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Posts Tagged ‘Pasta’

bolwithpolenta

Okay back to the blog. We’ve been fairly busy at work in the past week and I’ve been working every night on books and business stuff trying to make up for the prior weeks of screwing around while Chad was in town. I’ve been cooking, I just haven’t really had the desire to sit down and write. Last weekend I made my favorite, but the toughest version of Bolognese and served it over polenta. It was enjoyable as always. Last night I made a pot roast braised in Chianti with glazed carrots and parsnips, which I loved and will post in a few days.

On another positive note yesterday was the first day in a million years that I ate reasonably. I didn’t exercise, but I think I will be able to get back in the swing of things today. It’s all mind over matter, so I just need to get my head straight again. One of my challenges is to get through the day at Dish without going crazy. We have a way of cracking a scone or dropping a cookie or miscutting a piece of pie almost every day. Of course we are not going to throw away good food so we, mostly me lately, eat it.

If I can stop myself from eating the scraps then I have to make sure I don’t sneak into the dry storage room and eat chocolate chips or tear pieces off the big blocks of chocolate we use for brownies. Oh and I have to stop myself from eating whatever other creation gets made on a daily basis…tapioca, rice pudding, key lime pie, etc,etc, etc. Wow, what a tough life, ha ha.

So for any of you that want to gain some weight and bulk up, send us your resume. We have plenty of calories to go around!

Well, what about the Bolognese? It’s good, it’s terrific if you do it right. I’ve made it three times now. The first time it was out of this world, so good we couldn’t believe it. I followed the recipe almost to the letter. The second time I screwed it up because I became paranoid about the method and the meat turned out to be really tough and dry. It was one of the days that I thought I should just stop cooking. The third time, last weekend, it worked out great, but still not as good as the first time. The recipe came out of an incredible book I found last year called “Cooking by Hand“, by Paul Bertolli.

So without further ado, here is the recipe with my notes about what I think you should watch out for.

Bolognese #3 – (enough for 5 servings over polenta or with pasta)

Ingredients

  • 3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
  • 3 pounds freshly ground skirt steak (have your butcher grind it with a 3/8″ plate)
  • 3 1/2 ounces pancetta, diced
  • Kosher salt
  • 2 tablespoons butter
  • 1 carrot
  • 1 celery stalk
  • 1 onion
  • 10 to 12 sage leaves
  • 1/2 ounce dry porcini mushrooms
  • 3/8 cup tomato paste
  • 6 cups of meat stock, simmering
  • 1/2 cup heavy cream

Warm 3 tablespoons of olive oil in a 6-quart heavy-bottomed pot.  Add the skirt steak and the pancetta.  Turn the heat to high and stir in two tablespoons of salt.  Maintain the heat on high until the meat juices evaporate and you begin to hear the meat sizzle, indicating that it is beginning to brown. Lower the heat a little to slow the browning.  If the meat is not leaving a residue there is probably too much fat in the pan.  Por some of it off.  In this case, the meat is likely to fry, causing it to toughen up rather than gently brown.  (This is where I had problems the second time around. The first and third time I poured a rather large amount of fat off and it worked much better)

bolpol1

Break up the butter and distribute it over the surface of the meat.  This will aid in the browning process.  Stir the pot frequently to expose the unbrowned sides of the ground meat to the bottom of the pan.  (This is super important).  If you notice that the browning is occurring unevenly, move the pot relative to the flame in order to encourage an even development of residues.  Raise or lower the heat if necessary to encourage the development of color (a deep chestnut) or discourage too much color (blackening).

While the residue is forming, cut and set aside a 1/4 inch dice of one celery stalk, one carrot and one small onion.  After about 30 minutes, yeah you read it right, you could notice a solidly stuck layer of brown residue covering the bottom of the pan.

Add the diced vegetables along with 10 to 12 fresh sage leaves. Add a 1/2 ounce of dry porcini mushrooms broken into small pieces. (This adds an incredible flavor).  Lower the heat and allow the vegetables to sweat with the meat for 15 minutes. Then add 3/8 cup of tomato paste.  Stir in well to distribute evenly.  Maintain moderate heat and cook the meat and vegetables for 5 minutes more.

