Sunday, December 28, 2014

Raffy's Quinoa and Ceci Soup

I love the episodes of Giada at Home where Aunt Raffy comes over and cooks with Giada.  Those two ladies are a riot in the kitchen!  I must admit that I love it when Aunt Raffy gives Giada a hard time.  I just find it very entertaining.  What's more is that they always cook something delicious that begs to be made, like Aunt Raffy's Quinoa and Ceci Soup.

This is a power-packed super satisfying soup with lots of chickpeas (ceci) and the super healthy and ever-so-popular quinoa.  These powerhouse ingredients are made flavorful with lots of veggies, a variety of fresh herbs, and lots of Parmesan. It's definitely a feel good soup that leaves you feeling rather virtuous, plus it's even better the next day! It's a win-win all around.

Raffy's Quinoa and Ceci Soup
Adapted from Food Network
by Giada De Laurentiis
Serves 6-8

1 teaspoon olive oil
1/2 onion, coarsely chopped
2 medium carrots, peeled and coarsely chopped
2 stalks celery, coarsely chopped
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
4 Roma tomatoes, coarsely chopped
1 clove garlic, smashed
1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes
4 sprigs fresh thyme
3 sprigs fresh oregano
2 large sprigs fresh rosemary
1/4 cup chopped fresh basil
3 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley
One 3-inch piece Parmesan rind
Two 15-ounce cans ceci (garbanzo beans), rinsed and drained
1 cup of kale, chopped*
3/4 cup dry white wine
3 cups chicken broth
1/2 cup quinoa, rinsed and drained
1/2 cup grated Parmesan, for garnish
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil, for garnish 
Note: I added kale simply because I had it on hand and thought it was a great addition.

Heat the oil in a large saucepan over medium heat. Add the onion, carrots, celery and salt and cook, stirring occasionally, until the vegetables begin to soften. Add the tomatoes, garlic, pepper flakes, thyme, oregano and rosemary and cook until the tomatoes begin to break down, about 5 minutes. Add the basil, parsley, Parmesan rind, chickpeas (ceci), chopped kale, wine, broth and 1 cup water and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to low and simmer for 40 minutes.

Remove the herb sprigs and rind. Add the quinoa to the remaining soup in the pot and simmer until tender, about 15 minutes. Ladle the soup into bowls. Sprinkle with some of the Parmesan and drizzle with some of the olive oil before serving.
Theme: December Potluck

Every Sunday at Kahakai Kitchen           

Sunday, December 7, 2014

Maple Baked Granola

Tis the season for gift giving.  Homemade treats of every variety will be made with love and shared with all.  Everywhere you turn there will be one delicious indulgence after another.  There will be trays of cookies, Christmas candies, gingerbread men, pastries, fudge, and you can wash it all down with some eggnog.  Temptation overload.

This year I have some friends and family that are leaning a little more towards the healthy side.  Some people are overwhelmed with too many cookie platters while others are avoiding wheat or sugar.  Some treats need to be shipped, which requires something a little more sturdy and also with a longer shelf life. This Maple Baked Granola met all the requirements and it turned out to be the perfect recipe. 

This is a hearty energy-boosting granola packed with oats, nuts, seeds and fruit. This granola is sweetened with honey and maple syrup and packs just the right amount of sweetness. Any combination of berries could be used, but I opted to use only dried cranberries in favor of the holiday season. This turned out to be my all-time favorite granola recipes.  I really love the addition of the sunflower and sesame seeds and the added flavor and crunch they bring to the mix. Also, the ratio of everything is just all around perfect and I even ended up with a few yummy "clusters" of granola (those big clusters are my favorite). 

This is a festive looking granola and it certainly looks very pretty all dressed up in a mason jar with a big ribbon.  It is delicious on it's own, a delight served over yogurt, and a very satisfying breakfast with a little milk poured on top.  Leave the cookie baking to someone else and stir up some granola today!

