Nom and Glug

Artichoke, Spinach, And Cheese Stuffed Shells With Spicy Tomato Sauce

Artichoke and Spinach Stuffed Shells-5

Stuffed shells get a bad rap. Long sentenced to the frozen section of your local grocer, limp, unsatisfying manicotti has come to be the flagbearer for stuffed shells, and that, my friends, is a tragedy. When made right (ahem, like this recipe) they can be flavor-filled and fantastic. And they don't have to be bad for you -- substitute part-skim mozzarella and low-fat cream cheese for a lighter take on this recipe. I did and it was delicious.

Artichoke and Spinach Stuffed Shells-1

Spicy Tomato Sauce
1 tsp dried oregano
1/4 C pepperoncini peppers
28-oz crushed tomatoes
8 oz tomato paste

The first star of this recipe is the red sauce, a simple tomato base that gets a little kick from pepperoncini peppers. Chop up the peppers and mix them in with the tomatoes and oregano. Cook the sauce over medium heat for about ten minutes to thicken it up a bit and let the flavors meld. Then you can place it to the side until later. In fact, you could easily multiply this recipe and jar some of the extra sauce for another pasta. I'm kicking myself for not doing just that.

Artichoke and Spinach Stuffed Shells-3

Artichoke And Spinach Stuffed Shells
28 jumbo shells
1 C mozzarella cheese
1 C feta cheese
1/2 C cream cheese
8 oz artichoke hearts
5 oz frozen chopped spinach (1/2 package)
2 garlic cloves

Next comes the shell filling. Mix the feta, two-thirds of the mozz, cream cheese, chopped artichoke hearts, and garlic cloves. Cook the frozen spinach and squeeze it dry before tossing it in with everything else. Boom, easy as that you have your filling.

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Using a spoon, fill the shells one by one. Place them in a glass casserole dish until there's no more room. Then rearrange the shells and find room for a few more -- the more packed in they are the more you get to eat, so it's worth playing some pasta shell tetris.Artichoke and Spinach Stuffed Shells-5

Once they're all nestled in, pour the red sauce over the top and sprinkle the whole shebang with the rest of the mozz. If no one is looking, grab a little extra mozzarella from the fridge and add it to the top of the shells.Artichoke and Spinach Stuffed Shells-7

Pop the dish in the oven at 375 for 30 minutes. The sauce will get to bubbling, the pasta will cook, and the cheese will melt. And you'll have a great dish with some zip that will restore your faith in stuffed shells for years to come. Artichoke and Spinach Stuffed Shells-8 Artichoke and Spinach Stuffed Shells-10 Artichoke and Spinach Stuffed Shells-9

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Japanese James

Japanese James-4It's been a hot minute since there's been a cocktail on this here page, and it's high time that changed. Recently a friend gave me a bottle of plum wine -- a Japanese drink known as umeshu that, according to my pal Wikipedia, is made by steeping smallish green plums in shochu. It's a sweet, tasty drink that resembles a dessert wine, and I wanted to make something fun with it.

There aren't too many plum wine cocktails out there, but I found a good one that pairs the sweet umeshu with whiskey and some 7-Up that really hit the spot. It's usually made with Jack Daniels and called a Japanese Jack, but all I had in the liquor cabinet was Jameson, so it's more of a Japanese-Irish beverage: Japanese James.

Japanese James
2 oz plum wine (umeshu)
1.5 oz Jameson Irish whiskey
4 oz 7-Up

Serve on the rocks. Refreshing and delicious. Perfect for anyone who likes a sweetness to their sips.

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Roast Chicken With Winter Root Vegetables

Roast Chicken with Root Vegetables-9 Confession time: I have never roasted a full chicken. Also, I visit my local farmers market far less frequently than I should. This past weekend, I addressed both of those points, in fine fashion. A huge bag of root vegetables for $4? Yes please, and thank you.

