Sunday, August 26, 2012

Ina Garten's Spaghetti Aglio E Olio with Shrimp & Garden Fresh Tomatoes

I'm not sure what's going on in my head, but it has been hounding me with a pounding headache that won't go away. My guess is, it's work-stress related, or I'm fighting off a cold. Sigh. I had all kinds of weekend plans to get into the pre-fall baking mode-- I'm long overdue to bake bread.   It was not to be, as I spent most of the afternoon in a supine position, trying to relax.  But my stomach reminded me that it was hungry.

Headache or not,  I need to eat and my sweet husband has very limited culinary skills  (with the exception of his Weber grilling skills-- and he rocks with that). So, when I want to make something fast, it's usually pasta. I always have pasta on hand, and so I decided to make Ina Garten's Spaghetti Aglio e Olio, from her cookbook "How Easy Is That?"

 Spaghetti Aglio e Olio is "spaghetti with garlic, olive oil and chili peppers"and is sometimes called "Midnight Pasta".  The odds are, you have everything on hand to make this.

You'll need eight cloves of sliced garlic. The garlic will be slowly, and carefully, sauteed in olive oil, and it will become sweet and flavorful.

You'll need fresh Italian parsley and some red pepper flakes, too.

Begin by bring a pot of salted water to a boil and cook one pound of spaghetti, according to package directions.
In another deep pan, heat 1/3 cup of "good" olive oil  on medium high.  Add the sliced  garlic cloves and very lightly saute until very lightly golden. Add red pepper flakes-- I used about 1/2 teaspoon.

When the spaghetti is cooked, save 1-1/2 cups of the pasta water.  How many times have I forgotten to do this?  For insurance, I usually set a cup in the strainer, as a reminder.

This is totally my afterthought--  we have a lot of home grown tomatoes, and I love their sweetness and color.  So, I asked my husband to pick some.

 In my freezer, I had some wild shrimp, already deveined, so I gave them a quick thaw, with water.  Why not add those two ingredients, so we can have a little extra protein?

Cooking shrimp is super easy, as low as you don't overcook them-- or they will feel like rubber. In a separate pan, I heated a little olive oil then cooked the shrimp for a minute, or two, per side-- just until they turned pink.

I removed them from the pan, squeezed a little fresh lemon juice on top and set them aside.

I then added most of the tomatoes, and gave them a quick saute.

Okay, the garlic is tender (and sweet), so I add the reserved pasta water to the pan and bring it to a boil.   I didn't add extra salt, because I've seasoned the pasta well enough--and I'm going to be adding Parmesan cheese.
The liquid has reduced to about 1/3 (five minutes), and now I the drained pasta and begin tossing.

Now, add one cup of fresh Parmesan and fresh chopped Italian parsley.  Pretty.  On a whim, I added some lemon zest to the pasta, to complement the shrimp.

 Toss to combine;  then add the cooked shrimp-- which is totally optional.

Dinner, in under 30 minutes.  Italian food is my favorite fast food.

TASTING NOTES:  Yum. Mmmm. Delicious.  The garlic is sweet, and not overpowering.  This satisfies my need for food, and my husband loves it, as well. This is super fast, and easy fast dinner for those nights when you don't want to spend a lot of time in the kitchen.  Love this!  I think that, if you make this once, you really don't need a recipe. Super Easy,  Super Delicious!

How easy is that?!

Off to get a good night's rest-- Monday morning comes really fast.  A printable recipe card is at the end of this post.

I always post a printable recipe card at the end of each recipe post. If you cannot view it, you might be using an older version of Internet Explorer. You should be able to view my recipe cards with Safari, Mozilla, Google Chrome and Internet Explorer. If you still can't view the recipe card, all of my recipes are stored on Key Ingredient, by clicking here. If you still can't figure out how to view the printable recipe card, please email me at and I am happy to help.


