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Pasta Alla Norma

March 22, 2005

I made this for dinner last night, and it was so good! I substituted bowtie pasta for the penne, and tried to cut the amounts in half, but we still have tons of leftovers. I would also recommend peeling the eggplant…even though it looks prettier with the skin on, it seemed a bit too tough for my taste. The basil really added a fresh taste to the dish. I thought it tasted great with or without the ricotta cheese, so if you’re iffy about buying a container of ricotta for this, you could easily skip it. I’m left with a lotta ricotta now, although I did use a little for dessert. I adapted a recipe for cannoli cream from Giada’s new book. You basically whip up some fresh cream with a little powdered sugar and cinnamon, fold in some ricotta, and use it as a topping for macerated fruit. I used sliced strawberries tossed with a little sugar and balsamic vinegar…yum!

Pasta Alla Norma

  • 1 pound penne rigate
  • 4 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 medium onion, halved and thinly sliced
  • 4 garlic cloves, thinly sliced
  • 1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper
  • 1 large eggplant, cut into 3/4-inch chunks
  • Coarse salt and ground pepper
  • 1 1/2 pounds plum tomatoes, cored and cut into 1/2-inch chunks
  • 2 tablespoons tomato paste
  • 1/2 cup torn fresh basil, plus more for garnish
  • 3/4 cup ricotta cheese

Cook pasta in a large pot of boiling salted water until al dente, according to package instructions. Drain pasta; return to pot.

Heat oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add onion, garlic, and crushed red pepper; cook, stirring, until softened, about 5 minutes.

Add eggplant to skillet; season generously with salt and pepper. Cover, and cook until eggplant begins to release juices, about 5 minutes. Uncover; cook, stirring, until tender, 3 to 4 minutes (if bottom of pan browns too much, add a few tablespoons water, and scrape with a spoon).

Add tomatoes, tomato paste, and 1/4 cup water to skillet; cook, stirring, until softened, about 5 minutes.

Toss sauce and basil with pasta; gently reheat if necessary. Top each serving with a spoonful of ricotta, and garnish with more basil.

Makes 4 to 6 servings. (Ha! I made half the amount and it made 4 to 6 servings.)

Source: Everyday Food, September 2003

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Mixed Grill

March 21, 2005

Sunday evening we drove up to Round Rock to spend some time with Leti and her parents, Sophia and Robert. We were treated to a lavish supper of grilled salmon, chicken, deer sausage, shrimp, portobellos (which Leti used for fajitas), asparagus, bruschetta, and cucumber-tomato salad, plus grapes with yogurt, cinnamon, and walnuts for dessert. It was scrumptious. We had a great time helping out at the grill (and saturating ourselves with smoke in the process), and Justin even got to pet the neighborhood donkey.

I have to say that the bruschetta were amazing, and so simple. After toasting slices of baguette on the grill, we rubbed a garlic clove on each slice, then topped them with chopped tomato mixed with sliced basil. Rubbing the garlic on the bread gave it such a great flavor.

It had been so long since we’ve really participated in a cookout. Leave it to Leti to pull out all the stops and show us how to make grilling fun, vegetarian-friendly, and healthy to boot.

Portobello Fajitas

  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 4 cups (1/2-inch thick slices) portobello mushrooms (about 8 ounces)
  • 1 cup vertically sliced red onion
  • 1 cup (1/4-inch thick) green bell pepper strips
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • 3 tablespoons chopped fresh cilantro
  • 1 tablespoon fresh lime juice
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 serrano chile, minced
  • 12 (6-inch) flour tortillas
  • 1 cup (4 ounces) crumbled queso fresco
  • 3/4 cup salsa verde

Heat oil in a large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. Add mushrooms; saute 5 minutes or until almost tender. Add onion, bell pepper, and garlic. Reduce heat to medium, and cook for 4 minutes or until bell pepper is crisp-tender, stirring frequently. Remove from heat; stir in cilantro, lime juice, salt, black pepper, and chile.

Warm tortillas according to package directions. Spoon about 1/4 cup mushroom mixture down center of each tortilla; top each tortilla with 4 teaspoons cheese and 1 tablespoon salsa. Roll up.

Makes 4 servings.

Source: Cooking Light Jan/Feb 2005

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My name is Crystal, and I’m a recipe-aholic.

March 20, 2005

Recipes are my life. I’ve stopped counting my cookbooks. I have several years worth of recipes clipped from Gourmet, Cooking Light, Bon Appetit, and Martha Stewart Living, plus Everyday Food and the occasional Vegetarian Times. I have photocopies of recipes I’ve found at the library, and slips of paper with handwritten recipes from friends, doctor’s offices, or television shows. I have printouts of recipes from the Food Network, and word documents with hundreds of recipes pulled from websites, bulletin boards, and emails.

I have tried organizing my recipes many times. I have a huge 3-ring binder filled with neatly-typed favorite recipes placed into plastic sleeves and organized by recipe type (main dish, sides, salads…). I have computerized files with lists of recipes I’ve tried and old menus I’ve put together. I have little post-it notes sticking out of cookbooks and magazines reminding me of recipes to try.

