Sunday, March 21, 2010

Pasta and Whatever is in the Fridge Alfredo

We were going to head up skiing yesterday morning, but it's the time of year that, after we've been doing it for several months, the conditions have been hit-or-miss all season and, hey! It was the first day of spring, we just start to lose our enthusiasm for the early mornings and cold weather, so we just hung out around the house all morning, talked with friends on the phone, caught up with some their doings.

I've been re-potting plants all week. After they've grown for several years, they have absorbed all the soil in the pot and are just a pot-shaped root-mass, they start losing leaves and deteriorating and it's time to give them fresh soil and a new lease on life. Spring cleaning is just around the corner.

We went up to some friends' cabin later and stayed the night, intending to ski today, but the conditions at the ski area turned out to be snow in its liquid form, so we came home. The tacit conditions of our staying with the friends is - they wouldn't dream of taking any money - but we always take a meal. There is an added challenge this year-Cathy became vegetarian, so I can't take any of my good old stand-bys that I used to. Meat dishes don't always translate over to vegetarian by simply eliminating the meat. I'm open to any suggestions! Since we were just lazing about I started looking at what I had on hand to make and take up for dinner.

Pasta, always
Canned Roasted Red Pepper Alfredo, check
Green onion, green pepper, garlic, mushrooms, check, check, check
Frozen spinach, hey, we have lift-off!

Cooked and drained the pasta, baptized it with generous glugs of olive oil, added the spinach and chopped veggies, then poured the Alfredo over all.Just heated up in the oven at 350 for about half an hour. And we had Focaccia Asiago to accompany it. We also took St. Patrick's Day Nutella Pocket Cookies. All was well received, devoured actually.

Several months ago, Thanksgiving week, two of my three offspring moved out of my house, where they had landed temporarily for a protracted period after college, and into their own apartment. They invited us over for dinner tonight-I hadn't been to their apartment before! My youngest son made lasagna; he started with my version of it, but his version is far better. We decided to take ice cream. I was raised by a Mom who taught us that you don't show up at anyone's house empty-handed. Even your childrens'! I'll post photos when we get back.

Photo as promised (he's a really good cook):
What's really great about their move, besides moving out of my house, is that Ron and I are downsizing with the hope of someday living in the same town and the same house and don't need or want two, or possibly three of everything, so when the kids were moving and needed furniture, we gave them Ron's old kitchen table-a country-nook set, hide-a-bed, coffee table, magazine rack, and I think a chair and ottoman, although I don't remember seeing the last items at their place.

They live on the third floor and had to carry that probably 30 year-old, incredibly heavy couch up three flights. They said it's not coming down soon. The coffee table is out on their patio.

I'm not sure I can explain the layout. It's a two bedroom apartment, one for the oldest, the other for the youngest and his girlfriend. They've been together so long (an aside of which I won't go into because she reads my blog, oh hell, sure I will...she was 14 and he was 19 and her family didn't exactly approve. I think they've accepted it now, 7 years later) we refer to her as my daughter-in-law and on my 50th birthday, I gave all the kids my blessing to give me grandchildren-something no one is making the slightest progress toward-and embarrassed the bejesus out of her.

The living room has the aforementioned couch facing a wall, which contains all three of the kids computers. They must sit there side by side, day after day, and surf. It was a good visit.

Friday, March 19, 2010

Cooking while Traveling

I thought I'd share our strategy for cooking when we travel. We take four to six trips a year and normally stay in condos, either Ron's timeshare, or mine. His condos have dishes, ample cookware, coffee, tea, basic spices like salt, pepper, Italian, dried parsley, red pepper flakes, garlic powder, and dried onion, dishwasher detergent; mine have dishes and cookware. (I sold mine last year when we bought a joint membership at Grand Mayan in Cancun.)

I get the impression that many, if not most people don't cook much while traveling; perhaps they don't do it for entertainment like I do. In fact for me, cooking is a vacation. I dream food! One of the other reasons we cook is that neither of us is particularly fond of fast food, eating in restaurants for several days can really add up, using money that would be better spent on something else-lift tickets, for instance.

