Spaghetti alla Carbonara

This is one of those moments when I swear I had this recipe posted on the blog

Swearing is so unladylike…..

However, a quick search revealed that, in fact, I had not. I’ve been making it for years, though, as it’s the perfect dinner to whip up when you have unexpected company arriving for dinner.

Not that I have much experience with that lately, really.

*cough*

Anyway, in other breaking news, I firmly believe the zombie apocalypse is occurring this week. Alexander cleaned his room yesterday. Himself. And vacuumed. And set up his alarm clock.

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And Sabrina reorganized her closet.

I’m calling my mother……

Spaghetti alla Carbonara – adapted from Tyler Florence

1 pound dry spaghetti
2 tbs. extra-virgin olive oil
4 ounces pancetta or slab bacon, cubed or sliced into small strips
4 garlic cloves, finely chopped
2 large eggs
1 cup freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano, plus more for serving
Freshly ground black pepper
1 handful fresh flat-leaf parsley, chopped

Prepare the sauce while the pasta is cooking to ensure that the spaghetti will be hot and ready when the sauce is finished; it is very important that the pasta is hot when adding the egg mixture, so that the heat of the pasta cooks the raw eggs in the sauce.

Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil, add the pasta and cook for 8 to 10 minutes or until tender yet firm. Drain the pasta well, reserving 1/2 cup of the starchy cooking water to use in the sauce if you wish.

Meanwhile, heat the olive oil in a deep skillet over medium flame. Add the pancetta and saute for about 3 minutes, until the bacon is crisp and the fat is rendered. Toss the garlic into the fat and saute for less than 1 minute to soften.

Add the hot, drained spaghetti to the pan and toss for 2 minutes to coat the strands in the bacon fat. Beat the eggs and Parmesan together in a mixing bowl, stirring well to prevent lumps. Remove the pan from the heat and pour the egg/cheese mixture into the pasta, whisking quickly until the eggs thicken, but do not scramble (this is done off the heat to ensure this does not happen.) Thin out the sauce with a bit of the reserved pasta water, until it reaches desired consistency. Season the carbonara with several turns of freshly ground black pepper and taste for salt. Mound the spaghetti carbonara into warm serving bowls and garnish with chopped parsley. Pass more cheese around the table.

Spinach Artichoke Macaroni and Cheese

This project is proving to be a bit more challenging than I previously imagined. Challenging is a much shorter term than oh-lord-I-really-need-to-put-more-brainpower-into-this. You might think I’m referencing my goal of taking better pictures this year. Well, yes……… and no.

Yes that’s a goal, but not here, not today, not this minute.

What I’m actually referring to is the design on the Ranch house. J and I spent some time yesterday to redo  the kitchen and utility room layout. Holy smokes – ‘redo’ is an understatement – ‘completely redesigned’ is more like it. As I may have mentioned before, being in this rental house for the past 8 months was probably one of the best ideas we’ve had, because now we have a clear understanding of how we work together in the kitchen (exceptionally well!) and what we need/want to have at the Ranch. And we have determined that we need a lot more counter space, storage space, and (for him) workshop space.

And J has come up with a design for the posse’s bedrooms that is simply genius. That’s why he’s the brains of this operation :)

So while it’s safe to say that my photography skills have not improved thus far, we are only two days into the new year, and that means there’s plenty of time for improvement.

Seriously though, this was one of those recipes that was so good, and so easy – and based on the fact that there weren’t any leftovers, I do believe that it is a keeper.

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Spinach Artichoke Macaroni and Cheese – adapted from Food Network

12 oz pasta
4 tbs. unsalted butter
1/3 cup chopped onion
3 cloves garlic, finely minced
4 tbs. all-purpose flour
3 cups milk
3 cups lightly packed shredded white cheddar cheese
1 generous cup shredded mozzarella cheese
One 10 -ounce bag baby spinach
One 15 oz can artichoke hearts, roughly chopped
Freshly ground black pepper

Position an oven rack at the center of the oven, and preheat the oven to 425 degrees.

Bring a large pot of water to a boil and cook the pasta half of the recommended cooking time. Drain and set the pasta aside.

