Tuesday, October 22, 2013

ingredient experimenting: speck

I can make (and eat) pasta until I am blue in the face, and likely I will, but it's always nice to try and change things up.

I was perusing my favorite neighborhood specialty shop, little vine, and had already grabbed fresh pasta and ricotta. As I scanned the meat case, my eyes fell on speck, an ingredient I had heard of, but never tasted or cooked with. I knew it was a pig product, but I learned that it's fattier and richer than pancetta or proscuitto.

Armed with these foods, I created a loose take on carbonara. No egg, the speck in place of the usual pancetta and ricotta in addition to grated cheese. I added frozen peas for good measure and it was perfect.

carbonara style pasta
one slice of speck, sliced about 1/3 inch thick and diced
1/3 lb of fresh pasta (I bought papardelle), you can use fresh or dried
1/2 cup full fat ricotta
1/4 cup frozen peas
salt, pepper and red pepper flakes for seasoning
pecorino cheese, grated (optional)
  • put a pot of water up to boil
  • cook speck on the stovetop until crispy, remove from pan and drain on a paper towel
  • salt the water and add pasta
  • with one minute left for pasta to cook, add peas
  • once pasta and peas are cooked, add to pan with speck, two tablespoons of pasta water, ricotta and seasonings on low heat
  • stir together and serve with grated cheese on top
serves two

Thursday, October 17, 2013

quick and easy weeknight meal: stuffed chicken breast

I can't really count how many nights I come home from work and my dinner consists of wine and string cheese. One night it was wine and easter candy. Sometimes there isn't even wine food. Point is, there are plenty of nights where that is just fine, but I would rather not get [too much] into that.

Nights after work when I am motivated to cook, or come home from a great run and want something healthy, it still needs to be easy and not result in dinner at 10pm. Last week I finally broke in my new running shoes and was feeling great. The shin splints I have been suffering with for months seem to have subsided and I wanted to have something healthy but still yummy.

new running sneaks and the view I get to live with

In comes this stuffed chicken breast--it sneaks in a bunch of veggies and took about 20 minutes of prep time. Best part? The possibilities for stuffing are endless--ricotta and pancetta, butternut squash and broccoli, etc.

chicken breast stuffed with spinach, tomato and mushrooms
2 chicken breasts, sliced open lengthwise like a book (should open up, but not be fully sliced)
5 medium sized cremini mushrooms, sliced
1 tomato, diced
1 bag of spinach
2 cloves of garlic
salt and pepper for seasoning
3 oz of goat cheese, softened
3 tablespoons of butter
  • preheat oven to 350, heat pan (I used my cast iron skillet so it could transfer from stovetop to oven easily) with 2 tbsp butter
  • saute mushrooms, spinach and garlic (season with s&p) until cooked down, add tomatoes and cook for another minute
  • scoop veggie mixture into a bowl and set aside, wipe down skillet and add remaining butter
  • season chicken breasts on both sides with salt and pepper, stuff half of the mixture into each and fold over sealing with toothpicks
  • add chicken to skillet, sear on both sides (about 2-3 minutes per side) then transfer to oven
  • let chicken cook through (about 8 more minutes) then add goat cheese and put back in oven for goat cheese to melt (about another minute)
  • remove from oven, pull out toothpicks and serve
serves two

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

buttermilk biscuits and my constant struggle with southern classics

I can not make biscuits. My cornbread always fails. Like it or not, this Italian girl can not get these southern classics down.

Truth be told, I haven't been trying for ages. And to be fair to myself, when I make these things they are never terrible--and certainly not inedible. But I know a good biscuit when I have one, and mine do not rise, they don't get as fluffy and the whole thing just frustrates me.

Surprisingly, a good and easy biscuit recipe is hard to find, but I researched tips and tricks. Such as: do not twist your biscuit cutter or it will interfere with the layers and flakiness. A dough cutter is not necessary. Simple is best.

You may recall my admittance to biscuit failure recently, which made me even more determined to try again. As I scoured the internet & tweeted at Alton Brown for his recipe (to no avail), I remembered my favorite cooking muse. Smitten kitchen to the rescue (I hoped!)

As usual, Deb breaks it down in an uncomplicated way and I followed her recipe exactly. I stopped just short of grabbing a ruler to measure how thick I rolled out my dough (she doesn't suggest that, but I wanted to get to that 1/2 inch thickness perfectly.)

Sunday morning bowl of biscuits

The biscuits tasted delicious. I woke Mike up on a Sunday morning with some fresh strawberry jam and these babies and he was as happy as a clam. But my perfectionist self was still not happy. They didn't rise enough--why? My flour was brand new.

