Archive for the ‘Entrées’ Category

Weeknight Roasted Chicken

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.

All the ingredients you need
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.

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Fresh Bruschetta Mozzarella

I wish I could say that I’ve been harboring this recipe for years, that I’m embarrassed to be posting it only now after summers and summers of enjoyment. I wish I could say that I’ve been adding it to my menu every week of every tomato season for as long as I can remember. I wish that the glut of tomatoes that I harvested this year, the glut that caused me to try this experiment, had happened years ago.

Bruschetta Mozzarella Toasts
Well. I can say none of those things. The truth is I’ve never been a big fan of fresh tomatoes, and as such, I’ve spent my life picking them off of salads, sandwiches, and pastas. But I’ve vigilantly planted at least a couple of varieties each of the last few years in an effort to force myself into using them, and this year, the strategy paid off handsomely. It seemed wrong to take such ripe, beautiful fruits at their peak and cook them down into sauce, and the internet seemed to agree that bruschetta is a great way to feature them raw.

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Chip and Cheddar Hot Dogs

The benefits of apartment dwelling are many. We’ve managed to get our leasing office to fix everything from bathroom light bulbs to water filters in the freezer to warped baseboard in our storage room. We have the freedom to move when and where we choose (within the limits of an annual lease, of course) and there is not much gossip over fences about whose lawn is the most unsightly (though I expect when the time comes, mine may take that prize).

There are, however, many downsides as well. And on a week like this, leading up to the ceremonial end of summer, the fact I begrudge the most is that I am forbidden from using a grill on our little balcony. I get it, I do, we can’t have apartment buildings combusting every time a three-day summer weekend rolls around. Still, I’m cranky about it all the same.

But there are times when, despite the glaring lack of grill, I just want a damn good hot dog.

Chips and Cheddar Hot Dogs
Now I typically don’t like much fuss for my hot dogs. A bun, a dog, and some ketchup will serve me just fine. But this fancy-pants one became my new favorite after a friend of mine in North Carolina practically forced it upon me when I confessed I’d never stopped by the hot dog cart outside our building. Though the cart is no longer a staple on Duke’s campus, the legacy lives on, and I pity the Duke students going forward who won’t benefit from the culinary stylings of Pauly Dogs.

Preparing for hot dogs
Christened on the menu as the “Chips Plus”, this hot dog features smoky flavor from barbecue sauce and Old Bay seasoning, some cheese for good measure, and a delightfully salty crunch from some cheap potato chips. It’s a perfectly blended solution of delicious and ridiculous. And most importantly, you really don’t need a grill to make them awesome.

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Shrimp Scampi Linguine
This may not come as much of a surprise. But, when I go on vacation, one of my favorite activities is seeking out and buying whatever edible bounty hails from my destination. And I’m not just talking the best local restaurants: if I can swing it, I try to bring back enough to stock my pantry and freezer. From Phoenix, I toted back a bag of the most splendid grapefruits. From Maryland, a trunk full of apples, pumpkins, and cider. From Wisconsin, a backpack full of cheese, accompanied by an ice pack which thankfully was not confiscated at the airport.

And from our recent weekend getaway to the Grand Strand beaches of South Carolina, I brought back a few pounds of fresh-caught shrimp.

Fresh shrimp!
Having grown up in a rather land-locked state, I never had many opportunities to enjoy fresh seafood. Shrimp was always something I liked to eat, but I mostly knew it only in its breaded, popcorn form, or cold and pink around the shores of a cocktail sauce reservoir. With this rare opportunity to buy it right from the waters of the Atlantic, I wanted to try a dish I’ve been thinking about ever since I was served something similar at a friend’s after their own return from their beach house in the Outer Banks: a pasta dish studded with shrimp and lightly coated with a buttery, flavorful sauce.

Pretty pretty ingredients Read on »

Spaghetti with Caramelized Onions & Mushrooms

Have you noticed that onion and mushroom pizzas are all the rage these days? It seems that every pizza parlour around now features a caramelized onion pizza topped with mushrooms and pungent gorgonzola cheese. And who can blame them? The rich, sultry flavors of these three ingredients make for an surprising and exciting change from red- or white-sauced pizzas.

But we’re not here to talk about pizza. In fact, it was the glut of all these pizzas popping up on menus that made me wonder how the same flavors would work when painted on a different canvas… say, perhaps, a knot of whole wheat pasta?

The ingredients
Chopped ingredients

Caramelized onions are, in my book, one of life’s greatest pleasures. From topping crostinis to starring in homemade onion dip, they enrich almost everything they encounter. I’ve been known to eat them plain, with no cares about the odorific consequences that might ensue. As I expected, they make an excellent base for this pasta sauce.

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Roasted Red Pepper Pasta

There aren’t enough sauces, ingredients, shapes, cheeses, or styles in the world to burn out my love for pasta. If anything, it seems my taste for the stuff has only expanded since I started this blog; my childhood pasta preferences were limited exclusively to spaghetti with butter and parmesan cheese, and now I favor short, thick pasta dressed in zesty, flavorful sauces. There’s really nothing like writing a food blog to force me into trying new things. And as much as I want to make some of my favorites over and over again, then I’d have nothing new to tell you about! (However, if you haven’t already tried the Penne alla Vodka, you should really make it your top priority.)

Well, maybe your second priority. Because I’m pretty darn happy with this one, too.

