31 December 2007

Baked Mac and Cheese

I had a sudden craving for homemade mac and cheese today. I'm not really sure why, since I don't really remember eating homemade mac and cheese - my grandma sometimes made it, but she always put tomatoes in it, and I hated that. I only really remember my mom making the stuff from a box. The closest thing I've ever made was a chili-cheese spaghetti, but it was made with cheez whiz and baked with extra cheese on top. I don't own or cook with cheese product any more, so... that wasn't really a usable recipe this go around.

Since I didn't have a recipe to follow, I looked at a couple online first. The basic gist of it seemed to be "Make a roux, whisk in milk, melt in cheese, pour over pasta and bake until bubbly." So that's what I did. (Without following any particular recipe. It didn't seem complicated and it wasn't.)

The only problem I have with this lunch is that who really wants a nice green salad with the tastiest tomatoes I've had since early September when there's still half a dish of the mac and cheese waiting for someone's hungry tummy?

30 December 2007

Spicy Peanut Chicken and Vegetables

This might be the last new thing I make in 2007. (I haven't decided yet if I'm going to cook tomorrow or just eat something from the freezer.) If it does turn out to be the last new thing... it was a tasty last new thing.

I used the sauce from a cold chicken salad recipe and turned it into a hot chicken... not salad. Here's the recipe (for one):

Whisk together, taste, adjust as necessary to taste, and set aside:
- juice of half a lime and an equal amount of soy sauce
- a few drops of sesame oil
- a few drops of hot sauce
- 1 tbsp peanut butter (if you have the unsweetened stuff, you'll need to add a tsp or so of honey or something else sweet)

Next, cook about 30 grams of rice vermicelli and fry up half a chicken breast (use oil or spray if necessary). Set aside. Sauté a big handful of green/wax beans and baby carrots until tender-crisp. (Or use a frozen mix and cook until just heated through.) Add chicken back to the pan; stir together. Remove from the heat. Pour dressing over all and toss to coat. Serve over noodles or stir noodles into the veg/chicken mix. Top with about a tbsp of chopped peanuts and serve.

I think this would be really nice with cilantro in it as well, though I didn't try that. I think the freshness of the cilantro would perk it up a little, though I did think it was pretty good as is.

27 December 2007

Turkey Tomato Soup with Piroshki

I didn't feel like a sandwich tonight, but wanted to use some of the leftover turkey, so I made a tomato soup. It's a variation on my favourite Pasta Fagiole recipe, with different herbs and turkey instead of beans. Very tasty. It's quite thick though and I think tomorrow's leftover soup is going to be like eating a stew instead of a soup. I'll thin it with a little water though, if it's too thick.

My mom made the piroshki and brought up quite a few of them for Christmas dinner (there isn't one in my picture, though, I don't think). These were stuffed with ground beef and sauerkraut, though I think some had bacon and sauerkraut instead. Tasty goodness.

Christmas Dinner

I could say a million things about this, but I don't really feel up to it - I'm tired and it's two days too late already and somehow that makes it seem an impossible task.

Another fairly typical family dinner at my house. Roast turkey, mashed potatoes, stuffing (from a box), Russian potato salad, Cucumber and Tomato Salad. The only change is this time I also made roasted asparagus and red peppers to go along with it. Delicious all around.

The big difference this time is the dessert that our guest brought - Sticky Date Pudding. (Did I get the name right?)It was delicious anyway, and a nice end to Christmas dinner. Sweet and tasty and good.

21 December 2007

Sweet Chicken Chickpea Curry

This is a sort of strange curry, or at least strange compared to most of the ones I've had before. It's quite sweet - it has mincemeat in it - but also quite spicy.

It's another of the recipes from the Sandi Richard book, but I used half chicken and half chickpeas, rather than just chicken (or tofu, which was her vegetarian suggestion). The flavour of the curry was really well suited to the chickpeas and I think I could make it (and enjoy it) with chickpeas only, rather than both the beans and meat.

