Friday, April 27, 2012

Goat cheese, arugula pasta

Do you love goat cheese as much as I do? This is one of my favorite pasta dishes, but yet, I probably haven't made it since being married. I was not sure how Aaron would like, but thankfully he proved me wrong and really enjoyed this simple weeknight dinner.

Hot pasta water is reserved to create a creamy sauce when warming goat cheese and wilting the arugula. Fresh lemon zest and halved grape tomatoes add brightness and balance to the bold tang of the goat cheese, the peppery arugula, and rich garlic infused olive oil.

Goat cheese, arugula pasta
adapted from allrecipes

5 oz goat cheese, broken into chunks
2 cup arugula, coarsely chopped
1 cup grape tomatoes halved or cherry tomatoes, quartered
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
2 garlic cloves
zest of 1 lemon
8 oz whole wheat rotini or penne pasta

1. Prepare the pasta to al dente according to the instructions. Reserve 1/2 cup hot pasta water.

2. While the pasta is cooking press the garlic cloves into the olive oil and whisk in lemon zest. Combine the tomatoes and arugula in your pasta serving bowl. 
3. Add the cooked pasta, goat cheese, lemon garlic infused olive oil and 1/4 cup hot pasta water to the serving bowl. Toss the ingredients to combine. Add the remaining 1/4 cup hot pasta water if needed. Salt and pepper to taste. 

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Szechuan Green Beans and Pork

After making the Swedish Meatballs, I had some leftover ground pork that I wanted to finish. One of my favorite Chinese dishes is spicy green beans stir fried with ground pork. I served these over a bed or quinoa. The beans are fresh and crisp along side the richness of the flavorful pork. The recipe is available here.

Monday, April 23, 2012

Swedish Meatballs

I'm embarrassed to admit that my first experience with Swedish meatballs was from a frozen Budget Gourmet entree as a kid. They were good enough to have left a favorable impression on me. The only other memory of having Swedish meatballs was from Ikea. For something so delicious, these memories just don't do it justice. As with all things that I enjoy, I set out to make them from scratch. As usual Cooks' Illustrated did not disappoint.

The meatballs are tender, flavorful and moist. The sauce is rich, but a little on the thin side. I didn't have ligonberry jam on hand, but I did have a bag of frozen cranberries to make cranberry sauce. I love the tart cranberry sauce that plays against the creaminess of the sauce and the decadent meatballs. I am able to get 36 meatballs from this recipe. The cooked meatballs and cranberry sauce freeze really well. You'll just have to make a new batch of the sauce. To cut back on the fat, I like to bake these meatballs in a mini muffin pan at 375 for 20 minutes. The recipe is available for you here.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Ramps Pesto v2.0

The ramp frenzy has come early this year due to some unusually warm weather in March. This year I bought a couple of bunches from Whole Foods. I decided to make pickled ramps for my first canning effort of the year and my first true pickle. I will post more on those pickled ramps when I open them later this year.

After pickling the bottom of the ramps, I was left with the leaves. I decided to revisit ramp pesto, but I wasn't all that thrilled with last year's version. I found this alternate recipe for ramp pesto and followed their suggestion to blanch the leaves this time to tone down the pungency. I also had pine nuts now that they finally went down in price! If you've been following me for awhile now, you can probably guess that I also like to finish my pesto with some freshly squeezed lemon juice.

With this special pesto in hand, I decided to splurge and try some handmade pasta from a nearby artisan, Pasta Puttana. The ingredients are organic and sourced from local farmers. To ensure that the premium pasta and this special pesto didn't compete with each other, I kept it simple and opted for the egg linguine. I was amazed by the wow factor of this simple dinner. Aaron completely inhaled his portion as I quickly snapped a few pictures before devouring it myself. I was too impatient to take more than four pictures! If you can get your hands on some ramps, make this pesto. You won't regret it.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Chicken and rice with peas and scallions

Admittedly, there are some weeknights when I am tired from work and just want a quick and simple dinner that doesn't require a lot of prep or special ingredients. This chicken and rice dish often comes to mind since it's quite seasonless. There are a few items where I feel incomplete whenever my supply starts to dwindle. Scallions and lemons are on that list because they are versatile, affordable, and pack a lot of punch. 

If I recall correctly, I first read about this dish in a forum where posters listed some of their favorites from Cooks' Illustrated. If I hadn't seen it listed there, I may not have ever given it a second thought especially for such an ordinary description. It's surprising that a simple list of kitchen staples would result in an enjoyable weeknight meal. The rice is simmered with onions, garlic, and chicken stock. As the chicken stock cooks down, I then add the chicken to the skillet, which further flavors the rice. When the dish is ready to be served, the rice becomes tender, almost like risotto but without the cheese and sauciness. The freshly squeezed lemon adds that bright acidity making you savor each and every bite. 

