In which there is another reason to celebrate…

food for happy people, or for people that need to be made happy.

food for happy people, or for people who need to be made happy.

Oh man, I can’t keep up around here. Good old Meredith (Salem bound, temporary roomie, not London bound, dinner party guest) went to California for an innocent week of vacation and came back ENGAGED! We had to celebrate. She requested macaroni and cheese, which was almost better news than the engagement itself because she could have requested all manner of difficult things like lobster risotto or beef wellington or fresh pasta or something with some sort of dough involved, but instead, she requested mac and cheese. Easy! No hours and hours of prep, no crazy ingredient hunting, and since I just returned from a great wedding at one of the most remarkable hotels I have ever had the pleasure of staying in, and was deeply mourning the loss of having the most amazing staff on hand 24 hours a day to fulfill your slightest whim, I was not in the fend-for-myself-over-a-hot-stove kind of mood. I was still very much in the why-thank-you-for-appearing-out-of-nowhere-with-a-cocktail-and-a-ham-sandwich-I-didn’t-even-realize-I-wanted kind of mood. Or croquet-on-the-back-lawn-would-be-lovely-thank-you kind of mood…

home sweet weekend...

home sweet weekend...

However, back to reality…

Macaroni and cheese is awesome and comforting and filling and delicious. And you can’t beat the homemade from scratch, roux plus milk plus cheese plus time in the oven kind. I love me some mac and cheese anyway I can get it. That stuff from a blue box, that tasty stovetop stuff that approximates the real thing…all good, but the classic is definitely the best, and not particularly hard, it just takes a little bit longer. And you can use all sorts of varieties of cheese, cheddar, monterey jack, goat cheese, blue cheese, muenster cheese…I made it in Spain once and used combination of gruyere (I think) and some cheese that seemed to be a cross between cheddar and american cheese, and it was still great. Last night I used sharp cheddar (1 lb.) gruyere (~8 oz.) and monterey jack (8 oz.) I just happened to have gruyere in the fridge, because of the gougeres that never were, or I probably would not have used the gruyere because it would have been difficult to find in my hood on a Sunday afternoon. In that case, more cheddar probably would have been the choice. And yes, you are reading that correctly, that is 2 lbs of cheese to 1 lb of pasta. Macaroni and CHEESE is really good for you.

The cheese sauce starts with a roux. Equal parts butter and flour in a large pot, butter melted, flour added and allowed to cook a bit to get rid of the raw flour taste.

power of the roux...

power of the roux...

Then, hot milk is whisked in a little at a time, and allowed to thicken. At this point, I seasoned it with dry mustard powder and copious amounts of fresh pepper. Some salt too, but that I am usually a bit more careful with, since the cheese can be salty. In the place of the mustard powder, you could use cayenne pepper, nutmeg, ras al hanout (I used this last time, and it was a great addition, it added a little je ne sais quoi) or whatever else gets your motor running.

flavors

flavors

Then…the cheese. It may be tempting to use pre grated cheese, but I wouldn’t. It is coated in corn starch to keep it from sticking, and is just kind of yuckier. I use the food processor to grate the cheese, but if you don’t have one, it is still worth it to grate it yourself. Or make whomever you are feeding grate it to earn their dinner.

mmmmm...mmm

mmmmm...mmm

Stir the cheese in until it is melted into a sauce, and then add the cooked pasta. I used the pipette shape, which I quite enjoyed, but any short stubby tube pasta will do just fine.

Almost there...

Almost there...

Then this combo goes into a buttered baking dish, and gets covered with toasted bread crumbs and a handful of cheese that I left out of the sauce, and then goes into the oven with foil for about a half hour, forty minutes, taking the foil off half way through. And then you end up with this…

That's what I'm talking about...

That's what I'm talking about...

The inside is creamy and awesome, and the top is crunchy from the crumbs and chewy from the cheese. Delish. It takes about a half an hour of prep time, and then the cooking time, but none of it is hard or requires too much thought. Perfect for when you need something comforting but not too involved. The plan was to serve this with roasted broccoli, which I will have to do for you soon, since it is fantastic, but I got so enthralled by drinking cava and hearing the engagement story, that I didn’t get around to it, so instead I just sliced up an avocado and some tomatoes from the farmer’s market and dinner was served. The cava was a great pairing actually because it was a dry one, and it cut through the richness of the cheesy goodness very well.

dinner.

dinner.

And with that we celebrated Meredith and Train Boy becoming betrothed. Apparently hanging out with me makes that happen these days. I am surrounded by people in love…

In other eating adventures last week, I used up the leftovers from my dinner party for a couple of different things. First, polenta with cockles, corn and shiitake sauce…tasty.

Leftovers never tasted so good.

Leftovers never tasted so good.

And then I used the pork belly for tacos. I fried up some corn tortillas, and sliced up some jack cheese, lettuce, tomato and avocado.

Pretty tasty.

Pretty tasty.

All in all, not a bad food week. Coming up: feeding a group on a Friday night. The cousins are coming up for a football weekend, and we will be dining chez Meghan on Friday. I have no idea yet what is on the menu.

Macaroni and Cheese (should serve eight)

1 lb short tube pasta

8 tbls butter, divided

6 tbls flour

4 cups milk

2 tsps dry mustard powder (if you are using cayenne or nutmeg, you won’t need this much spice, I’d cut it in half)

Lots of freshly ground pepper, and a couple pinches of salt

2 lbs melty cheese of your choice, grated – reserve a handful to sprinkle on top.

