Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Spaghetti alla Carbonara without Bacon!

I was recently back in Boston, and I got yelled at for not blogging much since moving to California.  My defense was that I've been cooking pretty boring stuff, mostly simple salads with a side of pasta.  However, friends said they missed the food pics, so I decided to find a dinner to write about.

Before writing about the new pasta recipe I tried, I just wanted to take a minute and say that California produce has been a revelation!  In particular, fresh figs are amazing! My officemate bought a pint of figs at our hospital farmers' market, and I asked her what she would do with them.  She looked at me quizzically and said, "Just eat them."  I bought a pint for myself the following week.  Not sure I would be able to use all of them, I offered them around the office and was surprised when one person took one and bit into it.  I didn't know you could just bite into figs!  I had seen figs in jams and spreads as well as roasted in dishes, but for some reason, I thought they needed to be cooked or peeled or something.  I was pleasantly surprised to find that they are delicious on their own right from the market.  Figs are now one of my favorite salad accents.

I've been making a lot of pestos, but I flipped through my cookbooks for something different.  In Mark Bittman's How to Cook Everything, I found an intriguing recipe variation under "Spaghetti alla Carbonara" that made the usually bacon-y dish meatless.  I was skeptical, but it was easy and delicious.  Coating the spaghetti with eggs and cheese made for a rich sauce, and the browned zucchini added nice depth of flavor.  This recipe is a definite keeper!

Spaghetti alla Carbonara without Bacon
adapted from Mark Bittman's How to Cook Everything

1-1/2 tablespoons olive oil
1 egg
1/2 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
8 oz spaghetti
2 medium zucchini, thinly sliced
1 small onion, diced
salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

1. Combine olive oil, zucchini, and onion in a medium skillet over medium heat.  Cook, stiring frequently until the zucchini browns, about 10 minutes.

2. Bring a large pot of water to boil. Beat the eggs and Parmesan together in the bowl.

3. Salt the boiling water and cook pasta until tender but firm. When done, drain it and toss it immediately with the egg-cheese mixture.  Add zucchini-onion mixture.  Season with lots of pepper and add salt to taste.  Serve immediately.

Makes 2 servings
Active time: 30 minutes

Sunday, August 19, 2012

Pasta with Cauliflower

Whew!  That was a long break from blogging!  Well, there are lots of excuses, but let's just move on to celebrating the produce of my new home state, California!

My husband has tried for years to get me to move here with promises of great weather, but he really should have spent more time talk to the produce.  There's a great farmer's market at my hospital, and last week, I couldn't pass up a purple cauliflower!  It was so pretty!

I found a simple recipe from one of my favorite food blogs, Simply Recipes.  I made some changes to suit my husband's tastes, mostly substituting capers for anchovies and adding some toasted almonds.  With recipes like this, we're definitely making some headway in eating more vegetables and less meat, which was one of my new year's resolutions.

Pasta with Cauliflower
adapted from Simply Recipes

1 onion, chopped (about 1 1/2 cups)
2 tbsp capers Olive oil
1 cup fresh breadcrumbs
1 large head of cauliflower, core removed and discarded, florets coarsely chopped
5 cloves of garlic, minced
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 tbsp tomato paste
1/2 pound shaped pasta (e.g. elbow, gemelli, corkscrew, bowtie)
2 cups fresh or canned tomatoes, diced
1/4 cup chopped Italian parsley
1/2 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
1/2 cup slivered almonds
1 tbsp unsalted butter

  1. Put a large pot of salted water for the pasta on the stove to boil.   Cook the pasta, uncovered, in salted boiling water until 2 minutes less than the pasta package's cooking directions.  Drain the pasta from the cooking water and reserve.
  2. Heat 2 tbsps olive oil in the skillet on medium low heat. Add the onions, garlic, and capers.  Cook for 5 minutes, until the onions are soft. Remove from heat. 
  3. Add the cauliflower, stir infrequently, allowing the cauliflower edges to brown. Cook until the cauliflower florets are lightly browned, 3-5 minutes. Add salt and pepper to taste. 
  4. Dissolve tomato paste in 1/2 cup of water. Lower the heat to low. Add the tomato paste, tomatoes, onion, garlic, and capers, stir to combine well. Cook, uncovered, on low heat, until the cauliflower is tender.  
  5. Add the cooked pasta to the cauliflower mixture. Stir in about half of the parsley, breadcrumbs, and Parmesan, almonds, and butter.

