Monday, November 3, 2014

Pumpkin Stuffed Shells with Sage Butter and Mushrooms

I slaughtered the first of two of our Halloween pumpkins this weekend and wanted to try something other than pumpkin bready things (pumpkin bread, pumpkin pancakes, pumpkin waffles, etc.)  So, I cooked it, scooped it, strained it and pureed it.  I'll break that down a bit.  I let the oven heat up to 350 degrees while I cut the pumpkin into quarters or 4 large pieces by cutting the pumpkin in half tall ways and then cutting the halves in half again lengthwise.  I covered three deep pans in tin foil and then placed cooling racks over them.  After scooping out the guts from pumpkins, I placed them on the racks.  I had two square pans and one long pan (that's why there's three but use whatever pans you have that will hold the sized pumpkin you have).  The reason why I use deep dish pans is because pumpkins have a lot of water in them.  Once they start cooking, they'll drip.  Put them in the oven and let them cook until they deflate.  Once they've deflated, let them cool enough to be able to scoop out the pumpkin with a spoon.  It will come off of the skin easily.  Press each quarter through a sieve or a very fine, mesh strainer using the back of a spoon.  More water will drain out of the pumpkin.  Once it's thick and dense, place the pumpkin meat into a food processor and process until it is smooth and no longer stringy.

While the pumpkin is cooking, put one and a half sticks of butter into a pan along with a handful of fresh sage a split garlic clove, a dash of fresh lemon or lime juice and about a 1/4 cup of olive oil.  Season with salt and pepper.  When the pumpkin is ready to be removed from the oven, turn it off and place the butter mixer in the oven to melt.  Once melted, remove.

Boil some water and add a fair amount of salt to it for cooking the pasta shells.  You can use any type of pasta that you stuff (tubes, layered lasagna, etc.)  Mix equal amounts of pumpkin meat with ricotta cheese, a few handfuls of shredded mozzarella cheese, a handful of roasted pumpkin seeds (mine were bought roasted and salted - I didn't toast them and wished I had for more crunch (next time) but they were still good) and few dashes of nutmeg.  I used one container of ricotta and was able to fill 18 shells.  Four to five shells usually feeds one person along with some bread.  

Clean and slice mushrooms.  You could use any vegetable you like.  I just really love mushrooms and found that the earthiness of the mushrooms went really well with the pumpkin and butter and cheese.  I used about a half of a container of whole, white mushrooms but wish I'd added more.  I'll use a whole container next time.

Once the shells become soft, remove them from the water and place them on a plate or other surface.  They should not be completely cooked because they'll cook more while in the oven baking.  They cool pretty quickly so you'll be able to fill them with the mixture right after removing them from the water.

Spray a baking dish with non-stick spray and then line the bottom with the sliced mushrooms.  Rest the filled shells on top of the mushrooms.  Once all of the shells are in the baking dish, top with more mozzarella cheese and then pour strained butter mixture on top of shells.  I topped with what little mozzarella I had left in the bag because you can't have too much cheese and then I even topped that with some grated parmigiano region.

Bake, covered for 35-40 minutes or until all of the cheese is melted and the butter sauce is bubbling in the baking dish.  Uncover and let the top brown which is 10-15 minutes.  Place the bread in the oven at this time.  Serve, topped with chives and alongside bread.

Friday, October 17, 2014

Banana Nut Pancakes with Orange Ginger Syrup

This sounds a lot more complicated than it actually is but tastes so high end that you'll think you went out to a fancy brunch.  To start, gently slice the peel off of an orange.  Try not to get too much of the white part (because it's bitter).  Put the peel into a microwaveable (like glass) container.  Add a couple scrapes of fresh ginger - about the amount of a pinch.  Cover the ginger and orange peel with real maple syrup and set aside.

Get a griddle pan heating.  Squeeze the orange into a bowl and add pancake mix.  Make the pancake mix as you normally do (or according to the box directions).  Add a quarter sized dot of oil to the griddle.  Chop a palm sized amount of nuts (walnuts or pecans will work best).

Peel a banana and slice into equal sized slices.  Pour the pancake batter onto the hot griddle in the hot oil.  Top the batter with bananas and then pour more batter on top of the bananas.  For best results, pour a little batter and spread it so that it's not too thick.  If it's too thick, you run the risk of the center not cooking all the way.  Top with nuts.  Lift an edge of the pancake.  When it's brown, flip it.