Armed with a bag of turnips, parsnips, diakons, rutabagas, beets, potatoes, and carrots, I decided to celebrate the onset of spring with a good old fashioned wintertime meal of roast chicken and root vegetables.

Roast Chicken with Root Vegetables-1I won't bother with a recipe list for the veggies, since it's pretty much choose your own adventure there. Feel free to take out any of those vegetables if you have a particular aversion to them, since it won't mess with cooking time.

And there's Problem Number One: Root vegetables cook at different speeds, and I had no idea how to chop them. So I turned to the ever helpful Cooks Illustrated for some guidance on cutting the roots to cook evenly. And it delivered. Carrots, turnips, and daikon in sticks! Parsnips, rutabagas, beets, and potatoes in chunks! I kept the potatoes a bit bigger because they cook quickly.

Roast Chicken with Root Vegetables-2 Roast Chicken with Root Vegetables-3Here's where the magic happens. Garlic sage butter. Yep. Not necessarily the healthiest component of the meal, but essential for the chicken and extremely tasty with the vegetables.

Roast Chicken with Garlic Sage Butter
1 oven-ready chicken
1 Tbsp fresh sage
3 Tbsp butter
1 garlic clove

As mentioned earlier, this was my first time roasting a whole chicken, so I went ahead and got a bird that was ready to go. No need to stack the odds against myself.

Roast Chicken with Root Vegetables-4Start by making the garlic sage butter. Chop the sage finely and mince or press the garlic. Warm the butter a bit (15 seconds in the microwave should be fine) and then mash it all together with a fork.

Place the vegetables in a roasting pan, making a space in the middle for the chicken. Put the bird on top. As evidenced by the photos, I had far too many veggies to put in one pan, so I used two baking sheets plus the small roasting pan. Keep in mind that the vegetables with the chicken will cook more slowly, so you should keep an eye on the baking sheet veggies to make sure they don't burn.

To prep the bird, take one tablespoon of the mixed butter and work it in between the chicken skin and the meat. This might take a little finesse -- and your hands won't stay clean -- but it's worth the effort. Once that's done, take another tablespoon of the butter and spread it on the outside of the chicken.

Roast Chicken with Root Vegetables-5Take the rest of the butter and dot the veggies with it. The stuff is so good I ended up doubling it and using it on all of the root vegetables I roasted.

Preheat your oven to 400 and, when it's ready to go, pop everything in the oven. Let it cook for 15 minutes, and then turn the heat down to 375. Keep an eye on everything, because cooking time will vary a little bit based on the size of your bird and the thickness of your vegetable cuts. I cooked the plain veggie trays for another 40 minutes. As for the roasting pan, I let that go for an hour after the original 15 minutes, until the bird's internal temperature reached 165. Then I took the chicken out and returned the roasting pan (and its vegetables) to the oven to cook for another 10 minutes, since the chicken juices slowed them down.

Roast Chicken with Root Vegetables-6 Roast Chicken with Root Vegetables-7 Roast Chicken with Root Vegetables-8 Roast Chicken with Root Vegetables-10 Aside from the chopping, it's really not too much work. And the end product is tough to beat. Warm, hearty, delicious -- the perfect meal to close out the winter and welcome spring.

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Thyme-Rubbed Pork Chop With Pesto

I'll admit it off the bat here -- I cheated. I used pre-made pesto for this recipe. Like, out-of-a-jar pesto. I know, I know. But this is not a fancy recipe. This is a tastes like fancy but actually doesn't take very long so you can actually cook it on a weeknight recipe. We all need those, don't we? This is that. Let's get to it.

Thyme-Rubbed Pork Chop with Pesto
1 small bunch thyme
1 garlic clove

1/4 tsp black pepper

1 lemon
olive oil
2 pork chops

This recipe is largely from Jamie Oliver's first cookbook (I added some fresh pepper) and it's really great. And did I mention it's easy? In a mortar and pestle, take a small bunch of fresh thyme, a minced clove of garlic, and some fresh pepper, and grind them together. Mix that paste with some lemon zest and a tablespoon of olive oil, and rub it the mixture on both sides of both pork chops. 