20 December 2007

Honey-Soy Chicken on Rice with Sautéed Vegetables

I've had a few too many bouts of laziness this week. So this was a good way to get back into the cooking thing, although Christmas and guests are going to mess that up before I can restart the habit. (My parents are coming up for a few days, so mostly we'll be eating out a fair bit, I think.)

The chicken was... probably not all that much like it was meant to be, but I didn't have enough of two or three of the ingredients, so I just kind of did what I could and added things until the marinade tasted good. And it was good. A bit like a teriyaki sauce, but more subtle. I don't really know how to explain the taste, but it was really nice.

The vegetables were just very basic - cut up, sautéed with a little oil and Mrs Dash seasoning, eaten. And very good. The zucchini was perfect and I could eat sautéed mushrooms every day.

18 December 2007

Chipotle Steak with Balsamic Reduction, Mashed Potatoes, and Marinated

Oh, hello, overcooked meat. This is what happens when you take a bathroom break in the middle of things. And read a short chapter in a book. And then go back to dinner and think, huh, maybe I should flip this.

The inside, actually, was very nicely cooked. Just rare enough for me, but the one side was so, um, well-seared that it was a bit like a nice steak topped with shoe leather. The overcooking, at any rate, was kind of irrelevant, since I didn't like the taste of the seasoning on the steak in combination with the reduction. (The balsamic reduction tasted fantastic on mashed potatoes, however.)

I think this photo does a nice job of illustrating for me why food photographers sometimes let a part of the meal blur out of focus. In the cookbook, you don't see the vegetables. In my photo, you see balsamic vinegar stained cucumber. Still the vegetables tasted fantastic, however awful they look.

17 December 2007

Hazelnut Cookies

It seems like the only time of year that I bake is just before Christmas. I don't really like baking, and I'm not really very good at it, but I guess it's the one time of year that baking feels like it'll be worth the effort. Last year I made a ton of different cookies and gave them away as gifts to some of my family. This year I'm not seeing most of them, so I'm not going to quite so much effort.

The last batch of cookies (Chocolate Toffee Cookies) are already gone - I gave most of them away to a few friends at work. So today I started a second batch of cookies, which will also mostly be given away. I think I'll freeze a few to have around at Christmas, but otherwise I don't need so much tasty goodness sitting in the kitchen, waiting to be eaten.

These cookies came out quite good. They're really soft with bits of toasted hazelnut throughout. My favourite cookies are always soft ones, so this was a great recipe for that. I need to fiddle around with the cooking temperature though, because the bottoms darkened up a little too much. They're not burned, at all, but I'd like it if they were a little lighter on the bottom, and didn't form such a thick crust on the base.

If I can talk myself into it, I may buy some white chocolate to melt and drizzle over top. But probably not, they're pretty good without.

16 December 2007

Salmon with Cranberry Lime Sauce, Rice, and Broccoli

I think it's pretty clear that my sauce didn't quite enter sauce territory. It's really more cranberry-lime juice, but I did reduce the heck out of that stuff until there was nearly none left and I finally gave up on the whole thickening portion of the recipe. Kind of pretty though, even pooled under my broccoli. It's no wonder the recipe photo has it shown on a red plate - you can't see the sauce in the picture, so you don't know that it's not really a sauce at all.

Anyway, this was really tasty, though the flavour of the salmon was quite evident. (I usually prefer fish that doesn't really taste like anything, though I make an exception, rarely, for salmon not from a can.) The cranberry-lime was a little too sweet, but it really suited the fish. (The sweetness was only really evident when I was eating the last bits of rice that had become saturated in the juice.)

The broccoli I steamed in one of those new microwave steam bags you can get from Glad or Ziploc. (I forget which brand I've got.) It worked quite nicely, and no clean-up after, but I don't think I'll waste the money on them again, once I run out. It's not that much more complicated to steam vegetables in a pot on the stove, and that at least doesn't leave you with extra garbage.

