Thursday, September 30, 2010

Chicken Adobo

My dear friend Ted was partial to recipes which literally took days to prepare, and the baking of cakes which required a structural engineer. He adored Martha Stewart, whose recipes all seemed to start with the purchase of a special non-standard sized set of cake pans. (7" cake pans? What the...?) Just before he left us, he made a disparaging remark to me about Bon Appetit Magazine that will stay with me forever. "Fifteen Minute Recipes!" he spat contemptuously. "What on earth would I want with fifteen minute recipes? I want a recipe that is complicated, that takes a lot of time to make!"

Well, that was Ted, alright. Of course, when he wasn't making these famously complicated dishes, he was fond of having a quick meal at the cheap Indian restaurant up the street, or having something equally convenient. Now, frankly, I like me a good fifteen minute recipe! I cook most nights of the week, and much as I love to dedicate many hours to braising a nice piece of meat, or an afternoon to making many pounds of sausage, I find there is a special beauty and satisfaction in a simple recipe that comes together quickly, but still has fully developed flavors.

This recipe for Philippine-style chicken adobo from the Gourmet cookbook is one of those beautifully simple recipes; it borders on the absurd that such a complex tasting dish takes so little active time to prepare. The marinade, which later becomes a wonderful sauce, comes together in about 5 minutes. You can set this up the night or morning before, leave it in the fridge while you're at work, and put it in the oven when you come home. Be sure to make a nice big batch of brown rice to soak up the flavorful sauce.

"Adobo" means spice rub, but an adobo in the Philippines bears no resemblance to one in Mexico. This version is typical of the Philippino style; garlic, soy sauce, vinegar and fresh-ground black pepper make a lively combination, and turn the meat a rich mahogany color.

Philippine-Style Chicken Adobo

from The Gourmet Cookbook

1/2 cup cider vinegar
1/4 cup soy sauce
1 TB minced garlic
2 Turkish (or 1 California) bay leaves
1/2 tsp freshly ground black pepper
4 whole chicken legs or 8 thighs (2 1/2 pounds total) rinsed, patted dry, cut into drumsticks and thighs

Accompaniment: cooked brown rice

1. Stir together vinegar, soy sauce, garlic, bay leaves, and pepper in a glass, lidded container just large enough to hold all of the contents. Add the chicken, carefully submerging and covering it with the marinade. Cover and refrigerate for at least 2 hours, up to 48 hours, turning the chicken occasionally to distribute the marinade.

2. Let the chicken stand at room temperature for 45 minutes before baking.

3. Put a rack in the center of the oven and preheat to 425 F.

4. Arrange the chicken pieces in one layer, skin side up, in a 13 x 9" baking dish and pour marinade over it. Bake until cooked through, 30 to 35 minutes. Transfer the chicken, again skin side up, to a broiling pan. Pour the pan juices into a small saucepan.

5. Turn oven to broil. Broil chicken about 4 inches from heat until skin is golden and crisp, 2 to 3 minutes.

6. While the chicken broils, skim fat from the pan juices and bring to a boil. Remove from the heat and discard the bay leaves.

Serve chicken and sauce with rice.

p.s. My daughter thought this dish was superfine.

Cherry Tomato Cobbler with Gruyere Crust

Summer is officially over, but we have been having a killer heat wave here in Berkeley for the past week, giving the last cherry tomatoes an extra push in productivity. About this time of year, I have mixed feelings. On the one hand, it's a bit sad that summer is over; it's hard to get up on these dark mornings, hard to know that there will be no more melon or tomatoes or cucumbers until next year. On the other hand, in some ways I've already moved on in the garden; neglected, over-ripe tomatoes are falling to the ground in the back yard patch, and I'm ready to plant something else.

This delicious recipe I cut out of Martha Stewart Living years ago uses two pounds of mixed cherry tomatoes, putting that final rush of bounty to good use. The crust recipe, rich with butter and gruyere cheese, makes enough for two cobblers; put half of it aside in the freezer for the next batch of cobbler, or dream up another delicious use for it later in the season. (Be warned - although the crust lasts well in the freezer, it does not in the refrigerator. Once you have thawed it, use it within a day or two at most.)

