Sunday, May 29, 2016

Sweet and Tangy Crabuluxe Pasta Salad

     I do so enjoy a good pasta salad. I also enjoy Crabuluxe, so obviously my tastes can't be a reliable source of information. For those of you who have yet to hear me speak of Crabuluxe, it is the faux-product name I tag on any form of imitation crab meat. It runs about $2.50 per pound and is useful in all sorts of recipes (such as Zesty Crabuluxe Cold Pasta Salad; Crab and Spinach Enchiladas, or Stir-Fried Broccoli with Crabuluxe). I suppose if you're made of money and regularly wipe your ass with $100 bills you could go ahead and use real crab meat. Anyways, we whipped this little number up using a mango-chipotle vinaigrette we picked up at ALDI. We had it warm the day we made it, then ate it cold the next day. We felt cold was the better way to serve it. Do what you want as far as serving temperature. Nobody listens to me anyways. As always, notes are in blue.

Sweet and Tangy Crabuluxe Pasta Salad

  • 1 pound medium shells pasta
  • 1 pound Crabuluxe, cut into bite sized pieces
  • 1 medium sweet onion, chopped
  • 3 medium tomatoes, chopped
  • 8 ounces mozzarella cheese, cut into 1/4" cubes
  • 1-1/4 cup mango chipotle vinaigrette (ALDI carries it. If you don't have access to ALDI, I imagine most larger grocery stores carry something similar)
  • 1 teaspoon garlic powder
  • 1 teaspoon ponzu sauce (it's a citrus based sauce. If you don't have it in your kitchen, stop reading this and go get a bottle. You can thank me later)
  • 2 teaspoons Sriracha (optional for babies and the chronically lame)
  1. Cook pasta until al dente (nice guy, Al. I wonder what he's up to these days?) Drain put in a large bowl. 
  2. In a smaller bowl, mix the vinaigrette, garlic powder, ponzu and Sriracha. 
  3. Put all the remaining ingredients in the large bowl with the pasta. Pour in the contents of the smaller bowl. Toss to incorporate ingredients. 
  4. Refrigerate at least one hour before serving. (as mentioned, we loved this as a cold pasta salad. There's really nothing stopping you from serving it immediately if you prefer a warm pasta salad. It's not like I have your house under surveillance...Or do I?)
Good Times!

Tuesday, April 26, 2016

Quick Tortellini and Kielbasa via The Wife

Special guest post from The Wife:
   My mom and I have an arrangement on Tuesday nights. The Husband stays late at school to run game club, so my mom brings the Spud home at 4, and then one of us prepares dinner while the other one watches the Spud. We alternate dinner responsibilities from week to week. This past Tuesday, it was my mom’s turn to make dinner. Around 1:45, I received an email from her saying she wasn’t feeling well and needed to bow out of dinner. This left me with a dilemma. Sure, we could have leftovers, but that didn’t sound appealing to me, and I was certain the Husband wouldn’t be too excited about it either. As I sat at my desk, waiting for my students to locate their homework, I remembered a package of kielbasa I had seen hiding in the back of the freezer. I typed “quick kielbasa recipe” into Google, and the first hit was Quick Tortellini and Kielbasa. With just five ingredients (all of which we had in some form or another), I decided to give it a try.
Mercifully, the Spud decided to take a nap on the way home from Grandma’s, so I was able to throw dinner together before she woke up. She even got to taste-test it before her dad got home. Her red face and watery eyes attested to the fact that it was a bit spicier than I had intended…but she continued to shovel it in. I figured that was a good sign.   

Quick Tortellini and Kielbasa
From Pillsbury

  • 1 (9 oz.) package refrigerated cheese-filled tortellini (I’m sure they meant 1 16 oz. package of frozen tortellini.)
  • 1 ½ cups frozen bell pepper and onion stir-fry (Didn’t have this exact item. Instead, I went with ½ cup thinly sliced red pepper, ½ cup thinly sliced yellow onion, and ½ cup fresh broccoli.)
  • ½ lb. cooked kielbasa or Polish sausage, cut into ¼ inch slices (14 oz. is kinda like ½ pound, right? No, but if I’m going to open a package, I’m using all of it.)
  • 1 (26 oz.) can chunky-style tomato pasta sauce (I didn’t have a 26 oz. can of pasta sauce, but that wasn’t a big deal. Kielbasa and pasta sauce sounded gross. Instead, I went with 1 14.5 oz. can of low sodium petite diced tomatoes and 1 10 oz. can of diced tomatoes with green chiles. I know, I know… 14.5 + 10 is 24.5, not 26. Look, I’m an English teacher, okay?)
  • 1 oz. (1/4 cup) shredded Parmesan cheese (omitted since I didn’t use pasta sauce)

