Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Quick Pickled Onions

          There are some simple things that can add so much flavor to simple foods. One of my favorites is roasted tomatoes but this weekend I made a simple condiment that was just wonderful!!!  In a few minutes and a wait time of a couple hours, I created quick pickled onions and goodness, are they tasty! Such a simple recipe that does incredible things to the flavor and texture of raw onions making a crunchy, sweet and sour concoction that goes great on burgers and sandwiches and in various recipes. I have a confession to make, these taste so great I am eating a few out of a bowl even as I write this J

Now a word about this picture—see the pickle face? I did not plan that and did not even see it till I turned the dish for a different angle. Believe it or not, this was pure serendipity! But it is pretty cute, isn’t it?

         Perhaps you might wonder what made me want to try this recipe. We were having some of our dear friends and one of my favorite people to cook with over for a very laid back dinner of grilled hamburgers, sausages and a few sides on Sunday. Well, just before midnight on Saturday I decided to make potato salad for dinner the next day.  I tasted the potato salad and it needed a bit more oomph. Just because the meal is casual and laid back does not mean I want to serve a potato salad lacking in oomph!  I had already added a bit of vinegar and was contemplating adding onions.  The flavor I was thinking of was something like a pickled cucumber and onion salad I make but I did not want to cucumbers in the potato salad. However, I wondered if there was a quick and easy pickled onion recipe I could make for it. I looked online and saw a few recipes, including one I really liked on David Lebovitz site   

           I didn’t really have to follow a particular recipe because basically pickling is pickling and mostly you need some vinegar, a bit of sugar and a tiny bit of salt and possibly some spices. The thing I love about David Lebovitz’s  recipe is that he heats the vinegar and sugar and then adds the onions to simmer for a few seconds.It is simple and basically one step to quick pickles.  Lebovitz and most other recipes call for red onions. It looks prettier and I would like to try them. But I only had sweet onions and their white color looked better in the potato salad anyway. I think you could use any onion in this recipe as well as any of the spices or not spices at all!

Quick Pickled Onions

2 red, white or sweet onions—any onion you have on hand can work
1 cup white vinegar or white wine vinegar
1/3 cup seasoned rice wine vinegar or cider vinegar or even just more white vinegar, May use red wine vinegar for red onions
½ cup white sugar
1 tsp kosher salt
Optional spice- 3-4 allspice berries, 1 Bay leaf, 4 peppercorns, 1-2 small red chilies or pinch of  red pepper flakes—use any of these or none!

Slice onions into rings, thin or up to medium thick

In a non- reactive pan (stainless, enamel) heat up vinegar,  sugar, salt, spice stirring often to dissolve sugar. Bring to a good boil then lower heat and add onions.

Stir and simmer onions for about 45 seconds. Remove from heat and let onion cool completely. Put onions and all the liquid into large jar or plastic container and refrigerate.

Use onions within a week or two but they are best the first week.

These onions are great on burgers, sausages, sandwiches, hot dogs or tacos. They are wonderful in potato salad, cabbage dishes, rice, vegetables, Potato recipes, salsa, pulled pork or beef (BBQ, smoked, or Mexican style).

Here is our little "family" dinner with the midnight potato salad, roasted sweet adn spicy yams, hamburgers and sausages, roasted potato and onion and salads.

Monday, March 19, 2012

Roasted Tomato and Red Pepper Pasta with Sausage

I made a pasta dish a few weeks ago and forgot to post it. So here it is: Pasta with a roasted tomato and roasted red pepper sauce with spicy sausage.

        I sure love pasta! Well, what I really love is the sauce. This is a pretty simple sauce with flavors intensified by roasting and caramelizing. I like to add flavor where I can and roasting, toasting or sautéing can deepen and sweeten flavors of veggies. I think the key to a great sauce is lots of flavor—not overpowering the intrinsic flavor of the ingredients by too much heat or spice but building layers of flavor that complement the sauce.  Another key way to intensify flavor is by reducing sauce, such as in our balsamic reduction sauce but that is for another day J

I know we don’t always have an hour to make dinner. One way to enjoy this on a weeknight after work, is to make the sauce the night before. You can roast the tomatoes ahead of time or make the whole sauce and refrigerate it. One other time saving hint, if you are in a hurry you can use a can of fire roasted tomatoes in place of the roasted tomatoes.

