Recipe: Asian Chardonnay Chicken and Pasta

The inspiration for tonight’s dinner came by way of the salad dressing in my fridge… really!  I picked up a national brand Asian Sesame salad dressing recently and wondered how it would pair with chicken for dinner.  Thankfully, it paired beautifully and became the focus of this recipe.  NOTE: You can substitute your own favorite dressing in this recipe… if you like it, feel free to use it for more than a salad.AsianChardChickenNPasta

I started with two chicken breasts.  I made a foil packet (using two pieces of foil) in my baking dish and placed the breasts together  on the bottom of the dish.  I then poured some Chardonnay white wine (I love using James River Chardonnay for this sort of recipe) and drizzled the dressing on the breasts before closing up the packet.  I could have easily cooked the chicken for 30 minutes at 350 degrees,  but I wanted to cook dinner much slower, so I let the breasts steam in the packet at 250 degrees for an hour.  NOTE: Even at this much longer time frame, the breasts were tender and juicy… I love when an experiment goes well!

About 20 minutes before I wanted to serve dinner, I started making the bow tie pasta and added a touch of Chardonnay to the cooking liquid to flavor the pasta to mirror the chicken’s sauce.  After taking the chicken out of the oven and opening the packet, I realized that the sauce was much too thin to be “good enough”, so I had some work to do.

I removed the chicken to a plate and poured the cooking liquid into a saute pan.  Using a bit of the cooking liquid, I made a slurry with some flour, whisked the slurry into the pan, and cooked the sauce until it thickened (which happened really quickly).  For flavor, I added a few tablespoons of a garlic/herb light cheese, some salt and pepper, and a sprinkling of herbs de provence.  Then, using a spoon and a fork, I turned the cooked chicken breasts over twice to pick up the sauce and warm the chicken a bit.

Serving dinner was easy… I ladled pasta onto the plates, placed the chicken breast on top, then poured sauce over the entire meal.  A side salad or a vegetable would have added a bit more color and a great boost of nutrition, but we opted to go with a very simple meal tonight.  If my entire family was coming to dinner, I could have easily cooked more chicken/pasta and the additional vegetables/salad would have completed the meal.

It’s the little things that can add to your meal each night.  Adding your family’s favorite vegetable or some crusty bread to dinner can round things out quickly.  Follow your instincts when it comes to cooking… and wait to hear the sounds of happy, satisfied family members singing your praises.

Enjoy the food journey we all travel… it’s so much fun that way!

Crockpot Recipe: Asian Pulled Pork

As the weather gets warmer, I like to use my crockpot to help keep the kitchen cool.  This recipe came about when I had a full day scheduled at work but wanted to have something delicious and easy for dinner… enter my handy-dandy crockpot!AsianPulledPork CP

I created a sauce to pour over a large pork loin, using a varying amount of the following ingredients:  James River Cellars Montpelier wine (NOTE: This a Cabernet Franc blanc/rose’ wine that smells like strawberries and tastes of cranberries – I love this wine with pork recipes.  You could also use Boordy Landmark Dry Rose’ which has the same sort of properties but is a dry wine), hoisin sauce, soy sauce, blackberry jam, garlic, honey, salt and pepper.  

I started dinner by slicing a large sweet onion and layered the onion on the bottom of the crock pot.  I then laid the pork on top and poured the sauce over everything and set the crockpot on low for 6-8 hours.

Once the pork was completely cooked, I removed it and put it into a bowl to shred, using two forks.  The pork is now ready for the addition of a delicious sauce to make it into a yummy dinner for my family.

I ladled the cooking liquid out of the crockpot and warmed it in a small saucepan.  As yet, I hadn’t added anything more to the liquid than what I’d poured over the pork earlier in the day.  The sauce was too thin for my taste, so I mixed up a slurry of cornstarch and Montpelier wine to thicken the sauce as it cooked a bit.  Once the slurry was added to the sauce, it took about 5 minutes to tighten up and become wonderful.  NOTE:  If you prefer to add some more spices for the pulled pork, this would be a great time – you could add a pinch of Five-spice powder or use more of the original flavors.  Have fun and be creative!

