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Saturday, January 31, 2009

Tequila-inspired Mexican Pasta

While making homemade ravioli the other day- I ended up with a little extra pasta, both a plain and spinach pasta. The easiest thing to do of course, is roll it out for back-up noodles, but as always, I wanted something slightly different. Recently I've had a craving for parpadelle pasta- it's simple a flat, ribbon shaped pasta. You'll see this often used with a hearty beef or boar ragu.

Our friend Hoss sent us a bottle of tequila as a thank you for the visit- Any time Hoss! We had eaten a lot of Italian food recently, so the ragu was not of interest, but the tequila was. My goal was to make a Mexican type of dish, incorporating peppers and the tequila. I think this was a success; and it goes well with a margarita too!

Of course- please feel free to purchase parpadelle pasta rather than making your own. And substitute other peppers - these are just what I had on hand. And don't forget the salt on the rim! Ahh to be fat and happy with 'cultural' food. Nice.

Tequila-inspired Mexican Pasta

Start a large pot of salted water for the pasta....cook pasta (parpadelle) accordingly, reserve a cup of the pasta water.

1/2 spanish onion, chop into large pieces, 2x2
Olive oil

add, continue to sautee until edges begin to caramelize (want the peppers to retain a slight crunch when served):
1/2 red pepper, large chop
1/2 yellow pepper, large chop
1 roasted poblano pepper, large chop
1 tbls ground cumin
Fresh black pepper

Deglaze pan with:
1/2 cup tequila (remove the pan from heat when add alcohol!)

Add to the pan:
1 can of diced tomatoes
dash of chili oil or ground red pepper
4 tbls fresh oregano
2 tbls fresh parsley

simmer until warmed throughout.

Add your freshly cooked pasta to the pan, toss. Add a few spoons of pasta water to help give a little more moisture to the dish.

Top with a little grated cheddar cheese, or chihuahua cheese.

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Banana Semifreddo

I just can't stop. I cannot stop with the frozen treats! It's like I'm fricken' addicted! Dave wanted a treat one night- and all I could come up with was bananas and whipping cream. Aha!

This one is a super quick, simple, mock ice cream. It's like a half frozen mousse- which is exactly what semifreddo means in Italian (half frozen). My recipe below is about as simple as it gets. Most semifreddo recipes call for either whipped whites or yolks and sometimes both. I skipped the eggs in my variation because I don't think they are needed for this.

This semifreddo does not become totally frozen. I'm thinking you could use some cookie cutters, like a monkey, or a tree, and it would be real fun for kids!

But never does this dessert need an ice cream maker. It just quick and easy! A great trick I do is take bananas that are turning brown, and place them in the freezer- you don't even need to wrap them! This works great for this recipe, and even banana bread.

If you want to jazz this up a bit- drizzle warm chocolate or caramel sauce across it and serve with coffee and Baily's.

Banana Semifreddo

Mash one ripe banana until smooth (you may find using a hand held blender or small Cuisinart is easier).

1/2 cup cream
add 1/4 cup sugar
1/2 tsp of vanilla

Fold the whipped cream into the mashed banana; Place in small pan or muffin tins lined with plastic wrap. Freeze for 2-4 hours. Slice and serve.

Saturday, January 24, 2009

Rosebud Restaurant- Theater District

As a former restaurant owner, I do understand when a kitchen has an off day and will typically give a restaurant two tries before vowing to never return. And if we receive service that is outstanding- this will also give us incentive to return, even if the food was sub par. Service can make or break a place!!

This will not be the case today- the Rosebud Restaurant will never get anther dime from me. Every ingredient came from a can! The roasted red peppers, the green bean in the pasta dish- both from a a can. And the ricotta gnocchi was basic flour pasta - not even close to a ricotta gnocchi. The side of sauteed broccoli was straight from a frozen bag- it had all the stumps and everything! There was a ridiculous sauce on the steak that it think they made from some leftover breakfast pancakes... that's not really the wine sauce it was advertised as.

