Posts tagged ‘cheese’

October 15, 2013

Warm Brussels Sprouts Salad

The way I get myself over the loss of something… in this case, the warm, comforting embrace of Summer… is to consider what I am looking forward to next.  Chilly days and cozy nights, pumpkins and squash, and the beautiful deep colors of the falling leaves that are echoed in the change in my wardrobe.  Lush sweaters, leather jackets, textured cords, hats, knits, scarfs and my favorite of all, boots!!   You never see me procrastinating to pull out the sweaters or prepare the house for fall.  The time for reflecting on the year and gearing up for a strong finish does not escape me.

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On a cool Thursday night, after weighing our dining options, my mom and I slide into one of the wooden banquettes of the local Italian eatery Pizza Antica.  A generous bowl of warm, salted focaccia with rich olive oil is set on our table as we relax into our booth and peruse the menu.  When I came across the warm Brussels sprout salad I didn’t need to keep reading. With the onset of cool, autumn weather brings us Brussels sprouts at the peak of their growing season.  By the end of summer I’m anxious to dig into fall’s harvest and at farmer’s markets the landscape shifts to display a new array of deep reds, yellows and creamy whites. Gone are the strawberries, corn and stone fruits of summer; in their place, root vegetables, squash and cold-weather tree fruit emerge. It’s an exciting time of transition, and also a delicious one.

This salad is a celebration of fall and combines all that is good in the world – bacon, Brussels spouts, garlic and homemade croutons for a variety of flavors and textures.  The nutty flavor of the pan-fried sprouts is complemented beautifully by the smoky bacon, creamy egg and chew of the toasted bread.  Everything is brought together with a light, garlic vinaigrette which compliments the tender sprouts without overwhelming the dish.  This recipe was inspired by Pizza Antica, and I encourage you to adapt it as you go.  Sometimes I throw in some toasted almonds for crunch or top it with finely grated Parmesan cheese.

Ingredients

Warm Brussels Sprouts Salad

  • 1/2 slab bacon (9 slices of pre-cut bacon)
  • 4 tbsp. extra light extra virgin olive oil, plus 2 tbsp. for croutons
  • 2 medium onions, peeled and sliced
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 6 slices sourdough bread, cut into 1/2″ squares
  • 6 large eggs
  • 2 lbs. Brussels sprouts
  • Sea salt, to taste
  • Freshly ground pepper, to taste

Vinaigrette

  • 1 large garlic clove, minced
  • 1 large shallot, minced
  • 1 tsp. fresh thyme leaves
  • 3 tbsp. red wine vinegar
  • 1/2 cup extra light extra virgin olive oil
  • Sea salt, to taste
  • Freshly ground pepper, to taste

Method:

  1. First we’ll make the vinaigrette and set it aside for later.  To make the vinaigrette, soak the garlic, shallots, and thyme in vinegar for roughly 45 minutes.
  2. After soaking, slowly whisk in the oil. Season to taste with salt and pepper and reserve covered.
  3. Preheat oven to 300°F for the croutons.
  4. Toss cubed bread with light extra-virgin olive oil and toast in the oven for 20-25 mins until golden brown and crispy.  Allow to cool to room temperature and set aside.
  5. Cut bacon into 1/2″ squares and cook over low to medium heat until almost crisp; drain off the fat and set aside.
  6. In the same pan you cooked the bacon, heat 2 tbsp. light extra-virgin olive oil.  If you have some remaining bacon fat leave it in the pan and just add any extra oil as needed.  The extra light olive oil has a higher smoking point so if you don’t have it, replace it with canola oil.
  7. Sauté sliced onions over medium-high heat until golden brown, two minutes before you remove it from the heat add the garlic; drain and set aside.
  8. In a small saucepan, cover the eggs with cold water and bring to a low boil.  Once boiling remove from heat and cover.  Let the eggs stand in hot water for 8-9 minutes.  Then run cold water over eggs to stop the cooking – this will give you hard-boiled eggs with a firm yolk.
  9. Peel eggs and dice finely (about the size of a small pea) and reserve covered in the refrigerator.
  10. Clean the sprouts by removing the first few dark leaves and discarding. Cut off the stem, and separate the leaves one by one. When you get to the light green center and can’t pull off the leaves, either slice the heart very thin or reserve for other uses.  Peeling the leaves is definitely the best way to make this salad, but if you are short on time you can also shred them in a Cuisinart.  It will save you at least 30 mins but you won’t get the same texture.
  11. In a large sauté pan, heat remaining extra-virgin olive oil until almost smoking and add sprouts leaves; toss until wilted (about 3 minutes), season with salt and pepper.
  12. Add reserved onions and bacon and warm until hot.
  13. When hot, add vinaigrette and toss to distribute evenly.
  14. Add croutons and chopped eggs and toss to incorporate.
  15. Serve!

