Thursday, July 29, 2010

Heat Wave Spaghetti

The other day the heat index was approaching 110 degrees and the sky was that tornadoey yellow-green color that is always a bit alarming. A somewhat brief dog walk around the neighborhood resulted in my shirt clinging to my back with sweat (gross) so I quickly proclaimed it an inside day after that.

After I spent the day not moving and not cooking, instead consuming peaches, cheez-its, kalamata olives, cereal, and frozen yogurt, I thought it was time to be resourceful and actually make something for dinner. I had this great spicy Capicola ham I had used as part of a cheese platter earlier in the week, bunches of fresh basil in the garden, and a few other ingredients I figured would compliment both.

The cooking here is minimal which was the whole point. A quick boil of the pasta, some olive oil warmed enough to make it aromatic with the garlic and ham, and the rest tossed together is all it takes. I was eating good in about 15 minutes. The golden raisins may seem an odd touch but they elevate the dish and work well with the savory flavors.

For 2 main dish servings:
  • 2 tablespoons golden raisins
  • 2 tablespoons Marsala wine or sherry
  • 8 ounces whole wheat thin spaghetti
  • 1/3 cup olive oil
  • 3 garlic cloves, chopped
  • 4 thin slices hot Capicola ham
  • 1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
  • 2 cups fresh basil leaves + 8-10 small basil leaves for garnish
  • 1 tablespoon pine nuts, toasted
  • Shavings of Parmesan, to taste

In a small bowl, combine the raisins and marsala or sherry. Set aside to soak. Boil the pasta until just al dente. While the pasta is boiling, heat a skillet over medium heat. Add the olive oil and when warm, add the garlic and capicola. Sprinkle with a pinch of salt and the red pepper flakes. Cook for a couple minutes, then add the raisins, along with the marsala or sherry. Keep the oil warm over low heat until the pasta is cooked.

When the pasta is done, drain it and return it to the pot it was cooking in over medium heat. Pour the oil mixture over the pasta and toss to coat. Add in the 2 cups of basil leaves and toss the pasta until the basil is wilted, about a minute or two. Season it with freshly ground black pepper and another pinch of salt if necessary.

Pour the pasta onto a serving platter. Scatter the pine nuts and small basil leaves over the top. Shave some parmesan over each serving.

Monday, July 26, 2010

Quinoa & Sweet Corn with Crispy Potatoes & Pesto

This might be one of the best things I've ever created. It took a few tries to get it right: the first time it was just corn sauteed quickly with shallots and topped with some fresh chopped basil; the second time the quinoa came into play, as well as the fried cubes of yukon gold potatoes; this last time though, I nailed it by adding some sweet, tangy summertime tomatoes and a bold pesto.

The potatoes act as a sort of vegetable crouton and they work great as a final garnish. The quinoa, shallots and corn are all sweet and mild so that the cherry or grape tomatoes shine through. The pesto is enlivened with some lemon juice and zest and I used the remaining amount tossed with some whole wheat spaghetti the next day. Good, crisp sweet corn is essential here and it should be easy to find this time of year. It doesn't need to be cooked for more than a minute or two.

I served this on its own as a vegetarian meal but it would be a welcome, unique side to any variety of grilled fish, steak or chicken. Leftovers are great the next day although the potatoes lose their crispiness. Make this now. Do it.

Serves 4 as a main course or 6-8 as a side:

For the pesto:

  • 1/3 cup olive oil
  • 2 cups loosely packed basil
  • 1/3 cup grated Parmesan
  • 1/4 cup chopped walnuts
  • 1 clove garlic chopped
  • The juice of 1 lemon
  • 1 teaspoon lemon zest
  • Large pinch kosher salt

In a blender or food processor, add all the ingredients and blend until smooth. Taste and adjust the seasonings if necessary. The pesto can be made a couple days in advance and stored, tightly covered, in the refrigerator.

    For the quinoa and sweet corn:

    • 3 tablespoons olive oil, divided
    • 1 medium yukon gold potato, cut into quarter-inch cubes
    • 1 cup sliced shallots
    • 4 ears corn, cut off the cob
    • 1/2 teaspoon sugar
    • 2 cups cooked quinoa
    • 1 cup quartered cherry or grape tomatoes

    In a skillet add one tablespoon of the oil over medium-high heat. Add the potatoes and toss to coat. Cook, stirring occasionally until golden on all sides, about 8-10 minutes. Season to taste with salt and pepper and keep warm until ready to use.

