Archive for the ‘Food’ Category

Who says you have to only cook burgers and steaks on the grill? This is one of my favorite ways to enjoy clams…and without the clam knife! I always use hardwood charcoal.

 

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A couple of dozen (or more) little neck clams, washed and purged
1 stick (8 oz.) of unsalted butter
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
1/4 cup chopped parsley
1 teaspoon dried oregano
1/2 teaspoon dried basil
1 teaspoon minced garlic
1/2 teaspoon sea salt

 

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The clams should be stored in the fridge until ready to use…not in water, not on ice. Place the clams in a bowl and cover it with a wet dish towel.

Before cooking, I like to purge my clams to remove as much grit as possible. I fill a large bowl with cold water, add sea salt and some corn meal to it, and mix it around. Then I add the clams to this bowl and let them sit in this liquid for at least an hour. They will suck up the corn meal and spit out sand and grit. After an hour, I pour off the water/salt/meal/grit mix, and thoroughly wash the clams. Now they’re ready to grill!

I start my hardwood charcoal grill and divide it in half: coals on one side, no coals on the other.

While the coals are heating up, I grab a disposable aluminum foil tray and place it on a burner on my kitchen stovetop over medium heat. I add the butter, olive oil, parsley, oregano, basil, garlic and salt, and stir it all to combine. Once the butter has melted and everything has blended, I bring the tray over to the charcoal grill and place on the side of the grill without coals. It will stay warm.

Once the coals are hot, just place the clams directly on the grill. (Use tongs, unless you want to remove all of your knuckle hair.) They’re done as soon as they open, but you can cook them as long as you like, from raw to more thoroughly cooked. As each one reaches its desired doneness, place it carefully in the aluminum tray, making sure you don’t lose any of that precious liquid inside the clam shell. Give it a swish in the butter and herb mix.

When all the clams have been cooked and are in the tray, serve them with that herby butter sauce on top of pasta…or simply eat them with a fresh baguette. A glass of great white wine is a must.

 

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Really easy and really delicious!

I find little or no difference between the gas stove in my kitchen and an outdoor gas grill…so I don’t own one. I can make a perfectly delicious steak by searing it in a cast iron pan on the stovetop, then finishing it in a hot oven. So, for me, if the real reason for outdoor grilling is flavor, nothing can replace a hardwood charcoal grill.

Besides the quality and source of my beef, wood and smoke are what make the difference between a good steak and a great steak.

 

beef brisket

I know the #1 argument for going with gas over hardwood charcoal is time. “It takes too long to start a charcoal grill.” That’s a load of crap. Over the years, I’ve showed many friends that it takes no more time to light a charcoal fire than it does to start up a gas grill.

Of course, it starts with the grill itself. The classic Weber is still an awesome choice. For larger cooking needs, I also have a Primo ceramic grill.

Then I get a bag of hardwood charcoal. I’m not talking charcoal briquets, like Kingsford, that have a ton of additives in them. And I’m definitely not talking about Match Light. I’m talking pure hardwood charcoal, easily found in supermarkets and home stores.

Next: a charcoal chimney. It’s a metal tube with a handle and a grate at the bottom. I crumble a couple of sheets of newspaper into the bottom, pour charcoal into the top, light it, and I have hot coals in 10 minutes without lighter fluid.

And I NEVER use lighter fluid! Why spend good money on a great steak only to make it taste like gasoline?

The variety of wood chips available for smoking is another flavor factor when it comes to grilling with charcoal. My personal favorite is hickory, especially when I’m cooking pork or chicken. But apple, cherry, oak, mesquite: they all impart their own unique flavors. And they’re all available in most home stores where you find all the other barbecue gear.

Although I have an electric smoker for those low-and-slow jobs, like a big ol’ brisket or pork shoulder, I don’t need it when grilling a steak. I simply soak some wood chips in water for about a 1/2 hour before grilling (I’ve found that hot water speeds the process up), drain the water, and then sprinkle the moist chips on the hot coals in my grill. I throw the meat on the grill, close the lid (opening the vents, of course) and off we go.

So now, in 10 minutes, I’ve got a grill that’s ready to cook a steak with…about the same time as gas.

If you say: “I don’t cook with charcoal because it’s so messy!” …I honestly don’t know if you and I can be friends.

