Sunday, January 31, 2010

Popover 2: Electric Boogaloo

Depending on how old you were in 1984, the title of this post may be lost on you. And if it is, ultimately that just makes you cooler than me. But if you were anywhere between the ages of, oh, say, 8 and 35, you might know of the wildly popular and spectacularly terrible movie about breakdancing to which I refer: Breakin' 2: Electric Boogaloo.

I was 11 in December 1984 when I saw Breakin' 2: Electric Boogaloo. I had already seen the prequel to this fine film, Breakin', which had been released the summer of the same year--clearly the producers were all too aware that the window of popularity for two such ridiculous films was fairly small. I think even at the age of 11, I realized this movie franchise was a bomb, and by early 1985 I had moved on to slightly better cinematic works such as The Goonies.

In any case, in our house, when something requires a sequel or a do-over, it's often referred to as (blank) 2: Electric Boogaloo. And this morning, I decided it was time for Popover 2: Electric Boogaloo.

You may recall that a few months ago I attempted to make popovers with incredibly poor results. They emerged as homely little stumps, which, while they tasted perfectly fine, did not come close to meeting the standards set for me by the fashionable and highly mockable Rotunda Room.

My post about popovers--or flopovers, as the husband dubbed them-- elicited quite a bit of helpful advice from readers, not the least of which was: get a popover pan. Lo and behold, a popover pan was given to me for my birthday in November. With the right equipment in hand, I just needed a new recipe.

I decided this time to go with nerdy and reliable Baking Illustrated. I love this cookbook, and it has yet to disappoint me. The recipe differed slightly from the Mark Bittman recipe I used earlier: it called for vegetable oil, resting the batter before baking, and using a real popover pan.

Once the batter was assembled and rested, I poured it into the preheated pan. Because I am poor at eyeballing things, I only filled five of the six cups before I ran out of batter. But because the batter begins to cook the moment you pour it, there was no fixing my error. Into the oven they went.

And 35 minutes later, this is how they emerged.

Total popovers!

The husband came over to check them out and after inhaling the lovely, bready scent and admiring their crusty little balloon bodies, he turned to me with dead shark eyes and said, "I'm going to eat at least 2.5 of those."

He may be bigger and taller than me, but I can go head-to-head with him on any baked good (perhaps not something to brag about, but the irrefutable truth). "Mm hmm," I murmured sweetly, "2.5 is exactly what you'll get."

The nice thing about popovers is that while they look kind of hefty, they are full of air, so you can eat a few and not feel too bad. I pulled one open and slathered it in butter and my friend Stacie's homemade nectarine preserves. Heavenly!

I have to conclude that Popover 2: Electric Boogaloo was a raging success, most likely due to having the proper pan but perhaps also because of the recipe. I'm not sure. I do know I will be making these a lot in the future, because unlike most sequels, they exceeded all expectations and left me wanting more.


(adapted from Baking Illustrated)

2 eggs
1 cup whole milk
1 cup flour
1/2 t. salt
1 T. unsalted butter, melted
1T. vegetable oil

Whisk the eggs and milk together in a large bowl until well combined, about 20 seconds. In a separate smaller bowl, whisk together flour and salt. Add the flour mixture to the egg and milk mixture and stir with a spoon or spatula just until combined--it will still be lumpy. Add the butter and whisk for about 30 seconds until smooth and bubbly. Let rest for 30 minutes at room temperature.

Meanwhile, pour 1/2 t. vegetable oil into each popover cup (pan should have six cups). Adjust the oven rack to the lowest position, place the pan in the oven,  and heat to 450.

Once the batter is rested and the oven is heated, pour the batter into a 4-cup measuring cup or other cup with a spout. Remove pan from the oven and working quickly, divide the batter evenly among the cups. Put the pan back in the oven and bake for 20 minutes, without opening the oven door. Reduce the heat to 350 and bake for another 15-18 minutes (I removed mine after 15), until golden brown. Remove from the oven, dump out onto a wire rack, let cool for 2-3 minutes, then eat immediately.

