Monday, July 23, 2007

"Kind Of" Aglio e Olio (Pasta with Garlic and Oil)

Well, this recipe was kind of a disappointment in my life. I love to cook, but I am not the best at just making up new dishes; everything I make is at least inspired by someone else's recipe, then tailored to fit our family's tastes. I am not like Rachel Ray, who draws brilliant recipes from thin air--"I love pizza and I love chicken parmesan, so I combined them to make my Pizz-O Parmesan! Yum-O!!!" (I jest, but I may really try that sometime...)

So when I created this dish, I thought I really had something. Visions of The Next Food Network Star danced through my head. I pictured myself with a TV show, showing home cooks everywhere how to take a pinch of this and that and turn it into a feast. I don't remember exactly how my balloon of hopes was deflated, but I was searching for another recipe online--which recipe escapes me--snooped around a bit more, and discovered that I had unwittingly concocted a dish that already existed. Sure, it tasted wonderful, but it wasn't mine. And it was such an established dish that it had its own name, and it was Italian, for pete's sake.

I had already posted it on my Monday Menu Plan as "Chicken Pasta Toss with garlic, olive oil, parmesan, and fresh basil" (a cumbersome name, indeed), but that was before I knew it already had a title, Aglio e Olio (Garlic and Oil). Despite my disappointment, I made the dish, adding a few elements that don't appear in the original recipe--basil and chicken and parmesan cheese--and omitting one ingredient--red pepper flakes--that I didn't think the kiddies would go for. In the end, I suppose that it is different enough to perhaps merit its own name, but it is, at its essence, Aglio e Olio. With chicken.

It's so easy, it's ridiculous, and Abe thought it was the best thing ever. I wrote a lot of instructions for you, but at the core, it's amazingly simple, so don't be scared off by the fact that there are lots and lots of words following the list of ingredients. And hey, I put the really side-note kind of stuff in parentheses, so you can skip those altogether, if you'd like.

Take that, Rachel Ray. And Giada--I'm coming for you next.

"Kind Of" Aglio e Olio

1 lb. spaghetti, uncooked
1/4 c. olive oil plus 1 Tbsp.
4 cloves of garlic, finely minced (increase if you LOVE garlic)
1/2 c. grated parmesan cheese
1/4 c. basil, cut finely
3 boneless, skinless chicken breasts, pounded to uniform thickness

First, bring a giant pot of water to a boil--this will happen much faster if you cover the pot with a lid. When the water has come to a boil, add a generous handful of salt to the water, then add the pasta. Cook to your preference--I like it really al dente, but do whatever floats your boat.

While the pasta water is heating, heat 1 Tbsp. of the oil in a skillet over medium high heat. Allow this to warm up for about 30 seconds, then add the chicken to the skillet. When the white creeps up the side of the chicken breasts, it's time to flip--this should take just a few minutes. After flipping, let the chicken cook for another 2 or 3 minutes or so, then remove chicken to a plate or cutting board to allow it to rest. (Salt and pepper it at this point; salt has a tendency to draw moisture out of the meat, releasing this moisture into the pan and causing the chicken to steam instead of fry--thus preventing the chicken from getting a nice color to it. Also, pepper can scorch, too, so, you know, just hold off, and your chicken will be beautifully golden and juicy, and the residual heat will allow the chicken to absorb the flavors of the salt and pepper.)

In the same skillet, add the remaining olive oil and the garlic. Bump the heat down to medium or medium low (scorched garlic is ruined garlic, and turns bitter and awful. All you want to do is take some of the rawness out of the garlic and infuse the oil with its flavor.) Stirring frequently, wait for the garlic to get just a little bit golden. This will only take a few minutes.

Add the basil, and stir the whole shebang over that medium heat for just a minute or so, then turn off the heat.

Drain the pasta. Do not rinse. Dump the pasta into a large bowl and dump the olive oil mixture over top. Using tongs, turn to coat. Then sprinkle on the parmesan, and turn to coat again, until all of the pasta is covered with the cheese and the basil is evenly distributed.

As for that chicken: that's up to you. I sliced it up and added it right into the pasta mix, but you could also just slice it on top or serve it alongside. If you anticipate serving it alongside, you may want to marinate it in a little Italian dressing beforehand to boost the flavor a bit, since it won't be necessarily mingling with the essences of basil and garlic.


