Friday, September 30, 2011

Farfalle pasta with Brussels sprouts & mushrooms

Remember that plan for pasta that I alluded to earlier this week?  Last night, I brought it to life in my kitchen, and boy, aren't those appropriate words.  I give you...

Green is good pasta!  
Mother Nature pasta!
Into the woods pasta!
Earthy pasta!

Um, ahem, I'm a little undecided on the name still, but I'm totally sold on the taste and flavor combos in this dish!  Sauteed mushrooms and garlic, shredded Brussels sprouts, and a lil bit o' basil pesto to bring the whole thing together.

What I love about this dish is how (ahem) earthy it feels.  Please dispose of any images of hippies in Birkenstock sandals before we continue.  Thank you kindly.  What I mean by earthy is healthy, refreshing, clean, and packing so many levels of flavor!

And all of it is so gorgeous and fresh-from-the-farm this time of year.  The basil bounty from summer won't go to waste if you're making homemade pesto.  Or, er, that container of it that you scored from the grocery store won't end up in the wrong hands :)

I started by peeling the outer layers from the sprouts and shredding them.

Meanwhile, I brought a pot of salted water to boil and dropped in these little bow ties to cook.  (Wouldn't it be great if tuxedo bow ties were made of pasta?  I'm going to suggest this to Matt for our wedding.  Three guesses as to how that will go.)

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Alliteration and Americana

Tonight, the University of Pittsburgh hosts the University of South Florida for a rare weeknight college football game, and I've been assigned the dessert course, natch.  "To heck with second-rate tailgate food," is what I say!  I pulled out all the stops last night and whipped up my most favorite pie: apple crumb!

What could be more American than college football and a classic apple dessert?  Absolutely nothing!    Panthers and pie!

P-I-T-T, let's go Pitt!  (Try not to stink up the joint like you did for last weekend's bout with Notre Dame, k?  Thanks!)

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Vegetarian mushroom & white bean ragout

I absolutely love fakeout recipes!  You know, the kind that tastes like one thing but is totally something else.  Sometimes it's an unexpected combination of ingredients or a novel serving suggestion.

Whatever it is, the result is something that pops!  Makes your taste buds go, "Wow!" and has you scratching your head in wonder, "How can this be?" ...and then instructs your brain to send a signal to your hand to put your fork right back into the dish for more because you just can't stop.

Last night's fakeout?  Tastes-just-like-pizza mushroom ragout!

A ragout is a thick chunky stew-esque sauce made with loads of vegetables, sometimes with meat, too, and fragrant spices and herbs.  Low and slow is how it's cooked, giving all of the parts more than enough time to make merry.

Start with some olive oil and chopped onions (and maybe a few tears if you're sensitive like me).

When the onions are soft, add the mountain of mushrooms and spices.  Big, gigantic mountain of flavor!

...that will cook down to barely a mole hill.  A delicious mole hill, at that.

Pour in the diced tomatoes, but hold the juice, please.  If you forget to, don't worry.  It's really not the end of the world, so turn that frown upside down and listen to what I'm going to say: You can remove a bit of the juice during cooking, or crank up the heat and let the mixture bubble away so the whole thing will thicken.

See?  It's that easy!  All smiles all the time.

(Truth be told, that's what I did.  The original recipe called for the juice, and I just found the whole thing to be a little too runny for my taste.)

Now, let the whole thing simmer before adding the beans and wait.  Just wait.  Maybe toy with the settings on your humble little camera, being careful to keep the spoon you've been using to sample the whole thing out of frame... what?  I didn't say anything.  Move along, nothing to see here.

Continue being patient.  Channel your inner monk/monkess.  (Yes, I know monkess isn't the female equivalent to monk, but it sounds pretty rad, right?)

As the ragout neared the finish line, and my stomach's growls could no longer be ignored, I had think quickly about how to serve it.  Much like a bolognese sauce, a ragout can be eaten on its own, but totally shines piled atop a plate of pasta, rice, or even polenta.  Already having a plan for a pasta dish later this week, I wanted to do something a little different for this meal.  Rice didn't seem quite right -- too small, likely to get lost in the veggies.  No polenta in the cupboard.  What aboooooooout... toast!  Yes!

Buried toast, to be more specific.  Letting all of the flavors soak into the bread, ready to be devoured.  Let's be even more specific, shall me?  This ragout was a totally surprising home run!  I expected it to be good, but not this good.  Ohmysweetgoodness kind of good!

