Friday, November 8, 2013

Baked Veggie-full Pasta, with a side of bacon of course

This dish is a weeknight wonder. The prep is pretty easy, the dish lends itself to yummy leftovers and you can use whatever veggies you have on hand. Feel free to play around with it. I like mine spicy but you can adjust that as you want and if you prefer to use jarred sauce instead of canned tomatoes, go for it. And while only crazy people don't eat bacon, if you want to go full veggie, just omit the bacon.

Baked Veggie Pasta (Weeknight dinners)
a girl and her kitchen

10 mushrooms, sliced
1 onion, diced
2 carrots, diced
1 celery stalk, diced
2-3 slices bacon, chopped (optional)
1 eggplant (medium), diced
1 bunch of kale (or less), rinsed, stems removed and chopped
2 garlic cloves, minced
2 tbsp tomato paste
1 can crushed tomatoes
1 can diced tomatoes
1 c greek yogurt (nonfat is ok, could replace with nonfat ricotta if you want)
3 c low fat mozz (or more if you like)
1/3 c chicken stock (low sodium)
1 tsp red pepper flakes (less if you want less heat)
1 tsp herbs de provence
1/2 tsp oregano
Salt and pepper
1 box penne or rigatoni or other shape pasta you like (I used whole wheat)
Olive oil

Bring a large pot of salted water to boil. Cook pasta till just shy of al dente, maybe 1 minute less than the box instructions (it will finish cooking in oven).

Preheat oven to 350

In a large nonstick sauté pan, heat 1 tbsp olive oil over medium heat. Add mushrooms and cook, stirring not very often (leave them alone, they need to brown J!) for 5-8 minutes. (While mushrooms are cooking, dice carrot, onion and celery and chop kale). When they are browning a bit on both sides add a sprinkle of salt and pepper, cook another minute or so and then toss them into a baking dish (anything in the 9x13 range will work).

In the same pan, add another 1-2 tbsp of olive oil over medium heat, add the onion, carrot and celery, herbs de provence and red pepper flakes, and a pinch of salt and pepper. Stir to combine and sauté until vegetables are tender (~6 mins). While the veg is cooking, chop eggplant and garlic set aside, then chop bacon.  Add tomato paste, 1 can crushed tomatoes and the kale. Bring to gentle simmer and let cook until the kale has wilted (4 minutes). Add to the baking dish with the mushrooms.

Add the bacon to the pan and cook until brown (8 mins). Add bacon to baking dish, leaving bacon grease in the pan. Add the eggplant and garlic to the bacon fat with a pinch of salt and pepper. Let sauté over medium heat for 4 mins. Add the diced tomatoes and let simmer another 5 minutes until eggplant is tender. Add to baking dish.

When pasta is done cooking, add strained pasta to baking dish and toss to combine. Add chicken stock and yogurt and mix well. Taste for seasoning adding more stock, salt, pepper or yogurt as needed. Top with mozzarella cheese and drizzle 1 tbsp olive oil over top to keep it moist.  You can save the dish covered in the frig at this point for up to day and bring to room temp before baking off.

Cook at 350 uncovered for 30-35 mins until cheese is melted and slightly brown.

Enjoy with crunch green side salad.

Saturday, October 26, 2013

Braised Lamb Shanks Two Ways

Two nights of blow your socks off lamb dinners with one slow cooker meal! This was so fantastic. A rustic but luscious sauce, silky and earthy from the herbs and lambs. Very rich, almost buttery and so satisfying. The lamb is so tender it falls off the bone. Slowly braised in wine, stock, herbs, carrots and shallots. The first night I served the shank and sauce on its own (but had I thought more about it, perched atop some creamy polenta would have been divine). The second night i shredded the remaining meat to make a ragu with the leftover sauce and tossed it with pecorino and egg noodles....a bowl of food for the lamb gods. OMG so good. Seriously. Go make this, now.

Braised Lamb Shanks Two Ways (Slow Cooker Magic)
a girl and her kitchen (adapted from scarpetta dolcetto)
4-6 lamb shanks (roughly 4lbs total)
2 bay leaves
5 garlic cloves, smashed
1 tbsp salt (plus more to taste)
1 tsp black pepper (plus more to taste)
4 c beef stock
1 c red wine
4 shallots, sliced (could replace with one small onion diced)
4 carrots, diced
2 tbsp tomato paste
4 sprigs thyme
1 sprig rosemary
Flour for dusting
Salt and pepper for seasoning shanks
2 tbsp vegetable oil
2 tbsp butter, softened
2 tbdp flour
Parsley for garnish if desired

Place carrots, shallot, garlic, thyme, rosemary, tomato paste, 1 tbsp salt, 1 tsp pepper, stock and wine in slow cooker and stir to combine.

