Cooking Closet Cooking’s Roasted Asparagus & Mushroom Carbonara

You know a recipe must be good if I not only make it twice in the span of 30 days, but also prepare it for a parent visit. That was the case with Closet Cooking’s Roasted Asparagus & Mushroom Carbonara. I saw this recipe while trying to figure out my menu a few weeks back and it jumped right off the page. I love bacon. I love carbonara. I loved mushrooms and I’m pretty alright with asparagus. It also doesn’t use a full package of bacon, which is kind of nice, especially when you’re looking to make that particular protein work for a few different meals.

The prep for this dish is also super simple. You wash, then cut the mushrooms and asparagus, mix them with some olive oil, salt and pepper before putting them in a 400 degree oven for 20-25 minutes. Since I chopped my veggies into smaller bits than suggested, I kept them in the oven for a bit less time than recommended. With that doing it’s thing, I got my pasta going and cut up the garlic followed by the bacon. While the pork sizzled, I shredded the cheese and combined it with the two beaten eggs plus salt and pepper. Once the bacon is done, you toss in the garlic (I did this instead of removing the bacon as suggested in the main recipe), cook for 30 seconds and then mix with the cooked pasta, roasted veggies and cheese-egg mix.

When I made this the first time, I used boxed pasta, but last night I went full-out and made my own. The only other change I made was throwing in some chopped shallot I had lying around. Either way, you’ve got this great mix of fresh vegetables, smoky bacon and that salty carbonara goodness that solidifies as you mix. Making this meal even better is that fact that it tastes just as good reheated as it did the first day.

Cooking Good Housekeepings Kielbasa Stew

I know what you’re thinking: what kind of fool makes a stew in the middle of one of the hottest New York summers he’s ever experienced? This one, apparently. As I’ve mentioned several times in the past few weeks, we’re working off of a budget lately, so I’ve been a lot more conscious about using up everything I have on hand as far as ingredients go. Last week I happened upon Good Housekeeping’s recipe for Kielbasa Stew in my Big Blue Binder, realized I had almost everything already on hand — I only had to buy the sauerkraut and kielbasa, which was on sale — so I decided to give it a shot.

As far as preparation goes, this is a pretty simple recipe, but you’ve obviously got to have the time to get it together in the middle of the day (or morning depending on if you’re cooking on high or low). I cooked the celery, onion and caraway seeds in a pan and then threw it in the bowl with the cubed potatoes and all the other ingredients. The only change I made was using a pour of apple cider vinegar instead of apple cider because, you know, it’s the middle of summer. With all that together, I put the slow cooker on high and went back about my day.

I’ve got to say, even though I made this on a hot day and it’s a stew, this wound up being a really wonderful meal. The potatoes and chicken stock turned into this creaminess that worked so well with the kielbasa and the added sauerkraut. It all came together for a very German dish that made me think of a soup version of the kind of dog sausage you’d get while walking around NYC. My wife had the genius idea of putting some deli mustard on top, taking up another level of greatness. I will one hundred percent serve this again, though I might wait around until the temperature takes a bit of a dive. I will say, though, that a slow cooker is a great way to keep your kitchen from heating up too much.

I will also add that this was a great dish to make with my three year old helping out. She loves to stir things, so I had her do that and add in the new ingredients as I was done cutting them up. It gets an extra thumbs up for that!

Wok This Way: Damn Delicious’ Pineapple Fried Rice

I continue to have a lot of luck when it comes to making recipes posted over on Damn Delicious. A few weeks back I saw her post this one for Pineapple Fried Rice and wanted to give it a shot. It not only looked tasty with that mix of salty pork and sweet-sour pineapple, but also utilized a few ingredients that were on sale at the grocery store that week: pineapple and pre-cooked ham (the same stuff I used in yesterday’s post). The only change I made to the recipe was skipping the corn and peas because I didn’t happen to have any on hand and must have missed that slug in the recipe when making up my grocery list. I also threw in a red pepper because I did have one hanging out in the fridge.

