Category Archives: Pasta

Foodbuzz 24, 24, 24: Farm Fresh Egg-Stravaganza

chickenEarlier this year, during a little visit to Local Harvest,  I stumbled upon a local farm. This farm happened to be relatively close to my house, and they offered farm fresh eggs. Curious, I contacted Cindy Telisak at Jacob’s Reward Farm. Little did I know that over the coming months, I would gain so much. Not only have we enjoyed a wonderful bounty of the freshest of eggs, but I gained a friend and a new level of appreciation for the hard work and devotion of our local farmers.

Cindy bottle-feeding a baby lamb

Cindy bottle-feeding a baby lamb

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Cindy and her family own Jacob’s Reward Farm, a small farm north of Dallas, where they raise sheep, alpacas, and chickens. Over the past few months, I’ve regularly visited Cindy to pick up fresh eggs from her farm, during which we have been well-acquainted. Last weekend, I was honored to cater to her “Spinning Yarns: Cowboy Stories and Song” event. So this month, when I submitted an idea to conduct an interview with Cindy as part of a Foodbuzz 24, 24, 24 event, I was ecstatic to find out that my idea was selected. Cindy has been an inspiration to me, and has been a key influence in my decision to actively support local farmers whenever possible.  

Alta: How did Jacob’s Reward Farm get its start?

Cindy: “Jacob’s Reward” got its start before I even left the suburban life in Plano.  I’ve always loved sheep and longed for a homesteading lifestyle, but for many years we had to tough it out in the composite-roof-privacy-fence jungle.  In order to get as close as I could to the shepherd’s life, I learned to knit, crochet and spin, and I struck a friendship with a local couple who raise Jacob sheep.  I lived the life vicariously through them for several years.  When the opportunity arose to buy 4.5 acres here in Parker, we jumped at it.  And though there have been many significant challenges, we’ve not looked back.  The name “Jacob’s Reward” refers to the story in Genesis when God blessed Jacob with vast herds of sheep and goats as a reward for his years of faithfulness.

Alta: What made you decide that raising sheep, alpacas, and chickens was your calling?

Cindy: I love animals and have always thought a farm would be a dream come true.  Once I learned to knit and spin, it only made sense to raise my own fiber animals.  Chickens and fresh eggs are integral to a farm, and they contribute to a healthy diet.  And chickens are really fun to watch!

Alta: Tell me about a typical day at Jacob’s Reward Farm.

Cindy: I am not a morning person, so I have my animals trained not to expect their breakfast at the crack of dawn.  But my usual round of chores takes about 45 minutes, depending on the weather.  Muddy conditions make everything more complicated.  I give a little grain to the eight sheep on the north end of the property, and hay.  The front yard chickens are released from their coop to wander the property in search of bugs, seeds and various greens.  I feed Smokey the barn cat so that she’s fortified for a day of rodent patrol.  On the south side of the property, I feed my six alpacas and two Jacob sheep, and release three other sets of chickens.  I top off all the water buckets and fill the hay feeders.  I do a similar set of chores morning and evening, ending with locking up the free-range chickens in their coops every night to protect them from predators.  Between sets of chores, I take care of my house and my family, teach classes in my studio, and keep up with my farm supporters on my blog, website, podcast, newsletter and other social media.  I also try to squeeze in some knitting and spinning of my own.  There’s never a dull moment.

Breakfast time!

Breakfast time!

Alta: Tell me about your chickens.

Cindy: I have a handful of breeds of chickens that I have raised from day old chicks.  Right now, the flock numbers around 37 total, though 15 of those are just babies.

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Free-Ranging Buffs

Alta: Why are free-range, farm-raised chickens so much better than even the premium eggs you can purchase at the grocery?

Cindy:  “Free-range” is a buzz word that may or may not mean what the consumer thinks.  It may mean that your pricey grocery store eggs came from chickens who can see outside, or who have access to a tiny concrete slab outside.  My free range chickens do just that.  I let them out in the morning and they have complete freedom to roam the property, resting in the shade of the native landscape plantings or sunning themselves in the herbicide-free lawns.  They gather their own food, following the instinctive promptings God gave them.  I do supplement them with commercial grain to round out their diet.  My eggs don’t sit very long once they’re laid, either.  (Alta’s note: there have been times I’ve arrived and helped Cindy gather a few eggs to fill my dozen – eggs laid just hours earlier. Now that’s fresh!) No telling how old those grocery store eggs are!

Alta: Jacob’s Reward Farm has a new Fiber CSA. Could you tell me a little about this?

