Friday, October 16, 2009

Shells stuffed with pesto & chicken @ Janice's

Ok recipe combo time. We have discussed how to steam a deliciously juicy chicken before. This time it was paired with the mildly famous pesto-ricotta stuffed shells with marinara sauce. Just thinking about it makes my mouth water! So delicious! Let's start with the white wine marinara recipe:

1 big (24oz) can of whole steamed tomatoes
1 small (8oz) can of tomato paste
1 large onion
3 garlic cloves (I use more but I looooove garlic, treat 3 as a starting point)
3/4 cup white wine (preferably something sweet but not too sweet, thinking Chenin Blanc)
2tbspn extra virgin olive oil
2tspn rosemary
2tspn oregano
2tspn thyme (I used lemon thyme because I have a small plant at home)
pinch of salt and pepper to taste
I also added a few sweet 100 tomatoes since my plant was full of these and I didn't want them to go to waste. It helps if you prefer a chunkier sauce, which does give a very nice homemade, rusty feel to the meal.

1. Heat up your olive oil on a pan on medium heat.
2. Once the oil is hot add your onions and cook them carefully until translucent.
3. Add the garlic and cook until ready. (ready is usually once you get that yummy garlic aroma) (if using dried herbs add them now)
4. Add the steamed tomatoes and stir until incorporated. (don't worry, they will start to disintegrate as they cook)
5. Add the tomato paste and stir.
6. Add the white wine. (If you had fresh herbs add them now)
7. Add salt and pepper.
8. Cook on a simmer for at least 20 minutes.

Note: Cooking longer will produce a more robust bodied sauce. Just make sure you add liquid as you go so that you don't end up with everything drying up. It is possible to add either a can of tomato sauce or more steamed tomatoes or just liquid (wine or water) as you go.

The Pesto!

Ok, so I haven't been lucky with store bought pesto. One day while I was concocting this recipe I decided my expertise in the field of pesto making was appropriate (I had none) to come up with a recipe on my own so I went to google for help. Upon using the trusty keyphrase of 'best ever' along with the searching term of the day 'pesto' I came up upon a wonderful result: How to make Pesto like an Italian Grandmother.

Luckily I have a master chopper at my disposal and he does all these chopping whenever this recipe is made. Which is very efficient if I may add because it frees me to start everything else :). If you follow the recipe linked you will end up with something roughly half the size of this:

The rest!

I like Barilla pasta because it is easy to find at your local store and decent. Although my next attempt will include trying to make my own ricotta I am not quite sure when will it be time to attempt my own shells. Making fettuccine is one thing, shells a whole other art!

Follow the instructions on the box and make your pasta. Shock it with some cold water so it doesn't overcook (remember this goes in the over later as well!). While it sits, mix the ricotta with the pesto. Your ratio may vary depending on how much cheese:pesto you prefer but I went with 1:1 or 8oz packages of ricotta for my doubled pesto recipe.

Now is time to stuff the shells. Handle them with care as they do break easily. You want to put enough filling so that you can see the inside of the shell just a little. An understuffed shell looks sad but an overstuffed one might break and could be hard to serve later on without it breaking everyone and making for ugly presentation.

Put them all on a baking tray (or 2 depending on how many you made). Cover them with your delicious marinara sauce which will be ready by now. If you are a cheese lover like me, buy some fresh mozzarella and place some slices of it on top prior to baking. Bake in a preheated oven at 350F for about 20-30 or until the cheese on top has melted and is bubbling.

If you are making some garlic bread (I'll post my recipe some time here) bake it now as well. Serve this with some nice full bodied red wine (we tried a blend we curiously acquired at the BevMo 5 cent sale) and enjoy!

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Secret ingredient: Leek!

So I wanted to make something with a leek... After looking around for recipes/ideas that didn't require me going out and shopping some more I came across this one: Chicken breasts with leeks, wine and cheese. Check, check and check!

2 chicken breasts
1/2 stick of butter
1 leek
4 garlic cloves
1 shallot
1/3 cup of red wine of choice (I used Shiraz since the bottle was almost empty anyway hehe)
1tbsn balsamic vinegar
2tsp fresh ground peppercorns (use black pepper if you got nothing else, it's ok!)
salt to taste
parmesan or romano grated cheese to taste

In our house marinating for a little while is better than not marinating at all. So even though I had only as long as it would take me to prep I used my trust Goya Adobo dry rubs on 2 boneless/skinless chicken breasts.

