Thursday, December 12, 2013

Super Easy Lentil Soup for the Brain Dead

I know.  I’ve been MIA.  Life gets the better of you at certain times as I'm sure you know.  After all, it is the holiday season.  There have been many late nights, parties, eating out and general life events that have prevented me from being one with my kitchen.

Now having said all this, I can’t guarantee that I’m back on track.  The very much blog absent Cameraman Dave and I are leaving for a cruise on December 23rd (yes, you may go ahead and hate us.), so my kitchen absence will recur.  Perhaps some shots of the fabulous meals we'll be indulging in may make you forgive me?  Did I hear you say, "Not a chance?"  :-(

Ah-hem... I re-direct...

So last night I said to Dave that I really needed to eat a healthy home cooked meal.  You know how it is when you get that feeling that you’ve had enough take-out, party or instant food?  But I was also exhausted that I definitely needed to make something Brain Dead worthy.  A main dish soup always fits the bill.  And with the bitter cold weather, it was exactly what would hit the spot in all ways.

This was a pantry-fridge essentials kind of recipe.  I wanted minimal preparation.  Opening cans and throwing stuff in a pot was about as much culinary exercise as I could manage.  I kept chopping to a minimum.  You can even eliminate this step if you choose to make this soup vegetarian.  I used some lean kolbassa in mine but ham would work just as well.

So go ahead.  Be kitchen lazy but well fed.  Your brain deserves a rest!  I know mine did!

Here’s what you’ll need:
                      261 gms lean kolbassa (about 2 C when chopped)
                      1 can lentils (540 ml/19 oz)
                      1 can diced tomatoes (796 ml/28 oz)
                      1 C frozen carrot pea mix
                      1/4 C long grain white rice
                      1 chicken bouillon cube (the kind that reconstitutes 
                              in 2 C water but don't add the  2 C of water - you'll be using the                                            amount below only)
                      4 C water
                      2 T olive oil
                      1 T dried parsley
                      1 t dried oregano
                      1/2 t granulated garlic 
Drain and rinse lentils. 
Put everything in a pot except the meat.
Don't drain the tomatoes - just dump the can in.
Chop up the kolbassa into bite sized pieces...
...whatever that means for you!
Throw that in.  Mix everything through.
Bring to a boil.  Cover with a tight fitting lid.
Reduce to low and simmer for 20 minutes for rice to cook.
Twenty minutes later...
Check for salt and do add some freshly ground pepper.
Ready to serve with a nice baguette!
Hearty, filling and healthy.
Oh!  And did I say EASY?
What more could you want?
Except a second helping perhaps!

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Meatball Stroganoff for the Brain Dead

I am totally loving the cold weather.  It gives me permission to make some great comfort food dinners. What I love most about comfort food is that generally, it's SO easy to make and SO darn delicious!

This Brain Dead version of stroganoff uses frozen boxed meatballs as a shortcut. (And remember the mantra: there is no shame in shortcuts!)  There are many variations around the word of this now classic dish (read more here), but I like this super easy dumbed down version (a.k.a. Brain Dead).

The most work here is chopping a small onion and slicing 3 large mushrooms.  C'mon - you know you can do that!  This dish should take you 15 minute tops to make.  That's a pretty small investment of time for a satisfying and tasty meal, n'est-ce pas?

This serves 2 well.  You can double or triple the recipe easily.  It's a tasty, cheap and cheerful dinner for a large family or anyone on a budget.  Delicious... cheap... heck, I need not go on - it sells itself!  So let's get started!

Here's what you'll need:
                           14 ready made frozen meatballs
                           1 small onion, chopped
                           1/2 C sour cream
                           3 large mushrooms, sliced (~2 C)
                           1 C beef broth
                           2 T flour (divided)
                           2 T butter (divided)
                           3 C medium sized egg noodles

First, get your pot of water boiling for your noodles.

Melt 1 T butter in a medium skillet over medium high heat.
Add onions and mushrooms.
Cook for about 5 minutes...
...until the onions soften and the mushrooms brown.
Next, sprinkle 1 T of the flour over top and toss well. 
Add the beef broth and bring to boil.
Immediately reduce heat to low.
Mix the remaining 1T of flour into the sour cream.
Blend well and thoroughly until smooth. 
Add the sour cream blend into the onion mushroom mixture.
Stir through to blend. 
Toss in the meatballs..
Combine the meatballs with the sauce, 
making sure they're well coated.
Add a few grindings of black pepper and about 1/8 t of salt. 
Cover to simmer while your noodles cook.
Add noodles to a large pot of boiling water.
Cook according to package directions.
Mine took about 6 minutes. 
Drain well and toss with remaining T of butter. 
Divide noodles between 2 bowls.
Top evenly with meatball mushroom sauce.
Sprinkle with dried parsley and paprika for some colour.

