My summer pasta

Spring Pasta Recipe

Read the article here.

Ingredients

~1lb chicken cutlets

Montreal Steak Seasoning

Olive Oil

4 strips thick cut bacon (diced)

2 leeks (diced)

4 cloves garlic (sliced)

1/4 cup white wine

1/2 cup chicken stock

1/4 cup butter

1 package pasta

2 cups chopped spinach

1 cup roasted red peppers (diced)

10oz frozen peas

1/4 cup shredded parmesan

salt & pepper Continue reading →

My summer pasta

Spring Pasta – A Meal to Enjoy with Friends

Get the recipe here.

Spring is Near

The weather is finally starting to change (last week it was sunny, this week it snowed – welcome to Spring in the Tennessee Valley).  It is time to enjoy the weather, while also enjoying some of the delicious vegetables that the season has to offer.  If you are at all like me, you’re also trying to take it easy after a winter spent eating everything in sight that looks good.

Sometimes it’s good to skip the cream sauces and go a different route. Continue reading →

Blackened Chicken Mac and Cheese

Blackened Chicken Mac and Cheese

Get the recipe here.

Mac and Cheese is Heaven

As I move past the age of forty at a stately pace, there are many memories that stand out for me.  As you might guess from this blog, many of those memories are centered around food and the people I have enjoyed good food with.  There are plenty of great dining experiences I can recount; also plenty of great dining companions.  This article focuses around something slightly more humble.  What dish pray tell am I speaking of?  Why, Mac and Cheese of course.

Many people will scoff at the simple and wonderful glory of this dish.  I am not one of them.  I grew up enjoying the dish in many permutations – from various boxed varieties to homemade and restaurant versions.  When I was in my single digits, my esteemed Mother and I created a recipe for the dish which she still makes for me on occasion.  While I myself only barely remember the genesis of that recipe, I smile every time I see the joy on my Mom’s face when she recounts the story.

In large part, this recipe comes from my Mom.  While the technique, ingredients, and flavors are very different from my Mother’s dish the way they make me feel and the enjoyment I get from the dish are all Mom.  That said, there are a lot of influences I can point to regarding this dish.  Chief among them would be the delicious (and now extinct) Mac and Cheese my wife and I used to get at the Thirsty Monk Pub in Asheville, NC. They used to make a decidedly wicked version with smoked gouda.  Add to this my absolute love of all things blackened…  And here you go.

It is most definitely not boxed mac and cheese.  It is not boring mac and cheese.  This is the Mac and Cheese I make for my mom.

(photos courtesy of my son Liam’s 4th birthday – your Grandson loves it, too, Mom)

Notes:

This dish has a lot of moving parts but it’s less difficult to prepare than it looks.  The roux is the most difficult part to prepare, and even that is pretty easy to master.  Spend an afternoon on a lazy day drinking a beer or three and making this dish.  You will thank me for it.  Right before the food coma hits.

I like using three or four good cheeses for this dish.  The Parrano cheese mentioned in the recipe is one thing I think really makes the dish.  That particular cheese just really plays well off the flavors of the overall dish.

Get some good blackening and cajun spices.  They really are worth the money.  At some point I will probably try making up my own blend, but for now I recommend the ones mentioned in the recipe post.

Blackened Chicken Pasta

Blackened Chicken Mac and Cheese Recipe

Read the article here.

Ingredients:

16 oz buttermilk

1 lb chicken tenderloins*

6 oz Blackening seasonings (I recommend Paul Prudhomme’s)

4 tbsp Cajun seasoning (I recommend )

4 tbsp + 1/8 cup olive oil

1/8 cup unsalted butter

2 large shallots (diced)

2 cloves garlic (diced)

1/4 cup all purpose flour

1 tbsp thyme

1 tsp black pepper

4 tbsp salt

12 oz beer (I recommend a good Porter)

24 oz heavy cream

8-12 oz milk

4 oz sharp cheddar (grated)

4 oz gruyere (grated)

4 oz aged gouda (grated) – (I highly recommend )

1 lb pasta (shorter noodles work better, but your choice)

Method:

In a bag or bowl, marinate the chicken with a combination of 2 oz Blackening seasoning, 1 tbsp Cajun seasoning, and the buttermilk.  Marinate overnight.

Preheat over to 385 degrees.

Drain chicken and sprinkle some of the remaining Blackening seasoning over the chicken. Heat a skillet or cast iron pan over medium high heat and add 4 tbsp olive oil.  Sear chicken in pan on both sides.  Remove chicken to a sheet pan and cook in oven for ten minutes.

Remove chicken from heat and allow to cool. Reserve any pan drippings for later.

Get your water boiling for your pasta.  Add 3 tbsp salt to water.

In a heavy bottomed pot (dutch oven works great) over medium heat, add your butter and remaining olive oil.  Add shallots and garlic.  Saute until the shallots begin to darken slightly.  Add any drippings from the skillet you cooked the chicken in.  Add remaining blackening and cajun seasonings, thyme, 1 tbsp salt, and black pepper.  Stirring frequently, cook for about a minute.  Add flour and whisk to incorporate.  Cook 1 min, stirring constantly.

