Archive | April 2013

Cooking With A Broken Limb (Kitchen Sink Pasta Salad)

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My nerves were getting the best of me as I attempted to crack a safe on an eerily quiet, dark evening. The only sounds I heard were the quiet splat of raindrops on a window and the sound of my heart rapidly beating. I was in the house of a wealthy recluse who was known for hoarding money, jewels, saffron, truffles, and caviar. My credit card bill was due and I had been coveting the Audi R8 and I knew I the only way I could pay for either was to rob a bank or someone rich. There was just one thing in between me and the sexiest car in the world, an abundance of the most expensive spice, and enough cash to last me a lifetime: this stupid safe. I knew I shouldn’t have trusted Safe Cracking for Dummies, it wasn’t any help at all and I had no idea how I was going to crack a supposedly uncrackable safe.

I was contemplating my next move when I heard footsteps. I tried not to hyperventilate; concerned any sounds I made might make my presence known.  I could have spent a few more minutes trying to open that damn safe, but I decided to make a run for it, sprinted towards the nearest window, and jumped out. Thankfully the sidewalk broke my fall and prevented me from serious injury. I was thankful to only have broken my ankle.

….

Okay, so maybe I broke my ankle when I fell down while walking. I was on my way to meet up with some friends.

Hobbling around on crutches tends to lead people to ask me what happened to my very broken ankle. I’ve heard such cool stories involving snowboarding, sports, parachute accidents…. It’s just kind of sad that that the sidewalk was wet, I slipped, and I managed to break my ankle. I’m totally open to any stories I can tell people since I’m sick of telling the same boring account of how I sustained my injury.

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Being on crutches has made cooking a bit of a problem. I’m very reliant on the amazing people in my life to feed me and chauffeur me about. Most endeavors in the kitchen have turned out with subpar results. I haven’t had much creativity and even when I have hobbled into the kitchen with my crutches nothing has turned out very well. It’s been discouraging to have less than stellar results and there’s only one thing that stands out as a success: Kitchen Sink Pasta Salad.

I stumbled across a recipe for an intriguing pasta salad on The Amateur Gourmet a while back. I enjoy his blog and had success with the one other recipe of his I’ve made. What I liked about this recipe is that it isn’t so much a recipe, but a guideline in which you can switch out ingredients for others, basically use whatever is convenient.

My version follows the original pretty closely, but with a few alterations. If you make this, feel free to add whatever you have on hand!

Kitchen Sink Pasta Salad

Adapted from Kitchen Sink Pasta Salad 

  • 1 lb penne (the squiggly corkscrew ones or ziti would also be nice)
  • ½ cup yogurt (Greek is best, but whatever is on hand will work, so long as it’s plain)
  • Approximately ¼ cup sour cream
  • ¼ cup olive oil
  • ¼ cup apple cider vinegar
  • Salt and pepper
  • Handful of chopped dill
  • Handful of chopped cilantro

The following are the fruits, veggies, and cheese that I used:

  • A few handfuls of diced smoked mozzarella
  • 1 cucumber, seeded and diced
  • 2 shallots, medium dice
  • 1 plum, diced
  • 1 nectarine, diced
  • A few stems of celery, diced
  • One tomato, diced (I recommend roasting your tomato first, which is what I did)

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1. Cook pasta to al dente

2. While pasta is cooking, mix together yogurt, sour cream, olive oil, vinegar, and salt and pepper to taste. My dressing was super tangy, which I enjoyed. If you want it to have a bit less bite, feel free to add a pinch of sugar.

3. Once pasta is cooked, drain and let cool slightly.

4. While the pasta is warm, but not hot, stir in the yogurt dressing. You want the pasta to still be warm as it will “drink” up some of the dressing and make the pasta more flavorful. It may look like you have too much dressing, but keep in mind you’ll add your remaining ingredients later which also need to be coated in dressing.

5. Let cool a few minutes more before adding all remaining ingredients.

I started eating mine when it wasn’t entirely cooled (because I was hangry) and thought it was fine, but preferred it once it had been completely chilled. This pasta salad had so much going on as far as flavor and texture. Creamy, crunch, tangy, sweet. It was an explosion of deliciousness and I can see myself making variations of this forever.

