Green Spaghetti

(from my old blog…)

When I was a kid my mother would make spaghetti with just butter and chopped parsley sometimes. She (and we) called it "green spaghetti."

I'm not a huge fan of parsley, but we are growing it anyway. (Just like I'm not a huge fan of broccoli, but we grew some of that too this year…thank you, John.)

Anyway, the parsley is doing very well, so I suggested making green spaghetti tonight. We have left over whole wheat spaghetti in the fridge, so it would take very little time to prepare. Bill went out and harvested parsley…and some basil…some chives…and the last little florets of broccoli. He roughly chopped all the green stuff, and threw in some chopped olives and some capers….(hmmm…this is no longer the original green spaghetti…and I had very little to do with the creation of this dish as well…oh well…I was giving Alex a bath.)

I heated some olive oil in a pan, tossed in all the chopped ingredients, and just basically warmed them slowly in the oil. Sprinkled that with some salt and pepper, and warmed up the spaghetti in a ziploc bag in the microwave. There was a little bit of spaghetti sauce on the spaghetti, too, so there was that little tomato element thrown into the final dish. When the spaghetti was warmed up I put that in the pot with the greens and oil, tossed them all together, and we served it with some grated parmigan. Alex shoved handfuls of it into his mouth. He likes everything. He eats his veggies without a complaint. (He likes sauteed chicken livers too, with a little onion, served over some couscous mixed with diced tomato, basil and olive oil…honest!)

Anyway, dinner was very nice, very quick, very simple. I love having the garden. Bill is the gardener, as he has more time in the summer than I do…and he likes to do it. He is, in this respect, his mother's son. Which works for me. I'm looking forward to later this summer, when the "bigger" things start coming in…eggplant, tomatoes, squash, cucumbers…different kinds of salad greens…herbs…the peas are just about finished, now that the hot weather has arrived…oh, and we have asparagus…horseradish…raspberry plants that were Bill's mom's…not a bad little farm this year.

I look forward to fresh tomatoes, sliced, with slices of fresh mozzarella, mixed with fresh basil and olive oil and a little salt….or fresh eggplant and zucchini on the grill…a thick sliced tomato sandwich with mayo and a pinch of salt. That is the flavor of summer to me.

Creme Brulee

(originally from my old blog…)

2008 note – if you want to see pictures of the process, go here.

Tuesday night when everyone was over I made Creme Brulee,

which is an egg custard slow-baked in a water bath, then chilled, then sprinkled with granulated sugar, and then the sugar is caramelized either under a broiler or with some kind of blow torch. After it melts and browns, the sugar hardens, so when you dip your spoon into the dessert, you hit a crackly layer of sugar and then the rich, creamy texture of the custard. It's a nice contrast.

The recipe I used is from my Baking & Pastry Formulas book, which was one of my two "bibles" when I was a baking and pastry arts degree candidate at Johnson & Wales University a couple of years ago. I didn't finish, which bothers me if I think about it too long. But I learned a lot while I was there, so it was not wasted time.

Here is the recipe for 12 servings of Creme Brulee (which translates as "Burnt Cream"):

(Just about all the measuring was done by weight, not cups, so it helps if you have a kitchen scale. If you don't have one, send me an email and I'll figure out the conversions for you)

You need:

12 4-ounce ramekins
2 13 x 9 metal cake pans
A fine-mesh strainer
A couple of bowls
A whisk

9 ounces of egg yolks
4 1/2 ounces of granulated sugar
vanilla extract to taste (or any other flavor you might want to use. This is the basic recipe.)
3 pounds of heavy cream

Preheat your oven to 325 degrees F.

Whisk the egg yolks and sugar together.

Whisk in the vanilla extract.

Whisk in the heavy cream.

Strain the mixture; remove any foam on top.

Distribute the mixture evenly among the 12 ramekins.

Place the ramekins in the metal cake pans – 6 in each. Leave space in between each ramekin and the sides of the pans.

Pour some warm water into the pans, and then have more warm water ready to pour.

Place the pans on the center rack in your oven. Pour more water into each pan until the water comes about half-way up the sides of the ramekins.

Close the oven and bake until firm. And in this case, firm means "set" but not "hard as a rock." When you shake the ramekin (gently), there should be a little jello-like wiggle in the center.

The length of cooking time will depend on your oven. Check them at 30 minutes, and then about every 10 minutes or so after that. The nice thing about baking things this way is it's a slow, gentle process. The only way to overcook them is to completely forget about them for a few hours.