Microwave the syrup for 1 minute.  Stir and if needed, microwave for another minute.  Be careful because will easily bubble over.  Remove the orange peels and serve alongside the pancakes.


Pho is a very popular Vietnamese dish.  I was a little bit afraid of it the first time I had it because it's usually served with raw beef that's so thinly sliced that when it's put into the broth, it's cooked immediately.  I've also tried seafood pho which has cooked seafood in it.  After that first time, I've been addicted to it.  Now that fall is upon us, I had some leftover chicken stock from making Chicken and Dumplings (another "Something Different" dish that could be considered.  I'll post that recipe next time) so I decided to give Pho a shot.  I put a palm sized toss of coriander into a warm pan along with 4 whole cloves and two star anise.  After just a couple minutes, I added the spices to the chicken stock.  I also added a finger long piece of ginger that I roughly chopped up.  I made the chicken stock by boiling a chicken carcass along with onions, carrots and celery.  I'd roasted the chicken the night before so I had the meat set aside while I boiled the bones to give the best flavor.  I strained the stock to remove the bones, veggies and spices and returned the broth back to the stove.  I added in shredded chicken and let it sit on the hot burner but had it turned off.  I sliced a single mushroom and put one each into the two bowls.  I diced a spring onion and split it between the bowls.  I brought a pot of water to a boil and added half of a package of thin, rice noodles.  While the water was coming to a boil, I chopped some cilantro and a green chili.  I placed them in tiny serving bowls.  I removed the pot from the burner and stirred the noodles.  The water turned milky colored and I knew that since they were so thin, it wouldn't take long to cook them.  I strained them and then divided them among the two bowls.  I topped the noodles, mushrooms and onions with the chicken and pho stock.  I served with the chopped cilantro and peppers on the side.  It was awesome.  Now I've had beef, seafood and chicken pho.  If I had to change one thing, I'd serve with Thai basil rather than the cilantro.  I like the anise (licoricey) taste of the basil over the cilantro.  The cilantro was good but I think the basil would've been better.

It's really a simple dish to make but so elegantly different.  It's so filling and I think the spices make me feel great - almost energized.  Give it a try.  It's really bold and will give your house such a nice, fragrant smell.

French Onion Soup

I've always thought that French Onion Soup was something that was reserved for eating out.  I've just never thought about making it at home because it seemed like an upscale, elegant type of food that was reserved for restaurants.  Prior to making it, I actually stumbled on the idea of it while making some beef stock at home.  I was rummaging through the freezer when I pulled out a beef bone that I'd brought home from leftover steak.  I'm sure I used the remaining meat from the steak to go with eggs on the weekend and then tossed the bone in the freezer to deal with later.

I pulled the bone out of the baggie and tossed it in a pot of water.  I added a 5 finger pinch of salt and 4 or 5 grinds of the pepper mill.  I turned the burner on medium until the water was practically boiling and then I tuned it down a bit.  I let the bone cook all day.  The stock reduced by half and smelled incredible.  I gave it a taste and got the subtle notes of the steak, a bit of rosemary, maybe where the steak had been garnished and the richness of the roasted meat that had once been there.  It made me think of the silky smooth onion soup.  I could almost see the lightbulb above my head.  I went to the refrigerator and found a small block of swiss cheese, a few different types of onions and only two slices of sourdough bread.  I could make it work.

I grabbed the onions and lined them up on the counter.  I had a red, a yellow and some scallions.  I grabbed a garlic clove as well.  I chopped half of the red, half of the yellow and two scallions.  I put some olive oil in a pan and turned it on low.  I added the onions to the pan along with a pinch of salt and a couple grinds of black pepper.

I added a splash of Worcester Sauce to the beef broth and turned on the oven.  I didn't have any thyme so I snipped some fresh rosemary, oregano and sage.  I diced it and added it to the stock as well.  I then diced the bread into bite-sized cubes, put them on a pan and put them in the oven.  I only put the oven on 200 degrees because I wanted the bread to turn to croutons rather than toasting them and having the center still soft.  Cooking the bread slow will dry it out.

The secret to caramelizing onions is to cook them very slowly.  It hit me that this whole dish was to slow cook everything.  The bone had to cook all day to make a rich broth.  The croutons had to cook slowly to dry the bread out and make it nice and crunchy and the onions had to slow cook to let out all of the sweetness without crisping them.  I let the onions and bread take their time and when they were done, I removed the bread from the oven and the onions to a back burner.  When the bread cubes were cool enough to handle, I rubbed them with the garlic clove and drizzled just a tad of olive oil and a tiny dash of salt over them.  I love croutons so I could've eaten all of them just as they were.

