Ravioli and Tomato Soup with Homemade Rosemary Bread

October 30, 2009

It’s definitely that time of year! 

Although I don’t usually think about dinner before sometime in the late afternoon, these cool, crisp, fall mornings make me dream of hot cups of tea, big warm blankets, and piping hot bowls of hearty soup served with thick slices of warm, crusty bread…ummmmmmmm!

As usual, I knew we would be headed out the enjoy the last bit of sunshine so I needed something easy to whip together for when we got back, hungry and tired, from enjoying a pretty fall evening at the park.  Early in the day I took about 10 minutes to toss the ingredients for Rosemary Bread into the bread machine and let it go to work, filling the house with the divine aroma of rosemary and freshly baked bread.  If Glade could capture that scent and put it into one of their candles they would make millions! 

About 5:00p I pulled out my stockpot, did the necessary chopping and dicing, and started my soup base…I think that took maybe 10 minutes?  Letting it sit on the stove and simmer for a while allows all those delicious flavors to combine, and when we were ready to leave I just turned off the burner and put the lid on.    When we got home, fingers and noses chilly from running around the park and enjoying the fall weather, there was our soup, ready and waiting…it took no time at all to flip the burner on to warm it back up and add in the remaining ingredients (pasta and spinach) which only needed brief cooking.  And of course, that beautiful loaf of rosemary bread, waiting to be served in thick slices, toasted and smothered in slabs of melted cheddar cheese.

Soups are perfect “make ahead” meals and most can be easily adapted to a crock pot.  Serve with any sort of bread you have on hand…*even sandwich bread can make delicious toast (see below).  Pull out your favorite soup recipe or try this one to get you stared!  This is a slightly modified recipe I pulled from the 10/2007 issue of Cottage Living:

Ravioli and Tomato Soup with Rosemary

  1. In a stockpot, saute 1 chopped onion and 3 minced garlic cloves with olive oil until onion turns translucent and garlic begins to brown.
  2. Add 1 can diced tomatoes, with liquid (stewed also work) and stir together
  3. Add 1-2 tsp crushed dried or fresh chopped rosemary, 1 tsp basil, and 6-8 cups chicken broth; bring to a boil and let simmer on low.  You can pause here if you are not ready to eat yet…continue to step #4 about 15 minutes before you want to serve soup.
  4. Add pasta  – 12 oz tortellini or 9 oz ravioli (chicken and/or cheese filled) – and cook for length of time indicated on pasta package (usually 8-12 min).  In the last 5 minutes add 1-3 cups chopped spinach (fresh is best) and let soup continue to boil gently until pasta is cooked and spinach is wilted.
  5. Serve with warm bread and slices of cheddar cheese. 

*If all you have is sliced sandwich bread, you can still make a delicious toast…spread with butter or olive oil, sprinkle with rosemary or other dried herbs, top with a slice of cheddar cheese and broil/toast until cheese is melted. 

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Connected!

October 29, 2009

I think it must have been a much simpler time…back before TV, phones, internet.  When the day was done, what was there to do in the evenings besides chat with neighbors, spend time loving on your family, read a good book, or just enjoy snuggling into bed on time?  Much simpler, indeed.

As you can probably tell from my blog absence, my DSL has been down for the last couple of days.  I’ve never thought of myself as having an “internet addiction”…no iPhone, no email phone, no Twitter…just your average email/Facebook/(and now blog)/ internet surfer kinda’ girl.  However after two days offline, I must confess, when at last I finally saw that beloved Google search page pop up again I offered to send the tech-support guy flowers!  (he laughed nervously and said I really didn’t need to do that)

I’m sure my husband and I looked a sight, wandering around the house the past two days like lost sheep, not having a clue what to do with ourselves!  Can’t pay bills, can’t find any phone numbers, can’t find a restaurant to go to, can’t check the weather, neither of us could catch up on anything for work, couldn’t email anyone to let them know (had to use a phone instead!), didn’t know what was going on in the news, well…you get the picture.