13 December 2007

Chocolate Toffee Cookies

I didn't feel like making dinner today, so I made cookies instead.

These are maybe the world's most simple cookies ever, but I can't really decide if I like them. The chocolate taste isn't strong enough - maybe I should have added a tablespoon of coffee? Coffee is supposed to bring out the chocolate, isn't it? And they came out a little drier than I expected. They're made out of a boxed cake mix (and a few other ingredients), and because of that I think I expected them to be more cakey in texture than they are. They had more of a crunch than I'd hoped for.

12 December 2007

Tortellini with Tomato Tapenade and Glazed Green Beans

I always thought that a tapenade was made of olives (and some other things), but this doesn't have an olive in it. (Thank god, as I don't like olives.) Maybe they called it a tapenade because it sounds good with the alliteration.

Anyway, this dinner had a couple weird flavour combinations that somehow came together anyway. The first is the tomato tapenade, which is made of fresh salsa, maple syrup and basil pesto. Strange. But strangely compelling. Incredibly lazy though. I feel like I should at least have chopped up my own tomatoes instead of buying fresh salsa from a deli. Or maybe made my own pesto instead of using the jarred stuff.

The second weird thing was the beans, which are flavoured with soy sauce and lemon pepper seasoning. I think I prefer a non-soy doused green bean - I love green beans, but maybe I'm a bit of a purist in the sense that I want my green beans to taste like green beans instead of like any sort of sauce - but they were actually pretty good, even with lemon pepper and soy on them.

11 December 2007

Soft Taco, Unrolled

These things just don't photograph that well when they're rolled, or maybe I just don't know how to photograph them. So instead, I left it open.

Pretty standard, pretty boring to look at and to cook, but very tasty. And it took about... 10 minutes to make.

I made the beef filling out of the spare burger I made a few days ago. I hadn't cooked it before freezing it, and it didn't have egg in it or anything, so I just crumbled it up and cooked it with a few extra spices and some onion. A good use of leftovers, that.

10 December 2007

Red Snapper with Pineapple Salsa, Pecan Wild Rice, and Sautéed

Cooking fish makes me nervous. Actually, just eating fish sort of makes me nervous. It somehow seems impossibly hard to cook, and I always always assume that I won't like it, even though I haven't run into that many fish dishes that I've not liked.

It's probably partly that I'm scared of fish - I can barely look at them, from larger dead ones in the store to goldfishes in a fishbowl - and partly that my main experiences with fish when I was younger weren't too great. And, too, I come from the prairies. The ocean was a two day drive away. Fish wasn't (and still isn't) a terribly common protein choice. Of the four large grocery stores in my hometown, none have a fresh fish counter. When my mom cooked fish, it came out of a box that said "Highliner" or "Bluewater" on the side.

And then my other experience was going to an uncle's place in BC and my mom canning salmon there. They took this giant, freezer length salmon out of the freezer, and did whatever they did and we can home with jars upon jars of the stuff. I hated it. (My sister still refuses to eat salmon.)

Since then I've had it a few times. Once at a nice restaurant here in Calgary (Chicago Chophouse, what I had is no longer on the menu, though), and I've made it a couple times. This is probably the best fish I've ever made.

I really liked the texture of this fish, and the taste, with or without the salsa. I found the salsa a bit too sweet, but it was just spicy enough. I was a little worried about the salsa because it asked for "hot curry paste" and I never quite know what to use. I had Thai red curry paste, Tikka curry paste, and Butter Chicken curry paste in the fridge, but I always wonder what sort of curry paste they're actually asking for. (I used the Thai one.)

I found the rice a little boring. The pecans were an essentially useless addition, since I neither tasted them nor felt them when I was eating. I can't actually remember biting into a piece of it. I was supposed to use a white and wild rice blend, but I already had a brown and wild rice blend, so I used that. I don't know if that affected the outcome, but it might have, since the brown blend has a stronger flavour of its own than a white blend might have had.

