Kale Pasta

On a quest to find cheap and healthy food, I ransacked the HEB and came away with a 98 cent bush of kale about 3 times the size of my head. It was a great find, but since leafy greens don’t do so well in my fridge, I knew I’d have to eat them fast. I did some experimenting, and this was one of my favorite recipes that came of it.

kale

I sorted the prep vegetables according to how cooked I wanted them to be.

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First, I sauteed the onion in olive oil, over medium heat until they started getting translucent. After that, I tossed in the rest, sauteing for a few minutes before adding the sauce. Together, I let it simmer on med-low for about 30 minutes (feel free to do it as long as you’re willing, just make sure it doesn’t dry out).

 

While that was going, I made bacon sprinkles. If you want to keep this recipe Vegan, skip that. It’s totally option and I did it on a whim, anyway, so not much will be lost if you skip it. Only bacon, which you don’t really care about anyway.

 

Bacon sprinkles are just tiny strips of bacon fried until they’re crispy. I’ve used them in a handful of dishes so far and I’ve found them to be a nice way to add a little bit of salty/crunchy to your food. Since they keep well, you can even cook up half a pack or so and just keep them in the fridge for whenever you need some on your pasta, fried rice, or grits.

 

As the pasta was nearing completion, I tossed the kale into the sauce. I waited till the end because I wanted it to still be crisp and fresh tasting. The diversity of texture alone is worth it, and if you’re down for an experiment, I recommend just adding some fresh. Also, if you’re a cheesy kind of person, I’d recommend a hard Spanish cheese for this. I tried it with some idiazabal and it worked really well.

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Here’s my attempt at a printer friendly recipe card:

Kale Pasta

Bacon sprinkles and cheese (optional)

1 med white onion

1 jalapeno

1 red bell pepper

4 cloves garlic (I eat it in everything, you might not want as much)

24 oz pasta sauce

whatever spices you like in pasta sauce: salt/pepper/garlic/oregano/etc

3 giant kale leaves

noodles

1. Make bacon sprinkles. Drain and set aside.

1 if you don’t want meat. Chop veggies, keep onion separate.

2. Warm a sauce pot with olive oil to medium. Saute onions for about 5 minutes.

3. Add jalapeno, bell pepper, and garlic and saute for about a minute.

4. Add sauce and stir. Lower the temperature to med-low, but keep an eye on it just in case.

5. Start boiling pasta water (waiting to do it until now is a great way to time the sauce and also gives you time to clean up some if you don’t want to save it all till you’re done) and cook the pasta as per the recommended instructions.

6. With about a minute left on the pasta, add the kale to the sauce.

7. Everything’s all a flurry now! Strain the pasta! Add a little olive oil so it doesn’t stick! Stir the sauce some more!

8. Serve. Top with bacon sprinkles and/or delicious Spanish cheese, as you desire.

Seafood Lasagna

So apparently lasagna is one of those foods I really like because I tend to make it a lot. Every time it’s a little bit different, based on the whims of the day and the one I made most recently was a seafood lasagna. Seafood lasagna is another one of those dishes that reminds me of France because my host mom used to get some really good lasagna from the fisherie(?) on a fairly regular basis. This one was a bit too bright and not as diversely occupied as Sophie’s guy’s, but it’s still pretty nice.

Structurally, it was very similar to every other lasagna I’ve ever made, the only special thing was how I treated the tilapia. But I’ll go over everything just because I like you so much.

Tilapia Ingredients:
1 tsp lemon zest (about 1 lemon’s worth)
1/2 tsp thyme
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp pepper
2 tilapia filets
olive oil
juice of 1 lemon (how convenient!)
1/2 cup heavy whipping cream

Start by combining the zest, thyme, salt, and pepper in a bowl then take roughly half of it and coat both sides of the tilapia filets. In a oiled skilled heated on medium-high, cook the tilapia for about two minutes on each side.

They won’t be cooked, but don’t freak out. You’re going to bake them so it’ll be ok.

Once that’s over with, remove the tilapia and lover the heat to medium. Add the remaining spices and lemon juice, then stir it all around and mingle with the fish juices. Next add the whipping cream and cook for about 2 minutes until slightly thick.

While the sauce was reducing, I chunked/shredded the tilapia. When the sauce was ready, I tossed the tilapia in and took it off the heat. And that’s it for the tilapia.

