Saturday, February 26, 2011

Pasta E Fagioli

Sometimes, you just have to depend on an outside source to get something accomplished that you can't do yourself.  Such was the case with this recipe.  I've had a copy of a recipe called "Olive Garden's Pasta E Fagioli" in my collection for a few years, but never made it because my husband seemed apathetic about it.

A lady he works with brought a batch of soup to a potluck recently, and he uncharacteristically raved about it, telling me it had hamburger, beans, carrots, tomatoes, etc.  I said, "That sounds a lot like a recipe I have already..." and asked him to get the coworker to give him a copy of what she had cooked.  Well, lo and behold, it was the exact same, a creation of the folks over at Top Secret Recipes.

The recipe is super simple, hearty, and delicious.  Best of all, it doesn't call for any abnormal ingredients that you'll have to lay out ridiculous cash for.  Most home cooks will have these things on hand already.  Nice, right?  Nothing irritates me more than trying a new recipe that requires weird stuff, and then subsequently tastes like utter crap.  Thankfully, this wasn't one of those.

The recipe as it stands worked great.  I did not make any modifications to the ingredients list. I did make one small change in technique, though, and I would recommend you do the same.  The original recipe calls for cooking the ditali pasta for 10 minutes until al dente.  Previous experience with soggy pasta in soups gave me pause.  Six minutes of cooking the pasta was enough- I set the timer after dumping the pasta into boiling salted water.  After draining the pasta and adding it to the hot soup, it was cooked just perfectly and not at all soggy.

A green salad beforehand and some crusty bread alongside, and you'll have the perfect comforting meal for a cool winter's evening.  We have plenty of leftovers for tomorrow's lunch, and in this case, I'm glad that's so.

Just perfect for a late February evening.

Friday, February 25, 2011

Black Bean Soup

The finished product, topped off with a little homemade yogurt and fresh cilantro.

Tonight's dinner was comprised of two prongs- a new recipe from a trusted source (chicken enchiladas from chef Rick Bayless, a future blog post), and an experiment of my own for a simple soup.

I've made black bean soup once before from a Bon Appetit recipe and found it lacking in taste and interest.  Also, my 4 year old kiddo has taken a recent liking to the version offered at Panera Bread, thanks in part to our regular weekly visit changing from Monday to Tuesday.  She usually ordered baked potato, but now that we go on Tuesday, it's not available and she has to make do with "black soup," as she calls it.  Thankfully, it's very tasty, healthy, and she likes it a lot.  These things inspired me to give another shot to making it at home, and I decided to wing it.

It seemed like an easy enough proposition to make a small pot of black bean soup myself, without a recipe.  Several ingredients of Panera's version are easily discernible: red bell pepper, onion, garlic, a bit of cumin.  I started with those things and added my own tweaks.  I wound up with a pretty good little pot of soup- so good, in fact, that my normally picky little eater asked for a second bowl and declared it better than Panera.  (!!!)

Because of my new budget-friendly habit of freezing beans, I have a stack of zip-top bags of legume-y goodness on ice.  You can certainly use canned beans, if you prefer.  I have packaged my frozen beans in roughly the same quantity as a can, about 15 ounces, liquid included.  My frozen beans are only lightly salted, so if you use canned, make sure you don't add too much salt until you've tasted the finished product.

This recipe also makes use of the vegetable bouillon paste I blogged about not long ago.  If you want, you can use canned veggie broth or a combination of water and bouillon cubes.  Again, make sure you go easy on the added salt.

TIP: This recipe calls for a single chipotle chile, which are sold in small cans containing a dozen or so chiles plus adobo sauce.  When you first open a can of chipotles, use what you need and put the rest of them in a clean ice cube tray, one chile and its clinging sauce per space.  My ice cube trays hold about 1 Tbsp. per section, which is the amount often required for a recipe.  When frozen, pop them out and put in a zip-top bag in the freezer.  They keep for a long time, and are fine even if frost accumulates in the bag.