Season the lamb with a pinch of salt and pepper and dust in flour. Heat oil in a nonstick large pan over medium heat. Add the shanks to the pan and increase the heat to medium-high. Brown shanks on both sides (3-5 mins per side) and then add to the slow cooker. Fit them in tightly so they all are touching some liquid. Cook on low for 10 hrs. 1 hour before they are finished cooking, mix soften butter with 2 tbsp flour into a paste. Stir into sauce and replace lid, continue cooking and sauce will thicken slightly as the dish finishes. Remove rosemary twig and thyme sprigs before serving.

Night #1 – Serve lamb shanks whole with sauce over polenta/rice or on its own with side salad.

Night # 2 – put remaining sauce in a pot and using a fork shred the lamb (removing the fat and bones) and bring to a simmer. In a separate pot, boil ½ a bag of extra wide egg noodles. Add to meat sauce for a thick lamb ragu! Serve hot with pecorino cheese for topping (and some fresh chopped parsley if you have it).

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Chunky Weeknight Beef Stew and Slow Cooker Magic

I admit it, I have historically looked down on the slow cooker. I’m judgey about food, I know. But the slow cooker/crock pot just always seemed so, well like faking it in the kitchen. You throw stuff in and turn it on and poof, you have dinner. No real cooking required. But then I had a baby and realized HOLY COW, all you have to do is throw stuff in and turn it on and poof, you have dinner! Game changer people. Because let me tell you, my days of swaying about my kitchen, making up recipes as I went, spending time shopping and singing to myself as I gently caramelized something on the stove, those days have been replaced by the road runner version of myself, cradling a 5 month old in one arm and zooming about wondering if I’ll even get time to eat let alone cook.  Yea, life looks different on the other side of the bump. So I broke down and bought myself a dreaded slow cooker and the dang thing has saved my life. I’ve already braised lamb shanks (recipe to come), made chicken stock and now beef stew and that’s all in like 7 days! I drank the kool aid folks. Slow cookers rule.

Weeknight Beef Stew
a girl and her kitchen

1.5 – 2 lbs beef stew meat
4 celery stalks, cleaned and chopped into 1in pieces
4 large carrots, cleaned and chopped into 1in pieces
6 red potatoes, cleaned and quartered
1 package frozen pearl onions
3 garlic cloves, smashed (skins removed)
A few sprigs of fresh thyme
2 bay leaves
 1 tbsp paprika
1 tbsp Worchester sauce
2 tbsp tomato paste
4 c beef broth
1 c red wine
 1 tbsp Salt and 1 tbsp pepper (plus more for seasoning meat)
2 tbsp Vegetable oil
1 cup frozen peas
3 tbsp butter, softened
4 tbsp flour + 4 more to dust meat

Put carrot, celery, potatoes, onions, garlic, thyme, bay, paprika, worchester, tomato paste, 1 tbsp each of salt and pepper, beef stock and wine into crock pot and stir to combine.

In a large nonstick pan, heat vegetable oil over medium heat. Meanwhile, toss the beef into a plastic bag (this is the easiest way) along with a heavy pinch of salt and pepper and 4 tbsp of flour. Mush the meat around in the bag until coated with the flour and seasoning. Brown the floured meat in the hot oil on all sides (a few minutes a side, you are not trying to cook it but get some color on it). May need to increase heat to medium-high when you add the meat to the pan.

Add the browned meat to the crock pot and stir again to combine. Set the slow cooker to low and cook for 8-10 hrs. About an hour before you eat, using a fork, mix the softened butter with 4 tbsp of flour so it becomes a paste. Then mix the flour/butter paste into the sauce in the crock pot until most of the lumps are gone. Put the lid back on and continue cooking. The sauce will thicken as it finishes cooking.

When you are ready to eat, stir in the frozen peas (they’ll defrost very very quickly in the hot stew) and serve with crusty bread!

Cooks note: you could also add a cup or two of diced mushrooms with the carrots etc if you like. And if you don't have a crock pot,  you could make this on the stove in a heavy bottom pan or in an over at like 350 for 3 or so hours. Just let it gently simmer away. Also, if using the slow cooker and then leaving the house, just set the butter out before you leave, it will be nice and soft when you get home.

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Creamy Mushroom and Spinach Lasagna - It's date night!

