We lucked out and were able to move into our house a lot sooner than we had initially expected. As such, this is my final “Hot Plate Cooking” post. As much as I’ve enjoyed them, I have to say I’m relieved. So what did I make for my final hotel room meal? One of my favorite standbys for when I am short on time, or in this case space………..risotto of course!
I had some ham leftover from an earlier dinner and had planned on adding that to my risotto with a bit of parmesan cheese. But then I saw the asparagus. I love asparagus and will eat it whenever the opportunity arises. Of course, living in Albania it was impossible to find it fresh and I quickly discovered that the frozen or jarred versions are just not the same. So, with the exception of a blissful spring week in Budapest where I savored complete meals out of nothing by asparagus, I put my cravings on hold for two and a half years. Until now. So when I saw the asparagus sitting in the produce case of Carrefour, I knew I had to buy it. I think it is always good but it also pairs perfectly with the ham and cheese, resulting in a wonderful early spring (I can hope, can’t I) meal. Yum….and here’s to now having a real kitchen again!
HAM & CHEESE RISOTTO w/ ASPARAGUS
3 cups vegetable broth
1 cup dry white wine
3 tablespoons butter
1 shallot, minced
1 ½ cups risotto rice
1 cup cooked ham, cut into cubes
1 pound fresh asparagus, cut into 1 inch pieces and lightly steamed
½ cup grated parmesan cheese
- Meanwhile, heat the vegetable broth and white wine in a medium-sized saucepan set over medium-high heat. Adjust the heat to keep the broth mixture at a low simmer. Or, if you are short on burner space the way I am, heat the broth and wine mixture into a microwave safe bowl for 5 minutes or until hot.
- In a large saucepan, melt the butter over medium-high heat. Add the shallot and sauté until soft and translucent, approximately 3-4 minutes.
- Add the rice to the onions and stir to combine. Add one ladle of the broth to the pot and stir well. Stirring occasionally, continue cooking the rice until most of the liquid is absorbed before adding additional broth.
- Repeat this process until the rice is al dente. You may not need to use all of the broth.
- Add the ham and asparagus with the last of your broth. Fold gently to combine.
- Remove the pan from the heat and stir in the grated parmesan cheese. Serve immediately.
Here is an easy recipe that celebrates the arrival of my coveted spice collection in our unaccompanied baggage shipment. Let me just say that cooking with just salt and pepper gets old fast. And knowing that my well stocked Penzey’s spice cabinet would be arriving shortly I abhorred the idea of buying poor, yet expensive, substitutes in the grocery store. Needless to say,I jumped on the first chance I had to use my spices once they arrived.
Because this meal is prepared in a crock pot essentially cooks itself. Meaning I put all the ingredients together in the morning and left for the day only to return with a complete dinner ready and waiting. (I had leftover brown rice from the previous night’s dinner so I was good to go).
CROCK POT FAJITA CHICKEN w/BLACK BEANS & RICE
2 teaspoons chili powder
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon sugar
1 teaspoon paprika
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1/4 teaspoon cumin powder
1/4 teaspoon garlic powder
6 boneless, skinless chicken thighs
1 14.5 ounce can black beans
1 small can minced jalapeno peppers
1 lime, cut in wedges
8 flour tortillas
2 cups cooked brown rice, for serving
- Combine the chili powder, salt, sugar, paprika, cayenne pepper, cumin, and garlic powder in a small bowl. Set aside.
- Evenly spread the can of black beans into the bottom of a crock pot insert. Sprinkle with the jalapenos over the top of the beans.
- Place the chicken over the top of the bean and jalapeno mixture then sprinkle the spice mixture over the top of the chicken.
- Cover the crock pot and cook on high for 3-4 hours or on low for 7-8 hours.
- When the chicken is cooked through, remove it from the crock pot and using two forks, shred the meat.
- Place the rice, beans, and chicken inside of the flour tortillas.
- Drizzle with lime juice if desired.
One of my favorite go-to dinners is stuffed baked potatoes. They are the perfect blank canvas on which to build a satisfying dinner. Because each potato is topped individually, you can customize them to accommodate all of your family’s culinary preferences. And, as I discovered, they can easily and effortlessly be made in my makeshift kitchen. In my opinion, this makes for a win-win all around!
This go around I used sweet potatoes instead of white baking potatoes but feel free to use whatever variety of potatoes your family prefers. I love sweet potatoes, and after a two-year time span of not being able to find them in the grocery store, I buy them whenever I have a chance. They are also more nutritious than regular white potatoes and because they are sweet, even the smallest member of my family will eat them. These toppings are just suggestions; feel free to add or use whatever you feel like or have on hand. Most of all, enjoy.
HAM & CHEESE STUFFED SWEET POTATOES
2 large sweet potatoes
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 cup cooked ham, cubed
1 head broccoli, cut into florets
1/2 cup shredded cheddar cheese
1/4 cup reduced fat sour cream
Salt & pepper to taste
- Scrub the potatoes and pierce all over with a fork or sharp knife. Place in the microwave and cook on high for 10 minutes. After 10 minutes test the potatoes for doneness by inserting a fork into the center of each potato. The fork should slide into the potatoes effortlessly. If it doesn’t, continue cooking the potatoes in 5 minute increments until tender. The amount of time you need to cook the potatoes will depend on the strength of your microwave and the size of your potatoes. (Alternatively, you can bake the potatoes in a 400 degree oven for 45-60 minutes).
- While the potatoes are cooking, heat the olive oil in a small skillet. When the oil shimmers, add the ham and cook, stirring frequently, until browned and heated through. Set aside.
- Steam the broccoli in an inch of water in a small saucepan until tender crisp. Drain and set aside.
