Saturday, December 29, 2012

Weekend Dinner - Spinach & Mushroom Lasagna Roll-ups

A few months ago, I made lasagna with a homemade turkey meat sauce.  As a result of that recipe, I have had a box of semi-used lasagna noodles in my cupboard ever since.  To use up this box of noodles somehow, I started browsing the internet for recipes.  Turns out, there is this thing out there called lasagna roll-up which is like a regular lasagna but comes in self-contain packages.  Great, that's a good idea; but what fillings am I going to use?  The meat sauce last time was good but I do not want to make it again; I just scrubbed down my stove to return it to its original glory!  Besides, we've had so much meat this past week with Christmas.  So after some more browsing, I found a recipe that seems both tasty & easy to do.

To make 8 lasagna roll ups...
     2.5 cups mushrooms, diced small
     4 cloves garlic, minced
     6 ounces baby spinach, chopped
     8 lasagna noodles
     10 ounces whole milk ricotta
     1 egg
     0.2 cups grated Parmesan
     2 cups pre-made tomato pasta sauce
     1.5 cups low-moisture mozzarella cheese, grated
     Salt & pepper to taste

This shouldn't take too long...
     Cook the lasagna noodles 1 minute less than the package instructions
     While the noodles are cooking, sauté vegetables until the water is released; season with salt/pepper
     In a bowl, combine together egg, ricotta, & parmesan cheese
     Lay cooked noodles on a flat surface & spread on a thin coat of the cheese mixture
     Top off each noodle with a layer of the vegetables & roll them up carefully
     Arrange the lasagna rolls in a single layer in a shallow baking dish
     Cover the lasagna rolls with a coating of tomato sauce & sprinkle with mozzarella cheese
     Bake at 350F for 25 minutes

The end product was pretty good & it took a lot less time in the oven than a traditional lasagna.  It was was also definitely much easier serving out the individual roll-ups than trying to cut out rectangular pieces.  I used the Trader Joe's tomato basil marinara sauce & it was too sweet for my liking.  Are all pre-made tomato sauces so sweet?  I bought a block of mozzarella & tried to grate it with my Microplane but I guess it was too soft a cheese to grate.  It worked, but it took a lot longer & a lot more work to get just enough cheese to cover the top.  From now on, I am either going to use a box grater or buy shredded mozzarella & call it a day.

Friday, December 28, 2012

Season's Giftings!


I absolutely adore this time of year.  Yes, the San Francisco wind can pierce my bones & the ever existing fog is always a downer.  But how can I be in a bad mood when I am all bundled up in my coat & scarf?  And how can I be crabby when holiday decorations are filling up what seems to be every window that exists in the world?  And how can I possibly not be cheerful @ the thought of presents!  While I - along with most of humanity - love receiving presents, I also love to give them.  In years past, I tend to buy my gifts; but that seems very impersonal & can quickly create a decent-sized divot in my wallet.  So this year, I decided to make my gifts & to make them edible.  Who doesn't like a sweet treat (or 2) during the holidays??

After much browsing around the web, I found 2 recipes that seem the most manageable given the small amount of time that I had & the large number of people I was planning on treating.  The first is chocolate-covered Oreo cookie pops & the other is chocolate Chex "puppy chow" (or "muddy buddy") mixes.

To make the "suckers"you will need...
     1 package of Oreo cookies
     1 package of semi-sweet chocolate chips
     1 package of white chocolate chips
     Canola oil
     Lollipop sticks
     Small treat bags

Then you will have to...
     Melt 0.25 cup white chocolate chips in the microwave in 30-second intervals
     Twist open Oreo cookies carefully trying not to break the stuffing
     Dip a lollipop stick into the melted chocolate & place it onto the side of the cookie with the stuffing
     Replace the other side of the cookie and press gently
     Wait for the chocolate to dry
     Melt 0.5 cup of the semi-sweet or white chocolate chips in the microwave in 30-second intervals
     Stir in a few drops of canola oil at a time until the chocolate can drip off a spoon in a slow stream
     Carefully dip the cookie pop into the chocolate & let the excess drip off
     Lay cookie pops onto parchment paper, decorate them, & let them dry completely
     Wrap cookie pops in treat bags & close them with either twist ties or ribbons

I decorated the white chocolate covered cookie pops with crushed candy canes & candy cane pop rocks.  With the semi-sweet chocolate cookie pops, I covered them with crushed candy canes, toasted almonds, & white chocolate drizzles.  I didn't taste one but they were fairly well received by my co-workers & friends.  The hardest part of the whole process was getting the chocolate to be the right consistency because if it is too thick, the Oreo can get caught & break off from the lollipop stick.  Also, use plenty of white chocolate when forming the cookie pops because Oreo stuffing doesn't stick back onto the cookie so the chocolate "glue" is super important.

