The lasagna that followed me to a second location

Slow cooker sausage lasagna

You're coming with me, friend!

You’re coming with me, friend!

Welcome to March!  …nervous laughter…  To make up for my delay in getting to March, I’m going to start my posts for this issue off with an amazing recipe that you’ll want to try as soon as possible.  This is a bookmark it, pin it, print it, laminate it, share it, love it recipe.  I promise.  It’s so good that when faced with the idea of leaving some of it behind for a weekend trip to my parents’ house or bringing it with, we packed it.  J ate this stuff like it was his job.

A few notes about the recipe.  First, this is one of those times that an oval slow-cooker really comes in handy.  When is the other time?  Um, the Consumer Reports thing I read about slow-cookers said they are good for giant roasts.  I’m not sure I’ve ever made a roast in the slow-cooker that was so big that I couldn’t have gotten away with a round one, but I’ll give it to them.  What they should have said in the article was that oval slow-cookers are good for making lasagna.  The magazine has a picture of all of these little broken shards of lasagna noodle stacked on top of each other looking haphazard at best.  It says “To fit lasagna noodles into a round slow cooker, break of corners as needed.”  For an oval slow cooker, that meant busting maybe a couple noodles here and there.

Second, this recipe is bland as written.  Even with the Italian sausage.  What you see pictured with the lasagna below is the jar of Rachael Ray italian seasoning that I ground very liberaly on to my lasagna.  It needed something.  If you make this recipe, excuse me, WHEN you make this recipe, add a couple teaspoons or two of Italian seasoning or just a mix of your favorite Italian dried herbs.  I’m a fennel seed fanatic myself.

Resisting cheesy Rachael Ray catchphrase caption...

Resisting cheesy Rachael Ray catchphrase caption…

Bon appétit!  You know,  I don’t feel nearly so bad writing about March when it’s 45 degrees out at the end of May…

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Pot o’ Gold? No.

One-pot chicken and brown rice

If that doesn't look bland, adjust your monitor settings.

If that doesn’t look bland, adjust your monitor settings.

This is my attempt at making a St. Patrick’s Day post two days too late.  There’s green from the celery, and it’s a pot, but not a pot of gold.  Sigh.  I tried.  I also give a great big sigh to this recipe.  So boring.  It’s chicken and rice.  I guess it’s not supposed to blow my mind.  Yes, it only takes one pot.  Whee.  Sorry.  Maybe I’m not more enthusiastic because my mom went through a three year phase of making chicken and rice for almost every dinner, and I’ve been scarred.  Also, the rice wasn’t cooked.  That’s probably just a brown rice thing.  I think asking brown rice, vegetables, and chicken to all show up at the right temperature and consistency at the right time is too much to ask.  I’ve got an Arroz con Pollo recipe from a Williams Sonoma cookbook that is one pot, cooked in the oven, and utterly flawless.  The difference?  White rice.

Happy belated St. Patrick’s Day dear readers.  Maybe next year we will have corned beef and cabbage or something.

Parchment Aplenty

Issue 69 had a feature on using parchment as a cooking method.  It had full meals, main dishes, sides, and even breakfast in a parchment.  So, here we go.

The first recipe I made was for a dinner party with the lovely neighbor.  I made the Chicken with Mango and Ginger.

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Not being a huge fan of spicy foods, I went easy on the jalapeño on my packet.  Somehow it managed to impart a small amount flavor without much heat so it worked well for me.  The ginger infused the chicken breast and the mango kept it nice and juicy.  (Warning: the mango also made the entire packet pretty juicy so be sure to serve it with something that can absorb a lot of liquid — I went with coconut rice.  It was a good decision.)  This was a delicious recipe and I will most likely make it again in the future, especially when I need a tropical escape!  I also think I might start pairing chicken and mango more often, grilled for example, or in a sandwich.  Yeah, it’s a good match.

Next, I made the Eggs with Mushroom and Spinach.

