Tag Archives: quick dinner ideas

Cheesy Rainbow Pasta Toss, Unicorns Not Included

Gentle Readers, The Practical Cook would tell you to lean in close for a confessional, but this one involves garlic. So don’t lean in too close. You see, when I am feeling less than 100%, I crave garlic. Perhaps it has healing powers, perhaps not, but there you have it. This Cheesy Pasta Toss is infused with garlic flavor and the colors of the rainbow. What could be more magically delicious?

Slice the garlic more medium than fine, and heat it up with the oil instead of adding it to hot oil.

Vampires Beware: Slice the garlic more medium than fine, and heat it up with the oil instead of adding it to hot oil.

Cheesy Rainbow Pasta Toss, More Garlic Than Unicorn

Do not be thrown by this seemingly long list. It’s everything you’ll need, and it’s simple. Pinkie swear. You’ll be eating in 20 minutes. (Or 23 minutes, as one mom informed me was the length of the average My Little Pony episode.)

1 package Wacky Mac in mixed shapes (use whatever pasta you’d like, this is what we used for color and interest)
1 Tablespoon butter
1 Tablespoon flour
~1 cup of milk
2 or 3 gratings of fresh nutmeg
salt and pepper to taste
1/2 cup shredded mozzarella, or to taste
1/4 cup grated Parmesan
healthy splash of olive oil (it’s actually part of the dish)
3 large cloves of garlic, sliced medium (not too thin, not minced)
a few cups of broccoli florets, don’t hold back, I used two big stalks of it
1 cup grape tomatoes, cut in half (don’t cheat here, you’ll want the juice to become part of the dish)
couple handfuls of baby spinach, wilted (I’ll explain this, hang on)
1/4 cup Italian parsley, roughly chopped

1. In a large pot, boil water for pasta. Add salt. Add the bag of pasta (I think it’s a pound.) Cook until al dente, about 8 minutes. Drain, return to original pot, set aside.

Cut the broccoli into bite-size pieces as well.

Cut the broccoli into bite-size pieces as well.

2. Meanwhile, in a small pan, melt butter and stir in flour over medium heat. Cook for a couple minutes, but don’t brown. You’ve just made a roux, good work. Whisk in the milk and the nutmeg. Cook on medium heat for a few minutes until milk is almost bubbling and mixture thickens. Take off heat, add cheese. Stir until smooth, season with salt and pepper to taste. You’ve just made poor man’s Bechamel, again, good job.

Poor man's bechamel.

Poor man's bechamel.

3. Also meanwhile, heat the olive oil AND garlic in a medium skillet over medium heat. Yes, you heard me. This technique will infuse the olive oil with garlic flavor and help prevent burning the garlic. When you can smell the garlic, and the oil is a little hot (but not smoking or burning or browning the garlic), toss in the broccoli, some salt and pepper to taste, and toss to coat. Steam/saute by covering with a lid and cooking for 7 minutes or so, or until your desired crispness.

Cheesy Rainbow Pasta Toss in the Toss Phase!

Cheesy Rainbow Pasta Toss in the Toss Phase! Use the pot's residual heat to help blend everything.

4. Add the cheese sauce to the pasta in the pasta pot. Stir/toss until coated. Add the garlicky broccoli when it’s done, and the tomatoes. Use the residual heat of the broccoli pan to wilt the baby spinach quickly, then toss it into the pasta too. Stir. Top with parsley. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Serve.

Cheese Rainbow Pasta Toss, Unicorns Not Included

Cheese Rainbow Pasta Toss, Unicorns Not Included

Great with bread and cheese plate. We also served sliced oranges for a nice bright contrast. You could squeeze lemon juice on top of the pasta for a different flavor profile. Very flexible.

Sliced oranges (shown with dried cranberries and bananas) make a great side dish for garlicky pasta.

Sliced oranges (shown with dried cranberries and bananas) make a great side dish for garlicky pasta.

This was a huge hit at Chez Practical Cook, as the Practical Cooks Junior requested it for lunchboxes this week. That is high praise indeed. It’s very garlicky, and interesting to eat: different colors and textures.

What’s in your pasta tosses these days? Are you a Wacky Mac fan? Post a comment below. It’s fun. Promise.

Send your Wacky Mac, queries, and food photos to practical cook at gmail dot com. Connect on Facebook: The Practical Cook Blog. (Thanks in advance for spreading The Practical Cook Blog word. Press “like” on Facebook today!)

Follow practicalcook on Twitter

Tomorrow, we cross the International Doughnut Line as the Deep Fried Ambassador Goes Global.

Leave a comment

Filed under On the Table, Punt!, Recipes

Pumpkin Pie Spice, Meet Delicata Squash

Gentle Readers, sometimes the simple things are the best. Let’s take the Delicata squash as an example, shall we? I love these because they’re easy to work with, quick in the microwave (don’t judge, if I had an hour to spare, I’d bake them I promise), and as delicately flavored as the name implies. The Eldest Practical Cook Junior loves them, and therein lies the problem.

Prize-Winning Delicata Squash

Prize-Winning Delicata Squash

Yes, now we’re at the point where if the Eldest likes something, the Youngest might not just because. (However, this included a disdain of Deep-Fried Oreos, so maybe it’s not all bad; gotta respect a lady with strong opinions. No idea, ahem, from whence that characteristic comes.) When in doubt, use marketing and trickery.

