Archive for the ‘Entrées’ Category

Green Chile and Sweet Corn Mac

I’ve found, in my eleven years living outside of Colorado, that many people don’t imagine Colorado as a place where much food can grow. People always sound surprised when I tell them that the hardiness zone for growing fruits and vegetables in Denver is approximately the same as that of Columbus, Ohio. And while it may be impossible to grow prolific gardens in the high mountain towns, there are many areas of the state known specifically for their produce.

In fact, many of the most anticipated foods of the summer are identified by the town in which they are grown. I’ve already mentioned Palisade peaches, and that area is also a significant producer of apples, plums, and cherries. Rocky Ford melons are some of the sweetest I’ve ever tasted. Olathe sweet corn is grown so prolifically that it appears in heaping mounds at even the most basic grocery stores, not just at boutique food shops and farmers markets. And, though it’s a town in New Mexico, we always look forward to the arrival each fall of Hatch green chiles.

Summery ingredients

Green chile is a bit of a sport in the Southwest. Most natives will argue that there is NOTHING that can’t be improved by these versatile foods, whether you like your chiles mild (like me) or screamin’ hot. The smell of roasting chiles tumbling around in giant metal barrels outside every grocery store still elicits strong memories of back-to-school evening errands with my parents and anticipation for the imminent changing leaves. Interestingly, I did not like green chiles at all as a kid. It’s only now, as an adult and returning Colorado resident, that I finally appreciate the obsession.

Charring corn

And so, I’m on a quest to learn how to cook with green chile beyond simply sprinkling it on my eggs, my pizza, my fajitas… though those are all excellent decisions. And this quest starts with something I’m supremely comfortable with: mac and cheese! For a Colorado-autumn twist on my go-to recipe, I paired my green chile with sweet corn, another fall favorite of mine.

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Ravioli with Mushroom Sauce

As much as I enjoy the pride that comes from highly crafty cooking projects, from hand-making pasta and pie crust and pizza dough, it’s just too dang much work most days. It’s not that I’m ready to abandon my stove and commit to microwave dinners. But I am constantly on the lookout for meals that can be thrown together in just a few minutes with minimal chopping, mincing, grating, or cooking time.

Mushrooms and dairy

Sometimes, those recipes are as close as the back of a package of pasta I bought on a whim. And this one quickly became a household favorite.

Minced grated and chopped

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Magic Pasta
Last August, I canned 118 pounds of tomatoes. Broke ’em down one-by-one and divvied up them up into whole tomatoes, diced tomatoes, plain tomato sauce, pizza sauce, and marinara sauce. And while I certainly do use those the other products, the biggest motivator is the marinara sauce. Which I ration carefully across the year for one dish and one dish only.

Magic Pasta.

The makings of greatness
Having stumbled across this delightful combination of ingredients by pure accident, I accidentally discovered a meal that Brad and I both find so perfect, so delicious, that I have to work really really hard to make anything else for dinner. Originally hatched as a way to use up the previous year’s supply of home-canned marinara sauce, this dish now holds permanent quarters at the top of our favorites list. I know that “Magic Pasta” doesn’t really indicate the components of the meal particularly well, but it’s all we call it. If you prefer, you can call it Pasta with Amazing Tomato Cream Sauce and Italian Sausage.

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Fresh Sweet Pea Potstickers
A while back, I made a batch of potstickers that ruled over all other potstickers I had eaten. They were savory and rich and perfect, and as a result I dedicate time each year to can Ginger Apple Chutney, the driving force behind them.

As far as Brad is concerned, they are the only potstickers worth eating – why even bother, he asks? I, on the other hand, have yet to find a filling for these fried little dumplings that I don’t like, so I occasionally play with alternatives. This is, currently, my favorite alternative.

Spring greens!
If the Pork & Ginger Apple potstickers taste like autumn, these ones taste like spring. The ingredients are fairly simple: crisp green onions and peas accompanied by sautéed spinach and mushrooms. The bright flavors of the onions and peas are balanced out by the dark, earthy spinach and, my favorite, mushrooms sautéed in butter and soy sauce.

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Weeknight Roasted Chicken

Like many of you, I assume, I grew up eating chicken at home primarily in the form of boneless-skinless chicken breast. Legs and thighs were treats found mostly on coveted fried chicken platters that showed up at potlucks, or in occasional bucket o’ chicken. And whole chickens? Even more rare!

I decided a few years ago that I wanted to try to buy as much of meat from local producers as I could, which is admittedly more expensive than trays of shrink-wrapped meat from the grocery store. For some cuts, it was oppressively expensive: boneless-skinless chicken breast ran anywhere from nine to fifteen dollars a pound (gulp). As a result I began to explore other cuts of meat, and one of my favorites was the whole chicken. Not only does a whole chicken yield a variety of cuts and flavors, but I can split a whole chicken into at least three meals for Brad and I. And I can use the spare parts for stock. Definitely the biggest bang for my buck. Sometimes I choose to break the chicken down for parts while it’s still fresh (using an excellent how-to video that I swear by) and sometimes I choose to cook it whole.  And, for a number of reasons, this is my favorite way to do the latter.

All the ingredients you need
Reason #1: It’s fast. Seriously, from start to finish, this chicken can be ready to eat in an hour. There’s very little prep – no stuffing, to tying of feet, no oiling, and no slow-roasting. This bird cooks HOT for 45-50 minutes. And though the original recipe recommends seasoning at least two days in advance, I’ve never been disappointed in my method of seasoning immediately before cooking.

