Saturday, October 29, 2011

Ham and Broccoli Pasta in Herbed Mustard-Butter

For almost the past two years, I've been laboring under a false, tragic assumption.  Somehow, I decided that Kristin doesn't like ham.  Ham!  She loves bacon, she enjoys pork - I don't know why I thought she wouldn't like ham.  As a result, I always refrained from making this dish.  It ends up Kristin is a big ham fan, and I'm a big dummy.  Oops.  The good news is I got a chance to make mom's Ham and Broccoli Pasta again!

This is another adaptation of a childhood favorite.  I don't think there's much like it out there in the world.  Ham and pasta don't often appear together in one dish, let alone covered in a mustard sauce, but this is so, so good. It could be done with chicken, I suppose, but that's just not The Way Mom Did It.  And that way is what's worth reproducing.

It's a pretty simple set of ingredients.  The basics are thick-cut ham, broccoli, and pasta.  The rest goes into the herbed mustard-butter that holds it all together: butter, garlic, shallots, mustard, salt, pepper, and herbs.  I used a lovely blend from Chicago's "Spice House" composed of tarragon, chervil, basil, dill, chives, and white pepper.  Any or all of those would do nicely.  My shallots also came from Spice House in freeze-dried form - they're also quite nice to have on hand, as they reconstitute in water in 10 minutes.

First, chop the broccoli into bite-sized florettes.

Funny story: I lost my steamer.  Who loses a steamer?  This guy.  I ended up boiling my poor broccoli after searching for that steamer for a good 15 minutes.  Kristin promptly found it for me in about 10 seconds of searching after I told her what happened.  Oops.

Assuming you haven't also lost your steamer, you should steam your broccoli.  Boiling works in a pinch.

Speaking of boiling - boil some water and cook your pasta.

While the broccoli is steaming and the pasta is cooking, chop your ham down into bite-sized pieces, then set it aside.  Covering it in tiny pieces of broccoli is optional.

Soften the butter, then combine the softened butter with minced garlic and shallots, mustard, and plenty of herbs.  If your mustard has a lot of bite to it, a little brown sugar can help keep things pleasant.  I used a honey mustard, so that wasn't particularly necessary.  Mix well with a fork, and adjust ingredients to taste.  You should taste plenty of mustard and herb flavor, as this will flavor the entire dish.

Right around the point that you finish the mustard-butter, the pasta and broccoli should both be done cooking.  Combine everything in a sufficiently large pot - the pasta pot should do.

Now spoon in some of that butter mixture.  Start with about half, mix well, and taste.  If you like it quite subtle, that will probably do the trick.  If, like me, you want plenty of bold, mustardy flavor, you'll end up adding the rest after a taste.

Mix again if you added more mustard-butter, and you're ready to serve.  Be ready to offer seconds.

Recipe: Ham and Broccoli Pasta in Herbed Mustard-Butter
Prep Time: 5 Minutes | Cook Time: 20 Minutes | Difficulty: Easy | Servings: 6-8

  • 1/2 cup Butter
  • 3 tbsp Herbs (dill, chervil, basil, chives, tarragon, white pepper)
  • 1/4 cup Mustard
  • 1 Shallot, diced
  • 1 Clove garlic, diced
  • Salt and Pepper to Taste
  • 1 lb Ham
  • 16 oz Bowtie Pasta
  • 3-4 crowns Broccoli

Cook pasta according to package directions.

Soften butter and combine first 6 ingredients (butter through salt and pepper) in a small bowl.  Adjust ingredients to taste.

Chop broccoli into bite-sized florettes and steam until tender.

Dice ham into bite-sized pieces and set aside.

Combine cooked pasta, steamed broccoli, and ham in a large pot.  Add half of mustard-butter and mix well.  Taste and add additional mustard-butter as needed.

Serve hot.

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Chicken Pot Pie

It's cooling off outside, which means it's safe to return to some recipes that have been on the shelf since February or March.  The season for grilled bratwurst and pasta salad is winding down, but the time for soups and stews is coming back.  And what is pot pie but a delicious stew inside pie crust?  Yes, I said pie crust.  If it's in a ramekin with nothing on the bottom: not a pot pie.  If it's covered in biscuits?  Not a pot pie.  Not in my book.

Pot pies can have two problems: they can be bland, and they can be dry.  This pie avoids both issues with aggressive spicing and plenty of liquid.  Is it pretty?  No, it's not the prettiest.  Is it fancy?  No, it's not the fanciest.  But will that stop you from devouring more than your fair share of tender chicken and vegetables in delicious, savory gravy under just the right amount of crisp, flaky crust?  No, no it won't.

