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Site Updates and Risotto Style Spaghetti

2 Nov

Like the revamp?  It looks totally different right?!

I kid.  Making the domain name work with the new host takes a few days.  Buttttt…here’s a sneak peak at the new site! (Hopefully the link works, cause it’s looking good!!)

And a belated Halloween post for you, since I seriously worked on the new look of the site all day yesterday and didn’t get around to posting this:

I was always very shy as a child, so I never much enjoyed trick-or-treating.  The idea of going up to all of your neighbors houses, ringing the doorbell and asking for candy?  Not my idea of a good time.

Especially when people dress up as scarecrows or grim reapers, and sit on their porch perfectly still and jump out at unsuspecting children.

Trick-or-treating wasn’t my thing, but I do love Halloween.  I handed out candy. Overall, it was a lot of fun.  Decent costumes and the cutest kid gave me a high five instead of saying ‘thank you’ after her mom asked her ‘what do you say?’.  It was adorable.

Anyway, after the ghosts and goblins and princesses all disappeared, I made an incredibly easy pasta dinner…because I know you all are sick of all the talk of candy and goodies.

Spaghetti?  Oh no, my friends.  I’m quite confident you could make that on your own.  This is risotto-style broken spaghetti!  It takes just as long to make, but is a much needed update of the usual spaghetti dinner.

I saw the idea for risotto style pasta on 30 minute meals with Rachel Ray.  She is creative, but sometimes I just have to wonder what she was thinking. I once saw her cut up hot-dogs, mix them with ground beef, and make hamburgers out of them with like 5 cloves of garlic (she puts garlic in everything).  Enough said.

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This dish is all about infusing flavors into your otherwise pretty ordinary spaghetti noodles.  The risotto method of cooking also concentrates the starches released by the pasta, creating a creamy ‘sauce’, which is pretty cool

Anyway…begin by heating chicken broth in a small saucepan.  Once it simmers, cut the heat.  It just needs to be warm and in an easily accessible vessel…I suppose you could also microwave it in a bowl or Tupperware dish.

While that warms, dice up your onions and break your pasta into small pieces.  Mine were about two inches long.

Also warm a large sautee pan over medium heat.  Then add in a bit of butter and olive oil to maximize flavor, and cook your onions with garlic powder, and a sprinkle of salt and pepper until translucent.

Once your onions are cooked, stir in the pasta matchsticks

The bits tangled up with each other making it very difficult to toast every piece.  You may be able to see in the picture some of my pieces burned while some never toasted.  It still tasted good in the end, but I recommend breaking your pasta up into 1 inch or smaller pieces.

Ideally  your broken pasta will become all light brown and toasty.  It won’t take more than a few minutes.

Then pour in your white wine, stir, and let the remaining liquid evaporate. It will sizzle violently and steam when you first pour it in, so be careful.

You don’t really need white wine, but you do need acid for the flavor.  You can also pour a tsp or two of white vinegar or lemon juice into a quarter cup measure, fill the rest with water, and use that instead (I went with vinegar).

Next, start ladling in the chicken broth.  Pour in a half cup or so first, stir, and allow your mixture to simmer until most of the liquid has evaporated, then repeat, with smaller (1/4 cup) increments of stock, stirring frequently until your pasta is cooked.  This takes much less time than risotto with rice, only 6-8 minutes or so.

I always seem to run out of warm chicken broth when making any sort of risotto.  If this happens, just use any extra broth, or switch to water.  At this point, using room temperature (as opposed to warm) liquid won’t make much difference.

Once your pasta is cooked, remove from heat, and stir in the parmesan cheese.  This will really make your sauce creamy.

Serve immediately, with your favorite pasta sauce.

For a simple meal, these noodles pack some flavor…the onions, the subtle acid, and the chicken broth, plus buttery and nutty notes from toasting.  And the creaminess from the cooking style is a plus too.

Definitely an upgrade from your average spaghetti dinner, and nearly as easy to make.

