Saturday, February 25, 2017

The Great Enchilada Caper

When I was younger, almost every extended family get-together included enchiladas. I am told I loved my aunt's version when I was a kid, but I apparently lost my taste for it once I entered middle school.  Afterward, no one really made enchiladas that I could get hooked on until my friend's mom sent me some (we were neighbors) and I loved them. The flavors were layered, complex and truly Mexican, flavors which I love. I never made them, however, afterward.  Now, I know enchiladas are "Mexican Food 101", one of the most made Mexican food dishes in the USA, and of all of the dozens of taco dishes and carnitas dishes I have made over the last ten years, I have never made enchiladas.  Not once.  I am deeply shamed and we must never speak of it. 

I decided to get over myself and make enchiladas.  I am always trying to expand my horizons and try my hand at new things, new dishes.  On a side note, a bird walk, I am often asked why I do not make dishes with shrimp, abalone and mussels as well as mushrooms.  I am allergic to mushrooms and shell fish. However, I have decided to get over that, too, and expand my horizons and prep dishes with those, too, although just the aroma of mushrooms sauteing makes me quite ill.  I have to figure that part out, still, and I will need taste testers because, well, there is the whole allergic issue.   Alright, back to enchiladas!  I decided that if I were going to make this dish I was going to do it my way, use my own methods, herbs and spices. Since I grew up with the ground beef version - and I do not find anything wrong with that, folks - I decided to use chicken and spice it up, season each layer of the dish, from the chicken to the tortillas, the sauce and the cheeses.  Let's get to it, shall we?

I began by toasting the cumin and coriander seeds to make my Mexican Spice Blend. I then combined and ground the following spices and dried herbs in my spice grinder. 

Recipe for my Mexican Spice Blend

3 rounded tablespoons smoked paprika
1 tablespoon garlic powder
1 tablespoon granulated onion
2 teaspoons chile molido or your favorite chile powder
1 tablespoon dried oregano
2 teaspoons dried thyme
1 partly rounded teaspoon sea salt
1 teaspoon black pepper
1 tablespoon toasted coriander seeds
1 rounded teaspoon toasted cumin seeds

I know that this is the same photo that I used for my previous blog post but it always looks the same. 😋

I simply seasoned both sides of six boneless, skinless chicken thighs and three chicken breasts.  I added three tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil over medium high heat to a skillet and seared the chicken in batches without cooking them all the way through.  In the meantime, I prepped the other ingredients for braising the chicken so it'd be tender even through the baking process.  

1 large yellow onion, finely chopped
3 cloves garlic, grated or finely chopped
1 28-ounce can Cento tomato puree
2 14.5-ounce cans fire roasted diced tomatoes
1 large bottle of Corona beer
1/2 cup coarsely chopped fresh cilantro
2 rounded tablespoons of Mexican Spice Blend
2 cans fire roasted diced green chiles*
1 28-ounce can chile ancho sauce*
1 4-ounce can Salsa Ranchero
1.5 cups Mexican Fiesta Cheese Blend

Now, in the same skillet in which I'd seared the chicken, I added the finely chopped onion and sauteed it for about three minutes over medium heat.  I did not add salt to the onion as the salt from the spice blend on the chicken had salt enough in it. I am seriously trying to monitor and diminish my sodium intake. Afterward, I added the garlic and gave it two more minutes.  Next, I'd transferred the onion and garlic to a slow cooker. To that, I added half a bottle of Corona beer - delish, I know! - and one 28-ounce can of tomato puree (I love Cento), 2 14.5-ounce cans of fire roasted diced tomatoes, two tablespoons of my Mexican Spice Blend, the can of salsa ranchero and 1/4 cup coarsely chopped cilantro.  I thoroughly stirred the liquids and spices together to incorporate well.  I snuggled all of the chicken breasts and thighs into the braising liquid.  I added another fourth of the beer bottle and stirred once again. I set the timer for 5 hours on high.

After a long five hours, long due to the mouthwatering aroma in the kitchen all day, I removed the chicken and shredded it.  Very simple and easy by that time!  It practically fell apart by itself.  