Rub the oil and thyme mixture on both sides of both pork chops, and let them sit for about 15 minutes. Once they've sat, throw them on the grill (or on a stovetop pan) and cook them until they get golden brown on the outside and you can't look at them without salivating. Top with as much pesto as you want, and consume with glee. See? I told you it was easy.

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Fried Egg In Onion Rings

Putting eggs in/on things! It's practically an American pastime. It's definitely one of my pastimes. That's why when I saw a photo of an egg cooked inside an onion ring, I knew I had to do it. It's easy, it looks awesome, and oh by the way it tastes incredible -- like one of the easiest and best-tasting breakfasts I've made in a really long time.

Fried Eggs In Onion Rings
1 large onion
2 eggs
2 pieces of toast
1/4 C mozzarella cheese
dash of chives
your favorite spices
olive oil

Start by slicing an onion in half crosswise. Cut a slice about 1/2 an inch thick, and remove the two outer rings to use as your egg rings.

Oil a pan, put the onion rings down in the center, and turn the heat on high. Crack an egg into each of the onions and let it cook. Once the bottom of the egg is starting to solidify, use a spatula to occasionally loosen the edges so that the egg won't stick when you go to flip it. After about a minute or so, flip the egg and onion.
Once you've flipped the eggs, sprinkle the mozzarella cheese on top, letting it melt as the rest of the egg cooks. Dust with some of your favorite seasoning -- I like Tony Cachere's Creole Seasoning or the more excitingly-named Slap Ya Mama.

When the eggs are done, take them off heat and put them each on a piece of toast. Top with a bit of fresh chive, for color and a little extra bite. Look at how yummy and delicious this looks, then taste how yummy and delicious it tastes. You done good.

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Tomato, Basil, And Mozzarella Pasta

Around my family, this dish is simply known as The Pasta. We ate it so frequently when I was growing up it didn't need any other name. And with fresh, homegrown tomatoes and basil, it really can't be topped.

Tomato, Basil, and Mozzarella Pasta
1 lb plum tomatoes
12 oz mozzarella cheese
1/2 C fresh basil
6 Tbsp olive oil
2 Tbsp balsamic vinegar
2 large garlic cloves, minced
1/4 tsp red pepper flakes
12 oz rotini pasta (or penne if you can't find rotini)
salt and pepper

The recipe works best with plum tomatoes, although any tomatoes will do in a pinch. Cut the tomatoes in half and scoop out the seeds. Then cut them into smaller pieces -- quarters or sixths work best.

Next, cut the mozzarella into approximately 1/2 inch cubes. Slice the basil into thin strips. Toss the tomatoes, cheese, and basil in a non-metal bowl and mix with the oil, vinegar, garlic, and red pepper. Feel free to add a touch more red pepper flakes if you things hot. Add a dash of salt and pepper, and mix everything thoroughly. Let everything stand at room temperature for half an hour.

When things have had time to marinate, cook the pasta. When it's done, strain and return the noodles to the pot. Add the cheese/tomato/basil mixture to the noodles and return the pot to low heat for around two minutes, so the cheese melts nicely. Eat, preferably outside with a beautiful view.

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Kale Avocado Slaw With Chicken

Kale Avocado Slaw With Chicken
2 bunches kale
1/2 white cabbage
2 avocados
2 Tbsp lemon juice
1 tsp Dijon mustard
2 Tbsp balsamic vinegar
1/4 C almond slices, toasted
2 chicken breasts

I'm not going to lie, I'm not the biggest fan of raw kale. I like it cooked, sure -- like in Andre 3000's sauteed kale recipe or in these awesome kale quesadillas -- but the uncooked stuff usually tastes harsh and bitter to me. Until I met this recipe, from Skinny Scoop, that is. The kale is tempered with a good splash of citrus and cooled off with delicious avocado, and it makes an awesome and healthy side dish. Add some chicken, and it's a whole meal.