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Risotto Style Broken Spaghetti
Serves 2-3

2 cups chicken broth (may need more, and/or extra water)
Butter and olive oil
¼ cup diced onions
½ tsp garlic powder
4 oz spaghetti-type noodles (I used vermicelli)
¼ cup dry white wine*
3 T shredded parmesan cheese
Salt and pepper

  • Begin by warming chicken stock in a small saucepan.  Cut heat when stock begins to simmer.
  • While chicken stock is warming, dice onions, and break spaghetti noodles into 1 inch sized pieces.  Also begin warming a large sautee pan to medium-high heat.
  • When satuee pan is hot, cook onions with garlic powder in 1 tsp butter + 1 tsp olive oil (add more if needed).  Sprinkle with salt and pepper.  Stir and allow to cook until onions are translucent.
  • Once the onions are cooked, add dry noodles.  Stir frequently and cook until pasta becomes toasty and golden brown, 2-3 minutes.
  • Stir in white wine (it will spatter a bit), and cook until evaporated, about a minute.
  • Once wine has evaporated, begin adding chicken stock to pasta like cooking a risotto.  Ladle in ¼- ½ cup of broth at a time, stir, and allow to cook until the majority of the liquid is absorbed, then repeat until the pasta is cooked.  The timing will depend on your pasta, but about 6-8 minutes.  If you run out of warm chicken stock, you can ladle in water or non-warmed stock to complete the pasta cooking.
  • Once pasta is cooked, remove pan from heat, and stir in parmesan cheese.
  • Best served warm, with your favorite pasta sauce.

*You can also pour a tsp or two of white vinegar or lemon juice into a quarter cup measure, fill the rest with water, and use that instead

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Potato Meatballs From My Childhood

23 Oct

Let me tell you something…meatballs are not photogenic.  They’re just…not.

But they are delicious.

I have very vague memories of the inspiration for this recipe.  I do remember the texture because of the grated potato mixed in.  Flavor?  Onion soup mix.  And they were always served over mashed potatoes.  So that was what I tried to recreate.

I’m so happy with these!  Of course there are small things I would change (like making a gravy…for some reason I have problems thinking up any sort of sauce for anything), and if I remake them I will update the recipe.  But seriously, make these.  They’re easy, inexpensive, and taste awesome.

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First, start with the potatoes.  I used yellow potatoes because I’m much too lazy to use russets and peel them.  A few tips:  cube your potatoes so they cook more quickly.  Also, put the potatoes in the cold pot, then add the water…cover the potatoes by about an inch.

Guy Fieri said once that you should always start potatoes in cold water (don’t start the water boiling and then drop the potatoes in).  Not that I consider him a reputable source, but that’s how I make potatoes now.

Then make your seasoning blend!  I initially planned on just using onion powder, but then decided to google onion soup mix and figure out what else was in it that I could season the meat with.  I ended up using: onion powder, garlic powder, dried parsley, paprika, and pepper.

There’s also a ½ tsp of baking soda in there…I’ve seen Aarti (of Aarti Party) do that to make meatball-type concoctions to avoid using other binders like egg and bread crumbs.

Oh yeah, and grate up a potato.  I used a medium sized yellow potato…you could use russet, or even carrot or sweet potato if you wanted.

All of that goes in with 1 lb. of hamburger meat.  Then just mix it all up!

This was very strange to me.  Usually when I work with hamburger meat the goal is to not overwork it, and when I’ve made turkey burgers I’ve always used a spoon to stir everything together.  For these meatballs I used my hands.  My fingers were so cold by the time I finished forming my (very unevenly shaped) meatballs.

Preheat your oven now and get a sautee pan heated on high.  Once warm, give it a spray with non-stick spray, and start browning your meatballs.  30 seconds to a minute per side is fine…you just want to give them a nice browned crust.

How many sides does a ball have?  Uh…good question.  Just keep turning them every 30 seconds-1 minute until the majority of the surface area has a nice sear.

Then transfer to a baking pan.  Mine squeezed just perfectly into a loaf pan.  Season well with salt.  There’s no salt in the meatballs because it would dry out the insides, but they need that salt to bring out all the delicious flavors.

Mine baked for about 30 minutes, turning halfway through…I like my ground beef to be extra dead.  You probably don’t want to bake these for less than 20 minutes, but it will depend on how pink you like your meat and how much time they spent in the sautee pan.

