Friday, June 26, 2009

Pasta Pie

I bookmarked this recipe from Noble Pig months ago and was waiting for an opportunity to cook it. It really looks special, but it is just pasta and meat sauce afterall. Not something I'd go out of my way to cook for just Johnny and myself, but company is a different story.

Some friends have two daugthers, a 2 year old and a 3 month old and we made plans to have dinner with them. Our house is probably the least kid-friendly house on the face of the planet and who wants to pack up two kids?! So -- we brought dinner to them. This was a great dish to travel, I'd recommend it for company and potluck contributions.

Pasta Pie

1 lb. rigatona pasta
1 lb. ground beef (I used 95/5)
28 oz. can crushed tomatoes
1 cup shredded Parmesan
1 cup shredded mozzerella
2 garlic cloves
salt, pepper, spices to taste

Boil the pasta, removing from the heat and draining before they're done. I cooked mine for 11 minutes, when the package said 14. Drain, and rinse with cold water to cool. Sprinkle with a little bit of olive oil and the Parmesan, tossing to coat. Be careful not to break the noodles, you'll need them as intact as possible.

Meanwhile, in a high-sided skillet, brown the ground beef. I added salt, pepper, garlic and onion powders. Mince the garlic and add that to the pan once the meat is browned. Then add the can of crushed tomatoes. I spiced mine up just as I would making home-made sauce with salt, oregano, and basil. I let this sit and cook on low for 15-20 minutes while I was working on the noodles.

Once they're cooled, stand all the noodles on end in a greased springform pan.

This went a lot smoother than I thought it would. The noodles stayed pretty well on their own, but a few were taller than the others and I had a lot with slits on the side. The funny thing is that the pound of pasta fits in here almost perfectly. I had maybe 10 fragments leftover of noodle pieces too broken to use, that's it.

Next step is the sauce, which to me was the hardest part. The sauce was still pretty warm and you have to make sure to squish the meat down into each individual rigatoni opening. I eventually got into a groove and worked my way across the pan, then spread the extra sauce over top. Be careful here, because my springform pan actually started leaking sauce. I had a big ring of tomato juice to clean up off the counter, but knew then to place the pan on a baking sheet in the oven.
After the meat sauce is squished in all of the pasta openings, bake in a 400° oven for 15 minutes. Then, sprinkle the mozzarella over the top and bake an additional 15 minutes. Let stand about 15 minutes before removing the spring pan and cutting into it.

It stayed perfectly shaped, I just ran a knife around the outside and released the spring pan.

Each little tube was filled with some meat and sauce, so you were sure to get some in each bite. The Parmesan cheese was like a glue, helping keep the noodles standing next to each other. Overall really tasty and a cool dish, but honestly it's a pretty tedious preparation process.

We also brought along a big loaf of garlic bread I made. I didn't get a picture of it post-bake, but I spread about 2 Tbsp of 50/50 Smart Balance on each half loaf of bread with a spatula, then sprinkled garlic powder. I popped these in the oven the last 10 minutes of the pasta pie's baking time.

And, last but not least, a big salad of mixed greens, carrots, green pepper, celery, cucumber, and sunflower seeds.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Bisquick Pecan Chicken & Oven Roasted Asparagus

Earlier, while rummaging the fridge, I "discovered" a beautiful bunch of asparagus I picked up last visit to the grocery store. I've been avoiding asparagus lately because the stalks were the same size around as a penny, which is just too barky and tough for me. These stalks were maybe 1/4" in diameter, and a beautiful bright green - none of that darker purple or yellow at the bottom.

I decided to oven-roast them, my new favorite way to cook vegetables. I chopped off about an inch of the bottom, rinsed them, and spread them out on a pan. Then, I drizzled a little bit of olive oil and about 1/2 tsp. each of salt and pepper before rolling them around so they were all coated.

I finally remembered to defrost some meat! To celebrate this momentous occasion, I wanted to come up with something really tasty.

Bisquick Pecan Chicken:

1 package thin-sliced chicken breasts (~1 lb.)

