Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Orecchiette with Chicken and Mushroom Cream Sauce

While most people are used to heavy cream sauces, along the lines of an Alfredo, this dish is much different.  The mushrooms are cooked down with some sauteed onion and sherry, and then cream is added at the end to thicken it up just a bit along with some Parmesan cheese.  The result is a beautifully light and creamy coating over the pasta, with flavorful tender mushrooms.  The chicken adds some extra savory flavor and some protein.  I chose orecchiette as the perfect pasta with little pockets to hold the sauce.  

Overall, I loved everything about this dish- and I'm not usually a mushroom lover.  The different types of mushroom used in this dish make a big impact on the flavor, and I was lucky enough to find that my local Hispanic/Asian store sells them for insanely cheap prices.  (Unlike, ahem ahem, the farmer's market or Whole Foods)  This would also make a great vegetarian meal by simply omitting the chicken. 

Oyster Mushrooms
  • 1 lb boneless skinless chicken thighs (breasts work too but thighs have more flavor)
  • 2 tablespoons bacon grease or vegetable oil
  • 2 cloves garlic, chopped
  • Kosher salt
  • Freshly ground black pepper OR grains of paradise (we used the latter)
  • 8 oz shitake mushrooms, stems removed and sliced
  • 8 oz oyster mushrooms, tough stems removed and sliced
  • 1 small yellow onion, or 1/2 of a large onion, finely diced
  • 3 tablespoons dry sherry
  • 1 teaspoon fresh thyme
  • 3/4 cup heavy cream
  • 1 cup shredded Parmesan cheese
  • 1 lb orecchiette

Heat a non-stick skillet over medium heat and add the bacon grease or vegetable oil.  Add the garlic and cook for a couple minutes, removing it with a slotted spoon when it just starts to brown.  This flavors the oil for the chicken, and the garlic is added back in later.  However, if you are in a rush you could skip this step and just add the garlic later on. Trim the fat off of the chicken and season with salt and pepper.  If you're using breasts, cut them into smaller pieces to reduce cooking time.  Place the chicken in the pan and season the other side.  Flip once the first side down has started to brown- about 4-5 minutes.
Meanwhile, heat a large pot of water with a couple tablespoons of salt.  When the chicken is cooked through, remove from the pan and add the onion and sliced mushrooms.  Saute for about 2-4 minutes.  

At this point your pasta water should be boiling, so add the pasta and cook until just al dente.  Pour the sherry into the onion mushroom mixture and scrape up all the bits on the bottom of the pan to deglaze and allow the mushrooms to absorb all of that flavor.  When the sherry has been mostly reduced, add the thyme and garlic.  

Cook for about 3 minutes before adding the cream. Stir to combine and when heated through, add the chicken.  

Simmer for another 3 minutes or so, stirring occasionally. Add 3/4 c Parmesan and mix in. 

When the pasta is done, drain it and put it back in the pot.  Mix in the sauce, and serve hot with the remaining Parmesan on top. 

Saturday, March 2, 2013

February Food Challenge: Living on $10/day

Everyone has a different food budget (or lack thereof) and ours was getting a bit excessive.  Not by some people's standards, but by the standards of we're trying to save for a house and need all the extra cash we can at the moment.  We don't eat out much for dinner, but we definitely don't limit ourselves when we're grocery shopping, and rarely consider how much those lunches cost eating out a couple times a week.  It all adds up.   So it came to me as I was analyzing our spending that we could save about $600/month if we limited ourselves to only $10 a day.  For both of us.  Sean agreed after a little convincing, and we decided to make it a February Food Challenge. 

The ground rules:
  • We can only spend $10/day (averaged over one month) on food for the two of us
  • Includes all edible groceries
  • Includes food/drink purchases made at restaurants or other stores
  • Excludes alcohol (Sean would never have agreed to that after his alcohol-free month of January)  Of course, we agreed we can't just drink every time we feel hungry.  :)
  • Existing pantry items & food in the fridge from before 1 Feb don't count against the budget.  We did NOT stock up ahead of time on purpose!  But we do have a pretty stocked pantry & spice collection I will admit.
  • Stay healthy- no living off of box macaroni and ramen just because it's cheap.
Here are some of the highlights from the month...

Day 1: So far, so good!  We had some stuff left over from January which was nice :)

Day 3: Stocked up on some bulk chicken and sausage that were both on sale... lasted us a good week.  Made dinner for 6 for the superbowl, and some pretty delicious berbere spiced hummus as an appetizer. 
Day 4: Made cookies using budget-conscious margarine instead of butter... noticeable taste difference but still tasty.  Sean accused me of forcing him to be anorexic.

Day 7: Getting creative with our chicken and sausage dinners...  Sausage and kale pizza was a winner.  And our first take at butter chicken was amazing. (I am partial to butter chicken though...)

Day 8: Are we done with that chicken and sausage yet??  Thai chicken stir fry ended up being a good way to use some leftover chicken.

Day 9: Started the day at $57...  ahead of schedule?  Woo!!  Who knew this would be so easy.  Ended the day at $125 after an inebriated splurge on dinner, spending almost a week's worth of food.  (We're looking at you, Rosa Mexicano)  I guess we really wanted to make it more challenging.

Day 10: Butter was on sale! No more suffering with margarine cookies.  Made sesame cookies with some leftover tahini.  Yum!  
Day 11: Stocked up on more bulk Italian sausage...  couldn't beat $.99/lb!  Sausage and kale soup was pretty delicious.  

Day 14: (a.k.a. Valentine's Day) Nothing fancy- but the braised collard greens with sausage and brown rice ended up being a perfect meal. 

Day 15: Ground beef was on sale- scooped it up and made soft tacos with a little pickled cabbage.

Day 17: Who knew there were so many ways to eat sausage?  We had it with pasta, made stuffed peppers, and added it to cheese grits.  However we both decided it's time to move on to some other protein varieties...

Day 20: Slightly ahead of schedule at $222 but feeling pretty confident we can make up for it in the next 8 days.  Red vegetable curry makes it onto the menu.

Day 22: We talk about all the restaurants we want to go to on March 1st.  Mainly craving Pho 14.... yum.
Day 24: I made a batch of apple cinnamon steel cut oats to get us through the rest of the week (for breakfast, that is).  I can't help but notice how much our stocked pantry has shrunk!

Day 25: Made a delicious cheesy, meaty, pasta casserole found at Food & Wine.  So tasty!

Day 28: We did it!  Final total in food spending for the month: $279.77.  Very proud of ourselves for sticking to it.