Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Hearts Afire!

Walnut Pesto with Chicken and Artichoke Hearts
As many of my food adventures began, this one started with an overabundance of ingredients in my pantry and fridge. I had quite a bit of fresh basil sitting around in need of a home, but wanted to pull a little twist on a classic pesto recipe. This was a very quick dinner that made plenty for two with leftovers. It's a great weeknight meal to try. Double the recipe for families! Dinner on the table in less that a half hour.

- 1 boneless, skinless chicken breast, sliced into bite-sized pieces
- 1/4 c. marinated artichoke hearts, chopped
- 12 oz. dried spaghetti noodles
- a splash of dry white wine
- salt and pepper
- a small handful of fresh basil leaves
- juice from one lemon plus 1 tsp. of zest
- 1/4 c. walnuts
- 1 c. shredded pecorino romano cheese, plus extra for sprinkling
- olive oil
- 2 Tbsp. chopped Italian parsley
- 2 large cloves of garlic, peeled

Pesto is a snap to whip up in the food processor! Pulse the garlic cloves to a fine mince then add the basil, Italian parsley, and walnuts and run machine until the mixture is coarsely chopped. Add shredded pecorino romano and lemon juice and zest. Let the machine run and slowly drizzle about 1/4 c. of extra virgin olive oil until the mixture is creamy and to the desired consistency. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Set aside.

Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Add dried spaghetti and cook until al dente, about 9 minutes. Drain, reserving about 1/2 c. of the cooking water. Set pasta and water aside.

Heat 1 Tbsp. olive oil in a large saute pan over medium-high heat. Add chicken pieces and saute until they are nearly cooked through, 4-5 minutes. Season with salt and pepper. Add artichoke hearts and white wine and bring mixture to a boil, reduce heat to medium low and simmer for about 5 minutes for sauce to thicken. Season with additional salt and pepper to taste.
While chicken and artichoke hearts are simmering, toss together the warm cooked spaghetti with the prepared pesto, add a little of the hot pasta cooking water at a time to thin out the sauce. The texture should become silky. Plate the pesto-covered pasta, then spoon some of the chicken mixture and the juices on top. Sprinkle with extra pecorino romano. Eat up! It's good!

Monday, August 8, 2011

Salmon with Spice and Everything Nice

Spicy Salmon with Tomato Avocado Salsa and Pepperjack Polenta
The one food I always want to eat? Chips and salsa. After a run, I crave chips and salsa. Morning, afternoon, late night. It doesn't matter. If I don't eat anything else all day, I will eat chips and salsa. I have tried dozens of varieties and appreciate many for their subtle differences. One of my favorite salsas to make is a tomato avocado salsa- not quite salsa and not quite guacamole, this flavorful condiment is fantastic with tortilla chips, but I wanted to use it as part of a legitimate dinner recipe. Due to my passion for salmon, I figured a meet-up between these two ingredients was long overdue. I was right, the salmon's spicy dry rub with the freshness of the salsa and creamy polenta made for great all-around meal. It's an easy dinner for four, or easily cut in half for a dinner for two!

- 4 7 oz. salmon fillets
- salt and pepper
- 2 tsp. chipotle chili powder
- 2 tsp. cardamom powder
- 1 tsp. dried minced garlic
- olive oil
- 6 Roma tomatoes, seeded and roughly diced
- 1 ripe avocado, peeled and diced
- 1 jalapeño pepper, seeded and minced
- 1/2 red onion, peeled and finely diced
- 2 Tbsp. red wine vinegar
- 3 tsp. ground cumin, divided
- 1 small handful of chopped fresh cilantro
- juice from 1 lime
- 1 tsp. hot sauce such as Tobasco
-1 c. polenta
- 1 qt. whole milk
- 1 c. grated pepperjack cheese

Preheat the oven to 325˚F. Spray a shallow glass with non-stick cooking spray. Brush each salmon fillet on both sides with a little olive oil and sprinkle both sides with salt and pepper, set aside. In a small bowl mix together 2 tsp. cumin, cardamom, chili powder, and dried minced garlic until the spices are well combined. Sprinkle both sides of each fillet with an even coating of spice rub, then using your fingers press into the fish slightly. Bake the salmon in the oven for about 20-25 minutes until cooked through evenly, but still flaky and tender. 

While the salmon is baking prepare the polenta. In a medium heavy, bottomed sauce pan, heat milk over medium and bring to a simmer. Add polenta slowly and whisk into milk. Reduce heat to medium-low and simmer together until the polenta softens and absorbs the milk, stir frequently to keep from sticking to the bottom of the pan, 10-15 minutes. When polenta has reached the desired consistency, remove from heat and stir in grated pepperjack cheese. Season with salt and pepper, and cover to keep warm while finishing salmon and salsa.

In a large bowl combine tomatoes, onion, jalapeño pepper, and cilantro. Toss together with vinegar, 2 tsp. of cumin, lime juice, and hot sauce until well combined. Gently toss in the diced avocado and season to taste with salt and pepper. Add more hot sauce and cumin if desired. 

