Sunday, March 26, 2017

Creamy Limoncello Pasta And Chicken

It's spring and for me, that means it's time to post another recipe with lots of lemon flavour!

This past year, I've been working on my own version of Limoncello Pasta!

There are a wide variety of recipes for this tasty pasta dish on the net. Naturally, the one constant is the Limoncello! Depending on where you live, a bottle of Limoncello can seem a bit pricy, but just remember that it can be used in cocktails, desserts, sauces and main course dishes. It also has a lengthy shelf life after being opened as long as the lid is on tight and it is stored in a cool dry place. I bought a 750 ml / 26 ounce bottle for about $25 + tax at my local liquor store here in Manitoba.

The recipe I've come up with is based on a combination of ingredients and quantities from several recipes. As with any recipe I post, I've made a number of changes and tweaks for my version. Here are some notes on what I've tried and how it worked out.

The Pasta:
Many recipes suggest linguini, spaghetti or even fettuccini - all of which are wonderful choices. I've made this with linguini and fettuccini. I've also tried a medium shell pasta which didn't work as well. The shells seemed to want to clump together and not hold the sauce as well as I had hoped. I've used rotini (cork screw) a couple of times and was quite happy with the results. Ultimately, the choice of pasta is up to you! Just remember to undercook it slightly in the salted water as the pasta will be added to the sauce and cooked a bit more before serving.

The Cheese:
Most recipes for Limoncello Pasta will call for "Parmigiano Reggiano". As delicious as it is, it is also incredibly expensive! A 225 gram / 8 ounce piece can cost you well over $10!! It's just not in everyone's price range and especially not in mine! So, what to do? Well, the first time I tried to make a Limoncello Pasta, I just used a white herbed cheddar. I wasn't happy with the results as it didn't seem to melt well into the sauce and actually seemed a bit gritty. The second time I tried to make it, I decided to try an herb and garlic spreadable cream cheese. The result was a flavourful creamy sauce! Another benefit to using the herb and garlic cream cheese is that a 225 gram / 8 ounce container can often be found on sale for about $3!

The Cream:
Almost all of the recipes I looked at, called for heavy cream or whipping cream. This is another item that isn't in my budget. Not to mention the extra calories! Instead, I used a combo of 1/2 & 1/2 with light sour cream. It created a very similar texture without the sweetness of the cream.

Additional Notes:
- This pasta can be made with or without chicken. I've only used fresh boneless, skinless chicken breasts. The chicken can be cut into bite sized pieces or strips. The choice is yours!
- If you don't like peppers then they can be left out.
- Add more or less garlic depending on preference.
- Fresh basil leaves is a MUST in the recipe! They add a dash of colour and the flavour of the fresh can't be beat! Dried basil works in some recipes but NOT in this one!

This past December, I made this dish for two of my gal pals for our annual holiday dinner. I served this pasta dish with a tossed salad, homemade mini bread sticks and herb butter. To drink? A sparkling white grape juice. They thought it was absolutely delicious!

Creamy Limoncello Pasta And Chicken
225 gram / 8 ounces rotini (spiral) pasta (for 4 portions)
350 grams / 12 ounces fresh boneless skinless chicken breast
1 large lemon
2-3 large cloves garlic
1/4 cup Limoncello
1 cup 1/2 + 1/2
1/4 cup light sour cream
40 grams / 1 1/2 ounce package fresh basil
2/3 cup diced onion
1/3 cup diced yellow, orange or red sweet bell pepper
1 225 gram / 8 ounce container herb and garlic cream cheese
salt and pepper to taste
green onion for garnish
Zest and juice the lemon. Set aside.

Mince or finely chop the garlic. Set aside.

Combine the lemon juice, Limoncello, 1/2 + 1/2 and sour cream. Set aside.

Remove the basil leaves from the stems and chop or tear the leaves into small pieces. You will get about 1 cup but don't worry if it is a bit more or less! Set aside.

Cut the chicken into small bite size pieces. Heat a small amount of extra virgin olive oil (EVOO) in a large deep skillet. Add the chicken and brown. 

While the chicken is browning, bring a pot of water to a boil. Once boiling, salt the water liberally. Add pasta and stir. Reduce heat to medium high and cook till el dante. (Times vary depending on type of pasta used. Check the package for cooking times). Drain the pasta - reserving about 1 cup cooking water in case it is needed to add to the sauce if it gets to thick. DO NOT rinse the pasta!

