Sunday, October 5, 2014

Pappardelle with Wild Mushroom Cream Sauce and Maple Baked Delicata Squash

Wild Mushroom Pappardelle and Maple Baked Delicata Squash

Whoa! I have two new recipes for you! Did you miss me?

How can I possibly sum up the last few months' hiatus? I can't. Life is just busy with a toddler. Not just chasing, carrying, caring-for busy, but MENTAL busy.

My tired brain is not here today to impress you with funny anecdotes or witty comments. Or maybe I will, let's see where we go with this.

We've been in one heck of a food rut during this exhaustive and picky period, and there's now a light at the end of the tunnel. That light happens to be called SCHOOL. Don't get me wrong, I love hanging out with my kid. But, this little sponge is thirsty for more than I can provide, leaving me physically and mentally drained long before dinner time. School provides me with 3 guaranteed hours of freedom to do and think whatever I want. That's what I like to tell myself, although I usually end up doing chores, or just enjoying an early shower (early meaning before 2pm) and eating my breakfast in peace.

I got real excited the first day of school and drove around doing errands. 3 hours was an eternity. The 2nd day I got to do a 90 minute yoga class. The 3rd day my house looked pristine. The following week, 3 hours started to go by quickly. A month in, I feel like I get home and have to turn back around and pick him up! And apparently he's so stimulated in school that he just can't bring himself to nap consistently anymore. So my 3 hour school plus 3 hour nap dreams have gone right out the window.  Fortunately, this is likely a phase and things will even out. We've got a few months before potty training, so maybe we can get back on the good meal bandwagon.

This week I'm to provide snacks for the 7 pre-nursery kids, so I'll try to share the menu here later. The class snack rule is organic, (mostly) whole foods that are healthy. I bet you're thinking, oh sure, that food snob would send her kid to a prissy school like that, wouldn't she? Actually it's just one of the parents, and everyone has agreed to support her initiative - otherwise it would be goldfish and crackers. My objective is to get a little more protein in there, since popcorn and apple slices have been sending my 2 year old home in a hunger tizzy of tears and terror.

Enough already with the long-winded excuses, right? I'm sure everyone's too busy to read it anyways.

Last week, my little adventure was to find a different Trader Joe's in a town I've never been to, just to see if it was a better experience than the crowded area we usually shop. The answer is no, since my cart wasn't overflowing with frozen meals, as it usually is at the more populous store. However, I was inspired by a display of dried egg pappardelle and low-priced dried wild mushrooms on the side. Mushroom pappardelle is a dish that usually catches my eye at restaurants but I never order, because I feel like the giant bowl of pasta soaks up the oil and becomes dry when you are half-way through it. I like a good, hearty, cream sauce that reminds me of popular dishes in Germany around Oktoberfest time when the best mushrooms are abundant.

In summoning memories of brauhaus dishes and crisp fall air, I happened to come up with a really nice creamy pasta dish. Personally, I like to stay away from all kinds of mainstream button and cremini mushrooms, so I think the choice of porcini, oyster, shiitake is a nice combo with cream. They are milder, gentler, earthier mushrooms. I used pecorino romano cheese also, more because parmigiano was too expensive this week, but it has a nice tart flavor to it.

On the side, I baked another fall favorite: delicata squash. Finally found at Trader Joe's! It's been scarce this year in the stores. I like this one because you don't have to peel it (I hate peeling squash it sucks), and it's almost always sweet when baked - where acorn and butternut are very hit or miss. Acorn squash have been particularly crappy and watery this year, even locally. I threw some maple syrup over the delicata, along with ginger and nutmeg, as I wanted it to contrast the creamy, garlicky, richness of the sauce. It would make a really fantastic festive holiday dish, too.

Hopefully I find a little time this fall to start making interesting food again. October is usually an extra inspiring month for me, being a Libra. We shall see what it brings!

Approx 4 servings 

8oz pappardelle pasta

3 T butter
3 T olive oil
½ C shallots, sliced into thin rings
1 T (2 cloves) garlic, minced
8 oz fresh shiitake mushrooms, stems discarded, caps sliced
1 oz dried wild or porcini mushrooms
1 C heavy cream or whipping cream
1 C Pecorino Romano cheese, grated
1 T dried parsley flakes

1. Rinse dried mushrooms thoroughly in cool water bath. Pour hottest tap water over them to cover (about 2 Cups). Soak for 20 minutes. Remove mushrooms, and chop. Reserve soaking water, you will need about ½ Cup for the sauce.

2. Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil for the pasta.  Wait to add the pasta to the water until the mushrooms are cooking in the pan, in the next step. You will want the pasta just undercooked, al dente, about 2 minutes less than total cooking time.

3. Heat butter and olive oil over med-high heat in a deep skillet. Sauté shallots until tender, about 3 minutes. Add garlic and cook 1 minute. Stir in fresh mushrooms, cooking about 3 minutes, and add the soaked dried mushrooms. Cook another 2-3 minutes and add cream and ½ C of mushroom liquid.

4. Reduce heat to low and simmer the sauce, stirring frequently. Cook 3 minutes and stir in the cheese. Continue to simmer over low heat and stir. Add parsley and season with salt and pepper to taste.

5. Add a ladle of pasta water (1/4 C)  to the sauce and stir in. Drain the pasta and add to the simmering sauce pan. Fold together gently for about 2 minutes before removing from heat.

4-6 servings

2 medium (6-8” long) delicata squash, halved lengthwise, seeds and pulp removed, cut into ¼” slices. Doesn’t need to be peeled, but you can if you like.

3 T Extra virgin olive oil
½ C Maple syrup
1 tsp Ginger powder
½ tsp Nutmeg, freshly grated
1 tsp Sea salt
½ tsp Black Pepper

Heat oven to 400F.

Toss squash slices by hand with oil, syrup, ginger, nutmeg, salt and pepper. Follow the measurements, or just use your best judgement and eyeball it depending on how much squash you have.

Place in a large glass baking dish and bake 30-40 minutes, checking often. Cooking time with depend on how big your baking dish and how deep the layers of squash are. Toss and turn them every 15 minutes for even cooking. The squash will look a wet dark orange and tender when done.

*I baked mine about 30 minutes at 400 and kept it warm at 275 for another 20 while dinner cooked.

Friday, June 13, 2014

Green Garden Soup, 3 Ways, For Rainy Days

It's rainy and cool outside today. It's a perfect day for a warm, comforting, vitamin-packed soup. 

And how did I find the time to make it? 

Well... Ian is extra tired from hardcore teething for the past week. He's cutting the four canines, so it's been rough. Today he had no problem sitting quietly in front of educational videos for a while, as I chopped everything green I could find. I just hope he eats some of it (which I doubt he will). He's just barely getting back on the vegetable wagon after a 6-month fruit and dairy bender. He did have some Coconut Almond Pancakes from the freezer this morning, so there's at least one nutritional win today. Everything else will be "gravy", right?

This week I was looking for some fresh (or re-freshed) meal ideas. I was looking back at my blog posts from Springtimes past, and came across the Tarragon Zucchini Pea Soup I had forgotten about. I decided to play off that recipe and add a few more green ingredients. I divided it up into 3 parts before seasoning it with my garden herbs, so I could experiment a little bit. I thought I might even be able to utilize the lemon thyme I bought by mistake instead of the classic type. 

My little patio herb garden - spinach, lemon thyme, oregano, tarragon, sage, mint, dill, basil and chives (and some baby marigolds too, which are moving to the tomato section soon)

tarragon, basil, chives, lemon thyme

chopped herbs ready to play

For the first portion, I left out the herbs and just added an ounce of cashew cream I had in the freezer. It made a nice smooth soup with just a bit of creaminess. The cream enhanced the flavors of the vegetables nicely.

Green Garden Soup with Cashew Cream
In the second portion, I added lemon thyme and basil. It was light, bright and fresh - especially with a squeeze of lemon. A little lemon thyme does go a long way, it's pretty potent! I think this soup would make a nice small portioned starter for a meal. It was delicious but I don't see myself eating a big bowl.

Green Garden Soup with Lemon Thyme and Basil
The third portion I seasoned as I had originally intended. Tarragon and chives are a pretty solid combination with the green vegetables. It was the most savory version of the soup, with some zing from the herbs. It balanced quite nicely. It also left me staring into the wine fridge wondering why I hadn't stocked any light crisp white wines lately.