Double Dark Chocolate Chocolate Chip Cookies

I haven't posted anything sweet yet, so I thought it was high time I did! This cookie recipe is one of our favorites. I found it after searching for a recipe that replicated a cookie dough that Abe bought in a fund-raiser--it was a "gourmet" cookie dough, made with all natural ingredients (nothing that ended in -ate), so I thought that with a little searching and tinkering, I could find one that was similar enough to make at home. I tried several, and finally (as is often the case) found this one in a cookbook I already owned, Mrs. Fields Cookie Book. Her recipe called for regular cocoa powder and regular semi-sweet chocolate chips, but I revised it to use dark chocolate cocoa and dark chocolate chips, thereby satisfying my dark chocolate yen.

Typically, I only make six or eight cookies at a time and keep the dough in the fridge in an attempt to slow our cookie consumption, but I must admit that this effort is only partially successful; the dough is every bit as delectable unbaked, and it is ever-so-easy to grab a spoonful anytime I pass the fridge. As tasty as these cookies are, I seem to pass the fridge more frequently when this cookie dough is tucked inside.

Double Dark Chocolate Chocolate Chip Cookies

2 1/2 c. all-purpose flour
1 tsp. baking soda
1/4 tsp. salt
1/2 c. dark chocolate cocoa powder
1 c. dark brown sugar, packed
3/4 c. white sugar
1 c. softened salted butter (I wouldn't substitute if I were you)
3 lg. eggs (at room temperature)
2 tsp. pure vanilla
1 bag (12 oz.) dark chocolate chips

Preheat oven to 300 degrees.

In a medium bowl, combine the flour, baking soda, salt, and cocoa powder. Set aside.

In a large mixing bowl, blend the sugars, then add the butter and cream to form a grainy paste.

Scrape down the sides of the bowl, then add the eggs and the vanilla. Beat at medium speed until fully combined.

Add the flour mixture, a bit at a time, on low speed, then add the chocolate chips and mix until just combined.

Drop dough by rounded tablespoons onto an ungreased cookie sheet, 1 1/2 in. apart. Bake for 18-22 min.Immediately transfer to a wire rack to cool. (I use parchment paper to line my cookie sheets--it facilitates easy cleanup, nothing sticks, and you can slide the whole sheet of baked cookies onto the cooling rack without even using a spatula. One less thing to wash!)

Now, these really take no time at all to whip up, and I regularly have the dough all made before the oven is even hot enough to put them in, but sometimes, you just don't plan ahead enough to bring the butter and eggs to room temperature, or you don't have vanilla, or you just don't want to dirty all of your measuring implements. I get that. So I offer you the quickest, easiest recipe for cookies ever. They aren't quite as good as homemade-from-scratch cookies, but when you've got an itch for cookies that you need to scratch as quickly as possible, this one is the one.

Couldn't Be Easier Cookies

1 box cake mix
2 eggs
1/2 c. vegetable oil

Mix. Roll into 1/2 in. balls, and bake at 350 until golden brown, 10-14 min.

Here's the beauty of this one: you can tailor it any which way you like, depending on your craving or on what you have on hand. Use chocolate cake mix and chocolate chips (about half a package) for Chocolate Chocolate Chip cookies. Use a white cake mix and roll the dough balls in colored sugar for sugar cookies. Use a yellow cake mix and roll in cinnamon sugar for Snickerdoodle look-alikes.

Like I said, these aren't quite as wonderful as homemade cookies, but they are great in a pinch! (As proof, I offer this evidence: I've made them three times in the past three weeks...)

Sunday, July 22, 2007

Menu-Plan Monday

On Saturday, we spent the day with Abe's family in a nearby community, watching a parade and visiting area-wide garage sales. After the festivities, as we ate a late lunch, Abe's dad mentioned that his Brother-In-Law, a local farmer, had had his green bean crop harvested but the harvesters had missed lots, and so there were fresh green beans free for the picking. Now, generally speaking, I am a huge fan of fresh green beans, but I think it goes without saying that I am an even bigger fan of free fresh green beans. So off we trotted to a deserted field, bent on gleaning as many green beans as we could stuff in our vehicles. I ended up with probably about 10 pounds of beans after a mere half hour of picking. I'm telling you, whatever method they use to harvest these babies is horribly inefficient--but I'm not complaining.

The long and the short of it is that Abe made me promise not to fix green beans for supper every day, and I assented. Green beans are only showing up once in my plan this week. (But plans can change!)

