Saturday night – 08/30/2014

A gift of eggplant and a desire to use the grill over a long holiday weekend were the basis of the menu this week. We were overrun with kids this week (in a good way 🙂 and they didn’t seem to go hungry. I’m happy to use that as a benchmark of a good menu.

Menu
Grilled Boneless Chicken Breast
Orzo Pilaf
Ratatouille with Roasted Eggplant and Summer Squashes
Cucumber Salad

Peaches baked with brown sugar and served with ice cream

Notes under the cut

Skillet Gnocchi with Parmesan

I was roasting a chicken the other night and realized I hadn’t thought up a side to go with it when deciding to cook the chicken. I had a bit of bacon left in the fridge from another meal so I decided to fry that up. Of course bacon with chicken isn’t really a complete meal. 🙂 so I went in search of something more. After a quick pantry consultation I decided on some gnocchi. It was hot so I didn’t want to bring a whole pot of water to boil so I thought I’d give cooking it in a skillet a try. It came out great.

Skillet Gnocchi with Parmesan
Servings: 3-4
Prep time: 5 minutes
Total time: 15 minutes

Ingredients:

  • 1/2 Tbsp. bacon fat
  • 1 cup low-sodium chicken broth
  • 1 17.5 oz. pkg. potato gnocchi
  • 1 tsp. red pepper flakes
  • 1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese

Directions:

  1. Heat fat and and broth in a 12″ non-stick skillet until broth is boiling.
  2. Add gnocchi, spread into a single layer and cover. Cook for 2-3 minutes; check for doneness. Continue cooking for another minute if they aren’t done.
  3. When cooked through sprinkle with red pepper flakes and grated cheese. Stir to incorporate. Turn off heat and allow to sit for 5 minutes so that sauce may thicken slightly.
  4. Taste for seasoning. Add salt (sparingly) and fresh ground black pepper if desired.

Notes:
The bacon fat adds a bit of flavor to a very basic dish. Along with the chicken broth it provides all the salt needed. It can be omitted; I’d double check the seasoning if you do.

Saturday night – 08/23/2014

We took the week off from work, which is usually a time for cooking and such when we stay home. Ted wanted meatloaf and mac & cheese, neither of which I’ve found good ways to make for just the two of us. So I put him off until our Saturday night gathering where I can make a passel of food and know it will, usually, be gleefully consumed.

We also celebrated G’s 6th birthday with a red (though not velvet) cake with blueberry filling and Cookie Monster blue frosting. It was certainly tasty.

Menu
Meatloaf with Savory Glaze
Homemade Mac & Cheese
Braised Beet Greens and Swiss Chard
Roasted Beets with candied citrus peel

Birthday Cake

Notes under the cut

Chicken with Mushrooms and Tomatoes

Everyone, if I generalize very broadly, wants an easily prepared weeknight meal. Often times, for me at least, that means buying some random things during a recent shopping trip and then trying to figure out what to do with them. Tonight’s rendition of weeknight roulette included some aged leeks (as in I bought them a couple of weeks ago and should have used them earlier), mushroom, cherry tomatoes from the garden and some frozen chicken thighs that I left to thaw earlier in the day.

Chicken with Mushrooms and Tomatoes
Servings: 4-6
Prep time: 15 minutes
Total time: 35 minutes

Ingredients:

  • 1 tsp. olive oil, divided
  • 4 strips of bacon, roughly chopped
  • 4 boneless/skinless chicken thighs
  • 12 oz. cremini mushrooms, stems removed, tops quartered
  • 3 leeks, quartered, cleaned and cut into 1/2″ pieces
  • 1 onion, 1/2″ dice
  • 1 Serrano chile, seeded and minced
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 pint cherry tomatoes
  • kosher salt and cracked black pepper

Directions:

