Teaching myself to cook, one recipe at a time.

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Chicken Tetrazzini and Peach Crisp

I spent most of my Monday with a splitting headache. I kept popping pills every now and then, but they only seemed to dull the pain a bit. I tried drinking water, but it didn’t help. Finally, at the end of the work day, I came home and drank a diet Dr. Pepper while laying down and rubbing my dogs’ bellies. Somehow, that helped! I don’t think it was the caffeine, as I got my regular morning coffee, but then again maybe it was. That or finally relaxing, who knows.

Now that the headache was finally gone, I found myself with the energy to cook. After a quick review of the things I had in my pantry and of recipes that I haven’t made in a while, I settled on the chicken tetrazzini recipe that I fell in love with last Thanksgiving when I used leftover turkey instead of chicken.


And for dessert, I decided that it was time to put together the peach crisp that I intended to make over the weekend but never got around to.

First, I got some water boiling to poach some chicken breasts, as well as a big pot for spaghetti. Then I turned to dessert, which I decided to focus on first because the recipe made it look so easy to make.

The first step was to peel and slice the peaches. The recipe didn’t say how to do this, but the reviewers agreed that the best way is to blanch them: drop them in boiling water for 20-30 seconds, then drop them in icy water. Since I had a pot of water coming to a boil for spaghetti anyway, this was easy. I didn’t take a picture of them in the hot water, as I was actually busy counting out 20 seconds, but here they are in the ice bath.


The reviewers were right. The skins came off pretty easily at that point. The fruit was slimy, but it smelled so good that it didn’t bother me.


Then I took a few minutes to whip up the topping. In a bowl, combine flour, sugar, brown sugar, cinnamon, salt, and butter. I used about 1/4 cup less sugar than the recipe called for, since reviewers complained that it was too sweet as written, and I added about 1/4 teaspoon of nutmeg.


I forgot to get a picture after I used a pastry blender to mix it all up. It looked like bread crumbs. 

I had waited to slice the peaches because I didn’t want them to turn brown while I made the topping. Now, I returned to them. I halved them with a paring knife, removed the pit, and then plopped them onto a cutting board to slice up. My knife went through them like a hot knife goes through butter.


Put them in a square baking dish and sprinkle with almond extract. Except that I used vanilla instead, since I didn’t have almond, and I added a splash of lemon juice.


Then top with the crumbly mixture.


Now, back to dinner. Here are my ingredients (most of them, at least): heavy cream, sherry, a can of mushrooms, chicken broth, spaghetti, and butter.


Pause to notice the puppy in the background. She’s stalking her older brother. She pounced on him a moment later. Little sisters are wonderful, aren’t they?


First, melt the butter.


Add flour, salt, and pepper. Stir it in the butter until it’s smooth and creamy, then remove it from heat.


Measure out a cup each of chicken broth and heavy cream.


Gradually add it to the flour-butter mixture, stirring until it’s smooth and creamy.


Put it back on the stove and boil it for about a minute. Add some sherry and stir it in.


Then stir in the cooked spaghetti (did I mention that I cooked some spaghetti?) and chicken (did I mention that, either?), along with a can of mushrooms (drained).


Put it in a 9x13 inch baking dish and top with Parmesan cheese.IMG_3691

After a half hour at 350 degrees, pull it out and enjoy!


I love this dish. I think it’s the sherry that really makes it, but it’s so creamy and wonderful. Plus, it satisfies both my love of pasta and hubby’s need for meat. It’s a little more involved than I’d typically want to do on a weeknight, but it was worth it, I think.

Anyway, once I pulled it out of the oven, I bumped the temperature up to 375 and put the peach crisp in. 45 glorious minutes later, it was bubbly and perfect.


I wish there was a way to bottle up the way it smelled. Peachy, cinnamony, sweet, yummy as hell.


Hubby took one bite and declared it “dangerous.” He didn’t say another word until the bowl was licked clean.

Highly recommend it!

Recipe for the chicken tetrazzini is here, and the original peach crisp is here. I’ll have my modified version in my tastebook very soon!

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Home Ec Coffee Cake

Back in middle school, I took a mandatory class called “Careers.” This name was my school’s attempt to put a modern spin on what was really home economics, but honestly I really liked the class. It had a cooking portion and while today I look back and wonder why our omelet recipe had 4 eggs in it, I will always be thankful for the coffee cake recipe that resulted.The cake became a favorite in my house and I found myself making it over and over.


Then I moved out and just stopped. I did make coffee cake from a different recipe a few times when I was living alone in Pennsylvania, but even that I just stopped making.

Then suddenly, last week, I found myself needing that original coffee cake. So much crumbly brown sugar, moist cake, so good. I looked all through my recipes and couldn’t find it, but luckily my mom had saved a copy of her own.

It’s not like cookie dough, where you cream butter and sugar and gradually mix in the dry ingredients. With this, you start off by combining all of the dry ingredients in one bowl, all of the wet ingredients in another bowl, and then pouring the wet stuff into a well in the dry stuff. My teacher showed us how.

