Cooking Anne Burrell’s Pasta Fagioloi

anne-burrells-pasta-fagioliHey, look, a food post! For those of you who might not know, I used to have yet another blog called Monkeying Around The Kitchen where I chronicled my journeys with food. After a while — and a lack of posts — I realized two things: one, I just didn’t have time to keep it up and two, I cook for my family, so those posts could easily be shifted over here to Pop Poppa. Hence, the MATK archives can now be found here on PP. Continue reading

This Week’s Menu: Quinoa, Ribs, Grilled Meat & More!

this weeks menu 7-6-15 I miss writing about food, you guys. I took all this time around Christmas to import my old food blog Monkeying Around The Kitchen over here and really haven’t taken advantage of the new digs. So, in an effort to get back on the horse, I figured I’d tip everyone off to the week’s upcoming menu on Monday and return to it either at the end of this week or early next. I also started writing the menu on this old chalkboard-painted pizza pan my mother-in-law gave me so we’ve got a nice visual.

A few weeks back I got all the ingredients for One Pan Mexican Quinoa from Damn Delicious. I’ve made this a few times before and it’s not just easy, but a great dinner that works well for a Meatless Monday if you’re down with that. I also appreciate how this one comes mostly from canned or boxed products meaning you can swing back around to it if you don’t get to it when planned. I will also be returning to the excellent Chicken Asiago Pasta from Chef Mickey.

Another pick-up for this week will be The Crockin’ Girls’ My Crock of Ribs using the St. Louis variety which were on sale last week. I’ll be doing this one on Thursday when I’m home along with the kids (if I remember to get them in the Crock Pot on time).

After I get everything ready for the quinoa dish tonight, I’m also going to work on the brine for Grilled Pork Chops with Corn, Tomatoes and Basil from Cooking Channel and grill that up tomorrow. Finally, as you can see, we will have some grilled beef. along with a vegetable. What kind? Not sure yet, but I’ll let you know how it goes.

Cooking Damn Delicious’ One Pot Sausage Pasta

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This post might look a little different because of the lack of photos, but I just had to write about Damn Delicious’ One Pot Pasta. Usually, wen I forget to fully document my food photographically, I’ll wait until the next time I make it to write a post, but this one, which turned out to not go quite as planned, was just too good to hold off on.

When I first came upon this recipe, it popped right off the page because of its seemingly simple nature. Throw several tasty things into a pot with some water and come out with dinner AND a limited number of dishes to clean? Yeah, I’m down with that.

Ingredient-wise, I followed the directions as written. For the sausage I went with Smithfield Hickory Smoked Sausage, Ronzoni Garden Delight Fettucini pasta and a mix of red and orange cherry tomatoes. With everything, I got to chopping and throwing into the pot, following the recipe as written. It was after everything was in the vessel that I mixed things up a bit. The recipe calls for 4.5 cups of water, but that didn’t come close to covering the pasta. I wasn’t clear if it should or not, but I went with the former and about doubled the amount of water.dd one pot pasta 2

All that extra water upped the amount of time I boiled it all. I’m not sure what the final amount of time wound up being, but it must have been around an hour because my wife and I went to our lawyer’s office to sign the contracts on the house we’re buying. By the time we got back it had finally thickened but was looking for like soup than pasta. Still, I wasn’t sure how the pasta would hold up, so I pulled it off the stove and we ate it with spoons instead of forks.

I’m not sure if the meal would have turned out this way anyway, but the first thing I thought when I took my first bite was, “This tastes like fancy Spaghetti-Os with hot dogs!” I used to eat Spaghetti-Os all the time as a kid and this reminded me of that, but much fresher and better. The cherry tomatoes and basil joined together to make a surprisingly sweet sauce that mixed well with the smoked sausage and everything else. I will definitely be trying this one again, but follow the recipe more directly to see how it turns out.

Cooking Disney’s Chicken Asiago Pasta

On our last trip to Disney World, I picked up the Chef Mickey cookbook by Pam Brandon and the Disney Chefs. Not long after getting back from that trip, I made a variety of recipes from the book, but that was when I wasn’t posting much here on MATK.  I returned to it recently and made this recipe for Chicken Asiago Pasta (page 124) for the second time and it was just as delicious this time around. The only change I made was using just parmesan instead of a mix of that and asiago.

This is a fairly simple one to put together, though it does involve dredging chunks of chicken and cooking them in some olive oil. But, that’s pretty much the hardest part. Right off the bat, I got the spinach in a bowl and combined the chopped sun dried tomatoes with the garlic and a combination of fresh olive oil and some of the stuff that the tomatoes came packed in. I also got the salted water going for the pasta at this point.

After that I cubed the chicken, got the flour mixed with salt and pepper and started the dredging/cooking process which didn’t take too long. I worked in batches to get the chicken done, but by the time I was finished, the pasta was all set to go too, so I got to mixing everything together in a big bowl.

That’s it, there’s your dinner. The flavors for this dish — which comes from the Disney’s All-Star Sports Resort — are just so amazing together. The noodles add some texture to bounce off of the bitterness of the spinach which is tempered by the tangy sun dried tomato flavors throughout. The cheese also helps bring everything together and add a salty note that connects a lot of the dots. I sometimes shy away from recipes that involve dredging and if our infant was having a really mad day, I probably would have skipped it, but this worked really well this time around.

Cooking Closet Cooking’s Roasted Asparagus & Mushroom Carbonara

You know a recipe must be good if I not only make it twice in the span of 30 days, but also prepare it for a parent visit. That was the case with Closet Cooking’s Roasted Asparagus & Mushroom Carbonara. I saw this recipe while trying to figure out my menu a few weeks back and it jumped right off the page. I love bacon. I love carbonara. I loved mushrooms and I’m pretty alright with asparagus. It also doesn’t use a full package of bacon, which is kind of nice, especially when you’re looking to make that particular protein work for a few different meals.

The prep for this dish is also super simple. You wash, then cut the mushrooms and asparagus, mix them with some olive oil, salt and pepper before putting them in a 400 degree oven for 20-25 minutes. Since I chopped my veggies into smaller bits than suggested, I kept them in the oven for a bit less time than recommended. With that doing it’s thing, I got my pasta going and cut up the garlic followed by the bacon. While the pork sizzled, I shredded the cheese and combined it with the two beaten eggs plus salt and pepper. Once the bacon is done, you toss in the garlic (I did this instead of removing the bacon as suggested in the main recipe), cook for 30 seconds and then mix with the cooked pasta, roasted veggies and cheese-egg mix.

When I made this the first time, I used boxed pasta, but last night I went full-out and made my own. The only other change I made was throwing in some chopped shallot I had lying around. Either way, you’ve got this great mix of fresh vegetables, smoky bacon and that salty carbonara goodness that solidifies as you mix. Making this meal even better is that fact that it tastes just as good reheated as it did the first day.

Cooking Arugula Pesto Pasta Primavera Salad

I’ve noticed recently that I’m getting to a place with my cooking where I don’t mind using a recipe as a spring board instead of a by-the-numbers rule book. Part of that comes from being a lot more comfortable in the kitchen and part comes from not reading recipes all the way through before adding the ingredients to my shopping list. I can’t tell you how many times I’ll get to that day’s recipe read it through and realize there’s a major part I missed. In the case of this recipe for Arugula Pesto Pasta Primavera Salad from Hannaford’s Fresh magazine, I didn’t see that a major part of the process involved roasting vegetables in the oven at 450 degrees. I don’t know about where you guys are, but it’s been in the 80s for weeks now here and there’s no way I’m adding to that heat if I can avoid it. So, I decided to sauté my veggies. I also completely forgot the green beans and made homemade pasta for my version.

Aside from making the pasta which is always a time consuming, but rewarding process, this is a super simple recipe to put together that just involves the cutting up of some vegetables, some sauté time and a bit of food processing. To make room in my small kitchen, I made the pesto first. I followed the recipe as written, but wound up with a really bitter pesto from all that arugula. To balance it out, I added about 1/4 more parmesan and the juice of half a large lemon which helped balance everything out.

With that out of the way, it was veggie cutting time. I took my knife to the red pepper, squash, onion and tomatoes before tossing them in a bowl with oil and then popping them in my high-sided pan for sauté time. At this point I also had the water going for the pasta so everything would get done at about the same time for mixing. My timing wasn’t perfect, but everything came together nicely for a solid alternate version of pesto packed with vitamins and nutrients that my family really enjoyed.

Cooking Damn Delicious’ Skinny Cauliflower Mac & Cheese With Pancetta

I’ve recently discovered a new food blog I love. It’s called Damn Delicious and the name says it all. While looking around for potential dinners last month (in other words, before the 80+ degree days started) I came across her recipe for Skinny Cauliflower Mac & Cheese. I’ve been hearing about replacing some of the noodles in pasta dishes with cauliflower and thought it would be worth checking out. This way, you cut out some of the carbs of the pasta, but also get the added nutritional value of the vegetable in there.

