Monthly Archives: May 2010

Onions the Way Everyone Likes ‘Em

I’m on a caramelized onion kick (and have been for the past 8 years).

First, let me tell you that I can eat onions ANY way—raw, sautéed, caramelized, broiled, grilled, roasted, WHATEVER!  They are my favorite thing to add to any dish–eggs, soups, dips, pizza, chicken, salads.  I added a huge pile of them to my turkey burger the other night and they were just so buttery, sweet and delicious, that I just had to use them again, two nights later.

But how….??

Surprisingly enough, I haven’t eaten pasta in quite a while and I’ve been craving it.  So my first thought was to pair the caramelized onions with it.  Wasn’t sure how I’d pull it off, but I knew I was gonna try.  So after a very long 9 hour day, I landed at the grocery store full of hunger and ambition.

First things first, onions.  I almost always buy sweet onions (Vidalias, Sweet Maui, Walla Walla).  I only ever buy red or white if i’m making salsa.  When shopping for onions, be sure to get ones that have no splits, no bruises, no soft spots, and their peel is still on them.

After carefully picking out two onions, I decided that my pasta dish would need something crunchy, so my first thought was bacon.  Of course, I would have preferred pancetta, but the grocery store I was at didn’t carry it.            Next time.

Fast forward to me at home in the kitchen.  I cooked the bacon on my George Forman grill, only because there were no burners available.  But if there had been, I would have cut up the bacon first and then cooked it.

I sliced my larger onion (the WHOLE thing) and dropped it into a pan with a tablespoon of butter, then drizzled the whole thing with my favorite Greek olive oil and tossed.  I cooked the onions on low-medium heat for almost 35 minutes, until they were brown, soft, and caramelized.  Unfortunately, this process also cuts the onions by over a half!  My boyfriend always freaks out about how many onion slices I dump into the pan and I’m constantly reminding him that they shrink—by A LOT!   If he comments on my onion fetish one more time, he might need to be slapped—with a raw onion.

The whole process of cooking the onions until caramelized takes anywhere from 30 minutes to an hour.  The best thing for you to do is keep them on low, half covered, stirring constantly.  Of course, my patience tends to wear thin and I’ve been known to turn the heat to medium and cook them faster, but, truth be told, the onions are better the more tender love and care you give them.

You’ll know the onions are done by their color–translucent does not equal done!  This is my pet peeve at restaurants with dishes that boast caramelized onions, only to be served slightly sautéed.  Blasphemy.  You’ll want their color to be dark brown (think French Onion Soup Brown).

(I promise to post a picture of the different stages on here ASAP! )

Once my onions were done cooking in butter and turned a magnificent color and scent, I tossed them with  angel hair (and a small amount of reserved “pasta water”) and then added the crunch bacon and tossed again.  I seasoned to taste and topped with freshly-grated pecorino and parsley.

Dinner was a success.  I’m already scheming my next caramelized dinner :D

Do YOU like your onions sweet??  How would you use caramelized onions??

Angel Hair with Popped Tomatoes

I love this dish.  It’s not only easy, but it’s adjustable–make it for yourself or family style.  It utilizes one of my favorites–tomatoes–and combines it with filling pasta and, salty cheese, and onion’s nearest and dearest relative–garlic.

This used to be one of my (and my college roommate’s) favorite quick-dishes.  We always had cheese and pasta and garlic on hand (still do!) and thinking about it, we almost always had fresh tomatoes, too.  Of course, we really outdid ourselves with this dish when we went to  Henry’s and both bought small cartons of HEIRLOOM cherry tomatoes–I’m pretty sure I had to pinch myself when I saw them sitting there, all multi-colored, practically screaming at me to pick them up and take them home to greedily consume.

Heirloom Cherry Tomatoes

Of course, I don’t always make the trip to Henry’s for these colorful little guys, so I usually make this dish with just plain-old cherry-colored cherry tomatoes :) Don’t worry, they work and taste just as good as the heirlooms (except maybe the purple heirlooms.  Those are divine!!)