Also, you'll notice Meat Pies on the slate for Tuesday. A friend of mine, Amy, is coming to visit; she lives out-of-town now, far, far away, but she's home for a while, so she's coming over for dinner. Four years ago, we traveled together with our Church choir to Scotland and the Faroe Islands, and it was in Scotland that we first met our friend The Meat Pie. A quote from my journal reads: "...On our way back to the hotel, Amy and I stopped for meat pies, a Scottish treat that we LOVED. Hopefully, we'll be eating a lot of these." And wouldn't you know it, we did: the phrase "meat pie" shows up no less than five times in my journal. And given the fact that this journal was not about food, that's significant.

Essentially, a meat pie is a filling of meat and sometimes vegetables encased in a pastry-like pocket. The Upper Peninsula of Michigan offers a variation on this theme called the pasty, which, while tasty in its own way, simply does not hold a candle to the Scottish version (elsewhere in the UK, these same delicacies go by the name pasty, but inexplicably, they don't in Scotland). Before Amy moved away, we concocted a meat pie recipe of our own, hoping to recreate this British delicacy State-side. We used pie crust for the pastry element, and it was fine, but it didn't hit the mark. The filling, composed of ground beef, finely diced potatoes and carrots, and a bit of gravy, was pretty good, so I don't think we'll tinker with that much. But this time, we're going to try puff pastry instead of pie crust. At any rate, whether it ends up more similar or less, puff pastry is always tasty (thank you, butter) and will no doubt provide a gustatorily pleasing experience.

Here's the plan for the week!

Fruit-glazed Pork Chops
Roasted Green Beans

Meat Pies
Fresh Pineapple

Roasted Chicken
Aglio e Olio (recipe to come)

Potato Wedges

Chicken Salad Sandwiches
Garden Salad

Monday, July 16, 2007

Brothers' Bread

This recipe is from The Secrets of Jesuit Breadmaking by Brother Rick Curry, S.J., a cookbook I plucked from the Barnes and Noble bargain racks many moons ago while I was in pursuit of a good recipe for challah. And for years, I've been making the challah recipe, and had tried a few other recipes out of this book, with some success.

Meanwhile, outside of the challah realm...

I have also for a long time been looking for a crusty, artisan-style bread that I could make at home that would taste like it was from a bakery. I tried dozens of recipes, but they all fell short--either their crusts were too hard or too soggy, or the rise didn't support the shape of the bread, or I simply didn't like the chew. I made this Brothers' Bread because the description in the book also called it "Peasant Bread," and I had an inkling that that was exactly the type of bread I was looking for--rustic, chewy, crusty and flavorful. It took only one bite of this bread, and I knew it was a winner. As a bonus, its preparation is more simple and less labor-intensive than many similar loaves, requiring only one rise and a very minimal amount of hand-kneading. And it makes two loaves, perfect for sharing.

But Abe will tell you that this is his favorite bread ever, and that's the real reason this recipe makes it onto this blog.

This recipe is paraphrased from the original book, and my personal notations are in parentheses.

Brothers' Bread
1 Tbsp. active dry yeast
2 1/4 c. warm water (110-115 degrees)
1 Tbsp. sugar
1 1/2 Tbsp. salt (I prefer kosher salt--it enhances the flavor without being overly salty)
6-7 c. all-purpose flour

Combine yeast and water in the bowl of a heavy-duty stand mixer fitted with a dough hook, stirring to dissolve yeast. Then add sugar and salt. Mix well; set aside for 5 minutes, allowing the yeast mixture to become foamy, or "proofed."

Beat in mixer for 10 minutes, gradually adding flour until the dough begins to pull away from the sides of the bowl, about 6 or 7 cups total (but don't worry so much about precise measurement--just watch for the pulling-away-from-the-bowl phenomenon--the actual amount of flour required varies according to environmental factors like humidity, etc.)

Knead by hand until smooth and elastic, about 10-12 times, adding flour as necessary to combat stickiness.

Place in a lightly oiled bowl, turn to coat with oil, and cover with plastic wrap. Let rise in a warm place 1 1/2 hours. (You can maximize the rise time by first boiling a couple of cups of water in the microwave. Push the steaming water to the back of the microwave, then put your dough in, close the door, and wait. The heat from the hot water creates an ideal rising environment)

Turn the dough out onto the counter and punch down. Divide in half, shape two round loaves by tucking the edges under repeatedly until you have a taut round shape. Place on a baking sheet lined with parchment or sprinkled with cornmeal.

