Sunday, August 28, 2011

Pasta Ponza

Hello my loyal followers!  I am so sorry for slacking last week.  Between being out of town, being sick, then being out of town AGAIN, I didn't exactly get much cooking done last week.  I'm still feeling a little under the weather but I got sick of laying around and wallering in my sorrows so back into the kitchen I went!

I actually made this dish a while ago, but am just getting around to blogging about it.  As the tomatoes roast in the oven, they make their own flavorful sauce that you then mix in with pasta.  I adapted this recipe. It probably would have been fabulous just as written but as you may have noticed, I am kind of a know it all, and I have to put my own twist on everything (probably why I also added chicken to this recipe).

Pasta Ponza
Makes 4 servings
Start to finish: 45 minutes

8 ounces yellow or orange cherry tomatoes, halved
1 large heirloom tomato (or another 8 ounces of red cherry tomatoes), chopped
1/4 cup capers
1 Tbsp olive oil
1/2 tsp salt
1/4 tsp pepper
1/3 cup breadcrumbs (I used Panko)
1 tsp Italian seasoning
8 ounces whole wheat penne pasta
1/2 cup grated Romano cheese
1/4 cup chopped fresh parsley
1 lb chicken breasts
flour for dredging + salt and pepper

Preheat your oven to 375 degrees and then start prepping your tomatoes.  Halve the cherry tomatoes and chop the heirloom tomato in large chunks.

If you're wondering what makes a tomato an heirloom tomato, besides their hype, they are funny lookin' on the inside.  They looked good at the farmer's market so I figured, why not?

Toss these tomatoes with the capers, salt, pepper, and olive oil.  Top with breadcrumbs and seasoning.

Put this concoction in the oven for half an hour.  While they are roasting, boil the water for your pasta and get started on this chicken.

The chicken in this recipe is quite simple.  I pounded out about a pound of chicken breasts to an inch thickness, just so they would cook evenly.  I coated them in salt and pepper and then in flour.

I heated up a few drizzles of oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat, then browned the chicken for about 4 minutes on each side.

Now, you could cook this chicken up in a variety of ways.  Afterall, you're just going to slice it over the top of your pasta.  I did this because I really think this method adds a lot of flavor, and it's not difficult at all.  When your chicken is done, plate it and cover it with aluminum foil so it can stay warm while you finish your dish.

Right about now, your timer should be going off on your tomatoes.  If the breadcrumbs are not brown after 30 minutes, turn your broiler on and let them sit for a couple more minutes.

Simply spoon this make-shift sauce onto the pasta that I know you cooked to al dente and drained, right?  Don't leave any of the syrup-like tomato juice at the bottom of the pan.  That's where the flavor is!

Next, add the Romano and parsley, and toss it all together.

Last but not least, slice the chicken and sprinkle it on top.
I have to be honest, I did not think this meal would be anything special because the ingredients are so simple but WOW.  (That's the word I kept muttering as I ate this bowl and it takes a lot to render me speechless).  But don't take my word for it!

Monday, August 22, 2011

Pulled Pork Sandwiches

Good barbecue is so subjective, and it's all based on the sauce.  If you've got a good sauce, you could slather it on just about any cut of meat and make it taste good.  If you don't have a good sauce, nothing will save you.  But what constitutes a good sauce?  Ask any cook and he/she will tell you something different, especially as you travel through different parts of the country.  Not only that, but some people will argue that different types of meat warrant different types of sauce.

I have tried about five different sauce recipes for my crock pot pulled pork sandwiches and I think I have landed on one that it worth sharing.  Like I said though, good barbecue is in the eye of the beholder, so you will have to judge for yourself.

Pulled Pork Sandwiches
Makes 6-8 servings
Start to finish: 8 hours

2-3 lbs pork roast (shoulder is traditional, pork loin is leaner)
1 large onion, quartered and separated
1.5 cups ketchup
1/4 cup packed brown sugar
1.4 cup apple cider vinegar
2 Tbsp dijon mustard
1 Tbsp Worcestershire sauce
1 tsp liquid smoke
1/2 tsp salt
1/4 tsp pepper
1/2 tsp of garlic powder

pickle slices

Place the roast in your crock pot with the onion pieces.

Mix together the ingredients of your sauce in a medium bowl.

Pour the sauce over the pork. (it will be thin as far as sauces go but the liquid will be absorbed by the pork)

And then just put the lid on and let it cook on the LOW setting for 8 hours.

Now, I don't know about you, but I can never leave something in the crock pot for exactly 8 hours.  Chances are I am doing this before work and the time between when I leave and when I get back is more like 9-10 hours.  In my old crock pot, this would make everything dry and overcooked.  But, no more.  Not with my new crock pot.

I registered for this when I got married.  You can choose to program it for a desired amount of hours, and then when that time has elapsed, the slow cooker switches over to warm.  You can also insert a thermometer and program it to stop cooking once the desired temperature is met.  No more over-cooking!  Best crock pot ever.

