Recipe: Cajun Pasta with Andouille Sausage and Peppers

Serves: 4

Prep. time: 15 minutes

Cooking time: 15-20 minutes

Difficulty: Easy

Cajun Pasta with Andouille Sausage and Peppers

Ingredients

  • Butter
  • Olive oil
  • 2-3 andouille sausage links, casings removed; pulled apart into small/bite-size pieces
  • 1 yellow or white onion, chopped
  • Red, green, and orange bell pepper (half of each), diced
  • 1-3 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1-2 dried chili peppers, minced, or a dash of crushed red pepper flakes
  • Approx. 1-2 cups chicken stock
  • Approx. 1/2 cup white wine
  • Approx. 1/2 to 3/4 cups heavy cream
  • Cajun seasoning blend
  • Salt & Pepper
  • Paprika
  • Dried parsley
  • Cornstarch-and-water mixture, as needed
  • Long, semi-wide pasta, like fettuccine or linguine

Directions

Bring water to a boil for the pasta. In the meantime, heat some butter and olive oil in a large pan over medium high heat, add the andouille and cook until browned on the outside and no longer pink on the inside, then remove from the pan and set aside on a plate. Add the diced vegetables and chili pepper/pepper flakes to the pan with a little more butter and olive oil, and cook until crisp-tender, then add in the garlic and cook for another minute. Remove the veggie mixture from the pan, bump the heat up a little bit, then add the chicken stock, wine, and a generous heaping of Cajun seasoning and paprika. Let the mixture gently boil, then slowly whisk in the heavy cream. Season as needed with Cajun seasoning, paprika, parsley, salt, and/or pepper, and thicken with cornstarch-and-water if necessary; don’t be afraid to add more liquid to the sauce if it starts cooking down—you don’t want to end up with soup, but you want enough to generously coat the pasta. While the sauce is cooking, cook the pasta (or start it earlier if you chose a style that will take longer than 3-5 minutes). When the pasta is cooked, drain it and return it to the pot. Add the veggies and sausage back into the thickened sauce, then add the finished pasta in with the sauce and toss to combine. Serve hot, with a sprinkling of Parmesan on top, if desired.

Cook’s Commentary

This dish is hearty and packed with flavor—spicy, creamy, salty, and meaty—it’s perfect on a cold day but bright and flavorful enough for warm weather too. Andouille sausage has a distinct flavor like no other sausage and Cajun seasoning amps up the flavor. Bell peppers, onions, and tomatoes create a confetti of colors that swirl into the warm, orange-red color of the sauce created through the blending of heavy cream, chicken stock, paprika, and Cajun spices. You’ve gotta get a quality brand/blend of Cajun seasoning to make this dish perfect (I used McCormick and it was pretty good, but I saw some specialty brands at Fresh Market that looked even better), and the right one will make this dish fantastic.

Recipe: Baked Lobster Tails with Broccolini and Cheddar Cheese Polenta

Lobster Tail with Polenta and Broccolini

Serves: 2-4

Prep. time: 10-20 minutes

Cooking time: Approx. 30 minutes

Difficulty: Easy to Moderate

Ingredients

For the lobster tails:

  • Salted butter
  • Paprika
  • Garlic powder
  • 2-4 lobster tails, cleaned
  • ½ – 1 package (2-4 servings) instant polenta
  • 1-2 bunches broccolini, stems cleaned and ends removed
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • Chicken stock
  • 4-6 strips of bacon
  • Butter
  • Olive oil
  • 1-2 bunches green onion/scallions
  • Salt and pepper
  • Lemon juice
  • Paprika
  • Garlic powder
  • Sharp cheddar cheese (Cracker Barrel Vermont White Cheddar is lovely), shredded
  • Heavy cream/milk

Directions

Preheat the oven to 400*F. Steam or parboil the broccolini to get it a little tender, then set aside. Measure out the liquid for the polenta (I usually use all chicken stock or half chicken stock and half water instead of all water—chicken stock adds flavor) and pour into a large pot and start to heat it. Cook the bacon strips in a nonstick pan until crispy, then remove them to drain on paper towels and reserve a few tablespoons of the bacon fat. Cut a slit down the underside or back of the lobster tails to expose the meat (cut a chunk of shell out to expose more meat, if desired). Melt salted butter for the lobster tails, blend in the seasoning, and drizzle onto the meat of the lobster tails. Place the tails, uncut shell side down, on a piece of foil, wrap the foil around them, place them on a baking sheet, then place in the oven. Cook for 10-20 minutes, until the meat is white and tender. While the lobster is cooking, heat up the reserved bacon fat with a little butter and olive oil over medium heat, then add the green onion and broccolini and season with salt and pepper—cook until tender, then keep warm over low heat. Instant polenta generally takes 3-5 minutes to cook, so start to cook this when the lobster is just about finished. Pour the polenta into the boiling chicken stock (or water) and cook according to package instructions. When done, reduce the heat to medium-low, slowly stir in the shredded cheddar, add a splash of milk or heavy cream and a chunk of salted butter, and season (garlic powder, salt, and pepper) to taste. Keep warm over low heat, stirring occasionally to prevent it from sticking to the bottom of the pan. When the lobster is done, remove it from the oven and unwrap it. Carefully remove the flesh from the shell and plate it atop the creamy polenta and tender broccolini on a plate or in a large, wide bowl.

Cook’s Commentary

This is an easy to make meal that feels like a dish from a fancy downtown restaurant. Lobster has this sort of savory-sweetness that is much more delicate than the flavors of shrimp and other shell-fish, and cooking it in melted butter and seasoning lightly flavors it. Polenta is delicious on its own, but adding cheese to it brings it up to a whole different level and turns it into the ultimate comfort food. Broccolini is like slimmer, dainty broccoli and combined with the sharp, oniony taste of the scallions, it adds much-needed color and lightness to this dish. This dish is very easy and quick to make and will impress anyone from a significant other to a guest from out-of town.