Although I still can’t imagine having to go back to “before”, it was almost freeing for a few moments to have nothing pulling at you.  Ok, moments over and I’m back to blogging way too late at night when I should be sleeping instead ;-)

I’ve got a pack of boneless pork chops thawing in the fridge for some evening soon; I’ll let you know how they turn out!

Brining Chicken

October 26, 2009

Ever heard of brining chicken?  Ever tried it?

I recently ran across this tip and it quickly became standard practice in my kitchen.  Brining chicken breasts before you cook them helps them stay tender and moist; this is by far the best way to ensure mouth-watering, juicy chicken and has helped me cut down on the butter and oil I use when seasoning them.   You can also try brining your turkey and pork! 

Although there are a number of variations for brine solutions and recommended marinating times, they all start with about the same basic recipe:  Dissolve 1/4 cup salt and 1/4 cup sugar in 4 cups water

Some tips…

  • The type of salt you use makes a difference in taste; Kosher salt is recommended, and from experience I can tell you it does taste better than iodised table salt.  If you do use table salt, measure slightly less (because table salt crystals are so much finer than Kosher salt you will end up with a salter brine when using the same amount of table salt).
  • Although I’ve not tried it yet, I’ve seen recommendations for using brown sugar rather than whiteComing soon…I plan to try doing that with boneless pork chops before pan-frying with an orange marmalade sauce.  I’ll let you know how it turns out ;-)
  • Brining Time Table:  for boneless chicken breasts, 15 minutes at room temp or up to 2 hours in the fridge.
  • Go ahead and add seasoning to your brine mixture; bay leaves, fresh sprigs of herbs, lemon wedges, onions, etc.

So next time you are going to cook up a batch of chicken breasts and have just a few extra minutes, try brining them first and let me know what you think! 

The Step-by-Step:

  1. Trim chicken, flatten (if desired), and place in glass baking dish
  2. Cover with brine solution and let marinate for 15 minutes (or up to 2 hours in the fridge)
  3. Pour brine solution off chicken and pat dry (you can rinse if you wish, but I haven’t found this necessary)
  4. Season as desired and cook as usual for moist and mouth-watering chicken breasts!

Friday Fun

October 23, 2009

Friday nights should be fun…friends, family, good food, and memories!

Before leaving the house I grab an old blanket, a roll of paper towel, one small candle lantern and lighter, and a couple bottles of water.  On the way out we stop by Little Caesars for a $5 peperoni, and then head out to the lake.  Sitting cross-legged at the end of a pier; eating pizza right out of the box; watching the water change colors and sparkle as the sun begins to set; talking with Eli (my 16 month old) about the ducks as they fly by and honk, the breeze, the rippling water; scooting together under a blanket as the moon and stars start to come out, and chatting around the tiny, twinkling lantern.  This is what family memories are made of.

Have fun making your own this weekend!  Picnics don’t need to be elaborate, and the ones that taste best are often the easiest.  Here are some ideas to get you started…

Location: pick somewhere the whole family can enjoy

  1. park, playground, nearby camping ground
  2. lake or pond (have fun feeding ducks and fish with dinner leftovers!), stream bank
  3. large, grassy field where you can play frisbee or toss a ball.

Food: keep it simple; meals that don’t have to be a certain temp, don’t make a mess, and don’t require special utensils (soup is a pain because it inevitably spills, and you have to bring bowls and spoons)

  1. sandwiches and chips
  2. pita pockets stuffed with chicken salad (or other favorite filling)
  3. pizza out of the box
  4. or if you happen to be without children…a warm loaf of french bread, a good block of cheese, some grapes and strawberries, and a bottle of wine!

Activities: think of something your family loves that you haven’t done in a while

Memories

Memories

  1. play ball or toss a frizbee
  2. take a simple board game or cards (I don’t recommend cards if it’s at all windy!)
  3. take old bread or crackers you can feed ducks and fish
  4. candlelight is always a plus!

Please feel free to share!  What is your favorite dinner-time picnic memory???