The sweet chunky tomatoes and the tender mushrooms.  Have I ever mentioned how much I love mushrooms?  Incredibly tender onions with the lemony thyme and fragrant garlic.  And the white beans added such texture and "meat" to the dish that I totally forgot I wasn't even eating meat.  All atop a buttery piece of bread that played games with my mind and might as well have been pizza crust?  Heaven!

As I finished my plate a liiiiittle early (girl was hungry!), Matt arrived, which is about when I started shaking in my boots.  What would my meat and potatoes fiance think of a vegetarian dish after a long day teaching and in class?  I felt like Mikey's brothers from the Life cereal commercials, waiting to see his reaction...

He loved it!  "It tastes just like pizza!" he exclaimed.  "And it's actually satisfying... weird since there is no meat in here."  And then, when he realized I was taking his picture, decided to ham it up just a bit.  Yep, that's my future husband right there :) 

Vegetarian Mushroom & White Bean Ragout
(adapted, slightly, from Cookin' Canuck)
-serves 4

A few notes: Dara's original recipe called for crimini (baby portobellos) mushrooms, but I substituted white mushrooms because they were on sale.  Also, as mentioned above, you can serve the ragout over pasta, rice, polenta, basically any grain that strikes your fancy.  Maybe even quinoa or barley.  Think outside of the box!  Thanks to Dara at Cookin' Canuck for the delicious recipe!

3 Tablespoons olive oil
2 medium white onions, chopped
16 oz. button mushrooms, thinly sliced
4 cloves garlic, minced
4 teaspoons chopped fresh thyme leaves
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 (28 oz.) can diced tomatoes, juices discarded
1 (14 oz.) can cannellini beans, drained and rinsed

Heat the olive oil in a large frying pan set over medium heat.  Add onions and cook, stirring occasionally, until soft, about 5 minutes.

Add mushrooms, garlic, thyme, salt and pepper and cook, stirring frequently, until mushrooms are very tender, about 10 minutes.  Add tomatoes and juices and cook until the mixture starts to thicken, about 10 minutes.

Stir in beans and cook until beans are warmed through, about 10 minutes. Serve over toasted bread.

The ragout can be made up to 2 days in advance. Store, covered, in the refrigerator for up to 5 days. Reheat before serving.

Saturday, September 24, 2011

You know you're an adult when...

...after an exhausting but super fun day of tailgating (hooray!) for a Pitt football game (a loss... sad face), I came home hungry but lacking any motivation to cook on a weekend night.


A walk to Starbucks for one salted caramel hot chocolate.  In other words, dinner.  Life is too short not to do awesome things like that.  Isn't being an "adult" grand? :)

What is your most ridiculous makeshift dinner/meal? 

Friday, September 23, 2011

And there went the last of my productivity

Say buh-bye because it's g-o-n-e.  This is going to be bad.  Really really bad.

Or really awesome?!  Yes :)

I've become totally enamored with Pinterest.  Have you heard of it?  Probably yes, because it's been around for a minute or two.  Pinterest is a virtual cork board on which you can organize, "pin", and share things you like with the rest of the world.  You can even scope out others pin boards for inspiration according to categories and custom searches.

I was skeptical at first, dipping my toes into its waters and scurrying away for fear of becoming totally addicted.

So, you can guess that I'm utterly addicted by now!  I just signed up for an invitation (both annoying and genius promotion).  Until I have my own board, here is today's find that is rather appropriate:

Have a fantastic Friday!  If you're in the Pittsburgh area, there is a ton going on this weekend, so check out IHeartPgh's blog for details.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Cheesy chicken, artichoke & pesto panini

Take a seat, please.  Culinary school is in session!  Today we'll discuss the yummy sandwich made famous in Italy known as the panini, or panino.  Here is Italy... the boot!  (Have I mentioned how badly I want these boots?  No?  Another time then.)

We've got the where, now the what: pa-ni-no - a usually grilled sandwich made with Italian bread (according to the big shots)  Or, as we know it here in America, the panini, a pressed sandwich.

Did you know that panini is actually the correct plural version of the word, and not paninis?  I'm usually a stickler for grammar, but I'm going to go with the masses outside Italy and stick with saying paninis.  Correct Italian or not, these pale limbs are foolin' precisely no one.  And this delicious creation was made in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, United States of America.  Panini it is!

Chicken pesto artichoke mozzarella panini, to be more specific annnnnnnnnd enticing!