1 cupbreadcrumbs (I like panko)

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees, butter a large baking dish, and set aside.

Start a large pot of salted water boiling, and cook pasta al dente and drain.

At the same time, heat the milk to just under a boil and remove from heat.

In a large saucepan, melt 6 tbl of the butter over medium low heat (I use my dutch oven.) When the butter is melted, whisk in the flour 1 tbl at a time until combined. Let the roux bubble and cook until it starts to brown. Add the milk to the roux a bit at a time – I use a ladle – and whisk to combine. As the mixture thickens, add the mustard powder or seasoning of your choice, salt and pepper. Then add the grated cheese, and stir until the cheese is melted into the sauce. Taste for flavor and adjust to your liking. Add the drained pasta and stir to combine. Put the whole mixture into the baking pan, and set aside for a minute. 

In a frying pan, melt the remaining 2 tbls of butter over medium heat. Add the bread crumbs and toast until they are brown and buttery. Spread the breadcrumbs over the top of the macaroni and sprinkle the reserved handful of cheese on top.

Cover with foil and cook for 20-25 minutes. Remove the foil, and cook until the top is browned and crunchy, and the corners are bubbly. Remove the mac and cheese from the oven and let sit for 5-10 minutes to cool. Serve and enjoy!

heaven.

heaven.

PS: Word press wackiness tally. It HATES the work shiitake. Actually, it hates me, because I have been spelling shiitake wrong and ignoring it. So there you go. Also I had to spell out the 8 in serves 8 because of the parenthses. When I wrote serves 8 with parentheses, I actually ended up with a smily face wearing sunglasses emoticon. Oh WordPress.

In which I host a dinner party…

I know it has been a couple days, but this is going to be a good one, so hopefully it makes up for my absence.

I had a dinner party to say farewell to my friend Meredith. Meredith is heading to further her education in London, and I am jealous. Meredith pops up in the comments here occasionally as “the other Meredith.” because I happen to have two friends named Meredith. They are both making significant life changes in the next couple of weeks, and I spend an inordinate amount of time with both of them. It is very confusing. This Meredith is a colleague and friend, so the dinner guests were all coworkers and friends as well. Just the ladies. It was lovely.

I decided to make four courses, because it was Monday and that totally makes sense. I was going to pair the courses with wine from my California trip back in April, which Meredith joined me for. I have been thinking about pork belly, and decided to do that as one of the courses, and I have been going through some of my back issues of Bon Appetit and I found a recipe for potato crusted halibut. I thought I would do that with salmon, and that became another course. I started with a pasta course and finished with dessert.

I intended to make a flat bread and gougeres for hors d’oeuvres. The flat bread was an adventure. I used to have a pizza stone, and I mistakenly left it in the oven and must have dropped something cold on it one day, because it cracked in half. I never replaced it. Pizza and flatbread crust are just not the same done on a cookie sheet, so I had to find a suitable substitute. I used the underside of my cast iron frying pan. It was great, I preheated it and all was well, except that I rolled out the dough too big, so it sort of draped over the side. I made it work. I used the pizza dough recipe from Todd English’s Figscookbook. It is a great dough, light and really crispy, but kind of a pain in the neck to work with because it is a really wet dough, and it sticks to everything. Still worth it though, because it comes out awesome when cooked. I topped the flat bread with gorgonzola dolce, sauteed red onions and sliced asian pear.

for starters...

for starters...

We didn’t need the gougeres, which was a good thing since they never made it out of the flour measuring stage. We had our flatbread with champagne that one of my lovely guests brought over.

Then dinner. First course was butternut squash tortelli, which are essentially very large tortellini. I roasted the squash for the filling, and then threw it in the food processor with parmesan cheese, amaretti cookies, salt and pepper. The sauce is butter melted until it stops foaming, then you add sage, the cooked tortelli, and some of the pasta water, which should emulsify with the butter to make a sauce.

first course.

first course.

It was pretty good. I liked the filling, but the pasta was a little weird. I don’t know if the pasta wasn’t cooked enough? It was a little tough where the sheets were folded over and touching each other, so I don’t know if that was just undercooked, or if it was too thick or what, but it was good. I do really like the filling. More practice needed, perhaps.

Next course was my favorite I think. I wrapped salmon in potato “scales.” Yukon golds sliced really thin on the mandoline (though I think I could have gone even one click thinner.) I overlapped the potato slices and wrapped them around each filet. It looked like this…

potato sleeves

potato sleeves

I seared both sides until the potatoes were crispy. They went on a bed of melted leeks. You may remember those from the tart. The sauce was corn and shiitake sauteed in butter and finished with a little bit of cream. This was really good. The salmon ended up cooked perfectly, the potatoes were crispy, the leeks, corn and shiitake were tasty. Definitely my favorite of the night.

third course

third course

alternate view

alternate view

Next was pork belly. I had a 4 lb piece of pork belly that I braised in chicken stock, soy sauce, garlic and onions and let cool to absorb all the deliciousness. I cooked polenta in chicken stock and carrot juice (a little trick I picked up from a chef acquaintance of mine) and then poured it into a baking pan to cool and set. The final step was to steam some cockles and sear the skin of the pork belly and the polenta squares. All on the plate with a little of the cooking juices.

third course

third course

This was good. It was supposed to be otherworldly. It was also supposed to have kale chips that I had made. It would have added color and cut the richness a little bit. I forgot to add them. I am not sure what I would do differently, or if perhaps I didn’t enjoy it as much as I hoped because I was already kind of full. I think I will have to have some leftovers to test it out again. The cockles kind of got lost, which I would like to remedy for next time. The polenta was good, and I think I will eat leftovers with some of the corn and shiitake from the second course.

