Tuesday, March 23, 2010

let's change it up

Tuesdays aren't my favorite day of the week.  My husband teaches an evening jazz combo group at a local high school, so I have very little time with him, to go running, and to make dinner.  So I always have to come up with something fast.  And I'm trying to lose weight so it has to be something that works with that.  And, most important to me, it has to taste good.  So coming up with new ideas for that every week can be a challenge.  But I love food challenges.

One of my favorite meals is a good creamy mushroom pasta.  But that much heavy cream and butter isn't exactly everyday cooking.  So I had to make some adjustments, and I really liked it!  I used some turkey smoked sausage to add flavor, which actually made it so I didn't add ANY salt to the dish.  Except to cook the pasta.  I never cook pasta without salt.  The key to the turkey smoked sausage was to slice it thin so it can distribute and taste like there's a lot in there, and brown it.  I know it's pre-cooked, but it's just kinda rubbery and plastic-ey if you don't brown it.  The second thing I did was the reduce whole milk instead of using heavy cream, and of course it's not as rich and creamy, but it was still a nice, dense sauce, with lots of good dairy flavor.  But don't skimp and use low fat or fat free milk.  It won't work, I promise.  The third thing I did was garnish with a dollop of ricotta cheese.  Just another nice layer of dairy.  Try it out!

Healthy Mushroom and Sausage Rigatoni
serve 4~6 

1 lb rigatoni
salt for pasta
8 oz mushrooms (white button or cremini work well here), sliced
1/4 link of turkey smoked sausage, cut in half lengthwise and sliced thin
1/4 C whole milk
2~3 cloves garlic, minced
pepper to taste
canola or olive oil for cooking
1/4 C finely chopped fresh parsley
3 T freshly grated Parmigiano Reggiano or Pecorino Romano cheese
part-skim ricotta to serve

  1. In a large pot, bring water and salt to a boil and cook pasta to al dente.  Reserve 1/2 C pasta water.  Set aside.
  2. Meanwhile, in a large saute pan, bring about 1 T oil to a shimmer over medium-high heat.  Add the mushrooms and garlic and cook, stirring occasionally, until mushrooms begin to brown.  Make sure the mushrooms are in a single layer and not too crowded.  
  3. Add sausage, and cook until browned.  Add milk and lots of fresh cracked black pepper, and scrape up any browned bits on the bottom of the pan from the sausage.  Let simmer, stirring occasionally, until sauce thickens.  Add cheese and stir to combine.
  4. Add the pasta and parsley, and toss to coat.  Add some reserved pasta water to loosen the sauce.
  5. To serve, sprinkle with extra parsley, parmesan cheese, and a dollop of ricotta cheese.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

green dinner

We had a green dinner in celebration of St. Patrick's day.  I made roasted asparagus and broccoli in garlic infused oil, roasted Brussels sprouts with smoked turkey sausage and shallots, of course pesto with pasta, and my winner of the evening, green bread.  I just made our usual bread with green water I made by pureeing spinach and parsley and soaking it in water and straining the solids.  I ended up putting some of the solids in the dough because I thought it would add to the color, and I'm glad I did.  It had really little spinach flavor, if any, and was a fun naturally colored addition to the meal.

