pasta

fresh homemade pasta

I’ve been on a fresh homemade pasta kick lately. That’s because I just bought a Mercato Atlas Wellness 150 pasta maker (yes, it’s made in Italy). I’ve been wanting to try my own hand at pasta-making at home, and Luca from this season’s ”MasterChef” recommended me this particular brand, saying he’d gotten it as a wedding gift and loved it.

Atlas Pasta Machine
And now, I do too. The hubster’s eyes brighten every time I bring the pasta maker out of the closet because, well, being a guy, he likes anything mechanical. So it’s nice to have such an eager helper in the kitchen while making pasta. So far, I’ve made two types of pasta: a mushroom duxelle stuffed ravioli topped with a white wine tomato and basil sauce; and angel hair with shrimp, garlic, tomato, and white wine sauce. (We’ve had an influx of tomatoes in our garden this summer, so I’ve been constantly putting them in my pasta dishes.)

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penne with vodka sauce

Penne with vodka sauce

Spicy and creamy

In the recipe exchange I had participated in, I received a recipe for penne a la vodka. I pieced that recipe together with one I found on All Recipes and came up with this one. It was the third dish to the four-course Italian birthday meal, and Joy even said the sauce was her favorite part of dinner. The great thing about this dish is it’s quick and simple and delicious. This is definitely a valuable addition to the repertoire. I even got to use parsley picked fresh from our garden. If the Blind can Cook this, you definitely can.

Recipe: Penne with Vodka Sauce

Ingredients

  • 1 lb. uncooked penne pasta
  • 2 (3.5 oz.) Italian sausage
  • 3 strips of pancetta or bacon, cut into pcs.
  • 1/4 c. extra virgin olive oil
  • 4 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1/2 med. onion, chopped
  • 1/2 tsp. crushed red pepper flakes
  • 1 (28 oz.) can crushed tomatoes
  • 3/4 tsp. salt
  • 2 tbsp. vodka
  • 1/2 c. heavy cream or half-and-half
  • 1/4 c. chopped fresh parsley

Instructions

  1. Cook penne al dente. Drain.
  2. In a med. saucepan, heat oil over med. heat. Remove sausage from casing and add to pot along with pancetta or bacon, breaking up the sausage and stirring until browned. Add garlic, onion, and red pepper flakes; cook until fragrant.
  3. Add tomatoes and salt; bring to boil. Reduce heat and simmer approx. 15 min.
  4. Add vodka and half-and-half or cream, and bring to boil. Toss with penne and garnish with fresh parsley. Serve with parmesan cheese if desired.

Variations

I used turkey Italian sausage and turkey bacon for a slightly healthier option. Taste is not compromised.

For a little green in the dish, consider adding spinach into the saucepan as you add the tomatoes. Simmer until spinach is to desired wiltedness.

Cooking time (duration): 30

Meal type: dinner

Culinary tradition: Italian

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tuna casserole

Starkist

Say hello to Charlie. Then eat him in this casserole.

The holidays are always a frenzy, especially in the kitchen. You’ve got all four burners going on the stove, three different things in the oven, another in the convection oven, something in the slow cooker, maybe even on the grill or deep-fryer outside. It’s no wonder that we just want to all take it easy after the holidays are over.

Enter the tuna casserole. It’s simple and quick to make, and produces a hearty one-dish meal for the entire family. And it also makes for good leftovers–send it with your husband to work, serve it to the kids after school, eat it yourself at your desk while trying to take care of work and household tasks. It allows a combination of flavors all in one dish, so there’s less clean-up without sacrificing blandness.

Maybe for some culinarians (is this even a word?), tuna casserole sounds oh so boring, unadventurous. And while I do think of it as the typical American meal originating from the 1950s with the picture-perfect housewife in her petticoat, apron, and pointy-cupped bra holding a spatula in one hand and the tuna casserole in the other, I was, for whatever reason, craving a college comfort food. Yes, in college, I was the master of Hamburger Helper and Tuna Helper. It was one of the first things I learned to “cook.” But now that I’m a decade older, I thought maybe I should skip the meal-in-a-box and try making it from scratch.

Besides being a college comfort food, Starkist tuna is a childhood favorite. I know most of you will cringe at the thought of this, but my mama used to feed me rice mixed with tuna and fish sauce. The tuna always had to be the kind in vegetable oil (I don’t even know if they had the spring water kind then, and even if they did, it would’ve been too dry and blegh), and she’d mash the rice/tuna/fish sauce mix with the back of the spoon–the oil aiding in coagulating the rice mixture, shaping it into a mound inside the bowl before placing it in my happy, open arms. To this day, I still crave this comfort food from my younger years every so often. My husband always makes a face, saying it’s disgusting, but one can never explain one’s comfort food, right?