Mixed Tomato Cobbler With Gruyere Crust

From Martha Stewart Living

Crust: (Makes 2 crusts; freeze one)
2 1/2 cups unbleached, all purpose flour
1 tsp salt
1 tsp sugar
1 cup grated gruyere, plus 1/4 cup for top of crust
1 cup cold unsalted butter, (two sticks) cut into 1/2" pieces
1/4 cup ice water

1. Use your food processor's grating attachment to grate the gruyere, then set the cheese aside and put back in the regular blade.

2. Place flour, salt, sugar, and 1 cup of the cheese in the bowl of a food processor; pulse briefly to combine.

3. Add butter, process until mixture resembles coarse meal, 8-10 seconds.

4. With machine running, pour ice water (about 1/4 cup) little by little through feed tube. Stop the machine, then pulse until dough holds together without becoming wet or sticky. Don't process more than 30 seconds.

5. Divide dough into two equal balls. Flatten each into a disk; wrap in waxed or parchment paper, then place in a reusable plastic bag. Chill 1 in fridge for an hour, wrap the other well and freeze for later use.

1 TB butter or olive oil
1 large onion, diced
3 cloves garlic, minced
2 pounds assorted cherry tomatoes, rinsed, dried, and de-stemmed
1/4 cup + 2 tsp flour
1 1/2 tsp salt
1 1/2 tsp sugar
1/2 cup chopped basil
pinch of freshly ground pepper

1 egg

1. Pre-heat oven to 375 F.

2. Melt 1 TB butter or oil in large skillet over medium heat. Add onion and garlic and cook until softened and translucent, 5-7 minutes. Cool.

3. Place tomatoes in a large bowl. Toss with flour, salt, sugar, basil and pepper. Add cooled onion mixture, toss to combine. Transfer to a deep 9 1/2 or 10 inch pie dish.

4. Roll out half the dough into a circle 1 inch larger than pie dish. Transfer rolled dough to top of dish; tuck in edges to seal. Make 3-4 slits in crust, form decorative edge if desired.

5. In small bowl, mix egg with 1 tsp water. Brush egg glaze over crust, sprinkle crust with remaining 1/4 cup cheese. Place pie dish on baking sheet to catch drips. Bake until crust is golden and insides bubbling, about 50 minutes. (Most of the egg will be left over; I like to fry it in the pan I've just cooked the onion and garlic in, then sprinkle it with any leftover gruyere. With an additional egg, this makes a lovely small supper dish for your child who can't stand to wait for the cobbler to cook, or who dislikes tomatoes.)

6. Resist the temptation to eat it right away; cool to room temp before serving so the juices thicken up and you don't burn the roof of your mouth.

A lovely dry vin rosé, like the excellent one in the picture (a birthday gift) is perfect with this dish.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Sugar-Free Apple Cream Pie

My friend Shiela celebrated her birthday this week, and I gave her a choice: cake, or Apple Cream Pie? "Apple Cream Pie!" she responded without hesitation. Then came the bonus challenge: Shiela just had open-heart surgery; her niece Elise was firm - "NO added sugar!" No added sugar? Oof.

Fortunately, upon reflection, I remembered that I had a bag of xylitol on hand. Now, I have mixed feelings about xylitol. Xylitol is a sugar alcohol extracted from wood, corn husks, and other plants. In some ways, it's like a miracle; it has 40% fewer calories than sugar, and something about its structure makes it great for diabetics. It actually helps prevent tooth-decay (that's why you find it in so many sugar-free gums) and preliminary reports show that it may have a large number of other positive side effects, from preventing infection to helping prevent osteoporosis. It tastes and measures just like sugar, and makes a great substitute in many cooking situations. It doesn't behave just like sugar in all applications - it really wants to recrystallize in a big way! But pie is a place where it - and its relative erythritol - shine.  My friend can't have any added sugar... so I used it. The results were delicious; equal to using sugar. If you need to do some sugar-free cooking, this is a recipe that it works on.