In a deep pan/skillet on medium heat, add the butter. Once it is melted and covering the bottom of your pan, add the leeks, shallots and garlic. Cook these until the leeks are mushy and the shallots are translucent. This will take a few minutes but it is worth it so be patient! Spread the contents of the pan and place the chicken breasts on top of them. Mix the wine and the balsamic vinegar and add them to the pan. Sprinkle your pepper and salt over the chicken as well (both sides ok!). Now cover them and it all simmer for about 20 minutes. Feel free to turn the chicken as you see fit. After the 20 minutes are over, uncover and add the cheese on top, cover once more and allow to cook for another 5 minutes.

It looks very nice served on a plates with the chicken on a bed of the greens. The chicken was very moist and delicious, highly recommended! Great for low carb fare, more of those to come.

Chicken with wine/leeks/cheese


Well, I am on my slow carb diet once more. This means a lot of what gets cooked is veggies and proteins. Having a sweet tooth in a low carb diet can be challenging. Luckily I found a great crustless cheesecake recipe and by tweaking it a little we have a fantastic low carb cheesecake! Then I did the same with a whipped cream topping and the results were stellar. Here it goes:

Ingredients - Cheesecake
3/4 lbs ricotta cheese
8 oz cream cheese
3/4 cup sugar substitute
3 eggs
3 tbspn all purpose flour
1/2 cup sour cream
1 tspn vanilla extract
1/4 tspn lemon zest

1. Allow all the ingredients to come to room temperature.
2. Preheat the oven to 325F.
3. Using a springform pan is preferable but a regular 9 inch cake pan will do as well.
4. Cream ricotta, cream cheese and sugar substitute until smooth.
5. Add the eggs one at a time waiting until each one is fully incorporated.
6. Add flour one tablespoon at a time waiting until each one is fully incorporated.
7. Add sour cream and vanilla.
8. Pour the mix into the pan.
9. Place the pan on a rectangular baking pan with 2 inches of water.
10. Bake for 90 minutes.
11. Turn off the over without opening it and leave the cheesecake in the over another 60 minutes.
12. Remove the cheesecake from the oven and let it cool on the rack/counter for another 60 minutes.
13. Frost and refrigerate.

Ingredients - Whipped Cream Topping
1 cup of heavy cream
3/4 cup sugar substitute
1 tspn vanilla

1. Cream the heavy cream.
2. Add sugar and vanilla and whip until it peaks.

Friday, September 11, 2009

Beef with Sweet Green Peppers and Onions - Stir Fry!

Since this was Aaron's recipe I'll leave this entry for him to fill :D

From Pepper Beef and Cucumbers

Beef, celery, sweet pepper, onions, garlic, chilli peppers.

Marinate beef with some soy sauce and pepper and a little bit of vinegar overnight. This gives the beef some flavor on the inside and tenderizes it.

Wok optional, but I like it. Since I will be stirfrying it, and everything is going into the same wok, preparation is key. I wanted larger strips of beef, so I cut the strips fairly large across the grain. I also wanted the end result to be tender beef, so my first constraint is that I cannot cook the beef with too high a heat or for too long. My second constraint is the celery. I can't cook them as long as the beef or they'll be soft. I don't want them too raw either, because then they will not soak up much flavor and have a raw taste that will not go too well with the rest of the dish. I also chopped up a whole onion, some garlic, and diced some chillies super tiny. Now everything was ready to go.

Heat wok until coating smokes a little, then hit it with some oil and swirl it around, baking a new coating into the opened pores. First, onion, then garlic. A little salt and pepper. Exhaust fan on coz it's gonna get hot in here! Next, the beef. Brown the outsides a little, then lower the heat to simmer. I wanted to cook this slow. I covered the wok to help the beef cook faster. When the beef was 70% cooked, I added some sauces/spices from the rack: sesame oil, dark soy sauce, fish sauce, black pepper, sugar. Tossed in the chillies, celery and peppers. Raised te heat, wok'd them around, then turned the heat back down.

With the low heat and being covered, the water from the onions and celery and pepper and beef started to come out. This is a good thing because we like sauce/gravy. But I wanted more gravy and thicken it a little so I mixed some corn starch with some water and then tossed it in. I made sure to add a little extra flavor earlier, in anticipation that I would add more water now and that some of the flavor would dissolve into the gravy. I let it simmer uncovered so the sauce could thicken and the flavors could meld. At the end, wok it a little more and fix up the flavors to taste. Serve hot over rice.

