Giada’s Stress-Free Pasta

After watching an episode of Giada that focused on stress-free Italian cuisine, I couldn’t wait to make her Fusilli with Sausage, Artichokes, and Sun-Dried Tomatoes. Now I’ve been known to watch quite a few cooking shows, so I am not easily tempted. But something about the combination of flavors in this dish inspired me.

Like all Hartley Confections recipes, I’ve revised Giada’s dish to suit my budget, available ingredients, and tastebuds. Hartley Confections’ Gemelli Medley features a hearty pasta accompanied by a medley of hot sausage, fresh cherry tomatoes, and spinach. Despite slight variations (using 7 items from the Top 10: Must-Have Kitchen Ingredients) all of the flavors remain the same and are equally delicious. I hightly recommend using gemelli pasta, which is probably fusilli’s sister, as it has a similar spiral shape though it is thicker and more narrow. I’ve found gemelli to be an easy pasta to keep al dente as it takes a great deal of time to overcook this particular type of pasta. I also recommend starting out with less cheese, and adding more as needed to keep the fat to a minimum!

I’ve halved the recipe which proves to be about three large servings that are great for stand alone meals. The Gemelli Medley is easily re-heated and makes a tasty, recession friendly, on-the-go meal which can made in 30 minutes!

GEMELLI MEDLEY

Gemelli Medley

Ingredients

  • 2 tbsp olive oil
  • 1 cup quartered cherry tomatoes
  • 1/2 pound Italian hot sausages (pork or turkey), casings removed
  • 1 (8-ounce) can artichoke hearts
  • 2 large cloves garlic, chopped
  • 1  cup chicken broth
  • 1/4 cup dry white wine
  • 8-12 ounces (1/2 – 3/4 of a package) gemelli pasta
  • 1/2 cup shredded Parmesan, plus additional for garnish
  • 1/2 bag fresh baby spinach
  • 1/3 cup chopped fresh basil leaves (optional)
  • 1/4 cup chopped fresh Italian parsley leaves (optional)
  • 4 ounces fresh or shredded mozzarella, drained and cubed, optional
  • Salt and freshly ground pepper

Preparations

  1. Heat the olive oil in a heavy large frying pan over medium-high heat.
  2. Add the sausages and cook until brown, breaking up the meat into bite-size pieces, about 8 minutes.
  3. Transfer the sausage to a bowl. Add the artichokes and garlic to the same skillet, and saute over medium heat until the garlic is tender, about 2 minutes.
  4. Add the broth and wine. Boil over medium-high heat until the sauce reduces slightly, stirring occasionally, about 8 minutes. Next add the cherry tomatoes.
  5. Meanwhile, bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Cook the gemelli in boiling water until tender but still firm to the bite, stirring often, about 8 minutes. Drain the pasta (do not rinse).
  6. Gemelli MedleyAdd the pasta, sausage, 1/2 cup Parmesan, spinach, basil, and parsley (if using) to the artichoke mixture. Toss until the sauce is almost absorbed by the pasta. Stir in the mozzarella.
  7. Season, to taste, with salt and pepper. Serve with additional parmesan cheese, if needed.
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Tyler Florence’s Blintzes

Blintzes are such an underrated food. They are delicate and creamy and sweet and everything you could want when your sweet tooth is calling. So when it came time to choosing a dessert for a Shavuot Shabbat I had hosted a few weeks ago, I knew that Tyler Florence’s Blintzes would make the perfect ending to my wonderful holiday meal.

A blintz is a thin pancake that is somewhat similar to a crêpe (with the main difference being the fact that yeast is always used in blintzes, but not in crêpes). Its traditionally made with a sweet cheese filling and accompanied by fresh fruit or a fruit sauce. Blintzes are especially delicious when served with whipped cream and chocolate syrup if you’re feeling naughty. But since we were observing the Sabbath, I felt it best to elude temptation.

After all, blintzes were popularized in the US by Jewish immigrants who served them on Jewish Holidays even though they have no religious tie to Judaism. And its likely that most of you reading this have never even heard of a blintz, let alone tasted one, which is why I’m proud to share its brief heritage and Tyler’s wonderful recipe with you.

Blintzes are quite versatile as they can be served for breakfast, lunch, dinner, or dessert! And aside from cooking the actual blintz, they are fairly easy, and inexpensive to make. Like many other recipes I’ve posted, you can pretty much add anything you like whether it be a certain type of fruit or experimenting with spices such as cinnamon or nutmeg (in the blintz batter). I also tried to cut back on some of the fat and sugar in this recipe, so don’t be scared to use fat-free dairy products and cooking spray (instead of butter). I promise you won’t even taste the difference.

CLASSIC BLINTZES RECIPE (Adapted from Tyler Florence’s Recipe)

Classic Blintzes with fresh fruit

INGREDIENTS

Basic Crepe Batter

  • 1 cup skim milk
  • 1/4 cup cold water
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 cup all-purpose flour
  • Pinch salt
  • 1 tablespoon sugar
  • 3 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted

Cheese Filling

  • 1 1/2 cups fat-free ricotta cheese
  • 4 ounces low-fat cream cheese
  • 3 tablespoons confectioners’ sugar
  • 1 lemon, zested and finely grated
  • 1 egg

PREPARATIONS

Making the Blintz Batter

  1. Combine the milk, water, eggs, flour, salt and sugar in a blender. Blend on medium speed for 15 seconds, until the batter is smooth and lump-free. Scrape down the sides of the blender and pour in 3 tablespoons of melted butter.
  2. Blend it again for a second just to incorporate. Refrigerate the batter for 1 hour to let it rest. If the crepes are made immediately, they have a tendency to be rubbery; when you let the batter rest, the crepes have a better texture and a softer bite.

