Sunday, January 31, 2010

Sunday Suppers - The Best Laid Plans...

I had my Sunday Supper all planned out this week. I decided I'd try a new recipe for beef stroganoff. I got my dry aged beef, made my noodles and had everything simmering away on the stove. Then I got to the last step where you add the sour cream and.... crud! separating cream in hot beef sauce. Not pretty. OK, I thought, maybe it will still taste good. Well, the sauce was good. But the beef was tough. This was not the application for that particular cut of beef (I used stew beef; next time I think I'd go with tenderloin). Or, it needed to cook much, much longer (all day in the crockpot?). But, it was a little too late for that.

So, Mr. ValleyWriter and I basically ate sauce (with broken sour cream, i.e. white flecks) and noodles for dinner tonight. *Wahn wahn* A little disappointing... but into everyone's kitchen a little disaster must fall, I suppose. Right? Make me feel better here, people! *wink*

I think we'll be heading out to La Fiorentina tonight for dessert, which makes everything better. Hopefully next week's supper will turn out better!

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Easy Chicken & Broccoli Casserole

In sharp contrast to Sunday Suppers, which can take several hours to put together from start to finish, one of my requirements for weeknight dinners is that they be fairly quick and easy. My preference is to get dinner done within an hour - less than that is even better.

This is especially true in the winter months. Right now it's pitch black by the time I get home, which really saps my energy. After I get done with dinner, I want to curl up for an hour or two with a book (or maybe some Food Network) and then get to bed at a fairly early hour. I've been in a phase the last few weeks where I need a crazy 9-10 hours of sleep to actually feel rested (RA-related, I suspect; fatigue can be a real bugger!).

This chicken & broccoli casserole just makes the under 1 hour time limit. For your efforts, you'll get a creamy casserole chock full of veggies and topped with stuffing. Perfect for a cold winter's eve.

Chicken & Broccoli Casserole
(Serves 3)

8 oz. boneless skinless chicken breast
1 tsp. olive oil
1/2 tsp. dried sage
salt, pepper to taste
2 heads broccoli, chopped
1 can low-fat/low-sodium cream of chicken soup
4 Tbsp. Dijon mustard
3/4 c. stuffing mix
1/2 c. water
1 Tbsp. butter, melted

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
Chop chicken breast into bite-sized pieces. Heat olive oil in a saute pan over medium heat. Place chicken in pan, sprinkle with sage and salt and pepper. Cook 5-6 minutes until no longer pink the center.
Meanwhile, steam chopped broccoli until tender crisp.
In a small bowl, combine cream of chicken soup and mustard.
In a separate bowl, combine stuffing mix, water and melted butter.
Once chicken is cooked, transfer into the bottom of an 8x8 casserole dish. Layer steamed broccoli on top. Spread soup mixture over broccoli and top with stuffing.
Bake, uncovered, for 30 minutes.

Enjoy! (And then curl up with a good book. Tonight's reading: An Omnivore's Dilemma, by Michael Pollan. Hey - never said it was "light" reading.)

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Sunday Suppers - Lemon Pepper Pasta Primavera

Sunday Suppers are back! On tonight's menu (drum roll please.........) fresh pasta!! I love, love, love fresh pasta. And it really is pretty simple to make. But it's messy. And it takes a while. So - it does end up being a special meal for us. Hence, it's perfect for Sundays!

I've never made flavored pasta before, but I've been toying with idea for a while. Searching the fridge and cupboards today, I decided to do a lemon pepper linguine. It turned out really nice, with the lemon flavor coming through very subtly and just adding a bit of brightness to the dish. I kept it simple by tossing it with a sauce of diced tomatoes, artichoke hearts, olive oil and shredded goat cheese. It was a fresh, bright dish that really hit the spot on this dreary day.

