Friday, October 31, 2014

Happy Halloween!

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Super Easy Make At Home Lo Mein

We have a lot of quick to fix or easy meals these days, because there are a lot of nights when I'm not feeling up to preparing a full-on 3 or 4 course dinner. As it is in most small cities, the alternatives to preparing something myself, are generally either pizza or some other type of takeout or fast food.

We do have a couple of decent locally owned pizza joints and Chinese places that deliver and we do order from them probably more often than we should, but when it comes to the more popular franchises or chains, well... they're generally not our cup of tea. Now, I truly don't want to offend anyone who enjoys the type of food that you get from the globally popular "drive thru" giants, but with my health being what it is, I've had to really start doing some research and paying closer attention to what I consume. I live with an immune system that's pretty wonky... and I've learned that despite the revamping of many of their menus in recent years, the majority of these chains simply don't offer a whole lot of what I believe are healthy options for me.

That being said, I've found that there are lots of quality pre-cooked or prepared items, in most of the good sized local and national grocery stores these days & that more and more of these healthier options are hitting the shelves every day. I've used two specific prepared products in this recipe, that I believe are well made, nutritionally sound and healthy options for me and for my husband. (or for anyone else that I might have been serving this to)

The ingredients that I used made for a truly delicious dish, however, it's also a totally "customizable" recipe, in that substitutions can be made for several of the ingredients, to make the finished dish more to your own taste and/or dietary needs. Don't usually see sausage in Lo Mein, ya say? Well, I had it in the fridge. There's almost always pork in Lo Mein. I wanted to try it. And I could, so I did. Most importantly... It totally worked.

I've included the ingredient lists and nutritional facts for both the Kayem Artisan Sausage and the Wegmans Brand Sesame Garlic Sauce, at the end of this post.

So... On to the good stuff, eh?

Super Easy Make At Home Lo Mein
(This recipe serves 4 people as a main course)
  • 4 Links of Kayem Precooked Artisan Sausage, thinly sliced
  • 1 Cup Wegmans Brand Sesame Garlic Sauce
  • 1 Cup Water, Broth or Stock (I used Chicken Stock)
  • 2 Cups Assorted Vegetables, thinly sliced (I used Carrots & Green Peppers)
  • 1 Lb Cooked Noodles (I used leftover regular spaghetti)
  • Your Favorite Hot Sauce or Chili Flakes (optional)
  • Salt & Pepper or Other Seasoning (to taste/optional)

Note #1 I did not use any additional seasonings in my dish, because the bottled sauce and the sausage that I used were already perfectly seasoned. I didn't use hot sauce or chili flakes in the recipe either (I don't "do" spicy), but the Hubbers lovingly anointed his serving with his favorite go-to hot sauce for Asian style dishes - The beloved Sriracha!

Note #2 I think it's safe to assume that not everyone has these specific products available to them, so please feel free to use any pre-cooked meat that you prefer or have on hand, or you can certainly leave out the meat entirely and use an assortment of vegetables (of your choice) for a meatless or vegetarian Lo Mein. You can also substitute any type of Asian style bottled sauce that you have on hand, or you can make your own sauce if you already have a favorite recipe. I would recommend a sauce that had both toasted sesame oil and garlic in it for the best flavor.

1. Saute and lightly brown your sausage in a large non-stick skillet over medium high heat. These sausages are precooked, so that doesn't take long. You might have to use a little bit of light cooking oil if the meat you are using is very lean.

As you can see in the photo above this one, I sliced the sausage on the diagonal and also kept the slices relatively thin and of equal size. I cut the carrots the same way, for both aesthetic reasons and for even cooking time. The bell peppers are difficult to slice diagonally, but I did try to keep the strips as close in size as I could.

2. Add the carrots and continue to cook, stirring often for about 2 minutes. (If you haven't used cooking oil up to this point, you might want to add a tablespoon to the pan now, to keep the carrots from sticking or burning.)

3. Add in the bell pepper and continue to cook for another minute or two. You want the vegetables to be nice and hot, but still a little bit crisp. Mushy veggies in a stir-fry are not very appetizing. ;)

All of your ingredients should be equally heated through by now, but still nice and firm, so it's a good time to add in your liquids.

I tasted the sauce on it's own and decided that it was already very concentrated and a wee bit on the salty tasting side. It's not so much that the sauce itself had massive amounts of salt in it, but the Tamari and the vinegar in it, are naturally "salty tasting" ingredients. 

*Just a little tip... both of these ingredients on their own, are a great way to add some salty flavor to all kinds of dishes, without actually adding salt!

I made this recipe to serve only two people, so the measurements obviously look different in these photos. If you are making the full recipe, just go by the original amounts that I listed above in the ingredients section.

4. Pour 1 Cup of the sauce into a glass bowl or measuring cup. Add in 1 Cup of stock, broth or water and stir well to incorporate the two.

*Tip: If you are using water, you might want to add a bit of salt & pepper, maybe some onion and/or garlic powder, or even a bit of bullion if you have it on hand. The choice is yours. But, I would recommend tasting the mixture before deciding if you want to season it further. If you're using the Wegmans Brand, I doubt that you'll need any additional seasoning.

