Baked Ziti a la Comfort Food

Baked Ziti

Ingredients
1 pound dried ziti pasta
Sea salt
3 1/2 cups Tomato Sauce, recipe follows
1 pound fresh mozzarella, half cut into 1/2-inch cubes and half thinly sliced
3/4 cup freshly grated Parmesan, divided
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
Pinch red pepper flakes

Directions
Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F.

Bring a large pot of water to a boil, salt generously, and boil the pasta until al dente, tender but still slightly firm. Drain.

Baked Ziti

Toss the cooked pasta with the marinara sauce, cubed mozzarella, half the Parmesan cheese, black pepper, and pepper flakes. Transfer the pasta to an oiled baking dish – again, I used my Le Creuset. Cover the top of the pasta with the sliced mozzarella, and sprinkle with the remaining Parmesan. Bake until lightly browned and hot, about 30 minutes. Serve immediately.

Tomato Sauce:
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 teaspoon anchovy paste (optional)
1/2 pound sweet Italian sausages, casing removed and crumbled
1/2 pound spicy Italian sausages, casing removed and crumbled
1/4 medium onion, diced
3 cloves garlic, chopped
1/3 cup Italian bread crumbs
3 1/2 cups whole, peeled, canned tomatoes in puree, (one 28-ounce can), roughly chopped
Sprig fresh thyme
Sprig fresh basil
2 teaspoons sea salt
Freshly ground black pepper

Heat the oil in a medium saucepan over medium-high heat. Add anchovy paste and dissolve. Add the sausage and cook until beginning to brown, about 3 minutes. Add the breadcrumbs and mix well.  Add the onion and garlic, stirring, until lightly browned, about 3 minutes more. Add the tomatoes and the herb sprigs and bring to a boil. Lower the heat and simmer, covered, for 10 minutes.

Baked Ziti

What Do You Get When You Cook With a Portuguese Girl Who Loves Italian Food? Chicken Cacciatore with Sweet White Yams!

chicken cacciatore

While Jason and a friend watched movies on Netflix and my sixteen-year-old busied herself in her usual way, texting and taking photos, I sought my own solitude by cooking Chicken Cacciatore in the kitchen.

This dish was absolutely one of our favorites in 2014.  My only regret is that I didn’t make it more.  But hey, better late than never.  I love the colors of fresh green herbs and red bell pepper glistening in the Greek extra virgin olive oil, and their aroma, along with the garlic and Greek Oregano filled the air.  (Jason’s brother-in-law from Greece brought us the oregano and oil.  It is to die for)!

I prepared the Cacciatore in my Le Creuset French Oven – slow cooking it of course; set it on top of the stove and when it was done, family and friends were invited to serve themselves. The chicken was so tender and juicy; no knife was needed.

Ingredients:

6 boneless chicken  breasts, halved crosswise
2 large white yams, halved crosswise then quartered
2 teaspoons sea salt, plus more to taste
1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper, plus more to taste
1/2 cup all purpose flour, for dredging
3 tablespoons olive oil
1 large red bell pepper, chopped
1 onion, chopped
3 garlic cloves, finely chopped
1 celary stock (optional)
8 baby carrots, halved (optional)
3/4 cup dry white wine (or 50/50 water to apple cider vinegar)
1 ( 28-ounce) can diced tomatoes with juice
3/4 cup reduced-sodium chicken broth
1 teaspoon drained capers
1 1/2 teaspoons dried oregano leaves
1/4 cup coarsely chopped fresh basil leaves (I had to substitue flat-leaf parsley this time)
1 sprig of thyme

Directions:

Sprinkle the chicken pieces with 1 teaspoon of salt and pepper. Dredge the chicken pieces in the flour to coat lightly. I do this by using a large vegatable plastic bag from the grocery store. Just add the chicken, salt, pepper and flour and shake!

In a large heavy sauté pan, (again I used the 9 1/2 Ct Le Creuset Oval French Oven) heat the oil over a medium-high flame. Add the chicken pieces to the pan and sauté just until brown, about 5 minutes per side. If all the chicken does not fit in the pan, sauté it in 2 batches. Transfer the chicken to a plate and set aside.

