Serious Eats for One Month- Bye Bye Baked Pasta

Oops, I forgot to blog last night.  Send the NaBloPoMo police.  I got caught up in things and I had a headache.  My migraine concoction was used and it worked, but I’ll tell you about that another time.

Do you like plays?  Musicals?  I’m thrilled that I raised three play-lovers.  Working in the heart of midtown Manhattan, I can walk through Times Square at lunch and happily point out plays I’ve seen or ones we need to see.  Instead of giving the girls more crap they really don’t need on their birthdays and Christmas, we give them play tickets.  Utah and her Kevin went to see The Lion King (again) for her birthday.  I sent all three of the girls in to see Aladdin for Christmas last year.  Beena and John want to see Matilda for Christmas.  If you recall, the girls gave me tickets to see Rock of Ages on my 50th and I turned around and gave the same thing to Utah for her birthday that year.

MR gave me my long-awaited for tickets to Kinkyboots for our anniversary.  And I didn’t even have to take him! lol!

It’s not only Broadway shows we love to see.  We haven’t missed a middle/high school production in about six years.  We will go to a church play is we see one.  We passed a High School in another neighborhood, saw they were putting on Seussical the Musical, bought tickets and loved it.  That was a talented bunch of kids.

Tonight the Middle School put on Bye Bye Birdie, and Zombiegirl didn’t even have to ask if I wanted to go- it was understood.  This play holds a special place in my heart because it was MY high school play, I think when I was a freshman.  I didn’t remember who I played until Kim McAfee and her best friend Ursula sang together. Bam! It all came back to me…I was Ursula.  I recited the lines right along with the (very talented) middle-schooler.  Yet I can’t remember to take the damn chicken out of the fridge in the morning.

All this is leading somewhere, promise.

I get home at 6 every night and the play started at 7.  I’ve been slacking in the cooking department so I enlisted MR’s help and made Crispy Baked Pasta with Mushrooms and Sausage in Creamy Parmesan Sauce.  They promised it would only take a half hour.

More or less.

Crispy Baked Pasta with Mushrooms, Sausage, and Parmesan Cream Sauce

Ingredients

  • 1 cup Panko-style bread crumbs
  • 6 ounces grated Parmesan cheese
  • 1/4 cup chopped fresh parsley leaves
  • 2 tablespoons finely minced fresh chives
  • 2 small shallots, finely minced (about 1/2 cup)
  • 2 medium cloves garlic, minced (about 2 teaspoons)
  • 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 2 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 8 ounces Italian sausage (mild or hot), removed from casings
  • 1 pound mixed mushrooms (such as portobello, shiitake, and oyster), cleaned and thinly sliced
  • 1 tablespoon soy sauce
  • 1 tablespoon juice from 1 lemon
  • 2 1/2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
  • 2 cups homemade or store-bought low-sodium chicken stock
  • 1 cup heavy cream
  • 12 ounces fresh or 8 ounces dried ridged pasta such as rotini or campanelle

Procedures

Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil and keep at a bare simmer. Combine bread crumbs, 2 ounces cheese, half of parsley, half of chives, 1/4 of shallots, 1/4 of garlic, and olive oil in a medium bowl and massage with hands until combined. Season to taste with salt and pepper. (I really need to read through a recipe first.  I added all the cheese.  It’s okay, we like cheese.  I also didn’t use my hands- I was on my way out.)

Melt butter in a large cast iron skillet over medium-high heat until foaming. Add sausage and cook, mashing it with a potato masher or a wooden spoon until broken up and well browned, about 7 minutes. Use a slotted spoon to transfer sausage to a small bowl, leaving fat behind. (MR’s job.  He’s meticulous.)

Increase heat to high, add mushrooms to skillet, and cook, stirring frequently, until moisture has evaporated and mushrooms are well-browned, about 10 minutes. Add shallots and garlic and cook, stirring, until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Add soy sauce and lemon juice and stir to combine. (Okay, we deviated big time here.  No one in this household likes mushrooms.  They’re poison.  Like the floor is lava.  I like a grilled Portabello sandwhich, but that’s about it.)

Add flour and cook, stirring, until a thin film begins to form on the bottom of the pan, about 1 minute. Slowly whisk in chicken broth followed by heavy cream. Bring to a simmer and cook until thickened, about 2 minutes. Stir in remaining grated cheese until melted. Stir in remaining parsley and chives. Stir in sausage. Season to taste with salt and lots of black pepper. (Somehow, I forgot the cream, which pissed me off because I actually HAD cream from the Fettucine Alfredo.  I added a little more cheese because…it said to.)