The combination of thigh meat and breast meat was delicious, and I used that combination because the friend I was cooking for wanted the breast meat and I wanted the thigh meat, so we compromised.  Next time, because I really enjoy chicken thigh meat, all juicy and flavorful, I will use that for  my next batch of enchiladas. I want to make my own sauces, both chile ancho and salsa verde with fresh tomatillos, Anaheim and serrano chiles, garlic and onion and cilantro.  Looking forward to spring fresh veggies and herbs!

Alright, now for the learning part.  I KNEW that I should have heated up my corn tortillas before using them, but I thought that if I heated up my store-bought chile ancho sauce I'd dipped the tortillas in before filling and rolling, that would make them more pliable.  Wrong.  Lesson Learned:  Heat Up The Tortillas First. We must never speak of it again.  

I reduced (but not enough; next time!) the braising liquid after skimming off much of the fat renderings and used some of that to mix with the shredded chicken to add even more flavor to the meat. I added some finely chopped onion I had reserved, along with diced fire roasted green chiles to the meat and mixed that together with tongs. I dipped a tortilla in the ancho enchilada sauce, placed it in a baking pan I'd sprayed with non-stick spray, added about two tablespoons of meat, some cheese and fresh cilantro, rolled the tortilla and moved it to the side of the pan.  I continued the process, but because I did not heat the tortillas up properly, as I mentioned above, some of them tore. I tucked those under the enchilada roll next to it in hopes that in the baking process, sauce and cheese oozing downward would cement it together.  BOOM! 😊  Mic Drop!  That worked quite well. 

Reducing ancho sauce for the tortilla hot tub.

Dipping and filling and rolling and placing. 

Oven ready!

You can see the two rolls in the center right that did not work out so well.  The cheeses did cement it together nicely, thankfully. 

I have to mention that the above photo does not show everything.  I added more cheese atop what you see and then baked it for 25 minutes at 350-degrees. 

Final product!!!

Lovely melted cheese with diced fire roasted chiles oozed in, topped with olives on half of it (my friend loves olives, but I am not partial to them, except in a tapenade).  

Annnnnd plated!

I garnished with fresh cilantro, Tapatio and salsa ranchero sauce.  I was very pleased with the combination of flavors and the textures.  I think I am back to loving enchiladas again!

I'd love to hear your tips and flavor combinations.  Drop me a line!  You can visit my Facebook blog site at In-House Cook and leave me a message!  Or, you can follow me on Twitter: @grnmn1 

Thank You!

Now, go cook for someone you love!  They will love you for it!

As always, Thank You for your time and consideration. 

In-House Cook

Monday, February 20, 2017

En Un Santiamen -- Carne Asada Tacos In A Jiffy

En Un Santiamen Carne Asada Tacos
In-A-Jiffy Steak Tacos

Several years ago, a lovely friend, who is most sadly no longer with us, taught me that when you are on a budget and have company coming (my son and I were company), you can make a wallet-friendly and extremely flavorful meal for family and friends and be satisfied that everybody will be quite happy.  

I made carne asada tacos several evenings ago for three friends for under $15.00 and here is how I did it.  My local grocery store, like all stores across the country, have fantastic monthly sales on their meats.  I bought two packages of thin cut tri-tip steaks for $5.00 per package, an onion, garlic, fresh cilantro, two limes and a package of small flour tortillas. I had cheese at home already. I also have my pantry stocked with a large array of spices and dried herbs. 

First things first, I wanted my asada to be authentically flavored.  I made a batch of my Mexican Spice Blend, added it to three tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil and two tablespoons of fresh squeezed lime juice and a splash of Mirin, sweet rice wine vinegar and some fresh thyme from my potted herb garden. 

Recipe for my Mexican Spice Blend

3 rounded tablespoons smoked paprika
1 tablespoon garlic powder
1 tablespoon granulated onion
2 teaspoons chile molido or your favorite chile powder
1 tablespoon dried oregano
2 teaspoons dried thyme
1 partly rounded teaspoon sea salt
1 teaspoon black pepper
1 tablespoon coriander seeds
1 rounded teaspoon cumin seeds

My finely ground spices and herbs.

I add all of the spices and herbs to my spice grinder and finely ground it all. I added some of the spice blend - about two tablespoons - to both sides of the thinly sliced tri-tip and added those to a pan with the evoo, lime juice and Mirin.  I tossed the steaks about the coat them all and let them marinate for thirty minutes. I had that time available, but if you do not, fifteen minutes would be fine, too. 