1 egg, beaten
dash of salt

1/2 cup Bisquick (it's dairy free!!)
1/2 tsp. ea. onion powder, garlic powder, salt
1/4 cup chopped pecans (in the baking aisle)

First I dunked the chicken in the beaten, salted egg and then coated with the Bisquick pecan mix. I made sure the chicken was fully covered, but not overly caked on. Then layed the breasts out on a Pam-sprayed baking sheet.

Both the asparagus and chicken went into a 425° oven for about 17 minutes. I positioned the chicken on the 2nd rack, under the asparagus pan. This kept the chicken from the direct heat of the units, and also made a little make-shift "roof" to keep moisture in. I flipped the chicken half-way through the baking time so both sides of the coating could evenly cook.

The two times I opened the oven (to flip the chicken and take the pans out) there was just a cloud of moisture and steam that erupted from the oven. I think it was the combination of the tender asparagus and the positioning of the chicken pan underneath, but it was a great environment for the chicken to bake in. It was fork-tender and really juicy and flavorful. The nutty pecans in the breading really complimented the nuttiness that oven-roasting brings out in veggies.

Johnny reminded me at serving time that he doesn't like asparagus (oops!), but bravely gave this a try. He said "I don't know what you did to this, but I actually like it!" His remark on the chicken was "What is this coated with again? It's orgasmic!!" But, I'll just let our plates speak for themselves:

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Baked Broccoli

Today's Pioneer Woman Cooks' post is giving away a yellow Kitchenaid Mixer. Why yellow? Well, it reminds Ree of Spring and several yellow, Spring-y recipes. One was a fresh corn casserole I hadn't seen on her site before, so I hastily clicked over to see more.

The ingredient list was simple: 5 items, including salt and pepper. Lately I've noticed that I really enjoy foods that are simplistic and let the ingredients come into their own. Oven-roasted vegetables have become a bi-weekly thing in our house and it's just veggies, a glug of EVOO and salt and pepper. Absolutely delicious without having to do a lot of prep work!

I didn't have fresh corn on hand, and in leiu of using frozen corn, decided to use fresh broccoli.

First, I washed and cut 3 small heads of broccoli into bite-sized florets. Then I put them in an oven-safe dish and tossed them in about 3/4 cup of fat free half and half (no whipping cream on hand) and salt and pepper with a few pats of butter on top.

Then, I just baked them in a 400° oven for about 30 minutes and creamy, yummy broccoli accompanied our leftover pork chops that I defrosted from the freezer and leftover spanakopita from a local gyro place.

This week's Blogger Secret Ingredient (BSI) is being hosted by Reeni at Cinnamon Spice & Everything Nice and she chose blueberries!

Michelle's amazing give-away at Lucky Taste Buds continues until July 4th, so if you haven't entered already you should!

And!!!! One of my favorite blogger friends, Amy at What Do I Eat Now? has given me my very first blogger award! I just sat there and giggled like a fool when I saw my name on the list, so thank you Amy, you really made my day!

Now, I'm supposed to pick 7 blogger friends to pass it onto, and I choose:

1) Sarah at No Whey Mama. I was seriously, seriously lost when we discovered J's whey allergy. Searching around the internet for more information, I ran across Sarah's blog and it was the first ray of hope I felt in the allergy journey. I love the way Sarah gets the allergy message across and it's really opened my eyes, not only in Johnny's case, but just in general of how serious food allergies can be, which came in handy working with children this past year.

2) Jenn at Slim Shoppin' because I love her blog message of "eating right starts in the cart." My mom instilled this in me since I was a tiny child and it's just the way I eat and cook personally, so I love to see her recipes and updates. Sometimes I see the pictures and it just feels like home, stuff I'd cook right in my own kitchen.

3) Alisa at One Frugal Foodie who is another wonderful allergy source. I won my first blogger contest over at her site, and received delicious dairy, nut, and egg free cupcakes. She is a wealth of knowledge for allergy information, recipes, and has even written a dairy free cookbook!

4) Sophia at Burp and Slurp~ who I just recently "met" through the BSI competition. I love the candidness she posts with and think she is really a genuine, wonderful person! Sometimes her food combinations surprise the heck out of me, but the creativity she shows in the kitchen makes for some awesome ideas and recipes!

