Mac and Goat Cheese

Sometimes the 10 year old inside of me craves a big, heaping bowl of Mac n’cheese.

It’s then that the adult in me reminds me that although satisfying in the moment, I won’t feel so good afterwards.

So, to satisfy my craving for this indulgent comfort food, I whip up a healthier and more lactose friendly version I like to call Mac and Goat Cheese.

Mac and Goat Cheese

By Pleading and Pasta 2013

2 small logs of goat cheese (one herbed and one regular)

1/4 cup of almond milk

1 lb of pasta (I like elbow macaroni but you can sub your favorite cut including whole wheat and gluten free varieties)

1 package of sweet cherry tomatoes (or some from your garden!)

1 cup of chopped fresh basil

Salt and pepper to taste

1. Chop the cherry tomatoes in half and set aside.

2. Cook the pasta in salted water until al dente.

3. Strain the pasta. Leave in colander and put the pot back on low to medium heat. Add almond milk and goat cheese. Stir until somewhat melted then add pasta, tomatoes, and basil.

4. Keep stirring until fully incorporated.

5. Serve hot and enjoy!

20130914-085644.jpg

This dish is quick, easy, and really hits the spot. Mix it up with different flavors of goat cheese or other garnishes!

Eat with all of your heart,

G

Kick Ass Pad Thai

Pad Thai is my go-to for Asian takeout. Words cannot express how much joy a fresh batch of pad thai brings to my soul.

For many years now, I dreamed of being able to conquer the pad thai recipe. It truly has been my Everest. I would research “authentic pad thai” and get frustrated, or intimidated, and give up. To be honest, I was afraid to ruin this coveted dish I adored so much with just an “ok” version of my own doing.photo 1

However, for some strange reason I mustered up the courage, I researched endlessly, put together a combination of several recipes and added a few tweaks of my own, and finally did it. Yes, I made Pad Thai. Not only did I make it, but it tasted wonderful. Not only that, I loved it so much that I started to make it an ungodly amount of times until I got it down and could make it in my sleep. And now today, I share with you the crown jewel of my recipe box.

This recipe stands for more than just deliciousness. Nay, it stands as a reminder that you can achieve the impossible. It stands for a symbol of not being intimidated and for believing in yourself. And, when this beautiful recipe came into creation, it marked a time where I found my passion for cooking re-ignited, and inspired to push my own limits of my culinary creativity.

So with that, I present to you, kick ass pad thai!

Kick Ass Pad Thai

Pleadings & Pasta 2013

  • 8 oz. Thai rice noodles (or enough for 2 people), linguini-width, available at Asian grocer
  • 1 to 1 1/2 cups chopped chicken breast or tofu
  • Marinade for Chicken/Tofu: 3 Tbsp. soy sauce, 4 cloves garlic, minced
  • 3 cups fresh bean sprouts
  • 3 green onions, sliced
  • 1/2 cup fresh coriander/cilantro
  • 1/3 cup crushed peanuts
  • olive oil or sesame oil for stir-frying, and lots of wedges of lime
  • PAD THAI SAUCE  (Highly suggest doubling this in proportion to the number of noodles you have and adding it to taste. Loved this sauce and wanted more of it on my noodles!)
  • 3/4 Tbsp. tamarind paste dissolved in 1/4 cup warm water (look for tamarind at Asian or Indian grocer)
  • 2 Tbsp. fish sauce+ more to taste
  • 3 tsp of Sriracha Sauce (I added some more because I love the kick)
  • 3 1/2 Tbsp. brown sugar (can add a bit more if you want a richer sauce)
  1. Bring a large pot of pot to a boil and dunk in your rice noodles. Cook until firm, you don’t want them too mushy so you can fry them later. Drain and rinse with cold water to prevent sticking. Set aside.
  2. Make pad Thai sauce by combining the sauce ingredients together in a cup. Stir well.
  3. Marinate chicken for 10 minutes. Stir well and set aside. (For a vegetarian option, use tofu! Marinade and prepare the same way).
  4. Add a little oil to the pan, and add the tofu or chicken and cook until done.
  5. Add the noodles, and pour the Pad Thai sauce over. Using two utensils, use a gentle “lift and turn” method to fry noodles (like tossing a salad). Stir-fry in this way 1-2 minutes. If you pan is too dry, push noodles aside and add a little more oil to the bottom of the pan.
  6. Stir in bean sprouts.
  7. Place noodles in plate and top with lots of fresh cilantro, onions, and peanuts. Add fresh lime wedges to squeeze over each portion.

