Sunday, September 30, 2007

Past with Anchovies and Arugula

This dish doesn't look all that exciting, does it? But the reason I am posting it here, is because it is deceitful. It doesn't look like much and it's quite easy to prepare, yet it has wonderful full flavor.

The recipe comes from one of my go-to favorite cookbooks, by one of my favorite go-to chefs, Mark Bittman. The recipe is Pasta with Anchovies and Arugula and the book is The Minimalist Cooks Dinner

Pasta with Anchovies and Arugula
(makes 3 main-course to 6 first-course servings)

4 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
4 large garlic cloves, peeled and silvered (I minced mine)
8 anchovy fillets, or more to taste, with some of their oil
2 cups trimmed arugula, washed, dried, and chopped (I didn't chop, though I should have)
1 pound linguine
freshly ground black pepper
1/2 teaspoon or more crushed red pepper flakes

Heat water for the pasta. Put 2 tablespoons of the oil into a deep skillet, turn the heat to medium, and heat for a minute. Add the garlic and anchovies. When the garlic sizzles and anchovies break up, turn the heat to the minimum.

Salt the boiling pasta water and cook the pasta until is is tender but not mushy. Reserve 1 cup of the cooking liquid and drain. Add the pasta and the arugula to the skillet, along with enough of the reserved cooking water to make a sauce; turn the heat to medium and stir for a minute. Add salt and pepper to taste, plus a pinch or more of the red pepper flakes.

Turn into a bowl, toss with the remaining 2 tablespoons oil, and serve.

This was very good. The anchovies practically disappear, but yet they flavor the pasta thoroughly. As I was making this, I kept thinking, I'll add some cheese at the end..right before serving. But...and I can't believe these words are coming out of my didn't need cheese. Yes, I, the firm believer in cheese on and in everything, did not think it needed cheese. It had that much flavor. And as an extra plus, it was so quick, perfect for a weeknight dinner. I literally had it on the table within 30 minutes of starting it. Unlike a certain well-known food network chef, whose recipes I can never, ever make in 30 minutes.

I served it with roasted cherry tomatoes, which we scooped onto toasted bread for an improptu bruschetta.

Thursday, September 27, 2007

Garden Bounty - Peppers and Tomatoes

I don't have a big vegetable garden. As a matter of fact, you would be hard-pressed to even say I had a vegetable garden. You've seen pictures of my herb garden here and here and I've even posted some of my flowers here, but there is not much to post when it comes to my vegetables. I have a little plot on the side of the house, barely measures 3 feet square, in which I grow a few cherry tomato plants. This year, I was so lazy, I didn't even plant new plants, all I am growing are volunteer tomatoes that reseeded from last year! I also grow 4 hot pepper plants in 3 pots along side of my porch. That's it. That's my vegetable garden. But even though it's small, I love harvesting my tiny bounty.

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Pasta with Tomatoes and Bacon

When I have nothing specific planned for dinner, I invariably turn to pasta. Add anything to pasta and presto you have dinner. Even when the cubboard is bare, toss the pasta with a little oil in which you've sauteed some garlic and red paper flakes, yummy!

When looking through my refrigerator today, I spotted the 3 halves of roasted tomatoes that I had left over from roasting tomatoes. Leaning up against the jar was a package of bacon. Was it fate, that casually placed these two items together? Was it just happenstance? I'd like to think that some divine intervention occurred, because the result was truly divine!

Pasta with Roasted Tomatoes and Bacon
Serves 4
1 lb linguini
1 onion, chopped
8 slices bacon, diced (more is always better)
3 halves slow roasted tomatoes, diced (again, more = better)
1/2 cup shredded parmesan cheese (you know what I'm going to say here, right)
oil from slow roasted tomatoes

Heat salted water for pasta. Cook as directed, drain, reserving a 1/4 cup of the pasta water.

While the pasta is cooking, in a saute pan, swirl a little of the roasted tomato oil and brown the diced bacon, until is as crispy as you like it. If your bacon is very fatty, you can probably eliminate the oil, but mine was kind of lean. If you have too much bacon fat (is there such a thing???), you can pour some out, and then toss the onions in. Saute for a minute or two. I wanted the onions to still be kind of crisp, not totally limp. Add the diced tomatoes, just to heat through. Add the reserved pasta to the pan and toss to coat, add more of the roasted tomato oil, or some of the reserved pasta water if it seems too dry. Salt and pepper to taste. I served this with a healthy dose of freshly shredded parmesan regianno cheese on top.