Meanwhile, in a separate pot, melt the butter over medium heat. Add the onion, and cook, stirring occasionally, until soft, 2 to 4 minutes. Add the garlic, and cook, stirring, until soft, about 2 minutes. Add the flour, and whisk constantly until it begins to toast, about 2 minutes. Whisk in the milk, and stir constantly until the mixture is thick like gravy, 3 to 5 minutes. Whisk in the cheddar cheese. Once the cheese has melted, add the spinach, and cook until just wilted, about 1 minute. Stir in the artichoke hearts, pasta, and pepper. Transfer to a greased 2-quart baking dish.

Sprinkle the mozzarella cheese over the pasta. Bake until golden and bubbly, about 20 minutes.

Potato and Cheese Pierogi

True story: up until last week, I have never tried a Pierogi, much less attempted to make one. So how, inquiring minds want to know, did I find myself making 10 dozen of them last Sunday evening?

The answer, believe it or not, is surprising simple – J and I were inspired after catching an episode of “Diners, Drive-Ins, and Dives”, and when I casually mentioned that I’d never had them, he suggested that we make some.

And oh-by-the-way he could then have a few dozen to take to work for the Holiday party they were having the next day.

Am I imagining things, or did he have an ulterior motive? Hmmmmm.

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A word from the wise: this is a time-consuming project, albeit a very tasty one. The recipe states that it takes an hour and a half  – which it might, if you’re a professional pierogi-maker… I, however, am not. Allow several hours, and recruit other suckers friends to assist, it will go much more quickly.

Potato and Cheese Pierogi – adapted from Food Network
Pierogi Dough:
4 pounds all-purpose flour
1 tbs. olive oil
2 large eggs
1/2 tsp kosher salt
3 1/2 cups warm water (110 degrees F)
Nonstick cooking spray

Mashed Potato Filling:
2 pounds red potatoes (I used russets)
Kosher salt
4 oz butter
4 oz cream cheese
3 oz sour cream
1 tbs granulated garlic
1/2 tsp onion powder
1/2 tsp black pepper
1/2 tsp white pepper
1 pound soft European farmer’s cheese
Milk to thin, if necessary
Nonstick cooking spray

For the pierogi dough: In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a dough hook, add the flour, olive oil, eggs, salt and 2 1/2 cups warm water. Start the mixer on slow for a minute, and then switch to high for another couple of minutes until the dough pulls away from the bowl. Then slow the mixer down to medium speed and slowly add the remaining 1 cup warm water. Once the water is absorbed, return the mixer to high and let the dough beat for 10 minutes.

Remove from the bowl. Cut the dough into 4 pieces. Form into balls, spray with nonstick spray, wrap in plastic wrap and let rest in a warmer area for 20 minutes.

Spray the counter or large cutting board with the nonstick spray and begin to roll the dough with a rolling pin. Roll until a consistent thickness of 1/4-inch. Then spray with nonstick spray. (If it gets too thin, that’s ok as you can re-ball and roll out again.) Use about a 3-inch circle cutter and press down hard and give a slight twist to completely separate from the rest of the dough, continue this throughout the entire piece.

Remove the scraps and in-betweens, save, re-ball and re-roll. Then flip the circle cut-outs; they are ready to be stuffed.

For the mashed potato filling: Boil the red potatoes, leaving the skin on, in a stock pot with 2 tablespoons kosher salt. Once the potatoes are soft, drain off the water and place in the mixer bowl with the dough hook or paddle attachment. Add the butter right away so it will start to melt. Then add the cream cheese, sour cream, granulated garlic, onion powder and black and white peppers into the bowl and mix on a medium speed. Mix until smooth and free of all lumps. Now add the farmer’s cheese and mix on high for a couple minutes until a little fluffy. Season with kosher salt. Loosen with milk if necessary. Let cool.

Line a baking sheet with parchment paper and spray with nonstick spray (so the delicate dough doesn’t stick. Place about 1 teaspoon of the potato and cheese filling in the center of all the cut-outs. (I like to use a bamboo skewer or large toothpick to remove the filling from the spoon to keep your hands clean.) Then pick up the dough with two hands and fold over the filling. Slightly pull out both sides at the base of the fold, then continue to pull, then pinch, and form and seal as you continue around the half moon. Double check for any areas that aren’t smooth or completely sealed. Repeat. Place on the prepared baking sheet.