Adjust rack to 10 inches below broiler element and preheat broiler to high. Cook pasta in salted water according to package directions, removing it when still just shy of al dente. Drain, reserving 1 cup of cooking liquid. Return to pot. Add mushroom mixture and stir to combine, adding liquid to adjust consistency. Pasta should be very loose but not soupy. Return to cast iron skillet and top with bread crumbs. Broil until golden brown, rotating pan as necessary, 2 to 3 minutes. Serve immediately (I didn’t cook this in my cast iron pan because I have yet to season it from the last time I used it.  I didn’t want everything to taste like rust.  MR threw this in the oven and Z-girl and I ran out to the play.)

I sat through all the squeaky singing, bad acting, wonderful acrobatics (go Monster and Jamie!) and cute tap-dancer (Yay, Grace!) thinking about dinner.  It didn’t distract me enough not to hum the tunes under my breath, however.  They did a great job but damn, we needed to get home and eat.

This dish was really good.  I’m kind of glad the cream was forgotten- it was creamy enough without it.  I would have added more sausage and maybe a little less parmesan, it had a bite to it.  MR ate two helpings but Zombiegirl wouldn’t eat it…two things she hates, pasta and sausage.  And she’s 1/4 Italian.

What’s the story, Morninglory?  What’s the tale, Nightingale?

This one’s a keeper.

 

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The Sweet Things In Life

The stars just didn’t line up today.  Messages weren’t received in time and traffic was too dense so I didn’t get to cook today.  It was quick, crappy pizza and I’m left feeling disconcerted from the lousy dinner and the lousy day.

I should have had the Fettucine from last night.  It really was comforting and delicious.

So no post about my cooking adventures but I do want to talk about food.  Maple syrup to be exact.  And how it changed my life.

MR’s sister and her husband bought a “farm” upstate close to Cooperstown.  When they first moved in, it wasn’t much of a farm- it had land, a lake, a cornfield and tapped maple trees, the latter two both rented out to other people to harvest.  In four years, they’ve fixed up the house, built a barn, adopted chickens, turkeys, goats and a pig.  Most importantly, they took over the tapped maple trees and built a state-of-the-art wood-burning organically certified sap house.

It’s an amazing process.  The pumps suck the sap into the huge vat, which feeds into the boiler.  When it reaches a certain temperature, it pours into the barrel.  It can then be bottled or dried into maple sugar.  When you enter the huge house, it’s warm and smells delicious.  You have to raise your voice to be heard over the pumps and the oven and the boiling.

I am simplifying everything, of course.  Except for it smelling delicious.

When we go up, we help out.  At the grand opening last year I made pancakes, sterilized bottles, poured and capped, checked the lines, folded t-shirts and hauled wood.  It’s a great experience and it was all worth it when a customer stopped in the store and bought freshly bottled syrup.  Their sap house was on a “trail” of maple syrup business in New York State so people were stopping by to see the process and taste the syrup.  We never experienced anything like this.

I wanted to do something similar.  MR and I were so impressed we talked all the way home the last time, trying to figure out what we could do that would be as awesome as what Ray and Paula have with Elk Creek.  We obviously can’t tap maple trees on Long Island- all of the trees on our property are oak.  We can’t farm- the aforementioned oak trees are too damned tall and we get very little direct sun.  Besides, our property is a whopping .092 acres- can’t do a whole lot with that.  I’d love to have chickens but we have too many predators.  What crazy scheme could did we come up with?

Bees.  The honey kind.

I have all my bee adventures written out for when we purchase a proper storefront/blog, so I’ll make this long story short to post here.

I took an eight-hour class to learn how to be a beekeeper.  The instructor (aka My Bee Guy) while knowledgeable wasn’t a very good teacher.  I think he’s been doing this a long time and I got the feeling he expected us to know a lot before we even got to the class.  However, he was available via a Yahoo group so if we had any questions we could ask.  We bought two hives from him as well as our NUC (nucleus) of about 10,000 bees and a queen.  We successfully installed them into their new hive on a warm spring day and we were one of the few new owners who didn’t have a swarm in the following weeks.  They stayed put and prospered so well we split them into the second hive.

