Now THAT’s Ricotta!

I recently picked up some fresh ricotta at my local 50,000 sq. foot “Italian food emporium” in Boston and it changed me forever. I realized up until now, I had really never tasted ricotta – just poor imitations!

ricotta

“Ricotta Calabro” produced right here in New England – Connecticut to be exact – was amazing!

Don’t just take my word for it – look at the awards the producer has received! link here.

I know something as fresh and amazing as this should be eaten in its original state, but the weather had been unseasonably cool and I had my heart set on some comfort food.

Pasta, cheese and tomato sauce = comfort. Throw in a little Italian sausage and even the husband will find this dish comforting!

I basically just added crumbled, cooked sausage, to some cooked pasta in a oiled casserole dish, coated it with tomato sauce and strategically set up “clouds” of ricotta. I topped it with shredded Parmesan cheese and baked it for 30 mins at 350 degrees until it was just crispy on the edges and bubbling in the middle. Comfort food at its best!

 

 

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Oliver Twist

Nope this isn’t a book review! It’s actually a twist on a recipe by Jaime Oliver that I saw recently over at the Food52 blog. ( I can’t never resist a word pun – no matter how corny!)

His recipe used chicken legs, cherry tomatoes, basil, garlic and olive oil. I used pork, cherry tomatoes, basil, garlic, olive oil and a touch of balsamic vinegar. I think my twist worked out pretty good!

I used a 3-4 lb center cut roast that I sliced into chops for serving. (bone-in roast – this is where center cut “pork chops” come from) I also used a heavy cast-iron pot, that way I could generously salt and pepper the outside of the meat and sear it over high heat to create a bit of a crust. Then in the style of Jaime oliver I simply threw in a pint of cherry tomatoes, a handful of basil, 6-7 medium size whole cloves of garlic, tablespoon of balsamic vinegar and a 1/2 cup of warm water just to make sure I had enough “juice.”

And like Jaime I simply put it in a 350 degree oven and undisturbed for 1 and half hours. But I used a meat thermometer to check and determine when my pork was cooked. (145 degrees for medium-rare and 160 degrees for medium)

Author’s Note:

I often have to reheat portions for my husband and this one worked out pretty good over the mashed potatoes! Just note if you plan to reheat you may want to consider cooking the chop to medium-rare the first time, that way you have a little margin for additional cooking.

 

 

Roast Chicken

Roast Chicken. That most simple and comforting food. And yet I hardly ever roast a chicken. A whole one that is. I am the only one in a house who appreciates a home-roasted, bone in chicken. Everybody else – (husband)- doesn’t want to deal with the bones.

So my “roast chicken” is usually a boneless cut (thighs, breast etc) and it is usually a “one pan plan.” And this recent one was no exception. Everything on pan, cut to similar size.

 

By adding big rough cut pieces of tomatoes, I knew the chicken would stay moister and there would almost end up being a bit of a “pan sauce” created. Just cook up some rice or pasta or steamed greens and serve in bowls.

Very easy, very comforting.

 

“Big Soup”

I bet you have the makings of minestrone soup in your cabinets right now.

I did. So that is what I made recently on a fall evening.

“Big Soup” is a loose Italian translation to describe a soup that has lots of goodies in it like minestrone. The origin of minestrone soup (aka “Big Soup”) comes from Italy and is based on the idea of stretching or using up leftovers.  A dish that is filling and inexpensive. I am sure that even a small survey of Italy would result in no two soups being exactly alike. And so just as in Italy where the soup is composed of lots of things, so was mine.

minestrone

I started with bacon. Added onions and garlic. Diced potatoes, white navy beans and gluten-free pasta to make it hearty.  A flavorful broth of tomatoes and chicken stock with a dash of my secret “flavor weapon” A1 Steak Sauce!

I happen to have some fresh herbs in the house so in went fresh basil and even fresher, some parsley at the end.

The recipe (makes a lot!- like 6-8 hearty servings)

1/2 lb thick cut bacon, cut into small bits

1 1/2 medium white onion diced

2 large cloves of garlic minced

3 small white potatoes diced

1 can ( 15.5 oz) white navy beans or whatever bean you like (rinsed)

1 can ( 14.5 oz) diced tomatoes or chopped or stewed or whatever you have

32 oz box of chicken stock/broth ( low sodium is best)

1/8 cup each chopped fresh basil and parsley

2 tablespoons A1 sauce

1-2 lemon wedges or 1/2 of a small lemon

Elbow noodles cooked to package directions – about a 1/4 cup ( measured dry) per serving

Render the bacon in a large heavy-bottom pot. Until it’s just crisping.  Remove the bacon and set aside. Remove the bacon fat and set aside. Wipe out the tiny bits of bacon still floating around. (they will just burn later) The goal is not to scrub the pot bottom, but to just get the loose stuff floating with the last the fat. Add the onions and a bit of the reserved fat back in and cook for 3-5 mins on med until onions are getting color and softening. Add back in fat as needed to keep things going. Add the potatoes and a pinch each of salt and pepper, cook for another 3-5 mins. Add the minced garlic and cook a couple mins. Now deglaze pan with the tomatoes and stock, add beans and bacon. Turn heat down to low simmer and add the A1 sauce and fresh basil. Stir and cover. Let low simmer for about 30 mins until potatoes just tender. Taste for seasoning and adjust salt and pepper as needed. Add a squeeze of lemon wedge if you have one on hand and along with fresh parsley. The lemon just “perks” things up and the parsley adds a bit of freshness.

Ladle over hot, just boiled elbow noodles and serve.

