Spinach and Mushroom Pizza with Mom's Marinara Sauce

Groan – It’s hard to write this post when I’m still so full from dinner… four hours later! But if I had it to do over again, I’m sure I’d still wind up eating way too much.

flour cookie sheet

My husband, Morgan, and I got back into town yesterday evening from a few long and difficult days. Thanks to everyone who sent good thoughts our way.

rolled doughspread sauce

Getting back into the swing of things, my cooking/baking wish for the next week is that I’ll avoid baking at least until Easter because I indulged in way too many delicious and fattening things at northern bakeries (ever had Checkerboard Cake? We bought some after my dad exclaimed that he used to enjoy it from time to time while growing up. I had never had it before, and now you can bet I’ll be trying to make it soon).

saucespinach

So today was mostly comprised of cleaning up the apartment, organizing for the week, grocery shopping and decompressing. The weather was gorgeous, and Morgan and I decided to pick up some pizza dough from the nearby Italian Store (I’ve mentioned here before that they have outstanding dough).

mushrooms

We bought ingredients for a spinach and mushroom pizza, but this time we made the sauce from scratch using my mom’s excellent marinara sauce recipe. It’s recently become an obsession of ours to make this sauce for spaghetti, chicken, pizza and anything that could possibly use marinara sauce.

cheesepizza

I have to say this is our finest pizza yet. Making this sauce from scratch is so easy and probably less expensive than buying ready made sauce. We have leftover sauce, so we keep it in an air-tight container in the fridge; it should keep for the week. The spinach was also a great addition and doesn’t call a lot of attention to itself.

slices

I’ll also repeat myself and say how you really need to find a local (non-chain) pizza shop in your area and try to buy a bag of dough. Waiting to try making your own pizza is just depriving yourself of some of the best pizza you’ll ever have!

sliced


Spinach and Mushroom Pizza

1 16 oz bag of pizza dough
1 cup freshly shredded mozzarella cheese
1 package frozen spinach, cooked according to package instructions
1/2 cup sliced shiitake mushrooms
1 tablespoon olive oil
flour, to sprinkle on work surface

Heather-Ghost Baker’s Mom’s Marinara Sauce
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 clove garlic, minced
1/2 to 1 small onion, finely chopped
1 16 oz. can crushed tomatoes
1 6 oz. can tomato paste
3/4 tablespoons sugar
1 teaspoon basil
1 teaspoon oregano
3/4 teaspoon salt

For sauce – Add olive oil to a medium saucepan set to medium temperature. Add garlic and onion and cook until tender, about 5 minutes. Stir in crushed tomatoes and tomato paste and add remaining ingredients. Reduce heat to low; cover and cook for 30 minutes, until mixture is thickened. Stir occasionally. Makes about 3 cups of sauce.

In the meantime, preheat oven to 525 F and cook spinach according to package instructions in a small saucepan. Saute sliced mushrooms in a separate small pan for 2 to 3 minutes.

When sauce is just about done, flour a cookie sheet and roll out dough to a 16 inch circle. Drizzle olive oil over the dough. When sauce is done, pour and smooth sauce over pizza dough, followed by spinach, mushrooms and cheese.

Transfer cookie sheet to oven and cook for approximately 11 minutes (we use a pizza stone, so we preheat the oven with the pizza stone in the oven, then carefully transfer the uncooked pizza to the heated stone. It takes two of us to transfer the pizza without letting it fall apart, so proceed with caution if you go this route).

Let pizza cool for 2-3 minutes. Slice and serve!

Chicken and Black Beans with Avocado Salsa

My husband and I have been feeling a little lazy lately about cooking. We’ve both been busy, and on days when you’re just drained it’s not only hard to cook, but it’s likely that your kitchen may not be stocked with fresh options.

On this particular day I knew we didn’t have anything in the fridge. We had some chicken in the freezer, but we try not to defrost chicken in the microwave if we can help it (and I haven’t yet tried Edwin’s ice bath method).

avocado

I went to the grocery store after work and picked up some chicken breast (that I didn’t have to defrost). On my way to the cash register I spotted some avocados. I don’t think avocados are in season, and I know that they’re high in fat, but at that moment I just wanted some avocados!

For my calorie conscious friends, listen, avocados are good in moderation!