You will notice that the addition of the vegetables and the stirring of the pot have caused most of the residue to loosen.  Raise the heat to high and add 1 cup of hot beef stock. Using a wooden spoon, scrape up any residues still clinging to the bottom and low sides of the pot.  Allow the broth to evaporate.  When the meat appears nearly dry and you notice some reformation of residue, add another cup of broth.  Repeat this process one more time, using 3 cups of broth in all.  After the third and final addition and evaporation, add another 3 cups of broth to the pot, making certain that all residues are free from the bottom. Reduce to a bare simmer and cover the pot tightly.

Cook the ragu until it is meltingly tender, 1 1/2 hours. Remove the ragu from the heat, skim away some of the fat if there is an excessive amount.  Stir in 1/2 cup of heavy cream and then simmer the meat over very low heat for five minutes.

Season the ragu to your taste with salt and freshly ground black pepper.  Pour it over polenta (here is my reciepe, leave out the cheese though) or use with tagliatelle.

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maca3

A few weeks ago I started a quest for some good mac and cheese. Nancy makes a killer mac-n-cheese but I wanted my own. I’m sure I frustrate the crap out of Nancy sometimes because I’m always looking for something better when it comes to food and recipes. Now mind you , this mac-n-cheese is not Bobby Flay mac-n-cheese with some crazy-sexy ingredients, but it is really, really good! I would make it for any of my friends and be proud.

My first attempt was with a Jamie Oliver version that didn’t include a bechamel sauce but instead called for mixing the cooked pasta with the cheese and then baking it. I found it to be okay, had some nice flavor as he added garlic salt to his, but overall it didn’t make the grade for heart-attack-5,000-calorie-kill-me-now before-I-have-a-stroke-and-die type of mac-n-cheese. This is what I’m looking for. Why make mac-n-cheese if you aren’t going to go for broke? I thought about mixing in bacon or truffle oil, but why make something simple complicated?

The second version, I made a few nights ago for my best bud Chad, Nancy and the boys. I found this version in Kurt Beecher’s book, “Pure Flavor”. I was also able to find Beecher’s Cheddar in the local store and was glad. Nancy and I visited their flagship store in Seattle last year. Great cheese!

Chad is up from San Francisco and has been visiting for the past week. I’m almost out of energy. I think I’m getting about five hours of sleep each day. We are mild though, old guys I guess. Our pattern consists of playing sports games on the Playstation 3, drinking large amounts of liquids, cussing at the TV and throwing controllers and in general fighting for the most wins. We are both super competitive. Most of the time we have a great time but there are nights where we are about ready to kill each other.

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Last night was particularly funny though since you can customize your player characters. Chad always plays with a male character, but I always pick a female character. I figure if I’m going to have to watch a cyber-person on the screen for hours and hours, I would rather look at a woman than a man. So, I’m buying some hot clothes for my hot cyber golfer when Chad asks me, just as Nancy appears around the corner, “Can you turn her around on the screen so we can see her a%$?” Bad timing, hahaha, we laughed our a$% off as Nancy gave us a dirty look out of the corner of her eye!

Well back to the mac-n-cheese. It was quite a story. I thought I was going to double the recipe, but it didn’t quite turn out that way. Problems from the start, because I was trying to cook and hold a serious political discussion with Chad and Nancy. I doubled the butter, but nothing else in the bechamel sauce. By the time I noticed it was way too late. From there I threw caution to the wind. I ended up doubling the cheese by mistake and the resulting mac and cheese, though incredibly cheesy and awesome had a bit of a texture issue. We ate it, Jacob and I really enjoyed it, but Nancy and Chad complained about the texture.

Chad, who is like me, super-competitive and a bit of a perfectionist said “Let’s do it again and do it right this time!” DOH! “Oh what the hell,” I thought, it was about 9:30 at night, but let’s make it again. Chad started the bechemel while I tried to grate the cheese with the correct proportion this time. It worked out perfectly, and we ate the second version at 11:00pm. Everyone loved it, plain and simple. It was great mac-n-cheese. From what I can tell, the secret to this recipe is the proportions.

Perfect Mac-n-Cheese (serves 4 as a side dish)

  • 8 ounces penne pasta (half a box)
  • 2 cups Beecher’s Flagship Cheese Sauce (see below)
  • 1 ounce Cheddar, grated
  • 1 ounce Gruyere cheese, grated
  • 1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon chipotle chile powder

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Oil or butter an 8-inch dish. Cook the penne 2 minutes less than the package directions. You want the noodles not quite done because they will finish cooking in the sauce in the oven. Rinse the pasta with cold water and set aside.