Lasagna ingredients:
Tilapia and sauce (as prepared above)
About 3/4 lb cooked shrimp
Lasagna pasta sheets
1 jar Pasta sauce (I used 24 oz black olive and capers since lemon and capers are such good friends)
7 oz ricotta
~3 cups mozzarella
2-3 handfuls parmesan

Keep in mind to preheat the oven to 375, then feel free to get on your layering.

I started with a layer of pasta, using 4 sheets.
Then ricotta with parmesan sprinkled on.
More pasta sheets.
The tilapia and sauce, topped with a good amount of mozzarella.
Even more pasta sheets.
All the shrimp, a little less than half the sauce, and more mozzarella.
The penultimate layer: pasta.
And finally, top it off with the last of the sauce and however much cheese you want.

Then cover and bake for 35-40 minutes and enjoy!

The lemon comes through well, but isn’t overpowering and mingled with the sauces nicely. And even though it may seem strange to combine seafood and cheese, it totally works in lasagna. I’ve tried it a fair number of times, with a variety of sauces–even pesto–and it always works.

I ate mine with a side of asparagus, also something that turned out to be one of my favorite things.

Stuffed Pork Chops

This is another idea inspired by something my mom said last time I was in town. It’s really simple and it’s a new way to handle pork chops.

Besides the normal seasonings (salt, pepper, and olive oil) all you need is:

Pork chops
And the white thing next to it, I don’t know the official name. I’ll call them mozzarella roll-ups. Basically imagine a sheet of mozzarella with prosciutto and basil layered on before rolling it all up together. In other words, super tasty. A lot of grocery stores carry them in the deli section, but if you can’t find any, you could easily replicate it with the three ingredients just being together.

Start by slicing the mozzarella.

And you should probably just eat the end pieces because they’re the best part and they’re funny shaped anyway.

After that, butterfly the pork chop. The technique is pretty simple and I’ve talked about it in another article. Then put the mozzarella inside.

Now it’s time to get ready to bake. I lined my pan with foil so that it’d be easier to clean, but it’s not necessary. I also but a little olive oil on the pan and on the pork chops themselves. Then I salted and peppered both sides.

I chose to bake these, but you could easily cook them on the stove. To bake it, I cooked it at 375 for 16 minutes then checked on it. They needed a few more minutes after that, so I’d say it took about 22 minutes total.

And to complete the meal, I paired the chops with baked asparagus.

They were super tasty and made me happy. I can also vouch for they’re skills as leftovers as I brought some to work the next day and it was still awesome.

Three cheese and basil risotto

I had risotto for the first time a few weeks ago and ever since I’ve wanted to make my own. It’ simple in idea, but seemed daunting because of it’s mystery to me. And for once, I only made enough for two people! (It’s always a good idea to make a text batch of something you’re not familiar with.)

Here’s what I used:

1/2 cup arborio rice
2 1/2 cups chicken broth
A couple basil leaves
Some Parmesan (I’d say about half a cup)
Some Ementaler (I’d say a little more than a quarter cup)
A little blue cheese (about two tablespoons)
1 tbs white vinegar (to imitate the white wine flavor in the dish I first tried)
Black pepper to taste

First, I sliced the basil into strips and put it in a saucepan with the broth and a little pepper. I brought it to a boil over medium heat in order to let the broth soak up the basil flavor, but also without having a lot of the water boil away. Once it started boiling, I reduced the temperature to low and let it sit for 8 minutes.

While that was going I sliced the cheese.

I sliced it because my grater is currently out of commission. The point is, you want it to be small enough to melt quickly, so slice or grate it as you like.

When the broth’s about 2 minutes from done, start frying the rice on medium.

I’m not saying deep fry it or anything, just get a pan with some oil and there you go. This is where I added the vinegar. I didn’t want it to be too pronounced, so I added it early so that some of it would boil off. This would also be a good place to add some garlic or onions, if that’s your kind of thing. And FYI, from this point on, you’re going to be stirring constantly.

Let that cook for about 2 minutes, then add 2 ladle’s full of broth and a little bit of cheese.

When all the broth’s absorbed, add some more! Remember to keep stirring the whole time and keep repeating this until there’s no more broth. Do a taste test to make sure they’re not too al-dente, then turn off the heat and serve!

Puff Pastry Calzone

I a lot of my cooking is dictated by what I need to use in my fridge. I’ll buy something thinking I’ll go on some fantastical culinary adventure, then that falls through or I get sidetracked, and then I end up having to find something to do with it. It’s not very hard, but it happens all the time. And this was one of those occasions.

