Monday, January 3, 2011

Liberate the Guilt Creamy Pasta

For years I have avoided cream sauces due to the high cholesterol and fat ladened nutritional pit falls BUT with that avoidance came deprivation and those that know me know that I do not deprive myself.....I am an everything in moderation kinda girl! Cream sauces with their luscious smells and shimmer are something that I have learned are to me what kryptonite is to Superman, as I take each bite I can literally see it going from my mouth to my thighs in a most unsightly way not to mention the number it does to my intestinal tract (I know TMI but sorry I have to be honest!) So after many a tester recipe using milk instead of cream, light sour cream, light cream cheese, creamy tofu I have found the MASTER low fat, high protein, heavenly and liberating creamy ingredient, drum roll please.....and the star is GOAT CHEESE!!! Ok for those of you that have closed your mind already and say I do not like goat cheese, I beg of you to try this recipe, I promise you will not taste the goat cheese with the brilliance in the combination of other flavors in this dish (hey if you can’t say you are brilliant who can right)? My kids LOVE this and my man food, buffalo wing, taco eating husband requests this meal with almost as frequently as chicken parmesan (which is his fav). Here we go with ease and elegance......

Serves 5-6 as a main course

2 cloves garlic, chopped

2 shallots, chopped

1 bunch broccoli rabe (rough ends removed and cut into bite-size pieces)

1 small jar sun dried tomatoes in olive oil, chopped and 1 Tbsp oil reserved

3 Tbsp extra-virgin olive oil

4 cups low-sodium chicken broth

1/2 cup white wine (I like to cook with chardonnay)

1 pound rotini pasta, whole wheat or semolina (or your favorite shape**spaghetti does not work well)

1 4 oz log of plain soft goat cheese

1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese

1-2 tsp crushed red pepper (depending if how much spice you like)

1 tsp salt

1/2 tsp freshly ground pepper

First bring 3 cups of chicken broth and about 2 cups water to boil in a medium sized stock pot. Add chopped broccoli rabe and return to a boil, cook about 4 minutes or until desired tenderness (I like my veggies al dente). Drain broccoli rabe and immediately add to a bowl with ice water (“shocks” the vegetable to stop the cooking process and keep the intense green color) set aside.

Bring another stock pot full of water to boil on the stove (same one as used for broccoli rabe if you want to save your dishwasher a pot to clean!) While this comes to a boil start the sauce. In a saucepan heat the olive oil with 1 Tbsp of sundried tomato oil, add the shallots a cook until softened about 3-5 minutes. Add garlic and cook another minute until fragrant, add chopped tomatoes, salt, pepper and crushed red pepper cook another minute to blend. Add 1/2 cup white wine and 1 cup chicken broth and cook down until sauce is reduced by about half. Check your pasta water if boiling, add some salt to water and cook pasta per box directions. Break up goat cheese log into small pieces and add to sauce...let it melt into shimmering beauty. Drain broccoli rabe and add into sauce (at this point the sauce may become thick)...once pasta is done cooking, add it to the sauce RESERVING PASTA WATER add some pasta water to sauce a ladle full at a time until the sauce coats the pasta ****I have in many a frazzled mommy moment strained my pasta and forgot to reserve the water NO WORRIES if this happens just use some extra wine of chicken broth****Add the grated Parmesan cheese to this luscious mixture and serve!!

***I sometimes like to jazz this up by adding some grilled shrimp, scallops or chicken on looks very fancy, a great Mother-in-law or the boss over for dinner dish!!

Creamy pasta for all and none for your thighs!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Fletcher's Rockin Baked Clams

Fletcher’s Rockin’ Baked Clams

This is a little recipe I created while on our summer vacations at the Jersey Shore. There is a fantastic little clam shack called Blackies that is literally just that, you can buy 100 clams (any size) for $29 (your eyes are not failing you, it is a summer culinary miracle)! I LOVE clams especially when they have that freshness of just being raked up that day, they taste like the ocean so fresh and delicious!! I can eat them any which way but especially love them raw on a half-shell with some red wine vinegar (a little something my Uncle Tony taught me). My husband is not a fan of them raw so I had to devise a scrumptious “man” recipe because there is nothing I love more than feeding my man (while listening to Michael Buble of course)! We have a tradition of beaching it all day with my girls and then heading back to our rental apartment to pop on some tunes, mix up a fun summer cocktail (virgin for the kids), hang out together and cook, we love to eat in (but out on the deck of course in that warm summer air), relax and just be together..... one of the top 5 favorite moments in my year!! So here is perfection on a shell.......