In a large saucepan bring three-quarters of a gallon of water to a rapid boil. One by one, drop in the pierogis. Par-boil them until they float, about 5 minutes. Then place them back on a greased baking sheet to let cool.

To serve: Cover the bottom of a saute pan with olive oil over medium-high heat. Once the oil is hot, saute the pierogis; they should sizzle once they hit the oil. After a minute or so, flip them, looking for a golden brown color. Plate with sauteed onions (if desired) and a side of sour cream for dipping. Drizzle with the butter and sprinkle with the parsley. Enjoy!

Fried Ravioli

It’s Sunday, and in my opinion, the best day of the weekend. Everything that was on your “to-do” list is done, everyone is home, (doing their own thing), and dinner is bubbling away in the slow cooker. There was the promise (some might say threat) of a thunderstorm today, but that hasn’t happened.

And may I say, I’m a bit disappointed that it didn’t. Perhaps it would have inspired me to bake something, because rainy days = baking to warm up the kitchen.

Nevermind the fact that it’s still 80 degrees outside, so clearly the kitchen doesn’t need warming up……..

On a separate, unrelated topic, I have been thinking quite a bit about my birthday. Seeing as how it’s rapidly approaching, and we will be in Vegas for it  (crazy, considering that last year we were in ITALY!!), I am contemplating what to make for dinner. It’s not weird that I plan on making dinner and my own cake, because really, going out is highly overrated.

Food, company, and ambiance is always better at home – especially my parents’ home :)

So while dreams of lobster, steak and chocolate cake dance through my head, I’ll like to share this picture of Alexander, who graciously made dinner for J and I last night:

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He prepared an incredible pasta dinner for us, and commented that “wow, it’s a lot of work to do this!”

Welcome to the real world, kid……….
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Fried Ravioli – adapted from Giada De Laurentiis

1 cup buttermilk
2 cups Italian-style bread crumbs
1 box fresh cheese ravioli (about 24 ravioli)
1/4 cup freshly grated Parmesan
1 jar store bought marinara sauce, heated, for dipping

Pour enough vegetable oil into a large frying pan to reach a depth of 2 inches. Heat the oil over medium heat until a deep-fry thermometer registers 325 degrees F.

While the oil is heating, put the buttermilk and the bread crumbs in separate shallow bowls. Working in batches, dip ravioli in buttermilk to coat completely. Allow the excess buttermilk to drip back into the bowl. Dredge ravioli in the bread crumbs. Place the ravioli on a baking sheet, and continue with the remaining ravioli.

When the oil is hot, fry the ravioli in batches, turning occasionally, until golden brown, about 3 minutes. Using a slotted spoon, transfer the fried ravioli to paper towels to drain.

Sprinkle the fried ravioli with Parmesan and serve with a bowl of warmed marinara sauce for dipping.

 

Pasta al Pesto

When the chief and posse are away, the second-in-command will play.

With food, that is.

I have embraced being completely on my own for the past two days, unpacking and doing the laundry, catching up on the dust around the house, sorting through copious amount of mail (I was only gone for 4 days!), collecting the puppies from their respective sitters (and giving them much needed baths), and most importantly, stocking the house with food in anticipation of everyone’s return.

Including a show stopping dessert. :)

But last night, I decided to treat myself and make one of my absolute favorite pasta dishes – since I’m pretty much the only one that will eat it.

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And, as an added bonus, my basil plant from Trader Joe’s is blooming like crazy.

Well, the parts that Dyna the Indomitable Dachshund hasn’t eaten. Who knew that a little German dog has such a passion for basil?

Pesto Sauce - adapted from Food Network

2 cloves garlic
1/2 cup pine nuts
1 large bunch basil, about 1/4 pound, well washed and dried
1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
1 cup grated Parmesan cheese

In the bowl of a food processor, put the garlic, pine nuts, the basil, and the oil into the bowl and process it until the ingredients form a smooth paste. Add the Parmesan  and pulse just to combine. Add more oil if necessary to achieve a smooth fluid consistency.

 

Chicken Spaghetti

Sometimes, the name of a dish alone is enough to pique your interest to want to try it.

This, however, is not one of those times.

Just kidding.

I actually had a version of Chicken Spaghetti about 4 months ago, and was absolutely mortified when I found out what goes into making it.

Seriously.

Talk about unhealthy … processed cheese, canned soup, canned broth…….. no how and no way.

