Sunday, September 30, 2012

Tortellini with sausage, leeks, and Parmesan cream sauce

Sunday evenings are one of my favorite times to cook, mainly because there is plenty of time to do just about anything.  I haven't worked all day and am not wondering how to throw something together as quickly as possible.  I've mentioned this before, but Zac likes to cook too, so Sunday evening has often become our time to cook something fun together. Tonight we made cheese tortellini with leeks, sausage, and a Parmesan Bechamel sauce.

Quoting Jacques Pepin from his show Essential Pepin (which is great, find it on your local PBS station), "and this is how I did it":

1 - 20 oz package of refrigerated tortellini, flavor of your choice. I used cheese.
1 - 1.25 lb Italian turkey sausage package
2 medium size leeks
Small handful shaved, shredded, or grated Parmesan cheese
2 Tbsp butter
2 Tbsp flour
1 cup milk (we used fat free)
ground nutmeg
salt (we use Kosher)
ground black pepper


  1. Start a large pot of water to boil. Once it comes to a boil, add a generous amount of salt. 
  2. Slice off the white part and dark green parts of the leeks, you will only use the light green part. Remove the tough outer layer of the leek. Slice the light green part into 1/2 inch rounds, keeping round intact. 
  3. Fill a bowl with water. Place leeks into the bowl of water.  Sand and dirt will drift to the bottom. Scoop leeks off the top and place into the boiling salted water. 
  4. Cook leeks for 5 minutes. When leeks are done, immediately place into an ice bath for approx 15 seconds, drain on paper towels.  Set aside.
  5. Keep water boiling, and add in the tortellini. Cook according to the package directions. 
  6. While the pasta is cooking, cook the sausage.  Remove the sausage from the casings, and pinch sausage off into small bite-size pieces.  Cook in a small amount of olive oil over medium heat until cooked through and brown. I had to drain off some fat, then put back in the pan to brown. 
  7. For the Bechamel sauce:  Melt the butter over medium heat in a small saucepan.  Add in flour and stir constantly until roux cooks for about 30 seconds.  Whisk in milk. Add in just a dash of ground nutmeg, salt and pepper.  Keep whisking until the sauce thickens.  Remove from heat and stir in the cheese.  
  8. Drain the pasta when it's done cooking. Combine the pasta, leeks, sausage, and cream sauce in the pot and stir lightly until sauce covers everything! 

leeks in the bowl of water to rid of dirt and sand


Saturday, September 15, 2012


I love cookbooks.  And cooking magazines. And looking at recipes. Recently my husband and I rearranged our books including all of our cookbooks which were scattered all over the place.  I'm happy they are now all together. I hope to collect many many more cookbooks, so will soon have to take over another bookcase! I get several cooking magazines, Cooking Light, the first cooking magazine I subscribed to, starting back in college. That's the time period where I really started to cook (or else eat fast food, canned soup, microwave meals, and meals from a box). The recipes, healthy eating, and healthy lifestyle tips were essential in my learning how to cook, thinking about the ingredients and trying to eat healthy. That's about the time Zac and I started watching Food Network, more than just for Iron Chef.  30 Minutes Meals, Good Eats, and Everyday Italian were our favorites back then.  I am also thankful that cooking was and is, even more now that we are married, something we like to do together.   I also receive Southern Living, and over the years have had Every Day with Rachael Ray, Food Network Magazine, Gourmet, and we've had Food and Wine now for about a year.  I save more recipes from those magazines then I'd ever use, but those that make the cut eventually end up in my binders.  Sounds strange, but I really enjoy organizing all those recipe clippings! Oh, and I've also started getting Cuisine At Home, it gets it's own binder. 

Entire Collection
Cookbooks from some gourmet chefs, many we've been fortunate to eat at their restaurants including Bouchon by Thomas Keller in Yountville, CA, Bottega by Michael Chiarello also in Yountville, The Highland's by Frank Stitt in Birmingham, AL, Burger Bar by Hubert Keller in Las Vegas, Cochon by Donald Link in New Orleans, and Craft Atlanta by Tom Colicchio.

Favorite gourmet chefs

TV Chefs who got us started cooking years ago. Thanks Alton, Rachael, and Giada!
I'm always on the lookout for more cookbooks, and have to admit there are many on my shelf I've yet to look through all the way.  Always open to suggestions on items we should add to our collection!

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Jalapeno Cheddar Grilled Chicken

This recipe is from the blog Two Peas and Their Pod - which I discovered just a couple of months ago. Her recipes are simple and delicious, and always has amazing photos to lure you in! I recently made her Jalapeno Cheddar Grilled Chicken and it was delicious. I will definitely make it again and again (would have been perfect for Labor Day!). It was very simple.  I made the marinade while home during lunch and started the chicken marinating before going back to work.  Next time I probably will wait and marinade for a shorter period of time, maybe an hour versus 4-5 hours. I also doubled their recipe (copied below) so we would have plenty of leftovers.  I used some of the leftovers to make tacos, just sliced the chicken, piled on lettuce, tomato, cilantro, and more cheese.