But what about the service? Let me just say this- upon ordering a 2nd bottle, our waiter tried to bring us 'different' bottle of wine; we watched him purposely turn and hide the label as he filled our glasses.

This is a part of the Rosebud chain here in Chicago, and I've honestly heard decent things about these restaurants in the past ... if the Theatre District is indicative of the rest- ick! ...

Another experience which again solidifies my disinterest in chains. This place gets a red dot in our restaurant map list- STOP, do not return and I suggest you save your money as well.

Rosebud Theater District, 70 West Madison. Chicago, IL

Friday, January 23, 2009

Ditalini Olive Pasta Dish (hot or cold)

Drinks after work at Club Lago tends to make us super hungry, if you can believe that! Even though Guido let us sample the new meatball sandwich he's working on, for the second time- we still needed more food. I blame our hunger it on the walk home in zero degree temperatures.... and the liquor.

The absolute quickest thing to make in a situation like this is a quick pasta dish; in the time it takes for the pasta to cook- you'll have the rest of your ingredients chopped and ready to go.

This pasta dish is really another variation of my mock macaroni and cheese dishes. So easy to change up the type of pasta, the cheese and the veggies being used. Using the pasta water helps give it a cheap 'sauce-effect.' You'll love the bites that have a warm crumble of goat cheese, mmmh good. And what's even better, this particular recipe works great as a cold salad as well.

The ditalini pasta is a tiny tubular pasta that works great in soups, and I like it on cold pasta salads as well. And it's real tasty after a couple of glasses of vino! Now that you know how easy and cheap it is to throw a meal together, you can afford to go out and support your local clubs with a drink or two. Keeping the neighborhood joints like Club Lago alive- that is the Fat and Happy way!

Ditalini and Olive Pasta

Boil a large pot of water (always use more water than you think you have to when you cook pasta) add salt and cook according to package directions:
2 cups of uncooked ditalini pasta

In the meantime, sautee in a oil oil until softening begins:

1/4 cup chopped red onions
1/2 cup chopped celery
1/4 cup chopped carrots

2 cloves garlic

Drain pasta, reserving pasta water. Add a drizzle of oil oil to the bottom of the pasta pot, return to stove, but turn off the heat. Add the past back in. Add in the onion mix, and:

1/2 cup chopped deli olives
1/4 cup chopped parsley
1/4 cup grated Romano or asiago cheese
1 cup of the pasta water (add more or less to your liking)
Salt and pepper to taste

Toss well. Add:
1/2 cup crumbled goat cheese

Serve immediately with a hunk of bread.

*if you want to make this a cold/room temperature dish, simply cool the pasta after draining and the toss with all ingredients, skip the pasta water but do add more olive oil with the sauteed veggies.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Zucchini Suffed Zucchini

The title is not a spelling error- this zucchini was stuffed with zucchini ... and some onions and cheese and then topped with bread crumbs.

But, mostly zucchini.

It was late in the weekend, and there wasn't much left to choose from in the fridge. I found this zucchini and not much more. But it turned out to be a super simple, nice, light meal. As I write this, I'm envisioning many variations of this as well- You could easily drop in some ground sausage or turkey to make this more protein rich; or try adding some whole wheat couscous! Use what you have available, certainly some roasted red peppers would be great with the goat cheese, or roasted poblanos with a dash of hot sauce would give it a great kick!

This is probably more of a summer dish and would be fabulous finished off on the grill, but in the dead of winter- it was a real nice change from all the heavy, hearty meals. Lighten up one meal and you may be surprised at how fat and happy you are!

Zucchini Stuffed Zucchini

Bake 1 large zucchini for about ten minutes to soften. Cool slightly.

Cut a small slice off one side of the zucchini- this will be the bottom, to help stabilize it. Now cut out the top and carve as much of the inside as you can, leaving all the walls in tack (think of carving a pumpkin.) Rub the inside of the zucchini with olive oil and pepper.

