pasta salerno

October 22, 2011 Comments Off on pasta salerno

Most.  Decadent.  Pasta.  Dish.  Ever.

Friday was “Pasta as you like it” night.  C chose simple tomato sauce (bless him).  O wanted carbonara.  Sure, I said, but we’d done carbonara a couple of weeks ago.  What if we find something else with eggs?  She was game.

Cook’s, of course, had something that went even beyond that in terms of protein and fatty goodness.  Pasta with eggs, Salerno style.  I don’t know anyone from the city of Salerno, but I think they’ve got it right.  The dish is mostly an assembly process.  Toast some bread crumbs.  Boil some pasta.  Saute some garlic to flavor some oil.  Add the pasta to the oil and garlic, throw in some pasta water, top it with bread crumbs, then quickly fry an egg in the saute pan and drop it on top.  Holy crap.

Done right, the yolk ends up saucing the pasta, not quite drenching it, but combining with the breadcrumbs to make a ridiculously satisfying combination of salty and sweet.  And it’s ridiculously filling–like having breakfast and dinner in one bowl.  I’d run ten miles that morning in anticipation, so I had completely earned one bowl of the stuff, and to make it sound healthy I made it with whole wheat pasta.  O saw that and raised me a crumbled slice of bacon in hers.  We both woke up this morning ready to take on the world…


world’s greatest mac and cheese recipe–pimiento mac

February 23, 2011 Comments Off on world’s greatest mac and cheese recipe–pimiento mac

I was pretty convinced this was not going to work.  Last week I plopped the new Bon Appetit on the front seat of the car when I picked C up from school.  “Hands Down the Tastiest We’ve Ever Made!” the headline screamed, above a luscious food porn image of mac and cheese with peppers.  It might as well have been the Sports Illustrated swimsuit issue.  C was in love.

It was Bon Appetit, which has proven trusty but often challenging.  And when C and I looked at the recipe he was skeptical.  “How can it be a real mac and cheese,” he wondered, “if it doesn’t have a bechamel sauce?”  Exactly, I told him.  It sounds like baked pasta, and I was skeptical, too.

Still, baked pasta with some awesome stuff in it.  Pappadew peppers, which I’ve never heard of, and which apparently only exist in the south.  We threw in a whole jar of pimientos instead.  A boiled red pepper.  Two cloves of garlic.  Tons of cheddar, mozzarella, and parmesan.  It wasn’t going to be your average mac and cheese, for sure, but none of that sounds bad, does it?

As you can see, the sous chef went right to work.  He’s an excellent grater, measurer, and stirrer, and we got all the pieces assembled in good order.  Instead of a bechamel, this recipe called for the peppers, pimientos, and cheese to get whipped together in the food processor.  “Oh, cool,” C said, “A pepper and garlic smoothie.”  Right on, brother.  That goes on the pasta (whoops–not enough elbows, so I committed something of a travesty and cracked open an old box of Kraft to get the pasta out of it).  Cheese goes on the pasta, some toasted Panko, butter, and parmesan goes on top, and the whole thing goes in the oven for 25 minutes.

Crucial step, according to the magazine: let the thing cool for ten minutes after it comes out of the oven so that it firms up.  That saved us from an over-gooey plate, and as you can see the result was a light, very peppery mix–nowhere near the creamy texture of the Cook’s recipe, but really nice.  The peppers and the pimientos added some zip, and there was just enough cheese without being a stringy, overdone mess (like the last one…)  It was a pretty sophisticated dish for mac and cheese, and I worried for a minute about its reception.  But both kids loved it.  O covered it in Sriracha, as is her wont, and the boy said it was tied for first place in the cookoff.  Tied for first place, ladies and gentleman.  We have a winner!


February 9, 2011 Comments Off on shortbread

The kids went for their dessert last night and were horrified to discover only two of the awesome chocolate chip cookies were left.

“We won’t have any for lunch tomorrow!” they yelled.

“Why didn’t you tell me?” I asked.

“Didn’t you notice?”

I told them that I eat exactly one of every batch of cookies we make.  Otherwise I’d be fat again in two days.  They were even more horrified by this.

