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Archive for the ‘Weeknight’ Category

I’m sure you’ve played the game before …..if stranded on a desert island where you could only bring three foods with you…what would they be?  Hands down for me it would be a great aged cheddar cheese, warm, crusty french bread, crisp granny smith apples, lots of chocolate and of course a perfectly paired wine.  What?  A couple too many foods you say?  Come on now, you didn’t really expect me to stop at three, did you?

So let’s talk about this decadent macaroni and cheese.  Today’s recipe has three ingredients and this time I really mean just three.  A chuck of great aged cheddar, whipping cream and your pasta of choice.  Reminiscent of the rich mac-n-cheese served as a side dish at high end steak houses, this is the real deal.  I don’t eat carbs often so when I do, it better be worth it.  This is worth it.

The cheese sauce whips up while the pasta cooks and this dish is on the table in 10-15 minutes.  Can’t beat that.

I spent all last week gallivanting around Catalonia and the Costa Brava region in Spain on my bike with a great group of friends.  Do I eat so I can ride or ride so I can eat….that is the question.  Neither is the answer.  I love them both!  I am a bit snowed under though and trying to catch up, so my post today will be as simple as this recipe.  Enjoy!!

Absolutely Decadent Macaroni and Cheese

Ingredients

2 cups whipping cream

7 oz aged sharp cheddar cheese, hand grated

1 pound short pasta (macaroni or fusilli corkscrews work great).  Cook al dente, according to package directions.  Drain the pasta but do not rinse.

Method

While the pasta is cooking pour the whipping cream into a large saute pan and bring to a boil.  Reduce the heat and simmer for three minutes stirring occasionally , allowing the cream to reduce.

Add the grated cheddar cheese.  Pick a really good chunk of cheddar.  Hand grate the cheese.  Do not choose a package of pre-shredded cheese.  Besides tasting inferior, the pre-shredded cheese contains stabilizers that don’t work well with this technique.

Stir well over medium heat until the cheese melts into the cream and the sauce thickens, about another 1-2 more minutes.  Salt and pepper to taste.

Add the cooked pasta.  I drain but never rinse my pasta after it cooks.  The starch left on the pasta from the cooking water helps thicken the sauce, if you rinse the pasta you lose this.

Stir over medium heat until combined, about another minute.

Serve immediately and Enjoy!

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This classic rustic Tuscan tomato soup is called pappa al pomodoro in Italy.  Bright, acidic tomatoes are combined with onions, garlic and basil, thickened with leftover bread and finished off with freshly grated parmigiano-reggiano.  It smells heavenly and tastes even better.

I’ve made this soup many times before, but just recently stumbled across a wonderful toasted bread and basil topping to sprinkle over the top.  The topping adds another punch to an already great tasting soup.  Thanks to Ina Garten – I am including the topping too.

I’m just back from a glorious week in Tuscany.  The weather was perfect.  The wine sublime.  The food rustic, simple and delicious.  The villa stunning.  All shared with cherished friends.  About as close to perfect you can get this side of heaven.

Oh…in case anyone is worried the tractor barreling down the lane toward us in this picture stopped just in time.  No  one was injured.  Have you ever tried to photo-shop a tractor out?!?  I’ve decided it adds some “interest” to our picture.

I know if given the opportunity to shop in Italy, most of us would swoon over the fine leather handbags and shoes available in Florence.  However, my passions lie elsewhere:

  Two whole liters of cold pressed extra virgin olive oil bought straight from a charming and delightful heritage farmer.  He let us wander through the grounds of his villa and olive grove.  He proudly explained his organic growing methods and also the artisinal extraction approach he uses involving a centuries old stone wheel which produces hands down the best oil I’ve ever tasted.  Liquid gold.  A little tricky to get back to the states, but well worth it.

I used my newly acquired Italian olive oil to make this batch of soup….oh my it was good!  My post today celebrates all I love about Italy.  Simple food prepared using the freshest ingredients and shared with friends and family.  Wines that compliment and match the flavors of the food.  A little candlelight, a little laughter….perfect.

Tuscan Tomato Soup  pappa al pomodoro

this makes 3-4 servings but can easily be doubled

Ingredients

1/4 cup olive oil

1 large yellow onion, chopped (about 1 cup)

1 carrot, peeled and chopped

2-3 cloves fresh garlic, chopped

1 28 oz can crushed tomatoes (try to get an Italian imported tomato like the San Marzano)

2 cups diced rustic Italian bread cubes, about 1 inch each

2 cups chicken stock.

splash of Italian red wine (about 1/4 cup)

freshly grated parmigiano-regianno

For the topping:

another 2 cups of diced rustic Italian bread cubes, about 1 inch each

10-15 fresh basil leaves

sea salt

3-4 TBSP extra virgin olive oil

Method

Toss two cups rustic Italian bread cubes with 10-15 fresh basil leaves and layer on a sheet pan.  Drizzle with 3-4 TBSPS extra virgin olive oil.  Sprinkle with coarse sea salt.  Bake in a preheated 325 degree oven for 20 minutes.

It will look like this when you pull it out.  The basil will get dark but still tastes delicious.  Set aside to sprinkle on the top of the soup right before you serve it.

  Meanwhile heat 1/4 cup of olive oil in a large pan.  Saute the onions, carrots and garlic for about 10 minutes until tender.

Add the 2 cups diced Italian bread and saute for another 5 minutes.

