Friday, October 21, 2016

Rigatoni with Mozzarella Stuffed Meatballs

Autumn screams comfort food, and nothing is more comforting than meatballs and a decadent pasta sauce and pasta that catches the sauce and delivers a punch of Italian flavor. Welcome to my mozzarella stuffed Italian seasoned meatballs, semi-homemade hot Italian sausage pasta sauce with rigatoni pasta. Of course, the pasta sauce certainly can be completely homemade, which I love.  In this case, I had only a two hour window in which to reasonably make this dish, which is why I went with canned San Marazanos.  This dish just will not wait to be made. Let's get to it, shall we?

Sauce Ingredients 
1 pound hot Italian sausage
2 tablespoons dried Italian seasoning
salt and pepper
1 rounded tablespoon paprika
1 teaspoon dried oregano
1/2 teaspoon dried thyme
1 28-ounce can pureed San Marzano tomatoes
1 14.5-ounce can diced tomatoes with garlic and basil
6 fresh basil leaves, rolled and chiffonade sliced
4 fresh basil leaves torn to season the sauce just prior to service
1 onion, diced
3 cloves garlic + 1 clove garlic, finely chopped and separated
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil (evoo)
fresh flat leaf Italian parsley for garnish

Meatball Ingredients
1 pound ground beef
salt and pepper
1/2 teaspoon dried Italian seasoning
1/2 teaspoon dried, crushed oregano
1 teaspoon paprika
1 garlic clove, finely chopped (see in above ingredients list)
12 half-inch cubes of mozzarella cheese 

Add the spices to the ground beef and with both hands, after washing, of course, incorporate the spices well.  Scoop out a ping-pong sized amount of meat.  Flatten it out, about a half dollar sized meat pancake, add a piece of mozzarella to the center and close it up, pinching the sides and roll it into a ball.  Set aside.  When you have twelve meatballs, add two tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil to a large pot or high-sided sauce pan over medium-high heat. Add several meatballs, but, be careful not to crowd them; they need room to caramelize. Turn them when they begin to crust up from around the bottom, about three minutes. Gently turn the meatballs and allow them to continue to caramelize but over lower heat. The idea is to not cook them all the way through.  They will finish in the sauce. Remove them and set them aside for now.

Now, to the same pot or sauce pan, add the pound of ground hot Italian sausage and caramelize (brown up) the sausage.  When just about done, add a splash of red wine vinegar or whatever wine you want to deglaze the pot or pan.  Add the onions and garlic once the wine or vinegar has reduced along with a pinch of salt and pepper.  Sautee about three or four minutes to allow the onions to release their sugars.  When the onions are just translucent, add half of the spices and stir well to incorporate.  Next add the tomato products and stir thoroughly.  Add the chiffonade fresh basil and stir in.  Allow the sauce to simmer for fifteen minutes.  Afterward, nestle the meatballs into the sauce to finish off.  Allow the sauce to simmer on low for thirty minutes to one hour, whatever  your time frame is. I recommend one hour, but we do not always have that kind of time in the real world.  

Fifteen minutes prior to the sauce finishing, add the remaining seasoning and the torn fresh basil, bring about four to six quarts of water to a roiling boil. Generously salt the water and add the pasta you are using. I used rigatoni, which is large and grooved to catch the chunky sauce. Penne rigate, fusilli and others would be great for this, though many prefer spaghetti, which is quite traditional. 

Once the pasta has cooked just to al dente, about ten to twelve minutes, in most cases, drain the pasta or, use a spider and add the pasta directly to the sauce along with a quarter cup of the pasta water. Incorporate thoroughly and serve. Some folks like to top the pasta with the sauce (never is that done in Italy, however, but I promise not to tell if you don't!) which I did for better photo ops but if it is just me eating a chunky, meaty, hearty and flavorful pasta sauce, I like to mix the pasta and sauce together.  I love it when the pasta catches the sauce and meat. Be sure to place meatballs in a place where they are the star of the dish! 

Normally, I would grate parmigiano-reggiano atop the plated pasta, or, a platter of it served family style, but I decided on elegance and added shaved parmesan and garnished with fresh parsley.  

