Chicken Penne Fra Diavolo

Fra diavolo is loosely translated as “brother devil,” or devilish brother pasta, and it’s not a traditional Italy manner of serving pasta dishes. It’s something American-Italians made up from what I gather.

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All skillet pasta dishes like this one are very easy to assemble and plate using pre-grilled chicken, pre-made sauce, pre-cooked pasta from the fridge *, and prepped veg.

But, if you don’t have time to prep the night before, or the morning of, you can still make this dish on the fly when you get home in under an hour (assuming you’re giving the chicken 30 mins on the counter to come up to temp for more even cooking).

Boil the pasta water while the oven heats up, and start slicing up the vegetables. Roast the pillared or butterflied chicken in the middle of a sheet pan surrounded by vegetables coated in oil and red pepper flakes (this deepens the heat of the flakes and spices up the veg) at 400 degrees for 10-12 mins. Salt the boiling water well, and drop the pasta in. In a small sauce pot, heat up the sauce or med-high heat.

Flip the chicken at the halfway point of roasting. Heat up a big skillet and get it hot enough to add oil to it. Cook the pasta to almost al dente. The pasta finishes it cook in a sauce pan with the veg + sauce over a high heat. Pull the sheet pan out when the chicken reads 165 degrees with a thermometer.

Let the chicken rest off the sheet pan up to ten minutes before slicing. When the sauce and pasta are finished, add 2 tbsp of oil to the heated skillet and add the roasted veg to soften a bit more, followed by the pasta for a minute or two. Add some pasta sauce, and heat the whole dish through. Add a bit of the pasta water to thicken up the sauce in the last minute of cooking.

Plate the pasta into a bowl plate and top with slices of the chicken, some chopped green onions, and a smattering of a grated parm. If too many red pepper flakes were used, use pinch of toasted breadcrumbs can be snowcap the pasta to sop up a bit of the stinging.

Chicken Penne Fra Diavolo:
2C dry Penne noodles
6C heavily Salted boiling water
2 large seasoned Chicken Breasts, butterflied or pillard
1 1/2C Pasta Sauce of choice (I used a jar sauce since I was pressed for time)
4C large cuts of Red & Orange Peppers + Broccoli florets
Neutral Oil
A pinch Red Pepper Flakes (to taste)
1 -2 Green Onions (finely chop stems only)

This will make enough to serve 4 hungry people comfortably.

Topping Ideas: Can be fresh cracked black pepper (a smidge – you will already have spicy veg and flakes in the dish) and fresh shavings of parmesan or any other cheese of you choosing, and a small sprinkling of breadcrumbs to compliment the sting of the red pepper flakes.

* Often I will cook a pot of pasta the night before as I cook another meal that night, and lay the noodles out across a plate or a sheet pan in a thin layer to rapid cool it all down before storing it in an airtight container in the fridge. That pasta will get dropped in a pot of slightly salted boiling water for up to a minute to heat through before transferring it to another cooking vessel like a skillet or a casserole dish. It really does speed meals up.

Bowtie Ballsagna

Bowtie Ballsagna:

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2-3 C bowtie noodles
2-3 C fresh spinach
3 C homemade pasta sauce + 12oz of tomato puree
24-36 mini meatballs
6-8 fresh Thai basil leaves
2 C ricotta cheese with S&P to taste
2 C grated mozzarella and parmesan cheeses
2 C toasted breadcrumbs (optional)

Layering from the bottom up:
Thin coating of pasta sauce (no meatballs)
Cooked bowtie pasta noodles
Pasta sauce with meatballs
Wilted spinach (in a thin covering)
Ricotta cheese
Cooked bowtie pasta noodles
Pasta sauce with meatballs
Wilted spinach (in a thin covering)
Ricotta cheese
Pasta sauce (no meatballs)
Mix of grated parmesan and mozzarella cheeses
Breadcrumbs (toasted, and optional)

Start by cooking your bowtie noodles in water that’s been generously salted. In a large non-stick pan, start wilting down the spinach with a small pinch of salt and a teaspoon of oil (your choice); set aside to cool when it’s all cooked down.

