Spring Training Whole Grain Pasta

Spring Training Whole Grain Pasta

Spring Training Whole Grain Penne

Spring Training Whole Grain Penne

Spring Training is in full swing — and to celebrate the return of summer sports, I thought I would share a great, light and healthy pasta dish that is sure to please.

Spring is a great time to go outside and do long distance exercise, whether it’s long walks, bike riding, running or cycling. Since many of my friends are marathon runners, I’ve become accustomed to their high carbohydrate dinners the night before a race. Carbohydrates have long been a favorite for distance runners because they have a “slow-burn” effect on the body, meaning, runners have more energy to go longer distances.

My friend, Tyler, the goofiest marathon runner!

My friend, Tyler, the goofiest marathon runner!

What we’ve recently discovered is that fortified pastas, such as multi-grain or whole grain pasta, have added fiber, which increases the slow burn and is even better for the body. The only problem is the taste and texture. Not everyone seems to enjoy the extra bite and chewiness that comes with whole grains, and some people refer to the pasta as “eating cardboard” when compared to the mild taste of durum or semolina noodles.

My Spring Training Whole Grain Pasta seeks to change that thought and attitude simply by changing the way we look at pasta dishes. Who says every plate of noodles has to be covered in tomato sauce and cheese? The truth is, if you hold onto that kind of mental block, you’ll surely notice the change in pasta. But if you leave out the acidic tomato sauce, and concentrate on fresher flavors, you may find your mouth longs to bite, while the vegetable sauce complements the texture and nutty flavor of the pasta.

Give it a try and let me know your thoughts. Here’s to the athlete in all of us!

Spring Training Whole Grain Pasta
Serves 6

I use whole grain penne rigate pasta

I use whole grain penne rigate pasta

1 lbs. whole grain pasta (such as penne or rigatoni)
1 lbs. fresh turkey Italian sausage (casings removed)
4 strips center-cut bacon (low-sodium), diced
1 small yellow onion, quartered
3 small carrots, peeled
3 stalks of celery, quartered
3 cloves of garlic, peeled
2 bay leaves
1 tablespoon dried oregano
1 tablespoon dried Italian seasoning
1 cup dry white wine
1 cup chicken stock
2 tablespoons of olive oil
Grated Parmesan cheese for garnish
Salt and Pepper to taste

  1. Bring a large stockpot with lightly salted water to boil. Cook the noodles until desired tenderness. Drain and reserve 1 cup of the pasta water. Set aside.
  2. At the same time as the noodles, use a food processor or other chopping device, and add the onions, celery, carrots and garlic. Pulse until there is a chunky sauce, but not paste like. You should see tiny cubes of each vegetable. Set aside.
  3. In a large saucepan, add the olive oil and diced bacon over medium high heat. Once the bacon begins to crisp, add the sausage and break into small pieces. Cook thoroughly and drain any fat.
  4. Return pan to heat and add the vegetable mixture, along with the seasonings. Mix well to incorporate, and stir until the vegetables soften, about 3-4 minutes.
  5. Add the white wine and cook until fully evaporated. Add the chicken stock and do the same as the wine.
  6. Taste the mixture and adjust seasonings as desired. Discard bay leaves.
  7. Add the cooked pasta to the sauce until well incorporated. If the sauce is to dry, incorporate the reserved pasta water. Serve with cheese if desired.
Warm Vinaigrettes: Making a Splash

Warm Vinaigrettes: Making a Splash

Raspberry Vinaigrette from Food with My Friends, the cookbook

There’s something so refreshing about a vinaigrette — especially when the weather starts to warm up.  As the days get longer and the temperatures start to rise, our eating habits change too.  Gone are the thick sauces and heavy stocks, as we opt instead for small squirts of citrus, freshly chopped herbs and smokey dry rubs.

I happen to have a fondness for warm vinaigrettes.  There’s nothing wrong with a room temperature vinaigrette on a salad, but when I’m at the grill or doing a quick pan saute, I like to finish with a warm vinaigrette.  In my opinion, a little bit of heat intensifies the flavor of the vinaigrette, which means you can use less and taste more.

