Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Italian Sausage Pasta

I went grocery shopping this week without a list.  It's the worst thing I can do.  Not only do I have no idea what I am there to buy, but I have no idea what I have at home so I end up buying things I already have - just in case I don't.   Anyhow, I ended up seeing Italian sausage not in the casing and thought of doing a pasta.

At first I was going to do tomatoes and spinach, and maybe stuff it into shells or something.  But for some reason once I thought of tomatoes, I could not stop thinking about my Italian Sausage Soup.  So I grabbed some zucchini and a green pepper.  I thought about how I wanted the sauce to come together and thought about doing mascarpone or sour cream or something.  But I saw that Philadelphia cooking cream and thought I'd try that.  I was a little skeptical, but it worked out great and was mild enough to be in the background.   I did my shopping on Monday morning but made it on Tuesday.   For 24 hours, it was all I could think about.

It came together very quickly. And it was as delicious as I had imagined in my head for a day.  The fact that both of my kids gobbled it up, and there were no left overs speaks volumes.  I do love that its full of things I keep on hand.   With the exception of the cooking cream, but I do think it would be just as great with no cream.

Italian Sausage Pasta

2 tablespoons olive oil
1 small onion, diced
1 small green pepper, diced
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 pound ground sausage (or regular sausage, casing removed; OR you could use sliced sausage)
2 medium zucchini, diced
1 can diced tomatoes
2 tablespoons Philadelphia cooking cream
salt and pepper to taste
chopped parsley and grated parmesan cheese to garnish

1/2 box cooked pasta (I used rigatoni)

In a large sautee pan, heat the olive oil over medium high heat.  Add the onions, garlic and pepper and cook until soft.   Add the sausage, breaking up any large pieces and cook until browned and cooked through.

(At this point, I transferred the sausage, peppers and onions to a plate and cooked the zucchini, but you could probably skip this step and toss the zucchini in with everything else.  I wanted the zucchini to get nice and browned, yet remain firm and crisp and not become mushy.)

Add the tomatoes and cooking cream, stirring to combine.   Season with salt and pepper.  Serve over cooked pasta with grated cheese and chopped parsley.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012


Laissez les bon temps rouler! Happy Mardi Gras! One of my bucket list items is to go to New Orleans for Mardi Gras.  The last two years, I have threatened my husband that I am just going to drive there at the last minute.   I am a huge Better Than Ezra fan and they play at the House of Blues during the Mardi Gras celebrations every year.  At the last minute, I had to let go of the fantasy and decided just to be there in spirit.

This jambalaya was one way to achieve that.  Now, I am aware of how I bastardized the dish.  But it was good to have the taste of jambalaya.   Since it was a last minute decision to make it, I just used what I had on hand.  The biggest thing was that I had chicken breast, so I didn't buy a whole chicken.   I also didn't have a red bell pepper, so I skipped it.   I'm not sure if that's sacrilege, but you can add those in when you make it.

I also don't know if purists would turn their nose up, but I marinated my chicken breasts in paprika, olive oil, salt, and pepper.  I wanted to impart a little smoky flavor.  I really loved this.  This time of year, I try to make dinner earlier in the afternoon, so I can photograph before I lose the sun.  When I was done photographing this, I inhaled it.  When Nico got home, I inhaled another bowl.  It's fat Tuesday.  I'll make up for it in the next 40 days.

adapted from The Galley Gourmet

2 T canola oil
3 chicken breasts, marinated in olive oil, paprika, salt and pepper
1 package sausage (I used kielbasa, but andouille would work best), sliced in 1/4" rounds
1 medium onion, diced fine
2 stalks celery, diced fine
1 green bell pepper, seeded and diced fine
2 cloves of garlic, minced
1 teaspoon cayenne pepper
salt and pepper to taste
1 1/2 cups brown rice
2 bay leaves
3 cups chicken stock

chopped green onions, chopped parsley and Tabasco for serving.

In a large dutch oven, heat the oil.  Add the chicken and sear on both sides until browned, about 4 minutes per side.   Remove from pan and set aside.  Add the sausage and brown on both sides,  about 5 minutes.  Work in batches if you can't fit all the sausage at once.   Remove the sausage from the pan and set aside with the chicken.

