The other night Amy and I were trying to figure out what to have for dinner. Neither of us had anything thawed, and didn’t really feel like a big meal, but we both wanted something tasty. What we did have was a can of chickpeas(for some reason we thought they were actually cannelini beans until she actually got them out of her pantry), some pasta, a couple of roma tomatoes, fresh spinach, half of a red onion, some garlic, a bottle of Pinot Grigio that we only needed part of. This is actually a really simple thing to put together, and will get you a really quick and tasty dinner in under a half hour.
The first thing is to cook the pasta. Obviously, you need to follow the recommendations on the package since gluten-free pastas vary in cooking times. Once it is cooked drain it, and rinse it in cold water to cool it. Toss it in a little olive oil, and set it aside for now.
Next, we’ll make our “sauce.” Dice the tomato. Half inch cubes should be fine. Mince a few cloves of garlic. We used about four, but if you really like garlic use as much as you want. Dice half of a red onion. To that add white wine and olive oil to just cover everything. A fifty-fifty mix will work well, but it doesn’t need to be exact.
Open the can of chickpeas, drain, and rinse them. Get a medium sized skillet hot over medium heat, and add a small amount of oil. When the oil is hot add the chickpeas. Saute them for a minute or so to get them hot. Next, add the tomato mixture (There is no rule saying how much to add so go with what looks good to you.), and keep things moving in the pan. Add the spinach to the pan, and cook until it has wilted. You may be surprised at how little spinach it looks like once it is wilted! You’ll eventually get it up to a boil. Once the liquid comes up to a boil add the pasta, and saute everything until everything is hot.
Obviously, this kind of thing gives you lots of room to improvise, and make it your own. In this case, it was vegan as well as being gluten-free. Whatever it little category you want to cram it into, it was very tasty, very quick, and very easy!
Last night I was thinking, what would make a really good dinner? Something warming, tasty, simple, and filling without being too much. I decided soup. I ran down a few choices for Amy, lentil, potato or black bean.(I pretty much had everything on hand for any of them.) She picked potato. I delivered what is probably her new favorite soup! Loaded baked potato soup. It is very simple, and very satisfying. We both have some leftovers, and she’s even got some to run to her mom.
So, what do you need? I can’t really give you quantities on a lot of this, because it wasn’t measured.
Potatoes, I had seven, peel them, and cut them into small-ish pieces
bacon, 2 slices, split lengthwise, and then cut into small pieces
1 red onion diced, you could use a white onion here
1 TBSP vegetable oil
chicken broth and water
2 bay leaves
cheddar cheese, I used about 4 ounces
heavy cream (whole milk would work too, or both which is what we had)
First, in a large pot heat the oil over medium heat, and add the bacon. You’re looking to render the bacon, so you want to brown it, and cook down a large percentage of the fat. This will give you a nice flavor. Once the bacon is browned, add the onion, a little salt, and cook until the onion is translucent. Next add the potatoes, broth, water, bay leaves, and bring up to a boil. I used roughly 50% broth. Basically what I want to do is to cover everything, but that is it. Once you have a boil, reduce the heat to a simmer, and cover it, and let it go for about 15 to 20 minutes. You don’t need to cook the potatoes until they are mush, basically you want them to be tender.Once the potatoes are tender turn off the heat. You have a few options at this point. You could strain the soup, reserve the liquid and process the solids in a food processor, puree with a hand blender, puree in a blender, or use a potato masher. However you do it you want to end up with a smooth soup. I used a potato masher, and really liked the results. It was a bit more rustic than a blender would have turned out, but it was also a lot less mess, and hassle. You may also want to fish out the bay leaves at this point. They aren’t poisonous, but they are not a lot of fun to eat.