“Have some of your Christmas candy,” I said.  I should admit that I’m secretly proud of the fact that they haven’t made much of a dent in the pile.  “I’ll make something tomorrow.”

“How about shortbread?” O said.

Right on.  How about shortbread?  Our family has pretty deep Scottish roots, and I’ve always been particularly fond of shortbread.  It’s one of the few culinary achievements to come out of the land that created haggis (though believe me, we’re making one of those someday, too).  And I’d seen a good recipe a few weeks ago, one that involved grinding up oatmeal to start, which promised to give the final result a bit of texture and bite.

So I’ve made just enough batches of normal cookies to know the routine, and to blanch a little it at the recipe for shortbread.  Cold butter and flour?  In the mixer?  Won’t that just knock around for a while, scattering flour all over the kitchen?  Well, yes, but after ten minutes the magic happened.  The butter warmed up just enough to start sticking to the flour, and pretty soon there was a sort of doughy mass that pressed easily into a springform pan.  Lacking a biscuit cutter, I found the old flying saucer sandwich crimper that we used to use to make the kids’ sammies into little spaceships, and that worked nicely to cut a hole out of the middle.  Twenty minutes in the oven, then score the disk into wedges, prick those, and put it back in the oven with the heat turned off to let it dry out.

O got home right about when they were finished cooling, and I asked her if she wanted to help.  “Nah,” she said.

“OK, then, I’ll just dip them in the chocolate myself.”


She proved to be an able shortbread dipper.  We used the rest of the good Ghirardelli chips, and she only accidentally dropped two wedges into the double boiler.  “Oh,” she said, “dibs!

They came out amazingly well.  The recipe used confectioners sugar, which gave them a really fine grain that matched the coarseness of the oatmeal.  And the recipe cut the butter a bit from the standard shortbread formula–not that I’d know, but it said so–and they weren’t at all greasy.  Just light, crunchy, sweet but oaty.  And, of course, the chocolate didn’t hurt.  “So, O,” I said as we were finishing up.  “What do you think we ought to do with the leftover chocolate?”

Food painting.  Best.  Idea.  Ever.

world’s greatest mac’n’cheese recipe, part quatre

February 4, 2011 Comments Off on world’s greatest mac’n’cheese recipe, part quatre

The boy was in high spirits when I picked him up today.  Friday, of course, but I also told him that, snow or no snow, we’d find a way to get up to the Mall of America this weekend so he could spend his Lego gift certificate.  He had some good snow fort time at recess, and was relieved to find that today’s film in Sex Ed–er, sorry, Genetics–was just about puberty, not about childbirth.  That comes next week, apparently, and he’s planning to break his leg the night before.

To top things off, his sister had a middle school party tonight, so it was going to be man night.  Mac and cheese.  His joy knew no bounds.

“YO, ‘SUP, PEEPS?” he shouted to his sister when he walked in the door.  Pretty street for a blonde Iowa kid, I thought.

I popped a fresh loaf of baguette in the oven this afternoon, so we had that as a side.  By now, both of us know the master mac’n’cheese recipe by heart–boil the pasta a minute less than the box tells you, make a mean besciamella sauce (that’s what he’s doing, above), and then sprinkle the cheese in so that it melts.  Once the sauce thickens, pour it on the mac, sprinkle some bread crumbs with parmesan and butter on top, and bake it at 350° for 20 minutes.

We went with Cook’s Illustrated’sFoolproof Mac’n’Cheese” again, but we both agreed that its besciamella was, to put it simply, weak sauce.  It uses evaporated milk and calls for shredding a block of American cheese, instead of the drier slices, and both of those help make a creamy sauce that holds together.  But we had agreed it was lacking something, and when we made the far more complex Epicurious recipe for lasagna bianca, we knew instantly what it was.  That sauce used bay leaves and tons of nutmeg, but it was based on cream and butter–no evaporated milk.  So we hybridized, bumping up the spices but keeping the stabilized dairy.

