Wednesday, October 14, 2009

For Erin

I love pasta. I could cook it, and eat it, every day. When my son started turning his nose up at marinara sauce, I knew I had to find another way to cook pasta that was still delicious. I discovered lemons. Obviously, I knew what lemons were before the ripe old age of 29, but I didn't quite realize how amazing they would be when combined with olive oil and pasta. Can you say delicious?

One of my favorite chefs is Giada de Laurentiis...I know, I know...she shows a lot of boob. But, her food is amazing and simple to prepare. I have 2 of her cookbooks and have made almost everything out of the 1st one and probably half the recipes out of the 2nd. I haven't been disappointed yet. I used to watch her show, Everyday Italian, when I was a stay at home mom. You have to focus on what she is saying instead of her cleavage, but I managed.

So, one of her recipes that I love is for Lemon Spaghetti. It is very simple. Very tasty. Very satisfying. I made it so much that I thought I would tire of it. But I didn't and neither did my son. But I did decide that I'd like to experiment with different add in ingredients, and somehow, ended up with what has quickly become one of my signature dishes. Basically you use the Lemon Spaghetti recipe with some variations.

Instead of Spaghetti, I use Orzo Pasta. It looks like rice, and kids love it. I often will purchase a roasted chicken at the grocery store and pull the meat off to chop and add to this dish. It is lovely without the chicken, though.

my variations:
In large skillet heat 2 T. olive oil, add ½ chopped yellow onion, pinch of red pepper flakes* and one clove garlic, chopped. Cook until soft. About 5-8 minutes. Chop 2 zucchini and 2 summer squash into small pieces, add to onions. Cook until bright and slightly soft, not mushy. Season with salt and pepper. Add vegetables to lemon spaghetti mixture and toss. Add chopped chicken, if using.

*I often leave out the red pepper since my son is not fond of spicy foods.

I have made this with canned tuna (in olive oil) and added black or kalamata olives instead of the squash and zucchini with chopped parsley instead of basil. It is very refreshing in the summer.

And that, my friends, is a weeknight meal like none other.


*I am planning this for dinner tomorrow. I will take a photo if there is time before it is all eaten*

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

cooking is fun

I love to eat. and I love to cook. This is where I talk about it all.

I started cooking when I was very young. I can vaguely remember making a box of Kraft Macaroni and Cheese for my younger sister and I when I was about 8 years old, after my mom suffered from a fairly nasty sunburn and could not get out of bed for days. I have no idea how it turned out, but I do know we ate it. Growing up, my grandmother taught me things about cooking. Like how to form the perfect scalloped pie crust edge. She hates it when I tell her that I don't even like the crust. It's not something I do very often. She has this secret way of cooking fried chicken that makes it taste unlike any fried chicken you've ever tasted in your life. It is amazing. Good enough to slap your mama, as we used to say growing up, and often is accompanied by chunky mashed potatoes and homemade white gravy, green beans and homemade biscuits. It's a feast. And part of her secret is using a cast iron skillet to cook the chicken. I will tell you the rest of the secret one of these days.

She grew up on a farm, eating the food they grew and the animals they raised. Then, over the years, they moved to town and fell into the traps of modern American cuisine. All additives, nothing pure. She still cooks great fried chicken, but it's not a "catch your own" chicken anymore.
My way of cooking and eating is very munched shaped by my childhood and my firm belief that you are what you eat. I believe that a lot of health problems could be solved by adapting a healthier eating lifestyle. *this is where I insert that no, I am not a doctor or a nutritionist, just a person who likes to cook, read and be healthy.* I haven't always been this way. During college I put on loads of weight because I was living off of junk food, eating things that have a shelf life of 150 years. My views on food have come full circle as an adult and even more so after I become a mother. Can you say made all her child's baby food anyone?

Basically, I believe in 2 things- 1. if it will spoil, then it's probably good for you and 2. the closer the food is to the ground, the better it is for you. What do I mean by this? Well, first, if you can take a hamburger and sit it in your office for a year and it never rots, it is probably not that great for your system. This is something that has actually been done by a local chiropractor of a certain burger from a certain fast food chain. ya know, "billions and billions served"? gross. and we are never eating there again.

Secondly, if your food is fresh, such as a potato, it is probably good for you. But if your food has a shelf life like baked potato chips? they probably aren't' that great for you no matter their "low-fat" tag. To me it's all about the content of the food, how it's actually eaten, that makes a difference.