Production Notes: I like to boil the noodles separate so they don’t over cook  sitting in soup. And since I never really bring the soup to a high enough boil to cook the noodles, it’s just better to cook them on the side. This way you can let the soup stay warm in the pot longer without mushy, swollen pasta.

This could easily be adapted to a slow-cooker recipe.

 

Remember When…

Who remembers the fast food chain Wendy’s® when they had the salad bar in their restaurants? They had nicer seating and real plants too back in the day. There was a time when they straddled the space between “fast-food and fast casual.”

My father loved that place and when I was little (and it was his turn to get dinner) we would go there and get the salad bar and baked potatoes with chili on top. (chili-topped baked potatoes was a menu item then – now they still serve chili and the baked potatoes but you have to order each and combine them yourself.)

As a result every time I make chili I serve it over baked potatoes. It always reminds me of those times and it makes things just a bit more hearty and filling. The potatoes offer a little more nutritional punch then corn chips or rice. The chili and the potatoes can all be done a day ahead and reheated at the time of the event. Plus if you are having folks over for a big game or even if you just want to get the kids interested you can do a topping bar of favorites like shredded cheese, green onions, cilantro, chopped red onion, sour cream…. you get the idea!

The best chili is the simplest chili – 2lbs of browned ground meat (turkey in this case – shhhh don’t tell hubby!) and 1 small can (4oz) of tomato paste, 1 large can ( 12oz) of ground, peeled tomatoes, 1/2 of a green bell pepper and 1/2 of a white onion diced. 2 heaping tablespoons of your favorite chili spice blend. 1 whole lime juiced and some salt and pepper. Add a cup of hot water if it’s too thick. 1-2 hours simmering and you are ready to go!

Author’s note:

My dad passed away in March 2011 after a long and happy life, but this week is his birthday and I think he always considered the cool weather and the beautiful New England fall leaves a personal birthday gift to him. He loved everything about New England and I think of him a lot in October.

 

Some Like It Tangy

I am more of a “vinegar girl” then a “sweet girl” so I like things a little on the “tangy” side whenever possible. I think even traditional dishes like beef stew can use a little “tangy” to them. And of course tomatoes…because I can not resist the combination of beef and tomatoes!

On a rare day of cooking together, my husband expressed his doubts when I pulled out a half-full bottle of Pepperoncini’s from the fridge. But I assured him that the beef stew I had in mind, while not traditional, would be delicious and remind him of a yummy roast beef sandwich with sliced tomatoes and mild “hots.”  (Oops, that is how I like my roast beef sandwiches, not him, but no matter I was sure I would convert him!)

We kept it simple by browning about 2lbs of stew meat in hot fat first with a dusting of flour*, salt, pepper and garlic powder. Then after carefully removing the meat – added in a large sliced onion for its turn to get browned a bit. Next in was the cherry tomatoes – whole. When they just burst a bit, everything was added back to the pot. We added only enough low-sodium beef stock to get the liquid level up the “shoulders” of the meat. A healthy couple of dashes of my secret ingredient (A1 Sauce!! ) to step up that beefy flavor.  And then the scary part…. about 8 ounces of sliced Golden Greek Pepperoncini’s. WITH some of the juice too. Let the beef cook till the meat is tender, season liberally to taste, and serve it up – all tangy, beefy and delicious! We just ate it in bowls but it would be delicious on big crusty rolls or over some rice! Guess what? He liked it!

spicy beef stew

tangy beef stew with burst cherry tomatoes!

*leave off the flour coating for Gluten-free!

 

Dinner For Dinner

If you have been reading this blog for a while, you may already know that my husband and I share a common love of “dinner for breakfast.”

But lots of times we just have “dinner for dinner” and this basic pot roast is one of his favorites. (mine too!) Simple and tasty – this can be made in one pot and put into a slow oven until you are ready to eat and if you are using one of those heavy cast iron dutch ovens like I do, it will stay hot for a long time in case you have family or friends wandering thru at different times to be fed.

Over the years I have picked up a few tips to really help make the dish shine.

1. Add lots of seasoning to the meat and make sure to brown it. I really think being generous with your spices and seasoning sets up the meat for not only a flavorful crust but tasty “au jus.”

2.Sauté those carrots. Take the time to really cook those carrots a bit along with the onions – it makes a difference!

carrots and onions

For the record… this picture was taken as soon as I threw in the carrots, so they were still raw, but they did get a nice saute in the pan!

3. Potatoes on the side please!

I used to put the potatoes right in with the roast but they were never as good as I wanted them to be, so when a TV cook from Oklahoma once suggested serving the pot roast on a mound of yummy, rich mashed potatoes, I have been doing it that way ever since! (plus this gives opportunity for extra flavor – like “garlic mashed potatoes!”)

dinner plate
My husband made these delicious mashed potatoes!

Production Notes

My basic spice blend for the meat contains sea salt, course ground black pepper, garlic powder and celery seed. In addition to this I can change the flavor profile depending on what else I add. For example…ground cumin, paprika and a tiny bit of cinnamon for an “exotic” pot roast. Or  crushed red pepper flakes for a “spicy” version.  Let your imagination run wild.

My basic “go to” for liquid is water mixed with a generous amount of Worcestershire sauce to de-glaze the pan and become the cooking liquid for the pot roast meat and veggies. But you can use stock, cider, beer or wine too. Each of this will add/change the flavor profile.

I usually add a small can of tomato paste (or a couple squirts from the tube) to the pan after I have browned the meat and veggies but before I de-glaze to add a real depth of flavor to the pot roast liquid and because I love tomatoes!

If you want a thicker consistency for the “Au Jus” than add a tiny bit of cornstarch or an arrowroot slurry about an hour before serving.