Monday, September 26, 2011

Low-fat Pittsburgh Fare Fast - Kilbasa, Cabbage and Pierogis

The Other Half is from the Pittsburgh region and was raised on pierogis, cabbage and brat. This is also the man who thinks that Kraft Mac and Cheese and a can a tuna fish is the ultimate meal - one which is only made when I am not present in the house - but that being said he has come to appreciate my attempts to make his favorite eats a little healthier. I have to admit the first time I tried brats and cabbage I was not overwhelmed, but since it is a personal favorite of his I was on a mission to come up with a version that (a) the kids would eat; (b) was not going to kill anyone and (c) tastes good. To make it a quick to the table recipe I do use packaged pierogis - Mrs. T's low-fat Cheddar and Potato - but if that is not your speed this recipe is also really good with baked sweet potatoes, mashed or not or if you have the fortitude to make homemade pierogis. You can also buy jarred red cabbage if you are really pressed for time but I like the taste of the fresh cabbage as well as a little crunch. Even on an insane, then things happening at once kind of night I can usually get this on the table in 20-30 minutes. Enjoy!

Kilbasa, Cabbage and Pierogis

1 package frozen pierogis ( I used cheddar and potato but there are other options)
2 tbsp olive oil
1/2 cup chopped onion (1 small onion)
1 clove garlic minced
1 cup diced apple (preferrably golden but I have used others and it is fine)
8 oz shredded red cabbage (box grater or food processor works great for this, just keep it course); you can also purchase a package of precut red cabbage - usually with the coleslaw fixings in the veggie department
2 tbsp cider vinegar
1 tsp sugar
1/2 tsp each salt and pepper
1 package turkey kilbasa, cut into 1/2" pieces
chopped parsley

Cook pierogis according to package instructions. (The Other Half likes them boiled; I prefer them baked - both work.)

In large pan, heat 1 tbsp olive oil over medium heat. Add onions and saute about 2 minutes. Add garlic and saute another minute. Add apple, cabbage, vinegar, sugar, salt and pepper and cook, stirrig,  until cabbage is wilted - about 3-5 minutes. Remove from pan and cover to keep warm.

Add remaining olive oil to warm pan with kilbasa and cook 3-5 minutes, turning occasionally, until heated through and browned on both sides. Return cabbage to pan and toss to coat. Sprinkle with parsley.

Serve with pierogis.

Friday, September 23, 2011

Pork Chops to Make a Bad Day Better

Okay. I have had a crummy week - no two ways about it. Lots of whining (or is that wining...?) that could be done but instead when things are glum I tend to cook. Everything looks better with a good meal in you, I think. So this week when I was at a rotten place I made a nice dinner for myself and The Other Half. I'm not sure if others would consider this comfort food but for me this recipe is warm and comforting and made a bad day just a little better.

This recipe comes from "The Naked Chef" by Jamie Oliver - one of my foodie crushes. I served it with creamed spinach (Green Giant, not homemade this time) and long grain rice. Because of the bold flavors in the herbs there are a variety of wines that would pair nicely with this. We chose a lovely Riesling that was a crisp, clean companion to the meal. Enjoy!

Couple of notes:

Buy nice thick single chops, or in the absence of that see if you can get double-rib chops - the butcher at your local grocery store should be able to cut them for you. If you get chops that are super large (more than an inch thick) you will want to pan sear them per the recipe and then finish them off in the oven at 375 degrees until the juices run clear and the core temperature is at least 145 degrees for 15 seconds with a meat thermometer (about 15-30 minutes depending on thickness, check frequently so they don't dry out). So important to check the temperature to make sure they are cooked all the way through!

Use fresh herbs - I know this is often my battle cry but in this instance it will make the difference between a chop that you eat and say "What was Nancy thinking?" and a chop that you eat and say "Is it okay if I pick the bone up and eat every last little morsel like I am at a Renaissance fair?"

If you don't own a mortal and pestle you can McGyver one using a wooden or heavy plastic bowl and a round fist sized rock wrapped in plastic wrap - you can find a good rock at almost any garden supply store. The other option would be to use a food processor - just don't work it too much - you won't get as nice a paste.

Pork Chops with Thyme, Lemon and Pesto

1 handful of thyme picked from stem
salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 clove of garlic
zest and juice of 1 lemon
1 tablespoon olive oil
(4) thick loin chops or two-rib regular chops
pesto (recipe below)

Using a mortar and pestle pound the thyme with 1 teaspoon of salt until it becomes a paste, then add the garlic and 1 teaspoon of black pepper and pound again. Stir in the lemon juice and zest and the olive oil. The paste should be the consistency of toothpaste.

Smear the mixture over the chops and leave out to rest for at least 10 minutes.