Because I’m using a small amount of hardwood charcoal for the average dinner, I don’t have to clean out my grill every time I use it. After a while, yes, some ashes pile up in the bottom of my grill and I have to dump them. But because they’re pure wood ashes, I can dump mine into my strawberry or raspberry patch. They love the stuff.

You still have to clean a gas grill after a while, and it always runs out of propane halfway through cooking when you have guests over for dinner. So where’s the convenience in that?

Charcoal grills give you everything you could ask for: low maintenance, ease of use–no propane tanks, valves and igniters–real wood flavor, not lava rocks, and the thrill of cooking meat over a real fire, bonding with the caveman in you. Grab a beer–or even better: a bourbon on the rocks–and start grilling!

This was a huge hit whenever I brought it to a party…but it’s just as tasty when you’re quarantined at home or limiting the size of gatherings with friends! And this being Memorial Day weekend, it’s the perfect appetizer.

It’s easy to set up the parts, then put it together quickly as needed. I even put a to-go package together. If you know what a pulled pork sandwich North Carolina-style is all about (pulled pork on a bun with cole slaw right on top of the meat), then imagine taking away the bun and replacing with a deviled egg! It’s messy, it’s delicious, and everyone loves them.

 

A to-go package, ready to assemble at home.

I’ve tried this two ways now: with pulled pork and with chicken…and the big thumbs up goes to the pork. Of course, I will smoke a pork shoulder for 10 hours, pull the meat, and mix it with the barbecue sauce…all for this dish. If you don’t have a smoker, you can simply buy already prepared pulled pork and use it here.

Be sure to make a lot of these…they’ll go faster than the hard-boiled eggs in “Cool Hand Luke!”

 

 

 

For the BBQ sauce:
2 cups ketchup
3/4 cup water
6 tablespoons cider vinegar
6 tablespoons white vinegar
6 tablespoons brown sugar
3 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce
1 tablespoon chili powder
2 teaspoons salt
1 teaspoon black pepper
1 1/2 teaspoons cumin

Combine all the ingredients in a saucepan and simmer over medium heat for about 25 minutes, until the sauce has thickened. Let it cool to room temperature and then store it in the fridge. It will be good for several weeks.

 

For the cole slaw:
2 tablespoons mayonnaise
1 tablespoon rice wine vinegar
1/2 teaspoon sugar (I use organic cane sugar)
2 cups finely shredded cabbage

Combine all the cole slaw ingredients in a bowl or measuring cup, mixing well, and place it in the fridge. Making the cole slaw a day ahead of time is even better.

 

I measure 2 cups of cabbage in a measuring cup, then add the other ingredients.

 

For the deviled eggs:
6 hard-boiled eggs
1/4 cup mayonnaise
1 tablespoon mustard (I use Gulden’s)

 

Here’s my tip for perfectly hard-boiled eggs every time: place the eggs in a pot, cover them with cold water, and turn the heat on high. Just before the water starts to boil, put a lid on the pot and turn the heat off. Let the eggs sit in the hot water for 15 minutes. Perfect hard-boiled eggs every time! Once cooked, keep the eggs in the fridge.

 

 

Here’s another tip: the easiest peeling eggs are older eggs! No…that doesn’t mean you let your eggs sit out on the front porch for a week. What that means is: but them from your supermarket rather than the farm stand down the road. Super-fresh eggs still have a membrane attached to the shell that makes them difficult to peel. The membrane detaches in slightly older eggs, making them easier to peel.

 

Slice the eggs in half and place the yolks in a bowl with the mayonnaise and mustard. Mix it well and keep it in the fridge.

 

As for the pork…I buy a large pork butt or pork shoulder. I remove any of the skin, but leave the fat. I prefer a pork shoulder with a bone…I think it adds more flavor. A day before I put the pork shoulder in the smoker, I rub it down with my pork rub and let it sit in the fridge overnight.

I set my smoker to 250 degrees (I have an electric smoker) and use hickory chips to smoke the shoulder. Letting the temperature drop to about 225 overnight, I smoke the shoulder for a total of about 14 hours, until the bones pulls out of the meat cleanly.

 

Out of the smoker, and ready to eat!

 

The bone comes right out!

 

I prefer to chop (versus shred) the pork meat, including bits of fat and crunchy exterior with the meat.

 

I mix in some BBQ into the meat–not too much–for extra flavor.

