My parents were in town last weekend, and we decided to take a quick culinary trip to Italy: homemade pasta and rice (riso) gelato.
A couple years ago, we got my parents a pasta maker attachment for their mixer. It's pretty cool- you make the dough (flour, egg, water, salt), combine in the mixer, and then (after a quick rest) run it through the pasta attachments. The first one thins it out, and the second slices it into noodles. Depending on which model you get, you can make different kinds of pasta. Theirs makes spaghetti, linguine, and fettucine.
Check it out:
Make the dough, and form it into balls.
Last, change attachments, and slice it into noodles. Easy!
After dinner, we had rice gelato. Rice is one of those flavors that sounds weird, but tastes pretty good- like a frozen, blended, rice pudding. I first had it in Florence, at the suggestion of Rick Steves
. This is one of the more labor intensive flavors I've made (and anyone who's read any of my posts knows how I feel about labor intensive recipes). Luckily, my mom was there, and she did the heavy lifting. (Thanks mom! ..Although thinking about it, she did the heavy lifting for the pasta too.)Start by baking the rice with some milk, sugar, salt, a vanilla bean, and an orange peel. Sounds like it would make a good rice pudding, right?
I think this could have used more milk, but it still tasted good.
One surprise here is the addition of raw egg yolks, after the rice/milk mixture is baked. I don't know if the milk is supposed to be hot enough to cook the eggs, but we decided to return the whole thing to the oven until it was 165 degrees.
Then blend half the rice mixture (pouring it into a separate bowl makes this step a lot easier).
Chill in the fridge and then churn in the machine. This ice cream freezes really hard, even right out of the machine (most recipes come out like soft serve). When you take this out of the freezer, give it 5-10 minutes to warm up a little (Or pop the whole thing in the microwave, if you're really impatient).
Adapted from Perfect Scoop.
- 1/2 cup Italian Arborio rice
- 3 cups whole milk
- 3/4 cup sugar
- pinch of salt
- 1 vanilla bean, split in half lenghtwise
- Two 1-inch-wide strips of orange zest
- 5 large egg yolks (save the whites for use later)
- 1 cup half-and-half or cream
- Pinch of freshly grated nutmeg
- Preheat the oven to 350. In a 1.75 to 2 quart baking dish, mix together the rice, milk 1/4 cup of the sugar and the salt. Add the vanilla bean and strips of orange zest (I made the mistake of actually scraping out the vanilla, but it’s not really a mistake… it’s delicious.)
- Cover the dish with aluminum foil and bake for 1 hour. Remove the rice from the oven and remove the foil. Stir in the remaining 1/2 cup sugar, then continue to bake the rice, uncovered for another 30 minutes.
- Remove the rice from the oven a second time, remove the vanilla bean and orange zest and briskly whisk in the egg yolks at once. Then whisk in the half and half or cream and nutmeg.
- Puree half of the rice mixture in a blender or food processor until chopped fine then stir it back into the cooked rice.
- Chill the mixture in the fridge then freeze it in your ice cream maker according to the manufacturer’s directions.
Every once in a while, you'll have a need to go above and beyond your usual weeknight fare. There's nothing wrong with roasting a chicken (a weekly occurrence in my house), but as the weeks pile up, even your best dishes start to feel over-used.
I roast a mean chicken, but I can see how having it every week would get old.
This brings us to Valentine's Day. Although it's an artificial 'holiday', manufactured jointly by the flower, candy, and note card industries, many of us feel pressured to reach past our hackneyed go-tos, for something better, something more romantic than usual. While this year's Valentine's Day is safely behind us, I'm sure each of us has our own red-letter day approaching on the calendar. And in preparation for that day, I offer my strategy for this past Valentine's day: dinner and the gift. Let's start with dinner.
Katie likes scallops, to the point where they're a mainstay of her fancy-restaurant order. I don't think I've made them more than once or twice over the years; I guess you could say I'm intimidated by them.. so small and seemingly simple, yet correspondingly easy to overcook.
But this year, I was ready for the challenge. Armed with this recipe for Seared Scallops
from FoodWishes*, I cranked my stove up to High, opened a window to stop the fire alarm from going off, and went to work.
- Rinse and pat dry the scallops.
- Heat the pan on High. Keep going.. really, keep going. It's not hot enough yet. (It'll take a good three to four minutes)
- When the pan is hot**, add some fat. Vegetable oil is a good choice, since it has a higher smoke point than olive oil.
- Add the scallops to the pan, turn the heat down to medium-high, and don't touch them for about three minutes. In the video, Chef John makes the point that you can't really give a universal recommendation for time- go watch the video.
