Castle? Casserole! Non, Cassoulet! ;-)

cassoulet fireplaceAs I’ve mentioned in a few of my previous posts, Operation Laundry Room (a renovation project of our laundry room) has been on a winding road due to having to replace our roof and my beloved’s accident when trimming a tree limb, which resulted in a compression fracture of his T12 vertebrae.

So to help us out, our eldest nephew and our dear son spent a Saturday doing such things as putting in insulation and completing wiring in the laundry room, repairing some steps outdoors, and a few other such tasks.

I, of course, would be feeding the crew, which would also include my mom, who has kindly been coming over and doing work in the plant beds that my beloved currently can’t do and that I don’t have the time or talent to do. :-)

I wanted to make something easy (minimal work from me so that I could go run any necessary errands for the guys or offer any other assistance), fuss-free, healthy, and plentiful so that the guys could eat as much as they wanted, but leftovers, if any, would be equally yummy.

Remembering that I had some smoked turkey sausage in my freezer (purchased on sale, of course!), I decided to bake up a batch of Easy Cassoulet.

If you don’t already know, Cassoulet is hearty, comforting French peasant dish. As Wikipedia tells us:

Cassoulet (French pronunciation: ​[ka.su.lɛ], from Occitan caçolet [kasuˈlet]) is a rich, slow-cooked casserole originating in the south of France, containing meat (typically pork sausagesgooseduck and sometimes mutton), pork skin (couennes) and white beans (haricots blancs).

The dish is named after its traditional cooking vessel, the cassole, a deep, round, earthenware pot with slanting sides.

In American restaurants, the term “cassoulet” is often applied to any hearty bean-based casserole, with innovations such as salmon cassoulet.

Now, I am the first to tell you that I have not yet eaten a genuine cassoulet. As with any dish, there are countless variations, but from what I can gather, cassoulet is generally white beans slow-cooked with a variety of meats and is often topped with a layer of bread crumbs.

This recipe for Easy Cassoulet, which is inspired from my Big Red Betty Crocker Cookbook, is definitely not authentic.

But it is a yummy, healthy, easy-to-make, truly one-dish meal.

A variety of beans — black beans, kidney beans, and white (Navy, Great Northern, Cannellini — whatever you can get) — adds a depth of flavor to make up for the lack of variety of meats. Using smoked turkey sausage (or reduced-fat smoked beef sausage) reduces the fat and calories.

TIP ABOUT THE BEANS: Draining and rinsing the beans not only reduces the sodium, but it also reduces the gas-producing impact that beans tend to have on folks. ;-)

Using the convenience of tinned beans and tinned tomato sauce, the only time-consuming part of this dish is prepping the vegetables and slicing the sausage.

Vegetarians: Substitute a vegetarian option, such as Soyrizo or vegetarian Italian sausage, for the turkey sausage!

This smells — and tastes! — so yummy, you’ll want to pour yourself a glass of wine and pretend you’re in France, listening to French country music and dancing. :-)

 

Easy Cassoulet (Serves 6 to 8)

  • 12 – 16 ounces Polish or smoked sausage, cut diagonally into 1/3″ or so pieces (I use smoked turkey sausage)
  • 1 can (15-16 ounces) great northern beans (white beans), rinsed and drained (I used reduced sodium)
  • 1 can (15-16 ounces) kidney beans, rinsed and drained
  • 1 can (15-16 ounces) black beans, rinsed & drained (I used reduced sodium)
  • 1 can (15 ounces) OR 2 (8 ounce) cans tomato sauce (I used no-salt-added sauce)
  • 3 medium carrots, thinly sliced
  • 2 small or 1 large onion(s), thinly sliced & separated into rings (I cut the onions in half, then into quarters, then slice)
  • 2 cloves garlic (or more or less, to taste), finely chopped or garlic powder
  • 1/2 cup dry red wine or beef broth
  • Fresh or dried thyme leaves to taste (the recipe calls for 1 1/2 teaspoons of dried or 2 tablespoons of fresh; I just grabbed some from my herb garden and sprinkled some in to taste)
  • Splash of Worcestershire sauce, if desired (Vegetarians: Leave out)
  1. Mix all ingredients in ungreased 3-quart casserole. Cover and bake 1 hour 15 minutes to 1 1/2 hours at 375F, until mixture is hot and bubbly and carrots are tender.

