Pasta with Roasted Asparagus and Balsamic Butter

On May 27, 2011, in Recipes, by Chris Baccus

In our family’s quest to try to eat 3 to 4 vegetarian dinners a week, I have turned to blogs like Emily Levenson’s {Custom Made} Life.

Tonight I attempted a rather peculiar recipe that uses a lot of balsamic vinegar and butter (in this case Earth Balance) to make a pasta sauce. Of course with any recipe that calls for balsamic as a key ingredient for success a quality balsamic vinegar is necessary. For tonight, I went with an Organic local selection that we found at the Addison Farmer’s Market late last year.

The balsamic vinegar is made by Texas Hill Country Olive Company. Their Terra Verde Traditional balsamic is a really fruity, rich, thick balsamic that has such an amazing sweetness to it that it really made for an excellent choice for this dish which calls for a 1/3 of a cup of vinegar. Plus Terra Verde’s vinegar is reasonably priced at $16 for a 250ml bottle and can be ordered online too.

The only change I made to Emily’s recipe was using lumaconi pasta shells instead of whole wheat penne which I thought I had, but did not. The shell shape of lumaconi did great and the thick syrupy sauce adhered to the noodles nicely, only downside is lumaconi means “giant snails” in Italian so that’s not so appetizing. Also, I recommend adding some imported Parmesan-Reggiano to add to the dish’s nutty, rich flavor.

For the Recipe: Pasta with Roasted Asparagus and Balsamic Butter

I will occasionally get an email from my wife requesting quote – You should make this – end quote. Well last week I received another email (in fact two) and finally got around to making a pasta dish from Martha Stewart’s website.

It’s a good thing I didn’t get this particular recipe sent to me a couple months back, because I still had yet to find a market with decent fresh ricotta cheese in Dallas. Fortunately, a few weeks ago while at Central Market I noticed they carry a couple fresh ricotta choices. This afternoon I made a stop over there and picked up fresh ricotta from the Mozzarella Company, a popular local homemade cheese shop located in Deep Ellum, a trendy artsy part of downtown Dallas.

The recipe also calls for some fresh tarragon, sugar snap peas, and peas. One of the best parts of the recipe is it’s all cooked in one pot; though, you really should test the pasta before adding the peas. The recipe asks to cook the pasta for 3 minutes before adding the sugar peas. I would check the pasta and maybe give it a good 3 more minutes before adding, unless you have just made fresh pasta. I was using fresh, but refrigerated pasta from Central Market and it need a few more minutes; though, not as long as dry pasta needs. So adjust accordingly.

Also, when I make this again I’m going to try two things. First add roasted pine nuts. It just needed something to intensify the flavor and pine nuts should bring out the flavors better. Second change is to still experiment with the ricotta cheese choice. The one from the Mozzarella Company was good, but I’ve had far better at good Italian Markets. Unfortunately, the only Italian Market I’ve found around Dallas is Jimmy’s Food Store and they don’t carry fresh ricotta.

Here is a link to the recipe: Two-Pea Pasta with Ricotta and Tarragon

Chicken, Potato, and Mustard Greens Hash

On May 10, 2011, in Recipes, by Chris Baccus

Chicken, Potato and Mustard Greens Hash

Serves 4

2 boneless skinless chicken breasts. diced into small chunks
1 bunch mustard greens, coarsely chopped
6 medium white potatoes or yukon gold, diced into 1/2″ cubes
2 garlic cloves, thinly sliced
1 shallot, finely chopped
1 spring fresh thyme
2 tablespoons olive oil
salt and pepper to taste
juice of 1/2 lemon

In a small saucepan, heat some water and add potatoes. Cook for about 8 minutes after water comes to boil. Reduce to a gentle boil. Test to desired doneness.

Heat 1 tablespoon of olive oil in saute pan and add diced chicken to pan, fresh thyme, salt and pepper then saute for 10 minutes until done.

Remove chicken from saute pan, keeping any browning from chicken (do not rinse.) Add one tablespoon of olive oil, garlic and shallot. Saute for 1 minute, do not burn on medium heat. Add mustard greens and add some salt and pepper and a little more oil if necessary. Cook until gently wilted. Add drained cooked potatoes and cooked chicken to saute pan with greens. Squeeze 1/2 of a lemon into pan and combine all ingredients.

Serve immediately.

Note: You can substitute other greens for Mustard Greens. Spinach, chard or kale all would work fine.

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I typically plan my week of dinners over the weekend and this last weekend was no exception. This time I grabbed a few back issues of Martha Stewart’s Food magazine focusing on the March-May 2010 issues. In there I found a pulled pork recipe and after having recently bought a beautiful local, pasture raised pork butt in McKinney, Texas I decided to give it a try.

Big Mistake.

I actually have a good pulled-pork recipe already that uses a slower cooker. I suppose I tried it because the Food magazine had a couple recipes using their pulled-pork recipe and well why not try it. Martha is fail safe, right? I’ve honestly never had a bad Martha Stewart recipe. Really.

The recipe called for doing everything in the oven. It started with 1 hour at 450 degrees with just salt, pepper and a 1/2 cup of water. Then you remove the pot and cover it with foil and reduce the heat to 350 and cook for 3-4 hours. I had a smaller piece of meet so I cooked for 3 hours longer. When it finished, I pulled it out and noticed everything was shriveled and burnt.

If I had really put some consideration into this recipe I could have guessed the result. First there is just too little liquid to make a moist, pulled piece of meat. Also, the first stage at 450 for 1 hour is too long. It really just should be a quick braising on a burner, if that was the point.

Oh well, lesson learned. Never trust someone from Westport, Connecticut to get BBQ pulled-pork right.

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Better Bacon

On May 2, 2011, in Food, by Chris Baccus

I love bacon. Who doesn’t right? In fact, bacon has become all the rage lately. If you want to explain your love of any food, bacon is the one that will get you a lot of smiles and a few high-fives. It’s a popular food choice. But what about the choices you have for the brand of bacon to buy.

You can buy an Oscar Mayer brand bacon like their Center Cut Original brand, but that contains sugar or evaporated cane sugar if you go with a smoked variety. Of course that’s also factory farmed pork and well sugar is the least of your problems (go ahead and Google factory farming pigs and you’ll see.)

So what are some smart decisions when it comes to bacon? An easier find for those with natural food stores or a Trader Joe’s is Niman Ranch bacon. It does have a small amount of turbinado sugar, which is a less processed sugar. The better feature is that Niman Ranch raises its pigs in humane way and all with the “finest vegetarian feed.”

The other option is to do something we are adopting more which is buying “pork belly” from a local ranch. We buy from the same place we buy all of our meats, Burgundy Pasture Beef in Grandview, Texas. Buying “bacon” this way is a bit different than buying a processed product. Pork belly is simply natural pork. There is no curing, no nitrates, and nothing is smoked. It’s simply just pork and requires the cook to salt and pepper the pork belly before cooking.

So I finished cooking some Niman Ranch bacon last weekend and as you can tell it cooks nicely. Trust me it is some of the best tasting bacon I’ve ever had. Pork belly is a better choice, but I have to admit with bacon some processing does make for a more flavorful product.

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