Updates: October, 2012 - It has now been a couple of years since I invented this recipe, and I have a LOT more experience baking the sugar-free way. It being apple season, I decided to make this super-delicious pie using my new-found knowledge.  Oh, baby. That pie didn't last two days - and there are only three of us in the house. And only two of us ate it. Sorry, Joel! Here is the updated recipe.

A caution: Pets should not be allowed to eat xylitol or erythritol, as these ingredients can cause them harm.

Apple Cream Pie

adapted from Little Heathens by Mildred Armstrong Kalish


1 pie crust (click here for the Foodier Than Thou recipe)

¾ cups xylitol (available in grocery stores in the baking aisle)

OR: 6 TB erythritol + 3 1/2 TB xylitol + 6 tiny scoops stevia powder

3 TB flour
½ tsp salt
6 Granny Smith or other baking apples, peeled, cored, cut in eighths
2 TB lemon juice, as needed (if the apples need contrast)
1 cup heavy cream
1 TB sugar to garnish the top.

1. Combine the 3/4 cups xylitol, flour, and salt and mix well

2. Line pie pan with crust. Sprinkle bottom with 3 TB of sweetener/flour mixture, press gently into crust w/palm of hand.

3. If apples need tartness, toss them with the lemon juice.

4. Arrange apples on top of the pie crust and sprinkle with remainder of sugar mixture

5. Dust very liberally with cinnamon.

6. Pour cream over all

7. Sprinkle w/ 1 TB of sugar (optional - but don't use xylitol or erythritol - they don't melt)

Bake at 450 F for 12 minutes, then lower temp to 350, bake about 1 hour, or until apples are done. The cream will be a little runny when you take the pie out of the oven; it will thicken as it cools.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Apple Cream Pie

Last year, my friend Shiela lent me a delightful little autobiographical book called Little Heathens by Mildred Armstrong Kalish, about her childhood on a farm in Iowa during the great depression. She and her family were poor, but because they had a farm (which had topsoil, unlike other places!) they always had the food they grew and raised. One of the delightful things in the book is the recipes she shares; one that stood out for me was Apple Cream Pie. Naturally, they used lard in their pie crust! I've tried the recipe a few times, and it really is a delicious recipe, well worth a permanent spot in your repertoire.

Apple Cream Pie

from Little Heathens by Mildred Armstrong Kalish


1 pie crust

¾ cup sugar
3 TB flour
½ tsp salt
6 Granny Smith or other baking apples, peeled, cored, cut in eighths
2 TB lemon juice, as needed (if the apples need contrast)
1 cup heavy cream
1 TB sugar to garnish the top.

1. Combine the 3/4 cups sugar, flour, and salt and mix well

2. Line pie pan with crust. Sprinkle bottom with 3 TB of sugar mixture, press gently into crust w/palm of hand.

3. If apples need tartness, toss them with the lemon juice.

4. Arrange apples on top of the pie crust and sprinkle with remainder of sugar mixture

5. Dust liberally with cinnamon.

6. Pour cream over all

7. Sprinkle w/ 1 TB of sugar.

Bake at 450 F for 12 minutes, then lower temp to 350, bake about 1 hour, or until apples are done. The cream will seem runny when you take out the pie; it will thicken as it cools.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Whole-Grain Pie Crust

True Confession: I used to buy pre-made pie crust. 'Struth! And I'm not talking about artisanal, butter pie crust from Berkeley Bowl, my friends. Oooh no. I'm talking about Pet-Ritz, Mrs. Smith, and brands you've never heard of from the freezer case at Grocery Outlet, or "Gross Out" as my dear friend Nina calls it. You know, trans-fat-city, tin foil pans. You feel me?

