Category Archives: Mains

Throw-It-Together Tuesday: Chipotle Mac and Cheese

Here is the series of events that led to tonight’s meal:

  1. I finally took my leaking-coolant-to-the-point-of-nearly-overheating car to the shop. Because I am a fool, I own a German car. Because repairing German cars (or, really any European cars– the in-laws have Saabs and many similar tales of woe) is expensive, ye olde bank account is, well…depleted.
  2. I got an official rejection letter from a recruiter I’d been talking to about a writer/researcher job (that was full-time telecommuting!), which didn’t lessen my job-hunting anxiety in any way.
  3. I’ve been watching a lot of Two Fat Ladies, and those broads do not shy away from the cheese, cream, butter, and oil.
  4. This recipe from Rainy Day Gal has been haunting me since it came up in my Reader. The minute I saw it, I knew it had to be mine! I also knew that, given some digestive challenges on the part of the husband, I would be on my own in eating it.
  5. I had a few chipotles left in the fridge after an only-semi-successful (read: not blog-worthy in its current form slow-cooker carnitas experiment.

And so, I give you…


Chipotle Mac and Cheese
adapted from Rainy Day Gal and Homesick Texan

Ingredients
2 cups dry elbow pasta (macaroni)
3 cups grated cheese (mix of cheddar, jack, pepper jack, and the like), plus more for sprinkling
1 cup ricotta cheese
1 1/4 cups heavy cream
1 chipotle pepper in adobo sauce
1 clove garlic
1 dash cumin
salt and pepper to taste
1/4 cup bread crumbs

Method
Heat the oven to 375 degrees.

Grease a 9-inch cast-iron skillet or a 9-inch square or round baking pan with cooking spray. Add the dry pasta. [You don’t even have to cook the pasta first! Genius!]

In a blender, mix together the cream, ricotta, shredded cheese, chipotle chile, garlic, cumin, salt and black pepper until it’s smooth. Pour mixture over dry pasta and stir until sauce is evenly distributed. [What’s that? No cooking a bechamel on the stove first? Hah!]

Stir cheese/cream/spice mix into pasta, sprinkle with a little remaining shredded cheese and bread crumbs.

Cover the pan with foil and bake for 30 minutes.

After 30 minutes, remove the foil and cook for another 25 minutes uncovered or until brown and bubbling.

Remove from oven and serve.

I'm in ur arteries, rasin' ur cholesterol.

Lo, comfort food! I mean, someday I’ll have a Real Librarian Job and enough money to pay for maintenance of a German automobile (although I’m thinking the next car I own will be Asian), but in the meantime…at least there’s this mac and cheese.

Ingredients
2 cups dry elbow pasta (macaroni)
3 cups grated cheese (mix of cheddar, jack, pepper jack, and the like), plus more for sprinkling
1 cup ricotta cheese
1 1/4 cups heavy cream
1 chipotle pepper in adobo sauce (I use Embasa brand cans that can be found on the Hispanic food aisle)
1 clove garlic
1 dash cumin
salt and pepper to taste
1/4 cup bread crumbs

Method
Heat the oven to 375 degrees.

Grease a 9-inch cast-iron skillet or a 9-inch square or round baking pan with cooking spray. Add the dry pasta.

In a blender or with a hand blender, mix together the cream, ricotta, shredded cheese, chipotle chile, garlic, cumin, salt and black pepper until it’s smooth. Pour mixture over dry pasta and stir until sauce is evenly distributed.

Stir cheese/cream/spice mix into pasta, sprinkle with a little remaining shredded cheese and bread crumbs.

Cover the pan with foil and bake for 30 minutes.

After 30 minutes, remove the foil and cook for another 25 minutes uncovered or until brown and bubbling.

Remove from oven and serve.

