I did it! – Pasta Carbonara

Oh nads you guys…I made Carbonara for like the fourth time in two weeks because I figured out how to do it practically just right every time, but I hadn’t be able to get a good photo, and of course exactly when I tried to make it again explicitly to take photos, I stopped paying attention and messed it up. So then I had to make it two nights in a row and five times in two weeks so I can talk to you about it. Lesson learned, I guess, is that you can make it practically just right every time you actually pay attention when you make it, and don’t let yourself get distracted by the shenanigans on stage at the Grammys.

like mac and cheese, but grown-up...

like mac and cheese, but grown-up…

Man, is this good. This is also pretty much the quickest pasta dish around. I am guessing if you cook somewhat regularly, you will already have most of these things in the fridge, and if you don’t, they can all be procured very easily. Bacon, egg, decent parmesan, garlic, salt and pepper. I think spaghetti might be the traditional pasta for this, but I actually like something shorter, like my new favorite, gemelli, which I used this time with great results. The shorter pasta makes it a bit more comforting somehow.

The tricky part about Carbonara is the egg. Done the right way, the egg creates a creamy, rich sauce with amazing flavor. Done the wrong way, the egg scrambles, and it’s not right. I’ve eaten it…it’s not revolting or anything, but it’s not a sauce. Unfortunately, scrambling is very easy to do when you are adding a cold egg to a hot pan SO, I have come up with a trick that seems to work delightfully well. I mix the egg with the cheese and black pepper, and then make a quick sauce with some of the pasta water to temper the egg before I add it to the hot pan. If you do this, and then stir like crazy when you add it to the pasta, you should have amazing, creamy, adult macaroni and cheese that is so quick and delicious you won’t believe it. And you’ll end up eating it two or three times a week like I did. And then you will probably realize that two or three times a week is probably too many times, like I did.

This really couldn’t be easier…

Carbonara.

Carbonara.

And now…All of the things…

I made saag paneer tonight because I decided I need more roughage in my diet and…I still need more roughage in my diet. It wasn’t very good. But dipping the Naan in the liquid was insanely delicious, so I just did that instead. Oh, Paneer? If you are going to call yourself cheese, pleased to be tasting like cheese. If I wanted weird, bland texture, I would have just made tofu. BOOM. Roasted. (jk jk, love u tofu!) So, I’m pretty sure I did saag paneer wrong. I will try again and get back to you.

I just finished reading Death Comes to Pemberley by PD James. It was very cute, but I like her other stuff better.

I gave up tv and takeout for Lent. In theory, this means I will be hanging around here quite a bit more. In practice, this might mean I don’t survive Lent.

I am a very, very lucky girl…I have some of the greatest girlfriends in the world and you should all be jealous of me, because they are the freakin best.

Just a few more days until IGNITE the NITE 2013! If you are here you should come next Thursday the 28th, it is going to be great!!

Lastly, a shout out to Shannon. For fighting like a girl and winning. I am so glad to know you, and so very happy to call you my forever friend. To so many more years of Cheetos, sing-a-longs, Wegman’s trips and How to Lose a Guy…You are amazing. xo

Pasta Carbonara (serves 2)

1/2 lb pasta of your choice (spaghetti is traditional, I think, but I prefer a shorter noodle.)

4 oz bacon, sliced in 1/2 inch pieces (guanciale is traditional, but bacon will absolutely work. Use thick cut if you have it.)

1 garlic clove, minced

1/2 – 2/3 cups FRESHLY GRATED parmesan cheese (I measure this by holding a microplane grater over a measuring cup. A regular cheese grater would work. If you are using pre-grated parmesan, use the stuff from the deli section that looks shredded, not the stuff in the can or that looks almost powdered. Trust.)

1 Egg

Plenty of black pepper and salt to taste.

Chopped italian parsley for garnish

Boil some salted water for the pasta. (While the water is coming to a boil, do all of your chopping, grating and ingredient prep, once you start the sauce, things move quickly.)

Mix together the grated cheese, the egg, and a generous pinch of black pepper, and whisk to combine.

Add the pasta to the salted water and cook until al dente. (This will take about 8 minutes. It depends on the kind of pasta you use, but 8 minutes is a safe bet…)

After you add the pasta to the water, start cooking the bacon in a frying pan over medium heat until the fat is rendered and the bacon is cooked. You still want it to look fatty, not cooked through and crispy. When the bacon is cooked, reduce the heat to low and add the garlic. Cook for one minute, stirring constantly, so the garlic doesn’t burn. If the pasta is not yet al dente, turn off the heat and remove the frying pan from the burner until it is.

When the pasta is al dente, use a slotted spoon to transfer the cooked pasta to the frying pan (no need to drain first, the water helps create the sauce AND you need to reserve some more pasta water for the sauce) and stir into the bacon and garlic to combine. Cook for 30 seconds to a minute and then turn off the heat. Quickly drizzle a couple of tablespoons of the pasta water into the egg and cheese mixture stirring constantly to create a sauce. Immediately add the cheese, egg and pasta water mixture to the pasta and bacon, again stirring constantly to create a creamy sauce and so as not to scramble the eggs. Pro-tip: if you drizzle the egg and cheese over the pasta, as opposed to directly onto the hot pan, you are less likely to scramble the eggs! (This sounds complicated, but I promise, it’s not. You’ll do it a couple of times and you’ll feel like a pro!)

Sprinkle with salt, pepper and parsley and serve! Once you’ve made this a couple of times, I suspect you will be serving it to guests, and they will be very impressed. The recipe can easily be doubled, just make sure you are using a big enough frying pan.

Ginger Scallion Sauce

Oh hello. It’s been awhile…

What’s new? Not much here. Except apparently time travel, because suddenly I looked at the calendar and it’s April, which doesn’t seem possible. Oh also? Apparently Chrissy Teigen – gorgeous lady blogger, SI swimsuit model, fiancee of John Legend – somehow discovered the recipe for Spicy Sesame Noodles with Chicken on here and made them and loved them and then posted about them and linked back to here, so B&G blew up today. So many thanks to her. One of her tweets earlier was that she was packing for a trip to Australia with Erin Andrews and Brooklyn Decker and the background photo on her account is a gorgeous picture of her in her unders – our lives are exactly the same, but opposite – but we can clearly both enjoy the hell out of some noodles! (update: mystery solved – my awesome cousin Danny and his gorgeous girlfriend Kellie brought these to a party that Chrissy attended – my family is fancy…)

Um, so the last couple of weeks (months?)  have involved a trip to Denver to see the littlest, a trip to NYC for a birthday, quality time with my tiny boyfriends Baby L and Baby Dubs, working, the gym, and the other usual stuff. I have been thinking about the blog a lot, but have not actually been cooking all that much because it’s been so busy, so even had I not been suffering from some serious writers’ block (or a serious case of the lazies, not sure which…) I wouldn’t have had much to write about. But things are turning around! And B&G got a bit of a facelift, in case you haven’t noticed…it is making some of the formatting a little wonky but I’ll work on that…

I want to tell you about Ginger Scallion Sauce because it is the greatest thing ever, but in order to do that, I need to start with an apology for my one true chef/celebrity love, Dave Chang…

Oh my heavens.

David, I need to confess something. I’ve been unfaithful. I wanted to make this sauce the minute I first saw it, lo those several Christmases ago when I got your book. And I did, almost immediately. And it was fine, but not great, and I was sad, but wasn’t going to let it turn me away from you. It had to have been my fault right? I couldn’t blame you, I must have executed incorrectly, and you were likely as disappointed in me as I was in you. But it was ok, we would get through it. But then…my eye wandered, and THIS caught my attention. Deep down in my heart I knew it would be Francis. I’ve always had a wee bit of a crush on him too. And so I made his version. David, I’m sorry. It’s better. It’s heaven. But I hope you can forgive me the transgression. You’re still first in my heart. But I can’t promise it will be just that one time. This stuff is too good.

The ingredients

This is a condiment. One of the most flavorful condiments ever. I have mixed it with plain noodles and fried rice, and I’ve eaten it with steak and I’ve eaten it with fish. It would be awesome in soup, and I will add it to the ramen I plan to make later in the month. It is so good that I plan never to be without it again. It is equal parts minced scallions and minced ginger, both of which I did in about 30 seconds in the food processor. Then it gets an almost ungodly amount of salt, and hot oil is poured over it so it sizzles and removes some of the bitterness that ginger and scallions can have raw. It mellows them a little. That is where this version is better than the Momofuku version. I actually finished mine with a splash of light soy sauce as a nod to the version that inspired me, and it is perfection.

