Monday, January 30, 2012

Spaghetti Carbonara

Bacon, eggs, cheese...it's like breakfast on pasta!
Recently I've come to terms with the fact that I need to learn to make smaller, single-serve sizes of meals. I typically don't have anyone else to feed, and I can only hog so much freezer space before the housemates start to get suspicious. So, after looking around the internet for a good one person cookbook, I finally settled on one called Solo Suppers by former chef Joyce Goldstein.

Although sometimes the title makes me a little depressed, it's a really nice cookbook to have. It's important to remember that the author was a professional chef though, so many of the recipes are more complex than what you will find in other "cooking for one" books because most take the fast and easy approach. Goldstein's require a little more time, energy, and care...but speaking from personal experience, so far everything I've tried has been worth it.

One such dish that I found in the book is Spaghetti Carbonara. Now, I'd never had carbonara before I made this version, but it's quickly become one of my "go-to" meals--especially now that I'm running and need a good protein kick every once in a while! This pasta is one of the quicker dishes in Solo Suppers, but it's definite comfort food and very filling.

Spaghetti Carbonara (adapted from Joyce Goldstein's recipe)
The cookbook makes a cameo appearance!

Ingredients

Thin spaghetti or other long pasta
1 tbsp salt
1 large egg
3 tbsp grated Parmesan cheese
1/2 tsp ground black pepper
4 ounces turkey bacon (or normal bacon, or pancetta)
2 tsp butter
2 tsp olive oil

Steps
  1. Timing is everything here, so you want to have all your ingredients ready to go when you need them. Start by slicing your bacon into 1/4 inch strips.
    Turkey bacon! It takes me a while to go through a package, so I freeze it in smaller portions.
  2. Put a pot of water on the stove to bring to a boil. Meanwhile, crack the egg into a serving bowl. Add the cheese and pepper and beat well. The mixture should be thick. Keep the bowl near the sink where you will drain the pasta.
    Beat it! Just beat it!
  3. When the water boils, add the salt and a serving of pasta.
  4. Meanwhile, heat the butter and olive oil (you can use smaller amounts than those listed) in a frying pan over medium heat. Add the bacon and cook about 5-7 minutes until done, but not crispy.
    Tasty turkey bacon.
  5. When the pasta is done, drain it in a colander and then IMMEDIATELY add it to the egg mixture. Dump the bacon and some of the drippings on top and then stir, stir, STIR. The heat of the other ingredients is what cooks the egg, so you have to move fast here!
    Now STIR!
  6. Keep stirring until the egg and cheese mixture becomes a thick, smooth sauce. Top with more cheese and pepper, if desired.
 Fast, simple ingredients, and delicious. All the requirements of a great meal for one!

The first time I tried it I thought it would taste "egg-y," but it really doesn't. At least, it doesn't taste like any sort of egg I've had before. The egg cooks into a smooth, creamy sauce that clings to the pasta just right. Mmmmmm.

And if you're worried about getting the egg cooked all the way, another method for making carbonara is to add all the ingredients to the hot bacon pan to mix them together. You have to be careful not to scramble the eggs though; some recipes suggest "tempering" the egg mixture with some of the hot pasta water before adding it to the pan to avoid this.

Either way...enjoy!

Sunday, January 29, 2012

Learning to Run

So I know it's been a while, but I haven't had much to share. However, I do have some news finally, and a recipe I'll probably share later in the week. But for today, I want to focus on one thing:

This week I started a Couch to 5K program!

Let me explain why I find this significant enough for a blog post. Running is something that I used to absolutely hate. I did it when I had to for gym or marching band, but I despised every second. It was hard and it was boring, and I just didn't see the point.

My running buddy Jacob on laundry day!
And then, something called drum corps happened to me. Suddenly, fitness became incredibly important in my life and running was a huge part of that. I had to run all the time. We ran back to our sets. We ran to get water. We woke up every morning and ran for PT. I even found a "running buddy" in the corps who ran at exactly my pace. And by the end of the summer, I didn't hate running any more.