Friday, January 29, 2010

Roasted cauliflower with sherry vinaigrette

While I'd love to spend my days eating pork chops and pasta, sometimes restraint is in order. For those of us prone to indulgence but without the metabolism of a hummingbird, a little vanity can be an excellent motivating factor. So while I will love sugar, butter, cream, and bacon until I drop dead (and given that list, the day may not be far off), I do not like the idea of buying new clothes in bigger sizes. So, I try to find some balance with salads, light soups, and occasionally with a vegetable mish mash that adds up to a whole dinner.

For example, the other night, on the heels of a few particularly hedonistic days, I roasted up some asparagus and drizzled it with lemon juice, and sauteed cubed butternut squash with a little curry. Both turned out just fine, but the star of this odd little dinner turned out to be roasted cauliflower with sherry vinaigrette.

As a child, I found cauliflower pale, hideous, and utterly lacking in flavor. In typical 1970's style, my dad would sometimes bake it in a Corningware with grated cheddar cheese over it. In retrospect, this method flirted with the possibility of a gratin--had he added some cream and a fresh herb, or covered it with crunchy golden bread crumbs, perhaps I would have liked it better. Instead, it emerged just as white and lifeless as it went in, only now covered in orange Tillamook splotches. Cauliflower was among the many things I vowed not eat once I grew up, along with Brussels sprouts, beets, and asparagus.

Of course, things change, including your taste buds. Let's not forget that I once gagged at the smell of my dad's beer (although in honesty, I'm not sure to this day I could toss back a can of his Budweiser--I'm a Sierra Nevada girl). I now eat Brussels sprouts, beets, and asparagus with abandon. And I've even grown to like cauliflower.

In mulling over what to do with the massive cauliflower that arrived in our produce box the other day, a recipe in Mark Bittman's How to Cook Everything Vegetarian piqued my interest. The cauliflower is roasted until carmelized and slightly sweet, then dressed with a sherry vinaigrette and tossed with raisins and parsley. The result is a pleasurable contrast of tart and sweet against a savory background. Next time, I would consider swapping dried cranberries for the raisins, and adding toasted pine nuts or walnuts--I think they would add fabulous texture and crunch. A little crumbled goat or blue cheese would not be out of place and would lend a luxurious element to the dish. And I'm certain you could substitute any number of fresh herbs for the parsley with excellent results. But the recipe is also wonderful just as is.

Roasted Cauliflower with Raisins and Vinaigrette

(adapted from Mark Bittman's How to Cook Everything Vegetarian)

1 head of cauliflower, trimmed and cut into bite-sized florets
1/2 c. olive oil
2 T. sherry or balsamic vinegar (I like vinaigrette more acidic so added more vinegar)
1/2 c. raisins
1/2 chopped parsley

Preheat oven to 400.

On a large baking sheet, toss cauliflower with 3 T. olive oil, salt and pepper. Roast for 15 minutes.

Meanwhile, combine remaining oil with vinegar and season to taste with salt and pepper. Remove the cauliflower from the oven and toss with 2 T. vinaigrette. Roast for another 15 minutes, or until it's cooked to your liking.

Remove from the oven and let cool slightly. Then transfer to a bowl and right before serving, toss with remaining vinaigrette (I did not use all of it), raisins, parsley, and more salt and pepper to taste. Serve warm or at room temperature.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Soy sauce chicken

In keeping with the comfort food theme I've been prattling on about recently, I thought I'd post another go-to dinner that never fails to please: soy sauce chicken.

Although I have served this to guests on numerous occasions, it's what my dad would have called "home food," not something you'd get in a restaurant, because it's so plain. I suppose it's because of this that when I do entertain with it, I serve it to my closest friends--those I like so much I don't consider them guests, but family.

My sister is the one who originally shared this recipe with me, and since then I've come across many variations, especially in Hawaiian cookbooks--some of which include vinegar (making it more of a chicken adobo), or  star anise, which adds a great spiciness. But I always fall back on the old basic recipe she gave me years ago, because it's simple, quick, requires no attendance on the stove, and is one of the husband's favorites.

Any kind of soy sauce will do: light, dark, low-sodium, whatever. You can lessen the sugar if a whole cup freaks you out. You can use any mix of chicken parts, although I think dark meat works best. And if you've planned ahead, you can dress it up with chopped scallions or toasted sesame seeds.