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Monday, August 20, 2012

Rainbow Cookies

  What? I'm posting a recipe on a Monday night?! Am I on vacation? Not at all.

It's back-to-school time, for me, and I try to pack a nutritious lunch.   Most times. Once in a while, it's a treat to have a cookie (or two) to nosh on.  My men love cookies, and they don't gain weight. Isn't fair, is it?

 The cast of characters-- white and brown sugar, flour, baking soda, melted butter, vanilla, 1 egg and 1 egg yolk.  Chips, of course. in this case, M&M's.

It's been a while since I've baked cookies. One day, I should photograph my baking pantry. I have bags and bags of chips. Name the flavor, I've probably got them.  I saw this recipe of "How Sweet It Is" and realized that these are a version of the Cook's Illustrated "Perfect Chocolate Chip Cookie".

Why, yes, I have a bag (or three) of M&Ms.  I love the color, almost as much as "Funetti Cookie" colors.

Cook's Illustrated's technique is to roll the dough into a ball, break it in half and then press them together.

Like that.

You bake them at 325F for about 10 minutes-- just until the edges are slightly brown, and the center is slightly puffy.

Cool them on the baking sheet for a minute or two, then move to a cooling rack.

Couldn't be easier-- no hand mixer needed.  The melted butter means you can mix up the batter, by hand, in a few minutes.

TASTING NOTES:  Cook's Illustrated uses unsalted butter, and that's what I did.  Next time, I'm going with salted butter. Personal Preference.  Cook's Illustrated also browns the butter, and in this recipe I didn't. (If you want to brown the butter, first, it's worth the effort.) I liked the simplicity of using a microwave, and it was delicious. So, the flavor-- it's a delicious basic "chocolate chip cookie dough" flavor.  Buttery, sweet... the texture is the key.  It's got that crunchy bite, and then the interior is chewy.  Win!

I've just set a personal best record--  I edited my photos, wrote up the recipe card (at the end of this post) and did this in 30 minutes.   (Usually it takes 1-1/2 hours to 2 hours to write a post).   That's how easy this recipe is to make.

So, now I need to go pack my lunch-- fruit, veggies, protein and, well, okay -- two more cookies.   Somehow, I feel less guilty when I eat one, and give one to someone else who is on a diet. It makes me feel less guilty. (The rest of the cookies) will be devoured by my cookie monsters.

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Saturday, August 18, 2012

Spiced Ginger Peach Jam

Peaches are in season, and they are practically jumping into people's shopping carts. As a kid, I wasn't as crazy about them, because I had an aversion to their fuzzy skins.  As an adult, who loves to cook and bake, I've had a change of heart.

If you're thinking to yourself, "I don't like Ginger", or "I don't like to can my own jam (or that you have a fear of canning)", please give this post a chance-- keep on reading.  I'll show you how to easily peel a lot of peaches, in a very short time.  Maybe, I'll give you the confidence to learn how to can your own jam.  It's much easier than you think, and you will never buy store-bought jam again

Peaches make a perfect afternoon snack.  They satisfy my craving for something sweet.  They freeze beautifully, but canning your own peaches is fun to do.  Peaches can be transformed into delicious condiments-- as a peach salsa, or Peach Chutney. They make the most delicious pies or fruit crisps. We recently discovered that peaches are delicious as a sweet and savory Caprese salad. As a beverage, a White Peach Sangria is a perfect summer party drink.

Our newly planted Angelus Peach Tree provided us with two peaches.  I was thankful for that, since my husband planted it just a few months ago.  Next year, hopefully, we will have a tree full of homegrown peaches-- thanks to my husband's gardening skills.

A few days ago, I bought some organic California grown peaches, and I allowed them to ripen for a couple more days.  After a very busy day at work, I came with a personal mission to make peach jam-- exhausted as I was. Call me crazy, but I didn't want the peaches to over-ripen.  I made six pints of this peach jam in an hour and a half! Seriously!  So, you see, canning doesn't have to be an all day project.   Here we go!