Recipe sourced from http://www.pizzaantica.com/

 

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July 22, 2013

Butternut Squash and Mushroom Lasagna

Pasta carbonara, pizza Margherita, and a fresh panzanella salad.  I love classic Italian dishes, but sometimes I like to experiment.  I had to make a vegetarian dish for a dinner with friends, so I thought it would be a perfect opportunity to take a new look at lasagna, traditionally interweaving layers of pasta, ricotta, ragù, béchamel, and Parmigiano-Reggiano.

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But let’s take a step back. Many of you might be remembering that dire lasagna from church potlucks – soggy pasta and waterlogged ground beef.  I recall separating the pasta and pulling out clumps of tacky ricotta, while trying to remove the cracked fluted edges of noodle from the top layer.  Please, try not to associate frozen lasagna with a freshly made version – it’s not even comparable.

The key to this lasagna is the pasta, which lends a wonderful texture and coarseness to the dish.  Its chewy, dense consistency reminds me of traditional Italian pastas, perfectly al dente with a slight bite.  What I love about this dish is it’s combination textures from creamy ricotta, silky butternut squash, and an earthiness from the crimini mushrooms.  The luscious combination of ingredients can stand up to one another, and among all the flavors I can still pick out subtle hints of nutty parmesan.

This recipe is inspired by one I found in an old copy of Bon Appétit.

Ingredients

  • 1/4 cup salted butter
  • 2 large onions, chopped
  • 5 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1/2 pound crimini (baby bella) mushrooms, diced (about 3 cups)
  • 2 pounds butternut squash, peeled, seeded, cut into 1/4-inch-thick slices (about 5 1/2 cups)
  • 1 14-ounce carton vegetable broth
  • 4 tablespoons fresh thyme, chopped and divided
  • 4 tablespoons fresh sage, sliced and divided
  • 3 15-ounce containers whole-milk ricotta cheese
  • 4 cups mozzarella cheese, grated and divided
  • 2 cups Parmigiano-Reggiano, grated and divided
  • 4 spring onions, finely chopped
  • 4 large eggs
  • Olive oil
  • Salt
  • Fresh ground pepper
  • 2 9-ounce package lasagna noodles.  (My favorite brand is Rustichella d’Abruzzo Lasagne all’uovo These noodles need to be boiled before being layered into your lasagna.  The original recipe calls for no cook noodles if you want to take out a step)

