Sunday, March 29, 2009

Scallop Pesto Pasta and Roasted Garlic

I grew up in Oklahoma. When you grow up in a land-locked state, you don't eat a lot of seafood. In fact, I'm pretty sure the main source of seafood when I was growing up was Long John Silvers, and we lived in a tiny town so we didn't get it often. That, fish sticks, and tuna noodle casserole were my exposure to seafood. I didn't even know you could eat fish that hadn't been dipped in batter and fried until I was in college, at least. So to say I shy away from cooking it would be an understatement.

And I don't just shy away from cooking fish. I pretty much avoid cooking anything that lives in water. But this week before my grocery run I logged on to download coupons, and I found a really good coupon for scallops. So I opened my recipe book, found this recipe, and decided we'd have this for dinner tonight.

Not having ever purchased uncooked scallops before, I had no idea how much they cost. I got to the store and a 1.5 lb frozen bag was over $22. Made my $3 off "awesome" coupon seem measly. But I found another 1 lb bag with smaller scallops for just under $9 and decided I'd go ahead and try it just this once.

I have to say, I'm pretty pleased with the results. It could stand some tweaking, and my cooking technique needs some refinement, but it tasted good, and in the end, that's what matters.

1 box of angel hair pasta (8-12 oz)
1 jar pesto (1/2 to 3/4 cup, depending on how much pasta you make)
1 lb scallops
1/2 cup flour
1 tsp salt
1 tsp ground pepper
3 Tbsp butter

Cook pasta according to directions. In the meantime, combine flour, salt, and pepper in a ziplock bag. Put scallops in bag, shake to coat. You just need a light coating, so don't get carried away.

Melt butter in a skillet over medium-high heat. Add scallops and cook for 3-5 minutes until browned, turning regularly.

When pasta is finished, drain. Combine pasta and pesto. Top with scallops.

It seriously is that easy. It takes all of 10 minutes, depending on how long it takes water to boil on your stove. If you put the scallops in about when you put the pasta in the boiling water, they'll finish pretty close to the same time.

Things I'd change:

1. I'd make my own pesto, or find a brand I like better. I bought the store brand "Safeway Select" from the refrigerated pasta section. It was only ok. If you have a good/easy pesto recipe (or know a good ready-made brand), please share.

OR I'd make the lemon cream sauce I saw on The Barefoot Contessa the other day. Not at all healthy or light, but it looked yummy and the lemon would compliment the scallops.

2. I'd use the larger scallops it they weren't twice the cost of the small ones.

I'd also like you to know that my 3-year-old geek ate scallops and pasta with pesto for dinner. OK, to be honest, she made a gagging sound after eating the scallop, but she didn't spit it out, and she ate a bunch of the pasta. I call that a victory.

Note to self: do not give child angel hair pasta with pesto after she's already had a bath and is in her pajamas.

I also heated up some brown and serve sourdough bread and made some roasted garlic to spread on it. I could pretend I knew how to do that and tell you about it, or I could just send you to the website I used. It was yummy, and now I have roasted garlic to throw in other things (like mashed potatoes) this week.

This made enough for The Big Geek, me, and the little geek (the other little geek has no teeth, so he gets nothing good for a while), plus a BUNCH left over for lunch tomorrow.

If you're really, really, REALLY lazy and not concerned with your sodium content, you could probably make one of those rice-a-roni type noodle meals in a garlic/olive oil/Italian flavor and just put the scallops on top of that. Not that I'm suggesting you SHOULD. I'm just saying that if you were desperate you COULD do that, and if you put scallops on top it would look way more impressive.

Saturday, March 28, 2009

Easy Chicken Pot Pie

from Weight Watchers

I LOVE this recipe. It's best in cold weather, and by the end of summer I am just waiting for a cold day so I can make this. It's not The Big Geek's favorite, but he is crazy, because it is YUMMY! The white wine and rosemary combine and just make my toes curl--in a good way.

Weight Watchers says to make this in ramekins for individual pot pies. I don't own no fancy stuff like ramekins, so I just double this recipe and make it in a 13 x 9 glass baking dish. I also use more biscuits than you're supposed to use, which I'm sure makes them more points, but I like it that way. One day, I'm going to use puff pastry sheets instead of biscuits.

