My Accidental Mediterranean Pasta

I couldn’t decide what type of sauce I was going to make for my Rigatoni and Italian Sausage Dinner.  I kept going back and forth…basic red sauce with onions, green peppers, garlic and tomatoes?  Roasted Red Pepper Sauce?  A sauce using the 1/2 can of pumpkin I have leftover?  After much debate I decided on the roasted red pepper sauce.  A creamy pureed sauce made with roasted red peppers, sauteed onions and garlic, chicken broth and heavy cream.  Yes!!!  That is what I am craving…..

Started sauteing one onion diced with about 1 Tablespoon of minced garlic. Head off to the pantry and grabbed the jar of roasted red peppers.  I open it up and wait…those aren’t roasted red peppers.  In my hands were sun-dried tomatoes.  I guess when I went to the store I bought sun-dried tomatoes instead of roasted red peppers.  Usually I like to have both as staples in my pantry but after being on vacation for almost a month the pantry was a little bare and I am in the midst of restocking.

Okay–time to regroup.  I can do this.  Let’s see what else I have in the pantry and fridge.

  • Jar of artichoke hearts
  • 1/2 jar of capers
  • Some leftover sparkling cider
  • Feta cheese
  • A lemon
  • Chicken stock base
  • Heavy whipping cream

Mediterranean- based pasta it is!!!  I julienne about 1/2 jar of the sun-dried tomatoes and add it to my onion-garlic mixture, along with 1/2 jar of the artichoke hearts.

After a couple minutes, in goes the sparkling apple cider (@1 cup) and about 2 cups of chicken broth I make from the base.

If you don’t have this chicken or beef base in your fridge- go buy it.  This is a staple that I have used when I needed it in a pinch.  Always great to have it on hand.

I let this simmer and reduce a bit then add some capers and the juice of 1/2 lemon.

At this point the sauce is delicious and I almost didn’t add any heavy cream but I had it in the fridge so why not…..add some cream and let thicken to your decided consistency.

I have to admit I was starving and didn’t let it did long or thicken but it was still wonderful.

Made my plate and added some feta…..a Mediterranean dish in a flash!!!

 

Without heavy whipping cream. Could just reduce at this point and use.

After the addition of heavy whipping cream.

Advertisements

Great Beginnings

Every region has their own version how to start off a great dish.  The simple combinations are usually staples in any kitchen waiting to add a boost of flavor to your dish.

While I totally agree fresh is best, sometimes we are busy or have an over abundance of vegetables.  You can pre-dice your vegetables and place in the freezer to enjoy you garden treasures through the winter or to have ready at a moments notice.  Just the other day, I was deciding what to cook and while looking through the freezers found some pre-diced vegetables just waiting to be used.

mirepoix

The first cooking staple is French inspired- “Mirepoix“.  Mirepoix is a simple base of onions, carrots and celery, typically in a 2-1-1 (cups) ratio.  This mix is used in a number of dishes from soups and stew to sauces and roasts.

Down South where Cajun/ Creole cooking in popular you will hear about the “Holy Trinity“.  Similar to Mirepoix except green peppers are substituted for the carrots. Holy Trinity is the base to most Creole dishes.  The ratio is similar to that of Mirepoix or approximately 2 onions-2 stalks of  celery and 1 bell pepper.

Italian dishes will typically use a Mirepoix base but with the addition of fennel, garlic, Italian parsley, pancetta or prosciutto.  As one can imagine each family holds their “secret” recipe close to their heart.  Just try to get that family recipe out of Nonna!!

Lastly, onto Spain and “Sofrito“.  Spanish dishes frequently have the base called sofrito, which is onions, garlic and tomato.  As with any of the foundations people have made their own version but if you know these basics you are well on your way to a flavorful savory dish.

As you can see a lot of these foundations start with humble beginnings- the onion. I usually place the diced vegetables in snack size ziplock baggies by the cup full and then place several of those snack size baggies into a gallon freezer bag.  Obviously, date your bags.  You can do the vegetables individual or have some pre-mixed.  This is also a great idea if you frequent a warehouse club such as Costco, Sam’s Club or BJs and like to buy in bulk.  I hate to waste food so this is just one way we try to save $ and be prepared when we can’t get to the store.

 

 

 

Milk with your Tea?

A photo inspired this article.  I meant to save that photo but apparently I forgot.  It came across my twitter or pinterest and was called Milk Tea.  Done by a food photographer, it depicted milk/cream being poured into a cup of tea from a creamer.  It was beautifully taken and I am sorry I can’t give the photographer credit for inspiring me.

This is not the photo, but I needed one so thank you http://www.teaclass.com

milk tea

It never occurred to me that some people would never even consider adding milk or creamer to their tea.  Whenever I had tea or saw people having tea it was always served with a creamer containing milk or cream.  Interestingly, it appears this is common amongst the English and guess what?  My grandparents are from England.  So for all those people who laughed at me or gave me that curious look–I was following my heritage.  It should be mentioned that this tradition has been credited to France in various sources stating that Madame de la Sahliere liked her tea with milk.

