Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Playing around with pasta and peas

 I spotted some orecchiette at the grocery store the other day and realized I’d never cooked it. I’ve seen different recipes in the past that combine this disc-shaped pasta with bacon, peas, both … so this is what I decided to do with my bag of orecchiette.

We have a humongous sauté pan that I like to use for dishes such as this. It helps to have a big ol’ pan so you’ve got plenty of surface area to mix all the ingredients without going elbow-deep in a huge stock pot.

A side note: This meal went great with a bottle of La Crema 2008 Russian River Valley Pinot Noir we picked up on my birthday trip to Healdsburg this past fall.

Orecchiette with Peas and Crispy Shallots
2 shallots, sliced thin
½ cup olive oil
4 strips turkey bacon, cut into small pieces
1 pound orecchiette pasta
2 cups frozen peas, thawed
1 cup Parmesan
1 cup cooking liquid reserved and divided
Salt and pepper, to taste

In a small saucepan, heat oil over medium flame. Fry shallots until golden brown, stirring occasionally. Remove shallots with a slotted spoon and place on a paper towel to drain excess oil.
Cook pasta in boiling water until al dente. Remove from heat and drain, reserving one cup cooking liquid.
While pasta is boiling, cook turkey bacon over medium heat in a large frying pan until crisp. Remove from pan with slotted spoon and place on a paper towel to drain. Add peas to pan and cook, stirring occasionally, until heated through.Add pasta to pan with peas. Stir in Parmesan and half of the cooking liquid. Keep adding more cooking liquid until it has formed a nice creamy, but not runny, sauce that coats the pasta. Stir in turkey bacon pieces. Season with salt and pepper.
To serve, place pasta in bowls or on plates and top with shallots.

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Library card a wonderful kitchen tool

One of the many wonderful reasons to have a library card is being able to test-drive cookbooks.

It doesn’t make sense to go out and buy every glossy, delicious tome that makes my mouth water. So when a book strikes my fancy, or if I’m interested in learning more about working with a particular ingredient or in a certain style, I log into my Sacramento Public Library account, peruse the catalog and make my reservation. I can keep a book for a minimum of three weeks (being able to renew online is another perk), which gives me plenty of time to read up on techniques, hunt for new recipes and the like. I use sticky notes or paper scraps to note recipes I like, make photocopies that I’ll file in my binder, and return the book by the time it’s due.

I’m currently snacking on “5 Ingredient Fix” by Claire Robinson and Betty Rosbottom’s “Sunday Soup,” a book I first found on my friend Lucy’s shelf years ago but never got around to buying for myself. I might still have to purchase “Sunday Soup,” as I’m tempted by at least half the recipes. The following dish is inspired by a chicken chili recipe included in the book. If you want to add more heat to the chili, use more chipotles and the adobo sauce in which they’re packaged. I beefed up this meal by making mini-bread bowls out of some Kaiser rolls I had in the fridge.

Chipotle Corn Turkey Chili
1 ¼ pounds ground turkey
2 cups chopped yellow onion
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 tablespoons chili powder
1 tablespoon ground cumin
1 teaspoon dried oregano
3 canned chipotle peppers in adobo sauce, seeded and coarsely chopped
4 cups chicken broth
28 ounces canned diced tomatoes
4 cups corn kernels (if using frozen, thaw before adding to pot)
2 15-ounce cans kidney beans, rinsed and drained
1 15-ounce can pinto beans, rinsed and drained
Salt and pepper, to taste
Possible garnishes: chopped cilantro, sour cream, shredded cheddar, tortilla chips

Cook turkey, onions and garlic in large pot over medium heat until meat is browned. Stir in chili powder, cumin, oregano, and chipotle peppers. Cook for another minute before adding broth, tomatoes, corn and beans. Bring mixture to a simmer. Reduce heat, cover and cook for 20 minutes. To serve, ladle chili into bowls and add garnishes.

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Sacramento snapshots: Seafood, cycling and some succulent birds

Chris and I have enjoyed some scrumptious Sacramento meals over the past few weeks. Snack on these snapshots.

We rode our one-speeds to OneSpeed for one delicious brunch today. I worked hard to make a dent in this breakfast calzone, which was big enough for two. This beast was stuffed with breakfast sausage, herb scrambled eggs, sautéed onions, spinach and Parmesan, topped with country gravy. Tasted great with Old Soul Co. coffee and mimosas.

My sweets took me out for a delectable dinner last weekend at Mulvaney's B & L. We gorged on potato tortellini with marrow, quail and spring peas, tombo tuna ... heavenly!

If you’re looking for a starter with some ooh la la, try the mussels at Bistro Michel. They’re prepared with celery, shallots, fennel, garlic, white wine, cream and Pernod Absinthe. I had to resist the urge to request a whole basket of bread to soak up every last drop of the sauce.

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Crafting something special out of cabbage craving

 They were practically giving away cabbage last month just in time for St. Patrick’s Day. It got me thinking about how I could go for a plate heaped high with cabbage rolls, the kind stuffed with ground meat, rice and all kinds of savory herbs and covered with a tangy tomato sauce. This soup is inspired by my craving. Think of it as a broth-y deconstruction of that delicious dish. Cabbage makes for a great soup ingredient — it doesn’t take long to cook, and it seems to hold up pretty well in hot pot.

A note on the rice — I used converted brown rice because I already had some in the cabinet due to a recipe I tried out a while back. I imagine 3/4 cups cooked rice, stirred in with the cabbage, would also work.

Stuffed Cabbage Soup
1 large onion, diced
4 cloves garlic, minced
1 pound ground turkey
8 cups chicken broth
½ cup converted brown rice
1 (14 ounce) can diced tomatoes
2 cups shredded green cabbage
1 teaspoon dried thyme
1 teaspoon dried oregano
1 teaspoon dried parsley
1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
Salt and pepper, to taste

Combine onion, garlic and ground turkey in large soup pot. Cook over medium-high heat, stirring occasionally, until meat is brown. Add thyme, oregano and parsley and cook for another minute before adding broth, rice, tomatoes and Worcestershire sauce to pot. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat, stir in cabbage and cover, simmering for a few minutes until cabbage is tender. Season with salt and pepper.

Wondering how to make banana bread even better?

I spotted an attractive slice of chocolate cherry banana bread at the cash register while indulging in a rainy day latte the other day. It haunted me for days and I decided to try and make my own. Banana bread is good enough on its own, but adding chocolate chips and dried cherries makes it absolutely marvelous.

Banana Cherry Chocolate Chip Bread
4 overly ripe bananas
2 cups flour
¾ cup sugar
2 teaspoons baking powder
½ teaspoon baking soda
½ teaspoon salt
¼ cup milk
½ cup vanilla yogurt
1 egg
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 teaspoon almond extract
½ teaspoon ground nutmeg
½ cup dried cherries, chopped
½ cup semi-sweet chocolate chips

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Butter metal loaf pan (9-by-5-by-3-inch).
In a bowl, combine flour, sugar, baking powder, baking soda, nutmeg and salt and stir or whisk to blend. In another bowl, combine bananas, milk, yogurt, vanilla and almond extracts and egg. Pour batter into bowl with dry ingredients and fold together until combined. Stir in cherries and chocolate chips.
Pour mixture into greased loaf pan and bake 70-80 minutes, until toasty brown and a wooden skewer comes out clean. Remove from oven and cool completely. Slice and enjoy.