Archive for September, 2010

A friend of mine calls the soups she concocts from whatever she finds in her kitchen on a particular day “whatchagot” stew. I’m continually inspired by her creativity and the almost always successful culinary outcomes.

Today for lunch I found myself stumped. Nothing looked good. But a few things from last week’s CSA lingered on the counter and in the crisper — and if I didn’t get to them by tomorrow’s delivery, they’d probably go to waste.

A quick glance in the freezer uncovered frozen turkey meatballs from Trader Joe’s. That, tossed together with yellow bell pepper, onion, garlic, and cherry tomatoes became a splendid sauce tossed with simple spaghetti noodles.

Lunch was saved — and I felt accomplished for making up something scrumptious on the fly.

Whatchagot pasta

1/2 pound dried spaghetti
olive oil
1 yellow bell pepper, diced
1 yellow onion, diced
2 cloves garlic, minced
cherry tomatoes, halved
frozen turkey meatballs
1/2 cup reserved pasta water
salt and pepper to taste
grated Parmesan cheese for garnish

But the water on to boil for the spaghetti, and then grab your chef’s knife: roughly dice the bell pepper and onion, mince your garlic, and halve the cherry tomatoes.

Heat a dollop of olive oil in a large skillet on medium-high. Once the oil is hot, add onion, pepper, and garlic. Season with salt and pepper. Cook for 5 minutes, stirring occasionally, until the peppers have softened and the onion begins to brown.

Microwave three or four frozen turkey meatballs (my favorite are from Trader Joe’s), and then roughly chop.

Add the tomatoes and meatballs to onion and pepper mixture, then lower heat to medium. Stir occasionally while you wait for the pasta to be cooked to al dente.

Reserve 1/2 a cup of pasta water while draining spaghetti, and then toss noodles into the pan with your sauce. Stir well, letting the pasta soak up the flavor of the sauce. Add pasta water as desired until you get the consistency you like.

Finish with a dusting of freshly grated Parmesan cheese, and then dig in.

That’s what I came up with today — who knows what it might be next time.

I’d love to hear about your latest, greatest “whatchagot” meal.


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You can take the girl out of the Midwest, but you can’t take the Midwest out of the girl.

There are some recipes that I never get out of my system. They aren’t fancy or unique. In fact, they’re simple and solid. But I made them when I was young, growing up in Iowa, and they traveled with me to the Pacific Northwest.

This is one of those easy, tasty, handed-down-by-a-great-aunt recipes that always pops up at family reunions with kids and dogs running circles in the hazy heat while the older folks sit at shade-protected picnic tables and fan themselves.

Layered bean dip

16-ounce can refried beans
1 can bean dip
16-ounce container sour cream
1/4 cup mayonnaise
1 jar Pace chunky salsa
1-2 cups Shredded cheddar cheese
tortilla chips

For the first layer, combine refried beans and bean dip, then smooth along the bottom of a 9X13 pan.

Next, stir together sour cream and mayonnaise, and carefully smooth out atop beans.

Top with salsa and finish with shredded cheddar. One important tip: please, please don’t use pre-shredded cheese. It’s never going to taste nearly as good (or feel so nice to your wallet) as a large chunk of cheddar that you shred yourself.

Think of it as a mini-workout before you dig in with a bowlful of tortilla chips and devour this family-friendly comfort food.

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Photo by Camilo Rueda López

Microwave popcorn has been added to the list of things that could, theoretically, cause cancer. Then again, what isn’t on that list these days?

If you’re even the tiniest bit concerned about the possible dangers lurking in that flat Orville Redenbacher bag, skip it altogether — and save a ton of money in the long run — by making your own microwave popcorn without the bag (and hard-to-pronounce additives and chemicals).

You can still enjoy the speedy convenience of using your microwave. Simply measure the directed amount of popcorn into a microwave-safe (ceramic or glass) bowl, add a tablespoon or two of oil and a sprinkle of salt, and then top the bowl with a microwave-safe plate or matching glass lid.

If you’re looking for a slightly different flavor boost, try popping your kernels in olive oil rather than the usual vegetable or canola.

