Pasta with chipotle cream sauce, caramelized onions, roasted red pepper, corn and goat cheese

I’m back! No, it’s not a joke that the first entry I decided to add in years happens to be on April Fool’s Day. With a bit of extra time on my hands these days, I figured I could put some effort into adding a few new recipes.

Yesterday was Terry’s birthday, so I made this for her dinner. I recently had this at The Westin Tampa’s restaurant and was blown away with the first bite. The ingredients were so intriguing and nothing I have ever thought to put together. And yes, a pink sauce?! Trust me, it works.

Westin-version
The original, from The Westin

Since I didn’t have a recipe, I had to recreate it on my own so the portions are mostly guesses but it seemed to work well. You can scale up or down on any ingredient according to your taste.

 

The dish I had was served with shrimp, so you could amp this up a bit by adding that, but honestly, it doesn’t need it. The dish is good without it!

Since I’m out of practice on building a narrative, I’ll get right to the good stuff – ingredients and instructions!

1c vermouth
2 1/2 c heavy cream
4-5 garlic cloves, smashed
Chipotles in adobo sauce
1 tbsp cumin
1 whole red pepper, roasted
Olive oil
1 large white onion, sliced thinly and caramelized
2 tbs butter
1 c charred corn (all I had was frozen regular corn, but this will be better once corn is in season and we can char it on the grill)
2 oz goat cheese crumbles
Salt
White pepper (black pepper is good if that’s all you have)
1 lb penne or bow tie pasta
1 cup reserved pasta water
Cilantro for garnish

Start with the onions and pepper – those can be done well ahead of time – even the day before!

To caramelize the onion:

  • Slice it thinly. Heat a 12” or larger skillet over medium heat and add butter to the pan.
  • Coat the pan with butter and drop 1/3 of onions into the pan. You want to add the onions in batches otherwise it will be tricky to stir them until they’re cooked down a bit.
  • Continue adding onions 1-2 minutes apart until all onions are in the pan.
  • Add a generous pinch of salt to the pan
  • Stir the onions every few minutes until they start to brown.
  • This process can take as much as 45 minutes, so be patient
  • Onions are done when they are deep golden and have browned edges

To roast the pepper:

  • Heat oven to 450
  • Slice off the top and cut the pepper in half lengthwise, remove seeds and white membrane
  • Place halves face down on a baking sheet and coat lightly with olive oil
  • Roast for 25-30 minutes until skin is blistered and peeling back from the pepper
  • Place the peppers in a bowl and cover with a damp cloth. Let stand 10-12 minutes until cool enough to handle
  • Remove the skin from the peppers and cut into pieces roughly 1/2 inch wide x 1 inch in length

For the sauce:

  • Heat the vermouth in a large skillet until reduced by half (use a skillet large enough to hold the pasta once it’s been added)
  • Add the smashed garlic and stir until fragrant
  • Add the cream to the pan
  • Once the cream has started to bubble lightly, add the cumin, onions, corn and peppers
  • Continue to stir the sauce until it thickens slightly
  • Season with salt and pepper
  • Taste, taste, taste! Always taste as you go when you’re building up flavors in a sauce
  • Add the adobo sauce from the chipotles a little at a time until you get to the desired heat level
  • When pasta is done, add it to the pan (add a little at time – you may not need the whole pound. I had about a cup leftover.)
  • Stir until pasta is well coated, add reserved pasta water a little at a time until sauce is slightly loose – you don’t want it to be too watery.
  • Add goat cheese to sauce
  • Continue to stir until pasta and goat cheese are well combined

While the sauce is reducing, drop the pasta and cook 1-2 minutes LESS than according to package instructions. It will finish cooking in the sauce. Don’t forget to extract 1 cup pasta water – you will need it to finish the sauce.

Serve in a bowl, garnish with cilantro.

IMG_3181
Getting the sauce going with the spices, onions, corn and peppers
IMG_3185
After adding the adobo sauce – yes, it’s pink, and it’s delicious!

