The Uber pulled into my driveway and we saw a large box on my doorstep. That could only mean one thing. Something to evaluate for the blog! If you follow Bachelor Basics on Instagram you know that I have been eating all the tacos and barbecue I could find in San Antonio and Austin. What that won’t tell you is that while I was busy eating all their food, mosquitoes were busy eating all of my legs. Apparently the savage flying critters prefer lean dark meat. After dining out for the last seven days, it was time to dine in, which perfectly coincides with #GreatAmericanCookIn.
The box was from Colavita and featured olive oils, balsamic vinegar, pasta, orzo and two pesto/spreads. My creative kitchen juices were flowing and I was itching both from my bug bites and the desire to make my own food.
We made this video for a homemade arrabbiata recipe nearly four years ago. Dennis Joseph, director, camera man and eater, still asserts this is one of the best dishes he’s ever had. A contributing factor could have been that we didn’t eat until 11 at night. At that late hour, he might have said the same if I warmed my shoe in the microwave and served it.
Have a dish you’d like me to demo? Add it to the comments and I’ll fire up the stove and camera.
I made pasta sauce Sunday afternoon. It was by no means remarkable. It took about 45 minutes to cook. I started with diced onion, garlic, baby Bella mushrooms and a two cans of crushed tomatoes. Despite all that work, it essentially tasted like a pop-top jar of sauce.
Commuting into the city necessitates making meals ahead on the weekend. Whether that means a soup, sauce, or a bunch of grilled or cooked chicken, any advance cooking sets you up for having healthy meals during the week.
Tonight, I stopped at the grocery after getting off the train. While sprinting down the aisles in my post-work famine/rage, I grabbed one hot Italian sausage link from the butcher, fresh spinach and fruit.
I sliced the sausage link into half-inch pieces to expedite the cooking process. I heated a small skillet with a teaspoon of olive oil. Then add the sliced sausage into the hot pot. That took about six minutes to cook. I then washed and ripped up a handful of spinach. After removing the sausage from the pan, add the spinach to sauté quickly with salt and fresh cracked pepper. I added the leftover pasta with sauce to the pan. Once that was warm, I added in the crispy and spicy sausage.
You could also add grilled or seared chicken breast. Or if you are really fancy, steak. If you are vegetarian and somehow are lost on this blog, you could add in a mix of frozen or fresh veggies like peppers and sliced onion to bulk up and freshen the dish.
The meal with sausage, spinach and pasta cost about $4.
It won’t win any awards, but it will satisfy your hunger on a Wednesday night.
I had been wanting to gather friends for dinner parties for a few years. You can only post recipes and pictures of your creations for so long before a hangry mob requests samples. Tackling the Mealsharing dinner party with Leann taught several lessons. It also prepped me for the eventual showdown on Food Network. You may think it’s easy to just scale your recipes for more people. That works for some dishes. Others require increased planning and maybe even writing things down–something I have an extreme aversion to. For larger dinners it’s imperative to make checklists and think out the approach.
Clockwise from top: Tuna with sauteed onion, olive spread, heirloom bruschetta, roasted eggplant and garlic
Make anything that can be made in advance. This time around we had an electric knife to slice the bread evenly. We also had time to prep the bread and rub each slice with a clove of garlic before guests arrived. While I sliced the bread, my sous chef to the stars prepped the four different toppings. (I found the grilled eggplant superior to its oven-roasted counterpart). All the recipes for the toppings came from my grandma’s cousin in Sicily.
Having appetizers ready to go when people arrive buys you time to chat with your friends.
The Main Event
In the span of a few months I have gone from never making carbonara to making it on a weekly basis. It’s a simple and crowd-pleasing dish, especially for carb lovers. To offset the decadence of the dish, we had a salad to put something that won’t add 50 points to your LDL. In a rare moment I failed to photograph the salad.
While it is very fast to make carbonara, the downside is you can’t make it ahead. You can prep the cheese and eggs (best ratio for one pound of pasta is 3 egg yolks & 1 whole egg to 1/2 pound shredded parm), but that’s about all you can make ahead of time. You’ll need 10 minutes to devote to properly marry the piping hot pasta with the creamy egg/cheese/pepper combo.
