Friday, September 9, 2011

How NOT to cook chicken

I found this really awesome recipe where you bread chicken breasts with sour cream and onion chips and then pan fry it. It sounded really really good and I was feeling adventurous so I decided to try it.

As you can tell from the picture above, it ended poorly, with the smoke alarm going off, oil burns on my hand, and disgusting blackened chicken. This post will detail what I did so that you don't do the same thing.

Stuff you shouldn't obtain:
Chicken breasts (4)
1 Tablespoon parsley flakes
1 egg
2 teaspoons Worcestershire Sauce
2 Tablespoons vegetable oil
4 cups sour cream and onion chips

Notes about ingredients:
Like an intelligent person, I didn't actually buy chicken breasts but chicken breast tenderloins, which are like chicken breasts cut up into slices. This might have contributed to the debacle that was this meal.

What you shouldn't do:
The plan was to crush the sour cream and onion chips and add parsley, dip the chicken breasts in the Worcester Sauce and egg combination, then in the chips and then pan fry the breasts for 10 minutes or so.

Everything was going well until I actually had to place the chicken in the pan. The potato chip covering blackened within about 30 seconds, the smoke alarm going off shortly afterwards. The conclusions my friends and I came up with was that one of the following went wrong:
- Too little oil in the pan
- Oil was too hot
- Cooked in the wrong kind of pan (how the heck you can cook something in a wrong kind of pan is beyond me, but my one friend was convinced of this)
- Chicken tenderloins is not the way to go

My conclusion? It's going to be a while before I try to pan fry anything. But the Zatarain's Rice Pilaf I made to accompany the chicken was amazingly tasty, even with forgetting to stir it while I was trying to salvage the chicken. Definitely recommended.

But What About My Money?:
This meal was the equivalent of taking the money I spent on the chicken and other parts and setting it on fire. It would have given me the same amount of food, and probably less smoke to fill up my apartment.

Final Grade: Incomplete
I think this could be a good recipe, if executed properly. Maybe I'll pull this out when I feel a little bit more comfortable with cooking with oil.

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Yummy Chicken Parmesan

I took a risk today and made something that I had never made before, and had never seen made. Despite being a new recipe, it was easy to make and turned out really well! I used the Easy Chicken Parmesan Recipe found here.

Stuff you should obtain:
4 chicken breasts
1 egg
1/2 cup milk
Bread Crumbs
Olive Oil
Slices of Mozzarella Cheese
16 oz Spaghetti Sauce
Parmesan Cheese

Notes about ingredients:
I created four chicken breasts by taking two large ones and slicing them in half. This also makes them less thick so they will cook faster and have a better likelihood of getting cooked through.

What you should do:
1) Preheat the stupid oven!
I am really bad about remembering to do this. 350 degrees. Do it.

2) Prepare ingredients!
Pour olive oil into a frying pan and begin to heat - the recipe calls for 2 tablespoons, but I found that I needed a bit more than that. Then take the egg and the milk and whisk them together in a bowl. Then pour some breadcrumbs onto a plate - I probably used a third of a cup, although I didn't measure and had some left over.

3) Prepare the chicken!
Dip the chicken breast in the egg/milk combo and then place into the breadcrumbs to coat it on both sides.

4) Cook the chicken!
Place the breadcrumb coated chicken into the frying pan. Cook about 3-4 minutes on both sides or until you decide the chicken is too brown to leave in any longer. After cooking, place into a casserole pan.

5) Prepare the rest!
Cover the chicken breasts with the slices of mozzarella cheese. Then pour spaghetti sauce over everything, using enough to make sure all the chicken is covered. Dump parmesan cheese on top, and if you want even more cheese (who doesn't?), add shredded mozzarella on top of that.

6) Bake!
Bake the chicken at 350 degrees for 25-30 minutes.

7) Enjoy!
Congratulations! You have made delicious chicken parmesan!

Leftover Capability:
I don't eat a lot and I also made steam fresh broccoli, so I only ate one of the chicken breasts, leaving 3 more for leftovers. That's definitely a lot of chicken for one!

