Category Archives: Main Dishes

Maddy’s Pasta

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This creamy pasta recipe is delicious. We call it “Maddy’s Pasta” after the little girl who gave us this recipe. Let me just say it is not a meal to eat the night before you get your cholesterol checked. Heavy cream and pancetta play prominent roles in this recipe but it is good. Really good.

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The recipe is adapted from a cookbook my daughter’s second grade class put together over the holidays. Everyone was supposed to contribute their favorite recipe. I’ve tried a number of them because it’s a great compilation of tried-and-true family favorites.

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I’ve made this pasta with whatever fresh herb I have on hand and they all work well. This time I used fresh marjoram which has a nice floral note, but fresh thyme also works exceptionally well. I’ve also substituted prosciutto and left over ham for the pancetta with good results.

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I recommend buying your pancetta (or whatever meat you prefer) from the deli department and ask them to give you a whole chunk. The meat can be diced at home. I’ve also used various types of pasta and I think it works well with any type. The sauce thickens and coats the pasta nicely.

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Enjoy!

Maddy’s Pasta

  • Servings: 6
  • Difficulty: easy
  • Print

3 T unsalted butter
2 oz pancetta, diced
1/4 C minced shallots
1/2 C heavy cream
1/2 t salt
1/4 t freshly ground pepper
1 t fresh marjoram leaves, minced
1 pound pasta freshly ground parmesan to taste

Melt 1 tablespoon of butter in a medium sauce pan over medium-low heat and add pancetta.  Cook until crisp.  Add shallots and cook until softened, 2-3 minutes.  Add remaining butter, cream, salt, pepper and marjoram and simmer over medium heat until the cream is reduced by half.  Meanwhile, bring a large pot of water to boil and add pasta.  Following package directions, cook until al dente.  Drain.  Add cooked pasta to sauce and toss.  Top with parmesan cheese and serve.

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Rainy Day Comfort

I was perusing my favorite cookbook of the moment, One Pot of the Day published by Williams-Sonoma, when my eye fell on a recipe for meatloaf.  Normally, I wouldn’t consider making meatloaf in spring, since I view it as one of those cozy meals that’s best served when it’s cold and unpleasant outside.

But despite the fact that it is now May, we just haven’t truly reached spring weather yet here in Chicago.  Meatloaf is the perfect meal for this weather.

This particular meatloaf is a little bit lighter than most, because I adapted the recipe by using a proportion of about 3/4 ground pork to 1/4 ground beef instead of 1 pound ground beef and 1 pound ground veal called for by One Pot of the Day.  The flavor also has been enhanced by lemon zest and fresh herbs.

First I cut up four slices of white bread into small cubes and soaked them in a cup of milk.

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While the bread was soaking, I chopped up dill, Italian parsley, and prosciutto.  I grated a  lemon and about a half cup of Parmesan cheese.

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Using my hands – okay, I know it is slightly disgusting, but using your hands is the only way to properly mix ground meat – I mixed in the herbs, lemon zest, and prosciutto.

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I gently squeezed the milk from the soaking bread and added the bread to the ground meat mixture.  I formed all into a loaf shape and topped it off with sliced red onion and more Parmesan cheese.

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While the meatloaf was cooking I roasted some red potatoes and steamed some green beans. The result was a really tasty meal that hit the spot on a spring day that hadn’t yet sprung.

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In fact, it was so delicious I somehow forgot to take a picture of the final meal.  You’ll have to give it a try to see how good it is. Enjoy!

Meatloaf

  • Servings: 4-6
  • Difficulty: easy
  • Print

 4 slices of white bread
1 cup milk
1 1/2 pounds ground pork
1/4 pound ground beef
2 eggs, beaten
4 ounces prosciutto, chopped
3/4 cup Parmesan cheese
1/3 cup Italian parsley, chopped
1/3 cup fresh dill, chopped
zest of 1 lemon
sliced red onion

Preheat oven to 375º.  Cut the white bread into small cubes and soak in milk for 10 minutes.  Mix the ground meat with the eggs, prosciutto, cheese, herbs, and lemon zest.  Add salt and pepper.  Squeeze the milk from the bread and add to the mixture.  Form into a loaf shape.  Top with slices of red onion.  Bake at 375º for one hour.  