Cindy: This is our first year to offer CSA shares, so we are feeling our way a bit, and we are under the mentorship of a highly successful CSA fiber farm in the New York area. As a CSA (community supported agriculture) fiber farm, we sell shares of our fiber harvest roughly based on the amount of fiber we hope to get from this year’s shearing of alpacas and sheep, distributed to a limited number of shareholders.  But just like vegetable CSAs, we can’t guarantee an exact amount of fiber we’ll end up with; there are too many variables involved.  Vegetable farmers call it a “shared risk proposition.”  However, by limiting the number of shareholders, we believe we can safely assure each shareholder of a satisfactory amount of fiber once the distributions are made.  Also, we’ll be processing our fiber only into spinning roving, rather than yarn, because of the extra expense. I do teach spinning, and a spinning lesson and drop spindle are included in the price of the share.  Also, we offer lots of opportunities to come out to the farm and participate in the life and care of the animals, in community-building days where we knit or spin together, shear the sheep, picnic together, or other fun events. A CSA share will not result in “bargain” yarn, but the other included benefits bring the price down well under retail levels.  And many of my shareholders tell me that participation in the Jacob’s Reward Fiber Farm life and community is actually a priceless reward that they would pay for alone, with the fiber as “icing on the cake.”

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Alta: What has been your biggest hurdle to overcome here at the farm?

Cindy: One hurdle we haven’t encountered is lack of interest in what we’re doing.  The response has been fantastic.  There are vibrant knitting and spinning communities in this area who find my fiber irresistible, and I have more egg customers than I can handle at some times of the year.  But since this is my first farming experience, I am learning a lot, and I’m learning every day.  The jobs around here are so varied that there is no excuse for being bored.  The farm also sits on the banks of Maxwell Creek, and heavy rains sometimes bring the water level a little closer to the house than we’d like.  But that hasn’t stopped us.  I’m continually working on ways to deal with lots of water on the place.  The farm is hard work, but it’s the kind of hard work that gives us a delicious, bone-weary sense of satisfaction at the end of the day.

Cindy’s undying optimism, drive, and determination have allowed her to influence a great number of people, including our family. Our kids have loved visiting the chickens, sheep, and alpacas. I’ve enjoyed learning so much about farm life from Cindy, and visiting the farm has brought me a sense of connectedness with the Earth and the changing of seasons.

Of course, making the side trip to pick up eggs at Jacob’s Reward Farm rather than just picking them up at the grocery does take extra time and planning. Depending on the weather and the season, the supply fluctuates. But for us, it’s well worth it. We trade convenience for a lot of worthwhile benefits. Not only are the eggs are fresher, tastier, and better for us, we are choosing to support our local farmers – farmers who practice ethical and sustainable treatment of their animals.

In an effort to celebrate the fresh eggs we’ve received from Jacob’s Reward Farm, I planned a Farm Fresh Egg-Stravaganza dinner for my family. Each dish was carefully planned, so that I could highlight the eggs throughout the entire meal.

The meal began with a small appetizer: Chinese Tea Eggs. These eggs, a typical dish for Chinese New Year, were steeped for 5 hours in a black tea, soy sauce (tamari, actually, so they were gluten-free), cinnamon, star anise, Sichuan peppercorns, and dried orange peel. They were gorgeous to peel, and a tasty first bite. I’ll definitely make these again. For the recipe, visit Steamy Kitchen’s beautiful blog.

chinese tea eggs

The second course? Gluten-Free Egg and Pancetta Tarts. I found a lovely tart crust recipe from The Gluten-Free Almond Flour Cookbook, a new cookbook from Elana Amsterdam of Elana’s Pantry. The crust was a mixture of almond flour, grapeseed oil, salt, agave nectar, and baking soda. Easy as pie tart! I pre-baked mini-tarts for 8 minutes, and then filled them with scrambled eggs, tomato sauce, sauteed pancetta, and shredded white cheddar, and baked them until the cheese was melted and bubbly. These tarts were tasty, although next time, I think I may add some herbs to the tart crust (Elana has an herbed tart crust recipe in her cookbook as well), which would work to increase the savory taste of the tart.

egg and pancetta tart

Gluten-Free Egg and Pancetta Tarts

1 recipe gluten-free tart crust (recipe from The Gluten-Free Almond Flour Cookbook)

4 miniature tart pans (I used 5-inch pans)

6 oz pancetta, diced

1 T olive oil

4 eggs, beaten

1/4 c milk

Salt and pepper to taste

1/4 c tomato sauce (use seasoned jarred tomato sauce, or your favorite tomato sauce recipe)

1/2 c shredded white cheddar

2 T chopped parsley

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Divide tart dough into 4 balls, pressing one ball into each tart pan. Bake for 7-10 minutes or until golden. Remove and let cool slightly.

Meanwhile, bring a large saute pan to medium heat. Add pancetta and saute for about 5 minutes, stirring occasionally, until pancetta is crisp. Remove and set aside.

