Friday, October 21, 2011

Step 2: Keep it Interesting

It's easy to talk about cooking dinner more often.  Not so much easy to do, especially when you're a restaurant addict like me.  My solution to the whole "I'm sick of cooking dinner" problem was to stop skimping on groceries.  I was raised by an amazingly thrifty mother who taught me the ins and outs of saving on groceries.  I know how to pay attention to prices and stock up.  I can cook cheap meals and make things last.   But I just can't keep on doing it, you know?  Halfway through week two and I'm signing my name to a $50 dinner out. 
Nowadays, I try to only buy good food (Diet pepsi and kraft mac and cheese, notwithstanding!)  Organic produce is a great place to start, and of course we already talked about my adoration for wonderful bread.  When we eat meat, it's usually chicken, usually that chicken is organic, and in drumstick form.  (Much cheaper than organic chicken breast!)  Having lovely ingredients in the house keeps me inspired, and keeps me feeling kind of restaurant-y.  There is a fine line between improving your grocery selections and pressuring yourself to have The World's Best Cart at Whole Foods.  I've done it to myself too many times, and I don't recommend it.  Use what you have.  Organic is better for our planet and health, but if you can't afford it or don't have access to it, just let it go, and use what you have. 

So with all this in mind, we have tonight's dinner.  Something that I've never made before, but it came out great and was liked by all!

Pasta Primavera!

You'll need:
1 - 1lb box of pasta, I used bowties
Fresh veggies, whatever kind you like.  I used
1 red pepper
1 package of mini zucchini (Trader Joe's) Probably equivalent to 2 regular sized zucchini
1 package mushrooms, sliced
1/2 an onion
1 scallion
Olive Oil
Chicken or Veggie stock
Milk (Cream if you're fancy)

Fill a large stock pot with water and put it over high heat to boil.  While it heats up, start prepping your veggies.  I diced my peppers into 1cm square-ish pieces, finely chopped the onion, sliced the mushrooms and cut the zucchini into 1" chunks (I'd do large slices on an angle with regular zucchini)

Lovely pasta primavera veggies

Start a large skillet with a pat of butter and a tablespoon of olive oil, over medium heat.  Once it is hot, throw in the onion and pepper.  I personally prefer my onions and peppers well cooked and without too much crunch left in them, if you like yours crunchier you might consider waiting until later to start your vegetables.  Sprinkle the whole party lightly with salt and black pepper, and add a little garlic, too. 

Keep an eye on your water and put the pasta in once it is rapidly boiling.  Stir, stir, stir.  Oh, and salt the water, too.  Lower the burner under the water to medium.

After the peppers and onions are soft and bubbling in some of their own juices, add the zucchini.  Zucchini looks yummiest when it has some caramelization on it's fleshy parts, so it's best to add it to the pan, give the pan a little shake, and then leave the darn thing alone for a couple minutes.  Too much stirring too early on will mess it up.  Watch the heat, though, you don't want to burn it.  Adjust the heat as needed.

Once the zucchini has a little color, add the mushrooms and scallions.  When I added the mushrooms I added another couple tablespoons of oil as well.  The pan will now be sufficiently crowded and your house will smell like amazing.

(Your noodles might be done.  Consider checking them now.  Your veggies can sit and simmer while you deal with the pasta.  If they aren't done, they probably will be soon.  Take thepasta off as soon as it's al dente.  The veggie part of this recipe is VERY forgiving and can sit on the stove for a minute just about any time during the cooking process.)

Once the mushrooms are looking mostly cooked, add your stock.  I used about 3/4 cup of homemade chicken stock.  I cannot recommend home made stock enough.  It will change your life.  But I also understand that there isn't always time or inclination to make it yourself, in which case, store bought works well, too. 
Game Changer

Once the stock is hot and bubbly, add about 3/4 cup of milk or cream.  I used 2% milk.  Cream would make the meal a lot richer and probably quite delicious.  Milk was perfectly adequate, though.  Stir the whole situation together and taste the sauce.  You'll probably need a little more salt, pepper and garlic now. 

Leave it to simmer for a few more minutes. 

While the veggies simmer and the noodles hang out, open a can of refrigerator biscuits.  (Old habits die hard, I'm sure there's some less processed alternative, but this is what I had on hand)

Spray 6 cups in a muffin tin with nonstick spray.
Rip or cut each dough round in half
Drop 2 dough halves in each cup
Drizzle (ever so lightly) each cup with a teensy bit of olive oil
Sprinkle each cup with fresh parmesan, garlic powder, salt and pepper
Place the rest of the dough pieces on top of the parmesan sprinkled dough - you might have an odd number in which case you can rip the remainders into quarters to make each dough/cheese conglomeration roughly even in size.

Bake at 350 for about 10 minutes (when you put your bread in, put the pasta and veggie mixture together and stir it all together.  Add a little parmesan and taste again.  You might want a little more salt and pepper)

I didn't time this, to be honest, so I recommend maybe ignoring my time suggestion and just watching these yourself.  When you smell them, check on them.  If they're still totally white on top, but kinda brown on bottom you can switch on your broiler and let the tops brown.  Once again, be careful with the broiler.  It goes from lovely browning tool to evil dream crusher in about a half second. 

Garlic Parmesan Biscuits

Now it's time to call the little ones to the table.  Make them pour the drinks and get the silverware! :)


I need better food styling here, this makes it look like it wasn't very veggie heavy, but it was.  It was actually a perfect balance of veggies and noodles.
90/365 - Pasta Primavera

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