Anyway, this tuna casserole is an adequate Americanized substitute for my rice and fish sauce variety. I found it still tasty for days afterward. I love the browned cheese. Yum!

Note: As much as it is delicious, tuna casserole is definitely not photogenic For this reason, I decided to forego the picture and just post a pic of Charlie the Tunafish instead. Don’t ask me how I know the logo’s name.


Recipe: Tuna Casserole

Summary: Original recipe from All Recipes

Ingredients

  • 1 (12 oz.) pkg. egg noodles, cooked to al dente
  • 2 (6 oz.) cans tuna, drained
  • 2 (10.75 oz.) cans condensed cream of mushroom soup
  • 1 c. frozen peas, thawed
  • 1/4 c. fresh or canned sliced mushrooms (optional)
  • 1/4 c. minced onion
  • 2 c. shredded cheddar cheese
  • 1 c. Ritz crackers, crushed

Instructions

  1. Preheat oven to 425 degrees.
  2. In a lg. bowl, combine, egg noodles, tuna, cream of mushroom, peas, mushrooms, onion, and 1 c. cheddar cheese. Spread in a lightly greased 9″x13″ baking dish. Cover with cracker crumbs and remaining cheddar cheese.
  3. Bake for 10 to 15 min. or until cheese is brown and bubbly.

Variations

I used Ritz crackers in my version since this is what I had on hand. But the original recipe calls for 1 c. crushed potato chips. If this is what I happen to have on hand next time, I’ll use chips instead. Or try using Panco bread crumbs; as Alton Brown puts it, they offer a better breading alternative than just regular bread crumbs.

Cooking time (duration): 25

Diet type: Pescatarian

Meal type: lunch

Culinary tradition: USA (Traditional)

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This is a dish I really did cook entirely on my own, so if the Blind can Cook it, so can you.

baked mac ‘n cheese

Who doesn’t love mac ‘n cheese? Besides the lactose intolerant, of course. And if you don’t like mac ‘n cheese because you don’t like cheese, then I have nothing more to say to you.

Up until this birthday dinner, my mac ‘n cheese was always of the Kraft variety. I remember due to a NMO exacerbation several years ago, I was on corticosteroids whose main side effects on me are insomnia and increased appetite. Often accompanying these appetite changes were strange cravings, and during this particular round of steroids, I ate at least one serving of Easy Mac every day. I even had to go to Costco and buy in bulk.

But thank heavens, my taste buds have since sophisticated, and I tried making good ol’ mac ‘n cheese from scratch this time. The idea came to me when I was watching this “Good Eats” episode on melted cheese, and Alton Brown baked some mac ‘n cheese. And then when I went online to search for the recipe and saw it’s enthusiastic reviews, I was sold.

It was definitely a hit. The panco bread crumbs made all the difference. Overwhelmed by the exoticism? Let’s break it down.

Panco is simply Japanese for “bread crumbs.” The difference between this variety and the American kind is that panco is flaky rather than crummy–uh, I mean crumby (sorry, another bad joke). This means there is more surface area so to make a long story short, your foods will turn out crispier, crunchier, yet lighter. Even after microwaving the leftovers, the panco still added a delightful crunch to the mac ‘n cheese.

Another differentiating factor is the sharp cheddar. None of that bland, watery mild cheddar here. We like a hearty, pungent cheddar. I cheated and opted for the kind that come already shredded in a bag, but if you’re looking to build up forearm muscles, try buying a block of sharp cheddar (either white or yellow or both) and grating it yourself? We received this sweet mandolin slicer as a wedding gift, and it makes cheese grating easy. And remember that if the Blind can Cook it, you can too.


Recipe: Baked Mac ‘n Cheese

Summary: Original recipe from Alton Brown

Ingredients

  • 12 oz. elbow macaroni, cooked slightly less than al dente
  • 3 tbsp. butter
  • 4.5 tbsp. all-purpose flour
  • 1.5 tbsp. mustard powder
  • 3 c. milk
  • 1/2 c. finely chopped yellow onion
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 3/4 tsp. paprika
  • 1 lg. egg
  • 18 oz. grated sharp cheddar
  • 1.5 tsp. salt
  • freshly ground black pepper
  • 3 tbsp. butter for topping
  • 1 (3.5 oz.) pkg. panco bread crumbs

Instructions

  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
  2. In a med. saucepan, melt 3 tbsp. butter. Whisk in the flour and mustard powder, and whisk continuously for 5 min. so that no lumps form. Stir in milk, onion, bay leaf, and paprika. Simmer for 10 min. before removing bay leaf.
  3. Temper in the egg, and stir in 3/4 of the cheddar. Season with salt & pepper. Fold in the macaroni, and pour into a 2-qt. casserole dish. Top with remaining cheese.
  4. In a separate sm. saute pan, melt the remaining 3 tbsp. butter, and toss the panco to coat. Top the macaroni with the bread crumbs. Bake for 30 to 40 min. or until edges are slightly browned. Remove from oven and let stand for 5 min. before serving.

