Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Chicken and Gnocchi Soup

I'm a little bit of an Italian restaurant snob.  Whenever we're choosing a place to go out to dinner, I usually steer away from Italian restaurants because, "I can boil pasta at home."  Now, I know that is incredibly naive and stubborn of me, but if I'm going to spend money on going out to eat, I want to get something like Korean BBQ or all you can eat sushi.  I do have to say that I once had a lovely meal at an Italian restaurant in the city, and if I do happen to come across an Italian restaurant that boasts homemade pasta I will choose to go there.  Most of the time, I'll spend my money elsewhere.

Unless, the Italian restaurant is Olive Garden  (I know, it's not a real Italian restaurant.  Bear with me here...).

My mom and I like to have "Mommy and me lunches" at Olive Garden.  Unlimited soup, salad, and breadsticks?  There's nothing better in my book.  During the week I had off from school I was hoping to find an open Olive Garden so my mom and I could get our favorite lunch, until I came across this recipe on (where else) Pinterest.  Why go out when I can make something almost as delicious at home?

The soup is really easy to make and comes together relatively quickly.  You just need to remember to stir it often so you don't get that nasty skin on the top, and keep the heat on medium-low so that you do not scald the 1/2 and 1/2.  Yes, this soup is made with a quart of 1/2 and 1/2.  Be sure to share it with family members and friends so you don't end up eating that quart on your own.  Balance it with a salad made with this dressing and some bread for the whole Olive Garden experience, without having to leave the comfort of your home.

Chicken and Gnocchi Soup
Serves 6
Prep time: 5 min
Cook time: 20 min

-     4 tbsp butter
-     4 tbsp olive oil
-     ½ onion, diced
-     2 – 3 cloves garlic, minced
-     ¼ c flour
-     1 qt half and half
-     1 (18 oz) package gnocchi
-     1 c cooked chicken breast, cubed
-     1 2/3 c chicken broth
-     1 c fresh spinach, coarsely chopped
-     ½ tsp dried thyme
-     Salt and pepper, to taste

Heat the butter and olive oil in a medium sized pot over medium heat.  When the butter is melted, add the onion and cook until translucent, about 5 minutes.  Add the garlic and cook for an additional 2 minutes.  Add the flour and combine completely to form a roux.  Then, add the half and half and bring the pot down to medium – low heat, stirring constantly

Cook the gnocchi according to the directions on the package.  Drain and set aside.

Once the soup begins to thicken (after about 10 minutes), add the chicken, chicken broth, spinach, seasonings, and cooked gnocchi.  Simmer for an additional 10 minutes, stirring often.  Serve immediately.

When reheating this soup for another day (because this recipe makes a lot of soup), you might want to thin it with some more chicken broth.  The soup will thicken overnight.

Adapted from: Pass the Sushi

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Giving Thanks

This post is going to be short and sweet (like myself....)

I just wanted to stop in to say Happy Thanksgiving to you and your loved ones!  Thank you for being a part of Quarter Life Crisis, and a special thank you to those who still check in with the blog even when I'm swamped with teaching and don't get to post as often.  I have another fall recipe to post, some end-of-term thoughts as my long-term teaching position comes to a close, and maybe even some crafts and workouts.  Thank you for reading, sharing, and commenting.  This blog (much like my life) has taken many different turns over the past two years, thank you for joining me on this journey.

Have a wonderful Thanksgiving everyone!

Monday, November 12, 2012

Broccoli and Bacon Mac and Cheese

I've been wanting to make my own mac and cheese for a while.  Once, I tried to make mac and cheese before running off to a work function and just combined shredded cheese with my warm pasta.  That resulted in clumps of cheese, which is not as pleasant to eat as one might think.  I decided to use a real recipe to make my mac and cheese.

When making the sauce, you need to play with it a little bit.  If the sauce starts to get hard to stir, add a little pasta water.  Also, be sure to use freshly shredded cheese.  The pre-shredded cheese you buy at the store is coated and doesn't melt as well as freshly shredded cheese.

I like the combination of flavors in this dish.  To be honest, cheese on top of anything is fine in my book.  I'll definitely be using this sauce as a base to experiment with different cheese and mix in combinations.  Any suggestions?

Broccoli and Bacon Mac and Cheese
Serves 2
Prep time: 5 min
 Cook time: 15 min

-     1 c penne pasta
-     2 slices of bacon, diced
-     ½ c broccoli, diced
-     ¼ c plain yogurt or light sour cream
-     ½ c shredded cheddar cheese
-     Dash of salt and pepper

In a medium pot, boil the water for the pasta and cook according to directions on the back of the box.  Reserve about ½ c of pasta water before draining.

While the pasta is cooking, fry the bacon in a skillet over medium heat and remove once the pieces are crispy.  Allow to drain on a plate lined with a paper towel.

In a small pot, boil the water for the broccoli and cook for about 3 to 4 minutes, or until tender.  Drain and set aside.

Drain the pasta and pour the pasta into a large bowl.  Add ¼ c of pasta water, the sour cream or yogurt, and about half of the shredded cheese.  Stir continuously until the cheese has melted.  Add the rest of the cheese a handful at a time and stir continuously to prevent clumping.  If the cheese sauce is too thick, add more of the reserved pasta water. 

Stir in the broccoli and bacon and season with salt and pepper.  Serve immediately.

Note: This recipe is best eaten the day it’s served.

