Spaghetti alla Carbonara

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This is the year of Spaghetti alla Carbonara. It has become a weekly must-have in our household – the kids adore it and so do we. Honestly, with bacon, cheese, eggs, and spaghetti, how could one go wrong?!

After having tried a lot of recipes for Spaghetti alls Carbonara, I stumbled across one in “The Gourmet Cookbook” that I think is a real winner. I’ve modified it minimally by using thick cut American smoked bacon in lieu of pancetta or guanciale (and more of it, at that!), and adding a tad more wine. One of my favorite activities these days is watching the initially grainy-looking egg/parmesan mixture become an incredibly smooth, rich sauce when tossed with the spaghetti, bacon, and onion.

This is such a simple dish to make, but it feels special. It has a ton of flavor (thank you, bacon, onions, and wine), and feels like you are eating a noodle perfectly encased by creamy goodness (now thank you, eggs and cheese).

Carbonara ingredients

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Carbonara sequence 2

Spaghetti alla Carbonara

Ingredients:
Serves 4 as a main course

8 oz. thick cut bacon, cut into 1/3-inch lardons
1 spanish onion, finely chopped
1/3 cup white wine
1 pound spaghetti
3 large eggs
1 1/4 cup parmesan cheese, grated
1/4 tsp salt
1 tsp ground pepper

Preparation:
1. Cook the bacon in a large, deep skillet over moderate heat until it has rendered its fat and is just beginning to brown (about 5 minutes).
2. Add the onions to the bacon and sauté until translucent, about 8 minutes.
3. Add the wine to the onions and bacon and boil until reduced by half, then reduce heat to low.
4. Meanwhile, cook spaghetti in a pot of boiling, salted water until al dente.
5. Mix the eggs, cheese, salt, and pepper and whisk to combine.
6. When the spaghetti is cooked, drain it and add it to the bacon.
7. Pour the egg and cheese mixture over the spaghetti and toss until the spaghetti is coated with the eggs and cheese.
8. Serve immediately.

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Foolproof: Perfect Pork Chops

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Do you ever come across a technique that’s just too good not to share?  That’s how I feel about this method of making pork chops.  I know, I know, pork chops can sound terrifically boring and evoke all kinds of memories of eating something dry, tough, and tasteless.  But I promise you, if you follow these instructions, taken out of the Joy of Cooking, you will end up with something tasty, tender, and satisfying.  Pair these chops with whatever you wish – I paired mine with Apple Chutney (recipe coming soon to a blog near you!).

Here’s what you will need:

4 boneless pork chops, 1 inch or so thick
Salt
Pepper
1 Tbsp olive oil

And here is what you do.

Step 1: Season your chops.

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Step 2: Heat the oil over high heat.

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Step 3: Put your chops in and sear them over high heat for exactly 1 minute.

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Step 4: Flip your chops and sear the other side for exactly one minute.

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Step 5: Flip your chops again, cover, reduce heat to medium and cook for 4 minutes.

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Step 6: Flip your chops, cover, and cook other side for 4 minutes.

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Step 7: Let your chops sit on a platter for 5 minutes or so.

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Step 8: Eat and enjoy!

Chipotle Chicken Chili

Finished chili

Baby it’s cold outside. No joke. Like “high of 5 degrees” cold. School was cancelled and we’re housebound and trying to stay warm. Chili on the stove seemed like the perfect thing to combat the chilly outside.

I’ve always liked chili well enough, but found many recipes left me feeling heavy and blah after eating them. And then there’s the standard unicolor effect – most chilis are not terrifically aesthetically pleasing. This one, however, is lighter, feels cleaner on the palate, and is studded with corn and black beans for a more colorful presentation. And the chipotle adds just the right amount of heat for me, though you could certainly kick it up or bump it down – whatever your preference!

I’ve been making this chili for years, but most recently over the holidays for a family gathering. It got two thumbs up, so I thought I would pass it along now. I hope it helps you beat the cold outside.

Chicken ready for roasting

onions and garlic

chopped onions

peppers and cumin

sauteed onions, garlic. and spices

crushed tomatoes

corn and black beans

chopped chicken

Chili in pot!

Chipotle Chicken Chili
Serves 8

2 large yellow onions, chopped
4 cloves garlic, minced
2 Tbsp olive oil
2 chipotle peppers in adobo, chopped
2 tsp adobo sauce
2 tsp ground cumin
2 tsp chili powder
2 cups frozen corn kernels
2 14-ounce cans black beans, rinsed and drained
2 29-ounce cans of whole peeled plum tomatoes in puree, undrained and hand crushed
4 spilt chicken breasts, bone in, skin on
salt
pepper

1.  Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
2.  Rub the chicken breasts with olive oil and sprinkle with salt and pepper.
3.  Roast the chicken for 35-40 minutes, or until just cooked.
4.  While the chicken is roasting, saute the onions in the 2 Tbsp olive oil over medium-low heat for about 10 minutes or until translucent.
5.  Add the garlic and cook for 1 more minute.
6.  Add the chipotle peppers, cumin, and chili powder and cook for one moire minute.
7.  Add the adobo sauce and tomatoes to the pot.
8.  Bring to a boil, then reduce the heat and simmer, uncovered, for 20-30 minutes, stirring occasionally.
9.  When the chicken is cool enough to handle, remove the meat from the bones and skin and cut into 3/4 inch chunks.
10.  After the tomato/onion/spice mixture has simmered for 20-30 minutes, add the chunked chicken, black beans, and corn to the pot.
11.  Simmer for another 20 minutes, then serve.

