Saturday, February 10, 2007

Back in the Kitchen!

After quite the hiatus, fueled by some serious spending habits during and after the Christmas season, I decided enough is enough. I can live with how cute (or not) my clothes and house are... but I can NO LONGER take the lackluster food coming out of my kitchen.

Some things, though, never change... before taking a look at my grocery stores' weekly ads, I did a quick check of my monthly budget to see where I had some wiggle room. February is looking surprisingly good so far; still, I declared no more "fun" purchases, whether clothes, kitchen toys, etc. this month and probably through March, though that remains to be seen. Given that I had a Williams-Sonoma gift certificate just waiting to be finished off and found myself returning something at Tyson's, I did make one, small exception (more on that later).

First however, Jason and Meaghan treated us to a fun night complete with yummy appetizers and a variety of homemade pizzas! Apparently I'm not the only proponent of Trader Joe's fresh pizza dough... Meaghan topped one with a light coating of delicious tomato sauce, chunks of marinated chicken, garlic and chopped onions, grape tomatoes, and crumbled feta; another with sweet Italian turkey sausage (healthy AND tasty!), roasted red peppers, dollops of ricotta, and the same fantastic red sauce, and the third, red and green bell peppers, ricotta, and fresh mozzarella. We rounded off the meal with Helen's take on a Giada salad - rough-chop any greens you have on hand (we had crunchy Romaine), add garbanzo, light red beans and chopped olives, red onion slices, and blanched green beans and serve tossed with a light sprinkling of salt & pepper, fresh lemon juice and extra virgin olive oil! And since I know better than to show up without brownies, I brought Jason a plate of my old stand-bys.

Meaghan's quick appetizer trick - slice any soft cheese in half and spread store-bought pesto through the center, replace the top of the cheese... and serve with crackers!

Being around all of this creative cooking really got me going. And while I headed straight for the internet and my and my Saturday night menu was actually very few "real" recipes, moreso a couple of combinations dreamed up sans recipe! My brother would be proud... as this is a stark contrast to my early cooking years.

I decided on New York strips since they were on sale, and simply rubbed the meat with olive oil, salt & pepper, and then sprinkled my version of Emeril's "essence" on both sides before pan-searing the steaks. Earlier in the afternoon, I'd made Emeril's Beurre Maitre d'Hotel; it was easy and added such wonderful flavor and color to the meat!
1/2 stick unsalted butter, at room temperature
3 TBSP minced fresh parsley
1 tsp fresh lemon juice
two pinches of salt
one pinch ground black pepper

Combine all ingredients and roll into a log between wax paper; refrigerate until ready to use. When ready to serve the meat, put 1/4 inch thick slice of the butter on each portion. (enough for 2-4 steaks)

With the steaks, I served healthy spinach with sauteed shallots, and green peas with turkey bacon and chopped sweet onions. One thing I learned - fresh spinach cooks down almost more than you can imagine so frozen packs of whole-leaf spinach are the way to go.

Last night, I treated us to another new recipe and rarely used ingredient... prosciutto! This one's from Everyday Food. (I halved the recipe and baked it in a square casserole dish)

Baked Pasta with Spinach, Ricotta, and Prosciutto

My cook's notes... I used healthy Barilla Plus and skim milk which worked really well. Make sure, however, to use an adequate amount of ricotta, especially if halving the recipe, as it might be slightly dry otherwise.

Up next: Valentine's Day treats!!

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