Fast forward through a bout of infesting beetles, three stings (me, of course), a fierce yellow jacket/honey bee battle to the death in our backyard, countless internet hours of research and the discovery that my neighbor four doors down has been a bee keeper for 30 years for the neighboring farm.  Four months later we get to honey production.  Said neighbor loaned us his spinning extractor and showed us how to uncap the comb and spin the honey out.  The process of spinning the frames and bottling the honey took me right back to Elk Creek Sap house and I was happy.  We have 25,000 employees working their hearts out for us and yes, we totally appreciate it.  Each drop of honey is precious to us because we now know how intensive the procedure is.

And delicious. Just like maple syrup.

Follow us on Facebook/hive 451!

Serious Eats for One Month- Fettuccine George

Did you ever have one of those days where you wanted to rip someone’s head off and hurl it through the window?  When the injustices were stacked so high against you that you felt you couldn’t take a breath because you might scream?  When the stupidity level was so far off the charts you needed to go into the next room to see them?

Every time I meet with my team, I feel this way.

We just finished up an auditing project, one to raise the accuracy of our database and our floor plans.  My grade was better than I thought- my plans needed a little cleaning up since I’ve been so busy this past year- but it was a good exercise in standardization and mastery.  Yes, I do my needlepoint and Christmas cards and plan bridal showers and weddings at my job, but I never shirk my responsibility and my work never suffers for it.  I’m good at what I do, I know how to budget my time and I know how much I can get away with.

Some of my teammates don’t understand that.  If one gets a grade of “F” (fail) on practically every aspect of the audit, do not have the audacity to tell us (US!) that you’re too busy to do your walkthroughs.  We see you on the internet watching soccer, reading the paper and ordering parts for your hot dog truck business.  Do not tell us (US!) that you can’t get your reports done on time (they’re due on the 15th of every month, it’s been that way for years) because you’re “in love”.  Don’t try to baffle us (US!) with your bullshit.  It may work on your business managers, your move managers and your project managers, but We. Know. Better.

What we don’t know if what you have over your boss.  The same boss that will joke about you being on the internet (or phone…or late…or just not there).  The same boss who, when learns about your failing grade will take certain aspects of your responsibilities away and make someone else responsible for them.  The same boss that gives your day to day work to someone else to “save her job”.  You know something about this person, you must.  Why else are you still employed?

So when you have a day like this, seven hours of banging your head on the table and drawing “stupid” buttons to press whenever the stoopid gets too thick, you need to go home and either a) drink heavily, b) break every dish in a fit of rage c) eat all the Halloween candy or d) make comfort food.

I chose “d”.

It was quick, it was easy and it was delicious.  It was the Lighter Fettuccine Alfredo recipe that didn’t taste light.

Lighter Fettuccine Alfredo

Ingredients:

  • 5 ounces grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese, plus more for sprinkling
  • 2 tablespoons heavy cream
  • 1 large egg
  • 1 teaspoon cornstarch
  • 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, plus more for serving
  • 1/2 teaspoon grated lemon zest (optional)
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 pound fresh fettuccine, or 12 ounces dried fettuccine
  • 1 teaspoon minced garlic (about 1 medium clove)
  • 2 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • Minced fresh parsley or chives

Procedure:

Combine cheese, heavy cream, egg, cornstarch, olive oil, and lemon zest (if using) in a large bowl. Season lightly with salt and heavily with black pepper and whisk to combine. Set aside.

In a large Dutch oven or saucepan, bring 2 quarts of water and 2 tablespoons of salt to a boil over high heat. Add pasta and cook, stirring frequently to prevent sticking, until cooked but still very firm (not quite al dente), about 45 seconds for fresh pasta or 1 minute less than package directions for dried pasta. Drain pasta into a colander set over a large bowl. Transfer 2 cups of cooking water to a liquid measuring cup and discard the rest. Transfer pasta to the now-empty bowl. Add the garlic and butter and toss to coat.

Whisking constantly, slowly add 1 1/2 cups of the pasta cooking water to the bowl with the cheese mixture. Transfer the cheese mixture to the now-empty pasta cooking pot, scraping the bottom to make sure you get everything. Cook over medium-high heat, stirring constantly with a rubber spatula, until mixture comes to a boil and thickens, about 45 seconds. Season sauce to taste with more salt and pepper as desired. Transfer pasta to sauce mixture and turn to coat. Just before serving, stir in more pasta water to thin the sauce out as necessary. Serve immediately, sprinkled with minced herbs, black pepper, and cheese, and drizzled with additional olive oil.

I followed the recipe exactly and it was delicious.  Redemption from the enchilada escapade.

Now to have a beer, smash a dish and eat a Kit Kat. Because I have to do this all again tomorrow.