In a skillet over medium-high heat, I added two tablespoons of evoo, and, when the oil began to ripple, I added the thinly sliced marinated steaks. I had to sear and saute the steaks in two batches.  Thinly sliced steaks take only three minutes per side over medium-high heat, as I mentioned above. When they finish searing, I removed the steaks, allowed them to rest a few minutes and, after draining some of the steak renderings, I added a tiny splash of evoo and the chopped onion, finely chopped garlic, some of the fresh oregano and thyme and sauteed that until I finished slicing the steaks into small slivers. 

After sauteeing the onion an garlic, I added the steak slivers and sauteed the mixture until the onions were a bit translucent. The aroma of steak and aromatics (onion and garlic with the herbs and spices) filled my kitchen and my friends were thrilled. 

I saute ingredients until the onions become translucent. 

To serve, use whatever tortillas you like, whatever cheese you like, and whatever other condiments you like.  Some like shaved radishes, cilantro, scallions, lime.  I love it all, but simple cheese and my favorite Salsa Ranchero makes me very happy 

My philosophy? Tacos should be a food group!

Everyone has their own recipe, but I thought I would share my recipe, simple, inexpensive, flavorful and a family favorite as it is. Making that recipe brought forth the memory of a dear supportive friend no longer with us. Now, go cook for someone you love!  You will be glad you did!

And as always, Thank You for your time and consideration. 

In-House Cook


Monday, February 13, 2017

What I Have Been Up To In My Kitchen: Breakfast, Lunch and Dinner

Welcome To Yet Another Episode of What I Have Been Up To In My Kitchen!

Although I have been busier than ever before in my day job, and time in my kitchen has been curtailed, I have eked out a few dishes to write about.  A breakfast, a lunch and a dinner.  Well, the lunch could be a dinner or, if an egg is added, a breakfast, as well. Let's get started!

First, breakfast. It is absolutely not a secret that breakfast is my favorite meal of the day, and nothing says breakfast like eggs, bacon and hash browns. The theme of this breakfast was fresh herbs: fresh rosemary, sage and thyme.  I incorporated it into all three parts of the meal.  I began by adding some of the mixed fresh herbs to the bacon as it fried up. I was pleasantly surprised at how aromatic that was and the dynamic the fresh herb flavors added to the bacon. Very interesting. 

When the bacon is done, place them on a paper towel on a plate. 

Meanwhile, I began frying up 3 cups of hash browns in three tablespoons of vegetable oil and two tabs of butter over medium-high heat in a large skillet. I'd added a palm full of the diced herbs and a little salt and pepper, about a teaspoon of each, to the potatoes and turned them over to in skillet. The secret to crispy hash browns is to simply leave them alone and make sure there is equal heating across the flat surface of the skillet.  Let the hash browns cook for about seven minutes; check them and when they are golden brown, flip them.  Allow to cook another seven or so minutes.  Season, as needed, IF needed.  

Hash browns starting off in the skillet with fresh herbs, salt and pepper. 

As the bacon finishes, and the hash browns are browning, crack four-to-nine eggs (depending on how many you are feeding; two per person) into a large bowl.  Add one or two tablespoons, or half a palm full of chopped scallion greens, a tablespoon of the fresh herbs, half a teaspoon of salt and pepper and a dash of water.  My friend, Morgan, taught me that. Vigorously whisk the eggs until all of the ingredients are thoroughly incorporated. 

Add two tabs of butter to a skillet and allow it to melt and foam over medium-high heat.  Add the whisked eggs and allow the edges to solidify.  I simply allowed the edges to solidify before scrambling things about a bit.  The secret to well-cooked scrambled eggs is to, like the hash browns, let them be! However, whatever you prefer, do!!!  Over-easy, over-hard, omlette. 

I plated the three delicious parts of the meal very simply.  You can garnish with scallions, cilantro, or not at all.  It is very pretty as it is. Witness below!

If you are a fan of sauces, add it!  Food should make you happy and it should be enjoyable.  Now go, enjoy!

Next, a delectable, simple weeknight meal to enthrall the pickiest of eaters......