After the sauce was thickened, I tossed it with the pulled pork and served it on homemade rolls (only cuz I had them on hand…. I could have easily picked up some rolls at the local grocery store on the way home if needed).    This recipe ended up being a huge hit with my family and I hope it will become a favorite of yours as well!

Recipe: Red Chicken Parmesan

Chicken parmesan is one of those “easy/go-to” recipes for me.  Saute up some chicken, add sauce, top with cheese and serve with spaghetti noodles.  That’s the quickest way to explain this dish, but I love to add a little bit of flair when I’m cooking (almost always with wine), so my version is a little snazzier.

I start with two chicken breasts and roll them in a little egg white substitute before patting them down in some seasoned bread crumbs.  NOTE:  This is where you have some creative and quantity options – if you’re serving more than two people, use more chicken.  If you want to use Panko or cracker crumbs or even parmesan cheese at this point, feel free.  This is your meal, so enjoy using your favorite products.  RedChickenParm

Once the chicken is prepared, you need to prepare your pan.  Using a nice size saute pan, melt a mixture of a little butter and a bit of olive oil until it’s starting to sizzle a bit.  Place your chicken, breast side down, into the hot oil and allow the meat to cook until it lifts up easily (this will tell you when it’s done).  Flip the chicken and allow it to cook the same way on the other side.  Your chicken is now seared but not thoroughly cooked.

Since the “pretty” side is facing up, I like to leave the breasts alone at this point.  I add some red wine to give the chicken breasts some liquid to soak up and allow to cook thoroughly.  Note: Use as much or as little red wine as you’d like at this point.  You can also substitute chicken stock if you’d prefer, but I do love the depth added by the wine.  I usually use a favorite dry red wine, but I don’t mind using a lovely tasting Malbec or a Meritage if that’s what I’ve got in my cabinet. The idea to remember is to use a wine you’d like to drink because if you cook with wine, you’re concentrating the flavors and if you wouldn’t want to drink it, you definitely don’t want to cook with it.

After adding the wine, I also add some tomato sauce.  I love having the time to make my own sauce, but for the ease of apartment living at the moment, I use some jarred sauce, mix in the wine and the pan drippings, and pop the entire pan into the oven to allow it to bake (usually around 325 degrees or so) until we’re ready for dinner… just remember to leave enough time to cook your pasta so that’s ready when you want to plate your meal.  An extra note:  I have found if you pop a few ice cubes into the pasta when it’s finished cooking, your pasta won’t stick.  I’m not exactly sure why this happens, but it works well for us… better than adding oil or butter to keep the pasta from sticking to itself.

A few minutes before you’re ready to pull dinner out of the oven is when I like to top the chicken breasts with cheese. How much or how little is really up to you.  For the meal pictured, I placed a slice of provolone cheese each breast and then sprinkled on some Parmesan cheese to melt in the oven before serving the chicken and sauce over the pasta.

Enjoy personalizing this meal and making it your own… before long, you’ll have come up with your own favorite variation!

Recipe and a Bonus: Double Duty Red Pasta

Have you ever wondered what pasta looks like if you cook it entirely in red wine?  I was curious and, since I worked at a winery, had access to some good red wine that was left over from a festival.  This was my opportunity to cook some corkscrew pasta in red wine, so I ran with it!

I decided to make a very basic recipe using chicken breasts and corkscrew pasta.  I diced the breasts into thick 1″ cubes and sauteed them in a small amount of butter and a touch of olive oil until they were nicely browned and thoroughly cooked.  This recipe was going to be my first go-round, so I wanted everything to be very simple and “clean”, so I wasn’t playing with lots of extra flavors… I really wanted the taste of the wine to shine.

In a stockpot, I poured a bottle of red wine and a box of corkscrew pasta together and let the pasta cook in the wine until it was done to al dente’.  Since the pasta had cooked in the wine, there was a nice amount of starch in the cooking liquid, so I ladled some in with the chicken to create a bit of a sauce and added a pat of butter to gloss the sauce.  The only addition to the sauce after this was some salt and pepper to taste… it was delicious!  I served it with some lightly steamed broccoli for color, but the dinner was grand. Deep purple in color from the wine, everything looked and tasted just as I’d hoped.  Score one for the cook!DoubleDutyRedPasta

The bonus came when I realized that cooking an entire box of pasta made too much for two people to eat in one sitting.  A day or two later, my cousins came by unexpectedly and I needed to throw a quick, late night dinner together for them.  Since they weren’t looking for a three course meal, I decided to make a quick pasta salad to tide them over for the night.  I had rolls that I could slice up and serve as garlic toasts on the side, so I set about creating a new Leftover Recipe from the red pasta.