Yes, I was not always "Foodier Than Thou." Becoming a "foodie" (and I can just hear that special note in my mother's voice when she uses that word to describe someone - something that lets you know that their character, morals and judgment are in doubt.) Where was I? Oh, yes. Becoming a "foodie" developed gradually in me. I think my mother's Yankee-by-way-of-Germany concept is that "foodies" are obsessed with expensive, wasteful ingredients, to the detriment of their immortal souls. Which is a pretty interesting take from a woman who, with her husband, raised chickens, milk goats, honey bees and organic vegetables and made her own yoghurt and cheese from the proceeds for decades. Because for me, what she and my Dad did are at the heart of being a "foodie." Choosing organic produce, sustainably raised meats and eggs, buying food directly from the farmer; to me these are moral choices. And, of course, they taste waaaay better than that other stuff, and they're waaaay better for you than that other stuff.

Ah, but what you all really want to talk about is pie crust, yes? So, I had the mistaken impression that 1) pie crust was too much work, 2) the other stuff was perfectly fine, and 3) my pie crust efforts would be lousy. This, despite the memories of the best pie crust ever - my sister Cynta's home-made delectable strawberry rhubarb pie in the tastiest crust in the world. So, I'm willing to admit I was wrong. Isn't that big of me? That's right: wrong, wrong, wrong. It's not hard, or time-consuming, and that divine taste and flaky texture just can't be had any other way.

Now, what I gather from all of the pie crust lore I've been collecting, is that pie crust makers are hard-core in their loyalty to certain fats. There's the butter camp; butter makes a flaky crust, where the layers separate out like mica shards. And of course, butter has that, for lack of a better descriptor, "buttery" taste. Then there are the shortening folks. Shortening also makes flakes; shortening proponents say they are better flakes than butter. Ahem. In a word, trans-fats. "Trans-fats" are created when liquid vegetable oil is forced to bond with extra hydrogen atoms, which transforms them into solid shortening. When they enter your body, the hydrogen atoms seek out the good fat and make it go bad. Yes, there are organic shortening alternatives (Spectrum makes one from Palm Oil, which is naturally solid at room temperature) but my experiments with it have yielded somewhat tough results. Shortening is therefore easily knocked off the list, in my opinion. And of course, there is the lard camp; lard makes a tender, yielding crust, with a savory back-note. This can be a lovely contrast with say, apple pie, or as a complement to a quiche. Which to choose, which to choose; butter or lard? Ah, but then there is the happy compromise - half lard, half butter! Flakes + tender + both flavors = yum.

There are a few technical considerations when blending two fats; butter is much harder than lard; lard is very soft; it becomes almost liquid at room temperature. Both ingredients should be cold when you use them to keep gluten from forming. Gluten is the protein in wheat which bonds into chains when they are exposed to warmth + smooshing; these bonds are desirable in bread and pizza, but makes for a tough pie crust. To deal with this, here are two simple methods; either cut in the butter first, followed by the lard, (my idea) OR, follow the advice in James McNair's Pie Cookbook; soften both fats, blend them together, and then chill them before you use them.

This is adapted from James McNair's recipe; there are many, many fine recipes out there. I don't have a favorite so far; the important thing is to use the best ingredients and follow the basic guidelines.

Basic Pie Crust

Makes 1 double or 2 single crusts. (If you're making a single crust pie, you can make both, and freeze one for later!)

I. Standard Version

3 cups all-purpose, organic unbleached flour
1 tsp salt
2 tsp organic granulated sugar
1/2 cup cold, organic, unsalted butter, cut into small pieces
1/2 cup cold lard
1/2 cup or more ice water 
1/4 cup or more ice water
1/4 cup iced vodka

Follow universal steps below for all recipes.

II. Whole Grain, Low Carbohydrate Variations

1 1/2 cups Spelt Flour
1 1/2 cups whole wheat pastry flour

OR: 3 cups Spelt Flour,  OR:3 cups whole wheat pastry flour, OR any combination of the two!

1 tsp salt
2 tsp sugar or xylitol
1/2 cup cold, organic, unsalted butter, cut into small pieces
1/2 cup cold lard
1/2 cup ice water
1/4 cup or more ice water
1/4 cup iced vodka

(If you are using a food processor, the fats should be in small pieces and frozen. However, made it both ways, I have to say doing it by hand produces a MUCH more pleasing texture.)

