25 March 2008

My kitchen must-haves

I leave my pastas and oils in the cupboard right above the stove hood. Whenever I'm in a rush, it's a lot easier to have all of my staples right in front of me. I eat a lot of pasta, as you can probably already tell. Usually I have on hand farfalle for quick pasta tosses, shells for stuffed pasta, orzo for soups or for a break from couscous (great with a little pesto blended in, and compliments salmon superbly), penne, spaghetti, fettucine, angel hair, lasagna, cappellini, and macaroni. I also have thin rice noodles and egg noodles as backups for when my usual pasta fix won't do the trick.
As for the oils, I have two different kinds of extra virgin olive oil (one's sweeter and lighter), peanut oil for higher temperature cooking and sauteeing, Smart Balance blend oil for baking, truffle oil for fancy occasions and dinner parties, and I keep the walnut oil in the fridge since it spoils.

Pesto marinated chicken and asparagus risotto

22 March 2008

Cuban stew!!

I love black beans and rice, and I've been making Cuban black bean stew for years. Even if it isn't Cuban, I also love guacamole (not to mention my avocado supply looked like it might take a turn for the worse soon)--and well, there were tortillas involved....
My Cuban Black Bean Stew
4 slices bacon, drippings reserved in pan
1 medium onion, chopped
1 bay leaf
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 green pepper, diced
1 yellow pepper, diced
1 teaspoon ancho chile powder
2 cans black beans, liquid reserved
1. Cook the bacon until crisp and drain on a paper towel. With heat on low, add the onion and garlic to the bacon drippings, stirring until garlic is fragrant and onion is translucent. Add bay leaf and ancho chile powder. Add green peppers and saute for two minutes.
2. Pour in black beans with liquid, and turn heat down to low. Crumble bacon and stir into mixture. Allow to simmer for ten to fifteen minutes, or until peppers are soft. Remove bay leaf and serve with rice.
Note: This stew version goes best with pork dishes (I love it with pork carnitas in tomatillo sauce), but may be served with poultry or omit bacon for a vegetarian main course with tons of protein.

13 March 2008

11 March 2008

If you like/love cooking....

...you should subscribe to these magazines! Well, actually, I have to admit that Bon Appetit is only useful if you are pretty far advanced in your cooking capabilities. However, I have picked up a number of useful tips from the magazine in terms of finding new ways to cook old items.
Cooking Light is extremely useful in finding new life for old recipes that seem to have no chance of withstanding the current dietary guidelines. I even bought a subscription for my mother as a gift. Another reason to love the magazine: they devote each issue to a new ingredient that they update, provide recipes for and inspire you to try new foods. One issue focused on the avocado, the most delightful of all fruits. I used to bring an avocado to the teaching assistant meetings and eat it straight out of its skin, which grossed pretty much everyone in the room out. It was wonderful to find new uses beyond guacomole that wouldn't provoke this reaction. My favorite issue focus? CHOCOLATE!! Chocolate infused BBQ sauce, chocolate chipotle chili....I was in serious heaven. And dark chocolate has some major health benefits.


Yum. I like salmon even if my husband, my father and most of my family doesn't like it. Here's to eating a nice slab o' fish when no one else is around!

07 March 2008

Dinner in 10 minutes (eat your heart out, Rachael Ray!)

Easy dinner. Shrimp, sugar snap peas, grape tomatoes, black beans (rinse them so the "gook" doesn't turn the rest of the dish black, and knocks down sodium), garlic, butter, lemon pepper and olive oil or some other heart healthy oil. Bed of couscous (I add the tiniest drizzle of olive oil and cook the couscous in chicken broth so it has flavor and doesn't clump).

Also on board: orange sections and avocado. They complement one another perfectly, and provide a welcome alternative to the usual leafy green salad.

Mexican inspired meatballs

I had to use up some ground turkey so I made meatballs! I also added a pound of ground pork because turkey tends to be a little dry....and I like pork. There I said it. The sauce is a tomatillo sauce, and I served with rice and kidney beans since I didn't have any black beans, and I warmed up the corn tortillas in a skillet so they wouldn't tear easily.
I also finally broke down and paid the seven dollars for cotija cheese at Safeway. I've been resisting buying something so expensive, particularly since it costs about TWO DOLLARS in Chicago. It did however add that tangy Parmesan-like taste to the finished product--a perfect counterbalance for the smooth flavors of avocado and tomatillo.

