Ragu Bolognese with Tagliatelle

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This is a special recipe.

You know what I mean.  The kind of recipe that only gets made for special occasions.  It takes the whole day and makes your house smell like a five star restaurant.  A meal that you plan ahead for and anticipate for days, telling your family over and over to be ready, because they won’t want to miss out on this one fabulous meal.

That is what kind of recipe this is.

I had the opportunity once to spend some time in Italy, and of course what I remember most is the incredible food.  The beauty of Italian cuisine is that it is not about ridiculous, complicated recipes.  The focus is on gorgeous ingredients, treated with love.  To me, treating ingredients with care and respect is one of the most important parts of being an excellent chef.  That goes for all ingredients; from the lowly celery to a gorgeous piece of steak or seafood.  When you love your food it loves you back.  I promise, you can taste the difference.

Showing your product love and respect starts with picking quality ingredients.  There are lots of ways to save money in the kitchen.  Choosing bad produce or low quality cheese or wine is not the way to go.  Next, it means careful knife work, making sure your cuts are even so each piece is exactly the same size.  This makes sure every bit is cooked just right, nothing under or over done.  It also means not cutting corners. Do not buy pre-cut onions or steak at the store.  You have no control over the quality or freshness.  Take your time and give the food the love it so desperately wants.

Of course, this also means making your own fresh, beautiful pasta.  Fresh pasta cannot be replicated or replaced by dry store bought pasta.  It is one of the most heavenly things a kitchen can create, and it is absolutely worth the extra time.  Once you get used to making it, you won’t even notice the extra minutes.  This pasta is hand cut to make thick, luscious tagliatelle noodles.  If you have never made your own pasta, buy a roller, and learn.  Your life will never be the same.

Finally, be willing to take your time when cooking. Some recipes take a while and benefit from sitting on your stove all day.  Those recipes are often the best of them all, and the extra time is definitely worth it.

I know, we’re all busy.  But sometimes you just gotta drop everything else and make Ragu Bolognese and pretend you are back in the Italian countryside.

Ingredients

  • olive oil
  • 4 oz pancetta, diced
  • 1 yellow/brown onion, diced
  • 4 stalks celery, finely diced
  • 2 medium carrots, finely diced
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 oz dried porcini mushrooms
  • 1.5 lbs skirt steak, cut into 1/4 inch cubes
  • 8 oz ground pork
  • 1 cup dry white wine (I used a sauvignon blanc)(I am also generous with my cup.)
  • 3 T double concentrated tomato paste
  • 2 cups beef stock
  • 1.5 cups whole milk
  • 2 small parmesan rinds
  • 1 tsp nutmeg
  • 4 sprigs fresh thyme
  • 4 fresh sage leaves
  • 2 bay leaves
  • salt
  • 1 batch fresh pasta, cut into wide tagliatelle noodles
  • fresh grated parmesan, to serve

Directions

Start by preparing your mise en place, which translates to “things in place”.  Literally, get your ingredients ready so that when you need them you aren’t scrambling.  So the first thing we do is cut up our ingredients and make sure everything is ready to go!

Chopping onion.

Chopping onion.

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Perfectly diced celery. (If I do say so myself…)

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And perfectly cut steak.

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Mise en place.

Again, take your time to cut everything to be the same size, especially the steak.  The more consistent your cuts are on the meat, the better this dish will be.  Trust me.  Love your food, and it will love you back.

Now it is time to cook!

First, rehydrate the mushrooms.  cover the mushrooms with about 1 cup of boiling water.  Let sit for at least fifteen minutes, then remove the mushrooms from the water and dice.  Reserve the water.

Now we start cooking!  He 2 tablespoons of olive oil in a large saucepan over medium heat.  Once hot, add the diced pancetta.  Let cook for about 3-4 minutes, or until the pancetta releases its fat and begins to brown.

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Add the celery, carrots, and onions.  Cook for about 10 minutes, stirring occasionally, as the veggies begin to soften.

Cooking the veggies.

Cooking the veggies.

Add the mushrooms and about half the mushroom water. 2015-10-17 15.02.08

Cook for about 15 minutes, or until the liquid is cooked out and the veggies are very soft.

