Saturday, August 19, 2006

Penne with Chicken and Ham Sauce

I haven't used this cookbook in ages because, while it has some great recipes, alot of them seem kind of labor intensive or require tricky ingredients. But this recipe seemed pretty simple. The only hold up was finding "crème fraîche." Time for a quick cooking lesson, with some help from wikipedia:

"Crème fraîche [IPA: krɛm frɛʃ] (French for "fresh cream") is a heavy cream slightly soured with bacterial culture, but not as sour or as thick as sour cream. Originally a French product, today it is available throughout Europe (and in speciality stores in the States, such as Trader Joes where I eventually found it, pictured above).

"Crème fraîche is made by inoculating unpasteurized heavy cream with Lactobacillus cultures, letting the bacteria grow until the cream is both soured and thick and then pasteurizing it to stop the process.Thus, it cannot be made at home with pasteurized cream—the lack of bacteria in the cream will cause it to spoil instead of sour. If unpasteurized heavy cream is not available, a substitute for crème fraîche can be produced by adding 1–2 tablespoon of cultured buttermilk to two cups of pasteurized (not ultra-pasteurized) heavy cream and letting the mixture stand at room temperature for 8 - 24 hours until thick. (time which I totally did not have and didn't want to even begin to attempt)

"In general, crème fraîche and sour cream can be used interchangeably in most recipes, but crème fraîche has two advantages over sour cream: it can be whipped, and it will not curdle if boiled. (since this recipe calls for you to bring the sauce to a boil AND I had never made it before AND the idea of curdled anything really grosses me out, I decided to just hunt down some crème fraîche myself)"

So, this dish, crème fraîche and all, was actually pretty easy and delicious. I used smoked gouda because I like it and it was cheaper, and it added a really great flavor to the dish (though I'm sure regular gouda would be delicious as well). The sauce is kind of strong, so make sure you have enough pasta to spread it out. I prepared the chicken myself before putting the whole thing together, but you can use pre-cooked chicken easily. I used canadian bacon again (personal preference) and added some peas at the end. This got a big thumbs up from the boy. We had it with thick slices of Garlic Basil Parmesan Bread from the farmers market.

Penne with Chicken and Ham Sauce
from Best-Ever Chicken ed. by Linda Fraser, with mods.
Serves 2-3

1 cup cooked chicken OR 1 boneless, skinless chicken breast--cubed small, garlic salt, and 1 TBS oil

2 cups penne
1 TBS butter
1/2 onion, chopped
1 garlic clove, chopped
1 bay leaf (I used some dried chopped bay leaf)
1 cup dry white wine
1/3 cup crème fraîche
1/3 cup cooked ham or canadian bacon
1/2 cup frozen peas, defrosted
3/4 cup grated (smoked) Gouda cheese
1/2 teaspoon dried mint (original recipe: 1/2 TBS fresh mint)
salt & pepper to taste

1) Cook pasta according to package directions (if you start the water boiling just as you begin cooking it should all be ready together).
2) If cooking chicken, heat oil in skillet and, when hot, add chicken and garlic salt and sauté. Add canadian bacon once the chicken loses it's raw color. Cook until browned, drain, and set aside.
3) Heat butter in skillet and fry onion until softened.
4) Add the garlic, bay leaf, and wine and bring to boil. Boil rapidly until reduced by half. Remove bay leaf, then stir in crème fraîche and bring back to boil.
5) Add chicken, ham, and cheese and simmer for 5 minutes, stirring occasionally until heated through. Add peas towards the end and mix.
6) Add the mint and seasoning. Drain pasta and toss in large serving bowl with sauce.

Kung Pao Chicken

Sorry for the delay my friends, we were out of town for a wedding for a while and what with the boy traveling a couple days every week and me starting a new job I haven't been cooking as much as I would like. But here is a new favorite which I made week or so ago that I've just been dying to share with you.

As you know, I have been experimenting in the world of Asian cuisine and have had fairly good success. I made dumplings again, and they were just as good the second time, if just as labor intensive. My latest attempt was Kung Pao Chicken, which I must say, came out very well. I cut the chicken into very small pieces, with the idea that you should try to keep all your ingredients the same size when cooking, and I really liked how that made the dish. I halved the recipe except when it came to the sauce, which was good because there was just enough... could have even done with a little more. I also added vegetables to this--red bell peppers, onion, and carrots. Serve with rice!

As usual, it called for using a wok, which I don't own, so I used a fry pan which seemed to work fine though I might slowly be killing it, alas. This recipe didn't sound like it would come out tasting like it does in chinese restaurants, but it did! Kind of. It was really good, I must say. Definitely a keeper.

