Saturday, August 27, 2016

Chicken Pasta with Sun Dried Tomatoes and Basil in a Light Cream Sauce

With summer coming to an end I still have a good bit of fresh basil on hand, so today I'm making a pasta dish that is best when prepared with this garden fresh ingredient. You can of course use dried but it's better with fresh.

Julian's Creamy Chicken Pasta with Sun Dried Tomatoes
Unlike some of its creamy cousins, this pasta is not extremely rich and overly heavy on dairy. The sauce makes a light cream sauce and is freshened by the basil and sun dried tomatoes.

Ingredients (serves 2)
Cooking the Vegetables
3 large garlic cloves, minced
1 medium onion
1/2 cup mushroom stems and pieces (optional)
1 cup dry white wine
1 small jar (3-4 oz) sun-dried tomatoes in oil
1/2 boneless, skinless, chicken breast
salt and freshly ground black pepper
pinch of paprika
1 cup half and half (cream/milk blend)
1 cup mozzarella cheese, shredded
8 ounces pasta, Penne or similar
10-15 leaves fresh basil or 1 teaspoon dried
1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes or more
1/2 cup reserved cooked pasta water or more
grated Parmesan cheese for topping

Drain sun-dried tomatoes from oil and reserve the oil. Slice the tomatoes into smaller, bite-sized pieces, preferably in strips. Cut the chicken breast into slices then cut again into rectangular bite-sized pieces. Cook pasta according to package instructions. When boiling add the pasta and cook along side the remaining ingredients.

Crush the garlic and chop the onion. In a large non-stick skillet or saute pan over medium-high heat, add a tablespoon of the reserved oil. When hot cook onion for 3-4 minutes and then add the garlic and optional mushrooms. Stir for one minute more. Add half the wine and simmer until reduced almost completely. Add the sun-dried tomatoes and cook for another minute. Remove the ingredients from the pan leaving the oil. Add chicken and sprinkle with salt, pepper and paprika and cook for 1-2 minutes on each side until cooked through and slightly browned. Add additional oil from the tomatoes if needed during cooking. Remove the chicken to rest with the vegetables.

Reserve a cup of cooked pasta water then drain the pasta completely when al dente.

Reduce heat on the skillet to medium and all the other half of the white wine. Deglaze the pan by scraping up any browned bits and simmer to reduce until only about half the wine remains. Add half and half and cheese to the skillet and simmer while stirring, until all cheese melts and creamy sauce forms. Add cooked pasta to the skillet with the creamy sauce, and stir to combine.

Tear in the fresh basil and add the red pepper flakes. Stir to combine. Add reserved pasta water as needed to correct the consistency, sometimes only required for left overs. Taste and correct seasoning by adding more salt, pepper and pepper flakes if needed. Let simmer for a minute or two to permit flavors to combine with pasta. Serve hot with grated Parmesan cheese.

Ready to Plate

Saturday, August 20, 2016

Garlic Roasted Baby Bella Mushrooms

This dish is great summer and winter. In the summer time I prepare it on the grill and the winter in the oven. While I always use a cast iron skillet, you could use any heavy roasting pan or casserole.

Julian's Garlic Roasted Baby Bellas
It really is simple and you won't need a recipe once you've prepared it the first time. You can use more or less garlic as you prefer. You could also finely dice some shallots which would be good with this. And I've also sprinkled a little shredded cheese on top from time to time. These make an excellent accompaniment to steak.

8 medium-large baby bella mushrooms
4 tablespoons butter
4 large cloves garlic
2 tablespoons panko bread crumbs
salt and pepper

Place a large cast iron skillet inside the grill or oven as you preheat it to approximately 400F degrees. Wash the mushrooms and cut off the stems. Pat dry.

Add butter to a small, microwave save bowl and crush the garlic over it. Melt the butter and garlic in the microwave (approximately 30-40 seconds). Stir in the bread crumbs.

Remove the skillet from the grill or oven being very careful as it will be quite hot. Place the mushrooms in the skillet tops facing down and spoon the butter mixture into each mushroom cap. Sprinkle with salt and pepper and return to grill or oven and roast for 20-30 minutes until tender. Serve hot.