 

To assemble, take a teaspoon of the mayo/mustard/yolk mixture and place it in the cavity of one of the egg halves.

 

 

Place a lump of pulled pork on top (I like it warm, to counter the cold of the mayo and cole slaw.)

 

 

Top with a little BBQ sauce.

 

Then place a teaspoon of the cole slaw on top of that.

 

 

They are one of the more delicious single-bites you’ll ever have!

 

 

 

 

 

 

Since we’re quarantining, it’s time to dig out those bottles of booze that might be lurking somewhere in the back of the old liquor cabinet. Inspired by my travels, I’d like to share some of the cocktails I’m rediscovering these days, as I lock myself in my basement bar!

A few years ago, I sampled a negroni-inspired cocktail in Cleveland, Ohio, dining at chef Jonathon Sawyer’s The Greenhouse Tavern. Crazy creative food, and this mind-blowing drink that inspired me to buy a small oak barrel and start cask-aging everything I could get my hands on at home. Alas, the OYO Stone Fruit Vodka, a key part of this cocktail, is not available here in Rhode Island. And my online source will no longer ship it! But I still have a little bit remaining in my stash…

 

 

OYO STONE FRUIT “NEGROSKI”

1 oz. OYO Stone Fruit Vodka
1 oz. Campari
1 oz. Cocchi Vermouth di Torino

 

If you’re doing it The Greenhouse Tavern way, combine large quantities of these ingredients in the right proportions and pour them into an oak cask, then let it age! Experience tells you that newer and smaller casks will mellow flavors faster than larger, older ones. But it’s all about experimentation. Having a taste every once in a while is must, because you don’t want to over-age it, either.

If you don’t have an oak cask lying around at home, it’s still delicious without it…

Combine all the ingredients in a rocks glass with ice. Stir gently, adding a splash of soda, and garnish with an orange peel.

 

OYO Stone Fruit Vodka gets its wonderful flavors from stone fruits: cherries, peaches, apricots and almonds. Terrific on its own, but amazing in this recipe.

Campari is a world-famous aperitif and bitters, and a must in any decent home bar.

Cocchi Vermouth di Torino is a sweet vermouth, made in Italy from the Moscato grape.

 

 

When my daughter hangs out with me, I always ask her what she wants me to cook for her, and there are a few “Dad” recipes that are her favorites. This is one of them, especially when we’ve got fresh asparagus growing like crazy in the garden right now. And as any parent will tell you, if your kid is craving a dish that has vegetables in it, count yourself lucky–and make it!!
If you don’t have fresh asparagus growing in the garden, not a problem. It works well with store-bought asparagus, too. Just make sure the stalks aren’t old looking and woody. That means they’ve been traveling a long distance from the field to your store…and that’s not good.
Prepping asparagus is easy, and you don’t need a knife to cut off the woody bottoms of the stalks. Simply bend the stalks at the bottom and they will naturally snap off at the right point.
4 mild Italian sausages, sliced into pieces 1/2″ thick
1 lb. penne pasta
1/2 onion, finely chopped
1 cup chopped fresh trumpet mushrooms (white button mushrooms work, too)
2 cups fresh asparagus, sliced into 1-inch pieces
1 clove garlic, passed through a garlic press
1 cup homemade chicken broth
6 fresh sage leaves, finely chopped
1/2 cup freshly grated Parmigiano Reggiano cheese
extra virgin olive oil
salt and pepper
Have the pasta water salted and boiling, and add the pasta, cooking until just a bit more undercooked than al dente.
Heat a large pan, and drizzle in some olive oil. Sauté the sausage pieces until browned and cooked through, but not over cooked. Remove the sausages from the pan and place them in a separate bowl. Remove all but 2 tablespoons of the fat left behind in the pan.
Place the pan back on stove and sauté the onion until translucent. Add the garlic, and sauté for 10 seconds. Add the sage, and saute for 10 seconds, stirring. Add the chopped mushrooms and saute for a few minutes, then add the chicken broth, and simmer until almost all the liquid has evaporated. Pour the contents of the pan into the bowl with the sausages.
Return the pan to the stove, add a little more olive oil, and on medium heat, sauté the asparagus pieces. Cook them until they are al dente, not too soft. Once the asparagus has reached this stage, return all the contents of the sausage/mushroom bowl to the pan to heat through. Drain the pasta, and add it to the pan as well, combining all the ingredients. If it looks too dry, add a little pasta water to the pan. Season with salt and pepper.
Make sure you serve this hot, with grated Parmigiano Reggiano on top, and drizzle lightly over the top with extra virgin olive oil.