Chop all the insides of the zucchini. Also chop about the same amount of red onion.
Sautee the onion in olive oil until they begin to soften. Add the chopped zucchini and 1 chopped garlic clove. Sautee for few more minutes and add 1 tbls fresh chopped thyme. Toss with about three or so tablespoons of goat cheese and stuff into the zucchini.

Put the stuffed zucchini back in the pan you sauteed with, sprinkle the top with Panko bread crumbs (or homemade crumbs), a drizzle of olive oil and salt and pepper. Broil until the bread crumbs are browned and the cheese is bubbly.

Use this as a full meal, or get small zucchinis and use as a side dish!

Monday, January 19, 2009

Indian Crock Pot Pork

Crock pot cooking is a great, easy way to cook almost anything! But often times the flavors of crock pot cooking can tend to be the same leading to boredome.

This recipes help cure that boredome. It's a bit of Indian/middle eastern spices meet American housewife cooking. Stop by Whole Foods and grab some naan bread to really round out the flavors of this dish. And if you're up for something really nutty- don't use a fork, use the naan bread to scoop up the pork and sauce! Crazy!

If you're up for a little more spice, double the cayenne pepper! This is a fun recipe with loads of serious spice flavors- and a great break the the typical crock pot dish! And yet another reason to be fat and happy!

Indian Crock Pot Pork
1 pork tenderloin (can use a real cheap cut of pork for this)

1 Tbls ground ginger
1 Tbls ground cumin
1 Tsp coriander
1/2 tsp cayenne pepper
scant 1/4 tsp anise seed
1/2 tsp cinnamon
black pepper

1 can tomatoes
1/2 cup of tomato paste
2 cups broth

Add all the ingredients to a crock pot. Simmer on low-medium low for 6-8 hours. Pull apart the pork with two forks. Turn up the heat to high- and simmer for about 20 minutes with the cover off, to thicken the sauce slightly.

Roast the veggies while your thickening your sauce:
1 potato, 1 carrot, 1/2 small yellow onion and 1 celery stick - all chopped to bite size pieces.
Toss with olive oil, salt and pepper, lay on a baking sheet and roast in the oven (375 degrees) until potates are just fork tender.

You can add the veggies to the crock pot with the pork for ease, do add another 1/2 to 1 cup of broth to compensate for the liquid the veggies will soak up. The potatoes will be a bit mushier if done in the crock pot - but still good!

Serve with warm naan bread and a scoop of the roasted veggies (cubed potatoes, celery, onion and carrot.)

Another interesting way to serve this is with basmati rice rather than to potatoes-for an even more authentic Indian feel.

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Banana Caramel Ice Cream with Chocolate Covered Pretzels

Did you read my post about the Almond Cherry Ice Cream with Chocolate Swirl?

The short story is that the temperature was below zero and I wanted ice cream. Not being able to decide between two flavors- I choose to make two.

Take 1/3 of the base from the Almond Cherry Ice Cream, and continue below. (If you decide to only make one ice cream, use the whole base of the custard from that recipe, and double the ingredients below.

A couple of items to note- if you're making your own chocolate covered pretzels, you need to fully cover the pretzels in chocolate or they will get soft. Also, add lots of salt on top to for that great sweet-salt mix!

Banana Caramel Ice Cream with Chocolate Covered Pretzels

Take 1/3 of the custard mixture from the Almond Cherry Chocolate Ice Cream.

In a blender, add 2 ripe bananas and blend until smooth. Add in the custard and blend for a few seconds. Pour into your ice cream maker and continue as manufacturers directions.

Have about 1/2 cup of creamy caramel and about 10 chocolate covered pretzels ready. You can use jarred caramel, but I have a super fantastic - foolproof caramel recipe here!

