Archive for December, 2008

Fettuccine Alfredo

Sunday, December 21st, 2008

I’m not actually much of a baker. Despite what the recent rash of Christmas cookies might suggest, I’d rather make dinner than dessert any day.

Tonight, I made Fettuccine Alfredo for dinner. I’ve made Alfredo several times before, but this is one of those dishes that I have trouble replicating. I’ve never really worked from a recipe for it (Cream? Check! Cheese? Check! Butter? Check!) and while it usually turned out well, I couldn’t count on it being the same from one time to the next. That’s why I looked for a recipe to work from this time.

I tried out Giada De Laurentiis’ recipe for Fettuccine Alfredo, but mostly for the proportions. Her recipe called for a lot of lemon flavor, and I just couldn’t see using that much lemon for an Alfredo sauce. So I didn’t. I had a regular box of fettuccine on hand, so no fresh pasta for us. It was still very, very good.

I prefer my Alfredo with chicken, so to that end I sauteed chunks of boneless skinless chicken breast with a little garlic, olive oil, salt, pepper, and poultry seasoning to serve with the pasta.

Giada’s Fettuccine Alfredo

  • 18 ounces fresh fettuccine (I used a 1 lb box of fettuccine noodles)
  • 2 1/2 cups heavy cream
  • 1/2 cup fresh lemon juice (I used only 2 tablespoons)
  • 12 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 2 cloves minced garlic
  • 2 cups freshly grated Parmesan (No green cans allowed!)
  • 2 teaspoons grated lemon zest
  • Pinch freshly grated nutmeg
  • Salt and freshly ground white pepper

Directions

Cook the pasta in a large pot of boiling salted water until tender but still firm to the bite, stirring occasionally, about 4 minutes. Drain.

Stir 2 cups of the cream and the lemon juice in a heavy large skillet to blend. Add the garlic and butter and cook over medium heat just until the butter melts, stirring occasionally, about 3 minutes. Remove from the heat.

Add the pasta and toss. Add the remaining 1/2 cup of cream, and Parmesan to the cream sauce in the skillet. Add the lemon zest, nutmeg, salt, and white pepper. Toss the pasta mixture over low heat until the sauce thickens slightly, about 1 minute.

Note: I followed the instructions pretty closely, but as I mentioned, I drastically reduced the amount of lemon juice. I added it to the cream sauce after the butter had already melted down, before adding the pasta, and it worked well. The lemon juice did not cause any curdling of the cream. I included the zest as written in the recipe.

The nutmeg may sound strange to you if you’ve never tried it in this kind of savory application, but it really balances the creamy flavor of the cheese sauce. I also like to use a pinch of nutmeg in my scalloped or au gratin potatoes. Freshly grated makes all the difference!

Now that I can make my own Alfredo, Pasta Fagioli, and Zuppa e Toscana, I’m running out of reasons to want to go to the Olive Garden. But those are recipes for another day.

Cashew Brittle

Saturday, December 20th, 2008

Apparently, Christmastime is also for candy.

On my hunt for Christmas cookie recipes, I came across an excellent recipe for Cashew Brittle. Now peanut brittle, I’m not that crazy about, but cashews are a whole different story. We also had bought cashews at Costco the week before, which were delicious. So it seemed meant to be.

I’m also a sucker for the salty and sweet combination, and this definitely fits the bill there.

I found this recipe on another blog that I read, The Wednesday Chef.

Homemade candy is one of those things that seems to impress everyone, but brittle is really about the simplest kind of homemade candy that there is. No candy thermometer or special equipment needed.

Note: Because I wanted the salty flavor to really come through, and because it’s what I keep on hand, I used salted butter instead of unsalted, and it was delicious. One other reminder–the instructions call for a large saucepan, and that’s important. When you add the baking soda and salt, it’s REALLY going to rise and bubble, and my saucepan wasn’t large enough to keep it from boiling over. A non-stick stockpot is really a safer bet, in my opinion.

Cashew Brittle
Makes 3.5 pounds

4 cups sugar
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter (I used salted butter)
2/3 cup light corn syrup
1 1/4 cups water
1 teaspoon baking soda
3 tablespoons kosher salt
1 1/2 pounds salted, roasted cashews

1. Line two baking sheets with lightly buttered parchment paper or lightly coat the sheets with cooking spray. Do not use wax paper or plastic wrap.

2. Combine sugar, butter, corn syrup, and water in a large saucepan and stir together. Cook over moderately high heat, stirring occasionally, until the caramel turns a medium-golden color, about 10 minutes. Remove from the heat. Carefully whisk in the baking soda and then the salt. The mixture will rise and bubble. Using a wooden or metal spoon, stir in the nuts, then immediately pour the brittle onto the prepared cookie sheets, using the back of the spoon to spread the brittle out.

3. Once brittle is completely cool, break it into bite-sized pieces using the back of a knife or your hands. The brittle can be stored at room temperature, in an airtight container, for up to two weeks.

I’ve made this kind of candy once before, and this recipe is as good as I remember. For an extra fun treat, stir a bag of popped popcorn into the hot candy once it’s spread out on the cookie sheets. It makes an awesome poppycock style snack.