BKT - Bah Kut Teh

BKT! Always so good and comforting. While visiting KL I tried Chinese herbal soups for the first time. These have found a special place in my heart and stomach hehehe. There were two that stayed with me, some herbal soup which came in a coconut but seems to be a concoction of the stall we ate it at and BKT which seems to be more traditional and thus a more commonly found recipe.

In its most simple incarnation you will find just a powder you can drop in your broth. One step up from there you will find the packets with the various dried roots, herbs, dates and mushrooms along with the powder that gives it its own very unique and delicious aroma. Finally, a Chinese herbal shop can also prepare a packet for you. Whether or not this would technically be BKT, I am not sure but all the ones which have come my way have been excellent.

The picture below shows one of the pre-made packets bought from one herbal shop which covered all the goodies. Some of the more expensive ones will throw in a big piece of ginseng as well. Good for your health!

The rest is extremely simple and delicious. I buy some pork ribs and a piece of tenderloin (as seen below). Proceed to cut the ribs in groups with no more than 3 ribs and cube the tenderloin. Place them all in a bug soup pot with the ingredients from the packet and a few garlic cloves and bring it up to a slow simmer. Depending on how early it starts to cook, the longer it can simmer the better. This will allow the flavors to combine and meld into the true goodness of a good herbal soup. Usually served with white rice, Chinese donuts, soy sauce and chilies. Since there is no salt added the soy sauce can be used individually to taste. As the fall comes in and we say our goodbyes to the summer this will be on my table more and more :).

From Bah Ku Teh

Steamed Fish

Last week I had happened to visit the store around early afternoon on a Saturday. This seemed to be the peak time for buying fresh fish. Never had such a crowd been gathered in that area while we'd been a the store. The decision was made there and then, a fish would be purchased the following week.

This week then would be the very first time I would have bought a whole fresh fish. After looking around at the different offerings we noted some cheaper, imported fish with a note reading "previously frozen". Those were out of the running. If fish was to be the meal of choice starting with the best available was the clear choice.

Tilapia is a tasty and forgiving fish and thus a tilapia was purchased. The lady behind the counter cleaned it up, wrapped it and the fish was officially in my possession. I snapped a picture while the guy told me to not take pictures and off we went to steam a fish.

Of course, Auntie was the clear choice when looking for advise on the proper cooking method. As advised the fish was cleaned (and yes by the pictures I know it still could have used a little better cleaning, next time!), rubbed with salt, sprinkled with some ginger and placed in the improvised steamer.

Here's what you need and how to do it:

- whole fish, cleaned and re-cleaned :)
- coarse salt for a good rub - inside and out
- about i'd say 1/4 to 1/2 of ginger sliced thinly

Clean the fish thoroughly. Rub it with salt inside and out. Place it in your steamer and sprinkle it with the ginger. If you don't have a steamer feel free to steal my improvised method. Grab your soup pot, place a small dish (dishwasher safe!) on the bottom and fill the bottom of the pot with water as much as you can without it going on your plate. Place the fish on the plate, sprinkle the ginger and set the fire to medium.

After it starts simmering, check around the 10 minute mark. If it does not look quite ready, leave it on the stove checking at 5 minute intervals. Once the flesh looks done remove it carefully (look at the head of my fish that's what happens when you don't remove it carefully hehe).

After it is done you can pour some soy sauce and sprinkle it with some chili peppers and garlic. I prefer to serve the garnishes on the side so everyone can add as much as they would like to have.

There's a delicious and healthy meal that you would like to make at least every once in a while after you try it out. Enjoy!

From Steamed Fish

Mofongo con pollo en fricase

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Friendly visitor

Just a few days ago, some aphids had infested the entire Cilantro plant with eggs (overnight!). I frantically doused the plant with soap+water and that successfully annihilated all of them by the next day. I squished their brown bodies and smeared their pulp all over the plant as a warning to future attackers. The following day, all the dead larvae had turned black. I decided to leave the dried, black corpses on there for whatever reason.
Yesterday, I spun Cilantro around and look what I found:

A ladybug! Predator of the aphid. It might have been attracted by the dead aphids. I hope it fed on some of them and laid many eggs to spawn an anti-aphid army.