2 Tbsp white self-rising flour
1 Tbsp butter
2/3 cup frozen peas
1/2 cup white ine
1 cup chicken broth
3/4 lb uncooked boneless, skinless chicken breasts, cubed
2 medium celery stalks, chopped
2 large carrots, chopped
1 large onion, chopped
1/8 tsp black pepper
1/2 tsp salt
1 tsp fresh rosemary, chopped (or 1/2 tsp dried if you must, but fresh is MUCH better)
2 small tube biscuits, uncooked, flaky--like the ones you can "peel" the layers off of (I'd use 3 in a small baking dish or 6 in a 13 x 9)

Preheat oven to 375. Coat four 10-oz ramekins (or a small baking dish, or a 13 x 9 one if you double) with cooking spray.

In saute pan (if you double, you will need a BIG saute pan), melt butter over medium heat. Add chicken, onion, celery, and carrots. Saute until chicken is no longer pink. Add flour and stir so the flour mixes with the butter.

If you're like me, at this point you'll be like, "but I can't even see the butter any longer." That's ok. Just stir it so the flour coats the chicken. Then you'll start thinking, "this looks like a gross disgusting mess." Good job! You are on the right track!

Add chicken stock and wine slowly, stirring constantly so no lumps form. Add peas, rosemary, salt, and pepper. Bring to a boil. Simmer until thick, about 15 min, stirring occasionally (mainly just scrape the bottom of the pan).

Remove chicken mixture from heat and divide evenly among ramekins (or pour in baking dish).

Cut (or peel, which is what I do) each biscuit in half horizontally and put half a biscuit on top of each ramekin (or just put them on top of the baking dish in a decorative fashion, and then cut up the extra halves and fill in the gaps). Place ramekins on a baking sheet (or just put the dish in the oven) and bake until biscuits are brown and mixture is bubbly, about 15-20 minutes.

YUM! This smells so good while it's cooking you will want to stick your head in the oven and eat it. But don't. It would burn.

If it wasn't so warm here I'd make this right now.

Spicy Honey-Brushed Chicken Thighs

from Cooking Light

I realize that some people are buried under mountains of snow right now, but here in the Silicon Valley it was a beautiful day, just perfect for firing up the grill. If you can't get to your grill, these can be broiled, too.

I make The Big Geek grill ours. I don't use the grill.

2 tsp garlic powder
2 tsp chili powder
1 tsp salt
1 tsp ground cumin
1 tsp paprika
1/2 tsp ground red pepper
8 skinless, boneless chicken thighs (there is really no reason you couldn't use whatever kind of chicken you like, although you'll have to adjust cooking time)
cooking spray (if broiling)

6 Tbsp honey
2 tsp cider vinegar

Combine first 6 ingredients in large ziplock bag. Add chicken to bag. Shake to coat.

Either give chicken to your grillmaster OR place chicken on a broiler pan gcoated with cooking spray. Broil chicken 5 minutes on each side.

Combine honey and vinegar in small bowl, stirring well. Remove chicken from oven, brush honey mixture on chicken, broil 1 min. Remove chicken and turn over. Brush with remainign honey mixture. Broil 1 additional minute or until done.

Or tell your grillmaster to brush the honey mixture on when there's a couple of minutes left--brush, flip, wait 1 min, brush, flip, wait 1 min, done!

If this is too spicy for your little geeks, just save a couple pieces of chicken and don't put the spice mixture on it. They will still like the honey-glazed part!

Friday, March 27, 2009

Fast & Easy Weeknight Meals--Gorgonzola Topped Pork Tenderloin

from Cooking Light

At first, you may think this recipe isn't easy. Trust me--it is.

1 (1 lb) pork tenderloin, trimeed and cut crosswise into 4 pieces
1 tsp vegetable oil
Cooking spray
2 tsp bottled minced garlic (or fresh if you're all fancy and a show-off)
1/2 tsp black pepper
1/4 tsp salt
1 cup beef broth (in a pinch, I've been known to just use some bouillon dissolved in water)
1/2 cup dry red wine (TIP: I buy 2 buck chuck from Trader Joe's to use when cooking. You can freeze leftovers and defrost for later use.)
2 Tbsp crumbled Gorgonzola or other blue cheese

Place the pork between 2 sheets of heavy-duty plastic wrap. Pound the crap out of it until it's about 1 inch thick. The shape doesn't matter as much as the thickness. You want it to cook evenly, so it all needs to be the same thickness.

Heat oil in a large skillet (this one is also good in the cast iron skillet) coated with cooking spray over medium-high heat.