For the Chex mix, gather...
     4.5 cups rice Chex cereal
     4.5 cups corn Chex cereal
     1 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips
     0.5 cup creamy peanut butter
     0.25 cup butter
     1 teaspoon vanilla extract
     1.5 cups powdered sugar (or unsweetened cocoa powder)

Give it 15 minutes...
     In a large bowl, mix together the 2 types of cereals then set aside
     Melt the chocolate chips, peanut butter, & butter together in the microwave in 30-second intervals
     Stir the chocolate mixture until smooth & then stir in the vanilla
     Pour the chocolate over the cereal & stir until everything is evenly coated
     Pour the powdered sugar or the cocoa powder into a gallon-sized zipper bag
     Fill the bag with the cereal, zip up the bag, & shake until you see the cereal squares are nicely coated
     Lay the cereal out onto a sheet of parchment paper & let them dry


I made both the powdered sugar kind & the cocoa powder kind.  The powdered sugar one was sweeter & tasted more like peanut butter; whereas the cocoa powder one tasted more like bitter-sweet chocolate.   I put the 2 batches into small treat bags & then put 1 of each into a small glass jar so my friends could get a taste for both.  On the other hand, the 2 flavors can be mixed together to give a different flavor profile.

Both of these treats were super easy to make & took me just 1 afternoon.  You can find lollipop sticks & treat bags for really cheap @ any craft store.  I got the glass jar at Ichiban Kan which is like a Japanese dollar store so they were super cheap too.  The great thing about these also, is that you can change up the flavor & the decorations for different occasions.  Oh the possibility awaits!

Saturday, December 22, 2012

Weekend Dinner - Shrimp & Asparagus Capellini with Garlic Olive Oil Butter Dressing

Per usual, the Boyfriend & I had no plans for dinner & had nothing ready to cook in the house.  Being the creative one, he blurts out: "how about capellini in a garlic butter sauce with shrimp & asparagus?"  I was totally surprised this came out of his mouth because he hates shrimp!  But hey, who am I do deny him of shrimp?  So we went out, got the ingredients, came home, & I got right to work executing his vision.

In the reusable grocery bag...
     6 ounces of capellini or angel hair pasta
     1 pound of shrimp (~24) , shelled & deveined
     1 bunch of asparagus, sliced on the diagonal
     4 cloves garlic, finely minced
     2 tablespoons butter
     0.25 cup olive oil
     Red pepper flakes, salt, & black pepper to taste

Ready.  Get set.  Go...
     Keep the shrimp in a bowl of salted iced water in the fridge for a few hours
     In a small sauce pan & blanche the asparagus for 3 minutes, set aside
     Cook the pasta to 1 minute less than the package instructions, drain well
     In a pan, melt butter with half the olive oil over low heat
     Sauté the red pepper flakes & the garlic until they are lightly browned
     Over medium-high heat, cook the shrimp until they are just turning pink
     Add in the asparagus & stir everything together
     Add in the cooked pasta & toss until all the ingredients are well incorporated


I don't buy shrimps often because, like I keep saying, the Boyfriend doesn't eat it; so I have no clue what I should look for or where I should go.  The ones I used I got from the Chinese supermarket & they were a little bit mushy & more shrimpy than the ones Mom gets from the regular supermarket or Costco.  These shrimps came with shells & veins which was a giant pain to take care of.  One really good & quick way to devein shrimps is to stick a toothpick under the flesh/vein & gently wiggle the whole GI tract out.  Because it is so easy to overcook shrimp, I recommend cooking the pasta ahead so it is ready to go when the sauce is ready.  I didn't really like butter because it added a funny taste to the sauce; I think it would be OK to replace that with more olive oil.  I know asparagus is not exactly a winter vegetable, but what would be a good substitute?

Friday, December 21, 2012

From the Oven - Garlic Portobello Pizza

Ever since we discovered pre-made pizza doughs from Trader Joe's, we have had pizza night almost once a week.  Tonight, we wanted something vegetarian but were worried about not feeling fulfilled.  So the creative half piped up & said "what about portobello?"  Hmm...interesting.  To keep things even more interesting, I set out to execute this pizza without any guidance what-so-ever.  The end result was not great, but it's passable enough that I don't feel embarrassed sharing an original recipe.

