Friday, January 31, 2014

Tom's "Go-To" Pasta

Tom's "Go-To" Pasta

As the weather turns colder in our part of the world, a hearty pasta meal sounds good to us.  One day I looked at what we had lying around and came up with this recipe.  Although I have varied it from time to time, it is essentially the same each time I make it.  The basis is Italian hot ground sausage, tomato and basil sauce and rigatoni.  The remaining ingredients are what I play around with. But what I will write about today is my tried and true recipe.   My "Go-To" Pasta recipe.

I love Bolognese sauce and this kind of reminds me of that.  It is rich in sausage and tomato-basil flavor.  Very easy to make and very tasty to eat.

Try it and I think you will like it!


Tom's "Go-To" Pasta
(4 servings)

1-1 1/2 pounds hot ground Italian sausage
1 jar of tomato and basil sauce (I have grown fond of Newman's Own Tomato and Basil Pasta Sauce)
1 T minced or chopped garlic
1 T brown sugar
1 T dried basil, or 2-3 sprigs of fresh basil, chopped without the stems
1-2 T olive oil
1 box of rigatoni pasta, or any other pasta that you prefer
In a medium size sauce pan over medium high heat, heat the olive oil and then brown the sausage breaking it up as you go.  When most of the pink is gone from the sausage, add the garlic and sauté for another minute or so.  Check the level of fat in the pan.  If there is a lot of fat in the pan, drain some of it off.  But don't worry if you cannot get the majority of it out.

Next add the jar of tomato and basil sauce.  Stir the mixture.
Now add the brown sugar and mix it in thoroughly.  You will see it actually start to dissolve in the liquid mixture.
Finally add the basil and stir it in as well.
Reduce the heat so that the mixture is simmering and cook it this way for an hour.  What this long simmer does is bring together a real marriage of all of the ingredients.  Makes it very smooth as well.
Cook the rigatoni pasta per the directions on the package.  I always cook it to al dente, but you can cook it to whatever desired "doneness" you prefer.  Drain the pasta in a colander and put it back into the cooking pan.  Now add the tomato sauce mixture to the pasta and stir thoroughly making sure the pasta is well coated.  Let this rest for a full minute to insure the pasta absorbs some of the sauce.
Plate your concoction and generously add shredded or grated Parmesan Reggiano cheese.

As there are just two of us at home, I find that there are plenty of leftovers.  Store the leftovers in a container and microwave the next day, or whenever.  We find it is just as good the next day as the first even though most of the tomato sauce will have been absorbed by the pasta.

This is a really easy recipe and very good to eat dish .  That is why it has become my "Go-To" pasta meal.


Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Sweet and Sour Roasted Brussels Sprouts

 Sweet and Sour Roasted Brussels Sprouts

If you are looking for an unusual way to dress brussels sprouts as I was, this is a good recipe to try.

The Asian flavors went well with this winter staple.

The vinaigrette can be made ahead, which is a plus.  Go lightly on the fresh rosemary.  I overdid it.  And the toasted pumpkin seeds seemed optional to me.  I cut back the recipe to serve two.

Sweet and Sour Brussels Sprouts
(The Whelk of Westport, CT from Bon Appetit)

Serves 8  (for 2 is in parentheses)

2.5 pounds (3/4 pound)
4 T. (1T.) olive oil, divided
salt and pepper
1/4 cup ( 1 T.) red wine vinegar
3 T. (2 t.) sugar
1 T. (1/2 t.) fish sauce
1 T. (1/2 t.) white soy sauce or reduced sodium soy sauce
2 T. (1 t.) unsalted, roasted pumpkin seeds
1 t. (1/4 t.) finely chopped fresh rosemary
1 t. (1/4 t.) Aleppo pepper or 1/4 t. (pinch) crushed red pepper flakes

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.  Toss Brussels sprouts and 2 t. olive oil on a rimmed baking sheet; season with salt and pepper.  Roast, tossing halfway through, until softened and cut sides are brown, 20-25 minutes.

Whisk vinegar, sugar, fish sauce, soy sauce, and remaining olive oil together in a large bowl.  (I made it on the side and added it as you would a salad dressing, tossing it just before serving. )

Add brussels sprouts and toss to coat; transfer to platter.
Top with pumpkin seeds and rosemary; sprinkle with Aleppo pepper.  (I put the rosemary and hot pepper flakes in the vinaigrette which worked fine.)

Vinaigrette may be made a day ahead.  Cover and chill.


Monday, January 27, 2014

Bubbling Pear Crisp

Here are our pears-- leftover from the holidays--- which have to become something very soon --or they will be too far gone.  So I cruised my cookbooks and found a pear crisp in my new Cook's Illustrated Baking Book.

Pears aren't as firm as apples and create more juice so this recipe was developed around that knowledge --- adding cornstarch to the fruit to keep them from getting too soft.