Kung Pao Chicken
copied from with mods.
Serves 2

1/2 lb. boned, skinned chicken breasts - cubed very small
1 Tbls. soy sauce
1 1/2 Tbls. cornstarch mixed with 1 1/2 Tbls. cold water

2 Tbls. soy sauce
1 Tbls. dry sherry
1 Tbls. granulated sugar
1 tsp. cornstarch
1/2 tsp. salt
1 tsp. sesame oil

2 Tbls. vegetable oil - divided
1/4 cup unsalted roasted peanuts
2-4 dried red chili peppers - chopped (I used one smallish New Mexican dried chili pepper... all I could find)
1 slice peeled, fresh ginger - chopped
1 clove garlic - sliced
1/2 red bell pepper, diced
1/2 onion, diced
1 carrot, sliced or a handful of baby carrots, halved

1) Combine chicken, 1 Tbls. soy sauce, and cornstarch/water mixture; allow to marinate for 30 minutes.

2) Combine 2 Tbls. soy sauce, sherry, sugar, cornstarch, salt, and sesame oil; set aside.

3) In a hot wok, stir-fry the peanuts in 1 Tbls. vegetable oil until golden brown, remove peanuts from wok, and set aside. BE CAREFUL they brown up really fast and burnt peanuts are really gross.

4) Fill wok with vegetable oil for frying and heat to 350 degrees. Carefully slide the chicken into the wok, piece by piece, and fry for 1 minute.

5) Remove chicken from oil and drain on a brown paper bag (I found a sturdy paper towel doubled up works too). Remove oil from wok.

6) In hot wok, stir-fry the red peppers in 1 Tbls. vegetable oil until they turn dark. Add bell peppers and onions and cook until they begin to get tender. Add carrots, ginger, garlic, and chicken to the wok and fry, stirring constantly. Stir the prepared sauce and add to the wok. Stir and cook wok contents until the sauce is thickened. Stir in peanuts and serve.

Saturday, August 5, 2006

Greek-Style Pasta with Meat

I've made this several times and it's always a success and I always forget how easy it is! I always buy more ground beef than I need just for burgers or meat sauce, so this is a cool way to use up some of that extra chuck you have in the back of your freezer. The feta cheese is a must and the herbs might sound strange, but are perfect in this dish. I'm going to copy it straight from the cookbook, though I usually halve the recipe for the two of us. Also, I just use pre-ground beef, but I'm sure lamb would be delicious. And I just use diced tomatoes since crushed tomatoes only come in a huge can in my local grocery stores.

Greek-Style Pasta with Meat
from Prevention's Ultimate Quick & Healthy Cookbook
Serves 4

6 oz. lean, trimmed boneless leg of lamb or beef top round cut into chunks (or grounds ahead)
2 tsp. olive oil
1 large onion, chopped
3 cloves garlic
1/4 tsp. dried oregano
1/4 tsp. dried thyme
1/4 tsp. dried mint
1/4 tsp. fresh ground black pepper
Large pinch of ground cinnamon (essential!!)
1 can (16 oz.) crushed tomatoes in purée or diced tomatoes
1 can (8 oz.) no-salt-added tomato sauce
10 oz. orzo pasta
1 oz feta cheese (or as much as you like!)

1) Bring large covered pot of water to boil over high heat
2) Process lamb or beef in food processor until just ground (obviously skip this if you're starting with ground meat)
3) Warm oil in a large, heavy skillet over med.-high heat. Add onions and garlic, sauté for 3-5 minutes or until onions are tender and lightly browned. . Crumble in ground meat and cook, stirring for 2-3 minutes or until no longer pink. Add a table spoon of water if the pan gets too dry. Stir in seasonings. Cook, stirring constantly for 30 seconds.
4) Stir in crushed tomatoes and tomato sauce and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to low and simmer, stirring occasionally for 10 min or until flavors are blended.
5) While sauce simmers, add pasta to boiling water, return to boil, cook for 6-8 minutes or according to package directions until al dente. Drain and transfer to serving bowl.
6) Spoon meat sauce over pasta and sprinkle with feta.


So my attempts at taco meat in the past have been mediocre at best. Tonight I discovered why... I was making things too complicated! Go simple! This came out AMAZING. The boy said it was even better than his mother's and he's not a big fan of tacos! The amounts for the seasonings are estimated because I don't remember exactly. Definitely use salt and pepper, and as much chili powder/red pepper as you like for heat.

