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After eight months of daring baking, Thanksgiving, a Christmas party, gallons of cream, pounds of chocolate, and bricks of butter, I had to take a cold look at my jeans I was having trouble buttoning.  No, the jeans weren’t shrinking in the wash – it was the almost 8 pounds I have gained in the past year.  So, I, along with millions of others, decided to shed those extra pounds this new year.

I dusted off my old Weight Watchers cookbooks and decided to try this recipe from In One Pot, a surprisingly good cookbook for those trying to lose weight while still wanting to cook with real ingredients (translation: nary a condensed cream of anything soup to be seen).  I decided to try this orzo recipe since it is similar to a mushroom risotto I blogged about a month or so ago.  Orzo is an easy alternative to the constant stirring risotto requires. 

CREAMY ORZO WITH CHICKEN AND MUSHROOMS
Adapted from Weight Watchers In One Pot
Yield 6
1 C. serving = 5 points

1 1/2 Tbs. extra virgin olive oil
1 chopped onion
1 minced garlic clove
3/4 lb fresh shiitake, crimini or baby bella mushrooms, stems discarded, caps sliced
1/3 C. dry sherry
2 C. low-fat milk (1%)
4 tsp. cornstarch
1/2 tsp. salt
freshly ground pepper to taste
1/8 tsp. ground nutmeg
3 C. cooked orzo
10 oz. cooked chicken breast
1/4 C. chopped fresh parsley

Heat oil in large non-stick skillet or dutch oven over medium high heat.  Add onions and garlic and cook, stirring until softened, about 3 minutes.  Add the mushrooms and cook, stirring occasionally until lightly brown, about 4-5 minutes.  Add sherry and cook until it evaporates, about 1 minute.

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Combine milk, cornstarch , salt, pepper and nutmeg in  a bowl until smooth.  Add the milk mixture into the skillet and cook over medium-low heat, stirring constantly, until the mixture bubbles and thickens, about 3 minutes. 

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Stir in the orzo and chicken.  Cook, stirring occasionally until heated through for several minutes.  Remove from heat and stir in the parsley. 

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This meal is perfect for the week of Thanksgiving since many have these ingredients on the Thanksgiving shopping list.  The recipe calls for sage, something I always buy the last week of November, and butternut squash, an autumnal must.  This quick and easy meal is perfect on that busy week leading up to Thanksgiving as you squeeze in dinner between pie baking and trips to the market.

Penne with Butternut Squash, Italian Sausage and Sage
(serves 6-8)

3 Tbs. olive oil
1 1/2 lb. butternut squash, peeled, seeded and cubed
1 1/4 lb. sweet Italian sausage, crumbled
3 cloves of garlic, minced
pinch of crushed red pepper
1/4 C. dry white wine
1 C. chicken stock
3 Tbs. finely chopped sage
1 lb. penne
Paremsan cheese for sprinkling

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Heat large skillet over medium-high heat.  Add olive oil and when hot, add squash.  Cook for about 3-4 minutes until browned, stirring occasionally.  Transfer to bowl.  Return pan to medium-high and add sausage.  Cook until brown and drain fat.  Stir in garlic and red pepper and cook for a minute.  Add white wine and simmer for a minute, scraping pan to loosen any brown bits. 

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Meanwhile cook pasta according to pasta directions.  Return squash to pan, chicken broth and sage.  Bring to a boil and reduce heat.  Cover and simmer for about 5 minutes.  Gently combine pasta and squash mixture.  Season with freshly ground pepper and serve with Parmesan cheese.

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I’ll admit it – I grew up eating spaghetti sauce from a jar.  This is to be expected from a first generation immigrant like my mother who thought Ragu was how spaghetti was supposed to be prepared (well, that along with kimchi.  Can I get a witness from my Korean-American peeps?)  I was set straight by my husband, who grew up eating macaroni and gravy prepared by his Italian family from the Bronx (that would be pasta and marinara sauce).

I’ve been making turkey meatballs even since I my son was born, trying to shed those baby pounds.  While low-cal substitutions usually mean a less tasty result, I truly feel these meatballs are just as tasty as ground beef meatballs.

Turkey Meatballs
(yields about 18 1½” meatballs)

1 1/3 lb. ground turkey
1 small onion
2 cloves garlic
1/2 C. breadcrumbs
1/4 C. grated parmesan cheese
1 egg
1 tsp. salt (or more to taste)
fresh ground pepper

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Puree onion and garlic in a mini-chopper or food processor.  Combine pureed onion, garlic, ground turkey, breadcrumbs, parmesan cheese, egg, salt and pepper in a medium bowl until well combined. 

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Roll mixture into 1½” balls.  Heat mium skillet on medium high and brown meatballs on all sides, about 3 minutes per side. 

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Add to pot of hot marinara sauce (see below) and cook on medium low for 15-20 minutes.  Serve with pasta of your choice with grated parmesan cheese.

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Marinara Sauce

28 oz. can of crushed tomatoes
2-3 cloves of garlic, minced
2 Tbs. extra virgin olive oil
1 tsp. sugar
2-3 tsp. dried basil

Heat olive oil in a medium saucepan on medium high.  Add minced garlic and saute until golden.  Add can of crushed tomatoes, sugar and basil.  Mix and cook on medium low for 15-20 minutes. 