With steak and noodles.

Really I can’t say enough good things about this. Just make it and you’ll see.

With noodles and tuna.

Before we go on…

First things first. Please check out my awesome cousin Sam…wish I was half as talented and adventurous!

How come I’m not dating Seth Davis? How have I missed this guy? Anyone know anything about him? Like, for instance, his phone number? Now that March Madness is over he must have some free time, right?

I accidentally saw Tiffany in concert last weekend in New York. It was awesome. I love New York.

What I am reading right now: I am actually too embarrassed to tell you the trash book I’m reading, so let’s just leave it at The New Yorker…

What I am listening to right now: Portraits by The Wheeler Brothers – the band of a guy that studied with my sister in Spain…they are very good.

Craftiness of the week: pillow covers for Al and Dyl and their new apartment…pictures later.

I am in for a few nights of revelry over the next couple of days. It’s my birthday, and I decided drinking is a better option than crawling in a hole and crying. See you on the flip side.

Ginger Scallion Sauce (makes about 1.5 cups)

adapted from Francis Lam and Momofuku

1 ounce ginger, peeled and cut into one inch pieces

1 bunch scallions, roots and ends trimmed, both white and green parts cut into one inch pieces

1/2 cup peanut or grapeseed oil

Splash of light soy sauce

More kosher salt than you think you need

Pulse ginger in a food processor until finely minced. You do not want to puree it, so pay close attention as you are doing it. Put ginger into a large heat proof bowl. Not kidding about the large part or the heat proof part. Do both of those things for real. Pulse the scallions in the food processor (no need to wash it in between) until they are finely minced and add them to the ginger. Throw a good pinch of salt in the bowl and set aside while you heat the oil.

Heat the oil over medium heat just until you see the first wisp of smoke. Be careful. It will be quite hot at this point. Pour the oil over the ginger scallion mixture and step back because it will splatter and smell awesome. Stir the mixture together and add a splash of soy sauce and more salt and let it cool. Add it to everything in the world because it is so delicious.

 

Garlic Scape and Fresh Pea Pesto: In which I make a summery dish…

Garlic scapes

It’s scape week at B&G! Like Shark Week without terrifying sea dwelling man eating beasts. It’s also been a very busy couple of weeks around here, you see, readers, I am in love. I’ve only known him six days, and there is a fair amount of competition for his affection, but I think this could be going places…welcome to the world Baby L.

Scapes are a treat. If you’ve never had them, they are the flowering stalk of the hard neck garlic bulb plant. Obvs. They sprout in the spring out of the top of the garlic bulb, and when the top starts to curl, it’s harvest time. That up there is about a half pound of them. About three dollars worth. So far I’ve used them for a lovely garlic scape and fresh pea pesto, a shrimp and garlic scape fried rice, and a garlic scape compound butter, and they are still kicking. They go a long way. Scapes taste like a mellow garlic. They have that nice garlic flavor without the kick and the bad breath. Perfect, really.

When you look up scapes on the webs, you can’t get very far without someone raving about pesto, so I figured I would do that, but I wanted to add my own twist. And then I found peas.

peas

They had English shell peas at the farmers’ market. These are basically frozen peas in their just picked form, and I thought they would add some nice sweetness to the pesto.

The rest of the ingredients were pretty traditional. Toasted pine nuts, parmesan cheese, olive oil, and voila, a pesto was born.

look at all that green!

I very quickly blanched the peas and roughly chopped the scapes, and through them in the food processor with some lightly toasted pine nuts, and then added salt, pepper and a generous dose of grated parmesan and let the processor do its work.

almost there

Then, with the processor running, I added the olive oil, and a sauce was born.

garlic scape and fresh pea pesto

I love the color of this. It is so bright and happy.

I had it the first night with a buttery fried egg, and I loved that addition, but I had it the next day room temperature for lunch at work. Nothing fancy, just right out of the plastic container, and I will tell you what, it was even better. The scapes had a chance to mellow just a little bit and the sweetness of the peas was more pronounced and it was awesome. If you have a farmers’ market or a whole foods near you, take a look for garlic scapes and fresh shell peas, though I suspect frozen would work in a pinch.

summer's best work

And this is not only a pasta sauce. It would be great on crostini or as a sandwich spread, or with grilled fish or chicken or even beef. Why limit yourself? Also, a fantastic thing to make if you don’t have air conditioning and just walking in the front door of the apartment makes you sweat.

Music recommendation for the week: Rihanna. For serious. I love her.

Live like it’s Scape Week.

Garlic Scape and Fresh Pea Pesto (makes approx. 1.5 cups, enough for one pound of dried pasta)

3/4 cup fresh peas (from about 3/4 lb fresh English shell peas)

generous half cup roughly chopped garlic scapes (approx. 8-9 scapes)

2 tbl pine nuts, lightly toasted (if you love nuts, feel free to up this to 3 tbls. I’m betting it will still be delicious!)

1 cup freshly grated parmesan, plus more for serving

1/3 cup olive oil

salt and pepper to taste

1 lb dried linguine

Boil the pasta in a large pot of salted water. In the mean time, lightly toast the pine nuts and set aside.

Heat a small saucepan over medium high heat to a high simmer/low boil. Add a pinch of salt and the peas, and cook for barely 30 seconds. Drain peas and run under cold water to stop the cooking. Add the peas, the garlic scapes and the pine nuts to the bowl of the food processor with a pinch of salt and a few twists of fresh pepper. Pulse the processor until the ingredients are roughly chopped. Add the cheese and turn the processor on. Pour the oil through the pour spout slowly, while the processor is running, until the pesto is an almost creamy looking sauce (this will just take a minute.) Toss with the drained pasta, and let cool. This is best served room temperature. If so inclined, fry an egg sunny side in butter and serve over the pasta with additional parmesan, salt and pepper to taste. Enjoy leftovers as much if not more!

Spicy Sesame Noodles with Chicken…and rambling

Oh man, I’m sorry these things take me so long, you must be sick of me making excuses, so you know what? I’m not going to anymore. To quote 50 Cent “my s(tuff)* coming out WHEN I FEEL LIKE IT.” (*He did not say “stuff.”) Fiddy’s my new guru of life. Did you know he’s writing a Young Adult novel about bullying? There are so many things wrong with that sentence, and yet, it’s totally true.

And since we’re talking about books, you guys, I am in the nerdiest pickle right now. Everything I am reading is SO FREAKIN GOOD that I can’t decide what to read at any given moment and I am pretty much paralyzed with the inability to choose and I am accomplishing nothing. Seriously. It’s a problem. I can’t get anything done (for instance, the bulk of this post is already written, by hand, in a notebook, can I type it up? No I cannot) because I have to spend so much time reading because I can’t just pick one thing. Nerd. Alert. The New Yorker is amazing, and I am reading “Blood Bones and Butter” by Gabrielle Hamilton and apparently she cooks better than she writes which is unreal and seems impossible because the book is crazy good, plus! I was in my friendly neighborhood Borders the other day (is anyone else a member of Borders rewards? I got an e-mail the other day saying I had $10 in Borders Bucks to spend before the end of the month, so I better get on in there. And it worked! I actually had $10 that I could use on anything! How did I get that?) and I saw THIS.

Because I need something else to subscribe to

Oh my gosh you guys, David Chang, my chef/celebrity crush (does anyone know him? Can I meet him? Can I get a reservation to his restaurants? I have to go to NY obvs, but I will do that. I will go and spend an entire weekend eating at only his restaurants and I think I would be crazy happy with that. Anyone want to join me?) HAS A MAGAZINE. And it is published by McSweeney’s so it is awesome on top of awesome. It is apparently a going to be a quarterly (this is the first issue) and there are no advertisements and all sorts of great people contribute to it and OH MY GOD. Each issue is going to have a different theme and this one is Ramen and did you know you can write an entire amazing magazine with Ramen as your theme? There are a few diversions, but there are recipes! And so much Chang! And it was exactly $10 so it was also FREE! My head is going to explode.

