Happy Halloween

Instead of posting a recipe today ( I have posted several in the past weeks that would be a nice addition to your Halloween routine)  I decided to use the pictures I posted on Instagram to give you “Halloween 2012 as seen through Instagram”.

This is one of the first pumpkins The Renaissance Man carved.

After the first few, he got a little obsessed. Our living room was (and is still) full of pumpkins.

The front porch is dressed up, too!

Our Texans pumpkin, carved and lit.

This is the pumpkin TRM carved just for me (Coraline is one of my favorite movies).

Happy Halloween, everyone! Stay safe and have lots of fun, whether you’re taking the kids out trick-or-treating, or just staying in with a scary movie.

And if you get any Almond Joy in your treat bag, send it my way.

The Wife



A Thanksgiving Side?

No, it is not too early to start thinking about what to serve with your turkey on Thanksgiving. In fact, I have an entire Pinterest board devoted to the subject.

The turkey is covered. We’re a deep-fryer family, and The Renaissance Man fries our turkey every year. If I’m lucky, he’ll agree to write a how-to on it, since it’s much easier, faster, and more delicious than any other way to cook whole turkey.

My job on Thanksgiving is: everything else. I usually make at least one pie, and a potato side and a veggie side. And then we have leftovers for a week.

It’s probably silly to make Thanksgiving for just two people, but we have fun doing it, and the food doesn’t go to waste. But if you’re in TX looking for a place to eat Thanksgiving, we’ve got plenty of food!

I tried this dish a few days ago for dinner, but when I tasted it, it was obvious what it should be used for: a Thanksgiving side. Plus, it’s way healthier than its butter-using counterpart, so you won’t feel so guilty going back for seconds.

And if caloric guilt is a problem on Thanksgiving, you can join me for the TXU Energy Turkey Trot! Guilt erased.

Butternut Squash Macaroni and Cheese

Ingredients:

  • 1 medium-sized butternut squash
  • 3 slices of bacon
  • 2 C. milk
  • 2 C. shredded cheddar cheese
  • 1 Lb. elbow macaroni
  • 1 tsp. ground mustard
  • 1/2 tsp. nutmeg
  • salt and pepper to taste

Step 1: Does this look familiar yet? Peel, quarter, and seed your squash. Rub the quarters with olive oil and bake at 375 degrees for 1 hour.

Step 2: After the squash has cooked and cooled, scopp out the flesh into a bowl. I used an immersion blender to turn this:

into this:

Note: a regular blender can be used, or a fork, if you have patience.

Step 3: Cover the pureed squash with plastic wrap and refrigerate it until you get ready to make the macaroni and cheese.

Step 4: When you’re ready to finish  the dish, cook the macaroni for a few minutes shy of the time on the box/bag (I cooked mine for 6 minutes, if that helps). Also get the bacon out of the fridge (mine was in the freezer; I was hard-pressed to peel a few slices of of the frozen block of bacon. Don’t forget to thaw it if your bacon’s in the freezer!) and chop three slices into little chunks. Cook the chunks until they’re golden brown.

Step 5: While the pasta and bacon are cooking, scoop the pureed squash into a saucepan. Add  the milk slowly, whisking as you go. You want the final product to be a bit thinner than the end product will be, so add as much milk as you need.

This is a little too thick. Thin it out more than this.

Step 6: Cook the squash/milk mixture over medium heat. Once it starts steaming, add the spices, tasting when you add salt and pepper. Keep whisking the sauce occasionally.

Step 7: Once the sauce starts bubbling, add 1/2 the cheese and whisk it in. (beware! The sauce will splatter and splash once it starts bubbling. Protect yourself!)

Step 8: By this time, the macaroni and bacon should be finished. Add the bacon to the sauce and stir it in. Drain the macaroni and pour it into a baking dish. Then pour the sauce over the top. This sauce is thicker than normal mac and cheese sauce. If it doesn’t sink into the noodles, just stir it around a bit until all the pasta is coated.

Step 9: Top with the remaining cheese and bake at 350 degrees for 35 minutes.

Serve as a side for Thanksgiving, or with a small salad for dinner!

The Wife



The Best Thing to Happen to Pasta Since Alfredo Sauce

There are trends in the culinary world, just like in any other area of expertise. I like to see what things are trending in the foodie realm, and experiment with those ideas that appeal to me. Lately it’s been squash, alternative oatmeals, and now Cajun pasta.

The idea that cajun flavors marry well with cream sauces did not originally appeal to me. I had cajun pasta at a restaurant once (at my bachelorette party, actually). And it was good, but too spicy (and it had peas in it).

But cajun pastas have been popping up everywhere, and I decided to give it a try.

One thing that did not appeal to me about making this dish was the fact that every recipe for it used up a ton of dishes. I do not like doing dishes, so I scaled down the prep and cooking to just one stock pot and one large skillet.

