Oh, You Sweet, Sweet Potato!

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This post was a long time in the making. I got a bee in my bonnet and decided that I wanted to make sweet potato (or yam to many) pasta made of ONLY that ingredient; using the Spiralizer for a Friday Food Find, which I wrote about here. After several attempts and variations, I finally prevailed, and it was well worth it! Look at these beautiful tendrils… More…

This post was a long time in the making. I got a bee in my bonnet and decided that I wanted to make sweet potato (or yam to many) pasta made of ONLY that ingredient; using the Spiralizer for a Friday Food Find, which I wrote about here. After several attempts and variations, I finally prevailed, and it was well worth it! Look at these beautiful tendrils…

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The vision in my head was to transform the concept of a sweet potato ravioli and turn it into sweet potato pasta with sage and brown butter with the addition of a roasted chicken thigh. At the moment, my garden is overflowing with sage, so this provided a way to use up a bit of this pungent herb.

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And using chicken thigh offered a succulent, almost fool-proof protein that also happens to be one of the least expensive options at my local shop, and one of my favorites!

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And as if that were not enough, the recipe is easy peasy! Just take a look…

To streamline this recipe, you can forgo most of step two (the garnish) and simply mince the sage. By doing so, you can pop the chicken in the oven. Once done, you can brown the butter along with the sage and make the sweet potato pasta and pan jus in a matter of minutes while the chicken is resting. This makes your time in the actual kitchen less than ten minutes, maybe even five!

Roast Chicken Thigh with Sweet Potato Spaghetti and Sage Brown Butter

INGREDIENTS

  • 3 to 4 chicken thighs
  • bunch of fresh herbs
  • 1 large sweet potato (yam)
  • 15 sage leaves, cut in a chiffonade
  • 4 to 6 sage leaves, whole
  • 4 tablespoons of butter
  • 1 to 2 tablespoons of salt (for water) and salt & pepper to taste
  • splash of chicken stock

MISE EN PLACE

  1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit.
  2. Fill a large stock pot with water.
  3. Clean and pat dry sage leaves, cutting 15 in chiffonade.
  4. Peel sweet potato and cut off ends.
  5. Make sure salt, pepper, and chicken stock are within reach.

STEP ONE
In an oven-proof fry pan over medium-high heat, brown chicken thighs, skin side down. Turn once golden. Add herbs and transfer to oven. Cook until internal temp reaches at least 160 degrees Fahrenheit. The great thing about chicken thigh is that even if it goes well over, it will still be succulent and tasty! When your chicken is within 10 minutes of being down, heat stock pot full of water over high heat.

STEP TWO
While waiting for water to boil, spiralize the sweet potato and fry 4 to 6 of the sage leaves in butter (that has been melted over low heat) until slightly crisp. Remove the leaves and allow to cool on a dry paper towel. The leaves will continue to crisp up as they sit. If you have a few tendrils of sweet potato that you want to crisp up for garnish, this is the time to do that as well. Take a long piece and twist in a circular motion; resulting in a compact, flat disc presentation. Add to fry pan with butter and cook until slightly brown and then turn carefully. Cook until browned. Transfer to paper towel along with sage leaves.

STEP THREE
By now, the butter should be starting to brown and it is time to add the sage leaves that you had cut in a chiffonade. Cook until butter is browned and sage is cooked. Turn off heat.

STEP FOUR
When chicken is done, allow to rest. In the meantime, add a splash of chicken stock to the fry pan that the chicken was in and allow to reduce. At this point, the water is probably up to a boil as well. Add 1-2 tablespoons of water and dissolve. Then submerge the sweet potato pasta into the water and cook for 1 minute. Drain and return to stock pot. Pour sage brown butter over pasta and stir gently. Add salt and pepper to taste, but be sure to really taste it before adding additional salt. The pasta water may have seasoned it enough! To serve, make a bed of pasta, top with chicken thigh, and pour pan jus atop. Add sweet potato crisp and fried sage leaves as garnish.