Whenever I make this dish I will forever and always think of my college roommate (miss you Stef!), our not-so-tiny apartment, and the great memories we made in our too-tiny kitchen.

Necessary Items

  • Angel Hair Pasta–I usually get the whole grain kind  (adjust to number of servings you want.  Use a whole pound for 4 people)
  • Package of cherry tomatoes
  • 2 Cloves garlic, peeled and smashed
  • EVOO
  • Parmesan Cheese
  • Salt
  • Pepper
  • Crushed Red Pepper

Optional Items

  • Pecorino Romano
  • Flat-Leaf Parsley (because it makes it look pretty!)
  • Protein (if you’re someone who likes to have meat with dinner, sausage sliced in would make for a satisfying meal, as would grilled chicken)

The Process

  • Cook the pasta according to package directions (just remember to liberally salt that water!!)
  • While the pasta cooks (and being angel hair, it shouldn’t take very long) heat over medium heat a large skillet with some EVOO (enough to cover just the bottom of the pan.  A couple turns around the pan should do) and your smashed garlic cloves
  • Once the cloves start to lightly brown, thrown in your tomatoes, whole.  Add salt (kosher or sea), freshly ground pepper, and your favorite crushed red pepper (there’s an italian restaurant in Little Italy here in San Diego that has the BEST crushed red pepper–they finely crush it, so it’s nice and spicy without getting the flakes caught in your teeth)
  • Toss to coat the tomatoes with all the seasonings and then leave it be.  You want the tomatoes to sit and cook in the olive oil until they “pop”……their outside skins will split and supply with it a satisfying popping noise.
  • Don’t forget to drain your pasta!  [TIP: with a measuring cup, scoop out a cup of the cooked pasta water and reserve it. You can use this water later to un-stick any sticky pasta, or add it to the dish to make a “sauce”)
  • Once the tomatoes are popped, the pasta is drained, it’s time to serve.  Combine all ingredients in bowl(s) and toss.  Sprinkle some freshly grated Parmesan cheese on top (and here is where you would add the pretty chopped parsley) and serve.  I usually set out a small ramekin with extra cheese to sprinkle on halfway through the meal.

And that’s it.  REALLY simple, simply delicious.

Happy Mother’s Day!

Just wanted to give a quick shout out to all the mothers out there–I know that some of my readers are mothers and I want to tell them that they’re very special and deserve so much more than they get!

Mothers (and I use this term loosely…I mean grandmothers, aunts, friend’s moms, etc) are usually the ones responsible for a person’s love for the kitchen.  They are  the ones who take simple ingredients and turn them into favorites.  They’re responsible for making the house smell soo good at Christmas and on birthdays.  They always had a snack waiting for us after school.  Mothers pass down family recipes, secret tips and tricks that YOU will eventually pass down to your own kids.

Mom’s are the ones who make the tuna noodle casseroles that we vow to never make.  They’re the ones who would get mad if you ate the bag of chips they “just bought!!”  They’re the ones who made you eat all of your vegetables, no matter how many times you gagged.

And of course, they’ve done A LOT more for us, but I’m stickin’ to food-related things, for obvious reasons.

In short, thank you to all the moms–for all the cooking, recipes, packed lunches, hugs and love.  I hope that someone cooks for YOU today!

HAPPY MOTHER’S DAY!

Creamy Pasta

I, like every other red-blooded American, have an overwhelming affinity for Mac-and-Cheese.

I have a great skillet recipe for the classic comfort food, but it requires lots of shredding and lots of ingredients.  When I’m craving a cream-based pasta but don’t have a lot of time or I’m just trying to use things up in my pantry and fridge, I usually opt to make “Creamy Pasta”–a simple alfredo, if you will.

