Quinoa Pasta with Mushrooms, Asparagus and Truffle Oil

14 03 2012

For those of you that know me, you know that I am obsessed with pasta.  I make pasta by hand on a weekly basis.  I use only the best dried pasta from Italy or fantastic domestic sources.  If someone called me a pasta snob, I would have to agree.  The idea of pasta made without wheat has never sounded good to me.  Obviously, there are many people who are gluten-intolerant and I think rice pasta is a great option for them.  But since I have the choice, I would always pick the real deal.  Until now….

Monday night I was over at my chef-friend Erica’s house to watch The Bachelorette finale.  Yes, it was tremendously girlie, but a fun night nonetheless.  I expected the highlight of my night to be the tragic proposal Ben made to Courtney, the queen bitch/villain on the show.   But it was not.  Erica whipped up a simple pasta dish with shaved brussel sprouts, brown butter, lemon and Parmesan cheese.  With my eyes glued to the juicy reality tv show, I took a huge bite of pasta and was shocked. I urgently asked Erica, “why does this pasta taste so good?  What brand is it?”  She answered ,”it’s quinoa pasta.  My favorite?”

The pasta was absolutely delicious and tasted so far from a replacement healthy pasta choice.  Quinoa is not only high in protein and essential amino acids, it is one of the most healthy grains you can eat in the world. (it’s health benefits are similar to spinach and beets)  How could something so damn healthy taste so good?  My favorite part of the pasta was the texture.  It was perfectly al dente (with a little bite) and held onto the succulent flavors of garlic, lemon, and brown butter in the dish like true Italian pasta.  Three portions later, I was hooked!

Yesterday morning I woke up inspired to try my own version of this incredible pasta.  I already had a bunch of asparagus (which is finally in season and tastes great), dried mushrooms, truffle oil, Parmesan cheese and lemon in my refrigerator.  All I needed was the quinoa pasta, which I found easily at Whole Foods.

I invited my good friend over for dinner, opened up a bottle of Italian Proscecco and made up a new pasta dish.  I learned a few things in the process:

1.  Quinoa pasta takes a shorter amount of time to cook than regular wheat pasta (approximately 7-9 minutes)

2. When you put it in boiling water it clumps together, so make sure you stir it as it boils.

3. Dried mushrooms can add fantastic flavor to a pasta dish.  When you use dried mushrooms you reconstitute them by soaking them in boiling.  After 15-20 minutes ,  the mushrooms come to life are ready to be cooked.  The benefit of this technique is that the boiling water used to soak the mushrooms becomes a rich mushroom broth.  This broth can be added to the pasta as part of the sauce for more savory flavor.

Here’s the recipe I created for dinner.  I hope you enjoy all of the flavors.  Most important, I would love to know what you think of quinoa pasta!

Quinoa Pasta with Shitake Mushrooms, Roasted Asparagus and Truffle Oil:

Ingredients:

3.5 Tbs. extra virgin olive oil

2 garlic cloves, thinly sliced

1 bunch asparagus, stems trimmed off

1.75 oz. dried shitake mushrooms (or any other exotic dried mushroom)

3/4 cup mushroom water (from the rehydrating of the dried mushrooms)

8 oz. quinoa spaghetti or linguine

1/2 lemon, juiced

1.5 Tbs. truffle oil

1/3 cup Parmesan cheese, shredded

Kosher salt and black pepper to taste

Pre-heat the oven to 400 degrees.   Toss the asparagus in 1 Tbs. of olive oil and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Roast for 8 minutes, or until tender.  Let the asparagus cool down and cut into 1/2 inch pieces.  Set aside.

Place the dried mushrooms in a bowl.  Cover with boiling water and soak for 15-20 minutes.  Remove the mushrooms from the water (reserving the mushroom water) and place them on a cloth.  Squeeze the mushrooms in the cloth together like a sponge to get rid of all of the liquid.  Pat dry and slice them thin.

Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil.  Add the quinoa pasta and let it cook for 7-9 minutes, stirring occasionally to break up  clumps.  Drain under cold water, toss with a little olive oil and set aside.

Heat a large saute pan.  Add the remaining olive oil and let it get hot for 30 seconds.  Add the garlic and saute for 30 seconds.  Add the sliced mushrooms and 1/2 cup of mushroom water, season with a pinch of salt, and saute for 4-5 minutes.  Add the asparagus, quinoa pasta, lemon juice, truffle oil and 1/4 cup of mushroom water.  Season with Kosher salt and lots of black pepper.  Cook over moderate heat for 3 minutes, stirring with tongs to let all of the flavors come together.  Garnish with fresh Parmesan cheese and serve hot.