OK, and one more thing, real quick, since we’re talking about books. I love my Kindle. Love. So psyched to be headed off to vacation with my little Kindle loaded with about six unread books and four back issues of the New Yorker, because you know I would have not been able to choose and would have brought all of those with me in book and magazine form if they weren’t on my Kindle, but books! Oh my gosh, please people, keep buying books so they don’t disappear. They’re so pretty and creative and I just love being around them. I am currently obsessed with finding all the books I read and loved when I was little and hoping they are still somewhere in my parents’ house. Because I would read the heck out of them again. My parents were not in to the television when we were little (for us, they totally watched) because it rots your brain and also because there were all sorts of inappropriate things on there that they wanted to avoid us seeing. But books, we could read as much as we wanted and we could read ANYTHING we wanted. The logic being, even if you are reading the words on the page your imagination and experiences filter what you are reading, which I think is totally true. Case in point. I read Clan of the Cave Bear the summer between 5th and 6th grade. I may be wrong but I am fairly certain that would be (or is?) totally a rated R movie and there was no way I would have been watching that. But, what I remember of it is sitting during swim period at the day camp that I went to with a friend who also read a ton and reading the sex parts to each other and laughing and laughing and laughing. What I didn’t realize at the time, was that first sex part? Forcible and NOT at all funny, but since I had no concept of that, I totally missed it. I forget where this was going, but anyway, books are awesome. And if you didn’t read Christopher Pike or VC Andrews or any of the Clan of the Cave Bear series you totally should. (I had some some intriguing taste in books. Like, A Wrinkle in time was not murder-y or warped love triangle-y enough for me or something? Geez. I wonder what a therapist would say. Also, I think I need to read all of these books again. They were so good! I really should get a therapist.) Another interesting note, I still can not watch scary movies. Scream? Never saw it. I mean, that was basically a Christopher Pike novel, of which I read every single one, but forget the movie. I’d still be terrified. Same with Silence of the Lambs. Read it in like seventh grade maybe? I read the mass market paperback that tied in with the movie, which came out in 1991, so seventh grade sounds right. Still have never seen the movie. I think I would like to? I’ve thought about it. But not by myself. Seriously, I have no idea where this is going. We’ll talk about food now?

Sorry. There is also a caveat before I actually get started with this recipe…I’m calling this a weeknight chicken recipe, but it’s probably not really a weeknight chicken recipe exactly, since I would say that noodles are the main event here, but! it is definitely for weeknights, and it definitely has chicken in it, so I’m counting it. It’s also too good not to share immediately.

Spicy Sesame Noodles with Chicken

This is a recipe courtesy of my mom…she didn’t make it up, but she used to make it all the time, and has no recollection of where it originally came from, so she wins by default. Cold Sesame Noodles is the name of this game. Tahini, sesame oil, soy sauce, sambal, garlic, scallions, red wine vinegar and oil, and then a bit of water to thin it out, and that’s it. There are a lot of recipes for Cold Sesame Noodles online, and many or most of them have peanut butter and sugar in them. The pb I sort of get, but these aren’t peanut noodles, they are sesame noodles, and this recipe relies solely on sesame paste. The sugar I don’t totally get, but like I said, very common, so maybe I’ll try one of those recipes at some point and compare.

I enjoyed this for dinner and several lunches as the main event, but it may be intended as a side dish, which is how my mom usually served it. But what it is really perfect for is a picnic, a potluck, a bar-b-q or whatever because you can make it ahead of time and it really is better cold. The first night I made it I couldn’t wait, so I had some that night when it was still warm, but they really, truly are better cold.

The process is easy. Poach some chicken and then use the very same water to boil some linguine. While those things are happening, chop some scallions and mix up a quick dressing, and that is it. Shred the chicken and mix it all together and voila, dinner or covered dish or side or on the go food (I packed these in containers for my sibs for our road trip last week. I was mocked for the chinese food containers I used, but they put a sock in it when they started eating.) This is great for the summer because it is minimal work and best enjoyed cold. I am probably going to make some more this week because it is stifling in my apartment. Cold food is good.

One more thing, I made a serious omission in my last post when I was mentioning blogs. I forgot to tell you about this one. Healthy Adventures with Adrienne Martin. Adrienne is a gorgeous funny awesome lady that I used to work with at the restaurant, and she has a cute husband and two cute girls and I want to be as cool as her when I grow up. She is very devoted to encouraging people to live their best life and doing the same herself and I suspect if anyone ever is going to convince me to put kale in a blender and drink it, it will be her. She has an exciting new project coming up that I can’t wait to see. Also, without her encouragement, I am not sure B&G would exist. Good luck Adrienne!

Also, really the last thing, listen to Vampire Weekend when you get a chance. I love them and they make me smile and they seem perfect for the summer.

Spicy Sesame Noodles with Chicken (serves 4ish…depending on size of appetite and how you are serving it. I got four dinner/lunches out of it for me. My brother might get one out of this amount. Maybe two if he was feeling generous.)

1 large boneless chicken breast

1/2 lb dried linguine

1 tsp plus 1 tbl sesame oil

1/4 cup tahini (sesame paste)

3 tbls water (or to desired consistency)

2 tsp sambal oelek (or chile oil, sambal has a bit more heat-you will probably be able to find it in a grocery store with a decent ethnic food section, you will definitely be able to find it in an Asian grocery. If you can not. Use chile oil, which you will be able to find. Totally interchangeable here.)

3 tbl soy sauce

2 tbl red wine vinegar

1/4 cup peanut or canola oil

2 tbl minced garlic (mince pretty fine, it stays raw in the final dish)

3 scallions, chopped

Bring chicken breast to boil in a large pot of water over high heat. When water boils, turn the heat off and let the chicken sit for 10-15 minutes until cooked through and then remove from the water. Bring the water to boil again and salt it well. Cook pasta until al dente, and then drain and rinse under cold water until cool. Add the pasta back to the cooking pot, toss with 1 teaspoon of the sesame oil, and set aside.

In the meantime, mix the remaining ingredients, with the exception of the scallions, together with enough of the water to make a runny, but still fairly thick, dressing and set aside. When the chicken is cool enough to touch, shred it and add it, with the chopped scallions, to the pasta pot. Pour the dressing over and toss to combine. Let the pasta cool and serve cold or at room temperature with a sprinkling of kosher salt. Leftovers improve.

In which I loooove garlic…

Scampi to take away the weird taste leftover from my dental visit...

So the name Shrimp Scampi irritates me, because I feel like the word scampi is actually referring to the shrimp, which would make Shrimp Scampi redundant and silly. That is sort of true. Scampo (plural: scampi) is actually a Norwegian lobster which is similar, but smaller I think, than an American lobster, and in some languages/countries, etc, scampi refers to large prawns or shrimpish creatures. The way these things were traditionally prepared, it seems, was with garlic, which which is why it is called Shrimp Scampi when shrimp was prepared that way even though technically, in the original prep the scampi WAS the “shrimp.” At any rate, the dish has become an Italian-American staple called Shrimp Scampi, so I guess that is what I will call it even though it doesn’t sound right.

Scampi is basically shrimp cooked with a lot of garlic, butter and oil and served over pasta (mostly, but I have also seen/enjoyed it over rice.)

The trick, I think, with this dish, is getting the flavor from the oil and butter, and creating a good sauce, without being greasy or oily. Ratio of pasta to sauce helps, as does adding wine and/or lemon juice (I do both.) The lemon, in particular, also adds a brightness which is lovely against the richness of the oil and butter.

There really is nothing to this. You want to prep all your ingredients ahead of time because it cooks quickly, and you definitely don’t want to overcook the shrimp. They’re the star and overcooked shrimp are the worst. Mince everything, boil the water and then drop the pasta in as you melt the butter and oil together and you should be in good shape. When the butter is melted, add the garlic, shallots and red pepper flakes and cook until they start to soften, one to two minutes. Add the wine and turn up the heat to let the wine boil and reduce a bit, another one to two minutes, add the shrimp, the lemon juice and zest and cook for another one or two minutes until the shrimp is almost cooked through. Add the cooked pasta and the parsley to the shrimp and sauce  and toss together to finish cooking and coat the pasta. Voila! Dunzo! Scampi deliciousness in about 20 minutes!