1. Measure the flour using the "spoon and sweep" method; use a spoon to fill the cup, then scrape off the excess with a knife. This ensures the right proportion of flour is measured. This technique comes from "The Bakers' Dozen Cookbook;" I use this method for all baking, but it's especially important for pie crust making.

2. In a medium sized bowl with a nice, smooth, flattish bottom, combine the flour, salt and sugar. Mix well with a fork or whisk.

3. Prepare your ice water by putting water and several ice cubes in a cup or bowl.

4. Add the small hunks of cold butter individually to the bowl of flour, and use your fork to toss them into the flour. Using a pastry cutter (some people use 2 knives or their hands; I like my pastry cutter just fine) cut the butter into the flour, occasionally scraping the gathered hunks of butter and dough off the blades of the cutter with the fork, and occasionally tossing the ingredients to keep them evenly distributed. Do this until the bits of butter are about pea-sized; don't overwork the dough, or it will form gluten bonds and get tough!

5. Now add the cold lard, adding spoonfuls and tossing them into the flour mixture with your fork or spoon. Cut the lard into the dough; it is much softer, and therefore easier and quicker to cut in than the cold butter! Follow the same instructions as for the butter, but now you want the final pieces to be more like coarse breadcrumbs.

6. One tablespoonful at a time, sprinkle in the ice water. After each addition, stir and toss the flour mixture with your fork, until it makes a shaggy dough that is beginning to stick heavily to the fork. If you are using the vodka, add the ice water first, then the vodka to finish. You may use a little less than the whole amount of liquid, or a little more. Squeeze a little hunk together to see if it just barely holds. If not, add a little more liquid. If it's coming together nicely, lay two large pieces of waxed or parchment paper on your work surface, gather up the dough into a nice smooth ball with your hands, divide it into two even balls, and place on the paper. If it sticks to your hands a lot, you have added a little too much water. No biggie; just sprinkle a little extra flour on the paper and over the dough balls, and make a nice smooth ball. Using the paper, smoosh the balls into flat, smooth disks. Try not to handle the dough too much, either with your tools or your hands.

7. Wrap up the disks in the paper, then put them into a plastic bag and put them into the refrigerator. Let it "relax" in the refrigerator for at least 15 minutes. This loosens up the gluten bonds that have formed, and firms up the fats before you roll them. If you chill it for longer, you may need to let it warm up for a little while before you roll it; otherwise it will crack when you try to roll it - very frustrating!

NOTES FROM CHRISTINE: Flour Choices - Whole grains are full of wonderful nutrients and fiber, and are more evenly metabolized by those with metabolic/blood sugar issues. Any of these combinations are delicious; here are the considerations when choosing your flour. Why choose Spelt? Spelt is fine grained and light, with a lovely, tender texture. Some people with gluten issues can tolerate it better than regular wheat. Why Whole Wheat Pastry Flour? Whole wheat pastry flour is lighter than all purpose whole wheat flour, lower in gluten (the protein that makes bread get chewy) and makes a flakier crust. It's also easier to find than spelt. The blend gives you the best of all possible worlds. Water: the spelt flour absorbs less water than the whole wheat flour; be more sparing when you add the ice water.  Vodka gives you the moisture you need to hold the dough together, but it evaporates more readily than water, giving the pie crust a much more tender and delicious texture - well worth it - I really recommend this technique!

Spelt is available in natural food stores and in well-stocked grocery stores.

Next up: Pie!

Monday, September 13, 2010

Lard. Yes, that's right, LARD.

If you read my earlier post called "The Whole Hog, Around the Pig in 80 Ways" you know how much healthier pig fat (from a sustainably, humanely raised pig, of course) is for you than most of us have been led to believe. Lard is a wonderful ingredient which has been much maligned. If the animal has been raised on a healthy diet, and the fat has not been hydrogenated, it actually has a much healthier profile than you might expect.

