Weekly Winner: A Better Take on Zoodles

pastaI love pasta.  I don’t hate zucchini.  I don’t particularly love zucchini either, it’s more like I simply don’t have an opinion one way or another about zucchini.  I’ll eat it, and because it’s a vegetable and healthy, I’m trying to eat more of it.  But that’s where I draw the line.  Do not go messing with my pasta and try to get me to substitute real pasta for zucchini noodles (aka zoodles)! I found a much better alternative — add the zucchini to the actual, delicious pasta.  In doing so, you can surprisingly improve both!

Case in point: Linguine with Chickpeas and Zucchini from Cooks Country Magazine. Now I’ll admit, when I saw this recipe I thought “Hey, here’s a healthy pasta recipe for the New Year that won’t be too bad.”  Wrong, it was amazing!!  I mean, like, seriously delicious.  It is so easy, and comes together so quickly but seems so much more complex than the few simple ingredients would suggest.  So if you’re trying to “lighten up” your pasta without replacing your pasta (cause that would be really sad in my book), try this.  It is a definite winner.

Linguine with Chickpeas and Zucchini

Serves 4

Ingredients:

1 pound linguine

Salt & Pepper

1/3 cup extra-virgin olive oil, plus extra for serving

4 garlic cloves, sliced thin

1/2 tsp red pepper flakes

2 zucchini, shredded and patted dry

1 15-oz can chickpeas, rinsed

2 oz Pecorino Romano cheese, grated (about 1 cup)

3 Tbsp chopped fresh parsley

1 Tbsp lemon juice, plus lemon wedges for serving

Procedure:

  1. Bring 4 quarts water to boil in a Dutch oven or large pot.  Add pasta and 1 Tbsp salt and cook, stirring occasionally, until al dente.  Reserve 1/2 cup cooking water, then drain pasta.
  2. Heat oil, garlic, pepper flakes, 1/2 tsp salt, and 1/2 tsp pepper in now-empty pot over medium heat until garlic is lightly browned, 3 to 5 minutes.  Add zucchini and chickpeas and cook until zucchini is wilted and most of its excess moisture has cooked off, about 6 minutes.  Using potato masher, lightly mash chickpeas.
  3. Off heat, stir in 1/2 cup Pecorino, parsley, lemon juice, pasta and reserved cooking water.  Serve, passing lemon wedges, extra oil and remaining 1/2 cup Pecorino separately.
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Weekly Winner: Crushin’ on Crusted Cauliflower (in it’s entirety)

cauliflowerI realize there are a few people out there that dislike cauliflower.  Personally, I don’t get it.  I adore the stuff.  Anyway you make it I’m OK with it, with the exception of boiled.  Honestly, I don’t think you should boil any vegetable.  Boiled vegetables should be banned.  I’ve also always been intrigued with cooking a whole head of cauliflower.  I’ve done the cauliflower “steaks”, I’ve pureed, I’ve riced, I’ve smashed and I’ve cut into florets…. but whole?  Now there’s a show-stopper!  Cooking a whole cauliflower is not without its difficulties, however (or so I thought!)  Getting the entire thing cooked properly is complicated (or is it?)  I’ve ordered it out at restaurants on occasion and it seems the core and stalks are never quite as done as the florets.  This is no longer a concern of mine.  I have found the perfect, whole cauliflower recipe and man, is it good!

Everything Bagel Cauliflower with Herbed Cream Cheese comes from Cuisine at Home.  First of all, what’s the deal with the “everything bagel seasoning” lately??  It’s everywhere and on everything!  I guess it is this year’s “Za’atar” seasoning.  But anyway, I digress… here is the recipe.  Oh wait!  One more thing…. this recipe says it serves 12.  Twelve???  My husband and I devoured the entire head of cauliflower with a filet of salmon each.  I’m not proud…I’m just sayin’.

Everything Bagel Cauliflower with Herbed Cream Cheese

Serves 2, 4… or 12… whatever!

