Monday, September 27, 2010

Autumnal Penne with Swiss Chard and Butternut Squash

Every fall when the temperature drops and everyone begins to crave meaty roasts and thick hearty stews, I crave the very thing I have just eaten all summer long - pasta. Yet while the pastas I make in the summer time are light and perky filled with basil, tomatoes, and corn, I prefer my 'fall' pasta to reflect the cozier, comforting vibe of the new season.

So every year like clock work, my first fall pasta starts with a massive tray of roasted cubed butternut squash that gets chucked into the cooked pasta along with plenty of olive oil and other autumn veggies. This year I tried adding Swiss Chard for the first time with great success. Chard is a heartier green than spinach or arugula with a bit more bite (just look at the color of the spine on that chard! I have a recurring dream about hunting for a prom dress that color and probably will until the day I die.) Anyway between the squash, chard, Parmesan and toasted walnuts I didn't feel the need for any meat at all. Just a nice warm fire and a heaping glass of cheek-warming red wine.

What are some of your fall recipe traditions?

Autumnal Penne with Swiss Chard and Butternut Squash

Time saving tips:
* Use a big, lidded pot to boil the chard in. As soon as its cooked for a few minutes and drained, dump the water and refill the pot to boil the pasta in. Once the pasta's cooked, drain it and put it back in the same pot so you can mix the rest of the ingredients in.
* Line a large roasting tray with aluminum foil to roast your squash on so there's no need to wash it later (you just have to dispose of the aluminum.)
* You can bake the squash a good hour or two ahead of time and let sit at room temperature as well as the Swiss chard.
* You can skip the step of shocking the chard if you're short on time - it won't have as much texture but will still be good.

1 box (13.25 oz) whole wheat or regular penne
olive oil (preferably lemon infused) and plenty of it
1 bunch of Swiss chard, leaves removed from tough stems, cut or torn into large bite sized chunks
3 cups butternut squash, cut into 3/4 inch chunks
pinch red pepper flakes
1/3 cup Parmesan
fresh nutmeg
lots of fresh cracked black pepper
lots of sea or kosher salt
1 1/2 teaspoons fresh thyme leaves, or slightly less if using dried thyme
1/3 cup toasted walnut pieces
goat cheese, to taste

Preheat the oven to 375 and line a large rimmed baking sheet with aluminum foil. Add the cubed butternut squash to the pan and drizzle a good tablespoon or so of olive oil over them. Toss with your hands (they work best) to be sure each piece is coated then sprinkle with a good pinch or two of kosher or sea salt, a pinch of red pepper flakes, some black pepper and toss again. Put in the oven for 20-25 minutes until the sides touching the pan begin to brown. Carefully flip to the other side with a spatula and roast for another 20 or so minutes until they're nice and golden. Remove and set aside.

Meanwhile heat a large, rimmed pot full of water over high heat. At the same time, prepare an ice bath in another bowl and have a spider or strainer nearby. Once boiling, add a handful of salt and stir through then add the chard using your spoon to make sure each leaf is immersed. Cook for two minutes then use your spider to drain and transfer immediately to the ice bath to shock it. Let sit in the ice water for a couple minutes then remove straining again (thoroughly) and transfer to a holding plate or bowl.

Immediately dump the old chard water out, refill with fresh water, and put over high heat again to bring to a boil. Once boiling, add another handful of salt, let come back to a boil and add the penne. Cook for 6 minutes or just until al dente and drain.

Put the drained pasta back into the pot and drizzle with about a half tablespoon (or more) of the lemon olive oil (if you don't have lemon olive oil then you can add in the zest of one lemon.) Stir well then add in the Parmesan and a good bit of fresh cracked pepper and stir again. Add in the chard breaking it up as it clumps together once cooked and stir again. Season with a good bit of fresh grated nutmeg, another good pinch of salt, and the thyme leaves. Finally add in the cooked squash and toasted walnut pieces stirring in gently.

Serve in big bowls with a slice of creamy goat cheese dropped in the center (or more Parmesan for goat cheese haters) with a final sprinkling of sea salt over the top.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Oktoberfest Pork Cutlets With Vinegar Infused Pan Sauce and a CSN Review

Fall. The very word makes me happy. What is it about this particular season? The cooler weather? The promise of the holidays ahead? Or maybe a return to heartier, richer meals. I would venture to say all of the above. And as I prepare for the change in seasons (we're still in the nineties here) I realize I'm lacking a few essential kitchen utensils. Namely a roasting pan for a holiday turkey (my cheapie one turned black last year and had to be thrown away.) As luck would have it my dear friends at CSN Stores have contacted me to do a review of one of their products so hopefully soon I'll have the new Viking Roaster I've been lusting after or some other goodie to tell you about. As you may remember, CNS has over two hundred online stores where you can buy everything from high end cookware and designer clothes to cheap bedroom furniture and wall art.