Maple Baked Granola
Adapted from Diana Henry via The Telegraph
Makes about 12-15 servings, depending

2 teaspoons oil (vegetable, canola, or coconut)*
125 ml (4-1/2 ounces) maple syrup
2 tablespoons honey
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1-1/4 cups old fashioned oats
1/2 cup sunflower seeds
4 tablespoons sesame seeds
1/2 cup pumpkin seeds*
scant cup sliced almonds
scant cup dried berries*
1/2 cup coconut flakes

Note: I opted to use coconut oil in the granola since I was using coconut flakes, but vegetable oil or canola oil would work just as well.  You can add any kind of dried berries, or a mixture of dried berries, but I opted to use only dried cranberries since I wanted to make a season holiday-inspired granola.  Also, I didn't have pumpkin seeds on hand so I replaced them with walnuts. 

Preheat oven to 300F.  In a medium sized bowl, mix together the oil, maple syrup, honey, and vanilla until combined.  Add the oats. seeds, and nuts into the bowl and stir until the mixture is evenly coated.  Place onto a baking sheet and bake at 300F for 15 minutes.  Remove the granola from the oven and stir.  Add the dried berries and coconut flakes and bake for another 12-15 minutes.  Let granola cool completely before sealing in an airtight jar.

Theme: Gifts From The Heart!

Sunday, November 30, 2014

Sweet and Salty Bacon and Nuts

 This is the ultimate snack mix.  We're talking almonds, walnuts, and chunks of bacon coated in a sweet, salty, and spicy mixture.  Each bite is a delightful taste sensation! A crunchy lip-smacking time is sure to ensue. I had a hard time walking away from this snack mix. I found myself going back for another bite, and another, and know how that story ends!

I've made a lot of spiced nuts and/or candied nuts in the past, but as far as I'm concerned this is THE RECIPE. The ratio of sweet, salty, and spicy is right on and each piece is evenly coated. There are no duds in the bowl, if you know what I mean.  Lastly, BACON...hello! Bacon makes everything better and it definitely makes this snack mix better.

If you're going to make a nut mix this holiday season then please do yourself a favor and make this one! It's my favorite by a long shot.

Sweet and Salty Bacon and Nuts
Adapted from Giada De Laurentiis
Serves 6-8

8 to 9 slices applewood-smoked bacon, cut crosswise into 1-inch pieces
1 large egg white
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/3 cup sugar
1 cup raw almonds 
1 cup halved walnuts
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper

Preheat the oven to 325 degrees F.  Cook the bacon over medium heat in a large skillet until brown and crisp, 8 to 9 minutes.  Remove the bacon using a slotted spoon and drain on paper towels. Pour 1/4 cup of the bacon fat on a heavy rimmed baking sheet and spread evenly. 

Beat the egg white and salt until just foamy using a whisk in a medium bowl.  Gradually add the sugar and beat until just blended.  Add the almonds, walnuts, and cayenne pepper.  Toss until the nuts are coated. 

Spread the nut mixture in a single layer on the baking sheet.  Bake until the nuts are crisp and brown, about 35 minutes, turning and stirring the nut mixture with a metal spatula every 10 to 15 minutes (this is a very important step to ensure each nut is coated evenly with the mixture).  Cool for 2 hours.  

Transfer the nut mixture to a bowl; add the bacon pieces and toss to blend.  This recipe can be prepared 1 day ahead and stored in an airtight container in the refrigerator.
Theme: November Potluck!

Sunday, November 23, 2014

Baked Sweet Potatoes with Marinated Feta and Black Olives

Walk into any grocery store this time of year and you'll be greeted with larger than life displays of sweet potatoes. You know what I'm talking about. A huge table with hundreds of sweet potatoes rocketing out of buckets, baskets, and/or barrels.  This avalanche of sweet potatoes explodes downward onto the table towards all the typical sweet potato accompaniments (brown sugar, marshmallows, marshmallow fluff, pecans, and jars of cinnamon).  Now I won't argue that these ingredients aren't delicious on a sweet potato but I will argue that sweet potatoes can be so much more than sweet. They can be just as wonderful served savory.