Basically as long as there is quite a bit of juice in your pan and nothing looks too bloody they’re probably done.  You could always cut one open or poke it with a thermometer to check, of course.

Oh yeah, and the mashed potatoes!  Pierce a larger of your cubes with a fork or sharp knife, and once they are soft and tender, they’re ready to be mashed.  Drain all the water first of course.

I’ll be honest with you…there’s no secret to making mashed potatoes.  I don’t even have much of a recipe.  I start the mash by hand with a fork or potato masher, then put the electric mixer to work.

Add a tablespoon or two of butter, a bit of salt, pepper, and a few splashes of your favorite milk. Beat, taste, and repeat.  As long as you add everything in small amounts and taste, your potatoes will be fine.  Remember: you can always add more of a seasoning, but it’s much harder to take away.  Plus, all that tasting gives you an excuse to eat more mashed potatoes.

The lack of eggs and bread crumbs probably contributed to these meatballs being on the dense side, and I would have liked even more grated potato, but the flavors were spot on!

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Potato Meatballs 
Serves 4

1 medium potato (yukon gold, yellow, or russet…you’ll need 1 additional potato for each person if you are making mashed potatoes)
1 lb ground beef (I used 90/10)
2 tsp onion powder
1/2 tsp garlic powder
1/4 tsp dried parsley
1/4 tsp paprika
1/4 tsp pepper
1/2 tsp baking soda
Salt
Butter and milk for mashed potatoes

  • To make mashed potatoes: Start by cutting potatoes into 1 inch cubes.  Place in a pot and fill with water so the potato is covered with an inch of water.  Bring water to a boil and then reduce heat to a simmer until the cubes are soft and fork tender.  Strain the water, then transfer potatoes to a large bowl (or you could use the same pot).  Start mashing with a fork or potato masher, then add in 1-2 tablespoons of butter, a generous sprinkle of salt and pepper, then 1/4 of your favorite milk.  I then beat the potatoes with an electric mixer.  Add more butter, salt, pepper, and milk slowly to taste.
  • To make meatballs: In a small bowl, combine onion powder, garlic powder, parsley, paprika, pepper, and baking soda.  Also grate one medium potato (1/2 cup – 1 cup).  Combine grated potato and seasoning blend with 1 lb. of ground hamburger.  Mix and knead well until everything is evenly distributed.
  • Preheat oven to 350 F, and heat a skillet with a drizzle of oil over high heat.  Meanwhile, form your meat mixture into 8 similarly sized balls.  Make sure they are relatively well packed so as to not fall apart.
  • Cook your meatballs in the skillet for 30 sec – 1 minute per side, about 8-10 minutes total, until the meatballs have a nice brown sear on all surfaces.
  • Once seared, transfer meatballs to a pan (I used a loaf pan).  Season with a generous sprinkle of salt, and bake for 20-30 minutes, turning halfway through (and sprinkling on more salt).
  • Serve over mashed potatoes!

Guilt-free Pumpkin Alfredo

16 Oct

I have been meaning to make a pumpkin alfredo type dish for a while now.  After pumpkin doughnuts and pumpkin pie bars, it’s about time I posted a savory dish involving pumpkin, right?

Mmm, this pasta is so creamy and rich.  It leaves you satisfied without that heavy feeling that comes after eating Paula Deen style comfort food.  With all the lovely flavors here, you won’t even know you’re eating a lighter version.

Asparagus, broccoli, or any other green veggie you’ve got would be just fine.  Chunks of roasted sweet potato or orange squash would be good here too, now that I think about it…and chicken if you want some meat!

This version ended up being vegetarian with mushrooms and peas because, well, those are veggies I love but the boyfriend is less fond of.  And this one was just for me, since there was still chicken tortilla soup for him to eat =]

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This is actually a really simple dish to put together.  I perfected the basic process in a dorm kitchen, including dirtying the least amount of dishes.

First cook your pasta.  In a saucepan?  Wait for water to boil?  No way.  We’re going microwave on this one (what?  I was too hungry to wait for water to boil).

