Sunday, March 30, 2014

Creamy Slow Cooker Tortellini Soup

I've made this twice since trying it out for the first time.  It's simple and a hit with everyone at my table.  You can make the meaty sauce to your liking.  Your goal is to have 6 cups of substantial sauce for flavor and texture.  It's good stuff!

24 oz jar prepared spaghetti sauce
1/2 lb. browned ground beef
1/2 lb. browned Italian sausage
(can substitute above three ingredients for approximately 6 cups of your favorite homemade meaty sauce)
1/2 bag (4.5 oz.) fresh spinach leaves, roughly torn
4 cups chicken broth
8 oz. cream cheese
8 oz. fresh mushrooms, sliced
16 oz. frozen cheese tortellini

Combine spaghetti sauce (and meat if adding it in separately), spinach, cream cheese, chicken broth, and mushrooms in a slow-cooker.  Cover and cook on low for 5-6 hours, or high for 2-3.

20 minutes before serving, turn heat to high if it isn't already and stir in frozen tortellini.  Cover and cook for 15-20 more minutes.  Serve topped with parmesan cheese.

Monday, March 24, 2014

Nutella French Toast

I met up with a friend on our walk to school last Friday morning and she shared what she had made her boys for breakfast that morning.  My kids and I were drooling.  A nutella sandwich dipped in a sweet egg batter and fried on a hot griddle?  What's not to like?!  Thankfully, I usually make a special breakfast on Saturday, so we didn't have to wait long to try out this delicious idea.  It was a total winner!  We actually did a little taste test in the process.  I made one sandwich using Speculoos spread instead of Nutella, but we all agreed that the Nutella was better.  And the fresh strawberries were the perfect topping (though my son suggested that whipped cream would have made it perfect!).

The recipe my friend used can be found here.  Below is my guestimate of how I make french toast to feed my family of five and how this breakfast came together for us:

fresh strawberries, sliced
1 tsp sugar
thinly sliced bread
3 eggs
2 cups milk
2 tsp vanilla
1/2 tsp cinnamon
butter for frying

other optional toppings:
powdered sugar
whipped cream
drizzle of melted nutella
banana slices

Combine strawberries and sugar and let sit while you make the french toast.

Whisk together eggs, milk, vanilla, and cinnamon in a pie plate or shallow dish.  Set aside until you are ready to dip your sandwiches.

Spread a layer of nutella on one slice of bread.  Top with another piece of bread.  Repeat as many times as you want!  I made seven sandwiches in total.

Heat a large skillet over medium high heat.  Add 1 to 2 Tbsp butter.  

Dip each sandwich into egg mixture, soaking for about 10 seconds on each side.  Let some excess drip off then place in skillet.  Cook a couple minutes until lightly brown.  Flip.  Cook a couple more minutes until browned and heated through.  (Add more butter to skillet as necessary between sandwiches.)  Add desired toppings and devour!

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Leek and Mushroom Bake with Polenta Crust

Though there are several assembly steps to this recipe , it can all be made ahead of time and didn't take that long to put together once I got rolling.  I'd never roasted leeks or celery before, and I added some bites of celeriac that were calling from the fridge and it worked nicely.  Everything came together easily and tasted great.  The dried mushrooms have a stronger flavor and add texture that fresh mushrooms wouldn't, though I might try fresh mushrooms next time to tame down the flavor a little. 

3 ribs celery
2 leeks, white part only
1 Tablespoon olive oil
1 Tablespoon butter
2 cloves garlic, peeled
2 cups dried mushrooms 
1 recipe polenta crust
1 recipe Bechamel sauce
1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese

1 1/2 cups coarse polenta
6 cups water
1 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons butter

Bring water and salt to a boil in a heavy bottomed sauce pot. Over medium heat, whisk polenta into boiling water, a handful at a time, until it is all incorporated.
Reduce heat to medium-low and cook polenta, stirring frequently, for about 30 minutes. It will become quite thick. Tip: While your polenta is cooking, prepare steps 2 and 3 of this recipe.
Remove polenta from heat and beat in butter. Pour onto a buttered baking sheet and spread out with a spatula into a rough 9×13 rectangle. Polenta will be moldable.
Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate until firm or up to two days.

Preheat oven to 400°F and lightly oil a baking sheet or roasting pan.
Wash and dry celery and leeks. Slice leeks into 1/4 inch ‘coins’. Chop celery ribs into 1/4 inch pieces also.
Place vegetables in a single layer on the baking sheet and roast in the oven for 15 minutes. Give the pan a shake and rotate it at least once during the cooking process.
Soak mushrooms in warm water for 20 minutes (Tip: you can make your Bechamel sauce during this time).
Melt 1 tablespoon butter in a medium sauce pan. Bang garlic cloves with the flat side of a knife to bruise them and toss them into the butter.
Drain mushrooms, squeezing out as much liquid as possible, and add them to the garlic butter.
Season mushrooms with salt and pepper and cook over medium heat for about 7 minutes.

3 Tablespoons butter
1/3 cup all-purpose flour
2 1/4 cups milk
1/2 teaspoon salt

Melt butter in a medium pan or sauce pot over medium heat. Dump the flour in all at once and whisk to combine. Cook, stirring constantly, for about two minutes to develop a little more flavor and avoid a ‘floury’ taste in your bechamel.
Gradually add in the milk, whisking vigorously to emulsify sauce and eliminate lumps. Once all the milk has been added, bring to a slow boil and stir until thick and smooth.
Season with salt to taste and reserve until ready to use.