As you put the ice cream into a container for your freeze, add the caramel swirl. Simply place a big scoop of ice cream in the container, and then drizzle it with caramel and and chocolate covered pretzels. Now add another layer of ice cream and another drizzle of caramel and chocolate covered pretzels. Continue in this manner until complete. Enjoy!

The chocolate covered pretzels:
You must completely cover the pretzels in chocolate and then salt them- I used my pink salt for this. If you don't totally cover these pretzels in hardened chocolate, they will begin to soften in the ice cream. Just melt some chocolate chips, (don't add cream or anything, as you want the chocolate to be hard) dip the pretzels in the chocolate, shake, and place on a piece of wax paper. Sprinkle heavily with larger salt crystals.

Almond Cherry Ice Cream with Chocolate Swirl

It's so cold outside, that I watched random strangers, clean-business folk, approach cabs at red lights (cabs that had fares in them already) and try to talk their way into sharing a ride! eeeck. That's cold!

So why is that I want ice cream during the coldest week on record in ten years? Maybe because I got a new ice cream maker for Christmas (the theme this year was Initial Matching- so I got "Monique's Magical Cuisinart (MMC), thanks Mark!) or maybe because I just like ice cream.

So I actually took the base custard below, and made two ice creams from it because I couldn't decide on just one flavor. So feel free to use this only as the almond cherry swirl- (you may want to add a few more nuts and cherries) or check out the post for the Banana Caramel with Chocolate Covered Pretzels recipe and make both ice creams! With the chocolate swirl- if you just warm chocolate and use that- you will have hunks of hard chocolate in your ice cream. Which is okay sometimes, but this time I wanted a runny swirl (notice in the photo the runny chocolate swirl- that is straight from the freezer!) So check out how I made that below!

Either way- you're going to love these even if the temperatures are below zero and you can't talk your way into someone else's cab- just stay home, pull on an extra sweater, eat ice cream and be fat and happy!

Almond Cherry Ice Cream with Chocolate Swirl

Heat to just below boiling:

2 cups heavy whipping cream
2 cups milk

In the meantime, whip together until the yolks are light and doubled in size:

4 yolks
1/2 cup sugar
2 tsp almond extract

Temper the hot cream to the egg mixture, add everything back to the pan on the stove. Cook over medium low heat until the custard is thick- and you can draw a line in the back of the spoon through the custard, and the line stays. Stir this constantly. When it's ready, strain the custard, then cool the custard in an ice bath and chill in the refrigerator overnight.

Now decide if you are going to make one or two ice creams. Pour 2/3 of this custard in your ice cream machine, and use your machine as directed. (If you are going to make one, pour all the custard in the ice cream machine.)

At the end of the freezing cycle add

1/2 cup chopped maraschino cherries and a few Tablespoons of the juice
1/2 cup of toasted almonds

If you add the chocolate in at this point- you'll just end up with muddy ice cream. So as you put the ice cream into a container for your freeze, add the chocolate swirl. Simply place a big scoop of ice cream in the container, and then drizzle it with chocolate. Now add another layer of ice cream and another drizzle of chocolate. Continue in this manner until complete.

Chocolate Drizzle
3 Tbls cocoa powder
3 Tbls sugar
1/2 tsp vanilla
pinch of salt

Mix the above with with a small wire whip. Add 1 Tbls of warm cream at a time, until you have a thick sauce. (depending the humidity- you may need only 1 tbls.) Cool. Drizzle on the ice cream as you pack it to freeze it.

Spicy Chex Mix

Why is it that we restrict certain flavors, smells and tastes to particular times of year? Thanksgiving is synonymous with turkey, Easter (like it or not) is hard boiled eggs and Christmas- well, the best food of the year can be found during this extended time! Cookies, homemade marshmallows and Chex Mix!

Honestly, why not make Chex Mix in March, or July, or for Halloween?? I'll admit that historically I have not made Chex Mix outside of the winter holidays- but I think that may change!