Ingredients: (serves a crowd for appetizers, 4 for a meal with salad)

3 dozen top neck clams (scrub and clean shells)

2 Tbsp flour or corn meal

1 clove garlic, chopped

1 red pepper, diced

1 small onion, diced

3 Tbsp chopped flat leaf parsley

1/4 c white wine (chardonnay preferably but anything you have left over in the fridge works)

3 oz Prosciutto sliced thinly and then chopped

1/4-1/2 cup Italian bread crumbs

1/4-1/2 cup grated Parmigiano Reggiano cheese

2 Tbsp extra virgin olive oil plus extra for drizzling

1 tsp crushed red pepper (more if you like it spicy!)

salt and pepper to taste

While you chop and prep all the ingredients soak the cleaned clams in cold water with flour or corn meal for 10 minutes (this allows the clams to purge any sand they are holding) Rinse clams and place in large pan so they can almost lay flat on bottom, fill with water about 2 inches up pan but don’t fully submerge clams in water. Cover and bring to a boil, simmer until all the clams open about 8-10 minutes (****if any of the clams do not open toss those, it means they were dead and unsafe to eat). Reserve cooking water and set clams aside to cool.

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

Heat saute pan with the olive oil and add the chopped onion and pepper, cook until onion is translucent and red pepper is soft about 8 minutes. Add garlic and crushed red pepper cook an additional minute but do not brown garlic. Add prosciutto and saute a couple of minutes just to break it up and mix in. Pour in white wine and reduce by half (letting it boil down). Turn off the heat, stir in parsley.

Take the opened clams and break the shells apart to have two equal halves, remove clams and chopped into large chunks. Place clams into onion mixture and mix well, add about 1/4 cup of reserved clam juice water and then slowly add in breadcrumbs and grated cheese until mixture is still moist but starts to come together in a paste. If it gets too dry add more clam juice, if too moist add more breadcrumbs. Add salt and pepper to taste (be careful with the salt the clams and cheese are already salty).

Spoon enough mixture into the shells to fill. Place filled shells on a baking sheet and drizzle with olive oil and top each with a little extra sprinkle of parmesan cheese.

**At this point clams can be made up to 24 hours in advance, then refrigerate or freeze for later use.

Bake for 20-30 minutes at 400 degrees until tops are golden brown......YUM YUM YUM!

**My husband loves to pour a little of his favorite hot sauce on top so have some on hand for your feistier guests!

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Grilled Lamb Chops over Lemon Vinaigrette Arugula

This is hands down my favorite weeknight dinner...I adore lamb chops and my kids love these ....the marinade I use gets rid of any gaminess that lamb can tend to have and leaves you with this lick your fingers (and the bone for my fellow carnivores) yumminess!!! I love the simplicity of the ingredients, ease and again quickness of this healthful no carb meal....I promise you will be making this at least once a week. The arugula can be used as a base for any meat, steak, chicken cutlets or even salmon!

So pay attention because if you blink it will be over and done that is how easy it is!!

Lamb chops for 4

8 lamb chops, trimmed of excess fat

2 cloves garlic chopped

3 springs rosemary, leaves removed and chopped

1 tsp cayenne pepper (less if you do not like spicy)

1 tsp pepper

1/4 tsp freshly ground pepper

1/4 cup olive oil

Place all ingredients in a ziploc bag and marinate for at least an hour but upto 24 hours if you want to do it in advance. Prepare grill medium high heat, cook for 4 minutes each side for medium rare...presto lamb chops extraordinaire!!

Arugula in Lemon Vinaigrette

2 bags arugula (I love it when they call it rocket!)

1 lemon, juiced

1/4 cup good extra virgin olive oil

salt and pepper to taste

Parmigiano Reggiano (I use a vegetable peeler to peel the block of cheese or use a grater, the amount here is up to you!)

