Saturday, July 11, 2015

Something from Nothing

There are some nights when I have no imagination or creativity left to make dinner.  Those are the nights I look in the fridge and pantry to find "nothing".  Fortunately, there is always bacon, cheese, and eggs, along with the odd 1/2 pound of pasta in the pantry.  Last night was one of those nights, after spending most of the day writing, I had zero left in my brain to think about dinner. 
So, Carbonara it is! Basically eggs, bacon, cheese, lots of ground black pepper and pasta, you will find this dish on menus throughout Italy.  There is a lot of bad carbonara out there, and the secrets to a good carbonara, are room temperature ingredients, and pasta water.

I didn't have any guanciale or pancetta, so bacon would have to do.  This was about 5 strips of bacon, cut into 1/2-inch pieces.  Fry it till it's crispy, and take out all the bacon fat from the pan.
3 egg yolks, about 1/3 cup of grated Parmigiano Reggiano and lots of ground pepper---whisk it up and keep the whisk in there, since you'll be adding some pasta water to this, to temper the eggs, and make sure they don't turn into scrambled eggs.  There is a quandary as to whether to use Parmigiano or Pecorino Romano---Parmgiano was the first thing I saw in the fridge, hence it's in the Carbonara!
While the bacon is frying, heat the pasta water.  For Dr. C. and I used 1/2 pound of linguine.  While the pasta water is boiling (about 3 minutes short of al dente) Take about 1/2 cup of the salted pasta water and add it to the eggs and Parmigiano, whisking until the eggs and smooth.  Turn on the heat under the bacon at this point, to about medium. 
Drain the pasta, and turn into the skillet with the bacon, add the egg mixture and turn the pasta incorporating egg mixture.  Turn off the heat under the skillet, and continue to turn the egg mixture until it clings to the pasta and has created a creamy sauce.  If you find it dry, add a bit of reserved pasta water, or some good quality olive oil, and continue to turn the pasta until it is to your desired consistency. 
Serve the pasta garnished with additional cheese.  

Carbonara means "charcoal burner"; the tradition is that this pasta was a hearty dish served to men who worked the coal mines--hence the copious amounts of ground black pepper that look like coal dust. Other theories are that after World War II, many Romans were making this dish with bacon and eggs supplied by the allied troops who occupied Rome after the German surrender. All I know is that carbonara can make something out of nothing. 

Wednesday, July 1, 2015


I love pickles!  I guess the first step is admitting it.  Unfortunately, store bought pickles can sometimes taste old, and not so great.  At this time of the year when pickling cucumbers are coming in to Farmers' Markets and to Specialty Produce here in San Diego, I get in a little over my head and buy them because there are so many ways to pickle a cucumber.  I'm not talking about canning jars, and buckets of boiling water to process them in, I'm talking about refrigerator pickles that can be eaten over a week, right out of the fridge.  Today when I was at Specialty Produce, I picked up some pickling cucumbers, and decided it was time to get some into the fridge for the fourth of July weekend. 
Scrub the outside of cucumbers with a vegetable brush, and then slice thinly. 
I like onions in my pickles, so I sliced a red onion the same thickness.  Sprinkle salt over the cucumbers and onions in a colander set into a bowl.  The salt will draw out any excess moisture in the cucumbers and onion, so as not to water down the pickling marinade.  Let the cucumber mixture stand for 1 hour.  Then drain off any excess moisture. 

I didn't prepare a typical pickling brine for these.  I have a recipe I use to make pickled onions for burgers, and decided that I'd use that instead.  It's simple and makes these great for tossing into salads,  onto burgers, or your favorite sausages or hot dogs. 

Pickled Cucumbers and Onions

Makes about 4 cups
This recipe is easily doubled, or halved depending on your needs.
4 cups thinly sliced cucumbers
1 medium red onion, thinly sliced
sea salt
1/2 cup red wine vinegar
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 cup vegetable oil
pinch red pepper flakes
1 teaspoon dried oregano

  1. Toss the vegetables with the salt in a colander, and drain for 1 hour. 
  2.  In a small mixing bowl, whisk together the vinegar, sugar, oil, pepper and oregano, and pour over the vegetables.  Cover and refrigerate overnight. 
  3.  The pickles will keep in the refrigerator for up to 1 week. Drain off the pickling juices after 3 days. 
Wishing everyone a happy Fourth of July weekend! 

