Monday, March 21, 2011

Hearty Beef Ragu

When I look at this picture, it reminds me of Chef Boyardee’s Beefaroni. Trust me, it tastes nothing like that! Wait, is that a good thing? ;) This beef ragu was really delicious. I don’t think I cooked the veggies enough because they were still crunchy so I would suggest cooking them a bit longer. Other than that, my husband approved. He likes meat, meat and more meat. This was perfect for him to come home to one day after work. I also think this would go really well with some homemade garlic bread. Although it does take a little bit of time to simmer, I know that it is worth it.

Hearty Beef Ragu
Adapted from: Confections of a Foodie Bride, originally Williams-Sonoma
Serves: 6-8

2 Tbsp olive oil
1 small yellow onion, finely chopped
3 garlic cloves, minced
1 carrot, finely chopped
1 tsp rosemary
1 lb ground beef
2/3 cup cranberry juice (or red wine)
3 Tbsp tomato paste
2 ½ cups canned crushed tomatoes
1 tsp salt
½ tsp freshly ground pepper
1/3 cup parmesan cheese, grated
1 lb pasta shapes (penne, rotini, etc)
1/2 tsp freshly ground pepper
Heat olive oil in large stock pot over medium-low heat. Add onion, garlic, carrot, celery and rosemary. Cook until veggies are softened, about 10-12 minutes. Add 1-2 Tbsp water, if needed, to keep the pan from drying out and vegetables from browning. Add the ground beef, breaking up with a wooden spatula, and cook until browned, about 10 minutes. Add cranberry juice (or wine) and tomato paste. Cook, stirring occasionally, until most of the liquid has evaporated, about 5 minutes.

Reduce heat to low and add tomatoes, salt and pepper. Cover partially and cook, stirring occasionally, until the sauce is thick, about 30-40 minutes. Add the parmesan cheese for the last 5-10 minutes of cooking.

Before the sauce is finished, cook the pasta according to the package instructions. Drain the pasta and add to the stock pot with the sauce. Mix well to combine and season with salt and pepper as desired. Serve warm.

Monday, March 14, 2011

Banana pancakes

Pancakes are my absolute favorite breakfast to have on the weekends! I love them with fruit and sometimes a little syrup (okay, I drown them in syrup). When I ran out of the boxed pancake mix, I thought to myself that I could surely find a recipe that I have all the ingredients for. I went to my favorite blogger’s website and of course, she delivered! I might even try a waffle recipe whenever we replace our old waffle maker that broke.

These pancakes weren’t to-die-for, but were just as delicious and the same amount of effort as the boxed stuff you buy at the store. I love that they are fresh, homemade, and I know exactly what went into them. My husband approved! I usually cook pancakes on the stove, but my uncle got us an unregistered gift for our wedding (this one was actually something I liked); a griddle. I LOVE our griddle! It’s so easy to entertain in the morning and make breakfast all on one big plate instead of making one pancake at a time. I can make 6 pancakes or 4 pancakes and lots of bacon or sausage all at once. I love that because soggy pancakes are gross!

I also wanted to make note that I always keep browned bananas in my freezer, usually for banana bread. If you do this, instead of just throwing them away, you can simply warm them in the microwave for 30-second increments in order to soften them right up! Snip the tip of the peel off and squeeze out the mushy banana. No need to use a fresh one (that would probably make a great snack for later).

Banana Pancakes
Adapted from: Annie’s Eats, originally Williams-Sonoma
Yields: 8 pancakes

4 Tbsp unsalted butter, melted
1 ½ cups all-purpose flour
2 Tbsp sugar
2 ½ tsp baking powder
¼ tsp salt
1 small ripe banana, mashed
1 cup milk
2 large eggs
½ tsp vanilla extract
Bananas & strawberries, sliced for serving
Maple syrup, for serving

In a medium bowl, combine the flour, sugar, baking powder and salt. Whisk to combine. In a separate bowl, combine the mashed banana, milk, eggs, and vanilla. Mix well. Add the melted butter and banana mixture to the first bowl with the dry ingredients and mix gently with a rubber spatula. Batter will be slightly lumpy.

Heat a skillet or griddle over medium heat (325˚ F) and lightly grease with butter or cooking spray. Drop the batter in 1/3 cup portions onto the heated surface. Cook until bubbles start to form on the surface and then flip. The bottom should be golden-brown. Continue to cook until the other side is golden-brown. Serve immediately and top with fruit and/or syrup as desired.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

White Cheddar Chicken Pasta

My husband has been the most supportive person in the entire world during the first half of my pregnancy. He has put up with mood swings, the occasional stomach ache, and my constantly-changing body (and not in the ‘honey I’m getting a six pack’ kind of way). I absolutely love him for that and for always paying attention. His memory is ten times what mine is. When I sent him to the grocery store to get some white cheddar cheese, all of it was unpasteurized except one. He remembered that our OB’s office told me to never eat unpasteurized cheese (I miss real queso). What an amazing husband I have!

I needed white cheddar cheese, shredded, for this recipe and it only comes in blocks. I guess almost all grocery stores keep them near the deli counter instead of where the general shredded cheese is. This kind of cheese and the way it melts is really the only kind of cheese I would recommend for this dish. It really gave a great taste to the chicken and pasta. The spices really kicked it up a notch, especially for my husband who loves spicy foods. This is a perfect weeknight meal to take for lunches in the days after cooking it. It keeps well and still tastes great!

