Pastina Soup

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

For a long time, I was a staunch believer that a soup is not a meal.

But as a lot of my food obsessions go, out of no where I was craving soup one day. So I had some. And then I had some more. The bf didn’t complain when we had lots of soup for dinner, even during sweltering summer, since he had been a soup-lover in a food desert since our relationship started.

So I have made broccoli and cheese, french onion, gumbo, and more. This pastina soup is a soup my bf has talked about in great awe as a food from his family. I was lucky enough to get to travel up and try the soup, and I was hooked in its simplicity. It is an Italian style chicken noodle soup. Made from scratch, it is a perfect dinner as a chill starts to come in the air.

PASTINA SOUP

INGREDIENTS

For the Chicken Stock:
Water
1 whole chicken*
2 carrots, chopped
2 celery stalks, chopped
1/2 onion, chopped

For the Pastina Soup:
1/2 onion
1 carrot
2 celery stalks
1 tablespoon olive oil
Salt and pepper
1 cup pastina or other small pasta
Chicken from stock, chopped
Parmesan cheese, grated

DIRECTIONS

For the Chicken Stock:

Place chicken in a large pot and cover with water. Put on low heat (the water should bubble occasionally and produce steam only). Cook for at least 2 hours, up to 6 hours. Add carrots, celery, and onion and cook for another 2 hours. Strain stock into large bowl.

For the Pastina Soup:

Grate onion, carrot, and celery. Heat olive oil in large pot over medium-high heat. Add onion, carrot, and celery stalks. Season with salt and pepper and cook for 2-4 minutes. Stir in stock and bring to a boil. Stir in pastina and cook for 4-6 minutes, until pasta is al dente. Add chicken and season with salt and pepper (will need a significant amount since stock is unseasoned, make sure to taste). Cook until chicken is warmed through. Serve and top with grated parmesan cheese.

From Cinnamon Freud

*You can use any combo of chicken or reserved chicken bones for the stock. I have done this with a whole chicken, with wing tips mixed with old bones, and more. Just make sure to have chicken to put in the soup! Same thing with the veggies, you can use scraps of veggies that you have saved too and can add in other veggies and herbs.

Spicy Mushroom Tomato Sauce over Pasta: Secret Recipe Club

7-9 Spicy Mushroom Tomato Sauce over Pasta

Once upon a time, there was a little girl who was afraid of spicy food. She had a very traumatic experience once when she ate a pepper on her pizza by mistake. And she was always very cautious around Indian food. Eventually that little girl grew up, still afraid of spicy food. But one day she ate some buffalo wings. And some Pad Thai. And then she realized that spicy food wasn’t so bad after all. And then the little girl and spicy food lived happily ever after.

Lately I have had an insatiable obsession with spicy food. Given that I used to be a mild-only girl, this is a big change for me. I now cannot get enough of spice. Yesterday I actually suggested Indian food for lunch under my own free will. So when I was assigned Rhonda’s blog The Kitchen Witch for this month’s Secret Recipe Club, I knew I wanted to find something spicy.

When I saw this pasta with spicy tomato sauce, I was sold. This recipe uses crushed red pepper, which used to be my arch-nemesis, but works great in this tomato sauce. I added a pinch of sugar to my sauce to balance out the spiciness, and I added sliced hot Italian sausage instead of making meatballs because I was tired and getting hangry. This is a great spicy, quick, easy, delicious dinner!

Because this was so easy and delicious (and it was way past my dinner time), I only got to snap a photo with my phone which turned out less than desirable.  But I guarantee a happy stomach.

Make sure to check out Rhonda’s blog and what everyone else made this month!

SPICY MUSHROOM TOMATO SAUCE OVER PASTA
Slightly Adapted from The Kitchen Witch

INGREDIENTS

1-2 tablespoons olive oil
1/2 onion, chopped
3 cloves garlic, minced
28 ounces crushed tomatoes
6 ounces mushrooms, sliced
Pinch of sugar
Dried basil, to taste
Salt and pepper, to taste
1/4-1 teaspoon crushed red pepper
8 ounces dried pasta
Hot Italian sausage, cooked, optional

DIRECTIONS

Heat a large pot over medium heat. Add oil and let heat for 1 minute. Stir in onion and cook until tender and slightly browned, about 5-9 minutes. Stir in garlic and cook until fragrant, 1-2 minutes.  Pour into tomatoes and their juice.  Bring  to a boil and reduce heat to simmer.  Let cook and thicken for approximately 15-20 minutes.

Stir in mushrooms, sugar, basil, and crushed red pepper.  Season to taste with salt and pepper.  Let cook for an additional 5-10 minutes.  Prepare pasta according to package instructions.  Top pasta with tomato sauce and sausage, if desired.