So now that we're thinking outside the box, let's bake our sweet potatoes and top them with some savory Mediterranean inspired ingredients.  Tangy crumbles of feta cheese mixed with a combination of rich salty olives and a spicy red chile marinating in a mixture of extra virgin olive oil, garlic, and fennel and coriander seeds.  It's one colorful combination that delivers a unique flavor sensation.  The sweetness of the potato is a nice contrast to the bright flavor of the salty olives, the tangy feta cheese, and the hint of spice from the red hot chile.  It's a complex dish that delivers sweet, salty, savory, and spicy. Save the brown sugar and marshmallows for dessert.  Trust me.

Baked Sweet Potatoes with Marinated Feta and Black Olives
Adapted from Crazy Water Pickled Lemons
By Diana Henry
Serves 4

For The Sweet Potatoes
4 medium sweet potatoes
a little olive oil
black pepper
handful of cilantro, roughly chopped

For the Marinated Feta
7 ounces of feta cheese, roughly broken up
4 ounces of kalamata olives
1/2 tablespoon fennel seeds
1 medium red hot chili, deseded and cut into slivers
1 garlic clove, crushed
2 teaspoon coriander seeds, crushed
extra virgin olive oil

Make the marinated feta mixture first so the flavors have time to meld.  Combine the feta, olives, fennel seeds, chili, garlic, coriander seeds in a small bowl.  Drizzle feta mixture with enough extra virgin olive oil to moisten it.  Cover and store this mixture in a cool place while the potatoes bake to allow the flavors to meld.

Bake the sweet potatoes in their skins in an oven preheated to 350F.  They should be just tender, which will take about 50 minutes, but do check with a skewer - it really depends upon the size of your potatoes.

When the potatoes are cooked, split them open lengthwise, like you would a baked potato.  Sprinkle with a little oil and freshly ground black pepper, and fill with the marinated feta.  Sprinkle each potato with roughly chopped cilantro and serve.

Theme: Sweet Cloves and Liquid Gold

Sunday, November 16, 2014

Chickpea Saute with Creamy Harissa Sauce

This week we introduced a brand new theme at I Heart Cooking Clubs.  Mystery Box Madness will be a new theme that runs each month.  During Mystery Box Madness week, participants will create a dish using at least three of the ten mystery box ingredients.  This week's ingredients were harissa, eggs, saffron, pumpkin, maple syrup, dates, rose water, oranges, spinach, and chickpeas.  Participants can also chose a recipe from any of our eleven IHCC chefs.  

Now that I've explained the mystery box portion it's time to talk about the madness.  Decision making is not my strong suit. In fact, I'm quite sure anyone is better at decision making than me.  So when I think about ten possible ingredients and the recipes of eleven chefs... well, it's almost as if my mind is afire with possibilities.  Which three ingredients will I chose? How many different ways can I combine them? Who should I cook with? Can I use more than three ingredients? What if I tried to use all the ingredients and make a three course meal? Madness.  Sheer Madness.

Finally I ran out of time and had to come up with something and here it is.  The ingredients reminded me of the six months we spent cooking with Yotam Ottolenghi so I picked up one of his cookbooks.  When I saw his recipe for Chickpea Saute with Greek Yogurt I was sold.  A quick mixture of chickpeas, carrots, spinach, herbs, and warm spices topped with a cool tangy yogurt.  The recipe did not include harissa, but I decided to add it into both the veggie mixture and also into the yogurt topping.  I also added a sliced hard-boiled egg on top for some additional color and protein.

So here I am squeaking in at the last minute with this hearty vegetarian main dish.  This dish is very comforting and satisfying without weighing you down.  Very much like a lightly spiced veggie chili topped off by a very zesty and creamy harissa sauce.  I'm looking forward to the leftovers already! 