Since it's a pot pie, you'll need some pie crust.  Making your own would be wise, but frozen will do.  It's a chicken pot pie, so you'll probably want some chicken, too.  The rest of the filling is mixed frozen vegetables and sweet onion sauteed in butter in a sauce of chicken broth and cream.  It's all spiced by generous portions of thyme, basil, garlic, paprika, salt, and pepper.

First, chop that onion.

This recipe is ideal for leftover chicken, but if you're like me and don't generally have leftover roasted chicken floating around, you can cook some fresh.  It just needs some salt and pepper - the rest of the seasoning will happen later in the process.

While the chicken cooks, melt some butter in a dutch oven and get the vegetables in there.  Cook over medium until the vegetables soften and the onions become translucent, 5-6 minutes.

As soon as the chicken is cooked, chop it down into nice, bite-sized pieces.

Throw the chicken in with the vegetables, then add the chicken broth and all of the spices.  Start conservatively with the spices - there'll be another chance to doctor up the filling before the final product.  A little white wine wouldn't go amiss here, either, if you have some on-hand.

Let the pot simmer a few minutes to marry the flavors, then add some flour and stir to thicken things up.  Just about a quarter-cup should do it.  Again, start conservatively and add more as needed.

Once the filling is thickened by the flour, add the cream and stir.  Cook another minute or two, then you're ready to fill some pie shells.  Now is the time to check your seasoning.  Taste the filling, and if it's at all bland, add more spicing.  Chances are you'll need more salt unless your chicken broth was far too salty.

So fill some pie shells!  If you follow the amounts of ingredients I've listed, you'll have enough for two deep-dish pies.  That's a lot of pie.  But then, you'll need it.

Store-bought pie crust is not pretty.  In fact, the holes I cut to vent make the topped crust look a bit like an angry face.  Can you see it?

In any case, top your filled crust, seal the edges, and poke some holes to vent steam.  Don't be discouraged if it looks like the above.

You don't need to be discouraged by ugly raw pie crust because it comes out golden brown and pretty!  All it needs is a half hour of 400 degree temperatures.  You'll know it's done by smell - you'll smell it across the room.  As soon as you open the oven, you'll be gripped by a terrible need to devour all of the pie immediately.

Don't do it!  Let it cool 10-15 minutes before cutting into slices, otherwise you'll have a terrible mess on your hands.  Not that pot pie is generally the neatest thing in the world, but you can count on slices to at least think about holding together if you give things a little time.

When the time comes, slice and serve.  This is a self-contained meal, so no particular need for sides.  Just eat plenty of delicious pie.  All you need is pie.

Recipe: Chicken Pot Pie
Prep Time: 5 Minutes | Cook Time: 45 minutes | Difficulty: Easy | Servings: 2 pies; 10-12

  • 2 lbs Boneless Skinless Chicken Breast
  • 2 frozen deep-dish Pie Crusts (top and bottom)
  • 2 lbs Frozen Vegetable Mix (peas, carrots, corn, green beans)
  • One large sweet Onion
  • 1 tbsp Butter
  • 1/4 cup Flour
  • 1 can Chicken Broth
  • 8 oz. Heavy Cream
  • 1 tbsp Smoked Paprika
  • 2 tsp Garlic Powder
  • 2 tsp Basil
  • 2 tsp Fresh Thyme
  • 2 tsp ground Black Pepper
  • 2 tsp Salt

Pre-heat oven to 400.

Chop onion.

Cook chicken in a skillet or grill pan seasoned with salt and pepper.  Chop cooked chicken into bite-sized pieces.

In a large dutch oven, melt butter.  Add onion and frozen vegetables and cook until softened, approx. 5-6 minutes.

Add chicken, chicken broth, garlic powder, smoked paprika, thyme, salt, and pepper to dutch oven.  Stir to mix.  Simmer 3-5 minutes.

Add flour and stir well to thicken.  Once thickened, add cream and simmer an additional 1-2 minutes.

Fill deep dish pie shells with chicken mixture.  Add top shell and seal edges.  Cut holes to vent steam.

Bake pies 30 minutes at 400 degrees until top crust is golden brown and filling is bubbling.

Cool 10-15 minutes before slicing and serving.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Fajita Quesadillas

I'm back!  I hope you enjoyed Kristin's cookies last week - I'm still enjoying them a week later.

Quesadillas are yummy.  There's no denying it.  How could it be possible not to enjoy fried tortillas and that gooey, spicy, cheesy filling?  If there's an answer, I don't want to know.

