Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Let It Snow Primavera Alfredo with Grilled Smoked Sausage

Do you have a passion for primavera? Does parmesan cheese make your heart go pitter patter? Do you feel the pull of perfectly prepared pasta, veggies, and sausage? If you’ve answered yes to any of those questions, please read on. Today’s post could quite possibly be positively the most palate pleasing primavera known to man. Yes, it’s that good. And my version is gluten free, too!

The thing that’s so positively priceless about this recipe is that I stumbled upon it without much forethought. In the days prior to and just after Christmas, my neck of the woods in Oregon got pummeled by Mother Nature and Jack Frost. When the skies finally cleared, my yard had 14 inches of snow topped with an inch thick ice crust. This was the most snow I’ve seen since moving here, and the most snow the area has seen since the last freak snow storm 30 years ago. My town is not accustomed to nor prepared to handle snow, so ... it shut down. No stores were open. No schools were open. No restaurants were open. Even churches cancelled Christmas services. To be honest, I loved it. The snow was beautiful, and being homebound enabled us to enjoy the Christmas season without rushing around everywhere. We played board games and cards, sang songs at the piano, toasted our tootsies at the fire place, and just enjoyed each other. I didn’t miss all the rush and running that I usually succumb to this time of year.

There would be no running to the store for ingredients, so by the time snowbound day number eight rolled around, I was getting creative with our food stock. Hmmm ... do you ever do that? Open the fridge and cupboard and piece together a meal? Picture me opening bins and cabinets ... Broccoli – check. Red pepper – check. Smoked sausage – check. Cream, parmesan cheese, and pine nuts – check, check, check. Pasta (gluten free for us) – check. Twenty minutes later came the best meal ever! And it was gluten free, all the way baby!

Here’s what you need:

1 package pasta – I used gluten free spirals, but you can use whatever you like
1 head broccoli – cut into bite sized florets, steamed
1 Tablespoon olive oil
1 red pepper – sliced in medium sized strips
Smoked sausage – sliced thin on the bias (for those following gluten free diets, but sure to read the labels to make sure you get one made without wheat. Who wants wheat in their sausage anyway?)
3 T pine nuts – toasted
4 T butter
1 Cup cream
1 clove garlic – minced
1 ½ Cups fresh grated parmesan cheese
Green onions – for garnish

Prepare pasta according to package directions. Steam the broccoli, by which ever method you prefer, until it is just tender. (I steam my broccoli right over the pasta water by putting it in a colander that fits right on top of the pot. You could even dump it into the pasta water for the last couple minutes of boiling if you waned to.) In a large sauté pan, over low heat, toast the pine nuts until they just start to turn golden. Remove from the pan, turn the heat to med/high, add the olive oil and fry “grill” the sausage until nicely browned. Add the peppers and quickly sauté until crisp tender. Remove the pan from the burner, but keep sausage and pepper in pan to stay warm.

In a sauce pan, melt the butter. Add the garlic, and let it very lightly sauté for a minute or two to get rid of the raw garlic taste. Add the cream, and heat just until boiling. Remove from the heat, and whisk in the parmesan cheese. Drain the pasta, and immediately add it and the broccoli to the large sauté pan. Pour the sauce over everything and toss gently. Add the pine nuts and gently toss again. Season with black pepper if you want it. There is no need for salt as the parma cheese is salty as is the sausage. Plate the servings and garnish with green onions.Ta-da! Doesn’t it look pretty on the plate! The flavors were terrific. The smoked sausage was a surprising perfect compliment to the pasta and veggies. The pine nuts added wonderful flavor and texture to each bite.Just look at that sausage and broccoli! Hello beautiful. Take a bite. Make yummy noises. Sing let it snow, let it snow, let it snow! Let the weather outside be frightful; this pasta is delightful! (Okay, OKAY – I’ll stop. Sheesh!)

Oh, sorry, one more thing ... As I mentioned, we consume gluten free pasta because my littlest snow bunny can’t eat wheat. For those of you who may be interested in alternatives to wheat pasta, I encourage you to try rice pasta.Here’s the brand that my kids like best. It comes in various shapes and cooks just like regular pasta.
See? It really does cook just like regular pasta. The texture is great, and it performs wonderfully. I never cook it as long as the package says (which I didn’t do with regular pasta either). YUM. The taste is like mild pasta ... they do not taste like rice. Rice pastas can be found in the “natural” section at the grocery store, as well as specialty stores like Whole Foods and Trader Joes. They are more expensive compared to regular pasta, but are a welcome alternative for gluten free eaters.