I learned this recipe via nanny-ing.  The kids love it and it’s so fast and simple that if they request it last second…that’s ok!  It’s also handy if you have plain left over pasta that otherwise wouldn’t get eaten.  AND I always make this with whole wheat pasta–the kids can’t see that the pasta is a different color and they certainly can’t tell a difference in taste!  Suckers.

What you need:

  • Cooked short pasta–macaroni, farfalle, penne, etc. I’m partial to Cavatappi (little corkscrews) because the sauce really sticks
  • Cream (heavy whipping, whipping, or half and half.  Whatever you normally keep on hand!)
  • Butter (1-2 tablespoons, depending on how much you’re making)
  • Freshly-grated parmesan (however, if you only buy the pre-shredded parm [in the bag, not Kraft!], I will allow that—this time! )
  • Freshly ground pepper
  • Sea or Kosher Salt

What to Do:

  1. In a medium-sized pan, pour cream until it covers the bottom of the pan.  I usually tilt the pan and if I can see the bottom of the pan when I tilt it, I add a little more cream.  Remember, you don’t need a lot, but enough to completely cover the bottom of the pan!
  2. Add the butter and put the heat on medium.
  3. Once the butter and cream mixture starts to bubble (and it will!  It’ll be a frothy bubble), turn the heat down slightly and add the cooked pasta.  Stir to coat.
  4. Season liberally with salt and pepper.  Stir again.
  5. Add a small handful of the grated parmesan cheese and stir again to melt.  I always taste the pasta here and see if it needs more anything–salt, pepper, or cheese.  Then add as needed
  6. Continue to heat, stirring constantly.  It sometimes takes a while to thicken.  Don’t worry if it looks thin.  Just stop stirring, turn the heat OFF and let it sit for about a minute.  The sauce will thicken on its own and you’ll have a really yummy creamy pasta!

I usually pair this with hot turkey sausage (or regular sausage for the S.O.).  The hot, spicy flavor balances out the creaminess of the  pasta.  I would also recommend sliced, grilled chicken with this!  It really is an extremely simple pasta that’s fool-proof.  Enjoy!

Give It a Rest!!

I’m talking about your meats–your chickens, your porks, your steaks.  Fish is a whole ‘nother ball game–one I don’t play.  One day, though, I WILL cook fish and my boyfriend WILL eat it.

I often see people cook a delicious steak or chicken and then slice right into it as it cooks to see if it’s done yet.  And every time I see my dad someone do it, I cringe or cry out “NOOO!!” with outstretched arms.

If you are an offender of this awful crime, now is the time to stop.  (This is also a good time to tell you that if you’re also a hamburger smasher–you know, when you’re grilling the patties and you smoosh it with the spatula to hear that awesome sizzle–SHAME ON YOU)

If you don’t already know, here’s why I forbid this horrendous, albeit common, cooking act.  The fibers in meat shrink as they cook, forcing the juices to the outer-layers of the skin.  If you cut into it while it cooks, or right after on the cutting board, the fibers have not yet expanded again, allowing all the yummy juices to redistribute throughout the meat.  This results in dry, tasteless meat that’s completely unappetizing and frankly, a little embarrassing.  You are better than this!

So, the next  meat you grill, saute, or roast, GIVE IT A REST! I’m talking anywhere between 5-20 minutes, depending on how big your cut is.  If I grill two small steaks for me and the S.O., I put them on a plate, tent them lightly with foil and let them rest about 8 minutes.  I usually only let boneless chicken breasts rest about 5 minutes.  And big roasts (especially turkeys) should rest for about 20 minutes.  I made a small round bottom roast over the weekend and let that guy take a break for 10 minutes.

If you have a problem with chicken or steak coming out dryer than expected, try letting it rest next time you cook.  You’ll be pleased with the juicy, finger-lickin results.

(Remember, resist the urge to cut or smoosh!  I’m STILL trying to train the men in my life to do this ;) )

Kitchen Goddess

I have a really awesome boyfriend.