Combine garlic, pepper, and salt. Rub all over pork. Add pork to pan and cook 5 minutes on each side or until done. Remove pork from pan and keep warm (put foil over it).

Add broth and wine to skillet, scraping pan to loosen browned bits. Increase heat to hight and cook until reduced to about 1/2 cup (between 6-10 minutes). Spoon sauce over pork (and mashed potatoes, if you have them, or rice, or onto bread--the sauce is damned good). Sprinkle with cheese.

See, that wasn't so difficult. It just messes with your head because of the fancy sounding ingredients.

My apologies.

When I first started this, someone suggested that readers like pictures in blogs. Well, so do I. Unfortunately, that requires me to remember to take picture of everything I make, or to wait until I make something to post a recipe. Clearly, that's a pain in the rear, so instead I'll just add pictures when I can.

In the meantime, you'll just have to make due.

Ways to make life easier.

I was at a mom's night last night (fondue is good--I'll try to post that recipe as well), and we were talking about food and cooking dinner and saving time and all that.

Here are some things I do to make my life easier:

1. Whenever I buy ground meat, I try to buy in bulk. Then I cook most (all) of it, let it cool, and freeze it in approx 1 lb pre-cooked portions. You can pull frozen ground meat out and put it directly into the skillet for tacos, sloppy joes, pasta sauce, shepherd's pie, or anything else you make with ground meat.

2. I also try to buy chicken breasts in bulk. You can put a rub or marinade on chicken breasts and freeze them in ziplock bags. Then, as the chicken defrosts later, it also marinates. I learned this from some cooking show, but I don't remember which one.

3. I love the crock pot. Spray with cooking spray, chop an onion, and throw in a pork tenderloin. Cover it with a jar of green salsa and you'll end up with a yummy burrito filling. Cover it with a bottle of your favorite barbeque sauce and you'll have awesome pulled pork for sandwiches (I like them with cole slaw on top). I'll try to do a crock pot entry some day, because the crock pot is AWESOME!

4. Always have pasta and jarred sauce. If all else fails, dinner can be ready in 12 minutes with pasta and a jar of sauce. If you have frozen meatballs in your fridge (or some chicken sausage--Trader Joe's has some sweet Italian pepper sausage that is YUMMY), even better.

5. We also always have a box of Zataran's Jambalaya mix and a turkey smoked sausage. Throw in a can of corn and a can of diced tomatoes and it's even better. This may be Andy's favorite go-to meal of all time.

Ok, share some of yours!

Blog shout-out

I've stolen a LOT of recipes from Pioneer Woman. Be warned--her blog is NOT low-fat. But man, are her recipes YUMMY.

I have tried:

Apple Dumplings: These are so bad for you I felt kind of guilty making them for my family. But man, were they ever GOOD. And they have apples. Apples are good for you, right? Ok, maybe not if you drown them in butter, sugar, and Mt. Dew. No, that is not a typo, you pour Mt. Dew on your apple dumplings.

Cinnamon Rolls: Also not healthy, but a good special treat. I made these Christmas morning, and it was my first attempt at a yeast roll. The dough part was easier than I thought it would be. Assembly was SUPER messy. I think next year I'll just bring the butter to room temperature, add the sugar and cinnamon to it, combine, and spread it on the dough. Because this year there was a butterfall (like a waterfall, but with butter) from the melted butter. My dog loved it, but the last thing you want to do when you're making cinnamon rolls at 5 a.m. Christmas morning is clean up a butterfall.

Crash Hot Potatoes
: To be fair, someone else made these for me, but they were GOOD. She wasn't sure they were worth the effort, but I enjoyed them.

Dump Cake: Surprisingly good, and fun to make with kids.

Marlboro Man's 2nd favorite sandwich
: I like it with swiss cheese and dijon mustard. It's also good without the bread, just as a chicken breast (with bacon and smothered in cheese). Cooks well in the cast iron skillet.

Sherried Tomato Soup: Oh. my. G.O.D. This is the best soup EVER. And I don't usually like tomato soup.

I encourage you to check her out. As long as you aren't trying to lose weight.

Grilled Adobo Pork/Chili Rubbed Pork Chops

from Cooking Light

You should always read through an entire recipe before you decide to make it. Because if you don't, you may be surprised by something. Like how much work it is.