Place lemon juice in a bowl add salt and pepper to taste and then whisk in the olive oil to create a thickened sauce, pour over arugula, top with Parm and then lamb chops....

WOW, now you cannot say this isn’t insanely easy and so fancy looking!!!

Grilled Chicken Thighs with Roasted Vegetable Couscous

One of the best smells I know is the luscious, tantalizing smell of a grill. Whenever you smell it you think to yourself what are they grilling and immediately want to hunt the smell down, bring a bottle of wine and invite yourself in for dinner (don’t say you haven’t thought about it!!) I love to grill and we don’t just reserve this type of cuisine for the long as I arm my sexy grill man with a glass of vino I can talk him into throwing the winter parka on and even shovel snow off the grill to make this delicious meal.. The best thing about it is it is inexpensive, simple and super fast, so even a busy weeknight is no excuse for a little fanciness and good home cooking! Here we go....oh we have outside speakers as well so cue the Michael Buble for the grill man (in his case though definitely a little Mariah Carey if I want to sit inside and watch him shake his booty!)

Serves 4

Grilled Chicken Thighs ***marinate for at least an hour but longer is better!!

2 1/2 lbs boneless, skinless chicken thighs (can substitute breasts)

1 lemon

2 sprigs fresh rosemary, chopped

1 tsp fresh thyme, chopped

1 red onion sliced

1/4 cup olive oil

1 tsp salt

1/4 tsp pepper

Place chicken thighs in a large ziploc bag, cut lemon in half, juice into bag and then throw juiced halves in as well. Add onion, thyme and rosemary, olive oil, salt and pepper. Seal bag and mix together so the chicken is evenly coated. Place in fridge for at least an hour but can also be done in the morning for the not do more than 24 hours in advance as the lemon juice breaks down the chicken.

Prepare the grill to medium high heat, grill chicken 7 minutes first side, 4 minutes second side or until juices run clear (less time for breasts, depending on thickness maybe 5 minutes first side then 3 second careful not to dry them out, thighs are a lot juicer and harder to overcook) and shake that booty!! Done and YUM!!

Grilled Vegetable Couscous

2 japanese eggplants, each sliced lengthwise in 3 equal slices

2 zucchini, sliced lengthwise in half

1 onion diced

1/2 lb fresh mozzerella

1/4 cup fresh basil sliced into strips

1 28 oz can diced tomatoes (I like Muir Glen)

1 cup chicken stock (can be substituted with vegetable stock for a vegetarian option)

2 cloves garlic chopped

1 cup couscous

3 Tbsp olive oil plus more for drizzling on the vegetables

crushed red pepper to taste (optional)

salt and pepper to taste

First start the sauce for the couscous, heat 3 tbsp olive oil in sauce pan. Add chopped onion and a pinch of salt, sprinkle of freshly ground pepper and cook until translucent about 5-7 minutes, add garlic and saute another minute. Add chicken broth and bring to a boil allow to reduce by half, add tomatoes and crushed red pepper (I add about a tsp) let simmer for about 15 minutes uncovered to thicken. In the meantime drizzle the sliced eggplant and zucchini with olive oil and salt and pepper and grill about 3-5 minutes each side on medium heat grill (can do at same time as chicken but should take less time than chicken) Cook until fork tender but not mush! In meantime I blend the sauce with a hand blender but a regular blender will work fine just watch the steam in a blender by giving it room to escape. Heat 1 cup of sauce with 1 tbsp olive oil to a boil and pour over couscous in serving bowl, cover with plastic wrap and let sit for 5 minutes to steam. Cut up grilled vegetables into bite sized pieces as well as mozzarella. Fluff couscous with a fork toss in vegetables, cheese and fresh basil. Serve with extra sauce and this time the sexy grill man has worked up an appetite from all the booty shaking and I have as well watching him!! Foods up, dig in!!