- Salt and pepper this side.
- Flip the scallops, and cook until done (salt and pepper this side too).
- Let them rest, serve, and eat.
Obviously, you can't serve the scallops alone on a plate. You need something equally classy to complement them.. something like polenta.
Here's Alton Brown's recipe
- it's really good, but I'm too lazy to spell it out here. Basically, you saute some onion and garlic in a big pot, bring some chicken stock to a boil, add the cornmeal, then bake, stirring occasionally.
To round out the meal, consider some vegetables, like kale chips and artichokes. If you did it right, it should come out something like this:
It tasted even better than it looked, too.
Coming soon.. part II of my Valentine's Day Strategy- the gift.
* Jump to about 2:50 in the video for cooking the scallops. I didn't make the orange and jalapeno dressing.
** This Quora thread includes a cool video that shows you how to tell when your pan is hot enough. http://www.quora.com/What-is-the-trick-technique-for-cooking-with-stainless-steel-pans
Brussel sprouts, like Hansel, are so hot right now. This recipe is a great winter dish, full of garlic and heat- and, much like the Heaven and Hell pasta, not a good choice before talking with someone you're trying to impress.
My dad sent me the recipe to try from the New York Times
, and I'm a huge fan. Like everything else I make, it's really easy (although you will probably need to make a run to the store for the pancetta). While you're there, make sure you've got brussel sprouts, a jalapeno, plenty of garlic, and a box of penne (although while Katie was gone I made this without the pasta, and it was still good).
1. Do your prep work now, and everything else is simple.
- Start a big pot of water boiling (if you're making the pasta)
- Wash, dry, and slice the brussel sprouts
- Chop the rosemary
- Crush and peel the garlic (I chopped it into big chunks- you don't want to mince this, or it'll burn)
- Chop the jalapeno (and be sure not to touch your eyes)
- Chop the pancetta (or bacon).. I did this step last, since I wasn't sure if cured bacon counts as raw meat
2. Heat a large pan on medium high, add the oil, and when it's hot, cook the pancetta and rosemary until the fat from the pancetta starts to lightly brown (1 min)
3. Add the jalapeno, garlic and some fresh black pepper until the pancetta is a rich brown (3 min)
4. Add the sprouts, a large pinch of salt and a splash of water, and saute the sprouts until they start to soften (2 min)
5. Spread the sprouts in the pan and press them down with the spatula- you want them to brown.
6. Let them sear for a minute, toss and repeat.
7. When pasta is almost done, add the butter and toss.
8. When the pasta is ready, drain it and add to the pan. Toss and drizzle on some olive oil, and serve.
The timing above comes from the Times recipe- I found it all to take significantly longer than they did, but I didn't weigh my brussel sprouts, so maybe I was using more than they did. For that matter, you should buy your sprouts on those huge stalks, not in a bag. Not because I think they're any better (although they probably are, right? I mean, they're still on the 'tree'), but because it looks a lot cooler.
If you're not into the pancetta or bacon, you could probably just use more olive oil, but you'll lose out on the porky goodness. Maybe you could try turkey sausage? And if you're a vegetarian- I'm sorry. (What? Oh- you could probably make this dish without the meat and it would still be good. I was just commiserating with the vegetarians for missing out on meat, one of life's great pleasures).
My mom is awesome. Now, I know what you're thinking- your mom is pretty awesome too. And okay, she probably is. But did your mom just send you a bag of homemade chocolate-covered pretzels? Didn't think so.
Check these out:
An unsuspecting observer might look at these and shrug- they look like chocolate-covered pretzels. But what you don't know (and unfortunately can't tell from the pictures) is that there's a layer of homemade caramel in between the pretzel and the chocolate. Making these chocolate- and caramel-covered pretzels!
See that stuff in between the white chocolate and the pretzel? That's the caramel.
Mmmm.. caramel. That's what puts this over the top.
Even better, she takes requests. So I get white chocolate, and Katie gets dark. (Don't worry, she gave us equal numbers; Katie just ate hers faster).
Thanks mom- you're the best!
There are lots of parties during the holiday season. Hopefully you were invited to some of them. If you went, you probably brought the host or hostess a bottle of wine, just like everyone else. Don't you wish you could have shown a little originality* and brought them a delicious, homemade dessert for their (and your) dining pleasure?
