Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Italian Sausage and Spinach with Pasta

Tonight's meal was what I call a clean up meal in that I had some random items that needed to be used fairly quickly. Coupled with a lack of motivation to go to the grocery store, I had all the ingredients necessary to make a simple meal.

I had two different types of sausage leftover from two separate meals past, a bag of spinach I had forgotten about purchasing last weekend, and barely a fourth of a carton of vegetable broth sitting in the fridge. The rest of the ingredients are items I typically have hiding out in my kitchen.

Italian Sausage and Spinach with Pasta

13.5oz box whole wheat penne pasta
2 tbs light olive oil
1 pound sausage
1/2 yellow onion, diced
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 c vegetable broth
1 10oz bag spinach leaves
8oz fresh (aka real) mozzarella, cut into small cubes
salt/pepper to taste
fresh basil leaves, cut into thin ribbons

Prepare pasta according to package directions. Drain, reserving 1 cup of the liquid.

Meanwhile, crumble and brown sausage over med-high heat in olive oil. Add onion and saute about 5 minutes, or until onions are translucent. Add garlic and saute another minute.

Add vegetable broth and bring to a boil. Stir in spinach leaves until just wilted. Add reserved pasta water and fresh cracked pepper to taste. Toss with pasta.

Right before serving, toss with cheese and fresh basil. Serves 8.

Cookies for the Dark Side, part one

"Come to the Dark Side....we have cookies."

"Well, what kind of cookies are they?"

This conversation sparked my creativity and a rare desire to bake. I don't enjoy baking, personally. I think it's boring. I like eating baked goods, of course, but the entire chore of measuring, mixing, rolling, baking, and cooling simply does not appeal to me. I prefer a freer form of cuisine.

But, sometimes a girl just needs a really good cookie. The flavor profile mimics that of one of my favorite low-cost wines: Mirassou Cabernet. The dark chocolate is the first taste perceived against the brown sugar background, followed by the tartness of the dried cherries. The key here is to use good chocolate; the bitterness is necessary to offset the sweet.

Chocolate Chip Cookies for the Dark Side

2 1/2 c all-purpose flour
1 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
1 c butter, room temperature
1 1/2 c firmly packed brown sugar
2 large eggs, room temperature
2 tsp vanilla (not imitation)
12 oz (2 c) bittersweet 60% cacao chocolate chips
1 c dried cherries

In small bowl, mix flour, baking soda, and salt.

Beat butter and brown sugar in a large mixing bowl until well-blended. Beat in eggs and vanilla until smooth. Add flour mix to butter mixture a fourth at a time and beat until well mixed. Fold in chocolate chips and cherries.

Cover cookie dough with plastic wrap, leaving no air in-between, and chill 24-36 hours.

Preheat oven to 400F.

Drop dough in 2-tablespoon portions, 2 inches apart, onto lightly greased baking sheets. Bake until cookies are lightly browned, 6 to 8 minutes; if baking more than one pan at a time, switch pan positions halfway through baking.

Cool on pan 5 minutes, then transfer cookies to racks to cool. Makes about 30 cookies.

While it isn't necessary to chill the dough, it's a trick most people who actually enjoy baking swear by. After some research, I found that it allows the wet ingredients to soak into the dry ingredients and produce a better melding of flavors. See this article for a very good explanation.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Mahi Mahi with Mango Salsa

This is probably one of the most common dishes prepared at my house. My kids have been fans of mango salsa their entire lives and will eat it on pretty much anything. Fish is quick to prepare, so it lends itself to a weeknight dinner easily. In theory this meal should serve 4, but there are rarely leftovers between myself and the two girls. I'd suggest doubling it if you intend to feed 4 hungry mouths!

Mahi Mahi with Mango Salsa

1 cup rice
12oz mahi mahi
fresh cracked pepper
2 tbs tamari
1 tbs peanut oil
1 lime, cut into quarters

Prepare rice according to package directions. While it is simmering (or in the rice cooker, should you be so lucky!), prepare the rest of the ingredients.

Crack pepper over mahi mahi and place in bowl. Drizzle with tamari, peanut oil, and juice from THREE QUARTERS of the lime. Allow to rest at room temperature while preparing the salsa (recipe below).

Heat grill pan to med-high heat. Remove fish from marinade and place in pan skin side up and cook 3 minutes. Flip fish, pour marinade over, and cook an additional 3-4 minutes.

Place fish on bed of rice and pour marinade from pan over fish. Top with mango salsa and serve.

Mango Salsa

1 c mango, diced
1/2 c red onion, diced
1/4 c red bell pepper, diced
2 green onions, finely chopped
1/2 c cilantro leaves, finely chopped
zest of 1 lime
dash salt
pinch cumin
salt and pepper to taste

Combine above ingredients with juice from the remaining 1/4 lime and allow to rest at room temperature while cooking the fish.

  • The mango is best when fresh. If you don't like the way the mangos in your grocery store look, I've subbed in the jarred version (usually available in the refrigerated produce section) with success. Because it's jarred in light syrup, I rinse the slices with water first. If you prefer a sweeter salsa, then you may opt to keep them as is.
  • My rice of choice with fish is jasmine rice. It has a more delicate flavor that compliments seafood very well.

Baked Potato Soup

As the weather cools, I start craving soup. It's warm, it's easy, and it can be made from pretty much anything. Not to mention, leftovers are very easy to deal with (when there are leftovers, that is!). This soup combines traditional favorite potato toppings into an easily portable meal.

This soup is also easily adapted to your own favorite toppings. Like ranch dressing? Mix a packet of seasoning into the sour cream. More cheese? Go for it. Broccoli? A pound of steamed florets will do the trick. Half the fun of cooking is making a recipe your own, so don't be shy!

Baked Potato Soup

6 baking potatoes
6 tbs butter
1 carrot, diced
2 stalks celery, diced
1 medium yellow onion, diced
2 cloved garlic, minced
6-8 oz bacon, diced
2/3 c white flour
1/2 tbs salt
1/2 tbs pepper
4 c milk
2 c vegetable broth
8 oz shredded sharp cheddar
8 oz sour cream
chives, finely chopped

Prick potatoes with fork and bake ~40min in 400F oven. Remove from oven. When cool enough to handle, scoop out flesh and mash with fork.

Melt 2 tablespoons butter over med-high heat. Sautee carrot, celery, and onion until tender. Season with salt/pepper. Add garlic and saute another minute. Remove from heat.

In 4 quart pan saute diced bacon over med heat until crispy. Remove bacon bits with slotted spoon and drain on paper towel, leaving remaining fat in the pan. Add remaining 4 tablespoons butter and melt. Slowly wisk in flour and cook about a minute. Add salt/pepper.

Wisk in milk gradually, stirring constantly until thickened. Stir in vegetable broth.

Set aside 1/4 c bacon bits, 1/2 c cheese, 1/2 c sour cream to use as garnish.

Add sauteed vegetables, potatoes, bacon bits, and cheese. Cook until thoroughly heated. Stir in sour cream and heat. Adjust seasoning to taste. Garnish with set aside sour cream, cheese, bacon bits, and chives. Serve with crusty bread.