Roasted Cherry Tomato Pasta with Mushrooms and Spinach

Okay, I have to confess that I have been really bad about about posting lately as I’m sure you have noticed. Why you ask? Well, I think I have been lacking that creative spark to write a post that really made sense. Also, I am trying to mix new recipes with some of my old recipes to keep the blog moving. Honestly, I am proud to just get dinner on the table as of late. In addition, I have been making a lot of stuff that I have already talked about on the blog. When that happens, it can be hard to find inspiration and energy to put together a new post. Funny to think that with the billions of recipes and food shows out there that there would be lack of material to talk about. My theory has been if it feels right and makes sense, then post it. Otherwise, don’t post it until you are sure it is what discuss on the blog. I am going to try something a little different with this post. It won’t have all the usual pictures, but enough that you will get the idea. Also, I am going to try a change in my naming convention too. Don’t worry, I’m not going to change the premise or the purpose of the blog for this one post. This is still about me, a home cook, just sharing my passion and some useful tips and tricks. 

Okay, on with the show! This is a super easy, weeknight dish that you could realistically put on your dinner table in about 30 minutes. Here is what the completed dish should look like.



I think what makes this dish is the roasted tomatoes, which is an underutilized technique and very easy, in my opinion. You cut the cherry tomatoes in half, season with salt and pepper, apply heat–400 degrees, wait a few minutes, and consume. That is it! Even better, you can achieve the same affect on the stove top or you can even use your grill.  Like any other vegetable or fruit, you are trying to get the tomatoes to give up their liquid and sweetness. Also, if you broil or grill the tomatoes you can get some of that charred flavor as well. It is amazing and worth the time to treat the tomatoes this way.

Ready to make this little bit of magic? Here we go!!


Roasted Cherry Tomato Pasta with Mushrooms and Spinach

Ingredients

 

2 cups cherry tomatoes, cut in half
2 tablespoons olive oil, divided
1 teaspoon red wine vinegar
kosher salt
fresh ground pepper
4 quarts water  
8 ounces uncooked favorite pasta
2 1/2 tablespoons chopped basil
2 1/2 tablespoons spinach
5 sliced button mushrooms
¼ chopped chicken(optional)
3 tablespoons chicken stock
4-6 cloves garlic, minced
 
Preparation
Preheat oven to 400 degrees.
Bring 4 quarts water to a boil in a large pot or dutch oven.
In large saute pan, on medium high heat with a 1 tablespoon of olive oil, cook the mushrooms until browned on both sides. This should take 4-5 minutes. Once they are done, you can set them aside. *On low heat, in the same pan, let the garlic warm in the pan with a little bit of olive oil and stir occasionally for about 5 minutes. Pull the garlic out and set it aside with the mushrooms.

 

Combine first five ingredients and place them in a baking dish, mixing well to coat. Bake mixture at 400° for 15-20 minutes or until tomatoes are soft and lightly charred in places.

 

While the tomatoes are cooking, season boiling water liberally with salt and add pasta. Cook until your pasta is just slightly under cooked. The pasta will finish cooking in the sauce.

 

When you pull the tomatoes out of the oven, add three tablespoons of chicken stock to help loosen brown bits off the bottom baking dish and to help reinforce the tomato sauce. To your pan, add garlic, mushrooms, protein (if you want), tomato mixture, and cook on medium heat for about 4 minutes to thicken sauce. 

 

 
Finally, add pasta and cook another 2 minutes until pasta is warmed through and still al dente. Last but not least, sprinkle in basil and spinach and stir for 30 seconds. Top with cheese, if desired.

Serve and enjoy immediately.

 
Let’s talk about a few quick things to help you make this dish count:

Time management. This recipe has one pit fall, which is the timing between the tomatoes and pasta. We want the tomatoes to retain some of their shape and texture while not letting the pasta get overcooked. Start the tomatoes first and after about five minutes you can start your pasta. From my experience, most pastas cook in about 12-15 minutes, and if the tomatoes have to hang a little longer it won’t be the end of the world. As I have said before, mistakes happen and we just move forward to fix them. 

*Garlic. Garlic is one of my favorite ingredients and pretty much gets eaten with every meal except when it comes breakfast and cereal. I have yet to find a good combination for that. Anyway, the real point is that garlic can go from delicious to overpowering in a New York second. So, as I was mentioning earlier, if you cook the garlic low and slow you can retain the flavor but will remove the chance of having bitter, burnt garlic. Take it from me, it doesn’t make the dish taste good and will take over! If you like a little more intense flavor add it into the pan right before you add the roasted tomatoes and still just let it mellow in the sauce from about 5 minutes. If nothing else, roast the garlic with the tomatoes and just keep an eye on it so it doesn’t burn.

