Category Archives: Food

Creamy Spaghetti Carbonara from Scratch


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My foolproof creamy Spaghetti Carbonara from scratch.

I had started out thinking this would be another “She’s Killing Me” story; it certainly qualified but this pasta dish turned out so well that it’ll just be another cooking story.  Well, not completely.

But it’s my creamy Spaghetti Carbonara.

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The kids were in Japan for over three weeks and landed at LAX at night on August 17th.  In short, the ex insisted on picking them up and keeping them for a few days.  But she decided it would behoove her to bring them to my house so she changed the schedule at 3 pm the next day.  They were dropped off at my house at 5:30 pm.  Of course, she had selfish reasons and yes, they were in la-la land from jet lag.  They slept for the most part for the first couple of days.

Seriously, I had mentioned to the kids they should have some kids over since school begins August 31st.  Jack just wanted to stay home but my Little Cake Boss Brooke…  That’s a whole ‘nuther story.

All week, between snoozes, she was asking if I would take her and her friends shopping.

“Sure but DON’T make it last minute, OK?” said I.

Just like the previous two times…  Wednesday, no plans.  Thursday, no plans.  Friday, no plans…  Then Saturday, at 3:30 pm, she says, “Can ‘J’ come over?”

I never learn.  “Sure,” I hesitatingly replied.

“…Can sheeee… eat with us,” she cunningly asked.  Never mind I had gone to the supermarket already for just the three of us.

“Oookay” I replied even more hesitatingly.

Then the whammy: “…Can sheeeeeeeee… sleepover?”

Arrrgghhh.

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So I decided to make Spaghetti Carbonara – for the first time.  I thought her friend J would give some feedback if I asked her.  So I went to Cook’s Illustrated… and the pasta dish turned out excellent if I say so myself.

The ingredients are simple and I had them in the fridge already – except for the Pecorino.  Yes, because of my Little Cake Boss, I had to make another run to the supermarket just for the cheese.  Well, actually two since the first place didn’t carry it:

  • 8 slices bacon, cut into 1/2-inch pieces (They’re easier to slice up if you freeze them for a bit.)
  • 1/2 cup water
  • 3 garlic cloves, minced
  • 2 1/2 ounces Pecorino Romano, grated (1 1/4 cups)
  • 3 large eggs plus 1 large yolk
  • 1 teaspoon pepper
  • 1 pound spaghetti
  • 1 teaspoon salt

Putting it all together was a snap; their instructions are:

1. Bring bacon and water to simmer in 10-inch nonstick skillet over medium heat; cook until water evaporates and bacon begins to sizzle, about 8 minutes. Reduce heat to medium-low and continue to cook until fat renders and bacon browns, 5 to 8 minutes longer.

Doing it in the above manner allows the bacon to remain chewy for the carbonara and not crisp up:

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With the water added to the bacon.
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Water’s nearly evaporated, right around eight minutes. A snap!
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Near the end of the cooking cycle. The bacon turned out as advertised! Chewy yet done and substantial.

2. Add garlic and cook, stirring constantly, until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Strain bacon mixture through fine-mesh strainer set in bowl.  Set aside bacon mixture.  Measure out 1 tablespoon fat and place in medium bowl.  Whisk Pecorino, eggs and yolk, and pepper into fat until combined.

3. Meanwhile, bring 2 quarts water to boil in Dutch oven. (You use less water than normal for this dish to insure the water you will add to the sauce is real starchy.)  Set colander in large bowl.  Add spaghetti and salt to pot; cook, stirring frequently, until al dente.  Drain spaghetti in colander set in bowl, reserving cooking water.  Pour 1 cup cooking water into liquid measuring cup and discard remainder. Return spaghetti to now-empty bowl.

4. Slowly whisk ½ cup reserved cooking water into Pecorino mixture. Gradually pour Pecorino mixture over spaghetti, tossing to coat. Add bacon mixture and toss to combine. Let spaghetti rest, tossing frequently, until sauce has thickened slightly and coats spaghetti, 2 to 4 minutes, adjusting consistency with remaining reserved cooking water if needed. Serve immediately.

Voila!

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Spaghetti Carbonara, creamy and full of flavor – and not heavy!

