Monday, September 27, 2010

Chicken Stew with Fennel and Herbs

In my opinion, autumn and winter are absolutely, hands-down the best seasons for cooking.  Don't get me wrong, I love the first signs of life that emerge with the spring, and the bounty that summer brings to the kitchen; but autumn and winter have a lot going for them.  The cooler temperatures fill my head with dreams of soups and stews, and roasts, and anything that requires a long, slow cooking time.  Each autumn foodies everywhere  - and especially up here in northern New England - are challenged to use a narrower selection of fresh foods, supplemented with pantry staples and home-canned produce... at least, if you're lucky enough to have a garden.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Purple Cauliflower

This post doesn't really need a recipe - look at that gorgeous purple cauliflower!  I cut it into florets, tossed them on a sheet pan with 2 T. melted butter, a chopped clove of garlic, S&P, and topped it with a little good grated Parmesan.  Roast it in the oven for 10 minutes, then broil for 1-2 minutes until slightly browned.  Easiest recipe ever... and yes, it works with regular cauliflower, too.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Stuffed Poblanos

I love traditional (or at least, tex-mex) chiles rellenos, and I have fond memories of eating them in Texas.  For those of you who aren't familiar with the dish, it's basically a poblano pepper that has been seeded, stuffed with cheese and/or meat, breaded, and deep fried until delicious.  But from where I stand, there are two problems with chiles rellenos:  First, up here in Vermont - and from what I've experienced, New England as a whole - they seem to be coated in a fluffy batter somewhere between tempura and a beer batter.  After a little Google-based research, I think the batter is a mixture of egg white and flour.  I prefer a chile breaded with a mix of flour and a little fine corn meal, which creates a crunchy outer shell to contain all that cheesy goodness.

Saturday, September 11, 2010

20 Minute Dinner - Pasta with Asparagus & Pesto Cream Sauce

Somedays, I really don't want to cook. REALLY. Like on those days when umpteen projects all come in at work on the same day, that one guy from a certain department keeps bugging you with the most asinine questions ever, and you spill coffee on your shirt within the first five minutes of sitting at your desk. Those are the days that I'm extremely glad I have a husband who likes to cook as much as I do.

This was a team effort, in the sense that I said, "Hey, we should make a pasta with pesto cream sauce for dinner," and he said "Okay." He got to work putting water on to boil, digging out ingredients, and scurrying around the kitchen. I stood by the fridge and suggested that asparagus would make a nice vegetal addition. He agreed and I handed him the bundle from the crisper. I'm proud of my contribution to this meal.

Of course it's easy for me to say that this is one of the easiest dinners ever, since I didn't actually cook it. But that's what teamwork is all about, right? Regardless of who was cooking, this is one of those dishes that can be on the table in 20 minutes, easy. Unfortunately, we didn't realize until we were already into the process that the only pasta we had on hand was elbow macaroni, and not any penne or fancy-schmancy shapes. So we chuckled, poured a glass of white wine, and jokingly nicknamed our collaboration "Mac'n'Cheese for Grown Ups."

This pasta dish is very lightly dressed; not one of those pastas where the noodles are swimming in pools of heavy cream sauce. We used homemade pesto that we'd assembled over the weekend. It had considerably less oil than store-bought tends to have (3/4 c. basil, 1/4 c. parmesan cheese, 3 T. toasted pine nuts, 2-3 cloves garlic, 1/2 c. oil, S&P to taste - Blend until smooth), which worked out well because we didn't have to worry about our sauce being greasy. You can certainly use store-bought, but I would suggest straining the portion you'll use for this dish before adding it in. The asparagus we used was so thin it barely needed to be cooked - the whole bundle was kept together (easier to remove from the water) and blanched for just about 2 minutes.

Pasta with Asparagus & Pesto Cream Sauce
Serves 4-6

1 12-16 oz. box pasta
1 bundle of thin asparagus, cut ends trimmed away (keep in a bundle, but replace the rubber bands with butcher's twine)
2 T. butter
1/4 c. white wine
2/3 c. cream
Scant 1/2 c. pesto

Boil a large stock pot of water and salt with 2 T. kosher salt. Add the asparagus bundle and let cook for 1 1/2 to 2 minutes, until asparagus is bright green. Remove the asparagus with kitchen tongs and set on a cutting board to cool. Let the water return to a boil and add the pasta. Cook according to package directions.

Meanwhile, melt butter in skillet with high sides over medium heat. Once butter is melted, add white wine and let reduce for 30 seconds. Whisk in the pesto and turn heat to medium-low. Slowly whisk in the cream, being sure not to let it boil. Once cream has been added, let cook at a bare simmer for 10 minutes, stirring occasionally, until sauce has thickened slightly.

Cut the blanched asparagus into pieces an inch or so long, add to the cream sauce. Add cooked pasta to the sauce, stir thoroughly, and taste. Add S&P as needed & serve.

Monday, September 6, 2010

Chicken Chorizo Kebabs

I hope you've all had a wonderful Labor Day weekend!  I wanted to kick off my three work-free days with something that celebrated the wonderful bounty of summer.  The result were these veggie-loaded skewers, studded with lightly sauteed chicken chorizo sausage slices - although you can easily substitute traditional chorizo or your favorite chicken or turkey sausage.

I alternated crisp green bell pepper, red onion, tiny Sunset Gold cherry tomatoes, and bright Zephyr zucchini.  Simply seasoned with a drizzle of oil, salt, pepper and paprika before getting tossed on the grill (ahem - grill pan; unfortunately our third floor apartment doesn't grant us any real outdoor space), this is about as easy as dinner gets. They're cooked until the pepper, onion and squash are crisp-tender and the tomatoes are soft, with the gentle charring tasting like pure summer.

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Bon Appétit Review: Baked Eggs with Bacon and Spinach

Oh dear lord... you NEED to try this recipe - especially if you're like me and can't resist anything with an egg perched happily on top.  This recipe is amazingly simple, as is illustrated by it being in Bon Appétit's Fast, Easy, Fresh section of the September 2010 issue.

This is one recipe that I followed without straying (an unusual feat of discipline for me), except for the fact that I cut the recipe in half to make two servings instead of four.  I was worried that one little ramekin wouldn't be filling enough, but I thought it was a perfect serving, especially with a quick salad of local cherry tomatoes tossed with olive oil, salt and pepper, served before the eggs came out of the oven.  Although, hungry eaters and/or teenage boys may disagree... in that case I'd serve two per person with a heartier side - mmm, homefries anyone?

I used Vermont Smoke & Cure bacon (my go-to... it's worth a dollar or two more), which is mainly maple smoked... which I prefer to applewood smoking.  Vegetarians could swap out the bacon for  smoked gouda or mozzarella, or even a smoked cheddar - just sprinkle a handful between the egg and the spinach where the bacon would normally go.  To be honest, I'm not hugely a fan of cooked spinach, so I shortened the cooking time of that step to a mere 20 seconds - it finished beautifully in the oven without becoming slimy.

I won't post the recipe here, Bon Appétit deserves 100% credit for this one.  Check it out on Bon Appétit's Website.