Shrimp with Pasta and other amazing stuff…

Last Friday I met my husband at Barnes and Noble for a late afternoon coffee and cookie…and because the newest additions of our favorite magazines were out and we HAD to have them, he’s obsessed with some fishing mag called “Drake” and I am in love with Food & Wine (both the magazine and the real thing).  This month’s issue of Food & Wine definitely did not disappoint.  There was an article featuring Giada’s new restaurant opening in Vegas and this recipe is one she will serve at said restaurant (the restaurant is called “Giada”…duh).

I am a sucker for any shrimp and pasta dish so I was drawn to this right away…plus it called for fried capers, end of story.

I only tweeked the recipe slightly to lower the fat content, but I stayed true to the ingredients…here they are.

1 pound shrimp, peeled and de-veined 
1 pound pasta (she used spaghetti, I used whole wheat penne)
1/2 cup reserved pasta water
1/4 cup capers
1/2 cup chopped basil (plus more for garnish)
2 large lemons
2/3 cup freshly grated parmesan 
1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil

Start by getting a large pot of salted water going on the stove for your pasta…I used whole wheat penne but anything will do.

What got me hooked right off the bat with this recipe were the capers…you fry them.  I had never done this but now I had too.

I LOVE capers!

You just take those glorious capers and fry them in a good amount of olive oil, like this…

Use a large heavy bottom skillet for this because your whole dish is going to end up in the same pan you fry the capers in.

Fry them over medium heat for about 3-4 minutes, string occasionally…and then fish them out with a slotted spoon and let them rest on a plate lined with a paper towel.  Make sure you save the oil in the pan because you will saute the shrimp in it…caper infused oil is a wonderful thing I found out.

Some of these capers got pretty toasted and I was worried about the flavor but then I tasted one…holy moly, party in my mouth.

Once your water is boiling, get your pasta in and then start making the sauce.

For the sauce…just combine the parmesan cheese, olive oil, lemon zest from two lemons, and lemon juice from the same 2 lemons…

Now mix it well with a fork…

Your pasta will be done soon so you need to get that shrimp cooked…just re-heat your caper oil in the large skillet to medium heat and add your shrimp…

Cook them for just about a minute or two on each side…

Now you need to get your pasta back in there…remove about a 1/2 cup of the pasta water and drain the rest.

Throw the pasta over the shrimp, and then throw in your sauce and turn the heat to medium low…

Stir this around and add a little bit of the pasta water…you probably won’t need 1/2 cup but just use enough to help incorporate everything together.

Now you need some basil…

I just roll them up and cut them into ribbons, AKA the chiffonade…

Throw that in and then add those amazing fried capers we made earlier…stir until everything is incorporated.

Time to eat!!!

Seriously…my mouth is watering.  I had this for dinner last night and lunch today and I still want more.  I garnished mine with a little more fresh basil and it was just perfect.  You can also save the fried capers for the very end but I don’t mind that my parmesan cheese melts all over them…dear GOD it’s so good.

That Giada knows her stuff, someday I will go to Vegas and order this dish at her restaurant…and she will just happen to be there, we will get to talking about how I recreated the dish after seeing her article in Food & Wine and the next thing you know I’ll be showing her my blog and she will think it’s amazing… “witty and fresh” is how she’ll describe it, we will ink a book deal on the spot…hey, it could happen.


The Good Cooker


Skinny Chicken and Dumplings

So we all know that Chicken and Dumplings are a hit with any crowd, it’s one of those dishes that everyone can get on board with.  But like many old fashioned recipes that are made from scratch, people get the idea that it’s difficult to make…it’s not.

If you have fond memories of your grandmother slaving away in the kitchen making this meal while you played outside or watched TV, let me be the first to tell you that she was probably drinking a martini and playing cards at the same time…KIDDING!  But who knows…

Bottom line is, this is SO easy to make…yes even the dumplings…yes, even from scratch.  My version is on the healthy side too, hence the “skinny” part.  I don’t want people to think this recipe calls for an emaciated chicken, because that would be no good.

