Creamy Tomato Pasta

It’s the time of year when I just want a quick, easy, comfort food meal. Lots of holiday cooking. Rushing around to parties, gift shopping. It’s crazy sometimes! It’s also a time of year when leftover cheese seems to multiply in my fridge because of parties and potluck recipes.

This recipe is an antidote. Easy. Quick. And, I can use up leftover soft cheese. I use Boursin here but cream cheese, Neufchatel, or some other brand of semi-soft spreadable cheese will work.

I use canned artichoke hearts (I like Trader Joe’s) but you can use some cooked green vegetable like broccoli or asparagus instead.

I use dried herbs – they are always in my pantry. I crush them in my palm to make the bits of herb leaves smaller so they distribute through the sauce better. Crushed dried herbs also release the scent and flavor more fully.

Creamy Tomato pasta
(serves 4)

1/2 lb penne pasta
1/2 onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 Tbsp olive oil
1 14.5 oz can Italian-style diced tomatoes
1/2 tsp dried oregano, crushed
1/2 tsp dried basil, crushed
pinch red pepper flakes
1/2 tsp salt
freshly cracked pepper to taste
2 Tbsp tomato paste
1/2 cup water
1 14 oz. can whole artichoke hearts, drained and cut into quarters
2-3 oz. Boursin garlic and herb cheese, cut into small pieces
1/4 cup shredded part-skim mozzarella cheese

Bring water to a boil in 3 quart saucepan. Add the pasta and cook until tender (9-11) minutes. Drain the pasta in a colander. Rinse out pot.

Heat up olive oil in the saucepan over medium heat. Add onion and saute for 5 minutes. Add garlic, cook for an additional minute.

Add the diced tomatoes (with juices), oregano, basil, red pepper flakes, salt, and some freshly cracked pepper. Stir to combine. Add the tomato paste and water to the pan and stir until the tomato paste is dissolved into the sauce. Bring to a boil and reduce to a simmer. Cook for 5 minutes. Add artichoke hearts and simmer for another 3 minutes.

Reduce the heat to low. Add Boursin cheese to the sauce and whisk to combine. Add mozzarella cheese and stir to melt. Serve immediately.

Chicken Chili with Hominy

As the weather gets cold, it’s time to cook up some hearty stew. This stew gets a little kick from green chiles and ancho chile powder. It’s full of corn flavor from the hominy and masa.

I use masa flour as a thickener and to add more corn flavor. If you don’t want to buy a bag of masa (it’s difficult to find small bags), you can use 4 dried out small corn tortillas. Chop them up then stick them in a 350℉ oven until they start to get dry and crispy. Masa is used to make corn tortillas so they offer the same nixtamalitized flavor, as does the hominy (and if you want to learn about the importance of nixtamalization to the nutrition of corn, see my post on polenta).

You can use whatever heat level of green chiles you like here. I love Hatch Valley 505 Southwestern Flame Roasted green chile in a jar, which are medium heat. But, you can use milder or hotter ones if that is your preference. One small 4 oz. can is about 1/4 cup.

Ancho chile powder is pure ancho, nothing else. Chili powder is a blend of pure chile powders, cumin, oregano, paprika (which is merely a specific type of dried red pepper), and cayenne. They aren’t exactly interchangeable but either will work here.

Chicken chili with hominy
(serves 4 as an entree)

1 pound skinless boneless chicken breasts, cut into bite-sized chunks
salt, about 1 teaspoon
black pepper, about 1/2 teaspoon
2 tablespoon vegetable oil
2 red bell peppers, seeded and diced
1 large onion, chopped
1/4 cup chopped green chiles
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 tablespoon ancho chile powder or chili powder
1 teaspoon cumin
1 teaspoon dried oregano
4 tablespoons masa or 4 corn tortillas, chopped and crisped
2 cups chicken stock
2 cups milk (1%, 2% or whole)
2 15 oz. cans white hominy, rinsed and drained
1/4 cup chopped cilantro plus more for garnish
juice of 1/2 lime + wedges of remaining lime for garnish

Season chicken with salt and pepper. Heat 1 tablespoon oil over medium-high heat. Add chicken and cook until lightly browned. Transfer to a plate.

Add remaining tablespoon of oil to pan. Add red peppers and onions and cook until softened but not browned, a few minutes. Add green chiles, garlic, ancho powder, cumin, oregano, 1/2 teaspoon salt, and 1/4 teaspoon black pepper. Cook for a minute until fragrant. Add masa and stir to combine. Bring to a boil, stirring to dissolve any masa lumps. Reduce heat to low.

