May 4, 2009

Red Onion Pasta with Easy Seared Porkchop in Photos

Posted in Misc. Main Dishes, Pasta: stovetop tagged , , at 10:17 pm by jenniec00ks

So this is really Giada’s Spaghetti with Sauteed Onions and Marjoram, but I felt Red Onion Pasta was a much more descriptive name.  I think this is a particularly light and quick cooking dinner – perfect for any weeknight.  So let’s hop to it!

redonionpasta-001Really these five ingredients are all you need to make a delicious vegetarian dinner for two – and not even really all of them.

1.  1 red onion (~1lb) -I bought an organic red onion because it was also the smallest I could find at a little over 1 pound!

2. 8 oz. tub of reduced-fat crumbled feta cheese -you’ll only need half the tub of feta cheese, and you can get any kind that floats your boat (I’ve seen garlic/herb, tomato/basil, full or low-fat varieties) – I chose the cheapest in the store that day.

3. meyer lemon olive oil -I happen to have meyer lemon olive oil since splurged on it at Central Market, but you can easily use lemon zest and a delicious extra-virgin olive oil (EVOO).

4. vermicelli – thinner than spaghetti, fatter than angel hair, but you can use any kind of long pasta you want.  Vermicelli takes about 5 minutes in boiling water to be al dente.

5. fresh marjoram – you can sub in fresh oregano (they’re related).  I really wouldn’t skip out on the fresh herb this time though, it’s a pretty essential flavor since there are so few ingredients – plus I’ll have another recipe another tomorrow that uses up the marjoram and feta cheese.

Since I needed my protein, I added a seared boneless pork sirloin chop with some simple spices I had on hand: salt, pepper, garlic powder, dried thyme, and a few crushed red pepper flakes.  But that comes last. As usual, get the water on to boil for the pasta while you prep the lemon oil and slice the onion.  Zest a small lemon (or 1/2 a large one) and add it to ~2 tablespoons of EVOO.  When the water’s boiling, get the long pasta in and give it a swirl for ~30 seconds so that everyone gets submerged and no one sticks.

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Then cut the top and bottom of the onion, cut it in half, and peel the outer papery layers away.  Here’s my onion chopping photo sequence, but you only need the first four photos.  Then I cut the onion in half and made thin slices (quarter-inch, ish?) while I heated up another couple tablespoons of EVOO in my usual saucepan over medium heat.

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I know it looks like a lot of onion, but it’s really what beefs up the flavor of the dish.  After the pan’s been heating for 3-4 minutes, get all the onions in.  Give them a toss every few minutes so that the onions can really soften and begin to carmelize (they’ll be almost sweet with a light golden color).  This is how mine progressed:

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I find this takes about 10 minutes.  If your pasta finishes while your onions are still cooking, drain them of most the water (keep a few tablespoons in to loosen the pasta later).  After your onions are soft, toss in the marjoram or oregano – I would say you need about 1.5 teaspoons chopped.

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Stir in the fresh herbs for about a minute, the aroma in your kitchen should blossom right about now.  Here’s where you want to add some salt and pepper to your taste.  Then get about half of that feta cheese container into the pan along with the pasta and leftover starchy cooking water.  Turn the heat down to low and let the flavors mingle for a few minutes before killing the heat.

The Red Onion Pasta Finalé!

The Red Onion Pasta Finalé!

Get the pasta into a serving bowl & cover it with foil if you want to sear a porkchop or two to go with it.  Like I mentioned earlier, I took a 1″ thick boneless pork sirloin chop and cut in half as evenly as possible to make two 1/2″ thick porkchops.  Thinner porkchops will take less time to cook through – so you can get a nice sear on the outside while still fully cooking the cutlet.  I seasoned them with S&P, garlic powder, and dried thyme.  I added a little more oil to the pan over medium-high heat and added a few crushed red pepper flakes to spice up the oil a touch.  Then I put the cutlets in the pan side by side, 2-3 minutes on each side.  To get a nice sear, don’t touch the chops after you’ve put them in the pan, unless you’re ready to flip.  Flip only once, and then only budge them again to take them out the pan.  Technically they should be cooked to 160 degrees fahrenheit, but just make sure the juices run clear and there’s just a hint of pink when cut through.

Beautifully seared with just a touch of spice!

Beautifully seared with just a touch of spice!

My dinner - it could be yours too!

My dinner - it could be yours too!

Y’all enjoy now!

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April 13, 2009

Mashed Potato Stuffed Chicken Breasts in Photos

Posted in Misc. Main Dishes tagged , at 8:00 pm by jenniec00ks

I found this recipe for Mashed Potato Stuffed Chicken Breasts in the February 2008 edition of Rachael Ray’s magazine, Everyday with Rachael Ray. I believe the credited author, Silvana Nardone, is her editor. I’ve done it a touch differently here and added a side dish of ricotta-garlic mashed potatoes – because it’s much more economical to buy a 5 or 10 lb. bag of potatoes than 1 lb. out of the bulk bin. I’ll write the full recipe in a pretty PDF you can print soon.