Marinara Chicken with Pasta

October 22, 2009

Dinner plans began tonight (as they do many nights) by digging through the fridge in search of bits and left overs needing to be used up.  Tonight I found a about 4 ounces of leftover stewed tomatoes  from our meatloaf a couple nights back, and some Little Caesars Crazy Bread from last nights pizza picnic at the lake.  Sound like something Italian to me…Marinara Smothered Chicken with Parmesan Pasta, Side Salad and Bread Sticks.  And for dessert, fresh tapioca pudding with strawberries.

First, a most fabulous super quick recipe for marinara!  (My handy-dandy Betty Crocker was mum on this subject, so this my own version…which turned out oh-so-wonderfully if I do say so myself!)

  • In a food processor or blender mix together any sort of tomatoes (I used stewed, but fresh or canned diced would work just as well I’m sure) with some Basil (fresh really adds something special if you have it on hand) and Oregano; add enough white wine to get the consistency of a spaghetti sauce.  We usually have a bottle of white wine open in the fridge, but if you don’t have any on hand try using olive oil instead which will make for a delicious “red pesto”.
  • I found starting with about 4 oz of stewed tomatoes I ended up with just the perfect amount of sauce to smother two huge chicken breasts.

~ MARINARA CHICKEN WITH PASTA~

Time in Kitchen:  about 20 minutes / Total prep+cook time: 30-40 minutes depending on thickness of your chicken breasts

  1. Set a pot of water on to boil for your pasta…add some salt and it will boil faster.
  2. Preheat oven to 350°F
  3. Mix up marinara sauce in a food processor or blender.
  4. Pound chicken breasts thin and place in baking dish; drizzle with olive oil and slide them around a little to coat each side.  Sprinkle each side with a mixture of bread crumbs and grated parmesan cheese.  Smother with homemade marinara sauce and top with grated mozzarella.
  5. This should have taken about 10 minutes and your water is now boiling :-)
  6. Toss pasta in to boil and slide chicken into the oven, uncovered.
  7. While chicken and pasta are cooking, this is a great time to make a side salad or veggie dish, warm up bread or make toast, and make up a quick desert (pudding, sliced fruit or toss a pan of brownies into the oven since it’s already at the right temp!)
  8. Pasta and chicken will be done roughly at the same time; pasta will need between 12-20 min and chicken will need between 20-30 minutes depending on thickness of your chicken breasts.
  9. Drain pasta and toss with a little butter and grated parmesan
  10. Plate everything up and enjoy!

Spotlight on (Special) Mashed Potatoes

October 21, 2009

While I love almost any food, there are a few that I just can’t get enough of…one of those being homemade mashed potatoes!  Instant have come a long way and can be pretty good (definitely in the “Super Quick Sides” category) but if you have the time to let them cook, homemade can be mouth watering.  And for you budget conscious folks out there, you can get more potatoes than you could ever eat for almost nothing ($5 for a 10lb bag!)

Ok, so I know this is technically a re-post from yesterday, but that meatloaf post was way too long.  Buried near the bottom and tucked into the recipe for mashed potatoes were some tips for adding a little something special to your ‘taters.  Seeing as how I am so in love with the potato, I thought fabulous veggie deserved it’s own chance in the spotlight.

SEASONING IDEAS TO SPRUCE UP YOUR MASHED POTATOES

  • Always start with butter, milk and salt
  • Ranch Dressing
  • Sour Cream
  • Grated Cheddar Cheese
  • Garlic (fresh pressed or the paste you can buy in a jar)
  • Dill and Sour Cream (my favorite)
  • Rosemary and grated Cheddar Cheese
  • Morton “Nature’s Seasons” Seasoning Blend (you must add this seasoned salt blent to you spice cabinet; I use it on everything from eggs to chicken to casserole to fajitas, veggies and anything else you can think of that would need seasoning!)
  • If you have a favorite potato seasoning, please feel free to leave a comment and share…I’d love to try it out!