  1.  Cook tortellini as directed on package. Drain and set aside.
  2.  Meanwhile, spray large nonstick skillet with nonstick cooking spray (clearly, we don’t want this to stick). Add bell pepper and onion (and broccoli); cook over medium-high heat for 3 to 5 minutes or until tender, stirring occasionally. Add kielbasa; cook and stir 2 minutes. (I let it cook a little longer – nothing worse than underdone kielbasa).
  3. Add pasta sauce (don’t be gross – used the diced tomato combo); mix well. Reduce heat to medium; simmer 4 to 5 minutes or until thoroughly heated, stirring occasionally.
  4. Add cooked tortellini; stir gently to mix. Cook until thoroughly heated, stirring occasionally. Sprinkle with cheese (or don’t).
Good Times!

Monday, April 11, 2016

Slow Cooker Southwest Style Cheese Soup

     "Southwest Style." what a vague description. It would seem as long as you have meat and chile peppers, you can call something Southwest. That's good, because that is exactly what I did. This really came together as a desperate attempt to come up with meals for the week. I didn't expect much from this recipe, but was happily surprised at how it turned out. It had a nice bite and a plenty of flavor. It was even better the next day! Give it a try and see what you think! If you like it, let me know! If not, tell someone else, because I don't have time for your criticism.

Slow Cooker
Southwest Style Cheese Soup

  • 1 can (15.5 ounce) black beans, drained and rinsed
  • 1 can (14.5 ounce) fire roasted salsa style tomatoes, undrained (our ALDI had these. If you can't find them, just substitute a can of Rotel tomatoes with green chiles.)
  • 1/2 cup corn (frozen or canned)
  • 1 pound ground beef (80/20 is great, but 73/27 is fine, too. 11/89 is right out)
  • 1/2 medium yellow onion, diced
  • 4 cups water
  • 1/2 cup sour cream
  • 1 cup pepper jack cheese (this is not a paid endorsement, but I wholeheartedly recommend Kraft Habanero Heat shredded Monterey Jack)
  1. Brown and drain the ground beef. Throw it in a slow cooker.
  2. Throw in everything else except the sour cream and cheese.
  3. Cook on LOW for 4 hours
  4. Add the sour cream and cheese. Stir to incorporate and cook on LOW another 30 minutes.
Good Times!

Thursday, April 7, 2016

Orange Whip Pie

     I think everybody has a few boxes of Jell-O that have been sitting in their cabinet for untold years. In my case, it was orange flavored. I don't even like orange Jell-O. I don't know how it got there. Fortunately, I found a recipe that used it! This recipe is phenomenally easy and quite tasty. I've made a few modifications, the most notable is the use of a pie crust in the pie mix. This is because I'm cack-handed and managed to bust the first crust while loading it with filling. I just dumped everything back in the bowl and crushed up the crust in it. I feel it added a nice bit of texture to the filling! I also give the option of adding some booze to make it more true to the beverage for which it's named. If you're interested here's a bonus recipe:

Orange Whip
- 4 ounces orange juice
- 1 ounce rum
- 1 ounce vodka
- 2 ounces cream
Blend with immersion blender until thick and frothy. Serve over ice in a Collins glass

     This recipe is also flexible if you don't like orange. You could easily leave out all the orange stuff and swap in cherry Jell-O and maybe use a bit of vanilla extract. Anyways, I served it and it was a hit with all three people (The Wife, The Mother-in-Law and The Spud) who tried it. As always, notes and changes are in blue.

Orange Whip Pie
adapted from Velvety Orange Gelatin Pie (which is a terrible name)
via Taste of Home Everyday Light Meals
  • 1 package (.3 ounce orange gelatin)
  • 1/2 cup boiling water
  • 1 can (14 ounces) sweetened condensed milk
  • 1 cup lo-fat sour cream
  • 3 tablespoons fresh grated orange peel (too lazy to grate oranges. I used 2 teaspoons dried orange peel)
  • 1 8-ounce carton whipped topping (you know, Cool-Whip)
  • 1/4 teaspoon orange extract
  • 1 nine inch graham cracker pie crust (just go and buy one. They're like a dollar)
  • another 9" pie crust, or 6-8 decent sized graham crackers, crushed. 
  • If you're feeling adventurous and want the true Orange Whip experience:
    1 ounce vodka
    1 ounce rum
    If you use booze, use a little less water
  1. In a large bowl, dissolve gelatin in boiling water. 
  2. Stir in milk, sour cream, orange peel (and the booze if you're using it)
  3. Fold in whipped topping (and the crushed graham cracker if you're doing it my way. The Right way)
  4. Spoon into crust. Cover and refrigerate for at least 4 hours.
Good Times!