NOTE: For a LOVELY baked version similar to this, check out Maria’s recipe titled Broccoli Pasta at Organically Cooked. Have you visited her blog yet? Maria is awesome! She lives in Hania, Crete, Greece, and her blog is a wonderful journey through both the culinary wonders of Greek food as well as a history and travel blog for her lovely country. I'm hooked on her stories, and have learned tons about food, food production, and beautiful Greece.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Happy Holidays 2008!

From our house to yours, we wish you the most joyous holiday season!

Merry Christmas! Feliz Navidad! Buon Natale! Joyeux Noel! Kala Christougenna! Frohe Weihnachten! Happy Christmas! Peace on Earth!

Rice Krispie house constructed by my three elves!

Monday, December 22, 2008

I Like Turtles -- Turtle Candy That Is!

Are you guys familiar with the young boy who, on live TV, uttered those three words, “I like turtles”? Last year, the youngster in question had just gotten his face painted like a zombie for Halloween when a TV reporter asked him during a live news segment what he thought of his face painting (or something like that). The young boy, having never been interviewed by a TV crew before, stoically blurted his now cult like famous words ... “I like turtles.” It was priceless. Have you seen it? The news reporter kind of stumbled for a moment before regaining her composure and the segment came to an end. This took place here in Portland, and I remember watching it live when it happened. It is now a You Tube phenomenon. Just do a quick Google search with the words I like turtles and you, too, can join the millions who have given this boy his 15 seconds of fame!

Today’s recipe deserves its own cult following. Do you like turtle candies? These little gems are a trio of pecans, caramel, and chocolate. When I was growing up, my mom always made sure that my dad received a box of turtle candies for Christmas. It was a special thing, and to this day, I always remember how happy the whole family was when my dad unwrapped his candy box. I’m big for rituals like that. Little things that families do for each other year and year that brings a smile to everybody’s faces. We had lots of them. Just little things, but they meant a lot. What rituals do you have?

So, as I’ve been snow bound for a week and the Christmas holiday is well, right around the corner, I’m scratching my head wondering what I can give my dad for Christmas. He’s always been really hard to buy for. He’s the type that when asked what he’d like, he always says ... “A smile on my girls’ faces is all I want.” He means it, too. He’s not a materialistic guy at all, and would much rather receive a homemade card than a store bought one. Anyway, with that in mind and with the stores being closed anyway due to the weather, it was time to get creative. The turtle ritual came to mind, and so I thought ... why not make them?

A quick internet search provided about 3 million recipes to choose from, and they were pretty much all the same. This is super-d-duper easy and the results, well, let’s just say that I have to guard the ones I made because my family is trying to eat the gift!!! This is by far the easiest thing ever to make. All you need is:

Wrapped caramel candies (I used Kraft)
Chocolate chips (I used a mixture of semi sweet and milk chocolate)
Pecan halves
Parchment Paper

Preheat your oven to 300 and line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Unwrap the caramels.Arrange 3 pecan halves into a star shape cluster, and place a caramel on top of the center of each cluster. Put into the oven for about 5 minutes or until the caramel have softened and mostly cover the pecans.
The tips of the nuts should stick out. Remove from the oven, and use the back of a spoon to help spread the caramel if needed. Allow to cool completely.This is the underside of the candies. See how the caramel “glues” the nuts together? Melt chocolate chips in the microwave or over a double boiler.Spoon the melted chocolate over the cooled caramel. Don't worry about making them neat and tidy. The swirls and patterns of each individual candy are prettier than a uniform look. Allow the chocolate to fully set, store in the fridge, and fight off family members trying to steal the candies.Just look at these babies (ignore the nails that still desperately need a manicure)! Oh, and these turtle goodies are gluten free all the way, baby!
In addition to making a great gift, they also would be a welcome addition to a holiday buffet, and, of course, Santa would love these in lieu of cookies.