Meanwhile, while the water is boiling and the pasta is cooking - back to the pan with the chicken in it. Reduce heat to medium and add the onion and pepper - sauté for a few minutes then add the lemon zest, garlic and creamy mixture. Cut in the cream cheese and stir to melt. Bring to a gentle boil, then simmer for about 10 minutes - stirring occasionally.

Once the sauce starts to slightly thicken, add the pasta and stir to coat. Add the basil and mix thoroughly. Taste the sauce and add salt and fresh ground black pepper to taste. If the sauce is too thick, add some of the reserved pasta water and stir.

Serve hot pasta with a sprinkle of freshly chopped green onion on top and a side of green salad or veg.



Sunday, January 29, 2017

Raisin Muffins

My mom used to make Raisin Muffins and we loved them! These were just one of the baked treats she tried to keep in the freezer on a regular basis to serve with tea or coffee in case unexpected company stopped by for a visit!

I've been making her raisin muffin recipe at least once a year for a very long time!
More recently, I decided to see if I could update the recipe just a bit. The original called for the raisins to be boiled in water. That was fine, but I figured I could add just a hint more flavour by boiling them in orange juice or a citrus blend such as that made by 5 Alive or other brands. I also thought that since I was using juice, I could cut back a bit on the brown sugar.

The only other change I made was to use whole wheat flour instead of all purpose. The muffins didn't rise quite as much as with the all purpose flour but I prefer the taste and texture with the whole wheat.

As always, the choice is yours. You can boil the raisins in juice, water or a water/juice mix. You can use whole wheat flour, all purpose flour or a combo. I'd still stick with my slightly reduced brown sugar though as these were a bit on the sweet side.

Generally, I use Sultana raisins but you could also use Thompson, Golden or a combination. Regardless of the type, always rinse them with hot water in a colander before using to wake them up a bit from the drying. Raisins (or any dried fruit) can get really hard or clump together after awhile so the hot water rinse or a brief soak in hot water followed by a hot rinse is a perfect way to wake up and enhance the flavour for whatever purpose you are using them!

These muffins are yummy on their own!
They are also a might tasty with a bit of cheddar cheese! I think my favourite way to have them was to slice them in half and top each half with a piece of cheddar cheese - or just put a piece of cheddar between the top and bottom and eat it like a sandwich! 
I also love having them with apple slices or a fruit salad. 
In the last few weeks, I've handed out several muffins to taste testers and they all thought they were delish!

Raisin Muffins
2 cups raisins
3 cups orange juice or an orange/Citrus blend such as 5 Alive
3 cups whole wheat flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
2 teaspoons baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup block margarine, softened to room temperature
1 cup brown sugar, lightly packed
2 large eggs, at room temperature - fork beaten
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

For the raisins, I generally use Sultana's but you could also use Thompson or Golden if you prefer. Measure the raisins then place in a colander and run under hot tap water to rinse and separate. (Note: If the raisins are extremely dry, hard or clumped together, place them in a dish of hot water for a couple minutes then stir to separate then place in a colander to rinse.) Drain well.

Combine the raisins and orange juice in a medium sized pot. Bring to a boil then reduce heat to medium-high and cook at a gentle boil (uncovered) for 20 minutes. Remove from the burner to a rack to cool - DO NOT DRAIN! You will use the raisins and the remaining juice in the recipe!
Spray muffin tins with Pam or line muffin tins with paper liners and set aside.

In a medium size bowl, combine the flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt. Set aside. (Note: I prefer using whole wheat but you could use All purpose or a combination of both.)

Place the softened margarine and brown sugar in a large bowl or the bowl of a stand mixer and beat till creamy. Add the beaten eggs and the vanilla. Mix thoroughly

Add the cooled raisins AND the juice they were boiled in. Mix thoroughly.

Add the dry ingredients - mixing on low speed till well combined.

Spoon batter into prepared muffin tins (to about 3/4 full). Bake in preheated 350F oven for 20 minutes or till toothpick test shows clean.
Remove to cooling rack. If you didn't use paper liners, carefully run a knife around the edge of the muffins to make sure they don't stick to the pan. Gently, tip the muffins on their side to cool for a few minutes to cool before removing to the rack to finish cooling.
Makes about 2 1/2 dozen tasty muffins. These freeze really well!