Monday, August 27, 2012

Rigatoni with chicken and creamy mushroom sauce

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With 16 days (or less) until the arrival of my baby, my motivation comes and goes. Some days the nesting instinct is on a warpath and I'm cleaning everything in sight. Other days my swollen ankles leave me curled on the couch. The same goes for cooking. Last night I was a bit more motivated (I made pan-roasted duck breasts with farro risotto and caramelized figs - watch this space for the recipe). Aside from saying it was a great dinner, my fabulous husband said the nicest thing possible: "I don't know many women who would make this dinner 2 weeks before having a baby." Made my day!!!

Some days, I want to prepare big batches of stuff I can freeze for after baby's arrival. Other days, I'm more likely to take the path of least resistance. This recipe is quick and simple, and as you'll see from the picture, my 2-year-old liked it (though she picked out most of the mushrooms), which meant I only had to make one meal to feed all of us.

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Rigatoni with chicken and creamy mushroom sauce
Adapted from Giada at Home by Giada De Laurentiis

Ingredients
1/2 pound rigatoni pasta
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 shallot, minced
1 clove garlic, minced
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 pound assorted mushrooms, (such as cremini, shiitake and button), cleaned and sliced
1/4 cup white wine
1/4 cup chicken stock
1/2 cup (4 ounces) mascarpone cheese, at room temperature
1/4 cup grated Parmesan
1 Tbsp. chopped fresh chives
2 boneless, skinless chicken breasts, cut into 1 inch pieces

Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil over high heat. Add the pasta and cook until tender but still firm to the bite, stirring occasionally, about 8 to 10 minutes.

While the water heats and pasta cooks:
Heat the oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Season the chicken with salt and pepper, then add to the pan. Cook chicken until lightly browned on all sides and cooked through. Remove from pan using a slotted spoon and set aside.

Add the shallots and garlic to the pan, adding a little more olive oil if needed. Season with salt and pepper. Cook until soft, about 2 minutes. Add the mushrooms to the pan and season with salt and pepper. Cook until mushrooms are tender, stirring occasionally, about 5 to 7 minutes. Turn the heat to high. Add the wine and cook for 3 minutes until all the liquid evaporates. Add the stock and reserved chicken simmer until liquid is slightly reduced. Remove the pan from the heat. Add the mascarpone cheese. Stir until creamy. Drain the pasta, reserving about 1 cup of the pasta water, and transfer to a serving bowl. Add the mushroom mixture and the Parmesan. Season with salt and pepper, to taste. Toss well to coat pasta, adding the reserved pasta water, if needed, to loosen the pasta. Garnish with the chopped chives. Serve immediately.

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Easy cheese danish

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I've entered the final countdown (and yes, the song from the Rocky movie keeps playing in my head). Less than 30 days until my new baby arrives and just 17 days of work. The bathroom and laundry room renovations are done with the exception of the glass shower, but that should be installed early next week. Painters finished this morning so I can reassemble the second floor of my house over the next few days. Then I can focus on the baby...

In the meantime, I've got a freezer stocked with a fair number of quick dinners. I still have to throw together a big batch of Bolognese, but that'll be done soon... While stocking my freezer, I found some things I wanted to use up, including a package of puff pastry. These easy cheese danish were a perfect treat. I assembled them the night before and then just popped the baking sheet in the oven in the morning. My husband claims he prefers them to the ones from our favorite local bakery... impressive! Next time, I might try adding a little fruit as well, maybe some raspberry preserves...

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Easy Cheese Danish
adapted from Barefoot Contessa at Home by Ina Garten

4 ounces cream cheese, at room temperature
3 Tbsp.sugar
1 extra-large egg yolk, at room temperature
2 tablespoons ricotta cheese
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1/8 teaspoon kosher salt
1 teaspoon grated lemon zest
1 sheet frozen puff pastry, defrosted
1 egg white beaten with a splash of water, for egg wash

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F. Line a sheet pan with parchment paper.

Place the cream cheese and sugar in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with a paddle attachment and cream them together on low speed until smooth. With the mixer still on low, add the egg yolk, ricotta, vanilla, salt, and lemon zest and mix until just combined. Don't whip!