But the next question lies in why?  Why add milk to tea?  Here are some explanations I have found and a little history.

Some sources state tea sets were made from Porcelain which could easily crack with the pouring of hot tea directly into the delicate cups.  The milk would be added first to temper it. I do admit antique tea sets are rather delicate, but tea back then was steeped before pouring into the cups.  Tea bags were not “invented” and pouring boiling water into a cup like today was not done.  Of course, I am not willing to sacrifice an antique tea cup to test if it will crack with hot tea or boiling water.  The addition of milk was also common to cut the bitterness of the black tea.  Today with all the new flavors I can see that the addition of milk wouldn’t be necessary.  That being said I do like milk or cream in my Earl Grey.  Typically, you would not add milk to white or oolong teas.

The addition of milk before or after the tea also has some history.  It is stated that how you add the milk was a status indicator. Tea was not readily available the way it is today.  Milk on the other hand was cheap and on hand.  Those who were considered a higher social standing and could afford the teas would add a little bit of milk after the tea was in the cup. The less fortunate would put the milk into the cup then add a little tea.

I prefer to add my milk after–not because of my social standing but I do like the “art” of the swirls and colors in the tea.  Also, by adding after you can try the tea so know how much to add.  A strong black tea may taste better with more milk than another.  A funny thought- with coffee I add creamer to my cup first.  The reason:  so I don’t have to stir.  The adding of the coffee mixes it for me.

So all that being said…….it all depends on TASTE and PREFERENCE.

Milk, Cream, Honey, or Sugar……….

 

 

 

Cheesy Chicken, Broccoli and Rice Casserole

Growing up in the 70’s I ate A LOT of casseroles.  I really do like the ease of casseroles and crock pot cooking, especially for a family.  This recipe is very rich and probably not the best if you are watching your weight, but it is some gooey goodness.  You can adapt this recipe to fit your family….Rice or no rice….a lot of broccoli and mushrooms or not….chicken or no chicken for a side dish. Make it your own!!

I made this for just 2 of us, but since many of you will probably make this for a family I am going to family size the recipe.

Ingredients

  • 4 Chicken Breasts, cut into strips or diced
  • 3-4 Cups Roasted Broccoli
  • Pint Mushrooms, sliced
  • 1 medium Onion, diced
  • about 2 Tablespoons Garlic, minced
  • Olive Oil, as needed
  • Salt and Pepper, to taste
  • 2 packages Cream Cheese
  • 2 cups Milk
  • 2 teaspoons Garlic salt
  • 3/4 Cup Parmesan Cheese
  • 1 cup Mozzarella
  • Rice
  • Chicken Broth (optional)
  • Panko (optional)
  1. The first step is to roast your Broccoli.  In a bowl, toss the broccoli florets with olive oil (enough to coat), salt, pepper and minced garlic to your liking.  Place on a cookie sheet and roast in  400 degree oven for about 20 minutes.  After this is done cooking turn oven down to 350 degrees.
  2. Next you want to start your rice as that will take about 20 minutes too. Place 2 cups of chicken broth into a pot and let come to a boil.  Add 1 cup of rice, cover and turn to low.  I have never had a problem with cooking rice this way.  You can follow directions on the package or however you cook it.  If you are using brown or wild rice note the cooking time will be different. You can just use water rather than broth but I like how the broth adds flavor to the rice.
  3. Over medium- high heat add 1-2 Tablespoons of olive oil to pan.  Add the onions and cook until translucent about 2 minutes.  Add chicken seasoned with salt, pepper and garlic.  **Actually I just used the same bowl I tossed the broccoli in to season my chicken since it still had a lot of garlic.  When chicken in almost fully cooked add the mushrooms.
  4. Sauce:  In a medium pot over low- med heat add the milk, cream cheese, garlic salt, and parmesan cheese.  Stir/ whisk until melted.  This can take a while and if you can multi-task you may want to start it at the same time of step 3.
  5. Spray your baking dish with cooking spray.  You can use a 9 x 13 or I used a 2.5 L round Corning Ware.  Some people have told me they have made a similar dish and mixed all together but I liked it layered as follows:
    1. Rice
    2. Half of chicken mixture
    3. Half of sauce
    4. Mozzarella
    5. Rest of chicken mixture
    6. Rest of sauce
    7. Panko (optional)
  6. Bake about 20 minutes.

Adaptions:  This recipe is very rich!!!  That being said you can easily change this recipe up.  Try using 1 package of cream cheese and/ or use chicken broth to make the sauce.  You can add a little milk to get the consistency you want.  You can also omit the rice and with a thinner sauce serve it over noodles.  I wanted a lot of veggies when I made it so I increased the broccoli and mushrooms and used only a small amount of chicken. Get creative and as I have said before make this your own recipe.