Anyway, when they are done, CAREFULLY take the pans out of the oven and set them down. I say CAREFULLY because the water in those pans is hot and if you aren't CAREFUL, the water could slosh out and splash you and that would hurt and might cause you to drop the pan, in which case all the rest of the water would splash everywhere…and worse still, there would be 6 shattered ramekins with custard splattered everywhere that you'd have to clean up and throw out. This stuff is too good to waste like that, so, like I said, BE CAREFUL.

Remove the ramekins from the water bath (or bain marie, to trot out my culinary French), and allow to cool. When cooled, put them in the fridge for at least 4 hours, or overnight if you have time, until thoroughly chilled.

Before serving, take them out of the fridge and sprinkle some granulated sugar on the surface of each custard.

Now there are, like I said, a couple ways you can brulee them. One way is to put them under the broiler in your oven. If you're doing it this way, fire up the broiler and put the top rack about 6 inches below the broiler. Place the ramekins on a cookie sheet and slide them under the flames. You might want to just do a few at a time. Keep an eye on them – this isn't a recipe for blackened custard. You want to caramelize the sugar, so you want to watch for an amber/brown color. The color probably won't be even – it may look kind of blotchy. That's okay. Take them out before they burn! Hurry!

OR, if you want to have fun and play with fire, get a blow torch (they make little hand-held ones you can buy) and carefully move the flame back and forth over the sugar until it melts and browns. Keep the flame moving – sugar will burn quickly. This doesn't really take very long, and it certainly impresses people if they've never seen it done before. Fun party trick.

A few moments later, the sugar on top will harden and, voila! You did it! Your friends will be impressed as anything – and it was so easy!!!!

Have fun!

Buffalo Balls

(from my old blog…)

As I think I mentioned in a previous post, on Sunday I went to visit my sister and her family, and my parents, while my husband taught some guys how to brew an all-grain batch of beer.

Saturday night I made these meatballs for them to have for lunch on Sunday. According to Bill, they were a huge hit. Here is what I did:

First, the meatball ingredients:

2 lbs ground beef

1 14 oz pkg of "Gimme Lean" sausage flavor (it's a meat substitute. Found, at least in my area, with things like tofu and the like in that section of the grocery store. There's also a ground beef flavor, but I wanted the flavor of sausage in addition to the ground beef. The other reason I like this stuff is that unlike real meat, it doesn't lose moisture. When you cook ground beef and spoon off the fat, the meat has a tendancy to be tough. The Gimme Lean products don't have any fat, so they stay moist. We use the ground beef variety for tacos.)

1 medium onion, minced

About 3/4 cup bread crumbs

Enough milk to moisten the crumbs

An egg

Salt and pepper

And you will also need:

A 14 oz can of beef broth

2 cups of any red hot sauce you like

1 stick of unsalted butter

Shredded cheddar cheese

Blue cheese

Torpedo rolls 

I think that's everything. I didn't write it down at the time…

Anyway, put all the meatball ingredients together in a big bowl and, with your hands, squish it all together til it's pretty well combined. Form into balls somewhere between ping pong and golf in size, then flatten slightly. (I was making them at night, and I wanted them to cook faster. You don't really have to flatten them if you don't want to.)

When they're all shaped, heat a skillet and brown the meatballs on both sides (or all sides, if not flattened) but don't worry about cooking through – they'll do that later.

Hold browned meatballs on another plate until all are browned. Put the browned meatballs back in the pan and add the can of beef broth. Cover and cook on low heat until the meatballs are cooked through. Shouldn't take very long.

In a separate pan, melt the butter and whisk in the red hot sauce. (* Must give credit here to Paula Deen, who has a show on the food network. This is the sauce from her recipe for Buffalo Wings, which are very good.)

Anyway, pour the sauce in with the meatballs, once they're cooked, and heat through.

Serve on rolls with shredded cheddar or crumbled blue cheese. Or, if you're making these ahead as I did, when the meatballs are cooked through, remove them from the pan to cool, and whisk the buffalo sauce into the remaining broth in the pan. When it's all cooled, put the meatballs and sauce into the crock pot insert, cover, and refrigerate.

I started the crock pot going the next morning around 7:00 and the guys ate lunch around noon or one, I think. And there were even a few left over for me!

Trout for Lunch

(from my old blog…Bill had caught some trout one morning)

Pretty simple – all I did was this:

Heat some oil in a pan – about a quarter of an inch or so….

While it is warming up, mix about two parts flour to one part cornmeal in a bowl. Add some salt and pepper. If you want to season it more than this, go right ahead.

Pat the trout filets dry with some paper towel. Dredge each filet in the flour mixture and place on a clean, dry plate.

When the oil is hot (it sizzles immediately when you flick some water into it), place a few filets in the pan. Watch out for the splattering. When the edges start to look opaque, turn the filets over and finish cooking. They should be a pale golden brown on each side.

