I Love Presents!

Just after Easter the FedEx man arrived with a gift from the great people at FoodBuzz. Oooh, I love getting presents! 😉 It was marked ‘Keep Refrigerated’ and ‘Perishable’. What could it be? The Tartlets gathered around to see what treasure would come from the box. Imagine my delight when it was a package of Buitoni’s new Wild Mushroom Agnolotti. Especially delightful since three of the Tartlets turn their little noses up at mushrooms, leaving all the more for me! 😀

Oh, the ideas this lovely gift inspired. What kind of sauce to make? Hmmm . . . eggplant and zucchini in a tomato base? artichoke and leek in a cream base? maybe just a light toss with some fresh pesto? or a creamy sauce with ham and peas? oh maybe something with a little wine in it? Oh the agony of decision making! But this was just after Easter and I had a little bit of lamb leftover, which I usually save for a shepherd’s pie, and the sauteed mushrooms and onions were *sooooo* good with the lamb, that I kept thinking of how to incorporate the lamb into my pasta sauce.

The leeks couldn’t be passed up, so I started building a recipe in my head, combining things I had on hand with a few things I bought to add. Leftover half and half, leftover lamb, pignolia in the cupboard, and a lemon from the fridge were combined with a red pepper, leek, fresh grated Parmesan cheese, fresh oregano and basil to make a very tasty lunch. Tartlet 1 said that the only problem she could see with this recipe is that there wasn’t more of it!

In order to not be swayed by the flavor of my sauce, I tasted a wild mushroom agnolotti fresh from the boiling pot, and it was just amazing. Little bits of mushroom with a great flavor and would be a lovely meal without any sauce at all. Although the packages may be a bit spendy for feeding a family of six, I would absolutely buy this as a treat or for special adult meals. I loved them!

Speaking of spending money, I’d like to give a plug for buying day old bread at your grocery bakery. I picked up a day old baguette for $0.83. Now day old baguettes may seem to you like they are only useful as baseball bats or fending off would be attackers, but they make great cheesy toast. Cut the loaf in half, sprinkle with a little seasoning, top with shredded cheese and bake in a 350 – 400 F oven until the cheese melts. Not only will the bread soften so you don’t recognize it as day old, but you made a great accompaniment for your meal for a little more than a dollar (adding the cost of the cheese). It goes well with pasta and soups.

Make sure you check out what other people are doing with their pasta gifts and, if you like what you see, Buzz it!

Wild Mushroom Agnolotti with Lamb and Leek Cream Sauce

1 package Buitoni Wild Mushroom Agnolotti, cooked according to the directions

2 Tbsp. extra virgin olive oil
1 medium leek
2 Tbsp. fresh basil, chopped
2 Tbsp. fresh oregano, chopped
1 crushed clove of garlic
1/2 medium red pepper, chopped
zest of one lemon
1/2 c. chopped cooked lamb

1 1/2 c. half and half (or substitute milk)
3/4 c. shredded Parmesan cheese

1/2 c. pignolia

In a heavy pan over medium heat, heat olive oil and saute leek until bright green. Add basil, oregano, garlic, red pepper, lemon and lamb. Saute until fragrant and vegetables are tender.

Add half and half and continue to heat, stirring frequently, until sauce is warm. Add the cheese and stir constantly, allowing the sauce to thicken. If you like a thicker sauce, add a Tbsp of flour to 2 Tbsp cold water and mix well, then add to the sauce and stir until thickened; for a thinner sauce, add a little milk or half and half. Stir in pignolia and serve over Wild Mushroom Agnolotti. Sprinkle with grated Parmesan, if desired.

Dinner Made Easy

I have mentioned my on again, off again relationship with the slow cooker, but this recipe could keep the love flowing. After reading several versions of this, I settled on using my own style. Since this was meant to be a time-saving dinner, I used jarred spaghetti sauce rather than homemade. The end result was pretty runny served hot from the crock. After it had cooled I pulled the liner out and stored it in a large bowl in the fridge overnight. The leftovers were reheated in the microwave, still in the liner inside the bowl, and the layers were firmer and attractive. It wouldn’t work to put it in the cooker and leave it all day, but I think you could cook it on low for 6 hrs since I did high for 3 hrs.

Slow Cooker Lasagna
1 lb ground meat, browned and drained (I used part chicken and part beef and cooked it with a little onion and garlic)

24 oz. ricotta
16 oz. small curd cottage cheese
2 c. mozzarella, shredded
1 egg

~ 40 oz. spaghetti sauce, fresh or jarred
8-10 uncooked lasagna noodles

1 c. mozzarella, shredded

Brown the meat and set aside (or leave it out if you prefer a vegetarian dish). In a large bowl, mix together the cheeses, egg, and parsley.

Line the slow cooker, if desired. Spread a few tablespoons of sauce on the bottom. Make a layer of dry noodles on top, breaking them as needed to fit. Top with more sauce, meat, and cheese. Repeat layers ending with noodles and sauce. Cook on High for 3 hrs. Top with remaining mozzarella; let stand for 10 minutes before serving.

Salmon Leftovers

Last week I intentionally bought a large salmon fillet so we could have salmon cakes from the leftovers. Usually I make my salmon cakes like I make crab cakes, although I often leave off the hazelnuts and generally make tartar sauce rather than berry sauce. Because I used the orange marmalade glaze on the entire salmon fillet, I decided to go a slightly different route with the leftovers and made a funky apricot-ginger aioli wanna-be to go with it. I also made a mushroom risotto, a first for me, which was average, not stellar but definitely edible. I served the salmon cakes and risotto with some fresh greens and fruit. Another nice meal for grownup tastes.