As you can probably imagine, this was not a very difficult dish to put together. It mimicked many of the previous wok recipes I’ve done and could have also been done in a high-sided pan. This actually reminded me of a bit of Alton Brown’s Sweet & Sour Pork but much easier to put together. The sweet, tangy, saltiness of the dish was just what I was looking for.

One quick warning, though. If you do use the pre-sliced ham like I did, you might get some funky leftovers. My wife noticed it first at work and said the ham got kind of crumbly when heated up a day or two later. It’s almost like it disintegrated, so I’d probably change the kind of ham I use next time or make just as much as I need.

Cooking Arugula Pesto Pasta Primavera Salad

I’ve noticed recently that I’m getting to a place with my cooking where I don’t mind using a recipe as a spring board instead of a by-the-numbers rule book. Part of that comes from being a lot more comfortable in the kitchen and part comes from not reading recipes all the way through before adding the ingredients to my shopping list. I can’t tell you how many times I’ll get to that day’s recipe read it through and realize there’s a major part I missed. In the case of this recipe for Arugula Pesto Pasta Primavera Salad from Hannaford’s Fresh magazine, I didn’t see that a major part of the process involved roasting vegetables in the oven at 450 degrees. I don’t know about where you guys are, but it’s been in the 80s for weeks now here and there’s no way I’m adding to that heat if I can avoid it. So, I decided to sauté my veggies. I also completely forgot the green beans and made homemade pasta for my version.

Aside from making the pasta which is always a time consuming, but rewarding process, this is a super simple recipe to put together that just involves the cutting up of some vegetables, some sauté time and a bit of food processing. To make room in my small kitchen, I made the pesto first. I followed the recipe as written, but wound up with a really bitter pesto from all that arugula. To balance it out, I added about 1/4 more parmesan and the juice of half a large lemon which helped balance everything out.

With that out of the way, it was veggie cutting time. I took my knife to the red pepper, squash, onion and tomatoes before tossing them in a bowl with oil and then popping them in my high-sided pan for sauté time. At this point I also had the water going for the pasta so everything would get done at about the same time for mixing. My timing wasn’t perfect, but everything came together nicely for a solid alternate version of pesto packed with vitamins and nutrients that my family really enjoyed.

Cooking Giada de Laurentiis’s Naked Spring Rolls

While my attempts to make Giada de Laurentiis’ Thai Curry might not have netted the best results, I will say that I had much more success her recipe for Naked Spring Rolls which were both part of the same Thai-themed episode of her Food Network show. It also happened to be a super simple and delicious recipe to put together.

The sauce in the recipe was really easy to put together and doesn’t need much in the way of commentary. I will say that it was tangy and delicious thanks to the combination of lime juice and fish sauce. To augment the dish, though, I also decided to make some sriracha mayonnaise. For this I just squeezed about two teaspoons of the hot sauce into the remaining homemade mayo I had in the fridge after making Banging’ BLTs and Lemony Tarragon Chicken Salad which was about a 1/4 of a cup. The only change I made in the recipe was swapping out agave (which I didn’t have on hand) for honey.

With the condiments created, I got to work on the actual spring rolls. As with every other kind of meat, I started out with whole, partially frozen pieces, cut them up and ran them through the meat grinder. Since I was already getting the grinder out, I figured I’d try running the carrot and shallot through there too. It worked pretty well, but there was an intense, tear-jerking blast as the shallot went through. All that went into one big bowl with the other ingredients which got wrapped in plastic and sat for the required 20 minutes.

After that point, I looked at the mixture and realized it was not going to stay together in the oven. So, I grabbed the two ends from our latest loaf of wheat bread, rubbed chunks between my hands to create tiny crumbs and mixed it all together with my hands. I got 15 of the spring rolls out of this and put the foil-wrapped pan under the broiler.

