Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Summer Pasta

Today I had pasta on the brain. We have so many luscious tomatoes I thought we needed a fresh sauce over a hearty pasta. One thing lead to another and suddenly I found myself peppered with flour and making fettuccine.

In the past when making pasta I used a rolling pin and a knife to flatten and cut the noodles. But wait, they make a special gizmo that should make the job easier and I just happen to have a gift card to a cooking store. So I now have this new toy.

I won't say it was smooth sailing but I was able to turn out some fine pasta with just a slight snafu. Ok, I really didn't pay attention and when the noodles were cut some stuck together but I made a nice recovery. (With some expert help from my Galley Slave). Here's what they looked like before cooking.

So then I made a very simple sauce of pancetta, fresh tomatoes, onions, garlic, yellow squash and basil. You can embellish a fresh sauce with any type vegetable or meat you can imagine. I blanched about 4 large tomatoes (about 2 1/2 pounds) to remove the skins, then crushed them by hand. I sauteed about 1 cup of diced onion in 2 TBLSP olive oil and 1 TBLSP butter until it was golden in color, then added 2 garlic cloves minced. Then I added 2 slices of pancetta that were 1/4 inch thick cut into 1/4 inch slices and let them sizzle for a couple of minutes. Add the tomatoes and salt and pepper to taste. Let this mixture simmer until the tomatoes have absorbed all the oil, about 20 minutes. Then I added my veggies and just let them cook until slightly wilted. And here's dinner.

If using fresh tomatoes try to use meaty ones, romas are best if available. If you don't have fresh tomatoes use a large can of plum tomatoes, just crush them before adding to the onion mixture. You can leave out pancetta, I just had some and thought it would be a great flavor for the mix. Eggplant and zucchini are great veggies to add. This is a "loose" recipe, but can be made quickly and it's oh so good. And of course you don't have to make pasta, I just got a crazy urge.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

The Maiden Voyage

Cooking blogs are a dime a dozen you say. This is true so I am going to toss another version into the ring.

Recipes can be found everywhere today. They are all over the information highway, in every periodical, on the backs of canned goods and so on. I like to think of a recipe as a guideline or a starting point. I want to encourage you not to dismiss a recipe because it has ingredients you might not like or maybe doesn't have some things you do like. It's only cooking.

I am by no means a professional. I simply enjoy food and cooking and have used recipes from everywhere. I have found short cuts and substitutions which I think make life just a little bit easier and dinner just a little bit tastier. Here I will be sharing some recipes I've come up with along with their "embellishasyouwish" ideas.

Summer. I love when the garden is full of vegetables. If you don't have a garden there are Farmer's Markets everywhere these days. I think food is better when it's local. What do I crave every summer? Dill pickles. Crazy, but when they are fresh they are yummy. I have tried dill pickles over the years in about a zillion ways. Finally I have come up with a great refrigerator version you can make in a short time and eat in 48 hours (although I never make it past 24 hours before I break into a jar). This recipe makes 4 quarts and trust me, they won't last long.

Check back often, you never know what might show up here. Enjoy.
Refrigerator Dill Pickles

This makes approximately 4 quarts. You could halve it but trust me they go fast
10-12 pickling cucumbers, cut lengthwise into 4-6 spears or slices approximately ¼” thick
1 cup (or so) fresh dill
1 large onion cut into thin slices
8 cloves of garlic thinly sliced
Jalapeno or Serrano peppers
Dried, whole red chiles, the long kind (Chiles de Arbol)
4 cups water
4 cups white vinegar
¾ cup sugar
1/3 cup + 1 TBLSP Canning salt (you can use Kosher Salt but will need to use a scant ½ cup)
1 Tablespoon whole mustard seed

Bring the water, vinegar, sugar, salt and mustard seed to a boil, cooking just until the salt and sugar have dissolved. Remove from heat.

Into each jar put cucumbers, onions, 2 garlic cloves, ¼ cup dill tightly packed (this is about 4 good sprigs), jalapeno or serrano pepper to taste, 2 dried chiles, 1 tsp. peppercorns. Pack the jars reasonably tight, you should be able to jiggle the contents slightly.

Pour the vinegar mixture into each jar covering all the contents (about 2 cups per jar) making sure you get a few of the mustard seeds in each jar. Put on the lids and place in the refrigerator. They are ready after 24 hours (you know it’s hard to wait) but are best after 48 hours. They will keep in the fridge up to 2 months (like that will happen). The longer they sit the more the flavors are absorbed, and if you used hot peppers they tend to pick up a bit more heat.

Embellish As You Wish
You can really embellish your heart out here. I always like to add lots of onion, in fact I pickled an entire pint jar of onions, but it is strictly up to you. I do suggest you put some in each jar as they do add flavor. Garlic can be tricky, I’ve experimented and found that 2 cloves makes you smell just right, of course you might need a second opinion. When I use jalapeno or Serrano peppers, I usually put about ½ - ¾ of a pepper in each jar sliced along with the seeds. The Serrano peppers are a bit hotter than the jalapenos, usually. Depending on the type of pepper you use, it can get toasty, so you’ll have to be the judge on quantity, or just put peppers in one of your jars to see what you like. The whole dried chiles don’t really add any heat to the mixture, but they do add color and look pretty in the jar. If you don’t have peppercorns don’t worry about it, it adds a little flavor but it’s mostly for looks in the jar.
All of these ingredients can be found in any grocery, no specialties here. Canning salt is easily found and has a higher sodium content than Kosher salt. I’ve used Kosher salt and it works just fine. The main thing is DO NOT use table salt, it won’t work, trust me.

These pickles are not processed and they stay crispy in the refrigerator. They are best with fresh pickling cucumbers in the summer, but I’ve made them with English cucumbers in the winter. If you are making slices this is a chance to use that Pampered Chef crinkle cutter thing you aren’t sure why you bought. One other note, since these are not processed you can use any glass jar, it doesn’t need to be a canning jar, so if you’ve saved old mayonnaise or pickle jars that’s fine. You can also make one big batch in a gallon jar, it’s just a little tricky on the serving. I found some great plastic lids at Kroger with the canning supplies. They come 6 to a box and are in the wide and narrow mouth sizes. This makes using your jars a whole lot easier.