Dessert: falling chocolate cake from Olives, but instead of raspberry sauce I made salted caramel ice cream again. It was delicious again, but it didn’t really set up, again. Kind of annoying, maybe it’s the salt in the recipe? How do I remedy that? It was delicious with the cake though.

dessert

dessert

Overall the dinner party was a success. Great guests, good wine, fun times. I have a sink full of dishes, and some good leftovers to show for it. I will be attempting all of these dishes again, especially the salmon. I will do all sorts of fish that way, with all sorts of accoutrements. Lots of opportunity there. And this is only the beginning of the pork belly adventure. Lots of possibility there. Just means more dinner parties to be had. In the meantime, I will searching for an apartment with a dishwasher.

In which I give a shout out…

I meant to put this in my last post, but forgot. Shame on me. This is a big old thank you to my Fairy Blogmother who has been keeping Bread and Ginger in ingredients for the last couple of weeks…she has also played the roll of food taster, sous chef, dishwasher and even occasionally chef de cuisine…it has been most lovely to have her around, and I will miss her when she moves on up to Salem.

Thanks FB!

In which I…

Look what I got!

my new toy...

my new toy...

It’s a wok! Better yet even, it’s my Gram’s wok. I recommend procuring some of your Gram’s stuff if she is finished with it and willing to give it to you. If you have a Gram. If not, get one of those too, they are fantastic. Grammie wasn’t using her wok anymore, and so now I have it. And I love it. I especially love it because it belonged to Grammie. There is something exceptionally cool about using cookware that predates the time that I learned to love to cook. I also have some of her old Fine Cooking magazines from back before I was grown up enough to have my own subscription, and I discovered the other day that she wrote notes in the margins when she tried the recipes. It is the greatest thing ever. I love that I have them, and I love that I know that the lemon curd recipe in one particular Fine Cooking did not set up, and that I should use Martha Stewart’s recipe. So I shall.

So in honor of my new (sort of) wok, I made fried rice last week. And it was pretty tasty. I had all sorts of vegetables lying around, and I had picked up some pork chops.

The mis en place...

The mis en place...

And I had made rice the night before, so I was ready to go. Fried rice is nice because anything goes. I had corn this time, which I don’t usually put in fried rice, but I will again, because it was great. Sometimes I just do fried rice with pork and mushrooms, sometimes I do it without any meat, and sometimes I have an abundance of things to put in it, like I did this night. As long as you have garlic, ginger, rice, scallions and soy sauce, you are good to go as far as fried rice is concerned. And it happens that I pretty much always have all of these things. Especially since I went to the Chinese supermarket and stocked up on ginger. I don’t think I will have to buy it again for a year. Here’s a good tip: keep the ginger in the freezer. It is way easier to grate, and it doesn’t get stringy, and it lasts forever, and it takes just a minute or two to defrost it if you need to cut a large chunk off. It’s perfect. Try it. Go on. I’ll wait.

Stir frying is hard to photograph, because it moves so quickly, so I will just describe it to you. I marinated the strips of pork with soy sauce, ginger, garlic and scallions for a short time. I heated up the wok and cooked that almost to finished first. It came out and in went the beaten eggs for a quick cook. I took those out and added them to the bowl with the pork. More oil in the wok, the rest of the aromatics, then the veggies, then the rice, pork, eggs and soy sauce. Done. Quick and easy and tasty left over.

finished

finished

Then the weekend came and was sort of a mess. You know how sometimes, you are doing really well, and eating pretty healthily, limiting cocktail calorie consumption, running, you know, generally taking care of yourself, and then occasionally you fall off the wagon and order a sandwich with french fries for lunch instead of a salad? And you feel kind of bad, but then you go back to your healthy ways and all is well. And then you know how sometimes you are doing really well and being healthy and then the train totally derails and jumps the track and you find yourself eating nothing but crap and having lots of delicious snacks and cocktails for like three days? That is sort of what happened this past weekend. I had pizza, twice. There was a dinner party that involved gimlets, gruner veltliner, and dancing until two am. There was about a loaf worth of bread and toast and butter. And there wasn’t so much running. It wasn’t pretty. The only redeeming thing I did all weekend was make squash soup on Sunday night, so I will dwell on that, as too much reminiscing about the other stuff may make the caboose jump the track again.

I had gotten some fantastic squash from the farmer’s market last week. I roasted it Sunday morning, and let it cool. I had errands to do and friends to see on Sunday, and then I came home Sunday night and made soup. I knew I wouldn’t eat it Sunday night because I wasn’t hungry (Sunday was a pizza day) and that I was volunteering Monday night and would need something quick when I got home. (Monday night volunteering was at Community Servings, which is a fantastic organization that makes meals for critically ill patients and their families, which I love being a part of, except that my task was cubing pounds and pounds of boiled turkey breast. I think I will request to work with vegetables next time.) Here is the beginning…

roasted

roasted

I roasted butternut and delicata squash with just olive oil, salt and pepper, until they were soft enough to pierce with a knife. I like the combo of butternut and delicata. Delicata is pretty and yellow and sweet, so it is nice with the earthier flavor of butternut. I sauteed onions, garlic and sage until the onions were soft, and then I used the last four cups of my frozen chicken stock. I could have put ginger in here too, it would have been tasty, but I didn’t think of it at the time. The sage was nice though. Sage and winter squash is a pretty classic combo. I took the peel off the roasted squash, cut it into pieces and dumped it in the stock.

the early stages

the early stages

I let that cook until the squash was totally soft, and then I used the immersion blender to puree it. (Immersion blenders are great, you should totally get one.) It was really still more like a puree than a soup, so I added some non-homemade stock (gasp!) that I had, and some cream, until it was the consistency I was going for.

soup

soup

I let it cool and stuck it in the fridge for Monday.

