Saturday, March 30, 2013

Cacio e Pepe- Cheese & Pepper Pasta

We took a recent trip to Rome and fell promptly in love with everything.
Including the pasta. 
I've never been a huge pasta fan, but this one really caught my attention and now, I have to say, I am kind of addicted. I've made it three times in two weeks. 
Every guide book for this eternal city mentions this dish, which the city is well known for.  
This recipe takes some liberties, so don't be yelling about adding butter, which is not typical and "OH MAMA MIA" while clutching your heart and all that.  
Milan is known for butter and cream, not Rome.  
Who cares?  
It's my house, and I'm not Italian and I can do what I want.  
It's your house, you can do what you want.  

Also, the lemon zest is not traditional, but I love lemon, and thought this added a little zing.
We all could use a little zing, you know? Even your Mama could use a little zing.

So, I timed myself while making this dish because it was SO DANG easy.
After the water was boiling (I didn't time that part...) it took me 8 minutes to get this on the table.  Even if you have to stop and grate your cheese, (you can do that while the water is boiling), you are in for a 15 minute dinner at the most. Nice, huh?
Plus, yummy and comforting, and cheap.  Cheap is good, save your cash for more trips.

Buon appetito!

Serves 2-4 (2 as a main dish, and 4 as a pasta course)

Coarse salt
8 ounces thick spaghetti or bucatini
4 Tbsp butter, softened
1 cup Parmesan cheese, grated
2 teaspoons freshly cracked pepper (use a mortar and pestle or the coarsest setting on a grinder), plus more for garnish
1/4 cup Asiago, or Pecorino Romano cheese, grated
1 small lemon, zested (optional)


Bring a large pot of generously salted water to a boil. Add pasta, and cook until very al dente, about 3-4 minutes.  It will still be very firm. Reserve 1 1/2 cup pasta water before draining.

Transfer pasta to a 12-inch skillet (preferably nonstick). Add butter and 1/2 - 3/4 cup pasta water. Bring to a simmer over medium-high heat. The heat helps the starch in the water meld with the fat from the butter, which prevents the cheese from becoming stringy in the finished dish.

Reduce heat to low, and mix in Parmesan (retain the Asiago for later!) and cracked pepper. It will melt into the buttery water, creating a sauce as the pasta finishes cooking. Add more pasta water if it starts to look too dry or stingy with the sauce. Zest the lemon right into the mixture, and stir.

Toss pasta with tongs to thoroughly coat it with sauce and keep tossing while keeping it at a gentle simmer just until cheese melts and sauce thickens slightly, about 1 minute.

Remove from heat, then stir in Asiago. (Always add Asiago or Pecorino off direct heat; it clumps when cooked.).

If pasta looks dry, toss it with a bit more pasta water until it has a glossy coating. Don’t worry about using all the pasta water that you reserved, but don’t skimp on this step either.  I like it a bit more saucy than too dry and sticky/stodgy with cheese.

Divide between 2 warm bowls. Garnish with more cracked pepper. Serve immediately.

Monday, March 25, 2013

Spicy Mama Summer Salad- Tossed Corn, Avocado and Tomato

Wow, something so small can make such a big diffference.
Attitude is everything.
You can tell the difference from my photo, can't you?
Yep, the sun is actually shining again in Seattle.
Feels like Summer here, we made it to 63 degrees.

Maybe that's cold to most of the U.S., but in Seattle, 63 degrees is totally summer time.
I even wore shorts today after work, doing yard work.
Yep, it's officially a change of season here.
That calls for something "summer worthy".

I had an avocado that I wanted to use before it got yucky, plus a bunch of other ingredients that lend itself to that; tomatoes, cilantro, jalapeno, corn and lime.  
A few of my favorite things, for sure.

Ummm, the name of the salad?
Well, I asked for input, and that's what I got. 
So, there you go.

Serves about 4

3-4 Roma tomatoes, diced
1 orange bell pepper, diced
1 avocado, diced
1 cup corn, fresh, frozen or canned (I used Trader Joe's frozen roasted corn- love that!)
4-5 green onions, thinly sliced
2 jalapeno's, minced (optional, or to taste)
1/4 cup cilantro, chopped
1 lime, juiced
1-2 Tbsp olive oil
1 tsp cumin, or to taste
1/2 tsp garlic powder 
Salt and Pepper to taste

Chop up all the veggies, put in a bowl and add the olive oil, lime juice and spices.  Toss gently and serve at once.  