There are no words, other than YUM!

Eat with all of your heart,

G

Squash and Goat Cheese Pizza

For those of us with our own gardens, July means the advent of zucchini season! Before you know it your garden will be overpopulated with these bright green gems, and there are so many ways to incorporate them into your recipes.

So, in honor of zucchini season, I wanted to share one of my favorite pizza recipes adapted from a Smitten Kitchen recipe. The dough I use incorporates semolina flour which adds a nice chewiness to the dough. Serve piping hot with a side of olive oil and herbs to dip it into! photo 2

 

Pizza Dough

1 cup semolina flour

1 cup all-purpose white flour

1/4 tsp. sugar

2 tbsp dry yeast

dash of salt

fresh herbs chopped (optional)

Toppings

1 Yellow Squash

1 Zucchini Squash

Goat Cheese

1 Lemon

1. Dissolve yeast in 1 cup warm water. Be careful, if water is too hot it will kill the yeast. Sprinkle in the sugar afterwards to encourage the raising of the yeast. Let raise for 10 minutes.

2. Mix flours, salt, and herbs in a bowl.

3. Add the yeast and water to the dry ingredients and mix until incorporated and form into a ball. Add more flour if the dough feels too sticky. Cover with a towel and let sit for 20 minutes. After first rise, punch the dough and let rise again for another 15 minutes.*

4. Add flour to your rolling surface, and roll the dough to your desired thickness.

5. Place the dough into a pan that has been oiled with olive oil. *Note, you can do the second rise in the pan itself if you prefer a more fluffy dough.

6. Crumble goat cheese onto the dough. Layer very thin slices of the squash and zucchini on top of the goat cheese.

7. Zest the lemon on top of the pizza, sprinkle salt and pepper to taste and bake for 12-15 minutes at 400 degrees.

8. Remove when dough is a light brown color on the bottom and is nice and crispy.

 

 

Eat with all of your heart,
G

Summer Refresher Ice Cubes

As the temperatures rise, our need to rehydrate rises as well. Especially for those of us in areas of the country where air conditioning does not come standard in apartments or homes, icy cool drinks are one of the few ways to legitimately cool down as it begins to heat up.

20130705-132614.jpg

Hydration is key to improve memory, function, and overall wellness. And for many, plain water is a big turn off and it’s hard to get the recommended 8 glasses a day in your regiment.

Thus, many of us turn to sugary coffee drinks, flavored waters, and sodas to quench our thirst. The problem is, these things can dehydrate us even more.

So to combat the basic water blahs, I decided to make some flavored ice cubes! All natural, pack a potent punch, and can be used in water or iced tea.

For the summer refresher ice cubes, I took some fresh mint from my garden (this is a great way to use up end of the season herbs if you have them) and chopped the mint finely. Then, I took one whole lemon, and cut it into slices. Then I cut a small incision into the skin and opened the circle slice so that tiny little quarter slices popped out. These were perfectly sized for my ice cube trays.

Simply drop a few lemon slices and chopped mint in each tray, fill with water and voila! After they are frozen drop them in some purified water or a nice ice tea and enjoy the refreshing flavor. The mint and lemon combination really cleanses the palette and is a great way to cool down with the high heats.

Pleadings & Pasta Tip – switch out the lemons for limes, and make mojito ice cubes! When you are serving the popular rum drink, you can use the mojito ice cubes to enhance the flavor of the beverage.

20130705-132556.jpg

Eat (and drink) with all of your heart,

G

The Litigator Lettuce Wrap

photo_4With no shame I admit I am a huge fan of lettuce wraps. PF Changs, the local take out place, it doesn’t matter where they come from, I adore them.

