Sunday, March 25, 2012


I try not to make pasta too often because Mike does not like whole wheat pasta. I tend to make dishes with brown rice, farro or bulgur so that we get whole grains. I saw a recipe in Food & Wine by Michael Mina I wanted to make that sounded incredible. It includes ground lamb with some of my favorites spices and flavors-cumin, harissa, garlic and smoked paprika. I also appreciated that it has canned tomatoes, fresh tomatoes and mint. Here's the link

Strozzapreti is the shape of pasta. I could not find it in my regular store but I did find one that fit the description of a "ridge along its length". The pasta I chose has a kind of open ridge and was called fusilli but looks different from the fusilli I am used to, below left. This fusilli was not a corkscrew but a tube with 1 kind of open ridge, below right. Look for a similar shape that will pick up the sauce.

Strozzapreti with Lamb Ragù my way

1/2 tablespoon fennel seeds
1/2 tablespoon cumin seeds
1/2 tablespoon crushed red chili flakes or to taste
1/2 teaspoon whole black peppercorns
~3/4 pound ground lamb
kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
3 large garlic cloves, peeled, cored and pressed
1 small red onion, coarsely chopped
1/2 teaspoon smoked paprika
1 tablespoon harissa (I buy this in tubes at the grocery store. It's with the tubes of anchovy paste. Spicy and addictive.)
1/2 28 ounce carton Pomi chopped tomatoes
1 cup chicken stock
1/2 pound dried fusilli pasta or similar shape
1 pint ripe cherry tomatoes, halved
sprig of mint leaves, chopped
freshly grated Pecorino cheese, for serving

In a large saute pan, combine the fennel, cumin, crushed chili flakes and peppercorns and cook over moderate heat until fragrant, 2 minutes. Let cool, then wrap in cheesecloth and tie into a bundle.

Heat pan and add the lamb, season with salt and pepper and cook over high heat, breaking it up , until browned, 3-5 minutes. With a slotted spoon, remove the lamb.

Pour off most of the fat from the pan. Add the garlic and onion and cook over moderate heat until softened, ~8 minutes. Add alittle olive oil if it gets too dry. Stir in the spice bundle, paprika, harissa, tomatoes and their liquid and the stock. Return the lamb and accumulated juices to the pan and bring to a simmer.

Cover the ragù and simmer over low heat for 45 minutes, stirring occasionally. Uncover and simmer until thickened, about 50 minutes longer. Discard the spice bundle and season the ragù with salt and pepper.

In a large pot of boiling salted water, cook the pasta until al dente. Drain and add to the sauce pan. Stir. Fold in the cherry tomatoes and the mint.  Serve in bowls and sprinkle with Pecorino or using rasp grate directly onto bowls of lamb ragù and pasta.

This was a wonderful meal; spicy, meaty and full of fresh and canned tomatoes. The mint brings a bright taste but is not overpowering. A friend told me she couldn't imagine mint in a dish like this. I think she said "yucky". If you're unsure of the mint try a small amount. I think you'll be pleasantly surprised. It was a real treat to have pasta and yes, we had it with California sparkling wine, Schramberg 2008 Blanc de Noir. We enjoyed this meal on a Friday night and I had had a particularly good week at work so we were celebrating. I hope you can do the same soon. Enjoy!

Saturday, March 24, 2012

Old World food

I am fascinated by Middle Eastern food, flavors and spices. There was a wonderful article in the March issue of Saveur magazine about Iran. If you have never picked up an issue of Saveur check it out. It is very different from most cooking magazines, the recipes are not the focus. Don't get me wrong there are plenty of recipes but the focus is more on people, places, culture. I decided to try Khoresht-e Fesenjan or Chicken and Walnut Stew. A man in my office from Iran said that his mother makes a version of this stew and that it is a national dish. He promised to get her version for me. Here's the Saveur link

Chicken and Walnut Stew my way

Note: The original recipe had the very long process for cooking the walnuts after browning the chicken. That was backwards to me although it would have helped if I had read the whole recipe first. This is not something you can make after work for dinner. Make on a rainy weekend or the day before you plan on eating it.

2 cups walnuts
1 cup pomegranate molasses
sugar to taste
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
5 small boneless, skinless chicken thighs, cut into bite size pieces
kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
~3/4 tablespoon ground turmeric
1/2 large red onion, thinly sliced
~1 cup chicken stock
~1 cup white wine
5 ounces fresh spinach, finely chopped

Process walnuts in a food processor into a very fine paste, about 2 minutes. Transfer to a large pot, and cook over medium low heat; stirring frequently, about 10 minutes. Stir in 4 cups water, and bring to a simmer over medium heat; cook, until light brown and thickened, about 2 hours. Cool and refrigerate overnight. Skim off oil and reheat over medium heat. Add molasses and sugar; cook until thickened once more, about 25 minutes.