Recipe-wise, I followed this one for the most part both times I made yet. (See the next paragraph for the biggest departure I made.) The first time I might have been a bit light on the sour cream and the second time I might have put a little more than half cup. I will say that I recommend going lighter on this one because the sharpness of the sour cream can cut through a little too much if you go over. I also used my favorite method for getting cheese ready for mac & cheese: I cubed it and pulsed it in the food processor.

I made one big addition to this recipe that I think made the dish even tastier, but less “skinny.” I grabbed two packets of the pancetta available in my grocery store and cooked that up in a small pan, just to get it nice and crispy. Pretty simple, right? Definitely. But, after removing the pancetta and draining off just a bit of the fat, I cooked the breadcrumbs in there. So, you get that great, salty pancetta taste in the dish which I stirred in along with the cauliflower and other ingredientse but also these pancetta-infused bread crumbs on top that carry those flavors throughout. When I made this recipe the second time I used bacon and it was still good, but I think I’ll stick to pancetta when making this in the future.

I’m sure this is a great recipe the way it’s written, but I’ve got to say, the added pancetta flavor mixed so well with all that cheese and the nicely cooked, soft cauliflower to the point where this is now my favorite mac and cheese recipe (and I’ve tried a lot of them). This mix of dairy products is also super tasty together, that strong cheddar mixes well with the right amount of sour cream and the bit of parm in there to balance things out. I could see some Swiss or Gruyere working really well in there too. All in all, this balance of flavors proved so delightful, that I’ve made this my new base recipe for all things mac and cheese. As an added bonus, you could easily use this and add in other favorite takes on the genre. I’m pretty excited to try the Ruben mac with this base.

One last nice thing about this recipe is that, in addition to it being delicious, it can also either use up pasta in your pantry or leave around just enough for another round of mac and cheese. As I mentioned above, I made this twice in two weeks because I already had the panko, sour cream and a few other ingredients around from the first time, so all I had to do was pick up some cauliflower and go from there.

Disney World 2014 Bonus Food Pics Part 1

magic kingdom main streetAt this point, I think we all know that I’m way behind when it comes to posting about recipes and bonus food pics. Case in point? Here’s a whole bunch of pictures from early February when my parents, wife, daughter and I spent a delightful week in Disney World. I had a good time going through our meals day-by-day when we went last spring, but since we’re so far out, I figured a pair of recap posts about all the delicious food we had while in the Happiest Place On Earth would still be fun and hopefully helpful if you’re on your way to Orlando. One quick note before jumping in, on this trip we didn’t opt in for the Disney Dining Plan like last time. While it worked pretty well that time around, we realized that we were eating way more dessert than we would have normally just because it was there. I’m not much of a sweet fan, so I was glad to have more options.

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We all got into Disney World on February 1st and went right to the Magic Kingdom as is our custom, but I didn’t take any photos, so I can’t remember what we ate. On the 2nd, we went back and I did a better job of documenting meals. For lunch we had seafood at The Columbia Harbor House. Again, no pics, but I remember the fried food being nice and crisp without being too heavy. For dinner we hopped on the Monorail to have dinner at Chef Mickey’s, a buffet style place inside the Contemporary that features characters like Mickey, Minnie, Goofy, Donald and Pluto (sorry Daisy fans) walking around taking pictures with the kids. Lu loved the place and I’ve got to say that we were all pretty impressed with the food. You might think something like that would offer the lowest common denominator because you’re already there and it’s aimed at kids, but it was one of the better buffets I’ve had in recent memory. tutto italia

Again, I don’t have documentation of what we ate for lunch on the 3rd, but we did spend most of the day at Epcot. For dinner we went to Italy in the World Showacse where we had reservations for Tutto Italia Ristorante. There I had the Gnocchetti which is described as Cavatelli pasta, sweet sausage ragu, tomato and Pecorino. This was one of the best pasta dishes I’ve had in a long time. It might seem simple — and it was — both it tasted like each of those simple ingredients was the best it could be and combined for an excellent, rich dish. 1900 park fare cinderella dinner

Finally (for this post, come back tomorrow for the rest!), on the 4th we spent most of the day at Animal Kingdom where we had Pizzafari for lunch. I have a picture of the tiny, tasty pepperoni pizza I had along with the Cesar salad, but I compared photos and it’s almost the exact same as the one I took several months earlier. That night we headed back to our hotel, The Grand Floridian, where we went to the Cinderalla-themed character dinner at 1900 Park Fare. I don’t remember this meal, another buffet, for the food nearly as much as I do for watching our daughter show zero interest in Cinderlla’s stepmother, warm up to the very funny stepsisters and glow when Cinderella came around. I gotta give it to those step sisters, they were pretty funny, tossing tame insults and one-liners across the room at one another and convincing the kids (and me to a lesser extent) that they were the evil, mean, awful creatures seen in the Disney classic.

Cooking Michele Urvater’s Classic Italian Bolognese With Homemade Pasta

Sometimes I want to just forget about everything else going on around me and spend a few hours in the kitchen making something I know my family will love. That’s what I’ve done the last few times I’ve made Michele Urvater’s Bolognese Sauce with homemade pasta.

Now that I’m grinding my own meat and making my own pasta, dishes like this one, which are already time intensive, can become multi-hour projects, but sometimes I need that time in the kitchen. In this case there are a lot of moving parts, but if you have some time during the day, it’s not too hard to make this dinner happen.

First and foremost, you need to throw your meat in the freezer for an hour or two. This makes grinding a lot easier. While that’s hardening, it makes sense to get the ingredients for the bolognese sauce ready by chopping up the carrots, onion, celery and garlic. The only alteration I made to this recipe was mixing 1/4 cup of white wine vinegar with 1/4 cup of chicken stock to replace the white wine, which I didn’t have on hand. After grinding the meat and cooking the veggies, you’ve got about 2 hours of simmer time.

With about an hour of simmer left, I start working on the pasta. I’ve tried a bunch of different basic recipes, but the one I’ve come to know and love is the one I found in my 1981 copy of The New James Beard (p. 276) which calls for 3 cups of flour, 1 teaspoon of salt and four eggs with some water on hand just in case. Mix all that up in the mixing bowl, knead for a few minutes then let sit for 20 minutes. Everything I’ve read says break the main ball down into four parts, but I’ve had much better luck going down to eight smaller sections. Then run it through the rollers and whichever pasta cutter you want to use. I’ve found that it works best to start boiling water after running all the pieces through the roller the first time. By the time you’re done cutting, your water should be boiling or close to it.

Once your done with your epic cooking session, you’ve got yourself one ass kicking meal. This bolognese is just fantastic, mixing the pancetta’s saltiness with your beef and the vegetables into something truly wonderful. One of these days I’ll actually try it with homemade tomato pasta and fresh plum tomatoes.

One note I do want to make about this recipe in general is that I want to include olives in it next time. I’ve made this particular version twice and both times I found my tongue telling me that there should have been some green olives in there to bring in a sour note. Hopefully, now that I’ve written this post, I’ll remember that for next time.

Making Pasta

For Christmas, my folks got me some pretty awesome pasta-related cooking implements. In addition to the standard KitchenAid attachments (the roller and then the linguine and spaghetti cutters) as well as a ravioli maker. Since then I’ve made pasta four or five times to varying degrees of success. The pictures above — taken by my lovely and awesome wife — are from the very first attempt, though you will definitely see more homemade pasta on the blog than boxed.

The first time I created pasta, I used the simple white flour and egg-based recipe that came in the book with the attachments. It’s a pretty straightforward process that hopefully won’t take too much time to master. Basically, you make the dough using the mixer and then let the dough sit for a bit. After that, you cut the main ball into smaller pieces and then run it through the roller. I did each piece on the 2 setting, set it aside and then went through and did it on the 3 then 4 settings. Once that’s done, you get the cutter out and wind up with your pasta.

Sounds pretty simple, right? Kind of, but not always. The main problem I’ve had in my various attempts is getting the dough recipe down. Pasta dough is supposed to stick to itself, but that’s it. I’ve had dough that’s too dry that I added water to and super sticky dough that I added more flour too. I’m still getting the feel for things, but hope I’ll get to a place soon where I can see what it needs just from looking. I’ve also played with different dough recipes including the one found in Michael Ruhlman’s Ratio.

The dough consistency can be problematic when going through the rolling phase. If it’s too sticky, it gets caught up and won’t go through. If it’s too think, it also won’t go through smoothly and if it’s too dry you’re in the same place. I’ve found that using a ton of flour on my workspace can help with the sticky problem. I also recommend breaking the large ball up into much smaller pieces that you can flatten out either by hand or using a rolling pin.

Since I work in a small, galley kitchen, I found myself struggling to figure out the best way to set up. In these pictures, you can see my kid hanging out on her step stool watching me. Since then, I’ve started putting a TV tray there with either a cutting board or wax paper covering it. I douse that in flour to help keep everything from sticking together. kitchenade pasta makers

Once the pasta is actually cut, I toss it in a pile on whichever floured surface I have at my disposable that’s not already filled. At this point, you want to have your water boiling so you can toss it in. The rule I go by is that, if it floats, it’s done. This was something that took some getting used to for me because I wasn’t sure what fresh pasta was supposed to taste like and therefore wasn’t sure when it was done. But, after tasting the floating noodles, I got the idea, drained and then mixed in with my sauce.