The easiest way to remove peels from peaches (or apricots) is to bring a pot of water to a boil.  Cut an "x" on the bottom (I also do that to the top) of the fruit.  Gently add the peaches to the water for 2-3 minutes.

While the water was coming to a boil, I prepared a large bowl with lots of ice and water.  After waiting for 2 minutes, I removed the peaches into the ice water bath, to "shock" them-- basically, to stop any cooking of the peaches.  See the "x"?

I was able to easily pull the skins off, with my fingers.  I used eleven peaches, for this jam recipe, and it took about five minutes to produce naked peaches.  Easy!

TIP:  Buy freestone peaches, when possible.  When the peach is cut in half, the peaches come right out.  If you buy "cling" peaches, the peach pits will be a battle to remove.  At this point, you could cut the peaches and place them on a baking sheet. Flash freeze them, for about 1/2 hour, then put them into a freezer container.  (Why flash freeze? The peaches would clump into an ice ball, and will be easier to remove individually.)

I'm making jam, and my food processor makes the job a lot easier than hand-mashing the fruit.  I want 8 cups of fruit, which equals 11 tennis ball size peaches. I like to pulse the food processor, because I want some texture in my jam-- rather than a fruit puree. Your choice.

Traditional jam recipes use a lot of sugar.  This recipe uses (gasp) seven cups of sugar!  I can justify that by saying that I will yield six pints of jam--and I don't eat more than one tablespoon of jam at a time.  But, let's talk about options-- I've been reading a lot about Pomona Pectin.  I'm going to make it my personal mission to find this product, so that I can develop some jam recipes with a lot less sugar.  For now, this recipe is going to be the traditional way-- but feel free to adapt it to suit your own needs.  I added some lemon zest and fresh juice-- now, let's talk about ginger and spices.

This recipes uses candied ginger (and I keep some in an air-tight container) and fresh ginger.  I love ginger, and I keep ginger root in my freezer, since it doesn't keep for a long period of time in the refrigerator. Frozen ginger is easy to peel and grate.

If you don't like ginger, you can skip adding it to this recipe. I have no doubt you will still be pleased with the results.  I found this recipe on, and I made a few minor tweaks, that I will share on the printable recipe card at the end of this post.

The key to successful jam making has to do with being careful about tweaking the ratio of pectin to fruit.  From experience, I also learned that using overripe fruit will yield very soupy jam, that doesn't set properly.  I didn't photograph the process, but I have more detailed photos here, if you are interested curious. You want to give the time for the fruit, sugar and pectin to boil enough so that it thickens properly.

I bought a canning kit, a few years ago. It has all the tools that I need-- a funnel, tongs, and canning pot and rack.  This makes the process of homemade jam making more efficient. From start to finish, I timed this recipe as 1-1/2 hours to make.  This made 6 and 1/2 pints of jam.  Not bad!

TASTING NOTES:  Texture: The jam set very well, though at room temperature it can be a little thinner than most of my jams.  I might increase the pectin a bit more.  Flavor:  The jam has a beautiful brownish-orange color, because of the spices. You can taste the ginger, which is not overpowering but complimentary to the peaches.  The spices definitely compete with the flavor of the peaches-- so I will definitely leave out the cloves next time-- not that I don't like clove!  I'd just like to let the fruit be the top-heading star of this jam.  I wish I had thought to add some vanilla or vanilla bean seeds-- and I will, next time! Rating: What I like about this jam is that it isn't a straight-forward peach jam. Peach jam isn't my #1 favorite, on toast; Apricot-Pineapple still holds that spot.  Peaches with ginger is quickly moving up my favorite scale.  I think this jam will be delicious in a pan sauce, over vanilla ice cream, or as a base for a tart.  Winner!