So I did a leeeetle bit of experimenting, combining several different recipes, and voila:

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Yes I know – worst picture ever.

But don’t pay attention to that. Pay attention instead to the fact that this was made with homemade béchamel sauce, real cheese, pasta, and assorted vegetables.

Deeeee-licious.

One thing I’ve learned with baked pasta dishes, though, is that you should always always ALWAYS make more sauce than you think you need. And thin that sauce out with additional milk. Otherwise, it gets too dry and gummy and then no one wants to eat it.

Including me. 

However, as proof that this was really good, here is the same dish after dinner:

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Granted, Alexander and his 15 year old boy metabolism did 80% of the damage.

Chicken Spaghetti – adapted from several sources on the internet

  • 2 cups cooked shredded chicken
  • 1 lb thin pasta, cooked for about 4 minutes (or half the recommended cooking time)
  • 3 cups béchamel sauce, thinned with 1/2 to 1 cup additional milk (see below)
  • 2 cups grated white cheddar cheese (or any cheese, really)
  • 1 cup frozen peas
  • 1 small onion, finely diced
  • 1 red pepper, chopped
  • Fresh ground black pepper to taste

Combine all ingredients (reserving one cup of cheese for the top) and pour into a greased baking dish. Top with the remaining cheese, and bake at 375 degrees until bubbling around the edges and lightly browned on top – about 30 minutes.

Bechamel Sauce 

5 tbs. butter
4 tbs. all-purpose flour
3 cups milk
2 tsp black pepper
Directions

In a medium saucepan, heat the butter over medium heat until melted. Add the flour and whisk until smooth. Cook whisking constantly, for about 3 minutes. Add the milk slowly to the butter/flour mixture, whisking constantly until very smooth. Bring to a full boil, then remove from heat. Season with pepper, and set aside until ready to use. Thin with additional milk if the sauce gets too thick.

 

 

Spinach-Rainbow Chard Lasagna

I’ve become a huge fan of rainbow chard lately, for two very important reasons:

1. It has a nice bitter tang to it, sort of like escarole and rapini,

and

2. The market down the street sells big bags of it already washed and cut up.

Conveniently, I might add.

So when I decided to make this lasagna a few weeks ago, instead of using all spinach, I tuned into my rebel side (stop laughing) and used a bag of chard that I had in the fridge.

And...dun.dun.dun….it was already washed and cut up.

Ready to go.
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Spinach Lasagna – adapted from Martha Stewart

  • 1/4 cup olive oil
  • 1 small yellow onion, finely chopped
  • 2 pounds baby spinach (I used a combination of rainbow chard and spinach)
  • 4 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 1/4 cup all purpose flour
  • 1 quart milk
  • 1 packed cup grated Parmesan (3 ounces)
  • 1/4 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper
  • 8 ounces no-boil lasagna noodles
  • 6 ounces mozzarella, shredded
  • 1/3 packed cup (1 ounce) grated Pecorino Romano
Preheat oven to 375 degrees with rack in middle position.
Heat 1 tablespoon oil in a large pot over medium-high heat. When oil shimmers, add onions  and cook, stirring occasionally, until translucent, 3 minutes. Add spinach, a few handfuls at a time, and cook, stirring frequently, until all spinach is wilted, 3-5 minutes. Transfer to a mesh strainer and press against spinach to remove as much liquid as possible.
In a medium saucepan, melt butter over high heat. Add flour and cook, whisking constantly, until roux is golden brown, 1 minute. Add milk and continue whisking until milk begins to boil and thickens enough to coat the back of a spoon. Remove from heat and stir in Parmesan, nutmeg, 1 teaspoon salt, and black pepper. Cover surface with plastic wrap.
Spread 1 cup bechamel along the bottom of a 9- by 13-inch baking dish. Place one-third of noodles over bechamel in a single, overlapping layer. Top with 1 cup bechamel and half of spinach. Repeat with a second layer of noodles, bechamel, and spinach. Top with remaining noodles, remaining bechamel, zucchini, mozzarella, and Pecorino Romano. Cover with foil and bake 45 minutes. Remove foil and continue baking until cheese is golden in places and lasagna is bubbling along the edges, about 15 minutes. Remove lasagna from oven and let stand 20 minutes before slicing and serving.