    Easy Cassoulet, Yummy from the Oven!

    Easy Cassoulet, Yummy from the Oven!

  2. Refrigerate or freeze leftovers.

 

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Oats and Taters, Taters and Oats

This past Saint Patrick’s Day, we enjoyed Corned Beef and Cabbage with Guinness! Guinness is good for you, don’t you know? ;-)

http://thatsmellsyummy.wordpress.com/2012/03/21/guinness-is-good-for-you/

But instead of making some delicious Irish Soda Bread

http://thatsmellsyummy.wordpress.com/2011/03/17/kiss-me-twice-im-irish/

I decided, instead, inspired by my copy of The Complete Irish Pub Cookbook, to make a loaf of Oat and Potato Bread. The combo of mashed potatoes, a bit of oats, and bread flour makes a beautiful loaf that tastes yummy warmed, with a bit of butter, and also makes yummily divine toast. :-) It’s a perfect accompaniment to almost any meat and potato or vegetable meal.

Bread flour differs from other flours in that it is higher in protein than all-purpose flour. The protein produces more gluten, which gives breads baked with it different structure and more volume than all-purpose flour would do. If a recipe calls specifically for bread flour (or for a combo of bread flour and all-purpose flour), that’s what you’ll want to use to assure the ideal texture.

I used red potatoes because that’s what I had on hand, but you can use any potato you would like for the mashed potato portion. I leave the skin on because 1) it’s easier and 2) the potato skin provides added nutrition. :-)

This smells so yummy as it bakes, you’ll be dancing an Irish jig!

Oat & Potato Bread (Makes 1 loaf)

  • Approximately 9 – 10 ounces of potatoes, scrubbed and cut into even chunks
  • 3 cups bread flour, plus more for kneading
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons salt
  • 3 tablespoons unsalted butter, diced
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons active dry yeast (NOTE: a packet of yeast contains 2 1/4 teaspoons)
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons firmly packed dark brown sugar
  • 3 tablespoons rolled oats (NOT instant!)
  • 1/2 to 3/4 cup milk (I used 1%) combined with 1/2 to 3/4 cup hot water (from tap)
  • TOPPING: Water (suggest a sprayer) and 1 tablespoon oats
  1. Place potatoes in saucepan, cover with water, and bring to a boil. Simmer until tender (20 to 25 minutes). Drain, mash until smooth. Let cool.
  2. In a warmed medium to large bowl, stir salt and 3 cups of flour together. Rub in butter with your fingertips OR with a pastry cutter or the dull edge of two knives. Stir in the yeast, brown sugar, and oats. Stir in the mashed potatoes the milk/water combination: Start off with 1/2 cup milk combined with 1/2 cup hot water; add in more as needed. Stir until you have a soft dough.
  3. Turn dough out onto a lightly floured surface (start off with about 2/3 cup flour; adding more as needed) and knead until dough is smooth and elastic. Put into a lightly oiled bowl (or spray bowl lightly with cooking spray), cover with plastic wrap, and let rise in a warm place for about 1 hour (it should be about doubled in size).
  4. Lightly oil (or spray with cooking spray) a 9″X5″ loaf pan. Invert dough onto a lightly floured surface; knead and shape into a loaf shape, then place into prepared pan. Cover lightly with a lint-free (non-terry) towel and let rise in a warm place for about 30 minutes. Meanwhile, preheat oven to 425F.
  5. Lightly spritz top of loaf with water (or lightly brush with water), sprinkle with a tablespoon of oats.
    Risen, Spritzed, Sprinkled, and Ready to Bake!

    Risen, Spritzed, Sprinkled, and Ready to Bake!