Serve by divining up even portions of polenta among four plates and top each with a piece of salmon. Top salmon with the salsa. Serve with additional tortilla chips if desired.

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Rockin' and Roastin'

Spaghetti with Roasted Tomatoes, Chicken, Goat Cheese, and Kalamata Olives
If you've been keeping track of this blog, you may have noticed my recent obsession with roasting tomatoes. And why shouldn't I engage in the practice? It's a super easy way to pack the flavor into a variety of recipes. And . . . here's another one. The roasted tomatoes and fresh herbs combined with the creamy goat cheese and salty olives make for a perfect warm-weather dinner. The addition of a little chicken breast made for an easy protein source, but the dish is definitely flavorful enough to omit it for the vegetarians out there. I hope you like it! This was a fairly quick and very easy meal to throw together. I promise you, it was absolutely devoured!

- 1 1/2 lb. boneless, skinless chicken breast cut into 2" pieces
- 12 oz. dried spaghetti
- 1 pt. cherry tomatoes
- 1 tsp. dried thyme
- 1 tsp. dried oregano
- olive oil
- 4 cloves garlic, minced
- 1/4 c. dry white wine
- 1/2 c. Kalamata olives sliced in half lengthwise
- 5 oz. soft goat cheese
- salt and pepper
- 1/4 c. chopped fresh basil
- 1/4 c. chopped fresh Italian parsley
- 2 Tbsp. chopped fresh thyme leaves

Preheat the oven to 425˚F. Line a rimmed baking sheet with foil and spray with a coat of cooking spray. Rinse cherry tomatoes in water and pick off any remaining stems or leaves then arrange on foil. Drizzle with about a tablespoon of olive oil then sprinkle with salt, pepper, and the dried oregano and thyme. Roast in oven for about 20-30 minutes. Watch for the tomatoes to soften and for the skins to brown slightly. Remove from oven and set aside to cool while working on the rest of the meal.

Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil on the back burner while preparing the rest of the pasta dish. In a large, heavy skillet with a lid heat 1 Tbsp. olive oil. Cook chicken breast pieces over medium heat for about 8 minutes until chicken is cooked through and no longer pink in the middle. Season with salt and pepper. Remove chicken from skillet and place in a small bowl. Cover in foil and set aside.

Return the skillet to heat and add another Tbsp. of olive oil and garlic. Cook garlic over medium for about a minute so that it softens and becomes fragrant. Add fresh chopped herbs, wine, and roasted tomatoes and any juices that they have rendered to the skillet, stirring to combine. Season with salt and pepper. Bring the heat up to high to bring to a boil, then reduce heat to low, cover, and simmer for about 5-8 minutes until the sauce begins to thicken. Meanwhile, the water should be at a boil. Cook dried spaghetti until about 2 minutes before it is fully cooked through, so for about 7 minutes. 

Take a measuring cup and scoop out about 1 c. of pasta cooking water. Drain spaghetti and place the noodles in the skillet with the tomato and herb mixture, tossing with tongs to combine thoroughly. Pour about 3/4 c. of the pasta cooking water into the mixture and toss to combine, this should create a starchy, yet watery sauce. Add more pasta water if the mixture seems too dry. Bring the heat up to high so that the mixture comes to a quick boil. Cover and turn the heat to medium low and cook for an additional 1-2 minutes, until the pasta is cooked to al dente. Remove skillet from heat. Add the chicken, chopped, olives, and half of the goat cheese.

Using tongs to toss together, combine the ingredients thoroughly. The heat of the pasta will melt the goat cheese into a creamy texture. Once things are nearly combined, add the remaining goat cheese and toss until everything is thoroughly incorporated. Season with additional salt and pepper to taste. Plate the pasta into 4-6 servings and top with an extra sprinkle of chopped Italian parsley if desired.

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Sweet Pea Serenade

Fast and Fabulous Creamy Pea and Potato Soup with Ham and Cheese Paninis
Surely I have sung the praises of soup before, but what the heck . . . here I go again. I just freakin' love soup and sandwiches for dinner. They're fast, inexpensive to make, and offer nearly infinite possibilities of ingredients to throw in a pot and shove between two slices of toasted bread. My panini press/griddle/grill is one of my favorite extravagant kitchen appliances. Is it necessary? No. It's not like a great set of knives or a food processor. But, it sure allows for a lot of kitchen creativity. I whipped this dinner up in less than a half hour. I made sandwiches for two, but the soup easily made enough for four with leftovers. Try it out for a quick and yummy weeknight family dinner!

