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Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Spaghetti Squash Primavera

Well, Lily and I had a scheduling mix-up this morning and found ourselves out and about, dressed up, and no place in particular to be.  So to avoid the defeat of returning home with nothing to show for it, we stopped at a roadside produce market and milled around for a while.  We ended up with a big, fat spaghetti squash to try out.  It was to become our Cooking Project du Jour.
Although my little ones were curious, and always willing to assist in cutting, slicing, and dicing, they were not quite as enthusiastic about it as I was as something we were going to actually eat.  These things do happen.  
Here is our test subject.

Gather some various leftover veggies you may have lying around the kitchen.  And by all means grab a pint of some sweet juicy grape tomatoes!

Cut all the veggies and arrange in a single layers on a silpat or a baking sheet lined with parchment or non-stick cooking spray.

Add a drizzle of extra virgin olive oil to all the veggies and season generously with kosher salt, fresh cracked black pepper, and dried basil.

Set the veggies in a 375 degree oven to roast for about an hour or until desired level of doneness.

Split the squash.

Kinda looks like a pumpkin, huh?

Scoop out the seeds and fibers until clean.

.... like this.

Place them cut side down in a dish, add about an inch of water.

Cover with plastic wrap and pop them in the microwave for about 15 minutes.


After letting them sit to cool a while (they are HOT!), scrape the flesh out from "stem to stern" with a fork.  It really does come out looking like pasta.

One spaghetti squash makes a whole platter of "noodles."
 
Ok... so for the babies, I topped it off with meatballs, marinara, and Parmesan.  You gotta give a little, right?
Here are the roasted veggies.
 
Now for the sauce, chopped garlic added to EVOO and butter.  Saute for a couple of minutes.

Add white wine.  Maybe half a cup or so.

... a squeeze of lemon

... finished off with basil, oregano, and a little red pepper flakes.

Toss the veggies with the spaghetti squash "noodles" and top with with sauce.
 
And for garnish, a little sprinkling of fresh parsley and some mozzarella cubes.
The synopsis.  Pretty darned good.  The rare all-vegetarian dish around here.  An excuse to eat all those lovely roasted tomatoes.  - and since it is basically a blank canvas without any real taste of its own, its a nice alternative to someone who can't or chooses to avoid eating pasta. .... although my kids definitely made it known that they will still opt for regular pasta, thank you very much.  Sigh.. it's just been one of those days!

Written Directions:
Gather some various leftover veggies you may have lying around the kitchen.  And by all means grab a pint of some sweet juicy grape tomatoes! Cut all the veggies and arrange in a single layers on a silpat or a baking sheet lined with parchment or non-stick cooking spray. Add a drizzle of extra virgin olive oil to all the veggies and season generously with kosher salt, fresh cracked black pepper, and dried basil. Split the squash. Place them cut side down in a dish, add about an inch of water. After letting them sit to cool a while (they are HOT!), scrape the flesh out from "stem to stern" with a fork.  It really does come out looking like pasta.  Add in the roasted veggies. Now for the sauce, chopped garlic added to EVOO and butter.  Saute for a couple of minutes. Add white wine.  Maybe half a cup or so. Add in squeezed lemon and finish off with basil, oregano, and a little red pepper flakes. Toss the veggies with the spaghetti squash "noodles" and top with with sauce. And for garnish, a little sprinkling of fresh parsley and some mozzarella cubes.

Food Nerd Notes:
Spaghetti squash is a variety of winter squash that is believed to be native to the Americas.  The fruit can range either from ivory to yellow or orange in color. The orange varieties have a higher carotene content. Its center contains many large seeds. Its flesh is bright yellow or orange. When raw, the flesh is solid and similar to other raw squash; when cooked, the flesh falls away from the fruit in ribbons or strands like spaghetti.  

