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Thursday, August 25, 2011

Cheesy Baked Pesto Pasta & Tomato

I was feeling totally uninspired the other night. I'd forgotten to take the chicken out of the freezer and didn't know what to have. This turned out to be a new favorite and I think it'll be reappearing in our kitchen a lot from now on.

1/2 box of penne or rigatoni
1/4 to 1/3 cup pesto
1/2 small container of ricotta
1-2 large fresh tomatoes - thickly sliced
Shredded parmesan
Shredded asiago - really needed for the extra flavor (and a good one to have on hand in the fridge anyway!)

1. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.

2. Cook the pasta until just al dente - it'll cook more in the oven so not too tender! Save 1 cup of pasta water and drain the pasta.

3. Put the pasta in a large bowl and add the pesto. Mix well. Add a little pasta water at a time to help it incorporate and cover the pasta. Add the ricotta and mix well. Salt and pepper to taste.

4. Pour the pasta mixture into an oiled/sprayed baking dish.

5. Place the sliced tomatoes on top and generally cover the top with both cheeses.

6. Place in the oven uncovered until the cheese is brown and bubbly on top.

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We were having some friends over last week and I was trying to think of something that wouldn't have me in the kitchen the whole time they were here. So, I pulled out the glorious slow cooker that we got as a wedding present and decided it was the perfect time to try it out. My mom's big into her slow cooker and I have to be honest, I never felt the need or desire for one until lately. The idea of throwing everything into a pot and pressing a button sort of takes the fun out of cooking...unless you have a pork shoulder that only 8 hours of untouched braising could make into the most wonderful juicy meat for tacos. I'm sold. After turning the magic machine on before bed, I kept waking up throughout the night to the smell of slow-cooking pork. I almost needed to have it for breakfast. People with real houses whose bedrooms are upstairs and not located next to the kitchen: I have to say, you're really missing out on this one.

For the pork:

2.5 lb pork shoulder (can vary in size, doesn't really matter - the more the better!)
1 jalapeƱo
4 cloves garlic, minced
1 onion, chopped
2 TB chili powder
1 tsp ground cumin
1 tsp cinnamon
1 TB smoked paprika
A generous handful fresh oregano
1 can (28 oz) tomatoes - with roasted garlic is good, fire roasted even better.
3/4 cup fresh or canned pineapple, chopped
1/2 cup pineapple juice (go to the Goya section of the store - buy a can)
1 chipotle in adobo for smokiness if you like.

For the tacos:
1 package of corn or flour tortillas - small ones for tacos (I actually prefer flour but Kel will kill me if she sees this)
2 avocados
2 limes
1/2 head of red cabbage, sliced thinly
Tomatoes - diced
Queso blanco - crumbled, or shredded monterey jack

1. Put the jalapeno through the chipotle into a blender and blend until you have a smooth/smoothie consistency.

2. In a dutch oven or large cast iron pan, heat some oil. When good and hot, sear the pork on each side until you get a nice brown coating on the outside of all sides.

3. Remove the pork from the pan and place into the slow-cooker. Add all of the blended contents except for a cup or so into the slow cooker with the pork. The meat should be mostly covered. You can add a little water or broth if you need to - just want to make sure there's plenty of wet ingredients in there.

4. Turn the cooker on and let it do its magic - best overnight or before you go to work...8hrs if you can.

5. When pork is done, remove from the cooker and shred the pork with forks, it'll be very tender. Either put in a container and reheat later in a frying pan when you're ready to use it, or serve it up immediately. I like to use the sauce that was cooking with the pork and mix it in when reheating or to add extra flavor after it's shredded. If it's too fatty or if you want extra, use your reserves.

6. To make the guac, cut open the avocados and mash the insides with a fork in a small bowl. Squeeze half a lime (or a whole depending on taste) and season generously with salt and pepper.

7. About an hour before serving, place the sliced/shredded cabbage in a bowl and squeeze the juice of one lime in with it. Season with salt and pepper and stir occasionally to soften and flavor the cabbage.

8. Assemble your tacos with the pork, guac, sour cream if you have some, cabbage, cheese, tomatoes, cilantro and anything else you love.

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Corn & Quinoa Salad

So Kel and I hit up Nubar for Restaurant Week last week, it's the new place at the Sheraton Commander in Harvard Square. It was VERY GOOD. And as always, I use these special restaurant week indulgences to get ideas for new stuff, new very good stuff. Kel's first course was this Corn & Quinoa salad - it was delicious and light and healthy and I had to make it at home. It's incredibly easy, a good use of leftover or uneaten corn on the cob this time of year and it's high in nutrition. I'm generally not big on seeds, yes it's a seed not a grain, but this is very yummy and has proven to be one of Paddy's new favorites.

It's great on its own but I like it with grilled chicken and steak. You could add chicken to it, warm or cold or mix in other ingredients/spices too to jazz it up or to go with your meat.

1 cup quinoa
1 1/4 cups water or chicken broth
3 ears of corn, steamed or grilled
1/4 cup of olive oil
Juice of half a lemon
Salt and pepper
Green leaf lettuce

1. Cook the quinoa according to directions. Like anything that needs to be boiled or rehydrated, I found that it's tastier if made with broth instead of water.

2. Cut the corn off your cobs.

3. Make your salad dressing by mixing the olive oil, lemon juice, salt and pepper. You may not need all of the olive oil, so go easy and add more after if you need to. Add some lemon zest for good measure if you feel like it.

3. When the quinoa is done cooking, transfer to a medium bowl and mix in the corn. Add the salad dressing and mix well. It's good to do this while it's warm because it'll bring out the flavors of the oil.

4. Once it's cooled down, serve on a bed of green lettuce.

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