Sunday, September 29, 2013

Skillet Chili Mac

I'd had this pinned for a quick and easy weeknight meal, but sometimes, I am so busy from dawn to dusk on the weekends that I need something quick to throw together on a weekend night too. Saturdays are great because it brings us an easy and tempting excuse to either order out or go out to have a nice meal. But Sundays? Sometimes it's just as nice to make something quick and easy- I don't always want to labor away on the weekends because we don't have work.

Here comes a comfy and cozy easy-to-put-together 1-pot meal. Nothing like getting meal prepared in 30 minutes and have only 1 pot to clean! Other reviewers have said that it reminded them of Hamburger Helper- which I could not agree at all. I loathe Hamburger Helper. Aside from all the artificial ingredients, it doesn't even taste good. But, this meal includes items I normally have on hand, AND ingredients I can pronounce (unlike HH). The flavors are delicious- a bit sweet with a hint of warmth and spice (but not spicy). Watch out because this does make a ton of food!

Skillet Chili Mac
  • 3 Tbsp vegetable oil
  • 1 pound ground beef 
  • 1 onion, chopped medium
  • 1 red bell pepper, stemmed, seeded and chopped medium
  • Salt
  • 4 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1 Tbsp chili powder
  • 1 Tbsp cumin 
  • 1/2 tsp crushed red pepper
  • 8 ounces macaroni (2 cups)
  • 1 (14.5 ounce) can diced tomatoes
  • 1 (15-ounce) can tomato puree
  • 1 cup water
  • 1 Tbsp brown sugar
  • Pepper
  • 8 ounces Colby cheese, shredded (I used a Mexican Cheese blend)

  1. Heat 1 Tbsp of the oil in a 12-inch skillet over medium-high heat until shimmering (I used a medium Dutch oven- you'll need something bigger). Add the beef and cook, breaking up the pieces with a wooden spoon, until no longer pink, about 5 minutes. Drain the beef through a fine-mesh strainer, discarding the fat.
  2. After removing the beef from the pan, add the remaining 2 Tbsp oil to the skillet and return to medium-high heat until shimmering. Add the onion, bell pepper, and ½ teaspoon salt. Cook until the vegetables are softened, about 10 minutes.
  3. Stir in the garlic, chili powder, cumin, and crushed red pepper, and cook until fragrant, about 15 seconds. 
  4. Stir in the macaroni, tomatoes in their juice, tomato puree, water, brown sugar and drained beef. Cover and bring to a simmer. Reduce the heat to medium-low and continue to simmer, stirring occasionally, until the pasta is tender, about 20 minutes.
  5. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Sprinkle the Colby evenly over the top, cover until the cheese melts, about 3 minutes.
Source: Adapted from The America’s Test Kitchen Family Cookbook 

Saturday, September 28, 2013

Ina Garten's Pesto

So what is a girl to do with a basil plant that is growing out of control in her vegetable garden?


I don't know why I haven't made it before- I've seen it being made on TV, read about it on other food blogs, yet I was worried that it wouldn't turn out. Well, we had a huge basil plant and I didn't want that to go to waste, so I looked towards my favorite Food Network chef (Ina) and saw that she had a recipe.

I love being able to go to her as her recipes tend to be fool-proof and delicious, as well as include ingredients I keep on hand. I did have to run out and buy some pine nuts, but had everything else- and there were only a handful of ingredients- in my pantry.

This basil pesto turned out amazing! I picked up a jarred pesto (Classico brand) last night, and now I just don't think the jarred stuff will compare to this fresh pesto recipe. Summer is coming to an end here, and I am so glad I made this. Homemade was definitely the way to go, and bonus that it was super easy!

Some notes- since the ingredient list is minimal, it is important to buy the best olive oil and Parmesan cheese you can buy. For me, I already had Costco's olive oil so I ended up using this, and picked up an extra aged (18 month) Parmesan cheese wedge from Kroger (their Private Selection brand).

The recipe says it should yield 4 cups, but mine only came out to 2.5 cups.... I'm beginning to think it's b/c I didn't pack my basil leaves in the measuring cups. Lesson learned! I also decreased the amount of oil to 1 cup (vs. 1.5 cups that the recipe states). So glad I did as it would've been too oily!

Reviewers also said that it is heavy on the garlic- it definitely is, and suits us just fine. Some others said it was too salty, so it is important to note that this recipe (like a lot of Ina's recipe) calls for kosher salt (which is different than the usual Morton's table salt)- make sure you use kosher salt!