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Remove the veggies from the pan and put in a separate bowl.  Put the same pan back on the heat, increase to medium high, and add about two tablespoons olive oil.  (Do NOT wash the pan in between!)  When the oil is hot, add the chopped steak, along with a bit of salt and pepper.  Cook until browned on all sides and then remove from heat onto a plate using a slotted spoon.

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Into the same pan, add your ground pork and cook until the pork is browned.

Turn heat back to medium.  Put your sage, thyme, and bay leaf into cheesecloth and tie off with kitchen twine to make a bouquet garni.  Add the veggies, steak, and the bouquet garni back to the pan and let cook for about 8 minutes, or until the liquid is cooked down.  Add the wine, making sure to scrape the bottom of the pan.

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Let this cook down for about 15 minutes, until the wine is cooked off.  The pot should turn a gorgeous, shiny color at this point.

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Add the tomato paste.  Let cook for about five more minutes.

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It should be starting to look very, very pretty.

Add 1.5 cups of stock and 1/2 cup milk.  Let cook for about 15 minutes, stirring every few minutes.

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Finally, add the rest of the milk and stock, the parmesan rinds, nutmeg, and a touch of salt.  Let simmer for about 1.5 hours, skimming the fat from the surface occasionally. You may want to lower the heat.  Sauce should thicken and become velvety and rich.

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This sauce can be made a day or two ahead of time, and only becomes better with age.

When ready to serve, reheat if necessary, and toss with hand cut fresh tagliatelle noodles.  (Please don’t waste this sauce on dry pasta, I beg you!)

Top with fresh grated parmesan.

2015-10-18 18.38.22I’m gonna go eat now.  K bye.

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Easy Crockpot Tikki Masala

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Ladies and gentlemen, it is officially crockpot season!  The leaves here in Minnesota have finally decided to change coloring, and are now changing and falling at breakneck speed. I traded my flip flops in for a cute pair of boots and found my sweaters.  Obi is shedding like crazy.  As the Starks would say…WINTER IS COMING! (Yes…that was a GoT reference.  Get over it.)

For now, the weather is gorgeously cool and cozy.  Perfect for crockpots and warm comforting meals.  There is nothing better than coming home after a long day at work to the smell of delicious food that is already cooked and all you have to do is sit down and eat it.

I made this meal for parent-teacher conference night, because I knew I would have no energy to cook after 12 straight hours of students and parents.  The only thing that wasn’t already done was the rice, which I asked my fiance to make while I was driving home.  Turns out, my fiance can’t make rice.  Not even close.  Even when I give very specific directions.  (He also set a pot of boiling water on fire once, so I’m not really surprised.)

As far as the recipe, it is sort of a lightened up non-traditional take on a Tikki Masala.  I used coconut milk instead of cream.  It was delicious.  If I was cooking this just for myself I would have used more cayenne instead of paprika to bump up the heat, but the fiance isn’t a huge spice fan so I was kind and didn’t do that.

I also made the sauce and starting marinating the chicken the night before, so all I had to do was throw everything into the pot the next morning and turn the crockpot on.

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Ingredients

  • 2 lbs uncooked chicken, diced into ~ 1.5 inch cubes
  • 1/4 cup yogurt
  • squeeze of lemon juice
  • 30 oz tomato sauce
  • 1 T ground coriander
  • 2 tsp ground cumin
  • 2 tsp smoked paprika
  • 1/2 tsp cayenne pepper
  • 1/2 tsp ground nutmeg
  • 1/2 tsp ground clove
  • 1 tsp cinnamon
  • 1/2 tsp ground cardamon
  • 1 tsp ground black pepper
  • salt, to taste
  • 1 inch piece ginger, grated
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 white onion, diced
  • 1 can coconut milk
  • 1 T cornstarch
  • 1 large lemon
  •  chopped cilantro, basmati rice, and/or naan bread to serve

Directions

Put the chopped chicken in a large bowl with the yogurt and a squeeze of lemon juice.  Let marinate while you make the sauce, or overnight.  For the sauce, pour tomato sauce, spices, ginger, garlic, and onion all into the bowl of your crockpot.  Mix well.  Taste, and add spice as desired.  Or leave it like this if you are happy.  🙂

You can now refrigerate the sauce and chicken overnight, or get it started.  Add the chicken to the sauce in the crockpot and cook on low for 8-10 hours.

