Spaghetti alla Carbonara + Asparagus Casserole

Spaghetti alla Carbonara and Asparagus with Cheese Casserole
Dave’s first attempt at Spaghetti alla Carbonara plus a side of Asparagus with Cheese Casserole
Unrelated note: We got a new tile background at Home Depot and were super excited to it try out for the picture.

Sunday November 20th, 2016

Dear Blag,

On a weekend much like this one, except with a different date… Since it was last weekend… Dave (!) got around to finally trying a recipe for Spaghetti Carbonara[1].

“The tricky aspect about making carbonara,” he said, “is that the sauce is primarily made of egg, which is dropped raw into the pasta—after drained—and mixed vigorously. If you drop it in too early, when the pasta is still too hot, your risk getting scrambled eggs. If you drop it in too late, with the pasta cooled past a certain point, you risk having raw egg in your pasta. You want to mix it in just at the right moment so that the heat of the pasta combined with the stirring turns the eggs into a nice, creamy sauce.”*

Thursday November 24th, 2016

Dear Blag,

Sorry I didn’t finish my thoughts the other day. Right now we’re super full from my in-laws’ awesomely** delicious Thanksgiving lunch (linner? Since we’re too full for dinner?) to think of much more to add to the carbonara story. Althoooough, long story short, we re-added the pasta to the pan because it seemed like the egg was still a bit raw. Dave thinks it was due to the recipe asking for eggs at room temperature, and ours were still cold from the fridge… The re-throwing in the pan is typically a big no-no, but fortunately the pasta was still pretty creamy afterwards, even though the picture makes it look drier than it was.

Spaghetti alla Carbonara is essentially eggs, cheese (some variation of parmesan and/or pecorino), bacon (we used pancetta), and black pepper. There’s different stories behind the origin of pasta carbonara, with perhaps the word “carbonara” implying it was eaten by coal workers or maybe that the black pepper resembled coal flakes.[2][3] Overall, the general consensus seems to be that the dish originated around the mid-20th century in the Lazio region of Italy, which is where my dad’s family is from! And which is where Rome is too. So there you go.

Here’s the recipe for the Spaghetti Carbonara, from the NY Times Cooking section. Below is the recipe for a super quick side dish of Asparagus with Cheese Casserole, which I’m not entirely sure it can be considered a casserole since it’s not cooked slowly, but let’s call it a casserole. It’s one of my favorite side dishes to make to add some greens to the plate.

Thanks and Happy Thanksgiving,
Kika & Dave.

* I used quotations, though I might’ve embellished his words a bit since it’s been a week already… Still has the “Dave Seal of Approval,” though.
** This is an actual word?? Adverb. Sweet.

Cheesy Asparagus Casserole

  • Servings: 4
  • Difficulty: Super Easy
  • Print

One of my favorite side dishes to make. Please do not be intimidated by the complexity of this recipe.

Equipment

  • Oven Broiler
  • 9×9 Metal Cake Pan or Casserole Dish (if you have a larger size, just push the asparagus to one side)

Ingredients

  • Asparagus (2 cans, 15 oz.)
  • Sliced Cheese (my preference is ‘Murican Cheese, Dave likes Asiago)
  • Butter (regular, salted)

Directions

  1. Open Asparagus cans.
  2. Drain liquid from Asparagus cans.
  3. Place asparagus in pan/dish; stack in layers of 2-3 asparagus.
  4. Throw in specs/dollops of butter (evenly spaced) over the asparagus.
  5. Place slices of American Cheese over the butter/asparagus stack; (enough so to cover them, layers of 1-2 slices).
  6. Place in the oven. Set to broil high.
  7. Watch until the cheese is browned. (Only a couple of minutes).

fin


References

[1] “Spaghetti Carbonara” by Ian Fisher from New York Times Cooking http://cooking.nytimes.com/recipes/12965-spaghetti-carbonara
[2] “Carbonara” Wikipedia article https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Carbonara
[3] “History of Spaghetti Carbonara” by Clifford Wright at CliffordAWright.com http://www.cliffordawright.com/caw/food/entries/display.php/topic_id/4/id/117/

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Venezuelan Arepas with Shredded Beef

venezuelan arepas with carne mechada
(Top left) Carne Mechada in the Pressure Cooker (Top right) Arepas on the Pan (Bottom) Arepa with Carne Mechada

Saturday September 10th, 2016

On this day, it was Dia Mundial de la Arepa! (World Arepa Day!). Even amidst the bizarre food shortening situation in oil-rich Venezuela, let us have them in our thoughts—and wish a cascade of good fortune to people like my cousin who opened up his first food business in Caracas!—hoping they can have full pantry shelves again.