White Cheddar Chicken Pasta
Adapted from: Homemade by Holman
Serves: 4-6
For the chicken
1 lb boneless, skinless chicken breasts, cut into 1-inch pieces
¼ tsp mustard
1 Tbsp thyme
½ tsp salt
½ tsp freshly ground pepper
1 Tbsp olive oil

For the Pasta:
1 lb short-cut pasta (bowtie or rotini)
2 Tbsp butter
2 Tbsp all-purpose flour
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 small onion, finely diced
1 Tbsp Dijon mustard
8 oz sharp white cheddar cheese, grated
2 cups milk
1 Tbsp thyme
1 Tbsp oregano
Crushed red pepper flakes, to taste
Grated parmesan cheese, to taste

Heat olive oil in large skillet over medium heat. Mix together mustard, thyme, salt and pepper. Sprinkle spices onto both sides of raw chicken pieces. When the pan is hot, add the chicken and brown about 3-5 minutes per side until cooked all the way through. Set aside on a plate and cover to keep warm.

Melt butter in large skillet over medium heat and add flour. Whisk to combine. Add wine, garlic, onions, and mustard and cook about 5 minutes, until onions are translucent. Reduce heat to low and slowly add milk, stirring to combine. Cook about 5-7 minutes more until mixture begins to thicken. Add cheese and stir well to melt.

Meanwhile, cook pasta according to package directions. Once everything is warmed and cooked through, add together in the large skillet with the cheese mixture. Add thyme and oregano and toss well to incorporate. Serve warm and top with parmesan cheese and red pepper flakes as desired.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

New York Cheesecake

Cheesecake is one of my (many) weaknesses when it comes to food. I am willing to try almost any type or flavor of cheesecake. I’ve had several versions but there is always one classic that never gets old: New York Style. Up until recently I’ve not had any springform pans to be able to try this classic at home. I purchased some right after Christmas and forgot about them until now. I am so incredibly glad that I remembered them. I made this cheesecake for my mom’s birthday this year and everyone just loved it!

New York Cheesecake
Adapted from: Annie’s Eats, originally Baking Illustrated
Yields: 1 9-inch cheesecake

For the crust:
5 Tbsp unsalted butter, melted
4 oz graham cracker crumbs
1 Tbsp white sugar
1 Tbsp butter, melted, for greasing the pan

For the cheesecake:
2 ½ lb cream cheese (5 8-oz packages), chopped roughly at room temperature
Pinch salt
1 ½ cups white sugar
1/3 cup sour cream
2 tsp lemon juice
2 tsp vanilla extract
2 large egg yolks plus 6 large eggs, at room temperature

To make the crust, preheat oven to 325 degrees and adjust an oven rack to the lower-middle position. Brush the bottom and sides of the pan with ½ of the tablespoon of melted butter. In a separate small bowl, combine the graham cracker crumbs, butter and sugar. Mix well and pour into the springform pan. Press the crust firmly onto the bottom of the pan in an even layer. Using your fingers has always been the best method for me. Bake until fragrant and it begins to brown around the edges, around 13 minutes. Cook on a wire rack while preparing filling.

Increase oven temperature to 500 degrees. In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat the cream cheese at medium-low speed to break up and soften slightly, about 1 minute. Scrape the beater and bowl with a rubber spatula. Add the salt and half of the sugar and continue to beat on medium-low until combined, about 1 minute. Scrape the bowl again. Beat in the remaining sugar until combined, about 1 minute. Scrape the bowl and add the sour cream, lemon juice, and vanilla. Beat on a low speed until combined, about 1 minute. Scrape the bowl and add the eggs and yolks one at a time until thoroughly combined. Scrape the bowl in between each addition.

Brush the sides of the springform pan with remaining ½ tablespoon of melted butter. Set the pan on a rimmed baking sheet in case the pan leaks (mine were new so luckily they didn’t leak). Pour the filling onto the baked crust in the pan. Bake 10 minutes, turning often, and then reduce the heat to 200 degrees. Continue to turn about halfway through baking time. Bake until the cheesecake reads about 160 degrees on an instant read thermometer. Do not bake less than 1 hour and 45 minutes. I baked mine for about 1 hour and 30 minutes and it wasn’t finished yet so I had to bake it a little more later. I would say that 2hours is a great time frame to aim for. Note: The temperature of the cheesecake might exceed 160 degrees, but this is okay.

Transfer cake to wire rack and cool until barely warm to the touch, about 2 ½ hours. Run a paring knife between the cake and the springform pan sides. Wrap tightly in plastic wrap and keep in the fridge until ready to serve, at least 3 hours. To unmold the cheesecake, remove the sides of the pan and slide a thin metal spatula underneath the crust to loosen. Slide the cake onto a serving plate and let it stand at room temperature for about 30 minutes. Cut into wedges and serve.

Note: Use a long, thin and sharp knife that has been run under hot water and dried for slicing. Wipe the blade clean and rewarm in between slices.

To make the strawberry sauce, simply mix 1 pint of strawberries roughly chopped with 1/3 cup sugar in a covered bowl or tupperware container and leave in the fridge for 3+ hours.