If you have a fear of making jam, I encourage you to try it.  The days of having to melt wax are long gone.  Today, you can by self-sealing jars for reasonable prices.  Homemade jam makes fantastic hostess  or Christmas gifts.  Who wouldn't love to be handed a jar of homemade jam?  I'm hooked, and I have more flavors up my sleeve.

Preserving summer is what it's all about. Enjoy what's left of summer-- Fall is fast approaching, but fortunately we don't feel the weather changes until closer to October. I love my hometown of California!

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Sunday, August 12, 2012

Rib-Eye alla Fiorentina with Orange Pickled Shallots

Working at a public high school is a job that I thoroughly enjoy. Seriously! I like talking to teenagers, and their parents. My job is challenging, with just the right amount of fun, and my day flies by really fast.

Each school year seems to go by faster and faster, and the hard work is rewarded with one month off (without pay).  During my summer break, we had an unexpected treat. Craig's college age niece came to visit us, from Missouri.   She's been enduring triple-digit temperatures--so when I apologized for the overcast and cloudy 60-ish degree weather, she responded that she was thrilled to have a chance to cool off.

At last the sun came out, and it was time to do some backyard grilling. Miss Becky has never had rib-eye steaks. Tsk, tsk.   I needed to expand her college menu, so I bought some rib-eyes, and asked Craig to fire up the Weber grill.   Then I remembered... I had bookmarked a recipe in the June 2011 Cuisine at Home issue. The front cover photo had my mouth watering, and I made a mental note to make it.  The time had come!

According to Cuisine at home, Bistecca alla Fiorentia is one of the most celebrated dishes in Tuscany.  In doing a little bit of internet research, I see that a Porterhouse cut of beef is most traditional.  I think that a Rib-Eyes is a great alternative choice, because it has a lot of marbling. As the interior fat melts, it keeps the steak flavorful and moist-- which is a great failsafe, in case you overcook a bit longer than you intended to.

I realized that I had all of the ingredients to make this recipe, so off I went to make this recipe! I've never been to Tuscany (and it's on my bucket list), so I decided that  Tuscany was coming to our own California backyard.

I always have shallots in my refrigerator, and the pickled shallots are made with fresh orange juice, white wine vinegar, salt and pepper. NOTE: Zest the orange, first, because you'll use it for the steaks. Easy peasy.

 Bring the liquids to a boil, and remove from heat.

Add the shallots, sprinkle with salt, add some pepper, cover and let sit for at least 15 minutes (or make it the night before. Done.

Chop some fresh mint and basil, and add to extra-virgin olive oil and orange zest.(I almost didn't add the mint, because my husband claims he doesn't like it-- more on that, later.)

Add some fresh minced garlic, salt and pepper and add this to a shallow dish. Set aside.

Grill the steaks for about 5 minutes, each side.  The steaks I bought weren't 3-inches thick, so these took about 6 minutes to cook to medium.

 Set the steaks into the olive oil mixture, cover with foil and allow to rest for five minutes; flip the steaks over and serve with the pickled shallots.

Pour your choice of beverage to go with this steak. Serve the steak with the pickled shallots-- which Becky wasn't quite willing to try.  (Kids... even at 21, she's slowly branching out from loving grilled cheese sandwiches.)

VERDICT:  It think that Becky's critique of the steaks speaks volumes-- "these are the best steaks I've ever had in my life!"  (All 21 years...hahaha)

For me, that's the ultimate compliment.  Craig loved the steak, too.  I loved the look of surprise, on his face, when I told him he just ate mint. You see, Craig has always shunned the idea of mint in any kind of food. He says it's too overwhelming.  Ha!  The mint, orange and basil is lovely combination and has a perfect summertime balance of flavors.  Yes, I'd make this again, and I hope you try it.

My summer break ended two weeks ago, and I'm one very busy little worker bee.  Things are starting to settle down, so I can share recipes more often with you.  Yes!

A printable recipe card is at the end of this post. 

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