Thursday, December 29, 2011

Low Brow Carbonara

I'm not fancy.  I enjoy awesome food with specialty ingredients, but if I want to cook fancy foods I have to drive 20 minutes to the nearest gourmet grocery store to buy "the good stuff".  I don't have the time for that.  The other day I was talking to a friend of mine (who also has 5 kids) about something new I could make for my family.  She and her sister both chimed in unison, "Carbonara!"  Apparently in their family they have a recipe that everyone is a huge fan of.  They told me some of the ingredients and kind of gave me the method, but I pretty much took their twist of adding sausage and coupled it with everything I've learned from the Food Network to come up with this gem.  Normally, this is made from pancetta (Italian bacon that is salt cured instead of smoked...not found at my local market) and fancy hard Italian cheeses.  I made this with what I already had in my fridge...hence my kind of ghetto version of a classic.

1 lb pasta (I used penne piccolini, but I think it's typically made with spaghetti)
4 slices bacon
4 oz Italian sausage (your favorite heat level)
1 cup heavy cream at room temperature
2 large eggs at room temperature
1/3 cup parmesan (the cheap kind from the green can works like a charm...remember...low brow)
1/2 tsp granulated garlic
Salt and pepper to taste
1 cup frozen peas

Cook the pasta according to directions.  While the pasta is cooking, dice the bacon and put it in a skillet over medium heat.  Cook the bacon until it is crispy, and remove it with a slotted spoon.  Place it on a plate lined with a paper towel and set aside.  Remove the sausage from the casing and cook it in the bacon grease, breaking it up as it cooks. Once the sausage is cooked, remove it from the pan and set it on the paper towel-lined plate with the bacon.  In a large bowl, combine the cream, eggs, cheese and spices and whisk until well combined.  Drain the pasta, reserving 1/4 cup of the pasta water.  Put the pasta back into the pot it was cooked in, and add all the ingredients to the pot (toss in the meat, then toss in the creamy egg mixture, then toss in the peas).  Pour in the reserved pasta water and toss it all together.  The heat from the pasta will cook the eggs and you'll be left with this luscious sauce that will coat the noodles.  Garnish with extra cheese.

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Candied Almonds and Poppyseed Dressing (with a Spinach Salad)

I was on a committee for our church Christmas party this year.  Together, a group of women decided what to feed 250 people for the event.  We were on a budget and decided along with an inexpensive main dish, to go the inexpensive salad route, but we didn't want to do iceburg salad with a bottle of Ranch and a bottle of Italian.  We decided on a spinach salad.  After looking through some recipes online, I decided to kind of improvise the nuts and I found a recipe with really good reviews for dressing (keep in for 250...never made candied nuts nor homemade poppyseed dressing...).  During the party, no less than 20 people were requesting the recipe because it was the best spinach salad they'd ever eaten.

First, the nuts.  I heavily altered a recipe I found online, and I can't for the life of me find the link.  (When I find it I'll post it). 

2 cups almonds (sliced, slivered, chopped, what-have-you)
2 tbsp butter
1/4 cup honey
2/3 cup sugar

Lay your almonds on a sheet pan in a single layer.  Place them in a cold oven, then turn the oven on to 350 degrees. While the almonds are cooking, melt the butter and honey in a sauce pan over medium-high heat until boiling.  Boil, stirring constantly, for 2 minutes.  Remove from the heat. When the almonds smell nutty (approx. 7-10 minutes), remove them from the oven and place them directly into the hot honey/butter mixture.  Stir until coated.  Pour in the sugar and stir until all the nuts are coated.  Spray the same sheet pan with nonstick cooking spray.  Using a slotted spoon, transfer the nuts from the sauce pan to the sheet pan.  Turn on your broiler and place the nuts back into the oven for 2-4 minutes (again, until they smell deliciously nutty).  Remove the pan and stir the nuts, then return the pan to the oven for another 1-2 minutes.  Cool completely on the sheet pan.  When it's cool, the nuts will be all stuck together.  Simply break up any large clumps with your hands. These nuts store very well in an airtight container for at least a week.

Next, the dressing.  I got the recipe in its entirety from  It is so easy to whip together, and costs practically nothing.  It's kind of tart, which makes it such a lovely complement to the sweetness of the dried cranberries and candied nuts. 

1 cup vegetable oil
1/3 cup sugar
1/2 cup white vinegar
1 tsp mustard powder
1 tsp grated onion
1 tsp salt
1 tbsp poppyseeds

Pour all the ingredients, except the poppyseeds, into the blender.  Blend until your dressing is fully emulsified (until it goes from clear to opaque), about 30 seconds.  Add the poppyseeds and pulse once or twice.  Refrigerate until ready to use. The dressing may separate in the fridge.  Simply, shake it vigoriously before using it or place it back in the blender and pulse it a few times.

Assemble your salad immediately before serving (otherwise it goes all gross and wilty).  In a large bowl, add 4 cups spinach leaves with 1/2 cup dried cranberries, 1/2 cup candied almonds, and about 1/2 cup dressing.  Mix until the salad is well coated in dressing.  If it looks a little dry, add about a tablespoon more at a time until it is coated to your liking.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Mini Frittatas

Do your kids love breakfast for dinner?  My kids LOVE breakfast for dinner.  Something else about my kids...they also love anything that is made in individual serving sizes (they call it "kid-sized").  Tonight was a breakfast for dinner night. 

There is no "best thing" about these mini frittatas.  The only complaint I got about them was "What?  They're gone?  I only got two!"  When she took her first bite, my 9-year-old said, "These are on your blog, right?"  No.  No they're not, but they will be in a few hours. 

This process couldn't be much easier.  You cut up various toppings, put them into muffin tins, pour uncooked scrambled eggs on top, and bake them.  So easy, so delicous, and a total crowd pleaser.  Feel free to switch up the toppings based on your personal taste.  Just be sure to put a good amount of toppings in there.  You don't want to end up with an under-topped frittata.

Mini Frittatas

12 eggs
4 tbsp milk - any fat content
1 tsp salt
1 tsp freshly cracked pepper
2/3 cup diced ham
1 cup shredded cheddar
3 tbsp chopped green onion
dash of hot sauce (I like sriracha - it tastes so good on everything!)

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.  Spray a muffin tin with nonstick cooking spray.  Prepare toppings and set them aside.  In a large bowl, whisk eggs, milk, salt and pepper until very well combined and a little frothy.  Set aside.  Put toppings into the muffin cups (a good heaping tablespoonful is what you're looking for - loosely packed).  Pour egg mixture into the muffin cups until they are about 3/4 full (it turns out to be about 1/4 cup).  Bake on the middle rack for 18-22 minutes, or until the eggs are no longer jiggly in the middle.  They will be puffed up and golden and will be like little egg clouds when you bite into them! 

Yield 12 mini frittatas (6 servings).  These freeze and reheat well.  Just pop a couple in the microwave for 35-45 seconds.