Drain most of the oil off, reserving 3 tablespoons.  Add the onion, celery and bell pepper and cook until softened.   Add the garlic and sauté for another 2 minutes.  Add the cayenne, salt and pepper.   Stir in the rice and sauté for 5 minutes.  Add the chicken broth, bring to a boil and reduce heat to simmer.   Return the chicken and sausage to the pan, cover and cook until the water is absorbed, about 20 minutes.  (This took my closer to 30 minutes, probably because I used brown rice, not white like the original recipe called for.) Fluff with a fork, and top with garnishes before serving.

Friday, February 17, 2012

Sweet Potato, Kale and Caramelized Onion Pizza

Pizza, pizza, pizza!  It's all I've posted since I came home from Mexico!  Well, truth be told I am still working my way back to reality after my break.  Right now, I'm cooking up a batch of Sopa di Lima, which I am very excited to share here soon.

The other day I posted about the Valentine's day heart shaped pizzas I made for Evie's preschool class.  There is one girl in her class who has some food sensitivities and I didn't want her to miss out on a special lunch, so I talked to her mom about what foods were off limits and what she could eat.  I decided I would make this sweet potato pizza for her.   Since I didn't think I'd need a whole sweet potato for one person, I decided we'd have that for dinner the same night.

While Evie was not a big fan of it, she did eat about half of one piece.  The little girl in her class loved it, though and that was what was most important to me.  My son and I also loved it.   I don't think Nico was a big fan, but he ate it without complaint.  

Personally, I thought it was way better than I anticipated.   I added a little sprinkle of parmesan cheese to one slice, just to give it a punch of flavor, but it really did not need it.  The sweetness of the potato and onions with the earthy, crunchiness of the kale... I sprinkled a little kosher salt over it and it was a simple and delicious dinner.

Sweet Potato, Kale, and Caramelized Onion Pizza
slightly adapted from The Type A Housewife

1 large sweet potato
1 tbsp olive oil
1 large onion, thinly sliced
1 cup kale, torn into pieces
3 tbsp milk
1 prepared pizza crust
kosher salt and pepper to taste

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.  Pierce the sweet potato and bake about 45 to an hour, until soft.

While the potato is baking, heat the oil in a skillet over medium-high heat and add the onion and a pinch of salt.  Turn down to low and stir occasionally until the onions are caramelized, about 30-40 minutes.   (The original recipe had the kale cooked with the onions.  But I liked the kale raw, so it got crispy like kale chips.)

Allow the potato to cool until you can handle it, then remove the skin.  Place the flesh in a food processor with the milk.  Add salt and pepper to taste.   Pulse until smooth.  Spread the puree over the pizza crust, top with onions and torn kale.   Bake at 400 for 10 minutes.  

If adding a sprinkle of cheese, do so after you remove it from the oven.

Monday, February 13, 2012

Heart Shaped Pizza

A simple treat for the kids tomorrow: Take a store bought pizza shell, such as Boboli and cut it into quarters.   Take the rounded side and shape it into a heart.  Top with sauce, cheese and heart shaped pepperoni for a sweet valentine's day lunch.  I made these for Evie's preschool class today.  (The one on the bottom right is sweet potato, kale and onion for a student with food sensitivities.)

I also added a fruit salad cut into heart shapes.

Happy Valentine's Day to you and your sweeties!

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Chicken Pizza

Mexico has never been high on my list of dream vacations.  As a matter of fact, it was not on my list at all.   When it came about a few weeks ago that we were going to go on this trip, however, I was immediately excited.   Because for one thing, who doesn't want to go to the Carribean in the winter.  And another thing, who doesn't want to go on a free vacation at a five star resort?  We stayed at the Rosewood Mayakoba in Playa del Carmen and I cannot say enough good things about this property.

I didn't want to stay in the resort only, though.  It's Mexico! Home of the Mayan Indians!  It's 2012 and everyone is talking about the Mayans and their calendar.  I thought what better time to go see some Mayan ruins than this year!  On the plane ride to Cancun, I was reading a little bit about some of the ruins close to Cancun.  There was one about an hour from Playa called Tulum.  It seemed like it would be easy to get to.   But there is a huge site about 4 hours from Cancun called Chichen Itza.  According to the article I read, there is a movement to make Chichen Itza one of the new 7 wonders of the world.  The way the temple of Kukuclan was built, it captures the sunlight in a unique way on the spring equinox of every year.   Chichen Itza is anticipated to be the center of a huge celebration as millions will visit to see the Feathered Serpent descend the temple on the Vernal Equinox.