Catharsis

There wasn’t any cooking today. Today was a day of purging and expulsion.  Of cleaning and scouring. Of cleansing.

Ever since I saw my first episode of Tiny House Nation, I’ve been obsessed with minimizing my life (and building a tiny house).   Around the same time Beena expressed an interest in having a yard sale.  Perfect timing.  I started going through drawers, closets and attics.  If it had never been used or if there were duplicates of any one thing, it went into a box.  If it didn’t fit AT THIS TIME or, being realistic, I was never planning on fixing or making it, it went into a box.  If I felt I could reasonably live without it, it went into a box.

I was ruthless.  Out went six pairs of nail clippers.  Out went eight tote bags.  Out went a full set of Margarita glasses.  I practically halved my personal stuff and gained tons of space in my closets and drawers.  It felt wonderful.

Unfortunately, the weather the past several weeks prevented us from having that yard sale.  Now all this stuff is sitting in my basement, waiting for the spring.  I got depressed every time I went into the basement, which has its own special kind of crap crammed in.  Now it had a multitude of boxes to add to the messy mix.

The girls pitched in today and helped me pack and stack the boxes in a tidy corner of the basement.  They cleaned out the game cabinet and convinced me to get rid of some stuff I was hanging on to “just in case”.  Even though the crap was still in the house, it was neat and boxed up, ready to be sold.  It felt good.

I dropped a bag off at the church- a ton of baskets for the shut-ins, some angels my mom made years ago and some flower pins we once sold on Mother’s Day as well as floor plans of the various projects I worked on for the parsonage, the church office and the church itself.  Giving these little things away was more therapeutic than culling the clothes from my closet.  Knowing my time with this church has completed left me feeling light and clear-headed.  The anger has dissipated and I’m ready to merge onto the next spiritual highway and see where that takes me.

Seeing me run up and down two flights of stairs all day must have made MR take pity on me because he offered to take me out for dinner.  And honestly, that burger didn’t taste half as good as some of the things I cooked this week.

(Why would anyone have seven pairs of nail clippers?)

Serious Eats for One Month- My First Failure

Tonight we had the Sweet Potato and Chicken Enchiladas that I made last night.  No one was happy with it.  MR fed the last of his to Lola.

On second thought, Lola was pretty happy with it.

It started with the dried chilis I couldn’t find. I couldn’t make the chili sauce as per the recipe because I used a couple of jalapenos from Mr. Murphy’s garden and the only dried chilis I did find- which were probably hotter than what was in the recipe.  The chili sauce was so hot, I couldn’t use it on the enchiladas, resulting in dried tubes of meat.  Both Zombiegirl and MR said the enchiladas would have been better with good old-fashioned taco-like meat.  Z-girl just shook her head when I told her there were sweet potatoes in it.  Then she immediately didn’t like it.

So now I know HOW to make enchiladas, just won’t make it this way.  Lesson learned.

Sweet Potato and Chicken Enchiladas

Ingredients

  • 3 dried guajillo chiles, stems and seeds removed
  • 3 dried ancho chiles, stems and seeds removed
  • 4 cups water
  • 1 medium onion, halved and sliced
  • 6 cloves garlic, divided
  • 2 tablespoons vegetable oil
  • 1 medium sweet potato, peeled and grated with a box grater or the shredder plate of a food processor
  • 1 teaspoon cider vinegar
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 8 ounces boneless skinless chicken breasts (about 2 small)
  • 12 corn tortillas
  • 1/2 cup grated cheddar cheese
  • 4 green onions, thinly sliced
  • 1/2 cup cilantro, chopped
  • Sour cream

Procedures

Heat a large sauté pan over medium-high heat. When the pan is hot, add the chiles and toast them about 2 minutes on each side, just until they are fragrant and beginning to darken (do this in batches if you can’t fit all six at once). Set the sauté pan aside.

Put the water in a medium pot and bring to a boil. Add the toasted chiles, half of the sliced onions, and 3 cloves of garlic cut in half. Partially cover the pot, reduce the heat to low and simmer for 30 minutes.

While the chiles simmer, add the vegetable oil to the sauté pan over medium heat. Add the remaining sliced onion and the grated sweet potato. Sauté for about 10 minutes until the onions and potatoes are very soft. Mince the remaining cloves of garlic and add to the onions and potatoes, stirring for about 30 seconds. Remove the pan from the heat and set aside. If a crust formed on the bottom of the sauté pan while the potatoes cooked, deglaze the pan with 1/4 cup of the chile liquid.

