Rustic Turkey Ragu

It is the last day of March and, after a fairly mild month, light snow flurries are hinting of a bigger storm passing through the Sierras. We need the snow, desperately. This region is in a severe drought and therefore residents don’t mind if winter chooses to come a bit late. Bring on those April showers.

Even with the mild weather, it has still been challenging to keep those extra winter pounds off. Seems I always pack on about five to seven of them. I’m not always disciplined with my diet and I am partial to a local coffee shop’s vanilla chai lattes. Probably not the leanest things to drink but they sure hit the spot! So now, when my pants feel a bit snug around the waist, I have to think about eating better and getting to the gym (and limiting my chai addiction). Lately, I have been incorporating leaner meats in my dishes, like ground turkey instead of ground beef. Here is a nice rustic skillet dish that is fairly light, but hearty enough to keep you warm on a chilly winterish spring evening. I used pasta that I had in the pantry, but wheat or a gluten-free variety would make an excellent substitute.

IMG_8711Ingredients
12 oz. Ground Turkey
1 tsp oil (olive, Canola)
2 medium Carrots, chopped
1 stalk Celery, chopped
4 oz. Cremini Mushrooms, chopped
1/2 Onion, chopped
1-2 Garlic Cloves, chopped
28-oz can 2 14-oz cans) Diced Tomatoes, undrained
1/2 cup Dry Red Wine
1 – 2 tsps. fennel seeds, crushed
12 oz. Pasta
2 Tbsp Fresh Parsley, chopped, or 1 Tbsp. dried Parsley
Grated Parmesan Cheese

Heat the oil and cook ground turkey...

Heat the oil and cook ground turkey…

...until no longer pink.

…until no longer pink. Remove to a plate.

Cook the carrots, celery and onion over medium heat.

Cook the carrots, celery and onion over medium heat.

Cook for about five minutes until they begin to soften.

Cook for about five minutes until they begin to soften.

Add the mushrooms and garlic and cook through, about three to five minutes.

Add the mushrooms and garlic and cook through, about three to five minutes.

All the veggies cooked through.

All the veggies cooked through.

Add the diced tomatoes.

Add the diced tomatoes and mash with a potato masher or meat pounder.

Incorporate with the veggies for the beginning of a nice ragu.

Incorporate with the veggies for the beginning of a nice ragu.

Add the wine...

Add the wine…

...fennel seeds...

…fennel seeds…

...and cooked turkey.

…and cooked turkey.

Stir together and bring to a simmer.

Stir together and bring to a simmer.

Reduce to low heat; cover and cook, stirring occasionally, until the sauce is slightly thickened and the flavors have developed, about 30 minutes.

Reduce to low heat; cover and cook, stirring occasionally, until the sauce is slightly thickened and the flavors have developed, about 30 minutes. While your ragu is getting its groove on, cook your pasta as directed on the package.

Serve the ragu over the cooked pasta. Sprinkle with parsley and parmesan. Enjoy!

Serve the ragu over the cooked pasta. Sprinkle with parsley and parmesan. Enjoy!

 

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Smokin’ Basil-Tomato Chicken Skillet

Smoky skies

Hazy days in Reno

Well, it is darn smoky here in Reno, compliments of the massive Rim Fire burning outside Yosemite National Park, nearly two hundred miles away. More than 100,000 acres are ablaze and only five percent of the fire is contained. Each morning we are greeted with smoky, hazy skies and a blood-red sun (which, where I come from, is an ominous apparition). The mountains and foothills are eerie shadows in the distance and sometimes not visible at all.

I lived in Billings, Mont., back in 1988 when the historic Yellowstone fires blanketed the region in smoke and ash. These past few days remind me of that very long summer spent wondering when I’d see blue skies again. The local news predicts we’ll start to see things clear out around Tuesday, but I won’t hold my breath (well, maybe I should!).

So what does all of this have to do with cooking? It means I can’t or shouldn’t be cooking outside, which is part of what summer is all about. Last week I was grilling tri-tip, but this week is all about what to put in my poor neglected skillet.