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The Color Purple

June 21, 2008

 Plum pretty – purple sweet potato gnocchi with cardamom brown butter

While shopping at the Korean grocery store (that’s H-Mart for my peeps in the know) yesterday, I saw a sign marked “purple yams”  atop what appeared to be innocuous white-skinned sweet potatoes.  Naturally, I had to buy some, even though I had no idea how I was going to prepare them.  Once home, I did a bit of research and discovered that they are not purple yams, which have a dark purple skin, but are in fact purple Okinawan sweet potatoes.  They have an earthier smell than common sweet potatoes and are less sweet.  I had to think a bit on how to prepare them and dismissed the most traditional ways (baked, mashed or in pie) since all of those methods just scream autumn and winter.  I settled on gnocchi since pasta is always in season.

Now I have been cooking for my husband for over 10 years and he obviously has been very-well fed during that time.  He doesn’t give out praise lightly and most of the time it seems he’s a bit too blasé  for my liking about my culinary offerings.  I am happy to say he absolutely raved about this meal. 

The subtle, earthy sweetness in the potato meets the cardamom and mace as equals, with neither spice nor sweetness claiming dominance.  The texture is lighter than regular gnocchi due to the ricotta and the dusting of freshly grated parmesan cheese immediately before serving elevates this dish into something unforgettable.   

 

purple Okinawan sweet potato

Purple Sweet Potato Gnocchi with Cardamom Brown Butter

2 – 2 ½ lbs. purple sweet potatoes (or regular sweet potatoes) cleaned and pierced all over with fork

1 C.  fresh ricotta cheese, drained

½ C. grated Parmesan cheese

2 Tbs.  brown sugar

1 tsp.  + ½ tsp. ground cardamom

2 tsp. salt

1/2 tsp. ground mace

about 2 C. all-purpose flour

1 stick (½ c.) butter

Place sweet potatoes in large microwave-proof bowl.  Cover with plastic wrap, making a slit to allow steam to escape. Microwave on high until tender, about 10-12 minutes. Cut in half and cool. Scrape soft sweet potato flesh into medium bowl and mash or put through potato ricer.   (I do not have a ricer, so I zapped it in the food processor for a few minutes to get all the chunks out).

 

Add ricotta cheese; blend well. Add Parmesan cheese, brown sugar, salt, 1 teaspoon of cardamom and mace; mash to blend. Mix in flour, about 1/2 cup at a time, until soft dough forms.

Turn dough out onto floured surface; divide into 6 equal pieces. Rolling between palms and floured work surface, form each piece into 20-inch-long rope (about 3/4 inch in diameter), sprinkling with flour as needed if sticky. Cut each rope into 3/4 inch pieces.

Edible purple playdough.  Without that weird smell.

Using thumb, roll each piece over tines of fork to indent, making a “C” shape. Transfer to baking sheet.

Gnocchi is a great way to get your kids to help in the kitchen. 

Bring large pot of water to boil; add 2 tablespoons salt and return to boil. Working in batches, boil gnocchi until tender, 5 minutes. Make sure to not overcook!  Lift gnocchi out with slotted spoon onto baking sheet. Cool completely. (Can be made 4 hours ahead. Let stand at room temperature.)

Purple gnocchi turns more reddish-purple after cooking.

Melt butter in heavy large saucepan over medium-high heat. Cook until butter is brown and have toasty aroma, swirling pan occasionally, about 5 minutes.  Add ½ tsp. cardamom and mix well.  Season butter with freshly ground pepper.  Add gnocchi and sauté until gnocchi heated through, about 6 minutes.

 

Serve with grated parmesan cheese and be prepared to be wowed.

 

 

Chicken with Pesto

May 1, 2008

Chicken and cavatappi with pesto

When my son was very young, still small enough to be sitting in a high chair, we went out to dinner at an Italian restaurant.  It was a “real” restaurant with no kids’ menu, so we ordered buttered penne with parmesan for him.  Once our meals came and he saw what we were eating, he would have nothing to do with his plain pasta.  My husband had ordered a pesto dish that was quite heavy on the garlic, a dish of which he had very little as my son took quite a liking to it.

 So two years later, pasta with pesto is still my son’s favorite meal, and the more garlic, the better.  It’s one of my favorites to make as it is an almost no-cook meal, like my daughter’s favorite meal, California rolls.  This is a great go-to meal on nights we have soccer practice or ballet.

Pesto

(enough to coat one pound of pasta)

3-4 C. basil leaves

2-3 cloves of garlic (keep the breath mints handy)

1/4 C. toasted pine nuts

1/4 C. grated parmigiano-reggiano cheese

salt and pepper to taste

1/2 C. extra virgin olive oil

Place first four ingredients in a food processor and pulse while slowly pouring in the olive oil.  (Purists feel free to break out the mortal and pestle and bruise away).  Season and mix into cooked pasta.  I reserve a few tablespoons to top the grilled chicken breasts.

 

 

While this meal may be the kid’s choice, the wine is all mommy’s (Misterio Malbec 2006 – a great pairing).