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    Entries in cans are evil (8)

    Tuesday
    Dec062011

    because we always do what we're told

    So our lovely winner, Angel, suggested that we make either a turkey pot pie or some kind of spaghetti with chicken. Well, we go all out around here when people give us suggestions. I mean, really, I once made cookies with garam masala in them because one of the guys at work challenged me to do it. Chicken Spaghetti? No problem.

    I did have to pause when I was told that most people mean some kind of ... *cringe* casserole (gag) when they say "chicken spaghetti."

    I have an undying holy hate for anything called casserole. While this kind of thing serves as comfort food for many people, memories of my mother's pasta-and-cans-of-mystery-soup dinners are things of nightmares.

    I do not, and will not ever, make casseroles.

    And because of this, I turned to my old standby. One cutting board, one pan, and dinner in as little time as possible.

    Chicken Spaghetti

    What you need:

    • 2 chicken breasts
    • 5 cloves of garlic
    • 4 giant mushrooms
    • 1 small box of spinach
    • 1/3 c basil leaves
    • 1-1/2 c table cream
    • 1/4 c cream cheese
    • 1/4 c parmesan
    • 1/2 box linguine

    What you gotta do:

    Get a nice big pot of water on to boil. (this is the pasta equivalent of remembering to preheat the oven)

    So, because I'm damn lazy, hate washing dishes and have limited cutting boards, I always chop the veggies first. Mince the garlic, slice the mushrooms, and chiffonade the basil.

    Then, once those are taken care of, I use the same board for raw meat. Chicken breast cooks faster when it's thinner, and it's quite satisfying to make big loud banging noises as you shake everything on the counter with every swing. I remember my mom having a "meat mallet" and it seemed like a common tool at one time, but most utensil sets nowadays don't seem to include them.

    It is a bit of a specialized item and I'm quite fond of multi-purpose items, so I use the bottom of a Pyrex measuring cup. Works just fine.

    Bring a bit of butter to bubbly in a large pan.

    Add the chicken breats and cook until it's just starting to brown. (um, that's pepper. I like pepper. Which reminds me: salt and pepper.)

    Flip them over and give them just a couple minutes then take them out of the pan and cover them with foil. Don't worry if it's not entirely cooked all the way through. It's going to rest on a plate for a while and then go back into the pan. It'll have lots of time to finish cooking.

    Dump the mushrooms and garlic into the pan. If you'd like you can add a bit more butter with them.

    If your spinach is small-leafed enough, you can just toss it in as is. If the leaves are a little on the big side, you can tear or chop it before adding it. Me, I just tore it up a bit since I'd already dirtied the only cutting board I wanted to wash.

    Once the spinach has wilted a bit (that takes like 2 minutes, and likely you'll be busy adding linguine to water while it happens) add the cream,

    and the cream cheese.

    Let this simmer for about 5 minutes over reasonably high heat. I used cream with 18% milk fat, which is less than whipping cream, but more than what typically goes into coffee. If you've got whipping cream, cut it with a bit of milk or chicken broth. The cream cheese isn't totally necessary in this, but it adds a nice bit of cheesey flavour.

    When your pasta is almost done, slice your chicken breasts. Add it and the basil and grated parmesan to the pan.

    Drain the pasta, leaving just a little bit of water in the bottom of the pot, then dump it all into the sauce pan.

    Give this a good mix, and keep it bubbling over medium high until the sauce is the consistency you want.

    I kept mine bubbling for about 3 or 4 minutes before I loaded it onto a plate and into a couple of containers for lunch tomorrow and dinner in a couple days.

    So, there we go. A deconstructed Chicken Spaghetti casserole (gag) made with fresh ingredients, in about 30 minutes with as few dishes as humanly possible.

    Next challenge??

    Friday
    Nov042011

    Ban the Can!

    What do I have against canned cranberry sauce?  Well, in this case, I think a picture really is worth a thousand words. 

    Yep, there it is, in all its jiggly, slimy glory.  Lovely ribbed can shape and all.  Why are our standards so low when it comes to cranberry sauce?  I mean, would you eat anything else shaped like a tin can?  And considering how easy it is to make your own, there are really no excuses for substituting such a disgrace.  You can even make it a day or two in advance so that it’s ready to serve on the big day without having to fuss over it.  Impress your guests this year and serve a bowl of delicious, beautiful, homemade cranberry sauce. 

    You’ll only need a few ingredients.

     

     

     

    3 cups fresh cranberries
    ¾ - 1 cup sugar
    2 Tablespoons orange zest
    ⅔ cup orange juice
    ⅓ cup water  
    1 teaspoon vanilla
    ½ teaspoon cinnamon

     

     

     

     

    First thing you need to do is zest an orange.  If you have a microplane, it’ll make short work of that task for you. 

    If you don’t have one, Seeley showed how to do it with a knife here.  The other advantage to using a microplane is that you can take off only the very outside layer, not getting any of the pith (white part). 

    Don’t forget to get the zest off of the back of your grater, though. 

    Cut your bald orange in half and juice it along with a second orange. 

    Put the juice in a measuring cup and fill the rest of the way to the 1 cup line with water. 

    Now, set that aside and give your cranberries a nice rinse, checking the berries over in the process. 

    Pour orange juice and sugar into a pan over medium heat.  ¾ of a cup of sugar will make a sauce that’s slightly on the tart side.  If you prefer yours to be sweeter, add a cup.  Sprinkle with a pinch of salt and stir until the sugar is completely dissolved.  Throw in the orange zest.

    Stir it in and pour in the cranberries. 

    Bring the mixture just to a boil.  You’ll hear little hisses and pops as the berries heat up.  It’s just their skins beginning to split open, like this:

    When you’ve reached a boil, reduce the heat to low and cover tightly.  Allow it to simmer for 20 – 25 minutes, stirring frequently along the way.  After about 10 minutes, you’ll see the berries have really started to break down and the mixture begins to thicken. 

    Continue to stir the mixture frequently, keeping it covered in between.  Once everything has really broken down and the mixture becomes about the consistency of lumpy ketchup, (ok, that doesn't sound very appetizing, but you get the idea) turn off the heat and add the vanilla. 

    Stir well then place the lid on and just leave it for 20 minutes.  When you return, you have fabulous orange cranberry sauce.  How easy was that? 

    You don’t like your cranberry sauce lumpy?  Simple.  Just press the mixture through a sieve using a spoon or rubber spatula.

    Is that cool or what?  A delicious, smooth cranberry sauce that really does have the consistency of a sauce.  No jiggle factor, no can shape, and no artificial anything.  Ban the can this year.  You’ll be glad you did.   

    *Don’t use your cranberry sauce just for Thanksgiving dinner.  Add it to yogurt, spread it on toast, glaze chicken or pork, or even use it as a filling in a cake.       
     

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