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Fresh Bruschetta Mozzarella

I wish I could say that I’ve been harboring this recipe for years, that I’m embarrassed to be posting it only now after summers and summers of enjoyment. I wish I could say that I’ve been adding it to my menu every week of every tomato season for as long as I can remember. I wish that the glut of tomatoes that I harvested this year, the glut that caused me to try this experiment, had happened years ago.

Bruschetta Mozzarella Toasts
Well. I can say none of those things. The truth is I’ve never been a big fan of fresh tomatoes, and as such, I’ve spent my life picking them off of salads, sandwiches, and pastas. But I’ve vigilantly planted at least a couple of varieties each of the last few years in an effort to force myself into using them, and this year, the strategy paid off handsomely. It seemed wrong to take such ripe, beautiful fruits at their peak and cook them down into sauce, and the internet seemed to agree that bruschetta is a great way to feature them raw.

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Chip and Cheddar Hot Dogs

The benefits of apartment dwelling are many. We’ve managed to get our leasing office to fix everything from bathroom light bulbs to water filters in the freezer to warped baseboard in our storage room. We have the freedom to move when and where we choose (within the limits of an annual lease, of course) and there is not much gossip over fences about whose lawn is the most unsightly (though I expect when the time comes, mine may take that prize).

There are, however, many downsides as well. And on a week like this, leading up to the ceremonial end of summer, the fact I begrudge the most is that I am forbidden from using a grill on our little balcony. I get it, I do, we can’t have apartment buildings combusting every time a three-day summer weekend rolls around. Still, I’m cranky about it all the same.

But there are times when, despite the glaring lack of grill, I just want a damn good hot dog.

Chips and Cheddar Hot Dogs
Now I typically don’t like much fuss for my hot dogs. A bun, a dog, and some ketchup will serve me just fine. But this fancy-pants one became my new favorite after a friend of mine in North Carolina practically forced it upon me when I confessed I’d never stopped by the hot dog cart outside our building. Though the cart is no longer a staple on Duke’s campus, the legacy lives on, and I pity the Duke students going forward who won’t benefit from the culinary stylings of Pauly Dogs.

Preparing for hot dogs
Christened on the menu as the “Chips Plus”, this hot dog features smoky flavor from barbecue sauce and Old Bay seasoning, some cheese for good measure, and a delightfully salty crunch from some cheap potato chips. It’s a perfectly blended solution of delicious and ridiculous. And most importantly, you really don’t need a grill to make them awesome.

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Shrimp Scampi Linguine
This may not come as much of a surprise. But, when I go on vacation, one of my favorite activities is seeking out and buying whatever edible bounty hails from my destination. And I’m not just talking the best local restaurants: if I can swing it, I try to bring back enough to stock my pantry and freezer. From Phoenix, I toted back a bag of the most splendid grapefruits. From Maryland, a trunk full of apples, pumpkins, and cider. From Wisconsin, a backpack full of cheese, accompanied by an ice pack which thankfully was not confiscated at the airport.

And from our recent weekend getaway to the Grand Strand beaches of South Carolina, I brought back a few pounds of fresh-caught shrimp.

Fresh shrimp!
Having grown up in a rather land-locked state, I never had many opportunities to enjoy fresh seafood. Shrimp was always something I liked to eat, but I mostly knew it only in its breaded, popcorn form, or cold and pink around the shores of a cocktail sauce reservoir. With this rare opportunity to buy it right from the waters of the Atlantic, I wanted to try a dish I’ve been thinking about ever since I was served something similar at a friend’s after their own return from their beach house in the Outer Banks: a pasta dish studded with shrimp and lightly coated with a buttery, flavorful sauce.

Pretty pretty ingredients Read on »

Spaghetti with Caramelized Onions & Mushrooms

Have you noticed that onion and mushroom pizzas are all the rage these days? It seems that every pizza parlour around now features a caramelized onion pizza topped with mushrooms and pungent gorgonzola cheese. And who can blame them? The rich, sultry flavors of these three ingredients make for an surprising and exciting change from red- or white-sauced pizzas.

But we’re not here to talk about pizza. In fact, it was the glut of all these pizzas popping up on menus that made me wonder how the same flavors would work when painted on a different canvas… say, perhaps, a knot of whole wheat pasta?

The ingredients
Chopped ingredients

Caramelized onions are, in my book, one of life’s greatest pleasures. From topping crostinis to starring in homemade onion dip, they enrich almost everything they encounter. I’ve been known to eat them plain, with no cares about the odorific consequences that might ensue. As I expected, they make an excellent base for this pasta sauce.

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Roasted Red Pepper Pasta

There aren’t enough sauces, ingredients, shapes, cheeses, or styles in the world to burn out my love for pasta. If anything, it seems my taste for the stuff has only expanded since I started this blog; my childhood pasta preferences were limited exclusively to spaghetti with butter and parmesan cheese, and now I favor short, thick pasta dressed in zesty, flavorful sauces. There’s really nothing like writing a food blog to force me into trying new things. And as much as I want to make some of my favorites over and over again, then I’d have nothing new to tell you about! (However, if you haven’t already tried the Penne alla Vodka, you should really make it your top priority.)

Well, maybe your second priority. Because I’m pretty darn happy with this one, too.

All the bits and pieces

Roasted red peppers are pretty easy to come by at the grocery store. Yes, I know that fresh red bell peppers are EVERYWHERE at this time of year (at least in North Carolina), but for a quick and filling weeknight dinner, I went with these. Plus I already had them in my pantry and it was time to use them up.

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