Advertisements




Salad in the City

9 03 2012

Daily life as a culinary entrepreneur can be pretty strange sometimes.  You don’t have set hours.  You don’t have an official office.  You don’t have to get up at 8am, run to Starbucks by 8:30am and be at your desk at 9am like everyone else in the world.  Someday’s I love the freedom of making my own schedule.   Other days, I wish I could succumb to corporate america and feel more normal.

So what do I do?  I make my own schedule to structure my life.  I go to yoga four days a week and take it as seriously as having a business meeting.  I assign specific days each week to get out of my pj’s, put on a cute outfit, and work at a coffee shop with other self-employed people in Chicago.  What continues to amaze me is how many people are working for themselves these days.  Coffee shops make “the outsiders” feel comfortable.  I look around as I sip on my chai latte and feel understood.

As a result of my coffee shop work days, I have tasted all kinds of cafe food in Chicago.  My expectations for the “soup de jour”or cafe “signature salad” are never high, but once and I while I am impressed.  Today I was at my favorite cafe in the city, Swim Cafe  at 1357 Chicago Ave (Ukranian Village). It’s not my favorite place to do work because it’s posh or decorated nice.  But they have THE BEST cafe food in the city.  You could easily pass by this place without any idea that it’s a hidden gem.  But believe me, GO INSIDE!!!!!  Everything I have eaten at this dive is delicious. (including their Seitan Gyro with feta cheese….I have never liked seitan before trying this sandwich)

My favorite thing on their menu is definitely the Summer Salad.  It’s full of basically every ingredient I am in love with: avocado, tomatoes, hearts of palm, toasted sunflower seeds, thinly sliced shallot and mixed greens.  The best part is their signature Green Goddess Dressing.  The flavors are herbaceous, acidic, yet well-rounded and earthy.  Every time I order the salad I spend at least 10 minutes tasting the dressing and thinking about why it is so damn good.  It never occurred to me to simply ask the chef what is in it.  Today….I got the goods. (and obviously I am sharing them with you!)

Swim Cafe’s Green Goddess Dressing:

1 bunch parsley, stemmed

1/2 cup apple cider vinegar

1/2 cup tahini

Kosher salt and black pepper, to taste

Blend all of the ingredients together and store it in a air-tight container.

*It’s fabulous on any salad but would taste great over fish, chicken, scrambled eggs or bread.  I’m obsessed.

Let me know what you think!





Cedar Paper Grilled Salmon

5 12 2011

What I love about cooking is finding ways to make a single ingredient shine.  I’ve never been big on smothering a dish with butter or cream, like many restaurants do, in order for it to taste good.  If you start with fantastic product you should be able to end with fantastic results, using good cooking techniques of course.

Last weekend one of my clients asked me to make grilled salmon for a very high-end dinner.  At first I was a bit stumped thinking, “how can I seriously impress these people with a simple piece of grilled salmon?”  I went to Whole Foods to find the most pristine salmon I could get my hands on.  When chatting away with the fish specialist I asked him if he had any cedar wood planks for grilling fish. Grilling on cedar wood planks infuses fish (of whatever you are grilling) with a subtle hint of smokiness while retaining its natural moisture.  It is a fabulous way to showcase a great ingredient without completely overpowering its natural. (and that is what I am ALWAYS looking for!)

The fish specialist looked around for planks, said he was sold out, but showed me a new product that just came in: Cedar Wood Paper!  I immediately got psyched!    What a genius invention!  Pliable cedar wood that can be wrapped around fish. This would give the fish more moisture and flavor and it would look gorgeous for presentation.  I bought a bunch of scallions, some honey and whole grain mustard and left the grocery store ready to fire up the grill.

So how did I prepare the salmon and cedar paper?

1. Soak the cedar paper under water for at least one hour (this will prevent instant burning on the grill)
2. Bring a small pot of water to a boil.  Trim the white ends of the scallions and blanch the scallions in the water for 1 minute.  (they should be wilted but not super soft)
3. Sprinkle the salmon generously with Kosher salt and a pinch of freshly cracked pepper on both sides
4. Place individual pieces of salmon in the center of the cedar wood paper, skin side down. (i recommend having the skin taken off for you when you are purchasing it)
5. Combine equal parts of honey and whole grain mustard in a bowl and mix.  Brush this “glaze” on the top of the fish.
6.  Fold both sides of the cedar paper over each individual fish. Tie the paper together with a scallion.
7. Place a piece of foil over the grates of a hot grill. (this is super important because the cedar paper and fish will burn if you do not put the foil down)  Place the individual pieces of wrapped salmon on the grill and cook for 10-12 minutes, depending on how you prefer your salmon and how thick it is.  Serve immediately!