As you cook the pasta and wilt the spinach, reheat your prepared or jarred pasta sauce in a deep sauce pot. To this, add your freshly cooked (if you had time to make any, of course) or frozen meatballs, the tomato puree, some freshly picked and cleaned Thai hot basil (if using dry leaves, half the called for amount; whole or chiffonade) and freshly cracked black pepper. Let that cook long enough to heat the meatballs all the way through.

Note: If you don’t have fresh or dried out Thai hot basil leaves, fresh sweet basil will be fine in the sauce. We like a bit of zing in our lasagna sauce, so that’s why I grow Thai hot basil in my garden.

Scoop out a bit of the pasta sauce to spread all over the bottom of your lasagna pan thinly. Scoop out a few more spoonfuls of the pasta sauce and set aside (this is for the topping). When your pasta is done cooking, drain it well. Layer more or less than half of the cooked pasta over the sauce in the lasagna dish. (Only use enough to cover the sauce, otherwise this lasagna will become very bulky.) Over the pasta, place a generous amount of sauce with half of the meatballs to cover the pasta noodles, but not much more.

Over the sauce and meatballs layer, lay half of your wilted spinach all over and top that with a few blobs of ricotta cheese; (I use a medium size offset spatula to) spread the ricotta over the spinach in an almost opaque layer. Top the ricotta with the second half of your pasta noodles and top them with the last of the sauce and meatballs. Top those with the last of the wilted spinach, and then top the spinach with the last few blobs of ricotta spread out and the reserved pasta sauce before finishing the lasagna with your two grated cheeses (and toasted breadcrumbs if you like).

Auntie Stacey’s Gingerbread-Espresso Snowflakes

Ginger-Espresso Christmas Cookies

Ginger-Espresso Snowflakes

I used this gingerbread cookie recipe as the base of my cookies, and then tweaked the overall flavouring by adding 2 tbsp of fine ground coffee beans for texture. You can see the flecks the grinds create in the final baked cookie form, and you can feel the grinds as you chew them. This flavour addition lends a lovely sophisticated update on the old, somewhat tired gingerbread theme.

The other changes I made were shape (mine are gingerbread snowflakes, not gingerbread men) and icing colour (I used blue icing for a smashing pop of colour against the dark cookie base). I love this look.

Picture courtesy of Glorious Treat's blog - gingerbread cookies

Inspirational picture courtesy of Glorious Treat’s blog – gingerbread cookies

I mean, LOOK at how fabulous this colour combination is. I won’t lie, Glory’s iced cookie version utterly seduced me. When I saw that, no other colour compared!

Gingerbread-Espresso Snowflakes:
1/2 C Unsalted Butter, room temp
3/4 C Brown Sugar
1 Large Egg, room temp
1/3 C Fancy Molasses
2 /2 C All Purpose Flour (unbleached is fine)
2 tea Ground Ginger
1 1/2 tea Ground Cinnamon
1/2 tea Salt
1/2 tea Baking Soda
1 tbsp Instant Espresso Powder
1 1/2 tbsp Coffee Grinds, Fine (not used – yuck!)

In your mixer, blend the butter and sugar together till it’s pale in colour and fluffy in texture (about 5 mins).

In a medium size mixing bowl, add the flour, ginger, cinnamon, salt, and baking soda. Whisk well to combine all of these ingredients. Set near the running mixer.

On the mixer’s slowest speed, add the egg and the molasses. Blend that in a bit before adding in your dry ingredient mixture slowly one cup at a time. When the dry ingredients have been incorporated into the dough finally, add the espresso powder and coffee grinds. Quickly run the mixer enough to blend them through out the dough batch before turning the dough out of the bowl to portion it out into four balls for chilling.

I used a pair of thick chopsticks that are about 3/8″ in diameter to flank each ball of dough between two sheets of wax paper as I rolled it out flat into a circle or square. I then placed all four flattened out dough balls on a tray and let them rest in my refrigerator or about 1 hour before cutting them up into shapes.