Serves 3-4.

Pork Potstickers

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Well I have been on a bit of an Asian kick for these past few posts with Baked Crab Rangoon and Congee (perfectly and unintentionaly right on time for Chinese New Year this Friday!).  And today we are going to talk about potstickers.

All these Asian dishes are amazing and easy to make.  And that is exactly what I need right now.  My schedule this semester starts about 2 hours earlier most days, and I am just getting too tired during the day.  I’m straddling that awkward time period of a college student who wants to sleep until noon and an adult who gets up early.  I want to stay up late at night to facebook stalk and mindlessly look at tumblr but I also feel like I am wasting my day when I sleep in too much on the weekends.  Exhausting.

But when I come home weary and tired (sometimes sitting in a chair all day is just exhausting), these potstickers are a great way to give my spirits a small boost.  When I eat potstickers, I taste home.  Mom used to make potstickers for dinner often (it was something all of us actually liked).  She would slave away at the stove and make batches after batches of potstickers, which my dad, sister, and I would promptly devour.  Eventually our bellies would fill, and mom would wrap up her batches and finally get to eat herself.  Sorry, mom, we were just too hungry and loved potstickers too much.

These potstickers are really a quick dinner- the main work is just in the prep of sealing the dumplings.  My sister who is a newbie at cooking and dislikes a lot of work can easily make potstickers and will be probably making them a lot when she moves into her first apartment.   These potstickers are also a great meal to freeze ahead.  If you completely make the potstickers and then freeze them, just let them thaw in your fridge and reheat.  Boom.  Instant delicious meal with little work.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

PORK POTSTICKERS
From my Mom

INGREDIENTS

30-40 wonton wrappers
1 pound ground pork
1 1/2 tablespoons soy sauce
2 teaspoons sesame oil
1 bunch green onions, chopped
Cooking spray, for coating pan*
Water, for steaming

DIRECTIONS

In a large bowl, mix together ground prok, soy sauce, sesame oil, and green onions.

Lay out wonton wrappers in a single layer. Place about 1 heaping teaspoon of the pork filling in the center of each wonton wrapper. Dipping your finger in water, trace the outline around the edges of the wonton wrappers. Seal shut. Repeat with all wontons.

Heat a large pan over medium high heat. Coat pan with oil. Place wonton wrappers in batches in a single layer on the pan. Brown on both sides, about 1-2 minutes per side. Fill pan with enough water that the wonton’s are almost halfway covered. Cover with lid. Let cook until water cooks off, about 5-7 minutes. Use a spatula to unstick the potstickers from the pan (they are sticking to the pot– get it?!)  Repeat with remaining wontons.

Makes about 40 potstickers, serves 3-4.

*I find that cooking spray or using a misto is easier to coat the pan rather than just using straight oil

Vegetable Lasagna

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Well, my friends, we made it to 2014.  Last month was full of a lot of holiday cheer, gift giving, butter, and sugar.  But we made it to the other side.  So now it’s time for lots of gym memberships, work outs, and healthy living.  I definitely indulged a lot this holiday season, but everything in moderation right?  I balanced out my bowl of frosting with an apple, so it all evens out.

While New Year’s isn’t particularly my favorite holiday (I spent New Year’s Eve night contently at home after picking up subs, watched my dad light a few bottle rockets at midnight, and went to be shortly after), I do like the idea of a fresh start.  I don’t make formal new year’s resolutions, but here are some of my goals for this year:

1. Read 60 books for pleasure

2. Present my second year project and get my masters

3. Be more flexible

While my eating is pretty much good most of the time, I do sometimes make the choice to indulge.  And now I am happy to make the choice to bring back some more veggies.  This vegetable lasagna hit the spot- a little decadence of pasta and cheese mixed with some delicious veggies.  Perfect for a meatless meal and a good way to start this new year off.

VEGETABLE LASAGNA
Adapted from Cook’s Illustrated

INGREDIENTS

For the Tomato Sauce:
28 ounces tomato sauce
2 teaspoons granulated sugar
1 tablespoon dried oregano
1 tablespoon dried basil
1 tablespoon dried parsley
1 bay leaf

For the Cream Sauce:
2 cups cottage cheese
3/4 cup half and half
3 ounces grated Parmesan
1 teaspoon cornstarch
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon pepper

For the Lasagna:
Salt and pepper
3 globe eggplants, cut into 1/2 inch pieces
Olive oil, for sauteing
3 summer squashes, cut into 1/2 inch pieces
6 portobello mushrooms, cut into 1/2 inch pieces
5 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 cup kalamata olives, chopped
1/2 cup grated mozzarella
12 lasagna noodles

DIRECTIONS

For the Tomato Sauce:

Combine tomato sauce, sugar, oregano, parsley, basil, and bay leaf in a saucepan over medium high heat. Bring to a boil and reduce to a simmer. Simmer until thickened, about 20-30 minutes. Cool slightly.

