Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Dinner Shortcut

Today was a long one. I was looking for a quick dinner with a short grocery list. This was it!

I already had some of the ingredients.

I had most of a rotisserie chicken leftover from when I used half of the breast meat for buffalo chicken dip for a party. (Yum!) The celery came from the same thing.

I have a stockpile of Ronzoni Smart Taste pasta I ordered by the case from Amazon a while back when I thought it would be discontinued. Weird, I know, but I really like the stuff.

My brother-in-law has been telling me about Philadelphia Cooking Creme. It's on the same grocery shelf as the regular cream cheese, but it's flavored and pourable, designed to serve as a sauce. I bought the Italian Cheese and Herb flavor to try tonight.

First, I put a pot of water on for the pasta.

Then I started out by dicing a medium sweet onion and a few sticks of celery. I cut a small broccoli crown into bite-sized florets. I picked the meat off of the chicken bones and cubed it. I even used some of the dark meat; I just diced it a little smaller than the white meat. It amounted to about 2 cups of chicken.

I added a couple of teaspoons of olive oil to a large saucepan and turned it to medium heat. I added the onion and celery to the pan and salted it.  I sautéed the veggies until they were tender, about 8 minutes.

Meanwhile I put 8 oz. of rotini into salted boiling water. When the pasta had five minutes left to cook, I added the broccoli to cook along with it.

When the pasta and broccoli were done, I drained them into my cool collapsible colander. (It is dishwasher safe and takes up very little space in the dishwasher or cabinet. Love it!)

I added the chicken to the onion and celery pan, then added the drained pasta and broccoli, and stirred in the container of cooking creme. I should have saved a little of the pasta water to loosen the mixture up a bit. Next time I'll  know better.

In the end, I ended up with a nice plate of pasta that took very little time to cook. Yeah!

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Dinner Tonight: Pork Chops and Apples

Finished Product!
Today my husband woke up feeling a little under the weather. He felt better after a day of rest, and I decided to make some of his favorite foods for dinner: pork chops and cooked apples.

(I can't help but think of The Brady Bunch and "pork chops and applesauce.")

About three hours before I cooked dinner, I decided to brine the bone-in pork chops. I combined about 1/4 cup each of salt and brown sugar with about a cup of boiling water. I stirred until the salt and sugar were dissolved.

I added 1/4 cup of apple cider vinegar, 6-8 whole black peppercorns, 1/2 teaspoon of whole mustard seeds, a teaspoon of whole coriander, and a bay leaf. Then I added ice cubes and stirred them in until the mixture was cooled.

I put the pork chops and brine mixture into a gallon zip-top bag and put it back in the refrigerator to soak up some flavor.

About 30 minutes before I was ready to cook, I took the chops out of the refrigerator to come closer to room temperature.

Meanwhile, I peeled and chopped two apples. (I think they were Galas).  They were crisp and sweet. (Please ignore that one is upside down in the picture.)

I also had some Granny Smith apples, but I would have had to add a lot more sugar to sweeten them, so I stuck with these. I chopped them into pieces about 1/2 - 1 inch each.

Next I chopped one sweet onion. I chopped half of it into larger pieces to add to the pan with the pork chops and apples.

The other half, I chopped a little smaller. I also chopped 3 small zucchini into bite-size pieces for a zucchini-onion saute.

For some reason, I do not seem to be able to cook zucchini for two. Note to self: we only need 2 small zucchini and 1/4 of an onion for our dinner if we don't want leftovers.

I put olive oil in the bottom of two nonstick pans, one large and one small. It doesn't take much, maybe a couple of teaspoons.

I turned the large skillet to medium-high heat. While it got hot, I took the pork chops out of the brine and patted them dry. I salted and peppered each side.

When the oil was hot, I added the chops to the pan to brown, about 3-4 minutes per side.

Once they were browned, I added the apples and the onion I had set aside for this dish. I added a tablespoon of brown sugar on top of the apples and onion, along with 2 tablespoons of apple cider vinegar and 1/4 cup of water.

I turned the heat down to medium and covered the pan.

Next, I turned the smaller pan onto medium heat.

When the oil was hot, I added the zucchini and the rest of the onion, plus salt and pepper to taste.