This was amazing. The roasted tomatoes were incredible. The oil (and really I used a small amount, maybe 2 tablespoons), coated all of the pasta. I tried to show in the close-up the tomatoe-y goodness of it.

Monday, September 24, 2007

Slow-Roasted Tomatoes

Oh. My. Gosh. How have I lived all these years without making slow-roasted tomatoes??? Who knew? Who knew something so wonderful, so fabulous, was out there, just waiting? Sure Kalyn posted about them here, and they appeared in other food blogs as well. But, while I was curious, I wasn't really driven to make them. Plus, I rarely had 8-10 hours to devote to oven baking. On the weekend, my oven is used for bread baking and granola making, finding it hard to find a long chunk of unused oven time.

Then I read an article, in the fall issue of Fine Cooking magazine's Fresh issue, which I've all ready posted about several times. The article was titled: slow-roasted tomatoes...ready for the oven after 3 hours. Just 3 hours! Not 8, not 10, just 3. 3 hours I could find. With a few tomatoes ripening on my windowsill and no other recipe in mind, I decided to try it.

I'm not going to post the whole recipe here, it's quite long, just because they go into great detail about the pan, and what you should be looking for in the roasting tomatoes. They give nice detailed descriptions, but basically you cut your tomatoes in half, toss them with some olive oil, slivers of garlic and fresh thyme. Put them on a rimmed cookie sheet, pour some more olive oil around them and bake at 350. You bake them for about 3-4 hours, and them let them cool for 10 to 15 minutes.

They were amazing! I scooped the majority of them into jars, ladled some of the oil over, and froze them. But I had about 3 halves and some oil left that didn't fit evenly in the jars. I have used the oil flavor lots of pasta dishes. It adds a wonderful, rich tomato flavor. The other 3 halves, I used in a tomato, bacon pasta dish that was fantastic. I couldn't believe how much flavor just 3 tomato halves had.
These were so good. I wish I could roll back the calendar, to the middle of summer, when tomatoes are everywhere. I would make jars upon jars of these roasted tomatoes, to be savored all winter long. I can only assume that the ones roasted for 8 to 10 hours at a lower heat are even more incredible. But if you don't have that time to commit, try these.

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Bibb & Cilantro Salad with Shrimp & Toasted Corn

Isn't this a pretty salad! So fresh and summery, even though it is feeling a little fallish here. This is perfect for fresh corn, though I bet it would be good with frozen also.

This recipe came out of Fine Cookings Fresh for Fall 2007. I am always picking up these specialty magazines at the grocery store (I am a complete sucker for food magazines), glancing through them, finding several things to make, and then forgetting about them. This time, I have stuck a little post-it note on the front with the recipes I want to try. Deconstructed Pesto Pasta came from this issue also. So, I am pretty pleased with myself...2 recipes out of one magazine! There are still 4 more I want to try, but at least I have begun!

Bibb & Cilantro Salad with Shrimp & Toasted Corn
adapted from Fresh Fall 2007

Serves 4 as a light main course

2 heads bibb or Boston lettuce, washed, dried and torn into bite size pieces
2 cups packed cilantro leaves, washed and dried
1/4 cup finely diced red onion
3 tbs fresh lime juice
2 tsp honey
1/2 tsp fish sauce
1/4 cup plus 2 tbs extra-virgin olive oil
kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
2 cups fresh corn kernels (from about 4 to 5 ears of sweet corn)
1 fresh jalapeno, cored, seeded and finely diced
1 1/2 lbs large shrimp, peeled and deveined

Put the lettuce and cilantro in a large bowl, cover with a damp paper towel, and refrigerate. I a small bowl combine the onion, lime juice, honey, and fish sauce. Whisk in 1/4 of the oil. Season with 1/4 tsp. salt and several grinds of pepper.

Heat the remaining 2 tbs. oil in a large nonstick skillet over medium heat until shimmering. Add the corn and jalapeno and cook stirring frequently, until the corn is golden, 4 to 5 minutes. Add the shrimp and cook until pink and cooked through, about 4 minutes. Remove from the heat, add 2 tbs of the dressing, and toss well.

Toss the lettuce and cilantro with the remaining dressing. Portion the greens onto four plates. Spoon the corn and shrimp evenly onto the greens. Serve immediately.