Heat oil in a large skillet over medium high heat. Season chicken with salt and pepper, and add to skillet; cook, turning, until browned, about 8 minutes. Transfer to a plate; set aside. Add turmeric and onion; cook until soft, about 10 minutes. Add stock and wine and deglaze the skillet. Simmer until liquid is reduced and chicken is cooked, about 20-30 minutes. Add spinach; cook until wilted, about 1 minute.

Add walnut and pomegranate mixture to the chicken. Stir and simmer for a couple of minutes to thoroughly incorporate. Serve with basmati rice or flat bread.

I had really high hopes for this dishes but the pomegranate molasses overpowered everything for me. Mike liked it much more than I did. It was not inedible but I could not taste turmeric or even much of the walnuts. I've decided to deconstruct this dish and make it again. I will definitely blog about my 2nd attempt. I like the ingredients too much not to give it a try. Since I did change things if you are interested in this dish check out the original recipe on Saveur, maybe something I did made the difference. Try it your way and let me know how it comes out. Enjoy!

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Book Club night

I've belonged to a book club for about 17 years. There are still 3 women in the group that originally invited me to join. Women have come and gone but we have had this group for several years now and it is wonderful - warm, soul satisfying and fun. There are many great cooks in this group and some who need to grab something on the way due to work, kids, life. One of the main wonders of this group is the lack of judgement-you didn't read the book, you're still welcome, have to come late, no problem, can't make a dish for the potluck, please don't worry there is always plenty of food. No lie!

Last night was a feast as usual. Here's the menu.

Megan-smoked salmon, cream cheese and capers on sliced whole grain bread
Adeline-pita chips with hummus and olives
Victoria-baked stuffed mushrooms
Jennifer, the hostess-Chicken Marbella, challah and sweet potatoes
Jan-roasted butternut squash
Annalisa-mixed green salad
Trish-red velvet cake and fresh fruit
me-Israeli couscous
lots of wine and bubbly water and tea

Jennifer suggested couscous to go with her chicken and I found a recipe on that sounded simple and delicious.

Toasted Israeli Couscous with Pine Nuts and Parsley my way

2 tablespoons unsalted butter, divided
1/2 cup pine nuts 
1 large shallot , finely chopped
2 1/2 cups Israeli toasted couscous
1 small cinnamon stick
1 dried bay leaf
3 1/2 cups canned low-salt chicken broth
kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper 
small handful fresh Italian parsley, chopped 

Melt 1 tablespoon butter in heavy large saucepan over medium-low heat. Add pine nuts and stir until golden brown, about 8 minutes. Transfer to large serving bowl.

Melt a tablespoon of butter in same pan over medium heat. Add shallots and sauté until golden and soft, about 10 minutes. Add couscous, cinnamon stick, and bay leaf and stir until couscous browns slightly, stirring often, about 5 minutes. Add broth and salt and bring to boil. Reduce heat to low; cover and simmer until couscous is tender and liquid is absorbed, about 10 minutes. Stir and fluff and let cool slightly.

Add couscous to bowl with pine nuts and stir in parsley. Season with kosher salt and black pepper.

The couscous was delicious with the chicken and butternut squash and would work well with other meats and vegetables. It would also work well as a 1 dish meal with chopped vegetables like steamed broccoli, roasted red bell pepper and chopped ham or cooked chicken.

The meal was lovely and the company even better. It's a treat to eat these dishes that my friends have cooked and brought and to discuss our books, our kids and our lives. Here's to many more. Enjoy!

Monday, March 19, 2012

Another version of Shaking Beef

I made a beef recipe tonight from the April issue of Food & Wine that is a classic Vietnamese dish called Shaking Beef. It's called Shaking Beef because you shake the pan when cooking it. Here's the link This version is by Marcia Kiesel.

The Slanted Door in San Francisco does a very famous version. I have not had it there but had a wonderful Slanted Beef dish at Sushi Ran in Sausalito, CA. I did see a recipe online from the Slanted Door for Shaking Beef and it was different. I guess this is one of those dishes that depends on who's cooking it.

I could not find 5 spice powder in my spice drawer. I think I must have thrown it out because I thought it was getting too old and hadn't used it in so long. I had bought lemongrass as per the recipe for the vinaigrette but somehow it was not there either. I think it got thrown away by mistake. I went online and found substitutions for both. Here's the link for the lemongrass substitution I got the ingredients of 5 spice powder from Wikipedia. I love the Internet!