One thing I think is non-negotiable is serving it with steamed rice. It just doesn't go with anything else.

Whenever I make soy sauce chicken, I make enough for two dinners. I even double the rice, in anticipation of enjoying fried rice a few days later, either for dinner or for breakfast. Old rice is the secret to good fried rice.

Soy sauce chicken has all the makings of a repertoire staple: it's cheap, has very few ingredients, is quick to make, and everyone loves it. Give it a try and let me know what you think.

Soy sauce chicken (serves 4)

8 chicken thighs or 4 whole legs
1 cup soy sauce
1 cup water
1 cup sugar
a few pieces of ginger, no need to peel

Place soy sauce, water, sugar, and ginger in a large pot and bring to a simmer. Stir to help sugar dissolve. Carefully slip the chicken into the sauce and turn to coat. Turn down heat to medium low and cover. Let simmer for 35-40 minutes, turning occasionally.

Serve with rice and sauce on the side, removing ginger.

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Rain, rain, go away

It's been raining cats and dogs all week. Everyone has had to put on boots...

...and raincoats.

In addition to engaging in an endless cycle of preparing to go out, getting soaked, coming in, drying off, and in the process splattering the front hall and stairs with water, we've also been eating a lot of soup.  I made minestrone earlier in the week, to which I added--you guessed it--some red cabbage, which turned the whole soup a shocking purple. But don't worry, I understand I've pushed the cabbage limit here. So instead, I'll tell you about the plain and simple potato leek soup I made last night.

Although, what's to tell? Saute some leeks, add potatoes, garlic, and chicken broth, simmer, puree, add cream, salt and pepper. Garnish with parsley (chives would have been ideal but there were none in the house). Serve with crunchy garlic toast.

You can tell I got a little overzealous with the garnish. I have trouble keeping a light hand with herbs. I get excited sprinkling them over the top of things. They look pretty in the moment but clumpy in a photo. Oh well. You'd never know I'm the daughter of an artist.

The soup was warm and comforting and exactly what we wanted as the rain poured down outside and we settled on the couch, Frances at our feet, waiting for toast crumbs. We ate while watching "Hope For Haiti Now," which I have to say was impressive. In addition to being quite moving in some parts, the husband and I also got to ogle our respective celebrity girlfriends (Beyonce and Reese Witherspoon) and boyfriends (George Clooney and John Legend).

We went online and made a donation, but immediately afterward I started feeling like it wasn't enough. When people say, "Give what you can," many of us probably fib a little to ourselves. I started thinking about the fact that we just bought iPhones, and how they cost quite a bit more than what we had donated. I sense another donation in the near future.

Compassion and guilt can go hand in hand, and that's not necessarily a bad thing. Take it from me, a fundraiser by day. You want people to give, no matter what compels them. But whether or not you donate, we can all keep the people of Haiti in our thoughts--while holding those we love close and keeping them warm.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Going out, staying in

What a busy week it's been! In spite of dreary weather, we've been getting out and about, being surprisingly social and eating all kinds of wonderful things. There was dinner at Serpentine for a good friend's birthday, where I renewed my love of osso buco; a perfect crispy pizza from The Cheese Board in Berkeley, eaten in a cozy kitchen with lots of red wine and a big kale salad; perfectly grilled flank steak with an addictive romesco sauce at our neighbors' house; and tapas with hibiscus margaritas at Ramblas with our friends Matt and Kirsten, visiting all too briefly from Madison, Wisconsin.

The flip side of these fun nights out (in addition to most likely putting on a few pounds and apologizing profusely to my liver) is that I haven't been cooking much, and therefore haven't had much to post about. But last night, we stayed in and I made one of our favorites, orecchiette with sausage and broccoli rabe.

This is a little cheat-y, considering I did post about this once before. But it was awhile ago and probably none of you read it. And I didn't end up with a good photo that time around. So I hope you'll forgive me for repeating myself. As much as I enjoy experimenting in the kitchen, I have a pretty solid repertoire of recipes that make weekly or monthly appearances Chez Hungry Dog--recipes I've already told you about. Sometimes I find myself flailing a bit, without something new to share.