But What About My Money?:
Boneless Chicken Breast$5.28
Bread Crumbs$1.05
Mozzarella Cheese$2.59
Spaghetti Sauce$2.00
Parmesan Cheese$3.29

Factoring in the leftover capability and this comes out to about $4.11 per meal - not too shabby and definitely cheaper than any chicken parmesan you would buy at a restaurant.

Final Grade: A+
I was amazed at how well this recipe turned out. The chicken was really tender and full of flavor. And it didn't require much work at all! I will definitely be making this again and recommend this recipe to anyone who likes a good meal.

Saturday, June 11, 2011

Delicious Spaghetti Pie

Spaghetti Pie - You might be thinking that it sounds a little strange, and that you'd never eat any kind of pie with spaghetti. Well, let me assure you, despite the odd name, this meal is tasty and is a nice spin on regular old pasta. It's a recipe that I copied off of an old index card from my mom - no idea where it originally came from, but as long as it tastes good, I don't really care!

Another note - I made a lot of stupid mistakes while making this recipe. I'll document them all so that you hopefully don't make the same.

Stuff you should obtain:
6 oz spaghetti
2 Tbsp butter
1/3 cup parmesan cheese
2 eggs - beaten
1 cup cottage cheese (8 oz)
1 lb ground beef
1/2 cup chopped onion
1/4 cup ground pepper
1 8oz can diced tomatoes
1 6oz can tomato paste
1 tsp sugar
1 tsp oregano
1/2 tsp garlic salt
1/2 cup mozzarella

Notes about ingredients: These are the ingredients that I copied off of the card - 1/4 cup of ground pepper seems like overkill, I just sprinkled some pepper into the meat. That amount really doesn't seem right, I don't think we've ever added that much in the history of this recipe. I'll have to see if I copied it wrong.
Also, I never measure cheese. I just pour on as much as I want to - that being said, 1/2 cup of mozzarella seems like it wouldn't really cover the entire pie. More is always better.
I also couldn't find an 8oz can of diced tomatoes - unfortunately that means I had to throw out the remainder from the larger can. So just be prepared to do so, unless you have a use for the extra 6oz of tomatoes.
There were a bazillion kinds of onion at the Martin's I shopped at. I used a yellow onion - no idea what the other kinds would taste like.

What you should do:
1) Preheat the stupid oven!
Yeah, I forgot to do this again. 350 degrees. Do it, or wait a painful 10 extra minutes for your food.

2) Cook the pasta!
My dad always told me to add a little olive oil to the boiling water so that the pasta doesn't stick together. Just don't add too much oil or you'll be waiting forever for your water to boil - I was done cooking the beef of this recipe before my water actually boiled. Multitasking fail.

3) Cook the beef!
Cook the ground beef with the chopped onion and pinch of pepper. If you're unsure how to properly chop an onion, I found this video where Gordon Ramsay tells you how to do it. Actually helped me a lot. A half cup of onion is probably about half of an onion - if you don't want to waste the rest of the onion you can chop the remainder and then put it in a freezer bag and in the freezer. That way, if you even need to cook something with chopped onion again you can just pull it out of the freezer.

Once the beef is done cooking, be sure to drain it! Luckily I didn't make that mistake again.

4) Make spaghetti "crust"!
Hopefully by now your pasta is done. Drain it and then add the butter, parmesan cheese and eggs into the hot noodles. I realize now that I forgot to add the butter in this step - if you happen to do that too, it doesn't make it taste bad, so don't worry! Once this mixture is properly stirred, line the pie plate with it. I try to make the spaghetti look like a pie crust of sorts and not just a huge lump of pasta on the bottom.

And now a general pro-tip. If you happen to spill something on a glass-top stove (like, spilling eggs while trying to mix them into the pasta... oops...), immediately douse it with water. It'll bubble and steam, and then you can hopefully wipe up whatever you spilled with a wet rag before it burns and crisps on the stovetop. I'm not sure if this is what you're "supposed" to do, but it definitely prevented me from having to explain to my roommate why there was crusty burnt egg on the burner when I was making a pasta dish.