Breaded Chicken Drumsticks

IMG_0605Last week I decided to use up some of the ingredients that I’ve had stored in my freezer for a few months. I stock up on meat when it is on sale not only because it is cheaper, but also because preparing a meal is easier when the ingredients are on hand.  If I am feeling uninspired, I simply look in my freezer to see what I have, then take it from there

Yesterday I pulled out chicken drumsticks and decided to use a recipe that I found on the website Simply Recipes. It’s reminiscent of fried chicken but with none of the grease, or heaviness; my family loves it.

I started by mixing a quarter cup each of mayonnaise and whole-grain mustard (you can also use Dijon mustard if you prefer), then added two teaspoons of Worcestershire sauce in a medium-size bowl.

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I sprinkled three quarters of a cup of unseasoned breadcrumbs on a plate, then seasoned them with salt, pepper, and dried Italian seasoning.

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I dipped each of the drumsticks into the mustard mixture and coated them with the breadcrumbs. picture Meanwhile, I preheated the oven to 425 degrees. Then I lightly greased a jelly-roll pan with olive oil, added the drumsticks, and baked them for about a half hour until they were cooked through and nice and crispy.

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This meal is a great pantry meal and really inexpensive to boot. The package of drumsticks was only $2.89; the cost of the other ingredients was negligible. It’s tough to find a cup of coffee these days for that. I’d call this a great family meal!

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“Breaded

  • Servings: “4”
  • Difficulty: “easy”[recipe
  • Print
1/4 cup mayonnaise
1/4 cup Dijon or whole-grain mustard
2 teaspoons Worcestershire sauce
3/4 cup dry breadcrumbs
2 teaspoons dried Italian seasoning
1/2 teaspoon salt and pepper olive oil
5 or 6 large chicken drumsticks, about 2 pounds

Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Coat the bottom of a baking sheet with olive oil. Mix together mayonnaise, mustard, and Worcestershire sauce in a medium-size bowl. On a plate, sprinkle bread crumbs with dried herbs and salt and pepper. Dip each drumstick in the mustard mixture, coating completely. Next, dip the drumsticks into the bread crumbs, coating completely, then place on the oiled baking sheet. Bake for 30 minutes or until crispy.

Yankee Pot Roast

 

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If you are like me, as the season begins to change you suddenly realize that it is imperative to cook some of those ingredients stored in the freezer before it is too late. By too late I mean not only will the ingredients go bad, but let’s be realistic:  if the second turkey purchased around the holidays (it was such a good deal!) is not eaten now, it is unlikely to be eaten in the middle of the summer.

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It was with this issue in mind that I decided to make pot roast the other night. Since the Chicago weather has really cooperated with me and remained at arctic temperatures (you think I’m kidding) pot roast turned out to be a lovely early spring meal.

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Nothing beats the delicious homeyness of pot roast. That said, I am finding pot roast cuts increasingly difficult to find and wonder if this meal is becoming a bit of a has-been. Too bad, since it certainly is a nice treat.

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I usually rely on a recipe from Martha Stewart’s Everyday Foods which features tomatoes as a main ingredient. This time I decided to try a recipe from a new favorite cook book of mine, All About Braising: The Art of Uncomplicated Cooking by Molly Stevens. This cookbook tells it like it is and Stevens provides practical tips on how to shop for and select good cuts of meat.

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If you take anything away from this recipe, it’s the technique of covering the roast with parchment paper after it has been braised and before it is put in the oven to slow roast. According to Stevens, this step traps the moisture in the pot by reinforcing the lid’s seal and reducing any space in the pot.

 

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Clearly, all that trapped moisture went right into this pot roast and gave it lots of flavor. The roast was moist, the vegetables were meaty, and all together it was well worth the effort.

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Yankee Pot Roast, adapted from Molly Stevens All About Braising

4 lbs. beef chuck roast
course salt and freshly ground pepper
3 t olive oil
1 bay leaf
1/2 t dried thyme
3 whole cloves
3 medium yellow onions, peeled and quartered
3 cloves of garlic, minced
1/4 C dry white wine
1 C beef or chicken stock
3 whole carrots, peeled and cut into 1 1/2 inch lengths

Preheat the oven to 300. Season roast with salt and pepper and allow to rest about 15-20 minutes.

Heat a Dutch oven (or other large heavy pot), over medium high heat until the pot is hot. Heat oil in pot and add seasoned roast with tongs. Sear on each side about 4-5 minutes until the surface of the meat is browned. Remove roast and set aside. Add wine to pot and bring to boil, scraping up brown bits from the bottom. Continue to boil until reduced by half, about 3-4 minutes. Add stock and bring to boil. Return pot roast and any accumulated liquid to the pot and add garlic, onion and the herbs.