Most of all, happy faces!

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The Little (and cunning) Little Cake Boss and her classmate friend “J”.

So give this easy and delicious dish a shot.

Someone will love it!
And by the way, they were up until 4 am.  Let me ask you moms: Why do you even call it a sleepover??!

My (Somewhat Edible) Apple Pie


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I wanted to take a better shot but the kids were pushing me. “Papa! You always take pictures! Haven’t you taken enough?!”

 

Well, throwing together my (somewhat edible) apple pie from scratch has become a piece of cake.  Or is it pie?

While my culinary and photographic skills pale in comparison to many others – like madlyinlovewithlife, for example – I’ve been asked about my recipe so here goes.

BTW, most of this is from Cook’s Illustrated and Cathy Thomas Cooks.

The Crust

Yes, I shuddered myself to death the first time I tried it.  When I baked my first one, it ended up looking more like marshmallows lined with the Pillsbury dough boy’s inflated life jacket but it, well, tasted OK.

But since then, I’ve lost my fear of it and since my counter-top skills are marginal, I cheat.

While there is a recipe for a two-crust pie, my Cuisinart food processor gets overloaded with the amount of the ingredients needed.  If you think California shakes during an earthquake, you haven’t experienced standing in my kitchen when the food processor chokes trying to work the ingredients which are (for each crust):

3/4 cup unbleached flour (I used Arthur’s) plus
1/2 cup held for a second add
1 tbsp sugar
1/2 tsp table salt
6 tbsp of COLD unsalted butter sliced into six pieces
1/4 COLD Crisco all-vegetable shortening in 2 – 3 clumps
2 tbsp COLD vodka
2 tbsp COLD water

Add 3/4 cup flour, sugar and salt to food processor; pulse for a second or two to combine.  Add the still cold butter and shortening, working quickly so as to keep them from softening:

16691430755_719cdac34a_kProcess for up to ten seconds; I like to do it in several pulses.  It should look like cottage cheese curds with no uncoated flour.  Scrape sides and bottom with spatula.  Add remaining 1/2 cup flour and pulse up to six times.  Empty into large mixing bowl.

Sprinkle in about 1/2 of the cold water/vodka, spreading it evenly.  Fold over the dough mixture a bit then add remaining liquid.  Keep folding mixture over until it pretty much forms a ball.  It should be pretty tacky.  Wrap up in plastic wrap and form it quickly into a disc about 4+” wide.  Refrigerate.

Repeat for second batch.  Chill for about an hour.

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Wrapped up dough for crusts.

Pie Filling

For the pie filling, I use my friend and bona-fide chef Cathy Thomas Cooks tried and true recipe but with a tablespoon of lemon juice thrown in:

1/2 cup sugar
3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon ground cinnamon
1 tbsp (or to your liking) lemon juice
Pinch salt
Pinch of ground nutmeg

As in her recipe, I use five of those luscious, good-sized Granny Smiths you can buy at Costco.  If you buy them at a supermarket, you may have to use a bit more than six.

BUT!

Since I feel more at home with a screwdriver instead of a knife (and because I cherish having ten fingers), I take the man’s way out of peeling.  Voila!:

Frankly, if you make more than a few apple pies a year, you’d be crazy not to have one. LOL

Anyways, after peeling, core then cut into quarters lengthwise; then, cut into 1/4″ thick slices.  Place into LARGE, deep mixing bowl.  After doing all five, pour in lemon juice and filling mix, using spatula to coat.  (Note: per Cook’s Illustrated, the browning of the cut apple slices is harmless for this short period.)  Set aside and quickly before your own Little Cake Boss sticks a finger into the bowl to steal a lick.

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If you’re real good at peeling and cutting, you can do this after you roll out the dough and while it is being refrigerated.

I’m not. 🙂

Rolling the Dough

The fun part – and where I get to cheat!  I got the idea from Cook’s Illustrated and modified it a bit.

If the dough has been in the refer a while, you may need to let it rest for a bit; you’ll never be able to roll it out.  But don’t wait too long.  It needs to be cold.