When ready to eat, pour the whole thing into a large skillet.  Add the coconut milk and cornstarch and let cook down and thicken for about 10 minutes while you are getting the rice or other accompaniments ready.  Finish with juice of one lemon before serving.

Serve with rice or naan bread or both (like I did, because I am bad at making decisions).  Garnish with cilantro.

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Delicious.

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Garlic Montamore Pasta

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As hard as the US has worked to destroy the taco, they have worked equally hard to mess up pasta.  Pasta is an art.  It is magic.  It is a canvas on which you can create a masterpiece.  You know what pasta does not need?  It does not need to be drowned in so much sauce that you can’t even taste the noodles.  And that, my friends, is what this country wants to do to pasta.

Pasta doesn’t need all that.  Pasta wants to be mixed with flavorful, high quality ingredients and allowed to shine for itself.  This pasta combines spicy garlic, sweet Montamore, and nutty parmesan, along with earthy mushrooms and fresh asparagus for an intoxicating blend of flavors that hits every part of your pallet.

If you are not familiar with Montamore cheese, it is a fruity, creamy, buttery cheese that was inspired by the flavors of parmesan.  It melts nicely in with the pasta.  I mixed parmigiano reggiano 50-50 with the Montamore to keep the nuttiness that true parmesan has while still picking up the flavors of the Montamore to complement them.  If you have never tried this cheese, put it on your bucket list.  It is worth every bite.

I also used quite a bit of garlic in this dish, because my Italian fiance adores it.  If you are not a garlic lover feel free to lower the garlic level, but I promise, it isn’t as strong as you might think.  The secret is to put it in olive oil, bring it to a simmer, then turn the heat off and let sit for at least 15 minutes.  The hot oil cooks the garlic without frying it, and the garlic in turn infuses the olive oil with all its beautiful flavor, allowing ever bit of pasta to be evenly touched with garlicky goodness.

This is pasta the way it was meant to be.

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Ingredients

For Pasta (makes ~1.25 pounds)

  • 3.5 cups flour
  • 4 eggs
  • ~2 T flour
  • ~1/2 tsp salt

For toppings

  • 1/2 cup olive oil
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 8 oz baby bella mushrooms
  • 1 pound asparagus, ends removed and chopped into thirds
  • 1/4 cup butter
  • 7 oz Montamore cheese, shredded
  • 7 oz parmesan cheese, shredded
  • salt and pepper
  • red pepper flakes (optional, to taste)

Directions

Start by prepping the pasta dough.  In a stand mixer, mix together all the pasta ingredients with the flat mixer for thirty seconds.  Then, attach the dough hook and continue to mix for about 2 minutes, or until forms a dough.  You want a dough that is leathery, not crumbly or sticky, and holds together firmly.  You may need to add slightly more flour or water as necessary to reach the right consistency.  Punch together by hand for about 2 more minutes, then let rest at room temperature for twenty minutes while you prep the rest of the ingredients.

Melt butter in a large cast iron pan over medium heat, then add the chopped asparagus.  Let cook about 10 minutes before adding the mushrooms.  Sprinkle generously with fresh cracked black pepper and sea salt and let cook, stirring occasionally.

In a small nonstick pan pour the olive oil and garlic.  Cook on medium heat until the oil starts to simmer.  Turn off the heat but leave the pan on the burner.  Let rest while you finish preparing the rest of the meal.

Bring a large pot of water to a boil with a generous pour of olive oil and salt.

Roll out the pasta fairly thin, according to the directions for your pasta roller, then cut into fettucine (or linguine).  Cook in the salted water.  (Fresh pasta cooks VERY quickly, so this should go fast.)

When the pasta is cooked, add it to the cast iron pan.  Take the pan off the heat and toss all the ingredients together, along with the garlic infused olive oil and about 1/2-1 cup of the pasta water.