Add the olive oil to the pan and turn the heat to medium-low. Whisk the eggs and milk together, and pour into pan. Whisk occasionally, and allow to cook until eggs are just set. (Don’t cook all the way – you don’t want the eggs to dry out.) Season with salt and pepper and remove from heat.

To assemble the tarts: With a spoon, spread a little of the tomato sauce into each tart crust. Top with eggs, and sprinkle cheese and pancetta over. Place in the oven for 5-7 minutes, or until cheese is melted and bubbly. Sprinkle parsley on top as garnish.

Serves 4.

The third course was the most “daring” for me to attempt – Soft Egg Gluten-Free Ravioli. Until yesterday, I had never made handmade pasta, much less gluten-free handmade pasta. I found a pasta recipe from Living Without that sounded promising, so I set out to make my own ravioli. But these ravioli weren’t just “normal” ravioli – inside each of these babies laid an entire, unbroken, sunny egg yolk. In my opinion, these were the ultimate way to celebrate the intense yellow yolks the Jacob’s Reward Farm chickens created.

egg ravioli

The flavor of these ravioli was tasty and rich, especially as they were topped with a white truffle butter sauce. However, I did learn that rolling out pasta by hand is hard – and I ended up leaving the pasta sheets too thick, which resulted in heavy, dense ravioli. Not a perfect dish, but I would definitely try again, using a pasta machine to ensure thin, light pasta. (note to self: put pasta machine on wish list!) These were served with sauteed swiss chard, which was delightful.

Soft Egg Gluten-Free Ravioli, adapted from Living Without and Epicurious.com

For the filling:

1 c whole-milk ricotta cheese

2 egg yolks

1/8 t freshly ground nutmeg

1/4 c grated parmesan cheese

1/8 t freshly ground black pepper

For the pasta dough (these instructions are for the use of a pasta machine – if you don’t have one, instead use a rolling pin and roll out sheets as thinly as possible.):

½ c tapioca flour or sweet rice flour

½ c cornstarch

⅓ c potato starch or arrowroot

⅓ c fine brown rice flour, more for rolling out

½ t salt

2 T xanthan gum

4 eggs

2 tablespoons olive oil

8 egg yolks

1 egg white, beaten (for egg wash)

For the butter truffle sauce:

1 stick salted butter, cut into 4 pieces

1 T white truffle oil

Mix ricotta, 2 egg yolks, nutmeg, parmesan cheese, and pepper in a small bowl. Refrigerate until needed.

Put the dry ingredients into the bowl of a stand mixer. Blend using the paddle. In a separate bowl, lightly beat together the 4 eggs and oil.

While the mixer is on, slowly add eggs/oil mixture to dry ingredients. Beat on medium speed for about 2 minutes. Dough will be soft like play dough. If it’s not, add water, one tablespoon at a time. Lightly dust your counter with cornstarch. Cut the dough into 8 pieces and cover 7 with a tea towel or plastic wrap.

Lightly dust a piece of dough with rice flour and flatten. Roll through the widest setting of the machine. Continue to roll it through, folding it in half each time and lightly dusting with rice flour if the dough is tacky. Do this until the dough begins to hold together and seems smooth. It may take 5 to 6 times. Then decrease the thickness one notch at a time and roll through until desired thickness is achieved. Cut out a 5-inch circle from parchment paper (or use another tool to measure a 5-inch circle - I used my tart pans), and cut out 16 5-inch circles from pasta dough. 

egg ravioli assembling

Place the ricotta mixture in a pastry bag (or do as I did, place it in a quart-size ziploc bag, and snip a corner off of the bag). In the center of eight of the pasta circles, make a circle with your pastry bag/ziploc bag full of the ricotta mixture, leaving about 3/4 inch from the edge of the pasta, as if you’re creating a nest. Place an egg yolk in the center of your ricotta “nest”. Brush the edges with egg wash. Top with another pasta circle, pressing together to seal the edges. (You can use a pastry wheel or the tines of a fork to seal the edges as well.) Place pasta on a cookie sheet. If layering the pasta, dust it with rice flour. Cover and refrigerate until ready to cook.

To prepare the butter truffle sauce, place the butter and truffle oil in a small saucepan. Bring to medium heat, stirring, until bubbling. Reduce to low, and stir occasionally.

To cook the ravioli, bring a large pot of water to a boil. Add a dash of salt. Using a slotted spoon, carefully slide into boiling water. Cook until al dente. Fresh pasta cooks in just a few minutes. When the raviolis are done, drain and rinse it under hot water.

To serve, place two raviolis on a plate, and lightly drizzle with butter truffle sauce. Serves 4.