I usually go with ice cream for this sort of thing, but that takes advance planning. Luckily, my friend Emi introduced me to a great dessert that lends itself well to any occasion. I've used this four times over the last month or so: once in Tennessee to supplement the dessert table at Christmas; once for Katie to bring to her work holiday part; once to bring to Brad's DC Thanksgiving; and once .. okay, once I was hungry and wanted to use up the rest of the rice krispies.**
The point being, if you're going to a holiday party and need something to bring, these supercharged rice krispy treats taste great and are really easy to make. (Thanks Emi!)***
Here's what you'll need:
- 1 C corn syrup
- 1 C sugar
- 1 C creamy peanut butter. Make sure to get Jiff or Skippy or Peter Pan... you don't want to use natural (ie, just peanuts) peanut butter for this. And get the regular, full-fat variety. I wasn't thinking about it, and I used low-fat when I made them for Brad's house. Still good, but they came out a little hard.
- 6 C rice krispies
- 1 C chocolate morsels
- 1 C butterscotch morsels
Ready, set, go!
1. Mix Karo syrup and sugar in a large saucepan on medium-high until it starts to bubble.****
2. Turn off the heat and stir in the peanut butter.
3. Add the rice krispies and stir to combine
4. Flatten in a greased, 9x13 pan. (Don't line with foil, unless you grease the foil too. Otherwise, you'll have trouble peeling the tin foil off).
While that's cooling, make the topping:
1. In a small saucepan on low heat, add the chocolate and butterscotch morsels, and stir occasionally until they melt.
2. Spread the mixture over the rice crispy mixture.
The chocolate/butterscotch layer will harden as it cools, but if the rice krispies are still hot, it'll take awhile, so don't start melting the morsels until the krispies are mostly cool.
Then slice and enjoy!
* Re-reading this, I'm struck by the irony of 'originality', for a recipe I got from a friend, which I promptly used four times.
** In my defense, knowing that I would inevitably eat the whole thing (Katie was out of town), I made a quarter-recipe and left off the chocolate topping.. and then promptly ate the whole thing.
*** Sure, the holidays are behind us, but better late than never. Besides, there's always next year.
**** Just an extra footnote for Mike. Hi Mike!
Ouch. My stomach hurts. It's the result of the last several days of heroic kitchen duty. We were in a small town outside of Nashville, and I couldn't insult our hosts by not enthusiastically eating their food.
Put another way, I stuffed myself silly on Southern food. And it was awesome. Here's a quick recap of what we ate:
We flew in Friday evening, and ate dinner at the house:
- Boiled ham // Calling this out to differentiate it from country ham
- Turnip greens
- White beans
- Cracklin' bread (cornbread + cracklins)
Saturday breakfast at the Cracker Barrel
- A meat sampler of country ham, sausage, and bacon
I was stuffed from breakfast, so didn't really eat again until dinner at The Catfish House
- Fried catfish
- Coleslaw (two styles, mayo and vinegar)
- Hush puppies
- Fried okra
- Fried corn on the cob. (Yes, fried corn on the cob. And it was awesome.)
- Sweet tea
The next morning, we went to the Beacon Light Tea Room
(first opened in 1936) for their specialty, country ham.
- Country ham and eggs
We skipped lunch again Sunday, and then had leftovers for dinner.
- Country and boiled ham
- Cracklin' bread
Monday morning, Katie I picked up some bagels, as a break from the cholesterol. It was a short break. Monday dinner was Christmas Eve, and it was back to the trenches:
- Chicken and dumplings
- Dressing (aka stuffing)
- Mashed potatoes
- Cranberry sauce
- And coconut cake, chocolate cake, scotcharoos**, and date balls for dessert.
Tuesday morning was more leftovers. Knowing that my Southern-fried vacation was coming to an end, I piled my plate high with ham, chicken and dumplings, and dressing.
That may not have been the best strategy, as we soon went to someone's house for Christmas dinner (aka lunch). I wasn't at all hungry, but we had to be at the airport by 3 pm, and I didn't want to insult my hosts by not enjoying their food.
- Mac and cheese
- Creamed corn
- Mashed potatoes
- Fried rice
- Green beans
- Sweet tea
- And a plate of coconut cake and carrot cake for the wait at the airport
Over Christmas Dinner, a kindly octagenarian with failing eyesight told me stories about the pistol she keeps at home, and gave me her recipe for chicken and dumplings:
- Cook your chicken ("the bone parts"), and separate from the bones (ie, shred)
- Combine flour, lard, and buttermilk ("I don't measure")
- Pat it down (ie, rolled it out) and cut it into strips
- Bring your chicken stock to a boil, and add the strips
- Stir with a wooden spoon ("not a metal spoon!" .. something about it giving the dumplings a metallic taste)
- When they float, they're done
- Add the chicken, and serve
I was curious about the amounts, so I took a quick look online. I was surprised to see that this is very similar to Alton Brown's recipe:
Katie doesn't let me bring tuna salad to work. She doesn't want me to be the stinky guy, whose lunch smells up the office. She says I need to be there a few months first, and prove that I add value to the company, before I can start ignoring cube farm etiquette.