- When the potatoes are cooked through, place on individual plates. Slice along the length of each potato and use a fork to loosen the flesh.
- Generously sprinkle each potato with salt and pepper then divide the shredded cheese evenly between the potatoes.
- Top with the ham and broccoli then add a dollop of sour cream to each potato.
- Eat immediately.
Have you ever tried to slice a chicken breast with a steak knife–and a rather dull one at that? What about bell peppers or onions? Better yet, try mincing cloves of garlic with the tiny knife on a plastic cutting board that someone else had used as a hot pad. That was my second attempt at hotel room cooking. But where there is a will, there’s a way. I managed to slice all of my vegetables, cut up my protein and whisk up a rather tasty sauce with a fork in a drinking cup. Of course, my hotel issued saute pan was too small to cook everything at one time so I cooked it in batches, first the onions and garlic, followed by my peppers, then finally the chicken cooked with my sauce. Of course, if you have a wok, this dish would be a snap to make and those are the directions I have included below.
I served the “stir fry” over brown rice which I ended up cooking in a pot with a plate set over the top because I didn’t have a lid. I thought my results were quite tasty and can’t wait to make this meal again with a wok on a full-sized stove top (with a rice steamer as well)!
CHICKEN & PEPPERS w/ RICE
For the sauce:
1/4 low sodium soy sauce
2 tablespoons honey
1/4 teaspoon dried chili pepper flakes
Salt and pepper to taste
1 tablespoon sesame oil
3 large garlic cloves, minced
1/2 white onion, thinly sliced
1 red bell pepper, seeded and thinly sliced
1 yellow bell pepper, seeded and thinly sliced
1 orange bell pepper, seeded and thinly sliced
1 whole boneless, skinless chicken breast, cut into bite sized pieces
Brown rice for serving
- Place the soy sauce, honey, and chili pepper flakes in a small bowl. Using a whisk or fork stir to combine. Set aside.
- Place the oil in a wok or a large skillet and heat until shimmering.
- Add the garlic and onion and tossing continually, cook until fragrant, 1-2 minutes.
- Add the peppers and cook for an additional 1 minute.
- Generously sprinkle the chicken with salt and pepper then add to the wok. Continue tossing over high heat until the chicken is cooked through and no longer pink.
- Add the reserved sauce and toss well to combine.
- Serve over hot brown rice.
This recipe fulfills two of my immediate needs. First, for those of you who have never visited Belgium in February, most days are cold and damp, or in my mind, soup weather. You know what I am talking about; weather that drives you inside and makes your body crave warm and comforting food. That has essentially been every day since we arrived at the end of last month and is likely to continue until….well…all year around. Second, this recipe is easy–ridiculously easy in fact. If you want to get really basic, all you need for kitchen utensils are a sharp knife, a spoon, a soup pot, and a burner. If you want to get fancy, as I did in celebration of our unaccompanied baggage arriving, you can use a vegetable peeler and a stick blender. But the later are only conveniences as you can remove potato peels with a sharp knife and use a spoon to break up the potato chunks. If you use this method, the soup will be chunkier but just as tasty.
Eating this soup is like sipping a loaded baked potato. It is rich, creamy, and satisfying in a way that good comfort food always is. I topped my soup with two of my favorite baked potato toppings–crispy fried pancetta and shredded Cheddar cheese–but you can add your own favorites instead. Green onions, sour cream, or even bits of steamed broccoli would all be good. Most importantly, however, this soup is easy. And that is what you really want when you don’t have a lot of time.
POTATO GARLIC SOUP
1 1/2 pounds russet potatoes, scrubbed, peeled, and sliced into rings
1 large white onion, thinly sliced
8 cloves garlic
1/2 teaspoon salt
6 cups low sodium chicken broth
1 cup heavy cream
Salt and pepper to taste
1 cup sharp Cheddar cheese, shredded
4 ounces pancetta, diced and fried until crispy
- Place the potatoes, onions, garlic, salt, and chicken broth in a large stock pot set over medium-high heat.
- Bring the soup to a simmer, cover the pot, reduce the heat to low, and simmer until the potatoes are fork tender, 15-20 minutes.
- Remove the soup from the heat and allow to cool slightly.
- Using an immersion blender, puree the soup until smooth.
- Return the soup to the stove and add the heavy cream. Stir well and gradually reheat the soup being sure that it does not boil.
- Season with salt and pepper, add your favorite toppings and serve.
Readers of my other blog know that my life has been in flux as of late. As a military family we are used to picking up stakes and moving but our latest move had us leaving our cavernous house with two kitchens (which combined gave me one usable cooking space) in Albania and settling down in Belgium. Well, I used the term “settling down” loosely since for the foreseeable future, we are camped out in a family suite in a military lodge (a.k.a. an extended stay hotel akin to a Red Roof Inn) on a military base where my kitchen is little more than a hot plate.
Well…two tiny hotplates. Not pictured is the microwave and what I consider to be the world’s smallest sink. Even the bathroom sink is larger. To round out my kitchen I bought a new 220 volt crock pot. That is it and with these spartan conditions I’ve been pondering how I will feed my family over the coming weeks and months.
So needless to say, cooking for this food obsessed blogger is sure to be a challenge. But I’m taking the suggestion of a friend and blogging about the meals I am managing to cook. For the new few months you’ll still see my regular recipes that I honed and perfected in my Albanian kitchen but thrown into the mix will be those I’ve cooked in my tiny temporary kitchen. They will still be made with love and will hopefully give you ideas of how you too can put dinner on the table in less than ideal conditions. I’ll be introducing these dishes under the heading of Hot Plate Cooking and will be sure to include plenty of commentary. So stay tuned……this is just the beginning of our Belgian adventure!