Advertisements

Avgolemono – Greek lemon soup

Last weekend, we took a trip to Yosemite. It was my second time there and Greg’s first, and I can confidently say that we left every shred of our will to climb right there on those hiking trails– we averaged about 5-7 miles per day, and easily a couple thousand feet of elevation over the three hikes we took. The downside of this, besides having every muscle from one’s waist down absolutely screaming in agony (it’s tough to go from watching tv and eating Pringles to hiking up ridiculous mountains), is that somewhere in the midst of the hiking, the chilly night temperatures, and generally running ourselves ragged over the course of our four-day trip, someone managed to contract a nasty cold. Armed with both of the ‘quils (Day- and Ny-), he attacked that cold, and I figured the least I could contribute (besides rolling out the garbage cans for trash pickup day) would be some soup. Now, I am all for chicken noodle, and even keep a box of the Manischewitz matzo ball mix on hand (probably a travesty of matzo ball soup, but I got hooked in college and can’t give it up), but my go-to sick-busting soup is avgolemono, or Greek lemon. I have searched high and low for just the right combination of eggs, orzo pasta or rice, and lemon juice, and while a local diner makes my absolute favorite version of this, I think that I’ve just about hit on the right homemade version for nights when a trip to the diner (which only serves breakfast and lunch– for shame!) isn’t possible.

Ingredients
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 quart chicken broth, preferably homemade [But who am I kidding? I usually use those little concentrate packets from Trader Joe’s. They’re pretty potent, though, so use only three of them to make a quart of broth– it will be plenty chicken-y.]
½ cup orzo or long grain rice [Choose orzo. Trust me on this one. It gets all soft and melty in the soup, and you will want to crawl right into the bowl.]
2 large eggs
3 tablespoons fresh lemon juice (about 1 lemon) [Adjust to taste.]
1 teaspoon grated lemon zest
Sea salt and freshly ground white pepper, to taste
2 tablespoons chopped dill or parsley [I’ve used dried dill– remember when using dried spices to cut the amount by 1/2 to 1/3!]
2 chicken breasts
2-4 cloves of garlic, minced or run through a garlic press [Depending on how garlicky you want your soup to be, of course. Remember, garlic has immune-system benefits!]

Method
Cut chicken breasts into about 3/4-inch chunks, and season with salt and pepper [I’ve also added the dried dill at this point to, in order to help with the whole “layering of flavors” thing.] Pour olive oil into a large saucepan and heat over a medium-high burner. Add the chicken and cook until the outside is done, about 3 minutes. Add garlic and cook until fragrant, about 45 seconds. Pour in the chicken broth and bring it to a boil. Add orzo; cover, reduce heat and simmer 10 minutes, or until orzo is al dente. (If using rice, add another cup of chicken broth. Simmer according to package directions, or until grains are tender.)


While the orzo is simmering away, beat eggs in a medium bowl until thick. Whisk in lemon juice and zest. Gradually add ½ cup hot broth from saucepan, whisking constantly. Add 2 more ½ cups of broth, whisking after each addition.


Pour mixture back into saucepan and reheat, stirring with a wooden spoon, until egg cooks and soup slightly thickens. Do not boil, or eggs will curdle. Add salt and pepper to taste, then sprinkle with dill or parsley. Serve hot or cold.

Update: The soup worked (and the ‘quils might have had a hand in it, too)– so take heart, friends! It is tasty and will cure what ails you.

(Mini) Cottage pie

So, ok, when you’re engaged, you get to register for things at places that range from the sublime (Tiffany– not that this was one of ours) to the ridiculous (REI– and yes, I realize that this is not ridiculous for everyone, but rest assured that it is for me). This is one of the more awesome parts of being engaged (besides the obvious “getting hitched to that person you really like”), and something over which you have much more control than other parts of the wedding planning (particularly if you have insane vendors, etc.). At any rate, we are not here to talk about weddings. Or registries, really. What we are here to talk about, friends, are ramekins–or, more specifically, delicious things that you can put into them.

When they’re not precariously stacked in your kitchen cabinet (yeah, one fell and smashed on the floor just the other day; as it fell, I said aloud, “Well, it was bound to happen”), ramekins can house delights from creme brulee to souffle of all sorts, but the meal in question here is cottage pie. In a fit of Winter Darkness Comfort Food Neediness, I turned to the trusty Jamie Oliver and worked with what I had. What resulted was nothing short of ceramic-housed bliss.

