Pasta Salad Take Two

In the past, I shared a recipe for a pasta salad using tortellini instead of macaroni. With the heat on in New Mexico it’s time to bring out another version of the ever-popular pasta salad. Last night we dined on a pasta salad made with a Fusilli pasta.  The corkscrew shape of the pasta is a perfect receptacle for the Italian dressing used on the salad.  The beauty of this salad is three-fold. First, you can use items from your pantry if you prefer (for example canned tuna, or an all-vegetable salad.)  Second, depending on the amount of salad you make, it can provide multiple meals. And finally, it can be made well in advance so prep at dinner can be as simple as setting the table, slicing some warm bread and pouring a cool glass of beer.  Here’s how I made the salad yesterday.

Fusilli Pasta Salad

  • 1 lb fusilli pasta
  • 1/4 lb Genoa Salami
  • 1/4 lb pepperoni
  • 1 red pepper, diced
  • 1 red onion diced
  • 1 cup diced celery
  • 1 cup pitted Kalamata olives, quartered
  • 1 cup artichoke hearts, quartered (plain – not seasoned)
  • 1/2 cup fresh mozzarella cheese, diced
  • Italian dressing to coat/taste
  • salt and pepper to taste

Begin by cooking the pasta to al dente.  Drain and briefly rinse to remove some of the starch.  When slightly cool coat the pasta with your preferred Italian dressing.  You want the warm pasta to absorb some of the dressing and flavor the pasta.  Place in the refrigerator.  After cooking the pasta prepare the other ingredients. Dice the salami and pepperoni and set aside.  Dice up the red onion. celery and red pepper and set aside.  Cut up the artichokes and kalamata olives and set aside.

Combine the meat and veggie ingredients with the pasta.  Add salt, pepper and more Italian dressing to taste.  Mix well and refrigerate until it is time to serve.

Just before serving dice some fresh mozzarella and place in a bowl to pass at the table.  Why not add the mozzarella with the other ingredients?  Fresh mozzarella can get an unpleasant texture if it sits too long.

I made a fresh baguette to serve with dinner.  I am a white wine girl but macaroni salad calls for red wine or beer.  I opted for a craft ale last night that paired beautifully with the salad.

The heat may be on, but not in the kitchen at dinner time if you make pasta salad!

Note: If you purchase salami and pepperoni you need to buy it in a chunk from your favorite deli.  Generally, a 1/4 lb. equals about a one-inch piece of the meat.  I change the ingredients in this salad based on what is in season and fresh. When I make this salad later in the summer I can add significantly more fresh vegetables that are available at the farmers market.

Posted in Cooking, Entree, Food, Italian, meat, Menus, New Mexico, Pasta, pasta, Salad, Southwestern States | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment


Last Friday while doing my grocery shopping I happened to spot a package of pitas.  I suddenly had the urge to make one of our favorite snacks – garlic pita chips. I used to make these chips all the time but lately, it has become very difficult to find pita that you can actually cut in half to separate the two sides of the pocket.  I lost interest in making this snack when the right type of pita disappeared from the shelves.  The package I spotted last Friday looked as if I might be able to separate the two halves to get the result I was looking to obtain.

There are six pitas in the package I purchased.  The result, after they are split apart and divided, is 96 pita chips ready for the application of melted butter, fresh garlic, salt and pepper and then a quick trip in a 400 degree F oven.  After about 8 minutes they are ready to come out and cool.  Thankfully George is at work or the first batch would experience a taste test loss before they even cool!

Pita Chips fresh from the oven!

Pita Chips fresh from the oven! Can’t you smell the garlic?

These are super easy to make but take a fair amount of time – allow yourself at least 90 minutes from start to finish.  You could reduce the amount of prep time by buying ready to fill pita pockets and using prechopped garlic.

Garlic Pita Chips

  • 1 package of 6 pita breads  6 inches across
  • 12 Tbl of butter
  • garlic cloves that have been put through a garlic press. Use as many as you like
  • Salt and fresh ground pepper

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F.  Begin by cutting up the pita.  Cut the pita round in half.  Using a serrated knife, cut the pita to separate the top from the bottom.  Stack the tops and bottoms and cut into four wedges.  One pita bread should yield  16 “Chips.”