Love my stand mixer Juicer attachment!

Juiced limes, can use bottled lime juice to save time

marinating chicken
Below is a picture of Cheesy spoonbread, I thought it would go well with the chicken. I've posted about this spoonbread before, it's the only spoonbread i've ever had and is delicious.  Will have to try more spoon bread recipes! Check out my post on it here, recipe by Donald Link.

 The grill got a bit messy with the cheese melting everywhere, next time will secure chicken shut with toothpicks.

Finished chicken served with spoonbread and side of black beans with cilantro

lots of cheesy goodness!
For the marinade:
1/2 cup fresh lime juice
Zest of 1 lime
2 tablespoons chopped cilantro
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper
1 tablespoon granulated sugar
2 boneless skinless chicken breasts
1 cup shredded cheddar cheese, divided
2 teaspoons diced jalapeño
2 tablespoons chopped cilantro
Olive oil, for brushing the grill


1. Cut a horizontal slit along the thin, long edge of each chicken breast, nearly through to the opposite side. In a small bowl, whisk together lime juice, zest, cilantro, salt, pepper, and sugar. Put chicken breasts and marinade in a large Ziploc bag and seal. Squish the bag around until breasts are well coated. Place the chicken in the refrigerator for at least 1 hour (up to 12 hours).
2. Remove the chicken breasts from the marinade and discard marinade. Open up the slits and stuff each breast with 2 tablespoons shredded cheddar cheese, 1 teaspoon jalapeño, and 1 tablespoon chopped cilantro.
3. Preheat the grill to medium-high heat. Brush the grill lightly with olive oil. Grill chicken until cooked through, about 7 minutes per side. Remove from direct heat and sprinkle remaining shredded cheddar cheese on top of each breast. Cook until cheese is melted. Remove from heat and serve.

Monday, September 3, 2012

A little family heritage - Sushi

I am one quarter Japanese.  You can't tell by looking at me, or at least I don't think you can. I'm nearly 5'10" with brown hair and fair complexion. My brother however got the Japanese genes and has black hair and a slightly different complexion than I do. My 4'11" Japanese grandmother recently turned 85 (she would not like it if she knew I was advertising this information), and we live about 5 minutes away from one another.  We are close and I am thankful for that.  Every couple of years she wants to make sushi. Sometimes she recruits my mom to help, other times recruits me to help.  Her recipe is one of her favorites that her mom made when she was growing up. About 5 years ago I wrote down all the ingredients we used, and she gave me a few more ingredients that she doesn't use that much anymore but her mom used a lot.  Many of these are in Japanese (the packages were entirely in Japanese)  but thankfully I looked them up online and find out what they were! She's always referred to her type of sushi as Makizushi,  but often simply calls them Maki for short.

  • Sushi rice seasoned with sugar and rice wine vinegar.  One time I was the designated rice stirrer, which is a very important job to ensure perfect consistency of the rice.  Must stir under a fan. She's very proud of her sushi rice. Whenever we go out to an Asian restaurant and eat sushi, she comments how no one seasons their rice like she does. 
  • Nori (seaweed wrappers) 
  • Egg. beaten with sugar than cooked in a pan
  • Shrimp powder (the pink stuff)
  • Eel (cooked)
  • Cucumber (sometimes)
  • Avocado (sometimes)
  • Carrot (sometimes)
  • Shiitake mushrooms, cooked in soy sauce and sugar
  • Kampyo, which is strips of dried gourd. The strips are soaked in water to re-hydrate, then cooked in soy sauce and sugar. 
  • Gobo, root of the Burdock plant.  She hasn't used this the last couple of times
  • Kamaboko, or red fish cake. She's left this out the last couple of times as well.  Wikipedia defines it as " is a type of cured surimi (ground fish), a Japanese processed seafood product, in which various white fish are pureed, combined with additives such as MSG, formed into distinctive loaves, and then steamed until fully cooked and firm.  Kamaboko has been made in Japan since the 14th century." 

Finished Maki, August 2012:

We have ordered just sushi as our meal at our local Japanese restaurant, however not this time. We ordered take-out from our favorite Thai restaurant called The Green Papaya in Montgomery, Alabama.  It is wonderful, they call it Thai-Lao cuisine, and it's not at all like the other Thai restaurants we sometimes visit.  Lots of basil and bell peppers in the dishes. The dishes below are their Pad Thai, Spicy Fried Rice, and Thai Basil.

These last two photos are from 2007.  You can see some green and orange in the second photo, that's the avocado and cooked carrot.