After the chiles have simmered for 30 minutes, transfer them, along with the onions and garlic, to a blender or food processor along with 1/2 cup of the liquid (reserve the rest in the pot). Puree until very smooth and then push the puree through a mesh strainer into a small bowl. Discard any solids that remain in the strainer. Stir in the cider vinegar and the salt and then set the chile sauce aside.

Return the pot and the remaining liquid to medium-low heat and bring to a bare simmer. Add the chicken, cover the pot and poach the chicken for 15-20 minutes, until cooked through. Remove the chicken from the liquid to cool slightly and then shred it with a fork. Stir the shredded chicken into the potatoes and onions and season to taste with salt and pepper.

Preheat the oven to 375°F. Assemble the enchiladas. Lightly oil the bottom of a medium baking dish. Divide a few tablespoons of the chicken mixture among the 12 corn tortillas and roll them up into cigar-shapes about 1-inch in diameter. Arrange them, seam-side down, close together in the baking dish. Spread the chile sauce on top of the enchiladas and then top with the grated cheese. Cover the dish with foil and bake for about 30 minutes.

Top the hot enchiladas with the green onions and cilantro and serve with sour cream on the side.

***

What’s up otherwise?

  • The Dutch Oven I ordered came today- it’s a beauty!  I can’t wait to cook in it.
  • I’m trying VERY hard not to resurrect F*CK You Fridays here on the blog.
  • Crying at my Indian fast food place at lunch today was not cool.  The guy behind the counter confirmed I was a regular (he asked me if I didn’t want green sauce- he remembered) and I’ll never eat there again since it’s too far to walk from my new location on the West Side. So many things I’m going to miss.
  • I started Christmas shopping online with eBates.com.  How have I not know about this before?  I’ve already built up a nice little account!  I’m going to order anyway, why not get something out of it?
  • I’m in love with the Kilchers from Alaska: The Last Frontier.  I want a homestead.
  • Why can’t I make a sourdough starter?  I’ve killed the last three I’ve started.  More research I guess is in the cards.
  • I’m excited about week two of Serious Eats for One Month.

Serious Eats for One Month- I Am Tired

I’m pooped.

I got home late last night from seeing KINKYBOOTS with April. If you get a chance to see it, go! We quoted the movie lines along with the actors, we cheered for for the beautiful Angels, we cried at Simon’s secrets. Lauren, the co-worker was hysterical, I could have watched her all night. Going out with April is always a good time. At any moment, even in the restaurant, she would scream “KINKYBOOTS” and scare the crap out if me. She compared going to see this (long-waited-for) play to a kid waiting on line for Santa. With sprinkles. And candy canes. And hot elves.

Dinner was our usual Thai, at Pongsri on West 48th Street. We had almost three hours to kill before the show started. Appetizers, beer, Pink Valentines and curry dishes were a nice change of pace to the frantic pace of cooking I’ve been doing this week.

It’s also been crazy at work this week. We are vacating 299 Park Avenue, my home for the last five or so years. I’ve been packing and cleaning for the move tomorrow- how have I accumulated so much shit in five years? Granted, my line of work comes with a lot of baggage (plotters, rolls of paper of plans, cutters, binders and rulers) but all the personal crap- where did all this come from? I guess it’s time to throw all those ketchup packets away.

Tonight MR and I went to the local ethnic food store specifically for dried Ancho chilis, tortillas and dried guajillo peppers. We got the tortillas, but go figure, the Spanish store didn’t have the peppers. I started cooking as soon as I got home, but I literally ran out of steam. I stopped halfway through frying up the peppers and asked if we could finish up the Pot Pie we had at the beginning of the week.  I heated up the other half (that thing provided two dinners and one lunch) for MR, Zombiegirl and myself.  When Utah came home, she ate some of the pizza from Tuesday that I had cut and frozen.  Four meals cooked, five nights  of dinners.  And four lunches.  If I weren’t so tired right now, I’d calculate how much this cost me per meal.

Sorry, I think I just zonked out for a minute there.

I went back after dinner and finished up tomorrow’s meal so it’s all ready to pop into the oven before MR picks me up at the train station. I had to make a few changes on this one- i don’t know if it’s because I’m out of it or what-I couldn’t follow this recipe at all.

I did end up with a killer hot sauce.  More on that tomorrow.

Rambling, disjointed post.  Just like old times, right?  Doesn’t matter, take one thing away from this post- go see Kinkyboots at the Al Hirschfield Theater.  Ask for Lola.