Peel the garlic and press into a bowl.  Melt the butter in a heavy bottom saucepan over low heat.  You do not want the butter to burn.  Add the garlic to the melted butter and cook slowly until the butter is flavored.  Remove the butter garlic mixture from the heat.

Line baking sheets with aluminum foil – this will greatly simplify clean up.  Using a pastry brush, coat each chip with the butter garlic mixture. Be sure to include some of the garlic on each chip.  Place on the lined baking sheet and season with salt and fresh ground pepper.

Bake in the 400-degree oven until the edges of the chips have turned golden brown – about 8 1/2 minutes.  Cool on the baking sheet.

Transfer the cooled chips into an airtight container lined with parchment paper.  Store in the fridge if they are not going to be eaten within a few days. Let them come to room temperature before serving.

Note: I have experimented with other seasonings on the chips – chipotle chile powder, Italian seasoning, southwest seasoning. We stick to the garlic!

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Waste Nothing

I hate waste – especially when it comes to food.  As an innkeeper I know I will end up throwing out breakfast food that, for whatever reason, does not get eaten.  As my husband repeatedly reminds me “It’s a cost of doing business.”

Our meals/food are a different matter.  First, I plan a weekly menu before I shop and rarely deviate.  Sometimes you have “leftovers” from dinner or a recipe.  We had Taco salad a little over a week ago and after the meal was left with a few tortilla chips – not enough for nachos or with guacamole but too much to throw out.  So I decided to use them as breading on chicken thighs.  They will be showing up on the dinner plate tonight.

Our menu for this evening is Baked tortilla coated chicken thighs, roasted corn, black bean and jalapeno salad and Mexican rice.  I have a recipe for Chipotle chicken that starts with a marinade of mayonnaise and chipotle chili.  The thighs are coated in the marinade and refrigerated for at least 3 hours.  Normally they get coated in seasoned flour and then baked in the oven until finished.  Tonight I will substitute the remaining chips that have been pounded into a fine coating for the breadcrumbs.

As I knew I had these leftover tortillas that would be used to coat the chicken, my shopping list this week included items that would round out the meal.  I am making a salad of black beans, jalapeno and roasted corn with a honey, apple cider vinegar and Chulula dressing.  I purchased two fresh ears of corn and roasted them over an open flame on my stove (storming too hard to use the grill.)  I mixed the honey, apple cider vinegar, and Cholula hot sauce to make the dressing. The salad is in the fridge so all the flavors can meld.

I will add some Mexican rice as a starch.

Nothing, not even something as inconsequential as tortilla chips, goes to waste in this house!

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A Little Eggplant

George and I are big fans of most ethnic food.  While French tops my list, Italian plays a close second.  Last week I got a sudden craving for Eggplant Parmigiana. I have made this dish in the past but am always looking for ways to improve on the outcome.  This dish has alot of opportunities for failure.  From soggy eggplant to excessive runny sauce to just too much of everything for two people.  Over the years I have been playing with variations and I think this week I came up with a winner.  Eggplant that was still firm to the tooth, the correct ration of sauce to eggplant and a dish that was eaten by two people over the course of one dinner and one lunch.

It all began at the grocery store with the purchase of a SMALLER eggplant. I live in New Mexico and eggplant is not a native ingredient in the local dishes. That means you need to search out eggplant that is still firm and not so ginormous that it could feed a family of ten.  Last week my local store has a nice selection of smaller eggplant that fit the bill.  The store also had a special on canned fire roasted tomatoes.  So they went into my cart along with the eggplant.  My pantry/refrigerator yielded the other necessary ingredients for both the sauce and the eggplant – eggs, bread crumbs ( I prefer Panko,)  Mozzarella cheese, Parmesan cheese, dried and fresh garlic (and lots of it,) dried oregano, anchovies, white wine, salt  and pepper.

