Monday, June 16, 2008

Tuscan Pasta with Pine Nuts

One of my favorite restaurants is Olive Garden, how utterly generic of me right? Every birthday and anniversary, graduation or Mother's Day if given a choice I always went to Olive Garden. One such random meal I ordered my favorite meal - which i should interject was the only thing I ever ordered! - and I was told they had changed menus and they no longer had that item. Crestfallen I sputtered and fumbled trying to find something, anything from their menu as a close approximation. This is when I realized that Olive Garden was not in fact my favorite restaurant, but rather I was just a big fan of one dish! Since then I have discovered a new favorite dish there, which is similar to the following one, which is from my friend Meredith.

Tuscan Pasta with Pine Nuts

1 box whole grain farfalle or penne pasta
5 oz basil pesto
2-3 oz sun dried tomatoes, drained
1/2 cup pine nuts
1/2 cup heavy whipping cream
salt & pepper
1 large chicken breast, grilled

Prepare the box of pasta as per the directions on the box. While the pasta is boiling drain the sun dried tomatoes if they are in oil. I find a paper towel helps here. Once drained, chop them up into bite sized pieces.

Salt and pepper a chicken breast and in a grill pan, on the outside grill, or whatever you have on hand grill it over medium high heat for about 12 minutes on one side, flipping and grilling for another 6-10 minutes or until the internal temperature reaches 160 degrees. Allow to rest at least 5 minutes before slicing into bite size pieces.

In a small skillet, over low heat toast the pine nuts until they are just golden brown. Your nose will tell you when they are done.

Once the pasta is done, drain it and place it back into the pot. Add all of the remaining ingredients and toss until incorporated. Garnish with a sprinkle of freshly grated Parmesan cheese if desired.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Vegan Cupcakes & Icing

Tuesday night we hosted a small dinner party with some (rather awesome) friends. Being who I am, when dividing up who brought what I chose dessert. Just picture me doing the "peanut butter jelly time!" dance because that meant I got to make cupcakes & one of my favorite things to make, icing! These are vegan and utterly, no really, utterly delicious! They are moist and rich while the icing is pillowy and light. This recipe is basically from the fantastic cookbook Vegan Cupcakes Take Over the World

Chocolate Vegan Cupcakes

1 cup vanilla soy milk
1 teaspoon apple cider vinegar
3/4 cup granulated sugar
1/3 cup canola oil
1/2 teaspoon almond extract, chocolate extract, or vanilla extract if not using vanilla soymilk
1 cup all-purpose flour
1/3 cup cocoa powder
3/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt

Preheat your oven to 350 degrees. Long ago I decided that cupcake liners made no sense and were just a waste of paper and source of trash accumulation so I simply sprayed my cupcake pan with cooking spray. Otherwise line them with papers if that is how you roll.

In a medium sized mixing bowl whisk together the soy milk and the apple cider vinegar and set this aside. It will start to curdle, which you want. Then add the sugar, oil, and whatever type of extract strikes your fancy. Beat this until it is frothy.

In a separate bowl sift together the remaining dry ingredients. In two batches, add the dry ingredients to the wet, gently mixing until no lumps remain. Pour this into your cupcake pans 3/4 of the way to the top and bake for 18-20 minutes or until a toothpick comes out clean when inserted. Cool completely on wire rack before icing. Speaking of...

Vegan Strawberry "Buttercream" Icing

1/4 cup nonhydrogenated shortening
1/4 cup nonhydrogenated margarine (like Earth Balance)
1 3/4 cups powdered sugar
1/4 - 1/2 cup strawberries, pureed

Beat together the shortening and margarine until nice and fluffy. Then, in 1/2 cup increments, lest your find yourself engulfed in a large puffy cloud of sugar, add the powdered sugar, beating well each time. Beat all together on high for about 3 minutes. Then add the strawberry puree. Depending on how juicy your strawberries are you might need to add some powdered sugar to get the right consistency. When finished, pipe or spread onto cupcakes. Garnish with fresh strawberries if desired and enjoy.