For the Cream Sauce:

In a bowl combine cream cheese, half and half, Parmesan, cornstarch, salt, and pepper. Set aside.

For the Lasagna:

Preheat oven to 375°F. Grease a 9×13 baking dish.

Toss eggplant with 1 teaspoon of salt. Line a plate with paper towel. Place eggplant on top. Microwave for 10 minutes, until soft and shriveled, rotating halfway through. In a large bowl mix eggplant, summer squash, and mushrooms together.

Heat a large skillet over medium high heat. Add about 1 tablespoon of olive oil, about half of the garlic, and half of the vegetable mixture. Cook until vegetables are browned, about 6-8 minutes. Transfer to bowl and repeat with the remaining vegetable mixture. Set aside. Mix olives in with vegetable mixture.

Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Cook lasagna noodles 2 minutes less than al dente. Drain and set aside.

Spread a thin layer of tomato sauce on the bottom of the prepared 9×13 pan. Place 4 noodles in an even layer on top. Spread half of the vegetable mixture on top. Then spread half of the cream sauce on top. Repeat the process (4 noodles, 1 cup tomato sauce, remaining vegetables, remaining cream sauce). Complete the final layer by placing 4 lasagna noodles on top, the remaining tomato sauce, and the mozzarella cheese. Bake until warm and bubbly, about 35 minutes. Cool on wire wrack for 20-30 minutes. Cut and serve

Serves 4-9.

Giardinara Pasta: Improv Challenge

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Today let’s talk about cheese.  What is there to say about cheese besides the fact that it is great?

When I was younger, I tried to give myself the nickname Chedder.  It never really stuck, so instead I used it into a code name for myself when I wrote stories (a whole ‘nother childhood thing there).  When I started typing my stories up, I realized I saw a lot of those red squiggly spell check lines, and I came to a sad realization that I was (am) not a good speller.  Apparently Chedder is spelled Cheddar.

But that revelation did not shake my fundamental believe that any cheese is great, no matter how you spell it.

Now let’s talk about pasta.  Another wonderful food, right?  This month’s Improv Challenge had us combine these two wonderful ingredients: pasta and cheese.  Given my (un)official nickname, I knew I had to create a cheese dish to impress.  It’s really hard to mess up any dish with pasta and cheese, but this Giardinara pasta was especially good for a quick dinner.

First pasta.  It’s chewy, tender, and wonderful. Here I used macaroni noodles because I’ve loved macaroni noodles since I ate the old-school blue box mac and cheese as a kid.  Second some veggies sauteed in buttah (yes, wonderful).  Salt them up good.  Then mix in some cheese and stir it up until it gets melty and delicious.  And voila: a wonderful dinner.

Pasta and cheese.  It makes the world go round.  It makes young babies smile.  It make people want to love and hug each other. Basically, pasta and cheese are magical.  Fact.

Another idea: put your pasta dish in a bakeable pan.  Top with lots of cheese and broil until melted with golden brown spots.  Genius.

GIARDINARA PASTA
Adapted from Cooking Light

INGREDIENTS

8 ounces elbow noodles
2 tablespoons butter, divided
2 1/2 cups chopped asparagus
4 carrots, chopped
2 1/2 cup chopped mushrooms
1 small onion, sliced
Salt and pepper
1 teaspoon fennel seeds
2 teaspoons dried thyme
1/2-1 teaspoon crushed red pepper
1/4 cup capers
3-4 tablespoons red wine vinegar
Cubed mozzarella or grated Parmesan

DIRECTIONS

Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil.  Cook pasta until al dente, according to package instructions.  Drain and set aside.

Heat a large skillet over high heat.  Add 1 tablespoon butter, asparagus and carrots.  Cook until browned, 3-4 minutes.  Stir in mushrooms and onions.  Cook until tender, 4-6 minutes.  Season with salt and pepper.

Stir in remaining 1 tablespoon olive oil, fennel seeds, dried thyme, crushed red pepper, capers, red wine vinegar, and cooked pasta.  Bring liquid to a boil and cook until mostly absorbed, 3-4 minutes.  Remove from pan and stir in mozzarella or Parmesan if desired.

Serves 3-4 as a main dished, 4-6 as a side dish.

Thanks to Frugal Antics of a Harried Homemaker for hosting this challenge!  Make sure to check out what everyone else made.

