Thursday, January 31, 2008

Spinach Polenta

In the past few months, I've really come to love polenta. I haven't attempted it in its baked or fried forms yet but those recipes are in the works. During my most recent meeting with polenta, I decided to get a little crazy (sarcasm) and add some fresh spinach...and some grated Pecorino-Romano cheese - what?? Remember my Cheese Is Love post?? The result was outstanding! How is that just a simple couple of additions can make such a difference? I paired this treat with the most outstanding pork chop recipe I've had in years. You can see my change in green below.

Spinach Polenta
Adapted from Giada De Laurentiis
  • 6 cups water
  • 2 teaspoons salt
  • 1 3/4 cups yellow cornmeal
  • 3 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 1/2 tsp freshly grated black pepper
  • 1 1/2 cups fresh raw spinach (washed)
  • 3/4 cup freshly grated Pecorino-Romano cheese
  1. Bring 6 cups of water to a boil in a heavy large saucepan. Add 2 teaspoons of salt and black pepper. Gradually whisk in the cornmeal. Reduce the heat to low and cook until the mixture thickens and the cornmeal is tender, stirring often, about 15 minutes. (It only took about 5 minutes to thicken but I cooked it for an additional 5-8 minutes to make sure the cornmeal was cooked through.) Turn off the heat. Add the butter, spinach, and cheese, and stir until melted.

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Pasta Primavera

Yes, yes, I do realize that we are in the middle of winter but I really needed a dish to make it feel like's cold here in New England! So I threw a bunch of summer veggies in my cart and set out to recreate a killer pasta primavera my office ordered for our holiday lunch back in December.

The result of this recreation was delicious - there wasn't nearly as much creamy sauce as the original dish but that was part of my intention - food at my house will be damn good but not necessarily as heavy and fat-laden as that which can be found in restaurants.

Pasta Primavera
source: Smells Like Home
  • 2 tbsp olive oil
  • 1 small to medium zucchini, cubed in 1/2" pieces
  • 1 medium or 2 small yellow squash, cubed in 1/2" pieces
  • 1 red pepper, diced in 1/2" pieces
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1/4 tsp freshly ground black pepper
  • 1/3 cup sundried tomatoes, drained, patted dry and sliced
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 2 tbsp tomato paste
  • 1/3 cup heavy cream
  • 1/2 lb uncooked spaghetti
  1. In a large stockpot, cook spaghetti according to package directions. Drain.
  2. Meanwhile, in a large saute pan, heat oil over medium-high heat. Add zucchini, squash, red peppers, salt and pepper and cook for 7-10 minutes or until veggies being to soften. Add sundried tomatoes and garlic and cook for 2 more minutes. Reduce heat to medium.
  3. Stir in tomato paste until vegetables are coated with the paste and cook for another minute or so. Stir in cream and allow mixture to come to a simmer. If sauce is too thick, add some pasta water. If sauce is too thin, add some additional tomato paste and allow sauce to return to a simmer. If there isn't enough sauce, add some additional cream, half-n-half or skim milk if you're watching calories.
  4. After pasta is cooked and drained, add it to the veggie mixture and stir to combine veggies with pasta.

Prep time: 10 minutes

Cook time: 10-12 minutes

Serves: 3

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

better-late-than-never blondies

When Kyle came home from work last week begging for blondies all I could do was hang my head in shame. I had never made them. I had never had the desire to make them. Worse yet, I had never liked them. *gasp!* How could I not like the non-chocolate version of a brownie? Nuts! Every blondie I've ever come across has had some type of nut in them, and while they look fantastic, I've always taken a laissez-faire attitude with them. What's the point of eating something and having to pick around the nuts?

After much begging that evening, something clicked. Why couldn't I make them without nuts?? Duh. :: forehead slap :: I ran down to the computer knowing that I could find a recipe on one of the famous blogs I read on a nearly everyday basis, and of course, Smitten Kitchen came through for me again.

This is a blondie recipe that is simple, allows for any add-ins (or subtract-aways), and is touted to be Deb's favorite blondie recipe. 'Nuff said. Onward to the kitchen...

In my recipe, I used 1 tsp vanilla and added a bag of peanut butter chips. The next time I make this recipe, I think I'll add some peanut butter to the mix as well as chocolate chips because while they turned out pretty great, I think they needed a little extra "umph." (This was no fault of Deb's though.)

source: Smitten Kitchen from How to Cook Everything

  • 8 tablespoons butter, melted
  • 1 cup brown sugar
  • 1 egg
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla or ½ teaspoon almond extract
  • Pinch salt
  • 1 cup all-purpose flour
  1. Butter an 8×8 pan
  2. Mix melted butter with brown sugar - beat until smooth. Beat in egg and then vanilla.
    Add salt, stir in flour. Mix in any additions (below).
  3. Pour into prepared pan. Bake at 350 20-25 minutes, or until set in the middle. I always err on the side of caution with baking times — nobody ever complained about a gooey-middled cookie. Cool on rack before cutting them.

Further additions, use one or a combination of:
1/2 to 1 cup chopped nuts, toasting them first for even better flavor
1/2 to 1 cup chocolate chips
1/2 teaspoon mint extract in addition to or in place of the vanilla
1/2 cup mashed bananas
1/4 cup bourbon, scotch or other whiskey; increase the flour by one tablespoon
2 tablespoons of espresso powder with the vanilla
Stir 1/2 cup dried fruit, especially dried cherries, into the prepared batter
Top with a vanilla butter cream or chocolate peanut butter cream frosting

Monday, January 7, 2008

Something must be wrong here...

