Thursday, September 30, 2010

Turkey Spaghetti, take two.

My second attempt at this dish went a lot better than the first, expecially considering I had the right tomatoes.  Everything went smoothly;  the turkey cooked beautifully, the pasta was al dente... But as I was eating it, I couldn't help to notice this craving in the back of my head.  "Beef....this needs beef..." it said.  Every single recipe I've made with ground turkey I have found this to be the case. 

So, while there wasn't anything particularly wrong with the recipe, and I'm sure turkey is healthier than beef, I still want to retry the recipe with just beef. 

Also, every time I make a tomato dish, I have way too much tomato paste left over from the tiny 6 oz can.   I always feel guilty about throwing the rest out, but it would rot in the refrigerator.  Does anyone have any way to save it, without freezing it?  (I find that if I freeze it, I never remember to take it out before I need it.)

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

New Ingredient: Ricotta - Fettucini with Smashed Peas, Sausage, and Ricotta Cheese

In an effort to further my goal, I am going to choose an ingredient each week to both use in a meal and write about here.  This week's new ingredient is Ricotta cheese.

Ricotta cheese can be made from sheep, goat, or water buffalo milk, but is most commonly made from cow milk.  Ricotta literally means "recooked", as it's made from the leftover cheese products like whey.  Its flavor is very mild and slightly sweet, and has a very smooth texture similar to cottage cheese.  When it ages, it turns yellow.

Ricotta is often used in Italian dishes as a filler for pasta like ravioli and lasagna, and is also featured in some Italian desserts.  It can be used as a substitute for mayonnaise.

The recipe that featured this ingredient was from New Italian Favorites, called Tagatelle with Smashed Paes, Sausage, and Ricotta Cheese.  Tagatelle is another word for wide pasta such as fettucini.  Honestly, I couldn't find any other pasta labeled directly as tagatelle both in the supermarket or on Google, so I used fettucini as a substitute.

When I opened up the container of whole milk Ricotta cheese, I was surprised at the consistacy.  It looked like I had opened a giant container of yogurt, as it was completely smooth.  The flavor was pleasant, and I imagine I will use the rest of the large container I bought on some crackers.

The recipe itself was very simple.  Cook the pasta, then some sausage meat (I found a package without the casings, very convenient), smash peas, and add the cheese.  It turned out to be a lovely combination of flavors all mixed together, and it reminded me of something very homey.

Fettucini with Smashed Peas, Sausage, and Ricotta Cheese (Serves 2)

1/3 lb fettucini
3/4 tablespoon olive oil
1 clove garlic, chopped
1/3 lb Italian sausage, casings removed
1/4 lb frozen peas, thawed
1/3 cup whole milk Ricotta cheese
1/3 cup basil leaves, chopped
1 tablespoon Romano cheese, grated
1/3 teaspoon salt

Bring a pot of salted water to boil.
Add pasta and cook according to directions.
Drain pasta, resserving 1/2 cup of the pasta cooking water.
Heat the olive oil and cook garlic in a large skillet over medium heat until the garlic is fragrant.
Add sausage and cook using a wooden spoon to break it up into bite sized pieces.
When the sausage has browned, about 5 minutes, push it to one side of the pan.
Add the peas tothe pan, and using the spoon, smash the peas.
Turn off the heat and add the ricotta cheese to the pan and stir to combine.
Add the cooked pasta and toss to coat.
Add the pasta cooking water 1/4 cup at a time to make pasta moist, if needed.
Add the basil, Romano, and salt.
Toss gently to combine and serve immediately.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Pastina with Clams and Mussels (Kind of fail)

The scariest thing from the pasta chapter of Giada De Laurentiis's book, New Italian Favorites, is the clam and mussel dish. Live shellfish is something I never have had to deal with, so clams are a better place to start compared to lobster.

Jeff doesn't even like the idea of clam looking food, so I saved this for a day where it would just be me at home (once again defying the title of this blog). If it turned out to be good, I would have him try it.

After classes ended for the day, I went to Martins and their glorious seafood selection (no more shark, oddly), picked up 3 clams and 4 mussels. As I was looking them over in the cheap plastic containers, the lady at the counter asked, "You look confused; are you wondering why there are holes on the cap?" "Um....because they're alive?" "Yep!" Thank you seafood counter lady for looking out for me. (Not sarcasm.)

After walking the dogs, I started on dinner. I looked up information on how to clean the shellfish, and began soaking them for 20 minutes. Unfortunately, it appeared that two of the mussels decided to kick the bucket. As instructed by the internet, I tapped them lightly against the counter to make sure they were completely dead. As it turned out, one of them was faking it, and got to be added to the pot of soaking water.

The pastina (small pasta) was to be cooked in a broth and water mixture, then drained after finished cooking.

As for the shellfish pot, onions and garlic were sauteed, then sherry and tomatoes were added to the pot. Finally, the shellfish were added.

This was a milestone for me, as it was the first time I have ever killed something in preparation to eat it. (Plants don't count in my world.) I was worried; what if they all didn't open? Thankfully, my worry was interrupted by one of my dogs deciding to go to the bathroom on the kitchen floor.

After the 7 minutes, everything had opened. Success! Time for plating.

Apparently, clams and mussels are very photogenic.