My feet, however, had other ideas. My left foot developed a habit of cracking, like you would crack your knuckles, while on tour. It hurt, but it didn't prevent me from marching so I basically ignored it. When I got home though, I realized that my left foot was swollen and probably had been for most of the summer. I kept running for a while after that, but not as frequently or to the same intensity as I had during tour. Eventually I sort of stopped altogether, and started working out on elliptical trainers and doing low-impact "Turbo Jam" workouts.



At the height of my running prowess. I was also quite tan.
And then, finally, last spring I went to see a podiatrist. He examined my feet, took some xrays, and watched me walk around barefoot. And then he told me something I didn't know: "You have flat feet."

Ok, so what does that mean? I found out that it's something I was born with and something that won't change. It's not harmful or bad, it just means that running or being on my feet for a long time can hurt! So, he took molds of my feet and had orthotics made that I now wear in my shoes. Since then, my left foot has stopped cracking and both feet are much happier.

Flash forward to now. This week I started a Couch to 5K training program and did my first three runs, pain-free (for my feet, anyway!). I'm using a great app called 5K Runner which tells you when to run and walk at various intervals. You can even listen to music with it, and it will lower the volume of the song to give you instructions! (Maybe I am easily impressed, but I appreciate that they thought these things through!) The app has made the transition into running much easier than if I'd been doing it by myself.

I've also gotten a lot of support from friends. I posted about my first two runs on Facebook and got a lot of "Likes" and comments--thanks for the encouragement! I now feel accountable for my workouts, and I'm planning to get through the whole program and maybe even run a race someday.

My running shoes with one of my magical orthotics.

Thursday, January 5, 2012

Ricotta Gnocchi

I have a problem: I love pasta.

I know it's not the best thing for me and all that, but I can't help it. It's delicious.

I especially love stuffed pastas--ravioli, and tortellini, and their friends. I only order them at restaurants though, because if you've ever looked at those little refrigerated packets of Buitoni at the supermarket...well, they're expensive. Extra delicious and extra tasty compared to dried pasta, but expensive.

Fortunately, I've found an alternative. Without the time and/or resources to go about making my own ravioli or other flour-based pasta, I've finally discovered a fresh pasta I can make with minimal time, effort, and special equipment: Ricotta Gnocchi. And did I mention it's cheap? Literally the only ingredient I had to buy was the ricotta cheese ($2.99 at Kroger); everything else I already had!

The original recipe comes from The Kitchn; the version I am posting contains just a couple of adjustments.
Strained ricotta, Parmesan, flour, egg, and salt.

Ingredients

1 15-oz container of part-skim ricotta cheese
1 large egg
1/2 cup finely grated Parmesan cheese
1/2 tsp salt
3/4 cup all-purpose flour, plus more as needed

Your favorite pasta sauce

Steps
  1.  Drain the ricotta. Line a strainer with several coffee filters and place over a bowl; put the ricotta in the strainer and place the whole thing in the fridge for at least half an hour. (Not much drained out of my cheese--this step would be more important if you were using the whole-milk ricotta called for in the original recipe.)
  2. Combine the strained ricotta, egg, Parmesan, salt, and 3/4 cup of flour. Cover and refrigerate for 15 minutes.
  3. Gnocchi dough should be soft and tacky.
  4. Test a piece of dough by rolling it between your fingers. It should be tacky, but not sticky. If necessary, add more flour one tablespoon at a time until you get the right consistency. (I didn't need to add any--perhaps because I had an ounce less cheese than the original recipe calls for.) Refrigerate again for 15 minutes.
  5. Roll a piece of dough between your fingers to see if it sticks.
  6. Flour your hands and work surface. Break off pieces of dough and roll them into 3/4" logs. Cut into lengths of 3/4". I found that it was easiest to roll out two or three logs at a time and cut them together.
  7. Special guests: fork and santoku knife.
  8. If desired, make ridges by rolling the gnocchi off the back of a fork. This is something I didn't really understand until I watched several people do it on YouTube, so look for a tutorial.
  9. Look at those beautiful ridges!
  10. Place gnocchi on a floured baking sheet until ready to use.
  11. Boil a pot of water and add the gnocchi in batches. Wait for them to float to the top then let them cook another minute or two before removing them to a strainer. 
  12. Put gnocchi in a bowl, add sauce, and serve!
Dinner!