Assembling the Blintzes

  1. Put an 8-inch crepe pan or nonstick skillet over medium heat and spray with fat-free cooking spray. 
  2. Pour 1/4 cup of batter into the pan and swirl it around so it covers the bottom evenly; pour back any excess.
  3. Cook for 30 to 45 seconds, until the crepe batter sets. Lightly bang the edge of the pan with a heatproof rubber spatula to loosen the crepe; then flip it and cook another 30 seconds.  The crepes should be pliable, not crisp, and lightly brown.
  4. Slide them onto a platter and continue making the crepes until all the batter is used. Cover the stack of crepes with a towel to keep them from drying out. This makes 10 crepes.

Making the Cheese Filling

  1. Combine the ricotta cheese, cream cheese, confectioners’ sugar, lemon zest, and egg and blend until smooth.
  2. Chill the filling to firm it up a bit so it doesn’t squirt out of the blintzes.

Rolling the Blintzes

  1. Think of rolling a blintz, like you would a burrito.
  2. Spoon 1/4 cup of the cheese filling along the lower third of the crepe.
  3. Fold the bottom edge away from you to just cover the filling; then fold the 2 sides in to the center.
  4. Roll the crepe away from you a couple of times to make a package, ending with the seam side down.
  5. Then heat an ovenproof skillet over medium heat, brush the blintz with melted butter, and pan-fry for 2 minutes per side until crisp and golden (you can heat them in the oven at 350 to keep warm).

Serving the Blintzes

  1. Place the blintzes on one plate (family style) and lightly dust confectioners sugar on top of the blintzes.
  2. Surround blintzes with fresh fruit and serve!

For other spins on this classic blintz recipe, check out Tyler Florence’s  Blueberry Blintzes or Ricotta and Orange Blintzes with Strawberry Sauce. Or, skip the baking all together and head to Veselka and try their classic blintzes topped with a wonderful variety of fresh fruit. Be sure to ask for extra whipped cream!

Strawberry Lemon Cupcakes

I know it’s been a while since I’ve actually cooked or baked something and I do apologize for my recent food extravagance but it’s been an exciting few weeks of food events and birthday dinners. Fortunately I had some time on my hands this weekend to do some baking and just in time for my friend Allie’s birthday.

Although I’m a huge fan of Crumbs among other fine cupcake establishments, I wanted to bring Allie something from the heart AND something seasonal. Seasonal means limited which translates into special and THAT is what I wanted my birthday sweets to convey. Store bought cupcakes are wonderful but homemade cupcakes, well they’re a rare treat.

Since I happened to have some fresh strawberries and lemons on hand, I scoured the internet for a cake recipe that balanced the sweetness and tartness of both ingredients. And after seeing only a photo of the Strawberry and Lemonade Cupcakes baked by Annie’s Eats, I knew I’d found the perfect spring cupcake!

COOK’s note: I modified Annie’s recipe to cut down on the sweetness and some of the calories. Unfortunately my low-fat frosting didn’t come out so well, so for the time being I recommend using Annie’s frosting. Just be sure to whip the cream cheese and butter before adding the strawberry puree, as the mixture can easily thin out. Add approximately 7 tsp of puree or just enough so that the frosting keeps its firm texture.

Strawberry Lemon Cupcakes Recipe

Strawberry Lemon Cupcakes

Source: Cake adapted from Williams Sonoma, frosting from Annie’s Eats

INGREDIENTS

For the cake:

  • 2 1/4 cups whole wheat or white whole wheat flour
  • 1 1/2 tsp. baking powder
  • 3/4 tsp. salt
  • 2 tsp. lemon zest
  • 2 tbsp lemon juice
  • 10 tbsp. unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 cup 1 % milk
  • 2 cups fresh strawberries, chopped

For the frosting:

  • 1 cup fresh strawberries, roughly chopped
  • 12 oz. cream cheese, at room temperature
  • 18 tbsp. unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • 2 2/3 cups confectioners’ sugar, sifted
  • 3 tsp. lemon juice
  • 1 tsp. vanilla extract

For garnish:

  • Fresh strawberries

Tools:

  • Mixing bowls
  • Hand blender or stand mixer
  • Measuring cups and spoons

PREPARATIONS

  1. To make the cupcakes, preheat the oven to 325 degrees F.  Line muffin pans with paper liners.  In a bowl, combine the flour, baking powder, salt and lemon zest.  Stir together with a fork and set aside.
  2. Beat the butter on medium speed until it is light and fluffy.  Add the sugar and beat until well combined.  Beat in the eggs one at a time, scraping down the bowl after each addition.
  3. Add half of the flour mixture to the bowl and beat on low speed until just incorporated.  Add in the milk and mix until smooth.
  4. Add in the remaining flour mixture and mix on low speed until just blended.  Fold in the fresh strawberries with a spatula.
  5. Divide the batter evenly between the paper liners, filling them about 3/4 full.  Bake about 20 to 25 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.  Allow to cool in the pan 5 minutes, then transfer to a wire rack to cool completely.
  6. To make the frosting, puree the strawberries in a food processor or blender.  Strain the puree through a mesh sieve to remove the seeds, and set aside.
  7. Beat the cream cheese and butter in the bowl of an electric mixer on medium speed until smooth and very fluffy, about 5 minutes.  Add the powdered sugar and mix until smooth.
  8. Add the lemon juice and vanilla extract and mix until incorporated. Mix in strawberry puree, a tablespoon at a time, until you achieve your desired texture and flavor of frosting (I added about 7 tablespoons of puree).
  9. Frost cupcakes as desired and garnish with fresh strawberries.