This recipe is so addicting, Dave has dubbed it Heroin Mix, (Crack Cake was already taken!) Literally we ate pounds of the stuff; the moment we arrived home from work- you could find the two of us standing at the counter shoving handfuls in our mouths. Maybe this is the reason we only make these type of treats once a year... because otherwise I'd need to put a treadmill at my desk instead of my chair!!

This recipe is basically my Mom's; her holiday baking and cooking is indescribable- simply out of this world!! Next year I'm flying home early to get in on all the goodies!! Talk about Fat and Happy... yum.

Spicy Chex Mix

1/2 lb butter (2 sticks)
2 Tbls seasoning salt
1 1/2 Tbls granulated garlic
1/2 cup Worcestershire sauce
2 Tbls tobassco sauce

Add all the above ingredients to a pan, stir and melt together over medium-low heat

In a large deep (4 or 6 inch) roasting type pan, you may need two pans depending on what you have available, add all the below dry ingredients.

8 oz pretzel snaps
12 oz oyster crackers
2 cups pecans
2 cups whole almonds
2 cups cashews
1/2 box Rice Chex (12-14 oz box)
1/2 box Wheat Chex
1/2 box Corn Chex
1/2 box Bran Chex

Drizzle the melted ingredients over the dry, gently toss and mix until all is well coated and evenly distributed. Bake in the oven at 250 degrees for a couple of hours, until dry. Occasionally gently stir.

Try not to eat too much while it's cooking- but good luck with that!!

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Horseradish Mustard Encrusted Pork

Winter in Chicago calls for hearty, warm comfort dishes. I'm an eater, but nobody wants to eat crock pot stews and chili for six straight months.

Because we tend to use pork and turkey tenderloins in the crockpot quite often. This time I wanted to roast the pork with crusty strong flavors Searing the pork before putting it in the oven gives it a nice outside crust. Adding the horseradish and mustard on top completes it. The toppings drip down into the pan and mixes with the broth for a simple sauce. It's not an abundant amount of sauce - but enough.

It's still stew-esque, hearty and comforting - but with a tangy zip to keep you fat and happy!

Horseradish Mustard Encrusted Pork

Season pork with salt seasoning salt and pepper, quickly sear over medium/high heat on all sides. Remove meat, set aside.

Add to the pan, season with salt and pepper:
2 medium potatoes; chopped into bite size pieces
1/2 medium white onion, chopped into bite size pieces
2 celery sticks, chopped into bite size pieces
1 cup of carrots, chopped into bite size pieces

Sautee for a few minutes to begin the cooking process on the veggies. Add and sautee for few more minutes:
1 cup broth (chicken, veggie or beef)

Place the pork tenderloin back in the pan. Spoon creamy horseradish over the pork first, then a grainy mustard second. Be generous! Allow some of these to seep down the sides of the pork to help flavor the broth and veggies.

Cover pan loosely with foil, place in the oven and bake at 350 for 1/2 hour (internal temp should be about 155 degrees at this point. Turn on the broiler, Uncover and broil until the the pork is slightly crusting and the veggies begin to show browning. (Final pork temperature should be at165 degrees) Remove from heat and let the pork rest for 10 minutes.

If you find the pork is done but the potatoes are too hard, take the meat out of the pan and leave the veggies in the oven for a few more minutes; don't overcook the spuds- you want the ever slightest hardness to them, not mushy. Slice, serve with veggies and a little spoon of sauce.

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Cashew Butter with Pistachio Oil

I received another strange ingredient recently thanks to our good friends Aaron and Alina, this time it was Pure Pistachio Oil. It's a wonderful, delicate oil with a decidedly green hue to it.

Pistachio oil is not really meant to be cooked with- it's better to use this oil in fresh ingredient recipes; say a salad vinaigrette or a drizzle on a freshly grilled salmon.

Or in cashew butter! I originally created this recipe because I was half way through a cookie recipe before I realized we were out of peanut butter. Yet another reason to lay out all your ingredients ahead of time... It worked perfect in the recipe and gave the cookies a subtle change over regular PB.