I served these with lettuce leaves, though they’re not super necessary. I dug how this meal came together, but my wife loved it, saying it was one of her top five favorite things I’ve cooked. I’m not sure if I’d go that far, but I am a big fan of this dish. It worked really well for us as it was, but could also make for a great party food (if made smaller) or a delicious sandwich. In fact, my only complaint was that the thinner sauce didn’t stick to anything which bummed me out because it was so delicious. If this was a sandwich, though, you could pour that sauce right into the bread to infuse that flavor! Dang, that idea’s so good it makes me want to start a food truck (not that it would take that much cajoling to do that anyway).

Wok This Way: Alton Brown’s Wok-Fried Peanut Butter

Just last week I wrote about how much I enjoy Alton Brown’s various online outlets for food information. One of his most recent YouTube videos really captured my imagination and it was about making your own thick, chunky peanut butter using a wok. I watched it from beginning to end, even though he spoke with a mouthful of his own product through the whole thing which is like nails on a chalk board for me and soon enough tracked down the written recipe over on Brown’s website.

This is a wildly simple recipe that can take a lot of time if you wind up getting peanuts in the shell like I did. No kidding, it probably took me about an hour to get a full pound of shelled peanuts. I would have gone with the non-bagged kind, but that’s all my grocery store had, so I just dove in and got them done in two different sessions. My hands were pretty beat up by the end, but not too bad.

With that done — or if you get shelled peanuts right off the bat — you’re good to go with the actual cooking process. Heat the wok, toss in the peanut oil and then get the peanuts in the pan. I wish I had stirred them more than I did because I wound up getting some pretty burnt nuts in the process. I did my best to pull the worst ones out, but the final product does have a hint of that burned flavor depending on the bite.

After the salting and cooling process, you toss 1/3 in the food processor and remove. The rest go in processor with some honey and salt and get, well, processed for much longer. The resulting butter was quite thick and got even more so when the first third was added back in.

When Brown says in the video that this is chunky PB, he’s not kidding. This stuff has an almost doughlike consistency. When I first saw that I was worried that it might not spread very well, but my wife and daughter, who eat most of the peanut butter in our house, don’t seem to mind and have enjoyed it pretty much every day since. I use it when I make my morning smoothies, and really enjoy the nutty, salty component it adds.

I also really enjoy being able to make something else that sits in our pantry or refrigerator. Peanut butter might actually be one of my favorites because you don’t need to acquire a lot of materials to make it (like stock, say, or tomato pulp) and it doesn’t go bad really quickly like mayo or vinaigrettes. Now I just gotta find a place that sells shelled peanuts that aren’t too expensive!

Rocking In The Kitchen With Wusic

I don’t know about you guys, but I love listening to music or podcasts while I cook. Since I work in a galley kitchen and usually have my laptop on a stool next to the sink and across from the stove. It usually works out where I can just hit play and be entertained. But sometimes cooking is a loud endeavor and my laptop volume only goes up so high, not nearly loud enough to triumph over the sound of the meat grinder or the hood fan. For my iPod we have a speaker dock that works great, but I’ve been looking for something to use when listening to podcasts. After doing a lot of looking around on Amazon, I decided to try out the Wusic Bluetooth Wireless Speaker.blue waterproof wusic

My family got it for me for Father’s Day and I’ve been using it just about every day since either through my computer or my phone. The beauty of this particular speaker is that it’s also waterproof. It’s meant to hang out in the shower with you or near a pool, but that also makes it more resilient in a kitchen where liquids tend to splash and splatter around. This also means you can use the unit’s controls (pause, play, forward, backward, on, off and volume control) with less than clean fingers if need be. wusic in kitchen

As you can see, the unit also comes with a large suction cup on the bottom. This works very well in the shower, but not as well in the kitchen. I tried sticking it to the cabinets which didn’t hold up very well. I had more success placing it on the oven hood, but I don’t want to put it up there if I’m using the oven much. For the most part, I just place it on the counter near where I’m working or in an open cabinet.wusic kitchen set up

Overall, I’ve been really happy with the speaker. It gives me that extra bit of volume in the kitchen and has made my overall cooking experience that much better.