Did YOU make anything fun for your St. Patrick's day celebration?
 2 C Brussels sprouts, cleaned, stems removed, and cut in half
1 smoked turkey sausage, cut into quarters lengthwise, then cut into 1/2 inch pieces
1 shallot, sliced medium
salt and pepper to taste (go light on the salt, the sausage has plenty)
2 T softened butter
1/2 T canola oil
  1. Preheat the oven to 450°F.  Toss all the ingredients in a 9 x 13 pan.  Make sure the vegetables are evenly coated in the butter.  Roast in the oven for 20~25 minutes, until caramelized and slightly crispy in some party.  Let cool slightly, serve warm.
Roasted Broccoli & Asparagus:
1 head of broccoli
1 lb asparagus
2 T olive oil
2 T canola oil
4~5 garlic cloves
salt and pepper to taste
  1. Preheat the oven to 450° F.
  2. Cut florets off of the broccoli, leaving about an inch to two of stem.  Cut them into pieces small enough to eat easily, but big enough that they don't char in the oven.  Trim the bottom of the asparagus about an inch or two.
  3. In a small sauce pan, heat the oil and smashed garlic cloves over medium-low heat.  Once the garlic starts to sizzle a little and turn a golden-brown color, remove from heat and let cool slightly.
  4. Place the vegetables on a large sheet pan in a single layer, and pour over the oil and sprinkle with salt and pepper.  Toss to coat.
  5. Place in the oven and roast for 7~10 minutes, until tips are crispy and browned.
Basil & Hazelnut pesto:
(makes enough for 1 lb of pasta, with some leftover for toast!)
1/2 C basil leaves, removed from the stem
3 T parsley
1/3 C whole toasted (and peeled) hazelnuts
2 small or 1 large garlic clove
1 large shallot, cut into medium pieces
1/4 C extra virgin olive oil
3~4 T finely grated parmigiano reggiano or pecorino romano cheese
  1. In the bowl of the food processor, pulse together the basil, parsley, nuts, garlic, shallot, salt and pepper until chopped fine.
  2. With the spout open and the food processor turned to the on position, slowly pour in the olive oil until smooth.  If you need to, stop and scrape down the sides.  Add the cheese and stir to combine.  Serve with hot pasta.
Dessert.  I was too lazy to make anything, and this was really enticing for some reason.  And green:)

Monday, March 15, 2010

i guess it's pasta week

I've been really in the mood for pasta this week.  Which explains why we've had some form of it for 3 nights in a row, and I'm still planning a couple more for the next couple of days.  I guess that's the beauty of pasta, though.  You can have it all week and never get sick of it because there's such a beautiful variety of ways to eat it.  So tonight, I did a little spin on one of my favorites.  And it was a hit!  Though I do think it tastes better with cherry or grape tomatoes.  Much more bright flavor and slightly less juicy.  Either way it was amazing!  I added chopped spinach because I've been on a spinach kick lately, and because I'm still postpartum and on iron pills.  Thought I'd sneak in some natural iron into my diet where I can:)  I served it alongside a simple green salad with toasted nuts (pecans and hazelnuts), pecorino romano cheese, parsley, super thin sliced onions (soaked in water to remove the harsh raw onion flavor), tomatoes, and cucumber.  Oh, and of course some homemade bread.  It was nice to have an array of fresh food to eat.  I can't wait until Summer!
7~8 campari tomatoes, cut in half and then quartered
1 large bunch of parsley, chopped fine

1/4 C fresh basil, sliced into a chiffonade
2 T finely chopped fresh spinach
1-1/2 C parmesan cheese (I used pecorino Romano), grated

1 shallot, minced super fine
4 cloves of garlic, grated or minced fine
1/3 C olive oil
salt and pepper to taste

1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes

1 lb thin spaghetti

  1. In a large bowl, combine the oil, salt and pepper, parsley, basil, spinach, tomatoes, and garlic, shallot, and red pepper flakes. Cover with plastic wrap and let sit at room temperature for 2~4 hours.
  2. When ready to eat, boil pasta to al dente. Make sure and reserve a little bit of pasta water.
  3. Meanwhile, grate parmesan cheese and put in the bowl with the tomato mixture and toss to coat.
  4. Once pasta is done, place in the bowl with tomatoes and combine. Add a little pasta water to loosen the sauce if needed.
  5. Serve with extra cheese and crusty bread.


Like I said, it was a plateful of healthy Spring heaven.  And really simple, too.  And the whole wheat pasta actually worked really well with the earthy mushrooms.  I'm not usually a huge fan of whole wheat pasta unless it's in the dish on purpose.  And this time it was completely on purpose.

I used whole milk here instead of heavy cream. I like leeks with creamy sauces, but I didn't want to weigh down the delicate flavors in this dish, so I decided on whole milk.  (The nice thing about having a toddler in the house is you always have whole milk on hand)  It created a very mild creaminess, just enough to compliment the leeks without the weight of the heavy cream.  But when you make it at home, if you'd rather use heavy cream, I'd recommend NOT using the whole wheat pasta.  I don't think the grittiness of the whole wheat works well with the density of the cream.  Just my opinion.

