Food Hero

‘Doctored’ Bolognese Sauce by Rachelle
August 25, 2008, 5:51 pm
Filed under: Italian, Main Dish, quick fix, Rachelle Mee-Chapman | Tags: , , ,

Created by: Rachelle

One of my favorite instances of cooking alchemy is when I make something from whatever I have on hand and it actually turns out delicious. This week we got a little magic in the kitchen by doing what my mother calls ‘doctoring up’ a couple jars of red sauce. Viola! Rich, satisfying Bolognese sauce. The classic red sauce base made it a hit with the kids, and the savory olives, balsamic vinegar, and a bit of white-pepper-kick made it a win for the grownups as well. I thought we would be disappointed with just hamburger instead of Italian sausage, but the ground beef actually gave it a satisfying meaty flavor. (So much for being food snobs!) You can whip this up for dinner in about 30 minutes. It serves at least 6.

Shopping List
olive oil
3 cloves of garlic, minced
1 -1 ½ pounds lean ground beef
coarse salt to taste
2-3 tsp white pepper (white pepper is key in Italian cooking)
2 jars of good quality pasta sauce (I like Seeds of Change or Amy’s Organic)
2 2-3 inch springs of fresh rosemary, stripped off the woody stems and chopped slightly
1 dozen kalamata olives (we can only find the un-pitted variety in CPH, but people just throw them in the sauce whole and let the dinner guest deal with the pits)
3 glugs of balsamic vinegar
one handful of fresh basil leaves, sliced

cooked pasta (mini penne, or fusilli works well) and cheese as desired.

How to Doctor the Sauce:
In a large skillet sauté ground beef, garlic, salt and pepper in olive oil until browned. Break up ground beef with a spoon as needed. (If you can’t get lean ground beef, you’ll need to drain off the excess fat after this step.)

Add prepared pasta sauce and rosemary; allow to simmer about ten minutes to meld flavors.

Add olives. Simmer some more. Just before serving add balsamic vinegar and basil leaves.

Serve over pasta, top with cheese, and have yum!

Tutorial for Newbie Cooks: How to Chop Basil

Okay, now the basil. Don’t be scared! Pinch the leaves off the stems. It’s a little like plucking a daisy. (”She loves me. She loves me not.”) You only want the leaves. Wash the basil leaves and dry them in a salad spinner. If you dont’ have a spinner, pat them dry between two paper towels, or just shake them off over a sinke and call it done. Stack the leaves on top of each other on a cutting board. There now, isn’t that nice and orderly? Roll ‘em up into a little bundle, and slice lengthwise into thin shreds. Aren’t you the cooking pro? Into the bowl they go. Good job!


Pizza Night! by Rachelle
August 15, 2008, 6:00 am
Filed under: Italian, Main Dish, Medium Fix, Rachelle Mee-Chapman, Tips | Tags: , ,

Posted by: Rachelle

When we moved from Seattle to Copenhagen in grey, dark February, the kids needed a little something that tasted like home. That’s when we instituted Friday as pizza night. Making yeast dough initially intimidated me. But I found it was a lot easier than I thought, and I’ve included all my tips and tricks below. Start the dough about 1 1/2 hours before you want to eat (1 hr to rise, 1/2 hour to top and cook) and you’ll be golden.

With food prices rising back in the good old US of A, maybe it’s time to change your take-out habits? Two gourmet pizzas in Seattle would set up back at least $45…now we make it at home for about $20.  have Yum!

Shopping List
4 c flour
1 1/2 t salt
1/3 c olive oil
1 1/2 c warm tap water
2t sugar
2 pkgs fast-acting yeast (in the baking aisle)
jarred organic pizza sauce
various toppings (See suggestions from our readers below)

In a small bowl mix sugar, yeast and warm tap water with a fork. to activate the yeast your water should be wrist-warm but not scalding. The sugar ‘feeds’ the yeast and gets it rising faster and with more success. Set the mixture aside for 5-10 minutes. If the yeast is alive and kickin’ you’ll see a foam building on the surface. If not, try again.

In a large bowl mix flour and salt. Make a divet in the the flour and pour in the olive oil. Add the yeast mixture and stir with a wooden spoon. The dough starts to form a smooth-ish elastic ball. (Add flour a tablespoon or so at a time if it’s too sticky. It’s better to err on the slightly sticky side than on the dry side.) Turn out onto a floured surface and with floured hands knead for about 3-5 minutes.  (How to knead pizza dough here.)

