Thursday, March 29, 2007

Pasta with Sun-Dried Tomatoes, Ricotta and Peas

This recipe is an easy, throw-together-at-the-last-minute gem. I have never been very fond of mint used for culinary purposes, but somehow it works quite well here. Freshly chopped sage is a good substitution if you don't favor mint in your food.

1 pound medium pasta shells
table salt
1 cup frozen peas (4 ounces)
2 medium cloves garlic , minced or pressed through garlic press (2 teaspoons)
2 tablespoons olive oil
1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes
12 ounces whole-milk ricotta (1 1/2 cups)
1 cup oil-packed sun-dried tomatoes (one 8 1/2-ounce jar) drained, rinsed, patted dry, and chopped coarse
1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese , plus additional for serving
2 teaspoons finely chopped fresh mint leaves
freshly ground black pepper

1. Bring 4 quarts water to rolling boil, covered, in stockpot. Stir in pasta and 1 tablespoon salt; cook until al dente, adding peas in last 15 seconds of cooking. Drain, reserving 3/4 cup cooking water, and return pasta and peas to stockpot.

2. Meanwhile, heat garlic, oil, and red pepper flakes in small skillet over medium heat; cook until sizzling but not browned, about 1 minute. Set skillet aside to cool slightly. Stir together ricotta, sun-dried tomatoes, Parmesan, mint, 1/2 teaspoon salt, 1/4 teaspoon pepper, and garlic/oil mixture in bowl. Stir pasta cooking water into ricotta mixture; add ricotta mixture to pasta in pot and stir well to combine. Serve immediately, passing additional Parmesan separately. Serves 4-6.

Recipe courtesy Cook's Illustrated

Friday, March 23, 2007

Peanut Butter

Peanut butter is a staple of our children's diet. They eat so much of it, I became concerned about the amounts of trans fats they were consuming. We switched to the messy, but tasty, natural variety several years ago. Then we switched again recently to this more convenient Skippy no-need-to stir. It has no hydrogenated oils or trans fats of any kind. Some contend with the "natural" label because it substitutes palm oil for peanut oil, but there is nothing wrong with palm oil. Also, Skippy tastes great and you can't beat the convenience.

Saturday, March 17, 2007

Pan-Seared Filets with Red-Wine Shallot Sauce

This sauce wonderfully enhances any good cut of beef, and is very simple to prepare. It is one of the only meals enjoyed by my entire household. If you prefer to grill your beef, you may pan-sear one steak just until brown bits and juices accumulate in the pan, then transfer the meat to the barbecue. Enjoy!
4 filet mignon steaks (rib-eye is a good second choice)
2 medium shallots , minced
2 teaspoons brown sugar
1/2 cup dry red wine - Pinot Noir, Cabernet or Zinfandel
1/2 cup low-sodium chicken broth
1 bay leaf
1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
3 tablespoons unsalted butter , cut into 6 pieces
2 teaspoons fresh thyme leaves
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
Over medium-high heat, sear the steaks in a 12-inch heavy bottomed saute pan or skillet, about 4-8 minutes (4=rare; 8=medium) per side. Remove filets to a heat-proof platter and keep warm in the oven, reserving accumulated juices in the pan.
Off heat, in the same pan used to cook steaks add shallots and sugar; using pan’s residual heat, cook, stirring frequently, until shallots are slightly softened and browned and sugar is melted, about 45 seconds.
Return pan to high heat. Add wine, broth, and bay leaf; bring to boil, scraping up browned bits on pan bottom with wooden spoon. Boil until liquid is reduced to 1/3 cup, about 4 minutes.
Stir in vinegar and mustard; cook at medium heat to blend flavors, about 1 minute longer.
Off heat, whisk in butter until melted and sauce is thickened and glossy. Add thyme and season to taste with salt and pepper. Remove bay leaf, spoon sauce over steaks and serve immediately.
Recipe courtesy Cook's Illustrated

Thursday, March 15, 2007

Irish Whiskey Soda Bread

From the King Arthur Flour 200th Anniversary Cookbook.

4 Cups flour
3 Tablespoons sugar
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
4 Tablespoons butter
11/2 cups raisins (plumped in milk at least 3 hours)
2-3 Tablespoons Irish Whiskey
2 eggs
1 Cup buttermilk

Preheat to 400 degrees.

Combine the flour, sugar, salt, baking powder, and baking soda in a medium bowl. Cut or rub the butter in using your fingertips or a pastry cutter until the mixture resembles bread crumbs.

Drain the raisins. In a second bowl, mix the drained raisins with 2 Tablespoons whiskey. Blend these with the flour until thoroughly coated.

Beat the eggs and remove one Tablespoon and set aside. Add buttermilk to beaten eggs. Add wet ingredients to dry stirring just enough to combine.

Mix well, if the ingredients seem too dry (won't hold together) add the additional tablespoon of whiskey. Turn out onto a lightly floured surface and knead 8-10 times until mixture comes together as a whole.