Spaghetti squash contains many nutrients, including folic acid, potassium, vitamin A, and beta carotene.  It is a low calorie food, averaging only 42 calories per 1 cup serving.   It also is very low in fat (0.40 g, or 1 percent of the daily value (DV)). The fat content consists of 0.1 g of saturated fat and 0.2 g of the more healthy polyunsaturated fats. It also supplies a small amount of heart healthy fatty acids: omega-3 (121 mg) and omega-6 (72.8 mg). Spaghetti squash is not a complete protein, but it provides sufficient quantities of eight amino acids and gives you 1 g of protein (2 percent DV). Spaghetti squash is a great source of dietary fiber.  Just 1 cup provides 2 g, or 9 percent DV. So then, one small serving of spaghetti squash provides virtually all vitamins and minerals, with an added benefit of dietary fiber. 

Spaghetti squash can be baked, boiled, steamed, or microwaved. It can be served with or without sauce, as a substitute for pasta. For those of you who are watching your carbohydrate intake, spaghetti squash is higher in nutrients and lower in carbs and calories than pasta.  It's also a great alternative to those who shun pasta due to a sensitivity to gluten or wheat products.

 
Pasta primavera is an Italian-American dish that consists of both pasta and fresh vegetables.  Sometimes, a protein such as chicken, sausage, or shrimp is added, but the focus of primavera is the vegetables themselves. The dish may contain almost any kind of vegetable, but cooks tend to stick to firm, crisp vegetables, such as broccoli, carrots, peas, onions, and green bell peppers, with tomatoes.  Pasta primavera is usually highlighted by light flavors, aromatic herbs and bright colors ('primavera' meaning the season of spring). Classic primavera sauce is based on a soffritto of garlic and olive oil, and finished with Parmesan cheese.  

Pastas served with this dish are typically smaller shapes, such as penne, farfalle, rigatoni, and fusilli. If using longer types of pasta, such as spaghetti or fettuccine, the vegetables are normally sliced in thin strips to match the shape of the noodles.  Since primavera means spring, the vegetable choices should be the crisp new vegetables of spring.

Originally, this idea of primavera as a dish is thought to have been derived from genuine Italian dishes, although under this name it is a North American dish, created in Nova Scotia and brought to New York. The irony of the story is that the creation of the primavera dish is ascribed it to Sirio Maccioni, then owner of Le Cirque (a French restaurant in Manhattan in the 1970's).  It quickly gained popularity as a special at the restaurant, and spread rapidly across the country from there.  

Monday, November 28, 2011

Chicken Breasts in a Port Wine Mushroom Cream Sauce

This recipe is also known (by the Julia Child types) as Supremes de Volaille aux Champignons, but I'm not sure I can pronounce that.  It is adapted from Mastering the Art of French Cooking, Vol. I by Julia Child, Louisette Bertholle and Simone Beck (Knopf, 1961). 
Now those of you who know me, know that I do not do mushrooms.  Period.  Well.... I happened to just have spent a wonderful vacation week in Mazatlan, Mexico that culminated with a wonderful brunch buffet that had this divine smell coming from one of the dishes.  I absolutely knew that there were mushrooms in there, but could not help myself.  The sauce smelled absolutely out of this world - and it was.  And the chicken was SO tender.  Yes, I went back for seconds.  So you know that I had to come home and attempt to recreate the recipe.  This Julia Child recipe seems to be the closest to what I experienced, and also the most highly regarded.

Interestingly, most chicken recipes require searing first to develop the flavor.  This one does not.  It's actually sort of fool proof (with the addition of the digital thermometer), since it only requires that the chicken be gently nestled among the mushroom and butter sauce before popping it into the oven.  Because it is not seared first, the flesh of the chicken is super tender, and the flavor comes largely from the fragrant sauce.

Ingredients:
4 boneless, skinless chicken breasts (Julia Child calls these supremes)
Juice of 1/2 large lemon
Kosher salt
Black pepper
6 tablespoons butter
1 Tbsp finely minced shallot
1/2 container (about 4 oz) diced fresh baby white button mushrooms

For the sauce:
1/4 cup beef broth
1/4 cup dry white wine
1 cup heavy whipping cream
1 Tbsp aged port wine
Salt and pepper
2 Tbsp freshly minced parsley

Directions: Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.
While you are chopping the shallots, enlist the help of one of your favorite people to clean the gook off of the mushrooms.  Those babies are quite dirty when you get them from the supermarket!  Then cut off the stems and chop them as fine as you would like.
 