Black Bean Soup
Serves 4-6

2 bags of thawed frozen black beans, or two 15-ounce cans of black beans, not drained 
1/4 cup jarred roasted red pepper, diced
1/2 cup onion, diced
2 cloves garlic, smashed and minced
1 chipotle chile in adobo sauce, minced (optional- I added this for my husband's taste but since he didn't seem interested in eating the finished product, I'll leave it out next time.)
1/4 tsp. New Mexico chile powder
1/4 tsp. Ancho chile powder (Note: find New Mexico and Ancho chile powders in the Latin section of your supermarket, or in Latin grocers.)
1/2 tsp. cumin
2 cups water
2 tsp. vegetable bouillon paste
1 Tbsp. olive oil
Kosher salt and fresh black pepper
Sour cream or plain yogurt and chopped fresh cilantro, optional, for garnish

In a stock pot, heat olive oil over medium heat.  Add onions and cook, stirring frequently, until they begin to turn translucent, about 5 minutes.  Add the garlic, roasted pepper, and chipotle, if using, and cook for another minute.  Stir in chile powders, cumin, bouillon paste, water, and beans.  Cover the pot and bring to a good steady simmer for about 30 minutes.  Remove the lid and simmer for another 10 minutes or so until the soup is thickened.  Season to taste with salt and pepper, and serve with small dollops of sour cream or yogurt and a sprinkling of chopped cilantro.

Used this brand for the first time.  Good stuff.  The peppers in the jar are nearly whole.  I used about half of one.

Chipotle, garlic, roasted red bell pepper.

Dueling chile powders.  Each type of chile powder in the Latin section has a distinct flavor.  New Mexico gives a light spiciness while Ancho offers a darker, smokier taste.

Sauteing the veggies and spices.

Bags o'beans

Yum!  Very filling but completely good for you- high in fiber, low in fat.

Monday, February 21, 2011

Vegetable Bouillon

I'm the type of cook that's always looking to see if something I can make myself is better for me/tastier/cheaper than the versions people usually buy at the store.  In the interest of saving time and shelf space, I often use bouillon cubes and water in place of stock or broth.

I came across a recipe for homemade vegetable bouillon on a food blog called Simple Scratch Cooking and decided to give it a shot.  The recipe was, as promised, so simple.

I cut the recipe in half, because the original makes a full quart (that's 4 cups for you cooking measurement n00bs) and I never make that much of a recipe until I know for sure it's a keeper.  I did a couple of small substitutions based on what I had on hand.  A package of reconstituted dried wild mushrooms were added to a few fresh mushrooms to make the full contribution, green onions stood in for leeks, and dried parsley was substituted for fresh, since my garden was covered in snow.  Next time, I will smash the peppercorns first, because they did not get ground up in the food processor.  I filled a pint jar with the resulting paste and it sits in my fridge now.

It is quite tasty- not by itself, naturally, unless you're into eating wet, salty, pureed vegetables.  But stir a spoonful into a mug of hot water if you're feeling a bit under the weather, and you've got a quick, tasty, and healthy bit of broth.

It's not very picture-worthy, being an orangish-brownish paste and all, but once you taste it (simmered with water and lentils, perhaps, for a simple soup or as a flavor base in a recipe, or stirred into the cooking water of white rice), you'll be glad you tried it.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

This week's menu

Menu planning is a big help to me, and I try to make a regular habit of it.  It helps me create an accurate grocery list (I'm bad about forgetting things that I need), lets my husband know what we're having for the week in case he needs to object or has something in mind he wants, and eases my self-induced stress when 4:00 rolls around and I don't have to wonder what I'm supposed to cook.

Here's what I have planned for this week.

Fried chicken (a new recipe from the Pioneer Woman cookbook I got for Christmas), mashed potatoes, hominy

Penne alla Betsy (ditto, from the PW cookbook), salad, crusty bread

Wienerschnitzel, braised cabbage, German potato salad

Enchiladas Especiales Estilo Tacuba (a Rick Bayless recipe), fruit salad, rice

Marsala chicken with sage and mushrooms (from Martha Stewart), rice pilaf, broccoli

Pork and poblano chile verde (an adaptation of a recipe I made camp-side and blogged about here), three-cheese beer bread from Brown Eyed Baker

Pasta e fagioli (an Olive Garden soup), garlic bread

Monday, February 14, 2011

Magic Chocolate Ice Cream

A recent freebie issue in the mail from Cook's Country, one of the publications from the charming and oh-so-scientific folks at America's Test Kitchen, arrived at La Casa Errant Cook not long ago, and I've begun working my way through some of the supremely delicious-looking recipes.

Naturally, when I came upon the recipe for Magic Chocolate Ice Cream, promising rich and creamy chocolaty decadence without the need for churning in an ice cream machine, I knew that I had found my first test subject. 

My husband and I normally eat chocolate ice cream with shovels rather than spoons, but even we were floored by the richness of this stuff.  Small servings won't leave you disappointed.  You and your waistline have been warned.