Stifado: Greek Meat and Onion Stew

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Every fall I dream about comfort foods like roast chicken, mashed potatoes, and beef stew. And every February I’m ready for something…well…different. Don’t get me wrong – I love my roast chicken and beef stew. I just like to mix things up a bit, so I hit my cookbooks in search of something new. This year the something “new” came in the form of a classic recipe from Sarah Leah Chase’s “Cold Weather Cooking”. It is Stifado, a greek meat and onion stew that is heady and rich and satisfying. It’s like no beef stew I’ve ever tasted before (in a really good way).

This stew is a terrific combination of many of the flavors I associate with middle eastern food. Cinnamon, cloves, cumin, orange zest, and bay leaves combine with red wine, vinegar, and tomato paste to make a fantastically rich sauce, which coats the beef and onions beautifully. Most of the work is done up front when searing the cubes of beef, and then you get to sit back and relax while the stew simmers away on the stove top. And like most stews, while this tastes great the day you cook it, it tastes even better one or two days later.

This recipe is made with beef, but it could just as easily be made with lamb.

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Stifado
Serves 8

1/4 cup olive oil
3 pounds lean beef, in 1-1/2 inch cubes
1 onion, chopped
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 1/2 cups dry red wine
3 Tbsp balsamic vinegar
2 Tbsp light brown sugar
1 6 ounce can of tomato paste
1 tsp ground cumin
1/2 tsp ground cloves
2 bay leaves
2 cinnamon sticks
1/2 cup raisins
Salt and freshly ground pepper
1 lb. package of frozen pearl onions, defrosted
4 ounces crumbled feta cheese
1/2 cup pine nuts, lightly toasted

1. Heat the olive oil in a dutch oven over medium-high heat. Generously season the cubes of beef with salt and pepper, then sear in batches until browned on all sides. Remove from the pot and set aside.
2. Saute the onion in the pot until softened, stirring frequently, about 5 minutes. Add the garlic and saute 30 seconds more.
3. Add the wine, vinegar, brown sugar, and tomato paste and stir until fully incorporated, then add the cumin, cloves, bay leaves, and cinnamon sticks.
4. Return the beef to the stew pot, along with the raisins and the orange zest.
5. Stir to combine, then bring the stew to a simmer. Cover and let cook over medium-low heat for one hour.
6. After the stew has simmered away for one hour, add the defrosted pearl onions and simmer, covered, for one hour more.
7. Serve the stew over egg noodles or potato dumplings, with the feta and pine nuts sprinkled on top.

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Mairenn couldn’t wait to try it!

Seared Scallops with Champagne-Citrus Beurre Blanc

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I can’t believe I did it!  It may seem like a small thing to all you foodies out there, but I *finally* mastered seared scallops!  I’ve been trying for quite some time – ever since my husband and I had the most divine scallops I’ve ever tasted at Café Bacchus in Morgantown, WV.  I know what you’re thinking.  West Virginia?!  But trust me, these scallops were amazing and were accompanied by a velvety champagne citrus beurre blanc.  I’ve been trying to recreate the recipe ever since.

So what’s the big secret to a nicely seared scallop?  Well, I guess it’s a few secrets, really. Number one:  make sure your scallops are dry before cooking them – pat them down with paper towels.  Number two: make sure the pan and oil are very hot before adding the scallops. And number three is key:  DO NOT CROWD THE PAN.  Cook only a few scallops at a time or you won’t get the crust you are seeking.  This is not a dish to cook en masse however much you’d like to.  It’s secret number three that took me years to learn as I am not the world’s most patient person.

Despite the fact that I have small children and probably wouldn’t make it to see the ball drop, I thought it was imperative to have at least a little bit of a dressy New Year’s Eve celebration.  Which is not to say that I pulled out my little black dress.  Not at all.  I wore jeans.  It was all about what was for dinner and I thought this recipe would fit the bill perfectly.

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Champagne-Citrus Beurre Blanc
Makes approximately 2/3 of a cup

1 medium shallot, sliced
zest of 1/2 a grapefruit
3 Tbsp white wine vinegar (I like to use a sweet white wine vinegar – like a white balsamic or a riesling vinegar)
3 Tbsp freshly squeezed grapefruit juice
6 Tbsp champagne
1 Tbsp heavy cream
1 stick of butter, cut into small pieces

1. Combine all of the ingredients with the exception of the heavy cream and butter in a small saucepan and simmer until the sauce is reduced by three quarters.
2. Reduce the heat to low.
3. Stir in the heavy cream.
4. Whisking constantly, add the pieces of a butter, a couple at a time, each time allowing the butter to melt and incorporate fully before adding more.
5. Strain the sauce, season to taste, and serve.

Seared Scallops
Serves four

1 1/4 pounds scallops
salt and pepper
2 Tbsp olive oil

1.  Remove small side muscle from scallops that have it.
2.  Rinse scallops and pat dry with paper towels. 
3.  Season one side with salt and pepper.
4.  Heat a 12-inch saute pan over medium-high heat.
5.  Add the olive oil when the pan is hot.
6.  When you see the oil *just* smoking a hint, add 6 scallops, seasoned-side down to the pan and cook, not moving the scallops at all, for 1 minute and 3o seconds.  While the scallops are cooking on this side, season the unseasoned side with salt and pepper.
7.  Flip the scallops and cook for 1 minute more on the other side.
8. Remove these scallops from the pan and put on a plate, then repeat the above steps with subsequent batches until you have worked your way through the scallops (2-3 batches).

Putting it all together

Working quickly, once the scallops are done, pour the Champagne-Citrus Beurre Blanc onto the plates to coat the bottoms, then place the seared scallops on top.  Enjoy!

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alexandra's kitchen

mostly simple • sometimes fussy • always seasonal