Cottage Pie

Ingredients
Filling
about 1/2 lb ground beef [use more or less, depending on what sort of meat-to-veggie ratio you prefer]
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 large onion, finely chopped
1 or 2 stalks of celery, chopped
2 large carrots, peeled and cubed (about 1/4″ cubes)
2/3 cup of frozen peas (optional)
about 1/4 to 1/2 cup chicken broth
1/2 teaspoon dried thyme
1 teaspoon dried sage
Salt and black pepper to season

Topping
your favorite mashed potato recipe [I confess: I used instant. I am not the biggest mashed potato fan, and don’t–yet!– have a go-to recipe. Any suggestions?]

Method
1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees.
2. Heat the oil in a large frying pan and brown the ground beef.
3. Remove from the pan and set aside. Add the onions to the pan and cook until lightly browned.
4. Add the celery and carrots and cook for a couple of minutes before adding the beef, peas and herbs.
5. Add the chicken broth and season with salt and pepper to taste.
6. Cook over a low heat for about 20  minutes, adding a bit more broth if it seems too dry
7. Transfer the filling into individual ramekins or a large serving dish.
8. Top with mashed potatoes and score the top with a fork. You can either dot a little butter over the potatoes or spray a little olive oil over the top for extra browning. [I used a pastry bag to pipe the potatoes over the top. Using a star tip creates the little ridges that get extra browned and wonderfully crispy.]
9. Bake at 375 for approx 20 minutes, until golden.You may want to finish it off under the broiler for a little extra browning.

Pistachio Pesto (feat. Chicken with Lemon-Caper Sauce)

Hello, food blogosphere! With this entry I can cement my contributor status, as this means I am finally contributing something. Anyone who has known me as long as Megan has knows my one food nemesis: pine nuts. (I’m allergic.) Now, I’m not one to go around feeling sorry for myself (lies) but today, I mourn all the years I have gone without the taste of pesto, as I tend to avoid it at restaurants. Since I never knew how lovely it tastes, it never occurred to me to make it my damn self. [Megan, am I allowed to say damn on the blog?]

I recently heard someone say they had made pesto sauce with pistachios instead of pine nuts, and it was just an easy-dinner kind of day, so I decided to try it out. All you really need to do is run a food processor and boil up some pasta and you get an incredibly flavorful dinner in a matter of minutes! LOVES IT! (I do want to apologize for not having a more impressive dish, but baby steps, people.)

PISTACHIO PESTO

Ingredients

  • 2 cups loosely packed basil leaves (make sure there’s no excess water)
  • 2/3 cup olive oil
  • 1/2 cup grated parmesan cheese
  • 1/2 cup roasted pistachios
  • 1 clove garlic [I used 2… I love garlic]
  • salt and pepper, to taste

Method

Using blender or food processor, add pistachios and garlic clove(s) and blend for a few seconds.

Add basil and parmesan cheese, blend. With the motor running, drizzle in the olive oil until the contents reach desired consistency.

Yields about 1 cup.

I’m boring, so I used the pesto for pasta (about 1.5 pounds of cooked pasta; enough to serve 6), but I’ve seen it used in a fingerling potato/haricots verts salad and as a garnish for soup. You can also use it as a spread on pizza, sandwiches, use it to top crostini for appetizers… so many possibilities! Refrigerate or freeze to store.

And because I feel like it’s too much of a tease to post the photo of the chicken and not tell you how to make it, you get a two-fer with this post! Wahoo! I feel a little like Oprah… (*You* get a recipe and *you* get a recipe… EVERYONE! GETS! A RECIPEEEE!)

This is a recipe I got from an Italian-American colleague of mine, modified a little bit by me. Because I think I’m cool like that, I guess.

CHICKEN WITH LEMON-CAPER SAUCE

Ingredients

  • 4 boneless, skinless chicken breasts
  • 1/2 cup all-purpose flour
  • salt and pepper
  • 4-6 tablespoons olive oil
  • 4 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • juice and zest of 1/2 lemon
  • large pinch of chopped flat (Italian) parsley
  • 3 tablespoons capers, drained

Method

Place 2 tablespoons of olive oil in 12-inch skillet over medium-high heat.