06 March 2008

What to make when you have cravings and your husband isn't eating with you (wink wink)

Okay, so maybe not "wink wink." I like anchovies. And cream. And potatoes. So I made an anchovy pasta with potatoes and cream (well...fat free half and half--it doesn't curdle if you add it last and it's, well, fat free). I'd leave a recipe here, but I'm not imagining too many people share my strange cravings. So here are some pics instead (wink wink).

I know there are many versions, but here's my...

....spaghetti. My mother taught me this recipe, and I've been using it for years. I used to make it with either Italian pork sausage or beef meatballs, but these days I've been substituting chicken sausages (they're cheap now! and at costco!!). I also used to use a pork neckbone in the first stages of simmering the sauce, but frankly, I don't have that kind of time, and I like to save that part of the recipe for special occasions.

Despite most peoples' objections to making your own spaghetti sauce (I KNOW Ragu and Prego are readily available, and quite cheap), I think there is absolutely no substitute for making your own. It's wonderful, and it's the first recipe I teach people who are just learning the cooking ropes.

I love gardening, and this summer I plan on using my own fresh tomatoes as a base for the sauce. In fact, I freeze homegrown crushed and salted tomatoes year round to use as a base for my sauce--it's really cheap, and really easy if you pack the tomatoes in individual ziplock bags.

First, if you are using homegrown tomatoes, boil a large pot of water, "score" a big 'X' with a knife on the top and bottom of each tomato, and then place the whole tomatoes into the pot for about two minutes. Remove and place the tomatoes in a bowl of cold water (this will aid in softening the tomato skin for removal and cooling it so that you don't burn your fingers). Carefully peel the skins from the tomatoes and place in a medium-high heated skillet. Add about 2 teaspoons salt and simmer until the tomatoes break up. Store in individual ziplock bags for up to nine months. When you need crushed tomatoes, defrost one for about six minutes, and PRESTO!

Canned tomatoes will do just fine, but if you are watching your sodium intake (I do--I am appalled at how much sodium is in canned goods), fresh tomatoes are a better option. Another alternative is organic crushed tomatoes, and that goes for organic chicken/beef broths as well--one can of organic chicken broth contains less sodium than the regular "less sodium" version available, and that goes for tomatoes as well.

Chicken Sausage Spaghetti Dinner (also known by my family as Kobza Rockstar Spaghetti)

2 tbl. extra virgin olive oil (you can use regular, but to really release the fresh flavors of tomato, you need EVOO)

2 large cloves garlic, minced

1 large white onion, diced

2 cups crushed tomatoes (1-15 oz. can crushed tomatoes)

1 can tomato sauce

1 1/2 tsp. crushed oregano (or more to taste--I like a lot of oregano)

1 tbl. parsley flakes or 2 tbl. fresh parsley

2 tbl. crushed basil

2 tsp. white sugar

5 links chicken sausage, cut into bitesize pieces

3/4 package multigrain spaghetti

Sea salt and fresh ground black pepper, to taste

Directions: Heat oil in a large, deep skillet over medium heat, and add onions for about three or four minutes. Then add garlic until fragrant. Note: at this point I like to sprinkle a little sea salt and fresh ground black pepper. Once onions are soft and translucent, add crushed tomatoes and tomato sauce. Turn heat down to low-medium, and add spices, including sugar. Add chicken sausage and cover sauce with lid. Simmer on low for 40 minutes. Add spices to taste--either oregano, basil, parsley or s&p.

Boil a large pot of water over high heat and once boiling, add a pinch of salt to help soften the pasta to al dente. Add pasta and lower heat to medium. Stir a couple of times during cooking, and follow the package directions. Chances are, the package directions will only approximate cooking time--be sure to check a strand of spaghetti. It should be soft and easy to bite through but with a bit of bite left to it.

Add the spaghetti to the sauce pan, and you have Kobza Spaghetti.