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Pancetta, Pea, and Other Stuff Pasta

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A little over a month ago I was out to dinner at this quaint little Italian restaurant, La Rustica. While everything we ate was very tasty, what really stood out (besides the tiramisu) was a pasta special, which had roasted red peppers, baby peas, caramelized onion, crispy bits of pancetta, finely chopped mushrooms, spaghetti, and a ton of other stuff, all of which were coated in a delicate sauce.

Fast forward a few weeks and I was in need of a quick dinner. La Rustica’s pasta left an impression and when I made a quick stop at the store, I bought many of the ingredients I remembered being included in that dish. The original was divine, but my tweaks and reinterpretation (and decision to just throw everything into a pot rather than roast some, saute others, etc) made for one exceptional pasta dish.

  • 1/3 lb pancetta, chopped into a small dice
  • 8 mushrooms (because 8 is my favorite number), chopped into a small dice
  • 2 shallots, chopped into a small dice
  • 1 red pepper, chopped into a small dice
  • A few cloves of garlic, finely minced
  • A few stems of thyme, leaves removed and finely chopped
  • 1 cup plus a few additional splashes of chicken stock or white wine
  • 1/4 cup cream
  • 1 heaping cup baby peas (I used frozen, because they were cheap and convenient)
  • Salt and pepper
  • 1 lb pasta (I think a spaghetti or linguini would work best, I used whole wheat spaghetti)

Sauté pancetta, mushrooms, shallot, and red pepper in a pan over medium-high heat. Cook for approximately 10-15 minutes, until vegetables have caramelized and pancetta has crisped up.

Add garlic and thyme and cook for a few more minutes.

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Meanwhile, prepare pasta per package instructions (be sure to generously salt the boiling water and cook pasta to al dente, or a minute less than instructed).

Pour in wine or chicken stock and be sure to scrape up any bits of veggies or pancetta stuck to the pan. Continue cooking over medium heat until some of the liquid has evaporated.

Mix in peas and cream. When the sauce is lightly bubbling, taste for seasoning. I used pancetta made by Salumi (a Seattle institution that makes some of my favorite charcuterie), which is incredibly well seasoned. I find it superior to other pancetta as it has a ton of flavor and is full of herbs and salt. As a result, I used very little salt and pepper as the pancetta provided such a punch of flavor.

At this point I strained my pasta, dumped it into the pan of sauce and coated each strand. You’ll want to let the pasta sit in the sauce for a minute or so to ensure it soaks up the flavor of the sauce.

I served the pasta with a small handful of Parmesan cheese and a piece of baguette (and yeah, I just ripped a piece of bread off the loaf seeing as this wasn’t a fancy party that required slicing bread or other nonsense).

Baked Potato Chips and MacGyver Dip

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A while back on a lazy Sunday I went to brunch at one of Seattle’s (many) seafood restaurants, Salty’s on Alki. Every weekend their bar is overtaken by a massive buffet spread with every possible brunch item you can imagine. Made-to-order omelets, crepes, waffles, French toast, pancakes… freshly shucked oysters, jumbo prawns… 15+ kinds of dessert, a build your own Bloody Mary bar… ummmm… a pasta station, freshly prepared eggs benedict… no matter what you’re craving, Salty’s brunch buffet has it and they do an exceptional job of executing it.

Buffets have a bad reputation, and very rightfully so. 99.9% of the time buffets serve incredibly mediocre and usually bad food. Presentation is usually nasty and food items sit in warming dishes for an eternity. I’m pleased to say that Salty’s brunch buffet is very solid and they take pride in serving fresh food. Sure, there were a few misses, but for the most part I ate quality food.

After sampling almost everything I was pretty useless for the day. Food coma doesn’t even come close to describing my sloth-ness. While I SHOULD have had a very light, healthy dinner, I was in a snacking mood and wanted chips and dip. The thought of driving to a store for snacky items just seemed overwhelming so I decided to bake up some potato chips and make some sort of a dip with what I had in the fridge.

Oven Baked Potato Chips

  • One large russet potato, thinly sliced on a mandolin (1/8 inch)
  • A few drizzles of olive oil
  • Salt
  • Pepper (optional)

1. Coat slices of potato in olive oil and salt & pepper.

2. Place coated slices on a parchment lined baking sheet and bake in a preheated 400 degree oven for 20-25 minutes.

I found some of the slices cooked faster than others so I’d recommend checking on them at about 15 minutes and every few minutes after that.