Lemon Mustard Cauliflower Pasta

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

I love mustard.

And ketchup and mayo and hot sauce and all condiments, but today is all about mustard, the illustrious, yellow devil.

Coarse grain mustard has been a revelation to me. I have always seen recipes call for coarse grain mustard but just used Dijon or a spicy mustard in its place. Now, no mustard is bad or inherently inferior to another (I don’t like to judge mustard harshly, equality for all mustard), but now that I have properly followed directions and finally bought coarse grain mustard, I am in love.  It really packs a lot more great flavor.

I do have a word of caution for all you coarse ground mustard newbies to be careful.   This stuff can be potent.  I spread a big hunk of mustard on a sandwich, and halfway through, my nose was running and my eyes were tearing up. This time my tears did not result from wonderment of my own culinary skill but the power of coarse mustard. Treat it with respect- less can be more.

The only tears that should be shed in the kitchen are tears of joy. (Or a cook’s tears of frustration on a bad day.) This pasta may cause some serious tears of happiness. Mix al dente pasta with roasted cauliflower and a butter, sweet, and tangy lemon mustard sauce. Easy and delicious. Top with fresh herbs and you are ready to go.

I also have started buying fresh herbs instead of just dried: So. Much. Better.

Why don’t I just follow directions from the beginning?

LEMON MUSTARD CAULIFLOWER PASTA
Adapted from Bon Appetit via Heat Oven to 350

INGREDIENTS

8 ounces spaghetti or linguine
1 small head cauliflower, chopped
Salt
2 butter
3 tablespoons lemon juice
1 teaspoon lemon zest
1/2 tablespoon honey
4-5 teaspoons coarse ground mustard
Fresh parsley, for topping

DIRECTIONS

Preheat oven to 400°F.

Bring a saucepan of salted water to a boil. Cook pasta according to package instructions one minute short of al dente. Drain and set aside.

Place cauliflower in a single layer on a baking sheet. Season with salt. Roast for 15 minutes, until soft.

Heat a large skillet over high heat. Add pasta and cauliflower to pan. Mix in butter, lemon juice, lemon zest, honey, and mustard. Bring to a boil and mix together. Cook for 2-3 minutes, until the sauce is mostly absorbed. Serve immediately, topped with fresh parsley.

Serves 3-4.

*You can also just cook the cauliflower without any pasta to serve this as a side dish.

Crispy Gnocchi and Eggplant Carbonara: Improv Blog

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Everyone, it’s confession time.  Please don’t judge me, don’t shun me, don’t imprison me in a church tower and force me to ring the church bells for the rest of my days.

I hate bacon.

There.  I’ve said it.  The secret is out.

I want to like bacon (eh, not really), and in fact in the past I used to like bacon.  But  I just don’t like it  anymore.  It’s not even that I just don’t care for it, it is I actively dislike it and avoid it at all costs.  Like if I see a dish with bacon on it at a restaurant, I will tell them to keep that bacon away from my plate.  And restaurants put bacon on everything nowadays.  Discrimination to my non-bacon liking people.  But let’s not get political today.

Really, you all should be happy that I don’t eat bacon since it means more bacon for the rest of you.  But my dislike of bacon presented a problem for this month’s Improv Challenge.  We were tasked with making a dish with a classic ingredient pairing: bacon and eggs.  I could not bring myself to buy an entire package bacon, so I figured instead I would choose a recipe that could easily include bacon  but could also easily exclude bacon.

But then I got a craving for carbonara (even though I have never really eaten it before).  Often if a recipe includes bacon, I just leave it out.  Easy enough.  But then there are dishes like carbonara, where bacon is such a crucial, defining ingredient.  After a little brainstorming, I decided to be a rebel and make a carbonara without bacon.  A vegetarain (if you still eat eggs) no less!  And I used gnocchi and eggplant instead of the traditional pasta.  Really, I changed enough from the traditional carbonara recipe, I’m not sure if you should even call this dish carbonara.  But I am anway, so there we are.

This dish is delicious and nontraditional.  Gnocchi are lightly fried so that they are crispy on the outside and soft on the inside.  And of course coating them in butter never hurt anyone.  Then they are coated in a rich, cheesy, eggy sauce. Eggplant is roasted and added to the gnocchi so that it breaks down slightly to contribute even more to the richness of the sauce.  This dish tastes decadent but won’t do horrible damage to your waistline.  Perfection.  And completely worth burning your tongue eating straight from the pan.

And sometimes really good tasting food just doesn’t look pretty.  Eat it anyway.

Thanks to Frugal Antics of a Harried Homemaker for hosting the Improv Blog Challenge.  Make sure to check out the rest of this month’s entries.