Since I had saved the red pasta in a plastic bag, I just had to add a few ingredients that I had on hand: frozen fresh corn off the cob, frozen peas, finely diced onions, one can of Veg-all, and some italian salad dressing that I had in the fridge.  I ran the frozen veggies under hot water in a colander so they would thaw and then dried them off before adding them to the pasta.  The canned veggies included carrots and potatoes, so that added just enough extra colors to the salad to make it look great.  I also had one extra cooked chicken breast that I diced fairly fine and added it into the pasta salad as well.  It was a great leftover meal that would have been terrific for a picnic or as a complete meal with a burger or steak.

Never discount what you’ve got in your fridge… remember that the most expensive ingredient is one that you throw away, so try and find a use, no matter how obscure, for anything you bring home.  Food can be a challenge but it can also be a lot of fun!  Enjoy creating your own bonus meals…

Recipe: Red Chicken and Pasta

I made a really delicious dinner last night that I want to share with you.  It was very simple, as most of my meals are in our current apartment situation, but the result was great.  Feel free to add a salad or green vegetable if you so desire… and bread or a dinner roll is always a great way to stretch your dinner.

I started by marinating two chicken breasts in a mixture of a lightly sweet red wine (Boordy’s Chambourcin Merlot blend could work here), a touch of olive oil, some garlic salt, honey, and herbs de provence.  I put everything into a plastic, resealable bag and left it in the fridge for the day.  NOTE:  I always place a plastic bag into a bowl if I’m leaving it in the fridge for the day so there’s no risk of mess to the fridge if anything happens.

I also reconstituted a half cup of dehydrated sun-dried tomatoes and sliced them to add to the pasta for flavor and color.  This was easily done by pouring some hot water over the dehydrated tomatoes and then allowing them time to plump up before slicing them.  Doing this early in the day (or even the night before) makes things so much simpler when you start cooking.

When I started cooking, I decided to toast some whole wheat pasta in garlic butter to add some flavor to the side portion of this meal. Rather than leaving the whole wheat pasta (spaghetti) whole, I chose to break it up into 2″ pieces so the garlic butter would have a better chance of toasting all the pasta.  Once this was done, I added a handful of bowtie pasta and the sliced sun-dried tomatoes to the mixture and allowed the pasta to pick up some of the flavor before adding a few ladles of chicken stock and some red wine to cook the pasta thoroughly. RedChicken&Pasta

I then began cooking the chicken.  I heated a touch of olive oil in a large skillet and sauteed the chicken breasts on both sides until they were nicely browned but not cooked through.  I added the leftover marinade from the plastic bag and stirred up the browned bits from the bottom of the pan.  At this point, I could have simply left the chicken on the stovetop to cook (with the lid on), but I’m not entirely comfortable with the electric stovetop that I’m currently using so I chose to alter the recipe in mid-stream.

I pushed the chicken off to the sides of the pan and added the pasta/liquid into the pan.  I then put the lid on the pan and popped it into a 350 degree oven to braise everything in the liquid until we were ready for dinner.  Just before serving, I added a Tablespoon of soft cheese to round out the flavors of the pastas, sun-dried tomatoes, *and* the chicken.  NOTE:  Some of the bowtie pasta didn’t get all the way into the liquid and ended up a little crunchy, which is NOT something my husband enjoys. Make sure to keep stirring the pasta throughout the cooking process to make sure that all the pasta is cooked thoroughly before serving.

I really liked this meal – the difference in pasta shapes was fun to me and the chicken was flavorful and yummy.  I’m not always sure how a meal is going to turn out when I start without any sort of structure, but this one was fun.  Next time, I think I will adjust the flavors a bit and make sure that all the pasta is thoroughly cooked before serving… otherwise, this was a good one to repeat.  The basics are all there… now to play with it…

Enjoy!