Variations

I changed up some of the measurements only because the ingredients came packaged in varying amounts. (E.g. I didn’t want to purchase 2 boxes of panco or have to save only 4 oz. of the 12-oz. pkg. of macaroni.) And I thought the recipe still turned out okay. I think the thing with casserole type dishes is they don’t have to be an exact science. This is good for all you non-recipe followers out there. (You know who you are.)

I also baked the macaroni for longer than what the original Alton Brown recipe called for because I like the edges a little burnt. Personally, I think it tastes better and adds that toasted crunch.

Cooking time (duration): 60

Diet type: Vegetarian

Meal type: dinner

Culinary tradition: USA (Traditional)

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shrimp & tomato linguine

Photo courtesy of Love to Cook



With half a bottle of chardonnay still left over from our wedding, I’ve been looking for recipes that call for dry white wine. In addition to using it on the scallops a la Julia Child and the mushroom risotto, I found this recipe online. It is also a good opportunity to use up the last of those ripened tomatoes from your garden. I am eating the leftovers as I type this entry, and the dish tastes even better after a day in the fridge.

Remember, if the Blind can Cook it, so can you.


Recipe: Shrimp & Tomato Linguine

Summary: Original recipe from Cindy in Pensacola on All Recipes

Ingredients

  • 4 tbsp. olive oil
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1/2 medium onion, diced (optional)
  • 4 c. tomatoes, diced
  • 1 c. dry white wine
  • 1 portobello mushroom cap, chopped (optional)
  • 2 tbsp. butter
  • salt & pepper
  • 1 (16 oz.) pkg. linguine pasta
  • 1 lb. medium shrimp, peeled & deveined
  • 1 tsp. red chili pepper flakes

Instructions

  1. Heat 2 tbsp. olive oil in a large saucepan over medium heat. Stir in garlic and onion and cook until fragrant, about 2 minutes. Add tomatoes, mushroom, and wine. Simmer over low heat for 30 minutes, stirring frequently. Once tomatoes have simmered into a sauce, add butter and season with salt & pepper.
  2. While tomato mixture is simmering, cook linguine according to directions for al dente pasta.
  3. Season shrimp with red chili pepper flakes, salt, and pepper. Heat remaining 2 tbsp. olive oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat, and cook shrimp until pink on the outside and no longer translucent in the center, about 5 minutes. Add shrimp into sauce, and serve over linguine with grated Parmesan if desired.

Quick Notes

My laziness screwed me again! Instead of dicing the tomatoes, I merely chopped them so they did not result in a sauce-like consistency. They were more like chunks. Make sure you chop them up into small pieces, about 1 cm. cubes, so they will soften and result in the right texture. Next time, I’m using the Magic Bullet.

My shrimp turned out slightly overcooked. (I seem to have this problem with shellfish.) The thing with shellfish is there is such a small window after it’s fully cooked but before it becomes too tough. I might have to look into this in a future blog post.

The preparation time below of 45 minutes excludes the shrimp peeling.

Variations

The original recipe didn’t call for onion nor mushroom, but I found some in the fridge and decided to add them. Onion and mushroom usually go well with any Italian-based dish, so why not?

The original recipe also called for Cajun seasoning instead of chili pepper flakes, but I like the less salty spice of pepper flakes more so switched it up.

I also was too lazy to devein the shrimp. (Us Asians tend to eat shrimp poop all the time.) Is it really that harmful for you? Sounds like a future blog post.

Cooking time (duration): 45

Diet type: Pescatarian

Meal type: dinner

Culinary tradition: Italian

Microformatting by hRecipe.

pasta 102: cooking & eating

Welcome to the second installment of the course in Pasta. Perhaps even more intriguing than choosing and measuring pasta are cooking and eating it.

I know I like my pasta cooked al dente, but what exactly does this mean? Al dente means “to the tooth” in Italian and refers to the doneness of pasta, risotto, or vegetables. It suggests a firm resistance when bitten but not soft (overcooked) nor hard in the center (undercooked). So how do we cook this perfectly al dente pasta? Read on…

Cooking Pasta:

