Sunday, August 2, 2009

A Quick and Tasty Pasta Dish

Recently I have managed to catch several of Giada and Ina’s shows on the Food Network. I really haven’t seen either of them in a while, so I really enjoyed seeing what they were cooking. Giada had one episode for quick and easy meals for a busy day. Well, Russ and I have lately wanted to eat at home more and I am always looking for a quick, easy, and tasty new meal. She made a one-dish meal of Ravioli with Arugula, Tomatoes, and Pancetta. I decided to make it the next night since I knew I had a lot to do during the day and wouldn’t have a lot of time for cooking that night.

To make the pasta dish you start by slicing the pancetta into small pieces and frying it in a skillet until it is crispy. Once it is done drain it onto a plate with paper towels. Meanwhile start the water for cooking the pasta and add the ravioli once it has come to a boil (I always salt my pasta water). Next add olive oil and the tomatoes (which are drained). I also added a couple cloves of diced fresh garlic. Then add the basil and arugula. The grocery store didn’t have just arugula, so I went with baby spinach instead. Gently toss the spinach as it wilts, so that it mixes in with everything else. Next add salt, pepper, and butter. Once it has all cooked together for a few minutes add the pancetta back in and then the cooked ravioli. Add a little more butter and carefully toss the pasta into the tomato / arugula mixture. Serve immediately.

This was a very simple and quick meal to put together. It only has a few ingredients yet the flavor is fantastic. It really exceeded my expectations. I told Russ that I obviously thought it would be good (or I wouldn’t have tried it), but I certainly had not thought it would be as flavorful as it turned out to be. I love the combination of spinach, tomatoes, and basil. We also both enjoyed the cheese ravioli which I haven’t bought since I was in graduate school. I also imagine that if you have children you could serve them some of the ravioli with just the tomatoes or with just Parmesan cheese on top if they are not interested in the spinach etc. All in all this was a tasty dish that will definitely be repeated in our house. Russ rates it an 8. (The picture of Cash is from the beach earlier this summer. He is a beach bum!)

Monday, July 27, 2009

Don't Faint... I think I am back to blogging!

So, to say it has been awhile since I last posted is probably a little bit of an understatement. It has essentially been nine months… I have been cooking though, but I have also been busy with taking a few classes for my certification, sleeping during most of my first trimester, among other things. Thankfully I am now done with classes and have most of my energy back. I wish I had posted over the last months because I know I made several dishes that we loved including some new cookie recipes for Christmas, new Indian dishes… and I don’t remember the names to even post the recipes. Alas, I hopefully to pick back up with cooking, baking, and blogging now.

The most recent season of The Bachelorette finished up on Monday night and we had quite the meal to celebrate the end of a mediocre show (this season was fairly boring until the end) and several weeks of yummy meals and fun times with good friends and their pups. Seth and Elizabeth out did themselves with a surf and turf entrée consisting of petite fillets, grilled shrimp, and homemade crab cakes. Emily and Dowe did tasty sides of baked potatoes (with all the fixings) and asparagus. Russ and I followed up this fancy meal with a rather plain, but still yummy dessert. Since I am back to blogging I am also finally finding time to catch up on other food blogs that I enjoy reading, including Smitten Kitchen. I knew that I wanted to do something that involved the fresh Mentone blueberries Russ and I picked with his family the other weekend. I didn’t want to do the obvious blueberry cobbler though. I remembered seeing a blueberry dessert on Smitten Kitchen recently and went back to find where she made Blueberry Boy Bait. It is apparently based on an older recipe that a young girl submitted to a contest and won. She named it because of its effect on boys. Well, since we are watching The Bachelorette it sounded like the perfect fit.