Punch in 5:00 on your microwave, at high power, and wait for the pop-pop-pop sound of your impending snack shaping up. Remove from microwave once the popping subsides.

Voilà: An affordable, tasty, healthy whole-grain treat — without the potentially cancer-causing chemicals.

What came from Netflix today?

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The rain has returned to Olympia and there’s no better way to hunker down on a drab and drippy day than with a warm bowl of chili.

Adapted from Cooking Light magazine, this deceptively simple chili is made with absolutely no cutting or chopping of ingredients (except for a spin in the mini food processor for the diced tomatoes, but that’s just because of my personal weirdness about tomato chunks in my chili).

Think an extraordinary chili needs to simmer for hours? Nope. This simple, no-chop chili tastes like it’s been on the heat for ages, but needs less than 30 minutes.

No-chop chili

1 lb. ground beef
1 (14 ounce) can lower sodium chicken broth
1 1/2 cups frozen whole-kernel corn
1 cup bottled salsa
2 Tablespoons chili powder
1 Tablespoon sugar
2 1/2 teaspoons ground cumin
1 1/2 teaspoons dried oregano
1 (16 ounce) can chili beans, drained
1 (14.4 ounce) can diced tomatoes undrained

Brown the ground beef in a large Dutch oven over medium-high heat for 5 minutes or until any pink disappears, stirring occasionally.

While the meat browns, use a small food processor to process the can of diced tomatoes until smooth. You could buy crushed tomatoes to start with, but I find the flavor brighter with diced (or, even better, whole) canned tomatoes. I always have canned diced tomatoes in bulk in my pantry, so that’s what I use.

Stir in the chicken broth, then add the remaining ingredients. Bring to a boil, reduce heat, and then simmer for 25 minutes, stirring occasionally.

You really have to try this one to believe it. It tastes like half-day chili, done in just half an hour.

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Our CSA from the Evergreen Organic Farm overflowed with eggplant and tomatoes this week, so I went in search of inspiration. I found it, as I so often do, with the Pioneer Woman, Ree Drummond.

I substituted my bounty of fresh tomatoes for her canned, though I’ll definitely try this dish again during the off season, and I’m sure canned tomatoes will also be fantastic. After all, the Pioneer Woman has never steered me wrong.

Eggplant and tomato pasta, adapted from the Pioneer Woman

1 pound corkscrew pasta
2 medium eggplants
olive oil
1 large onion, diced
3 cloves garlic, minced
4-6 fresh tomatoes, blanched, peeled, and diced
1-2 Tbsp. butter
fresh basil, chopped
salt And pepper, to taste
Parmesan cheese, grated, to taste

Pre-prep, to be done before you start the pasta:

Bring a pot of water to a simmer and drop in each tomato, cored and with an “X” carved lightly into the bottom of each. Remove from the water after a minute or so, when the peel begins to curl up. Remove skin, cool tomatoes slightly, remove the seeds, then chop into a rough dice.

Slice eggplant and place in single layer on baking sheet. Sprinkle with salt and let set for 20 minutes. Before turning each piece over and repeating with salt on the second side for another 20 minutes, use paper towel to pat slices dry.

Once both sides have been salted and patted dry, rinse well and pat them again. Cube eggplants slices into 1-inch pieces.

(This step may seem unnecessary, but it really does make the eggplant fantastic, with no trace of bitterness.)

Now, onto the noodles. Put a large pot of water on to boil, and then make yourself busy preparing the sauce. Cook pasta according to package directions.

Grab your largest skillet and heat a couple turns of olive oil over medium heat. Add the diced onion and minced garlic, then cook for a few minutes, until soft. Take care not to burn the garlic.

Add diced eggplant and cook until tender and just starting to brown, about 10 minutes. Add freshly diced tomatoes and reduce heat to simmer. Season with salt and pepper, add a tablespoon or two of butter, and then simmer for 5-10 minutes more.

Add chopped basil (save a bit for garnish) right before the cooked and drained pasta takes a dunk in this glorious red sauce. Toss well, stirring in Parmesan cheese to finish.

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