Saturday, April 14, 2012

Waffle Grilled Cheese and Bacon

When was the last time you had an Eggo Waffle?  Until last weekend, I think it had been a couple decades for me.  Despite the lapsed time, Eggo Waffles played a fairly significant role in my childhood.  From what I remember, they were a Saturday morning treat.  However, when I was little, those buttery waffles could be problematic.  My parents were often on morning walks when I woke up and I wasn’t allowed to engage in independent toaster use.  They used to put milk in a small pitcher for me in the refrigerator so I could have cereal (it’s amazing that a person can be so little that they can’t be trusted to pour milk from a gallon container), but sometimes that would not do.  I would then need to get my brothers involved in order to indulge in some Eggos.  They were usually trying to sleep in, and thus less than thrilled to be of assistance.
Eggo waffles had practically become a forgotten food to me, until I was recently flipping through Food Network Magazine.  Every month, this magazine includes a pullout book with 50 variations of specific food.  Last month, it was grilled cheese, and, I came across a new use for these rich treats.  It’s such a simple idea: sandwich crisp bacon and cheese between 2 lightly toasted Eggo Waffles, then grill the sandwich in butter in a hot skillet.  I put the butter directly in the pan, instead of attempting to tackle to the daunting task of evenly buttering the waffle itself.  Just like any grilled cheese, you want to do the grilling low and slow so that the waffle doesn’t brown prior to the cheese melting.  This is a seriously delicious combination.  Eggo waffles are only slightly sweet, but dense and so buttery that they make a perfectly indulgent vehicle for grilled cheese. 
The article suggested serving the golden sandwich with maple syrup, but instead I decided on an over-easy egg.  I am generally more compelled by savory flavors, and the warm, drippy egg yolk certainly added another layer of decadence to this meal.  This is perhaps not something that should be consumed on regular basis.  I can’t say that I plan on purchasing more Eggo Waffles any time soon, but I enjoyed it while it lasted.

Sunday, April 8, 2012

Bacon and Tomato Pasta

Sometimes I like to put bacon on my pasta.  I think most people would find that at least slightly appealing.  The idea for the recipe just came through me; it was so organic (name that movie reference).  But seriously, the other night it was snowing after a solid month of 70-degree weather, and I felt obligated to make something comforting and to take the opportunity to enjoy the heat of my stove.  A slow-simmered tomato sauce was the answer.  It had a healthy dose of white wine in it, lots of tomatoes, and as promised, bacon.
The key to success here is making the sauce extra bacony.  This is not necessarily achieved by adding copious amounts of bacon.  Rather, this is done by both starting and ending with bacon.  You start by crisping up some chopped bacon in a saucepan.  When it is browned and beautiful, and it has relinquished plenty of fat into the pan, you remove about two-thirds of the bacon.  This will go on top of the pasta at the end.  The rest of the bacon remains in the pan along with the bacon grease, and the browned up bacon fond, and thus bacon permeates the sauce.  There is also about a cup of white wine in this sauce.  This may be a little extreme for some tastes, but I absolutely love the tangy, acidic flavor.  This sauce is also heavy on tomato.  It is present in two forms: canned, chopped tomatoes, and tomato paste.  Overall, the theme here is BIG FLAVOR. 
Bacon and Tomato Pasta (2 generous portions)

4 slices thick cut bacon, chopped
1 tablespoon olive oil
1/2 red onion, diced
2 garlic cloves, thinly sliced
2 tablespoons tomato paste
1 cup dry white wine
1-14 oz. can chopped tomatoes
1/2 cup water
Kosher salt and pepper
1/2 teaspoon hot pepper flakes
2-3 tablespoons chopped flat leaf parsley
1/2 pound long thin pasta (I used spaghetti rigati)
Freshly grated parmesan cheese

-       Add bacon to a medium saucepan and cook over medium heat.  Cook for about 10 minutes, stirring frequently, until the bacon is crisp. 
-       Remove about 2/3 of the bacon to a plate lined with paper towel to drain.  Reserve for later use.
-       Pour off all but about a tablespoon (or two) of the bacon grease.  Add 1 tablespoon of olive oil and the chopped onion.  Season with salt, pepper, and hot pepper flakes.  Sauté for 10 minutes, until onion is soft.
-       Add garlic and tomato paste.  Cook for 1-2 minutes.
-       Add white wine, bring to a boil, then reduce to a simmer.  Cook, stirring frequently, for 10-15 minutes, until mixture has reduced by half.
-       Add chopped tomatoes, 1/2 cup water, salt and pepper.  Simmer for 20-25 minutes.
-       Meanwhile, bring a large pot of water to a boil and cook pasta according to package directions.  Reserve about a cup of cooking water before draining pasta.
-       Toss pasta, sauce, and parsley together.  Add cooking water as needed to keep sauce moist and unctuous. 
-       Serve pasta with a sprinkle of bacon and lots of cheese.