As always, Thank You so much for your time and readership.  I hope this dish has inspired you to go cook for someone you love!  Now, go cook!

In-House Cook


Friday, October 14, 2016

Another Episode of "What I Have Been Up To In My Kitchen: The Breakfast Edition"

Welcome to Another Episode of "What I Have Been Up To In My Kitchen:  Breakfast Edition"

Breakfast should be a food group.  Now, think about it.  It can have protein, vegetables, greens and herbs.  It is not just bacon and eggs, anymore, or cereal, since the advent of "brunch" and the "BLD", Breakfast for Lunch and Dinner.  I have three BLD meals to share with you.  Oh, just have them whenever you want, it's not that big a deal.  

Let's start with the Sage and Sopressata Fritatta, shall we?

I start with:

1/4 red onion, sliced into crescents
6-8 sage leaves, whole
4 slices of sopressata, sliced into strips
1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes (I like it spicy)
2 rounded tablespoons grated paremesan cheese
salt and pepper
2 tabs butter
1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil  (evoo)

Preheat the oven to 400-degrees.

Crack the eggs into a large bowl, tossing or composting the shells. Add the pepper flakes, a little more than half of the parmesan and salt and pepper and combine thoroughly with a whisk, making sure to break all of the yolks first.  For extra fluffiness, add a couple of tablespoons of water. 

Add the butter and evoo to an omlette skillet over medium heat to melt, coating the sides of the skillet, as well.  Just when the butter begins to foam, add the egg mixture.  Allow the bottom of the fritatta to begin to set; the sides will begin to solidify, as well.  This takes about four minutes.  Add the onion, sopressata and sage leaves in a circular pattern around the top of the egg mixture.  Sprinkle the top with the remaining parmesan.  Add more cheese it you like!  Place in the oven and reduce the heat to 375-degrees.  The initial heat will begin to solidify the top and then bake the inside to perfection low and slow for 40-minutes.  

*Note: different ovens bake a different temperatures and speeds, depending on elevation, location and whether it is gas or electric.  My oven I think runs cooler than the temperature I set it at, which is why I say forty minutes.  Begin checking it at thirty (30) minutes. 

To make sure the fritatta is done, poke it with a dark colored toothpick and, like a cake, if it comes out clean, it is done!  

I served this fritatta over paprika, oregano, salt and pepper hash browns with a crown of crispy sopressata.  I added vegetable oil to a large oven-safe skillet, used a bag of pre-grated, frozen potatoes, drained the excess water from them, and added them to the skillet already hot over medium-high heat.  I got a good golden brown crust on the bottom, flipped it carefully over and then added it to the oven still hot from the fritatta.  

Sometimes I am successful, but mostly with smaller skillets, at placing a plate over the top of the skillet, then turning it all over and stove top finishing that way.  But not this time.  I had to use two spatulas to flip it.  It was a bit of doing, but it turned out nicely. 

To crisp up the sopressata, I simply add a tiny bit of evoo to a small skillet (but in this case, I removed the fritatta and used that skillet) over medium-high heat, add the strips and let them sizzle up for a couple of minutes per side.  They will begin to curl, which means it is time to remove them and place them on a paper towel to absorb the extra fat rendering.  

I served my wedged fritatta atop a crescent of hash browns, topped with crispy sopressata and shaved parmesan.  I added crispy sopressata like bacon on the side, as well.  Delicious!

On to the next breakfast, lunch or dinner breakfast item....

Simply Sausage, Potato and Egg with Rosemary Bowl

2 large sausage links, (brats or Dakotas)
1.5 pounds cubed Yukon gold potatoes
2 eggs per person
salt and pepper
3 sprigs fresh rosemary, two finely chopped
3 tabs of butter, 1 separated
1 tablespoon vegetable oil

Slice the sausages on a bias (at an angle), cube the uncooked potatoes.  Add the sausages firsts to the skillet with a tab of butter and a tablespoon of vegetable oil over medium-high heat.  When the sausages just begin to form a crust, remove them to a plate with paper towels or a colander to drain and add the  potatoes and half of the fresh rosemary.  Meanwhile, as the potatoes sautee, in a smaller skillet, add two tabs of butter and just when it begins to foam, add two eggs, topped with some fresh rosemary and fry them the way you like them.  And if you like scrambled eggs, I promise not to tell anyone.  I like it, too!  Our secret!  Finally, after about fifteen minutes, as the potatoes begin to crisp up golden, add the sausages and a bit more of the rosemary and reheat them.  This will continue to add rich flavor to the potatoes. The aroma will slay you!
To plate, I add a big spoon full of the potato and sausage mixture to a large personal bowl, one per person, of course, which this should feed three for sure, four comfortably, and top with two eggs each and garnish with the remaining rosemary leaves from the sprig not chopped. 