On my way home Monday evening I grabbed some shiitake mushrooms to go with the soup. I really wanted a duck breast too, but the store was out of them. I am kind of obsessed with duck breast at the moment. I have never cooked it myself and I would like to remedy that immediately.

The shiitake were sauteed, the soup was heated, and I treated some creme fraiche to a date with some chinese five spice powder. They got a long beautifully and produced a nice little garnish, and dinner was served.

Not bad for a Monday night...

Not bad for a Monday night...

The other adventures in gastronomy between the fried rice and today include a revisit of the Cod en papillote that Meredith made for me, some take out pad thai with peanut sauce that was mighty tasty, an udon noodle stir fry with red onion, japanese eggplant and cashews, and a turkey club and spicy fries. Never fear though, I found the most gorgeous little eggplants and some lovely asian pears at the farmer’s market this week, so there is lots to come.

And I leave you with this lovely blueberry and peach crisp courtesy of Meredith.

mmmmm...

mmmmm...

It was scrupmty. I need to get my hands on another one of those post haste.

PS: Strange WordPress spell check tally of the day: grate as a verb, sauteed and wok

In which I get to relax and enjoy…

So good old Meredith is staying with me for awhile until she closes on her new casa in lovely Salem. She will probably be the one responsible for cooking in her new household, which she is looking forward to with excitement and trepidation. She thought this might be a good opportunity for her to learn how to make some of her favorite things that I have made, so she has a good repertoire when she has her very own brand new kitchen…

One of Meredith’s most favorite things that I have made for her is Seared Salmon with Pea Puree and Lemony Broth. I have no idea where the original inspiration for this recipe came from, but I am sure I didn’t make it up, so if it belongs to you, I apologize. This is a really tasty, easy, quick recipe that doesn’t taste easy or quick. Wednesday night, Meredith wanted to learn how to make it, so she did all the hard work, and I hovered over her shoulder and gave instructions and stirred stuff when I felt like it. It might have been annoying, but she kept it to herself.

You start with salmon. Probably about a 5 or 6 oz piece per person. If the salmon filet is really varied in thickness, I try to get a little bit wider piece and trim the skinny piece on the side off to make kind of a square filet. Aesthetically, I like the square, but if the thickness of the filet doesn’t vary too much, long skinny filets work beautifully. And that is what we ended up with last night.

In the beginning...

In the beginning...

Fairly uniform thickness, good color, beautiful. I do need a new cutting board if I am going to be photographing more salmon, the orange on orange is kind of silly. The other components of this pretty easy dish are a puree of peas that have been cooked with butter, shallots, salt and pepper, and a broth of chicken stock and lemon juice.

The prep for this is really pretty straightforward, although writing about it apparently isn’t, since it has taken me approximately five days to do it. I was totally distracted by all my lounging around and nap taking that I did this weekend. First step, melt butter over medium low heat. Add minced shallot, either one whole regular shallot, or one lobe of those gargantuan multiple lobed shallots that you can sometimes get. I suspect it is actually called a bulb, not a lobe, but lobe is a very funny word to say and write, so I am using my artistic license for this one. While you are mincing shallot, you want to do another one, or the other lobe, to add to the stock/lemon juice mixture. When the shallot is good and melty and soft and delicious, add 2 cups frozen peas to the frying pan, and then season well with salt and pepper.

this may not look like 2 cups of peas, and that is in fact, because it isn't, we undershot the first go round.

this may not look like 2 cups of peas, and that is in fact, because it isn't, we undershot the first go round.

This is delicious and tempting to eat with a spoon on its own. You should have plenty of peas, so go ahead and help yourself to a few spoonfuls.

Next step is the broth. Small saucepan, low heat, butter, softened shallot, one cup of chicken stock, juice from one juicy lemon, simmer until you need it.

Last step is to sear the salmon. The peas should be staying warm in their saucepan, and the broth should be staying warm in its saucepan. Season each filet with salt and pepper. Heat a frying pan over med to med-high heat and add a little bit of olive oil, you don’t need much, just enough to coat the bottom of the pan. Salmon goes in skin side up.

bottoms up...

bottoms up...

The goal is to get a good crust on the outside of the salmon. The salt helps, and leaving the fish alone without touching it (the hard part) for a couple of minutes helps. When the salmon is seared well, it should release fairly easily from the frying pan. If you attempt to turn it over and it is sticking like no one’s business, let it go another minute and check again. You also want to make sure the burner is hot enough, the pan has had long enough to heat up, and you don’t over oil the pan. Once the top is seared well, sprinkle the skin sides with salt and pepper and flip them to let the skin sides cook. Don’t be afraid of salmon skin. When it is cooked well, it is deliciously crispy and adds a good textural component to the filet. As long as it is nice and crispy, I eat away. But if that totally grosses you out, feel free to skin the filets before you cook them, or simply pull the skin away from the cooked filets before you plate them.
sizzle...

sizzle...