  1. Heat a non-stick skillet over medium heat with 1 teaspoon of oil. Add the bacon, toss in the oil and cook under crispy (about 5 minutes). Remove the bacon bits to a paper towel lined bowl, leaving as much oil in the pan as possible.
  2. While the bacon cooks put the mushrooms in a microwave safe bowl and cook, uncovered, in the microwave on high for 4 minutes. Drain mushrooms and hold.
  3. Sprinkle the chicken with salt and pepper. Transfer to the hot skillet, seasoned side down. Cook, undisturbed for 5 minutes. Sprinkle second side with salt and pepper and flip the thighs over. Cook for another 5 to 10 minutes; you want the internal temp of the thighs to reach 170°F. Transfer to a cutting board and cover while you finish the dish.
  4. Add the onions & pepper to the skillet along with about 1/2 cup of water. Scrape the bottom of the skillet to incorporate any fond that may have collected on the bottom of the pan. Add the leek, mushrooms and cherry tomatoes. Sprinkle with a generous pinch of salt and a dozen grinds of pepper. Stir to combine, cover and cook for 5 minutes.
  5. Chop chicken into 1/2″ pieces and return to the skillet. Stir chicken into the vegetable mixture. Taste and adjust salt and pepper to you liking. Serve with the reserved crispy bacon bits.

Notes:
Frozen chicken thighs from the big box warehouse store are a convenience not to be overlooked. The ones I pick up come boneless & skinless in a 4-pack. When I remember I take them out of the freezer a couple of days in advance so they can thaw in the fridge. When I don’t remember I use a trick from Cook’s Illustrated (which picked it up from Harold McGee) where you place the well wrapped frozen item in hot water for 10-12 minutes. According to the article, and various research, the quick thaw time isn’t enough time for bacteria to grow. It works for me in a pinch.

As I was cooking this I also prepared some basic white rice (Bring 2 cups water, 1 tsp. kosher salt, 1 Tbsp. oil to a boil. Add 1 cup white rice, stir. Reduce heat to a simmer; cover and cook for 15-20 minutes.) At the last moment I decided to add the rice into the chicken and vegetable mixture. I minute of careful stirring and it was done. Plus all of the rice will be eaten. 🙂

Home Fries for Dinner

These are a fairly quick to cook version of home fries that I have made for dinner. The main difference from breakfast home fries is these don’t sit in the skillet nearly long enough to develop super crisp sides and edges.

We enjoyed these last week with some pan-seared/oven-finished chicken thighs.

Home Fries Dinner Style
Servings: 4
Prep time: 10 minutes
Total time: 25 minutes

Ingredients:

  • 1.5 lbs. Yukon Gold potatoes, peeled and 1/2″ dice
  • 1 onion, 1/4″ dice
  • 1 long pepper (such as a pasilla or Anaheim), 1/4″ dice
  • 2 Tbsp. oil (I used some rendered chicken fat from just cooked thighs)
  • 1 tsp. smoked paprika
  • 1/2 tsp. red chile flakes
  • kosher salt & cracked black pepper

Directions:

  1. Steam potatoes for 10 minutes or until a knife can pierce a potato piece with a bit of pressure.
  2. While the potatoes steam heat olive oil in a non-stick skillet over medium heat. Add the onions, peppers and a big pinch of kosher salt. Cook for 5 minutes, stirring occasionally.
  3. Push the onions and potatoes to the outer edge of the skillet. Transfer the steams potatoes to the center of the skillet in a single layer; sprinkle with salt and pepper. Cook, without disturbing, for 5 minutes.
  4. Toss the contents of the skillet to incorporate the onions, peppers and potatoes. Cook for another 3 minutes, again without disturbing. Toss one more time and cook until the potatoes are easily pierced with a fork.
  5. Sprinkle potatoes with paprika and chile flake. Stir to incorporate. Taste for seasoning; adjust if desired. Serve and enjoy.

Notes:
Any oil will work here as long as it can, pardon the pun, handle the heat. Butter wouldn’t be my first choice as it can burn during after a while. Olive oil (no need for extra virgin) would work fine, as would any vegetable oil.