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Autumn is brewing

Fall is almost here!  (Was I the first to wish you a happy autumn?  I bet I was...)  That means it's high time to kick back, relax, and enjoy a cold seasonal one:

There are plenty of pumpkin beers out right now for the sampling, and I tried two of them recently - Dogfish Head Punkin Ale (pictured above) and Southern Tier's Pumking Imperial Pumpkin Ale.  Both are yummy, and that's coming from a self-proclaimed indifferent beer drinker.

A serving suggestion from my coworker that will make your pumpkin-y beverage experience even better -- wet the rim of the glass and dip it into a mixture of cinnamon, sugar, and a dash of nutmeg.  Fall flavors abound!  Thanks for the tip, Julie!!

What is your favorite fall treat?  Are you a traditionalist with candy corn and pumpkin pie or do you prefer something a little more unique?  I need three things in order to be in the fall spirit: one serving of candy corn (just one will do), apple pie, and Halloween Oreos :)

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

White chicken chili

I love being first!  First place, first to reply to invitations, and first born (because I had so much say in that matter).  It can be a bit annoying at times... even for me.

But, most of the time I'm knocking down the door first is because I'm just so excited for that particular thing/event/person/whatever.  So, let me be the first to wish you a happy autumn!  Today the calendar still says summer, until Friday when fall begins.  And wouldn't it be nice to start the descent into cooler weather with a warm bowl of chili?

Uh huh, mm hmm.  I thought so.  White chicken chili for the win!  And cornbread muffins with oh-so-festive papers, circa last season at Target.  How cute are these?!

Like I said, incredibly excited, this time regarding holidays and food. 

To add to my already-overflowing bowl of excitement, I've kinda become obsessed with Pat and Gina Neely lately.  If you're not familiar, think Paula Deen as a married couple.  They are absolutely hilarious to watch, a perfect cooking ying and yang.

And, because it's the bottom line that really matters, their recipes are totally gratifying and yummy.  They wowed me with Pat's burgers.  And I've made a few other things not featured that were equally rockin'.  It may take some time to earn my culinary trust, but once you've got it, I'm yours for life, baby!

Friday, September 16, 2011

Friday five

Things I'm totally loving right now and/or can't wait to get my hands on as soon as possible. 

1. Panera's garden vegetable soup with pesto.  Warm and so satisfying.  Matt and I have a Saturday full of errands planned and have already picked this for our lunch spot... because it's delicious and also because we have a coupon for buy one you pick two, get one free!

2. This metallic cardigan from Banana Republic.  Chunky but still feminine.  Cozy.  Sparkly.  And bearing pockets!  Could this sweater be any more perfect for the holidays?  "Could I BE wearing any more clothes?"

Never gets old, I swear.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Mini pumpkin whoopie pies (gobs) with cream cheese frosting

I'm a fan of many things: tennis, cashmere, Reese's pumpkins, and Inglourious Basterds, just to name a few. 

Two things I like not?  Brevity and cursing.  (Interesting combination...)

Well, it's time for a change of pace.  These pumpkin spice whoopie pies are damn good!!!

Or, gobs, as some of you may know them.

Friday, September 9, 2011

White chocolate & pecan blondies

Friday!  Fall-ish weather!  Football tomorrow!  And a tailgating feast!

Whether you've getting together with friends to root for your favorite college or professional team, I've got something you simply must not ignore: platinum blondies!

Don't have any pigskin in your future?  Make them anyway for the heck of it!  If you need a reason to have dessert, then life isn't worth living.  Wanting it is reason enough :)

I made these for last week's first Pitt game of the season, and they were a smashing success.  So were the little flags -- I even caught a GUY taking a picture of them!  And who says guys don't appreciate details?

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Classic beef lasagna

I've got a secret to tell you.  Ready?  Here goes:

I love to plan.

Surprised?  Most likely not :) It's said love of planning that can sometimes be a curse.  Sometimes I need to just go with it.  Fly by the seat of my pants.  Let the chips fall where they may.

This week, however, that planning of mine has paid off bigtime.  Last week, I was overcome with cravings for hearty fall foods and, warm humid September weather be damned, I decided to incorporate them into this week's menu.

Fast forward to Labor Day: rainy, chilly, dreary Monday that it was here in Pittsburgh, I didn't mind one bit... because I had a cheesy, piping hot lasagna in the oven waiting to meet its maker!  That maker being a cook who suddenly realized that her comfort food cravings were psychic visions.  Or some other kind of hoo-ha.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Warm fall flavors - new product alert!

Yes yes, I realize that the calendar says it's summer (for almost 2 weeks still), but this very damp and dreary week we're having in Pittsburgh is making me think one thing: FALL!  I actually found myself searching for the Halloween section at Target on Monday.  Heads up: it's not out yet.  Boo.