Along the same line, you may not want to bring this pasta dish to work for lunch. Or, for that matter, eat it before talking to someone who you're trying to impress, at any time of day.
I first came across this Heaven and Hell pasta
recipe a couple years ago, but never proposed it for dinner since I was pretty sure Katie would exercise her veto. You know, because of the anchovies. The _raw_ anchovies.* But the Amateur Gourmet
does such a great job selling this dish, I made Katie read the blog post before making her decision. And, surprisingly, it worked.
Check that out.. a tin of anchovies, a couple cloves of garlic, a pile of whole fennel seeds, and crushed red pepper. This is not for the faint of heart. But all the parts work really well together. You should try it. Really, try it tonight. Okay, if you don't have any anchovies in the house, stop at the store on the way home tomorrow night, and make it then. It's that good.
* a box of penne (or similarly-shaped) pasta
* a head of cauliflower (although I bet this would also work with broccoli, but I feel like cauliflower is _in_ right now, so this is your chance to be one of the cool kids)
* a tin of anchovies
* a head of garlic
* some crushed red pepper or a jalapeno pepper
* whole fennel seeds
1. Chop the cauliflower into bite-sized pieces (Err on the side of smaller pieces.. these won't shrink that much, and this will make it easier to eat.)
2. Prep your flavor bowl: Chop and combine garlic, anchovies, fennel, and crushed red pepper
3. Start the pasta water (I always under-estimate how long it takes a large pot of water to come to a boil.. get this started now, and you can always let it boil until you're ready).
4. Heat a large pan, add some olive oil, and brown half the cauliflower (I fit half the head in one pan; if your pan is smaller, you may need to do it in three batches. That's okay- you want it to brown, not steam).
5. When the cauliflower is browned, remove it to a bowl and do the second half.
<Ideally, you want the water to come to a boil right when you finish browning the second batch of cauliflower. Pause here until the cauliflower and water are both ready>
6. Return the first half of cauliflower to the pan, and add half of the flavor bowl -- toss and cook for 30 seconds.
7. Add pasta to the pot.
8. Ladle one scoop of the pasta water into the pan and toss (if the water sputters and spurts when you add it, lower the heat.)
9. Cook until water is gone
10. Continue adding a scoop of pasta water and cooking it down until the pasta is cooked.
11. When the pasta is ready, transfer it to the pan with a spider or big slotted spoon (Don't worry about shaking off all the water off the pasta- you want to bring some water with it).
12. Cook the cauliflower and pasta until most of the water is gone.
13. Turn off heat, and add a splash of olive oil, the rest of the flavor bowl, and grated cheese (I never have any cheese on hand, so I skip that step)
Eat. And then think about brushing your teeth. Because in case I was too subtle in the intro, you're gonna have bad breath after eating this. But it's worth it. Besides, I barely know any single people anymore, so it's not like any of you have anyone to impress.
Katie has told me before that I can't multi-task, and making this dish did nothing to change her mind. For some reason, the way the directions are written in the original blog post didn't stick in my head, and I had a lot of trouble thinking through each step in advance. I won't lie- there may have been some chaos in the kitchen for a little while.
But now that I've made this, I can easily make it again. (From start to finish, you can do this in a solid 30 minutes.) The experience also called out how much I appreciate FoodWishes' video blogging approach, since I can see exactly what he means, if he says 'caramelize the cauliflower until they're golden brown'. Golden brown, really? This is cauliflower. It goes from white to pale to spotty brown. There's no golden there, that I've ever seen.
Prepping the anchovies
Ready to go. (I used egg noodles since I didn't have any penne on hand).
* Okay, they're not actually raw. They're from a can, and like tuna fish from a can, they're already cooked. But since you add half the can of anchovies at the end, and they're only warmed through .. but 'raw' reads better than writing out all of this.
Besides, this was my first time cooking with anchovies, and they've won me over. I think anchovies get a bad rap. You should give them a chance.
I make french fries at home a lot. They're easy: get a couple potatoes, slice them up, toss them in oil, and roast. But they're never great- never restaurant quality. So I started reading recipes online, and found two that claim to offer crisp french fries out of the oven. Over a couple of weeks I made both recipes, but when I asked Katie which she preferred, she didn't know. She said she needed to do a side-by-side taste test.
And with that, I present to you, the First Annual* French Fry Face Off. In this corner, in the white flower bowl, the challenger, Instructable's Crispy Oven Baked French Fries.
