Spaghetti Squash Bolognese

SPAGHETTISQUASH

Squash. I feel like it’s one of those controversial vegetables like brussels sprouts and broccoli. You either love it or hate it. I don’t understand squash haters and personally, I think they are making a bit mistake. Squash is so versatile. Did you know there are over 50 varieties of squash? You can also cook it just about any way– boiled squash, fried squash, baked squash, sautéed squash, squash casserole, squash pie, squash bread. I feel like Bubba from Forrest Gump. I could really go on and on about squash.

The BEST way to eat squash in my opinion is when it resembles a noodle. Conveniently, the squash king named this variety “Spaghetti Squash”. It’s genius really. A vegetable that can replace pasta! Sure, on it’s own its a little bland and boring but trust me, with the right sauce you will love it. It might even turn squash skeptics into loyal fans.

This was the first time I tried a meaty sauce with my squash noodles. Result? Perfect. Tons of protein, low carb, packed with vegetables and nutrients. It’s also pretty easy on the wallet. You really can’t go wrong. If you are red meat averse, feel free to substitute ground turkey for the beef and omit the pancetta.

Ingredients

Serves 4

  • 1 large spaghetti squash ($3.00)
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil ($.10)
  • 1/2 medium onion, chopped ($.50)
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced ($.20)
  • 2 cups mushrooms, sliced ($2.00)
  • 1 carrot, finely minced ($.10)
  • 1 celery stalk, finely chopped ($.10)
  • 4 oz pancetta, finely chopped ($3.00)
  • 1 pound ground beef ($5.00)
  • Salt
  • Pepper
  • 1/4 C cheap dry red wine ($1.00)
  • 1 (28-ounce) can crushed tomatoes ($1.50)
  • 1/4 cup half and half ($.30)
  • 1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes ($.03)
  • 1/2 teaspoon basil ($.20)

Total: $17.03

Instructions

Preheat oven to 400. Poke 4 or 5 holes in spaghetti squash and microwave for 10 minutes in a large microwave safe dish.

Meanwhile, in a dutch oven or stock pot sauté the carrot, onion, celery, garlic and mushrooms over medium-high heat with 1 tbs olive oil. After the veggies are cooked through, add pancetta and cook until crispy, about 4 minutes. Next, add in ground beef and brown.

Once beef is brown, drain off excess grease then add mixture back to pan. Season with salt and pepper. Add 1/4 C wine and scrape up brown bits, cook 2 minutes. Add in tomatoes, half and half, red pepper flakes and basil. SImmer on low for 35 minutes.

At this point, remove the spaghetti squash. Careful, it’s hot! Cut in half and remove seeds…try and keep in as much pulp as possible. Put both sides cut-side down on a greased cooking sheet and bake 25 minutes. Remove squash, then using two forks, pull out the pulp and separate noodles into a bowl.

To serve, add squash noodles to bowl with a hearty scoop of Bolognese. Feel free to add grated parmesan as well!

Chicken Marsala

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There are certain dishes that have a special place in my heart. This one isn’t a family recipe, but it’s one that I’ve ordered time and time again at a local Italian restaurant in my hometown. For some reason Chicken Marsala reminds me of home…not sure how an Italian dish can remind me of Florida but it does.

This recipe really couldn’t be any easier. You basically sauté chicken cutlets in butter, add in some shallots and mushrooms then make a reduction sauce with marsala wine, cream and a bit of lemon juice. I love that you can use plain ‘ol white button mushrooms in this recipe. These guys are getting upstaged lately by their snobby cousins crimini and portobello. I’m willing to bet money that if you can cook them right, button mushrooms can pull off as much flavor as their fancy friends. Did you know matsutake mushrooms are approximately $1,000 a pound! I should just try and harvest them the next time I’m in Japan and sell them on the mushroom black market.

Now don’t spend all your pennies when shopping for Marsala wine. It really won’t make your dish taste any better.  Actually it will make it taste very bad. Typically if you find Marsala in a liquor store or wine shop it will be sweet and NOT meant for cooking…I always find mine near the oil and vinegar at the supermarket. Don’t be a dummy and drink this variety. Dry Marsala is a fortified wine, which means it has a spirit added to it and will last for months if you keep it in your pantry. I use mine sparingly, so a large bottle usually lasts me about a year. Score!

Tonight chose asparagus and a simple pasta with roma tomatoes, garlic and basil. It would also be good with garlic mashed potatoes or even a simple garden salad. Buon appetito!