While the costumes and colorful leaves are taking their sweet time to come out and play, something else has managed to satisfy my craving for comfort foods of a progressively cooler season.  Think pumpkin pie but in portable form

Pumpkin spice almonds from Planters!  You may now become giddy with excitement.  It's totally appropriate.  All of your thanks and shouts of glee can be directed at one of my best friend's boyfriend's mothers, the reigning tailgate queen... thank you, Mrs. H!

This past weekend she opened up a can of these before the first Pitt game of the season.  Amidst tables (yes, tableS!) of mouthwatering game-time treats, these gems turned out to be our kryptonite. The crunchy almonds are tossed in a sweet salty spicy combo of flavors: brown sugar, salt, cinnamon, cloves, and ginger!  People couldn't keep their grubby little fingers out of the can long enough to allow another person to sample some.

And, by "people", I clearly mean me.  I kind of have a thing for pumpkin, if you didn't know.

So, I'm begging you, do yourself a favor and hunt these down the next time you're at the grocery store.  And, after, please do me a favor and tell me that they they are irresistible to you, too :)

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Breakfast pork sausage patties

A nice long holiday weekend in the books and boy, oh boy, do I have some killer recipes to share with you this week! :)

It was one of those fou- ...wait, three day weekends that uh, seemed to go on foreverrrrrrr much to this girl's delight.  Baking, tailgating (read: melting onto the pavement of the parking lots outside Heinz Field) and cheering on Pitt football in its first victory of the season -- go Panthers!

The next night, we continued the fun by entertaining an out of town visitor of Matt's by taking him out for gourmet burgers.  And on Labor Day?  Because it rained buckets, I decided to treat the guys to a breakfast fit for kings right in the comfort of my apartment.

Get ready for this: fluffy buttermilk pancakes with sour cherry topping, and homemade pork sausage patties!

(Did you know you can make breakfast sausage at home in a cool 5 minutes?  Neither did I... until yesterday!)

No fancy equipment or ingredients necessary.  Just a bowl and a clean pair of hands to form the most delicious breakfast sausage you'll ever have!  So full of flavor with the spices and that hint of maple syrup!

After seeing how easily this comes together, I'm thankful that I never succumbed to the pre-packaged "food" (because it shouldn't even be considered such) in the freezer section at the market.  The homemade version isn't loaded with preservatives, fat, and mystery ingredients, either.  You must try this for yourself!

Comfort food for brunch with the victory!

Breakfast Sausage Patties
(adapted from Everyday Food)
-makes 4

A few notes: My only suggestion for you is to double this recipe because you'll be practically kicking yourself when they disappear.  Make a few extras and use them for breakfast sandwiches throughout the week!

1/2 pound ground pork
3/4 teaspoon dried sage, crumbled
1/4 teaspoon dried thyme, crumbled
1 1/2 teaspoons pure maple syrup
Ground nutmeg
Coarse salt and ground pepper
1/2 teaspoon vegetable oil

In a small bowl, mix together pork, sage, thyme, maple syrup, pinch of nutmeg, 1/2 teaspoon salt, and 1/4 teaspoon pepper. Divide mixture into 4 patties (about 3 tablespoons each).

In a medium skillet, heat oil over medium-high. Add patties and cook until browned, about 1 minute. Reduce heat to medium and flip patties. Cover and cook until cooked through, 5 to 8 minutes.

Friday, September 2, 2011

The best zucchini bread

One Tuesday night, my friend, Pat, showed up at beer club with a paper bag full of goodies.  What kinds of goodies?  Gorgeous homegrown produce from his garden in Lawrenceville... and he was going to share it with all of us!  Our very own harvest Santa Claus.  "A pepper for you, a zucchini for you..."  It's safe to say that Pat was easily the favorite that night.  :)

Here's the thing with seasonal ingredients -- they are so bright and appealing, begging to be used as soon as possible.  I'm talking zucchinis as bright as my once favorite green Crayola crayon!  And then, all hopped up on some zucchini-induced high, I went fishing for recipes and found one that I absolutely must make and share with you immediately.  Sounds good, right?

I pride myself on having a mind like a steel trap, so I don't usually check to make sure that I haven't already written about a similar recipe.  I really should, but the simple fact is that I don't.  Instead, I go about cooking and baking with my pretty produce, snapping pictures along the way, occasionally jumping up on chairs to get a better angle, and enthusiastically typing up the entire story when it's all finished.

Well, um, what if I told you that I've written a zucchini bread post before?  Gulp.  You caught me.  I have.