Delicious for breakast, brunch, lunch or dinner.  

And now for our final BLD Breakfast Anytime Meal...

Bacon and Egg Sammy O'Brien

This one is so simple you cannot mess it up.  Here are my simple pantry ingredients:

2 eggs per person
1 large bag of Potatoes O'Brien, your favorite brand
2 strips of applewood smoked bacon per person (and a couple of extras for the cook!) 
salt and pepper
English muffins or your favorite bread (I had some leftover hamburger buns)
3 tablespoons vegetable or grape seed oil
Fresh greens for garnish, such as chives, parsley or cilantro or scallions

Preheat the oven to 375-degrees. 

In a large oven-safe skillet over medium-high heat or high heat, bring the oil to a ripple and add the Potatoes O'Brien to the skillet with salt and pepper. Tend to this so the potatoes do not burn or stick. Once the thaw has gone out of the potatoes and peppers and they begin crisp up, place the oven safe skillet into the oven.  If that is not possible, finish on the stove top. 

On another burner, add bacon to an untreated skillet and crisp up the number of bacon slices you need.  Remember, two per sandwich. You can cook the bacon ahead of time, even placing bacon slices on a baking sheet with a rack for 12 or so minutes at 400-degrees. 

I was gifted with one of those small egg skillets, where you can make one perfectly round egg or two, if you like them thicker, like I do.  I used that to make the egg portion of our sammies. I simply sprayed the little skillet with canola oil spray and, over medium heat, cracked two eggs into it. 

Flip the eggs when the bottom solidifies and begins to harden and pull away from the sides.  Flipping is really easy with this little pan.  I love it!  Fun kitchen tool!

Set the eggs on a cooling rack over paper towels.  

Toast the bread with the potatoes in the oven, break the bacon into halves and check on the potatoes.  They should be finished about 15 - 18 minutes in.  Sample to make sure. You can stove top finish if necessary.  Hot pan, so be careful to keep the handle covered!!!

Finally, assemble your breakfast sandwiches with your favorite cheese and condiments and serve it over hot and aromatic Potatoes O'Brien!  Garnish with your favorite finely chopped greens and one more extremely important thing.......

ENJOY this with loved ones and friends!!!

Now, Go Cook For Someone You Love!!!

As always, Thank You for your time and consideration. 

In-House Cook

Saturday, October 8, 2016

Prosciutto Wrapped Stuffed Chicken Thighs and Sides: Elegant Meal Two Ways

Prosciutto Wrapped Stuffed Chicken with Pesto Farfalle and Halved Tomato Medley with Balsamic Reduction

We all like to feel a little royal, need a little elegance and extravagance in our lives.  We work very hard each day and deserve a flavorful, memorable meal at the end of it all. With that said, the capital involved for that might not agree with the budget.  I have, however, a solution to that budget problem.  Chicken thighs stuffed with Italian cheeses, grated garlic, rosemary, Fresno chili strips, rolled and wrapped in salty prosciutto, seared and gently oven finished provide a tender, juicy and incredibly flavorful dish to make you feel like you are dining at a 5-Star restaurant. In this post, I serve the dish two ways, both with the same chicken, but two different sides. On a side note, this is also quite a popular wedding menu selection!  

Let's get to the recipes, shall we? 

Chicken thigh stuffing:
1 cup of shredded cheese, a mix of mozzarella, Fontina, Parmessan, Romano, provolone and Asiago

2-3 cloves garlic, grated

1 rounded tablespoon dried Italian parsley 
salt and pepper (to season the chicken thighs) 

1 large or two medium Fresno chiles, sliced into strips

1 tablespoon finely chopped fresh rosemary

In addition:

1 package of 4-6 chicken thighs

2 packages, or, 12 slices prosciutto

 Simple, clean, direct flavors.

