Category Archives: Main Dish

Fusilli with Roasted Asparagus/Piquillo Peppers

When tasty and easy-to-make intersect, it’s a win-win. This is a simple recipe with simple ingredients that makes a satisfying main dish without being heavy. Okay, enough hyperbole Poppy, let’s get to it.


Ingredients: 

  • 3/4 pound of Fusilli pasta (feeds 3-4)
  • bunch of asparagus
  • roasted piquillo peppers (more about this later)
  • 1 stick of unsalted butter
  • 1 1/2 cups of fresh grated Parmesan cheese
  • Coarse ground black pepper to taste (lots)
  • 1 tbsp. sea salt

Preheat your oven to 425° in preparation for roasting the asparagus. When choosing asparagus for roasting, I look for shoots that are about the diameter of my little finger. If it’s much thinner, lower the temperature or reduce the roasting time. If it’s much thicker, don’t buy it and plan something else for dinner.

Snap off the tough ends and cut the asparagus into 1 inch sections, leaving the tips longer. Toss in a little EVOO and spread on a foil lined baking sheet. Roast for 25 minutes.

While the asparagus is roasting, start your water boiling for the pasta, add the salt to the water. You should also have enough time while the roasting is happening to grate your cheese, cut the stick of butter into 8 or so smaller chunks (chunks is a very technical term). I struggle with timing everything, so to keep it simple, I usually wait until the asparagus is done roasting before adding the pasta to the boiling water.

Roasted piquillo peppers. I love these guys … they are one of Poppy’s “secret ingredients.” I have no idea where you might find them fresh, so I’m quite content to buy them canned. This is the variety I use.

For this recipe, I cut three of the peppers into 1/2″ squares. There is so much to like about these peppers. They are not hot, but sweet. The roasting or grilling adds a delightful smoky flavor to their sweetness. I use them in salads, antipasto, add them to fresh corn, and of course, pasta. Their smokey sweetness contrasts nicely to strong flavors like feta cheese or bacon, plus they add a great pop of red to any dish. Okay, back to the recipe at hand.

After the pasta has cooked (about 9 minutes), drain the pasta, but reserve 1 cup of the pasta water. Set the pasta aside and return the remaining pasta water back to the stove-top on medium heat. Stir in the butter a few chunks at a time, until it has blended with the pasta water. Add one cup of the Parmesan cheese, bit by bit, stirring constantly until the mixture is well blended. If you are going to splurge on anything for this recipe, treat yourself to a high quality, well aged wedge of Parmesan and hand grate it. You will tell the difference.

Add the pasta back to the mixture along with the roasted asparagus and piquillo peppers. Stir and simmer for a minute before serving. Top with the remaining cheese, a couple of tablespoons of the pasta water-butter-cheese mixture and a very generous grind of coarse black pepper.

Enjoy!

I think this would also be good with roasted tomatoes instead of the asparagus and peppers. It’s on my list of things to try.

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Tuesday Night Dinner with Poppy, No. 1

dinner

Some nights you just need to cook! Not that it had been a bad day at all, but we had take-out last night and I was in the mood to cook. In the spirit of full disclosure, Mrs. Poppy was out having dinner with some friends. It was just me and daughter #1. Okay, let’s be honest, maybe the gauntlet has been thrown down. I wanted to create a meal on a limited budget from Ferguson’s Shop N’ Save that was equal to the upscale dinner Mrs. Poppy was enjoying. (Somehow I feel much better now.)

Spinach and Ricotta Ravioli from the refrigerated section ($4.29), Asparagus ($4.23), Sweet Potato ($.99). The block of Parmesan cheese I had on hand, along with the Marinara sauce. {sidebar- If you’re buying prepared pasta sauces, look for the ones with the fewest ingredients, the one I used contained only tomatoes, EVOO, Onion, Garlic, and Basil}.

ingerdiants

Sometimes it’s the Beatles, Dave Brubeck, Jimi Hendricks, Doc Watson or Jack Johnson. Tonight was a Dylan night. I guess it’s possible to cook without music and an adult beverage, I just haven’t tested that theory.

Roasting the sweet potatoes was the most time-consuming part of this dinner. I preheated the oven to 400°, and commenced to peeling the potatoes, cutting them into 3/4″ thick pieces then quartering. Tossed them in EVOO and started roasting on a foil-lined baking sheet. After 20 minutes, I flipped them over and sprinkled on a bit of Cajun seasoning.

sweettaters

The asparagus was very thin, ruling out roasting. I decided to just grill it on a grooved cast iron pan. Before tossing it into the pan, I coated it with EVOO in the same bowl I used for the sweet potatoes. I prepared a simple sauce for the asparagus, using just a couple of tablespoons of butter along with a couple cloves of garlic, pushed through a garlic press. That mixture was heated in the microwave until the butter melted and the garlic got to know each other.

asp

From there it was just a matter of assembly, the ravioli only took a few minutes to cook.

