Wednesday, November 06, 2013

Pastas for Fall!

As much as I love cooking with ground meats - beef, turkey, chicken...nothing quite matches the flavor of ground sausage, already mixed with mouth-watering seasonings.  Sausage adds a touch of elegance to dinner recipes from soups to sauces to pasta.  Johnsonville offers a number of brilliant varieties of sausages, and I incorporated them into some comforting dinners as we welcomed Fall into our home. 

I don't think I can ever tire of sausage.  I sauté sliced sausage with colorful peppers, crumble them from their casings and cook them in soups, roast them whole or simply cut in half, and use them to flavor up any kind of rice dish.   One of my favorite things to do with sausage, though, is to use it in place of hamburger for my pasta sauces.  In particular, using sausage in a tomato-based spaghetti sauce adds a certain type of zing, especially if there is some sort of spice involved.  I take a small sharp knife and slip it into one end of a sausage link with the blade pointing out and run it the length of the sausage, cutting the casing.  Wanting to try something new, I came across this Johnsonville recipe that called for grilling sausages and slicing them into coin-sized pieces before combining with a pasta sauce:  Italian Sausage Rigatoni.  I was intrigued by this new take on a red sauce, so decided to try it.  I parboiled the sausages before placing them on the grill to brown nicely, sliced them up, mixed everything together, and sure enough, this pasta was delicious and satisfying. 

The second recipe I served this month was a Creamy Pesto Gnocchi.  To be honest, gnocchi is not my favorite form of dumpling, but there is a little Italian market near my home that makes them fresh and sells them by the 1/2 pound.  How could I resist the thick, pillowy little things?  I love pesto and I love sausage so I knew this recipe had to be a hit.  And it was!  The fresh peas and diced red bell pepper added to both the color and flavor of this dish.  I hope you enjoy it as much as we did. 

And, lastly,  cream based sauces are my favorite.  I tried this Bowtie Pasta recipe, and loved the spicy flavor that came from the red pepper flakes and Italian sausage together.  Truly a quick meal that makes you look like a superstar -- with the perfect blend of fresh herbs and spices, this is an easy and beautiful dish for company, or just to impress your whole family. 

Johnsonville, thanks for helping us make some authentic Italian dishes this month!! 

Ore-Ida...yep, we're fans!!

We are a family who loves potatoes - mashed, baked, grilled, fried, braised, the list goes on.  Forget the fact that the potato is an important worldwide crop and a source of nutritious just plain tastes good, no matter how it's cooked.  The spud is kind of a humble veggie, and it's a surprise gift from terrain in North/South America, Europe, and worldwide, springing forward with such versatility.      

This is why I was so pleased to be using Ore-Ida products this month in their partnership with  I used three of their products -- french fries, tater tots, and shredded hash browns.  They were perfect for quick and delicious meals. 

I started with French Fries.  They were easy to make, and tasted the same as the homemade "pommes frites" I make for the kids every now and again.  This was much easier because the frozen fries were ready to go.  After baking, I topped them with our favorite seasoning of kosher salt and a little bit of pepper.  In the past, I've also sprinkled Parmesan over the fries, or covered them with minced cloves of garlic sautéed in a little bit of olive oil.  These frozen fries baked up perfectly and offer an equal comparison to any European delicacy.  Here's another great recipe with some Cajun seasoning...Cajun Baked French Fries

My next foray was with Ore-Ida's popular crowd pleaser, Tater Tots. was so easy to whip up this casserole with a crowning layer of these delicious potato bundles.  Talk about hot dish heaven.  This dish is very similar to something Grandma used to make, and brought back all kinds of cozy memories.  Loved how the tater tots crisped right on top.  Tater Tot Bake

And lastly, I made hash browns as a side for our Saturday breakfast.  It's a staple breakfast food in most diners, and was so easy to replicate at home with this brand.  I used nonstick cooking spray on my griddle to keep it healthy, and cooked them until they were a beautiful golden brown.  They were the perfect side to eggs benedict, with a hollandaise sauce made by hand.  Here's my recipe:  Hollandaise Sauce

Ore-Ida.  When you need to make a meal fast, this brand comes through to round out any meal. 

