Thursday, July 30, 2009

When He Fends for Himself - Tortellini

Welcome to another edition of "When He Fends for Himself", where the star columnist puts to together a meal on his own. The meal is guaranteed to leave you full, but with no guarantee of nutrition, taste, or visual appeal.

For this weeks desperate dinner, I went with tortellini. A couple of months back we had a coupon for a family size bag of Barilla three cheese tortellini. Once we got it home, I forgot about it until I spotted it on the pantry shelf last week. Knowing that Doris wasn't interested in having any, I began to plan for it to be my lonesome dinner.

My detailed plan went something like this: Speaking to myself, "Oh right, we have tortellini, I should have that next Tuesday when I'm on my own."

And that was the plan. Brilliant, I know.

I came home and immediately started boiling the water. I won't detail my expert boiling water technique again, instead please refer to my mac and cheese post. As I was watching the Red Sox struggle to hit, pitch, and play defense, I remembered the water was on the stove, and I went back into the kitchen and added the pasta.

The challenge with this recipe is portion control. You see, we got the family size bag, and I knew I couldn't, or shouldn't, eat all of it in one sitting. So I dumped in what looked like a good amount, and packaged up the remaining amount for a later date.

As the tortellini boiled, every minute or two I took 1-2 of them out. I wasn't so much seeing if they were done, but instead I was just hungry and wanted to eat SOMETHING. Soon enough, they all were done and I expertly strained the water and placed the pasta into a bowl.

Since we didn't have spaghetti sauce, I instead added olive oil, butter, and Parmesan cheese to give it some more flavor.

One of things I really like about tortellini, which is also what I like about ravioli, is that I can stick my fork into one and eat it whole. I quickly ate my dinner and was indeed full. But now that I mention ravioli, I think I should get that lined up for a future loner dinner. Hrmm....I think I need to start to plan.

Until next time, please remember to eat in front of the TV as much as you can, because multi-tasking is a sign of genius.

And as promised, my new profile photo. This is my "What's for dinner tonight?" look. Thanks to our friend Jim for the photo.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Noodles with Lime, Peanut, and a Lot of Green Veggies

After coming home from a great vacation, I was too tired to come up with a dinner idea. I surfed over to my friend Amy's blog and caught up on the posts I missed while I was gone. I came upon her regular feature where she cooks an Ellie Krieger recipe. It looked so delicious that I knew we had to try it!

One of our favorite cuisines to eat out is Thai. The hubby loves pad Thai, but I always want something with more veggies. This dish was perfect - it combined sweet and tangy flavors and was nice and healthy. Another bonus is that it was quick cooking and not too messy.

I followed Amy's version of the recipe ( and also included the edamame. Next time I would omit the snap peas and just stick with broccoli, snow peas, and edamame. We wanted whole wheat noodles for this and could only find spaghetti (not linguine). This would also work well with a shorter pasta with lines to hold the sauce.

I won't repost the recipe here, visit Amy for that. Enjoy the photo. This recipe is a definite keeper!

Monday, July 27, 2009

Vacation Eats...A Lot of Them

On our travels to the western side of the country, we sampled some tasty Montana cooking. From the pictures below you'll see how much we sampled! When you vacation with my family, you don't eat when you're hungry, you eat when it's meal time. Breakfast is time to discuss "what's for dinner".

Here's a snapshot of our eats in Billings, Molt, Cooke City, and West Yellowstone, Montana. Also a shot of an unusual find in the Old Faithful cafeteria. Enjoy!

First stop, Molt, Montana for a Prairie Winds Cafe Breakfast. Housed in an old hardware store and filled with antiques, the food was full of buttery goodness (and Mrs. Butterworth kept watch). Three+ of us shared so that we could sample it all.

Next up, the first Farmer's Market of the Season in Billings. It was packed with a wide variety of people (and fluffy dogs). There were tamales, egg rolls, homemade ketchups, fresh fruits and vegetables, flavored honey, and a lot of delicious pastries.