Monday, March 8, 2010

Pizza and Chianti Night

So a few years back a group of our closest friends would gather at the end of a long work week to unwind and share a one would feel like cooking so it was always take-out from our favorite pizza joint and of course lots of vino for our "just because we have kids doesn't mean we don't get to go to happy hour party!" After about a year our pizza place sadly changed and it just wasn't as good. As we now know this is HIGHLY UNACCEPTABLE to me since I look forward to this meal every Friday, it gets me through some of those tough mid-week moments!!! So I took matters into my own hands and started on a quest to make my own pizzas (remember to me this is fun and I get VERY cranky with bad take-out)...this will be the first of many Friday nights pizza recipes to follow and trust me they just get better and better!! I once again have to give credit to my hunky pizza dough/grill man the one and only Fletcher because I think it is fun to get your family and friends into the process of creating any meal because no one wants to be alone in the kitchen while the party is happening outside and sometimes people can just do things better than you can!! Good news is you can make the dough the night before so all you need to do is make the toppings the next day. So the cheerleader in me says......"Let's hear it for Pizza and Chianti night!!!!!" Turn on some tunes, you know who I am listening to and let's get cooking.....

Each pizza serves 4-6

Sausage and Peppers Pizza

2lbs sweet Italian chicken sausage, casings removed (you can use hot if you like spicy)
2 red peppers, sliced
2 yellow peppers, sliced
2 yellow onions, sliced
2 cloves garlic, chopped
1/4 cup fresh basil chopped
1 28oz. can crushed tomatoes (San Marzano are the best)
1/4 cup sweet Marsala wine (optional but SOOOO good) **secret weapon**
4 Tbsp Olive oil, plus a bit extra (1-2 tsp) to spread on pizza dough
1 tsp salt
freshly ground pepper to taste
crushed red pepper to taste
1 lb FRESH mozzarella, sliced thinly
1 ball whole wheat pizza dough, thawed and brought to room temperature (usually in freezer section at grocery store)
1/4 cup grated Parmigiano Reggiano cheese (good for the good stuff that is stamped on the rind)

Heat 2 Tbsp oil in saute pan over medium-heat heat. Add chicken sausage, cook until browned and break-up into bite-sized pieces with back of spoon. Remove from pan, drain any excess fat and set aside, add remaining oil to pan. Add sliced peppers and onions, salt and freshly ground, crushed red pepper and saute until soft about 10-12 minutes, add garlic saute another minute. Add Marsala wine and scrape any browned bits off bottom of pan, allow to cook until liquid is reduced by about half. Add sausage back into pan, add tomatoes and basil let simmer uncovered for about 15 minutes to let the flavors blend and sauce thickens. Meanwhile heat grill or use a pizza stone in the oven (400 degrees) Roll pizza dough out to desired size (use some flour so it doesn't stick to the surface you are rolling it on)...doesn't have to be perfect I like a rustic looking shape but about 1/2" thick. Brush one side of the dough with olive oil and place on heated surface cook about 10 minutes on just one side, remove and let cool (from here you can wrap the dough in plastic wrap and save for the next day) Place the cooked side face-up and spread the sausage and pepper mixture evenly over the top leaving an outer edge. Place sliced mozzarella around the top and sprinkle the parmigiano on top. Place back on heat source (oven or grill) and cook until cheese is melted and slightly browned. Let the pizza sit about 5 minutes before slicing it up and get those taste buds ready to have a little party in your mouth!! Pour some vino, gather with your friends and laugh...the week is over but the weekend is just beginning!!!! Enjoy!

Thursday, March 4, 2010

"Fancy-Pants" Roast Chicken, Couscous and Beets

Don't let the word "Fancy-pants" scare you away from this EASY dinner! People will think you will have slaved away but you and I will know the truth, you will WOW your friends and family with this one and the best part is that the leftovers can be turned into some awesome recipes the next day (I LOVE 2 for 1 recipes!!) Now I always like to give credit when credit is due both the chicken and beets came from Barefoot Contessa and again I have tweaked the recipes to make things a little easier and or add a little Maren flare with some new ideas! The couscous is 100% fabulous Maren (if I may pat myself on the back!!) So set the tone....put on that music, do a little dance, sing into your wooden spoon microphone like no one is watching (just because it's fun!), and fill that kitchen with yumminess......

