Foodie Joust~ Pears, Fennel, and Ginger

29 11 2009

You never know what the winner from the previous month will select for us to work with…this month’s Foodie Joust has us using pears, fennel and ginger.  Hmmm.  This one made me ponder awhile. I played back and forth with which form of fennel and ginger to use…and which pears.  This is a great time of year for pears though, so it’s hard to miss no matter which way I go.  Finally I settled on my dish…

Pears Poached with Fennel and Candied Ginger

Simple syrup made with 3 cups sugar, 1 1/2 cups water
1/2 fennel bulb thinly sliced
3 one inch cubes candied ginger
2 pears, peeled and halved
Star Anise

Simmer the fennel and candied ginger until translucent and soft.  Add star anise and simmer until desired depth of flavor has been achieved.    Remove the fennel and anise from the syrup, peel the pears and poach.  Pears could be poached whole or halved.  I chose halved.  Set aside the fennel and candied ginger for garnishing the dish later.  When the pears are fully tender, remove from the heat, and chill in syrup until cold.

To serve, place pear halves or whole pear in a serving dish with a scoop of vanilla ice cream.  Garnish with chopped sugared fennel and candied ginger, then spoon cold syrup over ice cream and pears.  Makes 2 to 4 servings.

Tasting Notes~
I tasted this off and on throughout the prep, because I’m not a licorice fan.  I love fennel though…in a savory application.  But somehow, I just wasn’t seeing pears and ginger in my favorite Spring Vegetable soup.  The fennel alone wasn’t didn’t provide quite enough anise taste, and left one wondering what that flavor was…therefore, star anise was needed to define the flavor a little more.   The ginger mellowed the character of the star anise, yet didn’t get too hot because we used the candied variety.  The sweetness was lost in the simple syrup.  I toyed with the idea of tossing in a piece of a vanilla bean, but didn’t want too many flavors competing, and I’m glad I didn’t .  The vanilla in the ice cream was plenty.  Neither of us knew quite what to expect, but both of us were pleased with the outcome, and were glad we set ourselves up to have the dessert twice instead of only once.   It’s one of those things where you want a little bit of everything in the spoon as you eat to enjoy fully though.  Stop by tomorrow night…around dessert time…we’ll share!


30 Minute Pasta ~ Penne with Prosciutto & Asparagus in Cream sauce

22 11 2009

Not long ago, Angela, hostess of Spinach Tiger, was granted an interview with Marcella Hazan’s family members, Giuliano and Lael Hazan.  In the interview, Angela asked Giuliano which of his recipes he’d recommend we supplement our experiences cooking his mother’s recipes with, and he suggested we look to his newest book, Thirty Minute Pasta.  As soon as I received it, I could see why.  Giuliano has adapted many of his mother’s recipes for the career minded person, who still wants a quality, home cooked meal at the end of their day.  Using a few minor shortcuts, such as canned beans and tomatoes, and good quality packaged pasta Giuliano still puts a fabulous recipe together, complete with directions about when to start what so that the sauce and pasta come together at the same time.  No, you won’t find the time honored, time consuming sauces like Bolognese here, because there is no substitute for the real thing.  But, there’s a Ragu nonetheless.

Penne with prosciutto and asparagus in a cream sauce

The first recipe I tried was a penne pasta with prosciutto and asparagus in a creamy sauce.  Oh, my…this was so easy!  In the time it took the pasta water to come to a boil, I was able to precook the asparagus and cut it, cut the prosciutto, and get the sauce ingredients ready to go.  Before I drained the pasta, I pulled off a couple tablespoons of water, just in case I needed it to help with the sauce.  With the pasta drained and everything tossed together, we were ready to eat in just about 30 minutes.

Penne with prosciutto and asparagus, close up

Tasting Notes~
Doesn’t that look wonderful?  It was just as creamy and soothing as it looks.  I loved the sauce.  It’s perfect for penne or radiatore…something that reaches out and grabs sauce in the ridges.  Those tiny thin spears of asparagus literally cooked in mere seconds, a;most as fast as the prosciutto did!  Hubby said he wouldn’t have minded a few mushrooms in the mix as well.  I told him I’d note that for another time, because he’s right.  It would have been a nice touch.   This went together so incredibly fast, I can see myself fixing a lot of variations on this theme… Shrimp with asparagus would be just as wonderful…with maybe a bit of lemon zest in the sauce…or use broccoli instead of asparagus…or peas…or a combination of colors…red and yellow peppers with broccoli or asparagus.  I’m going to love this book.  Fresh food in thirty minutes that’s really thirty minutes that’s easy and comforting, with protein and veggies covered in one fell swoop with minimal fat.  Think about it…it’s really remarkably balanced.  There’s protein in the sauce ingredients and the prosciutto, but not much fat in the meat, only in the cheese and the olive oil…and it’s olive oil balancing the cheese.  You’ve got a carb, but no fat there, and vegetable, with no additional fat there.  I’m enchanted!