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I’m not going to lie to you.  I didn’t think this one was worth the effort of cutting the parchment (let alone any of the actual packaging of the ingredients into said parchment.  To be fair, I did make this recipe on a day when I had chills and aches set in by mid afternoon (yep, the flu) so I may not have been a totally unbiased opinion on that day.  I definitely didn’t feel any desire to finish eating my packet.  I maybe made it through half.  It was really plain and more or less boring.  And when considering the effort put into fixing it, it just wasn’t worth it.  I think I’d skip the parchment next time and just make a scramble.  So much easier and the separate parts would work a bit better together that way.

Needless to say, after coming down with the flu, I didn’t do much cooking for a while.  I ate soup.  Soup from a can.  Because I didn’t have the energy to eat anything else.  And after the flop that was the eggs with mushrooms and spinach I wasn’t particularly tempted to make another parchment recipe.  But I did.  I made the Potatoes, Leeks and Carrots in Parchment

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It may not look that thrilling, but it tasted pretty decent.  This was another instance where I would normally have just roasted these vegetables together, because vegetables are more delicious when roasted.  But! This is the light issue (hence all the parchment) and by using steam trapped in the parchment to cook these veggies, they stayed pretty flavorful and required much less fat than when roasted.  In fact, the fat was optional in this method of cooking, so it has its perks.

Finally, I made the Broccoli, Asparagus, and Snap Peas in Parchment.  And as a bonus, I also made the Herbed Orzo.

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This is probably the one parchment recipe that I think really benefits from this cooking method.  Each of these vegetables is still super flavorful when steamed and don’t necessarily require anything added to make them awesome.  We liked it so much that we made it two days in a row.  Try it.  Trust me.  

The Herbed Orzo was slightly less exciting, but still an alternative to rice or potatoes so it might be a good thing to add to the mix.  The main issue with this recipe is that I found out after I made it that the bear doesn’t like dill.  And of course, I had decided that the main herb flavor would be dill… I ate a lot of orzo that week.

And now, G will fill you in on the final parchment recipe! Go G!!!

Thanks, B!  I’m winding this one up with the Salmon with Green Beans and Lemon Zest

There's fish under there somewhere...

There’s fish under there somewhere…

This was definitely good and certainly easy enough.  I like cooking things en papillote (that’s French for “No, G, not papillon.  You’re thinking of the dog…or the Steve McQueen movie.”), but I will admit it makes me slightly nervous.  I don’t think I’d be able to make B’s chicken dish without ruining it by busting open the packet and checking it.  But I grew to love the method by making a very similar dish from a Rachael Ray recipe.  She inelegantly calls it Spanish Fish in a Sack.  You’ll see that recipe is much more involved than the one in EF here.  I think this recipe is a good, simple option.  The wide pieces of peel are a nice touch.  But…if I’m bothering to make parchment packets, I’m probably going to go with the Rachael Ray fish sack.  It’s just too good. 

If you don’t like these muffins, there must be something wrong with you…

Healthy Morning Muffins, Jan/Feb 2010, pg. 120-121

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This has been one of my ‘go-to’ recipes since 2010.  The healthy morning muffins are a great item to bring when you are spending the weekend with friends and/or family.  They travel well and they really are a healthy morning or afternoon snack.  My nieces (5 and 3 years old) love the muffins and I haven’t met an adult yet that hasn’t liked them.

Over the past four years I’ve experimented a bit with the muffin recipe (purposefully and by accident).  Once, I bought 1-minute oats. (I must have been in a rush at the grocery store.)  The muffins came out fine, a little drier than normal and less texture.  So, I would highly recommend rolled oats (what the recipe calls for), but if you make a mistake at the grocery store, it’s not a big deal.  I’ve also experimented with shredded zucchini.  Which is very good.  I substitute some of the carrots for the zucchini, but not all.  My carrot measurements are always different.  I always use 4 carrots; whether they are medium or large, it doesn’t matter to me.  The more carrot the better.  You just may need to cook the muffins longer if you put larger carrots in the batter.