You need a wide dish with high sides that your pasta will fit into as a single layer.  Pour it in dry, and cover with a centimeter or two of water.  6 minutes in the microwave is perfect, but keep an eye on it the first few times.  You don’t want to overcook or undercook, and the pasta will bubble up, so if the sides of your dish aren’t tall enough you will have a mess in your microwave.

I cook in a 25 oz Glad tupperware dish, which I believe is the entree size.  It’s about 6x6x2 inches.  Wipe it out and store any leftovers in the same dish.

Meanwhile, assemble the rest of the ingredients and get a pan heating over medium heat with a drizzle of oil.

Cook the onion with garlic powder until soft and translucent, then add mushrooms (don’t overcrowd the pan…the mushrooms will release a bit of water, and you want them to sautee, not steam).  Don’t forget to season with salt and pepper!

Once the mushrooms are cooked, add your peas.  I just poured mine right in from frozen.  This will cool your pan down, so let them cook for a few minutes longer to warm up.  Taste and season with salt again here!

Veggies done!  Remove them from pan (into the same bowl you will eventually eat out of, of course…saving dishes here)

Turn down your heat to low, then pour in a ¼ cup of milk (I used skim), and your cheese wedges.

I used light, swiss cheese flavored Laughing Cow cheese.  These are 35 calories a wedge, and totally delicious.  I smear them on sandwiches, apples, mix them in with eggs…they’re great.  There’s also a bunch of flavors to choose from.  They’re a bit on the pricey side though, so I usually only buy some when they’re on sale.  Oh…and find them in the deli section with the fancy cheese, not with like the yogurt and generic shredded cheeses.  Unpaid advertisement over.

For being so creamy, I was expecting these to melt better.  It took a bit of stirring and crushing, but eventually they sauce-ify.  I also added about a ¼ cup more milk to thin the sauce out, but it’s up to your preference.

Once the cheese is mostly melted, stir in your pumpkin, pepper, and sage.

I don’t use sage often, but I really like it.  It has a warm flavor like less potent, slightly spicy oregano.  Delicious.

Then just stir in your pasta, and veg.  Cut the heat, stir for a few more minutes, and you’re ready to eat!  Definitely taste for seasonings…I added a touch more salt at the end.

This is so good…and not just because I was starving when I made it.  I’m not sure the pumpkin flavor comes through as much as I had hoped, but I love the orange color (and the nutrients!)…it feels like eating a full-fat cheddar packed macaroni and cheese dish.  The mushrooms are meaty and tender, and the peas add a nice sweet pop!  The sage and pepper give a nice warm heat and extra flavor, and really bring home that taste of fall.  Amazinggg.  (Also makes good leftovers =] )

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Light Pumpkin Alfredo
Serves 2

4 oz pasta (that’s ½ cup of any small pasta…I used ditalini)
¼ cup diced onion (or ½ tsp of onion powder)
¼ tsp garlic powder
½ cup sliced mushrooms, rinsed and dried (fresh, not from a can)
½ cup frozen peas (or fresh or drained from a can)
3 wedges of Light Laughing Cow Cheese (I used Swiss)
¼ – ½ cup milk (I used skim)
¼ cup pumpkin puree
¼ – ½ tsp dried sage
¼ tsp pepper
Salt

  • Cook your pasta according to package directions (or in the microwave as mentionned above)
  • While the pasta cooks, sautee your onion with garlic powder and a pinch of salt over medium heat for 3-4 minutes until soft and translucent.  Push onion to one side of the pan, add another drizzle of oil and sautee mushrooms (try not to overcrowd the pan) until tender with another pinch of salt(3-4 minutes)
  • Once mushrooms and onions are cooked, reduce heat to low, and stir in peas.  Cook until peas are warm (about a minute)
  • Remove veggies from pan and set aside
  • On low heat, add milk to sautee pan, then cheese wedges.  Stir frequently and press the wedges down with your spatula…eventually they will melt
  • Once cheese has mostly melted, add in pumpkin purree, sage, and pepper.  Stir to combine.
  • Stir pasta and cooked veggies back into the sauce. Stir for a minute to combine and allow the pasta to absorb the sauce, taste for seasonings (may need more salt, pepper or sage to taste), then serve!
  • Keeps well in the fridge for a few days if you have any leftovers

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