Monday, May 28, 2012

Frugal Friday: Pasta with Turkey, Chickpeas and Tomatoes

A dwindling food supply in your home at week's end doesn't mean you have to sacrifice nutrition or flavor. A modest amount of ground turkey is supplemented here by chickpeas to supply a solid amount of protein in a cost-effective manner. One goal I had with the dish was to use some fresh basil I'd managed to preserve from earlier in the week, adding a this fresh herb gives a nice flavor boost. Though you might see a similar theme in other Frugal Friday dishes here built around pasta, I'm always pleased by how a few tweaks of the ingredients on a basic concept can result in a new, interesting dish. This one is very tasty, a definite keeper!

1 onion, chopped
2 tbsp olive oil
1/2 cup red bell pepper, chopped
2 to 3 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 lb turkey ground
1/4 tsp fennel seed
1/4 cup red wine
28 oz can tomatoes
2 handfuls basil, chopped
15 oz can chickpeas, drained and rinsed
appx 3 ozs baby spinach
1/3 cup grated cheese--I used a combo of Gouda and Romano
1 lb short pasta shape, I used elbows

Start boiling some water for the pasta. Saute the onion with 1 tbsp of the olive oil in a medium pan for about 5 minutes until it begins to soften. Add the red pepper, saute on medium heat for a few more minutes, then add the garlic for another minute or two. Push the onion mixture to the side of the pan.

Add the ground turkey to the center of the pan, cook for a few minutes there until it begins to turn white. Stir the turkey together with the onion mixture, cook for a few more minutes until the turkey has turned mostly all white on the outside. Stir in the red wine, cook it for about 5 minutes until it is mostly absorbed. Add the canned tomatoes, including the juice. If using whole tomatoes, use a heavy spoon to gradually break them up against the side of the pan. Add the basil and fennel seed to the tomato mixture.

Start cooking the pasta in the boiling water after adding the tomatoes to the pan. This is a pretty quick cooking tomato sauce. Add the chickpeas and spinach to the tomato sauce a few minutes before the pasta is ready. You can break up a few chickpeas to thicken the sauce a bit if you'd like.

When the pasta is cooked, drain and combine it with the remaining tbsp of olive oil and the sauce. Stir in the grated cheese, and serve with extra cheese at the table. Though you could simply use Romano or Parmesan, I like to add flavor by using remnants of other cheese I have on hand like the Gouda. Serve and enjoy this fast, tasty dish!

Monday, May 21, 2012

Eating for Good

Big crowd at Taste of Spring
Not that I need an excuse to eat well, but I was happy to be presented with two opportunities for some tasty food in support of good causes. I've found a number of opportunities to cook for the cause, raising funds for the nonprofit I founded, Social Capital Inc. (SCI). This week, I enjoyed good food prepared by others in support of SCI community partners.

I'd been eager to try Ashmont Grill in Dorchester. I've heard a lot of buzz about the restaurant being a great neighborhood destination, and enjoyed chef/owner Chris Douglass's food at Icarus, which has since closed. Ashmont Grill regularly features wine pairing dinners that support local causes. This month's meals support Dorchester Family School Initiative (DFSI), a great program connecting families to community resources . This past Monday had an "Oregon Trail" theme--I love Oregon wines, so it seemed like the perfect time to check it out.

I definitely enjoyed the food at Ashmont Grill. The first course was a gingered tofu and greens dish that was quite tasty, paired with a Blue Pirate Pinot Gris. I'd say the second course was the best pairing of the night, in terms of getting the flavor combinations spot-on: a flavorful braised rabbit with asparagus, mushroom and peas polenta dish was paired with an unoaked chardonnay from A to Z. This lean chard with a taste of kiwi worked with the hard to pair asparagus and other elements. This was followed by a cedar plank roasted salmon, with the first of two pinot noirs (the first was again from Blue Pirate). Salmon and pinot is a favorite pairing of mine; several at our table did note that the pairing would have been better with a savory side dish as a opposed to a zesty slaw. The best wine of the night was a Chehelem pinot; however, it was paired with a white chocolate dessert that was much too sweet for the wine. I didn't want to spoil the good wine, so ordered up a cheese and charcuterie plate, which worked much better

A big part of the fun of a wine pairing meal like this is to try different combinations and see which work best for you and your fellow diners. There are two more chances to do so this month in support of DFSI--the first one tonight--check out the details here. Definitely a good value at $38.

Tasty Thai food @ Taste of Spring

The Taste of Spring is a popular annual fundraiser in Woburn for NuPath, an agency serving adults with developmental disabilities that also hosts and SCI AmeriCorps member. But until this year, the event has always conflicted with a softball game--I'm definitely more needed at shortstop than at the event!