Form into a roundish ball and place on a well greased cake pan or casserole dish.

Brush top with reserved egg. Cut a four inch cross across the top with a floured knife.

Bake 45-50 min. or until a toothpick inserted near the center comes out clean. Cool on wire rack. Slice thin and serve.

Saturday, March 10, 2007

Spring Nutrition Guide '07

Gabrielle Reece of Yahoo Health offers a spring cleaning plan for your body and a common sense health guide. Identify your problem areas and make the changes that will help you live a happier, healthier life.

Ok. Now I'm going for a run...

Wednesday, March 7, 2007

Cinnamon Apple Bread

(This photograph was not taken by a professional. A professional would have taken the little sticker off the apple.)

This is an adapted recipe from The King Arthur Flour 200th Anniversary Cookbook. It can be made with apples or raisins. It's really wonderful either way. Makes three loaves.

Fruit: 1 cup finely diced apples or raisins plumped in milk.

Proofing the Yeast in a Sponge:
2 Tablespoons or packets active dry yeast
1/2 cup warm water
1 teaspoon sugar
1/2 cup flour

The Sponge

To make the sponge, dissolve sugar in warm water and add yeast. When yeast begins to froth, add the 1/2 cup of flour and mix well. Cover and set aside.

The Dough:

1 1/2 cups milk, scalded
1/2 cup butter (1 stick)
1/4 cup honey
1/4 cup brown sugar
2 teaspoons salt
1 Tablespoon cinnamon
3 eggs, beaten
2 cups whole wheat flour
5-6 cups white flour

In a medium saucepan scald the milk. Turn off heat just as it begins to boil and add the stick of butter. Stir until it melts. Add honey and brown sugar, salt, and cinnamon. Stir and let cool to lukewarm. Add the beaten eggs, the sponge, and the whole wheat flour. Stir in remaining flour one cup at a time stopping when the dough comes away from the sides of the bowl. Turn out onto a floured surface and knead, adding only enough flour to keep the dough from sticking. Knead until springy--about ten minutes. Let the dough rest as you wash out the bowl and grease the bottom. Place dough back in bowl, turning once so that the top is greased. Let it rise in a warm draft-free place until doubled in size (about an hour).

8 Tablespoons brown sugar
2 Tablespoons cinnamon
Plenty of melted butter
Apples or raisins (well drained)

Mix cinnamon and brown sugar. Cut the dough into thirds. Roll each into an eight by fourteen inch rectangle. Brush liberally with melted butter and spread the sugar evenly over top. Add one third of the apples to each. Roll tightly and pinch the ends to close. Place each, seam-side down, in a well greased loaf pan. Brush the tops with more melted butter. Let rise in a warm draft free place until doubled in size (45 minutes).

15 minutes before baking, preheat oven to 375 degrees. (Take loaves out if you let them rise in the oven) Sprinkle the tops with cinnamon. Bake 45 minutes. Let cool on a wire rack.


Saturday, March 3, 2007

Chicken and Ginger Soup

I saw this recipe on the cover of a magazine in a grocery store check out line. I memorized it and picked up all the ingredients. The only thing I didn't memorize was the name of the magazine. Ooops. Anyway, the husband loves ginger, so this slightly adapted version was an instant favorite.

4 cups water
4 teaspoons Better Than Bouillon (chicken flavor)
1 Tablespoon Thai fish sauce
4 scallions
1 cup cooked chicken
1 cup aromatic Jasmine rice
1-2 six inch pieces of ginger root
Cracked black pepper to taste
Cilantro to taste

In a large pot, mix the water with the Better Than Bouillon and simmer to dissolve. Add the fish sauce. Cut the ginger into thin six inch long sticks and add to pot. Slice scallions from the bottom half way up, leaving four inch tops for garnishing. Add cut scallion. Turn pepper mill over the soup a few times and let simmer to mix flavors. Meanwhile, cook chicken and rice separately. Add to pot when done. Garnish with scallion tops and Cilantro.


Thursday, March 1, 2007

Favorite Corn Bread

1 1/2 cups flour
11/2 cups fine ground cornmeal
3 Tbs. brown sugar
1 Tbs. baking powder
1 tsp. salt
1 cup milk
1 cup sour cream
1/3 cup corn oil
1 egg beaten

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Butter a 9 inch pan, round or square.

Sift flour cornmeal brown sugar, baking powder, and salt together. Combine milk, corn oil, and beaten egg in a medium sized mixing bowl. Mix wet ingredients into dry just to combine. Fold in sour cream. Pour into buttered pan and bake until a toothpick inserted into the center comes clean. About 35-40 minutes.

Serving suggestions: Serve warm for dinner with plenty of butter, salad and soup. Use for snacks with applesauce. Let it dry out overnight and use for cornbread stuffing. Add more brown sugar to the recipe, sprinkle with nutmeg and serve with whipped cream.