    Bake in preheated oven for 25 – 30 minutes, or until it sounds hollow when tapped. Transfer to a wire rack and let cool slightly. Serve warm. Makes absolutely divine toast, also.

Cooling on the Rack.

Cooling on the Rack.

Sláinte!

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Chaos Theory

As I mentioned in my last post, our house has been in chaos due to complications with Operation Laundry Room and my beloved’s tree-trimming accident, which left him with a compression fracture of the T12 vertebrae.

A double rod pendulum animation showing chaotic behavior.

A double rod pendulum animation showing chaotic behavior.

Prior to my beloved’s accident, we had a tentative date set to meet up with dear friend P, who lives in the D/FW area, and N, who was visiting from her home in France. Hubby has known P since junior high, and he’s known N since high school, when she attended his and P’s high school as an exchange student from France and she lived with P and her family.

However, in light of hubby’s accident, P called and said she and N would drive (from the D/FW area) out to our place to see us (they came Monday before last, 10-Mar-14), as hubby is not up for any sort of travel at the moment.

I warned them that the house was in chaos because of Operation Laundry Room, but they assured us it was fine.

Now, I could have obsessed over the chaos in the house — which I really had no control over — or I could focus on the joy and pleasure of having two dear friends visit.

I chose the latter.

The first things I put my mind to (after clearing the dining room table enough to permit us to use it by moving as much overflow from the laundry room to our son’s old room) were the menu and the table setting. I enjoy looking forward to and planning an event almost as much as the event itself!

I wanted a meal that would be easy — as in, I could do most of the prep ahead of time, with minimal work once our friends arrived — and that would, hopefully, be something a bit different for our friends to enjoy, but would also be healthy and yummy.

After spending happy time looking through my cookbooks and Googling, hubby and I decided upon the following menu:

Once our menu was set, I knew how to set the table. It doesn’t take much effort or time to set a festive table, and I enjoy making a table welcoming for any fun, festive, and/or special occasion. I set the table on Sunday afternoon — less last minute stress! — and picked the flowers, which grow wild on the embankment in front of our house and serve as the first harbingers that spring will come, on Monday morning.

A Table Setting Doesn't Have to be Complicated to be Festive!

A Table Setting Doesn’t Have to be Complicated to be Festive!

As you can see, I decided to use bowls for the salad instead of salad plates because I felt they would be more practical for the type of salad. P and N kindly brought the wine (hence the wine glasses), and N also brought a lovely bouquet of flowers.

We had a thoroughly enjoyable visit with our friends, and P, N, and I followed up lunch with a pasture walk to help build up our appetite for cookies. :-)

I was also quite pleased that the food went over well, and N even said she’d never had anything like it before. :-)

Their visit was proof that even in the midst of chaos, peace and joy can be found. :-)

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I Need Me Some Craic!

Céad míle fáilte! (A hundred thousand welcomes!)

Lá Fhéile Pádraig! (Happy Saint Patrick’s Day!)

Monday is Saint Patrick’s Day, and I don’t know about you, but I, for one, am in major need of some craic — and I plan on having some the whole day long! ;-)

If you don’t know what craic is, check out http://www.ireland-fun-facts.com/craic.html for an interesting and entertaining discussion by Elaine Walsh that expands on the following definition she provides:

First things first: It’s pronounced “crack.”

“Let’s go have some craic” is the youthful cry each Saturday evening the length and breadth of the Emerald Isle.

“The craic was ninety on the Isle of Man,” warbles Christy Moore in a well-known ditty (ninety = mighty).

“What is this craic and why is everybody having it or looking for it?” visitors to Ireland often ask with raised eyebrows (their tone suggesting that the entire Irish population should get to a detox clinic as soon as possible).

Craic is a Gaelic word, with no exact English translation. The closest you get is “fun.” There’s the expression “ceoil agus craic,” meaning “music and fun,” probably once used by locals to fortify themselves before heading off over an arduous mountain pass to the nearest ceili. Craic doesn’t appear in standard English dictionaries, but enter it as a search term on Google, and 42,500 listings come up. There’s obviously a lot of craic out there.