Unfortunately, none of these organization systems seem to stick, and I end up sitting on the couch every weekend, surrounded by open cookbooks and magazines, clipped recipes and printouts, trying to pick the perfect seven recipes to make for dinners that week. I get out one of my notebooks (my notebook collection is another blog topic in itself), and dream up menus and lunches and breakfasts and snacks and “projects” (homemade bread, cookies, food gifts), then narrow them down to the fabulous seven for that week. I then begin the process of making…the Grocery List. The Grocery List is a highly specialized tool that brings together all the needed ingredients and toiletries in a very useful manner…I organize the Grocery List according to location in the grocery store. Yes, I am aware that I have issues.

Anyway, I just wanted to share with you my newest form of organization. I was lucky enough to receive Giada de Laurentis’s new cookbook as an early birthday present (thank you, Leti!), and quickly tore off the hideous book cover (I never keep those covers on…books are so much prettier without them!) and scarfed down the recipes, logging them somewhere in my cranial rolodex. I realized that there were a few of her recipes I liked from the Food Network website that did not appear in the book, and I was a little upset that I would have her recipes spread out throughout my home, in various forms. So, I printed out 4 x 6-inch recipe cards for the online recipes, and attached a little cardstock pocket at the front of the book to hold them. Voila! All of Giada’s recipes in one spot.

The real question is: Will I remember where these recipes are during my menu planning madness next weekend? Probably not.

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March 20, 2005

These cookies are the bomb. I am pretty picky about my cookies, and I searched long and hard before finding the perfect recipe for a thick, chewy chocolate chip cookie. (I’m not a fan of crunchy cookies, and I prefer big, plump cookies loaded with chocolate chips). I am willing to share this recipe with all of you, as long as you promise to make them someday!

A few notes: I only use one brand of chocolate chips for these cookies…the only brand worthy of this recipe, Guittard semi-sweet chocolate chips. Sure, you could get away with another brand, or with milk chocolate chips, but they just won’t be the same. I also use a full 12-ounce bag of the chips, because I prefer three or four chocolate chips in each bite. Finally, it’s really worth it to watch the cooking time and turn the sheets in the middle of baking…it results in a perfect, chewy cookie. If they’re browned on the bottom, they’re overcooked. As long as the tops are not mushy, and the edges are even slightly golden, take them out of that oven! (Unless, of course, you’re one of those people who like crunchy cookies.)

Thick and Chewy Chocolate Chip Cookies

  • 2 cups plus 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 12 tablespoons (1 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter, melted and cooled until warm
  • 1 cup light or dark brown sugar, packed
  • 1/2 cup granulated sugar
  • 1 large egg plus 1 egg yolk
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 1 to 1 1/2 cups semisweet chocolate chips

Adjust oven racks to upper- and lower-middle positions and heat oven to 325 degrees. Line two large cookie sheets with parchment paper.

Whisk flour, baking soda, and salt together in a medium bowl; set aside.

Either by hand or with an electric mixer, mix butter and sugars until thoroughly blended. Beat in egg, yolk, and vanilla until combined. Add dry ingredients and beat at low speed just until combined. Stir in chips to taste.

Roll scant 1/4 cup dough into a ball. Holding dough ball in fingertips of both hands, pull into two equal halves. Rotate halves 90 degrees and, with jagged surfaces facing up, join halves together at their base, again forming a single ball, being careful not to smooth dough’s uneven surface. Place formed dough onto cookie sheet, leaving 2 1/2 inches between each ball.

Bake, reversing position of cookie sheets halfway through baking (from top to bottom and front to back), until cookies are light golden brown and outer edges start to harden yet centers are still soft and puffy, 15 o 18 minutes. Cool cookies on sheets. When cooled, peel cookies from parchment.

Makes about 20 cookies.

Source: America’s Test Kitchen

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Strawberry Fields Forever

March 18, 2005

It’s almost time for strawberries! Last night at our family gathering Mom Esquivel made a strawberry dessert that was super-wow, and it reminded me that we haven’t been strawberry picking in a couple of years (which is why my hair is miraculously different in the above picture–wasn’t it pretty two years ago?).

We like to visit Sweet Berry Farm in Marble Falls for warm, ripe, off-the-vine berries. The berries should be ready for picking by the end of March (just in time for my birthday!), and I can’t wait. Last time we visited, we made spinach-strawberry salads, strawberry popsicles, strawberry smoothies, strawberry waffles, strawberries with balsamic vinegar with creme anglaise…you can never have too many sweet berries.

Hopefully the strawberries in grocery stores will be of better quality within the coming weeks, and you can try out a few strawberry recipes of your own. If we make it to the farm this year, I’ll post more pictures. Until then, here’s an idea to start your strawberry adventures.

Strawberry Pops

  • 1 1/2 pints strawberries, rinsed and hulled
  • 1/2 cup powdered sugar
  • 1/3 cup water

Pulse strawberries, sugar, and water in a food processor until pureed, with some chunks of berries remaining. Pour half of mixture into a bowl. Pulse remainder until smooth. Stir puree into mixture in bowl. Pour into 3-ounce popsicle molds or plastic cups, insert sticks or wooden spoons, and freeze until solid, at least 8 hours.

Makes 8 popsicles.

Source: Everyday Food, May/June 2003

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