Naan Burger with Yogurt Garlic Aioli

When the craving for a burger hits me, I get moving. I'd had a wildly busy week that week and I was unable to get to the grocer to purchase buns (I'd had a craving for King's Sweet Hawaiian Buns, my new bread obsession) but I did have Naan (Lebanese flat bread, in this case) in the freezer (I know, fresh is best, but I could not use it right away when I'd purchased it) and decided to finally enjoy it. Isn't it odd how life throws one monkey wrench after another into your plans and you have to just be flexible and adjust? I have learned that it is how you adjust that is important, whether you let it get to you or if you just let it go.  I am still learning to try to just go with it. I never said i was the quickest learner.  😊

Here is what I did to make this a perfect comfort food. To be honest, I wish I'd had ground lamb on hand, but I used ground pork for this burger. My apologies. I'd added the following the pound of ground pork: 

1/4 diced yellow onion
2 cloves garlic, grated or finely chopped
teaspoon fresh oregano, minced
1 tablespoon coarsely chopped flat-leaf Italian parsley
1/2 teaspoon turmeric
1/4 teaspoon salt and pepper
1 tablespoon smoked paprika
1.5 teaspoons Harissa 

For the Garlic Yogurt Aioli:
1/4 cup plain Greek yogurt
3 cloves garlic, grated
1/4 teaspoon salt and pepper
1 teaspoon diced fresh oregano
1 teaspoon of Mirin

To start, preheat the oven to 350-degrees. 

Add the above ingredients to the pound of ground meat and form the number of desired patties.  I go big, rather than mini.  My mom's version of "regular sized" burgers is making six burgers out of 0.96-pounds of ground beef., Mama.  Go big or go home!  That is just me, you do what makes You happy!  I digressed, sorry.  I made three burgers rather than six.  

I added two tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil to a skillet and, when the oil began to ripple, a sure-fire way to know it is ready, I added the burgers. They take about six minutes per side.  Another tip, just like the hash browns and eggs:  Leave them alone! Let them sear!  

Meanwhile, whip up the aioli and put it into the refrigerator to chill and allow the flavors to marry. This has a delicious tang and bite to it. You will love it!  

In addition, add the Naan to the oven, placing it on a rack, rather than in a pan.  No need to spray it with anything, it just needs to heat up. Allow it to heat through, about seven minutes or so. Once the Naan has heated through, it may get a little crispy on the outside and edges.  This is good!  Remove it and spread the aioli over the Naan. Sprinkle some fresh flat-leaf Italian parsley, cilantro or arugula atop that, if you like, and add the burger.  The Naan folds and acts like thick tortilla, in a way.  I found it to be very delicious and sturdy. 

Even GusGus wanted in on the Naan action!

  Add fresh herbs to the Naan and Burger. 

I added a few dollops of Harissa to give it heat.

Quite delicious, simple, easy, not a lot of ingredients needed, and sure to be a family favorite!


Up Next.....STEAK!!!

Nothing pleases the palette after a long "dry spell" of simple, humble pantry meals after a tight budget month than a huge, juicy herb butter basted steak, skillet potatoes, tangy tomatoes and jumbo buttermilk biscuits.  Well, if you are everyone who is me, that is. There is no real recipe for anything, here.  This is just for the savory fun of it!  The potatoes and the biscuits were store bought. Sometimes one just needs to let the store do some of the work.  😋

I love basting big, thick, juicy rib-eye steaks (these were bone-in, a feast for the pups) in butter and herbs after getting a good seared caramelization on the meat. Normally, I'd use fresh thyme and rosemary, but the store only had fresh sage, for some reason, so I used that.  Even so, it was fantastic. 

I added two tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil and two tabs of butter to a hot skillet and added the already chopped potatoes.  I added some salt, pepper and fresh minced sage and sauteed the potatoes on medium-high heat to get some golden color onto them, then I oven finished. The biscuits, I simply brushed with a little melted butter and sparsely sprinkled garlic salt atop the biscuits and baked according to the directions.

I also simply used grape tomatoes and plated them without garnish.  I love tomatoes, garnished, marinated or just as they are. That is just me. 

Very simple, most delectable, this dish was the epitome of comfort.  