I believe that you don't have to buy special diet food to be healthy. I don't believe in low-fat, low-carb, low-sugar, no taste, all preservatives kind of eating. Eat food in it's most natural state and it will be amazing both to taste and to your health. I have a strong affinity for natural, whole grains, organic, locally grown foods. I get them whenever possible. In my area, that isn't always easy or cost effective. But I do try to stay away from the "dirty dozen". This is a list of 12 food that you should probably always buy organic.

"Dirty Dozen"
3.Sweet bell peppers
9.Grapes (imported)

Why these certain foods you ask? Well, they are typically higher in pesticides than other foods.
There is also a "safe" list of items you should not worry about buying organic.

"Safe List"
6.Sweet peas (frozen)
8.Sweetcorn (frozen)
11. Pineapples

In the future, I will share with you my thoughts on food, my recipes, other cooks recipes and links, information and cookbooks that I find useful and inspiring. Let's start with a bang...

Caramel Apples

*I do not claim to be a photographer, well, I actually do, but I take no responsibility for the crappiness of my photos from here on out. thankyou.*

I saw these delicious beauties on Heidi Swanson's website a few weeks ago. (sidenote- I adore Heidi and will probably feature many many of her recipes and ideas here too. She and I think a lot alike) I loved the idea of not using any corn syrups, so I thought I would give them a try, even though I am not a whiz at using the candy thermometer. Which, by the way, is a must. I found one at Bed, Bath and Beyond for about $10.

Recipe- (I doubled mine)

6 - 8 small Organic apples, unwaxed, cold

1 cup Organic heavy cream

1/2 teaspoon sea salt

1 cup locally grown honey
Special equipment: candy thermometer and lollipop sticks

Line a baking sheet with parchment paper***.Push a lollipop or popsicle stick deep into each apple - in through the stem. Fill a large bowl 1/2 full with ice water and set aside.

In a medium, thick-bottomed saucepan heat the cream and salt until tiny bubbles start forming where the milk touches the pan - just before a simmer. Stir in the honey. Bring the mixture to a boil. Now reduce the heat to an active simmer and cook, stirring constantly with a wooden spoon, for about 15-20* minutes or until the mixture reaches about 255-260F degrees.

To stop the caramel from cooking, very, very carefully set the bottom of the saucepan in the bowl of cold water you prepared earlier - taking special care not to get any of the water in the caramel mixture. Stir until caramel begins to thicken up** - you want the caramel to be thin enough that it will easily coat your apples, but not so thin that it will run right off. If the caramel thickens too much simply put the pot back over the burner for 10 seconds or so to heat it up a bit.

I tilt my sauce pan so all the caramel forms a pool on one side, and use my other hand to dunk and twirl each apple until it is thoroughly coated with caramel. Place each apple on the parchment lined*** baking sheets and allow the caramel to cool and set.

Makes 6 - 8 caramel apples.

So, that is the recipe. But here are a few things I learned last night while making these bad boys....
* it takes about an hour to 1 1/2 hours to get the caramel mixture to the right temperature NOT the 15-20 minutes in the directions. My arm was quite tired after all of that stirring.
** I didn't let mine thicken enough. I stirred it over the ice water for about 5-6 minutes, until it was getting thick on the spoon, but still had a thinness to it as well. The first 6 apples I covered weren't near as nice as the last 6 after the mixture had sat a while longer. The thicker it got, the better the caramel adhered to the apples. I removed the pan from the water bath when I felt like it was thick enough.
*** After reading the blog comments about caramel sticking to parchment paper, I used waxed paper and the caramel still stuck horribly. I HIGHLY recommend using a Sil-pat here.
Also, as an added note, I had the hardest time finding sticks for these apples. you'd think that 2 weeks before Halloween, you would be able to find sticks for caramel Apples. You'd be wrong if you though that though. I finally found some jewels at Michael's. And finally, make sure that your pan is much larger than you think you need. I used a fairly deep 3 Qt. saucepan and the mixture kept bubbling up over the sides. It could have something to do with the fact that I doubled the recipe, but let's not point fingers yet.
Anyway, at the end of the day, my child and I ate one caramel apple eat for dessert tonight and they were amazing. Definitely worth the time and effort. Try them and let me know what you think. And thanks to Heidi Swanson for sharing this recipe.