Now the cheating.  Instead of your bare counter top, lay out a sheet of parchment paper, about 15″ long.  Dust liberally with flour.  Place one disc on center, again dusting the top generously, then cover with a similar length of plastic wrap.

16069136274_5c2d1564dd_kTake your aggressions out – nicely.  Evenly pound the disc a bit with your roller to get it started:

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Evenly pound disc to get it started.

While it may take a little practice, quickly roll the dough out to a little more than 12″ in diameter (Hint: the plastic wrap is just a 1/8″ shy of 12″).  I do like the tapered maple wood roller recommended by Cook’s Illustrated.  The dough should look like this.. Well, yours will likely look better:

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Place on flat baking sheet and put in refrigerator.  Repeat for other crust.

Now turn on your oven to at least 450F (My Breville only goes up to 450F).  Put in a baking sheet to preheat it.  It helps brown the bottom of the crust in the Pyrex pie dish.

Also, whisk up one egg white for a wash.

Putting the Pie Together

You gotta work fast but this is the fun part.

The fruit of your labor.  I know.  Bad pun.

I use the parchment paper/plastic wrap approach as I can never flip the dough onto my roller with the scraper without it falling apart and needing dough surgery…  So…  I use the plastic wrap to flip the dough onto my roller like so:

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Dough flipped onto the roller. Easy!

Then just lay it onto your Pyrex pie dish.  Gently press down on the dough onto the pie dish (especially the corners and sides) while supporting the outside portion of the dough with your other hand.  REFRIGERATE once again for at least ten minutes to keep the dough chilled.  Otherwise, it becomes a tacky mess.

After chilling, remove the dish from the fridge then pour in the apple slices.  You will need to use your fingers to move the slices around to make a nice mound.

16069152964_f151c4125d_kRemove the other refrigerated dough from the fridge and do the same thing to lay it across the roller…but laying it onto the filling is an adventure each time.

Working quickly, trim the excess dough off the pie, leaving maybe 3/4″ all around.  Roll the edges under each other while pressing down against the lip of the pie dish.  Continue around the circumference.

I’m definitely not good at it either but with your right thumb and index finger forming a V, press the dough with your left index finger into the V to “flute” it.  I think that’s what you call it.

You’re almost done!  Brush on the egg white onto the top and the edges.  Dust with sugar if you like then make four slits radiating out from the center.

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Put the pie in on top of the preheated cookie sheet then turn down the temp to 425F.  Turn the pie after 35 minutes then lower the temp down to 375F.  Important!

Bake for an additional 30 to 35 minutes or until browned. Set onto cooling rack.

Can you hear it a-sizzlin’?  From one of my earlier pies:

Cool for at least several hours and enjoy!

Green Eggs and Ham… Not


So tonight, the kiddies asked if I could make something new.  Something different.

Not my Fettuccine Alfredo nor my grilled chicken with lemon and chive pan sauce nor my szechuan tofu…nor Hamburger Helper.

Nor green eggs and ham – but it was close.

They asked for bowtie pasta with (classic) pesto.

Like the one they ate at California Pizza Kitchen.

Egads.

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So Cook’s Illustrated came to my rescue again.  They had a recipe AND even a video!

Now…if I could only follow the instructions.  And I was determined NOT to leave a bag of groceries at the check out line like my blogging bud Jan Morrill did when she made pesto. 🙂

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Per Cook’s Illustrated’s recipe, the ingredients were simple:

2 “packed” cups fresh basil

2 tbsp “packed” flat leaf parsley (i.e., Italian parsley)

1/4 cup pine nuts (raw)

3 (skewered) garlic

7 tbsp extra virgin olive oil

1/4 cup grated Parmesan Reggiano

(The trouble here in SoCal is the drought.  EVERYTHING is getting expensive.  Fresh pine nuts were $8.99 for a small carton!)

Also, note the type of parsley:

parsley

It does taste different and with all that garlic, I felt the parsley was important. 🙂

Boil the water but do NOT salt yet.  Skewer the three cloves of garlic and submerge in the boiling water for about 30 seconds then plunge into an ice bath.  Mince but it needn’t be too fine as it will go into the processor.

After generously salting the boiling water, start to boil the pasta while keeping a measuring cup in the colander; you need to remember to reserve about 1/2 cup of the water.