I find myself spending an unhealthy amount of time on their cookware site (lots of items even come with free shipping) as well as All Modern as we're still getting settled in our new place. But no matter what you're looking for if you have the urge to window shop or even restock your own kitchen for the holidays, be sure to check out one of their stores.

Now onto today's recipes. I have to admit the idea of vinegar in a pan sauce wasn't something I appreciated until recently. This tangy pan sauce isn't too tart though so I urge you to try it. While I love the idea of slow cooking a hearty Oktoberfest roast in beer all day, my schedule hasn't allowed me to so I came up with this recipe to satisfy my craving for fall flavors in a hurry. Don't laugh at the teensy amount of anchovy paste...I'm still expanding my palate and this gives the sauce that certain something without alarming any of the other meat and potatoes eaters at the table.

Happy fall y'all!

Oktoberfest Pork Cutlets With Vinegar Infused Pan Sauce
* Serves 4 light eaters or 2 hungry people, I'd recommend serving a starch or salad alongside.

4 thin boneless pork cutlets (the kind you buy by the 4 pack, already sliced thin - about 1/4 inch thick)
3 tablespoons butter, separated
2 teaspoons olive oil
salt and pepper
garlic powder
8 oz mushrooms, stems removed and quartered
4 slices of red onion, cut to 1/4 inch thick
1/2 cup dry white wine or vermouth
1/4 cup apple cider vinegar
1 teaspoon whole dijon mustard
1/8 teaspoon anchovy paste
Chopped flat leaf parsley, for garnish

Preheat the oven to 350.

Season both sides of the chops with salt and pepper. Melt 1 1/2 tablespoons butter and 2 teaspoons olive oil in a large rimmed skillet with a lid. Add chops and sear 3 minutes per side, just until light golden. Transfer to a baking sheet and bake at 350 for 8 minutes. Remove, tent with foil, and set aside while you get on with the sauce.

As soon as you remove the chops from the pan, add the onion slices to the same pan, seasoning with salt and pepper and garlic powder cook 5 minutes stirring a couple of times. Add the mushrooms, season them oh so lightly again with salt and pepper and saute, stirring frequently for about 8-10 minutes or until they've released their liquid and shrunken a bit.

Add the wine and vinegar and bring to a boil. Cook down for 2-3 minutes until reduced by half, then add in the mustard, anchovy paste, and 1 teaspoon of butter (add a tablespoon for a richer, less sharp sauce and less if you want more of a punch from the vinegar) stirring well. Return the pork chops to the pan along with any juices that may have collected, stirring them in and letting the chops reheat for 1-2 minutes.

Serve warm garnished with flat leaf parsley.

Friday, September 17, 2010

A lesson in portion control.

Yesterday I found a king snake the size of a pencil trying to eat a frog the size of a fig for breakfast. Now you know how much I love animals so I wouldn't post this unless all ended well...for the frog anyway.

The king snake eventually gave up and slithered away to find something else to snack on (a horse perhaps?)

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Sweet Sausage and Caramelized Shallot Pizza

In my Martha Stewart fantasies, I serve this with a crisp salad for a well rounded meal. But I spare the salad the humiliation knowing that it would just sit there on the sidelines, neglected and bored, like Kim Kardashian at a Reggie Bush game.

After all, stomach space is too scarce to fill up with boring lettuce when the smell of sausage is near. Instead I put this pizza out with lots of ice cold beer and carefully step out of the way of the stampede...after stealing the best pieces for myself, of course.

Sweet Sausage and Caramelized Shallot Pizza

1/2 of the recipe for The Pioneer Woman's Pizza Dough

2 teaspoons or so olive oil, plus more for drizzling over pizza dough
7-8 jawbreaker sized shallots, peeled and sliced fairly thin
Pinch sea or kosher salt
Fresh cracked pepper
4 sweet Italian sausage links, removed from skin and broken up with fingers or wooden spoon
Healthy pinch of fresh grated nutmeg
3/4 teaspoon dried English mustard
1/2 cup vermouth or dry white wine
4-5 tablespoons ricotta cheese, broken up with your fingers or two spoons and scattered evenly over the crust
olive oil
1 cup of fresh mozzarella chunks, broken up from a ball with your fingers
1/3 cup (or more) shredded parmesan cheese
Sea salt, for sprinkling over top of pizza (if you're a salt freak) and more pepper
Couple handfuls of fresh oregano leaves, for garnish

Preheat oven to 500 degrees.

Add the olive oil to a large rimmed nonstick skillet. Put the heat on medium and add the shallots, seasoning with salt and pepper (depending on the size of your shallots, you might need more oil so use your best judgement.) Cook, stirring occasionally until soft and beginning to caramelize - about 7 minutes. Add in the sausage, breaking up with the back of a wooden spoon into smaller bits. Season with the nutmeg and English mustard and cook for about 10-12 minutes until no longer raw (but not until the sausage starts to dry out and crisp up.) Add in the white wine or vermouth and bring to a boil, stirring occasionally until the liquid has evaporated (will take a couple minutes.) Once the pan is mostly dry again, kill the heat and put it to the side to cool slightly.