Add the bell pepper, onion, garlic and white yams to the same pan and sauté over medium heat until the onion is tender, about 5 minutes. Season with salt and pepper. Add the wine and simmer until reduced by half, about 3 minutes. Add the tomatoes with their juice, broth, capers and oregano. Return the chicken pieces to the pan, include any juice resting in the plate, and turn them to coat in the sauce. Add the sprig of thyme.  Bring the sauce to a simmer.

Stop.   Wait!  Here is where I change it up.  Because I started cooking in the morning, rather than simmer for 30 minutes as the directions say to do, I turned the oven to 250 degrees and let the stew cook for approximately two hours.

Now, if you need this dish to be ready in 30-40 minutes, just pretend I didn’t say the above and follow accordingly:

Continue simmering over medium-low heat until the chicken is just cooked through, about 30 minutes for the breast pieces, and 20 minutes for the thighs.

Using tongs, transfer the chicken to a platter. If necessary, boil the sauce until it thickens slightly, about 3 minutes. Spoon the sauce over the chicken, then sprinkle with the basil and serve.

Spicy Sweet Potato

Sweet Potato

If I have to eat one more baked sweet potato with my salad, I may just cave in and only eat cake!

Jason and I are trying to cut down on the amount of pasta dishes we eat. The hot and humid summer heat makes this task a lot easier.   We’ve taken to eating sweet potatoes a few times a week along with a healthy salad, but this presents a two-fold problem.  The first, the oven temperature and the second, BORING.  I’m getting bored with the taste of my sweet potato.  I am just about ready to dive my face into a sheet of cake with butter cream frosting.

After doing a little research, I came up with a new twist on sweet potatoes. Rather than cook my potatoes in a 450 degree oven for 45 minutes, I turned to modern technology and nooked them a bit (7 minutes) and then pan-fried them with a touch of oil.

The spices went great and woke up the savory side of the potato, which I thought balanced out all that sweetness.

Here is the recipe:
Ingredients:
2 large sweet potatoes
2 tablespoons oil
1 tablespoons hot oriental mustard powder
1 inch ginger, peeled and shredded
1/4 teaspoon garlic powder
1/2 teaspoon
 salt
1/4 teaspoon cayenne or chili pepper

Directions:

Pierce the sweet potato with a knife or fork several times and microwave on high for 7 minutes. Leave the skin on or peel all or part of it.  Whichever you prefer will work, but leaving it on will give it a really great crispy texture.

Cut or smash the sweet potatoes and set aside.

Bring the oil up medium-high heat in a medium-sized pan and add the oriental mustard, mix it throughout the oil, then add the sweet potatoes, ginger, garlic, salt and cayenne pepper.

Allow it to cook thoroughly and mix it every 2 minutes.

Enjoy!

Sweet Potato

 

I have to give thanks and credit for this recipe to the beautiful HARINI PRASAD, http://thisemptyplatedotcom.wordpress.com/2014/05/22/spicy-ginger-sweet-potato-mash/

Posted on May 22, 2014

I substituted her 2 tbsp. whole black mustard seeds with the hot oriental mustard powder.

We love this dish!

Grilled Eggplant Preserve

SUMMER SEASON’S BEST!

Eggplant is beautiful and at it’s peak in the summer time.  I love to grill them with  extra virgin olive oil, a squeeze of fresh lemon juice,  sea salt and black pepper.  But, since I’m the only one,  other than my 16-year-old,  crazy about this summer starlet,  I usually have left overs.

Grilled Eggplant

Grilled Eggplant

This weekend I did a little research on the best way to preserve them in the fridge.  Mostly I found pickling recipes. This was not what I had in mind.    So I did a little improvisation and this is what I came up with.

I took an old jar,  perfect for such a dish, and gathered a few ingredients.   More extra virgin olive oil,  (from Jason’s brother-in-law’s family farm in Greece) three cloves of garlic and five or six fresh basil leaves from my Window Herb Garden.  Here are the images.  I think we’ll item it up this week when Gigi is home.  We’ll most likely enjoy them with her nana’s roasted peppers and mozzarella on a nice Italian bread for a summer picnic.