I had some leftover andouille and puff pastry. Something had to be done.

What I had at my disposal was:
16 oz heavy whipping cream
2 links andouille
2 packages of preshredded italian blend cheese

Now don’t give me too much crap for that one, I was cooking at a friends house who is renowned for being eternally broke and therefore has very little to work with. The irony is that he graduated from culinary school.

Anywhoo, I started by reducing the cream on a medium heat. (Or medium high, I might have been impatient.) There’s not really a difference, except that the hotter it is, the faster it reduces. But you have to stir a lot more often because it might burn on you.

While that’s going, get to cutting the sausage and prepping the puff pastry.

In this case, “prepping” = unfold, assuming it’s defrosted enough. If not, just wait some more.

And when the cream is reduced to about half it’s original volume, start adding the cheese.

Do it handful by handful until it comes out ridiculously stretchy.

Then spread on the sauce,

the sausage and cheese,

and fold it all over.

Then bake it at around 425 until it’s done (I checked on it after 8 minutes (I’m very impatient) and it still needed some time, a little less than 15 minutes total).

The gash in the top is ugly, yes, but it Did serve a purpose. You need some sort of ventilation so that it doesn’t explode in your oven and look even worse. But there are prettier ways of going about this. A nic little \\\ three slices on the top would look super nice. It’s just too bad I thought of it now instead of then.

Pesto without a recipe

For a long time, watching my mom cook, I was always baffled. Any time I’d ask her something about measurements, she’d say something enigmatic like “do what looks right,” or just simply “enough.” And that was pretty frustrating, until I started playing with food the grown-up way. I am not a baker at heart; I am much too imprecise. But that doesn’t mean I can’t show people how to make something. Last night I made pesto for the first time and it was very simple. You only need a few ingredients and either a food processor or a blender.

Basil
Olive Oil
Parmesan
Nuts

I used walnuts, but I think tradition says to use pine nuts. I’ve also had it with pecans and it was super tasty. So basically, feel free to use what you have in the pantry. And as far as the parmesan goes, I wouldn’t recommend buying shredded cheese (because in all shredded cheeses they have to add chemical stuff to prevent caking, and that’s just not my style), but you don’t have to shred it; I just cubed mine.

Basically, put in half your basil and a little bit of each of the ingredients, then blend and taste. That way you know that nothing will be too over powering and you have ingredients enough to perfect it. If you like the way it tastes, add the rest of the basil and the same amount of the other ingredients. It’s not hard to figure out, despite it’s intimidating nature. You want it to end up smooth and completely blended, so it might take a while before it’s perfect.

And pesto is super great; there are tons of delicious things you can do with it. If you want to stay simple, just throw it on some pasta instead of the more used alfredo or tomato sauce. It’s great as a dip with chips or pita bread, or a spread on sandwiches. It’s also pretty dang healthy. I made mine into a creamy pesto that’s going to be paired with some mushrooms sauteed in white wine in a fillo dough pocket. But that’s yet to be made and therefore yet to be photographed, but expect it soon!

Upgraded Pasta Sauce

Sorry it’s been a while, this is the last week of school and lots of projects and finals are happening, so bear with me, things’ll be picking up very soon.

This is kind of a repeat idea–how to make store bought pasta sauce better–but it’s different ingredients from my last one.

For this one, I used:
A big jar of pasta sauce (or two, you’ll see why later)
A box/bag of spinach
A block of fontina
Tube of sage sausage
Pasta (I used whole wheat penne)

Mine came out really thick and meaty because I used the whole pound of sausage to only one jar of sauce. If you want it to be more like a sauce, I’d recommend using only a half pound of sausage.

And as far as prep goes, all you have to do is cube or shred the cheese and wash the spinach. Super easy!

I started off by wilting some spinach in a ward skillet with some olive oil.

Basically, all you need to do is pour in about a tablespoon of olive oil, heat the skillet at a medium heat, and drop in the spinach. You may have to flip/stir it every once in a while, but it’s very low maintenance.

While that was going, I cooked the sausage and got the pasta boiling on a back burner. The only part about that you have to watch out for is to make sure it’s in a big enough pan to fit the sauce as well. (Unless you want extra dishes, of course.)

When the sausage was done, I added the sauce and spinach–it happened to be done by that time too.

After that, I just stirred to combine. When I felt that the sauce had warmed up enough (a little hotter than eating temperature) I threw in the cheese.