Somehow, we all got sold a bill of goods a few decades back; that lard was unhealthy and "it was so much healthier for us to use vegetable shortening." Vegetable shortening, where liquid vegetable oil has hydrogen added to it to make it solid at room temperature, is what we now call TRANS FAT - a truly evil substance, which seeks out good fat in the body, bonds it with its rogue hydrogen atoms, and turns good fat bad. I am sorry to report that the blocks of pure white lard (aka manteca) you find on the shelves of grocery stores have also been hydrogenated to make them shelf-stable. This is NOT the lard I'm talking about today.

Sausage king Bruce Aidells wrote eloquently on the subject in his Complete Book of Pork; "The saturated fat in lard contains about one third of stearic acid,, which may have a beneficial effect on cholesterol, and it helps to relax blood vessels. Lard, which is 40% unsaturated, belongs in the high oleic group, which has a similar lipid profile to olive oil..."

Now, as you know, I bought not one, but TWO whole pigs this year. (From Mary Pettis Sarley of Napa; After they cut, smoked, ground, cured and wrapped the meat for us at Bud's in Penngrove, I was left with many packages of frozen fat. I have given a few of them away, but I still have many more left. For some unknown reason, I have never been given any of the "leaf fat" the pure white substance that cushions the kidneys and has little or no connective tissue binding it together. What I have are squares of fat from under the skin, bound together with a web of connective tissue. To get the fat into a more useful state, you must "render" it. Rendering consists of cutting the fat into smaller pieces, then cooking it a low temperature in the oven until the fat and connective tissue separate, and the water evaporates. It takes very little effort, and when you are done, you have a wonderful fat to use in pie crusts, biscuits, frying, and the like - anywhere you would use shortening. You also get "cracklings;" little, crispy bacon-bit kind of things that perk up your corn bread in a very tasty way, or are yummy garnishing a salad.

Let's get right to it, shall we? We'll render some lard, and then later on, I'll give you some good pie crust recipes.

Rendering Lard

6 pounds pork back fat, cut into 1/2 inch cubes

Makes about 3 quarts

1. Preheat oven to 300 F
2. Put the cubed fat in a large pot or Dutch oven, making sure it's no more than 1/2 full. Slip it into the oven and bake until the fat begins to melt. Stir the mixture and continue to stir every 45 minutes until the cracklings brown and float to the top. It may take up to 4 hours to render the lard. Strain the lard through clean cheese cloth into a clean container, squeezing the liquid out of the solids, and ladle it into canning jars. When the jars have cooled, cover them and refrigerate. Lard will keep in the refrigerator for 6 months. If you wish to keep it longer (I do) cool it well, then put it into a container which can be frozen. It will keep for a long time in the freezer.
3. You can season the cracklings with salt with cayenne, five spice powder, paprika, black pepper, or the spice mix of your choice. I did not the first time, but I sure will next time!

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Spaghetti Carbonara

I have made, and eaten, so many different versions of this dish over the years; with bacon, with pancetta, (cured, unsmoked bacon) with guanciale (cured, unsmoked hog jowl) with cream, sans cream, with and without onion, with or without wine..... They have all been delicious, and I have enjoyed them all. However, this particular recipe, which I cut out of Gourmet magazine a few years ago, (and which is published in the Gourmet Cookbook, which I so often tout) outshines all the versions I've tried. All of the flavors are beautifully balanced; rich - but not too rich. Creamy eggs, salty bacon, the use of both Parmigiano and Pecorino Romano cheese, with plenty of fresh ground black pepper to liven the tastebuds... An added bonus is that this version re-heats pretty well, whereas those with heavy cream seem to always separate in a most unattractive fashion. (It is still best when fresh, however.)