I was going to serve green beans with this, which I think would have looked nicer (too much chopped stuff all over the place in this picture), but I had half a green pepper and an ageing tomato hanging out in the crisper, so I thought I'd better use it up before it went bad. I just very quickly sautéed them with some onion, thyme and basil.

Anyway, this is another of the Sandi Richard recipes, and I think it's a keeper.

08 December 2007

Couscous with Mushrooms and Mixed Beans

This is another of the Sandi Richard recipes, but one of her vegetarian options. She tries to give a vegetarian version of all her recipes so that if a family is mixed vegetarian/omnivore the same meal can be served to everyone with a few simple changes.

The original recipe was a big nasty looking hunk of ribs with a side of couscous and steamed broccoli. I'm not a particular fan of ribs - too much effort for not enough reward. (I know not everyone shares that opinion, but.) So I decided to try her vegetarian version instead.

The original couscous recipe was a fairly basic thing with mushrooms, tomato, onion and garlic added, but with the changes, it got mixed beans (the can I bought had garbanzo, red kidney, romano, and black-eyed peas), raisins, and salsa as well. It tasted really good, though next time I'll add a bit more salsa. I'm always a bit sceptical about couscous - my first experience with the stuff was a fairly awful (I thought) dish with slices of oranges and green onions that my mom sort of fell in love with and that I couldn't stomach, much as I tried - so it's good to find recipes that I actually like. (And also, one serving of this? 10 grams of fibre. Which is insane. In a good way. But you have to use whole wheat couscous to manage that.)

The side that I made was a slight variation on Richard's recipe, which was not so much a recipe as just instructions on how to microwave steam broccoli. I briefly sautéed garlic and red pepper flakes with the broccoli before steaming it. Ridiculously tasty.

ETA (10/12/07): The couscous is very good as a cold lunch. I might like it better cold than hot, even, but I do tend to like things better cold so anyone else's mileage might vary.

05 December 2007

Tuna Tetrazzini with Peas and Corn

This is one of those dinners that is really, really unattractive but tastes good enough that you really can't bring yourself to care.

This was kind of a tastier, healthier version of my mom's tuna casserole. (Her version was made of leftover macaroni and cheese, a can of tuna, a bunch of green peas. Baked together until heated through. Eaten as a condiment with ketchup.) (The ketchup was the most important part of mom's tuna casserole. Yum.)

Anyway, this was a dinner that didn't really fill the plate (though it did fill me up), so I kind of mushed it across to fill as much space as I could and then all the baked cheese got kind of buried and and and... yeah. (I'm too tired to sound more interesting or more interested tonight.)

04 December 2007

Asian Meatball Soup

This is my first real miss from the new cookbook. It tastes like a mild soy sauce soup. Who wants to eat soy sauce soup? Not me. Probably not you.

I don't know if I ruined it by not slow-cooking the soup for eight hours, but I did simmer it for a couple hours after work, and I can't see how it could make so much of a difference one way or another.

03 December 2007

Chicken Rollatini with Roasted Sweet Potato and Greek Salad

This is another of the Sandi Richard recipes. Sort of. But not really. The recipe was an asparagus stuffed chicken breast with Hollandaise, but I'm not a big fan of Hollandaise, so since I've made a different asparagus-stuffed chicken dish before, I decided to make it again. (It looked and tasted pretty fantastic, too.) I used green beans this time, though, since the asparagus at the store looked alternately woody or limp and desiccated.

This Greek salad is from SR though. It's a more fussy variation on the one I usually make myself - more herbs and dressings. It tasted quite good, but I'm happy with my plain-jane version.

The sweet potato... well. I don't know. It wasn't meant to be part of the dinner, but I bought one for something last week, but didn't get around to using it, so I decided to roast it tonight. I've never had roasted sweet potatoes before, but they tasted pretty good. I'd just as soon have a regular potato though. (I stole the stacked display from Anthony Sedlak whose show The Main was on tv today while I did some sewing.)