GETTING THE PERFECT TEXTURE

  • Use an electric hand mixer if you want super creamy potatoes (yes, this works even if you leave the skins on)
  • Use a hand-held potato masher for that creamy-yet-slightly-lumpy texture
  • Use a large cooking spoon to stir everything together for a lumpy, almost baked-potato type texture…so good, especially if you leave the skins on and mix in grated cheddar cheese and ranch dressing!  Don’t overcook thought (just until tender and very soft when pierced with a fork, but not so tender they fall to pieces)

Mashed Potatoes (for anyone who has been using instant for so long they have forgotten ;-))

  1. Scrub potatoes under cold water to remove any dirt; peal if desired.
  2. Chop potatoes (the smaller the pieces the faster they cook) and place in a large pot.
  3. Add enough water to cover potatoes by at least an inch.  Make sure water level is at least 2-3 inches from top of pan or you will have a hard time keeping them from boiling over.
  4. Boil for 20-40 minutes; cook time depends on size of potatoes and quantity.  Test with a fork:  potatoes are ready when they are tender and break apart easy.
  5. Drain and return to pot.
  6. Add butter, salt, milk and seasoning to taste
  7. Mash or use a hand-held electric mixer

On the menu tonight…

October 20, 2009

Meatloaf and Mashed Potatoes

Mom's Meatloaf

Mom's Meatloaf

While it does take a while to cook, the actual prep time you will spend in the kitchen is minimal.  It took me about 10 minutes to mix up the meatloaf  and start it baking in the oven, and then another 5 min to scrub the 4 large potatoes we had left, chop them up and set them on the stove to boil in a stockpot.

Left everything to cook itself and went for a nice long bike ride; when we came back there were only 10 minutes left on the meat loaf…plenty of time to drain and mash the potatoes, make a salad of spinach and sliced tomatoes, and set the table.

Total time in the kitchen:    20-30 minutes

~ TIPS ~

  • Use a stand mixer to mix up your meat loaf; it will speed things along!
  • Modify your meatloaf recipe to what you have time for; you don’t always have to use fresh onions and peppers.
  • If you are going to be gone, use your oven timer!  Meatloaf is hard to really overcook so don’t worry about it sitting in a warm over for a little while after the cooking time it up and the oven shuts off.
  • Did you happen to notice I mentioned using a stockpot for my potatoes? I knew I wanted to go out for a bit, and potatoes are notorious for boiling over if the pan is too full or the heat too high; using a pan which you might think way too big for the quantity you have means you won’t have to keep an eye on them to prevent boil-over-mess-cleanup!
  • Leave the skins on your potatoes; this adds extra nutrients, saves you time, and actually tastes great!

~ RECIPES ~

Mom’s Meatloaf (if you don’t already have a favorite meatloaf recipe, this one is delicious!)

  1. In a large bowl or stand mixer, thoroughly mix 3/4 – 1 lb. lean ground beef (uncooked), one 8 oz can diced or stewed tomatoes or tomato sauce, 1 small can mushrooms, 2 Tblsp Worcestershire Sauce, 1 sleeve crushed white crackers, 1 egg, 1/4 cup milk or less, 1/4 cup dried onion, oregano to taste.
  2. Spread in square baking dish and top with a thin layer of katsup
  3. Bake for 1 hour at 350

Mashed Potatoes (for anyone who has been using instant for so long they have forgotten ;-))

Homemade is always best!

Homemade is always best!

  1. Scrub potatoes under cold water to remove any dirt; peal if desired.
  2. Chop potatoes (the smaller the pieces the faster they cook) and place in a large pot.
  3. Add enough water to cover potatoes by at least an inch.  Make sure water level is at least 2-3 inches from top of pan or you will have a hard time keeping them from boiling over.
  4. Boil for 20-40 minutes; cook time depends on size of potatoes and quantity.  Test with a fork:  potatoes are ready when they are tender and break apart easy.
  5. Drain and return to pot.
  6. Add butter, salt, milk and seasoning to taste (seasoning ideas: sour cream, garlic, ranch dressing, dill, rosemary, grated cheddar cheese)
  7. Mash or use a hand-held electric mixer

Family Time

October 17, 2009

Hey, friends! 

Please don’t leave…I’m visiting family this weekend, but come Monday night I’ll be back online with more recipes and tips for Super Quick Suppers!

For now, here is Friday night’s dinner…

Supper with friends and neither of us wanted to spend a pretty Saturday in the kitchen trying to make dinner with two hyper toddlers running amuck.