After an hour, I pre-heated my oven to 350 degrees (I have a convection oven so I have to set mine at 375 because the oven drops the temperature down by 25 degrees automatically), and poured a bit of flour into a bowl to dip my cookie cutter into between cuts.

I made as many snowflake cookies as I could fit on my baking pans with at least 1″ around each cookie and when the oven was ready, I baked two pans at one go on the middle rack for 8 minutes. I continued cutting out more snowflakes to line my next two pans as the first batch baked up and cooled down. I continued to repeat this until all four balls of dough were baked up into cookies.

I left the cookies to cool completely for about two hours and then started my decorating process. You can use whatever icing you like, but I happen to have been pressed for time so I cheated by melting some baking chocolate waffers in a small Ziplock baggy in my microwave (about three 30 second times for a handful of waffers). As the chocolate started to harden while decorating the cookies, I would melt it some more in the microwave at 15 second intervals.

NOTE: This is a great cookie dough to make up to 1 to 3 months in advance of your Christmas bake-a-thon. Wrap the dough up as a disk in plastic film, and then again in tin foil, before storing it in the freezer. It shouldn’t take more than 15 minutes sitting on the counter for the dough to come up to temperature so you can work with it when you’re ready to get your Christmas bake on.

 

Auntie Stacey’s Moussaka

moussaka-4Today it’s raining, so today is a great day for us to get real about, of all things, Moussaka.

Moo-saka, as most would say, or Moo-ss-ah-kah, as the Greek people pronounce it, is comfort food at its simplest, finest, and tastiest. This is a casserole dish my husband will unabashedly ask for a third helping of. It is that good. Oh, yes it is.

Traditionally this classic casserole is made with eggplant, but since only one of us likes eggplant, I have taken to making substitutions for him. I love him that much. Oh, yes I do. My version swaps out the eggplant for strips of zucchini and roasted red peppers.

I have been in Greek restaurants in a few parts of Canada that serve this dish with thicker generous layers, and whipped potatoes on top, but I don’t feel any of that’s right. This is a peasant’s dish, therefore it should be kept it as simple and bare bones as possible, and layered with Bechamel sauce up on top just like the Greek peasants did it when it was first invented. This is a great dish for the Spring/Summer time when you don’t want to eat a lot but you do want to eat well. This will do the trick. Every time.

Give this one a whirl, and if you are from different regions near Greece, feel free to add something that is familiar to you in place of the eggplant and let me know how that turns out. Here is the basic recipe I use.

Auntie Stacey’s Moussaka:
2 Zucchinis – sliced lengthwise 1/4″ thick
Salt – sprinkle over both sides of the zucchini slices, set aside for 10 minutes
Black Pepper – freshly cracked
10 oz Roasted Red Peppers – sop up excess brine with paper towels

1 Tbsp Oil
3 Cloves Garlic – minced (or whole if you only want to flavour the oil)
1/2 Yellow Onion, chopped finely
1/2 Lbs Ground Lamb (or veal, beef, or pork , or a combination of a few)
8 oz Tomato Puree
1/4 C White Wine
1/2 Tea Dry Basil
1 Tea Oregano
Small Bay Leaf
S&P – roughly 1/2 Tea each

2 Tbsp Butter
2 Tbsp Flour
1/2 C Milk
S&P – small pinches
1/4 Tea Nutmeg – grated (optional)

1/4 C Cheese – grated (I used Parmesan)
1/8 C Breadcrumbs

Preheat oven to 500 degrees while heating up a large skillet. When the skillet is hot enough, add 1 Tbsp of oil to warm up. Add the garlic to the pan (I drop the cloves in and heat them up for about a minute or so to flavour the oil, then I discard them), and after a minute I add the chopped onion. Cook the onion until they are translucent and smell fragrant.

Add the meat to the pan and start to break it up into small grinds while tilling it over in the pan for about 5 minutes. Wash and dry the zucchini at this point and start slicing it up lengthwise into one quarter inch pieces. The idea is to have them cover the whole bottom of the baking dish in the assembly stage of this casserole.