Enjoy the taste of summer time.

Hey, here's a couple of things that you could serve with this:

Albondigas, Mexican Meatball Soup
Chicken White Bean Chili
Mexican Chicken Posole Stew

Cilantro Chicken 
Lazy Girl Salsa Chicken- Crockpot
Lime & Chili Pepper Chicken Tacos
Beef Kebabs with Chimichurri Sauce

Sunday, March 24, 2013

Apple Pie Bars

I must admit, I had my doubts.  This recipe showed up in Food & Wine's 30th anniversary issue in the their "Top 30" recipes of the last 30 years.  
Whoa... that's a big claim, huh?

I am married to a notorious cake-hater.
He likes pie, and so do I, but as much as I like pie, maybe cookies and bars are my favorite. 
Plus, a co-worker's husband, who is a very nice guy, was having a birthday, and so was my hubby.  Hey, that's enough reason to make these bars.
It makes a super huge batch... I think I would cut it in half next time and make a smaller amount.  I still have some of these cookies in the freezer, so I will be testing out F&W's claim that they are still good after a month in the freezer.

I read some of the online ratings and comments and many people mentioned that this was a lot of butter and sugar in this recipe.  Yes, it is.  For once, I followed the recipe exactly and I thought it was good.  Next time, I might reduce the sugar in the apple filling mixture since I would prefer it to be more tangy and less sweet.  I thought it was weird to bake the crust and then bake it again with the apples and the topping, but this worked out great.  I didn't have a problem with burning or overbaking, and the resulting bars were nice and firm and easy to pick up and eat.  I may try this with other fillings, I loved the shortbread crust and the topping together.

One comment, while these keep for a day or two, they do start to get softer as they sit in an airtight container.  When I cut my batch into bars the morning after baking them, they were still nice and crisp but by the end of the day they were more crumbly.  Still yummy, but not as firm. 

Original Food & Wine recipe here
(This is only half the apples I used, it was about 12 apples)

Makes 1 15x17 sheet pan, or 2 baking pans (approx 9x13)


    3 sticks unsalted butter, softened
    3/4 cup sugar
    3 cups all-purpose flour
    1/2 teaspoon kosher salt


    6 tablespoons unsalted butter
    1/2 cup light brown sugar
    12 Granny Smith apples (about 6 pounds)—peeled, cored and thinly sliced
    1 tablespoon cinnamon
    1/4 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
    1 cup water, as necessary


    3/4 cup walnuts
    3 cups quick-cooking oats
    2 cups all-purpose flour
    1 1/2 cups light brown sugar
    1 1/4 teaspoons cinnamon
    1/2 teaspoon baking soda
    1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
    3 sticks unsalted butter, cut into 1/2-inch cubes and chilled

  MAKE THE CRUST Preheat the oven to 375°. Line a 15-by-17-inch rimmed baking sheet with parchment paper. In a standing electric mixer fitted with the paddle, beat the butter with the sugar at medium speed until light and fluffy, 2 minutes. At low speed, beat in the flour and salt until a soft dough forms. 

Press the dough over the bottom of the sheet and 1/2 inch up the side. Bake in the center of the oven for 20 minutes, until the crust is golden. Let cool on a rack.

 MAKE THE FILLING In each of 2 large skillets, melt 3 tablespoons of the butter with 1/4 cup of the light brown sugar. Add the apples to the skillets,

and cook over high heat, stirring occasionally, until softened, about 10 minutes. Stir half of the cinnamon and nutmeg into each skillet. Cook until the apples are caramelized and very tender and the liquid is evaporated, about 10 minutes longer; scrape up any bits stuck to the bottom of the skillets and add up to 1/2 cup of water to each pan to prevent scorching. Let cool.

