Spaghetti with Italian Turkey Sausage, White Wine, and Fresh Tomatoes

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What not a better way to celebrate the summer then by incorporating the fruits of our labor (no pun intended) into yummy summer-y recipes?  Our vegetables plants have been providing us with steady bountiful “crops” of tomatoes, as well as basil.  I didn’t want to repeat last year’s terrible bout of laziness, in which ALL of the vegetables were not harvested.  Not one tomato.  It all went to waste, especially after all the time, effort, and money that I invested to set up drip lines. This year is going to be different.

And for the past several years, I’ve been telling myself to just buy one tomato plant because we end up with way too much tomatoes (and it usually goes to waste).  I even told my partner to stop me from buying two plants.  But sure enough, I left the nursery with TWO tomato plants again.  After I harvested a very large bowl of tomatoes, I told my partner to remind me to buy only one tomato plant next year.  Her response, “I told you this year, but you were too stubborn to listen.”  Ugh.  She’s right.  I was too stubborn to listen.  And now we have way too many tomatoes.  You know what’s funny?  I’ll probably be too stubborn to listen next year and many years after.  I don’t think I’ll ever learn my lesson.

My partner did say that she LOVES pasta when we first started dating.  So guess what we’ll be having for dinner for the next many weeks to come?

You guessed it!…

Spaghetti with Italian Turkey Sausage, White Wine, and Fresh Tomatoes

4 large garlic cloves, roughly chopped
1 medium onion, thinly sliced
1.5 links sweet Italian turkey sausage, remove from casing
1.5 links hot and spicy Italian turkey sausage, remove from casing
1 (15 ounce) can fire-roasted diced tomatoes
1 cup fresh tomatoes, diced
3/4 cup Sauvignon Blanc
1/2 teaspoon dried red hot chili flakes (optional)
Salt and pepper, to taste
1/4 heaping cupful grated Parmesan cheese, plus more for garnishing
1 cup cherry tomatoes, halved
Fresh basil leaves, chiffonaded
Whole wheat spaghetti pasta

In a medium sized bowl, mix together the sweet and hot turkey sausages until well combined. Set aside.

Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil over high heat.  Add the whole wheat pasta to the boiling water and cook according to the package directions for al dente.  Drain the pasta in a colander and return to the pot; cover with a lid to keep warm.

In a separate skillet, heat extra virgin olive oil over medium high heat.  Add the garlic and onions and saute until the onions are translucent, about 5 minutes.  If the garlic is browning too quickly, turn down the heat to medium.  Add a dash of kosher salt to the onions to help it sweat a little bit.  Set aside.

In a large skillet, heat extra virgin olive oil.  Add the ground turkey sausage to the pan and saute until browned and no longer pink over high heat, about 6 to 8 minutes.  Be sure to crumble/break up the sausages while it is cooking in the pan.

Once the sausages have browned, add the white wine to deglaze the pan and dissolve/scrape the browned bits that have crusted to the skillet.  Cook for about two minutes over high heat.  Add the cooked garlic and onions, crushed tomatoes, red chili flakes, and bring sauce to a boil and then reduce heat to simmer for 5 minutes.  Adjust seasoning with salt and fresh cracked black pepper.  [Do not over salt the sauce as you will be adding grated parmesan to the dish.]

Add the drained pasta to the skillet and toss until well-coated.  Add the grated parmesan cheese and toss again until it has been thoroughly incorporated.

Serve on a big platter family style or on individual serving plates.  Garnish with fresh basil leaves, cherry tomatoes, and extra grated parmesan.

Makes 4 servings.

Watermelon and Feta Salad

watermelon feta salad

What a delicious sweet and savory combination! Who knew watermelon and feta paired so well together! When I first saw this combination on one of the food competition shows, I thought it sounded and looked strange. I didn’t get it. But I also didn’t get the sweet and savory combination back then either. And mind you, this was many, many years ago before I became a glutton for food. We’ve been buying seedless watermelons at the farmer’s market for the last month, and it finally dawned on me to try this salad tonight! OH EM GEE, why did we not try this salad sooner?!

Watermelon and Feta Salad

1 (2 to 3 pound) seedless watermelon, rind removed
1 large block of feta
2 cups good quality balsamic vinegar
Extra virgin olive oil
Fresh cracked black pepper
1 bunch fresh basil leaves

Special equipment: 2.5 inch cake ring

Place the vinegar in a heavy-bottomed, non-reactive pot. Heat on low, so that you have a light simmer. Reduce until syrupy, or to desired consistency, about 2 to 2 1/2 hours. Be careful not to burn the balsamic reduction. Once cooled, store at room temperature.