When the skin is nice and crispy, pull them out of the pan to rest for a minute while you deal with the peas. A note – if you like your salmon rare or medium rare in the middle, you want the heat under the pan to be higher so they sear quickly without totally cooking through, if you like it cooked through, the heat should be a bit lower. You definitely don’t want it lower than the high side of medium (if that makes any sense) though because otherwise you won’t get a sear at all.

The last step is to puree the peas. Dump the warm pea mixture into a blender, add two tablespoons of heavy cream and then puree to your liking. If you would rather have them with a little bit of texture, puree them less, if you want more of a cream like texture, puree more. Totally up to you. This is what we ended up with last week…

so vibrant! so healthy! so delicious!

so vibrant! so healthy! so delicious!

This will give you plenty of peas for two people. Use a soup spoon to put a spoonful of this on each plate (I actually used pasta bowls because of the broth) and then if you are Meredith, take whatever is left and put that on your plate too, because you are such a big fan of peas. The salmon filet goes on top of that, and then the broth gets spooned around the outside, and voila. This comes together in about 15 minutes and is really tasty, filling but not heavy, and pretty healthy, just a little bit of butter and cream, and everyone knows those things are fantastic for you.

I think it is time for white pasta bowls...

I think it is time for white pasta bowls...

Salmon with Pea Puree and Lemony Broth (serves 2)

2 5 to 6 oz salmon filets with skin

3 tbls butter, divided

1extra large or 2 regular sized shallots, minced and divided

2 cups frozen peas

1 cup chicken stock

1 lemon (will be enough if it is a normal or juicy lemon, if it is very dry, you may need a bit more to get the lemony flavor we are going for)

2 tbls heavy cream

salt and pepper to taste.

Olive oil for cooking salmon

Season the top of each salmon filet well with salt and pepper, and set aside. Melt two tablespoons of butter in a saucepan over medium low heat. Add half of the minced shallots and let soften and melt a little, without much browning. Add peas, salt and pepper and let the peas defrost and cook through. At the same time, melt the remaining tablespoon of butter in another small saucepan, and add the remaining shallots. After a minute or two, when the shallots are soft, pour in the chicken stock and the juice from the lemon. Let the stock mixture come to a simmer, turn the heat to low, and let it stay until you are ready to plate. Heat at least a 10″ frying pan over medium high heat, take one quick turn around the pan with the olive oil. You want enough to just coat the whole bottom of the pan. When the pan is hot, add the salmon skin side up and sear 3-4 minutes until a nice crust forms. Season the skin side of the salmon and flip the filets, and sear until the skin is crispy and the filets are cooked to your liking, 2-4 minutes depending on the temperature of the pan. When the skin is crispy, remove the filets to a plate and let them rest while you are finishing the peas. Pour the peas into a blender or food processor, and add the cream. Puree to desired consistency. Spoon a heaping spoonful of the peas into the center of a pasta bowl or deep plate. Place the salmon filet on top of the peas, and spoon the lemony broth around the edge. Enjoy!

PS: WordPress is CLEARLY not formatted for food blogs. The words that this spell check doesn’t know are so bizarre, I think I am going to start a tally. Today-shallots. This thing is a freak show.

In which I share a quick little treat for a Tuesday…

One of my most favorite things in all the world is pasta with vodka sauce, and now I am going to share it with you, so it can be one of your favorite things as well…

oh my heavens...

oh my heavens...

Pasta with Vodka Sauce (should serve 4, but doesn’t really)

2 tbl butter

1 large clove of garlic (more if you are a garlic fan) crushed with a large knife and kosher salt to make a paste

pinch of crushed red pepper flakes

1 cup crushed tomatoes

1/2 cup vodka

1/3 cup heavy cream

1/4 – 1/2 cup freshly grated parmesan (at least 1/4 add more to taste)

Salt and pepper to taste

Traditionally, vodka sauce is served with penne, but I really like linguine, so I use that.

Bring water to a boil in a large pot, add the pasta and cook until al dente and drain. While the pasta is cooking, in a small saucepan, melt the butter, garlic and red pepper over low heat. When butter is melted, add tomatoes and increase heat to medium high. When the tomatoes start to bubble, add the vodka and cook until the sauce thickens – you should be able to drag a spoon across the bottom of the pan and not have the gap fill in again. At this point, turn the heat down to low and add the heavy cream. Cook for two to three minutes, stirring occasionally, until the sauce comes together and reduces a little bit. Turn the heat off, and stir in the parmesan. Season with salt and pepper. Toss with the pasta and enjoy this comforting, filling, delectable treat. Perfect for days when you go running and then only eat cereal and salad during the day.

In which I recommend David Lebovitz for sainthood and have a food filled weekend…

Oh boy. So on Saturday night I was having dinner at my cousins Jed and Sarah’s house. They are two of my most favorites, and they were the ones that gave me the opportunity to make this.
the cake

the cake

Incidentally, I now have the opportunity to make another wedding cake (yay Mols and Lar!!) and at some point I will be revisiting my experience from the first one right here on this little blog. It will be an epic tale of eggs, sugar and a little bit of Toots. So there is something for you to look forward to…

Anyway, Saturday, dinner on the roof with Jed and Sarah. I thought I would make World Peace Cookies again. You might remember those from the reception for Grampie. They are tasty and pretty easy.

Cookies to save the world...

Cookies to save the world...

