Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Pasta with Sausage, Peppers and Olives

I often wonder how I was able, in some deep, dark past, to put together relatively elaborate meals on any given week night. Of course, it has a lot to do with not working full time back then. Now quicker, simpler things have a much better chance getting on the table, but I’ve come to the conclusion that it’s not even so much a matter of not having enough time for bigger spreads as it is not having enough energy. Something tells me that other busy folks, especially parents of young children, feel similarly.

That’s where this delicious but easy dish comes in. While I don’t think it would be an quick sell to hungry kids, especially if you use a spicy Italian sausage, it’s got a good chance of keeping us drained adults going, while not taking that much time and energy. This is simply pasta with sausage and peppers, but with some big flavor boost from olives (any kind will do, but I like Kalamata or other “fancy” olives) and feta cheese.

This is one of those recipes for which you don’t really need a recipe. In fact, last time I made it, I could not find any printed or electronic version of what I had always done and, though it had been a long time since I made it, I remembered the recipe pretty well. (I did eventually find a battered printout and my memory got me pretty close to the original!) And once you’ve made it a few times, you’ll know what you want to add and/or take away to make it more suited to your tastes or to what you tend to have on hand.

Really, I just need this kind of thing in front of me in recipe form to remind myself of the idea that spicy sausage, bell peppers, briny olives and funky feta are a great combination. And that they take just a little of my precious time and energy to throw together with pasta for a simple but satisfying supper.

Pasta with Sausage, Peppers and Olives
Adapted from Cooking Light, May 2003

8 ounces uncooked short pasta, such as orecchiette, farfalle, penne or shells
8 ounces spicy Italian sausage (remove from casing if not purchased in bulk)
olive oil, if needed
3 cups bell pepper (any color; a mix is nice), cut into short, ¼ wide strips
1 large clove garlic, minced
1 teaspoon dried oregano
½ cup chopped pitted olives
¾ cup feta cheese, crumbled

1. Cook pasta in boiling salted water according to package directions until al dente. Drain, reserving a cup or so of cooking water, and keep warm.

2. Heat a large skillet over medium heat. Add the sausage and cook, breaking apart, until just browned. Add the peppers and continue cooking until the peppers are lightly browned and tender-crisp and the sausage is fully cooked. If the sausage has little fat and the pan is getting too dry to keep the sausage and peppers from sticking, add some olive oil as needed.

3. Stir in the garlic, oregano and olives. Cook about 2 minutes. Add the hot cooked pasta and feta cheese. Pour in some of the reserved pasta cooking water if desired to moisten. Toss together and cook until warmed through.

Makes about 4 servings.

One year ago: Pumpkin Alfredo Sauce

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Peanut Butter Butterfinger Blondies

I don’t like to admit to envy, but I do indeed envy those bloggers and other fine bakers out there who have lots of great festive treats ready for every occasion. For Halloween, I would love to have spooky decorated cupcakes or homemade candies or something baked with a chocolate spider web swirl on it. I’m not sure exactly why I fall short of such aspirations, although I suspect that the abundance of miniature candy bars in seasonal packaging might be muscling out the homemade goodies.

Well, I decided that, since those candy bars define the Halloween culinary season for me, they could take part in dessert and contribute to the holiday theme. I commandeered a bag of Butterfinger candies (not the first bag; I totally ate the first bag), chopped some of them up and sprinkled them on what already looked like a pretty swell peanut butter blondie.

Of course it was delicious! I mean, come on! I put peanut butter, which is great, into a blondie batter, which is great, and then gilded it all with a layer of Butterfinger candy goodness. The chopped Butterfingers melted in the oven, then re-crystallized as the blondies cooled, creating a slightly crunchy, slightly sticky, a little chocolate-y crust. Trick or treat indeed!

Actually, this is a mighty fine peanut butter blondie recipe even without the candy on top. I adapted it from Epicurious where it was originally published as a peanut butter and jelly blondie. It would probably be pretty good with that jelly or with peanut butter cups or chocolate chips. And, of course, it would be good way outside the accepted boundaries of Halloween celebration, although this counts as my contribution to all the Halloween fun. Which is good, because I would look terrible in a naughty nurse costume.