Cover the roast with parchment paper, pressing paper down so that the paper touches the meat and the edges extend over the sides of the pot. Cover with lid.*

Roast in oven for about 45 minutes and then turn the roast with tongs. Cook for another 45 minutes. Turn roast again and add carrots.** Cook for an additional 1 1/2 hours (for a total of about 3 hours) until the meat is tender and the vegetables are easily pierced with a knife.

Serves 6

*Don’t despair if you do not have a lid for your pot.  Simply cover with tinfoil after the parchment paper.

**Stevens suggests you also add a half pound of peeled red potatoes and a half a pound of small turnips, peeled and quartered. I opted for only carrots because there wasn’t enough room in the pot.

Bakin’ Bacon

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Considering that bacon is such a popular food these days, I am surprised that so many people are unfamiliar with the best way to cook it.  For years I fried bacon in a cast-iron skillet on the stove top.  I suffered. Hot grease would splatter everywhere; all over the stove, the counter – even at times it would burn my hands.

Is it worth it?  Absolutely not. But there’s a better way.  Bake it in the oven.

Simply preheat your oven to 375 degrees.  Lay out the bacon on a rimmed cookie sheet (or jelly roll pan) to prevent the grease from spilling and pop it in the oven to cook for about 20 minutes.

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Now the time is all yours.  Take a break, read the paper, have a cup of coffee.  If you are feeling particularly industrious, make some pancakes.

Check on the bacon after 20 minutes.  It should be pretty well cooked.  Using tongs turn over each piece.  Return the bacon to the oven for another 5 to 10 minutes – the exact time depends on how crispy you like your bacon (we prefer very crispy in this household) and the heating qualities of your oven.

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You’ll find that your bacon will be cooked to perfection. And as a bonus, it will be nice and flat, nothing like that curled up bacon you get in a frying pan.

Immediately remove the hot bacon from the pan and place it on a paper-towel-covered plate to blot the excess grease.  For ease in cleaning the pan, allow the grease to cool; then, while it is still liquid, pour it into a can for disposal.

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So that’s it — bacon baked in the oven.  So very easy!

Battle of the Beef

The other night we had battle of the beef, corned beef that is, since we were celebrating St. Patrick’s Day.

I grew up eating corned beef on St. Patrick’s Day and it was always prepared in the classic New England style:  boiled with carrots, potatoes and cabbage. I’ll admit it, I’ve never really cared for boiled meat.  I will even admit that I was always a little confused about corned beef, given its texture, color and saltiness.  I thought it was actually a type of ham.

So when I grew up and started celebrating St. Patrick’s Day on my own, I sought out a new way to prepare corned beef that was more to my taste.  Some friends from Texas introduced me to their unique method:  boil the corned beef the traditional way,  but then rub it down with a spice and brown sugar mixture and throw it on the grill.  For years now I’ve made my corned beef Texas style, as I found this method just as flavorful as the traditional but with an extra sweet crunch.

This year I found myself in a perplexing situation.  The polar vortex that has hit the Chicago area hard left my grill trapped in ice.  There was just no way I was going to be able to use it for St. Patrick’s Day.  I started investigating alternative ways to cook corned beef and that is when I stumbled upon the idea of slow roasting it in the oven.

Since I had purchased two packages of corned beef (we were having our neighbors over and I wanted to be sure I would have leftovers), I decided to do a little taste test and try both methods.

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One corned beef I put in a large pot and covered with water, added a can of beer (pilsner), onion, garlic, peppercorns, bay leaves and chili pepper flakes.  I brought the whole mess to a boil and then simmered it for about 5 hours.

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When the meat was done, I took it out of the pot and let it rest for about 5 minutes.  Then I covered it with a brown sugar spice mixture and put it under the broiler to get the meat crispy.  Broiling worked pretty well given that grilling wasn’t an option.

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The other corned beef, I slow roasted at a low temperature in the oven for 5 hours.  I put the beef in a roasting pan on top of a sheet of foil, fat side up and then I sprinkled the spice packet that comes with the beef on top.

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Then I slathered the meat with equal parts grainy mustard and honey and sprinkled brown sugar on top.  I covered the corned beef with foil and put in a 325 degree oven.

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Everybody at the dinner party really enjoyed both types of corned beef, but I think that the roasted one came out the best.  The meat was really tender but firm enough to cut into thick slices.  The meat wasn’t stringy and the outside was crunchy and delicious.  I read that parboiling the meat before hand makes it less salty, which I didn’t do this time, but I may try the next time I make it.