Homemade Pesto

  • 1/4 cup walnuts
  • 1/4 cup pine nuts (these are located near the tomatoes at my local Kroger)
  • 3 Tbsp chopped garlic (9 cloves)
  • 5 cups fresh basil leaves, packed
  • 1 tsp kosher salt
  • 1 tsp freshly ground black pepper
  • 1-1/2 cups good olive oil, divided (used Costco's olive oil)
  • 1 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese (used Kroger's Private Selection extra aged 18-month Parmesan cheese wedge)
1. Place the walnuts, pine nuts, and garlic in the bowl of a food processor fitted with a steel blade. Process for 15 seconds. 

2. Add the basil leaves, salt, and pepper. 

3. With the processor running, slowly pour 1 cup of olive oil into the bowl through the feed tube and process until the pesto is thoroughly pureed. 

4. Add the Parmesan and puree for a minute.

5. Use right away or store the pesto in the refrigerator or freezer with a thin film of olive oil on top. (Many reviewed said they used the remaining 1/2 cup olive oil here.)

Note: Air is the enemy of pesto. For freezing, pack it in containers with a film of oil or plastic wrap directly on top with the air pressed out. (I put plastic wrap directly on top of my pesto with the air pressed out in an airtight Pyrex glass dish.)

To clean basil, remove the leaves, swirl them in a bowl of water, and then spin them very dry in a salad spinner. Store them in a closed plastic bag with a slightly damp paper towel. As long as the leaves are dry they will stay green for several days.

Source: Adapted from Ina Garten

How to... Make Chicken

Chicken is a staple in our household, and some recipes call for already cooked chicken.

Here is how we do it!

For shredded chicken
You've got 2 easy methods here

a) Rotisserie chicken- Our favorite one is from Costco (hello, only $5 and they're large enough to feed us for dinner and for lunch the next day). The meat is flavorful, tender, and so moist. We usually use one of these to make a meal (that feeds a family of 4).

b) Slow Cooker (my favorite way)- If you've got chicken, I love just throwing it in the slow cooker on LOW for 8 hours. Here is my favorite recipe (I like to make a lot of it! Whatever I don't use, I portion it in my Foodsaver and throw it in the freezer until needed):

  • 4 lbs boneless, skinless chicken breasts (usually 2 packages)
  • 3/4-1 cup chicken broth/stock (or use 1 tsp chicken granules/bouillon cube or I love this chicken base)
  • 1 tsp Montreal Steak seasoning
  1. Line your slow cooker with a slow cooker liner. (I never use my slow cooker without one!)
  2. Add your chicken breasts into the slow cooker.
  3. If you're using chicken broth/stock, skip this step. If you're using bouillon or chicken base, add 1 tsp to 3/4 cup warm water. Stir until it dissolves.
  4. Pour the liquid over the chicken.
  5. Sprinkle the Montreal Steak seasoning over your chicken.
  6. Cook it on LOW for 8 hours.
  7. Once it has cooked, remove the chicken breasts onto a plate to let it rest for 5 minutes. Then, begin shredded it with a fork.
  8. Place the shredded chicken back into the slow cooker for 30 more minutes. Use as desired.
  9. Place the remaining shredded chicken into a freezer-safe Ziploc bag (or Foodsaver bag), add a few Tablespoons of chicken broth, and seal airtight. Then freeze!
Source: Jamie Cooks It Up

For cooked, diced chicken- I like making it in the morning while I get ready. I place the chicken breasts into a preheated oven (350 degrees), and bake it for 30 minutes. I remove it from the fridge, let it cool down a bit, and then place it in a Ziploc bag or Pyrex container and refrigerate it until I need it for dinner.

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Spaghetti Pie

I have always heard of spaghetti pie, but it wasn't until last night when I just didn't have any ideas what to make for dinner except to use up some ground beef I had thawed out that morning.

I looked through my pile of recipes, and decided on this. Not because I had high hoped. Only because the directions were straightforward and I had all the ingredients on hand. Laziness at its finest. 

Darin and I got all the ingredients together and tag-teamed this. Even without his help, this meal would have come along easy (easy enough for a weeknight), and I was so surprised how much I had enjoyed this dish! It was hearty, had good robust flavors, and was so comforting. And- even better- we normally have these items on hand, so no fancy ingredients to boot. Since it is only the 2 of us, we were able to eat this for 2 nights of leftovers... so this definitely feeds a lot.

Note: The original recipe states that you need a deep dish pie plate (or else all your spaghetti will not fit). Since I didn't have one, I used my medium (2.2-qt) Pyrex baking dish which worked wonderfully.

