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 Damn Delicious’ One Pot BBQ Chicken Pasta

I’m all about Damn Delicious these days. I’m pulling a recipe or two a week for my menus these days including this one last week for One Pot BBQ Chicken Pasta. I was a little leery about this one, not because of the recipe itself, but because I sometimes have trouble getting into a dish if I associate it with one style of food. I had this problem when I made Taco Stuffed Shells a while back. Stuffed shells are just an Italian dish that should have ricotta or cottage cheese as far as my taste buds are concerned. Would I have the same problem with this barbecue sauce-infused pasta dish? Luckily, no!

I’m a big fan of the one pot method for cooking this dish. You cook the bacon in the pan (I skipped the olive oil because of the bacon fat) and then toss in the diced chicken breast. From there you add the garlic and onion followed by the rest of the ingredients, including the pasta which actually cooks in the tomatoes, chicken stock and milk. Cover that up and let it cook for about 15 minutes, mix in the cheese and bbq sauce — we had Sweet Baby Ray’s on hand — and you’ve got dinner!

I wasn’t sure if the the sweetness of the sauce would throw my tongue for a loop, but this whole dish worked so well together that I didn’t even think about Italian food. In fact, the sweetness really popped and worked well with the saltiness of the bacon and the tomatoes. It all worked really well together and you can’t complain about making a whole meal in one pot!

MATK Originals: Bangin’ BLTs

bagin' bltsAs a kid growing up, BLTs were pretty common in our house. They were the good, solid kinds that featured your basic toasted bread, bacon, lettuce, tomato and mayo combination, most often served with some Campbell’s tomato soup. But, over the years I’ve started adding to that structure and think I’ve created some really special sandwiches that I wanted to tell you about.

The first major BLT change came for me when my wife introduced me to the idea of the BELT, that’s a BLT with a fried egg on top. As fried eggs and their runny goodness are a favorite of mine, that was a pretty easy sell. So was the inclusion of cheddar cheese, which makes just about everything better.

Recently I’ve been playing with a few ways to make all that even better which culminated in last night’s dinner, what I’m now calling Bangin’ BLTs. Last night’s sandwiches includes your B, your L and your T, but also the aforementioned fried egg, cheddar cheese (we’re big fans of the Hannaford Wisconsin sharp these days), homemade mayonnaise straight out of Ruhlman’s Twenty and either Tony Packo’s Sweet Hot Skinnies or Banana Peppers (the former for my wife, the latter for me).

Bangin’ BLT Ingredients

Bread
Bacon, 2-3 pieces per sandwich
3-4 Large Leaves of lettuce, I use romaine
1-2 Tomatoes, sliced
Eggs – 1 for each sandwich
Sliced cheddar cheese
Pickles, Banana Peppers
Homemade Mayo

This meal might seem simple, but it actually has a lot of moving parts, so I’ll walk you through my process. I make the mayo first and follow Ruhlman’s recipe to the letter using vegetable oil and a farm fresh egg (we just happened to have a few on hand). This is the most intensive part of the process, but I guarantee the flavor you get from this will be far more full and rich than the stuff you buy at the store. This can be made days ahead, but the process only took me about 10 to 15 minutes and I went the hand-whisking route. In the future, I’d like to experiment with combining this mayonnaise with different elements like spicy sauces or fresh herbs.

Next I get my bacon in the oven. Sure, you can cook your bacon in a pan the traditional style, but I’m a big fan of using the oven because you don’t get splattered with hot grease and you don’t have to worry about it for 10 whole minutes. I set my oven for 400 degrees, then line a rimmed baking sheet with crumpled-up tin foil, this gives it more surface area to heat up. I then lay out as much bacon as I can fit, which wound up being about 7 or 8 pieces and popped it in the oven for 10 minutes. At that point I flipped the pieces over and let them cook for another 10 minutes.

With the bacon in the oven, I get to cleaning and cutting my vegetables. For the lettuce, I just pulled four large romaine leaves, sprayed them down and then ripped them into smaller, sandwich-sized pieces, discarding the hard white ribs in the process. Then I cleaned and sliced the tomatoes before slicing the banana pepper into strips for my sandwich (half of a large Tony Packo’s pepper did it for me) and getting out the Sweet Hot Skinnies for my wife. I also cut the cheese into squares.