Salmon Cakes with Apricot-Ginger Aioli

3/4 lb. cooked salmon with orange glaze
1 egg
2 small celery stalks, chopped
2 Tbsp. chopped onion
1/3 c. ground flax meal

Mix all ingredients. Shape into patties. Cook on hot, greased skillet or grill about 2 minutes per side or until browned.

Apricot-Ginger Aioli

1/4 c. light mayonnaise
2 Tbsp. apricot preserves
1 Tbsp. soy sauce
1/2 t. white rice vinegar
1/8 t. fresh grated ginger

Stir together until smooth.

Colorful Cruciferous Veggie Pasta

People are sometimes surprised to hear that there are days that even I don’t want to cook. I’d rather bake than cook anyway, as you’ve no doubt deduced already, but I get tired of the same old reruns and thinking about what to make that will please most of the people at the table. Some days, about once a week, I just want to pick up the phone and call for Dos Reales take away or order a pizza. Unfortunately, as our family has grown it means that we can’t easily get away with that for under $30. So about once a week we have what I would consider the next best thing to ordering out — pasta.

I *LOVE* pasta. Unfortunately, The Husband not so much . . . or at least I thought so until The Great Impasta seemed to have become his favorite restaurant and then I finally realized that it wasn’t the pasta he hated, it was the tomato-based sauces that I love. He likes thick pastas like linguine and fettucini and he loves creamy alfredo and pesto, but *not* tomato. Tartlet 1 is the same — loves the pesto and cheesy pasta but rejects tomato-based sauces. So some days I please the rest of our family and we boil a box of pasta and open a jar of tomato based sauce and warm some Italian bread and have a salad or a bag of frozen veggies and we have dinner for $6 instead of take out and have to hear at least one person at the table complain about the meal (The Husband doesn’t complain, *ever*) and some days I do something a little different. Today was one of the latter.

I’ve seen purple cauliflower at The Grocery a few times but haven’t tried it before. It was on sale this week and Tartlet 2 was just talking about she likes ‘white broccoli’ (cauliflower) so I thought I’d see what she thought of purple. I picked up a variety of other veggies (broccoli, snow peas, zucchini, carrots, roasted red peppers, and onion) and lightly stir-poached them with some garlic and seasoned it with basil and a little oregano. Then I tossed it with some angel hair pasta and grated Parmesan cheese. A nice light meal with plenty of colorful vegetables.

Ruth at Once Upon A Feast hosts a weekly Presto Pasta event and I absolutely love the variety and old favorites served up there. Go check out the weekly roundups and I’ll serve up a plate of this.

Whiplash Wednesday

Is it just me that finds the weeks whizzing past before I can even recognize the month and week on the calendar? For some reason Wednesdays are the worst for me. Probably because it’s a little shorter school day for us but it also means that the supposedly ‘most productive days’ of our week are spent and we are already behind the game, and it’s Awana night (again?! already?) and I need to help the kids learn their verses because, despite the solemn oaths of last week that we would be better prepared and work on verses before Wednesday afternoon, we haven’t even opened the books since last Wednesday. I find myself getting whiplash each week around this time, amazed that my time is slipping away so rapidly and I have so little to show for it.

As a result, I try to make the most of my Wednesday afternoon and prepare a meal in 20-30 minutes (sometimes it cooks longer, but not a meal that needs my attention for longer than that) while I’m sending the kids off to gather their backpacks, Awana bucks, books, vests/shirts, etc. “Make sure you have socks and shoes on — it’s your ticket to the dinner table; no socks, no shoes, no dinner!” I yell from in front of the stove. I juggle dirty dishes into the dishwasher or empty it of clean ones, call kids to stow their school materials for tomorrow, fling the hash onto the plates, and call everyone to come eat — we have 10-15 minutes to eat before we need to leave, kids! Sometimes The Husband enters the chaos at this point, other nights he’s running late himself and gets home just in time to wave us off from the front steps — your dinner is on the table. Love you, bye! Keep moving kids, we’re running late — again! I say, with cattle prod in hand.

Wednesday night meals are often reheat repeats, burritos, or some other simple food. Last week I was inspired to make something from the contents of the freezer. I had some frozen cooked shrimp from a ‘buy one, get two free’ deal at Meijer and a couple of leftover chicken jalapeno sausage links (natural pork casings removed) and decided to make a shrimp over rice dish. The sausage was spicy, too spicy for the younger kids (Thing 1 loved it, though), but I thought it was a good dish overall. You could substitute a milder sausage and use a little Tabasco to add whatever heat you want.

Spicy Sausage & Shrimp

1 Tbsp. olive oil
1 medium onion, chopped
1/2 long red sweet pepper, chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 – 15 oz cans of diced tomatoes
2 links fully cooked chicken sausage, casing removed & sliced
1 lb. frozen cooked shrimp, defrosted, rinsed & tails removed
frozen peas

Heat oil in pan, add onion and pepper and saute until tender. Add garlic and stir for a minute or two. Add tomatoes and sausage simmer for 5 minutes. Add shrimp and frozen peas and cook until heated through. Serve over rice.