Penne With Vodka Sauce and Veggies

Featuring quick and easy food is becoming a way of life as I continue to clear brush hoping to finally create a clearing large enough for a house.  We did away with the last of the double-size garage brush pile last weekend…two more truck and trailer loads.

This weekend, I’m imposing on Aggie’s awesome hospitality while the blessed rain falls.  We really do need the rain, even though Swamp Nomstress, aka the front yard, will shortly reappear.  I will refrain from waxing poetic about the joys of slogging through shin deep mud while toting small trees and get on with the food.

In the interest of saving my sanity time, I used a jarred sauce, which was pretty good.  I’ll go ahead and include the recipe to make the Vodka sauce with actual vodka just in case you’re feeling like a glutton for punishment purist!

Beginning with the usual suspects, garlic and onion.  Chop and cook until tender.

Add some sliced mushrooms.

I used boneless, skinless chicken thighs.  Trimmed WELL.  Cut into about 1 inch pieces.

Stir together and brown.

When the chicken is browned, add the vodka sauce and a can or two of roasted diced tomatoes, drained.

Stir together well, and let simmer for at least 30 minutes.  Leave off the lid so it’s not too soupy!  Then, add zucchini, cut into half moon wedges.

Let the zucchini cook for about 15 minutes, until it’s just becoming a bit soft, and add the spinach and peas.

Wilt the spinach for another 10 – 15 minutes.  It cooks down quite a lot, and you’ll want to put the lid on at this point.

Uncover and stir well.

Serve over penne with some hot bread.  You’ll feel so warm and fuzzy, but you’re actually getting a lot of great veggies, too!

To make the homemade vodka sauce:

1/3 cup vodka

15 oz diced tomatoes

8 oz tomato sauce

1/8 tsp red pepper flakes

1/2 cup half and half

1/2 cup Parmesan cheese (shredded)

Combine over low heat and stir until cheese melts and all ingredients are incorporated.

Fat free half-and-half is still creamy and rich, but keeps down the fat content.

Canadian bacon is an alternative to the chicken, also lean but loaded with flavor.

Enjoy!

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Jalapeno Bacon Cheddar Stuffed Mushrooms

I promised food, and thankfully it rained again today.  I will admit I’m not really missing the little tree removal.  😛

Yesterday, I spent the entire day down at the courthouse, watching something akin to a bad reality show, with no hair pulling or name calling.  😦  It did, however, give me a renewed appreciation for my literate friends, who understand difficult words like “waive” and “deferred”.  In their defense, all of the defendants did seem to understand the word “jail”.

But onward to the food.  These are absolutely the best stuffed mushrooms I have evah made/eaten/salivated over!

The ingredeint list is actually pretty short.  I forgot to put the cream cheese in the picture.  😦

In a small bowl, combine 1/4 cup panko bread crumbs with 1-2 tbsp butter, until the bread crumbs are just moistened.

Heat the oven to 350F.

Carefully break the stems off 12-18 largish mushrooms.  I used Baby Bellas, as I think they have a better taste than white.  Set the stems aside as you’ll need them for the stuffing.  Place the caps on a baking sheet, lined to make your life easier!  😀

Fry 3-5 strips of bacon until crisp.  Chop the bacon into 1 inch pieces first.  I used Mrs. Wright’s Peppered Bacon, 5 strips, as we LOVE bacon.

When the bacon pieces are crispy, remove them to a paper towel to drain.

Dice the mushroom stems,  3 whole jalapenos (you can use less, but it’s really not that spicy!), 1/2 cup yellow onion, 2 cloves garlic, and saute in the bacon grease.  Depending on how much grease there is, you might want to pour some out.  I ended up pouring about 2/3 of the grease out, and there was plenty left to give the veggies a great bacon-y flavor.

Saute until the veggies and stems are softened, about 5 minutes.  Salt and pepper to taste.

While the veggies are softening, in a medium bowl, mix 1 cup shredded Cheddar cheese with 2-3 oz. cream cheese.  Use a fork and blend well.

Add the sauteed veggies and the bacon.  Crunch up the bacon if there are any largish pieces.

Mix the stuffing well.

Now, stuff as much of the filling into the de-stemmed mushroom caps as possible.  Heap it on!

Using your hands (because, really, it’s the only way), pat a pinch of the buttered breadcrumbs on the top of the stuffed mushrooms.