Put simply, having craic is having a good time or a laugh. However, due to an unfortunate similarity in pronunciation with a well-known and illegal narcotic substance, not everyone gets the right idea about it. Apocryphal stories abound of unlucky Irish travellers who have had their innocent search for craic misinterpreted. In one well-known example from Paris, two Irish lads saunter down the boulevard, musing out loud on what to do and good places to find some craic. Their plans for the evening are, somewhat naturellement, misunderstood by a nearby eavesdropping gendarme.

“Looking for ze crack, mais non,” cries the gendarme before slapping handcuffs on the unfortunate pair and whisking them off to the nearest Parisian police station where, needless to say, they do not encounter much craic that particular evening.

While I always enjoy looking for some reason to celebrate — grab every holiday you can, says I, and maybe even make up one or two when need be! ;-) — my life has been pretty stressful lately:

First, we learned our shingles were badly worn and so we were in need of a new roof. After investigating our options, we decided a tin roof would be the way to go — and given the extended warranty on colored tin roofs, we decided to go with a color.

So then, my beloved decided that before we had the roof put on, it would behoove us to do a long-put-off renovation to the laundry room (Operation Laundry Room), which, due to limited storage space (as hubby says, one really should describe our home as a bungalow ;-) LOL), would mean chaos in the rest of the house until Operation Laundry Room was done.

During the process of Op Laundry Room (which involves redoing the roof in that room), two new, but very small, leaks appeared with the new roof. :-/ The tin roof would repair this issue, so we were faced with spending more time and money in tracking down and repairing these small leaks, or halting Op Laundry Room until the tin roof was put on. *sigh*

So, chaos has continued.

Then, on the 27th of February, my beloved decided to cut down a tree limb that had been worrying him. I was assisting. Unfortunately, though, things did not go according to plan — the limb knocked the ladder away from my husband and he fell approximately 15 feet, give or take.

tango-face-surprise-md

After a call to 911, the paramedics determined he required a helicopter ride to the hospital. After a CATSCAN and an MRI, the determination was a compression fracture of his T12 vertebrae.

As Wikipedia tells us:vertebrae

There are normally 33 vertebrae in humans, including the five that are fused to form the sacrum (the others are separated by intervertebral discs) and the four coccygeal bones that form the tailbone.

The upper three regions comprise the remaining 24, and are grouped under the the following names:

  • Cervical: 7 vertebrae, designated C1 through C7 in order from closest to the skull to furthest from it; the vertebrae of the neck
  • Thoracic: the next 12 vertebrae, designated T1 or Th1 through T12 or Th12; the vertebrae of the rib cage and chest
  • Lumbar: the last 5 individual vertebrae, designated L1 through L5, the vertebrae of the lower back above the pelvis

After 3 nights in the hospital — two in the Trauma ICU — my beloved was sent home with a back brace, which he will likely have to wear for 8 to 12 weeks (2 or 3 months), give or take. His activity must be limited, of course, while his spine heals, and things have been hectic for me as I work to look after him, do my chores as well as his, and keep our business going.

We did get our new roof installed this past Wednesday and Thursday (Polar roof with Charcoal trim),  so we do have that item ticked off our list, and now that he’s home, my beloved is expressing an incredibly upbeat attitude and is, overall, doing quite well! :-)

Let's Raise Da Roof! ;-) New Polar Tin Roof with Charcoal Trim

Let’s Raise Da Roof! ;-) New Polar Tin Roof with Charcoal Trim

So we’re looking forward to a craic-filled day on Monday! How will you be celebrating?