This is perfect if you are craving quick pasta, but don’t feel like vodka sauce, again, if you went to the dentist to get a crown that morning and the temporary cement they use has left a metallic potpourri taste in your mouth, if you are trying to impress someone with something that feels fancy but is actually super easy (but not on a date, please, this stuff is potent) if you need some comfort food as you are watching your infuriating Boston Celtics forget the basics of rebounding and ball possession…really, it’s an all occasion pasta…

mmmm...garlic.

Thoughts:

1. The Celtics are bumming me out. 

2. Also bumming me out? Maria and Arnold splitting up…that’s a weird one, I know, but true. It’s been 25 years! They seemed to really like each other, in spite of their weirdness as a couple. Sad.

3. It’s softshell crab season! WHEEE! I made this the other night. And it was so delicious (because how could softshell crab be anything but…) that I went back last night to try to get another one and the ladies were out…boo. Patience, young jedi.

tempura softshell, homemade tartar sauce, hot dog bun, perfection...

4. I have been dying to share empanadas that I have made several times with you all because they (and I quote) “might be the best things you’ve ever made…” but I have been hesitant because apparently crimping dough is my kryptonite and they look ridiculous when I make them…I finally said forget it and took pictures anyway, so you’ll get to see them at some point. They really do taste awesome.

5. I made my buttermilk cake the other day for Mother’s Day and accidentally doubled the butter. Still delicious! Less healthy.

6. I have a rando cleaning tip that I need to share because it would be cruel not to…Lestoil. This stuff is AMAZING. You can get it in the supermarket near the old fashioned stuff like Borax, and I vow NEVER to be without it. I discovered it in high school when some jack wagon threw an open permanent marker at me, and I asked one of our art teachers if he knew of anything that might get it out, he recommended Lestoil AND IT WORKED. Permanent marker! PERMANENT. Completely gone. And then last night I had a minor (or maybe not so minor) panic attack when I was sitting on my couch and didn’t realize I had dropped an open roller ball pen onto my light colored couch and a black ink spot was rapidly forming in a prominent location. Broke out the Lestoil. It is totally gone. Seriously. Get this. It’s cheap and amazing, and also works to clean floors. Mego’s tip o’ the week.

7. From one of my favorite websites The Hairpin - thoughts about what your American Girl doll from your childhood says about you now (I had Kirsten, not sure why I ended up with her, you’ll have to ask Ma Dukes – I wanted Samantha Parkington because she was sooooo pretty)…

“Kirsten Larson:
You probably got Kirsten because she was blond, or because you read a lot of Little House on the Prairie books. (It definitely wasn’t because of her “St. Lucia Christmas Outfit” … yikes!)…

You therefore grew up to be a bit more thoughtful, a bit more reserved than your peers. You also find yourself inexplicably drawn towards crafts like knitting, jam-making, and quilting. You secretly suspect that you’d manage just fine in a post-Apocalyptic setting, should things come to that. You were surprised and delighted to see some of Kirsten’s outfits come back into style in certain enclaves of Brooklyn.” 

HA. (Incidentally, if any of you out there also had Kirsten, did you suffer through the tragic discovery that taking her hair down from the braids and brushing it out like it was pictured when she was wearing her nightgown in the catalog made it impossible to get her hair back up in the braids EVER again? And did you cry about this as you were wearing your super cozy real-girl sized MATCHING Kirsten Larson flannel nightgown? No? Just me? Or…errrr, I mean, just somebody that I knew? OK.)

8. Music recommendation of the day: Josh Ritter. I am particularly enjoying “The Historical Conquests of Josh Ritter” right now.

9. Farmers’ markets start in the next two weeks around here. Yippee! I think I am going to try canning stuff this year. Because canning stuff will absolutely add to my cool quotient by a factor of ten, amiright?

Shrimp Scampi over Linguine (serves 2)

1/2 lb dried linguine

2 tbl olive oil

3 tbl butter

pinch of red pepper flakes

2 tbls finely minced garlic (about four large cloves)

1 tbl finely minced shallot (about one small)

1/2 cup dry white wine

1 tsp lemon zest

juice of half a lemon

1/2 lb medium or large shrimp (not small, and not too large or there won’t be enough of them – I used 21-30 size)

salt and fresh ground pepper to taste

chopped parsley to serve

Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil and cook linguine until just al dente. Meanwhile in a large skillet or saute pan, heat olive oil and butter over medium heat until butter is melted. Add red pepper flakes, garlic and shallots and cook until garlic and shallots are soft, stirring to prevent burning, about two minutes (lower heat if it seems garlic is cooking too quickly.) Add wine and bring to a boil. Let simmer and reduce for a minute or two, then add shrimp, lemon zest and juice and cook shrimp, turning occasionally, until almost cooked through, about two minutes. Add the cooked linguine to the shrimp and butter, toss to combine and finish cooking, adding a splash of the pasta cooking water to make a bit saucier if necessary. Remove from heat, toss parsley with the pasta and serve!

In which I take forever…

So last Wednesday (oof! two Wednesdays ago…you guys, I am the WORST) was one of those days when I planned on being out after work, and not getting home until late. It was supposed to be dance class day, and I would not have been home until after 9 probably, so I packed my bag for work and off I went.  About midday, I found out that my good friend M Sizzle would not be able to make it to dance class that night after all, and, what with my crippling social phobia and awful dance skills, dance class is NOT something I am yet capable of managing on my own, so I found myself with an entire evening with nothing on the schedule. Couple that with getting out of work a bit earlier than normal, and suddenly I had HOURS of time to fill. I decided to really fill it good. I had some things I wanted to do, and I was going to accomplish ALL OF THE THINGS. I didn’t make a written list that would hang around and mock me, I just thought of the things I wanted to do in my head, and set about doing them. This might be my new ticket to success, because had I had a visual of my plan for the evening, I may have stopped before I even started. I was going for a run, and I was going to do 30 Day Shred, because it was March 2nd, and March 2nd is the most obvious day to start a new work out regimen. New Year’s is for chumps, I’m for March 2nd all the way. I was also going to do some laundry, necessary due to a troublesomely few pairs of skivs remaining in the drawer that morning, and I was also going to make some delicious linguine with clam sauce for dinner because I have a blog post from a month ago that has been languishing, and I needed something to share with all of you….

heaven on a weekday

So I stopped at the store on the way home and picked up some clams and some shallots, all the while formulating my plan of attack. I changed into my running gear, separated my laundry and was off to the races. I popped the laundry in the machines, turned on the iPod and took off in the FREEZING WINDY COLD at a pretty good clip. I got about a quarter mile into the run and thought “look at me go! I am so good at accomplishing things!” Of course, by the time I was rolling pasta dough at 8:40 and I was so hungry I was going to eat my hand, I was starting to think maybe all the things were way too many things…I didn’t sit down to this dinner until 9pm. Making fresh pasta was probably foolish, but I was in the mood for fresh and it is better than dried with this particular sauce. But I recommend dried if you’re not crazy.

This dinner actually comes together really quickly if you do use dried pasta, which I use a lot, dare I say, most of the time when I make this because I do usually make it during the week.

It starts with bacon, as all wonderful things do.

mmmm, bacon

Once the bacon is starting to brown, I take it out of the pan and set it aside for later. I add a splash of olive oil, lots of shallots, some minced garlic and some red pepper flakes.

shallot-y

Once the shallots get soft I add a not insignificant amount of white wine, simmer for a minute, and then add clams.

Cockles!

In this case, cockles, because they are cute and miniature, just like I like things to be, you get more for your money, at least visually, and they are similar to the Italian vongole, that I believe are traditional in this dish. The pot gets covered for a couple of minutes until most of the clams are open, which is when I drop the FRESH pasta into the water (if you are using dried, I would do this when you add the wine to the pan.) When the last clam opens I turn off the heat, add lemon zest and juice, and the bacon back into the pan, followed by the cooked pasta, and I toss them all together in perfect harmony.

