Saturday, March 18, 2017

Garlic Shrimp with Fusilli

Mother Nature, you are not my friend anymore! What in the actual heck is going on with you? We've had almost no snow all winter, days and weeks in the 60s and 70s and now you're snowing on me again. So depressing and frustrating. The sneak peaks of spring weather really make me want to get outside and plant things. Fresh herbs, big pots of tomato and pepper plants, a few flowers here and there, edible of course, for spicing up salads. The only good thing about these cold and snowy days is I am forced to bundle up in the house and cook something. Soul warming dishes like pastas usually end up on the table on days like this and today we're making a quick pasta dish that features lots of shrimp and garlic, herbs and sauced with olive oil and butter instead of heavy red sauce. It's quick enough for a weeknight even.

For my protein I chose shrimp. Hey, I love shrimp. Even as a little kid I was more than likely going to order "fimps" when out to dinner with my parents. Shrimp is a seafood that's readily available and not terribly pricey. Make sure you use uncooked shrimp and not the pre-cooked, which will result in pasta with rubber garlic nuggets. Not what you're looking for at all. For most dishes I buy the size 41-50 shrimp. If you're not sure what this means, just ask at the fish counter or check the package if frozen. The number refers to the number of shrimp make up a pound. I find this size to be the best in recipes- they are bite size but not teeny like salad shrimp. Be sure to peel off the shells and legs and remove the black vein completely. You do not want to eat that. Always pat them dry with paper towels so they cook without steaming.

This recipe features Sinful Food garlic olive oil and Signature Seasoning. I have really fallen in love with these products and can't imagine cooking without them. The Signature Seasoning never gets put on my spice shelf- it sits right on my work area because I use it that often. Seriously guys, there is nothing this stuff doesn't taste great on. Nothing. The olive oil is beyond amazing with all that fresh garlic flavor and aroma. It's delicious in the simplest croutons to the most complicated French recipe. 

I also had been saving the imported fusilli I picked up at Graziano's when Mary and Angi and I went shopping there a few weeks ago. You can read all about that adventure by clicking HERE

The quality of this brand of pasta is just incredible. The pasta shape stays fully intact after cooking, it doesn't become too mushy too quickly, and it has a very fresh texture- almost as if it was freshly made and not a dried pasta. Believe me, I had to pry this out of The Chef's hands a number of times just trying to keep it for the right recipe. This was definitely the right recipe. Quite a few of my foodie and chef friends also recommended this brand and shared stories about the high quality and how much they love using this. Graziano's is absolutely the right place to get great imported Italian foods in Des Moines. I really need to get back over there and restock my pasta hoard.

Pan Grilled Garlic Shrimp with Fusilli

12 ounces uncooked shrimp
8 cloves garlic
3-4 tablespoons Sinful Food garlic olive oil
1/2 cup unsalted butter
1 teaspoon minced fresh thyme
1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
1/3 cup chopped fresh parsley
Sinful Food Signature Seasoning
1 lb fusilli pasta

Start a large pot of salted water to boil.

Remove shells (and tails, I prefer) from the shrimp and devein. Pat shrimp dry with paper towels and place on plate. Season generously with the Signature Seasoning.

Place the garlic on a chopping board and very finely mince. Set aside. Chop the herbs and set aside.

When the water is boiling, add the pasta and cook until al dente. Drain, reserving one cup of the cooking water. Keep warm.

Heat a large heavy skillet (cast iron is great) over high heat until very hot. Add a couple tablespoons of garlic olive oil. Add the shrimp, in a single layer. Cook for 1-2 minutes or until the shrimp are beginning to brown. Flip and cook on the other side another minute or two. Remove from skillet and keep warm. Add remaining olive oil to skillet, then add garlic. Reduce heat and cook, stirring constantly, for one minute. Add the crushed red pepper and thyme. Cook for a minute or two until garlic is tender but not brown. Add the stick of butter and half a cup of the pasta water. 

Bring to boil and cook until butter is melted and sauce is emulsified. Add the shrimp and parsley back into the sauce. 