To make the Blueberry Boy Bait you combine the dry ingredients (flour, baking powder and salt) together in a bowl. Using an electric mixer you beat the sugars and softened butter together until they are light and fluffy. Next you add the eggs one at a time while the mixer is still going. Next you lower the speed of the mixer and add 1/3 of the flour of mixture until it is combined. Then add half the milk followed by half of the remaining flour mixture, the remaining milk, and lastly the remaining flour mixture. Once it is all combined you fold in ½ cup of blueberries. Pour the batter into a greased baking dish. Then combine the sugar, cinnamon, and another ½ cup of blueberries and sprinkle it evenly over the top of the batter. Put it in a 350 degree oven for about 45 minutes or until a toothpick comes out clean from the center. Let it cool and then cut it into squares and serve.

This was a simple, but tasty summer cake. It really would work just as well (maybe even better) as a coffee cake in the morning as opposed to dessert. It was not an over the top cake, but for the ease of preparation and amount of time it is winner for simple blueberry cake. The only change I would make next time is either increasing the cinnamon in the topping by a pinch or adding a little cinnamon to the batter. It really is perfectly fine without upping the cinnamon, but I love a little spice in my cakes. It would be an easy coffee cake to take for a weekend trip with friends. Overall I was pleased with the dessert and while Russ didn’t feel any strong effects from it he did like it and rates it an 8.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Election Night Chicken

Lately I have had a hankering for chicken piccata, so tonight I decided to do a repeat of Ina Garten's chicken picatta that I made before here. I tend to not repeat many recipes as there are always so many new ones that I want to try, however, tonight I decided to go back to one that we enjoyed once before since I knew it was quick, easy, and tasty. One of the things I love about chicken piccata is the tang and bright fresh flavor from the lemon and that was what I was really craving. It was also a perfect meal for tonight since it is quick with it being election night. We ended up with plenty of time to not only enjoy a home cooked meal, but also watch all the exciting election coverage. Tonight's repeat chicken piccata was just as yummy as the last time we had it! A wonderful repeat. Russ gives it a 9 once again.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Our Old Favorite Stir Fry

Recently I talked about how my sister made the comment that I was fairly critical of stir fry recipes and I admitted that she is right (see this post). I mention that there is a recipe that there is an older Cooking Light stir fry recipe that we love that we used to make frequently and then for some reason have not made since I started blogging. Well, tonight I decided to revisit it to see if we still love it like we remember and in hopes of blogging about a chicken stir fry recipe that we really love. The recipe is for Kung Pao Chicken.

To make the Kung Pao chicken you start by adding a little bit of oil a non-stick skillet or a wok if you happen to have one. Then add the broccoli florets and some of the ginger and saute for a couple of minutes. Then add just a little bit of water and cover the pan and let the broccoli stem until it is done like you like it. For stir fries I like to have my vegatables slightly on the crunchy side. Then remove the broccoli from the pan and set aside. Add the rest of the oil to the pan along with the remaining ginger, crushed red pepper and chicken. Saute for a couple of minutes. While the chicken is cooking add the chicken broth, hoisen sauce, soy sauce, rice wine vinegar, cornstarch, and minced garlic to a bowl and wisk it all together. Then add the sauce to the pan and let it cook for about a minute until it thickens. Then add the broccoli and toss it to mix everything together and coat it with the sauce. Serve over hot rice and top with peanuts. I did make two additions to the recipe by adding bamboo shoots and onions to it. I love both bamboo shoots and onions and think they work well with the broccoli and add a little complexity and more texture to the dish. Also, the pictures are of Russ' plate without peanuts since he doesn't care for them in his food; I on the other hand love the crunch and saltiness that they add.

