fry sauce in. I don’t add the sauce in too soon, because it will burn before the chicken is done. The idea is to let this sauce just coat everything and cook a bit too.

As soon everything is cooked through, sauce coating everything, toss it over some rice. (leftover, defrosted or prepared fresh) If you don’t have a sesame allergy and you have some toasted sesame oil on hand… a drizzle of this would be just great on top.

Who needs take out?

Co-Workers

My co-workers are a great source of inspiration in many ways but when it comes to food…look out waistline!

First it was the cheesecake, then the purple potato loaded with butter and now some yummy roasted spaghetti squash! True that the spaghetti squash is not new to me. You can see my previous post on this wonder-veggie here.

But she did get me thinking about the many ways to serve it and of course covered in red sauce and cheese immediately came to mind!

But first the roasting…

spaghetti squash

I actually roast mine totally plain. I simply cut it down the middle (careful!) and place it cut face down on a parchment lined cookie sheet. No oil, no salt, no pepper.

The steam from the moist squash innards will cook it perfectly. I like to go about 30-40 minutes in a 400 degree oven until it’s just tender, preferring to under-cook it a bit since it usually gets cooked again in the full recipe.

spaghetti and meatballs

use jar sauce and pre-made meatballs for quick and easy assembly. (I won’t tell!)

Now the tender squash strings are ready for anything you want to throw at them! Butter and fresh herbs perhaps? Maybe a cream sauce? Or as I did recently with red sauce, cheese and yes some meatballs!!

This made for an easy, make-ahead dish that could hang out in the oven till everybody was ready to eat! It could just as easily been wrapped and frozen at this point for another more busy night!

No matter how you serve it, you are sure to win the crowd over. Even the husbands who don’t usually eat vegetables!

 

 

Talking Turkey

This time of year office talk inevitably turns to what everybody is doing for Thanksgiving and more importantly what they will be eating.  One co-worker mentioned that she really doesn’t eat much turkey throughout the year, while another mentioned that he uses it in some form a couple of times a week. Still another co-worker talked about how juicy her turkey burgers were.

Naturally all this turkey talk had me craving turkey well before the big day. It also made me think about how often I eat turkey. (not that much actually) At this point I couldn’t wait till the holiday to have some turkey – I needed to satisfy my craving soon with a little “pre-game” turkey dinner.

turkey dinner

I found a turkey breast that was reasonably sized ( there is only 2 in my house after all) and some beautiful veggies at the local public market.

I roasted them at the same time but in different pans. The veggies were spread on a sheet pan with parchment, coated in olive oil, salt, pepper and ground cumin.

The turkey breast was massaged with butter and sprinkled with salt, pepper, dried rosemary and poultry seasoning. The turkey breast sat atop a bed of diced onion, celery and apple. The turkey juices, melted butter and soft veggies makes a wonderful chunky sauce to serve alongside.

The turkey breast, once cooled, can be sliced thin to make the most wonderful turkey sandwiches!

A Bowl of Spicy Love

I am not sure what inspired me but I decided to make jambalaya for the first time. And strangely I had everything on hand but the celery and sausage. I know it’s down right amazing I didn’t have any Andouille sausage lying around the house given my love of “encased meats.”  (Sorry mom)

So after a quick trip to the market for those 2 key ingredients, I set about making a serious bowl of spicy love.

For a recipe I went right to an authority figure…. Emeril! I followed the recipe pretty closely – I only left out the chicken. Just decided to keep it to sausage and shrimp. Another small modification was the use of tomato sauce instead of fresh chopped tomato – it was just what I happened have.

Which leads me to an interesting note. Apparently one of the main differences between “Cajun” jambalaya and “Creole” jambalaya is the use of tomatoes. Creole uses tomatoes, Cajun does not. So as a tomato lover it is obvious which kind I am going to favor. But I think this is only a guideline and not a rule.

If you haven’t attempted to make jambalaya because you thought it was complicated or took a long time – you would be wrong. This was easy and quick to make! my only regret is not making it sooner!

jambalaya

“Big Soup”

I bet you have the makings of minestrone soup in your cabinets right now.

I did. So that is what I made recently on a fall evening.

