Friday, March 27, 2009

Linguini carbonara (serves 2)

Yesterday we had a blizzard here in Denver. I got out to the grocery store in the morning for just a few necessities. It was the perfect kind of day for the carbonara we had been contemplating for a few days.
Peter bought some pancetta and pecorino Romano cheese earlier this week (we had had some warning about the impending storm). He assigned me the task of researching various recipes so that we could come up with our own version, one that would satisfy our urges for comfort food, cheese, pasta, bacon, eggs, all the things that make life worthwhile.
My search took me to Lydia Bastianich, Tyler Florence (both TV chefs), "Joy of Cooking," and a couple other sources. The recipe below is a synthesis, incorporating an element or two from each. It was surprising how different each approach was: how many eggs (or combination of whole and yolks); whether to use heavy cream or not; bacon or pancetta; how much pepper; etc. Even the final assembly process varied.
In the end, Peter and I discussed and arrived at what we thought would be our ideal carbonara (and it was). I am fussy about my food being hot when I sit down to eat it. Hence, we always heat our serving vessels in our excellent countertop convection oven. Also, please note, the heat was not shut off under my giant skillet until just at the moment of adding in the egg mixture.
One last thing: if you live at a mile above sea level as we do, you already know that pasta takes longer to cook when your water boils at 204 degrees. The linguini box told us 9-10 minutes to al dente. It took 12 minutes and it was perfect.
Linguini carbonara
1 whole egg plus 2 egg yolks
1/8 cup heavy cream
1/2 tsp black pepper
2/3 cup pecorino cheese, grated
8 oz. linguini
1 tsp olive oil
5 oz. pancetta, diced ¼”
1 medium shallot, finely chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced or pressed
1/8 cup parmesan cheese, grated

Put the eggs, cream and pepper in a medium bowl and whisk lightly (have these ingredients at room temperature). Add the pecorino and stir again. Set aside.

Heat a large pot of water over high heat. When boiling, add 2 tbsp salt and the linguini. Cook for the length of time suggested on the box, checking just before the end to ensure the pasta is cooked but still al dente.

While the pasta cooks, heat the olive oil over medium-high heat in a large skillet. When hot, add the pancetta and cook under the fat is rendered and it is crispy, about 6 minutes. Reduce the heat to low and add the shallot and garlic. Cook, stirring often until the pasta is done.

Save 1/4 cup of the pasta cooking water. Drain the linguini and immediately add it to the skillet with the pancetta. Toss until thoroughly coated with the fat in the pan. Turn off the heat under the skillet.

Add the egg mixture and toss until the eggs set and have completely coated the pasta. If the mix seems too thick, add some of the reserved pasta water. Place the linguini in heated serving bowls and garnish with some of the parmesan. Serve, accompanied by a salad or green vegetable of your choice.

Sunday, March 15, 2009


I discover many interesting foods at the 3 Asian markets I frequent (1 each of Japanese, Chinese and Vietnamese).

From the Japanese market I get short grain sushi rice. I even made risotto with it. Perfect! Another Japanese specialty (via Korea) is menteiko, cured pollock roe sacks (salty and spicy...a great snack or garnish for other things).

My Chinese market is huge and has a seafood section where you can find incredibly cheap lobsters, Dungeness crabs, cockles, and sometime Maryland blue crabs. It also has an extensive produce section. Things I regularly buy there: preserved mustard tuber (salty and sour and an excellent addition in moderation to a ramen noodle soup); dried shiitake mushrooms (cheap, cheap, cheap); oyster mushrooms; enoki mushrooms; baby bok choy; Chingkiang vinegar; an excellent cooking wine; dried bamboo pith (again a great garnish for a stirfry or soup); barbequed pork (included entire hog heads); frozen ducks at a bargain.

My latest discovery came at the Vietnamese place. It has the most incredible selection of seafood, a good deal of it frozen. I bought frozen quail eggs and have used them in soup both scrambled and poached. All you have to do is put them in a bowl of hot tap water for 4 minutes and then crack them. I'm screwing my courage to the sticking point to try the frozen whitebait I got recently. They are thin and only about 1 1/2" long. And yes they are white. I plan to coat them with tempura batter and shallow fry them as fritters. You can actually find bullfrogs (live) and the stinky cheese fruit called durian.