Combine cooked pasta and Flagship Sauce in a medium bowl and mix carefully but thoroughly. Scrape the pasta into a prepared baking dish. Sprinkle the top with the cheeses, then the chile powder. Bake uncovered for 20 to 30 minutes, until the top has a nice golden crust. Let sit for a few minutes before serving.

If you decide to make this as a main and double the amounts, use a 9×13 inch baking pan and increase the time to 30 to 35 minutes.

Beecher’s Flagship Cheese Sauce (makes 4 cups)

  • 1/4 cup butter
  • 1/3 cup all-purpose flour
  • 3 cups milk
  • 14 ounces semi-hard cheese, grated (I used Beecher’s Flagship Cheddar)
  • 2 ounces grated semi-soft cheese (I used Gorgonzola)
  • 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon chile powder
  • 1/8 teaspoon garlic powder

Melt the butter in a heavy-bottomed saucepan over medium heat. Whisk in the flour. Continue to whisk and cook for 2 minutes. You just made a roux, a substance used for thickening sauces!

Slowly add the milk, whisking constantly. Cook until the sauce thickens, about 10 minutes, stirring frequently. Now you turned the roux into a bechamel.

Remove from the heat. Add the cheese, salt, chile powder and garlic powder. Stir until the cheese is melted and all the ingredients are incorporated, about 3 minutes. If the cheese isn’t melting completely you can put the pan on low heat.

Use immediately or refrigerate for up to three days!

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Rigatoni with a Tuna Ragu

tpbloguseit

I was remembering embarrassing moments from the last 18 months of my employment at Dish. Before leaving corporate America for the lure of being my own boss and the excitement of running a growing business, the only restaurant experience I had was washing dishes for Lyon’s Restaurant when I was a senior in high school.

I’ve learned quite a bit in the last 18 months. Some of it the easy way, most of it the hard way. Today when I was washing dishes I remembered one of the first days after starting at Dish. I was trying to make an impact, be helpful, show the employees I was willing to do anything…I was back in the kitchen washing dishes.

For those of you new to the blog, our kitchen is 87 square feet, included in this area is our 3-well sink and under-the-counter dishwasher. Well I thought it was a “dishwasher”, we will get to that in a minute. In the same area we have two other employees, Megan our cook and at the time, Scott our sandwich maker and prep cook. Enter into the equation Joannie who comes in and deposits various items into the ovens to bake, or the counter people who bring back dishes to be washed or to grab soup or various other items.

So here I was standing in the middle of it all trying to earn the respect of my co-workers who were also my employees and at the time knew much more than I did. In fact they probably still do, but that’s another story. There is barely enough room for someone to do the dishes and I’m trying to make myself as small as possible. If you can imagine, I’m squeezing myself up against the sink so the staff have room to move behind me. I’m trying not to ask too many questions but unfortunately I don’t know where all the knives go, which plates and cups go where, what to do with the pie pans and various lids and bowls and plastic containers.

I’m starting to lose my cool and get frazzled.

tunapasta1

It seems I’m always asking questions or I have to reach around or over someone to put something away. Everyone is trying to get their work done and fighting over space and when it’s busy everyone is focused on what they have to do, not about helping you or moving out of your way. It’s almost survival of the fittest.

Our dishwasher at the time was getting old and I was trying to be cool and show my owner properties so at some point while washing dishes I made the comment “this dishwasher is a piece of shit, I don’t know how you guys have used it, we really need to buy a new one”.

At this point both Megan and Scott stopped working, looked at me and said “It’s not really a dishwasher at all, but a sanitizer. You need to wash the dishes by hand and get everything off of them before you run them through”. I can’t really remember if they said it with sarcasm (I think they did) or if it was just my embarrassment of not really knowing what I was doing, but that comment and moment has stuck with me since.

There have been many other moments since then.  I think Megan has said a few times that I find the hardest way to get something done.  But fortunately things have changed quite a bit and I would recommend to anyone to follow your dreams, even if it means you are changing careers at 40 years old and doing something you have very little experience in, but a ton of passion for.

I do still wash dishes every day. Sometimes only for a bit, sometimes for an hour or more. I do still try to keep my presence as small as possible but I don’t get intimidated by the staff any longer and I demand my space too.  In my defense I do understand how to run a business, how to handle money and I think I’m a pro at sales and marketing.

