Posts Tagged chicken recipes

Bring on the Butternut Squash

I stupidly bought a Costco-sized container of pre-cubed butternut squash—thinking (ever hopeful) that Mr. Moo would enjoy a few cubes for dinner. So, I have a lot of butternut squash going on in my fridge. And, there’s only so much butternut squash soup one family can eat before they go insane.

Thank the heavens for the internet and the British. (I get to say that a lot more frequently than you’d think. I do work in web marketing for a multinational company.) But in this case of thankfulness, it had more to do with the BBC’s Good Food site. I’ve done the heavy lifting on this one and converted the metric measurements into American craziness (which of course means that I’ve had to round up or down).

Thai Butternut and Chicken Curry

  • 3-4 T Thai red curry paste
  • 14 oz tin coconut milk (translation can of coconut milk for those of you who don’t speak British)
  • 2 C butternut squash , peeled and cubed
  • 6 skinless chicken thighs, cut into cubes (My thighs were huge [still are in fact, but that’s a story for a different day]. I actually only used three chicken thighs.)
  • 1 C cherry tomatoes
  • Fish sauce to season
  • 2 limes, 1 juiced and 1 cut into cheeks to serve
  • 2 large handfuls Thai basil, or coriander (Please don’t use coriander seeds. Those British folks mean cilantro.)

Heat the curry paste gently in a wok (I used a large sauté pan.) until it starts to fry in its own oil, add a little extra oil if it starts to stick. (I definitely had to add extra oil.) Add the coconut milk and bring to a simmer. Add the squash and simmer for 10 minutes or until it is almost tender. (This took more like 20 minutes to get to the tender state.) Add the chicken and cook for 5 minutes (more like 10 to cook all the way through), add the cherry tomatoes and cook for 2 minutes or until they just start to burst. (They must use super high cooking temps in the UK because this took more like 10 minutes. And, I still had to pop a few myself.)

Season with fish sauce (this is the equivalent of salt, so add a few drops and taste, then add more if you need it) and the lime juice and sprinkle with the herbs.

Results

I served this over rice and it was stinking fabulous. And, not unlike a green curry recipe I have made in the past. The reason that I like this one better is that it uses an entire can of coconut milk whereas the other recipe forces me to think of ways to use the ¾ C coconut milk that remains. Anyway, pretty easy one-ish (if you make rice two) pot recipe.

Thai butternut squash curry in a bowl with lime

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I’m a Meat and Potato Kind of Gal

I just can’t help myself. I want a meat and potato kind of meal, and I start thinking, “Well, they probably ate a lot of meat and potatoes back in the day.” So my eyes come to rest upon Three Meals a Day: The Great 20th Century Cook Book by Maud C. Cooke, published in 1902.

There are three things that I love about cooking out of this book:

  1. Due to its age, I write out the entire recipe on a scrap piece of paper first so that cooking splatter doesn’t occur anywhere near the actual book. Since I actually rewrite everything, I tend not to forget items.
  2. There were no standards of measurement back in the day, so I get to guess what “butter the size of an egg” means. I mean, how big was that hen? Did you mean chicken or duck? So, globs and globs of butter ensue.
  3. The author assumes you know how to cook. She doesn’t tell you to cook the beans on high heat first and then simmer. She just says, “Allow eight hours for tenderness.” It’s up to you to decide how to get there.

Anyway, I found a pretty basic roast chicken recipe and a milk potato side dish. (Yeah, it’s going to be as gloppy as you think.)

Roast Chicken

Prepare and stuff the same as for roast turkey.

See? I told you it was easy. OK, here’s the recipe for roast turkey:

Pick, singe to free from pin feathers, draw, wash and dry. (My chicken came from the store… so, already feather-free. Just a reminder that our processed chickens might laden with salmonella, but at least we no longer have to singe them to remove feathers.) After this dip the turkey 2 seconds into boiling water, and then 2 seconds into ice water; this makes it very plump in appearance. (Again, I think mine was injected with something deadly at the processing facility. So, we’re good on the plumpness.)

Cut the neck off close to the body, leave the skin longer, draw over and tie, skewer the legs close to the sides after removing the first joint. Fasten the wings to the sides in the same manner, first cutting away the pinions (first joints). (Whew, I am sooo glad I live when I do.)

Put the giblets to boil in a quart of water. Allow 1¼ hours to roast a turkey weighing 10 pounds. If at all tough boil an hour or more before roasting. Some cooks parboil even a young turkey before baking. (What? Boil first then roast? Good gravy. Did these women ever leave the kitchen?) A little water will be needed in the pan. Baste with salt and water once, then cover with lumps of butter, and afterward baste with the drippings. Some cooks prefer to lay slices of bacon or fat pork over the fowl, fastening them down with small skewers. When nearly done, dredge with flour and baste with melted butter. Stuff with the following forcemeat:

  • 3 pints breadcrumbs
  • ¼ lb salt pork, chopped
  • Butter size of egg
  • Salt, pepper, sweet marjoram, savory, or sage
  • 2 eggs, well beaten

A little chopped celery is an improvement; the eggs may be omitted and melted butter used to moisture the dressing (Maud’s use of moisture rather than moisten). Mix thoroughly before using. Sew up.

