Penne and Cheese with Ham and Peas

Penne and Cheese

Pasta enveloped in creamy cheese sauce is one of the oldest recipes in the book. Versions of this dish are enjoyed by every age group, from children to the elderly. I have fond memories of devouring mac and cheese as a little girl and wanted to find a more elegant and flavorful way to make this dish and what I found was Penne and Cheese with Ham and Peas.

Penne and Cheese

I first made what is called a roux which is the base for sauce. The sauce in question today was a béchamel, or white sauce. Making the roux was pretty simple to create, simply butter and flour. Then I added warmed milk and allowed the sauce to thicken.

Penne and Cheese

After the béchamel had thickened, I boiled some water for the penne. You can use one of many pastas: elbow macaroni, shells, etc. but I prefer penne. When the pasta was almost cooked, I added frozen peas to the pot to allow the peas to defrost and cook. Then I drained the pasta and peas.

Penne and Cheese

After adding cheddar and Parmesan cheese to the béchamel sauce, I added the pasta, peas, and ham that I had chopped. I decided to add ham and peas to make it more of a main dish and to give it some new flavors. It is also possible to bake this dish with some panko breadcrumbs and extra cheese, if you prefer your macaroni and cheese baked.

Penne and Cheese

When sat down to dinner, everyone raved about this dish. The peas were a fresh addition and the ham added a sweet and smokey flavor that you wouldn’t normally get from a generic macaroni and cheese. The cheese sauce was so creamy and coated the penne nicely. Give it a try, if you have any comments on the recipe, leave them below. Bon Appetit!  Continue reading

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Summer Vegetable Crêpes

Crêpes

Today I decided to try my hand at crêpes. What I like most about these delicious French pancakes is that you could probably eat them at every time of day: breakfast, dessert, snack, even lunch and dinner! Today’s recipe is crêpes with a ricotta and vegetable filling.

Crêpes

In the past, I have never had much luck with pancakes; either the heat is too low or too high, the batter too lumpy, etc. I was cautious about trying to make crêpes because of this but the other day I had some lovely crêpes at a friend’s house and decided to give it a try. This recipe in particular looked interesting because the filling was something other than strawberries and chocolate or ham and cheese, the two most popular crêpes I know of.

Crêpes

I made my crêpes and although they were not the best I have ever seen, they had a nice taste to them and a light golden color to them.  I think next time I make them, I will try a smaller pan so that I can make smaller crêpes. After the crêpes were made, I assembled the sauce and filling.

Crêpes

The recipe called for a sauce of sour cream, milk, lemon juice and chives. Mine turned out quite runny so I recommend a little less milk. Making the filling was rather easy; all I had to do was combine ricotta cheese with lemon zest and Parmesan cheese. The original recipe called for ricotta cheese and Monterrey Jack cheese but I decided to change it up a bit.

Crêpes

Sauteing the vegetables went smoothly; in no time they were cooked through and ready for the addition of the ricotta mixture. I chose to use peas instead of green beans if only because I prefer the former but they actually gave a nice taste to the filling. Once the filling was done, I added some to each crêpe and rolled them up. The reviews were unanimous: this was a darn good crêpe recipe! The corn added such a sweetness and the zucchini gave them a little crunch. The addition of the lemon zest to the riccotta combined the flavors nicely and gave it a freshness. Give it a try, if you have any comments on the recipe, leave them below. Bon Appetit! Continue reading

Sauteed Apple Walnut Salad With Blue Cheese

Apple salad

Salads are a wonderful addition to any meal. What I like about them is how diverse each salad is. You can go the savory route, like the Caesar I made a few weeks ago, or sweet with this Apple Walnut Blue Cheese salad. I have always loved salads that involved apple with blue cheese but never tried sauteing the apple.

Apple salad

After I had toasted some walnuts and whisked up an easy red wine vinegar dressing, I got to work on the apples. It was actually a very simple procedure; add apples and sugar into a pan with some olive oil and stir every now and then while the apples soften and eventually brown. When they were cooked, I tested one and they were delicious! I chose to use granny smith apples instead of golden delicious which turned out to be the right call. The added sugar left them sweet like candy with a slight tang.

Apple salad

I  then combined the lettuce, apples, walnuts, and dressing in a big bowl and served up some salad for my family. This recipe was a hit! The apples were sweet, the blue cheese tangy, the walnuts were slightly earthy and gave it a warm flavor, and finally, the dressing balanced everything else wonderfully. Although I do love the way raw apples are so crisp in salads, I enjoyed this variation as well and didn’t miss the former. Give it a try, if you have any comments on the recipe, leave them below. Bon Appetit! Continue reading

Pesto Parmesan Garlic Brioches

Brioches

A French pastry, brioche is most known for it’s place at breakfast or dessert. Don’t be fooled by this sweet bread, it also has a savory dopplegänger that goes great at any dinner table. Today, I decided to make savory brioche rolls with pesto, Parmesan cheese, and garlic.