A few observations...

It's been a long time since I've had potato gnocchi, so I'm not sure how this compares. But, they are tasty and delicious and very filling.

Rolled vs. unrolled gnocchi? I made some of each and they were both good. The rolled gnocchi tended to cook more evenly, since you sort of press them down to a uniform thickness on the fork. The unrolled gnocchi were sort of soft and fluffy on the insides, which I kind of liked. Both are good.

The recipe is supposed to serve 4. It made about 60 gnocchi. Because I was very hungry, I ate about 20 of them and then froze the others in two batches. (To freeze, place your floured baking sheet of gnocchi in the freezer until they harden, then put them in freezer bags).

Overall, an easy homemade recipe that I'll get three meals out of after spending about three dollars!

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

When Life Gives You Lemons...


So I had an interesting day back at school. Classes started yesterday, but this was the first time I was encountering my new Writing for Business class--22 new and exciting students, in a brand new room, in a different building.

Now, I should tell you that I am typically a very prepared person. I like to practice presentations in the room where I will be presenting. I like to play with projectors and screens and other things I will have to use ahead of time. I like to get there early and have a look around, a habit that has saved me from a humiliating conference presentation at least once.

However.

Due to circumstances beyond my control (i.e., locks) I was unable to check out the room prior to today. So, when I arrived today I sort of stumbled in, glanced around, and started pushing buttons. I quickly discovered two strange things about my room:

Lemon 1: It has a blackboard. I came all prepared with my dry erase marker, and the room has a blackboard. I was immediately concerned about inadvertently becoming covered in chalk.

Lemon 2: It has TWO projector screens (which I'm sure is actually very cool and useful), and one projector. I unintentionally projected at the corner screen, when I was going for the center screen. I still don't know how to get the center screen.

Anyway, once I got things figured out to a workable level, I started into my "first day" spiel. Partway through this, I encountered Lemon 3. It went something like this:

Me: So the textbook for this course is--
Student: Is that book required?
Me: ...yes.
Student: It wasn't on the bookstore website.
Me: WHAT?! Does anybody have the book?
Entire Class: ...

It turns out they were right; the book is not listed, although I (thought I had) ordered it several weeks ago. So, I raced over to the bookstore after class where I was able to order the book, but I have no idea when it will arrive (Lemon 4).

And finally, Lemon 5. I am now faced with finding supplementary readings for the first few weeks, or scanning from the book. I spent most of the afternoon tracking down articles and ebooks to help me fill in the gaps.

But you know what the weird thing was today? In spite of all the lemons, I didn't lose my cool. Why not? Because most of those lemons also had a positive to them--came with a side of water and sugar, if you will.

Lemon 1: Now I don't have to remember my dry erase marker every day that I teach.

Lemon 2: Having two projector screens is going to be awesome, as soon as I figure out how to use them.

Lemon 3: Telling that story on Facebook got me a lot of great help and suggestions for dealing with the situation from my friends and peers.

Lemon 4: I'll be honest, I got nothing on this one.

Lemon 5: Even though it was time I didn't plan on spending, I'm more well-read in the subject now and I can give a better lecture with more information. In fact, I'll probably use some of the articles I found next quarter alongside the textbook.

So, the point here is that when life hands us lemons...we should do what the kitty says and keep them until we find the sweet side. Because hey, free lemons!