When the meat is browned all over, add the tomato puree and white wine. Stir to incorporate it all with the meat before adding the seasonings. Cook another two minutes and remove from the heat, discard the bay leaf, and let it rest while broiling the zucchini slices.

Wide Zuke StripsPlace the slices on a lined baking sheet and broil each side of the slices about 3-5 minutes. Set them aside once wilted and browned enough to cook a bit while bringing the oven down to 350 degrees.Bechamel SauceIn a small sauce pan, heat up the milk and butter to start the Bechamel sauce. Once the butter is melted completely, add the flour and seasonings and stir constantly until it comes together in a thick white sauce. Remove from the heat immediately at this point to rest a minute or two while assembling the layers casserole like so:

Layer 1: Zucchini slices
Layer 2: Roasted Red peppers
Layer 3: Meat mixture
Layer 4: Bechamel sauce
Layer 5: Breadcrumbs
Layer 6: Parmesan cheese – ground or very fine grate

Bottom Two Layers Meat Sauce Middle Layer Bechamel Middle Layer Top Two LayersMoussaka-3aOnce assembled, bake for 30 minutes uncovered. Let it rest 5 minutes before serving with a lovely side salad and small hunks of bread with some heated up oil on the side. Or let it cool down as much as it will in a holding time of no more than 30 minutes before storing it the freezer for the future.

Finito[ This two container batch is for my MIL who is 87, a diabetic, never eaten Greek food in her life, and is suspicious of anything she’s never heard of before hence labelling them as Greek lasagnas. It’s a close cousin of Italian lasagna, but without the pasta layers. ]

Note: I often grind meat in my food processor or Magic Bullet if I have a great piece of meat already on hand at home to use up, or I cannot find any good already ground meat I’m after at the grocery store. I cut the meat of choice up into 1 inch cubes, and I process them in a few small batches.grindingmeat

Don’t forget your children in cars!

baby-in-a-car-seatPUBLIC SERVICE POST

This is an extreme topic that needs to be discussed because every year we hear about at least one, if not up to a few dozen cases, where a parent who doesn’t normally have their baby in the car as they go to work and needed to be dropped out at a daycare ends up forgetting that child in the backseat as, typically, the temperatures soar. You can imagine what the outcome is. It’s all so sad.

Here is a fantastic thread discussion from Coffee With Julie with some some suggestions for parents tasked with driving with their babies in their car. BTW, if you think this only happens to parents on sweltering hot days, you’re sadly mistaken. It happens all the time – we just don’t hear about it unless the cops and blistering heat is involved, or the child dies.

Read this post, and I ask that you all pass it along to other parents. This is so very important. As a non-mom, I take this seriously enough to talk to all of you about this situation. And if we’re all discussing it enough, we’re bound to find a way to help prevent it from continuing to happen as commutes to work to get more and more distracting, and we try to multitask on the ride in to get a jump on the day’s workload using our smart phones, or as we drift away in a daydream as we drive in autopilot mode and the child is sound asleep. Out of sight, out of mind.

I hate to stat it that way, but I have forgotten valuable stuff in cars and on city buses as I tune the world out, deep in thought, and barely realise I’m about to miss my stop so I jump up and take off, never giving much thought to what I had in my hands, or didn’t, until it was way too late. I once left my full coffee travel mug on the counter at the convenience store beside my old apartment building on the way to work one morning, and hilariously and fortunately, it was sitting exactly where I left it when I ran into the store at 10:30 pm in a panic when that realisation hit me after a long and busy day. The clerk didn’t bother to move it for other customers. He knew I’d come back, but not when. (He was such a kind soul. I really miss not seeing him every day since we moved away.)

Auntie Stacey’s PMS Cookies

2014-06-11 19.34.21 These are the cookies I like when I’m in the throes of PMS every few months of so. It’s an easy cookie to put together in very little time (which is good because I tend to lose my patience when all of this goes down), and the taste is just what I need. Lots of peanut butter, matched by just as much chocolate, and some rolled oats to make me feel better about eating somewhat junky cookies to get me though it all.