Add the pasta, tossing to coat, adding additional pasta water if needed. Serve immediately.

You can get dinner on the table in under 30 minutes with a fast recipe like this. The pasta takes the longest to cook. Just grab some crusty bread to serve with, and a fresh salad. 

Disclosure of Material Connection: This is a "sponsored post." As a Brand Ambassador, the company who sponsored it compensated me via a cash payment, gift or something of value. Regardless,  I only recommend products or services I believe are of good quality and safe. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission's 16 CFR, Part 255: "Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising."

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Easiest Cake Recipe Ever

You know how sometimes folks will come home after a really crummy day, kick off their shoes, shrug off their work clothes, and relax with a nice cold adult beverage? For me it's not about the adult beverage. When I have had THAT kind of a day, all I really want is.......cake. Yes. Cake. Funny thing about cake, you usually have to make an entire cake. In our household of two, a whole cake usually goes to waste, so we don't often bake cakes. In desperate times I have been known to snag a cake slice or a cupcake from the local grocery store bakery, but alas, it's bakery cake, not the same. It's often a little on the dry side from being already sliced and the frosting is either that weird whipped stuff or a buttercream so overloaded with sugar it's crunchy. Not very satisfying. Times like these I long for the days of my childhood where cake heaven was just a few minutes away after a quick run through the Easy Bake Oven.

 Fear not, my friends, cake heaven is again close at hand. This really doesn't even qualify as a "recipe" in the truest sense- it's more like a cake hack that is super simple and super delicious. Are you ready for this? Freshly baked cake for one from the microwave. You can have cake in just 45 teeny tiny seconds!!!  Yes!!!
So how do you do this? Easy- grab two cake mixes- one must be angel food, the other can be any flavor you like. For my current batch of "instant cake" I used a chocolate fudge cake mix. Dump both DRY mixes in a big bowl and use a whisk to fully incorporate them together. Break up any clumps in the mixes. Spoon the mixture into a big, airtight storage container. To make a cake, grab a custard cup and add 3 tablespoons of the dry mix. Stir in 2 tablespoons water and mix with a fork til smooth. Pop in the micro and bake for 45 seconds. Done!

The little cakes are springy and light. The angel food cake mix, which is mostly egg whites, lightens the texture of the cake and helps it rise. Now you can dress up your cake however you like. A drizzle of icing, a scoop of ice cream, pile on some fresh fruit.

Last night while experimenting I made mine into a peanut butter lava cake by mixing the batter as usual but before baking, I added a big rounded tablespoon of peanut butter right on top. When it bakes, the batter rises up and encloses the peanut butter, which becomes all melty and happy. Invert on a plate and hit with a little whipped cream or ice cream. Delicious!  You can also use caramel sauce, chocolate truffles, cherry pie filling, Ferrero Rocher candies, mints- use your imagination. Anything that melts makes an easy lava cake and any other candies make a candy bomb cake!
My experimenting with instant cake is going to continue for sure. Stick around and see what I come up with!

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

Foodie Field Trip- Loveland, Colorado

Springtime in Colorado is wonderful. You might have warm sunny days, chilly nights, dry conditions and wildfires, or snow up to your elbows. The Chef and I recently made the trek over the vast nothingness of Nebraska to Colorado to visit family and since we were there, why not make it a Foodie Field Trip at the same time? Sounds good to us! Since the reason for our trip truly was to be with family, we had to squeak a little time out for ourselves here and there, and while we didn't hit as many restaurants and food stores as we had hoped, we still found some great spots!

Our first night in Loveland we were BEAT!! Our hotel had an indoor heated pool AND a hot tub so guess where we rested our road-weary bones? You got it- hot tub time. By the time we were unwound and ready for a late dinner we just couldn't face another minute in the car, so we began to hunt down delivery options. Chain pizza places were an option but we decided to find something local. 