This dish have love written all over it!

As always, friends, Thank You for your time and consideration.  Now, go cook for someone you love!!!  Food is love, brings family, friends and loved ones together. There is no greater way to show those you love how much you love them than by cooking for them.  Now, Go!  Cook!

In-House Cook

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

Japanese Noodles Dress Up Meal

Japanese Noodles 
Adding Flair and Flavor to Japanese Ramen Noodles

Just because one is on a budget - a single person, parents, elderly, a student - does not mean food must be plain, bland and without options! Many people choose ramen noodles as a single or family meal, and I am one of them.  However, rather than use the flavor packet the ramen comes with, I opt to regulate what goes into the "broth", manage the sodium added as well as use fresh vegetables and herbs. I am on a low sodium, low sugar nutritional adventure, for the health of it, and I found this meal a perfect place to practice what I an extent. You know me, I cannot do Anything without a little taste bud excitement! Let me tell you how I "dressed up" my ramen dinner, adding flair and flavor to a very simple meal, and how I managed the ingredients. 

First, I like a well-balanced meal, but I had no meat thawed or ready to use, and while I knew I was going to get protein from a couple of eggs, I wanted something with a bite of flavor.  I had bacon, already halved from a previous meal, and seared it up low and slow, slathered with a mixture of plum and hoisin sauces, draining the fat renderings often, which allowed the caramelized process. I added a toasted sesame and nori rice topping mix to the bacon, adding yet another distinct flavor layer. This takes about eighteen minutes.  Bacon can be baked, but when adding a sauce to it, I have been unsuccessful baking it so that a sauce can caramelize.  

In addition to making a sort of candied bacon with plum sauce and hoisin sauces, I also very coarsely chopped an onion, slivered garlic and plucked off several fresh parsley leaves and a couple of little thyme sprigs. I also set aside two eggs.  I love eggs with Japanese noodles. 

Partly following the directions on the package, I bring 1.75 cups of water or chicken broth to a boil with the garlic slices and a teaspoon of chili sauce, add the noodle square and the onion.  After a minute, I add one tablespoon of citrus shoyu (soy sauce), a teaspoon of garlic powder and onion powder and a quarter teaspoon of ground black pepper. Despite the fresh aromatics in the broth, I like to add a little bit more of the same flavors in powdered form. I do not add salt, as a rule, due to the shoyu, and today, because of the bacon.  

Meanwhile, I crack the eggs over the softening noodle square, not breaking up the noodles, and allow them solidify. The aroma was and always is quite amazing! 

After three-to-five minutes over high heat, I turn off the heat and allow the hot pot to cool off for ten minutes. Afterward, I take out the noodles, place the onions and eggs atop the noodles, slide in the meat on the side, in this case, the candied bacon, and I topped tonight's meal with fresh parsley and thyme and a bit more of the toasted sesame nori rice topping. 

However you decide to dress up your ramen, be it adding vegetables, leftover meats, or, just eat it as is, my goal with this recipe blog post is to help you realize you are not tied to that flavor packet - which IS good - but not good for those of us with dietary restrictions, especially sodium restrictions. You have options to dress it up, add your own taste palette and flair to it. Go experiment with it!  Have fun with it!  Find your favorite flavor combinations! 


A few days after this initial post, I decided to make mustard curried lamb and, when deciding what to serve it with, I decided to take a risk and serve it with Japanese noodles.  I certainly loved it and decided to update this humble blog post.  I marinated the lamb shoulder steaks in a special grilling sauce made by my favorite brewer, and seared the meat.  It was delightful.  It is funny, my youngest son and I are the only ones who like lamb in our entire family, both maternal and paternal sides.  

After allowing the steaks to rest several minutes, several LONG minutes, I sliced the meat from the bone.  I had decided to not use the delicious, but overly salty (for my dietary need) flavor packet and instead, I added the lamb bones to the pot of water for the noodles, along with onion, garlic and fresh parsley, thus creating a flavorful lamb broth.  It was wickedly tasty!  After removing the bones and having brought the water to a roiling boil over high heat, I added the noodle square, and a bit more fresh onion and garlic.  I added eggs and, after about three minutes, I turned off the heat and added some of the lamb meat.  The curry and mustard flavors were incredibly aromatic and added an intricate flavor to the noodles.  If you are not a fan of lamb, use whatever meat you wish, IF you wish to use meat at all!  Fish with a sprinkle of nori and toasted sesame seeds is also wonderful. Make it your own!  Fresh vegetables and meats are best, but leftovers dress up a meal of noodles in a fantastic manner. 