Why am I so obsessed with Cedar Paper?  Because it add’s a “wow” factor to such a simple preparation of fish.  Also, it is so incredibly versatile!  You could use the same technique listed above with meat, tofu or vegetables.  You can add any spice blend or aromatics to this dish and make it your own.  Go to your local Whole Foods or World Market and buy this fabulous cedar paper and let me know what you decide to make!

 




Pasta Factory Video

25 10 2011

Did any of you know that October is national pasta month?  How amazing is that!  I’ve been on the pasta train all year, but I thought this month I should really celebrate pasta by eating a ton of it and taking a trip to Ann Arbor to visit my new favorite pasta’s factory.  I know that sounds hard-core, but….well it is.  The trip wasn’t totally about pasta… it was a total celebration of good food, gorgeous Fall weather and nostalgia. (I spent four solid years in undergrad studying in Ann Arbor)

After drinking bacon Manhattans and enjoying dinner at new gourmet restaurant, going to the Kerrytown farmers markets, eating from food trucks, going on a private tour of Zingerman’s bread and candy compound, attending an 8 course underground Tuscan dinner and touring an amazing pasta factory is that Ann Arbor is one of the best foodie towns in the country.  As a graduate that studied and drank way too much, I honestly did not appreciate all of the amazing food aspects of Ann Arbor.  If you haven’t been and live in Chicago, it is only a four drive.  It’s the perfect weekend getaway.  When you go, take a trip to the Al Dente pasta factory, about 10 minutes outside the city and meet Monique, the owner.  She is dynamic, warm and one of the most passionate “foodie’s” I have met in a long time.

Check out my video to meet Monique and get a taste of my tour around her factory.

To find out more about Al Dente’s product and order some pasta go to: http://www.aldentepasta.com

 





Spice Video, Ep. 2: Coriander

22 09 2011

Today I am going to take you inside my apartment for a little cooking adventure.  I encourage you all to try this recipe at home.  It’s easy, super healthy and something you’ve most likely never made before.  Let me know your feedback!

Recipe:  Creamy Millet with Coriander and Parmesan Cheese
(Serves 2)
 
Ingredients:
2 Tbs. extra virgin olive oil
1/2 shallot, minced
1/2 cup milllet 
3/4-1 Tbs. coriander, freshly ground
1/2-1 Tbs. kosher salt
2 cups water (or stock)
2-3 Tbs. Parmesan Cheese, grated fine
 
Heat 2 Tbs. of olive oil in a small saucepan.  When the oil is hot, add the minced shallot and saute for 20 seconds.  Next, add the millet to the pan and toast the grain, stirring occasionally, for 30 seconds over medium heat. Add the water/broth and bring the liquid up to a simmer.  
 
While the liquid is heating up, place 1 Tbs. of whole coriander in a small saucepan over medium heat (without any oil or butter).  Heat the coriander, stirring the pan, until the seeds are hot to the touch.  Transfer them directly to a mortar and pestle or a spice grinder.  When the coriander seeds are cool, grind them to a fine texture.  Add 3/4-1 Tbs. of the freshly ground coriander to the millet and season with kosher salt.  
 
Once the millet has come to a boil, lower the heat and let it simmer for 18-22 minutes.  Stir in the shaved Parmesan cheese and season to taste with kosher salt.  Serve immediately.
 
* For breakfast, creamy millet goes wonderfully with poached eggs, soft scrambled eggs, bacon or some seasonal vegetables
 
*For dinner, creamy millet is a wonderful accompaniment to seared fish, meat or roasted vegetables.  
 
 
 
 
 




Spice Video, Ep. #1

6 09 2011

Over the next month, I have decided to take a culinary adventure with you.  The topic: Spices.  Why? Because spices are underrated and they add incredible flavor, color and nutrients to food.  I think more people need to feel comfortable using spices when they cook. It’s important for people to know you don’t need to add butter or oil to make their food taste better.  Spices, in their freshest form, can transform any normal dish to an exotic delicious creation.

I have to be honest, I don’t remember everything I learned in culinary school.  But I will NEVER forget learning about spices from Tom, the owner of “The Spice House” in Chicago.  Tom’s lecture literally rocked my world….teaching me so many facts that I had never considered about spices.

Key Points that I remember:

1. Grocery store spices are not dated.  They can be packaged and sit in a warehouse for years before they make it to shelf of a supermarket.  At the supermarket they are usually never rotated so a “new spice” you buy is most likely expired by the time you use it.