I wanted to make something to go with them. I thought of ice cream and I went to the source. David Leibovitz is the king of ice cream. He has a book The Perfect Scoop that is fantastic. He also has a blog. The blog is where I found the recipe for Salted Caramel Ice Cream. Dudes, this is mind blowing. David Leibovitz is a genius. The process is a little bit more labor intensive than regular ice cream, because you have to make a caramel praline, and then you have to make a caramel base for the custard, but it wasn’t too difficult.

First, I laid out all my ingredients, because melting sugar goes from caramely deliciousness to burnt and gross in about a half a second:

ready to go

ready to go

Then comes the praline. Sugar in a saute pan, over medium heat until it starts to melt and darken in color…

sugar

sugar

Once the sugar has caramelized, I added fleur de sel and quickly poured it on to an oiled cookie sheet. The instructions are for a silpat covered cookie sheet or a sparingly oiled cookie sheet. I have a silpat mat, or I did have one, but I seem to have misplaced it. I have searched the kitchen to no avail. So oiled it was. 

praline

praline

Then, as I listened to the sweet sound of the praline cooling and cracking, I started the ice cream custard. The first steps were the same. Sugar melted in the saute pan until it caramelized.

sugar

sugar

 

caramel

caramel

But then you add butter…

plus butter

plus butter

And the cream…

creamy...

creamy...

And then I added half the milk and the egg yolks, and cooked the custard until it thickens. It goes through a fine mesh sieve into the rest of milk, which is resting in an ice bath…

the final steps

the final steps

Then it thoroughly cools before it goes into the ice cream maker. While it was chilling, I made the cookie dough…

World Peace

World Peace

I also crushed up the praline into little confetti to add to the ice cream at the end.

stick in your teeth goodness

stick in your teeth goodness

This was a hit. It is sweet and salty and creamy and delicious. The little bits of praline were crunchy and salty and awesome. It didn’t set as firmly as I would have liked. I am not sure what that was about. I will have to figure it out for next time. And there will be a next time. This was unbelievable.

pure bliss...

pure bliss...

There was a fair amount of cooking this weekend. Long weekends are good like that…

I made spaghetti sauce.

remember these?

remember these?

They became sauce, which was simmering away as I was making the ice cream, and I made myself some pasta for lunch.

lunch.

lunch.

I like a light chunky sauce, rather than a heavier more wintery sauce. My sauce is just olive oil, onion, garlic, oregano and red wine. I cook that down, then add the tomatoes and simmer the water out of it. It is a multi-purpose sauce. I will freeze the rest and use it for lasagna and fried eggplant and such. It is always nice to have it on hand.

Friday night, I made a chicken and udon noodle stir fry. Onions, ginger, garlic, scallions and chicken. Some udon noodles and a soy sauce stir fry sauce. It was good, I love love love udon noodles. This was such an easy dinner and I will make it again. Even without the chicken this would be great. I think I will use a bit more soy sauce next time, but it was quick and tasty and pretty.

weekend dinner

weekend dinner

Lastly, I decided to try something new yesterday. We were going out on the boat, and I thought sushi rolls might be an easy dinner to pack. I decided to make spicy tuna rolls and lobster, avocado and mango rolls. I have never made sushi before. It was pretty fun. I made the rice, but then ran out and had to order more from my local sushi place. I was able to get sushi -grade tuna from the local fishmarket. It needs a lot of set up, and can be kind of a messy process, but it was a lot of fun, and I will most definitely be doing it again. Maybe for a girls night…

mis en place...

mis en place...

The final product was a little heavy on the rice, which wasn’t necessarily bad, because they were filling. But the flavors were good. I made the spicy tuna with a little bit of mayo and some siracha, and then I added avocado and scallions. The others were lobster, mango and more avocado.

the rolls

the rolls

This weekend was a big old adventure. It was loads of fun. And tonight I think I might experiment with pasta and all the sage my aunt brought over. I want to see if I can roll the sage right into the pasta dough so it looks pretty.

And just because it was so pretty, I am leaving you with this…

more confetti...

more confetti...

 

 

Of grease fires and comfort food – Chicken Wonton Soup…

As the story goes, I read quite early. I imagine my proud parents thought that this was a harbinger of good things to come, and an indication of my promising potential. As it turns out, I think it was mainly an indication that their oldest child peaked at four. (They’ve managed to hide their disappointment.) Case in point – yesterday, after work, I was attempting the simple tasks of blanching tomatoes and constructing wontons for my soup, and I managed to burn myself, pour boiling water on myself, and start a grease fire. It was really more of a flare up I guess, since no fire engines were called, and my initial shocked reaction of dropping the pot top that I was holding back on to the pan put it out, but still, it could have been ugly. That’ll teach me to cook oil over high heat in a pan that is too small to do such things. So there. You know what? I might make bad decisions regarding cooking with oil, but I can still read the hell out of anything.

The grease fire incident came about because I needed a way to taste test my wonton filling before I created all my soup wontons, and since the filling had raw chicken in it, I needed to cook it to taste it. I decided to make one wonton and cook it like a pot sticker, taste it, and modify the filling accordingly. Oil in the pan, wonton in the oil, brown it up, add water, cover the pan, remove the cover to check on the doneness of your little wonton, watch the oil conflagrate, yelp in fear and dismay, immediately drop the top back on the pan in abject horror (the right thing to do, as it turns out, but certainly not what I was thinking at the time, I’m pretty sure) turn the flame off, thank goodness that your extra sensitive smoke alarm is actually not on the wall where it belongs at the moment, remove wonton from the pan, marvel at the fact that it is not totally incinerated, try to taste for flavors amongst the tangy essence of charred grease, and then season wonton filling appropriately and giggle at your own idiocy. Voila! And all this time I was worried about deep frying, while what I should have been worried about is the perils of cooking with two tablespoons of canola oil. Next time, I think I’ll use the big girl pan, instead of my little bitty 8″ skillet and a high flame. It was an exciting new experience indeed, but not one I need to repeat.