Method

  1. Melt butter into a large skillet over medium-high heat.  I recommend using a skillet with high sides so you can use one pan for all your steps – heads up you’ll need to simmer your squash and noodles in vegetable broth so pick a larger pan than you might think.
  2. Add onions and sauté until soft, about 8 minutes and season with salt and pepper.
  3. Add garlic and sauté for another 1-2 minutes.
  4. Increase heat to high; add mushrooms and cook until tender, stirring constantly, about 5 minutes. Season with salt and pepper and then transfer the mushroom mixture to a bowl and set aside until you’re ready to assemble the pasta.
  5. In the same skillet, add squash, broth, 3 tablespoons thyme, and 3 tablespoons sage. Cover and simmer over medium heat until squash is just tender, about 6 minutes. Uncover and cook until squash is very soft but still retains shape, about 5 minutes.  Season with salt and pepper.
  6. Skim the squash from the skillet and set aside.  Don’t worry if it starts to fall apart a little, and discard the thyme and sage.  Keep any vegetable broth left over in the pan.
  7. Add 4 cups of water to the broth and bring to a low boil for your pasta sheets.
  8. While your broth comes to a boil, mix ricotta, 2 cups mozzarella cheese, 1 1/2 cups Parmesan cheese, spring onion, and remaining 1 tablespoon thyme and 1 tablespoon sage in large bowl.
  9. Mix in eggs and season to taste with salt and pepper.
  10. Once your broth is at a low boil, place pasta in broth and let simmer for 3 min.  Once slightly softened, you can turn off the heat and begin to assemble your lasagna.
  11. Brush 13x9x2-inch glass or ceramic baking dish with oil. Spread 1 cup ricotta mixture over bottom. Arrange 3 – 4 noodles on top (I usually cut a few so I can cover the entire dish). Spread 13/4 cups ricotta mixture over noodles. Arrange 1 1/3 cups squash mixture over. Sprinkle with 1/2 cup mushrooms and 1 cup mozzarella. Top with 3 noodles, then 1 3/4 cups ricotta mixture, half of remaining squash, 1/2 cup mushrooms, and remaining 1 cup mozzarella. Repeat with noodles, 1 3/4 cups ricotta mixture, remaining squash, and remaining mushrooms. Top with 3 noodles. Spread remaining ricotta mixture over; sprinkle with remaining Parmesan.
  12. Cover with oiled foil.
  13. Preheat oven to 350°F. Bake lasagna, covered, 35 minutes. Uncover; bake until heated through, about 25 minutes longer.
  14. Let stand 10 minutes before serving.
  15. Serve with a fresh arugula salad!
July 11, 2012

Capellini with Arrabbiata Sauce and Grilled Chicken Breast

I can’t bring myself to buy jarred pasta sauce when it takes less than 10 minutes to make it from scratch.  It just doesn’t compare to the bright flavors of freshly made pasta sauce – and it’s not just better tasting it also better for you.

The simplest, and most authentic marinara is a quick sauce, seasoned only with onion, garlic, pepper, and, if you like, basil or oregano. The pieces of tomato are left chunky, and the texture of the finished sauce is fairly loose.  It’s that easy. Toss with your favorite pasta and you’re weeknight meal is a quick trip to Italy!  Once you have this base, with just a few adjustments, you can make a range of sauces from a few simple ingredients.

Today we’re making Capellini with arrabiata sauce.  This dish’s name – arrabbiata – comes from the Italian word for “angry” because of the spicy tomato and red pepper.  The sweet tomatoes balance the heat from the peppers and will awaken any palate.  The salty, charred flavor from the grilled chicken offsets the heat and adds an element of texture to this luscious bowl of pasta.  No need for take out tonight, make a large bowl of pasta for your family and I promise you’ll go to bed with full bellies and a full wallet. 

Ingredients

  • 4 skinless boneless chicken breast
  • 1 packet Capellini pasta (angel hair)
  • 1 tbsp. extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 large onion, finely diced
  • 5 cloves garlic, finely diced
  • 1/2 tsp. salt
  • 1/2 tsp. freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 can diced tomatoes, 8 oz.
  • 2 cans stewed tomatoes, 16 oz.
  • 2 tbsp. tomato paste
  • 1 tbsp. Italian Seasoning
  • 2 tbsp. red-hot chili pepper (use more or less depending on the level of heat desired)
  • 1/4 cup freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano
  • 1 tbsp. Fresh Italian parsley, roughly chopped
  • Handful of fresh basil, roughly chopped

Chicken seasoning

  • 1 tsp. salt
  • 1 tsp. Italian Seasoning
  • 1/2 tsp. ground black pepper
  • 1/2 tsp. garlic powder

