Monday, March 28, 2011

Reinforced Mac 'n' Cheese

I love food. I love trying new things, but I can be picky and lazy. My laziness leads me to reach for whatever is convenient. My pickiness leads me to stick with the tried and true. I know, bad combination.

And so God, in his wisdom, saw it fit for me to develop more serious consequences than just getting fat. Thanks to a severe iron deficiency, my doctor's litany about "add veggies to your diet" has become a mantra. I began to look at food as fuel and nutrition as more than just fat and calories to avoid (wasn't working anyway). Turns out those leafy green things are one of your body's BFFs.

Sometimes, I challenge myself (a way to stave off the laziness) to see how many veggies I can fit into a meal without turning it into a salad. This weekend I was craving cheesy comfort food. So, this is what I came up with: TA DA!! [Applause]

Reinforced Mac 'n' Cheese (semi-lazy version)

1 pkg. mac n cheese, any brand

2 tbsp olive oil

1/2 onion, chopped

1-2 garlic cloves, pressed

1 sm bunch/handful spinach, chopped

3 oz. cooked/seasoned ground beef*

2 tbsp butter

1/4 cup milk

Cook macaroni according to package directions. In a separate pan, heat olive oil till it's shimmery. Over med-high heat, add onion and garlic. Stir around a couple time till they just begin to turn golden. Turn heat down to med. Add spinach and stir till completely wilted. Stir in ground beef and turn down heat. Beef will warm through while you prepare the mac n cheese. Once macaroni is tender -- NOT soft! -- drain and return pasta and saucepan to low heat. Add butter and stir. Once melted, stir in cheese powder packet till evenly coated. Pour in milk and stir until well mixed. If macaroni is still milky, turn up heat to med-low and stir for a minute more. Remove both pans from heat and mix in the meat mixture with the macaroni. Serve.

*Cooked/seasoned ground beef - I feel better when I don't eat a lot of meat. Many times it goes bad while sitting in the fridge. So, I came up with a brilliant plan - cook meat when I get home from store and then freeze it. Here's my recipe:

Heat skillet big enough for quantity of ground beef over med-high heat. Once meat starts sizzling, sprinkle top with cumin, oregano, garlic salt, and maybe some basil or thyme (depends on your taste). Stir and break up chunks making sure pink areas turn brown. Once brown, drain off liquid and let meat cool. Once cool store in a freezer-safe container and place in fridge. You may want to label (masking tape and sharpie) it with the date you cooked it up. I don't date stuff, but freezer burn tends to set in after 3 months or so. For the recipe above, I didn't weigh out 3 oz. I spooned out the quantity that looked a bit smaller than the size of my palm.

Other notes:

  1. I called this recipe "semi-lazy" because you start with box mac n cheese, but you do "beef" it up.

  2. Any of the ingredients are to taste. I realize that not everyone is a garlic-aholic like me. Be free to modify.

  3. I think this would be great with mushrooms, but I didn't have any.

  4. I usually skip measuring the milk and pour it slowly into pan until it "looks right". I don't like it runny.

  5. Sarah makes her own version of this recipe with tuna, peas and corn.

I may follow this post with a non-lazy version with "made from scratch" cheese sauce. I've never made the actual macaroni.

(I realize that the picture has nothing to do with anything posted. Well, it does show me and my sister Sarah with Polly. We met her at a pet store a few years ago.)

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Chicken Tortellini Soup

Me and Sarah trying to stay dry in LA's version of a hurricane.
 What is the best thing on a rainy day when you get home from a soccer game soaked to the skin? A piping hot bowl of chicken soup. Here's what I threw together in about 30 minutes after getting home from our first LA Galaxy game. Suggestion: read through the whole thing first - I've included some tips and explanations at the end.

Erin's Rainy Day Chicken Tortellini Soup

2 tbsp olive oil
1 garlic clove, pressed
2 handfuls fresh spinach, chopped
1 spring onion, sliced
5 oz mushrooms, sliced and divided in two portions
2 dashes oregano
3 dashes basil
1/2 cup white wine
4 - 6 oz. cooked chicken, shredded
1 box or 2 cans chicken broth (1 liter)
1/2 package frozen or fresh tortellini

In a large saucepan, warm oil over med heat until it's shimmery. Add garlic, spinach, onion, 1/2 the mushrooms and both spices. Sauté till spinach is wilted, onion is clear and mushrooms have shrunk to half their original size, 3-5 min. Add the wine and stir till wine is reduced by half. Add chicken, the remaining mushrooms and chicken broth. Turn up heat to med-high and stir a couple of times. Bring to a boil. Add tortellini and cook according to package directions. Serve soup when tortellini is done.

So simple! Here are my extra tid-bits that you may find helpful or just annoying:
1. I skipped the garlic pressing by using a garlic infused olive oil I picked up yesterday at We Olive.
2.The spinach and spring onion are from my bi-monthly delivery of organic produce from Farm Fresh To You (mention Erin Shead referred you for $5 off your first delivery). I meant to use the kale for this recipe, but grabbed the wrong leafy green and didn't realize till it was cut and sizzling.
3. The veggies are easily substituted. I'll try this with kale instead of spinach. You can use regular onions or leeks. I even sliced up a leftover cooked carrot and tossed it in with the chicken.
4. Dividing the mushrooms in two was not planned. I sliced up half of a 5 oz package, but realized it wasn't enough once they shrunk in cooking. So, I sliced up the other half and added it with the chicken. I really liked the variety of texture that added to the soup and will probably do it on purpose next time.
5. If you've never used wine in your cooking never fear. Unless a certain type is specified in a recipe, I use a cheap white we keep in the back of the fridge for such occasions. The brand doesn't matter. Just make sure it's not sweet (aka dessert wine).
6. This was my first time to shred chicken as opposed to cutting it. I had a filet leftover from a chicken piccata lunch last week. I tore it apart with two forks. It was fun and made it look like way more chicken than I had.
7. If you don't have chicken broth on hand (I buy it on sale because it keeps forever), you can make your own broth with 4 cups of boiling water and 4 bouillon cubes (chicken).
8. I don't like chicken noodle soup because the noodles tend to be soggy. Yuck! I came across... ahem, stole... the idea for adding tortellini to soup in some magazine. I think it's brilliant! Don't know how good it will hold up for left overs.
9. I didn't list salt or pepper because the chicken, broth and tortellini are already seasoned, but I did add a couple shakes of salt to the veggies when they were sautéing. I don't like bland veggies.

Well, today was a soggy experience (like those soup noodles), but we did get to see David Beckham play "in person" and I had a moment of culinary inspiration. Win-win. ;)