We hit the jackpot with Silver Mine Subs. The sandwich spot featured a large menu of cold and hot sandwiches and great sides. The Chef immediately spotted his sandwich choice- The Mother Lode, which is a monstrously huge sub heaped with roast beef, ham, turkey, salami, Provolone, lettuce, tomato, onion, oregano and dressing. I chose the Homestake, a warm sub on a soft Italian loaf with thinly sliced Angus steak cooked perfectly, pepper jack cheese, grilled peppers and onions. So so so good. Potato salad and giant crunchy dill pickles completed our dinner.

The next day was spent entirely with family, but we were still able to experience some local flavor. After a long discussion earlier in the day about where the best pizza is in Loveland- we were leaning towards Beaujo's and heard lots about other local spots. The Chef and I almost headed out to check out Beaujo's but instead the family got together and had a pizza party with pizza from Arte. This local pizza spot is owned and operated by a Naples native and makes delicious thin and crispy pizzas with a huge assortment of toppings. Dough made fresh daily in house sets this pizza apart from all the chain places and the toppings are fresh and generously piled on the pies. I think we had one of everything!

Saturday morning we were up and at 'em early! We did some driving around town, scouted out a Starbucks, drove through the FABULOUS Promenade Shops at Centerra. Wow oh wow. I kept ooohing and ahhhing and thinking "oh man, my daughters would LOOOOVE this place." It was huge and wasn't an enclosed shopping mall. The open-air stores look like a village, with lots of store-front parking and great shops. Across the interstate we found a very nice outlet mall with even more fun things- the Chef perked up when he saw the Bose outlet and of course I was dying to go in the kitchen outlet. Rather than spend the beautiful day inside the stores, we decided to head for the mountains and check out Estes Park.

Estes Park is such an adorable town. Nestled in the Rocky Mountains there is something for everyone in this town. The main drag is lined with shops and businesses. Souvenirs, clothing, household items, jewelry, wine shops, gourmet food shops, candy stores- just literally anything you can think of. We grabbed a parking spot outside of Distinctively Colorado Food and Gifts and wandered in to make them take my money. Guys.....this is exactly the kind of shop I love and wish I owned. Local husband and wife, live in town, quaint shop filled with products made in Colorado- this is why it's so important to support local businesses. Mrs. was manning the store while we were there, Mr. off doing something else, and she was a great hostess. We browsed the many food products made locally- honey from different types of flowers, Gourmet pastas and gluten free gourmet pastas line an entire shelf, with several varieties to choose from.

Row after row of small hand-mixed spice blends and mixes made it hard for me to choose what I wanted to take home to try. Another large shelf was filled with hot sauces, salsa, pasta sauces, a variety of pickles and pickled vegetables. Almost as if they knew they'd snag my heart, the shop owners tuck a variety of kitchen linens and accessories in and around the food products. Hmmmmm, elk jerky or kitchen towel........ well you know which one I'd chose!

If you were interested in checking out local beers, craft sodas, or wines, the shop has got you covered there as well. Chilled and ready to take home, or off to the hotel, they had a pretty decent selection. Because I wasn't sure how many more stores we'd hit and didn't want a heavy bag to lug along, I limited my selections to two items, Yampa Valley Sauce Company's Purple Blaze hot sauce, and Bee Squared honey.

The hot sauce is literally purple- but not in a gross food coloring way, in a blueberry and habanero sort of way. Yes, blueberries and habanero peppers- the stuff of nightmares! We still are kind of pepperhead types and still seek out interesting hot sauces and peppers and spice mixes when we're out and about. But fruit and heat, you ask? Sure! Sweet and hot is a very popular combination of flavors, touching many different cuisines, even everyday American- in pepper jelly. So Purple Blaze claims, on the label, to be a "mind-blowing infusion of blueberry and habanero." This stuff is fantastic! Real blueberries, not flavors, bring their deep purple color and sweet flavor to this vinegar-based sauce that kicks your butt with habanero. Goooooood stuff. Reminds me of Caribbean foods. Good thing they have a website! I might have to order more!

