Sunday, January 30, 2011

Chicken and Spinach Farfalle

Well, it's official. Either the end of the world is near or I have had a good spell cast on me by a culinary genie. Because I've actually made a recipe from a cookbook that I did not need but bought anyway, rationalizing it as being meant to be due to the living social amazon gift card deal. And I did all of this within a week of getting the book. Plus I've already earmarked several recipes that I want to try in the future. That is the sign of a good cookbook find.

Although, if I have to be honest, this recipe sounded delicious and it wasn't really as hard as I had thought it might be to motivate me to get up from my computer desk and into the kitchen. This is a super simple recipe even for someone who is having a semi meltdown about work issues and trying to figure out where Office 2007 is hiding on the computer anyway because I'm trying to take a online computer course all at the same time.

The recipe called for the spinach to be added at the last minute, shortly before tossing, I cooked mine until wilted in the sauce and then added all of the remaining ingredients at the end. This recipe has some good, simple flavors and even better, plenty of leftovers so I can eat healthier for the rest of the week and stay out of the beguiling snare of McDonalds.

My only glitch (which I discovered while typing the post up) was that I completely missed the part about cutting the chicken crosswise before cooking. I ended up browning the chicken in the skillet and then sticking the chicken in the oven to finish cooking. 

Chicken and Spinach Farfalle 
Adapted ever so slightly from: The Best Simple Recipes from America's Test Kitchen 
Serves 4

2 bonless skinless chicken breasts (approximately 3/4 pound) - cut crosswise into 1/4 inch pieces
salt and pepper
2 tbsp unsalted butter
2 garlic cloves, minced
1/2 cup heavy cream
2 tsp grated lemon zest
3 tbsp juice from 1 lemon
1 pound farfalle
1 6oz bag of baby spinach
1/2 cup grated parmesan cheese
1/3 cup pine nuts (omitted in recipe above)

Bring 4 quarts of water to boil.

Pat chicken dry, then season with salt and pepper. Melt 2 tbsp butter in large skillet over medium high heat. Cook chicken until no longer pink, about 3 minutes, and transfer to plate.

Add garlic to empty skillet and cook until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Stir in cream, lemon zest, lemon juice, and spinach leaves until sauce is slightly thickened, about 5 minutes. Remove from heat and cover.

Add 1 tbsp salt and farfalle to boiling water and cook until al dente. Reseve 1/2 cup cooking water, drain pasta and return to pot. Add sauce, parmesan cheese, pine nuts (if using) and cooked chicken to pot. Toss to combine, adding reserved pasta water as needed. Season with salt and pepper before serving

Monday, January 24, 2011

Ragu Alla Bolognese

Due to an assortment of chaos going on in life recently, I haven't had time to cook along with the group over at Cooking Italy. Which is a shame as Angela comes up with some to die for recipes between Marcella Hazan and the occasional guest recipe so to speak such as this recipe for Ragu Alla Bolognese from la Cucina Italiana. 
Compared to my regular quick bolognese, this was was much more labor intensive and time consuming. I was worried for a bit as I did not see my sauce reducing as much as the recipe said it would, but after realizing I hadn't had the heat high enough, a quick adjustment pulled the recipe together within an hour. 

I found the recipe to be a rich and savory delight for the tastebuds.  I am not a fan of carrots and celery at all, but after several hours of simmering the flavors all meld together perfectly and the vegetables were a good pairing for the rest of the dish. If you're a meat lover, you will love this recipe. I could not find veal at my local grocery store (they said they were out) so as the recipe suggested I substituted extra beef and pork and found the flavor to be perfect.  My picture may not do this justice as I took it at night without some natural light, but please take my word on really need to try this at least once and you'll be hooked.