One of my favorite dishes at our local Mexican place is a Fajita Quesadilla, which combines two of my favorite Mexican dishes (bet you can't guess which two those are).  It's easily the size of a dinner plate, constructed on the largest tortilla I've ever seen, and filled with really fantastic Mexican cheese and plenty of onions, peppers, and seasoned meat.  I sought to recreate a home-cooked approximation this week, and did pretty well.  Too add a bit of pep, I put together some additional filling, in the form of a corn and black-bean "salsa."

These are a quick, easy, and utterly satisfying week-night dinner.  I won't dare claim that they're neat, though - I stuff them full enough that it's hopeless to try to get away without losing some filling.  The fork clean-up is so worth it, though.

It's a fairly standard set of Mexican ingredients on the board.  I used chicken as my meat, but beef or even pork would work just as well.  I'd love to say that I make my own fajita spice mixture, but all that I try cannot compare with how taste Old El Paso's mixture ends up.  The salsa is made up of jalapeno, corn, black beans, garlic, and lime juice.  And, of course, you'll need cheese, onions, bell pepper, and tortillas to finish the job.

First, combine all of the salsa ingredients: diced jalapeno, whole-kernel corn, black beans, lime juice, and minced garlic.  Nothing fancy here, just get it all in a bowl and mix with a spoon.  We do this first so that the lime juice can work its way in and all of the flavors can marry.

Chop the chicken down into bite-sized chunks and get it into a hot skillet with a bit of oil.  Keep it there until you can no longer see any pink on the exterior.

While the chicken is cooking, chop down the bell pepper and onion.

Once you can't see any more pink, add the vegetables to the pan with a bit of water and the fajita spice mixture.  Turn the heat down a bit and cook until the veggies are tender, five minutes or so.

It wouldn't hurt to start the assembly process while the chicken and veggies are cooking in the skillet.  On a tortilla, spread a thin layer of cheese evenly across the whole surface, and top with a generous quantity of the salsa mixture.

Once the rest is done, add it overtop of the cheese and salsa.  Then, a final sprinkle of cheese, just enough that it will melt and keep the top tortilla stuck securely in place.

Now it's time for the finishing process.  Either thoroughly clean out the skillet you used for the earlier cooking, or heat another medium to large skillet to medium-high heat.  Either put just the tiniest bit of oil down in the skillet, or - better yet - spray with some 100%-oil cooking spray.  We just want enough to really brown the tortilla and keep it from sticking and tearing apart.

Now drop that quesadilla-to-be down into the pan, and cook 1-2 minutes per side until golden brown and crisp.

That's it!  Slice up as you see fit, and it's time to eat!  We like to dip our quesadillas into some more salsa - this time we used some really delicious raspberry-chipotle stuff - but it's far from a requirement.  Either way, I'd recommend having a fork on hand, as you may well make a mess in the eating.  Don't worry, it's worth it.


Recipe: Fajita Quesadillas
Prep Time: 10 minutes | Cook time: 20 minutes | Difficulty: Easy | Servings: 6-8
  • 1-2 lbs Boneless-Skinless Chicken Breast
  • 1-2 packets Old El Paso fajita seasoning
  • 2 cups Mexican-blend shredded cheese
  • 2 large Green Bell Peppers
  • 2 large sweet Onions
  • 1 bag Frozen Sweet Corn
  • 1 can Black Beans
  • 1 Jalapeno pepper, diced
  • Juice of 2 limes
  • 2 cloves Garlic, minced


In a small bowl, combine sweet corn, black beans, diced Jalapeno, lime juice, and minced garlic. Mix with a spoon.  Set aside.

Chop onions and bell peppers into medium pieces.

Cut chicken down into bite-sized pieces.  In a large skillet over medium-high heat, brown chicken with a small amount of oil.

When chicken has no visible pink, add fajita seasoning, onion, bell pepper, and 1/2 cup water.  Cook 4-6 minutes over medium heat until vegetables are tender.

To assemble, spread a thin layer of cheese on top of a tortilla, and cover with a generous portion of corn and black bean mixture.  Top with chicken and vegetables, then another small amount of cheese.  Cover with a second tortilla.

Spray hot skillet with 100%-oil cooking spray, and cook quesadillas 1-2 minutes per side until golden brown and crisp.

Slice and serve warm, with salsa if desired.

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Kristin Takes Over: Chocolate Chip Chai Oatmeal Raisin Cookies

So for those of you who haven't heard yet, Alex and I are getting married. (That's right, the fiancee is taking over today!) We've set the date, picked the venue, we even have a pretty good idea of who the photographer and DJ will be. One kinda sorta big-ish thing that hasn't been picked yet is my dress. Do I have 621 days to find the perfect dress? Yes. Does that mean I won't worry about it? Absolutely not. I've been on a major wedding dress kick, and spent all morning looking at beautiful wedding dresses that are completely out of my price range. I need to snap out of it and there's only one way to get me to stop. Baking! Specifically, baking cookies.