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Evenings on the Deck with French Onion Soup and Grilled Salmon Quesadillas

Late summer and early fall in Colorado are almost as beautiful as the winters here, except in a big blue sky and cool evening sort of way.  Our family’s favorite thing to do is be outdoors.  We take full advantage of every season.  That means skiing and snowshoeing when the snow blankets our beautiful mountains, and spending perfect summer nights under the stars either camping over the weekend, or searching the night skies from blankets on our lawn, finding constellations. 
We’ve hosted outdoor movies for years.  The kids invite their friends over – the deck is general admission, and seating includes sleeping bags or fold up chairs.  It gives me a chance to try new (or improved) refreshments on an appreciative audience, but year after year, a favorite rival to popcorn and chips is our family’s French Onion Soup and Grilled Salmon Quesadillas.  When the sun goes down, and the moon and stars light up the sky, the soup with its melted sweet onions, caramelized flavors and three cheeses broiled bubbly and brown, provide the perfect combination of tastes against our crispy tortillas filled with flaky salmon and white cheese. 
My French Onion Soup recipe is passed down from Grandpa’s side of the family, hailing from Montreal.  He used to make this with a heavenly, homemade beef stock, and with huge, sweet yellow onions.  The aromas wafting from the kitchen were always to die for.  I’ve experimented with the recipe over the years, and here’s the final version, sharpened with cheeses from a favorite brand.  Don’t forget to try the quesadillas…they go amazingly well with this soup.  We make them with salmon from our annual fishing trips to Canada, and we prefer these crispy stuffed tortillas to traditional grilled cheese sandwiches.  I hope you enjoy these recipes as much as our visitors on the deck, never too involved in the movie plot to enjoy these amazingly bold flavors.
French Onion Soup
3 T butter
1 T olive oil
5 c onions, sliced (about 3 onions)
Salt and Pepper to taste
½ t sugar
1.5 T flour
½ c cooking sherry
6 c beef stock (4 cans)
1 T fresh thyme
Sargento Ultra Thin Swiss Slices
Sargento Ultra Thin Provolone slices
Sargento 6 Cheese Italian Blend (shredded)
Directions:  Cook onions in melted butter and olive oil in a covered pot for 15 minutes.  Uncover, season with salt, pepper and sugar.  Cook another 30 minutes, stirring as needed, until onions caramelize and turn a light golden brown.  Sprinkle flour over onions and cook a few more minutes.  Add sherry, stock and thyme.  Bring to a boil and turn down to a simmer.  Cook 40 minutes.  Adjust salt and pepper.  Add baguette slice on top of each bowl of soup.  Cover the bread with cheese slices.  Broil until slightly melted.  Add shredded  cheese on top of each bowl and continue to broil until cheese is mostly melted and browned. 
Grilled Salmon Quesadillas
Boneless fillets of salmon
Flour tortillas
Sargento 6 Cheese Italian Blend (shredded)
Flavored salt or lemon pepper
Dried dill
Directions:  For salmon fillets, rinse and pat dry.  Season with dill and flavored salt or a lemon pepper.  Dot with butter.  Grill or bake.  If baking, bake at 350 F for 10-20 minutes, depending on thickness of fillet.  As a general rule, bake 10 minutes for every ½ inch thickness of the fillet.  Remove from oven, let cool and flake salmon.  Melt butter on griddle.  Place one tortilla over butter.  Sprinkle cheese over entire tortilla.  Place flaked salmon over cheese.  Melt another pat of butter on another part of the griddle.  Place one tortilla over butter and let sit until pliable.  Place this tortilla over salmon and cheese.  Flip as necessary.  Cook on each side until golden brown. 

Friday, April 12, 2013

The Sophisticated Enchilada and a Nouvelle Mexican Take on Salad

I have a house full of teenagers.  OK, well maybe I should qualify that to "a few days a week I have a house full of them."  I actually only have two of my own, and one is away at college, so the house really should be...well...kinda empty.   But the kids have always had their friends over, and since those friends know I cook, they still come over to hang out...after soccer practice, for extended study sessions, movies, after-prom-breakfast, you name it.  No complaints here - I love it.  Recently some of the girls have expressed interest in wanting to learn how to cook themselves, so I gathered them up one night and we drove to Barnes and Noble where we grabbed a table, got our Starbucks and started flipping through cookbooks.  They browsed world cuisines, and after much debate across the spectrum from Indian to French, we settled on our theme for the first meal - Mexican.  Decidedly an American favorite, right?  Complicated at times because it can range from freshly delectable to nothing better than a TV dinner (do the teenagers even know what that is anymore - I forgot to ask them).  

Some of you may know that I am part of this awesome program with, where as a home cook, I have the opportunity to test out some of their brand partner products and recipes.  One of this month's brand partners is Herdez (you may be familiar with some of their Mexican sauces).  Could the timing be more perfect?  I settled on two recipes for the girls - Enchiladas Suizas and a Sweet Pulled Pork Barbacoa Salad.  Can you ever go wrong with enchiladas?  This great dish translates from a family meal to a last minute potluck offering to dinner for your college roommates.  And to go with the dish, I thought I would throw a salad into the fray to introduce the art of mixing textures and savory/sweet flavors.

