Thursday, October 30, 2014

Giada's Alfredo Sauce

Source: Food Network
Prep time: Very easy

I've never been a huge red-sauce-on-pasta fan, and so it's not really a surprise that when I discovered as a child that people actually ate pasta with something other than spaghetti sauce, it was love at first taste. Alfredo sauces in particular have always been a favorite of mine, and they're on of the few things that I'll occasionally indulge in these days, even when it means a stomach ache later for my dairy-sensitive self. I've shared several cream sauce recipes here in the past, including my previous favorite alfredo sauce. A year or two ago, however, I discovered this unusual-but-totally-amazing alfredo sauce from Giada de Laurentiis, and there is been NO going back for the Baldwin family. If we have alfredo these days it's always this recipe, and it never disappoints. As if that's not recommendation enough in itself, it's very fast and easy to prepare and usually cooks up in much less time than it takes your pasta to boil.

Because the original recipe called for a rather odd amount of pasta, I have adjusted the proportions a little to suit a regular 1lb box of pasta instead. I often halve it for the two of us, depending on how hungry we are; it makes at least 4 generous main-dish servings. It isn't nearly so good the next day, which always breaks my heart, but a tiny drizzle of fresh cream on the reheated noodles goes a long way.

1 one-pound box of your choice of pasta
2 cups heavy cream
1/3 cup lemon juice
1 stick butter
1 1/2 cups freshly grated parmesan
The zest of your lemons, if you used fresh
Salt and pepper (the original recipe called for freshly-ground white pepper; I usually use freshly-ground whatever-I-have-on-hand)
A sprinkle of nutmeg (optional)

Cook the pasta in salted water until it's done according to your taste; drain and set aside. In a large skillet or in the empty pasta pot, stir all but 1/4 cup of the cream with the lemon juice to combine, then add butter and heat over medium heat just until the butter has melted. Turn heat to low, add the pasta, and toss until it's coated. Add the remaining ingredients (including reserved cream) and stir everything together over low heat until the sauce thickens a little, about one minute. Served immediately, garnished with a little more parmesan if desired. To revitalize leftovers, drizzle just a little bit of fresh cream on noodles after reheating and toss.

Friday, July 25, 2014

Banana Zucchini Bread {Refined Sugar Free}

I've gone off refined sugar this summer, but was dying to do something with the abundance of summer squashes that have appeared in my garden this week. A little tinkering in the kitchen with a nice ripe banana and some natural sweeteners produced a batch of muffins that knocked my socks WAY off—it's light, moist, sweet, and utterly delicious. And guess what? It's healthy, too! It's tweaked from my favorite-ever zucchini bread recipe that I got from my Aunt Jeannie several years ago. It's also fairly flexible depending on what you have on hand, although Mahon and I both agreed that the (real) maple syrup in it is the true secret ingredient that makes it lick-the-plate good. In the future, I'd like to try subbing some applesauce for some of the sweetener or oil, but I didn't have any today.

3 eggs
1 cup oil
1 T vanilla
1/3 cup honey
1/3 cup real maple syrup (it doesn't have to be real, but if it's not, then it won't be free of white sugar...)
2 packed cups of zucchini
1 very ripe banana, thoroughly mashed
2 1/2 cups wheat flour
1 tablespoon cinnamon
1/4 t baking soda
2 t baking powder
1 t salt

Preheat oven to 350, and grease either two dozen muffin cups or 2 loaf pans (or one muffin pan and one loaf pan, or—you get it!). In a large bowl, stir eggs, oil, vanilla, honey, and syrup until well blended. Add zucchini and banana and combine. Gently add the flour so that it sits on top of the liquid ingredients and then sift cinnamon, baking soda, baking powder, and salt into the flour before incorporating the dry ingredients into the wet ones. (See what I did there? You managed the whole wet-and-dry-ingredients thing in ONE BOWL!) Fold into prepared pans and bake for 19 minutes (muffins) or 40 minutes (loaves). Enjoy!

