Saturday, January 9, 2021

Pasta Carbonara

I love Pasta Carbonara.  I've only ever had it in restaurants here, where the quality has varied.  The best I've had was in Florence.  We went the summer of 2020 for a quick trip; I need to post about that with the pic of the awesome Carbonara I ate.  

I've made this recipe a few times and it's very good.  My friend gave me the recipe.  When making this, one has to whisk the hot pasta into the egg mixture quickly, or you'll get some cooked bits of eggs.  I did get some cooked egg bits; you can see them in this pic.  But, it's still so good that I don't care about that.  

I use pancetta in this; I buy it cubed in a package so I don't have to mess with cutting it.  Here in Italy they sell smoked and "sweet", and you want the smoked for this.  Guanciale is traditional to use, and I've tried it that way, but I prefer pancetta, so I just use that.  Pecorino cheese is also traditional, and I've used that before, but today I had a package of Grana Padano already opened, so I used that.  Pecorino, Parmigianino, or Grana would all be wonderful in this.  Also, use the best quality eggs you can find, since they are a big part of this meal.  PS: I tried this with Rigatoni pasta as the original recipe suggests, and I really didn't enjoy it nearly as much as when I made it with Spaghetti.  Weird, but Spaghetti is my preference.  
Pasta Carbonara 
adapted from Female Foodie

4-6 ounces pancetta, guanciale, or bacon (I use 200 grams smoked pancetta) 
2 ounces Pecorino Romano, Grana Padano or Parmigiano-Reggiano
2 whole eggs
4 egg yolks
1 teaspoon sea salt
fresh cracked pepper, to taste
1 pound pasta, such as spaghetti 

1.  Bring a large pot of generously salted water to a boil.

2.  While the water is coming to a boil, prepare and cook the guanciale. Cut into 1 x 1/2 inch strips. (I'm lucky enough to buy mine already cut into cubes.)  Bring a dutch oven or large pan (enough room to add the pasta later on- I used a large non-stick wok today, and it was great) to medium heat. Add guanciale or pancetta. Cook until crisp on the outside, but still soft/chewy on the inside (about 7-8 mins). Using a slotted spoon, transfer guanciale from dutch oven to plate lined with 2 paper towels. Discard all but two Tablespoons of grease from pan.

3.  Once pasta water is boiling, add pasta. You can cook until your desired done-ness.  Most recipes suggest al dente but I prefer a bit more cooked than that.  

4.  While the pasta is cooking, prepare cheese and egg. Finely grate 2 ounces of pecorino romano (or other) cheese. Crack eggs/egg yolks into a medium sized bowl and whisk eggs until smooth. Add 3/4 of grated cheese (set the rest aside for later), 1 teaspoon of sea salt, and a few cranks of pepper to the eggs and whisk together. Just before the pasta is finished, remove 1 cup of pasta water from pot. Add 1/2 cup of pasta water to the egg/cheese mixture and whisk quickly until smooth.

5.  Bring guanciale/pancetta and the two tablespoons of reserved fat back to medium heat in the dutch oven/wok. Once pasta is done cooking (barely al dente), add to dutch oven/wok with fat and guanciale/pancetta. Cook for about 30 seconds together, integrating the pasta with the guanciale and oil. Remove from heat.

6.  Add egg/cheese mixture to the dutch oven. With a wooden spoon or spatula, stir quickly and vigorously to incorporate all ingredients of the carbonara together. (The hot pasta cooks the eggs thoroughly here; you're not eating raw eggs.)  If the pasta seems too dry, you may add more pasta water, a tablespoon at a time. (Last time, I ended up adding the whole other 1/2 cup, slowly.)  Taste pasta to make sure it has adequate amount of salt. Plate the pasta and top with additional fresh cracked pepper and the reserved amount of grated cheese. Serve immediately.
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Monday, December 28, 2020

Christmas Peanut Butter Balls

I have a few other Peanut Butter Ball recipes on my site, but I like this one with the use of crunchy cereal.  We didn't have Rice Krispies so we just crushed Rice Chex and used that. We made these on Christmas Eve.  I was so tired; I made the "dough" with my daughter, and then she and my husband dipped them in chocolate.  They turned out well, and of course are so tasty.  I didn't want to make them because we were making other things already, (fudge and caramels), but I'm glad we did.  They only lasted a few days too; they're gone now. Lol.  

Note: This calls for melting the pb and butter together first.  I did it, but I'm not sure it's necessary, and it made this recipe take forever to make since it had to then cool for a few hours in the fridge until we could even work with it.  Next time, I'd just use softened butter and mix with a mixer.  I can't think of any benefit of melting them together vs. mixing with a mixer.  
Christmas Peanut Butter Balls
adapted from Spend with Pennies

2 cups peanut butter creamy or chunky
½ cup butter
2 cups powdered sugar
2 cups Rice Krispie cereal
⅓ cup graham crumbs
2 cups semisweet chocolate chips
1 tablespoon coconut oil

1.  Combine peanut butter and butter in a saucepan and melt over medium heat. (Note: if you do this, you'll have to let the mixture cool before forming balls.  I'd just let the butter soften and then mix from there.) 