Ingredients:

Spice blend:

2 Tbsp each dried minced garlic and dried onion flakes

1 Tbsp each poppy seeds and toasted sesame seeds

1 tsp kosher salt

Cauliflower:

1/2 cup plain, full-fat Greek yogurt

1 Tbsp olive oil

1 Tbsp fresh lemon juice

1 tsp kosher salt

1/2 tsp minced fresh garlic

black pepper to taste

1 large head cauliflower

For the sauce:

4 oz plain cream cheese, softened

2 oz goat cheese, softened

3 Tbsp buttermilk

1 Tbsp fresh lemon juice

1/2 tsp minced fresh garlic

1 Tbsp each minced fresh parsley and chives

1 tsp minced fresh dill

salt and pepper to taste

Procedure:

  1. Preheat oven to 400F.  Line a baking sheet with foil.
  2. Stir together all ingredients for the spice blend.
  3. Whisk together 2 Tbsp of the spice blend with the yogurt and olive oil, lemon juice, salt and garlic in a large bowl; season with pepper.
  4. Add the cauliflower to yogurt mixture and oat completely.  Transfer cauliflower to prepared baking sheet and sprinkle with 1 Tbsp of the spice blend.
  5. Roast cauliflower until golden brown and fork-tender, about 1 hour.  Let cauliflower rest 10 minutes then transfer to a serving platter.
  6. For the sauce, puree cream cheese, goat cheese, lemon juice, and fresh garlic in a mini food processor.  Add parsley, chives, and dill and pulse until combined; season with salt and pepper.
  7. Serve cauliflower with sauce

Weekly Winner: Simple, Sumptuous Sumac-laden Supper

Couscous ChickenThis was a fascinating dinner I made last night.  On the one hand, it’s a super easy one-pot meal. On the other hand, it was uniquely complex and exotic-tasting with just a few ingredients.

Toasted Pearl Couscous with Chicken and Chickpeas was a perfect cool evening, post-holiday meal — warm and comforting, yet healthy and nourishing.  The foreign feel of this dish comes from a rather large amount of sumac which is both cooked in the broth and added at the end for a final flourish.  Sumac has a slight citrusy taste and also a mild numbing effect on the tongue without adding any heat.  Just tasty goodness in a bowl here.

The recipe comes from Milk Street and because it comes together so quickly and is made up of items I almost always have on hand, I think I’ll be making this a bunch this winter.

Toasted Pearl Couscous with Chicken and Chickpeas

Serves 4

Ingredients:

3 Tbsp olive oil, divided

1 cup pearl couscous

1 medium onion, halved and thinly sliced

kosher salt and ground black pepper

2 Tbsp tomato paste

3 tsp ground sumac, divided

1 cinnamon stick

1 lb boneless, skinless chicken thighs, trimmed and halved

2 medium carrots, peeled and thinly sliced on a diagonal

15-1/2 oz can chickpeas, rinsed and drained

1 tsp grated lemon zet, plus 1-1/2 Tbsp lemon juice

1/2 cup lightly packed fresh mint, chopped.

Procedure:

  1. In a large Dutch oven over medium-high, heat 1 tablespoon of oil until shimmering.  Add couscous and cook, stirring, until golden brown, about 3 minutes.  Transfer to a bowl.
  2. In the same pot over medium-high, heat the remaining 2 tablespoons oil until shimmering.  Add the onion, 2 teaspoons salt and 3/4 teaspoon pepper, then cook, stirring occasionally, until the onions are well-browned, 3 to 5 minutes.  Add the tomato paste, 2 teaspoons of sumac and the cinnamon, then cook, stirring, until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Stir in the chicken, carrots, 3 cups water and the couscous.  Bring to a boil, then cover, reduce to medium-low and cook until the chicken is opaque when cut into and the couscous is tender but not mushy, 15 to 20 minutes.
  3. Stir in the chickpeas and the lemon zest and juice, then remove and discord the cinnamon stick.  Taste and season with salt and pepper.  Stir in half of the mint and transfer to a serving bowl, then sprinkle with the remaining 1 teaspoon sumac and the remaining mint.

Weekly Winner: A Better Idea than Chicken in a Blender!

Chicken-Cordon-Bleu-Soup_EXPS_THN18_128604_E06_06_6b-696x696The first round of holidays are over (hence the delay in my posting) and I am back on the soup bandwagon.  Big Time.  There is nothing like a bowl of creamy, cheesy, luscious soup to give you the courage and sustenance to face the rest of the holiday chores and obligations.

I love the idea of taking an entrée or specific dish and transforming it either into a pizza or a soup.  I’ve done this with chicken tikka masala (into a pizza – fabulous), loaded baked potatoes (into a soup – super yummy), and BLT’s (into both a pizza and a soup at various times).  You get the idea.  So, when I came across this recipe from A Taste of Home for Chicken Cordon Bleu Soup I knew I was going to have to try it.  It did not disappoint.  And while, yes…. having ham, chicken, swiss cheese  and half-and-half does make it a bit rich (which is a good thing), having the base of the soup be pureed cauliflower adds thickness without additional heft.  And, your getting a vegetable which does not exist in the original form of Chicken Cordon Bleu — bonus!  It’s healthy-ish! Yeah, not really but it is super duper tasty!

