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.


Thursday, June 26, 2014

Grilled Pizza

I did two types of pizza on the grill.  As with the previous post, I tried to come up with some way to use the zucchini that's taking over my kitchen so as I rolled out my dough, I had the grill heating.  I then sliced one small zucchini per pizza, placed them on non-stick tin foil (note that you can cover a metal pan with the tin foil which will make it easier to pick up once done) along with a couple slices of bacon and put it on the grill.

One pizza was a traditional pizza with red sauce I'd made earlier in the day, letting it plop in the pot and get nice and thick.  I spread the sauce on and chopped the rest of the veggies (onion, red bell pepper, mushrooms, black olives, hot pepper), fresh herbs (basil and oregano) and cheese (fresh mozzarella and Parmigiano Reggiano).

Turn the bacon and flip each slice of the zucchini to get the other side browned.  Once they're both finished, carefully remove from the grill (be careful of the bacon grease - I suggest taking out something to pour the grease in after removing the bacon and the zucchini so you don't have to worry with spilling it).

I took the extra bacon grease and added it to a pan.  Once heated, I added some onions and then them simmer for awhile to get caramelized.  I added a couple slices of red bell pepper and a large garlic clove along with a sprinkle of salt and pepper.

I added the grilled zucchini to the tomato sauce and then topped with other veggies, herbs and cheese.  I put that pizza on the grill and turned it to low heat.

I then started on the next pizza.  My grill is only big enough for one pizza at a time.  I have one of those pizza pans with the holes in the bottom that I use to grill my pizzas.  I rolled out my dough.  Once the onions and peppers were nice and brown, I added a Tablespoon of butter and splash of olive oil.  Once incorporated, I spread this mixture onto the dough, added the zucchini, crumbled the bacon over it, added some sliced mushrooms.  I topped with tons of basil and oregano and slices of tomato and then the cheese.

The first pizza was ready so I removed it from the grill and then put the next one on.  I sliced the pizza and served it.  While we started on the first one, the second one was grilling.  Once it was finished, I topped it with arugula and a drizzle of balsamic glaze.

Zucchini side

With zucchini growing like wild these days, what to do with it all?  The initial answer is zucchini bread but then what to do with other 10 that you have?  My second go to option is sautéed with bacon and onions.  I cook up a strip of bacon per person that will be eating it.  I then chop one med or two small zucchinis per person along with a few slices of onion.  Once the bacon is crisp, remove it from the pan.  If there's more grease than just a coating on the pan, remove the excess and then add the onions to the pan.  Once they begin to get translucent, add the zucchini.  Flip around until nicely browned and serve.  Bacon makes everything good.  That was my primary recipe for zucchini but I've recently started adding red bell peppers and mushrooms so feel free to add any other veggies that you want.  It's my go to side when I have an over abundance of zucchini.  It goes great with fish, rice, chicken, anything really.

Grilled Pistachio Encrusted Salmon

I've been grilling a lot lately so when we went to the shore and got a fresh Salmon, I didn't think about anything except getting some filets on the grill.  The first round was simply salt and pepper on the filets and cooked on a cedar plank.  The smokiness of the board is really nice.

Upon returning from a baseball game, I went to put away the leftover peanuts in the pantry when I ran across some pistachios.  The lightbulb went off.  I thawed a few more filets, cracked the pistachios and did a quick chop of them with my knife.  I peppered the filets but didn't salt the meat side because I was thinking of the salt already on the pistachios.  If you're using unsalted ones, go ahead and salt the meat.  I did salt (and pepper) the skin side.  My partner had the idea of putting "something sweet" on the filets in order to get the pistachios to stick.  I grabbed my bottle of balsamic glaze, put a few stripes on and then smeared it around.  I then dabbed the top side of the fish into the chopped pistachios.  I put the filets on non-stick tin foil and then on the grill.  I had the heat med-low. I usually like to cook most things hot and quick but I didn't want to burn the pistachios because they'd get bitter.  Just as they started to brown, I flipped the fish over to the skin side and let them cook the rest of the way.  That got the skin good and crispy as well.  I served the fish as is but wished I'd done another slight drizzle of the balsamic glaze.  Next time.  The sweet glaze along with the crispy pistachios and the soft salmon was divine.