I've learned when we travel, at least in the states, to take along a few essentials. Maybe more than a few, and they can change depending on what I think I might plan on cooking. Our last trip, for instance, I'd brought pork loin chops, lamb chops and chicken drumsticks. The friends who joined us brought salmon caught on their last trip to Canada, which we barbequed and I featured in an earlier post .

They once called me and asked if I liked duck...boy, do I, however until then I hadn't had duck since my Dad hunted when I was a kid. They invited me over for roast duck, wow, it was a dream come true! Yum-yum!

In no particular order:

Coffee; Ron drinks instant, but the condo usually has a couple packets of drip-type
Coffee creamer; Ron's also
Tea; I like loose tea (I elucidated in an earlier post my love for tea and my fave tea shop) but I often take bagged teas on trips. Convenience factor. In fact, I've bought so many boxes of bagged teas on trips, I take it now just to try to use it up
Olive oil
A couple cups of flour
A couple cups of sugar
Sea salt in mill; I need a new one, the one I have doesn't work so well
Peppercorn mill
A mix of spices; this time it was Montreal seasoning mixed with dried parsley flakes
At least one head of garlic
Red pepper flakes
Dried rosemary (that I grew and dried)
Spice packets leftover from prior condo excursions, once opened they discard them, this way they aren't wasted
Some kind of pasta
Microwave popcorn. Usually we watch a couple of movies, but that week we watched the Olympics

Miscellaneous stuff that might rot in the refrigerator during the week if we don't eat it before we leave!
Since we were skiing that week, sandwich ingredients-bread, sliced turkey, cheese, mustard, mayo
Salad ingredients-lettuce, green onion, green pepper, bleu cheese dressing, mushrooms
Hershey's chocolate for my chocolate milk in the mornings
(Not to get on a soap-box, but if you are even mildly environmental, follow this link about Nestle's marketing and try to be cognizant of where what you eat comes from and what resources might be used producing it)

If we're driving, this all goes into coolers and a box or two, if we're flying, obviously we don't take as much as we have to fit it into luggage, which takes space away from the number of shoes I can take! With these basic items, we can go to the store at our destination and cook pretty much anything we decide to buy.

Happy traveling! Which reminds me, we are going to New Orleans in May. I've never been to The Big Easy and am very excited, so if anyone can suggest some really great things to do, drop me a note...

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

St. Patrick's Nutella Pocket Cookies

Ok, St. Pat didn't invent these cookies. They're the delightful creation of La Fuji Mama that I adapted to the Irish holiday by adding green food coloring. I shared with her that I had never heard of Nutella before, but upon discovery of her recipe, found some at the store (among the peanut-butters and jellies). Curious, I opened it in the car on the way home and tried a couple fingers full. I had to toss the jar into the back seat where I couldn’t reach it to keep from eating most of it before I got home. This stuff is perilously addictive.

We had a St. Paddy's potluck at work today, so I baked and took these; everybody I work with just loved them. So my derby is off to you, La Fuji Mama! I award you the glorious shamrock o' the kitchen!

The only change I made, besides their wearin' o' the green, was that I believe I cut them a little thinner. After you get a routine going, they're quite simple to assemble. The only advice I would give is to resist the temptation to overfill them with the chocolatey Nutella gooey goodness, because it squishes out when you try to seal them. They taste just as great, but are slightly less attractive. So I ate those.

And yes, that is a seriously old Tupperware pie crust guide! I've had it forever and use it for anything I'm rolling out. I don't happen to own a cookie cutter though, so I used a drinking glass and may be looking for a cookie cutter next...

Today at work we had the potluck. We work in a rather shabby area of town in a fenced in compound with about a dozen buildings called the "Region Complex". The building I work in is just across a chain-link fence from a small mobile home trailer park where police activity is not uncommon, so we have occasional "lock-downs" that we are notified, when they are searching the trailer park for some unsavory criminal element, to lock all the doors and stay inside.