Meanwhile, line a large rimmed baking sheet with aluminum foil. Spray it with nonstick spray, then sprinkle over a couple of tablespoons of either cornmeal or semolina flour, trying to scatter it evenly by tipping the pan from side to side.

Take your cold dough and begin to carefully stretch it out with your fingers. Once it's begun to obey you, lay the dough on the prepared sheet pushing it out gently with your finger tips so that it gets as thin and wide as possible (taking up as much of the pan as possible) without getting too many holes in it. This will seem impossible at first, but with time and patience, you'll get there. It probably won't take up the entire surface area of the pan but pretty close.

Drizzle the dough lightly with olive oil and sprinkle ever so lightly with sea salt or kosher salt (omit the salt if you are one of those people who finds things too salty - unfortunately I'm not one of those people.) Repeat with pepper.

Scatter the ricotta cheese over the dough, distributing as evenly as possible and using your fingers if necessary to break up the clumps. Repeat with the fresh mozzarella, filling in the gaps. Now add the sausage/shallot mixture again spreading as evenly as possible. Sprinkle over the parmesan and bake for 15 minutes or just until the edges are beginning to turn golden and the cheese is nice and melted and also beginning to get nice and tan in places.

Remove and sprinkle immediately with plenty of fresh oregano (this MAKES it - I tell you.) Carefully use the foil to lift the pizza onto a cutting board and let it rest for a couple minutes before slicing.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Ina Garten's Moroccan Couscous

Embarrassing confession - I had never even heard of couscous until I was in my mid twenties. I was living in San Francisco working at an ad agency and a coworker brought some in for her lunch. Looking at the fluffy little grains in the bowl, I had no idea what it was but thought it was so tres chic...

The funny thing is couscous is anything but tres chic. Its origins are quite humble and it could not be easier to make (easier than rice and not as moody.) It's actually coarsely ground durum wheat and it has been a staple in parts of the Middle East, West Africa, Portugal, and even France for centuries. If you're unfamiliar with it, you might have eaten it without knowing what it was in the Greek side dish Tabbouleh. But it took me seeing Ina Garten make it on Barefoot Contessa to realize how truly approachable it is (ah the wonders of the Food Network!)

I now know that couscous is a home cook's best friend. Keep it in the pantry (along with a vast supply of chicken stock) and you've got a side dish in less than twenty minutes that you can dress up or tweak to compliment whatever you're serving as your main course. In a real pinch it can even be the main course, fortified with some toasted nuts, cut up rotisserie chicken, or tofu. Or you could stuff leftover couscous in yellow bell peppers and bake them...or you could probably think of something even more imaginative.

I made it last night to serve with my favorite double cut pork chops and was reminded again of its uncanny ability to make any meal look show stopping.

But pretty on a plate is one thing. The fact that it's so tasty and fast is what makes me serve it over and over again. What dishes did you used to find intimidating before you made them?

Ina Garten's Moroccan Couscous with Tweaks
Serves 6-8.
* This recipe calls for original plain couscous, not the 'pearl' variety. I prefer the Near East brand.

1 tablespoon butter
1 tablespoon olive oil
3/4 cup chopped shallots
3/4 teaspoon kosher or sea salt
pinch fresh cracked pepper
3 cups low sodium chicken stock
1 1/2 cups original plain couscous (not pearl)
1/4 cup toasted pine nuts, walnuts, or pumpkin seeds
1/4 cup dried cherries or currants or raisins
1/2 cup chopped green onions, optional (you can also use basil, parsley, or cilantro or a mixture)

Add the butter and oil to a medium pan with a lid and bring to low/medium heat to melt the butter. Once melted add the shallots seasoning with salt and pepper. Saute, stirring frequently for about 4-5 minutes until all the shallots have softened and become translucent. Add the chicken stock and put on high heat bringing to a boil.

Once boiling, kill the heat and add the couscous, stirring it in until it's thoroughly mixed in (try and do this quickly - shouldn't take more than a few seconds.) Put the lid on and let the couscous sit and absorb the stock for at least 10 minutes. The beauty is you can leave it for up to 30 minutes if other things are taking longer.

When ready to serve, gently 'fluff' the couscous with a fork, just raking the fork over and through the couscous lightly to 'unbundle' any clumps and lighten it up. Stir in the nuts or seeds, dried fruit, and any fresh herbs if desired.

Serve warm.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Our Short Film - Lemon Drop!

Hi everyone! Our short film for Absolut Vodka with Ali Larter is finally out on Youtube. It's called Lemon Drop. Watch it here and don't forget to click on the HD/720 version(in the lower right hand corner) for your viewing pleasure.

Please have a look and send to your friends! Thanks so much!