Meanwhile heat a caste iron pan or stove top griddle on medium high heat. Place the chops in pan (they make a bit of smoke so get your fan on!). Cook on each side 4-5 minutes, letting each side get nicely charred and golden. Don`t let them burn - if it looks as if they are getting too much colour turn the heat down. They should take about 8 minutes to cook at a medium high heat. After 8 minutes total take the pan off the heat and check the chops temperature, inserting the meat thermometer from the side. When the temperature registers 145 degrees the chops are done.

Rest the chops for a few minutes while making the pesto, then spoon a dollop of pesto over them.


1/4 cup garlic, chopped (3-4 good size pieces)
3 healthy handfuls of fresh basil leaves
1 handful of pine nuts
1/4  cup Parmesan or Pecorino Romano cheese
extra-virgin olive oil
salt and ground black pepper
lemon juice

Put your garlic into a food processor. Combine into a pulp with shredded basil leaves. Add the pine nuts into the mixture and pulse again. Turn out into a bowl and add half of the cheese. While gently stirring, add in olive oil until sauce starts to bind and becomes semi-wet in consistency. Add salt and pepper to taste, then add remaining cheese. Add more oil as needed and then finish with a squeeze of lemon juice to keep the color bright and help bring out the flavor of the basil over the garlic.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Penne with Sausage, Porcini and Portobello Mushrooms and Syrah Wine Sauce

Here in the south we don't have a typical fall. Summer drags on into Indian Summer and then Fall slides in stealthily for a few weeks before bang - it is cold. So when the temperature drops in the slightest, as it did this week, I was ready with a favorite fall dish to compliment the nip in the air.

We invited friends over for the afternoon. You know this couple - they don't mind that your house is not perfectly clean and that the heathens are under foot - heck, they are right there on the floor reading the latest installment of the ToysRUs catalog with them and cow racing on Wii. Comfortable folks deserve comfort food, and this is one of my favorite dishes for just such an occasion. The recipe comes from this great cook book that I received from dear friend and fellow foody, entitled "The Wine Lover's Cookbook: Great Recipes for the Perfect Glass of Wine" by Sid Goldstein - I highly recommend picking up a copy if you can find it.

We started the day off with some olives, marinated artichokes and bruschetta while the kids ate their dinner and then once they were tucked in bed, made our own dinner.

Couple of notes: I have found it virtually impossible to find fresh porcini mushrooms, but the dried ones seem to be readily available in the super market. Most of the times I find them on the endcaps with other specialty items, in the produce section. If you can find fresh ones, jump on them - it really does enhance the flavor. I tend to use a broader variety of mushrooms then what is listed in the recipe. There are so many wonderful shrooms to choose from - take a look at what is available fresh at your local store and experiment.

The wine that you cook with should be one that you would be willing to drink with dinner as well. Don't skimp on this ingredient but don't break the bank. There are a nice variety of $10-$15 bottles of syrah our there that will be very good in the recipe. Alternatively you could also use a zinfandel if you have one that you like.

I buy a can of tomato paste, spoon it out a tablespoon at a time on to pieces of press and seal, seal up the packets and then freeze them in a bag. Then when a recipe calls for a tablespoon of tomato paste I don't have an open can sitting in my fridge waiting to get thrown away. Just peel off the press and seal, throw the frozen glob of tomato paste into the dish and watch it dissolve.

We served this with a toasted baguette, fresh arugula salad and fresh asiago cheese. For dessert we had dark chocolate covered strawberries and expresso.


Penne with Sausage, Porcini and Portobello Mushrooms, and Syrah
(makes 4 servings)

2 ounces dried porcini mushrooms
12 ounces Italian sausage, cut into 1/2-inch slices (I use Botto's Hot Italian Sausage)
11/2 cups chopped yellow onion (about 1 medium onion)
3 cloves garlic, chopped
(1) package baby portobello mushrooms, chopped
3/4 teaspoon crumbled dried rosemary or 1 tablespoon fresh rosemary
1 teaspoon dried thyme or 1 tablespoon fresh thyme
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
crushed red pepper to taste (optional)
11/2 cups syrah
14.5 oz. can chopped tomatoes, drained
1 tablespoon tomato paste
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 pound dried penne or other small dried pasta
Chopped pasta for garnish
Shredded asiago cheese

Soak porcini in hot water for 2 to 3 hours. Drain.

Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil.

Heat a small amount of olive oil in a large saute pan over medium-high heat until good and hot. Saute sausage for 6 to 7 minutes, turning to brown on both sides. Remove with slotted
spoon, place on paper towels, and pat dry.

Add onions and garlic to pan and saute for 4 to 5 minutes, until onions are translucent. Add porcini, portobellos, rosemary, thyme, salt and pepper, and continue sauteing for 3 to 4
minutes. Add wine and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer to reduce by half. Add tomatoes and tomato paste and simmer for 8 to 10 minutes. Add reserved sausage and heat through. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

Carefully add penne to boiling water and cook according to package directions or until it is al dente (about 8 -10 minutes). Drain and return penne to pot. Add sauce to pasta and mix thoroughly. Add a handful of chopped parsley.

