Friday, September 28, 2007

When You Don't Feel Like REALLY Cooking

Picture from Food Network

You take recipes from Giada De Laurentis! She is one of my absolute favorite Food Network chefs. Everything she makes (that I've at least made at home) tastes amazing and is never too hard to figure out. Since I didn't cook last night (at all) and just ate leftovers, I thought I'd post one of my favorite Giada quick-fix dinner meals. We actually have made this quite a few times. I know, I've been told we make WAY too much pasta...but we love pasta! Maybe next week, it'll be no-pasta-eating week as a challenge. Happy Friday!

Rigatoni with Red Pepper, Almonds, and Bread Crumbs
from Giada de Laurentis, Everyday Italian

1 pound rigatoni pasta
3 cups purchased garlic-flavored croutons, (about 5 ounces)
1/4 cup slivered almonds (about 1 ounce), toasted (*Pine nuts work really well too!)
1 cup julienned roasted red bell peppers
3/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil

Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil over high heat. Add the pasta and cook until tender but still firm to the bite, stirring occasionally, about 8 to 10 minutes. Drain pasta into a large bowl.
Place the croutons and the almonds in a food processor. Pulse until it becomes the texture of bread crumbs. Add the crouton and almond mixture to the hot pasta. Add the peppers and the olive oil. Toss to combine and serve.

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

A Pasta Built for the Boys

I say this because if there is any pasta that describes my husband perfectly, it is definitely this dish. It has all his favorite ingredients melded together in one "manly" dish that is both delectable and filling. I am very fortunate because A is not a picky eater- he is willing to try all my creations with a fork and a smile. As he says there are things he wouldn't "prefer" but "I just eat to eat." HA! Spoken like a true man...

Pasta with Sausage, Basil, and Mustard
from Food and Wine

1 pound penne or medium shells (whole wheat pasta works great!)
1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
8 hot Italian sausages, meat removed from casings and crumbled (about 1 1/2 pounds)
3/4 cup dry white wine
3/4 cup heavy cream
3 tablespoons grainy mustard
Pinch of crushed red pepper
1 cup thinly sliced basil

**I added a tbsp of honey into the sauce to cut some of the bite of the mustard. Also I put slivers of eggplant which ended up being my favorite part of the dish. So, for all you veg heads, just substitute eggplant or mushrooms for sausage.

Cook the pasta in a large pot of boiling salted water until al dente; drain. Meanwhile, heat the olive oil in a large, deep skillet. Add the sausage meat and brown over moderately high heat, about 5 minutes. Add the wine and simmer, scraping up the browned bits from the bottom, until reduced by half, about 5 minutes. Add the cream, mustard and crushed red pepper and simmer for 2 minutes. Remove the skillet from the heat, add the pasta and basil and toss to coat. Serve at once.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

A Snack Break

I always crave a slightly sweet snack in the early afternoon. These almond scones are perfect with peach preserves and a hot cup of tea.

Almond Scones
adapted from Tyler Florence's blueberry scone recipe on Food Network

2 cups all-purpose flour
1 tbsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
2 tbsp brown sugar
5 tbsp unsalted butter, cold, cut in chunks
1/2 cup heavy cream, plus more for brushing the scones
1/2 cup non-fat milk
1 tbsp vanilla extract
1 tbsp almond extract
handful of almonds for topping

Preheat oven to 400 degrees F.
Sift all dry ingredients together- the flour, baking powder, salt, and sugar. Using a fork cut in the butter to coat the pieces with the flour. The mixture should look crumbly. In a separate bowl mix all liquid ingredients together- heavy cream, milk, both extracts. Make a well in the center of the dry ingredients and pour in the liquid ingredients. Fold everything together just to incorporate; do not overwork the dough.

Press the dough out on a lightly floured surface into a rectangle about 12 by 3 by 1 1/4 inches. Cut the rectangle in 1/2 then cut the pieces in 1/2 again, giving you 4 (3-inch) squares. Cut the squares in 1/2 on a diagonal to give you the classic triangle shape. Place the scones on an non-greased cookie sheet and brush the tops with a little heavy cream. Then press in almond pieces to top. Bake for 15 to 20 minutes until beautiful and brown. Let the scones cool a bit then enjoy with some butter or preserves.