What a yummy, quick, comfort meal for a cold day!

Thursday, November 7, 2013

Kraut and Sausage for the Brain Dead

I've been Brain Dead for weeks and as a result, have been oh so negligent with my postings.  Please be kind...

Hopefully, I'm back and will  post a little more regularly.  Heck, I'm even going to try to get Cameraman Dave back into action.

But now, let's get down to business!

This is a great fall meal.  And it's stupid easy to pull together.  You're basically throwing in ready to use ingredients to make your "home cooked supper".  And while I love - and often do - make from scratch meals and recipes, you know my motto: there is no shame in shortcuts!

So shortcut away and make an easy night of dinner by tossing a few things in a pan!

Here's what you'll need to generously feed 2:
                             2 cups packed sauerkraut*
                                       1 bottle of beer (about 12 ounces)
                             1 pkg Uncle Ben's Express converted rice
                             4 sausages, your choice
                             1/4 C olive oil (not shown)
                             1 t sweet paprika (not shown)
                             * (first rinse, squeeze out liquid before packing in cup)
Here is a close up of the sausages I used.
They are smoked so really, are pre-cooked.
Here is the rice pack I used. 
Add kraut to pan.
Add beer and olive oil.
Add entire contents of rice pack.
Mix it all up!
Place your sausages on top.
Now bring to a boil.
Cover and reduce heat to medium low.
Cook for 15 minutes.
Uncover, crank off the heat and boil off excess liquid.
Add paprika and mix through.
Add a few grindings of fresh pepper and taste for salt.
Serve it up!
Cheap, cheerful, fast and filling!
Perfect meal idea for Brain Dead you :-)

Sunday, October 20, 2013

Lemon Cream Shrimp Orzo

What a nice fresh pasta dish!  Although there is cream in it, the freshness from the lemon just lightens it all up. Most recipes for this particular dish use angel hair aka capellini pasta which is also wonderful.  I had orzo on hand so that's what I used. I think orzo is great for this because the result is very risotto-like.

Now I wish I had measured out the amount of lemon juice I got from my lemon.  What I suggest you do is add half the juice to the sauce and taste it at that point.  Add a little more at a time until it hits the right citrus note to your palette. You can also add half the juice and after you've mixed the sauce into the orzo, you can taste if more lemon is needed at that point.

This dish is super easy and super fast to make - 15 minutes, guaranteed.  A terrific after work meal or simply because you want to limit the slaving in the kitchen without sacrificing the delivery of a satisfying meal!

This will serve 2 - well!

Here's what you'll need:
                        300 gms (about 10.5 oz) shrimp, shelled
                        1 C orzo
                        Juice of 1 small lemon
                        1/2 t lemon peel, grated or zested*
                        1 T butter
                        1/2 t each granulated garlic, dried basil, 
                        dried parsley
                        1/2 C heavy cream 
                        3/4 C Parmesan cheese (plus more to top, if desired)

                       *Tip: Grate or zest lemon before juicing! 
Bring water in pot to a boil.  Reduce heat.  
Pour orzo in and cook for about 8 minutes.  
About 2 minutes before orzo is done, 
melt the butter in a pan on medium heat.  
Add lemon zest, garlic, basil, parsley...
...lemon juice and cream.  
Add shrimp.  If  using uncooked, heat until they turn pink.  
If using cooked, cook about a minute until heated through.
While shrimp cook, drain the orzo.  Return to pot.
Pour sauce over orzo.  
Add Parmesan and a few grindings of fresh ground pepper.
Mix through.
Taste for salt to your liking.
Serve it up with extra Parm sprinkled on top.

 Tender shrimp in a lemony, creamy sauce,
held together by the magic of Parmesan!
How do you say "Yum" in Italian? 
(Well... according to Babelfish translation, it's actually "yum"!  LOL)

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Spicy Curried Pumpkin Coconut Soup for the Brain Dead

A few days ago, I made a pumpkin loaf with maple cream cheese frosting (recipe here).  I had some pumpkin puree leftover and decided to make this yummy soup that is stupid easy! 

With 3 tablespoons of red curry paste, it does have some bite.  But don't worry, your mucous membranes will remain in tact.  If you're worried about heat, start with 1 tablespoon at a time and work up to 3. Personally, I think the soup needs the full 3.

This is a great starter for a Thai dinner.  Or, you can make this into a substantial meal on its own by adding thin slices of chicken, shrimp, julienne red pepper and thinly sliced mushrooms.  Top with chopped cilantro.