Our 4 year anniversary is creeping up on us and Max (my lovely S.O.) couldn’t wait to give me my present….seriously. he was not able to wait until the day.  Which, of course, is totally fine by  me!  I think this was the most excited he’s been to give me a present (that I’ve observed, as other gifts that he’s given me, i.e. ring, were a secret so I had no idea of his enthusiasm of presenting them to me at the time).

Anyway, the other night he made my sit and close my eyes (with my hands over them for good measure) as he fetched a huge box out of his car and into our apartment, landing at my feet.  When I opened my eyes, there in front of me sat every chef’s necessity (and dare I say dream?).

KitchenAid Artisan in "Bayleaf"

KitchenAid Artisan in "Bayleaf"

"Jade"

Yes, I am now a proud owner of a “KitchenAid”, as they are simply known.  I love it.  I have put off certain recipes because they call for stand mixers (with the paddle attachment!); and now, I can make even more delicious baked goods and breads, despite my miniscule galley kitchen and limited counter space.  It is an amazing machine and, although one might deem it sexist, it is the perfect gift for me.

In fact, I had to christen it as soon as I possibly could.  So I put Jade (as she will be called from now on, as I name all inanimate objects of mine with which I have mild love affairs) to work ASAP and she produced the most wonderful cheesecake my tastebuds have encountered.

Although, I may be bias.

For the cheesecake recipe I used, click on my link on the right hand side to “Fine Cooking” and then look in “Desserts”  It was their feature in their last issue.  They have a basic cheesecake recipe with 18 different varieties of it, although I made up my own and made Junior Mint Cheesecake with Mint Oreo crust.  It came out perfect.

And as I sit and eat another bite of the creamy, fluffy cheesecake and smile lovingly at Jade, I really do feel like a kitchen goddess.

The Best-Dressed Salad

I love me some salad.

I’m not afraid to admit that when I say “salad” I really mean “salad fixings.”  I love the cheeses (french feta, gorgonzola, point reyes, shaved parm) that go great with it, I love the nuts (candied walnuts, toasted pine nuts and pecans) that pair perfectly with it, I love the sweet fruit (nectarines, pears) that balance out the flavors.

And, of course, I love the dressing.  I used to be a fan of the bottled stuff–the Hidden Valleys and the Bernsteins.  But I now use a much simpler dressing…one that will make your salad dressed for any event, be it to hold or garnish the main feature (chicken, steak, fish) or to stand strong on its own as the headliner.  This dressing requires only four ingredients, and you should always have these four ingredients inside your kitchen.

Olive Oil (I LOVE Greek Olive Oil.  You can find some great ones at Marshalls, of all places!)

Fresh Lemon Juice (remember, no bottled stuff.  I’ll know if you’re using it…)

Salt (sea salt or Kosher.  No table salt.  You know how I feel about salt.)

Freshly Cracked Pepper

and that’s it.  Those four components make the best-dressed salad.  And you can add anything to a salad that’s dressed with this and the flavor won’t be off-putting or unbalanced.  Promise!  Here’s what I do:

If I remember or have the time, I like to chill my lettuce and get it super cold (put it in a stainless steal bowl and cover it with a damp paper towel and refrigerate anywhere from 30 minutes to 3 hours)

I pour the olive oil in a thin, but not too thin, line over the salad bowl in a zig-zag motion.  First away from myself, then come back.  Then I toss.

Next, I grind the salt and pepper on top.  After using this “recipe”, if it can even be called that, you will learn how much salt/pepper you like.  But for the first time, don’t over do it.  Remember: you can always add more, but you can’t take away!

Then, I toss the salad again, then I add the lemon juice.  The lemon is like the salt and pepper.  Cut off about a third of a medium sized lemon and squeeze it on top of the greens, cut side up to avoid getting any seeds in there (ouch!)  Toss again and you’re good to go!  Of course, taste a piece of the greens and see if it needs anything–maybe you put too much lemon, or not enough salt, etc.