Pleased with my awkward-to-carry plate, I sampled the meats. And then proceded to spit them out. The mussels tasted a bit better than the clams, but not by much.

Despite the failure, the pasta was delicious. I am going to find something to integrate the pasta into.

To speak honestly, I don't know whether I did something wrong, or if I actually don't like them. I'll keep an open mind if the opportunity presents itself in the future.

However, Jeff, fear not. I wont make you try this dish.

Friday, September 17, 2010

Szechwan (Awesome) Shrimp

One of the staple shrimp dishes I have found over the time I have been cooking is called Szechwan Shrimp. For the longest time, I had no idea how to pronounce Szechwan, so I simplified it to "awesome". I'm pretty sure I could eat two portions or more at one setting.

I've done this dish enough times, that with the exception of the rice, I don't have to use a timer, so the times aren't in the recipe.

For those who don't know how to cook shrimp, it's very simple, and takes about 3 minutes for medium to small shrimp. As the shrimp cook, they turn from translucent purple to a light pink, and will curl up tight. It's important to stir the shrimp as they cook, so they are cooked evenly on both sides. I like to pour the shrimp into the pan, make sure they are all laying on their side, then flipping them individually. Because the shrimp are going to be in the pan while the sauce is cooking, it's important to add the sauce as the shrimp are almost done cooking, so the shrimp wont over cook.

The sauce is made up of odd kitchen staples, such as ketchup, soy sauce, honey, and corn starch. It takes about 3 to 5 minutes for the sauce to thicken.

Szechwan (Awesome) Shrimp (Serves 2)

1/4 cup water
2 tablespoon ketchup
1 tablespoon soy sauce
2 teaspoons cornstarch
1 teaspoon honey
1/4 teaspoon dried ginger
1/8 cup green onion, sliced
2 cloves garlic, minced
8 ounce shrimp, peeled and deveined

In a bowl, mix water, ketchup, soy sauce, cornstarch, honey, and ground ginger.
Heat 1 tablespoon vegetable oil in skillet.
On medium heat, stir in green onions, garlic, and shrimp.
When shrimp is cooked, add the sauce.
Cook until sauce is thick and bubbly.
Serve over rice.

Friday, September 3, 2010

Chicken Cordon Bleu

Last Thursday, Elizabeth came over, and we were determined to make something to eat. Jeff and I had just bought a new couch, so we're trying to eat cheap for a few weeks; our challenge was to find something that we could make out of what we had, and have it be awesome. And, to write it down.

We decided on Chicken Cordon Bleu, using frozen chicken, leftover cheeses, sliced deli ham, and a bunch of food staples (not office supplies). As our side, we used some small eggplants that were given to me by a friend to make eggplant fries.

Elizabeth and I started on the cheese sauce, which was made from a rue with milk and shredded Colby Jack cheese. We added celery salt, garlic powder, and dill weed as spices, and let it thicken.

We let the poor, frozen (and possibly a little freezer-burnt) chicken thaw, then I pounded it. (I have a pleasing amount of experience with this now!) After seasoning the chicken with salt and pepper, we put the ham on top of the chicken, then a layer of Colby Jack on top of the ham. After the sauce was finished, we put that on top of the layer of cheese, and rolled the chicken onto itself. We brushed egg on top of the chicken, then patted on a layer of breadcrumbs.

We put the wrapped chicken into a pan layered with tin foil, and we baked it at 350 degrees for 30 minutes. After the 20 minute point, we checked the temperature of the chicken to determine whether or not it was cooked, but we found that because the chicken was wrapped, this didn't give an accurate temperature of the chicken.

While we were waiting for the chicken to cook, we experimented with the eggplant fries. Elizabeth sliced the eggplants, and we decided not to skin them (as an afterthought). I found a breading mixture that had high ratings, and we dipped the eggplant slices in that, then dipped them in hot oil until they browned.

As a test, we decided to try them before the chicken was finished. Our first reactions were ecstatic, however my own opinion started to dwindling due to an emerging bitter taste. I did some research later on, and the bitterness could have been from the eggplants not being fresh anymore. Because of my issues with the bitterness, (strangely, Elizabeth didn't have any problems with it), I'm not going to post the recipe here at the moment.

Chicken Cordon Bleu

2 chicken breasts
1 egg
1/4 cup breadcrumbs
4 slices of ham
1 1/2 tablespoons Colby Jack cheese, shredded

Cheese Sauce:
2 tablespoons butter
1 tablespoon flour
5 tablespoons milk
6 tablespoons Colby Jack cheese, shredded
1 teaspoon celery salt
1 teaspoon garlic powder
1 teaspoon dill weed

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

In a sauce pan, melt butter, then slowly whisk the flour into the butter.
Cook until flour and butter are golden.
Slowly add and gently whisk milk, then add the cheese; continue mixing.
Add the celery salt, garlic powder, and dill weed.
Keep on a low heat until ready to use.

Pound chicken breasts to 1/2 inch.
Season the chicken with salt and pepper.
Layer, in order, on top of each chicken: 1 slice of ham, Colby Jack cheese, 2 tablespoons of the cheese sauce.
Roll the chickens onto themselves, encasing the ham and cheese inside them.
Place the chicken breasts onto a pan lined with foil.
Coat the chicken with a thick layer of egg, and pat the breadcrumbs onto the top side of the chicken.
Cook for 30 minutes.