Method

  1. Place large pot of water on stove to boil for the pasta.  Once it boils lower it to a simmer until everything else is ready.  The pasta only takes 4 minutes to cook so it’s the last thing you want to do, but you want to have the water ready to go.
  2. Place skillet on medium heat and add olive oil.
  3. Saute onion, garlic, salt and pepper for about 5 minutes.  You want the onions to turn opaque; you don’t want them to brown.
  4. Add diced tomatoes, stewed tomatoes and tomato paste.  Stir in Italian seasoning and red-hot chili peppers and return to a low simmer.
  5. Carefully spoon out about half the mixture and place it in a food processor.  You can also use a blender but be careful and hold the lid down tightly since the heat will want to push it up.
  6. Blend half the sauce and add it back into the skillet.  This will add richness to the sauce while still keeping some texture.
  7. Add Parmigiano-Reggiano and lower heat to low.  Now it’s chicken time!
  8. Turn grill on medium~high (350 degrees)
  9. Mix chicken spices in a small bowl and sprinkle on top and bottom of chicken breast
  10. Spray hot grill with PAM and place chicken over direct heat.
  11. Close lid and cook for approx. 6 minutes, then flip and cook another 6 minutes with the lid closed.  Chicken’s done at 165 deg. There is no rare or med rare for chicken. You have to cook it done every time! Try not to prick the breast much, it will make the juices run out and cause it to be dry.
  12. Remove chicken from grill and let it rest while you cook the pasta.  Don’t slice immediately; wait until you’re ready to serve.
  13. Return water to a boil, salt water (1 tbsp. salt) and add pasta.
  14. Stir well and let boil for 4 minutes.  Start the 4 minutes as soon as you drop in the pasta.
  15. While pasta cooks, add parsley and basil to the sauce.
  16. Drain well and reserve a cup of pasta water to add to the sauce.  This thin pasta is very delicate and will turn to mush if you over cook it.
  17. Add drained pasta directly into sauce and stir.  Add some of the pasta water if needed; it will help loosen the sauce if it gets too thick.
  18. Fill a large bowl with a healthy serving of pasta and top with sliced chicken breast.

Diverti!

February 12, 2012

Flip’s Spiced Chicken Sausage Soup

I came back from a business trip with a box of tissues, cough drops, and a sore throat that wouldn’t pass.  By day 4 I developed a hacking cough so I eventually gave in and went to the doctor.  Well, there I was, 2 ear infections and bronchitis and my other half had just left for New Zealand for 2 weeks.  I was miserable.  After a hot shower and a little dusting off, I decided to end my pity party and headed to the store for some key ingredients.

With all my congestion I wasn’t able to taste anything.  I know, my worst nightmare.  So, the traditional chicken noodle soup was going to need a little kick.  I made a twist on the original with a little heat and some Italian sausage.  It’s as if gumbo and chicken noodle soup had a child.  On day 1 I wasn’t really able to taste it, but it did have a great combination of textures from soft vegetables and tender meatballs swimming in a warm, silky broth.  I figured I’d let it stew overnight before adjusting the spice, in hopes my taste buds would make a quick recovery.  Thanks to some antibiotics, prescription strength cough syrup and decongestants, I woke the next morning to the fragrant bouquet of rosemary and Italian sausage seeping through the house.  Ok, I’ll admit it, I had it for breakfast.  I just couldn’t resist!!  The hint of spice and cumin, mixed with the expected aroma of thyme, rosemary and soft tender chicken was a welcome home.  By the end of day 2 I feel like a new person.  It has everything I needed in one bowl to fight back, who can ask for more than that?

I packed up my weeks worth of lunches, and as long as I stop sneaking into the refrigerator for another bowl it should last me until Tuesday.

Ingredients

Stock

  • 4lb. raw chicken
  • 1 onion, roughly chopped
  • 2 stalks celery, roughly chopped
  • 1 large carrot, roughly chopped
  • 4 cloves garlic, smashed
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 1 tbsp. cumin
  • 1 tbsp. thyme
  • 3 sprigs fresh rosemary
  • 1 tbsp. salt
  • 1 tbsp. peppercorns
  • 1 bullion cube
  • 1 gallon cold water (enough to cover the chicken and all the contents)

Soup

  • Homemade stock (above)
  • Chicken from stock, shredded
  • 2 tsp. cayenne
  • 2 tsp. cumin
  • 1 tbsp. paprika
  • 1 tsp. olive oil
  • 1 large onion, diced
  • 2 cloves garlic, finely diced
  • 3 stalks celery, diced
  • 3 large carrots, chopped
  • 2 handfuls baby potatoes, quartered
  • 5 Italian sausages, casing removed
  • 1 bullion cube
  • 2 tbsp. tomato paste
  • 1 tsp. ground pepper
  • Salt to taste
  • Cilantro for garnish
  • Parmesan cheese for garnish