5) Biz at Biggest Diabetic Loser because she makes sure to regularly update her blog, so my reader always has something new! Also, she comes up with some of the best ideas for leftovers and making budget friendly meals. We also watch almost all of the same TV shows, so I love to read her re-caps!

6) Laura at Hey What's for Dinner, Mom? who I will always hold a special place in my heart for because she chose me to host BSI!!! She raises her three sons with much the same mentality that my mom raised my brother and I with - no artificial foods, no junk, no pre-packaged stuff, so her recipes are all trust-worthy and quality delicious!

7) Last but not least, Michelle at Lucky Taste Buds because I want to suck up and win her give-away. hahaha Just kidding! Michelle is a fellow Chicagoland girl, and her personality just SHINES through the writing on her blog. I've really enjoyed getting to know her through her posts and the comments she leaves me.

Friday, June 19, 2009

Homemade Calzones

I had some sausage leftover from the wontons I needed to use up. My first thought was pizza, but then I was feeling a little adventurous so decided to tackle a calzone!

To start, I made Biz's pizza dough recipe. I love that warm, yeasty smell!

While I was making that, Johnny browned up about 3/4 pound of Italian sausage in a skillet.

I cut up 1 small head of broccoli, 1 green pepper and half of an onion and cooked them off in a skillet with a small amount of olive oil.

To assemble the calzones, we rolled out the dough just as you would for a pizza - about 12" across and maybe 1/4" - 3/8" thick. First, I spread about 1/4 cup of mozzarella cheese on half of the dough, then topped with half the veggies and some of the sausage, followed by another 1/4 cup mozzarella on top.

Then, I folded the dough over and creased, pressing with fork prongs. They baked in a 375° convect oven (which I believe is 400° normal) for about 30 minutes. In the future, I might go a little shorter because they were pretty crisp.

I was SO excited because the bottom came out crunchy, I thought it'd be a gooey, doughy mess!

Here's Johnny's, just out of the oven, cut in half to show you the inside. We dunked them in Prego and they far exceeded my expectations!

Announcement time!

If you haven't already, please vote for my brother. The extended deadline date (boo!) doubled the candidates, and he still needs to remain in the top 50 for another week!! He's held on strong thus far, I'd hate to see it slip away last minute!

And you seriously need to go check out Michelle's giant give-away at Lucky Taste Buds! An environmentally friendly lunch bag STUFFED with dozens of goodies! She's one generous lady!

Monday, June 15, 2009

Pork Wontons

The twin sister food bloggers have simultaneously inspired my dinner tonight!

Jenn of Slim Shoppin' is always making the most amazing treats using wonton and eggroll wrappers. Over the past few months, Jennifer has introduced a lot of great ideas using the wrappers and always make its it look so easy. I vowed in my last comment to her that I would have to break down and buy some.

Then today, Jennifer's twin sister, Biz of Biggest Diabetic Loser posted an awesome wonton soup. I was sold and having bought them last grocery trip, had them on hand!


1/2 medium green cabbage, separated
3 carrots, separated
3/4 cup ground meat (I used pork sausage)
2 tsp soy sauce
black pepper, to taste

To make the wonton filling, I put 3/4 cup of ground pork sausage in a bowl. Next, I added 1/2 of a finely minced carrot and 1/8th of a finely minced green cabbage. I added the soy sauce and sprinkling of pepper, mixing until everything was well incorporated.

Using a 1/2 tsp measuring scoop, I spooned the mixture into the wonton wrappers and got to work folding them. Thankfully, Johnny jumped in and helped me so we could eat dinner before midnight!

To fold the wontons, first you lay the wrapper flat and spoon the mixture on. Next, you wet two of the edges using a little bit of water and them fold the wrapper in half and press to seal. This leaves you with a little triangular package.

Pick up the triangle and wet the bottom corners and fold them in over your thumb and press to seal. Viola! you have yourself a little wonton!

We got 42 out of the mixture and I decided to just cook them all so we'd have tons of leftovers for the week. Everybody into the pot!