I also want to say that I tried my hand at making semolina pasta just once and it didn’t go so well. I made the dough as the recipe said but found that my dough was way too thick to go through the roller. Fearing I was running out of time to have dinner ready by the time my wife got home from work, I decided to just flatten it out with a rolling pin and cut with a knife and a dough scraper thingie. As you can probably imagine, the noodles were pretty thick, but I think they still turned out pretty well. While things didn’t go as planned, I’m kind of glad this happened because it showed me that I can also do this without a machine if need be. Still, the roller and cutters work WAY faster than going by hand.

As I’ve said when it comes to grinding my own meat (I haven’t bought ground meat in over a year) or making my own sauce (which I regret not being able to do last fall), I know these extra steps take more time and can add a lot more headaches to the meal-making process, but I personally love knowing that I’ve really built the meal from the ground up as much as makes sense.

Recipe Roundup: Closet Cooking Part 2

Closet Cooking has become one of my major go-to sites when it comes to online recipe resources. I’ve made so many different meals based on author Kevin Lynch’s site that I’m thinking about picking up one or many of his cookbooks. Here’s a few of the recipes I’ve attempted and what I thought about them. For a similar Closet Cooking Recipe Roundup post, click here!

Taco Stuffed Shells

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I’ve been a stuffed shells fan for years, but never really thought about separating that delivery system for fillings from the Italian ingredients I’m used to. I was pretty excited to give this new version of an old classic a shot and it turned out really well. But, I did discover that my mouth and brain kept getting confused BECAUSE I’m so used to these kinds of shells being stuffed with Mexican flavors instead of Italian ones. It was a strange experience because that almost never happens. My brain just couldn’t get past the shape and the presentation the first time around. Maybe I’ll be more ready for it next time, though.

Thai Peanut Chicken Noodle Soup

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Lynch’s Thai Peanut Chicken Noodle Soup is actually very similar to the Thai Chicken Soup I’ve made several times from The Ultimate Soup Bible. I’m becoming a huge fan of Thai flavors and figured this one was different enough to try. The major differences are that you cook the chicken in the boiling soup, add in sweet potato (I used by box grater to shred it up good), there’s more curry paste and I used less lime.  This actually combined for a similar, but different enough dish to add to the collection. Sometimes if I eat too much of the version from the Bible, my stomach gets a little topsy turvy, but that wasn’t the case with this one.

Cauliflower Pepperoni Pizza Casserole

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I’ve had this particular recipe saved in my Pocket for quite a while and finally gave it a shot last week. There’s a version on the site that uses pasta instead of cauliflower, but I was trying to go for a healthier version. The only ingredient change I made came about because I forgot to buy black olives, but otherwise, I put this together pretty much by the book and thought it was a great little dish that combined the greatness of cheese and pepperoni with cauliflower, which I assume is healthy. Plus, it’s super easy to put together. Next time I’d like to make it with homemade sauce and maybe a better pepperoni to see if that makes it even better.

Recipe Roundup: Smitten Kitchen

baked-pasta-with-broccoli-rabe-and-sausage2As I said in a recent post compiling various recently attempted recipes from the site Closet Cooking, I’ve tried a lot of recipes in the past several months and done very little posting, so it’s time to go through the images, write down my spotty memories and get these things out there into the internet where they will hopefully jog my memory later on and encourage other people to give them a try. This batch of three all come from the cooking site I’ve been following the longest: Smitten Kitchen!

Chicken Tacos

I’m always interested in checking out a new recipe for tacos and this certainly fit the bill. I don’t think I’d ever made chicken ones before and the flavor on these were pretty solid if memory serves. I especially like the way you cook the chicken which is fairly hands-off and super easy. Combine all ingredients in a pan and boil for a half hour. This gives you plenty of time to chop up the rest of your taco fixins. I don’t quite remember why I didn’t make the salsa fresca that’s also mentioned in the post. Instead I whipped up a crema (sour cream combined with avocado, salt, oil, onion and some green Tabasco). One of these days I’d like to give this one a shot with bone-in chicken because I understand there’s more flavor there.

Baked Pasta With Broccoli Rabe & Sausage

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Apparently I only snapped a few pictures when I tried out this recipe. I remember this being a pretty easy thing to put together and the results being a kind of sausage-y, rabe-y mac and cheese and there’s nothing wrong with that. Actually, seeing this recipe again makes me want to give it another try in the next few weeks.

Pasta With White Beans

While I only snapped two pictures of the previous meal, I can’t seem to find a single image from either of the two times I made Pasta with White Beans (I skipped the rosemary oil because my wife is not a fan of that particular herb). Another easy meal to put together thanks to all the food processing, I really enjoyed the flavors combined for this recipe, but will note that all those beans can lead to some evenings punctuated by the most musical of fruits.

Recipe Roundup: Closet Cooking Part 1

As any regular readers will know, it’s been a looooong time since I’ve posted here on Monkeying Around The Kitchen. Unfortunately, with work and all kinds of other things going one — raising our two year old and prepping for a new little baby — MATK can fall to the wayside. But, I’m still cooking almost every night which means I have a huge backlog of meals to talk about going back to last fall. So, in an effort to try and document the good recipes I’ve tried out in the last few months, I figured I’d implement a new kind of a post called Recipe Roundup that will gather a bunch of meals from different places, throw in a few pics and do my best to remember how they turned out.

Today’s subject is one of my favorite new cooking sites, Closet Cooking which is great because there’s tons of older recipes on there and the site gets updated constantly. I also appreciate that Kevin Lynch seems to be cooking in a kitchen even smaller than mine which is no small feat. So, without further ado, hit the jump to check out the first batch of CC recipes I’ve tried out in the past few months!  Continue reading

Cooking Soup Addict’s Creamy Tomato Tortellini Soup

While looking around for new food blogs to follow, I came across one called Soup Addict. Now that it’s getting colder out and our kiddo can handle a spoon better, I’m back in the soup game. Recently, a new recipe for Creamy Tomato Tortellini Soup popped up and I wanted to give it a shot.

I’ve made tortellini soups like this in the past before and am a big fan. Since I’m lazy and don’t have the time on a regular weekday to make my own cheese-filled pasta, I get the store bought stuff. For the most part, I followed the directions as written, but did make a few additions too beef this meal up.

Like the recipe suggests, I cooked the onion followed by the garlic before pouring in the tomato sauce and chicken broth. Since I wound up buying twice the amount of tortellini promised, I added about a cup more chicken broth and upped the flour and half and half a bit as well. I also added in some dried parsley and basil as well as a glug or two of Yellow Tail Cabernet-Merlot. Since I used alcohol, I did bring the soup back up to a boil which is not recommended in the post.

I was really impressed with house this soup turned out. While cooking and tasting I was a bit worried that it was going to be a bit bland, but between the basic recipe and my additions it turned into a flavorful mix of creaminess and traditional Italian flavors. I think next time, though, I might use either a homemade tomato sauce or, if I don’t have any around, blend up a can of stewed tomatoes just to get a few more elements in early on.

Cooking Heirloom Tomato Caprese

Is it pretentious to talk about buying heirloom tomatoes? I know they have a much richer depth and variety of flavor than your average reds found in the grocery store, but for some reason, every time I think about them, I picture a snooty chef in one of those funny hats or a mustachioed hipster sporting jodhpurs and old timey airplane goggles. Is this some kind of reverse engineered attempt by Big Food to paint local produce in a bad light? Or maybe me just being weird? Probably a little bit of both, but mostly the latter.

Anyway, last week, my wife, daughter and I got some lunch in New Paltz and walked around for a bit. Afterwards, we stopped at one of our favorite farm stands and walked away with a bag of super sweet peaches, crisp green beans and a variety of heirloom tomatoes. I hadn’t figured out the week’s menu at that point, but as you can imagine, I decided to base two separate meals around the colorful fruits masquerading as veggies.

Since I really wanted to showcase the tomatoes, I decided to make caprese and came across a recipe on Food Network’s website that happens to have been submitted by Joe and Jill Biden. Huh. Anyway, this was an incredibly easy preparation with no cooking aside from the pasta which, of course, I got working on first.

With the water on the stove, I got the garlic, lemon juice, shallot and olive oil together. After that, I got to chopping tomatoes. As you can see in the photo I was working with some redish-purple ones, a yellow one and a few green ones. The red ones were pretty sweat, though not overly so while the greens were a bit tangier (one was a little less ripe than I thought and actually had a green pepper quality to it) and the yellows were in the middle. Then the tomatoes went into the olive oil mixture and when the pasta was done, that joined the party along with the mozzarella, some chopped basil (from our herb garden) and some lemon zest. And that’s it! Easy caprese. Yeesh, sorry about that one .

So, was this dish transformatively better thanks to the use of heirloom tomatoes? It would probably be pretentious to say, “Yes, of course!” while twirling my hipster mustache. I’ve mentioned before that I don’t really know how advanced or developed my pallet is, but I do know that there was a lot more going on flavor-wise thanks to their inclusion. Everything I mentioned above came through in the dish which made for a really fresh meal that was perfect on yet another hot end-of-summer night.

