Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Sausage Parmesan Baked Pasta!

I am definitely lagging this month on the cooking/baking front... where has the time escape to?! Probably because the weather has gotten considerably warmer and therefore less desire to be in a heated kitchen and probably because of warmer weather that outside activities have begin to manifest itself...who knows...

I have a love/hate relationship with summertime. I love the fact that the days are longer, I can get up at 6/7 am and not worry about it being cold and dark. I like getting my exercise out of the way first thing in the morning so its great since I wake up fairly early to be able to do that. However....the heat that comes with this season is sometimes so unbearable you just want to spend the day in an ice bucket.

So last year I discovered the wonders of air conditioning. Of course I always knew of its existence but I always held back when it comes to using it in my own home. This is when I was still living in the Vacaville area where it gets scotching HOT during the summer... having lived in Davis for several years in the past, I figure this is okay. I can power through, I have before... ice packs, ice waters, fans... its okay (miss frugal is at full control!)... then somewhere during a massive heat wave... I couldn't bare it any longer! The apartment I live in traps heat like winter is just around the corner! You'd think when the sun is gone and the summer breeze kicks in that at least you can try to go to sleep....nope! 95+ degrees (the thermostat only read up to 95 degrees!) inside the apartment! It was ridiculous, then I realize I was even more ridiculous because I was still in the mindset of a poor college student who couldn't afford to use the AC, "why am I suffering in the heat when I don't have to!?" I have a job, I can pay for a little bit of luxury!

Lets just say the air conditioner worked very hard that summer. This summer, however, may be a different story, since I'm currently living with my folks and they don't have an AC, it may get uncomfortable since I spoiled myself last year. Luckily the bay area is not as hot...though we do have a far amount of warm days....

Now that we've gotten the summer heat rant out of the way, lets talk about food and reunions! After what seems like forever, my HS school friends and I were finally able to meet up for a mini reunion before we all get dispersed again. Its funny we never cherished these types of moments as much when we were younger. Despite our resistance to grow up, adult life has certainly crept its way in. In almost 10 years since most of us first met, here we are all grown up and working professionals. Its a scary thought but together, we like to be the same kids we once were, sharing stories, laughing at the most silly nonsense, and enjoying a nice after dinner game night. I have to say, I rocked every game we played! A little applause, thank you. I usually finish mediocre so this feeds the ego quite well, its been starving.

Speaking of starving, the dish I made for our little pot luck/game night get together got excellent reviews, Sausage Parmesan Baked Pasta. The dish was inspired by my weekly Friday group lunches with the coworkers where we all chip in to buy ingredients and cook lunch together. That particular Friday, we had some yummy baked pasta. The concept was easy enough but like always I like to jazz things up. Get more for the food you eat.

The version we had at work was fairly simple, ground beef, pasta sauce, and some cheese to top. My version, I wanted veggies and loads of them! I added summer squashes, spinach, artichoke, and tomatoes and for the protein, I decided on some Italian turkey sausages and a few strips of bacon for that smoky flavor. It was divine. It was so good, I made it again for Father's Day weekend along with some tri-tip. My mom loved it! Yes! To another successful dish!

Makes 6-8 servings

  • 2-3 sausages or ground turkey
  • 2-3 strips of bacon, chopped
  • ¼ cup of marinated artichoke, cut into smaller pieces
  • 2 cups of spinach
  • 1/2 cup cooking wine
  • Olive oil
  • Ground black pepper
  • 1 tsp Italian seasoning
  • 1 tsp oregano
  • 1 tsp basil flakes
  • Approx 14oz pasta of choice (Barilla rotini, whole wheat or veggie)
  • 1 jar of pasta sauce (Classico’s Creamy Spinach and Parmesan, 24 oz)
  • 1-2 shallots, diced
  • 2-3 Roma tomatoes, chopped
  • 1 yellow squash or zucchini, chopped
  • 1-2 tbsp crème fraiche or heavy cream
  • 1 -2 cup Parmesan cheese, grated
    1. Cook pasta via package instructions, drain, and set aside.
    2. Heat a little bit of olive oil in a large skillet. Cook sausage and bacon over medium-high heat. Flavor as needed with pepper and Italian seasoning. Remove from heat when cooked and set aside.
    3. Heat some olive oil in a sauce pan. Add shallots, squash, and tomatoes and cook for approximately 5 minutes or until the tomatoes/squash are tender, season with oregano and basil. Stir in wine and artichoke and bring to a boil, reduce heat and continue for another 5 more minutes. Add in spinach and cook until done/~3 mins
    4. Add pasta sauce into the veggie mix, add in sausages and bacon and bring to a near boil, reduce heat, then coat the drained pasta. Remove from heat. Stir in crème fraiche.
    5. Transfer about ½ the pasta into a baking pan, layer with cheese, then add the other ½ of the pasta and add on a final top layer of cheese
    6. Finish in the oven at 350 degrees for about 10 minutes or until the cheese is melted and bubbly.