I'm broadening my horizons in the same way I would hope my readers try to do. What readers you say? Well, sooner or later somebody has to find this blog.

For a free excerpt of my book, “A Year of Food,” in which I opine, report, cook, muse and philosophize about everything that passed my lips for an entire year, write to me at:

The best liver dumplings with buckwheat pasta and braised cabbage you will never make

These dudes will not win any beauty contests, but they are delectable. I must apologize for the fact that this posting is of the most labor-intensive recipe I have shared to date. You can go out and find buckwheat noodles (if you can), but if you have a pasta machine they are satisfying to make.
My inspiration came from finding a nearly 1-pound package of beef liver in the "Manager's Specials" bin at the Safeway. The meats you find there on at their last date (or 1 day away) for "best by." I have a confession to make. If there is something I want I pick up the package and poke a small hole in it and have a sniff. Never had to put a package back yet!
Chris Cosentino wrote a recipe for malfatti as a companion to a decades-old formulation which appeared in the NY Times Sunday magazine a few months ago. I didn’t care for his idea much, but a concept began its evolution in my culinary cranium. A second source of motivation came from one of Ming Tsai’s cooking shows in which he cooked Italian-style dishes using buckwheat soba noodles.

We bought a several-pound bag of buckwheat flour a while back. It was incredibly inexpensive. Using my favorite recent purchase, a Markato hand-cranked pasta machine, I made buckwheat ravioli with a squash filling. We loved it. This first attempt at making pasta was not an unqualified success. I really had to tinker in order to get a reasonable texture with the dough.

To make a long story shorter, I cobbled together these ideas into a plan for buckwheat linguini with liver dumplings in a sage sauce with braised cabbage and mustard greens. Sounds strange, don’t it? Well, my life-partner, Peter, and I nearly wet ourselves over the result. (At my age that is an imminent danger in the best of times…just kidding.)

I researched buckwheat dough recipes and dumpling recipes and came up with what I will call my very own plan for an unusual and extraordinary meal. Of all the recipes I have submitted to this blog, I consider this my best to date.

The most efficient sequence is to make the dough first. While it rests, assemble the dumpling mixture. While this is in the fridge, prepare the ingredients for the sauce.

When it’s time to cook, get the pasta water and the dumpling water ready on the stove. Start the sauce. When you get to the point where the sauce gets covered, start cooking the dumplings. Then drop in the pasta. Final assembly is to put the pasta and cabbage into heated serving bowls, top with dumplings, pour over the sauce liquid and drizzle with olive oil.
These recipes will serve 4.
Buckwheat linguini
1 ½ cups buckwheat flour
1 ½ cups all-purpose flour
2 tsp dough enhancer (wheat gluten)
3 egg yolks
½ cup warm milk
½ tsp salt
1 tbsp olive oil
a few tablespoons cold water, as needed

In a large bowl, use a whisk to thoroughly incorporate the flours and dough enhancer.

In another bowl, lightly whisk together the egg yolks and warm milk.

Place the flour mix, egg and milk, salt, and olive oil in a food processor. Turn on the motor and wait until the dough gathers together in a quasi ball. If it seems to moist, add a bit more all-purpose flour. If it does not gather, add cold water, one tbsp at a time and pulse.

Put the dough ball on a well-floured surface, mold it firmly together and knead for 8-10 minutes. Reshape into a ball, wrap with plastic wrap, and let it sit for at least 15 minutes or several hours according to your timeline for dinner.

When you are ready to make the linguini, cut the dough ball into 8 equal-sized pieces. Set your pasta machine to the widest setting. Roll out each piece of dough to a thickness that will go through that setting on the machine. Using the machine now, process each piece of dough, resetting the thickness to the next thinner setting until you reach the approximate thickness of the linguini cutter on the machine. Use the linguini cutter to slice the dough sheets. Lay the strands on a rack and set aside.