This was really good. Corn and shrimp make a perfect match. The sweetness of each one complements each other. This was a light salad, but it has a rich flavor. It was a little mild, which was good, but I think next time I might increase the peppers and also increase the fish sauce, just for little more flavor. This makes me want to use shrimp and corn together again, maybe a shrimp and corn chowder??

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Garden Friend

Can you see him? I love the way they look at you, like they're thinking about what you're doing. Or maybe they are deciding if you are too big to eat.

Monday, September 17, 2007

Crockpots and Slow Cookers

Crockpots are now being called slow cookers. I'm not sure why, I guess it's fancier. We like to do that, take something old, give it a new name, and supposedly it's better. But is KFC really any different than Kentucky Fried Chicken?

Whatever you want to call them, they remind me of the 70's. Pictures with crockpots in shades of avocado and burnt orange. But my current slow cooker is sleek stainless steel, with a black removable crock.

In my quest for easy weeknight dinners, I have decided to resurrect my slow cooker. My problem is that everything seems to have the same slightly overcooked flavor. The only things that I feel it does well are soups, stews, beans and pot roasts. And really, why would I want it to do anything else? Surprisingly, I don't have any new slow cooker cookbooks. I checked out a few from the library, but none really stood out for me. So, I went to the web. I found a site Just Slow Cooking that seems to have just about every slow cooker recipe I could ever ask for. I mean really, it has 6,156 recipes! Now, that I've set you all up looking at that site, I feel kind of silly to tell you that the recipe I've showed today, didn't come from there. It actually came from cooking light.

Thai Spiced Braised Chicken

Spoon the aromatic cooking liquid over the chicken and vegetables.

2 cups water
1 cup chopped onion
1/3 cup julienne-cut peeled fresh ginger
1/4 cup rice vinegar
2 tablespoons Thai fish sauce
2 teaspoons freshly ground black pepper
2 teaspoons Thai chili paste
8 chicken thighs (about 3 pounds), skinned
1 (1-pound) bag baby carrots
1 (14 1/2-ounce) can fat-free, less-sodium chicken broth
3 garlic cloves, halved
1 (8-inch) stalk fresh lemongrass, cut in half lengthwise
1/2 cup coarsely chopped fresh cilantro
2 cups hot cooked jasmine rice
1/2 cup sliced green onions
4 lime wedges

Place first 12 ingredients in an electric slow cooker. Cover and cook on high 7 hours or until chicken is done. Discard lemongrass; stir in cilantro.Place 1/2 cup of rice and 2 chicken thighs into each of 4 large bowls. Ladle 1 3/4 cups broth mixture over each serving; sprinkle with 2 tablespoons green onions. Serve with lime wedges.
4 servings

This is pretty good. The picture is of leftovers from the next day. I liked the leftovers better! What I did was pull the thighs out and shred the chicken and place it back into the soup. I stored the soup and the rice separately and mixed them right before serving. If you just dump it all together and put it in the fridge, the rice absorbs all of the liquid and you end up with a messy clump. Ask me how I know. But this way it stays soupy.

Saturday, September 15, 2007

WHB - Deconstructed Pesto Pasta

This week for Weekend Herb Blogging, I showcase my favorite herb, basil. I love basil. I love how easy it is to grow. I love how pretty it looks growing. And I especially love how good it is. As I've mentioned before, I have two favorite types of food: Thai and Mediterranean. Maybe one of the reasons is that they both use my favorite herb. In my garden I grow both sweet basil and thai basil. I am more comfortable using the sweet basil and use it the most frequently, though Kalyn posted a recipe using thai basil that I am going to have to try.

Today's recipe comes from the new issue of Fresh from Fine Cooking Magazine. I've adapted it slightly

Deconstructed Pesto Pasta
Serves 4 to 6 as a main course.

Kosher salt
8 Tbs. extra-virgin olive oil
8 cloves garlic, very thinly sliced (I used 4 cloves minced)
Freshly ground black pepepr
1 lb dried fuslli or radiatore pasta
1/2 cup toasted pine nuts
4 oz. coarsely grated Pecorino Romano
2 cups packed fresh sweet basil leaves, but into 1/4 inch wide strips

Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil.

In a large skillet, gently heat the olive oil and sliced garlic over low heat, stirring frequently, until the garlic starts to turn golden, 4 to 8 minutes. Remove from the heat and stir in about 3/4 tsp. kosher salt and 1/4 tsp. pepper.

