Home Alone: A Mother’s Fantasy

Back at the end of January, The Husband bought a barn on eBay. No, I don’t mean like a barn and some property, I mean just the barn, 5 hours from home. He finally started taking it apart and bringing home the pieces in March and has been going back up to it every nice weekend he can. The first weekend he went alone, then he took Tartlet 1, another time he took Tartlets 1 & 2, another time it was Tartlets 2, 3 & 4 (Tartlet 1 was in her glory having Mom without competition!). This weekend he has taken all four Tartlets! So I am having a wonderful quiet day alone.

I’ve done the sorts of things it seems every mom I know does when the kids are gone — clean and organize without interference. Tossing out little plastic toys that no one will miss if they don’t see them going into the trash, straightening some drawers, laundry, laundry, and more laundry. Finally it was time to take a break and find some nourishment.

Many times when The Husband is gone, I don’t really cook. Either I get some take out or I scrounge leftovers. Knowing I would be sans car (no take out) and wanting something that celebrated the adult moment of being home alone, I bought some mushrooms and asparagus before the family left. I added a sprinkling of feta, some onion, a little long sweet red pepper, and seasoned it with a little fresh garlic and dried basil and oregano and tossed it with mostaccioli.  Mmmm, adult food!

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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
parsley

~ 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.

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.

Tex-Mex Lasagna

I tried another recipe from Cooking Light, Tex-Mex Lasagna. The kids all gave it a resounding thumbs down. The little girls liked the noodles (no surprises there) but it was too runny and I thought it lacked flavor. I have other recipes that we like better, like the chicken enchiladas we’ll have later in the week.
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I think I’ve exhausted the Cooking Light recipes I want to try for a while and will move on to a different cookbook on the shelf.  There are plenty to choose from!

Another Cooking Light Test

Yesterday, I tried another recipe from the Superfast Weeknight Dinners from Cooking Light. You can find the recipe and a picture for Pasta with Herbed Goat Cheese and Cherry Tomatoes here. Their finished product looked nicer than mine.

Why can’t I remember to read a new recipe *all* the way through? It must be a genetic defect. I didn’t read that serving sizes were 1 1/2 cups, but did see the ‘4 servings’ and 12 oz dried pasta and decided I would have to double it. That’s a lot of angel hair pasta. I only had half enough grape tomatoes for a double recipe, thanks to Tartlet 4 who eats them like candy (hey, it could be worse . . . she could be eating candy!) I added some chopped yellow tomato. The ‘cooking light’ part was no doubt lost here b/c I used more than twice the cheese but ended up mixing it with the amount from just one box of pasta and the right number of tomatoes. I also failed to have either fresh or dried basil on hand so I used some oregano and mixed seasons from the cupboard. Oh, and I also added some frozen green peas.

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The kids didn’t like it. And once I said the words ‘goat cheese’ (after they had already eaten the initial portion) they weren’t about to put another bite in their mouths. So they ate some of the extra pasta plain. I used the leftover pasta to make some pseudo-lo mein today. The Husband really liked the goat cheese pasta and wished he hadn’t forgotten to take the leftovers to work. In fact, he commented that he *much* preferred the goat cheese to the lo mein. I like goat cheese and I liked this recipe but I probably won’t make it for the whole family again, even with half the amount of cheese I used. Sometimes when I make pasta I leave part of it plain because the kids tend to like different things — red sauce, pesto, etc — so I may make some for the grownups and leave the rest plain for the Tartlets.

Presto Pasta Night

Ruth at Once Upon A Feast has been hosting a weekly blog event called ‘Presto Pasta’, which always has a wide variety of great looking entries. Back when I was a single grad student, I could easily divide my meals between stir fry and pasta but since neither of those are the Husband’s favorites, I don’t cook them quite as often as my taste would prefer. I’ve cut back to pasta about once every two weeks, sometimes more frequently b/c pasta is my ‘lazy dish’ when I don’t feel like spending a lot of time in the kitchen.  “Presto Pasta” sounds sooo much better than ‘Lazy Linguine’!

Once of my favorites is linguine with clams. As Brilynn has been known to point out, everything is better with a little bacon and I especially like to add it to my clam dishes.
clam-pasta.jpg

For this, I first browned about 6 oz of bacon, then sauteed onion and garlic in a bit of bacon grease, added two cans of minced clams, with juice.  I added basil and oregano and a few twists from the garlic pepper grinder.  I tossed the cooked linguine with the ‘sauce’ and served with a green salad and garlic bread.  Some people added a little grated Parmesan to their pasta.