To cook the noodles, heat a large pot of water to a boil. Salt it well (2 tbsp salt should do it) and drop in the noodles. Stir with a pair of tongs for 15 seconds to assure the noodles don’t stick together. Cook the noodles for 3 minutes and test for doneness. They will be more dense than standard pasta. Remove them to the pan of sauce when you estimate they need 1 more minute to cook completely.
Liver dumplings
3 oz. fresh crusty bread, cubed
½ cup heavy cream
1 tbsp butter
½ medium onion, chopped
1 tbsp garlic, finely chopped
½ tsp dried thyme
4 sage leaves, torn into pieces
2 tbsp white wine (or red)
1 lb. beef liver, trimmed of fat, gristle or blood vessels and cut into large chunks
3 egg yolks
½ cup dry bread crumbs
¼ cup all-purpose flour
salt and pepper to taste
extra-virgin olive olive for serving

Heat a large pot of water to a simmer and then salt it well.

Place the bread and cream in a bowl and smush together.

Heat the butter in a sauté pan until melted and foam has subsided. Add the onion, garlic, thyme and sage. Cook about 5 minutes, stirring frequently, until the onions are translucent but not colored. Add the wine and let it evaporate. Remove the pan from the heat and allow to cool completely.

Put the bread, onion mixture, liver, and egg yolks in the food processor. Turn on the motor and process into a paste. Remove to a large bowl and stir in the bread crumbs, flour, and salt and pepper. Using a tablespoon, scoop up a heaping spoonful and drop it into the simmering water. Cook for 7 minutes and remove with a slotted spoon. Taste for seasonings and adjust the rest of the mixture to taste. The dumpling should still be a bit pink in the center.

Put the liver mixture into the refrigerator for at least 30 minutes to firm up. Spray a large plate with Pam, form the dumplings and put them on the plate (the mixture should make about 20 pieces). When ready to cook, slide the dumplings into the simmering water. Turn up the heat until it comes back to a simmer but start the timing right away.
Sage and cabbage sauce
1 tbsp olive oil
4 or 5 sage leaves, left whole
½ small head green cabbage, sliced as if for slaw
½ tsp dried thyme
1 tbsp garlic, finely minced
salt and pepper to taste
1 cup chicken stock
1 tbsp butter

Heat the olive oil over medium heat. Drop in the sage leaves and fry for 1 minute. Add the cabbage, thyme, garlic and salt a pepper and toss with tongs. Cook the cabbage for a few minutes, just until it begins to color. Add the chicken stock, cover and simmer for 5 minutes. Mount in the tbsp of butter. At this point the sauce is ready for the addition of the pasta.
For a free excerpt of my book, “A Year of Food,” in which I opine, report, cook, muse and philosophize about everything that passed my lips for an entire year, write to me at:

Roast chicken

The world never seems to stop clamoring for chicken recipes. Indeed, I’ve submitted a few of them on this blog already. When my partner, Peter, came home with a bargain-priced whole chicken a few days ago, I got to thinking about roast chicken.
The traditional expectation is for what you see above, namely a whole bird. What I did is the top picture. I'll explain...

Two important things come to mind: I always brine my chicken before cooking; dry breast meat(?) – who says you have to roast the chicken whole? I won’t include instructions for brining here, they can be find in a million variations. I will add only that I brined the chicken for about 16 hours. But 1-3 hours is plenty.

By cooking the chicken in pieces you can control the result. Just get the breast pieces out at 160° and the rest of it at 170°. Simple pimple.

I have an electronic thermometer which allows me to insert it and go watch Food Network until alerted by the remote beeper by my side.

I can’t point to any specific chef or recipe as my inspiration – there are far too many sources I have consulted over the years. My favorite flavors with roast chicken are sage, lemon and garlic. Dividing the chicken into pieces complicates things slightly, but you’ll see my solution.

I remember how fussy my mother was about the Thanksgiving turkey. She and my father would get up at the crack of dawn and get the bird in early. Then they’d cook it until they were sure it was dead. I always enjoyed it, but it was well into my adulthood when I discovered the joys of poultry that wasn’t overdone (not too mention the too-salty scalloped potatoes and the green bean casserole with those doggone canned onion rings).