Forgotten Food: Smitten Kitchen’s Bowties With Sugar Snaps, Lemon & Ricotta

It’s always a bummer when I can’t remember how a dish came out. It’s even worse when it’s a Smitten Kitchen one like Bowties With Sugar Snaps, Lemon & Ricotta because I remember it being good, I just can’t remember any of the details. I mean, it’s got ricotta and peas (had to go with frozen because that’s what I’ve got) and lemon, so I know it’s good, plus I’ve got an almost 100% success rate with recipes from that site. It’s just been too long and I can’t remember! Still, I’m posting this because the pics came out well and I want to return to it later on down the line.

Forgotten Food: Asparagus, Artichoke & Shiitake Risotto

It bums me out that I can’t remember much about making Smitten Kitchen’s Asparagus, Artichoke & Shiitake Risotto. I remember liking the dish a lot, but the details have escaped into the ether. I did want to throw up this post though for a couple reasons. First and foremost, it was good enough to try again and I wanted to at least put that out into the world. Second, I have no idea how to prepare artichokes. I don’t have a link to the method I tried, though I think it was a YouTube video. I screwed them up pretty sufficiently and had to toss them. And third, after watching all these shows about food, risotto sounds like a super hard thing to make, but that’s not the case. It can take a while to swirl the chicken broth in the way you’re supposed to, but it ain’t no thang, really. I can see how it’d be tough to do in a short period of time, surrounded by other cooks and in front of cameras, though.

Revisiting Smitten Kitchen’s Pea Pesto

fresh pea pesto

A few weeks back, my wife convinced me to go with her and our daughter to a nearby farm so we could pick strawberries — one of our daughter’s favorite foods — and anything else we might come across. It was luckily not too hot when we got there, but I’ll be honest, I’m not a fan of doing my own picking. I don’t mind paying a little bit more to buy local goods that have been picked by other folks. In fact, after actually going out and doing this, I’m even more okay with it. Anyway, the other thing my wife decided to get from the farm was a big basket of sugar snap peas. For some reason, I can never find them fresh at our grocery store which has a pretty solid and impressive selection most of the time. So, she wanted a pea-centric recipe and I searched by blog went with Smitten Kitchen’s Pea Pesto, a recipe that’s super easy and super tasty, two of the biggest things I look for when making food.

My wife was adamant that the fresh peas would taste far better than the frozen ones I usually wind up using. I joked with her, saying I forgot to use the fresh and went with the frozen instead and that I couldn’t tell the difference between fresh and frozen, but that was just for giggles. In fact, the fresh peas made for such a big difference that I fully support her going out and picking more…just leave me and the kid at home.

Pizza Party: Luigi’s Deluxe & Hawaiian Pies

luigi's deluxe pizza

For the second half of last week and part of this week, my wife, daughter and I spent some nice time in Michigan hanging out with my parents at their cottage. We ate a lot of food on the grill which I forgot to snap pictures of, but there was one meal I absolutely, positively needed to let the world know about and that’s the pizza from Devil’s Lake’s Luigi’s Pizza. I almost wrote that it’s the one and only pizza joint up there, but it’s been a long time since I was a regular and don’t know that for sure. I do know that for a long time as a kid, it was one of the few food options that offered carry out food you could run up and get in your bathing suit and not get funny looks. It also happens that it was my favorite pizza before I moved out to New York.

Above you can see my favorite pie from them, the Deluxe which includes pepperoni, ham, sausage, onions, green peppers, mushrooms and black olives and, before moving to New York. I feel like it used to include green olives at one point, but memories get fuzzy. The beauty of this pie is just how much they cram on there. You can get deluxe-type pizzas a lot of places and this one probably isn’t super special as far as toppings go, but the key to Luigi’s greatness is the crust. The crusts on these pies have a garlucy, salty quality that made this the only crust I bothered eating for a long, long time.

luigi's hawaiian pizza

We also got a Hawaiian pie which featured pineapple, ham, green peppers and extra cheese which we tried to get with bacon instead of ham (highly recommended), but they were swamped leading into Fourth of July and didn’t get the custom portion of the order. Still, this is a solid, delightful Hawaiian pizza, which is something you can’t always get easily in my area. The extra cheese really makes this pop. Man, it would have been rad with bacon.

Anyway, if you’re in the Manitou Beach, Michigan area and haven’t tried Luigi’s go do it. If you’re somehow driving through (it’s not exactly close to any highways, which is by design as you might imagine) get over there and try some of this goodness.

Cooking Carbonara With Frisee & Lemon

Have I talked about my Big Blue Binder before? That’s where I keep all the recipes I find in various magazines that I want to try. I’ve got that mystery subscription to Good Housekeeping that I’m considering renewing as I type. I also get the free mag Hannaford gives out called Fresh. I go through those, rip out pages, shove them into clear sleeves and get to them when I get to them. At some point I must have gone through one of my wife’s issues of Martha Stewart Living and came across a page with four different pasta recipes including one for Fusilli Carbonara With Frisee & Lemon.

The whole recipe for this dish fits on a quarter of a sheet, so it’s pretty simple. Get your water going, cook the bacon, mix the eggs and parmesan cheese, clean the frisee and juice the lemons. The greens go in a bowl, the bacon cools and de-greases on some paper towels until you can break it up. Once the pasta’s done, drop that into another bowl and mix with the egg and cheese mixture. Once that’s together stir in the lemon juice, mix again and combine with the bacon and greens.

I actually remember the very first person who ever made carbonara for me: my friend Geof’s dad. They lived around the corner from us and Geof and I became friends after they moved to the neighborhood in third or fourth grade. We spent countless summer days hanging out together along with his older sister and younger brother and I had the pleasure of spending many a wonderful dinner at their house. One of those meals was carbonara, a traditional Italian dish of pasta, bacon and eggs where the eggs are poured over the pasta right after its done, cooking them upon contact.

This version of carbonara has a few more bells and whistles — and isn’t nearly as good as Geof’s dad’s if memory serves — but it made for a really nice dinner. Our two-year-old daughter has developed a real taste for macaroni and cheese (or “macos and cheese” as she calls it) so anything with pasta and cheese ranks pretty high on her list of favorite foods. You add in bacon, another favorite, and this turned out to be a real hit with everyone.

Cooking Nigella Lawson’s Pasta With Pancetta, Parsley & Peppers

Thanks to my lack of posting, I’ve got quite a few folders packed with images of great looking food on my desktop just waiting to find their way to the internet. Hopefully I’ll get to all of them — or at least the ones that tasted great as well — but in the meantime, I wanted to make sure and write about the recipe for Pasta With Pancetta, Parsley & Peppers from Nigella Lawson’s Nigella Kitchen (page 194). This recipe is not only wildly easy to put together but also doesn’t require too too much work and has really tasty results. The only recipe note I’ll make is that I doubled the recipe to serve four instead of two.

As far as prep goes, this one’s super easy. You get your water-for-pasta on the burner and then start cooking the pancetta in oil. Once those are nice and cooked, you throw in the red pepper flakes (I probably cut the amount down because we’re not great fans of RPF), lemon zest, lemon juice, a few tablespoons of water. While that cooked I took Nigella’s suggestion and drained the jars of roasted red peppers with a strainer and then used my kitchen scissors to chop them up into little pieces (you could also throw them in a small food processor, Magic Bullet or what have you).

After the lemony mixture cooked with the pancetta, I tossed in the peppers as well as half the parsley. As the pasta was getting close to done I fished out a cup of pasta water (I always just use my Pyrex measuring cup with a pour spout on the end of it for this). When the pasta was finally done, you drain, toss with the pepper-lemon-pancetta sauce and add in the last of the parsley. Bingo bango, you’ve got dinner.

The recipe is very simple, but it’s actually got a lot of complexity to it as the saltiness of the pancetta mixes with the acidic lemon juice and the sweetness of the roasted peppers and the crunchy bitterness of the parsley. That’s a lot going on with each ingredient really pulling its weight. I think I’ve made this recipe two, maybe three times since getting the book back in December, so it’s become a pretty big, easy favorite that I think will actually be a pretty easy one to make when it really starts heating up this summer.

Forgotten Food: Michael Ruhlman’s Sage-Garlic-Brined & Roasted Kale Pest Pork Chops

ruhlman's sage-garlic brined pork chops

As regular readers of the blog might have realized by this point, I cook a lot more than I actually write about food. As it happens, Monkeying Around The Kitchen gets pushed to the wayside when I get swamped with work or just don’t feel like sitting under the computer any more, but I still make time to cook about five times a week. I keep a folder on my desktop of images organized as best I can, but even with so many images and saved recipes, I can’t always remember how the things I cooked turned out, especially if I few a few somewhat similar things within a short period of time. That’s the case with these two recipes I’m talking about now, Sage-Garlic-Brined Pork Chops from Rhulman’s Twenty (page 29) and Food Network’s Pork Chops With Roasted Kale and Walnut Pesto.