Cook the pasta until al dente, reserving 1/2 cup of the pasta water before draining it. Return the pasta to the pot. Pour the garlic and olive oil over the hot pasta and toss. Pour the reserved pasta water into the skillet, swirl it around, pour it over the pasta, and toss well. Add the pine nuts and cheese and toss again until thoroughly mixed. Transfer to a serving bowl and let cool for 5 minutes. Then, just before serving, toss in the basil. Serve with extra cheese.

This was pretty good, and very quick and easy. I think, though, that I like my basil pesto pasta, not deconstructed. I prefer it when the basil pesto coats every single strand of your pasta, and you get pesto and pasta flavor in every bite.

I served this with a quick to put together bean salad. Just tossed some cannelini beans with some olive oil, rice wine vinegar, salt & pepper and some fresh sage. It was pretty and tasty. Though, this menu would definitely flunk my home ec class, since everything was shades of beige and green.

If you want to see more entries for this weeks weekend herb blogging please go visit Daily Unadventures in Cooking. And to learn more about Weekend Herb Blogging, please click on the logo at the beginning of the post.

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Where's the Beef?

In an effort to eater lighter and healthier, we rarely have beef. I would guess that we maybe have it one to two times a month. I don't really miss it, I do prefer chicken, fish, or pork, because they seem so much more versatile to me. I like my beef pretty simply adorned, unless it's winter, and then I want it in a stew, soup, or as a pot roast. But every once in awhile, I crave a steak. Just a nice, simple, chunk of meat. So, it means a trip to the local meat market. He has the perfect 8oz ribeyes. They are big enough to satisfy, but not too big. As Goldilocks would say, they are "just right".

I usually serve the steak with the required baked potato. But today, I decide to be bold and step outside the box, with a baked sweet potato! I reasoned to myself that I would make my steak dinner nice and healthy with all the extra vitamins and fiber in a sweet potato. It was a nice idea, but I promptly toppled the sweet potato from it's lofty, healthy perch, by filling it with a spread made of softened butter, brown sugar, and toasted pecans. Nuts are healthy, right?

This was such an easy dinner. The steaks were seasoned with my favorite steak seasoning, and grilled over high heat for 3 minutes per side, and then allowed to rest. The potatoes, I'm ashamed to say, were microwaved. But heck, the microwave makes a wonderful baked potato in only 12 minutes, allowing me time to mix up the topping.

Saturday, September 8, 2007

WHB - Herb Garden Part II

Last week for Weekend Herb Blogging, I posted a few pictures of my herb garden. This week, I will finish off with the rest of the garden. As I said before, my herb garden has done quite well this year, despite lousy weather.

Let's begin with basil. Isn't it gorgeous? I love basil and use it all the time. I have all ready harvested one batch of basil, pureed it with olive oil, and have it stashed in little jars in the freezer, ready to brighten up our winter meals. Last year, at the end of the summer, I made basil infused olive oil. I kept this in a jar in the fridge, were it stayed in sort of a paste kind of thickness. It was perfect for spreading on bread for an instant bruschetta.

Next you can see my dill, which I let go to seed. Behind the dill is rosemary and more tarragon. I rarely used the dill, but the rosemary was used regulary for roasted potatoes and foccacia.

This picture shows my chives and their blossoms. These are garlic chives, also known as chinese chives, which I use interchangeably with regular chives. They have a slightly garlic flavor and broader leaves. To the left of the chives, you can just make out one of my baby pumpkins! Last year, I used these to decorate my classroom and threw the rotted ones out in the compost, where apparently the little birdies found them, because I have had them pop up in two different places in our yard!

The big plant that has toppled over is fennel. It grew really big this year. In the spring it was absolutely beautiful, pretty enough to be an ornamental. I have never used my fennel for cooking, I've been afraid that if I disturb it by trying to dig up some of the bulbs, that I'll end up killing the whole plant!

And this last picture shows what a jumbled mess it all is! It starts out nice and sedate, each plant within it's brick lined home, but by the end of summer, all of the plants have tumbled out of their defined space. But I love the look, the different textures of the leaves, so I don't fuss with it too much.

If you want to find out more about weekend herb blogging, clicking on the image at the top of this post will take you to Kalyn's Kitchen, where you can read all about it. To see all of the entries for this week, be sure and stop by Thyme for Cooking, the Blog.