5) Spread cottage cheese over the noodles!
Pretty self-explanatory step here.
This is the beginning of your pie!

6) Add tomato ingredients!
Add the diced tomatoes (undrained), tomato paste, sugar, oregano, and garlic salt to the beef. Stir it in the pan and make sure it's all heated. By now you should be smelling some really tasty food.

7) Add beef to pie plate!
Place the beef mixture on top of the pasta. Hopefully it's resembling a pie by now.

8) Cook the pie!
Bake the pie at 350 degrees for 20 minutes. Then sprinkle (or dump, in my case) the mozzarella cheese on top and melt. I also added some parmesan cheese on top as well - just because I could.

9) Eat!
The best spaghetti pie you'll ever have!

Leftover Capability:
Yet another casserole-type recipe where I'll get another two meals out of it. Definitely nice during the work week when I don't want to cook.

But What About My Money?:
Spaghetti (1 lb)$0.80
Grated parmesan cheese$3.29
Cottage cheese$2.15
1 lb ground beef (80%)$3.59
Yellow Onion$0.76
Diced tomatoes$0.67
Tomato paste$0.58
Garlic salt$1.59
Shredded mozzarella cheese$2.69

Add in the leftovers and this comes out to about $5.37 per meal. A little more expensive than the previous recipes I've profiled on here, but still cheaper than going out to eat.

Final Grade: A
Some problems with the execution of the recipe - more issues on my end than with the actual recipe. Regardless, the pie has really good flavors with not a lot of difficult ingredients.

Sunday, June 5, 2011

Awesome Mac & Cheese Casserole

This is one of my favorite recipes of all time, and that's not even hyperbole. It was one of the few I learned to make while I was still in high school - that means it's pretty easy. Its origin is from what looks to be "Cooking Light", although to me it's always been a page ripped out of some waiting room magazine. Wherever it comes from, it is some of the best cheese-laden pasta I've ever eaten.

Stuff you should obtain:

4 cups cooked macaroni (2 cups uncooked)
2 cups (8 oz) shredded cheddar cheese
1 cup cottage cheese
3/4 cup sour cream
1/2 cup milk
1 1/2 teaspoons margarine, melted
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 egg, beaten
Cooking spray
1/4 cup dry breadcrumbs
1 tablespoon margarine, melted
1/4 teaspoon paprika

Notes about ingredients:
You can use whatever pasta you have laying around (if you're a pasta whore like me, you have quite a bit). I wouldn't recommend longer noodles like spaghetti, more like rotini or penne if you want to stray from macaroni - I used rotini. I also never really measure it, and I think if you use larger size pasta you'll want to add more than two cups. I ended up using roughly half a box of a pound of rotini.
Also, I just realized as I transcribed the ingredients that I've been using too much margarine for as long as I've been making this casserole - for real, who measures margarine in teaspoons, not tablespoons? So if you happen to add 1.5 tablespoons instead, don't worry, it won't screw up the recipe. Might make the end result a little watery, but nothing too horrible

What you should do:
1) Prep work!
Yes, I'm making this a separate step because if you're anything like me, you'll forget to do at least one and maybe more of these: grease your casserole pan with cooking spray, preheat the oven to 350 degrees, and start the water to boil the pasta. Today I forgot to preheat the oven and proceeded to wait an excruciatingly long 10 minutes for the oven to heat up after I had finished everything else.

2) Add delicious ingredients!
Now you pretty much add everything on the list to the bowl of your choice. If you're really lazy and don't want to clean another dish, you can add it straight to the casserole dish and mix it there. (I don't judge laziness, this is what I did.) So add the cheddar cheese, cottage cheese, sour cream, milk, the 1.5 teaspoons margarine, salt, egg, and once it's done cooking, the pasta. Mix it well so that the cheese mixture coats the cooked pasta.

At this point it's probably looking a little like cheesy pasta covered slop. Don't worry, that's what it's supposed to look like.

