There are certain dishes that, no matter how infrequently I make them, I can cook in my sleep. The combination of a simple recipe, minimal ingredients, and having watched them being prepared by my mother on many an occasion makes preparing them myself a quick and easy proposition.
Pork chops. Stir fry. Spaghetti carbonara. The latter being the particular pick I whipped up a few weekends ago on a rainy, chilly night. Josh was skeptical - he's usually leans towards red sauce when it comes to pasta - but when I informed him that pancetta was involved, he changed his tune.
Which is where things differed slightly from the rendition Mama used to make. With her, it was always bacon, and it was always spaghetti. Wanting to utilize some of the vast collection of half-full pasta boxes in our cupboards, I went for linguine instead. As for the pancetta, I dunno - it just sounded like a good idea. I'm crazy like that.
And a good idea it was. Creamy, salty, starchy comfort food in the best way possible:
Pasta Carbonara - Serves 4
12 oz. linguine, fettucine, or spaghetti
4 oz. pancetta, diced
1/2 med. onion, chopped
1 T. olive oil
2 cloves garlic, minced
3 eggs, lightly beaten
1/2 C. parmesan cheese, grated (more to taste)
Cook the pasta according to package directions. Reserve cooking water.
In a large skillet, heat the olive oil over med hi. Add the onion, and saute 4 minutes until soft and golden. Add the pancetta and the garlic, and cook 5-7 minutes until pancetta is cooked through. Reduce heat to low.
Add the pasta to the skillet and stir to combine. Pour the eggs over the pasta, and stir continuously while the eggs set. The pasta will become creamy - add some reserved pasta water if it starts looking dry.
Stir in the parmesan, and add salt and pepper to taste.
Serve with crusty bread and a fresh, green salad (maybe arugula?)
Today was one of those classic, weird Chicago weather days. This morning it was in the 40s... but by 5pm, it was over 70 out! We took advantage with an evening walk in Palmer Square park, where it seemed everyone in the neighborhood had the same idea. Including a guy who was practicing tight-rope walking!
Anyway, the unexpected warmth kind of threw my dinner plans through a loop. I had gotten an idea for a tomato soup with curry spice from a blurb in Real Simple magazine and was dying to create my own version. I was worried that maybe the soup wouldn't be all that appealing with the unexpected climate change, but I went ahead and made it anyway. Good decision!
Despite being soup, and thus hot, as soup often is, this particular soup is pretty light and fresh tasting. Plus, I got to use my immersion blender. Enough said.
Curry Tomato Soup - Serves 2-4
1 T. unsalted butter
2 carrots, diced
3 shallots, diced
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. pepper
1 tsp. curry powder
28 oz. whole, peeled tomatoes
1 C. water
1/2 C. milk
extra virgin olive oil, for garnish
cilantro, for garnish
Melt the butter in a medium sauce pan (or dutch oven) over med hi heat. Add the shallots, carrots, and garlic and saute 5 minutes until tender.
Add the salt, pepper, & curry powder and stir to combine.
Add the tomatoes and water. Bring to a boil. Reduce to a simmer and cook 10 minutes.
Puree soup in a blender or using an immersion blender.
Stir in the milk heat a few minutes more.
Serve with a drizzle of olive oil and fresh, chopped cilantro on top.
We fixed up some toasty grilled cheeses on the side because I don't care what the weather is - nothing like a toasted, cheesy sandwich dipped in tomato soup!
Pre-Christmas, I went through some kind of cookie-baking blitz. With all the guests we were going to have in and out of our house, I felt like it would just be shameful if there weren't a selection of cookies available at all times. I overdid it a little: even after giving away some of the surplus to the neighbors and coworkers, I still have some in the freezer!
One of my favorites were these biscotti:
Biscotti are a type of cookie that I always thought would be difficult to make. Mostly because I didn't understand how they got into that finger-shape. Once I found out it was simply a series of baking a log, slicing the log, and then baking the slices, the intimidation factor relaxed a bit. In truth, they couldn't be easier.
Plus, I got a kick out of drizzling them with tempered chocolate!