Sunday, April 1, 2012

Braised Kale and Linguine

Confession: up until I made this recipe, I have had a fear of cooking kale.  I like kale, although I have not had many opportunities to eat it.  Obviously, it is a super trendy super food at the moment, but I have been paralyzed by fear around actually cooking it.  I have spent some time trying to concoct a kale-based recipe that I would feel comfortable cooking.  My foresight and thought have thus far been unproductive.  Lucky for me, a specific incident catapulted me out of my trepidation around kale into a place of genuine curiosity.  It was the kale display at Whole Foods: tall piles of Dino kale, red curly kale, green curly kale, tucked amidst mustard greens, and various types of chard.  It was so fresh, and beautiful, and leafy.  Since I laid eyes on it, I’m still trying to figure out where my intimidation came from.  After seeing this magnificent display of vegetation, I meditated on how I would use one of those meticulously wrapped bundles. 
I spent some time digging around on Foodgawker, and lemony, garlicky kale paired with silky strands of pasta seemed to be a pretty pervasive preparation.  Obviously, these are some of my favorite flavors, so it seemed like an appropriate initiation between me and kale.  I returned to Whole Foods and picked out the perfect bunch of red kale, and constructed the pasta dish below.  Why red kale?  I have no idea.  It was pretty; perhaps it should be called purple kale.  Most recipes I saw used green kale, so if I unwittingly committed some sort of kale faux pas, please let me know.

Overall, this recipe is pretty simple.  First, I gave it a rinse and tore leafy chunks off the stalk.  I never actually used a knife on the kale.  Then I sautéed some thinly sliced garlic in olive oil with a bit of red pepper flakes, until the garlic was fragrant.  Then I added the kale.  I needed a huge sauté pan, and the kale still barely fit before it wilted (the bunch was just under a pound).  I tossed the kale around in the oil to allow it to begin wilting, and then I added about a quarter cup of white wine and about a half cup of chicken stock. 
At this point, I added a sprinkle of salt and pepper, and a tiny bit of nutmeg.  Nutmeg is a new addition in my spice repertoire, and I love it.  Rachael Ray is always raving about nutmeg on dark greens, and although I don’t exactly revere her as a culinary god, she’s not wrong about everything.  The nutmeg added another peppery dimension that echoes, but does not mimic, black pepper.  It’s very fragrant and fills your nose with a warm, spicy smell, registering somewhere between savory and sweet.  Then I simply let the kale cook down for about 10 minutes.  I tossed it with fresh lemon juice, hot linguine, and some reserved pasta cooking water.  And topped the whole thing off with some Parmesan.  It was delicious and felt like I was doing something good for my body, which was necessary after a long series of immune-system-compromising events (e.g. concerts, spring break celebrations).  Kale will cure what ails you, even if the ailment is actually too much fun.
I made this pasta last Sunday, when my spring break was just starting, and now as I write, it is coming to a close.  (Sigh.)  As much as I would love for it to continue, I couldn’t be happier with how I’ve spent this last week: soaking up sunshine; taking a slew of new yoga classes; going a for beautiful road ride to Eldorado Springs; cooking; reading; writing; connecting with old friends and new.  It has been what spring break should be: rest, relaxation, rejuvenation, and fun.  I will have to figure out the perfect Sunday night dinner to bookend such a lovely week.  More on that later.
Braised Kale and Linguine (makes 2 generous servings)

1 bunch curly red kale, washed, stalk removed, torn into chunks
1/3 lb. linguine (approximately)
3 cloves garlic, thinly sliced
3 tablespoons olive oil
¼ teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
¼ cup white wine
½ cup chicken stock
Kosher salt and pepper to taste
1/8 teaspoon ground nutmeg (4 tiny shakes from the container)
Juice from ½ lemon
Freshly grated Parmesan cheese

-       Put a large pot of water on the stove to boil for the pasta.  Meanwhile, prepare your kale: give it a good rinse and tear the leaves in chunks off the stalk and set aside.
-       In a large sauté pan, preheat olive oil over medium heat.  Add sliced garlic and hot pepper flakes to the oil.  Allow to sauté for 1 minute and add pasta to the boiling water with some salt.
-       Add the kale to the sauté pan (just shove it in there until it starts to wilt).  Gently stir it to begin distributing the olive oil on the kale.
-       Add the white wine, chicken stock, salt, pepper, and nutmeg.  Stir to combine and increase heat so that liquid begins to simmer.  Allow the kale to braise for about 10 minutes at medium heat.  If it’s done before the pasta, just turn off the heat and add the lemon juice.  Taste it for seasoning and add a generous amount of Parmesan.  Stir so the cheese begins to melt.
-       When the pasta is done, add it to the pan (I like to add it directly out of the pasta pot to the pan with tongs; otherwise reserve some pasta water, then drain it and add it to the pan).
-       Stir to combine adding additional seasoning, lemon juice, and cheese to taste.  If the mixture seems dry, add pasta water, a tablespoon or two at a time.  Garnish with a little more cheese and enjoy!