At this point, it would behoove you to set up a solid sandwich-making station. I didn’t have the space for this, so it was a bit tricky, mostly because I had the toaster right in the middle of my work space. Once the bacon’s out of the oven and patted down, you’re almost ready to start making sandwiches.

Why almost? Because it’s egg time. This is where things can get a little tricky timing-wise because you want to work fast enough to make sure your bacon is still warm, but you’re also cooking eggs and toasting bread. I don’t worry so much about the bacon, so I basically put the bread in the toaster and then drop my egg in a small hot pan coated with cooking spray. By the time the toast is done, I’ve flipped my egg and it’s ready to go.

So, grab the bread and put on your desired about of homemade mayo. Then put cheese on one side (I’ve found that the extra sharp cheese can be a little overwhelming if you double up). I then put the hot egg right on top of the cheese and build up the other side with the bacon, tomato, lettuce and peppers/pickles. Bam, there’s your sandwich.

The richness of the homemade mayo works so well with the bacon, but do watch out because both can be on the salty side. When you mix in the crispiness of the lettuce, the coolness of the tomatoes, the sharpness of the cheese and the heat of the pickles or peppers, plus the egg doing it’s ooey gooey thing, you’ve got something really special happening in your face.

While I’m thinking about it, I do want to circle back around to the idea of serving BLTs with tomato soup. It’s an idea I still adore, but there was no way I was going to cook soup yesterday when it was in the 80s. However, a month or two ago I did make BLTs and tried a new tomato soup recipe I found on Smitten Kitchen. It was delightfully creamy and made for awesome dipping. Unfortunately, we lost most of the leftovers when our fridge fritzed out a month ago, but when things cool down, I’ll give it another try.

MATK Originals: Bacon & Broccoli Ramen Stir-Fry

As you’ve probably noticed from reading this blog, I do most of my cooking based on other peoples’ recipes. Every now and then I’ll MacGuyver something or change out a few ingredients here and there, but I usually just go by the book. Lately, though, I’ve been experimenting with a few of my own creations. This particular one is based on Soup Addict’s Ramen Noodle Stir Fry but I changed a few key things to suit our tastes better and figured I’d share them with the group.

Bacon & Broccoli Ramen Stir-Fry

Sauce
2 tbs fish sauce
2 tbs soy sauce
1 tsp grated ginger
1 tsp grated garlic
1 tbs sesame oil
1 tsp brown sugar
1 tbs rice wine vinegar
2 tsp hoisin sauce

Stir-Fry
3 packages of ramen
Half package bacon, diced
Head of broccoli, cut into florets
8 oz mushrooms – I used baby bellas
1 red bell pepper, diced
1 tsp grated garlic
1 tsp grated ginger
1 egg, lightly beaten

1. Mix all the sauce ingredients in a bowl.

2. Cook bacon in a large skillet or wok. Remove from pan when done to your liking. We like ours pretty crunchy. Remove some bacon fat if desired.

3. Cook mushrooms, red pepper, broccoli, mushrooms, garlic and ginger in bacon fat for about a minute.

4. Cook ramen. You can either boil water like you would for pasta in which case you should get this set earlier in the process. Going back to my college days, though, I’ve always just soaked my ramen in boiling water for three minutes or so. I filled up our hot pot, turned it on and then poured that hot water over the three packages of noodles in our soup pot, covered and let sit for several minutes until cooked.

5. Mix egg into vegetable mixture. Stir until cooked.

6. Add bacon back in. Combine with cooked noodles and sauce.

As usual, I like to get all my chopping done ahead of time, so I worked on the broccoli, mushrooms and pepper first. I also grated my garlic and ginger. We keep our ginger in the freezer and grate on a rasp as needed which not only keeps the ginger for a longer period of time, but also gives a more solid grate when needed. Since I’m already using that particular kitchen tool, I started using it on the garlic as well which works great, just watch your fingers.

I only just realized that the original recipe calls for a scrambled egg to be put in the dish instead of a beaten one. I like the way I did it better because it distributes the egg throughout the dish in a different way while still getting that additional protein in. However, if you wanted to continue the obvious breakfast theme you could go with the scrambled.