Lemon Pepper Pasta Primavera
(Serves 4 hungry bellies)

2 1/4 c. all-purpose flour
2 whole eggs
1 egg yolk
2 Tbsp. plus 1 tsp. lemon juice
1 tsp. lemon pepper seasoning

3 Tbsp. olive oil
1 clove garlic, minced
1 14-oz. can diced tomatoes with basil, oregano and garlic (undrained)
1 6-oz. jar marinated artichoke hearts, drained & rough chopped
1/3-1/2 c. shredded drunken goat cheese (you could also use parmesan or any other semi-hard to hard cheese you have on hand)

Place flour in a large bowl and make a well in the middle. Put 2 eggs and 1 egg white into center of well. Add lemon juice and lemon pepper seasoning. With a fork, beat eggs and lemon together. Slowly start to pull flour into the egg mixture from the sides of bowl. Continue pulling flour into egg until mixture is too stiff to mix with the fork anymore.

Pour out dough onto a cutting board and knead with hands to further combine ingredients. If dough is too dry, add a small splash water and continue to knead, adding a little more as needed to get dough to come together. (Alternatively, if dough is too sticky, add a small amount of flour at a time.) Continue kneading 5-10 minutes until dough is consistent in color and texture. Cover dough with a wet kitchen towel and let rest 15 minutes.

When ready to roll out, pull 1/4 of the dough off at a time and run through pasta maker until pasta reaches desired thickness. (I usually go to the 2nd thinnest setting for cut pasta like this.)
Set sheets of pasta on floured surface and let dry about 20 minutes.

Put linguine attachment on pasta machine. After sheets have dried for 20 minutes, run them through the cutting attachment one at a time and hang up cut pasta to dry. Repeat with all sheets.

(I used a clothes drying rack - wiped down first, of course - for drying. The back of a chair will also work.)

Let linguine ribbons dry about an hour. (This keeps the noodles from disintegrating and/or sticking together too much when you cook them. Trust me. Experience talking here!)

After an hour, bring a large pot of water with a few pinches of sea salt added to boil. While waiting for it to come to a boil, start making the sauce. Heat olive oil in a skillet over medium heat. Add minced garlic and cook just until fragrant. Add tomatoes and artichokes. Reduce heat to low, cover and let simmer.

When pasta water boils, add all of the pasta noodles. Boil 4-5 minutes until pasta floats and is firm to the bite. Drain pasta and add to sauce. Toss to mix.

Plate pasta and sprinkle with 1/4 of the shredded cheese. Enjoy!

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Weekend in Vermont - Part 2

Having learned our lesson Thursday night, we fiesta'd a little more responsibly on Friday night and woke up Saturday ready to get outside and enjoy the snow. It was actually a fairly mild weekend - temps were in the high 30s. A couple of friends had scoped out the sledding scene and found a huge hill open to the public behind the local middle school.

So into town we jaunted to find some sleds. We ended up going to Shaw's General Store and procuring a simple black 2-seater. Well, when we got to the hill, we almost instantly regretted our decision. This was a mega sledding hill -super steep and since we'd had some mild weather, the snow had been packed down and was slick. Just as an example, here's one of our friends cruising down the hill by himself at about Mach 1:

The weight of 2 people bombing down the hill was sure to make for an even more harrowing ride. But, we had bought the sled and we were here (and we're a little on the nutty side) - so we were going! Off we went, me in the front, Mr. ValleyWriter in the back. We hit some serious bumps and caught a little air and I was grinning the whole time.

I was so giddy that by the time we made it to the bottom, I was on my feet in an instant running back up the hill. Mr. ValleyWriter stayed at the bottom. I figured he just wasn't up for the climb. Turns out (I discovered later), he'd hit his head on one of the bumps on the way down and "got a free planetarium show." Oops. Bad wife. Bad, bad wife.

In repentance for my bad wifely behavior, I treated Mr. ValleyWriter to a visit to Ben & Jerry's. (OK - so our ride was going there anyway - but I did buy the ice cream!)

I was totally psyched when I convinced everyone to go in on the Vermonster. For those of you who have never heard of the Vermonster - it's a bucket of Ben & Jerry's goodness. Seriously - it's a big plastic bucket filled with 20 scoops of B&J's ice cream (in your choice of flavors), hot fudge, caramel, 3 cookies, a brownie, 4 bananas, a few scoops of walnuts, whipped cream and sprinkles:

(Oh - and a side of Lactaid for me! I bet they'd make a killing if they starting selling that along with the ice cream. Good thing I was prepared!)