Using the 2.5 inch cake ring, cut out watermelon rounds and cut it in half horizontally. Set aside.

Depending on the size of your feta block, cut into 3/4-inch thick layers. Using the 2.5 inch cake ring, cut out feta rounds. Set aside.

Arrange the salad with the watermelon slices on the bottom, followed with the feta rounds, and then two fresh basil leaves. Repeat until all the watermelon and feta rounds have been used. Drizzle with extra virgin olive oil and balsamic reduction, and finish with fresh cracked black pepper.

Rustic Pluot Galette

We scored on some deliciously sweet pluots at the local farmer’s market yesterday.  What not a better way to use the pluots, than to make a pluot galette.  I was so excited to bake this.  I heart baking.  It’s so therapeutic.  Okay, okay.  It’s a lie.  I wish I could take credit for this, but I’m not a baker whatsoever.  Not even close.  It was my partner who baked this.  She’s an incredible baker.  I just took the picture.

Butter Pie Crust (Pâte Brisée; from Simply Recipes)

1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour, plus extra for rolling
8 Tbsp (1 stick) unsalted butter, very-cold, cut into 1/2 inch cubes
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon sugar (increase to 1 1/2 teaspoons if for a sweet recipe)
4 to 6 Tbsp ice water, very cold

In a food processor, combine flour, salt, and sugar, pulse to mix. Add butter and pulse 6 to 8 times, until mixture resembles coarse meal, with pea size pieces of butter. Add water 1 tablespoon at a time, pulsing until mixture just begins to clump together. If you pinch some of the crumbly dough and it holds together, it’s ready, if not, add a little more water and pulse again.

Remove dough from machine and place on a clean surface. Carefully shape into a disc. Do not over-knead the dough! You should still be able to see little bits of butter in the dough. These bits of butter are what will allow the result crust to be flaky. Sprinkle the dough with a little flour on all sides. Wrap the disc in plastic wrap and refrigerate at least 1 hour.

Remove the dough from the refrigerator. Let sit at room temperature for 5-10 minutes. Sprinkle some flour on top of the disk. Roll out with a rolling pin on a lightly floured surface to a 12 inch circle; about 1/8 of an inch thick. As you roll out the dough, use a metal spatula to check if the dough is sticking to the surface below. Add a few sprinkles of flour if necessary to keep the dough from sticking. Gently fold in half. Place on to a 9-inch pie plate, lining up the fold with the center of the pan. Gently unfold and press down to line the pie dish with the dough.

Pluot Galette

1 pate brisee
6 firm pluots, sliced
1/3 cup sugar
1 tablespoons cornstarch
1 tablespoon lemon juice
pinch salt
1 egg, slightly beaten
1 tablespoon sugar

Preheat oven to 375 F.

Toss the pluots in a bowl with the sugar, cornstarch and lemon juice. Stir thouroughly and set aside.

Pile the pluots on top of the chilled dough leaving a 2 inch border for the crust. Fold the sides up, creating the crust and pinch folds together to secure. Brush egg on top and sprinkle with turbinado sugar. Bake pie in the oven for 1 hour until the crust is golden and the filling is bubbling. Let cool on the counter and serve.

Chocolate Banana Cream Pie… you wouldn’t even know it was vegan!

My partner LOVES bananas and desserts involving bananas.  I wanted to make her something special to celebrate her completing an intense, four week summer arts workshop.  She was so immersed in her workshop that we saw very little of one another.  I’d leave for work while she was still sleeping, and she’d come home while I was sleeping.  It was the most backward schedule that we have ever had.  The week before she finished her program, we made a deal to have a “just us” weekend.  And to start off our weekend, I was originally going to surprise her with her favorite ice cream, roasted banana ice cream, but I couldn’t find the recipe I bookmarked and was too inpatient to find it while grocery shopping.  So instead, I made the next best banana dessert… vegan chocolate banana cream pie.

This was an amazing dessert that set up very nicely.  It reminded me of exactly what the real stuff tasted like, but only better and healthier and lighter!  What was also great about this recipe was that we were barely able to taste the silken tofu, unlike other silken tofu recipes that I’ve made before.  I can almost guarantee that non-vegans will like this recipe, too!

Vegan Chocolate Banana Cream Pie (adapted from Dairy Free Cooking)

1 (14 ounce) box of silken tofu, drained
1/3 cup sugar
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 1/2 tablespoons lemon juice
2 tablespoons coconut oil
3 very ripe bananas, mashed
1/2 cup raw cashews, finely ground
Your favorite vegan prepared pie crust or graham cracker crust

Prepare the vegan pie crust of your choice according to the recipe. Fit into a 9″ pie plate and bake according to the recipe’s instructions. Allow crust to cool completely on a wire cooling rack.