There's no heat in my other goodie but still plenty of good stuff. Bee Squared is a small scale apiary that produces award winning local honeys, in a chemical-free environment. Bee-keeping, sustainability and preservation of bee populations is critical, not just to honey production but also to maintaining a food source for humans. The jars are packed so attractively they would make a fabulous addition to a gift basket, and each one has a hangtag with the basic story of honey- very unique and important! Many people don't know that honey never expires, and never spoils. The tag tells you all about it, and what to do when your honey hardens. Plus, if you ever wondered exactly what honey is....... they got you covered too- all on that cute little tag. Bee Squared also has a website with products, info and more.

Walking out in that mountain air made us hungry. There are some really awesome restaurants in Estes Park. Even though it really isn't tourist season, the restaurants around town were bustling. Since exploring the hot sauces, we decided on Mexican for lunch and stopped at Pepper's Mexican Grill. Pepper's is a quick-serve setup where you order at the counter, and your food is made fresh right in front of you. The Chef chose a giant burrito with shredded beef and all kinds of delicious fresh veggies and salsas in there. It was HUGE! I ordered the beef and cheese enchiladas and was blown away by the huge portion. It starts with three cheese enchiladas covered in a heaping pile of carne asada, and fresh lettuce, tomato, beans, rice. Enough for two people easily. I also tried the pineapple mango salsa and it was so bright and delicious and had a decent jalapeno kick.

After returning to Loveland we toodled around town a bit more, checking out all the sights, scenes and wishing we had more time to spend here. We did compile  a fairly lengthy list of things we want to do next time, places to eat, things to see, stores to visit. We can't wait to come back!

Monday, March 13, 2017

Sampling the Sinful Food Oils

One of the simplest pleasures in life is good bread and good olive oil. Really good bread. Beautiful chewy crust, soft interior, lots of holes for collecting flavorful bits and bites of butters and oils. Have you ever experienced the joy of a really good hunk of bread and a really really good olive oil? Hang around with me, and we'll share the experience.

As you know, recently I became the lucky owner of the full line of gourmet infused olive oils from Sinful Food. Six fantastic varieties of super top quality olive oil. The flavors? Garlic, basil, Italian herb, wild sage, jalapeno and rosemary. These oils are unlike any other flavored oil I have ever tasted. They taste real. Clean. Real herb flavor and aroma, you'd swear you were munching on leaves or garlic cloves or bits of pepper. The flavors are so versatile you can use these oils in almost everything you make. Imagine massaging a couple tablespoons of rosemary olive oil over a pork tenderloin before seasoning and roasting. Drizzle some fresh steamed vegetables with garlic olive oil or brush on bread before toasting under the broiler. Italian herb oil with balsamic vinegar make a killer vinaigrette. Brush jumbo shrimp or chicken tenders with jalapeno oil before grilling and tossing with grilled vegetables for some deliciously different fajitas. Arrange sliced fresh mozzarella and sliced heirloom tomatoes on chilled plates and drizzle with basil olive oil and balsamic vinegar for a beautiful Caprese salad. See what I mean? So much versatility, you're only limited by your imagination.

The other day I made a stop in Gateway Market to acquire some hard to find radishes and of course, that means I was suckered in by the luscious aromas of the South Union Bakery which is part of the store. Amazing handmade breads are what you will find in this gem of a bakery, which is part of the George Formaro Empire of Deliciousness. Since I knew  had these oils to check out....and the bread just HAPPENED to be there....... well, you know the rest. A loaf or two just jumped into my cart as I innocently walked by the bakery counter. Since they were sacrificing themselves in the name of research, we might as well fulfill their destiny and try some, right?

So here we are with our six beautiful oils, six small bowls, and a lovely loaf of good bread. Let's taste these oils and share the joy.

Garlic. The first thing you get with this oil is the blast of garlic. Just like fresh crushed garlic, but not overpowering. The sweetness of the olive oil balances the pungent notes of the garlic. You definitely taste both the "green" notes of the oil and the heat of the garlic.