If for some reason you’re under the impression that Poppy is some sort of sophisticate, let me put you at ease. The parmesan cheese was grated into a plastic Mickey Mouse themed bowl, courtesy of my grandkids.

mickey

 

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Poppy’s Go-To Sandwich

poppyssandwich

I was going to title this post: “Poppy’s Go-To Garlic-Herb Chicken Breast with Sliced Avocado, Tomato, Provolone Cheese and Spicy Mayo on Sweet Onion Bun Sandwich”, but it wouldn’t fit.

Listing the ingredients at this point seems a little like the Department of Redundancy Department, but here goes.


Ingredients (per sandwich): 

  • Sweet Onion Bun
  • Deli Garlic-Herb Chicken Breast (Poppy likes a hearty sandwich, so I use about .2 lb to .25 lb per sandwich)
  • Sliced Avocado
  • Sliced Tomato
  • Slice of provolone cheese
  • Spicy mayo (I either use commercially prepared chipotle mayo or more commonly, make my own with a couple tablespoons of real mayo and a few dashes of Frank’s hot sauce)

Slice the buns in half then pop them in the toaster on a very low setting. I assemble all the stacks of chicken breast I need for the sandwiches on a large china plate, then top with a slice of cheese, before popping them into the microwave, just long enough to soften the cheese and warm the meat.

Then it’s just a matter of assembly, slide the stack of warm chicken breast and cheese on the bottom bun, top with the avocado and tomato, spread the mayo … enjoy!

Shown with roasted Yukon Gold and sweet potatoes, zucchini and sweet onion chunks.

 

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Poppy’s Honest Burger

HonestBurger1

Buckle in … somewhere in with a great bar story and some musing is a recipe.

Is there any food more American? The hot dog, apple pie … forget about it. The burger is debated, ranked, written about and fought over. Fast food empires have been built on the humble hamburger.

I was tempted to call this “Poppy’s All-American Burger.” But that seems a little pretentious and my glass-half-full personality wants to believe, despite the current crop of politicians, that there is still honesty to be had in this great country.

It seems so simple, right? It’s a slab of ground beef between a bun … how hard can it be?

Until recently, I made it hard, I added spices, secret sauces, an egg to bind everything together. I cooked them here, I cooked them there. Were they edible? Yes. Was it a great burger? No.

It got so bad my family steered me away from making, as they called them, “homemade burgers.”

At that point my pride kicked in. I experimented, I researched, and most importantly I thought about the places that served up good burgers.


My favorite bar story…

There was a bar and grill in my hometown of Ferguson, Missouri (yes that Ferguson) that served up a great burger. This was not a fern bar. There was nothing trendy going on here, the regulars were unpretentious, the drinks were strong, the décor was “early attic”, it got cleaned once a month whether it needed it or not, and it delivered great burgers.

The lady that worked the day shift (Let’s call her Brenda) tended bar and did a little cooking as the need arose. At the end of her shift she moved from one side of the bar to the other. She ceased being an employee and became a customer. This coincided with the time I would normally stop by to get some take-out burgers for the family.

I honestly couldn’t say how old Brenda was, but I could say with conviction, she had not had an easy life.

I was seated a few stools down from Brenda where she was regaling the regulars with a story of her abusive ex. She related the time he pushed her up against a wall, thrust the barrel of a pistol up against her forehead and pulled the trigger. Brenda was still with us, so either the pistol was unloaded or it misfired.

She paused for a moment, bringing back the memories of that day, then said quite calmly, “you know … the funny thing is, that was the same gun I shot him with.”

My to-go order arrived about that time and I left with some good burgers and an even better bar story.

That bar eventually got bought out and cleaned up. The menu was expanded and food prep efficiencies were put into place. Unfortunately, the quality of the burgers suffered. The bar had an old-fashioned walk-in freezer some distance from the kitchen. With the old bar, when more burgers were called for you would see one of the kitchen staff walk by with a platter containing a mound of ground beef. The burgers were formed by hand, the shape and even the size varied, but they were always good.

Today the burgers are cooked from pre-formed patties … they are consistent in shape, they are consistent in size, unfortunately they are not as tasty. Aaahh progress.


Ok enough reminiscing Poppy … out with the recipe!