Zucchini Quick Bread

It’s summer time and the gift of excess produce is in full swing. This past week a co-worker sent me home from work with 4 abnormally long cucumbers, 2 large zucchinis and a crock neck yellow squash. Since were heading to a get together later today I thought I’d make zucchini bread to bring along.

In the back of my head is the thought that one of the hosts is vegan. So I did a little web crawling and combined a few dairy and egg free recipes with my favorite zucchini bread recipe and came up with the following. Enjoy.

Zucchini Quick Bread
Servings: 2 loaves
Prep time: 45 minutes (see notes)
Total time: 2 hours (plus cooling)

Ingredients:

  • 1 zucchini, approx. 2 lbs.
  • 3 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons ground Ceylon cinnamon
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground allspice
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cloves
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1 cup unsweetened applesauce
  • 3/4 cup granulated sugar
  • 3/4 cup packed dark brown sugar
  • 3/4 cup vegetable oil
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract

Directions:

  1. Trim the bloosom end off of the zucchini. Coarsely grate it on a box grater. Transfer to a salad spinner and fluff to aerate. Allow to sit for 30 minutes. Spin vigorously to remove excess moisture. Empty liquid and repeat until no liquid accumulates in the bottom of the bowl. Set aside.
  2. While grated zucchini drains you can preheat the oven to 325°F. Grease the bottom of 2 loaf pans (mine are about 9″x5″.
  3. Combine the dry ingredients (flour, salt, baking soda, baking powder and spices) in a bowl and whisk until the spices are well distributed.
  4. In a large bowl mix together the applesauce, sugars, oil and vanilla until well combined.
  5. Add 2 1/2 cups of grated, drained, zucchini to the wet mixture and stir to combine. Then add the dry ingredients and stir until just combined. A few bits of dry flour is OK.
  6. Divide batter between the 2 prepared loaf pans. Bake for 65 minutes, rotating the pans 180° half way through cooking.
  7. Transfer to a cooling rack for 10 minutes. Remove from the pans and allow to cool completely before slicing.

Notes:
The long prep time is to allow the excess liquid to drain from the grated zucchini. Getting rid of some of the liquid in the zucchini helps to lighten the final product .

Since this quick bread has no eggs it will be denser than other quick breads. Of course the zucchini by itself will often make this a dense bread.

We keep two types of cinnamon in the house, both from Penzey’s. We tend to use Ceylon in most quick baked goods (quick bread, cakes, cookies, etc.) while the Vietnamese is used in savory things or yeast breads.

Pinto and and Black Beans with Tomatoes

Pinto and and Black Beans with Tomatoes
Servings: 10-12
Prep time: 10 minutes
Total time: 45 minutes

Ingredients:

  • 2 Tbsp. olive oil
  • 2 onions, 1/4″ dice
  • 2 bell peppers, 1/4″ dice
  • 1 long pepper (such as a pasilla or Anaheim), 1/4″ dice
  • 1 tsp. garlic powder
  • 1 tsp. smoked paprika
  • 1 tsp. ground cumin
  • 1 tsp. ground coriander
  • 2 x 15.5 oz. Pinto Beans (low sodium if possible)
  • 1 x 15.5 oz. Black Beans (low sodium if possible)
  • 1 x 28 oz. Diced Tomatoes
  • kosher salt and black pepper

Directions:

  1. Heat oil in a large pot over medium hot until shimmering. Add onions & peppers along with a generous pinch of salt. Stir to coat and cook until slightly softened, about 5 minutes.
  2. While the vegetables cook drain and rinse the beans. Drain most of the liquid from the tomatoes as well.
  3. Add the garlic powder, paprika, cumin and coriander to the cooked vegetables and stir to incorporate. Cook for 30 seconds to a minute until the spices are fragrant.
  4. Add the tomatoes, beans and about half a cup of water. Mix everything together. Bring to a simmer. Reduce heat to low and cook for ~20 minutes.
  5. Taste and adjust salt, pepper, etc. to your liking.