To increase nutrition, you could use a whole grain pasta! Of course, for vegetarian version you can skip the sausage—this sauce is quite flavorful without the sausage!

Roasted Tomato and Red Pepper Pasta with Sausage

6-8 roma tomatoes ( or 1 can of fire roasted tomatoes *)
3 TBSp olive oil
2 tsp balsamic vinegar
1 cup roasted red peppers from a jar, drained
1/3 cup pesto, jarred or fresh
Olive oil
1 onion
12-16 oz Spicy or hot Italian Sausage
3 cloves garlic, crushed
1 tsp. Italian herb blend
½ tsp crushed red pepper flakes
½ tsp garlic powder
Salt and pepper to taste
½ cup whipping cream, optional
Cavatappi, cellentani or elbow pasta
1/3 cup fresh grated parmigiano reggiano cheese

* You can skip the whole roasting tomatoes if you want and just use 1-2 cans of fire roasted tomatoes, drained, if you are in a hurry.

Wash and quarter the roma tomatoes, removing most of the seeds . For easy clean up, put foil over large rectangular baking sheet with a rim. Then place 1 TBSP olive oil on pan.

Preheat oven to 350. Place in rectangular baking pan and drizzle with 2 TBSP olive oil and about a couple of teaspoons balsamic vinegar. Place in oven and roast for 40 minutes until tomatoes are nice and soft. Raise temperature to 400 and continue roasting for another 1o minutes to caramelize (brown) the tomatoes a bit.

While tomatoes are roasting, cut onion in half, removing ends and then cut in thin, vertical slices ( not rings). In a very large skillet on low heat, add oil and lightly caramelize onions by cooking on low for about 15  minutes. Once onions are soft, raise heat to med high for 3minutes or so to give them a little color. Once they are done, remove them to a bowl and cover.

 In the same pan, add sausage, breaking it up in larger bite sized pieces as it browns. When sausage is almost cooked, add garlic and spices. Cook till completely browned through and drain off extra grease. Return onions to pan.

Using a food processor,  pulse roasted tomatoes for a minute or so until mostly pureed. Add roasted red peppers, drained, and pesto and pulse until sauce is smooth and creamy. Pour this into the pan with sausage and onion and heat together for about 5 minutes on medium low. Add salt and pepper to taste.

All of this  can be made ahead of time and reheated for dinner.

About 15 minutes before time to serve, heat a large pot of salted water and once it is rigorously boiling, slowly add the pasta. Heat to boiling again and keep an eye out for boil overs.

Drain the pasta in a colander and add the sausage onions and pureed peppers/tomatoes sauce to the big pan. If desired add ½ cup of cream for extra creaminess. Blend and heat up sauce till nice and hot but not boiling.  Add the pasta in and stir in half of the parm cheese.  Plate the pasta and garnish with cheese, if desired. Serve

Monday, March 12, 2012

Sangria to Celebrate One Year of Blogging

       I can’t believe I have been blogging for One Year!  It is kind of a milestone.  I am glad I started and pretty sure I will continue another year. It has been fun and hopefully you have enjoyed some of the recipes and maybe tried a few out for dinner at your house.  I do wish my photos had improved more and that I had time to post more often. .  Still, I started this blog to share the recipes I had developed or tried with friends and it has been great for that!  I know there are lots of great ways to stage food in natural light or lighting tricks after dark but honestly, I am just sharing what I cook for dinner and I usually have a table full of hungry diners waiting for to eat. I don’t want to take the time to set up photos better, I want to cook and feed people and then share the recipe. So I suppose for what I aim to do, this blog is just fine. I wish I was reaching more people but I am always thrilled when someone comes up to me and says’ “I tried the recipe on your blog and we loved it!” or when I see another comment or like!