When enchiladas are made just right, the filling is wrapped in warm tortillas, and covered with a creamy, tangy, flavor-bursting sauce.  Enchiladas Suizas are a family favorite...we make the sauce from scratch, with grill-roasted tomatillos, chunks of swiss cheese, serrano peppers, onion and garlic, sour cream to cool it down a bit, and chicken broth to add to the flavor.  For this recipe I added one bottle of Herdez tomatillo Verde sauce to up the zing factor, and holy cow, that move was spot on.  The sauce was not only as good as always, but probably topped the sophisticated scale.  I felt like a pro when our little dinner party sat down and tasted this beautifully baked cheesy wonder.  I'm a huge fan of placing sliced avocados on top of the cheese, then covering with more cheese--it bakes up to something fiercely satisfying.  Here's the link to the recipe:  Enchiladas Suizas

By far, though, my favorite recipe of the night was the Sweet Pulled Pork
Barbacoa Salad.  Besides how creative you can be with salad making, I wanted the girls to take away two other things:  they were using an inexpensive cut of meat to make something that tastes like it came from a 5star restaurant, and the recipe is so easily filling with...wait for it...healthy foods that are impossible to resist.  I marinated the pork the day before, and then slow-roasted it all day.  You mix anything with a good cola and brown sugar, and it's going to taste good.  In this case, I also added Herdez Roasted Pasilla Chile sauce to the mix, which was so much tastier than traditional red enchilada sauce.  We built the salad by placing a flour tortilla into a bowl and filling it as follows: black beans, rice, lettuce, pork, pico de gallo, shredded cheese, tortilla strips, and a side of guacamole.  I made a creamy tomatillo dressing to be served on the side.  It's a salad that gives you the sweet and savory, the tangy, and all kinds of soft and crunchy textures.  Please try it:  Sweet Pulled Pork Barbacoa Salad

We ended the evening with, no, not homemade...purchased from the bakery around the corner.  And a discussion of our next adventure...into French cooking.  But, first, we are planning a trip to one of the more popular Mexican restaurants in town to compare our theirs. 

Sunday, February 17, 2013

Chicken Cacciatore

The thing about being an untrained home learn while you go, and every once in awhile you stumble across amazing little gems that you would normally only learn about from years-trained-and-experienced culinary academy faculty.  Like, braising, for example.  After a few years of making this recipe, I came to the realization that what I was doing was actually a recognized technique that involved searing meat at a high heat and then finishing it off in a covered pot in a deliciously seasoned liquid.  I was floored...this recipe came from a social connection, and it taught me a cooking method.  One day, I may go back to culinary school.  Do you think they have cooking courses suited to a computer engineer?  Something that teaches the difference between following a recipe and "cooking"?   
I still have the original handwritten source of this recipe - it was sent by mail to me from a cute couple I met near Venice.  We met on a train--they were excited to meet an American (imagine that) and practice their English.  We exchanged addresses, and eighteen months later I was sending them a small wedding gift.  In their thank you note, Chiara jotted down this recipe, something she said her mother's mother served at her rehearsal dinner.  I have since learned that this recipe is typical of Northern Italy where white wine is used in the sauce versus a red wine like you'd find in Southern Italy.  Pretty cool. 

I've converted the measurements and changed it a tiny bit over the years (like dried oregano instead of fresh, canned tomatoes instead of garden, canned chicken broth).  But, I have kept some things authentic - like NOT dredging the chicken in flour when searing.  I hope you enjoy this as much as my family does.  :) 

1 hen, cut into 8 pieces (about 3-4lbs)
2 T olive oil
1 onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 celery stalk, chopped
1/2 box mushrooms, chopped
1/2 c dry white wine (you can substitute chicken broth)
1 14oz can chopped tomatoes
1/2 c chicken broth
1 t dried oregano
1/4 c fresh chopped parsley
salt and pepper
pinch of red pepper flakes

Rinse chicken pieces; pat dry.  Heat oil in a large skillet over medium heat, and brown the chicken pieces well on both sides.  Remove chicken.  Add mushrooms, onions and celery to pan drippings.  Saute until soft, about 5minutes.  Add garlic and cook 2min more.  Add chicken back to the pot and add white wine.  Cook on medium heat until it has almost completely evaporated.  Add in chopped tomatoes, broth and seasonings.  Simmer covered for 30minutes.  To thicken the sauce, remove the chicken and add a a cornstarch-water mixture.  Bring to a boil, cook until reduced.  Serve over pasta. 

** Here's the link to my personal recipe: