Saturday, March 17, 2012

Meal Planning: Fresh tortellini with asparagus, peas and mint

So, I've been thinking about this for a while, and I've finally implemented it.  I've started to plan my dinners two weeks at a time.  There are a few reasons for this.  I want to try new things and if I plan them out, then it's a little easier.  I can also plan more difficult things on days that I have off and easier things one days I work late.  If I close, I plan to have my husband cook.

For these first two weeks, it's been mostly new things and it's been fun.  I hope to post some of the new recipes I've tried over the next few days.  These recipes have allowed me to try new things as well.

Anyway.  Today is St. Patrick's day and while I was planning the dinners, I did not even think about this fact.  However, the meal that I planned for today did work out with the theme.  It was not corned beef and cabbage.  I'm not a big fan of cabbage, though one of this week's recipes did use a lot of cabbage.  Tonight's recipe came from the April/May 2012 issue of Fine Cooking.

Fresh Tortellini with Asparagus, Peas, and Mint

(This was the picture from the magazine... I don't have a fancy platter to make it look pretty)

Kosher salt
1/3 cup extra-virgin olive oil
2 medium cloves garlic, pressed or minced
1/8 tsp. cayenne
1 lb. fresh cheese tortellini
1 lb. asparagus, trimmed of tough, woody stems, and cut crosswise into 1/2-inch pieces (leave the tips whole)
1 cup shelled fresh peas (or thawed frozen peas)
1/3 cup pine nuts, toasted
1/4 cup coarsely chopped fresh mint
2 oz. fresh goat cheese, softened
Freshly ground black pepper
In a 6-quart covered pot, bring 3 quarts well-salted water to a boil over high heat.
In a large bowl, combine the olive oil, garlic, cayenne, and 1/2 tsp. salt.
Cook the tortellini, asparagus, and peas in the boiling water until the tortellini is al dente, 2 to 3 minutes.

Reserve 1 cup of the cooking water, then drain the pasta and vegetables and toss with the garlic-oil mixture. Add  the pine nuts, mint, and  goat cheese and stir until the cheese melts into a sauce, adding cooking water as needed to moisten the pasta. Season to taste with salt and freshly ground black pepper and serve.


In addition to this, I sliced a chicken breast and cooked it with a little salt, pepper and cayenne.  This was fairly quick and easy to throw together.  

I did forget to save the cooking liquid though.  I guess there was enough left in the pot for the recipe when I realized I was dumping it all down the drain .

Before this recipe, I had never had pine nuts and I had never had goat cheese.  I enjoyed the dish.  It was different.  Here are my pictures.  It came out similar to the magazine picture.

Linda's Herb and Spice World Tour Part 3: Ginger

I really do love this project that Linda and Lilly are doing.  I enjoy getting the spices and herbs and the new recipes that come with them.  I have already made one recipe that came in this month's packet twice and will be making the second recipe tomorrow.


Zingiber officinale
syn: Amomum zingiber
Fam: Zingiberaceae

Ginger is native to India and China. It takes its name from the Sanskrit word stringa-vera, which means “with a body like a horn”, as in antlers. Ginger has been important in Chinese medicine for many centuries, and is mentioned in the writings of Confucius. It is also named in the Koran, the sacred book of the Moslems, indicating it was known in Arab countries as far back as 650 A.D. It was one of the earliest spice known in Western Europe, used since the ninth century. It became so popular in Europe that it was included in every table setting, like salt and pepper. A common article of medieval and Renaissance trade, it was one of the spices used against the plague. In English pubs and taverns in the nineteenth century, barkeepers put out small containers of ground ginger, for people to sprinkle into their beer — the origin of ginger ale. In order to ’gee up’ a lazy horse, it is the time honoured practice of Sussex farmers to apply a pinch of ginger to the animal’s backside..

Spice Description

Although often called “ginger root” it is actually a rhizome. It is available in various forms, the most common of which are as follows:

Whole raw roots are generally referred to as fresh ginger. A piece of the rhizome, called a ‘hand’. It has a pale yellow interior and a skin varying in colour from brown to off-white. Jamaican ginger, which is pale buff, is regarded as the best variety. African and Indian ginger is darker skinned and generally inferior, with the exception of Kenya ginger.