Use this cashew butter just like your normal shelf peanut butter- on toast or celery, or in recipes like cookies! It's healthy -in that good fat sort of way that nuts are healthy, plus it doesn't have all the preservatives and funny ingredients regular PB has.

Try it out; it's fun, simple and tasty! If you don't have Pistachio oil, I have made this with walnut oil as well.
If you come across an ingredient you have not cooked with before- send it my way and let me create a recipe for you! Then we'll be fat and happy together!

Pistachio Oil Cashew Butter
1 cup cashews
pinch of salt, (I used pink salt)
2 tsp of sugar
2 tbls pistachio oil (roughly)

Place cashews, salt, sugar and 1 tbls of pistachio oil in a blender. Blend on high, you will need to stop the blender once in a while to push down the sides. The blending process is going to take 5-10 minutes. Add a few more drops of oil at a time if you need to thin it out; it is still going to be slightly runnier than a shelf peanut butter. Enjoy!

Saturday, January 3, 2009

Creamy Potato and Lil Smokies Soup

We are lazy. It's another chilly, blustery day outside ... a day we have resorted to staying in for, even though we are in need of a grocery store trip. I know I just tried the delivery service deal and there are aspects of it I do like; but apparently they don't offer a '30 minutes or less' delivery service. Huh.

So once again, it's dinner via the cupboard leftovers and outcasts. Can't go wrong with a soup; but with the new year the goal is lighter cooking for a while. A can of black beans, some potatoes and some really random meat - Little Smoky Sausages to be exact - and presto, you've got soup. Keep in mind you could use any meat here (bacon of course would be my first choice) or you could skip the meat and go for a vegetarian potato soup, too. To keep the calories down I went with more broth and just a hint of cream to thicken (skipping the flour), and I kept the cheese down to a manageable amount rather than go overboard.

Keep in mind that I used what I had in the house, so if you have a different cheese or different potatoes than I used, just use what you have. This was the first time we tried out the new cast iron pot Dave's folks got us for Christmas- it worked great- thanks!

I wonder if I would be a better or worse cook if I spent more time actually planning meals and shopping for ingredients rather than continually making up ideas out of what's left in the house? We'll probably never know. And right now- I've got a warm, thick, creamy soup in my midst and I don't care. I'm fat and happy!

Potato and Lil Smokies Soup

Sautee in 1 Tbls butter and 2 Tbls olive oil, until onions begin to soften :
1/2 cup white onion, diced
1/4 cup red onion, diced

Add, stir often and continue to sautee for 2 minutes (you don't want the garlic to burn):
2 cloves of garlic, smashed and chopped
Fresh ground black pepper (about 1 tbls)

Add and simmer:
3 chicken bouillon cubes (use veggie cubes if going for a vegetarian soup)
3 1/2 cups of water (of course, if you happen to have real homemade broth- use that in place of the water and bouillon cubes!)
2 medium Russet potatoes, cubed with skin on (feel free to use left over baked potatoes)
10-15 Lil Smokies, sliced into bite sized pieces (try slicing each into three pieces)
1 can of black beans, rinsed and drained
pinch of salt

Continue to simmer until the potatoes are tender and the flavors have melded. (Try mushing some of the potatoes with the back of the spoon to help thicken the soup.) Expect to let this soup simmer for around 1/2 hour.

Add and continuously stir for a couple of minutes, the soup will begin to thicken slightly:
1/2 cup of cream

Turn off heat, stir in:
1/2 cup sharp white cheddar cheese, chopped or shredded
1/4 cup Parmesan cheese, chopped or shredded

The heat of the soup will melt the cheese and thicken the soup., but leave the heat off as you don't want the cheese to burn on the bottom of the pan. Salt and pepper to taste.

**for a little spicy twist, I added one tsp of green curry (just out of a can) to a left over bowl of this soup I was warming up and it was real fun kick! Be careful though- that green curry can be some hot stuff!


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