Once the stuffing ingredients are ready, season both sides of the chicken and with salt and pepper.  Using a tablespoon, add some of the mixture, adjusting the amount of stuffing to the size of the thigh (some are larger than others in a standard package). Had I been thinking, I would have selected chicken thighs of uniform size and weight from the butcher counter. I chalk this one up to live and learn and adjust. Once stuffed, roll the thigh from the narrow, thinner end to the fuller end. Take a piece of prosciutto, place it on the open roll and wrap it.  I used two pieces of prosciutto, overlapping the two to cover the chicken and keep the stuffing inside. 

It is important to set up a strategic work station. 

Season the chicken thighs with salt and pepper. 

Roll the stuffed thigh from the thin, narrow end, top, to the wider end, below. 

In a skillet, sear the chicken thighs in two tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil over medium heat.  Place on a baking sheet with a rack or in a tin foil pan (I had some extras) or oven safe skillet and roast slowly at 300-degrees for twenty minutes. When poked, if the juices run clear from the thigh, they are done. 

Catering companies and restaurants oftentimes use chicken breasts for this, but I use chicken thighs because they are, when properly prepared and cooked, tender and retain their moisture and flavor. When I want something with this level of flavor and elegance, I always use chicken thighs. 

Now to the sides!  

The first side is an old favorite of mine to serve with chicken: pasta tossed with pesto. For this dish, I used one of my favorites, farfalle, also known as "bow tie" pasta. Now, I love basil pesto, but I will make pesto out of any greens, garlic, nuts, cheese and extra virgin olive oil, salt and pepper. I have yet to meet a pesto, hummus or chimichurri I did not like. 

Bring about four quarts of water to a roiling boil, add a generous amount of salt to the water once it boils, and stir.  It is the only chance you get to season the boiling pasta. When just about al dente, about eight to ten minutes, strain the pasta in a colander, add a tab or two of butter and a tablespoon of extra virgin olive oil to the pasta water pot, add the pasta back to the pot, add the pesto and toss the pasta to coat all of the pasta. Grate some parmigiano-reggiano over the pasta and continue to toss. Amazing flavors, herbal from the pesto, salty bite of the parm. Delicious!

I used a tomato medley (sizes, shapes and colors) for an anchor side, and plated the first dish with the pesto farfalle.  I drizzled the tomatoes with an aged balsamic with incredibly intensified sweet and tangy flavor; one of my favorites. I wanted the plate to have a cleaner look to it, but I could not help myself, I drizzled everything with it except the pasta.  The salty savory of the prosciutto and the sweet tangy of the balsamic reduction was a heavenly pairing.  

Side two is even easier! For a dinner for four, three tablespoons extra virgin olive oil, two tablespoons fresh rosemary, 2 cloves grated garlic, 2 cups cubed baby new potatoes (or yukon golds, either works very well) and salt and pepper.  I place the cubed potatoes in a bowl and add the ingredients, toss them in the bowl while the skillet (I use cast iron, usually) is preheating in the oven at 400-degrees.  I remove the skillet and add the potatoes and seasonings. Roast the potatoes for 20 minutes.  They'll come out golden brown and a little crispy. 

Oven ready!

I decided, last minute, to add a little more color and flavor to the dish, and I added a smear of sun dried tomato, garlic and roasted red pepper hummus to place the chicken on.  What a tremendous addition of flavor and fantastic texture and color. To balance the savory, salty flavors, as I mentioned above, I drizzled the balsamic reduction atop the tomatoes and chicken and garnished with tiny sprigs of rosemary. 

Either of these delectable, easy to assemble and cook meals will make you feel a bit royal, perhaps a bit Downton Abbey, being served a meal befitting an Earl or a Countess or Lady. Perfect for elegant dinner parties, weddings, anniversaries and special formal events. This is also perfect any time of year. Your loved ones and guests will take away amazing memories of deliciousness for years to come.  

Now, go cook for someone you love!

As always, Thank You for your time and consideration!


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