Archive for the ‘ cooking ’ Category

Carbonara Con Carciofo

I went all renegade rebellious with dinner tonight, refusing to go grocery shopping and vowing to make something delicious from whatever was left on our shelves and in our fridge at the end of the week.

More often then not, these experiments result in something that works for the night and is never replicated. And I have an epic failure or two on my record. I also have a husband/dining partner who is not afraid to say exactly what he does or doesn’t like about what he’s tasting. So tonight when I cobbled together a pasta dish that Chuck proclaimed was so good I should post it on the internet, I thought it would be good carbonara Karma to do so. The following is an expansion of Mark Bittman’s Spaghetti alla Carbonara recipe in How to Cook Everything. It takes about half-an-hour, contains all the food groups, and is so tasty it’s a shame that it would murder your cholesterol to eat every night.

In the fridge/freezer/shelves, I foraged the ingredients: 1/2 lb. spaghetti; 2 strips thick-cut bacon; 2 eggs; 1/2 cup grated Parmesan (left from Christmas lasagna…); 1/4 onion; 5 mushrooms; 1 box frozen artichoke hearts.


1) Boil and salt water for the pasta.

2) Cook the bacon in 1 tablespoon of olive oil until crispy – set aside.

3) While the bacon is cooking, chop the onion and mushroom. Then saute in bacon pan, adding mushroom after a few minutes. Note – do not empty grease from pan before cooking.

4) When the pasta water is boiling add it in. At the same time, beat eggs and cheese together in a large heated bowl. ( I have no idea why Bittman says to heat the bowl – maybe to help cook the egg later? But I just added hot water to a bowl and dumped it out and it was nice and warm and everything came together well, so probably a step worth taking). Also at this time, cook the artichoke hearts on the stove or in the microwave.

5) Chop cooled bacon.

6) As soon as the pasta is finished cooking, drain and dump into the egg-and-cheese mixture. Mix well. Add bacon, grease and all cooked vegetables. Mix again. Serve with more Parmesan and lots of pepper!



On food, and how we talk about it

Today’s news brings us the new government guidelines for all eaters: eat less. On one hand, very simple advice. On the other hand, is it maybe too simple?  Is the act of the government coming out and saying what Weight Watchers has been telling the world since 1963 really going to provide anyone with new information on how to reduce their weight?

It’s math, people.

Unfortunately, I don’t think it’s quite that easy. For example, if people ate more, say, mushroom bourguignon with a side of kale (full disclosure: my dinner tonight), I don’t think they’d be getting quite so large. It isn’t only how much you eat, but also what you’re eating. Admittedly, the guidelines also call for half of your plate to be filled with fruits and vegetables, which is a helpful hint, but still doesn’t hit another issue that may be turning people away from healthy foods. Let me put forth another idea, as a person who has always preferred English to math. My hypothesis (science now) is that the language we use to talk about healthy food is a contributing factor to the obesity epidemic.

For example, let’s start with your basic items on your basic fast food menu. What do you have? Hamburger. Cheeseburger. Chicken Nuggets.You can picture them all, can’t you? You have absolutely no questions about what they look like, and certainly no doubt about how to pronounce them. What about the signature fancy dishes: the Whopper; the Big Mac; and my favorite, the Baconator, which does not fuck around with things like “lettuce.” While these words may not mean anything on their own, they’re still friendly and easy to pronounce, which–by association–sound easy to eat. What’s in a Big Mac anyway? Special sauce. That in itself means nothing either, but gosh-darn does it sound fun. Really makes eating fast food seem, well, special, doesn’t it?

Let’s compare this with my aforementioned dinner. I’ll be the first to admit: even for a college-educated girl, bourguignon is way easier to cook than it is to spell. What about some other words I’ve come across reading foodie articles in the past week: radicchio, braised, au jus. Growing up in a Betty Crocker household, I can promise you that these are words we never used in the kitchen. Furthermore, when I first came across them–whether in a menu or in a cookbook–2 things immediately came to mind:

1) This shit is fancy; and

2) I can’t (eat/make) this–I don’t know (what it is) and/or (how to pronounce it)!

Some version of thought 2 ALWAYS followed thought 1.