During those 10 minutes you have to focus. It’s a simple process–drain the noodles, add to egg/cheese/pepper, toss–but you need to do it immediately after draining the pasta to use the heat to cook the raw eggs. After that it’s go time.
After buttons were undone and sighs of surrender, we had some limoncello and moved to more accommodating seating to stretch out. If anyone is still awake, feed them this closer to make sure they get home safely. Leann took charge of dessert and crushed it again with her homemade tiramisu.
Make a list and attack it.
Make anything ahead that can be.
Share the responsibilities. Ask friends to bring wine, salad or a dessert.
Wine and limoncello make everything better.
Find a helper. I lucked out with my sous chef.
Don’t forget to play some music.
Keep it simple and have fun. The dinner party is more about spending time with friends than perfectly executed dishes.
Dani Carlson commented on one of my many food pictures a few months ago. I first met Dani in college where she ran the show for the on-campus news program. She taught me most of what I know about broadcast news. Network and Broadcast News taught me everything else. She also won an Emmy this year for her reporting work at WOOD-TV in Grand Rapids, MI.
Since her request to learn how to cook chicken that wasn’t mushy I have been tinkering with different recipes to find one that would conquer her challenge.
I make a fair amount of chicken dishes, but this summer has been dominated by grilling. Earlier this week I took a stab at a new recipe from Bon Appetit.
As is often the case, I didn’t have all the ingredients so I swapped a few for what I had on hand. Here we go with Dinner for an Emmy-Award Winner.
1 tablespoon olive oil
2 skinless, boneless chicken breasts
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper–don’t use the pre-ground stuff. It’s a waste.
1 green onion, thinly sliced
1/2small onion, minced
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 cuplow-salt chicken broth
1/2cupdry red (Recipe calls for white)
2 Tablespoons Dijon mustard
Optional: mushrooms, carrots, other veggies
2tablespoonsminced fresh thyme plus thyme leaves for garnish
These are quickly becoming my favorite noodle.
Diced red onion
Seasoned chicken breat
…and we flip.
Start pot of water to boil for noodles.
Heat the skillet over medium heat.
Season both sides of chicken with salt and pepper. If the chicken breast is more than an inch thick, either slice it in half (parallel to your board) or pound it out.
Add oil to skillet and swirl it around.
Place chicken in the hot pan. If you don’t hear a distinct sizzle, the pan isn’t hot enough. I let mine get hot for about 5-6 minutes.
I added carrots, which were too sweet for the savory vibe the rest of the dish had going.
After 6-7 minutes on one side, flip the chicken to sear the other side.
Let that cook for another 6-7 minutes. The chicken should start firming up.
Remove the chicken and let it rest on a plate.
Add onions, garlic and optional veggies. Stir. Let cook for a minute. Add chicken stock, mustard, wine. Stir. You’ll need to let this cook a few minutes on medium/medium-high heat to cook out the booze and let the flavors combine.
Place the chicken back into the pot. Cover.
Transfer 1/2 cup of pasta water to the skillet/sauce. Stir.
Drain the pasta.
Plate it up.
Searing the chicken should avoid the squidgy chicken texture you despise. But it shouldn’t be super dried out either. If you can win an Emmy and teach people how to use AVID, you should have no trouble with some chicken!
If at first you don’t succeed making a dish, try, try again.
Since returning from Roma I’ve been chasing that perfect carbonara. It’s a diabolically simple dish with only a few ingredients. The first attempt was good but not as creamy as the plate I devoured in Trastevere. Last week at a restaurant in the ‘burbs I tried another carbonara dish. It wasn’t as good as my first effort. So I had two choices: go back to Roma or try to make it myself.
Sadly, my bank account doesn’t yet afford me the chance to haphazardly chase pasta dishes around the globe. I could however go to Trader Joes and get some cheese and thick-cut apple wood bacon.
Revisions since last time:
-Parmesan instead of pecorino.
-3 yolks and 1 whole egg.
-Heavily salt pasta water.
-If you think you’ve added enough freshly ground pepper, you haven’t. Add more.
-Use more bacon.
-Sprinkle in a few red pepper flakes.
-Remember to add minced garlic to cooked bacon and oil.
The sauce’s texture was bellissimo. The fettuccine noodles were al dente.
Short of looking out on the Tiber or Colloseo, this dish has been conquered.