Monday, June 2, 2014

Seafood Risotto

Having some extra mushrooms in the fridge prompted me to want to make some risotto.  I also had a couple containers of seafood stock in the freezer so I decided to do some cleaning.

Let me start by saying that there's nothing better than homemade stock.  During crab (dungeness but you can use any crab) season, I took the shells of a couple that we'd had for dinner one night and boiled them one afternoon along with some veggies I had (a couple small bits of onion, carrot and celery).  So yummy.    Make your own the next time you have some lobster, shrimp or crab shells that you're about to toss in the trash.  I used some of the stock to make a chowder and have an idea for more of it later in addition to the risotto.

Now let me continue by saying, the one thing you need to remember about risotto is that it requires a lot of attention.  I don't know how those contestants do it on the cooking shows.  It requires almost constant stirring in order to get the starches out of the rice and make it a thick, rich and creamy dish.

I started the dish by adding the leftover bacon grease from breakfast to a pot along with a few pats of butter.  I then diced a shallot and one garlic clove and added it.  Once that gets all sizzly, add the risotto and stir it around so that it gets coated well.  Leave it in there for a few minutes and then add some seafood stock and give it a few more good stirs.

In the meantime, I diced up some sundried tomatoes and added them to the mixture.  Stir.  I went out and snipped a good handful of fresh basil.  I brought it in, cleaned and diced it.  Stir, stir, stir.  Continue to stir until it's time to add more.  You'll know because the rice is white and there's very little liquid.  Add stock, stir.

While that's cooking, I put some shrimp on a couple skewers and took the feet off some scallops and skewered those too.  I take the feet and dice them up super tiny and add them to the risotto.  Make sure you get them tiny because they're tough but I hate throwing them away.  If they're small enough, they'll add flavor and no one will know they were ever even in there.  Season the shrimp and scallops with salt and pepper and a dash of italian dried herbs.

Stir the risotto.  And then stir more until it needs more stock.  Add more.  I add about a cup at a time. I only used one cup of risotto.  Clean the mushrooms.  I used button, cremini (small portabella) and portabellas.  Dice them but keep them a nice bite-sized (not too small).  I had a spare piece of corn on the cob in the fridge so I shucked it and removed the corn from the cob.

When the risotto is almost done, add the basil, corn and mushrooms.  Get some parmigiano reggiano cheese and have the shredder at the ready.  Toss the seafood on the grill.  I actually put the scallops onto a non-stick tin foil because I didn't trust the skewers.  I added a couple pats of butter and then sat them in it.  I didn't get a good sear on them but they tasted good none-the-less.  I also put a few slices of buttered sour dough on the grill and toasted it.  I then rubbed it with a tad of garlic to serve alongside the dish.  Stir in the cheese and serve.

Thursday, May 29, 2014

Cherry Lime Drink


In the search for something different to eat, I often find myself looking for something different to drink.  I don't drink alcohol so sometimes the selection of non-alcoholic drinks is a bit underwhelming.  I've been experimenting with some at home and thought I could start posting them here.

I went to a mushroom festival this past weekend and on the way out, there was a pickup truck completely filled with cherries.  Of course I got a giant bag of them and have been eating them every day for breakfast.  I took a bunch this afternoon and pitted them as they're starting to get too soft.  I looked over and saw a lime on the counter and had a thought.  One of my favorite drinks as a kid was a cherry smash from the local pharmacy so I grabbed a glass and that lime.  I squeezed half of the lime in the glass and then dropped in about 6 cherries.  I took my pestle and carefully crushed the cherries in the glass until they were pulpy.  I then topped off the glass with cold water.  I took a taste and it was super sour so I dumped in one packet of sweetener (I use Splenda).  I gave it a stir and yum!  I sat in the fridge until dinner in the hopes that some more of the cherry flavor comes through but it was pretty tasty just as it was.  Can't wait!