If you are looking for a few ways to take this to the next level, then here are a few ideas for you. If you want a little more heat, you could add a pinch of red chili flake when you are starting to pull the sauce together. Also, you could make your own pasta to make this dish spectacular. Speaking of that, fresh pasta would make time management of this dish a breeze. Since the pasta cooks in less than five minutes you can cook the pasta at the very last second before you serve the dish. Also, you could add some fresh mozzarella chopped up or some goat cheese right when you sprinkle in the basil and spinach. Or, you could do one of my favorites, which is sprinkle in some arugula just until it begins to warm through and wilt. I should mention this would a great vegetarian dish as well! The sauce gives plenty of body and you hardly miss the meat. In addition to the mushrooms, any other vegetables would be a perfect fit into this pasta dish. If you want, you can add a little chopped up meat, your choice, to this dish. Again, you could go either way and it would still be delicious.

Guess what? That is it! We are done! I know, hard to believe right? Well, once in a while even a blind squirrel finds a nut. 

As usual, let me know what you think about this recipe. Comment on the post or send me an email. I would love to hear your thoughts. Enjoy!


Keller Burger!

My Dad and I love burgers, especially burgers that are homemade. He began telling me about this burger he made before I went to visit him in preparation for a little road trip. My dad said it was the best burger he had ever had. That is a big statement from coming him because he has been making burgers all his life and he doesn’t give high marks for food unless it is really special. So when I arrived and we started talking food, I asked him what was in this burger and he replied with, “The burger uses buffalo meat, gorgonzola cheese, apples, and brown sugar.” My jaw just about dropped to the floor and I shot him a sideways look trying to comprehend what I had just heard. “Brown sugar?” I asked. Without batting an eye he nodded and said that I wouldn’t be disappointed. Although I couldn’t believe what I was hearing, I had to find out about this burger. Let me say this right now, I wasn’t disappointed.

Disclosure: Before we go much further,  I just want to say a quick couple of things. First, this is a very rich burger and isn’t friendly to the waist. However, this is a specialty burger and it will change the game when you think about burgers all together. Don’t worry, this isn’t something that I would make every day as my lunch. As much as I would love to do that, this would not be good for anyone. My approach to food is all about moderation. Therefore, it is okay to splurge once in a while and enjoy some crazy food.

Ready to keep reading? Here we go!

With that, he threw a package of ground buffalo into a bowl with some previously sauteed onions. He very gently worked the onions into the meat to avoid the mixture getting tough. This would allow the burgers to be nice and tender once they were cooked. Then he shaped the burgers into patties between a quarter to a half pound. We went big! You can certainly make smaller patties if you choose.

In a saute pan he added a few tablespoons of canola oil, turned the heat to medium heat and waited until the pan was hot. How do you know it the pan is ready? You should see little wisps of smoke rise off the pan. Don’t forget to season the burgers with salt and pepper before you put them down in the in the pan. He placed the patties in the pan and didn’t touch them! Yes, don’t touch the patties. Why? Well, like any other meat, we need to let the meat caramelize and get that beautiful color on the outside. If you are pressing, poking, prodding, and moving the patties you won’t allow the crust and flavor to form. Again, don’t touch! Okay?

While the patties were sizzling and crackling away, I was tasked with cutting planks off some apples we had around the house. We were using granny smith apples and a sweeter red skinned apple as well. Just use whatever apples you like and that will be just fine.

After the burgers had cooked for a few minutes and formed that crust, we flipped them over, and added the apples to the same pan. He explained we just wanted to soften the apples a bit, but we wanted to have some texture as well. After he had sauteed the apples for a couple of minutes, he sprinkled the apples with a little brown sugar before he flipped them over. Finally, we added some brown sugar to the side of the apple that hadn’t had any sugar and just allowed that to caramelize another minute. He pulled the apples out and set them aside.

At this point, the patties were just about finished and ready to be rested–like what we do with any other meat based protein. He applied gorgonzola cheese to the patties to allow the cheese to melt while the patties rested. You could also add the cheese to the burgers while they are on the heat, but just cover the plan with a lid or foil as the steam will help melt the cheese.

Finally, the time had come to build the burger. We grabbed our buns, which in this case was sandwich bread, but you could use any other bread/bun option you like. You could even omit the bread all together if you wanted.

On the bread goes the condiments of your choosing, but may I recommend some homemade mayo and some good dijon mustard to start? Place 3 to 4 slices of apple on one side of your bun and sprinkle with a little more brown sugar.