And it TOTALLY worked.  We got all of the creamy, gelatinous cheese sauce of the mac’n’cheese and all of the big flavor of the lasagna bianca.  I let the thing cool while I ran O to the middle school, and drove like a banshee to get back, because I figured it was going to be good.  When we cut into it, the knife made a nice sucking sound, so we knew the thing was going to be almost like pudding.  The crust, on the other hand, baked nicely and crisped well, so it had that ideal crunchy/creamy texture that we’ve agreed is critical to a good mac’n’cheese.  The boy even soaked up what little sauce ran out of his with the baguette, practically a sacrilege given how much he likes his meals separate.  (Have I mentioned that he has demanded a salad fork each night?  His one concession to proper etiquette…)

We only made a half recipe, but we’ll still have enough for Sunday when Iowa Skinnies are on the menu.  Meanwhile the girl was buzzing with excitement over the party.  She outlined her strategy for me.  “I dance for an hour until the pizza arrives, then I have like two slices of that and a Sprite, and then I dance for another two hours.  Maybe I take another soda break in the middle somewhere.”  Needless to say, I would pay to be a chaperone at one of these just to see that, but I have been absolutely forbidden from volunteering.

Harshing her mellow slightly this year is her status as a seventh grader.  “We have to make a special effort,” she told me in conspiratorial tones, “to show the sixth graders how to really party.”

agenda for a snow day

February 2, 2011 Comments Off on agenda for a snow day

1.  Make pizza dough.  That’s the kneading muscle there to the left.

2.  Concoct other top secret kitchen experiment that will only be discussed if it works.  So far, so good.

3.  Oh, crap.  Run out to Wheatsfield to get milk, cream, eggs, and a mystery ingredient.  Complex recipe.

4.  But before that, snowblow the driveway.  0″ on the south side, 18+” on the north side.  The garage/wind tunnel effect is working out just the way the architect planned it.  For better or worse, it also piled up a foot of snow against our side door.  Cool.

6.  Become a fan of Subaru All Wheel Drive on Facebook.

5.  John Huston’s 1948 Treasure of the Sierra Madre. With popcorn.  Coming right up.

As a grownup, am I not supposed to enjoy snow days this much?  Because this kind of rules.

snow day

February 1, 2011 § 2 Comments

I know, grownups are supposed to complain about snow, and we’re supposed to lament the fact that they’ve closed the schools, yadda, yadda, yadda.  But I have been secretly hoping for a snow day for a while.  As much as I hate driving on ice, I really like driving in snow, especially now that I get to drive the Subaru.  I love snowblowing (but talk to me tomorrow morning at 5:30 when it’s -2°), and I love the anarchy that a good snow day represents.  No school!  No work!  Go grab cafeteria trays and go sledding!

OK, so the last one was unlikely in blizzard conditions.  But when they called off school at 1:00 today, and when NOAA radio said, basically, “don’t go out unless you absolutely need to,” I decided that we absolutely needed to make a cafe run.  I am genetically predisposed to head out into bad weather, just to see if I can get back home, and the kids thought this would make a decent break from routine.  The good coffee shop downtown is only a few blocks away, and even though morale didn’t exactly need a boost (see photo of C, above left), I thought an outing was called for.

O and I both got hot stuff–cocoa for her, dark roast coffee for me–while the boy got himself a nice, cold Italian soda.  And they both got muffins.  It was nice–I used to take them to this coffee shop when they were tiny, usually when K was volunteering at the preschool and I had a morning with C.  We got to know the owners, since they’d just opened, and they have always had a seriously family-friendly atmosphere.  The kids hadn’t been in a while, but they both said they remembered going for muffins with K or me.  And as you can see, they fit into cafe culture quite nicely.

Our cookie supply was running low, so I suggested we make a new batch with our afternoon–a suggestion that won unsurprising unanimous approval.  The girl had, in fact, demanded pudding, but C was less enthusiastic and I gave him the deciding vote.  We picked up some nice cane sugar at the organic place (which the kids like now because they leave a lot of stuff out to sample…wait until they get a bite of organic herring by mistake…), and on the way out of the parking lot C asks if I can fishtail the car on the way home.  “This isn’t the VW,” I say.  “The Sube has all-wheel drive.  It’s pretty tough to fishtail this thing.”

