The Newbie Cook
- 19,192 forkfuls since 16.Oct.10
Making everything for the first time
It’s fruit and vegetable season here in South Jersey. Juicy blueberries, succulent strawberries and ripe, red tomatoes are everywhere. Last weekend, I went to a local farmer’s market with my friends Tracy, Robin and Wayne. I stocked up on veggies that I didn’t grow in my garden.
There was so much good stuff everywhere and I was tempted to buy a little bit of everything. But, alas! There are only two people in my household and we can only eat so much. Although I did buy a dozen corn, which I shared with my in-laws.
One of the must-buys on my list were Jersey tomatoes. My husband grew up in an Italian household with a traditional Noni that made sauce from scratch. Every summer, she would buy large baskets of tomatoes, peel them, and cook gallons of spaghetti sauce. From dawn to dusk almost everyday, the sauce would be simmering on the stove. I can only imagine how good their house smelled like.
Unfortunately, Noni is no longer alive and Chris is not in possession of the family recipe because it was only passed to the girls. Therefore, I had to be creative and make my sauce recipes myself. Some of them are based on others’ recipes while some are made up by yours truly — like the one below.
This particular sauce is fresh, chunky, and light. It only takes around 4 hours to cook this. After all, I work all day and go to school so I don’t have the time Noni had.
You know, I feel sad whenever I think about this blog. My poor, neglected cooking blog. Especially when I make something new. I’m always busy and on the go so cooking has not been a relaxing activity for the past couple of years. There was no time to take pictures, no time to appreciate the little details. It’s more like an omfg-I-only-have-half-an-hour-to-cook-and-eat-gadammit task.
But my husband will still swear to the Bible, Torah, Quran and his Noni Angelina’s grave (God bless her disgruntled soul) that 99%of what I make is yummy. He could be biased but Chris is fussy about food so he might be telling the truth. 😉
I made this dish because I needed to try out a recipe before our Wellness group at work distributes it to the masses. I personally love it especially on simple toasted bread. It’s also a great substitute for mayonnaise in sandwiches. Check out this pesto recipe after the jump.
Chris planted some garlic and got excited when he learned that garlic scapes were edible. So I did the practical thing: made pesto.
I have never made eggplant parmigiana before. But I suppose you already know that because *points up* of the name of this blog. My husband grew up with a grumpy Nonna that cooked consistently perfect Italian food.
So I am more than a little anxious.
Thank God there’s Mario Batali, Food Network, and a surplus of cherry tomatoes from the garden. And, last but not the least, Francesco Rinaldi Three Cheese pasta sauce because it is okay to take shortcuts if you’re dying of hunger and have less than an hour to cook. (*&^%#! I sound like a f*&%#@g ad.) For pre-made pasta sauce, FR is quite good but it will need some jazzing up. My recipe for red pasta sauce from scratch takes forever to simmer just to get the flavor right.
This is not exactly a super-traditional eggplant parmigiana. I may have based it on a famous chef’s recipe but I can’t resist butchering things up and adding stuff according to what I like. For instance, I used wheat flour instead of breadcrumbs. And then I baked the eggplants instead of frying them. (Batali recommended baking as well but the more common method is frying.) Plus I added a touch of ground beef. The latter is not required but I needed a little protein to put some meat in my husband’s bones and it did enhance the flavor of the sauce. If you want a vegetarian dish, just skip the meat entirely.
Here are my stacks before baking.
… and after.
I have a bad habit of forgetting to taste my cooking before serving so I handed Chris his plate before I filled mine. The first thing I heard was “Yum!” I suppose it is safe to say that I passed.
Personally, I do not think the photos of my stacks look as appetizing as they do in real life. But with regards to taste… it was ever so slightly crispy on the outside, very soft inside, and heartwarmingly savory as a whole. This is definitely comfort food and is best served with a side of spaghetti or linguine.
Chris gets annoyed when I don’t update my blogs for weeks at a time. He checks them regularly and I suppose it cheers him up to see my thoughts on virtual paper and that I’m writing instead of harassing him. 🙂 Or perhaps he just appreciates reading my posts.