 

Thinking a lot about my Mom these past few days…and, of course, I thought about the family favorites she would cook. If there’s one dish that my Mom made all the time but I didn’t appreciate until I got older, this is it. Stuffed cabbage, cabbage rolls, or balandėliai, as we say in Lithuanian, was a staple in our home and one of my Dad’s favorites. 

I had seen my Mom make these beauties so often in my childhood, I didn’t even need to check online recipes out for guidance. That doesn’t mean I make them exactly like Mom, but my version came out pretty good. I think she would’ve been proud.

 

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4 strips of bacon, chopped
1 yellow onion, finely chopped
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon pepper
1/2 teaspoon granulated garlic
1 lb. ground grass-fed beef
1 lb. ground pastured pork
1/2 cup breadcrumbs
2 eggs
1 large head cabbage
1 pint homemade chicken, beef or veal stock
750 g diced tomatoes (1 Pomi container)
1 teaspoon thyme
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon pepper
1/4 teaspoon granulated garlic
1/4 teaspoon granulated onion

Chop the bacon into small pieces and fry them until crisp. Finely chop the onion, and add it to the bacon and rendered fat in the pan, cooking until the onions are translucent. Add the salt, pepper and garlic. Mix well, and remove from the heat. Let it cool to room temperature.

In a large bowl, combine the beef, pork, breadcrumbs, eggs, and cooled bacon and onion mixture. Place it in the fridge to firm up.

Let a large pot of salted water come to a boil. Core the cabbage, leaving the leaves whole, and carefully immerse the head of cabbage into the hot water. Little by little, the outermost leaves of the cabbage will come off the head, and you can remove them with tongs, so you don’t burn yourself with the hot water. Set the leaves aside to cool, and continue doing this until you can no longer remove leaves from the remaining head of cabbage.

Remove the remaining head of cabbage from the hot water, and using your hands or a knife, break it into flat pieces. Line the bottom of a roasting pan with the pieces. These will keep the stuffed cabbage from burning and sticking to the bottom.

Time to roll the stuffed cabbage. Take the meat out of the fridge. Lay a cabbage leaf flat on the counter, and add some of the meat mixture inside. Roll the cabbage around the meat, folding the sides in as you go, much like a burrito. You might need to slice away the thickest part of the leaf stem to make rolling easier. Lay the stuffed cabbage in the roasting pan on top of the leftover cabbage pieces. (Unlike Mom, I don’t use toothpicks to hold the stuffed cabbage rolls together.)

Continue stuffing and rolling the cabbage leaves until you’ve got a pan full of them, shoulder-to-shoulder.

In a blender, food processor, or whisked in a bowl, combine the stock, diced tomatoes, thyme, salt, pepper, garlic and onion. Pour this mixture over the top of the cabbage rolls in the roasting pan, covering them.

 

 

If you have leftover cabbage, you can place another layer of them on top. Otherwise, cover the roasting pan with foil and place in a pre-heated 350 degree oven. Cook for an hour.

 

 

After an hour, remove the foil and cook further for another 45–60 minutes.

 

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Really delicious and an instant flashback to great memories of dinner at home….thanks to Mom.

 

 

I was craving my recipe for a venison stew with puff pastry but I didn’t have any more venison in the fridge (I get it from a friend that hunts), and I didn’t want to drive 30 miles to the nearest Whole Foods, my only source for all-butter puff pastry dough.

(Here’s my original recipe: https://livethelive.com/2020/01/26/venison-stew-with-puff-pastry-5/)

So I decided to use beef, and stay local, by buying good ol’ Pepperidge Farms puff pastry (made with shortening) from my nearby supermarket. The final dish was pretty darn good after all!

My original venison stew dish was pretty intense, using dark beer and adding mushrooms to the mix. The venison was wild, not farmed, with a gamier flavor. This recipe turned down the intensity a bit, but the flavors were all there: I used a combination of a lighter beer and homemade chicken stock. I used beef London broil instead of venison. And I left out the mushrooms, adding more carrots, onions, and celery.