Orange Beet Salad
serves 6-8 (this lasts a long time in the refrigerator and makes awesome leftovers)

3 lbs (3 bunches) fresh beets (you can use a short cut to save time and buy canned beets but the fresh are so good!!!)
2 Tbsp white wine vinegar
2 Tbsp freshly squeezed orange juice (whatever kind is in season)
3 Tbsp olive oil
1 tsp kosher salt
1/2 tsp pepper
1/2 cup thinly sliced red onion
zest of 1 orange
orange segments of 1 orange (can use 2 if you like a lot of citrus, but I like the taste of beets and use just 1)

If you are using the fresh beets what I like to do is to save time is cut off the tops (leafy green part) and boil them in a large pot of salted water for 50 min-1 hour (until tender) in the morning, then I drain them and put them in the fridge so they are ready to go for later. That is about all I can handle in the morning before my coffee kicks in but if you can put the whole recipe together, the longer this sits the better it gets!! Otherwise start the beets first for timing with the rest of the dinner. Peel the tough outer skin off the beets (it's messy but the color will astonish you!!) Cut them into bite size pieces, mix remaining ingredients together, add to the beets and voila!! Done!! How easy is that and sooo good for you!

**Leftover note....I love to have leftover beets the next day over mixed greens with crumbled goat cheese and walnuts, just use the dressing from the beets or if you need more just add a splash of olive and white wine vinegar to taste!! YUM!!!

Fancy Pants Roasted Chicken Breasts
4 servings

4 free-range organic chicken breasts on the bone with skin
2 small or 1 large log of goat cheese
8 sun dried tomatoes (about a small jar, packed in olive oil)
Olive oil
Kosher salt
Freshly ground pepper

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Place the chicken on a sheet pan/cookie sheet and slide your fingers between the skin on the chicken and the meat to loosen but be careful not to remove the skin. Slice the goat cheese log into about 1/2 inch slices, place 2 slices per breast under the skin trying to cover the chicken as equally as possible. Then place 2 sun dried tomatoes over cheese and under the skin, pull the skin back over the top of the chicken to cover the meat as best as you can. Rub the chicken with olive oil and sprinkle salt and freshly ground pepper over each breast. Bake for 35-40 minutes, until chicken is lightly browned and cooked through (juices will run clear). Serve hot or room temperature. **reserve pan drippings and add to the broth for the couscous.

***Leftover note...after baked the goat cheese becomes creamy and not a strong a flavor, it tenderizes the meat so beautifully and this creates some amazing leftovers for heavenly chicken salad..just dice chicken add some good mayonnaise, maybe some diced onion and celery and serve over salad or on yummy multi grain bread with your favorite salad greens.

While the chicken roasts into a divine creamy creation start the couscous.....

My FAVORITE Couscous
Serves 6

2 bunches kale (I like lacinato kale), stems removed and sliced into bite size strips
1 cup couscous
1 cup chicken broth (can substitute veggie broth for a vegetarian option!)
1/4 cup chicken broth or if you have it white wine
1 red onion, sliced
2 cloves garlic, chopped
1 tsp crushed red pepper
1 tsp kosher salt
freshly ground pepper
4 Tbsp olive oil, divided

Bring chicken both to a boil, pour over couscous in a serving dish and cover with plastic wrap tightly, set aside for 10-15 minutes to steam. Heat 2 tbsp olive oil in saute pan, add red onions, crushed red pepper, salt and pepper and saute until translucent and starting to brown slightly about 10 minutes, add garlic until fragrant. Add kale to pan and 1/4 cup of chicken broth or wine, stir and cover for 5 minutes, uncover and let liquid evaporate. Fluff couscous with a fork and mix together with the kale mixture to blissfully wed them together and done! Serve this all together and you have one "fancy" dinner!!