The resulting pasta is quite possibly the best thing I’ve made in a long, long time. It has definite blackened flavors, as well as being a little spicy. I hope you enjoy it. What’ve you got to lose? Not time spent doing dishes…

Blackened Cajun Chicken Pasta

Ingredients:

  • 2 chicken breasts
  • cajun seasoning
  • 1 red bell pepper
  • 1 C. snow peas
  • 1/4 C. white wine
  • 3 cloves of garlic
  • 2 Tbsp. butter
  • 2 Tbsp. flour
  • 2 C. milk
  • 1/2 C. parmesan cheese
  • 1 Lb. fettuccini pasta

Step 1: Cook the pasta until al dente, then drain it and set it aside. I backed off on the cooking time about two minutes, since the pasta spends a little time in a hot pan later on. Also I forgot to cook the pasta until I was halfway done with the meal. Don’t do that.

Chop the red pepper into small(ish) pieces. Mince the garlic and set both aside.

Step 2: Rinse and dry the chicken breasts. lay them on a plate and sprinkle them generously with cajun seasoning. Heat some olive oil in a large skillet to medium high heat. It needs to be hot before you lay the chicken on it.

Step 3: Once the skillet is hot, lay the chicken on it and let it cook for 5 minutes on one side. The idea is to get a nicely blackened surface; a cast iron skillet does this very nicely. In other words, if you don’t have one, go get a cast iron skillet. If not for the superior cooking surface, then at least pick one up for the nostalgia.

Step 4: Once the chicken is blackened on one side, flip it to the other, and cook for another 5 minutes. Then cover the skillet and finish cooking (about 10 minutes). After it is cooked through, lay the chicken on a plate to the side.

Step 5: Pour the wine into the hot chicken pan to deglaze it. Use a spoon or whisk to scrape up all the blackened bits of chicken off the bottom of the pan. Once the wine has started to reduce, add the red peppers and garlic.

Note: you should also add the snow peas. I forgot them until the end. Obviously, forgetting the pasta threw me off my game for this dish.

Step 6: Once the red peppers are tender, add the butter and flour. Stir everything around until the flour is mixed in with the wine. Then whisk in the milk.

Step 7: Let the sauce cook on medium heat until it begins to reduce. You don’t want it too thick. While it is reducing, slice the chicken into thin strips. Add one breast to the sauce, and save the other breast.

Step 8: Once the sauce is the consistency you like, add the pasta (and the snow peas, if you forgot them).

Toss everything together until it’s all coated, then let it sit on low heat for a minute to reheat. Serve hot, with the other chicken breast on top.

This dish surprised me. I used bits and pieces of some recipes, and completely threw out other bits and added stuff that I know we like. The result was something I will make repeatedly, it was that good. Plus, it makes a lovely presentation for a surprisingly little amount of work. If you’re entertaining guests that appreciate a little spice, this would not be a bad thing to serve.

Plus, the spicy pasta on a cold night keeps you warm.

The Wife



Chocolate Craving Satisfied

I usually have weird cravings for sweets in the evening around 7:00. This facilitates the need for me to drive five minutes to Kroger to pick up ingredients for whatever dessert I’m craving at the time. It’s not a nightly ritual, but it happens frequently enough to be annoying.

The other morning I was hit by a chocolate craving. I was wearing my pajamas. I had to get ready for work soon. I was not going to drive to the grocery store to make myself dessert for breakfast.

Instead I used the idea behind my chocolate overnight oatmeal and made something for the cooler weather.

If you like brownies, or chocolate, or ooey gooey sweet breakfast, then this is for you.

Chocolate Banana Baked Oatmeal

Ingredients:

  • 2 Tbsp. cocoa powder
  • 2 Tbsp. brown sugar
  • 1 medium banana
  • 1/4 C. milk
  • 1/2 C. oats

Step 1: Smush up the banana in a bowl. Add the milk and mix it together. Then add the cocoa powder and brown sugar and stir until they are dissolved. Last, add the oats and stir to combine. You’ll have a chocolatey mess in a bowl.

Step 2: Grease a ramekin and pour the chocolatey mess into it. Bake it at 375 degrees for 25 minutes. Your kitchen will start to smell like brownies, and people will stagger in to see what smells so good this early in the morning.

This really tastes like a brownie. You can cut back on the sugar and cocoa if it’s too chocolatey/sweet for you. It was perfect for me, since I was trying to cure a sweet tooth at the time.

This is going to be my reward all week for dragging my butt out the door at 7:00 AM and running in 40 degree weather (I’m a wimp; at 40 degrees I wear gloves and ear warmers). I encourage you to treat yourself for your little accomplishments with this treat.

The Wife



Pot Roast Done Very, Very Right

I know this is much later than usual for me to post. This morning was a little crazy. And by crazy I mean it was really cold out so I dragged my feet about going grocery shopping (I go at 6 AM usually, because my grocery store is the hottest place to be on a Saturday). And then I finally went and came back, and The Renaissance Man wanted breakfast tacos, so I made some, and then Pinterest got its hooks into me and now we’re here.

See what I mean? Crazy.

But, I’m here now, and I have a wonderful recipe to share today. Pot Roast. I know a lot of ways to make pot roast. And all of them make me say “eh.” Some recipes have you put the potatoes in with the roast. This leads to mealy, tasteless potatoes. Some recipes have you sear the outside of the roast. I find this a wasted step.