Once the pureeing is done, return everything to the pot, and turn the heat back on. You’re going to finish the soup. Start by adding the cream. I add it until I get a nice color, and flavor from it. Next add the cheese. How much is kind of up to you, and how much you like cheese with your potatoes! Taste the soup, and adjust the seasoning with salt, and white pepper. Bring the soup up to a boil, and serve. That is really all there is to it. You could easily adapt this to be a vegetarian soup by dropping the bacon, and using veggie broth or all water, and since the potatoes do all of the thickening this soup will ever need the gluten-free situation is well in hand.Bowl it up, and enjoy! Also, keep in mind if you have leftover potatoes that you want to use up, this is a perfect place for them! In that case, all you have to do is get them hot, and soften up a bit. That will save you some time. This soup is very easy and perfect for dinner on a cold night! OK, maybe you CAN handle the soup!
Amy wanted to have some people over for dinner for her birthday. This was really not a big deal. Turns out we had seven for dinner. Our original menu was Poulet Basquaise with saffron risotto, a salad with the sherry vinaigrette that I made a while back, and then she was making an English Fool. Sorry, I didn’t get a chance to take any pictures.
The English Fool was a very easy thing indeed to make. It is essentially fruit in a syrup folded into whipped cream. We decided, because we had some very local pears, to poach them in port, and fold that into the whipped cream! Port poached pears are exactly what they sound like, and make an amazing gluten-free dessert by themselves! If you want to try them, all you need to do is peel a a few pears, one per person. Leave the stem in, and maybe a little bit of the top with the peel on. Set them in a sauce pan. Then pour a full bottle of port in with them, add about a cup of sugar, a couple of cinnamon sticks, a little allspice. Bring it to a boil, and then simmer until the pears are tender. Take the pears out of the pan, then return to a boil, and reduce it to thick syrup. This is your sauce, serve it with ice cream or creme anglaise, and you are going to be amazed. In this case I cubed the pears before they went into the pot. Otherwise it worked the same. After dinner Amy whipped the cream, and folded the pears, and the syrup into the cream. It was very good.
The main course was a bit more time consuming, but fairly easy since I have done it a couple of times already. First prep all of the veggies. I had always thought that there was plenty of the veggies in the original recipe, and I didn’t even add any more this time. As far as quantity goes, the only change I made was to cook a second chicken. We bought whole birds to save a little money, and it also tends to get you a nicer bird. Parts can come from birds that didn’t hold up well during processing or for whatever reason weren’t in as good of shape. I’m not going to get into the politics of eating meat, but if you think about it as a producer you want as little waste as possible, and you’ll sell what you can.
The only thing that I did differently was that rather than searing the chicken in the pot, and letting it simmer with the veggies to finish I put the chicken on a sheet tray and finished it in the oven. This allowed me to make sure that the chicken was all cooked through, and also cook the veggies. I thought about doing it all in the same pot, but when I tried there was just not enough room.
That experiment is what caused a slight change in menu. Like I said before I had planned on saffron risotto. What we had was a saffron rice pilaf. I turned the wrong pot off when I was transferring the chicken to a sheet tray, and ended up burning the last of the arborio rice we had. Amy had some normal long grain rice, but since I already had a pot with chicken broth and saffron I decided to switch rices. I quickly cleaned the pot, and started over. Pilaf is a method of cooking rice, but you could also use it for other things as well. Just like with risotto you toast the rice in a little oil, add some onions, and then just pour in all of your liquid. Bring it to a boil, cover, turn down the heat, and let it cook for 10 minutes on low, and then turn off the heat, and let the rice sit for 10 more minutes. This gives you rice that is separate grains, and not sticky. It is also a bit simpler to do than risotto!
While guests were arriving we threw together a little cheese plate. Amy loves dairy in general, and cheese is a special favorite. We had a Tillamook cheddar, some Jarlsberg, and smoked gouda, some sliced apples, and everyone was happy to munch while dinner was coming together. I also found a couple of nicer cheeses for Amy. I got her a piece of Petit Basque, and a small piece of a cloth bound cheddar. Petite Basque is a Spanish sheep’s milk cheese which I had tried at work, and really liked. Amy and I really like sharp cheddar, and the one I got for her is certainly sharp! It is a mature cheese, and is somewhat crumbly, and has some a bit of graininess caused by calcium lactate crystals which form during the aging process. Very nice!
Everyone had a great time, and enjoyed the food quite a bit. Happy Birthday Amy!