Asparagus Mushroom Saute from Blue Stove
Taste of Spring provides a chance to sample foods from dozens of local restaurants. I could only stay for a portion of the event, so could only get to a fraction of the tables. Some of my favorite tastes included: an asparagus & mushroom sautee from Blue Stove; a beef empanada from Tango; beef tenderloin sliders from Burton's and some tasty Thai food. I didn't get a chance to find the table of one of my favorite local restaurants, Beacon Grille, but I've got a separate post on them coming soon. Lots of tasty stuff, and a great crowd! I'll be sure to Tweet out a heads up when this event is coming next year.

Have you eaten for any good causes lately? Would love to hear about it!

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Twelve Tips for Dads Cooking on Mother's Day

I'm glad to live in a time where it's fairly common for us guys to do our share of the cooking. In fact, in my circle of family and friends, it is often the male in the house that does the majority of the cooking. Fair enough, we eat more too. But I realize there are still a number of my fellow males that have not gotten into cooking and rely on others to do the cooking.  You may be a bit daunted about the idea of getting into the kitchen to prepare a meal. If you fall into that category, but are thinking it would be nice to cook for your wife and/or mother on Mother's Day, these tips are for you!

1) Keep it simple If this is one of your first forays into the kitchen, this isn't time to try to duplicate an elaborate recipe you saw a celebrity chef make on the Food Network. The best meals let a few, high-quality ingredients shine forth to carry the flavor. Pick something fairly simple that gives you a realistic shot at executing it reasonably well. I learned to cook by getting a few easy recipes down, and gradually expanding my repertoire over time. Recently I just posted 9 Great Recipes for Mother's Day that fit the simplicity bill, including the very first dish I made for Jodi when I was a very green cook.

2) Make a plan  Figure out what you are going to make at least a day in advance. This will allow plenty of time to track down the ingredients you need. Write out your list of ingredients, and put the shopping trip in your calendar. Make a schedule for making the meal, working backward from when you hope to have it on the table.  You might also be able to get something done a day in advance; such as prepping a sauce or a marinade, and thus make the day of food prep easier. Make sure you have the tools you need for the job--you don't want to get into cooking and realize you are missing a vital tool.

3) Choose the meal thoughtfully Choose a meal the mother(s) being honored will appreciate--it's not time to make your favorite! What does she typically order at a restaurant? You don't have to do the same exact dish, but if she goes for pasta, you might want to choose something in that department. If goes for filet mignon, plan on a carnivore friendly meal. Focusing on a favorite food is one good option; but you might also make something that brings back good memories. I can be assured a good reception when I make the first meal I made for Jodi on an early date (fettuccine); you might similarly do something from a first date or a special trip.

4) Research alternative ingredients Don't dismiss a recipe that sounds good just because there is one ingredient you can't find or that seems wasteful to buy just for a small quantity. If the recipe doesn't suggest other options, simply Google "alternatives ______ [fill in ingredient]". I often find that yields good ideas.

5) Don't do all the work Focus your efforts on preparing the main entree. If you want an appetizer or other pre-dinner nibbles, you might be best to pick up something you can just set out with little effort. Two cheeses  for variety, and perhaps a dip, tends to work well. Similarly, buying a nice store bought dessert can be a good option. Also, relying on some ingredients that are already prepped can help, such as peeled garlic or a store-bought salad dressing (though if you want to really impress, and offer "homemade dressing", my balsamic vinaigrette is super easy!).

6) Get set Get your cooking area cleared, then set out the ingredients and utensils you will need. This makes it a lot easier once you get in the flow of cooking.

7) Start early I cook a lot, and it almost always takes me longer to make the meal than the time indicated on recipes. I'd start working on the meal at least 30 minutes earlier than the recipe would suggest you need to. Feeling rushed or that people are waiting hungrily can move cooking into the stressful zone. You can always get items chopped and set for cooking well in advance. If you do finish something early, most things can be kept warm for a bit, covered on low heat.

8) Timing tips As I said, it's fairly easy to keep most things warm. However, there are a few tips to keep in mind for timing: 1) meat can get dried out if overcooked, so time it so that if something gets ready early, it's the side dishes and not the meat. Meat continues cooking when it rests after cooking. 2) For a pasta dish, get the sauce completed well in advance of the pasta being cooked. Sauce can be kept warm and added later, but if pasta sits around cooked waiting for the sauce, it starts sticking together.

9) Involve kids Even young kids can help a bit in the food prep, and then they can share in giving the gift of food to Mom. And Mom is likely to appreciate this team effort!