This roast, however, is a meat masterpiece. And it’s done in the crock pot, which is always a plus.

The sauce is a winey conglomeration of flavors that make me want to rip the lid off of the crock pot when I get home and dive face first into it. But that would scald me, so I haven’t ever done it. The meat is tender, and you can add whatever veggies you want to it.

If it’s as cold where you are as it is here (it’s 40 degrees; I’m a wimp) then today would be a great day to try this.

Crock Pot Pot Roast

Ingredients:

  • 3-4 Lb. beef roast (I used chuck, but really any roast will do)
  • 1 can of cream of mushroom soup
  • 1 can of golden mushroom soup
  • 1 packet onion soup mix (or onion gravy; it’s all the same)
  • 1 1/4 C. red wine
  • assorted root vegetables (I used carrots and leeks; onions work well too)

Step 1: Empty both cans of condensed soup, the packet of soup mix, and the red wine into the crock pot and stir together.

Please, please, please use at least one can of golden mushroom soup for this (you can replace the cream of mushroom with more golden mushroom). I have made this pot roast with only cream of mushroom before, and I can tell you that the golden mushroom soup takes the flavor from “pretty good” to “oh, man, I can’t stop eating  this.”

Step 2: Add the roast, submerging as much of it in the sauce as you can.

Step 3: Chop up the vegetables you’re putting into the pot. Leave them in sizable chunks to they don’t fall apart during the long cooking time.

I always use carrots, and usually use onions too, but I had a giant leek on hand, so I replaced the onion with it this time. I can tell you that I will probably make the switch permanent. The leek was amazing. I’d also bet that parsnips would be a good addition.

Step 4: Add the chopped veggies to the pot.

Step 5: Cover the crock pot and set it to LOW for 9 hours. Go to work. Come home and faint in the doorway because your house smells so good.

Those last two are optional but encouraged.

Serve this with mashed potatoes. Or what we call “Amy potatoes”, pictured above. My friend Amy makes these thin-sliced potatoes on camping trips, but we make them at home, they’re so good. I’ll give you the recipe some time; it’s easy.

I hope everyone gets a chance to curl up under a blanket with a mug of something hot this weekend.

The Wife



Critter of the Week

I enjoyed the critter of the week last week; I think it’s a fun way to start a Friday. So I’m going to be doing it for the forseeable future (or until someone complains).

This week’s critter:

My African Side-neck turtle, Nancy. She was a Valentine’s Day present from The Renaissance Man back when we were still dating.

She is packed with personality. I love her grey eyes and little pig nose.

She loves goldfish, and hangs out in our living room, watching TV.

 

Happy Friday, everyone!

The Wife

If you like Critter of  the Week, please let me know. Also, if there is a critter you’d like to see, I’ll be happy to oblige. There are quite a few around here.


 

Spicy Pork Sandwich

I love this sandwich. I make it every time we eat pork and have leftovers. My mom invented it to use up some leftovers a long, long time ago, and it has gone through many different phases since then, but it’s still delicious.

Originally we used Panera Bread’s onion and rosemary foccaccia as the bread, but then they stopped making it. As a former catering coordinator for the company, I tried to get it back, to no avail (although one of the bakers made one just for me, one morning).

Since that awesome bread is no longer available, I just use kaiser rolls (or something similar). They are a good size, and hold up well.

I said before that this sandwich is usually made with leftover pork. It doesn’t matter what kind if pork, as long as you have enough for the sandwiches you need. Unfortunately, I did not have any leftover pork when I got a hankering for this sandwich the other day, so I threw three pork chops into the crock pot for 8 hours on LOW. It worked perfectly, and made enough for four sandwiches.

Spicy Pork Sandwiches

Ingredients:

  • leftover pork
  • hot sauce (any kind, or a combo will work, but I like jalapeno hot sauce best for this)
  • provelone or farmer’s cheese
  • rolls (enough to feed the right number of people)

This is a very loose recipe, since the amount of leftovers and available cheese is often different when I make these. The above ingredients make the best combination, in my opinion. Feel free to experiment and let me know if you hit on another winning combo.

Step 1: Shred the leftover pork in a bowl.

Step 2: Throw a few dashes of your chosen hot sauce on the pork and stir to combine. Taste testing is important here, as the level of heat varies from hot sauce to hot sauce. If you need more, just add a few dashes more. I used a combo of sauces, since we’re out of jalapeno (I may have dropped the bottle on the floor a few weeks ago).

step 3: Set the pork aside while you prepare the rest of the sandwich. Cut pieces of foil large enough to wrap around the sandwiches. Cut the rolls in half, lay two slices of cheese on the bottom half, then pile some pork on top of the cheese. Lay on the top half of roll, then wrap it all up in foil.

Place the foil packets in a 375 degree oven for 25 minutes. I served these sandwiches with roasted leeks (which went in the same oven for the same amount of time), but chips and dip work well too, or sweet potato fries.

Once the sandwiches are hot through and the cheese is melted, unwrap them and serve!

This is a perfect mid-week or busy Friday meal. The pork is already cooked, all you have to do is assemble the sandwiches.

The Wife