Speaking of Santa, he’ll need chains on his sleigh to deal with the ice in my yard. We have just about a foot of snow that is covered with a thick layer of ice.Here is a picture of my snowmen holding up the top layer of ice from our yard. Yep, they are outside at night. Snow is a big deal here and this is the most snow we have EVER had. It’s so bright outside at night that the kids wanted to go play by the snow glow! Did you ever do that when you were a kid? Oh, and happy winter solstice everyone!

Thursday, December 18, 2008

The Perfect Bite - Stir Fry Veggies with Pork

Here’s a question for you. Does your body ever, um, you know, talk to you? By that I mean does your body ever send you signals of what it needs? Now I know some folks crave chocolate and justify snarfing down the dark goddess by saying they are getting the anti oxidants it provides. But seriously, my blogging friends, have you ever just craved, let’s say, a glass of milk ... nothing else will do? Then, while you were chugging down that white beverage, you realized that you’ve been neglecting dairy and so perhaps your body was letting you know what it needed? Or perhaps you really desire a banana or apple or orange, and as the first bite passes your lips, you realize just how long it’s been since you devoured your last one?

All day long today, I’ve been craving veggies. I miss my summer garden, both the convenience and goodness it provided. Now that the weather has turned blustery, we’ve been eating more “cold weather” meals for dinner. Heavier and heartier than our summer dining fare, these winter meals have all been very tasty, yet the thought of eating another large dose of meat tonight just didn’t sit well with me. Then I found my oldest daughter, who is a big veggie girl anyway, snacking on a bag of cut up lettuce. "Okay," I say to myself, "I hear you ... you want veggies! Your daughter wants veggies! I'm not one to mess with fate. Let’s lighten the load and have a full flavored veggie meal."

Then I said to myself, “Self, what about your carnivorous husband and son? What can you do, short of waving the proverbial magic wand, to make veggies the star of the show, but include some meat to satisfy the men-folk?”

Answer: Stir fry. Two words that make me smile and my taste buds dance just thinking about them. Do you ever prepare stir fry’s? What do you think of them? I think they are just super-de-duper. In less than 30 minutes, you can have a really tasty, tummy pleasing meal. Any veggies will do; I used what I had handy. I wish I had some nappa cabbage to add, too, as I love cabbage in stir fry's. Other folks might like sliced mushrooms, bean sprouts, pea pods, etc. I served this tantalizing combo over rice because of my gluten free eater, but you can pair stir fry’s with noodles, if you like. Start cooking your rice or noodles before you begin your prep work, and in no time at all, you’ll be crunching and munching on your dinner.

Another bonus with stir fry’s is that I’m able to enjoy what I like to call “the perfect bite”. (Did you ever see the movie “The Mirror Has Two Faces”, where Barbara Streisand likes to load her fork with different foods in her quest for the perfect bite?) You’ve seen me posting loaded fork photos ... my quest for the perfect blend of flavors all in one bite. Here we go –

Stir Fry Veggies with Pork

1 Tablespoon oil – I used canola
1 head of fresh broccoli – sliced into bite sized pieces
2 large carrots – bias sliced, thin
1 onion – sliced into medium wedges
1 green pepper - sliced into med/thin long strips
1 garlic clove – sliced in half, and then into thin shaved slices
Sea Salt
½ teaspoon Ground ginger
3 pork chops – sliced into thin strips and tossed with salt, pepper, and a little oil
Soy Sauce – I used gluten free shoyu sauce
1 green onion – sliced thin for garnish
Hot chili sesame oil – few shakes for garnish
Hot cooked rice – I used a loooong grain basmati