This cookie is based off the classic 3-Ingredient Peanut Butter Cookie recipes. Enjoy.

Auntie Stacey’s PMS Cookies:
3/4 C Peanut Butter (smooth of chunky — your choice)
1/2 C Sugar
1 Egg, large and at room temperature
1 C Oats, old fashioned, not quick
3/4 C Chocolate Chips (dark are the best)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Mix all of the above but the chocolate chips well, then gently fold them in at the very end. Using an ice cream scooper, drop balls on parchment paper with 2″ around each one.

Bake the balls for ten minutes before using a potato masher to flatten them down to about 3/4″ thick, wiping the bottom of the masher off as you go, and place them back in to bake for another six minutes.

Let the cookies cool for 15 minutes before you gently move them off the sheets to cool on racks. These are soft cookies, so they will bend, droop and break up if you don’t wait.

Store in a cookie jar for up to 5 days. (Trust me, they won’t last longer than that.)

Yields: 12 single scoop sized, 24 half scoop sized, and 6 jumbo two scoop sized.

Chocolate Pasta

ChocoPasta-1This is for Olivia, whom I started to tell this story to at work but we got busy and, as always, I forget I even started the story or where I left off, and it never got told or finished. Sorry about that. So, here it is. Because you didn’t seem to believe me.

About a year ago, I stumbled over a pin for chocolate pasta over at Pinterest, and I was immediately struck with curiosity. I HAD to try this at home. It was a strong compulsion. I really, REALLY wanted to make this. And I was so SURE we would fall in love with it. I mean, how could we not?!

ChocolatePasta-DoughMaking-2 ChocolatePasta-DoughMakingI know this looks like I’m making a chocolate cake, but I’m really not. It’s the funniest thing to look at and know I have to convince people this really is a thing, and people do make this, and it starts out looking like a baking project. 🙂 ChocolatePasta-Dough2 ChocolatePasta-RestingSo after making this just like any other yellow egg pasta dough, I let it rest before I start cutting it up into noodles and then eventually boiling it hot salty water. All very straight forward, all very normal so far. ChocoPasta-Strands ChocoPasta-Drying ChocoPasta-Dry ChocoPasta-Cooking And the final product… ChocoPasta-CookedIt was very pretty like this, and it cooked up nicely, but no matter what I paired it with or topped it with, it wasn’t for us. The husband asked me never to make this for him again. Period. End of story. 😀

Auntie Stacey’s Tabbouleh

tabbouleh[ Click to embiggen ]

Tabbouleh is a great salad for the summer months when the heat is intense and the stove is ignored in our house. I really love eating it at room temperature, too. I’m weird like that. It makes a wonderful addition to salad bars, so keep this in mind for your next brunch. It’ll be a lovely unexpected surprise for your vegetarian guests. We all get stumped when planning meals for those who have specific eating habits, right? It’s all ok because tabbouleh is here to save the day, and your dinner parties!

Years ago I worked with a chef named Sami. Sami is from Lebanon. Sami’s mother taught him how to cook as a little boy. Many of the recipes she taught him he still uses today at work and at home. He used to make the best tabbouleh I have ever eaten, so one day I begged him to teach me the ways of his magical salad. Surprisingly, he was happy to pass it along to me, imparting some great home cooking philosophy along the way.

Here is a version of his mother’s tabbouleh based on my calculations and ingredient choices. He never gave me increments, just suggestions and steps. His feeling is that tabbouleh should be a free flowing salad that has some basics for structure but lots of freedom for using the freshest ingredients you can get your hands on, so feel free to look at this recipe as I do – as a guideline.