Bake for 20 minutes, or until the mushrooms are tender and the topping is golden brown.  Thank you panko and butter!

Eat.  Quickly if you want any!  😛  The entire batch disappeared in less than 15 minutes.  Then Hubby and Rat Boy plaintively asked if that was all!

They have no idea.

I made them again the next day.  I am a sucker for compliments.  🙂

Lamb, Balsamic & Sundried Tomato Meat Loaf

Yes, I said lamb.  And loaf.  In the same sentence.  Generally speaking, I try to disassociate myself from any meat entitled “loaf”.

It’s a personal thing.  Like refusing to eat in the cafeteria in high school because I couldn’t identify the meat at first glance.  Actually, you couldn’t generally identify it even after a close and detailed investigation!

This, however, is a loaf worth eating.  It is heavenly, and easy, and lamby.  Did I mention I just love lamb?   😀

This is not your mamma’s meatloaf!  Although I’m sure your Mom’s meatloaf is totally awesome, this one has LAMB!!!

Obviously, you’ll need some ground lamb.  🙂  I had a 1 pound package, but it would have been even better if I’d used 2 pounds.  More lamb to love!  😛

You’ll need 1 lemon for zesting, 2 large eggs, 2 tbsp balsamic vinegar, 1/2 cup rolled oats, 4 garlic cloves  thinly sliced, 2 large shallots, finely chopped, 1/2 cup sundried tomatoes chopped, and 1 tbsp fresh rosemary.

Preheat the oven to 375F.  Spray a large loaf pan (9 x 3 1/2) with non-stick spray.

In a large bowl, whisk together the eggs and vinegar.

Add the oats.

Then the tomatoes, shallots, garlic, rosemary and lemon zest.

Last, add the ground lamb.

Here is where you’ll want to put the camera down, as it is rather difficult to mix this all together using only one hand.

But I tried.

The hand is a little scary.

Dive in with both hands and mix until incorporated.

Transfer to the prepared loaf pan, and press into a loafy shape.

Bake 40 – 45 minutes.

For enhanced enjoyment, top with a drizzle of the balsamic vinegar.  Rat Boy doesn’t care much for balsamic vinegar.  Something about carrots and a horrid wonderful balsamic honey glaze I forced him to eat  made when he was about 7.  So I left it off.  🙂

More on the sour cream mashed potatoes tomorrow.  They are divine!

I think I might have died and gone to heaven.  Except the dishes are still dirty and the trash needs to go out.  Think I’ll just concentrate on eating for now!

Parmesan Chicken

It’s still cold outside.  Well, if you consider 50-something cold…  I’m a Gulf Coast dweller.  Stop judging me!  🙂

Rat Boy is always asking me to make this for him, and it’s so easy, I probably should more often.  But then he’d just be tired of it, and it wouldn’t be a treat then.

So, I had this chicken.  And I was wondering what I’d cook today.  So I decided to make Rat Boy happy.  🙂

Use boneless, skinless chicken breasts for this.  It keeps really well, and is good cold on a sandwich, or even by itself, so make plenty!

Butter a baking sheet (with sides) well.  Really well, as the butter will kind of fry the chicken to heavenly.

Slice teh breasts in half crosswise to make them thinner.

This is so much easier and less messy than pounding them thin.  🙂

You’ll need 2 small bowls, one for breadcrumbs (I used panko and they were awesome) mixed with Parmesan cheese…

and one for a beaten egg.  Using a shallow, wide bowl for the breadcrumbs works the best.

Dip the chicken pieces in the egg.

Then into the breadcrumb/cheese mix.  You can press it on to get a nice thick layer.

Your fingers will be goopy, but it’s really worth it!

Lay the chicken in the melted butter on the baking sheet.

Pat any remaining crumb mix onto the bald spots, then bake at 350F for about 20 minutes.  Flip the chicken pieces over, and bake another 10-15 minutes, until the pieces are nicely golden brown and crunchy.

If your oven is a hundred years old like mine, you’ll need to rearrange the pieces so they are evenly cooked!

Then enjoy the crunchy deliciousness.  🙂

Oh, and don’t forget the wine.  You deserve it!

Please ignore all that stuff in the background.  I was washing up while the chicken was baking.  Now, I can enjoy the wine!

Apple Stuffed Squash

Yesterday, I crawled out from under the huge pile of last week’s laundry and realized that I had no leftover turkey!  That just seems so strange.  I should be making turkey jambalaya, turkey soup, or turkey sandwiches this week.