Here is what I have learned. As with most things in life, the simpler the better.

Start with ground chuck, it has the right mixture of meat to fat. We don’t like to talk about fat these days, but without it your beef would be dry and tasteless.

Unless you have a commercial grade griddle like that old bar in Ferguson, you are going to need a good cast iron skillet.  I don’t try to fit more than two burgers in a skillet. I have two cast iron skillets, but if you just have one don’t despair. Done Poppy’s way these guys cook up so fast you can rotate burgers in and out of one skillet and keep everyone happy.

Speaking of fast make sure your beer is cold and your side dishes are ready to go because these burgers are done in minutes.

The trick here is heat and nothing delivers heat better than cast iron.

Coat your skillet with a thin layer of vegetable oil or any oil with a high smoke point, not butter. Then crank your burner up to high and turn on your exhaust fan.

I usually go for 1/3 pound burgers and create a simple ball of ground chuck in that size.

When your skillet starts to smoke drop those balls of ground chuck in and immediately flatten with a good sturdy metal spatula. I know this goes against many theories of burger cooking but give it a try!

When you see the browning start to creep up the sides of the patties flip them over. Even though you have oiled the skillet you may have to use a little force here.

As soon as the patties are flipped, sprinkle them with a 50/50 mixture of salt and coarse ground pepper. Nothing fancy here, just simple and honest.

At that point add cheese if desired. I use a slice of provolone and a slice of medium cheddar, but let your tastes be your guide.

Because cast iron retains heat so well, I go ahead and turn off the burners. When the cheese has softened, transfer them to the buns and let them rest for a couple of minutes. Add your condiments of choice and enjoy!

(Spend the extra buck and buy some good buns)

… shown with roasted potatoes, sweet onions and zucchini.

(and don’t forget the exhaust fan)

Enjoy!

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Roasted Tomatoes with Mozzarella, Bacon on Linguine

RoastedTomatoMozze

We just set our clocks forward, spring training baseball is finally here and the Catholic church next to our home is holding Lenten fish fries … all harbingers of spring in my book and I can’t wait! Maybe that’s why I was jonesing for some homegrown tomatoes as I was wandering around the produce section of our local grocery store. Of course there were none to be had so I grabbed the closest thing I could find … tomatoes packaged with the vines still intact … it may just be a marketing ploy, but it worked on me.

Tomatos

Now that I had them, what to do next? To avoid the potential disappointment of serving them raw and having them taste nothing like the home-grown varieties I was longing for … I decided to roast them. You really can’t go wrong with roasting vegetables.

I completed my rounds through the grocery store and grabbed everything I thought would go well with the roasted tomatoes that were running through my brain … fresh mozzarella, bacon, linguine, capers, garlic … check-check-check. Am I the only one that goes into the grocery store without a plan and aimlessly wanders around until I come up with an idea? I hope not!

After getting home I sliced the tomatoes in half around their equator and cut out just a bit out of the center. They got popped in the oven on a foil wrapped (and generously oiled) baking sheet. Along with them went the bacon also on a foil wrapped baking sheet. A co-worker clued me in on baking bacon and it’s the best … cooks evenly and when you’re done simply remove the foil and place your clean baking sheet back in the cabinet. In this case the oven was set to 385° on convection mode … your mileage and cooking times may vary. The bacon finished long before the tomatoes, so I removed it, transferred the strips to dry on some paper towels and scooped up a couple of teaspoons of bacon drippings before I pitched the foil. The bacon drippings were added to a skillet along with 3 tbsp. of butter, 2 tbsp of EVOO, 3-4 tsp of capers and 4 large cloves of garlic that had been finely chopped. This mixture was simmered on low heat until the garlic started to brown.

While this is going on the tomatoes are still merrily roasting in the oven, after about 35-40 minutes I removed them for the next stage. Slice the ball of mozzarella into ¼ thick slices and place on top of the partially roasted tomatoes. If necessary trim the cheese slices so they don’t hang too far over the sides of the tomatoes. Top the mozzarella with bacon pieces and place back in the oven.

TomatosBacon

Ready to go back in the oven!

 

The linguine is going to take 9-10 minutes to cook, so start that after the tomatoes have been in the oven an additional 5 or so minutes. At this point switch your oven to broil to get that nice slightly browned finish to the cheese. Once the cheese achieves that state, turn off the oven but leave the tomatoes in until everything else is ready. Drain the linguine and toss in the skillet with you butter-garlic-caper sauce and top with a generous grind of coarse black pepper. Place the roasted tomatoes on top of the pasta along with a sprinkle of fresh or dried parsley.