Of course, no “Egg-Stravaganza” would be complete without a dessert. But after the rich ravioli, a light dessert was in order. We enjoyed a pavlova – a lovely light-as-air meringue dessert that is popular in New Zealand. Pavlova has a meringue base, topped with whipped cream, and typically decorated with summer berries and kiwi. Since it’s not berry season, I opted to top it with pear slices, figs, banana, and clementines. It was very likely the best part of the meal – a lightly sweet, fresh, and airy finish to a wonderful evening.

pavlova

Pear, Fig, Banana and Clementine Pavlova, adapted from Saveur.com

4 room-temperature egg whites

pinch of salt

1 c plus 2 T superfine sugar (I placed sugar in my food processor to “pulverize” it)

2 t cornstarch

1 t white vinegar

few drops of vanilla extract

1 c heavy cream

1 banana, peeled and sliced

1 ripe pear, such as a Red Bartlett, peeled and sliced

2 clementines, peeled and sectioned

4 oz Black Mission Figs, quartered

2 T honey

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper, then trace a 10-inch circle on the paper. Put egg whites and salt in clean bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a whisk, and beat on medium-low until frothy. Increase speed to medium-high and beat until egg whites form stiff but not dry peaks. Gradually add 1 cup sugar while whisking, then increase speed to high and beat until stiff and glossy. Sprinkle cornstarch, vinegar, and vanilla over egg whites, then gently fold in.

Fill traced circle with meringue, smoothing top and sides. Put meringue in middle of oven and reduce heat to 300 degrees. Bake for 1 hour. Turn oven off and leave meringue inside until completely cool, 3-4 hours.

 Remove paper and place meringue on a cake plate. Whip cream and remaining sugar to soft peaks, then pile on top of meringue. Arrange cut fruit over whipped cream, and drizzle with honey. Slice into wedges to serve.

Serves 8-10.

Kids in the Kitchen: Lasagna, Two Ways

Gluten-Free Lasagna
Gluten-Free Lasagna

lasagna bakedWhen Matt decided he wanted to make lasagna for his turn in the kitchen, I happily agreed. I love lasagna. I knew that gluten-free lasagna noodles existed, so I figured this would be a wonderful dish for the family. I started to make a grocery list, and went shopping.

Only to find out that my “regular” grocery stops (SuperTarget and Sprouts) did not carry gluten-free lasagna noodles. Gluten-free shells, spaghetti, linguine? Yes. Lasagna? Nope. So I begrudgingly purchased regular lasagna noodles, and accepted that I wouldn’t be eating lasagna that night.

But as today drew closer, I didn’t accept it. (Why should I be unable to enjoy kids’ creations?) And although I knew another grocery, such as Whole Foods, would possibly carry the pasta, a busy week kept me from making that extra trip. I had to come up with a way to make a “psuedo-lasagna” that would satisfy me, sans gluten-free noodles. Suddenly I remembered that my brother (also gluten-intolerant) insisted that corn tortillas made a great substitute for lasagna noodles. Since corn tortillas are always in our house, I figured, why not?

And so it began. When Matt and I were preparing our mise en place, he was already imagining how wonderful the lasagna would taste. I have to admit, so was I. Lasagna is the ultimate comfort food, with its cheesy layers, and bursts of flavor from the tomato sauce and fillings. I’ll have to admit, as we browned the sausage and simmered the sauce, lots of “taste tests” occurred. (It’s actually amazing that there was anything left to put into the lasagna!) And the 45-minute wait while the lasagna baked seemed like an eternity.

lasagna 007

Once the lasagna emerged from the oven, though, it was well worth the wait. While not photo-friendly (the lasagnas did not cut into nice, neat squares for photographs…), the kids devoured most of the “gluten-y” lasagna (Matt had 3 helpings!), while I happily chowed down on my corn tortilla lasagna. It was nice and light, (I added a thinly sliced zucchini in my layers, just because I happened to have some that needed to be eaten) but plenty flavorful enough. So much, in fact, I felt satisfied. Who says living gluten-free has to mean deprivation? It doesn’t mean that I won’t try to look for gluten-free lasagna noodles in the future (I plan to ask Sprouts to see if they’ll start carrying it), but this version definitely hit the spot.

To make both gluten-free (2 servings) and regular lasagna (6 servings):

1 1/2 lb hot Italian sausage, crumbled

1/2 medium sweet onion, diced

3 cloves garlic, minced

2 28-oz can crushed tomatoes

2 t dried oregano

1/2 t crushed red pepper

1/2 t anchovy paste

1 1/2 T fresh basil, chopped

salt and pepper to taste

8 oz oven-ready lasagna noodles

3 corn tortillas, cut into 1 inch strips

1/2 lb ricotta cheese

4-5 c shredded mozzarella cheese

1/2 c Parmesan cheese, finely grated

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Brown the sausage, crumbling with spatula. Add onions and garlic, and cook for 4-5 minutes or until soft.

