Monday, July 28, 2008

Food & Cooking: Madison & Minneapolis

I was not happy with the food and cooking experience in Wisconsin, but it was balanced out by a great experience in Minnesota.

Things started badly in Madison when our freezer bag developed a rip in the lining. This led to a loss of insulation, which resulted in thawed-out mess upon arrival. My planned dinner of Tomato Florentine Soup with Tortellini was compromised by the warm-to-the-touch state of our previously frozen spinach.

After throwing away the perishables and rinsing off the non-perishables, I was dispirited and didn't want to make anything out of the pantry. I made CKL take me out to dinner instead. Then, after we made our menu and went grocery shopping, I got a migraine and was pretty much useless for cooking the rest of the trip.

We had exactly two home-cooked meals in the five days we spent in Madison: Fettucine with Pesto and Shrimps, and Tomato Tortellini Soup with Pesto (and the leftover shrimps. It's a sad day when shrimps are something that you just have to use up.)

The menu was repetitive and a little boring, but I just wasn't feeling energetic enough to make the Jambalaya I had originally planned to cook. Except for the milk, shrimps, fresh fettuccine and pesto, the food we purchased for Wisconsin came to Minnesota with us.

Minnesota was much better! I had a great time wandering around the produce section of Cub foods, and we were able to plan our meals around fresh vegetables. I'm always happiest when we get to eat fresh vegetables. They're more fun to cook and they taste better.

Our Minnesota menu: Seared Peppers & Onions with Chorizo, Stir Fry Broccolini & Mushrooms with Chicken, and the delayed Jambalaya.

Everyone needs a couple of signature dishes that they love to make and share with other people. Jambalaya is one of mine. It's fun to make, fun to eat, and I love to serve it to guests. Heck, I even made Jambalaya on my wedding* day.

This next bit is the Big Recipe Finale. I've decided not to do shopping lists anymore. The ingredient list tells you everything you need to know. So, on to the recipes!

Fettucine with Pesto and Shrimps: It's embarrassing to call this a recipe, since all I did was buy a few ingredients, cook them according to the package directions and mix them together. But hey, we go with what we have.

I also have a guilty secret: I usually dilute my pesto with a white sauce (since I always need more calcium in my diet). This time, I was even more guilty than usual; I cheated on the white sauce. Since we have such limited space, if I didn't want to buy flour or butter. For authenticity, I'll include my sad white sauce in the directions, but if you actually decide to make this, leave out the white sauce... unless you too need more calcium in your diet.
  • 2c milk & 1/2c potato flake/instant mashed potatoes (for totally cheated white sauce)
  • 1 package fresh fettuccine
  • 1 jar prepared pesto
  • 1/2lb raw shrimps
Microwave the milk until boiling or almost boiling (be very wary of boilover. Milk gets huge.) Stir in the potato flake. Microwave for 1-2 minutes until thickened and heated through. Set aside.

Salt and boil water for pasta.

Pour a little oil off the top of the pesto into a fry pan. Add shrimps but wait for the pasta water to boil before turning on the heat.

When the pasta water starts to boil, turn the heat to high under the shrimps. If the shrimps are big, cook them first, then add the fettuccine to the pasta water. If the shrimps are 26-30 per pound or smaller, they can cook at the same time as the pasta.

Shake or stir the shrimps until they turn pink. Remove from heat. Cook the fettuccine, if not already started.

Add a couple of spoonfuls of prepared pesto (and the white sauce, if using.) Stir together the sauce. Add some pasta water if needed to thin the mixture.

By this time, the fettuccine is usually done. Drain.

Combine the fettuccine and the sauce. Taste, and add salt, pepper and/or more pesto as needed.

Tomato Tortellini Soup with Pesto: This is another dead-easy meal. I usually make it with Spinach and call it Tomato Florentine, but you know what happened to my spinach.
  • 2c broth (whatever broth flavor you like. I used water and low-sodium chicken broth packets)
  • 14oz can diced or pureed tomatoes
  • 1c tortellini (whatever flavor you like, dry or fresh--but if you use fresh, you may want to use more tortellini. Fresh don't expand much when cooked. I used dried. Cheese, I think)
  • Prepared Pesto (again, whatever flavor you like. I used leftover basil pesto from the fettuccine)
Add broth and tomatoes to a soup pot. Bring to a boil.

Add tortellini and cook for time specified in package directions.

When the tortellini are done, stir in a spoonful or two of pesto. Taste, and add salt, pepper and/or more pesto as desired.

Seared Peppers & Onions with Chorizo: I guess you could call this tacos or fajitas or salad or tostadas or something. I never pick a specific name, since generally just put out the various components and let people make whatever they want with them. For example, I made myself a tostada first, then a salad. CKL pretty much just ate tacos. The next night, we had a salad with the leftovers.