Quick, easy, and hardly dirtied any dishes.

inspired by "Mexican Taco Salad" from Preventions Ultimate Quick & Healthy Cookbooks
Serves 2

4-6 flour tortillas or hard taco shells
8 oz. ground beef
1/2 tsp. olive oil
2 TBS beef broth
1/4 cup tomato, diced
1/4 cup onion, chopped
1/2 jalapeño, minced
1 TBS ketchup
1/4 tsp. ground red pepper
1/4 tsp. chili powder
1/2- 1 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. ground black pepper

shredded cheddar cheese
shredded lettuce
chopped tomatoes
sour cream

1) In medium skillet, heat oil over med. heat until hot. Crumble in beef, add broth and sauté for 2-3 minutes or until meat is no loner pink. Add tomatoes, onions, and jalapeño and sauté for 3-4 minutes. Add ketchup and seasonings to taste and sauté for another 2 minutes or until flavors are mingled.
2) Heat tortillas a/o taco shells according to package directions**. Fill with meat, cheese, and veggies as desired.

**Wait, are those homemade tortillas in that photo? Why yes they are!

Tequila Turkey Fettucini

So during the school year I became an avid watcher of "The Next Food Network Star." For the final episode, Guy Fieri, one of the final contestants (and eventual winner) cooked up his "Tequila Turkey Fettucini" which made us all drool just watching him make it. We decided to try it for ourselves and it became a quick favorite.

We made a few changes: we use chicken instead of turkey, and usually pre-cook it ourselves rather than buying it pre-cooked (though I'm sure leftovers would work perfectly). We leave out the cilantro (personal preference). We've also used other kinds of pasta, such as gemelli, which I think the boy actually liked better. This past time was the first time I made it myself and I discovered a couple things in trying to actually double a recipe rather than halve it. Add salt and up the lemon juice. The sauce came out a little bland until we added salt and squeezed our lime garnishes over top (essential... made it so good).

So here it is, copy and pasted from the website, with a couple of my comments. Enjoy!

Tequila Turkey Fettucini
from Guy Fieri of "The Next Food Network Star," Tequila Turkey Fettucini
Serves 1

1-ounce olive oil
1/4 red onion, cut into strips
1/2 tablespoon minced jalapeno
1 tablespoon minced garlic
5 ounces turkey breast, cooked, sliced (also can use chicken)
1-ounce tequila
4 ounces heavy cream
1/2-ounce fresh lemon juice (I would double this)
1 tablespoon chopped cilantro leaves
9 ounces fettuccini pasta, cooked (any kind of pasta will do)
2 tablespoons grated Parmesan (essential!)
2 lime wedges, for garnish (essential!)
2 sprigs cilantro, for garnish
2 tablespoons diced Roma tomato, for garnish (very yummy addition)
1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

1) In saute pan with high heat, add olive oil, onions, jalapeno and saute until translucent. Add garlic and continue to saute for 2 minutes. Add turkey, lightly mix ingredients, careful not to break turkey up to much.
2) Deglaze pan with tequila, pouring around the edge of the saute pan. Add cream, lemon juice and cilantro. Toss together, then add pasta, and toss ingredients while adding Parmesan cheese.
3) Nest pasta on plate, pour sauce over pasta. Lay sprigs of cilantro over top, sprinkle tomatoes on top, and crack pepper around the rim of the plate.

Thursday, August 3, 2006

Grilled Vegetables and Cheese Tortellini

I found the recipe as per request from the boy who wanted some sort of tortellini dish with a vinagrette and vegetables. Now, I must admit, I'm not a big fan of vinagrettes and I messed around alot with this one until it tasted ok to me. I don't remember the exact changes I made, but I'll note some ingredients you can add to change the taste. You can also buy your own favorite vinagrette dressing.

This is pretty quick and easy!

I loved this recipe because of all the different veggies and flavors and textures. Definitely a summer dish. The original recipe also called for using eggplant, but I replaced that with zucchini. Any summer vegetables will do. I used my grill pan, but you could easily toss these veggies straight onto your gas or charcoal grill. If it's winter, or you don't have any kind of grill, you can always sauté the vegetables as well... the recipe includes instructions for that.

Grilled Vegetables and Cheese Tortellini
from "Whole Foods Market : Recipes : Grilled Vegetables & Cheese Tortellini (with slight modifications)
Serves 2-3

9 oz. cheese tortellini
4 asparagus spears, tough ends snapped off
1 yellow summer squash, sliced lengthwise about 1/2" thick
1 zuchinni, sliced lengthwise about 1/2" thick
1 red pepper, corred and de-seeded
1 TBS olive oil
1/4 cup pitted black olives, such as kalamata
1/2 - 1 cup baby spinach
1/2 cup feta cheese, crumbled
1/2 cup red wine vinagrette

Red Wine Vinagrette
4 large basil leaves, chopped
3 TBS red wine vinegar (I would suggest replacing half or even all of this with balsamic)
1 garlic clove, minced
1/4 cup olive oil (up this if theres too much vinegar)
1 TBS dijon mustard (this adds ALOT of flavor, so go easy)
sea salt, to taste
ground pepper, to taste
*sugar, to taste (to cut the vinegar)

1) Cook tortellini according to package directions, drain and set aside. Whisk together vinagrette if preparing your own.
2a) Grilling Vegetables: Preheat grill to med. heat. Brush vegetables with olive oil. Grill 3-5 minutes on each side, or until veggies are tender. Pepper should be slightly charred when done. Chop up veggies into pieces of equal size.
2b) Sautéing Vegetables: Chop vegetables into bite-sized pieces. Heat olive oil in a large sauté pan over med-high heat and sauté veggies until tender.
3) Toss pasta with vegetables, olive, spinach, feta, and vinagrette.