Here is what you need…

  • 4 chicken breasts, skin on and bone in (from fat chickens preferably)
  • 4 celery ribs, sliced
  • 4 carrots, sliced 
  • 1 medium onion, diced
  • 32 oz of chicken stock
  • 1 tablespoon dried parsley
  • 1 tablespoon herbs de provence 
  • 2 tablespoons corn starch (optional)
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1/2 tsp ground black pepper
For the dumplings…
  • 2 cups flour
  • 4 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 3/4 cup milk
  • 4 tablespoons oil (I used olive oil)

Start by chopping up your holy trinity (onion, celery, and carrot).  I’ve always called this combo “the holy trinity” and I never knew why.  I thought maybe I made it up in my head but turns out this is a real term for any soup/stew base veggie combo.  It took me about 15 years to google that.  

Throw the veggie combo into a large stock pot or dutch oven with some olive oil…

And saute everything until it starts to soften…

Now add your spices and herbs…salt/pepper, dried parsley and herbs de Provence.  I love this stuff!

Now add your chicken, you really want to use the skin on/bone in kind in order to get the best flavor…and this stuff is WAY cheaper than the boneless variety.

These things were HUGE, definitely not skinny.

Arrange the chicken so it’s tucked down in there and then add your stock…

You want the stock to pretty much cover the chicken…

Now Bring this to a boil and then reduce the heat, cover it and simmer for about 45 minutes.

Now remove the chicken and put it on a plate or cutting board to cool before handling it…

Now it’s time to PICK THAT CHICKEN!  This just means you’re going to tear the meat from the skin and bones.  Discard the skin and bones, I love crispy chicken skin but rubbery skin not so much!

When you’re picking the chicken you will find that animals and small children will begin to gather ’round.  You will need to keep them at bay with a broom or something.

Here is my two year old coming in for the steal…

I know, WHO in the world let’s a two year old on the counter!  Or if you have a two year old you understand that they actually live on the counter.  I gave him some chicken just to keep him happy and off the counter.

Now you can just tear it apart into eatable pieces or even use a large knife to cube it up.

Next, return the chicken to the simmering pot.

At this point you can add some corn starch that has been mixed with a small amount of cold water, this will thicken your liquid easily but won’t affect the taste.

Now it’s time to make the dumplings!

Get a large bowl out and throw all of your dumpling ingredients in it…start with the flour, baking powder, and salt…and then add the milk and oil.

Mix it all together…at first it will look like this.

Keep mixing until you form a ball of dough, you can use your hands to help it along.

Now you’re just going to tear off 1-2 inch around blobs of dough and gently put them in the pot.

Now put the lid on and walk away for about 20 minutes…when you come back you will have this!

Guess what, it’s done…and everybody loves you now.

These dumplings blow my mind because they are so easy but they turn out perfect every time, they always taste just as a dumpling should!

And it doesn’t hurt that this dish is on the healthy side either, because you’re going to eat a lot of it…trust me.

Try it out and let me know what you think!  Also, tell your family it’s really difficult to make so they need to just stay out of the kitchen (or even the house) until it’s ready…and then have some wine and cherish the silence.


The Good Cooker

Cheesy potatoes…enough said

Here comes another great side dish for any occasion.  Cheese and potatoes have been friends for a really long time…let’s do some analogies about the cheese/potato combo because I’m a nerd and I think it’s fun…cheese is to potatoes like hairspray is to the 80’s…cheese is to potatoes like snow is to the Midwest…cheese is to potatoes like Ryan Gosling is to me (that dude is always all over me!).

That was fun…

I made this side dish along with the broccoli salad (recipe here) for our BBQ chicken dinner last weekend.  This is a cinch to prepare and cooks in the oven so it’s perfect if your main course is going on the grill or being cooked on a spit (in other words, anything that doesn’t require the oven).

Here are the ingredients…

4-5 large russet potatoes
3 tbsp – butter
3 tbsp – all purpose flour
2 cups milk (skim or 2% work fine)
1/2 tsp salt
1/4 tsp black pepper
1/8 tsp nutmeg 
12 oz. cheese (cheddar, colby jack, etc.)

