mulberryshoots

"Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?" ~ Mary Oliver

“baked spinach artichoke pasta” . . .

DSCN8769Every once in awhile, I look at the NYT cooking suggestions for the week. This dish looked interesting: shell pasta with spinach and artichoke hearts in a cream sauce and parmesan cheese. Sounds good, doesn’t it?

At the store, it took me awhile to find medium pasta shells on the bottom shelf – couldn’t get over how many different shapes of pasta there available, just in a grocery store! I already had a pack of fresh baby spinach to finish up in the fridge. I picked up a can of Cento quartered artichokes in water and a jar of Prego light Alfredo sauce instead of 2 cups of heavy cream called for in the recipe.

In a skillet, I cooked the fresh spinach with chopped garlic in olive oil and a pat of unsalted butter. Took it out and put in a bowl. Reheated the skillet and cut up more garlic – in more olive oil and butter, I drained the artichoke hearts really well and then pressed them in a clean paper towel to release all the water. Then, I sauteed them until golden brown and sprinkled them with some parmesan cheese. Added the spinach back in and combined the two vegetables.

I boiled a cup of dried medium pasta shells for about ten minutes until they were between al dente and tender. Drained them well too before heating up the jar of Prego alfredo sauce and adding the pasta. Mixed gently together with some more parmesan cheese (2 tablespoons.)

In a white fluted oval casserole sprayed with Pam, I placed the spinach and artichoke hearts on the bottom and then poured the pasta in sauce on top. With a large spoon, I gently mixed the ingredients together and sprinkled some parmesan cheese on top. ( I know there sounds like a lot of cheese in this dish but mostly small sprinkles of cheese. . . )

I put the casserole in a 350 degree oven for almost half an hour. I wanted to see if the proportion of pasta to sauce was good – not too cheesy – along with the spinach and artichoke hearts. The balance was good – and a little salty although I didn’t add any salt: might have been the sauce or the parmesan cheese?

glorified pasta with shrimp . . .

fullsizeoutput_67bThe other day at Whole Foods, I bought some fresh pasta: a nest of “lemon parsley” fettucine. Fancy, huh? I thought I’d try it out with an alfredo sauce and fresh spinach and shrimp on top.

The pasta takes about 9-11 minutes to cook. While the water is boiling, I’ll make the sauce: In a skillet, I’ll melt half a stick of unsalted butter, add a cup of heavy whipping cream and half a pack of Philadelphia cream cheese. After it has melted together and combined, I’ll add a teaspoon of finely chopped garlic, Lawry’s garlic salt and a little cracked pepper and nutmeg.

In a separate skillet, I’ll melt more butter and cook some chopped shallot and sliced fresh Shitake mushroom. Be sure to cook the mushrooms through and through. Take them out of the skillet and to more melted butter, cook large peeled and deveined shrimp in chopped garlic and sprinkle a little dried parsley on the shrimp until it is just cooked and still tender. Add the mushrooms back into the shrimp and stir in two handfuls of baby spinach. Stir until the spinach is wilted with the shrimp.

Drain the fettucine very well and stir it into the alfredo sauce to combine. In large shallow bowls, plate the alfredo fettucine and spoon the spinach shrimp over the top. Hand grate parmesan on top and serve.

 

Yep, there must be enough high cholesterol ingredients in this dish to use up your quota for a month! But, what the heck, you only live once and besides, daylight savings time will take away an hour this weekend, right?! So, enjoy!

grilled brie and apple sandwich for lunch. . .

DSCN8754While G. went outside to clearing the snow accumulation this morning, I prepared our lunch of grilled sandwiches. His was grilled black forest ham and cheddar cheese with dijon mustard. Mine was brie cheese and thin slices of honey crisp apple.

Simple to make and tasty!

 

 

Moo shi pork & shrimp . . .

DSCN8751.jpgOn Saturday, I bought an Asian roasted duck at the local Vietnamese market. I usually call up and ask the cashier to reserve one for me. On these days, I spend the late afternoon before dinner making “wrappers” from flour, water and sesame oil. These wrappers are very thin, being half of a rolled out pancake that separates after cooking (sesame oil inbetween the layers.) I keep them warmed on a plate with a clean plastic bag around it and the wrappers stay warm and steamy inside.

Today, I made a mixture of ground pork, bamboo shoots, shrimp and sliced cabbage to eat inside wrappers along with the leftover duck. There’s about enough duck to make three roll-ups. The moo-shi pork and shrimp filling will also be tasty and crunchy in the wrappers, spread with hoisin sauce.