Tuesday, April 5, 2016

Cheddar Apple Bread

     Every now and then I come across a recipe that doesn't seem right. I mean, it looks good in theory, but something is off about it. This bread recipe was a perfect example. It looked great on paper. I followed most of the instructions. Then I was staring at a mixing bowl full of what amounted to dust. There was no liquid to turn it into dough. I figured maybe because I used dried apples instead of fresh. Then I realized grated apples still wouldn't produce enough liquid to make a dough. I called over The Wife for a consult. She agreed the recipe was wonky. We made an executive decision, and based on other recipes, added some yogurt and milk. The end result was fantastic. A bread that's good and crusty on the outside, but soft on the inside. Toast up a big slab of this and slather it with butter and you've got yourself a winner. I suggest making it using my suggestions, but feel free to try the original recipe. Let me know if you have any success. As always, notes and changes are in blue.

Cheddar Apple Bread
originally Old English Cheese & Apple Loaf
via The Art of Bread
  • 1 teaspoon oil, to grease pan (we just used nonstick cooking spray)
  • 3-1/2 cups unbleached flour (regular white flour, right?)
  • 1 tablespoon baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 4 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 4 apples, peeled, cored and grated (we used about 2 cups dried apples, chopped)
  • 4 ounces cheddar cheese, grated
  • 2 eggs, beaten
  • 1 cup plain yogurt
  • 1/2 cup milk
  • rolled oats, to sprinkle (totally forgot about this)
  1. Preheat oven to 350F (180C, Gasmark), grease a 9x5x3" baking pan.
  2. Sift flour, baking powder and salt together in a large bowl. Rub butter into the flour mixture quickly with your fingertips until the mixture resembles the texture of coarse breadcrumbs (using your fingertips? How about one of those dough cutters? Why make things harder and messier than it needs to be?)
  3. Stir in the apples and cheese into the flour mixture. Add the beaten eggs until evenly blended (ok, if you have skipped my optional steps, you may find yourself staring at a bowl of clumpy and mostly dry flour. This was my WTF moment. Something very important seemed to be missing from the recipe. Like something to make it into a dough. The fact that the next step refers to "spooning the batter" indicates something the consistency of dried Play-Doh was not what I was looking for. Just go ahead and mix in that milk and yogurt now.) Mix until evenly blended.
  4. Spoon the batter into the pan (see? I told you. "Spoon." You'd be better off with a broom and dustpan if you don't add some liquid) Sprinkle with oats (I was so pissed about this recipe seemingly missing ingredients that I totally forgot about the oats.)
  5. Bake for 1-1/2 to 2 hours (we went for about 1-3/4 hours) until golden brown and well-risen. Turn out on a wire rack to cool.
Good Times!

Monday, March 21, 2016

The Most Middle Class Midwest Central Illinois Sandwich Ever

     There are just certain things typical to geographic areas. You go to Texas and you're going to get Tex-Mex. You go to Louisiana and you're going to get Cajun. You go to Maine and you're getting seafood. You know what you get when you head into the Midwest? Central Illinois specifically? You're going to get something with Ranch and bacon on it. The fascination with Ranch out here borders on repulsive. The kids put it on everything. Pizza. Burgers. Nuggets. Fries. If they can dip it in a bowl of Ranch, they're going to. I weep for our species. If somebody could invent deep fried Ranch, they could probably make a fortune selling it at the state fair.
     I figured I should just give in to local custom and make something involving a bunch of Ranch. The result is the following sandwich. I'll tell you this: it was super, hella-good. Crazy good. Like hide the leftovers before we eat them good. I felt guilty for throwing together such an uninspired sandwich, but there was no denying its awesomeness. So, if you're interested in a fair representation of typical Central Illinois food, this is a slightly upgraded form of it. Someday I'll tell you about Horseshoes and how every restaurant here serves them!