Recipe: Easy Chicken Cassoulet

I apologize for taking so long to get this typed up, but things have been a bit chaotic in our apartment-life lately.  Nevertheless, here’s a very easy recipe to throw together if you’re looking for a comfort meal without a lot of excess fuss.  It’s one that you can work on pulling together and then pop into the oven to “tighten up”, so it comes out looking amazing… and isn’t that the best kind of recipe to have in your arsenal?SimpleChickenCassoulet

It starts with half a package of canadian bacon, diced into small even pieces. Saute these in a bit of olive oil until they’re crispy and then add your vegetables (I used a mixture of diced onion, celery, and carrots) to saute until they’re translucent and smell wonderful.

I love using boneless, skinless chicken thighs in this recipe so there are no bones or excess fat from the skin to worry about, but if you prefer to use the other, feel free… it’s your dinner you’re making,  I seasoned each thigh with salt, pepper, and herbs de provence before putting the meat (seasoned side down) into the hot pan to sear.  Once the first side was seared nicely, I flipped the thighs over and seared them on the other side.  I wasn’t as patient as I should have been, so my “searing” didn’t look as golden as it could have, but I wasn’t too concerned this time.

Once the meat was seared on both sides, it was time to add liquid and beans.  For the liquid, I used a cup of one of my favorite white wines (James River Cellars Reserve Chardonnay), but I’ve used a number of different white wines in this recipe from time to time.  Use what you like to drink and the recipe will come out just the way you like it.  I also added a cup of chicken broth and an extra chicken broth bouillon cube to deepen the flavor of the stock.   I also added two cans (with liquid) of white cannellini beans, but have used other beans when that’s what I’ve found in my cupboard.  If you have a preference, roll with that… it’s not a huge deal.

I brought the cassoulet up to a simmer and decided to stir in about a quarter cup of orzo pasta that I had in a baggie in the cupboard – I had no idea where I might use it otherwise, and this was a way to soak up some of the stock, if needed.  This is totally unnecessary, but it used up something I already had, without wasting it, so I was happy.

I popped the cassoulet into a 325 degree oven for about an hour and stirred it occasionally.  At some point, I took a potato masher and smashed some of the beans to thicken the stew, which gave it a lovely homey feel when dished out.  I may have cooked the cassoulet for another hour, but as time went on, I reduced the heat so nothing was going to burn.  The idea is to cook everything through until it’s falling apart and all the flavors combine.  I love cooking this way!

As I got ready to serve our dinner, I sliced a single ciabatta roll, sprayed each slice with cooking spray and sprinkled on some garlic salt to make easy garlic toasts to go with our meal.  5-7 minutes in the oven was all that they needed to get crispy and toasty.

I hope you’ll consider trying this recipe sometime on your own.  It’s so easy to swap out ingredients and make something entirely personalized… you’ll come up with a new “family favorite” in no time!

Recipe: Easy Wine’d Beef

Since the weather was so chilly last week, I was searching out a way to make something for dinner that would warm us up.  Stir-fry would have been tasty, but since I don’t have a good non-stick pan at my disposal yet (still in the apartment), I opted to make a faster version of a traditional Beef Bourguignon.  EasyWine'dBeef

I started with a piece of beef that was on sale at the local grocery store.  I’m not exactly sure what cut of beef I purchased… I just know that there was some great marbling of fat (for yummy flavor) and it was boneless.  I popped it in the freezer for a bit to make it easier to cube, then tossed the cubes of beef with some flour seasoned with salt, pepper, and smoked paprika.

In the meantime, I heated some olive oil in a large stock pot and then sauteed a diced onion, a little green pepper, and a few handfuls of celery until they were softened and fragrant.  I love the way the smells in a kitchen can permeate the entire apartment and make the place smell “homey”, don’t you?

Once everything had a nice browned glaze to it, I moved them over and added the flour/seasoned beef to the pot.  I added a little more fat (some olive oil and a little margarine) to start the browning process for the beef.  This took some time, but it was well worth it.  NOTE: You’re not trying to cook the beef the whole way through, you’re just browning it in preparation for the slow cooking it will do in the liquid you’ll add next.

