recipes

Habanero Sauce

Want to heat up your Cinco de Mayo party this year??  Go with this sauce.  It is not for the faint of heart for sure. Pro tip – when you are broiling the peppers keep your exhaust fan going or open a window in your kitchen.  I once took Patrick to a hot sauce making class for our anniversary and it was held in a ventless room – not a great idea, imagine inhaling pure hot pepper fumes for an hour!  Also definitely go out and buy some plastic gloves to keep in your kitchen.  They are great when handling any hot peppers but either way please make sure to carefully wash your hands before you touch anything, especially your face!  A little goes a long way with this sauce so luckily it lasts a long time in the fridge.  You can pull it out whenever you want to spice up a dull week.  Happy almost Cinco de Mayo!

Habanero Sauce

  • 15 habanero peppers
  • 5-6 baby yellow or orange bell peppers
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 onion, chopped
  • 2 cloves of garlic, smashed and peeled
  • 2 tablespoons agave nectar
  • the juice and zest of 1 orange
  • 2 teaspoons cider vinegar

Preheat your broiler and lay the habaneros and baby bell peppers on a cookie sheet.  If any of the peppers have stems attached, pull those off.  Broil the peppers for 5 minutes, flip them over and broil for 5 more minutes until they are blackened.

Using tongs transfer the peppers to a medium size bowl and cover with plastic wrap.  Let them steam and cool for 10 minutes before handling.  While they steam, heat the olive oil in a small skillet over medium heat.  Cook the onion and garlic cloves for 5 to 7 minutes until the onions soften.  Add the onion mixture to the food processor along with the agave nectar, orange zest and orange juice and the cider vinegar.  I recommend using plastic gloves for when you seed the habaneros.

Remove them from the bowl and on a large cutting board use your knife to scrape the seeds and membranes from the inside of both the habaneros and the baby bell peppers (no need to peel off the skins).  Put the deseeded peppers into the food processor and puree until combined.  Taste for seasoning and add salt if necessary.  WARNING – this stuff is hot!  It can be stored covered in the fridge for several months.

Slow Cooker Lamb Tacos

I hope you all saw my post on Thursday about the fantastic new Mexican resturant in DC, Espita Mezcaleria.  Everything I ate there was delicious but the lamb barbacoa tacos were out of this world.  Before my second bite I told Patrick I needed to figure out how to make these at home.  I have had lamb tacos before but usually they consist of grilled lamb that has been thinly sliced or ground lamb served in hard shells.  The Espita tacos had richly sauced braised lamb folded into their homemade tortillas.  A slow cooker seemed like the best way to ensure that the lamb got fall-apart tender.  Lamb shoulder would be perfect for this but it can be difficult to find most of the year, whereas lamb leg you can pretty much always  track down.  I bought my lamb boneless and pre-butterflied because that’s all they had at the store but I promise it’s really easy to do and a good skill to have.

It really doesn’t have to be perfect at all since it’s all going into the slow cooker – if you are butterflying for the grill you want to make sure the meat is even thickness.  This recipe is a little more fussy than most of my slow cooker recipes – you want a decent amount of liquid to cook the lamb in but then you should cook it down to help concentrate the flavor.  If I really had all day I would have cooked all of the liquid down to the 1 1/2 cups needed but the house smelled too good to wait.  The lamb at Espita had a nice smokey, spicy sauce on it so I thought chipoltes were in order.  I used the dried peppers in the cooking process and then chipoltes in adobo to flavor the sauce.  If you cannot find dried chiptoltes in the store, any dried chili pepper will do.  As for the chipolte puree, I just take a can of the chipoltes in adobo (which you know about from here) and puree it in the food processor.  I use what I need and then keep the rest in the fridge for whenever I want to add a little kick (it will last indefinitely because of the vinegar content).  If you don’t want to do that just take one or two of the chipoltes, smash it with a fork and add them to the lamb along with some of the adobo sauce.  I served the tacos with chopped raw onion, some purple cabbage and a squeeze of lime.  I also added some of my Habanero Hot Sauce which I will be posting on Tuesday (yowza it’s hot!).  This would be perfect for Cinco de Mayo celebrations, just make it this weekend, pop it in the freezer and then defrost for next weekend!