Stir until it melts, and then you’re done. If the pasta hasn’t finished yet, I’d say turn off the heat and put a lid on it–that way it retains heat without losing moisture.

Dressing up Spaghetti

This is something really easy you can do for one of those nights where you don’t know what you want, but you know what you don’t want. It’s a simple twist on spaghetti and pasta sauce that turns out really yummy.

Here’s what you need:

A bag of salad shrimp
A big jar of your favorite pasta sauce (mine is 26 oz)
Grated asiago or just regular parmesan, if that’s how you roll
Spaghetti

Salad shrimp are normal shrimp, just much smaller. They also tend to come cooked, peeled, and deveined, which are all huge plusses. And because they’re so little, a lot of times they’re cheaper than normal shrimp. But in all honesty, any kind would work just fine.

First start by boiling your water and cooking the pasta. Unless you’re like me, that won’t be hard.

And while that’s going, throw the sauce in a different pan, add the shrimp, and warm them up together on a medium-high heat.

This would be a good time to add any spices that you might like. Chili powder would be good if you want a little heat, or some fresh herbs could be good depending on what sauce you chose.

When the sauce is warm (and the shrimp are defrosted), add the cheese. I added .15 lb (because that’s how much was in the container I bought) but you can be as liberal or as conservative as you like with this part.

Then just stir it in until it melts and turn down the heat to low to med-low. By this time the pasta should be done. Don’t worry about abandoning the sauce while you drain the pasta, it will be ok.

Then just serve however you like.

To make it prettier, you could garnish it with a little more cheese or whatever herbs you used while cooking.

Like I said, this is a really simple way to make plain old pasta a little better.

Manicotti

So this is a super tasty Italian dish. Basically imagine giant penne pasta filled with a delicious cheese mix and covered in your tomato sauce. Yum. And another thing that’s neat is that vegetarians can have it (as long as you don’t pick a meat sauce).

All you need is:
A box of manicotti shells (mine had 14 inside)
30-32 oz container of ricotta cheese
1 jar of sauce (mine was 26 oz)
1 package of mozzarella (8 oz is fine)
1 package of a stronger tasting cheese, like parmesan, asiago, or romano (they generally come in 6 oz for some reason)

And all of this cost around $10, so it’s a pretty cheap meal to make for a couple people, or to have delicious left-overs.

First you start by boiling the noodles.

Just follow the instructions on the box. It should take about 7 minutes.

And while that’s going, mix the cheeses. Just combine all the ricotta, about a cup and a half of mozzarella and about 3/4 cup romano. Now would also be a good time to preheat the oven to 375 degrees.

When the pasta’s done, make sure you set them down either separate from one another, or with olive oil so that they don’t stick together. And I found that it’s better to pull them out of the water with tongs than it is to try to drain the pot. You’re less likely to break them that way.

Now for filling the pasta, you have a couple of options. I happened to have a piping bag laying around, so that’s what I used.

But if you don’t have one, you can use a plastic bag. Just put all the cheese in a big zip-top bag and cut off a corner. Voila, it’s a pastry bag that you don’t have to clean up afterward.

Before placing them in a pan, pour out about half of your sauce.

Then place them in whatever pattern pleases you. It doesn’t matter if they touch, just try to make them fit. I used a 9 x 13 pan and I still had to make a 2nd tier, so don’t worry; it’s very forgiving.

I had a little cheese mix left over, so I mixed it with the rest of the pasta sauce then poured it over the whole thing. After smoothing it out with a spoon, I covered the top with the some of the leftover mozzarella and romano.

Then cover the top with foil and bake for about 35 minutes, until it’s bubbly and delicious.

One thing I forgot to mention (and to do myself) was the fact that you can add things to the cheese mixture if you’re feeling adventurous. The cheese is salty, so I’ll leave it up to you if you want to add any, but I would definitely recommend a little pepper and whatever herbs you like. Also, you could throw in some roasted veggies or leftover chicken. Have fun with it.

Make your own Macaroni and Cheese!

(Or you can use a different pasta…)

It all starts with a cream based sauce.

For this one, we used gruyere and sharp cheddar. I would highly recommend using a sharper cheddar, if you are a cheddar fan, because there is less oil when you melt it, which makes the look (and taste) better.

But before you start the sauce, boil your pasta.

And it helps if you proportion it correctly. We had too much pasta, so instead of combining the pasta and sauce at the end in one big batch, we had to put the sauce on each plate.