Dinner In A Bag (again)

Pot Roast cooked in a plastic bag sounds crazy right? But that was the only kind of pot roast I knew as a child.

Cooking in an oven bag was this 1970’s concept where you place your cut of meat, vegetables and seasoning and a little water into an oven safe bag and place that into a pan/dish and put the whole thing in the oven. After 2 hours or so you have a magically deliciously “bag’o pot roast!”

This isn’t the first time I have done this – I exposed this back in 2011 as well.

There is remarkably little information on the great internet about this ( here , here and here -that’s it!) and I am not really sure when “Gordon Lawry” invented it but I think it was a long time ago considering he was paid 15 cents for his invention!

Anyway don’t knock it until you try it! It’s the original “sheet pan” dinner and it’s delicious! (maybe add some green veggies in the side to “heathy” it up!)

 

READ THE DIRECTIONS AND FOLLOW THEM but here is a couple tips: If you lose the ties supplied, cut a thin strip off the mouth of the bag, and use that to tie it with. ( don’t use some other tie as it might melt!)

Don’t use where there’s a danger of the bag touching any of the heating elements, thereby melting, spilling out its contents and causing a grease fire.

Advertisements

Scraps

Sometimes you just have to use up the scraps of things you have hanging around your cabinets and fridge. And that is the very essence of “cabinet stew.” Using what you have on hand to create a meal.

For me that started waaaay back in my 20’s when after a late night out, you would come home starving – things weren’t as 24/7 back then – and pull stuff out of the cabinets to try to put together something delicious. “Cabinet Stew” was born! I can’t take credit for coining the phrase. It was the boyfriend of one of my friends, Karl, who invented the “Cabinet Stew” in the first place!

Other then a quiche, my favorite way to use up scraps is in a mac-n-cheese. I use up whatever random chunks of cheese I have on hand, of course there is always dried pasta in my cabinets and this time I threw in a small amount of fresh spinach, some diced Canadian ham and onion. It felt almost healthy. Almost.

 

 

Production Notes:

Cheese: this one was mostly Swiss cheese with a small amount of cheddar and some parmesan on top. It made a nice compliment with the salty ham.

Pasta: I used gluten free – make sure not to over boil!

Sauce: simply equal parts of your choice fat and flour whisked with warmed whole milk. I like to add the powdered spices in with the roux so they can toast a bit. In this case I used garlic powder, smoked paprika and ground nutmeg to compliment the spinach. In retrospect a little dijon mustard thrown into the cheese sauce would have been a nice compliment to classic flavors of ham, Swiss and spinach!

 

 

 

Now THAT’s Ricotta!

I recently picked up some fresh ricotta at my local 50,000 sq. foot “Italian food emporium” in Boston and it changed me forever. I realized up until now, I had really never tasted ricotta – just poor imitations!

ricotta

“Ricotta Calabro” produced right here in New England – Connecticut to be exact – was amazing!

Don’t just take my word for it – look at the awards the producer has received! link here.

I know something as fresh and amazing as this should be eaten in its original state, but the weather had been unseasonably cool and I had my heart set on some comfort food.

Pasta, cheese and tomato sauce = comfort. Throw in a little Italian sausage and even the husband will find this dish comforting!

I basically just added crumbled, cooked sausage, to some cooked pasta in a oiled casserole dish, coated it with tomato sauce and strategically set up “clouds” of ricotta. I topped it with shredded Parmesan cheese and baked it for 30 mins at 350 degrees until it was just crispy on the edges and bubbling in the middle. Comfort food at its best!

 

 

Oliver Twist

Nope this isn’t a book review! It’s actually a twist on a recipe by Jaime Oliver that I saw recently over at the Food52 blog. ( I can’t never resist a word pun – no matter how corny!)

His recipe used chicken legs, cherry tomatoes, basil, garlic and olive oil. I used pork, cherry tomatoes, basil, garlic, olive oil and a touch of balsamic vinegar. I think my twist worked out pretty good!

I used a 3-4 lb center cut roast that I sliced into chops for serving. (bone-in roast – this is where center cut “pork chops” come from) I also used a heavy cast-iron pot, that way I could generously salt and pepper the outside of the meat and sear it over high heat to create a bit of a crust. Then in the style of Jaime oliver I simply threw in a pint of cherry tomatoes, a handful of basil, 6-7 medium size whole cloves of garlic, tablespoon of balsamic vinegar and a 1/2 cup of warm water just to make sure I had enough “juice.”

And like Jaime I simply put it in a 350 degree oven and undisturbed for 1 and half hours. But I used a meat thermometer to check and determine when my pork was cooked. (145 degrees for medium-rare and 160 degrees for medium)

Author’s Note:

I often have to reheat portions for my husband and this one worked out pretty good over the mashed potatoes! Just note if you plan to reheat you may want to consider cooking the chop to medium-rare the first time, that way you have a little margin for additional cooking.

 

 

Roast Chicken

Roast Chicken. That most simple and comforting food. And yet I hardly ever roast a chicken. A whole one that is. I am the only one in a house who appreciates a home-roasted, bone in chicken. Everybody else – (husband)- doesn’t want to deal with the bones.

So my “roast chicken” is usually a boneless cut (thighs, breast etc) and it is usually a “one pan plan.” And this recent one was no exception. Everything on pan, cut to similar size.

 

By adding big rough cut pieces of tomatoes, I knew the chicken would stay moister and there would almost end up being a bit of a “pan sauce” created. Just cook up some rice or pasta or steamed greens and serve in bowls.

Very easy, very comforting.

 

“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.