The wonton filling was pretty good, although there is a bit of a bitter taste in there, maybe from the cabbage? that I wasn’t in love with. This was originally masked by the char, methinks. But other than that it was pretty tasty. I made up 16 wontons and have about 800 wontons worth of filling left to freeze for another time.

enough to last a lifetime

enough to last a lifetime

I have absolutely no concept of volume when I am creating. I can’t bother to think of such trivial things!

I used some of the frozen stock from last week,

necessities.

necessities.

added some soy sauce (too much as it turns out I think, and I never thought too much soy sauce was possible) cut up some bok choy,

ready for duty.

ready for duty.

some carrots and scallions and there you have it. Wonton soup, with a little extra goodness from the bok choy and carrots. It was quite tasty, and a lovely, healthy (calories and fat wise, not so much sodium wise) if a little salty soup for dinner. I didn’t measure the soy sauce that I added to the broth, but it was a lot. It was unnecessarily salty, though not unpleasantly so. And since I am a salt-hound, I can only imagine what others would say. I think I would start with one tablespoon of soy sauce for 6 cups of broth, and then add more from there. I got carried away and I am guessing I added about three. Two would have been perfectly sufficient, and that is what my recipe will say…but overall, this was a good, and good old Meredith said she couldn’t think of any way to make it better, so there you go. I knew I would like having her around…

the finished salty product

the finished product

The other task at hand yesterday was blanching approximately 9 pounds of tomatoes that I obtained in my CSA share. I am going to make sauce to freeze and maybe do some canning if I am so emboldened this weekend. I’ve never done that before, I imagine it would be quite the blog post.

I put an X in the bottom of each tomato, to help remove the skin post blanching, and then I got artsy and proceeded to take more pictures than necessary of them.

one

one

two

two

three

three

And that is just a representative sample! I do think tomatoes are particularly gorgeous and fun to take pictures of… and after just a few short minutes and one burn to the arm, they looked like this…

I'll call this one "skinless"

I'll call this one "skinless"

Into the fridge they went for sauce making this weekend, which will be a hoot. Also on tap, fried rice, more roasted beets and some sage pasta experimentation…and a 14 hour marathon of House! Woot! I love long weekends!

Chicken Wonton Soup with Baby Bok Choy (serves 4)

6 cups chicken stock

2 tbls soy sauce

1 tsp grated ginger

16 chicken wontons (or any kind of wontons you would like)

2 heads(?) baby bok choy, trimmed on the top and bottom and halved, then sliced into 1/2 inch pieces

1 large carrot peeled and sliced into rounds

2 scallions, green parts-sliced

Heat chicken stock to a simmer, add soy sauce, ginger, bok choy, carrots and scallions and cook for 5 minutes. Add wontons and cook for another 5 minutes until wontons are cooked through. The skin will become wrinkly and transparent and the wontons will float at the top. Spoon into soup bowls and serve.

Chicken Wontons (makes a kajillion)

One package of wonton skins

1/4 cup water chestnuts, roughly chopped

6 shiitake mushrooms (if dried, reconstitute in boiling water) roughly chopped

2 scallions, white and light green parts, roughly chopped

2 tsp minced ginger

1 clove garlic, minced

1/2 cup shredded napa cabbage

1 skinless chicken breast

2 tbls soy sauce

Put the water chestnuts, mushrooms, scallions, ginger, garlic and cabbage in the bowl of a food processor. Pulse until mixed and fairly uniform size. Add the chicken and soy sauce, and pulse until chicken is minced. Keep wonton skins covered with a damp paper towel as you are filling them. Lay a wonton skin on a plate and place about 1 tsp of filling in the center. Have a small bowl of water near by. Dip a finger in the water and run it along the edges of the wonton, and then fold one side over the filling to meet the other side. If your wonton skins are square, they should be folded corner to corner to form a triangle. If they are round, you can fold them any which way you would like. Try not to let the filling squeeze out of the edges, as it will interfere with the seal, but press around the filling towards the outer edges gently to get rid of any air bubbles. If you would like, wet one of the corners on the long side of the wonton, and fold it over the meet the opposite corner. Your dumplings will look like this.

wantons for soup

wontons for soup

I prefer wontons folded this way for soup, but if I am cooking them like a pot sticker (that is to say, in the manner to cause a grease fire) I like to leave out the second fold and leave them as triangles. Honestly? Potstickers do not typically cause grease fires. I make them a lot, and never once have I had that experience. Just use a pan that is big enough (a saute pan with slightly higher sides would also be a good bet) heat some oil over medium high, put the dumplings in the pan to brown, add a couple tablespoons of water per batch, cover and turn the heat down as they steam. Once they are cooked through, serve them with soy sauce mixed with a dash of sesame oil and some scallions for dipping and enjoy.

I am guessing the wonton filling will actually be enough for 40 or 50 dumplings, but that is only a guess. I am also guessing that the wontons would freeze pretty well for keeping.

PS: For the entirety of this post, as I was typing, I spelled wonton “wanton.” Not sure if I was feeling particularly wanton, or if this is just another example of the downward trajectory I have been on since the age of four.

In which I share some more…

I have a confession to share with all of you. Not so much a confession actually, more an embarrassing anecdote that speaks volumes about the life and times of me.