Here’s what I stir-fried together. In a skillet heated and coated with vegetable oil, add:  about 1/3 cup of ground pork; a can of bamboo shoots, cut into small pieces; 3 extra large shrimp, shelled and cut up into bite size pieces. Stir together with cut up scallions and a swirl of soy sauce. When the pork and shrimp mixture is cooked, transfer it all to a bowl and hold aside.

In the meantime, slice thinly about half of a small head of cabbage (not Napa but regular cabbage.) Fry in more vegetable oil in the skillet until softened, then add the pork, shrimp, bamboo shoots back in. Stir together and hold until cooled and ready to eat.

When serving, spread some hoisin sauce on a wrapper crosswise and add filling, fold the pancake lengthwise together and bend the bottom up so the juices won’t spill out when you bite into it.

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Footnote: making the wrappers is not difficult but messy and time-consuming. I boil some water and add it in a deep bowl to about 2-3 cups of flour. I stir it together and handle it when it’s not too hot until it is malleable. Here’s the tricky part – if the dough is too sticky, add more flour until it is pliable. If it is too stiff, it’s too dry. Sorry but I don’t have proportions – I do it by feel.

When the dough is cool enough to handle, knead it gently and only enough to amalgamate the flour and water. Roll it out into a two inch thick snake and cut it into 2 inch pieces. On a well-floured surface, Take one of the pieces and flatten it slightly. Then brush on the entire surface some sesame oil. Place another piece on top of it and gently flatten it together. Then, gently roll out the two pieces together until it’s about 6-8 inches in diameter as evenly as you can. Heat a skillet on medium-hi heat and place the rolled out wrapper in the skillet. Check for small golden brown patches and turn it over. When it is slightly browned on both sides, pick it up and place it on the plate with the plastic bag over it.

Roll out and cook the rest of the flour dough wrappers in the same manner. When a cooked wrapper has rested a few minutes on the dish, open it up and gently peel the layers apart. Then place both layers back on the plate. Each wrapper that you cook this way yields two pancakes. I made extra yesterday so that we could use them for the moo-shi filling I made on this post.

The wrappers take a little getting used to making – just be sure to spread the sesame oil completely across the surface and gently place the other roll on top of it and press them down with your hand before rolling it out. If the dough is too sticky, this doesn’t work and you’ll have to add more flour to the dough before kneading it, rolling the snake and cutting up the pieces. Good luck!

It’s worth it – when you bite into the thin, chewy wrapper. Most restaurants don’t make their own because it’s too labor intensive and serve flour tortillas instead. On the second day eating the wrappers, I gently steam them with a plate of the leftover duck on top – covered until everything is warmed. YUM!

 

fettucine “bolognese” . . .

DSCN8728Yesterday, there was an article rhapsodizing about Marcella Hazan’s old recipe for bolognese sauce. I was puzzled while reading it because it sounded somewhat mysterious, using a milk addition to absorb, and then white wine, then simmering it for four hours. Yep, you read that right.

So, today is Sunday and what better time to try it out than today when I can start it around noon and let it do its magic all afternoon. After I read the recipe through a couple of times – and then reading lots of comments attached to it, I realized that this is good old meat and tomato sauce – that I’ve hastily put together many a time when I didn’t have the time to make meatballs.

But the instructions of this classic recipe was compelling and so I’m game to try it today. The differences from plain tomato meat sauce are:

a. Starting with a melange of browned onions, then adding chopped celery and carrots. Then, brown some ground beef – not too lean, not too fatty. I chose 85%.DSCN8717

b. After both above are cooked, add them together with some plum tomato sauce. Here’s the tricky part. Marzano tomatoes are supposed to be the true Italian tomatoes to use – and they’re priced double what other “tomato” products are – but I bought two cans since I’m going to double the sauce with single the amount of meat.DSCN8721.jpg

c. Let the combined sauce cook and add milk to it – letting the milk cook off in an half an hour. Add some freshly grated nutmeg.

d. Add white wine (I had an opened bottle of Gewurtztraminer wine) and let it cook off in a half an hour.

e. Add two cans of Cento brand of peeled marzano tomatoes and let the sauce barely simmer (a bubble or two once in awhile) for a long time: all afternoon.DSCN8723.jpg

f. Cook the pasta (I’m using fettucine) and drain well. Add a nob of butter to the hot, drained noodles and toss well.

g. Serve the pasta, sauce and fresh parmesan cheese grated on the top.

