September 30, 2012

The 4 Food Groups...

Bacon, Eggs, Cheese, Pasta.   
It seems every time I make pasta, I always have leftovers.  Every. Single. Time.    I used to hear the phrase "your eyes are bigger than your stomach" on an almost daily basis and I think it may still be true.

So, seeing that sad bit of pasta hanging out in the fridge I felt the need to rescue it.  I'm not a fan of throwing food in the garbage (unless of course it has started to look like a science experiment gone horribly wrong).   With that sense of resolve,  I scanned the kitchen to see how this bit of leftover pasta could transcend its current state into something seriously good.

Staring into the refrigerator, I felt a bit like the woman from "Romper Room"...  you remember her right?   She would look through her looking glass and say the names of the kids she saw.  Every week I waited and waited to hear my name.  Never happened.  

Back to the fridge...  I saw bacon, cheese, eggs and I knew where this was going. 
Express train to delicious-ville.

Spaghetti Bites
  • 1/2 pound of cooked pasta (I used cut spaghetti, any small/short pasta will do)
  • 2 eggs, room temp
  • 1/2 cup grated Pecorino Romano, room temp
  • 1 small onion, diced very small
  • 5 strips bacon
  • salt & pepper

1. Cut bacon into very thin pieces and cook over medium heat until most of the fat is rendered out.

2. Add onion to pan and cook until softened and translucent.  Remove from heat and strain to remove bacon fat.  (Reserve for another use, like frying potatoes or eggs...)  Set aside to cool slightly.

3. In a medium bowl, beat eggs and add cheese.  Then add bacon & onions and cooked pasta.  Season with a little salt and freshly ground black pepper.

4.  Spoon mixture into a mini muffin tin and lightly press down.  I wanted to sprinkle extra cheese on top, but as you can see I forgot...   They were still good without it, but a crunchy, cheesy crust would've been nice!

5. Bake at 325 for 18 - 20 minutes or until golden brown and crunchy on top.


September 24, 2012

I'm BANANAS for these muffins...

Now that the temperatures are not hovering near the triple digits, I'm no longer avoiding my oven like the Bubonic plague.   Which is a good thing for me, as I thoroughly enjoy baking. 
I've said it before, it's cheaper than therapy and that is exactly what it is for me...  therapeutic.   It's quiet, calming and serene,  all the things one needs when living in one of the most hectic, crowded, noisiest cities in the world. 

The quiet moments puttering around the kitchen, the sound of the back of a knife scraping across a measuring cup to level off flour, the clinking of the measuring spoons as they delve into baking powder,  these sounds are truly soothing to me.
The warmth and aromas that emanate from the oven... here's where it really starts to get good.

The original recipe called for all-purpose flour and the traditional creaming method.  I opted to follow my friend Jenni's advice and switched out the flour with a lower gluten cake flour and changed the method to include liquid fat, i.e. melted butter instead of chilled.   The oven temp in the original recipe was 350, I cranked it up to 400.   Every professional baker I've ever known has baked muffins at this temp, so I'm not really sure why all the recipes call for 350,  but I digress...

These muffins are so good, I'm not ashamed to say I ate 3 the day they were made.  It was all for research purposes of course!  I couldn't put a recipe here without being completely confident that it passed the test, now tell that to my jeans...

Banana Muffins
-adapted from Cooking Light
  • 2 cups cake flour
  • 3/4 tsp baking soda
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1/4 cup unsalted butter, melted and cooled
  • 2 large eggs, room temp
  • 1 1/2 cups mashed banana (3 - 4), room temp
  • 1/3 cup plain Greek yogurt, room temp
  • 1 1/2 tsp vanilla
All ingredients at room temperature

Streusel Topping
  • 1 cup flour
  • 1 cup packed brown sugar
  • 1/2 cup butter
  • 1/2 cup oats
  • 4 tbsp almond flour (optional)
  • 1 tsp cinnamon

look at those PEAKS!

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

Combine cake flour, baking soda, salt & sugar in a large bowl.  Whisk to thoroughly combine and set aside.

In a medium bowl, whisk eggs, butter, banana, yogurt and vanilla together. Pour on top of dry ingredients and fold gently until just combined.  Do not overmix!  Your laziness will be rewarded, I promise.

Top generously with streusel topping and bake for 14 - 15 minutes.   Cool in pan for 5 minutes, then remove carefully to a rack to cool completely.

No tunnels!

September 16, 2012

Here's the Rub...

The weather in Brooklyn is perfect today...  mid 70's, sunny and breezy.    These end of summer days are the ones I really cherish because I know too well that before long, they will be gone until the spring.