 

 

olive oil
3 lbs. beef, cubed into 3/4″ pieces (I like London Broil)
3 yellow onions
3 cloves garlic, finely chopped or through a press
6 carrots, sliced thin
6 celery stalks, sliced thin
salt and pepper
2 tablespoons fresh thyme leaves
16 oz. chicken stock (preferably homemade)
3 tablespoons unsalted butter
3 tablespoons flour
1 bottle beer (I had a Pilsner Urquell sitting around)
12 oz. grated cheddar cheese
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 box (17.3 oz.) frozen puff pastry sheets, thawed for 40 minutes
1 raw egg, scrambled

 

Pre-heat the oven to 375 degrees.

Heat a frying pan with 2 tablespoons of the olive oil and add the onions. Sauté them until they’re translucent, and then add the garlic. Stir it around for 10 seconds.

Add the carrots and celery, a teaspoon each of salt and pepper, and the fresh thyme. Stir, cover the pan with a lid to help wilt the veggies, and cook for a few minutes.

Heat the chicken stock in a separate saucepan to boiling, then turn the heat off.

Meanwhile, add the butter to another frying pan and melt it. Add the flour to the butter, and whisk it all together until you’ve got a light roux. While whisking, slowly add the chicken stock to the pan with the butter and flour, and let it thicken. Keep stirring to avoid lumps. Set it aside.

Remove the lid from the veggie pan and pour the veggies into a large baking pan (I like a lasagna pan). Using the same frying pan you cooked the veggies in, add 2 more tablespoon of olive oil and brown the beef cubes. You may need to do this in several batches if the pan isn’t big enough. (You don’t want to steam the beef. You want to brown it.)

Scoop the beef cubes out of the frying pan, placing them in the baking pan with the veggies, leaving the oil and drippings behind, then add another batch of beef to the frying pan. Only once all the beef is browned, do you pour the entire contents of that pan into the baking pan with the veggies. Mix everything well.

Add the bottle of beer to the baking pan and mix well.

Add the thickened chicken stock to the baking pan and mix well.

 

Before cooking.

 

After 90 minutes of cooking.

 

Cover the baking pan with foil or a lid and place it in the oven. Cook for 90 minutes.

After 90 minutes, remove the foil from the pan, give it all a stir, and place the foil back on the pan, returning to the oven for 60 minutes more.

 

After 60 more minutes of cooking. Still a bit watery, so I need to reduce it.

 

After 60 minutes, remove the foil from the pan and stir again. It should be thick, like a stew. At this point, if your stew is still watery, pour it into a large pan on the stovetop and heat to reduce it. If it looks good, pour it into the pan anyway so you can clean and dry the baking pan for the next steps.

Add the cheddar cheese to the stew once it looks nice and thick, and mix well. Turn the heat off the stovetop.

Wash and dry the baking pan you used, and then butter the inside of it well.

 

 

Take the thawed puff pastry sheets and gently roll them with a rolling pin until they’re about 1/8″ thick. Then use 1 sheet to line the bottom and sides of the baking pan, saving the second sheet for the top.

 

Before rolling…

 

…and after.

 

Pour the stew from the pan on the stovetop into the baking pan with the puff pastry sheet lining the bottom and sides.

Then gently lay the second puff pastry sheet over the top of the stew, tucking it in if necessary.

Take the scrambled egg and brush the puff pastry with the egg wash.

Bake in the 375-degree of oven for about 45 minutes, or until the puff pastry is golden brown.

 

 

I like to serve peas on the side with this dish, rather than putting them in the stew, to keep them turning into mush.

 

Mashed potatoes optional!

 

 

 

 

Quarantining now, of course, but whenever I used to serve these tuna tacos to friends, I always got requests for the recipe. It requires a bit of setting up, but you can put it together right before serving to your guests…or yourself.

I use sushi-grade tuna for this dish, which is easily found online. It comes in 4-ounce packages, which is the perfect size for a single recipe. I buy them in quantity (it’s cheaper that way), and keep them in the freezer. You can also find tuna in small frozen “bricks” at Whole Foods or similar higher-end supermarkets. They might even have some fresh, in season.

If you’re worried about parasites in raw fish, sure, there’s always a chance something like that could happen. I’m willing to roll the dice when I eat raw meat when I make beef tartare, or use raw eggs in my Caesar salad dressing. To me, it’s worth the gamble. You have to decide what’s right for you.