I didn't make it to either site however.   After three days of scheduled activities, on my last day there, the draw of staying at the resort and taking full advantage of the amenities there was too big.   A few people from our group did go, though and it cracked me up when they came back to Playa talking about Chicken Pizza.
Chicken Pizza was the first thing I made when I got home from Mexico.  Nico declared himself to be "over" Mexican food and (shudder to think) tequila.   So I thought I'd be clever and hide my enormous craving for all things Mexican in this pizza.  He was not fooled, but he did like it.

I fell madly and deeply in love with pickled red onions while there.  I had pickled red onions, salsa verde and guacamole with just about every meal.   I decided to do a salsa verde base topped with pickled red onions, cotija, and grilled chicken (that I marinated in salsa verde).  This pizza would have been awesome with some guacamole or even just sliced avocado on it.  We did just about eat our weight in guacamole while there.  When I was at the farmers market yesterday, I didn't even buy any avocados because I thought Nico might throw them at me.  (Not really.) But he really is sick of them. I am not. I'll give him a week to get back on board with me.

Chicken Pizza

Salsa Verde, adapted from All Recipes
1 pound tomatillos, husked
1/2 cup finely chopped onion
1 teaspoon minced garlic
1 serrano chile pepper, minced
1-2 tablespoons chopped cilantro (I did 1, because I am not a cilantro fan)
1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
1 1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup white vinegar

Place the tomatillos, onion, garlic, chile pepper, cilantro, cumin and salt into a food processor.  Process until smooth, about 4 minutes.

Place the puree in a non-reactive saucepan and bring to a boil over medium-high heat.  Add the vinegar and adjust the salt if needed.  Continue to boil for another 10-15 minutes.   Allow to cool and store in an airtight container.

Pickled Red Onions, only slightly adapted from David Lebovitz
3/4 cup white vinegar
1.5 tablespoons sugar (this was the only adjustment I made.  DL called for 3 tablespoons)
pinch of salt
1 bay leaf
5 allspice berries
5 whole cloves
a small dried chile pepper
1 large red onion, peeled and thinly sliced into half moons

In a small non-reactive saucepan, heat the vinegar, sugar, salt, seasonings and chile until boiling.   Add the onion slices and lower the heat.  Simmer for about 30 seconds.

Transfer the onions and liquid to a jar.  When cool, refrigerate until ready to use.   (I poured off the pickling liquid the next day.  However David Lebovitz suggests storing the onions in the liquid.)

For the pizza
2 chicken breasts, marinated overnight in salsa verde (I used less than 1/4 cup of salsa verde that was not as smooth as the finished salsa) and grilled, then diced or shredded
Pizza crust of your choice (I chose pre-baked shells.  This one was whole wheat Boboli)
1/4 cup salsa verde
1/4 cup pickled onions
1/4 cup cotija cheese
sour cream, optional
cilantro leaves for garnish, optional

Preheat oven to 425 degrees and place a pizza stone in the oven.  If you are using fresh pizza dough, grill or bake the dough now, so you are not topping raw dough.   Top your prepared pizza crust with salsa verde, pickled onions, chicken and cotija cheese.   Place on the pizza stone and bake for 10 minutes.

Top with sour cream and cilantro and serve.

Thursday, February 9, 2012

Viva Mexico!

My husband and I were gifted with a fabulous gift - a trip to Mexico.  We are rounding out our five days here and I cannot wait to get back to my kitchen.  I am filled with authentic Mexican food, tequila and inspiration.

Pictured on the left is a tamarind daiquiri and on the right is a chaya mojito.  I'll be home soon with lots to share.

Friday, February 3, 2012

Baked Chocolate and Vanilla Donuts

This week, I caved and bought one of those donut pans.  This is how it happened.

My daughter's birthday is Sunday.  At her preschool, when the kids have their birthday, the mom's get to come in and read a few books to the class and bring a treat.  I am going in tomorrow to do this for Evelyn, but because they have a busy day in class the only time for me to come was at 9:15 am.  So cupcakes were out.  Evie's teachers suggested I pick up a box of Munchkins and come in.

Sounds good, except my identifier at her school is "the mom who cooks".  How can I phone it in with Dunkin Donuts?  As much as I know the kids would love it, I just couldn't do it.  So I decided I'd make my own donuts.   I've made donuts before.  Martha Stewarts sufganiyot.  But I didn't want to be frying donuts Friday morning.