Above you can see the brined chops. I remember putting that brine together, frying them and that picture sure looks pretty, but I just can’t remember what they tasted like. I want to say I liked them because, well, I love lemon and capers but I can’t say for sure. Around this time I also made some parmesan pork chops that were incredibly tasty. I think that memory might have knocked this one out of my brain.

pork chops with roasted kale & walnut pest0

Meanwhile, there wasn’t anything particularly wrong with the Food Network recipe, but the chops themselves weren’t particularly interesting. You’re just cooking them in oil with some salt, pepper and rosemary sprinkled around. They weren’t bad by any means, just not overly memorable. However, I was a fan of the kale and walnut pesto recipe included therein. I love how versatile pesto turns out to be and enjoy trying new takes on the classic. I don’t remember eating these as leftovers, but I do remember combining the rest of the pesto with some leftover pasta that I whipped up one day and wound up having a nice little lunch for myself.

Cooking Giada De Laurentiis’ Tomato Vegetable Casserole

In addition to mixing up our protein intake when coming up with a weekly menu, I like to usually throw in a vegetarian meal. I came across Giada De Laurentiis’s Tomato Vegetable Casserole and liked it because it’s pretty simple but also involves one of my favorite aspects of cooking: prep. Since this recipe includes potato, yam, tomato, bell pepper, carrots, onion and zucchini, I got to spend a good deal of time with my knife and cutting board chopping veggies up into slices and tiny cubes.

Once you’ve got that done, you’re basically done making dinner. All you need to do then is arrange the veggies in the order suggested — like a lasagna — cover with bread crumbs (I had panko on hand) and pop into a 400 degree oven for 40 minutes. When your cook time is done you’re left with a sweet and somewhat tangy vegetable dish that balances the candylike yams with the  tomatoes. You could probably really mix things up when it comes to the actual vegetables included in this dish and I can only imagine how much better it would taste with super fresh ingredients all around. I’m looking forward to the farmer’s market kicking back up so I can try this with yams, carrots and potatoes fresh from the ground and maybe some heirloom tomatoes. Just thinking about that is making my mouth water.

Cooking Smitten Kitchen’s Italian Stuffed Cabbage

I don’t know about you guys, but I can get kind of lazy when it comes to the meals I chose to make. I don’t mind being it he kitchen for longer periods of time, but I’m not a huge fan of recipes that involve lots of steps, especially ones that involve wrapping one element in another. If I’ve got all the time in the world and the kid’s not running all around me while I’m cooking, I’ve got no problem, but when does that ever happen. So, when I first thought about making Smitten Kitchen’s Italian Stuffed Cabbage, I wasn’t sure about tackling it. But I decided to give it a shot and it actually wasn’t much more work than making meatballs.

The first thing I did for this recipe was getting the bread soaking in milk. My bread was pretty hard, so I figured it would make sense to get those pieces nice and soft. Meanwhile, I got my cabbage ready, cutting off the bottom and doing my best to keep the large pieces intact without ripping. With that ready, I got some water on the stove and made the meatballs. As usual, I went with the loose sweet Italian sausage from my grocery store, though I think I’m going to try and make my own next time. Anyway, with the meatballs prepared and the water boiling, I followed the recipe and got the cabbage ready.

From there, it was simply a matter of wrapping the meatball in cabbage and pinning everything together with a toothpick. Once that was done, I got the tomatoes cooking in the same pot I used to wilt the cabbage (after draining, of course) and dropped my meat filled packages in there. After cooking for a while, you take the picks out, flip them over and let cook a little longer.

In addition to being a really tasty recipe — my wife and I both really liked the flavor of these particular meatballs and how they interacted with the cabbage — this is a nice recipe because you can do the steps at various points throughout the day. Deb at Smitten breaks everything down that way and it really lends itself to someone like me who can be busy on and off throughout the day. I happened to be able to do everything in one session, but if I didn’t have that kind of time, I could have easily popped into the kitchen and made the meatballs, then put them in the fridge, done more work and come back later on. I highly recommend giving this recipe a try because I really haven’t tasted such an interesting meatball. This one will definitely be making its way into my regular rotation…if such a thing every takes shape.

Cooking Smitten Kitchen’s Pasta & White Beans

I’m a big fan of the Smitten Kitchen website. Proprietor Deb Perelman and I seem to share a lot of the same food sensibilities which is great because I’m always looking for new recipes to try out every single week. Lately she’s been doing a lot of dessert stuff which I’m not really into, but any time an entree pops up, I’m usually trying it within a week or two. That was the case with her recipe for Pasta & White Beans (I skipped the garlic-rosemary oil because my wife’s not a fan of that particular herb), even though that was a while back. By the way, sorry about the lack of posting lately, I got sick last week and have been pretty busy doing the whole freelance writer/stay at home dad/new podcaster thing (check out my Pop Poppa Nap Cast over on PopPoppa.com or through iTunes).

Anyway, back to food. I mentioned in a previous post how when I made Nigella Lawson’s Turkey Meatballs In Tomato Sauce it made me think of using a similar “throw the aromatics into a food processor and cook that” approach for my beloved Pasta With Onion Butter Red Sauce from Smitten (which I did here). Oddly enough, this particular recipe for Pasta & White Beans actually does the exact same thing with carrots, onions, garlic and celery. It’s a great way to get all those ingredients together from the jump and really get their flavors to develop while cooking. It also helps make for a bit of a thicker pasta experience which I’m almost always in favor of.

I went with canned beans because I haven’t quite made the transition to getting my own and soaking them over night (maybe when I have more kitchen space, but as of now it doesn’t make a lot of sense in our tiny galley kitchen. The rest of the recipe is really simple. You get the pasta going and cook the food processed vegetables with some water and beans for a while. When everything’s ready, combine, heat through and you’ve got dinner. It’s a really solid, hearty meal that probably can’t be any easier to make. As is, it’s vegetarian, but you could also easily throw in some cooked chicken or turkey and give it some animal protein, although you’re already getting a good deal of that from the beans.

Cooking Sausage & Mushroom Pasta

Sausage is quickly becoming one of the top three types of protein I’m frequenting of late. You’ve got chicken breasts, sirloin (usually for grinding) and then the sweet Italian sausage sold at my grocery store (I’ve got to look for a way to make this stuff at home). I really love how sausage works with pasta and have been trying lots of recipes that include both ingredients. When I was flipping through my Blue Binder of recipes torn out of magazines or printed out from the days of old, I came across one from Good Housekeeping called Sausage & Mushroom Penne. I decided to go with a different kind of pasta, but otherwise I followed it as written, going with arugala instead of kale for what it’s worth.

As has been the theme with many of the recipes I’ve written about lately, this one also happens to be pretty simple. You get the water going for the pasta and then get to work on the other stuff. First the sausage goes in, then the onion followed by the mushrooms. Once all that’s cooked and the pasta’s done, you combine the two, stir in the arugala, some pasta water and you’ve got yourself a nice dinner. You could mix up the greens or go with different kinds of sausage to suit this recipe to your specific tastes which is always fun.

By the way, sorry about some of the fuzzier pictures above. I’ve been having a few problems with the Kitchen Camera, but think I’ve got it figure out. Hopefully they’ll look better moving forwards.

Cooking Giada De Laurentiis’ Parmesan-Crusted Pork Chops

I’m not really sure why, but pork is second only to fish when it comes to proteins I have the least experience with. I try to keep my weekly menus well balanced, going with one beef dish, one vegetarian and not too much chicken, so I’m always looking for new ways to cook pig, which usually leads me to pork chop recipes. I can’t say exactly why, but that isn’t always the most thrilling prospect to me. However, when I came across Giada de Laurentiis’ recipe for Giada De Laurentiis’ Parmesan-Crusted Pork Chops, I was pretty excited. Not only have I had really great luck with Laurentiis’ recipes lately, but I think it’s also hard to go wrong with parmesan-encrusted anything. It also helps that this is a really easy recipe to put together, especially if you already have bread crumbs on hand like I did.

Instead of the cup of Italian breadcrumbs mentioned in the recipe, I actually used the last of the rye ones I had leftover from making Ruben Mac & Cheese a while back. From there, it was just a matter of whipping a few eggs, grating 3/4 of a cup or so of Parmesan cheese and getting the pork chops out of the fridge. As these things tend to go, you dip the chop in the eggs, then the cheese and finally the bread crumbs before putting them in a pan with hot olive oil. Cook, flip, let cool and eat. I also steamed some green beans to go along with this dish.

I’ve got to say, I was really impressed with how good and flavorful these chops were. The parmesan really worked well with the rye breadcrumbs and made for a really simple dish that I can mostly make from items in my pantry. For all those reasons, this recipe gets the double thumbs-up.

Cooking Smitten Kitchen’s Gnocchi & Tomato Sauce

I’ve made gnocchi before and really liked the results, even though it can be a somewhat time consuming process. So, when I saw what looked like an even easier recipe on Smitten Kitchen’s website called Gnocchi & Tomato Broth, I was game. In addition to the difference in taste, I was also interested in noting the difference between this recipe and the previous one I worked off of. For one thing, it makes a lot less gnocchi which is good for me because I had a rough time trying to thaw out the dough I had frozen. You also prep the potato portion of the dish differently, instead of boiling them, you poke a bunch of holes in your potatoes and throw them in the oven, which I think it actually a lot simpler.