CRISPY GNOCCHI AND EGGPLANT CARBONARA
From Cinnamon Freud
INGREDIENTS
1 large eggplant, cut into chunks
1 tablespoon olive oil
Salt and pepper
1 1/2 tablespoons butter, divided*
1/2 onion, thinly sliced
4 cloves garlic, minced
4 cups dried gnocchi
2 eggs, lightly beaten
1 cup cottage cheese
For serving: freshly cracked black pepper, grated Parmesan

DIRECTIONS

Preheat oven to 425°F.

Spread eggplant in a single layer on top of paper towels.  Sprinkle with salt.  Let stand at least 20 minutes.  Pat dry.  Toss eggplant with 1 tablespoon olive oil.  Season with salt. Spread in single layer on baking sheet.  Roast for 20-25 minutes, until tender.  Set aside.

Heat a large pan over medium-high heat.  Add 1/2 tablespoon butter and onions.  Season with salt and pepper. Cook for 5-6 minutes, until softened.  Add garlic and cook until fragrant, 1-2 minutes.  Remove from pan.  Add 1 tablespoon of butter to pan and let melt.  Add gnocchi and cook for 3-4 minutes.  Flip and cook an additional 4-5 minutes, making sure they are cooked through.  Add eggplant and onion mixture to pan.  Remove from heat.

In a small bowl whisk egg and cottage cheese together.  Add to pan and quickly toss to coat pasta mixture.  Stir until cheese melts and egg cooks through.  Top with freshly cracked black pepper or grated Parmesan if desired.

Serves 3-4.

*If you want to use bacon, I would fry up 4-5 pieces before cooking the onion.  Cool and crumble the bacon and set aside.  Cook the onions, garlic, and gnocchi in the bacon grease in the place of butter.  Stir in bacon bits at the end of the recipe.



Lasagna

There are pros and cons to still being a student.  One con is that I still have homework (booo), but a great pro is I still get a spring break.  Spring breaaaaaaaaaaak! Now, my spring breaks have never been wild enough to elicit all those “a”s.  Instead, they are really a time to relax and recuperate.  It’s been a stressful semester, which means I need comfort food and lots of it.

What is the one dish that makes you think of home?  The meal that brings up memories of gathering around the dinner table after a long day of school followed by watching way too many preteen television shows while snacking on potato chips.  Mine is my mom’s lasagna.  It was a rare treat since it took a long bake time and was best saved for those few cold days we had in Houston.  One bite of this lasagna causes immediate relaxation and comfort.  A perfect meal for anyone who is feeling a little stress.

LASAGNA
From My Mom
INGREDIENTS

For the Tomato Sauce:
30 ounces tomato sauce (Contadina is our preferred brand)
1 tablespoon dried oregano
1 tablespoon dried parsley
1 teaspoon dried basil

1 teaspoon granulated sugar
For the Lasgna:
1 1/2 pounds Italian sausage, removed from casings
9 lasagna noodles
2 cups cottage cheese
Salt and pepper
1 tablespoon oregano
1 tablespoon parsley
4-6 ounces fresh mozzarella, thinly sliced
DIRECTIONS

For the Tomato Sauce:


Combine tomato sauce, oregano, parsley, basil, and sugar in a saucepan. Bring to a boil over low heat, uncovered. Continue to simmer for 45-60 minutes until thickened.  Keep warm.

For the Lasagna:


Preheat oven to 350°F.

Heat a large skillet over medium high heat.  Brown sausage and cook until cooked through.  Drain off grease if needed.  Stir sausage into tomato sauce.

Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil.  Cook lasagna noodles one minute shorter than al dente according to package directions.  Drain and cover with cold water. (A helpful tip from my mom is to cook an extra lasagna noodle in case on breaks while cooking . And you can snack on it while the lasagna bakes if you don’t need it).

Mix cottage cheese, oregano, and parsley in a large bowl.  Season to taste with salt and pepper.

Spread a small amount of tomato sauce (with no sausage) on the bottom of a 9 by 13 inch baking dish.  Layer 3 lasagna noodles on top.  Spread about half of the tomato sauce on top.  Spread dollops of 1 cup of cream cheese on top.  Layer half of the mozzarella on top.  Layer 3 more lasagna noodles on top.  Spread remaining tomato sauce on top, reserving about 1/4 cup.  Dollop remaining cottage cheese and mozzarella on top.  Top with remaining lasagna noodles.  Spread remaining tomato sauce on top.

Bake for 45 minutes.  Remove from oven and let stand at least 15 minutes.  Cut and serve.

Serves 6-8.