I absolutely love this simple stir fry. It takes little preparation, cooks quickly and is an entire meal in and of itself. Now, if you don't happen to keep ingredients like hoisen sauce, rice wine vinegar and ginger around I don't want this to turn you off from this recipe. When I first started cooking I wanted to try different Asian recipes, but was concerned that I would end up with a fridge and pantry full of bottles of sauces that I would never use again. Well, I finally bit the bullet and bought hoisen sauce and made this recipe. I now have a pantry and fridge full of Asian ingredients that all get used frequently. Back to my review... I really enjoy the slightly sweet, yet spicy sauce in this dish. The sauce really makes this for me and is part of why I am often critical of sauces in other stir fries. I think this sauce is incredibly well balanced with a hint of sweet from the hoisen sauce and a punch of flavor from the garlic and rounded out with a kick from the crushed red pepper. We usually serve this over brown rice, but tonight we used white as we were out of brown. Both work well, but we prefer the brown as white tends to be fairly bland. Russ rates this a 9.

Since Cash has not made an appearance on the blog in far too long here are a few new ones of him including one in his Halloween costume!

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Chef Russ

While I do most of the cooking in our house, Russ is very involved. He does all the grilling, dishes, pictures for the blog and sometimes he takes the reigns and cooks the entire meal. Tonight was one of those nights when I had a meeting after work and knew I would come home hungry, too tired to cook, yet wanting a home cooked meal. Enter the sweetest husband ever who cooked up his new specialty that he has made once before for me, Pasta Puttanesca while I was at my meeting.

Russ loves this recipe because not only does it taste great, but he says it is fairly simple to prepare and all the ingredients are ones that almost always have in the pantry. I love it because it is delicious and required no effort on my part. It has great flavor from the capers and garlic, a nice kick from the fresh cayenne peppers from our garden, and fantastic color and texture from the olives. The tomatoes still take center stage and are just amplified by all the other tasty ingredients. I give it a 10 and Russ rates it a 9.

Monday, October 20, 2008

Tagine Night

Some weeks I have more recipes I want to try than nights for cooking and then there are other weeks where I am just at a loss as to what to cook. This week fell into the latter category. So, I started perusing some of my cookbooks, magazines, and several websites looking for some inspiration. I ended up finding it online at Cooking Light’s website. I love my tagine that Russ gave me for Christmas, so when I ran across a recipe that not only used my tagine, but also sounded super tasty I was sold. So, tonight we tried an older CL recipe for Chicken Tagine with Lemons and Olives.

To start with you let the chicken marinate in a little bit of lemon juice for about 30 minutes. I did use boneless, skinless chicken breasts instead of thighs since I had some in the freezer that needed to be used. Once they have marinated then I cut them into large pieces and tossed them in the flour. Then I sprinkled the spice mixture (salt, pepper, cayenne, and tumeric) over them. Next you add a little oil to pan and brown the chicken on both sides. The chicken does not need to be cooked all the way through at this point, but I wanted it mostly cooked. Then set it aside and add a little more oil to the pan and sauté the onions, garlic, and ginger until they are soft. Next add the olives, lemon rind, cinnamon stick, and chicken to the pan. Finally add the chicken broth and bring it to a boil. Once it is boiling then you reduce the heat to a simmer and put the top on and let it slowly simmer away for about an hour. Once it is done you add the cilantro to it, however, I forgot to do this so we just topped ours with the cilantro. I served it over cous cous with a side of steamed broccoli.

This was very tasty and flavorful. I really liked the subtle lemon flavor and the tang from the green olives. It makes plenty of sauce which I liked and it was nice to put over the cous cous which soaked it up. The chicken was tender and flavorful. We both really enjoyed this recipe and while I did feel like I used a million bowls and plates while I was preparing it overall it was fairly simple to make. Russ rates the dish a 9.

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Not quite vegetarian...

We recently went to the beach with some friends and on the way down Russ and I stopped and had dinner at a cute place in Milton, Florida. Russ ordered red beans and rice for dinner and it took me a little by surprise. You see I tend to think of red beans and rice as a vegetarian dish. One that I love, but that Russ would be underwhelmed by its lack of meat; however, what I forget is that it doesn’t have to be vegetarian in fact it usually isn’t. Russ and I both love beans, so I decided to put red beans and rice on the menu soon.