Anyway, you can read how I came up with my version of this classic pasta, as well as my recipe, here. Suffice it to say, the dish is rich and not at all appropriate for anyone on a diet, unless the purpose of your diet is to get pudgy. On the other hand, it's very good for anyone in the mood for something comforting during these long days of winter. The pork sausage adds a salty bite against the creamy sauce and slightly bitter broccoli rabe. On a cold night at the end of a long weekend, you'd be hard-pressed to find anything better.

Friday, January 15, 2010

Tortilla soup

No, I'm not talking about that silly movie, which, incidentally, is a remake of a great movie. (May I ask why people remake good movies? If you're going to remake a movie, pick something that was cruddy the first time around, which had potential but fell short. Don't take a movie that was already good and make a lame, watered-down version it. It's just insulting to everyone involved.)

Back to the soup. I'm talking about the real thing: soul-warming, slightly spicy tortilla soup, filled with chicken, tomatoes, chiles, and sunny yellow corn.

Of course, there are a lot of variations on tortilla soup. Some recipes call for the tortillas to be cooked in with the soup, to provide a thickening agent. And then there are recipes like the one I used from Firehouse Food, in which you fry the tortillas in little strips and use them as a crunchy garnish.

From the first spoonful, this tortilla soup catapulted to the favorite recipe category. The flavors were perfectly balanced, the broth warm and soothing with just the slightest hint of heat from the chilies. It was a cinch to put together, too.

It does take a bit of planning. You simmer a whole chicken in stock, let it cool, then shred it. You could take a shortcut on this, and use chicken breasts or thighs that you sauteed quickly in a pan, I suppose. But I think this step, while it added about an hour of cooking time to the dinner, was critical. First of all, I used good homemade stock. Cooking the chicken in the stock makes a doubly-flavorful cooking liquid, which you then use for the soup. Second, the texture of the chicken that has been simmered in broth then shredded is much different than the way it would be if you cooked it in a saute pan.

Once the chicken is cooked and shredded, though, the soup moves quickly. And garnished with cheese, crispy tortillas, lime juice, and avocado, it's perfection in a bowl.

Tortilla Soup
from Firehouse Food

Serves 6

1 frying chicken (about 5 lbs) cut up and skin removed (do NOT skip removing the skin, or the soup will turn out oily)
8 cups chicken broth
1/2 c. plus 2 T. vegetable oil
1 medium onion, diced
1 can (7 oz.) diced roasted green chiles
1 t. ground cumin
1 can stewed (14.5 oz) Mexican-style stewed tomatoes (I used regular plum tomatoes and added a pinch of marjoram)
1 can (15 oz) tomato sauce)
1/4 c. arborio or other short-grain rice
3 corn tortillas, halved and cut crosswise into 1/4" strips
1 c. fresh or frozen corn kernels
1/2 c. chopped cilantro
salt and pepper

1 avocado, pitted, peeled and diced
grated Monterey Jack cheese
sour cream
1 lime, cut into wedges

Put the chicken in a large, heavy stockpot with the broth. Bring to a boil, then reduce to a simmer and cook until the chicken is tender and pulls away from the bone easily, about 45 minutes. Transfer the chicken pieces to a plate and let cool. Remove the meat from the bones and tear into bite-sized pieces. 

Pour the broth through a fine-mesh strainer into a bowl and skim as much fat as possible from the surface (do not skip this step; I did and had to skim at the very end when everything was combined--not easy).

In the now empty stockpot, heat 2 T. of the oil over medium heat and saute the onion until soft, about 3 minutes. Stir in the chiles and cumin and cook about 5 minutes. Add the tomatoes, tomato sauce, strained chicken broth, and rice. Bring to a boil, then reduce to a simmer and cook for 20 minutes.

While soup is cooking, heat the remaining oil in a skillet over medium high heat. Fry the tortillas in small batches until golden brown, removing them with a slotted spoon to a paper towel. Set aside.

Add the chicken and corn to the soup. Simmer for 20 minutes more. Add cilantro and season to taste with salt and pepper. Ladle into bowls, top with tortilla strips and other garnishes, and serve at once.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Italian pot roast with crispy forgotten cabbage

Do you ever pretend a mistake was on purpose?