 

https://i1.wp.com/4.bp.blogspot.com/-vLa9vSK9xQM/VZGfm4ZJzxI/AAAAAAAABAg/M4tsfotVtE8/s1600/IMG_20150620_185101.jpg?resize=442%2C331

Place the patty on top of the apples slices thusly. Add your top bread and eat the extra apple slice. Wait….what? Yes, quality control is always important. So, make sure you taste everything!

When you are finished you should have something that looks like this. This is absolutely the best! Enjoy!

Just a minute…………you didn’t think I was going to leave you with just that did you?? You were right. How about I leave you with this photo instead?

Here you can see all the elements of this burger. There is the mayo, the cheese, the bits of onion running through the meat, and finally, the apple.

As I ate the burger I couldn’t believe the amazing flavor that was coming through with every bite. This burger had everything I could have imagined. It was sweet and tart from the apples and sugar, had a little crunch and texture from the onion, some beautiful richness from the cheese and meat, a little zing from the mayo, and a bit of earthiness from the pockets of gorgonzola. All of that formed into a symphony of perfect bites.

I was floored. My Dad just watched me eat for a few minutes as my brain and palate danced with some spectacular flavor. As hard as it was to fathom, this unlikely combination was nothing short of a knock out. However, one question remained. Where did he land on this recipe and why hadn’t we known about this before? It turned out that he had seen an article and a recipe by renowned chef, restaurateur, and cook book author, Hubert Keller. Keller is considered by many to be a legend among men when it comes to proper burger basics and techniques. In fact, at one of his restaurants in Las Vegas, the ingredients for one burger are so treasured that the total cost of the burger is about $5,000.00 dollars!!! If  you are curious, follow this link to learn more about Keller, http://www.hubertkeller.com/. My Dad told me had made it a few times before and was never disappointed.

Here a few finals thoughts to help you make this burger a success:

Use ground beef or any other meat if you can’t find or don’t want the buffalo as your protein. However, the benefit to using the buffalo is that this a much leaner meat than ground beef. Keep in mind, that just means you will have to watch to make sure your burgers don’t get over cooked. That is the reason for the onions as they add a little moisture as well as a little flavor.
You could make this a veggie burger option and still would have a spectacular burger.
As usual, feel free to substitute as you see fit. Heck, you could even just cook the apples and melt a little cheese over it and that would make an amazing snack or part of nice end to a meal.

Lastly, I have included the recipe so you can have a little more detail on how to bring this burger together by clicking on this link http://www.hubertkeller.com/recipes/mod/recipe_309SignatureBurgers.html. We made a few changes, but they were related to our choice of herbs and breads we used based on what we had at hand.

There it is. This is the most unique and flavorful burger I have had. I hope you think so too!

Feel free to send me an email about your thoughts on this, or any other recipe that I have shared. I can’t wait to hear what you think!

Enjoy!

Ole to Tortilla Soup

I suppose there are lots of problems you can have in the kitchen, but is having too much braised pork one of them? I suppose it could be, but in this case, I’m going to say no. The truth is even after listing all the ways to use the pork in my last post, I felt like something was missing and I needed to find a new way to use my leftovers. Make no mistake, I love tacos and barbecue pork sliders as much as the next person, but this is a chance for me to learn and share new recipes as well.

So, there I am with a tupperware container full of beautifully braised pork and not a clue what to do with it all. I opened the fridge for inspiration and all I saw was chicken broth, cilantro, some tortillas, chili, a little bit of rice, and a few other things. Okay, there is more in my fridge but I needed a setup to share this recipe. So, I closed the fridge and kept saying to myself the only thing in here is soup. It is fall, so maybe that wasn’t such a bad thing after all. What to make I wondered to myself. It was right there on the tip of tongue for a few minutes when I realized exactly what I should make. More soup, of course! Not just any soup though, but tortilla soup!

I had often wondered about tortilla soup as it has such an incredible depth of flavor and was highlighted with that punch of citrus. I quickly realized that I had a great counterpoint to the rich braised pork with that kind of a soup base. When I think about soups like this, I think of broths that simmer for days and days to achieve that perfect balance of flavor. While this can be true, I like the idea of being able to put the dish on the table the same day. Did you know that you can put this recipe on your table in about an hour?? The other thing is that I like pantry friendly recipes. In other words, you likely have the ingredients in your house to make this already. So, I set out to find a recipe that worked.

Here is the base recipe we are using, however, I have made changes. I know, what a shock! Before we talk about mastering this recipe, I wanted to show you what you could be consuming. Ready?

This is absolutely as good as it looks and more!! I am wondering what I should have for lunch? Hmmm……………but I digress. Okay, recipe time!