Monday, July 7, 2014

Buttermilk Drop Biscuits

3 cups flour (wheat works great!)
3 T baking powder
3/4 t baking soda
1 1/2 t salt 
8 T fat (butter, coconut oil, or a combination of the two)
1-1 1/2 cups plain kefir (my preference), buttermilk, soured milk, or 3/4 cup plain yogurt and 1/4-1/2 cup milk

Preheat oven to 450. Mix dry ingredients in large bowl. Cut in fat with pastry blender until dough is crumbly, with varying sizes of fat chunks (ie don't pulverize it - it only takes a little bit of cutting!). Add one cup of your liquid and use a fork to stir gently, just until liquid is incorporated and dough is moistened. If there's still a lot of dry flour at the bottom of the bowl, slowly add more liquid while stirring, until you have just enough to moisten it all. (It shouldn't be too sticky to touch.) How much liquid you use will depend on the weather, your altitude, whether there are fairies in your kitchen, the alignment of Jupiter, etc.

Take a spoon (or your hands) and drop rounded balls close together on your ungreased cookie sheet. Bake for 14-15 minutes at 450.

Monday, March 31, 2014

Parmesan Drop Biscuits

Prep time: Easy

I've always really loved the crumble topping on this Chicken Pot Pie Crumble recipe, and recently I tweaked it just a little bit to make absolutely delicious savory drop biscuits. Now they're one of my favorite quick and easy snacks!

2 cups flour (I use, and highly recommend, whole wheat)
2 tsp baking powder
3/4 tsp salt
1/4 tsp pepper
6 tblsp chilled and sliced butter
3/4 cup fresh grated parmesan cheese
1 cup heavy cream OR 1/2-3/4 cup milk

Preheat oven to 400. Mix flour, baking powder, salt, and pepper together in a medium mixing bowl. Cut in butter with pastry blender or two knives until mixture is crumbly. Stir in parmesan cheese. Add cream or milk slowly while stirring until dough just holds together (depending on the elements and cooking voodoo of my kitchen at any given moment, I have used more or less cream/milk). Gently shape dough into balls with your hands (mine are usually a little smaller than my palm, but I have small hands!) and drop onto an ungreased pan (I prefer a pan lined with parchment paper for these). Cook for 18-20 minutes. Depending on the size of your biscuit balls, you'll end up with 9-12 drop biscuits. They're delicious for a day or two after cooking, but my favorite way to eat them is right out of the oven!

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Lemon-Lime Risotto

Source: Adapted from the Southern Living cookbook (Lemon-Lime Risotto)
Prep time: About 45 minutes of fairly dedicated cooking (come on, it's risotto!)

I've read so many accounts of people first trying risotto and having an essentially transcendent experience. It changes their lives, they remember that moment with perfect clarity, yaddah yaddah. I've made risotto a few times in the past, using different recipes, and honestly, every time Mahon and I were extremely underwhelmed. It wasn't bad, but it was kind of... blah. Bland. Far from transcendent.

Most risotto recipes call for a cup of white wine early in the cooking process. Well, although cooking with alcohol is not usually regarded as being against the Mormon word of wisdom (health and living code), white wine is obviously not something we typically have on hand—and since I typically have a fairly strict policy of not buying ingredients that are only called for in one or two recipes, I've never bought any. (Plus, I'm pretty sure it would make my husband uncomfortable! ;) ) However, I long suspected that the lack of wine was what made my risotto so underwhelming. I'd tried substitutes, like apple juice and more chicken stock, but neither added the twist of flavor that I felt like risotto needed.

Enter this Southern Living recipe, slightly adapted by me (it didn't call for garlic, which seemed sinful!). I've nicknamed it my "Mormon" risotto, because instead of white wine, it uses a dash of lemon juice and a dash of lime juice to add flavor. And guys? This was our transcendent risotto experience. It was even worth half an hour determinedly stirring at a hot stove while my 11-month-old whined at my feet.