Slow Cooker Lamb Tacos 

  • 3 dried chipolte peppers, stems removed
  • 1 tablespoon canola oil
  • 2 1/2 to 3 pound boneless leg of lamb, butterflied
  • 1 onion, thinly sliced
  • 3 gloves of garlic, sliced
  • 1 tablespoon cumin
  • 2 teaspoons dried oregano
  • 1 tablespoon coriander
  • 2 tablespoons cider vinegar
  • 14.5 ounce can of diced tomatoes
  • 3 cups of beef stock
  • 1-2 tablespoons chipolte puree (a can of chipoltes in adobo pureed)

Heat a large skillet over medium high heat.  Add the dried chilis and toast them in the dry pan for 3 or 4 minutes, flipping once, until they darken a bit and you can smell the chili.  Remove and put into the slow cooker.  Add the oil to the pan and salt and pepper the lamb while you wait for the oil to heat.  Once the oil is hot add the lamb to the pan and brown on one side without disturbing it for 5 minutes.

Flip and cook for 5 minutes more until both sides are nice and brown.  Remove the lamb from the pan and add to the slow cooker.  There should be enough fat from the lamb and the oil in the pan but if not add a touch more canola oil   Add the onions to the pan and lower the heat to medium. Cook for a minute or two and then add the garlic, cumin, oregano, coriander and salt and pepper.

Cook for another 2 minutes until the onions are softened.  Add the can of tomatoes and use the liquid to deglaze the pan of any brown bits stuck on the bottom.  Add the contents of the pan into the slow cooker with the lamb and chipoltes.  Add beef stock so the liquid comes up at least three-quarters of the way up the lamb (you may not need all 3 cups).  Turn on the slow cooker to low and cook for 5 to 6 hours.

Carefully pull out the lamb and place it on a cutting board to cool (it’s ok if it falls apart a bit as you do this as you are just going to shred it anyway).  I used a large spatula and a wooden spoon to get it out of there.  Pull out the dried chipoltes and toss.  Pour the rest of the content of the slow cooker and its liquid into a blender or  food processor (carefully!) and blend until smooth.  Transfer one and a half cups of the puree to a saucepan and bring it to a simmer.  Simmer over low for 30 minutes until the liquid has thickened a bit, stir in desired amount of chipolte puree.

While the sauce simmers shred the meat once its cool enough to handle, it should fall apart very easily.  Once the sauce it done combine it with the shredded lamb.  You can serve right away or store in the fridge for several days or the freezer for several months.

Lemon Chicken

There was a time, that my family never lets me forget, that I basically only ate pasta with lemon.  I know most kids go through a “white food” phase but this was pretty specific and weird – I would bring in cold pasta and lemon wedges in my lunch box to school every day!  Luckily my palate has expanded since then but I must admit, a squeeze of lemon makes almost any dish better in my opinion.  I started making this dish back in college, looking for an quick dinner that didn’t require having a ton of ingredients on hand.  Make sure to get thinly cut chicken cutlets for this recipe or alternatively use your knife skills to cut a regular chicken breast in half or pound it out to an even 1/4 inch thickness.  You want to really quickly cook the chicken without it getting tough and then just zip up the quick pan sauce.

Lemon Chicken 

  • 1/4 cup flour
  • 1 pound chicken cutlets (i.e. thin cut breasts)
  • 1-2 tablespoons butter
  • 1-2 tablespoons olive oil
  • splash of white wine, approximately 1/2 a cup
  • 2 lemons, one halved the other sliced thinly

In a shallow bowl mix the flour with salt and pepper.  Heat a large skillet over medium high heat and add 1 tablespoon each of butter and olive oil.  Dredge the cutlets and add to the skillet (do in two batches if your skillet isn’t big enough).  Really make sure to shake off the excess flour so they are just lightly coated.

Cook for 2 to 3 minutes until the chicken browns then flip for another 2 to 3 minutes until chicken is cooked through.  Remove to a plate and keep warm until foil.  If you need to do a second batch add more butter and olive oil and repeat.

Once the chicken is all cooked add the lemon slices and cook for 1 minute until they get a little color.  Splash in the white wine and squeeze over the other lemon to deglaze the pan.  Add the chicken back in and cook all together for another minute.