Shaking Beef my way

3 garlic cloves, peeled, cored and pressed
1 1/2 tablespoons sherry
1 1/2  tablespoons soy sauce
sprinkle of sugar
freshly ground black pepper
pinch of ground cloves, ground cinnamon, freshly ground pepper (I didn't have Sichuan pepper), ~1/8 teaspoon fennel seeds and star anise
1/2 tablespoon vegetable oil, plus more for cooking the meat
~3/4 pound filet mignon, trimmed of fat and cut into 1-inch cubes

1 tablespoon soy sauce
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
1 tablespoon sherry
1/2 tablespoon red wine vinegar
~1/2 inch of small knob of fresh ginger, peeled and minced
1 teaspoon sugar
1 garlic clove, peeled, cored and pressed
~1/4 of juicy lime, squeezed
small sprig of mint, leaves finely chopped
~4 ounces watercress, rinsed, dried and some of the stems pulled off
~2 cups shredded red and green cabbage and shredded carrots slaw
1/4 small red onion, very thinly sliced

Using a mortar and pestle crush and grind the fennel seeds and star anise together. In a baking dish, combine the garlic, sherry, soy sauce, sugar, pepper and spices with the the oil. Add the beef and turn to coat thoroughly with the marinade. Cover and refrigerate overnight.

In a small bowl, combine the soy sauce with the vegetable oil, sherry, red wine vinegar, minced ginger, sugar, garlic, lime and mint. Let stand for 30 minutes, stirring a few times.

Mix the watercress, slaw and red onion together in a large bowl. Toss with half of the vinaigrette. Set 2 skillets over high heat until very hot, about 2 minutes. Add ~1/2 tablespoon or less of oil to each skillet; when shimmering, add the meat to both skillets in an even layer. Do not overcrowd. Let cook undisturbed, until richly browned on the bottom, about 1 1/2 minutes. Shake the skillet to release the meat, turn pieces over if necessary and cook for about 30 seconds longer, until medium-rare. Using a slotted spoon or spatula remove the beef from the pan and add to the bowl. Drizzle with the remaining vinaigrette, toss and serve right away.

This dish smelled wonderful cooking and was very quick to cook. The only part that takes time is the marinating so start the day before or early in the day. It was interesting to have to make 2 substitutions in 1 recipe but having the Internet made it very easy and the end result was delicious. Mike and I ate out over the weekend so I kept it light by adding the slaw to the watercress and not serving anything else. I kept thinking though that gyoza or something like spring rolls would be a good way to round out this meal. Either way it was yummy and satisfying. And of course I forgot to take pictures again-sorry. Enjoy!

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Time for more chicken!

I love a good chicken recipe and I love certain ingredients, leeks being one and vinegar another. Happily I found a recipe that included these and more. It is from the April issue of Food & Wine by Grace Parisi. I have been stuck on F&W for awhile which is amazing because I also receive Bon Appetit and Saveur at home and look at blogs online. I also really enjoy recipes by Grace Parisi and have used them before with very good results. Since this dish has leeks and peas in it I did not make any side dishes but I did add small red fingerling potatoes.

Vinegar-Braised Chicken with Leeks and Peas my way

4 skinless chicken thighs
kosher salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste
1/2 tablespoon unsalted butter
1 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
2 large leeks, halved lengthwise and cut into pieces
~1 cup chicken broth
1/4 cup sherry vinegar
4-5 small fingerling or new potatoes cut into bite size pieces
~8 ounces frozen baby peas, thawed
1 sprig fresh tarragon, chopped
1 small handful fresh parsley, chopped
1/4 cup crème fraîche

Preheat the oven to 425° and position a rack in the upper third. Season the thighs generously with salt and pepper.

In a large nonstick skillet, heat half of the oil. Add the chicken and cook over medium high heat until browned, 5 minutes. Turn over and cook the chicken for 1-2 minutes. 

In an over proof skillet or cast iron pan, add the butter and the other half of the oil and cook the leeks over medium high heat until just beginning to soften, about 2 minutes. Add the broth and vinegar and bring to a boil. Season with salt and pepper.

Set the chicken on the leeks, roast for about 25 minutes.

In the skillet that you cooked the chicken in immediately add the potatoes and cook over high heat about 3 minutes, stirring frequently until they begin to brown, Add the potatoes to the pan in the oven with the chicken and leeks and stir.

Turn over the chicken and roast another 2-3 minutes, until cooked through and the potatoes are done. Transfer the chicken to a plate.