And that’s it. Oh, wait. What temp are we using in the oven? I don’t know; just put some coals or wood in the stove and start roasting. But for the modern world, you’ll want to preheat the oven to 450°. When you put the chicken in the oven (on a rack in a roasting pan), lower the heat to 350° and roast for20 minutes per pound. Let the chicken rest for 10-15 minutes before carving.

Results

Well, of course, I used the bacon on top. I do live with my husband. Remarkably moist on the inside. Go forcemeat! (It also might be because I might have thought ostrich when I imagined my egg-sized butter.)

Roast Chicken

Potatoes Baked in Milk—Dutch Style

First, my apologies to the Dutch. I’m not really sure if this is their style at all.

Cut enough potatoes in thick slices to half fill a deep dish or 2 qt pan. Drop in butter the size of an egg cut into bits, a teaspoonful of salt and a tablespoonful of parsley. Fill the pan up with milk and bake 2 hours. The milk remaining in the pan should be thick as cream and the potato a light brown on top.

Results

I’ll admit that I was scared of a two hour bake time and then I realized that my chicken was going to have to cook for an hour and 40 minutes… so, I threw in the potatoes first at the 450° temperature, turned down the heat when I put the chicken in, and finished up the cooking. Everything worked out pretty well and it looked like this… which, interestingly enough is exactly how I expected it would look.

Potato in Milk

Did it taste like scalloped potatoes? Not really. I thought it should have, but alas… perhaps next time I will use whole milk or half and half to compensate for not having milk fresh out of the cow. Also, please note the huge mess that was made from boiling milk spilling over onto that cookie sheet. Definitely bake this one on a sheet pan or your oven will be a disaster.

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Real Simple: Week Three

I’m back with another week of Real Simple delights. Yup, that’s sarcasm. If you don’t believe me, read Week One and Week Two. There were a few dishes worth eating, and one entire meal that I’d probably make again.

But, all in all, another dismal week… only one more to go! This week will also go down as the week of meat mess-ups.

Monday: Lamb Chops with Braised Escarole and Chickpeas

  • 4 T olive oil
  • 1 small head escarole, leaves torn (about 13 C)
  • 4 cloves garlic, peeled and smashed
  • ¼ C dry white wine
  • kosher salt and black pepper
  • 1 15.5-ounce can chickpeas, rinsed
  • 8 small rib or loin lamb chops (1 inch thick; about 2¾ lbs total)
  • ½ t dried oregano

Heat 2 T of the oil in a Dutch oven or large saucepan over medium heat. Add the escarole, garlic, wine, ½ t salt, and ¼ t pepper and cook, covered, tossing occasionally, until very tender, 8-10 minutes. Add the chickpeas and cook until warmed through, 1-2 minutes.

Meanwhile, heat the remaining 2 T of oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Season the lamb with the oregano and ¼ t each salt and pepper. In two batches, cook the lamb, 2-3 minutes per side for medium-rare. Serve with the escarole.

Results

Now, for the first meat mess-up: I asked for eight loin chops, and I received only four. (I was wondering why my package was so light.) But what they lacked in numbers, they made up for in taste. The lamb chops were fabulous. But, it’s not difficult when you’re dealing with meat that costs $17.99 a pound (on sale). High quality meat with a bit of oregano and olive oil is good no matter what you serve with it. But, the braised escarole was a nice accompaniment.

Lamb chops with escarole

So, not exactly what I usually serve on a Monday night, but easy enough. And, even though they run on the pricey side, lambs are small so their ribs and loins are tiny. This meal isn’t going to send your grocery bill over budget.

Tuesday: Pork Tenderloin with Red Cabbage and Applesauce

  • 2 T olive oil
  • 2 pork tenderloins (about 1½ lbs total)
  • kosher salt and black pepper
  • ½ small head red cabbage, thinly sliced (about 6 C)
  • 1 T red wine vinegar
  • ¼ C chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
  • 1 C applesauce

Heat oven to 450°. Heat the oil in a large ovenproof skillet over medium-high heat. Season the pork with ¼ t each salt and pepper and cook, turning occasionally, until browned, 8-10 minutes.

Add the cabbage and ½ t salt to the skillet with the pork and toss to coat. Transfer to oven and cook until the pork is cooked through, 10-12 minutes. Remove the pork and let rest for 5 minutes before slicing.

Add the vinegar and parsley to the cabbage and toss to combine. Serve with the pork and applesauce.