Now, that being said, I personally think the meat keeps cooking a little even after it changes to "warm" so I will often shorten the cooking time by half an hour or so to compensate.  So, if you have a programmable slow cooker, try 7.5 hours.

When you get home, that smell in the air is your beloved pork roast.  Take the lid off and shred the meat with a large fork.

There will be juices at the bottom so make sure you incorporate all those into the shredded pieces.

You are not probably ready to eat as soon as you get home, so pop the lid back on and let the pork sit on warm until you are ready to sit down to dinner.  This extra time will allow the juices to soak up into the meat.

When it's time to eat, pile your meat onto a hearty bun that won't turn into soggy mush and top with pickles.

I served these sandwiches with fries and salad.  Baked beans would also be good.

Friday, August 19, 2011

Tomato Pie

Wait wait wait.  Don't be turned off by the name Tomato Pie.  I have thought long and hard about a new name for this, because every time I tell someone about my Tomato Pie people are automatically turned off because they think pies should be sweet.  But I really can't think of what else to call it.  I could call it deep dish pizza, but it's really not at all, so I hate to call it that.  This is my Nana's recipe and this is what she always called it so I will continue to call it that as well.  Just humor me and try it before you pass any judgement, because it's amazing deliciousness.

Tomato Pie
Makes 8 servings
Start to finish: 60 minutes

1 refrigerated pie crust
1/3 cup pesto
2 medium sized onions, sliced
6 cloves garlic
1 Tbsp olive oil
1/2 tsp salt
1/4 tsp pepper
6 large roma tomatoes
3/4 cup shredded mozzarella cheese
1/3 cup romano cheese
1/4 cup parmesan cheese
2 dozen fresh basil leaves
1 Tbsp Italian seasoning

Start by rolling out your refrigerated pie crust into a greased deep dish pie pan.  Pre-bake your crust as directed on the package, though don't let it brown very much.

Chop the onions into half-rings and mince the garlic.

Bring one tablespoon of oil up to medium high heat and then add the onions, garlic, salt, pepper and one teaspoon of the Italian seasoning.  Brown them to the early stage of caramelization.

When the pie crust is out of the oven, spread pesto across the bottom.  Then pile on the onions.  Slightly pack them down. (Make sure your oven is now set to 450 if it wasn't already when you pre-baked your crust)

Sprinkle on the three cheeses and another teaspoon of seasoning.

Layer on the basil leaves.

Next, slice your tomatoes.

Now, there has been some trial and error in this department so allow me to explain what to do and not do.  First of all, I tried making this with a mixture of regular and Roma tomatoes.  Don't do this.  Use only Roma tomatoes.  They are meatier, with less liquid, which will keep your pie from becoming soggy.  Second, it's probably best that you quarter your Roma tomatoes into wedges.  You will see that I cut mine into half inch slices.  This is very pretty BUT, when you go to cut your pie it becomes a disaster as it is difficult to slice through the tomatoes.  If you do wedges, they are narrow enough that you can cut slices without ever having to actually slice a tomato in the process.  Go figure, my Nana's recipe instructs you to do wedges and use Roma tomatoes.  Silly me for thinking I knew better.

But I digress.  Once you have sliced up your tomatoes, layer them in a pinwheel type pattern, starting at the outside and working your way in.

Sprinkle the last teaspoon of Italian seasoning over the top.

Bake this pie for 20 minutes at 450 degrees.  Depending on how long you pre-baked your crust, it may be done.  If not, turn on your broiler and watch it until the pie is golden brown.  The tomatoes should show signs of wrinkling.

As tempting as it may be, you need to let this pie cool so that it can set up.  If you slice it too soon, just like any other pie, all the insides will ooze out.

Eat this just like you would pizza.

Look at those beautiful layers.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Fish Tacos

Over the last year or so, I have been making a concerted effort towards trying new foods and re-trying foods I grew up hating.  Through this adventure I have successfuly tackled the following: mushrooms, tomatoes, pork, broccolini, asparagus, nectarines, clementines, tangelos, black beans, cauliflower, parsnips, refried beans, kiwi, anchovies and tofu. 

But there is one thing I have refused to try (or re-try I should say) and that is fish.  And by fish I mean the entire food group.  From shrimp to lobster to tilapia, I stay away from it all.  Why is that, you ask?  Well, I have several childhood memories, one involving me choking on a piece of catfish, one involving me getting sick after eating shrimp, and one involving my parents LYING TO ME about what calamari was and then after they came clean I was horrified.  So, I just don't eat fish.  The smell alone makes me want to gag and the thought of it entering my mouth sends chills down my spine. 

On the other side of the spectrum, my husband loves fish.  He orders it almost every time we go out (probably because I refuse to make it at home).  He has begged me, countless times, to "just take a bite" and I always refuse.  But this blog is all about testing and learning to cook new things so when my husband sent me a recipe for fish tacos, I said to myself, "You've already eaten tofu and God knows how weird that was so fish can't be any worse." 

