Friday, January 28, 2011

Baked Ricotta Stuffed Pasta Shells In Tomato Sauce

Pasta shells are a nice thing to eat. You can fill them up with almost anything you like, that will fit and stay in them of course, and they rarely fail to please. The stuffing has lots of flavor and goes nicely with the shells, something like canneloni or manicotti, but a lot easier to prepare.

Over the years, I have tried many different ways to make these. I have tried stuffing them with bolognese sauce with a tomato sauce over top and one time with a bechemel sauce. Interesting but haven't done either since. I have even tried stuffing them with spaghetti squash. The winner seems to be a ricotta mixture or just ricotta alone, I find.

Ricotta cheese is a great ingredient to have in your kitchen. It has a nice, mild flavor and takes on other flavors without any issues. Ricotta actually means "recooked" in Italian and is a fresh cheese rather than aged or ripened. This means there is less screwing around with it. It has a lot of calcium, protein and omega fatty acids. Just be careful as the omega-6's outweigh the omega-3's. It is always important to have more omega-3's* than 6's, I've been told. But don't get me wrong, both are good, just make sure you balance them out properly.

* If you haven't noticed, I finally decided to stop adding the actual links to the sites and just attach the links to the actual words, Looks a lot better this way. :)

Ingredients

- 1 container (500 g) ricotta cheese, low-fat can be used if you wish
- 1/4 cup Parmesan, grated 
- zest of half of a lemon
- juice of 1/2 of the lemon after zesting
- leaves from 1 sprig of thyme, chopped
- 4 basil leaves, sliced into ribbons
- 1 tsp dried oregano
- 1 clove garlic
- sea salt to taste and fresh ground pepper to taste
- 12 jumbo pasta shells, cooked, drained and cooled
- 2 or 3 cups of your favorite tomato sauce
- 3 tbsp chopped parsley

Directions

1. Heat oven to 400°F. Mix ricotta cheese, Parmesan, garlic, oregano, basil, thyme, lemon zest and juice and salt/pepper until well blended. Reserve a little Parmesan to sprinkle over top before serving.
2. Spoon mixture into shells or use a piping bag, filling each shell to just under the top of it. Handle the shells carefully as you don't want to break them.


3. Spread half the sauce onto bottom of a baking dish. Arrange shells, filled-sides up in the baking dish and top with sauce. Make sure to cover as much of the shells as you can so they don't burn. You could also cover the dish with aluminum foil.


4. Bake 40 minutes or until heated through, removing foil after 30 minutes, if you used it.
5. Sprinkle parsley and Parmesan over top and serve.
Yield: Serves 3


Tips: Ok, I made this on the cheap side of the calories, so if you want to add a little more flavor, fat or whatever, sprinkle some shredded mozzarella over top before baking along with a little more Parmesan. This makes it nice and gooey and adds more flavor, especially when it browns a little. If you do this, cover the dish with foil for the first 30 minutes or so and bake it uncovered for the last 10. You could also save some of the sauce in a pot to pour over top of the shells just before you serve them.

The stuffing can be used for cannelloni or manicotti as well. If you are having issues with it falling out of the pasta, just add an egg to use as a binder. You could also add some chopped frozen spinach to the stuffing. You can never go wrong with spinach. It blows the roof off of our daily intake of vitamin K and A, and has a healthy dose of manganese and folate as well. I eat it all of the time and always look for different ways to cook with it. This is a good meal for Meatless Monday, if you are into that type of thing.

Little O's Menu

She finally is getting tired of eating sweet potatoes. This means we have to make sure we pump her up full of other vegetables which are bright in color. We are starting to get her to try more tomato-based foods, like sauces. Also, we are trying to get her to eat a little more meat as she isn't a big fan. There has to be more protein in her diet so anything will help. For breakfast today, it was a whole organic banana and 8 or 10 organic raspberries. Both are full of vitamins and minerals, especially vitamin C.

She is still on the oatmeal kick too. This is fine, as I've said before. It's quick and easy to make and is full of fibre. Throwing in a few raspberries and/or blueberries never hurts either. A little maple syrup and cinnamon always adds a nice flavor punch and added health benefits.

Restaurant Review

Last weekend, Mrs. Urban Eater said we should go out for dinner and see how the new little babysitter handles O. We chose to go to a place in the south end of town called Halo. It's a steak and seafood house along with a wine bar. I have seen a few other articles and reviews about it and so far, so good.

To begin, we ordered a bottle of 2009 Masi Valpolicella. It was a good bottle of wine, but we should really have a better idea of what we want to eat before we order the wine. It paired well with what we ate, so we were lucky. We started off with the Saganaki and her choice, the Calamari. Both were very tasty, even though I rarely eat deep fried calamari now that I am a believer in steamed and grilled. Our mains were the Seafood Casarolla with lemon potatoes on the side for her,


and the 14 oz Rib Eye with garlic mashed potatoes on the side for me.