To serve, put a generous helping in a bowl and top with desired amount of shredded cheese.  Can finish with a generous hit of black pepper, or a sprinkle of red pepper flakes, if desired.

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I recommend a big glass of good red wine to drink with this luxurious dish!

Red Wine Mushroom Pork Chops with Apple Goat Cheese Stuffing

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The school year is now in full swing, and I haven’t quite regained my time management skills from last spring.  It’ll get there, but right now I barely have time to cook food, much less write about it afterwards.  I can’t figure out how I got everything done last year.  And this year I am also taking a class to finish my master’s degree, AND planning a wedding.  So you know, just a little busy.

Even with all that, I just couldn’t keep this recipe away from you all.  There is too much to love.

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The pork chop is drenched in velvety sauce with delicious mushrooms.  I often talk about my love for pairing pork with apples, and the stuffing is the perfect vessel for that.  Especially combined with loads of creamy goat cheese.  The flavors are perfect for fall.   Or whenever you just want comfort food.

There are two recipes here.  One for the pork chops, and one for the stuffing.  They are like the perfect couple.  I suggest starting by making the stuffing, then cooking the pork while the stuffing bakes.

Apple Goat Cheese Stuffing

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Ingredients

  • 4 thick slices sourdough bread
  • 1 sweet yellow onion
  • 2 apples
  • 2 cloves garlic
  • 1/2 cup shredded carrots
  • 1/4 cup fresh chopped sage
  • 1 cup chicken stock
  • salt and pepper
  • 5 oz goat cheese

Directions

Dice the onion and apples and set them in a large skillet over medium heat, with a dollop of olive oil, salt, and pepper.  While that cooks, dice the bread.  Spread onto a baking sheet and bake at 350 degrees for about 10-15 minutes, or until the bread gets a nice toast on it.  After getting the bread in the oven, when the onion starts to get soft, add the carrots, garlic, and sage to the onion and apple mix.  Let them cook until the apples get soft all the way through, about 10 minutes.  Add the chicken stock and let simmer down until most of the liquid is cooked off.  When just a little liquid is left, take a large baking bowl and combine the apple mix with the bread.  Crumble in the goat cheese and combine well with a wooden spoon.  Make sure it is spread evenly in the baking dish.  Turn the oven up to 400 degrees and cook for about half an hour, or until the top starts to look crispy.

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While the stuffing cooks, make the pork chops.

Red Wine Mushroom Pork Chops

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Ingredients

  • 3 T butter
  • 1 package (8 oz) baby bella mushrooms, chopped
  • 1/4 tsp garlic powder
  • salt and pepper
  • 6 center loin cut pork chops (or whatever you happen to have)
  • flaky sea salt
  • 1/2 bottle red wine
  • 1/2 cup beef stock
  • 2 T fresh thyme

Directions

Put 1 1/2 T butter in your cast iron pan.  Melt, then add the mushrooms, garlic powder, salt, and pepper.  Cook the mushrooms until they have released all their moisture, then soaked it back up.

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When the mushrooms are done, remove them from the pan and into a bowl.  In the same pan, melt the rest of the butter.  Sprinkle the pork chops on both sides with black pepper and the flaky sea salt.  Cook for about 5-8 minutes on each side, or until the pork has a good sear.  My pork chops were pretty thick, so after searing I put them in a baking sheet and put them in the oven to finish cooking for a few minutes.  After you take the pork chops out of the pan, deglaze with the red wine.  Bring to a simmer and add the beef broth and thyme.  Let the wine simmer down until it starts to thicken.  Remove the pan from the heat and add the pork chops back in to thoroughly coat them with the sauce.
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Now you get to eat!

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Eggplant Thai Curry

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My favorite times of the year are fall and spring.  When the weather ranges between 50 and 80 degrees fahrenheit I feel like I’m in paradise.  The cooler weather, of course, also brings back cravings for food that is warm and comforting.  Curry fits this perfectly.