You could have Irish Buttermilk Pancakes for breakfast:
http://thatsmellsyummy.wordpress.com/2013/01/06/is-your-irish-showing/

And for lunch, maybe do a Pub Lunch with some Cream of Cauliflower Soup with Crab (Vegetarians — just leave out the crab!): http://thatsmellsyummy.wordpress.com/2012/03/20/meet-me-at-the-pub/

And, of course, there is always delicious Fish and Chips:
 http://thatsmellsyummy.wordpress.com/2011/07/08/hey-is-that-a-chip-on-your-shoulder/

Here in the U.S., we often like to celebrate with Corned Beef and Cabbage:
 http://thatsmellsyummy.wordpress.com/2011/03/16/kiss-me-im-irish/

Which I have learned is even yummier if you cook Corned Beef and Cabbage with Guinness!:
http://thatsmellsyummy.wordpress.com/2012/03/21/guinness-is-good-for-you/

Irish Soda Bread makes a yummy accompaniment:
http://thatsmellsyummy.wordpress.com/2011/03/17/kiss-me-twice-im-irish/

And if you want a green but sugar-free dessert, whip up a  Triple Layer Pistachio Pie:
 http://thatsmellsyummy.wordpress.com/2011/03/18/kiss-me-thrice-im-irish/

However you commemorate Saint Patrick’s Day, I wish you a craic-filled day!

Now that my beloved is home and recovering, I can deal with the chaos, Operation Laundry Room, and everything else — yes, it’s stressful sometimes, but I’m so thankful to have him home.

Sláinte!

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You Can’t Fool Mother Nature…

Actress Lillian Gish in a Chiffon and Lace Dress

Lillian Gish in a Chiffon & Lace Dress

or can you?

Do any of you remember those commercials for Chiffon margarine? “If you think it’s butter, but it’s not, it’s Chiffon.”

Chiffon margarine was touted as being so tasty, that even Mother Nature could be fooled by it:

One fine day a few weeks ago, I had a hankering to bake a cake. But baking a cake without sugar — or with very little sugar — can be quite a challenge. You see, while sugar doesn’t provide significantly much in the way of nutrients, it does add to the tenderness and moistness of baked goods…which can make no-sugar or low-sugar baking a challenge.

I got to thinking that my most successful (as in yummy flavor and texture) sugar-free or low-sugar baked goods thus far have been Pumpkin Cake, Carrot Cake, and a brownie recipe I sometimes make that calls for separating the eggs and melting chocolate with (no-sugar-added) apricot preserves. In Pumpkin Cake, the pumpkin helps keep the cake moist and tender. In Carrot Cake, it’s the carrots and applesauce that help keep the cake moist and tender. And for the brownies, it’s separating the eggs and whipping up the whites that help give the brownies volume and tenderness.

Hmm.

Looking for inspiration, I started Googling and looking through my cookbooks, and after some bit of thought, I decided to try making a Lemon Chiffon Cake. A cross between a more traditional batter cake and an angel food cake, as Wikipedia tells us:

The chiffon cake was invented in 1927 by Harry Baker, a California insurance salesman turned caterer. Baker kept the recipe secret for 20 years until he sold it to General Mills. At this point the name was changed to “chiffon cake” and a set of 14 recipes and variations was released to the public in a Betty Crocker pamphlet published in 1948.

The high oil and egg content creates a very moist cake, and as oil is liquid even at cooler temperatures, chiffon cakes do not tend to harden or dry out as traditional butter cakes might. This makes them better-suited than many cakes to filling or frosting with ingredients that need to be refrigerated or frozen, such as pastry cream or ice cream. Chiffon cakes tend to be lower in saturated fat than butter cakes, potentially making them healthier than their butter-heavy counterparts. The lack of butter, however, means that chiffon cakes lack much of the rich flavor of butter cakes, and hence they are typically served accompanied with flavorful sauces or other accompaniments, such as chocolate or fruit fillings. Lemon chiffon cake may included the juice and zest of lemons.

I had some lemons on hand, and so using other recipes for Chiffon cake that I found as inspiration, I decided to see if I couldn’t fashion a Lemon Chiffon Cake that, while not completely sugar free, would be so reduced in sugars that it wouldn’t wreak havoc with my blood sugar levels.

And peoples, let me tell you — it was YUMMY!