That's what happened to me with this recipe. I scanned the ingredients and though, "sounds good." Bought everything. Then read the recipe and was like, WHAT?? Who has TIME for THIS??

However, since I didn't want to waste the ingredients, I enlisted The Big Geek's help and went through all the steps to make the marinade and sauce, then let the pork marinate overnight, and then had TBG grill the pork. We had both decided that it had better be the best thing we'd ever eaten with all the work it took.

It was good. Really good. And spicy. But I'm not sure it was so good it was worth all the trouble. Especially because I have a different recipe that takes about 5 minutes and tastes REALLY similar.

But here it is anyhow:

Cooking spray
3 ancho chiles (they are dried)
1 garlic clove
1/4 small onion, peeled
1 cup fat-free, less-sodium chicken broth
1/4 tsp ground oregano
1/4 tsp freshly ground black pepper
1/8 tsp ground cumin
dash of ground allspice
2 Tbsp cider vinegar, divided
1 Tbsp brown sugar
1/4 tsp salt
4 (6 oz) bone-in center-cut port chops (about 1/2 inch thick), trimmed
2 Tbsp fresh orange juice
1 Tbsp fresh lime juice

To make the marinade:

Heat a large skillet coated with cooking spray over medium heat. Remove stems and seeds from chiles, tear chiles into large pieces, and place in skillet. Cook 15 seconds or until thoroughly heated, turning pieces occasionally (be careful not to burn chiles). Remove from pan.

Add garlic and onion to skillet (yes,just toss them in without chopping). Cook until browned (about 5 min), turning frequently.

Return chiles to skillet and add broth through allspice. Stir in 1 Tbsp vinegar. Bring mixture to a simmer, and then cook 5 minutes or until chiles are soft. Remove from heat and cool slightly.

Place cooled mixture in a blender or food processor (you may need to do this in more than one batch). Process until smooth, then return to the skillet. Cook 5 minutes, stirring constantly. Remove from heat and stir in salt and sugar. Cool completely.

When marinade is cool, combine 1/2 cup of marinade and remaining Tbsp of vinegar in a ziplock bag. Add pork chops, remove air, and seal. Squish them around so the marinade gets all over the pork chops and marinate 8 hours or overnight in the fridge.

Place remaining marinade in a diffferent (small) bag. Add orange and lime juice, squish to combine, and refridgerate.

The next day/8 hours later:

Prepare the grill. Place pork on grill rack coated with cooking spray (reserve marinade). Grill 4 minutes each side or until thermometer registers 160, basting frequently with reserved marinade. Remove from heat.

While pork is cooking, heat the reserved sauce in a small saucepan (over medium heat until heated through). Spoon on top of cooked pork.

Some notes: I don't know what we did wrong, but our marinade either needed more liquid or cooked off more liquid than it was supposed to, because we barely had 1/2 cup total. So I just sort of divided it and did the best I could. The pork was coated, but there wasn't enough to baste. However, the marinade was thick enough that it didn't matter. I added more brown sugar to taste to the sauce b/c it was REALLY tart, but perhaps the amount of sauce I ended up with was wrong b/c I was just guessing.

So you can do all that and end up with some pretty good (and spicy) pork (either plan something different for your little geeks or don't marinate their pork), OR you could just do this:

Chili Rubbed Pork Chops (adapted from a Weight Watchers recipe I got from a friend):

1 Tbsp chili powder
1 Tbsp unpacked brown sugar
2 tsp ground cumin
1 tsp garlic powder (I use 1 1/2 b/c I like garlic)
2 Tbsp Worcestershire sauce
If you like it spicy, add 1 tsp Cayanne and 1 tsp red pepper flakes. Otherwise, omit.

4 1/2-inch thick pork chops (WW says boneless and lean, but with the bone is fine, too).

1. Preheat broiler and broiler pan coated with cooking spray (or grill)

2. In a small bowl, combine spices. Add Worcestershire sauce and stir until paste forms.

3. Rub paste all over pork chops.

4. Broil (or grill) 4 min on each side or until done (160).

That's it. If you want these to taste more like the Adobo pork you could add some lime juice (maybe 1/2 tsp) to the paste, and maybe some brown sugar (1 tsp).

I'm pretty sure we'll be opting for the quick and easy version in the future.

And if you care, the original WW recipe said to serve the chops over steamed green beans drizzled with lemon juice, so you could get the citrus flavor from there as well. The original recipe is 5 pts per serving.