The hubby and I took a quick trip away from the family to see the splendor of Yellowstone National Park. On the road there we stopped in Cooke City for a quick lunch before heading in to the park. The hubby dined on a bison burger (sorry to the bison we saw in the park), I had a Moose Drool brown ale, and some delicious chili. We didn't eat at the place in the photo, but what a great name (Buns N Beds Deli and Cabins)!

After a barbecue dinner and night at the Evergreen Motel in West Yellowstone, we started our day with a highly recommended breakfast spot - the Running Bear Pancake House. The special (according to the reviews) is the buckwheat pancakes. The hubby ordered his plain and I opted for the banana walnut cakes. They were plate sized and fabulous.

At one stop to view some waterfalls we met a man wearing an "I 'heart' Idaho" t-shirt. He gave us the fun Idaho potato pin in the photo. Below that is the fun find in the Old Faithful cafeteria. Not sure where the nearest source of seaweed is, but there were a lot of international tourists!

We didn't get photos of all the great eats - but this should give you a good idea! Now it's back to regular eating (and getting rid of the extra vacation pounds!)

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Good Cook Doris Photo Shoot

A friend of ours has taken up photography. I casually mentioned to him at our summer BBQ that if he ever wanted to take some food photos, I'd be happy to volunteer. Lucky for Good Cook Doris, he had a photo challenge that called for food pictures! Thanks for the new profile pic! Stay tuned for the next "When He Fends for Himself" - a new profile photo too!

I started thinking of colorful and photogenic recipes that would hopefully help him win his challenge. On the menu: grilled chicken with quick beer-brine, vegetable confetti couscous, and a red and golden beet salad. To finish off the meal on a sweet note - a quick 10 minute apple cinnamon pull apart bread.

We had our dinner shoot on a weeknight, so I did some cooking the night before in order to be ready on time. I roasted the beets and chopped all the veggies the night before. That left the chicken and couscous for the night of the shoot. I'll post photos and recipes below - it might be a long post. For more photos from my friend, visit his Flickr page at

This is a recipe I found on my new Epicurious iPhone app. I thought beets would make for a good photo and set out to find a recipe on my train ride home. As noted in the reviews of this recipe, the dressing was delicious and worth making for salads and other veggie dishes. There was no photo with the recipe, so I took the suggestions and styled it my way!

Beet, Cucumber, and Sweet Onion Salad with Dijon-Honey Dressing
Adapted from Epicurious (original recipe here)

3 medium red beets
3 medium golden beet
1 large English cucumber, unpeeled, cut into 1/4-inch-thick rounds
1/2 sweet vidalia onion halved lengthwise, thinly sliced
4 teaspoons honey
4 teaspoons apple cider vinegar
1 1/2 teaspoons prepared Dijon mustard
1/3 cup corn oil

This part can be done the night before or earlier in the day:
Preheat oven to 400°F
Wrap each beet in foil, enclosing completely
Place on rack in oven (be sure to wrap well so they don't drip)
Bake until beets are tender when pierced with fork, about 1 hour 30 minutes.
Cool in foil
Peel beets, then cut each into 6 or so round slices (I cut mine into half circles)
Note: use gloves when peeling the red beets otherwise your hands will be bright red (and peel over the foil!)
Store in a ziplock bag (red beets will stain your Tupperware)

Cut the onions and store in a plastic bag
Cut the cucumber and store with a little water in a separate plastic bag

Right before serving:
Arrange red beets on 1/3 of a large platter
Arrange golden beets on 1/3 of the other side of the platter
Arrange cucumbers down the middle
Sprinkle the onions on the top
Put in the fridge while you make the dressing

Whisk honey, vinegar, and mustard in small bowl to blend
Gradually whisk in the corn oil
Season with salt and pepper
Drizzle over vegetables right before serving

Confetti Couscous
This is a quick and easy dish perfect for using up leftover veggies. It's ready in less than 10 minutes and can be customized in many ways. The dish is great hot or cold, so no need to worry about serving right away.