I suppose it’s really good, though.  Usually by the time I’ve used up the left over turkey, I don’t care about seeing, smelling, or tasting another turkey until next Thanksgiving.

Because I ate about 7 different kinds of pie last week, and because I’m going on a bachelorette cruise in February (now only 2 months away!), I’ve decided to try and keep it light…at least during the Thanksgiving recovery period.  Yes, it’s bathing suit panic time, in the middle of winter.  😛

Thus, today for your viewing pleasure…stuffed acorn squash.

I’ve never cooked an acorn squash before, but they looked so pretty at the market I just had to get one.  I think I’m having a squash obsession this year, as I’ve put some kind of squash into every new thing I’ve tried lately.  Except the desert-y stuff.

Acorn squash is actually pretty awesome!  I did have a moment of “how the hell do you cut this thing?” at first, but it was a lot easier than I thought it would be.  I did sharpen the knife first, just in case.

Cut the squash in half and de-seed.  I felt like I was playing with tiny pumpkins!

Brush both halves lightly with olive oil, and bake at 350F, cut side down, for 30 minutes.

To make the stuffing, I used barley and brown rice, cooked to package directions…1 cup of each.  Add 1/2 cup cooked lentils, 1/2 cup chopped celery, 1/2 cup diced shallot, a couple of diced garlic cloves, 1/2 tsp grated ginger, 1/4 tsp ground cinnamon, 1/4 tsp ground coriander, 1/2 tsp chopped fresh mint, 1 cup unsweetened applesauce, and 1/2  cup chopped granny smith apple with the peel left on.

Guess I’m inadvertently advertising for smartWater today.  🙂

While the squash is baking, combine the stuffing ingredients in a medium bowl, and toss to combine.

If it’s not moist enough, add a bit more applesauce.  This stuffing recipe will fill 2 or 3 squash.  I only made 1 because I didn’t know if I’d like the acorn squash.  What was leftover will be going in the squash I picked up at the market yesterday, as I really really liked this.  I think the stuffing would be great in a zucchini too.

After 30 minutes, remove the squash from the oven, stuff the halves, and bake another 20-30 minutes. this could be a meal in itself, or could be a groovy side!

It makes a very pretty presentation.  And is ridiculously healthy and yumtastic!  I’m making more tonight.

The grilled cheese was for Rat Boy.  He currently eats like he has 2 hollow legs!

Pumpkin Spice Cake with Maple-Cream Cheese Frosting

That’s kind of a mouthful!  🙂  An extremely tasty mouthful, at that!

It is also quite tasty.  And probably not the best for my dieting efforts.  😛

I actually made this cake twice, as the recipe also suggests a bundt version.  This cake is NOT a lie.


It was an excellent excuse to buy that bundt pan I’ve been eying for the last month or so.  Fall just seems like a very bundt-y time of year.  Especially with pumpkin.

The list of ingredients is relatively short for the amazing taste of this cake!

One of the best things I’ve invested in so far has been a digital scale.  It’s the red thing hanging out on the right, under the brown sugar.

I’ve been really amazed at the lack of standardization in quantities and weights of prepackaged ingredients…butter, for instance.  While every stick says it is 1/2 cup, they weigh anywhere from 3.5 to 6 ounces!  That’s a big difference when baking.

Begin by creaming 4 oz butter with 12 oz brown sugar.  I’ve actually mixed 1 bag of light brown sugar with a bag of dark brown sugar, and I’m pretty sure I like the taste better that way.  Holy cow, what an innovation!  I’ve created medium brown sugar!  LOL

Room temperature is suggested for butter, eggs, and other ingredients from the fridge.  I’m finding the term ‘room temperature’ is pretty subjective.  Does it mean winter or summer room temp?  Texas room temp?  Mum’s house (around 80F), or mine (around 70F)?

I’ve decided what it really means is that the ingredients need to be soft enough to mix and emulsify well, but not so soft that they are liquidy and soggy.  Creaming the butter and sugar creates little air bubbles, which in turn, make the cake or muffins or whatever lighter and fluffier.