Chickpea Saute with Harissa Sauce
Adapted from Plenty
by Yotam Ottolenghi
Serves 4

3/4 pound (8 cups) Swiss Chard, Kale or Spinach
1/3 cup olive oil, plus extra to finish
4 medium carrots, peeled and diced
1 teaspoon caraway seeds
2 teaspoons cumin
1-1/2 cups freshly cooked chickpeas 
1 garlic clove, crushed
1 tablespoon chopped mint
1 tablespoon chopped cilantro
2 tablespoons harissa
1 tablespoon lemon juice
1/2 cup Greek Yogurt
2 tablespoons harissa
1 tablespoon olive oil
hard-boiled egg, for garnish

Separate the chard, or kale, stalks from the leaves.  Blanch the stalks in plenty of boiling salted water for 3 minutes. Add the leaves and continue cooking for 2 minutes, then drain everything.  Refresh under cold running water and squeeze dry, then chop roughly.  (If using spinach no precooking is necessary.  Roughly chop the spinach and it can be added directly to the pan with the chickpeas).

Heat up the olive oil in a large heavy saucepan.  Add the carrots, caraway seeds, and cumin and saute for 5 minutes on medium heat.  Add the chard, kale, or spinach along with the chickpeas and continue cooking for 6 minutes.  Now add the garlic, herbs, lemon juice, 2 tablespoons of harissa.  Add salt and pepper to taste and stir to incorporate.  Taste and adjust seasoning if necessary.

To serve, mix together the yogurt, the additional 2 tablespoons of harissa, 1 tablespoon olive oil and some salt and pepper.  Pile the vegetables on serving dishes and spoon the harissa/yogurt sauce on top.  Garnish with slices of hard boiled egg, if desired.

Theme: Mystery Box Madness

Sunday, November 9, 2014

Mangoes with Orange Blossom Syrup and Sweet Labneh

Some people are organized. They write weekly menus, always remember their appointments, and plan everything.  Then there are those of us who fly by the seat of their pants.  No organization whatsoever.  That would be me. 

So it should come as no surprise that I didn't plan for this recipe.  Labneh, a firm white cloud of strained Greek yogurt, is a beautiful thing, but it takes 24 hours to make.  You have to actually plan for it.  I have high hopes that one day I'll get my act together and make labneh in advance.  Until then, I will continue to use Greek yogurt as a replacement.  It certainly works in a pinch!

This is really a beautiful and somewhat exotic dessert.  Ripe juicy mango served with a side of creamy sweetened Greek yogurt, a heavenly syrup scented with orange flower water, and a sprinkling of crushed pistachios.  The sweet orange fragrance, the juicy mangoes, and the sticky syrup all make this dessert a little on the seductive side.  It's the type of thing that keeps you begging for more.
Mangoes with Orange Blossom Syrup and Sweet Labneh
Adapted from Crazy Water Pickled Lemons
by Diana Henry
Serves 4

3 just ripe mangoes
finely chopped pistachios for serving

For The Labneh
1-1/2 tablespoons confectioner's sugar
a pinch of ground cinnamon
10oz Greek yogurt

For The Syrup
6 tablespoons orange blossom honey
3 tablespoons orange juice
a good squeeze of lime juice
1-1/2 tablespoons orange flower water

 To make the labneh:  Add the sugar and cinnamon to the yogurt, put into a sieve lined with cheesecloth, and set it over a bowl in the fridge.  Let the yogurt drain for 24 hours, giving it a little help every so often by picking up the bag and squeezing it.

To make the syrup:  Gently heat the honey, orange, and lime juices together in a small saucepan.  Once the honey has melted, boil for 1 minute.  Add the orange flower water and taste.  Leave to cool.

Peel the mangoes and, using a really sharp knife, neatly slice the cheeks from each side of the stone.  Working along the shape of the stone, slice the flesh off the sides.  Cut the mango flesh into neat slices, about 1/8-1/4 inch thick, and pile them on top of each other on different plates.

Peel the cheesecloth from around the labneh, then divide it into quarters.  It isn't important, but the cheesecloth leaves such beautiful markings on the labneh that it's nice not to spoil it.  Put a chunk of labneh beside each plate of mangoes, spoon the syrup over the top, and scatter with pistachios.  
Theme: Stock Your Exotic Pantry

Sunday, November 2, 2014

Farareej Mashri {Eqyptian Grilled Chicken}

Sometimes it's the name of the recipe that catches your attention.  Farareej Mashri, or Egyptian Grilled Chicken, is definitely catchy.  One quick look at the list of ingredients and I was sold!  Boneless chicken thighs marinated in twelve cloves of minced garlic, olive oil, and lemon that's a recipe for success. 

