Posts tagged ‘hot’

October 15, 2012

Rosemary Tomato Basil Soup

Tomato basil soup paired with a stringy mozzarella grilled cheese sandwich is a classic.  It’s been copied and modified a million times over and I still think the traditional rosemary scented soup and crunchy buttered sandwich makes any Tuesday night a little more special.

Soup should really be considered it’s own food group.  I pride myself in being the sole person to order a warm tortilla soup in the middle of Houston summer, or chilled cucumber-melon bisque when it’s 20 below.  (I happened to have both melon bisque and puréed corn chowder with chili oil at my wedding.)  There’s something about soup I find utterly addicting.  The combination of flavors, the variety of textures, and most importantly the crunchy garlic croutons, crispy bacon, or fresh herbs that get delicately placed on top and slowly sink into the silky, savory bisque.

The roasted, sweet tomatoes combined with the tangy bite of rosemary sourdough bread soothes the soul and takes the edge off a brisk day.  The bread gives this soup a thick texture with a mouthy richness I often find missing in perfectly velvety broths.  Aromatic sweet basil with hints of mint and pepper brighten the flavor and offer you a taste of summer just when you think fall has taken over.

Ingredients

  • 3-4 tablespoons good olive oil
  • 3 pounds ripe plum tomatoes, cut in half lengthwise
  • 2 cans stewed tomatoes, 28oz
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 yellow onion, chopped
  • 2 tbsp. salted butter
  • 1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
  • 1 tsp. salt
  • 1 tbsp. freshly ground pepper
  • 1/2 tbsp. Italian seasoning
  • 4 large slices of sourdough rosemary bread
  • 3/4 cup light whipping cream
  • 3/4 cup milk
  • 1 cup fresh basil
  • Freshly sliced mozzarella cheese for topping
  • Basil for garnish

Method

  1. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F. Toss together the tomatoes, 2 tbsp. olive oil, salt, and pepper. Spread the tomatoes in 1 layer on a baking sheet and roast for 45 minutes.
  2. In a heavy bottomed stockpot over medium heat, sauté the onions and garlic with 2 tablespoons of olive oil.
  3. Add butter and red pepper flakes and sauté for 10 minutes on medium heat.  Onions should become transparent but should not brown.
  4. Add stewed tomatoes, canned tomatoes (including juice), salt, pepper, and Italian seasoning in a large saucepan on medium heat.
  5. Bring to a simmer.
  6. Roughly tear the bread into smaller pieces and add to the pot.  I break up the bread so it’s easier to spoon out and purée.
  7. Next you’ll puree the soup in small batches, so I usually remove it from the heat and let it cool a little before I begin this process.  The soup should still have texture and not be completely smooth.  The soup will not be nearly as enjoyable if it’s perfectly silky in texture.
  8. Carefully puree, along with the basil leaves in small batches. You can use a blender, food processor, or better yet, one of those handy hand-held food blenders, right in the pot.  If you use a blender BE CAREFUL!  The heat will force the top off the blender and you’ll be cleaning soup off your ceiling for weeks, or you’ll burn your hands so just fill it up half way and pulse it gently.
  9. Return to saucepan and add cream and milk, while stirring, over low heat.
  10. Garnish with basil leaves, mozzarella cheese and serve with a warm slice of sourdough bread.

For a healthier version, leave out the butter and replace the cream with non-fat milk.  Enjoy!

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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!

April 9, 2012

Dry Rubbed Seared Salmon

It’s officially springtime, and with Easter passing I’m beginning to go through my lighter dishes to go with the change of seasons.  I get giddy thinking about fresh grilled corn on the cob, summer salads full of fresh veggies, pears, apples and toasted nuts, and most of all the selection of fresh fish in the local market.  One of my all time favorites is salmon, however, one badly cooked salmon can turn me off for months, so I have to choose wisely when I dine out.  The dry, chalky taste of overcooked salmon is one of the most devastating things you can be met with at the dinner table.  Similar to a burnt cookie, overcooked pasta, or a hockey puck steak, overcooked salmon is a major offense in my book.  But when it’s done well, you’ll want to have it every day of the week.  The beauty of salmon is that it can pick up a variety of flavors, teriyaki, garlic, white wine and butter, and its meaty texture lends itself to a variety of cooking methods.  I don’t recommend cooking Dover sole on the BBQ, but a salmon can stand up to this summer time classic.

The delicate crispy, golden crust that forms on the outside is a perfect contrast to the juicy, meaty flesh.  It’s a symbol of summer and health, and gets you on the track to looking stunning in your new summer swimsuit.