Add the crushed tomatoes, chicken stock and red wine.  Salt and pepper to taste.  Bring the soup to a boil, then reduce to a simmer and cook it for 30 minutes.  Stir in freshly grated parmigiano reggiano and sprinkle the toasted bread crumb and basil mixture on top.

    Enjoy!!

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hello

Hear that collective sigh of relief whispering through the ranks?  Yes, the kids are back in school.  It’s great to get back into a routine, but the routine brings the weeknight family dinner dilemma.  Are you a little challenged trying to make the family a warm, homemade meal while juggling kid’s schedules, the logistics of which could challenge General MacArthur?  Have you stood in the grocery store clutching a rotisserie chicken to your chest while the countdown to dinner looms but recipe inspiration wains?  If so, this is a great recipe for you.  Quick, easy and absolutely delicious.  Notwithstanding the benefit of that warm, wonderful feeling as you nestle into bed tonight….”The kids got their vegetable servings in today….the kids got their vegetable servings in today.”

Chicken, Mushroom and Spinach Enchiladas

Ingredients

2 Tbsp Olive OIl

1 Tbsp butter

1 8 oz package mushrooms

1 6 oz package pre washed baby spinach

2-3 cups cooked, shredded rotisserie chicken

2-3 TBSP cream cheese

1 clove fresh garlic, minced

1/2 tsp cumin

2-3 cups shredded cheddar or Monterey Jack cheese

4 flour tortillas (8 inch)

1 jar green salsa ( I use Rick Bayless’ Tomatill0)

sour cream to garnish

Method

Pop the stems off the mushrooms and slice the caps. (I discard the stems)

pre washed baby spinach

shredded rotisserie chicken

Melt the butter in a large skillet over medium heat.  Add the olive oil.  Add the mushrooms and saute until golden.  Salt and pepper to taste.

The mushrooms will look like this when ready.

Add the baby spinach right on top of the mushrooms.

The baby spinach only takes a minute or two to cook down.

Take the cooked mushrooms and spinach off the heat and add garlic, cumin, shredded chicken and cream cheese.

Place 1/4 of chicken mixture in a tortilla.  Sprinkle shredded cheese on top.  (Reserve 1 cup of shredded cheese)

Pour 1/2 jar of green salsa in bottom of 8X8 casserole dish

Roll up the chicken filled tortilla and place seam side down on top of green salsa.  Repeat with remaining 3 tortillas.

Pour the other 1/2 of green salsa on top.  Sprinkle with the reserved cup of cheese.  Cover with foil and bake at 325 degrees for 30 minutes.  Let casserole sit for five minutes before serving.

Ooooh those looks so yummy!

Enjoy with a dollop of sour cream!

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Very recently I discovered the Greek pasta dish Pastitsio.  How did I ever get to be my age without tasting this fragrant, spicy, simple bowl of exquisite-ness?  Traditional Pastitsio, which literally means “a mess”,  is assembled and baked like lasagna with layers of pasta, cheese, a meaty lamb tomato sauce flavored with a hint of cinnamon and topped off with Bechamel, a white cream sauce.  I like the lighter, simpler, somewhat “deconstructed” version on the menu at CityGate Grill. 

Our friends John and Mae own CityGate Grill, one of our favorite Friday night spots to decompress with good food and good wine after the craziness of the week.  Pastitsio, which also happens to be one of John’s favorite childhood dishes, is my favorite item on their menu.

The lamb and cinnamon together, which are so exotic and unexpected, are showcased in the Greek bolognese sauce prepared at CityGate.  The bolognese is then tossed with piping hot bucatinin pasta and Bechamel sauce, sprinkled with Parmigiano Reggiano and served.

Someday I will corner the chef at CityGate and garner the secrets to his Greek style Bolognese sauce.  It is so delicious and complex, I am guessing it involves lamb shanks and hours of braising.  However, until then, here is a quick weeknight version using ground lamb we just can’t get enough of at home.  I like using the ground lamb, however if feeling less adventuresome, ground beef can always be substituted.

If you can find Bucatini pasta it is very fun to use in this dish.  It is a thick, long noodle like spaghetti, but hollow in the middle like macaroni so it soaks up the sauce.  If you can’t find it then use a thicker, hollow pasta like penne so it holds up to the sauce.  This comes together quick, so I hope it becomes one of your weeknight favorites too.

Weeknight Greek Pastitsio

Ingredients

2 pounds ground lamb or beef

1 medium onion, diced

3 cloves garlic, minced

2 cups dry red wine

1 TBSP dried oregano

1 tsp crushed red pepper flakes

2 28 oz. cans crushed tomatoes

4 TBSP tomato paste

1 tsp (heaping) good ground cinnamon

1/4 tsp ground nutmeg

1/2 cup heavy cream

salt and pepper to taste

1 pound Bucatini pasta, cooked according to directions

freshly grated parmigiano reggiano cheese

fresh, chopped basil leaves

Method

Saute the diced onions and minced garlic in a big skillet with a little bit of olive oil.  Add the ground lamb (or beef) and cook until nice and brown.  Pour the wine into the skillet and scrape up any browned bits of meat.  Bring to a boil, then lower the heat and simmer for 10 minutes.  Add the crushed tomatoes, tomato paste, oregano, red pepper flakes, cinnamon and nutmeg.  Salt and pepper to taste.  Bring to a boil, lower the heat and simmer for another 10 minutes.  Meanwhile cook and drain the pasta.

Right before it is time to serve, swirl the cream into the sauce.  Simmer a minute until it is piping hot, then toss the sauce with the drained pasta, freshly grated parmigiano reggiano cheese and chopped basil.

Enjoy!!

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