Welcome to today’s episode of “Chopped”! The basket today has four ingredients you must use in some form: cans of whole plum tomatoes (no recipe EVER calls for whole tomatoes!); a pound of leftover meatloaf, a pile of sweet red bell peppers that were on sale and ended up stockpiled in the fridge; and a carton of large curd cottage cheese. Time to make a meal!
My P.S. and I are big fans of the Food Network show “Chopped” and record it to watch during dinner. We choose our favorites from the start and cheer them on. Sometimes one of us even chooses the winner. Sometimes it’s pure luck though. The chef can be doing so well and just run out of time and bam, he fails. Or some essential ingredient burns or has even fallen on the floor and is rendered unusable. It’s fun to watch the show.
Often when I’m cooking dinner I feel like I’m on a “Chopped” episode. I’ve mentioned my P.S. is the main grocery shopper due to being in the stores all day long. He isn’t a creative cook himself but he is definitely a creative shopper. He buys things on sale that I wouldn’t usually buy. I think he might have some vague idea that an item would “taste good” and so he buys it. He doesn’t go further and wonder who is going to make it taste good in an actual meal. He watches the food shows and sees them cooking with these ingredients and imagines me cooking like them, perhaps?
I’m not worthy. Really, I am a casual cook. I can search online and try but it’s again pure luck if I succeed. I’m self-trained and at times don’t have a lot of interest in cooking. I’m a moody cook. I can spend a weekend cooking up a fridge full of foods, and the next weekend I prefer to dine out. I can want to cook every night for a week then want someone else to cook for me for a week.
This weekend I’ve been a Jekyll/Hyde. We ate dinner out Friday night and Saturday night, but today I’m in the mood to cook. I have several dishes I want to prepare for the coming week’s meals and several leftovers that need to be eaten. By tomorrow I will want somebody else to feed me and for someone else to clean up the kitchen. But for now we’re going to deal with leftovers and make a spaghetti dish.
I covered meatloaf a few days ago in this blog and mentioned how versatile it is. Dicing it and putting it in a nice red sauce flavored with basil sounds like a good idea served with angel hair pasta. I wanted to do a type of lasagna dish and use up the large curd cottage cheese I mentioned but I think I will slide that into the spaghetti sauce and see what happens.
First I diced half a red bell pepper and half an onion and got them sizzling in some olive oil in a large pan. When they were lightly browned I added about 30 oz of the plum tomatoes and juice. I had poured the tomatoes into a bowl and stuck my hands in and squished them. I hate whole tomatoes because they squish and squirt all over the place, including on my shirt. I now look like I recently killed something.
I added basil, garlic powder and pepper to the pan and let the sauce bubble away on low heat for about 30 minutes to reduce it down. It also takes the raw, metallic taste out of the tomatoes. The tv chefs always comment that you have to cook canned tomatoes at least 30 minutes for them to taste good, so I try to obey that rule. I also add a teaspoon of sugar to the sauce to take away the metal taste. The sugar isn’t noticeable but it does equalize the flavor.
After 30 minutes I added the cubed meatloaf and the can of chunky portabello mushrooms. I let it simmer about 10 more minutes and added cottage cheese and shredded parmesan. I stirred it well and let it bubble on low about 10 more minutes while I cooked the angel hair pasta.
When the pasta was al dente I drained it and scooped a portion into the sauce and twirled it around. That’s another trick I learned from the tv chefs. They always swirl their pasta in the sauce for a few minutes and let it soak up the savory juices. I did that with a second portion as well and then had served up two bowls of pasta for our dinner. I put the remaining pasta into the pan with the sauce, tossed it and put it into a container. I now have a new form of leftovers!
This was a neat experiment. The cottage cheese didn’t dissolve totally in the hot sauce but it gave it a nice creamy touch. It was a good idea and now I just have a half a container of cottage cheese in the fridge to use up. Another day.
2 tablespoons olive oil
1/2 cup sweet red bell pepper; diced
1/2 cup onion; diced
2 28 ounce cans whole plum tomatoes and juice
1 teaspoon dried basil
1 teaspoon garlic powder
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
1 tablespoon sugar
1 lb meatloaf; diced
1 small can portabello mushrooms; chunks, drained
1 cup shredded parmesan
1 cup cottage cheese; large or small curd
small box angel hair pasta
Saute the red peppers and onions in olive oil in a large frying pan until beginning to brown. Add tomatoes, basil, garlic, pepper and sugar. Bring to a bubble and simmer on medium low heat for 30 minutes, stirring every 10 minutes or so.
Add meatloaf, stir well and bring to a bubble again. Cook for 10 minutes more.
Add mushrooms, cottage cheese and parmesan. Cook for 10 more minutes while cooking the pasta.
Bring kettle of water to boil. Boil pasta until still slightly al dente. Drain and rinse. Add a portion of pasta to the sauce pan, stirring it in a circle until it absorbs some moisture. Remove to a pasta dish and add another serving. Sprinkle servings with more parmesan and serve.
Mix remainder of pasta with sauce and refrigerate.