2 C. all-purpose flour
1/2 C. sugar
1/2 C. almonds, sliced or chopped
1 tsp. baking soda
1/4 tsp. salt
1 tsp. vanilla extract
3 ounces semi-sweet chocolate
1 T. butter
Preheat oven to 350.
Combine the flour, sugar, almonds, baking soda and salt in a bowl. Add the eggs and the vanilla. Stir to combine and shape into a ball.
Knead the ball with your hands for a few minutes on a floured surface. Shape into one or two logs, about an inch high. Place on a buttered baking sheet.
Bake 25 minutes. Cool slightly, then remove the logs (carefully!) and slice them diagonally into "fingers". Place back on the cookie sheet, on their sides.
Bake 5 minutes, then flip the cookies to their other side. Bake 5 minutes more.
While the cookies cool, melt the chocolate and butter together in a double boiler. Alternatively, you can do this in the microwave, zapping it in 30 second intervals, stirring in between each one until melted.
While the chocolate is still warm, drizzle over the biscotti using a spoon. Allow the cookies to cool for a while, then place the sheet in the fridge to firm up the chocolate drizzle completely.
Thursday nights are kind of DIY around here. Usually, J. and I go our own ways. For him, that means heading over to his buddy's place / eating copious amounts of chicken wings / throwing darts. For me, that either means meeting friends for wine / going to an event / eating ice cream on the couch by myself. To each his (or her) own!
Tonight - running low on groceries (thanks for making my alley impassable, Snow-pocalypse!) - I decided to use the fact that today is Chinese Lunar New Year as my inspiration. Which really just translates to cooking some rice and stir-frying whatever random veggies / protein remain in the fridge.
I worked out nicely. I'm sure it's not even remotely authentic. In fact, I feel like this stir fry reads more Thai than anything else, what with the egg + lime juice... but that's not the point. The real point is that I was hungry, and it was cook or cry. I cooked. And you know what? I was pretty damn pleased with my dinner. If you make this, feel free to substitute what ever veggies, etc. you have on hand. You really can't go wrong.
Fried Rice for One
1/4 C. brown rice
1/4 tsp. salt
2/3 C. water
1/2 T. olive oil
2 scallions, chopped
1/2 T. fresh ginger, minced
1 clove garlic, minced
1/4 C. red pepper, chopped
1/4 C. frozen peas
1/4 C. frozen corn
1/4 C. frozen, shelled edamame
1 T. rice wine vinegar
1/4 tsp. red pepper flakes (optional)
1 T. soy sauce, plus more for drizzling
sriracha, to taste (optional)
Bring the rice, water and salt to a boil in a pot. Cover pot, reduce heat to low and cook 45 minutes until water is all absorbed and rice is tender.
Heat the oil over medium high. Add the scallions, red pepper, ginger and garlic and saute 3 minutes. Add the peas, corn and edamame. Cook 2 more minutes.
Add the rice wine vinegar and red pepper flakes - cook 1 minute more.
Add the cooked rice to the pan. Spread the rice out as much as you can and press down, almost like you are forming a pancake. Cook 2 minutes. Stir the rice up (some should have some nice brown bits now). Press it down again and cook 2 minutes more.
Stir the rice mixture and move it to the side of the pan. Crack the egg in the center of the pan and stir it up with your spoon or spatula, like you are scrambling it. Once it's cooked (about 1 minute), mix the entire mixture together.
Add the soy sauce and sriracha and stir together until combined.
Serve with the lime wedge (give it a squirt before digging in) and more soy sauce, if desired.
Happy Year of the Rabbit!
Well, yesterday's blizzard insanity has ended... but now we're on to winter storm part deux: freezing cold! As in, I woke up this morning to my favorite weatherman Andy Avalos telling me it was going to be in the -8 to 8 degree range today. Bring back the snow!
The only thing to do in times like these is to plan on eating heartily. It's the only thing that will make you feel better. Chili is good, in that way. However, let's break free from the standard beef & kidney bean concoction and try this instead:
I adapted this recipe from one I found in the Tribune a while back. It's got great, spicy-but-not-too-spicy flavor, punched up by the fact that I swapped out plain old ground pork with some Italian sausage. Love the red wine in this too - it adds a tangy sweetness that complements the pork nicely.
