Ribs with Mac and Cheese

Ribs with Mac and Cheese

Yesterday I made some “barbecue” ribs for Paula and I. Since it was so cold, I just used our simple oven method. I spread barbecue sauce all over the ribs and then wrapped them in aluminum foil. I cooked them in the oven at 325 degrees for 3-4 hours. At that point, I took them out of the oven, opened the foil, added some more barbecue sauce and put them back in the oven for another 15-20 minutes. Then I just had to cut up the ribs and they were ready to eat.

I also made the simple macaroni and cheese recipe that I have started to use when I needed my mac and cheese fix quickly. This recipe came from Cooks Illustrated and produces a nice and creamy version with very little preparation. You can even cut it in half if you only want to make enough for two people, which is what I have been doing since it is just Paula and myself these days.

Paula just wanted canned green beans with the meal so that was our other side. I think that sometimes she just wants some of the food that she grew up with. That is fine. It made my meal preparation a little bit easier. Although I try to cook just enough food for the two of us, there were a few ribs left over. Paula brought them to work tonight to eat on her break.

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Comforting Soup for dinner

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It has remained extremely cold this week so I decided to make a soup for dinner tonight. It was a Beans and Greens Soup that I read about in the November issue of Cooking Light. The soup was very easy to make. The most preparation involved chopping up the pancetta and the kale. But then I just threw everything in the pot and cooked it. If you want to try this hearty soup, here is what you will need:

  • 2 tablespoons of extra-virgin olive oil
  • 2 ounces of diced pancetta
  • 5 minced garlic cloves
  • 1/2 teaspoon of freshly ground black pepper
  • 1/4 teaspoon of crushed red pepper
  • 1 large head of escarole, cored and roughly chopped (Note: I cannot get escarole here so I used kale instead.)
  • 1 (14.5-oz.) can cut Italian green beans, rinsed and drained
  • 2 (15-oz.) cans of cannellini beans, rinsed and drained
  • 3 cups of chicken stock
  • 2 tablespoons of chopped fresh basil
  • 1 teaspoon of red wine vinegar
  • 1 1/2 ounces Parmesan cheese, grated (about 1/3 cup)

Heat oil in a Dutch oven over medium. Add the pancetta and garlic. Cook, stirring often, until the pancetta is crisp and garlic is aromatic, about 5 minutes. Add the black pepper, red pepper, and escarole or kale. Cook, stirring often, until escarole or kale begins to wilt, about 5 minutes. Add the green beans, cannellini beans, chicken stock, and basil. Increase the heat to high and bring to a boil. Cover and reduce the heat to medium-low. Simmer for 1 hour. Stir in the vinegar and Parmesan cheese before serving.

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Dinner…before a movie

Paula was not working today. I made her dinner and then we braved the cold to see a movie. She had given me movie tickets as a Christmas gift and it seemed like a good time to use them (…before I forget that I have them!)

I tried several recipes for our dinner tonight. First, we had 1/2 pound of ground beef in the freezer so I made some hamburger steaks with onion gravy. I divided the beef into 2 equal portions, shaping each into a 1/2-inch-thick patty. Then I sprinkled the patties with 1/4 teaspoon salt and 1/4 teaspoon pepper. I heated 1 tablespoon of olive oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. I cooked the patties for 3 minutes on each side, basically until they were browned. Then I removed them from the pan and set aside.

Now it was time to make the gravy. I added 1 tablespoon of olive oil to the pan. Then I added 1 vertically sliced medium onion and sautéed for 3 minutes or until lightly browned and tender. I sprinkled the onion with 1 tablespoon of flour and cook for 30 seconds, stirring constantly. Then I added 1/2 cup of beef stock (or broth). I brought the mixture to a boil and returned the patties to the pan. I reduced the heat to medium-low and cooked for 5 minutes (partially covered), until gravy is slightly thickened.
For a side dish, I made oven fries. There was a recipe in the most recent Cooks Illustrated that made them sound quite tasty.  First I set the oven to 425 degrees and put the rack on the lowest position. I sprayed a baking sheet with nonstick cooking spray and poured 3 tablespoons of oil on the pan, tilting the sheet until the pan is evenly coated.
I halved 1 1/2 pounds of Yukon Gold potatoes lengthwise. I turned the halves cut sides down and cut the potatoes into 1/2-inch thick planks. Combine 3/4 cup of water and 3 tablespoons of corn starch in a large bowl, stirring to make sure that there are no lumps of cornstarch. Microwave at 20 second intervals until the corn starch mixture starts to thicken. This should take between 1 and 2 minutes. Stir until the mixture has a pudding-like texture. Add the cut potatoes to the bowl and toss until each plank is evenly coated.
Arrange the planks on the baking sheet. Cover the baking sheet tightly with aluminum foil and bake for 12 minutes. Remove the foil from the baking sheet and bake for another 10-12 minutes or until the bottom of the fries are golden brown. Remove the sheet from the oven and use a spatula to flip each fry. Return the sheet to the oven and bake another 10-12 minutes. Sprinkle the fries with some salt. Transfer the fries to a paper-towel lined plat before serving.
Finally, I made some Brussels sprout that I bought at the farmer’s market last week. I trimmed and halved the sprouts. Then I arranged them in a single layer, cut sides down, in a 12-inch skillet. I drizzled 3-4 tablespoons of olive oil evenly over the sprouts. I covered the skillet and placed it over medium-high heat and cooked until the sprouts started to brown, about 5 minutes. I uncovered the skillet and continued to cook until the cut sides were evenly browned. I moved them around in the pan if necessary to prevent overbrowning. While the sprouts were cooking, I combined 2 teaspoons of cider vinegar and 2 teaspoons of honey with a few red pepper flakes. When the sprouts were done, I removed the skillet from the heat and added the vinegar-honey mixture, stirring to coat evenly.
Paula and I enjoyed this meal. It was a little more preparation than we usually do for a meal. But since Paula was not working, we cooked it together and enjoyed spending time together in the kitchen. After the meal, we headed out to see the latest Star Wars movie. I guess that you could say that this was a “date night” of sorts. No matter, it was a most pleasant evening!

