Wednesday, April 27, 2011

California Wedding Roasted Veggie and Smoked Cheese Lasagna

Two days ago I posted a recipe for my Brown Rice Jambalaya, which I served at party for my wedding for my family and friends in Louisiana. To continue the theme of posting recipes from important events in my past, here is the recipe for the lasagna that I served at our casual wedding reception in San Francisco.

I wanted to take advantage of the abundant fresh vegetables available in California, and make a family style meal that I could prepare ahead. We had a lot of vegetarian friends, but we wanted a meal that was so bold and flavorful that my husband and I, who aren’t vegetarian, wouldn’t feel like we were missing out on anything on our wedding day.

The tweaks:

The key to this giving this lasagna a rich, meaty flavor is to roast every vegetable that goes into it, and to add smoked cheese and balsamic vinegar to bolster the rich smoky flavor. The lasagna was a hit at the reception with meat-lovers and vegetarians alike, and I even managed not to spill any on my dress!

Roasted Veggie and Smoked Cheese Lasagna 
Roasted vegetables:
3 T olive oi
2 heads garlic
2 eggplants, sliced into 3/4 inch rounds
4 carrots, sliced into coins
1 onion, sliced into rings
3 bell peppers, sliced into strips
1 lb crimini mushrooms, sliced

Roasted garlic-tomato sauce:
¼ tsp. crushed red pepper  

1 tsp. balsamic vinegar
½ tsp. dried basil
¼ tsp. dried oregano
2 28 oz cans crushed fire-roasted tomatoes
Salt and pepper to taste
Approximately 1 tsp brown sugar, to taste 

Remaining ingredients:  
1 16 oz container ricotta
Approx ¼ tsp. garlic powder
Salt and pepper to taste
3/4 pound smoked provolone cheese, sliced

1 cup shredded mozzarella cheese
½ cup shredded Parmesan cheese
1/2 pack no-boil lasagna noodles, soaked in warm, salted water according to instructions

To roast veggies:

Preheat oven to 450 degrees. Cut heads of garlic in half, coat with olive oil all over, wrap with foil, and roast in oven with other veggies for approximately 20 minutes. Garlic is done when it is tender and slightly browned. Distribute carrots, eggplants, bell peppers, and mushrooms onto two large, rimmed baking sheets. Pour 2 T. extra virgin olive oil and a liberal amount of salt over veggies in each pan and toss to combine. Roast veggies for 25 minutes, turning halfway through, until browned on both sides.

To make sauce:

Simmer sauce ingredients in a saucepan, for about 20 minutes, while garlic and other veggies are roasting. Once garlic is roasted, squeeze into sauce.

To assemble lasagna:

Preheat oven to 375. Mix ricotta with salt and pepper and garlic powder. Spread a thin layer of sauce on bottom of a large lasagna pan. Add layers in the following order, from bottom up: noodles, mixed roasted veggies, sauce, three cheeses, noodles, ricotta, sauce. Repeat until there are four layers of noodles. Top with remaining cheese, and bake, covered with foil, 20 minutes. Remove foil and bake 10 more minutes, or until top is browned and sauce is bubbling.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Pasta with Pumpkin Cream Sauce (AKA Inside-Out Pumpkin Ravioli)

Inside-Out Pumpkin Ravioli garnished with Pepitas
I make this pasta sauce when I need to satisfy a craving for some really creamy, cheesy pasta while keeping it healthy. It may sound odd, but the pumpkin flavor is surprisingly mild; the sauce tastes mostly of the classic flavors of Parmesan and garlic. I shared this recipe with Glutenless Goddess, who is far more talented than I am at coming up with catchy names. She dubbed it "Inside Out Pumpkin Ravioli".

The tweaks:

Mixing pumpkin puree with milk makes a deliciously creamy, smooth sauce that tastes rich and cheesy before you even add the parm. There is nothing more satisfying than taking a bite of penne and warm, creamy sauce oozes out of the center. As an optional garnish, some pan-toasted pepitas (pumpkin seeds) are lovely.

The goods:

This is one of the easiest pasta sauce on the planet to make. It is also one of the only creamy pasta dishes in which the sauce is made out of a vegetable! Serve it with whole wheat pasta and pat yourself on the back for making such a healthy, creative meal.

Pumpkin Cream Sauce
1 t olive oil or cooking spray
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 15 oz can pumpkin puree
1 1/2 cups lowfat milk
1/2 t Italian seasoning

salt, pepper, and red pepper flakes to taste
sprinkle of smoked paprika (optional)
1/3 cup grated Parmesan cheese

serve with about 12-16 whole wheat pasta, cooked

While your pasta is cooking, in a saucepan, saute garlic in olive oil or cooking spray. Add all remaining ingredients except Parmesan. Bring to a simmer. Add more milk or water to thin if necessary. It should reach the consistency of a cream sauce. Remove from heat and stir in Parm. To serve, pour over pasta.

