Monday, September 27, 2010

Chicken Chili with Fire Roasted Tomatoes and Cannelini Beans

Fall is here (not that you can tell from the run of 90 degree days we just had) and it is time for some heartier meals. I decided to go with a healthier version of my normal favorite, full fat beef chili. I wanted to make it tasty and interesting, so I decided to top it with some spiced up avocado. This summer, I went on an avocado craze, so I always pick some up when I go to the store. Not only are they yummy, but they are a good, healthy fat. Add one can of cannelini beans, fire roasted tomatoes, and spices to ground chicken and dinner is ready.  I also paired it with one of my family's favorite 'sides' - garlic bread from Alexia foods. The chili also freezes very well, so you can make batches and put it away for the nights you don't feel like cooking. Enjoy!

Chicken Chili with Cannelini Beans and Fire Roasted Tomatoes

1.25 LBS of ground chicken
1 14 oz can of Hunt's Fire Roasted Tomatoes
1 14 oz can of Cannelini Beans
1 TBSP Smoked Paprika (optional)
1 packet of taco seasoning
2 TBSP chili powder
1/2 cup of water
2 cloves of garlic, diced
1 TBSP onion powder
Salt and pepper to taste
Olive Oil - 2 -3 TBSP to coat pan

Coat a medium pan with olive oil. Set heat to high and add garlic. Saute until browned. Add ground chicken and season with onion powder. Use a wooden spoon to stir and break up chicken. Once chicken is fully browned, add chili powder and taco seasoning, with the water.  Please note the taco seasoning instructions add more water, so follow those instructions as well.  Allow to cook until chili powder and taco seasoning are coated into the meat and a nice amount of juice remains in the pan. Add tomatoes and stir.  Drain beans and add. Add this point, add salt and pepper to taste. You can add more paprika and chili powder if you need to.

Avocado - Smash a ripe avocado with a fork.  Add salt, pepper, and onion powder to taste. Use to top the chili.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Jeanne's Special Pasta With Sausage and Spinach

Picky,Picky,Picky.  These are the three words that describe my struggle of getting my family to eat new foods.  Spinach has been on the "NO-NO" list for as long as I can remember.  My son has recently discovered the old Popeye cartoons and he is touted as the man who is "so strong, his muscles have muscles".  How did he get those muscles? By eating spinach, of course! My son is obsessed with getting big and strong, so I saw this as a selling point for getting him to eat spinach.  My husband went along for the ride and didn't give me any trouble about trying it.  My daughter, who is my best eater, didn't seem to mind what I was making.
This recipe is something my friend Jeanne whipped up for dinner one night when I went for a visit.  It is an easy dish and so yummy! I have tried my best to copy the recipe, but I may have changed a few things.  Anyhow, my husband, daughter and I LOVED it.  My son was a little fussier.  He kept picking out some of the spinach, saying he was not eating the "lettuce'".  I used my line about Popeye and he did take a few apprehensive bites. So, the jury is still out on whether or not he will eat spinach again, but we shall see. Also, I apologize for the blurry picture. I had to use my iPhone to take the picture since my camera was on the fritz.

Jeanne's Special Pasta With Sausage and Spinach (serves 4)
8 oz (1/2 box) of pasta, such as orechiette or fusilli (I actually did a mix of the two)
14 oz of crushed tomatoes with basil (Use enough to coat pasta and sausage to your liking)
3 large sweet Italian sausage (half the pack)
3 large hot Italian sausage (half the pack)
3 cloves of garlic, chopped
1 small white onion or half of a large onion, diced
1 bag of pre-washed baby spinach ( I used about half to 3/4 of the bag), shredded by hand
2-3 TBSP of olive oil, to coat saute pan

Boil water for pasta. Add sausage to heated pan and cook fully. In a saute pan, add shredded baby spinach,garlic and onion. Carefully stir the veggies in the saute pan until garlic and onions are nicely browned and spinach is cooked. Remove from heat and add to large serving bowl.  Strain cooked pasta and add to veggies. Mix thoroughly. When sausage is fully cooked, removed from pan and cut into bite sized pieces.  Add to veggie/pasta combination and mix.  Finally, add crushed tomatoes to pasta mix. Stir completely and enjoy.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

You've Come A Long Way, Baby!