MAKE THE TOPPING Spread the walnuts in a pie plate and toast until golden and fragrant, about 8 minutes. Let cool, then coarsely chop the walnuts. In a large bowl, mix the oats with the flour, light brown sugar, cinnamon, baking soda and salt. Using a pastry blender or two knives, cut in the butter until the mixture resembles coarse meal. Stir in the walnuts and press the mixture into clumps. 
Note:  I didn't use the pastry cutter or knife technique, I just used my standmixer and it worked fine!
    Spread the apple filling over the crust.

Scatter the crumb topping on top, pressing them lightly into an even layer. Bake in the center of the oven for about 1 hour, until the topping is golden; rotate the pan halfway through baking. Let cool completely on a rack before cutting into 2-inch bars.

Make Ahead The bars can be stored in an airtight container at room temperature for 4 days or frozen for up to a month.

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Turkish Spice Market Delight

We arrived at Noon on a cruise ship on the Bosphorus Strait, as the Muslim call to prayer had just begun. It sound seemed amplified over the water, the breeze bringing the sound closer and closer and bringing little shivers to our skin.  It’s such an exotic sound to us as Westerners and heightened the excitement of a new adventure in an exotic culture. 

The Bosphorus Strait divides European Turkey from Asian Turkey and is a very busy waterway. Boats zipped in and out between us and the shore, a variety of boats of every size and type, all dwarfed by the cruise ship.  In the distance, you could see mosques everywhere, with the domes and minarets poking up through the houses and buildings.  It felt like being in a romantic movie some how.  It brought a shiver of excitement to us as we stood on our balcony and watched the city approach.  There might have been a kiss, or two…

The biggest landmarks seemed obvious to me, but where easily confirmed with my map of Istanbul; The Blue Mosque, The Hagia Sophia and the Topkapi Palace.  Without a doubt, there was obviously so much more to see in our brief days ahead.

Day One was just a partial day to explore on our own, as we’d hired a guide for the next day.  Off we set walking from the ship towards the bridge that connected the two European sides of Istanbul.   The Galata bridge was loaded with local fisherman, each with a pole and a bucket, catching small tasty fish. All around the bridge base were fish markets, but we had a mission to hit the “Spice Market” and see the sights so we didn’t dally.  My guide book almost gave us some bad advice, and said the Spice Market was “touristy”, but on the contrast, we found the market to be mainly local shoppers that day.   

The outside area of the market was mainly meats, seafood and cheeses as we approached the inside covered aisles.  At first, we walked through without making a lot of contact with the vendors, trying not to get roped into buying things we couldn’t use.  After a minute or two, it was obvious that interaction was inevitable and desired by all.  We found the vendors in the market to be friendly and outgoing, having a chat seemed to be the primary importance after that first attempt to sell us something.  They wanted us to try the cheeses, fresh feta and Kasari, sausages and of course, Turkish Delight and Baklava. 

I know people that turn up their noses about Turkish Delight (or to those of you familiar with the USA version- “Aplets or Cotlets”).  This stuff was nothing like the overly sweet version that we know in Washington State.   I wish I could post a recipe of some Turkish Delight sweetened with honey, as I tasted so many little samples and versions that were fantastic and different.  The best seemed to be the reddish pomegranate version with green pistachios, beautiful and tasty too.  I am promising to do some research and see what I can come up with when I return home.

I lost count of how many different spice stalls there was, but almost about half seemed to be spices and teas.  Different colorful displays abounded, some in bins, some in bags, but carefully shaped into a point.  Exotic and rich colors and smells.  It was mesmerizing. It made me want to get into a kitchen and start cooking. I bought some different types that are hard to find at home like Biberi (ground hot peppers), a special salad seasoning and a smoked spice that was interesting.  Most of the guys selling spices spoke some English and loved to talk to you about each kind and what you could do with it.  Everyone seemed to want to sell you saffron, either the Iranian or the Turkish kind.  One was definitely paler (Iranian) but no one gave me an explanation on the taste differences.  I wanted to buy some, but I currently have a sizable amount given to me by a good friend.  I needed to use up what I got before investing in more.  

We spent so much time in the market, that we approached the Topkapi Palace just as they were closing the gates at 4pm for the day.  Darn it!   It was only open Monday, and closed Tuesday, our only other day in the city.   I just vowed to return to Istanbul again some day.   There are still so many sights to see…  

If you want to try my recipe for Baklava, find it here!