Monthly Archives: April 2015

Springing into Spring with Tortellini and Spring Vegetables

Last weekend, the weather was perfect. Beautiful blue skies, white puffy clouds, and temperatures in the 70s. It was great. The weather got everyone excited for spring, including me. And when I think of spring, I think of spring food…and spring veggies.

This recipe combines one of my favorite pastas, tortellini, with peas, asparagus, and onions, sautéed in delicious bacon grease. Finished off with a little 1/2 and 1/2 and some Parmigiano cheese, it’s perfect! The bacon and vegetables are crisp, the sauce is rich and creamy, and the tortellini are the perfect cheesy carriers for this deliciousness!

Chop 6 strips bacon into thin, small strips. Cook the bacon in a large pot or dutch oven over medium low heat until crisp, about 5 minutes. I use the lid for this process so the bacon doesn’t splatter everywhere. Once the bacon is crisp, remove to a plate, but keep the bacon fat in the pot on the heat.baconslicedcookingcookedChop 1 medium onion. Cook in the bacon fat until golden and softened, about 5 minutes. Mince 4 cloves garlic. Add to the onion, and cook for another minute.chopped onioncooking onioncooked oniongarliccookedMeanwhile, set a large pot of water on the stove, and bring to a boil. Chop 1 lb asparagus into 1 inch pieces. Once the water is boiling, add the asparagus. Blanch for 1 minute, then use a slotted spoon to remove to a bowl. I do this instead of draining with a colander because that way you can use the same water for the pasta.

water boilingasparagusblanchingblanched asparagusAdd the asparagus and 1 lb peas to the onion mixture. I used frozen peas, but if you can get fresh, go for it. I don’t find a huge difference in flavor, so if you can’t, frozen works. Cook for a few minutes until heated through. Add 1/2 teaspoon salt, 1/2 teaspoon pepper, and 1/2 cup dry wine. I didn’t have any white open, so I used red. The flavor stays the same, it just adds a slight pink to the sauce. 🙂 Simmer the wine for a few minutes until reduced some, then add 1/2 cup 1/2 and 1/2. Bring to a boil and boil for a few more minutes until creamy and thoroughly combined.adding asparagusadding peasadding winesimmering wineadding 1/2 and 1/2almost readyIn that reserved water, cook 2 lbs tortellini according the package directions. Once cooked and drained, add to the sauce along with the bacon. Sprinkle with 1/2 cup Parmigiano cheese. Roll up 10 basil leaves and thinly slice into ribbons. Add to the pasta and enjoy!cooked tortelliniadding tortelliniadding baconadding cheesebasil leavesslicedadding basilall readyAlthough I don’t know if I mentioned it sooner, pasta is my one of my favorite meals. It’s no wonder I turn to this recipe when spring has sprung! 🙂

Cajun Chicken Stew for Lunch this Week

Most weekends, I try to get ready for the week’s meals. Sometimes that means getting ingredients to try something new…sometimes it means making sure I just have lettuce for salads…and sometimes it means making sure I have enough cash for the cafe at work. 🙂 But usually I make something that I can easily bring with me all week. This week, I picked a good one…Cajun chicken stew.

The stew itself was very easy to make. It’s a rich, spicy sauce with big chunks of chicken, onions, and peppers. The roux for the sauce is cooked for a while, getting a rich brown color and deep flavor. Served over rice, this recipe from Gourmet Magazine was perfect reheated this week.

To start, cut up 4 lbs boneless, skinless chicken breast. You want to cut the chicken into bite size chunks. Heat 3 tablespoons olive oil in a heavy bottom pot or dutch oven over medium high heat. Sprinkle the chicken with 2 teaspoons salt, then cook in 4 batches until browned all over, about 5 minutes per batch. Transfer to a large bowl.chickencubesolive oilcookingcookedbowl of chickenIn the same pot, you’ll make the roux, which is really just fat and flour cooked together that’s used for a thickener and flavor. You’ll need 1/4 cup olive oil. You could use the fat that’s left in the pot, and add extra to reach 1/4 cup. When I made this, though, there were some small pieces of chicken that burnt to the bottom, so I ended up cleaning the pot and starting with new oil. Heat the oil over medium low heat. Add 1/2 cup flour to the fat. Stir to combine, then cook for 10 to 20 minutes until the color of milk chocolate. The recipe I had said not to stir, only to scrape back and forth, but I’ll admit it, I stirred, and it still came out great.flour and oillight rouxdarkermilk chocolateOnce the roux is the color of milk chocolate, add 1 chopped onion, 1 chopped green bell pepper, and 1 chopped celery rib. Cook until soft, about 8 minutes, stirring often. Add 3 cups water to the mixture, stir to combine, and bring to a boil. The roux will start out not looking very smooth or combined, but as it heats and comes to a boil, it will come together.veggiescookingboilingAdd chicken and any juices from the bowl, reduce the heat, and simmer partially covered for about 30 minutes, until the chicken is cooked through. Finally, stir in 1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper or more if you can handle it. I can’t!adding chickencoveredTo serve, just scoop the chicken, vegetables, and delicious sauce over rice. And, as I said, it reheats in the microwave beautifully, making it just perfect as my lunch this week! 🙂donerice

Nothing Says Spring Like Strawberry Pie!

It’s been a long time coming, but I think it might finally be spring. Sure, the bulbs aren’t exactly bursting with blooms, but I do see some daffodil buds and tulip shoots. The crocuses are out, so that’s a start. And the trees sort of look like there is some growth…sort of?!?!? Anyway, I’ll take it. It’s spring. And nothing says spring more than strawberry pie.