On the eggs: - use the BEST quality eggs you can find; truly free-range chickens have access to fresh vegetables and bugs, and their eggs have a bright orange-colored yolk, an unbeatable flavor, and a richness not found in the others. This dish has very simple, straight-forward flavors, and the eggs really shine. Of course, there are all kinds of reasons to get organic, free-range eggs from a farmer you can trust. Flavor and appearance, of course. Then there's YOUR health - "factory farm" raised chickens are crammed in so tight in incredibly small crates that they can't turn around, and salmonella is easily spread. Then, of course, there's the chickens' health - see above. It's just plain wrong to keep animals in these horrible conditions just so we can save a buck a dozen. You can buy great eggs at the farmer's market, or you can befriend a neighbor who is raising them; it's all the rage in Berkeley. Maybe you can trade them some bacon or home-made sausage from your sustainable stash!

On the bacon: the recipe calls for guanciale, which can be purchased from specialty places like Fatted Calf. However, any good quality bacon or pancetta will do. Of course, you know that any pork product needs to be from a sustainably raised pig, right?

On the pepper:
it's really worth your while to grind it fresh.

On the pan:
Have I mentioned how much I looooove my iron skillets? They hold the heat beautifully, add great color to foods, and when well-seasoned, can cook anything - even eggs - without sticking. The key is to heat the pan up well, with a small amount of fat, BEFORE adding the eggs. I have tossed out all my non-sticks; yuck. For this dish, I use the Big Boy - 12" of black beauty! Amazingly, you can get a really nice quality, pre-seasoned "Emeril Legassi" pan at Bed Bath and Beyond for about $20. Of course, another large, flat-bottomed skillet will do.

On the timing:
The timing on this is important; you want the pasta to finish cooking just as the other ingredients are ready. If one pan is getting ahead of the other, turn it down and let the other one catch up. I have laid out the steps carefully here with this timing in mind.

Spaghetti Alla Carbonara

From Gourmet Magazine

Serves 4 as a main course
Active time: 40 minutes. Start to finish 40 minutes

1 pound spaghetti or linguine (I prefer linguine)
5 oz guanciale or pancetta (or bacon) cut into 1/4" dice
1 finely chopped medium onion
1/4 cup dry white wine
3 large eggs - best quality
1 1/2 oz finely grated Parmigiano-Reggiano or Grana Padano Cheese (3/4 cup)
3/4 oz finely grated Pecorino Romano
1 tsp coarsely ground fresh black pepper
1/4 tsp salt

1. Set your salted pasta water on the stove to boil over high heat; if it comes to a boil too soon, keep it covered and turn the heat down to medium - you can always bring it back up to the boil quickly. (Some people think the salt is optional - they are MISTAKEN IN THEIR MINDS.)

2. While the water boils, chop the bacon and put it in the frying pan on medium heat.

3. While the bacon cooks, chop the onion. As soon as the bacon fat begins to render, add the onion and cook, stirring occasionally, until onion is golden, about 10 minutes.

4. While the bacon and onion cook, grate the cheeses and grind the pepper. (Weighing the cheese is a more accurate way to measure it, especially since using the micro-plane - which I adore - grates so finely that the volume is thrown off.) Combine the eggs, cheeses, pepper, and 1/4 tsp of salt in a small bowl.

5. By now, the pasta water should be boiling. If it's not, turn the heat down (or even off) on the bacon/onion pan until the water comes to the boil. If you've turned the pasta water down, now is the time to crank the heat and bring it back to a rolling boil. Add the pasta to the boiling water, stir well.

6. If you have turned down the heat on the bacon/onion mixture, you can return it to medium-low. Add the wine to the bacon and boil it until it is reduced by half. Meanwhile, keep an eye on the pasta, stirring it occasionally. Again, if the wine reaches its desired state before the pasta is ready to drain, reduce the heat.

7. When the pasta is al dente, drain it well in a colander, and add it to the bacon/onion mixture. Using tongs, toss the pasta with the mixture over moderate heat until well coated.

8. Turn off the heat source (remove from heat if using an electric stove) and add the egg/cheese mixture. Use a spatula to get all the good stuff out of the bowl! Using the tongs, toss the pasta with the egg mixture until it is well coated and distributed. The eggs will cook a little and the cheese will melt a little and, in short, it will be delicious.

Wine Match: This is one place where a buttery/oaky malolactic fermented Chardonnay does the trick; it cuts through the richness of the dish, cleansing the tongue to enjoy the next creamy bite.