Cooking Michele Urvater’s Classic Italian Bolognese With Homemade Pasta

Sometimes I want to just forget about everything else going on around me and spend a few hours in the kitchen making something I know my family will love. That’s what I’ve done the last few times I’ve made Michele Urvater’s Bolognese Sauce with homemade pasta.

Now that I’m grinding my own meat and making my own pasta, dishes like this one, which are already time intensive, can become multi-hour projects, but sometimes I need that time in the kitchen. In this case there are a lot of moving parts, but if you have some time during the day, it’s not too hard to make this dinner happen.

First and foremost, you need to throw your meat in the freezer for an hour or two. This makes grinding a lot easier. While that’s hardening, it makes sense to get the ingredients for the bolognese sauce ready by chopping up the carrots, onion, celery and garlic. The only alteration I made to this recipe was mixing 1/4 cup of white wine vinegar with 1/4 cup of chicken stock to replace the white wine, which I didn’t have on hand. After grinding the meat and cooking the veggies, you’ve got about 2 hours of simmer time.

With about an hour of simmer left, I start working on the pasta. I’ve tried a bunch of different basic recipes, but the one I’ve come to know and love is the one I found in my 1981 copy of The New James Beard (p. 276) which calls for 3 cups of flour, 1 teaspoon of salt and four eggs with some water on hand just in case. Mix all that up in the mixing bowl, knead for a few minutes then let sit for 20 minutes. Everything I’ve read says break the main ball down into four parts, but I’ve had much better luck going down to eight smaller sections. Then run it through the rollers and whichever pasta cutter you want to use. I’ve found that it works best to start boiling water after running all the pieces through the roller the first time. By the time you’re done cutting, your water should be boiling or close to it.

Once your done with your epic cooking session, you’ve got yourself one ass kicking meal. This bolognese is just fantastic, mixing the pancetta’s saltiness with your beef and the vegetables into something truly wonderful. One of these days I’ll actually try it with homemade tomato pasta and fresh plum tomatoes.

One note I do want to make about this recipe in general is that I want to include olives in it next time. I’ve made this particular version twice and both times I found my tongue telling me that there should have been some green olives in there to bring in a sour note. Hopefully, now that I’ve written this post, I’ll remember that for next time.

Making Pasta

For Christmas, my folks got me some pretty awesome pasta-related cooking implements. In addition to the standard KitchenAid attachments (the roller and then the linguine and spaghetti cutters) as well as a ravioli maker. Since then I’ve made pasta four or five times to varying degrees of success. The pictures above — taken by my lovely and awesome wife — are from the very first attempt, though you will definitely see more homemade pasta on the blog than boxed.

The first time I created pasta, I used the simple white flour and egg-based recipe that came in the book with the attachments. It’s a pretty straightforward process that hopefully won’t take too much time to master. Basically, you make the dough using the mixer and then let the dough sit for a bit. After that, you cut the main ball into smaller pieces and then run it through the roller. I did each piece on the 2 setting, set it aside and then went through and did it on the 3 then 4 settings. Once that’s done, you get the cutter out and wind up with your pasta.

Sounds pretty simple, right? Kind of, but not always. The main problem I’ve had in my various attempts is getting the dough recipe down. Pasta dough is supposed to stick to itself, but that’s it. I’ve had dough that’s too dry that I added water to and super sticky dough that I added more flour too. I’m still getting the feel for things, but hope I’ll get to a place soon where I can see what it needs just from looking. I’ve also played with different dough recipes including the one found in Michael Ruhlman’s Ratio.