Italian herb. It's oregano. It's marjoram. It's basil. It's thyme. It's all of those delicious flavors and fragrances in one amazing oil. If you're an oil and bread dipping kind of person, this will take your bread to a whole new level. I cannot stop making salad dressing with this. The bright herbal flavors go perfectly with the flavor of the olive oil, it's so light and so fragrant. This oil would be a fantastic finishing oil for risotto. I'm going to try it, so I'll let you know!

Basil.  This one is a real mystery to me. I want to know how this oil retains the incredibly fresh basil flavor and fragrance. It's amazing and really, probably one of the most incredible things I've ever tasted. That aroma, I just can't stress it enough- smells like I'm sitting here rubbing fresh basil leaves between my fingers. Every nuance of fresh basil is present and the sweet olive oil base carries the herbaceousness so well. This one is my favorite hands down. 

Wild sage. This is Thanksgiving. Sage is the herb I use in stuffing every time I make it and this oil....... takes me right back to the Thanksgiving dinner table. Sage can be a very overpowering herb when used fresh. I've ruined recipes with even the slightest bit too much fresh sage. T
his oil has the perfect balance of flavor infused throughout. The sage flavor enhances not overwhelms. Dipping my sampling bread into this oil transformed it into my mom's homemade turkey dressing.

Jalapeno. You might expect searing heat. Not so. Instead, what this oil delivers is the ultimate in fresh pepper flavor with a bit of heat. I just couldn't get over how much this oil tasted like freshly sliced jalapenos. This oil is perfect for marinades- like steak, chicken or shrimp for fajitas. Toss some potato wedges with chili spices and drizzle with a little of this oil and roast for a spicy side dish for Tex Mex meals. Drizzle over guacamole or hummus too. Delicious!

Rosemary. Rosemary is one of my very favorite aromatics. When I popped the cork on this oil I instantly fell in love. Everything I love about rosemary- the perfumey fragrance, the woodsy notes, the scent of autumn and autumn foods- came out of the bottle to greet me. It's lovely. I'm going to be using this one alllll the time for searing beef chunks, roasts and steaks. Rosemary is such a big flavor component in beef stew and this oil brings it big time.

As you can tell, the variety of flavors in these oils is so vast you can use them in so many different dishes, and different cuisines. Of course, you dip bread like we did today, but I've been cooking with these oils as well and you need to do so as well. They make great oils for sauteing and outstanding bases for vinaigrettes and dressings. Accent the oils with their fresh counterpart for a flavor double whammy.

Disclosure of Material Connection: This is a "sponsored post." As a Brand Ambassador, the company who sponsored it compensated me via a cash payment, gift or something of value. Regardless,  I only recommend products or services I believe are of good quality and safe. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission's 16 CFR, Part 255: "Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising."

Wednesday, March 8, 2017

Do WHAT to the bird??

Cornish game hens are on the agenda for this weekend, and so is a unique way to prepare a bird for cooking- spatchcocking. Spatch huh? You heard me, spatchcocking. While this is not a new way to prepare poultry for roasting, it's gaining in popularity thanks to cooking television and food bloggers and a greatly increased interest in preparing delicious food at home. The easy definition of spatchcocking is removing the backbone, and sometimes the sternum, and laying the bird out flat, similar to butterflying. So similar the terms are sometimes interchanged. The result is more even cooking and a greatly reduced cooking time. 

Cornish game hens have been one of my favorite birds pretty much my whole life. My dad would often roast Cornish hens with some fabulous glaze recipe he found in a magazine or cookbook, or later when he got a fancy grill with an electric spit- rotisserie hens. Funny how so many of my food stories start with Dad. He really is someone who inspired my love of cooking and learning about food.

Cornish game hens been around since the mid 1950s and they really are kind of a funny thing. They aren't game birds at all, in fact they are just very young chickens, around thirty days of age, your typical broiler-fryer chicken. They aren't necessarily "hens" either- they can be either male or female birds. Different breeds of bird result in different sizes of hens, different size of the breast meat. They are perfect for a one or two person serving and make a lovely presentation when roasted, like a teeny tiny roast turkey.