So with all this said, once again I found a recipe to try that was completely new (always trying to advance the knowledge base, work, play or otherwise).  I found and adapted it slightly in a Jamie Oliver book called “Cook with Jamie”.  This is the second recipe from the book I have tried, the other which was Mac n’ Cheese, will be featured soon.  I’m trying a few other versions before I post about it.

I would recommend only good quality tuna if you make it.  I would also say that you had better like tuna if you are going to make it.  It was super easy and didn’t take much time either.

Rigatoni with a Tuna Ragu (serves four)

Ingredients

  • Olive Oil
  • 1 red onion, peeled and finely chopped
  • 3 fresh red chillies, deseeded and finely chopped
  • 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • Bunch of fresh basil, leaved picked, stalks chopped
  • 1 28 oz.  can of tomatoes
  • 20 oz. can of good-quality tuna in olive oil, drained and flaked
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper
  • Zest and juice of 2 lemons
  • Handful of grated Parmesan cheese

Heat two tablespoons of olive oil in a heavy-bottomed pan and cook the onion, chilli, cinnamon and basil stalks on a medium low heat for 5 to 7 minutes until the onion has softened.  Increase the heat to medium high and add the tomatoes, tuna and a good pinch of salt.  Break the tomatoes up, then bring to a boil and simmer for 20 minutes.  Taste for seasoning.

Meanwhile cook the rigatoni in a pan of salted boiling water per the package instructions.  When al dente, drain the pasta in a colander, reserving some of the cooking water.  Toss the pasta into the sauce with the roughly torn basil leaves, a tablespoon of olive oil, the lemon zest, lemon juice and the Parmesan and mix together.

Loosen the pasta with a little of the reserved cooking water if needed.  Check the seasoning and devour immediately.

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Okay things are not looking too great on the eating good side of things.  I will say though that I haven’t been eating any cereal with half and half or large bags of Peanut M&M’s.  I did sneak a piece of cardamom coffee cake today at the restaurant, but it was a small piece.

I was supposed to start working out this weekend after the trip to San Francisco, where I did in fact eat quite a bit.  I had cupcakes at Kara’s Cupcakes and at Miette. I thought Kara’s were as good as ours and I really liked their cream cheese frosting.  I think Miette’s are a bit dry and both of the times I’ve been there, I’ve been disappointed.

We had a great time on the trip and made a few discoveries in the tons of restaurants we surveyed.  I won’t bore you with all the details except to say if you are in the city and want an awesome place for brunch, you’ll have to wait for 30 to 45 minutes, check out Brenda’s French Soul Food.  The place was awesome, the food was great, staff was super friendly and their beignets are to die for!  Not just regular beignets, but these were stuffed.  One with chocolate, another with Granny Smith apples and cinnamon honey butter and another with Crawfish with cayenne, scallions and cheddar.

The first set of plans for the exterior of the new building are almost done.  I can’t share too much information, but we will have a patio outside with water and a fountain, windows that open to allow the beautiful spring and summer weather in and about 900 square feet of kitchen…10 times our current space.

We did have a scare today when I found out through a third party that the building will be in a specially zoned area because of its proximity to the Reno/Tahoe International Airport.  For about a 1/2 hour we thought we wouldn’t be able to go forward with the concept without some major changes, bad changes, but after doing some research we found out that we were okay after all.

So planning goes on…I actually spent tonight working on our new breakfast and lunch catering menu for the Winter edition.

So on to the Pastitsio.  I love Pastitso.  I often eat it at a local restaurant here in Reno called the Blue Plate.  How can you go wrong?  Meat, cheese, bechamel and pasta!

The meal took some time.  I started around 5:15 or so and I think we ate at 8:00.  This would be great for a weekend or a day you were home early from work.  The meal was excellent.

Pastitsio (makes 10 – 12 portions)

adapted from the cookbook Modern Greek

For the Pasta:

  • 1 pound ziti
  • 2 eggs, lightly beaten
  • 3 tablespoons grated kefalotiri or parmesan cheese
  • 1 cup bechamel sauce

For the Pie:

  • 2 tablespoons butter, melted
  • 5 cups meat sauce
  • 3 cups bechamel sauce
  • 3 tablespoons breadcrumbs (I used panko)
  • 3 tablespoons grated kefalotiri or parmesan cheese

This recipe is all about the order.  Make the meat sauce first.  When you have about 30 minutes left before the meat sauce is done start on the bechamel and start the pasta water.  When you are about 15 minutes from from the meat sauce being done, cook your pasta.

Pasta – Bring a large saucepan of salted water to a boil.  Add the pasta and simmer for 10 minutes or until almost soft.  Drain in a colander and transfer to a large bowl.  Allow to cool and then add the beaten eggs, cheese and bechamel sauce. Toss the pasta until well coated with the mixture.

To Assemble – Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Brush the bottom and sides of a rectangular 9×13 inch baking dish with the melted butter.  Spread a third of the pasta evenly in the dish can cover with half of the meat sauce.  Add another third of the pasta and cover with the remaining meat sauce.  Add another third of the pasta and cover with the remaining meat sauce.  Spread the remaining pasta over the top and spoon on the bechamel sauce, smoothing it over the top.  Sprinkle on the breadcrumbs and cheese.  Make for 40 minutes or until the top is golden brown.  Let rest for 10 minutes before cutting and devouring!

Bechamel:

  • 4 cups milk
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 1/2 teaspoon allspice berries or ground allspice
  • 8 tablespoons butter
  • 1 cup all-purpose flour
  • 4 tablespoons grated kefalotiri or parmesan cheese
  • 1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper

Heat the milk, bay leaves and allspice in a saucepan over low heat or in the microwave in a glass bowl.  Don’t let the milk burn.  You are looking for 150 degrees or so.  Melt the butter in another saucepan or saucier, then add the flour and whisk for about 5 minutes until combined.  Slowly ladle or pour, be careful, the hot milk into the flour mixture (discarding the allspice and bay leaves) and whisk constantly until the sauce thickens.  Remove the saucepan from the heat and, when slightly cooled stir in the cheese and nutmeg.  Add salt and pepper to taste. (makes 4 cups)

Meat Sauce:

  • 4 tablespoons olive oil
  • 2 medium-sized yellow onions, peeled and diced
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • 2 celery stalks, diced
  • 1 tablespoon finely chopped fresh flat leaf parsley
  • 1 teaspoon dried oregano
  • 1 sprig fresh thyme
  • 2 pounds lean ground beef
  • 1/2 cup red wine, (drink the rest of the bottle while making this, I did)
  • 1 15 ounce can chopped tomatoes
  • 1 tablespoon tomato paste
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1 teaspoon allspice
  • 2 bay leaves
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper

Heat 3 tablespoons of the olive oil in a large saucepan over medium heat and saute the onions, garlic, celery, parsley, oregano and thyme for about 5 minutes until softened. Transfer the mixture to a bowl and reserve.

Add the remaining 1 tablespoon of olive oil to the saucepan and saute the ground beef, stirring often to break up the pieces, for about 10 minutes until browned.  Add the red wine, tomatoes, tomato paste, cinnamon, allspice, bay leaves, salt and pepper and saute for another 5 minutes. Return the onion, garlic and celery mixture to the saucepan, stir well and simmer the sauce for 45 to 60 minutes or until the sauce has thickened. (Makes 5 cups).

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This week has been interesting to say the least. Tonight I’m a bit unmotivated and having a problem figuring out what I want to write about. I wrote three paragraphs about the restaurant and then decided it was boring so I tossed that out the door.

I find that many of my readers enjoy hearing about the restaurant and what goes on there so I’ve been trying to include more stories about it. I also have some readers who have told me they would like to know more about how I’ve managed to lose 45 pounds in the last seven months even though I cook some pretty tasty food and work in a restaurant that has been awarded the title of “Best Baked Goods”!

Well let’s get to the point tonight and touch on the food thing since I’m most bothered by it right now and then I will go back and plop myself on the couch and watch the Olympics.

I have an addiction to food… Food is to me what alcohol is to an alcoholic. The only problem is I can’t quit cold turkey, I work at a restaurant, I’m Italian, I love food and my wife is a chef. Doh!

From January this year to the beginning of the Olympics last week, I’ve exercised 30 to 45 minutes of hard cardio, six days per week, every week. Yes every week! During the same period of time, I’ve eaten anything I wanted, but have limited my general overall calorie consumption to 1,300 to 1,800 calories each day.

