Comfort Food

Bison Stuffed Italian Shells

I was craving meat recently (it doesn’t happen often) and so this recipe happened. This is a Kelly Taylor original, so be ready for approximate measurements.

To begin, heat olive oil, over medium-high heat, in a heavy bottomed pan (such as a dutch oven). Add:

1 1/2 pounds of ground bison

Season with salt and pepper. Sauté until it it has absorbed all of the fat and has browned. Then add:

1/2 a small yellow onion, finely chopped
1 large or 2 small cloves of garlic, minced

Allow to cook for a few minutes, then add:

2 large tablespoons of tomato paste
3/4 cup of white wine

Turn the heat down to medium-low and allow the meat to simmer.

In the meantime, either heat up or cook your favorite marinara sauce. Also, bring a large pot of water to boil and cook a package of jumbo shells for 4 minutes. Do not cook the shells all of the way, otherwise they will overcook in the oven.

Add a couple ladles of marinara sauce to the bison meat. This helps to add more flavor and make it extra moist. Also add:

2 large handfuls of chopped parsley

Stir it all together. It should look like this:

bison-2

Next pour some marinara sauce onto the bottom of a large 13×9 baking dish (just enough to cover the bottom). Then carefully spoon meat into each shell and line the shells up into the prepared baking dish.

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Once each shell is full, top the shells with marinara sauce and sprinkle with Parmesan or Pecorino Romano cheese.

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Bake in a 375 degree oven for 30 minutes, covered, and an additional 5-10 minutes uncovered.

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When done, sprinkle the top with fresh parsley and enjoy!

My basic marinara sauce: 

1 large yellow onion, finely chopped
red pepper flakes
2-3 cloves of garlic, minced
1 6 oz can of tomato paste
1/2 cup of white wine
2 28 oz cans of whole tomatoes, pureed, or frozen tomatoes, also pureed
salt and pepper

Sauté the red pepper flakes and onions until soft, about 8-10 minutes. Season with salt and pepper. Add the garlic and let cook for one minute. Add the tomato paste and wine and let cook for a few minutes. Add the tomatoes and season again with salt and pepper. Let simmer for at least an hour. Do ahead and refrigerate or freeze.

During the summer months, I also add fresh herbs, such as basil. Dried herbs are fine, as well.

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Turkey Bolognese

Fall is here and with it comes cooler temperatures and something that may surprise some of you: I start craving meat. Unlike many people who live for grilled meat during the summer, I could easily live, and be very satisfied, feasting on every fruit and vegetable I can possibly afford to buy at the farmers market. That’s not to say that I turn vegan during the summer, but I certainly can go days without meat and be content (with the exception of seafood when I’m at the Cape). When fall comes, however, I start craving those slow cooked and hearty meals and, though I love vegetables more than most people, I’ll be the first to say that many of my favorite traditional meat dishes cannot be replaced with vegetables. With that said, since I don’t eat beef and rarely eat red meat in general, I find some meats to be too rich and fatty for my taste, these days. Therefore you’ll find that I sometimes replace a traditional beef dish with a leaner meat, such as turkey. My bolognese is the perfect example.

I learned how to make bolognese at a cooking class at Sur la Table. There the instructor used a pound of beef and a pound of pork. Though it is traditional, that combination is far too rich for my taste. I, instead, have found that dark meat turkey works very well. But just because I’m using turkey, don’t think that I skimp on the other traditional fatty parts of this dish. To me, when you make something such as bolognese, you have to either go all the way or not make it at all. This is not a dish that, in my opinion, can be made with low fat milk and white meat turkey. It’s just not the same. Therefore, it is important to use ground turkey thigh and whole milk.

And one note about the turkey. I, unfortunately, can’t easily find ground turkey that’s raised locally. I bought mine at Whole Foods, and I must admit that it was the first time I bought meat from a grocery store in at least a year. But I know that if I can’t find the meat I need locally, Whole Foods is the next best choice (at least in this area).

With that said, this recipe is all about a few ingredients cooked slowly. Each step builds the complexity and richness of the dish. Do not rush this dish! 

bolognese-1

You begin by chopping the following:

1 large yellow onion
1 large carrot

1 stalk of celery

You want to chop them as finely as possible. I have found that the best way to do it is to give them a rough chop with my chef’s knife and then dump them in a food processor and let the blade chop them the rest of the way for me. The proccessor can get them much finer than I can. Just don’t let them turn to mush.

