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Posts Tagged ‘weeknight’

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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Quinoa has a hot ticket in the culinary world as of late.  It’s a gluten free, versatile and nutty tasting grain touted as one of the best complete sources of protein out there.  Plus it tastes delicious.  It’s quick and easy to prepare.  It’s great in soup and salads or by itself as a side dish.  Now be honest – how many of you out there know how to pronounce:

Q_U_I_N_O_A?

If you said “KEEN-Wah”, you are correct.

Second only to cooking I love to read.  A lot.  While deeply engrossed in a book, I rarely take the time to stop and look up the pronunciation and definition of any unfamiliar word I stumble across.  Just sound it out and contextualize it, then I’m good to go.  Over the years this has bitten me in the behind a few times.

Here’s how it works when I am with my sister (she communicates for a living and is much more adept at correct pronunciations):

1.  I confidently interject my new found vocab word into our conversation, very impressed with myself.

2.  In reply, my sister coyly uses the same word in her answer – except pronounced correctly.

3.  I get the hint.

Some of the recent culprits: segue, potpourri, omnipotent.  You get the picture.

That’s why my friend JoEll and I were cracking each other up a few weeks back because we both thought the way you pronounced  Quinoa was:

“QUIN-oh-na”

so it rhymes with Winona (as in Ryder or Minnesota).

We had seen the ingredient written in recipes about 100 times and didn’t know it was the same ingredient we had heard pronounced “KEEN-Wah” about 100 times.  What a revelation when we realized it was the same thing!  Silly us. So today you get a recipe…..and a vocab lesson all in one.

Quinoa Salad

inspired by my friend JoEll

Ingredients

1 cup dry quinoa

2 cups chicken broth

1/3 cup olive oil

1/3 cup fresh lemon juice

1 bell pepper, seeded and diced

1 cup grape tomatoes

2-3 TBSP chopped fresh chives

2-3 TBSP chopped fresh basil

1 clove garlic, crushed

1/2 cup crumbled feta cheese

Method

You can find Quinoa at most supermarkets now in the rice and grains section

This is what it looks like right out of the box.

This is what it looks like once it is cooked.  To cook it bring 2 cups of chicken broth to a boil.  Add 1 cup quinoa and reduce heat to a simmer.  Cover and simmer until all liquid is gone, about 10-15 minutes.  Fluff with a fork and cool.

Make a quick dressing by whisking together 1/3 cup fresh lemon juice and 1/3 cup olive oil until it emulsifies.  Add the dressing to the cooked and cooled Quinoa.

Today I tossed bell pepper, grape tomatoes, basil, chives, garlic and feta cheese into the Quinoa salad.  But really….use your imagination.  Anything fresh and tasty will do.

This is great as a side dish or throw in some grilled chicken or fish for a complete meal.  Enjoy!!

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I originally got this Mozzarella Basil Tart recipe from my wonderful friend Michele years and years ago.  I love how it uses all the ingredients that are so fresh and tasty this time of the year.  It’s relatively simple to make, very versatile and tastes so fresh and wholesome.  I serve it either as an appetizer or side dish and often make it for breakfast (kinda like an egg-less quiche).  I couldn’t wait until the right opportunity came along to compose a post about one of my favorite recipes.

Some blog posts just burst out of me.  Some meander, lily-pad, noodle and wiggle their way out.  This one definitely would be the latter.  I’ve always said food is so much better with the stories, so here we go.

So…..my hubbie had business meetings in London on the Fourth of July this year.  Ughhh.  Yes dear, I do understand the Fourth of July is obviously not celebrated in England and it’s business as usual across the pond.  I did a great job keeping busy and occupied all weekend but had zippo plans on the 4th.  In lieu of a major pity party, I decided retail therapy was the answer.

I came across these great lime green place mats with a graphic print.  I’ve been completely obsessed with lime green and graphic prints lately so I had to snatch them up!  I knew the tart would look perfect with the place mats for a blog post – bright, crisp and clean.  I whipped up the tart, took my pictures and …..sigh, thought about the lonesome evening ahead.  No one to share my tart with.  I was completely delighted when an invitation to an impromptu neighborhood back yard cook-out came along.   (Thanks S&R!!)  I whisked my tart over and it was enjoyed by all.