 

Valentine’s Day supper. . .

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I saw fresh jumbo ocean scallops glistening in the fish market today and bought some to make for V-day supper tonight. The rest of the dish includes parmesan brown rice risotto with zucchini and fresh spinach. There’s a recipe for brown butter scallops online and I plan to follow most of it except that I might cream the spinach and add a little nutmeg to it.

Lundberg makes a brown rice parmesan risotto in a box. I usually saute some fresh zucchini and mushrooms before preparing the risotto. The only caveat is to add less water than it calls for – otherwise, it turns out too mushy. The spinach is washed, dried and browned in butter-olive oil. When it has cooked, I cut it up and sprinkle a little nutmeg on it along with a little cream. Luscious!

As for the scallops, I dry them off and sear them quickly on each side, holding them in a separate dish. The last step is to melt some unsalted butter until it gradually browns. Serve the risotto with the spinach alongside and the seared scallops. Spoon the brown butter on top of the scallops and serve with a glass of Prosecco. Alongside are honey biscuits that G. picked up at the store and which we’re trying out for the first time.

Happy Valentine’s Day – and Bon Appetit!

 

 

 

snowstorm = homemade beef vegetable soup!

DSCN8688There has been a wave of snowstorms across the Midwest, some of them heading our way in New England this afternoon. We’re supposed to have six inches of snow late afternoon and evening followed by rain all night. Damp and cold!

When I was in the grocery store, I asked for the butcher to cut up some beef shin to make a homemade vegetable soup that I’ve been making for many years. The basic recipe steps are:

  1. Buy a meaty beef shin and sprinkle with Lawry’s garlic salt and pepper.
  2. In a large dutch oven, heat up some vegetable oil, add the beef shin to brown with chopped onions, chopped carrots and celery stalks and leaves.
  3. Turn the beef over and brown the other side, stirring the simmering vegetables.
  4. Chop some tomatoes (looking for a home in the fridge) or a can of Del Monte stewed tomatoes.
  5. Add beef flavoring (I use 2 Knorr gelatin packs) and add Spring water until there’s a good proportion of broth for the soup to simmer all afternoon.

As the soup cooks, taste the broth and check whether there’s too much beef flavor or not enough – add more water as needed. The meat will cook until it falls off the bone – remove the sinew and cut the beef into bite-size pieces.

6.   A half hour before serving, add freshly cut up cabbage to the soup.

I sometimes also add a handful of tiny alphabet macaroni to the soup which expands a little while it cooks.

For dinner, I might bake some cornbread or biscuits to accompany the soup. Here’s hoping we get less snow than more! Stay warm!

 

 

“Steak Diane” . . .

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It’s a Sunday without football, now that the season is over. We live in New England and are Patriots fans so we’re happy they won the Super Bowl. I also learned a lot about the other NFL teams since we watched them play each other besides the Patriots. Anyway, I was looking for a way to cook two thin ribeye steaks that I brought home yesterday

I think I’ll make “Steak Diane” because it requires thin steaks (pounded but ours aren’t,) and is quick to make. Here’s the steps:

  1. Prepare the steaks either by pounding a little or seasoning with salt and lots of cracked pepper (like steak au poivre.) I like to use a seasoned salt from San Francisco that contains truffles in it and the aroma is one of the most umami smells you ever came across!
  2. In a skillet small enough to contain the steaks, melt a little unsalted butter with olive oil. Heat it up and sear each side for about 2 minutes and remove.
  3. In the same skillet, melt butter and olive oil again; add a generous amount of chopped fresh mushrooms, chopped shallot, chopped garlic and stir a little while cooking; add a dollop of Grey Poupon mustard, one of Lea Perrin’s Worcestershire sauce and combine. Spill a little Madeira into the mix and stir together with a couple of spoonfuls of stock.  Turn down the heat.
  4. Add the steaks back into the sauce and cook until the steaks are medium rare (125 F. on an instant meat thermometer.) Let rest

Before taking the steaks out of the fridge, I started baking some Japanese sweet potatoes in the oven (400 degrees) for about an hour. Testing the potatoes for doneness, I leave them in the turned off oven while the steaks rest and warm up a small pan of extra petite garden peas. Strained with a pat of butter and salt, we’re ready to go. A simple, tasty steak dinner on a football-less Sunday evening!

YUM!

homestyle Chinese egg rolls . . .