In the meantime, heat olive oil over medium heat in a heavy bottomed pan or dutch oven. Saute the above vegetables until soft and lightly browned, about ten minutes. Season with salt. Then turn up the heat and add:

2 pounds of ground turkey thigh

I have considered trying 1 pound of turkey and 1 pound of ground pork, but the turkey is so wonderful on its own that I have yet to do it. And as I stated above, it is very important to use dark meat. The white meat just doesn’t have enough flavor. Also, you may want to add a little more olive oil with the turkey, if the pan looks dry.

Cook the meat on medium-high heat until it is nicely browned and it has absorbed all of the fat. That’s an important step that you don’t want to skip. Once the fat has been absorbed, add:

2 cups of red wine

This is an Italian recipe, after all. Of course there’s red wine. I often use chianti, but I honestly know very little about wine to know if it’s the best choice or not.

Once again, you must let the meat cook until all of the wine has been absorbed. Also be sure to scrap up all of the brown bits from the bottom of the pan with a wooden spoon. Once the wine has cooked down and the pan is dry again, turn the heat down to medium low and add:

12 ounces (two small cans) of tomato paste
whole milk

Stir the tomato paste into the meat while you add the milk. Add enough milk to completely cover the meat. And now you wait and let the meat absorb the milk. This step will take around 60-90 minutes. Stir every so often and season with salt and pepper towards the end. Be sure to taste. Actually, in my opinion, it is impossible not to. It smells so amazing that I actually have a hard time stopping myself from tasting too much. I’ve been known to eat quite a bit of it right out of the pan. When it’s almost done, it will look like this:

bolognese-2

As for the pasta, I often serve it with rigatoni. The ridges on the rigatoni hold the bolognese well, plus it’s a sturdy pasta. This time around, however, I served it with my current obsession: bucatoni. I must say that it was a delicious choice. Whichever pasta you choose, make sure it can handle a heavy sauce.

Serve with a touch of parmesan or pecorino cheese on top.

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Chicken Pastina Soup

Pastina soup has a long history with my family. It’s baby food, it’s sick day food, it’s I-need-extra-comfort-today-food. My great-grandmother used it, my mom uses it and now I use it. And the absolute key, must-have ingredient for this soup is homemade chicken broth. It is just not the same with the boxed stuff.

There are an endless number of vegetables you can use for this soup, but I like it simple. The broth is so rich and flavorful that I don’t like to overwhelm it with too many ingredients. So below is the most basic recipe I use for this soup.

pastina-1

Begin by heating olive oil in a soup pot over medium heat. Add:

1/2 a large yellow onion, sliced
2 large carrots, sliced
a touch of salt

Cook until the carrots and onions are soft and tender (but not brown), at least ten minutes. If your broth is already plenty salty then be very careful how much salt you put on the onion and carrots. Just enough to bring out the flavor. Next add:

6-8 cups of homemade chicken broth

I say 6-8 cups because it really depends how much soup you want to make and how much broth you want. Sometimes when I’m sick, I want more broth than veggies/pasta or sometimes I want a more even broth to pasta/veggie ratio. Also keep in mind that the broth will cook down a little bit while the pastina boils. And speaking of pastina, next add:

1/4-1/2 cup of pastina (aka Acini di Pepe)

pastina-2

Half a cup doesn’t look like much, but it always cooks up more than I expect it to. Once again, use less pastina if you want mostly broth.

Turn up the heat and bring the pastina to a boil. Once it comes to a boil, turn it down to a simmer and let the pastina cook until tender. Then add:

cooked chicken, pulled off the bone and torn into bite-size pieces
1/4 cup of frozen peas

I use the same chicken that I used to make the broth, so it’s usually dark meat. I vary the amount of chicken I use every time, so add however much you want. (You may have noticed by now that the measurements for this soup really don’t matter. That’s the beauty of this soup. Maybe one day you’re in the mood for more peas than chicken. Or maybe lots of pastina. Switch it up and figure out which proportions are right for your mood.)

Cook for a few more minutes until the chicken and peas are heated through. Taste for seasoning. Serve the soup with crackers, crusty bread, or even a sprinkle of Parmesan or Romano cheese on top. Enjoy!