Of course I spent the day musing out loud as to what I could do differently, and Mike probably just wanted to eat more biscuits. Maybe I need fresh baking soda. And fresh baking powder. Maybe I kneaded them too much? I may never know.

The bottom line is that I made it happen, and next time they will be even better. You can find Debs recipe here, and below is my quick strawberry jam.

strawberry jam (not for canning)
6 strawberries, diced
1 tablespoon butter
1/4 cup flour
2 tablespoons sugar
1 teaspoon salt
1/4 cup water (added slowly)
  • add strawberries, sugar and half of the water to a pot on low heat
  • stir frequently, add salt, flour and butter once sugar is dissolved
  • if mixture is thick, add remaining water, otherwise leave it out
  • if mixture is too thin, add more flour, a tablespoon at a time
  • bring up to a boil, then remove from heat and let cool
  • serve and enjoy!

Monday, October 14, 2013

fall eats: mushroom and zucchini baked pasta

It's fall in SF which means warm days (and nights!) one day and the sweater and boot weather the next. The east coaster in me needs to live seasonally-- so no matter what the weather outside says, it's October. That means pumpkin candles, cozy meals with lots of wine and fall decor. Yes I may be sweating in the kitchen, but it's tradition, dammit!

I found some fun fall decorations for my apartment so that is slowly coming together. I am still on the hunt for a wreath, or perhaps a pinterest inspired craft, for my front door.

To go with all of that, I have been making tons of comfort foods--the latest being a rich and cozy baked pasta with grilled mushroom, zucchini and onions--covered in cheese of course.

mushroom and zucchini baked pasta
5-6 medium sized cremini mushrooms, sliced
1 medium sized zucchini, sliced into half moons
1 small onion, diced
1/2 box of pasta (I used campanelle, which really held the sauce and ingredients in, but use whatever you like. a penne would work too)
1 cup of whole milk ricotta
3 ounces of goat cheese, softened
1/4 cup of shredded mozzarella
a handful of parsley, minced
salt, pepper and red pepper flakes for seasoning
2 tablespoons of butter

  • preheat oven to 350, heat pan with 1 tablespoon of butter
  • once pan is heated, add zucchini, let it cook for about 2 minutes, then add mushrooms and salt and pepper to taste
  • bring up a pot of water to a boil, add salt and add pasta once boiling--under cook the pasta by about 2 minutes
  • let that cook for about 4 minutes and add diced onion and red pepper flakes (a half teaspoon will give you a slight amount of heat, add more if you want more heat) and about half of the parsley
  • lower the heat and add remaining butter and let it cook down
  • mix together the goat cheese, ricotta, more salt and pepper and a sprinkle of parsley (reserve a bit for garnish)
  • once pasta is done, turn off your pan and add pasta in with the vegetables, with a splash of the pasta water and ricotta/goat cheese mixture
  • stir until well mixed,  transfer to an oven safe dish, coated in pam, then sprinkle with mozzarella
  • let it cook for about 5 minutes, until mozzarella is melted and bubbly
  • scoop out and garnish with parsley, serve!
serves two

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

quick and easy weeknight meal: butternut squash ravioli

I can not tell you how many nights I just want something so yummy-but not enough to cook for hours after work.

Browsing through Trader Joe's after work with no idea what to make, I stumbled on their ravioli section. They always make the best ones--they have a carbonara one that is out of this world. But as soon as I spotted the butternut squash ravioli with fall on my mind (and soon to be in my belly) I knew what was going to happen.

A pizzeria and restaurant back home has these butternut squash ravioli with brown butter, sage and goat cheese on their menu that I die for. The sauce with the goat cheese melted in is craveworthy on its own, but adding the pasta gives it the perfect earthy flavor. I needed to recreate this (adding a vegetable to make me feel less guilty for all that butter.)

butternut squash ravioli with brown butter sauce and goat cheese
1 package of pre-made butternut squash ravioli
3 oz. of goat cheese
5 tablespoons of butter
salt and pepper for seasoning
4 stalks of brocollini, cut into bite sized pieces
  •  put a pot of water up to boil
  • preheat a pan with 1 tablespoon of butter
  • add brocollini to pan, season with salt and pepper and saute until cooked through, turning frequently (about 6-8 minutes)
  • melt butter on low heat in a sauce pan, adding salt and pepper for seasoning (sage, thyme or rosemary would be a great herb to add here too if you have them)
  • cook pasta in salted boiling water--do not drain
  • scoop out pasta with a slotted spoon into pan sauce
  • spoon about 2 tablespoons of pasta water into sauce and ravioli, add brocollini
  • plate and add goat cheese on top
This is truly one of my favorite meals of all time--I hope you love it!