The reality is, a lot of lettuce wraps have delectable sauces but these sauces are very high in sodium, contain MSG, or other additives that may leave you feeling heavy after your meal. Plus, becoming a regular at the take out place by my house was enough of an alarm that it was time for me to learn how to make a healthy, quick, and equally tasty version of my own.photo_1

Hence, the litigator lettuce wrap. Easy enough that even after a day spent preparing and litigating in court, you could come home, and quickly whip this up as a meal with the last bit of energy you have left.

I was particularly fond of this recipe since it finally gave me the opportunity to pick the beautiful lettuce growing in my backyard and put the leaves to use as the starlets in a supporting role for this dish. There really is something outstanding about home grown lettuce. It’s not as bitter, and is so vibrant in color.

The Litigator Lettuce Wrap

by Pleadings & Pasta © 2013

photo_2Ingredients (double if necessary)

1/2 lb of ground chicken

1 can of water chestnuts

1 large roasted red pepper

6 scallions

3 cloves of garlic

Sesame oil

Several large lettuce leaves

For sauce:

3 tablespoons of soy sauce

1 tablespoon of honey

2 tablespoons of Sriracha

1 tablespoon of Teriyaki

2 tablespoons of water

1. Chop into small pieces the water chestnuts, red pepper, and scallions.

2. Sautee over medium heat the chopped garlic in sesame oil. Once lightly browned add the water chestnuts, red pepper, and scallions. Sautee for about 5 minutes until cooked.

3. Remove from pan and place in bowl. Add a bit more sesame oil and add ground chicken. Cook through until no longer raw. Add sauce and sauteed vegetables and sautee until incorporated (about 2-3 minutes)

4. Spoon mixture into each lettuce leaves. Wrap up, and enjoy!

photo_3

Gardening tip: The beautiful thing is, when you plant your own lettuce, it’s the gift that keeps giving. So once you take a few leaves off, your plant will produce more! That means there are a lot more lettuce wrap nights in your future.

photo

Eat with all of your heart,

G

Zucchini Flower Poppers

photo 3One of the delicious Calabrese traditions I grew up with was sitting down for a plateful of Nonna’s famous fried zucchini flower fritters before our main course. If you haven’t tried a zucchini flower before, you are missing out! These flowers are delicate, flavorful, and beautifully colored, and make for a great appetizer to any  meal.

Since my zucchini plant has been blooming with many flowers this season, I took it as a sign that it was time to fry up the delicious zucchini flower fritters I grew up on, but with my own Pleadings & Pasta twist.

photo 2So I took to reconstruct the traditional recipe but with a more modernized pub flair. I am a big fan of jalapeño poppers, but often find them to be a bit too heavy for my liking. So, instead, I took the concept of the jalapeño popper, “Mediterraneanized” it, and arrived at the delicious and comforting Zucchini Flower Poppers recipe below.

The great thing about this recipe is it’s customizable, easy to make, and is a perfect summer recipe to accommodate all of the summer blooming zucchini blossoms. Also, it gives you that to die for combination of warm gooey cheese in the middle of fried goodness, but with a lighter feel. Watch out though, that means you’ll probably want to (and be able to) eat more of them!