Osso Bucco

For the holidays I usually like to splurge a little and do a premium piece of meat for my loved ones.  However, I find crown roasts or cuts of that nature pretty intimidating because what if you have everyone over, hungry and ready to sit down but the middle is still totally raw?  Braised meats are totally in my comfort zone because they can be made ahead to avert a crisis and they are really satisfying.  For a special occasion, like say Easter, my answer is osso bucco.  This Italian braised veal shank dish is a classic for a reason – the meat is unbelievably tender and luscious and then you get the benefit of having the bone you can scoop the marrow out of.  Now I know veal is sort of controversial but you know what is more so?  Rabbit – my mother served it once on Easter and I locked myself in my room thinking she was serving the Easter bunny for dinner!  The quality of the meat here is key.  I got mine at Harvey’s in Union Market which is excellent but any good butcher should carry osso bucco shanks.  Make sure to specify osso bucco otherwise you could get a whole shank which is basically the leg (I would call ahead a day in advance and ask them to set them aside for you).  Osso bucco should be cut about 1 1/2 to 2 inches thick and ideally the butcher will tie them for you, if not I suggest doing that when you get home.

Having them be tied helps keep them together during the cooking process but you will see once they have braised for several hours they literally fall off the bone.  And that bone!  If there are any marrow fans in your family they will be so excited to see this – make sure to serve a nice crusty bread on the side so people can slater it with the marrow.  Since it’s a long braised dish but I want it to be sort of springy I suggest adding what the Italians call a gremolata to the top.

It’s essentially an herb topping made with lemon zest, garlic and parsley that adds a bright punch to the meat.  If you are having lots of folks over make this several days in advance, let it cool and then pop the whole thing, pan and all in the fridge and then reheat over low heat.  I cannot think of a simpler way to impress the family for a special occasion.

Osso Bucco 

  • 3 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1/2 cup flour
  • 4 veal osso bucco shanks (about 1 1/2 to 2 inches thick) tied with butchers twine if you have it
  • 2 tablespoons butter
  • 1 large or 2 small onions, chopped
  • 2 carrots, peeled and chopped
  • 2 stalks of celery, chopped
  • 4 cloves of garlic, chopped
  • 1 tablespoon tomato paste
  • 1 1/2 cups white wine
  • 1 cup beef stock
  • 14.5 ounce can diced tomatoes
  • 1 sprig of rosemary
  • 1 sprig of thyme
  • 1 bay leaf
  • zest from 1 lemon (optional)
  • 1/4 cup finely chopped parsley (optional)
  • 3 cloves of garlic, grated or chopped very finely (optional)

Preheat your oven to 350 degrees.  Salt and pepper the veal then dredge in the flour (i.e. dunk it in, get it covered in flour then shake off the excess).

Heat the olive oil in a large dutch oven over medium high heat.  When hot add the veal and cook for 5 minutes.  Flip and cook for 5 minutes more and then remove the veal to a plate and set aside.

Lower the heat to medium and add the butter to the pan.  Once the butter is melted add the onions, carrots, celery and garlic.  Season with salt and pepper and let cook for 3 to 4 minutes until the onions start to soften.  Add the tomato paste, stir to combine and cook for another 2 minutes.  Splash in some of the wine to deglaze the pan (i.e. get up the nice brown bits on the bottom of the pan) then add in all the rest of the wine, the beef stock and the can of tomatoes.

Stir to combine.  Nestle the veal back into the pan – the liquid should come up about halfway up the shank, if not add more stock or wine.  Tie the herbs together with butchers twine and add to the pot or just toss them in separately.  Bring to a simmer then cover and place in the oven.

Cook for 1 hour, then carefully, using tongs, flip the veal and cook for an additional hour.  After 2 hours the meat should be very tender and falling off of the bone.  Fish out the herbs and remove the veal to a plate.  If the shanks were tied, cut off the string.  If you are going rustic serve the shanks with the sauce as is, for a more elevated dish use a fine mesh strainer to remove the vegetables from the sauce (I served it on the side in a gravy boat with some poured over the top for presentation).

The osso bucco can be served right away, stored in the fridge for several days and then reheated on the stove top or frozen for 3 months (make sure to freeze the shanks in the sauce).  If you would like to serve the osso bucco with gremolata on top, combine the lemon zest, parsley and garlic in a small bowl then sprinkle on top.