This is what food dreams are made of people! Gooey and sinful deliciousness at its best. I kind of wanted to high-five myself over this one. A date night at home was the inspiration, that and the overly large Costco containers of brown mushrooms and spinach wilting in my frig looking for a meal to call home. I'm not sure words can do justice as to how savory and creamy and so utterly satisfying this lasagna was. A smooth and luscious béchamel sauce, spiked with mozzarella and pecorino for that Italian zing, spotted with sweet onions, earthy sautéed mushrooms and bright green tender baby spinach leaves. I threw in a handful of peas (because I was feeling guilty about all the cheese) to help balance out the bacon fat I used to make my rough (oh yea, bacon – side note, if you do not store your leftover bacon grease in a jar in your frig you are NUTS! That stuff is GOLD.) I ended up using no-bake lasagna noodles I had laying around and seriously, I need to stop being so judgey about no-bake noodles….soooo easy and totally delicious people. I will absolutely be making this again, like tomorrow…and the day after that. And every day! It was that good.


Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Post-baby pasta with kale, bacon and blistered tomatoes

Just over 7 weeks ago, I gave birth to our first child. Linley Rose arrived after 40 hours of labor and one crazy c-section. But I survived and love her despite the experience. I think it is an understatement to say that having a kid changes your life. Once you fumble through the fog of those first few weeks, you begin to try and grasp at familiar tasks of your old life, like eating and stuff. It took me 7 weeks to get back in the kitchen to even attempt to cook something fun and this still was a bit of a rush job due to my screaming monkey who began wailing as I was rounding third on dinner. But I was able to push through with the help of my faithful partner in parenting crime. Despite his lack of milk producing ducts on his chest, husband does a damn fine job of keeping our little bean happy. As such, I produced my first, post-baby meal. I call this a meal because heretofore I have had enough time to cook either a meat or a veg but not both. With this I managed to squeeze in both bacon AND kale and as such, a meal it is. We both gobbled up two bowls each of this wondrous dish. I'm pretty sure it tasted really good BUT given my entire body seems to live in the twilight zone of sleep deprivation, I'm not always sure of my senses these days. But anything with cheese, pasta and bacon has to be good, right?

PS - you could totally make this vegetarian by excluding the bacon and sauteing the kale in olive oil...I will refrain from asking the obvious question (who the heck doesn't eat bacon?) 

Thursday, April 25, 2013

Roasted Garlic Shrimp in Tomato Sauce with Croutons and Goat Cheese

My sister-in-law brought this dish to my attention one night when we combined resources and decided to cook together. This is such an easy dish and yet it's a restaurant quality meal. Perfectly roasted, plump shrimp sit atop a chunky tomato bed spiked with oregano and red pepper flakes, flanked by crispy seasoned croutons and creamy dollops of goat cheese. I mean swoon-worthy, really. It’s warm and inviting and fancy enough for guest but takes little time to throw together. This was adapted from Ina Garten, who also adds in fennel, which would be a great addition if you have it on hand. Serve this with hunks of crusty bread for dipping and light side salad for an easy but delicious meal.

Monday, March 18, 2013

Italian Beef and Vegetable Ragu with Soft Parmesan Polenta

This is one of those recipes that I cooked up in my head on the fly while trying to clean out the frig and freezer. So I tried to get all the measurements right, but please take these with a grain of proverbial salt because I don’t really measure anything when I cook on the fly and so you might want a little more or less of this or that. Tasting along the way is always encouraged! This was such an incredibly comforting dish and quite honestly, rather healthy if I say so myself. I can’t wait to eat the leftovers tonight! A happy medley of tender vegetables and earthy beef bits swimming in a lightly spiced chunky tomato sauce. You could easily swap in turkey or chicken in lieu of the beef and any other vegetables you have laying around. The sauce is thick and homey and marries perfectly with Emeril’s parmesan polenta recipe, which is my go-to polenta these days. This would totally be an easy weeknight meal too. Enjoy!

Friday, March 8, 2013

Ditalini with Braised Kale, Bacon and White Beans

I love kale. I really do. It's kind of wierd because kale is this tough leafy green that just screams "I'm SURE you do NOT want to eat me!" It just looks scary. But it's one of my most favorite greens on the planet. It's hearty and earthy and brings such a lovely chew to dishes and by god, it's good for you too! Crazy I know. I also quite adore cannelini beans. It somewhat borders on obsessed. In soups and stews and right out of the can (or pot if I've taken the time to cook fresh ones). They bring such creaminess to any recipe that's so satisfying and again, amazing, but good for you. So I decided to take these two healthy items and, well, dress them with bacon and cheese and toss them with pasta for what is becoming one of my all time favorite dishes. Yes, I took healthy vegetables and made, less healthy. But it's still kind of healthy. I mean, there are greens and legumes in here. Some credit please? But seriously, this was so fast (less than 30 minutes) and so satisfying that I ate all the leftovers for breakfast and now I'm pissed I don't have more for lunch. I am seriously obsessed with this dish. And go for the Ditalini if you can find it, super fun shape to to eat! Enjoy!