Let's get this show on the road and spatchcock these little guys. First of all, I rinse the hens thoroughly under cold running water. Just a gentle stream, not a gushing waterfall. Despite the "experts" saying you might spread chicken bacteria around if you wash the bird, I've seen how some processing companies are. I'm washing my bird. Your choice if you do or don't. 

Then I dry the skin with paper towels. I'm going to be cutting into the raw bird so I want the skin dry and not slippery. Turn the bird so the back is facing up. I place the bird on a sheet pan with a rim to contain any liquid that might be inside. 

Starting at the thigh end, use a heavy duty kitchen shears to cut alongside the backbone, up one side, then turn and down the other side. Discard the backbone, unless you save scraps for stock. 

Flip the bird over on the pan and press down firmly on the middle of the breast to flatten. If you have difficulty getting your hen to flatten, you can flip it over and use the shears to cut out the sternum. I have not had to do this with small hens, only larger birds like turkeys.

That's all there is to it! Your hen is now ready to cook, and with a lot more skin exposed for crisping up and becoming beautifully browned and tasty. Before we get to that part though, we are going to brine our hens in a salt water bath flavored with a handful of herbs. The brine produces a succulent and juicy bird- you're going to want to do this to every bird from now on.

To make the brine, in a large stockpot place one gallon warm water. Add 2/3 cup kosher salt, 1/3 cup sugar, and a handful of whatever herbs strike your fancy. Bouquet garni is nice, as are fines herbes. Place the hens in the brine, covering completely, and refrigerate overnight. Before cooking, drain off and discard the brine and rinse the birds. Pat the skin dry and you're ready to cook.

Pan Roasted Cornish Hens with Chimichurri

2 Cornish game hens
olive oil
salt and pepper
1 bunch Italian parsley (about 1 cup leaves)
1 bunch cilantro (about 1 cup leaves)
2 garlic cloves
1 heaping teaspoon finely minced preserved lemon*
1/2 cup olive oil**
1/3 cup lemon juice
1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper
1/2 teaspoon cumin
1/2 teaspoon black pepper

*I am using my homemade preserved lemons. To use, I will scrape off and discard the soft flesh and thoroughly rinse the remaining peel. 

** I used Sinful Food Italian Herb olive oil for half the oil in this recipe. Get yours by clicking HERE.

Spatchcock the Cornish hens. Rub the skin with olive oil and season well on both sides with salt and pepper. 

Heat the oven to 375 degrees and heat a heavy large cast iron skillet over medium high heat. Add a tablespoon of olive oil to the skillet and place one of the hens, skin side down. 

Top with a plate and a heavy pot and cook, weighted down, until the skin is golden brown. Flip the bird and brown the other side. 

Place the bird on a rimmed baking sheet. Repeat with the second bird. Place the hens in the hot oven and roast til the internal temp measures 165 degrees. Remove from oven and tent with foil, rest for ten minutes.

While birds are cooking, combine remaining ingredients in a blender or food processor. Process until a mostly smooth sauce is formed. Pour into a bowl and set aside.

To serve, drizzle the birds with a small amount of the chimichurri. Pass additional sauce at the table.

This bird is delectable served with whole wheat couscous and roasted asparagus. You can get the asparagus going in the oven while browning the hens. The hens won't need much time to finish in the oven and the asparagus roasts pretty quickly too. Easy and delicious!

Disclosure of Material Connection: This is a "sponsored post." As a Brand Ambassador, the company who sponsored it compensated me via a cash payment, gift or something of value. Regardless,  I only recommend products or services I believe are of good quality and safe. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission's 16 CFR, Part 255: "Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising."

Sunday, March 5, 2017

Make Your Own- Preserved Lemons

If you have ever grocery shopped with me, you know it's not like the average grocery shopping experience. Oh sure, I usually go to the normal supermarket like everyone else but you won't find me picking out a Hamburger Helper variety or a box of mac and cheese. Not likely to see me perusing the frozen dinners and fish sticks. Instead, look for the unusual foods and there you will find me. Different grains. Imported olives and pickled vegetables, oils and unique vinegars. Browsing over tropical produce from far away places. Searching for new and interesting spices to cook with. Because I love all these unusual ingredients I'm always looking for ways to recreate them at home. Whether I'm trying to grow a new herb I've never tried before or pickling something unusual, I'm always looking for a new flavor and a new way to make it myself.

