Posts Tagged With: pasta

Cooking the Book – November Edition

I had all sorts of plans to cook all sorts of exciting this last month. I had a week’s holiday and everything so I thought I might actually get lots made that week – maybe even do some baking!

The month started well, with some Sweet and Sour Chicken (Quorn again, I did intend to make it with tofu, but there was all this quorn in the freezer needing used up), which, despite a minor disaster, was pretty good. The minor disaster was that it suggested using dried chilli flakes. I normally measure them out before adding them to anything – my tongue is notoriously timid with chilli – but I always end up putting too little in whatever I’m cooking. (I’m better at judging chilli powder, but chilli flakes are what I have in the cupboard.) So, in my wisdom, I decided to shake some into the pan, and you can guess what happened next can’t you? I didn’t quite end up with half a jar in the pan, but there were decidedly more than were necessary to the recipe. It could all have been much worse but that was definitely the spiciest sweet and sour chicken I’ve ever eaten.

Sweet and Sour!

I had two other recipes picked out to make this month, good, solid, winter warmers. Perfect bulk cooks to nourish me through the long winter nights. I even bought vegetables for them. Did I make them? No. I did in fact get to the very last day of November without having cooked anything else from the book. I was really starting to think I was going to fail out for this month.

Handily though, I remembered that there was a recipe for a Porcini, shitake and Oyster Mushroom Pasta in the book and that I had loads of mushrooms that I’d bought for one of the recipes I hadn’t made. (As the recipe name suggests, it requires several kinds of mushrooms, handily I had some more unusual mushrooms in dried form in the cupboard to balance out the masses of Chestnut mushrooms.) I cut down the recipe from its original version, as I always end up with far too much food. There was still a slight excess of mushrooms, but only really enough that I ended up with a small side of mushrooms for another recipe later in the week, rather than an excess of them. An odd side effect of cutting down the recipe was that I ended up with lots of excess vegetable stock – its really awkward to make a small amount of stock out of stock cubes – so I cooked my spaghetti in the leftover stock and it was incredibly tasty. I could have eaten the spaghetti plain, maybe with a little parmesan but perfect just as it was. I’m not sure if it was the intention of the recipe or a product of cutting it down, but the mushroom liquor didn’t cook down as much as I expected – I think if I make it again, I would add some corn flour to thicken up the sauce, I do prefer a bit of body to my sauce.

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Wednesday – Days 2 & 3

Wednesday night continued the plan of keep it simple with a pasta and sauce dish. I had half a pepper from the night before, along with the remains of the packets of green beans and mushrooms that needed used up. Also unearthed in the fridge was an unexpected full tub of cream cheese, an entirely expected third of a carton of passata (a fridge/cupboard staple in our house, it amuses me inordinately that its considered a ‘foodie’ ingredient when I tend to buy the Tesco value version) and some cooked chicken.
Jar of pasta, cooked chicken, cream cheese, chopped pepper, mushrooms and greenbeans

I thought, seeing that I was writing up this recipe that I would actually measure out the pasta on the scales, instead of just counting out handfuls (2 per person) of pasta as I usually do. Amusingly it turns out that, at least when it comes to pasta bows, 2oz pasta per person does in fact equal two handfuls. Bow pasta on the other hand turns out to expand massively so we could have lived with a bit less, but once that became clear I just upped the veg and chicken I was adding to the sauce and made enough for an extra portion for the following day – success! (I have college on a Thursday night so quick and easy dinner is ideal, thus I try to make extra of whatever I’m making on a Wednesday night so that I’ve got dinner for the following day)
Dried oragano
We’ve got an absolute ton of dried herbs and spices in the house, so I’m trying to use them up, so some dried oregano went in the pasta water (in place of salt of which I’m trying to use less) and some dried basil went in the sauce. I used to have a basil plant in the kitchen, which was just amazing for cooking with, I should get another of those once the better weather comes around.

The sauce itself is my cheating tomato sauce, I start with some mushrooms and sauté them until they’re nice and soft, and chuck in about half a teaspoon/a clove of chopped Garlic. (Speaking of food waste, I love cooking with Garlic but I never used to be able to use it all up before it sprouted, then we discovered ‘lazy garlic’ which is jars of pre-chopped garlic in a little vinegar to preserve it so now we use twice as much garlic and waste far less of it too. I’m sure you could do it yourself in a jar at home but its one of my absolute favourite convenience ingredients.) Then I added the pepper and give that a wee stir-fry, before adding the passata – between a third and half a carton depending on how many portions I’m making of it. Simmer that away for a few minutes and then reduce the heat and add the cream cheese – about a third of the tub usually, but more to taste or if it needs using up, as I often make this dish as a ‘what have we got in fridge?’ meal. Stir gently until fully blended, add seasoning (in this case ground basil) to taste and then add the cooked meat if using, simmer gently until meat is heated through or pasta is finished cooking and combine!
Pots simmering
This sauce actually has its origins in tomato and mascarpone sauce. I kept seeing it as these ‘fresh’ cook in sauces, so I read the ingredients one day and realised that I could make it myself cheaper with passata and mascarpone cheese. I did that a few times, and it was nice but I find mascarpone to be a bit bland, a bit too creamy and not cheesy enough in flavour really, so I tried substituting the mascarpone for cream cheese one day, liked it better and well its considerably cheaper as I’ve often got cream chees in for sandwiches anyway. I sometimes make it with ricotta if we happen to have some left, which is the tastiest option I find. A large proportion of my ‘experimentation’ in the kitchen is borne of looking in the fridge discovering that we don’t have x thing that I need for the recipe but we do have y similar item, shrugging and going ‘eh, we’ll try it’. It doesn’t always work but it works more often than not.

Finally, during my epic food shop the previous week I’d picked up one of those cheese and tomato over flat bread things, so that got stuck in the oven and served up with it. Quick, easy tea, using up loads of stuff we had kicking about in the fridge.
Finished product

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