This summer and fall, though I was on an accidental-on-purpose hiatus from posting, I was not on hiatus from cooking. I was, however, dialing back my habit of dramatically over-estimating how many evenings a week I could cook, how long exotic ingredients would keep their freshness or my interest, or how committed I would be to cooking after working a 12-hour day. I started using a lot of ingredients on repeat, mixing and matching them in different variations depending on how whacked out my schedule ended up looking like on any given day. A few of the ingredients I came to rely heavily on were mushrooms, zucchini and yellow squash that were exploding out of my garden at a tremendous clip, chicken breast, and of course, pasta.
If I published every variation of vegetable-y pastas with light cream sauces that I played with last fall, I’m pretty sure you’d think that’s all I ate. (At some point I’ll share some more of them with you, when I actually have more vegetables growing in their prime.) This is one of my favorites that came out of those months, my quick-I-need-dinner-and-what-do-I-have-in-the-fridge-to-piece-it-together season.
For the better part of middle and high school, I was usually up in time to make breakfast for my mom and sister while they continued bustling about, getting ready for school. Most days, this breakfast consisted of “tortillas with cheese”, which is just exactly what it sounds like: three flour tortillas, each with a layer of rough slices of cheddar or colby cheese, heated in the microwave for 30 seconds or so before being rolled up in paper towels for a to-go breakfast of champions.
At some point later, upon partaking the joys of quesadillas that popped up on restaurant menus all over the place, I made the connection that I’d been making quesadillas all along (freakishly simple though they were). As with most of my cooking projects, though, I’ve stepped up my game and now make quesadillas not for hurried breakfasts on the go, but for sit-down dinners at home.
And you should too.
I will say one thing though, and don’t freak out: these quesadillas don’t have much cheese.
I know. I know. What sort of monster cuts the cheese so significantly in a dish that is literally NAMED after cheese? But I tell you, it’s possible to have a delightful quesadilla that doesn’t have puddles of gooey cheese oozing out the sides and sizzling on your frying pan. Trust me on this.
Like many of you, I assume, I grew up eating chicken at home primarily in the form of boneless-skinless chicken breast. Legs and thighs were treats found mostly on coveted fried chicken platters that showed up at potlucks, or in occasional bucket o’ chicken. And whole chickens? Even more rare!
I decided a few years ago that I wanted to try to buy as much of meat from local producers as I could, which is admittedly more expensive than trays of shrink-wrapped meat from the grocery store. For some cuts, it was oppressively expensive: boneless-skinless chicken breast ran anywhere from nine to fifteen dollars a pound (gulp). As a result I began to explore other cuts of meat, and one of my favorites was the whole chicken. Not only does a whole chicken yield a variety of cuts and flavors, but I can split a whole chicken into at least three meals for Brad and I. And I can use the spare parts for stock. Definitely the biggest bang for my buck. Sometimes I choose to break the chicken down for parts while it’s still fresh (using an excellent how-to video that I swear by) and sometimes I choose to cook it whole. And, for a number of reasons, this is my favorite way to do the latter.
Reason #1: It’s fast. Seriously, from start to finish, this chicken can be ready to eat in an hour. There’s very little prep – no stuffing, to tying of feet, no oiling, and no slow-roasting. This bird cooks HOT for 45-50 minutes. And though the original recipe recommends seasoning at least two days in advance, I’ve never been disappointed in my method of seasoning immediately before cooking.
The food-focused internet is positively abuzz with recipes for Chinese dumplings, stir fries, and noodles to celebrate the Chinese New Year. It doesn’t seem to matter what I’ve packed to eat for the day: just a few minutes skimming my Google Reader has me craving Chinese food well before lunchtime.
Aside from vegetable-packed stir fries (and an occasional, unbelievably tasty batch of potstickers), I don’t cook a lot of Chinese food at home. Most recipes tend to call for ingredients that I don’t usually have on hand, and it’s soooooo easy to order takeout. But I was recently invited by a fellow blogger, Diana of Appetite for China, to participate in a “Virtual Potluck” to celebrate the New Year and the release of her new cookbook, The Chinese Takeout Cookbook. She posted six sneak-peek recipes from the book on her site. And my only task? Make one, adapted it to my own needs, and post! How could I resist?
Frequently, when I go to my parents’ house, the organizing spirit seizes me with an iron grip and won’t be satisfied until I’ve emptied out the pantry, sorted every package and box and can of food, and replaced them again. It’s usually a comical affair as my mom and I chuckle at the ridiculous artifacts of gift baskets and deep discounts we find lurking at the back of the cupboard. And upon returning home, I tend to find myself inspired to root through my own pantry to create meals with odds and ends I already have on hand.