Ingredients

Servings: 2

  • 2 tbs butter ($.25)
  • 2 chicken cutlets ($4.50)
  • 2 shallots, chopped finely ($.50)
  • 1/4 lb white mushrooms, sliced ($1.00)
  • 1/8 cup dry marsala ($.75) I use Roland brand Marsala Cooking wine
  • 11/2 tsp lemon juice ($.05)
  • 1/4 cup heavy cream ($.40)
  • 2 tbs chopped parsley (optional)

Total: $7.45

Instructions:

Melt 1 tbs butter in skillet. Season chicken cutlets with salt and pepper. Cook approximately 2 minutes per side then remove chicken and set aside. Melt the remaining butter in skillet and add shallots and mushrooms. Cook until mushrooms release liquid and are slightly browned. Add in Mrsala wine, bring to a boil and scrape up the brown bits. Add in lemon juice and cream. Simmer for 5 minutes. Add in chicken breasts and simmer another 4 minutes until chicken is cooked through. Remove chicken from pan and spoon sauce over it. If you desire, sprinkle fresh chopped parsley over top and serve immediately.

Eggplant Parmesan

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Do you have that one meal that you cling to when you have company? The one you know will be a crowd pleaser, the one your friends beg you to make? For me, it’s always been eggplant parmesan. I could make this dish in my sleep. The famed Julia Child always says to never make a new dish for company…. Let me tell you I’ve made this mistake far too many times. When you’re having guests, stick to things you know like the back of your hand. Your overall anxiety levels will be far lower and you’ll reduce the chances of giving your guests food poisoning. What’s better than layers of pan-fried eggplant, gooey mozzarella, salty parmesan and home-made tomato sauce? Probably nothing.

I adore eggplant. I think I like eggplant almost as much as avocado, which is a lot. You all know how I feel about food that starts out as a blank canvas. Eggplant most certainly checks that box. It will take on the flavor of just about anything you pair it with, it can be cooked a variety of different ways and it will taste completely different depending on preparation. I’s also healthy– added bonus. This dish is a great one to bring to work next day…it won’t taste like unrecognizable slop when you re-heat it (don’t you hate that!?) and it’s also awesome if you put it between two slices of focaccia and throw it on the Panini press. I’m giving away a huge secret with my homemade sauce recipe. You can be lazy though and buy the store bought kind . I won’t judge you…but mine is better.

For the eggplant:

  • Two large eggplant ($5.00)
  • 1/2 Cup Italian Breadcrumbs ($.50)
  • 2 eggs, beaten ($.50)
  • 1/4 C flour ($.20)
  • salt
  • 2 tbs olive oil ($.20)
  • 1 C grated mozzarella cheese ($.75)
  • 1/2 C grated parmesan cheese ($.50)

For the Sauce:

  • 1 14 oz  Can Whole San Marzano Tomatoes ($2.00)
  • 1 14 oz  Can Crushed San Marzano Tomatoes ($2.00)
  • 2 tbs olive oil ($.20)
  • 3 cloves garlic ($.15)
  • 1/2 white onion, diced finely ($.25)
  • 1/2 tsp red pepper flakes ($.05)
  • 1/4 C fresh basil, chiffonade ($.25)
  • Splash of red wine (optional)
  • salt and pepper to taste

Total: $12.55

Instructions:

Pre-heat oven to 350.

Slice the eggplant into 1/4 inch round slices. Sprinkle both sides with a little bit of salt and let sit out at room tempature on paper towels for 30 minutes. This step is a must! It will allow the bitterness to come out of the eggplant.

While the eggplant is sitting out, start your sauce. In a dutch oven or large sauté pan, add olive oil and cook onion and red pepper flakes on medium-high heat for 3 minutes. Add garlic and cook another 2 minutes. Add in whole tomatoes and crush them with the back of a wooden spoon. Add in crushed tomatoes, salt and pepper and cook for 10 minutes. Turn heat down to medium low and add in a splash of red wine, stir to combine and cook another 10 minutes. Add in the basil and set on low heat for 5 minutes. This step is optional, but I like how the consistency comes out. Take half of your sauce and put it in a food processor or blender and pulse it a few times. Add it back to the sauce and keep on low until you are ready to assemble the eggplant.