10) Present with some flair Paying attention to presentation is a nice way to make a simple meal special. You might be ready to just throw that food on the plate when it's done, but take a few minutes to arrange it nicely on your good plates. Try to set up some contrasting colors for visual appeal.

11) Have a backup Hopefully after these tips it won't be necessary, but you are likely to feel a bit less pressure if you know if something goes really bad, it's OK to call for your wife's favorite take-out! I've been cooking for twenty years now, and there have been 2 or 3 times we simply had to walk away from a dish that just couldn't be eaten.

12) Do the dishes You probably have a system for sharing chores; and if your wife usually cooks you might be the dishes person. You might have figured this out, but if you are switching into the cooking role on Mother's Day, the dish duty doesn't get traded unless you want to lose all the points you earned by cooking!

OK, twelve tips might seem like a lot. But they are pretty simple to follow on your way to an enjoyable Mother's Day feast for all!

Before I sign off, I need to credit Family Foodie with getting me thinking about these tips. I saw she picked "Dads are in the kitchen..." for her #SundaySupper theme this week, which made me think some Dads could use a few pointers!

Monday, May 7, 2012

Sunday Supper: Chicken & Veggie Stir-Fry

Sunday is our designated family day, when we try to keep our calendar clear of work obligations and keep our screens off (with exceptions granted for finding a recipe or place to go for the day!). So I was happy to learn of the Sunday Supper initiative hosted by Family Foodie, which encourages food bloggers and tweeters to share what they are making for family meals.

This week's theme encouraged us to make something featuring vegetables fresh from the garden or a nearby farm. Now, there's not too much that's come up locally here in New England in early May. Snap peas are one of the first arrivals, so I thought that would be a nice vegetable to feature in a Chicken and Veggie Stir-Fry. Along with the peas, I thinly sliced a Vidalia onion, chopped a red bell pepper and 2 small carrots, and had about 3 ozs of baby spinach waiting in the wings. If you've stir fried before, you know you've got to get everything chopped and waiting before you start cooking. I start cooking brown rice before the chopping begins.

I got all the veggies lined up, then made a simple stir fry sauce by combining 1/4 cup soy sauce, 1 tsp honey, 1 tsp brown rice vinegar, 1 tbsp of white wine and a couple  leaves of chopped mint (not a typical stir fry ingredient for me, but had extra from the Derby!). After that was combined, I thickened it by whisking in a heaping tsp of corn starch. My final prep step was thinly slicing 2 chicken breast fillets.

After everything was set, I heated the wok on high, with a tbsp of olive oil. I started with the onion, stir fried for a minute or so, then added the pepper, carrots, and peas, cooking each for about a minute before adding the next item. I pushed the veggies toward the side of the wok, then added the chicken to the middle. I let the chicken cook for a couple minutes and started turning white before stirring it up with the veggies. Then add the sauce (I only needed about 1/2 of it and reserved the rest) and spinach stir fry for a couple more minutes. I make sure the meat is finished and the flavors meld by covering the wok for a final minute or two of cooking on medium. Then serve over brown rice. Healthy and tasty!

Wine Pairing: I typically opt for a white wine with stir fry, but I've seen a number of people suggest Pinot Noir can work too. I gave it a try with the 2011 Matua Valley Marlborough Pinot Noir from New Zealand, and was quite pleased that I did. This is a light, delicate pint, and I served it slight chilled. The clean finish seemed to wash down the saltiness of the stir fry sauce nicely. A winning combination!

Saturday, May 5, 2012

Wine Pairing for Carrot Ginger Soup

I find soups to be generally challenging for wine pairings, how about you? Not sure why, maybe it's the liquid to liquid aspect of it. I have landed on a few good ones. My favorite would be the Golden Winter Soup and Pinot Noir combination 

The other night I was making Carrot Soup with Orange and Ginger from the Williams-Sonoma Soup  cookbook; if you don't have that book, here's a version from Food Network that is similar (though I didn't have the cilantro in version I used). The citrusy element and ginger had me a bit uncertain about what to try. So I used Twitter to crowd source some suggestions. @pnrieslingfan suggested a dry Gewurztraminer or perhaps a Riesling. @rbcellars tweeted "Thinking Sauvignon Blanc or maybe even sparkling". 

I didn't have Riesling or Gewurztraminer on hand, but did have the less common Pedro Ximenez, a Chilean bottle from Cucao Winery in the Elqui Valley. This grape is more often used making sherry. In this version, the taste did have a crisp citrusy element that picked up the orange juice in the soup. There was also a hint of sweetness in the soup dish, from the carrots I suppose. That didn't exactly mesh with the wine. Overall, I'd give the pairing a "B". Of the various suggestions, I'm especially interested in trying the Gewurztraminer with this next time, and the sparkling idea is interesting. What would you try?