2.  Stir in powdered sugar, Rice Krispies and graham crumbs.  Roll into 1" balls and place on a baking sheet. Refrigerate at least 2 hours. (Before rolling, I had to refrigerate for 2 hours since the mixture was way too soft, then stuck in the fridge another few hours before dipping.) 

3.  Melt chocolate chips at 50% power in the microwave until almost smooth. Stir in coconut oil.  (I always use a double boiler to melt chocolate; I find this works better than microwaving.  Or, use a heavy saucepan over super low heat.)  Dip peanut butter balls into the chocolate mixture allowing excess to drip off. Place on a parchment lined pan and cool completely.

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Wednesday, December 23, 2020

Belgian Hot Chocolate

This was a great hot chocolate recipe for a snow day.  We've only had one snow day this year, and it happened on December 2.  Nobody had to go to work/school that day, and most of the fam (and the dog) enjoyed playing in the snow all day.  I took the opportunity to try this hot chocolate recipe I had bookmarked from David Lebovitz.  It was a popular choice after playing in the snow.  Happy Holidays everyone!

(Note: I used Ritter Sport bars for both kinds of chocolate.)
Belgian Hot Chocolate
adapted from David Lebovitz

1 quart (1 liter) whole milk
8 ounces (230g) bittersweet or semisweet chocolate, chopped
4 ounces (115g) milk chocolate, chopped
large pinch of salt (start with less)
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
whipped cream, optional, for serving

1. In a medium saucepan, warm about one-third of the milk, with the chopped dark and milk chocolates, stirring until the chocolate is melted.

2. Whisk in the remaining half-and-half or milk as well as the salt and cinnamon, heating until the mixture is warmed through.

3. Use a hand-held blender, or a whisk, to mix the hot chocolate until it’s completely smooth. (Do not use a regular blender as blending hot liquid may make the lid blow off.)  The chocolate is ready to serve now, or you can let it rest a bit to thicken up.  We drank it right away and it was perfect.  Serve with whipped cream, optional.

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Monday, December 21, 2020

Garlic Cheddar Buttermilk Biscuits

These biscuits are really similar to ones I've already made, but they include buttermilk, which I really love in baked goods.  These are easy, fast, and very flavorful.  You should try them ASAP!  

Garlic Cheddar Buttermilk Biscuits
adapted from Mel's Kitchen Cafe

2 cups (10 ounces) all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
1 teaspoon sugar
3/4 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 cups (6 ounces) shredded sharp cheddar cheese 
1 cup buttermilk (see note)
6 tablespoons butter, melted

3 tablespoons butter, melted
1/4 teaspoon crushed, dried parsley
1/2 teaspoon garlic powder

1.  Preheat the oven to 425 degrees F. Line a half sheet pan with parchment paper; set aside.

2.  In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, garlic powder, sugar and salt. Add the cheese and toss to combine until the cheese is evenly coated with the flour mixture.  Add the buttermilk and melted butter. Stir just until combined and no dry streaks remain. Don't over mix. The batter might appear a little lumpy; that's ok.

3.  Using a greased 1/4-cup measure or large #20 cookie scoop, scoop the dough and drop onto the prepared baking sheet, spacing about 1 1/2 inches apart.  Bake for 12-14 minutes until the biscuits are golden.

4.  While the biscuits bake, whisk together the topping ingredients. Immediately out of the oven, brush the top of the hot biscuits evenly with the butter topping. Serve the biscuits warm or at room temperature.
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Saturday, November 28, 2020

Pistachio Fluff Salad

My mom made this often growing up, especially for holidays like Christmas and Thanksgiving.  Last time we were with my parents for Christmas, my mom made it and my kids really loved it.  I don't think I've ever made it myself, but I finally did a few days ago for Thanksgiving when my kids requested it.  It was gone too fast.  Most people use Cool Whip for this, but my mom just whips cream and it's so good that way.  I used 2 containers of European shelf-stable cream, which ends up being about 1.5 cups.  You can use just one cup or 1.5 cups.  It's good either way.  Also, it needs to be made the day before for best results, or the pudding mix doesn't seem to fully incorporate smoothly.  
Pistachio Fluff Salad
from my mom

2 boxes (3.4 oz each) Jell-O Instant Pistachio pudding mix
1 can (20 oz) crushed pineapple (in juice)
1 can (15 oz) mandarin oranges, drained
1 1/2 cups heavy whipping cream (can use just 1 cup, can probably use 2 cups as well)

1.  Whip the heavy cream- I use a stand mixer but you can use a hand mixer, as well.  After it's whipped to soft peaks, fold in the dry pudding mix (do not add any milk).  Then, fold in the crushed pineapple (you can drain a bit of the juice, but leave some).  Fold in the drained mandarin oranges.  Transfer to an airtight container, cover, and refrigerate, overnight, if possible.  
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Sunday, November 15, 2020

Buttery Pull-Apart Bread

This bread was so good.  It's very similar to my fave savory Monkey Bread recipe I posted a few years ago.  It's a bit different though, and still very much worth including here.  Instead of forming balls, you make different shapes- kind of like slices.  Then nestle them all together and bake up into buttery goodness.  The first time I made this recipe, I used the full amount of butter.  It was good but I felt bad about all that butter.  I cut back next time and it was *almost* just as good.  Lol.  