Back to the eggplant. With a damp paper towel, wipe both sides of the eggplant. You wil notice some liquid has come of the eggplant slices–this is the bitter stuff I was talking about. You don’t want that. Put your flour on a large plate and the beaten egg in a bowl and breadcrumbs in another bowl. Dredge each eggplant slice, on both sides, in this order: Flour, egg, breadcrumbs.

Working in batches, you are going to fry your eggplant in a sauté pan on medium-high heat, about 2 minutes per side. As you go along, you will notice your olive oil might start to burn. If that happens, just wipe it out with a paper towel and add a little more. I usually get about 5 slices in per fry batch. I drain excess grease on paper towels until I finish all the eggplant.

In a 9×13 greased baking dish add a layer of sauce, then eggplant, sauce, parmesan then mozzarella. Repeat until you reach the top of the baking dish. Cover with aluminum foil and bake 15 minutes. Remove aluminum foil and bake another 15 minutes or until sauce is bubbly and cheese is completely melted. Served with pasta and sauce!

Skinny Chicken Milanese with Arugula and Cherry Tomatoes

MILANESE

I discovered my love for Chicken Milanese on a recent trip to New York City. I was visiting my dear friend Kelly and we went to one of our favorite spots for lunch– Serafina. I usually never stray from my standard order: a mimosa (or two) and the Serafina Chicken Salad with sundried tomatoes and pesto dressing. It is salad perfection. i actually developed my own copycat version of this dish, which I will post at a later date. On this particular occasion we were in the mood for a mid-afternoon feast and instead ordered a smorgasbord of entrees. Sometimes we get carried away…gluttony at its finest. One of those dishes was Chicken Milanese. Now, if you told me that you were going to make me breaded, fried chicken cutlets for dinner I would give you a smirk and inwardly cry with disappointment. I find that meats, vegetables, etc. dredged breacrumbs all taste the same. If I made breaded veal I could probably trick my “no red meat” friends into thinking it was poultry.

How do you pronounce Milanese anyway? Is it MIL-UH-NAISE, MEE-LAW-NAISE, MIL-LAW-NAY-SAY? If I had an Italian speaking friend I would ask them. Whatever the correct pronunciation is, let me just say that if you do it right it’s the bomb. It needs to be crispy, but not overdone. Fried (or in this case baked), but not too greasy. You also need to add plenty of spice to your breadcrumb mixture. The standard way to make Milanese is to dredge in flour, egg and breadcrumbs then fry in loads of butter. I wanted a healthier alternative tonight so I opted for olive oil and lemon juice dredge then a bread crumb/ parmesan crust. The chicken was then baked. Instead of pasta I chose to top my cutlets with a simple cherry tomato and arugula salad with balsamic vinaigrette. The result was fabulous.

Ingredients:

Serves 2

For the Chicken:

  • 2 Chicken Cutlets ($4.50)
  • 1/2 Cup Italian Breadcrumbs ($.50)
  • 1/4 C Parmesan Cheese ($.50)
  • 1/4 Tsp Pepper
  • 2 Tbs Olive Oil ($.20)
  • 1 Tbs lemon Juice ($.04)

For the salad:

  • 2 C Arugula ($1.00)
  • 1/2 cup cherry tomatoes, halved ($1.00)
  • 1/4 cup fresh basil, sliced thinly ($.50)
  • 1 Tbs olive oil ($.10)
  • 2 Tbs balsamic vinegar ($.20)
  • 1/4 tsp black pepper
  • salt to taste

Total: $8.54

Instructions:

Preheat oven to 450. Put chicken cutlets between 2 paper towels and pound until very thin! If you don’t own a mallet, you can use the bottom of a coffee cup. Combine olive oil, lemon juice and pepper in one bowl. Combine breadcrumbs and parmesan in another. Dredge chicken cutlets in olive oil/ lemon mixture, then in breadcrumb/ parmesan mixture. Make sure that breadcrumbs cover chicken evenly and pat down.

Bake chicken breasts on a greased cookie sheet for 15-17 minutes, flipping chicken halfway through. In the last minute, turn the oven on broil to make it extra crispy.

While the chicken is baking you can assemble the salad. Whisk together the balsamic, olive oil, salt and pepper. Slice the cherry tomatoes and basil. Toss the arugula, tomatoes and basil with the dressing. I actually sauteed my cherry tomatoes in a bit of olive oil prior to tossing with dressing and arugula, but it’s up to you if you want them cooked or not.

Remove chicken from oven and squeeze a lemon wedge on the chicken. To serve, top the chicken cutlets with the tomato/ arugula salad.