6 cups chicken broth (I used my homemade stock; I would definitely recommend using real stock or broth for this recipe since that's where most of the flavor and richness comes from)
The zest and juice of one lemon OR 1 1/2 T bottled lemon juice
The zest and juice of one lime OR 1 1/2 T bottled lime juice
1 large onion, chopped
3-4 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 t sea salt
2 T EVOO for sautéeing
2 cups uncooked Arborio rice
2 tablespoons butter
1/2 cup fresh-grated Parmesan cheese

Bring broth, zest, and lemon/lime juices to a boil in a medium saucepan. In a large saucepan or large skillet with tall sides, heat oil over medium heat. Add onions and salt and sautée about five minutes, until onions are softening and beginning to be translucent and sweet-smelling. Add garlic and continue to sautée for another two or three minutes, until garlic is just barely beginning to brown and is very aromatic. Add Arborio rice and cook, stirring constantly, for about two minutes, until the rice is turning translucent and looking plumper. Add about 1/2 cup (I used a ladle and just did one ladleful at a time) of the hot stock/juice mixture and stir until all the liquid is absorbed. Continue to add liquid 1/2 cup at a time, stirring until it's absorbed. The first two or three ladlefuls absorb/evaporate very quickly; as the cooking time goes on it will take longer and longer to absorb. I also found that after the first ten or so minutes of near-constant stirring, it was okay for me to leave the risotto without stirring for a minute or two while I did other things around the kitchen as long as I was still stirring very frequently. The frequent stirring is what releases the starches in the Arborio rice to create a delectably creamy sauce—you'll find it hard to believe that there's no milk or cream in it!

When all the liquid has been added and the rice is "al dente" and plump, remove from heat and stir in butter and Parmesan cheese. Serve immediately, garnished with more Parmesan and veggies if desired. 

An Updated Stock Recipe

Several years ago, I started using store-bought rotisserie chickens to make a quick and easy chicken stock recipe. We were so enamored of that stock (so much better than powdered bullion, people, even if my mom doesn't agree!) that I've kept making it at least once a month so that our freezer is always filled with ready-to-use, deliciously rich and nutritious chicken stock.

In the intervening years, though, my recipe has changed a bit to take full advantage of the health benefits of stock-making. In looking over the original post I realized that it's changed enough to consider it an essentially different recipe now, so rather than update that post, I thought I'd share my new method. The other one is still great if you want stock that's done in just a few hours!

To begin with, I don't buy the store rotisserie chickens anymore. I typically buy whole small chickens (depending on where I get them from, they're either the same price as the rotisserie ones or a dollar or two pricier, but much better-quality meat) and roast them (our favorite roast chicken recipe is here), or cook them "fauxtisserie style" (courtesy of Our Best Bites) by placing them on tinfoil balls in a large crockpot on low for 6-8 hours until done. We'll eat off that chicken for dinner the night I make it, and then after we're done I remove all the meat and put it in the fridge for meals later in the week. 

That night, I put the chicken carcass in a large stock pot with either a few veggies (garlic cloves, onions, and celery greens are a must; sometimes I also add carrots and potatoes), or the vegetable mirepoix with which I originally stuffed the chicken (because I'm lazy like that). Sometimes I add herbs and sometimes I don't, depending on my mood. (If I do, my favorites are parsley, rosemary, thyme, and black pepper. Sometimes a bay leaf.)

Along with the chicken carcass I add a good amount of kosher salt and about a tablespoon of apple cider vinegar. I then fill the stock pot with cold water, cover it, and let it sit for an hour. After the hour is up—usually when I'm heading up to bed—I'll turn the stove on, bring the stock to a quick boil, and then reduce all the way to low and let it simmer overnight. I keep it at a very low simmer the rest of the next day, adding more water if it's decreasing a lot, and then strain and package it that evening after dinner. The result is an incredibly rich and delicious stock that adds a fantastic flavor to all kinds of recipes and is jam-packed with protein, vitamins, minerals, and healthy fats. It's also rich enough to dilute with water for most recipes and still have a great-tasting soup or sauce.