Results

And, meat mess-up number two: This time it was completely my fault. Apparently, I have yet to learn to read. I bought two pork tenderloins at about a 1½ each. So, now I have a pork tenderloin in my freezer.

Pork loin with cabbage and apple sauce

The pork is just kind of eh. Take a look… white meat cooked with salt and pepper (not even a stray herb like Monday’s recipe). The cabbage is like raw cole slaw. It could have stood to marinate a bit. And, well, applesauce as a side is pretty much what I feed Mr. Moo at lunch. So, that made me feel like I was back in short pants. (I can talk like it’s 1910 if I want to… I’m cranky… I’m practically starving over here after three weeks of this crap.)

And, I’m officially over applesauce and pork. The end.

Wednesday: Spicy Orange Chicken with Cucumber Couscous

  • 1 C couscous
  • 4 T olive oil
  • 4 6-oz boneless, skinless chicken breasts
  • kosher salt and black pepper
  • ½ English cucumber, chopped
  • ¼ C chopped dried cherries
  • ¼ C chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
  • 1 T red wine vinegar
  • ¼ C orange marmalade
  • 2 T fresh orange juice
  • ¼ t crushed red pepper

Cook the couscous according to the package directions. Spread on a plate and let cool.

Meanwhile, heat 1 T of the oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Season the chicken with ¼ t each salt and black pepper and cook until cooked through, 6-8 minutes per side.

Transfer the couscous to a medium bowl and gently toss with the cucumber, cherries, parsley, vinegar, 2 T of the remaining oil, and ¼ t each salt and black pepper.

In a small bowl, whisk together the marmalade, orange juice, crushed red pepper, the remaining tablespoon of oil, and ¼ t salt. Serve the chicken with the couscous salad and drizzle with the marmalade sauce.

Results

This shouldn’t be called spicy, but rather sweet… overly sweet. I’m not a fan of marmalade (thank the good Lord that now I have a jar of it in my fridge) so maybe that’s why I wasn’t a fan of this recipe. Mr. Moo loved it. After all, it had his favorite fruit (dried cherries) and his favorite carb (couscous).

Orange chicken with couscous

I’ll skip this one.

Thursday: Shrimp and Pineapple Tacos with Black Bean Salad

  • 1 15.5-ounce can black beans, rinsed
  • 2 scallions, thinly sliced
  • 1 T fresh lime juice
  • 4 T olive oil
  • Kosher salt and black pepper
  • 1 lb frozen peeled and deveined large shrimp, thawed (The picture in the magazine had them with tails on… that’s silly… take the tails off for easier eating.)
  • ½ medium pineapple—peeled, cored, and cut into 1½-inch chunks (about 4 C… I just bought a pre-peeled and cored one… a bit more money, but a lot less stressful come dinnertime.)
  • ½ t ground cumin
  • ¼ t cayenne pepper
  • 8 6″ corn tortillas, warmed
  • Cut-up avocado, salsa verde, cilantro, and hot sauce, for serving

Soak 8 small wooden skewers in water for at least 10 minutes. (I have metal skewers. You need to use oven mitts to turn them, but they’re not as wasteful.) Meanwhile, in a medium bowl, combine the beans, scallions, lime juice, 2 T of the oil, and ¼ teaspoon each salt and black pepper.

Heat broiler. Thread the shrimp and pineapple onto the skewers and place on a foil-lined large broiler-proof baking sheet. Rub with the remaining 2 T of oil and season with the cumin, cayenne, ½ t salt, and ¼ t black pepper.

Broil the skewers until the shrimp are opaque throughout, 3-4 minutes per side. Serve with the tortillas, avocado, salsa verde (I only had salsa of the red variety so that’s what we used.), cilantro, and hot sauce and the bean salad.

Results

This was the winner of the week and is definitely on my list of recipes to make again. Corn tortillas are a must as they lend a nice texture to the taco. Fortunately, I live near a Chicago-famous tortilla manufacturer—El Milagro. I typically don’t like to recommend brands, but if you don’t make your own, these guys make a great “homemade” tortilla.

Shrimp and pineapple taco with bean salad

Anyway, the combo of cumin and cayenne with the sweetness of the pineapple under the broiler was pretty darn tasty. Mr. Moo approved of the bean salad, but picked all the scallions out before eating each bean individually.

Friday: Rigatoni with Roasted Cauliflower and Brussels Sprouts

  • ¾ lb rigatoni or some other short pasta
  • ½ medium head cauliflower (about 1 lb), cut into florets
  • 8 oz Brussels sprouts, trimmed and halved (quartered if large)
  • 1 medium red onion, cut into ½” wedges
  • 2 sprigs fresh thyme
  • 4 T olive oil
  • kosher salt and black pepper
  • 2 oz grated pecorino (about ½ C), plus more for serving

Heat oven to 450°. Cook the pasta according to the package directions. Reserve 1 C of the cooking water; drain the pasta and return it to the pot.