Skillet Chicken and Rice with Peas and Scallions
adapted from Cooks' Illustrated

4 boneless, skinless chicken breasts 
1 1/2 cups brown jasmine rice
3 garlic cloves, minced
pinch of red pepper flakes
3 cups chicken stock
1 cup frozen peas
5 scallions, sliced thin
2 tbsp freshly squeezed lemon juice

1. Melt 1 tbsp unsalted butter in a 12-inch nonstick skillet over medium heat. Add onions and cook until onion is softened, about 5 minutes. Stir in the rice, garlic and pepper flakes until fragrant, about 30 seconds. 
2. Add chicken stock and bring to a boil. Lower to a simmer and cover. 
3. Pound each chicken breast in between two sheets of plastic wrap into uniform thickness of 1/2 inch. Season with salt and pepper. 
4. After the rice has cooked for 25 minutes, lay the chicken breasts on top and cover.  Cook until the internal temperature of the chicken has reached 165 degrees. 
5. Once the liquid has cooked off and the chicken is done, remove the skillet from the heat. Add the frozen peas, cover and let them warm through. Gently fold in the scallions and lemon juice. Season with salt and pepper.

Monday, April 9, 2012

My favorite Carrot Cake

Carrot cake is a family favorite, even among the little ones. I first made this cake for brunch on Father's Day 2009 since it's my dad's favorite. With dried cranberries, toasted coconuts and walnuts, my sister also fell in love with this cake and has been begging me to remake it for her. However, upon learning of my niece's nut allergy, I've had to find alternate recipes for carrot cake, which had never satisfied the true carrot cake fans in the family. On this Easter, we celebrated my sister's birthday so I opted to contribute this cake to the menu since it was for her and not the kids.

I changed things up a little this time by using coconut oil, a combination of both sweetened and unsweetened coconut and white whole wheat flour. I didn't recall the batter being so thick, so I was a little worried when I put it in the oven. Thankfully, the cakes rose in height during their time in the oven. This is my favorite carrot cake recipe - it's moist with great texture from the coconut, dried cranberries and walnuts. The cream cheese frosting has the right balance between tangy and sweet - it's also creamy and smooth. This is my go-to carrot cake recipe.

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Lentil Tacos

There's a restaurant near my mother-in-law's in Buffalo that the locals love for their lentil-berry sandwich. It's essentially a large burrito filled with a mixture of lentils and wheatberries, lettuce, tomatoes, provolone, and hot sauce. While it was good, I never craved it like the others. I have now found something even better that we can make at home.

In an effort to eat less meat and incorporate more vegetarian meals into our rotation, I bookmarked these lentil tacos a couple of months ago. I'm not sure why it took me so long to make these. For whatever reason, I have this ridiculous notion that lentils are time consuming to make. In reality, it's no different than making brown rice. I started with the taco seasoning from a Couple Cooks, but used a different preparation to cut down on time and effort. 

I was really surprised by how much I loved these lentil tacos, especially since I worried that the lentils would become too mushy and taste like baby food. I didn't miss the meat in these tacos at all. I really think you should try these for dinner - vegetarian or not.

Lentil Tacos

1 c chopped onion (red, yellow or white)
2 garlic cloves, minced
3 tbsp taco seasoning or 1 packet store bought taco seasoning
1 c dried green or brown lentils, rinsed and drained
1 tbsp tomato paste
2 1/4 c vegetable broth (chicken broth would be okay if you are not vegetarian)
flour tortillas
your favorite taco toppings (lettuce, tomates, cheese, salsa, Greek yogurt, avocado slices)

1) In a large non-stick skillet, preheat 1 tbsp extra virgin olive oil over medium heat. 
2) Add chopped onion and garlic until softened, about 8 minutes.
3) Add lentils and seasonings. Stir to coat the lentils with the seasoning.
4) Add the broth and tomato paste. Bring to a boil, and then lower to medium low. Cover and simmer 25-30 minutes. 
5) Uncover and cook for for 6-8 additional minutes until mixture has thickened.
6) Warm up the flour tortillas on a clean skillet for 30 seconds each side or microwave each tortilla wrapped in a paper towel for 20 seconds. 
7) Fill the tortilla with the the lentils and your desired toppings.

Monday, April 2, 2012

Brunch at the Publican

The Publican has quickly become one of my favorite restaurants. I finally had the pleasure of trying brunch on a recent Sunday (they also launched brunch on Saturdays with a different menu). In anticipation of having eggs with our breakfast, we couldn't resist ordering fries to dip into our runny yolks - something we really enjoyed on our previous dinner visit. 

 Hidden under a sunny side up egg is a maple glazed shoulder atop grits, braised kale and pickled corn.
Sirloin steak with a fried egg, sweet potatoes, ramps and cumin yogurt.