Meanwhile, open crushed tomatoes and pour into a medium saucepan. Add oregano, crushed red pepper, and anchovy paste and stir. Simmer for 10-15 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add basil and stir, simmer for 2-3 minutes more.

For the regular lasagna, use a 13X9 glass baking dish. For the gluten-free lasagna, I used a 8-inch round baking dish. Pour a bit of sauce in the bottom of each dish and spread around. Add a single layer of noodles to the regular lasagna, and a layer of corn tortillas to the gluten-free lasagna. Top the gluten-free lasagna with a layer of zucchini. Top both with a layer of sausage, followed by a thin layer of ricotta. Sprinkle a layer of mozzarella on top. Pour another spoonful or two of sauce, and repeat with the noodles/tortillas, zucchini, sausage, and cheeses. Top with a bit more sauce, and sprinkle the remainder of mozzarella on top of both lasagnas. Sprinkle parmesan evenly on top of both as well.

Bake in the oven for 45 minutes, tented with foil, until the noodles on the regular lasagna are tender. Remove and allow to cool for a few minutes, and serve.

Kids in the Kitchen: Spaghetti and (Gluten-Free) Meatballs

spaghetti and meatballsTonight was Matt’s night in the kitchen. Matt has somewhat picky tastes, but he’ll eat just about anything if it involves pasta or wrapped in a tortilla. So it was no surprise to any of us that spaghetti and meatballs was his first choice. He could eat spaghetti every day, if allowed. So spaghetti it was.

Of course, with my recent decision to go gluten-free, I knew that I would have to make some modifications. Gluten-free spaghetti is easy – Glutino sells some brown rice pasta. (Of course, brown rice works just as well in a pinch.) However, my usual meatball recipe calls for bread crumbs. I could omit them, but I was afraid the meatballs would be soggy and dense. I had some Glutino Flax Seed Bread, (which makes really good toast!) so I figured, why not make bread crumbs from this? Blitzed 4 slices in the food processor, and ta-da, gluten-free bread crumbs! We were in business.

Matt was a fast learner in the kitchen. Good thing, because his dish called for more ingredients than the dishes his siblings prepared. His favorite part, obviously, was making the meatballs. (He kept rolling HUGE meatballs, and telling his brother that they were his “dream” meatballs.) With the laughing and joking around, the preparation went by rather quickly. We had those meatballs in the oven in what seemed like a matter of minutes.

Matt mixing the meat for meatballs

Matt mixing the meat for meatballs

Speaking of a matter of minutes, this tomato sauce recipe takes less than 10 minutes to prepare. Who needs 15-plus ingredients and a long simmer time to make a great tomato sauce? As I’ve found out recently, not I! This sauce is so tasty and bright, with a good kick from the red pepper, and only uses 7 ingredients (if you count salt as an ingredient).

All in all, this turned out to be a satisfying meal. After tonight, the first round of “Kids in the Kitchen” is complete. I couldn’t be more pleased. I think we’re beginning something that will continue to be a source of fun and education for a long while to come.

 

Gluten-Free Meatballs (adapted from Cuisine At Home)

1 1/2 c gluten-free breadcrumbs

3/4 c parmesan cheese, finely grated

1/2 c milk

1/2 c vegetable broth

1/2 c fresh parsley, chopped

3 eggs, beaten

2 T dried oregano

1 T garlic, minced

1 1/2 t salt

1 T ground black pepper

2 t dried basil

1 t crushed red pepper flakes

pinch nutmeg

2 lbs lean ground beef

1 c vegetable or chicken broth

Preheat oven to 450 degrees.

Stir together first 13 ingredients (through nutmeg) in a large mixing bowl. Add ground beef and mix together thoroughly. (We used our hands – clean, of course.) Take a portion of meat (about 1 1/2 oz each, or nearly 2 inches in diameter) and roll into a ball with your palms. (Alternatively, you can use a portioning scoop or two spoons.) Place the meatballs on a baking sheet or shallow roasting pan, evenly spaced.

chicken curry 042

Cover the bottom of the pan wiht the remaining 1 cup of broth. Bake for 25 minutes, or until the meatballs are just cooked through.

While the meatballs are baking, you can prepare the pasta according to package directions, and start the sauce.

Quick and Easy Tomato Sauce

3 T olive oil

2 t crushed red pepper flakes

4 cloves garlic, minced

2 28-0z cans crushed tomatoes

salt to taste

2 T basil leaves, julienned

1 t oregano leaves, chopped

Combine olive oil, red pepper and garlic in cold saucepan. Heat to medium, stirring while heating. Cook for 2 minutes. Add tomatoes and stir to heat. Add salt to taste, and let simmer for 5 minutes. Stir in basil and oregano, and add meatballs (once baked).