Magic Chocolate Ice Cream
Adapted from Cook's Country
Makes about a half gallon

2 tsp. instant coffee or espresso powder
2 tbsp. hot water
8 oz. bittersweet chocolate, chopped fine
1 cup sweetened condensed milk
1 tsp. vanilla extract
Pinch salt
2 1/2 cups cold heavy cream

Combine the coffee powder and hot water in a medium bowl and let it sit for about 5 minutes, until the powder is dissolved.  Add the chopped chocolate and sweetened condensed milk and microwave until melted, about 2 minutes, stirring every 20 seconds or so.  Stir in salt and vanilla and set aside to cool.

Whip the heavy cream in a large bowl or in a stand mixer until soft peaks form, about 5-7 minutes.

Whisk about 1/3 of the whipped cream into the chocolate mixture until incorporated.  Stream the chocolate mixture into the remaining whipped cream and fold gently with a large rubber spatula until combined.

Transfer to a freezer-safe container and freeze 6 hours or overnight.

The inspiration.

The chocolate.

If you don't have sweetened condensed milk, you can use evaporated milk and sugar- one 12 oz. can to about 1 2/3 cups of sugar, heated gently in a saucepan and stirred until the sugar is dissolved.  Measure what you need out of the pan and put the rest in a glass jar with a lid in the fridge to use later.

Chopped chocolate.  Try not to eat too much of it.

Chocolate is combined with coffee powder, hot water, and condensed milk before being melted in the microwave.  Try not to eat too much of it.

Whip the tar out of the cold heavy cream until soft peaks form.

About 1/3 of the whipped cream is whisked into the chocolate mixture.

Fold the chocolate mixture into the rest of the whipped cream.

Be careful.  You too will make stupid faces like this once you taste what you've created.  Try not to eat too much of it.

The completed mousse-like mixture, ready for the freezer.  An old sherbet container serves me well in this instance- it's the perfect size and it's a good way to reuse!


I have joined the Dark Side. Follow me, minions.

Yep.  At the urging of mi amiga bloggerista Tasha over at Tasha Does Tulsa, I have finally signed up for The Twitter.

Follow me at @ErrantCook

Monday, February 7, 2011

Wordless Week, Episode Eight: Beef Stir-Fry with Snow Peas, Broccoli, and Bell Peppers

Wordless Week, Episode Seven: Cuban Sandwich

Wordless Week, Episode Six: Chicken Fettuccine Alfredo with Roasted Asparagus

Wordless Week, Episode Five: Beef Stroganoff

Tyler Florence's Beef Stroganoff with Buttered Noodles

Wordless Week, Episode Four: Strip steak, roasted sweet potatoes, and bulgur-chickpea salad

Wordless Week, Episode Three: Apple-Raisin Turnovers

Wordless Week, Episode Two: Mighty Meaty Meatloaf with mashed potatoes and steamed carrots

Emeril Lagasse's Mighty Meaty Meatloaf

Wordless Week, Episode One: Spice-Rubbed Chicken and Hominy Saute

A brief explanation:  I've been putting off blog updates due to a lot of different things interfering with both my creative jones and my free time.  The backlog has had the ironic consequence of making it even harder for me to sit down and be in the mood to blog.  So in order to get some of these dishes posted and take some of the pressure off, I'm doing a Wordless Week, as many other bloggers do Wordless Wednesday.

I'll post a pic or two of the dish and text of or a link to the recipe, if available.  Enjoy.

Episode One: Spice-Rubbed Chicken with Hominy Saute.  I served this Martha Stewart combination with some simple buttered noodles.

Spice Rubbed Chicken with Hominy Sauté

Serves 4

1 tbsp. paprika
½ tsp. ancho or chipotle chile powder
½ tsp. oregano
Coarse salt and ground pepper
8 bone-in, skin-on chicken thighs (about 3 pounds total)

1 tbsp. vegetable oil
2 cans (14 oz. each) hominy, rinsed and drained
4 to 5 scallions, thinly sliced
1 pint grape tomatoes, halved

Preheat oven to 425º.  Combine paprika, chile powder, oregano, 1 tsp. salt, and ¼ tsp. pepper.  Place chicken on a rimmed baking sheet and rub with spice mixture.  Bake until 165º internally, about 20-25 minutes.

Meanwhile, heat oil in a medium saucepan over medium heat.  Add hominy and scallions; season with salt and pepper.  Cook, stirring occasionally, until scallions are softened, 2-3 minutes.  Add tomatoes and cook until warmed through, 2-3 minutes.  Serve alongside chicken thighs.