Method

  1. Wash raw chicken with cold water and remove giblets
  2. Place in large stockpot and add onion, celery, garlic, bay leaves, cumin, thyme, rosemary, salt, peppercorns, and bullion cube.  Don’t worry about chopping anything nicely, this is just to flavor the stock and it will all be strained out when the stock is ready.
  3. Fill pot with water until chicken and all contents are fully covered
  4. Place on stove on high and bring to a boil
  5. Once boiling, bring heat to low and simmer for 2-2½  hours.  The longer to simmer the better the flavor.  You can always make the stock the night before and let it sit overnight in the fridge.  Then you can strain it in the morning and you’re ready to make your soup.
  6. Remove chicken and strain stock
  7. Place stock back on stove and turn off heat.  Let sit for 10 minutes and then skim some of the extra oil off the top.  No need to go crazy, just skim some of the extra.
  8. Let the chicken cool about 15 minutes. Carefully remove and discard skin and bones and shred chicken with a fork.
  9. Sprinkle shredded chicken with cumin, paprika, and cayenne pepper.  Mix spices into chicken and return to stockpot.
  10. In a  sauté pan, cook onions and garlic in a tbsp. of olive oil.  Sauté on medium~high until slightly golden (about 7 mins).
  11. Add onions and garlic to stock along with celery, carrots, and potatoes.
  12. Use the same sauté pan for the sausage.  Remove sausage from casing and drop small bite size balls into pan and cook until slightly golden.
  13. Remove sausage from heat and add directly into stock.
  14. Add bullion cube and tomato paste, stir and let simmer.
  15. Let soup simmer on medium~low for 1 hour, taste and add salt/pepper if necessary.
  16. Serve and sprinkle with cilantro and Parmesan cheese.

I ran out of Parmesan so decided to try it with a little French feta crumbled on top.  Let me say, it’s worth trying!  The salty bite was perfectly balanced with the warm spice of the soup.

October 4, 2011

Polenta with Bacon & Parmesean

This is a dish that will always remind me of home, and more importantly my mom.  She would make this for me on ‘special’ nights and to this day I’m still not sure why this was a ‘special’ dinner.  Either way, I enjoyed it and would hold off eating any snacks for the afternoon in anticipation of warm polenta topped with bacon and cheese.  This is a very easy, affordable dinner that only consists of 3 ingredients, can’t get much simpler than that!

There’s something warm and inviting about  creamy polenta when it’s fried up in a skillet.  It gets a delicate crisp coating on the outside, but the middle is smooth and creamy.  The Parmesan cheese slowly melts on top, and the crispy, salty bite from the bacon give the dish a nice change of texture.  It’s hard to imagine not liking this dish, after all it has bacon and cheese, what more could you want?  Give it a try; I hope you enjoy it as much as I do.

Ingredients

  • 1 round of pre-cooked polenta (you can make it from scratch but I like to make life easier)
  • 1 packet of bacon, trimmed of excess fat
  • 1/4 cup parmesan cheese (or 1/2 cup if you love it like me)
  • 1 tbsp. olive oil

Method

  • Preheat skillet to medium~high
  • Cut bacon into bite size pieces with scissors directly into the pan
  • Stir occasionally for about 10 minutes until the bacon is crisp
  • When the bacon is nice and crispy, use a slotted spoon to remove from pan and place on a plate lined with paper towel to drain the excess oils
  • Wipe out pan with paper towel and add 1 tbsp. of olive oil and return to medium~high heat (you can also use the bacon fat instead of olive oil, your choice)
  • While pan heats up, take the round of cold polenta and slice into 1 inch thick pieces
  • Once oil is hot, carefully place the cut rounds of polenta into skillet
  • Cook for 6-8 minutes until golden brown and turn
  • Brown other side for 6-8 mins
  • Remove from pan
  • To serve, place polenta on plate, sprinkle crumbled bacon and Parmesan cheese on top
  • YUMMMMMMMMMM!

If you make Polenta from scratch, the basic ratio for polenta is 4 parts liquid to 1 part polenta. I recommend making 2 cups polenta and add a teaspoon of salt, cook as normal and then pour it into a shallow dish to set in the fridge (takes 2-3 hours).  Then slice the polenta and fry up just as you did above.

October 2, 2011

Spaghetti with Italian Sausage and Creamy Tomato Sauce

It’s starting to cool down (well, maybe not in Houston) but my mind-set say it’s time for Fall, and with it comes a new array of dishes for the colder weather.  Pasta is my all time go to, there is so much you can do with it and I always fee like it’s a perfectly balanced meal, especially when you add a side salad.