A quick word about this fabulous picture.  It’s not mine.  I took it directly from the magazine.  I did take a picture of my soup but it just didn’t quite make the cut.  Here it is: cordon bleu soupSee?  Not quite the same.

Chicken Cordon Bleu Soup

Serves 6

Ingredients:

  • 2 tablespoons butter
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 small head cauliflower, coarsely chopped
  • 1 medium onion, chopped
  • 1 garlic clove, minced
  • 3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
  • 2 cups chicken broth
  • 2 cups shredded cooked chicken
  • 2 cups half-and-half cream
  • 1 cup finely cubed fully cooked ham
  • 1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon pepper
  • 2 cups shredded Swiss cheese

Procedure:

  • In a large saucepan, heat butter and oil over medium-high heat. Add cauliflower and onion; cook and stir until crisp-tender, 8-10 minutes. Add garlic; cook 1 minute longer.
  • Stir in flour until blended; gradually whisk in broth. Bring to a boil, stirring constantly; cook and stir until cauliflower is tender, 12-15 minutes.
  • Puree soup using an immersion blender. Or, cool soup slightly and puree in batches in a blender; return to pan.
  • Stir in chicken, cream, ham, mustard, salt and pepper; heat through. Stir in cheese until melted.

Weekly Winner: Changing Up Beef Stew – Chinese-Style

beef stewI’m not a huge fan of typical beef stew.  Cubes of beef with veggies in a broth is just not that exciting to me.  Pot roast is a bit better … succulent beef that falls apart or shreds at the lightest touch… better but not perfect.  Spicy shredded beef on noodles (and not just any noodles, but toothsome, slippery Udon noodles) – now you’re talking beef perfection!!!

Slow-Cooker Chinese Beef Stew with Noodles might just become my new favorite comfort food.  This is fancy enough for company but also perfect for cozying up on the couch in your jammies with.  To top it all off, it’s made in the slow cooker!  Hands-off comfort food.  You just can’t beat that!  I got this winner from Food Network Magazine.  It couldn’t be easier to prepare or tastier to eat.   I did change up the recipe one little bit:  it called for watercress as it’s “greenery”.  Hubby doesn’t care for watercress and I already had a combination of spinach and arugula so I used that.

Slow-Cooker Chinese Beef Stew with Noodles

Serves 4

Ingredients:

2 pounds beef chuck roast

Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper

2 tablespoons all-purpose flour

3 tablespoons hoisin sauce

2 tablespoons low-sodium soy sauce

2 teaspoons tomato paste

2 teaspoons chili-garlic sauce

1 teaspoon grated peeled fresh ginger

1 pod star anise

1 9.5-ounce package dried udon noodles

1/2 bunch watercress, leaves picked (about 3 cups baby arugula and spinach combination)

Sliced scallions and balsamic vinegar, for topping

Procedure:

  1. Put the beef in a 6- to 8-quart slow cooker and season lightly with salt and pepper. Whisk the flour and 1/2 cup water in a small bowl until smooth, then whisk in the hoisin sauce, soy sauce, tomato paste, chili-garlic sauce and ginger. Pour into the slow cooker and turn the beef to coat. Add the star anise. Cover and cook on low until the beef is tender, 7 to 8 hours.
  2. Discard the star anise and transfer the meat to a plate. Shred into bite-size pieces, removing any large pieces of fat. Skim off any excess fat from the liquid in the slow cooker. Return the meat to the slow cooker and season with salt and pepper.
  3. Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Add the noodles and cook as the label directs; drain. Divide the noodles and beef stew among bowls. Top with the spinach/arugula, scallions and a drizzle of balsamic vinegar.

Weekly Winner: Pancetta-Pasta-Pecorino Perfection

pancetpastaI am well aware of the fact that I have been sorely lacking in the posting department lately, and I apologize for that.  Life has indeed gotten in the way.  The good news with all that is that I now have quite a backlog of recipes to feature!  Hopefully that means November will be chock-full of tastiness.

I will start with this 5-ingredient winner of a pasta dish.  Yep, that’s right — only FIVE make this amazing dish.  How is this possible you ask?  Well, two out of the five ingredients are absolute powerhouses of flavor:  Pancetta and Pecorino Romano.  You don’t need much else if you’re starting with those two!