Take my recent attempt at green cabbage. Originally, I envisioned it as an echo to my red cabbage efforts  (here and here), which both turned out quite successfully: soft, slightly sweet, and mellow from long cooking over low heat.

Repeating this method should not have been a problem, since the rest of the dinner, Marcella Hazan's Pot Roast of Beef Braised in Red Wine, required little supervision. But somehow, I got distracted watching back-to-back episodes of "Mythbusters," left the heat too high, and forgot to check on the cabbage for quite some time. When I did eventually remember it, it was more brown than green and had stuck to the pan.

Mon petit chou! I thought. I've neglected you.

But since it was too late to start anything new, I scraped it out and served it alongside the pot roast.

"Isn't it nice how crispy the cabbage is?" I said to the husband, as if it had been my intention all along. "It adds such a good texture to the whole dinner."

Honestly, I'm happy it turned out that way. Slow-cooked meat gets that pull-apart consistency, which is lovely, but it can benefit from some contrast. So I decided to call my cabbage crispy instead of burnt, and forgotten instead of neglected. I think it adds an air of mystery to it.

As nicely as the cabbage turned out, I realize the pot roast is the more desirable part of this dinner, and that is probably the recipe you'd like to see. But while it's simple to make, it's long to type out. And, I highly recommend you add Marcella's Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking to your collection. This book is not only full of excellent recipes, but countless techniques that I have now integrated into all of my cooking. But if you really want the recipe, email me and I'll scan it and send it to you.

Crispy Forgotten Cabbage

1 head of cabbage, red or green, thinly sliced
3 T. olive oil
2 garlic cloves, minced
salt and pepper

Heat olive oil over medium heat in a wide skillet. Add garlic, and saute for 1-2 minutes. Add cabbage, liberal sprinklings of salt and pepper, and toss. Turn up the heat to medium-high and cook for 30-45 minutes, depending on how you prefer it, stirring occasionally. But not too often: you want it to get, you know, crispy. Check seasoning before serving. In my opinion, cabbage needs a fair amount of salt.

That concludes my cabbage recipes for the time being. Thanks for hanging in there, I know they're not the most glamorous little guys. But even the drabbest winter vegetables deserve their moment in the spotlight.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Kentucky buckeyes

The other day, a small package arrived in the mail, with a return address from Kentucky.

Since it was addressed to the husband, I placed it carefully on the bench in the front hall and tried to ignore it while I went about my business. But first, I shook it a little. Something rumbled around inside. The other hungry dog and I sniffed the box and looked at each other.

Bourbon balls? we wondered. A tiny jam cake?

When the husband arrived home a little while later, we followed him around until he opened the package, which turned out to be from his mother. He pulled out two ziploc bags.

"Buckeyes!" we exclaimed happily.

For those of you who may not know, a buckeye is basically a homemade Reese's peanut butter cup, rolled to look like the nut from this kind of buckeye. I don't need to tell you the joys of peanut butter and chocolate rolled into a bite-sized ball. And while we are not big on candy in this household, if we're going to delve into some kind of cheapo chocolate, the Reese's peanut butter cup reigns supreme. The husband claims they are elevated to the sublime when consumed with a Guinness, something I can neither confirm or deny.

In any case, back to our little buckeyes, made by the mother-in-law in rural Kentucky, packed snugly into a box, and shipped across the country to two hungry Californians. We unwrapped them and placed some on a plate.

Cute, aren't they?

I'm sure you couldn't possibly want to know what comprises a buckeye; it's really a bit troubling, especially during these post-holiday months when we're supposed to be running on treadmills and eating lightly-dressed salads. But just in case you're dying to know, I thought I'd post the recipe.

Kentucky Buckeyes

3/4 c. softened butter
1 c. smooth peanut butter
1 box (3 1/2 c.) powdered sugar

Mix all ingredients with your hands and form into small balls. Place on cookie sheets covered in wax paper. Let cool in the refrigerator for half an hour.

Meanwhile, melt 8 oz. semisweet chocolate with 1/4 sheet of Gulf Wax in a double boiler.

Dip candy into chocolate mix, leaving a spot in the middle so it looks like a buckeye.