As I was walking home, I still had no idea what I was going to do with my small avocado and chicken. I thought about making chicken sandwiches with slices of avocado on top, but I knew I didn’t have buns. I decided on a citrusy, guacamole-like salsa over baked chicken and black beans. What an awesome change to spice up our typical routine! This dish is light but filling. The lime juice gives it a lot of zip, and it’s not very spicy.

chicken avocado

Chicken and Black Beans with Avocado Salsa

1 lb boneless skinless chicken breasts
1 can black beans

For the Chicken Marinade
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 tablespoon sweetened lime juice
1/2 teaspoon chili powder
dash cayenne

For the Avocado Salsa
1 small Haas avocado, peeled and sliced
1 chili, minced with seeds removed (or 1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes)
1 tablespoon sweetened lime juice
1/4 teaspoon salt
3 cloves garlic, minced
dash black pepper
dash cayenne

Cut chicken breasts in half longways and marinate in olive oil, sweetened lime juice, chile powder and cayenne for at least 30 minutes. Preheat oven to 375F and bake for approximately 15 minutes. Cut into the middle of the thickest piece to ensure the chicken is thoroughly cooked.

While chicken is baking, warm black beans in a small sauce pan on the stove.

Peel and slice avocado and place in a medium size bowl. Add minced chili or red pepper flakes, sweetened lime juice, salt, minced garlic, black pepper and cayenne. Mash avocado with the back of a fork while combining ingredients. Don’t mash too much, you want the salsa to be chunky.

Spoon black beans onto a plate and follow with cooked chicken breast. Spoon avocado salsa over the chicken and serve!

Seven Layer Tortilla Pie

I have to be honest with you, Internet. Right now I am angrily biting the nail polish off my nails. I have extremely breakable nails, so I try to keep clear nail polish on them; you know, the super thick stuff. This stuff is also great fun to peel off when irritable. Come on, you know you’ve done it before… please?

red peppermashed black beans

I had big plans to bake something to bring to work tomorrow for some upcoming and recently passed birthdays, and I needed it to be flourless. But at this point I’m feeling like God made flour for a reason, and we just shouldn’t fight it.

layer onelayer one with black beans

I know, I can’t even believe it myself, but I tried those cursed black bean brownies again. No changes or alterations, just completely by the book. I was low on agave syrup, so I used half agave and half honey. They came out tasting so strongly of honey that it’s practically oozing from them. Don’t worry, my curiosity about these things has been sated. I’m burning the recipe – never again!

shredded chicken

Next I tried a flourless chocolate cake. The recipe stressed to gently fold in the beaten egg whites to the melted chocolate. Maybe I was too careful, because now it just seems completely bland.

Ghost failures twice in one night!!!

layer one completelayer two

I don’t even want to think about baking anymore right now. Let’s talk about dinner, okay? Dinner, unlike tonight’s stupid desserts (grrr!), turned out quite well.

top layer

A few years ago I tore a recipe out of a magazine for some kind of tortilla pie. The tortillas were stacked high and stuffed with cheese and black beans; it looked great. Unfortunately, I lost this recipe before ever getting to try it. So instead I tried to create something similar but with less cheese and more beans.

tortilla pie

Seven tortilla layers total – I alternated layers of black beans and refried. I also included shredded chicken, diced red pepper, garlic, a combination of diced tomatoes and salsa, and the tiniest bit of cheese on each layer. I just included spice on the top layer, but feel free to mix the spice throughout. I also cooked mine in a springform pan to avoid any potential toppling problems, but I think that you could get away with using a pie plate or cake pan as well. My husband really loved this and kept making trips back to the kitchen for leftovers. Enjoy!

tortilla pie inside

Seven Layer Tortilla Pie

1/2 pound chicken breast, baked and shredded
1 can black beans, drained and mashed
1 can fat free refried beans
1/2 cup reduced fat cheddar cheese, grated fresh
3 cloves garlic
1 can diced tomatoes
1/2 cup salsa
1 red pepper, diced
7 flour tortillas
1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes and cayenne pepper, optional

Preheat oven to 375F. Measure and prep ingredients and bake chicken (if looking for a way to bake the chicken, you can use my style found here. Because it’s only one half pound you will not need to bake it as long. Be sure to cut into the middle of the thickest piece to make sure it’s fully cooked. Shred with a fork). Combine diced tomatoes and salsa in the same bowl.

