Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Creamy Tomato Pasta


There are a few lessons I have learned in the kitchen that have helped save a few pennies here and there while still getting something to the table that is tasty and plentiful.  

#1: Always cook with fresh ingredients that are local and in season.  When produce is more pricy it is usually a direct result of shipping costs so just wait until something is available at the local farmers market and you will be able to get a significant amount of food for half the price.
 
#2 Check the pantry before you head to the store.  I know this seems obvious, but during my recent move I found that I have 4 bottles of Worcestershire sauce, 2 containers of cornstarch, 5 bottles of spicy brown mustard, 3 boxes of brown sugar and more duplicates in the spice cabinet than you can even imagine!  More often than not I have half of the ingredients I need but since I get lazy and don't want to run home before heading to the grocery after work I end up with duplicates and spend money I wouldn't have had to spend. 

There are so many way to cut costs while cooking but these are where I will begin.  

With dinner plans set I realized we needed to come up with a menu.  Since I know my friends and I are all trying to stick to a budget, and someone was going to have to get the wine, I thought I would see what I could find that would fit into these two kitchen rules.  

Being summer here in middle Tennessee the tomatoes are abundant and delicious!  I really don't eat fresh tomatoes during the rest of the year since I am so spoiled with the deliciousness that are fresh, homegrown Bradley Tomatoes.  

Anything I can do to incorporate them into my diet is a high priority for me these days. I came across this recipe on Pinterest and after perusing the ingredient list realized that I had most of what I would need and could get the tomatoes from the local produce tent (aka my happy place) and then pop in the grocery for the other couple ingredients I would need!  

Creamy Tomato Pasta

for the tomato sauce -
2 pounds fresh tomatoes (about 6 medium)
1 small onion, finely diced
1-2 tablespoons red wine
1 tablespoon sugar
Dash of salt
3 garlic cloves minced
1/4 cup minced fresh basil
olive oil
  
for the alfredo sauce -
(if you want to lighten it up, halve the alfredo and keep the tomato sauce the same)
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
2 1/2 teaspoons flour
3/4 cup  half & half
1/4 cup skim milk
2 garlic cloves peeled and crushed
1 cup grated parmesan cheese
1 pound farfalle or other short cut pasta

Bring a large pot of water to boil for the pasta.  Start the tomato sauce. Bring a large pot of water to boil. Score the bottom of the tomatoes, blanch in the boiling water for about a minute, cool and peel.  Note: If you have never done this before rest assured that the peels will simply fall of the tomatoes once they have been blanched!
    
Discard skins. Roughly chop tomatoes and set aside.  In a saucepan, sweat the minced onion and garlic in about a tablespoon of olive oil over medium low heat for about 5 minutes, until soft.  

Add the tomatoes to the onion and garlic. 

Blend the sauce with an immersion blender. 
 
Cook about 15 minutes until thickened.  
Add the sugar, salt and wine and let simmer until ready to combine with the alfredo sauce.  
 
While the tomato sauce thickens, add the pasta to the boiling water and cook according to the package directions (I cooked it for a few minutes less because I like for the pasta to sit in the sauce at the end so I don't want to overcook the pasta).  While the pasta and tomato sauce are cooking, make the alfredo sauce. Melt the butter in a saucepan over medium heat. whisk in the flour until smooth and cook about 2 minutes, until brown (it didn't take mine that long so keep an eye on it so you don't burn your roux).  
  
Whisk in the milk, half & half, and garlic and season with salt and pepper. 
  
Continuously whisking, bring to a simmer and cook about 2 minutes until thickened. 
Fish out the garlic with a slotted spoon and discard.  Whisk in the parmesan. 

Pour the alfredo sauce in with the tomato sauce.  

Add the basil to the tomato/alfredo sauce.

Using a slotted spoon transfer the pasta to the sauce mixture.  

Stir to make sure all the pasta is well coated.  
Allow the pasta to simmer for a few minutes in the sauce.  
Garnish with fresh basil and parmesan cheese....SCRUMPTIOUS!!!!!!
 
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Sunday, June 24, 2012

Empanadas Mendocinas

There are so many people who I love spending time with in the kitchen.  My Dad and I always enjoy trying new recipes while Mom acts as our sous chef.  My time spent with my grandmother in her self-proclaimed "one ass kitchen" was absolutely priceless and the lessons I learned simply following Anne Clayton around the grocery store and watching everything she did was invaluable, but the most fun I have ever had in a kitchen is when I am cooking with my friend, Michael.

