Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Go-to Dinner: Pasta With Peas and Bacon

My ultimate standby recipe is pasta with bacon, peas, Parmesan, and garlic, a quick, easy, and wholly satisfying meal consisting of ingredients I usually have on hand.

I always thought of this as one of those dishes you want to make when you stumble home late and need something in your stomach to stave off a hangover. But then I made it for my friends' family, who include a 5- and a 2-year-old as well as a picky dad, and they all loved it -- so it appears it’s very family-friendly as well. To put it another way, it's so quick and easy that either a drunk or a parent of small children can manage it.

The main ingredients in this dish, pasta and frozen peas (get the peas in bags, not boxes, so you can control the amount you use at a time), are two items I recommend always having in your cupboard and freezer respectively -- they're wicked cheap, cheaper still if you stock up when they're on sale; they will not go bad; and together, they will ensure that you never have nothing in the house to eat. As for bacon, I recommend also always having a package in the fridge, but that's between you and your God and/or cardiologist.

Dude, I Totally Scored With Those Potatoes

As a lifelong potato aficionada, I recently had a life-changing face-palm revelation about a technique that could not be simpler and quicker, yet instantly increases potato deliciousness by, I dunno, at least 300%.

I recently attended a barbecue that featured roasted Idaho (I think) potatoes that were—eureka!—cut in half with the cut surface scored in two directions. This allowed tons of butter to penetrate, thereby preventing that tendency of halved roasted potatoes to be bland and mealy/flaky in the middle.

Of course, when it came time to attempt to replicate those results, I was taking no chances. So I got new potatoes and sliced them in half lengthwise, scored the inside surfaces crosswise (say, 3 cuts across the whole surface in each direction, using a paring or other pointy knife), and then cut each half in half. If you don’t feel like taking the time to then score the other non-peel side (I did, being a butterholic), they will still be buttery and delicious.

Monday, March 29, 2010

Quick & Cheap Meal: Spaghetti in Clam Sauce

I don't really do seafood. This is not an allergy thing, a mercury thing, or a religious thing, it's just a taste thing. And as a foodie, I consider this a character flaw and an opportunity cost, especially considering I grew up outside Boston, near the coast, and went to Cape Cod every summer. (Many people I know have recoiled in abject horror upon learning this, and I don't blame you if you just did the same.) But! I'm trying to develop my palate, really I am.

So, when The Rob requested for dinner spaghetti with clam sauce, one of the few seafood dishes I grew up eating, and actually know how to make (thanks, Mom!), I decided it was another step in my ongoing Operation: DATES (Develop a Taste for Eating Seafood).

This dish is easy, cheap, relies mostly on pantry/fridge staples you probably have, and takes so little time to throw together that I started writing this after both shopping and prepping everything for dinner because Rob hadn't gotten home from the bar -- I mean, um, work -- yet.

This serves two, but you can double it easily by using a box of pasta and 2 cans of clams, and adding a little more of the other ingredients.

Because this is such a simple dish, you might want to splurge on some really good-quality fresh pasta. (I, however, bought a box at the same 99-cent store where I got flip-flops and a shower curtain last week. Look, it's a recession.) A long, thin kind like spaghetti, linguini or angel hair works best. For two people, you'll want at least 8 ounces or half a typical box.

Cooking Funemployment

Hello from your other Brooklyn Girl Cooking!

I, like many of us over the past year+, have been experiencing some ups and downs on the employment front. One of the benefits of not having to get up and go to work every day is having the time to play more with food and do some things I don't always have (or make) the time to do. Don't get me wrong, I always try to make time to cook, but I don't always make time to cook everything I have available. For example, a few days ago I took advantage of some over-ripe bananas, and made (an incredibly simple) blueberry banana bread (recipe from The America's Test Kitchen Family Cookbook), the last piece of which is pictured here. I can't even count the number of times I have allowed bananas to go beyond even banana bread ripeness, something I think happens to all of us. As my friend Julie who is currently living in Brazil with her family just wrote me about making her own blueberry banana bread: "Alyce, this... inspired me. I have a loaf in the oven right now. It's super special since the Brazilians are not a blueberry-eating people and they're hard to find. Plus, I usually let my bananas rot to the point that we have a major bug infestation before I think to make bread."

Another fun recent experiment came about because, as usual, when I go to the market, I buy potatos. One of my weird shopping quirks is that there are certain things I feel I should always have in my kitchen, but that I may not always use. Potatos are one of those items I feel are mandatory, but I don't often cook potatos, I am much more a rice girl. (I say that with trepidation, knowing Kitty's penchant for potatoes might result in a rice v potato post? ooh, i like that idea) But then here I am at home with time on my hands, chilly rain outside my door, a hankering for something starchy and salty, and potatos for the taking. So I went on and found a recipe for French Fries. They were baked, and called for a post-baking swim in parsley, garlic, and salt (cue: These are a few of my favorite things). The results were tasty, although I will definitely alter my cooking strategy the next time around: Having two layers of sheets of fries baking at the same time served to trap, and thus magnify, the heat on the lower oven tray, which made them cook faster. It wasn't necessarily bad in terms of taste, but a few of the thinner fries had 3rd degree burns and had to be laid to rest, unfortunately not in my stomach.

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Chicken. Custard. Together. Awesome.

Curried "custard" chicken with tomatoes and onions
Recently my friend Sarah made me, as she often does, a really exciting dinner. The main dish consisted of lamb shanks that had been slow-cooked overnight and were then baked a second time covered by yogurt that cooked to form a custard on top of the meat. (If you didn’t just experience a little frisson of excitement upon reading the phrase "a custard on top of the meat," I don't know what to do with you.)
Inspired by this dish, I decided to do a simplified version involving chicken thighs, though I was nervous about how the "custard" would turn out. While it definitely had a different flavor and mouthfeel than Sarah’s lamb dish (in part because it was a much thinner layer), it was a pretty delicious entree that would impress company and/or feed a good four people (I served it for two and ate leftovers the next two days for lunch), but doesn't cost too much to put together.
Here's what I did:

  • Put about a pint of plain lowfat yogurt in a metal strainer lined by coffee filters, topped the yogurt with another coffee filter, put the strainer, in a bowl and left it in the fridge overnight. This is to get all the liquid out of the yogurt. (To accelerate the process of draining, I took a stack of saucers and put it on the yogurt to weigh it down.)

  • Skinned and boned a 2-lb. package of chicken thighs. If you’re not familiar/comfortable with this, just get boneless, skinless chicken thighs.