Green Garden Soup with Tarragon and Chives
Overall, all the versions came out nicely. The cashew cream version is versatile enough for anyone's taste. The tarragon chive was my favorite, as it has a nice personality without being overpowering. The lemon thyme basil worked, but had a bit too much flare to stand alone as a main course.

Green Garden Soup
approx. 6 Cups

3T unsalted butter (or your favorite fat, such as olive oil)
3 C green peas (frozen)
1 1/2 C zucchini, sliced
1 C celery, sliced
1 C (or more) fresh spinach
4 C water

Variation 1:
1/3 C cashew cream (cashews soaked in just enough water to cover, overnight, blended well)
1 T Kosher salt
1/2 tsp ground black pepper

Variation 2:
3 T basil, chopped
1-1/2 tsp lemon thyme leaves
1 T Kosher salt
1/2 tsp ground black pepper
*1/4 C lemon juice, optional

Variation 3:
1/4 C tarragon leaves, chopped
2 T chives, chopped
1 T Kosher salt
3/8 tsp white pepper

1. Melt butter over medium low heat in a soup pot. Add onions and cook gently, sweating them - they should whisper, not sizzle. Cook 4-5 minutes until translucent.

2. Add all of the vegetables and enough water to cover (about 4 Cups). Raise heat and bring to a boil. Lower heat to simmer 20-30 minutes.

3. Stir in the desired seasonings in the last few minutes of cooking. Remove from heat and puree until smooth. 

Thursday, May 22, 2014

Portobello Mushrooms Florentine

Portobellos Florentine, before baking
Last night, I made some really great stuffed portobello mushrooms. I only cook real food about once or twice a week lately, so I'm always happy when my efforts are worthwhile.

Meanwhile, apologies for the recent ill-prepped photos - I have absolutely zero patience for primping my food these days. I'm glad I just made anything to begin
with, and that it was good enough to post! And apologies for not posting so much anymore. Life is just too busy chasing an 18-month old, just getting through a minor sleep regression and entering the "tantrum" phase. My good meals come from the local sushi joint via delivery man who knows to be super-stealth quiet after bedtime (even my dog likes him enough not to bark). My great meals come from Trader Joe's freezer section - man those are fancy-ass good times, we're really livin' it up over here! Even my son falls into a funk of rotating options that sound like junk - burger, pizza, pasta... although I assure you they are probably more gourmet than the norm.

I've made the social life a bit more priority over my other projects too. I took a jaunt down to Atlantic City for a night with my girls, and I started a Meetup group to find some local girls (and kids) to hang with. We're also planning a trip to Prague and Vienna soon, with the kid in tow, so that should be quite interesting, as well!

Portobellos Florentine: firm, but tender, with a thin layer of spinach and crunchy pine nuts, and a crispy cheese and breadcrumb topping.

So about the portobellos... I did plan ahead on this, although I did not plan on harvesting my spinach garden quite so soon. I am SO not the gardening type, but I'm giving it an effort this year. I have a little container garden going on my patio, despite the big yard, because we have "Peter Rabbit" living in our yard, who likes to "num num num" on everything at 7:30pm nightly. So I thought the pest issues would be minimal at the side of the house. But as I picked my first handful of spinach last week I found little white larvae on the leaves. Thanks, Google, we've got Spinach Leaf Miners. GREAT. Oh yeah, and there's no remedy except manually removing larvae (pinhead sized) and harvesting frequently. Who-the-F in this house has time for that shit? And now I have to wash and rub clean every single leaf? It took me upwards of a  fricken hour to get it all done. I did NOT sign up for this when I planted my happy little spinach box.

But my spinach stuffed mushrooms came out really fantastic! All the elements are there: balsamic vinegar for acidity, cheese for binding and a crunchy top, pine nuts for texture. Mmm.

Portobello Mushrooms Florentine

Mushroom prep:
6 medium portobello mushrooms, stems and gills removed
2 T extra virgin olive oil
2 T aged balsamic vinegar
garlic powder

1 T extra virgin olive oil
1/4 C onion, diced
1 T garlic, minced
5-6 C fresh spinach, any thick stems removed, chopped into small pieces
1 tsp Italian seasoning or dried basil/oregano (I used a tuscan blend heavy on the celery seed)
3 T Italian seasoned bread crumbs (or plain)
1/2 C grated parmigiano cheese
1/4 C shredded mozzarella cheese
1/4 C toasted pine nuts

Heat oven to 400F.