Season chicken on both sides with salt and pepper. Dredge 2 pieces of chicken in flour and place in hot skillet. (Make sure it’s *hot* and not just heating up, so it browns better!) Cook about 8 minutes on each side until golden brown. Transfer to warm platter. Add more oil if necessary and repeat with remaining chicken.

After chicken is done, brown the butter in the skillet. (I found a pretty good how-to page at allrecipes.com)  Lower the heat and add lemon juice (this will stop the butter from continuing to brown), lemon zest, capers and parsley. Add salt and pepper if desired. Remove from heat. Spoon over chicken and serve.

(The original recipe called for a couple tablespoons of shallots, as well, but the capers taste so strong that the omission didn’t make a huge difference.)

And there you have it!

Pasties! (Get your mind out of the gutter, food pervs)

As part of my Lenten Vegetarian Adventure, I was determined to try out some vegetarian recipes that I’d had bookmarked for quite some time. This one, from The Kitchn, is full of things that I love– yes, there’s a good amount of butter (I’m no Paula Deen, but clearly there is a reason for the current size of my ass), but these little hand pies are stuffed with butternut squash, one of my favorite fall/winter veggies. And for the carnivore in the house? Adjustments were made, and he ended up with the hand-pie version of a chicken pot pie (in short, some finagled bechamel, chicken, thyme, sage, peas, salt and pepper). I imagine that one of the best things about this recipe is that it presents so many variations within a single crust. The buttery, flaky crust is easily brought together in a food processor or with a pastry cutter (or, hell, even a couple of knives), and can house any manner of savory or sweet fillings.

Butternut Squash, Sage, and Parmesan Pasties
Makes 2 large or 4 small pasties
Original recipe posted by The Kitchn, October 16, 2009

Ingredients
Dough
1 1/3 cups all-purpose flour
Pinch of salt
2/3 cup chilled butter, cut into small pieces
6-8 tablespoons ice water

Filling
8 ounces butternut squash, peeled and cut into 1 cm cubes
1 medium red onion, diced
1 clove garlic, crushed
1 tablespoon finely chopped sage
1 tablespoon finely chopped parsley
1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese
2 tablespoons pine nuts, toasted

Sea salt
Freshly ground white pepper (or black)
1 egg, beaten

Method
To make dough
Sift flour and salt into a large bowl. Using a pastry blender or knife, cut butter into flour until the mixture resembles fine breadcrumbs. Add 1 tablespoon of ice water at a time, gently tossing between additions, until the dough just holds together. [All of this can be done with a food processor. Follow the same steps for adding ingredients, and pulse to combine and bring to the proper consistency.] Shape dough into a ball and wrap tightly in plastic wrap. Refrigerate at least 30 minutes before rolling out.

Before rolling out the dough, let it soften slightly so that it is malleable but still cold. On a lightly floured surface, roll it out to 1/8-inch thick. Cut out two circles using a plate or bowl as a guide.

To make pasties
Preheat oven to 375°F.

In a large bowl, combine butternut squash, onion, garlic, sage, parsley, Parmesan cheese, and pine nuts.

Spoon mixture over half of each dough round, leaving a 1-inch border around the edge. Sprinkle well with salt and pepper.

Moisten the edges of the dough with beaten egg. With cool hands, fold the pastry over and crimp the edges. Cut a small slit in the top of each pasty. Brush all over with beaten egg.

Bake until golden and cooked through, about 40 minutes. Serve hot or warm.

Steak pizzaiola

So, Valentine’s Day. It’s an opportunity for couples everywhere (in the U.S., at least– I don’t know that other countries are as sucked into V-Day as we are) to overspend on all manner of clichés, from $50 bunches of roses to $125 per person prix fixe menus at a local bistro. I’m no Valentine’s Day grinch, but I am a broke-ass, cooking-obsessed grad student. Hence (and much to my own Valentine’s relief), it was determined that flowers would be kept non-traditional (daffodils, a welcome punch of brightness amid all this Bay Area midwinter gray), cards would be as non-sappy as possible, and  dinner would be prepared and eaten chez nous. But, oh…what to make?