MacGyver Dip

I just used random stuff from my fridge and spice cabinet without measuring. A good dip should be creamy and pack a lot of flavor and should meet whatever flavor profile you’re into. Some hot sauce would be nice, a few cloves of roasted garlic… whatever you have available.

  • A few scoops of sour cream
  • A few scoops of mayo
  • Some leftover roasted red pepper
  • Salt & pepper
  • Caramelized onion (I just used a random half or so of an onion I had)
  • 3 chopped scallions
  • 2 strips of crispy cooked bacon
  • Garlic powder (I am a strong advocate of fresh garlic but I had none)
  • Some cayenne

1. Mix all of the above together, chill, and serve with chips!

(Ugly) Mexican Hot Chocolate Cookies

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I think David Sedaris is the funniest person in the world. In addition to watching Die Hard (since it’s set during Christmas), reading “SantaLand Diaries” and “Six to Eight Black Men” is a Christmas Eve tradition. There’s nothing like cinematic explosions and stories of Christmas shenanigans to get you in the holiday mood.

Choosing a favorite David Sedaris book or story is hard since all of them leave me COL’ing (chuckling out loud). Perhaps it’s because When You Are Engulfed In Flames is the first book of his I read, it might be my favorite. “The Smoking Section” very briefly talks about hotel posters and brochures that depict pantastic deep dish pizzas, appetizers, bacon, and nachos, and how they’re just not photogenic. While bacon and nachos are delicious, I have to agree. They never look very appetizing in pictures.

Yesterday I blogged about the amazing carnitas I made. Since I find dessert integral to any meal, I needed to find an appropriate sweet ending. The thought of flan crossed my mind but then I remembered reading a post on The Amateur Gourmet about Mexican Hot Chocolate Cookies. I love Mexican Hot Chocolate and I love cookies. Seemed like a match made in heaven so I went ahead and made a few changes and served ‘em up with my carnitas (coincidentally Adam Roberts served these with carnitas as well). While I absolutely loved the taste and texture of these cookies, they should be added to David Sedaris’s list of unphotogenic foods. They’re… ummm… probably the ugliest things I’ve made in quite a while. Don’t let that bother you too much. Your taste buds will thank you.  And yeah, Adam’s turned out much prettier than mine.

Mexican Hot Chocolate Cookies

Adapted from The Amateur Gourmet where it was from Back In The Day Bakery Cookbook.

  • 1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 cup very fine walnuts
  • 1/2 pound (2 sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
  • 1 cup packed light brown sugar
  • 1/2 cup Dutch-processed cocoa powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1/4 teaspoon espresso powder or finely ground coffee
  • 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
  • 1/2 cup mini semisweet chocolate chips
  • About 1/4 cup granulated sugar for dusting

1. Line two cookie sheets with parchment paper.

2. Add flour to a medium bowl.

3. In a food processor, pulse walnuts into a very fine crumb. I think this may be why my cookies looked so ugly. Adam’s recipe called for ½ cup of almond flour and mentioned you could finely pulse almonds as an alternative. Someone eating the cookies doesn’t eat almonds and I figured if you could finely pulse almonds you could do the same to walnuts. I could be wrong, and who knows, maybe you just can’t substitute finely pulsed nuts for flour. It’s also important to note that making nuts into a fine powder is tricky, since the oils release and it’s easy to turn it into a paste or butter. At any rate, add your finely pulsed walnuts or almonds (or, if you eat almonds, it’s probably just easier to use almond flour) to your all-purpose flour and set aside.

4. In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment (or in a large mixing bowl using a handheld mixer), cream the butter on medium speed until it is extremely light in color and fluffy (this will take a few minutes).

5. Reduce speed and add in brown sugar, continue to cream for another minute or so.

6. Add in vanilla, cocoa, cinnamon, espresso, salt, and cayenne and mix until mixture is smooth, another minute or so.

7. Gradually add in your flour mixture and mix until combined.

8. With a spatula, give the bowl a few good stirs to make sure everything is combined and then add mini chocolate chips.

9. The original recipe calls for using a small ice cream scoop to form cookies. The Amateur Gourmet and I both liked the idea of larger cookies, so I just divided the dough into 14 even portions for a total of 14 cookies. I rolled them into little balls, placed on my baking sheets, and flattened with the bottom of a glass and then sprinkled with a bit of granulated sugar. Once this step is complete you’ll want to place the trays in the fridge for at least an hour (mine were in there for about 3).