Generously paint the chicken with lemon juice and season with salt and pepper.
 
 
So here, you can see I have my mise en place* prepared ahead of time.  You don't want your delicate shallots to overbrown or burn while you take the time to clean and chop the mushrooms! This is an important aspect of the dish...have everything ready!  (*see Food Nerd Notes below recipe.)
Heat the butter in a heavy dutch oven (I used my Le Creuset cast enamel dutch oven) until foamy.  Stir in the minced shallots and saute a couple of minutes, but without browning.
 
 
Stir in the mushrooms and saute lightly for a minute or two, again without browning. Sprinkle with salt.
Turn the chicken around in the butter mixture and then gently cover the chicken with the mushrooms and butter.
 
Insert a digital meat thermometer into the thickest part of the chicken and  cover with the lid.  Place the pot in the preheated oven. You really want the thermometer to read about 155* degrees F.  This takes around 20 - 25 minutes, depending on the thickness of the chicken breasts. (*see Food Nerd Notes following recipe.)

When the chicken reaches the desired internal temperature, remove them to a warm platter and cover to keep warm.  The mushrooms will stay in the pot, as we will use them to make the sauce.

To make sauce, first, pour the beef stock into the pot on high heat and cook along with the butter and mushrooms until reduced and thickened.
 Next, add the wine and repeat, cooking until thickened.
 Repeat the process with the heavy cream and cook until slightly thickened and syrupy.
Adjust seasonings to taste, adding additional salt, pepper and remainder of the juice from the half lemon.

Finally, add the port wine sauce and cook only a minute or so more.  THIS is what makes this sauce SO spectacular!!
 
 Pour the sauce over the chicken, sprinkle with freshly chopped parsley and serve immediately.
The resulting produce is a wonderful dish of tender, juicy chicken blanketed by a delicately perfumed sauce of the port wine - a warm, almost nutty aroma.  That said, this is a rich dish, so I recommend serving it with something that is NOT rich.  We had it with roasted fingerling potatoes and a mix of green and white asparagus, also roasted, with freshly shaved Parmigiano Reggiano.


Written Directions: Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.
While you are chopping the shallots, enlist the help of one of your favorite people to clean the gook off of the mushrooms.  Those babies are quite dirty when you get them from the supermarket!  Then cut off the stems and chop them as fine as you would like.Generously paint the chicken with lemon juice and season with salt and pepper. You don't want your delicate shallots to overbrown or burn while you take the time to clean and chop the mushrooms! This is an important aspect of the dish...have everything ready!  (*see Food Nerd Notes below recipe.) Heat the butter in a heavy dutch oven (I used my Le Creuset cast enamel dutch oven) until foamy.  Stir in the minced shallots and saute a couple of minutes, but without browning. Stir in the mushrooms and saute lightly for a minute or two, again without browning. Sprinkle with salt. Turn the chicken around in the butter mixture and then gently cover the chicken with the mushrooms and butter. Insert a digital meat thermometer into the thickest part of the chicken and  cover with the lid.  Place the pot in the preheated oven. You really want the thermometer to read about 155* degrees F.  This takes around 20 - 25 minutes, depending on the thickness of the chicken breasts. (*see Food Nerd Notes following recipe.) When the chicken reaches the desired internal temperature, remove them to a warm platter and cover to keep warm.  The mushrooms will stay in the pot, as we will use them to make the sauce. To make sauce, first, pour the beef stock into the pot on high heat and cook along with the butter and mushrooms until reduced and thickened. Next, add the wine and repeat, cooking until thickened. Adjust seasonings to taste, adding additional salt, pepper and remainder of the juice from the half lemon. Finally, add the port wine sauce and cook only a minute or so more.  THIS is what makes this sauce SO spectacular!! Pour the sauce over the chicken, sprinkle with freshly chopped parsley and serve immediately. The resulting produce is a wonderful dish of tender, juicy chicken blanketed by a delicately perfumed sauce of the port wine - a warm, almost nutty aroma.  That said, this is a rich dish, so I recommend serving it with something that is NOT rich.  We had it with roasted fingerling potatoes and a mix of green and white asparagus, also roasted, with freshly shaved Parmigiano Reggiano.