Asparagus Risotto

asparagus-risottoOne of my favorite things to make is risotto. I love it for its versatility and simple preparation. The basic formula for risotto is pretty simple, all you need rice, an onion, white wine, cooking stock and Parmesan cheese. This creates a nice and agreeable canvas to put any imaginable combination of ingredients into.

Risotto may seem intimidating if you’ve never made it before, but once you resolve to be invested in the constant stirring that is required, you will see how nicely the effort pays off. Well-cooked risotto should be slightly creamy, and slightly al dente. The constant stirring allows the starch in the rice to be released, and that is what contributes to the creamy texture of the finished dish, so do not underestimate the importance of this part of the process. Now when I talk about stirring, I don’t mean just standing there and swirling the contents of the pot around – I mean aggressive, arm-toning stirring.

With an abundance of asparagus this time of year, using it in risotto is a great way to enhance this basic recipe!

Ingredients

  • 1 medium yellow onion, diced
  • 2 tbs olive oil
  • 2 cups Arborio rice
  • 1 cup white wine
  • 6 cups unsalted stock (vegetable or chicken), lightly simmered and kept warm
  • 1-2 tbs fresh lemon juice
  • ¼ cup grated parmesan cheese
  • 1 lb asparagus, cut into 1 inch slices on the bias, tips kept separately
  • Salt and pepper to taste

 

Instructions

  • Heat a sauce pan on medium and warm the olive oil. Add the onion and let sauté until translucent and soft, but do not let it brown
  • Add the risotto and cook 1-2 minutes until it’s well incorporated into the onion mixture and starts to turn translucent
  • Deglaze the pan with the wine, and continue to stir until the wine is fully absorbed
  • Add 1 cup of stock to the pan, and continuously stir until fully absorbed
  • Continue adding stock 1 cup at a time until the rice is almost al dente, about 14- 15 minutes
  • Add the asparagus to the risotto and continue to add stock and stir for another 2-3 minutes
  • While the asparagus is cooking in the risotto, heat a small sauté pan and add ½ tbs butter or olive oil. Lightly sauté the asparagus tips, 2-3 minutes
  • Add the salt and pepper, and stir and taste for flavor
  • Add the lemon juice and parmesan and continue stirring until it’s well incorporated
  • Taste again and adjust for seasoning
  • Once the risotto is done, plate and garnish with the asparagus tips

Scallops with ricotta-spring pea mash and chive oil

scallop-pea-mash1Welp, in typical Chicago fashion, Mother Nature has dumped a few more inches of snow across the city even though it’s technically Spring. Never fails, there’s always one last wintry slap in the face, and today is as good a day as any. While Mother Nature is dealing with her personality disorder, you can bring a little Spring into your kitchen with this dish.

I wasn’t totally sure how I’d make this vegetarian friendly without just serving up a plate of the mash and saying “bon appetit”. Looking around the kitchen, I spotted some potatoes on the counter and decided I would make “scalloped” potatoes for Terry. I cut them down to what a decent sized scallop would be, parboiled, then pan seared them to get the browned edges and finished them off in the oven. They actually looked better than my real scallops and I was proud of myself for being so clever. I had to use bay scallops because nobody had anything bigger, and they don’t sear up as good as larger ones, so I wasn’t able to get the browned caramelized color on them. But they tasted just fine.

Continue reading Scallops with ricotta-spring pea mash and chive oil

Risotto with scallops, lemon buerre blanc and pomegranate reduction

risotto-scallop-buerre-blanc2Ladies and gentlemen, I give you my newest favorite dish! I knew I wanted to make risotto this weekend and I have been thinking about a dish I had at a restaurant recently that had a really good pomegranate sauce, so I built this dish based off those two components. I also did an Instagram search for #risotto to look for plating inspiration.

Since I’ve acquired all these new handy dandy skills from class, I figured I’d put them to work and make my own veggie stock to use. One of my issues with using store-bought stock is that some of them are too dark, and it turns the rice dark, which I don’t like and definitely didn’t want for this particular dish. So, since there was no suitable excuse not to, I started the day slicing, chopping and boiling down my own vegetable stock. I got exactly the color I wanted.