It’s important you know where your tuna comes from, and if it was handled properly. If you go to a reputable seafood market, that shouldn’t be a problem.

The best way to get rid of parasites is by cooking or freezing. Cooking is not the answer for this particular recipe. But if you buy the frozen bricks, they’ve been in the deep-freeze long enough to kill any parasites. Also, when it comes to mercury, the smaller the fish, the better. So if this is a concern, opt for ahi (also called yellowfin) tuna.

 

 

The topping…
¼ cup sour cream
1 tablespoon fresh squeezed lime juice

 

The marinade…
6 tablespoons soy sauce
1/2 teaspoon chili garlic sauce
Other Ingredients…
½ lb. sushi grade raw tuna, chopped into ¼-inch cubes
Tortilla chips, regular or the little bowls
Finely chopped scallions

Combine the topping ingredients in a bowl, and place it in the fridge.

Mix the marinade ingredients in a separate bowl and set aside.

Chop the tuna into ¼-inch cubes, and if it looks wet, place it on some paper towels to absorb the excess moisture. (It can release quite a bit of moisture if it was frozen…you don’t want it watery before you marinate it.)

Marinate the tuna in the soy/chili garlic mix for just 10 minutes, then pour off the excess. (It will be really salty if you let marinate any longer.) Keep it in the fridge as well.

Finely chop the scallions.

Just before serving, take a tortilla chip or little bowl, place 1 tablespoon of the tuna on top, top this with ½ teaspoon of the sour cream mixture, and then garnish it with the finely chopped scallions.

 

 

Serve them immediately, and eat these quickly, before the tuna makes the tortilla soggy!

 

 

Being quarantined can get you down…or get you to go creative. I’ve decided to recreate some of the cocktails I’ve had at my favorite restaurants, using ingredients that I probably already have at home. When I did go out to the supermarket last time, I grabbed a couple of pineapples along with the rest of my groceries. I already had the bottle of Stoli Vanil in my EBSF (Emergency Booze Storage Facility).

 

 

Every major city in the United states has a Capital Grille, and it’s a great place to grab a solid dinner if you’re traveling. And right now, during quarantine, many locations are offering steaks and dinners to go. (Check with your local Capital Grille.) Although the Capital Grille in my town of Providence, RI, has moved from its original location, we can still boast that we had the very first one in the USA.

They don’t do crazy-trendy drinks at the Capital Grille. They keep a very well-stocked bar with high-end booze and they make solid cocktails. But there is one signature drink you can find there, and that’s the Stoli Doli. A Stoli Doli is simply Stoli vodka that has been infused with fresh pineapple. If you sit at the bar at the Capital Grille, you won’t be able to miss the very large jar of freshly-cut pineapple pieces swimming in vodka. They literally pour it “from the tap,” and serve it straight up, like a martini, or on the rocks. It’s delicious, and I’ve certainly had my share of them.

I decided to make my own at home one day, to serve to my friends at an upcoming party. But to my disappointment, I didn’t have any Stoli vodka in the house. (An embarrassment to most Lithuanians.) But…I found a bottle of Stoli Vanil, the vanilla-flavored vodka, and it was a real game-changer! I used that instead of regular Stoli and I came up with a sweeter, smoother drink that is now legendary among my friends. I call it…

 

VELVET ELVIS

2 ripe, sweet pineapples, peeled, cored, and sliced
1.75ml Stoli Vanil

Find a gallon-sized glass jar with a lid. Peel, core and slice the pineapples and drop the pieces in the jar. Pour the vodka in, mix well, and seal the jar. Keep it at room temperature for 7–10 days, giving it a gentle shake every day.

After 7–10 days (don’t worry…a little longer won’t hurt anything), strain it, squeezing the pineapple pieces to get every bit of liquid out. Discard the pineapple pieces. (As much as you might think they would be fun to munch, they’ve given up all their flavor to the cocktail, and taste terrible!)

Keep the Velvet Elvis refrigerated. Serve with rocks (or 1 big rock!), or shaken and poured into a martini glass.

 

As a martini, or on the rocks!

 

 

 

Spaghetti alla Carbonara and Fettuccine Alfredo are my daughter’s two favorite pasta dishes. When she couldn’t decide which one she wanted for dinner one night, I decided that she’d get both! (Yes, I spoil her rotten!)