In a small bowl, bet together 2 eggs and 1 tbsp vanilla extract.  In another bowl, measure out 1 can pumpkin puree.  In a third bowl, sift together 2 cups cake flour, 1 tsp baking soda, 1/4 tsp baking powder, 1/4 tsp salt, 1/2 tsp ground cinnamon, 1/2 tsp ground allspice, 1/4 tsp ground nutmeg, and 1/4 tsp ground cloves.  Set out 1/2 cup buttermilk so it warms a bit to ‘room temp’.

First, add the egg mixture to the creamed butter sugar mixture, 1 tbsp at a time, letting it become fully incorporated before adding the next tbsp.  Stop about halfway through, and scrape down the sides of the mixing bowl.

Then, alternately add the flour mixture and buttermilk, starting and ending with the flour.  Allow ingredients to incorporate between additions, and stop to scrape the bowl at least once.

For the bundt, just spray the pan with non-stick of your choice, fill and bake at 350F for abut an hour.

For the frosted layer cake, spray a 9 inch round, then line the bottom with a cut circle of parchment paper.  Again, bake at 350F for about an hour.

To make the frosting, toast 4oz pecan pieces.  Blend together 12 oz cream cheese, 3 oz butter, 1/2 cup maple syrup, and 1 3/4 cup sifted confectioners’ sugar until smooth and fluffy.  Use the best maple syrup.  Not the stuff that is really coloured corn syrup, but the real stuff that comes from trees!  I get mine from Whole foods, in the bulk isle, and it’s really pretty reasonable that way.

Unmold the cake onto a cake flat or tart pan bottom, leaving the parchment paper on the cake.  Level if necessary, and then slice the cake into tow layers.  Place the cake’s top layer onto the serving plate, cut side up, and frost.  Flip the bottom half onto the frosted part, parchment paper side up.  Peel off the paper and frost.

Press the toasted pecans into the side of the frosted cake.

Use a teaspoon to create swirls on the top.

Now it looks like something from the bakery!  No action photos, though, as it was almost 2AM!

I didn’t get the two layers quite even, but it still looks great, and tastes awesome!  Since it has cream cheese in the frosting, I refrigerated it overnight, but it tastes better served at room temperature…whatever that is!

Candy for Grownups

Or for me. 😛   But I’m trying to do a bit of a better diet for the next couple of months, so I’ll try not to eat them all!

I find few things as close to perfection as the combination of pecans, caramel, and chocolate.  And with all the candy out and about lately, I decided to make some at home.

I might try to be more artistic with the chocolate next time, but today, the point was, “how do they taste?”  Will they still that little voice in my head telling me that I missed out on Haloween because I didn’t go nuts on candy?  No pun intended there, but I’m a little nuts too just now!

Grabbed a package of caramels at the store.  The last package.  The one I had to get down on my knees in HEB and reach all the way to the very back of the shelf kind of stuck in the crack back there package.  People were staring.  I NEEDED caramels.

Safely at home, I unwrapped (tedious)…

and melted the caramels (easy)  in a Pyrex bowl in the microwave.

Took a couple of minutes, with plenty of stirring in between minute 1 and minute 2.

That beautiful Granny Smith apple back there is for the caramel apple Rat Boy asked me to make.

Stir in the pecans.  Plenty of them.  I used 2 cups of large pecan pieces, and another cup of smaller pieces.  I did Rat Boy’s apple first, so I wasn’t  working with a full deck  a full bowl.  😛

Stir until the pecans are well coated.  It’s sticky and gooey and just marvelous.

Melt chocolate in the microwave for the next layer.  I decided to go with milk chocolate chips.  Easy to melt…not patient enough to temper chocolate.

I used half a bag.  Drizzled the chocolate off a teaspoon onto the pecan clusters.

Let them cool of a while on a silpat or parchment paper.  They are VERY sticky!

That’s Rat Boy’s apple over there.  He’s too old for trick ‘r treating these days, but still wants treats.  🙂

I just had to get closer to the deliciousness.  And then taste a couple…still warm….I think I died and went to Heaven!  Briefly.

Chill them in the fridge for about 2 hours, and the chocolate will set up.  You can keep them at cool room temperature (and eat them) until your candy cravings are banished!

Or mine.  That might be never though.

Maybe that wouldn’t really be such a bad thing.  I did only eat 2!  🙂

LOL  Frogs and turtles….

NOTE:  To chill, use a layer of wax paper if the silpat won’t fit in the ‘fridge!  Otherwise, you’ll need a chisel to get them off the plate.  Unless you just want to hold it up to your face and lick them until they are soft enough to slip off!  😛

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