Whole fresh roots provide the freshest taste. The roots are collected and shipped when they are still immature, the outer skin is a light green colour. These can sometimes be found in Oriental markets.

Dried roots are sold either ‘black’ with the root skin left on, or ‘white’ with the skin peeled off. The dried root is available whole or sliced.

Powdered ginger is the buff-coloured ground spice made from dried root.

Preserved or ‘stem’ ginger is made from fresh young roots, peeled and sliced, then cooked in a heavy sugar syrup. The ginger pieces and syrup are canned together. They are soft and pulpy, but extremely hot and spicy.

Crystallized ginger is also cooked in sugar syrup, then air dried and rolled in sugar.

Pickled ginger has the root sliced paper-thin and pickled in a vinegar solution. This pickle is known in Japan as gari , which often accompanies sushi, and is served to refresh the palate between courses.

Bouquet: warm, sweet and pungent.
Flavour: Fiery and pungent
Heat Scale: 7

Preparation and Storage

In Asian cooking ginger is almost always used fresh, either minced, crushed or sliced. Fresh ginger can be kept for several weeks in the salad drawer of the refrigerator. Dried ginger should be ‘bruised’ by beating it to open the fibers, then infused in the cooking or making ginger beer and removed when the flavour is sufficient. Store dried and powdered ginger in airtight containers.

Culinary Uses

Fresh ginger is essential to Asian and oriental cookery. It is used in pickles, chutneys and curry pastes and the ground dried root is a constituent of many curry powders. Tender young ginger can be sliced and eaten as a salad. Sometimes the roots will produce green sprouts which can be finely chopped and added to a green salad. In the West, dried ginger is mainly used in cakes and biscuits, especially ginger snaps and gingerbread. Ginger is also used in puddings, jams, preserves and in some drinks like ginger beer, ginger wine and tea. Pickled ginger is a delicious accompaniment to satays and a colourful garnish to many Chinese dishes. Preserved ginger is eaten as a confection, chopped up for cakes and puddings, and is sometimes used as an ice cream ingredient.

Attributed Medicinal Properties

Ginger has long been ascribed aphrodisiac powers, taken either internally or externally. It is mentioned in the Karma Sutra, and in the Melanesian Islands of the South Pacific it is employed ‘to gain the affection of a woman’. Conversely, in the Philippines it is chewed to expel evil spirits. Ginger is a known diaphoretic, meaning it causes one to sweat. It was recorded that Henry VIII instructed the mayor of London to use ginger’s diaphoretic qualities as a plague medicine.

Ginger is most commonly known for its effectiveness as a digestive aid. By increasing the production of digestive fluids and saliva, Ginger helps relieve indigestion, gas pains, diarrhea and stomach cramping. The primary known constituents of Ginger Root include gingerols, zingibain, bisabolenel, oleoresins, starch, essential oil (zingiberene, zingiberole, camphene, cineol, borneol), mucilage, and protein. Ginger root is also used to treat nausea related to both motion sickness and morning sickness. Ginger has been found to be even more effective than Dramamine® in curbing motion sickness, without causing drowsiness. Ginger's anti-inflammatory properties help relieve pain and reduce inflammation associated with arthritis, rheumatism and muscle spasms. Ginger's therapeutic properties effectively stimulate circulation of the blood, removing toxins from the body, cleansing the bowels and kidneys, and nourishing the skin. Other uses for Ginger Root include the treatment of asthma, bronchitis and other respiratory problems by loosening and expelling phlegm from the lungs. Ginger Root may also be used to help break fevers by warming the body and increasing perspiration.

Ginger Nutella Brownies
(I have made these twice... and probably would have been a third time, but I'm out of cinnamon)

1 cup tub margarine, melted
1 1/2 cups sugar
4 eggs
1/2 tsp vanilla
1/4 tsp salt
1/4 cup cocoa powder
1/4 cup dark cocoa powder
2/3 cup unbleached all-purpose flour
2 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp ground ginger
2 tbls non fat plain yogurt
1/4 cup Nutella

Combine the melted butter, sugar, vanilla, and both cocoa powders.  Beat in the eggs.  Add in flour, cinnamon, ginger, and salt. Fold in the Nutella and yogurt.