Place the oven proof pan over a burner (be careful I burned my hand) and boil over high heat until the liquid is reduced by half, adding more stock if necessary (my liquid was nearly gone when I removed it from the oven). Add the peas, herbs and crème fraîche and simmer until the sauce thickens slightly and is heated through. Season with salt and pepper.

Place the chicken thighs in shallow bowls and spoon the vegetables and sauce over the chicken to serve.

Wow, this was really wonderful. The shallots were meltingly tender and the peas tasted fresh and the sauce was amazing. I'm thinking you could use yogurt. There is not alot of crème fraîche used but it might save some fat and be handier. Mike and I both loved it and I don't make many things twice but this could be an exception. We did not have wine but F&W suggested a Cotes-du-Rhone Blanc. I looked it up; it's like a Viognier, I believe. Enjoy!

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Lamb and sweet onions

I went through some magazines last weekend picking out recipes to make this week and tried to pick out something besides chicken. I found a recipe with ground lamb and spinach with sweet onions that sounded perfect. Mike and I love ground lamb and I liked that the recipe included vegetables-another one pot meal! Since it's the 2 of us most of the time I like making 1 dish that has everything in it and call it done.

I found it in Food & Wine, here's the link The recipe's called Lamb-and-Spinach-Stuffed Onions by Marcia Kiesel. I've made lots of recipes by Marcia and I've always been pleased, good sign. I could not find large sweet onions like her recipe so I have completely changed that part of the recipe. If you can find the giant onions feel free to stuff them.

Lamb and-Spinach Stuffed Onions my way

3 medium sweet onions like Maui onions, root ends trimmed
extra virgin olive oil, for drizzling
5 ounces spinach, washed and stems removed but not dried
3/4 pound ground lamb
2 teaspoons chile powder
1/8 teaspoon cinnamon
~1 cup Panko bread crumbs
1/2 cup shredded Gruyère cheese
1 cup beef broth
1 cup crushed tomatoes like Pomi
kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
1/4 cup half and half

1/2 cup Panko bread crumbs
1/8 teaspoon chili powder
1/4 cup shredded Gruyère cheese

Preheat the oven to 350°. Put the onions in a baking dish, root ends down, and drizzle with oil. Add 1/2 inch of water to the dish. Cover with foil and bake for about 1 hour, until tender. Let cool slightly. Dump out water and butter lightly when dish is slightly cooled.

Meanwhile, heat a large nonstick skillet. Add the spinach and toss until wilted. Transfer to a colander and squeeze out the water. Coarsely chop the spinach.

In the same skillet, cook the lamb over moderately high heat, breaking it up, until no pink remains, ~5 minutes. Pour off most of the fat and add the chile powder and cinnamon. Cook over moderately high heat, stirring, for 1 minute. Stir in the spinach. Transfer the lamb filling to a large bowl. Stir in the bread crumbs, Gruyère, 1/4 cup of the beef broth and 1/2 cup of the tomatoes.

Cut 1/2 inch off the top and bottom of the baked onions and remove the papery skins. Cut the onions in half and scatter the pieces on the bottom of the baking dish. Layer the lamb on the onions.
In the large nonstock skillet, combine the half and half with the remaining 3/4 cup of beef broth and 1/2 cup of tomatoes and bring to a boil. Simmer until the sauce thickens slightly. Pour the sauce over the top of the lamb and onions.

In a bowl, combine the remaining bread crumbs, chile powder and Gruyère cheese. Mound the topping over the lamb and onions. Cover with foil and bake for 30 minutes, until bubbly. Uncover and increase the oven temperature to 425°. Bake for 5 minutes, until the topping is crisp. Let rest for 5 minutes before serving.

I have to say Mike loved this dish. He pretty much always likes what I fix but he really loved this dish. It was creamy and the chile gave it a very nice kick, adjust accordingly. He ate 2 helpings and told me I could the leftovers for lunch. Then he said or I could eat them now. Haha-I got leftovers. It was so good leftover I didn't need to heat it up. We actually didn't open that bottle of wine but it would have been delicious with a Zinfadel or Pinot Noir. Enjoy!

Monday, March 12, 2012

Sausages and onions and peppers

Something started me thinking about sausages, onions and peppers lately, not sure what. I used to make this dish frequently. My ex loved it. I think I stopped because it was greasy using Italian sausages made with beef and pork. I hadn't thought about revisiting it using chicken or turkey sausages until recently. Using those poultry sausages with vegetables or fruit for moisture cuts down on alot of the fat and if you read labels you can pick out some decent ones. I like Saags Sausages&ProdSort=&page=3
and Aidells and used Aidells Organic Spinach & Feta sausages made with chicken for this dish but there are all kinds out there.