Start with half of a white cabbage and two healthy bunches of kale. De-stem the kale and chop it into relatively small pieces. Do the same with the cabbage and toss the two together in a big bowl.

Next, cut up two avocados into small pieces and toss them in with the kale and cabbage.

Here comes the fun part. Use your clean hands to mush everything together, massaging the avocados into the leaves until they're coated with delicious avocado goodness. No other binding agent needed!

Now that you have your base, it's time to put a little crunch and some protein in. Toast 1/4 C of almond slices (about 10 minutes on a baking sheet at 350) and toss them in. While the almonds are toasting, cook up two chicken breasts, chop them, and throw them in as well.The last step is a light dressing to go on top of it all, to give the flavors a little more depth. Almost any balsamic-based dressing would do the trick here, I think. I went with the original recipe's recommendation of mustard, lemon juice, mustard, and balsamic vinegar. You can add a touch of honey to the dressing if you're feeling indulgent.

This slaw is straight-up delicious. Go make it.

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Toasted Pecan Pie

Lots of people make pumpkin pie for Thanksgiving. Lots of people make apple pie for Thanksgiving. Weirdos make mincemeat pie for Thanksgiving. But for as long as I can remember, my favorite Thanksgiving pie has been pecan pie. It has come to my attention that there are a lot of people who have never even had pecan pie. For shame. Pecan pie is the king or all pies. In fact, it's the entire royal court of all pies. Go make this now, bring it to Thanksgiving, and rest easy knowing that you've made the world a better place.

Toasted Pecan Pie
1 C brown sugar
2/3 C dark corn syrup
1 Tbsp bourbon
4 Tbsp unsalted butter
3 eggs
1/4 C cream or half and half
1/4 tsp salt
2 C pecans

Pie crust (pre-made if you like, or I like Serious Eats' Easy Pie Crust if you're looking for a from-scratch recipe)

In a saucepan, heat the brown sugar, corn syrup, bourbon, and butter until the mixture boils. Be sure to stir constantly so the sugar doesn't burn on the bottom of the pan. That would be the worst. Once the whole shebang is boiling, take it off heat and let it cool off for a bit. While that is cooling, whisk the three eggs. Once the sugar/syrup is lukewarm, stir in the whisked eggs, salt, and cream.

Take a step back and just look at how awesome that looks.

OK, now the important part. Take your pecans and spread them out on a baking sheet. Preheat your oven to 350, and pop the sheet in the oven for 5-7 minutes. Keep an eye on them so they don't get burnt! When they smell delicious and aromatic, pull the nuts out. Let them cool for a couple minutes. Then, reserve about 40 of the best looking pecans. Take the rest and chop them coarsely -- I like to keep it on the way coarse side, but it's really personal preference.

Pour the pecans (minus the 40 you're saving) into the unbaked pie crust. Then top the nuts with the sugar/cream mixture. Here's the tricky part, but the part that makes the pie look awesome. Take the 40 whole pecans and use them to line the circumference of the pie, carefully placing the pecans into the mixture without pressing down. If you want to get fancy (you do) make a small X in the middle of the pie with four pecans. If you have any leftover pecans after lining the top, eat them. Problem solved! No leftovers!

Bake at 350 for 45-50 minutes, until the filling sets up and a toothpick stuck in the center of the pie comes out clean. Let the pie cool on a wire rack and serve either warm or chilled. Boom. You are a certified Thanksgiving hero.