I began by slicing the eggplant into six pieces approximately 1 inch thick.  These were salted, placed on a rack and left to drain for one hour. I have learned that one hour is the magic number to drain excess liquid while not allowing them to get too dried out.

While the eggplant was draining I made the sauce.  I sliced four large garlic cloves and mixed them with dried oregano.  I don’t know how much – I stopped adding it when it looked like the right amount,  I would guess about 2 tbl. I placed the oregano and garlic in a non reactive saucepan with a splash of olive oil.  This went onto a medium low burner just until the garlic and oregano began to get fragrant, about one minute.  Then I added the two cans of fire roasted tomatoes, a splash of white wine and two oil packed anchovies.  I moved the pan to my simmer burner and let it cook for the next hour.  When making tomato sauce I check the tomato mixture frequently to be sure the liquid is not evaporating too quickly.  If I find it is a tad dry I throw in another splash of  white wine.  When the hour had passed I used my stick blender to breakdown some of the tomatoes in the pot.  We like our sauce a bit chunky but this is definitely personal preference.  Then I tasted the sauce and seasoned with salt and pepper.  I use Kosher salt and fresh ground pepper.

When the eggplant has completed draining it went through a traditional three dish breading – flour, egg and breadcrumbs. I seasoned my breadcrumbs with dried garlic, parsley and freshly grated Parmesan cheese. The eggplant slices were dipped in the flour, then the egg and finally the breadcrumbs.  They were placed on a silicon lined backing sheet and placed in a 350 degree F. oven for about 45 minutes.  I find that pre-baking the  eggplant results in a firmer finished product.

I began to assemble the dish shortly after the eggplant came out of the oven.  In the past I would coat the entire bottom of the baking dish with sauce, lay in the eggplant, add the mozzarella, add another layer of sauce and then the Parmesan. This time I attempted to make a much drier dish.  I placed two tablespoons of sauce in a pool on one spot in the baking dish.  A cooked eggplant slice went on top of that. The eggplant was topped with a THIN layer of sauce, a piece of sliced fresh mozzarella, another THIN layer of sauce and finally with freshly grated Parmesan.  I repeated this process with the other five pieces of eggplant.  The dish went into a 350 degree F oven until the mozzarella was melted and the parmesan was toasty brown.

I knew the moment I began plating that I had met one of my goals. The eggplant slid off the spatula and held its shape.  The three distinct eggplants made a nice presentation on the plate.  I served them with zucchini noodles I cut with my mandolin and  sauteed in a bit of olive oil.  I passed the extra sauce on the side.

As we begin the vegetable growing season I will be adding this to my repertoire of meatless meals.  Bonus feature – because the eggplant wasn’t soggy it held up to a quick stay in the microwave for lunch the next day!

Posted in appliances, Cooking, Entree, Food, Italian, Kitchen tools, Meatless, Meatless Meals, Stick blender, vegetables | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Happy Easter!

Easter Sunday.  A day that brings back so many memories of family.  Growing up I had two sisters and a brother.  We girls were always dressed alike with matching shoes, hats and dresses.  My brother always wore a suit.  Easter morning we would always wake up, go to Mass, then come home and hunt for Easter baskets which had been hidden by the “Easter Bunny” in various places around the house.  The baskets would be filled with candy and dyed eggs.   After we located our baskets we would gather around the table for the traditional egg fight.   For those that aren’t familiar, this consists of one person holding their egg in their fist, round end up and exposing as little as possible, while their opponent, holding their egg,  tried to crack the offered eggshell by bashing into the egg with the pointed end of their egg.  My dad was a master at this game and it was always a point of pride if you could crack his egg!

I don’t recall the first time we had an Easter Lamb cake.  It was obviously at Easter and at the home of one of my grandparents.  I do know when I began making an Easter Lamb cake.  It was the my first Easter after George and I married.  I had received the mold months before, and quite frankly had not considered using it until my old college roommate wanted to come for a visit over Easter and bring her 1 year old daughter.  I knew we had to make Easter special for the little girl so out came the mold.  That was 48 years ago.  And, with the exception of the last few years, it has been a love hate relationship at best – because of two major components, the cake batter and the cake mold.