Pasta Alla Gricia or Rigatoni with Pancetta and Pecorino Romano apparently comes from Rome.  This particular recipe for the dish; however, comes from Cook’s Illustrated.

Five ingredients and 30 minutes, people — there really is no excuse for not making this.

Pasta Alla Gricia (Rigatoni with Pancetta and Pecorino Romano)

Ingredients:

8 ounces pancetta, sliced 1/4 inch thick

1 Tbsp extra-virgin olive oil

1 pound rigatoni

1 tsp coarsely ground pepper, plus extra for serving

2 oz Pecorino Romano cheese, grated fine (1 cup), plus extra for serving.

Procedure:

  1. Slice each round of pancetta into rectangular pieces that measure about 1/2 inch by 1 inch.
  2. Heat pancetta and oil in large Dutch oven over medium-low heat, stirring frequently, until fat is rendered and pancetta is deep golden brown but still has slight pinkish hue, 8 to 10 minutes, adjusting heat as necessary to keep pancetta from browning too quickly.  Using slotted spoon, transfer pancetta to bowl; set aside.  Pour fat from pot into liquid measuring cup (you should have 1/4 to 1/3 cup fat; discard any extra). Return fat to Dutch oven.
  3. While pancetta cooks, set colander in large bowl..  Bring 2 quarts water to a boil in large pot.  Add pasta and cook, stirring often, until al dente.  Drain pasta in prepared colander, reserving cooking water.
  4. Add pepper and 2 cups reserved cooking water to Dutch oven with fat and bring to boil over high heat.  Boil mixture rapidly, scraping up any browned bits, until emulsified and reduced to 1-1/2 cups, about 5 minutes.  (If you’ve reduced it too far, add more reserved cooking water to equal 1-1/2 cups)
  5. Reduce heat to low, add pasta and pancetta, and stir to evenly coat.  Add Pecorino and stir until cheese is melted and sauce is slightly thickened, about 1 minute.  Of heat, adjust sauce consistency with remaining reserved cooking water as needed.  Transfer pasta to platter and serve immediately, passing extra pepper and extra Pecorino separately.

Weekly Winner: Sensational Soup, part Deux

Chicken Peanut SoupI am definitely on a soup kick lately.  This usually happens about now as I grow tired of salads and warm weather food and want to “cozy up” with something warmer.  Soup always does that for me and this soup, Indonesian Chicken and Peanut Soup, has it all — noodles, curry, peanut sauce, and just the right amount of heat.  Yummy does not even begin to cover it.  This soup is downright sumptuous.

The recipe comes from Fine Cooking, and thanks to rotisserie chicken and quick-cooking rice noodles, you can be curling up with this bowl of comfort in no time.

Indonesian Chicken and Peanut Soup

Serves 4

Ingredients:

  • Kosher salt
  • 8 oz. rice vermicelli noodles
  • 1 Tbs. coconut or safflower oil
  • 2 large shallots, halved lengthwise and thinly sliced
  • 1 Tbs. curry powder, preferably Madras
  • 4 cups lower-salt chicken broth
  • 1 cup well-shaken canned coconut milk
  • 1/3 cup crunchy peanut butter, preferably all natural
  • 2 Tbs. soy sauce; more as needed
  • 2 tsp. granulated sugar
  • 2 cups shredded cooked chicken (about 8 oz.)
  • 1 Tbs. fresh lime juice
  • Freshly ground black pepper
  • 1/4 cup chopped fresh cilantro or small cilantro leaves (on hubby’s and for photo purposes only)
  • Asian chile garlic paste, such as sambal oelek (optional)

Procedure:

  1. Bring a large pot of well-salted water to a boil. Cook the noodles according to package directions.
  2. Meanwhile, heat the oil in a medium Dutch oven or other heavy-duty pot over medium-high heat. Add the shallots and cook, stirring occasionally, until just starting to brown, 3 minutes. Add the curry powder and cook until fragrant, stirring constantly, about 10 seconds. Add the broth, coconut milk, peanut butter, soy sauce, and sugar, and whisk until the peanut butter is fully incorporated. Add the chicken and bring to a simmer. Cover and simmer gently for 15 minutes. Add the lime juice, and season to taste with more soy sauce and pepper.
  3. Divide the noodles among four serving bowls. Ladle the hot soup over the noodles. Garnish with the cilantro and chile paste, if you like. (trust me, you’ll want some sambal!)

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