All the bits and pieces

Roasted red peppers are pretty easy to come by at the grocery store. Yes, I know that fresh red bell peppers are EVERYWHERE at this time of year (at least in North Carolina), but for a quick and filling weeknight dinner, I went with these. Plus I already had them in my pantry and it was time to use them up.

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Easy Stove-Top Mac and Cheese

I’m just gonna come right out and say it. When discussing cheese and pasta, sometimes one must be blunt.

I like stove-top macaroni and cheese more than baked macaroni and cheese.

This is the truth, straight from me to you.

I mean, that’s not to say I won’t consume a mound of baked mac rapidly if it’s served at a potluck, a cookout, or a picnic. And I won’t say no to a fancy mac, like this one I made last year. But the macaroni of my dreams is prepared on the stove-top: al denté, piping hot, and swimming in thin, just-a-little-bit-spicy, orange cheddar cheese sauce.

Mac and Cheese
Is this a product of being raised on the blue box? Perhaps. Is this a product of wanting my pasta so firm that it nearly crunches between the teeth, a state that is nearly impossible to achieve when baking pasta? That’s probably reading too deeply into the whole thing. Maybe I don’t like the breadcrumbs that typically accompany a baked mac? Maybe I don’t like the waiting?

One significant downside of loving so much a mysteriously created product of food science is that it can be incredibly difficult to replicate at home. What the hell is that orange powder anyway? I theorize it must be fairy dust, for I have searched for years for a mac and cheese recipe that, if not identical, could at least be a satisfactory homemade replacement to the mac and cheese of my childhood.

Friends, I HAVE FOUND IT.

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Little Tomato Pasta
It hardly seems real to me that the summer, which seemingly only just began, is now drawing to a close. What once looked like a vast expanse of time in which to accomplish projects and execute plans that I’ve had on my list for some time now is now behind me, with very few of those items marked off.

I suppose that’s the way it goes, isn’t it? Perhaps there’s a reason those projects are still on the list: they simply don’t take priority when other things come up. Sometimes it’s dinner with friends, sometimes a movie, sometimes it’s work.

This time, it was a MASSIVE harvest of tiny tomatoes that would be heartbreaking to waste.

All the tomatoes in America
Up until a couple of years ago, I only ate cherry tomatoes raw, usually in salads or from the veggie tray at parties. And as someone who is not a particularly big fan of raw tomatoes, I typically only ate one or two.

Now that I am growing my own, however, I must find other ways to use them up. I actually dried most of this batch, but I’ve been curious about what a tomato sauce made from these tiny, sweet tomatoes would taste like, so I decided to give it a shot. And while it is certainly more labor-intensive than pulling a jar of Ragu from the pantry, it’s quite a delightful way to make the most of the tomato-harvest of August.

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Southwest Chicken Pasta

A few days ago, I escaped the humid crush of the Eastern United States with my annual return to my childhood home in Southwest Colorado. Each summer, I look forward to this return with great anticipation, but each year I continue to be humbled and amazed by how much I love this place. To be sure, living in the mountain desert has its hardships: this year’s drought is threatening to run our well completely dry, and the cool dry air that normally greats me when stepping off the plane was this year flooded with smoke from the West Fork Fire Complex, a wildfire raging in the high country just an hour away. My parents keep large stock pots in each bathroom so that we can catch the gray water from our showers, haul it outside, and attempt to help our adolescent trees survive the long, dry summer.

Despite all this, I miss the Southwest. I miss watching the summer monsoons boil over the mountains, occasionally releasing precious rain to the parched earth below. I miss the abrupt landscape shifts from spruce tree forests, the sagebrush meadows, and the bare sandstone mesas and canyons. I miss the cultures, celebrations, people, and flavors.

When I’m out to eat, I frequently seek out southwest-y meals on a menu. A few weeks ago I was pleasantly surprised by a meal at a Chapel Hill favorite that I urgently wanted to recreate at home, and after Brad and I completely consumed multiple batches, I’m sure this will remain on my own home menu often.

A Southwest Chicken Pasta

I really don’t know why I didn’t think of this pasta sooner. Perhaps because I so strongly associate pasta with Italian flavors. But friends! I urge you to release pasta from it’s bonds in tomato sauce and alfredo. It is equally at home surrounded by black beans, red peppers, and spicy red chili.

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Veggie flatbread

After a lengthy winter (for usually balmy Durham), the recent arrival of warm weather has caused a SURGE of greens in my garden. I was a bit over-zealous in March when I planted spring crops (er twelve Romaine plants and six spinach), and now, I can frequently be seen toting bags of freshly-picked lettuce to work and bequeathing it to friends willing to eat a lot of salad. Combined with the arrival of everything fresh at the farmers market, I have to exercise a lot of control to make sure I’m using up these greens before they go to waste. I tire of salads quickly, so I thought I’d try a different take.

Springtime for pizza

In a move that surprised me, the staunch supporter of cheese pizza with as few toppings as possible, this flatbread pizza has almost nothing on it except vegetables. I coupled a large wad of my most recent harvest of spinach leaves with some young onions and green garlic, two ingredients I rarely work with but was curious to explore.

Fresh and green

And because I couldn’t quite bring myself to omit cheese entirely, just a bit of asiago, which is ever the friend of garlic-y, onion-y things.

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