Alas! Let us return to the marvelous topic of arepas. Arepas are a form of flatbread made with corn flour which you can stuff with whatever [edible item] your heart desires. It is the breakfast hamburger of sorts, though Venezuelans also have them for dinner, often going to the “areperas” in the wee hours of the night after partying. If you’ve ever had pupusas, yes, they’re similar to them, though each country will swear by their own recipe**, and you can also find Colombian arepas[2], and other recipes, some which are made with the yellow corn flour instead of the white one and make me go, “That’s not an arepa, that’s a cachapa, but I’ll eat it anyway ’cause it’s good,” etc., etc.

So to celebrate World Arepa Day, we made Arepas with Carne Mechada (Venezuelan Shredded Beef) and White Cheese, which ideally would be a semi-firm, slightly salted cheese such as the so-labeled “Queso Para Freir“, but our grocery store had none so we used mozzarella cheese. Worked WONDERS. And for the steak we used skirt steak as one of his suggestions, (the other being soup/stew shank, which I realized just now after translating it with mighty Google, since I didn’t know before how to translate “lagarto”).

Amongst our wondrous wedding gifts, we got the Armando Scannone cookbook, “Mi Cocina II: A la manera de Caracas” from our beautiful friends the Ferreiras. Here, Scannone provides a superb recipe for carne mechada—which made me all the more excited since it was our first time making it!—with the title “Carne Mechada Frita con Cebolla y Tomate.” In the recipe, though, he cooks the meat a bit in the oven and then pan-fries it, whereas we used one of our other awesome wedding gifts: the mighty pressure cooker (courtesy of my aunt and nonnos in Italy) which turns any hard meat into a juicy soft-skinned delicacy. Now, the recipe does call for a bit of ketchup, which some of you (including Dave) might find preposterous, but believe us when we say that both Dave and I loved it, and the flavors blend amazingly together.

micocinaii
Venezuelan Cookbook: “Mi Cocina II: A la manera de Caracas” by Armando Scannone

Sunday September 20th, 2016

We’re still extending the celebration and making it for our friends this week, so we hope you get to make them too and share in on the awesomeness! Recipes for the Carne Mechada (Shredded Beef) and the Arepas near the bottom.

We extended the arepa celebration by sharing it with our non-Hispanic friends during game night. Always a big success! *Thumbs up*

Thursday November 3rd, 2016

Hm, took me almost 2 months to post this post… (And now I’m posting about posting a post**).

A few notes to the video at the top:

  • For the arepas: Add the water and milk as well as the salt and sugar before the corn flour, that way you can the latter combo into the former one to make it more uniform before you start to solidify it with the corn flour.
  • Slowly whisk in the corn flour so as to get a uniform mix (instead of a lumpy mix).
  • We realized we should use the brush to butter the arepas, not the pan.

* VENEZUELAN AREPAS ALL THE WAY! YEAH!! *CHEST BUMP*
** WE MUST GO DEEPER. (Hm, lots of yelling in the footnotes)

Carne Mechada (Venezuelan Shredded Beef)

  • Servings: 4-6
  • Difficulty: Medium
  • Print

An iconic Venezuelan item. Great for arepa filling or as part of a larger dish, often accompanied by rice, beans, and plantains.

Carne Mechada Recipe (as modified for pressure cooker) from: “Carne Mechada Frita con Cebolla y Tomate” by Armando Scannone in his book “Mi Cocina II: A la Manera de Caracas”.

Equipment

  • Pressure Cooker
  • Medium Sauce Pan

Preparing-the-Beef Ingredients

  • Skirt Steak (1 lb)
  • Onion (3/8 cup [grated])
  • Garlic (1 Clove)
  • Oil (1 Tbsp)
  • Worcestershire Sauce (1/2 Tbsp)
  • Ground Cumin (1/8 Tsp)
  • Ground Black Pepper (1/4 Tsp)
  • Salt (1 1/2 Tsp)
  • Red Bell Pepper (OPTIONAL; 1 small Pepper [sliced])

Beef-Sauce Ingredients

  • Tomato (1 Cup [optionally skinless; deseeded; finely diced])
  • Red Bell Pepper (1/4 Cup [deseeded; deveined; finely diced])
  • Onion (1 Cup [finely diced])
  • Oil (1/4 Cup)
  • Worcestershire Sauce (1/8 Tsp)
  • Ketchup (1 Tbsp)
  • Salt (1/2 Tsp)
  • Ground Black Pepper (1/8 Tsp)