Perfect pan-seared salmon demands on a very hot pan. Use a heavy cast-iron skillet, which heats evenly. Warm the pan before you add the oil – either extra light virgin olive oil or vegetable oil; this trick allows the pan to get it really hot without burning the oil. A preheated pan also requires less oil.  Once you master this method you’ll be able to whip up a gourmet dinner in less than 10 minutes – golden brown outside and tender inside.   I like to serve salmon with a fresh mixed green salad with a tangy vinaigrette, a refreshing contrast to the rich, yet delicate fish.

Ingredients

  • 2 6 oz. salmon fillets (skin on) one per person
  • 1 tsp. garlic powder
  • 1 tsp. fresh thyme, finely chopped
  • 1 tsp. fresh rosemary, finely chopped
  • 1 tsp. sea salt
  • 1 tsp. freshly ground black pepper, coarse grind
  • 1 tsp. lemon pepper
  • 1 tsp. ground ginger
  • 1 tbsp. butter
  • 2 tbsp. extra light olive oil
  • 2 tsp. fresh parsley, finely chopped

Method

  1. In a small bowl, mix garlic powder, rosemary, thyme, seal, pepper, lemon pepper, and ginger.
  2. Brush the salmon with olive oil on all sides.
  3. Take the spice mixture and generously coat both sides of the salmon.
  4. Set a large cast-iron skillet over high heat. When a drop of water skitters on the surface, add the oil.
  5. Tilt the pan to coat the bottom evenly and heat until the oil is almost smoking, about 30 seconds.
  6. Place the salmon skin side up in the cast iron skillet.
  7. Cook until golden brown on the bottom, about 4 minutes.
  8. Turn the salmon and cook an additional 3 to 4 minutes on the other side.
  9. Then lower heat to medium, place lid over skillet to trap heat and finish cooking an additional 2-3 minutes.
  10. With a minute to go, add a tbsp. of butter and let is melt in the pan, spoon it over the top of the salmon right before you turn off the heat.
  11. To check if the salmon in ready, stick a thin knife in the thickest part and gently look at the color inside.  It should be juicy and barely turning opaque.  If you over cook the fish it will be extremely dry and very white in color.
  12. When salmon is cooked enough to eat safely it will lose its translucency and become opaque. It should also flake easily when tested with a fork.
  13. Serve with a fresh salad and enjoy your very healthy yet tasty dinner!

March 13, 2012

Roasted Butternut Squash and Ginger Carrots

Piping hot out of the oven, or room temperature on a sizzling summer day, roasted veggies serve as a perfect side dish to just about anything.  The variety of flavors you can unearth from diverse spices and oils allow you to adapt your dish to go perfectly with a roast chicken, seared salmon, or simply grilled steak.

The irresistible crunchy, caramelized edges, warm tender center, and rustic quality remind me of Italy.  There’s a time and place for perfectly cut vegetables, but it’s not in my kitchen.  The more time I can spend enjoying the food and less time prepping the better, especially on a busy weeknight. No need to stress yourself over perfect knife cuts – I know chefs everywhere are cringing over that statement – but honestly, as long as they’re all about the same size they will cook evenly and that’s all you need.

The fresh, clean tang of ginger contrasted with the sweetness of the carrots help brighten their natural flavor.  Garlic slowly warmed in the oven with a coating of healthy olive oil; mixed with the deep, creamy earthiness of butternut squash is a blissful combination.  The two together were simply flawless, and set side by side with a grilled steak and you’ll feel like you’re in paradise (or an Italian vacation in the middle of Tuscany).

Garlicky Butternut Squash

Ingredients

  • 2 large butternut squash, peeled and cubed
  • 4 garlic cloves, minced
  • 2 tbsp. extra light olive oil
  • 1 tbsp. black truffle infused olive oil
  • 1 tsp. coarse ground salt
  • 1 1/2 tsp. freshly ground black pepper, coarse ground
  • 1 tsp. crushed red pepper

Method

  1. Preheat oven to 400°F
  2. Wash and peel squash, and cut it into bite size squares.
  3. Place squash in a glass baking dish and drizzle with extra light olive oil.  Extra light olive oil has a higher burning temperature so I find it better for roasting.  Due to valuable antioxidants and ability to help lower total cholesterol, I always use extra light olive oil as a substitute for butter, shortening and other vegetable oils.
  4. Sprinkle with garlic, salt, ground black pepper and crushed red pepper and mix with a spoon until the squash is evenly coated with oil and seasoning.
  5. Cover with foil and bake for 30 mins
  6. After 30 mins, remove foil and continue baking for 10 minutes
  7. Just before removing he dish from the oven, turn the broiler on high for a few minutes
  8. Watch the oven, as the broiler will be hot and will burn the squash if left unattended.  It goes quickly, all you’ll need is 2-3 mins.  Once the butternut squash gets a slight golden color to the edges remove from oven and let cool for 5 mins before serving.