Thursday, June 25, 2015

Have You Met the Tayberry?

Today I was at Specialty Produce and was given a box of tayberries; they look like an elongated red blackberry.  They cannot be harvested by machine, so they are picked when ripe and need to be used immediately.  Not having enough for more than a bowl of cereal or yogurt, I mixed them with some other berries, and I've made a pie with a crumble topping.
I added blackberries and some chopped strawberries to the tayberries, and then decided they would all bleed so much juice that I'd better cook them a bit before I put them into the pie crust.
Cook them for about 5 minutes, with some sugar and orange juice

I strained the juice 
I made a crumble topping because I love the crunchiness mixed with the berries

There was quite a bit of liquid left over, I'll use it to decorate the plate, and drizzle over the pie and ice cream because yes, there will be ice cream

If you have a lot of liquid leftover, use it to flavor lemonade, mixed drinks, wine spritzers, or use as a drizzle over cake, or ice cream.
And, we have pie!

Black, Tay and Strawberry Crumble Pie

Makes one 9-inch pie

For the Crust
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
4 tablespoons chilled shortening, cut into bits
5 tablespoons cold unsalted butter, cut into small bits
1/4 cup ice water

  1. In a food processor fitted with the metal blade, combine the flour and salt.  Distribute the shortening and butter over the flour, and pulse on and off until the shortening and butter begin to be absorbed by the flour.  
  2. With the machine running, add 2 tablespoons of water, and continue to add water just until the dough begins to come together.  Don't let it form a ball.  
  3. Turn it out onto some plastic wrap and form into a disc.  Refrigerate for 1 hour.  
  4. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees and coat the inside of a 9-inch pie plate with non-stick cooking spray.  Roll the dough out onto a floured board, until it is 11 to 12 inches in diameter. Put into the prepared pie tin, and pinch the sides into a decorative pattern or use a fork to make a pattern on the dough at the edge.  Refrigerate while making the berries.  

For the Berries
1 cup tayberries
1 1/2 cups blackberries
1 cup strawberries, hulled, and quartered
1/2 cup sugar (more if the berries are tart)
2 tablespoons orange or lemon juice

  1. Combine the ingredients in a saucepan, and bring to a boil.  Simmer for 3 to 5 minutes, until the berries render some juice.  Strain the berries through a fine mesh strainer, and reserve the juice.  
  2. Put the berries into the pie crust.  

For the Crumble
1/2 cup all purpose flour
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon 
1/4 cup unsalted butter, melted

  1. In a bowl, combine the flour, sugar and cinnamon.  
  2. Drizzle in the butter, stirring with a fork, until the mixture begins to come together.  
  3. Sprinkle over the berries.  Bake the pie for 45 to 55 minutes, until the berries are bubbling, and the crumble is golden brown.  Allow the pie to cool for at least 30 minutes before cutting and serving with ice cream. 

After a little research I found that tayberries have a lot of pectin and will make a fine jam; I'm thinking tayberry and peach or nectarine would be awesome.  The Stone fruits coming in right now are awesome, so take advantage of the season and make some Christmas presents in June. If you come upon a fruit that you aren't familiar with at a Farmer's Market, use your Specialty Produce App, it's free and amazing.  Check the Google Play and I-Tunes Store and download it. 
My warning is that you will be splattered with juice, these berries are so juicy, so wear an apron when you make this---I didn't and probably won't be able to get the stains out of my white shirt.  Ah well, the price one pays for preparing great food. 

Sunday, June 21, 2015

Happy Father's Day

I did not meet my dad until I was about 3 months old.  He was a Naval Officer stationed on board a ship during the Korean War, so my mom went home to Northern New Jersey to live with her parents and await my birth.  Yes, I AM a Jersey girl!  When Dad came home we moved to Hunter's Point, in the Southern San Francisco area to a Quonset hut.  If you don't know what these are, they are grey corrugated metal buildings in the shape of a 1/2 moon. (that's my dad and I in front of ours)  They were divided up to house 3 to 4 families.  Yes, even then the military housed us in substandard housing and called it "free".
My dad's career had us moving every 2 to 3 years, from the East Coast to the West and back again.  He was gone a good part of the time, so there really was no male presence in our lives, save for my grandfather and uncles, who were usually on the opposite coast.  When my dad would come home, none of us knew what to do with him, and frankly I'm not sure he knew what to do with us, but he did his best, providing for us, giving us a love of history, reading and writing notes.  I still have many of the notes he wrote to me, some of them still scorch the page. 