Parboiling Chicken- Grilling

With grilling season now coming back with the nice weather I have seen a lot of posts of whether or not to parboil chicken before grilling.  I find it funny that some people are so against it.  I don’t typically do this as I usually marinade my meat first however they are times that parboiling has its advantages.  By parboiling you reduce the risk of under cooking your chicken and speed up the cooking time on the grill.  This can come in handy during large grilling events or if you don’t have a lot of time.

This week I didn’t take anything out of the freezer for dinner.  About noon, I looked and took out the chicken legs.  They were not going to be totally defrosted so I decided to parboil them.  The trick to parboiling is not to boil but actually simmer in a fragrant broth.  You can use any stock you desire or water with the addition of herbs and spices.  I used some chicken stock and added onion, celery, garlic, and a spice mix.  Add just enough liquid to cover your chicken and bring to a boil.  Once it boils reduce the heat to simmer and cover.  Simmer until no longer pink.  The amount of time depends on how much chicken and the thickness but can be anywhere from 5-20 minutes.

Once cooked take out and pat dry and grill using your favorite BBQ sauce.

I think the mistake most people make is just parboiling in water and boiling rather than simmering.  I have never had this result in flavorless or dry chicken. I  recommend for drumsticks or bone in chicken pieces.  Boneless chicken requires less time cooking and is easier to determine if it is done.

Beginnings of a Great Dish

 

All great dishes start from humble beginnings and every cuisine has their own.  I am sure everyone reading this has started a dish with one of these three bases sautéed in butter or olive oil in a 2-1-1 ratio.

MirepoixIf you cannot guess from the name this is French.  It is using the basic ingredients of diced onions, carrots and celery.  I use this when starting all my stocks and soups.  Typically, you would butter for a mirepoix.

TrinityWhen I think of the trinity I think of Emeril Lagasse and his references to it in his Cajun and Creole cooking.  This again uses onion and celery but then swaps green peppers for the carrots.  I have seen recipes using olive oil, butter or combination of both to sauté.

Sofrito:  Lastly, we have the Spanish version using onion, garlic and tomato in olive oil.

These aromatic mixtures will develop your dishes right from the beginning.  You will want to add black pepper and a little salt.  Be careful with the salt as if you add too much or too early it will get watery.  Salt draws out water from the vegetables.  If you want to add a sweetness from your base you can start the onions first and then when they start to caramelize add the other vegetables.

Now you know the names of the humble beginnings I am sure you all have been using.

One last tip:  If you are reading a recipe and it says to use a medium dice you may be like well what is medium?  A medium dice is 1/2 inch X 1/2 inch X 1/2 inch.

 

Halibut Cheeks

If you haven’t had halibut cheeks or heard of them you should change that now, especially if you are a seafood person.  Being from Alaska and enjoying since I was little, I didn’t know many people are not even aware of these tasty gems from the ocean.  Halibut cheeks are exactly what they sound like.  You will find various sizes depending on the size of the halibut.  You could have one the size of a scallop or the size or a hamburger patty.  I would say they are tender, sweet and very flavorful.  This popular delicacy is often in limited supply and hard to find.  A quick google search I located suppliers who can overnight from $19.99 – 35.99/ pound.

I would describe the texture similar to crab with a taste that is a cross between lobster, scallops, and crab. It is elegant and luxurious.  When I take a bite it just melts in my mouth, I close my eyes and mmmmmmm….it is that good.  The best preparations should be simple as not to mask the flavor.  Of course, I am a seafood purest not even wanting to “ruin” lobster with unneeded butter.  Prepare as you would a scallop and you will have a winner.  Last night I prepared the halibut cheeks with a simple lemon caper picatta sauce and pan fried.  I served it with some crescent rolls and sautéed swiss chard made with garlic, white wine and shaved parmesan.

INGREDIENTS

Extra Virgin Olive Oil (about 2 Tablespoons)

Butter (4 Tablespoons, divided)

Coating mix

1/2 cup flour (I used wheat flour)

 1 teaspoon garlic sea salt

1/2 teaspoon black pepper (freshly ground)

1/2 teaspoon smoked paprika

Sauce

1/4 cup chicken or vegetable broth

1/2 cup dry white wine

3 Tablespoons Lemon Juice

3 Tablespoons Capers

Rinse and pat dry your halibut cheeks.  Dredge the cheeks in your coating mix.  Heat a pan over medium heat with olive oil (I usually do about two times around the pan which is about 2 Tablespoons) and 2 Tablespoons of butter.  When the butter-oil mix is bubbly and hot add your halibut cheeks. Cook until golden on each side, about 2-3 minutes per side. Remove and keep warm.  You can either tent with foil or what I did was my oven was still hot after I took out my rolls.  The oven was off but I placed the cheeks on a pan and covered with foil and just put in the oven as I finished the sauce.

To the pan add the broth and wine.  Bring to a boil while stirring to pick up bits on the bottom of the pan.  Lower the heat to simmer and let the liquid reduce to about half (4-5 minutes).  Add the lemon juice, capers and 2 tablespoons butter.  Stir until butter is melted and you are ready.

Serve the halibut cheeks with the sauce spooned over top.

This recipe will work with other delicate fish and thin chicken cutlets.