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!

Entertaining: DIY Pizza

Despite my bite sized kitchen, I love to entertain. And now that the weather is getting warmer, barbeques are a plenty and it’s nice to have an easy and affordable alternative, such as pizza!

You were probably thinking I’d say fruit salad, corn on the cob, or even pasta salad. But pizza, in summer… well, it’s genius! Pizza is another one of those foods that you’re quick to purchase because it’s quick, affordable, and delicious. And for someone whose looking to entertain, homemade pizza makes a greater  starter or main course and will most definitely impress your guests!

Pizza is an ideal food because of its versatility. Pizza can be vegetarian, gluten-free, kosher, and will probably fall into a plethora of other categories that are important to health conscious, allergy-cautious, or religiously observant eaters. Pizzas are also very easy to make as they can be cooked in the oven on a sheet pan or pizza stone (which I highly recommend), a cast iron pan, or even on the grill (on a sheet pan).

To save time, I like to buy pre-made dough which you can pick up from a local pizzeria or at Trader Joe’s (which comes in white flour, whole wheat, or herb flavors for 99 cents). I also like to have some corn meal on hand which I spread at the bottom of the baking dish or pizza stone before cooking.

Grilled Pizza This past weekend I decided I’d try and grill my pizza on the barbeque. Though I’d seen recipes where the dough was cooked directly on the grill, I had a feeling that the dough would stick to the actual grill leaving me with very little to work with. Because I used a sheet pan to grill the entire pizza, from dough to cheese, the pizza didn’t retain the smokey flavor I was after. I guess next time I’ll have to try my luck by grilling the dough.

But whether you’re grilling pizza or baking it in the oven, you’re guests will taste and appreciate the homemade goodness of a DIY Pizza.

Margherita-Garlic Pizza

INGREDIENTS

  • 1 package Pizza Dough
  • Extra Flour
  • Marinara Sauce (up to 4 cups)
  • Fresh Mozzarella (8 oz), thinly sliced
  • Chopped Jarred Garlic (1/8 cup)
  • Fresh Basil, chiffonade
  • Olive Oil

TOOLS

  • Rolling Pin
  • Pizza Stone (or Aluminum Sheet Pan/Baking Sheet)

PREPARATIONS

  1. Pre-heat your oven to 425 degrees and begin heating your pizza stone until oven is completely pre-heated.
  2. Spread out about 1/4 cup flour on top of your countertop. Roll out pizza dough into one long rectangle that will fit on your pizza stone.
  3. Once the pizza stone is preheated, take it out of the oven and spread a light coat of corn meal on the bottom of the pizza stone.
  4. Lightly coat one side of the dough with olive oil and place that side facing down into the pizza stone. Then lightly coat the other side of the dough with olive oil and a few tablespoons of chopped garlic.
  5. Then spread anywhere from 2-4 cups of marinara sauce over the pizza dough and losely cover with the 8 oz of fresh mozzarella and basil.
  6. Bake in the oven for about 20-25 minutes, or until the crust is no longer gummy but crunchy and the cheese bubbly.
  7. Serve and enjoy!

Perfect Roast Chicken

Perfect Roast Chicken, Cooked

Roast chicken, a perfect meal sought after by many and achieved by few. And you’re probably thinking, what makes a perfect roast chicken? The answer is salt! No matter what spices, herbs, or marinades you might use, a liberal sprinkling of sea salt rubbed in the chicken cavity and on the outside of the chicken (through olive oil) will tremendously improve the overall flavor of your roast chicken.  According to John Hastings, salt combats bitterness and penetrates proteins on a cellular level, and when used to make a brine, it leaves meats juicier and more delicious. 

And salt isn’t the only secret to my perfect roast chicken! Since I love vegetables I like to smother the bottom of the pan with tons of fresh mushrooms, baby carrots, chopped onions, and celery. When the chicken cooks, its wonderful juices saturate the vegetables and make for a fantastic gravy! After the chicken has finished cooking, I puree half the vegetables and add them to a stock based gravy. The vegetable puree adds great depth and texture to the gravy making it a perfect compliment to the moist roast chicken!

After making about 6 different roast chickens, I believe that this one was by far my favorite. Practice makes perfect and I’m sure you’ll invent a special secret of your own, which I hope you’ll later share with me! Bon Appetit!

Perfect Roast Chicken, Pre-cooked

Roast Chicken, Served

Roast Chicken with Spinach

Perfect Roast Chicken, adapted from Martha Stewart

INGREDIENTS

  • 1 6-7lb Chicken
  • 1 Bag Baby Carrots (or 3 carrots, chopped and peeled)
  • 4 Stalks Celery
  • 1 Box Sliced Mushrooms, coarsley chopped
  • 2 Medium Onions, chopped
  • 2-3 Small Red Potatoed, chopped
  • 1 Package Fresh Thyme
  • 1 Lemon
  • 3-6 Garlic Cloves, smashed and peeled
  • Paprika (optional)
  • Sea Salt (can use kosher)
  • Fresh Ground Pepper
  • 1 Cup Chicken Stock/Broth
  • Aluminum Foil
  • Immersion Blender

PREPARATIONS

  1. Let chicken stand at room temperature for 30 minutes. Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Remove and discard the plastic pop-up timer from chicken if there is one. Remove the giblets and excess fat from the chicken cavity. Rinse chicken inside and out under cold running water. Dry chicken thoroughly with paper towels. Sprinkle the cavity of the chicken liberally with sea salt and pepper, and set aside.
  2. Sprinkle onions, celery, mushrooms, potatoes, and carrots at the bottom of the baking dish.
  3. Place the palm of your hand on top of lemon and, pressing down, roll lemon back and forth several times. This softens the lemon and allows the juice to flow more freely. Pierce entire surface of lemon with a fork. 
  4. Insert garlic cloves, thyme sprigs, and lemon into cavity. Place chicken on top of chopped vegetables and rub the entire surface with olive oil. Then sprinkle liberally with salt, pepper, and paprika and place breast side down in pan.
  5. Cover chicken entirely with aluminum foil making a tent. Place in the oven, and roast for 1 hour. After the first hour turn the chicken breast side up and roast uncovered for another hour and twenty minutes or until skin is deep golden brown and crisp and the juices run clear when pierced.
  6. When chicken seems done, insert an instant-read thermometer into the breast, then the thigh. The breast temperature should read 180 degrees.
  7. Remove chicken from oven, and transfer to a cutting board. Let chicken stand 10 to 15 minutes so the juices settle. Meanwhile, let the pan drippings cool for a few minutes and puree half of the cooked vegetables with your immersion blender. After the pan drippings have cooled, pour them into a plastic bag, leaving the remaining vegetables in the pan. Cut a hole in the corner and pour the pan drippings into a sautee pan with 1 cup of chicken stock. Heat on med-high until it boils and reduced down to half, about 4 minutes.
  8. Then pour chicken stock mixture into the bowl with the vegetable puree and combine. If you want to add lemon, take the lemon out from the chicken cavity and squeeze the juices into the gravy mixture.
  9. Carve the chicken, and serve with your choice of sides (matzoh stuffing, rice, cous-cous, sauteed spinach or broccoli). For plating the chicken place starch in one plate corner, spread some of the gravy on the remainder of the plate and place chicken on top.

*This recipe serves about 6 people. Stay tuned for ways to turn the remainder of your 7lb chicken into tomorrow night’s lunch or dinner!