 Ragu Alla Bolognese (from La Cucina Italiana)


  • For the sauce:
  • 1 (14-ounce) or 1/2 (28-ounce) can whole peeled tomatoes in juice, preferably San Marzano
  • 1 1/2 to 2 1/2 cups water
  • 1 tablespoon tomato paste, preferably double concentrated
  • 1 teaspoon beef base (available in some supermarkets and specialty food stores) or 1 beef bouillon cube
  • 1 celery rib, roughly chopped
  • 1/2 medium onion, roughly chopped
  • 1/2 medium carrot, roughly chopped
  • 3 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 2 ounces sweet Italian sausage, removed from casing
  • 2 ounces pancetta or slab bacon, finely chopped
  • 3/4 pound ground beef (not lean)
  • 3/4 pound ground pork
  • 1/2 pound ground veal
  • Fine sea salt
  • Freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 cup dry red wine
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 3/4 cup whole milk
  • Freshly grated nutmeg
  • For serving:
  • Fresh tagliatelle, or other pasta, cooked until tender in salted water
  • Freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese


Purée tomatoes and their juice in blender until smooth; set aside.

In a small saucepan, bring 1 1/2 cups water to a simmer; whisk in tomato paste and beef base. Remove from heat; set aside.

Make a battuto (the foundation for many Italian soups, stews and sauces) by finely chopping together (by hand) celery, onion and carrot.

Heat butter over medium-low heat until melted and foaming; add battuto, sausage and pancetta. Cook, stirring with a wooden spoon, until sausage is broken into small bits, then continue cooking, stirring frequently, until vegetables are softened (do not brown), about 25 minutes.

Add beef, pork and veal; increase heat to medium. Cook, stirring until meat is broken into small bits, then season lightly with salt and pepper. Cook, stirring constantly for 10 minutes more (do not brown).

Add wine; bring to a boil and cook until wine and juices in pot are mostly evaporated, 3 to 5 minutes. Add reserved puréed tomato, reserved beef base mixture and bay leaf.

Cook ragù at the barest simmer, stirring occasionally (making sure to stir into edges of pot), until meat is very tender and sauce is thick (as sauce thickens, add water, bit by bit, if necessary, to keep sauce moist and just barely liquid), about 2 1/2  hours.

Add milk and continue cooking for 30 minutes more. Stir in pinch nutmeg. Season to taste with salt and pepper.
To serve:
Toss the ragù with pasta using 1 1/2 to 1 3/4 cups of sauce per pound of pasta. Serve immediately with cheese.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Graham Cracker Chocolate Chip Cake

I am a girl who loves her fluff. It's just so decadently ridiculously over the top sweet that given a chance I will eat it by the spoonful. So you better believe that when I saw the cake that my fellow bakers had picked over at The Cake Slice, I was ready to go. I had my prepped this morning so that I could start baking at soon as I got home from which says a lot about how I was looking forward to this. I am prone more to frantically searching for measuring cups and spoons after I've started mixing.

I wouldn't say it was a disappointment. There were good elements. I liked the graham cracker taste to the cake even though I found it a tiny bit dry despite cutting back on the baking time by 5 minutes. And despite my love of fluff, I thought the taste of it was overshadowed by the powdered sugar. Overall, I'm glad I made the cake but one piece was enough for me tonight. I've already packed up the rest minus two pieces and am taking it to work to share/dump on my coworkers in case a snacking attack does hit. My overall rating for this would probably be a B-. It's just missing something in it that I can't put my finger on.

Please check out the other bakers over at The Cake Slice for reviews, tips and some sure to be yummy substitutions!

Graham Cracker Chocolate Chip Snacking Cake
(Recipe from Cake Keeper Cakes by Lauren Chattman)

For the Cake
8 whole graham crackers, finely ground (about 1 cup) *
¼ cup unbleached all purpose flour
1 tsp baking powder
½ tsp salt
6 tbsp (¾ stick) butter, softened
¼ cup sugar
1 egg
1 egg yolk
1 tsp vanilla extract
¼ cup milk
½ cup semisweet chocolate chips

For the Frosting
½ cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, softened
½ cup confectioners sugar
½ tsp vanilla extract
½ cup marshmallow fluff *