5. Pour in 1/2 of the liquid and stir to coat the eat and vegetables well. Cook this for about 2 minutes, or until you see the sauce just barely begin to thicken up a bit.

The Hubbs had cooked a full pound of spaghetti the night before, to finish up some red sauce with meatballs that we'd had 2 nights before. I'd just had 2 teeth extracted, so I was on soup rations for the night and that left me with just over half a pound of cooked pasta for this recipe.

6. Add your cooked noodles to the pan and using tongs or two large spoons, toss it very well with the rest of the ingredients making sure that all of the noodles are coated in the sauce.

Since my Hubby drizzled just a tiny bit of light olive oil on the spaghetti the night before, I had no trouble with any of it sticking together as it cooled in the fridge overnight. If your noodles are at all clumpy, you can rinse them under cold water to separate them, BUT, make sure to drain them very well before adding them to the pan. I might even blot them slightly with some clean paper towel, just to make sure.

7. Add in the rest of the sauce mixture and toss it all up again, until everything is nicely incorporated.

8. Allow everything to cook for another 2 to 4 minutes, so that the noodles get a chance to heat through all of the way and the sauce mixture thickens slightly and is absorbed into the noodles a bit. You'll want the finished Lo Mein to be a wee bit saucy, but not soupy. ;)

And there you have it! Very easy (and very quick) home made Lo Mein! As long as you have all of your prep work done ahead of time, this dish shouldn't take more than 7 to 10 minutes from the pan to the plate!


Would you like to know our opinion of the Kayem Artisan Sausage?

Right out of the gate, we both give it a major "thumbs up"! We used the Sweet Pepper and Provolone version and it was really quite delicious. It was very lean, but not at all dry. The seasoning was spot on, too. None of the flavors in it overpowered any of the others. The spice blends they use are extremely well balanced. A definite "recommend" from both of us!

Would you like to know our opinions about the Wegmans Brand Sesame Garlic Sauce?

Again, this product received a solid thumbs up from both of us! And that's quite an accomplishment, coming from me as well as the Hubbs. We're often a bit leary when it comes to bottled or prepared sauces because most that we've tried in the past have had a distinctive "processed" taste to them. It's like you can tell from the first taste that it's a mass produced food. But, this was not at all the case with the Wegmans sauce! Although, as I mentioned in the post above, it was highly concentrated straight from the bottle, the taste was fresh, bright and balanced and didn't leave us with that feeling that it might have been bottled in the same plant where they process bleach or some other chemical substance. You can taste each ingredient in it's own right and also appreciate the flavors when they were blended all together. It has a certain harmony, for lack of a better word.

In the spirit of full disclosure: This is NOT a sponsored post and I have NOT received any free products or any other compensation for the use of, or for writing about the products in this blog post. All of the opinions and observations stated regarding these products, are solely mine and/or that of my husband.

(I'm sure that neither the Kayem or Wegmans companies know that I, or my little blog even exist. LOL)

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Friday, October 3, 2014

Hubby's 5 Star Blue Ribbon Mac & Cheese

How many ways can you make macaroni and cheese? Well... When I put my mind to it, if you count everything from the slightest variations, to your major transformations, my guess would be somewhere in the millions. Yup. I said millions. It's only human nature to want to put your own little stamp on something that you're creating via (or as you'll often see used around the food blog world "adapted from") someone else's formula. Especially something that you're serving to your beloved family and friends.

I have a tried and true "go-to" macaroni and cheese recipe that I've used for many years, but I've also tried at least 30 different versions of the dish at one time or another. It's not that we haven't enjoyed most of the versions that I've made, or that my old standby recipe isn't a pretty decent one. I blame it on a lifetime of going to potlucks, friend's dinner parties or family cook-outs and trying someone else's mac & cheese and thinking in that particular moment, that it might just be better than mine. You know how it goes, you eat something that someone else has made, you love it, you ask them for the recipe and then can't wait to go home and make it yourself. The problem, however, is that in most cases (at least in my experience, anyway) it rarely ever comes out tasting quite the same way that you remembered it.

Now, I have a theory about that and I'm not pointing an accusatory finger at anyone in particular, but I often wonder if the person giving you their "secret" recipe, might just be deliberately leaving one important little ingredient out. Maybe even two. And no... I don't do that. EVER. If I have a recipe that someone really wants, I just give it to them in its entirety. That being said, depending on the person asking, I do sometimes add just a teeny little disclaimer when I write it down for them. I simply state that I won't be held responsible for any kind of substitutions or changes that they choose to make. (you know who you are...) I think that's only fair, don't you?

So, as I mentioned earlier, the Hubbers has always been pretty happy with most of the variations that I've tried, with a few exceptions here and there. But this particular version was like no other mac & cheese that either of us had ever tasted before. And I mean that in a totally "knock your socks off" kinda way. The most incredible thing about it is that it doesn't have any bacon, or lobster, or white truffle oil in it. It was truly a happy accident. And, I simply can't take full credit for "recipe development" on this one, either. I have to share that distinction with, um, my refrigerator. Yeah... I guess I should explain that one, eh?