Directions

  1. Preparing-the-Beef Steps

    1.  For marinade, add to a bowl and whisk together:
      • Onion (3/8 cup [grated])
      • Garlic (1 Clove)
      • Oil (1 Tbsp)
      • Worcestershire Sauce (1/2 Tablespoon)
      • Ground Cumin (1/8 Teaspoon)
      • Ground Black Pepper (1/4 Teaspoon)
      • Salt (1 1/2 Teaspoon)
    2. Rub skirt steak all over with all of the marinade.
    3. Let marinate for 1/2 hour.
    4. After done marinating, sear the steak on both sides (you can do it directly on the pressure cooker if it gives you that option).
    5. Add steak with marinade into pressure cooker (or leave it in pressure cooker if that’s where you seared it).
    6. **Optional** Add the red bell peppers (a small handful [sliced]).
    7. Add water to the minimum fill line of the pressure cooker.
    8. Lock pressure cooker and cook according to its “meat” settings. (In our case, our pressure cooker‘s default “meat” setting was 12 psi for 40min).
    9. [If making arepas, you can begin making them before proceeding to making the Beef-Sauce]
  2. Beef-Sauce Steps

    1. Add oil (1/4 Cup) in a medium sauce pan.
    2. Heat on stovetop at medium high.
    3. Add the onion (1 Cup [finely diced]), and cook until softened/translucent, typically 3-4 minutes.
    4. Add the following and cook for about 5 minutes:
      • Red Bell Peppers (1/4 Cup [deseeded; deveined; finely diced])
      • Tomato (1 Cup [optionally skinless; deseeded; finely diced])
    5. Add the following and cook for 4-5 minutes:
      • Worcestershire Sauce (1/8 Teaspoon)
      • Ketchup (1 Tablespoon)
      • Salt (1/2 Teaspoon)
      • Ground Black Pepper (1/8 Teaspoon)
    6. [You can then begin shredding the beef and set to low heat once the timer goes off]
  3. Shredding Beef and Mixing with Sauce

    1. Once the beef is done cooking and the pressure cooker is done depressurizing—if it has a release pressure button, you can use that to accelerate the depressurizing process—open the pressure cooker.
    2. Pick up the beef with a set of tongs (or fork or whatever your preference. (Forget the sliced bell peppers or eat them as a side or reuse in another recipe).
    3. Keep the beef broth from the pressure cooker (you might need to add some to the beef sauce).
    4. Set the beef on plate or kitchen board.
    5. Pull apart the beef with the tongs/fork(s) until you have a good set of beef strands.
    6. Add beef to beef sauce currently in sauce pan.
    7. Mix beef and beef sauce at medium heat for about 2 minutes (add beef broth as needed if it seems a bir dry).
    8. Remove from heat.
    9. Stuff and arepa or eat on its own.

fin

Arepas

  • Servings: 4.5
  • Difficulty: Easy
  • Print

Equipment

  • Frying Pan
  • Oven

Arepa Ingredients

  • Corn Flour Goya or Harina Pan (2 Cups)
  • Water (1.5 cups)
  • Milk (1.5 cups)
  • Salt (1 Tsp)
  • Sugar (3/4 Tsp)
  • Butter (about 1/4 Cup [melted])

Directions

  1. Making the Dough

    1. Add the water (1.5 Cups) and milk (1.5 Cups) in a medium bowl.
    2. Add salt (1 Teaspoon) and sugar (3/4 Teaspoon).
    3. Mix.
    4. Slowly add and whisk in the corn flour.
    5. Let settle for a couple of minutes (until flour thickens).
  2. Cooking the Arepas

    1. Heat a frying pan to medium heat.
    2. Grab about a fistful of dough.
    3. Shape dough into a round flatbread (about 1/2-inch thick, 4 inches in diameter)
    4. Butter each side of the uncooked arepa.
    5. Place on the pan and add as many arepas fit on the pan.
    6. Flip arepas once browned.
    7. [Arepas may be done once both sides brown, or for better results proceed to step 8]
    8. Turn on oven on low broil setting.
    9. Place arepas (with both sides browned) inside oven, (place them on a baking tray or directly on the oven racks).
    10. Cook in oven until arepa shell is slightly hardened (knock on them to test, they should sound hollow).
    11. Once done, take out of the oven.
  3. Preparing the Arepas
    1. Cut arepa through the side to make a pocket, or so as to open the two circles in half with a joined side.
    2. You can remove a bit more dough or leave it all, butter the inside and fill with beef, cheese, scrambled eggs, beans, or whatever your heart desires.

fin

References

[1] “Mi Cocina II: A la manera de Caracas” by Armando Scannone, 2012. (Earlier versions available from some resellers on Amazon.)
[2] “Latin American Cuisine: Colombian Arepas” by Serious Eats’ J. Kenji López-Alt http://www.seriouseats.com/2012/04/latin-american-cuisine-colombian-arepas.html

Mead: What is it and how do you make it?