Serve meatballs and sauce over pasta. Sprinkle with parmesan if desired. Serves 6.

Chicken and Broccoli Penne in a Bacon Cream Sauce

Food 1747Did I have your attention at the mention of bacon? The other day, when I was brainstorming names for this dish, I rattled this one off to my husband, to which he replied “I’d order it off of a menu.” Sold.

Pretty fance name though. Sounds like I spent hours on the dish. To be perfectly honest with you, this quick recipe was born out of necessity. See, I had planned to make an easy, family-pleasing Skillet Cordon Bleu, but arrived home from work to find that not only was the Canadian bacon bad (just bought it the other day, don’t know what happened there. Ew.) but in addition, I grossly overestimated how many chicken breasts we had remaining in the freezer. (I had forgotten to defrost the chicken the night before, triple whammy!) There were only two in the house. Obviously poor planning on my part. Time for Plan B.

Let’s see…Plan B…what was Plan B?

Thinking…thinking…thinking… (Just imagine me, standing in the pantry, then staring at the fridge. Back to the pantry. Fridge. Pantry. Fridge. Pantry.)

Pasta!

Pasta is always easy, and it is one way to stretch a small amount of meat (and the budget!) without complaints from the family. Plus, I earn bonus points with our oldest whenever I make pasta. The boy could eat his weight in pasta if we let him. (Which, if it was a whole grain pasta, that might not be the worst thing I could do…) Anyway, what else to add to the pasta and chicken? I had some fresh broccoli, a little bacon, cream cheese, and Parmesan, so we were in business!

This dish took around 30 minutes from start to finish, and was satisfying and tasty! The parsley, which came from my garden, really made the dish fresh and bright. The addition of the beer (I didn’t have wine on hand, so I improvised) and the Parmesan really added depth and fullness to the sauce, without making it heavy. I always consider pasta dishes to be comfort food, although in this instance, the addition of broccoli, the use of chicken breasts and a high-fiber pasta makes me feel a little less guilty about the nutritional content. Does this mean that I can rationalize my way into having seconds? Why yes, I believe I can!

8 oz penne pasta

2 chicken breasts, cut into 1 inch dice

Salt and freshly ground black pepper

¼ t crushed red pepper

1 T olive oil

1 large head of broccoli, cut into florets (can include stems too!)

2 strips bacon, diced

3 cloves garlic, minced

1/3 c beer (or white wine, if you prefer)

3 oz cream cheese

½ c milk

¼ c Parmesan, grated

1/3 c parsley, chopped

 Bring a large pot of water to a boil, and cook penne pasta according to directions.

 Meanwhile, bring a large sauté pan to medium-high heat. Season the chicken with salt and pepper and the crushed red pepper. Add olive oil to pan, and once shimmering, add chicken, spreading out into a single layer. Allow to cook, untouched, for 3-4 minutes, and then stir to turn pieces over. Cook until no longer pink, about 6-7 minutes total. Remove from pan and set aside.

 Using a medium saucepan and a steamer insert, steam broccoli until crisp-tender.

 Add bacon to sauté pan. Turn heat down to medium, and cook bacon for 4-5 minutes or until crisp. Add garlic and cook for 1 more minute.

 Add beer and scrape bottom of pan to remove brown bits. Let reduce until beer is almost evaporated, about 2 minutes. Reduce heat to medium-low. Add cream cheese and milk, and allow cream cheese to melt and milk to warm without boiling, stirring occasionally. Once completely warmed and simmering, add parmesan, and stir to incorporate. Add chicken, pasta, and broccoli and stir. Add parsley and stir.

 Serves 4.

Otsu (or Fiery Lemon Ginger Soba Noodles with Shrimp)

food-1446I came across this recipe a few weeks ago, when I first purchased Super Natural Cooking, a wonderful book by Heidi Swanson of www.101cookbooks.com. It looked intriguing. Apparently, this dish comes from a little restaurant near where Heidi lives called Pomelo. I love Asian foods (in case you haven’t already figured that out by my numerous Asian-inspired posts), but this recipe used buckwheat noodles, an ingredient I have seen in other recipes and in stores, but had yet to try for myself. And then, after reading Jaden’s version of the recipe on www.steamykitchen.com, and considering her suggestion to substitute shrimp for the tofu, I decided I was dilly-dallying around for too long, and I made a point to make it this week. And as usual, Heidi didn’t disappoint! I could eat bucketloads of this stuff. Seriously. I had more than my fair share for dinner last night, and I have packed a healthy amount of leftovers for lunch today.  As you’ll see, on a last-minute whim, I added the sliced kumquats, only because I found them at the store that afternoon and had already gotten into them and was inspired. (Couldn’t help myself!) They make a unique contribution to this dish that I really enjoyed.

