Pastabilities

Penne with Chicken Sausage, Roasted Vegetables, and Gorgonzola

Well, so much for the spring like weather we had earlier this week! We went from 82 degrees on Tuesday, to 37 degrees yesterday. It was a chilly, damp, gray day…as I headed to Whole Foods, I knew I needed to have something warm and comforting for dinner. I wasn’t sure what I was going to make, so I decided to walk around the store to see what inspired me. I began my journey in the produce section…I picked up some asparagus, baby bello mushrooms, and a red pepper; a perfect little medley for roasting. I found some lovely tomatoes; baby plum, exotic cherry, and yellow pear…color for my salad. I turned the corner from the produce section into the cheese area. Chilly days are prefect for wine and cheese. Hmm…gorgonzola would sure warm things up! Pasta with roasted vegetables and gorgonzola….that would be perfect for dinner….well, almost; add chicken sausage to the dish and we are set. I picked up a bottle of Joel Gott 2006 Cabernet Sauvignon, which paired beautifully with the salt and spice of the gorgonzola. For this recipe, I am using whole wheat penne pasta, cooking it in a bath of white wine and chicken broth. This technique infuses the pasta with flavor…similar to making risotto, but without as much stirring.
Give it a try:

Penne with Chicken Sausage, Roasted Vegetables, and Gorgonzola

1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil,  plus 2 tablespoons, divided

1 pound asparagus, trimmed, cut into 2-inch pieces

8 ounces baby bello mushrooms, halved

4 cloves garlic, minced, divided

1/4 teaspoon salt

1/4 teaspoon pepper

1 pound chicken Italian sausage

1 pound whole wheat penne pasta

2 cups dry white wine

4 cups chicken broth

1/4 cup lemon juice

1 red bell pepper, seeded, roasted, seeded, chopped into 1-inch pieces

1 1/2 cups Gorgonzola cheese, crumbled

1/2 cup toasted pine nuts

2 large Roma tomatoes, diced

1/4 cup chopped Italian parsley

Salt and Pepper to taste

Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Place asparagus, mushrooms, and 2 cloves of minced garlic on a baking sheet.  Add 1/4 cup olive oil, salt and pepper; mix thoroughly and bake for 20-25 minutes. Set aside.

Meanwhile, heat  2 tablespoons olive oil in a large saute pan. Remove chicken sausage from the casing and crumble into oil. Cook, breaking up clumps, for about 5-7 minutes(until chicken is no longer pink). Transfer to paper towel lined plate; reserve.  Add remaining 1/4 cup olive oil to a large skillet over very low heat. Add garlic, and cook for 5 minutes. Add the penne pasta, stirring well to coat.  Increase the heat to medium high and add white wine; bring to boil and cook until almost all of the wine has been absorbed by the pasta, stirring occasionally.  Add 2 cups of chicken broth, cook, stirring occasionally, until almost all of chicken broth has been absorbed by the pasta. Repeat with remaining chicken broth and cook until pasta is al dente. Add the lemon juice, roasted pepper, roasted vegetables,  chicken sausage, and tomatoes  to the pan; mix well. Add Gorgonzola and parsley; mix thoroughly.  Adjust seasoning with salt and pepper. Garnish with toasted pine nuts  and serve immediately.

8 servings

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Green Tea Cheesecake with Fresh Berries

Green Tea Cheesecake

Spring is nearly here; the clocks have changed, giving us extra daylight at the end of the day, the trees are starting to bloom, and I’m starting to think about lighter flavors.