I’m my own man in the kitchen now. I never, but never, read a recipe without the automatic response of “what can I do to tweak this?” I suppose it’s a curse and a blessing, but it’s one heck of a lot of fun.

Roast chicken
1 4-5 lb. fryer chicken, brined for several hours or up to a day
giblets, if included with the chicken
8 sage leaves
2-3 tbsp butter, softened
2 lemons, sliced thinly
2 tsp granulated garlic
freshly ground black pepper, to taste
(Please note: no salt needed after brining)

Preheat the oven to 400°.

Separate the legs, thighs, breasts (leaving the wing attached to the breast) and back. Save the back for stock or roast it (I prefer to roast it). Snip off the end joint of the wings.

If there are giblets, excluding the liver, rub them with olive oil, season with salt and pepper and roast along side the rest of the bird.

Carefully separate the skin from the legs, thighs and breasts using your fingers. Insert 1 sage leaf and a slice of lemon under the skin of each leg and thigh and 2 each under the skin of each breast. Sprinkle some pepper under the skin of each piece and do the same with the garlic.

Rub the chicken pieces all over with the butter. Add more pepper to the outside of the chicken, to taste of course.

Put a flat rack on a shallow baking pan and spray it with Pam. Place 1 or 2 lemon slices on the rack for each chicken piece and put the chicken pieces, skin side up on top of the lemon.

Roast for 20 minutes. Reduce the oven to 350°, insert a temperature probe into the thickest part of a breast (adjacent to where the wing is attached). Continue roasting until the internal temperature of the breast is 160°, about 25 minutes more.

Remove the breasts from the oven and tent with foil. Cook the remaining chicken for 10 minutes more. Remove from the oven, tent with foil and allow to rest for 10 minutes or so.

For a free excerpt of my book, “A Year of Food,” in which I opine, report, cook, muse and philosophize about everything that passed my lips for an entire year, write to me at:

Monday, March 2, 2009

the best meatloaf

I've been lazy for a while. I have recipes, and even photos taken with my new digital camera. So once again I "borrowed" this picture from another site. Oh well, it looks just like what I made yesterday.
I made my own corned beef, using skirt steak I found on sale at King Soopers. The recipe came from Michael Ruhlman's book "Charcuterie." As for the construction of the final dish, it came straight out of my 5-watt brain.
I love caraway, but the seeds get stuck in your teeth. The same is true of cumin seed. My solution is the cheesecloth bouquet garnie you'll see described below. As I've mentioned before, I almost always have homemade chicken stock on hand as a result of poaching a whole chicken about every 9 days to make food for our dogs. After reducing the stock by about 1/3 to 1/2, I'm left with 4-6 cups of very flavorful stuff. Of course you can use supermarket stock, nothing wrong with that.
Some interesting info about "corning": I've learned that it was (or is) commonly used with game meats, including wild fowl. I have corned several different cuts of beef as well as some chicken legs. It's fun. I was very surprised to learn from our neighborhood cheese and sausage purveyor that corned beef is not eaten in Ireland for St. Patty's day. He's Irish and should know. According to him (Hugh), he never ate corned beef in Ireland at all. Who knew?
Corned beef and cabbage
1 lb corned beef, cooked
4 medium potatoes
½ head green cabbage
2 bay leaves
2 garlic cloves, smashed
½ tsp caraway seeds
½ tsp black peppercorns
½ tsp cumin seeds
3-4 cups chicken stock
horseradish or mustard for dipping

Cut the potatoes into quarters. Cut the cabbage into 4 pieces, keeping them intact by not removing the stem end.

Place the bay, garlic, caraway, peppercorns, and cumin in cheesecloth and tie into a pouch. Use several layers of cheesecloth to keep the seeds safely inside.

Put the potatoes, cabbage, spice bag and stock into a large pot. Bring to a boil, add salt to taste, reduce the heat, and simmer slowly until the potatoes and cabbage are tender, about 30 minutes.

Remove the spice bag and discard. Slice the corned beef and add to the pot. Simmer 15 minutes longer. Serve with the horseradish or mustard on the side.

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