I decided to take a picture of the inside too, since the vegetables didn't peek out the end of the chicken very well. (I should have properly butterflied the chicken breast instead of just using the little flap at the back. It was much too small to really wrap around.) So there you can see the roasted red pepper and the green beans, which were steamed before being stuffed inside and still had a nice bit of crunch.

This was a really filling dinner. And very easy.

02 December 2007

Mexican Burger with Potato Wedges

My burger shrunk in the cooking! If it hadn't, it would have fit that bun perfectly. Alas.

Oh well. I scooped all the innards out of the bun anyway after I took the photo and threw them away. (I like a bun shell much more than I like the bun itself. It's convenient for holding, but not so bready.) And once the insides of the bun were gone, the burger and vegetables all fit nicely inside the shell.

This was really good, anyway. It came from a cookbook that I picked up a few days ago, The Dinner Fix by Sandi Richard. Richard has a tv show on the Canadian food network called Fixing Dinner, which is basically about helping harried families get into a week-night routine of cooking quick, tasty, healthy meals. I don't generally have a problem with my cooking, since I only have to work around my schedule, but I love cookbooks and I was interested in seeing some of her recipes.

I'm actually intending to do a straight week of Dinner Fix recipes (that is five days, since she doesn't worry about the weekend), and this was a pretty good start, I think.

The burger is flavoured with chipotle seasoning, chili powder, cumin, pepper, Worcestershire sauce, and ketchup. Which made for a very tasty, slightly spicy, moist burger. (It could maybe use an egg, though. It didn't quite want to hold together.) The red onion really complimented the flavour as well. I made two (froze the second for another day) and also made meatballs for dinner on Tuesday. (Her thing: if you've already got ground beef out for one recipe, you might as well prep for another.)

It really was very fast - the prep took just a few minutes - and it cooked in about 12 minutes. All told, probably a 17 minute meal. Which even Rachael Ray could be proud of. (Though she'd have eaten two burgers and twice as many potato wedges. Which she'd have made herself instead of getting them from a bag in the freezer aisle.)

Tortellini Soup with Mushrooms, Spinach and Artichoke Hearts

I haven't felt so much like cooking the last little while again. (On Friday I had... rice crackers for dinner. And chocolate.) But I can't let it turn into a habit, so I made soup for dinner tonight. (Where tonight=Saturday - I'm still awake from working over the night shift, and since I haven't slept yet, it doesn't quite feel like Sunday yet.)

This soup is another recipe from Rachael Ray - About 15 Minute Soup with Spinach, Artichokes and Tortellini - from the same book as the last recipe I made of hers. I had tortellini in the freezer and canned artichoke hearts in the cupboard, so it was convenient that I found a recipe asking for those two things. (Had to buy spinach though...) And it was a soup recipe, which is always fantastic, and even more so now that it's cold as the North Pole around here.

Anyway, it was my first time trying artichoke. It's sort of a strange vegetable and I can't quite decide what to make of it. It didn't taste bad at all, but I don't know that it really tasted of anything. I think I imagined it would be woody, but it wasn't at all.

The soup itself was very good. The spinach stayed really bright and fresh looking and still tasted nice. (Sometimes I find it gets kind of like a little lump of sodden, muddy tasting leaves, which makes me wind up scooping all the spinach out. Generally that's day two of any soup with spinach in it, I find, but still.) The flavour of the tortelloni seemed to suit the soup (although RR does say that you can use any flavour you like so maybe anything would suit the soup). And it was really, really filling.

As usual, RR's portion sizes are insanely huge. The bun lurking in the background of the photo was just for show in the end. What you see in the bowl there is actually only half a serving, and I was pretty close to full by the time I finished that much of it. And I even used 3 oz LESS spinach per person and 1.5 oz LESS pasta per person than the recipe suggested.