Sunday, May 23, 2010

My Favorite Pasta

Our family has a few staples that always make an appearance at get-togethers. All holidays or extended periods of time together must incorporate homemade pizza, some form of Mexican food, and Jamie Oliver Pasta. The pasta is amazing. To be honest, I'm not even really sure what caused us to make it the first time. I mean, it sounds ok -- cabbage, mozzarella, and pine nuts -- but certainly not something you would drool over. Until you've tried it. It's totally drool-worthy. The flavors come together amazingly. You can taste everything individually, but they play off each other perfectly. Trust me, it's fabulous.

Having always made this with my mom and sister of the vegetarian persuasion, we left out the pancetta. And it was always fantastic, so no big deal. However, for the first time I tried this with the pancetta when I made it for me and the hubs. It was still really good. Different, though. The pancetta was a much stronger flavor than the others. I felt that it just slightly overwhelmed the other flavors I love so much. Not that the pancetta flavor wasn't delicious, but I think next time I would use a lot less so it was tasted in a few bites here and there instead of as the main thing in every bite.

Oh, and don't let the super creative, official name of this recipe throw you off. It will always be referred to as "Jamie Oliver Pasta."

Farfalle with Savoy Cabbage, Pancetta, Thyme, and Mozzarella
adapted slightly from Jamie Oliver's "The Naked Chef"

10 strips pancetta or lean bacon, thinly sliced
olive oil
1 clove garlic, finely chopped
1 good handful of thyme, leaves picked from stems
1 large savoy cabbage (quartered, cored, and thinly sliced)
1 handful grated parmesan cheese
1 lb. dried farfalle
salt & pepper
7 oz. buffalo mozzarella, cut into 1/2-inch dice (high quality mozzarella is really worth it in this one)
2 handfuls pine nuts, lightly toasted

Boil water for the farfalle and cook according to directions on the package. Meanwhile, in a pan, fry the pancetta (if you're using it) with olive oil until lightly golden. Add the garlic and thyme and cook until softened, about 2 minutes. Add the cabbage and the parmesan, stirring to keep the parmesan from sticking to the pan too much. Put a lid on the pan and continue to cook for about 5 minutes, making sure to continue stirring or shaking the cabbage so it doesn't clump too much.

Once the cabbage is tender you are finished cooking with it. He recommends loosening it with some olive oil. I don't usually do this step, as I find it easy enough to work with, and I like mine somewhat clumpy. Toss the al dente farfalle with the cabbage mixture and add the mozzarella and pine nuts at the last minute. I usually let it sit so the mozzarella can just begin to melt before I serve it. Enjoy -- I know you will!

Friday, May 21, 2010

Cookie Time!

My sister is by far the baker in this family. Most of the time this means that I don't even touch the sweet stuff. Occasionally if I find a recipe that she has never tried I'll give it a go... clearly if she has never made it then there's no comparison! Lucky for me, this one was a huge hit! Cookies that actually taste like margaritas?! I'm sold. These have a heavy (although not too heavy) lime flavor. A tiny hint of tequila. And just a little bit of salt on the edge. I can't wait to have them again!

Margarita Cookies
adapted from Smitten Kitchen & Dorie Greenspan's Sables au Citron

2 sticks unsalted butter (room temperature)
2/3 c. confectioner's sugar (sifted)
2 large egg yolks
pinch of salt
2 tsp. tequila
zest of 2 limes
zest of half an orange
2 c. all purpose flour

1/2 c. coarse sanding sugar
2 tsp. flaky Maldon sea salt (if you use some version of "regular" salt, use much less)

Beat butter in a bowl with a mixer until smooth. Add the confectioner's sugar and beat again until smooth. Beat in one egg yolk, followed by sale, tequila, grated lime & orange zest. Reduce the mixer to low and beat in the flour until it just disappears. If the flour is difficult to get completely incorporated, it is better to use your hands to finish it then to overbeat it. Turn dough onto the counter and divide it in half. Wrap each half in ball form in plastic wrap and place it in the refrigerator for about 30 minutes.

Working on a counter, form each ball of dough into a log about 1 to 1 1/4 inch in diameter. If the
thickness if right the length will be correct as well. Wrap the logs in plastic wrap again and chill for two hours. You can also leave the dough in the fridge up to three days.