Slow Cooker Asian Pulled Pork plus Pickled Veggie Slaw

Lettuce wraps with pulled pork bulgogi and pickled veggie slaw

I am a huge fan of pork, especially in Asian dishes. I have some pretty solid recipes for pork bulgogi (Korean barbecue pork) and pork bahn mi (French-influenced Vietnamese sandwiches), which I will probably share on this blog one day. But sometimes I don't feel like butchering and slicing a pork roast razor-thin in order to make those recipes. That's when this slow cooker pulled pork recipe comes in handy. Just plop a big pork roast into the slow cooker with some soy sauce and aromatics, and a few hours later, you have pork that is delicious on its own or ready for any sauce or application that you throw at it.

I have a very specific philosophy about my Crockpot: there are only a few dishes that are actually better in a Crockpot, and the only time I will bust it out is to make those dishes, like for this one, my chipotle pulled pork, simple slow cooker chicken soup, and chili verde. These recipes tend to involve meats that need a long braise, such as a pork roast or pot roast, because, unlike simmering, slow cooking activates enzymes that tenderize large cuts of meat. It's also ideal for making stock because the low, slow heat breaks down gelatin in bones much better than a fast simmer. There are tons of "Crockpot compromise" recipes out there, like for boneless skinless chicken breasts or pasta, that have no business being made in a Crockpot. Both of these things will cook on the stovetop or oven in less than 15 minutes, and taste much better that way. Those recipes are for people think stovetop/oven cooking is scary, or for people who do it because they want a hot meal immediately after coming home from work. You won't see me posting any of those on my blog.

The goods:
The beauty of this recipe is in its versatility. You can serve the pork with rice or noodles, use it as the filling for a bahn mi, mix it with Korean chili paste and serve it with rice and pickled veggies (lettuce wraps optional) like pork bulgogi. My recipe for pickled veggie slaw is equally versatile, and it can accompany the pork in many dishes. This makes a lot of pork, so you can make several different meals from the leftovers, or freeze them for later. The fresh veggies and lean pork make a healthy and complete meal.

The tweaks:
This recipe calls for pineapple juice concentrate as an optional ingredient. This is one of my staple ingredients for Asian-inspired dishes--I use it instead of sugar and vinegar to add natural acidity and sweetness, and hey, it must add some vitamins too, right? I buy the frozen juice and always keep it on hand in my freezer. If you don't buy in on this trick, you can just substitute a sweet rice wine vinegar.

Slow Cooker Asian Pulled Pork 
1 large onion, roughly sliced
4-5 lbs pork loin or sirloin roast, with or without bone (these cuts are quite lean)

2 T minced garlic
1 T minced ginger
1/4-1/3 cup soy sauce
1/3 cup pineapple juice concentrate (or if doing low carb, 1/4 cup unseasoned rice wine vinegar plus 3 packets of Splenda)
red pepper flakes to taste

Put the onion in the bottom of the slow cooker. Place the roast on top. Pour the rest of the ingredients on top. Cover and cook 7-8 hours on low or 4 hours on high. The pork will be fall-apart tender. Pull pork into bite-sized pieces with two forks. The pork will make a couple of cups of delicious sauce. You can choose to reduce it in a saucepan and mix it in with the pork, or use it as a sauce for rice or noodles.

Pickled Veggie Slaw
1 large cucumber, julienned
1 lb carrots, shredded (you can use a food processor or buy them pre-shredded)
1/4 cup seasoned rice wine vinegar
1/2 t sesame oil (optional)
1 t sriracha (optional)

Mix together at least one hour prior to serving. Keeps in the fridge for about a week.

Serving Suggestions:
Bahn Mi: spread mayo and sriracha on a crusty roll. Mix some hoisin sauce with some pulled pork and fill roll with the pork mixture, pickled veggie slaw, cilantro, and a squirt of lime.

Pulled Pork Bulgogi: mix some pulled pork with Korean chili paste and a few drops of sesame oil. Serve with rice, pickled veggie slaw, and kimchi (optional) on lettuce wraps.

Pork Fried Rice or Stir Fry Noodles: stir fry cooked rice or noodles (e.g. lo mein noodles or linguine pasta) with pulled pork, veggies, and some of the leftover sauce from the pork.

Monday, April 25, 2011

Brown Rice Jambalaya

Growing up in Louisiana, I ate jambalaya all the time. It seemed like every party or potluck had a pot of jambalaya at its center. I didn't have to learn how to make it until I moved away for grad school. Suddenly, I had to come up with a recipe of my own using ingredients I could find outside of Louisiana. I've been perfecting this recipe for the last five years.