  • 12 ounces thin spaghetti or vermicelli noodles
  • 1 Tbsp olive oil
  • 1 small white or yellow onion, diced
  • 1 pound lean ground beef or ground turkey (we used ground chuck)
  • 1 clove garlic, finely minced (or 1/2 teaspoon garlic powder)
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1/2 tsp black pepper
  • 28-ounce can crushed tomatoes
  • 16-ounces tomato sauce
  • 1 tsp dried basil
  • 1/2 tsp dried oregano
  • 1/2 tsp crushed red pepper
  • 4 ounces light cream cheese, softened and cubed
  • 1/2 cup lowfat cottage cheese
  • 3/4 cup Parmesan cheese, divided
  • 3/4 cup mozzarella cheese, divided

  1. Lightly coat a deep 9 or 10-inch pie plate with cooking spray and set aside. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F.
  2. In a large pot of boiling, salted water, cook the noodles until al dente according to package directions. 
  3. While the noodles boil, heat a large 12-inch skillet (we used a Dutch oven) over medium-high heat, add the olive oil and diced onions, and saute the onions until they are semi-soft.
  4.  Once they're semi-soft, add the ground beef or turkey, breaking it into pieces with a wooden spoon. Add the garlic, salt and pepper. Cook, stirring occasionally and continuing to break up the meat, until the meat is cooked through, 5-7 minutes. Remove the skillet from the heat and drain the excess grease, if any. 
  5. Return the skillet to medium heat and stir in the crushed tomatoes, tomato sauce, dried basil, oregano, and crushed red pepper. Simmer the sauce over medium or medium-low heat for 10 minutes.
  6. When the noodles are done cooking, drain and return to the pot. Immediately stir in the cream cheese and toss the noodles by lightly lifting them up and over with tongs until the cream cheese is mostly melted. Stir in the cottage cheese, 1/2 cup of the Parmesan cheese and 1/2 cup of the mozzarella cheese. Toss until the noodles are evenly coated. 
  7. Stir in 2 cups of the red sauce. Keep the remainder of the red sauce warm on the stove.
  8. Scrape the noodles into the prepared pie plate and using a flat spatula, press the noodles evenly into the dish so they are tightly pressed together and evenly flat across the top. Sprinkle the remaining 1/4 cup Parmesan and 1/4 cup mozzarella cheese across the top.
  9. Bake the spaghetti pie for 20-22 minutes, until it is hot and bubbly and the cheese is golden on top. Let the dish rest for 10 minutes. Cut into slices and serve with remaining red sauce.

Source: Adapted from Mel's Kitchen Cafe

Product Rave: Lunch Crock Pot

This portable lunch crock pot has been one of the best buys of 2013 for me. I sing its praises, and I love this so much! No more going to the lunch cafeteria. No more waiting in lines at the communal microwave. By the time lunch rolls near, your food is at your desk, all warmed up, and ready to be eaten. So far, I've used it to heat up soups, chili, stews, meatloaf/green beans, baked spaghetti, lasagna, and mac & cheese.... I think I have used it daily at work.

Let's talk about the basics: It holds 20-oz (that's even enough for my hearty-eating Darin) of food. The lunch crock pot is like a miniature crock pot with a handle. It comes with 3 things:
1. Exterior crock pot with attached plug/cord
2. Metal insert (holds 20-oz of food)
3. Lid for the metal insert

How do you use it?
1. Add food to your metal insert; securely place the lid to avoid leaks and spills.
2. Place the metal insert (with lid still on) into the crock pot.
3. Plug it in- food is warm within 1-1.5 hours
You can tell the power is on by the orange light

What makes this EVEN BETTER is that you don't need to bring home the entire crock pot home daily. Just remove the metal insert and lid, and bring that home with you. Wash it, refill it with food, and then place it back in the crock pot the next day! (I just leave my crock pot at work.)

  • Use already cooked meat (no cooking raw meat here)
  • The lid on the inner container usually pops off after 10 minutes of warming. The instructions did note this might happen and to not try to put the lid back on.
  • The food container's push-down / pull-up lid does not provide a really tight cover, so when you're transporting foods with liquids or sauces, make sure you keep the container in a secure, upright position (I forgot about this, and my chicken stew leaked all over my backpack- yuck)
  • You can buy extra removable metal inserts from Crockpot's website for $5- perfect since I foresee myself using this daily during the winter/cold months and don't want to rewash it it nightly
  • This is a WARMER (not a cooker)
  • Warms up food in 1.5 hours
  • Keep the warming base at work; bring the bowl/lid home (less to carry)
  • Compact, light
  • No smell from the food (perfect for cubicles/desks in proximity to others)
  • Inner bowl gets cool quickly- I keep it plugged in until I'm ready to eat. Once I'm done eating, the inner metal bowl is cool enough for me to touch
  • No work microwave!
  • Healthier and saves money
  • Don't need to add liquid!
  • Short cord
  • Need to remember to plug it
  • Need to remember to unplug it (no timer/auto-shut off feature)
I bought mine at Target for $20, but you can also buy it on Amazon for $20. (Here is a PDF of instructions.)

I hope you love this as much as I have!
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