The muffins are like carrot cake without the frosting.  They are very moist, and the flavors from the carrots, banana, and raisins complement the other perfectly.  The muffins are very sweet naturally and therefore a large amount of sugar isn’t required.

During the summer, my bananas go bad much faster than I can eat them.  I’ve made several double-batches of the muffins.  Leaving some for now and the rest I will wrap in aluminum foil, put that in a freezer Ziploc bag, and then into the freezer.  That works out perfect if I don’t have time to bake something when we go visiting, or if it’s too hot to bake.

Great recipe!  Highly recommend it!  The pages of my issue 69 are beginning to stick together, good thing my favorite recipes can all be found online too.

Fish and unintentionally crunchy veggies

Halibut with warm bean hash

I think it goes without saying that the fish is actually whatever Aldi had and not halibut

I think it goes without saying that the fish is actually whatever Aldi had and not halibut

The fish was tasty even though it was kind of a hassle to do the pan frying with the flour and everything.  The potatoes and carrots didn’t actually get cooked all the way.  I don’t think I’ve ever cooked carrots in a pan like that.  I kept thinking, “Why would this work?”  It wouldn’t.  The carrots were still crunchy and some of the potatoes were crunchy too.  I wonder if maybe it would be better to roast those two ingredients in the oven with some oil and then toss them with the canned beans and the vinegar.  On a related note, the beans and vinegar were very delicious together.  Now that I think of it, it’s basically like a wintery bean salad.  No wonder it’s good.

Panic carrots

Slow-Cooker Garlic Chicken with Couscous

Here I come to save the day!

Here I come to save the day!

I’ve already said I’m a food safety nut.  I’m also pretty into fire safety.  I don’t want to get into it because it’s sad and this is not the place for it, but there was a fire in my old neighborhood that killed some people in an apartment building and it stuck with me.  No, I don’t have an escape plan, but thank you so so so much for putting that into my head.  Guess what you’re doing tonight instead of watching TV, D?  I digress…  Because of this fear of fire, I’m nervous about leaving my slow cooker on all day.  (I can hear your eyes rolling.)  My slow cooker has a big warning in the manual about making sure the slow cooker is filled at least halfway.  I suppose they are trying to say that you shouldn’t put a single pork chop into the cooker, crank it to high, and leave it for several hours and expect it to work out.  My fear is that a less than half-full slow cooker would cook down, start to smolder, burst into flames that climb up the kitchen cabinets, reach the walls, and engulf the apartment and my kittens in smoke and fire.  All this was running through my head as I rushed to get the dinner into the slow cooker and out the door to go to work.  I didn’t leave myself enough time, so I was frantically carving the super cold bird and chucking pieces into the cooker, all the while gauging the crock for whether it had reached the magic halfway mark.  I finished loading the carrots and chicken and it was only (ominous music here) 1/3 full.  So I did what any sensible person would do, I panicked.  I grabbed a pound of carrots from the fridge, washed them and hacked them into long pieces.  I stuffed the carrots under the chicken pieces to raise the food up to the halfway mark.  Then I turned the cooker on and dashed out the door, 15 minutes late to work.

That moment of panic turned out to be doubly awesome.  First, the house didn’t burn down.  Second, those carrots were completely delicious.  I mean they were the best part of the entire dish.  I’m not just saying that to justify what I did.  The lack of a house fire was justification enough for me.  I mean that the onions, garlic, and rendered chicken fat all turned those carrots into sweet and savory little flavor bombs.  I highly recommend adding carrots to this recipe, even if you’re already at the halfway mark on your crock or if it never occurred to you to worry about such a thing, you foolhardy, devil-may-care, ne’er-do-well, you.

Actually, it was triply awesome.  Baby J loved those carrots.

Panic carrots: one. Fire: zero.