A huge thank you to everyone who reads my humble little blog and extra appreciation for those who have commented or follow it or like it on fb!! You all are the greatest!!!   I would love to hear from you if you have suggestions for improving my blog and recipes. Are the easy to read and follow? Are they the recipes you are interested in?   I know I have a long way to go and I have appreciated all I have learned from fellow bloggers and the encouragement from those who read my blog. Thank you!

I was hoping to cook something wonderful  this week end to post for my one year Blogiversary, but  I have not done any cooking this  week. Instead, I have been sick the whole week with the flu and have not done much beyond sleep, cough and sip on water. It has been long week but I am finally feeling a bit better. It has been extra difficult to be stuck in bed since the weather has been ridiculously nice- in the high 60’s and 70’s under sunny blue skies.  Happily, the nice weather lasted longer than my flu and I was able to enjoy some slow strolls in the sun over the weekend.  I know we could have more heavy snows at any time but it was delightful to enjoy spring-like weather.

One of the special treats was this beautiful little crocus right outside my front door! It is the first flower I have seen this spring and just like last year, it is in my own front yard.
You know, living here in Colorado I have come to really appreciate spring and all the seasons with their changes. We live in a flowerless winter expanse that makes me long for the first flowers of spring.  Back in California, we had flowers year round and that was one reason I loved SoCal. But here, the first flower is as welcomed as Christmas morning because there is such flowerless anticipation. I love living in four distinct seasons and that is one thing I love about Colorado!


The warm almost-spring weather inspired me with a celebratory recipe for my blogiversary: Sangria!  We love the fruity, refreshing taste of sangria, especially when we cook out on the grill.  Sangria is our friend's sam favorite drink to order so we have tried it at several different restaurants. We have asked servers for the recipe plus I asked numerous friends who served it what they liked in their sangria. It seems pretty simple and most are some variation of this basix recipe. Feel free to play with this as everybody seems to come up with their own twists :-)

Fort Collins is known for its micro-breweries and beer enthusiasts but I think everyone can enjoy dry red wine infused with citrus and berries that can be turned up a notch with some brandy or triple sec or mellowed with ginger ale and fruit juice. If there are those who do not drink wine, I like to make a well-marked non-alcoholic version of this by substituting some tart red juice (cranberry-grape, perhaps)for the wine/brandy  and omitting extra sugar. Tonight, we skipped Brandy since we were all tired and one visitor had a long drive home later.

By the way, there is an excellent syrup you can use to flavor sangria- Monin Red Sangria Mix Syrup. When we have some of this on hand, we like to use it instead of other sweeteners.
Red Wine Sangria

1 Cup Orange juice (or lemonade)
¼ cup sugar or honey ( more or less to taste)
3 ½  cups nice dry red wine- I prefer cabernet sauvignon , shiraz or a fuller bodied Zinfandel like Gnarly head Old Vine Zin, but I am not a wine expert!!
1/2 – ¾  cup Brandy (optional)
Juice of 1 lemon ( and perhaps a lime)
1 orange sliced
1 lemon sliced, Meyers are great!
Pinch of cinnamon

     Other Fruit options- Choose 2-3
1 small can of pineapple chunks with juice or fresh pineapple
1 cup strawberries halves or quarters, or raspberries
1 cup pitted sweet cherries
1 cup ripe peach slices
1 Cup sliced ripe pear
1 sliced lime
2-3 cups ginger ale (to be added at serving if desired)

Earlier in the day or even night before serving
In a small saucepan, heat orange juice and sugar stirring until sugar is dissolved. You may skip this step if using honey. Set aside to cool.
In a large pitcher, add wine, brandy, juice of lemon, lime, cooled orange juice and fruit. Cover and refrigerate for 3 or more hours for optimum flavor.
To serve, you may add ice to the glasses, if desired and a splash of ginger ale and then fill with sangria and garnish with fresh fruit slices. Repeat as necessary J
This should make enough for 6 people.