Patrick’s Irish Stew

Growing up in an Irish family in Boston, you pretty much take it for granted that everyone celebrates St. Patrick’s day.  I didn’t realize until I left the nest that EVERYONE celebrates St. Patrick’s day.  And who could blame them?  The Irish are the friendliest people you will ever meet, love to drink, eat, dance and have a good time.  No wonder everyone wants to be Irish!  St. Patrick’s day is a terrific excuse to have a party or at the very least a nice tall Guinness.  However, I had to take my celebrations to a whole new level when I met my husband, Patrick.

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In Adare, Ireland

Every March 17th I make this incredible soda bread made with brown butter and rosemary and have plenty of Irish whiskey and beer on hand to share with our friends.  This year I thought my man should have his very own stew with all of his favorite things included.  Jameson, Guinness and coffee pretty much fuel Patrick so I added those to a hearty beef stew and came up with the perfect way to celebrate this year.  Sláinte!

Patrick’s Irish Stew

  • 3 tablespoons olive oil
  • 2 pounds of beef chuck cut into 1 inch cubes
  • 3 slices of bacon, chopped
  • 1 onion, chopped
  • 1 leek, cleaned and sliced
  • 4 carrots, peeled and chopped
  • 3 cloves of garlic, chopped
  • 2 tablespoons butter
  • 3 tablespoons Jameson Irish Whiskey
  • 1 sprig of thyme
  • 1 sprig of rosemary
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 2 1/2 cups of beef broth
  • 1 1/2 cups of Guinness
  • 1/2 cup coffee
  • 2 tablespoon flour
  • 1 cup frozen pearl onions
  • 1/2 cup frozen peas

Preheat your oven to 400 degrees.  Make sure all of the pieces of beef are around the same size, if not cut them until they are.  Sometimes I am lazy and buy the precut stuff (or it is on sale) but often they are all weirdly shaped.  It’s worth taking the time to cut them all the same so they cook at the same time.  Salt and pepper the beef cubes.  In a large dutch oven heat 2 tablespoons of the olive oil over medium high heat.  When hot add half of the beef cubes, making sure not to crowd them.  Let them cook about 5 minutes and don’t mess with them much or they won’t get brown.  Flip and cook the other side for 5 minutes and then remove them to a plate.  Add another tablespoon of oil (if necessary) and add the remaining beef cubes, repeating the 5 minutes then flip and 5 minutes more routine.  Add the second batch to the plate and toss in the bacon.  Let the bacon cook until starting to crisp, about 3 to 4 minutes and then add in the chopped onion, leek, carrots, garlic and butter.

Salt and pepper everything.  Cook for another 3 to 4 minutes until the onion and leek have softened.  Sprinkle on the flour and stir to combine.  Cook for another minute until all the flour is absorbed.  Add the Jameson and let cook for 1 minute.  If you have butchers twine tie the herbs together and add, otherwise just toss them in.  Add the beef broth, Guinness and coffee and stir to combine.

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Bring to a simmer then cover and put it in the oven.  Cook for an hour and a half, stirring once.  At the very end fish out the herbs then stir in the frozen pearl onions and frozen peas and cook for a minute or two more either in the oven or on the stovetop until they are heated through. The stew can be served right away, kept in the fridge for a couple of days or frozen for several months.

Creamy Meyer Lemon and Fig Pasta

Oooooh figs!  I love their sweetness, their amazing color (inside and out), the way that they can go savory or sweet.  I love figs so much that I planted a fig tree in our backyard.  Allegedly it should produce fruit this year, fingers crossed, but in the meantime I scour the farmers markets when they are in season. Equally fleeting is the meyer lemon season.  If you have never tried one it’s like if a tangerine and a lemon had a baby.  The skin is ever so slightly more orange than a regular lemon and as you can see it’s smaller and smoother.  They have such a bright sunny flavor so I stock up as soon as I can get my hands on them.  If you can’t find meyer lemons or they aren’t in season you can use regular lemon, I would just omit the zest and have a lighter hand with the juice since it’s more pungent.  Paired together with creamy goat cheese, the fig and meyer lemon all come together for a super quick and delicious pasta dinner. This post is dedicated to my friend Ashley who is even more obsessed with figs than I am – if I get any figs this year I will make sure to send some to Denver Ash!