In a large bowl, place about a ½ cup of water and add the broccoli. Put uncovered into microwave, and zap on high for about 3 minutes. Leave in the microwave to semi steam while you keep prepping the other veggies. In a large sauté pan or wok, heat the oil and add the onion. Stir fry for 30 seconds. Add the carrots and green pepper and stir fry for an additional 30 seconds. Season with salt and pepper. Add the garlic and keep stirring. Add the ground ginger (I didn’t have fresh) and stir it in. Very quickly, drain the broccoli and add to the pan. Keep stir frying for about 2 more minutes, and then remove veggies and place in a bowl near the stove. Your pan should be really hot. Now add the pork. It should really sizzle up. Stir it constantly until the pork is done. This happens relatively quickly ... just 2 or 3 minutes. Doesn’t it look pretty? Sprinkle the meat with about 3 or 4 shakes of soy sauce, stir it in, and then return all the veggies back to the pan. Toss together and remove from the heat.They look so pretty all mixed together. We’re almost done ... but go ahead and sneak a little nibble. I won’t tell. Plate with rice, and sprinkle with green onion and chili sesame oil. The chili sesame oil really added a ton of flavor and just a wee bit of heat. Use just regular sesame oil if you aren’t a fan of the chili version.
Now it’s time to compose the perfect bite. Lots of crunchy but not raw veggies, awesome rice (look at those long grains!) to provide a different texture component, and a strip of meat to satisfy the carnivores.Just a quick taste and ..... YUM! Flavor explosion!

My kids ate all of theirs ... although my son left most of his rice on his plate (I served his and his twin sisters meals with the rice and stir fry separate). My carnivorous hubbyman ate seconds and I think he snuck in thirds when I was distracted.Hello you beautiful broccoli. You, too, Mr. Carrot.

Simple foods. Quickly prepared. Lots of flavor. Oh yeah, the perfect bite. Added bonus ... gluten free all the way, baby!
Stay tuned ... up coming post to include our version of a gingerbread house ... only this house is made from rice krispy treats! Gluten free, baby!

Monday, December 15, 2008

Ooh La La - Pierre Franey's Chicken and Rice

Let’s have a show of hands. Who here likes chicken and rice? Ah, oui, oui, more than a couple of you, I see. Do you have a favorite way to prepare it? I’ve enjoyed preparing and feasting on a variety of chicken and rice recipes over the years ... recipes from all over the globe such as Italian baked chicken ala risotto, Caribbean Spiced Chicken and Rice with peas, and Arroz Con Pollo to name a few. Today, with the wind gusts threatening to hurl me off the map as well as keeping me homebound due to the icy roads, I wanted to create something that would ward off the chill and blow my taste-buds away.

Enter my new cookbook titled 60-Minute Gourmet by the amazing Frenchman, Pierre Franey. Most of you know that I am a cookbook, um, fanatic. I have a *thing* for cookbooks. I check them out from the library, stand in the bookstore isles pouring through them, and don’t even get me started on Amazon. I covet turning each page from cover to cover much like normal people are glued to a great novel. Whenever the question, “What have you read lately” pops up, my answer almost always includes a homeschool book and a cookbook title. My friends know this about me, and love me anyway. One such dear friend, Marjie, at Modern Day Ozzie and Harriet, thoughtfully surprised me with a gift of two wonderful cookbooks to drool over! (You know Marjie -- Mother of nine, cooking and baking whiz, and first class ice cream maker!) One book is on soups, which I love, and I’ll write more on that later, and the other book, 60-Minute Gourmet, provided today’s recipe titled “Casserole de Poulet au Riz”. It’s fun to say, especially if you roll your r’s, casserrrrrole de poulet au rrrrriz, and it’s even better to eat.

Now, my fellow bloggers, don’t for one second be put off by the word casserole. What do you think of when you hear the word casserole? Are you picturing a large, Pyrex baking dish? I, um, actually like casseroles; my family, sigh, not so much. Casseroles, that is. THEY don’t so much like casseroles.ANYWAY, this lovely French recipe is prepared on top of the stove, and is soooo incredibly easy to make. I did modify the ingredients based on my cupboard contents as well as the preferences of my picky palate people. What was fun about this was that not only was it a success, but I learned new cooking techniques today, and that’s always fun. So, mon ami’s, here is the recipe shown with my modifications. Let me know what you think, s’il vous plait!

Chicken and Rice

1 whole chicken breast, split in half, about 2 lbs. total weight for the 4 pieces (I used 7 thighs)
Salt and pepper to taste
2 tablespoons butter
½ cup finely chopped onion
1 teaspoon chopped garlic (I used 1 ½ teaspoons)
1/3 fresh mushrooms, sliced or quartered (I left out as my offspring will not touch mushrooms. I’ve heard enough “fungus among us” jibes to last a life time.)
1 bay leaf
½ cup dry white wine (I used 6 oz – hic!)
½ cup raw rice (I used ¾ cup)
1 cup chicken broth (I used one 15 ½ oz can – I also made chicken broth today, but it was simmering away at the same time as I was making this!)