Alex understand this. Thus the ridiculously awesome cupcake tin/measuring spoons necklace that can be found at this cute site.

Alex cooks almost 100% of the meals we eat (I am so incredibly lucky to have this man in my life) but I am the prominent baker in the relationship. Watching Alex cook has started to influence how I bake though. I used to be one of those bakers who stuck to the recipe perfectly and never tried to add any extras or improvise. Alex is a notorious recipe-breaker, and one day I decided to take a page from his book and try to make my own cookie recipe. And oh, what a delicious page it turned into.

Ladies and gentlemen, today I'd like to share with you my Chocolate Chip Chai Oatmeal Raisin Cookies.

These cookies start out pretty innocuously. What you see here is enough for one batch, but as I started baking I remembered that I have some coworkers I need to bribe tomorrow, so I ended up making a double batch.

I grew up helping my mother bake cookies. She is why I always bake cookies with shortening instead of butter. Shortening keeps the cookies nice and thick, which leaves them soft and chewy.

Cream the shortening and the sugars.

In another bowl, mix your eggs and vanilla.

Carefully mix the egg mix in with the creamed sugars. I say carefully because unless you have a stand mixer, this part can get messy. (PS If anyone has an extra stand mixer they're not using, I could really use one...)

I don't like having too many dirty bowls lying around, so I wash out my egg bowl, dry it out, and mix up the dry ingredients.

Who doesn't love pictures of dry ingredients in a bowl? If your local stores don't sell chai mixes, I've bought some on Amazon. I'm sure vanilla chai would also be wonderful, but I happen to have chocolate on hand.

When I mix my dry ingredients into my wet, I tend to break up my dry ingredients into thirds. That way it doesn't spray everywhere, and it doesn't overwhelm my mixer. Mix until smooth, but don't eat it yet! The best is yet to come. (Not that we eat raw cookie dough...)

It is so important to add enough oats. Without them, the dough is still delicious, but really wet. I actually prefer to mix with my (extremely clean) hands at this point just so I can tell whether or not I've added enough.

Could you make these cookies without the raisins? Sure, but why would you? They add a wonderful extra chewy texture, and a nice natural sweetness. Also, you can say you're eating fruit, and justify an extra cookie.

Finally, add the chocolate chips. There should be no bite of cookie without at least one chocolate chip or one raisin. And don't feel like you have to go for gourmet chocolate chips. A bag of Hershey's semi-sweet chips is all anyone needs. In life, and in cookies.

This is not dough for small cookies. Don't be afraid to put big messy hunks of cookie dough on the sheets, just be sure to space them out a bit. Trust me, they'll spread out as they bake.

Make sure you clean your hands thoroughly.

PS, see those earrings? Alex got those for me from this cute site. Isn't he so great?

After 10-15 minutes, these beautiful cookies should be done. If they still seem a little wet, don't worry. Once they cool they'll firm right up.

They might be a little crunchy on the outside, but they should still be wonderfully moist and chewy on the inside.

While I think these cookies could be fantastic in any season, there's something so warm and soothing about the chai flavor in these cookies that just makes me want to cuddle up under a blanket and watch the leaves change color. With a couple of these cookies, of course. Make yourself a big ol' batch and share them as you see fit. I hope you enjoy them as much as Alex and I do!

Recipe: Chocolate Chip Chai Oatmeal Raisin Cookies
Prep Time: 15 minutes | Cook Time: 10-15 Minutes | Difficulty: Easy | Servings: 2-dozen Cookies

  • 1 cup White Sugar
  • 1 cup Brown Sugar
  • 1 cup Shortening
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1 tbsp Vanilla Extract
  • 1 1/2 cups All-Purpose Flour
  • 1 tbsp Baking Soda
  • 1 1/2 tsp Salt
  • 3 tbsp Chai Mix
  • 1 tsp Cinnamon
  • 3 cups Oats
  • 1 cup Raisins
  • 1 cup Semi-Sweet Chocolate Chips

Pre-heat oven to 350 degrees.

Cream together shortening and sugars in a large bowl.

In another bowl, beat eggs and vanilla. Carefully add to sugar mixture. Mix well.

In another bowl, mix together flour, baking soda, salt, chai mixture, and cinnamon. Add flour mixture to wet ingredients and mix until smooth.

Mix in oats, raisins, and chocolate chips until thoroughly combined.

Drop spoonfuls of dough onto greased cookie sheets, about 2 inches apart.

Bake at 350 degrees 10-15 minutes until cookies are golden brown. Transfer to cooling racks as soon as cookies are set.