Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Tortellini with Broccolini and Summer Squash

I have this bad habit. I find these delicious looking recipes, write down all the ingredients on my grocery list, go to the store, buy them, return home, go to prepare the recipe, and find out I am missing half of what I need. Does this habit to other people, or am I just a forgetful ninny?

Case in point: for this recipe, which was originally "Tortelloni with Vegetable Sauce" I forgot the stewed tomatoes and tomato paste that created the sauce, fresh basil to toss in, and wound up substituting cheese tortellini for meat tortelloni and broccolini for zucchini (because my grocery store is still going under renovation and there was no zucchini). It's not even the same recipe.

Never the less, it still came out tasty. I should have blanched the broccolini first, and will correct for that in the recipe. However, I would use zucchini if you can find it--that was the whole point of this dish anyway.

Tortellini with Broccolini and Summer Squash
Serves 2

olive oil cooking spray
1 cup jarred tomato sauce (of your choice... we like Classico)
1-2 TBS broth or water
1/2 medium summer squash, cut into 1/4" rounds
1 cup broccolini, cut into 1/2 inch pieces and blanched
1 tsp garlic, minced
1 tsp dried Italian herbs
2 cups cheese tortellini
1 TBS grated Parmesan

1) Bring a large pot of water to boil. Prepare tortellini according to package directions.
2) Spray a non-stick skillet, generously with olive oil. Heat over medium heat until the pan and oil are hot. Add broccolini and summer squash. Sauté until the squash begins to brown, about 2 -4 minutes. Add garlic and Italian seasonings; sauté an additional minute or until fragrant
3) Add tomato sauce to the pan and stir. Add broth/water as needed to loosen the sauce. Cover and reduce heat to low. Simmer for 5 minutes or until vegetables are tender.
4) Add tortellini to the vegetable sauce. Toss until thoroughly coated. Sprinkle with Parmesan and serve.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

I Heart... Seriously Sharp Cheddar

Now, I know this is total blasphemy after raving about the fabulous cheeses of Switzerland. But I must say, after the major cheese hankering induced by said country, this cheese is one we buy, week after week, and never grow tired of. Every once in a while we alternate with a gouda or a nice havarti, but our local grocery store's fine cheeses are very pricey and not that exceptional. The gruyere I have bought, for example, in no way compares to that of Gruyere. So when I can't get my delicious fine, European cheese fix (which is often) I turn to dear old Vermont.

What I love about Cabot's Seriously Sharp Cheddar (other than its fashionable lumberjack wrapping) is that it's got this wonderful ripe, rich flavor. Its texture is not always consistent--sometimes it can be kind of crumbly--but it is always delicious. And it's sharp. Seriously sharp. Most other cheddars taste pretty bland in comparison. Whenever switching back from other cheeses, I am amazed at the amount of flavor that this cheese packs in every bite. I'm not saying I don't like, love, respect, drool over other cheeses. I just mean that this is my tried-and-true affordable, always-on-my-shopping-list, American favorite. 

This plus rice crackers are my snack of choice. Great, now I want some.

Thursday, May 15, 2008


I know you all missed me greatly. Well, Mr. Heart and I went with the immediate Heart family to la Suisse where Sister Heart has been studying abroad for the past semester. Mr. Heart brought his trusty new camera and I must say most of these photos are due to his growing photographic enthusiasm. Except for the ones of my dad. This is one I took.

He's pointing at Bern, which was our middle-most stop. We found this stupendous park at the top of a funicular ride. We climbed a tower that looked kind of like Saruman's Isengard tower from Lord of the Rings, but have the best 360 view. Bern is also where we took our one and only food photo:

Yup, that's me with a large, Bernese pretzel. I should be a hand model. The pretzel was not at all what I expected. It was quite sticky and bready, not at all like American soft pretzels. While in Bern, we also had a crepe with cheese and herbs. I cannot convey to you the difference swiss cheeses make to something as simple as a crepe with cheese. What they call "Swiss Cheese" in the states is a mockery. Honestly. I hate "swiss cheese" but fell in love with the gruyere, emmental, etc. that I sampled in various dishes while abroad.

As this was the only food photo, I will show you some of the other places we ventured and require you to imagine the wonderful food we consumed there.

As we took trains all across the French part of Switzerland, we encountered these hillsides covered in terraced vineyards. This is a mere snippet. It was pretty incredible to look up out of the train and see these almost sheer mountainsides covered in short stone walls and growing grape vines. On one of our train rides, we made a tasty (but somewhat messy) picnic of strawberries, brie, baguette, and salami.