Remove the filets and place on paper towels on another plate. Keep the plate and fish warm in your oven (on very low heat – about 200 degrees. You don't want to dry out the fish.) Repeat the frying with the rest of the fish.

Serve with tartar sauce, lemon wedges, hot sauce, or whatever you like on your fish.

You can also serve other things with this, like rice or fries or potato salad, but there's also something kind of cool and fun about just having the fish by itself. Especially when it was caught just a few hours earlier.

We gave Alex some little bits of fish (double-checking for bones, first) and he loves it. He had already had his lunch, his fruit for dessert, a teething cookie, and a few Cheerios. But after the first little taste of fish, he wanted more. And more. He liked it with tartar sauce, and also with the lemon. He can try hot sauce a bit later on in his life. Anyway – we had a very nice lunch. And there's more fish in the fridge

Whole Wheat Linguine with Leeks and Mushrooms

(from my old blog…)

I made this the other night…

Trimmed and chopped a couple of big leeks and let them sit in a bowl of cold water for a while to clean off any dirt….

Poured some olive oil and some butter in a pan and when the butter melted I added the leeks and also a package of sliced mushrooms. Covered the pan to sweat them a bit.

Filled a pot with water and started bringing that to a boil…

Took the cover off the leeks and mushrooms, added some salt and pepper and a sprinkling of flour (to thicken the juices, eventually) and poured some sherry into it. Cooked that for a little while, then added about 2 cups of chicken stock. Kept it bubbling.

When the water came to a boil, I added some salt and a package of whole wheat linguine. (You could use any shape pasta you like. I will just insist that you use whole wheat. It has a great texture and flavor.)

When the liquid had reduced somewhat in the pan of leeks and mushrooms, I lowered the heat just to keep it at a very low simmer. When the pasta was done, I drizzled a VERY little bit of cream into the leeks and mushroom mixture.

Drained the pasta, put some in a couple of bowls for Bill and I, and spooned some of the leek/mushroom mixture over the top. Grated a little parmesan onto that, and ta-da – dinner.

Chocolate Chip Cookies

(from my old blog) Yesterday I made a batch of chocolate chip cookies, at my husband's request. No nuts – just chocolate chips. I used the recipe from the back of a package of Ghiradelli semi-sweet chips, but I used both the remaining semi-sweet chips and a whole package of Ghiradelli's double chocolate chips too.

(There weren't a lot of the semi-sweet ones – about a quarter of a package.) Anyway, I made them very small – definitely just a teaspoonful per cookie – and they are nice, bite-sized cookies that dare you to stop once you've begun.

Here is the recipe:

Ghiradelli Chocolate Chip Cookies

2 1/4 cups unsifted flour

1 tsp baking soda

1/2 tsp salt

1 cup butter, softened (the recipe didn't say it, but this should be unsalted butter)

3/4 cup sugar

3/4 cup brown sugar, packed

2 tsp vanilla

2 large eggs

1 cup walnuts (I didn't use them)

1 bag (12 oz) Ghiradelli Semi-Sweet Chocolate Chips

Preheat oven to 375 degrees F.

Stir flour w/baking soda and salt, set aside. (Use a whisk – it'll incorporate everything together better.)

In large bowl, beat butter with sugar and brown sugar at medium speed until creamy and lightened in color (about 4 minutes). Add vanilla and eggs, one at a time, mix on low speed until incorporated. (Scrape the bowl down after each egg is incorporated.)

Gradually blend dry mixture into creamed mixture. (I added it in 3 batches, scraping down the bowl after each addition.) Stir in nuts and chocolate chips (or just chips, if that's what you're doing).

Drop by tablespoon onto ungreased baking sheets. (I used teaspoons, and dropped them onto parchment-lined pans. Clean up is quicker, and you can re-use the parchment a few times.)

Bake for 9-11 minutes or until golden brown. (I baked for 5 minutes on the lower rack, then turned the pan around and moved it to the upper rack, and popped in the next sheet of cookies. Baked another 5 minutes, took the ones on the top rack out, turned and moved the pan on the lower rack to the higher rack, and popped in the next pan. It worked well.) I don't know how many it made – but I know they won't last the week. Next time, though, I'm putting nuts in. I was also thinking of using 3 sizes of chips, just for kicks.

Chicken and Gravy and Mashed Potatoes

(from my old blog…) Monday night I wanted comfort food for dinner. So this is what I did:

Cut up a bunch of red-skinned new potatoes, put them in a pot with cold water to cover, and boiled them until they were fork tender.

While that was in the works, I fried 2 strips of bacon in a pan until crisp. Removed them from the pan and sauteed a small, chopped onion for a few minutes.