I didn’t have a recipe, so I went online and found an Emeril recipe that looked very tasty. It starts with dried red beans that I soaked in water overnight. When you are ready to get started drain the beans and set them aside. To get started you add bacon grease to the pan. I did this by cooking a couple pieces of bacon in the pan and removing it while leaving its grease. Next you add the onions, green pepper, and celery to the pot and season them with salt, pepper, and cayenne. Let the vegetables cook until they are soft. You can also add tasso ham as the recipe calls for, but I couldn’t find it and just left it out. Once the vegetables are soft you add the bay leaves, sausage (I used turkey sausage), parsley, thyme and ham hocks and let it brown for a couple of minutes.

In case you are waiting for me to say that I left out the ham hocks I’ll explain how Russ made sure they were included. I looked for them at the grocery store and I really did look, but I couldn’t find them anywhere. So, I called Russ on my way home to tell him that there was no ham hock in the store and I didn’t have time to stop anywhere else to look for it. Well, Russ absolutely hates going to the grocery store, but in this case he loves his pork enough that he stops on his way home and finds the smoked ham hock. So, thanks to Russ we did include the ham hocks. Back to the recipe… you then add the garlic and let it cook for a minute. Next add the beans and stock (I used homemade chicken stock). Bring it all to a boil and then lower the temperature to bring it to a simmer and leave it uncovered to simmer for about two hours. After two hours, mash about a ¼ of the beans against the side of the pot and then let it continue to simmer for about 15 or 20 more minutes until it is creamy and the beans are tender. Serve over rice and top with green onion slices.

This was very tasty. The beans had nice flavor that was both smoky and savory. The sausage complemented the beans well without trying to compete or overpower them. The beans were rather thick and somewhat creamy. I especially loved the green onions as a garnish. They not only added a punch of color, but also added a nice fresh flavor to it. Russ and I both felt like despite the beans soaking overnight and simmering for almost 2 and half hours that they still could have cooked for longer to be a little more tender. Russ also said he would have preferred if the bean mixture had not been quite so thick. Next time I can change this by not mashing the beans and by adding more stock as the mixture cooks. Overall we both thought it had wonderful flavor and was tasty meal. Russ rates it a 9.

Red Beans and Rice, Emeril Lagasse 2001

Yield: 8 servings

1 lb. dried red beans, rinsed and sorted over
3 tablespoons bacon grease
¼ cup chopped tasso or chopped ham
1 and ½ cups chopped yellow onions
¾ cups chopped celery
¾ cup chopped green bell peppers
½ teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
Pinch cayenne
3 bay leaves
2 teaspoons fresh thyme
½ lb smoked sausage, split in half lengthwise and cut into 1 inch pieces
1lb. smoked ham hocks
3 tablespoons chopped garlic
10 cups chicken stock, or water
4 cups cooked white rice
1/4 cup chopped green onions, garnish

Place the beans in a large bowl or pot and cover with water by 2 inches. Let soak for 8 hours or overnight. Drain and set aside.

In a large pot, heat the bacon grease over medium-high heat. Add the tasso and cook, stirring, for 1 minute. Add the onions, celery and bell peppers to the grease in the pot. Season with the salt, pepper, and cayenne, and cook, stirring, until the vegetables are soft, about 4 minutes. Add the bay leaves, parsley, thyme, sausage, and ham hocks, and cook, stirring, to brown the sausage and ham hocks, about 4 minutes. Add the garlic and cook for 1 minute. Add the beans and stock or water, stir well, and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to medium-low and simmer, uncovered, stirring occasionally, until the beans are tender and starting to thicken, about 2 hours. (Should the beans become too thick and dry, add more water, about 1/4 cup at a time.)

Remove from the heat and with the back of a heavy spoon, mash about 1/4 of the beans against the side of the pot. Continue to cook until the beans are tender and creamy, 15 to 20 minutes. Remove from the heat and remove the bay leaves. Serve over rice and garnish with green onions.