Carve an x in each loaf with a clean razor blade, going all the way from side to side. Spray loaves with vinegar (promotes a brown, crisp crust--definitely don't skip this part, even if it sounds weird. You will not taste vinegar in the finished loaf.)

Place the loaves in a cold oven, and bake at 400 degrees for 45 minutes.

Generally speaking, I've read that it's best to wait 45 min.-1 hr. after baking before cutting into a loaf of freshly baked bread. Cutting into it too early adversely affects the texture. But no fear, after 45 min., it will still be warm enough to slather with butter and jam.

Do plan to try this one. You won't believe how good it is, and how easy!

Sunday, July 15, 2007

Crock Pot Turkey Breast

I wanted to wait to post this recipe because I wasn't sure it would turn out well, and I didn't want to preserve a stinky recipe for all eternity. I was pretty much guessing at how to do it, and I am very happy to report it actually (through an incredible stroke of luck and timing) exceeded my expectations. It was quite possibly the best turkey I have ever eaten, second only to Alton Brown's Roast Turkey, which will wait for another post (probably sometime in November!)

Here's my recipe for

Crock Pot Turkey Breast

1 Bone-in Turkey Breast (approximately 6.5 lbs.)
2 ribs celery
1 medium onion
1/2 stick butter, room temperature
1/2 tsp. rubbed sage
1/4-1/2 tsp. poultry seasoning, plus additional
sea salt
freshly ground black pepper
1/2 c. water
1 can cream of chicken soup

Rinse turkey breast; pat dry.
Roughly chop (or tear with your hands) the celery and onion, and place in cavity of turkey.
Loosen skin from turkey by sliding your fingertips underneath it and separating the skin from the membranes attaching it to the breast meat. Be careful not to tear the skin or remove it completely. It is necessary to preserve the flavor and moistness of the bird.
In a small bowl, combine the butter, sage, and poultry seasoning. Using your fingers, slide gobs of the butter between the skin and the meat, pressing from the outside to distribute as evenly as possible.
Place turkey skin side up in the crock pot. Season the skin with sea salt and black pepper, then spread the soup over the entire surface of the turkey. Season with poultry seasoning. Note: the soup doesn't really add much to the drippings, but spread over the skin and exposed meat, it keeps everything moist and flavorful. Pour the water into the bottom of the crock, careful not to disturb the soup on the turkey.

Cover crock, and cook for 1 hour on high. Reduce heat to low, and cook for 5 hrs. The turkey is done when an instant-read thermometer inserted in the thickest part of the breast reads 161 degrees. (I started the turkey at 6:30 this morning, switched it to low when I left for church at 7:30, and it was exactly at 160 degrees when we returned home at 12:30--perfectly juicy and wonderful.)

Turkey Gravy

Drippings from pot (remove large solid bits, like the onion and celery, of course)
2 c. water
1 tsp. poultry seasoning
salt and pepper to taste
3 Tbsp. corn starch
3 Tbsp. water

Skim off as much fat from the drippings as possible, and combine with the water in a medium-sized saucepan. Add seasonings. Bring broth mixture to a boil.
In a small bowl, thoroughly combine corn starch and water. Remove pan from the heat momentarily; add the corn starch slurry and whisk to combine. Return to heat, and bring to a boil, stirring constantly. Boil and stir for at least 1 minute. Makes approximately 4 cups of gravy.

This afternoon, I served slice turkey and gravy over kluski noodles seasoned with a bit of butter, onion powder, garlic powder, and celery salt. Of course, you could always serve it with mashed potatoes or stuffing for a more Thanksgiving-y experience!

Saturday, July 14, 2007

Crock Pot Baked Potatoes

I am a little embarrassed to even post this as a recipe, and you'll see why, but it seems to have intrigued a couple of my friends, so here it is!

There are a couple of ways to approach this:

First, if you are of the old-school "wrap 'em in foil" way of thinking, you can certainly do that. I would either rub a little olive oil on the potatoes (after thoroughly washing them and piercing them with a knife a couple of times) and wrap them up, or spray a piece of foil with a little non-stick cooking spray, and then wrap.

If you're of the newer, "hold the foil" way of thinking, you can do that. You don't even have to really rub the skins with oil (after you wash and pierce them, of course), though you may.