While the potatoes baked, I got to work on the sauce. You’ll note I said “sauce” instead of “broth” because instead of straining everything out like the recipe suggests, I took to it with a hand blender and made myself more of a sauce. Why? Well, it’s been cold and I wanted something thicker. If I made this in warmer months, though, I’d try the broth method to see how that works.

Once the sauce was done, I went back to making the gnocchi dough which involved mixing the ingredients up in our Kitchenaide. From there, I divided up the dough, rolled out some lines and chopped them up with my dough cutter/scooper. While working on this part, I set a pot of water on the stove to boil. When I was done with the dough pieces and the water was boiling, I started dropping them in and waiting for them to rise.

Again, the process can be somewhat laborious and time consuming, but there are days when all I want to do is go into the kitchen and not come out for a few hours with something really good and even a little primal that I made with my hands. This gave me that feeling without taking up too much of the day, so I’m adding it to the greatest hits.

Cooking Giada De Laurentiis’ White Bean & Chicken Chili

I’ve made a lot of different kinds of chili and even though I really enjoyed Pat Neelys the first time I made it, there’s always more variations to try out there in the world. While looking through many a Giada De Laurentiis recipe on Food Network’s website (many of which I wrote about last week), I came across her White Bean & Chicken Chili which is so different from what I’ve tried in the past, I just had to give it a shot. In fact, I’ve actually cooked this dish twice since stumbling across it and it’s been a hit both times.

As will be the case for the foreseeable future, I started this recipe by freezing the meat for about an hour, then trimming and cubing it and running the pieces through my meat grinder. I still haven’t looked at the numbers to see if this is cheaper than buying store-ground meat, but it makes me feel better knowing that I did it myself. Plus, my grocery store tends to run pretty good sales on chicken breasts that I take advantage of whenever it makes sense.

From there, this recipe is pretty simple. You cut up some onion and garlic, gather a small pile of spices, drain and rinse off your beans and prepare the Swiss chard. I went with white both times I made it, though I don’t see why red wouldn’t work just as well.

The results after 50 or so minutes of simmering is a dish that tastes both new and familiar. The ground chicken and chard bring their unique flavors into the mix while the corn and spice combination reminds you of the chilies you’ve had and loved in the past. I’d actually be interested in experimenting with ways that make this even more Italian-tasting. Maybe mix up some of the spices and herbs and incorporate some tomatoes. Could be fun to play with.

Revisiting Smitten Kitchen’s Pasta With Onion Butter Red Sauce & Turkey

revisiting smitten's onion butter pasta One of the few recipes that I cook on a regular basis is Smitten Kitchen’s Tomato Sauce With Onion & Butter. In fact, it’s one of the first dishes I ever wrote about online. It’s so good and only requires four ingredients: pasta, canned tomatoes, butter and onion. I double the recipe to get a lot more sauce because I’m that big of a fan.

One thing that’s always bugged me about the recipe, though, is that you toss the onions after cooking for 45 minutes. I still did it, but I wondered if there might be something else to do with it. Then, after making Nigella Lawson’s Turkey Meatballs In Tomato Sauce and I decided to take one of her techniques and use it with this recipe.

Lawson called for celery, carrots and onion to be tossed in the food processor and given a whirl, I figured I’d take that idea and use it with this recipe (I used two onions, two carrots and two celery stalks. Yes, it ups the ingredient list from four things to six, but I’m sure you would have just as much success just whirring the onions instead of all three veggies. When I first tasted the results, I was worried because it tasted very onion-y, but after simmering for the requisite 45 minutes, that flavor mellowed out and combined well with the other ingredients. I think I might have actually made a great recipe even better!

Cooking Giada De Laurentiis’ Fusilli With Sausage, Artichokes & Sun-Dried Tomatoes

After seeing Giada De Laurentiis’ Chicken Saltimbocca, I decided to stick with a theme and look around at some of her other recipes on Food Network. I also came upon a nice sounding pasta called Fusilli With Sausage, Artichokes & Sun-Dried Tomatoes that I tried and knocked out of the park. The only change I made to the ingredient list, aside from a few measurements that didn’t quite match up, was switching the sausage from hot Italian to sweet Italian, one that better suited our tastes.

As you can see, the recipe is actually pretty simple, just tossing the ingredients into the pot at different times and letting them do their thing. I always try to consolidate the number of plates or dishes on my counter while cooking, which meant I combined the sun dried tomatoes, chicken broth and wine in one measuring cup. I’d like to think that, in addition to being more efficient, this also makes the flavors more intense and mingled, but I have no idea.

By adding the mozzarella at the very end you go from a really great sausage and artichoke pasta dish to one that almost has a mac and cheese feel to it. Everything’s so warm and gooey and sweet and and tangy that it really is a party in your mouth, one I hope to have again soon.

Cooking Giada De Laurentiis’s Chicken Saltimbocca

My two favorite words when writing about food are “simple” and “delicious.” Don’t get me wrong, I love spending a good part of a day crafting a dish, but that’s so rarely feasible. I would easily label Giada De Laurentiis’ Chicken Saltimbocca with both, plus lots of smiley faces and thumbs up.

I’d never heard of Chicken Saltimbocca before and just stumbled across it while looking around on Food Network’s website a while back. I was sold, though, when I saw that it was basically a chicken, spinach, prosciutto and Parmesan cheese roll up. And the recipe is really that simple. You flatten out some chicken breasts, then add a piece of prosciutto, then some spinach, a sprinkle of cheese and then roll it up and run through with a tooth pick. Once you’ve got all your roll-ups prepared, you cooking them in some olive oil until all sides are browned. At that point you don’t take the pinwheels out, instead you add chicken stock and lemon juice and simmer for 1o minutes which really gets that lemony goodness into the dish.

When the chicken is finally done, you cook the remaining stock down into a sauce and serve over the chicken. I also threw some asparagus in the stove with a little olive oil, salt and lemon pepper and cooked for about 10 minutes which offered a simple side that carried over some of the citrus elements.

I still seem to struggle every week when attempting to put together a meal, but I think this meal will start appearing more regularly because it’s just so damn delicious. And simple.

Cooking Nigella Lawson’s Turkey Meatballs In Tomato Sauce With Arugala & Lemon Couscous

Sometimes you’re just so excited to jump into a new cookbook that you don’t fully read the recipe correctly. That’s what happened with me and Nigella Lawson’s Nigella Kitchen. I came across her recipe for Turkey Meatballs In Tomato Sauce (page 44) and was immediately interested. When I noticed a note towards the end that suggested making her Arugala & Lemon Couscous (page 90) I started making that as well without fully reading that paragraph or really thinking much about what I was doing. What Lawson suggests in that graph is serving the prepared meatballs and sauce over the couscous, not in addition to. The way I did it, we wound up having a lot of pasta in one meal, but that’s okay every now and then.

One of the most interesting aspects of this sauce recipe was a method Lawson uses where you blend celery and onion into a paste and use that in the sauce instead of the usual diced or chopped variety. This seems like a good way to do this that saves on a little prep time and makes for a less chunky sauce (if that’s what you’re going for). I think I’m going to try this the next time I make Smitten Kitchen’s Tomato Sauce With Onion and Butter, which just so happens to be on the menu tonight!

From there you’ve got pretty standard sauce and meatball-making techniques (this is the first time I used my Kitchenaid meat grinder attachment for turkey, but it worked great). Another aspect of this recipe that I like is that you don’t bake the meatballs or cook them on the stove, you just put them all in the sauce while it simmers on the stove top. One thing that did surprise me about the recipe and I think made for a weaker sauce than I usually like is that it calls for a can of water. That seems like a missed opportunity for something that could add more flavor. I think next time I make this recipes I’ll use tomato sauce or V8 juice or something along those lines to bolster the sauce a bit.

The couscous is super easy to make. You get some chicken broth boiling and while cooking the couscous in another pot in some olive oil. Once the broth is boiling you pour it over the couscous, cover and let sit for ten minutes off the heat. Once that’s done you throw it in a bowl with some arugala along with lemon zest, lemon juice and some salt and pepper. This makes for a nice, clean, zingy side dish.

My wife and I both agreed that the meal would have been close to perfect had I forgotten about the pasta (it was too late in the process when I realized how much starch I was preparing) and just served the sauce and meatballs over the couscous. Since everything was on the same plate, they wound up mixing and the citrus-y zest of the couscous played very well off of the tomato sauce and turkey.

Cooking Smitten Kitchen’s Linguine With Tomato-Almond Pesto (Sorta)

As my go-to, single person recipe blog, I spend about as much time flipping through Smitten Kitchen’s archives as I do going through books by people like Betty Crocker, Alton Brown and Michael Ruhlman. We’re just on similar wavelenghts and she has a killer eye for good food. So, I was pretty excited when I came across her recipe for Linguine With Tomato-Almond Pesto. I was far less excited, however, when I went to the grocery store that week and they didn’t have any basil. I wasn’t really prepared to sub in another recipe, so I decided to wing it and the results weren’t half bad.