Pursuing my "eat the world" philosophy led me to preserved lemons and Moroccan/Middle Eastern cooking. In tagines and similar dishes preserved lemons are a vital part of the recipe and overall flavor of the dish, as well as many chickpea dishes. Many cultures use these flavorful lemons in savory and sweet recipes, so today we're going to explore making our own preserved lemons, and after the required maturing period, we will make something fabulous. Let's do this!

There is no real "recipe" for reserved lemons. All you need are fresh lemons, kosher salt, a couple bay leaves and a few peppercorns with a clean airtight jar and you're in business.

Begin by THOROUGHLY scrubbing the lemons. The interesting thing about preserved lemons is that you remove any existing pulp from the lemons and discard that. The rind is what we are preserving and using to flavor other dishes, so you want to make sure it's clean. If you live in a warm climate and have a lemon tree or a friend who does, you have access to wax-free lemons and I am so envious! So for the rest of us, scrub the lemons. I used a sponge with a touch of dish liquid and then thoroughly rinsed my lemons. You can also use a produce cleaner spray. Rinse them very well and dry the outside. 

On a wooden board cut the lemons into segments ALMOST all the way through. Spread the lemon open like a flower and sprinkle the cut surfaces with kosher salt. Place the lemon in the clean glass jar cut sides up. Continue with enough lemons to fill the jar, covering each layer with kosher salt as you go and pressing down well to release the lemon juice. Use a chopstick to make sure the pockets are filled with salt. You CAN cut the lemons into separate wedges if you prefer. If you pack the lemons in nice and tight and get as much juice released as possible you will probably use about 1/2 to 2/3 cup salt. If you need additional liquid add FRESH SQUEEZED lemon juice, NOT bottled store bought. It's a good idea to buy an extra couple lemons just for this purpose.

Tuck a couple bays leaves and a few peppercorns in the jar, if you like. Seal up the jar, date it, and allow it to mature for one month before using. Just leave it on the kitchen counter away from heat and away from sunlight. Shake the jar every day. After one month, store in the fridge for up to one year.

Now that we've got preserved lemons, what in the world do we do with them? First of all, you want to rinse the excess salt off. Rinse under cold running water and scrape out the flesh and seeds. Chop it up or cut into julienne strips and use in all kinds of delicious things. I'm a huge fan of grain salads, like farro, bulgur and barley tossed with fresh vegetables and a lemony vinaigrette- amp up the lemon flavor with julienne strips of preserved lemon for a big boost. You can make relishes and salsas and add to pesto for serving with fish or roast chicken. Many lamb dishes benefit from a little hint of lemon as well. Of course, Moroccan and Middle Eastern recipes often rely on preserved lemon for their flavor base component. I can't wait to use these is some really delicious dishes very soon!

Thursday, March 2, 2017

Easy Weeknight Gnocchi Skillet Dinner for Two

Someone recently asked me what my favorite cuisine would be. That was a tough question. I love so many different foods from so many different cultures, and I'm always trying new things and falling in love with new ethnic foods. To try and narrow it down to just one was difficult. Of course I love American foods, what's not to love about burgers and fried chicken and comfort foods? I'm part German so of course traditional German foods are part of my childhood and have a spot in my heart. French food is a part time obsession of mine, and so is Chinese/Asian food. Yes, I had considerable difficulty pinning just one down, but in the end, I went with........Italian. 