Pumpkin Pie Spiced Delicata Squash “Recipe”

File this under too easy to be a recipe, and here we go:

Delicata Squash, Brinkley Farms CSA Edition

Delicata Squash, Brinkley Farms CSA Edition

Microwave  1 or 2 Delicata squash that you’ve pricked repeatedly like a starving vampire (okay, maybe a couple of times) on a microwave-safe plate for 10 minutes total (5 a side). Set aside to let cool a minute.

Trader Joe's Pumpkin Pie Spice: With Cardamom and Lemon Peel, I Love This Stuff

Trader Joe's Pumpkin Pie Spice: With Cardamom and Lemon Peel, I Love This Stuff

Cut the squash in half and scoop and discard the seeds. Scoop the flesh (see, vampire) into a bowl. Season lightly with a sprinkle of salt and a pat of butter. Mash with a fork. If your child protests and won’t eat it, whip out Trader Joe’s Pumpkin Pie Spice (I found theirs to be top-notch, not sure why, but really good comparatively) and sprinkle less than a quarter teaspoon into the squash mash. Let the smell permeate the air. Add a dash of brown sugar, and serve.

Pumpkin Pie Spiced Delicata Squash Ater Being Attacked by Wild Dogs, or Rather, The Juniors

Pumpkin Pie Spiced Delicata Squash Ater Being Attacked by Wild Dogs, or Rather, The Juniors

It tastes like a lighter, more delicate fall pie, and it does in fact rock. The smell and the brown sugar sell this, along with the fact “pie” is in the spice’s name. Dinner is saved, the yellow/orange veg group is handled for the day, and dinner can resume. Excuse the photo, I can never seem to shoot it before it’s gone, or in shambles.

Do you have a secret weapon spice or spice blend in your cabinet? Do tell, just post a comment below. It’s painless and free of charge.

Questions, compliments, double-dog dares may be emailed to practical cook at gmail dot com. Connect on Facebook: The Practical Cook Blog. (Thanks in advance for spreading The Practical Cook Blog word. Press “like” on Facebook today!)

Follow practicalcook on Twitter

Tomorrow, join us for A Product Review: Trader Joe’s Brown Rice Medley, How I Love Thee. (Guess how the review ends.)

2 Comments

Filed under Can this supper be saved?, Punt!, Recipes

Braised Moroccan Chicken Recipe

Sometimes the Practical Cook gets a certain “flavor idea” stuck in her head. Whereas someone else might have a song or a scene from a movie, I often walk around with a craving for something very specific that I haven’t eaten before. As the chicken thighs were thawing in the fridge, my mind turned to a dish I made badly 10 years ago. It was time to take another swing at Braised Moroccan Chicken.

Braised Moroccan Chicken

Braised Moroccan Chicken

Braised Moroccan Chicken Recipe

For anyone who is a stickler, note that this recipe is vaguely Moroccan in theme, and makes no claims of authenticity. I can tell you that it’s simple, flavorful, and delicious. Watch the video for guidance in how to braise this dish!

1 Tablespoon olive oil
2 Tablespoons butter, divided
4 to 6 skin-on, bone-in chicken thighs patted dry
salt and pepper
1 to 2 teaspoons paprika
1/2 sweet onion, coarsely chopped
3 cloves garlic, peeled
1 or 2 lemons, washed and quartered
1 orange (blood, navel, orangey orange, whatever you’ve got), washed and quartered
~12 green olives (the standard stuffed grocery store kind works just fine)
orange juice or white wine or chicken stock or a combo

1. Put olive oil and 1 Tablespoon of the butter in a large deep skillet and heat over medium-high heat until butter is melted and foaming but not brown.

Brown the Chicken with the Onions

Brown the Chicken with the Onions

2. While skillet is heating, rub chicken with salt and pepper and paprika. When the skillet is ready, put the seasoned chicken thighs in skin-side down and brown, turning at least once, around 10 minutes total, adding onions after you’ve turned the chicken once.

Bloody Oranges!

Bloody Oranges!

3. When the chicken is browned and the onions are softened, add the garlic cloves to the pan. Ssqueeze the juice from the oranges and lemons (through a strainer if they’re seedy characters), then toss them into the pan. Add the olives. Finally, deglaze the pan with a measure of orange juice, wine, stock or a combo. (If you choose wine, make it a combo unless you want drunken thighs.) The amount will depend on how much sauce you like, how big your pan is, and how many thighs are in there. This isn’t soup, don’t fill the skillet.

Braise Does Not = Soup

Braise Does Not = Soup

4. Cover the pan and reduce the heat to a simmer. Simmer the chicken for 20 minutes or until a meat thermometer inserted into the thickest part (not touching bone) reads between 155 and 165 degrees. If you ignored my ingredients list and are using chicken breasts (which I hope are bone in and skin on), yank them out sooner.

5. When the chicken is cooked, remove and set on a plate to rest. Reduce the sauce a bit, then turn off the heat and add the final tablespoon of butter you probably thought I had forgotten about. Return the chicken to the pan, dunk it well, serve, preferably over couscous.

Braised Moroccan Chicken with Couscous, Tuscano Kale, and Beets

Braised Moroccan Chicken with Couscous, Tuscano Kale, and Beets

Feel free to garnish with chopped parsley for brightness and interest. Watch out for seeds, and don’t eat the now thoroughly cooked lemon/orange rinds.

Coming up tomorrow, the stunning conclusion to this meal, Moroccan French Toast. Believe me, you want to show up for this one.

Are you a braised chicken fan? How do you keep your poultry from being or becoming bored? Drop me a line at practical cook at gmail dot com.

Follow practicalcook on Twitter

1 Comment

Filed under Recipes