Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Sausage Stuffed Baked Potatoes with Arugula. Not as weird as it sounds.

When Giada made this a couple of years ago on her show I thought - "Nope."

Granted it's hard to make sausage look pretty, particularly when thrown in a baked potato drowning in marinara. But more than that I just thought the whole idea was messy and weird. Arugula? Tomato Sauce? Sausage? Potato? It reminds me of something a pregnant person would crave after accidentally eating a pot brownie.

But as they say, time changes everything. I ordered her latest book (official cookbook hoarder - HELP!), saw this recipe again and went huh, that looks pretty good actually. Just for the record I'm not pregnant nor do I have a stash of pot brownies lying around. Sadly.

Just to blow your mind a little more, I subbed cottage cheese for the mascarpone because I didn't have any on hand. It sure as hell didn't make it prettier but it passed the husband test and my thighs were grateful for the little switcharoo. I also added a slice of fresh mozzarella to the split potatoes before covering them in sauce (sorry thighs.) The cheese melted like butter giving the sauce a nice little place to get cozy in.

Speaking of the sauce it's pretty dang great on its own and would be delish in a more traditional environment. Like say, pasta.

Cheers to facing our fears. And eating them.

Baked Potatoes with Sausage and Arugula
Lightly adapted from Giada De Laurentiis.
Serves 4.

3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 small onion, diced
Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper
2 cloves garlic, peeled and smashed or chopped
1/2 pound sweet or spicy Italian-style turkey sausage, casings removed
1 1/2 cups tomato-basil or marinara sauce
3 cups baby arugula or basil
freshly grated nutmeg (my addition, out of habit)
1/2 cup mascarpone cheese (4 ounces), at room temperature OR low fat cottage cheese or ricotta
1/2 cup grated Parmesan, or to taste
4 baked russet potatoes, 8 to 10 ounces each (see Cook's Note, below)
4 thin slices of fresh mozzarella cheese, optional
2 tablespoons chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley or basil

In a large skillet, heat the olive oil over medium-high heat. Add the onions, 1 teaspoon salt and 1/2 teaspoon pepper. Cook, stirring frequently, until softened, about 3 minutes. Add the garlic and cook until aromatic, about 30 seconds. Add the sausage and break up the meat into 1/2-inch pieces with a wooden spoon. Cook until browned and cooked through, 6 to 8 minutes. Add the marinara sauce and arugula (or basil). Stir in a good pinch fresh grated nutmeg. Bring the mixture to a boil and cook until the arugula has wilted, about 2 minutes. Add the mascarpone cheese (or cottage cheese or ricotta) and stir until the mixture forms a creamy sauce. Remove from the heat and stir in the Parmesan. Season with salt and pepper.

Cut a slit in the top of each baked potato and gently squeeze the ends to form an opening in the top. Lay over the slices of mozzarella if using, then spoon the sausage sauce into each potato. Garnish with parsley or basil.

Cook's Note: To bake the potatoes: Position a rack in the center of the oven and preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Using a fork, prick the skins of the potatoes all over. Wrap each potato in foil and bake until tender, about 1 hour. To cook the potatoes in a microwave: Using a fork, prick the skins of the potatoes all over. Place 2 potatoes at a time on a dinner plate. Microwave on high for 8 minutes. Turn the potatoes over and microwave until soft, 6 to 8 more minutes.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Zesty Chopped Chicken Salad with Vibrant Verde Dressing

Oh hi. How are you? Long time no talk.

It's my fault. Between work and a bad run of luck with my animals I haven't been in the mood to write lately. But I'm putting the 'woe is me' behind and getting back in the saddle, starting with...a salad.

I know I know. It's hard to get jazzed about salad. But when my husband (who has the palate of a 12 year old) got jazzed about this salad I knew I had to share it.

As for me, I'm perfectly happy with some arugula dressed with lemon juice, olive oil, salt, pepper and parmesan. But my husband is not. He calls this 'half ass salad.' So if I want to serve salad as dinner I have to go all out. Lots of textures, lots of surprises, LOTS of flavor.

I will now utter the phrase I most detest from fellow foodies. Deep breath... Making your own croutons really makes a difference here. Like a major, ginormous, cute and perky Lindsay Lohan in Mean Girls versus scary plastic Lindsay Lohan today difference. See how much I feel like I have to justify sounding like a douche? Okay I feel better.

Anyway, they really do make a difference. And if lazy a#$ like me can do it, you can do it. You get crunch from the freshly toasted ciabatta chunks, toasted pecans and juicy tart apple, creamy savoriness from black beans and cheddar cheese, and a kick of flavor from jalapeño slices and chopped green onion. Chicken breast seasoned with coriander makes it a meal (for the guys) while a bright yet creamy green onion dressing (honestly you would think it had cream in it - it's awesome) keeps every bite as refreshing as the one before.

I used bagged shredded ice burg mixed with a couple handfuls of arugula but I think any kind of lettuce would do.

Alright then. Just wanted to say I'm back and am dying to know everything you're up to. And remember the proportions below are up to you. If you like something a lot, just add more of it.

PS - this dressing would be good on an old shoe. I have half a mind to bottle and sell it.

Zesty Chopped Chicken Salad with Vibrant Verde Dressing
Serves 2 hungry people as a main or 4-6 as a side. And as a side, I'd probably omit the chicken!
* Feel free to sub roasting your own chicken breast for the white meat from a rotisserie chicken - about 3/4 cup.

Vibrant Verde Green Onion Dressing:
1/2 cup chopped green onions
1/4 cup fresh lime juice
1 teaspoon honey, or more to taste
1/2 jalapeño (deseeded, deveined) chopped
1/2 cup canola oil or olive oil
3/4 teaspoon kosher salt (or half teaspoon jalapeño salt and 1/4 teaspoon kosher salt, if you don't have a jalapeño)
Good pinch freshly ground black pepper
1/4 teaspoon cumin

In a blender or food processor, blend the green onions through the cumin until gorgeous, smooth and bright greenl. Store in the refrigerator for at least 2 hours before tasting, then make any adjustments as far as salt or pepper. If you feel it needs to be sweeter, stir in a pinch of sugar (honey won't break down once the dressing is cold - sugar's your gal.)

Salad Ingredients:
1 (8 oz) bag of shredded iceberg lettuce
large handful of arugula
3 tablespoons black beans, rinsed and patted dry
2-3 tablespoons pecan pieces, toasted
1/3 cup shredded cheddar (I use 2%) or more to taste
1/4 cup pickled jalepeno slices, mild or hot, to taste
1/4 cup chopped green onions
1/2 cup cubed apple
3/4 cup homemade croutons (1 ciabatta roll, cut into 1/2 inch cubes seasoned with coriander, salt pepper, and a drizzle of olive oil, baked at 325 for 18 minutes or just until golden brown. Let cool to room temp before serving. Extras can be stored in a plastic bag for 5 days.)
1 boneless skinless chicken breast, patted dry, seasoned with salt, pepper and coriander and a dash of olive oil, baked at 375 for 15-18 minutes (depending on size) torn into chunks
pinch black pepper and tiny pinch of salt
Vibrant Verde Dressing (above), to taste

In a large bowl, toss all ingredients (iceberg through the chicken and salt and pepper.) Add the dressing, a tablespoon at a time until to the consistency/flavor you like. Adjust any salt/pepper and serve.