So here’s a quick (dare I say smokin’), tasty and healthy dish for you to try. I wish you all clear, blue skies to end your summer!

IMG_8338Ingredients
2 boneless, skinless Chicken Breasts, cut into bite-size pieces
1 14.5 oz. can Diced Tomatoes, no salt, drained
1/4 cup fresh Basil or Basil Paste
3 to 4 oz. prewashed Spinach
1/8 tsp. each, Salt and Pepper
2 to 3 Tbsps. grated Parmesan Cheese

Add chicken to hot cast iron skillet.

Add chicken to hot cast iron skillet.

Cook through for about 5 to 7 minutes.

Cook through for about 5 to 7 minutes.

Add the tomatoes and basil. I used basil paste, my new favorite ingredient.

Add the tomatoes and basil. I used basil paste, my new favorite ingredient.

Combine and heat through.

Combine and heat through.

Turn off the heat and add the spinach. Stir constantly as it wilts.

Turn off the heat and add the spinach. Stir constantly as it wilts.

Serve alone or over your favorite pasta. Sprinkle parmesan cheese on top. A smokin' fast dish!

Serve alone or over your favorite pasta. Sprinkle parmesan cheese on top. A smokin’ fast dish!

Garlic-Parmesan Stuffed Chicken Breasts

Seems I’ve been on a bit of a chicken kick lately. A number of my recent posts involve it as a main ingredient. My husband and I eat a lot of chicken as our primary protein because it is lean and versatile. But I think we need to mix it up a bit in the new year. Resolution Number One. Well, right after get in shape, eat healthier, organize my house and spend fewer hours on my gadgets. Then I’ll mix things up – in my KitchenAid mixer – another gadget. Never mind. I guess some resolutions aren’t meant to be fulfilled.

So if you are looking for a lovely way to mix things up with chicken, try this stuffed chicken breast recipe. It would be tasty with turkey as well. The stuffing got a thumbs-up from the hubby.

Garlic-Parmesan Stuffed Chicken BreastsIngredients
1/4 cup Butter
1 cup chopped Onion
2 cloves Garlic, minced
1 cup Plain Bread Crumbs (not pictured, oops)
1 cup chopped Fresh Parsley
1/2 cup Chicken Broth
1/2 cup grated Parmesan Cheese
1/8 cup chopped Fresh Sage
2 boneless, skinless Chicken Breasts
1 tsp. Salt
1 tsp. Black Pepper
2 Tbsps. Olive Oil
Butcher’s Twine

In a cast iron skillet, melt the butter over medium-high heat.

In a cast iron skillet, melt the butter over medium-high heat.

Add the onion and garlic.

Add the onion and garlic.

Cook until browned, about 5 minutes.

Cook until browned, about 5 minutes. Remove from heat.

Add the bread crumbs, parsley, chicken broth, Parmesan cheese, and sage.

Add the bread crumbs, parsley, chicken broth, Parmesan cheese, and sage.

Mix thoroughly and allow to cool.

Mix thoroughly and allow to cool.

Butterfly the chicken breasts without cutting all the way through.

Butterfly the chicken breasts without cutting all the way through.

Cover with plastic wrap and pound with mallet until 1/2-inch thick.

Cover with plastic wrap and pound with mallet until 1/2-inch thick.

Season with salt and pepper.

Season with salt and pepper.

Add stuffing over chicken in an even layer.

Add stuffing over chicken in an even layer.

Tightly roll up the chicken breasts and secure with butcher's twine.

Tightly roll up the chicken breasts and secure with butcher’s twine.

Heat the olive oil in a cast iron skillet (I used the same one that I used for the stuffing) and sear each side of the rolled chicken breasts, about 1-2 minutes on each side, until browned.

Heat the olive oil in a cast iron skillet (I used the same one that I used for the stuffing) and sear each side of the rolled chicken breasts, about 1-2 minutes on each side, until browned.

Bake in a 300-degree oven for 20-25 minutes until the internal temperature is 155-degrees. Let the chicken breasts rest for 10 minutes before slicing.