Sunday, October 26, 2014

Sausage Balls in Mustard Sauce

Flavorful sausage balls swimming in a creamy sauce that hints of mustard.  Top it all with a scattering of chopped chives and you'll want to grab a skewer and shove one in your mouth quicker than you can say delicious.

I served these sausage balls in a heated cast iron serving dish as an appetizer.  I've also served them over egg noodles as a main course.  I can't decide which I like better.  It's hard to beat a meatball as an appetizer and anything over pasta is always a hit so either way is a win as far as I'm concerned.

Sausage Balls in Mustard Sauce
by Nigel Slater
Serves 4

The recipe
Remove the skins from 1 pound of really good-quality butcher's sausages. Roll the sausage meat into about 24 balls, slightly smaller than a golf ball. Warm a nonstick frying pan over a moderate heat and cook the balls until they color, turn them over and continue cooking until they are evenly browned. Tip away any excess fat and pour in 2 cups of beef stock. Bring to the boil, allow to reduce a little then pour in one cup of double cream and stir in a tablespoon of Dijon mustard. Season with salt and pepper and continue cooking for 15-20 minutes. Remove the balls to warm dishes, turn the heat up under the sauce – there will be lots of it – and let it reduce a little. It will not thicken. Pour the sauce over the meat balls and serve with a fork and a spoon for the sauce. A few snipped chives can be added if you wish.
The Trick
Get a good sausage. Perhaps something with plenty of parsley and pepper in it. To peel them, slit the skin from one end to the other with a knife, pull the skin apart and squeeze the filling out into a bowl. Beef up the seasoning a bit if you like, with some chopped thyme, crushed garlic, black pepper or grated parmesan. Use a good-quality stock.

The Twist  
Add chopped dill to the meatballs and sauce. Use crème fraîche instead of cream. For a less-rich dish, leave out the cream. For a milder version use chicken stock instead of beef. Serve with wide ribbon noodles, such as pappardelle. Instead of using shop-bought sausage meat, season plain sausage meat as you wish. Try juniper, thyme, garlic, cumin or ground cardamom.

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Leche Merengada

 Leche Merengada actually means "meringued milk" and that's actually all it is.  An icy cold treat that is an easy blend of egg whites, milk, and cream. In this recipe for Leche Merengada a cinnamon stick is added to provide a lovely hint of cinnamon flavor.  The addition of cinnamon makes this ice cream the perfect pairing for just about any fall dessert, such as apple pie.  Best of all, this is a simple mixture of ingredients.  You do not need to fuss with making a custard.  You don't even need to own an ice cream machine.  Simple and fuss-free.  Just the way I like it.
Leche Merengada
Adapted from Crazy Water Pickled Lemons
by Diana Henry
Serves 8

2 cups milk
5/8 cup heavy cream
5-1/2 oz. sugar
zest of one lemon
1 cinnamon stick
1 tablespoon brandy
3 egg whites
ground cinnamon, for serving

Put the milk, cream, 3-1/2oz of the sugar, the lemon zest, and cinnamon stick into a saucepan.  Bring to just under the boil.  Remove from the heat and let the mixture infuse for about 40 minutes.  Strain the mixture through a sieve and add the brandy.

Whisk the egg whites with the remaining sugar until stiff.  (Note: I had quite a bit of trouble getting my egg white and sugar mixture to become stiff.  I added a dash or two of cream of tartar and this seemed to do the trick). Fold this into the cream and milk mixture - it will seem impossible to incorporate, but don't worry; it will all get beaten together during the freezing process.  Either still-freeze, beating the mixture from time to time with a hand whisk, or churn in an ice cream machine.  Sprinkle with cinnamon before serving.
Theme: Icy Cold

Sunday, October 5, 2014

A Nigel Slater Favorites Roundup

Over at I Heart Cooking Clubs  we have been cooking and celebrating the recipes of Nigel Slater for the past six months.  This is our very last week cooking with Nigel and I always like to end my six month run with a favorites roundup.