Mr. Heart is a fan of taking photos of flora and he does an amazing job. These were in the Geneva Botanical Gardens, my sister's favorite hang out while she studied in the city. Before venturing over to the gardens, we grabbed paninis by the water front. I had one avec tomate, mozzerella, et lardons (which we discovered through a series of hilarious occurrences, is pieces of thick bacon). It's pronounced lardohn, but Sister Heart and I like saying "lard ons" because it sounds funny and vaguely obscene. The panini was delicious. We sat in a tree and looked at this:

Also in Geneva, while picking out chocolates to bring to friends and family back home, Mr. Heart bought me a couple of truffles of my choosing. I selected a caramel, an almond cream, and a hazelnut. I thought I had died and gone to heaven. You know how they say chocolate can be an aphrodisiac? Whoever figure that out must have been eating Swiss chocolate. It was that good. Mr. Heart and I were walking the streets of Geneva, so that could have gotten awkward very fast. Fortunately for us, I had limited myself to merely three chocolates.

This beautiful castle is in Chillon, which is a short bus/train ride away from Montreux where we had delicious pizza and ice cream and got caught in the only rainstorm of our trip. The brand of ice cream is called Movenpick! I kind of found that hilarious. I had 'Caramelina' which was caramel ice cream with caramel chunks in it. Wow. I now have 18764 cavities. My dentist can buy a yacht. We got ice cream again when we were in Geneva and I got Stracciatella, which I love (it's like chocolate chip, but better).

This photo blows my mind because it almost perfectly conveys the amazingly gorgeous view from the top of Jungfrau. It was quite the climb up there... by train and by cog railway. But the view was worth it, as you can tell. We were all kind of light headed from the altitude.

One thing I wish I had taken a picture of (though it would not have done it justice), was the amazing fondue we had in Laussane. It was absolutely delicious. What I said earlier about swiss cheese applies here more than anything else. I usually hate strong 'traditional' swiss fondues as they are prepared in the states. But this didn't have that strong sweet swissy taste embodied by american swiss cheeses. It was pungent, kind of nutty, flavorful, and just all around delicious. We were scraping the bowl and went through two baskets of bread. Any we had a wonderful bottle of a local Swiss white wine, called Villette.
Obviously, this just scratches the surface of our vacation, but I thought I'd give you all a taste! Bon appetite!

Monday, May 5, 2008

Bon Voyage!

I'll be traveling for the next week or so, to far off European destinations! Stay tuned for some neat travel photos. In the meantime, have some fondue in my honor!

Sunday, May 4, 2008

Better Than Sex Cake

If you google "Better Than Sex Cake" you fill find about 4984415318716519 recipes. Everything ranging from chocolate cake with caramel sauce to strawberry cake with jello. You can use pudding, canned pineapple, or even cherry pie filling. Whatever strange combination you choose to use, there are some basic guidelines: You bake a cake (whether from a mix or from scratch); you poke holes in it; you fill the holes with some sweet, gooey topping; you let it sit in the refridgerator; you ice it; you eat it.

I don't remember where I found this particular combination, but I made it for a friend's birthday (using yellow cake instead of lemon) in college and it was devoured in ten seconds. I also made a chocolate ala sweetened condensed milk ala sugar glaze version, which was super super sweet but sinfully delicious.

So when it came time for Mr. Heart's birthday cake, he chose this one. We picked lemon cake because we thought it might cut the sweetness a little and compliment the strawberries. It did.

Is it really better than sex? Well, it's easy, sinful, sweet, intense, and kinda trashy and yet strangely satisfying... but I guess you'll have to try it for yourself!

Better Than Sex Cake
Serves alot

1 box lemon (or yellow) cake mix
2 cups of strawberries, trimmed
1 can sweetened condensed milk
1 3.5 oz box of vanilla pudding mix
1 cup milk
1 8 oz container of Cool Whip

1) Prepare boxed cake mix in a 9x13 pan according to package instructions. Remove from oven and allow to cool about 10 minutes.
2) Using the back of a wooden spoon, punch holes in the cake liberally (about 1 inch apart).
3) In food processor, purée strawberries until smooth. In a medium bowl, combine sweetened condensed milk and strawberries.
4) Pour half of the strawberry mixture over cake, allowing it to fill the holes. Spread the mixture across the top until mostly absorbed. Pour the rest of the mixture on and repeat. Poke more holes with back of spoon or with a fork as necessary.
5) Cover cake with plastic wrap and refrigerate overnight (or for at least a couple of hours)**.
6) Whisk together milk and pudding mix in a medium bowl until smooth. Fold in Cool Whip until fully incorporated.
7) Remove cake from fridge and uncover. Spread whipped topping evenly over the cake. Garnish with fresh strawberries.