I’ll admit strawberry pie is not you’re most common. Sure, there’s strawberry rhubarb, which I’m sure is quite delicious. However, strawberry, with its sweet, bright red filling, and buttery, flaky crust just says sunny skies to me. So, for Easter, it was the perfect addition to the table.

To start, I use my standard pie crust recipe. You may remember it from Thanksgiving. You want a top and bottom crust for this recipe. As a side note, I had the chance to roll out the dough on my new granite counter tops…WOW! What a difference. The cold, hard surface made it a breeze to roll out dough. Definitely a plus for the new kitchen!

Roll out the crust for the bottom about an inch larger than your pie plate. Spray a 9 inch pie plate with cooking spray and carefully line with the crust. Rest the crust lined pie plate in the refrigerator while you roll out the top crust. You want the top crust a little larger than the pie plate so you can create a seal and crimp.ready to rollrolled outready for fillingFor the filling, you’ll need 4 ½ cups fresh strawberries, hulled and cut into quarters. In another bowl, combine 1 ¼ cups sugar, 4 tablespoons cornstarch, a pinch of salt, and 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon. Combine with the strawberries, and pour into the bottom crust. Dot with 4 tablespoons butter and cover with the top crust.slicingstrawberriessugar and spiceready for combiningready for piefilledTo seal and crimp, cut the edges, leaving about half an inch of overhang from the edge of the pie plate. Fold both crusts over the top so it creates a nice edge around the entire pie. Pinch the edges to crimp. You can do this in a decorative fashion; however, sometimes I just prefer the rustic look. Cut a few slits in the top for ventilation too.coveredcrimpedFor a shiny top, that also adds a delicious sweetness and crunch, cover the crust with 1 teaspoon ½ and ½ (or milk will do) and sprinkle 1-2 teaspoons sugar. It is my secret to a delicious crust, and I do it for all of my pies.making the crunchy toppingBake in a 425 degree oven for 40 minutes, or until the crust is golden and the juices are bubbling. I put the pie plate on a foil lined cookie sheet just to catch any overflow of the juices. And if the crust gets too dark, just cover with a piece of aluminum foil.ready for the oven

So, my next tip, don’t throw away that left over pie dough. Roll it out, brush with 1/2 and 1/2 or milk, sprinkle with cinnamon and sugar, and cut into strips. Bake on a cookie sheet in the same oven for about 10 minutes until golden. These cinnamon-sugar treats are absolutely delicious, and it lets you see just how flaky and perfect you made that pie crust! It’s definitely the perfect snack for the cook.doughcinnamonsugarslicedbakedperfectionIf you’re looking for a pie to make, or just craving something sweet, or something fruity, give this one a try this spring or summer. It is absolutely delicious and just screams warm weather!

Baklava for Easter!

When I was younger, I can remember going to my Aunt Antoinette’s for Easter dinner. While I don’t remember most of what she served those days, I do remember what she had for dessert one year. She had a whole tray of delicious baklava. If you’re not familiar with baklava, it’s a delicious, sweet, sticky, nutty Greek dessert. From that first amazing bite, I was hooked!

A few years later, while perusing my latest Martha Stewart Living magazine, I was thrilled to see the recipe in April 1996. There was a story about a Greek Easter, and this was one of the desserts shown. I excitedly made the recipe and proudly brought it to my Aunt’s that year for Easter. Of course, it was a huge hit, and ever since then, this has been a go-to recipe for me. It’s not very difficult to make, but it’s so impressive to serve, not to mention delicious!recipeTo start, you’ll need 1 pound phyllo dough. Phyllo is a super thin pastry. It’s sold frozen, usually in 1 pound size boxes. It’s usually right next to the puffed pasties and other desserts. Allow the dough to defrost completely before using it, otherwise the paper-thin sheets will stick together. phylloYou’ll also need 3 cups finely chopped walnuts, almonds, or a mix of the two. I generally just purchase chopped nuts and throw them in the food processor for a few seconds. It easy, just be careful not to run the food processor too long or you’ll make nut butter. To the nut mixture, add 2 teaspoons cinnamon and 1/2 teaspoon cloves.

walnutschoppedspicesThe other component you’ll need is butter. Melt 2 1/2 sticks butter. I know it’s a lot of butter, but it’s worth it. The butter will be the glue to hold all of those layers of pastry, nuts, and spices together.buttermeltedBrush a 13×9 glass baking dish with the melted butter. Lay 1 sheet of phyllo flat in the buttered dish. Brush that sheet with butter, then add another sheet of phyllo, and brush that sheet with butter. Keep doing this until you have 7 layers of phyllo and butter.readybrushinglayers

On top of the 7th layer, sprinkle 2 tablespoons of the nut and spice mixture. Then top with another sheet of phyllo covered in butter. Top with another sheet of phyllo, and sprinkle another 2 tablespoons nuts and spices. Continue with phyllo, butter, phyllo, nuts, phyllo, butter, phyllo, nuts, until all of the nuts are used. Make sure you save 7 sheets of phyllo for the top. When the nuts run out, top with the 7 sheets with butter in between, similar to what you did to the bottom. Top the last sheet with butter.nuts and spicesdonealmost readyOnce the baklava has been assembled, score the top into diamonds. You only need to go 1/4 inch down, not all the way through. Bake the baklava at 350 degrees for 40 minutes until golden brown.scoredgoldenWhen the baklava is cooked, combine 2 cups sugar with 1 cup water in a saucepan. Bring to a boil over high heat. Reduce heat to a simmer and continue cooking for 3 minutes. Pour the syrup over the baklava and allow to cool completely. The baklava soaks up the syrup making it sweet, sticky, moist, and wonderful!sugarboilingpouringready to eatIf you’ve never had baklava, you need to give it a try. And it makes the perfect dessert for Easter! It’s what we’ll be having on Sunday. Happy Easter everyone!