Now, for my own personal preferences and method:

Crock Pot Baked Potatoes
4 lg. russet potatoes (Klondike Gold potatoes are ridiculously good as well)
Olive Oil
Montreal Steak Seasoning

Wash the potatoes well. Pierce with a knife to allow steam to escape. Lightly rub skins with oil, and sprinkle with seasoning to taste. Arrange in the bottom of a crock pot, and cook for 4 hrs. on high, or 6-8 hrs. on low.

Isn't that so easy, it's silly?

If you're preparing them at the same time as Crock Pot meatloaf, you will probably want to wrap the potatoes in foil. Arrange them around the outside of the meatloaf.

Now, you may be saying "4 potatoes? We won't eat that much!" or "Only 4 potatoes? Oh, I'm gonna need way more than that." To these people, I have this to say:
1)You really want to have the crock pot approximately half full for it to work most efficiently, so I wouldn't do any fewer than 4 potatoes. But even if you won't use them all at once, keep in mind that these potatoes can be used in other recipes later in the week--they make killer fried potatoes for breakfast, or potato salad, or twice baked potatoes, or baked potato soup. Why not cook the potatoes once and use them twice? Save yourself some time.
2)I made baked potatoes in this way for a crowd of 15, and it worked great--kept my kitchen cool, and freed up appliances for other things. Just go ahead and pile the potatoes into your crock--just make sure the lid can close tightly, of course.

Menu-Plan Monday

Here's what's on the menu for this week. You'll notice some leftovers/holdovers from last week--things are always changing around here!

Turkey Tettrazini with spinach (using leftover Turkey from Sunday)

Cumin-rubbed Pork Loin (because we keep having something other than Pork Loin!)
Black Beans over Yellow Rice

Baby Back Ribs
Garlic and Dill Red potatoes
Broccoli Slaw

Chicken Potato Salad
Summer corn-off-the-cob

Cuban Sandwich Panini on Brothers' Bread
Tortilla Chips

If any of these dishes sound interesting to you, I'd be happy to post the recipes--you have only to ask!

Friday, July 13, 2007

Neapolitan Pizza Dough

In our house, we favor a thin crust pizza. Don't get me wrong, deep-dish, Chicago-style pizza holds a different sort of allure, no less magnetic, and we do enjoy a good one with all our hearts. In fact, speaking of Hearts, deep-dish pizza has been our traditional Valentine's Day meal ever since we enjoyed this sinfully wonderful treat together in Chicago for Valentine's Day 4 years ago. But that's a topic for another post.

No, for everyday, homemade pizza that has all of the flavor of a pizzeria pizza at a tiny tiny fraction of the cost, we prefer thin crust.

I tried Who Knows how many pizza dough recipes before I had the aha moment--the moment Abe and I looked at each other with rapturous smiles and sighed, "This is The One." Up until that moment, I had been obsessive in my pursuit of great pizza, using umpteen recipes, flours, and baking methods, and I can unequivocally say that this recipe and method, while time-consuming, rewards every minute of waiting with exceptional chew and flavor, and you won't for a second wish you'd spent all your hard-earned cash on takeout pizza. This recipe makes 4 8" pizzas.

First, you'll need:
A heavy-duty stand mixer (like KitchenAid--you really can't make this without it)
A pizza stone (I have a Pampered Chef stone that I use, and also a cheapo pizza stone I bought on Ebay)
A pizza peel or cookie sheet without sides

The ingredients are simple:
First, you combine, and let sit for 5 minutes:
1 1/2 c. warm water (105-115 degrees)
1 teaspoon active dry yeast

In the bowl of a KitchenAid mixer fitted with a dough hook, mix together
3 c. all-purpose flour
1 c. cake flour
1 Tbsp. sea salt or kosher salt

Add the yeast mixture to the flour mixture, and knead at low speed for 30 minutes.

Shape dough into a round, place in a large, lightly oiled bowl, and turn to coat. Cover with plastic wrap and let dough rise for 4 hours in a warm place.

Punch down dough, divide into 4 pieces, and shape the pieces into balls. Brush these lightly with oil, cover with plastic wrap, and let rise another 2-4 hours.

Preheat the oven and pizza stone to 550 degrees.

Shape dough by pressing fingertips into ball and flattening from the center out. Grab the dough near the edge and rotate the round, allowing the dough to stretch as you turn (harnessing the power of gravity), stretching dough to desired circumference.

