Filet Mignon with Balsamic Reduction and Goat Cheese

20131014-122755.jpg

Too much of a good thing is impossible. At least when it comes to goat cheese.

I am a goat cheese fanatic, and I am always looking for new ways to incorporate this rich and flavorful cheese into my recipes. Plus, for those that are lactose intolerant, it’s an LI friendly cheese!

Now, although Pleadings & Pasta likes to create original dishes, sometimes you come across a flawless recipe that needs to be shared with everyone. This recipe is one of those.

Ms. Giada De Laurentiis is my culinary muse, and her effortless approach to cooking is embodied in this recipe for a filet mignon with balsamic reduction and goat cheese.

The tangy balsamic reduction brought me back to my epic dinner at Acqua al 2 in Florence, Italy where I had a similar dish. The goat cheese melts so beautifully and makes for a fancy, but easy meal.20131014-122808.jpg

Eat with all of your heart,

G

Nutella Banana Fold-Overs

20131014-122637.jpg

Sometimes you just want dessert. Warm, gooey, chocolatey dessert.

However you don’t have a whole afternoon to dedicate to making a decadent dessert. So in honor of a visit to a dear friend and fellow chef in training, I made these nutella banana fold-overs as the perfect finish to our meal.

As a young girl I grew up on Nutella sandwiches. All of the kids in the lunch room would ask me how I convinced my mom to make me “chocolate sandwiches” and at the time, I had no idea how I was so fortunate. But, later on I learned Nutella is a staple of many European households, and growing up Italian-American, we were no exception to this rule!

Although I don’t eat Nutella as often as I did when I was a kid, it is still such a special treat for me and this recipe is a great way to get your Nutella fix.

Nutella Banana Fold-Overs

1/2 cup Nutella

Frozen phyllo dough or pastry dough equivalent

Sliced Bananas

1. Defrost the dough, and cut into squares

2. Fill with nutella and a few bananas

3. Fold over into a triangle shape, bake on 400 degrees for about 10-15 minutes or until golden brown.

4. Serve warm (be careful though, I wasn’t patient and burned my  mouth in the process since it was fresh out of the oven)

20131014-122646.jpg

Eat with all of your heart,

G

Rosemary Rack of Lamb

20131005-115859.jpg

Fall is here.

With the changing leaves, and chilly temperature comes the desire for rich, flavorful dishes to usher out the light, refreshing ones of summer.

Rack of lamb has always intimidated me with its fancy presentation, and the ability to truly destroy it by over or undercooking it. However, I took up the challenge and the result was juicy, tender, and downright delectable.

Rosemary Rack of Lamb

Pleadings & Pasta 2013

1 Rack of Lamb

Olive oil

5-7 Sprigs of Rosemary

4-6 cloves of garlic

Salt and pepper to taste

1. Generously salt and pepper the rack of lamb. Crumble the rosemary sprigs and rub vigorously into the meat on both sides. Wrap the meat in plastic wrap and put in fridge for 2 hours.

20131005-115909.jpg

2. Remove lamb from fridge and let sit at room temperature for 30 minutes, still wrapped.

3. Heat up a skillet to medium to high heat. Remove lamb from wrap, and brown the lamb on both sides (about 3-4 minutes per side). Meanwhile heat up the oven to 400 degrees.

4. Transfer the rack to a pre-heated cookie sheet wrapped in foil and place in pre-heated oven.

20131005-115925.jpg

5. Cook for 12-15 minutes and then flip and repeat. Regularly check the lamb to determine how cooked the inside is. Some of my guests prefer their lamb more “well” whereas others like it more rare.

6. Remove and transfer to a cutting board. Slice according to the bone, and serve with mashed potatoes, asparagus, or your side of choosing!

 

 

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

Baked Garlic and Herb Lobster Tail

photo-1One of my favorite indulgences is lobster. When I’m celebrating a big event, it’s always my go to dish of choice. There’s something about it that just feels celebratory and grand.

Fresh lobster is by far the best for cooking, and makes for a delicacy when served. Unless you live near the ocean, very fresh lobster is hard to come by. When you do find it, it’s usually very expensive. So I was on a mission to find a way to prepare frozen lobster in a way that would make it taste as divine as fresh lobster.

Since embarking on my mission, I’ve discovered several new ways to cook my lobster beyond the bland steaming method, and I think you’ll enjoy the fruits of my experiment. On deck today, we have the Baked Garlic and Herb Lobster Tail. If you have never tried baked lobster, you’re in for a treat.

Baked Garlic and Herb Lobster Tail

by Pleadings & Pasta © 2013

*Note, the recipe below is for one lobster tail. Multiply accordingly based on the number of lobster tails you have.

Ingredients

1 frozen lobster tail, defrosted

2-3 tablespoons of butter at room temperature, (amount depending on preference)

4 basil leaves

2 cloves of roasted garlic*

Salt and pepper to taste

1. Take the defrosted lobster out of the fridge and with a set of kitchen scissors (not regular scissors) cut through the shell upward. You will want to start at the base (away from the tail) and cut upward toward the tail in a straight line. Right before you reach the end of where the meat meets the tail, stop.

2. Pull back the shell and pull the lobster meat up and on top of the shell. Now take a knife and cut an incision in the lobster meat down the center. The same way (vertical) that you cut the shell. Congrats, you just completed butterflying a lobster!

3. Take the garlic* (see recipe for roasting below) and mix together with chopped basil leaves. I was thrilled to use some of the fresh basil from my garden. Press the two together in the bowl to allow the flavors to combine. If you have a mortar and pestle, this will be a great time to use it. Add the paste to the room temperature butter and combine thoroughly. Add salt and pepper to taste.