I think I would have likely made the bourguignon sooner if we used the old fast food trick of calling it what it is: a dish cooked in alcohol. In fact, I may have made bourguignon about twice a week in college. I’ve never cooked raddichio, but knowing that it looks like cabbage makes me pretty confident I can tackle it with ease (it also helps that when I see it on the menu I now think “rhymes with ‘geek,’ not ‘radish.’) As for braising, I’m sure I’ve done it, but I wouldn’t know to call it that (a glance at the wikipedia page confirms my assumption). As for the “au jus?” Just juice baby. Sweet meat juice. (Why is this not an item on a fast food menu?)

In sum, (math again) healthy food needs a little modern marketing to be more accessible–mentally, not just in proximity. Think quick, easy dishes dishes described in USA Today instead of New York Times language. Don’t believe me? Call your friend who’s favorite meal is a Big Mac and tell him you’re making either beef in booze or chicken with meat juice for dinner. He’ll be right over–and may even try the radicchio while he’s at it.

Pre-Gluttony, Pies, and Kick-Ass Women

The office closed at 2:00 today, and I was out the door at 2:01. (Sadly, I was dragging with me a few projects to work from home on Friday, but in my mind it’s a 4.5 day weekend I’m starting. And Friday I have the option not to work should I find myself bloated like a ripe-melon and unable to move in the morning. I feel like I can’t lose here.) Stopped on the way home for wine–beaujolais nouveau is back!–and ice-cream. Tonight Chuck is in charge of shelling pecans and we are going to make a pie.

Pecan pie is a sensitive issue in my family. Only my grandmother’s recipe is acceptable. It’s grade is weighted heavily on “chewiness.”  Crusts are more an afterthought than part of the equation: you don’t lose any points for buying them from the store, or gain many from making your own. (Although, when I revealed this secret to my baking obsessed co-worker, I think a lone tear fell from her eye.) Note that this is a strict rule governing only pecan pie.  For other pies, it is perfectly acceptable to buy the whole pie from the store. I once commented on this to my mom in front of my step-grandma, who stepped in with a smile and said, “You’re mom’s just using an old family recipe.”

The woman in my family are workers first, domestic goddesses second. My aunt might not be able to roast a chicken, but she can design and sign off on plans for new green buildings. My mom hasn’t knitted a stitch in 50 years, but she founded a company. As for grandma: she can’t sew, bakes well from boxes, and served as a Navy WAVE.  And my step-grandma, rest her soul? In her lifetime, she earned a Ph.D.

All this to say, my attempts to make things from scratch most of the time actually make me a little bit of a rebel girl amongst my kin. (Note: in past years I may have tried to smoke the pecans. Not toast them, but inhale them. So I’m not the rebel I used to be.) Perhaps it’s my destiny to open a Bed and Breakfast and grow my own herbs (the not-for-smoking kind) in the back and combine the savvy of past generations with the down-home environmental earthiness of today. That, or if my pie fails, head back to graduate school.

For the record, I did buy a pre-made crust. Don’t tell anyone at my potluck.

Tradition, Tradition

I’m not one of those people that gets all into photographing every meal I eat, posting it on the internet, and spending the next 12 hours responding to comments about how good it looks. That said, this post is going to be about what I made for dinner tonight. It does not contain any photos because I prefer to eat when it’s hot, and now the food is all in my belly. If you prefer to move on to the more interesting things that the internet has to offer–real porn instead of food porn–I will not be offended. But for those who care…

My family was really in to eating dinner every night. Especially on Sundays. Dad was often in charge of the main course on Sunday, and that involved grilling either steak or salmon. In stereotypical man fashion, dad only grills. When I was a teenage vegetarian, he made me portabella mushrooms, which my parents were convinced was an appropriate substitute for steak. After his second wife passed away, my grandpa started coming over for dinner every Sunday night, a tradition my parents maintain to this day.

When Chuck and I moved in together, the Sunday dinner was a tradition I resurrected. It seemed natural. I like staying in the last night of the weekend and relaxing for as long as I can before I return to work. I’ve always liked to cook, but only when I have someone to eat with. And Sundays in New York City are jam packed with farmer’s market fun, so if you want to be obsessive about it, you can spend the whole day procuring and preparing the perfect meal.

Tonight I made: tilapia with a dijon marinade; orange-ginger braised carrots (from the farmer’s market), cauliflower flavored with lemon, and couscous, served with bread from the market. It was one of the nights my cooking was deemed “restaurant quality.” I owe major thanks to Mark Bittman, who publishes about 90% of the recipes I use. Now I am working to polish off this bottle of red wine and enjoy the remaining hours of my Sunday night. Feeling quite content.