Tag Archives: Main Dishes

Spaghetti Bolognese (Bolognaise) for the Busy Mom

A classic dish, Spaghetti Bolognese was difficult to categorize in this article, because its origin is arguable.  While the concept of this meat sauce originated in Northern Italy in the “Bologna” region, the French would often take food influences from bordering countries and adopt their own recipes, still naming the dish by its inspirational region.  While it’s not exactly “quick”, it’s definitely easy, and much of the time is simmering.

Clearly, the idea of saturating food in wine is French.  I could spend more time and research to ascertain which came first – Bolognaise, the French spelling, or Bolognese, the Italian spelling – but this is a cooking site and not a history blog.  So, to make everyone happy, I’ve put it both categories. And now, on with our favorite family recipe!

This version of a classic recipe began with my mom-in-law, a French native and a fabulous cook.  Made traditionally, it simply was not palatable for my American kids.   I don’t give up easily, and want them to be exposed to all tastes – so they can grow up to be foodie aficionados. 🙂  Here, I’ve reduced the amount of wine and chopped up the veggies finely enough to appeal to the kids, but have not lost the integrity of the sauce.

The most important element of this recipe is that the meat is added AFTER the sauce is almost done – this is the family secret I am sharing with you – and the results are over the top.  Don’t be afraid of not browning the meat first – it will be completely cooked in the sauce.  You will note by the photo, there is no problem getting those kiddos to eat this company-worthy spaghetti recipe.  And if you own an awesome Cuisinart Mini-Prep Plus that you can get at my store,  (I use it almost every day!) you can have all your veggies chopped in a minute and have this sauce prepped in no time.  After you have poured yourself a glass of wine to begin cooking, do the following to serve 4-6 people:

GATHER THIS:

  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 onion, finely chopped
  • 2 carrots, finely chopped
  • 1 clove garlic, finely chopped
  • 1 cup cremini mushrooms, stems trimmed, finely chopped
  • 1 6-oz can tomato paste
  • 2 cups low-sodium chicken stock (plus more for thinning, if needed)
  • 1 cup medium-bodied quality red wine, such as a Cabernet sauvignon
  • 1 15-oz can tomato puree, or diced tomatoes run through the processor
  • 2 teaspoons Italian seasoning
  • 1 or 2 bay leaves
  • 1-1/2 pounds good-quality ground beef (preferably organic, but at least sirloin)
  • coarse salt and fresh ground pepper to taste
  • 1 lb. whole wheat spaghetti
  • White shredded cheese of your choice to serve: French like Swiss for this dish, Italians like Parm – you decide!

DO THIS:

In a large sauce pot or dutch oven, heat the oil over medium heat.  Add the onions, carrots and garlic to the pot; saute for a few minutes until softened.  Add the mushrooms; continue to cook, stirring occasionally, about 4-5 minutes.  Add a little salt and pepper.  Stir in the tomato paste.  Add the stock, wine, tomato puree, seasoning, and bay leaves. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer uncovered, stirring occasionally, about 20 minutes. Season sauce to taste with salt and pepper.

Meanwhile, follow the directions on the pasta package for cooking the noodles.   I prefer my noodles a minute or two after al dente, as usually recommended – just do them how you like – people are funny about texture.

While the pasta is cooking, begin crumbling tiny pieces of the ground beef into the sauce with your fingers.  Don’t worry about making anything symmetrical; the pieces of beef will shrink with cooking and just be tiny bits of meaty goodness.  Avoid large chunks of meat. This will take a couple of minutes, and will be done about the same time as your pasta, so it works out well.  Stir all the meat into the sauce until it’s incorporated.  Cover the pot; simmer another 10 minutes.  Longer is not necessary and will toughen the meat; thereby defeating the purpose of adding it at the end.

Drain your pasta, and return it to its pan.  Spoon one ladleful of sauce into the noodles. Toss to coat.  To serve, pile noodles into bowls.  Top with additional ladles-full of sauce; top with shredded cheese and minced parsley.  I like it with crusty bread and olive oil for dipping, a green salad, and an abundance of red wine!

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Filed under Budget Friendly, French Recipes, From My Own Kitchen, Italian-inspired, Kids Favorites

Steve’s Off-the-Hook Seafood Linguine Alfredo

photo courtesy of T o n y at flickr.com

Need a comfort dish that’s gourmet enough for friends?  Look no further!  Make it as written by my foodie friend Steve, or with a few lightened-up modifications I suggest. You won’t be disappointed by either, and the best part? With all your seafood prepped, throw it together in 12 minutes!

Steve and I have known each other since high school and recently re-connected on Facebook.  He and his wife have a great appreciation for good food and wine – something, of course, near and dear to mine and my husband’s hearts.  While we still haven’t seen each other in person, we talk virtually about cooking; and about dishes that make our mutual network friends salivate.  When he posted about his “artery-clogging” comfort dish of Seafood Linguine Alfredo that he is famous for with family and guests,  I knew we would be foodie friends for a long time!

