Cooking Red Pepper Mostaccioli

I’ve talked a lot lately about trying to find easy, cool meals to make when the weather gets super hot, like it seems to have been forever. I do my best, but I really like pasta and make it when I can. It was a little cooler when I made this one than the 90s it had been, but it was still hot. Anyway, this recipe from the sometimes dubious Betty Crocker’s Healthy New Choices cookbook (page 103) looked good and simple and turned out to be both, so it was a good choice.

All you’ve got to do is get the pasta water heating up and then throw a can of stewed tomatoes and a jar of roasted red peppers in the food processor. Once that was done, I put some oregano and a few teaspoons of capers right in the sauce. After that, I started cooking the garlic in some olive oil and then dumped in the contents of the food processor bowl. You let that simmer for 15 minutes, drain the penne and you are done.

The problem with this cookbook is that the flavors tend to be a little light which is funny considering herbs don’t cost any calories and should be used a lot more to add flavor. Still, it’s a good base for an easy recipe that doesn’t require you to necesarrily stand over a hot stove. You get things going and can walk away to watch some TV, drink a beer or make sure your one-year-old isn’t stuck under the bed.

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Cooking Without Power

Last weekend we lost power. I documented it pretty well over on my dad blog Pop Poppa, but figured a post specifically about cooking in the dark would be interesting and hopefully useful to some. As I mentioned over there, we’ve got a gas stove, which I highly recommend both as a preferred cooking method and as a necessary piece of equipment if you live in a place prone to power outages. As you probably know, an electric stove just won’t work when the power goes out, but as long as you’ve got matches, you can get a gas stove working meaning you can cook, but you can also boil pots of water to help warm your house!

We hadn’t planned for the power to be out. The first time I heard about the oncoming snow storm was Friday as my parents were coming in for a visit. We went out to eat on Friday and decided to get pizza for lunch on Saturday as the snow started to fall. As it happened, I had a plan to make soup from my Better Crocker Healthy New Choices cookbook. It’s called African Vegetable Stew (page 198) and comes loaded with vegetables, lentils and rice which made the meal very filling. The power went out around 5:00PM on Saturday while my wife was making what turned out to be gourmet quality caramel apples. We intended to take them to the Halloween party that wound up getting cancelled, but instead had them ourselves. While she did that, I cleaned the green beans and assembled the other ingredients. I had luckily taken most of the vegetables out of the fridge before we lost power, but did have to jump in for a few things (and grabbed beers while I was in there for good measure). The key to this meal working out was a head lamp that my inlaws got for my wife and I after they wound up using theirs after a particularly long, New England power outage. You wear it like a headband around your noggin, so it winds up casting a light wherever you’re looking. Even something like this that included a fair amount of chopping (onions, garlic, carrots, celery) went pretty easily thanks to a fair amount of prep ahead of time. The soup wound up tasting really good as well thanks to the ginger, cinnamon, turmeric and other spices. Saturday night I didn’t bother putting the soup pot in the fridge. For one thing, it had been opened a few times and probably wasn’t going to stay cool for long. Plus, the soup was still warm and I didn’t want to heat the appliance up. So, the next day, I just gave it a good boil and we had it for dinner again along with the leftover pizza. All in all, it worked out pretty well. Had we lost power for long, I’m sure we would have gone out to eat, but this one meal served us really well (plus, I had some for lunch on Monday and it was still good!).

Cooking Lemon-Pistachio Chicken & Broccoli

Unlike the Vegetable Stir-Fry I made the day before, I LOVED how the Lemon-Pistachio Chicken turned out from the same healthy Betty Crocker cookbook. The recipe was really basic (and can be found on page 242 of that book), but also turned out really tasty if you like lemon chicken. I started off shelling the pistachios. I probably should have gotten unsalted ones, but didn’t think about it. Besides, I really like salted pistachios, so I got to eat the rest of the bag. I gave the shelled nuts a chop, but wish I would have gone finer with it before toasting them. I’m slowly figuring out how to toast nuts and have realized an important step is removing whatever you’re toasting from the pan immediately so they don’t burn. I took them out and gave them another chop.

While the pistachios toasted, I zested two lemons and then squeezed the juice of both into the same bowl. The recipes suggested pounding the chicken out and then just cooking them right away in the pan, but I marinated them in the lemon juice, olive oil and lemon pepper (which we picked up from Marshall’s a while back). After that was in the fridge, I cut the broccoli off the stems and got the pot ready for steaming.

I got all this done ahead of time. With the chicken being pounded, I knew that it would cook pretty quickly, so I waited for a while to start actually cooking. When my wife was close to home, I fired up the burner, got my pan heated up, poured a bit of olive oil in there and then cooked those bad boys. It wound up being only a few minutes on either side. The recipe called for serving the juice from the marinade that also boiled in the pan along with the chicken, which I did, but only after letting it cook a little longer in the pan at a boil.

Serving was pretty simple. Basically you just put some of the juice–which wound up being a little too olive oily thanks to the extra I put in the marinade–on the chicken and then place the toasted pistachio bits on top. Good to go! I am a huge, huge fan of sour flavors, always have been, so this meal was completely in my wheel house. I didn’t measure how much lemon zest or juice I put in, but using two lemons wound up being just the right amount. The pistachios added a nice crunch, that sweet/salty flavor and a toasty flavor to the sourness, making for a nice balance. I will absolutely be cooking this meal again.

Cook Book Nook: Betty Crocker’s Healthy New Choices

I asked my wife if she remembered where our copy of Betty Crocker’s Healthy New Choices came from and she says she bought it. That’s the problem with having a crummy memory and also not paying much attention to cooking for so long, I have no idea where most of our cookbooks came from. I believe her though, she’s pretty darn smart. Anyway, after a week eating fried seafood, subs, ice cream, pizza and whatnot on vacation, I figured it would be a good idea to try a few healthy recipes out for last week.

Overall my endeavors–which I’ll be writing about the next few days–turned out pretty good, though I did notice that the recipes tend to be a little light on flavor and maybe not all the ratios have been perfected. Just because you’re keeping things light doesn’t mean you can’t throw in a few extra herbs or spices to take things to the next level, you know? Luckily, I’ve learned a few things here and there that helped, but I also took some notes that will hopefully help out next time I give them a whirl. Moving forward, I’d probably double some of the more flavorful elements of the dishes to make my mouth happier.

Cooking Vegetable Stir-Fry

After stuffing my face with seafood, Italian, subs, ice cream and my fair share of beer while on vacation, I figured it would make sense to eat a little lighter last week. With that in mind, I decided to give the recipe for Vegetarian Stir-Fry (page 184) a shot from my Betty Crocker Healthy New Choices cookbook. The recipe was pretty simple, so after I got my groceries dropped off from the store, I was all over this one.

Basically you chop a bunch of vegetables up (I went with onion, asparagus, cauliflower and zucchini), cook them on the stove top in a mixture of soy sauce, corn starch and apple juice until everything’s tender. Toss in some garbanzo beans and you’re good to go.

When I mixed the soy sauce/apple juice mix together I tasted it and it was great. I love soy sauce and the addition of apple juice was an interesting touch that tasted exactly like you would think those two flavors would taste together, if you’ve ever thought about that.

The problem, I think, was that it wasn’t enough sauce and the flavor didn’t really incorporate as well. If I make this one again, I’ll remember that. Like I said in the post I linked to above about this Betty Crocker book, sometimes the flavors don’t come out very strongly, which can be a bummer. The food wasn’t bad, but it wasn’t awesome either and I think it could have been. It could be as simple as adding more apple juice or soy sauce or going a little heavier on the sauce, but something can be done to really knock this one out of the park.