Dinner for a new year…

2018 arrived today and Paula returned to work. We have a number of things in the freezer so I am going to be pulling them out over the next few weeks so that we can enjoy those meals again.

Tonight I pulled out the chorizo cornbread stuffing that was leftover from Thanksgiving. I reheated it in the oven while I prepared the rest of the dinner.

Paula wanted cranberry sauce so I made the cran-orange compote that we had enjoyed last month. First I grated the zest from one orange. Then I squeezed the juice from the orange. (Note: I wanted 3/4 cup of juice and I ended up adding a little orange juice from the refrigerator to get the full volume.) Second, I combined 1 12-ounce bag of cranberries, 1/2 cup of sugar, 1/4 teaspoon of ground cinnamon, 1/4 teaspoon of ground nutmeg and 1 whole star anise in a saucepan along with the orange juice and orange zest.  I brought everything to a boil at medium-high heat and then lowered the heat and simmered for about 20 minutes. I let the mixture cool and removed the star anise.

We also had a large boneless chicken breast in the freezer so I made chicken piccata with the chicken breast. I cut the chicken breast in half crosswise, then cut the thick half in half again horizontally. I placed the cutlets between some plastic wrap and pounded gently until they were 1/2-inch thick. I put the cutlets in a bowl, tossed with some salt and pepper and set aside. Then I halved 1 lemon lengthwise. I trimmed the ends from 1 half and cut crosswise into 1/4-inch thick slices and set aside. I juiced the remaining half. I needed 2 tablespoons of juice. Now it was time to cook the cutlets. I spread some flour in a shallow dish. I dredged the cutlets in the flour, shaking off any excess. I placed each cutlet on a wire rack. I added 2 tablespoons of canola oil to a 12-inch skillet over medium-high heat. I placed the cutlets in the skillet, reduced the heat to medium and cooked until golden-brown on 1 side, which took about 2-3 minutes. I flipped and cooked the other side until it was also golden-brown. Then I returned the cutlets to the wire rack. Now it was time to make the sauce. I added 1 tablespoon of canola oil to the skillet along with 1 finely chopped shallot. I cooked the shallot until it was softened, which took 1-2 minutes. Then I added 1 minced garlic clove and cooked until fragrant, about 30 seconds. I added 1/2 cup of chicken broth, lemon juice and lemon slices to the pan and brought everything to a simmer, scraping up any browned bits. Finally I returned the cutlets to the pan and simmered them in the sauce for 3-4 minutes, flipping them after 2 minutes. I plated the cutlets. Then I added 1 tablespoon of capers and 1 tablespoon of butter and whisked everything together. I covered the cutlets with the sauce before I served it to Paula.

It was a tasty dish and in all honesty, it was not very difficult to make. I made the cranberry compote in the morning so that it could thicken in the afternoon. The preparation of the cutlets was not difficult and it did not take very long to cook them. I was good way to use up spruce up a meal with some leftover stuffing.

Pizza with a little twist tonight…

Paula and I enjoyed a homemade pizza on Friday night. I made the our usual pizza dough in the middle of the afternoon so that it could rise by the time that we were ready to eat. We had a 1/4 pound of ground pork leftover from our pasticcio preparation so I cooked it up in the frying pan. Since the meat didn’t have a lot of flavor, I added some barbecue rub to the meat as it was cooking. We also put cheddar cheese on the pizza instead of mozzarella. The cheddar also boosts the flavor and goes good with the pork. All in all, it was a good meal. We watched a film, The Zookeeper’s Wife, while we enjoyed our pizza!