I decided to pair it with polenta, something else I hadn't made in a long time. It reminds me of grits and that's a good thing. I was running late due to the time change and was worried that I had let too much time get away from me but when I looked at my bag of polenta I was reassured that it would only take about 25 minutes to cook. Perfect timing to cook my frozen sausages and get the peppers and onions soft and alittle caramelized. It took me maybe 45 minutes to chop and cook everything and it was a delight.

Sausages, onions and peppers over polenta

your favorite sausage like Aidells Spinach & Feta, fresh or frozen
1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
1 large red onion, thinly sliced
1 large red bell pepper, cut into strips (or green, yellow or some combination)
kosher salt and pepper to taste
1-2 cup dry white wine
2 cups chicken stock
1/2 cup polenta
1 tablespoon butter
~1/4 cup freshly grated Pecorino or Parmesan cheese

Bring the stock to boil in large pan and start cooking your sausages in water in cast iron pan and bring to a boil (not non-stick). Heat olive oil over medium heat in saute pan and add onions. Saute until they begin to soften and add peppers.

Turn down the heat on the sausages to simmer. When the stock begins to boil slowly pour in your polenta and whisk until there are no lumps. Reduce heat to a simmer and cook approximately 25 minutes, stirring frequently.

After cooking onions and peppers about 15 minutes raise the heat a bit and add some wine. Reduce it and season with salt and pepper. Let the wine cook out and begin to brown the peppers and onions.

When most of the water has evaporated from the sausages add some wine and let reduce until it has evaporated and brown the sausages.

When the polenta is thick and all the stock has been absorbed, add the butter and whisk until melted and incorporated. Remove from the heat, add the grated cheese and whisk until melted into polenta.

Serve in bowls with the sausages and onion mixture on top of the polenta. Pour yourself a glass of the white wine to enjoy with it.

This was most lovely comfort food, dinner in a bowl. Some fresh parsley or basil would have been a nice touch for color and taste, maybe next time. We felt warm and cozy eating this dinner. You could grill the sausages, onions and peppers in the nice weather and do the same thing serving them over polenta that has been cooked, cooled and cut into pieces then grilled to heat up. Looking forward to it already. Enjoy!

Sunday, March 11, 2012

The Devil's own Chicken

I've seen a couple of recipes for deviled chicken recently and then one from landed in my inbox promising to be healthy. I decided to try this one since I love chicken! and new ways to make it. I also try to be healthy at least occasionally. Mike and I tend to go out on the weekends and lately I've been making dinner on Fridays to eat before we go out for a drink or to be all ready when we get home from an early cocktail. This email included a picture of the chicken with coleslaw and a suggestion to purchase it. Here's the link and you know the version follows.

Oven Fried Deviled Chicken my way

4 bone in chicken thighs, skin removed
2 tablespoon Dijon mustard
~1 cup Panko bread crumbs
2 teaspoon smoked paprika
1/4 teaspoon cayenne
kosher salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
 2 c store-bought vinegar slaw

Heat oven to 425°F. Spray baking dish with cooking spray. Mix together mustard, paprika, cayenne, salt and pepper in shallow bowl. Dredge chicken in mixture. Place chicken in baking dish and sprinkle top of chicken with bread crumbs. Bake 15 minutes. Turn chicken over and sprinkle other side with bread crumbs. Bake until golden brown and cooked through, 10 to 15 minutes longer.

My friend Zoe made a version of this coleslaw about 20 years ago before she moved to Scottsdale, AZ. I still her at least once a year and miss you terribly but think of her often when I make this coleslaw. The recipe is even in her handwriting. This is terrific with broccoli slaw or regular cabbage and carrot slaw, your choice. It has a vague Asian flavor due to the sesame oil and the tarragon is really tasty.

1 jalapeno pepper, cored, seeded and minced
1 tablespoon tarragon vinegar (or white wine vinegar and 1/2 teaspoon dried tarragon)
1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
sprinkle of sugar
kosher and freshly ground pepper to taste
Tabasco or hot sauce to taste
2-3 tablespoons sesame oil
zest of a lime or lemon
1-3 tablespoons mayonnaise to make it creamy
small bag coleslaw mix or broccoli coleslaw
chopped green onions, bell peppers optional

Combine ingredients together except cabbage or broccoli slaw and whisk until well combined. Stir together with slaw and set aside. This tastes best if it is allowed to sit about 30 minutes to an hour.

