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Pre-made Simmmer Sauce, Packaged Soup Mix: Is it cheating?

Lemon Artichoke Simmer Sauce

After a recent shopping trip that included World Market, I came away with a couple of packaged recipe starters – a simmer sauce and dried soup mixes. Although some purists may disagree, I don’t believe using such things for inspiration or a jumping off point is cheating. If I am adding 4 or more ingredients I have to prepare myself to make a complete dish, then it is merely one of the steps in the preparation. (Step 5. Dump in Simmer Sauce) Few of us have the time it would take to create a fresh sauce of this sort – at least in time for that evening’s dinner! The one I chose had lemon juice, artichokes and white wine as its main flavors – which sounded like a marvelous combination to me! I used boneless chicken thighs (1 1/2 lb) that I dredged in flour/ground pepper and then lightly browned in olive oil.

4 or more ingredients added? Not cheating!

I added chopped onion (1/2 c), sliced zucchini (2 small), canned artichoke quarters (14 oz., drained), and mushrooms (1 c sliced), as well as the sauce, and simmered for 35-40 minutes. I served it on Basmati rice to soak up the juices. Delicious!

My other recipe starter was World Market’s Bistro Style Lentil Soup Mix. Even though there were dehydrated vegetables in the mix, the instructions called for fresh ingredients like onion (1/2 onion, chopped), garlic (2 cloves – it called for 4!), and carrots (1 c chopped), as well as canned diced tomatoes (14.5 oz) and chicken broth (2 c). I took it a bit further and added mushrooms (1 c sliced), spinach (2 c)  and sliced cooked Aidell’s Sausage (1 pkg. chicken & apple).

Dried Soup Mix

The soup had to simmer for 1 1/2 to 2 hours, so this is not something you can decide to make on the spur of the moment! In all fairness, you would have simmer it that long if you gathered and measured all the lentils yourself. Undercooked lentils are crunchy and not really what you are going for in a soup. The house smelled amazing while it was cooking, by the way. I’m surprised there wasn’t a line of neighbors – or raccoons – outside the door by the time it was ready to be served! I chose a chewy ciabatta roll as an accompaniment to this soup, so we could swipe out our bowls!

Something that could have been done before adding the sausage and spinach (they were added with about 1/2 hour to go), would be to run it through a blender to make it smooth and creamy, but I had to dash out the door after bolting down a quick, still-simmering bowl, so maybe next time!

A hearty soup for a chilly day!

PS When I returned home, I grabbed a second bowl and my ciabatta roll – tasty! Plenty of leftovers, too!

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Posted by on October 20, 2011 in Information, Recipe

 

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Gemelli Pasta with Bacon & Broccoli Rabe

While on a family visit to Michigan, my husband and I went to the local grocery store to pick up a few things for his mom. At the checkout stand were the usual impulse items: candy, gossip rags, magazines geared toward women and cooking magazines. One of the cooking magazines caught my eye – Cooking Light: 5 Ingredient, 15 Minute Recipes. It had a beautiful picture of grilled salmon with a chutney or something artfully drizzled on it – looked very yummy! I picked it up (just as the merchandiser intended, I know!) and flipped it open to a full page photograph of the finished result of the recipe I’m going to share with you in this post. No – I didn’t tear out the recipe and leave the rest of the magazine! How dare you suggest such a thing! No -I bought it, took it back to the in-law’s and proceeded to go over it with a yellow highlighter and post-it flags. Yes, really. There are quite a few tasty ideas in that magazine and you may see more of them here in the future!

They play a little fast and loose with the definition of “ingredient” in the magazine – spices, water, oil (or other cooking fat) are not included in the “5” promised by the title. And the 15 minute time frame is tossed right out the window. It is clearly typed below this particular recipe, “Prep: 4 min. Cook: 25 min.” I added that up and guess what? Yup – over 15 minutes! (Thank you 2nd grade math!) The prep time – set at 4 minutes, assumes you pre-sliced garlic, pre-cut up bacon, pre-trimmed broccoli rabe*, etc. No – I think it took me probably 45 minutes to pull this together, but that is not too bad in the scheme of things. As always, I altered the recipe – this time by adding quartered artichoke hearts, quartered grape tomatoes and serving with Parmesan cheese. If I had had any feta in the house, I would have ignored the Parmesan, added sliced black olives and sprinkled it liberally with feta cheese – but that will be for another time! For a PDF of the recipe that you can view and print, click here.

To be clear, everything ended up in the large skillet – mine is wok-like with a glass lid and I think it is sometimes referred to as a “chef’s pan” or the “everything pan” – I do use it a lot and rarely use regular skillets.