Mozzarella Basil Tart

Ingredients

1 refrigerated pie crust

4-6 fresh Roma tomatoes

2 cups grated mozzarella cheese

1 cup loosely packed basil, chopped

2 cloves fresh garlic, crushed

1/2 cup mayonnaise

1/2 cup freshly grated parmigiano-reggiano cheese

1/8 tsp white pepper

Method

I really think the key to the success of this dish is extracting some of the liquid from the Roma tomatoes before you start.  I just slice them thin, spread them out on paper towels and sprinkle them with salt (this helps draw out the moisture).  In about ten or fifteen minutes they are ready to go.  I’ve tried to skip this step and the moisture from the tomatoes makes the tart kind of soggy, so it’s definitely worth it to take the time to drain the tomatoes if you can.

I’ve made this tart many, many times with a thawed out, frozen pie crust shell still in it’s flimsy, tin foil pan and it tastes great.  I’ve also made this tart many, many times with my Mom’s made-from-scratch pie dough recipe and it tastes really great.  Today I am using a refrigerated pie dough sheet (the rolled up kind) and my adorable tart pan from Williams & Sonoma.  I rolled out the refrigerated pie dough sheet, draped it over the tart pan and then rolled the pin across the top of the pan to cut and remove the excess dough.

       Mix 1 cup of the grated mozzarella cheese, mayonnaise, grated parmigiano-reggiano cheese and white pepper in a bowl.  Set aside.

Layer the remaining cup of grated mozzarella cheese in the pie crust.

Top with the tomato slices.

Top with the fresh chopped basil and crushed garlic.

Dollop the mayonnaise-cheese mixture on top.

Gently spread it out over the tart.

Bake the tart for 35 minutes at 350 degrees.  Cut into pie slices and serve – hot or at room temperature.  Enjoy!!

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We’ve all got them.  Those tried and true, always getting accolades, could make them in your sleep recipes.  Where you can say to your friends – I’m bringing the orzo and they know what you mean.

The really cool thing about this recipe is you can serve it hot or cold.  If you toss the orzo while it is still hot with the fresh spinach, the spinach will cook, wilt and melt into the dish.  Or if you wait until the orzo cools down to toss it in, the dish tastes more like a pasta spinach salad – fresh and crisp.

Last week we attended a concert at The Jay Pritzker Pavilion in Millennium Park on the Chicago lakefront.  A beautiful night with awesome friends.  We had a great picnic on the lawn while listening to Ray LaMontagne.  And no…..we absolutely did not sneak any lemon drop martinis into the pavilion.  (Here’s a picture of Ruth and Fred at the concert.  Ruth is doing a really good job hiding the lemon drop martini)

My very talented friend Kerri brought lemony orzo and spinach for the picnic and it was scrumptious!  I can’t wait to share it this recipe with you.

Lemony Orzo and Spinach

Ingredients

1 box orzo (rice shaped pasta), cooked and drained according to directions

6 oz fresh baby spinach, washed and dried

1 cup grated parmigiano-reggiano cheese

1 cup crumbled feta

1 pint sweet grape tomatoes

Dressing Ingredients

1/3 cup fresh squeezed lemon juice

2/3 cup really good olive oil

1 TBSP Dijon mustard

3 large garlic cloves, crushed

3/4 tsp coarse salt

Method

Squeeze the fresh lemon juice and whisk all the dressing ingredients together until emulsified

I wash the spinach in the sink.  Be sure to pull the spinach out before you drain the water, then the grime and dirt from the spinach stays in the water.

If you do not have a salad spinner run, don’t walk to the store and get one as soon as possible.  I love my OXO salad spinner and use it just about everyday.  I have a little one to spin fresh herbs in too.

Toss the orzo (hot or cold), spinach, grape tomatoes, parmigiano-reggiano, feta and dressing all together.  Enjoy!!

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There is nothing like a blog post a-la-minute!  We are literally waiting to dig in and gobble up this de-lish salad as soon as I snap a shot.  Rosemary infused grilled lamb chops, summer corn saute and Tuscan Panzanella Salad all served “al fresco” on the patio for dinner tonight.  A great bottle of Pinot, candlelight and a cute hubby to dine with to-boot.  LISVG. (Thanks to JoJo for that acronym).