Yummy combo of chicken and slaw, both dishes being spicy with the common thread of Dijon mustard. I love smoked paprika and this dish smells lovely while cooking. We enjoyed it and have slaw left for another night. Another nice thing about these dishes were that they were quick and easy. You could make the dressing for the slaw, then get the chicken in the oven and finish the coleslaw and let it sit while the chicken finishes cooking. I think this chicken would also be good room temperature or cold the next day (with or without a cocktail). Enjoy!

Saturday, March 10, 2012

Smoked trout...again

Ok I really love smoked fish, really. I just made a smoked trout salad a week or two ago. It was so good I decided to try another one. Let me just say it is an excellent source of Omega 3s if you need incentive and it doesn't taste fishy, just smoky and delicious. I used a recipe by Daniel Klein from Food & Wine as inspiration. Here's the link's an interesting article in the February 2012 issue. Check it out.

Farro Salad with Smoked Trout my way

2 garlic cloves, peeled, cored and crushed
1 teaspoon dried thyme
1 rosemary sprig
2 cups chicken stock
kosher salt
3/4 cup semi-pearled farro
1 large shallot, minced
3 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
1 tablespoon honey
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
freshly ground pepper
4 ounces smoked trout fillet, flaked
5 ounces spinach, washed and stems removed
small red bell pepper, roasted and chopped (fresh or jarred)

In a pan, combine the garlic, thyme, rosemary, stock and salt and bring to a boil. Stir in the farro and simmer over moderate heat until just tender, about 15 minutes. Drain well. Transfer the farro to a bowl and discard the garlic and herbs. Let cool to room temperature, stirring occasionally.

Combine the shallot, lemon juice, honey and oil in a 1 cup Pyrex measuring cup. Whisk until well incorporated. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

In a medium bowl, combine the trout, the spinach, bell pepper and the farro. Drizzle the dressing over the salad and toss. Season with salt and pepper and let stand at room temperature for 10-20 minutes. Serve in bowls.

This was very good! The combo of farro and smoked trout was great. I left out beets and substituted spinach for beet greens or chard. You could use many different vegetables and greens like kale or arugula and broccoli or carrots. Pick your favorites and try a combination that you like. You could also use a different grain. Enjoy!

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Chopping vegetables for everything

It seems like whenever I start to cook I begin by chopping onions. Don't get me wrong, I love onions and garlic and shallots and leeks, you name it. I feel like most cuisines begin dishes with some combination of these ingredients. I always have red onions and garlic on hand and usually scallions and often leeks and shallots.

I love the smell of onions cooking in a little olive oil and I know Mike likes to walk in and be hit by that smell. Sort of like waking up to bacon cooking and coffee brewing, even if you don't eat or drink either of them. Something about the smell means good food, family and comfort.

Mike requested "spaghetti" which I've covered before but this time I decided to go for Bolognese. I've used different recipes over the years and probably never make it the same way twice. This version was particularly delicious and I think it is due to the addition of chicken stock.

Please feel free to make your own version by using your own mix of meats or sausage, herbs and spices. That's probably what Italian grandmas do.

Bolognese my way

1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
1/2 large red onion, diced
1 small shallot, diced
3 large garlic cloves, peeled, cored and pressed
2 carrots, diced
2 celery ribs, diced
2 teaspoons oregano
 ~2 ounces pancetta, finely chopped
1/4 pound ground pork
1/3 pound ground turkey
1/2 pound lean ground beef
~1 cup red wine
~1 cup chicken stock
1 bay leaf
28 ounces carton Pomi tomatoes
1 tablespoon concentrated tomato paste
kosher salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
small handful Italian parsley, chopped
small handful basil, chopped
1/2 pound of capellini or spaghetti or bucatini
Parmesan cheese, freshly grated as garnish

Heat oil in large skillet over medium heat. Add onions and cook until softened and begin to turn translucent. Add shallots and continue cooking, about 1 minute. Add garlic and cook until fragrant, do not burn. Add more oil or turn heat down if necessary. Add carrots and celery to skillet and stir, cooking until they begin to soften, about 2 minutes. Add the oregano and toast slightly until aromatic.

Add pancetta and brown completely. Pour off any excess grease. Add the ground meats and brown until there is no pink in the beef or pork. Break it up as it cooks. Drain any grease.

Add the wine, bring to a boil, scraping up crunchy bits, until slightly reduced. Add the stock and repeat until reduced. Repeat if you would like more liquid or for fun.

Add the bay leaf, tomatoes and the tomato paste. Season with salt and pepper. Reduce heat and simmer for about 30 minutes to an hour. This is best when it is made a day in advance. Cool, refrigerate.