For pics on how to form the dough into the right shape, check out Mel's Kitchen Cafe, where the original recipe came from.  
Buttery Pull-Apart Bread
adapted from Mel's Kitchen Cafe

1 cup warm water
1/4 cup granulated sugar
1 tablespoon instant yeast
1 large egg
1 tablespoon oil
1 teaspoon salt
3 1/4 to 3 1/2 cups all-purpose flour 
8 tablespoons butter, melted (I use salted)

1.  In the bowl of an electric stand mixer fitted with the dough hook (you can make this by hand, too) add the warm water, sugar, yeast, egg, oil, salt, and 2 cups of flour.

2.  Mix until combined - it's ok if it is a little lumpy. With the mixer running, continue to gradually add flour until the dough clears the sides of the bowl and forms a ball that is soft but not overly sticky. Knead for 2-3 minutes. Cover the top of the bowl, and let the dough rest for 10-15 minutes. It should puff slightly.

3.  Pour half (4 tablespoons) of the melted butter evenly in the bottom of a bundt pan (if you don't have a bundt pan, you can use loaf pans).

4.  On a lightly floured or greased countertop, press or roll the dough into a 1/2-inch thick rectangle, about 12X10 inches. Using a pizza cutter or sharp knife, cut the dough into 24 semi-equal squares.
Grab one square at a time, dip the bottom of the square in the butter in the pan and layer the squares against each other (kind of like a trail of dominoes that has fallen over on each other).All 24 squares should fit in a layer around the bottom of the pan. Lift and rearrange the squares, if needed, to fit them all in.

5.  Cover the bundt pan and let the dough rise until noticeably puffy, 45-60 minutes. After the dough has risen, pour the remaining 4 tablespoons butter over and around the top of the bread.  While the dough is rising, preheat the oven to 375 degrees F.  

6.  Bake the bread for 20-25 minutes until golden brown on top and baked through. Remove the pan from the oven and let rest for 5-10 minutes before turning out onto a plate or platter (lay the plate upside down over the bundt pan and holding onto both the plate and pan at the same time, flip it over so the bread falls out onto the plate).  Serve warm or at room temperature.
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Sunday, November 1, 2020

Peanut Butter Marshmallow Fudge Brownies

Delicious brownies that were popular with the whole family.  Very peanut-buttery and the frosting is a bit unusual with a great texture.  
Peanut Butter Marshmallow Fudge Brownies
adapted from Mel's Kitchen Cafe

1/2 cup boiling water
2 ounces unsweetened chocolate, finely chopped
1/3 cup (1 ounce) unsweetened or Dutch-process cocoa powder
2 1/3 cups (17.5 ounces) granulated sugar
1/2 cup vegetable, canola, or other neutral-flavored oil (like sunflower or grapeseed)
4 tablespoons butter, melted
2 large eggs + 2 large egg yolks
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 3/4 cups (8 3/4 ounces) all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon salt

1 1/2 cups (about 13.5 ounces) crunchy or creamy peanut butter

10 large marshmallows or 1 1/4 cups mini marshmallows (about 2.75 to 3 ounces)
4 tablespoons (2 ounces, 1/4 cup) butter
1/4 cup milk (I use 2%)
1/4 cup (.75 ounce) unsweetened or Dutch-process cocoa powder (see note)
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 cups (6 ounces) powdered sugar

1.  For the brownies: Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Line a 9X13-inch metal pan with aluminum foil and lightly grease with cooking spray (I skipped the foil).

2.  In a large bowl, whisk together the boiling water and chopped chocolate until smooth (if the chocolate doesn't melt fully, microwave the water/chocolate mixture for 20-30 seconds). Add the cocoa powder and whisk together. Add the sugar, oil, butter, eggs and vanilla. Mix until smooth and well-combined.
Add the flour and salt and mix until just combined and no white streaks remain. Spread the batter evenly in the prepared pan. Bake for 20-30 minutes (check often after 20) until crackly on top and set around the sides. Let cool for 10-15 minutes.

3.  While the brownies are still warm, dollop the peanut butter across the top. Let it sit for a few minutes so the peanut butter softens (alternately, you can warm the peanut butter in the microwave) and spread into an even layer. Refrigerate until the peanut butter is set, about an hour.

4.  For the marshmallow frosting: in a microwave-safe bowl (or in a saucepan over low heat on the stove), combine the marshmallows, butter, milk, cocoa powder, and salt. Heat for 1-minute intervals, stirring in between, until melted and smooth.

5.  Add the powdered sugar a little at a time to the warm chocolate mixture and stir until smooth and well-combined. If the frosting starts to get a little clumpy, heat for 20-second intervals in the microwave (or over low heat on the stove) until it smooths out a little.

6.  Spread the fudge frosting over the chilled peanut butter layer. Refrigerate until set, about an hour. Serve the brownies chilled or at room temp (they are also tasty frozen). To easily cut the bars, run a sharp knife under very hot water, wipe clean, and slice (running under hot water between cuts).

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