Steve was kind enough to share this recipe with me, knowing full well I would be reviewing it.  Now, readers… we all know that anything dubbed “alfredo” is not exactly in the diet books.  I figured it wasn’t going to be heart-healthy.  I saved making this one for my birthday treat, because I had plans to go back on to the South Beach Diet soon after making it.   What I wasn’t prepared for, was the proportion of the forbidden foods in his recipe (cream, butter, cheese).  Here is the original recipe, as he shared with me.

GATHER THIS:

  • Extra virgin olive oil
  • Heavy cream (see below)
  • Butter (see below)
  • 1 lb uncooked, peeled & deveined shrimp
  • 1 lb bay scallops
  • 8 oz quality crab meat (no imitation)
  • 8 oz each Parmesan , Romano & Asiago cheeses
  • Salt, pepper, basil, oregano to taste
  • 1 lb. linguine noodles

DO THIS:

Cook the linguine noodles per package instructions and to your desired tenderness.  As your noodles are boiling,  cook your shrimp over medium heat in a stick of butter (he uses a wok for this – brilliant!) and 2-3 tbsp of olive oil. Season with salt, pepper, basil, and oregano.  When just about cooked, remove shrimp with slotted spoon into a medium bowl; set aside. Add again more butter, olive oil and seasonings.

Cook the bay scallops; when done, remove with slotted spoon and add to the bowl with the shrimp.  To pan or skillet –  again add another stick of butter, more olive oil and seasonings. Drain noodles.  Return noodles to pot, add in the cooked shrimp and scallops from the bowl.  Pour in the butter mixture, pour in the crab meat, pour in the heavy cream ( half a pint or so ).  Then, pour in all three grated cheeses, stir; add milk or cream until you have the right consistency. Serve immediately.

Steve and reader friends… this is a recipe for a bona fide food coma! While I have a true appreciation for all great food, wine, and the glory of  butter and cream – (remember, I’m married to a Frenchman) – I simply could not handle this recipe exactly the way in which he intended – others might.   The recipe itself is fantastic.  I just needed to lighten it up a bit to accommodate our own tastes.

I really wanted to remain loyal to the integrity of the recipe, to honor Steve’s claims that it is the best of the best.  So, I kept an open mind, even as I was preparing it.  I thought, “if I can fathom that an extra stick of butter will make this better, I will keep it in”.   For me, it just wasn’t necessary.  This recipe was decadent, even with a significant reduction in the amount of butter and cream.

My proportions were almost the same, with the exception of the butter and oil: I simply reduced the amount of each stick of butter by two-thirds (using approximately 3-4 tablespoons of butter in each panful), and only 1/2 tbsp of olive oil.  I also eliminated the “or so..” option of the heavy cream.  I used exactly one half-pint (small container) of heavy cream, and thinned with chicken stock a bit to acquire the desired saucy consistency.   The only other thing to note, is that since he didn’t specify the amount of (assumed) dried herbs to use, I used about 1/4 teaspoon of Italian seasoning blend for each batch of seafood that I sautéed.  Steve, if I did not get this right – I can edit!  The beauty of blogging.

So what’s the rating? This dish was delicious, no question.   Will I make it again?  Most definitely.  Especially because of the ease with which it came together.   Will I change anything? Yes, as follows:

  1. Reduce butter amounts as suggested above.
  2. Incorporate 1/4 cup white wine or 2 tablespoons of fresh squeezed lemon juice  into last step of tossing ingredients together to add a little brightness and thin the heaviness a bit.  Then I would garnish with a few thinly sliced lemons – it needs some color.  That being said, the general rule in presenting is that you shouldn’t garnish with an ingredient that hasn’t been used in the dish.
  3. Use sea scallops,  cartilage removed, cut into quarters or halves.  Sea scallops are more tender, sweeter – in general, a finer shellfish (albiet, more expensive). If you’re going to go all out with butter and cream, you may as well get the sea scallops…
  4. Reduce the amount of dried herbs used and add 1 tablespoon of fresh chopped basil in the last step. Garnish at the end with a sprig of basil for color.
  5. Use whole-wheat linguine pasta.  It is just as delicious, especially with this kind of recipe; and it will offset the less healthy ingredients giving you some nutritional value.
  6. Add some fresh chopped spinach to the last step – (Steve does this too) – the pasta will be hot enough to wilt the spinach and you will get a great nutritional addition to your meal.

All of my own personal recommendations aside,  Steve knows a good recipe – and that quality seafood is what it’s all about.  Regardless of how much cream or butter you use, the key to a great recipe is fresh ingredients. If you plan on going all out on a wonderful recipe such as this, don’t skimp by using imitation crabmeat or pre-cooked shrimp (the ultimate sin)!  Enjoy this with a nice, light mesclun salad of greens with a light vinaigrette and you won’t feel quite as guilty…  and to drink? I like a nice citrusy chardonnay or a young red pinot noir with this.

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Filed under Italian-inspired, Quick & Easy

Pan-seared Chicken with Roasted Red-pepper Cream Sauce

To make a colorful, flavorful, and healthy dinner, serve this beautifully sauced chicken with brown rice, cooked in chicken broth and tossed with black beans, chopped scallions, lime juice and cilantro.  And don’t forget the margaritas!