My first bad Giada recipe!! I'm not sure how this happened as I followed the recipe to a 'T' (minus the nuts) but something went wrong. I was so excited to be trying broccoli rabe for the first time and was more excited to be pairing it with another new recipe. The combination seemed like a great one but turned out that the braciole was the only edible food on the plate. I'm not sure I've ever tasted something so bitter in my life! I used the recipe from Giada's Everyday Italian cookbook and the only difference I see between that recipe and the FN recipe (as oftentimes there are subtle differences) is that the FN recipe instructed to trim the stems, which I did not do the first time. I figure that must have been the issue because just about all of the reviews gave the recipe 4 or 5 stars. What a bummer though because it really does look so good and I'm not sure if I'll get Kyle to try broccoli rabe again for fear that he'll protest. You can find the recipe in the link above.

Thursday, January 3, 2008


Welcome 2008!!

As my first post of the New Year, I'm posting quite possibly the only dish that I had be dying to make in 2007...which not-so-coincidentally didn't happen until almost the "11th hour." I know that I'm a procrastinator and the fact that I waited until the second to last day of the year to break down and make this braciole is just a testament to my ability to be resolute in my procrastination convictions.

What the hell does that mean, right? Well let me 'splain. Of all the things I've learned about myself in the past 10 years, throughout the second half of my college career, my Master's program, and my working life, I think one of the most important things I've learned is that I work well under pressure. I pulled many o' all-nighters back in the day and it wasn't necessarily because I kept putting assignments off; more like working 3 part-time jobs, taking 18 credits, and handling a relationship with a Navy sailor kinda put a crimp in my study habits. So oftentimes the only time I had to study and write papers was in the wee hours of the morning when my brain was so fried and there wasn't enough coffee in the dorm to keep my eyes open. But somehow I pumped out some of the best papers of my college career watching [and sometimes sweating as] the minutes tick by on that little clock on the bottom right-hand of the screen. A after A after A were the grades that appeared on those papers, exams, projects, and oral presentations. I know, I couldn't believe it either! So now that you know where my affinity (for lack of a better word) for procrastination comes from. But I digress...

So back the braciole (which by the way, the word is commonly pronounced /bra'zhul/ from the Sicilian pronunciation)...I'd never made it before and don't really remember my parents making the rolled-up version mentioned in the Wikipedia (although there was almost always a piece (read: a hunk) of beef or pork in the sauce they made) but I'd heard about it from various sources and then it showed up in Giada's Everyday Italian cookbook. I tell you, I looked at that recipe on and off for 8 months, and only after finding a great flank steak at Whole Foods did I decide it was time. And like magic, with the flank steak waiting in the fridge, Giada popped up on the FN with the braciole episode...fate, I tell ya.

We both really enjoyed how this turned out...and it was well worth the 8 month wait. The meat was tender, the filling was flavorful, and overall the braciole was very simple to put together. In the future, I'd be tempted to try out other additions to the filling - maybe roasted red peppers, garlic, or sundried tomatoes. Similar to a crockpot meal, this cooked for a while in the oven, which was nice because it gave me time to run around the house and get a few things done before dinner was ready. I'll definitely make this again but will find a different side dish other than the one I served with the braciole this time (see broccoli rabe post).

source: Giada de Laurentiis
  • 1/2 cup dried Italian-style bread crumbs
  • 1 garlic clove, minced
  • 2/3 cup grated Pecorino Romano
  • 1/3 cup grated provolone
  • 2 tablespoons chopped fresh Italian parsley leaves
  • 4 tablespoons olive oil
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 (1 1/2-pound) flank steak
  • 1 cup dry white wine
  • 3 1/4 cups Simple Tomato Sauce, recipe follows, or store-bought marinara sauce (I used my own homemade sauce. You can find Giada's sauce recipe in the link above.)
  1. Stir the first 5 ingredients in a medium bowl to blend. Stir in 2 tablespoons of the oil. Season mixture with salt and pepper and set aside.
  2. Lay the flank steak flat on the work surface. Sprinkle the bread crumb mixture evenly over the steak to cover the top evenly. Starting at 1 short end, roll up the steak as for a jelly roll to enclose the filling completely. Using butcher's twine, tie the steak roll to secure. Sprinkle the braciole with salt and pepper.
  3. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.
  4. Heat the remaining 2 tablespoons of oil in a heavy large ovenproof skillet over medium heat. Add the braciole and cook until browned on all sides, about 8 minutes. Add the wine to the pan and bring to a boil. Stir in the marinara sauce. Cover partially with foil and bake until the meat is almost tender, turning the braciole and basting with the sauce every 30 minutes. After 1 hour, uncover and continue baking until the meat is tender, about 30 minutes longer. The total cooking time should be about 1 1/2 hours.
  5. Remove the braciole from the sauce. Using a large sharp knife, cut the braciole crosswise and diagonally into 1/2-inch-thick slices. Transfer the slices to plates. Spoon the sauce over and serve.

Prep time: 15 minutes

Cook time: 1 hour and 40 minutes

Serves: 4