Lay one flour tortilla in the bottom of a springform pan (or pie dish or cake pan with high sides). Spread a thin layer of the mashed black beans over the tortilla. Follow with shredded chicken, garlic, red pepper, salsa mixture and sprinkle with cheese. Be a little careful near the edges so that your filling doesn’t spill out. Lay another tortilla over this and push down gently to level it. This time spread refried beans over the tortilla, then include other ingredients as before. This recipe makes just enough, so don’t make your “filling” too thick or you will run out. I was especially stingy with the cheese.

Continue to alternate layers. On very top layer, sprinkle remaining ingredients evenly along with 1/2 teaspoon of red pepper flakes and cayenne for some heat. Be sure to take the salsa mixture to the edges of the top tortilla so that the top does not dry out and become too crispy while baking.

Bake for 25 minutes. Serve in wedges.

Oat & Herb Baked Chicken

If you’re planning a wedding, have recently gotten married or just love weddings in general, then you’ve probably heard of a website called The Knot. The Knot is a spectacular place to find local vendors, get ideas for flowers, dresses, cakes and color combinations and to help out with planning and etiquette questions.

processing

I recently went to The Knot for the first time since my wedding in July 2008 to look up a friend’s wedding website. I was surprised to discover that when you log in after your wedding has passed, you’re redirected to a site called The Nest. The Nest features advice for married people – money tips, decorating your home and saving, love, beauty, babies and dinner recipes.

oat mixture

Of course I clicked first on the dinner recipe tab. It was pleasantly surprised by what I found. Many of the recipes on the site are designed to be relatively easy and healthy, and they’re geared towards serving two people.

One of the recipes that caught my eye was, well, one of the less healthy ones, something called “Herb Oven-Fried Chicken.” What sparked my interest was that instead of using plain breadcrumbs or “Shake ‘n Bake” to lightly coat the chicken, this recipe called for oats! Let me make sure it’s clear – I love oats!

cutting chicken

By pulsing the oats in a food processor, you get a fine powder that adds an interesting and wholesome taste to your chicken breasts. I added a lot more flavor to the coating by including more spices in the oat mixture. I also baked it in the oven (and removed a lot of the oil) instead of cooking it in a toaster oven. I don’t have a toaster oven, but even if I did trying to cook raw chicken in it sounds like an odd idea to me (even though apparently The Nest pulled this recipe from a book solely dedicated to cooking with a toaster oven, my question is “Why?” I understand not having a stand mixer or food processor, but why would you need a substitute for a conventional oven?).

My husband and I enjoyed this chicken with a side of mashed potatoes and mashed rutabaga and baked beans. It doesn’t taste like a typical breaded chicken; if you don’t like oats then you probably won’t like this. But I highly recommend this spicy and unique take on chicken breasts!

chicken breast

Oat & Herb Chicken

adapted from The Nest (who excerpted it from Lynn Alley’s The Gourmet Toaster Oven: Simple And Sophisticated Meals for the Busy Cook)

1/2 cup milk*
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 tablespoon oil
1 pound boneless, skinless chicken breasts
1 cup rolled oats (you can use Quaker Quick or Old-Fashioned, but not Instant)
1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes, rosemary, Italian seasoning, black pepper, celery seed and paprika
1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese
1/4 cup fresh basil leaves
1/2 teaspoon paprika

My 1 lb of chicken breast contained 3 medium chicken breasts. Cut chicken breasts in half longways. In a small bowl, combine chicken, buttermilk, garlic, 1/2 teaspoon of salt and oil. I refrigerated this marinade for about 5 hours, but do it for however long you can.

When ready to cook, preheat oven to 425F. Combine oats, red pepper flakes, the remaining teaspoon of salt, parmesan, basil, rosemary, Italian seasoning, black pepper, celery seed and paprika in your food processor. Pulse until the oats are mostly powdered. Spread oat mixture out on a plate. Shake the excess buttermilk off the chicken gently and lay both sides of the chicken in the mixture to thoroughly coat.

Place chicken in a shallow baking dish (I actually used a ceramic pie dish). Bake for about 15 minutes, depending on thickness of your meat. The crust should be a little crispy. Be sure to test for doneness by cutting into the thickest piece and ensuring that it’s bone white in the center. Remove chicken and serve with vegetable of your choice.