Thursday, February 28, 2013

Heatlyh Italian White Bean Stew with Bacon

I have a love affair with white beans….the bigger the better. They are creamy and luscious and I just swoon over them. Ok that probably makes me a giant kitchen dork, but it’s true. The other good thing about beans is they are super healthy. So when I added a little bit of bacon to this dish, I didn’t feel bad at all. In fact, this dish is really rather good for you. It’s a hearty stew of sweet Italian tomatoes (I like to use the fire roasted variety), tender vegetables with that added flair from the fennel, creamy and satisfying large white beans and then the pop of bacon here and there. The woodsy notes from the rosemary give this a rustic homey feel. We had this for dinner and then promptly finished it off the next night. Topped with a generous sprinkle of pecorino, it really hits the spot. You could also make it veg by omitting the bacon and just sautéing the vegetables in olive oil only. It’s warm and soothing and reminds me of the decadent flavors of my favorite pasta dishes without the guilt of eating pasta. Enjoy!

Thursday, January 24, 2013

Chicken Soup for the Soul

We've all been hearing the endless horror stories of the 2013 flu season. I myself was struck down for three weeks (yes, 3!) with some crazy head and chest virus. So it comes as no real surprise that people are scrambling for soup. I've had several emails from friends and family asking for my chicken soup recipe specifically and I was pretty surprised to see I have like zero soup recipes posted! Shame on me. I know. I've also been a neglectful blogger. I'm telling you, being pregnany kind of rules your world for a while. But I'm back and I'm kicking off 2013 with soup for the soul. Chicken soup is magical and so easy to make. Honestly. And if you are not into making your own stock (which you should be because it is crazy easy people!) you can always make stock while making the soup or use a store bought short cut. Whatever your please, this soup will fill you up and steam out any aches and pains. Freeze extra in ziplock bags for a quick meal during the week! (I'll have to take a picture next time I make this.)

Revamped Grandma's Chicken Soup
by a girl and her kitchen

1 whole chicken, broken down (or buy a couple legs, thighs and a couple breasts, but better to have butcher break down a whole chicken if you can as the backbone has a lot of flavor for your brother)
1 onion, diced
1-2 cloves of garlic, minced
4 celery stalks, cleaned, chunky dice
4 carrots, cleaned and chunky dice (peel if you prefer)
1 28 ounce can of diced tomatoes (use fire roasted from Multi Glen for extra flavor)
1 cup mushrooms, chunky dice (optional)
1-2 cups kale/chard/spinach, chopped (optional)
1/4 tsp red pepper flakes (optional, but recommended)
1 bay leaf
1 tbsp herbs de provence
1 lemon
1 package of no-yolk egg noodles (i prefer the extrawide ones)
salt and pepper
olive oil
1 parmesan rind (optional but worth it!)
1 small bunch of parsley, chopped
water (may supplement part with homemade broth)
***1 container of good store bought chicken broth (optional, see note below)

In a very large pot, heat 2 tbsp olive oil over medium heat. Add the vegetables (carrot, onion, garlic, celery (and mushrooms and greens if using) and season with a heavy pinch of salt and pepper and sauté for 5-8 minutes stirring periodically so nothing burns.

Add in the chicken pieces and stir to combine. (Cooks Note: For better flavored soup, roast the chicken before using in soup. To pre-roast: in a large bowl toss the chicken pieces with 1 tbsp of salt and 1 tbsp of pepper and 3 tbsp olive oil, spread out evenly on a cookie sheet pan (preferably one with edges so no juices run off the sides) and cook at 400 degrees for at least 30 minutes so it starts to brown and get crispy…won’t be fully cooked, but if only making soup this should be enough).

Add in tomatoes and their juices, cheese rind, herbs (dried and fresh) and enough water to cover the chicken by a few inches (but make sure you leave an inch or so of space between the top of the pan and the liquid). If you do not have a long time to cook the soup (~4 hrs) to develop good flavor, then replace some of the water with a large container of store bought chicken broth (or better yet, homemade!) so that you give your broth a boost of help.

Raise heat to medium high to bring to a boil and then reduce heat and let simmer at medium-low heat for at least two hours (if using raw chicken and not pre-roasting, worth cooking a bit longer). Taste the soup broth after a few hours to see if you need more salt/pepper or herbs. Add them as needed.

Once the chicken is cooked through, remove the chickenand discard the bones, skin and fat. Dice/shred the chicken. Add it back to the pot. While you are dicing the chicken, bring the soup back up to a boil and once the broth is boiling, add the noodles and cook according to package instructions (Cooks Note: Cook for 1 or 2 minutes less than package directions). Once noodles are cooked, add the chicken back to the pot to stir to combine. Squeeze 1/2 lemon and stir. Remove the cheese rind and bay leaf. Taste for seasoningand adjust as needed. Serve hot.
Top each plate with grated parmesan or pecorino and a bit more chopper parsley and enjoy.