1. Drizzle a little olive oil in a large glass baking dish and place mushroom caps gill side up. Drizzle each lightly with olive oil and about 1 tsp balsamic vinegar on each. Sprinkle with salt, pepper and garlic powder.

2. Heat 1T oil in a sauté pan over medium heat. Add onions, cooking until translucent, about 3 minutes. Add garlic, cook 1 minute. Toss in spinach by the handful, stirring until wilted, and adding more. Cook about 2-3 more minutes until thoroughly wilted. Season with salt, pepper and herbs. Remove from heat.

3. To the pan, add 2 T breadcrumbs and 1/4 C parmigiano (reserving the balance for topping). Stir in the mozzarella and pine nuts.

4. Spoon spinach mixture onto mushrooms and top lightly with remaining cheese and breadcrumbs. Bake at 400F for 40-45 minutes. The topping should be browned and the mushrooms will become quite flattened - the clue that they are done.

Serve with pasta, salad, bread or even maybe a quinoa pilaf or cold couscous salad.
*For gluten-free, just skip the breadcrumbs, they're not absolutely necessary.

Monday, April 28, 2014

BBQ Taco Fiesta!

You know what I love? Tacos! For some reason, I get really hung up on fresh, healthy, tacos in the Spring time. And Spring is also time for another thing I love: grilling! It doesn't even matter what you're putting on the BBQ, as long as you're outside and there's sizzling and smokiness happening. Helps shake off those residual winter blues.

Last weekend I threw a little taco BBQ fiesta for my friends who took the hour-long train ride from the city to visit us. Call it an early Cinco de Mayo celebration, a BBQ, an early birthday party for my friend Bess, whatever. It was so fun and delicious.

I whipped up some extremely over-sweetened pineapple ginger punch with Prosecco. It's supposed to go with club soda, but I thought, genius that I am, I would serve it with sparkly. By round two everyone was exhausted from their sugar-high and my toddler (drinking straight punch) was spinning in circles and tumbling all over the place.

Aside from the super sweet welcome drinks, everything else was pretty healthy. Luckily, the chicken and shrimp were quick to grill, because the weather turned from sun to rain just as they were cooking. We got a little preview of BBQ season before we had to head inside. Nobody minded, because the tacos were delicious!

I stocked my taco bar with a mix of proteins, crunchy and colorful veggies, sour limes and tangy onions, contrasted with rich crema and spicy hot sauce. Yummy explosions of flavor and texture in every bite, customized for each plate, because that's what I love about tacos!

Taco Bar 
for 8-10 people
Most items can be prepped ahead of time and refrigerated overnight. When you're ready to eat, just throw the meat and fish on the grill, reheat the beans, and warm the tortillas for 1-2 minutes on the warming level of the grill. 

Starter: Chips, salsa and guacamole

24 Multigrain Corn Tortillas (Trader Joe's)

Black Beans - Sauté 2 minced garlic cloves and 1 T onions in a dash of vegetable oil. Add 2 cans (rinsed/drained) black beans and 1 C water. Season to your liking with about 1 t cumin, 1 t oregano, 1/2 t garlic powder, 1/2 t turmeric, pinch of cayenne and salt and pepper. Simmer 30 minutes, covered.

Shrimp - 1 lb medium shrimp, tossed with olive oil, salt and pepper. Grilled 5 minutes, stirring occasionally, on a metal sheet pan with holes for the grill. (I used cleaned, pre-cooked, frozen shrimp for convenience)

Chicken - 2 lb boneless chicken breasts or tenders with Asado marinade (I used Trader Joe's Pollo Asado and it was delicious and easy). Grilled and sliced.

Purple Cabbage - 3 Cups, thinly sliced into shreds

Cilantro - 2 Cups, chopped

Tomatoes - 2 Cups, diced

Lime wedges - 4-5 limes

Pickled Onions 1-1/2 C (I followed - and basically halved - this recipe from Michael Symon, but used red wine vinegar as I prefer that)

Crema (or sour cream)

Hot Sauce (I'm addicted to Frank's Red Hot... so it was a giant Costco sized bottle)

If you're getting ready for a Cinco de Mayo feast, here are some other ideas you might like:

(crunchy tacos with beans, veggie grounds, guacamole)

Saturday, March 15, 2014

Vegetarian Baja Fish Tacos

Vegetarian version of Baja Fish Tacos
For a short while, when we lived in Downtown Brooklyn, there was a great little restaurant / art space called the Loading Dock. It was a combination of permanent indoor space and temporarily sheltered space on the actual loading dock of the apartment building next to us. The most unique feature of the venue was that the kitchen was actually just a mobile food cart. It was manned by a guy named Choncho, and Choncho made the BEST TACOS.