*Note about Milk – The original recipe called for buttermilk, but I used skim milk because that’s what I had on hand and it worked out fine. Buttermilk will give you more of an authentic fried chicken type taste, and next time I make this I’ll probably try out buttermilk. For my calorie-counting friends, give buttermilk a chance! Wikipedia says, “Buttermilk is lower in fat and calories than regular milk because the fat from buttermilk has already been removed to make butter. It is high in potassium, vitamin B12 and calcium.” Yum.

D’oh! As I started to type I noticed that my hand felt sticky. I looked down only to find that my wedding ring is covered in cake! This is a pretty typical day in the life of Ghost Baker… actually this is a good day – normally if cake’s involved it’s probably also squished into my clothes or in my hair.

fermented black beans

The reason for today’s mess is that I’m working on a fairly detailed birthday cake for my mom for this weekend. I’ve even drawn specs for the cake to compare what different decorations might look like. We always want to impress our moms, right? Please keep your fingers crossed for me, and I’ll let you know how it goes!

Today’s recipe, however, features dinner, not cake. I was given Martha Stewart’s Cooking School: Lessons and Recipes for the Home Cook for Christmas (are you sensing a pattern? I was lucky enough to receive many excellent cookbooks!). Though I’d flipped through the book and oogled things several times before, this was the first time I tried a recipe. I was drawn to Martha’s “Stir-Fried Shrimp with Black Bean Sauce.”

black bean sauce

This recipe does require a trip to your local Asian grocery store, but if you haven’t been to one before consider this your special invitation! You can find great deals on certain things at Asian grocery stores (rice in bulk, various sauces, etc).

Let me warn you that fermented black beans smell a bit strong, but they’re just soybeans that have been preserved in salt. They are not the same thing as typical black beans. They give the dish a distinct flavor. If you like Asian food then you will likely enjoy this dish.

This would also work really well with tofu – either replacing the shrimp with tofu or adding tofu in with the shrimp. I didn’t alter Martha’s recipe too much, but I did try to make things a little simpler and take the edge off the salty black beans. I eliminated the soy sauce and scallions and added a little more hoisin sauce. If you try this with tofu, please let me know how it goes! Aside from a trip to the Asian market, this dish comes together very quickly and requires little prep.

shrimp with black bean sauce

Stir-fried Shrimp with Fermented Black Bean Sauce
adapted from Martha Stewart’s Cooking School: Lessons and Recipes for the Home Cook
serves 2

5 cloves garlic, minced
2 teaspoon peanut oil
1 tablespoon fermented black beans, rinsed and crushed with the back of a spoon (found in Asian market in a small, usually clear bag)
1 tablespoon fresh ginger root, minced (be sure to lightly peel the papery covering off)
1 tablespoon Chinese cooking wine (found in Asian market, or if you have to you can substitute dry sherry or white wine)
3 teaspoons hoisin sauce (found in Asian market, or the international food section of your grocery store)
1 teaspoon red pepper flakes
12 medium frozen shrimp, peeled and dethawed under cold running water
1/2 tablespoon cornstarch
1/2 cup white rice, cooked in a rice cooker or according to package instructions

In a medium bowl, whisk together garlic, peanut oil, black beans (don’t forget to mash them first with the back of your spoon), ginger, Chinese wine, hoisin sauce and red pepper flakes. Set aside.

Heat wok on medium high until it sizzles when you sprinkle a few drops of water on it. Add oil to the wok (never add oil to an unheated wok… remember what my Chinese cooking instruction said, “hot wok, cold oil”). Right before adding the shrimp to the wok, toss it with the cornstarch to coat it. Add shrimp to the wok, count to 5 and then press down on the shrimp with your wok utensil for a few seconds to sear it. Stir it quickly a few times, then let it sit for another few seconds. Continue this pattern until your shrimp turn pink and curl up, just another minute or two. Shrimp cook quickly. Pour in the sauce mixture and turn the heat up on the wok. Cook for just under a minute without stirring to let the flavor lock in, then stir before serving to coat.

Serve shrimp immediately over rice.

Who Needs Scallions? Mashed Potatoes and Rutabaga

Two dinner posts in one week instead of dessert? This is Ghost Baker blasphemy! And I picked rutabaga to work with; such a bizarre looking vegetable. Maybe hitting our 100th DinnerCakes post this week has made me loopy.

rutabagas

Don’t worry, I’ve just been cooking a lot lately and trying new things… and thankfully they seem to be working out well! Weight loss and weekly baking weren’t really fitting together, though I believe Chef Edwin got a good laugh at my dreams of a pound cake diet (which he sarcastically termed my “pound diet”).