My dad (left) relieved of command, USS Preble, in Okinawa, Japan 1961
  This brings me to fathers in general....although many are not biological fathers, they stand in when the child needs them, and they take over if necessary.  I'm convinced that no one is born with the instinctive nature to be a father, we learn parenting on the job, and sometimes it is not a job well learned.  Today could be a sad and painful day for many, with the loss of a dad, or a dad whose presence causes old and ugly memories to surface, or it could be a joyful day, celebrating those who contributed to our formation and loved us through the difficult moments of life. 
1981, many hair colors ago!
Today I celebrate my husband, who has been an amazing role model for our children, teaching them values, along with modeling hard work, integrity and love.  And to all those who have stood in for him, when he wasn't able to be with us, thank you for being there for my children, you are the extended family who have cared for and nurtured them when they needed it most.  I'm grateful for all the dads today, for their love and caring for children, no matter what age. 

Thursday, June 18, 2015

What's App?

When I open up my phone, I am amazed at what I can find with a swipe of my finger.  Although I am a tech dinosaur, I do love having a lot of information on a phone, so that when I'm looking for something I can usually get a great answer in a matter of seconds, or in my case minutes.  I'm grateful for the ability to find a restaurant, seat on an airplane, and figure out what the heck that vegetable is in the farmer's market and how do I cook it.  These are some of my favorite Apps in no given order.

The Specialty Produce App is a deep volume of information about fruits and vegetables, with photos, information about where and when they are grown, and some recipe and storage ideas.  It's awesome, and you can also "spot" produce when you are shopping, so others can see where a certain vegetable or fruit is available.  It's free.

Getting lost is a fact of life, and without Google maps where would we all be?  Stuck in the driveway.  I've used it everywhere:  in Europe, and all over the US, I'd be lost without it and that's no joke.  Free in the Google play store.
Since I travel so much keeping track of the weather is something I do a lot---OK, I'm really a geek when it comes to weather.  I sometimes gloat about our fabulous weather here in San Diego, but for the most part I'm checking out where I'm going so I can plan my packing.  Free.

How else would you know what your neighbor is having for breakfast if you weren't on Facebook.  I use this primarily to see what my kids/and their friends are doing, as well as my professional page to put up photos of food, and other information.  It's annoying at times, with the adverts and unwanted things in your feed, but for the most part, I use it to catch up.

I still don't understand it, but surprise, I've got followers, and I'm following people---how interesting!  Truth be told, if I post on my professional FB page, it goes to Twitter....incestuous.

Also not sure I understand this one either, but I put up shots of food, and other things---I have yet to figure it out, but it's there if I need it.

Getting news during the day, when I'm traveling, I depend on the AP, since it is just headlines and facts.  Free in the google play store.

I've found that Flight Stats is smarter than the airlines when it comes to posting delays and gate changes.  It's saved me miles of walking at O'Hare and Dulles.  Free.

Recently a flight was cancelled, and I was assigned a seat by the airline, this genius app will tell you whether it's a good seat or not, and has comments by travelers about the different planes and where to sit for the best experience, but as we all know flying is not fun anymore.
Worth every penny, if you are going to Italy, these apps are all you need.  Elizabeth Minchilli's recommendations are spot on, and the app is full of information, especially for first timers.

Late at night, coming home, it's nice to know you have a flashlight just in case you can't find the lock to put your key in.  I used this a lot in Italy, since the streets can be pretty dark. 

I love Uber, and have used it in Rome, New York City, and in Los Angeles.  It's clean and neat with no money changing hands, and no tipping to try and figure out.  The app is GPS based, and works amazingly well. 

Checking on the Euro when I'm Italy, this app let's me figure out how much something will cost before I buy.  Simple to use, containing all the worlds' currencies, it's awesome.  Free.

I use the Trip Advisor occasionally; I like that there are reviews from real people, and that I can compare hotels, and restaurants, and find things to do in different cities.  Free.

Last but not least, the My Gelato app---I haven't used it yet, but had to have it---it's free. 

I have more apps on my phone than I need, but I do love the instant gratification of being able to find things, get directions, as well as the weather and current news.