Preheat over to 350°F and butter a 9×13 baking dish.
Combine roasted celery and leeks in the dish and spread out to cover the bottom in a single layer. Top with the sauteed mushrooms, uniformly scattered throughout.
Pour bechamel sauce over the vegetables and distribute evenly using a rubber spatula. Sprinkle with 1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese.
Cut chilled polenta into rectangles and arrange on top of the bechamel. Sprinkle with remaining 1/4 cup of Parmesan cheese.
Place dish in oven and bake, uncovered, for about 40 minutes, until top is browned and the bechamel is bubbling up the sides.
Serve at once.

Thursday, March 13, 2014

Black Eyed Pea Salsa

I made this for dinner last night, serving it up next to cheese and chicken quesadillas.  I won't pretend the kids liked the salsa as much as the quesadillas, but they ate their portion and my youngest had seconds.  The salsa has great flavor and plenty of fresh texture.  It was even better the second day for lunch after everything had mingled in the fridge overnight.    

About 3 1/2 to 4 cups cooked black-eyed peas (equivalent of 2 15.5-ounce cans, rinsed, drained; OR start with 2 cups dried, cover with salted water, bring to a boil then simmer about an hour or until the peas are fully cooked, adding water as necessary)
1/4 to 1/2 cup of chopped, cooked, mild green chilies OR 1/4 cup chopped pickled jalapeños (it's all to taste - I used half of a fresh jalapeño (no cooking) and 1/4 cup pickled jalapeños)
1/2 - 1 cup roasted red bell pepper, chopped
one bunch of green onions, thinly sliced, about 1/2 cup total
1 bunch of cilantro, chopped, about one cup
2 Tbsp olive oil
2 Tbsp red wine vinegar
1 tsp dried oregano
1/4 tsp ground cumin
1/2 tsp salt
black pepper

This is as easy as throwing everything together and gently stirring until combined.  
Taste and adjust seasonings for your crowd.    
Serve with chips, nachos, quesadillas, or warm tortillas.

Saturday, March 8, 2014

Orange Beef Stir-Fry

The Payne kitchen puts out a fair share of stir-fry.  It's one of my go-to meals when I don't really have a plan, but see a handful of random vegetables starring me down from the inside of the fridge.  So I added a few extra veggies to this, but stayed true to the recipe for the sauce.  It was good, but I was expecting more of the orange flavor to come out. 

  • 1 teaspoon freshly grated orange zest
  • 1/2 cup orange juice
  • 1 tablespoon cornstarch
  • 1 tablespoon soy sauce
  • 1 teaspoon sugar
  • 1 teaspoon beef bouillon granules (or 1 cube beef bouillon crushed)
  • 12 ounces skirt steak or flank steak
  • 2 teaspoons canola or vegetable oil
  • 4 green onions, white and green parts chopped
  • 1 clove garlic, finely minced
  • 1-2 cups chopped fresh broccoli
  • 1 cup chopped carrots
  • 1 red bell pepper, seeded and cut into thin strips
  • 1/4 cup water

  • In a small bowl, stir together the fresh orange zest, orange juice, cornstarch, soy sauce, sugar and beef bouillon. Set aside.

  • Thinly slice the beef across the grain. Lightly salt and pepper the beef slices. Heat 1 teaspoon oil in a large nonstick skillet over medium heat until rippling and hot. Add the beef in a single layer. Cook over medium to medium-high heat until just cooked through, flipping and stirring occasionally. Remove the beef to a plate or bowl.

  • Add the remaining 1 teaspoon oil to the pan. Add the green onions and garlic. Cook for one minute, stirring constantly, until fragrant. Add the chopped broccoli carrots and red pepper. Stir to combine. Add the water, cover the skillet, and cook until the vegetables are crisp-tender, 2-4 minutes. Stir in the cooked beef.

  • Whisk the sauce to recombine and stir it into the skillet. Toss the meat and vegetables to coat in the sauce and cook the mixture at a simmer until hot and the sauce has thickened, 2-3 minutes. Serve over hot, cooked rice.

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Orange Date Muffins

These were outstanding, best still warm.  The entire orange is used, so you get a real full orange flavor.  And I love that I could make most of the batter in my vita-mix!

taken from the Big Book of Breakfast by Maryana Vollstedt

1 large whole orange, washed and unpeeled
1/2 cup orange juice
1/2 cup chopped dates
1 large egg
1/2 cup butter, cut up
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 tsp. baking soda
1 tsp. baking powder
3/4 cups sugar
1/2 tsp. salt

Preheat oven to 400.  Cut orange into chunks and remove seeds.  Place chunks in a food processor and process until finely ground.  Add juice, dates, egg, and butter and process until blended.

In a medium bowl, combine flour, baking soda, baking powder, sugar, and salt.  Pour orange mixture over dry ingredients and stir until blended.  Spoon batter into paper-ilned muffin tins, filling them about three-fourths full.  Bake until a toothpick inserted in the center comes our clean, 15 to 18 minutes.  Remove from pan and cool on a rack for 5 minutes.  Serve warm.
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