Ingredient list...
     1 package of pre-made pizza dough (or use your favorite recipe)
     0.25 cup  pizza sauce
     1 cup low-moisture mozzarella cheese, sliced thinly
     6 cloves garlic, sliced
     2 large portobello caps, cut into strips
     0.5 cup olive oil
     Salt & black pepper to taste

The SOP (standard operating procedures)...
     In a large bowl, coat portobello strips in olive oil, salt & pepper
     Over high heat, sauté the portobello strips until soft; set aside to let cool
     Over low heat, sauté garlic slices in some olive oil until they are soft; let cool
     Roll out the pizza dough & spread out a thin layer of pizza sauce
     Line the entire pizza with mozzarella slices & sprinkle on the garlic slices
     Arrange the portobello strips so they are away from the edges
     Bake at 450F for 8 minutes

The portobello mushroom is so meaty I thought I was having either chicken or (very tender) steak on the pizza.  I also sautéed some shallots with the garlic but that did not taste good.  Other than portobello, other types of mushrooms can also be used but the key is to cook them first to remove all of that moisture; or else, the pizza will end up soggy & gross.  I am considering getting a pizza stone because no matter what I do, I just can't get the pizza crust to turn out golden brown & crispy like it should be.  But is it worth the investment?  Is it worth the weight?

Friday, December 14, 2012

Quick & Easy - Hot Ginger Apple Cider

It's 11 days until Christmas!! In years past, I would have already bought all my gifts, been baking up a storm, & be watching every sappy ABC Family Christmas movie there is.  This year,  I haven't even once tuned into my Pandora Christmas music station.  How could that be?!?  Luckily, it is never too late to get into the holiday spirits & I know just what I need to kick things off.  A hot beverage to make me feel warm & cozy!

It only takes a few holiday essential ingredients...
     1 cup apple cider (not spiced)
     4 slices fresh ginger, unpeeled

In a small sauce pan...
     Heat the apple cider & ginger over medium heat until it simmers
     Turn off the stove & let the ginger steep for a few minutes
     Pour the cider into a glass or mug & sprinkle with cinnamon over the top

The cinnamon makes the cider tastes like a fresh-out-of-the-oven apple pie & the spiciness of the ginger  cuts the sweetness of the cider & warms up my whole body.  If you want to serve this as an after dinner beverage or @ a holiday brunch, considering adding a bit of bourbon to kick things up another notch.  Another idea is to reduce the cider down to almost a syrup, cool it down, & add it to some sparkling wine to make a first rate Bellini.

As I sit at my kitchen table sipping on my cider & writing this post, I wish everyone a beautiful holiday filled with love & happiness!!

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Quick & Easy - Lemony Herby Quinoa

Quinoa - the new darling of the healthful eating - has captured the entire food world's attention in 2012.  A source of complete protein with high concentrations of minerals, it is praised as a fantastic substitute for grains such as rice, millet, & couscous.  I had actually bought a pack of quinoa months ago but had shoved it into the back of the cupboard & only found it a week or so ago when reorganizing the kitchen.  The original recipe is from the Food Network & I made some minor modifications to suite what we had in our fridge.

To make my version of the recipe, you will need...
     1 cup quinoa, rinsed well
     1.75 cups low-sodium chicken stock
     0.3 cup lemon juice (~1.5 lemons)
     0.25 cup extra virgin olive oil
     0.75 cup fresh parsley, chopped
     1 tablespoon fresh thyme, chopped
     1 tablespoon lemon zest
     Salt & black pepper to taste

In a medium sauce pan...
     Bring the quinoa, chicken stock, & 0.25 cup of the lemon juice to a boil
     Lower the heat to a simmer until all the liquid is absorbed (~12 min)
     In a large bowl, whisk together oil, remaining lemon juice, parsley, thyme, lemon zest, & salt/pepper
     Once the quinoa is cooked, pour in the dressing & mix well

The quinoa tasted good, even if it did look a little like the bean sprout experiment that we all did in elementary school.  Although I adjusted the recipe to use less lemon juice, it was still a little bit too acidic for our taste; maybe I should substitute the cooking lemon juice with water.  Also, the 1 cup of quinoa turned out to be a lot!  I have quite a bit left over so now I am going to add in grape tomatoes, cucumbers, & feta to make a salad for lunch.