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Ferran Adria’s Catalan-Style Turkey Leg

A while back I found myself with the dregs of a bottle of dry sherry sitting around, and I decided to search out a recipe that called for a few splashes of the stuff. Luckily I stumbled across this awesome recipe in Ferran Adria's The Family Meal cookbook. The original recipe calls for vino rancio -- a Catalan fortified oxidized wine -- but the elBulli chef notes that you can easily substitute dry sherry. I did just that and was off to the races making a fancified version of the carnival turkey leg. It takes a good bit of time -- total cook time is over 2 hours, if you abide by the rules -- but it's a great meal for a day when you've got the time to hang out in the kitchen.

Ferran Adria's Catalan-Style Turkey Leg (for 2)
2 turkey drumsticks
1/4 cup raisins
3 Tbsp prunes
6 Tbsp dry sherry
1 red onion
1/3 C chopped tomatoes
2 Tbsp pine nuts
1 C water
splash olive oil

Start by putting the raisins and prunes in a small bowl with the dry sherry. Let them soak for 12 hours, if you have time for that. More likely, you forgot to start this recipe 12 hours before you wanted to eat it, so you might only have an hour or two. That's fine, too -- it just means the fruit will absorb a little less of the sherry.

When you're ready to start cooking, season the turkey legs with salt and pepper and cook them in a pan with olive oil over medium heat for around 10 minutes, until the legs are nicely browned. Once they've started to brown up, add in the onions, and cook everything for another ten minutes, stirring frequently, until the onions start to caramelize a bit.

Next, add the sherry (holding the fruit for later) to the pan. When most of the sherry has cooked off, add the tomatoes and cook everything for another 5 minutes or so. Then pour in the cup of water, reduce heat, and let everything simmer for half an hour.

After that, add the fruit to the pan, cover everything and cook for another 45 minutes or so. If you don't have that kind of time, I'm pretty sure everything would taste nearly as good in less time -- the extra cooking time just lets the sauce thicken up nicely and the turkey will get really tender and moist.

When the turkey is done, serve it covered with sauce and sprinkle pine nuts on top. You can toast the pine nuts for a little extra flavor, as well. Awesome, impressive, scrumptious.

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Baked Potato Pizza Flatbreads

Inspired by a local pizza joint that makes an awesome baked potato pizza, I recently set out to bake a twist of my own. I wanted something loaded with potatoes and topped with the good stuff -- something that tasted even better than a baked potato, which can be chalky or bland. The result was these baked potato pizza flatbreads, or as I like to call them, slices of baked potato heaven.

Baked Potato Pizza Flatbreads
3 small potatoes
2 Tbsp butter
1/4 tsp garlic powder
1 Tbsp rosemary
1/3 C sour cream
1/3 C ranch dressing
6 pieces bacon
2 scallions
1 1/2 C mozarella cheese
1/2 C cheddar cheese
2 small flatbreads

Start by -- you guessed it -- baking your potatoes. It's easy enough to do in the oven. Just scrub the spuds clean, poke them a few times with a fork, and put them on a baking sheet in the oven at 450 for about 50-55 minutes. Take them out and let them cool.

While the potatoes are cooling, fry up your bacon however you like to do it. Microwave, stovetop, oven, doesn't matter. Bacon is bacon no matter how you prepare it, so it's tough to mess it up.

Once the potatoes are cool enough to handle, cut them in quarters and scrape the meat off the skin. Combine the yummy potato bits with the butter, garlic powder, and rosemary. Chop half the bacon and one of the scallions and toss those in as well.

Next, mix up the sour cream and ranch dressing and spread that mixture on the flatbreads. I went with store-bought flatbreads because they looked tasty and I wasn't trying to get elbow-deep in flour. Feel free to use low-fat sour cream and light dressing, too -- it'll taste just as good and save a few calories that you'd rather use for cheese and bacon anyway.

Once you've spread the sauce, top the flatbread pizzas with the potato mixture, and then smother the whole things with cheese.

Bake the flatbreads in the oven for 7-10 minutes at 450, until the cheese is deliciously melted. Then top with the remaining bacon and scallion, and devour. Out of this world.

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