Carbonara

Spaghetti Carbonara

Tomorrow, I’ll be telling you all about how I jogged for the first time on Saturday.

Today, I’ll be telling you about the reason why I felt it necessary to jog on Saturday.

It was a very delicious reason.  Something I’ve been wanting to make for a very long time, but especially in the last several months.  See, I watched a lot of Food Network while I was in the hospital this past fall.  Because when I’m on a “clear liquids” diet, I feel the urge to torture myself with hour after hour of food-centric television.

There was this one commercial for “The Best Thing I Ever Made” and regardless of whether or not it’s what she was cooking, I convinced myself in my drug-induced and food-less haze that Anne Burrell was making carbonara.  Whether or not she was, I haven’t the slightest.  I was just sure of it at the time.  And the idea of making it when I got out of the joint buried itself in my brain, to surface every so often.

Finally, with some leftover bacon in the fridge, I decided the time had come.  Carbonara would no longer be just a culinary fantasy.

Ohhhh boy.  Where has this been all my life? Creamy and full of bacony, cheesy flavor.  Diet food it is not.  But delicious it most certainly is.

Ingredients for Spaghetti Carbonara

Have your ingredients prepped in advance because once the pasta is ready, everything comes together very quickly.  Heat up the frying pan as the pasta water is coming to a rolling boil.  Mix the egg and cheese in the serving bowl while the bacon and pasta are cooking.  You want to mix the egg with the pasta while the pasta is still hot in order for the egg to cook.  It’s one thing after another.  So preparation is key.

But once all the quick work is over, it’s time to relax enjoy.  Because you deserve it and, besides, you’re gonna work out later, right? ;)

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Pasta

I’m so, so happy to be sharing this recipe with you today.  See, I’m part of The Secret Recipe Club – where a bunch of food bloggers get together and are assigned a blog from which to pick a recipe and recreate it for themselves.  Of course, it’s all a secret until the big reveal.

And today’s the big reveal for my group! Hooray!

I was assigned Judee’s Gluten Free A-Z Blog - a blog full of healthy, fresh recipes which (let’s not kid here) I need to spend a lot more time focusing on.  After delving through many recipes I found one which immediately piqued my interest: A fresh, simple tomato sauce.  As we all know, I’m a big fan of pasta.  Big.  And I’m always looking for new ways to dress it.

So I tried this recipe, slightly adapted, and let me tell you: It’s ah-maaaaaazing.  Like, “I wanted to eat it with a spoon right there on the spot” amazing.  The addition of raisins to add natural sweetness is brilliant, and brightens things up beautifully.  I can see using it as a spread on sandwiches or on top of fish, or paired with mozzarella as a twist on caprese salad.

Or, as I said, straight off a spoon.

I couldn’t find sun-dried tomatoes at the store (seriously), so I took a can of diced tomatoes and roasted them in the oven at 400 degrees for 30 minutes.  It really intensified the flavor.

I also didn’t have fresh basil (seriously, my store sucks sometimes) so I used basil paste instead.  Sometimes you just have to work with what you’ve got, right?

Once the sauce was finished whizzing around in the processor, I tossed it with hot pasta and let the residual heat warm everything up.  Judee’s suggestion, and I think this is brilliant, is using spiral-sliced zucchini instead of pasta.  In the past I’ve actually used a vegetable peeler to peel thin “strands” off of yellow squash and you know what? It was really good!

But in this instance, I was in the mood for p-a-s-t-a.

Add a little fresh grated parm and voila! Heaven.

Thanks, Judee, for this terrific recipe!

If you’re interested in learning more about the Secret Recipe Club, check it out here! I’m already looking forward to next month’s assignment.

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Mac and Cheese

There are things which just go together perfectly.  Naturally.  Like they’re meant to be.

Peanut butter and jelly.  Peanut butter and chocolate.  Peanut butter and a spoon.

Or is it just me?

Maybe I need to look into this whole peanut butter obsession.

Where was I? Oh yes.  Things which go together well.

Here’s another one, one which doesn’t even involve peanut butter: Macaroni and cheese.

Oh yeah, baby.

I’ve posted about macaroni and cheese before.  I know it.  I’ve even posted this very recipe before.  But the pictures…um, how can I say this? Oh.  Right.  They sucked.  So here we are again.

Seriously.  What else can one do with all that cheese? Besides eat it, that is?

Oh.  Right.  They can mix it with hot, al dente macaroni and a few other ingredients and turn it into this madness:

Creamy.  Rich.  Tangy.