1/2 of a red pepper
1/2 of a yellow pepper
1/2 of an orange pepper
1/2 - 1 cup of fresh shelled English peas (substitute frozen if you don't have fresh)
1 box of plain couscous
A few tablespoons of chopped fresh parsley
Salt and pepper to taste

Dice peppers into small squares
Shell peas
Steam veggies in either the microwave or on the stovetop
Prepare couscous according to the instructions on the box
Fluff couscous and add veggies
Season with salt and pepper
Sprinkle with parsley and serve

Beer Brined Chicken
I searched the web for some recipes with grilled skin-on chicken breasts. I came upon a recipe on a site called Cooking for Engineers that was adapted from an Emeril recipe. Using the flavors as a guide, I adapted it myself for this delicious dish! I didn't marinate the night before, but I can imagine it would be even more delicious if I did. Here's my version:

2 cups apple juice (natural, not the super sugary kind)
1/4 cup kosher salt (maybe a little less)
A teaspoon or two ground cinnamon
1 bay leaf
1 tablespoon multi-colored peppercorns
A dash or two of ground cloves
A dash of nutmeg
4 boneless skin-on chicken breasts
2 tablespoons butter
2 teaspoons chili powder
1 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1 bottle of dark beer (I used a Newcastle)

Put the chicken in a large dish
Sprinkle both sides of the chicken with all the spices and rub in with your hands
Pour beer into the dish
Cover with plastic wrap and put in the fridge until you're ready to grill

Heat the grill to 450 degrees
While the grill is heating, melt butter and mix in chili powder and cayenne pepper
Take chicken out of marinade and brush with the butter mixture
Lay chicken skin side down on the grill (watch to make sure it doesn't catch on fire like mine)
Flip every 10 minutes or so until it is cooked through (165 degrees inside - with a meat thermometer)
Due to the fire at the beginning, the chicken cooked a little quicker than expected (about 20-25 minutes)
Served with a parsley garnish, no sauce was needed!

Quick and Easy Pull Apart Bread
I was briefly a Pampered Chef Consultant (I hate following rules!) and this is one of my favorite recipes that I took away from the experience. It works perfectly with my 8-inch skillet and cinnamon sprinkle. This dish costs maybe $2 at the most. Budget friendly and it could be diet friendly (if you use a healthier butter substitute).

1 apple (any type) cored and diced into small squares
2 tablespoons of butter
2 tablespoons of cinnamon sprinkle (or combo of cinnamon, nutmeg, clove, etc.)
1 can of supermarket brand biscuits (they are 2/$1 at my store)

Preheat the oven to 450 degrees (or the temp. on the can)
Melt the butter in an 8-inch oven-proof skillet over medium heat
Add 1 tablespoon of cinnamon sprinkle and diced apples
Saute until brown and just softened
Tear biscuits into small pieces and cover the apple cinnamon mixture
Sprinkle the remaining tablespoon of cinnamon mixture on top of the biscuits
Place the skillet in the oven for about 10 minutes, or until biscuits are golden brown
Remove from oven
Place a large plate over the skillet and flip over (like an upside down cake)
Enjoy - there won't be any leftovers!

Thanks Jim!

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Don't Feel like Cooking Tonight...Here's What we Made!

Some nights you just don't feel like cooking. The usual solution would be to go out to eat, but we find that if we can't decide what we want to eat at home then we can't decide on where to go out. So working with the ingredients in the house we came up with a dressed up summer pasta dish.

We didn't have any sauces on hand, so I had to put on my thinking cap and come up with something creative. We still had some garlic scapes and an abundance of basil leaves from our plant - perfect for an interesting pesto. I pulled a few veggies out of the fridge sauteed them and added them in. A summer pasta primavera!