New Year’s Eve dinner

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Paula did not work on New Year’s Eve for the first time in 10 years so I cooked dinner for the two of us tonight. The grocery store had lobster tails on special so I bought a few of them. Paula expressed a desire for some risotto.

I made her risotto with peas and cream and it was a good side dish to enjoy with the lobster tails. It was not very difficult to make the risotto and if you have never enjoyed this delicious dish, then you should try it. All you really need is arborio rice, which is not very difficult to find in most grocery stores these days.

I use the microwave to make my risotto and it very easy to prepare. First, finely dice one-half of a medium sized onion. Add the onion along with 1 tablespoon of butter and 1 tablespoon of olive oil in a 2 quart microwaveable bowl. Cook the onion for 2 minutes or until it is softened. Then add 1 cup of arborio rice and cook for another 2 minutes. Now you should add 1 cup of chicken broth, stir and cook for 8 minutes. After the time is up, remove the bowl from the microwave, stir and add another cup of chicken broth. Cook for another 8 minutes. While the rice is cooking, thaw out 1 cup of frozen peas. After the rice finishes cooking, add the peas, ½ cup of cream and several tablespoons of parmesan cheese. Stir to mix everything thoroughly.

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Paula and I also enjoyed a bottle of Prosecco with the dinner. After all, it was New Year’s Eve! The temperatures outside were diving well below freezing so we just stayed inside and spent a pleasant evening together. After dinner, we had cannolis that I bought at the store earlier in the day. We don’t usually have treats like that for dessert but it was the last day of 2017.

It has been a challenging year. Paula had surgery back in May, TJ moved out in September and then she lost her father in October. But we still have many blessings in our life together. We toasted those blessings before dinner and made a promise to each other that 2018 would provide even more happiness for the two of us. But no matter what, I am grateful every day that I have Paula as my wife. I count every day that we are married as a gift.

Beef Stroganoff

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Our Burmese girls came over this afternoon. I cooked dinner for them and chose to make beef stroganoff. I found a recipe in Cooks Illustrated and decided to try it for them. It was a little bit of work but since I was cooking the meal for some special friends, it was definitely worth the effort. I grew up with my mother making beef stroganoff with ground beef. This recipe called for using sirloin steak tips and I think that it added some extra flavor to the dish. If you want to try it – and it would make a good meal in the winter – here are the ingredients that you will need.

Ingredients: (to serve four people)

  • 1 1/4 pounds of sirloin steak tips, trimmed of excess fat
  • 2 teaspoons of soy sauce
  • 1 pound of white mushrooms, quartered
  • 2 teaspoons of hot water
  • 1 tablespoon of dry mustard
  • 1 teaspoon of sugar
  • Ground black pepper and kosher salt
  • 1 tablespoon of canola oil
  • 1 medium onion, chopped fine
  • 2 teaspoons of tomato paste
  • 4 teaspoons of all-purpose flour
  • 1/3 cup plus 1 tablespoon of dry white wine (or vermouth)
  • 1 1/2 cups of beef broth
  • 1/2 cup of sour cream
  • 1 tablespoon of chopped fresh parsley

Poke the pieces of steak tips with a fork several times. Place the pieces in a baking dish and make sure the soy sauce covers all the pieces. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for up to an hour.

While the meat marinates, place the mushrooms in a microwave-safe bowl and cover with plastic wrap. Microwave on high power until the mushrooms have decreased in volume by half. This should take about 4-5 minutes. Drain the mushrooms and set aside. Discard the liquid. Combine the water, dry mustard, sugar and 1/2 teaspoon of black pepper in a small bowl and mix to form a smooth paste. Then set aside.

Pat the the steak pieces dry with a few paper towels and season with the pepper. Heat the oil in a 12-inch skillet over medium-high heat until it is on the verge of smoking. Place the steak pieces in the skillet and cook until browned on all sides. Reduce the heat if necessary to avoid burning the fond. Transfer the meat to dish and set aside while you cook the sauce.

Add the mushrooms, onion and 1/2 teaspoon of salt to the skillet. Cook over medium-high heat until the vegetables begin to brown and dark bits form on the bottom of the pan. This should take about 7 minutes. Add the tomato paste and flour and cook, stirring constantly, until the onions and mushrooms are coated. Stir in 1/3 cup of the wine, beef broth and mustard paste. Bring to a simmer, scraping the bottom of the pan with a wooden spoon to loosen the browned bits. Reduce the heat to medium heat and cook until the sauce has reduced slightly and begun to thicken. This should take another 5 minutes.

After the sauce has thickened, stir the meat into the sauce and cook until the beef has warmed through. Remove the pan from the heat and let any bubbling subside. Stir in the sour cream and 1 tablespoon of wine. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Sprinkle with some chopped parsley before serving.

This dish is served with egg noodles. The thick sauce really sticks to the noodles and it was quite tasty. We had nothing leftover. I also roasted some cauliflower and broccoli as a side dish. They provided a nice compliment to the meat and sauce.

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