A basic vinaigrette is an emulsion of acid and fat.  Most of us know and love olive oil and balsamic vinegar, but if you’re feeling more experimental, use ingredients like freshly squeezed fruits, spicy mustards, creamy butter, chopped herbs, sweet preserves or tangy shallots.  For a warm vinaigrette, I like to start with a hot pan (preferably the one that you cooked your proteins in) and your chosen fat (for me, that’s typically olive oil).  I like to create an infused oil, adding chopped herbs or fruit zest to warm oil so it really takes on the flavor of the featured ingredient.  I take the infused oil off the heat and let it cool.  Then I whisk the warm oil with freshly squeezed fruit juice or vinegar, salt and pepper to taste and immediately brush it onto grilled vegetables or chicken.  Just a little goes a long way — and it really makes a splash on your tastebuds!

Lemon Tarragon Vinaigrette

3 tablespoons fresh tarragon, chopped
1 cup olive oil
2 lemons, zested and juice reserved
Salt and White Pepper to taste

  1. In a warm pan, heat the olive oil.  Add the tarragon and lemon zest and remove from heat.  Allow the ingredients to infuse the oil as well as cool down, about 10 minutes.
  2.  With a reamer or similar juicing tool, add the juice from the lemons.  Use a whisk or jar to shake and create a creamy emulsion.  Salt and pepper to taste.
  3. Use on grilled poultry or vegetables.
Spring Baking Tips: 5 Ways to Get Great Results

Spring Baking Tips: 5 Ways to Get Great Results

The "Sweetest Blooms" Cupcake Kit by Very Different Cakes

With Spring holidays just around the corner, home kitchens fill with warm ovens and the aromas of buttery crusts, caramelized sugars and toasted nuts.  Easter cakes, flourless Passover desserts and Spring picnic pies emerge, bringing out the pastry chef, confectioner and lover of butter in all of us.   To the successful baker, this also triggers the release of a mad scientist from our minds.

The key to good baking is to realize the science behind each recipe, that is, the how and why for each ingredient and the process of baking. 

For example, butter and lard maybe used interchangeably, but often yield different results.  Butter has a certain moisture content as it is made with water.  Lard has very little, resulting in very flakey and crumbly pie crusts, while butter is richer in taste.  Measurements, time and temperature are just as important as the ingredients — with the best results achieved through methodic technique and careful execution. 

If I were to list my top five ways to acheive great baking results, they would be:

  1. Nordic Ware Vintage Bunny Pan

    Pre-heat the oven.

      Every oven has hot and cold spots, so it’s important to know where they are and what to do to minimalize un-even heating. Get the oven nice and hot at least fifteen minutes prior to inserting food.  

  2. Bring all ingredients to room temperature.  I can’t state this enough.  The exception, of course, is when stated otherwise in a recipe, such as with biscuits or pie crusts which usually call for cold butter.  In other cases, I say gather your ingredients (particularly milk, butter and eggs) and let them sit out for at least an hour before starting your recipe.
  3. Use the right tools.  Baking requires a certain amount of tools in order to be done correctly.  Liquid and solid measuring cups are just the beginning, with the proper spatula, beaters and sheet tray required.  Also, paper products, such as parchment, foil and plastic wrap are used in various ways, so it’s important to know which will perform best with the tools you have. 
  4. Set a timer.  Baked goods typically have a designated cook time and the best way to track that is with a kitchen timer.  During baking time, it is important to leave the food un-disturbed in the oven.  Just opening the door a crack can alter the oven temperature and produce un-even heat distribution.  If you must check on an item, I suggest waiting until five minutes prior to the end of the designated cook time.
  5. Know your techniques.  For example, if you are told to fold an ingredient, know this is different from mixing or beating.  The same goes for piping, scooping and plating.  Become familiar with all kinds of techniques (and their differences) and know when to apply appropriately.

This weekend, I’ll be sharing baking tips like these and more during HSN’s Spring Baking shows.  Some of the products you’ll see me talk about include the Nordic Ware Bunny and Lamb pans and the fantastic Very Different Cake Ladybug and Cupcake Blooms kit.  These products are perfect for Spring time baking, so please tune in for my baking tips and ideas!