Stupid good.  And stupid easy, when it comes right down to it.

Alton Brown’s kind of a genius, but then we all knew that right? The kind of genius who benefits me tremendously with his knowledge but who I’m pretty sure would reduce me to tears because he seems pretty intimidating.  Seriously.  Have you ever seen him on Next Food Network Star?

Anyway, his stovetop mac and cheese recipe is ridiculously easy and insanely delicious.  You’ll never look at blue box the same again.

 
Puttanesca

Now, if you’ve been reading my blog or have known me for more than, like, 5 minutes, you know that I’m a lover of pasta.

JB + Pasta = 4ever

And you may or may not know that I snagged my husband by making spaghetti puttanesca for him.  Okay.  It may not have been the puttanesca.  But I like to think it was.

I love puttanesca sauce – so tangy, briny, spicy and rich.  I’ve held back from making it in large batches because I know I’m the only person in my house who would truly enjoy it – Rob would just pick out the olives and I’m sure his Dad wouldn’t even touch it.  What’s the point?

Well Anthony Bourdain, in his infinite wisdom, showed me the light during a recent episode of his show.  Puttanesca doesn’t have to be slow-cooked for hours like I cook my other sauces.  Oh nay, nay.  It can easily be made in smaller batches as a quick sauce.

DUH.  I’ve been making quick sauces for years! Why didn’t I think of that?

Don’t know how to pit olives without one of those olive pitting gadgets? Easy.  Work out your aggressions on them – put a wide knife on top and give it a solid whack, just like you would a clove of garlic prior to peeling.  The pit should then be easy to pull out.

Now, there’s something we need to discuss.  Namely the usage of anchovies.

Wait! Come back! Hear me out!

Don’t be scared.  The anchovies cook down in olive oil until they are nothing more than a paste.

See? I'm not lying!

Why are the anchovies necessary? Because they add such richness, such depth to the sauce.  Just trust that when I took my first taste, my eyes closed in blissful ecstasy.

I’m serious.  Blissful ecstasy, people.  Anchovies took me there.  So don’t turn your nose up at them until you give ‘em a shot.

Remember to cook them low and slow, or else you’ll wind up with crunchy bits.  Don’t ask me how I know this from experience.  Just trust me.

Otherwise, the entire sauce comes together in the time it takes the pasta to cook.

And then it’s time for bliss, people.  Serious bliss.  Anchovies and all.

 

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ChoppedPeppers

Okay.  Here’s the deal.

I really, really want to tell you all about this amazing sauce that Rob came up with.  Because it’s too amazing to be kept a secret.  I feel it my duty to share it with you, my friends.

However.  It was difficult enough to get the recipe out of him in the first place.  But when a person hands you something, points to it then drags a finger across his throat with a murderous look on his face…you don’t have to be a genius to take the hint.

After all, snitches get stitches.

So I’m going to be as vague as possible in describing the ingredients and hope you can forgive me and work it out on your own (or bribe me into sharing more with you).

Okay? Okay.

Much of the flavor from the sauce comes from meat.  If you’re a vegetarian by all means forget I mentioned it.  However the v-word is practically a curse in this household so…

I start out by making 2 pounds of meatballs from this recipe (scaled down, naturally) and popping them in the oven at 375 degrees for 30 minutes.

In the meantime, you take your sausage.  Usually we mix up the hot and the sweet but this time around I only used sweet.  Cut it into pieces and add it to a frying pan with olive oil over medium heat.  Don’t worry about cooking it through – it’ll finish in the sauce.

By the way – do you have spatter screens to put over your frying pans? Because you should.  They’re a miracle and they’ll save your clothes.  Trust me.

Anyway, once your meat is taken care of you can move on to the sauciness of the sauce.

OnionsChopped.  More than one, fewer than three.  That’s vague enough, right?

Sweat them out in olive oil with a few minced cloves of garlic and salt and pepper.  (Note: Rob does not use salt or pepper in the recipe.  I can live without the pepper but not the salt.)

Peppers, chopped with the help of my food processor (I’m not trying to spend the rest of my life chopping peppers).  Red and green.  Twice as much one as the other. ;)   Oh, and if you can find decently priced, nice looking orange or yellow peppers you can swap them out.  Add them to the onions and let them get all acquainted for a bit.

While your veggies are getting to know each other, open your canned tomatoes.  I can’t tell you how many cans or what size they are.

;)

Pour them into the pot with around 1 /2 cup of liquid.  You know, whatever broth or stock you have laying around.  Or water.  Or…stock.