As with so many of my other "recipes", the actual size/quantity/color/type of ingredient can be easily varied. The ingredient list is just what I used.
  • olive oil
  • red pepper flake
  • 1 large onion, sliced into roughly 3" strips
  • 1 large green pepper, sliced into roughly 3" strips
  • 2 pasilla peppers, sliced into roughly 3" strips
  • 2 cloves garlic, coarsely minced
  • 9oz chorizo, sliced into roughly 2" strips
  • 1-2 limes, cut into wedges
  • 1 bunch cilantro, chopped (if you don't like cilantro, use lettuce)
  • salsa
  • tortillas
  • shredded cheese
  • brown rice, cooked (or beans, if you prefer)
  • sour cream
Drizzle a little oil into a fry pan. Add 2-3 pinches of red pepper flake. Add onion.

Cook over high heat until the onion begins to look a bit translucent.

Add the peppers, garlic and chorizo. Cook, stirring frequently, until caramelized around the edges and done to your liking.

Remove from heat and squeeze lime wedges over the pan. Taste. Add salt, pepper, hot sauce as desired.

Serve with remaining ingredients.

Stir Fry Broccolini & Mushrooms with Chicken: I don't stir-fry very often. I'm always so concerned with making sure that the stir fry tastes like something in particular that I end up putting in too much sauce and everything gets all soggy and overcooked.

I don't actually have much by way of seasonings here on the road, so I didn't worry about making the stir fry taste like anything but its ingredients. Guess what? Shock of shocks, the stir fry tasted quite good. Two things I might have done differently, though: more garlic and some fresh ginger.
  • 3c prepared brown rice
  • 1 Tbs olive oil (if, unlike me, you have more than one kind of oil, use one with a higher smoke point, say canola or peanut)
  • 2-3 pinches red pepper flake
  • 12oz boneless chicken thigh, cut into 1" chunks
  • 1 large onion, cut into 1" chunks
  • 2 large cloves garlic, coarsely chopped (4 might be better)
  • 80z crimini mushrooms, sliced
  • 1 bunch broccolini, washed
  • 2 packets TJ's low sodium chicken broth concentrate
Cook brown rice, if not already on hand.

Add oil and red pepper flake to pan. Let infuse while preparing vegetables and meat.

Turn heat to high and add chicken and onion to pan. Cook until chicken is browned and cooked through.

Add all remaining vegetables. Stir fry another couple of minutes.

Drizzle broth concentrate over pan and mix thoroughly. Remove pan from heat. Taste. Add salt & pepper as desired.

Serve over rice.
Jambalaya: I love this dish, but if you've gotten this far in my long, looooooooooooooong post, you know that already. I always include tomatoes, onion, garlic, peppers and hot sauce. Everything else is subject to change, especially the meat. When I cook for guests, however, I always use chicken, spicy sausage, and shrimps.
  • 3 c brown rice, cooked
  • 1 tsp olive oil
  • 2-3 pinches red pepper flake
  • 60z boneless chicken thigh, cut in 1" chunks
  • 6oz chorizo, cut in 1" chunks
  • 1 large onion, cut in 1" chunks
  • 1 large bell pepper, cut in 1" chunks
  • 2 cloves garlic, coarsely chopped
  • 14 oz can diced tomatoes (I usually use two cans but we were leaving the next day and I didn't want any leftovers)
  • 1 packet TJ's chicken broth concentrate and 1/2c water (or boil 1c of broth until it reduces by half)
  • Hot sauce**
Cook brown rice, if not already on hand.

Add oil and red pepper flake to pan. Let infuse while preparing vegetables and meat.

Turn heat to high and add onion and chicken to pan. Resist the temptation to stir until the edges of the onion start to brown. Stir once, and wait for the onions to brown a little more.

Add peppers and garlic. Reduce heat to medium.

Once the peppers have wilted a bit and the onions are translucent, add tomatoes, broth concentrate, water and about 1/2 tsp hot sauce.

Simmer until the chicken is thoroughly cooked. Taste. The sauce will probably need salt and spice. Add salt, pepper and hot sauce.

Simmer another minute. Taste and add salt, pepper and/or hot sauce.

Simmer, taste, season, and repeat until the Jambalaya is spicy but not painful.

Serve over rice.

* Yes, I really cooked for my own wedding. CKL and I wanted to feed our guests our favorite foods. So we put out the pre-dinner bread, hummus, veggies, and nuts that we serve at home, ordered a dish from each of our favorite restaurants, and rounded out the meal with a nice homemade salad and Jambalaya. I also made a few favorite beverages: Paradise tea, strawberry lemonade, Red Sangria and Tropical White Sangria. I had so much fun. It was a wonderful day from start to finish.

** Use whatever you like. I use Frank's Red Hot, mostly because we wanted a bottle of hot sauce that didn't need to be refrigerated and that had red pepper as the first ingredient. When I'm adding hot sauce to a dish, I'm looking to add heat and the flavor of chile peppers. Frank's fit the bill.

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