Instead of starting from scratch with ground pork or beef, I start with hot Italian sausage, which already has a great base of spices and seasoning.  It just needs a little doctoring up, and you have a great base for any pasta sauce.  I love the heartiness of this dish, and the spice you get from the sausage.  The auburn color of the sauce reminds me of the leaves changing in Vermont, and it pops with the addition of the fresh green basil and the creamy specks of Parmesan cheese.

Ingredients

  • 18 oz hot Italian sausage
  • 2 tsp. Italian seasoning
  • 2 tsp. fennel seeds
  • 1 tsp. red pepper flakes
  • 1/2 yellow onion, finely diced
  • 4 cloves garlic, finely diced
  • 2 tsp. salt
  • 1 tsp. ground back pepper
  • 1 can diced tomatoes
  • 6 roma tomatoes, diced with seeds and juice removed
  • 1 tbsp. tomato paste
  • 1 chicken bullion cube
  • 1/2 cup water
  • 1 tbsp. sugar
  • 1/2 cup heavy whipping cream
  • 1 lb. spaghetti pasta (or whatever’s your favorite)
  • Fresh Parmesan cheese (I highly urge you to buy the real stuff, not the cheese in the green can that shall remain unnamed)
  • Handful of fresh basil leaves for garnishing

Method

  • Heat medium size skillet to medium~high
  • Peel the casing off the sausage and crumble into skillet
  • Add fennel, Italian seasoning and red pepper flakes
  • Brown sausage and continue to break it up with a wooden spoon into bite size pieces, it doesn’t have to be even, just break it up as much as you can.  Takes about 5-10 minutes for sausage to cook through
  • Remove sausage with a slotted spoon and place on paper towel lined plate, leave the oils and juices in the skillet, you’ll use this to cook the onions and garlic
  • Lower heat to medium~low and add onion, garlic salt and pepper, cook for 10 minutes (this is sweating the onions, you want them to become translucent, not brown)
  • Add canned tomatoes, fresh tomatoes, tomato paste and stir for 1 minute
  • Add bullion cube, water, sugar and cooked sausage
  • Simmer on low for 10 minutes
  • While sauce simmers, place large pot of water on high and bring to a boil for the pasta
  • Once boiling, add 1 tbsp. of salt and pasta and boil for 9 minutes, or longer depending on the type of pasta you’re using.  I like mine al dente, so I boil mine about 30-60 seconds less than what the package recommends.
  • Strain pasta
  • Add cream to sauce and stir, then remove from heat
  • Usually I would recommend stirring the pasta in with the sauce, but tonight I wanted to put it on top so you could see the vivid color and velvety consistency of the sauce
  • Top with parmesan cheese and basil
  • Repeat for seconds!

Feel free to use different sausage or mild Italian if you’re sensitive to the heat.  I don’t find this dish too spicy, but it would be for kids, so just mellow it out to match your taste.  Happy Fall!

September 9, 2011

Pesto

Break out the food processor; it’s attack of the basil plant!

It all started with two small, innocent looking basil plants I picked up at Lowe’s.  I went with two plants, thinking they’d both be dead within a week based on my record.  The leaves would start to wilt on the way home knowing they were about to be subjected to over watering and lack of sunlight in my small apartment.  I’ll admit I do not have the necessary gardening skills to keep even a cactus alive.  So you can imagine my surprise when I found 3-foot plants with more basil than I knew what to do with?  I guess my luck changed in Houston… sadly not due to anything I did, but thanks to the hot, humid weather.

Basil’s pervading, clove-like aroma is intoxicating; it’s extremely aromatic with a scent of pepper, anise, and mint.  The minute the smell hits me I’m transported to an Italian café where I wait for a fresh margarita pizza.  The taste is sweet, but savory, and just like the smell it’s peppery with a hint of spicy mint.

In an effort to control my garden, I went on a pesto fest, and started making jars of herby goodness to share with family and friends.  Below please find 3 of my pesto recipes.  All you need to do it combine all ingredients in a food processor and process on high-speed till evenly chopped and mixed.