Wednesday, September 5, 2007

Grilled Pork Quesadillas

Everytime BiLo has a sale on pork tenderloins, buy one get one free, I buy them. I am a sucker for buy one get one free, or B1G1, or BOGO, however you want to say it. But pork tenderloins are especially tempting for me, one they are low in fat, and two, they are quick and easy to prepare. Are you getting sick of me saying quick and easy, well, get used to it, because until summer rolls around again, everything is going to be quick and easy.

What I love about pork tenderloins, is that in each little vacuum sealed package, you get 2 small tenderloins. You are almost always guaranteeing yourself leftovers. Now, that my youngest daughter has just left for college (let's pause for a moment of sad silence, yes, I am an empty nester), we really have opportunities for leftovers. I never thought she was that big of an eater, but apparently I was wrong, because we now have food, food, and more food. So this pork tenderloin that I marinated and grilled on a Sunday, now can show up for 3 or 4 dinners even!

We were finally getting down to just a little bit left of the pork tenderloin. Not enough to do much with, but I couldn't throw it out. So, these quesadillas came to the rescue. Since I hadn't planned on making them, I just used ingredients that I had on hand. I tossed the pork with some carmelized onions and shredded cheddar cheese, folded a tortilla over it and grilled it. My grill was a little too hot, so they grilled in like 30 seconds, barely enough time for the cheese to melt. They were good, they needed something though, maybe some peppers or some seasoning! I served it with rice cooked with sundried tomatoes and a cucumber salad. And look, I molded the rice in a little bowl, pretty fancy, huh! It looked pretty, but it wasn't practical, I'm a big rice eater, and I had to go back for more. Maybe I need a bigger bowl to use for a mold.

Monday, September 3, 2007

R.I.P. Reading Challenge

I was on the last chapter of the current book I am reading, when I stumbled upon the R.I.P (Readers Imbibing Peril) Autumn Reading Challenge. What a great idea! It's a reading challenge that runs from September 1st through October 31st. There are various levels to the challenge (clicking on the picture will take you to Stainless Steel Droppings, where this challenge is being hosted, for apparently the second year in a row!

I am going to to do Peril the First - which is basically, read 4 scary, things that go bump in the night books. Four scary books in two problem. And how fortuitous is this, but I all ready had a trip to the used book store planned! So, after a gander down the horror isle, I came home with these:

I really didn't have any authors in mind. I just grabbed what looks interesting. So, my pool of books to choose from contains:

Charlaine Harris - Dead as a Doornail
Dead Until Dark
Living Dead in Dallas
Vicki Pettersson - The Scent of Shadows
Sarah Langan - The Keeper
Kelley Armstong - Dime Store Magic (bought because I liked the shoes on the cover!)
Kim Harrison - The Good, The Bad, and the Undead

Now, I have to hurry up and finish the book I'm reading, and get busy.

Boo! Scary!

Saturday, September 1, 2007

WHB - Herb Garden

I thought I would try something different this week for Weekend Herb Blogging, this weekend it is back at Kalyn's Kitchen. I missed 2 weekends in a row, getting back into the swing of school and teaching. Well, actually I feel like as a special education teacher I do more paperwork than teach, but then, that's a whole other posting topic, isn't it? Back to Weekend Herb Blogging, instead of recipe, I am showing pictures of my herb garden. Despite the incredibly hot weather, coupled with a drought, my herb garden has been quite successful this year.

In this first picture you see my sage, it's sort of in the front of the bed. This has been the best year for sage, mine has never looked so healthy. Unfortunately I never use it. About the only thing I ever use sage for is saltimbocca and pork sausage recipes. Maybe that is why my sage looks so good, it never gets used!

Next up is oregano. This stuff goes insane, I have to pull it out like a week. You can see that it is flowering. I don't even bother to keep it from going to flower or to seed, it never dies off or slows down. It grows and spreads like a vine. Very few recipes call for fresh oregano, most say that dried has more flavor. I use it in recipes, but usually also toss in a little dried.

This third picture is my tarragon. Look at how gorgeous it is! This is the one that I am most ashamed of, because I never, ever, ever use it. I love the flavor of fresh tarragon, but I just never think of using it in recipes. Every once in a while I come across a recipe that sounds good and calls for fresh tarragon, but I always seem to find these recipes in the middle of winter! If anyone has any good ideas for my tarragon, please send them my way.

I've got more pictures of my herbs, but to keep this from being so picture intensive, I'll save them for another post!