I followed the recipe for the most part, but added and subtracted a few things based on what I had on hand. Obviously, the basil was out of the pesto, so I tried making it a little more flavorful by adding some olives, but I don’t think that flavor really came through in the finished product. I also decided to heat up some of the frozen Thanksgiving turkey and warmed that up in the same pan I toasted the almonds in.

When the sauce was done whirring in the food processor, I added it to the defrosted chicken and let those guys get to know each other a little bit while the pasta finished doing its thing. Before draining, I pulled out some of the pasta water which I later mixed back in to thicken everything up a bit. I haven’t made the recipe yet as written, though I intend to at some point, but I can say that mine was pretty almond-y. It did feel like it was missing a little something without the basil, but overall it felt like a pretty good save.

A Few Forgotten Recipes: Giada’s Orzo Stuffed Peppers & Jeff Mauro’s Meatloaf Sandwhiches

giada's orzo stuffed peppersOne of the problems I have with this blog is that, even when circumstances come up that delay me from posting, I’m usually still cooking. That means, when I do get the chance to sit down and write about what I’ve cooked, I’m often left with several pictures of food that looks good that I vaguely remember making and don’t really remember eating. But, I hate just deleting all these pictures and hope that some day I might have a spontaneous memory that pops up. By posting about these forgotten meals here, I hope to give my future self a record of what I cooked.

Anyway, above you can see the finished product of my attempt at making Giada De Laurentiis’ Orzo Stuffed Peppers. I want to say that we enjoyed this meal and from looking at the recipe, it doesn’t look too difficult to put together. I like that she mixed it up with this one and included mint and orzo, which I’ve also used when making food in my wok instead of rice. This isn’t the first of De Laurentiis’ stuffed pepper recipes I’ve tried, I’m a big fan of her Couscous-Stuffed Peppers With Basil Sauce, which I’ve made a few times now. jeff mauro's meatball sandwichesHere you can see my attempt at making Jeff Mauro’s All-American Down-Home Patriotic Meatloaf Sandwich which, again, I want to say turned out well. You basically make a meatloaf and a sauce and combine the two on bread with cheese and pickles (I went with dills because bread & butter pickles gross me out). I also tossed on some mayo because it’s not really a sammich without mayo.

I want to reiterate that I haven’t forgotten about these dishes because they were bad, I would have definitely remembered something bad, it’s just that my memory — especially my taste memory — fades more the longer away I get from something unless it was mind-blowingly amazing.

Pizza Party: Giada’s Carmelized Onion, Sausage & Basil Pizza

I had such bad results last time I made pizza that I not only didn’t bother posting about it, but also haven’t attempted to make any since then. That was a few months back. I was feeling adventurous a few weeks back, though, and decided to give Giada De Laurentiis’ recipe for Carmelized Onion, Sausage and Basil Pizza a try. I think one of the problems I had when I made pizza on my own is that I put too much stuff on the dough as it cooked. The somewhat wet ingredients got the dough moist and it didn’t cook all the way through, plus there were some structural integrity issues.

The beauty of this recipe is that it doesn’t have a lot of ingredients AND it’s easy to put together. You do need a little time, though, because you’ve got to carmelize the onions. After that, though, it’s just cooking the Italian sausage (I went with sweet instead of hot) with the onions and that part’s done. Since I bought dough instead of making it, I just had to roll that out into the desired shape, load up the pie with the meat/onion mixture and the blue cheese and pop into the oven on top of the pizza stone. That cooked for about 16 minutes and we had dinner after throwing basil on top.

In addition to the ease of cooking, I also really liked the taste of this pizza. I really like cooked sweet sausage and it mixed super well with the sharpness of the blue cheese. The basil hung around offering little fresh bursts of goodness that really rounded everything out. Next time I make pizza, I’m going to do the dough as well, either following Giada’s recipe or the one that’s in Michael Ruhlman’s book Ratio. Should be fun!

Cooking Smitten Kitchen’s Spaghetti With Broccoli Cream Pesto

I didn’t take a lot of pictures of my process for making Smitten Kitchen’s Spaghetti With Broccoli Cream Pesto because it’s not a particularly photo-worthy post (plus, there’s no way I can take better one that SK’s Deb Perelman). You’re boiling water, steaming broccoli, cooking pasta, cutting up broccoli, shredding cheese, chopping garlic, throwing stuff in the food processor, cooking onions and eating.

I’ve made plenty of pesto recipes before and love the variety you can come across even without the traditional ingredients of pesto and pine nuts. In this case the cooked broccoli and onions take the place of those fancier greens. The real genius of this recipe is how you basically use one pot and the food processor to make the whole thing. I got a pot of water boiling and put the steam basket in the top of it. Once it was ready, I added the cleaned and trimmed broccoli. Once that was done and set aside, I threw the pasta in.

While that cooked I took care of some of the other prep stuff. I cut up the onion and shredded the parm. When it was done and drained, I then cooked first the onion and then the broccoli in the pot. When that was done, everything but the pasta went into the food processor and we had diner after a few whirs.

I can’t really say that I’d kick my other pesto recipes to the curb for this one, but I do appreciate that it’s so simple to put together. If you’ve got an extra box of pasta and some broccoli you’re good to go. In a pinch you could use milk instead of cream, You could also cook up some chicken and add that in for added protein if you wanted. Super easy.

Cooking Pasta With Chicken & Brussels Sprouts

Every month when I got my mysterious issue of Good Housekeeping (I still have no idea where the subscription came from, but I’m not paying for it) I flip to the recipe section, rip out whatever sounds interesting, place those pages in my cooking binder and recycle the mag (I don’t know anyone who’d want it, otherwise, I’d pass it along). A few months back they did a feature of different pasta recipes, so you know I was all over them. The first one I made was called Pasta With Chicken & Brussels Sprouts and it turned out pretty well with a few tweaks.

Speaking of the changes, I went with chicken breasts instead of thighs because we prefer white meat. I also skipped the red pepper flakes, used a quarter cup of chicken stock instead of water and therefor didn’t need to bother with the bread crumbs, but I used them anyway. As always I got my prep work done first and kicked that off by getting my pot of salted water ready and on the stove. Next I chopped up the Brussels sprouts which I had cooked before, but never cut up. While doing this I realized they’re basically just little cabbages which is kind of cool and interesting. I put those in the strainer and sprayed them down to clean.

Aside from that the only prep work involved dicing three cloves of garlic, measuring out the breadcrumbs, grating the Parm and preparing the chicken. Instead of cooking the chicken pieces whole, I cut them into bite-sized chunks, salted and peppered and then got them cooking in some olive oil. Once that was done, I added the butter, the sprouts, salt and chicken stock. I went with chicken stock because I had some extra in the fridge and figured that would add a lot more flavor than boring old water. From there I followed the recipe as written.

I’m sure this recipe would have been just as good as written, but I’m glad I made the changes I did. I’ve only ever cooked Brussels sprouts in the oven as a side dish, but actually taking them, doing something interesting with them and making them the spotlight of the dish was a great idea, one that easily gets some veggies in the dishes. I was surprised that our then-17 month old actually gobbled them up but even more surprised that my wife did who doesn’t like Brussels sprouts.

Cooking Giada De Laurentiis’ Italian Baked Chicken & Pastina

This recipe for Giada De Laurentiis’ Italian Baked Chicken & Pastina will go down in history as the one that broke our oven. That’s entirely true, actually, it’s not true at all. It just happens to be the last thing I baked in the oven before it mysteriously went kaput a few weeks back. But, even if it were the reason, it’d probably be worth it to some extent because this was a great and simple recipe that could be easily thrown together most nights and doesn’t take a lot of effort.

As you can see by clicking through to the recipe, you really only need to cut up some chicken, a few vegetables, saute them in some olive oil, make pasta, mix everything in a bowl and throw the dish in the oven for a half hour. Bingo bango, you’ve got dinner. And it’s a good one too, including cooked pasta, chicken, mozzarella and tomatoes. I will definitely make this again, once I get that damn oven fixed.

Cooking Salsa Alla Bolognese (Bolognese Sauce)

After spending all that time making my own tomato pulp, I put that pulp to good use by making some Salsa A Pomodoro and Salsa Alla Bolognese from Francesco Ghedini’s Northern Italian Cooking (pages 4 and 10 respectively). Since I’ve already written about making the Pomodoro sauce (your basic red sauce), I’m going to skip another post on that one, though this time around I froze it all. I did use the Bolognese sauce that day though and actually just thawed out the rest last night for a quick and easy Sunday night dinner. The Bolognese is pretty similar, but it’s a bit heartier and includes some mixed veal, beef and pork which I got in a meatball/meatloaf mix from my local grocery story.

The recipe features carrots, onions, celery, garlic, re-hydrated mushrooms, prosciutto, red wine, parsley, marjoram, salt, pepper, nutmeg, flour, my homemade beef stock and the aforementioned tomato pulp. It’s actually a surprisingly easy recipe that doesn’t involve a ton of work, though you do need over an hour to let it cook and then simmer.

The end result was a great combination of meat and red wine all formed together with the vegetables and spices making for the kind of sauce that felt primal when I ate it. I got the feeling while eating that sauce that it was the kind of thing people have eaten for hundreds, maybe thousands of years. That’s a pretty cool feeling, especially when you made most of the ingredients yourself.