Pour into greased 9x9 pan and bake at 350 for about 35-40 minutes, or until done.

Ginger Veggie Stir-Fry
(Making this tomorrow)

1 teaspoon cornstarch
1/4 cup orange juice
2 tablespoons soy sauce
1 medium carrot, julienned
1 cup fresh broccoli florets
1 cup fresh green beans (2-inch pieces)
2 tablespoons olive or vegetable oil
1 cup sweet potato, julienned
1 cup thinly sliced red onion
1 garlic clove, minced
1/2 teaspoon dried rosemary, crushed
1/4 teaspoon ground ginger
1/8 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes

In a small bowl, combine cornstarch, orange juice and soy sauce until smooth; set aside. 
In a large skillet or wok, stir-fry carrot, broccoli and beans in oil for 8 minutes. Add sweet potato and onion; stir-fry until vegetables are crisp-tender.

Stir the soy sauce mixture; add to the skillet with garlic, rosemary, ginger, and pepper flakes if desired. Bring to a boil; cook and stir for 1 minute or until thickened. 


For the stir fry I will be swapping out green beans for snap peas (I seem to be having trouble finding fresh green beans at the produce store, and I think snap peas will work well).

I made one batch of the brownies for my husband and I.  He really liked them and they were having a bake sale for charity at his work, so he asked me to make them again for that.  There was only one left at the end of the day.  He said they were a hit at work.  

I could not find dark cocoa powder, so I just used regular for that.  I also used regular butter, and low fat vanilla yogurt (the only nonfat plain I could find was in quart sized tubs).  And to be honest, I liked them a little better when they weren't warm.  When they first came out of the oven I was exited to have the warm brownie.  I loved the spice in the batter, but when the brownie was fresh out of the oven and warm, the spice got a little lost.  It was more pronounced once the brownies were fully cooled (room temperature).  

I should also note that if you're expecting a texture similar to brownies out of a box, these will not give you that.  They were a little more on the cakey side.


Monday, March 5, 2012

Tools of the Trade: My beloved Mixer

I'm sure you recognize this picture from my Mmmm... Bread post.  Only I posted it in a smaller format at the time because it wasn't the star of the post.  It was just a tool in the bread making process.

Today I wanted to talk a bit about my mixer because it is such an important part of my kitchen.  (And I figured that a post or two about the tools that I use in my culinary learning process wouldn't be a bad thing.)

Growing up, my mother had a KitchenAid Stand Mixer and it was used frequently.  She still has it, though I'm not sure how often she uses it. 

When I finally got around to enjoying the art of cooking (rather than feel like it was just one more chore), I wanted to get myself one.  One year I pooled birthday gift money and purchased this model in Imperial Gray.  I liked the Imperial Gray color because it was not a gloss finish.  It was a slightly textured finish.  Not that the color or finish changes how it works, I just didn't want to feel like I had to clean hand or finger prints off the thing the whole time.

The basic unit comes with the stand motor, the bowl, a whisk, a beater and a dough hook.  The bowl and whisk are stainless and super easy to clean.  The beater and the dough hook are enameled and also easy to clean.  I use the dough hook the most and the beater second. 

The machine itself is really easy to use too.  My husband (who isn't as comfortable in the kitchen as I am) can use it without any real instruction (and uses it when ever he makes pancakes).   And I love the many ways you can expand on it.  I'm sure you can do a search of all the different attachments available.  I currently have the pasta roller attachment kit, which comes with a sheet roller, and two different sized cutters.  I also have the meat grinder and sausage stuffer attachments.  The meat grinder will be making an appearance in a future post.  I'll be making a breakfast sausage whenever I buy the stuff to make it (hopefully in the next two weeks or so).

The stand mixer is just one of those things that I love having, and I probably wouldn't be as successful in my adventuring without it.

I'm still in the process of rebuilding my kitchen toys.  A few years ago we moved from Delaware to California and I sold most of my kitchen stuff to cut down on moving costs (and because we were moving into my grandparents house to help them out, and they had a lot of kitchen things).  There are still things that I had that, if I had known I'd be rebuilding this soon, I would have kept.  As I acquire them and put them to use, you'll probably see more "Tools of the Trade" posts.

Until next time...