Saturday, August 13, 2016

Bolognese Pasta Sauce

Perhaps the most common pasta sauce in Italian-American kitchens, this ragu-style sauce is a meat-lovers delight.

Julian's Fettuccine Bolognese
I discussed the types of ragu previously and gave you my recipe for a fresh saute style pasta sauce, but today I wanted to share the classic Bolognese style ragu. This is not my Italian mother's recipe. She made something similar but just said it was pasta sauce with 'the meat run through'. For years I didn't have a name for her sauce, but it was similar if less complex than my current recipe. She really just browned ground beef then added her usual tomato sauce ingredients.So her sauce was a less ground meat and more tomato sauce. I suppose it stretched further that way.

Today however I wanted to share a recipe I got from a friend who recommended I give it a try. It was originally from Marcella Hazan who is credited with bringing classic Italian cooking recipes to America through her line of cookbooks. I'm sure I've modified it some over the years and I don't have a written copy of the original. So this may vary slightly from her work, but it is very good and highly recommended. While it ideally should take about 3 hours to prepare and simmer, you can do the entire sauce in an hour if you are in a rush. It will still be delightful. For a great read on Bolognese by a former restaurant cook who prepared it daily, check out the Food Lab Blog entry.

I prefer a thick meat sauce consistency that has some tomato sauce remaining with the meat as shown above. Others prefer a dry mostly meat sauce (will be darker in color than above) with the remaining fat only to lubricate the noodles. This is how the original recipe was made. This is a personal preference and the recipe can be adjusted either way as noted below. I've had it quite good both ways. I like this best with either a wider fettuccine noodle or even a thick spaghetti noodle. These somewhat heftier noodles adhere better to the thick meat sauce.

A good Bolognese ragu should cook slowly for a long-time. This can be done on the stove stop at a slow simmer, which is how I usually do it. But others prefer placing it in the oven. However you do it, the longer it cooks the better it is. Ideally make this in the morning and let it cook all day. Then, let it cool and refrigerate over night. Remove any large amount of fat that has solidified, but do leave a little for flavor. Warm the day of use and serve. It will be at it maximum flavor if you can make it at least a day in advance.

1 tablespoon vegetable oil
3 tablespoons butter
1/2 small onion
1 stalk celery
1 large carrot
2 large garlic cloves
1 pound ground meat*
     beef or add pork veal combination
1 cup pureed chicken livers (optional)
Large pinch salt and fresh ground black pepper
1 cup milk, cream or half and half
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg, ground
1 cup dry white wine or sherry
1 or 2 cans (14.5 ounce each) crushed tomatoes
1 teaspoon dried crushed basil
1 teaspoon dried crushed oregano
1/2 teaspoon dried crushed parsley
1 teaspoon granulated sugar
1 pound pasta, larger noodles preferred
 Freshly grated Parmesan cheese

*Using all ground beef is fine, but try to select 80-85% lean. Some extra fat adds flavor. If using pork and veal, I prefer 1/2 ground beef and 1/4 of both ground veal and pork. You may think the chicken liver is odd, but trust me they will melt into the sauce improving both flavor and texture and will never be noticed.

Veggies:  In a food processor preferably, process the onion, carrot and celery together until finely chopped (not purred but not with any large chunks remaining.)  Put the oil, butter and chopped onion in the pot and heat over medium-high flame or equivalent. Sprinkle with a pinch of salt and black pepper. Cook stirring occasionally to until tender about 5-7 minutes. Crush or mince the garlic and stir in to combine.

Meat: Add ground meat. Break up the the meat with your spoon and stir well and cook until the meat is cooked through. Then add the salt and 5-6 grinds of black pepper and the pureed chicken livers.

Liquids: Add milk and let it simmer gently, stirring frequently, until it has nearly evaporated. Add 1/4 teaspoon of nutmeg, and stir. Add the wine. Let it simmer until it has nearly evaporated, then add the tomatoes and their liquid. (Note: You can reduce to using only one can of tomatoes if you want a really meaty and not much tomato flavor in the sauce.) Add some additional water (perhaps 4-6 ounces) to get to your preferred consistency. You can always add more water later if the sauce seems too thick.