Meanwhile, on two large rimmed baking sheets (I was fine with just one half sheet pan.), toss the cauliflower, Brussels sprouts, and onion with the thyme, 2 T of the oil, and ½ t each salt and pepper. Roast, tossing the vegetables once and rotating the sheets halfway through, until golden brown and tender, 15-20 minutes.

Add the vegetables, pecorino, ½ C of the reserved cooking water, and the remaining 2 T of oil to the pasta and toss to combine (add more cooking water if the pasta seems dry). Serve sprinkled with additional pecorino.

Results

And, we’re back to bland. Admittedly, I completely forgot the onion… but I’m not sure it would have mattered. There’s no sauce to speak of… just cooking water. Also, as previously noted, roasted cauliflower stinks up the joint. Not a great way to end the week, but I have such low expectations at this point.

Rigatoni with roasted vegetables

I also amended the recipe a bit. I wasn’t sure what two sprigs of thyme would do just hanging out in my roasted veggie mix, so I chopped a bit up AND threw in the two sprigs. Didn’t even really taste the thyme.

Yes, I’m a glutton for punishment. But, next week will be my final week on what has now become known as the Month Real Simple Tortured My Family. Read Week Four of my Real Simple challenge.

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Real Simple: Week Two

Welcome to week two of horrible eating thanks to Real Simple. Last week, I started their month of recipes. After that first week, I took it as a challenge—to cook five nights a week and to eat what came out of the kitchen unchanged.

I’m not going to mince words… this has been more of a challenge than I thought. The recipes have sounded good on the surface, but have been truly boring once you start to eat them. And, for those of you who don’t like change… good news, this week is more of the same.

Monday: Roasted Salmon, Broccoli, and Potatoes with Miso Sauce

  • 1½ lbs new potatoes (about 15), halved if large
  • 1 bunch broccoli, cut into florets
  • 3 T plus 1 t canola oil
  • Kosher salt and black pepper
  • 3 T white miso (found in the refrigerated section, near the tofu)
  • 1 T rice vinegar
  • 4 6-oz pieces salmon fillet
  • ¼-½ t crushed red pepper

Heat oven to 425°. On a large rimmed baking sheet, toss the potatoes and broccoli with 2 T of the oil, ½ t salt, and ¼ t black pepper. Roast, tossing once, until the vegetables are tender, 25-30 minutes.

Meanwhile, in a small bowl, whisk together the miso, vinegar, 1 T of the remaining oil, and 3 T water.

Heat the remaining teaspoon of oil in a large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. Season the salmon with ¼ teaspoon each salt and black pepper and cook until opaque throughout, 3 to 4 minutes per side. Drizzle with the sauce, sprinkle with the crushed red pepper, and serve with the vegetables.

Results

Roasted Salmon with Potatoes and Broccoli

And, another week of Real Simple starts with an anemic-looking, salt lick of a sauce. A few thoughts:

  1. Make sure your potatoes are pretty small or more than halve them because they have to cook at the same rate as the broccoli. So, make sure your broccoli is cut a bit larger. In the midst of some lovely veggies, I had a few larger under done potatoes and burned broccoli.
  2. Roasted broccoli smells like hot socks.
  3. This is salty, salty, salty… and not in a miso soup sort of way.

Tuesday: Chicken and Rice with Peas

  • 1 T olive oil
  • 8 bone-in, skin-on chicken thighs (about 2½ lbs)
  • Kosher salt and black pepper
  • 1 medium onion, chopped
  • 1 red bell pepper, chopped
  • 1 C long-grain white rice
  • 2 C low-sodium chicken broth
  • 1 T fresh thyme leaves
  • 1 C frozen peas
  • ½ C pitted green olives, halved

Heat the oil in a Dutch oven or large saucepan over medium-high heat. Season the chicken with ½ t salt and ¼ t black pepper. In two batches, brown the chicken, 5-7 minutes per side; transfer to a plate.

Add the onion and bell pepper to the drippings in the Dutch oven and cook, stirring often, until beginning to soften, 3-5 minutes. Add the rice, broth, thyme, and chicken. Bring to a boil, reduce heat, and simmer, covered, until the chicken is cooked through, the rice is tender, and most of the liquid is absorbed, 20-25 minutes.

Remove the Dutch oven from heat. Transfer the chicken to a plate. Fold the peas and olives into the rice and let sit, covered, for 5 minutes. Serve with the chicken.

Results

Oh my good gravy. It was all 1960 up in this recipe. Red pepper, olives, and peas. Seriously? As if we’re just adding crap to rice to make it look pretty without a care in the world as to how it would taste. Awful. Then, the addition of thyme just made the whole thing taste like a muddy mess. Probably the worst idea for rice that I’ve ever had the misfortune to taste.