My "plating" apparently in need of practice and better elegance.  One of my early mentors thought it was a really awful ice cream sundae, at first look.  I will do my best to spruce up my plating.  In the meantime, despite that, the dish was wonderful.  

With that, go cook ramen for someone you love!

As always, Thank You for your time and readership and viewership!  I am grateful for all of you and your support!  

In-House Cook

Sunday, January 15, 2017

In-House Cook's Rachael Ray "Week In-A-Day" Inspired Recipe Blog Post

In-House Cook's "Week-In-A-Day" 
Culinary Therapy Adventure
Inspired by the TV Program and Cookbook by Rachael Ray

Everyone who knows me understands that I am a die-hard fan of Rachael Ray. Love her or not, I would not be on this journey if one, I had not had a purpose and desire to want to learn how to cook and, two, if I had not gotten hooked on Rachael Ray's "30 Minute Meals" back in 2004.  I had been divorced for a few years, and my youngest son lived with me at the time, but neither of my sons ever stayed to eat at my place unless I was grilling, which I was quite proficient at. I had come down with a terrible flu that October and was - doctor's orders - bedridden for two weeks. Thank goodness it was during my autumn break! During my time in bed reading and watching tv, I got completely hooked by Rachael Ray's "30 Minute Meals" and another show, no longer on, "While You Were Out", which is where I discovered my love for making candles.  Yes, I am multi-crafty-talented. I had watched Rachael make a meal then called "Spaghetti Western Man Spaghetti", which is now called "Cowboy Spaghetti".  My friends, whom I could not wait to make it for, nicknamed the dish: "Mansghetti".  All appropriate. I do not think I have ever blogged it. My first Rachael Ray meal and I do not think I have blogged it, although, I did not start blogging until May 31, 2012. 

In any event, I also love Rachael Ray's show "Week-In-A-Day".  Rachael's instruction helped me create Weekly cooked-ahead meals and meal "bags" of ingredients for my son while he was away to college. I did blog those, if you are interested in scrolling through my blog's history, 2013 or 2014 and early 2015.  Being on a budget, I have decided to return to Rach's "Week-In-A-Day" instruction.  I decided to spend a day making three meals to stretch out over five days. The first is a familiar rigatoni pasta bake.  Next, pesto chicken with onions and the last, Bacon-Wrapped Italian Meat Loaf.  

Let's get started, shall we?  I am sure you will find a meal here, tweak it to make it your own, and enjoy saving money on these easy to prepare and make meals.  The best part is that the oven does all the hard work for you!  

Rigatoni Pasta Bake

A personal favorite of mine for make-ahead lunches for the work week is a pasta bake.  I always use shorter pasta to catch the sauce well, such as penne rigate, rigatoni, farfalle (bow tie), fusilli or campanelle. I recently posted a pasta using campanelle, about two or three recipe blog posts back, if you are interested.  Simple ingredients, simple preparation and incredible flavors.  Here we go!

1 pound Italian sausage (hot or mild)
1 medium red or yellow onion
2 cloves garlic, grated or finely chopped
4 leaves fresh basil, rolled and chiffonade cut (into ribbons) 
4 sprigs fresh Thyme
1 rounded tablespoon dried Italian herb seasonings 
(Or fresh, if it is spring or summer with a full herb garden!  Fresh herbs are amazing!)
salt and pepper
1 28-ounce can tomato puree
1/2 cup grated parmesan cheese
1 cup grated mozzarella cheese
4 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil (evoo)
1 pound rigatoni pasta

Bring about four quarts of water to a roiling boil. 

In a large skillet, add the evoo and a pinch of the garlic over medium-high heat.  When the oil begins to ripple, remove the garlic.  Add the sausage, break it up and brown it up, about five minutes.  Add the onion and garlic, a little salt and pepper, and saute another few minutes until the onions begin to appear translucent. Add the tomato puree and incorporate well.  Add half of the dried Italian herb seasoning and half of the fresh basil ribbons and mix in well. Add a few tablespoons of water to loosen up the sauce and bring to a boil.  Then reduce the heat to low and allow the sauce to simmer for fifteen to thirty minutes, whatever time you have available. 