“AW, COME ON,” C says.  At this point, I should mention that fishtailing the Volkswagen for C is not something I’ve done frequently, but it’s always–always–received a warm response from him when I’ve done it.  O asked what on earth a fishtail is, and so OK, I hit the gas a bit and steer sharply coming out of the parking lot.  And it’s not pretty, or impressive, but the back end comes out just enough that we’re ballistic for a few seconds and I’m working the steering wheel like an F1 driver until the thing comes back into line.

“WOO HOO!” says C from the back seat.  “OK, Dad, that was pretty cool,” says O.  I, meanwhile, check the mirrors and see no disapproving citizens or (more importantly) Ames’ finest…

We had a fine afternoon putting the cookies together.  The recipe we’ve been using has a super-thick batter, so the end product is about 3/4 of an inch thick and ultra-chewy.  Both kids helped, but only on the condition that they got to lick the batter off the mixer, which was fine by me.  They’re getting good at measuring stuff and working together, and we’ve now got a fine batch of cooling hockey pucks of chocolate, butter, and sugar that should get us through the week, anyway.

All in all, not a bad afternoon…we’ll see what happens with school tomorrow, my money’s on a late start but no cancellation.  Any takers?

chocolate pudding

January 29, 2011 Comments Off on chocolate pudding

You know what doesn’t photograph well?  Pudding, that’s what.

O had a late and rough start this morning.  She opened her eyes at about 11:30, a good fifteen hours after she sacked out, and she looked awful.  I had her hit the showers, and then she reeled back into our room.

“I think I’m going to throw up, Dad.”

Now, at this point, I realize that chocolate pudding doesn’t really seem like it’s going to figure in this particular plot.  But trust me, there’s a happy, chocolatey ending here.

So we sat in the bathroom for a while, she praying to the porcelain god, me praying to everything else.  This was one of the things the doctor told us to look out for, and I had visions of C and I keeping her company in the hospital until help arrived.  But finally she decided she wasn’t going to lose cookies, and I took her temperature and it was mercifully normal.  “Maybe it was oversleep,” she thought, but I thought it was more like she hadn’t had anything to eat, basically, in 24 hours.  “Let’s get some Gatorade and applesauce in you and see if that helps.”

It did.  She perked up considerably with some sugar and fluids, and then I suggested she move up the ladder to Jell-O.  “I hate Jell-O, Dad,” she said.  I know, I thought, everybody hates Jell-O.  “Unless it’s pudding.  Do we have any pudding?”

“No, but I’ll bet we could make some.”

“You can make pudding?”

Now, I didn’t know if we could make pudding, I just knew that it was theoretically possible.  So we decamped to the kitchen and started reading up.  We had just enough semisweet chocolate chips, and there was some corn starch leftover from the great non-Newtonian fluid experiment a couple of weeks ago.  No light cream, but I figured half-and-half would work, and sugar, eggs, etc., we had by the bucket.  I started melting the chocolate chips, we whisked stuff together, and pretty soon C came around the corner wondering what we were up to.

“Making pudding,” I told him, and he looked at me kind of funny.  “Grab a whisk.”  He sensed the presence of chocolate, butter, and a ton and a half of sugar, and gamely chipped in.

We chunked it all together and brought it to a boil, and I’ve never seen anything go from raw ingredients to finished product so impressively.  I’m sure it had something to do with the corn starch suddenly activating, but one stir it was just brown gunk, and the next it was…pudding.  Of course, it was boiling hot pudding, but the consistency was suddenly smooth and creamy.

We put it in the fridge for half an hour, which wasn’t nearly enough.  It came out still warm, but the O wasn’t waiting any longer.  “It’s warm,” I told her, “I think it would be better if we let it sit another thirty minutes or so.”  But by now her brain’s nomming centers were fully activated.

“Give me pudding,” she said.  And I did.  And it was like someone had lit a match underneath her.  With a massive hit of protein, sugar, and carbs that her body had obviously been craving, she was back to her old self.  Still coughing up a storm, and tired tonight, again, but a good afternoon for her, and it’s nice to have her back.  Never doubt the power of pudding.

Of course, we made a whole recipe, which I realized late in the game served 8.  So we have what appears to be the nation’s strategic chocolate pudding reserve left in the fridge.

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