A few weeks ago, I cooked yellow long-neck squash and asparagus stewed in Thai shrimp paste (that recipe will follow). I remember that Chris was pretty bummed because he picked the squash too late and the other half of it ballooned and turned into a deep yellow. We didn’t know then that we were supposed to pick it before it ripens — when the fruit is long and slim — so one can eat the whole creamy vegetable without having to take out the seeds. Of course, he cheered up when I put the stew in front of him.
This time around, the squash was picked at the perfect time.
My only complaint about this dish is that I could not replicate that perfectly smooth, whipped cream consistency for the ricotta blend as shown in the ABC site even when I whisked the cheese to an inch of its life. Maybe they used KitchenAid? Also remember not to overload on the sausage. I only added them to provide more taste and a little protein for my skinny husband.
We had to replace the car’s bumper this week because, er, let’s just say that I murdered a concrete trash can in a convenience store’s parking lot. So this month will be quite lean for us. But cheap does NOT mean bad food. It means enjoying healthy meals at home for less than 10 dollars instead of spending 20-40 outside. The only exceptions are Date Night Fridays and Chris’ Wing-and-Beer Wednesdays. Here is a breakdown of what this meal cost us:
1 lb dried pasta linguine – $1
2 Italian sausage patties from Botto’s – $1.5
1 cup fresh ricotta – $2
1/2 cup grated parmesan – $1
1 yellow long-neck squash – free from the garden
sprigs of fresh mint – free from the garden
That’s five dollars and fifty cents for four servings, a dollar and a half per person for a meal that could cost $10-12 in a restaurant! This is why Steffi McScrooge made the effort of learning how to cook, ladies and gentlemen.
I haven’t been diligent with my Steffi x Jamie x Miki project. It’s just too easy for me to get distracted and try other things. But I promise to try and make more dishes from those books so I can meet my self-imposed deadline.
It’s a warm early-March day. By mid-afternoon, Chris and I arrived from the vet with our tiny chihuahua puppy, Basti. We’ve been up late, woke up early and the only thing we devoured since last night were cups of French roast coffee. Chris went straight to the garden and started pulling weeds out but I insisted on eating something substantial to appease my complaining tummy.
We were both ornery, hot and hungry. We both needed comfort food. We needed something Italian.
I chose this dish because it looked and sounded interesting. I also have an intense craving for seafood considering that we’ve been eating a lot of beef and pork lately. (I know, I know… I should eat more greens.) I tried to be as faithful to the recipe as much as I could but I did tweak things a bit based on the availability of ingredients and taste preferences. My revisions are listed after the recipe below.
Is it the best pasta dish I’ve ever had? No, but it’s definitely in the Top 10. We enjoyed it immensely and I hope you do, too.
Thanks, Jamie. 🙂
This marks two firsts for me: cooking salmon and pan searing. I didn’t even know what pan searing meant until I was in my twenties. *facepalms*
I bought a nice Norwegian salmon fillet and I was determined to eat it soon. I didn’t want to ruin it so I tried to look for a recipe that could be a base for what I had in mind.
This is one of the days when I wish I have wine. But this is a non-alcoholic country so we just have to make do with non-alcoholic alternatives and all I had in the fridge was sparkling grape juice. Oh well.
I learned quite a bit from this first effort. If you’re finicky about not eating raw fish but don’t like to eat dried tasteless fish meat, then cut the fillet in two before searing. Some recipes recommend searing for two minutes on each side but I found that it isn’t enough so it’s better to do it a bit longer.
I served the fish with a side of pasta in tomato and egg.
Was the dish bad? Not at all! I liked it. But I would love to try changing it a bit and experimenting more so I can get the hang of cooking salmon. Recipe after the jump.
Remember the pasta recipe where I used IKEA meatballs? Chris kind of made fun of me because I didn’t know how to make my own meatballs considering that they were (allegedly) easy to make. Dad told me that he wanted spaghetti but he was too sleepy and lazy to cook. (Don’t let this statement mislead you, Dad cooks way more often than I do.) Considering that I had a couple of hours before he wakes up, I decided to try making meatballs from scratch.