- 4 slices crusty sourdough bread
- 4 slices Black Forest Ham
- 4 slices of your favorite cheese (I had Swiss with mine, my sweetie prefers cheddar)
- olive oil
- fresh ground pepper
- 1 qt. chicken broth
- 6 oz. smokey bacon, diced
- 1 medium onion, dinced
- 2 garlic cloves, peeled and minced
- leaves from 5 springs fresh thyme
- 8 oz. frozen peas
- 1 medium russet potato, washed and diced into 1" pieces
- 8 oz. cream cheese cut into 2" pieces
- salt and pepper to taste

Cook bacon in a medium sized heavy-bottomed pot over medium-high heat until bacon is cooked through and begins to crisp. Remove bacon from pot with a slotted spoon, reserving fat in the pot, and allow it to drain on a paper towel-lined plate. Add diced onion to bacon drippings and cook over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until onion begins to soften and turn translucent, about 5 minutes. Season with salt and pepper and add garlic. Cook for 1-2 additional minute, stirring to combine, until garlic becomes fragrant. Add potatoes, thyme, and chicken broth and turn heat up to high to bring to a boil. Once the mixture is boiling, cover and reduce heat to medium-low and simmer for 10-12 minutes until the potatoes are soft.

While the potato mixture simmers, prepare the paninis. Heat the panini press to high heat and brush one side of each slice of bread with a little olive oil. With the oiled side down, stack each sandwich with a slice of cheese, two pieces of ham, a couple grinds of fresh pepper, the remaining slice of cheese, and top it with a slice of bread with its oiled side up. Place paninis on press and grill for about 5 minutes until the bread is toasty and the cheese is melted. 

Once the soup has simmered, add peas, and cook for an additional 2 minutes for peas to heat through. Remove from heat and blend with an immersion blender or blend in batches in a regular blender. Blend until smooth. Return to low heat and add cream cheese, whisking until soup is smooth. Add cooked bacon and season with salt and pepper to taste. Serve in bowls with sandwiches.

Sizzling Summer Salads

Thai-Style Noodle Salad with Grilled Chicken and Spicy Peanut Dressing
Be careful what you wish for! We've been lamenting summer's late start this year only to be hit with some blistering heat in late July and early August. No matter . . . it just means sandals, sunscreen, and definitely lighter fare on the dinner menu. On my run the other day, I had a craving for some delicious Thai-food and came up with this idea for a veggie-heavy salad with cold udon noodles and a spicy Thai-style peanut sauce. Topped off with lime-marinated grilled chicken breast, this quick dinner for two makes for a perfect meal on a hot summer night.

- 1 1/2 lb chicken breast, sliced through the center into two thin pieces and then sliced lengthwise to make four pieces
- 2 heads baby bok choy, stems and leaves, rinsed and cut into 2" pieces
- 3 green onions, trimmed and chopped
- 1 large carrot, sliced down lengthwise with a vegetable peeler to create long, thin ribbons
- 1/2 cucumber, peeled, and ribboned into long pieces with a vegetable peeler
- 7-8 oz. udon noodles
- 3 Tbsp. chopped cilantro, divided
- 3 grated garlic cloves, divided
- 1 Tbsp. plus 2 tsp. rice vinegar, divided
- 2 Tbsp. Sriracha hot sauce, divided
- 1 Tbsp. plus 2 tsp. fish sauce, divided
- 2 Tbsp. peanut butter
- juice from one lime
- 1 tsp. lime zest
- salt and pepper
- 1 1/2 tsp. red pepper flakes, divided
- 2 Tbsp. chopped peanuts
- 2 Tbsp. grape seed oil
- 2 Tbsp. vegetable oil

In a small bowl, whisk together 1 garlic clove, 2 Tbsp. finely chopped cilantro, 2 Tbsp. vegetable oil, 2 tsp. rice vinegar, 1 Tbsp. Sriracha, 1 tsp. red pepper flakes, lime juice, 1 Tbsp. fish sauce, and lime zest. Set aside. Season chicken pieces on both sides with a sprinkling of salt and pepper. Place in a shallow dish and cover evenly with prepared marinade. Cover with plastic wrap and marinate in the refrigerator for at least 30 minutes.
After chicken has marinated, begin heating your grill or grill plates to high and prepare the rest of the salad and dressing.
Place chopped and rinsed bok choy, green onions, and carrot and cucumber ribbons in a large bowl and set aside. Bring a medium sized pot of water to a boil. When is reaches a rolling boil, cook udon noodles for 3-4 minutes until they soften. While noodles are boiling, fill a large colander with ice cubes. Drain boiled noodles into the ice colander and rinse with cold water with bring the temperature of the noodles down. While waiting for the ice to melt, prepare the dressing. Place peanut butter, 1 Tbsp. Sriracha, 1 Tbsp. rice vinegar 2 Tbsp. grape seed oil, 2 tsp. fish sauce, minced garlic cloves, and 1/2 tsp. of red pepper flakes into a blender. You can also whip up dressing with an immersion blender or food processor if you have one. Blend ingredients thoroughly and season with salt and pepper. The dressing will be thick.

Spray grill plates with cooking spray and cook marinated chicken pieces for 4-5 minutes per side until grill marks appear. Chicken is cut quite thin, so it will cook quickly. While chicken is cooking toss together cold, rinsed noodles with prepared vegetables and dress with the peanut sauce, reserving about 2 tablespoonfuls. Toss salad thoroughly to combine ingredients. Divide salad among two plates and top each salad with a sprinkling of chopped cilantro and peanuts. Top each salad with two pieces of chicken. Dress warm chicken slices with a dollop of peanut sauce. Yummy and spicy.