Swipe the bowl you mixed in with a bit of olive oil on a paper towel. Plop the dough ball in there, then turn it over so both sides are lightly kissed with olive oil. Soak a thin dishtowel in warm water and wring it out. Cover the bowl with the dough and put it in a warm, draft-free location for about one hour. (In our old flat we proofed dough on the radiator, but here I put on a step stool in the bathroom with the dryer running! Any warmish spot should do.)

If you are using baking stones now is the time to put them in the oven at 425.

While you are waiting for the dough to rise, slice and dice all your ingredients. If you are using fresh mozzarella, put it in a sieve or colander over a bowl (to catch the water) and sprinkle lightly with salt. This keeps fresh mozzarella from ‘sweating’ on the pizza and making the dough salty. Here are some yummy combos to try from our Food Hero readers:

Three Peper, Three Cheese by Paula Clare: red, yellow, green bell peppers w/mitizhra, mozzerella, and parmesean
Tuscan Goodnes by Elaine Eppler: artichokes hearts, pine nuts, zucchini, black olives, sundried tomatoes, feta cheese, fresh basil

In 45min-1 hr your dough should be about twice it’s original size. Flour your hands and ‘punch’ it down to release the air. Turn it out on to the floured surface again and give it a little knead. Split it into three balls, set them on wax paper to keep them from sticking. Add a smallish hand full of cornmeal to the counter. put the ball of dough on the cornmeal/flour counter. Pat it down into a circle. Dust it with a little more flour. Using a rolling pen — or in a pinch, a clean empty glass jar – roll it out to about 1/4 inch thick, a little thicker on the edges if you like chewy crust. (For more how-to’s see the video link above)

If you’re not using baking stones, transfer your dough to a baking sheet. If you are using baking stones, get ’em out of the oven and put them on a trivet. Quickly slide the dough from the counter to the hot stone. This starts baking the pizza even before it’s in the oven and gives it that crisp-but-chewy texture. Add your toppings. Pop it in the oven and bake it for 20-25 minutes, keeping an eye on it and maybe moving it up if the top isn’t melting, or down if the bottom of the pizza isn’t browning. Let it set for a few minutes before slicing and your cheese won’t sliiiiiide off. Pour the kids some pop and yourself a microbrew. Have Yum!

Any tips or tricks for the perfect dough consistency? Got favorite topping combos to share? We’d love to hear about it in the comments!

Lazy Gourmet: Caprese Bites by Rachelle

I always think a  cocktail while cooking is a good idea, don’t you?

Created by: Katy K

This appetizer is so easy you can throw it together in minutes. After a friend sent an article from the NY Times about what to put on a toothpick, I put these together for a party. They were gone in minutes! With a loaf of crusty bread and a nice glass of wine, you could sit on the porch and call this dinner. Enjoy!

Shopping List

black pepper
cherry tomatoes
small fresh mozzarella balls
fresh basil leaves
coarse salt
olive oil
balsamic vinegar

Put a lot of fresh ground black pepper in a pie plate or shallow rimmed dish. Wash your toms and basil and spin the basil dry. (Have you noticed how important the salad spinner is? It’s a kitchen must!) Stack your toothpicks with a toms, a piece of basil and a mozzarella ball. Line ’em up in the pie plate. Sprinkle with coarse salt and drizzle with olive oil. Right before serving, splash with balsamic vinegar. Pass ’em with the red wine.

What you would put on a toothpick? Tell us in the comments below, or give us a link to a recipe!

White Sauce with Proscuitto, Spinach and Peas over Cheese Tortellini by Rachelle
August 7, 2008, 5:36 pm
Filed under: Italian, Main Dish, Medium Fix, Rachelle Mee-Chapman | Tags: , , , , ,

Created by: Rachelle Mee-Chapman

White sauce isn’t really that a hard. Once you learn how to make the basic sauce you can add whatever you want to it to make a bunch of quick dinners. This combo makes a pretty green-and-white dish full of pasta that has a little extra nutritional value due to the iron-rich spinach.

They key to a stress-free white sauce is to have everything chopped up before hand and to pre-heat the milk before you start. Nuke the milk in the microwave for about 1/2-2 minutes and it will hold enough heat until you are ready to add it to the sauce.

If you feel a little nervous about getting the sauce and pasta done at the same time, just cook the pasta before you start the sauce. Drain it, toss it with a little olive oil, add the spinach and put the lid on. It’ll keep.

