Recipe: pasta with spring vegetables and goat cheese

As a relative newbie to the world of cheese, I’m still unpacking and learning to harness the versatility of fresh goat cheese.  I had a 10.5 oz log of it sitting in my fridge on Sunday night, and after two days, half of it is gone.  I’ve been spreading it on toast for breakfast–it functions as a superior alternative to cream cheese, tangier and less processed.  In a similar vein, it’s wonderful as a spread for sandwiches in place of mayonnaise (again, superior I think).  And of course, you can’t go wrong with crumbles of goat cheese on your salads.  I also recently learned that it does wonders for a humble pasta dish. Simply add a hunk to a steaming, just-cooked bowl of pasta and keep stirring to break it up, and it essentially morphs into this creamy-ish cream sauce that adheres just right. If you’re not a fan of heavy cream sauces but like the illusion of a cream sauce, this is my gift to you: throw some goat cheese into your pasta. Along with a light squeeze of lemon and lots of pepper, and I think you’ll be pleased with the results.

Recipe after the jump!

Pasta with shrimp, bacon, asparagus, and cheese sauce

After my roommate watched Food Inc., he declared a new passion for organic and healthy eating. I told him I wanted to eat bacon and pasta, so we ended up with the above compromise.

He got the bacon in the pan and boiled the pasta while I poached the shrimp and cleaned them. He sauteed the asparagus in the rendered bacon fat and then we threw everything together. I made an ad hoc white sauce with sharp cheddar and a splash of milk. We ended up with two heaping plates of this stuff. It was pretty delicious. The end. Back to editing.

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Cooking for one: pork chops and pasta

I marinated the pork chop with salt and brown sugar, then pan-fried it with soy sauce and garlic. The pasta I made not by boiling but risotto-style a la Bittman. I prefer this method because you dont have to wait for a pot of water to boil, and I usually stand over the stove while I am cooking anyway.  And the pasta basically stews in its own starchy goodness.  Cavatappi squiggles in all the right places, great for trapping flavor, and I have declared my love for it before.  I cooked the pasta with chunks of butternut squash and spinach, all in the same pot, with lots of black pepper.  The squash cooked in about half the time the pasta did, though if you want it soft enough to mush into a sauce, then I suggest just cooking them together at once.

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I am still feeling under the weather and called in sick today.  I always thought people eat less when they are sick but I think I actually eat more.  Is that unusual?  Do you guys eat more or less when you get sick?

Cooking for a crowd

…is fun, if a little stressful.  But when everyone pitches in, the food doesn’t have to be a smashing success in order for the night to be one.  We made mac and cheese, wasabi pea-encrusted salmon (another hannah the crazy scientist idea), and roasted vegetables.  It was the first night my housemates and I all dined together, along with an honorary member, and it was unanimously decided that we should do it more often and shame on us for not doing it sooner. Collectively, we are a yoga instructor, an IT grad student, an architect, a video production staffer, and a me. We are different but I think we work, so even if I move out soon I have already put in a request to retain my seat at the table.

Mac and cheese – cavatappi is definitely one of my favorite pasta shapes, much preferred to rigatoni, fusilli, farfalle, and penne. It has a real girth and just enough twist to intrigue, like a carbohydrate half-smile. We cooked the pasta just short of al dente, then mixed in the cheese sauce (mozz, cheddar, milk, scallions) and stuck it under the broiler for 10-15 minutes to caramelize the top. The pasta held up well, chewy and gooey with an onion-y bite. Next time I will be tempted to spread the mac and cheese in a thin layer on a baking sheet before broiling to achieve maximal surface area caramelization, and correspondingly, maximal deliciousness since every bite will be the ultimate trifecta of crunchy, chewy, gooey goodness.

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Salmon – seasoned with salt, pepper, soy sauce, and sesame oil.  Pretty but severely overdone. I am hopeful that the concept, a variation at least in my mind on nut crusts, is solid but more testing is required.

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Recipe: pasta with pumpkin, zucchini, and a secret ingredient

Mark Bittman’s article in the NYT about cooking pasta risotto-style left distracting images of pasta swirling around in my head all day. To someone who would much rather stand over the stove for 20 minutes than wash an extra pot, the idea is utter brilliance. So I bought a box of rigatoni on my way home from the gym and got to work. I knew pumpkin and zucchini would work, and it seemed only natural that the trusty trio of garlic, onions, and butter should get the ball rolling. Ah, and the secret ingredient? As I folded in the pureed pumpkin and egg to create that luscious, silky sauce, it occurred to me that the pasta needed something to elevate it. Something crunchy and cheesy, and in my pantry…and then it hit me: CHEEZ-ITS!!! @^%#%^%$*^^%#@#$*!!! Smacking genius.

It turns out pasta never knew a better topping. I had parmesan and garlic flavored cheez-its but I’m sure even the regular kind would work wonders. The dish was a delight: nicely cooked pasta draped in rich, orange velvet robes, and the crushed cheez-its, with their sharp, crunchy, distinctly artificial cheesiness, providing a playful, contrasting touch. Like a king wearing an off-kilter baseball cap. A soft warmth tingled the back of my mouth, probably from the chili powder; and even though the finished product wasn’t visually appealing, essentially a muddled collection of various yellows, it gave me supreme satisfaction to eat and put a dorky smile on my face. Maybe on paper cheez-its and pasta shouldn’t make sense but they do, at least to me, at least for tonight. Now if I can just remember to bring some cheez-its to work tomorrow..