Sunday, June 16, 2013

Thai Inspired Shrimp Noodles

My deep craving for Thai food has returned and since my favorite Thai restaurant is about 20 minutes away and its unbelievably warm outside, I'll just have to make do with what I have at home...

I have always struggled with Thai cuisine, I love it and yet I haven't been able to create exact flavor profiles (yet). I've made good dishes, but are they authentic Thai, I don't think so...getting closer though. I wish I knew exactly the type of herbs and spices they put in their curries. I suppose I can look it up but often times those recipes fall short and they turn out not only not what I want but kind of disappointing. Thai cuisine is flavorful: a hint of heat, sweet, and savory but all very light and not over powering. I guess this is when I just have to come up with my own "Thai" inspired dish...

Given my taste parameters, I set myself to work. I'm sure pad thai has its own pad thai noodles however, I prefer using Vietnamese pho noodles in its place when it comes to stir frying. Either way, those two noodles are very similar.

Thai Inspired Shrimp Noodles
Makes 4-5 servings
printable version here
  • approx 7oz of pho noodles (available in most Asian super markets, they will be located where all the "wet" noodles are, should be refrigerated.)
  • 2 bunches of green onions, chopped
  • about 4 oz of peeled shrimp
  • 1-2 Roma tomatoes, chopped
  • 3-4 tbsp Mae Ploy Sweet Chili Sauce
  •  2-3 tbsp soy sauce
  • 1 tbsp hoisan sauce
  • garlic salt
  • olive oil
  • 3-4 tbsp sesame oil
  • 1 tsp five spice powder (optional)
  • basil flakes (fresh basil best)
  • ground black pepper
  • 3 eggs, slightly beaten
  • approx 4 tbsp roasted peanuts, chopped (to roast peanuts, place peanuts on a baking sheet and bake for 10-15 minutes or until golden brown at 350 degrees)
  • chili flakes
  • 1 tbsp fish sauce
  1. Bring a pot of water to a boil, reduce heat and drop the noodles in, give a quick stir and the noodles should be ready to be removed (approx 30 seconds to 1 minute in hot boiling water). If the noodle stays in the hot water too long it'll become soggy and hard to work with.
  2. Drain noodles into a bowl and quickly coat the cooked noodles with sesame oil and soy sauce. You want to do this quickly otherwise the noodles will start to stick together. Set aside
  1. Heat a medium skillet with olive oil. Sear the shrimp on both side with a little bit of ground black pepper and salt to taste. Once both sides of the shrimps have been seared, add in the Roma tomatoes along with basil and five spice and saute. Once the shrimp is about 90% cooked, remove from heat and set aside.
Putting it all together:
  1. In the same skillet, heat with olive oil at high heat. Pour eggs into skillet and let it sit in the pan for about 30 second and then stir the contents around (as if making scrambled eggs) when eggs are still relatively runny (approx 50% cooked) add in the noodles and hoisan sauce. Once the eggs and noodles are well incorporated and cooked, add in the shrimp mix along with fish sauce, chili sauce, peanuts, green onions, and chili flakes. Add more basil if desired. Dish is complete once everything is well mixed together

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Cherry Almond Ice Cream!

It's officially ice cream season and therefore I will continue to abuse my ice cream maker. I think as the weather gets warmer, my desire to be in the kitchen shrinks, though, so far most of my ice cream recipes involve actually cooking the cream/eggs/custard before it becomes ice cream so technically I'm still in the kitchen. Perhaps what I really desire is an end product that's cold rather than steaming hot.

Since my last few posts have revolved around ice cream I thought I'd share a little history and science behind this great invention. 

The first appearance of ice cream dated back as far as the 13th century in the Arab world and eventually made its way to Italy and the term ice cream was first used in the early 17th century. It was the French that discovered that frequent stirring of the freezing mix gave a finer, less crystalline texture which paved way for America to give birth to the ice cream makers we are so familiar with today. **