Let’s start with the batter.  In the beginning I used a yellow cake mix.  It tasted fine but was not really good at holding up the weak links in the mold – the ears and the neck.  The finished batter did not have enough substance to hold the weight of the head and was prone to cracking at the neck.  The limited amount of batter in the ear section of the mold would bake much quicker than the rest of the cake, making the resulting baked ears dry and brittle.  After a few years had passed I heard about others using a pound cake batter for their lamb cakes. (Yes, lamb cakes were a “thing” at one time, unlike those cakes you see today which are frosted squares with a plastic face.) I decided I had nothing to lose so I gave pound cake batter a try.  Pound cake is denser than yellow cake so it solved the neck supporting the head problem but I still had issues with the ears.

And then there was the mold.  The original mold was made from thin aluminum.  The ear part of the mold was shallow, resulting in thin ears that finished baking long before the rest of the cake and often broke into two when I un-molded the cake.  I became adept at, prior to frosting, strategically placing toothpicks to hold the ears in place.

Then several years ago I came upon this thing of beauty:

Commercial Lamb Cake mold

Commercial Lamb Cake mold

I found it at an estate sale, buried under other pots and pans, as if it where a kitchen cast-away.  Based on its location among the sale goods I knew the estate people had little appreciation for this tool. I, on the other hand, was as excited as someone who may have come across an especially fine piece of art (what can I say, I’m a kitchen gadget geek!) This is a commercial grade mold.  Very heavy with deep pockets for the ears.  The face portion of the mold was far deeper making for a more pronounced nose.  You can’t see the small pegs on the other side of the face side of the mold that elevated the mold off the baking sheet.  You can see the two small holes that allow one to test the cake for doneness. You will also note the mold can be clamped shut – I imagine there was a special tool or perhaps the professional baker just used wire. I have never used that feature.

The first time I used this mold I had immediate success.  The ears released from the mold in one piece and did not appear to be in danger of falling off with the first application of frosting.  I admit, I still sweat it out every year until the mold comes off the cooled cake.  A history this long takes awhile to overcome!

Here’s the cake which will share in our Easter celebration this year.

Lamb Cake 2018 and Peeps!

Lamb Cake 2018 and Peeps!

It is the second cake I made for the event; the first went into the trash shortly after the mold came off.  To be fair it wasn’t entirely my fault.  As I was mixing the ingredients I got a phone call from someone who had a significant number of questions about the inn and about the three rooms.  After about 30 minutes on the phone I was able to return to my baking.  I finished mixing the ingredients, put the mix in the mold and put it into the oven. I was surprised that I used all of the batter for the mold – usually I have enough left over to make a small 4″pan cake.  That should have been a clue.  But I blithely went about my business until it came time to un-mold the cake.   The center back sagged as if this poor lamb had been starved for months.  It was then I realized I had forgotten to add the eggs.  A sacrificial lamb if you will. Chalk one up to customer service!

Happy Easter and a Happy Passover to all!





Posted in American Food, Baking, Bed and Breakfast, Dessert, Easter, Estate Sales, Family, Food, Holidays, Kitchen tools | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The Last of the Chicken

Yesterday I wrote about the roasted chicken I made for our dinner on Sunday evening.  Here it is Thursday and the last of the chicken will grace our table tonight.  We usually get three meals out of a 5 pound chicken; the original meal, the chicken roast as a leftover meal and a third meal of whatever is left on the carcass. This usually takes the form of chicken pot pies, chicken enchiladas or chicken soup. Tonight we are having something different – Chicken a la King.

I don’t know why but I have never made Chicken a la King before.  It’s actually pretty easy.  Even better because you can substitute ingredients and use up other leftovers.  That’s what I did today.  And, because we have a meeting to attend at 6:30, I made the dish this morning and stuck it in the fridge.  When we return from our meeting tonight I can take it out, warm it gently and serve it up.  No time like the present to add a new leftover recipe to the repertoire.