While working on the sauce, watch the pasta water. When it comes to a roiling boil, add about half a palm full of salt and stir. This is the only chance you have to season the pasta itself.  Now, preheat the oven to 400 degrees. The pasta will cook about ten or twelve minutes. Before straining the pasta, retain half a cup of the pasta water. Add it and a tab of butter to the pasta back into the pot (with the heat turned off). Stir well.  

When you dump the pasta into the water and stir, add the remaining dry Italian seasoning and fresh basil to the sauce and stir in well.  

Now, spray a 13' by 9' baking pan with non-stick spray. Add three or so ladles of the pasta sauce to the bottom of the pan.  Add a layer of the rigatoni, top with some mozzarella and parmesan, then the sauce, and repeat the process until you have used all of the pasta and sauce. You Could just add the pasta to sauce and pour it all in, which is much easier, but I enjoy layered pasta bakes, somewhat like a lasagna. I enjoy the cheese and the sauce melting into the rigatoni cores and how it soaks up the sauce flavors and cheese flavors. Amazing. 

Top with a generous layer of the mozzarella and parmesan cheeses and drizzle with evoo.  I like to add a little fresh oregano to the top as it bakes. Now, bake for 20 minutes until the top crisps up golden. The aroma will fill your kitchen like a dream. 

Once done, allow the bake to rest and set about twenty minutes.  Serve either on a plate or a bowl.  

I like to serve with a garnish of fresh basil or oregano. 

Bon Appetito!  

Next up, Pesto Chicken!  

Pesto Chicken is simple and perfect for make-ahead meals. Served with pasta, salad, in sandwiches, it is a versatile protein that anyone can enjoy in myriad ways. Let's get to it!

Now, you could make your pesto, which is easy enough, and I will share my recipe with you, but for this, I just used a jar of pesto I found on sale. It is always a great idea to stock your pantry with items you use often and with items on sale, such as pesto, which will save you time and effort. 

In-House Cook's Pesto Recipe

1.5 packed cups of basil
(You could use kale, chard, Flat Leaf Italian Parsley, mint, arugula and more!)
1 - 2 cloves smashed garlic
1 palm full of grated parmesan cheese
2 rounded tablespoons of toasted pine nuts 
pinch salt and pepper 
1/4 cup Extra Virgin Olive Oil (drizzled in as it processes in a food processor) 

Always taste before serving, and adjust, if necessary. 

Preheat the oven to 375-degrees.

Now, pat dry three chicken breasts.  Rub them with a little evoo, then season both sides with salt and pepper. Just a hindsight thought, which I did not do, but will in the future, halve the thick chicken breasts so you can have smaller, thinner portions, follow the seasoning procedure, and what comes next.  Very simple, very easy, tons of flavor!  Grease or spray the bottom of a baking pan with non-stick cooking spray (I use the olive oil non-stick spray). Slice one small or two small or medium onions into discs and lay them on the bottom of the pan. Add a little salt to the onions, which will help the onions sweat and soften during the baking process and release their flavor. Slather the bottom of the chicken breasts with some of the pesto and place them atop of the onions. Add the rest of the pesto to the tops of the breasts. I like to add a medley of fresh herbs atop the store-bought pesto. 

Place the breasts into the oven at 375-degrees and roast for 30-minutes.  After thirty minutes, use a meat thermometer to make sure meat has reached about 170-degrees. If you do not have one, stab the thicker piece with a fork and if the juices run clear and clean, it is most likely done. You will, of course, have to check further to make sure there is no pink. 

My secret: About half way through, I topped the chicken with a little mozzarella to melt over the pesto.  You didn't know I like cheese, did you? 😋

I used the cheese in a small bowl of pasta salad and sandwiches and a green salad.  As I mentioned above, versatile!  I further caramelized the onions to use in the sandwiches with a little balsamic vinegar and my secret ingredient, Worcestershire Sauce.  Love it!

Up Next.....