Serves 3 to 4, depending on the amount of chicken thigh purchased.

COOK’S NOTES
The end result was not only visually stunning, it was also divine to taste with a perfect balance of sweet, salty, and savory! And because all I had to purchase was the sweet potato and chicken, the cost was about the same as a dollar-menu item at a fast food joint, but 100 times better for you! And it took about the same amount of time that it would take to drive to get take-out and bring it home. Do you have any flavorful meals that look and taste like they are from a bistro but cost less than a $5 for a family of four? If so, do share…

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Meal Menagerie: Starring Cauliflower

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Every few weeks, we have a grocery standoff in my house. No one is interested in heading to the store, but we are all hungry. For the most part, when we do go grocery shopping, I plan the meals and make a detailed grocery list so that I do not have to frequent the store any more than necessary. This way of shopping helps keep down on wasted food, but does not lend itself to making meals up on the fly. So when we have a meal menagerie, where we have to put together a meal from what’s in the cupboard, it is a challenge akin to Chopped or Iron Chef except there is no time limit. More…

Every few weeks, we have a grocery standoff in my house. No one is interested in heading to the store, but we are all hungry. For the most part, when we do go grocery shopping, I plan the meals and make a detailed grocery list so that I do not have to frequent the store any more than necessary. This way of shopping helps keep down on wasted food, but does not lend itself to making meals up on the fly. So when we have a meal menagerie, where we have to put together a meal from what’s in the cupboard, it is a challenge akin to Chopped or Iron Chef except there is no time limit.

This week’s odd pairing consisted of orecchiette pasta, a head of cauliflower, a few slices of leftover bacon, Italian bread crumbs, and some herbs–nothing to outrageous. I put all the ingredients in front of me, trying to make sense of what to do. It started off simply enough. I decided to roast the cauliflower, but as I began to unwrap it, I changed my mind. I decided that I would fry up the bacon and then stir fry the cauliflower in the bacon drippings. But then I had an interesting thought. What if I took a potato peeler and shaved the cauliflower, and then braised those tender slivers in a pan with a knob of butter and some chicken stock? I decided it was worth investigating. It took a bit of work to shave the whole head, but was well worth it,  it looked like pristine albino truffles when I was done.

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The rest of the meal came together rather easily and I was more than happy with the results. The orecchiette provided a nice toothsome quality that I have not found in other pastas; chewy yet somehow creamy. The cauliflower provided a sweetness, and by braising it, a small amount of sauce to stick to the pasta. The bread crumbs stood in for grated cheese. The bacon provided some guts and smoke. But what pulled it together were the herbs. They took what otherwise may have seemed a heavy dish and brightened it up; making my first bite of tonight’s meal menagerie enchanting! And as I watched my 9-year-old eat her entire bowl of pasta containing more than two servings of veg without arguing about it, I realized this dish was pure magic!

Orecchiette with Cauliflower, Bacon, & Herbs

INGREDIENTS

  • 250 grams (8.8oz) of dried orecchiette
  • 1 head of cauliflower
  • a knob of butter
  • chicken stock to almost cover cauliflower in pan
  • 4 sliced of smoked bacon
  • sprinkling of Italian bread crumbs
  • 1 Tbsp of thyme, cut finely
  • 1 Tbsp of tarragon, cut finely
  • Salt & pepper to taste
  • 1 to 2 Tbsp of salt for pasta water

MISE EN PLACE

  1. Cook bacon in the oven at 400 degrees until fully cooked.
  2. Fill large stock pot with water.
  3. Shave cauliflower.
  4. Get out butter, chicken stock,bacon, bread crumbs, salt, and pepper.
  5. Cut herbs finely.
  6. Slice cooked bacon into thin strips.

STEP ONE
Turn pasta water to high. Once boiling, add salt and dissolve. Cook according to package directions.

STEP TWO
Heat large fry pan over medium heat. Add butter. Once melted, add cauliflower. Once fully coated with butter, add chicken stock and simmer over low heat until tender. Season with salt and pepper.