2.  It matters where your spices come from.  If you go to a store that specializes in spices, they come directly from the source (Africa, South East Asia, Spain) and the flavors taste 100 times stronger and have a higher nutrient value.

3.  It’s always best to buy spices in their whole form. (whole seeds vs. ground)  They don’t go bad this way.  When you are ready to use them, you toast and grind them yourself to get the freshest taste and quality.

4.  Spice grinders are cheap and super easy to use.  They are basically the same thing as an expresso grinder and cost 20 bucks at Bed Bath and Beyond or Target.

5.  There are hundreds or different types of salts that you can use for different reasons.  Salt not only adds flavor to our food, it preserves, tenderizes and gives our body essential nutrients.

If you’ve never been to the Spice House in Chicago or Evanston, YOU NEED TO GO!  Don’t be intimidated if you don’t know what to buy at first.  Start with a spice blend or some finishing salt and take baby steps to the exotic stuff.  I’d love to share a video of my experience at the Spice House in Chicago this week:

This month I am going to continue to do video’s featuring some of my favorite spices and share the recipes with you. If you have any questions or want to chat about spices, respond to the blog or visit one of the two Spice House locations.

Locations:

Spice House Chicago, 1512 N. Wells St, Chicago Il. 60610  (in Old Town)

Spice House Evanston, 1941 Central St., Evanston Il. 60201





Timeless

30 08 2011

It’s amazing to think that no matter how old you are, food is always a part of your life.  Everybody has to eat.  People gather around food all over the world to bond, celebrate, catch-up, share remorse and make memories.  In certain cultures, life  revolves around food gatherings.  Last night I was reminded of this.  It warmed my heart and made me realize why I love what I do and how it does make a difference to some people.

I was given Sylvia’s number over a month ago.  A client of mine told me her mother’s friend was looking for a caterer.  I gave Sylvia a ring the next day and the sweetest woman answered the phone.  Her soft and gentle voice was a focused on the task at hand: feeding her family for her son’s birthday party.  She explained,” I am getting bids from several caterers in the city for my grandchildren. They are throwing a big party for their father.  They are so busy with their lives, I told them I would do the research for them.”  I could feel Sylvia’s sense of purpose over the phone.  It literally softened my heart to think that an older woman was taking on the role of a party planner.  We spoke for a good 20 minutes and I told her I’d call her back with a price quote.

When I called Sylvia back, the dynamic on the phone was a bit different.  It took her a moment to get situated as she found a pen, paper and asked me to speak slowly.  She explained that she was getting older but her brain was very sharp.  When I told Sylvia my catering fees and suggested some appetizers for the party, she was overjoyed.  She cautioned me that the party would have to be “Kosher-style” and asked me if I knew what that meant.  I told her I was Jewish and mentioned that I had several friends that keep Kosher.  This put Sylvia over the edge.  The questions came pouring out, “Where are you from?  What is your favorite Jewish food?   Do you eat Nova lox? Who is your rabbi? Are you single?

I decided from that moment on, I loved Sylvia.  She was absolutely shameless, without being insulting.  Sylvia declared, “You will cater this party.  I can’t wait for you to speak to my granddaughter!”  The next line out of her mouth took the cake.  “Now Kasey, you have to understand as a 60 year old, my family really loves food, so your food must be great.  Also, my granddaughter is very busy.  She is a doctor and has a baby.  But I assure you she is a wonderful host.”  I paused for a few seconds, smiled from ear to ear, took a breath, and confessed to Sylvia that I was not 60 years old.  She did not understand.  She said, ” Well how old are you then.  You seem too professional to be younger than 60?”  I told her I was 30.  Sylvia became utterly flustered.  She just couldn’t believe I was as young as her granddaughter. I thanked her and immediately asked,” Well how old are you Sylvia?”  She answered, ” Dear, I am 92 years old live in a nursing home.  You need to speak louder.”

That was probably the best party planning moment of my life.  My client thought I was thirty years older than my age and I thought she was thirty years younger.  I guess, it really didn’t matter.  We both came together around the topic of food with passion, focus and joy.

The highlight of the event last night was meeting this amazing matriarch.  Sylvia walked into the party and everyone stopped speaking.  Regardless of the fact that she was 4ft, tall and had a fabulous white hairdo, you could feel that Sylvia was the most respected person in the family.  She came right up to me with her granddaughter and introduced herself.  We embraced with a huge hug and she whispered in my ear, “Kasey, so lovely to meet you.  You really pulled it off darling.”

Minutes later her granddaughter came over to me smiling.  She said Sylvia wanted a detailed description of what I looked like.  She was blind as a bat and just wanted to make sure I was not “12 years old”.