After toasting the pine nuts in a skillet over medium low heat for about 3 to 4 minutes, everything went into the food processor except for the Parmesan and the water.  Scrape down the sides with a spatula as necessary until you get a relatively smooth mixture.  You should still be able to make out small pieces of the basil.  (Oh, you had to put the basil and parsley into a Ziploc and pound it maybe a dozen times to bruise the leaves before throwing them into the processor.  Doing so helps release the savory oils.)  Salt as necessary.

This is what it should look like:

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The rest is easy.  When your pasta is al dente, reserve about 1/2 cup.  Add about 1/4 cup of the reserved water into the pesto along with the Parmesan.  Toss with the pasta and you’re done!

 

Fresh Tuna and Pyrex Pie Plates


A good number of pies have come out of my oven during the past six months to be taken to parties and such.  Even to a cigar lounge.  Fortunately, there have been no claims of food poisoning – so far.

But I ended up buying a few more Pyrex pie plates (They work great provided you place them on a preheated cookie sheet – helps brown the bottom.).  But what to do with them when pies are on hold?  They just lay in my pots and pan drawers.

Well, my vetunary good friend from the 1980’s, Tom G., had a “fishy” time last weekend.  Tom is an avid fisherman and got shot at in Viet Nam.  He was drafted and did his duty as an American (unlike Clinton).  His dad saw combat as a gunner in a B-24 Liberator during WWII.  His family has indeed served the US of A.

Anyway, Tom went out on a fishing boat and everyone on board hooked tuna like crazy… except for Tom.  Just kidding!  He snagged his limit of five so we were recipients of fresh tuna!

What does fresh tuna have to do with pie plates?

Lots.

As my kids “whine” about eating, i.e., “Pasta again, Papa?”, I decided to try something different – and easy… and hopefully, the kids would eat it.  That’s where the pie plates come in.

I decided to try the “Garlic and Ginger BBQ Tuna”.  Couldn’t go wrong, I thought, as I know the kids’ll eat (almost) anything if it has soy sauce and garlic in it.

The marinade was simple:

  1. 2 tbsp soy sauce (I have a ton of that)
  2. 2 tbsp Japanese rice vinegar (I have a ton of that, too)
  3. 1 tbsp sesame seed oil
  4. Freshly rated ginger (Use the side of a spoon to scrape off the outside.)
  5. Minced garlic
  6. Chopped green onion
  7. Pepper (I used the Japanese kind)
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Ready to get grilled!

All went into a Pyrex pie plate (which I have a ton of) and the tuna was marinated for about 30 minutes in the fridge (turned after 15 minutes).  Onto a dilapidated Weber BBQ grill over medium heat they went, four minutes each side (I had to slightly over-grill them as my son Jack wouldn’t eat it if he saw just a touch of red). Three minutes may be sufficient, too.

They turned out good!

IMG_3949-001-1So if you have an unused Pyrex pie plate and a great friend like Tom, try it!

buru tunaThanks, Tom!

Pumpkin Pie from Scratch


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My pumpkin pie.

Its from scratch.  Crust too, as you can see.  It looks like the world’s biggest churro’s surrounding the pie.

It was a lot of work outside of the crust.  Pumpkin puree, candied yams, syrup, heavy cream milk, eggs, sugar, nutmeg, salt and…grated ginger.

But my little Cake Boss said it “tasted better than the supermarket’s pumpkin pie”.

Does that mean I can keep my job?

Pixies!


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It’s Ojai Pixie Tangerine season, folks!

Chef Cathy Thomas (from whom some of my recipes come from) turned me onto these delightfully yummy tangerines.  They are grown in Ojai, California; we are right after the start of the season which may run into late May or early June.

These savory Pixies are:

•  Easy to peel

•  Sweet

•  Juicy – did I say JUICY?

•  Seedless

•  And my kids love them

Chefs use them in their salads when it calls for tangerines.  They are that good.

I obtain mine from Melissa’s Produce, four pounds for about $18.  They can be shipped anywhere and will arrive fresh.

http://www.melissas.com/Ojai-Pixie-Tangerines-p/321.htm

They are highly recommended!