Once the beef is nicely browned, you are now going to add liquid.  I like to add a half bottle of a delicious red wine (like James River Cellars Merlot, Meritage, Rad Red, or even Hanover Red).  I also add about a cup of water and a beef bouillon cube to add some depth of beef flavor to the meal.  Your seasonings can be added now – I like to use a bay leaf or two, some herbs de provence, some worchestershire sauce, and a glop of ketchup.  Mix everything together, pop a lid on the top, and put the entire pot into a preheated 300 degree oven for an hour or two.  Stir it occasionally, to make sure that you’re getting the right blend of thickness and flavors… feel free to add more liquid if it’s getting too dry and don’t forget to remove the bay leaf before serving.

When you get close to dinner time, choose and cook a vegetable and a pasta of your choice.  As you can see by the photo, I used spaghetti noodles and broccoli.  Since my pantry is limited at the moment, I have an abundance of spaghetti, so I just broke the noodles in half and cooked them in salted water.  I then put a small bag of broccoli into the microwave and cooked it until it was bright green and cooked through.  I love serving this meal with wide egg noodles, but those didn’t make the cut when I was choosing what to bring to the apartment… feel free to use whatever pasta (or even a baked potato) you and your family like best.

I hope my recipes give you some ideas of meals you can make for your family, even if you don’t have a lot of “extras” at your disposal.  Play with what you’ve got on hand, pick up one or two essentials, and you can make a delicious dinner at home instead of spending extra money on dining out every night.  I have a hard time going to a restaurant and ordering something that I know I am able to make at home.  While I believe that going out should be a special experience, I do believe that staying in and making dinner for your family can bring about some pretty wonderful satisfaction as well.  It’s all in how you frame the experience.

Wishing you fun as you re-frame your own cooking experiences with your family!

 

 

Recipe: White Wine Seafood Stew

Sometimes, you have to alter what you’re going to make for dinner when you find a good deal at the local grocery store.  This is what happened to me yesterday… the store had some beautiful scallops and shrimp on a 50% off sale, so my recipe plan took on a life of its own.SeafoodStew

I started with two small packages (each) of scallops and shrimp.  I shelled the shrimp, washed the seafood, and then seasoned everything with a dash of soy sauce, herbs de provence, salt, and freshly ground pepper, before letting it sit in the fridge for an hour or so.  NOTE: This step isn’t necessarily important… I was bored and wanted to get dinner prep started early.

Once I started cooking, I began by sauteing the seafood in some olive oil.   Since I had so much seafood, I did this in two batches to keep the heat up.  Once the seafood was cooked through, I removed it all and added a few cups of diced vegetables.  I also added a healthy amount of Viognier white wine for flavor.  NOTE: If I’d had it around, I would have used either James River Cellars Gewurztraminer or Vidal Blanc… either would be a great background taste for this stew.  The vegetables were ones that I had picked up at the salad bar of the grocery store recently, so it was a great way to use up leftovers that needed to be eaten or tossed.  While the vegetables were cooking, I decided to cook some pasta to throw into the stew, so I boiled some spaghetti noodles that I broke in half.  I added the cooked spaghetti to the vegetables and then also added the seafood back into the stew.

Once the components of the stew were together, I decided to play with the seasonings a bit.  I used varying amounts of parmesan cheese, Viognier white wine, a little mozzarella cheese, and bumped up the tastes of the original spices.  It was a fun dinner to create and delicious to eat… I added some garlic toasts and called it a night!

Enjoy playing with your spices… they can make a huge difference in the flavor of your final product.  Try one new spice at a time and see how it works with your meals and recipes.  Have fun with your cooking… after all… it’s just food!

Recipe: Wine’d Up Meatloaf

Since I’m trying to make healthy recipes that also count as comfort foods and tasty dinners, this recipe ended up as a triple winner.  My husband actually went back for seconds and I had another serving for breakfast… that, for me, makes this dinner even better.  Aren’t we always looking for a new and unique meatloaf recipe?  This one definitely earned a gold star in my book.WinedUpMeatloaf

I started with a package of ground turkey.  NOTE: I like using ground turkey instead of ground beef in most of my recipes because I think it takes flavors better and more thoroughly than beef… but you should feel free to use whatever sort of ground meat you like best.  I placed the thawed meat in a bowl and added a palmful of parmesan cheese, a half an onion (diced), 1/3 an apple (diced), two cloves of garlic (diced fine), a big squirt of horseradish mustard, some red wine (I love using James River Cellars’ Rad Red or Boordy’s Petite Cabernet for this sort of dish), and seasonings (I used herbs de provence and salt/pepper).  I also needed some breadcrumbs, and I didn’t have any on hand, so I diced four pieces of toast and added that to the mixture as well.  Once everything was in my bowl, I gently blended it all together with my hands… best tools ever!