Bake in a 300-degree oven for 20-25 minutes until the internal temperature is 155-degrees. Let the chicken breasts rest for 10 minutes before slicing.

Slice and serve with your favorite vegetable, like steamed artichokes.

Slice and serve with your favorite vegetable, like steamed artichokes.

Herb-Crusted Chicken Breasts with Simple Pasta

Another crazy work week has passed and not much cooking has happened in my skillet lately. My poor blog is feeling neglected. And now I’m off for the weekend to a dog trial in Northern California, so like the Santana song so aptly puts it – my house is empty and my pots are cold. What can I say – life keeps moving and I’m trying to keep up!

So, before I pack up all my doggy stuff and head over the Sierras, I am leaving you with a simple and delicious herb-crusted chicken recipe, baked in my skillet of course, and served with a side of a delicious bow-tie pasta with tomatoes. It is surprisingly easy to make, packed full of flavor and tastes just as good when cold.

Hope you all have a great weekend. Maybe next week won’t be so crazy…

IMG_7193Ingredients
1/2 cup dry Bread Crumbs
2 tsps. dried Thyme
2 tsps. dried Basil
2 tsps. dried Oregano
1/2 cup All-Purpose Flour
2 Whole Eggs
1/4 cup Water
3-4 boneless, skinless Chicken Breasts

In a large mixing bowl, combine bread crumbs with herbs.

In a large mixing bowl, combine bread crumbs with herbs.

Mix well.

Mix well.

IMG_7197

Place flour in a shallow bowl. I used a pie pan.

In another bowl, combine the water and eggs.

In another bowl, combine the water and eggs.

Place the chicken breasts in the flour and dust completely.

Place the chicken breast in the flour and dust completely.

Next, coat the breasts with the egg mixture.

Next, coat the breast with the egg mixture.

Finally, coat the breasts with the herb mixture.

Finally, coat the breast with the herb mixture.

Place the breast in a skillet or baking dish coated with cooking spray.

Place the breast in a skillet or baking dish coated with cooking spray.

Repeat the process for all of the chicken breasts.

Repeat the process for all of the chicken breasts.

Bake in a 375-degree oven for 25 to 30 minutes until the internal temperature is 165 degrees.

Bake in a 375-degree oven for 25 to 30 minutes until the internal temperature is 165 degrees.

While the chicken breasts are baking, make the pasta.

IMG_7207Ingredients
2 Tomatoes
1/4 cup chopped fresh Basil
1/8 cup Extra-Virgin Olive Oil
1 Garlic Clove, minced
1/2 tsp Salt
1/8 – 1/4 tsp crushed Red Pepper Flakes
1/4 tsp Black Pepper
1/2 pound Bow-Tie Pasta
1/2 cup freshly grated Parmesan Cheese

Cut the tomatoes in half and gently squeeze the juice into a bowl.

Cut the tomatoes in half and gently squeeze the juice into a bowl.

Chop the tomatoes and add to the juice.

Chop the tomatoes and add to the juice.

Add the chopped basil, olive oil, garlic, salt, red pepper flakes and black pepper.

Add the chopped basil, olive oil, garlic, salt, red pepper flakes and black pepper.

Combine and let rest at room temperature for 15 minutes.

Combine and let rest at room temperature for 15 minutes.

While the tomato mixture is gelling with all those good flavors, prepare the bow-tie pasta as directed on the package.

Add to the tomato mixture and combine well. Add the Parmesan cheese.

Add to the tomato mixture and combine well. Add the Parmesan cheese.

Serve with the herb-crusted chicken breast. Enjoy!

Serve with the herb-crusted chicken breast. Enjoy!

Italian Wedding Soup

Italian Wedding Soup – my absolute favorite soup on the planet, hands down. I first ate it, believe it or not, in the cafeteria at the university where I work and have been hooked ever since. Rich in simplicity, it consists of four ingredients – meatballs, chicken broth, spinach and pasta. Although traditionally served at Italian weddings (thus the name), I use it as one of my go-to soups when I have a cold or simply want some warm comfort in my system. I can’t get enough of it.