These are best stored in the refrigerator.

Now, some of you might be wondering what the hell Gulf Wax is. So was I, when I read the hand-written recipe the mother-in-law sent to me on an index card. Despite her perfect handwriting, I was sure it was a mistake.

The husband patiently explained to me that Gulf Wax is a paraffin wax often used in candy making and is perfectly edible.

You learn something every day! And all the better if it comes in a peanut butter and chocolate package.

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Pan-fried pork chops, inspired by friends

San Francisco has no shortage of good places to shop for groceries, and my newest discovery is Falletti Foods. I'd never really noticed this charming place until I began eating at Nopalito, which, as you know, I am completely obsessed with. Nopalito is next door to Falletti's. Often, after a delicious dinner of carnitas, sturgeon tacos, and enchiladas en mole (followed by homemade popsicles in Cinnamon Chocolate and Cafe con Leche), the husband and I would emerge in happy little food comas and notice the bustling market.

"We should check that out," one of us would say.

"Yes," the other would reply, "but not now. I can't look at any more food. Take me home so I can put on my pajamas."

And so went the cycle. Poor Falletti's.

But one day the stars aligned and I ended up there on a day when I had not just shortened my life with the best Mexican food on the planet and was therefore able to walk around and shop like a normal, non-stuffed person. And I discovered that Falletti's is really something special.

In addition to the usual niceties which are de rigeur here, including cheeses from Cowgirl Creamery and a rockin' produce section, they also have an amazing meat counter, including sausages made on site. And did I mention they sell Humphry Slocombe ice cream? If you can swallow the price ($8 for a pint!), you might have your whole ice cream world as you know it turned upside down.

What I'm leading up to here is that this place is awesome. I mean, you do the math:

Storemade sausage +  Vietnamese coffee ice cream + FREE PARKING = happy Hungry Dog.

So, I stopped by on Tuesday and picked up some pork chops. I'd had pork chops on the brain ever since I saw Mark's post over at Egg to the Apples for Coca Cola pork chops. I'd also recently been inspired by Croque-Camille, who had mentioned the idea of making red cabbage with apples.

So there you are: pan-fried pork chops with red cabbage and apples.

There are a few other ingredients in there--including leeks (the little greenish squares in the photos), and thyme, which I sprinkled over the chops before tossing them in the pan. But it was a pretty simple dinner.

Now, before you say, "Hungry Dog, cool it with the cabbage already!" let me break the bad news, which is that this is not the last cabbage post you're gonna see in the next few days. Look, when you get a CSA box delivered, you eat what they bring. Recently, they've been bringing a lot of cabbage. Apparently this is what it means to eat seasonally: in the spring you get beautiful crimson strawberries; in the winter you get humongous cabbages that each seem to weigh about 10 lbs and will not spoil no matter how long you ignore them. In fact, they just seem to get bigger and angrier. Sooner or later, you must reward them for their perserverance and do something with them.

Luckily I don't mind cabbage too much. But coming up with new ideas for it has been challenging. So thanks to my friends (even if they are virtual!) for the inspiration.

Monday, January 4, 2010

Married people are supposed to share

You know what's sad? The end of vacation.

The husband had two glorious weeks off and spent them footloose and fancy free. I had a sprinkling of days off too, during which I followed his lead, enjoying myself at every chance. We had drinks with friends, went to the movies, and wandered through a natural history museum. We each finished a couple of books. And we fit in some eating here and there.

Last Wednesday, we met up with some good friends at one of our favorite restaurants, Firefly, in Noe Valley. Over shrimp and scallop potstickers, roasted duck with kumquats, and ginger cake with quince marmalade, we rang in the new year a day early.

The next night, which was New Year's Eve, we stayed in, playing records that the husband had dug up on his recent trip home to Kentucky and shipped out. I made filet mignon with cabernet-thyme sauce and mashed potatoes. We drank a fancy bottle of wine that we had been saving for a year.

On Friday night, which turned out to be misty and gorgeous, we met up with some other friends at a sleek bar on Haight street called The Alembic. We settled in at a cozy table, drank spicy cocktails filled with whiskey and cognac, and nibbled on cumin-scented nuts, warm olives, and a fabulous cheese plate.

