Pasta alla Carbonara

This is our second attempt at this pasta dish, which was originally inspired by the Rigatoni Alla Carbonara we had at Tra Vigne on our trip to Napa earlier this summer.  The pasta at Tra Vigne was one of the best meals of the trip, and we were excited to try to recreate it at home.  According to Tra Vigne’s menu, their rigatoni includes guanciale bacon, onion, eggs, cracked pepper and Parmesan.  Sounds easy enough.  So we made a special trip to Central Market to get the guanciale (Italian bacon made from the pig’s jowls or cheeks), researched some recipes and whipped up our first batch of Pasta alla Carbonara.  We used all the same carbonara ingredients as Tra Vigne and expected ours to taste at least similar to theirs, even if it didn’t turn out quite as delicious.  But ours wasn’t even close.  While the pasta at Tra Vigne had a rich and hearty bacon flavor, ours had a slightly gamey taste unlike any bacon we’ve had.  Carbonara Fail.  Since at first we did not succeed, we tried again — this time using pancetta instead of guanciale, and the result was much more successful.  Still not as good as the rigatoni at Tra Vigne, but our second batch was way better than the first — rich and creamy with nice bacon flavor. Continue reading “Pasta alla Carbonara”

London Broil

For some people, including Dan, cooking a meal for someone can be a way to show love and affection, celebrate an achievement, or commemorate an important occasion.  For the Conrad family and many others, August 29 is a signifigant date that does not go unnoticed.  Three years ago today, Dan’s dad Tom passed away after a too-brief but valiant battle against a brain tumor.  It is a date upon which we struggle against the sadness and missing by instead focusing on the happy memories, joyful times and favorite moments.  One of Tom’s greatest joys was food — in a simple, meat & potatoes way, nothing too unusual or exotic.  Dan loves cooking for family and does so just about every time he goes home to Altoona.  During one visit years ago, as Dan was cooking dinner, his dad came in the kitchen to watch and keep Dan company.  While observing, Tom cautioned “not too spicy!” just as Dan was seasoning the chicken soup — with salt and pepper.  Although he didn’t have the most adventurous palate, Tom would have eaten just about anything Dan cooked and would have raved about it — such was Tom’s way of showing unwavering support to those he loved, no matter their endeavor.  One of Tom’s true favorite meals that Dan cooks is London Broil, which involves a simple marinade used to spice up (but not too much!) an inexpensive cut of beef and turn it into something special.  And it’s our way to claim this day and honor a great man who enjoyed nothing more than a delicious steak dinner.  Except maybe a turkey dinner.  Or dinner at Lena’s.  Or a sleeve of Oreo cookies… Continue reading “London Broil”

Banh Mi Sandwiches (with leftover pork)

Pork is a versatile protein when it comes to leftovers, especially in Asian dishes.  We have used leftover pork for stir fry, moo-shoo pork, and pork fried rice (post coming soon!), just to name a few.  This sandwich recipe is yet another good use of leftover pork, with an Asian flair.  I was inspired to try making Banh Mi sandwiches at home after having one from a little soup & sandwich shop in Brooklyn while visiting Dan’s brother, his lovely wife and adorable son earlier this year.  Although not authentically Vietnamese, the sandwich was delicious and didn’t seem like it would be all that difficult to make, especially using pork that had already been cooked.  There are a lot of Banh Mi recipes out there, but it seems like a common thread among most of them is pickled carrot and daikon (a type of radish.)  The remaining sandwich components vary and should depend on what you have on hand and your taste preferences.  The pickled veggies sound a little strange, but their sweet/sour flavor balances really well with salty pork, fresh lettuce and spicy jalapeno.  We’ll definitely make this sandwich again.

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Restaurant Week 2011

Last week was Restaurant Week, during which participating restaurants around town put together special three-course meals that cost $35 per person, $7 of which is donated to two local charities.  We seized the opportunity to try some new restaurants and visit a couple of old, special-occasion favorites and decided to make an entire week of it — going out to dinner Monday through Friday.  It was a wonderfully decadent week, but also surprisingly exhausting.  As glad as we are to have had the experience — sampling lots of amazing dishes, gathering inspiration to try in our own kitchen and discovering a new favorite eatery — we ultimately learned how much we really enjoy our lifestyle of planning our menus for the week and cooking and dining at home (except for the part where we have to clean up and do dishes.)  Rather than exhaust all of you with every detail of every dish from the week, we’ll just hit the highlights.  (But with a week’s worth of three (sometimes four) course meals, there are A LOT of highlights.  You have been warned.) Continue reading “Restaurant Week 2011”

Turkey Tetrazzini (with leftover turkey)

Now that we have a delicious new way to cook turkey breast and plan to cook turkey a lot more often, we need some good recipes for turkey leftovers.  In the past, we’ve tried to think outside the box when it comes to turkey leftovers — turkey paella and turkey enchiladas, for example — but this time we decided to do something a little more on the classic side.  Turkey Tetrazzini is a classic American dish, but one that neither of us had ever made or eaten.  We found a great recipe for tetrazzini in (go figure) “The Best American Classics” cookbook by the editors of Cook’s Illustrated Magazine.  We love the folks at America’s Test Kitchen because they exhaustively test all their recipes to come up with the best possible versions — something we thought would be key to successfully preparing a dish without having any clue how it was supposed to taste.  Turns out that it’s supposed to taste really delicious with surprisingly complex flavors for what basically amounts to a noodle casserole.  A noodle casserole that we will crave with every future turkey breast we cook.

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Smoked Turkey Breast

When Dan purchased his smoker for one of the Charcutepalooza challenges, my first thought was that it would be yet another cooking gadget that he would use a couple of times before getting bored with it.  Happily, I could not have been more wrong.  He uses the smoker a lot, for such smoked delights as ribs, game hen and tri-tip.  He also occasionally uses the smoker as a charcoal grill, for that old-school grill flavor.  What I had originally thought was bought on a whim has turned out to be a very worthwhile purchase that has allowed Dan to expand his grilling repertoire.  It doesn’t hurt that the smoker is incredibly easy to use and has achieved near-perfect results each time we’ve used it.  If you grill often, enjoy smoky flavor and have the room and budget for it, the Weber Smokey Mountain Cooker is a great investment that we definitely recommend (in a non-sponsored way.) Continue reading “Smoked Turkey Breast”

Seafood Mousseline

It’s that time again, when we document our latest foray into the world of charcuterie.  This month’s challenge is “binding,” which involves using egg whites, gelatin or natural gel from bone stock to adhere ingredients together in a mold.  The technique is used to make pí¢tés and terrines, which essentially are loaves of ground up or pureed meat cooked in a mold.  Once again, this is not something we ever thought we would find ourselves making at home.  But the satisfaction of learning new cooking techniques has been one of the best things about the Charcutepalooza experience.  Thanks as always to the fearless leaders of Charcutepalooza, Mrs. Wheelbarrow and The Yummy Mummy, and an extra special thank you for offering a less sqeamish option for this month’s endeavor — seafood mousseline for the Apprentice level instead of “headcheese, feet or trotters” for the Charcutiere Challenge.  As satisfying as it has been to take on these endeavors and cook outside our comfort zone, I really don’t think I could have handled a pig’s head or feet being cooked in my kitchen.  And I really didn’t want to have to try tasting it.  But that’s just me — I have great respect and admiration for those participants who took on the Charcutiere Challenge — well done!

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