My mother-in-law got me a subscription to Food Network Magazine for Christmas which I have already toyed with before here. This was a really cool gift because now I get great, seasonal recipes delivered directly to my door (er, mail slot). Today’s recipe was inspired by the Nov/Dec 2008 issue featuring some fancy potato recipes.

mashing

The original recipe called for a few things that I thought were a little unnecessary for my purposes (a weeknight side dish). And my husband quickly vetoed my quest for fresh parsley and scallions in the grocery store stating incredulously, “Who has ever eaten something and said it needs more scallions!?”

So here we are! I took out some of the “fluff,” used basic Russet potatoes instead of Yukon Gold and added broccoli. This recipe makes a shallow baking dish full of mashed potatoes and rutabaga. We had enough leftover for a full week of dinners and/or lunches… quite a bit, really. But I surprisingly never got tired of it! This dish really is a nice surprise. I’d only had rutabaga once before at Thanksgiving 2008. I thought it had a very distinct, almost bitter taste that didn’t agree with me, but combining it with potatoes makes it much more mild and very enjoyable.

mashed potatoes and rutabaga

Mashed Potatoes and Rutabaga
adapted from Food Network Magazine

1 pound rutabaga (yellow turnip), peeled and cut into 1-inch pieces
1 pound Russet potatoes, peeled and quartered
3 tablespoons unsalted butter, room temperature
3 tablespoons margarine, room temperature (I did half regular butter and half margarine in an attempt to reduce the fat content, but you certainly don’t have to)
3/4 cup half and half, warmed
salt, to taste (I used coarse Kosher salt)
1/2 tablespoon oil (I used Smart Balance oil)
2 cups broccoli florets, chopped
3/4 cups plain breadcrumbs

In a large pot, cover cut rutabaga and potatoes with cold, salted water and bring to a boil on medium heat. Once the water begins to boil, reduce to a simmer until the vegetables are tender (they should hold there form, but there should be little resistance when pierced with a fork). This will take approximately 30 minutes.

Drain the water and turn the heat down to low. Stir in 3 tablespoons of the butter (not the margarine) and mash (I used a potato masher) until smooth (I like to leave just a few potato chunks in mine, but I know everyone has there own preference!). Add the warm half and half and salt. Keep warm on low setting.

Meanwhile, melt the remaining 3 tablespoons of margarine with the oil in a skillet on medium. Add the breadcrumbs and broccoli and cook until broccoli is tender, stirring so that the breadcrumbs don’t burn.

Pour the potato mixture into a shallow baking or casserole dish. Sprinkle potatoes with the breadcrumb/broccoli mixture and serve.

Note – after discussing this dish with Edwin, we think mashed cauliflower might also be good in here, possibly as a substitute to the Russet potatoes. Let us know if you try it out!

Stuffed Cabbage Leaves – Cooking with Winter Vegetables

My husband got me a really interesting new cookbook for Christmas called In Season: Cooking with Vegetables and Fruits by Sarah Raven. I don’t usually spend a lot of time thinking about ways to cook using vegetables that are in season; a better description of my style would be haphazard or erratic (and let’s face it, I don’t really spend a lot of time thinking about vegetables, period). But this is a beautiful book with a lot of great ideas.

onions

For January and February cooking, the book recommends cabbages, chicories, citrus, evergreen herbs and winter salad greens. I decided to try a stuffed cabbage recipe.

rice onions turkey bacon and pork

Back in November, Edwin posted a quasi-Indian style vegetarian cabbage roll dish. This one is pretty different from that (the original recipe author is from Hungary). The recipe in the book called for a lot of things – bacon, ground beef, chopped mixed herbs and sauerkraut. It was my goal to pare it down a bit. I also tried to make it a little healthier, eliminating the bacon for turkey bacon and holding off on the ground beef completely.

cabbage rolls

This was my first dish from this book, and I was a little disappointed at the way the instructions are written. A few of the steps seem to leave a great deal to the imagination. For example, Edwin’s cabbage recipe calls for boiling the cabbage head until the leaves begin separating. My recipe didn’t mention anything about that, and so I found it very difficult to peel off the leaves in one piece. I probably pulled off about 6 large, fat leaves and the rest were moderately ripped and shredded in the process. Hopefully it was just a fluke for this recipe.