Creamy Meyer Lemon and Fig Pasta 

  • 2 tablespoons butter
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 2 shallots, sliced
  • 6 ounces dried mission figs, stems cut off and quartered
  • 1 pound short cut pasta
  • 1 cup white wine
  • 1 teaspoon meyer lemon zest
  • 4 to 5 ounces soft goat cheese
  • the juice of 1 meyer lemon

In a large skillet heat the butter and olive oil over medium heat.  At the same time bring water to a boil and add the pasta and salt.  Add the shallot with some salt and pepper and cook for 4 minutes until softened.  Add the figs and cook for an additional minute.

Add the wine and zest and let it cook for about 3 minutes until most of the wine has cooked off but not all.  The pasta should be al dente now so drain, saving a cup of pasta water, and add to the skillet.  Toss the pasta with the wine, shallots and figs and cook for 1 more minute so the pasta can take on some of the wine.  Turn off the heat and crumble in the goat cheese.  Stir it around so the cheese can melt and become a sort of sauce.  Add some of the pasta water if you need to thin it out.  Squeeze the meyer lemon all over, toss and taste for salt and pepper.

Pineapple Fried Rice

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I first had the idea to make this fried rice ages ago – I was at Doi Moi on 14th Street with my friend Amy and we had two unbelievably delicious dishes.  One was stir-fried pineapple that was spicy and sweet and savory all at once.  The other is their famous crab fried rice that not only includes terrific local lump crab meat, but also lets all the other ingredients sing.  I think years of crappy fried rice in college had led me astray because I always thought it was slightly greasy and not very flavorful.  Well that night at Doi Moi was a revelation and I spent a lot of time figuring out how to marry that dreamy fried rice with balanced flavor with the intriguing pineapple side dish.  Turns out the key to both elements is a very hot pan and just a little bit of oil.  The heat helps the pineapple really caramelize so it has a more complex sweetness.  It also means the other ingredients like the rice and peppers won’t take on as much oil.  It’s also a good idea to use leftover as opposed to fresh rice, the dryness helps with the oil as well (I used brown rice I had tucked in my freezer).  The result is absolutely delicious and the perfect vegetarian main meal or side to grilled meat or fish.  I had been drooling over images of pineapple bowls on Pinterest so just had to try my hand at it.  I won’t say it was immediately easy to do (or explain as you can see by my tortured explanation below) but just dive in.  By the time I was doing the second half I had figured out the best way for me and it was a breeze.  The good news is since you are chopping up the pineapple anyway it doesn’t really matter what it looks like once you have scooped it out.  What a fun way to spice up the middle of the week !

Pineapple Fried Rice 

  • 1 pineapple (or 2 cups of diced pineapple if you don’t want to use the pineapple as a serving dish)
  • 3 tablespoons canola oil
  • 1 onion, chopped
  • 4 cloves of garlic, chopped
  • 2 tablespoons of chopped fresh ginger
  • 2 fresno or jalapeno chilis, thinly sliced (seeded if you want less heat)
  • 4 cups cooked brown or white rice
  • 2 tablespoons soy sauce
  • 4 scallions, sliced

If you want to use the pineapple as your serving dish use a large knife and cut through the center of the pineapple lengthwise, through the leaves and everything.

Then use a small paring knife and follow the edge of the pineapple with the knife at a slight angle.   Use the paring knife to cut out the harder core (throw that away) that runs down the middle and then with the help of a spoon and the knife, cut out pieces.  It gets easier as you do it, just make sure to not cut through the skin of the pineapple.  Once you have most of the fruit out you can use a spoon to scrape the edges and create a wide bowl for the rice.  Dice the pineapple you scooped out into a small dice until you have 2 cups (save any remainder for a snack later).  In a large skillet heat 1 tablespoon of canola oil over high heat.  Add the pineapple and cook for 3 to 5 minutes until the pineapple caramelizes a bit.

Add the onion, garlic, ginger and chilis and cook for another 3 minutes.  Add the remaining 2 tablespoons of canola oil and the rice and stir to combine.  Add in the soy sauce and cook the rice, stirring frequently for another 3 minutes.  Stir in the scallions and serve in the pineapple “bowls” or a large serving bowl.

