Broccoli Mac and Cheese

NOTE: While I haven’t had a chance to blog, I have still been cooking and photographing my meals. Most of these meals were made last week and I am just now getting around to sharing them with you!

I am not a huge fan of leftovers.  In fact, there are very few things I will eat leftover – soup and pasta being two exceptions.  Thankfully the hubby is a HUGE fan of leftovers, but when he goes out of town and there is food in my fridge, I have to find a way to use it up.  I hate food waste!  I have no problem repurposing leftovers.  If I can create something new out of them, I am more than happy to eat them.

I ended up with some broccoli and mac and cheese left over after our ham dinner.  I put the mac and cheese in a pot, added a splash of milk and turned the flame to low.  Once it started heating up, I chopped the leftover broccoli and added it to the pot.  A nice generous pour of buffalo wing sauce and ta da – Dinner for one!

broccoli mac and cheese

Tasty, filling, healthy, and just a bit spicy – all in all, a really good mid winter dinner!

Minestrone

The hubby and I are both soup lovers and whenever I have a day off from Fall until early Spring, you can usually find a pot of soup on the stove.

I ended up being off on Sunday, because the event that was SUPPOSED to take place was postponed so that the attendees could all stay home and watch the Eagles in the Super Bowl.  Gotta love a town that puts football before all else! Anyway, the weather was yucky, snow, followed by sleet, and I decided we needed a warm, comforting bowl of soup.

One of the things I love about soup is that you can add a ton more veggies than the recipe calls for and no one (OK, in this house, my husband) is none the wiser!  I will get that man to eat more veggies if it is the last thing I do….

minestrone

Since we just came off a month of vegetarian meals, I decided not to torture him with a vegetarian soup, so I added a pound of ground hot italian sausage to the soup pot.

sausage

I started by sauteing my mirepoix (diced onion, carrot, and celery) in the stock pot.  I added a bit of salt, pepper, and oregano and let that cook for about 10 minutes while I finished prepping the rest of the vegetables.   I diced up two zucchini and a pound of green beans.  I minced four cloves of garlic.  One the onions, carrots, celery were tender, I added the garlic and four cups of chicken broth.  I brought the broth to boil, turned it down to a simmer and let it cook for twenty minutes.  I added in a 28 oz can of diced tomatoes, the zucchini and green beans, along with a can of drained and rinsed kidney beans and a can of drained and rinsed white beans.  In went the browned sausage and another four cups of broth.

After simmering on the stove for an hour, I added four cups of fresh spinach.  While the spinach cooked down, I cooked a box of orecchiette pasta.  I added pasta to the bottom of our bowls and added a ladle of soup.  Perfect mid winter meal, if I do say so myself!  AND it will give me lunch for a few days this week.

Thank goodness for Ham Steaks

What is it about traffic on Friday afternoons?  Goodness gracious – it takes me FOREVER to get home on Fridays.  Sigh….anyway, the  hubby was home from his business trip and I knew I would need a quick dinner that didn’t involve me dialing the local pizzeria.

I swung by the store and picked up two ham slices.   Easy, simple, and tasty!

ham

I have been putting in quite a few hours this past week.  The spring semester is ALWAYS more intense than the fall when it comes to events and once again, I am a department of one. My assistant, Anna, is moving to Italy to teach English.  I am so excited (and really jealous!) for her, this is an amazing opportunity and it is exactly what you should do when you are in your early twenties.  She friended me on Facebook so I can follow her Italian adventures, but for me, it means a lot more hours until I can get someone hired and trained.

Dinners over the next month or so will need to be quick and easy, unless I find myself with an unexpected day off.   I don’t know why, but ham slices always make me crave mac and cheese.  The hubby was beyond thrilled with my choice of starch.  I did try to pair it with something healthy and green, hence the broccoli.   This is one of my go to, easy dinners.  While the pasta cooks, I whip up a simple cheese sauce, then combine the two and slide the dish into the oven for about 15 minutes.  While that is cooking, I pan fry the ham and steam the broccoli.  Dinner is on the table about 40 minutes after I walk in the door.

I usually start the water to boil, then run up and change clothes.  By the time I get back to the kitchen, I am ready to prep the broccoli and make the cheese sauce.

Once everything is under way, I set the table, pour myself a glass of something good and in no time at all, we have dinner. Speaking of something good – in the summer, I made a batch of brandied cherries – I used them and a bit of the sweetened brandy to make a very simple Manhattan to have with dinner.  Delicious and exactly what I needed after an incredibly long week!

manhattan

Chicken, it’s what’s for dinner

I decided not to give into my craving for steak and instead broke my vegetarian diet with a simple roast chicken dinner.

chicken

Super simple, easy dinner.  I seasoned the boneless, skinless chicken breasts before browning them in a cast iron skillet.  After flipping them, I slide them in the oven to finish cooking.