Ingredients
1 Egg, lightly beaten
3/4 lb. Lean Ground Beef
1/2 cup, chopped Onion
3 Tbsp. plain Bread Crumbs
3 Tbsp. grated Parmesan Cheese
1 tsp. dried Parsley
Salt and Pepper
2 32 oz. containers of Chicken Broth
5 oz. fresh Spinach
1 1/2 tsp. dried Oregano
8 oz. Acini di Pepe Pasta

First, the meatballs:

Put the lightly beaten egg in a large bowl.

Add the ground beef…

Onion…

Bread crumbs…

1 Tbsp. of the parmesan cheese and the parsley.

Combine all ingredients.

Form beef mixture into meatballs, about 1 inch in size. Bake at 400 degrees for 20 minutes.

Place the baked meatballs in the bottom of a cast iron Dutch oven.

Cover the meatballs with the chicken broth.

Add the spinach.

And the oregano.

Combine ingredients and cover the pot. Let it simmer 10 to 15 minutes to allow the spinach to wilt.

Spinach as it gently wilts.

Cook the pasta in a separate pot for about 11 minutes. Drain and add to the soup mixture. Let it simmer for an additional 3 to 5 minutes.

Serve hot with a sprinkle of some of the remaining parmesan cheese. Enjoy!

Tomato and Cheese Skillet Focaccia

Fall puts me in “nesting” mode, bustling around like a little squirrel preparing my humble abode for winter. I spent the weekend being very domestic – cleaning the house, sprucing up the flower beds and trimming overgrown shrubs. Even though I’m fighting a head cold, it just felt good to be outside in the October sun, enjoying what is probably the last few weeks of warm weather before Old Man Winter settles in.

I also find myself craving to bake…a lot. I love to bake, especially in my skillet, and am always amazed at its versatility. I can bake anything in it – from bread to cake to casseroles – and they always turn out beautifully. (Stay tuned for a future post on my absolute favorite fall cake, also baked in my skillet). So, as I was in a cleansing mode, discovering items in my fridge and pantry that need to be used so I can make room for other things, I decided to bake a tomato and cheese focaccia.

If you don’t have a skillet, you can bake this in a 10-inch cake pan, deep dish pizza pan or springform pan.

Ingredients
1 package Active Dry Yeast
3/4 cup warm Water (105 degrees to 115 degrees F)
2 cups All-Purpose Flour
1/2 tsp. Salt
1/4 cup Olive Oil, divided
1 tsp. Italian Seasoning
6-8 oil-packed, Sun-dried Tomatoes, well-drained and finely chopped
1/2 cup (2 oz.) shredded Provolone Cheese
1/4 cup (1 oz.) grated Parmesan Cheese

Dissolve the yeast in warm water and let it stand for 5 minutes.

Combine flour and salt in a bowl.

Add yeast mixture to dry ingredients

and three Tbsps. of olive oil.

Combine until a ball of dough forms.

On a lightly floured surface, knead the dough for about 6 to 10 minutes, until it is smooth and elastic.

Place the dough in a lightly oiled bowl. Turn once to lightly oil the dough.

Cover the bowl with a clean dish towel and let it sit for 30 minutes in a warm area, like a sunlit countertop or near a warm oven.

Once the dough has risen to twice its size

get out all of your aggressions and punch it down. See, baking can be very therapeutic.

Generously oil all surfaces of a skillet or baking dish.

Press the dough into the skillet and brush with remaining Tbsp. of oil.

Sprinkle the Italian seasoning over the top.

Add the finely chopped sun-dried tomatoes, leaving an inch from the edge.

Add the cheeses.

Cover the skillet with a dish towel and let sit for 15 minutes in a warm place. Apparently, focaccia dough likes to hibernate.

Bake in a 425-degree oven for 20 to 25 minutes, until golden brown. Place the skillet on a wire rack to cool.

Once completely cooled, remove from the skillet and serve. Now I can settle down in comfort for the winter.