We got the Valley Cyzer Apple Honey Wine half-hiding there on the left side. Locally-made in Western Mass by Green River Ambrosia.

Mead! The ancient drink. One of the world’s oldest fermented beverages and the reason behind the word “honeymoon”—good thing Dave and I did not drink it after the wedding, if the mead had been “proper,” we’d currently have a bun in the oven! (Side reminder that Dave and I need to learn how to make our own bread).

So… What do I mean by all this nonsense? Let’s start from the beginning. Mead is an alcoholic beverage made by fermenting a mixture of honey and water, with at least 50 percent of the fermentable sugars coming from honey.[1][2]

And what was all that about the bun in the oven? Well,

“Mead was a part of the rituals of the Celts, AngloSaxons and Vikings. It was believed to have magical, healing powers even capable of increasing fertility. The word honeymoon is derived from the practice of the newlyweds drinking mead for one month (a moon) after the wedding. If the mead was “proper,” a son would be born nine months later.”[1]

If you would like to read further on the topic, you can read the rest of this cool article on the Art and Science Behind Making Mead. The article provides you a background on mead as well as (perhaps more importantly) a guide on how to brew it yourself for those enthusiastic home-brewers—we’re looking at you, Varun—including basic mead recipes/formulae and several variations with diversified flavors. Interestingly, mead-brewing equipment is similar to that used in brewing beer, even though the current licensing for brewing mead classifies it as a wine.[2]

We stopped by Nejaime’s Wine in Lenox last weekend and got some Valley Cyzer Apple Honey Wine. My first thought upon tasting mead: “This tastes like the best beer I’ve ever had!” Even though it’s obviously not beer per se, but that’s what my mind decided to feed me on instinct. The alcohol content felt comparably mild at first, though, and after a few sips it felt as strong as regular wine, and then as strong as vodka—you will not find a high tolerance to alcohol in this household… Mostly because we fall asleep before being able to “tolerate” it.

The labeling behind this sweet alcoholic nectar can spark a bit of controversy, though, since mead is often considered to be a specialty beer and there is some discrepancy between honey wine and mead, so that some consider them to be the same thing while others emphasize their differences, with mead having a higher percentage of honey, often having grain or herbs, and being aged longer than honey wine.[3] On a less technical note, Dave and I found that after leaving our honey wine open for a while and/or overnight in a mug in the fridge, the flavor of honey becomes a lot more prominent. (Not sure whether there were other factors—perhaps even involving perception—involved. Will have to further test this hypothesis.)

Found the National Honey Board site if you’d like to “Discover the natural wonders of honey”!

References

[1] “Making Mead: the Art and the Science” by the National Honey Board http://web.mit.edu/adorai/Public/makingmead.pdf
[2] “The Alchemy of Mead” by Dawn Hibbard at Kettering University, 2006  https://news.kettering.edu/news/alchemy-mead
[3] “What’s the Difference Between Mead and Honey Wine (T’ej)?” by Joel MacCharles of WellPreserved.ca http://www.wellpreserved.ca/whats-the-difference-between-mead-and-honey-wine-tej/

Fruity Smoothie: Attempts at Healthy Living

MangoMintGreenSmoothie
(Feeling healthier just looking at this picture)

Diary

Thursday August 4th, 2016.

I sat in my desk in anxious wait for the end of the work day. After coming across before-and-after pictures of K-Pop singer Park Boram, I was finally determined like never before to lose weight and strive for the life of health and fitness celebrities have bombarded me with. Dinnertime comes, and sure enough I fall victim to Wendy’s temptations and order a cheese and grease mini fest of fries smothered in cheese, spicy chicken nuggets, and a Jr. Cheeseburger.


Friday August 5th, 2016.

First day of attempting my “diet” of a smoothie for breakfast and lunch. I’m proud of myself, you see, because, overcoming my typical disdain for grocery shopping, I purchased nearly all of the ingredients for four different smoothie recipes on the phone app I recently installed, very simply called “Smoothie Recipes,” which parades a green icon with a mason jar.