Clean it out and cook it up

Big-batch vegetable soup

D ran a marathon.  Go D!  :)

D ran a marathon. Go D! 🙂

This recipe is spectacular for a few reasons.  It’s a freeze it, so right away you know I’m excited.  It’s soup.  Soup’s a good thing (cite: David Sedaris…does WordPress do footnotes?  What’s the HTML tag for footnotes?  Please don’t tell me).  Here’s why this recipe is great, and it’s not something that jumped right out at me.  Take a look at the last ingredient:

8 cups mixed fresh or frozen vegetables, such as carrots, corn, green beans, lima beans, peas, potatoes, and zucchini

8 cups of whatevs.  How great is that?  Random half bags of frozen veggies in the freezer staring you in the face?  Toss em in!  Recipe last night only used one of two potatoes now you’re stuck with one potato?  Toss it in!  I had leftover calabcita from September’s squash substitutions.  I had a bunch of lima beans from making a succotash for J.  I had a ton of frozen corn because Everyday Food recipes use a surprising amount of corn.  It all went in there.  I think I actually used 6 or 7 different vegetables.  I think this makes this a great recipe for times when your freezer or fridge has an odd glut of vegetables.  Or for when lots of things look good at a farmers’ market and you can’t think of what else to do with it.  No matter the reason, this is a tasty soup.  I look forward to having it some night when I’m too lazy to cook and too guilty/cheap to order in.

Help me get rid of these noodles

Thai beef salad

thai beef salad with rice noodles

I am desperately jealous of anyone whose box lunch looks like this.

This illustrates something that I have an issue with (some pun intended) in Everyday Food magazine.  I don’t know who has the time to make these wonderful lunches and breakfasts.  The lunch column is called “lunchbox,” which, to me, connotes that you make this ahead of time and pack as a lunch.  This recipe probably legitimately does take only 15 minutes, but that still seems like a lot for a boxed lunch.  I don’t typically “prepare” a lunch so much as I throw leftovers into a container or maybe make a sandwich and toss in a piece of fruit.  All that having been said, this is a tasty meal.

Using deli roast beef really does save a lot of time and impart a lovely flavor.  The dressing: lime juice, veggie oil, sugar, and Thai red curry paste, is wonderful.  Plus, any chance I get to eat rice noodles makes me feel like I’m getting a take-out treat.

Here’s a question for our readers (we know you’re out there!):  What can I do with all of these leftover rice noodles?  This recipe uses a whopping two ounces of noodles.  This is the second time D and I have made this recipe.  The last time, the leftover noodles sat in our pantry for years before we threw them out.  I don’t want this to happen again.  I also don’t really want to make pad thai.  I like for pad thai to be a special meal that I only get as takeout.  Like crab rangoons.  Could I make them at home?  I guess.  But, why?  So what can I make to use up these rice noodles?

Marsala Chicken with Sage and Cremini Mushrooms Served with Peas and Carrot Ribbons

www.marthastewart.com/338177/marsala-chicken-with-sage-and-cremini-mu

www.marthastewart.com/313330/peas-and-carrot-ribbons

September 2007, pg. 107 & pg. 134

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When I first started dating the bear I live with, his favorite meal was chicken marsala.  So, I have some experience making a much fussier version of this meal.  This recipe was much less time consuming – no need to pound out chicken breasts and just a very light flour dredge – and didn’t lose any of the flavor from the more complex version.

I went a little rogue and used thyme instead of sage a) because I had it and b) because I have very little use for sage on a regular basis, but can find ways to use thyme frequently.  I think thyme and mushrooms are best friends.  They taste so great together and I think it worked wonderfully in this dish.

I also thought the peas with carrot ribbons went really nicely with somewhat sweet marsala sauce.  The peas and carrots were really buttery and the thin slices of carrot made them really silky.  My only complaint was the prep required to make the carrot ribbons.  They were ultimately delicious, but a huge pain to make in the first place.  It seems much to fancy for an everyday sort of meal, but might be really beautiful on a holiday table – think Easter.

My next adventure: Apple-Cinnamon Upside-Down Cake!!