Slow Cooker Chicken Tikka Masala

Yikes it is cold out there!  Lucky you if you are reading this from somewhere warm but DC is freeeezing, like Boston style cold.  I moved 400 miles south for a reason!  Anyway the best way to fight of the cold is nice warm comfort food, bonus points if it’s a little spicy too.  Pop this baby in the slow cooker and you will have meals for several nights or freeze some and you will happily discover it in your freezer during the next snow storm.  Cooking Indian food can be a bit intimidating especially when you see a list of like 6 different required spices.  However, after you make the $10 investment up front pretty much the same spices are used over and over again so you can make awesome dishes like Turkey Biryani or Spinach and Chickpea Saute.

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I use chicken breasts here because I prefer the flavor and texture over thighs.  Most slow cooker recipes will have you use thigh meat because the extra fat helps keep the chicken from dying out in the long cooking process.  However, this dish is super saucy and the tomato helps tenderize the chicken so the result is, as my friend Lainie calls it, “falling apart chicken goodness.”  If you like thigh meat use it by all means and report back.  Obvious pairings for this dish are nice fluffy basmati rice and naan to dip in it – stay tuned for a Indian Dinner Party post which this dish is the star.  Stay warm!

Slow Cooker Chicken Tikka Masala 

  • 2 tablespoons canola or vegetable oil
  • 4 boneless, skinless chicken breasts cut into large chunks
  • 1 onion, chopped
  • 5 cloves of garlic, chopped
  • 2 tablespoons chopped or grated fresh ginger
  • 2 tablespoons tomato paste
  • 2 teaspoons garam masala
  • 2 teaspoons coriander
  • 1 teaspoon cumin
  • 1 teaspoon turmeric
  • 1 teaspoon cardamom
  • 1 teaspoon cayenne
  • 14.5 ounce can of diced tomatoes with their juice
  • 28 ounce can of crushed tomatoes
  • 1/3 cup cream

In a large skillet heat 1 tablespoon of canola oil over medium high heat.  Add the chicken (in batches if you need to) and cook for about 5 minutes or until browned on all sides – don’t worry if they are still raw inside, in fact they should be.

Place the chicken in the slow cooker.  In the same skillet (adding the other tablespoon of oil if you need it) sauté the onion, garlic and ginger with a pinch or two of salt for about 5 minutes.  This should help pick up any brown chicken bits from the pan.  Add in the tomato paste and all of the spices and cook for another minute or two until the spices are fragrant and the tomato paste is deepening in color.  Add in the diced tomatoes and stir, picking up anything stuck to the pan.  Dump everything in the slow cooker with the chicken then add the crushed tomatoes.  Season with salt and pepper and stir so everything is combined.

Set the slow cooker to high for 4 hours or low for 8 hours (I prefer the low setting if you have the time).  After 4 or 8 hours the chicken should be very tender/almost falling apart – stir in the cream and taste for seasonings.

Love is…Bacon Jalapeno Mac and Cheese

Valentine’s day has never been a big deal to me – probably because I was single for most of them. In fact one of my worst dinner parties was a single girl valentines dinner I made for myself and my friend Amy where I totally had to trash my first attempt at a new recipe and a cockroach crawled up the side of the wall as we were eating! Even after I found and married the love of my life Valentine’s day still didn’t really do it for me.  Sure the candy and flowers are nice but my hubby gets me flowers all the time and if I want candy I am not going to wait until February 14th to eat it!  So to me it’s really just another excuse to tell the person you love how much you appreciate them.  That’s why in the Costello household it won’t be truffles or pancakes in the shape of a heart.  The quickest way to my man’s heart is bacon jalapeno mac and cheese!  This recipe builds off of my Smoked Gouda Mac and Cheese and adds two of Patrick’s favorite things in the world.  The bacon adds even more smokiness and the heat of the jalapeno cuts through the rich cheese sauce – perfection.  So cancel your reservation and stay home with your honey and this mac and cheese.