When the tomatoes begin to boil lightly (simmer), turn the heat down so that the sauce cooks but barely bubbles at all. Add the sugar to reduce acidity. Cook uncovered for at least 3 hours or more, stirring periodically. While the sauce is cooking, add water if it begins to dry out and stick to the pan. I prefer a sauce consistency that has some tomato sauce remaining. Others prefer a dry mostly meat sauce with fat to lubricate the noodles. Cook to your preferred consistency and use the lid to control evaporation. Taste periodically and add more salt, pepper or herbs as you prefer. If you can make this 24 hours in advance, do so and refrigerate over night. Warm just prior to serving.

Bring the salted pasta water to a boil per the package direction and cook the pasta as noted. Drain and toss the pasta with half of the meat sauce. Serve in bowls with the remaining meat sauce spooned on top. Serve with freshly grated Parmesan. Excellent with a nice piece of buttered Italian bread to mop up the remaining sauce and meat.

Adding freshly grated cheese.

Saturday, August 6, 2016

Pineapple Upside Down Bundt Cake

A colleague at work commented that his favorite cake was pineapple upside down cake. I often make a Bundt cake for a mid-morning meeting I run and wondered if I could make this traditional dessert in my Bundt pan so I could transport it to work in my Bundt cake carrier. This cake turned out perfect in every way, both moist and flavorful.

Julian's Pineapple Upside Down Bundt Cake
I searched online and found a wide variety of sites that were making a pineapple upside down cake in a Bundt pan, so I reviewed them and selected what seemed to be the most common and reasonable approach. Some used whole pineapple rings while others cut them in half. I chose the latter. All the ones I reviewed were made with a box cake mix, which I don't usually prefer, but decided to give that a try instead of making completely from scratch. Why do I prefer not to use boxed cake mixes?  Well the ingredients are scary and certainly not good for you to consume in quantity. So I don't recommend a cake mix often, but it worked well in this situation. As in all things, moderation is called for.

I used the yellow Duncan Hines Super Moist cake mix. If you want a more strong pineapple flavor in the cake, substitute for a pineapple cake mix. I also used my large, classic 15 cup Bundt pan which never runs over when I make this recipe. But others have reported spillage, perhaps because they used smaller pans. In any case, I suggest a baking sheet under the pan just in case.

How to place the pineapples and cherries.

1/2 cup butter (1 stick), melted
1/2 cup packed brown sugar
1 20 ounce can pineapple rings in 100% juice (reserve the juice)
1 Jar maraschino cherries
1 box yellow or pineapple cake mix
1 4-serving box instant vanilla pudding
3 eggs
vegetable oil


Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.  Using a classic Bundt pan, spray the pan with food release or butter and flour the pan.

Melt the butter and pour into the bottom of the pan making sure it is well disbursed. Sprinkle with brown sugar. Drain the pineapple juice from the can into a 1 cup measure. Remove the pineapple rings and cut them in half. Place in the Bundt pan using the ridges in the pan to help the rings stay in place. Between each pineapple slice, add a maraschino cherry, which helps to further hold the pineapple in place.

In a mixing bowl, stir the dry cake mix and pudding mix together. If you have less than 1 cup of pineapple juice, add milk to make 1 cup of liquid. Crack the eggs into a small cup and beat lightly. Add the liquid, beaten eggs and the amount of oil called for in the box cake mix to the dry ingredients. Fold together and then using a mixer, combine following the instructions on the box. (Usually vigorous beating for two minutes.)

Pour the batter evenly over the pineapple in the Bundt pan. Place the pan on a baking sheet (to catch butter that that overflows) and bake as instructed for a Bundt cake on the cake mix box. (While the ox usually says 40 minutes, mine usually takes nearly an hour.) The cake is done when an inserted pick comes out clean.

Cool for 10 minutes in the pan. Loosen the edges if necessary with a small knife. Invert the cake onto a serving plate to cool.