Sunday, May 29, 2011

Pasta with Asparagus, Pancetta and Pine Nuts

Fresh off my other recent pasta triumph (Lemon Spaghetti) the pasta hits just keep on comin'. This week I made an awesome (and easy) weeknight pasta featuring asparagus, pancetta and pine nuts (oh - and lemon too!):

We are rather enjoying the whole pasta + lemon combination at our house right now. This dish came together with a minimum of prep and fuss - the asparagus cooks with the pasta and you can toast your pine nuts and roast your pancetta on one baking sheet to minimize your dirty dishes. Toss in some lemon juice, olive oil and parmesan cheese and there you have it. Another pasta dish that your husband will think took you more time and energy than it really did. Unless he reads your blog.

Pasta with Asparagus, Pancetta and Pine Nuts from Cooking Light
8 ounces uncooked cavatappi pasta
1 pound asparagus, trimmed and cut diagonally into 1 1/2-inch pieces
1 teaspoon minced garlic
3 tablespoons pine nuts
2 ounces diced pancetta
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
2 teaspoons extra-virgin olive oil
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/4 cup (1 ounce) crumbled Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese

1. Preheat oven to 400°.

2. Cook pasta according to package directions, omitting salt and fat; add asparagus to pan during last 3 minutes of cooking. Drain. Sprinkle pasta mixture with garlic; return to pan, and toss well.

3. Arrange pine nuts in a single layer on a jelly-roll pan. Bake at 400° for 3 minutes or until golden and fragrant, stirring occasionally. Place in a small bowl.

4. Increase oven temperature to 475°.

5. Arrange pancetta on jelly-roll pan. Bake at 475° for 6 minutes or until crisp.

6. Combine lemon juice, olive oil, salt, and pepper, stirring with a whisk. Drizzle over pasta mixture; toss well to coat. Sprinkle with pine nuts, pancetta, and cheese.

Note: Pine nuts are particularly delicious in this dish, but walnuts would also be tasty.

Friday, May 27, 2011

Reading Munchies

Do you snack while you read? I do, sometimes. In fact I have a very clear (and dear) memory of reading V.C. Andrews novels lounging on the floor of my room while eating Hostess BBQ chips and drinking Welch's grape soda. I must have been around fourteen at the time. This memory horrifies me on a number of levels. Would I let my boys read V.C. Andrews at fourteen? Not on your life. And why was I drinking grape soda on the floor of my white carpeted room? And those chips! I would eat an entire big bag by myself in one sitting. And I was skinny as a rail. I miss my fourteen year old self. My fourteen year old self loved the 'Flowers in the Attic' series. I haven't thought about those books in years. I imagine if I still had this particular series (which I don't) the pages would be smeared with greasy, red fingerprints. And the occasional splatter of purple soda.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Super Simple Chocolate Sauce

Last weekend I made Frozen Peanut Butter Pie. It was pretty good, although not as frozen as it needed to be when it was served. (Long story.) Short story - I wanted a simple chocolate sauce to drizzle over top of my Frozen Peanut Butter Pie, because nothing goes better with peanut butter than chocolate, IMHO. (And I was too lazy to bother shaving chocolate curls for the top of the pie as per the pie recipe.)

This wonderful, super simple recipe by David Lebovitz popped up a few times in my Internet quest for quick, easy chocolate sauce. It tastes divine, comes together using common pantry ingredients and did I mention it tastes divine? Even if you have no need for chocolate sauce, make some of this. Then eat it right out of the jar, like my dad did with his (already used) dessert fork. Making him the proud owner of a mostly full jar of chocolate sauce that I was going to eat straight out of the jar as soon as company left!! Boo!

The Best Chocolate Sauce
About 2 1/2 cups
1 cup (250 ml) water
1/2 cup (100 g) sugar
1/2 cup (160 g) light corn syrup, agave nectar, or glucose
3/4 cup (75 g) unsweetened cocoa powder (preferably Dutch-processed)
2 ounces (55 g) bittersweet or semisweet chocolate, finely chopped
1. In a medium saucepan, whisk together the water, sugar, corn syrup (or agave or glucose), and cocoa powder.
2. Bring to a boil over medium heat. Once it’s just begun to simmer and boil, remove from heat and stir in the chopped chocolate until melted.
Serving: You should let the Chocolate Sauce stand for a few hours before serving, which will give it time to thicken a bit.
Storage: Store the chocolate sauce in a covered container in the refrigerator for up to 10 days. Rewarm before serving.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Lemon Spaghetti

There seem to be lots of people harshing on Gwyneth Paltrow of late. I can't turn around without stumbling on some newspaper or magazine piece about GP that vacillates between adoration and abhorrence. The woman introduced me to Forget You, so I hate to be too critical. (It's a superb running track. And a really great angry song, since you can get really potty-mouthed singing along if you reference the original version. In your head, of course.) Apparently GP has written a cookbook which partly explains the news coverage I've been seeing. I stumbled on her recipe for Spaghetti Limone Parmeggiano while searching Epicurious for dinner inspiration one night and made a mental note to try it. I'm a sucker for lemon but usually get my fix through desserts - think pie, bars and pudding. Why not lemon pasta?