Monday, November 5, 2012

Fried Green Tomatoes

This is something that I have been wanting to make for a very long time.  Whenever I see fried green tomatoes on the menu, I will always get them.  Some of the best fried green tomatoes I've ever had were at the Dinosaur BBQ in Harlem.  They serve them crispy and hot with this tangy, spicy, creamy dressing and they are to die for.

There weren't any posts about my garden this summer because my garden was mostly non-existant.  The basil did well, until I cut it all up to make this pizza, and my dad planted beans so we were able to get about a single harvest of green beans.  However, the tomato plants I grew from seeds did not do too well, and we were left with lots of green tomatoes on the vine; tomatoes that refused to turn red.  So I decided to slice them up, bread them in my favorite breading, and deep fry them to perfection.

I've been told that there are different green tomatoes that you're supposed to use for fried green tomatoes, but the unripened tomatoes in my backyard worked just fine.  I served them with some Chipotle Ranch dressing and it was like I was at the Dinosaur BBQ.  They're crispy, yet the tomatoes retain a lot of their juice even after frying.  Also, we heated a few up the following day in the toaster oven and they were still crispy.  If your garden was a dud or if you happen to find green tomatoes at your grocery store, this is an excellent way to use them.

Fried Green Tomatoes
Serves 6 – 8
Prep time: 5 minutes
Cook time: 2 – 3 minutes per batch

- 2 c oil or vegetable shortening for frying
- 3 green tomatoes, sliced
- 1 c flour
- 3 eggs, scrambled
- 1 c Panko bread crumbs
- 1 c Italian bread crumbs
- Dash of garlic powder, salt, and pepper

Heat the oil in a medium sized pot until the oil reaches 350F. 

Grab 3 bowls and place the flour in one, the egg wash in another, and the Panko, Italian breadcrumbs, and seasonings in a 3rd.  Dredge the green tomato slices in the flour, then coat in the egg wash, and then coat in the bread crumb and seasoning powder. 

Place 2 or 3 slices into the oil at a time, depending on the size of the pot.  You do not want to overcrowd your pot because it will drop the temperature of the oil dramatically.  Keep the oil between 325 and 350F.  Fry until both sides are golden brown (about 2 – 3 minutes each piece) and then place on a plate lined with a paper towel to drain.  Sprinkle the fried green tomatoes with a little bit of salt to keep them crispy.  Serve immediately with chipotle ranch dressing. 

An Ali B original

Friday, November 2, 2012

Bacon, Egg, and Avocado Sandwich

When I was in school, I would come home, make myself a quick snack of Pop Tarts or sugar cookies with strawberry milk, and plop in front of the television for about an hour or 2 before forcing myself to do my homework.  I loved those shows that came on after school - Sabrina the Teenage Witch, Reba, and all of those other shows on WB11 before it became the CW (gross).  Now my after school shows consist of shows on the Food Network, mainly an entire hour of Paula Deen.

We all know of my obsession with Paula Deen.  I love the woman, I love her cooking, and I love her cheesy show.  I know there's a lot of controversy surrounding her food but you need to take her recipes with a grain of salt (and about half as much butter).  Whenever I make one of her recipes I always cut out unnecessary butter, salt, and other fats.  Plus I usually cut her recipes in half since many of them make enough for 6 to 8 normal people.  I feel these tweaks make her recipes much more accessible to the average person, and I try to limit myself to 1 Paula Deen recipe every once in a while.

When I watch Paula Deen I'm usually eating or thinking about eating, and everything she makes on her show looks amazing.  I'll grab my computer, log on to her site, and pin everything she makes.  So when I was browsing through my "To Make" board for something to make for lunch the other day, I came across this sandwich and my first reaction was "really?"  I was thinking about just deleting the pin, wondering if I was somewhat delirious after a full week of school when I pinned it, but the more I thought about it the more I realized I love all of the ingredients for this sandwich independently so why wouldn't they make the perfect sandwich when put together?  Plus, when I have afternoons at home I really want to make the most of them, and there's nothing cozier than curling up on the couch in your pajamas comfy clothes and heating a nice hot lunch (ok, maybe I was still in my pajamas).

This sandwich, despite its odd combination of ingredients, is wonderful.  The creamy avocado and cream cheese balance out the salty egg and bacon.  I love sandwiches that are layered with many different flavors, and this sandwich is certainly one of them.  Make this treat next time you have an afternoon in!

Bacon, Egg, and Avocado Sandwich
Serves 1
Prep time: 5 min
Cook time: 5 min

- 2 pieces of bread
- 4 tbsp cream cheese
- 2 stalks of chives, chopped
- 2 slices of bacon
- 1 egg
- 1 tomato, sliced
- 1 avocado, sliced
- Dash of salt and pepper

Toast the bread.  In a small bowl, combine the cream cheese and the chopped chives to create a spread.  Remove the bread from the toaster and spread the cream cheese on one side of each piece of bread.  Set bread on a plate, cream cheese side up.

Cook the bacon in a skillet over medium heat.  Remove once crispy and let drain on a plate lined with a paper towel.  Drain the pan and reserve about 1 tbsp of oil in the pan.

Cook the egg to your liking (fried or scrambled) in the same skillet and place on one piece of bread.

Layer the tomato and avocado on top of the egg.  Place the bacon on top and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Stack the sandwich with the other slice of bread and serve immediately. 

Recipe adapted from Paula Deen