**This cake gets better the longer you leave it in the fridge. Leftovers are awesome.

Peanut Chicken with Vegetables

So the recipe I had hoped to use was a Chinese five-spice chicken stir-fry, but alas, our ever friendly Shaw's Market is going through major renovations and none was to be found. So instead we picked up some peanut sauce.

I know, I know, peanut sauce is easy enough to make, but hey, we were feeling lazy AND we're going to Europe this week, so the last thing we wanted to do was buy more ingredients. After sifting through several mixes and jars, we settled on Thai Kitchen Peanut Satay Sauce. We chose this because it seemed to have mostly natural ingredients and very few (if any) preservatives. We've also had some success with their products in the past (I buy their rice noodles to make Pad Thai.)

However, it seemed to lack a little something when used as a sauce over all of the ingredients in this dish. I'm not sure what it was, maybe it needed a little more spice, a little more zing. It wasn't bad, it was just kinda plain.

But when we used this to make wraps for lunch (peanut sauce, cucumber, shredded chicken, rice, and fresh red pepper) I thought it tasted great. Mr. Heart was still not a huge fan. So I would say it might be worth a try. Or you can always just make your own.

Feel free to substitute any vegetables in that you like! This is what we had on hand. I actually served it over orzo, which was tasty. I am sure it would be equally delicious over rice.

Peanut Noodles with Vegetables
Serves 2

1 boneless, skinless chicken breast, cut into 1" chunks
1 TBS plus 1 tsp canola or peanut oil
1/2 cup cornstarch
salt and pepper
pinch of ground red pepper
1/2 head of cauliflower, cut into florets (~1 cup)
1/2 red onion, thinly sliced
1/2 red pepper, cut into thin strips
1/2 cup fresh green beans, trimmed
1-3 TBS water
1/4 cup peanut sauce mixed with 2 TBS water or chicken broth
1 TBS peanuts, chopped fine (for garnish)

1) In a ziplock bag, combine cornstarch and salt/pepper/red pepper to taste. Add chicken and toss to coat.
2) In a large non-stick skillet, heat 1 TBS of oil over medium heat until hot, but not smoking. Remove chicken from ziplock bag, shaking off any excess cornstarch. Add chicken to pan. Cook until a golden crust has formed, turning frequently, about 5 minutes. Transfer chicken to a paper-towel lined plate and set aside.
3) Warm the remaining teaspoon of oil in the skillet until hot, but not smoking. Add the vegetables a cook, stirring, for 1 minutes. Add 1 TBS of the water to the pan and cover. Cook for 2 more minutes, or until vegetables are tender (add more water as needed, if the pan gets too dry).
4) Add the chicken and peanut sauce mixture to the pan, tossing to coat. Cook an additional minute until heated through.
5) Serve over rice or orzo and garnish with chopped peanuts.

Thursday, May 1, 2008

Red Potatoes Au Gratin

So when I made roasted red potatoes to go along with my Unceremonious Steak with Balsamic Vinegar, I was left with two hefty ones at the bottom of the bag. So I made a gratin! I've only maybe made a gratin once before ever, so I used Joy of Cooking as my guide, but monkeyed around with the amounts. This made enough for two as a good sized side dish, but could probably also serve three if you had a heavier main course.

This was creamy and delicious. It would also have been great with gruyere or a more kick-ass cheese, but all I had was Parmesan, which was still pretty darn tasty. All it lacked was salt, so I've modified the recipe to include a more daring salting approach than my initial attempt. It's always hard halving and cutting back recipes. Some flavors always seem to get lost!

Red Potatoes Au Gratin
Serves 2-3

2 large red potatoes, washed (About 1 lb? I'm really not sure. These were big red potatoes though.)
1 TBS butter, softened
1 cup milk, half-n-half, or light cream (I used half light cream, half skim milk)
1/2 tsp salt
ground pepper to taste
pinch of nutmeg
1 cup dried bread crumbs
1/2 tsp paprika
2 -3 TBS butter, cut into small pieces
1/4-1/2 cup grated parmesan

1) Preheat the oven to 350ºF
2) Slice the potatoes thinly. Combine with milk, salt, pepper, and nutmeg in a large sauce pan and bring to a simmer over medium heat. Cook gently for about 5 minutes, or until thick, stirring frequently.
3) Rub a shallow baking dish or pie dish with softened butter. Transfer potato mixture into pan, spreading potatoes in an even layer. Press the potatoes down so that they top layer is submerged in the liquid.
4) Sprinkle the top liberally with bread crumbs, paprika, and parmesan. Place pieces of butter evenly over the top.
5) Bake until the top is golden brown and the potatoes are tender, about 30-35 minutes.