In the first four months I didn’t break that routine, but maybe twice. In the past four months I broke the routine on average once per week. In the first four months I lost on average one to two pounds per week. In the last four months I’ve had periods of time where I don’t lose any weight for a month.

Everyone now tells me I shouldn’t lose anymore weight and I don’t intend to lose much more, but will start adding weights to build more muscle, which in turn will burn more calories, into my routine.

I’m a very all-or-nothing person, so either I’m working out, eating well and being healthy or I’m the exact opposite. I’ve worked out two out of the last ten days! haha, so you can imagine what’s going on with my eating habits.

So that’s a bit about my relationship with food. I have nothing profound to say or any great advice that, if you have a food addiction like me, you haven’t heard before. Exercise is my key and I find that if I’m doing it most of the week everything will work out.

Now, back to our regularly scheduled programming. On Tuesday we had our first catering due at 7:00 in the morning and the last one a drop off at 6:00pm. We also had a friend coming over for dinner and I wanted to make a very modified version of Bolognese I ran across a few days ago. It interested me because it was supposed to be a “Quick Ragu” and I wasn’t going to have much time. I know, the next post for Bolognese was supposed to be the skirt steak version… it is coming I promise. It will be worth the wait.

I made it home early because my beautiful and wonderful wife volunteered to take the dinner catering since I was cooking the dinner, including homemade strawberry gelato, which I will share the recipe for in a few days.

The night was perfection and the dinner and dessert represented exactly what food should be all about. The three of us made dinner together, shared stories, drank wine and laughed. We coaxed the boys out of their lairs to eat dinner and we all enjoyed the results. We then retired to our very large and comfy couch and for the next three hours enjoyed great conversation and some strawberry gelato!

Pasta with Rapid Bolognese Sauce – (serves four)

Ingredients

  • 5 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
  • 3 tablespoons butter
  • 4 garlic cloves, minced
  • 2 medium-sized carrots, small dice
  • 2 medium-sized celery hearts, small dice
  • 1 large onion, small dice
  • 3 tablespoons tomato paste
  • 1 pound ground pork
  • 1/2 pound mortadella, chopped fine (this is the fun part, first time I’ve used this ingredient)
  • 8 to 12 ounces tomato sauce (up to your preference)
  • 3 tablespoons fresh Italian parsley
  • Freshly grated Parmesan cheese
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper
  • 1 pound rigatoni or mostaccioli pasta

Fill a 6 quart pan 3/4 full of water and bring to boil. This is your pasta boiling water.

Heat oil and butter over medium heat in dutch oven or heavy bottomed pan until hot. Add onion, carrots and celery. Cook until tender and onion is translucent, about nine minutes. Add garlic and cook for one minute.

Stir in pork, tomato paste and mortadella then cook, stirring periodically, until the pinkness is eliminated, about 10 minutes. Stir in tomato sauce and 1 tablespoon of water. Reduce heat to low and cook for 20 minutes, stirring occasionally. Salt and pepper to taste and then stir in parsley.

When you are 10 minutes away from the sauce being done, generously salt the boiling water. Add the pasta and cook until tender, per the package instructions. Toss the pasta with the sauce and serve, topped with Parmesan cheese.

Please share your great memories of food, friends and family. I always need to remember that we don’t just eat to survive, or to binge, or to satisfy some emotional void, but to enjoy the act of preparing and sharing!

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I approach almost everyone of my endeavors with a strong desire to be the best. I’m one of those people who is rarely satisfied with my results and I’m usually looking for a better way to do something.

This creates some problems for me regarding the publication of this blog along with many other ventures in my life. Deciding what to cook for dinner is usually the easy part. If I’m doing the cooking everyone else in the house is usually happy and will pretty much take whatever I dish out.

Preparing the food can be a challenge, but as long as Nancy is within shouting distance and the recipe doesn’t have anything to do with baking I can usually hit the mark.

Experiencing extreme satisfaction from what I cook, well that’s another story. We have a fairly stable ritual at the dinner table, unless one of us is in a terrible mood. We pray, we share stories about the day and then we start critiquing the food. This is something I started and everyone begrudgingly plays along. I always want the truth, the good, the bad, the ugly, but my family likes to go easy on me.

