Archive for the ‘Entrées’ Category

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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Empty

It’s been a little bit nuts around here. A thrilling combination of crunch time at work, a few too many personal commitments, and many of my previous daylight-hours devoted to recipes that didn’t turn out to be blog-worthy has created a bit of a lull here in 30 Pounds land. It’s amazing how days can slither into weeks when you’re busy.

In times like this, I work really hard to avoid the temptation of picking up take-out on the way home from work every night. I make a plan for every meal I want to cook that week and buy all the groceries required. Many of these meals are combinations that have never made the site: a simply cooked pork chop, wild rice, and sauteed vegetables, for instance. But to really defeat the take-out temptation, I’ve been resorting lately to my FAVORITES.

Since starting this blog, I’ve discovered some truly magical meals that taste, every time, just as miraculous as the first bite. Here are a few of the meals I come back to, again and again, because I know them well enough to whip them up without a fuss and I know they will trump the take-out.

Serve with a tasty green salad

Penne alla Vodka. Chopping shallots, garlic, and parsley is the only labor intensive element to this delightful meal. It’s been one of our favorites for years, a dish that I not only make during busy moments like this but also as a centerpiece at dinner parties and group meals. There are few pastas that I enjoy so much as this one.

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Homemade Takeout

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?

General Tso's Chicken

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Pan of dinner
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.

Almond Chicken

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.

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Flavorful pasta twist

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.

Pretty creminis

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?

Sliced for saucing

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.

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Cozy January meal

Let me begin by saying that I realize the title of this post doesn’t make sense. Colorado is home to neither capes nor cod. I know.

I also know that I cooked this meal in North Carolina and cooked this meal using East Coast cod.

In addition, I have no idea what chowder from Cape Cod actual tastes like. No idea what the recipe is. So despite the fact that both my mom and grandma have been making “Cape Cod Chowder” (as is written in my grandma’s hand on a splattered recipe card) to ward off the chill of January in Colorado for my entire life, I couldn’t really call it that for fear of the wrath of proper Cape Cod residents with their own opinions on what is or is not Cape Cod Chowder.

It’s rather dizzying.

Chowder time

But I adore this soup. I look forward, each winter, to the stick-to-your-bones warmth provided by this hearty meal composed of relatively simple ingredients.

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