Being a newly residential neighborhood at that time, there were no other restaurants nearby, and only a few that delivered. The manager of that building, a now friendly acquaintance of ours, had a vested interest in the area and opened both the restaurant and the highly successful wine shop on the block. There was such excessive demand for Choncho's tacos that some days we would wait over an hour for our tacos. And waited we did, because they were DELICIOUS.

I have not had standout Baja fish tacos, in my limited space of New York, that compared to Choncho's. The Chilean Sea Bass was grilled or deep fried in batter, surrounded by purple cabbage, onions, and simple white sauce and lime on a fresh corn tortilla. I tried the asada, carnitas and chicken tacos too, but you just can't beat a Baja taco. The texture of the fried fish, with crunchy cabbage and cool, creamy sauce and acidic lime was just to die for.

The Loading Dock was only open for a short time, maybe a year or two, I can't remember. I am not alone in my pining for those delicious Baja Fish Tacos, years later. They probably exist out there, beyond the back yard, I just never knew where to look. And the other problem is that my husband, a vegetarian, could never appreciate a Baja taco. It's not like you can just substitute beans in there, although I think he did order his bean and cheese taco with cabbage sometimes. He was never as excited to wait an hour for tacos as I was.

This week, on my visit to the natural food store in my town, I found some vegetarian fried fish fillets by Sophie's Kitchen. So I decided I could finally introduce my vegetarian husband to Baja Fish Tacos!

Vegan fish fillets 
Interesting facts about Konjac root, a key element of these fillets
I have to admit, I did fry the healthy little fillets in oil, rendering them less healthy. But the bet part of the taco experience is crunch, so I wanted to make sure we had good crunch. As usual, my husband will ask "So is this what fish tastes like? Isn't fish more flakey?" No, these fillets didn't really taste like fish, but at least they were a little sea-ish tasting and different than the other faux meats. And yes, fish flakes, and is moist. These are the consistency of a processed chicken nugget and a little dry - definitely not bad, though! They did the trick for these tacos, surrounded by cabbage and delicious crema.
Crema Mexicana from a local distributor
I wanted to get my taco experiment as close to authentic as possible, so I bought Mexican Crema I chose the one with the first 3 ingredients: heavy cream, cream cheese and sour cream. Oh lovely, fatty deliciousness! Any recipe that tells you to substitute sour cream for Mexican crema will not be as yummy. The crema is absolutely key to the Baja taco.

I did find these tacos more filling than real fish tacos. Maybe because the Trader Joe's corn tortillas have some whole wheat in them, or the veggie "fish" is more dense. But, we just had to have 3 each, they were so good, but those last few bites were challenging to pack in!

Trader Joe's corn and whole grain tortillas
Baja Taco bar

Key toppings for Baja style tacos

Vegetarian Baja Fish Tacos

6 tacos (2-3 servings)

6  small corn tortillas
4 vegetarian fish fillets (approx. 2 oz each), cooked and cut into strips
3 C shredded purple cabbage
1 lime, cut into wedges
1/2 C onion, thinly sliced
1/2 C cilantro, chopped

1/2 C Mexican crema
1/2 tsp ground cumin
1/2 tsp dried oregano
1/8 tsp cayenne powder
1/8 tsp white pepper
1 tsp lime zest (zest of 1 lime)
1 T lime juice

Hot sauce, for serving

1. Mix together sauce ingredients and set aside.

2. Prepare all toppings and set aside, then cook the fish. Meanwhile, warm the tortillas through one at a time in a dry, hot skillet, and set aside. 

3. Top each tortilla with "fish", cabbage, cilantro, onion, sauce and a sqeeze of lime. Finish with your favorite hot sauce.

*For low carb (approx 40g-50g per serving) or gluten-free, use regular yellow corn tortillas with no wheat.

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