It is nearly unthinkable to cook dinner inside today.   The days left in this year that we can enjoy being outside are numbered and I want every last second of warm sunshine I can get. 

Although, grilling in inclement weather is no foreign concept to me.  I have memories of my grandmother grilling in the rain, tongs in one hand & umbrella in the other...  I guess once she decided what was for dinner, there was no turning back.   Luckily for me, the weather this weekend has been picture perfect. 

If you are among the throngs of apartment dwellers with no access to a grill or outdoor space, this is delicious done on a grill pan or even a saute pan.    Speaking as one of the aforementioned,  I've cooked many a steak on top of the stove and they are almost just as good.

Why use a rub?  Granted, a good quality piece of meat requires little more than salt & pepper and a nice sear, but sometimes it needs a little something extra.  That's where a good rub comes in.   That extra boost of flavor can transform a good steak into possibly one of the BEST steaks you've ever had.

The Rub
  • 3 tbsp kosher salt
  • 2 tbsps brown sugar
  • 1 tsp pulverized dried chili pepper(s)
  • 2 tsps ground coffee beans or espresso powder
  • 1 tsp dry mustard powder (Colman's)
  • 1 tsp Spanish paprika
  • 1 tsp black pepper

  • oil, for brushing grill
  • 2 bone-in ribeye steaks, approximately 1 to 1 1/2 in. thick
Grinding your own spices makes a world of difference!

- Mix all dry ingredients together and set aside.

There are a few key steps to this:
  • choosing the right cut of meat
  • cooking it properly
  • forming the crust
  • letting it rest.
Before we proceed, a word about the steak. Fat is FLAVOR.  Most people would agree that for this purpose, the ribeye rules. It is nicely marbled, meaning there are little lines of fat running throughout the meat. This will ensure a juicy steak, provided you don't overcook it. 

Now that we've covered the basics, let's get on with it...

It is best to start with room temperature meat.  It will cook more evenly, so take steaks out of the refrigerator about 30 minutes before you plan to cook them.

Pat steaks dry with paper towel,  rub on both sides with spice blend.  Cook over medium-high heat until desired doneness.  For me, that is 7 - 8 minutes per side if the steak is 1 1/2 in. thick which is medium-rare.   Let steak rest for a few minutes before serving.

September 08, 2012

One Last Bite of Summer...

Labor Day has passed and thus marks the unofficial end of summer (moment of silence, please).

Once again, it is time to put away the bathing suits and sunscreen.  No more tousled beach hair, salty lips from the sea or digging your toes into the sand.  Summer fruits and vegetables are still here for a few more weeks and I try to get every last bite I can before they disappear until next year.

Tomatoes will soon be those pale pink, insipid, cellophane-wrapped globes trying to pass for the real thing and even though we know better, some of us will buy them anyway...  only to be thoroughly disappointed.

I usually make a last-ditch effort this time of year to get the last of the summer produce before I am limited to root veggies.  Fall produce is wonderful and I love it,  but there's nothing like tomatoes, cucumbers, peppers, corn, etc. during the summer months.

This salad makes wonderful use of what most people grow in their gardens, so if you are lucky enough to grow some of your own veggies, you may not have to go farther than your back yard to get your ingredients!

I'm not quite ready to say goodbye to the sunshine and long days just yet...

Israeli Salad
  • 3 tomatoes
  • 4 mini cucumbers
  • 1- 2 bell peppers
  • 2 scallions
  • 2 tbsp parsley, minced
  • 1/3 cup good quality olive oil
  • 1 tsp honey
  • juice of 2 lemons
  • 2 tbsp red wine vinegar
  • 1 tsp sumac
  • 2 - 3 tsp salt
  • 1 tsp pepper

1. Seed and finely chop tomatoes, bell pepper and cucumbers.  Thinly slice scallions.  Combine in medium bowl.  The key to this salad is to cut everything very small.  It takes a little more time, but the payoff is worth the effort!
2. Whisk together remaining ingredients, add to vegetables and stir to combine.
3. Dig in!  Can be eaten as a side dish, pile it in a pita for a light lunch or scoop up with toasted pita chips for a snack.  Or my personal favorite: with a big spoon straight out of the bowl.

*If mini cucumbers are not in your market, buy the long, thin English cucumbers.  Avoid the "regular" cucumbers, their flavor and texture is not as good.

*Sumac is a ground spice which is considered essential in most Middle Eastern cooking.  It is deep brick red in color and adds a bright, lemony tartness to the dish.  If you are not near a specialty store or Middle Eastern grocery store, you can find it here.
*For a more colorful salad, use a combination of red & yellow tomatoes and choose a purple or orange bell pepper instead of/in addition to red