Sunday, April 22, 2012

Lemon-Basil Penne

This recipe is adapted from here. I originally pulled the idea because it seemed like a fresh take on pasta. I wasn't too sure how the tart lemon would taste with the pasta, and it took some getting used to. By the time I finished my leftovers though, I was absolutely loving the flavors. It has a nice, light, summery feel to it that was perfect for the warm weather we had last week.

The original recipe called for fresh basil. My mommy had just planted me some basil for my patio, and I wasn't about to go pick from the baby basil plants. Part of what is fun about cooking is taking the ingredients you have on hand and turning them into something scrumptious, without a lot of time or effort. Therefore, I substituted in some dried basil. If I had fresh basil on hand, I would definitely have used it.

I used, I think, 6 or 7 small lemons to get my lemon juice. There aren't many things I am missing in my kitchen, but one of them was a juicer. Needless to say, after squeezing that many lemons between my palms, I promptly picked up a juicer the next time I was out. My hands smelled lovely all day though.

Lemon-Basil Penne

~ 14.5 oz. penne
1 1/2 c. freshly grated parmesan (the food processor is great for this)
3/4 c. fresh lemon juice
2/3 c. olive oil
1/2 tsp. coarse salt
1/2 tsp. black pepper
2 tsp. lemon zest
2 tsp. dried basil (or 2 c. finely chopped fresh basil)

Cook the pasta according to the package directions. Stir together the cheese and the lemon juice in a medium mixing bowl. With a hand (or stand) mixer running on medium, slowly pour in the olive oil, and continue to beat until the mixture is thickened, about 5-7 minutes. Stir in the salt, pepper, lemon zest, and basil. Toss with the pasta. Enjoy!

Saturday, April 21, 2012

French Onion Soup

French Onion happens to be my mother's favorite kind of soup. I have had a "go-to" recipe for years that I have adored, and it has gotten good reviews from friends and family. While I was skiing at Whistler (really Blackcomb, since we liked that mountain better) in March, my sisters and I ate twice at this lovely restaurant on the mountain, Christine's. They had amazing French Onion Soup. Chatting with the waitress, she mentioned that the chef uses his grandmother's recipe, and that he uses both red and yellow onions. I don't know why it had never occurred to me to put red onions into my soup, but let me tell you, they add an incredible depth of flavor.

The recipe I started from is an old Southern Living favorite, Bistro Onion Soup, tweaked a little bit (as usual). It's from Southern Living Homestyle Cooking, a favorite that lives on my cookbook shelf. Maybe one of these days I'll do a post of my favorite cook books. Just last week I tried mixing in red onions and the result was to-die-for. I also intend to try the soup in the next week or two, substituting canned stock for the bouillon and water, which I suspect will be even better, although it's difficult to imagine because, as it is, this soup is delicious.

I love this soup because it makes the house smell wonderful, and it tastes sinfully rich without being heavy. It's also fairly quick, as long as you have a mandolin to speed up the slicing. I usually do not bother to top it with bread and cheese, because it's perfectly capable of standing on its own. I was visiting my mother last weekend, and while I started the soup, I had to run out before it was done. Leaving my mother in charge of finishing it, she naturally ran to the store to get bread and cheese to top it. Healthy soup no more I suppose. It also freezes really well. For tips on a convenient way to freeze soup, check out this post over on Corporette.

French Onion Soup (makes 4 servings)

1/4 c. butter (half of a stick)
2 large sweet onions
2 large red onions
2 Tbs. flour
5 1/4 c. water
1 c. wine*
4 chicken bouillon cubes
4 beef bouillon cubes
2 bay leaves
1/2 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. dried sage
1/4 tsp. black pepper
8 (1/2 inch) slices of french bread (optional)
8 slices Gruyère cheese (optional)

*The original recipe calls for 1/2 c. dry white wine and 1/2 c. dry red wine. I am a lightweight and can't usually get through two bottles of wine before they go bad. I use 1 c. of whatever wine I happen to have on hand (that I naturally would drink). I find that the white wine gives a lighter flavor and the red more of a deeper, richer flavor, but play with it to find the combination you like.

Melt the butter in a large stockpot or Dutch oven over medium heat. Thinly slice the onions into your pot. I highly, highly recommend using a mandolin for this, because you get nice even rings and it is very quick, and I actually rest mine on top of the pot so that the onions fall directly in. This will look like a lot of onions; do not be alarmed; they will cook down significantly.

Cook the onion in the butter over medium heat for 45 minutes to an hour, stirring often, until the onions have reached a deep golden caramel. This step is the key step in getting the depth of flavor that takes the soup from tasty to out-of-this-world. The deeper the color, the deeper the flavor.

Once you are satisfied with the color, stir in the flour and cook for one minute, stirring constantly. Add the water, wine, bouillon, bay leaves, salt, sage, and pepper. Let the soup come to a boil, and then reduce the heat to low and simmer for about 30 minutes. You can actually let the soup simmer longer, depending on when you're ready for dinner. Remove the bay leaves.

Optional Step: Ladle the soup into 4 ovenproof ramekins or soup bowls. Set the bowls on a baking sheet so as to catch any drips and reduce the chances of tipping them over while removing them. Place two bread slices and top with two slices of cheese on each serving, and broil about 6 inches from the heat until the cheese is golden and bubbly (only a few minutes).

Monday, April 16, 2012

Sweet Potato Chunks

These are my latest addiction. They taste more like eating candy than like eating a vegetable. Even my mother, who doesn't really like sweet potatoes, thought these were good. Furthermore they're really easy to make, in small batches or large.