  1. Pasta should be cooked right before serving. Use enough water. This means one pound (16 ounces) of pasta requires about four to six quarts of water. This will wash away excess starch thereby preventing the pasta from sticking together and cooking unevenly.
  2. Begin with cold water, and bring to a rolling boil on the stove. Add salt only after it has started boiling. I use only kosher salt in my kitchen, and here’s why. Salt helps bring out the natural flavor of the pasta and won’t raise the sodium level of the dish. The reason you’ll want to add salt after it’s come to a boil is because: (1) unsalted water reaches boiling point faster, and (2) salt dissolves faster in hot water. Adding salt to cold water may cause it to crystallize onto the sides of your pot. Add about two tablespoons per pound of pasta. This may sound like a lot but it’s necessary for the flavor and most of it will wash off in the water. The water should taste like seawater.
  3. While What’s Cooking America (where I got all of this good information) doesn’t recommend adding any oil to the water because it prevents sauce from sticking later, I like to add just a little–maybe two teaspoons of olive oil–so the pasta is likely to stick together after draining. Another alternative is after draining, add pasta back to the pot and toss with some butter or olive oil.
  4. Don’t add the dry pasta until the water is at a rolling boil. Adding it beforehand will result in mushy pasta because the starch will begin to break down before it gets to finish cooking.
  5. Stir pasta frequently while it is cooking to prevent it from sticking together and to the pot. (Yes, it seems like a lot of pasta cooking involves preventing it from sticking.)
  6. Cooking time is a tricky thing. I find that my stove boils things rather quickly so I can’t rely on typical times suggested on the package or online. The best bet is after four minutes, begin checking the pasta by biting into it. (Throwing it against the wall to see if it sticks can also work for testing long thin pastas.) Watch the pasta closely because it can overcook very quickly. Remember that pasta also continues to cook a little bit even once it’s out of the water.
  7. For pasta that will be used in a casserole (e.g. baked ziti) or cooked again, you can cook it in 1/3 less of the allotted time. Boil until just flexible but still firm.
  8. Do not rinse the pasta after draining unless the recipe says to do so. The starch will help the sauce stick to the pasta. DO rinse wide pasta (e.g. lasagna) or else it will be difficult to separate them without tearing. Also, rinse pasta if using it for cold salads.
  9. As soon as it is drained, transfer the pasta back into its warm pot or a warm bowl. Toss it immediately with the sauce.

Eating Pasta:

  1. Don’t over-sauce the pasta. Italians say that Americans eat too much sauce with their pasta. There should only be enough to coat the pasta, not drown it. I.e. there should not be a puddle of sauce at the bottom of your bowl. (This is how I like my pasta–nice to know I have the taste buds of a true Italian.)
  2. Serve pasta in shallow bowls so that you can use the sides of the bowl as leverage to turn the tines of your fork when twirling pasta. It is not proper to use a spoon in addition to a fork, and it is definitely rude to slurp the pasta. Cut the pasta into smaller pieces with the edge of your fork if necessary.
  3. If you need to store the pasta, lightly toss it with some oil so it doesn’t stick.

And that concludes the Pasta class. Any questions?

pasta 101: choosing & measuring

Most of us started with pasta when we first learned to cook. Spaghetti with a jar of Ragu or whatnot. Just heat and serve. Or if we were feeling especially adventurous, we’d add some sauteed onions or mushrooms or ground beef. That was exactly me in my second year at college when I lived in my first apartment complete with its four-by-five foot kitchen.

More than a decade has passed, and while my pasta repertoire has stretched beyond spaghetti and jar sauce, I realized I still did not know exactly how to cook the perfect pasta al dente. This, of course, called for a blog post.

I found a plethora of pasta choosing, measuring, cooking, serving, and eating tips on What’s Cooking America. Because there is just so much to know, I’ve decided to split up the pasta tips into two posts. Here is lesson one, Pasta 101. Get ready to know everything you need to know about pasta.

Choosing Pasta:

  1. The best dried pastas are made of 100% semolina (“durum-wheat semolina” or “semolia”). Durum wheat retain their shape and firmness when cooked so they won’t be too mushy or sticky to toss with sauce. Of course, pastas not made of semolina can be used for casseroles as they won’t need tossing.
  2. Have you ever wondered the difference between noodles and pasta? Noodles are typically made of eggs which give it a more vibrant color.
  3. Also, have you ever figured why there are so many different shaped pasta? The shape is matched according to the type of sauce. Flat pastas are best with thin sauces while others with nooks and crannies are good for picking up chunkier sauces or catching soups.

Measuring Pasta:

  • Most dried pastas double in volume once cooked. A general rule is one pound of dried pasta will serve six as an appetizer or four as a main course.
    • 4 oz. dry long pasta (spaghetti, angel hair, fettuccine, linguine> = 1 in. diameter bunchof uncooked pasta = 2 c. cooked pasta
    • 4 oz. dry short pasta (elbow macaroni, penne, shells, rotini, wheels, ziti) = 1 c. uncooked pasta = 2.5 c. cooked pasta

Stay tuned for the second half (and arguably the more important half) of Pasta class.

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