Chicken with rice and peas

Paul, my sister, AND Mr. Moo all found it a bit disgusting. The leftovers sat in the fridge for quite a bit before I ended up pureeing them for the dog. (I kid you not.)

Wednesday: Red Lentil Curry

  • 3 T canola oil
  • 2 T chopped fresh ginger
  • 2 cloves garlic, chopped
  • 8 scallions, sliced, white and green parts separated
  • 1T curry powder
  • 4 medium carrots (about 8 oz), chopped
  • 1 large russet potato (about 10 oz), peeled and cut into 1-inch pieces
  • 1 C red lentils
  • 4 C low-sodium vegetable broth
  • Kosher salt and black pepper
  • Naan bread and lime wedges, for serving

Heat the oil in a large saucepan over medium-high heat. Add the ginger, garlic, and scallion whites and cook, stirring frequently, until softened, 2-3 minutes. Stir in the curry powder. Add the carrots, potato, lentils, broth, ¾ t salt, and ¼ t pepper. Bring to a boil, reduce heat, and simmer, stirring occasionally, until the lentils and vegetables are tender, 15-20 minutes.

Sprinkle the curry with the scallion greens and serve with the naan and lime wedges.

Results

Finally! A recipe that had some flavor. Too bad it came out looking like this:

Lentil Soup

So, despite my self-imposed challenge to not change the recipe, I found myself giving the soup a few pulses with the immersion blender. After which, it came out with a better consistency for curry with potatoes in it.

Lentil Curry with Naan

Mr. Moo loved it. This was a definite winner in comparison to the others. Having said that, I’ve had better curries… in fact, I’ve made better curries.

Thursday: Beef and Bean Enchiladas with Sautéed Zucchini

  • 2 T canola oil
  • 1 medium onion, chopped
  • ½ lb ground beef
  • 1 15.5-oz can pinto beans, rinsed
  • 2 C grated cheddar (about 8 oz)
  • 2 C enchilada sauce
  • 8 6” corn tortillas
  • 2 medium zucchini (about 1 lb total), thinly sliced
  • Kosher salt
  • Sour cream, salsa, and cilantro, for serving

Heat oven to 400°. Heat 1 T of the oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add the onion and cook, stirring, until softened, 3-5 minutes. Add the beef and cook, breaking it up with a spoon, until browned, 2-3 minutes. Mix in the beans and 1 C of the cheddar.

Spread 1 cup of the enchilada sauce in the bottom of a 9×13″ baking dish. Roll up the beef mixture in the tortillas and place the rolls seam-side down in the dish. Top with the remaining cup of enchilada sauce and cup of cheddar. Bake until the cheddar is brown in spots, 10-15 minutes.

Meanwhile, wipe out the skillet and heat the remaining tablespoon of oil over medium-high heat. Add the zucchini and ¼ t salt and cook, tossing occasionally, until tender and golden, 8-10 minutes. Top the enchiladas with the sour cream, salsa, and cilantro and serve with the zucchini.

Results

The crux of this recipe is definitely the quality of your enchilada sauce because this is drowning in it. If you don’t make your own, you really need to find a good (read not El Paso or Ortega) enchilada sauce. So, the enchilada filling was just OK… ground beef, pinto beans, and onions. Read no spices inside the filling. Thank you bland middle bit.

Enchiladas

My last complaint about this recipe is the random side dish. If the editors at Real Simple looked back at this recipe thought, “Hmmm… we need a vegetable in there.” Why oh why would they just slap some bland zucchini on the side? It doesn’t really fit with the dish. If they were hell bent on using zucchini, maybe put it inside the enchilada or grill it or do something besides cook it in oil. Blah.

Friday: Ham and Mozzarella Melts with Sautéed Spinach

  • 2 T olive oil
  • 2 cloves garlic, sliced
  • Kosher salt and black pepper
  • 2 bunches flat-leaf spinach, stems discarded (about 16 C)
  • 2 large ciabatta rolls, split
  • 4 oz sliced deli ham
  • 2 plum tomatoes, sliced
  • 8 oz fresh mozzarella, sliced
  • 1 t dried oregano

Heat the oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add the garlic, ¼ t each salt and pepper, and as much spinach as will fit. Cook, tossing and adding more spinach when there is room, until tender, 2-3 minutes.

Meanwhile, heat broiler. Place the rolls split-side up on a foil-lined large broiler-proof baking sheet. Dividing evenly, top with the ham, tomatoes, mozzarella, oregano, and ¼ t each salt and pepper. Broil until the cheese is melted, 2-3 minutes. Serve with the spinach.

Results

Paul loved this one. I had to agree, but I also had to point out that this is really a fancy grilled cheese sandwich. If you’re going to make this recipe and you get ciabatta rolls, you will probably have to cut off the tops a bit so you have a flat surface. I had one go a bit roly-poly on me.