Shopping List

2T butter
2 cloves garlic, diced
2T flour
1 1/2 cups milk
2 handfuls of shredded Parmesan cheese
8 slices (1pkg) prosciutto (or other cured pork product)
1/2 c frozen peas
4 handfuls fresh spinach, shredded lightly by hand
2 pkgs fresh cheese tortellini

Dice your garlic. Wash your spinach and dry it in the salad spinner. Pour it out onto a cutting board and run your knife through it a few times until it is slightly shredded. Slice the prosciutto into thin-ish strips. Pour hot water over your peas to speed up the defrosting. Heat your milk for two minutes in the microwave. (A glass measuring cup works well for this.)

Okay, ready? Put a pot on the stove over medium heat and melt butter. Toss in the garlic and cook 2 minutes. Stir in flour. Don’t let it scorch. Using a whisk, stir in the warm milk. Stir constantly, turning up the heat slightly until it comes to a low boil. Reduce heat to low and continue stirring until the sauce reaches a desired thickness. Add in a couple of handfuls of Parmesan cheese and stir until melted. Add prosciutto and peas. Stir in peas and heat through. Add lots of fresh ground black pepper.

Drain the pasta and return to the pan. Toss in shredded spinach and stir. This will wilt it just slightly. To wilt it more, put the lid on the pot and let it sit a minute. Pour pasta into serving dish and stir in just enough sauce until the noodles are gently coated. Spoon a little more sauce on the top if desired, but don’t drown it! This goes very nicely with some white wine, don’t you think? Time for dinner! Have yum!

What did you add to your white sauce? Do tell in the comments below or link us to your recipe!

Lazy Gourmet: Bruschetta by Rachelle

When my sweet friend Jeff committed eating something other than Trader Joe’s salads, I got inspired to help him on his quest to learn how to cook. I started searching my recipe collection for things that were high on flavor, low on prep. Bruschetta was the first thing that came to mind.

Paul and I fell in love with this fresh tomato dish when we first went to Italy in 1996. Now it is a Summer staple, and we’ve managed to turn this antipasta (appetizer) in to a primo or secondo course (main dish).

The recipe is written for someone who is brand new to cooking, with how to’s and serving suggestions. There’s a also a post here with some thoughts choosing ingredients to get maximum flavor for minimum fuss. Have Yum!

Shopping List
serves 2-4 depending how you use it
4 firm but ripe tomatoes
2 cloves garlic, peeled and finely diced -or-
3 t jarred chopped garlic
8 nice sized basil leaves
coarse salt
extra virgin olive oil

optional (see serving suggestions)
parmesean or asagio cheese
cibatta or other crusty bread
fusilli pasta
rotisserie chicken

Mixing it Up
Dice tomatoes (how to) and put them in a bowl. Throw the garlic in there with’ em. (How to peel/chop garlic here.)

Okay, now the basil. Don’t be scared! Pinch the leaves off the stems. It’s a little like plucking a daisy. (“She loves me. She loves me not.”) You only want the leaves. Wash the basil leaves and dry them in a salad spinner. If you dont’ have a spinner, pat them dry between two paper towels, or just shake them off over a sinke and call it done. Stack the leaves on top of each other on a cutting board. There now, isn’t that nice and orderly? Roll ’em up into a little bundle, and slice lengthwise into thin shreds. Aren’t you the cooking pro? Into the bowl they go.

Pour some salt into you palm. Put a couple very generous pinch into the bowl. You can always adjust later. Bruschetta should be very garlicky and nicely salty, IMHO. Now pour in a glug of olive oil. You’re done!

What to do with Bruschetta
Well, you could just eat it right out of the bowl, it’s so tasty! But try this: Cut your loaf of bread in half lenghtwise. Put it on a baking sheet and drizzle it with olive oil. Sprinkle on a little salt. Put it in the oven about four inches from the top. This is called “putting it under the broiler.” Set the oven dial to ‘broil,’ medium if it has options for how low/med/high. This will toast up fast, so keep an eye on it for a few minutes. When it’s nice and toasty, take it out, and if you feel fancy rub it with a clove of garlic, and sprinkle it with some parmesean cheese. Back in the broiler for just long enough to melt the cheese. Take it out, pile on the bruschetta — viola! Dinner!

Here’s some more options: Make up some pasta according to the directions on the package. Don’t forget to salt the water and don’t over cook it. Drain in in a big colander and toss with bruschetta. Top with cheese. If you need some protein try tossing in pre-cooked chicken breasts from the deli, diced or shredded — or use my favorite fall-back, rotisserie chicken. (You can get additive-free, organic, hormone-free roasted chicken now at stores like Whole Foods and PCC.)

Bruschetta ain’t terrible on top of scrambled or poached eggs either! Here’s how to poach and scramble.