Next time I make this, I think I might add in some watercress and/or snow peas to bring in even more veggies. All in all, though, I think this recipe will be a good addition to the rotation, especially as things (hopefully) start warming up soon and I won’t want to sweat my face off in the kitchen. There’s also the potential to use a variety of other types of noodles or rice here. I like the simplicity of using ramen packets, but they’re probably not the healthiest things in the world. Maybe I can try making my own someday.

Cooking Closet Cooking’s Fully Loaded Hasselback Potatoes

From the age of 16 until I moved out to New York to start working for Wizard, I worked in a bagel shop in my home town of Toledo, Ohio called The Bagel Place, but everyone called it Barry’s Bagels. In addition to the circular bread delights so popular out here in New York, they also served sandwiches, soup, a variety of offerings on the salad bar and baked potatoes. Depending on what position you were working on a particular day, you were either making these things in the back, preparing them for customers up front or throwing away the remnants in the bussing room.

One of the unexpected treats of working there (at least for the first few years) was a pretty solid list of free food you can have on break. While I wasn’t overly familiar with baked potatoes before that, I became quite adept at creating a variety of options for customer and myself. What do you expect from a bunch of kids with access to a ton of food who get tired of eating the same thing over and over again?

This is a long winded way of saying that, when I saw a recipe on Closet Cooking for something called Fully Loaded Hasselback Potatoes, I was intrigued, especially because that super starchy part of my life mostly came to an end when I moved east as  a young man. The basic idea of the Hasselback is you thinly slice a potato about 4/5 of the way down the tuber, top them with garlic and butter and bake them. Before they’re done, you pull them out, sprinkle with cheese and bacon, pop back in and then serve with sour cream and chives.

I’ve actually cooked these a few times now and have tried a few different variations. The first time, I didn’t cut the slices thin enough, which meant they didn’t cook evenly. I also melted the butter and poured them over the potato before baking. The second time I went thinner which made for more evenly cooked tuber slices. I think I also mistakenly put the cheese on before baking which wasn’t the worst mistake in the world, but it definitely changed the flavor of the cheddar.

You could really do a lot with this basic recipe. At the Bagel Place, we sold broccoli and cauliflower potatoes as well as steak tips and gravy. Those are just two possibilities that could easily translate into the Hasselback format. And, if you think a potato isn’t quite meal-worthy, I’d challenge that assumption. One giant potato topped with cheese, bacon, chives and sour cream all cut up makes for a very hardy meal. Give it a whirl!

Cooking Nigella Lawson’s Beer-Braised Beef Casserole

A month or two back I sat down with my usual stack of cookbooks and wound up walking away with several recipes from Nigella Kitchen. I had about an equal number of hits as misses, but this one, more fully titled Carbonnade a la Flamand (a.k.a. Beer-Braised Beef Casserole, page 330) was a home run. This recipe is super easy to make, but you do need several hours for it to cook. Since I work from home, this wasn’t such a big deal, but if you’re working full time and like to cook, I’d recommend giving in a whirl on a nice fall or winter weekend.

You might be wondering about that first photo above. That’s molasses in some sugar because I realized just as I was about to make this dish that we didn’t have any brown sugar. I’ve since remedied this, but after looking up what brown sugar actually is (sugar mixed with molasses), I figured this would be a good workaround. I think it worked out pretty well.

Anyway, I wasn’t familiar with this recipe by name, but it’s pretty similar to others I’ve made. You start off by cooking bacon in your Dutch oven. When it’s done to the crispness of your liking — we like ours nice and crunchy — you then cook onions in the bacon fat. This infuses not only the pungent veggies, but the whole dish with a rich fatiness that plays well with the right ingredients. The beef and spices go into the pot after that followed by flour and then the beer and beef broth. I happened to have a Brooklyn Brewery sampler pack on hand, but I can’t tell exactly which kind I used because that pic is so blurry.