STEP THREE
Using a spider/slotted spoon, add cooked pasta to cauliflower pan. Add bacon, a sprinkling of bread crumbs, and most of the herbs. Season with salt and pepper to taste.

STEP FOUR
Serve in wide bowls, adding a bit more bread crumbs and herbs to garnish.

Makes 4 generous servings.

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The Offal Truth

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A couple of weeks ago, I was meandering through the aisles at the grocery store, when I passed by some packaged items in the the poultry section that caught my eye; chicken livers. Their brilliant hue of burgundy flesh was hard not to notice. As I investigated further, I was surprised at how reasonable the price was; less than $3 per pound. I had to know more. I went home and started looking online at how to prepare chicken livers, their nutritional value, and why they are not more popular. More…

A couple of weeks ago, I was meandering through the aisles at the grocery store, when I passed by some packaged items in the the poultry section that caught my eye; chicken livers. Their brilliant hue of burgundy flesh was hard not to notice. As I investigated further, I was surprised at how reasonable the price was; less than $3 per pound. I had to know more. I went home and started looking online at how to prepare chicken livers, their nutritional value, and why they are not more popular.

There are a few downsides to liver that I will get out of the way upfront. One: chicken liver is high in cholesterol so I would not recommend eating it daily, but as part of a well-rounded diet, they are near perfect. It is hard to find such a nutrient-packed offering of protein–7 grams per ounce–with so little fat and 75% of the vitamin A, almost 20% of the iron, and 0% carbohydrates; all wrapped up in only 47 calories. And this is in addition to providing 33% of the riboflavin, 15% of the niacin, 40% of the folate, 79% of the vitamin B12, and 33% of the selenium needed daily. And the cost for that same ounce is less than twenty cents. Talk about turning a frown upside down 🙂

The second issue has more to do with the prepping of the livers. Prepping chicken livers–or any livers for that matter–is not for the faint of heart. Removing the sinew and other offending bits can be a bit daunting for squeamish individuals (such as myself). I am not going to sugar coat it, it’s gross. And I don’t see it getting easier with practice. But the good news is that it doesn’t take much time at all. Before you know it, you will be done touching parts unknown and ready to start cooking.

The last issue with liver is–for many–it is an acquired taste, and texture. While I really would like to introduce this food into my mealplan every so often, I realize that not everyone is going to get on board the liver train. It was a challenge, but I realized that I needed to introduce liver in a more subtle way that removed some of the taste and textural issues from the equation. After coming up with several bad ideas, I eventually came upon one that I thought might work. It took advantage of the liver’s richness while removing its pastiness. It also mellowed its overall earthiness just enough to be pleasing to a teenager without dumbing down the essence of what makes liver appealing in the first place. The dish I came up with was a medley of warm bacon, fennel, and Brussels sprouts over tagliatelle pasta with chicken liver alfredo sauce.

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Each component played a part in the tasty outcome of this dish. The sweet, yet crunchy fennel paired well with the bitter shaved sprouts. The bits of bacon added a smokiness that seemed to bring out the best in the liver. When the meal was ready, I had a 17-year-old and a 19-year old try the dish without mentioning what type of sauce was so lovingly coating the noodles they were wolfing down–and they both loved it. Based on that alone, I consider this meal a rousing success!

Pasta with Chicken Liver Alfredo Sauce

INGREDIENTS

  • Enough milk to cover chicken livers
  • 227 grams (8oz) of chicken livers
  • Oil to coat fry pan, and as needed
  • 1 onion, minced
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1 Tbsp thyme, minced
  • 1 Tbsp tarragon, minced
  • 2 Tbsp cream sherry
  • 4 Tbsp butter
  • Salt & pepper to taste
  • 250 grams (8.8oz) of dried tagliatelle pasta
  • 1 to 2 Tbsp sea salt (for pasta water)
  • 114 grams (4oz) of double-smoked bacon, diced
  • 1 fennel bulb, sliced thinly
  • 227 grams (8oz) of Brussels sprouts, peeled and almost shaved
  • 1 1/2 tsp of tarragon, minced
  • 57 grams (2oz) of panko