Saturday, December 8, 2012

Quick & Easy - Garlic Bacon Mashed Potatoes

I haven't had a steak in over 8 weeks & I am still kind of not supposed to have it.  But he wants a steak, & I couldn't just make him one & leave myself out; that just would not be fair.  So knowing I can only eat about 20% of my steak, I needed to make something that would make me feel full as well as help me feel not so deprived.  What better to fulfill these goals than thick, rich, garlic'y mashed potatoes strewn with crispy bacon?!?

Get together...
     2.5 pounds red potatoes
     2 slices thick-cut bacon, diced
     4 large cloves garlic, skin removed & slightly squished
     0.5 cup low-fat milk
     2 tablespoons butter
     Salt & black pepper to taste

And then...
     Scrub the potatoes to remove the surface dirt & cut them into 2 inch pieces
     Put the potatoes & garlic into a large pot & cover them with just enough water
     Bring to a boil & reduce to a simmer until the potatoes are tender (~10 min)
     In a pan, cut the bacon over medium heat until crisp & then drain off the fat
     Drain the potatoes & return them to the warm pot
     Mash the potatoes up with the butter, milk, salt, & pepper
     Stir in the bacon

I didn't know how to serve this on the dinner plate because it was too stiff to form into a nice little pillow like @ restaurants.  Then I remembered I always liked how chefs form their ice creams into cute little oblongs (or quenelles) so I took out 2 spoons & scooped away.  The first few didn't turn out very well but I think the trick is to make sure the spoon that is doing the scooping scrapes against the other spoon to form a clean edge.  The Boyfriend says it tasted better than a baked potato (which is his favorite) but I thought the flavor wasn't quite there yet.  I especially had problems with the garlic which couldn't be mashed up & didn't really give any flavor to the mash.  A few things I am probably going to change up the next time I make this are to peel half of the potatoes, use more bacon, & make a garlic butter beforehand.  Oh, I also found shallots to go really nicely with the potatoes so another recipe idea might be shallot & parsley mashed potatoes with olive oil.

Saturday, December 1, 2012

Weekend Dinner - Turkey Lasagna

I don't go out much on weekends anymore...actually I never did go out a lot on weekends, but I digress.  So instead, I cook dishes that are more complicated & too time consuming for a week night after coming home from work.  I don't know what made me want to make a lasagna since I haven't made one since sophomore year in college & it sucked.  Maybe it was the 2 for 1 lasagna noodle sale @ Safeway.  Maybe it was the random pack of ground turkey I found in the back of my freezer.

The ingredients list is long but it's easy to find in just a few section of the store...
    11/2 pounds ground turkey
     1/2 onion, minced
     2 cloves garlic, crushed
     28oz (1 can) crushed tomatoes
     12oz (2 cans) tomato paste
     13oz (2 cans) tomato sauce
     1/2 cup water
     12 lasagna noodles
     16oz (1 tub) ricotta cheese
     1 egg
     3/4 pound mozzarella, sliced
     3/4 cup grated parmesan
     11/2 teaspoons Italian seasoning
     1/2 teaspoon oregano
     Salt & black pepper to taste

There are a lot of steps, but it's worth it in the end...
     In a large pot, cook the ground turkey, onion, & garlic until the meat is browned
     Add in the crushed tomatoes, tomato paste, tomato sauce, & water
     Season the sauce with Italian seasoning, oregano, & salt/pepper
     Cover the pot & let the sauce simmer for 90 minutes, stirring occasionally
     Cook the lasagna noodles for 2 minutes less than the instructed time
     In a bowl, mix the ricotta cheese with the egg
     Assemble the lasagna in a 9x13 baking dish in the following layers:
          11/2 cups meat sauce
          6 lasagna noodles, overlapping lengthwise
          1/2 of the ricotta cheese mixture
          1/2 of the mozzarella slices
          11/2 cups meat sauce
          1/4 cup parmesan cheese
          6 lasagna noodles, overlapping lengthwise
          The rest of the ricotta cheese mixture
          The rest of the mozzarella slices
          The rest of the meat sauce
          The rest of the parmesan cheese
     Spray a piece of foil with non-stick spray & cover the baking dish
     Bake the lasagna at 375F for 25 minutes covered & 25 minutes uncovered
     Let cool for 15 minutes before serving

I used crushed tomatoes & tomato sauce that already had some seasoning in it to help boost the flavor since I didn't get the dried basil or the fennel seeds.  But for some reason, the dish was still too sweet for our liking.  Be prepared for some serious stove cleaning after making this recipe because no matter how low you turn down the heat, the tomato sauce will splatter everywhere when you try to stir it every-so-often.  Oh and watch your fingers too because the sauce will get you & that does not feel good.