    Meanwhile, in a large skillet, add the remaining two tablespoons olive oil over medium heat and add the shallots. Stir occasionally until just soft, about 5 minutes. Add the corn and toss to coat with the oil and shallots. Sprinkle the sugar over and stir again. Cook for 2 minutes. Stir in the quinoa and season to taste with salt. Folde in the tomatoes and take the pan off the heat.

    Transfer the quinoa/corn mixture to a serving dish and spoon the crisp potatoes over the top. Drizzle with the pesto. Serve warm with more pesto on the side.

    Wednesday, July 21, 2010

    Almond Noodles with Summer Squash

    This recipe is sneaky. Chewy noodles are tossed in a slightly spicy almond dressing and all the while you are eating them up you probably wouldn't guess that there are bits of raw summer squash mixed in.

    I was thinking of new ways to eat and use up the overabundance of squash that are everywhere this time of year and wondered how it would go to just grate it up and toss it with some noodles and other veggies. Because the almond butter dressing is boldly flavored, the flavor of the squash doesn't come through, but the benefit of (a) using the squash harvest and (b) sneaking a vegetable into a dish is fantastic.

    I used the buttery yellow variety of summer squash which is barely detectable against the other colors of the recipe but feel free to substitute zucchini and add some pretty green flecks to the dish. Some grilled chicken or fried tofu makes it even more substantial.

    For 4 servings:
    • 10 ounces soba or udon noodles
    • 2 tablespoons toasted peanut or canola oil
    • 1 teaspoon toasted sesame oil
    • 2 tablespoons soy sauce
    • 1/3 cup almond butter
    • 1/4 cup reserved hot water from cooking the noodles
    • 1 tablespoon rice vinegar
    • 1 teaspoon sugar
    • 1 teaspoon sri racha
    • 3/4 cup finely grated summer squash, squeezed dry
    • 1/2 cup finely chopped red bell pepper
    • 2 tablespoons chopped chives
    • 1/4 cup toasted flaked almonds

    Cook the noodles according to package directions and set aside, remembering to reserve 1/4 cup of the cooking water. In a large bowl, whisk together the oils, soy sauce, almond butter, hot water, rice vinegar, sugar and sri racha until smooth. Add the cooked noodles to the bowl and coat thoroughly with the dressing.

    Add in the grated squash and bell pepper and toss to distribute the vegetables throughout the noodles. Garnish with the chives and almonds and serve while its still warm.

    Tuesday, July 13, 2010

    Spicy Penne with Broccoli

    Thankfully, I have great friends like Guestblogger Eric M to come through for me when I haven't been able to be a very regular poster. He is adept at serving simple, elegant meals that are as beautiful to look at as they are delicious to eat. I will be adding this pasta dish to my "quick dinners" repertoire. --A Crafty Lass

    Sometimes you don’t have much time to make dinner, but you don’t want to give in and heat up a frozen pizza. This recipe is for days like that.

    It takes almost no time to prepare, and while it might not be a dish you serve to company, it’s a satisfying weeknight supper for you and yours.

    This dish relies upon pantry staples--the only fresh ingredient you need to have on hand is our friend, broccoli. And don’t skimp on the broccoli; the florets soak up the flavors of garlic and anchovies and transform into the star of the dish. If you have some leftover chicken that works well in this dish, too.

    To serve 4 people with leftovers:
    • 2-3 pounds of broccoli, trimmed into florets (reserve stems for another use)
    • 8-10 cloves of garlic, minced (you can use more or less, depending on taste)
    • 6 anchovies, minced
    • 1-2 teaspoons red pepper flakes
    • 1 pound penne rigate
    • 2 tablespoons olive oil

    Cook the penne in salted water until al dente. Drain and return pan to stove.

    While the pasta’s cooking, steam the broccoli until almost tender, 4-5 minutes. Drain well and set aside.

    In the pasta pot, heat the oil over medium and add the garlic, anchovies and red pepper flakes. Cook for 30 seconds, stirring. Add the broccoli and saute for 2-3 minutes or until broccoli is tender. Add the pasta and stir well to coat. You can add more olive oil if you like.

    Top with pepper and parmesan, if desired.

    Wednesday, July 7, 2010

    Tropical Punch with Strawberry Citrus Ice Cubes

    When I was a kid, my mom would make some special ices cubes that consisted of Hawaiian Punch frozen with a maraschino cherry in the center. I'd fill a glass with a couple and pour 7Up over them and thought it to be the most delicious drink in all the land. Reminiscent of a Shirley Temple cocktail, I loved watching the clear, fizzy pop turn a deeper shade of pink as the cubes melted.

    I haven't forgotten about these ice cubes and so created my own summery version to flavor an adult punch. Strawberries, sweetened with simple syrup and flavored with three types of citrus, these ice cubes are so, so good. I love them in lemonade and limeade as well or on their own in some sparkling water.