And then you just let it cook for three hours. The recipe suggests putting it in the oven, but I just let it simmer on the stove top and thought the results were delightful. The beef takes on a sweet, tangy quality that made this dish a delight both fresh and as leftover. Unfortunately, I didn’t read the entire opening story before this recipe because if I had, I would have noticed the part about serving this meal over egg noodles which would have really soaked everything up. I’m definitely keeping that in mind for a nice winter meal.

Cooking Heirloom Grilled Cheese Sandwich & Chunky Tomato Bacon Soup

After hitting up a great farm stand and making caprese with heirloom tomatoes, I knew I’d have a few left over and did a little looking around on FoodNetwork.com until I came across Rick Massa’s Heirloom Grilled Cheese Sandwich and Chunky Tomato Bacon Soup which fit the bill pretty perfectly. I did a few things differently than the suggested recipe, though. First and foremost, I didn’t do all that stuff with the butter and whatnot. A while back, my wife turned me on to a grilled cheese method that’s pretty fantastic: put mayonnaise on the sides of the bread that will be exposed to the pan (I used a flat cast iron skillet). I also decided to bake the bacon, as I have in the past. I like this method because you don’t have to watch it like you do on the stovetop.

Before actually making or assembling the sandwiches, but after putting the bacon in the oven, I got to work on the tomato soup. For me, BLTs and grilled cheese always have a connection to tomato soup, but growing up, it was usually the canned stuff from Campbell’s with a little milk thrown in. I thought this soup would be pretty solid thanks to the bacon involved, but it actually wound up being kind of thick and not overly interesting. It wound up being more like sauce than a soup. Part of the problem was that I put the whole tiny can of tomato paste into the mix, which I realized after the fact probably lead to the problem. We wound up not eating much of it, but I did freeze it, to be thawed up and possibly mixed with some chicken stock to thin out a little ways down the line.

Back to the sandwiches, though, they were fantastic. I got the bread prepped with Dijon mustard on the insides as well as the cheese on both sides of the bread, tomato and some of the bacon. After that it was just a matter of throwing them on the cast iron pan one at a time. Once I flipped them, I smushed it down with another cast iron pan (be careful, even though it’s not directly on the heat, this pan will get hot!). Oh, I nearly forgot, I also steamed the green beans that I bought along with the heirloom tomatoes which came out delightfully crisp and clean-tasting. The grilled cheese was just wonderful and, like with the caprese from yesterday, got a nice boost of flavor from the heirloom tomatoes. I’ve got to say, I’m pretty partial to those green ones!

Cooking Rachael Ray’s Bacon Burger Mac N Cheese


Our two year old daughter loves macaroni and cheese. I mean, who doesn’t, right? But she’s all over it. In fact, the dish holds such a special place in her tiny little head that pretty much everything with noodles is “macos and cheese” to her. As such, I’ve been looking around for various ways of cooking mac and cheese and seem to not be doing a great job of it. The general problem I keep running into is that cheddar’s just not doing it for me on the creamy scale. I’ve got to come up with something else to throw in there that really brings that out, but until then, I’m keeping track of the recipes I like in hopes that I can return to them later on and really knock them out with a few different cheeses.

Rachael Ray’s Bacon Burger Mac N Cheese is one such recipe. The only deviations I made from the recipe included replacing a bit of the milk with water (which is another factor in the creaminess factor) and I also ground up my own beef. Aside from that it was business as usual.

While I wished it was cheesier, the resulting dish was still super tasty. I enjoyed the bacon in there — adding one of the best foods to one of the best dishes just makes sense when you ponder it — and think the fresh ground beef added a fresher note, but I was also surprised with how much I enjoyed the faint hints at ketchup and mustard in the dish.

It might sound strange, but I’d really like to try this dish with more homemade and locally sourced ingredients. Beef and bacon from a local farm, some homemade ketchup and pasta and even some local cheese. I think you could have something really special and hearty hear with a few alterations.

Cooking Carbonara With Frisee & Lemon

Have I talked about my Big Blue Binder before? That’s where I keep all the recipes I find in various magazines that I want to try. I’ve got that mystery subscription to Good Housekeeping that I’m considering renewing as I type. I also get the free mag Hannaford gives out called Fresh. I go through those, rip out pages, shove them into clear sleeves and get to them when I get to them. At some point I must have gone through one of my wife’s issues of Martha Stewart Living and came across a page with four different pasta recipes including one for Fusilli Carbonara With Frisee & Lemon.

