Teaching myself to cook, one recipe at a time.

Friday, January 27, 2012

Penne with Vodka Cream Sauce and Garden Green Beans

I had another one of those days where the mental image of what I wanted for dinner hit me while I was in the car on my way home. I was already planning to stop by the grocery store to pick up some Airborne for my almost-sorta-kinda-sick hubby, so I just picked up a few extra things while I was there.


But I was already hungry by the time I got home, so I thought I’d indulge in a little pre-dinner snack. I sliced up some fresh French bread and dipped it in some fancy dipping oil with sundried tomato and basil as if I was at an Italian restaurant, except I was leaning over the counter to eat, using my apron as a napkin, laughing at my puppies as they played, and rocking out to the Pandora app on my tablet. Other than that, just like eating at an Italian restaurant.


Also, I was drinking wine, a delicious malbec that my friend brought over the night I made crumb-coated chicken thighs.


This penne dish has something for both hubby and I. I love the creamy pasta sauce, and he loves the sweet Italian sausage. It’s a pretty good compromise, so I’m not sure why it’s been so long since I’ve made it. Anyway, start by taking off all the casings on the sweet Italian sausages before you do anything else. I use twice as much sausage as the recipe calls for because when I’ve made this in the past, hubby has told me that he liked everything except that it didn’t have enough sausage.


Plop it in a big skillet with a healthy dose of olive oil and heat it until it’s browned.


While that’s going on, start boiling your penne. Honestly, I seriously thought about halving this recipe, but then I admitted to myself that I didn’t want to deal with that. I was tired and craving carbs, so if the recipe called for a whole pound of penne pasta even though I was only planning on serving hubby and myself, why the hell not?


That sausage is starting to look and smell pretty amazing. Someday they’ll figure out how to share scents over the Internet, but for now you’ll just have to do with a picture. I’ve just added a bunch of minced garlic and half a teaspoon of red pepper flakes to make it zippy.


After the garlic has started to brown a bit, add a big 28 ounce can of crushed tomatoes. Bring it to a boil, then reduce the heat and simmer for a while.


While it’s doing that, you can start prepping your sides. First, I saw something at the grocery store that I just HAD to pick up. This is why you should never shop when hungry.


That’s a giant scoop of garlic bread spread. I don’t think it has any actual butter in it, just butter-flavored things, plus garlic and what looks like parsley or some other green leafy thing, but it just smelled delicious. I think this is what frozen Texas toast is made from. I guess making my own would have been better, but this was just so easy and tasty.

There’s that French bread again. I guess I didn’t take pictures of it slathered with my garlic bread spread. Use your imagination.


And then I wanted to make some green beans. I’ve had this on my list of things to blog about for forever but haven’t because it’s somewhat unremarkable.

First, steam some fresh green beans.



After about 5 minutes, put it in a bowl. Add olive oil, salt, pepper, white wine vinegar, Parmesan cheese, and parsley. Last time I made it, I realized that it called for too much Parmesan cheese – it was overwhelming.


I was more careful this time.


Both times, I used minced garlic instead of sliced and did not pick it back out after a while, like the recipe says to do. Sue me.

Turning back to the pasta, it’s ready.


Add some vodka and some heavy cream to the sauce


Once it’s mixed in, add in that pasta and stir for another minute until everything is well-mixed.


Isn’t that nice? The sauce is creamy and has a bit of a bite to it, which you can chalk up to the crushed red pepper flakes.


As for the green beans, they weren’t as good as I remember them being the last time. Is it because I bought the beans from the farmer’s market last time, but from the grocery store in January this time? Because I used more cheese last time? Because I used regular white vinegar last time instead of white wine vinegar? Because I ate all that bread an hour before eating this?

Eh, who cares. It was all tasty.

Especially that garlic bread.

Friday, January 20, 2012

Salsa Chicken and Spanish Rice

Dinner earlier this week was an example of getting creative based on what I had in my kitchen, not wanting to try out a new recipe. Let’s see… Cilantro, onion, a few cans of diced tomatoes, some chicken breasts in the freezer. The answer came to me while I was driving. I can actually tell you what intersection I was at and what lane I was in, but I suppose you don’t really care about that.


I swear I’ve made this before, though it had been a long time, but I couldn’t find the exact recipe in my collection, just a similar one. I know the psychiatrist that I work with once told me about essentially the same recipe, and I’m not sure if my mind has combined my own recipe with hers or if I really did have a different recipe at one point, but either way, what I made was a combination of the recipe that I had and what she told me about.

First of all, you need salsa. I didn’t have any in my cupboard, but I had all the fixins so I made my own in my blender. I’ve blogged about this before.


Next, get out that homemade taco seasoning. I’ve also blogged about this, but for some reason Windows Live refuses to let me link to the post. You’ll have to look in my archives (April 2011).


Put your chicken breasts in a dish and sprinkle liberally with the taco seasoning.


Then put it seasonings-side-down in a greased dish and sprinkle the other side with more seasoning.


Top with that salsa that you just whipped up (store-bought salsa would be fine, too!).


And then top with a Mexican blend of cheese.