Monday, May 16, 2011

Chickpea Pasta

One of the food resolutions I made in January was to try and prepare more interesting vegetable dishes. We always have at least one vegetable with each meal but they are generally uninspired. Think your standard side of (boiled) peas, corn, carrots. I have also been known to roast a vegetable or two in my day (asparagus and cauliflower) but I never go all out and prepare a main course that one could consider vegetarian.

Lately a lot of my culinary experiments come about owing to some random ingredient I find hanging out in my pantry. In the case of Chickpea Pasta it was a can of chickpeas left over from my chili making phase this past Winter. I just happened to find it the day I went through one of my 'to try' recipe folders and found Penne with Chickpeas, Spinach and Roasted Asparagus, courtesy of Food and Wine magazine (LCBO). Penne with Chickpeas, Spinach and Roasted Asparagus is a much more elegant name than Chickpea Pasta but since the can of chickpeas really started the ball rolling, Chickpea Pasta it is.

I thought the Chickpea Pasta presented well:

And it would surely qualify as vegetarian. In addition to the spinach and asparagus (and chickpeas, natch) you'll find shredded carrot and sun dried tomatoes in that there bowl. David and I both had the same reaction to this dish. It was good, but the chickpeas were kind of distracting. David never met a legume he liked so he stick-handled most of his out of the way (in the nicest way possible, given as he is to generally praising anything I make). I was game to like the chickpeas but something about the texture, especially compared with the other elements of the dish, didn't work for me. Overall I enjoyed this pasta but wouldn't rush to make it again. So back to the veggie drawing board!

Monday, May 9, 2011

Crank up the heat...

On Saturday night we pulled in to our driveway around 10:30 p.m. having left Locust Grove, Georgia earlier (way earlier) in the day at 5:00 a.m.. What made the trip bearable were the five glorious, sunny days we had just enjoyed in Orlando, Florida. After a long Canadian winter it was a well deserved break from reality. Except my reality is that I appear to have grown allergic to sunshine. I have always been sensitive to the sun but this was the first time in years that after one day of sunshine exposure my skin broke out into red (itchy) hives. Which was wonderfully ironic. I've been begging for sunshine and warmth for months. I get some and it turns out my Canadian-born self can't handle the heat, literally.

When you spend your vacation at a theme park you can't really expect much in the way of culinary delights. So I have very little to share about our food adventures while on holidays. Here are the culinary low-lights and high-lights. You can judge which is which.

Chick-fil-A. Please come to Canada, Chick-fil-A. Kentucky is about the northern-most Chick-fil-A we've been able to find.  Amazing chicken sandwiches and a mean chicken fruit salad. Awesome lemonade. Free wi-fi. Clean bathrooms. I'm in.

We had a lovely moment at Cracker Barrel in somewhere-I've-forgotten-the-name-of Tennessee. A man came over as we were finishing our lunch and told us he had been watching us since we came in and he thought we had 'Just such a nice little family, he had to stop to say hello.' (Go back and say this with a slow Southern drawl). Which you could take as creepy (Dude - stop watching us!) or lovely, which is how I'm choosing to take it, given the kids had been in the car since 4:30 a.m. with no naps.

Old Port Royale Food Court (Caribbean Beach Resort). Not so much 'Caribbean' fare but points to Disney for trying to health things up. The kids had turkey, mashed potatoes and corn for dinner a couple of nights and all the lemonade they could drink thanks to a refillable-during-your-entire-stay Disney mug. Which we enjoyed on the patio, by the pool under some colourful umbrellas and palm trees...

Let's talk about lattes. I've grown accustomed to having one every morning that I prepare at home. Disney does not have good coffee meaning they do not have good lattes. Except at the Polynesian Resort but we weren't at the Polynesian resort. Next time, we will be.

Whispering Canyon Cafe all-you-care-to-enjoy skillet. I love Disney marketing. It isn't 'all-you-can-eat' it's 'all-you-care-to-enjoy'! This was our one splurge meal and it was goood. Ribs, fried chicken, beef brisket, baked beans, mashed potatoes (that made me want to lick my skillet) and corn bread. The kids ordered bottomless milkshakes. Bottomless. Milkshakes. They drank two. Each. I sampled both (strawberry and chocolate) and they were also gooood.

Bob Evans. We love Bob Evans. Because when you're only mid-way through Ohio (what is up with the size of Ohio?) and you have been eating on the road for a week, you want a vegetable. Patrick looked at the menu and ordered broccoli and banana bread. They also have KD (Kraft Dinner). Genuine KD, although it does seem to differ slightly from Canadian KD. I always order off of the kids menu (Turkey Lurkey) but the grown up menu is good too.

By Sunday I didn't have the energy to whip up Sunday dinner but we managed to pull together a respectable Mother's Day feast of gingered flank steak, baked potatoes and roasted asparagus.

Have I every told you how I roast asparagus? It seems like a rather random way to end this post but I can do random. This is a fool-proof method for roasting asparagus.

Roasted Asparagus
Heat oven to 500 degrees. (No, seriously - your oven will go that hot!) Snap woody ends off of asparagus and wash. Put some foil on a cookie sheet. Spread the washed asparagus on the foil-lined pan. Drizzle with olive oil and season with salt/pepper. Roast in oven for 5 minutes. Serve immediately to rave reviews.