Garlic Scape Pesto
3 garlic scapes
Handful of basil leaves
About 1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
Salt and Pepper

Chop garlic scapes into 1/4 inch pieces
Add garlic scapes and basil to the food processor
Stream in olive oil as the food processor is running
Scoop into a bowl and season with salt and pepper

Pasta Primavera a la Good Cook Doris
1/2 box penne pasta, prepared according to the directions on the box

1/4 cup chopped broccoli florets
1/4 cup chopped peppers (red, yellow and orange)
1/4 cup fresh green beans, cut into 1/4 inch pieces
1 tablespoon Olive Oil

Prepare the veggies while the pasta is cooking
Heat oil in a medium skillet over medium heat
Add veggies and cook for about 5 minutes, until just soft

Toss pasta, veggies, and pesto in a large bowl
Sprinkle with Parmesan cheese and enjoy!

Prep time: 10 minutes
Cook time: 10-15 minutes
Food processor, cutting board and knife, pasta pot, medium skillet, pasta spoon, spatula, serving dishes and utensils

This recipe serves 2 people (large servings)

Fourth of July Eats

We decided to let our friends at Vintage78 take over the cooking duties for the fourth of July festivities. With a great roof deck, they have the perfect spot for a nice summer evening. We dined on the usual meat, meat, and more meat with a few side dishes. The meal was accompanied by a delicious white sangria made with champagne, cointreau, peaches, green grapes, apples, and maybe some mangoes. Three of us polished of a pitcher pretty quickly....

The meal was great and perfect for the holiday celebration! Unfortunately we couldn't see the fireworks from the roof (though we did try). Here's a rundown of the menu and some photos.

Turkey Tenderloin, petit filets, mesquite chicken breast, teriyaki chicken and pineapple skewers.

The delicious sangria. For the veggies - a salad with romaine, cucumbers, toasted almonds, and tomatoes. Homemade ice wine vinaigrette (from Niagra Ice wine) and a dijon vinaigrette.

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Smoked Meats - Next Edition

With the success of smoking the beef ribs, I decided that it was time to try out some other meats. I picked up some beef short ribs and brisket at the store and headed home to fire up the grill.

The grill set up was the same, except the meat went directly on the grill grates this time. I consulted an assortment of grilling websites to get an estimate on how long to cook, if a mop sauce needed, and other tips for tender meat. When I cooked the ribs the first time, I split the cooking between the grill and the oven. For these short ribs, I only used the grill. I did finish off the brisket in the oven with some onions. The cook time is 4 hours plus, so I got everything set up and then mowed the lawn (keeping an eye on the grill). I had more time to spare, so I made egg salad for the week's lunch and chopped up all the veggies we had to save time during the week.

For the meats, I used the same coffee rub that I had leftover. I put on the rub and refrigerated the meat for about an hour before cooking. You could leave it overnight for even more flavor. Here's a summary of the two different meals.

Smoked Beef Short Ribs
Almost every grocery store carries beef short ribs now. They are often on sale and make a nice hearty meal. They come about 4-5 per pack - perfect for two people. These went down directly on the grill rack (not over the heat). They cooked for about 3 hours, flipping about halfway, until the meat shrinks up from the bone.

I did use a Mop Sauce to keep the meat moist, basting after about 2 hours, and then once every 45 minutes or so. It was an easy recipe - I can't remember which website I pulled it from:

Mop Sauce
1 cup beer (I used Newcastle)
1 cup apple cider (didn't have any - so I used apple juice)
1/2 cup apple cider vinegar
1/2 cup coffee
1/4 cup vegetable oil
1/4 cup Worcestershire sauce

I served the short ribs with couscous and was too lazy to make a vegetable. I did use fruit in the dessert (I'll post that at the end).

Smoked Brisket
I love brisket - it is one of my favorite things to cook. Most of my recipes involve searing the meat and then putting it in the oven for 2-3 hours until its done. What could be easier? Smoking on the grill was just as easy. After about 2 hours I basted with the mop sauce and flipped it over. I basted every 45 minutes or so for another 2ish hours. To finish it off, I put it in the oven in a covered roasting pan filled with one bottle of Newcastle beer (to keep some moisture in there). I added some sweet vidalia onions and let it cook for another our. Since we weren't planning to have it that night, I let it cool and then put it in the fridge.