I was preparing this for 4 servings so I used about 12 ozs. of pasta, obviously if you need more or less servings, everything else scales accordingly.

My families input afterwards … more tomatoes, less pasta … I will keep that in mind because we will be doing this again!

Another roasted tomato recipe

 

 

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Rotisserie Chicken Enchiladas

ChickenEnchilladas

This qualifies for one of Poppy’s “Holy Trinity of Cooking” awards.

EasyTastyHealthy

Do winning lotto tickets magically appear when you cut into this warm, spicy and delicious meal … NO … but it is easy, tasty and healthy … (don’t get greedy)!

Difficulty: You won’t break a sweat (unless you make it too spicy)!

Ingredients: 

  • (1) rotisserie chicken
  • flour tortillas (taco size)
  • (1) large sweet onion
  • (1) green bell pepper
  • salsa (medium heat)
  • 10 ozs. enchilada sauce (mild heat)
  • grated cheese (mild cheddar or mexican blend)
  • coarse ground black pepper
  • soy sauce based steak sauce (Dale’s or similar)

Warm the oven to 375°

Cut the onion and green pepper into long strips and start sautéing on medium-medium low heat in a tbsp. of butter and equal amount of EVOO. Stir periodically until the onions start to turn translucent. Add 2 tbsp of Dale’s steak sauce or similar soy based steak sauce. Add a very generous grind of coarse black pepper, stir, remove from heat and set aside. This part of the prep will take about 10 minutes … while the onions and peppers are sautéing, make yourself useful and start pulling the meat off the rotisserie chicken.

OnionsPepper2

Now we are ready to start the enchilada assembly line. If you want to start playing Harry Belafonte’s “Jump in the Line” it would be totally appropriate. I usually microwave the tortillas while they are still in their plastic bag for 15-30 seconds just to warm and soften them up for this step. Then it’s just a matter of making a line of chicken meat, 2 tbsp. of salsa, couple pinches of shredded cheese and a row of the onion-pepper mix … fold the sides over enough to trap the ingredients then roll those babies up.

ReadyToRoll

Place the seam-side down in an oiled, deep-sided, oven-proof skillet. I can usually fit 7-8 in the skillet. Pour on the enchilada sauce, making sure to coat them all. Then add a ridge of shredded cheese on top of each enchilada. Pop in the oven for about 20 minutes or until you see the sauce bubbling … remove, let cool for a few minutes and prepare yourself for the compliments you are about to receive for this “easy-tasty-healthy” dish!

You sharp-eyed readers have probably noticed the pot of beans in the background of the feature photo. This the perfect side for the enchiladas. I almost wish I could find a way to make this sound very complicated … I’m afraid of losing my food-bloggers license if I just tell you to open a couple of cans and heat the mixture, but there is not much more to it than that and it doesn’t really need complicating.

OK, if you have your can openers at ready, let’s do this … drumroll … open a can of black beans (pinto if you prefer), drain but don’t rinse, place in saucepan. Open a can of refried beans, add those to the saucepan along with a scant tsp. of diced garlic and a tbsp. of the steak sauce … heat until warm … top with a pinch of shredded cheese.

PintEnchiladas

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Strati de Jardin, (Garden Layers), aka “Layered Veggie Thingy”

Finished Veggie Dish

On the afternoon of a predicted winter advisory I did what everyone else in the Midwest seems to do when there is a threat of bad weather … run to the grocery to buy stuff I don’t need, but could need if things get really bad. Among the items I purchased, an assortment of pasta, cheeses and a 3 1/2 pound bottom round roast.  Perhaps it was that nice big chunk of red meat that guilted me into doing something with vegetables.

I remembered seeing a recipe recently that had layered some baked vegetables with roasted beefsteak tomatoes on top. Now the odds of me finding some homegrown beefsteak tomatoes in February at my present location were about as likely as me picking some winning lottery numbers, but it got me thinking. So I set out to procure enough vegetables to create  Poppy’s “Layered Veggie Thingy”. The sweet onions were on sale, grabbed some … potatoes seemed hearty, tossed in a bag of golden potatoes … zucchini and yellow squash looked a little pathetic, but I snatched 2 of each anyway … eggplant, no brainer, as close to meat as you can get in the veggie world … and while I couldn’t score any beefsteak tomatoes, I grabbed the biggest tomatoes I could find in February at the local grocery. Knowing my family as I do,  a 100% pure veggie main dish might be a hard sell, so I added a package of fresh Mozzarella cheese to the collection. Continue reading

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