My pears were extra ripe so I added an extra 1t. of cornstarch ---anticipating mush.

But what I really wanted to try was their crunchy topping.

I am always looking for a good fruit crisp recipe. We live in the middle of fruit country --- apples, peaches, pears, apricots, blueberries, raspberries, and grapes are abundant in the Finger Lakes area.  I have tried many variations over the years, including Julia Robert's Fresh Peach Crisp.

I really liked this one.  It's a keeper to use in the summer.  (And I included their suggested variation for an oat topping, although I have not tried it myself.)

Pear Crisp
(from Cook's Illustrated Baking Book)

Serves 6

3/4 cup nuts, chopped coarse (I used pecans)
1/2 cup (2.5 ounces) all-purpose flour
1/4 cup packed (1 3/4 ounces) light brown sugar
2 T. granulated sugar
1/4 t. ground cinnamon (Vietnamese is what I prefer)
1/8 t. ground nutmeg
1/8 t. salt
5 T. unsalted butter, melted and cooled

2 T. granulated sugar
2 t. lemon juice
1 t. cornstarch (I used 2 t.)
pinch salt
3 pounds pears, peeled, halved, cored and cut into 1 1/2 inch pieces

Preheat the oven to 425 degrees.  Line a rimmed baking sheet with aluminum foil to catch any overflow.
For the topping, pulse together nuts, flour, brown sugar, granulated sugar, cinnamon, nutmeg and salt in food processor until nuts are finely chopped, about 9 pulses.
Drizzle melted butter over the mixture and pulse until it resembles crumbly wet sand, about 5 pulses, scraping down bowl halfway through.  Set aside.
For the filling, whisk sugar, lemon juice, cornstarch, and salt together in a large bowl.
Gently toss pears with sugar mixture
and transfer to 8 inch square baking dish.  (I used a rectangular one of similar capacity.)

Sprinkle topping evenly over fruit, breaking up any large chunks.
Transfer baking dish to prepared baking sheet. Bake until fruit is bubbling around the edges and topping is deep golden brown, about 30 minutes, rotating the sheet halfway through baking.
Transfer baking dish to wire rack and let cool until warm, about 15 minutes;

Serve!  Good with vanilla ice cream or a little whipped cream.

Pear crisp with Oat Topping:

Reduce nuts to 1/2 cup and increase butter to 6 T.  After incorporating melted butter into flour mixture in step 2, add 1/2 cup old-fashioned rolled oats to food processor and process until evenly incorporated, about 3 pulses.


Friday, January 24, 2014

"Dirty" Rice and Duck

"Dirty" Rice with Pancetta, Dried Fruit and Parsley

Last Sunday I experimented on Tom and David.  I cooked while they watched football playoffs ---as a treat for them---the same way Laddie did it for us at the bunkhouse a few weeks ago.

The meal was duck breast, asparagus, and a "dirty" rice that was really pretty good!!  The rice combination was my idea, and the others came from Around My French Table, Dorie Greenspan's cookbook.

Pancetta was better in the rice than on the asparagus

I've cooked duck breast two times using Dori Greenspan's recommended technique, which is to basically pan fry it in a dutch oven, but I had read that the French start their pans cold to render the fat of the duck, so that's what I did this time and it was much better, I thought.

But the rice was the best thing of the experiments!

"Dirty" Rice with Pancetta, Dried Fruit and Parsley

2 ounces of pancetta, finely cubed, browned and removed to cool and drain
mix of dried fruit, about 1/4 - 1/3 cup, dried apricots, cherries, plums or your choice
1 Spanish onion, roughly chopped
1 cup basmati rice
1 3/4 cups water
olive oil
salt and pepper
lots of fresh chopped parsley, about 1/2 cup or more
I chopped up leftover holiday dried fruit -- a few dried apricots, dried cherries, and dried plums (prunes).  And put them in bottom of the serving bowl for the rice.

Then I chopped up a Spanish onion, and sauteed it in olive oil and a pinch of salt until they started to turn golden brown  --- this is what makes the rice "dirty".  (Use a pan with a lid big enough for cooking the rice.)

Then I removed the onions and added them on top of the chopped dried fruit. (The residual heat helps to soften the dried fruit.)
Next, I added the rice (1 cup) and toasted it in the pan with the brown bits from the onions for a minute,
then added the water (1 3/4 cups) and 1/4 T. salt.  And cooked per the package directions. (Bring to a boil, stir once, cover and lower the heat to simmer for 15 minutes plus 5-10 to rest with the heat off and still covered.)
Meanwhile, I chopped up a whole bunch of fresh parsley with the stems removed.
Once the rice is done and has rested, fluff it with a fork.  Pour it over the onions and fruit.  Add the parsley.
Fluff and fold all of the ingredients in the bowl until evenly distributed.

But here's what I recommend next time:  Add the pancetta to the rice and skip putting it on the asparagus.  It was so great in the rice!  Salty, crunchy. A great addition.