Chop up some basil.  Put it in.  Along with enough sugar to cut the acidity of the tomatoes.  And a pinch or two of oreganoMore salt if you find it neccessary.

Submerge your meat so it will cook in the sauce, then cover.  And over low heat this sits for hours upon hours, with you stirring frequently because let’s not joke: Putting all this work and love into a vat of sauce only to let it burn is not advisable.

Tears may be shed.  Or maybe it’s just me.  Or residual stuff from the onions.

And after hours – in this case, 6 hours – your sauce will look…well, not much different.  Thicker, darker.  Still saucy.

And that’s it, friends.  From this recipe I can get at least 4 meals worth of meat/sauce to go with pasta for the three of us – and they’re very generous servings.  I dole it all out in separate containers for each meal then defrost as needed.

So feel free to halve the recipe, or do as I do and take comfort in the fact that you have a freezer full of fresh, homemade sauce just waiting for you to enjoy it.

Do you have a favorite sauce recipe? While we’re at it, do you call it ‘sauce’ or ‘gravy’?

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featured_olive_pasta

Psst! I’m visiting over at Mandyland today – come read about the crash course I took in child rearing!

Also, I’m in the hot seat at Four Plus An Angel this week, which means you get to ask me any little old question you want and my answers will be posted next week.  So go ahead, drop by and ask me anything.  I can take it.  ;)

You know what I love most about blogging? The sharing.  The sharing of ideas and thoughts and pieces of ourselves with others who we would not otherwise have the opportunity to know.

I love sharing me with you, and I especially love you sharing yourselves with me.

So let’s all share, shall we? Let’s get our comfy lounging clothes on and sit around in a circle and paint our nails and tell secrets about ourselves.

I’ll go first.  You ready?

Here goes (deep breath): I love pasta.  In fact, I’m sorta addicted.  I’ll eat it in any shape or form.  There have been times in my life when I’ve eaten it twice a day.  I just love it.

Wait.  What’s that? Oh.  You already knew that, huh? Well, I’ll work on another secret and be sure to share it with you as soon as I come up with it.

Let’s talk about this pasta dish I just whipped up, shall we?

I had these olives just lolling around in my pantry.  And some pasta (when don’t I?).  And other stuff.  And I was hungry.  So I got to work.  And then I got to work eating the results of my work.  And it was good.

Just a little pinch of red pepper flakes makes a great big impact when they’re simmered with the pasta while it finishes cooking.  Combine that with lots of yummy garlic, olive oil and butter…well, how can you lose? You can’t.  You really can’t.

Oh.  And lots of cheese doesn’t hurt, either.  But then I love cheese almost as much as I love pasta.

Almost.

What’s YOUR favorite pasta recipe?

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Lemon Asparagus Pasta

As soon as the weather starts to warm up, I become obsessed with two things: lemon and asparagus.

And water ice.  But water ice doesn’t go with asparagus so that will have to be a subject for another time.

I guess lemon and asparagus signal spring for me, at least in the kitchen.  The blast of citrusy goodness, the green snap of the asparagus…it doesn’t get much better than that.

So when asparagus and bags of organic lemons are on sale at the same time, as they were a few days back, it’s on. All I need is an excuse to use them.  “They’re delicious” is usually enough for me and before I know it they’re in my basket.

Add a few ingredients I never tire of – namely garlic, mushrooms, butter, olive oil and of course pasta – and you have a happy Jen.

A little touch of half-and-half to cut some of the tartness of the lemon juice and voila! A pasta masterpiece.  I swear to you.  A masterpiece.

Toss the pasta and a little of the cooking water in the with sauce to finish cooking.  The pasta and especially the mushrooms suck in all that flavor.  A pinch or two of lemon zest and some freshly-shaved Parmesan complete the dish…and then get quickly sucked up by yours truly.  Because, honestly…this lasted all of a minute or two after photos were finished.

But oh, was it good.

I’ll be sharing more lemony recipes throughout the week.  What recipes make YOU think of Spring?

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Cheese

 

Macaroni and Cheese

I would like to take this opportunity to apologize for my post on how to make a roux.  It was terrible of me to include a picture of the luscious, decadent, rich, sinful, bubbly, creamy macaroni and cheese…

…without telling you how to make it for yourself.

Can you ever forgive me?

I had a feeling you could.

Keep in mind that this makes a LOT of the good stuff – you might want to halve the recipe if you’re cooking for a smaller crowd.  I know Rob ate leftovers and I still ended up tossing a decent portion of it down the garbage disposal later.  Can we discuss how my heart broke over this (I hate wasting food)?