Add 12 oz beer and stir quickly.  This will make a lumpy paste.  Add heavy cream, and 4 oz of the milk.  Whisk to prevent lumps.  Bring to a simmer, sauce will thicken.  You want it to be slightly thinner than you’d like your finished product to be.  If it is too thick, add some milk to thin the mixture.

While the mixture is coming to a simmer, dice up your chicken.  Add any pan drippings to your sauce.

Turn heat off, and add shredded cheese a handful at a time, reserving 1/4 of the cheese for topping. Whisk to incorporate.  Add diced chicken.  Taste mixture and add salt/pepper as necessary.

Add pasta to cheese mixture either in dutch oven or a deep casserole dish.  Sprinkle remaining cheese over the mac and cheese and cover with a lid or foil.  Bake at 385 for 30 mins and remove lid.  Bake for 15 mins or until browned on top.

Remove from oven and allow to cool for 5 minutes.

Enjoy!

Notes:

*- A little extra chicken is a good thing in this dish.  It adds a nice texture component as well as protein.

Sierra Nevada makes an excellent Porter that is readily available in most states.

The Parrano cheese mentioned above is an excellent cheese that contrasts nicely with the flavors from the chicken.

Pairing:

This goes great with a nice Riesling or Pinot Grigio.  I recommend a drier version of either.

For a bit of green you could go with a salad, or some steamed broccoli.

Also great with a slice of Roasted Herb Bread.

Pasta with sauce

Tarragon Pasta Recipe

Read the article here.

Tarragon Cream Sauce

Ingredients:

1 tbsp Olive Oil

Mise-en-place – Tarragon, garlic, and shallots

1 tbsp Unsalted butter

1 Shallot – minced

1 clove Garlic – minced

Salt & Pepper (to taste)

2 tsp dried Thyme

1/2 cup White Wine

2 cups Heavy Cream

1 cup Whole Milk

1x Bunch Tarragon (pull the leaves off of the stem)

Parmigiano-reggiano (grated)

(Get your pasta water going.  This sauce takes about 10-15 mins to prepare so you will want your pasta ready about the same time as the sauce.)

Method:

Shallots, garlic, thyme in

Shallots, garlic, and thyme have been added to the pan

Heat the pan over medium heat.  Add the olive oil and butter.  Toss in the shallots and garlic.  Let the shallots clarify.  Add the thyme, salt, and pepper.  This will be fairly thick, and you want to stir things rapidly.  Add the wine to deglaze.  Stir.  A lot.

Deglazing

Wine going in. Stir!

 

 

 

 

 

Next, add the cream and milk.  Stir.  You will want to taste the sauce at this point to check the salt and pepper concentrations

Cream and milk added

Cream and milk added.

and adjust to your preferences.  Keep in mind, you will be adding parm at the end – typically a salty cheese – so do not overdo it.

The sauce will begin to boil as it comes up to temperature. Never fear, you want this! (*See notes.) Now is the time when you will add in your tarragon and stir to incorporate.

Tarragon input

Tarragon going in!

It should get very fragrant at this point. Enjoy!

Turn the heat off, and grate your parmigiano into the sauce.  Taste.

To finish, you will toss your pasta with the sauce and some more parmigiano.  Use some of your pasta water (ALWAYS save your pasta water!) to thin things out if things seem too thick.

 

Sauce simmering

Sauce simmering before cheese and pasta are added.

Pasta with sauce

Sauced and eat to eat!

Notes:

*What you are looking for is called nappe,

Nappe!

a fancy french term meaning the sauce

will coat the back of a spoon.

I generally serve this with a nice hunk of my garlic & cheese bread.

See the article about this post for some protein variations I recommend.

I usually make this in the my wife got me for Christmas a few years ago.  It works great, and I can add my pasta to the pan and finish the dish without having to dirty something else up.

Pasta with sauce

Tarragon Pasta

 

Pasta with sauce

Sauced and eat to eat!

Get the recipe here

There are plenty of evenings where you need to whip up something in a hurry.  Sometimes you have to sacrifice flavor for speed.  This is not one of those types of recipes.  This one gives you the best of both worlds – it’s fast as well as delicous.  And did I mention, flexible?  I call it my Tarragon Pasta.

This recipe comes from my college days.  I wanted a dish that I could play with, was cheap, and flavorful.  I also wanted to try something that would let me experiment with herbs, cream, and wine.  The sauce itself is fairly basic – cream, spices, fresh tarragon, and some wine if you have it handy.  Add some pasta, and you have a quick dinner that you will enjoy immensely.  Add some sausage, chicken, or shrimp and you have something to be proud of.  And the basic version is easy to make in less than fifteen minutes.  You can have the sauce ready before your pasta water even comes to a boil if you start them at the same time!