If you’re sad that you’re out of cheese and you wish you had more, be like me and chop up a stick of Monterey-colby blend, too.


And that’s it! Just needs to be baked.


There’s so much water in my salsa that the chicken was practically sitting in flavorful water while it baked. That does wonderful things for the chicken! It was so juicy. So delicious.

Now for the Spanish rice. Heat some oil and sauté chopped onion.


Add a cup of uncooked rice and stir it around until it starts looking browned. I’m pretty sure this is to make the final product less sticky and Asian-like, but don’t ask me to swear to that.


The recipe says to add chicken broth, a can of diced tomatoes, some seasonings and spice, and salt/ pepper. I substituted my own salsa for a lot of that, since it’s pretty much what it is, anyway.


Then reduce the heat, cover, and leave it alone for about 20 minutes. No peeking. Gah, that’s hard.


But worth it!


Delicious. I was very pleased with both of these, though the rice was spicy from the salsa. Chicken was juicy, the rice was soft the fluffy, and they were both full of flavor and spice.



Saturday, January 14, 2012

Ripe Avocados


The last time I tried to make guacamole, the avocados were under-ripe. They took forever to peel, but because I didn’t know much about avocados, their firmness didn’t worry me too much. Except that my hand cramped up from my not-so-great paring knife technique. And when I attempted to mash them with my potato masher, it was impossible. Seriously. I even put them into my food processer and didn’t manage to get it creamy. It was more like diced vegetables, like peppers or onions.

For some reason, I still thought it was a good idea to try to make guacamole from it. Hubby and I both took about two bites before deciding to eat the tortilla chips dry. What a waste of tomatoes and cilantro.

I took pictures, but for the life of me, I can’t find them. You’ll just have to believe me.

I’ve been afraid of avocados since then. Not of eating them, but of buying them. But I was at the grocery store yesterday, and I heard them calling my name. Really. There I was, walking past the display of avocados, when I distinctly heard, “Joooooolieeeee Joooolieeeeee!” So, of course, I had to stop and say hello to the things. Looking around furtively, in case the man stocking the oranges across to me objected, I squeezed one. It was squishy. I was encouraged enough to squeeze several. All squishy.

I brought them home.

Turns out, they’re MUCH easier to peel when they’re slightly over-ripe. In fact, I didn’t even need to peel them. Just cut off the top and squish.





At that point, all it needed was the extras – freshly squeezed lime juice, tomatoes, cilantro, garlic, and salt.


I’ll let you read the original post if you’re interested in the guacamole. I just wanted to share my avocado experience.


Soft, Hot, & Buttery Cornbread

I got it in my head yesterday morning that I wanted to bake. I didn’t want to make cookies or brownies or sweets, though. I was looking for some sort of bread, something a little more savory and a little less sweet than coffee cake. And not a fruit bread, either, though I would have considered banana bread if the store’s entire supply of bananas weren’t still tinged with green.

Then I remembered that I had just saved a recipe for cornbread online. I think I stumbled across it randomly and saved it without giving much thought to it, but suddenly, I needed to make it.

First, I whipped up a batch of my "First Time" chili to serve with the cornbread. I ran out of chili powder, so after a quick google search for chili powder substitutions, I supplemented my meager supply with this mixture. This really has nothing to do with my cornbread, but I took pretty pictures and wanted to post them. Also, maybe you’ll find it useful.


Though I will say that the recipe was reviewed by someone from South Texas who was VERY upset that only one kind of pepper was included in this blend and went on at length about this being a poor excuse for chili powder. Ah well. It’s not like I have a supply of various peppers, all dried and ground up for occasions like this.

Anyway, back to the cornbread.

Crack a few eggs.


Add milk.


And whisk it together.


Maybe I should mention that while I was doing this, my butter was softening. My hands are never warm enough to soften butter just by holding it, so this is what I often do. Don’t laugh.


Yes, I stick it in my back pocket. Hey, it works.

Should have closed my cupboard before taking that picture.

Next, whip up a mixture of flour, corn meal, salt, and a ridiculous amount of baking powder.


Okay, time to mix up that softened butter and a bunch of sugar.


Keep going until it’s fluffy.


Alternately add in the cornmeal/ flour mixture…


… and the egg/ milk mixture.


Don’t worry, that’s neither rust nor blood on my mixer. It’s red food coloring from that time I made red velvet cupcakes. That whole area of my kitchen has red spatters, actually.

Here’s my nifty, shiny, slide-top dish that I inherited from my grandmother’s kitchen collection. Never really used it before, I guess because it’s not airtight. Figured this was a good time to try it out.


Pour the batter in the pan


And bake.


How pretty!


I don’t think I’d ever made cornbread from a recipe that wasn’t on the cornmeal container itself. And I don’t think I’ve ever enjoyed cornbread this much.


Sweet, moist, fluffy, buttery, crumbly. A perfect foil to my chili, which I’ve started to ratchet the heat up in lately.

And a perfect breakfast the next day.

I was a total fan of this recipe. Ignore reviewers who suggest it needs more sugar or more cornmeal or oil instead of butter. They’re idiots. Seriously. I’ve never enjoyed homemade cornbread the way that I enjoyed this.