Archive for January 14th, 2007

10 min carbonara, 20 min clams, and 30 min scones

 (And Rachael Ray can kiss my ass.)

You know, life is hard. And sometimes after a long day at work strapped in that crappy, backache-inducing chair which you have tried to screw down and up and down again but neither direction seemed to improve your position so you sat back down glumly and started complaining to your friends, on aim or gtalk, about how all of sudden you’re buried beneath an avalanche of work and whether you should go see a chiropractor because the unpleasant tension in the left-hand corner of your upper back was beginning to affect your typing speed and because you earnestly believed that your back pain was hindering you from leading a fulfilling life, yes (please excuse my long prepositional phrase), after a long day like that, all you really want to do is to just collapse on a couch, stretch your limbs, and unwind, with a glass of wine preferably. But then, your stomach starts growling, and you’re really tempted to order in from some mediocre nearby place…resist that urge! There are so many yummy things you can whip up in your own kitchen in less than 20 minutes, or even 10 minutes, way faster than the average waiting time for delivery. Cooking doesn’t have to be time-consuming or labor-intensive all the time. Your day was backbreaking enought so let’s just keep it simple, shall we?

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Spaghetti carbonara with smoked salmon

Spaghetti alla carbonara is a classic Italian dish. It’s so simple I swear it can’t take you longer than 10 minutes (unless you have a sucky pot that doesn’t conduct heat very well, then it’ll probably take you longer to boil the pasta…) Alla carbonara literally means “in the manner of the coal miners,” and according to legend, the dish was popular among the charcoal miners because of the few ingredients it required and the fairly uncomplicated cooking method. Traditionally, you would make this dish with eggs, pecorino romano cheese, and pancetta (no heavy cream!). Some recipes substitute parmesan or parmagiano-reggiano for the pecorino or use a combination of cheeses, and some also substitute bacon for the pancetta. Use whatever your heart desires. I personally like pancetta better, but sometimes when I feel like changing the flavor profile a little bit, then I use smoked salmon instead of pancetta.

Spaghetti alla carbonara with smoked salmon (1 reasonably portioned serving)
enough spaghetti for one reasonable portion
1 egg
1/4 cup parmesan cheese (or parmagiano-reggiano or pecorino)
3-4 slices of smoked salmon
2-3 cloves of garlic
1 tbsp. olive oil
Salt and peper
1 sprig of parsley

1. Start boiling the spaghetti. The remaining steps can be done while the pasta is being cooked.
2. Smash the garlic. Heat the oil in a skillet at low to moderate heat. Toss in the garlic and let it sit there for 5-7 minutes (make sure it doesn’t burn). This will allow the garlic to release its aroma and the result is very flavorful garlic infused oil.
3. While the oil is being infused, cut the salmon into strips and crack the egg and mix it with the cheese. Season the egg mixture with salt and pepper (not too much salt because the cheese and smoked salmon are already salty).
4. When the oil is ready, add the pancetta and saute for about 2 minutes. Turn off the heat. By this time, the pasta should be just perfectly al dente. Drain the pasta and add the hot pasta into the skillet. Pour the egg mixture into the pasta and stir like a mad woman, making sure you’re not stirring too hard that you’re breaking the spaghetti. If the pasta takes longer than the pancetta, turn off the heat on the skillet anyway and wait for the pasta.
5. Season the pasta generously with freshly ground pepper. The liberal use of black pepper is a modern-day metaphor for the specks of coal that would inevitably drop from the miners’ clothes to the plates of pasta (isn’t this story so neat?!?). Then garnish with parsley.

After the carbonara Tuesday, the backche still persisted, but so did my need for food. I happened to have soppresseta and littleneck clams on hand, so this recipe instantly came to mind. I love the combination of cured meat and shellfish here, and when I tried it on Wednesday, the result was very pleasing. The soppreseta and the crushed red pepper lend a nice spicy edge to the otherwise classic French dish of clams/mussels in whine wine broth. I used a white bordeaux and vermouth as called for in the recipe and served it over a mound of fettucine, although this would also be really nice with some crusty grilled bread to sop up the deliciously flavorful broth. Because of the minimal chopping, this only took me about 20 minutes from start to finish. Please try it!

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Littleneck clams with soppresetta and sweet vermouth

And here’s a look at the soppresetta…

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I think I had more than 3 slices during the course of cooking, but hey, they made good amuse bouche. My mouth was definitely amused =p

Last but not least, I made some scones yesterday before going to dinner. Yes, for better or for worse, my life revolves around food.

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Sundried-tomato and basil scones before going into the oven

If you know me, I put sundried tomato and basil in a lot of things, like a lot, but I can proudly say that this is my original recipe. I came up with this, hah! Again, these are so easy you can do it in less than 40 minutes. The scones are good for breakfast or late night snacks or anytime!  They are savory and buttery and reminiscent of pizza. Pizza! I think that’s why everybody loves them. One warning though, these babies are definitely not for dieters or people with weight/heart problems. Ok now that that’s cleared up, I have no liabilities.

Sundried tomato and basil scones  (16-20 scones)
2 cups all-purpose flour
2 tsp. baking powder
1 pinch salt
1 stick of cold butter
3/4 cup heavy cream
1/2 cup grated parmasan cheese
1/2 cup tightly packed chopped basil (approx.)
1/2 cup chopped sundried tomatoes (approx.)

1. Preheat the oven to 400F. Mix the flour, baking powder and salt together. Sift.
2. Cut the cold butter into small cubes. Add them to the flour mixture and and mix it with your fingers briefly, briefly being the operative word. Stop mixing when it gets to wet sand consistency. So what if you overmix? The consequence here is grave because you will end up with heavy and cakey scones, which can’t really be called scones since proper scones have to be light and flaky.
3. Add in the heavy cream and grated cheese. Mix briefly to form a dough. Then add the basil and sundried tomatoes. At this point you can break and bake whichever way you like. I like to roll mine up in wax paper with a bamboo sushi roller, so I end up with a long cylinder, which makes it easier and faster to form uniform looking scones.
4. Bake the scones at 400F for 20-25 minutes. Because the flecks of sundried tomatoes and basil always burn very quickly on the outside, I like to lower the heat to 325F after 15 minutes, so the scones don’t look too unappetizing.

And very very lastly, I haven’t forgotten about my eggs! I’ve been playing around with them, and I will post an epic entry on them soon. It will be interesting.

 Now go make scones and don’t forget to eat locally and buy from farmers’ markets. =)

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My Fairway organic eggs that have been trucked in all the way from Wisconsin. Buying from farmers’ markets will decrease the amount of petroleum wasted on transportation.

p.s. I take horrible photos. I’m sorry.

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