I added 8 cups of water and bouillon to a pot with 2 1/2 carrots and brought this up to temperature. It was hot, but not boiling when I placed the wontons in. I kept the heat below a boil and gently stirred now and then so the wontons could move and wouldn't explode from a boil. After 4 minutes I stirred in the remaining cabbage, finely shredded and let it cook for 1 minute.

Spooned into a big bowl with a little bit of broth, this was a really satisfying dinner! Besides the work of assembling the wontons, it was a snap to make and we have tons of leftovers!

And this is probably a really mismatched wine to drink with this, but I saw it and wanted to try it. Newman's Own wine!! I went for the Cabernet and as usual, it had a cutesy label!

This week's Blogger Secret Ingredient (BSI) is being hosted by Girlichef and she chose Greens! All entries featuring greens are due by this Sunday for a chance to win and a prize!

Also, Michelle at Lucky Taste Buds is giving away an amazingly generous bounty of goodies. Seriously, your mouth will fall open when you look at the picture and read all it includes!

Saturday, June 13, 2009

Pop-Over Ads

I would just like to apologize to my readers (faithful and just wandering in) for pop-over ads that sometimes appear when you visit my site.

I do not condone these ads and am very upset and embarrassed that my readers are seeing a pop-over ad on my site. I've been in contact for weeks with my advertising network trying to figure out which ad is the problem and why they aren't obeying the contract terms of ad spots I've tastefully set aside on the right and bottom of the page.

I hope to get this cleared up soon and am sorry if any of these ads have appeared for you. The last thing I want is to feature these intrusive and disruptive pop-over ads at the expense of my readers because I personally believe it's a rather obnoxious form of advertisement.


Oven Roasted Veggies - Chicken and Dumpling style!

I've really fallen in love with the robust flavors of oven roasted veggies. Each vegetable really comes into their own when roasted with a dash of salt and olive oil. I find myself thinking "broccoli is my favorite this way," and then in the next bite, "no, it's got to be the green peppers!"

This meal came together as a hodge-podge of ideas. I wanted to roast the last of several vegetables we had in the fridge. They'd been in there awhile and I need to grocery shop again, so I don't want them buried or to go to waste. Second, I thawed chicken and now was stuck using it! And last, imagining chicken and dumplings in North Carolina. Where they aren't really dumplings, per say, but big chunky noodles with chicken and gravy.

I cut up:

1 bell pepper
2 stalks celery
2 small zucchini
1 small head of broccoli
2 cloves garlic

Then I threw them in a bowl with about 1 tsp salt and a few glugs of olive oil, tossing well to coat. I spread them out on a foil-lined baking pan and popped them into a 425° oven for 20 minutes. They don't need to be checked on, turned, or messed with, so I just let them do their thang and get on with the rest of dinner prep!

I brought a big pot of water to boil and threw in No Yolks! egg noodles, the dumpling style ones. Short and wide with ribbony edges.

Last, I used the same technique for gravy as I did for the cabbage nests a few weeks ago. I put a vegetable bouillon cube in a high sided skillet with 2 cups of water and a couple tablespoons of corn starch to thicken. Once it was bubbling, I put in 2 chunked up thin-sliced chicken breasts.

To plate, I first spooned the egg noodles onto the plate.

Next, I put generous heaps of the roasted veggies! You've got to try these, they are to die for!

Last, I spooned the chicken and gravy over everything. And - voila! chicken and dumplings with tasty, roasted vegetables.

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Video Demonstration: Pan Fried Pork Chops

After 9 months of blogging, I'm excited to introduce a new feature here at Dinner at Christina's - video demonstrations!

Ever since I posted my pan fried pork chops back in February, Googlers have been pouring in by the hundreds looking for pork chop tips, help, and answers to their confusion. It only seemed appropriate my first video would help some of those stumped by the sometimes daunting pork chop.

Featured is the identical dinner I prepared in the original post: pan fried pork chops with panko breading, homemade rice a roni, and frozen peas. It was our first video (me presenting and Johnny filming/editing), I think we did a pretty good job, and will get better in time! I hope it's helpful and will answer that ever-burning question: "how in the world do I pan fry a pork chop?" Enjoy!

