Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Creamy Pasta with Mushrooms and Ground Beef

This recipe, from my husband's Aunt Sally, yields a dish so yummy and comforting that a mere photo would not do it justice. Moreover, I don't have a photo. But imagine a white sauce-covered pasta studded with chopped mushrooms and small crumbles of nicely browned ground beef. Mmmm. So tasty. So creamy. So what if it's incredibly fattening? I guess you should probably serve small portions with a huge supply of green vegetables, but that might not stop people from taking second or third helpings.

1 box angel hair pasta
some pasta water reserved
1 1/2 c. sour cream (use nonfat!)
1/2 cup chicken or veggie stock
1 c. each, grated jack and cheddar cheeses
1 pkg. mushrooms, sauteed
1 lb. ground beef, cooked and drained thoroughly
1/2 tsp onion powder
salt and pepper to taste

Cook the pasta according to package directions and drain, reserving about 1 cup of the water just to keep the pasta wet while adding other ingredients. Brown the ground beef in a skillet. Drain the beef in a colander over the sink. Saute the mushrooms in the fat left from the beef. Drain mushrooms too!

Add pasta, 1/2 cup pasta water, stock, cheeses, sour cream, and spices together in a large pot. Stir thoroughly. Add mushrooms and beef. Add more pasta water or stock as necessary to keep sauce from getting too thick. When it's at the consistency you like, taste and season with salt and pepper as necessary. You might want to add a bit of crushed red pepper too, for a little kick.

You can also add red sauce to this, but I don't think it's necessary, and I can't comment on how it tastes because I didn't try it that way.

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Creamy Cauliflower Soup

As usual, I have lots of random veggies in the fridge and no plan of how to prepare them, or for what part of the meal. Since we are going away for about a week, I wanted to use them up before they rot, and a veggie-rich spaghetti sauce is the best way to do that. However, cauliflower does not go well in red sauce, so I had to come up with something else. I was reading the New York Times and saw a recipe for cabbage soup that looked good, so I adapted it for cauliflower. It came out very well, and is very comforting without being too heavy.

2 tbsp olive oil
1 large yellow onion, grated
1 head cauliflower, chopped
1 russet potato, grated
about 1/4 cup water
1 quart veggie broth
2 cups low-fat or skim milk
3/4 cup grated Manchego
1/2 tsp celery seed
salt and pepper

First, in a small dutch oven, saute the onion in the oil until soft, about 5 minutes. Add the potato, and drizzle enough water to prevent the potato from sticking to the bottom. Cook about 3 minutes. Add the chopped cauliflower and the veggie broth. Bring to a boil, reduce to simmer, and cook covered about 30 minutes. You want to make sure that the cauliflower is thoroughly cooked so that it is soft.

Remove cover, add milk, cheese, celery seed, and salt and pepper to taste. Using an immersion blender, process thoroughly until there are no chunks and the texture is smooth. This should not take longer than about 3 minutes.

Taste again, and add more salt & pepper as needed. If you like the slightly smoky, dark vegetal flavor of celery seed, by all means add a bit more. It is one of my favorite spices (if a seed can really be considered a "spice"), and I am trying to incorporate it into more recipes lately...

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Obsession: Lunessa

OMFG. I have discovered a new love.

A couple of weeks ago, my husband and I were in Manhattan celebrating a day off (I think it was the day after Thanksgiving) and we had decided to browse the sales. After a couple of hours of finding nothing we really wanted, we started to head for home. It was raining, we were cold, DKNY wouldn't budge on the price for a brown tweed coat, and my daughter had fallen asleep. Matt got behind the wheel and we started chatting about our weekend. But before we swung eastward towards Brooklyn, Matt stopped the car in the middle of Thompson Street, and asked me to get out. I was shocked! In the rain!?

He pointed to a gilt door unobtrusively marked by a small sign with a butterfly imprinted on it. "Go in there," he said, "and find things you like."

A mistake, to be sure.

The store was a paradise. It was wonderful. It was like Christmas, except no corny music. I enlisted the salesgirl's aid in compiling a list of "things I like" that was about 5 pages long. It must have been weeks later when Matt finally came in to retrieve me, agog at all the lovely, delicate, handmade gold and gemstone baubles. Champagne jewels wrapped in dainty strands of spun gold. Clusters of teardrop shaped garnets fashioned into earrings that resembled tiny bunches of grapes. Fragile-looking leaves made of precious metals dangling from thin, precise chains. Rings that looked like birch bark touched by Midas, sprinkled with miniscule crystals that could have been just-melted snow.




Go there. Buy. Remember: a thing of beauty is a joy forever.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Orange Cake with Orange Cream Cheese Frosting

My husband's favorite cake is a homemade orange cake, and it's really easy. Take one box of yellow cake mix and where they tell you to add water, substitute orange juice. Also, add one tablespoon of orange zest to the batter before baking.