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Let’s start with the potatoes – I really only ever use the Red and Russet varieties because they are common and therefore inexpensive. The Red ones are great, and my #1 choice, because the skin is so thin you can eat it in every preparation (read: no peeling required!) The Russet potato is only good for baking and those long cooking recipes that need a potato to hold it’s shape. I had about half of a 5lb bag of Russet Idaho potatoes left over from making beef stew this past weekend (that’s another entry), but feel free to use any amount you have on hand – it’ll just determine how much side dish you’ll get. First I peeled & washed the 7 potatoes, cut off any dark black spots, then began to cut them into ~1″ pieces. The smaller you chop, the faster they’ll cook – and we’re going to mash these up anyway so might as well save some time!

mashedpotchkn-008I toss the chopped potatoes in a pot, covered them with about an inch of water, cranked the heat under it, and gave ’em a stir every few minutes to ensure even cooking. If you’re slow at cutting up the potatoes, keep the ones you’re not using in water so that they don’t discolor. Once the water came to a boil, it took about 5 minutes to get fork-tender. If you’re not sure they’re done, just pull a piece and pierce it with a fork – it should go through fairly easily (hence the “fork-tender”). For reference, I used a 6 qt. stockpot and it was about half full.

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Next up, the garlic to be sautéed in butter for the garlic-ricotta mashed potatoes. About six medium cloves, diced up as fine as you can handle biting into. **By the way, these potatoes will definitely have a bite to them, if they sound too pungent for you, use the roasted garlic suggestion I make later. I melted 3 pats of butter (~1.5 tbsp?) in my frying pan over medium-low heat and tossed the garlic in for a few minutes until they were wonderfully fragrant. By the time I took the garlic off the heat, the potatoes were ready to be drained.

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mashedpotchkn-016I used a colander to strain the potatoes, then tossed them into a bowl suitable for my stainless steel masher (I’m pretty sure I can’t use metal utensils on that stockpot because of the non-stick finish; you probably shouldn’t either). A stainless steel pot/bowl or a glass bowl should work fine.  Add about 1/3 cup of milk, another tbsp of butter.  Oh, also salt and pepper to taste – then it’s time to mash away.  There’s no real rule after that – mash a little if you like it chunky, msah it a lot and a little more milk if you like it creamy.  When you’re pleased with the texture, scoop out about 1 cup into a separate bowl to be stuffed in the chicken breasts.

mashedpotchkn-0171Then I used a microplane (a fine grater) to zest a lemon and mixed it into the mashed potatoes (the zest is only the thin yellow layer, if you get any white pith it’ll be bitter).  You can pick up any kind of fine grater at your favorite kitchen store for between $10-$15.  It’s a pretty good investment, even for the casual cook – good for zesting lemons/limes/oranges, cheeses (think parmesan toppings and emmental fondues), fresh nutmeg and even garlic when you don’t want to bite into chunks of it.

Alright – time to load up the chicken and get it in the oven.  Preheat the oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit.  Rules to remember: make sure you keep raw meat away from everything else, wash your hands after handling it, and always wash your chicken!!!

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We start by separating the skin on two bone-in skin-on chicken breasts (~1 lb each).  You can trim off any excess fat if you’d like as well.

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Stuff the lemon mashed potatoes under the skin as evenly as possible.  I pretty much coat the top of the chicken breast – even if the skin doesn’t cover it all the way.

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Then I dress up the skin with dried thyme, salt/pepper, and garlic powder.

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Finally, I rub the seasonings in with about a tablespoon of olive oil per breast.  Also, if you want your side dish to have a mellow garlic flavor, here’s where you can toss some garlic cloves (whole, still in their paper) with some olive oil and roast them on a separate baking sheet/piece of foil.  I’d recommend 5-7 cloves for the amount of potatoes I did, depending on how much you ❤ garlic.  When the oven’s preheated, put the chicken in the oven for 40 minutes (the garlic cloves only 30 for the cloves, or until soft to the touch).

mashedpotchkn-019Time to finish up the side dish.  If you’re going the roasted garlic route: when they’re cool enough to handle, you should be able to squeeze them out of their paper casing and mash them with a fork.  Anyway, garlic and about a 1/2 cup of ricotta cheese get mixed well into the poatoes and you’re done.  I used ricotta because I had recently made a Ricotta-Spinach pasta; whatever cheese you like and have on hand will do!  Be creative!  The chicken juices should run clear and the skin will be fantastically golden brown after 40 minutes in the oven.  Make sure you drizzle any delicious juices left on the pan over the chicken when serving.

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Just what you've been waiting for!