Auntie Stacey’s Tabbouleh:
1/2 C Bulgar
1 C Water, boiled
1 Tea Salt

1/2 Yellow Onion, medium sized, chopped to small dice
1 C Water, very hot
1 C Water, very cold

2 Tomatoes, medium Hot House (or 1 C chopped Grape Tomatoes)
1/4 C Herb of choice, fresh, washed and chopped up, packed down *

1/2 Tea Pepper, fresh cracked
1-2 Tea Lemon or Lime Juice, freshly squeezed
1/4 C Olive Oil

* Note: I have made this salad over the years using the following herbs: parsley (flat or curly – doesn’t much matter except for presentation aesthetics), mint (lovey when in season and the herb Sami liked to add a sprinkling of along with the parsley when it was in season), and cilantro (I love cilantro so I tend to use this a lot). This will be the first year I’m growing sorrel, and with its lemony tinged taste, I will be trying that in this salad as soon as I can, so I’ll report back at a later date about how well it worked, or didn’t.

Place the bulgar and salt (mixed up) into the boiling water for 30 minutes to cook. In the meantime, prep all the other ingredients. In a bowl, place very hot water from the tap over the small diced onion bits and let it sit for 5-10 minutes to take the sting off. Afterward, drain the hot water and cover with very cold tap water. Let it rest the same amount of time before draining and dumping the onion into a large container. Set this aside.

While the onion is bathing in the hot and cold baths, wash and chop up the fresh herb and measure it out to a packed 1/4 cup. Top the onion with it. Cut and seed the tomatoes. Dice them to a small but not too small size. Top the herbs and onions with the diced tomatoes. Crack the pepper over top and pour the juice of half a lemon (about 1-2 teaspoons) and olive oil over that.

When the bulgar is finished cooking, fluff it up and dump it over the other ingredients in the large container. Using a spatula or gloved hands, till all of the ingredients well in the container, until everything is sure to be covered by the citrus juice and cracked pepper. Taste the overall flavour, and adjust the amount of salt and pepper as desired at this point.

Cover and chill this salad for at least 24 hours before serving. It will be hard (I know!), but the ingredients need time to rest and marry with each other. Trust me, the wait will be worth the time and resistance.

Auntie Stacey’s Waffle Mix

waffles

These are some yummy waffles I make most Sunday mornings for the husband (below). He loves them! And I find kids really love these waffles, too. A lot. I know one little boy who ate so many, even the adults were stunned. I, of course, sent him home with leftover waffles in his pants and jacket pockets. You know, for the road trip home. That 17 minute ride can be soooo long when all you’re thinking about is your next waffle fix. 😉

FYI: Sometimes I sub out the milk for water or whatever juice we have on hand each Sunday morning. We can taste the fruit in the waffles, and they even seem a bit more moist. Plus, you can’t beat an orange hued waffle. Oh, and we also use this batter to make our pancakes when we’re not in the mood for waffles.

You can also use this batter to dip your Texas Toast in if you’re in the mood for french toast hot off the griddle. Just mix it up the night before, cover it and refrigerate, until you need it the next morning. It may need to be thinned out a touch more after a night of chilling. I add a few dribbles of water when I do.

Waffle Mix in a Bag:
2 cups all-purpose flour
5 teaspoons baking powder
4 tablespoons granulated sugar
1 teaspoon salt

2 eggs
1/2 cup vegetable oil
2 cups milk
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Combine contents of jar with eggs, oil and milk. Pour dry mix into a large bowl. Add eggs, oil and milk. Stir until well combined, but no more than that. Don’t over mix.

Allow the bowl of batter to sit in the refrigerator for 5 minutes to thicken up as the baking soda does its thing.

The pancakes can be frozen after frying. Store each separately in plastic wrap and place in a large freezer-safe plastic bag. Reheat in microwave.

Auntie Stacey’s Chickpea Salad

chickpeasalad1 1/2 – 2 C Chickpeas, brine drained and rinsed
1 Shallot, halved and thinly chopped
1/8 C Roasted Red Peppers, brine sopped off with paper towels
1/4 C Cilantro, leaves washed and dried
Salt & Black Pepper, freshly cracked
1/8 C Oil
White Vinegar, generous splash

Assembled the ingredients in a medium bowl and lightly toss. Top with the seasonings, and mix well. Store in the fridge for at least an hour so the flavours have time to marry.