Peanut Butter Butterfinger Blondies
Adapted from Epicurious

½ cup (1 stick) unsalted butter
1 ¼ cup all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
2 eggs
1 ½ cup brown sugar
¾ cup smooth peanut butter
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 cup chopped Butterfinger candies

1. In a small saucepan, melt the butter set aside to cool slightly. Preheat oven to 350 F. Spray an 8-inch square baking pan with cooking spray or butter or grease it as you prefer.

2. In a large bowl, combine the flour, baking powder and salt. Whisk or sift to combine.

3. In a medium-size bowl, lightly beat the eggs with a whisk. Slowly whisk in the melted butter, beating until well combined. Whisk in the brown sugar, beating until smooth. Whisk in the vanilla extract.

4. Pour the egg mixture into the flour mixture and stir until just combined.

5. Pour the batter into the prepared 8-inch pan. Sprinkle the chopped Butterfinger candies evenly over the top of the batter. Press the candies gently into the batter. Bake at 350 F for 35-40 minutes or until a wooden pick inserted in the center comes out with just a few moist crumbs clinging to it. Cool completely on a wire rack. Cut into squares to serve.

Makes 12-16 servings.

One year ago: Beef Empanada Pot Pie

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Archive Recipe: Applesauce Cake

One more apple recipe, please. This cake is sort of a re-run since it’s a simple variation on this cake. When I made that cake as a vehicle for this pumpkin applesauce, I wanted to prove to myself that it would be just as good as a simple applesauce cake and/or a simple pumpkin cake. Um, that original cake happened in 2011. Two thousand freakin’ eleven! That was three years ago! How is it possible that I went without making a simple applesauce cake for three years?

Well, now, with more than enough lovely homemade applesauce on hand, I had no excuses. This is, of course a good cake. Simple and delicious. Because the applesauce adds subtle flavor, I can taste the whole wheat in the whole wheat pastry flour I use to make this a little less, oh, I don’t know, junk food. I’m sure this would be good with all all-purpose flour if you prefer.

In addition to using un-pumpkined applesauce, I also reduced the pumpkin pie spice in my original test to mere cinnamon. Apples and cinnamon. Come on. Horse and carriage, here. I think you could add some things to this cake, like chopped apples, pecans or walnuts, or raisins, but if I went that route, I would definitely use a larger baking pan (say, a 9-inch square). As it is, the applesauce cake fills an entire 8-inch pan as it bakes.

While you could fiddle with streusels or drizzles or icings to top this cake, I really love the simple cream cheese frosting. I could eat it with a spoon all by itself. And since I’ve been stuffing apples into baked goods, I should probably eat a few apples all by themselves, too. I know there are all kinds of them out there among those pumpkins and Brussels sprouts.

Applesauce Cake with Cinnamon Cream Cheese Frosting
Adapted from smitten kitchen

I think you could stir some additions like nuts or raisins or even chopped apple into this batter. If you do, however, you will very likely require a larger baking pan, such as a 9-inch pan. As it is, this cake totally fills an 8-inch pan when baking.

For the cake
1 cup all-purpose flour
1 cup whole wheat pastry flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
½ teaspoon baking soda
½ teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons cinnamon
1 stick (4 ounces) unsalted butter at room temperature
1 cup packed light brown sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 large eggs
1 ½ cups unsweetened applesauce

For the frosting
5 ounces cream cheese at room temperature
3 tablespoons unsalted butter at room temperature
¼ teaspoon vanilla extract
1 cup powdered sugar
1 teaspoon cinnamon

1. Preheat oven to 350 F. Butter or spray well with cooking spray an 8-inch (or 9-inch) square baking dish or pan. Set aside.

2. To make the cake, in a medium-size bowl, combine the all-purpose flour, whole wheat pastry flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, and 2 teaspoons cinnamon. Whisk together until well-combined.  Set aside.

3. In a large bowl or the bowl of a heavy-duty mixer, beat together the whole stick of butter and brown sugar until the mixture is fluffy, about a minute or two. (Use a hand-held electric mixer or heavy-duty mixer if you can.) Add the eggs one at a time and beat well after each addition.  Beat in the 1 teaspoon vanilla and the applesauce.

