Monday, March 28, 2011

Pasta "with Pink Sauce"

Or at least that's how we always referred to it growing up.

As with so many recipes that are passed along, the next generation tweaks something here or there to make it more appealing to their style. In the case of this pasta dish, I use diced zucchini instead of eggplant (and garlic, of course). But I used to request this meal from my mother whenever I was coming home from college and was preparing for a home-cooking-fest.

Other ingredients: 1 medium onion, 3 cloves of garlic, 1 tsp anchovy paste,1 Tbsp tomato paste, 24 oz can crushed tomatoes, Old Bay seasoning to taste (1-3 tsp), splash of cream, shrimp, salt for seasoning, and about 1/2 cup fresh basil.

Start by dicing and sautéing the onions in  about 2 tbsp olive oil on medium heat. When they become translucent add the garlic and zucchini, season with salt, and cook until tender.
Add tomato paste and anchovy paste and allow to cook out for about a minute.

Add canned tomatoes, half the fresh basil, and Old Bay seasoning and cook down for about 20-30 minutes, lid on.

Now that your flavors have deepened and combined, add as much cream as makes you happy. A splash if you just want a hint of richness, or a 1/3 cup if you want it very creamy and pink.
Check your seasoning and add more Old Bay if there isn't enough kick.
Add the rest of the fresh basil now as well, reserving a pinch for garnish.

You have options for the shrimp. You can sear them with a bit of Old Bay in a separate frying pan and add them to the finished pasta dish, or you can put them in the sauce and cook them with the lid on, about 4 minutes depending on how large the shrimp are.
Add the cooked pasta to the sauce and allow to combine another minute.

Traditionally my family eats this meal with capellini, but this time around I felt like a tubular pasta that would catch more of the sauce. Either type works well.

Friday, March 25, 2011

Late Night Mac

I went arty taking this pic on my smartphone
When I was a child, one of my favorite "comfort foods" was elbow macaroni with melted butter and garlic salt. That's it. 
Not even any cheese!
Even as an adult, this is still one of my favorite comfort foods, and an occasional late night snack. And luckily, it couldn't be simpler to make.

Step 1 - Boil water. Salt the water. Cook your elbow mac as directed on the box, about 7 min.
This is pretty straightforward.

While that is boiling place a pat of butter in the bottom of your bowl, add a splash of cream (if I'm feeling more of a mac & cheese craving), and a sprinkle of garlic salt. The heat from the cooked pasta will melt and combine the two.
Be sure to drain your pasta well so it's not too watery.

If really fancy and have it on hand, I add some chopped fresh basil, and a sprinkling of grated parmigiano (again, if I'm in the mood for more of a mac & cheese version).
Stir to combine and coat the pasta, which will absorb some of the butter and cream as it settles.

A book on Monet, perhaps?
Sit back in under 15 minutes with your book and enjoy your late-night mac snackage.

Monday, March 21, 2011

Paté & Caramelized Onion Crostini

You know those amazingly decadent and creamy crostini that you pay $7 or more a plate for at little wine bars and tapas joints? Well, you can make them at home in no time, save some cash, and seriously impress your friends. Just make sure to purchase a decent quality foie-gras for your base.
(I very much like just about all of the one's made by D'Artagnan, be they duck, chicken, truffled or made with port. They are all high quality.)

Warning: All pics in this post are horrible.
Start by caramelizing some sliced onion in a bit of olive oil over medium-low heat. You can add a pinch of sugar once they soften if you really want them to be sweet, but I find they come out just fine when left to their own sugars.

While your onions are slowing sweating and browning, slice up the crusty bread you prefer, drizzle with olive oil, and toast it under the broiler, keeping a close eye on it so it doesn't burn.
Don't forget to toast the second side of the bread!

Once your onions have caramelized, set them aside to cool slightly, and start preparing your crostini.
Simply spread room-temperature paté on each piece of bread, and then top with a sprinkling of onions, however many make you happy.

(And yes, there is totally a bite taken out of some of those crostini before I could take a picture.
I wonder who did that...?)

Incredibly simple to make and with big flavor pay off. Paté may be a luxury item, but if you're going to splurge on it, this can make it go a long way for a small gathering of friends, and make you appear quite the classy host(ess).

Friday, March 18, 2011

Striped Bass with Beurre Blanc

When I made this for dinner the other night, I just kept picturing Meryl Streep's face (as Julia Child) when she smells her fish and says, "Butter" in that slightly orgasmic tone.
So, I decided to attempt a beurre blanc sauce myself. 
And the results: not too shabby.

I used Alton Brown's recipe* for this, which he calls "Raymond Beurre Blanc" with his usual wit, and yes, you will be as large as Raymond Burr eventually was if you eat like this regularly.

*Why not Julia's if she's what inspired this? Well, I looked in both of my Julia Child cookbooks and couldn't find "beurre blanc" in either index! So, I went with Alton Brown because his title amused me, and he is also usually quite meticulous in his instruction, so I felt I was in good hands.

Ingredients: 1-2 small shallots, finely chopped, 2 oz lemon juice, 8 oz white wine, 1 Tbsp heavy cream, 1 tsp dried thyme, 12 Tbsp cubed unsalted butter, salt and white pepper to taste.
(FYI I only used about 4 Tbsp of butter, as I was only making this for 2 people, and was avoiding cardiac arrest for dessert.)

Combine the lemon juice, white wine, and shallots, and reduce until there are only about 2 tablespoons of liquid. 
Note: if you do not want a fairly sharp onion flavor at the end, try sautéing the shallot down a bit before starting the sauce.