They say it serves 4-6, but we figured we'd "spread" it across 8:

Even with hearty, hungry eaters - we didn't quite finish it all. But it was tons of fun trying!

For the icing on the cake to a wonderful weekend that last night, we had a "groovy" 70s party. So I leave you with my best rendition of a 70s Disco Queen:

It was an awesome weekend with awesome people - an experience I'll never forget! (Three days later and I'm still sashaying around the house singing "Dancing Queen"!)

Monday, January 18, 2010

Weekend in Vermont - Part 1

There's no "Sunday Suppers" post this week because Mr. ValleyWriter and I were away for the weekend up in Vermont. So instead, I'll tell you all about our trip!

We left Thursday afternoon for Stowe, VT. We were staying in a big lodge with a bunch of friends and friends-of-friends - about 50 of us in all! Each night we got together as a group for dinner at the lodge, followed by a "theme" party. It was kind of like summer camp for adults (except with snow... it is winter time in VT after all). During the day, we went off on our own or in small groups to explore the area attractions. The most well known attraction is, of course, Stowe Mountain Ski Resort - but being non-skiers, Mr. ValleyWriter and I went exploring some lesser-known ones.

Thursday was just the arrival night, followed by a "woo-hoo, we don't have to work for 4 days" party. Some people may or may not have had a few too many adult beverages... Suffice it to say, we decided Friday needed to be a fairly quiet day not requiring too much exertion.
So, we set off to visit the Trapp Family Lodge, the former home of the famous "Sound of Music" Von Trapp family. After they left their native Austria and toured Europe singing as a family, they settled on a hilltop farm in Stowe, VT. Over the years the lodge has been expanded and today serves as a luxury ski lodge, recreation area and restaurant. It is still run by members of the Von Trapp family.

We had lunch here in the Tavern and poked around a little. Unfortunately, we had missed the scheduled tour that day, but it was still neat to read the plaques on the walls and check out the luxury diggs.

We continued on that day to annex stores for Lake Champlain Chocolates and Cabot Creamery, in Waterbury, VT. I was a happy camper! Can you tell?

At Lake Champlain Chocolates, I had an absolutely divine cup of hot chocolate made with Tanzania 75% cocoa dark chocolate. After that, I certainly didn't need any other chocolate - but I got some for later anyway! I picked up some factory seconds at a good price - $18/pound (instead of the usual $32-ish). They were smooth and creamy, with only minor imperfections in their appearance. But hey, that was perfectly fine with me - it's not like they were around long for me to look at them with any scrutiny!

At the Cabot Creamery store, we got to try all kinds of their cheese and learn a little bit about the cheese making process. (Did you know cheddar cheese is lactose-free? Woo Hoo! is all I have to say about that!) We ended up buying some of their private stock cheddar cheese, which is dense, creamy and flavorful (thanks to the 16-month aging). I've never seen the private stock at my local grocer - but if you find it near you - BUY it! You won't be sorry!

Tune back in tomorrow for installment #2 to hear about the rest of our Vermont adventures!

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Sunday Suppers - Chili Con Carne & Sweet Cornbread

It's the second installment of Sunday Suppers. I'm still fighting off that cold - plus the cold outside (the mercury currently reads a balmy 12 degrees) - so today we definitely need something warm and hearty. Fortunately, I did manage to make it to the co-op this week, so we had some of the amazing dry aged beef I've mentioned before in the fridge. Need heat + got beef = chili con carne!

Now, before you say - big deal, it's just chili. No, no, no my friend. It is not "just chili." There is something about this beef that sends it over the edge. And the moist, dense cornbread that goes with it is just scrumptious. You will never want to go back to standard ground beef/turkey chili again. Trust me. Even my frugal fanny will gladly pay twice as much for this amazing beef than for regular ground beef/turkey.

So, on to the show.

