Friday, March 11, 2011

Throw Together Pasta

Last night was one of those nights where I would rather have not eaten if it meant that I didn’t have to cook dinner. But Steve just got home from his trip and was looking for a home cooked meal. As a compromise, we agreed to get a rotisserie chicken from Costco and I would make the sides. Ugh – that means I still had to cook.

What to make? Rice? Blah. Potatoes? Having them for steak dinner on Friday. Pasta? *sigh* There has to be something I can do with plain pasta. After scouring the fridge and pantry, I came up with this tasty goodness and let me tell you, it’s a keeper!

In the fridge I found some pesto that needed to be used, an almost empty jar of roasted red peppers, some minced garlic, a small piece of parmesiano-reggiano cheese, and some ricotta cheese. In the pantry was a package of shell macaroni that the girls had requested the other day in our shopping spree. These few ingredients had to make something at least a little tasty, right?

Here’s how I made it:
Boil shell macaroni. While the macaroni is boiling, cut up roasted peppers and grate cheese. When pasta is done, drain, reserving a few tablespoons of water in the pan. Mix in all ingredients except the parmesan cheese plus the cooking water and add salt and pepper to taste. After serving, sprinkle with cheese.

That’s it! Everyone enjoyed it and because I cooked 8 servings of pasta, we have enough for another dinner, too! Too bad I didn’t take a picture of it because it even looked pretty with the bits of red pepper mixed throughout.

My estimation is that I used 3 teaspoons of garlic, one whole roasted red pepper, ¼ cup of pesto, and ½ cup of low fat ricotta cheese.

Rotisserie Chicken
Pesto/Ricotta Pasta
Steamed Green Beans with butter and roasted pine nuts
Woodbridge Chardonnay

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Dinner Challenge This Week

After taking a cooking hiatus while Hubby was traveling for work last week, I decided that we MUST eat better AND eat at home. Unsure what the girls are actually going to eat at any given minute, I decided to circumvent the usual dinner drama and actually ask them what they wanted.

Sitting in the parking lot at the grocery store, I told them to pick what they wanted to eat for dinner this week and I wrote a shopping list. They had to pick their protein, their side dishes and their veggies. They LOVED the idea and took the challenge to heart.

The grocery list:
Country pork ribs
broccoli and cauliflower
Skinny cut steak (I interpreted this as Flat iron steak)
Chunky Sirloin Burger Soup
Rice (I got groans when I threw the brown rice in the cart - they get it anyway)
Salad and fixins' (radishes, croutons, carrots, romaine lettuce)
Microwave Monday(frozen meals to make life easier when I work on Monday nights(sorry Aunt Tracey))

Yesterday was Microwave Monday. Easy peasy. Tonight I was craving pork so I baked off the country pork ribs with some steak seasoning for an hour at 350 degrees. When they were done, I warmed up leftover pasta and rather than chopping broccoli and cauliflower, I used leftover corn and served it all with bbq sauce on the side. They were happy as clams and ate without complaint.

They got buy-in about what they wanted to eat; I got to pick the easiest way to prepare it. What could be better than that? Win-Win!!

Monday, March 7, 2011

Goat Butter

I have an addiction – okay, several addictions but we’re not talking about Coach Purses here. I LOVE, LOVE, LOVE Food Network, particularly the show Chopped. Chopped’s premise is simple: give four chef contestants a basket of unusual/rare/creepy unrelated ingredients and 30 minutes to create something edible with those ingredients (as well as any additional ingredients they may need from the stocked kitchen/pantry they are working in.) There are three rounds: appetizer, entrée and dessert, and after the first two rounds, one contestant per round is elminiated leaving two chefs to compete in the dessert round. The winner gets $10,000.

In watching an untold amount of these shows, I’ve run across some really revolting ingredients that I would NEVER eat: durian, rattlesnake, sea urchin, liver, various other organ meats, blood sausage, head cheese, bottarga (compressed, cured fish roe)…I could continue but you get the drift. But last night there was an ingredient that was more unusual to me than revolting: goat butter.

Huh. I spent several minutes trying to figure out what goat butter was: butter with goat meat in it? Butter with goat cheese in it? Then the DUH! meter went off. It’s butter made with goat milk.

I’m not a fan of goat milk (<---understatement) but I enjoy some good chevre or feta now and then, so my curiousity was peaked. What do you do with goat butter? On Chopped, one contestant cooked some tortilla triangles in it to make chips. Seems like a fairly passive use of the ingredient. I was left wondering how much flavor had been passed on to the chips.