Incidentally, I used this cool little tool to make that job easier.  I love this thing! It's called a bench scrape. I think it was designed to use with pastry, but I use it all the time to get chopped ingredients into pans without spilling them all over the place. (It's the little things in life!)
I covered the pan so the veggies would soften the way we like them. If I hadn't covered them, I would have added a little water so they could cook without sticking or burning.

I let both the chops and the zucchini cook about 15 minutes, until both were done. (I used an instant-read thermometer to make sure they were at least 165 degrees.

I used the cook time to empty the dishwasher and fold laundry. Does anyone else hate emptying the dishwasher as much as I do? My next least favorite chore is folding laundry.

Oh well, by the time I was finished, we had a nice dinner ready!

(When I plated my dinner, I realized that next time I will slice the apples rather than chopping them, so they won't be the same size and shape as the zucchini.)

Dinner was tasty!  Now on to ironing....

Friday, December 7, 2012

Ham and Bean Soup

Last weekend my family had our Thanksgiving gathering. In addition to a turkey breast, we also had a bone-in Smithfield ham. My mom and sister assured me the ham bone would make the base for a great soup, so I threw it in the freezer.

Today was the day for soup!

I bought a 20-ounce bag of mixed dried beans and found a method for quick-soaking the beans on the internet since I didn't want to wait to soak them overnight. 

(OK, so this is an empty bag. I forgot to take a picture before I put the beans in the pot.)
Put the beans in a large pot and add water to 3 times the volume of the beans. Do not salt the water. Apparently salting at this point will cause the skins of the beans to become tough. Also, ham is often salty and the soup may not need additional salt.

Bring the beans to a boil, then cook at moderate heat for two minutes. 

Take the beans off the heat, cover, and let sit for one hour. Drain.

Meanwhile, dice up one onion.

I always use sweet onions because I don't like to cry while cooking. 

Peel and dice 5 small carrots and dice 4 celery ribs. 

In an 8-quart stockpot over medium heat, drizzle 2-3 teaspoons of olive oil. Add the vegetables to the pot and sweat them until they are softened. I added salt out of habit, but I recommend waiting to season this soup until the end as the ham can be pretty salty.

Slice or mince 4 cloves of garlic and add to the vegetables. 

Once the vegetables are tender-crisp, add the drained beans. Place the ham bone in the pot.

Add 32 ounces each of vegetable and chicken stock. 

When I made vegetable soup a few weeks ago, I added a Parmesan cheese rind I found in my freezer. The results were so great, today I cut the rind off the Parmesan in my refrigerator and added it to this pot.

I also added a few dashes of liquid smoke. I would say this is optional, but as far as I'm concerned everything is optional. I'm always editing recipes to add ingredients we like and omit items we don't like.

Cook for at least an hour. This is where the judgement call comes in. The recipe I found said to cook it 8 hours. Based on my two hours of cook time, I can't imagine any beans would be left intact by then. Next time I'll only go an hour. Especially since I like to freeze the extra for another day.

To add some texture and extra nutrition, I decided to add some Swiss chard. This is rainbow chard. Aren't those red stems pretty?

I thought about chopping the stems and adding them to the soup, but I haven't cooked them before and didn't want to ruin anything. I'll experiment another day. 

(I found a recipe that said to treat the stems like asparagus. I know how I like to cook asparagus, but didn't know how that would fit into this soup so I ignored it).

Strip the leaves from the stems and chop the leaves. I chopped them fairly fine for two reasons: 1) I've not used this green before and didn't know how it would do in the soup, and 2) my husband doesn't love greens, but he's fine if they aren't too prominent.

When the soup had cooked an hour, I tasted it for seasoning. It tasted great!

I added about half of the chopped chard. Once I stirred it in, I found that seemed like plenty. This is to taste, though. Personally, I would have been good with the whole bunch but decided to stop with half for my husband's sake.

Before you serve this, stir through the soup and pull out what's left of the Parmesan cheese rind and the ham bone. 

Some clumps of fat and unsightly clumps fell off of my ham bone and I removed those. I removed the bone and pulled quite a bit of beautiful tender meat and added it back to the soup pot.

The soup turned out to be so delicious!

I cooked some cornbread to eat with it. 

I put the rest in quart zip-top bags and froze them for easy meals for other busy nights.

Yeah! I love homemade soup!