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Pasta with Spinach, White Beans, and Walnuts

I'm probably not the only one who is looking to eat less meat.  It's a growing trend in America.  Last year, my efforts ended up being a lot of pasta and cheese, which doesn't seem that healthy either. So, I've been experimenting with non-meat proteins for the last few weeks.

I bought some tempeh from the grocery store the other day. I initially cubed it into a veggie stir-fry, but when I went for a taste, it had an off-putting flavor.  I couldn't pinpoint what it was, but I just didn't like it.  I crumbled all the tempeh cubes so the pieces would be smaller, and the crumbled tempeh ended up absorbing more of the sauce.  In the end, I think the dish was salvaged, but I'm not anxious to try tempeh again soon.

I did some research and decided to try cooking with nuts.  For those who know my favorite American Chinese takeout dish (chicken with cashew nuts without the cashew nuts), my cooking with nuts might seem strange, but I've had some good experience with pine nuts or chopped pecans or walnuts in salads.  I went to the internet and found this recipe on the Martha Stewart web site.  It also has beans in it, so it has even more non-meat protein.  Score!

I replaced the original recipe's arugula with spinach since that's what I had in the refrigerator.  This dish got two thumbs up form the husband, and I think it will be a staple for weeknight meals this year!

Pasta with Spinach, White Beans, and Walnuts
adapted from marthastewart.com

16 ounces gemelli or farfalle
Coarse salt and ground pepper
4 garlic cloves, thinly sliced
4 tablespoons butter
1 pound spinach
1 can (15 ounces) small white beans or cannellini beans, rinsed and drained
1/2 cup walnut pieces, toasted if desired

  1. Cook pasta in a large pot of boiling salted water until al dente. Reserve 1/2 cup pasta water; drain pasta, and set aside.
  2. Place pasta pot over medium heat. Add garlic and 1 tablespoon butter; cook, stirring, until garlic is fragrant, about 2 minutes.
  3. Add spinach to pot; toss just until wilted. Add beans, pasta, and remaining 3 tablespoons butter; season with salt and pepper. Toss, adding enough reserved water to mixture to coat pasta. Garnish with walnuts.
Yields: 4 servings
Total time: 20 to 30 minutes

Saturday, December 31, 2011

E-Fu Noodles with Shiitake Mushrooms and Chives

I've been trying to figure out how to make these noodles for about 10 years, and I finally did it!

This dish is the last course of the 10-course banquet at East Ocean City, one of my favorite restaurants in Boston's Chinatown.  I love the spongy texture of the noodles.  The dish is very simple, but even after I've eaten 9 other courses, I always find room for them in my stomach.

Given the light, spongy texture, I figured that the noodles were fresh, but every package of fresh noodles from the Chinese grocery store didn't have the sponginess to soak up the sauce.  I spent years feeling discouraged.  Due to my limited Chinese, I even had trouble ordering the dish in restaurants.  However, I had the noodles at East Ocean City again on my birthday this year. They were so delicious that my determination to learn how to make them was renewed!

My sister-in-law told me that the Chinese name for the noodles is "e-fu," and I read about them online, learning that the noodles were usually sold in the dried form.  I had hoped I could just order some online and have them delivered, but alas, Amazon Grocery hasn't started selling them yet.  My friend Chris confirmed that her husband had purchased this type of noodle from our local Chinese grocery store.  None of the store employees speak English, so I thought about asking Chris's husband to come on a shopping trip with me.  However, today I went to the grocery store to see what I could find on my own.  I asked one of the employees for "E-fu? Yi mein?" in my terrible accent, and then I showed her the Chinese characters from the Wikipedia page on my phone.  Success!