The Most Middle Class, Midwest,
Central Illinois Sandwich

  • 2 chicken breasts, butterflied and then split into two pieces each (yielding 4 pieces of chicken)
  • Old Taylor Street Cheese Sprinkle from the Spice House (if you don't have access to this mix, it's a mix of Romano cheese powder, salt, garlic powder, scallions, powdered green peppercorns, Italian parsley, basil. Good luck figuring out the exact amounts. Maybe just order it or use your favorite spice blend)
  • 4 ounces Swiss cheese, thinly sliced
  • 1/2 pound thick cut bacon
  • 8 slices thick cut bread (we used the ham and cheese bread we made earlier)
  • pack of ranch dressing mix
  • 16 ounce container of sour cream (yeah, you'll have leftover. Quit whining and use it the rest for vegetable dip)
  • red onion, sliced thin
  • iceberg lettuce (feel free to throw some tomato on if you'd like)
  1. Mix ranch dressing packet with sour cream. Put it aside for right now.
  2. Sprinkle the chicken breast pieces with the spice mix. 
  3. Heat a skillet to medium high. Add the bacon and cook until just beginning to crisp. Set aside the bacon and drain all but the a tablespoon or so of the bacon grease.
  4. Put the chicken breasts in the pan and cook 5-7 minutes. Turn the chicken and cook another 5-7 minutes. 
  5. During the last minute or so of cooking, lay the cheese on the chicken and put a cover on the pan.
  6. While the cheese is melting, spread a thick layer of the ranch sour cream mix on each slice of bread. Pile on the lettuce, onion.
  7. Add the chicken and bacon. 
  8. Eat the hell out of that sandwich.
Someday I'll learn to slice bread evenly.
Good Times!

Friday, March 18, 2016

Ham and Cheese Bread

     You probably know by now that I don't always have top of the line ingredients on hand. That's not really my thing. It's nice to have fancy meats and cheeses and stuff like that, but it's also nice to be able to pay the mortgage and utilities. I often find recipes that I end up avoiding because I never have the ingredients on hand, or more likely, I can't seem to justify the cost of the ingredients. That's probably why you don't see more recipes with Gruyere on my pages. Anyways, I found a bread recipe and wanted to make it for some time, but never had the key ingredients. Finally, I just cracked and used super-cheap alternatives. I couldn't have been happier with the results. I ended up with a nice, crusty bread perfect for sandwiches! As always, notes and changes are in blue.

Ham and Cheese Bread
adapted from Torta Di Testo Di Prosciutti E Formaggio
via The Art of Bread
  • 2 teaspoon (1 envelope) active dry yeast
  • 1/3 cup plus 2 tbsp water (I ended up using 4 tbsp water for whatever reason. Maybe I used too much flour.)
  • 3-1/2 cups unbleached flour (I just used plain old white flour from ALDI. I didn't have time to take the Rolls Royce out for "special" flour)
  • 1-1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper
  • pinch of freshly grated nutmeg (even this amount was noticeable. If you're not a fan of nutmeg, just omit this)
  • 1/2 cup unsalted butter, softened (a stick of generic margarine microwaved for 20 seconds, you say? Done!)
  • 4 eggs, beaten
  • 5 ounces ounces sliced prosciutto, chopped (lah-de-dah! Emmental cheese! Let me break out the good china! I'm going to be honest. I used a pack of Buddig honey ham)
  • 5 Emmental, dicedounces sliced prosciutto, chopped (seeing as all my liquid assets are tied up in long term investments in yacht and gold futures, I used an equal amount of shredded pepperjack cheese)
  1. Sprinkle yeast into water in a bowl. Leave for five minutes (they should really be more specific. I left the kitchen and got as far as the driveway before I realized I couldn't finish the recipe from out there. Even though the recipe didn't say to return, I did); stir to dissolve.
  2. Mix flour, salt, pepper and nutmeg in a large bowl (I used my KitchenAid, so that was my large bowl). Make a well in the center and add the dissolved yeast and everything else. 
  3. Mix until you've formed a soft, sticky dough (as mentioned, this took a little extra water to achieve). Turn out onto a lightly floured surface. Knead until silky and elastic, about 10 minutes (I just slapped the dough hook on the mixer and let it take care of things while I had a drink or six.)
  4. Put the dough in a clean bowl and cover with a dish towel. Let rise until doubled in size, about 2 hours. Punch down, then let rest for 10 minutes. 
  5. Shape the dough into a round loaf. Place on a lightly oiled baking sheet (I used a pizza stone and a thin spray of cooking oil) and cover with a dish towel (they had to specify dish towel? Was there a chance I'd chuck a beach towel over it? Maybe a washcloth?). Proof until doubled in size, about 1 hour.
  6. Bake in an oven preheated to 350F (180C, Gasmark 4) for 1-1/2 hours, until golden brown (yeah, I know this seems like a long time, but it's right. You'll need every minute of it), cool on a wire rack.
Good Times!