A few tips and tools that will make baking this cake much easier:

  • Egg Separator: It will make separating eggs be less of a chore. Be sure and separate your eggs in one dish — I hook my egg separator to a mug — and then put the separate yolks and whites into their own bowls as you go. Trust me on this: if you don’t separate your eggs in their own container, you will get down to the last egg or next to the last egg, and then your yolk will break and will contaminate all your egg whites.
  • Microplane or Zester Tool: While you can certainly zest a lemon with a knife or fine grater, it’s MUCH easier and faster with a Microplane or similar zesting tool.
  • Angel Food Pan: Chiffon cakes bake in an angel food tube pan.
  • Working with Egg Whites: To ensure the whites beat up fluffy and firm, you must make sure that absolutely NO oil, grease, or any other kind of fat comes into contact with the whites. Toward this end, make sure that your hands and mixer beaters are scrupulously clean. Use a glass or stainless steel bowl for the egg whites (even a thoroughly cleaned plastic bowl could still contain traces of oils and fats).

Separating the eggs takes some time, but I felt like puttering about in the kitchen that day. I just turned on something fun on TV and went to separating. :-) And, the cake tastes SO yummy, I promise you, it’s worth it!

I hope that one fine day, you’ll decide to give my Lemon Chiffon Cake a try. :-) I promise you, it smells and tastes so yummy, you’ll be doo-wopping in your kitchen ;-)

(Almost Sugar-Free) Lemon Chiffon Cake (Makes 12 to 16 generous servings)

For the Cake:

  • 2 cups all purpose flour (or 2 1/4 cups cake flour)
  • 1/3 cup granulated white sugar
  • 2/3 cup PLUS 1/2 cup Splenda Granular (or other favorite artificial sweetener that measures cup for cup like sugar)
  • 3 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • Juice from one lemon (approximately 2 – 3 tablespoons) PLUS enough cold water to equal 3/4 cup
  • 1/2 cup vegetable oil (I used Canola)
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla
  • Grated zest (peel) of one medium to large lemon (approximately a tablespoon)
  • 7 eggs, separated (suggest extra large or jumbo eggs)
  • 1/2 teaspoon cream of tartar

For Lemon Glaze:

  • 2 cups Splenda Granular (or other favorite artificial sweetener that measures cup for cup like sugar)
  • 5 to 6 tablespoons cornstarch
  • Zest of one medium to large lemon
  • 1 tablespoon butter, melted
  • Juice from one lemon
  • Additional lemon juice and/or water as needed for desired consistency
  1. Move oven rack to lowest or next to lowest position (needs to be in the bottom 1/3 of your oven). Preheat oven to 325F.
  2. Carefully separate eggs, with whites in a medium to large bowl and yolks in a medium to large bowl. NOTE: Eggs will separate easiest when cold, but will whip up with the most volume once they’ve lost the chill from the ‘fridge. Also see tips above about working with egg whites.
  3. Beat egg yolks at medium to medium high speed of electric mixer until they’re thick and lemon-colored.
Beaten Egg Yolk

Egg Yolks Beaten into Submission

4. With mixer on low (below medium) speed, mix in baking powder, salt, vanilla, lemon zest, and oil. Mix in sugar and Splenda. Mix in flour and lemon juice-water mixture.

5. Add cream of tarter to egg whites. With a clean set of beaters, whip egg whites at high speed until fluffy and stiff peaks form.

Egg whites whipped to a frenzy!

Egg Whites Whipped to a Frenzy!

6. Gradually and carefully fold egg yolk batter mixture into the beaten egg whites. Stir mixture in gently and in only one direction — this helps maintain the airiness of the egg whites.

Yolk Batter Folded into Whipped Egg Whites

Yolk Batter Folded into Whipped Egg Whites

7. Pour into an ungreased angel food (tube) cake pan.

Ready for the oven

Ready for the Oven

8. Bake for about 1 hour and 15 mintues, or until top springs back when touched lightly. (I turned my oven off for the last 5 or 10 minutes of baking.) Immediately turn pan upside down on a heatproof funnel or bottle. Let hang until cake is COMPLETELY cool — about two hours.