I thought that I'd just use the packet of soup base that came with the noodles, but after some scrolling through Google search pages, I found a recipe for the exact dish I was looking for.  I did actually weigh the ingredients on my fabulous kitchen scale (which also helps my husband be very accurate with the postage when mailing out packages), but below I tried to estimate how much to use if you don't have a scale.

I think the dish came out as good as East Ocean City's, and I made it for less than a third of what they charged us last time!

E-Fu Noodles with Shiitake Mushrooms and Chives
adapted from tastehongkong.com

200 g dried e-fu noodles (I used 3 packages of dried noodles)
150 g garlic chives (about a bunch 1-inch in diameter), cut into 2-inch segments
10-12 dried shiitake mushrooms
2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
1/2 tsp cooking wine
1 tbsp vegetable oil

For sauce:
1 1/2 tbsp oyster sauce
2 tsp soy sauce
1/4 tsp salt (or to taste, because saltiness of oyster sauce varies)
1/2 tsp sugar
1/4 tsp sesame oil

1.  Fill stock pot or water with about 4 cups of water (enough to cover one package of dried noodles).  Add mushrooms and bring water to a boil.  Then add one package of dried noodles, blanching noodles for 30 seconds to 1 minute.  Immediately remove noodles from water. Drain in a colander and rinse with cold water.  Repeat for each package of noodles.  Remove mushrooms and let cool.  Reduce mushroom water to about 1/2 a cup.  (If you don't have time to reduce the mushroom water, just substitute a 1/2 cup of chicken broth in other steps.)  Thinly slice mushrooms.

2. Mix together sauce ingredients with 1/2 cup of reduce mushroom water.  Set aside.

3. Heat wok or large nonstick skillet on medium high heat. Sauté garlic until fragrant, and then add sliced mushrooms.  Stir-fry them until lightly brown, about half to one minute. Add chives and sprinkle wine on side of wok and give a few quick stirs until chives soften.  Remove mushroom and chive mixture to plate.

4. Pour in mixed sauce in center of wok. Bring it to a simmer, then put in noodles and mushroom and chive mixture. You need to constantly flip and turn them to avoid sticking to the wok. Stir well and until all the sauce is evenly coated to the noodles.  Serve immediately.

Time: about 30 minutes
Yields: 2 servings if main course, maybe 4 servings if side dish

Thursday, December 29, 2011

Chocolate-Dipped Macaroons

I'm not much of a baker, but even I like to bake around the holidays.  I searched the internet for some easy cookies to make for my office and came across this macaroon recipe.  

The macaroons themselves were easy to make, but I had to consult my husband when it came to how much chocolate to put on them.  He declared that drizzling chocolate over the macaroons didn't provide enough chocolate flavor, so I ended up dipping about half of the macaroons in chocolate.  This made the process a little messier, but I agree that more chocolate makes them even yummier.

Chocolate-Dipped Macaroons
adapted from Bon Appetit via epicurious.com

1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, room temperature
3/4 cup sugar
1/8 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons finely grated orange peel
3 large eggs
24 ounces sweetened flaked coconut (about 6 cups firmly packed)
8 ounces bittersweet chocolate, melted

Position rack in center of oven; preheat to 325°F. Line 3 large rimmed baking sheets with parchment. Using electric mixer, beat butter in large bowl until smooth. Add sugar and salt; beat until blended. Beat in orange peel, then eggs, 1 at a time. Mix in coconut. Drop batter onto sheets by tablespoonfuls, spacing 1 1/2 inches apart.

Bake macaroons, 1 sheet at a time, until golden on bottom and browned in spots, 25 to 30 minutes. Cool completely on sheets.

Drizzle chocolate over macaroons or dip them. Chill on sheets in refrigerator until chocolate is firm, about 30 minutes.

Yield: 45-50 pieces

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Deviled Eggs: My Bedtime Snack!

Searching online for good Thanksgiving appetizers was making me really hungry last night, and then the internet suggested deviled eggs.  Once the idea was in my head, I couldn't get it out.  I had to make them!  I had to make them right away!  It was 9:30 pm, but I went for it.