In a blender or food processor, process the silken tofu until creamy. Add the sugar, salt, lemon juice, vanilla extract, and coconut oil and process until well combined and very creamy. Add the mashed bananas and finely ground cashews and process until smooth. Pour into the prepared pie crust and chill for at least 2 hours or until set.

Vegan Chocolate Ganache

16 ounces good quality dark dairy-free chocolate, coarsely chopped
1 (15-ounce) can coconut milk (not light version)
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

Place the coarsely chopped dark chocolate in a medium-sized bowl. Set aside.

In a small saucepan over medium-high heat, heat the coconut milk until bubbles just begin to appear around the edges and steam rises from the surface. Pour the hot coconut milk over the chopped chocolate and let stand without stirring for 5 minutes. After 5 minutes, stir the chocolate-coconut milk mixture until glossy and smooth (this will take about 2 minutes of gentle stirring). Add the vanilla extract and stir until incorporated. Use warm or slightly cooled.

To finish the pie:

Prepare the Vegan Dark Chocolate Ganache according to the recipe. Pour immediately onto the set banana filling and allow to cool completely until set. Chill for at least 1 hour before serving. Serve cold.

What’s in a name and spicy barbacoa beef tacos with cabbage and jalapeno-cilantro aioli

I think I can safely say that most people know their drugs by the most common brand or generic names (i.e., Tylenol, Motrin, Sudafed, Vicodin, levothyroxine, etc).  But did you know that medications actually have not two, but three names?  Yes.  That’s right.  THREE.

If it isn’t already hard enough to remember the names of the brand and generic names, let alone pronouncing the generic names (i.e., acridinyl anisidide… try saying that 5 times).  But there is actually a third name just to confuse you even more. Each drug has a brand name (or proprietary name), generic name (or non-proprietary name), and lastly, the chemical name.

The chemical names are derived from rules established by the International Union of Pure and Applied Chemistry (IUPAC).  The rules allow chemists and scientists to name it so that any other chemists/scientists can identify the structure based on the chemical name.  To simplify the chemical name is where the generic name comes into the picture.  So when a drug manufacturer develops a new drug, they start with the chemical name, give it a generic name, and then a brand name.

Check this:

Chemical name: 1-[4-ethoxy-3-(6,7-dihydro-1-methyl-
7-oxo-3-propyl-1H-pyrazolo[4,3-d]pyrimidin-5-yl)
phenylsulfonyl]-4-methylpiperazine
Generic name: Sildenafil citrate
Brand name: Viagra

Such a long and hard chemical name, right?  No pun intended.  Okay, maybe just a little bit.  Heehee :)

This is an interesting lesson, right?  Or maybe not?  I can geek out on this stuff all day, which is probably a good thing being a pharmacist and all.

Alright, enough of the boring stuff.  Let’s get to the good stuff!…

Barbacoa Beef Tacos with Cabbage and Jalapeno-Cilantro Aioli (adapted from Food.People.Want)

1/3 cup apple cider vinegar
3 tablespoons lime juice
4 canned chipotle chiles in adobo sauce
8 cloves garlic, roughly chopped
3 1/2 teaspoons ground cumin
3 teaspoons dried Mexican oregano
1 teaspoon ground cloves
1 1/2 teaspoons freshly ground black pepper
1 teaspoon sea salt or 2 teaspoons kosher salt
2 tablespoons olive oil oil
4 pounds boneless chuck roast, excess fat removed
1 cup low-sodium chicken broth
4 bay leaves
Jalapeno-Cilantro Aioli
Cabbage
Warm tortillas

Preheat the oven to 275°.

Combine the apple cider vinegar, lime juice, chipotle chiles WITH adobo sauce, garlic cloves, cumin, oregano, clove, black pepper and salt in the bowl of a food processor or blender and puree until completely smooth. Set aside.

Dry the roast all over with paper towels, cut away any excess fat and slice the meat into 4 evenly sized pieces. Heat the 2 tablespoons of olive oil in a very large, oven-proof pot set over high heat. Working in batches, sear the beef on all sides until deeply browned, about 10 minutes. [You don't want to sear all the meat at one time or else it will steam rather than sear.  You want the sear.]

Add the chicken stock first to “deglaze” the caramelized bits at the bottom of the pot, and stir for one minute.  Then add the chile puree and bay leaves to the pot and stir until the beef is well-coated, and bring to a boil.  Taste and adjust seasonings to your liking.  Reduce the heat to a simmer, about 5 minutes, and then cover the lid with tin foil and add the lid to create a very tight seal. [This is to ensure that the moisture doesn't escape too quickly during the long braising process.]  Place the pot in the oven and braise the meat for 5-6 hours, removing the lid during the last hour or so to allow the simmering liquid to reduce slightly.