I strained the beef broth to remove the bone and any bits of fat or bone fragments that fell apart from the stock.  I added the onions to the broth and let them sit until it was time for dinner.  I spooned the onion broth mixture into two bowls and dropped in the bread cubes.  The swiss cheese that I had was a thin block so I wasn't sure once I sliced it, if it would stay afloat to melt under the broiler.  I found a large block of cheddar and remembered that one of my most favorite French Onion Soups was made with both cheddar and swiss.  I grabbed it and sliced off two large squares and several slices of the swiss.  I turned on the broiler and gently laid the cheese on top of the soup.  I placed it under the broiler and snipped some fresh chives to place on top as a garnish.  I removed the soup from the oven once it was bubbly and topped with the chopped chives.

French Onion Soup is no longer an 'only at the restaurant' item.  It was rich and silky smooth with the stringy cheese and soft bread and buttery onions.  I was quite proud.

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Pesto Stuffed Chicken Breast

OK, so it's really just a coincidence that the last recipe I had was chicken and pesto and here I go with another chicken pesto recipe.  It has been a few days so it's not like I eat this every day.  Even still, I wouldn't normally post these back to back like this but I had it last night and it was so yummy that I have to get it out there.  I thawed a chicken breast and placed it in a plastic sealy bag.  I pounded the hell out of it until it doubled in size and was thin enough to roll but not too thin that it was falling apart.  I then went outside and grabbed a small handful of basil and then a big handful of arugula.  Can you tell I'm swimming in basil and arugula?  Anyway, I didn't feel like getting out the food processor so after rinsing both the basil and the arugula, I grabbed a garlic clove from the fridge and placed it on the cutting board with my basil.  I wrapped the arugula in a paper towel so that it wouldn't go limp after washing it.  I diced the basil and then the garlic.  I added some salt and pepper and then topped the mixture with some pine nuts.  I chopped it all together until it was as small as I could get it.  I then heated some olive oil in a pan.  It hit me that I saw on TV the other day that roasting the pine nuts makes a much better pesto.  Since I'd forgotten this until I'd already combined it all, I figured what could be the harm in toasting it all?  I added a tiny squeeze (maybe a half inch) of anchovy paste to the heating oil and swirled it around until it was broken up.  If you don't have anchovy paste, get some.  But in the meantime, you can use a dash of Worcestershire sauce.  Add the pesto mixture to the hot oil and remove it from the heat.  Stir it around until it's all coated and let it sit to cool.

I got some salted water boiling and another pan with some olive oil heating.  I grabbed some cheese from the fridge.  I found some goat cheddar the other day.  It's pretty strange.  It tastes like goat cheese but is hard and sliceable like cheddar.  I immediately wanted to stuff some chicken with it.  It's awesome for all those things you've always wanted to use goat cheese for but found it too delicate to do so.  Once the pesto cooled, I spread it onto one side of the chicken breast and then topped with a few squares of the goat cheddar.  I then rolled the chicken and place toothpicks in to secure it.  By now, the olive oil is hot so I placed the chicken in the pan, seam side down to seal it closed.  While the chicken is searing, I added some pasta to the boiling water.  I used squid ink capellini but you can use whatever you have.  Turn the chicken as appropriate to get a nice golden brown on each side.  It'll take a little while to cook the inside since it's been rolled.  Allow it time to cook through and don't worry if a little cheese escapes (I have plans for that).

While the pots are cooking, grab another clove of garlic and a pat of butter.  Dice the garlic up as best as you can and then top it with some salt.  Smash and pull your knife along the garlic and salt folding the back portion to the front an then smash/slide again.  This will create a paste of sorts.

When the chicken is done and the pasta is al dente, remove the chicken from the pan and turn off the heat.  Add the pat of butter to the pan along with the smashed, creamy garlic paste.  Stir around getting all of the bits of chicken and cheese off of the bottom of the pan.  Add water from the pasta pot a spoon at a time until a thick, creamy sauce appears.  Add the pasta and swirl around getting each strand coated in the sauce.

Place the pasta on the plate, top with the chicken breast (the two of us split one breast - it was quite stunning seeing the inside of the chicken with the cheese and pesto so even if you eat a whole one, cut it so you can see the beautiful inside).  Put arugula on top of the chicken and then sprinkle with parmesan and serve with bread.