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Even though it’s been overshadowed by the Super Bowl win and parade in Boston today, it’s still the Lunar New Year today – or Chinese New Year and I wanted to celebrate with some traditional food tonight. I went around to the Vietnamese grocery stores in town, one was empty and the other one was closed. I then went to a local Chinese restaurant at 11:00 a.m. to order some carryout for dinner but it wasn’t opening until 11:30 a.m. Then, I went to a regular grocery store nearby but the lines were clogged up and I gave up.

After lunch, we briefly considered going out to dinner tonight but I decided to go one more time to the local Stop and Shop to see if anything appealed to me to make at home. We prefer to eat at home so this was out last chance. I came home with a nice head of cabbage, a bunch of scallions, dried shitake mushrooms (hooray!) and some lean pork loin for $2. At home in the freezer, I knew I had extra large shrimp and fresh bamboo shoots.

I’ve been making egg rolls for a long time but don’t do it that often. The key ingredients that are different from eggrolls in a restaurant is that I use finely shredded fresh pork marinated in soy and sherry plus chopped fresh shrimp along with shredded cabbage. Most eateries may use pork but rarely shrimp. In addition, I use plenty of fresh bamboo shoots, cut up for crunch and stir fried together with the pork. Shitake mushrooms are soaked and cut up into thin strips. There is crunchy bulk from the cabbage and bamboo shoots; there’s rich flavor from the marinated pork strips and shrimp sauteed with garlic and scallions (remove garlic before wrapping.) Let all of this cool until stone cold.

Strain the mixture and move to a bowl. Fill a small bowl with cold water. Taking an eggroll wrapper, place a narrow strip of filling crosswise from point to point, wet the edges and wrap up with one corner going over the filling, folding the ends over and continue to roll until it’s sealed together. Let these rolls rest on some parchment paper. Cover with a clean dishcloth.DSCN8655

When it’s time for supper, heat up a skillet with fresh vegetable oil to a depth of about 2 inches. Test it for readiness by dipping a chopstick with some filling and see if the oil bubbles up right away. Place 2 or 3 rolls in the hot oil and turn over when golden brown on one side. Continue frying until the skins are golden brown and drained of any extra oil from it – place it on paper towels to drain. Serve with a clear soup with tofu and fresh spinach in it. Eaten hot, these eggrolls are crunchy, fragrant and flavorful! If there are any left over, they freeze well and can be reheated in the microwave. They make a great late night snack too!

Happy New Year! (I find that making resolutions is meaningful during this new year – more so than during the hectic atmosphere of the other New Year at the end of the year. More time for contemplation and commitment — at least for me.

 

half & half lasagna . . .

DSCN8653Today, I thought I’d use the ground beef I had in the fridge (about half a pound) to make lasagna. I love noodles and the thought of layers of noodles and ricotta plus cheeses sounded really appetizing to me. At the same time, I also remembered that I used to make lasagna with fresh spinach and mushrooms, layered together with said ricotta and cheeses too. So, I decided to make one big batch with half of each filling on either side.

In the middle of preparing the lasagna, I began to remember how much effort it requires: cooking the meat and adding tomato sauce with Italian herbs to simmer; boiling the lasagna noodles (the hardest part because they like to cook slowly and both fall apart and stick together; cutting up a box of mushrooms and sauteeing them with chopped garlic; chopping up a shallot and cooking it in olive oil along with half a bag of spinach and chopping it up; and finally, mixing together fresh ricotta with two eggs, a half cup of grated parmesan cheese as the creamy filling within.

Nonetheless, after filling the kitchen sink with dirty dishes, I put together a lasagna that had 9 cooked noodles, meat sauce, ricotta, mozzarella cheese, then on the other side,  noodles, spinach, mushrooms, ricotta and mozzarella cheese. I sprinkled Italian herbs on the plain tomato sauce for the spinach side. Alternating the layers, I finished up with two full layers, topped with noodles, sauce and mozzarella on the top. I covered the casserole with aluminum foil until time to bake it.

At 350 degrees, I’ll bake the lasagna for about 45 minutes with the foil on, then remove it and let it brown for another 15 minutes or so. There’s plenty to go around so I plan to freeze it and put servings into the freezer for a quick warming dinner later in the month. As long as I’m going to the effort to prepare all those ingredients, I thought it would be a nice idea to make a large batch and enjoy it later on without all the muss and fuss. A small ranch dressing salad with avocado and red onions rounds out our meal.

And, despite being a very tight game, the Patriots did manage to win Super Bowl LIII. The duck boat parade will be held in Boston tomorrow morning at 11:00 a.m.

GO PATS!