Quick note - the cook time is about 1 hour per pound of brisket. We had a 4 pound brisket.

For the onions:
Cut one vidalia onion into 1/4 inch rings
Brown in butter or olive oil in a medium skillet
Add browned onions to the brisket in the oven and let cook with the meat

On the day we wanted to eat it, I put it back in the oven for 2 hours so it would get even more tender. We sliced it and served it with some canned green beans (I had a craving for them) and some good old canned baked beans. It was a definite comfort meal. My mouth is watering just thinking about it!

This was one of those meals that called for dessert. I had some cherry pie filling and canned pineapple in the pantry and decided to make a semi-upside down cake. It was delicious - I had a hard time not eating the entire cake!

Cherry Pineapple Semi-Upside Down Cake
1 can cherry pie filling (the kind with no whole cherries in it)
1/4 of a can of pineapple chunks, drained
Batter prepared from Jiffy baking mix recipe for fruit cobbler

Preheat oven to 400 degrees
Dump the cherry pie filling and pineapple into the bottom of a greased 2 qt. casserole dish
Pour batter evenly over the top
Bake for 15 minutes at 400 degrees
Reduce the heat to 350 degrees and cook for another 10 minutes

You can either flip the cake over onto a plate, or just cut slices and scoop it out. I'm off to the kitchen to get a piece right now!!

When He Fends for Himself

This week has been busy with work, so the regular author of "When He Fends for Himself" has been unable to write his weekly post. Here are some highlights from the past week.

We had leftover dip from the Mediterranean appetizers that we made for our dinner out. He made a quick broiled chicken breast and used the dips to create pita sandwiches for dinner - one with tzaziki sauce and one with olive tapenade. Pretty resourceful! Here's a look:

He was also in charge of Sunday breakfast. Usually he has trouble coming up with flavor combinations on the spot - but this one was quite a hit. With help from Jiffy baking mix, he whipped up some delicious honey-almond-walnut pancakes. They were golden brown and nice and fluffy.
Stay tuned for the next When He Fends for Himself!

Sunday, July 5, 2009

Old Favorite - Sloppy Joe Sandwiches

A few years ago I figured out that it was cheaper - and tastier - to make my own sloppy joe sauce. Don't get me wrong, Manwich is tasty, but it is salty! And once you read the label, you realize that you have most of the ingredients in your pantry and it takes no time at all to make a homemade sauce.

I downloaded a new iPhone app from Whole Foods that lets you put in a few ingredients you have on hand and it will suggest recipes for you. This is an entertaining app to play with on the train ride home from work. I've gotten good at coming up with impossible combinations for the WF recipe gurus (soy milk + peas + beef stumps them). One of the featured recipes last week was for sloppy joe sandwiches so I decided to give their recipe a try. I had ground beef in the fridge and all the other ingredients in the pantry. I didn't have any onions, so I decided to use up the last of the rainbow carrots from the farmer's market. Don't they look good?

On the side I decided to make a 'quick' baked beans. I figured that the carrots counted for our vegetable, so I didn't make another one on the side. I served the sandwiches on potato rolls for a delicious meal! Here's the recipe and the photo for 2 servings. You should start the beans first and then move on to the sloppy joes.

Quick Sloppy Joe Sandwiches
Adapted from a Whole Foods Recipe

1/2 pound ground sirloin
About 1/2 cup carrots, diced into small pieces
Kosher salt, to taste
Ground pepper, to taste
1/3 cup tomato ketchup
2 teaspoons apple cider vinegar
2 teaspoons Worcestershire sauce
2 teaspoons brown sugar (I used dark brown sugar)
2 teaspoons prepared yellow mustard
2 burger buns

Heat a medium sized skillet to medium heat
Put the beef in the pan and brown for about 5—7 minutes
Add the carrots and season with salt and pepper
Cook until carrots are almost soft about 5 minutes
Add in ketchup, vinegar, Worcestershire sauce, sugar and mustard and stir well
Simmer until slightly thickened, about 10 minutes
Spoon over burgers

These would be tasty with some sharp cheddar cheese or a nice colby jack.