Before you start the water for your pasta, remove the sauce from the refrigerator. Let set out for 15-30 minutes. While the salted water is coming to a boil for your pasta, warm up your sauce. Add the fresh parsley and basil and check your seasoning. Add salt and pepper if necessary.

Spoon your sauce over the pasta and garnish with Parmesan cheese. Serve with a green salad and hot garlic bread for a splurge.

This is my version so of course it's not authentic but it is delicious. Mike loves capellini so that's what I cooked and we slurped it up. A glass of a big bold Cabernet and we were set. And the best part leftovers! Enjoy!

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Leftovers of a sort

I had quite a bit of quinoa/brown rice pilaf left over that I wanted to use and I saw this recipe in the February issue of Food & Wine by Cat Cora. Here's the link It's a warm quinoa salad with chicken and carrots. I decided to use it with my leftover pilaf. I love 1 dish meals. Thanks Cat!

Warm Quinoa Salad with Carrots and Grilled Chicken my way

2 cups quinoa/brown rice pilaf, cooked
~2 cups chicken stock
kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
2 tablespoons pine nuts
1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
3 garlic cloves, peeled, cored and pressed
1/2 medium red onion, finely chopped
3 small carrots, halved lengthwise and sliced crosswise into half-moons
2 teaspoons ground cumin
1 tablespoon sherry vinegar
4 boneless, skinless chicken thighs, cut into bite size chunks

Re-heat the pilaf in ~1 cup chicken stock until warmed through. Cover and set aside.

In a large skillet, toast the pine nuts over moderate heat, stirring, until fragrant, about 2 minutes. Transfer to a plate. Heat the olive oil in the skillet. Brown the chicken completely, about 5 minutes. Remove from the pan. Set aside.

Add the garlic and onion and cook over moderate heat until softened, about 5 minutes. Add the carrots and cumin and cook over low heat until the carrots are just tender, about 5 minutes. Add 1 cup chicken stock and vinegar and bring to a boil. Stir in the chicken, lower the heat and simmer until chicken is cooked through, about 20 minutes. Season with salt and pepper.

Serve the pilaf in bowls with the chicken and vegetables spooned on top. Garnish with pine nuts.

This was yummy, simple and used up my leftover pilaf. I also appreciated the fact that I had most of the rest of the ingredients. Mike was very satisfied. Me too, leftovers gone and a new way to use chicken. Enjoy!

Sunday, March 4, 2012

Roasted chicken and romaine!

I'm always looking for new things to do with chicken and I loved the idea of a meal done on a sheet pan. I found this article in the March edition of Bon Appetit. Rozanne Gold serves up chicken, salmon, tofu and dessert all cooked on a sheet pan. Here's the link All the recipes sounded good but I had chicken breasts and the rest of the ingredients so started there.

Parmesan Chicken with Caesar Roasted Romaine

2 boneless, skinless chicken breasts
kosher salt and freshly ground pepper
~1/3 cup grated Parmesan cheese
~1/3 cup panko or Japanese breadcrumbs
tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
small handful Italian parsley, chopped
2 garlic cloves, peeled, cored and pressed-separately
1 large heart of romaine, halved lengthwise
1 teaspoon anchovy paste
juice of 1/2 lemon

Preheat oven to 425°. Line a large rimmed baking sheet with foil. Season chicken with salt and pepper; place on prepared sheet. Combine cheese, panko, drizzle of oil, parsley, and 1 garlic clove in a medium bowl; season with salt and pepper. Pat 1/2 panko mixture onto one side of the breasts. Roast chicken until crumbs begin to turn golden, about 6 minutes. Turn breasts over and press remaining panko mixture onto the other side.

Mix together remaining olive oil, garlic clove and anchovy paste. Drizzle it over the romaine. Season with salt and pepper. Place romaine around chicken. Roast until chicken is cooked through and lettuce is browned at edges, about 6 minutes. Remove from the oven and sprinkle alittle cheese on the lettuce.

This was a fun, quick and easy dish and the roasted romaine was definitely different. Mike and I both really enjoyed this. The chicken was really delicious and the romaine was very good. This was a wonderfully simple meal that's a great mid week meal or anytime you want something quick, easy and satisfying. Enjoy!

Saturday, March 3, 2012

I am grateful for....

There's a restaurant near my house called Cafe Gratitude. The food is mostly raw but all vegan. I've eaten there a few times and while it's not really my thing some of the food is good and interesting. I could never get Mike to eat there-too male, too Southern, too tied to other modes of eating. I do love whole grain dishes with farro, quinoa, brown rice and vegetables. I found a recipe in Food and Wine that took its inspiration from Cafe Gratitude in LA and I decided to make it into something Mike would eat. I also tried to use items I had in my pantry or freezer only buying some fresh vegetables. Here's the link to the original by Gail Simmons.