On to the plate they go, sprinkled with fresh parsley (don’t skip it, even if you are generally a parsley hater) and some fresh pepper and then I eat ravenously. Rarely do I not have seconds.

bliss

And, in case you were wondering, that particular Wednesday night, I did in fact go for a run, do my Shred workout, do three loads of laundry and make myself some linguine con vongole. But just in case you think for a second I felt victorious in my many accomplishments, I will have you know that just as I was getting a little cocky I found my sweaty post-run self standing in the laundromat in my running leggings (yes, leggings…as if that wasn’t humiliating enough) as the strange lady that works there fawned over the two very cute boys that were in there and I folded, in plain sight of said boys, my unmentionables. So, touche world. You always win. I’ll try not to forget again…

The things I am thinking…

1. There are some amazing – in the best and worst possible ways – things going on in the world right now. This is what living history means I guess? Thoughts to Japan, and the Middle East, and the mid west, and all people doing their best to band together and make their world right in the face of wrongs, natural or man-made.

2. I volunteer at an awesome organization called Community Servings that prepares and delivers thousands of meals a week to critically ill patients and their dependents and care givers. I love that I found something food related to spend my time on. If you have extra cash (ha?) and find yourself looking for somewhere to put it, they always welcome donations…and if you are in the Boston area you should totally come and volunteer because it is actually really fun.

3. I gave up television for Lent. Cra-cra-craziness. So far so good. I am going to read A LOT of books and blog a lot??

4. My karaoke song of the moment is “Valerie.” The Amy Winehouse version. (Amy, where did you get to? I haven’t seen your brand of crazy in ages!) Incidentally, while I was looking for that link, I found THIS “Valerie.” Steve Winwood! I didn’t even know that’s what you were saying! Maybe that version is my new favorite karaoke song! Also, the fact that I have a karaoke song is humorous, since simply imagining doing karaoke makes me panic and sweat. And back to Amy Winehouse for a minute…could you imagine being a parent of a little girl, and one day she opens her mouth and that voice comes out of it? How awesome is that? And then she turns in to Amy Winehouse and it is decidedly less awesome and you sort of just wish you had a tone deaf kid? (Hey Mom and Dad, you totally win after all!)

5. This…SuperHamm! Please, somebody get on this.

6. I am slowly compiling a list of things I want you guys to have in your kitchen at all times. I think at some point I will have a stocked pantry section of this here blog, but here is what I have so far: a) canned beans – black, cannelleni, chickpeas, whatever kind you like, just have cans of them at the ready. So versatile! (Dried too, but canned are key for last minute stuff.) b.) Cotija cheese – random, I know, but if you see some in the store pick some up. It is salty and crumbly and awesome, lasts forever in the fridge and works with so many things. c.) Pickled onions. These take all of about three minutes to make, also keep forever and are the most fantastic garnish for pretty much everything. d.) A Liter of Gruner Veltliner – this wine, conveniently, often comes in liter size, goes with all sorts of foods, is a white wine for all wine drinkers and is generally a great deal. Doesn’t keep forever though, both because wine doesn’t really do that, and also because it is delicious. e.) Shallots – I just love them and use them all the time. f.) Limes and lemons – sometimes needing a gimlet becomes an emergency. Also they are good for other things. g.) Eggs – you should just really never be without these. They are good for every meal. Every meal. h.) Dried pasta – doesn’t need an explanation, just find your favorite shapes, one long and skinny, one short, and have them in in the house always. i.) The number of your favorite sushi delivery…

7. Can we talk about Aerosmith for a second? (What? Is that weird?) So, somebody was talking about American Idol at work the other day, and they were commenting on Steven Tyler making a comeback or whatever, and they said something like “the greatest American rock band” and I thought. “what? Aerosmith? What country are you from man?” Ireland, actually, he’s from Ireland, but then I looked it up and he might actually be correct! I mean, I suppose it depends on how you categorize “the best” and how you categorize rock (does Grateful Dead count?) but they have the highest album sales of any American rock band, and their first album came out in like 1974. And then I was thinking, “yeah, but I have NEVER in my life heard anyone ever say they were an Aerosmith fan…like ANYONE.” But then I looked at their albums, and I actually own one (Get a Grip, from junior high…don’t judge me, you don’t know my life…) and I actually know at least one song on EVERY ALBUM. And, know a song like I recognize it immediately and can sing most of the words…so, there you go. Also discovered, “Janie’s Got a Gun” is about incest. I mean, kind of d’uh, if you think about it, but I hadn’t, and even though I can sing them, I never really delved into the lyrics. Informative day on Wikipedia. I’m still gonna make fun of Steven Tyler though, because that guy is cra-cra…

8. You wonder why it takes me so long to write these freakin posts??

9. Just had my last class for this semester the other night and we went over the final exam. Nailed it! I am turning into a real estate dork and I carry a financial calculator in my purse. I assure you I did not expect this from my life.

10. JT (Justin Timberlake, not James Taylor) is single! Ryan Reynolds, JT, THINGS ARE LOOKING UP!

Linguine con Vongole (serves 3-4)

4 oz bacon (preferably thick cut) cut into 1/2 inch pieces

1-2 tbl olive oil

1/2 cup finely chopped shallots

2 cloves garlic, minced

pinch of red pepper flakes

3/4 cup dry white wine

1 lb cockles or littlenecks

zest and juice of 1 lemon

salt and pepper to taste

chopped parsley for garnish

3/4 – 1 lb pasta, dried or fresh (weights will vary depending on whether you are using dried or fresh. Cook enough for three to four people)

Boil salted water for the pasta in a large pot.

Cook the bacon in a deep skillet or saute pan over medium heat until starting to crisp and brown, and fat is rendered. Remove the bacon from the pan, and add olive oil (use 1 tbl if the bacon has rendered a lot of fat, 2 tbls if the pan is still looking a bit dry) and then add the shallot. Saute for 1-2 minutes until the shallot starts to soften and add the garlic and red pepper flakes. Cook for another minute. If you are using dried pasta, now is the time to drop it in. Add the wine to the shallots and bring to a boil. Let simmer and reduce for a minute or so. Add the clams and cover the pot. Cockles will take 2-3 minutes to open, littlenecks will take a bit longer. When most of the clams have opened, add the fresh pasta, to the boiling water, it will only take two minutes or so to cook. When all of the clams have opened, turn off the heat. Add the lemon zest and juice an the bacon to the clams and stir together, adding salt and fresh pepper to taste. Add the pasta and toss together. Serve the pasta and garnish with parsley. Enjoy!

(Tip: for a more cost effective option, use half the fresh clams, and supplement with a can of drained chopped clams. Add the canned clams off the heat, as they are already cooked and you don’t want them to get rubbery.)

voila

In which I hunt for my mojo…

Author’s Note: I am fairly certain this post doesn’t make any sense, and I am 100% certain I didn’t edit it. Proceed with caution. Editing is for another day.

*tap tap* This thing on? Hi y’all – that is, if there is a “y’all,” and not a “you.” Is anyone here anymore? My name is Meghan. I used to write this blog? I loved it. And I made so much time for it. And I spent my days thinking about eating food and cooking food and deciding what I was going to cook the next time I wanted to eat food. And then I would come here, and tell you about it. This blog is about food for sure, but really, it’s about my life, and that’s where the problem lies. It’s hard to come here and talk to you all when I don’t really feel up to talking about my life. My life’s been a little blah lately. And that has carried over to my food and cooking. My food seems a little sad, and a little rote, and is missing something. I’m missing something. But there are glimmers of hope. Things aren’t all bad. I am LOVING my job. It is all consuming in a way that is different from my last job. This is all consuming in a good way. The hours are longer, the days are more focused and nose-to-the-grind, but I don’t spend the hours that I am not there dreading having to be back there again. And I am learning a lot. So yay! And there are glimmers of food hope too…every now and again I get inspired, and I start feeling the food love…so I don’t think it will be long before every thing is back to normal. But until then, baby steps…

Recently there was one small step for Meghan-kind, and that small step was cushioned by delightful, pillowy ricotta gnocchi.

with Marcella's tomato sauce

Gnocchi are a delight when they are delightful, and wretched when they are wrong. They should be light and velvety and pillowy and awesome, but they can be starchy, gummy, heavy bricks. They are frequently (most commonly?) made from potato, which are great, but if you like gnocchi, and you are nervous about making them because of the potential pitfalls, try these first. The idea is the same. The ricotta takes the place of the potatoes, there’s a little flour, a little parmesan, some salt and pepper, and that’s it. And it only takes about 15 minutes. And then three minutes to cook. Depending on your sauce choice, you could have homemade gnocchi on the table in 20 minutes. Homemade gnocchi!