Plain frozen cream is hard as rock, so what makes the ice cream so different? Ice cream contains several ingredients and elements that help it reach its creamy semi-solid end point. Sugar added to the ice cream lowers the freezing point (as the dissolved sugar molecule gets in the way of the water molecules that try to settle into ordered crystals) which means sweetened cream freezes at much colder temperatures than water and therefore will prevent that frozen solid state.  
Ice Cream consist of 3 basic elements: ice crystals, concentrated cream, and air.
Ice crystals form due to the water particles freezing as it is mixed and gives the ice cream its solidity
Concentrated cream is what is left of the mix when the ice crystals form, with the help of  sugar and its ability to lower the freezing point, about 1/5 of the water is never frozen and therefore creates a thick fluid that contains approx equal portion liquid water, milk fat, milk proteins, and sugar that acts like a glue that holds the ice crystals together but not too strongly
Air is introduced during mixing and they interrupt and weaken the matrix of ice crystals and cream making it lighter and easier to bite into.**

** referenced from Harold McGee's On Food and Cooking: The Science and Lore of the Kitchen.

This recipe is another great one from Sweet Cream and Sugar Cones by the folks at Bi-Rite Creamery. My parents went cherry picking at a friend's house and came back with HUGE bags of delicious red cherries. I <3 cherries! I can eat them forever. They make a great snack, a little sweet along with a little tart. Now since we had plenty to spare, I thought it would be great opportunity to explore another ice cream recipe, Cherry Almond Ice Cream. 

I love the aroma of roasted almonds, mouth watering! Now this recipe calls for whole raw almonds to be roasted and then food process into almond meal...and once again as the inner lazy surfaced, I didn't feel like having to clean another piece of equipment so what is a lazy person to do? Thank you Trader Joe's! Their almond meal, which is courser than say Bob's Red Mill almond meal, was the perfect consistency the recipe had called for, so instead of roasting whole almonds, I tossed the course almond meal onto a shallow pan and roasted that instead. That was a long shot but I figured it'll probably work...luckily it did! Yes! Another lazy conquest!

Cherry Almond Ice Cream by Bi-Rite Creamery, recipe has been paraphrased
Makes approx 1 quart 
**requires ice cream maker   
***commentary/tips given in orange

  • 3/4 cup whole raw almonds (or a little less than 3/4 cup of almond meal)
  • 2 cup of heavy cream
  • 3/4 cup sugar
  • 1 cup of milk
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 5 egg yolks 
  • 2 1/4 cup of water (this seems to be a bit too much liquid for such a small batch of cherries....will cut back to maybe 1 1/2 cup of water)
  • 1 1/2 cup sugar (personally also too much, maybe 3/4 cup sugar)
  • 2 cups cherries
  1. Combine water and sugar in a saucepan and bring to a boil, reduce heat to maintain a low simmer, add cherries, and cook until cherries are soft, approx 5 mins
  2. Remove from heat and let cherries cool completely. May be made a day in advance, transfer cherries in the syrup in a sealed container until ready to churn the ice cream.
  3. Once cooled, drain the cherries (save syrup for other uses)and squeeze the pits out of the fruit. Chop the cherries into 1/4-inch pieces. Refrigerate until ready to churn.
preparing the nuts:
  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees, spread almonds on a baking sheet. Bake until golden brown and smell nutty, approx 15 minutes (or with almond meal, stir the meal every 5 minutes so that it gets evenly roasted for 15 minutes, stirring will prevent the meal from getting burnt in the oven)
  2. Let cool completely and then combine with 3/4 cup of sugar into a food processor. Pulse until finely ground (about the consistency of sand). Do not over process of the mixture will become oily and pasty.
infuse the milk:
  1. Transfer almond mixture into saucepan and stir in cream, milk, and salt. 
  2. Heat almond cream mixture over medium-high heat until it begins to bubble along the edges of the pan, remove from heat and cover the pan. Let steep for about 20 minutes or until distinct almond flavors has infused into the mixture (taste to monitor -->yum!)
  1. In a heat proof bowl, whisk yolk to break them up, set aside.
  2. Heat almond cream mixture back up to a bare simmer then carefully scoop out 1/2 cup of the cream mix and while whisking the eggs constantly, add cream to bowl with yolks. Repeat with another 1/2 cup of cream.
  3. Back to the saucepan with the cream mix, while stirring the cream mix, slowly pour the egg-cream mix back into the saucepan.
  4. Cook over med-high heat, stirring constantly, until thickens. Approx 1-2 more minutes. 
  5. Take the thick cream and strain it through a fine mesh into a clean container. Then place container in an ice water bath to help cool it down, stirring occassionally. Once completely cooled, remove from bath, cover and refrigerated for 2 hours or overnight.
  1. Finish by pouring into ice cream maker and freeze via instructions given by your ice cream maker. I churned it for about 25-30 minutes
  2. Chill your ice cream storage container in the freezer during churning.
  3. Add chopped cherries in the last minute or so of churning OR fold them in by hand after transferring the ice cream to the chiller container