I really didn't make too many other changes, except for adding more chili powder and a healthy dose of Frank's Red Hot sauce (we like things hot around here). Definitely remember the lime wedges if you make this - they brighten everything up!
Find the recipe here: Smoky White Bean Chili with Pork
Off to test my threshold for hypothermia!
Although I'm prone to making a huge mess when I use it*, I've become pretty addicted to my Cuisinart immersion blender. I've been making creamy, blended soups about once a week since receiving it at Christmas, and am loving not having to transfer liquids back and forth between pot and Oster blender anymore!
One of my best efforts yet was this carrot-ginger soup I more or less winged it on last week. It's slightly sweet, but also a tad bit spicy (not in a hot way, just in a flavorful way, courtesy of the ginger). Plus, for not having a drop of cream in it, I was pretty surprised at how rich tasting it actually came out.
I'm crediting the last minute addition of sweet potato to the mix!
If you don't have a stick blender, of course, feel free to go at it the old fashioned way, transferring the cooked soup in portions to a stand-up blender, and then re-heating briefly before serving.
1 T. extra-virgin olive oil
1/2 large sweet yellow onion, chopped
2 sticks celery, chopped
5 carrots, peeled and chopped
1 medium sweet potato, chopped (I leave the peel on, since that's where all the fiber is! You can't tell once the soup is done.)
1 T. ginger, minced
2 garlic cloves, minced
4 C. vegetable broth
salt & pepper
Heat the olive oil in a stock / soup pot over med-hi. Add the onions, celery, and carrots. Saute until onions are translucent, about 4 minutes.
Add the sweet potatoes, ginger and garlic. Stir and saute another 2 minutes.
Add the broth. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat to a simmer. Simmer for 30 minutes, until sweet potato and carrots are tender. (Stick a fork in 'em to see if they're soft!)
Remove from heat. Using an immersion blender, puree soup. Or, transfer to a stand-up blender and puree in batches, returning to the pan when done and briefly reheating.
Add salt and pepper to taste.
Serve - top each bowl with a dash of cinnamon.
* I think the key to not spraying soup all over my kitchen is to use a large, deep stock pot... not my beloved Le Creuset dutch oven, much as it pains me.
The baking continues! Although, I did take a brief respite from my cookie-making last night to fix up some dark chocolate truffles. Inspired by an episode of Barefoot Contessa (love that Ina Garten and her wardrobe of button-up shirts), I decided to do a trio of flavors. One cannot live on cookies alone!
After all, I kinda have a "thing" for chocolate. Growing up, inevitably someone would send Frango Mints or a box of Godiva around Christmas time, and I would go absolutely ballistic. I've always preferred dark chocolate to milk as well... What can I say, I was a sophisticated kid. (Well, until I was running around, sugar-crazed, with chocolate smeared all over my hands and mouth in a fit of fructose-indused hyperactivity.)
Having made chocolate pavlova the other night, I had some heavy whipping cream leftover in the fridge. Really, all you need for truffles is good-quality chocolate and whipping cream... everything else can be left up to creativity (read: what you have in your cupboards). These are definitely going on the Christmas Day spread!
Dark Chocolate Truffles
4 oz. bittersweet chocolate
2 oz. semi-sweet chocolate
1/2 C. heavy whipping cream
1 T. Tia Maria (or any coffee flavored liqueur)
1 tsp. vanilla extract
Toppings (your choice! I used crushed peppermints, cocoa powder, and crushed almonds)
Heat the cream in a sauce pan until beginning to simmer (don't burn!)
Pour the cream over the chocolate in a bowl. Stir the chocolate with a whisk until melted.
Add the Tia Maria and vanilla, stirring to combine.
Cover the bowl and place in the fridge for a few hours or overnight.
Using a tablespoon, scoop out some of the chocolate and roll it into a ball with your hands. Then, roll the ball in your topping of choice. Repeat.
Refridgerate truffles - these are best cold!