And as sauces go, there is possibly not a more perfect one for homemade ricotta gnocchi than Marcella’s tomato, onion and butter sauce. Have you heard of this one? Marcella is Marcella Hazan, and this sauce is a tomato sauce that is spoken about in hushed and reverent tones across the food interwebs. The “recipe” – and recipe is only in quotes because it really couldn’t be easier, so it is barely something you have to follow – is a revelation. It is a can of tomatoes, a whole peeled onion, and 5 tablespoons of butter. Put them in a saucepan and simmer for 45 minutes, occasionally stirring and breaking down the tomatoes with the back of the spoon. I don’t understand the hows or whys, only the whats. This is perfect. Rich, tomatoey and perfect for gnocchi.

humble beginnings

The second time I made the gnocchi I sauced it with brown butter and sage. Easier even than the tomato if that’s possible. Half a stick of butter in a frying pan over medium low heat. Once it melts, add some chopped sage. Cook until the butter starts to brown and the sage is crispy and fragrant. Toss with gnocchi. Done and done.

And now, since this has taken me about 8 weeks to write and has all the oomph and punch of the back of a cereal box, I will get to the gnocchi. But first, a few musings…

1. I have an irrational hatred for those post-it notes that are made for pop-up dispensers? You know, the ones that alternate the sticky back so that the pad is stacked like an accordion? That is all we have in the office right now. I hate them.

2. I don’t have a winter hat. I have no wintery garments other than a scarf. It’s cold here.

3. I love my Christmas tree. I never want to turn the lights off, which makes me stay up late. It looks like this.

Happy Christmas!

4. I made Orange Chicken last night. Like the kind you get in a food court Chinese place. I am going to write about it sometime soon because IT WAS AWESOME.

oh yum.

5. I am making a list of B&G goals for 2011. It includes sausage. And duck. Not necessarily together, but actually, that could be rad.

6. If my life right now was a movie, this would be the soundtrack: Dog Days Are Over – Florence + the Machine, Sweet Thing – Van Morrison, Love the Way You Lie – Eminem and Rihanna, Runaway – The National, F*%k You – Cee Lo Green (sorry Gram), Sorrow – The National, Ragged Company – Grace Potter & The Nocturnals. Yep, I totally want to hang out with me too, oof.

7. Amaryllis (Amaryllii?) might be my new favorite thing about Christmas. Well, besides presents. And Christmas trees. And champagne everywhere. So they’re my new fourth favorite thing about Christmas.

8. I can’t seem to shake the desire to watch The Silence of the Lambs. This is one of the worst ideas I have ever had. Literally. It is a terrible idea. I still can’t watch Large Marge in Pee-Wee’s Big Adventure (true story.) I am the biggest scared-y cat in the history of scared-y cats. I live by myself. I would likely watch by myself. The result of this would surely be an inability to function normally for maybe, ever, and yet, I can’t shake it. I don’t know what to make of this, and I don’t know what to do about it. I will keep you posted.

9. Ryan Reynolds and ScarJo have split. I wish that made me want to ruminate on the sad state of marriages, but actually, that just means he’s single. Yes, please.

10. The Yankees didn’t sign Cliff Lee…hahahahahahahahaha. Hahahahahaha. Ha. Yankees fans: heads up. If you throw things at a pitcher’s wife when she is trying to watch her husband pitch, and said pitcher-husband is a superstar soon-to-be free agent who actually LIKES HIS WIFE, you might not be doing yourselves any favors. I’m just sayin.

11. The interwebs is a remarkable and terrifying place. There is SO MUCH INFORMATION out there. No one is safe.

12. On a related note: I may have my missed calling as a private investigator.

13. I think poxes are widely underused.

14. Words of the day: miscreant, befitting, vagabond, velociraptor, benevolence

G’ah! As my petite friend Audrey would say: “focus Meghan, focus.”

To the gnocchi…(and here’s the problem. The recipe I used had measurements in weights rather than volume, but I realize many people don’t have a kitchen scale, so I tried to approximate.)

Ricotta Gnocchi (serves 1.5-there’s definitely not enough here for two people)

adapted from delicious days

250 grams (about 1 1/4 cups) fresh ricotta cheese

1 egg yolk

1/2 tsp kosher salt

30 grams (with a microplane grater and a hunk of cheese, this is almost a cup) freshly grated Parmesan cheese

50 – 75 grams (75 grams is a SCANT 1/2 cup) all-purpose flour, plus extra for dusting the board.

pepper to taste

Sauce of your choice.

Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil.

Mix the cheeses, the salt and the egg yolk in a large bowl, and stir to combine. Add the flour and stir just to combine. The dough will be sticky, and you could add more flour, but the more you add, the heavier the gnocchi are going to be. Minimize the flour at this point.

Dust the counter generously and your hands lightly with flour. Take the dough a tablespoon or two at a time, and mound on the floured surface. Roll the dough with the palms of your hands (like you were making a snake out of play-dough) into a roll about a finger’s width thick. This has to be done very lightly, as the dough will squish easily. Using a knife or a pastry cutter, cut the roll into 3/4 inch – 1 inch long pieces. Put the gnocchi aside on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper as you finish working the rest of the dough.

Drop the gnocchi into the boiling water. You don’t want to crowd it, so do this in batches if you need to. Stir it once, so it doesn’t stick to the bottom of the pot and cook for 2-4 minutes until the gnocchi float to the surface. Remove from the water with a skimmer and toss with your sauce of choice. Serve immediately. So good.

With Sage and Browned Butter


In which I totally cheat…

I did, my friends, I did. I cheated.

I can be forgiven for succumbing to this, right?

Lenten sacrifices are no match for a request from a not-oft seen uncle for homemade pasta with Bolognese. Apparently it is his most favorite. How do you say no to that?

This is a very traditional Bolognese, it is really a meat sauce, rather than a tomato based sauce with meat in it. In fact, the only tomato ingredient is tomato paste, and the sauce contains milk and white wine. It also has a whole lot of carrot, celery and onion in it.

It is very easy to do. You soften onions, carrots, celery and garlic in a bit of butter and olive oil until it is soft.

soffrito

Then you add a combination of ground meats.

pancetta on the left, veal, pork and beef on the right

I use equal parts beef, pork and veal, and then a bit of pancetta as well. I made this a couple of months ago in my home kitchen, and I forgot to have the butcher grind the pancetta with the rest of the meat, and when I remembered, the volume wasn’t enough to run it through their big meat grinder, so I had to take it home and use this…

bad picture, fantastic attachment

It was glorious. I love my meat grinding attachment.

Anyway, they now go into the pot as well.

into the pot

Once the meat browns, you add the tomato paste.

tomato paste

Lastly the milk and the wine go in, and the sauce simmers for a couple of hours until it comes together in a meaty masterpiece.

bolognese

And with that, if you want to showcase this fantastic sauce, the best way to do it is with homemade pasta, which you can create while the sauce simmers.

And guess what I did? Because of the absence of a food processor, I made the pasta the old school way, with a well of flour, some eggs, a fork and some elbow grease.

the well

the fork

the elbow grease

the result

Ok, so clearly I should remove most of the expensive tools (or at the very least, the processor) from my kitchen, because I said it with the pate brisee, and now again with pasta. This dough was divine. It was a pleasure to knead and to roll out. It was smooth and pliable and felt light. I felt like I had control over it: how much flour to add, how much to knead, etc. And if you make the pasta in a large bowl, there is no egg wrangling if it escapes the well, though I feel like I could probably do that too, if I put my mind to it. This does make a ton of dough though, and that’s the weird part. I got the proportions from Mario Batali, and this apparently is supposed to make about a pound of pasta. I used close to four cups of flour and five eggs. (I don’t have a scale down here.) And the recipe I use in the processor? Two cups of flour, two eggs and a little bit of water. Also supposedly makes about a pound. I smell an experiment. I do know that my more recent attempt made more dough, and two batches made WAY more than needed for 8 adults.  It looked like a pasta bomb went off in the kitchen…

explosion

It was everywhere. But those granite countertops are a pretty awesome surface for pasta dough wrangling, so it worked out.