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Bellagio - Basil Pesto Pasta with Fried Chicken and Arugula

I was in Vegas last week for a quick stopover and went to my favorite casino, the Bellagio.  When I got home, it hit me that I'd been wanting to try and mimic Cheesecake Factory's "Bellagio" pasta dish.  I did a quick inventory and realized I had everything I needed to make it so I started by thawing a chicken breast.

I gathered a good fistful of basil, a large clove of garlic and a palm full of pine nuts.  I added it all to the food processor along with a dash of salt and pepper.  I added enough olive oil to get it to all come together.  I put it in a container to sit and get comfortable together.

I got some water boiling and when the chicken breast was soft enough, I placed it on a paper plate, covered it with plastic wrap and pounded it out some.  It's amazing that a single boneless, skinless chicken breast can spread out enough to practically double in size.  I mixed some regular bread crumbs with some panko bread crumbs, salt, pepper and some dried italian herbs (oregano, parsley, basil).  I rubbed the chicken breast with some olive oil and then coated it with the bread crumb mixure.

I heated some bacon grease (about 2 tablespoons) in a pan and dropped a bread crumb in to watch for the sizzle.  That let me know when it was ready to drop the chicken in.  I eased the chicken breast into the grease.

I went out and grabbed a big handful of arugula along with a few tomatoes (grape and cherry).  I washed the veggies and diced the tomatoes.

When I could see that the chicken was cooked on one side and nice and golden brown, I flipped it.  I then added a big handful of angel hair pasta to the boiling (salted) water.  I grabbed another pan and put it on a low heat and added the pesto.

I grabbed some Parmigiano Reggiano cheese and the cheese grater for the ready.

When the chicken was golden brown on the second side, I removed it from the grease and placed it on a paper towel to grab some of the excess grease.

I then pulled the pasta out of the pot and put it in the pan with the basil pesto.  Don't worry about draining the pasta.  You'll want some of the pasta water to loosen up the pesto and get it to adhere to the pasta.  With the tongs, I kept turning the pasta in the pesto until it was coated.

Place the pasta onto plates, cut the chicken breast in half and place on top of the pasta.  Put the arugula on top and then the tomato dice.  Cover with cheese.

Of course I served with olive oil drizzled, toasted artisan bread.  This was enough for two people.  We were stuffed when finished but cleaned our plates.  I think I nailed the dish!  Hope you like it.

Monday, June 30, 2014

Crostini dinner

I love crostini and I love cheese so I went a bit berserk at the grocery the other day and bought a boatload of fresh artisan breads and cheeses.  I'd planned on doing a crostini each night with dinner but when my plans fell through and found myself facing a last minute throw together dinner, I made the crostini the main course.

I had some bits of salmon in the freezer from filleting a whole salmon.  I'd wanted to use them for a dip or a spread but thought it would go great with the crostini.  I soaked a cedar plank while I worked on the marinade for the salmon.  I put the juice of a whole lemon in a pot along with a fist full of brown sugar and some fresh herbs (whatever needed pruning - mint, basil, oregano, rosemary and a few slices of a chili pepper).  I mixed that until the sugar was dissolved and then put it with the salmon in a sealed bag until the salmon was thawed.  I put the pieces of salmon on the board and then put it on the grill on the lowest heat possible.

I started the bread by putting a drizzle of olive oil on one side of 8 slices of rustic bread.  I then put it on the grill for a bit of smokiness.  I didn't want it too crispy so I didn't leave it on too long.  While the salmon was still cooking, I removed the bread.  I rubbed two pieces with garlic and topped with fresh mozzarella.  I then diced a few grape tomatoes, added some basil, a touch of salt and some olive oil.  I let that sit while I worked on the other crostini.

The next one was a soft cheese that was spreadable.  It was almost like butter, very smooth but quite strong.  I spread it onto two slices of bread and topped it with sliced apple.

Next, I spread apricot jam onto two slices and topped with very strong blue cheese.

Lastly, I put spread (if you could call it that) goat cheese onto two slices, topped with arugula, pecans and drizzled with honey.

I went back to the tomato, basil mixture and topped the mozzarella with it and then drizzled with balsamic glaze.

I removed the smoked salmon from the grill and placed it in a ramekin for a nice addition to the crostini.

Dinner for two with each person getting one crostini each.  It was more than enough for dinner.