Start with about 5 good sized russet potatoes…

Cut them into about 1/4 inch slices and place one layer down in a buttered 9 x 13 glass dish in what I call a “fish scale” pattern…

Now sprinkle some salt and pepper over this layer and then keep putting down potato slices in a nice pattern…or just plop the rest on like I did…

I threw some dabs of butter on top that I had left over from greasing the dish, there is no sense in wasting butter, am I right?

Now we’re going to make a Béchamel sauce…that sounds so fancy, it’s not.  Béchamel just means “white sauce” and all it consists of is butter that is cooked with some flour and then milk is added.  The result is magical.

So start by melting your butter in a sauce pan…

For some reason I don’t have any pics of me adding the flour and whisking it for a few minutes, but that’s what you need to do to make the roux (another fancy word that just means cooking flour in butter).

After you cook the flour/butter mixture for a minute or so, add your milk…

Now it looks like a big soupy mess…which is just perfect.

Cook this mixture over medium low heat, stirring frequently with your whisk…after about 7 minutes you will end up with a wonderful thick sauce called…say it with me, “Béchamel!”

This sauce is already the bomb but we are going to take it to the next level…by adding some grated cheddar cheese…

Ohhhhh, my lord…that’s the stuff dreams are made of.

Once it’s melted in, you have this…

 This looks like liquid gold because it IS liquid gold.  Go ahead and taste this amazingness and add some salt and pepper if you would like.  This is also when I add the nutmeg, you are under no obligation to add nutmeg but in my personal experience it’s the right decision.

This cheese sauce can be used for a multitude of culinary delights…perfect for homemade macaroni, or dipping sauce for soft pretzels…or even soup if you want to add some broccoli or beer!

Now pour this all over the potatoes!

Gorgeous, isn’t it?

I had some left over cheese so I added that on top (I highly recommend this part!)

Now put some foil over the whole thing and throw it in your oven at 400°F oven for about an hour.

Take the foil off about 15 minutes before so you can get that bubbly-ness that we all adore so much.

Oh hey there cheesy potatoes…I’m going to eat you now.

This dish is GOOD with a capital G and a capital O and…you get it.

Cheers to cheese and other wonderful things!

The Good Cooker

Broccoli Salad (that people will eat)

Raise your hand if you love broccoli!  Wow, that’s a lot of you…if you love broccoli you will also love this broccoli salad.  It’s sort of a copy cat recipe from a grocery store in my hometown, that was way back when they used to actually MAKE the deli salads instead of having them delivered in plastic tubs (yuck!).  Whole Foods does make an in-house version but if you come close I will tell you a little secret…mine is better.

This broccoli salad has the whole sweet and salty thing going on which I go completely ga-ga for…and the longer it sits the better it gets (also a win in my book).

Here’s what you need…

2-3 large heads of broccoli
1 package of bacon, preferably center cut
2 cups raisins
2 chopped green onions
3/4 cup light mayo
1/4 cup apple cider vinegar
1-2 tbsp sugar
salt and pepper

First, rinse your broccoli and chop off the large stalk.  Then keep cutting away at the stalks to separate the broccoli into tiny bite-sized trees.

Then throw it all in a big bowl, preferably a red one because look at how pretty that is!

Now you need to cook some bacon.  Notice I said to use a “package” of bacon, this is because I don’t believe in telling people how much bacon to put in things.  I used a package that had about 8 slices but if you want to use more or less then you go ahead and do that. You like thick cut?…use that.  You a fan of turkey bacon?… go for it!  Bacon is freedom.    

I do have some advice on HOW to cook your bacon…do it in the oven.  Stick it on a tray and throw it in at 400°F for 15 minutes.  Maybe a little longer for thick cut and maybe a little less for the turkey variety.  You want it to get nice and crispy (DUH!)

While the bacon is bakin’ (that’s a homophone!) go ahead and prepare the dressing.  It’s so easy, just mix 3/4 cup of mayo with 1/4 cup of good apple cider vinegar.  

Then add some sugar, between one and two tablespoons is good…add one tbsp, taste it, and then go from there.

Once the bacon is ready, use tongs to remove it from your baking sheet and place it on paper towels to soak up any excess oil…in other words, do what you’ve always done with bacon when it’s done.