    The punch itself is super simple to make and can be varied to suit your own tastes. I can see swapping out rum for the vodka and replacing the tropical passionfruit juice with a number of other juices. Keep it in the refrigerator until guests arrive and then stir in the prosecco.

    For the Ice Cubes:
    • 1 pound strawberries, stemmed and halved
    • zest and juice of 1 lemon
    • zest and juice of 1 lime
    • zest and juice of 1 orange
    • 1 cup simple syrup

    For the ice cubes, combine the strawberries, lemon, lime and orange zests and juices in the bowl of a food processor. Add the simple syrup and process for 1 minute until very smooth, scraping down the sides of the bowl once or twice and processing again. Divide amongst 2 ice cube trays and freeze until ready to use.

    For the Punch:

    • 1 cup citrus flavored vodka
    • 1/3 cup triple sec
    • 1 litre passionfruit juice
    • juice of 1 lime
    • 1 bottle prosecco
    In a large pitcher stir together the vodka, triple sec, juice and lime juice. Refrigerate until ready to serve. Before serving, slowly pour in the prosecco, stir and serve over the strawberry ice cubes. Garnish with a lime slice.

    Thursday, July 1, 2010

    Chicken Tinga Tostadas

    I am so thrilled to bring you my favorite dish that my great friend and Guestblogger Manda makes. She is married to a handsome Mexican fellow who has given her insight into his culture which in turn has provided the rest of us with some good, authentic eats. I love Manda's tinga and have requested she make it for me on many occasions. -- A Crafty Lass

    I want the Mexicans to love me so I try to cook food they like. I did my best to make Tinga based off of a Mexican recipe written in Spanish back in the day where I really wasn’t able to call myself fluent in the language. One time, my then boyfriend and future husband came home from work and I was proud to present him with Tinga. He was kind about my attempt but didn’t go crazy for it. I was disappointed. I then tasted it and realized...the heat.

    Trying to figure out what had gone wrong I retraced my steps, reread the recipe and realized I had put in 3 latas (cans) of chipotles en adobo sauce instead of 3 chipotles. A small detail I overlooked - one little word - lata. My boyfriend spent the next couple days daring his friends to eat as much as possible to see who would have the most fierce stomach and who could prove his manhood by eating intensely hot food.

    My next attempts were much more mindful of the chile quantity and I have had many compliments since. My proudest moment being when I overheard my husband’s cousin telling him that I cook Mexican food better than his wife who is from their beautiful country. I tend to still want to put in more chiles than the recipe calls for because it seems like a waste to toss the rest of the can but I recommend sticking to the recipe - don’t overdo it and the results will have your friends begging for a take home bag.

    I cook my Tinga until it “becomes” Tinga. The best way to describe what “becoming” Tinga is is this- when all the spices have had enough time to settle into the chicken and your house smells nice and rich. If I had to estimate how long it simmers/becomes Tinga I would say about 45-60 minutes but you must make sure it doesn’t go dry. I like to keep a little of the chicken broth from the boiled chicken on the side of the stove and add broth as I simmer if I see the sauce is getting too dry. Also, when you pull the chicken off the bone, don’t shred it to fine pieces. Pull it off in big chunks and throw them into the tomato mixture. After the mess simmers for a while it will break into smaller pieces. It should not be a hash when done, it should be more like a tomato sauce with hunks of chicken in it.

    For 4-6 Servings:

    • 2 cups tomato sauce
    • 3 chipotle chiles in adobo sauce from one can
    • ¼ cup chicken stock
    • 1/3 cup vegetable oil
    • 4 large cloves of garlic, chopped
    • 1 large onion cut into half moons
    • 2 teaspoons cumin
    • 1 teaspoon nutmeg
    • 6 cups shredded cooked chicken (I boil mine, it keeps it moist)


    • Tostadas
    • Beans
    • Lettuce
    • Tomato
    • Avocado
    • Sour cream and/or crema mexicana
    • Cotija cheese

    Puree tomato sauce, chipotles and chicken stock in a blender. Set aside.

    In a large sauce pan, sauté the onion in the oil until soft. Add the tomato mixture to the pan, along with the cumin, nutmeg and shredded chicken. Simmer for about one hour, until thickened. Add salt and pepper to taste, along with more stock and seasonings if needed.

    When you plate up your food, place your tostada on a pretty saucer, then beans if you like (not necessary if you don’t) then the Tinga, lettuce, a ¼” slice of tomato, a couple slices of avocado, a dollop of sour cream, and a sprinkling of Cotiga cheese and serve.