I’d live to know how you prepare yours so please share your ideas with  me!

A little this and a little that

Layer Fresh Basil, Lemon Juice, Olive Oil, Garlic and Crushed Red Peper

Layer basil, olive oil, garlic, crushed red pepper, lemon juice and salt and black pepper

Layering the Eggplant

Top it off with two or three more leaves of basil. Fill the jar, getting into all the nooks and crannies, with olive oil and a generous squeeze of lemon juice or balsamic vinegar.

IMG_7408

This also makes a great gift.

Delish Dish by Dena

I decided, last minute, to add two thin slices of lemon to give a little more acidity to the preserve.

Eggplant with Lemon

Basil Pesto: So Simple & Savory For Summer Dishes

Basil Pesto by Dena Ferreira, Photo by Jason Homa Photography

Basil Pesto by Dena Ferreira, Photo by Jason Homa Photography

Ingredients

2 cups packed fresh basil leaves (I triple wash them first then dry)
2 cloves garlic
1/4 cup pine nuts (I often use walnuts or a combination of nuts)
2/3 cup extra-virgin olive oil, divided
1/8 tsp crushed red pepper
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
1/2 cup freshly grated Pecorino cheese

Directions

Combine the basil, garlic, and pine nuts in a food processor and pulse until coarsely chopped. Add a little more than 1/3 cup of the oil and process until fully incorporated and smooth. Season with salt and pepper.

If using immediately, add all the remaining oil and pulse until smooth. Transfer the pesto to a large serving bowl and mix in the cheese.

If freezing, transfer to an air-tight container and drizzle remaining oil over the top. Freeze for up to 3 months. Thaw and stir in cheese.

Great over pasta dishes, tomatoes, fish, beef, sandwiches, salads and crostinis.

Basil Pesto Preserve by Dena Ferreira, Photo by Jason Homa Photography

Basil Pesto Preserve by Dena Ferreira, Photo by Jason Homa Photography

Beefy Nachos with Guacamole: A Satisfying and Fun Last Minute Dish

Beefy Nachos with Guacamole, Photo by Jason Homa

Beefy Nachos with Guacamole, Photo by Jason Homa

Monday nights a lot of friends go to a NYC Mexican restaurant for “Fajita Night,” but this is not the Mexican food I grew up on in California. Fajitas came later and were more common in the Texas region that was once Mexico (ode to Joaquin Murrieta Carrillo).  I was raised on handmade tortillas, (my friend Amy Sierra’s mom used to make them) with chorizo and eggs, chile relleno, refried beans, tacos, salsa picante and enchiladas.  This is what I considered “real Mexican food.”  Everyone is entitled to their taste.

One of my favorite (and real simple to make) snacks was nachos.  I thought about them last night on our way home and stopped and grabbed a couple of avocados, vine tomatoes, jalapeno peppers, cilantro, lime and a variety of corn and sweet potato chips and here is what I came up with.

Again, before I let Jason go at them, he took this beautiful photograph.  It was one of our quicker shoots, since, by the time we ate, we were starving. This recipe is for my brothers, my mom and dad and all my friends in Cali!!!  Good eats, good times and good memories!

Oh, and if you’re in the Bay Area of northern California, here were some of my favorite spots:

La Pinata

Tito’s Mexican Restaurant

La Taqueria

Beefy Enchiladas with Guacamole

Preheat Oven to 325

1 Lb. Ground Beef
1 Cup Beef Broth
1 Tbsp. Flour or Cornstarch
1/2 Lb. Sharp Cheddar Grated
1/2 Lb. Monterey Jack with Peppers Grated
1 Yellow Onion Minced
3 Cloves of Garlic chopped
1/8 Tsp. Hot Hungarian Paprika
1/8 Tsp. Smoked Spanish Paprika
1/8 Tsp. Cumin
1/8 Tsp. Dried Oregano
1 Tbsp. Chopped Fresh Cilantro
1/2 Small Jalapeno or Serrano Chile (more if you like to sweat a little)
Salt & Pepper

Guacamole
1 Large Haas Avacado
1 Tsp. Chopped Fresh Cilantro
1/2 Small Jalapeno or Serrano Chile
1/2 Juice of Lime
Dash of Cumin
1/4 Yellow Onion Chopped
1 to 1 1/2 Tsp. Extra Virgin Olive Oil
1/2 Chopped and Seeded Vine Tomato
Salt & Pepper

Final Topping
1 and 1/2 Medium Vine Tomatoes Chopped
1 Tsp. Chopped Fresh Cilantro

Be creative:  Add your favorites at this point.  I have to be careful with how spicy I make it for some guests and others love it when I load on more chile peppers.