MISE EN PLACE

  1. Soak livers in milk for approximately 30 minutes.
  2. While livers are soaking, mince onion, garlic, thyme, and tarragon. Measure out sherry and butter.
  3. Fill stock pot with 4 to 5 quarts of water.
  4. Make sure oil, salt and pepper are within reach.
  5. Cut up bacon.
  6. Cut fennel bulb in half, rotate onto flat side, cut again so that you end up with four pieces of a pie, and slice thinly.
  7. Peel sprouts, cut in half, and slice (almost shaving) or use a mandolin.
  8. Mince additional tarragon and mix with panko and a pinch of salt and pepper.

STEP ONE
Drain liquid and pat the liver dry. Clean by removing stringiness, sinew, off colored bits, etc. Once done, cut pieces into similar sizes.

STEP TWO
Heat a large fry pan over medium heat. Add oil to coat pan. Add onion and a pinch of salt and pepper. Cook for approximately 5 minutes until soft, translucent, and starting to turn golden. Add liver and cook until starting to brown.

STEP THREE
Turn on stockpot burner to start heating the pasta water. When water is at a rolling boil, add salt, and pasta. Stir occasionally. Cook to package specs.

STEP FOUR
Add garlic to large fry pan with onions and livers and cook until fragrant. Add herbs and cook for a minute or so. Add sherry and cook until almost evaporated. Transfer to food processor and blitz until smooth. Set aside.

STEP FIVE
Using the same large fry pan, cook bacon bits over medium to medium-high until brown and crisped. Using a slotted spoon, remove bacon  and set aside. Add fennel and cook until soft. Add Brussels sprouts. Cook until soft. Add salt and pepper to taste. Set veg aside.

STEP SIX
When pasta is within a minute or so of being done, scrape contents of food processor into large fry pan. Warm if necessary. Using  thongs or teethed spoon, add pasta from stock pot. Stir. Add pasta water as necessary to loosen sauce (approximately one ladle). Add 1/2 the cooked veg and 3/4 of the bacon to the fry pan as well. Stir to combine.

STEP SEVEN
Portion pasta dish in 4 large or 6 medium portions. Sprinkle with 1/4 more veg (leaving the rest for another recipe that I will be highlighting later in the week), panko/tarragon mixture, and remaining bacon bits. Serve, and enjoy!

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I would love to hear of any creative ways that you have made chicken livers, other livers, or offal, in general. I still have a half of a pound of livers to use…

UPDATE: To find out what I did with the other half pound of livers, click here!

Don’t put off ’til tomorrow what you SHOULD do today!

Tofu Ricotta Manicotti

I do not like manicotti, I really don’t like tomato sauce (except my own), and I don’t like cheese with the exception of smoked Gruyere. So to say that I was not looking forward to the Tofu Ricotta Manicotti assignment is an understatement. But after several days of putting it off, I realized that there have been times in my life where I had to cook things I didn’t like and there will be more…so suck it up. More…

I do not like manicotti, I really don’t like tomato sauce (except my own), and I don’t like cheese with the exception of smoked Gruyere. So to say that I was not looking forward to the Tofu Ricotta Manicotti assignment is an understatement. But after several days of putting it off, I realized that there have been times in my life where I had to cook things I didn’t like and there will be more…so suck it up.

Once I got past my own mental block, I realized that it was not all bad; I was getting to practice my pasta-making skills, got to try a tomato sauce recipe, and use up some cashew bechemel sauce I had left over–and who knows, maybe I will like this vegan version. But because I waited so long, I am getting stressed as there is still so much to do before the class ends. So without further ado, I chose to make single-serve manicotti dishes and grated some veg cheese over the top once out of the oven. I also exchanged the spinach for peas; and it turned out to be a fresh pop and nice textural contrast to the tofu ricotta.