I combined several recipes found online to create this meal.  The marinade came from Bobby Flay, though the cooking method and garnishes were based off other recipes I saw online.  The crema was adapted from Allrecipes

Hind sight 20/20, I am so glad he suggested this meal because now I can add one more food to my repertoire: Mahi Mahi.  Without further ado, I am proud to present to you my fish tacos.

Mahi Mahi Fish Tacos
Makes: 4 servings
Start to finish: 1 hour

For the marinade:
1 lb Mahi Mahi
1/4 cup canola oil
juice and zest from 1 lime
1 Tbsp chili powder
1/4 cup fresh cilantro, chopped
1 tsp salt

For the crema:
1/2 cup reduced fat sour cream
1/4 cup reduced fat mayonaise
zest and juice from 1 lime
1 jalepeno pepper, minced
1/2 tsp dried oregano
1/2 tsp cumin
1/2 tsp dried dill weed
1/4 tsp cayenne pepper

For assembly:
8 corn tortillas
1 cup shredded red cabbage
1/2 cup cilantro
2 roma tomatoes, diced

Mix all marinade ingredients together in a bowl and toss the fish to coat.  Cover and let it sit in the refrigerator for 20-30 minutes.
While the fish is marinating, put together your crema.  Just combine all the ingredients in a bowl and mix until everything is well incorporated.  I'd never had crema before this meal and I have to tell you, I wish I could spread it on everything.  It's tangy but spicy at the same time.  It really brightens up the whole meal.
This can go sit in the fridge with your fish.  You should have just enough time to put together your garnish tray before the fish is done marinating.  Julienne the red cabbage, dice the tomatoes, and lightly chop the cilanto, though don't chop it too much.  We are treating it like lettuce in this meal.
 By now, your fish should be done marinating.  Heat a skillet over medium high heat.  I did not put any oil in the pan because the fish is already coated in it.  Lay your filets down in the heated skillet and let them brown for 90 seconds.  I sprinkled them with some salt because previous reviews online had said there wasn't enough salt in the recipe. 
After 90 seconds, they should be nice and browned on one side so flip them over and start watching the temperature.  Don't forget to salt the other side.
If you don't have a meat thermometer, cook for another two minutes or so.  I just stuck in my thermometer and waited for the temp to rise to 145 degrees.  I don't know from experience but I have been told overcooked fish has a nasty texture so try not to do that :-)

Let your filets rest for several minutes before shredding them with a fork.
At this point, I'm thinking, "Eh, looks like chicken.  This may not be so bad."

Be sure to heat up your corn tortillas in the microwave for 10-15 seconds so they don't crack on you when you're trying to eat your taco.
Besides the traditional garnishes, I served my fish tacos with cilantro-lime rice, mexican corn, and upon request, some chips and salsa.

I thought this was a pretty damn good meal, and coming from me, that means alot.

Monday, August 15, 2011

Pork Fried Rice

I love takeout fried rice, but it is super hard to make at home if you don't have a personal hibachi chef in your pantry.  I have tried many times and the flavor is always off.  It just doesn't taste the same.  However, I am stubborn so I keep making it again and again.  When I made this, I was more just trying to use up miscellaneous ingredients than anything else, and what I ended up with was quite delicious!  Maybe all this time I've just been trying to hard?  Makes you wonder.

Pork Fried Rice
Makes 4 main course servings
Start to finish: 30 minutes

2 pork loin chops
2 Tbsp canola oil
1 cup instant brown rice
1.75 cups water
1/2 medium onion, diced
2 cloves of garlic, minced
1 tsp ground ginger
3 Tbsp soy sauce
2 eggs, scrambled
3/4 cup frozen diced carrots
3/4 cup frozen green beans, cut into small pieces
3-4 green onions for garnish

Bring 1.75 cups of water to a boil and cook the instant brown rice as directed.  When it is done, set it aside.

Heat one tablespoon of oil in a skillet over medium-high heat.  Season your chops with salt and pepper before laying them in the skillet.  Brown on each side for three minutes, turn the heat down to medium and wait for the chops to come up to 145 degrees.

Remove from heat and let them rest for several minutes so the juices can redistribute.  When they are cooled, chop them into bite size pieces.  Go ahead and chop your carrot and green beans as well.

With the leftover oil still in the pan, add in a teaspoon of oil and bring it up to medium-high heat. Add the onion, garlic, and ginger and saute for one minute.  Add another teaspoon of oil with the vegetables and saute for two minutes.  Then add the final teaspoon of oil when you add the rice and pork.  After you toss everything around and let the rice brown for a minute or two, add the soy sauce.

Turn the heat down to medium-low and cover the skillet while you scramble your eggs.

When you're ready to eat, add the egg to the rice and top with green onion slices.
 This is really a one pot meal so make sure you put a heaping serving on your plate.  Egg rolls would be nice here, wouldn't they?  Maybe next time...