The great thing about this recipe is you can use it as a guide and make endless substitutions in regards to the whole grains (farro, bulgar, wild rice), vegetables (cauliflower, chard, green beans, bell peppers) and different kinds of protein (tofu, chicken or canned tuna). Pick your favorites.

Quinoa and Brown Rice Bowl with Vegetables and Tahini my way

1 box Near East brown rice pilaf
1 cup quinoa
~2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1/2 large red onion, finely diced
3 carrots, sliced into rounds
1/2 jar artichoke hearts packed in water, drained and chopped
kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
~5 ounces fresh spinach, washed and stems removed
1/4 cup tahini, at room temperature
1/2 cup combination fresh lemon and lime juice
2 garlic cloves, minced
2 tablespoons warm water
crushed red chili flakes to taste
1 ripe avocado, cut into small chunks
Saags Naturals turkey Italian sausages

Cook the rice pilaf according to the instructions on the package. Set aside. Do the same with the quinoa.

If frozen cover the sausages with water, bring to a boil and reduce heat to a simmer. Cook until all of the water has evaporated and the sausages brown. Do not use a non-stick pan.

In a large skillet, heat 1 tablespoons of the olive oil. Add the onion and cook over moderate heat until translucent, about 4 minutes. Add the carrots and cook until starting to soften, about 3 minutes. Add the artichoke hearts, season with salt and pepper and cook, stirring a few times until the ingredients are well combined and the artichokes warmed through, about 2 minutes.

Add more oil to the skillet. Add the spinach, cook over moderate heat, stirring a few times, until it begins to wilt. Taste and adjust seasonings.

In a food processor, add the tahini with the lemon juice, garlic, warm water and crushed red pepper. Process until smooth and season with salt.

Mix together the brown rice pilaf and quinoa. Serve in bowls with the cooked vegetables, diced avocado and sausages. Drizzle the tahini sauce on the top.

This was really delicious and healthy. I always read the labels to pick sausages with a low fat %. This usually means I avoid the ones with cheese and pork in them and pick ones made from turkey and chicken with spinach or fruit for moisture and flavor. These Saags turkey sausages are very low in fat and very flavorful. They're also local. I'm a believer in reading labels.

I had the boxes of rice pilaf and quinoa in my pantry, the sausages in my freezer and an open jar of artichoke hearts in my refrigerator. I thought I had broccoli and only bought fresh spinach. The rest of the veggies I had on hand. I liked using up some things I have on hand and it made me get alittle creative with my substitutions.

I have some pilaf - quinoa mixture and tahini sauce left so I am looking forward to using it up. Mike enjoyed this and didn't feel like he was eating some "weird" health food concoction. I'm grateful for healthy recipe inspirations. Enjoy!

Thursday, March 1, 2012

Another Friday night....

So it was Friday night again and we thought we'd have a drink at our neighborhood spot but first I made dinner. I wanted to try a smoked trout salad. I had tried one before and Mike wasn't crazy about it but I thought I could find a combination that he would like. Here's the link to the recipe I tried from Food & Wine by Nick Fauchald.

It had been warm and sunny here. The restaurant around the corner from my office, Comforts in downtown San Anselmo, makes a wonderful smoked trout salad with arugula and potatoes. Whenever they make it several of us run over to nab it for lunch. I was starting to think of spring-longer days, warmer weather and salads. Smoked trout salad was on my mind and this version sounded delicious.

Smoked Trout Salad with Apple and Manchego my way

3 tablespoons mayonnaise
3 tablespoons apple cider vinegar
1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
kosher salt and freshly ground pepper
2 small heads of frisée, torn into bite-size pieces
2 small smoked trout fillets, broken into small pieces and any bones removed
~3 ounces Manchego cheese, coarsely shredded
1 Black Arkansas apple, cored and cut into thin slices
small handful Italian parsley, coarsely chopped
1/2 red onion, thinly sliced

In a small bowl, whisk the mayonnaise with the cider vinegar and olive oil and season with salt and pepper.

In a large bowl, combine the frisée with the trout, Manchego, apple, parsley and red onion. Add the dressing and toss to coat.

Mike loved this salad! First of all it had mayonnaise in it. He's crazy about the stuff and I'm not. So he was impressed that I would use it. Second of all he liked the apple and cheese.  This was a lovely salad, the smokiness of the trout was wonderful with the apple and cheese. After our delicious dinner of salad and warm bread and butter we headed off for a drink. Enjoy!