Panzanella salad is a bread and tomato salad originating in Italy.  The Tuscans don’t like to waste even a morsel or crumb of good bread, so this wonderful rustic salad was created centuries ago to use up all the day-old bread sitting around the villa.  There are loads of panzanella salad recipes floating around.  The basic approach is to get some great in-season summer vegetables (must include LOTS of tomatoes), make some homemade grilled croutons from the leftover bread and douse all with a simple vinaigrette.  Although I did not do it this evening – you can always add cheese and olives too – it’s a salad for heaven’s sake.

It’s really impossible to describe what happens when you pop a forkful of the homemade croutons and tomatoes soaked in the vinaigrette into your mouth.  I’ll just have to let you experience that yourself.

Tuscan Panzanella Salad

Ingredients

1 loaf rustic sourdough bread, rough cut into 1 inch cubes (about 6 cups)

2 TBSP butter

2 TBSP olive oil

salt to taste

2 bell peppers (red, yellow or orange) stems and seeds removed, cut into one inch pieces

1 small red onion, large dice (about 1/2 cup)

1 large cucumber, seeds scooped out and cut in one inch pieces

1 pint sweet, firm tomatoes, cut in bite size pieces

6-8 large basil leaves, chopped

Vinaigrette

2 cloves fresh minced garlic

1 tsp Dijon mustard

1/4 red wine vinegar

1/2 cup olive oil

salt and pepper to taste

Method

Start with a loaf of rustic sourdough bread.

Rough cut it into one inch cubes

Melt 2 TBSP butter and 2 TBSP olive oil in a saute pan.  Add the bread cubes.  Salt to taste.  Saute over medium-low heat for about 5-10 minutes until cubes are toasty and brown.

  If you start nabbing a bite to taste – be sure to leave some for the salad!

I like the way it looks to leave a little skin on the cucumber.  I just took a vegetable peeler and peeled off every other row.

Chop the vegetables and basil, whisk together all the ingredients in the vinaigrette, throw everything in a big bowl with the home made croutons and pour the vinaigrette over all.  Enjoy!!

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There is nothing better than great fish at a great restaurant.  Making it at home…….I’ll be honest here, kinda intimidating.  To make things even a bit trickier, I have these two pesky prerequisites that must be met before attempting to cook fish at home.  It can’t taste fishy and it can’t smell fishy.  Yes, very limiting but it works for me.

Enter stage left…Tilapia.  Tilapia is a buttery, flaky, firm whitefish that meets the criteria.  It is very easy to find and very easy to whip up so we have it often. Although Tilapia can get a nutritionally mediocre “rap” sometimes (it is mostly farm raised on corn which lends itself to lower levels of those healthy Omega 3’s we need), it tastes really, really good so we forgive it.

I buy my Tilapia at my favorite warehouse store that starts with a “C”.  I need to work out a royalty deal with these guys before naming them yet again in a post.  I bring home a five pound pack and open it up to make sure it smells like fresh ocean.  Then we have Tilapia three nights in a row to use it all up while it is still fresh.

My favorite tilapia recipes are pan-seared tilapia with spring succotash (pictured above – click on link for spring succotash recipe),  pan seared tilapia fish tacos with avocado salad  (ditto – click on link for recipe) and another upcoming post: pan seared tilapia with asparagus, spinach and white wine butter sauce (coming soon).   

Pan Seared Tilapia

Ingredients 

1.5 pounds fresh Tilapia filets

Cajun seasoning to taste

Salt and Pepper

2 TBSP butter

2 TBSP olive oil

1 lemon

Method


Dry the Tilapia filets off with a paper towel (necessary to get a good pan sear) and sprinkle both sides with salt, pepper and Cajun seasoning.


Melt the butter and olive oil in a large saute pan over medium high heat.  Add two or three filets at a time to cook.  Don’t crowd the filets in the pan or you will have steamed fish instead of pan seared.  Cook the fish three minutes and then turn over with a spatula.

Continue to cook three minutes on the other side.  If your fish is straight from the fridge or a bit thicker it may take a little longer.  I take a peak at the fish with the tongs of a fork to make sure it is done (when the flesh is no longer translucent).  Finish it (off the flame) with a good squeeze of fresh lemon juice. Serve immediately and enjoy!!


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