My supervisor told us this morning he'd seen a police car go by next door, so we all watched as, not one, but two stole slowly by and turned the corner into another part of the park. Some time later, I walked over to another building in the complex and when I returned, found the door was locked. Oh holy hell! I envisioned armed criminals and cops in a crossfire with me at its center! I started banging on the door and yelling to let me in. When my boss opened the door, he was laughing so hard, he had to lean against the wall to keep from falling. Other than a totally warped sense of humor, he's a great boss :)

He loved the cookies, too...Happy St. Pat's day everyone.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Fallout Baked Potato Soup

I discovered about 9:00 tonight that I really didn't have anything for lunch tomorrow...I normally make soup on Sunday for lunches all week, it's cheaper, I know what's in it, and I only have half an hour for lunch, so I don't have to wander out to find fast food that I will actually eat. But we were just getting home from the ski trip Sunday evening, and I haven't been to the store since.

We had several baked potatoes leftover from the trip (we always have a lot of leftovers because we and  the friends we ski with always make way too much food), which we carted all the way home from Oregon because I refuse to waste food. I needed to find a use for them, so this is my version of Baked Potato Soup made mainly of ingredients I had in the refrigerator and cupboard. I have a friend whose Mom used to call this sort of meal "fallout" which I've always found amusing; basically it's anything that "falls out" of the refrigerator.

She would give me a hard time for scraping together whatever leftovers were in the refrigerator, heating it up and serving it for me and the kids for dinner. Chili, scrambled eggs, pickles, wrap it in a tortilla...She thought it was pretty disgusting and called it "pig slop", but I did it because if there was a dab of this and a scosh of that, one of them would always be unhappy with what they didn't get. I was a single Mom and it's why I dislike wasting food today. (Also, from childhood I have hated to let my food "touch", so I wasn't real crazy about this prep method myself!)

2 medium potatoes of your choice
Olive oil or reserved bacon grease
1/2 chopped onion
1 stalk minced celery
1 shredded carrot
Minced garlic
2 cups chicken broth
1 cup milk
3 tablespoons cornstarch
Salt and pepper to taste
Tabasco sauce, also to taste-I find a little goes a long way, so I used four "splashes".

Bacon crumbles
Sliced green onion
Grated cheese; I used Gouda, again brought back from the trip. It doesn't grate very well, and usually it isn't leftover-we had cheese, meat, and veggie trays, and our choice of beverage while watching the Olympics, but as I said, we brought a lot of food. The great thing about this soup is it requires so little cooking!

I might mention that I don't normally garnish my soups for lunch, just toss it in the microwave and heat at work which would incinerate the garnish, but I wanted the photo to look attractive :)

If you don't have leftover baked potatoes, rub medium potatoes with olive oil and bake in 400 degree oven until done. At this point, you really should just throw your favorite toppings on, eat and be done with it, however, we overestimated our appetites and these were relegated to the refrigerator for "later", hauled home, and here they still were.

Dice the leftover baked potatoes fairly small, 1/2 inch or less and set aside. Heat butter in a sauce pan and saute onion, celery, and carrots until nearly tender.

Add chicken broth and diced potatoes. Bring to a boil. Whisk milk and cornstarch well. Add to soup and heat through. Season with spices and Tabasco-feel free to be creative.
My son, the one who dredges most of his food in cayenne pepper, said the soup wasn't very spicy (apparently the lining in his mouth and esophagus were still intact), but it still tasted good. As usual, sorry about the photos, my camera is old and wheezing it's last shuttery clicks. You do know, don't you, that today's digital cameras don't need the shutter click, but we, who have always operated cameras that clicked wouldn't know if the photo took without the accompanying sound!!

I'd ask the guys for a new one for Mother's Day, but one of them recently borrowed my blender to make cheesecake  and burned it up, so I'd have to decide between a camera and a new blender. Or some of my favorite perfume. Usually, though, I have them all come over on Mother's Day for what I call "obligatory slave labor", the price they pay for my having let them live to grow up. They clean up the yard, haul away the recycling, repair what needs repaired. And I cook!

Lunch is made, tomorrow is my "Friday". How could life get any better? Good-night!
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