1. Do not skin or bone the chicken. Sprinkle the pieces with salt and pepper.
2. Heat the butter in a large skillet, swirl to coat the bottom, and add the chicken pieces, skin side down. Brown about 5 minutes and turn.Look at that beautiful color!
3. Scatter the onion and garlic between the chicken pieces and add the mushrooms and bay leaf. Cook about 5 minutes.
4. Add the wine and cook until it is almost all evaporated. Add the rice and broth, taking care that the rice does not rest on top of the chicken pieces. Cover closely and cook about 20 minutes or until rice is tender. Voila! Here it is! It looked so tantalizing on the plate. I had a couple surprises here. First, the rice picks up all of the fond in the bottom of the skillet, and takes on this beautiful, dark golden hue. Next, I was worried that there wasn’t enough rice. If your family is comprised of big rice eaters, you will need to make more. Also, the rice is very buttery with a risotto like texture, and it was fun to “mold” it before plating. Can you see the rice? It’s the same color as the chicken. All three of my kids LOVED the chicken. Don't those green onions look like headlights? Ha!They, uh, my children, that is, not the headlights, were split on the rice. You won't hear me complain, though, because the fact that they ate chicken on-the-bone AND simultaneously made yummy noises while doing it was enough to satisfy me! Let’s have a bite, shall we? Mmm, ooh la la, Casserole de poulet au Riz - ah oui... tu es tre magnific! Every recipe I’ve made out of this book has been a hit! Merci, Marjie, for thinking of me and for this great book! How do you like my saucy French? Not too bad for an English speaking Italian girl, eh? Oh, and of course, it's gluten free all the way, bebe!

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Beggin' For Mercy - African Sweet Potato and Peanut Soup

After 19 long days of fighting off sinus infections, croup, laryngitis, and bronchitis in my infirmary of a household, I’m ready to crawl out of the germ laden abyss and rejoin the land of the living. Lordy, I haven’t been that sick in a couple decades. I’m just now getting my voice back, so depending on your point of view, I either sound froggy or like an alluring, soulful jazz singer. I’m goin’ for the latter one.

After endless days of ingesting healing chicken broth and rice soup, my taste buds were begging for mercy. Time to test my new recipe for African Sweet Potato and Peanut Soup! It’s gluten free and vegetarian, too. Join me now, won’t you, for a new taste sensation that will have you begging for mercy – in a good way!

African Sweet Potato and Peanut Soup

1 tablespoon canola oil
1 onion – chopped
2 cloves garlic – minced
1 teaspoon minced ginger
1 large carrot – small diced
1 large sweet potato – small diced
¼ cup roasted red pepper – diced (optional)
1 can diced tomatoes – juice and all
2 14 oz cans veggie broth
¼ cup V-8 juice
1 teaspoon cumin
1 teaspoons coriander
3/4 teaspoon cinnamon
¼ cup toasted peanuts, chopped
2 Tablespoons peanut butter

Garnishes: Chopped peanuts, cilantro, green onion, chopped pepper.

In a dutch oven, over med high heat,saute onion in the oil until it starts to brown, not quite 10 minutes. Add garlic and ginger, and stir for not quite one minute.Stir in carrot and sweet potato. Let sauté for a couple minutes, then add the roasted peppers and tomatoes. All at once, add the broth, juice, cumin, coriander, and cinnamon. Bring to a boil, cover, and simmer for 30 minutes. In a small sauté pan, quickly toast the peanuts over medium heat. Let cool and then chop.I usually put them in a zippered bag and give several good whacks with my meat mallet. Add to the soup, and either puree the soup with an immersion blender or ladle it carefully into a blender or food processor.I used my immersion blender. Leave some texture to the mixture.
Stir in the peanut butter, which will melt into the soup rather quickly. Just look at that amazing color!
>Now for a quick little taste. Mmmmmm!
Ladle into soup bowls and garnish as you desire. Serve. Feast with your eyes. Taste. Make yummy noises. Sing “Beggin You For Mercy” like Duffy. Yeah, yeah, yeah.