Allow the beef to cool slightly, spoon off any easily removable fat from the braising liquid and then use two forks to pull/shred the beef into bite size pieces.

Serve spooned onto warm corn tortillas with cabbage and drizzled with some jalapeno-cilantro aioli, or your favorite taco toppings.

Makes about 20 tacos.

Ratatouille’s Rat • a • too • ee

We were in Portland, Oregon, a few weeks ago and while ordering coffee and pastries for breakfast at Little T American Bakery, our eyes gazed over towards their lunch menu.  Low and behold, there was a ratatouille panini sandwich with goat cheese.  My mouth began to salivate.  A lot.  If only it was lunch time, as I thought to myself.  I’m pretty sure that thought was mutual between the both of us.  Before we left with our coffee and breakfast, I muttered under my breath that I had to HAVE that.  Well, unfortunately, we never had a chance to make it back to Little T’s for lunch.  But it’s been on my mind ever since.

I was feeling inspired to make ratatouille when we were perusing all the different varieties of squash, eggplant, and bell peppers that the farmer’s market had to offer.  I mean, how hard could it be to make ratatouille?  If a rat can do it, then so can I! ;)

This was really fun and easy to make.  I only wish I had a better mandoline.  I purchased a Pamper Chef mandoline a few years ago only because a friend swore by hers.  I have yet to find it useful.  It’s the most clumsiest kitchen tool that I own.  Ugh.  I tried to use it again today, but after a minute of frustration, I decided to slice the vegetables with a knife.  It came out fine, but the vegetables were a little uneven.  And being the most anal person that I am, it bugged me that they weren’t all exactly the same thickness.  In fact, it still bugs me.  But I’m trying to get over it.  Anyhow, this dish has reminded me to get rid of the Pampered Chef mandoline, and to invest in a REAL mandoline.  Basically, I love any reason to buy new kitchen toys… I mean, tools :)

[p.s. Try to buy vegetables all within the same diameter.  As you can see in the picture, the zucchini I used was a lot smaller in diameter when compared to the rest of the vegetables.  So I had to use three zucchini in place of one medium to large zucchini.]

[p.p.s. if you like ratatouille, you should try my roasted ratatouille bisque with parmesan crisps... I'm know, such a shameless plug.]

Ratatouille’s Rat • a • too • ee (slightly adapted from Smitten Kitchen)

1/2 small yellow onion, finely chopped
4 garlic cloves, minced
1 cup tomato puree (such as Pomi)
1 medium Italian eggplant (small in diameter)
1 medium zucchini (small in diameter)
1 medium yellow squash (small in diameter)
1 longish red bell pepper
1 (15-ounce) can San Marzano Tomato Puree
Extra virgin olive oil
Few sprigs fresh thyme, leaves removed, roughly chopped
Salt and pepper
Few tablespoons soft goat cheese, for serving

Preheat oven to 375 degrees F.

Pour tomato puree into bottom of an oval [or whatever you have on hand... I used a square baking dish] baking dish. Drop the minced garlic and chopped onion into the sauce, stir in one tablespoon of the olive oil and season the sauce generously with salt and pepper.

Trim the ends off the eggplant, zucchini and yellow squash. As carefully as you can, trim the ends off the red pepper and remove the core, leaving the shape intact.

On a mandoline, adjustable-blade slicer or with a very sharp knife, cut the eggplant, zucchini, yellow squash and red pepper into very thin slices, approximately 1/16-inch thick.

Atop the tomato sauce, arrange slices of prepared vegetables concentrically from the outer edge to the inside of the baking dish, overlapping so just a smidgen of each flat surface is visible, alternating vegetables. [If you have a handful of sliced vegetables left over, don't fret... just make another ratatouille! Trust me. You'll want leftovers!]

Drizzle the remaining tablespoon olive oil over the vegetables and season them generously with salt and pepper. Sprinkle the fresh thyme over the dish.

Cover dish with a piece of parchment paper cut to fit inside [or over it, which is what I did. I didn't have the patience to cut the parchment paper to fit and it came out just fine.]

Bake for approximately 45 to 50 minutes, until vegetables have released their liquid and are clearly cooked, but with some structure left so they are not totally limp. They should not be brown at the edges, and you should see that the tomato sauce is bubbling up around them.

Serve with a dab of soft goat cheese on top, alone with a little tomato sauce drizzled around the plate, on pasta, or pressed into a panini sandwich with some good crusty bread. Yum.

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