I don't eat steak very often, but i figured what the hell, I'm in a steakhouse! I ordered the big one as I don't eat the fat or the gristle. I know, picky, but I eat enough fat and only like to eat what I can chew. So really, I ate about an 10 oz steak, which is fine as I'm used to that. The next time, I will have the Filet Mignon or the New York. Also, the next time we go out I will bring our small camera. I don't like the quality of the pics my Blackeberry takes. You will see much better quality pics from now on.

We were impressed by the service, too bad I can't remember her name. The only flaws we noticed were she was a little slow at first and at the end of the meal when we were waiting for the cheque. In her defense, we noticed she had another girl hanging around her quite a bit, so we figured she was training her. Otherwise, our server knew the menu by heart and offered some great advice on many different aspects and answered all questions. We will go back again very soon! Oh yeah, the new babysitter worked out very well. Thanks Perry!

Quote Of The Day:

"People think Chef Boyardee is a great man. I think he's nothing but a pasta hater. What true lover of pasta could turn it into mush and shove it in a can? That's not pasta. That's just plain wrong.”
~ Author Unknown

Good point. Making ones own pasta is a lot of fun and shouldn't be compromised.


Until next time, good eating everyone.

Mark

Monday, January 24, 2011

Dry Rub Roasted Pork Tenderloin With Reduced Balsamic Glaze

Piggy-parts are something I have eaten a lot of over the years, but I'm not too sure if I ate any tenderloin earlier in my life or not. I know I began to eat it in my twenties after I started my culinary adventure I'm still on to make sure my body was treated a little better through food.

Pork is full of vitamins and minerals, particularly thiamine, niacin and B vitamins which are very good for our bodies (http://www.thepigsite.com/recipes/nutrition.php) and tenderloin is also low in fat. It takes on flavour very well and is simple to cook with. I cut it up or cook it whole. I have even stuffed it, but I l'm not too sure I like the idea of stuffing a tenderloin as it is a nice cut of meat without unravelling it and putting something in the middle.

I do a dry rub once in awhile, but not often. It's a simple way to add flavor to meat, but takes some thinking ahead. Simple thing to do, but you have to know what you want to prepare ahead of time. I'm really bad for this as Mrs. Urban Eater used to be very picky with what she ate until I showed her what I figured out many years ago on my own: eating healthy can also be full of flavor! I'm always saying "I don't care, I'll cook whatever you want" when she asks "What's for dinner?" I have to stop doing this and man up and say "We are having.... for dinner." End of story. Makes things a lot easier that way.

When I use a dry rub, I like to add different levels of flavor to compliment the meat. Sometimes I will throw a little smoked paprika in or some ground coriander or even both, depending on what type of meat is being cooked. I never go overboard with the rub as I don't want to not be able to taste each individual flavor I want in there. I like to taste what I add, whether it be the slight background flavors or the boldness of the main ingredient. And you still want to taste the meat too, don't forget about that!

A lot of times I will cut little slits in the tenderloin to put slivers of garlic into them. Some people say this is a bad thing to do as it lets the juices escape from the meat. I beg to differ on this subject. I believe the garlic adds a nice touch as it roasts slightly and almost becomes as sweet as it does when you roast a whole garlic bulb in the oven on it's own. When you take a bite and get a sliver of garlic, it's a nice surprise, a surprise only if you don't see it first. The tenderloin is always nice and juicy when I do this trick, never to dry.

Ingredients

- 1 pork tenderloin
- 2 cloves garlic, sliced in half first, then thinly sliced again
- 1 tbsp smoked paprika
- 1 tbsp ground coriander
- 1 tbsp fresh ground pepper
- 1 tsp cumin
- 1 tsp ground ginger
- 1/2-1 tsp cayenne pepper, depending on how much heat you want
- balsamic vinegar
- EVOO
- sea salt

Directions

1. Pat down the tenderloin with a paper towel to make sure it's dry. Take a very sharp knife and cut the silverskin off of the meat. This has to be done. If it isn't, the skin will make the meat hard to chew. Use the point of the knife to get it under the skin, pinch the skin, pull back on it a little and angle the blade of the knife up slightly so you don't cut away too much of the meat. It's almost the same thing as taking the skin of of a fillet of fish, except the knife blade faces up instead of down. Get as much off as you can.


2. Cut little slits in the tenderloin all over to put the garlic into them. Try to put the garlic in enough so it will not slip out. You will have to push the sliver of garlic in which will make it stay nice and snug in the slit, and then pinch the meat over top of the sliver to help it stay in place.