Whisk Wednesday: Sole Belle Meuniére~

19 11 2009


For my Whisk Wednesday dish this week, I selected Sole Belle Meuniére, from Le Cordon Bleu at Home.  Sole Belle Meuniére is simply a fillet of fish such as sole, in this case Swai, done is a browned butter sauce with sauteéd mushrooms.  The Meuniére denotes a browned butter…a butter allowed to just turn to a nutty brown, but not so brown as to burn.  Start with the mushrooms, as they take longest, sauté and keep warm, set aside.  The fish is cooked next, quickly and cleanly in simple butter and olive oil.  Remove to warm plate, add mushrooms while your butter sauce is gently browning.  Finally the butter is browned and the dish comes together quickly in the end.  In this plating the fish is accompanied by braised Brussels sprouts.  The serving notes suggested using a full lemon slice to replicate the head of a fish, and half slices for fins and tail.   I should have placed my fish a little higher on the plate rather than centered, and I think it’s time to buy some more colorful plates.  *Ü*

Notes about Swai…  Traditionally Swai are fish farmed in the Mekong River of Southeast Asia.  They have the potential to be sustainable aquaculture fish there, and the Monterey Bay Aquarium has this to say, “Swai is a river catfish farmed extensively in Asia. Catfish farmed in the U.S. is considered a “Best Choice,” because it’s farmed in a more ecologically responsible manner.” I find Swai to be be similar to sole or tilapia in texture and flavor.  It’s more the size and shape of sole than tilapia.  This particular swai was farmed in Australia.  I found it packaged in individual cryovac packages for $2.99 per pound.  Here’s a quick thawing tip… Lay your item, wrapped in plastic, in your clean sink.  The metal surface will draw the cold out of the frozen meat.  Turn frequently.  I’ve found I can thaw fish fillets and chicken breasts straight out of the deep freeze in about 30 minutes this way.

Tasting Notes~
This was a tasty dish at mid-week.  It’s always fun to have something unusual.  The dish is really light.  The fillets are light, the side was light.  This would take a heavy, side dish easily.  Something au gratin.  Maybe not something with heavy flavors, although the Brussels sprouts heightened the delicacy of the fish.  The basic recipe is easy, and opens up to a lot of possibilities.

Cooking Italy: Pan-broiled thin steaks with tomato and olives

15 11 2009

thin-steaks-tomatoes-olivesThis week, Cooking Italy had us preparing thin steaks, quickly pan-broiled with a nice tomato-olive sauce.  This recipe was more daunting than difficult.  Once I got past the difficulty of purchasing just a single pair of chuck steaks – my other choice was 5 pounds of thinly cut chuck steaks…  Then all I had to do was figure a way to cut the steaks into even, thin steaks.


Problem solved…one of those “Aha!” moments!  One of my wooden spoon sets has flat sides.  I set the steak between two spoons and with and extremely sharp knife, cut one steak into two pieces this way.  It worked perfectly.  I just needed to take a little time, watch my fingers, reposition occasionally, and cut slow and carefully.  Had I taken the time to chill the steak in the freezer for about 30 minutes, it would have worked faster and cleaner, but…maybe next time.  Because, this worked out well enough for there to be a next time!

Pounding the steaks flat isn’t much of a problem if you use a large heavy plastic freezer bag, spritzed with a spray of plain water to reduce the friction so the meat can slide as it stretches out.  For this recipe, you need a flat-faced pounding implement. Even the bottom of a small heavy pan will work.  We don’t want to tear the meat fibers, we just want to spread them out so they cook really fast. This is a cut of meat that you have to cook either really fast, or nice and slow.  The meat fibers will be more tender from the whacking they’re taking, so don’t worry about this being tough and inedible.  I know…I sweated it.  Remember…I send food to Dr. Tony!


Okay…the cast is assembled.  We start with the steaks.  Make sure your pan is hot and well seasoned, otherwise, add just a bit more oil as the steak goes in so it doesn’t stick.  Then your sauce…then they come together!  It’s so easy!


Tasting Notes~
I served this on a small serving of pasta to round out the plate as this was our dinner.  It turned out to be a perfect amount of food.  The sauce and steak balanced out pretty well.  We were completely amazed at the tenderness of the chuck steak. That was amazing.  Dr. Tony  gave this one a Thumbs Up as well, but suggested it would benefit from a healthy quantity of garlic and more olives!  I reminded him I was held to a recipe, and agreed heartily with him.  Dr. Tony’s family comes from a region in Italy that has a lot of influence from Greece. I wrote it down, but it’s on my desk at work. We’ll learn more about them…I’m still hanging on for Christmas Ravioli!

Back to our dish…  I prepped a full recipe, and we ate two servings, which left 2 servings. I shared half a serving with Dr. Tony, so that left us a serving and a half…which turned into a fabulous steak sandwich with peppers and onions and mozzarella cheese Friday night.  I simply sauteed onions, garlic, sweet peppers, and mushrooms in olive oil, then tossed the steaks in for a minute to reheat while the sandwich rolls were toasting.  They were prepped with mayo and Dijon mustard.  When the steaks were hot, I pulled them out and cut them into strips, and loaded the rolls.  Meat and cheese on one side, hot veggies on the other.