It started innocently enough with a Microbake Oven in 1978. Now, before you think this is going to be an adorable post about how I made precious concoctions in my mini-micro, think again. The beginning, at least, is about how my cooking dreams went up in smoke, literally, before they even began. I find it important for my readers to hear this part of the story so they can appreciate just how much I have grown as a cook and how this blog is proof of that fact.

I was two and a half years old when I got this microwave. My mom, being overly cautious, carefully hid the plug for the microwave behind it with electrical tape. In other words, I had no idea that I could actually use this  microwave for anything other than pretend.  That all changed the day my older and wiser cousin came for a visit.  After several months of 'fake baking', the power of the microwave was unveiled. The machine was plugged in and ready to go, but what to make? The possibilities were endless. We settled on some dirt, twigs and berries (from the famous 'dingle berry' tree in my yard) to make a pie.  After lots of sparks and setting off the smoke detector, the plug was cut off the microwave by mom and it was back to pretend confections.  This was my first and last cooking experience for almost 26 years.

That brings me to a time where I was no longer a kid or banned from the stove. I had a husband to feed and in the future, children to feed as well.  I had to get on the ball. My family could not eat peanut butter and jelly every night, even if it is one of my favorites. To bring us up to the present, I've learned a lot. I've burned myself. I've ruined many pots and pans. I've cursed and thrown things when meals did not come out as planned. Throughout the process of learning and burning, I realized ,"Hey! I actually enjoy cooking!". I also love to write, so voila! The blog was born.

Cappuccino Brownies
My style of cooking, at times, can be a bit unconventional.  When a recipe calls for crushed cookies, WHACK! Out come the Ziploc bag and the hammer. I end up with perfect cookie crumbs and toss the baggie in the garbage.  I am a rare breed of Italian, as in, I am not a cheese fan.  With that said, far be it from me to deprive anyone else who likes cheese. So, I do cook with it.  It's not uncommon to see a meatloaf or casserole in my oven only half drenched in cheddar or mozzarella.

My blog has captured a pretty diverse audience. Our college age babysitter has called me to talk her through making my lasagna and baked ziti for her dorm friends. I still have this image in my head of her trying to melt the cheese over macaroni on a hot plate.  It brings back memories of my Microbake incident.  I heard from a friend that my blog and my Confetti Meatloaf was discussed at one of her club meetings.  The thought that I have 'fans' gives me warm fuzzies in my belly.

I always ask my self the same questions when creating or choosing a recipe, such as, "Will I pull the hair out of my head trying to make this recipe?" or "Can this meal be put on the table in under an hour?"  If the recipe is not for a special occasion or treat, I want to keep it fairly simple and appealing for a picky palate. I think that is part of my appeal to college students, busy families and people with little time to whip up a decent meal. I want to spread the message: If I can do this, anyone can do this....and enjoy it too!

Eye-Watering Spitfire Shrimp
I make my blog posts as down to earth as possible, never hesitating to poke fun at myself when I make a mistake.  Humor, in my opinion, plays a huge role in my blogging.   I especially love to humorously capture my picky family's responses to a meal, whether the reaction is a gag or a grin. My husband is often the target of my jokes, as I often call him my third child. He can be more difficult to feed than my two or four year- old kids. That also puts him in the role of guinea pig. As much as I have burned or cut myself and destroyed cooking ware, I have made his eyes water and his face turn red.  Without my husband to test my recipes, this blog would be so much harder to write.

Fresh Tomato Pasta Sauce
My blog tells of my journey from nightly take out to a cooking-happy mama. I choose simple, yet delicious recipes that can draw the reader into my cooking experience and perhaps influence them to get into the kitchen. It's all about learning, growing and experiencing new foods.  It thrills me to be able to share all of my triumphs and disasters in the kitchen. I feel it's a privilege to be able to share these experiences through my writing, to inspire others and have my readers learn with me.