Have you ever had a kumquat? If not, I highly suggest you try to find some. They are kind of like a Crybaby candy in your mouth. (Remember those?) You bite into them, and at first, they’re sour – like pucker-your-face-up sour. But then, the juicy, citrusy, sweet flesh on the inside gushes over your tongue, and floods your mouth with happy deliciousness! (Okay, so they’re really better than the candy, because they’re not artificial-tasting, but you get my drift.) You can find them in some Asian groceries, or at Whole Foods. I actually found them at Wal-Mart…a place I’m not usually shopping for produce…but there is a Neighborhood Wal-Mart on my way home from work that has a huge amount of Asian produce available. It’s rather unique. So when I happened by the kumquats, I grabbed them.

So, without further adieu, I bring you Ostu, by way of Heidi Swanson and Jaden Hair, originally from Rolf Bachmann who I have decided is a genius to create this dish.

Grated zest of 1 lemon
1 inch section of ginger, peeled and grated
1 T honey
3/4 t cayenne
1 T freshly squeezed lemon juice
1/4 c rice vinegar
1/3 c soy sauce
2 T olive oil
2 T toasted sesame oil

12 ounces dried soba noodles
1 T olive oil
8 oz shrimp, peeled and deveined

Salt and pepper

¼ c cilantro, chopped

½ cucumber, peeled and seeded, sliced thinly

5 kumquats, sliced thinly
1/4 c toasted sesame seeds

Additional chopped cilantro for garnish

 

To make the dressing, combine the lemon zest, ginger, honey, cayenne, lemon juice, rice vinegar, and soy sauce and blend in a food processor or hand blender. Run the blender for a few seconds, until all ingredients are combined. With the machine running, drizzle in the oils.

 

Bring a large pot of water to a boil and cook the soba noodles until just tender, then drain.

 

While the noodles are cooking, heat up a large frying pan or wok. When hot, pour in the 1 T olive oil. Season the shrimp with a bit of salt and pepper. Once the oil is hot, add the shrimp in a single layer, and cook for 2 minutes. Flip over and cook until just cooked through, about another minute or two. Remove shrimp and set aside.

 

Drain excess oil from pan/wok, remove from heat, and add the soba, cilantro, cucumber, and about ½ cup of the dressing. Toss until well combined. Add the shrimp and kumquats and toss again, and serve with sesame seeds and cilantro sprinkled on top.

 

Serves 4. Can be served warm or cold.

Smoky Chipotle Macaroni and Cheese

food-1360I know, I know, before we even start, I’m sure you’re thinking: What is up with the chipotle obsession? Seriously? Can’t you branch out just a little bit?

Yes. I can. And I know. It does appear as though it’s an obsession. I can’t help it. I do love chipotle peppers. I actually love a lot of spicy foods, but chipotle pepper is more than just “hot”. It’s also smoky, slightly sweet…it’s a great ingredient! So maybe I am a little obsessed. Deal with it. But I’ll tell you this. I’ll do my best to lay low on the chipotle recipes (after this one) for a while, and give you a bit of something else. Can’t promise that there won’t be another one in the future, though, because if I stumble upon something good, I can’t help but want to share!

This recipe was one I created a long while ago. It was an old post (without a picture, even) on here (I’ve since deleted it and replaced it with this one), and I remembered the macaroni was pretty tasty, so I decided to make it again tonight. Glad I gave it another look, because I thought it needed some revamping. (The old recipe used Velveeta – I’ve since stopped buying that kind of processed stuff for the most part.) This version uses only real cheese. I also used 1% milk and it was plenty creamy enough, so feel free to use whatever milk you have on hand. I also used whole grain macaroni, so one could pretend like it was healthy macaroni and cheese, but we all know that macaroni and cheese is still not exactly the lightest dish out there. (read: understatement!) But we all need comfort food every now and then, right?

½ lb elbow macaroni

¼ c butter

1 T flour

1-2 canned chipotle pepper, chopped with some sauce

1 c milk

 ½ c cheddar cheese, shredded

½ c swiss or fontina cheese, shredded

½ c Monterey jack cheese, shredded

1 egg, lightly beaten

Dash salt/pepper

 

Place large pot of water on stove for macaroni. When water boils, salt water and cook until just shy of al dente (the macaroni will continue soaking up liquids when it is mixed with the rest of the ingredients). Drain and set aside.

 

Melt the butter, add flour and whisk. Add minced chipotles and sauce. Add milk, warm on stove for a few minutes. Add cheeses and egg and stir. Once melted, add macaroni and stir until incorporated. Add additional milk if sauce is too thick. Season as needed with salt and pepper. Serve hot.

 

Serves 4.