I was the biggest eater in my high school class. Literally. I was voted by my classmates to be the female member of the class with the largest appetite, and this was immortalized in the superlative section of my yearbook. I will not deny that there may have been truth to this claim, but to the wise yearbook advising teacher who allowed that travesty of justice to take place, and to all my classmates who thought I would enjoy that illustrious honor, I thank you. There will forever be a picture of me in the VRHS Class of 2001 TRIAD holding several luncheon sized bags of chips. I have not since been quite so proud. And to add to the injustice, I do believe I was wearing a corduroy jumper and cotton turtleneck for said photo shoot, and for that I can blame no one but myself. High school is a cruel and unusual place…

And this is relevant because I went running yesterday morning, and when I returned from my run, I ate a most delightful bowl of rice krispies with banana. I trotted off to work and drank a liter of mandarin orange spicy water, had some melon left over from a client visit, and then didn’t want an unhealthy lunch, and didn’t bring my own from home, so I had a bowl of raisin bran at noon. And that is it, all day. Two bowls of cereal and some fruit might be fine for any normal person, but it is certainly not a diet befitting the biggest eater of the VRHS class of 2001, which is why I found myself bolting from my cube at 5:05 afraid I might pass out from lack of sustenance, and craving an IV of complex carbohydrates for my evening repast. A perfect night for pasta carbonara.

Pasta carbonara should be easy. It is straightforward, doesn’t have very many ingredients, and comes together in minutes. A real, honest to goodness, traditional carbonara sauce contains olive oil, bacon, garlic, egg, parmesan cheese and black pepper. That’s it. No cream or anything else. The final result is noodles coated with tangy, peppery deliciousness. Not creamy exactly, but not oily or greasy either.

that's all she wrote...

that's all she wrote...

The tricky part of this sauce is the addition of the eggs without curdling them. You want the eggs to emulsify with the oil and bacon fat using the heat from the pasta and the oil, but without scrambling them, which is not what we are going for.

The pasta goes into the boiling water, and then the bacon and olive oil go into a saute pan. The bacon fat is rendered and the bacon crisps up, and then the garlic is added to soften for a minute. All basic so far. When the pasta is al dente, it goes into the pan with the bacon to get coated by the oil. Toss them together and then remove from the heat. At this point I had beaten the eggs and added the grated Parmesan cheese to them, and in order to avoid the scramble, I added a bit of the pasta water to the egg and cheese mixture while stirring frantically. Then off the heat, I added the cheese and egg mixture, and a bit more pasta water, and stirred frantically again to mix them all together. This (hopefully) cooks the egg and the sauce without scrambling them. Then voila! I grated some pepper over the top, plated them in my pasta bowls, sprinkled some parsley and more parm on the top and dinner was served. Success! I had failed miserably at this once before, so I was pretty proud of myself. And it was tasty. Even though I don’t usually like parsley, a little bit on each plate here really creates a nice contrast with the richness of the sauce, so don’t skip that part.

Dinner is served.

Dinner is served.

I think mixing the egg and cheese together, and then adding some pasta water before it went onto the pasta was the trick here. It tempered the eggs a little bit or something. Overall, this came out pretty well. I still could use some perfecting, and I think practice will help immensely, but it was quite good. I had the leftovers for lunch today, and they were fine, but this is one of those sauces that really should be served right away. Leftovers just don’t compute. The reheat doesn’t work out very well. But last night? It worked. And I enjoyed it with the rest of a bottle of Matanzas Creek Chardonnay (2006 I believe) that I brought home from my 30th birthday wine country extravaganza, and that we opened on Sunday night with the cod and didn’t finish. It paired pretty nicely, actually. So there you have it. Carbonara. It was good, it revived me from my trance like state that I was in when I left work, and I was so pleased with myself when the eggs didn’t scramble that I actually raised my hands above my head and did a silent cheer. What more can you ask for on a Tuesday?

Victory!

Victory!

Pasta Carbonara (serves 4 biggest eaters)

Adapted from Tyler Florence on www.foodnetwork.com

2 tbls olive oil (I never really measure this, if you take the cap off the olive oil and circle it around your pan twice, I think that would be about 2 tbls)

4 pieces thick cut bacon, cut into small pieces

4 cloves of garlic

2 eggs

1 cup Parmesan cheese

1/2 cup of the pasta cooking water

Freshly ground black pepper

1 lb long pasta. I used linguine

Handful of flat leaf parsley, roughly chopped, and additional Parmesan cheese for serving

Boil the water for the pasta. Grate the cheese and beat the eggs and mix them together. Cook the pasta to al dente. At the same time, heat the olive oil and bacon over medium heat in a saute pan, and cook until the fat is rendered and the bacon is crisp. Lower the heat to low and add the garlic. Let it soften for a minute or two. You want this to coincide with the pasta finishing its cooking, so lower or remove from the heat at any time to slow the process. Make sure you reserve a half cup of pasta water from the pot, and then drain the pasta. Add it immediately to the saute pan, and toss the pasta with the oil until it is totally coated, one to two minutes. At this time, add the pasta water to the egg and cheese mixture slowly, while mixing constantly, to make a warm sauce. Remove the pasta from the heat, and toss the pasta constantly as you add the egg mixture to prevent scrambling the eggs, and stir until the sauce comes together and coats the pasta. Add the pepper to the pasta and toss well. Portion into 4 pasta bowls, sprinkle with parsley and some additional Parmesan, and serve.