I paired the chicken with oven roasted potatoes and crispy green beans.   I can’t tell you how happy I am to be eating meat again.   Vegetarian dishes are awesome, but I really, really missed animal protein for dinner!

As I said before, I loved the opportunity to flex my creative culinary muscles by going vegetarian for the month of January.  I came away with a bunch of new dishes, a few new flavor combinations, and a new respect for my vegetarian friends.  I never thought I would have a nice thing to say about the dreary month of February, but this year, so far, it is my favorite month!

It wasn’t as hard as I expected

To get through the month of January without meat, sweets, or alcohol.  Honestly, I expected to miss having a glass of wine at the end of a long week, but it was meat that I missed the most.  I have always wondered if I could ever be a full time vegetarian, since I eat vegetarian meals quite a bit when the hubby travels.  This month proved to me, that yes, it is possible, but it wouldn’t make me happy.

This was a great experiment, it gave me a bunch of new recipes that we can use during Lent.  It was reinforced for me that I DO HAVE incredible will power.  I feel healthier, the scale certainly agrees that this has been a  worthwhile endeavor.  Will I try this again next year, probably.  Although the hubby is lobbying for February….well…until I mentioned that he wouldn’t be able to have a beer during the Super Bowl.  He is rethinking that plan as we speak.

Will we still eat vegetarian meals, you bet!  Will I have an easier time convincing the husband that it is OK to eat vegetarian once a week, maybe.  It was nice to step outside our normal, to stretch my creative muscle to find dinners that would satisfy us both AND still be vegetarian.  Sometimes you need to try something new to truly appreciate the everyday.

To finish out the month, I made a batch of broccoli cheddar soup to have for lunch – it was AWESOME. Thankfully, the hubby has never objected to a vegetarian soup…of course, he prefers to have a meat sandwich alongside!

broc cheddar soup

The end is here!

Well folks, we made it, the end of January, without alcohol, meat, or sweets!   Of course the hubby couldn’t stick with the whole dry January thing, but he did forgo meat and sweets.  I don’t think it would have been possible for him without the option of seafood, but hey, whatever works, right!?

mexican style stuffed peppers

Our “last” vegetarian meal of January 2018 was Mexican style stuffed peppers.  I cooked up a batch of rice and added a can of black beans, a jar of salsa, a bag of corn, shredded cheddar cheese, sauteed zucchini and onions, and some minced jalapeno’s.   I steamed the peppers, then filled them with the rice mixture.

I whisked together 6 oz of white wine and a large can of enchilada sauce and poured it around the peppers.  I covered the dish with foil and baked it at 375 degrees for 40 minutes.  I took off the foil, and let it cook another 15 minutes.  Originally, I was going to add some more shredded cheese to the top of the peppers, but I decided against it.  We certainly didn’t need the added fat or calories in this dish.

They were really good, in fact, the hubby is interested in having them again…..if I add some ground beef to the mix, of course!

Risotto with Asparagus

Back in the beginning of January, I made a big batch of parmesan broth.  I portioned it out into four cup servings and froze it.   It was the perfect base for risotto!   I knew risotto for dinner was not an option for the hubby, he needs (or THINKS he needs) more sustenance than that so for him, I baked a piece of Salmon to accompany the risotto.

salmon risotto

I rounded out dinner with a store bought kale salad mix.   The plate looked so pretty, almost to pretty to eat!

I find making risotto to be relaxing, I know that isn’t the case for everyone.   It truly is easy to make and doesn’t take that long to prepare.  Truly, about thirty minutes, start to finish and you can add some many different vegetables to change the flavor profile.

For this batch, I roasted the asparagus, then cut it into bit sized piece.  While it was roasting, I minced a bit of onion and sauteed it in some olive oil.  Once the onion was soft, I added the rice, stirring to coat it with the oil.  I let that cook for a few minutes before deglazing the pan with white wine.  Once the wine was reduced, I started ladeling in the parmesan broth.   Risotto is usually a 5 to 1 ratio of liquid to rice.   For this batch, I wanted it extra creamy and luscious, so I used a total of 8 cups of liquid.  Four parmesan broth and four vegetable broth.  Once the rice was tender, I added in some grated parmesan cheese and the asparagus.  It was DELICIOUS! If I do say so myself.