I thought of all the donut pan blog posts I've seen around the blogs I read.  And the donuts all look soooo good!  So why not give it a try, right?  I justified it by telling myself that Munchkins would be full of additives and preservatives.  If I made them myself, they'd be "better".

I got to work Monday morning making a test batch.   The first recipe I tried was a simple vanilla cake recipe.  They were alright, but I thought they were a little dense.  Later in the afternoon, I wanted to try a chocolate donut.  I went straight to How Sweet Eats and adapted her Red Velvet Donut recipe.  They were perfect.  Delicious, moist, chocolatey little cakes topped with a drizzle of glaze.   Oh and EASY!  From set up to clean up, I got two batches baked in a half hour.  Not bad, huh?

So I went ahead and remade a second batch of vanilla donuts.  I used the same red velvet recipe and adapted it again.  They were also light and fluffy, delicious.    On Monday when I made the test batches, I topped the chocolate donuts with a simple powdered sugar glaze and the vanilla donuts with an even more simple chocolate glaze.   Tonight, I made birthday donuts but I decided to top the chocolate donuts with a cream cheese glaze that I tinted pink.  I tinted the vanilla donuts pink and topped them with a chocolate cream cheese glaze.   I topped them both with red, pink and white sprinkles.  

I don't know if they are so light because I used White Lily Flour...  All the recipes I found (including the that came with the pan) called for cake flour.  But I didn't have any so I used my White Lily, which is lighter than all purpose.  I'm not sure.  It's on my list of to dos this year to gain a stronger understanding of the different flour types.   But whatever the reason, they are really light.  I am writing cake flour or White Lily in the recipe below.   I also think a contributor to their being so light and not dense like the first batch was the vinegar/baking soda mixture that gets added at the end of the batter. 

While these are definitely more cake than cake donut, I am still very excited to try more varieties.  Blueberry cake, pumpkin cake, coffee cake, cinnamon. The list goes on and on.  Of course, my kids love them.  My son seems man enough to eat a pink donut. 

Chocolate Donuts
adapted from How Sweet Eats

1 cup White Lily flour (or cake flour)
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
1/3 cup granulated sugar
1 large egg, lightly beaten
1/3 cup buttermilk + 1 tablespoon
2 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted and cooled
3/4 teaspoon distilled white vinegar
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Preaheat oven to 375 degrees.   Spray donut pan with cooking spray.

Into a medium bowl, sift the flour, sugar, cocoa powder, baking powder and salt.  Add the buttermilk and egg and combine.   Stir in the butter.   In a small bowl, combine the baking soda and vinegar, then add vanilla.  Add this mixture to the donut batter and combine.

Put the batter into a zip top bag and snip a small hole on the end.  Squeeze the dough into the donut pans, only filling each about half way.  They will rise considerably while baking and the hole will close up if you fill them too much.   Bake for 8 minutes.  Allow to cool for a few minutes before moving them to a cooling rack.   Wipe the pan out, spray with cooking spray again, and bake the remainder of the dough.

For the vanilla cupcakes, I used the exact same recipe, only omitting the cocoa powder.  I worried abou how the loss of 1/4 cup of dry ingredients would affect the donuts, but it did not.  I also added a tiny drop of red food color to them to tint them pink.

Whipped Cream Cheese Glaze
1/4 cup whipped cream cheese, at room temperature
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 cup powdered sugar
4-5 tablespoons heavy cream, or more to bring to the texture you prefer

In a bowl wide enough to fit the donut, whisk the cream cheese vigorously until it smooths out.  I added the heavy cream at this point to help with this step.  Add vanilla and sugar and whisk until smooth and thin.   Dip the donuts (or spoon it over the top of your donuts) then top with sprinkles, if you like.

*Notes:  I wish I had gotten my glaze a little thinner.  It is more like frosting, like Jessica of How Sweet Eats said.  On my trial run on Monday, I did a simple heavy cream and powdered sugar glaze, but it was practically see through.  I wanted something you could see on the donut.  I'll be tweaking this as I make more.   For the chocolate glaze this time, I simply added 2 ounces of melted unsweetened chocolate to the glaze.  On my test run, I did 2 ounces of unsweetened chocolate melted with heavy cream and a few tablespoons of powdered sugar.  That was by far, my favorite glaze.