My husband and I got married in San Francisco, but we came home to Louisiana and had a casual party for all of our friends and family from Louisiana who couldn't make the trip. I made a huge pot of my jambalaya for it. It was quickly devoured at the party, and even my Cajun grandmother was impressed! The jambalaya had come full circle.

I have seen restaurants outside of Louisiana serving meat and sauce on top of steamed white rice and calling it jambalaya. This is not jambalaya. Jambalaya is rice cooked in stock, seasoning, meat, and veggies, all in one pot. By the end of cooking, the rice should absorb all the liquid, have fluffy, distinct grains, and have an al dente texture. The key to making good jambalaya is getting the ratio of liquid to rice just right.

The tweaks:

I make my jambalaya with brown rice. Why not? It's healthier, and it's going to end up brown anyway from the caramelized onions and delicious meat juices. No one will know the difference. Brown rice has a slightly firmer texture than white rice, so it holds together better. It does take twice as long to cook (a little over an hour), but doesn't require any extra effort. My jambalaya combines elements of both traditional Cajun and Creole recipes, it has the fluffy texture of Cajun (brown) jambalaya with just a subtle hint of tomato, without being bright red or tomato saucy like a Creole jambalaya. The bit of tomato adds just enough acidity to perk up the flavor. Garnishing the jambalaya with fresh green onions brightens the flavor and adds color.

The goods:

This recipe makes a ton--I use a whole 2 pound bag of rice! It's probably one of the cheapest meals you could make to feed 15-20 people. Or you can freeze it and make yourself Cajun frozen dinners. If you do not want enough jambalaya to feed an army, you might want to halve the recipe.

Brown Rice Jambalaya

2 lbs sausage, cut into 1/4 inch slices (Ideally, Savoie's andouille. If you don't happen to live in Louisiana, kielbasa or smoked sausage will work. Here in Boston, we have a large Portuguese population, and their chourico is an excellent substitute).
1-2 lbs boneless chicken thighs, raw or cooked. Leftover turkey works great here too. One of the best jambalayas I made was with leftovers from Thanksgiving turkey that Glutenless Goddess made.
3 onions, chopped 

1 lb (about 3 large) bell peppers, chopped
10 cloves garlic, minced 

2 T Tony Chachere's seasoning. This is our standard seasoning blend for almost everything we make in Louisiana. You can find it at any grocery store. It may change your cooking life.
1 T Worcestershire
3 bay leaves
1 2 lb bag (4.25 cups) long grain brown rice, rinsed throughly and drained
1 large 28 ozcan  diced tomatoes
1 quart chicken stock
Tabasco to taste

1 cup chopped green onions, for garnish
Heat a large dutch oven to medium-high heat. If using raw chicken, brown, then remove and cut into bite-sized pieces. Next, brown sausage until it's almost blackened. Add the veggies and saute until they reach a dark caramelized color. Add all remaining ingredients except green onions and stir. 

Cover with a tight-fitting lid and bring to a simmer. Reduce to low heat, and cook, covered for 1 hr 10 minutes. At this point, check to see if rice is tender. If not, cover and return to low heat until the rice is tender. Resist the urge to add more liquid if the rice is not cooked yet. There is plenty of steam floating around in there, and as long as you keep it covered, it WILL cook through! Only stir the jambalaya once or twice once it starts cooking--stirring too much will break down the rice, and you will end up with something resembling risotto! Stir in green onions and serve with extra Tabasco sauce, if needed.

NOTE FOR STOVETOP VERSION: Thanks to a reader comment, I've started soaking my rice in the chicken stock or broth called for in the recipe. It makes the rice cook a bit quicker (usually in about an hour) and more evenly. I soak it for 8 hours to overnight, but even just a little while helps. Pour the rice and the soaking liquid into your pot after all of your meats and veggies have browned, cover, bring to a simmer, and cook as directed above. 

World, meet my recipes!

I have been keeping track of my recipes on my computer for at least the past six years. I just counted, and there are more than 150 recipes in my computer recipe file that I've made and modified, some of which are pretty awesome.

When I make a dish for the first time, I research different recipes and usually come up with a hybrid of recipes I've found on the internet and in cookbooks. I add my favorite ingredients, amp up the seasoning (I'm from Louisiana--I crave flavor!) and maybe try to add more vegetables or something. You get the picture. Each time I make a dish, I try to improve it, and I record the results.

Rather than continue to tweak away in private, I decided it would be fun to share the process with the internet. Stay tuned while I share my backlog of recipes and try out new dishes!