Ham Mozzarella Melts

But, yes, this was a top notch way to end a week of horrors. So, why, you ask do I continue. Because this is really forcing me to save by not ordering out, having leftovers for lunch, and not impulse buying at the store. By the way, the total for this week came in at around $75.

I’d like to ask of Real Simple: Why does your magic formula for salt and pepper seem to be ½ t salt, ¼ t pepper? That seems to be a regular ratio here. Also, what’s with supreme amount of sautée? OK, two down, two more to go… on to next week. Read more at Week Three of the Real Simple experiment.

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Taking on Real Simple: Week One

I have been really uninspired lately—in the kitchen, at work, in my day-to-day dealings with Mr. Moo. I’m mostly stressed out and it just feels like I’m running in circles not getting anywhere. I’m sure none of you can relate as your lives are all princesses and glitter, rock stars and whiskey.

When I’m stressed out, I tend toward the blah. I don’t want to do anything… especially not cooking. Obviously, the blah feeling leads to a very sad state of dinner. Night after night of cobbled together meals that would make you weep. In fact, they did make me weep.

When I tried thumbing through my cache of old cookbooks, and couldn’t even get excited about jellied meats, I knew I was in trouble. Then like a beacon in the darkness, my October issue of Real Simple arrived. (Cue the angelic music from up on high.) Starting on page 191, is a section called “What’s for Dinner?” What follows is a month of weekday meals. Four weeks of five dinners, each serving four people. AND, there’s a weekly shopping list broken down into staples and what I’ll probably need.

I took to this whole not thinking about cooking thing like a moth to a flame. Not have to stress about dinner for an entire month? Game on. I now present Week One of the Real Simple challenge.

Monday: Beef and Mushroom Ragú with Pappardelle

  • ½ lb pappardelle or fettuccine (I only had spaghetti, so that’s what I used.)
  • 2 T olive oil
  • 10 oz button mushrooms, quartered
  • ½  medium onion, chopped
  • 2 cloves garlic, chopped
  • kosher salt and black pepper
  • ½ lb ground beef
  • 2 T tomato paste
  • ¼ C dry white wine
  • 1 14.5-oz can diced tomatoes
  • grated Parmesan, for serving

Cook the pasta according to the package directions; drain and return it to the pot.

Meanwhile, heat the oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add the mushrooms, onion, garlic, ½ t salt, and ¼ t pepper and cook, stirring frequently, until the onion is soft, 5-7 minutes.

Add the beef to the skillet and cook, breaking it up with a spoon, until browned, 3-5 minutes.

Add the tomato paste and cook, stirring, until slightly darkened, about 1 minute. Add the wine and cook, stirring, until nearly evaporated, about 1 minute. Add the tomatoes (and their juices) and simmer until the liquid is slightly thickened, 4-5 minutes.

Add the sauce to the pasta and toss to combine. Serve sprinkled with the Parmesan.

Results

Oh dear. Not a good way to get rid of my blahs. This is perhaps one of the most uninspired dishes I’ve ever had the bad fortune to make. Please note that there are no herbs in this sauce, and the only spices are garlic, salt, and pepper. And, hamburger in a pasta sauce? Ugh. What a bland mess.

Beef and Mushroom Ragu

Even Mr. Moo thumbed his nose at this one.

In addition, the mushrooms aren’t really cooked down enough to elicit any sort of taste above squishy mushrooms. This is a Monday night recipe, so I get that the magazine folks wanted something quick and easy, but a better bet would be to sauté the mushrooms and onion until much of the moisture has been drained from the mushrooms. Then, instead of adding ground beef, add two mild Italian sausages. (Basically, take the raw sausage and squeeze out the meat from the casing.) Cook the sausage and then add a half a jar of your favorite marinara sauce. I can guarantee it will take as much time and taste 100% better than this recipe.

Tuesday: Eggplant and Tofu Stir-Fry

  • 1 C long-grain white rice
  • ½ C hoisin sauce
  • 3 T rice vinegar
  • 1 t cornstarch
  • 4 T canola oil
  • 1 lb firm tofu—drained, patted dry, and cut into 1” cubes
  • 1 small eggplant (about 1¾ lbs), cut into ½” pieces
  • 4 scallions, sliced, white and green parts separated
  • 2 cloves garlic, chopped
  • 1 red serrano or jalapeño chili, sliced
  • kosher salt
  • ¼ C fresh basil leaves, torn (I used purple basil from our yard.)

Cook the rice according to the package directions. In a small bowl, whisk together the hoisin, vinegar, and cornstarch.

Meanwhile, heat 1 T of the oil in a large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. Add the tofu; cook, turning occasionally, until browned, 8-10 minutes. Transfer to a plate.

Add the remaining 3 T of oil to the skillet. Add the eggplant, scallion whites, garlic, chili, and ¼ t salt. Cook, tossing frequently, until the eggplant is tender, 8-10 minutes. Add the hoisin mixture, tofu, and scallion greens and cook, tossing gently, until the sauce is thickened, 1-2 minutes. Serve with the rice and sprinkle with the basil.