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Whisk the remaining egg yolk in a small bowl until it is smooth enough to use like a glaze. Spread out the coating sugar and sea salt on a piece of wax paper. You can also put this ona piece of plastic wrap and then wrap the log back in the plastic, using it to push the sugar/salt combo into the dough. Before coating the log with sugar/salt, brush it with the egg yolk. Use a sharp knife to slice the log into cookies about 1/4 inch thick. Mine were probably closer to 1/2 inch. Place the cookies on a baking sheet and bake for 12 to 14 minutes, until set but not browned. Cool and consume!

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Home-cooked Classic

My mom is a fabulous cook. This is something I don't think I realized until adulthood. Sometimes I wish I had better appreciated her cooking as a child, but do kids ever truly appreciate their parents cooking? One of the fun things about Mom's (and Emily's) conversion to vegetarianism is that I have become sole proprietor of all the meat recipes! Thus, I am now the only one in the family making meatballs, lasagna, and sausage soup. Well, the only one making them in their original form, anyway! First up, spaghetti and meatballs, courtesy o' Mom's recipe for turkey meatballs.

Mom's Turkey Meatballs

1 lb. ground turkey
1 small onion, diced
1 - 2 handfuls bread crumbs
1 egg
1 small handful parmesan (optional)

Mix ingredients in a large bowl. I know it's gross, but this is best done by hand! Form into meatballs about an inch to an inch a half in diameter. Brown the meatballs. Once meantballs are just browned on all sides, continue to cook the meatballs in the pasta sauce on low to medium heat for 30 to 45 minutes, or until cooked through. I would suggest keeping the heat conservative the first time you do this, as it is easy to burn the meatballs and have them stick to the bottom of the pot, ruining the whole dinner!
Allie's Easy Tomato Sauce

1 can crushed tomatoes (use a large 28 oz. can for 1 lb. meatballs)
1 - 2 tbsp. butter or olive oil
1 small onion, diced
handful fresh oregano and basil, or other assortment of herbs
salt & pepper, to taste
garlic powder, to taste

Saute the onion in the butter or olive oil. When the onions are soft but not browned, add the crushed tomatoes. Add in the herbs, salt, pepper, and garlic powder. Heat through. Taste to ensure you have added the right proportions. Then you're ready to eat it or add your meatballs!

Celebration: Mom & Al style

Anytime there is a reason to celebrate, Mom and I make cheesecake. This has happened approximately... three times. Ok, so it's a new celebration tradition, but it's one we love! Most recently, we decided to make a cheesecake for Rodney to celebrate his recent acceptance into the Raleigh Police Academy. He wasn't there when we made it, but we managed to only eat one slice each (as dinner!) before he got home. Here's to you, babe!

Philadelphia Classic Cheesecake
with caramel & bit o' brickle topping
(from Kraft a long time ago, not sure if it's still there)

1 1/2 c. graham cracker crumbs
3 tbsp. sugar
1/3 c. butter or margarine, melted
4 pkg. (8 oz. each) cream cheese, softened
1 c. sugar
1 tsp. vanilla
4 eggs

Preheat the oven to 325 degrees. Mix crumbs (I find one "package" within the box of graham crackers makes the right amount of crumbs), 3 tbsp. sugar, and butter. Press firmly onto bottom of 9 inch springform pan (I like to press it slightly of the sides if there is enough). Beat cream cheese, 1 c. sugar, and vanilla with electric mixer on medium speed until well blended. Add eggs, one at a time, mixing on low speed after each addition, just until blended. Pour over crust. Bake 55 minutes or until center is almost set. Loosen cake from sides of pan. Cool before removing side of pan. Refrigerate four hours or overnight.

For topping: melt 1 c. sugar in 1/4 c. water. The water helps the sugar melt without burning for scaredy-cats like Mom and me. Keep an eye on this so it doesn't burn, but don't stir too often, as it will keep the sugar from caramelizing. Just let it go on medium heat until the sugar browns, but once it does, remove it from the heat. We screwed up but ending the process here and creating caramel hard candy -- tasy, but not what we want for the top of a cheesecake! We woudl recommend adding a tbsp. or two of butter to keep it creamy. If I try this again, I will let you know. Before caramel hardens, add toffee pieces for extra crunch (provided you don't get all the crunch you need from the caramel!).

P.S. I would highly recommend NOT consuming a bottle of wine before completing this process. Unless you want to have a super fun night with only slightly shaky cheesecake results!