And speaking of leftovers, I have it on his authority that they reheat extremely well.

As we discussed a couple of days back, once your roux has cooked for a few minutes (with you constantly stirring!), you can slowly add your warm or room-temperature milk in “batches”.  Make sure you keep stirring and breaking down any lumps which may form, and fully incorporate each addition of milk before you add more.  This will simmer until it is thickened.

By the way – the final product is what’s called a bechamel sauce, and it is used in lasagnas and lots of other dishes.  I’ll be covering its application in a future Cooking Basics post.

Once the bechamel is finshed, remove the pan from the heat and start adding all of that ridiculous, delicious cheese.

Now, let’s take a minute to talk about cheese sauce (like the sauce pictured above).  You may feel guilty over it.  You may feel your thighs straining against your pants legs just looking at it.  Then the sauce gets tossed with the cooked pasta and the whole thing goes into a greased pan and into the oven.  The result?

Homemade Macaroni and Cheese

Oh yeah.  I went there.  Again.

Do you like the crust that forms on top? Gotta tell ya, I’m not a huge fan.  Though I do know some people who are absolutely fanatical about it and are more than happy to take care of it for me.  My husband, for example.  Just another reason why we make a good team.

And that’s all, folks.  Ina Garten’s recipe called for nutmeg, but I don’t happen to be a fan of nutmeg so I left it out.  It also called for tomatoes and breadcrumbs – of course, feel free to add those as well, but I don’t think they’d go over too well at my house.  ;)

What do you think? Will you try your hand at homemade mac and cheese? If you already have, how do you think it holds up to the “blue box”? (Sometimes nothing can beat the taste of the boxed stuff, I have to be honest!)

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Anything Pasta

A long time ago, I made up my own recipe for a quick pasta sauce.  I don’t remember how this recipe was born, exactly – I’m sure it was a mixture of creativity, stuff in the fridge and a hardcore craving for pasta.

Since then I’ve prepared one variation after another literally hundreds of times.  It’s the sort of recipe you can change up according to the ingredients you have on hand.  I eat far too much of it.  I can admit my faults.

At the time I last made this, I had the great trifecta on hand: Tomatoes, mozzarella and fresh basil.  Talk about a match made in heaven, and my personal favorite flavor combination.

I also had black olives, which worked because I’ll put them in just about anything.  I’ve been known to eat handfuls of them at a time.  I might need therapy.

If I had spinach or mushrooms I’d have added them as well.  Lemon juice, white wine, any other fresh herbs…let your creativity run wild.

This sauce is such a wonder that unless you’re cooking fresh pasta or something thin like angel hair, you can prepare it in the time it takes the pasta to cook!

The fresh basil wilts when tossed with the hot pasta, and its scent is released.  It mingles with the garlic and tomatoes and creates a cloud of temptation which hangs in the air and begs you to take a taste.  And let’s not even talk about how the mozzarella starts to melt and fuse itself with the pasta.  Shaved Parmesan? Be still my heart.

Go ahead.  Try it for yourself.  And love this child of our combined imaginations.

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dp


I’ve been craving comfort food lately – had you noticed? I mean, the homemade pasta, the ultra-meaty and rich bolognese, the braised onions to go in my stew.  Yeah.  Comfort city, kids.

And here’s another example of the sort of food that makes me wanna curl up under a Snuggie (yeah, I said Snuggie) with a bowl and dive on in.  A really big bowl.

Ever since I was little my mom has made this dish – what’s better, it’s something her mother made.  I love the idea of carrying on tradition like that.  Until I started making my own pierogi, the ingredients seemed sort of disjointed to me – I mean, who combines macaroni, cottage cheese and sauteed onions? Um, Polish people who make pierogi, that’s who.  I had the big revelatory moment while making a batch.  One of my favorite meals, one I ask my mom to make on my birthday, is merely deconstructed pierogi.  And boy, is it comforting.  I could eat it every day.

Seriously.  It’s ridiculous i a way that only really good food can be.

I added a little touch of my own, by the way.  The crumbled bacon lends a whole new level of texture and flavor.  Of course you don’t have to add it – I just happened to have a couple of pieces left over from breakfast the day I made this!

Stupid easy, isn’t it? But the flavors meld so well – I promise you, you can’t go wrong with this.  It grosses my husband out when I eat it, but he just doesn’t know what he’s missing.

What’s your favorite comfort food?

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