Christmastime is for Cookies

Friday, December 19th, 2008

I have been waiting and waiting for the baking bug to bite. It’s Christmas, after all.

Part of the problem may have been a Thanksgiving hangover of sorts. Not only did I run the kitchen for what my friends and I call “fake Thanksgiving,” an all-out Thanksgiving feast above and beyond all of our family obligations on the real Turkey day, but David and I hosted our first Thanksgiving in our new place. His family came, my family came–and it was the first time we even had a place set up for hosting, so it was kind of a big deal.

I think that’s why I spent most of this Christmas season not feeling the urge to roll out the sugar cookies or decorate the gingerbread houses. Then, at work, my Secret Santa got me an adorable gift basket full of baking paraphernalia. Spatulas and mixing bowls and towels and cookbooks. And so, the baking bug bit.

When I decided I wanted to bake, last weekend,  I started poking around different websites and blogs looking for some great Christmas cookie recipes. I started at the Food Network site, where I was excited to see their 2008 12 Days of Cookies guide had started. It sounded so promising!

I was actually rather disappointed with what I found. Sandra Lee was more focused on pretty than tasty, with her Sugar Cookie ornaments, Duff’s cookies looked strange, Paula Deen had some Snowflake cookies that looked okay, but nothing special. Alton Brown’s submission, however, was just what I was looking for. He calls them Paradise Macaroons, and I have to say, the name suits them.

First of all, they were simple to make. There’s some fuss on the Food Network boards about how it’s confusing that he only provides measurements in terms of weight, not volume, but I don’t think that should be a surprise to anyone who’s seen his show.

Second, they were delicious. My husband, who had never had a macaroon, apparently has a new favorite cookie. They’re light and crisp on the outside, chewy on the inside, with just the right amount of sweetness. I used Ghirardelli chocolate chips for the coating, and I substituted chopped walnuts for the macadamia nuts, since that’s what I had on hand.

Third, they were beautiful. They look as good as they taste!

Overall, I was very impressed with this recipe, and will definitely make again.

Alton Brown’s Paradise Macaroons

  • 2 (7 to 8-ounce) packages sweetened shredded coconut
  • 2 ounces sweetened condensed milk
  • Pinch kosher salt
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 4 large egg whites at room temperature
  • 5 ounces granulated sugar
  • 12 ounces semisweet chocolate chips (I used Ghiradelli)
  • 1 ounce vegetable shortening
  • 2 ounces finely chopped dry-roasted macadamia nuts (I used finely chopped walnuts)

Directions

Preheat the oven to 325 degrees F.

Combine the coconut with the sweetened condensed milk, salt and vanilla in a medium mixing bowl.

In the bowl of a stand mixer with a whisk attachment, beat the egg whites on medium speed until foamy. Gradually add the sugar and continue to whip the whites until medium peaks form, 6 to 7 minutes.

Gently fold the egg whites into the coconut mixture. Scoop tablespoon-sized mounds onto a parchment-lined half sheet pan and bake for 20 to 25 minutes or until golden brown. Immediately transfer the parchment with the macaroons to a cooling rack. Cool completely before topping.

Fill a 4-quart pot with enough water to come 2 inches up the side, set over medium heat and bring to a simmer. Combine the chocolate chips and shortening in a small metal or glass mixing bowl and set over the simmering pot. Stir occasionally until melted, then remove from the heat.

Dip the cooled cookies in the chocolate mixture, sprinkle with the chopped nuts and place on parchment paper to set, about 30 minutes.

Note: My one concern with this recipe is that as written, there is way too much chocolate topping. I used the 12 ounces of chocolate to 1 ounce of shortening recipe for a double batch of macroons, and still had chocolate left over for another cookie. I would recommend halving the chocolate dip for just a single batch of cookies.

Jumping Right In

Friday, December 19th, 2008

Welcome!

I’ve been kicking around the idea for this blog for a while now, and it’s finally come to fruition. You might be wondering who I am and why I’m doing this, and those would be reasonable questions.

I’m a budding foodie, and though I have no formal training of any kind, I’d consider myself an advanced sort of home cook. Cooking has become a hobby for me, one that my test-kitchen husband and roommate support wholeheartedly. I’m a cookbook junkie, can’t say no to a good gadget, and waste a lot of time looking at the Food Network.

As for the why…

I’ve gotten to the point in my culinary *cough* career that I’ve tried a lot of things, and accumulated a ton of recipes, most of which I’ve deviated from in one way or another. My plan is to use this space to not just review recipes, but keep track of the little tweaks that made this time around a delicious success.

I’ve also developed a reputation for being a cook in my own circle of family, friends, and colleagues, and there are those among my family, friends, and colleagues who actually want to know what I’m cooking. They’re welcome to tag along.

Finally, I like to write, and I never do enough of it. Anything that gets me writing regularly is a good thing.

So there it is. I plan to review recipes, cookbooks and the occasional restaurant. You might catch me sharing my thoughts on Top Chef or other food TV shows that I enjoy, and I’ll probably make recommendations from time to time on gadgets and tools that I enjoy using.

If any of that sounds interesting to you, stay tuned.