Spicy Peanut Noodles with Shrimp

food-9541Years ago, I bought a Cooking Light cookbook, thinking I would make healthy recipes and they would be delicious. After attempting a few, I decided I didn’t really like Cooking Light recipes. Not sure if it was my lack of experience in the kitchen at the time, or perhaps Cooking Light has significantly improved their recipes, but now, they have some pretty good, simple, weeknight recipes available! This recipe came together in about 30 – 40 minutes. I did make some modifications, I added ginger and sesame oil, and omitted most of the sugar. I also didn’t add chopped peanuts at the end, but I probably will next time…I just didn’t have any at the house. This recipe makes 4 servings…the original recipe quoted about 420 calories per serving (which I couldn’t believe, it felt so filling!). Mine might be a wee bit more than that, with the addition of oils, but that tasty addition of sesame oil to me was well worth it!

Peanut Sauce:

1/3 c creamy peanut butter

1/3 c water

2 T tamari or soy sauce

1 ½ T rice vinegar

2 t sambal oelek (chili paste)

Pinch sugar

½ t sesame oil

 

Shrimp:

1 lb medium shrimp, peeled and deveined

½ t minced ginger

1 t cornstarch

Salt and pepper

1 T peanut oil

 

Pasta:

8 oz udon noodles (or linguine)

½ t sesame oil

 

1 red bell pepper, julienned

1 chopped, seeded cucumber (do not peel)

¼ c sliced green onions

2 T cilantro, chopped

 

Lime wedges, for serving

 

To prepare the sauce, combine the peanut sauce ingredients and whisk until incorporated. The sauce should be consistency of cream, add additional water if necessary.

 

Cook the noodles according to package directions. Once cooked and drained, toss sesame oil with noodles to keep them from sticking to one another. Set aside.

 

To prepare the shrimp, mix them with the ginger, cornstarch, and sprinkle a bit of salt and pepper. Let sit for a minute. Heat up a wok or large, deep skillet to medium-high heat and add the peanut oil. Once the oil is hot, add the shrimp, and spread out into a single layer in the pan. Let sit, untouched, for 1-2 minutes. Flip over and continue cooking until pink, another 3 minutes or so. Remove pan from heat.

 

Add the sauce, noodles, bell pepper, and cucumber to the pan along with the shrimp. Toss to mix ingredients well (since the pan is still warm, this ought to warm up the sauce and noodles). Serve sprinkled with green onions and cilantro, with lime wedges.

Macaroni Pasta with Ground Turkey

macaroni pasta with ground turkeyEveryone should have an easy-to-make, low-cost meal in their back pocket. This recipe is simply that. Its total comfort food for me (aka high in carbs). It’s easy to make (my 13-year-old stepson helped!), and a kid favorite (that same 13-year-old ate two huge platefuls!). I also used it as a spaghetti sauce the other day, so it’s versatile. Substitute the ground turkey for ground beef if you’d prefer.

1 lb pasta (macaroni, spiral, or even spaghetti pasta)

1 lb ground turkey

2 T olive oil

4 cloves garlic, minced

½ c chopped onion

½ t fresh thyme

½ t red pepper flakes

2 t Italian seasoning

½ t anchovy paste

½ t Worcestershire sauce

2-3 c chicken broth

2 t fresh basil, chopped

2 cans tomato paste

1 15 oz. can crushed tomatoes

¼ c chopped fresh parsley (optional)

Salt and pepper

Grated parmesan cheese

 

Heat a large pot of salted water to boil. Add pasta to the pot, leave uncovered, cooking as directed on package (usually 7-10 minutes). Drain pasta.

 

Meanwhile, set a large skillet to medium heat. Add 1 T olive oil, heat until shimmering. Add onions, cook 4-5 minutes or until translucent. Add garlic, thyme, Italian seasoning, and red pepper flakes, cook until garlic is soft, 2-3 minutes more. Salt and pepper to taste. Set aside.

 

Add 1 T olive oil to skillet. Heat for a minute, and add ground turkey. Salt and pepper to taste. Brown turkey, stirring to break it up. Once turkey is browned, add anchovy paste and Worcestershire sauce, stir. Add cooked onion mixture, canned tomatoes and cans of tomato paste. Add chicken broth and stir to combine. Turn heat to medium-low and simmer 10 minutes. Add basil and stir. Adjust seasonings as necessary.

 

Add pasta to sauce, stir to combine. Sprinkle parsley over top of pasta, if using. Serve with plenty of parmesan cheese and garlic bread.

 

**note – You can also put the cooked onion mixture and the canned tomatoes in the food processor or blender and blend until smooth. My family prefers “unchunky” tomato sauce, so I tend to do it this way. Simply add this new tomato sauce at the same time as you would add the canned tomatoes.