I rolled the dough out into sheets and then cut it myself, so I could do a wider pasta than the machine allowed for. It only took a minute or two to cook, I combined it with the sauce and dinner was served.

pappardelle with Bolognese

Fresh Pasta (makes enough for four adults)

Adapted from Mario Batali

4 cups all-purpose flour, plus more for kneading if necessary

5 eggs

pinch of salt

Combine 3 1/2 cups of flour and the salt in a wide bowl or on a flat surface. Make a large pile of flour and then create a well in the middle. Crack the eggs into the well, making sure the well is large enough and has high enough sides to contain the eggs easily. With a fork, begin to scramble the eggs, pulling flour from the inside of the well walls. (I find pulling from the bottom of the walls help keeps the well intact.) The dough will start to come together, and will be too hard to mix with the fork. At this point start to use your hands to knead the flour into the dough. The dough will be fairly wet and shaggy. When it becomes more difficult to incorporate the flour in the bowl, remove the dough to a heavily floured surface and put the bowl aside. Knead the dough, adding more flour, until the dough is no longer sticky, this could take up to ten minutes. Do not add too much flour, the dough should remain light and easy to knead. When it is smooth, set it aside sprinkled lightly with flour, and cover with plastic wrap. Let rest for 45 minutes to an hour, and then roll through a machine or by hand to the shape and width of your choice. Fresh pasta should only be cooked in boiling water for 2-3 minutes until al dente.

Ragu Bolognese (makes A LOT – enough for two batches of fresh pasta)

Adapted from Molto Mario

3 tbl unsalted butter

3 tbl olive oil

1 large onion, diced

2 stalks celery, peeled and diced

2 medium carrots, peeled and diced

5 cloves of garlic, sliced thin

1 lb ground beef

1 lb ground pork

1 lb ground veal

1/3 – 1/2 lb pancetta, preferably ground, diced small if unable to find ground

9 oz tomato paste (a can and a half if you are using small grocery store cans)

1 1/2 cups dry white wine

1 1/2 cups whole milk

2 sprigs fresh thyme

salt and pepper to taste

Melt the butter and oil together in a large heavy pot over medium heat. Add the onion, carrot, celery and garlic and cook until the aromatics are soft. Turn the heat up to medium high and add all the meat. Cook until the meat browns, 8-10 minutes. Add the tomato paste, stir the mixture to combine, and cook until the mixture is aromatic. Add in the milk, wine, thyme, salt and pepper and bring sauce to a boil. Reduce heat to low, cover and let simmer, stirring occasionally for 1 1/2 – 2 hours, until sauce reduces and comes together. Serve over your favorite pasta (pappardelle is traditional) or use in lasagna.

In which I recover…

2009 had its fantastic moments. I made my first wedding cake. I made my second wedding cake (picture forthcoming.) I had a temp roomie. I had some dinner parties. I went to some amazing celebrations. I turned 30. I ate here (friends, if only this little blog existed then. The story I would have told.) I drank great wine. I saw a lot of my family. I made some great new friends. And perhaps most importantly, from the perspective of my flailing sanity, a blog was born.   

In spite of all the greatness though, I am ready for a new year. I am resolving to do many things. I shouldn’t bother, since in all of my 30 years I have managed to keep ONE new years resolution, but these will stick, I am sure of it. I am determined to run more. I am determined to be better about money. I am determined to spend more time volunteering. I am determined to talk to more strangers. I am determined to turn off the tv and open a book now and again. I am determined to cook something new at least once a week. And I am determined to stop screwing around and find something that makes me truly happy. Totally doable.   

In the meantime, my short-term resolution is to finally clean out my photo archives and share some of my previous experiments with you, so in the off-chance that your resolution involves cooking more, perhaps you will find some inspiration.   

But first I want to talk about Christmas. Because Santa Claus was really good to me. It was a very kitchen centric holiday.  Behold:   

Wustof Classic 8" Chef's knife

How I did not already have one of these, I do not know, but my life is now complete. It is so sharp I am scared of it…   

And to store it…   

kapoosh knife block

This is the raddest thing I have ever seen. It is a knife block filled with perhaps graphite?? rods that shift around to accomodate whatever knives you have, so you can have all different brands and still store them in the same place! Fantastic.   

And this:   

Krups coffee grinder

For grinding my spices.   

And then the reading material:   

another year...thanks Gram!

The Williamsburg Art of Cookery

This sweet little book was a Christmas gift from my Fairy Blogmother, and I can’t wait to read it cover to cover. It is a compilation of colonial recipes for things like Jugged Hare that the people of Colonial Williamsburg put together in 1938. It is very cute.   

Then this:   

A Homemade Life

This is by Molly Wizenberg, who writes the blog Orangette. I love her writing and I love her recipes, and she met her husband because he read her blog and decided he might be in love with her. She is my hero.   

Lastly, the piece de resistance…   

Oh boy

This is the brain child of the new New York restaurant wunderkind, David Chang. I started reading it on Christmas Day and I am about a third of the way through (pesky weddings and New Year’s parties keep interrupting me.) I CANNOT wait to try some of these recipes. Especially the pork belly buns…   

May I interject briefly to share that I am currently watching my former boss (who shall remain nameless, though faithful regular readers will probably be able to figure it out if you read closely) on his food show on PBS. I will politely say his tv personality leaves something to be desired. Also, his hair is weird this episode. Apologies for the interruption.   

To round out my Christmas holiday, I got some fantastic little appetizer plates, my grandmother’s old angel food pan, and an antique angel food cake cutter. Did you know you needed one of those? I don’t know what I did before I had it!   

Now I am ready for a party...

I may be using these this afternoon.

And last, but not least, my stocking…   

Check this out…   

Am I spoiled or what?

Check out that saffron!! I will go out on a limb and suggest that the jar has at least $100 in saffron in it, but thanks to the littlest and her world traveling friends, it ended up in my stocking!!   

So many thanks to Louise and the littlest for my presents and my stocking, and to my aunt for the plates and the angel food…I have so much fun ahead of me!   

Ok, back to business. First on the docket, pork and clams.   

sausage and clams for a weeknight dinner.

This is so very quick. Pick up a pound of cockles (or littlnecks) and some sweet italian sausage on your way home from work. Remove the skins and brown the crumbled sausage. Remove the sausage from the pan, add a little bit of butter, and then saute some minced white onion or shallot until it is soft. Add some white wine, a couple sprigs of thyme, and the cockles. Cover the pan and steam the clams until they open.   

cockles.

Add the sausage back in to the pot to heat through, then serve in bowls with some toasted bread. Voila, dinner in minutes.   

dinner is served

Next on the list? Salmon cakes. This is one of my dad’s standard go to weeknight dinners or first courses. A while back I helped throw a bridal shower for Molly, my very closest friend and cousin in the world. Incidentally, she got married on Sunday, and was the most gorgeous bride in the world. Yay for Molly and Larry. I was left after the shower with an extra filet of poached sockeye salmon that didn’t get eaten. I snatched it right up, and took it home to make some salmon cakes. If you don’t have cooked salmon already, buy a filet and roast it quickly first, and then proceed.   

I crumbled the salmon and added some minced shallot.   

the beginning.

I happened to have a jar of piquillo peppers that I brought home from my trip to Spain last year   

imported from Spain.

I chopped them up and added them, though if you are not lucky enough to have piquillo peppers, a roasted red pepper would work beautifully as well.   

Lastly, I added a lot of minced dill, about a cup of panko bread crumbs, and 2 or 3 eggs to hold it together.   

Almost there.

I formed the mixture into cakes and coated them with panko bread crumbs.   

cakes

At this point I flash froze all but two of the cakes, for individual freezer storage for an even quicker dinner some other time. I sautéed the two cakes in shallow hot oil until the bread crumbs were golden brown and the cakes were hot all the way through. I plated them and this time around, used a mustard-wine-shallot-cream sauce and some fresh chopped dill. Delish.   

perfecto dinner for one.

The second time I did these, I didn’t have the left over mustard-wine-shallot-cream sauce, so I did a more standard (for my dad, anyway) red pepper cream sauce. Often he roasts a red pepper over a gas flame, and then purees it with some heavy cream, salt and pepper for an easy, basic sauce. I used some of those piquillos again, and I sautéed them with not an insignificant amount of butter, and some minced shallot. When everything was soft, I put it in the blender with some sour cream, since that is what I had, and some salt and pepper. I will tell you, the sauce was unbelievable and I ate the leftovers with a spoon. I am thinking it was the butter.   

salmon cakes redux

Now a couple of pasta recipes to round out my weeknight cooking repertoire.   