To that I added some baby portobello mushroom caps, covered everything and cooked until the mushrooms had browned and released their liquid.

I took out the onions and mushroms and seared some sliced boneless, skinless chicken breast pieces on both sides.

Removed them and put in some butter and flour and chicken stock, whisked it all together til smooth, then put back the chicken, onions and mushrooms, some salt and pepper, and cooked until the chicken was cooked through and the gravey thickened.

When the potatoes were done I drained them, put them in the bowl of my Kitchenaid mixer, added butter, milk, salt, peper and a bit of the bacon, chopped up. Beat that all together (but left some lumps.) I reheated some baby asparagus from Sunday's lunch, and served it up for my husband and myself. (I'd been feeding my son while I was leaping around making dinner).

It was very good. Last night I pureed a bit of the potatoes, chicken, a mushroom, and some gravy and fed it to my son. He liked it too. 

Shrimp Recipe

(from my old blog…) Last night I was going to make shrimp fajitas, but I didn't have flour tortillas and I didn't feel like going to the store on my lunch break or on the way home, so this is what I did instead:

Smeared 1/3 of a can of tomato paste in the bottom of a baking dish (not a 13 x 9 – it's smaller, maybe 11 x 7 or so).

On top of that I put chunks of cream cheese – used a whole 8 ounce block. (No, this isn't diet food.)

Peeled and deveigned some shrimp. (There were 28 left in the bag of frozen, so that's what I used) Put them in a bowl, and sprinkled some "Essence of Emeril" on top. (Yes, really, I have a bottle of it. It's handy.)

Mixed together a can of black beans (rinsed) with a package of frozen corn, a chopped onion, the rest of the can of tomato paste whisked into a cup of chicken stock, salt and pepper, and a bit of lemon zest (about a teaspoon). (I used lemon zest because I had some left from the dessert I made on Sunday, and because I didn't realize I still had some limes. I would have used the juice from half a lime otherwise.)

One by one, I heated up small corn (white corn in this case) tortillas and when they were warm and softened, I put two shrimp lengthwise at one end and rolled them up in the tortilla. Like a flauta, I think.

Anyway, placed these, as I made them, down the center of the baking dish. They fit perfectly – I made 14 of them, there were 10 down the center, and 2 along each side. Nice and snug.

Poured the beans and corn mixture over the top, covered it with foil, and baked for about an hour at 350 F. Actually, to be honest, I started it at 325 but it wasn't coming along fast enough (trying to time it for when my husband got home from work at 7), so about halfway through I bumped it to 375. So, averaging it out, I'm saying 350. But it also depends on the individual oven, so it should be checked periodically.

Served with a dollop of sour cream and some cubed avocado. We also sprinkled some green Tabasco on it. I would have made it spicier, but I'm trying to share more of our "people food" with Alex, and I don't want to frighten him with chili peppers just yet.

My husband loved it. I thought it was good. But then I am always more critical of my cooking than he is. I think it could have used more liquid – maybe half a cup more of the chicken stock.

P.S. Tonight I pureed some of the leftovers and fed that to Alex for dinner. He loved it too. Except for the avocado. 

Toddler Defiance

Alex has been playing with Bill's old set of Lego-like toys (they're much bigger and not a choking hazard), and he really likes them – especially the little plastic Lego-like people that are part of the set. He likes to put them head-first in his mouth. And look right at me.

Because he knows I don't want him putting them in his mouth (for fear that he will fall and smash them further in or something.) So he looks at me. With this look that I expect to see on and off for the rest of his life (or mine), or at least through the teen years… It says "so whaddaya gonna do about it?" So I say – "Get that out of your mouth." And he does – and smiles and says "Hi" in his charming way. And then sticks the poor Lego-like person back in. So I hold out my hand. Okay – then give it to me. He puts it in his left hand, which happened to be farther away from me than his right, and we played a wild game of throwing stuffed animals at each other – he only threw right handed, for a change, and kept his left hand sort of behind him. And then, he popped the poor little Lego-like person back in his mouth. "Alex, if you don't get that out of your mouth I will take it away." Out it comes. And right back in. So I took the little wet Lego-like person away from him (Mean Mommy) and speed-walked into the kitchen to hide it until I could find out where Bill had put the rest of them. Alex followed slowly, crying his little thwarted heart out. He saw his cup of milk standing there in the kitchen and went for that. I offered him a section of grapefruit. He shook his head. (this is another "game" we invented) I offered it again, saying "No?" in mock surprise. He shook his head again, little teary face beginning to look less tragic. I popped the piece of grapefruit in my mouth with great ceremony and made a deleriously happy face and made his "MM-mm" sound, chewing with unnecessary but humorous (to an almost-17-month-old) gusto. And he laughed.