Quick Baked Beans

1 can kidney beans, drained
1 garlic scape chopped into bean size pieces (or 1 garlic clove minced)
1 teaspoon bbq rub (or your favorite spices)
1 tablespoon water

Heat a small pot (with a lid) over medium heat
Add garlic and cook for 2-3 minutes
Add beans, water, and seasoning to the pot
Simmer over medium heat for about 15 minutes (or until you're done making the rest of the meal)

Summary (for both dishes):
Prep Time: 10-15 minutes
Cook Time: 25-30 minutes
Skillet, cutting board and knife, small pot with lid, measuring spoons and cups, spoons, serving dishes

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Farmer's Market Finds - Part 3

I know it's supposed to be summer, but the weather around here has been anything but summery. We've had 20+ days of rain and no signs of dry weather in the week ahead. Sunday was especially cool and dreary and chicken soup sounded like just the thing for dinner. I pulled out a recipe that I've had since junior year of college, when I had my first apartment. It's for chicken matzo ball soup and chicken salad. I got it off of the Food Network website and have pulled out the same stained paper every time I feel like making 'real' chicken soup (not to be confused with quick chicken soup that I adapted from a Rachael Ray recipe).

I had some leftover rainbow carrots from the farmer's market and thought they would make a colorful addition to the recipe. Instead of a whole chicken, I used a bone-in chicken breast (with skin). I typically don't buy bone-in chicken (especially with skin), but it really gives the soup a better flavor. The chicken also stays more moist for the chicken salad.

I didn't have the time to make matzo balls for the soup, so I picked up some fresh pasta from the grocery store. If you plan to freeze your soup or keep it in the fridge for more than one day, cook the noodles separately and add them in before you serve the soup. The noodles will absorb all the liquid if you leave them in the soup.

Now, on to the recipe! I've modified it to fit the amount of ingredients and soup that I wanted to make (about 4 big servings). You can add or subtract ingredients as you like. If I have parsnips on hand, I always use those instead of carrots.

Matzo Ball Soup and Chicken Salad
Adapted from a recipe on the Food Network Website by Sandy Whiteman

For the soup:
1 double chicken breast (bone in, skin-on)
3 carrots, cut into 1 inch pieces (I used the baby rainbow carrots this time)
4 celery stalks, cut into 1 inch pieces (throw in the tops too)
1 whole yellow onion (cut half into small pieces and leave the other half in one piece)
1/4 cup parsley/ chopped
4 sprigs dill (couple of shakes of dried dill if that's what you have on hand)
Salt and pepper

Cut chicken breast into 2 pieces using a sharp knife
Place the chicken into a stockpot and fill the stockpot with enough water to
cover chicken (I use an 8 quart pot and fill it about 2/3 full)
Bring the water to a boil
Skim the top of the water, removing as much fat as possible
Add the vegetables, herbs, and salt and pepper (don't add too much pepper, you can always add more later but can't take it away)
Turn heat down and let simmer for approximately 1.5 hours or until tender
Strain the soup, reserving the chicken (for the chicken salad) and the carrots, celery, and chopped onion to put back into the soup
If you plan to cook the noodles in the soup, put the soup liquid back into the stockpot and bring to a boil
Add noodles and cook until al dente (follow the instructions on the box)
Add the vegetables into the pot and serve

Chicken Salad
Chicken from the soup, shredded or cut into smaller pieces
Approximately 2 tablespoons of mayonnaise (will vary based on how much chicken you use and how mayonnaise-y you like your chicken salad)
Dash of Garlic powder
Salt and pepper

Let chicken cool before making the salad
Mix chicken, celery, and mayonnaise together
Season with garlic powder and salt and pepper to taste
Prep time: 15 minutes
Cook Time: Active - 15-20 minutes; Inactive: 1.5 hours
Cutting board, knife, stockpot, colander, ladle, measuring spoons, bowls


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