Unfold puff pastry onto a lightly floured board and roll it slightly with a floured rolling pin until it's a 10 by 10-inch square. Cut the sheet into quarters with a sharp knife. Place a heaping tablespoon of cheese filling into the middle of each of the 4 squares. Brush the border of each pastry with egg wash and fold 2 opposite corners to the center, brushing and overlapping the corners of each pastry so they firmly stick together.

Brush the top of the pastries with egg wash. Place the pastries on the prepared sheet pan. Refrigerate the filled Danish for 15 minutes or overnight.

Bake the pastries for about 20 minutes, rotating the pan once during baking, until puffed and brown. Serve warm.

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Getting local: Frosty summer treats

I don't go outside much these days. 34 weeks pregnant and the temperature and humidity are definitely the enemy. What's worse, I crave ice cream. I haven't gained a ton of weight but 5 more weeks of ice cream might land me in some trouble on that front... Add to that the fact that I have an irresistible 2-year-old who loves "brown" ice cream and I find plenty of excuses to head to a local shoppe. (Why can't I crave stone fruits like my pregnant friend in Ireland???)

My craving has helped me find a few spots worth a visit if you're in NJ. One of them is actually healthy!

I list them below in no particular order...

Zita's Homemade Ice Cream - New Providence - If you live in Jersey, there's a good chance you've heard of or read about Zita's. They have award-winning flavors like S'Mores and have been written up in all the local papers. It's a bit of a drive from our house - 15 minutes or so - so Saturday was our first try. It was GOOD! My little one wanted her favorite: "brown". I gave her the option of plain brown or brown with peanut butter and she quickly replied "Brown with peebah budder". Smart girl. It was delish, decadent chocolate swirled with rich peanut butter. My husband and I shared a cup of their signature flavor: 91716, vanilla ice cream with chocolate covered pretzels, caramel, peanut butter and chocolate chips. It was loaded with stuff, the salt from the pretzels adding an extra layer of flavor. We will be going back (I want to try the S'mores...).

On personal note, this place is run by a guy I went to grade school with. We went our separate ways after grade school, but randomly bumped into each other in DC and then again in Jamaica while in college. He wasn't behind the counter when we ordered, but I spotted him as we left. Next time I'll have to say hi, but things were beyond busy on Saturday with the line wrapping outside the door. But if you see this Pete, nice work! I'll be sending my friends...

Double Dipper Cafe - Fanwood - Note the location and you'll understand why we go to this one more than Zita's. It's less than a mile from our house, just across the street from our favorite sushi place. My duaghter now knows that if she's good while we have our sushi, we will likely head across the street for a scoop after. Here, she likes the peanut butter decadence - vanilla ice cream swirled with lots of peanut butter and studded with tiny peanut butter cups (it's one of my favorites, too.). the best thing I've had from Dipper's is the ice cream cake. I ordered a custom cake for my daughter's borthday - their cakes are 3 layer, standard is chocolate and vanilla, but I swapped the chocolate for Dulce de Leche. Best ice cream cake I've had in ages. It will become her birthday tradition! This is another family-run spot, friendly service and delicious homemade flavors...

And last but not least, the healthy one...

Let's Yo - Watchung - The yogurt craze has taken over and there are places popping up everywhere. This place recently opened in the nearby Blue Star shopping center. They have 18 flavors of self-serve froyo. I've been hitting the place about once a week for the last few weeks - it's organic, most of it is lowfat or nonfat, but most use regular sweeteners (I won't eat artificial sweeteners while pregnant and try to avoid them when I'm not). And they have a topiing bar that takes me back to my childhood summers in Maine where we loved The Viking - and ice cream shoppe with a topping bar. We'd pile on more toppings than ice cream... I'm more conservative these days. My favorite combo at Let's Yo is coconut yogurt with slivered almonds and a drizzle of hot fudge. The chocolate yogurt is remarkably chocolatey. I also tried vanilla - very good - and peanut butter - not up to my standard of excessive peanut-butteriness. They have fruit and candy toppings and everything comes in at $.49 an ounce. A reasonably sized treat costs about $2.50 - not bad at all...

Pregnant or not, this summer heat calls for a cold treat or two, so if you are from Jersey or find yourself in the area this summer, why not indulge? Maybe we'll see each other there!
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