4. Mix in the flour mixture a little at a time.  Stir until just combined.

5. Pour the batter into the prepared pan and spread evenly.  Bake at 350 F for 35-40 minutes or until the cake is golden brown and a wooden pick inserted in the center comes out without any raw batter clinging to it.  (Since this is a moist cake, it may come out with some moist crumbs.) Remove the cake from the oven and cool completely on a wire rack.

6.  When the cake has cooled, prepare the frosting. In a medium-size bowl, combine the cream cheese 3 tablespoons butter, and ¼ teaspoon vanilla.  Beat with an electric mixer until smooth.  Sift in (please sift…I often forget and end up with lumpy frosting) the powdered sugar and cinnamon. Beat until smooth. Spread the frosting evenly over the cake.

Makes 9-12 servings. Store in the refrigerator.         

Thursday, October 9, 2014

Roasted Autumn Vegetable Salad

Ok, one of my motives for trying and posting this recipe is to prove that I’m making something besides recipes with apples! Mostly, though, it’s a celebration of root vegetables and squash as is appropriate this time of year. And my favorite thing to do with these autumn vegetables is roast them. They get tender and caramelized and sweet and oh, so delicious.

Another favorite thing I like to do when root vegetables and winter squash are around is to peruse Recipes from the Root Cellar by Andrea Chesman. That’s where I found this new application for my favorite vegetables. It’s basic roasted vegetables tossed with a robust vinaigrette with molasses and mustard and served while still warm over cool salad greens.

I’ve been happily roasting vegetables for a long time, but I was pretty excited about drenching them in this flavorful dressing. Putting that whole thing on salad greens turns it into a light one-dish meal. I used a mixture of green leaf lettuce and Swiss chard, but you could use winter greens like chicories or tender cabbages like Napa or Savoy.

When it comes to the roasted vegetables, you can use whatever you have or can get. I used a parsnip, a carrot, a rutabaga and half of a red kuri squash. You can use whatever winter squash you like, and add other vegetables like celeriac, turnips, sunchokes, or even beets if you can stand them (I can’t! but if you do buy them with their greens still attached, you could add those greens to your salad.) The smaller you cut the vegetables, of course, the less time they take to cook.

This is quite a versatile recipe, or really set of recipes. Just make roasted vegetables, and you could be happy. Toss those vegetables with this dressing and serve as a side dish. Use the dressing alone on a green salad or grain salad. You could also add cheeses, nuts and seeds or - and you know you want it - bacon to this salad. Whatever! It’s all good!

Roasted Autumn Vegetable Salad with Molasses Mustard Vinaigrette

Use whatever fall and winter vegetables you like here. I like winter squash, rutabaga, carrots and parsnips. Also, sturdier salad greens ranging from leaf lettuces to endive and radicchio to tender cabbages will all work well.

for the dressing:
¼ cup molasses
3 tablespoons Dijon mustard
1 tablespoon whole grain mustard
1 tablespoon cider vinegar
2 tablespoons olive oil
¼ teaspoon coarse salt
a few grinds of black pepper

for the salad:
About 6 cups peeled autumn vegetables, such as parsnips, carrots, rutabagas, turnips, winter squash, etc., cut into about 1-inch pieces
1 small onion coarsely chopped
2 tablespoons olive oil
½ teaspoon coarse salt
¼ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
About 6 cups salad greens or sliced tender cabbage

1. Preheat oven to 450 F. In a small bowl, whisk together the dressing ingredients until smooth. Set aside until ready to serve.

2. In a shallow roasting pan (or on a large sheet pan) spread out all of the vegetables and the onion into a single layer. Drizzle with 2 tablespoons olive oil and sprinkle with ½ teaspoon salt and ¼ teaspoon pepper. Toss well to coat.

3. Roast the vegetables at 450 F for about 45 minutes or just until tender. Remove from the oven and transfer the cooked vegetables to a large bowl.

4. Whisk the dressing if the ingredients have separated. Place the salad greens in a large bowl. Pour about ¼ cup of the dressing on the greens and toss to coat well. Pour ¼ cup dressing on the cooked vegetables and toss to coat.

5. Divide the dressed greens among 4 plates. Divide the vegetables over the greens. Serve with the remaining dressing on the side.

Makes 4 main-dish salads.