Yes, this will cook into something delicious. Trust me.

3) Make the topping!
Now mix the 1 tablespoon of margarine, breadcrumbs and paprika and sprinkle the resulting crumbly mixture on top of the pasta.

4) Bake it!
Cover the casserole with tin foil and put in the 350 degree oven for 30 minutes.

5) Take out and eat!
Dig in to the best mac and cheese casserole ever!

Yes, I did already eat a slice out of it before this picture. I couldn't help myself.

Leftover Capability:
If I manage to have decent portions, I'll probably have two more meals out of this. That being said, it will probably be like 1.5 meals because I always eat more than normal with this mac & cheese.

But What About My Money?:
Shredded Cheese (8 oz)$2.50
Cottage Cheese$2.15
Sour Cream$1.19
Milk (half-gallon)$1.07

Factoring the leftovers, this comes out to about $3.62 per meal. The best part about the money factor is that besides the shredded cheese, I didn't actually use all of anything that I had bought - so the cost to make comes out to considerably less, and I now don't have to run to the store for every small ingredient.

Final Grade: A+
I love this recipe. Period. End of story. Not only is it delicious, it's also easy to make. And it's pasta covered in lots of cheese - how can you go wrong?

Monday, May 30, 2011

Tasty Marshmallow Treats

This actually documents the first time I made marshmallow treats at home, which is curious because I've always been of the opinion that homemade treats blow the boxed ones out of the water. The recipe I used I found here, and is really easy to prepare.

Stuff you should obtain:
1/2 bag of tiny marshmallows (technically I used 4.75 ounces, not like I weighed it or anything)
2.5 cups of cereal
2 tablespoons of margarine

Note about ingredients: I only had half a bag of marshmallows, so I scaled the ingredients in the recipe accordingly. I used margarine instead of butter - I don't think it really caused a difference. You can use whatever cereal you have laying around - I used Frosted Cheerios, which turned out nicely, but I'm sure there are lots of kinds that can make it tasty.

What you should do:

Before you begin:
I really recommend speed with this recipe. The marshmallow mix gets obnoxiously sticky real fast, and I'm not sure how successful you would be with mixing the cereal if you waited at all after taking it out of the microwave. So my tip? Make sure to measure out the cereal and be ready to mix. Also, make sure to grease the pan that you are putting the treats in - I would not want to try to carve out the food if you didn't.

1) Mix the butter and marshmallows!
Pretty obvious step here. Just be sure to choose a big enough bowl to fit the cereal that you'll mix in later.

2) Nuke it!
The recipe says to microwave the mixture 1-2 minutes, stirring every thirty seconds. I ended up cooking it for 1.5 minutes, taking it out when the marshmallow fluff was bubbling and thoroughly mixed. I have no idea if you can overcook this, I wouldn't want to find out.

3) Mix the cereal!
Upon taking out the bowl of marshmallow fluff, immediately stir in the cereal. Mine got really sticky really fast, so be prepared to have your hands stick to everything. I stopped mixing once it looked like the marshmallow covered everything decently, and I didn't feel like struggling to stir any more.

4) Place in the pan!
Just dump the cereal mixture in the pan. The recipe says to pack the mixture in with "the back of a buttered spoon", and I will tell you that that is great advice. Without it I definitely would have struggled to not have cereal pieces attached to everything except the pan at the end.

5) Refrigerate!
Place the pan in the fridge to set the marshmallow. I left it in for about 3 hours or so.

Cut into pieces and eat!
After the marshmallow has cooled and set, take the pan out and use a butter knife to cut into square pieces.

Now you're ready to eat and enjoy!

Leftover Capability:
This isn't really a meal, so you can't really have leftovers, but I got 6 good sized treats out of the half-recipe. You can probably get more if you do the full recipe and use a bigger pan/make thinner treats.

But What About My Money?:
Frosted Cheerios$3.41
Margarine (4 sticks)$1.89

I actually have no idea how much the marshmallows cost - they're leftovers from something else that my mom gave me. Considering how little cereal and margarine were used, I'd say that this recipe comes out to pretty cheap, especially considering the improved taste.