Italian cuisine is a lot more varied than many people realize. Sure, marinara sauce is a big part, but different regions of Italy feature many different foods and preparations. The Lombardy region is the "meaty" region- lots of beef and pork, along with rice and polenta. Gorgonzola and taleggio cheese hail from this region. You might find rich stuffed pastas, like squash filled ravioli and rich risotto. Calabria showcases a lot of Spanish influences in dishes. You will find seafood very prominent here and Calabrese pizza with sopressata. Campania is the pasta region, and relies heavily on vegetables in their dishes. Spaghetti alla puttanesca was created in this region, and has become a favorite around our house. Coastal Marche is another region where seafood features prominently in their dishes. Puglia brings olive oil to the world, and Tuscany uses many different types of legumes in dishes and you can find white truffle in many foods. 

With a name like Riccio, of course The Chef also loves Italian foods and given the choice, he would live on pasta. We prepare a lot of Italian dishes at home. Red sauce is pretty much a staple, and it's so versatile, why not make lots? Tossed with pasta, ladled over roasted meats and spread on dough and baked into pizzas, it's not very often that red sauce goes to waste here. Even Louie the Bulldog is a fan of pasta and pizza days. Louie gets his own serving of pasta and always gets a few bites of pizza. For myself, I prefer meaty marinara sauce dishes with beef, sausage, meatballs, or even just mushrooms, and The Chef's favorite sauce is filled with clams and seafood like shrimp or mussels. 

Sometimes we get a craving for pasta but maybe don't feel like making, or don't have time to make a pot of red sauce so we look for other ways to get our pasta fix. The Chef makes a mean creamy Gorgonzola sauce....... and it's prefect on top of a juicy filet. We also really like making our own homemade pasta. Pasta dough is a snap with a stand mixer, and a pasta machine makes rolling it perfectly thin so easy you'll want to make it again and again. 

Of course, special equipment is not required to make gnocchi- delicious little dumplings of dough. Usually made with cooked potato and flour, gnocchi can be made with all kinds of things- herbs, ricotta cheese, fruits or vegetables, to give the little dumplings a color and flavor to liven up any dish. They are super easy to make from scratch but most grocery stores also carry ready to cook gnocchi in the pasta section, vacuum packed with no refrigeration needed, and are awesome to have on hand for quick dinners. Whip up some sauce, boil some water- the gnocchi cook in about three minutes, drain, toss and voila- dinner in minutes. They are great as an entree or side. Today we are going to use the gnocchi in a super quick entree that's perfect for busy weeknights when the last thing you want to do is stand over a hot stove for a couple hours. Brown some sausage, add broccoli rabe and garlic, a handful of Parmesan, toss with cooked gnocchi- done!

For the Italian sausage, I used locally produced Graziano's traditional Italian sausage. I used mild- use as hot as you like. If you buy links, just remove the casing and crumble the sausage into the skillet. The broccoli rabe is perfect in this dish but it's not always available. If you can't find it, just buy a couple stalks of broccoli and cut into broccolini-like pieces. It will be just as delicious. 

The olive oil in my dish is Sinful Food garlic olive oil. It makes a big difference in the flavor of the dish to use a high quality infused oil. Get your Sinful Food oils by clicking HERE.

Gnocchi and Sausage Skillet

1 package store bought gnocchi, one pound
1 Italian sausage link, about 1/2 to 3/4 lb.
olive oil
small bunch broccoli rabe or broccolini, cut into bite sized pieces
4-6 cloves garlic, thinly sliced
1/3 cup butter, softened
pinch of crushed red pepper, optional
salt and pepper
1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese

Bring a large pot of salted water to full rolling boil. Add gnocchi and cook according to package directions. Drain and set aside, reserving 1/4 cup pasta water.

Remove the casing from the sausage and crumble into a large skillet with the olive oil. Cook until sausage is browned and cooked through. Add the broccoli rabe to the skillet and cook, stirring often for about three minutes until wilted. Add the garlic, and cook for another minute. 

Remove from heat and stir in the softened butter and the pasta water. Add the gnocchi, crushed red pepper and Parmesan. Toss to coat the gnocchi. Season with salt and pepper, and sprinkle additional Parmesan over if desired. Serve immediately.

This pasta dish is so comforting and delicious and comes together so quickly you will want to keep this in your rotation. Just throw some garlic bread in the oven and whip up a salad if you like. It's even good enough for guests.

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