This was a great meal for us.  It didn’t take too long to fix, it was good for some minor aggressions, and it made options for another meal later in the week…that’s hard to beat for me!  This is definitely on my list to do again!

Cooking Italy: Pasta al’Amatriciana~

11 11 2009

Someday, a finished product photo will start this post.  For now, suffice it to say, the anticipation was too great, we couldn’t help ourselves, we were overcome with food-lust…I can’t believe…we ate it before I could take a picture.   So, when the picture comes, and it will, it will be from a subsequent cooking.  Here’s what happened…


I work outside the home as an Admin. secretary for an elementary school.  I come home pretty much spent at the end of a workday.  This recipe made me smile. A lot. There wasn’t a huge amount of prep, or long cooking this time. This is one of those sauces that comes together so fast there’s no need to buy a jar of sauce.  What have we got here…olive oil, tomatoes, red peppers (these are sweet peppers, so I added red pepper flakes to the tomatoes to rehydrate a little), onion and pancetta.  I slapped my hands 3 times to keep from adding the garlic I so wanted to! I made myself behave! LOL!


Then the sauce needs to simmer for 25 minutes.  While that’s going on, grate your fresh parmesan and romano for the sauce, and get your water boiling for the bucatini if you can find it…penne if you can’t…we used spaghettini, which isn’t necessarily recommended, but it was handy.  After smelling this wonderful sauce simmering for 25 minutes, I was ready to eat the walls.   I’m learning to set aside a couple tablespoons of the pasta water before I drain my pasta…just in case or because it’s required in the final stage.  A quick drain, add the pasta to the sauce, toss, add the cheese, toss, add a little pasta water if needed to help it toss smoothly, toss, and plate.  Add a little more cheese for the plate and you’re on…

Tasting Notes~
I finally have a way to get authentic Italian feedback on my recipe trials! One of our administrators is old family Italian, and has agreed to taste and critique for me.  When I manage to get food to him, I’ll share Dr. Tony’s feedback!  This dish brought forth this comment, “Wow!  Excellent!  Pasta was cooked perfectly, sauce was simple and simply tasty w/o being too rich.” I’ll take it! LOL!  Our only problem with this recipe was that we wanted more sauce with the pasta than the recipe recommends.   Is that the American tendency to excess, or a desire for more of a good thing?  We both enjoyed the dish a lot more with an extra spoonful or two of the sauce.  Another consideration maybe that these are “primi” sized servings rather than “secondi” servings.  We loved this, and as soon as I can get my hands on another nice piece of pancetta, we’ll be eating it again!

Whisk Wednesday~Braised Lamb Shanks

11 11 2009

braised-lamb-shank_basmatiSince we’re on a much more relaxed path in Whisk Wednesdays, which suits those of us still following along, this week I chose to braise Lamb Shanks.  Sadly, I couldn’t find a reference to a recipe in LCB@H,  I chose a general braising recipe for veal shanks, and went with that.

The biggest problem I have with lamb shanks is that sometimes they’re cut so long that they won’t fit in most of my braising pans.  Braising is best done in a heavy cast iron casserole, or brazier with a heavy lid, so that the liquid stays inside with the meat.  Dutch ovens are also great.  This is my 7 qt. cherished Le Creuset cast iron cooker which is really too much for 2 shanks, but it’s the only cooker long enough to hold the shanks.

lamb-brownI started by giving them a good all-over browning over medium heat, developing the fond that would later become the base for the great sauce in the end.  While the shanks were browning, all the other aromatics and seasoning elements were being put together…chopped onion, celery, carrot, tomato, and since this is lamb, garlic.  Add a bay leaf, a grating of fresh black pepper, 2 cups of beef stock and top it off with a sprig of rosemary, and we’re good to go into the oven at 350ºF for 2 to 3 hours.


When I took this from the oven, there was very little liquid left in the pan.  First, I removed the shanks to a platter and covered them to keep them warm while I finished the sauce.  The basmati rice was already finished and waiting in the rice cooker.  I also removed the bay leaf and the rosemary sprig.  I added water to the pan and made my gravy thickening it with a slurry of cornstarch and water.

Tasting notes~
We love lamb to start with…and we almost always enjoy braised lamb shanks.  This was no exception. The lamb had been frozen for awhile, but there wasn’t the slightest hint.  It came out moist and full of flavor.  The vegetables melted into an intensely flavorful sauce that accented the lamb perfectly.  The basmati rice was the only disappointment.  It was a great choice with the lamb, but I didn’t care for the texture.  I would have been happier with a heavier, more densely textured rice for this dish.  You live, you learn!  Other than that, I’d prepare lamb this way again without hesitation!  However…I am looking for a Mexican lamb recipe…I’ve eaten the dish at a particular recipe chain…they call it Borrego…but that’s just the Mexican word for lamb, so I don’t know.  If you know of a recipe, please let me know!