I adore curries of all shapes and sizes, but possibly my favorite is Thai curry.  Spicy curry paste and creamy coconut milk are a dream combo.  For this version I used luscious eggplant, or aubergine, along with sweet potato, peppers, and onions to make the curry rich and flavorful.  The eggplant replaces any meat for me in this dish.  It has a fabulous earthiness that is to die for.  You won’t even miss the meat.

While I do love to make my own curry paste, with school back in session and time at a premium, that just didn’t happen this time.  If you do have the time, I definitely recommend homemade as it just can’t be matched in flavor.  You can also control your heat level a little easier that way.  At the end of the day, grocery store red curry paste is still delicious and much, much faster.  So that is what I used.

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I love to serve Thai curry with rice stick, which is just a thin rice noodle.  It does a fabulous job soaking up all the lovely sauce and carrying the vegetables.  It is also much quicker and easier than cooking perfect rice.

Finally, I topped the dish with half a sliced avocado.  I adore avocado and it is cool and creamy which goes beautifully with the spicy sauce.  It may not be the most traditional garnish, but it was a tasty one.

On top of all the other delicious reasons to make this dish, it is actually vegan friendly and absolutely healthy!  It is literally a giant bowl of veggies.  What more could you want?  Even my picky, meat-loving fiance scarfed it down.

Wedding diet?  Heck yeah if it tastes like this!

Ingredients

  • 1 T olive oil
  • 1 sweet potato, diced
  • salt and pepper
  • 1 red onion, rough chopped
  • 2 bell peppers, any color, rough chopped (I used 1 green and 1 orange)
  • 2 serrano peppers, finely minced
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 large or two small eggplants, cut into about 1 inch strips
  • 4 oz red curry paste
  • 1 can (400 mL) coconut milk
  • 1 cup cherry tomatoes, halved
  • rice stick, about 1 oz per desired serving
  • sliced avocado, optional

Directions

Heat the olive oil in a large skillet over medium heat.  When the oil is hot add the diced sweet potato, salt, and pepper.  Cook for about 10 minutes, stirring occasionally.  Add the onion and bell pepper and cook for about another 10 minutes, or until they are soft and the onions are starting to turn translucent.  Add the garlic and serrano pepper.  Give it a good stir and and cook for about a minute.  Add the eggplant.  Cook for about five minutes, until the eggplant starts to cook down a bit, and add the curry paste.  Stir in thoroughly.  Continue cooking, and stirring, for about 10 more minutes or until the eggplant is completely cooked down and soft.

While the eggplant cooks, bring water to a boil in a sauce pan.  Add the rice stick.  Cook for about 7 minutes, or until soft, then drain.

Once the curry vegetables are fully done, add the coconut milk and cherry tomatoes.  Stir in throughly and let heat through.  You don’t need the coconut milk to simmer as it can curdle if left unattended.

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The sauce should be rich and velvety, with all the veggies soft.

To serve, but desired amount of rice noodles in a bowl and top with the curry.

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If desired, you can also top with sliced avocado for more color and cool creaminess.

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Feel really good about today’s life choices. 🙂

Chicken in a Biscuit!

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Wow, the first couple weeks of school have really put a damper on my posting schedule!  The kids are crazy, my schedule has exploded, and all I want to do when I get home is pour a glass of wine and sit on the couch.  I’m still cooking, it just tends to be in bigger batches that last a while and we can eat for leftovers.

I am particularly proud of creating these biscuits.  I am not the world’s greatest baker, but I do have one great biscuit recipe: my Cheesy Garlic Biscuits.  My chicken in a biscuit is almost the same recipe, but instead of cheddar I used goat cheese.  I also added some shredded chicken that I  marinated in hot sauce.  This added a nice vinegary tang to the biscuit that went perfectly with the creamy goat cheese.  These biscuits are perfectly moist and soft, with a crunchy exterior.  I thought they would pick up a little more heat from the hot sauce, but they ended up beautifully balanced and you could barely tell the hot sauce was even there.

We ate just these for dinner one night.  The next night I made a fabulous sausage gravy to pour on top of them and it made me happy.

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Pure decadence.

So for a side dish, a light dinner, or a base for a luscious gravy, this dish is a beauty.  Go get you some.