Pizza Party: Mama Theresa’s Eggplant Appetizer & Greek Pizza

This past Sunday, after attempting to hit up a few other places, we found ourselves at Mama Theresa’s for dinner. Since we didn’t order ahead of time and wanted a full pie, we decided to eat there and actually sat in the really nice back room that we’d never been in. As always, the food there was excellent. We started off with a special eggplant appetizer whose name I can’t quite remember, but think it might have been something like Eggplant Pie or Eggplant Stack or something along those lines. Basically, among slices of cooked eggplant there was also healthy doses of mozzarella, pesto, their awesome red sauce and prosciutto. It was all around delightful, the kind of thing I’d like to figure out how to make myself.

Of course, that was the opening act to the main event: pizza! When my wife first suggested getting the Greek Pizza, I vetoed that because I was thinking it would focus on the somewhat overpowering combination of feta and olives that mark such things when cooked by people without much knowledge of Greek cooking. I decided to give it a try and it was delish! The key here was not using too many olives or too much feta, but there was also great grilled chicken, roasted red peppers, onions and yellow peppers that weren’t too hot for my wussy tongue.

Making Polpa Al Pomodoro (Tomato Pulp)

A couple weeks back, while on the way home from a weekend trip to New Paltz, we stopped by a great farm stand and I walked away with a box full of tomatoes for $10 with a mind set towards making some homemade red sauce based on the recipes in Francesco Ghedini’s Northern Italian Cooking. The first step for all that is making what’s called Polpa Al Pomodoro (page 4), so I got to work on that. Even though I made a much smaller version of this and wrote about it here on the site, I figured it was worth a post writing about doing so on a much larger scale.

I tried to set myself up well which meant putting the box of tomatoes next to the stove where a pot of water was boiling. Across from that I had a cutting board where I would get the skin off, halve them and then squeeze the insides out into the sink. I then put the squeezed tomato halves into two large glass containers. Once I got all that done, I moved the halved tomatoes back over to the cutting board and chopped them up before putting some of the chopped tomatoes into a strainer before storing them in those same glass containers.

With so many tomatoes this took a couple hours. At the suggestion of my wife, I scored the bottom of the tomatoes (cutting an X in the skin) which made getting the skin off so much easier. I’d put as many tomatoes in the boiling water as I could fit — only for about 10-15 seconds — but I still got backed up and had to go from that to peeling and halving and then back again. I’m sure there’s a better way to do all this, but I wasn’t sure if it’d still be easy to get the skin off if the tomatoes cooled down too much.

Anyway, this system worked for me in our limited space and I got a pretty good yield. I was able to make two different sauces (posts coming soon) and even freeze some of the basic pulp for later, so I’d say that was a success!

Cooking Giada De Laurentiis’ Roman-Style Chicken

I’m a big fan of the fall for many reasons, but food-wise, I like being able to make heartier food that won’t make me sweat my face off while cooking in our tiny kitchen. Even though I came across Giada De Laurentiis’ Roman-style Chicken on FoodNetwork.com and made it during the summer, I think it’d be a good one to bring into the colder months.

I didn’t realize this while making it, but after tasting the dish, I realized it’s kind of a chicken-based puttanesca which regular readers will remember I’m a big fan of. In addition to being a very tasty dish, it’s pretty easy to put together. I followed the recipe as written, though I accidentally bought pancetta instead of prosciutto and didn’t have fresh thyme on hand, so I went with dried. Oh, I also just used boneless chicken breasts because that’s what I had in the freezer.

As usual, I got all my prep done first, cutting up the red and yellow peppers and the garlic, then opening the can of tomatoes, and combining the herbs with the wine because those all get added in at the same time. I like doing things like that because it might intensify the flavor, but it definitely gives me more counter space.

I cooked the chicken in olive oil, salt and pepper, then removed that and cooked the peppers and pancetta in the same pan. You add in the tomatoes, wine and herbs after first getting the garlic in there and then return the chicken, letting the whole thing simmer for 20 minutes. When that’s all set you stir in the parsley and capers and serve.

I served the dish this time just by itself assuming the tangy tomatoes and peppers would be great as a veggie, but I think next time I’d like to serve it on top of some pasta with the vegetables acting as a nice little sauce.

Cooking Emeril Lagasse’s Deep Fried Eggplant

This might sound a bit weird, but I found it important to cook some really good meals around the time I heard of my grandma’s passing last week, both in her honor and to fortify my wife, daughter and I. That week I had decided to cook one of my favorite recipes, Smitten Kitchen’s Tomato Sauce With Butter & Onions and had also picked up an eggplant at a farm stand. I knew I had posted about the sauce before, but I figured it would be worth writing about my attempt at making Emeril Lagasse’s Fried Eggplant to go along with it, instead of the breaded variety I made last time I wrote about this recipe.

Right off the bat, I realized this would be a tricky one because — after staring — I discovered I didn’t have a thermometer. That meant, I had no idea when I got the oil to the recommended 375 degrees. At that point I decided to move forward and wing it. Like any recipe that involves deep frying, you’re working with several parts. In this case, it’s the sliced eggplant (which I didn’t quarter), the egg wash, the corn starch and the bread crumbs mixed with spices (I just put it together for this one recipe instead of making a full batch of Emeril’s Essence mixture).

Because I didn’t know how hot my oil was, I really just had to guess. The earlier pieces I dropped in didn’t seem to fry enough, but I think I got to a good place towards the end of the process. I’ve got to pick up another thermometer.

The chicken, pasta and sauce all went off without a hitch. The only regret I had with it this time around was not reserving some of the sauce specifically for the eggplant. My mom used to cook eggplant along with a very time consuming pasta recipe that’s also one of the best I’ve ever head. I kept tasting memories of that eggplant while eating this one, but it never quite got there. Hopefully I’ll be able to get a new thermometer and bang this one out a little more efficiently next time.

Cooking Rachel Ray’s Spinach Artichoke Whole-Wheat Penne

Pesto, pesto, pesto, I love me some pesto. You can tell because it has its own category on the righthand side there. I’ve actually made Rachel Rays Spinach Artichoke Whole-Wheat Penne before, but that was before the blog, so I figured it made for not only a good recipe to revisit, but also post-worthy. I’m still not sure how I feel about Rachel Ray, but she does have some good recipes that can be made with fresh (or mostly fresh) ingredients.

Anyway, this was another recipe I went with because it’s not super hot to make. You basically get the pot of water boiling for the pasta first, then get the pesto together in the food processor and cook the artichokes, mixing the various elements together at different times.

After getting the water going, I also put some of my homemade frozen stock in a pot to defrost and toasted some almonds. By the way, I love replacing the very expensive pine nuts, which I always skip, with toasted almonds, this is a good substitution. Anyway, after those things were moving along, I put the stock, toasted almonds, spinach, basil, shallot, garlic, salt, pepper and olive oil in the bowl of the FP and gave it a few whirls.

At the same time, I started cooking the artichoke hearts in some olive oil in the Dutch oven. Once the sauce was done, that went into the pan with the hearts. Once the pasta was done cooking, it also went into the DO along with a bunch of shredded parm. All that got cooked together for a few minutes and you’ve got dinner.

I thought this was a pretty good alternative pesto. I wouldn’t completely replace traditional pesto with this version, but it’s nice to have an easier — and let’s face it, cheaper — version that can be easily put together. Adding in artichokes hearts makes everything better in my book, so that’s an added bonus as well. You could also grill up some chicken and include that to add some protein, something I might do next time.

Cooking Bow Ties With Sausage, Tomatoes & Cream

As you can probably tell by now, I’m a big fan of Italian food. Garlic, tomatoes, basil and pasta are pretty much perfect foods as far as I’m concerned and go with almost everything. I also really like sausage, so when I came across this recipe for Bow Ties With Sausage, Tomatoes and Cream on AllRecipes, I was in from the jump. I made two small changes when making this, I ditched the red pepper flakes and substituted the heavy cream for whole milk we had in the fridge. Aside from that, I went by the book.

The problem with my love of pasta? It makes for a very hot kitchen in the summer. Still, I persevere. You get the water boiling and then start working on the sauce which kicks off with browning the sausage. I went with the Dutch oven for this because it’s better for mixing in the pasta later on, things tend to get messy for me when I do this with a regular high sided pan. Anyway, you then mix in the garlic and onion, cook some more and then stir in the tomatoes, cream (or in my case milk). Because I used milk, I cooked it a little longer to thicken up. Once that’s done and the pasta is drained, mic in the Dutch oven and cook like you’re supposed to do with pasta dishes.

By the way, to go along with the pasta, I also made some asparagus. I cleaned them, put them on a baking sheet, sprinkled with olive oil and some ground lemon pepper. I just get the oven going at 375 and cook them for about 10 minutes, or until you can stick easily with a fork.

You can probably guess that I liked this recipe, which I did. The fam, including the baby, also seemed to like it. When coming up with a menu every week, sometimes I get a little tired of the usual ground beef/chicken breast/pork chop triumvirate, so it’s nice to mix a few things like sausage in there. Will definitely return to this recipe again in the future.