Brush pizza with olive oil, assembling your pizza on a well-floured (or you could use cornmeal)pizza peel or cookie sheet without sides. Slide onto the preheated stone, and bake for 5-8 minutes.

from Cuisine At Home magazine

A few notes:
I acquired this recipe from Cuisine at Home magazine, and this recipe is approved by the DOC, which is the Italian regulating board that governs pizza (!!!). I suppose DOC stands for "Official Pizza Rulers of the World," and according to them, authentic pizza can have only four ingredients: flour, water, yeast, and salt. In Italy, their flour has a different makeup, which is why this recipe calls for two types of American flour--this mixture approximates the amount of gluten in Italian flour.

I know the rise time seems excessive, but it really creates a much better depth of flavor than doughs that rely on sugar or honey to feed the yeast and speed up the rising process. Plus, even though you must start the dough 6-8 hrs. before you need it, it requires very little actual effort on your part.

That said, I know it is a commitment. But I cannot stress this enough: it is worth it!

To accompany the pizza, may I offer my very favorite pizza sauce recipe? Here it is:

Pizza Sauce
1 28 oz. can whole peeled tomatoes, crushed well (either use your hands or a food processor or blender)
2 Tbsp. olive oil
2-3 garlic cloves, pressed or finely minced
1 1/2 tsp. dried oregano (or more--use according to preference)
Kosher salt and pepper to taste

Saute garlic in olive oil over medium heat for a few minutes (be careful not to scorch the garlic). Add the tomatoes, and season with kosher salt and pepper. Simmer for 15 minutes.

Add oregano before you apply to pizza--the oregano can get bitter if you add it too early.

I also like to let the sauce cool before I use it. Very often, I will make it while I am letting the Kitchen Aid do that first half-hour knead. Then it's done, and I can stash it in the fridge until I need it. Then, when it's pizza-making time, I have one less thing to do.

Can you make pizza with a quicker dough and bottled pizza sauce? Sure. In fact, if you use the preheated stone, it will probably not be bad. But for a truly great pizza experience, give this recipe a try sometime!

As a bonus, here's my favorite pizza variation--Abe doesn't like tomatoes, so Charis and I eat an entire one of these pizzas by ourselves. Oh, pizza needs to go on my Menu Plan soon!

Margherita Pizza
(first made in honor of Queen Margherita, it was intended to showcase the colors of the Italian flag--red tomatoes, white cheese, and green basil.)
Pizza Dough, stretched to desired size and shape
Fresh tomatoes, sliced thin and drained on paper towels
Fresh mozzarella
Basil, dried, or fresh basil, chopped finely
Olive Oil
Sea Salt

Brush pizza dough with olive oil and sprinkle lightly with salt.
Arrange tomatoes in a single layer. No need to be precise.
If using dried basil, sprinkle over the tomatoes now. (If you're using fresh, wait...)
Cover with fresh mozzarella (or you can use pre-shredded, it's just not quite as good)
Bake at 550 for 6-8 minutes.
If using fresh basil, scatter over the pizza immediately after you remove it from the oven.

Sunday, July 8, 2007

Menu-Plan Monday

This was already posted in last week's Menu-Plan post, but for my own edification...

Crock Pot Meatloaf and Baked Potatoes (which are FANTASTIC from the slow cooker)

Teriyaki Pork Loin
Asian Sesame Salad

Sweet and Sour Chicken (or Pork, if there's a lot leftover)

Tacos/Taco Salad
Mexican Rice a la Nina's Taqueria

Crock Pot Turkey Breast and gravy over noodles
Broccoli with Cheese Sauce

Saturday and Sunday
Leftovers, etc.

Thursday, July 5, 2007

Two-Saucy MockZagna

This recipe started out as Rachel Ray's "Not-Sagna," but I made a number of alterations, including the use of jarred spaghetti sauce, so I changed the name. You can reference her original recipe here. The beauty of this dish is that it has all of the flavor of labor-intensive lasagna, but it takes much much less time and effort, making it perfect for a weeknight meal.

Cori's Two-Saucy MockZagna

1 lb ground beef (with additional crumbled Italian sausage, if desired), browned
1 minced onion
3 cloves of garlic, pressed
1 jar spaghetti sauce
1 can stewed tomatoes
1 lb. short-cut pasta (I used rigatoni, but whatever you've got is fine)
1 c. ricotta
1/3 c. parmesan
1/4 c. shredded mozzarella
2 Tbsp. fresh basil, chiffonaded, or 2 tsp. dried Italian seasoning

1) Brown beef. When it has lost its pink, add the onion and garlic, and let that work for a minute or two.