There was a chunk of flank steak that had been purchased on sale at Safeway, waiting in the freezer to be made into fajitas– or so we thought. Turns out flank steak is exactly what Cook’s Illustrated suggests for use in steak pizzaiola! Lovers of Italian food (us) and red meat (him, mostly) that we are, it was settled. Steak pizzaiol’, as they would say in my mother-in-law’s native Staten Island, a simple Caesar salad, and an aptly named (for the holiday, though not exactly for us as a couple) bottle of local wine.

Steak Pizzaiola (very slightly adapted from The Best Italian Classics: A Best Recipe Classic by the Editors of Cook’s Illustrated)

Ingredients
1 (14.5 ounce) can diced tomatoes
1.5 pounds flank or skirt steak
salt and ground black pepper
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 medium onion, thinly sliced
5 medium cloves garlic, minced or pressed through a garlic press
red pepper flakes, to taste
1 tablespoon tomato paste
1/4 cup dry red wine
1 sprig fresh oregano
1 tablespoon minced fresh parsley leaves

Method
1. Pulse the tomatoes and their juices in a food processor or blender to a coarse puree (about five 1-second pulses) and set aside.

2. Adjust an oven rack to the middle position and heat the oven to 300 degrees. Season the meat liberally with salt and pepper to taste. Heat 1 tablespoon olive oil in a heavy-bottomed skillet over high heat until it just starts to smoke. Reduce the heat to medium, add the meat, and cook, not moving, until well-browned, about 4-5 minutes [seriously, don’t move it around– you want that browning to happen!]. Turn the meat with tongs and cook until well-browned o the second side, about 4-5 minutes. Transfer the meat to a clean plate and place the plate in the warm oven while assembling the sauce.

3. Return the empty pan to medium heat, add the remaining tablespoon oil, and swirl to coat the pan. Add the onion and cook until slightly browned around the edges, about 2-3 minutes. Add the garlic, red pepper flakes, and tomato paste and cook until aromatic, about 30 seconds. Add the wine, pureed tomatoes, and oregano, scraping up the browned bits from the bottom of the pan with a wooden spoon. Cook until the sauce is slightly thickened and measures about 1 and a half cups, about 5 minutes. Remove the pan from the heat and stir in the parsley.

4. As the sauce finishes cooking, remove the meat from the oven and transfer it to a cutting board, adding any accumulated juices to the sauce. Slice the steak on the bias, against the grain, into half-inch thick pieces. To serve, pour the sauce onto individual plates or a large warmed serving platter and top with the sliced steak. Serve [uh, devour] immediately.

Tell me, friends, what was your best Valentine’s Day meal? In, out, solo, coupled, or with a completely embittered group of single friends– I want to hear some food stories!

Honey balsamic chicken

You know how there are those days (like…most days) where you get home from work and you are seconds away from having a Hot Pocket or something else awful for dinner, but then you realize that there actually are recipes that allow you to get dinner on the table in a crazy-short time and don’t require any Rachael Ray rasping? [Here is where I pause for you to agree and also to catch my breath.] Well, this is perfect for those days. The bonus is that it is delicious, to the point where one’s husband is disappointed there aren’t leftovers for him to eat the next day.

I stole this from somewhere on the internet, but can’t for the life of me remember where. Whoever you are, Magical Internet Creator, thank you. I ate Real Food last night because of you!

Ingredients

  • 2 boneless, skinless chicken breasts
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil (or a spritz of non-stick cooking spray)
  • 1 teaspoon dried thyme
  • 2 tablespoons honey
  • 2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
  • salt and pepper, to taste

Preparation

Heat olive oil in pan over medium-high heat.

Sprinkle thyme, salt, and pepper over both sides of chicken and add it to pan.

Cook chicken 7-8 minutes per side or until done.

Add the balsamic vinegar and honey to the pan and simmer until it thickens (about 1 minute).

Serve with side(s) of your choice. Last night was green beans and roasted-in-foil potatoes, but I just saw a spaetzle suggestion that sounds divine.