Method – Cake
Preheat the oven to 350F. Grease an 8inch square baking pan and dust it with flour, knocking out any extra. Combine the graham cracker crumbs, flour, baking powder and salt in a medium mixing bowl.
Combine the butter and sugar in a large mixing bowl and cream with an electric mixer on medium-high speed until fluffy, about 3 minutes, scraping down the sides of the bowl as necessary. With the mixer on low speed, add the egg, egg yolk and vanilla. Scrape down the sides of the bowl and then beat until smooth.
With the mixer on low speed, add a third of the flour mixture, then half of the milk, stirring until combined. Repeat with the remaining flour and milk, ending with the flour. Stir in the chocolate chips.
Scrape the batter into the prepared pan and smooth the top with a rubber spatula. Bake until a toothpick inserted in the centre comes out clean, about 35 minutes. Let the cake cool in the pan for about 10 minutes. Invert it onto a wire rack, and then turn it right side up to cool completely.

Method – Frosting
Place the butter in a medium mixing bowl and beat until creamy. With the mixer on low speed, slowly add the sugar, scraping down the sides of the bowl as necessary. Stir in the vanilla and the marshmallow fluff and beat until smooth. Use immediately or cover the bowl with plastic wrap and keep in the fridge for up to 3 days.
Cut the cake into squares and serve each one with a dollop of frosting on top. (Bring the frosting back to room temperature first if it has been stored in the fridge). Store any uneaten cake in an airtight container for up to 3 days.

Monday, January 17, 2011

Corn Soup with Tomato Garnish

I've had Virginia Willis's book "Bon Appetit, Y'all" for quite some time. But like most of my cookbooks, it unfortunately at first turned out to be another case of wanna gotta have it now cookbook lust  which I put on my bookshelf and ignored for several months, intending to get around and cooking something but never quite managing it. However after I got back from a walk to/from my weight watchers meeting with temperatures around 10 degrees and feeling closer to 0 degrees, soup demanded to be made. Which was a good thing as I cracked this book open and realized this was a book to take a chance on as soon as I saw the Corn Soup recipe.

I had to make some substitutions as I had frozen corn and not corn cobs as the recipe called for. If you have a chance to check out her book, try the recipe as it was called for as I think the flavor would be sublime with the corn cobs simmered in chicken stock. But even with frozen kernels, this is a very satisfying and hearty soup. However, I thought my addition of fire roasted tomatoes and ancho chili powder added a very subtle hit of spicy, perfect for a winter afternoon.

Corn Soup with Tomato Garnish
Adapted from: Bon Appetit, Y'all - Virginia Willis

4 cups frozen sweet corn kernels
4 cups chicken stock or chicken broth
1 tbsp vegetable oil
1 onion, chopped
1 clove garlic, very finely chopped
1 potato, chopped
1 tbs fine white cornmeal
1 tsp each: parsley, thyme, peppercorn
1 bay leaf
Pinch of ancho chili powder 
1 tbsp diced bacon
1 can fire roasted tomatoes
1/2 cup heavy cream (optional per Virginia)
Black Pepper (several grindings based on personal taste)
additional fire roasted tomato/frozen corn for garnish

Combine 1 cup corn and 4 cups stock in medium saucepan. Bring to boil over medium heat, then reduce to low and simmer for about 10 minutes. Set aside.

Add oil to large pot and heat; add onions and cook until soft and translucent, approximately 5 minutes. Add garlic and cook until fragrant. Add remaining corn kernels, potato and cornmeal. Cover with corn stock and kernels from other pan. Add spices, pepper and salt and bring to boil over medium high heat. Decrease heat to low and simmer until potato is tender, approximately 20 minutes.

Add 1 can fire roasted diced tomatoes and puree with immersion blender until soup is smoother. Add in cream and reheat. Garnish bowls with additional fire roasted tomatoes, corn and salt and pepper to taste. Serve immediately.