And then there were these sweet, lemony, crumbly-topped blueberry streusel muffins, courtesy of the Barefoot Contessa.

These little guys had me freaking out a little. To be totally frank, they tasted like cupcakes, although not because they were overly sweet. But they were rich like cake, with a soft crumb. I guess there wasn't much that was muffiny about them except for the fact that there was no frosting. Cupcakes must have frosting, it's a rule. So, I think I can get away with calling these muffins and eating them for breakfast. (Note to self: these would be mighty fine with a lemon-cream cheese frosting.)

I made a half recipe which yielded 10 muffins, which meant two each on Saturday, and two each on Sunday.

Today, there were only two muffins left, which of course we shared, because we love each other. Plus, we both knew there were two left; it would have been tough for me to get my paws on both without the husband noticing. Although, I could make quick work of them, I'll tell you that. One muffin might take about one minute to eat, especially if I was alone.

But when you're married, you say things like, "What's mine is yours," and "Of course I want to share," and "Please, take the last one!" and other things that make sense when you're talking about a bag of potato chips or a book of stamps. I'm positive those phrases were not conceived of with these little cupcakes muffins in mind.

In any case, married people are supposed to share, whatever the item in question. So, I dutifully packed one up for the husband and ate the last one myself, right before I left for work. I tried to eat it slowly, and stretch it out over at least five minutes.

Goodbye, vacation.

Goodbye, blueberry streusel muffins. 


 * Sorry, I could not find a link to the exact recipe on the Food Network site. This recipe is from BC's newest cookbook, Back to Basics.

Saturday, January 2, 2010

Pasta alla amatriciana (alla Hungry Dog)

What's the recipe you turn to on a busy weeknight, when you haven't thought ahead and shopped for groceries, and you must make do with pantry staples?

In my house, the answer is, without a doubt: pasta alla amatriciana.

What makes this dish so great for a weeknight? For one thing, I always have the ingredients on hand. For another, you can give Rachael Ray a run for her money and whip it up in under 30. And did I mention it's unarguably delicious? Spicy, bacony, tomato-y pasta? Yes, please!

There's been a slow evolution to my pasta alla amatriciana. I started off using Marcella Hazan's recipe but after many years of making it, I've adapted the proportions to suit my preferences. I'm afraid the changes are quintessentially American: I've substituted bacon for pancetta, and upped the amount (um...we like pork); instead of using parmesan and romano I just use whichever I happen to have; and I add way more tomatoes than Marcella's recipe calls for, for two reasons: 1) I don't like using a fraction of a can of tomatoes and then having to drum up another use for the leftovers and 2) I like pasta with more sauce. I understand that this is not the way Italians eat their pasta, but in case you hadn't figured it out, I am totally not Italian. And as a Chinese-Swedish-Finnish California native, I don't feel too bad saying that my amatriciana sauce, authentic or not, is pretty damn good.

Here's the recipe, my friends. If you don't eat pork, skip the recipe altogether: there's just no point in making this sauce without it.

Pasta alla amatriciana (alla Hungry Dog)

1lb. pasta (I like penne)

1 onion, chopped
2 T. vegetable oil
1T. butter
5 slices bacon, chopped
1 28-oz can plum tomatoes, chopped up
2 dried chilies (the ones I usually have on hand are arbol chilies)
1/2 c. grated parmesan, plus more for serving

Heat oil and butter in a saute pan over medium heat. Add onion, and cook gently for about 5 minutes, until translucent. Do not let it brown.

Add bacon and cook, stirring, for about 1 minute. The bacon should not get crispy.

Add tomatoes, a hefty sprinkling of salt, and break the two chili peppers into the sauce, releasing the seeds. Chuck the pepper husks in too. Give the whole pan a good stir. Once the sauce is simmering at a medium simmer, let it go for 20-25 minutes, stirring occasionally.

Meanwhile, bring a large pot of water to a boil. Cook pasta to al dente, and drain.

Fish the dried chili pepper husks out and taste the sauce for seasoning. Add more salt if necessary, then toss with the hot pasta. Add cheese and toss again.

Serve with additional grated cheese and a bottle of red.