Chicken a la King  – Leftover Style    2 servings

  • 1 tbl unsalted butter
  • 2 ounces mushrooms, sliced (You can use any variety of mushrooms. I had leftover wood ear mushrooms so I am using those)
  • 1 small green pepper
  • 2 tbl flour
  • 1 cup milk
  • 1 1/2 cup cut up chicken
  • 1/4 cup pimentos, drained
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • 1 tbl dry sherry (optional)
  • 2 tbl minced parsley
  • 2 servings cooked wide noodles
Ingredients for my Chicken A la King

Ingredients for my Chicken A la King

Melt the butter in a 12 inch skillet over moderate heat.  Add the mushrooms and green pepper.  Saute for about 4 minutes, or until the vegetables are tender.  Add the flour to the pan and stir to coat the vegetables.

Gradually whisk in the milk and cook, stirring frequently, until thickened.  Add the chicken, pimentos and salt and pepper to taste.  Cook until heated through.  The dish can be made ahead to this point, cooled and refrigerated until dinner.

Reheat gently, adding more milk if the sauce becomes too thick.  Add the sherry if desired.  Top with chopped parsley and serve over noodles or toast points.

I know original a la king recipes call for the mixture to be served over toast points but not in this house.  Remember that I wrote about being an army wife?  My husband had enough mystery stuff served over toast in the military to last him a lifetime.  So no toast points in this house!

And for those of you wondering about my mise en place white dishes; they are plates I purchased years ago at the Pfaltzgraff outlet store.  They were originally made, as you can see from the picture below, as the meal plate for Delta Airlines, back when you got meals on a plane AND they came on a ceramic plate!

Delta Airlines food dish manufactured by Pfaltzgrapff

Delta Airlines food dish manufactured by Pfaltzgrapff

Posted in Chicken, Comfort food, Cooking, Entree, Family, Food, meat, Pasta | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Sunday Dinner

I don’t know why, but after I married Sunday dinner became a special event. Prior to becoming a married woman I was in college and “Sunday Dinner” most often consisted of soup cooked in a pot designed to boil water.  When I married I wanted to make our Sunday Dinners something that took a little more time and effort than usual supper fare.

As a newlywed I was a military wife and we didn’t have alot of disposable income but I wanted to prepare a meal that was worthy of candles and breaking out the good china – all two place settings.  Chicken was my go-to protein.  Not only was it inexpensive but you could really dress it up with sides and sauces.  As out family and income grew I started including pork and beef.  Most often it was a rump roast but with the proper cooking and the right sides it was something the family looked forward to sharing (including on one occasion our Lhasa Apso and Siamese cat who, working together managed to steal the roast from the counter and make a beeline for the basement to enjoy their spoils!)

Of all the Sunday dinners roast chicken remains my favorite.  This week whole chickens were on sale so we decided beer can chicken would be perfect for Sunday dinner.  Until Sunday.  Sunday dawned cold and windy.  The temperature hovered in the mid forties (F) and the wind was blowing at a steady 15 to 20 miles per hour with much stronger gusts.  Enthusiasm for beer can chicken blew out with the dust devils that were playing along the acequia. On to plan B – a whole roasted chicken.

I put the neck, gizzards and livers in a pot with some water and set it on low to simmer.  Boz and Zoey would be treated to the livers and the neck meat while I would use the resulting liquid for my gravy.

I rubbed the interior with salt, pepper and some julienned fresh sage.  I peeled four large carrots and cut them in half lengthwise.  The carrots went into a lightly oiled baking pan.  They would act as a rack to keep the chicken elevated enough to allow the skin to crisp up all the way around and, after roasting with all that chicken juice, would be our vegetable for that evening.    Mashed potatoes (what else!) would round out the dinner.

When the oven temperature reached 425 degrees F I put the bird (a little over 5 lbs. Whatever happened to the three pound chicken!)  in to cook for 90 minutes.   As the time slipped past the kitchen began to take on the mouthwatering smell of roasted bird.

After 90 minuted I checked the bird and it was ready to come out and rest while I made the gravy and mashed the potatoes.  George set the table, opened a bottle of wine and we were ready to eat.

While I didn’t get out the good china or light candles it was still a special Sunday Dinner.  The tradition continues.

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