Monday, September 6, 2010

Vanilla Ice Cream

Friends recently whisked me away for cocktails at the Claremont Resort to celebrate a certain momentous birthday event. Dear friends, sunset over the San Francisco Bay, the twinkling lights of Berkeley and Oakland and the Bay Bridges spread out below us, cocktails and some fabulous marrow, bacon and onion marmalade on toast and really good garlic fries in a paper cone... Sigh. It was lovely.

I cast my mind back to when I had last been at the Claremont.... Waaaaay back when I was in my twenties, I met Ben Cohen of Ben & Jerry's Ice Cream for brunch at the Claremont. This was when there actually was a real Ben and a real Jerry at Ben & Jerry's, (before British-Dutch conglomerate Unilever gobbled them up in 2000) and I had written them a fan letter offering my acting services to do an ad for them, because I really loved their ice cream. Ben called me up at my thankless secretarial job at PaineWebber (which was gobbled up by Swiss Bank UBS in 2000) and invited me out. I have no idea why, really. We had brunch - and that was that. I never heard from him again.

Also way back in the day, I bought a Ben & Jerry's ice cream cookbook, along with a Donvier hand crank ice cream maker, at the San Francisco Whole Earth Access store (also long defunct.) It's been over twenty years, and I still use that little hand crank ice cream maker; it consists of a metal tub with some special freezable goo sandwiched between the insulated layers. You freeze the cylinder overnight, mix up your ice cream base and chill it, pour the ice cream base into the cylinder, and then stir it with a special dasher and handle every few minutes for about 20 minutes. No salt, no electricity, very little effort, and voilĂ  - a quart of the best ice cream. I still also use the Ben and Jerry's cookbook.

Although it's been about twenty-five years since I met Ben for brunch at the Claremont, and so many things from that time of my life are defunct - including my acting career - I am happy to still be here, and putting my ice cream making skills to good use for my lovely daughter.

For Johanna's tenth birthday party, I used the B&J recipe for French Vanilla Ice Cream. Naturally, I modified the recipe; in the 1980's, people didn't hesitate to use raw eggs in ice cream. Even though I use organic eggs from the farmer's market, I take the extra step to cook the egg custard base for the ice cream. Here is the recipe, including my changes.

French Vanilla Ice Cream

Adapted from Ben & Jerry's Homemade Ice Cream & Dessert Book

1 cup organic whole milk
3/4 cups organic sugar
2 large organic, free range eggs
2 cups organic heavy cream
2 tsp organic vanilla extract

1. Put the cup of whole milk and the 3/4 cup of sugar into the top of a double boiler. Put the boiler directly on top of the heat (not into the bottom part of the double boiler.) Heat over medium heat, stirring frequently, until the sugar is dissolved and the milk is scalded. (Do not boil the milk.)

2. In a medium-sized heat proof bowl, whisk the eggs until well mixed. Gradually pour the scalded milk and sugar into the eggs, stirring constantly. (This keeps the eggs from cooking up into scrambled eggs - not what you want in your ice cream!)

3. Using a heat proof spatula, scrape the eggs-milk-sugar mix back into the top of the double boiler. Over - not in - hot water, cook the mixture, stirring constantly, until it has the consistency of a creamy sauce, coating the back of the wooden spoon, or wires of the whisk you are stirring with.

4. Turn off the heat, remove the top part of the double boiler from the hot water, and stir in the heavy cream and vanilla. Let it cool, uncovered, then chill, covered, in the fridge until well-chilled.

5. Pour ice cream base into your prepared ice cream maker, and freeze, churning almost constantly. When it is the consistency of soft serve ice cream, you can add any special treats you like - chocolate shavings, etc. - and churn them in until well-mixed. Spoon/spatula the soft ice cream into other freezable containers, and freeze them until solid in your freezer. (If you leave it in the cylinder, it is hard to get it out!)

Serve alone, with the delectable fudge sauce, dulce de leche, or whatever your heart desires!