Friday, October 17, 2014

Whole Grain Penne with Meat Sauce

Growing up, pasta consisted of spaghetti and macaroni. The former came with a very sweet tomato based meat sauce and the latter was a "salad" drenched in mayonnaise. Those two still have a special place in my heart even after all these years, but like the rest of us, taste buds must also grow up.

When it comes to eating healthy, or at least trying to, we have this idea in our heads that the healthier version just doesn't measure up to the original's taste. The healthy version is basically stripped off of what made the original taste great in the first place. Unfortunately, this seems to be the truth in most cases. One of these days, we can give examples of such facts until we're all blue in the face, but today, lets talk about one example that goes against that train of thought. Whole grain pasta.

Hold the eye rolls, please. Get past the fact that whole grain noodles just aren't able to twirl around your fork like regular pasta does and you'll be on your way to a whole new world of tasty goodness.

Give me an hour and a half with 8 ingredients and if you aren't satisfied I will send you the full amount of what you spent on that box of whole grain Penne pasta. Kidding of course, but trust me. Don't be afraid of the hour and a half. You won't be slaving away in front of the stove.

Whole Grain Penne with Meat Sauce

Whole Grain Penne with Meat Sauce

1 12 ounce box of Whole Grain Penne pasta
1 lb lean ground beef (or turkey)
1 large yellow onion small diced
1/2 head of garlic minced
4 Roma tomatoes rough chopped
1 tbsp dried oregano
salt and pepper to taste
1 tbsp thin sliced fresh basil (optional)
1 tsp sugar (optional)
2 tbsp vegetable oil
5 cups of water

Brown the meat then drain excess oil.

Add the onions and garlic and saute for a minute or so until fragrant.

Add tomatoes and dried oregano and continue to saute for another two minutes or until the tomatoes begin to break apart.

Add half the amount of water and turn the fire down to a simmer.

Add sugar if desired to cut in to the tomatoes a bit. again, this is optional

Let the liquid reduce all the way down while occasionally giving it a stir.

At this time, boil a pot of salted water for the pasta and cook according to the instructions on the box. Pasta water should taste as salty as the ocean. Once the pasta is done cooking, do not forget to save a half cup of the pasta water.

Add the remainder of the water in to the sauce and reduce it all the way down.

The reason for reducing that much liquid in to the sauce is because you're giving the sauce a chance to really meld all the ingredients in to it's body. It sounds sexy and all, but it's a chef thing and it makes a huge difference in flavor building.

Always taste while you are cooking. Season according to your taste. how salty or spicy you want something is completely up to you.

Once the sauce has reduced and is perfectly seasoned, add it to the pasta in a separate pot, stir until fully incorporated and serve with fresh basil on top and some shaved Parmesan cheese if you like.  Enjoy!

Saturday, October 11, 2014

Chicken and Brown Beech Mushroom Stir Fry

If there was one thing I missed living in Kissimmee, it was the big Asian supermarkets that we have so many of, here in Southern California. I could spend hours just zipping around the isles just looking at everything from the ridiculous amounts of prepared sauces and condiments to the great array of snacks.

All throughout my cooking career, I have always been partial to Asian food. It's just what my palate has woken up to. I also love that there's a certain mystique with each country's cooking style and ingredients that really is hard to master due to it being passed down from generation to generation within the family. Some of these ingredients can, at times, be a little intimidating to incorporate to our daily menus. That's the nature of the beast, though, isn't it? If you happen upon a certain ingredient that you've been curious about, pick it up and try it out. We often get stuck with the same routine dishes that we make for our family day in and day out that we forget that there's a world of ingredients out there that definitely deserve to find their way in to our pantries and plates. They don't need to be these exotic and expensive items either. Just new to you ingredients will suffice. 

So on our recent trip to the Asian market I decided to pick up some Kecap Manis and Brown Beech Mushrooms. So the same old stir fry was a little different this time around... in a good way. I've always loved Kecap Manis. It's seasoned Indonesian sweet soy sauce and it just does wonders for certain dishes. Think of it as a Teriyaki sauce with a tinge of garlic and anise.

The Brown Beech Mushrooms are a bargain at about a dollar for a package. They have a more pronounced flavor than button mushrooms so if you aren't a mushroom fanatic, go easy on them and see if they're a keeper in your repertoire. Like most mushrooms,though, they take in flavor quite well, specially in intense flavored Asian cooking. They might even be a good meat substitute for you vegetarians out there. Stay tuned for that one....

Chicken and Brown Beech Mushroom Stir Fry

1 lb chicken breast thinly sliced on a bias
1 package of Brown Beech mushrooms (trim off base and separate)
1 medium sized onion sliced in to half inch thick slices
5 heads of garlic minced
4 tablespoons Kecap Manis
2 tbsp oyster sauce
black pepper to taste
3 tbsp cornstarch
3 tbsp water
5-6 tbsp of vegetable oil
cilantro for garnish

marinate for chicken

thumb sized ginger peeled and sliced thin
1 tsp salt
1 tbsp sesame oil

in a bowl, add the sliced chicken, ginger salt and sesame oil. massage well. then add the cornstarch and water. massage meat well then keep in fridge for at least an hour.


Heat a wok until it is smoking. In batches, cook off the chicken meat then set aside.

Add about 3 tbsp of oil and once the wok starts to heat up again, add the mushrooms and keep stirring until they have softened a bit. about 2 minutes

Next, add the garlic and onions and stir fry for about 30 seconds.

Then add your chicken, stir for another minute then add the Kecap Manis, oyster sauce and black pepper.

serve right away with steamed rice and enjoy!