I think this turned out well and I will likely make it again. What do you put in your cabbage rolls?

cabbage rolls ready

Stuffed Cabbage Leaves
adapted from In Season: Cooking with Vegetables and Fruits
(yields about 20 rolls, total prep and cook time is approx. 1 1/2 hours)

1 cabbage
2 bay leaves
3/4 cup (6 ounces) turkey bacon, chopped
1 onion, chopped
3 garlic cloves, minced
1 teaspoon paprika
1/4 teaspoon ground cumin
1/2 teaspoon marjoram, thyme and dill
salt and pepper (dash)
1 pound ground pork
1/2 cup cooked long-grain white rice
1 egg, beaten
1 cups chicken broth

Preheat oven to 350F.

(I’ve inserted Edwin’s instructions here for peeling the leaves so that you don’t have the same problem I did) – Core the hard part of the cabbage (the stem mostly) from the base. Boil in a large pot of boiling, salted water. In about 5-10 minutes, when the leaves begin separating, remove from the pot. Let cool.

Remove the thickest part of the cabbage leaves to make them easier to roll.

Fry the turkey bacon in a shallow pan and set aside. In the same pan, add onion, garlic, marjoram, thyme, dill, paprika, cumin, salt and pepper on low heat so as not to burn it.

In a large skillet, combine raw pork, cooked rice, cooked turkey bacon and onion mixture. Add the beaten egg to bind the mixture and season with salt and pepper. Stir occassionally until cooked.

When cooked, place approximately two spoonfuls of the mixture on a cabbage leaf. Roll the leaf, starting from the stem and and tuck in the edges. Place the rolls, seam down, in a shallow baking or casserole dish. Pour brother over the leaves and add bay leaf and a dash of dill. Cook, covered, for approximately one hour.

Creamy Orecchiette Pasta with Broccoli and Vermont Cheddar

If you caught the cover of the February/March 2009 Food Network Magazine, then you saw a gorgeous Orecchiette Pasta with Broccoli Rabe Pesto. I couldn’t wait to make it.

pistachios

Except I didn’t know much about broccoli rabe – which turns out to be nothing at all like broccoli. So I decided to go with what I know and see if this recipe works with regular broccoli. I also replaced the parmigiano-reggiano cheese with a sharper, more pungent cheese to give it a bit of zip.

broccoli mixture

Without the bright green contrasting colors this dish may not look as lovely the Food Network Magazine cover, but I really enjoyed it. The orecchiette pasta is a lot like shells, hiding little salty pistashio nuggets in every other bite. It’s like a grown-up macaroni and cheese, with broccoli and pistachio being the more dominant tastes than the cheese.

If you’re in the mood for something a little different, this is for you!

orecchiette pasta

Orecchiette with Broccoli and Vermont Cheddar
Adapted from Food Network

2 1/2 cups broccoli, chopped
1/2 cup pistachios, toasted
1 cup Vermont Cheddar, shredded
1/2 cup part-skim ricotta cheese
1/2 pound orecchiette pasta

Cook pasta according to package instructions. Meanwhile, puree broccoli in bowl of a food processor. Add toasted pistachios, followed by Vermont Cheddar. Finally add ricotta and pulse until smooth. Add salt and pepper to taste.

Add broccoli mixture to a large skillet and add 1 cup of the pasta water. When pasta is cooked, drain and add to the skillet with the broccoli mixture. Stir vigorously to combine and cook until the sauce is creamy and hot. Add more salt and pepper to taste. Garnish with shredded Vermont Cheddar.

Creamy and Sweet Pumpkin Pie Rice Pudding

A few weeks ago Joy the Baker posted a great looking rice pudding recipe that planted a seed in my head. I love rice pudding, particularly Kozy Shack brand, and I couldn’t believe that I’d never tried to make it before on my own.

cooking rice pudding

But the pudding can scorch so easily. It’s a delicate balance of stirring continuously while keeping the heat low. It was relaxing and fun, though. And in testing different ingredients and styles I was able to use my favorite ingredient.

You know what I’m talking about…

Pumpkin!

pumpkin rice pudding

It’s like creamy pumpkin pie, or a pumpkin spice frappuccino – just a hint of pumpkin and a lot of sweet cinnamon and cold milk.