Continue reading Risotto with scallops, lemon buerre blanc and pomegranate reduction

Honey-lime sweet potato, black bean and corn tacos

sweet-potato-tacoAfter many weeks of heavy, butter-induced French style cooking, it’s time to start eating a little lighter and healthier. I’m trying to squeeze in as much fruit and vegetables and salads as possible over the next couple weeks until school starts up again. Probably not great timing being the holiday season and there are so many yummy treats that are definitely not healthy, but any little bit helps, I guess.

If you feel like adding a little protein, shrimp would be great in these. I’d dust them lightly with the same mixture of spices on the sweet potato and saute them off in a skillet.

I used pico de gallo as a topping, but you could use a variety of any type of topping – cotija cheese, cilantro, salsa, hot sauce, anything.

Continue reading Honey-lime sweet potato, black bean and corn tacos

Gnocchi fail with roasted garlic béchamel and tomato sauce

Exhibit A - gnocchi mush.
Exhibit A – gnocchi mush.

Typically, our weekend is planned around “what’s for dinner”, and this weekend was no exception, even with the holiday mixed in. Inspired by my latest issue of Bon Appetit and the amazing tomato sauce I had left over from class, I figured why not make gnocchi!

Well, the culinary gods had other ideas. The sauce was not the issue, it was the gnocchi that foiled the plans. It started out easy enough, but I think I may have over cooked it because it turned in to a big mush ball. See exhibit A.

Time for plan B. This dish was always about the sauces to begin with, so all I had to do was get another pot of water going and boil whatever pasta I had in the house, which turned out to be about a cup of cavatapi and some lasagna. That’s not much but it would work.

Continue reading Gnocchi fail with roasted garlic béchamel and tomato sauce

Gruyere and white cheddar macaroni and cheese

mac-n-cheese2Fall officially made its presence known this weekend. From a sleety, windy, freezing Halloween to being forced to pull out my winter jacket, everything screamed “hibernate”. I was up for the challenge – it’s been a while since the weather forced me inside for an entire weekend, so I decided I’d make this a practice run for the imminent, months-long winter isolation.

The first thing one must do when faced with such a challenge is to watch egregious amounts of TV, read and sleep. This doesn’t leave much time for an elaborate dinner, but that is fine because the only thing suitable to prepare in such a scenario is bubbly, warm, comfort foody macaroni and cheese.

If you have an hour, you can get this pulled together and get right back to binge watching/reading/sleeping in no time.

Continue reading Gruyere and white cheddar macaroni and cheese

Herbed cheese ravioli with butternut squash truffle sauce

ravioli-butternut-squash-sauceIf you’re looking for a project, I’ve got a good one for you here. Had it not been for the awful showing of the Bears at New England today, I might still be in the kitchen putting this together. I got irritated and shut the game off at half time and went to work on dinner. It was too nice out to be sitting around watching TV anyway.

Squash rule the autumn dinner plate and rather than make a soup or stuff it with something, I wanted to make this sauce.

When done all at once, this will probably take you about 3-4 hours. Ravioli is a pretty labor intensive pasta to make, and I always question myself why I continue to make it. Oh, yeah, that’s right – it’s totally awesome. The good news with this is that you can spread out the tasks and even do some the day before. Especially the pasta. That’s probably the most labor intensive part of this dish – rolling out the dough, filling it, cutting it just right. You can’t rush that part, it just takes what it takes to get it done. If you make the pasta the night before, cover and store it in the refrigerator. You could also just use store-bought pasta and use this sauce to fancy it up.

Continue reading Herbed cheese ravioli with butternut squash truffle sauce

Seafood Fra Diavolo

diabolo2Tomato sauces are not something I usually go for. Something about them just doesn’t do it for me. I think it’s probably because I totally over did it on spaghetti in college. It was an easy, cheap thing to make so I made it all the time because I could also get a few meals out of one batch.

It’s a rare occasion that I want anything tomato sauce based, but I had a bunch of ingredients to use up this weekend and the best thing to pull together was this spicy tomato sauce. “Fra Diavolo” by the way, means “Brother Devil” – an appropriate name for this given the level of spice in this sauce.

Continue reading Seafood Fra Diavolo