 

 

The addition of chicken and peas made for a more balanced plate. This is now one of my go-to dishes when guests arrive, since many parts can be prepared ahead of time.

 

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Start with the chicken…

The breading for the chicken is bread that I’ve toasted, crumbled and put into a food processor to make breadcrumbs. I get a lot more flavor this way than using store-bought breadcrumbs from a can. I add flour to it to lighten it up.

If you’re on a gluten-free diet, simply use GF breadcrumbs and GF all-purpose flour in the same proportions.

1/2 lb. chicken breasts, cut into 1″ pieces
1 egg, scrambled
1/2 cup breadcrumbs
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
3 teaspoons dried parsley
2 teaspoons dried oregano
1 teaspoon dried basil
1/2 teaspoon granulated garlic
1/2 teaspoon granulated onion
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
1/4 teaspoon pepper
olive oil, for frying

Scramble the egg in a bowl. Cut the chicken into pieces, and add them to the egg, making sure they get evenly coated. Set aside.

In another bowl, combine the bread crumbs, flour, parsley, oregano, basil, garlic, onion, salt and pepper. Set aside.

Fill a pan with about an inch of olive oil. Heat to medium-high, for frying.

In batches not to overcrowd the pan, take the chicken pieces out of the egg and toss them in the bread crumb mixture, shaking off the excess. Place them carefully in the hot oil and fry on both sides until golden. Since they’re small pieces, they should cook all the way through easily. Drain on a plate covered with paper towels. Do this with all the chicken and set it aside. Try not to eat it all before you make the rest of the dish! (This chicken can also be eaten as is–these are my daughter’s favorite nuggets–or used with tomato sauce and mozzarella cheese to make a delicious chicken parmigiana.)

 

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The carbonara factor…

Many recipes for Spaghetti alla Carbonara use pancetta or bacon. But the original recipe calls for guanciale: cured (but not smoked) pig jowls, or cheeks. It’s easy enough to find in a good Italian food store, but I cure my own. I buy raw heritage Berkshire pork jowls from a farm that raises the pigs humanely, and cure the jowls for about 3 weeks in a combination of salt, pepper and fresh thyme leaves. Then I rinse them, pat them dry, and cut them into portion-sized pieces, wrapping them individually and freezing until I need them. It’s a lot of work, but to me, totally worth it.

3 oz. guanciale

If the guanciale is frozen, let it thaw just a little, then cut it into the smallest cubes you can manage. Place it in a pan and cook them until they’ve browned and crisped beautifully. Keep an eye on the pan, as guanciale can burn easily. Use the fried meat bits for this recipe and save the fat for flavoring a future dish! Set aside.

 

The Alfredo sauce…

Despite what you get in crappy restaurants like Olive Garden, Alfredo sauce should not be runny or soupy. It should cling to the pasta and be rich in flavor. My Alfredo sauce is based on a recipe from the legendary Italian cookbook author, Marcella Hazan.

1 cup heavy cream
3 tablespoons butter
Fleur de Sel or sea salt
1 lb. pasta, fresh or dried
2/3 cup freshly grated Parmigiano Reggiano cheese
freshly ground black pepper

 

Put 2/3 of the cream and all the butter in a large saucepan that will later accommodate all the pasta. Simmer over medium heat for less than a minute, until the butter and cream have thickened a bit. Turn off the heat.

Drop the pasta in a bowl of boiling salted water. If the pasta is fresh, it will take just seconds. If it’s dry, it will take a few minutes. (Gluten-free pasta takes a little longer.) Either way, you want to cook the pasta even firmer than al dente, because it will finish cooking in the pan with the butter and cream. Drain the pasta immediately when it reaches that firm stage, and transfer it to the pan with the butter and cream, tossing the pasta gently for a few seconds to coat.

 

 

Turn the heat under the saucepan with the pasta on low, and add the rest of the cream, all the Parmigiano Reggiano, and a bit of pepper (no salt because there’s plenty in the guanciale and cheese.) Toss briefly until the sauce has thickened and the pasta is well-coated.

 

At this point, you don’t want the pasta to get to dry, so you add…

1 cup of frozen peas

…tossing gently to warm them through. Also add the cooked guanciale at this time.

 

With or without chicken, it’s delicious!

 

 

Plate the pasta in a bowl or dish and serve the chicken alongside.