Gemelli Pasta-Broccoli Rabe-Bacon-Tomatoes-Artichoke Hearts...

*If you are confused about Broccoli Rabe, it is sometimes sold as “baby broccoli.”

 
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Posted by on September 11, 2011 in Recipe

 

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Caesar Pasta Salad

With warmer temperatures comes the need for “cool food” – a cold dinner that doesn’t take a lot of cooking to heat up your home. Of course you can always barbeque and pick up deli salads, but if you want to provide the “wow” factor, something homemade (and easy!) is ultimately the better choice. I know that if I get compliments over a dinner I bought from the deli, it just doesn’t feel the same as when I’ve put my own effort into the making of the meal. (Eater: “Hey, babe! Great dinner – we should do this more often!” Cook: “Yeah – I can really open those deli containers, can’t I? I have found my cooking niche!”)

Caesar Pasta Salad - on the patio!

I developed this recipe from trying deli versions of something similar – I think it’s better! And it’s one I can make without having to look anything up – it’s super easy. Here is what you need: 8 oz. uncooked bow-tie pasta, fresh ground pepper, 1-2 c. shaved Parmesan cheese (bigger flavor – check the deli at your grocery store) – shredded will do, 10 oz (give or take) jar of Caesar Dressing – I like the refrigerated kinds by Marie’s or Litehouse, 2 c. bite-sized pieces of broccoli, 1 c. cherry tomatoes (halved), 1 can quartered artichoke hearts (water packed, drained), 1/2 onion, chopped.

Cook your pasta according to package directions, drain and rinse in cold water until you can stir it easily with your hand. Drain well and put into large bowl. Stir in about 1/2 jar of the dressing (this time, use a spoon!) and set aside. Bring 2 quarts of water to a boil. Add broccoli and onion – cook for 1 minute, drain and rinse as you did for the pasta. This helps the broccoli have a bright green color and still be salad-crisp – it will also cut the sharpness of your onions (especially if you have someone who is not fond of onions!). Add the vegetables to the pasta and stir – adding more dressing as needed. Stir in Parmesan cheese and halved tomatoes. Mix well, adding dressing to desired level of moistness. Add ground pepper periodically to taste. Garnish with additional cheese, tomatoes and/or pepper (or nothing!) refrigerate for several hours before serving. You can also add leftover cooked chicken to the salad to make it a meal instead of an accompaniment. The pasta I used for the pictured salad was multi-colored so it looks very colorful, but regular pasta sets off the bright broccoli and tomatoes better visually. (my opinion!) Serve with extra dressing, cheese and have your pepper grinder handy. This makes a huge bowl and the leftovers are great for lunch – on the patio!

 
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Posted by on June 30, 2011 in Recipe

 

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Using Leftover Chicken: Mediterranean Pasta

Last time, I described how to roast a chicken and promised a good recipe for leftovers – this is it! This recipe has a lot going for it – it’s quick (about half an hour), it’s filling (hello? pasta!), and it uses leftover chicken (so you don’t end up with science experiments in the fridge!) Oh yeah – and there’s bacon in it – everything’s better with bacon! I think there will be a future blog post on bacon – so reviled and so delicious!

Note the fun pasta shape!

Mediterranean Pasta (click for printable pdf) The original recipe called for linguine – which is not my favorite, to tell you the truth. I chose a fun-looking pasta that looks like a piggy tail. I can’t recall the name of it, but it is one of the Culinary Circle-brand dry pastas at Albertsons. You can see what it looks like in the photo.

(UPDATE: I checked on the name of the pasta shape and it is called, “Trottole.”)

I’m not big on measuring for this type of dish (baking is a different story!), so there is probably more chicken than is called for in the recipe. The original recipe also called for a smaller-sized can of artichoke hearts, but what kind of fun is that? Also – more feta is not a garnish – it’s a must! I probably also ground some fresh pepper into it – I do that automatically. I don’t use a lot of salt, either – canned products have tons of sodium so I may not add any or just a turn or two from my sea salt grinder. The bacon is not an overpowering flavor in the dish – just a hint of smokiness! And the rosemary – well, I told you about my rosemary bush in the roasted chicken post! I dried my own rosemary in the microwave between 2 sheets of white paper towels and I’m pretty sure I put in more than was called for! (see Fun Facts page – #6)

This is one of those recipes that is nicely flexible and can be adjusted to individual family tastes. Now that I’m thinking about it, I probably slivered 1/4 red onion into the pan with the tomatoes… Want garlic? Sure! Want more bacon? Why not! Half of the family likes olives – the other doesn’t? Have a bowl of them on the side!  Hate artichoke hearts? What’s wrong with you???!!?

 
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Posted by on April 4, 2011 in Recipe

 

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