The whole recipe for this dish fits on a quarter of a sheet, so it’s pretty simple. Get your water going, cook the bacon, mix the eggs and parmesan cheese, clean the frisee and juice the lemons. The greens go in a bowl, the bacon cools and de-greases on some paper towels until you can break it up. Once the pasta’s done, drop that into another bowl and mix with the egg and cheese mixture. Once that’s together stir in the lemon juice, mix again and combine with the bacon and greens.

I actually remember the very first person who ever made carbonara for me: my friend Geof’s dad. They lived around the corner from us and Geof and I became friends after they moved to the neighborhood in third or fourth grade. We spent countless summer days hanging out together along with his older sister and younger brother and I had the pleasure of spending many a wonderful dinner at their house. One of those meals was carbonara, a traditional Italian dish of pasta, bacon and eggs where the eggs are poured over the pasta right after its done, cooking them upon contact.

This version of carbonara has a few more bells and whistles — and isn’t nearly as good as Geof’s dad’s if memory serves — but it made for a really nice dinner. Our two-year-old daughter has developed a real taste for macaroni and cheese (or “macos and cheese” as she calls it) so anything with pasta and cheese ranks pretty high on her list of favorite foods. You add in bacon, another favorite, and this turned out to be a real hit with everyone.

Walt Disney World Bonus Food Pics: BBQ At Whispering Canyon Cafe & Pork Belly From Waves

bbq On Monday my wife, dad and I went on the Disney Backstage Magic tour which takes you on an all-day tour of the park behind the scenes. Since it really does last all day they stop at a place called Whispering Canyon Cafe in the Wilderness Lodge hotel that’s got a real country western theme. They’ve got a regular menu, but also a family style barbecue thing where they bring big plates of food to your table and you all just dig in. As it turned out, there were the perfect number of people on the tour to fill three big tables and then one with just three people. We were that table of three which was great because I don’t like the idea of other people accidentally touching my food.

Anyway, the food itself was pretty great. The menu describes the Family Platter as including “Kansas City-style Smoked Pork Ribs, Herb-baked Chicken, Hand-carved Oak-roasted Beef Strip Loin, Citrus-crusted Market Fish, Western-style Sausage Sides fro Sharing: Seasonal Farm Fresh Vegetables, Herb-crushed Yukon Gold Potatoes, Cowboy-style Baked Beans, Corn on the Cob.” I’m pretty sure we didn’t have fish or beef stip loin, but the ribs were fall-off-the-bone cooked and super tasty but the real star of the show was that sausage which I could have eaten a whole plate of. I’m not sure if a huge heavy barbecue lunch is the best idea when doing a Backstage Tour, but it was tasty.

waves pork belly and tenderloin For dinner we ate at a restaurant called The Wave…Of American Flavors in the Contemporary Resort. I feel like I kind of screwed up while eating at The Wave. While my family went with some fancy steaks, I decided to try the “Thompson Farms Naturally Raised Pork Belly and Tenderloin with White Bean Cassoulet and Locally-sourced Vegetables.” What drew me to this dish is the fact that so many chefs and food personalities that I like and appreciate say that pork belly is supposed to be one of the best foods around. Unfortunately it didn’t do a whole lot for me and just kinda tasted like fatty bacon. It wasn’t bad and I didn’t really know what I was expecting, but it didn’t exactly send fireworks through my brain like in Ratatouille. However the tenderloin — small as it was — was fantastic as was the cassoulet, though I wound up passing that to my daughter who really loved it.

waves sherbert dessert

Since the Disney Dining Plan comes with dessert (I’d personally rather have an appetizer, but I’m a team player) I had a lot more dessert during that vacation than I normally would. The desserts at The Wave are pretty neat because they all come in little tiny dishes and you get three of them. I went with “Our Spring Gelato Trio: Mandarin Orange Gelato, Chocolate Malt Gelato, and Toasted Marshmallow Gelato” because I didn’t want to pile it on too heavy. And it was actually really tasty. My favorite was the marshmallow gelato because it really did taste like toasted marshmallows which are one of the desserts I really enjoy.