I apologise for the addictiveness of this recipe.  Once you have made it once, you will find yourself craving it again a week or two later.  If you like tarragon at all, or are looking for a chance to try the herb then this is the dish for you.

Variations:

My wife loves this dish with chicken.  When I make that variation, I generally pan sear the chicken and just slice it over the top of the pasta.  I have also cooked the chicken with cajun blackened seasoning with very enjoyable results.  As with all my recipes, I recommend you go with what you like!

Personally, my favorite variation involves using italian sausage.  I take a bit of sweet italian sausage and cook it in a skillet.  Then I remove the sausage from the pan and allow it to drain.  When the tarragon cream is thickened, I add the sausage back into the sauce with some finely chopped spinach and toss everything together.  My children love this version.  They happily devour every bite.  Part of this is my children’s absolute love of sausage.  Also, the tarragon and sausage mask the spinach – a boon to any parent trying to get healthy green veggies into their little one.

At some point, I would love to try this dish with shrimp.  I think I would cook the shrimp in butter with garlic and maybe some parmesan.  Nothing fancy, just delicious.  Then I would put the shrimp over the top of the pasta.

Pasta Choices:

I have made this dish with spaghetti, fettucini, bowties, and ziti.  The sauce is fairly thick and clinging so it will stick nicely to longer noodles.  You could probably get away with using gnocchi as well.  When I make the sausage version mentioned above, I generally go with the bowties.  The kids love them, and we don’t have to slice them into smaller portions for the boys.

Wine and Pairing:

Personally, I like this recipe better with wine.  I like to use it in the dish itself, and I particularly enjoy drinking a glass of wine while I enjoy the pasta.  I recommend a nice Riesling or a Pinot Grigio.

Sausage and Meatball Casserole

Sausage and Meatball Casserole Recipe

Meatball and Sausage Casserole

Post baking

 

See the article about this recipe here.

The Recipe:

Casserole Ingredients:

2lbs Italian sausage*

24 Meatballs (homemade or frozen)**

1 Yellow Onion, diced

4 cloves Garlic, thinly sliced***

1/2 spicy pepper of your choice, minced (we like Tabasco peppers off of our bush) (optional)

2 Tablespoons

1 cup red wine

1 28oz can whole peeled ****

1 bottle (optional)

1/2 Stick Butter

1 can Black Olives

Fresh Basil to taste (I recommend 8 to ten leaves) thinly sliced

8-10 slices Provolone cheese

2 teaspoons Fish Sauce (optional)****

2 tbsp olive oil

salt and pepper to taste

Method:

You can do this recipe start to finish in one pan.   I recommend using a dutch oven or other heavy-bottomed oven safe pot.

Preheat oven to 350F.

Heat pot over medium heat.  Add olive oil.  Brown meatballs a few at a time, being careful not to overcrowd the pan.  Drain on a plate or other flat surface lined with paper towels.  You just need to brown them at this stage, they’ll get coooked through later on in the process.

Brown the italian sausage in the pot.  Remove sausage from the pot and drain over paper towels.

Add the butter to the pan.  Add the onions and garlic to the pot.  You want to sweat the onions and garlic, but not put too much color on them.  Add the tomato paste to the pot and stir.  After about a minute, pour in the wine to deglaze and stir for all your life.  You want to get as much of the brown bits off the bottom of the pan as possible. Toss in the spicy pepper.

Add in the passata (if you’re using it) and the San Marzano tomatoes. Crush the tomatoes by hand directly into the pot.  Work out some frustrations.  Imagine coworkers (and that old Kids in the Hall script). Be sure and rinse the cn out with some water and add that to the pot as well.  You paid for it, get your money’s worth.

Add your meatballs and sausage back into the pot and bring to a simmer.   Taste and season as necessary. Drain olives and add to pot.

Turn the heat off.

Don’t forget to add the fish sauce (if using) and stir it in.  Sprinkle the basil over the top.  Place the sliced provolone over the top of the casserole, cover, and bake for 40 mins.

Remove lid and bake 10 more mins.

Remove from oven, and allow to cool for 10 mins.  Taste, adjust seasoning as necessary.  Serve.

Notes:

* – we use sweet Italian because of the boys, but use whatever you like

** – I’ve done this with mixed results using frozen store bought meatballs. Homemade meatballs are probably worth the effort, but Costco makes one we can accept. That being said, if you have the time…

*** – From what I have read, most canned tomatoes labeled as San Marzano aren’t actually San Marzano tomatoes. Find a brand you like, and go with those. I like Vento which I can get at my local grocery store, or the brand linked above, which I prefer and can get at Costco.

**** – I always forget to add this… Don’t be l like me!

Serving Suggestions:

This dish is super flexible as a base for dinner.  You can eat it straight out of a bowl if you like (I do this pretty often).  We have also served it over polenta or tossed with ziti or spaghetti.  One time I even used it as the sauce/meat for a homemade pizza.  The beauty of this dish is in it’s flexibility.