Chili Con Carne
1 Tbsp. olive oil
3/4 lb. dry aged stew beef, cut into 1/2"-sized pieces
2 cloves garlic
2 cans diced tomatoes with green chilis
1 can kidney beans, drained & rinsed
1/2 c. water
1 tsp. chili powder
1 tsp. blackening spice, plus extra
1/2 tsp. paprika
salt & pepper

In a large saucepan, heat oil over medium heat. Add beef and garlic. Sprinkle beef with salt, pepper and a few dashes of blackening spice. Cook until beef is browned.
Add tomatoes - liquid and all. Add drained kidney beans and water. Stir in chili powder, blackening powder and paprika.
Bring to a boil, then reduce heat to low and simmer 45 minutes - 1 hour until chili has reduced down and thickened.

Serve with...

Sweet Cornbread
1 c. cornmeal
1 1/3 c. milk
1/4 c. agave nectar
3/4 c. flour
1 1/2 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. salt
2 Tbsp. olive oil

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.
Grease an 8x8 pan.
Mix cornmeal and milk in a small bowl. Let sit 5 minutes. Add agave nectar.
In a larger bowl, mix flour, baking powder and salt. Stir in cornmeal/agave mixture and oil. Beat on low speed (or by hand) for 5 minutes.
Pour into prepared pan and bake for 30-35 minutes until toothpick inserted comes out clean.
Let rest 5 minutes before cutting.

(Sorry for no pics tonight. Chili may be yummy - but it ain't too pretty.... Or at least, taken with my point & shoot it ain't!)

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Chicken Parm - MY comfort food

I've been feeling a bit under the weather the last few days. Seems Mr. ValleyWriter's cold, which I'd managed to fend off for a whole week, has finally taken over my immune system. Sure, it's just a cold - but we all know how colds can knock you on your bottom.

When I got home the other night, all I wanted was a hot, comforting meal (with a shot of NyQuil for dessert!) I'd planned on baked chicken and veggies. Ehhh - not so much. What I really wanted was pasta. Ah ha! Chicken Parmesan. Yes, that'll do. This recipe is actually pretty simple. You could, of course, jazz it up - should you have the energy. But if you're just looking for an easy, comforting meal - this'll do the trick.

Easy Chicken Parmesan
(Serves 2)

2 boneless, skinless chicken breasts
1/2 c. panko bread crumbs
1/2 c. Parmesan cheese, divided
1 tsp. dried basil
1/2 tsp. dried oregano
2 cups of your favorite spaghetti sauce, divided
2 cups cooked spaghetti

Method:Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
Mix together bread crumbs, 1/4 c. Parmesan cheese, basil and oregano on a plate.
Flatten chicken breasts, then place on plate with bread crumbs. Turn over a few times to coat each piece well. Place on baking sheet and sprinkle with any remaining breadcrumbs left on plate.
Bake at 350 for 20 minutes. Spoon 1/4 c. spaghetti sauce on the top of each chicken breast and sprinkle with 1/2 of remaining Parmesan cheese. Continue baking another 10-15 minutes until cheese is melted and chicken is cooked through.
Mix the remaining sauce with the cooked spaghetti.
Serve chicken over spaghetti.

Sunday, January 3, 2010

Sunday Suppers - Dijon Pork Tenderloin

Many of us have our personal New Year's resolutions - and the 1st of the year is also a popular time for new blog features and concepts. I didn't make any blog resolutions or concept changes last year, but I've decided to bite this time. As I was thinking a few days ago about what to have for Sunday dinner, it occurred to me that was the perfect idea for a weekly feature. And so, my version of Sunday Suppers here at Adventures in the Pioneer Valley was born.

I've mentioned a few times in previous posts that big Sunday dinners have a special place in my heart. Growing up, it was the one day of the week the family was sure to be together. And my mother always put extra effort into cooking, as she finally had the time (weeknight dinners were quick & easy since she was a working mom and my brother & I actually ended up doing a lot of the cooking). Even today, Sunday supper is still a little extra special. I usually take a little more time preparing it and don't mind if it takes more than 2 pots to make. And Mr. ValleyWriter and I actually sit at the dining room table to eat it (I know, I know - eating on the couch is a terrible habit, but we do it!).

So what's on tap for our first Sunday Supper? Pork tenderloin with a Dijon sauce and green beans almondine. Simple, yet elegant, healthy, but still super yummy.