Saute 2 ounces of cubed pancetta in a skillet. Then remove the browned cubes to a paper towel to drain and cool off.

Add these pancetta bits to the rice when you add the parsley and mix together.

To make the duck breast they way I modified Dorie's technique, preheat the oven to 250 degrees.
Have your duck breast at room temperature, and score it in a cross hatch fashion, being careful to cut through the big layer of fat, but not into the meat.  Salt and pepper all sides well.
Use a heavy cast iron enamel pot to minimize splatters.  Place the duck in the pan, fat side down, and turn on the heat to med high.  (Don't move the duck even though you will be tempted.)  Cook for 12 minutes -- or until you see that the fat has cooked off and browned nicely.  Turn it over and cook for 5 minutes longer.  (In her recipe, she preheats the pot, then cooks the duck breast for 8 and turns it over for 3)
Turn off the heat, remove the duck to a cooking sheet, prepared with a big piece of aluminum foil.
Loosely wrap it and place it in the oven for 5 minutes to rest and finish cooking.

Make a sauce with 1 T. honey, the juice of a lime or a lemon, 2 T. balsamic vinegar, and 2-3 T of juice/fat.
Slice it and pour the sauce over it.
Serve with a nice salad, the dirty rice, and asparagus.


Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Buttery Butterscotch Chip Cookies from Guittard

Buttery Butterscotch Chip Cookies

Tom is a butterscotch-aholic, so when I saw Guittard's butterscotch chips in the store for the holidays, I bought him a bag promised to make cookies for him. 

The package says Guittard is a San Francisco company -- well, Burlingame, CA, 94010.

The recipe on the back of the bag looked hard to beat so I decided to go with it.

Once again, it goes to show that recipes on the back of boxes and containers are often very good!

Butterscotch Chip Cookies

Makes 4 dozen 3 inch cookies

2.5 cups unsifted all-purpose flour
3/4 t. baking soda
1/2 t. salt
1 cup (2 sticks) butter, softened
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1/2 cup firmly packed light brown sugar
1 large egg
1/2 t. vanilla
2 cups (12 oz.) Guittard Butterscotch Chips

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.  Line cookie sheets with parchment or use ungreased.

In a small bowl, combine flour, baking soda and salt; set aside.

In a large bowl (I used a stand mixer), cream butter and sugars until light.  (Takes about 3 to 4 minutes.)  Beat in egg and vanilla until smooth.  Gradually add flour mixture until combined. 

Stir in chips. 

Drop by rounded teaspoonfuls onto cookie sheets.  Bake about 10 minutes (mine took 11) or until golden brown around the edges.  Cool for several minutes on cookie sheets before transferring to racks to cool completely.  Store in an airtight container.

This would be a good butter cookie if you left out the chips.  I might try to do it around Easter time.  They remind me of the the butter cookies sold as Chessmen by Pepperidge Farms. 


Monday, January 20, 2014

Laddie's Bunkhouse Meatloaf

Laddie's Bunkhouse Meatloaf

While visiting my older brother and his wife, Laddie, she made us her "famous"  meatloaf.  She kindly toted all of the ingredients down to the bunkhouse where their TV is located so we could all watch Sunday football playoffs and the first episode of Downton Abbey together.

Laddie says,  " I had, before cattle, also made it with ground turkey. I have used it for picnics and boating parties, serving it chilled or room temp with assorted mustards. Add some cornichons and it is almost a pate! I recall that when it is chilled it does slice well. This is especially "eye catching" when made with the hard boiled eggs down the center! I am glad that you enjoyed it! "

Laddie's Bunkhouse Meatloaf
1 cup sliced fresh mushrooms
1/2 onion chopped
1 slightly beaten egg
1/2 cup milk
1 1/2 tsp
Worcestershire sauce
1 tsp salt
1/2 tsp dry mustard
Several "grinds" of pepper
1 1/2 cups of soft bread crumbs
2-3 hard boiled eggs (optional)
4 tbsp catsup
2 tbsp molasses 


In mixing bowl combine milk, lightly beaten egg, Worcestershire sauce, seasonings, and bread crumbs.  Let stand for about 5 minutes.
Stir in ground beef, chopped mushrooms, and onions; mix lightly but thoroughly.
Peel hard boiled eggs. Shape meat mixture into loaf while placing eggs in center.  Place in 13 X 9 X 2-inch baking dish.
Bake in moderate oven (350 degrees) for 1 hour.
Combine catsup and molasses;

brush on meat loaf after 1 hour and return to the oven (for approx. 10 minutes).  Makes a tasty glaze.
Slice across the loaf revealing a cross section of egg and place on plate. Garnish with parsley.
Serve with cross-cut potatoes.
For our meal, Laddie also chose a beautiful Romanesco from their LMR gardens which she roasted while the meatloaf and potatoes baked.

Thanks, Laddie, for sharing your recipe!