This dish came out of one such rooting. An excess of white rice, leftover almonds from my holiday toffee-making, a can of water chestnuts, and chicken and peas from the freezer, seemingly disparate parts, became something great together as this Almond Chicken. With the addition of a green onion and a bit of sherry and soy sauce, it’s a quick meal that requires only a few minutes of stir-frying and a fluffy bed of rice.
I’ve grown tired, lately, of regular pasta sauce. Not of pasta, mind you. I crave that all the time. But these days, every time I sit down to make or order a pasta dish, I try to find something that is not marinara or alfredo.
While traipsing about the internet, I ran across a recipe for chicken marsala, which I’ve eaten at restaurants but never cooked myself. The thick, tangy brown sauce, full of mushrooms and drizzled over chicken, looked wonderfully decadent, and I started wondering how it would taste on pasta. It seemed it might be just the breath of fresh pasta-sauce-air that I was looking for.
For those of you out there who love chicken marsala, you won’t be surprised to hear that this dish starts with a large pile of mushrooms. You can use any variety you like, but I love using creminis. Even though they ultimately get drowned in brown sauce, they’re just so dang pretty when you clean and chop them up, aren’t they?
And the other half of chicken marsala? The chicken, of course! Chicken breasts are sliced in half to create thin, fast-cooking filets. I dredged mine in a mixture of flour and parmesan cheese to create a golden-brown, slightly crunchy coating.
While most of my friends sense summer only through the seasonal changes, my university job means the seasons are still distinctively marked by the ends and beginning of semesters. It seems so recent that I was fighting graduation traffic on campus, sending Brad off on an internship, and excitedly making a list of all the recipes, garden projects, canning extravaganzas, and social outings I’d surely have time for in the balmy months of summer.
But here we are, at the beginning of August. Aaaaaaand the list is still really long. Is it possible that it’s longer?
It is. Probably because I keep ignoring the recipes I have on my list to make because I get cravings to make something out of left field. Like this.
I don’t particularly care for them. I like a good roasted red pepper cream sauce sloshed over some pasta, I think they are super pretty cut into strips and fanned out on a tray of crudités, but I’m never one to actuallyeatthem from said tray.
I do, however, make an exception when for fajitas. Green bell peppers and red onions snuggle up in a tortilla so nicely with well-seasoned chicken, perhaps some cheese, and a healthy dollop of sour cream. I used to buy those little packets of fajita seasoning, but I found I never used it all in one go. Why accumulate half-used packets of seasoning in the pantry when I could just make my own?
Also, what better time to do a glitzy little photo shoot for my most recent kitchen obsession? THESE. My beautiful spice jars. I recently ordered an assortment of jars to make my spice and herb rack the prettiest little thing you’ve ever seen, and I still can’t fully express my delight. I know, I know: spices last longer if they are protected from the light. But my kitchen is a cave for 18 hours a day anyway. Plus, they are sooooo pretty!
Remember a week or two ago when I made fresh mozzarella cheese? And I said I was gonna tell you what you could do with the 1/2 gallon + of whey that results from the cheesemaking process?
I’m here to fulfill my promise.The promise of pizza.
It’s a lovely thing when completion of one kitchen project leads inexorably to another. What better way to use a pound of fresh mozzarella than to throw the old pizza stone in the oven, pull out the pizza cutter, and have yourself a pizza feast? And this pizza crust? THIS one uses up the whey from making mozzarella. Some of it. Or if you’re moderately obsessive me, it uses all of the whey.
I’ve used several recipes over the last couple of years for homemade pizza crust. Sometimes thick and fluffy, sometimes thin and crispy, sometimes in that strange place in between. This crust is simple to put together, has a short list of ingredients, and can go from disparate ingredients to rolled-and-ready-for-toppings in less than 30 minutes.
For the last couple of weeks, my Google Reader has been buzzing with “game day” recipes. Game day party decorations. And game day craft projects (which seems a bit bizarre, don’t you think?), all in preparation that un-official American holiday: the Super Bowl!
I must confess, (braces for judgement) I’ve never really watched the Super Bowl. Neither of my parents were ever particularly big sports fan, and more often than not, we would go skiing or see a movie on Super Bowl Sunday to take advantage of empty slopes and matinee tickets. In fact, I was in college before I sat down to watch my first Super Bowl work on a paper in the corner at my dorm’s game day party.
But the food, the food! Such a celebratory spread of mind-bendingly delicious snack food I’ve never seen! Wings and ranch and chips and dips and cookies and sodas and crackers and cheeses and and and and… it’s an ode to snacking as much as it is to football. And I’m not a hater. If I could live on chips and salsa, I would totally do it.