“Big Soup” is a loose Italian translation to describe a soup that has lots of goodies in it like minestrone. The origin of minestrone soup (aka “Big Soup”) comes from Italy and is based on the idea of stretching or using up leftovers.  A dish that is filling and inexpensive. I am sure that even a small survey of Italy would result in no two soups being exactly alike. And so just as in Italy where the soup is composed of lots of things, so was mine.

minestrone

I started with bacon. Added onions and garlic. Diced potatoes, white navy beans and gluten-free pasta to make it hearty.  A flavorful broth of tomatoes and chicken stock with a dash of my secret “flavor weapon” A1 Steak Sauce!

I happen to have some fresh herbs in the house so in went fresh basil and even fresher, some parsley at the end.

The recipe (makes a lot!- like 6-8 hearty servings)

1/2 lb thick cut bacon, cut into small bits

1 1/2 medium white onion diced

2 large cloves of garlic minced

3 small white potatoes diced

1 can ( 15.5 oz) white navy beans or whatever bean you like (rinsed)

1 can ( 14.5 oz) diced tomatoes or chopped or stewed or whatever you have

32 oz box of chicken stock/broth ( low sodium is best)

1/8 cup each chopped fresh basil and parsley

2 tablespoons A1 sauce

1-2 lemon wedges or 1/2 of a small lemon

Elbow noodles cooked to package directions – about a 1/4 cup ( measured dry) per serving

Render the bacon in a large heavy-bottom pot. Until it’s just crisping.  Remove the bacon and set aside. Remove the bacon fat and set aside. Wipe out the tiny bits of bacon still floating around. (they will just burn later) The goal is not to scrub the pot bottom, but to just get the loose stuff floating with the last the fat. Add the onions and a bit of the reserved fat back in and cook for 3-5 mins on med until onions are getting color and softening. Add back in fat as needed to keep things going. Add the potatoes and a pinch each of salt and pepper, cook for another 3-5 mins. Add the minced garlic and cook a couple mins. Now deglaze pan with the tomatoes and stock, add beans and bacon. Turn heat down to low simmer and add the A1 sauce and fresh basil. Stir and cover. Let low simmer for about 30 mins until potatoes just tender. Taste for seasoning and adjust salt and pepper as needed. Add a squeeze of lemon wedge if you have one on hand and along with fresh parsley. The lemon just “perks” things up and the parsley adds a bit of freshness.

Ladle over hot, just boiled elbow noodles and serve.

Production Notes: I like to boil the noodles separate so they don’t over cook  sitting in soup. And since I never really bring the soup to a high enough boil to cook the noodles, it’s just better to cook them on the side. This way you can let the soup stay warm in the pot longer without mushy, swollen pasta.

This could easily be adapted to a slow-cooker recipe.

 

Remember When…

Who remembers the fast food chain Wendy’s® when they had the salad bar in their restaurants? They had nicer seating and real plants too back in the day. There was a time when they straddled the space between “fast-food and fast casual.”

My father loved that place and when I was little (and it was his turn to get dinner) we would go there and get the salad bar and baked potatoes with chili on top. (chili-topped baked potatoes was a menu item then – now they still serve chili and the baked potatoes but you have to order each and combine them yourself.)

As a result every time I make chili I serve it over baked potatoes. It always reminds me of those times and it makes things just a bit more hearty and filling. The potatoes offer a little more nutritional punch then corn chips or rice. The chili and the potatoes can all be done a day ahead and reheated at the time of the event. Plus if you are having folks over for a big game or even if you just want to get the kids interested you can do a topping bar of favorites like shredded cheese, green onions, cilantro, chopped red onion, sour cream…. you get the idea!

The best chili is the simplest chili – 2lbs of browned ground meat (turkey in this case – shhhh don’t tell hubby!) and 1 small can (4oz) of tomato paste, 1 large can ( 12oz) of ground, peeled tomatoes, 1/2 of a green bell pepper and 1/2 of a white onion diced. 2 heaping tablespoons of your favorite chili spice blend. 1 whole lime juiced and some salt and pepper. Add a cup of hot water if it’s too thick. 1-2 hours simmering and you are ready to go!

Author’s note:

My dad passed away in March 2011 after a long and happy life, but this week is his birthday and I think he always considered the cool weather and the beautiful New England fall leaves a personal birthday gift to him. He loved everything about New England and I think of him a lot in October.