 

 

HOMEMADE TORTILLA SOUP
 Recipe has been halved
1 tablespoon olive oil, plus more for frying
1 medium onion, chopped
4 cloves garlic, minced
kosher salt
fresh ground pepper
1/4 teaspoon ground cumin
1/4 teaspoon red chile flake or chili powder
6 cups reduced-sodium chicken broth store bought or homemade
1 can (15 oz.) diced tomatoes
juice of 2 limes
2-4 small corn tortillas, cut into 1/4-in.-thick strips
1 lb (3-4 oz per serving) pork or chicken chopped into 1/4 inch pieces
cilantro to taste, chopped
sliced avocado, sour cream, grated Monterey jack cheese, additional chopped cilantro, and/or sliced green onions for topping

Heat 1 tbsp. olive oil in a large soup pot over medium heat. Add onions, a pinch of salt, fresh ground pepper, and cook about 5 to 7 minutes until softened.

Stir in two-thirds of the garlic, a  pinch of salt, cumin, chile flake/chili powder, and cook 2 minutes. Add broth, tomatoes, and half the lime juice and turn up heat to a gentle simmer and cook about 25 minutes.

Purée soup in batches in a blender or food processor.

Return soup to pot and resume simmering.

Here is a bonus photo of what the broth should look like when it is all done.

In a small bowl, toss chicken or pork with remaining lime juice, garlic (optional), and a pinch of salt, if desired. Marinate at room temperature for 10 minutes, then add to soup and simmer 5 minutes, until chicken or pork is just cooked through.

While your soup finishes simmering and before are ready to serve, add 2 tbsps of olive oil into a small frying pan set over medium-high heat. When oil is hot but not smoking, add one-third of the tortilla strips and cook until golden brown and crisp, about 2 minutes. With a slotted spoon, transfer strips to a paper towel-lined baking pan. Repeat with remaining tortilla strips in two batches. Sprinkle with a pinch of salt while hot.
Top with tortilla strips, additional toppings, and fresh cilantro.

There it is! Boom! This is so good!

Let’s talk about some changes:

Servings for centuries- When I test recipes I am only testing for a couple of people. Even cutting this recipe in half I had a lot of leftovers. That isn’t a problem, but keep that in mind unless you plan on freezing some or giving away some amazing tortilla soup. By the way, it is almost the holiday season and this could make a great gift! I’m just saying.

Salt- If you read the reviews and look at the recipe, there is a lot of salt here!! In fact, there is way to much salt in the original recipe from my vantage point as I type this. Here is my take on this issue. You are always better to under season than over season since you can fix that, but going the other way is much more difficult. We add salt to help enhance other flavors and it helps to wake up the palate so we can taste other things better. As you cook, season each layer with a little salt. Also, you are adding more salt right at the end before you serve this to really give some complexity to the the lime juice. So, it is totally okay to ease up on the salt if you are concerned.

Cumin and Chile Flake/Chili Powder- As I discussed in my chili post, these flavors can pack a punch and can easily overpower a dish. You can always add more, but again, less is more. This is especially true if you have someone who is sensitive to those flavors for whatever reason.

Cilantro- Maybe this goes with saying, but sorry, I can’t stop myself from talking about it. There are two cilantro camps, either you love it or you hate it. There isn’t much love in between. You could certainly leave it out and go with something like parsley, celery tops or even some basil. But, you don’t need the cilantro to sell this soup because this soup will sell itself.

Topping takeover- This recipe lists all kinds of topping options and they will compliment the soup perfectly. I opted to keep it super simple with just cilantro and the tortilla strips. For me, that was all the soup needed. You worked hard to make this soup, so make sure you have a chance to enjoy the fruits of your labor without getting lost in the toppings.

Gravity of Garlic- This recipe does call for fresh, raw garlic to be used to marinate your choice of protein before it is added to the soup. As much as it provides some additional flavor, I’m not sold that you need the garlic. It could be overpowering and super sharp when you take a bite of the soup. Just be careful if you decide to use the fresh garlic in that application. Also, cuddling and breathing on or near your significant other could be compromised by heavy garlic consumption. Unless your significant other has consumed garlic as well, then party on! Hey, I’m just trying to look out for my readers.

Ready to make this for meatless Monday?? Yup, you are practically there and you didn’t even realize it I bet. Just replace the chicken or pork for things like roasted corn that you have taken off the cob, roasted bell peppers, zucchini or some sweet potatoes that have been grilled or sauteed. This is will make for an an amazing lunch or dinner anytime!

I hope you enjoy this simply delicious, but complex soup. This is perfect for the fall months and it just looks pretty!

As always, be sure to leave a comment or email me and let me know your thoughts about this recipe. I look forward to hearing from you!