Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Processed Dinners For Two

Sometimes, I'm just too ill or too exhausted to cook a full meal. But we do need to eat, and I don't like leftovers or tv dinners, so when I can't cook for whatever reason, I try to stick with items marketed specifically for two servings. Some are pretty good, some are pretty awful, some are fine but a waste of money.

Barilla Three Cheese Tortellini 8oz package

I've walked past this on the shelf a few times and it never grabbed me, so I never grabbed it. But last time I went shopping it was on sale, so I decided to give it a try. The sale price was 2 for $6 (I bought only one) and regular price $3.49.

Pros: definitely enough pasta for two people, possibly even a bit more than we'd normally have. Very few of the tortellinis opened in cooking/draining, so very little filling spilled out. Easy prep. Tasted good. Shelf stable.

Cons: Apparent typo on package instructions. Package advertising not strictly accurate.

Details: the packaging attracted me because it's labelled as "Dinner for 2 in 10 Minutes". It is not, however, a 10 minute prep time. There was very little information on the packaging, and the instructions were nearly on the bottom (it's bag-shaped, so a curved base, which means it was somewhat back, somewhat bottom), but it says "Bring 3-4 quarts of water to a rolling boil". This annoyed me, frankly, because while I do own a pan large enough to boil 3-4 quarts of water, it's my stockpot, which is not often used, and it takes forever to bring that much water to a boil. Since the pasta had to cook for an additional 10-11 minutes after the water came to a boil, obviously it's not "dinner in 10 minutes". The product description on my grocery store's website says "Total Time 20 minutes" but that is not anywhere on the packaging. The same website includes the instructions for the product, which state "bring 2-3 quarts of water to a rolling boil". This sounds much more accurate for the amount of pasta being cooked, so I can only assume that there's an error at the package printing site, and that the instructions for the 12oz size were printed on what is definitely an 8oz bag.

I plated the pasta with two separate toppings, as I didn't have any pasta sauce in the house. I sprinkled a shredded cheese combination over the top on one plate, and it was acceptable. On the other, I tossed the pasta with butter and Parmesan cheese. Better than the other plate but still not exciting, though it's what the packaging suggested.

In the past I've several times served Buitoni refrigerated Three Cheese Tortellini in the 9oz package and liked it. Comparing the two it's basically a draw. The Buitoni fridge pasta tastes a bit better to me, but has to be eaten or frozen within a certain number of days, it's more pasta than we need for two people, and it's $1 more expensive at my grocery store. The Barilla wasn't quite as good, seemed a bit lower quality, but can sit on the shelf for months just like canned foods, and is the less expensive option. Both should be served with a pasta sauce for best results, whether fresh or in a jar, which drops both products down a notch for me because it doubles the price of the meal and means leftover sauce that has to be used or tossed (as pasta sauce is not generally available in sizes serving 2).

*** 3 Stars: Good. At least one of us liked this enough for me to make it again, but not often

Friday, October 29, 2010

Oven Ranch Chicken

  • 1/3 C bread crumbs
  • 1 (0.4 oz) package buttermilk ranch salad dressing mix
  • 1/3 C light sour cream
  • 2 boneless skinless chicken breast halves
1. Heat oven to 375°F. Spray cookie sheet with nonstick cooking spray.
2. In shallow dish or pie pan, combine bread crumbs and salad dressing mix; mix well. Place sour cream in another shallow dish or pie pan.
3. Dip chicken in sour cream, coating well. Roll coated chicken in bread crumb mixture. Place chicken on sprayed cookie sheet. If desired, spray chicken with nonstick cooking spray. Discard any remaining bread crumb mixture and sour cream.
4. Bake at 375°F for 30 to 35 minutes or until chicken is fork-tender and juices run clear.

Robyn's notes: I used Progresso bread crumbs. This recipe keeps the chicken nicely juicy, and it's very quick to make. Not visually exciting, but quite good.

**** 4 Stars: Very Good. Enjoyed by us both, I will make this frequently

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Mediterranean Vegetable Medley

Mediterranean Chicken, Couscous, Veg

  • 1/2 onion
  • 1 clove garlic
  • 1 medium tomato
  • 1/2 eggplant
  • 1/2 zucchini
  • 1/2 yellow pepper
  • 1 C mushrooms
  • black pepper
  • juice of 1/2 lemon
  • 1 Tbsp soy sauce
1. Chop & salt eggplant, let stand 15 minutes.
2. Chop remaining vegetables.
3. Fry onion and garlic until soft.
4. Add yellow pepper and zucchini, fry for 5 minutes.
5. Rinse eggplant and squeeze to remove water and juice, add to frying pan with mushrooms and black pepper, fry for 10 minutes.
6. Add tomatoes to the pan with lemon juice and soy sauce, fry until tomatoes are soft.

Robyn's notes: this was meant to be placed on Foccacia or Ciabatta bread and topped with cheese, but I didn't have any bread in the house, so I simply served it as a side as shown below. Because this called for 1/2 each of several vegetables, I prepped two meals at once so as not to waste the other half.