Mushroom Leek and Shallots with Whole Wheat Linguine
1 (13.25 oz) box whole wheat linguine (you can get it at Walmart for $1/box!)
3 medium leeks, dark green parts removed, cut in half lengthwise, sliced thin, and washed thoroughly
2 large shallot, sliced thin
1 lb mushrooms (I like a combination of white buttom, shiitake, and cremini)
1/4 C whole milk
olive oil
2 T butter
salt and pepper to taste
1/2 C finely grated Parmigiano Reggiano or Pecorino Romano cheese.
1/4 C finely chopped parsley
  1. Cook pasta to al dente, reserving 1/2 C pasta cooking water.  Set aside.
  2. Meanwhile, in a large saute pan, melt 1 T butter, and about an equal amount of olive oil over medium-high heat.  Once the butter is melted, add 1/2 of the mushrooms, making sure not to overlap them, add salt and pepper to taste, and saute until golden brown on both sides.  Remove from pan and repeat with the remaining mushrooms.  Set aside.
  3. In the same pan, bring down the heat to medium and add another tablespoon of olive oil.  Add leeks and shallots, and season with salt and pepper.  Cook, stirring occasionally, until leeks are very soft and there are some browned bits.  Return mushrooms to the pan and add milk.  Simmer the vegetables in the milk until slightly reduced.
  4. Add the pasta and toss until thoroughly coated.  Add the pasta cooking water to loosen the sauce as needed.  Add the cheese and parsley, and toss to coat.  Serve while hot.  Garnish with some extra parlsey and cheese.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

what I had for dinner tonight

It was a plateful of healthy Spring heaven.  Leeks, my friends.  Recipe to come.  But right now I need to chase down a toddler with a poopie diaper and feed a newborn:)

Saturday, March 13, 2010

a "healthy" take on a classic

For dinner tonight, I wanted something comforting.  But post-baby food and comfort food don't work so well together, so I had to come up with a compromise, and I think I did a great job.  I've made a healthier mac & cheese on here before, I think, but this time I used whole wheat macaroni (that you can get at Walmart for $1!!), and lots of broccoli.  I actually don't really like mac & cheese too much as a whole meal because I really like vegetables and variety in my food.  So if you're not a fan of messing with a classic like smooth & creamy mac & cheese, this isn't the recipe for you.  But I'm a fan, and my little girl sure loved it!  And she never eats normal mac & cheese.  And my picky-eater husband really liked it, so I think it was a success.
1 box whole wheat macaroni
1 large head of broccoli, chopped (or an equivalent of your favorite green vegetable)
1/2 onion, chopped fine
2 T olive oil
1 T butter
1/2 T dijon mustard (I used the grainy mustard)
3 C milk (I used 1.5 C of 1% and 1.5 C whole.  I don't recommend using any less fat or the sauce will turn out a little gluey)
3 T flour
4 oz extra sharp cheddar cheese, grated or cut into small cubes
4 oz Pecorino Romano cheese, grated fine
salt and pepper to taste
  1. In a large pot, bring water to a boil, and cook pasta to just under al dente.  Add the broccoli for the last 30 seconds or so and drain.  Set aside.
  2. Meanwhile, in a medium sauce pan, heat the olive oil and butter until butter is melted.  Add onions and cook,stirring often, until softened.
  3. Once the onions are cooked, sprinkle the flour and stir quickly (you can switch to a whisk at this point if you want) until flour takes on a slight golden color and no longer smells raw.  Slowly pour in the milk, about 1 C at a time, stirring constantly.  Once the sauce is thickened, add the mustard and cheese, and cook until the cheese is completely melted and well encorporated.
  4. Add the pasta and broccoli into the sauce and stir until the pasta is thoroughly coated.  Pour into an oven safe dish, sprinkle extra cheese on top (or toss some finely grated cheese with some panko breadcrumbs and sprinkle that on top for a nice crispy topping) and place in a 450°~500° oven for 5~10 minutes, until cheese is bubbling and top is golden brown.  Serve hot.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

getting back into the swing of things

It had been too long since I'd done any baking, and I was just itching to get back into it. I'm feeling pretty good since our new little addition arrived a week and a half ago, and her big sister needed some mommy time. So we gathered our ingredients and hit the kitchen!

I'm not a coffee drinker, but this looked so good, I had to try it out. I used Pero, a coffee substitute instead of the instant coffee, and it turned out really well. I really recommend this to anyone in the mood for some good sugar! My little girl sure loved helping mommy out in the kitchen while the baby slept.

Here she is sprinkling the chocolate chips before the pan went in the oven.