The first thing I thought was: “$h1*, I don’t have breadcrumbs! ” Google saved me again and informed me that oats would be a healthier substitute for breadcrumbs in meatballs.
For the sauce, I used a variation of Bitch&Bake’s Three Ingredient Tomato Sauce. I wondered if butter is considered unhealthy but when I thought of worse alternatives like hydrogenated oil, lard, and vegetable oil, I happily dropped in the little block of butter.
This is also the first time for me to eat romano cheese with pasta, at least at home and not in a restaurant. There are evil canisters of romano alternatives in the supermarket, which try to convince the buyers that they’re cheap and just as good. Until you notice that there’s a tub of perfectly genuine shredded romano (but made with cow’s milk not ewe’s) beside it that is ironically cheaper than the fake version. *rofl*
My verdict: For a first time effort, it’s not bad at all. I thought it was reeeaally yummy but then I’m horribly biased. Sure, it could probably be better but this isn’t exactly a perfect-product-after-100-tries blog.
We held a (belated) bridal shower for my friend, Janis, in Apartment #2. I love our reunions! We always talk too fast because we try to cram months of news within a few hours. 🙂
We had a MAJOR food fest. Ina and Chie brought steamed crabs, hot wings and yummy pork. Jovett brought the drinks. And I made heart-shaped strawberry milk cakes and a generous amount of the squash pasta pictured here.
We had a blast!
One of the many things I love about my friends is that we love eating. We set aside our diets during our get-togethers and just enjoy the company and the food. We never have “diet Cokes only” occasions!
The pasta also served as a pretty good brunch the next day. *licks lips* It can be a good side dish, part of a multi-course meal or can be eaten alone as a light lunch or dinner.
Until recently, I didn’t know that the ribbon-shaped pasta is called farfalle. Apparently, the word is from the Italian farfalla, which means “butterfly”. I used to skip recipes with fancy-sounding names since I figured that if I can’t pronounce it, then I probably can’t cook it. At least now, I no longer feel ignorant in case someone mentions farfalle. Hah.
Have you ever opened your fridge and asked for inspiration because you have absolutely no idea what you want to cook today? That’s what I did when I got home from work.
A while back, I picked up a pack of Swedish meatballs from IKEA – the same kind they serve in that cute cafe of theirs (I only go there for the salmon). There was still 1/3 of the pack in the fridge so I decided to use it. Then I remembered Tita Dina’s creamy carbonara from two weeks back so I grabbed the can of Nestle cream that I was originally saving for something else.
I tried to imagine the kind of basic sauce that I like. There’s the token butter and tomatoes. But what I really focused on was the flavor. In this case, lots of garlic, onions and black pepper equaled yummy. This means sautéing the chopped onion and garlic until the onion is translucent and faintly brown and the edges of the garlic pieces are crisp. The butter is also integral. Don’t you DARE skip the butter! If you’re on a diet, go graze on the front lawn as this isn’t the recipe for you.
I’m a mushroom addict so I added that as well. They’ll go nicely with the meatballs.
Please don’t judge the pictures. 🙂 Apartment #1’s kitchen lighting is awful and unless I cook at broad daylight and open all doors and windows, everything I shoot will end up looking like I cooked them while moonlighting at a seedy bar.
A special note on the black pepper: The packaged powder labeled pre-ground black pepper is not black pepper. Ok, maybe 30% of it actually is. But if you love your taste buds and the rest of your family’s, then please don’t subject yourselves to that unrecognizable stuff. Buy a pepper mill and fill it with real black peppercorns. It doesn’t have to be expensive, just functional. If you’re already in IKEA buying the meatballs, you may as well pick up their cheap but serviceable 365+ spice mill ($6.99).
So how was the farfalle? (I’m still practicing saying it so I can impress the waiter next time.) It’s pretty good. 🙂 Now excuse me, I’m just going to do the dishes while you read the recipe.