Michael is one of those people who finds adventure in getting lost, excitement in trying new things, no matter how scary they may seem to others, and a person who truly embodies what it means to love what you do and do what you love.  He has a gentle spirit and kind heart and no matter where you find him he will be there with a smile on his face.  His style of cooking could not be more different from mine and that is part of what I love about cooking with Michael.  He uses his hands when I would use a wooden spoon, he throws in ingredients when I am a little bit more conservative, he tries new things with an insatiable curiosity and goes all in without fear of failure.

The only reason I haven't posted about any of Michael's meals in the past is because how does one truly document chaos?  Alas, it is not that random but this time we at least started with a recipe which is where I will lead you all...

It was decided recently that we would cook empanads when Michael's wife, and my dear friend, Amber, came home from a trip to Mendoza, Argentina and raved about the amazing empanadas she had at her beck and call during her stay.  With her description of these regional favorites and Michael's desire to always try something new we were well on our way to make a batch of our own....here is our grand attempt!

Empanadas Mendocinas

1 lb well marbled stewing beef, such as sirloin tip or triangle (try-tip)
Coarse salt and freshly ground black pepper
10 tablespoons (1 1/4 sticks) unsalted butter
1/4 cup high quality lard
3 medium onions, quartered and very thinly sliced
1 tablespoon crushed red pepper flakes
1 tablespoon cumin
1 tablespoon pimenton dulce (sweet Spanish smoked paprika)
4 scallions, minced, white and green parts kept separate
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1/4 cup fresh oregano leaves, coarsely chopped

Trim and discard any gristle from the meat, but leave the fat.  With a sharp knife, chop the meat in 1/8-inch pieces.  Transfer the meat to a bowl and season with salt and pepper.  Melt 6 tablespoons of butter and 1 tablespoon of the lard in a large skillet over medium-low heat.  Add the onions and sauté until they are translucent, about 8 minutes; do not allow them to brown.

Add the red pepper flakes, cumin, pimento, and the white part of the scallions and sauté for 2 minutes more.
  
Turn off the heat and stir in the scallion greens.  Season to taste with salt and black pepper.
 
Heat the olive oil in a large skillet over high heat.  Brown the meat in batches, and spread the browned meat out on a tray, so it doesn't steam.
 
When all the meat is browned, combine in a bowl with the onion mixture, the remaining 2 tablespoons lard, and the oregano.

Adjust the seasoning, cover with plastic wrap and chill until firm.  (The filling can be made up to 1 day ahead).
For the dough:
2 cups water
1 1/2 tablespoon salt
3 1/2 tablespoons high quality lard, cut into pieces
6 to 7 cups all-purpose flour

Bring the water to a boil over high heat.  Add the lard and stir until it melts, then transfer to a large wide bowl.  Allow to cool to room temperature.  Using your hand, gradually add 5 1/2 to 6 cups of flour, 1 cup at a time, until you can gather the dough into a ball.  Sprinkle 1/2 cup of flour onto a work surface to prevent sticking and knead the dough, adding more flour until it will not absorb any more, you want a stiff, dry dough.   Divide the dough in half, shape into discs and cover in plastic wrap.  Chill for at least an hour or up to 24 hours.
 
To assemble and cook the empanadas, cut one piece of dough in half, keep the other half covered with plastic until ready to use.

With a rolling pin, roll the dough out on a floured work surface into a rectangle about 8 by 22 inches and 1/8 inch thick or less, or roll through a pasta machine, starting on the widest setting and decreasing settings as you continue until the dough strips are 1/8 inch thick or less.  On the floured surface, using a biscuit cutter or a water glass, cur the dough into 3 1/2 inch; you should be able to cut 6 circles.  Transfer the circles to a floured baking sheet and cover with plastic wrap.  Repeat with the remaining dough.

To assemble the empanadas the traditional way, lay a circle of dough in the palm of your hand.  Place a heaping tablespoon of filing onto one half of the circle, leaving a 1/3-inch border, topping with a pat of butter.

With your finger or a pastry brush moisten the edges of the dough with water, then fold the dough over the filing in a half-moon shape and pinch the edges together, forming pleats to seal the dough.
   
Transfer to one of the oiled baking sheets.  Repeat with the remaining dough circles and filings.  Bake for 15 to 17 minutes until lightly browned.  Serve immediately.
 
Here are some of our pictures from the evening..........
 
Such a fun treat!
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