I can honestly say spending time in the kitchen with Nigel was a very pleasant adventure.  His recipes were simple, no-fuss, and very family friendly.  Everything we tried was delicious.  However, I ran across a few favorites that I have turned to again and again.  These were the recipes that were repeated in my kitchen over and over and have since become favorites.

 (click on recipe title for link to recipes)

Nigel's Roast Chicken Wings are so unbelievably delicious.  After spending some time in the oven the chicken wings become very crispy, sticky, and coated with flavor.  I actually prefer these wings to the deep fried version.  We have made these wings several times now and each time we change the flavor profile a little. We've tried them plain with salt and pepper, lemon and pepper, with a buffalo dry rub, and with Lawry's seasoning.  Delicious each and every time.

Nigel's Brown Rice, Carrot and Cashew Pilau looks like a really simple dish.  At first glance it might not really get your attention.  I'm here to tell you that it is an incredible rice dish!  I love the chewy texture of the brown rice, the sweetness of the carrots, and the crunch from the cashews.  I've made this rice dish nearly every week since.  It can be served as a side dish, but with a little broccoli or shredded chicken mixed in it is substantial enough for a main dish.

My daughter, who is a total pasta fanatic, loves Fettucine Alfredo.  Lucky for her this is a good thing because she actually needs to gain weight.  I've made different versions of Fettucine Alfredo in the past and they can be tricky and never really seem to turn out well.  This version of Fettucine Alfredo is the easiest I've tried and it's also the best I've tried.  Major Score!  Five simple ingredients and you are all set for an indulgent and comforting pasta dish.  Odds are you have everything you need to make this on hand.  I highly recommend this dish!

Stuffed peppers are a real favorite in my house so I may be a bit biased when it comes to them.  Saying that, these Peppers Stuffed with Pork were some of our favorite stuffed peppers ever!  Of course, I should take this time to say that pork is probably our meat of choice so again there may be a bit of bias going on.  These were so addictive and hard to stop eating. They went quickly.  Too quickly.

I'm ending my roundup with these Chicken Cakes with Lettuce and Mayo.  There's shredded chicken, bacon, and cheese and it's fried in bacon fat.  Enough said, right?  Pretty much speaks for itself.

Theme: Cheerio Nigel!
Next week we will begin cooking the recipes of Diana Henry.  Diana Henry has written seven cookbooks and writes a column for The Telegraph.  She has a plethora of recipes to chose from and it is going to be a very fun six months.  If you'd like information on joining us, head over to the I Heart Cooking Clubs Welcome page. 

Saturday, September 27, 2014

A Nigel Slater Inspired Chili

The days are still hot, but the nights are starting to cool down, making football games and bonfires so very enjoyable. As we dig out our big comfy sweaters, jeans, and boots we start to crave comfort food.  It's time for big pots of chili and all the fixings.

Chili can be served a variety of ways and I like to celebrate that by creating a chili bar.  Baked potatoes, pasta, hot dogs, burgers, french fries, and nachos are all great with a little chili on top.  Then you need toppings for the chili: crackers, cheese, sour cream, jalapenos, and onions are the most popular at my house.  Everyone loves to customize their own meal. 

My favorite is a chili dog with onions and mustard but that runs a close race with a baked potato topped with chili, cheese, jalapenos, and onions.  I can never decide which I like best.  My husband and daughter love their chili over pasta and everyone in my house loves chili and cheese over french fries. There are so many tasty options.

The type of chili you serve is all about individual taste.  I haven't really met a chili that I didn't like but I definitely favor chili with lots of beans.  This version is adapted from a very simplistic Nigel Slater recipe.  I doubled the recipe because I love leftover chili and I added lots of spices, veggies, and some jalapenos for heat.  This version was thick and delicious and I'd definitely make it again.