4. Preheat the oven at 350 degrees. Place the lobster tail meat side up on a cookie sheet covered in foil. Stuff the lobster (where you made the incision) with the garlic herb butter. Some people really love butter on their lobster so if this isn’t enough whip up more of the mix and stuff the tail until it’s overflowing.

5. Place the lobster tail in the oven for 15-20 minutes. Lobster tail will be done when it is a bright red color. Take out, and serve immediately with a side of choice! I recommend a hearty potato dish and a salad as a nice compliment.

Now if you want to be able to cut into your lobster with a fork and knife, I recommend removing as much of the shell as possible during the butterflying stage, as opposed to just pushing the meat up and over the shell. Pushing the meat over the shell provides a more artistic presentation, but removing most of the shell is more practical for eating purposes.

Either way, once you bite into this lobster, it will be hard to justify paying market price at the local seafood restaurant when you can make this delicacy in the comforts of your own home.

Roasted Garlic Recipe

Such an easy recipe! Roasted garlic adds depth to so many dishes and this recipe can be used in some of your favorite recipes that call for garlic.

Ingredients

1 head of garlic

Olive oil, salt, and pepper

1. Cut the top of the head of garlic off exposing the cloves. Peel off any unnecessary skin on the garlic.

2. Place head of garlic on aluminum foil. Drizzle with olive oil, and salt and pepper. Close up the clove in the aluminum foil (wrap it up like a ball) and place on a cooking sheet.

3. Preheat oven to 275 and let the garlic slowly roast for 45 minutes to an hour.

4. Remove, let cool. Then peel garlic. You can save the garlic in a jar of olive oil in the fridge for a few days for use in other recipes!

Quick Gardner’s tip: Before you cook the garlic, if you take one of the stray cloves and plant it in the ground, you will be able to grow your own bulb of garlic! It’s so easy to grow, and you can even use the snapes (top of the garlic) to cook with as well.

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

Rustic Mussels in a Light Tomato Broth

The beautiful thing about food is that we associate it so much with our memories, that just a single bite has the ability to transport you to a completely different place or time. Making a dish that we once enjoyed on a vacation or during a family holiday can bring back those fond memories and give us a quick “getaway” in the midst of a hectic work week.photo 1

When I think back to my time in Italy, what I remember most was sitting on the coast of Sicily eating some of the freshest mussels the world has to offer. In Italy, I had the “cozze” or mussels prepared a variety of ways, from a buttery garlic sauce to a fresh tomato broth. Italians prepare mussels in such a lavish and abundant style, and anytime I ordered them abroad they were alway served fresh in a gigantic black “cauldron” that spans the entirety of the table. Everyone digs in with freshly baked bread to sop up the delicious broth, and as you sit back in a food coma, you can’t believe that that wasn’t your meal but only the appetizer.

Once I got back to the states, it was hard to come by fresh mussels. A lot of the mussel offerings are frozen, which is fine, but I wanted to buy those that don’t have pre-made sauce packets with tons of sodium. I longed for the rich yet light broth I tasted in Italy, and so I set out to make my own Cozze.

So after much research, combining multiple recipes, and several taste tests, I found a delectable way to prepare your mussels that will make you feel like you are dining in a small coastal Italian city without a care in the world other than how many more mussels you will be able to eat in one sitting.

Rustic Mussels in a Light Tomato Broth

by Pleadings & Pasta © 2013

Ingredients

  • 1 pound of fresh mussels (make sure they are all closed, and if any are wide open they are bad and should be discarded. If you find partially open ones, tap them to see if they close. If they do, you can cook them)
  • Several cloves of garlic
  • One onion, chopped
  • Fresh parsley
  • 1 tablespoon of butter
  • Several pours of extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 can of chopped tomatoes OR 3 chopped fresh tomatoes
  • 1 cup of white wine (Chardonnay or the like, and cook only with wine you would drink! High quality wine makes for a high quality meal)
  • Salt and Pepper to taste
  • Sourdough Bread

1. Clean the mussels. Make sure that all beards are removed, and rinse well.

2. In a large pot or deep skillet, sauté butter, olive oil, finely chopped garlic, and onion until fragrant

3. Add tomatoes, parsley, and wine and simmer over low heat for 15 minutes. You may want to add a bit more wine or a dash of water depending on if you like your broth to be more liquified. Add salt and pepper to taste.

4. Try to contain yourself from dipping bread into this delicious broth before your dinner is complete. Trust me, I had to control myself several times because your kitchen is going to smell divine.

5. Meanwhile, toast slices of sourdough bread (in the oven or toaster). I particularly like to butter both sides of the sourdough and toast it quickly on the stove top in a skillet. It makes for a beautiful golden brown toast, and it’s a fantastic companion to the broth.

6. Add the mussels to the broth and immediately cover the pot. Let steam for 5-7 minutes or until all the shells open up.

7. Immediately serve the mussels in broth in small bowls and top with more fresh Italian parsley. Place one generously sized slice of bread in each bowl and enjoy!

Now remember, you can serve this as is, or mix it in with a pasta of your choice (preferably a linguine). The key to this recipe is to give the broth the time it needs to simmer on a low heat so all of the flavors can mix together. This gives the broth depth and will make for a much tastier end result.

Also, you can leave out the tomatoes and ramp up the garlic in the recipe and make a garlic based broth instead which you can serve with a few slices of lemon to compliment the flavor.

Pair your mussels with a nice glass of wine (the same wine you just used for the broth, since it’s open why not!) and enjoy.

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