Once it’s cooled, use your hands to break it up into pieces…

Now dump your bacon in the broccoli bowl and then add the raisins…

Then pour your dressing over the whole thing and stir it all together…

Now stick it in the fridge and let it hang out, the dressing will help to slightly soften the broccoli while it sits.

When you’re ready to serve it, chop up some green onions and throw those in…

Now give it a taste and add some salt and pepper to your liking.

It’s done!  

This is a perfect side dish for your backyard BBQ…

Stay tuned for the recipe on how to make those cheesy potatoes in the background…I’m such a tease!


The Good Cooker

A night in with the Women Who Wine…

First things first…when I am my mother’s age I can only hope and pray that I have friends who are as kind and funny and wonderful as my mom’s cohorts are.  Every month, a group of women from my parent’s neighborhood get together and drink wine and eat food and talk about everything from education issues to fashion trends.  I know these ladies know the value of this time they get to spend together but being on the periphery of this crew I can really see how truly lucky they all are to have each other.  They are as different as they are the same, they listen to other view points and they’re even patient with me when I get “passionate” about a topic.  Did I mention there’s wine involved?  

My mom was hosting “winers” (that’s what they call it) this month so I asked if I could prepare the menu.  It’s a dream of mine to be a personal chef however living in Northern Indiana I don’t know too many people wanting to hire a chef for their “dinner party”…so this was a great chance for me to cook for a (small) crowd.  

My mom was thinking Italian and I was totally on board.  I already knew I would do my meatballs, recipe here.  I just made the meatballs slightly smaller and served them with toothpicks.

Speaking of my mom…here she is bringing in the wine!

No, I am not 13 and no, she didn’t have me when she was 13.  The woman must possess the same anti-aging DNA as Christy Brinkley…I’m sure it skips a generation, actually I know it does.

So not only do we indulge in amazing wines (all under $20)…they also do a signature cocktail for each get together.  Being that this was an Italian theme, we decided to go with an Italian Greyhound.  I think it’s traditionally made with Gin but we decided Vodka was the way to go, it’s just…

2 cups vodka
4 cups red grapefruit juice
1/4 cup campari
rosemary sprigs

Just mix together the liquid ingredients and pour over ice…then snap a sprig of rosemary to release the oils and throw that in.  Heaven in a glass…

Back to the food…besides the meatballs, mom thought that toasted ravioli would be great…I agreed (who isn’t going to agree that toasted ravioli is a good idea?)

I used a recipe from The Six Sisters, click here for the post.  It worked great because I was able to find fresh ricotta stuffed ravioli at Bamber’s Superette in South Bend.

How we have access to an authentic Italian grocer in Northern Indiana is beyond me but Bambers is just that, click here for information about their amazing market…and to see how cute the owners are.

Here are some photos I snapped when preparing the toasted ravioli…

And here I am with the ravioli fresh out of the oven!

And here I am with my BFF Meg…

And here’s the end result…Ta Da!!!!

My mom got a marinara from Bambers to dip these in…toasted raviolis plus good marinara equals angels singing.

We also did some caprese skewers…just fresh mozzarella, fresh basil, and a grape tomato on a small skewer. 

You can drizzle some extra virgin olive oil on these if you would like…I call this “tastefully stupid easy”.

We also did an antipasti plate filled with authentic Italian meats, cheeses, olives, and marinaded artichokes…

 Paula (mom) can roll a mean prosciutto…

That black substance on the sharp Italian cheese that I can’t remember the name of is a balsamic jelly…there are no words to explain the epicness that is balsamic jelly.  We added some crackers on the side as well.

Here are some photos of the spread…

And here is a photo of my mom’s living room, because it’s awesome…

She buys most of her furniture at junk shops…feel free to pin this, I would.

And here are some photos of the winers having a good time…

To say that I am fortunate to know these ladies is a gross understatement, they all freaking rock…and I have no friends around here so it’s pretty cool that they let me hang out with them.

I hope this inspires you to get together with your friends and eat some good food and just be yourself.  I’m all about a judge free zone and let me tell you, this is it!  Oh, and maybe try some of these recipes too…

Cheers from the winers!

The Good Cooker