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Homemade Chicken Broth

I managed to make it from last autumn all the way to late August without a single sign of sickness and then boom! Days after realizing how much unused sick time I had at work, I came down with one nasty little cold. Though I count myself lucky that I made it almost an entire year without any sort of ailments, I still couldn’t help but be annoyed by the sudden appearance of a minor virus. But as luck would have it, I had just made a large pot of chicken broth when this cold appeared, and thank goodness, because no matter how good western medicine is, there’s nothing more comforting than a big bowl of soup.

And while I was enjoying my soup, it came to me that I’m constantly saying on this blog to use homemade broth, yet I have yet to post a single recipe on how to make any sort of broth. So here’s my first: homemade chicken broth. It really is a miracle concoction and so simple to put together. There are so many ways to make it, so I will show many variations as I go.

First, a quick word on the difference between broth and stock. It is my understanding that stock is primarily made with bones, vegetables, and aromatics. It is generally used as a base for a recipe. Broth, on the other hand, is made with meat, as well as bones. It makes a richer product and can stand alone. For this reason, I prefer using meat, as well as bones.

You must start with the right kind of chicken. I only use local chicken, when possible, to make broth. Sometimes I use a whole chicken, if I want a bunch of leftover chicken to add to soups, stews, salads, etc. Or, if I don’t want a lot of chicken leftover, I just use chicken thighs. Chicken wings are another good choice or anything with dark meat. That’s where the rich flavor comes from. Just make sure to select cuts that still have the bones.

Along with the chicken, I also always add the following ingredients:

  • 2-4 carrots
  • 2 celery ribs (plus leaves)
  • 1 whole onion
  • 3-4 cloves of garlic
  • kosher salt (this is not a time to skimp on salt!) and pepper (either whole peppercorns or freshly ground)
  • various fresh herbs, such as parsley, rosemary, thyme, and bay leaves (I use whatever I have on hand.)

That will give you a basic broth. You can also add any of the following. Each item will change the flavor.

  • mushrooms (dried or fresh)
  • leeks

I love adding leeks to broth but seldom have them on hand.

broth-12

Now you simply have to fill the pot with water. I place all the ingredients in first and then add the water. I fill it until it almost reaches the top, but leave room for the water to boil without boiling over. Once the water comes to a boil, turn the heat down so that it continues to simmer. You don’t want it to be at a rapid boil, but you also don’t want it to fall flat. Just a simmer is perfect. I partially cover the pot, so that steam can still escape. (If using a slow cooker, completely cover the pot.) It it starts to cook down too much, you can always add more water. And the longer it cooks, the better it’ll taste. How do you know when it’s done? If you can snap the chicken bones in half, it’s done. I cook mine until the vegetables are mush and the chicken is quite literally falling off the bone.

But of course, usually I’m in and out of my apartment all day, so unless I’m enjoying a lazy day at home, I don’t want to leave a pot on the stove all day. That’s where a slow cooker comes in handy. My slow cooker is small, so it doesn’t make as much broth as my large stock pot, but there’s really nothing better than coming home from work to the smell of chicken broth that’s been simmering all day.

broth done-12

When the broth is done, I pour it through a strainer to remove all of the chicken pieces and vegetables. Often I use the broth as a base to soup, add it to sauces and stews or drink it straight out of a mug. My favorite way to enjoy chicken broth is by making my great-grandmother’s pastina soup, which will be my next post.

Made more broth than you can use in one recipe? It’ll last in the refrigerator for a few days or you can freeze it. Just be sure to leave extra space in the jar/bowl for it to expand in the freezer. And try freezing it in different size containers (even ice cube trays), that way if you ever need just a small amount of broth for a recipe, you don’t have to defrost an entire jar.

Be creative. Don’t think of this as a bread recipe, in which forgetting a single ingredient will ruin the entire thing. Try different vegetables, cuts of meat, and aromatics until you get the broth you want. Or, if you’re like me, just use what you have on hand, and you’ll get a slightly different broth every time.

 

 

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Roasted Tomatoes Part Three: Roasted Tomato Sauce with Peppers, Rigatoni and a Simple Basil Pesto

Ok, so these tomatoes are really only semi-roasted. When making sauces/soups/salsas, I like my roasted tomatoes to still be good and juicy. Still, this tomato recipe is everything I love about summer and tomatoes, all in one big dish.