Saturday, September 22, 2007


Figs...I'm starting to create a new relationship with figs. I love dried figs topped on pizza, fig jam on toast, even the fig newton. I've used dried figs when cooking, but I've never even tasted a fresh fig. I recently bought some fresh figs to challenge myself to actually do something with them. I did my research and learned that figs are a touchy fruit. They ripen quickly and if you don't use it at the exact moment they spoil. Also, I noticed compared to the wonderful fresh figs I saw online, my figs were not nearly as pink or juicy looking. They didn't taste the way they were described either. Mine were a bit too dry and bland. Oh well! I just think I got a not-so-good batch. However, I wasn't about to let that defeat me, and in the end decided to do a wonderful version of a fig tart. I knew roasting it would bring out more syrupy sweetness, and the honey, fig jam, and goat cheese would help to enhance its flavor. I guess mine isn't really a "tart," but since I'm not sure what to really call it "tart" will have to do.

Fig "Tarts" with Goat Cheese

6 ripened fresh figs (you can use dried ones too)- sliced thinly
goat cheese
fig jam
ready-made pie crust (if your a good baker, you can make your own!)

Unroll the ready-made pie crust. Using a knife or cookie cutter, cut out little tart bases (about 3x3 in. squares). Swipe a layer of fig jam on the bottom then layer on the figs in a circular formation. Drizzle honey on the figs and top with goat cheese. Place in a 375 degree oven for about 20 min (the pie crust and goat cheese will be slightly browned). Let it cool and then enjoy!

*You can also substitute fresh pears for the figs and use a ginger spread with the pears instead of fig jam.

Monday, September 17, 2007

Eggplant Meets Lasagna

I love eggplants-from their wonderfully dark purple skins to their cream colored flesh. They are just beautiful vegetables that happen to taste as good as they look and are extremely versatile. On my last trip to the local farmers market, I happen to stumble on a rather large and perfect looking eggplant for only $1.50. This was definitely the bargain of the week. With a rather picky family, several who claim to NOT like eggplant, I needed to try to disguise and highlight this vegetable in dinner.

Veggie Lasagna with Eggplant

1 15oz tub part skim ricotta cheese
1 small box of frozen chopped spinach
1/2 cup crumbled feta cheese
salt, pepper, dried or fresh basil to taste

Completely thaw the box of frozen chopped spinach. Place in small towel and squeeze spinach to get all the water out. You want to get it as dry as possible. Mix ricotta cheese, spinach, crumbled feta. Add salt (a generous pinch since ricotta can be rather bland), pepper, and dried or fresh basil to taste. OPTIONAL: You can beat one egg and add it to the mix, although I learned it is not necessary. Place in fridge until ready to use.

The rest of the lasagna:
1 jar of your favorite marinara sauce (I used Newman's Cabernet Marinara)
1 box no-boil lasagna noodles (Barilla works nicely- you can boil your noodles if you prefer, but I found the no-boil noodles prevent overcooked noodles)
1 large eggplant
8 oz of shredded mozzarella cheese
a few handfuls of freshly grated Parmesan cheese
*OPTIONAL: 2 medium sweet potatoes (boiled then mashed with a touch of butter, salt, cinnamon, and nutmeg)

Cut your eggplant into 1/2in thick slices. You want them thick enough so they don't fall apart in the whole cooking process. Place your eggplant slices on a well-sprayed (with canola oil) cookie sheet. Make sure each slice has its own place on the sheet and don't pile them on each other. This will cause the eggplant to steam instead of roast. Sprinkle salt on eggplant slices. Roast eggplant for about 20-25 min on 375 degrees, flipping them about 2/3 of the way through. The eggplant slices should be slightly browned and soft and creamy in the middle.

To assemble, spray your pan (I used 8inx8in) with non-stick canola oil. Add a light layer of sauce to the bottom of the pan. Place noodles, a layer of your prepared filling above, then a layer of your roasted eggplant, a light layer of shredded moz and then another layer of sauce. The second layer, continue the same process but add a layer of your mashed sweet potatoes right before you add the prepared filling.

Continue the same layers on up through the pan, layering the mashed sweet potatoes in every other layer if you so choose. At the top, the very last layer should be topped with a generous topping of freshly grated Parmesan cheese.

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Cover lasagna with foil and cook for about 50 minutes. Then uncover and cook lasagna for another 10-15 minutes or until cheese is slightly browned and bubbly.