I like to change up how I form meatloaf patties from time to time, but I decided that I’d go “old school” and just bake this recipe in a traditional loaf pan.  Since I didn’t have ketchup in the fridge (I’m going to have to get some at the store the next time I go), I spooned a bit of spaghetti sauce over the top of my meatloaf and then sprinkled it with a bit of sugar to replicate the taste of ketchup.  Once baked (in a 375 degree oven for an hour), I found this dish to be thoroughly cooked, yet still moist enough to be flavorful.  I loved it.

Meatloaf is a fun recipe to use when you’re feeling creative.  I don’t always use horseradish mustard… I rarely use apple… it’s just a great way to play with different ingredients to make a delicious meal.  Try it sometime and let me know what you think… It’s fun!

Easy Beef Bourguignon

Note: This recipe is an homage to “Bob’s Short Ribs Bourguignon”, by one of my favorite chefs from the Outer Banks.

A few years ago, I was privileged to spend some time with a chef during a group cooking class.  He cooked in a way that was very similar to my own, using his hands/eyes as a way of measuring ingredients and his intuition as a way of creating a dish that was both delicious and flavorful.  Having a trained chef share his take on a traditional, classic recipe was a gift beyond compare and I’ll always be grateful to him for opening my own eyes to cooking this way.  This recipe used some basics from Bob’s recipe and added my own twist, allowing me to use my own intuition (The Force) to create a new dish.

I was at a wine/food festival recently and was asked if I had a Beef Bourguignon recipe on my blog.  Since I hadn’t “formally” cooked and blogged about this recipe, I decided to remedy that problem as quickly as possible.  EasyBeefBourguignon

I started with a package of beef that I found on sale at my local grocery store. NOTE: I try and pick up packages of meat anytime they go on sale, that I can use in various recipes, and keep them in my freezer until needed.  This helps keep my costs down and I can “shop” in my freezer for dinner inspirations most any day.  I sliced the beef into 1-2″ chunks and, using my favorite large stock pot, browned them in a bit of olive oil after dusting them with some flour, salt, and pepper.  Since I had so much beef, I did this step in two stages, removing the first half of the beef once it was browned and repeating the process.  

Once all the beef was crispy, I placed it all back into the pot and added the following ingredients:  1 sliced onion, 4 diced bacon slices, 4 cloves of garlic, 2 bay leaves, 1 beef bouillon packet (I like G. Washington Brown), a few globs of ketchup, and covered everything with a lovely red wine (think James River Cellars Monitor).  I stirred everything to combine it nicely, popped the lid on the pot, and put the entire dish into a 300 degree oven to cook for awhile.  I think it cooked for about 2 hours, but I was really waiting for the entire recipe to reduce and mesh together well.  You could easily reduce the heat on the stove top, pop the lid on, and cook it for the two hours, but I prefer to use the oven when I can for this sort of meal.

Once the wine had reduced and the sauce was thick and rich, I added half a bag of frozen peas to bump up the color factor on the meal.  The final touches involved adding a few dashes of worchestershire sauce and a small bit of butter to gloss the sauce.  It looked delicious!

As we got closer to dinner time, I cooked some egg noodles and sliced some crusty bread to complete the meal.  The final product was deep, dark, and rich… a perfect meal for a cold, snowy evening, even if it *was* March.

I hope you’ll try making your own version of this wonderful recipe.  Using short ribs (when on sale) is a great alternative to a piece of pot roast, but you can use most any meat that will handle this sort of long, slow cooking process.  Changing up the vegetables by using carrots, pearl onions, or any other favorite vegetable is a great way to add nutrition and tailor the recipe to your family’s preferences.

Remember, cooking is about sharing your love with the ones you love.  Enjoy!