*P.S. Maren's soap box: A note to those of you that read this and said there is NO WAY my kids will eat this.....I have a rule at my house that after making this particular dinner and 12 LONG years of enforcing the rule I FINALLY got gratification (which by the way felt what I would equate to winning an Academy Award!!) that the rule does indeed work...... MAREN'S GOLDEN DINNER RULE (husband and kids included): You must try everything on your plate, I do not believe in creating power struggles over food so if you do not like it you do not have to eat it BUT if you are not a CLEAN PLATE RANGER aka finish everything DO NOT EVEN THINK of asking me for dessert or a snack later because I am not a short order cook!! To my husband's credit, he has created his own take on my rule which is his witty humor has kind of stuck in our house: "You eat or you starve and die" (he can be a little dramatic but he makes all of us laugh) Because these ingredients are a little "out there" for your french- fry, chicken finger or anything white carboholic kids I promise if you stick to your guns they will try and will eventually like these foods... as I said it took 12 long years but my fabulous picky eater tween said she actually liked the beets because they are sweet and anything mixed with the flavor of chicken is good in her book but the real kicker was when she said the kale is "SOOOO" much better than that gross spinach stuff I make (as you can see my kids are my BIGGEST food critics) to that I thank my lucky stars, reaffirm myself with my mantra that I am not a mean, crazy mother and have a little faith that someday maybe my kids will make healthy food choices for themselves!!! One can dream.....enjoy!!

Sunday, February 28, 2010

Soul Satisfying Chicken Curry

It has been a snowy couple of days in the Northeast so that always inspires me to cook up something that warms me to my in browsing through my stack of cooking magazines that I now have the opportunity to read since I am snowed in with a day off work and the kids are having a pajama movie marathon I have discovered a winner!!! This is adapted from Bon Appetit, I have changed it slightly to make it a little less involved....the spices make this recipe look like a lot of ingredients BUT if you like Indian food you will use these spices over and over!! I did cut the spice measurements in half from the original recipe so that it is not overpowering as well as ensuring the kids will eat it too, but feel free to double the measurements if you have a LOVE of Indian spices (or save half in a labeled zip- lock bag for ease the next time you make this because trust me you will want to make it again really soon!!) we go!!!

Serves 6 (the leftovers are divine!!)

Spice mixture (combine in a small bowl together)
3/4 tsp ground coriander
1/2 tsp fennel seeds (I couldn't find this ground so I chopped the seeds finely with a good knife)
1/2 tsp cumin
1/4 tsp freshly ground pepper
1/4 tsp ground cloves
1/4 tsp ground cardamom
1/4 tsp ground cinnamon
1/4 tsp ground turmeric
1/4 tsp cayenne pepper (more if you like spicy!!)
5 Tbsp canola oil
1 head of cauliflower cut into 1-inch florets
Kosher salt
2 lbs skinless, boneless chicken thighs trimmed and cut into 1-2 inch pieces
1 bunch green onions (white and green parts chopped separately)
1 Tbsp fresh ginger, peeled and chopped finely
2 garlic cloves , peeled and chopped
2 cups low sodium chicken broth
1 28 oz can crushed tomatoes
1Tbsp peanut butter
1/3 cup dried cranberries, finely chopped (recipe called for dried cherries but I had cranberries)
1 1/2 cups FROZEN peas
1/3 cup coconut shavings (these are inexpensive and a very WORTHWHILE ingredient!!), lightly toasted (either on a tray in toaster oven or dry saute pan on stove top)
White basmati or jasmine Thai rice for serving

Prep everything first as listed above and then the hard work is done! At this point it is safe to pour a glass of wine....if your favorite cooking music isn't already on have your husband/significant other put Olympic Curling on mute and rock out some tunes (can you hear Michael B singing to me!) Let the magic begin.....

Prepare rice according to package directions. Heat 3 Tbsp of oil in a large deep pot over medium-high heat, add cauliflower and lightly salt, saute until slightly golden brown (6-7 min), remove and set aside. Add remaining 2 Tbsp oil and add chicken pieces (try not to crowd pan, may need to do in 2 batches depending on size of your pan), season again with salt and freshly ground pepper. Saute until golden brown (it is ok if little bits stick to the bottom of pan...that is what I call flavor goodness!!) Remove chicken and set aside. Add the white part of onions, garlic and ginger and saute until fragrant about 1 min, add spice mixture and cook another 30 seconds or until it instantly smells like you have transported your kitchen to India. Stir in chicken broth being sure to now scrape and flavor goodness bits off the bottom of the pan to make the start to a unbelievable sauce, add in tomatoes, peanut butter and dried cranberries and stir all together bringing to a simmer. Add cauliflower and chicken in and simmer for 20 minutes. Add frozen peas and cook 5 minutes more. Serve a generous ladle full over rice and sprinkle with toasted coconut and green onions......drum roll please........YUM!!!