In a skillet coat bottom of pan with olive oil.  Saute onions and garlic until caramelized. Brown meat in a separate oiled skillet (I coat the meat with a tablespoon of flour or cornstarch).  Once browned, add to caramelized onion mixture and adding jalapeno, paprikas, cumin, and oregano, mixing well.  Add beef broth, while stirring, add the cilantro and bring to a boil.  Simmer on low while preparing guacamole and chips.

For the guacamole I simply cut my ingredients into quarters and throw into my food processor until the texture is to my liking.  (I prefer a slightly chunky guac).

Assemble chips of your choice in a pyrex baking pan, layer with grated cheeses, repeat and pop in oven for about 5 minutes until cheese is melted through. Using a slotted spoon, top with beef mixture and put the nachos back in the oven for another 5 or 10 minutes (watch closely).  Take out and top with guacamole and tomatoes.  Serve immediately while catching up on Game of Thrones or The Good Wife!

Enjoy!

 

 

 

Love Thy Neighbor with Chocolate Banana Nut Bread

Chocolate Banana Nut Bread

Chocolate Banana Nut Bread, Photo by Jason Homa

I discovered my love for the warm buttery goodness of banana bread following a trip to New York City.  I was staying with my stepmom’s mother, Fania Stone, then in her eighties; still going to work everyday as a textile designer, with silver-white hair cut in a stylish pixie.   She was a delight and quick as a whip on walks to the Farmers Market at Union Square.  We used to walk there on the weekends from her apartment in Gramercy Park to get our fruits and vegetables.

Fania was an avid reader, an eloquent pianist and painter.  Her foyer was filled with books.  Amidst the novels and art books was a small little cook book.  In it I found the recipe for Banana Nut Bread.  I baked it for us weekly and we enjoyed it each night with a little butter on one slice coupled with a hot cup of tea over a highly competitive game of Scrabble.  I learned so much from her about art, culture, music, literature and good wholesome food.  My time with Fania will stay in my heart indelibly as a precious and momentous life experience.

Over the years I’ve tweaked the recipe a bit – adding a little hint of vanilla, lemon or some other variation of spice or fruit depending on the season, my mood or just what I had on hand in the kitchen that day.

Today’s recipe was made with a bit of chocolate and some rich vanilla and coconut.  I hope you enjoy it as much as I do.

Chocolate Banana Nut Bread

Pre-heat oven to 325

3 Ripe Bananas
1 Cup Sugar
1 Egg
4 Tablespoons Melted Butter (salted)
2 Tablespoons Virgin Coconut Oil
1 1/2 Cups Flower
3 Teaspoons of Cocoa Powder
1 Teaspoon Baking Soda
1 Teaspoon Salt
1/2 Cup Chopped Walnuts
1 Cup Dark Chocolate Chunks

Mix all wet ingredients in larger bowl
Mix dry ingredients in smaller bowl
Fold dry into wet ingredients

Grease and flour large bread loaf pan or 2 small pans
Pour batter into pan(s)
Bake for 1 hour
Check with toothpick in the center to make sure it is cooked all the way through.  Toothpick should come out clean.

What I did with the recipe today was divide it into two smaller loaf pans and checked them at 45 minutes and 55 minutes.  I took them out as soon as the toothpicks came out clean (a little under an hour).

One bread stayed home for Jason and I and the second made the perfect #WelcomeHome #gift for our #lovely #neighbor #Sophie who just arrived from the hospital after a bad fall.  Happy to say she is on the mend, and like Fania, she has strength and vitality beyond her age.
#ILoveMyFamily