Solution:  two large pepperoni pizza’s from Little Caesars ($5/each), a side salad with what was on hand, some fruit, and ice cream floats for dessert!

20-Minute Fajitas

October 14, 2009

This recipe (or cooking tip you could call it) was born out of necesity…I both needed to use up some leftover steak and also had some bell peppers which were looking far too sad to use in a salad.

First, an admission:  I am steak-challenged.  Leave me alone with a perfectly good steak and a grill, and I can find a way to ruin it, despite my best efforts and a number of resources on the subject.  So, after grilling yet another batch of over-cooked sirloin I was determined to find a way to use the leftover meat and not let it go to waste.  Fajitas!

Made these again tonight for dinner and yummmmm…they always taste so good!  I started everything late this afternoon and left it sitting on the stove while we ran errands; when we got back it took 2 minutes to turn the stove back on to heat it up again, toss the tortillas in the toaster to warm, open a can of corn, and set out the  grated cheese and sour cream.

Here ya go…

DaisyLou’s Skillet Fajitas

Yield:  about 4 large servings (two tortillas each) / Time in the kitchen: 20-30 minutes from start to dinner-on-the table finish depending on whether you use cooked or uncooked meat.

  • Onion, chopped into strips – about 1 large onion, or more to taste
  • Bell Pepper (green or red) – about 1 large pepper, or more to taste
  • Seasoning – Fajita Seasoning, Salt/Pepper/Garlic Powder, and a little Tony Chacheras Creole Seasoning
  • About 1.5 lb chicken and/or beef, already cooked and sliced no thicker than 1/4 inch strips (slice against the grain to make meat more tender)
  • 1 package of Lipton/Knorr Rice Sides– Taco, Mexican Rice or Dirty Rice are my favorite to go with fajitas
Knorr Rice Sides make a fast side to go with your Fajitas

Step 1 - Start Rice

PA130271

Step 3 - Add Meat

Saute Onions and Peppers

Step 2 - Saute Veggies

Start your rice and cook according to package directions.

In a large skillet, saute chopped onion in some oil over med/med-high heat just until it begins to turn opaque; toss in the chopped pepper and continue to saute for a couple minutes more until onions begin to brown slightly and peppers start to soften.

Add in cooked, sliced meat (and a couple pats of butter), sprinkle with seasoning to taste, and continue sauteing until meat is heated through and slightly browned  and veggies are as soft as you would like them.

Serve with warm tortillas, rice and your favorite sides…grated cheese, sour cream, corn, black beans, guacamole.

You’ll just have to imagine what they looked like, all wrapped up in warm tortillas with rice, cheese, sour cream and looking quite delish…they just tasted so good we ate them all before I remembered to take a picture!  Darn, I’ll just have to make them again :-))

Tips:

  1. Adding extra onion and pepper is a great way to stretch your meat and make it go further!
  2. If you don’t have meat already cooked, you can start with raw meat (chicken, steak, stew meat, etc)…slice into thin, 1/8 to 1/4 inch strips, season and cook first in your skillet with a little oil or butter, adding in onion and pepper when meat is almost done.
  3. If you have a counter-top grill (such as a George Foreman) do this…after you start your rice, go ahead and toss your meat on the grill to start cooking; then saute your onions and peppers, and by the time they are ready (about 10 min) your meat will be cooked through and you can slice it up and add it to the onion/pepper mix.
  4. PA130267

Quick Sides…

October 13, 2009

Quick side dishes make for a super quick dinner (or a fast lunch)! 

Uncle Ben's Ready Rice

Although it’s a bit more expensive than buying a huge bag of plain rice ($2.39/packet from Albertsons), it’s so nice to have a few packets of these on hand for those times when you need a quick side dish and don’t have 20-30 minutes to cook a pan of rice.   

I’ve found that each 8 oz packet is more than enough for two very hearty servings, up to 4 servings if you are using as a side dish.  There are a variety of flavors, and they all cook up in the microwave in 90 seconds!  I was skeptical at first, but each type I’ve tried so far is delicious and moist.  Did I mention this will also save you from scrubbing a rice pan?