“What ingredient(s) is/are missing?” Might you ask, enveloped in your rising fascination for my daily routine. I will tell you. It was only flax oil, which Dave and I were unable to find. Nevertheless, we got ahold of the well-renowned chia seeds, whose purpose eluded me until yesterday’s purchase, when Dave informed me of their usage as a dietary supplement. “Ahh, they’re not consumed in the hope that you might grow a well-trimmed topiary in the shape of a cartoon icon in your very own stomach,” I wish I had said. The rest of the list was comprised of rather typical smoothie ingredients, such as strawberries, bananas, blueberries, tropical fruits, citruses, spinach, beets, the Cali-worshipped kale, as well as both coconut milk and coconut water.

SmoothiesSetup
Smoothie supplies with bonus aloe vera (recipe inclusion pending)

Back to the “diet,” smoothies are rather delicious* and a source of nutrition I trust highly to extend—or at the very least not shorten—my lifetime, much unlike protein meals that require I drink them nearly-immediately after mixing with water. I soon found out that might be due to the terrifying odor of insecticide emanating from the drink when you leave it in the sink for about half a day, sitting in its container, nervous the stench might expose its devious plan to slowly assassinate unknowing fitness enthusiasts.

Smoothies on the other hand, I trust them. A few of the more new-age-fad-like ingredients might seem more suspicious, but for the most part, they’ve ascertained their place in our evolution and food chain. I even feel highly revitalized already. We live in the mountains, but I’d often turn and say to Dave, “Camping!? We’d die! There’s bears and wolves and coyotes and raccoons and fungi, Dave! It’s utter darkness against the elements and we’re original city [suburb] dwellers!” Even when Dave was perhaps sitting quietly staring at his phone screen.

There’s no way I would’ve considered camping previously without the presence of a well-trained, Rambo-like camp (…) man (?). Smoothies change things. I feel outdoorsy and near-instantaneously savvy in the workings of nature. Purchased fruits, veggies and seeds? Why not camping equipment? Scratch that, climbing equipment. If my exceedingly-fit cousin with an extensive side career as a rock climber in Colorado can do it, why can’t I? I will tell you, I can. I drink smoothies now. I will let nature guide me into becoming the nature guide that guides others away from their own demise. Health as my path, deliciousness as my sword.

All kidding aside, I have decent hopes for this new lifestyle—the one about drinking smoothies, not rock-climbing; we’ve established I’d die in that one.

*They can also be chewy, like today’s smoothie, made with beets that I liquified rather poorly in our Ninja brand blender. This chewiness makes it feel as if I was chewing on an actual breakfast, making me half-forget it is in fact a drink, and nulling my usual need for consumption of bread items. More typically, a toasted bagel** with everything.

** Unfortunately, toasting a bagel with everything burns the garlic bits, making it slightly more bitter, but which I found to be a necessary evil against New Yorkers’ wishes to not toast their bagels, (but then again, their bagels might be far different from the ones I get at work here in the Berkshires).


Saturday August 6th, 2016.

SmoothiesBlender
Mango Mint Green Smoothie prep. (Do not let the outside fruits deceive you, those were merely for decoration)

Dave and I had a Mango Mint Green Smoothie from the Smoothie Recipes app. I replaced a third of the mango portion with papaya and added the two [edit: Tbsp] of chia seeds. I poured mine into a mason jar based on pop culture traditions and Dave had his in a regular glass, due to his mild resistance to “Hipster” culture #Cristi. Dave said it was so delicious he’d be willing to pay a significant amount of money for this. I said, “How about $12?” to which he replied, “maybe $8 [for the glass].” Worth it.

MangoMintGreenSmoothie
$8-valued glasses of Mango Mint Green Smoothie with decorative fruit and aloe vera plant.

[Edit | Sunday, August 21st, 2016] : I would definitely recommend purchasing the ingredients listed for 4-5 recipes if you’re planning on making one a day, since some fruits can spoil rather quickly. (Made the mistake of purchasing 3 peaches and 3 pears without prior plans for them… Only one of the peaches made it in less than a week, hoping the pears will make it to tomorrow. Tragic). So yes, learning to be a responsible consumer of fresh produce is part of the process. Here are some of our favorite recipes so far:

  • Mango Mint Green Smoothie. Mild tweaks:
    • Mango: 1 Cup (instead of 1.5 Cups)
    • Papaya: 0.5 Cup
    • Chia Seeds: 2 Tbsp (which the author suggested as optional)
  • Blueberry & Mango Immune-Boosting Smoothie. We didn’t have baobab powder, so I didn’t use that, but added the following:
    • Chia Seeds: 1 Tbsp
    • Coconut Milk: 0.5 Cup
    • Papaya: 1 Cup
    • Kale: 1 Cup
  • Kiwi Mint Smoothie. Delicious, just a bit tart, so we added:
    • Banana: 1 whole one (if it’s a large banana, you can use half)