Brioches

This being my second yeast bread recipe, I was ready to tackle this recipe. It started out easy enough, with yeast and warm water. The only tricky part about making the dough was knowing that i had enough flour in the mix. Once I decided it was just the right consistency, it went into the fridge overnight.

Brioches

It did not grow as much as I thought it would, but it rolled out on a floured board easy enough. When it was a good rectangular shape, I added butter, lots of pesto, garlic, and Parmesan. The original recipe called for chives, cheddar cheese, and garlic but I decided to put an Italian spin on it. The fun part was rolling it; it was like how they taught us to fold letters in Freshman year, in thirds.

Brioches

After it had been rolled, I used my rolling pin to roll it out a little. I then got out a pizza cutter and cut strips. Each strip fit perfectly into the cup of a muffin tin. After allowing them to rise for half an hour, it was ready to bake. You can leave it longer but at that point, I was looking forward to these baked perfections.

Brioches

When they came out of the oven, my kitchen smelled amazing and to be honest, they tasted even better. I guess what they say is true about butter, but the pesto, Parmesan, and garlic added great flavor. Every year we make our own pesto and this recipe accentuated the freshness of the basil-y paste. Everyone who tried these brioche rolls thought that they were just crispy enough on the outside and chewy on the inside. Give it a try, if you have any comments on the recipe, leave them below. Bon Appetit! Continue reading

Mushroom Risotto with Peas

Risotto

I have grown up enjoying the simple pleasure of risotto. Risotto is not a difficult dish to make; it just takes time to get the rice done. Many a time I have seen contestants on food competitions try and fail because of crunchy risotto so I planned to be smart and take my time when attempting this dish.

Risotto

The recipe I used, adapted from the one and only Giada De Laurentiis, was rather simple. I started by soaking dried mushrooms in chicken broth and chopping some fresh mushrooms. Then I chopped an onion and let that saute with olive oil and butter. I thought it was interesting to use both but it turns out that the olive oil keeps the vegetables from burning and the butter adds nice flavor.

Risotto

Once the onion had softened, I added the fresh mushrooms with some garlic and left that to saute. I then pulled the dried mushrooms out of the broth, chopped them, and added them to the mushroom mixture. Next I added Arborio rice, which is a short-grain Italian rice. Using a short-grain rice keeps the risotto smooth and creamy.

Risotto

Over the next half an hour or so, I added a cup of broth every time the previous had been absorbed. Then I checked the rice to be sure it was cooked and was ready to add thawed peas and Parmesan cheese. I chose to add half of the cheese and save the other half for garnish on top. Once I took a bite of the finished product, I knew that this was one of my favorite risotto recipes.

Risotto

Previously, I had only had saffron risotto, which is a lovely yellow color with a sweet and earthy taste. Saffron happens to be one of the most expensive spices around so this was a tasty alternative. The mushrooms added so much flavor and the peas were bursting with freshness. The rice had the perfect taste and wasn’t too firm. My taste-testers also loved this recipe and the leftovers were gone by the end of the week. Bon Appetit! Continue reading

Parmesan Garlic Rolls

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Rolls are a staple at most dinners. My grandmother has made hers from scratch for as long as I can remember. Sometimes, however, simple bread and butter won’t cut it and something zestier will only do.

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These Parmesan garlic rolls are the perfect compliment to any meal. This is the first recipe I have ever attempted that involved yeast and dough rising. At first, I was intimidated by this feat but only until I realized making bread is a piece of cake. Initially making the dough happened to be an easy task; combine some ingredients in the electric mixer and then leave to rise for 45 minutes.

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I had no idea what to do with the dough while it rose so I resorted to the internet in search of the perfect resting place. What I found was fairly simple; place a mug of water in the microwave and give it 60 seconds. Then place the mug in the back and set the covered dough inside the microwave. The dough rose beautifully and was so easy to work with.

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Once I had rolled out the dough, I topped it with a delicious garlic-butter and cheese. Then I rolled it into a log, let it firm up for a little while, and cut it into discs. After adding melted butter and cheese on top, it was ready to bake!

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This is by far one of the best roll recipes I have found and not just because of the beautiful golden color the rolls turned to in the oven. The butter soaked through and with each bite you had garlic, Parmesan, salt, and bread. This will probably become my go to for dinner parties and celebrations because of how easy it is and how much everyone has enjoyed them. Bon Appetit!  Continue reading

Caesar Salad

ImageWhat salad will you find on almost any menu? Caesar salad of course. This classic mixing of light lemony flavor, salty anchovy, and Parmesan cheese. I have always enjoyed Caesar salad and was delighted to get the chance to make some of my own.

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Making my own croutons was a lot of fun and they turned out delicious. I started by brushing baguette slices with garlic-infused olive oil. Then I broiled the slices for a few minutes. They will burn if they are left for too long, so I suggest keeping an eye on them.