Next time I make this I might add more pumpkin (you know me) and milk to make it even creamier, but right now I’m just enjoying each bite of this sweet little treat (well, what’s left of it)!

pumpkin rice pudding2

Pumpkin Pie Rice Pudding

1/8 teaspoon salt
2 cups whole milk
1/2 cup long grain rice
1/4 cup plus 1 tablespoon light brown sugar
1/8 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 cup Libby’s canned pure pumpkin
dash of cloves
dash of nutmeg

Cook rice in rice cooker or according to package instructions. Once rice is cooked, set aside. Add milk, sugar and salt to a medium pot. Bring to a low boil, stirring continuously so you don’t scorch the milk. Add the cooked rice and pumpkin and keep stirring! Add cinnamon and dash of cloves nutmeg. Keep stirring until the milk cooks down and the rice plumps, about 10 minutes. Make sure the heat stays low and that you don’t stop stirring.

Remove the pot from the stove and pour pudding into Corningware or medium-sized bowl. Make sure you put an oven mitt or trivet underneath the bowl and set it in the fridge. Chill in refrigerator and serve cold.

Note – During one of my prior attempts I used skim milk instead of whole and it the texture wasn’t quite the same. I’d refrain from switching to skim on this one.

Simple Pad Thai, a Quick Fix for Luxuriously Lazy Nights

So, I had been saving an empty boxed Pad Thai kit that I used to make dinner the other night, but it seems as though my husband does not value saving empty food boxes in the same way that I do, and he threw it away! Hopefully we’ll be able to make do here anyway.

Pad Thai spice

We picked up the pad thai box in the international section of the grocery store a few weeks ago. Back when the two of us were lazier, these little kits were an excellent choice for quick dinners and a welcome change from spaghetti.

Well, we were feeling lazy again last Friday, and we had half a rotisserie chicken left from when I made Sante Fe Soup earlier in the week. But as I was cooking the noodles and about to open the spice packet, I turned over the box to read the ingredients –

(Peanuts, Pure Cane Sugar, Salt, Corn Starch, Spices [Chili, Cinnamon, Pepper, Cumin, Clove], Hydrolyzed Soy Protein, Yeast Extract, Green Onions, Citric Acid, Peanut Oil, Sesame Oil, Silicon Dioxide [To Prevent Caking])

I already had on hand chili powder, cinnamon, pepper, cumin and cloves, so I thought I could do without this processed version. I picked out a few of the peanuts from the spice packet (woops, that was one thing I didn’t have), threw the rest in the trash and embarked on a journey to recreate it.

pad thai noodles

I knew this wouldn’t be an authentic pad thai – though I have taken a Thai cooking course, this just wasn’t the night to break out the tamarind and fish sauce. I still have nightmares about working with fish sauce; in my Thai cooking course the instructor told us that it’s made by packing a barrel with fish and then collecting the water and liquid that runs off them… voila, fish sauce (shudder).

My attempt at recreating the boxed pad thai was pretty good, but I think I went a little wild with the level of spice. It’s possible that Edwin’s self-proclaimed “spicy wussiness” is making me overcompensate, and noodles are pretty good at retaining spice. I toned things down a little bit in the recipe below. If you have recreated a simple box pad thai with luck, please let me know!

Pad Thai

Thai Kitchen Pad Thai
(revisited especially for lazy Friday nights after a long week!)

1 box Thai Kitchen original pad thai
1/2 rotisserie chicken
handful of peanuts, roughly chopped
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
1/2 teaspoon chili powder
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon cumin
1/8 teaspoon cloves
1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon cayenne
1 bag frozen stir fry vegetables (or if you prefer fresh vegetables, shop for fresh snow peas, sliced carrots, sliced red and yellow peppers, onion, and broccoli or mushrooms)

Combine peanuts, salt, pepper, chili powder, cinnamon, cumin, cloves and cayenne in a small bowl. Set aside. Remove rotisserie chicken from bone and cut bite size pieces. Set aside. Soak banh pho noodles according to directions on box. In the meantime, heat your wok to medium heat, then add 2 tablespoons oil. Stir fry defrosted or fresh vegetables until desired tenderness is reached.

When noodles are finished soaking, drain and rinse well. Add noodles to the wok, along with the pieces of chicken and spice mixture. Stir-fry for approximately 5 minutes, until fully combined and noodles are tender. Serve hot, garnish with extra peanuts.