So, start off with flour, sugar, salt, and baking powder. When I was making this, I was absolutely astounded at the amount of salt and baking soda that this recipe called for. Two and a half teaspoons. TWO AND A HALF. This isn’t soup! Was it a typo? Emailed mom, she said that she wasn’t sure but that it had been written this way since she’d had the recipe, and it had probably been about 15 years now. Okay, then, 2 1/2 tsp each of salt and baking powder. Wow.


Make a well in the dry ingredients. Realize you have no idea how to take a good, non-flash picture of the white contents of a white bowl without it being too dark. Try to put it in sunlight and realize that that won’t help.


Next, your wet ingredients. Milk, oil, and egg. No surprises there.


Beat the mixture


Pour the wet mixture into the well of dry ingredients.


Fold in the sides and beat until just moist. The recipe didn’t say that, but I pretty much assumed that it’s like muffin recipes that don’t turn out well if you overmix them.


Finally, put your topping ingredients together. Brown sugar, ground cinnamon, butter, and pecans. I never used to put pecans in it because, well let’s face it, I was a kid and kids don’t include nuts on purpose. But it looked like a pretty good idea this time around.


Use a pastry blender to mix it all up. I never used to have one of these so I always used a butter knife. This is much better.



So good. This is really the best part, you know.


Finally, time to put it in the pan. The first layer is half the batter…


Followed by half the streusel topping…


Followed by the rest of the batter…


Followed by the rest of the topping.


Pop it in the oven, and then it’ll look something like this.




First few bites tasted salty to me, but then again I wasn’t hungry.


Way later in the day, I was super hungry. Grabbed another piece and it tasted amazing.

And it passed the husband test. He loved it.


So good. Make it.
(But use less salt)


Recipe in the tastebook shortly.

Monday, August 15, 2011

Perfect dinner!

Okay, this isn’t a real post, the kind with pictures and a new recipe and step-by-step playback of my kitchen experiment. Consider this more of a follow-up.

Remember this dish? That creamy tomato-based dish with Italian sausage and rotini pasta that I was so proud of inventing?

I made it again, and I made some key tweaks:

1. I remembered the cream cheese this time, and I added about twice as much as I normally do. I guess I was making up for that day I forgot it. Also, I was hungry.

2. I diced and included an extra fresh tomato that I had sitting on my counter. Seemed silly to use canned diced tomato and ignore the fresh one entirely, but I didn’t want to skip out on the canned stuff either.

3. I included 2 leftover meatballs and some sauce from Meem's spaghetti and meatballs. Just sliced up the meatballs and dropped them in the sauce with everything else. I didn’t even slice them up correctly because I didn’t want to get my cutting board all saucy – I just stuck a butter knife into the gladware container that the meatballs were in and did my cutting freestyle.

4. Less cheese on top, mainly because the cheese I had smelled a little funky. I used a few shakes of Parmesan instead, and that actually turned out really nice.

5. Didn’t put foil over it to bake.

Hubby loved it. Very much. So much that he thinks I should make meatballs to put in this dish each time I make it now. And he serenaded me with a loud burp, which of course means “Compliments to the chef.” Compliments accepted.

Now go out and made this!

Saturday, August 13, 2011

Taco Casserole

What do you do when you want to make something Mexican-themed for dinner but you don’t have tortillas or tortilla chips? Can’t make nachos or burritos or enchiladas. That’s pretty much all I know how to make. And I wasn’t about to look up a recipe for making tortillas – if I’m too lazy to go to the grocery store 1.5 miles away, I’m also too lazy for that. But hubby really, really wanted Mexican food.

Solution: taco casserole. I know this sounds weird. Roll with it.

Well, the recipe was actually called taco bake, but there were a lot of similar recipes called taco casserole and that’s more descriptive for me. I chose this one because I had the ingredients, mainly.

Also, it looked simple enough. Sauté ground beef and chopped onion.


Get some taco seasoning ready. If you don’t have any, make your own.


When the beef is done, drain it and then add water and tomato sauce. I also added diced tomatoes, and instead of canned tomato sauce, I used leftover sauce from the other night.


Also add your taco seasoning. This is important!


Stir it up and then cover and let simmer for a while. While it’s simmering, cook some pasta.


And grate some cheddar cheese.


Mmm, the sauce is looking and smelling good.


Stir in the pasta, cheese, and also a can of chopped green chilies.


Pour it all into a greased 9x13 pan.


Top with cheese and toss it in a 400 degree oven.

[I accidentally typed “400 degree onion” and then sat there staring at it, trying to figure out why that didn’t look right. Got it now'!]

And when it comes out, it’s hot and bubbly and delicious.


My pictures make it look more yellow than it really was.


Nor do they capture how delicious this was. Really. It tasted nothing like your traditional baked pasta dishes because of the addition of the taco seasoning. It tasted like a baked taco with pasta in place of the tortilla.

And the leftovers are so, so satisfying.

Make it, and enjoy it.

Best part: dishes were done before it was even finished cooking. Cleanup was a snap!