Ginger Carrots

Ingredients

  • 8 large carrots, peeled and sliced
  • 2 inch piece of ginger, grated
  • 2 tbsp. extra light olive oil
  • 1 tsp. course ground salt
  • 1 1/2 tsp. freshly ground pepper, course ground
  • 2 tbsp. water
  • 1/4 chicken bullion cube

Method

  1. Preheat oven to 400°F
  2. Place all the squash in a glass baking dish and drizzle with extra light olive oil.  Extra light olive oil has a higher burning temperature so I find it better for roasting.  Due to valuable antioxidants and ability to help lower total cholesterol, I always use extra light olive oil as a substitute for butter, shortening and other vegetable oils.
  3. Sprinkle with garlic, salt and ground pepper and mix with a spoon until the squash is evenly coated with oil and seasoning.
  4. Cover with foil and bake for 30 mins
  5. After 30 mins, remove foil and continue baking for 10 minutes
  6. Just before removing he dish from the oven, turn the broiler on high for a few minutes
  7. Watch the oven, as the broiler will be hot and will burn the squash if left unattended.  It goes quickly, all you’ll need is 2-3 mins.  Once the butternut squash gets a slight golden color to the edges remove from oven and let cool for 5 mins before serving.

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.

November 10, 2011

Red Thai Curry

There’s a multitude of Thai restaurants in a 2-block radius of my office and yet I still can’t find one that makes me want to return.  I find myself suffering through waterlogged, tasteless, or blistering hot curry at lunch, with the most random ingredients from string beans to rhubarb, and my ultimate favorite…. beets?!?  I’m all for experimentation, but these vegetables just don’t belong in a traditional Thai curry.  Let’s face it, if it’s good don’t mess with it.  What happened to good old-fashioned Thai curry with the sweetness of coconut and the balancing heat of red chili and ginger?  As a result, I had to take matters into my own hands.

It may seem like a long list of ingredients, but it’s one of those dishes you can make in one pot, so the clean up is easy, and the stove does all the work.  I like to make it on a Sunday and then have it for dinner Monday night.  It’s always better the second day as the spices have a chance to develop, so now I just plan it out that way knowing the following night I’ll be in Thai curry heaven.  In the winter I make it with heartier root vegetables, and in the summer I lighten it up with a thinner sauce and readily available summer veg.  The one here is good  year round, it’s harmonious blend of spicy, sweet, and sour is a satisfying end to any day, the only thing missing is a fresh bowl of steaming rice.

Ingredients

Chicken

  • 4 boneless skinless chicken breasts, cut into bite size pieces
  • 2 tbsp. extra light olive oil
  • 1 tbsp. red curry paste
  • 2 tsp. turmeric
  • 1 tsp. cumin
  • 1 tsp. mustard seed
  • 1/2 tsp. red pepper flakes
  • 1/2 tsp. salt
  • 1/2 tsp. freshly ground pepper

Sauce

  • 1 tbsp. extra light olive oil
  • 1 yellow onion, sliced
  • 6 garlic cloves, finely diced
  • 2 tbsp. ginger, finely diced
  • 6 Thai chili peppers. Finely dices seeds removed (leave the seeds in if you like it very spicy)
  • 3 tbsp. red curry paste
  • 3 tsp. turmeric
  • 1 tsp. cumin
  • 1 tsp. coriander
  • 1 tsp. paprika
  • 2 tsp. mustard seed
  • 1 tsp. red pepper flakes
  • 1/2 tsp. salt (to taste)
  • 1/2 tsp. freshly ground pepper
  • 2 cans coconut milk
  • 1/2 cup whole milk
  • 2 tbsp. tomato paste
  • 1 stalk lemongrass
  • 4 bay leaves
  • 4 carrots, peeled and diced
  • 1 small head cauliflower, broken into bite size pieces
  • 1 handful cherry tomatoes
  • 2 tbsp. semolina flour (for thickening)
  • Bunch of fresh cilantro, roughly chopped (for garnish)
  • Small handful on unsalted peanuts (for garnish)