3. In a Ziploc bag big enough to hold the meat, throw in the tenderloin with all of the spices. Zip it up and shake it briskly to evenly distribute the spices all over the meat. Put in the fridge and let it sit for as long as you can, preferably a couple of hours to overnight.
4. When ready to cook, preheat oven to 375 F (190C). Take a frying pan over medium high heat and put a little EVOO in it, about 2 tbsp. Put the tenderloin in to sear it on all sides and sprinkle a little salt on. You can sear it until brown or just slightly brown, depends on what your preferences are. The browner it is, the less time it will take to cook in the oven. I like it less brown as I like to use the indirect of the oven to cook it as it will be juicier then. You add the salt now because if you were to add it to the dry rub, it would suck all of the juices out of the meat and it would be very dry.
5. Take a small pot and fill it with about 1" of the balsamic vinegar. I use a small pot because I will not have to use half of a bottle of the vinegar and waste a bunch of it. This way I only use a little bit and is easier to reduce. Bring it to a boil and reduce until it is a little less than half of what you started with.


Let it cool off to the side for about 5-10 minutes. This will help thicken it up.


6. When seared on all sides, put in the oven for approximately 20-25 minutes. You know it's done for sure if you use a thermometer to check the internal temperature and it reads 160F (75C). It will still be a little pink, but don't worry. Pork can be cooked like this nowadays. Plus, the temp will still rise another 5 degrees F as it sits and rests after being taken out of the oven.


7. Let sit for 10 minutes before slicing. If you slice it at an angle, you will expose more of the surface area to allow it to soak up more flavor from the balsamic glaze.
Yield: 2-3 servings.

I served the tenderloin this time with a side of spaghetti squash mixed up with grape tomatoes, fresh thyme, shredded Parmesan, EVOO, salt and pepper.


The balsamic vinegar reduced a little too much as it looks pretty thick here (my fault, watching the hockey game on TV at the same time), but was still nice as it wasn't thick enough to act like a blood clot, but thick enough to not run all over the plate. Usually I take a spoon and pour it over top, like this:


This recipe has lots of flavor and has some health benefits to it. Cayenne pepper is always good to add to your food as it adds a nice flavor punch and has quite a bit of vitamin A and capsaicin which helps reduce any pains you have and also helps prevent ulcers (http://www.whfoods.com/genpage.php?tname=foodspice&dbid=140). Cumin is also nice on the flavor side and the health side as it is loaded with iron (http://www.suite101.com/content/the-top-ten-health-benefits-of-cumin-a193647). Smoked paprika adds a great smoky flavor and also adds the health benefits as well, something like cayenne (http://www.chilli.co.nz/benefits.html). Garlic, as we all know, adds great flavor and it's always a good idea to eat it once a day.

Little O's Menu

Well, she's still on the oatmeal kick and still likes her bread with almond butter, jam or cheese.


She is still eating the yogurt with fresh or frozen berries too. We are also trying to get her to eat a little meat for protein, but I take this as a challenge as we have to look for alternative choices for that until she starts eating more meat. For dinner, she is back with the sweet potatoes again. She just can't get enough, but as I keep saying, that's alright with us. We roast them up and freeze them to use at a later date. Sometimes we mix in some corn or some peas for texture. Corn isn't the best thing but the peas are good for her. She didn't like them at first because of the skins, but now she has teeth and doesn't seem to mind anymore. She is big on having a bowl of oatmeal for supper too. No shortage of fibre in that kids diet!

This weekend, I was in the Talisman Energy Pro Am squash tournament at Bankers Hall. It was a lot of fun and was able to get the ol' heart pumpin'. Won my first match by default and won my second match by way of hard work. Lost the third match in the quarter finals. Too bad my brain didn't decide to show up until after the match was over, but it was still fun. The final match on the pro side featured Chris Simpson from England against Alan Clyne from Scotland. Great final to watch. It's always nice to see how good I will never be after watching those guys play. Here is the draw sheet (http://www.bankershallclub.com/assets/PSA_Main_Draw.pdf). A good turnout with players from all over the world, Hong Kong, Malaysia, Australia and of course The British Isles and Canada. A great tournament put on by a great club and organized by a good friend, Bob Ballinger, head squash pro at Bankers Hall Health Club.


Sorry about the picture quality, but I had to use the Blackberry camera as they don't like you taking pictures with a regular camera as to not bother the players. One day, maybe I will have that problem (being bothered by picture takers)..... Who the hell am I kidding, click away if you dare!

Quote Of The Day:

"You have to take care of your 640 muscles. and the number one thing is exercise. You can eat perfectly but if you don't exercise, you cannot get by."
- Jack LaLanne, American health guru. (1914-2011)

Jack unfortunately passed away yesterday which is why I thought it appropriate to quote him here. I used to think he was kind of goofy when I saw him on TV flogging his juicer wearing that funny jumpsuit, but I soon learned he was just he was passionate about staying healthy through exercising and eating well everyday of his life. Can't fault him for that. We could learn a lot from him as he was active right up until his last days here at 96 years young. He left us with many lessons about total health in mind and body, not just as a lifestyle choice. Rest in peace my friend, and thanks. 


Until next time, good eating everyone.

Mark