So on to Google I went to find ways to use goat butter. I have to say I came up with some pretty tasty hits:

Martha Stewart’s Goat Butter and Honey Caramels
Roasted Beets with Celery Root and Goat Butter
Goat Butter Biscuits

AND I found this at

“There are as many ways to use goat butter as cow butter: it makes spectacular fudge and you can have that recipe along with one for one of our favorite comfort foods, macaroni and cheese. But just for starters, think of:

Basic Breads & Breakfast Foods

Bread and Toast: Add excitement to everyday breads, from plain toast, whole wheat and seven-grain bread and baguettes to bagels and rolls.

Artisan Breads: Make luscious breads even more so by buttering up ciabatta, olive bread, walnut bread, semolina bread and other artisanal specialties.

Scones and Muffins: Make them even more special with some delicate goat goodness.

Eggs: Cook eggs in goat butter for added nuances of flavor.

Cereal: Taste the delightful difference with a pat swirled into grits or other hot cereal.

Pancakes and Waffles: Add a dab instead of cow’s milk butter. The subtle savory note is so interesting that we now prefer to eat our pancakes buttered, without syrup.

Sandwiches, Snacks & Cocktails

Sandwiches: Transform simple sandwiches— add panache to tomato and watercress, grilled vegetables, Serrano or Parma ham (prosciutto), or smoked salmon.

Popcorn: Make a batch of buttered popcorn more special with goat butter.

Tea: Scones, muffins, tea sandwiches get a refreshing new point-of-view with goat butter.

Canapés: Spread a round of bread with goat butter instead of mayonnaise, and add the topping of your choice—anything from roe or marinated vegetables to a thin slice of meat or seafood (scallop, smoked salmon, crab, lobster, shrimp, seared tuna).

Mains & Sides

Soup: Serve the soup course with slices of baguette—fresh or toasted—buttered and drizzled with sea salt.

Vegetables: Add a distinct difference to vegetables, rice and potatoes (a pat in a baked potato is sublime—snip on some fresh chives, too). And don’t forget corn on the cob.

Filet Mignon or Steak: If you normally like a pat of butter on the top, go goat.

Seafood: Try melted goat butter with lobster and crab legs for real flavor.

Chicken: Tuck bits under the skin of chicken prior to roasting, along with fresh rosemary.

Bread: Serve goat butter with the bread basket, of course!”

With so many different ways to utilize it, I think goat butter might just make it into my basket at the grocery store. But what if I can’t find goat butter? In another Google search, I’ve found you can get it at Whole Foods and I’m guessing other more natural stores. It can also be purchased online at several different locations including and

Lacking a Whole Foods in my general area and questioning the online purchase of butter (I’m sure it’s perfectly safe but it makes me twitchy anyway), I looked into how to make your own goat butter. The best article I found was from Mother Earth News Hmm…maybe I’ll try that ordering online thing after all.

Sunday, March 6, 2011

About The Crowded Kitchen

A little bit about The Crowded Kitchen. In combining our family, a his/hers/ours sort of deal, we spent a lot of time in the kitchen feeding the crew of 4 boys and 3 girls. Now that 5 of 7 of the kids are adults and one of the guys is now married, we like to have them over to eat approximately once a month. When everyone (or almost everyone) is over, the gathering place is in the kitchen where I am spending my time pouring my heart and soul into the food I'm going to stuff them with.

It's usually fairly raucous, everyone talking over each other; catching up; laughing; the youngest two girls (9 & 7) trying to get their siblings' attention; wine flowing; corny jokes being told; appetizers being consumed like a plague of locust had moved through. Occasionally there are surrogate kids (aka young friends of the family) included but the cacophony is usually such that we could add 5 or 6 friends and the volume level likely wouldn't change much.

Eventually, I shoo them out so I can get down to business and get dinner done (and sometimes because my head is killing me from the noise and I can't think straight :-). I always have someone wandering in to see if I need help, to sneak something out of the pan or beg for scraps or proclaim that they are starving to death and check when we'll be eating.

While feeding this many people is a lot of work, I wouldn't change the gathering/laughing/craziness for the world. It's a memorable and important time for me and for the kids (and hubby, too) and there are so many good memories associated with this time in the kitchen. So important, in fact, that in choosing a name for my food blog, this is the first name that came to mind. I knew it was perfect immediately.

A little sample of the craziness for you: The Crowded Kitchen