Food Nerd Notes:
Mise en place. The Culinary Institute of America defines the French phrase Mise en place (pronounced [miz on plas], literally "putting in place") as "everything in place," as in set up. This concept is used in both professional as well as home kitchens to refer to organizing and arranging the ingredients (e.g., cuts of meat, relishes, sauces, par-cooked items, spices, freshly chopped vegetables, and other components) that a cook will require for the menu items that he or she expects to prepare.
A great tip is to thoroughly review your recipes to check for necessary ingredients and equipment. Have  your ingredients measured out, washed, chopped, and placed in individual bowls. Equipment, such as spatulas and blenders, are prepared for use, and ovens are preheated. Preparing the mise en place ahead of time allows the chef/cook to cook without having to stop and assemble items, which is desirable in recipes with time constraints.

Chicken temperature.  Many experts recommend that chicken breast meat must be cooked to an internal temperature of 160 - 170 degrees F. You will have moister chicken if you cook to 160 degrees F. Remember that the meat will continue to cook after it's removed from the heat.  The internal temperature will rise about 5-10 degrees in the first few minutes it's off the heat. That is why I recommend setting your temperature alarm for 155 degrees F.  This will allow the continued temperature rise to the appropriate temperature, but not overcook the meat, which would dry it out.  Also, you will be putting the chicken back into the hot sauce, which will also increase the temperature.

Herbed Goat Cheese Stuffed Mini Peppers

These little gems are so easy to make.. and are great for a quick and colorful appetizer!  They are about two bites each of the sweet roasted peppers balanced with tangy goat cheese and bright herbs.  Absolutely hard to resist when they first come out of the oven, but also like molten lava! Hee Hee..
We kept passing by the packs of these in the supermarket, but have been unsure about how to prepare them, or if they were spicy or not.  We finally took the plunge... and we're so glad we did!  These are perfect for those of you who maybe like the flavors and idea of stuffed jalapenos, but have a hard time stomaching (literally) the heat.  These sweet mini peppers are not hot at all, so they are very friendly to a wide variety of ages and palates.
Ingredients:
  • about 9 -10 mini sweet peppers (a mix of red, orange, and yellow)
  • 4 oz semi-soft goat cheese* with herbs
    •  you could substitute cream cheese for goat cheese, but I personally don't think it would be as great.  And you would probably need to add more seasoning.
  • 1/3 cup mix of fresh green onions, tarragon and basil, freshly chopped
  • 1 large clove of garlic, minced fine 
  • salt and fresh ground black pepper, to taste 
Step-by-step:
Preheat oven to 350 degrees FSlice off a slice from the "top" (concave) side of the peppers, leaving the stem. 
Scoop out the seeds and membrane.
Prep the peppers.
Combine the softened goat cheese with the freshly chopped herbs, garlic, salt and pepper.
Chop the garlic, green onions, tarragon, and basil.








Take the goat cheese out for a while so that it will soften enough to mix the herbs into it.

Combine the softened goat cheese with the freshly chopped herbs, garlic, salt and pepper.
 

Stuff the peppers.

Arrange the peppers on a backing sheet that has been sprayed with non-stick cooking spray.
Ready for the oven.
Bake for around 15-18 minutes until peppers are softened and cheese is hot and bubbly.
Garnish with fresh basil leaves and serve warm.
Garnish with more fresh basil.  Voila!  Yummo!
    * This recipe adapted out of a 2001 BHandG.