Bacon Wrapped Italian Meat Loaf

I have not often made meat loaf, so I decided to give it a shot and try to be versatile with it.  I decided to be a little decadent with this last dish, and it proved to be worth while. I served it with mashed potatoes (not pictured) and as a breakfast sandwich. Both were equally delicious.  Let me tell you how I made it Italian with a twist. 

Italian Meat Loaf Ingredients

1 pound ground sirloin
1 pound ground chuck
1 large red onion
2 cloves grated or finely chopped garlic
2/3 cup bread crumbs mixed 
1/4 cup fresh grated parmesan
3 eggs, beaten
1 tablespoon fresh oregano and thyme
6 fresh basil leaves, rolled, chiffonad sliced
1teaspoon coarsely ground coriander seed
1.5 teaspoon cumin seed
2 tablespoons dried Italian seasoning, separated
3 tablespoons Worcestershire Sauce
1 rounded tablespoon tomato paste
salt and pepper
1 pound bacon

Preheat the oven to 375-degrees. 

In a large bowl, add the two pounds of beef, the dry ingredients, half of the herbs, a pinch of salt and pepper and the eggs.  Using your best kitchen utensils, your hands, mix the ingredients together. Add a little milk if the mixture is dry.  It was with two eggs, but not with three (me lesson learned). I know milk is often used when making meat loaf, but I do not like that.  IF you do, please, use it and enjoy!

I wanted to add tomato paste to the meat because I am not a fan of it atop the meat like mom's used to do in days gone by.  IF you like that, make it your own and carry on!  

After you gently work in all of the ingredients, without "overworking" the meat, meaning, it should not warm up and stick to your hands, set the bowl aside and wash your hands. 

Add a generous amount of non-stick cooking spray to a baking pan.  Add a layer of onions over that.  I love to use onions when roasting meats.  The onions act as a boost, allowing the heat all around the meat, at least until the onion bed softens. You could also place a rack in the baking pan, which would do even better; I just happen to like the onions and use them later. 

Next, lay out the bacon strips, overlapping each one just a little bit.  You will use eight to ten strips of bacon. More, if you wish!  Now, form the meat into a log and form it over the center of the bacon. Now, wrap one side of the bacon over the top of the meat and wrap the other side over that. Carefully take the log and set it into the pan over the onion bed, seam side down. 

 Add a sprinkling of some of the spice mix and a drizzle of aged balsamic atop the meat log. 

Add some of the fresh herbs, some of the dried spices and a drizzle of aged balsamic atop the wrapped bacon meat loaf. I topped it with a little fresh grated parmesan cheese. 

Now, bake at 375-degrees for fifty minutes to an hour. Use a meat thermometer, slipped between bacon slices, which have baked tightly around the meat loaf log, to make sure the meat is adequately done, 160-degrees, approximately.  

Allow the meat loaf to rest about fifteen minutes before slicing and serving.  I had used some leftover Yukon Gold potatoes to make garlic mashed potatoes and served it first with that.  Delicious. Those two textures go well together! 

You will notice that the chuck beef and the bacon will have rendered a lot of fat. The onions will have softened and the fat rendering will have kept the bottom of the meat loaf quite moist. 

My meat loaf resting. I love how the aged balsamic caramelized. The flavor intensified and I love the tangy, seasoned flavor. 

While I prefer my burgers medium-rare, I chose to bake this loaf nearly well-done. 

A couple of days later, I made breakfast sandwiches for friends and I.  The photos are below. I simply cut a few slices of the roast off and seared them, like a hamburger, but much more briefly, in a skillet with a little extra virgin olive oil until the meat had seared. 

I toasted some rolls, added a chipotle mayo aioli, a little stone ground mustard, a sunny side up egg and served as a breakfast sandwich.  This was my favorite use of the meat loaf. 

Here we are, then, the end of my Week-In-A-Day Culinary Therapy Day.  I say that because, as I have said before, the process of cooking, the prepping, the science and the creativity of cooking helps me put "life things" in their proper place in the scheme of life, like a computer files away your data. Decisions seem easier, fears lessen and creativity is sparked to a wonderful degree.  

With that, go cook something for someone you love!  And, as always, Thank You for your time and consideration!  

In-House Cook