Method

  1. Heat a large heavy bottomed pot on the stove on medium/high
  2. Add oil, turmeric, cumin, mustard seed, and red pepper flakes and cook the spices in the hot pan for 1-2 minutes until the aroma of fresh spice fills your kitchen
  3. Add red curry paste and stir until it dissolves in the hot oil
  4. Salt and pepper the sliced chicken and drop into the hot pan,  Sear on all sides, 6-8 minutes
  5. Remove the chicken from the pan and set aside for later, no need to wipe out or rinse the pan, it’s good to go
  6. Add a little more oil (1-2 tbsp.) and add onion, garlic and ginger to pan and sprinkle with salt and pepper
  7. Reduce heat to medium and cook for 5 minutes
  8. Add red curry paste, turmeric, cumin, coriander, mustard seed, and red pepper flakes and coat the onions with the spices until they’re speckled with red and orange.
  9. Add Thai chili peppers and continue to cook on medium for another 5 minutes until onions are translucent
  10. Pour in 2 cans of coconut milk, whole milk, bay leaves, lemongrass and tomato paste.  Stir well and bring to a low simmer.
  11. Add the chicken back in along with all the juices that accumulated on the plate (that’s where a lot of the flavor is!).
  12. Add chopped carrots, cauliflower and whole tomatoes, cover and simmer for 20 minutes.
  13. Add semolina flour to thicken the sauce, I usually start with 2 tbsp. and add a little more later if needed.  It will take a minute to thicken so wait about 5 minutes before adding more.  Semolina flour is a good alternative to cornstarch and is very fine so it doesn’t result in a grainy texture.
  14. Poke the carrots with a fork to make sure they’re tender; once they are you’re ready to go!
  15. Serve with steamed rice and a garnish of cilantro and peanuts.  The cilantro add a nice freshness and the peanuts add to the nutty flavor of the sauce and much needed crunch alongside the tender vegetables and moist chicken.
  16. Don’t forget to remove the lemongrass stick before serving!

You can easily make this a vegetarian dish, just skip the chicken and add whatever you like, Chinese eggplant, potatoes, and acorn squash are some of my favorites.  I also like it with brown rice, as the chewy texture soaks up all the sauce and creates a curry stew at the bottom of your bowl!

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 28, 2011

Simply Salsa

I have a few salsa recipes in my repertoire, and I promise I will share all of them with you over time.  This is one of the easiest, and it’s a perfect way for me to use up the peppers in my garden, as I can’t possible add jalapeños to every dish.  Peppers seem to grow like weeds in Houston, they love the heat and humidity, and they seem to survive no matter what I do to them.  If case you didn’t know I’m probably the only person you know who can kill a cactus (yes, I did).

When the peppers are cooked their sharp heat softens, and they take on an unexpected balance of sweetness and deep pepper flavor without the heat.  The cilantro adds a nice freshness and gives the salsa vibrant specks of deep green. This salsa can vary in heat depending on the peppers; so if you have a batch of really spicy ones, only use 4-5 jalapeños.

Ingredients

  • 6-8 jalapeño peppers
  • 2-4 serrano peppers
  • 6 cloves garlic
  • 1/2 medium yellow onion
  • 8 roma tomatoes
  • 1 handful fresh cilantro
  • 2 tsp salt
  • 1 tsp lime juice (half a lime)

Method

  • Fill large pot half way with water (one big enough to cook pasta)
  • Drop in peeled gloves of garlic, onion, and jalapeños.  There’s no need to chop or dice any of the ingredients, the food processor will take care of that later
  • Bring water to a light boil and let vegetables cook for 10 minutes
  • Drop in whole tomatoes and boil an addition 5-10 minutes until the skin of the tomatoes start to split
  • Remove from stove and pour all contents into strainer.  You aren’t going to save any of the water, so you can do this directly in the sink
  • Let cool for 5-10 minutes until cool enough to touch
  • Remove tomatoes skins and pepper stems and put all the contents into a food processor.  If you don’t have a food processor, you can use a blender, but BE CAREFUL!  Blenders don’t have vents so the hot contents will explode if you put it on high.  Take a cloth and hold firmly on the lid while pulsing slowly.  I would also recommend waiting another 5 minutes to cool, believe me, salsa burns are not fun.
  • Pulse on high for 15 seconds
  • Add lime juice, salt and cilantro and pulse until mixture is smooth
  • Taste test, it may need a little more salt and the only way you’ll know is by trying it!
  • Serve warm with tortilla chips

Feel free to mix up the pepper combination.  This is one of those salsas that can one day be blazing hot, and others as mild as bell peppers… it all depends on the time of year and the jalapeños.   Feel free to substitute more mellow peppers, which you can achieve with Ancho, Pasilla or Anaheim, all popular varieties you should be able to find in your local store.

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.

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