Add back chicken and any juices from plate, chicken stock, milk, and hominy. When the stew comes back to a simmer, cover and cook for 20 minutes.

Add cilantro and lime juice. Taste and add more salt and black pepper if needed.

Serve sprinkled with additional cilantro and a lime wedge.

Red Pepper & Walnut Dip

Looking for a change from hummus? This delicious dip is an addictive alternative. It’s based on muhammara, a dip found throughout the Eastern Mediterranean (Syria, Turkey, Georgia, and Lebanon). There are many variations. It’s usually made with pomegranate molasses, condensed pomegranate juice. It was a distinctive sweet-tart flavor and I recommend you find some. You can use any fruity-sweetish vinegar as an alternative; I used some peach white balsamic vinegar this week. It’s not quite as good-missing the tang that the pomegranate molasses brings-but it’s still darn good.

For the wheat crackers, I recommend Ak-Mak Sesame Crackers (available at Trader Joe’s and Kroger stores). They have very little sweetener added, unlike some other wheat crackers (I’m looking at you, Wheat Thins).

Red Pepper and Walnut Dip
(makes 1 1/2 cups)

3 red bell peppers, roasted, peeled, and seeded.
¾ cup chopped walnuts plus a little more for garnish, toasted and cooled
¼ cup fine dry bread crumbs or wheat cracker crumbs
½ Tablespoon fresh lemon juice
1 Tablespoon pomegranate molasses or a sweet fruity vinegar
¼ teaspoon ground cumin
½-¾ teaspoon salt
1 Tablespoon olive oil plus more for garnish
a few drops of hot sauce or a few pinches of crushed medium-hot chile flakes, like Aleppo or Korean chiles

Grind up the walnuts, crumbs, lemon juice, pomegranate molasses, cumin, and 1/2 teaspoon salt in a food processor until smooth.

Pat the red peppers dry, chop roughly and add to the food processor. Process until smooth and creamy.

With the processor running, drizzle in the olive oil. If it is really thick, add a Tablespoon or so of water. Season with hot sauce/chiles and more salt, if needed.

Garnish with additional olive and some toasted chopped walnuts, if you want to pretty it up. Serve with wedges of pita bread, pita chips, or crackers.

The flavor improves as it sits, so make it a day or a few hours ahead for the best flavor. Will keep about a week, refrigerated.

Turkey with Chanterelles, Peaches, and Pecans

It has been an absolutely banner year for wild mushrooms here in Colorado. There are years when every mushroom forager wears a long face. This is not one of them. If you aren’t finding King Boletes (our version of Porcini), morels in the burn scars, and now chanterelles, you just aren’t looking! I have found all of them. I stopped bothering with the Boletes; I’m running out of room in my freezer and I have a stockpile of dried one. But, look out! The chanterelle season is heating up. Oy!

This recipe combines two Colorado food items: peaches and chanterelles. Most people don’t realize that Colorado grows peaches. Oh, we sure do! And they are so very good. The chanterelles can be found nearly every year in our stunning high mountains. In a year like this, the bounty is unbelievable. Of course, if you don’t have the access nor the knowledge to forage them yourself, they can be bought at many high-end grocers.

Turkey Cutlets with Chanterelles, Peaches, and Pecans

(Serves 6)

2 pounds turkey breast tenderloins
salt and black pepper
2 tablespoon vegetable oil
4 tablespoons butter
1 shallot, finely chopped
1 clove garlic, minced
12-16 oz. fresh chanterelles, or another mild-flavored mushrooms (see Note), cleaned and cut into bite-sized pieces
1/3 cup dry sherry
4 oz. sour cream
2 medium peaches, peeled and diced
1/3 cup coarsely chopped pecans
2 tablespoons fresh chopped parsley

Cut the turkey tenderloins into cutlets: start with a piece about 1″ thick (you’ll get bigger cutlets if you cut the turkey on an angle rather than straight down, what is known as a bias cut). Then pound each piece with a meat pounder (or a small skillet bottom) until it is about 1/2″ thick. Salt and pepper each cutlet, both sides.

Heat the oven to 300℉.