Dijon Pork Tenderloin


1 lb. pork tenderloin

For marinade:
3 Tbsp. Dijon mustard
2 Tbsp. honey
3 Tbsp. orange juice

For sauce:
3 Tbsp. Dijon mustard
2 Tbsp. orange juice
2-3 Tbsp. water

The night before dinner, mix marinade ingredients together in a large ziplock bag. Place tenderloin in the marinade and refrigerate overnight.

To cook, preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Heat a small amount of oil in a frying pan over medium heat. Pull the tenderloin out of the marinade and shake off any excess liquid. Sear the tenderloin on all sides by cooking for about 2 minutes and turning when meat lets go from the bottom of the pan easily. (If it sticks - let it cook longer.)

Place seared tenderloin in a baking dish and place in oven. Cook at 350 degrees for 30-40 minutes until pork reaches desired level of doneness. (I cook mine to about 155 degrees. This leaves it juicy and a little pink on the inside. Pink scares some people... so cook to 160 if you're one of those people.) Let the pork rest at least 5 minutes before cutting.

Meanwhile, combine sauce ingredients in a small saucepan. (Add just enough water to reach desired consistency.) Cook on low for 5 minutes until heated through.

Green Beans Almondine

1 lb. green beans, washed and trimmed
1 Tbsp. butter
2 Tbsp. slivered almonds

Steam green beans in about 1/2 c. water over medium heat until tender-crisp. (About 10-15 minutes.)

Drain beans and set aside. Add butter to saucepan over low heat and stir until melted. Add almonds and stir. Then add green beans and stir to coat. Serve immediately.

Friday, January 1, 2010

Starting the New Year in style...

Mr. ValleyWriter and I enjoyed a quiet New Year's Eve at home last night. After all of the hustle and bustle of Christmas just a few days ago, coupled with the fact that I had to work a full day on NYE (that's right folks - they didn't even let us out 5 minutes early! Can you believe it?!? That's just wrong!!) - I was just too tired to do much else other than watch movies and eat good food.

But this morning we started off the New Year with a little more style. It started simply enough - just some eggs, (turkey) bacon and an English muffin:

But then, we broke out some of our Christmas gifts - mimosa mixer & champagne:

And set the table in style:

(Yup - cloth napkins = style around these parts!)

We sat in the quiet of our kitchen, enjoying each others company and the view of the snow covered backyard. It was peaceful, romantic and sweet. All that I hope for over the next year.

We finished our breakfast off with dessert (really, why should dinner be the only recipient of dessert?) - a yummy egg nog creme brulee:

It was a delicious breakfast - one that I wish I could recreate every morning with my best friend, my love, my husband. I may not be able to do it every day, but my resolution for 2010 is to find more magic in everyday moments like this.

If your New Year's resolution is to eat more dessert (sounds like a good one to me!), check out the recipe for this egg nog creme brulee:

Egg Nog Creme Brulee
(Makes 4)

3 egg yolks
1 Tbsp. sugar
1 tsp. vanilla extract
1 1/4 c. egg nog

sugar for topping

Combine egg yolks, sugar and extract. Beat until creamy and thick (about 4-5 minutes).
In a small saucepan, heat egg nog until bubbles just start to form around the edges of the saucepan.
Slowly pour a little bit of egg nog into the yolk mixture, whisking constantly. Continue pouring a small amount at a time, continuing the whisk constantly. (Doing this slowly helps make sure you don't cook the egg yolks too quickly, causing them to separate.)
Let this custard mixture sit while you preheat the oven to 375 degrees and boil a kettle full of water.
Place 4 ramekins in a baking dish.
Now go back to your custard. Skim off any foam left on the top from whisking and discard.
Pour the remaining mixture evenly into each of the 4 ramekins and place in the oven.
Pour the water you boiled into the baking dish so it comes 1/2 way up the sides of the ramekins.
Bake 15-25 minutes until custard is just barely jiggly in the middle.
Carefully remove the ramekins from the hot water, let cool and then refrigerate for at least 4 hours.
Before serving, sprinkle 1-2 tsp. of sugar over the top of each custard. Torch lightly with a butane torch, just until sugar browns. Let sit a minute or two before serving so sugar hardens into a nice crisp crust.