Final Grade: A
This was a great thing to slap together - I got rid of a bag of marshmallows that would probably have gone stale, and it didn't take much work at all. Not to mention, they taste really good and the recipe is easy to change - just insert whatever cereal you have laying around and you're off! I know I'm definitely going to make this one again.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Yumtastic Burritos

Starving? Of course you are. Want an easy meal? Of course you do. Craving Mexican? Great, because I've got a great recipe for simple tasty burritos.

Stuff you should obtain:

1 package ground beef (80% lean)
Shredded cheddar cheese
Sour cream
1 green bell pepper
1 package taco mix
Burrito-size tortillas

Notes about ingredients: The best thing about burritos is that you can put whatever sort of toppings you want on the tortilla to personalize your meal. Other options than the ones listed could be shredded lettuce, tomatoes, salsa, guacamole, etc.

What you should do:

1) Cut the bell pepper!
Unsure of what to do with it? Click here for nice pictures. I didn't quite cut it so thin as in those pictures, instead opting for more wider, squarish rectangles.

2) Cook the meat!
There are a few ways to cook the ground beef, I chose to do it in a frying pan. Essentially I just dumped the entire hunk of ground beef in the pan, which probably wasn't that great of an idea because the beef wasn't entirely thawed out. So essentially I spent my first few minutes cooking trying to hack at the semi-frozen meat with the stirring spoon to break it up so it could be cooked fully. I would advise ensuring that your meat is thawed. Or just being lazy and browning it in the microwave.

3) Prepare the taco mix!
After you get the beef browning appropriately (be sure to stir it around, making sure that all the pink meat gets against the hot pan at some point), follow the directions on the back of the taco mix - essentially just mix the packet with the right amount of water.

4) Drain the meat!
This step is important! I would know, I didn't do it and it made clean up a pain in the behind. See, if you don't drain the meat, the taco mix gets all gunky after you turn the burner off and it's a pain to clean off of the pan. And it also means there's going to be a lot of taco meat juice when you actually put the meat into the tortilla - a little too greasy.

5) Add the bell pepper and taco mix!
Adding the bell pepper now means that it gets the flavor of the taco mix and that it doesn't get really soggy. If you don't like your bell pepper on the crispy side, you could probably put it in earlier or simmer the meat for longer in the taco mix.

6) Prepare your tortilla!
As the meat simmers, you can get started on preparing your burrito. Fancy type people can put the tortilla on a plate and preheat it in the oven, so it's nice and warm.
I always put the sour cream on first, slathering it all over the tortilla. I think it makes it really nice and even, getting rid of that one bite of pure sour cream that you get if you put it on in a dollop.

7) Add the meat!
After the meat has simmered appropriately, turn off the burner (don't want to burn down the house, you know), and begin to spoon out the meat/pepper mix onto the burrito. Cover with cheese immediately so it gets melty with the warm meat.

8) Eat!
Om nom nom nom! Congratulations, you've made some tasty tasty burritos!

Leftover Capability:

I ate one burrito with this recipe, and probably will have enough meat for two more - that's three meals out of one evening of cooking! Of course, your leftover capability may vary, depending on how much beef you cooked, and how much you actually put on the tortilla.

But What About My Money?:
The following is the cost for each of the items I used in this meal (priced at a Martin's in West Virginia):
1 package ground beef 80% lean - 1.48 lb$4.87
8 oz pre-shredded cheddar cheese$3.25
16 oz light sour cream$1.19
Taco Mix$.89
Burrito-size tortillas (package of 8)$2.09
1 smallish green pepper$.69
With two leftover meals, that comes out to about $4.33 per meal. Of course, unless you really go to town, you probably won't use the entire container of sour cream or cheddar cheese, so it's probably a little cheaper than that. Getting regular cheese and then shredding it yourself may also be getting more bang for your buck.

Final Grade: A-
Minus some small glitches, this meal went pretty well and tasted excellent. Definitely something I'm going to do again.