2) Prepare pasta according to package directions, reserving 1/3-1/2 c. of the water for the ricotta sauce.

3) To the beef mixture, add the spaghetti sauce and the stewed tomatoes (smush the tomatoes up with your hands before you add them), and let this sit over medium heat until you need it.

4) In the bottom of a large bowl, mix together ricotta, parmesan, mozzarella, basil, salt and pepper to taste, and add the reserved pasta water. Stir well.

5) Add the pasta to the ricotta sauce, then add 1/3 of the spaghetti sauce to that; toss to combine.

6) Spoon additional spaghetti sauce over the top and sprinkle with additional mozzarella, if desired.

Serves 6.

So easy, and so YUM! If you put a lid on the pasta pot to bring the water to a boil faster, the whole shebang can go from start to finish in 20 minutes or so!

Wednesday, July 4, 2007

Authentic Garlic Bread

I first tried this when Judah was a brand-new baby. I was nursing, and Judah had developed quite an intolerance for dairy--in fact, I couldn't so much as butter a piece of toast without having to endure hours of uncomfortable wailing (and that was from Abe). Well, Giada di Laurentiis showed me how to do this, and while I was dubious about its "amazing flavor," I decided to give it a try.

Its only ingredients are bread, oilve oil, and a whole garlic clove, so I doubted it would taste as good as its butter-soaked couterparts. It is, indeed, a very different breed, but no less tasty. And as testament to that fact, I am happily enjoying a couple of slices of this toasty beauty for breakfast this morning.

Authentic Garlic Bread

Good, crusty bread
Olive Oil
1-2 whole garlic cloves, peeled

Preheat the oven to 375.

Slice the bread about 1/4-1/2 in. thick. Arrange on a baking sheet. Brush both sides of the bread with olive oil. Bake for about 7 minutes, then flip the bread so both sides will have a chance to get crusty. Bake for another 7 minutes, or until the bread has reached your desired level of toastiness.

Remove from the oven, and immediately begin rubbing the garlic cloves on the toasted bread.

Then devour.

It's that easy! For an even easier trick, I have also found the rub-with-garlic trick to be effective after toasting bread in a conventional toaster, so if you're short on time or energy and don't have a whole loaf to toast, a toaster works just fine--no need to heat up your oven.

Tuesday, July 3, 2007

Roasted Green Beans

Trying to pick a recipe for this first post sounded difficult; I wanted to choose something unique, something easy, something you won't find elsewhere on the internet. But when it came right down to it, making a selection wasn't hard at all. These delicious beans fit the bill: they are so easy, mostly hands-off, and a wonderful change of pace from steamed green beans. Also, they go down easy--they are every bit as good as fries, but a whole lot more nutritious!

Roasted Green Beans (from Cooks Illustrated)

1 lb. fresh green beans
1-2 Tbsp. olive oil
Kosher Salt
Freshly ground pepper

Wash and snap the green beans. Dry thoroughly, so the oil won't slide off of the beans.

Preheat oven to 450. Line a baking sheet with aluminum foil (don't skip this part--the foil aids in browning).

Toss the green beans with the oil, and arrange in a single layer on the baking sheet. Sprinkle with Kosher salt. (Save the pepper for later--it can scorch in the hot oven)

Roast for 10-12 minutes, then flip them around a bit and return the to the oven. Roast for an additional 10-12 minutes, or until beans start getting a little bit browned.

Remove from the oven and salt and pepper to taste.


I already have a blog--do I really want another one?

Well, I guess so.

I have been posting my "Menu-Plan Mondays" lists on the Charis and Judah blog, which is fine, I guess, except that that blog is really intended to be sort of a chronicle of my kids' lives. One could argue that listing what they ate everyday is a suitable part of that chronicle, but I say they may not care to read about it years from now, so perhaps it is best left off of their blog.

Which is where this particular blog comes in.

I've called it "A Pinch of This" because that's probably the most oft-used phrase in any "recipe" I make. In fact, I generally use recipes as a set of guidelines (unless, of course, I'm baking, which requires a deeper level of precision), and I end up very frequently adding a pinch of this or that to bring them to my personal tastes.

And while I can't promise that I will post here every day or every week, I do promise that I will only post recipes that we absolutely love. I don't have the time to keep a blog of "just okay" recipes. Perhaps my kids will like to read that when they're older.

Stay tuned for our favorite recipes!