Results

Gads, I hate cooking tofu. I am so not good at it.

First issue: Get extra firm tofu instead of just firm. It will hold up a bit better when you start mixing all the other ingredients.

Second issue: It took way longer than 10 minutes to get the tofu browned. Either my pan wasn’t hot enough or my tofu had too much liquid… I don’t know. It took a while.

My final issue is one of taste: Everything is drowning in hoisen sauce. Sooo very salty and hoisen-y. And, because it’s eggplant and tofu, it doesn’t reheat that well. (Remember four servings… so there will be lunch leftovers if you only have two adults.) I hate the mouth feel of squishy eggplant and slimy tofu.

Tofu Eggplant Stir-Fry

But, this recipe did bring out the best response from Mr. Moo. I tried to give him a plate. And, he looked at it and said, “Hmmm. Chicken?” I replied, “No, dear. It’s tofu.” He took another look and said, “Ew tofu ew.” And, that was the end of that dinner experiment.

Wednesday: Roasted Chicken with Collards

  • 8 bone-in, skin-on chicken thighs (about 2½ lbs)
  • 2 pints grape tomatoes
  • 3 T olive oil
  • kosher salt and black pepper
  • 1 medium onion, sliced
  • 1 bunch collard greens, stems discarded and leaves cut into 1″ strips

Heat oven to 450°. On a large rimmed baking sheet, toss the chicken and tomatoes with 2 T of the oil, ½ teaspoon salt, and ¼ t pepper. Roast until the chicken is cooked through, 30-35 minutes.

Meanwhile, heat the remaining tablespoon of oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add the onion and ¼ t each salt and pepper and cook, stirring frequently, until softened, 4-6 minutes. Add the collard greens and cook, tossing frequently, until tender, 5-7 minutes. Serve with the chicken.

Results

Finally, a recipe worth eating—with a few additions. I cut half of the grape tomatoes in half and left the other half whole… this way, some came out super squishy and some just came out regular-style squishy.

This year, my sister decided to grow rainbow Swiss chard in our garden. So, rather than collard greens, I used the Swiss chard. Because how can you not, when it looks like this…

Rainbow Swiss Chard

I also added ½ t red pepper flakes to the oil when cooking the chard. I just like my greens a bit spicy, that’s all.

Yes, this is a very basic recipe, but it comes out nicely and the leftovers reheat well.

Chicken and Greens

Thursday: Tuna, Fennel, and Bean Salad

  • ¼ C olive oil
  • 3 T fresh lemon juice
  • kosher salt and black pepper
  • 1 small head radicchio, leaves torn (about 3 C)
  • 1 small bulb fennel, thinly sliced, plus ¼ C chopped fennel fronds
  • 2 6-oz cans oil-packed light tuna, drained
  • 1 15.5-oz can cannellini beans, rinsed
  • 1 small shallot, thinly sliced

In a large bowl, whisk together the oil, lemon juice, and ¼ t each salt and pepper.

Add the radicchio, fennel, fennel fronds, tuna, beans, and shallot and toss to combine.

Results

Ridiculously easy. A few thoughts though: You don’t need to use tuna in cans packed in oil. When I first skimmed the recipe, I thought that the oil from the tuna was going to act as a bit of dressing. Then, I re-read it and you drain off that oil and add the olive oil. So, go with the better tasting tuna pouches… the ones not packed in oil. Also, I feel with the tuna and canned beans, you really don’t need any additional salt.

Tuna Fennel Salad

Paul loved this one. I agree it has a decent taste and texture. I feel that it’s a better lunch recipe. (Mostly because it tasted that much better the next day.) And, you’ll notice that I got a bit crazy with the radicchio… rather than tearing it, I just sliced it. Still tasted fine.

Friday: Chorizo-Stuffed Acorn Squash

  • 2 acorn squashes (about 1½ lbs each), halved and seeded
  • ½ C bulgur
  • 4 oz manchego or Cheddar, grated (about 1 C)
  • 3 oz cured chorizo, chopped
  • ¼ C chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
  • 3 T olive oil
  • kosher salt and black pepper
  • 1 T red wine vinegar
  • 1 head red leaf lettuce, leaves torn (about 6 C)

Heat oven to 450°. Place the squash halves cut-side down in a baking dish, add ¼ inch water, cover with foil, and bake until tender, 25-30 minutes.

Meanwhile, cook the bulgur according to the package directions. In a medium bowl, combine the bulgur, manchego, chorizo, parsley, 1 T of the oil, and ¼ teaspoon each salt and pepper.

Turn the squash halves cut-side up and, dividing evenly, fill with the bulgur mixture. Bake until the filling is warmed through and the manchego is melted, 8-10 minutes.