First, before I get to the recipe, a few notes:

  • I often read recipes that first instruct you to remove the seeds and peel the skin off before using in a sauce. You’ll see that I didn’t do that here. If I was going to roast them for hours, I would probably remove the seeds, but for this sauce, I find it isn’t necessary. I don’t like to waste any part of these precious tomatoes. Of course, this is a personal preference, so certainly remove the seeds and skin, if you wish.
  • As for the pasta, I used rigatoni simply because I happened to have it on hand, and I was in the mood for a good, thick, chewy, white pasta. I think you could use just about any pasta shape, white or whole wheat, long or short (just as long as it can hold the sauce).
  • The pesto described below really isn’t a true pesto. Usually I use almonds and lemon juice when I make pesto, but for this dish, I really just wanted to savor the wonderful basil flavor with the tomatoes. The pesto, therefore, is very simple.

And now, the recipe:

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Begin with 6 large beautiful heirloom plum tomatoes. (For those of you in Ohio, I got mine from Northridge Organic Farm.) Cut them in half and sprinkle with salt, freshly ground pepper, and rosemary. Drizzle with olive oil and spread out on a baking sheet. Toss 3 cloves of garlic on there, as well (peels still on).

Bake at 350 degrees for about 20-25 minutes. They will look like this when they’re done:

tomatoes-9

In the meantime, heat olive oil in the bottom of a heavy bottomed pot. Add:

1/2 a yellow onion, finely chopped
1 large red or green bell pepper, chopped
red pepper flakes

Sprinkle with salt and let them sauté for at least 10 minutes. Then add:

2 large tablespoons of tomato paste
1/4 cup of water or white wine

Once the tomatoes and garlic are done, puree them in a food processor until smooth (don’t forget to remove the garlic peels!), then add them to the pot. Let everything simmer together for at least 20 minutes.

While the sauce simmers, make the pesto by adding the following ingredients to a food processor:

2-3 cups of fresh basil
1 clove of garlic
1/4 cup of Parmesan or Romano cheese
salt and pepper

Pour in olive oil while pureeing the above ingredients until the basil is finely chopped and the pesto can easily be poured out of the container. Pour the pesto into a small bowl and set aside.

To serve, you can either mix the sauce in with your pasta of choice or spoon the sauce on top of the pasta while serving. Top the pasta with some of the pesto and sprinkle it with Romano or parmesan cheese. Enjoy!

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Roasted Tomatoes Part Two: Roasted Tomato and Pepper Soup

I love making tomato soup. It is one of the most nourishing comfort foods that I can think of. I grew up eating tomato soup out of a can, so when I changed my eating habits, I had to find a new way to enjoy my favorite soup. I’ve discovered some good recipes that I use throughout the year, but none of them can compare to this recipe. Unlike my fall/winter recipes that use either canned tomatoes or frozen tomatoes, this one is all about fresh heirloom tomatoes. I roast them first to give them even more flavor, and I also include peppers, which you could easily leave out if you wish.

Start by selecting 4-5 heirloom tomatoes. Any variety is fine. I prefer using different colors. The yellow heirlooms are usually sweeter, and I have found that they add a wonderful flavor to the soup.

tomatoes for soup

 

tomatoes for soup 2

Preheat the oven to 400.

Core the tomatoes and cut them into thick slices and place them in a single layer on a cookie sheet. Also add:

4 small or two large bell peppers, seeded and cut in half (as with the tomatoes, use different colors)
1 jalapeno, seeded and cut in half lengthwise 
2 cloves of garlic, peel on

Drizzle all of the ingredients with olive oil and season with salt and pepper. Roast in the oven for about 20 minutes.

In the meantime, heat olive oil in a large soup pot over medium heat. Add:

4 leeks (white and light green parts only), chopped and rinsed well or 1 large onion, sliced

Season lightly with salt and cook those for at least ten minutes.

Once the tomatoes and peppers have roasted, add them to the pot. Be sure to get all of the juices into the pot and don’t forget to remove the garlic peels! Also add:

4 cups of vegetable broth or water
2 tablespoons of arborio rice 

The rice helps thicken the soup. I like using arborio because I think it gives the soup a creamy texture, but any white rice is fine.

Bring to a boil and let simmer for about twenty minutes. Puree the mixture until smooth and taste for seasoning. If the soup is too thick, add broth or water.

tomato soup

Optional: If you want a creamier soup, stir in a large tablespoon of mascarpone cheese or a touch of cream.

Serve with crusty bread or croutons.

 

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