Basil Pesto

  • 3 cups loosely packed basil leaves
  • 1 cup grated Parmesan cheese
  • 1/2 cup toasted pine nuts
  • 3 garlic cloves
  • 1/4 cup cold water
  • 1 tbsp lemon juice
  • 1/2 tsp. salt

Walnut Pesto: Substitute pine nuts for 1/2 cup walnuts; it has a slightly nuttier flavor and can also help you stretch your dollar since pine nuts can be quite pricey!

Mint Pesto: Substitute 1 1/2 cup basil for 1 1/2 cup mint leaves


While basil is abundant at the moment, I also suggest that you experiment with other herbs.  Pesto does not need to be basil based; I’ve tried mint, cilantro, rosemary and arugula.  Each one has a unique flavor, and can be added to bread, fish, meat, or enjoyed straight from the jar with some cheese.  With a basic formula you can come up with a myriad of variations by replacing the basil and pine nuts. Try these combos:

  • Arugula & toasted walnuts
  • Mint & toasted almonds
  • Cilantro & cashews
  • Basil, Rosemary & toasted walnuts
  • Cilantro & toasted pumpkin seeds

The other great thing about basil is it can be frozen and stored successfully for a few weeks.  The best method I’ve found is to place a small bunch in a clean Ziploc bag, blow some air in to inflate it, and place in the freezer where it won’t get squashed. You’ll find it quite convenient to then snip off a few leaves any time of year to add to pasta sauce, salads, or dressings.

September 7, 2011

Hatch Chile and Chicken Enchiladas

I grew up in a very British household, my mom being from South Wales and my Dad is from London. With two British parents, Mexican chiles weren’t a common ingredient in our home.  It wasn’t until I moved to Houston a year ago that I discovered the varieties available and the subtle differences between each one.  One month into my Houston arrival, the Hatch Green Chili festival was being held at the local Central Market grocery store.  Of course, I came home with bags of roasted Hatch chiles with little idea of what to do with them.  So, I made it up as I went along.

We were having people over for dinner a few nights later and figured it would be a good way to use up a bunch of chiles and make my fellow Houstonians feel at home.  I don’t think Shepherd’s Pie would’ve gone over so well in 102-degree heat.   I settled on Chile chicken enchiladas, I’d never made enchiladas before so this was an experiment, and one that turned out quite well!

You should know, I don’t usually make this dish from scratch (unless I want to spend 2 hours making dinner).  We have this dish the night after cooking chicken;  I always cook extra the night before and it saves me at least in hour in the kitchen.

I also take another shortcut; I buy roasted hatch green chiles.  You can get these in August at most grocery stores, and can be stored in the freezer for use year round.  This will save you time and mess. If you need to roast them yourself, I recommend doing it in the oven.  Put the chiles on a baking sheet and broil, turning with tongs, until the skin is blackened. Skin the peppers; then seed, core, and dice them.

Ingredients

  • 2 cups roasted, chopped hatch green chiles (roasted poblanos also work)
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 2 cloves garlic minced
  • 1/2 medium onion finely diced
  • 2 cups chicken stock
  • 1/4 cup flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon cumin
  • 1/4 teaspoon chili powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon paprika
  • 1/4 teaspoon cayenne (optional if you want to add some extra heat)
    1/4 teaspoon pepper
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 8 flour or corn tortillas
  • 1 cup grated Monterrey jack cheese
  • 1 cup grated queso fresco Mexican cheese (if you can’t find this you can substitute with a mild Feta cheese)
  • 1 1/2 pounds chicken, cooked and shredded

Method

Sauce

  • Heat olive oil in skillet over medium heat
  • Add onion and sauté on low-medium heat for about 5 minutes, add garlic for the last-minute so it doesn’t burn
  • Raise heat to medium and slowly stir in spices, stirring for 2 minutes
  • Then sprinkle on the flour and cook, stirring, 1 more minute
  • Gradually pour in the stock, stirring constantly. Bring to a simmer, stirring to make sure the flour doesn’t stick to the bottom of the pan.  The liquid will slowly thicken.
  • Add the chopped chiles and simmer on low for about 30 minutes, stirring every 10 minutes or so

While sauce is cooking, shred the leftover chicken.  If you’re starting from scratch, dust the chicken with cumin, salt and pepper and place on oiled grill.  After cooking shred and leave it on the side for assembly.  (You can also chop the chicken, personally like the texture of it shredded).