Recipe: Cheesy Polenta with Sausage and Chicken in a Creamy Tomato Sauce

Ingredients

  • Butter and olive oil
  • Salt and pepper
  • 2-3 links hot Italian sausage, casings removed, pulled into small pieces
  • 1 chicken breast, cut into small cubes or small slices
  • 1 yellow or white onion, diced
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • Crushed red pepper flakes
  • Approx. 14.5 oz. canned tomato sauce or diced tomatoes*
  • Red wine (cooking wine)
  • Heavy cream
  • Dried basil
  • 1-2 cups chicken stock
  • 1 package instant polenta (serving size at least 4)**
  • Italian cheese (Parmesan, Asiago, Pecorino-Romano, or a mixture)
  • Garlic powder

*I prefer Hunts brand and I used sauce that I had leftover from another dish.

**I used Delallo brand (they’re based in western PA, where I’m from, and have great products). I cooked the entire 9.2 oz. bag and, after John and I each got a serving, there was enough left over for 2-3 more servings.

Directions

Heat some butter and olive oil in a large pan over medium high heat. Add the chicken and sausage to the pan, season with a little salt and pepper (and garlic powder), and cook for a few minutes. Add the onion, garlic, and crushed red pepper flakes and continue to cook until the onions are soft and the meats are cooked through, then add the tomato sauce/diced tomatoes and a splash of red wine. Reduce the heat to medium low, add a little dried basil, then add heavy cream to the mixture and stir it in—the mixture should be a creamy orange-red color (it actually looked almost like an Indian dish to me); 1/4 to 1/2 cup of cream should be enough. Bring water (and chicken stock) to a boil for the polenta (I sub in 1 to 2 cups of chicken stock in place of some of the water—it adds more flavor to the polenta). Towards the end of cooking, stir in some butter, a little heavy cream, garlic powder, salt, pepper, and Italian cheese. Remove from heat—the mixture should be creamy and the add-ins should be well-mixed in. Serve the polenta in bowls, topped with the meat and sauce mixture, topped with a little Italian cheese.

9-17-13

Cook’s Comments

I kind of have this thing for heavy cream—it makes just about everything better (heavy cream to me is a little bit like butter to Paula Deen). A splash in this dish’s tomato sauce adds a velvety texture and rich flavor. A drizzle in the polenta helps keep it smooth and creamy. This is definitely a comfort meal with rich, delicious flavors—the polenta is thick and cheesy and soaks up the creamy tomato sauce (which gets a bit of a kick from the crushed red pepper flakes). My boyfriend suggested adding both chicken and sausage, and, boy, was that a great idea—two great textures and flavors that mix together beautifully. This dish reheats well (I had a lovely lunch of leftovers today) and if you have any extra, plain polenta, you can always cut it into chunks and saute it in butter and serve with another meal.

Recipe: Lemony Chicken and Rainbow Chard

Ingredients

  • 1-2 bunches of rainbow (or Swiss) chard, stalks chopped and leaves chiffonade* cut
  • Fresh basil leaves, chiffonade cut
  • 1 shallot, finely chopped
  • Fresh lemon juice
  • Fresh lemon zest
  • Butter (salted)
  • Olive oil
  • Chicken stock
  • 2-3 cloves garlic, minced
  • White wine**
  • Salt & Peppers
  • Crushed red pepper flakes
  • Garlic powder
  • 2-4 chicken breasts, cut into slices or cubes
  • Heavy cream
  • Cornstach-and-water mixture***

*Chiffonade means “cut into ribbons.” Cut the leaves from the stalks, roll them into long tubes and slices the tubes into pieces from one end to the other, creating ribbons.

**Cooking wine is fine. No need to break out a nice bottle (unless you plan to drink some with dinner).

***This is used to thicken sauces

 

Directions

Heat butter and a little olive oil in a medium to large skillet over medium heat. Add the chard leaves and stems, basil, lemon juice, lemon zest, shallot, salt, pepper, and a pinch of crushed red paper flakes and let the mixture start to wilt and cook. Add a splash of white wine, a splash of chicken stock, a little more butter and lemon juice, and the garlic and continue to cook. Push the mixture off to the side and add the pieces of chicken; season lightly with salt, pepper, and garlic powder; and cook until cooked through and tender. In the meantime, add heavy cream (about 1/2 pint) and butter (about 2 tbsp.) to a small pot and heat over medium heat until simmering. Add a generous pinch of lemon zest, a splash of lemon juice, garlic powder, and a splash of chicken stock, and continue to cook. Season with salt and pepper and add a little cornstarch-and-water to help thicken the sauce, then reduce the heat to low. The completed chicken will be tender and the chard will have wilted and cooked down. Serve the dish topped with a drizzle of the cream sauce or serve the sauce on the side with a ladle/spoon. If you want a slightly more filling dish, roast some chunks of red potatoes in the oven with a little olive oil and seasoning, then toss with the chicken and chard mixture; toss the mixture with hot pasta; or consider spreading the mixture and a little sauce on toasted ciabatta bread and make a sandwich.

[Check back for a picture. My camera wasn’t cooperating for this one.]

Cook’s Comments

This dish is buttery, tart, bright, and savory all in one. Cooking the chard in butter, white wine, and lemon juice helps create a delicious sauce that coats everything and pools into a lovely little puddle at the bottom of your plate. The velvety, buttery lemon cream sauce is the perfect accomplishment and helps mellow out the tart citrus flavor. Lemon pairs really well with the chard—it’s a bit like eating wilted spinach, but with an earthy flavor that’s perked up by the pop of lemon.