In a large bowl, whisk together the vinegar, the remaining 2 T of oil, and ¼ t each salt and pepper. Add the lettuce and toss to combine. Serve with the squash.

Results

I hate stuffed squash. There is just something icky about that texture. But, this wasn’t bad. The chorizo really sold it for me. The other selling point? The fact that Paul assembled it. Rock on, husband!

Chorizo Stuffed Squash

Overall Review of Week One

A mixed bag as far as the recipes were concerned. We didn’t starve, but we certainly didn’t enjoy the beginning of the week.

Since I had groceries and meals for the entire week, there wasn’t the temptation to order in. With the exception of the tofu, the magazine times for preparation were pretty spot on… no recipe took longer than an hour to make. Especially nice for weekday meals.

The flip side, of course, is that you’re cooking every night. And, unless your partner is comfortable following a recipe, you might be screwed if you’re having a busy night.

The other bonus is a budgetary one. I think this week, I spent $74 on everything I needed for these recipes. Granted, I had the ground beef for Monday and the greens for Wednesday. And, since we had leftovers, we’re really talking spending less than $100 for five dinners and three lunches for two people. (Mr. Moo and my sister had some of the food as well.)

So, am I continuing this self-imposed challenge? Yes, yes, I am… Read more about Week Two with Real Simple.

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Crazy for Clay

You know when you get a new toy and you get a little bit obsessed with it? And, then that obsession turns into a deep, abiding love? That happened to me with my first two-wheeled bike. I made my parents bring it upstairs to my bedroom so I could stare at it as I fell asleep. Instead, I ended up sleeping on the floor next to it stroking the new tire fringe. (Let’s not judge. I’m sure you were a dork at age 5, too.)

I’m kind of repeating my behavior with my clay baker. I received it as a Christmas gift and I’m still a little weird about it. (I pretty much bit Paul’s head off as he started washing it with soap. Soap! How dare he?!?!)

Anyway, I made some curried chicken in it last week. It was so good that I think I might move the clay baker upstairs (to the kitchen cabinet! instead of the basement shelf… jeez, I got over sleeping with my new possessions after I got married…. I mean, there are some parts of childhood weird that you just can’t bring into adulthood… even if you really, really want to wear your new awesome shoes to bed because they are sparkly and purple…. I’ll stop now.).

This comes courtesy of the clay baker manufacturer with a few edits in the directions for clarity.

Curry Clay Pot Chicken

  • 1 lb skinless, boneless chicken thighs
  • ¼ t salt
  • ⅛ t white pepper
  • 1 t finely chopped fresh ginger
  • 1 T cornstarch
  • 6 small new red potatoes, cut into ½-inch slices
  • 1 small carrot, peeled and cut into ¼-inch slices
  • 2 T vegetable oil
  • 2 t minced garlic
  • 1 medium onion, thinly sliced
  • 2 T curry powder (I split 1 T hot and 1 T sweet curry powder. Next time, probably all sweet.)
  • 1 medium tomato, cut into ½-inch wedges
  • 1 T soy sauce
  • 1 t sugar
  • 1 green onion, with top, cut into 1-inch pieces

After soaking your 2-quart clay pot for 15 minutes or so, place it with a cover in the oven to heat. (So, what’s hysterical about this recipe is that at no point does it tell you what temperature to heat the oven. I went with 350° as that seems to be a standard heating type of temperature. And, you’ve already cooked a large portion of the ingredients by the time they make it to the cooker.)

Trim the fat from the chicken and cut the chicken into 1-inch cubes. In a large bowl, combine the salt, pepper, ginger, and cornstarch. Toss the chicken with the cornstarch mixture and set aside.

Bring 2 C water to a boil in a saucepan over high heat. Add the potatoes and carrot, cover, and cook two minutes. Drain and set aside.

Heat a nonstick skillet or wok over high heat until hot. Add the vegetable oil and the chicken; stir and cook until lightly browned, about 1 minute. Add the garlic, onion, curry powder, and tomato and stir-fry 1 minute. Add the potatoes, carrot, soy sauce, and sugar and continue to stir until well mixed. Turn off the heat and transfer the mixture to the preheated clay pot. Cover the clay pot and return to the preheated oven for 15 to 20 minutes. Serve hot.

To hold the finished dish, turn the oven off and keep warm until ready to serve. Stir in the green onion just before serving.

Results

Curry chicken in a clay baker

As I mentioned before, fantastic to eat. (Not so much to look at… even forgiving my overly yellow photographic skills, this dish is seriously yellow.) But it’s one damn fine curried chicken. The leftovers the next day were amazing as well. Mr. Moo liked it well enough once I spooned it over fried rice. (Kid loves his carbs, especially if they’re of the Asian variety.)

I definitely think this recipe could be made without the clay baker. A casserole or Dutch oven would probably work just as nicely.

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