Baked Lemon pasta is a recipe I got from here. Friends, if you haven’t noticed, I am a food blog reader. I read many and I read them often. I love all the different styles and recipes and fun. Blogging is a curious animal, it is fascinating to see what different people do with it.   

Baked lemon pasta is pretty straightforward, butter, olive oil, garlic, lemon juice, lemon zest and sour cream. Coat cooked pasta with the sauce, and bake it until it is hot.

Melt the butter and oil and heat the garlic until it is soft. Add the lemon juice and then the sour cream and lemon zest and some salt. Dunzo. It cooks for a total of about 25 minutes.   

butter and oil

with garlic

plus lemon juice

mmmm, sour cream.

zest, salt and pepper

cooked pasta

bake for 25...

I covered the pasta for the first 15 minutes or so of cooking, and then removed the foil for the final push. I sprinkled the pasta with some chopped rosemary, parmesan cheese and additional lemon zest, and so it was written.   

baked lemon pasta

Lastly, because this is getting verbose, and I have cooking adventures to get to this afternoon, I will conclude with a little gem I picked up from Orangette. 5 ingredients, and one is the pasta. Thick cut proscuitto, cut into pieces, butter, salt and parmesan sprinkled on top.   

First up, melt one tablspoon of unsalted butter and add the proscuitto. You want about one ounce of proscuitto cut about 1/8 inch thick, a half inch wide and an inch long.   

butter

proscuitto

butter and proscuitto

You want to cook the proscuitto just for a minute, you don’t want it to brown, just to look less “raw.” Then you add the cooked pasta (I stopped at the pasta store on the way home and got some “fresh” slightly dried pasta. I used a quarter of a pound.)   

add the pasta and parmesan

and sprinkle with grated parmesan. Serve and enjoy!   

Dunzo

This is by far the fastest recipe, and is definitely my current favorite.   

And now, since this has gone on forever, and I would like to make an apple tart this afternoon, I will leave you now. I volunteered this morning, and I have shared these meals with you, so I feel well on my way to the new me with all my resolutions. I am, of course, sitting in front of the tv, but we will take it in baby steps. The last two months have been totally overwhelming, and I am finally feeling a bit recovered. Back to normal on Monday, but in the meantime, back to the kitchen.   

Happy New Year! May 2010 bring you good health, good food and, if you are like me, a good kick in the ass.

In which I cook for myself, and then for my parents, and it doesn’t totally work either time…

There was a Sunday a while back that had me in the mood for cooking. That happens a lot, but I am not always as productive as I managed to be this particular Sunday. It was a while ago, so I don’t actually remember the particular circumstances, but pancakes and homemade pasta are a great day, no matter the circumstances. 

Perhaps you remember these… 

shimeji

  

I also had these…  

...and the gang

  

Maybe Shimeji and the Gang will be the name of a band I start someday when I learn how to sing or play a musical instrument.  

I decided to use my surplus of mushrooms and a fennel bulb that I had lying around to make a ravioli filling. I wanted to use a butternut squash that I also had lying around with it as well, but I wasn’t sure how to convert the butternut squash to a sauce. I suppose I could have made what was essentially a butternut squash soup and use that, but I was averse to that idea for some reason, and I also think I didn’t have any cream at home, and I was able to do this whole dish without going to the store. That almost never happens, so I was making it work come hell or high water. I diced the squash in small enough cubes that I could pan cook them and I had some ricotta, so I figured if I sprinkled the ravioli with the squash, and then finished it with a quenelle of ricotta and some shaved parmesan, that perhaps it would make it cohesive enough that I wouldn’t miss a sauce. I wasn’t exactly right.  

I started with the pasta making, and again, didn’t take pictures this time (though when I made this for my parents I did, stay tuned, photos below.) While the pasta dough was resting, I diced the mushrooms and fennel pretty finely, and sautéed them over medium heat with some thyme and sage until the mushrooms released their liquid and fennel became soft.  

step one, we can have lots of fun

 

Then I cooked the cubes of squash in a combination of olive oil and butter until they were soft and cooked through, and they had browned a bit.  

step two, there's so much we can do

 

And while good things were happening to the squash, I rolled out the invisible pasta dough into sheets, mounded the cooked mushroom mixture on one sheet, covered it with another sheet of pasta, and used my ravioli cutter to make pretty little squares.  

step three, it's just you for me

 

Then the final steps, pasta went into the boiling water until it was cooked through, drained and then plated, I spooned the squash on top of it, put a quenelle of ricotta right in the middle, and then shaved parmesan on the top.  

step four, I could give you more

 

It looked so pretty, and the flavors were great, and I wouldn’t exactly call it “dry” but it needed a sauce.  But it was a start, and I would not be cowed, so I thought I would try again at some point and see if I could improve it. The chance came when I was home at my parents’ over Thanksgiving. It was Saturday night and the rest of the siblings had already left, and I decided to cook. This time I thought I would add some pasta water to the squash at the end of cooking, hoping that it would emulsify with the butter and oil and create more of a sauce. It didn’t, but I didn’t know that until the end, and there were some other fun things going on for this attempt so I am sharing anyway.  

The first thing I did this time, was make pasta again, and I DID take pictures. This is what the dough looks like in the food processor, remember how I couldn’t describe it the last time I talked about it?  

in the processor

 

The other day I thought of  a good word to describe what this looks like, but now I forget. Once it comes out of the processor, you knead it for ten minutes. I even got a shot of that part.  

an action shot: stand back.

Then while the pasta rested this time, I added another awesome step: I made ricotta cheese for the top. I got the idea from here. This actually could not be easier, and it makes you feel kind of awesome, because when you tell someone you made ricotta cheese they look at you like you might be a crazy person. Plus it tastes delicious and is nice and creamy. The components are these: 

dairy and acid

Did you notice the change in scenery? That lovely window there is located in my mom and dad’s kitchen. The only thing missing from this photo is the pinch of salt, so four ingredients is all it takes. Boil together a quart of milk and a cup of heavy cream with a pinch of kosher salt. 

the boil

Add two tablespoons of fresh lemon juice, turn the heat to low, stir for two minutes until it curdles. 

the curdle

Pour it through a colander lined with cheese cloth and let it drain. 

the drain

And that’s all it takes. You’ve got yourself some ricotta cheese. 

the cheese

Pardon that picture, it’s not a great one. 

So while the ricotta was draining, I did the mushroom and squash thing again. The mushrooms this time were button and cremini. The squash was still butternut. The mushrooms went in the pan with butter, shallot and fennel again, and oh, another thing I did differently was to keep the mushrooms in larger pieces and run the mixture through the food processor after it was cooked. Turns out I don’t have a preference which method to use. 

the 'shrooms

And the squash went into the pan with olive oil and butter again. 

the squash

Note to self, pick up one of those All-Clad french saute pans or whatever they are called. They are nice. 

The pasta got rolled out again, though this time I was using my dad’s pasta machine, and for some reason, it and I don’t get along. We were able to mostly put aside our differences for the sake of the meal, but I haven’t quite forgiven or forgotten. 

more action

This time, I just put the mushrooms on the top half of a sheet of pasta I laid out, and folded it over on itself. Easier and I wasted way less dough. 

another terrible, but illustrative photo

And here they are. 

ravioli

The rest of the process was the same, as I cooked and plated the ravioli, I sloshed some pasta water into the squash pan in the hopes that it would saucify. It didn’t really. AND I undercooked the pasta. Which stunk, because it actually turned out not as good the second time. But the ricotta was delicious. And the flavors were good. And it was not totally a lost cause. And I will rise again. 

take two

Oh yeah, the ricotta didn’t quenelle, because I drained it for a while, and the texture was more like goat cheese than cream cheese, but it did not make one iota of difference, and I think it looked prettier this way anyway. 

So that was my tale of two pastas. I am not giving up, and some day I will return to this blog triumphant in victory and ready to share a recipe that accomplishes what I am going for. I imagine you can’t wait.

PS WordPress wanted me to spell “step” “steppe” as you would. And it is giving me serious agita with the formatting. If there is anyone out there that is an expert, I implore you for your help in this matter.