To serve, divide pasta among 4 large pasta or soup bowls. Garnish with freshly grated asiago cheese.

Monday, September 12, 2011

Chicken with Figs, Two Ways

A recent offer of fresh figs sent me on a search for a good savory recipe that I could include them in. After much taste testing (mostly good, occasionally horrid) I ended up with two recipes that I wanted to share with you. The first is an elegant presentation - great for that "I want to impress the boss" dinner or if you want to make something nice for The Other Half. It comes from one of my go-to cookbook, "The Silver Palate" and is a definite crowd pleaser. The second is a much less fussy, though no less tasty recipe that my whole family will eat - even the pod who eats virtually nothing. 

Silver Palate Chicken with Figs 
Couple of notes: I could not find green peppercorns the first time I made this so I substituted black peppercorns instead. If you do that, cut the amount of peppercorns you use to 2 teaspoons - black peppercorns have a much stronger favor. FYI - I finally found the green ones by the pickling spices.

Take the time to marinate the chicken a day ahead. It really makes a difference in the depth of flavor. I served this with wilted spinach cooked with in chicken stock with a little garlic, salt and pepper, and jasmine rice.

2 chickens (2 and a half to 3 pounds each), cut into 8 pieces each
6 large cloves garlic, finely minced
2 tablespoons dried thyme
1 tablespoon ground cumin
1 tablespoon ground ginger
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup red wine vinegar
1/2 cup best-quality olive oil
4 teaspoons green peppercorns (packed in water), drained
1 cup imported black olives
1 and a half cups dried apricots
1 cup dried small figs or large fig fresh figs, cut into pieces
1/4 cup packed brown sugar
1/2 cup Madeira
1 cup large pecan pieces (optional but adds a nice crunch)
Grated zest of 2 lemons

One day before serving, combine the chicken, garlic, thyme, cumin, ginger, salt, vinegar, oil, peppercorns, olives, apricots, and figs in a large bowl.  Marinate covered in the refrigerator overnight.  Remove the bowl from the refrigerator 1 hour before cooking.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit

Arrange  the chicken in a single layer in a large shallow baking pan.  Spoon the marinade mixture evenly over the chicken.  Sprinkle with the sugar and pour the Madeira between the pieces. Cover the pan with aluminium foil and bake for 20 minutes.  Remove the foil and bake, basting frequently with the pan juices, until the juices run clear when a thigh is pierced with a sharp skewer, 40 to 50 minutes.

Using a fork and slotted spoon, transfer the chicken, olives, and dried fruit to a large serving platter. Drizzle with a few large spoonfuls of the pan juices and sprinkle with the pecans.  Sprinkle the lemon zest over all.

Moroccan Chicken

The greatest thing about this recipe is the relatively low hands-on time. This is a great soccer practice night dish and is finished with couscous or rice and a nice salad to make a tasty and quick dinner. It is low in fat and calories but high in protein and fiber - an extra bonus if you are trying to watch your weight.

Notes: Fresh ginger spoils much quicker than I can use it so I often buy a large piece, cut it up into 1" sections and put them in a freezer bag in the freezer. When I need fresh ginger I take out a piece per tablespoon needed, let it defrost slightly, peel it with a peeler and then zest it with a microplane or mince it depending on the recipe. You get all the lovely flavor of fresh ginger but without all the waste.

I buy skin-on chicken breasts, then split and skin them. It's important to have the bone though - it helps to keep the chicken moist. The recipe is not as tasty if you use boneless breasts and dries out too quickly.

2 tablespoons olive oil 
1 spanish onion, chopped
6 cloves garlic, chopped
1 tablespoon minced fresh ginger
(1) 28 oz. can diced tomatoes, with juice
1 cup chicken stock
2 tablespoon fresh parsley, chopped
1 teaspoon paprika
1 teaspoon ground coriander (I prefer to use roasted ground coriander - it has a warmer taste) 
1/2 teaspoon grated lemon rind
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon crushed saffron threads
(6) 4 oz. skinless, bone-in chicken breast
(1) 15 oz. can chickpeas, rinsed and drained
6 dried figs, cut in half or about a cup of fresh figs, cut into pieces
salt and black pepper to taste

Warm oil in Dutch oven or heavy pan over medium heat. Add onion, garlic and ginger and cook for 5 minutes. Stir in tomatoes (with juice), broth, parsley, paprika, coriander, lemon rind, cinnamon and saffron. Add the chicken, placing breast side down in the pan), chickpeas and figs. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Reduce heat to medium-low. Cover and cook for 45 minutes or until the chicken is no longer pink in the center when tested with a sharp knife.