Bacon Jalapeno Mac and Cheese

  • 4 slices of bacon
  • 1 jalapeno
  • 3/4 pound shells or other short cut pasta
  • 2 1/2 tablespoons butter
  • 2 1/2 tablespoons flour
  • 2 1/2 cups of milk
  • 8 ounces smoked gouda, shredded

Turn your oven to 400 degrees and line a cookie sheet with parchment paper.  Lay the 4 strips of bacon on the cookie sheet so they are not touching and roast in the oven for 15 to 20 minutes.  They won’t look super crispy but they are.

Put them on a paper towel lined plate to drain and set to the side.  Turn your broiler to high.  Cut the jalapeno in half and scoop out the seeds (plastic gloves are good for this).  Place both halves on a foil lined cookie sheet, skin side up and place in the broiler.  Broil for 3-4 minutes until the skin is blackened and blistering.  Place the jalapeno in a small bowl and cover with plastic wrap to trap the heat and moisture.  After 5 minutes or until cook enough to touch, peel off the skin and finely dice the jalapenos.

While you are cooking the bacon and jalapeno, cook the pasta in salted water for 10 minutes or so then – whatever time is indicated on the box – then drain.  In a large sauce pot melt the butter over medium high heat.  Add the flour and whisk both together until the flour has absorbed all of the butter (this is called a roux and the best way to thicken sauces).  Keep an eye on it and let it cook for a minute or so, whisking constantly until it darkens a bit and the raw flour flavor has been cooked out.  Really keep and eye on it or the butter will burn (like I did!  Eh, no biggie – just rinse out the pan and start again.  It’s only flour and butter).

Slowly add in the milk, whisking all the time to break up any lumps.  Raise the heat a bit and wait for the mixture to boil.  Once it has you can lower the heat to medium and let it simmer for 5 minutes or so.  Stir it occasionally so the bottom doesn’t burn and you can keep track of how thick it’s getting.  You want it to be able to coat a spoon.  Turn off the heat and stir in the cheese (best to switch to a spoon here otherwise the cheese gets stuck in the whisk).

The cheese should melt in effortlessly, season with salt and pepper.  Add in the pasta and return it to medium heat for a minute or two – just enough for the pasta to take on some of the sauce.  Fold in the half the bacon and half of the jalapeno.  Serve in bowls topped with the rest of the bacon and jalapeno.

Chicken Marsala Risotto

One pot dishes are made for the winter time – they are so warm and comforting (and easy cleaning goes with every season).  I love a good risotto but it can seem like a lot of starch to constitute an entire meal so I decided to think of a way to incorporate some leftover chicken I had.  By using marsala wine instead of the normal white wine and adding in sautéed mushrooms, this easy weeknight risotto becomes plenty filling.  The basics are all the same (in case you need my risotto rules again here they are).  One deviation is stirring in some extra marsala at the end of the cooking.  I found that too much of the flavor was lost when you just use it at the start and by adding a dash at the end you get that sweet savory wine flavor burst.  And remember, don’t scrimp on the fresh grated parmesan at the end!!

Chicken Marsala Risotto 

  • 8 ounces of cremini mushrooms, cleaned and chopped
  • 2 tablespoons butter
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 3 shallots, chopped
  • 1 cup aborio rice
  • 1 cup marsala wine
  • 6 cups chicken stock, warming over low heat
  • 1 cup grated parmesan cheese
  • 2 roasted chicken breasts

Over medium high heat in a large saucepan melt the butter.  Add the mushrooms and season with pepper (but not salt).  Cook for 5 minutes or so until the mushrooms have softened and are beginning to brown.

Spoon out the mushrooms and set aside.  Add the olive oil to the same pan and heat over medium.  Add the rice and stir it around until all the grains are coated in the oil.  Reduce the heat to medium low and add 1/2 cup of the marsala wine.  Use your spoon to stir the rice as well as deglaze the bottom of the pan.  Once almost all of the marsala wine has cooked off you can start ladeling in the stock.  Add 1 ladelful at a time, stirring near constantly.  Once the rice starts looking dry add in another ladelful.  After about 25 minutes, add the mushrooms and chicken to the pot and start checking the doneness of the rice.  It will probably take another 5 minutes to cook.  Once the rice is done (it’s tender with just a little bit of bite to it) stir in the remaining 1/2 cup of marsala and cook it for 1 minute more so most if not all of the wine is absorbed.  Take it off the heat and stir in the parmesan.  Check for seasoning and add salt and pepper if needed and serve immediately.

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