French Bread Personal Pizzas

A delicious meal made of leftover ingredients! I discovered the small bakery near our house that makes wonderful rustic breads (The Breadsong Bakery, for those in Boston 'burbs). I was able to use my experience working at an italian pizzeria to my advantage.

For the bread, I bought a round, french bread, something with a good solid crust. This was good in that I could simply slice it in half length wise and have to round "crusts." But it made very large pizzas and the boy said that there was a little too much bread in proportion to the other ingredients. So I would also suggest a good crusty wide baguette. Something that you can cut length wise rather than slices. That way the crust of the bread will make sure the sauce doesn't seep through, like it might if you just used bread slices. You could also convert this recipe to use on bagels (mmm).

French Bread Personal Pizzas
Serves 2-4

1 round of French bread or a wide, french baguette.
14 oz. diced tomatoes
6 oz. tomato paste mixed with equal parts water
italian seasonings
**Note: I just used what I had leftover from the lasagna recipe. You can easily replace this with any tomato sauce or pizza sauce you like
1 cup mozzerella cheese, grated
2-3 slices provolone (or 1-1 1/2 cup grated)
margarine or butter
1 link of hot italian sausage, boiled and sliced thin
4 TBS ricotta cheese

1) Preheat oven to 375ºF. Slice the french bread length wise, leaving a thickness of no more than 1 inch. If using a round, slice a thin amount off the top slice so that it will sit evenly in the pan. Set aside.
2) Combine diced tomatoes and tomato paste/water in a food processor. Purée until smooth. Pour into sauce pan and heat thoroughly over med-low heat. Add italian seasonings to taste.
3) Clean out food processor and put in sliced provolone. Pulse until chopped. Add mozzerella and pulse gently until blended.
4) Assemble pizzas: spread a thin layer or margarine or butter on the top of french bread,( to prevent the sauce from making the bread really soggy). Cover each top with an even layer of sauce, to preference. Top with an even coating of cheese. Place sausage slices and ricotta cheese on top as desired.
5) Bake for approx. 25 min or until cheese is starting to brown.

Alton Brown's Meatloaf

This is kind of cheating on my part, but here is the recipe I used to make what is now my favorite meatloaf, directly from the website. I basically halved the recipe, but here it is in full. I also make my own croutons by cutting up stale bread, mixing it with some olive oil, s&p, and italian herbs, and then toasting it in the oven at 400ºF for 5-7 minutes or until golden brown. You could always, er, just go buy them.

Alton Brown's Meatloaf
from "The Food Network: Good Eats Meatloaf"
Serves 6-8

6 ounces garlic-flavored croutons
1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper
1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1 teaspoon chili powder
1 teaspoon dried thyme
1/2 onion, roughly chopped
1 carrot, peeled and broken
3 whole cloves garlic
1/2 red bell pepper
18 ounces ground chuck
18 ounces ground sirloin
1 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1 egg
For the glaze:
1/2 cup catsup
1 teaspoon ground cumin
Dash Worcestershire sauce
Dash hot pepper sauce
1 tablespoon honey

Heat oven to 325 degrees F.
In a food processor bowl, combine croutons, black pepper, cayenne pepper, chili powder, and thyme. Pulse until the mixture is of a fine texture. Place this mixture into a large bowl. Combine the onion, carrot, garlic, and red pepper in the food processor bowl. Pulse until the mixture is finely chopped, but not pureed. Combine the vegetable mixture, ground sirloin, and ground chuck with the bread crumb mixture. Season the meat mixture with the kosher salt. Add the egg and combine thoroughly, but avoid squeezing the meat.

Pack this mixture into a 10-inch loaf pan to mold the shape of the meatloaf. Onto a parchment paper-lined baking sheet, turn the meatloaf out of the pan onto the center of the tray. Insert a temperature probe at a 45 degree angle into the top of the meatloaf. Avoid touching the bottom of the tray with the probe. Set the probe for 155 degrees.

Combine the catsup, cumin, Worcestershire sauce, hot pepper sauce and honey. Brush the glaze onto the meatloaf after it has been cooking for about 10 minutes.