Sunday, January 9, 2011

Hazelnut Raspberry Layer Cake

This week, the bakers of "Sweet Melissa Sundays" tackled Hazelnut Raspberry Layer Cake" which was picked by Candy over at Candy Girl. And although the recipe looked yummy, I wasn't so sure about trying it because of my egg white phobia. Any time I have to deal with whipping egg whites and manage to successfully whip them into peaks, I feel like  Superman having just saved the earth. Egg whites and I have had a bit of a rocky relationship in the past and although I've gotten better at working with them, I do occasionally fall flat with them as I did with this cake. 

Although, really, it was the frosting that did me in. The cake turned out well. I enjoyed the flavor and the texture overall although I could definitely see that it could be a bit dense if you had made traditional layers . I had made the cake two ways - one in traditional cake pans (which I'm saving for another day) and the remainder in a more shallow pan where I cut out small circles for individual frosted cakes once it had cooked.  The frosting was another matter. I had had two packages of egg whites in my kitchen. And unfortunately, the older (read past it's prime) egg whites were what was left when it came time to do the frosting. So they never quite whipped, the syrup did nothing but lead to a watery mush and after adding the butter, I finally gave up and started whipping in some powdered sugar to make the best of a bad situation. Which basically resulted raspberry flavored sugar in the end and a bit overpowering with the cake.

I think I would try the cake again but use a tip Candy mentioned in her blog with cream cheese and cooked down raspberries. That sounds delightful and well worth the egg white extravaganza! 

Please check out the other bakers over at the Sweet Melissa Sundays blogroll to see how they fared with the cake. 

Sunday, January 2, 2011


 I love bacon. That's hardly a surprise I know  for those who have visited the blog more than once. But I can't help it. Bacon is just one of those foods that is so yummy it is just wrong on so many levels that it can't be rationalized as healthy. I've been wanting to make this recipe for weeks but never quite got around to it, more due to laziness than busyness. Today, with the weather hovering near zero around Chicago, it seemed a perfect day to cook something warm, hearty and packed full of bacony goodness.

As macaroni and cheese recipes go, this was a bit more complicated than I had expected despite the fact that I had picked the recipe out previously (we'll just chalk that up my usual habit of focusing on the ingredients and not so much on the instructions). But despite some not so tiny shortcomings (I didn't have enough milk and substituted buttermilk instead rather than brave the cold and overcooking it just a little) this turned out to be a pretty awesome recipe. I would have preferred a little more creaminess to it but considering the substitutions and overcooking it's understandable. Definitely a keeper for me.

Adapted from "Seduced by Bacon"  by Joanna Prues & Bob Lape

1/2 pound dry elbow macaroni
8 slices thick slice bacon, cut into 1 inch strips
1 medium yellow onion, diced
3 tbsp butter
3 tbsp flour
1 1/2 cups evaporated milk
1 cup buttermilk
1 tsp hungarian paprika
1 tsp salt
freshly ground black pepper
1 large egg
3 cups sharp white cheddar cheese shredded
1/2 cup grated parmigiano-reggiano cheese
1/4 cup panko bread crumbs

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Cook pasta in boiling water for 8 minutes; drain and set aside.

Cook bacon in large skillet over medium high heat until fat begins to melt and overs bottom of pan. Stir in onions and cook until bacon is crisp and onions are golden brown, stirring often. Set aside.

In large saucepan, melt butter over medium high heat. Whisk in flour and cook over medium heat until completely smooth, whisking constantly. Whisk in milk, paprika, salt and pepper. Reduce heat and cook for 10 minutes.

Whisk egg in bowl before whisking in 1/2 cup of white sauce mix. Whisk mixture back into saucepan. Stir in 2 cups of cheddar cheese into sauce until melted. Season with salt and pepper. Combine macaroni, white sauce and bacon mixture together. Spoon into 2 quart casserole dish. Place dish on baking pan.

Combine remaining cheese and bread crumbs. spoon topping over macaroni and bake for 30 minutes or until top is lightly browned. Let sit for 5 minutes before serving.