Tofu Ricotta Manicotti

This dish was not one of my favorites, but that is no big surprise, it tastes like the original. So for some, that is great. And while I will not be making this recipe anytime in the near future, I at least know that I have a vegan comfort food dish in my back pocket should I need it. And I am finally done with the pasta unit. Not a moment too soon!

Pasta: Part Deux

udonI have to admit that this turned out to be the most difficult assignment thus far. I actually had to throw out my first attempt at the udon noodles. They just would not come together. I tried adding more water, but didn’t want to end up with a sticky mess either. I thought that if I let it rest it would come together, but after 10 minutes of kneading and 30 minutes of rest, I finally gave up and started over. In the end, I had to add 1/4 of a cup more of water than the instructions called for in my second attempt. The kneading was exhausting, but in the end, the noodles came out and the final dish was really tasty. More…
I chose to skip the second graded assignment in Unit 16 in favor of trying my luck and udon noodles. They taste great and have a certain relaxed look about them.

I have to admit that this turned out to be the most difficult assignment thus far. I actually had to throw out my first attempt at the udon noodles. They just would not come together. I tried adding more water, but didn’t want to end up with a sticky mess either. I thought that if I let it rest it would come together, but after 10 minutes of kneading and 30 minutes of rest, I finally gave up and started over. In the end, I had to add 1/4 of a cup more of water than the instructions called for in my second attempt. The kneading was exhausting, but in the end, the noodles came out and the final dish was really tasty.

udon in process

If I were to make udon noodles again, I might roll them out thinner as I had chosen to go on the thicker side; but everyone else thought they were a nice thickness and the texture was a really nice change from other pastas.

I am almost out of excuses on making the manicotti. Almost!

Yaki Udon

“Life is a combination of magic and pasta.”

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Unit 16: Pasta should have been one of my easiest units. I love pasta, I love cooking pasta, and I love making homemade pasta. But like much in life, to guess the future is a fool’s game. This unit is becoming my nemesis in more ways than one! But more on that in future posts. The unit started out well enough with a graded assignment in which I was to choose from a few options of pasta dishes. I chose wild mushroom and truffle oil pasta. More…

Smart man, that Federico Fellini.

Unit 16: Pasta should have been one of my easiest units. I love pasta, I love cooking pasta, and I love making homemade pasta. But like much in life, to guess the future is a fool’s game. This unit is becoming my nemesis in more ways than one! But more on that in future posts.

The unit started out well enough with a graded assignment in which I was to choose from a few options of pasta dishes. I chose wild mushroom and truffle oil pasta.

To cook the dish, I heated a large sauté pan over medium heat. Once to temp, I added the oil, followed by the mushrooms, and seasoned with salt and pepper. I cooked the mushrooms until they released their moisture and started to caramelize. I then added the shallots and cooked for another minute before adding the garlic and sautéing for another 30 seconds or so. My pasta water finally came to a rolling boil at this point and I added the salt and pasta. I then deglazed the pan of mushrooms with the wine and let reduce by about half. Next, I added the stock and let reduce by about a third. I then turned off the heat to the pan while waiting for the pasta to finish cooking. Once the pasta was al dente, I reserved a ladle of the cooking liquid and drained.

#1: Waiting patiently for water to come to a rollling boil #2: Adding pasta to water #3: Pasta cooking #4: Reserving some pasta water

#1: Waiting patiently for water to come to a rollling boil
#2: Adding pasta to water
#3: Pasta cooking
#4: Reserving some pasta water

To finish, I drizzled a bit of truffle oil along with the chives over the mushrooms, tested for seasoning and liked the flavor so no need for additional salt, etc. I then added the drained pasta to the mushroom pan, gently tossed, poured some of the reserved pasta water, tossed again, and served.

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The completed dish was full of flavor. The mushrooms and truffle oil added an amazing earthiness without being over the top. The pasta was perfectly cooked with just enough texture. When cutting the mushrooms, I chose to cut them all in different shapes depending on the variety; this turned out to be a great choice as it allowed each type to have a distinct texture, and surprisingly, flavor.

I will end this post with on the positive of this dish and assignment.