10. Position a rack in the lower third of the oven and preheat the oven to 350 F.

Bake the cookies, one sheet at a time, for 8 to 10 minutes, rotating the pan halfway through the baking time for even doneness. Cool the cookies completely on wire racks.

The texture of these cookies was almost fudgy. They were dense, buttery, creamy, and rich. The spices added great flavor and they were perfectly chocolaty. While baked goods are always better the day they’re made, the texture of these improved the next morning (yes, I had these for breakfast, don’t judge).

Carnitas!

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Carnitas

Adapted from David Lebovitz’s blog Living The Sweet Life In Paris, where it was adapted from The Sweet Life in Paris by David Lebovitz

  • 4-5-pounds boneless pork shoulder, cut into 5-inch chunks, trimmed of excess fat
  • 1 tablespoon salt
  • 2 tablespoons canola or neutral vegetable oil
  • water
  • Juice of one orange
  • 1 cinnamon stick
  • 1 teaspoon chile powder
  • 1 teaspoon ancho chile powder
  • 2 bay leaves
  • ¼ teaspoon ground cumin
  • 3 cloves of garlic, peeled and thinly-sliced

1. Heat oven to 350 degrees.

2. Aggressively season chunks of pork with salt.

3. Heat the oil in a roasting pan set on the stovetop (I used a Dutch Oven, but use anything that can go from the stove to the oven). Cook the pieces of pork in a single layer until very browned on each side. To avoid overcrowding, I cooked my pork in two batches. I’m a touch compulsive when browning meat and to ensure everything was perfectly browned it took me over half an hour. You don’t have to be as picky as me, but don’t rush this process. You want your meat browned on all sides.

4. Once all the pork is browned, remove them from the pot, and blot away any excess grease and fat with a paper towel, then pour in the juice of one orange and a little less than a cup of water, scraping the bottom of the pan with a flat-edged utensil to release all the caramelized brown bits.

4. Stir in cinnamon, chile powders, bay leaves, cumin, and garlic.

5. Add the pork back to the pan and add enough water so the pork pieces are 2/3rd’s submerged in liquid.

7. Braise in the oven uncovered for 2½ to 3½ hours, turning the pork a few times during cooking, until much of the liquid is evaporated and the pork is falling apart. Remove the pan from the oven and lift the pork pieces out of the liquid and set them on a platter. You should plan on letting your pork cook for up to 3½ hours, but it might take less. My pork was beginning to fall apart at 2 hours and change and by 3 hours it was so tender and fell apart by simply lifting a piece out of the pan, and almost all of the liquid had evaporated.

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8. Once the pork pieces are cool enough to handle, shred them into bite-sized pieces, discarding any obvious big chunks of fat if you wish. You can shred the pork by using two forks, or your hands.

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9. The original recipe instructed me to return the pork to the oven and continue cooking the shreds until they developed a deeper, darker color and became even crispier. I found the pork to be perfect. It was tender and moist, yet had plenty of caramelized, crunchy bits so I decided to not cook it further. Use your judgment and cook longer if you like crispier, or serve as is. Whatever floats your boat.

Spanish Rice

This was the only disappointing part of the meal. I won’t bother posting the recipe. It wasn’t that bad, but it just wasn’t very good. I’ve had box mixes with more flavor. Can anyone recommend a good Spanish rice recipe?

 

Corn Tortillas

I LOVE kitchen gadgets. I can’t say a tortilla press was incredibly high up on my list of must-have items, but when I used one and made amazing corn tortillas I couldn’t imagine my life without one. Making tortillas is so simple and cheap. All you need is maza flour, water, a little salt, tortilla press, and a way of cooking them. You can find a cast iron press and skillet on Amazon for less than $40 and a bag of the flour will set you back less than $5 and can be found at almost any supermarket. You can either buy a few packages of the lame, packaged tortillas at a store or you can invest the same amount of money in equipment and make your own at home.

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