It happened on one of those nights where 1) you just know that you're not even thinking about entertaining the idea of going out to the store to buy a certain ingredient and 2) your brain kicks into gear and you start thinking, "Hmmm.... I wonder just how many different leftover bricks/bags of cheese I have in that meat & cheese drawer today?" You know the kind of concoctions I'm talking about. They're what I fondly refer to as "cleaning out the fridge recipes". And boy, oh boy... did this one ever work! The Hubster gave it 5 stars and a blue ribbon! And let me assure you my friends, that double distinction has happened only a handful of times in the last 32+ years. And that is why I call this recipe "Hubby's 5 Star Blue Ribbon Mac & Cheese".

Now don't be alarmed by the number of photos in this post. If you've been here before, you know you can just use the "Print Friendly" button in the footer of this post and remove any unwanted photos (or my rambling) before you hit that print button. And besides that, I can assure you that this Mac & Cheese recipe is easy peasy. (maybe I should have said easy cheesy. Hmm? What's tha... Uh, yeah.... right. No) Just remember: as always, make sure to get your mise en place done first and then in just a few short steps, you're about 30 minutes away from a big pan of hot, bubbly, creamy, gooey, cheesy, heaven on a plate!

Hubby's 5 Star Blue Ribbon Mac & Cheese
(serves approx 4 to 8, depending on serving size)
  • 16oz Elbow Macaroni, cooked according to pkg directions
  • 1 Small Onion, minced
  • 2 Cloves Garlic, minced
  • 2 Tbls Light Olive Oil
  • 2 Tbls AP Flour
  • 1Tsp Dry Mustard Powder
  • 1&1/2 Cups Heavy Cream
  • 2 Cups Whole or 2% Milk
  • 1 Lg Egg, lightly beaten
  • 1 Cup Shredded Mozzarella Cheese
  • 1 Cup Shredded Smoked Gouda
  • 1 Cup Shredded Fontina Cheese
  • 8oz Fresh Goat Cheese (Chevre)
  • 2 Tsp Kosher Salt
  • 1 Tsp Fresh Ground Black Pepper
  • 1 Tsp Onion Powder
  • 1 Tsp Garlic Powder
(Set aside about 1/2 cup of the mixture of shredded cheeses (not the goat cheese) for topping the Mac & Cheese before baking.)

1. Pre-heat your oven to 350°F. Saute the finely minced onion in a small skillet with the light olive oil over medium to medium-high heat until it just starts to become translucent. Add in the finely minced garlic and continue to cook, stirring often. Add in the 2 Tbls of flour and continue to cook until the mixture just begins to turn a light golden color and the oil is mostly dissipated.
2. Add in the dry mustard powder and continue to cook for about one minute, making sure that all of the onion and garlic pieces are coated and any oil that was still in the pan is mostly absorbed. Turn off the heat and spoon the mixture out into a large mixing bowl. Add the cup and 1/2 of heavy cream and stir to combine.
3. Next, slowly add the milk while stirring until everything is mixed well.
4. Shred your Mozzarella, Fontina and Smoked Gouda cheeses, if you haven't already done so. Also, crack the egg into a small bowl and beat it lightly with a fork. Pour the beaten egg into the cream and milk mixture and stir it well, to mix all of those ingredients thoroughly.
5. Cook your macaroni in a large pot of liberally salted, boiling water until it's al dente. (just barely tender) Empty the cooked macaroni into a colander, give it a couple of shakes and set it in the sink or over the empty pot to drain thoroughly.

**Kitchen Tip: If you overcook your pasta, it won't absorb as much of the cream and milk mixture while baking and your finished Mac & Cheese could turn out a bit soupy or runny.
6. Fold your softened goat cheese and the shredded cheeses into your creamy mixture. (making sure to keep out about 1/4 to 1/3 Cup of the shredded cheese to layer on the top before baking)
7. Add your onion powder, garlic powder, salt and pepper and stir well. Then pour the drained macaroni into the bowl and stir gently to combine everything thoroughly. The mixture will be runny or soupy at this point.
8. Once the cream mixture, cheeses, seasonings and macaroni are well combined, pour the entire mixture into a lightly buttered baking dish and sprinkle the remaining shredded cheeses over the top. Place the dish into your pre-heated 350°F oven and bake for 25 to 30 minutes, or until heated all the way through and the top is light golden brown and bubbly.

**Kitchen Tip: Sticking a butter knife into the very center of the dish and carefully touching it to your lip or your fingertip, is a good way to see if a casserole is fully heated all the way through.

9. Allow the macaroni and cheese to sit for about 5 minutes before serving. If it's going to be a bit longer than that before you're ready to eat, you can cover the dish loosely with aluminum foil and place it in your turned off oven, with the door open just a bit, to keep it warm.

10. Serve with a big tossed green salad or another vegetable of your choice and some crusty bread and you've got a delicious, comforting weeknight meal.

Or, you can always serve this as a side dish, accompanying a lovely baked ham, a juicy roast turkey or braised pork shoulder, or some crispy fried chicken as part of an awesome Sunday Lunch or Supper!



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