Now it’s time to assemble!

  • Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.
  • Spray a large baking dish with cooking spray.
  • Place a tortilla on your cutting board; add a few dollops of the chicken, and then spoon on the sauce.
  • Sprinkle with a little cheese, and roll the tortilla to enclose the filling.
  • Place it seem side down in the baking dish. Continue to fill all the tortillas and put them in the baking dish.
  • Pour the remaining sauce over the top and sprinkle with the remaining cheese.
  • Bake uncovered for about 30 minutes until bubbly and cracked on top.
  • Serve hot with a side of sour cream, salsa or guacamole.

If you want to make this dish vegetarian friendly, just omit the chicken and replace the stock with water.  I usually make one of each when we have friends over.  You can assemble it earlier in the day and then just pop it in the over when your guests arrive.

September 6, 2011

The Pappas-Mitchell Grilled Cheese

Cashew butter.  Fig Jam.  Sourdough bread.  Brie.  It’s like one of those mystery baskets on chopped.  Ok don’t walk away yet… I know you’re intrigued.  I had my doubts too, but trust me – this is one adult grilled delicacy you have to try.  Stephanie Pappas and Chris Mitchell, a couple very close to me who decided to leave me for the cooler mountains of Colorado, discovered this sandwich on a trip to Chicago at the Hop Leaf Tavern.  I’ve named it the “Pappas-Mitchell” sandwich in honor of them, and hope that if I name a few more dishes after them they might come back to Houston! J (I know, very unlikely but it’s worth a try right?!?)

Ingredients

  • Sliced Sourdough (or any kind of hearty bread you like, it can’t be too soft or it will fall apart)
  • Brie (any brand you like, I like the ones that aren’t too rich since it’s being paired with cashew butter.  Save the expensive cheese to eat solo with a glass of red wine!)
  • Cashew Butter
  • Fig Jam
  • Thinly sliced apple or pear (optional)
  • Butter for grilling the bread

Method

  • Butter both side of sourdough
  • Toast one side until golden brown in skillet
  • Remove from skillet and spread a healthy layer of cashew butter and fig jam to the toasted sides of each half.
  • Add a layer of sliced brie to one side and sliced apple to the other (apple is optional but adds another layer of texture
  • Assemble the sandwich and return to the skillet to finish toasting the other side
  • Cut in half and enjoy!

The last time I made this sandwich for Steph is was part of her going away dinner.  She said, “This sandwich just keeps getting better and better.  Philippa, you’re definitely mastered this one”.  Maybe she was just being nice, but I’ll take the compliment. J  I hope you enjoy this distinctive sandwich as much as I do.

September 3, 2011

Roasted Corn Perfected

Not only is this the easiest method I’ve found, I promise it will ensure you’ll always have perfectly crisp, flavorful corn.  I’ve always found heating up a huge pot of boiling water in the middle of the summer to be quite ironic.  It’s summer and I’m trying to stay cool… especially in Houston.  If I had kids I could employee to husk the corn, maybe I’d feel differently, but I hate doing it and would find trials of sink across my kitchen floor a week later.  So, I found the easiest possible recipe and haven’t turned back.

Method

  • Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.
  • Soak the corn, in husk in cold water for 15 minutes.  This helps the corn stay moist and makes it much easier to peel when it’s ready.  I also cut off the very tip where the sink hangs out, if you leave it on it tens to smoke and burn in the oven
  • Pull the corn out of the water and place directly on the over rack and roast for 30-35 minutes until the corn is soft.
  • Peel down the husks and use as a handle when eating.  Coat with butter, salt and pepper.  Enjoy!
  • If you’re looking to liven up your corn, here are a few ideas to get you started.

Savory Butter
3/4 c. soft butter
2 1/2 tsp. salt
1 1/2 tsp. dried oregano
1/2 tsp. garlic salt
2 tsp. chopped chives or minced green onion

Rosemary Butter
1/2 cup softened butter
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon rosemary
1/2 teaspoon marjoram

Spicy Parmesan
1 cup shredded Parmesan cheese                                                                                                                                                                                    1 tablespoon chili powder
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon ground black pepper
1/4 cup Mayonnaise

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