Ingredients

  • 2 cups flour
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1 T baking powder
  • 1 T sugar
  • 1 T garlic powder
  • 1 stick butter, melted
  • 1 cup milk
  • 4 oz crumbled goat cheese
  • 1 large chicken breast, or two small
  • 1/4 cup hot sauce (Frank’s Red Hot if possible)
  • salt and pepper

Directions

Start by chopping the chicken breast into small pieces and marinating it in salt, pepper, and the hot sauce.  Marinate for an hour before cooking.  Heat a bit of olive oil in a pan over medium heat.  Add your marinated chicken and sauce and cook, covered, for about 10-15 minutes or until cooked through, stirring occasionally.    20150831_195154

Remove the chicken from the heat and shred with two forks

In a large mixing bowl mix together the flour, salt, baking powder, sugar and garlic powder.  Add the melted butter and milk.  Combine gently with a fork.  Add the shredded chicken and crumbled goat cheese and fold into the biscuit mix.  It should be thick and sticky.  Also, it is orange.

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Use a spoon to drop biscuits onto the pan.   It will make 10-12, depending on how big you want them.

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Cook at 450 for 20 minutes, or until done.  If desired, brush with melted butter and sprinkle with dried parsley and sea salt flakes.

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Serve warm.

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Chocolate Chip Banana “Ice Cream”

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Just take a look at that picture.  What do you see?  Ice cream.  You see ice cream.  Don’t pretend otherwise.  What if I told you that this ice cream was actually HEALTHY?!?! Seriously.

I first saw the idea to make ice cream out of bananas on a cooking show and haven’t been able to stop thinking about it.  However, I rarely have bananas at home and it seemed silly to buy bananas just to freeze and pulverize them.  Little did I know, my fiance bought bananas and put them away where neither of us found them until they were starting to go bad.  And voila!  Now I have bananas to freeze.  I instantly thought of banana ice cream.

We love ice cream at my house, but it isn’t really conducive for the wedding diet plan.  By diet, I mostly just mean “try not to think of the fattiest, creamiest dish possible in every situation and occasionally choose something healthy.”  Banana ice cream definitely helps.  It is soft and creamy, exactly the texture of a soft serve.  The banana makes gives it a touch of sweetness without making it cloying.  You could either eat this ice cream plain, or mix add ons into the bowl.  Almost anything would work.  Cacao, berries, jam, really anything.  I chose to use some leftover chocolate chip cookies from our trip to the Minnesota State Fair!  There is an amazing booth called “Sweet Martha’s” that gives you an actual bucket of cookies.  A large bucket.  The fiance and I always get the bucket but can never finish it before the cookies go stale.  Two day old cookies were perfect, because they kept their crunch in the ice cream instead of just disintegrating.  Any sort of candy could do the same thing if you don’t happen to have two day old cookies.  🙂

This may take the award for simplest recipe on the blog.  And it is ice cream.  Winning!!!

Ingredients

  • 2 bananas
  • 1/4 cup milk
  • Any desired add ons (optional)

Directions

Take two bananas and freeze overnight (at least).  Peel the bananas after they are frozen.  You may need to use a paring knife to get you started.  After the first strip, the rest should come off easily by hand.  Try to get rid of all the strings.  Put into a food processor or a Ninja blender.  I am not sure a regular blender would work for this.  Turn the food processor/Ninja to low and while it is blending add the milk through the top.  I had to stop the blender twice to scrape the sides.  After a minute or so you should see the mixture turn white and smooth.  If you have large bananas you may need to add a little more milk.  You want a soft, smooth mix.

After the mixture is emulsified, remove from the blender into a bowl.

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Now if you plan to add toppings, fold them into the mix.  Pop back into the freezer for about 10 minutes, or until it is a little more solid.  Then serve.  If you are not adding toppings it can be served immediately, or after 10 minutes in the freezer.  Totally up to you.

This can be left in the freezer for a couple days in a covered dish.  Just let sit out for 5 minutes, then stir before serving.

Now go get the ice cream fix in before the warm weather is gone forever!

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Until next time, my loves!