I can tell what Jacob and Randy think by the amount they eat. When they don’t go back for seconds or I hear “I’m full” prematurely I don’t even need to ask. Jacob, Nancy’s son, will usually give me a better description of what he likes or doesn’t since he’s been around good food all of his life. Randy who grew up with my sub-par cooking will usually eat anything and is happy to have the free food. He is the typical broke UNR college student.

When it comes to Nancy, who is probably just trying to keep the peace and keep me in a good mood, the conversation goes something like this:

Joe – “What do you think? What would you change? I liked it, but I didn’t love it.”

Nancy – “It was good.” This is after she ate half of the plate and is mysteriously “full”.

Joe – “Come on, what did you really thing? What would you do differently?”

Jacob – “Mom, tell him what you really think!”

Nancy – “I liked it. It was fine. I’m just full, I ate a late lunch at the restaurant.”

Joe – “Give me a break. What would you change?”

Nancy – “Well I would add more of xyz and I think you should do x.”

Hahaha, the running joke at our dinner table is, if the meal needed some work, you have to ask a few times before you can break her down and get a straight answer.

The pictures are probably the hardest part of the equation. I did some photography when I was in my 20s, but nothing to do with food and/or inanimate objects. If you’ve been reading the blog since I started, or have gone back and checked out some of the older posts, you will notice that the pictures have improved quite a bit.

I started with a Canon Elf, point and shoot, and every photo had lighting problems. I recently purchased a Canon Rebel and built a light box out of a cardboard box and tracing paper which has helped quite a bit. I have a long way to go! Next I need to read the three photography and Photoshop books I ordered from Amazon.

Lastly and rival for the most challenging part is writing the post. My strengths are math, computers, business, sales, etc. I’ve never been able to write! I’m always jealous of Nancy’s blog because she tells such a great story and it leaps off the page. I can verbally tell a great story, but when it comes to putting it on paper, well you know, you’ve been reading them.

With that said let me move on to Bolognese sauce. There is a connection here. Bolognese was one of the first things I cooked when I started this cooking quest a few years ago and I’m still not happy with the results. I’ve reviewed and compared 20 or more recipes and have made at least six different versions with some incredible results. We love it in the fall and winter, but it works anytime as far as I’m concerned. Our favorites are with pasta or over polenta. A good lasagna Bolognese is always welcome too.

My plan is present to you three different versions of Bolognese sauce over the next few months. The first version, todays, is a simple adaptation of a Mario Batali recipe. This is the most basic of the bunch. It is super easy to make, super easy to prep and has very little active time. You can get it going and then work out, watch TV, respond to all the emails you left unopened, email your friends about my blog, etc.

Traditionally it is made with tagliatelle and has very small amount of tomato.

Pasta with Bolognese Sauce (serves four to six)

Ingredients:

  • 2 medium sized carrots, small dice (1 extra carrot for your dog!)
  • 2 medium sized celery hearts, small dice
  • 1 large onion, small dice
  • 5 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
  • 3 tablespoons butter
  • 1 pound ground pork, not lean
  • 1 pound lean ground beef, 90% lean
  • 4 ounces pancetta, small dice
  • 1 cup Chianti Classico or other Italian red wine (If you won’t drink it, don’t use it)
  • 1 cup half and half
  • 4 tablespoons tomato paste
  • 12 ounces of spaghetti noddles, fettuccine or taglaitelle noddles

My dog, Ecko, loves carrots so whenever I have a recipe that includes carrots I always grab an extra one for her. She runs around in circles and then rolls on it and then tosses it up in the air and the finally eats it bit-by-bit.


Heat oil and butter over medium heat in dutch oven or large pot until hot. Add onion, carrots and celery. Cook until tender and onion is translucent. About nine minutes.

Turn heat up to high and add pork, beef and pancetta. Continue to stir and break apart meat into small pieces. Cook only until meat has lost its raw look, but do not brown. You do not want the outside of the meat to crisp or fry. You want the meat to be tender. About eight minutes.

Add wine, tomato paste and half and half. Reduce heat to very low, only enough to maintain a gentle simmer. Cook uncovered, stirring every fifteen minutes or so until the sauce is almost gone, but the meat is still very moist. About 1 1/2 hours. Add salt to taste.

Cook pasta per package instructions. Drain pasta, arrange on plates and cover with Bolognese sauce.