What recipe or cooking technique (previously featured on my site, or not) would you like to see a video demonstration of in the future? I'm very open to any suggestions you might have, especially if I can answer somebody's cooking questions or clarify confusions! Even if it's not something I know, I'll research, try my best, and we can learn together!

Friday, June 5, 2009

Rice Crispy Chicken

A couple days ago I received a little 12 pack of recipe cards "starter kit" from The Great American Recipe company. Sort of along the lines of the 12 DVDs for .01¢ deals, where you sign up and then you keep getting all kinds of recipe cards, eventually a binder, and other goodies, until you've paid $42,000 and forgot to cancel so they keep automatically shipping.

Needless to say, I didn't buy into it, but 2 or 3 of the recipes sparked my interest. This rice crispy cereal chicken was one. The recipe called for 8 chicken thighs, but since it's just the two of us, I cut it in half and only cooked 4 tonight.

4 boneless, skinless chicken thighs
1 cup rice crispy cereal
1/4 cup grated Parmesan
1/2 packet of ranch mix (they all have whey so I omitted and added 1 tsp. each of onion and garlic powder, plus generous sprinklings of salt and pepper)
2 egg whites, beaten (I just used one whole egg)

First, wash and trim the meat. Next, dunk them in the beaten eggs, and then coat them with the cereal mixture. Place onto a greased baking dish (or sheet) and bake for 25 minutes in a 350° oven until juices run clear.

Verdict? Yum!!! I'm a huge fan of dark meat, and this did not disappoint. It was really juicy, with great flavor and a terrific crunch. The cereal was not overwhelming as a coating, either. In fact, it was spaced pretty far apart, so you didn't feel like you were eating 1/2 chicken and 1/2 breading. Here's the picture from the little recipe card:

I served it alongside leftover homemade rice-a-roni from last night*. I just put a sprinkling of water in the storage container and microwaved it. The water helps it from getting dried out and crunchy during the re-heat.

Also, a revisit with creamed cabbage from TLC's Take Home Chef. I can't get enough of cabbage, lately! This time around I omitted the bacon because we didn't have any on hand and just added about a teaspoon of salt to make up for the flavor and saltiness of the missing bacon.

*Post to come!

Wednesday, June 3, 2009


Let me show you the best $2.99 ever spent!

The Eggstractor!!!!!! I bought it in Florida at Flea World, marked down several times and figured why not?!

We tried with Johnny's mom's eggs and because they are so fresh they don't peel well and it was a dud. So, I bought some eggs from the store (don't worry I still stayed free range and vegetarian fed) so we could try it out. Whoo boy!

First - it worked. I was shocked and amazingly pleased. No more tapping and rolling and peeling and cursing eggs.

Second - it's so much fun!

If you do get yourself an eggstractor, I have two pointers. Do not follow their advice of only boiling the eggs 6-8 minutes because our yolks were way underdone. I'd go for the standard 10 minute boil. And keep the eggs cold up until the minute you're going to eggstract them. Our first few went well and the last ones that had been on the counter were a lot more stubborn (as demonstrated in the above video).

You tap a hole, using the attached point in the small end of the egg and whack the wide end on the counter.

Then, you put the spring cover thing over it, cross your hands and pump down with force and out shoots the egg!

Most of the time you just have a very small section left at the wide end to peel off, but that's no biggie!

(Johnny's hands, not mine - don't get all freaked out!)

Monday, June 1, 2009

Give-Away 5 Winner

Apparently I really stink at picking cool prizes for give-aways. I thought you guys liked food magazines!? But, with a whopping total of 6 entries and only 1 person linking back, I guess I seriously missed the mark. Sorry, guys!

There were 84 pistachios in the glass, so Michelle at Lucky Taste Buds wins with her guess of 70 and because I'm so nice, I'll forgive the lack of a required link-back. Michelle, email christina at dinneratchristinas dot com with your mailing address so I can order up your Taste of Home subscription! Congrats!

I got my adorable little foodie charm from Mara in Friday's mail! I couldn't wait until the end of the contest and risk not winning and her charms all be sold out! I just had to have this little laptop! You can still order yours (utensil laptop or peanut butter jar) if you didn't win her charm give-away!