Next week I will be teaching cooking class. My menu is Asian themed:

Vietnamese Chicken Salad in Lettuce Cups

Orange Ginger Broth with Soba Noodles

Roasted Salmon with Hoisin Reduction

Wasabi Red potatoes

Green Tea Cheesecake

When I am working on recipe development (which is pretty much all of my spare time) I recruit my family, friends, and neighbors to be my guinea pigs. Once I have the recipe just right, it makes it into my cooking class menu line up. I tend to gravitate toward Asian flavors in the spring. I guess it’s the clean flavors of ginger root and lemongrass that cleanse my palate after a winter filled with the warmth of comfort food.
I’ve included a bit of crystallized ginger root in the crust for the cheesecake; adds a bit of interest I think. I use loose green tea, ground to a fine powder for this recipe. The flavor is subtle and gives the cheesecake a nice speckled effect. Some Asian markets carry green tea powder (which eliminates the grinding step) but it can be hard to find…

Give it a try:

Green Tea Cheesecake
1 ¼ cups ground shortbread cookies
2 tablespoons minced crystallized ginger root
2 8-ounce packages cream cheese, room temperature
1/2 cup mascarpone cheese, room temperature
1 cup sugar
4 large eggs, room temperature
3 teaspoons finely ground green tea from about 5 tea bags
1 pint raspberries(golden if available)
1 pint strawberries
1 pint blackberries
Mint leaves for garnish

Preheat oven to 325°F. Mix together cookie crumbs and crystallized ginger root in a medium bowl. Press cookie crumbs firmly onto bottom (not sides) of 8-inch-diameter springform pan. Wrap outside of pan tightly with 3 layers of heavy-duty foil. Using electric mixer, beat cream cheese, mascarpone cheese, and sugar in large bowl until smooth. Add eggs 1 at a time, beating until incorporated after each addition. Beat in green tea powder until smooth. Pour batter over prepared crust in pan. Place cake in roasting pan; add enough hot water to roasting pan to come halfway up sides of springform pan.
Bake cake until set but center moves very slightly when pan is gently shaken, about 1 hour. Remove cake from roasting pan; cool 1 hour at room temperature. Cover and refrigerate overnight. (Can be prepared 2 days ahead. Cover and keep refrigerated.)
Cut around pan sides to loosen cake; remove sides. Place cake on platter. Garnish cake with some raspberries, strawberries, blackberries, and mint leaves. Cut cake into wedges.
12 servings

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Tablescaping

Spring Tablescape

Tablescaping…what is it? The term tablescape, (meaning everything you put on a table) became a part of the Oxford American dictionary (with quiet entrance) in 1991. Back then the only people talking about tablescapes were wedding planners and designers. Within the last few years, the art of decorating a table has hit  mainstream. References to tablescaping  are popping up everywhere.

We now have a plethera of cooking shows, magazines and cookbooks to inspire creativity in the kitchen. Cooking and food have never been more popular.  As more and more of us look for money saving alternatives to going out to dinner, entertaining at home has become an attractive opportunity.

Part of the enjoyment of going out to dinner is the atmosphere. Restaurants work with stylists to create just the right feel for their menu.  With a little bit of thought and planning, you can do the same thing at home on your table without spending a lot of money. You don’t have to have formal china to dress your table, and you don’t need to invest in several dish styles…spare yourself the expense and the storage space! Begin with finding a  set of white dishes.  You can find white plates that fall within your price range just about everywhere (even at your local dollar store). Food looks fantastic on a white canvas, so why not begin there, and add other elements to the table to add interest.  Think about your menu when creating your tablescape. Is your menu themed or regional?  Whether you want to create a sophisticated look, or casual and festive, your choice of color, texture and  pattern all work together to create a mood.   The possibilities are endless. Pull elements from the season, cuisine, and even the personalities of your friends that will be a part of your evening. Look for elements such as placemats and candleholders with versatility that may be mixed and matched in other tablescapes  down the road.  Just by adding a few decorative accents such as changing the fold of a simple white napkin,  or adding fresh herbs clipped from your garden,  you will create a look that transforms your table into something special.  Tablescaping allows you to express your creativity and lets your style shine through. Your guests will appreciate what you’ve done to create an ambiance for an evening enjoyed at home with friends.

Here’s a great link to a website on napkin folding:  www.napkinfoldingguide.com

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Menus, recipes, and entertaining ideas for your next dinner party or supper club gathering