I think that this recipe would work for any citrus, too.

For the frosting, things get only slightly more complicated:

1 pkg cream cheese (8 ounces), room temperature
1/4 cup butter, room temperature
3 tbsp orange juice
2 tsp orange zest
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 tsp orange essence
1 tbsp Grand Marnier or other orange-flavored liqueur
5 cups confectioner's sugar

With a hand mixer, beat together all ingredients except sugar. Mix until smooth and fluffy, scraping down sides of bowl as necessary.

In two batches, add confectioner's sugar. Beat until creamy. Add more orange juice or more sugar to attain the consistency you like.

It's nice to decorate the frosted cake with more orange zest or sections of mandarin oranges.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Tomato Bread Soup

My husband just made this recipe for dinner this evening in an attempt to use up some stale baguette we had left over from last night. It was delicious and I want him to make it again! It's adapted from a meal we had in a restaurant several weeks ago.

3 tbsp olive oil
1 large onion
2 cloves garlic
1 large can crushed tomatoes
salt & pepper to taste
1 1/2 cups water
1 tsp sugar
about 1 cup coarsely chopped fresh basil
1 andouille sausage, cut into 1/3 inch coins
1/2 baguette cut into 1/2 inch slices
shredded parmesan cheese to garnish

Saute chopped onions in oil in a small dutch oven until translucent. Add garlic and saute about a minute. Add sausage and cook about 5 minutes. Add tomatoes and bring to a boil. Add water and bring back to a boil. Add bread slices. Cover and simmer approximately 10 minutes. Add chopped basil and cook until basil is wilted. Add sugar, and salt & pepper to taste. Ladle into bowls and garnish generously with parmesan cheese.

Note: in the summertime, you can get fresh, ripe tomatoes in season, and I bet this recipe would be even better by using about 3 pounds of roasted tomatoes. Just halve the tomatoes, place in a roasting pan (with sides, so the juice doesn't drip!) brush with a little olive oil, and roast until skins start to peel off and tomatoes are very soft. Remove skins, and use an immersion blender to get the consistency you want. I think that little chunks of tomato would be lovely for this rustic soup, so don't overblend. You might need to add less water too.

A wine that is delicious with this soup is an Argentinian torrontes. This is a white grape varietal exclusive to Argentina and is sturdy enough to stand up to the spicy meat and acidic tomatoes in this recipe. It is slightly reminiscent of a viognier with some peach scents, so it is also nice with any spicy or garlicky foods and intense cheeses.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Instead of Mashed Potatoes

What do you do when you have a giant pile of roasted vegetables that you can't bear to eat one more night? Throw it into the food processor! This is another one of those recipes that I created in an attempt to find something my toddler would eat (she refused), and discovered something that I would not be surprised to see on a plate at an elegant restaurant. I don't cover mine with foie-gras stuffed poached prunes and a port wine reduction sauce, however...

2 fennel bulbs
1 med. red onion
2 shallots
4 parsnips
4 carrots
spray olive oil
kosher or coarse sea salt
1/2 can chick peas, drained
1/4 cup water (or more)
2 tbsp olive oil
2 tbsp parmesan cheese

Wash and chop all the raw vegetables. Arrange in a large roasting pan, and spray with olive oil. Toss to make sure veggies are thinly coated in oil. Sprinkle with a little salt. Roast about 30 minutes on the 2nd highest rack in the oven on broil, stirring frequently to prevent burning. Onion and fennel should have caramelized, and the parsnips and carrots will be quite soft.

Working in batches, transfer roasted veggies to food processor. Ad chick peas. To ensure an even distribution of all ingredients, divide the chick peas in commensurate amounts to the veggie batches. Process until smooth, scraping down the sides and adding drizzles of water and olive oil to attain a smooth consistency. Just before serving, stir in parmesan cheese.

I recommend serving this as a side dish alongside a nice steak or lamb chop, with a dark leafy green such as kale.

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Obsession: Quirky Knife Block

Is this hilarious or what? If I didn't already have a full set of good knives I would buy this right now. I'm trying to think of someone I know who needs knives just so I can get this.

I found it on http://aplusrstore.com/

Monday, December 1, 2008

I'm a Genius

Dear Readers,

I have devised a brilliant plan to continue posting delicious homemade recipes on this blog without having to actually create them myself.  What is my secret?  My students.  As an extra credit assignment, I asked them to email me a favorite recipe, in particular ethnic recipes from their home countries.  Many of them are not American-born, so I figured I would get a lot of different cultures' recipes, and I was right!  I received recipes for Indian chicken, Nigerian soup, Guatemalan shrimp hors d'oeuvres, Jamaican chicken, cheese empanadas (no country given), Trinidadian mac & cheese, a concoction called Rasta Pasta that looks great, etc., etc.  I am thrilled!

So, look for some fun and exotic recipes soon.  I'm not sure which one I want to make first!