Reduce the heat to low and add the cream. Once that starts to bubble at the edges, add the butter while whisking, one cube at a time, until it is all incorporated and smooth.
You may need to take the pan on and off of the heat as you add the butter so that it does not begin to boil, as that will lead to your sauce separating.
Once you reach a thick and smooth emulsification, season with the salt and pepper, and keep warm and ready for your fish.

I chose striped bass for this dish because it had a good price at the market, but any firm white fish will be lovely with this sauce.

The acidity in a beurre blanc sauce is what makes it special. Most recipes call for vinegar I believe, but since vinegar is off-limits to the Hubs's palate, I chose a recipe with lemon and white wine as the acids instead, and it was still lovely.

This sauce only takes about 15-20 minutes, and the largest portion of that is just waiting for the liquids to reduce, so it's not a huge effort, and you can continue to prep the rest of your meal while it cooks down.
I suggest trying it out if you never have before, because it's an elegant and tasty change of pace.
(At least, it was :)

Monday, March 14, 2011

Panini Parm

Super fast weeknight dinner solution:
The panino.
There are so many ways to make super tasty panini. This one is a spin on chicken parm I made in about 7 minutes with some leftover chicken breast, mozzarella, basil, tomato sauce, & grated pecorino.

I was so lazy for this meal I didn't even take down the panini press. I just sliced the bread, gave it a brush with olive oil, and browned it in the sauté pan.

Next I put a bit of tomato sauce on each side of bread and stacked a slice of mozzarella, sliced chicken (leftover from the weekly roast chicken), basil, and of course more mozzarella. Sprinkle with grated pecorino and slap it together.
Weigh it down with a lid (or kitchen brick) until the cheese melts and dinner is done.

And no, there is no "finished product" shot of the lovely melty cheese because the Hubs ate it so fast.

(Expect further explorations into The Sandwich, as it always seems to get a "this is my favorite!" from the Hubs. Even tho he is equally supportive of the weekly roast chicken dinner, it's nice to know that sometimes I can just slap meat and cheese on bread and be done!)

Friday, March 11, 2011

Addicted to Brussels Sprouts

But don't tell my father. I think he'd disown me, his hatred for them is so deep.
Clearly he's never eaten them like this...

I start by chopping off their stem ends and peeling off the outer 2-3 leaves, as they tend to be a bit gritty. If they are ping pong ball-sized or smaller, I halve them. Any bigger and I quarter them.
Then I sauté them in a bit of olive oil, cut-side down, on medium-high heat. I also toss in some chopped prociutto, because that makes just about everything better.

When the brussels sprouts are starting to brown on the bottom, add a touch more oil (they absorb quite a bit) and add 1 small shallot, or half a medium one, finely chopped, as well as one clove of garlic, also finely chopped.
Season with salt.

As soon as they soften and become fragrant, add a splash (1/4 cup roughly) of white wine to the pan (sizzle!) to deglaze, and then an equal amount of chicken stock.
Turn the heat down to medium or medium-low, and place the lid on your pan so the sprouts can soften and absorb some of the liquid.

About 4-5 minutes later (less if you have those really petite sprouts) remove the lid and allow the remaining liquids to reduce down to a tablespoon or two.
I then add either a splash of half and half, or a teaspoon of mascarpone cheese, depending on what I have on hand, and knock the heat down to low. You just want the cream to meld with what is left of the wine and stock. I sprinkle a bit of grated parmigianno on top and toss to coat everything well.

The result is tender sprouts with a bit of caramelization, a bit of saltiness, and a bit of luxury from the addition of cream/mascarpone.
I tend to eat this as a side dish, (or as a snack!) but if you use a bit more of the liquids while cooking and don't reduce it down to the last tablespoon of sauce, it would also be very tasty tossed with pasta for a whole meal.


Monday, March 7, 2011

Puffed Rice Treats

Growing up I never made those puffed-rice crisp Brand Name treats. 
Not once.
This probably had to do with my mother not wanting to clean melted marshmallow out of her pans (they still do not own a microwave to this day... le sigh.) which is understandable, but still, boo-urns.
I decided I needed to correct this childhood oversight.

1/2 stick of butter. Melt.
However, I was merely following the instructions on the back of my package of mini-marshmallows, so there isn't much of anything magical going on.
Beyond the magic that is the gooey-sweet crispy.

Add marshmallows to melted butter.
Microwave until melted.

Stir in puffed rice and place in greased, tinfoil-lined pan.
Allow to cool.

That's it?
No problem.
Tho I used organic puffed brown rice cereal instead of the brand name.
Don't worry. I'm not going all hippie-crunchy-vegetarian on you.
It was just cheaper...

Friday, March 4, 2011

Brown Butter Scallops

$5 and 10 minutes for a decadent starter. Totally worth it!
Get your pan hot on medium-high and melt a tablespoon of butter with a small splash of olive oil (to slow the browning of the butter). Make sure you pat your scallops completely dry before cooking.
Place the scallops in the pan and sear until browned and crispy, about 3-4 minutes.
Season with salt and pepper, and turn over. Cook another 3-4 minutes on the second side, so that the top and bottom are browned but the inside is still soft and velvety.

You can make a real sauce, or just pour the browned butter over the scallops and call it done.

I added 2 TBSP of white wine and chicken stock to my brown butter and fond, which instantly deglazed my pan, poured that over the top of the scallops, and added a few drops of truffle oil to finish.
Incredible decadence in under five minutes.

Serve with a bed of greens, or even a white bean purée, and you have a quick yet sophisticated meal.