Zucchini Flower Poppers

by Pleadings & Pasta © 2013

Ingredients

  • 12-13 zucchini blossoms; delicately rinsed and stamens removed*
  • 6 ounces goat cheese
  • 1 tablespoon chopped basil or your other favorite fresh herbs
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • 2/3 cup of flour
  • 3/4 cup of beer (whatever is on hand, preferably a lighter or wheat beer)
  • Olive Oil
  • Parmigiano Reggiano Cheese, grated
Instructions
  1. Rinse off your flowers and let them dry completely. This will help in the frying process. You can let them air dry on a paper towel or alternatively in the fridge to keep them fresh and prevent wilting
  2. Continue by mixing the goat cheese, chopped herb, salt and pepper together and set aside
  3. In a medium-sized bowl, combine the flour and beer  together. Add a pinch of salt to the mixture. The consistency should be like that of pancake batter.photo 1
  4. Start filling the zucchini blossoms with a mound of the goat cheese mixture.. Be careful not to tear the flower petals. I noticed it was easiest to insert a rolled up ball of the  mixture right inside that wasn’t too large so it sat at the bottom inside of the flower. Push the petals together to close up the flower so the filling doesn’t escape during frying.
  5. Fill a pan or pot with several inches of olive oil or frying oil of choice. Heat to medium heat, or approximately 350 degrees.
  6. Place the filled zucchini blossoms into the batter until fully coated, then lay them into the hot pan of oil. After 2-4 minutes the first side will be brown, and you can flip them over for another 2-4 minutes. Remove from the heat once golden brown and let them drain on a plate lined with paper towels.
  7. Sprinkle with Parmigiano Reggiano cheese as a finishing touch and serve!

photo 2This Pleadings & Pasta original was by far one of my favorite creations, and it’s sure to become a favorite of yours too. And of course, wash down the delectable poppers with the beer you used for the batter to bring the pub atmosphere into your very own kitchen.

A quick gardener’s note for those using flowers from their own garden. I am a new gardener, and I was hesitant to start picking the beautiful flowers I worked so hard to take care of before they became bright green zucchini.photo 1 However, rest assured you can pick the male zucchini flowers (skinny stem with stamen in the middle) as they only serve the purpose to pollinate the female flowers and never will become zucchini. So once your female flowers are pollinated, don’t let them the male flowers go to waste and fry up a few with the recipe above!

Eat with all of your heart,

G

The right ingredients

20130613-191200.jpg

20130613-191208.jpg

20130613-191215.jpg

Much like having the right facts and laws in prepartion for filing a brief, you need to start with the right ingredients in preparation for making a carefully constructed dish if you want a stellar final product.

Perhaps my view is a bit skewed, and I should divulge my biases up front. For me, food is one of the best ways to spend your hard earned money. If you get a few key ingredients such as a good extra virgin olive oil and quality spices, and always have the essentials on hand (i.e. garlic, onions, etc.) then you can whip up a decent meal any night of the week depending on what you’re in the mood for. Plus, with a strong home base of ingredients it gives you enough security to venture out slowly into uncharted territories or types of cuisine, without falling too flatly on your face. I will explain this theory in my Pad Thai post when I first had to use “tamarin” and let me tell you that was an adventure.

Also, it’s very important to cook with what’s fresh and in season. I learned this when I studied abroad in Italy, although I didn’t realize it until I got back to the states. You see when I was abroad I would go to the market everyday and cook whatever was fresh and on special.

My dishes were always bursting with flavor, and the leaving it up to fate of picking up what was in season helped push my creative limits as a cook.

For the average professional, shopping for groceries everyday is unrealistic. I know, I feel you. But if you make smart choices in your grocery selections, several ingredients can last you all week! Yes, it’s doable.

Best of all, if you live somewhere that will allow you to grow plants of your own, you can even grow your own ingredients. No pesticides, all natural!

Now I know what you’re thinking. G, I am a busy person, I don’t have time to grow my own ingredients! And you know what? You may be right. But that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t try to at least grow one thing to get yourself started. Herbs are an excellent place to start. When you’re only cooking for 1 or 2, sometimes buying a ton of parsley or basil at the market is just a waste of money because it ends up wilted in your fridge after a few days. Spend the same amount of money on a basil plant at say, Trader Joe’s, put it in a pot and water it, and you’ll have basil all summer.

I recently ventured into growing my own ingredients, and I have to admit, I’ve become quite addicted to it. You’ll see on this post some cherry tomatoes, basil, sierra lettuce, and shallots.

No matter where you get your ingredients, start with the right ones. The old saying goes, “only get drunk on good wine” and although it’s actual meaning has to do with mate selection, I think it applies here as well. If you’re going to get full, get full on good food! And good dishes require good ingredients.

Eat with all of your heart,

G