I've been using the same deviled egg recipe since I started my love affair with Epicurious in 2002.  That was the year that I branched out beyond my three cookbooks: Chinese Cooking for Dummies, 365 Ways to Cook Chinese, and the Betty Crocker Cookbook.  I still have and use all three, but I use the internet for most of my recipe needs now.

I don't pipe my deviled egg filling so that it looks pretty.  I just boil the eggs, scoop the yolk out, mix yolk with other ingredients, spoon mix back into egg, and devour!  The husband and I devoured this entire plate before bed yesterday.  Silly me, I thought we might have leftovers to eat today.

Deviled Eggs
adapted from Gourmet via epicurious

6 large eggs
1/4 cup mayonnaise
1 tsp Dijon mustard
1/8 tsp cayenne pepper

Cover eggs with cold water by 1-1/2 inches in a heavy saucepan and bring to a rolling boil. Reduce heat to low and cook eggs, covered completely, 10 minutes. Transfer eggs with a slotted spoon to a bowl of ice and cold water to stop cooking and let stand 5 minutes.

Peel eggs and halve lengthwise. Carefully remove yolks and mash in a bowl with a fork. Add mayonnaise and mustard and stir with fork until smooth. Sprinkle cayenne pepper over the top.

Yield: 12 pieces
Total time: 30 minutes

Sunday, October 30, 2011

My Version of Afghani Kaddo (Butternut Squash with Meat and Yogurt Sauce)

One of our favorite restaurants in Cambridge is Helmand particularly for their roasted pumpkin dish, kaddo.  I've been looking for a recipe to replicate that delicate balance of sweet pumpkin, savory meat and tomato sauce, and tangy yogurt sauce for years. I tried a recipe found online last year, but it came out way too sweet.  Knowing me, I probably didn't halve all the ingredients correctly since I doubt I had two sugar pumpkins, but it was also a pain to roast the pumpkin for 3 hours and baste it.  Have you ever basted roasted vegetables???  Anyway, even if I fixed the sugar issue, I wasn't up for that time commitment again.

Apparently there's a shortage of sugar pumpkins in New England this year because of Hurricane Irene, and our farmer warned us not to keep our squashes around too long because of this year's growing conditions.  With multiple butternut squashes sitting around my kitchen from our vegetable share, I decided to give a different kaddo recipe a try with butternut squash.

I'm happy to report that this recipe came out fabulously, and it was a lot easier and faster than the last recipe I tried.  Peeling went super fast with  my new carbon steel C-peeler, so now I don't look like I'm about to chop off my fingers when trying to break down winter squashes.  I didn't bother adding garlic or salt/pepper to the yogurt but instead just added it plain to the rest of the dish.

My Version of Afghani Kaddo (Roasted Butternut Squash with Meat and Yogurt Sauce)
adapted from Chowhound

One 2 to 2.5 pound sugar pumpkin or winter squash (such as butternut or acorn), peeled and cut into 2-inch chunks
4 tablespoons vegetable oil
1/4 cup sugar
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon

1 cup plain yogurt
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 medium onions, chopped
1 pound ground meat (I've made with beef or pork, but I think even ground chicken would work)
1 cup tomato sauce
1/2 cup water

  1. Preheat over to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.
  2. Heat 2 tablespoons oil in a large oven-proof skillet or dutch oven that will fit all the pumpkin/squash. Brown the pumpkin/squash pieces, turning frequently, until golden brown (about 5 minutes.)
  3. Mix sugar and cinnamon, and sprinkle over pumpkin/squash. Cover with foil or pan cover. Bake for 30 minutes, or until tender.
  4. While pumpkin/squash baking, make meat sauce: In a skillet, heat 2 tablespoons of oil and cook the onions until lightly browned. Add ground meat, garlic, and salt and pepper. Mix well and cook until meat is browned. Add tomato sauce and water, mix thoroughly and bring to a simmer, lower heat, and cook about 20 minutes until it cooks down to a thick sauce.
  5. To serve: plate portion of the cooked pumpkin/squash, top with meat sauce and dollop of yogurt. 
Yields: 4 servings
Total Time: 45 minutes, all active