Shortbread has been my downfall during two distinct periods of my life:
1) When we lived in Australia, my sister and I had a "babysitter" (I don't know what else to call her. Really, I was 16 years old, but my Mom needed someone to drive us around and make us food, etc. Enter "Gaye", our paid friend!) who loved to bake these GIANT shortbread cookies that were the size of hockey pucks, I kid you not. I was at an awkward phase (read: a little round... just a tiny bit zaftig) where I utilized absolutely no self-control when it came to sweets... Gaye would pack me about three of these cookies in my lunch each day. Gaye herself was about 90 pounds soaking wet. She never ate any of her cookies. (Not like she'd even be able to, because they went from pan to my mouth at the speed of light.)
2) When I studied abroad in Scotland, I reignited my forgotten affair with shortbread (dare I proclaim it the national cookie of the Scots?). The combination of the cold, cold temperatures, short days, and constant rain that made up the climate during my time on the North Sea resulted in a great deal of comfort food eating. Shortbread filled that void nicely. (Usually washed down with a few pints of Tetleys at Ma Bell's!)
Anyway, I'm harkening back to those days by including a little shortbread in my holiday cookie platter. Chocolate shortbread, that is. Having already made almond butter cookies & peanut meltaways, I feared my cookie collection was feeling rather "beige"... Chocolate to the rescue!
Shortbread is the easiest thing to make because it has a short ingredient list and low-skill requirement prep. Enjoy... but beware, these are addictive (and butter-heavy!)
Chocolate Shortbread - makes 16 bars
1.5 sticks of butter, unsalted, softened
1/2 C. sugar
2 oz. unsweetened baking chocolate
1.5 C. all-purpose flour, sifted
Preheat oven to 300 F.
Cream the butter and the sugar in a stand mixer until light an fluffy.
Melt the chocolate in the microwave (1/2 power, stirring every 30 seconds until melty).
Add the chocolate to the butter mix and stir to blend. Add the sifted flour, and stir some more until well-combined.
Press mix into a buttered 9x9 inch baking dish.
Bake for 30 minutes. Cool on a rack 15 minutes. Then, use a knife to cut into 16 squares. Leave in the pan until completely cool before removing.
Bon Appetit is my favorite food publication. Despite the fact that I have friends who work or have worked for the magazine in various capacities, I would still say that it's my number one. There are multiple reasons for this, not the least of which is Andrew Knowlton's tough, tough hair.
However, the main reason I love it so much is it's damn reliable. I've made recipe after recipe found in this monthly, and I've never been let down. Especially not on Soup Sunday's at Casa Wagner - our new wintertime tradition!
I found this recipe by Orangette author Molly Wizenberg and immediately knew it would be a winner. As an addict of anything even remotely Indian-flavored, the combination of curry and lentils spoke to me. I made a few adaptations (I generally see cooking recipes as a "suggestion" and improvised as inspiration hits. This, of course, is my downfall when it comes to baking, but that's been documented elsewhere), adding some additional spices and changing a few other ingredients, but kept what I think makes this soup the best: the lemony chickpea puree that thickens and flavors the whole pot!
Curried Lentil Soup - 4 hearty servings
Adapted from Bon Appetit
1 C. lentils, rinsed
1/2 red pepper, chopped
1 small yellow onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 can chickpeas, drained and rinsed
juice of 1 lemon
4 C. water (plus more to thin, if necessary)
1/4 C. almond milk (or organic milk)
1 T. butter, unsalted
1 T. olive oil
3 green onions, white and light green parts, chopped
1 T. curry powder
1 tsp. tumeric
1/2 tsp. crushed red pepper flakes
Heat the olive oil over medium high heat in a large pot or dutch oven.
Add the onions and red peppers and saute 3-5 minutes until translucent. Stir in the garlic and cook 2 minutes more.
Add the curry powder, tumeric, red pepper flakes, and a good couple shakes of salt and ground black pepper. Stir and cook 1 minute.
Add lentils, water and milk. Bring to a boil, then reduce to a simmer. Simmer 30 minutes.
Puree the chickpeas and lemon juice in a food processor or blender. Add a little more olive oil to thin it out, if needed.
Add the puree and the butter to the soup and stir to combine. Add more salt and pepper as needed.
Ladle into bowls and top with green onions to serve.
(I would highly recommend making a double batch! We easily ate almost the whole thing in one evening!)