The next version is actually my favorite, but harder to get right. It uses skirt steak and a much more complex method… worth it, but there can be problems. The use of crumbled dried porcini mushrooms adds an incredible taste as well. Stay tuned.

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Well let’s see, where did I leave off last time. Business has picked up in the last few days nicely and even though lunch caterings are down a bit, we have a large event on Thursday night and a wedding on Saturday. The 200 person lunch is also close, so I guess all-in-all business is going great.

This past weekend was catch-up-on-the-books weekend. Oh and I did get to play some paintball on Sunday. (See the article about Baking Bacon for more background on my paintball playing.) I studied a bit of accounting in college so somewhere along the way I took over all of the bookkeeping for Dish. It saves us quite a bit of money, but I rarely have the time to stay on top of it. When I first started I would keep the books up-to-date on a weekly basis, then it became every other week and slowly over the past six months it has become a monthly thing. Unfortunately I still have to process payroll every week along with vendor payments, but I can do those things fairly quickly. It’s the things like balancing the rather large check register or entering the daily sales info that can get put off at times.

In fact this is part of the problem I have right now. Our business and the numerous opportunities are too big for the staff, but we can’t grow because our location is too small. Enter stage right, adding a new location. Mums the word, stay tuned.

So on Saturday I was looking for something that was going to taste great, not heat the house up and would include pasta. I was in the mood to try something different as well. As always I wanted something with a method or technique that was new to me. Here is a great quote I just stumbled across. “I am defeated, and know it, if I meet any human being from whom I find myself unable to learn anything.” ~George Herbert Palmer.

So with that being said, I found the recipe in Alice Waters’ cookbook “Chez Panisse: Pasta, Pizza & Calzone” I figured it had to be good. Alice Waters, duh! One criteria down. It included some new techniques like charring a red pepper along with ingredients I hadn’t worked hands-on with before like anchovies and pine nuts. Looking good. There was no oven involved and other than boiling some water and toasting some pine nuts, there was very little heat involved. Viola, we have a winner. Oh and there was pasta involved, all the better.

The results were perfect! We loved the bite of the garlic at the back of the throat along with the light and fresh taste of the red sauce. I will make this sauce again. The texture and the taste of the pasta with the basil was awesome. Again super-fresh tasting and the added texture and flavor from the pine nuts were great. The hardest part was cleaning the food processor between sauces!

So without further delay – Here ya go!

Green & Red Pasta (serves four)

Green Sauce:

  • 3 cups fresh basil leaves
  • 3/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
  • 4 cloves garlic
  • Kosher salt and pepper
  • 1/4 cup capers
  • 1/4 cup pine nuts
  • Fresh purple basil leaves (I subbed fresh oregano)

Red Sauce:

  • 3 large ripe tomatoes
  • Kosher salt and pepper
  • 4 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 sweet red pepper
  • 2 salt packed anchovies (we used oil packed)
  • 3 cloves garlic

Other:

  • Fettuccine or tagliatelle for 4
  • Fresh Italian parsley
  • Parmiganio Reggiano

Green sauce – Add the basil leaves and olive oil to food processor and puree until blended well. Mince the garlic and add to food processor. Blend with the basil oil until combined. Season with salt and pepper to taste. This is your green sauce! Move to a glass bowl and clean food processor, you will use it again shortly.

Rinse the capers in cold water to remove the brine. Over medium heat in a small pan, lightly toast the pine nuts. You are looking for a nice brown. Be sure to flip often, they can burn quite easily. The capers, pine nuts and the purple basil, if using, are to be added to the pasta at the end.

Red sauce – Core the tomatoes and cut them in half crosswise. Remove the seeds, salt and pepper them and brush with some olive oil. Grill the tomatoes four to five minutes on each side. I used my gas grill. While grilling the tomatoes, grill the red pepper until the skin blackens. While the pepper cools, skin the tomatoes and roughly chop them. Peel the skin from the pepper and remove the seeds. Chop the pepper and mix with tomato. Rinse and filet the anchovies. Blend, in the food processor, the anchovies, tomatoes/red pepper with the remaining olive oil and season with black pepper.

Cook the pasta per the instructions on the package. Drain and mix half of the pasta with the green sauce and half with the red. Serve them side by side on a warm platter. Garnish the green pasta with the capers, pine nuts and leaves of purple basil. Garnish the red pasta with leaves of parsley and Parmigiano if desired. Devour!

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