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The dressing as well was quick to make. Just combine oil, garlic, lemon juice, anchovy paste, cheese, and egg and you are left with a basic dressing. I had never worked with anchovy paste before and was hesitant to include the ingredient but seeing as anchovy is a main component of the dish, I decided to try something new.

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As it turned out, the dressing was great, even with anchovies! In the future, I will add capers to the dressing as well but for the most part, this was a spot on variation on Caesar salad. The croutons were crunchy on the outside, chewy on the inside and the garlic-olive oil complimented the dressing perfectly.

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As far as salads go, this has to be one of my new favorites. Everyone that has tried it as of yet has enjoyed it as well. It would work well as a dinner salad or a side dish to soup, such as tomato bisque (be sure to check out my tomato recipe as well!). Bon Appetit! Continue reading

Tomato Bisque

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Soup is always a comfort, particularly on a cold day but really anytime you simply need a pick-me-up. Tomato has always been one of my favorites; it is creamy and it tastes like home. The specific recipe I found today not only made the recipe healthy but also kept the same rich taste you’d expect.

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The recipe was fairly simple; I started with some butter, onions, and garlic. Once they had been lightly browned, I added tomato, basil, stock, some crushed red pepper, and get this: cannellini beans!

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The beans added a creamy consistency you would expect from a tomato bisque recipe sans all the cream. Once that had simmered, I used my immersion blender. No need for a food processor, the blender not only worked quickly, but I could keep it in the same pot I had used to make it in. 

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With an addition of a little cream, much less than you’d find in any other tomato bisque recipe, we were ready to eat. The kick you got from the pepper was just right and it wasn’t completely smooth which kept you interested in it. As far as tomato soup recipes go, this has to be one of the best. Bon Appetit! Continue reading

Quiche aux Champignons

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What’s a better way to start a meal than with egg, cheese, and mushrooms bundled in a pastry shell? For our second recipe, we head west to France in search of quiche.

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Julia Child has always been one of my biggest idols. Last year, I was given her book, Mastering the Art of French Cooking. Her explanations aren’t super wordy or difficult to understand and every page has pictures so you know exactly what you are doing.

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When I started on the crust this morning, I was concerned. It didn’t have difficult ingredients, but the directions called for quick speed because otherwise the butter would melt. After the dough had been perfected and placed in the freezer for an hour and been rolled out, it was ready to bake and the tough part was over.

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Then the real fun could begin: the filling. After mincing the shallots and lightly browning them, the mushrooms and lemon were added.Then the mixture was incorporated with the cream and eggs. I did it slowly, adding a spoonful at a time. With a little bake time, only the enjoying would remain.

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This quiche browned nicely in the oven and left the kitchen smelling like heaven. One bite and it felt like I was floating on a cloud; the eggs were so fluffy! I didn’t think the lemon would add much but it really lightened the flavor and emphasized the mushrooms. Next time, I might try making mini quiches, they might be more appetizer friendly. Bon Appetit! Continue reading

Tomato Bruschetta

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I’m one quarter Italiano and have grown up savoring a variety of Italian dishes. I first tried bruschetta when I was nine or ten and it has remained one of the few dishes that includes tomatoes that I really love. I chose this dish as my first recipe because I’ve seen it made before and it seemed like a good jumping off point.

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After exploring my family’s vast cupboard of cookbooks, I decided to go back to basics with William Sonoma’s Essentials of Italian cookbook. Of all the recipes I found, this seemed the most authentic. It was very straightforward; requiring only six ingredients. As I got everything I needed out and prepared, I thought this recipe would be too easy.

Image The recipe called for the tomatoes to be cored and seeded, both of which I had never attempted before. With some research, I found an easy way to accomplish this; first cut your tomato into four pieces and then take a 1/4 teaspoon and scoop out the seeds. I then tore the basil and added the salt; my tomato mixture was ready to go.

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The recipe also called for the bread to be grilled but I chose to use the broiler feature in my oven instead. On my first try, my oven was too hot and the pan was too close to the top of the oven. My bread was badly burned and I started again. My second time, the bread turned a crispy golden brown, perfect to keep the bread from getting soggy later on. I rubbed the bread with garlic and was ready to plate!

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Overall, I enjoyed the simplicity of this recipe. The flavors were fresh and I liked that the garlic was spread over the bread instead being minced with the tomato and basil. The touch of olive oil over the top was just the right amount. Instead of using large tomatoes, I used campari tomatoes which are slightly smaller and sweeter. With past recipes, the tomatoes have carried too much liquid and have softened the bread too much. By removing the seeds and crisping up the bread, this was avoided.

ImageMy reviewer gave this recipe a 7/10 and suggested adding a little more salt and trying a smaller bread. A lot of recipes today do call for baguette-sized pieces of bread and next time I might try that. Although I used 1/4 teaspoon of salt, next time I might make it a 1/2 teaspoon instead, for flavor. This recipe taught me knife skills, oven skills, and how to plate a dish. Give it a try, if you have any comments on the recipe, leave them below. Bon Appetit! Continue reading