Heat a large ovenproof skillet over medium-high heat then add 1 tablespoon oil and 1 tablespoon butter. Add about 4 turkey cutlets to the skillet but do not crowd them. Sauté until browned, flip and brown the other side. Remove to a plate and repeat with the remaining cutlets, adding another tablespoon of oil and butter if needed.

Reduce heat to medium. Add remaining 2 tablespoons butter, shallots, and garlic. Cook for about a minute. Add mushrooms and cook until they begin to give up their liquid. Season with salt and pepper. Add the sherry and cook until reduced somewhat, about 5 minutes. Remove pan from heat and gently stir in sour cream and peaches. Add the turkey and any turkey juices in the plate. Move around the sauce so that the turkey is covered in sauce. Sprinkle with pecans. Bake, uncovered, for 20 minutes.

Sprinkle with chopped parsley. Serve over toast or rice.

Note: I consider oyster mushrooms, and boletes (porcini) mild-flavored mushrooms. They have a sweet component rather than a strong mushroom flavor. In this regard, they are similar to chanterelles, which are very fruity. I think they smell like apricots and their scent is intoxicating.

Frittata: Easy dinner

A frittata containing leftover pasta with tomato sauce, cauliflower, almonds, rice, jack cheese, and parsley. I sprinkled the parsley on top because it looks nice but you can mix herbs in with all the other additions.
My additions included leftover pasta with tomato sauce, cauliflower, almonds, rice, jack cheese, and parsley. I sprinkled the parsley on top because it looks nice but you can mix herbs in with all the other additions.

Frittata is the answer to the question “What’s for dinner?” when you look in the fridge and see eggs and some leftovers. (The question can also be “what’s for lunch?” Or breakfast.) You can toss most anything in there. If it’s very saucy, only use about 1/2 cup of the sauce.

Here’s the simple method for a frittata for 4.

  1. Assemble the additions, 3-4 cups in total. Possible additions include cooked pasta (with or without sauce), cooked rice, cooked vegetables, some chopped herbs, cooked meat. Cut anything chunky into bite-sized pieces. No need to chop up pasta. If additions aren’t seasoned already, season with salt and pepper.
  2. Shred or chop up some cheese (3/4 cup to 1 cup worth), if you like. Good place to use up the end of a bit of cheese. Mix more than one if you like.
  3. Preheat oven to 350℉.
  4. Beat together 6 eggs with 1/2 cup milk. Season with salt and pepper. Mix in the cheese.
  5. Heat 2 tablespoons butter or oil in a 9-10″ ovenproof skillet (non-stick not essential but nice to have). Use medium heat.
  6. Sauté all the additions for a couple of minutes to warm them up.
  7. Pour the eggs over the additions and mix gently. Let cook until sides just begin to set, a few minutes.
  8. Place skillet in the oven and bake for 25 minutes.
  9. Voila! Dinner (or lunch, or breakfast, or snack).

The variations are endless.

Eggplant in Yogurt Sauce

I have been trying to solve the problem of the greasy eggplant for a while. Standard Breading Procedure (SBP) works quite well. SBP is a 3-step process: a dip in flour, then a dip in beaten egg, then a dip in breading. The breading sticks to the egg and gives you a crispy exterior without the greasy part. It works quite well, but it is a multi-step process and kind of messy. I was searching for something simpler.

If you try to fry eggplant with no coating at all, it acts like a sponge. Sucks up oil at an alarming rate. It contains so much water that it takes forever to brown too. The secret is just the egg white, a layer of protein that seals in the water and encourages browning. It works on cubes (toss 1 beaten egg white with 1 cubed eggplant in large bowl) and it works on slices (brush on the beaten egg white). It’s the simplest method I’ve found for cooking eggplant when a recipe calls for fried eggplant.

You only need to fry in a thin layer of oil and most of it isn’t absorbed by the eggplant. This is important for this recipe, as the sauce gets too oily if you fry the eggplant without any coating at all.

Eggplant in yogurt sauce
(serves 4-6)

1 egg white, beaten
1 large eggplant, cut into 1/2″ slices lengthwise
about 2 tablespoons vegetable oil or ghee
about 3/4 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon turmeric
2 teaspoons ground cumin
about 1 cup Greek part or whole milk yogurt (see Note)
1/4-1/2 teaspoon hot red ground chiles (Aleppo pepper, Korean)
1/2 teaspoon sugar

Brush both sides of the eggplant slices with the beaten egg white.