The challenger was a recipe that caught my eye because it specifically set out to solve the issue of crispy french fries out of the oven. It calls for steaming the potatoes in the microwave, followed by tossing them in a mix of cornstarch and oil, before baking.
I tried this last week, and it failed miserably- both Katie and I could taste the cornstarch on the fries. But I liked the idea of steaming the potatoes before roasting them, so for this challenge, I ditched the cornstarch but kept the microwave steam bath. And in this corner, in the blue bowl, coming all the way from the great state of Vermont and America's Test Kitchen (via Smells Like Home), the heavyweight champion of the world, Baked Oven Fries!
I'm a huge fan of America's Test Kitchen. These guys test all kinds of variables in every recipe they produce, and I was sure these would be good. Plus, this recipe came from their cookbook The New Best Recipe
. The recipe calls for soaking the potatoes in hot water for 10-20 minutes, and then steaming them in the oven (by covering the pan with tin foil), before removing the foil and roasting. And there's the bell!
I started out with two (mostly) identical potatoes, and chopped them into thin french fries. Then I put one batch to soak with hot water, put the other in the microwave, and prepped the pans.
After the 20 minutes was up, I drained both bowls and dried the potatoes on paper towel. From there, onto the pans and into the oven.
I'm proud of myself for this one .. I knew I would forget which pan was which, so I laid out one batch the long way and the other the short way.
After five minutes, I removed the foil cover, and back to the oven.
After 15 minutes, I flipped the potatoes (and swapped the pans in the oven racks)
And finally, we're done.
Into the bowls for the judging!
For reference, the ones that were steamed (the Challenger) was arranged the long way on pan, and ended up in the white bowl. The Champion (soaked and covered with foil) was arranged the short way on the pan, and didn't flip as well (although my picture of this didn't come out).
I suveyed the audience**, and hear are some excerpts from what they said:
(Note- I didn't tell them which anything about the technique or recipe until after the tasting)
- These are crispy on the outside and softer on the inside
- Definitely chewier on the inside
- These are overcooked, that's why they're so crispy
The judges are ready with their results: Winner, and still heavyweight champion of the world .. the Blue bowl (aka America's Test Kitchen)!
- These have a better crust
- These are really good.. almost like they're salted on the inside
- Definitely a better crust on these
After the winner was announced, Steamed could be heard shouting "Give me another chance.. they overcooked me .. i cook faster because I partially cook in the microwave!"
While both were good (definitely better than recent batches), the ATK recipe got the nod. All that said, I'll probably go with Steam in the future, because of 1) the shorter prep time, 2) no need to worry about covering with/removing foil, and 3) it cooks faster.
Want to do a taste test at home? The full recipes are linked above, but here's the quick and dirty approach:
- Preheat the oven to 475. Do that now- it takes awhile.
- Wash and dry the potatoes (I never bother to peel them), and chop them thin.
- With one batch (batch A), soak them in hot water for 10-20 minutes.
- With the other (batch B), put them in a bowl, cover it with a plate, and nuke the whole thing for 4 minutes.
- When they're ready, drain the hot water from batch A and dry on paper towels.Do the same for batch B, but watch out for the steam when you lift the plate.
- Put some oil (I used 1 TBL for each batch) on the pans, and sprinkle with kosher salt.
- Toss the fries with another 1 TBL oil (each), and arrange on the pans
- Cover batch A's pan with tin foil (you want a tight seal, if possible), and put both pans in the oven
- After five minutes, remove the foil from batch A (again, watch out for the steam), and return to the oven.
- After a total cook time of 15 minutes, flip the fries, and swap them on the racks (ie, put the one that was on the bottom shelf on top, and vice versa).
- After another 15 minutes, check on the fries- they should be crispy. They may be done, or they may need another 5-10 minutes.
- When they're done, serve (although some recipes say to blot the oil and add more salt .. I don't bother with either step).
Want to know way to much about the differences in potato varieties at the chemical level? Check out this post on from America's Test Kitchen
. I was hoping for an easy to remember payoff, such as use variety XXX for french fries, but instead, all they gave was the rather general...
And what does this all mean? Because each type of potato has a different ratio of starch to moisture and a different ratio of amylose to amylopectin, and each behaves in different ways when exposed to water and heat, it’s important to pay attention to what kind of potato you choose for different recipe.
* Will there be a second? Dunno.. but probably. If nothing else, I'll probably compare today's winner to my standard recipe, to see if the soaking/steaming adds anything.
** By 'audience', I mean Katie, with the more critical comments from me.