    Method:
    • Preheat oven to 350 degrees F 
    • Slice off a slice from the "top" (concave) side of the peppers, leaving the stem.  
    • Scoop out the seeds and membrane.
    • Combine the softened goat cheese with the freshly chopped herbs, garlic, salt and pepper.
    • Spoon the herbed goat cheese into the peppers.
    • Arrange the peppers on a backing sheet that has been sprayed with non-stick cooking spray.
    • Bake for around 15-18 minutes until peppers are softened and cheese is hot and bubbly.
    • Garnish with fresh basil leaves and serve warm.
    Order the Menu Musings Cookbook!
     
    Looking for more recipes from my blog? Please visit my Recipe Index for more ideas! Here are a few to get you started:

    Parker House Rolls (recipe over 100 years old)
      
     Ham, Caramelized Onion, and Gruyere Quiche
     Cranberry Cherry Chicken Wrap


    Food Nerd Notes:
    Vine sweet mini peppers are a hybrid sweet pepper, small in size and sold in an assorted tri-color pack.  Characteristic traits for this product include its small size, that ranges from 1.5 inches up to 4.0 inches. Each color is grown separately, and consists of three separate variety of seeds that have very similar characteristics in size, flavor, shape and use, allowing it to be marketed as a single item and used the same way in its kitchen use. These peppers look and taste very similar to the bell pepper, but are sweeter and smaller. Interestingly enough, replication of the proprietary seeds by extracting the few seeds that the peppers contain (a desirable trait in the original variety) are usually sterile and infertile, and have proven to leave out desirable traits of the peppers when they do in fact germinate.

    And what about the goat cheese?
    Oh how I love goat cheese.  Yes, it sounds kinda funky (if you've not had it), but it's oh so wonderful!  Just as with cow's milk cheeses, there are a large variety of goat cheeses! They can range in taste from strong and pungent, to delicate and mild. They come in many shapes: cone, disc, wheel, "button," the log-like bûche (say: boosh) and the puck-like crottin (say: cro-TAN). They delight with textures from creamy to crumbly to semi-firm. They are sold fresh, aged or marinated in olive oil or red wine. They may get coated in herbs (such as lavender), black pepper, edible flowers and yes, even chocolate.

    Goats were some of the first domesticated animals, thus the art of making goat cheese has a very long history. It began in the Eastern Mediterranean thousands of years ago, spreading through both mountains and deserts into Spain and France where it was heavily adopted.  Today goat cheese remains a staple of the Mediterranean diet, while North America furthers the tradition by producing an abundance of fabulous goat cheeses of its own. Many come from cherished, small, local producers with unique regional flavors. Others are from renowned cheese makers who have won international awards for their creations.

    Compared to cow's milk products such as cream cheese, goat cheese is lower in fat, calories and cholesterol. It also provides more calcium than cream cheese. Even though goat cheese has fewer calories, it has a full, rich and creamy flavor.  Here are the facts:

    Lower fat and calories - 
    When it comes to fat and calories, goat cheese has the advantage over cheese made from cow's milk. Goat cheese clocks in at eighty calories and six grams of fat per ounce, compared to cow's milk cheese, which generally has around 100 calories and 10 g of fat per ounce. This means goat cheese is 
    the better choice for staying fit and thin.

    Metabolism Booster - 
    Diets higher in calcium have been proven to assist the body's burning of fat after meals. The need for hormone release to maintain calcium levels is banished, which correlates with a higher rate of fat oxidation.

    Higher in Protein -  
    There are five grams of protein in a single ounce of goat cheese! Goat's milk is a good source of low-cost high-quality protein, providing 8.7 grams of protein (17.4% of the daily value for protein) in one cup versus cow's milk, which provides 8.1 grams.

    Higher in Calcium - 
    The amount of calcium in goat cheese can vary from around forty grams in soft cheese up to 240 grams in hard goat cheese. This clocks in slightly higher than cow's milk cheese, which has about 200 grams in the hard version. Lower in calories and higher in the good stuff? What's not to like?!

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