Gameday Chili
Inspired by Nigel Slater
recipe via The Guardian
Serves 6-8

2 tablespoons canola oil
2 onions, chopped
2 bell peppers, chopped
5-6 cloves of garlic, minced
2 jalapenos, minced
4 tablespoons chili powder
1 tablespoon curry powder
1 tablespoon ground coriander
1 tablespoon ground cumin
1 tablespoon chili sauce
salt and pepper, to taste
1 tablespoon tomato paste
1 - 14.5 oz can crushed tomatoes
2 pounds of ground turkey
2 cans of chili beans, with liquid

Add oil to a large Dutch oven and cook onions and peppers over medium heat until softened, 5-6 minutes.  Add garlic, jalapenos, all the seasonings, and stir until everything is blended.  Add tomato paste and chili sauce and cook for 1-2 minutes to develop a deep tomato flavor.   Add can of crushed tomatoes and stir to combine.  Remove this vegetable mixture to a bowl.  Cook the ground turkey until it becomes a rich dark color.  Add the vegetable mixture back in the pot.  Add in the chili beans, with their liquid, and cook over low-medium heat until thick.  Continue to season and taste.  You may want to add a little more heat via red pepper flakes, jalapeno, or hot sauce.  You may even wish to season the chili with a bit more chili powder.  I usually add a little more minced garlic towards the end.  Garnish the chili with cheese, sour cream, cilantro, green onions, crackers, chips, etc. Serve over baked potatoes, pasta, hot dogs, burgers, french fries, and nachos.  Create your own little chili bar.
Theme: Ladle It Up!

Sunday, September 21, 2014

Baked Manicotti with Sausage and Peas

"Did you eat it? Did you eat the last one?" I asked him this while giving him the death stare.  I knew he did, of course, but I had to ask.  The look in his eye confirmed my worse fears.  I knew in an instant there was no more Baked Manicotti with Sausage and Peas. He had done it.  He had ate the very last one.  

I didn't even try to hide my disappointment for a minute because I wanted that last manicotti with every fiber in my being.  Oh my goodness those manicotti were absolutely amazing. Beautiful pasta tubes stuffed with perfectly seasoned Italian sausage, petite peas, and fluffy ricotta cheese. A little marinara and a creamy dreamy fonduta sauce (a blend of milk, cream and Pecorino Romano) blankets the pasta.  Top all that with lots of ooey gooey mozzarella cheese, and after some time in the oven, you have one delectable, family-pleasing, feel-good casserole worth fighting over.  

Baked Manicotti with Sausage and Peas
Serves 4-6

Fonduta sauce:
3/4 cup milk
1/2 cup heavy cream
6 ounces (about 3 cups) grated Pecorino Romano
1/4 cup chopped fresh basil leaves 

For Sausage and Pea Filling:
2 tablespoons olive oil, plus extra for drizzling
1 pound sweet Italian sausage, casings removed
1 large or 2 small shallots, finely chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt, plus 1/2 teaspoon
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper, plus 1/4 teaspoon
1/4 cup white wine, such as Pinot Grigio
3/4 cup (4 ounces) frozen petite peas, thawed
1/2 cup whole milk ricotta 

To Fill and Bake:
12 manicotti shells
1 (26-ounce) jar marinara sauce
2 cups (8 ounces) shredded mozzarella 

Place an oven rack in the center of the oven. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Spray a 9-by-13-by-2-inch glass baking dish with vegetable oil cooking spray. Set aside.

For the fonduta sauce: In a medium heavy-bottomed saucepan, bring the milk and cream to a simmer over medium heat. Reduce the heat to low. Add the Pecorino Romano and whisk until the cheese is melted and the sauce is smooth. Remove the pan from the heat and stir in the basil. Set aside.

For the filling: In a large skillet, heat 2 tablespoons of olive oil over medium-high heat. Add the sausage, shallots, garlic, 1/4 teaspoon salt, and 1/4 teaspoon pepper. Cook until the sausage is cooked through and the vegetables have softened, 8 to 10 minutes. Using a wooden spoon, break the sausage into 1/2-inch pieces. Increase the heat to high. Add the wine and scrape up the brown bits that cling to the bottom of the pan with a wooden spoon. Cook until the wine has evaporated, about 2 minutes. Remove the pan from the heat and set aside to cool slightly. Add the peas, ricotta, and 1 cup of the fonduta sauce. Season with remaining 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt and 1/4 teaspoon pepper.

Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil over high heat. Add the pasta and cook until just tender, 7 to 8 minutes. Drain and set aside.

To bake:  Place half of the marinara sauce over the bottom of the prepared baking dish. Using a small spoon, fill the manicotti shells with the sausage filling and arrange in a single layer in the baking dish. Pour the remaining marinara sauce on top of the filled shells. Spoon the remaining fonduta sauce on top and sprinkle with the mozzarella. Drizzle with olive oil and bake until bubbly and golden brown, 30 to 35 minutes.

Theme September Potluck!

Sunday, September 14, 2014

Salmon Cakes over Pea Puree

Every year on September 11th, we have a special family dinner. This special dinner is our way of remembering and honoring all those who were affected by the tragedy.  On this day we make it a point to take some time out and celebrate our family and how blessed we are to have each other.

Thirteen years ago on September 11th my daughter turned six months old and I was about excited as I could be because this meant she could eat real food for the first time.  I had looked forward to this day for such a long time.  I had a special outfit chosen for her with a matching bonnet. I also had a homemade pea puree prepared and waiting in the fridge. My plan was to dress her up, feed her, and take all sorts of pictures.  Everything was laid out and waiting.

Then I went to work and that day turned into something I will never forget.  The fear, the panic, and the heartbreak seemed neverending as one tragedy unfolded after another.  Thankfully my employer let us leave early and there was nothing I wanted to do more than see my baby girl's sweet little smiling face. 

I was never so happy to see Olivia and give her a big hug.  I didn't know what else to do so I went ahead and took her to her appointment.  The doctor gave his approval for her to start eating real food. I no longer felt like celebrating but I took her home, dressed her up, fed her pureed peas, and took a few pictures. She was smiling and happy and it was just what I needed in that moment.  When I look back on that day my first thoughts are about the tragedy.  Then I remember my sweet baby girl and how she made me smile on a day when there was so little to smile about and I'm incredibly grateful.   

So each year on September 11th, we remember the tragedy and we honor it with a special meal.  Our special meal always has to include peas, of some sort, and Olivia always gets an extra helping.  We tease her that she has to dress up just like I made her do on that day thirteen years ago. We congratulate her on eating real food for thirteen years, or however many years it happens to be.  Mostly we are just silly and grateful to be together. 

Salmon Cakes
Adapted from The Guardian
by Nigel Slater
Serves 2-4

1 pound (500g) salmon, diced
a large stick of lemongrass, chopped finely
zest and juice of a lime
a thumb sized piece of ginger,grated
a small hot chili, diced
clove of garlic, grated
2 spring onions, diced
handful of cilantro, chopped
8 tablespoons breadcrumbs
salt and pepper, to taste
butter and/or oil, for cooking

Place the diced salmon into a mixing bowl. Add the finely chopped lemongrass, the grated ginger, chopped spring onions, grated garlic, and diced chili.  Stir the salmon adding in the lime juice and zest.  Be sure to use a light hand as to not turn the salmon into a paste.

Fold in the chopped cilantro and breadcrumbs together with a little salt and pepper.  Take up scoops of the mixture and pat into small thickish cakes.  The mixture should make about four patties.  Warm a little butter and oil in a skillet.  I prefer cast iron for frying.  Lower the salmon cakes into the skillet and cook until golden on each side.  Serve with the pea puree. 

Minted Pea Puree
Adapted from The Guardian
by Nigel Slater
Serves 2-4

One bag frozen peas
4 sprigs of mint
one clove of garlic
salt and pepper, to taste

Boil the peas, mint sprigs, and clove of garlic in lightly salted water till tender, drain, and whizz peas and the mint in a food processor with the oil till smooth.  Be sure to taste and season well. Serve with salmon cakes.

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