Penne with Pesto, Zucchini & Mushrooms

February 6, 2012 § 9 Comments

I think pasta is one of the most enjoyable foods to cook. I can’t really explain it, but I have a lot of fun with pasta. Part of that is because it is such a broad category with almost endless variations – you can really throw just about anything into a pasta and have it turn out well. You just have to exercise some restraint. The secret is to not overwhelm the pasta with sauce or other ingredients. Despite the endless variations, however, there are certain pastas I find myself making again and again. This is recipe for penne with pesto, zucchini and mushrooms is of them.

During the summer months, when Kitt’s garden is really taking off, we end up with a lot of basil and a lot of zucchini. This pasta is a great way to use both of these ingredients. I always enjoy pairing zucchini with cremini mushrooms because they not only taste great together, they also cook at the same rate. And one of the easiest ways to take advantage of lots of basil is to make pesto. We make huge batches in the summer, and then freeze several portions of it to thaw throughout the year – which is why I’m posting this in winter! For this recipe, you can use store bought pesto or make your own. « Read the rest of this entry »

Advertisements

How to Saute Vegetables

February 5, 2012 § 4 Comments

In my article, “How to Sweat Vegetables,” I talked a bit about the difference between sweating and sautéing. To quickly recap: sweating releases the aroma of vegetables without changing the flavor. With sautéing, however, the goal is to brown the vegetables, giving them a rich flavor.

Sautéing also requires a slightly different cooking method than sweating. When sautéing, you want to use a higher heat, more oil and a wide pan. I sautee on medium high to high heat, depending on what I’m cooking. Vegetables with a lot of water – such as zucchini, mushrooms or cabbage – cook better on high heat, while vegetables that are more dense – such carrots, fennel or onion – should be cooked on medium high, so they don’t burn before they’re done. « Read the rest of this entry »

Mise en place

January 16, 2012 § 2 Comments

In the restaurant world, a French term, mise en place, is widely used to refer to what is necessary for cooking a dish. It roughly translates to “put in place.” The idea is that before you begin assembling any dish, you must first have all the ingredients “put in place,” along with any additional tools you may need for the cooking process. This saves you the pain and stress of scrambling for that one thing you forgot after everything else is in a sautee pan on high heat.

If you are working in a restaurant, when dinner service starts, you may find that the chef gets angry with you if your mise is not en place. When cooking at home, you will very well likely find yourself getting angry if your mise is not en place. Proper cooking often requires high temperatures and quick cooking times to produce the best end result. For instance, whenever I’m doing Chinese or Thai cooking in a wok, I cook only on high heat, and once the oil is hot, it is a quick sequence of adding ingredients until the cooking is finished – ten minutes at most. There is really no time to chop that extra vegetable or measure out that little bit of sauce. Cooking requires focus and attention, things that are both shattered by a last minute scramble. « Read the rest of this entry »

Vegetable Barley Soup

January 3, 2012 § 12 Comments

It’s winter time, which means that many of us have already been or will be sick. And clearly, the meal of choice when sick is soup. So, instead of spending money at the store for cans of soup of dubious quality, you can easily make soup at home. Homemade soup can be packed into the freezer in reusable containers – perfect for weeks when you are busy or sick.

One of my favorite soups to make is this vegetable barley soup. It’s cheap, delicious and nutritious. It has a lot of vegetables, some hearty grains, and a rich broth that’s slightly spicy. All that good stuff you really want when you’re sick. I hope this one keeps you warm and happy this winter! « Read the rest of this entry »

How to Deglaze

January 3, 2012 § 5 Comments

One of my all-time, hands down favorite cooking techniques is deglazing. When executed properly, it allows you to add layers and layers of flavor, and is an exciting transition between dry and wet cooking methods. If it sounds like an exaggeration to say it’s exciting, remember this when your are pouring wine into a hot pan, as it bubbles and reduces almost immediately, giving off a cloud of steam. It’s fantastic spectacle, and absolutely delicious.

If you cook with a steel or iron pan – to phrase it awkwardly, a non non-stick pan – you’ll probably notice how bits of meat and vegetables stick to the bottom of the pan and turn brown. Now, anytime food is turning brown, it’s getting richer and deeper in flavor. So, what you have down at the bottom of that pan is flavor. Well, it’s actually called fond. « Read the rest of this entry »

How to Sweat Vegetables

January 3, 2012 § 4 Comments

So, this has got to be one of the greatest internet search phrases ever. Brings all kinds of fun things to mind, doesn’t it? But, sweating vegetables actually refers to cooking vegetables so they release their aroma without altering their flavor.

At a medium temperature for a longer period of time, vegetables like onions, carrots and celery become fragrant and glossy. This is sweating. At a high temperature for a shorter period of time, the vegetables start to caramelize, turning brown, and becoming sweeter and richer. This is sauteeing. « Read the rest of this entry »

How to Make a Sachet

January 3, 2012 § 3 Comments

As you will no doubt here me say over and over again, fresh herbs make everything better. If there’s a way to use them, use them. Use a lot of them! After all, they’re free flavor! In the spring and summer, when our herb garden is out of control, I can’t use them fast enough. Additionally, hearty herbs such as rosemary and thyme can last well in to the winter. As we all know, winter is soup making time, and these herbs make a great addition to almost any soup.

As great as herbs in soup are, fishing loose stems of thyme out of your soup or picking those tiny, tiny leaves off those delicate little stems both suck. So, what do you do? You make a sachet. Here’s my simple step-by-step guide to making a sachet: « Read the rest of this entry »