The dough consistency can be problematic when going through the rolling phase. If it’s too sticky, it gets caught up and won’t go through. If it’s too think, it also won’t go through smoothly and if it’s too dry you’re in the same place. I’ve found that using a ton of flour on my workspace can help with the sticky problem. I also recommend breaking the large ball up into much smaller pieces that you can flatten out either by hand or using a rolling pin.

Since I work in a small, galley kitchen, I found myself struggling to figure out the best way to set up. In these pictures, you can see my kid hanging out on her step stool watching me. Since then, I’ve started putting a TV tray there with either a cutting board or wax paper covering it. I douse that in flour to help keep everything from sticking together. kitchenade pasta makers

Once the pasta is actually cut, I toss it in a pile on whichever floured surface I have at my disposable that’s not already filled. At this point, you want to have your water boiling so you can toss it in. The rule I go by is that, if it floats, it’s done. This was something that took some getting used to for me because I wasn’t sure what fresh pasta was supposed to taste like and therefore wasn’t sure when it was done. But, after tasting the floating noodles, I got the idea, drained and then mixed in with my sauce.

I also want to say that I tried my hand at making semolina pasta just once and it didn’t go so well. I made the dough as the recipe said but found that my dough was way too thick to go through the roller. Fearing I was running out of time to have dinner ready by the time my wife got home from work, I decided to just flatten it out with a rolling pin and cut with a knife and a dough scraper thingie. As you can probably imagine, the noodles were pretty thick, but I think they still turned out pretty well. While things didn’t go as planned, I’m kind of glad this happened because it showed me that I can also do this without a machine if need be. Still, the roller and cutters work WAY faster than going by hand.

As I’ve said when it comes to grinding my own meat (I haven’t bought ground meat in over a year) or making my own sauce (which I regret not being able to do last fall), I know these extra steps take more time and can add a lot more headaches to the meal-making process, but I personally love knowing that I’ve really built the meal from the ground up as much as makes sense.

Recipe Roundup: Closet Cooking Part 2

Closet Cooking has become one of my major go-to sites when it comes to online recipe resources. I’ve made so many different meals based on author Kevin Lynch’s site that I’m thinking about picking up one or many of his cookbooks. Here’s a few of the recipes I’ve attempted and what I thought about them. For a similar Closet Cooking Recipe Roundup post, click here!

Taco Stuffed Shells

I’ve been a stuffed shells fan for years, but never really thought about separating that delivery system for fillings from the Italian ingredients I’m used to. I was pretty excited to give this new version of an old classic a shot and it turned out really well. But, I did discover that my mouth and brain kept getting confused BECAUSE I’m so used to these kinds of shells being stuffed with Mexican flavors instead of Italian ones. It was a strange experience because that almost never happens. My brain just couldn’t get past the shape and the presentation the first time around. Maybe I’ll be more ready for it next time, though.

Thai Peanut Chicken Noodle Soup

Lynch’s Thai Peanut Chicken Noodle Soup is actually very similar to the Thai Chicken Soup I’ve made several times from The Ultimate Soup Bible. I’m becoming a huge fan of Thai flavors and figured this one was different enough to try. The major differences are that you cook the chicken in the boiling soup, add in sweet potato (I used by box grater to shred it up good), there’s more curry paste and I used less lime.  This actually combined for a similar, but different enough dish to add to the collection. Sometimes if I eat too much of the version from the Bible, my stomach gets a little topsy turvy, but that wasn’t the case with this one.

Cauliflower Pepperoni Pizza Casserole

I’ve had this particular recipe saved in my Pocket for quite a while and finally gave it a shot last week. There’s a version on the site that uses pasta instead of cauliflower, but I was trying to go for a healthier version. The only ingredient change I made came about because I forgot to buy black olives, but otherwise, I put this together pretty much by the book and thought it was a great little dish that combined the greatness of cheese and pepperoni with cauliflower, which I assume is healthy. Plus, it’s super easy to put together. Next time I’d like to make it with homemade sauce and maybe a better pepperoni to see if that makes it even better.