Basically, you dump everything into a pot, whisk and heat.  Duh... is that easy, or what? You're an instant (but brain dead), Thai chef!

Here's what you'll need: 
                            1.5 C pumpkin puree
                            1 - 400 ml can coconut milk
                            3 T Thai red curry paste
                            1 chicken or vegetable bouillon cube*(not shown)
                            1 T fresh lemon juice (not shown)
                                      *(the kind that needs to be diluted with 2 C water - 
                                       but don't use 2 C to dilute!)
In a pot, add the pumpkin, coconut milk, red curry paste, bouillon cube, one cup of water and lemon juice.
Whisk together.
Heat to soup eating temperature.
Check for salt to your taste.
Serve it up!
There's always a little coconut milk residue left in the can.
Drizzle on top as decoration.
Or, use chopped cilantro if you have some on hand.

There you have it!
Zingy pumpkin coconut soup - Thai style!
Too easy not to make :-)

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Pumpkin Loaf with Maple Cream Cheese Frosting.

Today was Canadian Thanksgiving.  Although it's too late to make it as a finish for your (Canadian) turkey dinner, it is still pumpkin season and after all, Hallowe'en is around the corner so you can certainly make it for that! If you happen to be American, well consider this as an ample heads up to make for your festive celebration!

Don't be daunted by the ingredients in the picture.  I do that for presentation purposes. As you measure things out, simply dump into the appropriate bowl. You can wait to make the frosting when the cake is completely cooled.  

I had a large can of pumpkin which, after I measured out what I needed for my cake, had 1 1/2 cups leftover. Stay tuned for my coconut pumpkin soup recipe which I will make with the remaining amount in the next day or so. (Soup recipe here)

I made this last night to take to my sister's for Thanksgiving dinner today.  It was a hit! What's not to love?  Dense layers of sweet pumpkin alternating with a thick layer of maple flavoured cream cheese frosting. Oh, yes!

Here's what you'll need:
                      In large bowl:
                           2 C pumpkin puree (I used canned, unsweetened)
                           1 egg
                           1/3 C veg oil
                           1/4 C water
                           1 C sugar
                      In small bowl:
                           1 1/4 C flour
                           1 t baking soda
                           1/2 t salt
                           1/4 t EACH ground cinnamon 
                           and ground nutmeg
                           1/8 t EACH ground cloves and ground ginger
                           Preheat oven to 350 degrees F

                          2 - 8 oz package cream cheese, softened
                          1/2 C butter, softened
                          1/4 C maple syrup
                          1/4 C brown sugar (not shown - an afterthought!)
                          1 t vanilla extract.
Place ingredients in large bowl as above.
Place ingredients in smaller bowl as above.
Mix large bowl ingredients.
It should look like this.  Orange or what?!
Mix small bowl ingredients.
It should look like this.
Now pour the flour mixture into the pumpkin blend.
Combine completely until you get this.
Spray a standard loaf pan with non-stick spray.
Pour pumpkin batter into pan.
Make sure you level off and push into four corners.
Bake for about 50 to 60 minutes until 
centre comes out clean with a toothpick.
This is what it looks like out of the oven.
It will fall.  This is a low cake.
Let cool completely before icing.

Icing Prep:
Place everything on the icing list into a mixing bowl.
You don't see the brown sugar here.
I added it later after a taste test - needed more sweetness!
With hand or stand mixer, mix until completely blended.

How to ice/assemble your cake:
Here is the cooled cake.
Note how I luckily have some natural notches as guidelines!
I'm going to cut it into 3 pieces horizontally.
With a long serrated knife, using a sawing motion, 
cut across the top third of your cake.
The right tool for the right job makes all the difference!
Here is the top piece off!
Now do it again!
Here you have roughly 3 equal pieces.
 On the bottom piece, spread about 1/3rd of the frosting.
Put it on your serving dish first!  
I didn't and had to lift it onto the plate later - dumb!
 Put the middle layer on top...
Add another 1/3rd of the frosting.
I use an offset spatula for spreading.
Gently put the top layer on.
Spread on remaining frosting.
The frosting recipe makes a lot.  You may want to use less.
If you have leftover, use to top some banana muffins - yum!  
Now pop it in the fridge to set.

When you cut it, use a serrated knife.
Wipe after each cut if needed.
Pre-cut from fridge and place onto serving plates.
Let it warm up a bit to room temp.
And here is what it looks like cut.
It's what we got to enjoy for dessert today.
Dense pumpkin cake,
thickly layered with maple cream cheese frosting.
Sooooo divine!
You and your guests will gobble it right up!