Just hanging around, being cool ;-)

Just hanging around, being cool ;-)

9. Loosen the side of the cake with a knife or long metal spatula and remove from pan. Invert the cake onto a plate or platter. (As with an angel food cake, the “top” of the cake actually becomes the “bottom” of the cake.)

Let there be cake!

Let there be cake!

10. To prepare glaze: In a blender or small food processor, whiz together Splenda and cornstarch until it forms a fine powder. Place in small to medium-sized bowl. Stir in melted butter and lemon zest. Stir in lemon juice from zested lemon. Add in additional water and/or lemon juice, a teaspoon to a tablespoon at a time, until glaze reaches desired consistency. Spread over top of cake, allowing it to drizzle down the sides.

Lemon Chiffon Cake in a Glaze of Glory ;-)

Lemon Chiffon Cake in a Glaze of Glory ;-)

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Posted in Cake, Dessert | Tagged , , , | 1 Comment

Says You? Says Me!

Chinese HorseSzechuan! ;-)

January 31, 2014 marked the start of the Chinese Year of the Horse. To celebrate, I prepared a variety of Chinese-inspired dishes. Inspired by one of my small Chinese Favorites cooking magazine, I decided to try my take on Szechuan Chicken Tenders.

Szechuan food is typically spicy, and as Wikipedia tells us:

The Sichuanese are proud of their cuisine, known as one of the Four Great Traditions of Chinese cuisine. The cuisine here is of “one dish, one shape, hundreds of dishes, hundreds of tastes,” as the saying goes, to describe its acclaimed diversity. The most prominent traits of Sichuanese cuisine are described by four words: spicy, hot, fresh and fragrant.

To be more authentic — and if you really like heat — you’ll want to add some Szechuan peppers to this dish. I don’t have ready access to Szechuan peppers, so I made mine without. However, I have recently learned that there is an Asian food market in Tyler, so I may venture there some time to see if they carry Szechuan peppers.

A friend was at our home for lunch on Chinese New Year’s, helping my husband with a home renovation project, and he was intrigued by and thoroughly enjoyed the variety of foods I served for our festive holiday luncheon:

  • Crab Rangoon - http://thatsmellsyummy.wordpress.com/2013/02/20/hows-about-a-hiss-hello/
  • Hot and Sour Soup (from a good quality mix)
  • Chicken and Vegetable Pot stickers (a good quality frozen brand)
  • Szechuan Chicken (recipe below)
  • Vegetable Egg Rolls (purchased from a store)
  • Green Tea

This dish is easy to prepare, you just need to allow your chicken time to marinate (I suggest overnight, but not more than 24 hours). This is so yummy, you’ll find yourself wishing you could hang Asian-style lanterns and celebrate in style!

Szechuan-Style Chicken Tenders (Serves 6 to 8 as a main; more as an appetizer; easy enough to scale up or down)

  • 4 tablespoons soy sauce (I used reduced sodium soy sauce)
  • 2 tablespoons chili sauce
  • 2 tablespoons cognac or brandy (I used Courvoisier)
  • Minced garlic to taste (a teaspoon or two)
  • Red pepper flakes to taste (I eyeballed it, I probably had a teaspoon or so)
  • Szechuan peppers (optional)
  • Sesame oil (preferred) or canola oil (tablespoon or two for cooking chicken)
  • 2 pounds chicken tenders (or cut boneless, skinless chicken breast into strips)
  1. In a gallon-sized plastic storage bag or non-reactive (glass or stainless) container, mix together the soy sauce, chili sauce, cognac or brandy, garlic, and red pepper flakes. Add in chicken. Marinate in refrigerator, stirring occasionally, for at least four hours, but preferably overnight. Do not marinate for more than 24 hours.
  2. Remove chicken from refrigerator about 30 to 45 minutes before cooking. (Meat that has lost its chill from the ‘fridge will brown better.)
  3. In a large non-stick skillet, heat just enough oil to coat the bottom of the pan over medium to medium-high heat. Add chicken and cook, preferably only turning once, until cooked through (anywhere from 6 to 12 minutes total, depending upon size and thickness of chicken strips).