Roasted Sweet Potato Chunks

1 sweet potato per person
Olive oil
Coarse salt

Preheat oven to 450F. Peel the sweet potatoes and slice into about 3/4 inch chunks. Place in a single layer in a jellyroll pan. Drizzle with olive oil, and sprinkle liberally with salt and pepper. Mix them together in the pan, either with a spoon or your hands, until evenly coated. Roast in the oven until fork tender about 20-30 minutes depending on the size of your pan and the amount of potatoes in it. Enjoy.

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Vegetable Chowder

Forgive the photo; apparently photographing soup is more difficult than I thought. I went to the grocery store last week hungry, again. Fortunately, I have thus far been able to restrict my impulse buys to the produce section, but when the bag of mini sweet peppers was on sale for $2.99, really, how could I resist? My grandmother passed away this weekend, and as with all of the stress of my life, I frequently find refuge in the kitchen, which explains why I now have this oh so lovely soup to share with you. It tastes fresh, light, and summery, and used up about half of the bag of said sweet peppers. I froze two full quart-size baggies, and poured the rest into leftover containers. I suspect, although I did not measure, that the soup makes about 1 1/2 gallons.

Full disclosure: This recipe is adapted from Martha Stewart's Vegetable Chowder. Her recipe called for 5 cups of water; I found that the soup was far too watery and ended up adding some flour to thicken it and boiled off some of the water. I believe starting with 3 1/2 c. water would solve the problem in the first place.

Vegetable Chowder

3 Tbs. butter
2 large sweet onions, diced
2 medium bell peppers (~ 2 cups diced)*
1/2 tsp. dried thyme
3 c. 2% milk
3 1/2 c. water
4 medium potatoes, peeled and sliced into about 1 inch chunks
2 ~15 oz. cans of sweet corn, drained
1 tsp. salt
1 tsp. black pepper
1 ~12 oz. package of frozen, chopped broccoli

*I used about 2 cups diced of the mini sweet peppers I had.

In a large stockpot or Dutch oven, melt the butter over medium heat. Once the butter is melted, add the diced onion, bell peppers, and thyme. Cook over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until the onions are starting to become translucent and the peppers have softened, about 10 minutes.

Add the milk, potatoes, and water to the soup. Bring to a boil and simmer until the potatoes are fork tender. On my 1980s electric stove, this means I have to cover the pot to bring it to a boil, and it takes about 10 minutes of simmering after that. I would recommend not covering the soup if you want it to be thicker though. Once the potatoes are tender, add in the corn, salt, and pepper, and cook until the corn is warmed through, about 3-4 minutes.

Using a slotted spoon, scoop about 4 cups of the vegetables into a blender, along with about 1 cup of the broth. Using the blender, puree the solids until smooth, and then return them to the stockpot. Add the frozen broccoli and return the pot to a simmer, cooking for another 3-4 minutes until the broccoli is done. While I did not feel the need to add cheese to this, I would imagine it would taste very good served with some cheddar or parmesan sprinkled on top.

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Roasted Vegetable Goat Cheese Pasta

I don't know why I have been on a roasting kick lately. Before I started doing this blog, I probably hadn't roasted anything in months. It could be that there is all this yummy-looking produce out now that spring is upon us, and that the high temperatures just bring out the caramelized goodness in all those foods. I have been thinking about goat cheese on pasta ever since I saw this recipe for Asparagus, Goat Cheese and Lemon Pasta over on smitten kitchen pinned on Pinterest a few weeks ago. Combine that with this Martha Stewart recipe for Pasta with Goat Cheese and Roasted Asparagus, and I was sold.

You may notice in the photo above that my asparagus pieces do not have heads. Feel free to include the heads, but I am much more a fan of the crunchy stalk part than the finely textured, almost feathery heads, so I chop off the heads when I trim off the bottoms as well. Weird, I know.

My sister came for dinner the weekend before last, and I made a turkey breast I'd had in my freezer for a while. What with her not being a fan of goat cheese, I decided to make the pasta as a "side" for my turkey leftovers. I've also had a larger portion of it as a stand-alone meal, and it works great in both respects.

Roasted Vegetable Goat Cheese Pasta

1 box of pasta (about 14.5 oz)*
2 large sweet onions
1 c. grape tomatoes
1 large bunch (2-3 inches in diameter) asparagus spears
4 Tbs. olive oil
Salt & pepper
~ 5 oz. softened goat cheese
1 c. reserved pasta water

*I used 1/2 Barilla Plus Rotini and 1/2 Barilla Whole Grain Rotini.

Preheat oven to 450F. Chop the onions into pieces the size of the grape tomatoes. Slice the grape tomatoes in halves. Toss with 2 Tbs. olive oil, sprinkle generously with salt and pepper, and spread in a jellyroll pan. Trim the asparagus spears into about 1 inch chunks, remembering to trim and discard the bottom inch or so (and the heads if you're strange like me). Toss with the other 2 Tbs. olive oil, sprinkle with salt and pepper, and spread in a second jellyroll pan. You want them in separate pans because the timing is different.

Cook the pasta according to the package directions. While it is cooking, place both pans of vegetables into the oven. The asparagus will be done in about 15 minutes. I tend to stir every 7-8 minutes or so. The tomatoes and onions will take a little longer, probably closer to 30 minutes. I test doneness by taste; I like my asparagus still crisp-tender, but my onions and tomatoes beginning to caramelize.

Drain the pasta, reserving 1-2 cups of the water. Return to the pot, and mix the vegetables in. Add the goat cheese and 1 cup of the reserved pasta water, stirring over low until the sauce has melted together. You may need to add more pasta water, depending on how saucy your pasta looks. Enjoy!