Create fabulousness in an instant with this quick, well-rounded menu that will wow and satisfy. Another recipe inspired by Martha Stewart and her Everyday Food crew, the original was this Chicken with Poblano Cream Sauce; which while beautiful in theory and on the picture – lacks the reality that not everyone appreciates the taste of  a poblano pepper, nor knows quite where to find it or what to expect from one.

In my version, I use everyday ingredients but add the heat of the dried chipotle.  If you haven’t any, get some of this for your spice rack! You can add it to almost anything for a great, smoky kick – perfect in chili.   For this recipe, you can substitute 1/2 teaspoons of red pepper flakes for heat if you can’t find chipotle, but it won’t give you the same wonderful smoky flavor.   I love that this recipe is a bit above the rest while still being  simple.  Here’s what I did:

GATHER THIS:

  • 1 large red bell pepper
  • 3 tablespoons vegetable oil
  • 1/2 small onion, chopped
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • 1 teaspoon dried chipotle pepper
  • 1/3 cup heavy cream
  • Coarse salt and ground pepper
  • 4 boneless, skinless chicken breasts

DO THIS:

  1. Roast the pepper over a gas burner or under the broiler, until charred all over. Wrap in paper towel; cool 5 minutes. Peel off skin; remove seeds and ribs. Chop coarsely.
  2. Heat 1-1/2 tablespoons vegetable oil in a small saucepan over medium heat; add onion, garlic, and chipotle; cook until soft, 5 to 7 minutes. Add pepper and cream.
  3. Puree in blender or food processor until smooth; add chicken stock if too thick. Season with salt and pepper.
  4. Season chicken breasts with salt and pepper. Heat remaining vegetable oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Cook chicken until golden and juices run clear, 4 to 5 minutes per side. Serve with sauce

If you are absolutely not going to go through the roasted pepper work (which is healthier and more tasty), you could substitute the equivalent amount of jarred roasted red pepper.

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Filed under Healthy Recipes, Mexican-inspired, Quick & Easy

Baked Shrimp with Tomato & Feta

What can I say?  Once again, Martha’s people inspiring me.   This is so easy, delicious, and a little outside of the box.  Throw it together in no time.   I usually change a few things in a recipe, but I had a hard time needing to fuss about this one. I just changed a few things that were minor – but  I’ve made it several times now, and never seem to change it much.  One thing I think is crucial to change, though, is to season the shrimp with salt and pepper before cooking.  There is salt in feta cheese, but the shrimp itself was a bit bland until I started to lightly season it before cooking.

For a family of four,

Gather This:

  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 4 thinly sliced scallions
  • 3 garlic cloves, thinly sliced
  • 2 teaspoons dried Italian seasoning
  • 2 pints cherry tomatoes, halved – or about 6-8 plum tomatoes, cut into large dice
  • Coarse salt and ground pepper
  • 1 1/2 pounds peeled and deveined large frozen shrimp, thawed, tails removed
  • 2 tablespoons chopped fresh fresh mint, plus more for garnish
  • 4 ounces feta cheese

Do This:

  1. Preheat oven to 475 degrees with rack set in upper third. Heat oil in a large skillet over medium. Add scallions, garlic, and Italian seasoning; cook, stirring, until fragrant, about 1 minute.
  2. Add tomatoes. Cook over medium, stirring occasionally, until no liquid remains in skillet, 10 to 15 minutes. Season with salt and pepper.
  3. Add shrimp and mint to skillet. Stir to combine; transfer to an 8-inch square (or other shallow 2-quart) baking dish. Crumble feta over top.
  4. Bake until liquid is bubbling, cheese is beginning to brown, and shrimp in center of dish are opaque, 15 to 20 minutes. Serve with a light side of whole-wheat pasta, tossed with olive oil and lemon; and sprinkled with additional chopped mint.  If you’re in phase one of South Beach – just use some cooked green beans or asparagus tossed with olive oil and lemon and garlic for a great side.

The only other change I can think of making is that I use an oven-proof, non-stick skillet so that I don’t have to fuss with transferring to another dish and consequently cleaning more.  🙂    Please, if you’re going to skip the mint – don’t bother with the recipe! It’s the make or break, in my opinion.  What a great way to start off a low-carb diet!  That being said, this dish would also benefit from some delicious vesuvio-style roasted potatoes… mmmm!

This is the original recipe from Martha’s site: Baked Shrimp with Tomato and Feta .   It’s one of many recipes from a magazine I love, Everyday Food (Martha Stewart).  I’ve gotten it for the last four years.  If you’re looking for easy recipes like this you need to fork out the $15 for the best collection. Beautiful photos that inspire you to cook.  Are you kidding?  For me, food is so visual.  That’s why I’m trying to improve my photo skills for this blog.   Get this great book here:

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Filed under Culinary Chit Chat, Healthy Recipes, Quick & Easy, South Beach Phase 1