After you start eating your salad like this, I guarantee you won’t ever go back to ranch, italian, or God-forbid Thousand Island, dressing again!  It’s cheaper, healthier, and um…BETTER.  Another good thing to throw into the mix is to top off your perfectly-dressed salad with a splash or two of balsamic vinegar–you’ll be amazed at the difference a small amount of another ingredient will make your salad taste!

Next salad you make, swap out your dressing for this one and let me know what you think!

The Versatile Chicken

My sister texted me  the other night at work inquiring what to make for dinner.  Although a very broad and vague question, the first thing that popped into my head was chicken.  Most people who like to cook and keep their fridges (or freezers!) stocked have boneless, skinless chicken breasts on hand, and as we all know, there are countless things to do with the popular white meat.

Of course, I’m not about to tell you all the delicious, creative, and weird things you can do with chicken; but rather, I am going to give you a basic recipe and different things to “pair” it with so you have a back-up chicken recipe that can go with many ingredients both in the pantry and the fridge on nights when you’re indecisive, inspired, or have company.

Things you should always have around the kitchen (that come in handy for chicken dishes!)

  • Boneless, skinless chicken breasts (I love when it’s buy one get one free.  I have enough chicken for my boyfriend and I for two nights in one package and can throw the other one in the freezer for later…now if only I could remember to take it out of the freezer when I need it…)
  • Pasta (I suggest always having penne or farfalle, whichever you prefer, AS WELL AS a long pasta–angel hair, spaghetti, fettuccine, linguine, etc.)
  • Pasta Sauce (I’m ok with jarred sauces, but if I had the time and the freezer space, I would make my own sauce and freeze it)
  • Arugula (it’s expensive and can be hard to find, so a spring mix will do!)
  • Cheese (there is no such thing as having too much cheese.  I always have Parmesan and Pecorino)
  • Eggs
  • Flour (all-purpose)
  • Panko (I’m a big  fan of these Japanese “breadcrumbs”, but if you can’t find them or don’t prefer them, I will permit regular breadcrumbs.  I keep both handy)
  • Lemons (PLEASE don’t use the stuff in the green bottles shaped like lemons. yuck!)

Versatile Chicken

4 Boneless, Skinless Chicken Breasts

Flour to dredge in

2-3 eggs, beaten

Panko or breadcrumbs to dredge in

Olive oil, for frying

  1. Pound the chicken until it’s about 1/4 inch thick.
  2. Season the flour with season salt or salt and pepper
  3. Season the Panko with parmesan cheese
  4. Dredge the chicken through the flour, then the egg, then the Panko.  This can be done ahead, just cover the chicken and put back in the fridge until you’re ready to cook!
  5. Heat some olive oil on medium/high heat  (enough to cover the bottom of your frying pan)
  6. Cook the chicken, turning once, for about 10 minutes, or until cooked through (about 5 minutes on each side)
  7. and THAT’S IT!

Now for the variations

Make Versatile chicken and place on top of your favorite long pasta.  Top with your favorite pasta sauce and melted mozzarella.  Chicken Parmesan!

Make Versatile Chicken but add sliced lemons, lemon juice, chicken broth and capers at the end.  Remove the chicken and let the “sauce” simmer and reduce for about 5 minutes.  Add a tablespoon of butter at the end to thicken the sauce and serve the sauce over the chicken and pasta (farfalle, fettuccine) or over the chicken and your favorite rice.  You’ve got Chicken Picatta

or

Omit the capers and add some wine to the sauce and call it Chicken Francese :D

Make Versatile Chicken and service on top of a bed of lightly dressed arugula (lemon and olive oil) and serve prosciutto on top!  One of my favorites!

Make Versatile Chicken and slice and toss it with a spring mix, dressed with lemon juice, olive oil, and balsamic vinegar.  Add gorgonzola or goat cheese, roasted pecans, thinly sliced sweet onion, salt and pepper.

What would YOU pair the Versatile Chicken with??

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