    We says YUMMY! ;-)

    We says YUMMY! ;-)

  4. Optional: For added heat, heat some Szechuan peppers and toss with the cooked chicken. Peppers may be heated by baking them in the oven or over a low flame in a skillet for a few minutes.
  5. Refrigerate leftovers.

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Posted in Appetizer, Chicken, Main Dish | Tagged , , , , , | 2 Comments

Penne for Your Thoughts?

whole_wheat_penne,_cooked_and_uncookedLast week, I was casting about for something quick, easy, and a bit different for supper — and something that I could make with ingredients I had on hand, as I didn’t want to have to head out to the store.

That’s when I found inspiration from a recipe on a tin of Hunt’s Diced Tomatoes, no-salt-added, seasoned with Basil, Garlic, and Oregano. The recipe was for Spinach Walnut Penne. Me being me, I used this recipe as a springboard to create a dish better suited to our tastes and what we had on hand, and so I came up with Spinach and Walnut One-Pan Pasta.

The Hunt’s recipe calls for multi grain penne pasta.  I haven’t developed a taste for multi grain pasta. Also, alas, I didn’t have any penne pasta on hand. So I substituted elbow macaroni instead.

In lieu of the fresh spinach called for, I used a package of frozen spinach. I also added in some diced onion. If you have the time and would like, you can easily add in other vegetables, as well, such as minced carrot, diced celery, sliced mushrooms, sliced or diced zucchini, diced eggplant (be sure to lightly salt and drain the eggplant first!) — whatever floats your boat!

Toasting the walnuts before adding them to the dish gives an extra boost of flavor.

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This smells and tastes so yummy, you’ll find yourself singing “A penny for your thoughts!” as the dish simmers away. ;-)

Spinach and Walnut One-Pan Pasta (Serves 4)

  • 1/2 onion, diced (if desired, add in additional vegetables, as discussed above)
  • Minced garlic to taste (or use additional garlic powder)
  • 1 can (14 – 15 ounces) diced tomatoes, UNDRAINED (suggest no-salt-added; use seasoned tomatoes if desired)
  • 1 can (8 ounces) tomato sauce (suggest no-salt-added; use seasoned sauce if desired)
  • 8 ounces uncooked penne pasta or elbow macaroni
  • 1 package (10 ounces) frozen spinach
  • Approximately 2 or 3 teaspoons of vegetable bouillon AND 2 cups water (OR use 2 cups vegetable stock or broth)
  • Seasonings to taste: basil, Italian seasoning, oregano, red pepper flakes, and garlic powder
  • Splash of red wine (optional)
  • Splash of Worcestershire sauce (vegetarians: leave out)
  • Approximately 1/3 coarsely chopped walnuts (eye ball it!), toasted
  • Parmesan or other favorite cheese, grated or shredded, to taste (about 1/2 cup)
  1. Lightly spray or oil a large skilllet. Sauté diced onion until softened. (As noted above, you can also add in additional vegetables, as desired.) Add in minced garlic to taste, if using, and sauté for a minute or two. Deglaze pan with a splash of red wine, if desired.
  2. Add in undrained tomatoes, tomato sauce, water and vegetable bouillon (or vegetable broth or stock), and frozen spinach. Add Worcestershire (if using) and sprinkle in seasonings to taste. Bring to a boil.
  3. Stir in uncooked pasta. Reduce heat and cook, covered, stirring occasionally, until pasta is tender, about 1o to 12 minutes.
  4. Meanwhile, lightly toast walnuts. (You can toast walnuts either in a non-stick skillet over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until fragrant, or toast in the toaster oven or oven at 325F/350F, stirring occasionally, until fragrant. Watch nuts closely while toasting — they will burn in a flash!)
  5. Remove lid from skillet and stir. If sauce is a bit too thin for your tastes, simmer with the lid off for a few minutes to thicken it up.
  6. Sprinkle with cheese and toasted walnuts. Refrigerate leftovers.

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Posted in Main Dish, Pasta, Vegetarian/Meatless | Tagged , , , , , , , | Leave a comment