Heat up the vegetable oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Cook the eggplant slices until lightly browned, a couple of minutes per side. Cook in batches so slices aren’t crowded in the pan. Remove eggplant to a cookie sheet and sprinkle lightly with 1/4 teaspoon salt and 1/2 teaspoon turmeric.

When all the eggplant is cooked, add more oil to the skillet, if needed, to measure about 1 tablespoon. Add the cumin and fry for 1 minute. Add the eggplant to the skillet and turn to coat in oil. Turn off the heat then mix in the yogurt, 1/2 teaspoon salt, 1/2 teaspoon turmeric, ground chiles (according to your taste for spicy), and sugar. Turn on the heat to the lowest setting and gently warm until yogurt is heated. If the yogurt gets too hot, it will curdle. Taste sauce for salt and spice. Add more salt and chiles, if needed.

Note: you can make your own Greek yogurt by taking 1 cup of part or whole milk plain yogurt and draining it. Line a sieve with a double layer of damp cheesecloth and add the yogurt. Place over a bowl and allow the whey to drain out overnight in the refrigerator.

Hot Dog and Sauerkraut Bake

Opal in the Indian Peaks Wilderness near Boulder, Colorado in 2013

This post is dedicated to my dog Opal. That’s her in 2013 when she was still pretty frisky at 10 years old. We had to make the difficult decision to put her down recently. She was 16 years 5 months old. A very ripe old age for a German Shorthaired Pointer, especially one who a) nearly got swept away in the Crystal River near Aspen when she was a puppy, b) fell off a 30 foot cliff in the Colorado back country when she was 10, c) was diagnosed with adrenal cancer when she was 14 (the tumors were benign), d) got Cushing’s Disease as a result of the tumors. Opal’s last few years were filled with lots of good drugs, though even good drugs don’t taste very good.

Which brings us to hot dogs. Chunks of hot dogs were the best way to hide those pills and she surely looked forward to those hot dogs. We joked that the hot dogs were actually keeping her alive, not the meds. Wish it were true! It would have been a whole lot cheaper.

Opal just ran out of steam. Tough enough being a 16 year old dog. Even tougher when you have a whole lot of health issues. She loved us with all her heart. She was absolutely neurotic from the moment we got her from the shelter at 8 months. She mellowed only slightly in her old age. But, if you were her friend (i.e. gave her some treats), she’d love you too. Dogs are special creatures. Our family misses her so very much.

So, there was a pound of hot dogs in my fridge. This is what happened to it. It’s simple and tasty. It’s also amenable to different sausages: kielbasa, bratwurst (if using a raw sausage, brown the slices first), even soy hot dogs. To make this vegetarian, use soy dogs and a vegetarian chicken-style stock. I use a Kosher brand from Israel called Osem when I want chicken flavor without the bird.

Hot Dog and SAUERKRAUT Bake
(serves 6)
Prep: 10 minutes, Cook: 55 minutes

2 tablespoons oil
2 onions, thinly sliced
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 teaspoon dried thyme
3 tablespoons all purpose flour
1 1/2 cups chicken broth
3/4 cup apple cider
1 pound hot dogs, sliced
1 pound sauerkraut, rinse and squeezed dry
2 tablespoons grainy mustard
2 tablespoons grated white horseradish (optional)
1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper
12 oz. rye or hearty multigrain bread, crusts trimmed off and cut into 1″ cubes
non-stick cooking spray

Preheat oven to 350℉.

Heat the oil in a Dutch oven over medium heat. Add onions and saute until soft but not browned. Add garlic and thyme. Stir and cook another minute.

Add the flour and cook, stirring often, until flour starts to turn golden. Stir in chicken broth and cider, mixing well to dissolve the flour. Bring to simmer and cook for 5 minutes until thickened, stirring often.

Remove from heat. Stir in hot dogs, sauerkraut, mustard, horseradish (if using), and black pepper. Spray a 4 quart casserole dish with non-stick cooking spray. Pour mixture into casserole and set aside.

Spread bread cubes on a baking sheet in one layer. Spray liberally with cooking spray. Bake for 5 minutes. Stir bread cubes around and return to the oven for 3 more minutes. Spread and smush bread cubes on top of hot dog mixture.

Bake for 25 minutes, uncovered, until hot and bubbly and topping is well-browned.

Serve with a green salad.

Reheat in conventional oven 25-30 minutes covered then 5-10 minutes uncovered. Bread cubes become tough if reheated in the microwave.