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Next year I plan to slow roast the corned beef because it was so easy.  The meal was prepared in one simple step and came out perfectly.

Enjoy!

Texas Style Corned Beef Brisket

1 bottle beer
4 bay leaves
1 t red chili pepper flakes
3 whole cinnamon sticks
12 peppercorns
3 cloves of garlic, peeled
1 large onion, peeled
1 4-5 pound corned beef, flat cut*

Put all of the ingredients in a large pot.  Cover with water and bring to a boil.  Turn down to a simmer and cook 4-5 hours.  Cool 5 – 10 minutes and then proceed to rub.

* I recommend the flat cut of corned beef only because it isn’t as fatty and doesn’t shrink as much as the point cut when cooked.

Rub

1/2 C brown sugar
1/2 t cloves
1/2 t ginger
1/2 t dry mustard
1/4 t celery seeds
1/4 t caraway seeds

Mix together the ingredients in a bowl.  Pat rub all over the meat.  Sear on a hot grill or put under a broiler until crunchy.

Serves 6

Slow Roasted Corned Beef (adapted from the blog fortheloveofcooking.net)

4-5 pound corned beef (with seasoning packet), flat cut
1/3 C honey
1/3 C whole grain mustard
2 T brown sugar

Preheat oven to 325 degrees.  Combine the honey and mustard in a small bowl.  Line the bottom of a roasting pan with foil.  Place the beef fat side up and cover with seasoning packet.  Cover with honey mustard mixture and sprinkle brown sugar on top.  Cover the meat with foil and put in the middle rack of oven.  Cook for 4 hours.  Remove foil the last hour to allow to crisp on top.

Serves 6

Lemon Pepper Mahi-Mahi

I’ll share a little secret with you.  Sometimes when I am feeling less imaginative and am in need of a good recipe, I’ll rely on a recipe on a package.  While it does seem as if I am cheating in the creativity department, here’s my theory:  No business would put a recipe on the packaging for one of its products if the recipe weren’t tried and true, guaranteed to come out the way it should.  So for example, at one point or another, I’ve followed all of the cookie recipes on chocolate-chip packages and the cake recipes on the cocoa and cake-flour boxes.  And all of those recipes turn out good.

In light of the above confession, here is the meal I prepared the other night:  For dinner for my husband and me, I defrosted some mahi-mahi fish fillets from Trader Joe’s.  This type of fish is not a regular on my repertoire so I was in need of some ideas.  Luckily, the package had a couple of great recipes: Lemon Pepper Butter, and Easy Aioli.  I’ve made aioli many times in the past, so I decided to test out the Lemon Pepper Butter, especially since I had most of the ingredients on hand anyway.

First, I took out a half a stick of butter and let it soften while I prepared the other ingredients.  Next, I zested one lemon and chopped up about a quarter cup of fresh, flat-leaf Italian parsley.

Once the butter had softened, I combined the lemon zest and parsley with the butter using a fork.

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The recipe called for Trader Joe’s Lemon Pepper, which I didn’t happen to have, so I substituted Maine sea salt and freshly ground pepper (it just so happens that my father makes his own sea salt).

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imageNow this handy-dandy recipe also included advice on various ways to cook the fish, depending on whether it had been defrosted or was still frozen.  As my mahi-mahi was defrosted, I had these options: on the grill, pan seared, or oven roasted.  I decided to sear the fish in a pan since I like crispy fish, and it’s too cold and snow around here to do any outside grilling.

I heated a heavy cast-iron pan over medium-high heat until it was sizzling hot, added a little olive oil, and seared the filets about three minutes on each side until cooked through.

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I topped the cooked fillets with the Lemon Pepper Butter and served it with quinoa (more on that another day) and a tossed salad.  The mahi-mahi came out crisp on the outside and flaky on the inside.  The Lemon Pepper Butter melted over the fish and created a delicious topping and added flavor to the quinoa.

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Delicious!

Lemon Pepper Butter Mahi-Mahi

2 mahi-mahi fillets

1/2 stick of unsalted butter, softened

zest of one lemon

1/4 cup fresh flat-leaf Italian parsley, chopped

salt and pepper to taste

Using a fork, mash together the butter, lemon zest, and parsley until mixed completely.  Season with salt and pepper to taste.  Heat a heavy-bottom pan over medium-high heat.  Coat pan with olive oil.  Sear fish fillets on each side about 3 minutes until cooked through.  Serve with lemon butter on top.

Serves 2