Friday, October 1, 2010

Mini Cottage Pies

Mini Cottage Pie

  • 1 Tbsp olive oil
  • 1/2 pound ground turkey
  • 1/4 C chopped onion
  • 3/4 tsp salt
  • 1 1/2 tsp black pepper
  • 1 1/2 tsp minced garlic
  • 1 Tbsp all-purpose flour
  • 1/4 C beef stock
  • 1/2 C frozen peas and carrots
  • 1 Tbsp chopped fresh parsley leaves
  • 1 1/2 tsp chopped fresh rosemary leaves
  • 1 C leftover mashed potatoes
  • 1 1/2 tsp granulated garlic powder
  • 1 Tbsp granulated onion powder
  • 1 C shredded Cheddar
1. Preheat oven to 425 degrees F.
2. Heat the oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add ground turkey and brown.
3. Stir in the onions, salt, pepper and garlic and allow to cook together for a couple of minutes.
4. Mix flour into the meat mixture and stir until a paste consistency is reached. Add beef stock to pan and stir in vegetables and herbs, the last few minutes, until combined.
5. Reheat mashed potatoes in a microwave for 5 to 6 minutes. Stir in granulated garlic and onion powder.
6. Spoon equal amounts of turkey mixture into two ramekins. Top with equal amounts of warm potatoes. Finally top with equal amounts of cheese. Bake for 10 to 12 minutes until cheese is melted and browned. Remove from oven and allow to cool slightly before serving.

Robyn's notes: I was using four-cheese mashed potatoes, so didn't add the garlic powder or onion powder to them. Because I can't have onions, garlic, peas, or carrots, I made half this recipe twice. First the version I could eat, omitting those steps, then as written above for my sweetheart. The photo below isn't the best, but he was hungry so I had to take it quickly.

Thursday, September 30, 2010

Fudgy Peanut Butter Ice Cream Mini Pies

Ice Cream Pie

  • ½ C chocolate graham cracker crumbs1—abt 3 whole crackers
  • 2 tsp sugar
  • 2 tsp egg substitute (OR 2 tsp egg white)
  • 2 tsp butter, melted
  • 1 -1/3 C fat-free vanilla frozen yogurt, softened2
  • 8 miniature chocolate peanut butter cups, coarsely chopped
  • ¼ C hot fudge ice cream topping—at room temperature
1. In a small bowl, combine cracker crumbs and sugar, stir in egg white and butter.
2. Press onto the bottom and up the sides of two oven-safe custard cups or ramekins coated with cooking spray (crumb mix will not reach tops of custard cups).

Ice Cream Pie Crusts

3. Place custard cups or ramekins on a shallow baking pan or cookie sheet and bake at 325F for 6-8 minutes or until set. Cool completely on a wire rack.

4. Spread 1/3C of frozen yogurt into each crust. Sprinkle each with one-fourth of the peanut butter cup bits; drizzle with one-fourth of hot fudge.

Ice Cream Pie Midway

5. Repeat with remaining yogurt, peanut butter cups, and fudge3. Cover and freeze for 6 hours or overnight. Remove from the freezer 10 minutes before serving.

1Don't have a food processor to make your crumbs, or don't want to pull out all the pieces (and later have to clean them) just to crush a few graham crackers into crumbs? Put crackers into a ziploc bag (make sure to seal it!), and crush with a rolling pin. If you don't have a rolling pin, you can use a mallet, or your fingers. Even a double pointed knitting needle will suffice as a roller to crush the crackers down to bits. It is possible to purchase graham crackers that have already been smashed for you, but in my opinion the extra expense is simply not worth it. You'll only save 2 or 3 minutes when you're crushing such a small amount of crackers. While I usually get the name brand graham crackers if I'm using them whole, when I'm buying crackers specifically for crushing I always get the store brand. I cannot tell any taste difference, they crush just as easily, and there is no visible difference in the crumbs.

2Often, when a recipe says “softened”, you can get away without doing so. For this one, if the frozen yogurt hasn't softened for several minutes, it will be nearly impossible to get it to spread into the crust and all that will happen is you'll have a firm blob of frozen yogurt stuck to your spoon, with graham cracker crumb crust clinging to it all over. Just take the frozen yogurt container out of the freezer when you put the crust cups into the oven and it should be softened enough by the time they've baked and cooled.

3Alternate option: do not add fudge to the top. Freeze as directed. Just before serving, heat remaining hot fudge and drizzle over the top of each mini-pie.

Robyn's notes: Approximating how much fudge is being drizzled on is fine, really, it's not like that stuff comes out of the bottle easily. To make it easier on myself, when I chopped the mini peanut butter cups, I chopped two at a time into four separate piles. Then, when it came time to sprinkle one-fourth of the total onto the pie, one of those piles was exactly the amount I needed. This is obviously not a "healthy" recipe, but it is made somewhat better for you in terms of calories through the use of egg substitute and frozen yogurt.

Ice Cream Pie PB Cups