(Picture after the jump.)

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Freakalicious pasta

A couple days ago this recipe from Tamarind and Thyme caught my eye. There was nothing special about it, no exotic ingredients or novel cooking method, so maybe its simple and unassuming nature was what appealed to me. Given the occasion to whip up something for a crowd, I jumped at the chance to try it out. This dish obviously bears resemblance to pasta carbonara and the taste profile is arguably similar. But frying the eggs before combining them with the pasta gives the cook some leeway. Since the heat of the pasta doesn’t bear the full responsibility of cooking the eggs, there’s less pressure to coordinate the cooking of the pasta with the other ingredients. Capiche?

I think this pasta is some of the best I’ve made, which sounds like a grand statement but really isn’t b/c I don’t cook pasta as often as I should. It’s delicious in a robust and full-flavored way, so beware, those with faint hearts and tepid palates. There’s a lot going on with the creaminess of the eggs, the bacon umami, sharpness of the cheese, and pleasant little explosions of pepper granules, but this dish is so easy to make. Despite deviating from the traditional carbonara way of generating the eggy sauce, I still believe the magic is in the timing — cooking the pasta just right, sauteing the bacon long enough to let it do its thing, and most importantly, making sure the eggs do not overcook. Do all this, and you’re guaranteed one immensely satisfying peasant meal.

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Pasta potluck

As several of the ETAs are running in the marathon on Sunday, we joined together for a pasta potluck tonight to carb them up.  I’ve not been in the mood for cooking lately, so I was just planning to throw together penne tossed with olive oil, spinach, and sun-dried tomatoes.  Unfortunately, I had a brain fart at the supermarket and got a jar of roasted bell peppers instead of the tomatoes.  Continue reading

simplylife

For dinner tonight, a few of us trekked out to Festival Walk, a humongous shopping plaza in Kowloon Tong. I was eager to share with them a wonderful restaurant I myself was introduced to only two days prior called simplylife, a bakery/cafe that dishes out simple, health-conscious, and affordable Western fare. Since being inundated with Chinese food since my arrival (not that I’m complaining), simplylife was a welcome change of pace for my palate. The place is small and has an adorable bistro-like ambience, and Carla Bruni (!) was playing in the background — damn, that girl can sing.

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From left to right: strawberry custard tarts, blueberry danish, peach danish, apple danish, and apricot danish. I have never come across a gleaming fruit danish I didn’t like admire.

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Bread! A raisin loaf and a standard baguette type, I think. Both were awesome and declared ‘real bread’ by one of our resident food connoiseurs.

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In the rear, Erik’s iced apple tea. In the foreground, my iced chrysanthemum tea. One sip of Stephanie’s and I nearly shouted at the waiter to get me one as well.

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I was pretty adamant that we split this enormous appetizer: lump crab meat over mesclun salad with a sesame-soy-peanut dressing. I haven’t eaten much salad since getting here, and this one is killer. The dressing was present but not overpowering and the fresh greens did everyone good.

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For my main course, I chose the organic tagliatelle with beef and pork sausage. Al dente pasta + grainy, salty, and fresh sheets of parmesan is nothing spectacular, just dependably good food.

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Stephanie got the organic linguine with prawns.

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George went with the organic fettucine and mushrooms in a truffle sauce. He did a man shriek when he found a coin-sized truffle in his pasta.

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Erik’s dish, organic brown rice with peas, spinach, and goat cheese, was delicious. GOAT CHEESE…slobber. I heart goat cheese.

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Another compadre got the organic brown rice with oxtail braised in red wine, red onions, and spinach. I ordered it the last time I was here and was very happy with it. Now that I think about it, I do believe that on the whole, simplylife’s rice dishes are better than their pastas. Those glutinous carb-y pearls seem to absorb so much more flavor and I love it when they burst in your mouth.

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Before coming over from the States, I generally equated mall food with poor-quality, unhealthy fast food, which generally still holds true in the U.S. But Hong Kongers (and people in other countries, no doubt) have taken the concept of ‘mall food’ and transformed it into a first-rate dining experience. People come to malls expressly to dine, and I don’t blame them when there are restaurants like simplylife available. I’ve noticed that the same phenomenon occurs with instant foods, which are insanely popular here. In the U.S., I tend to think that instant stuff is almost inherently of inferior quality and that people who prepare instant foods sacrifice taste for time (like instant coffee, for example). But I’m not sure that’s true in HK because they seem to take their instant foods very seriously. There is are entire shelves in the supermarket devoted to instant milk tea/coffee and other such food products, and everyone seems to use them religiously. I’m tempted to think that eating and drinking the instant stuff is part of what it means to eat and drink Hong Kong…though I’ll stick with my coffee press 🙂

Week of 21 July 2008: It’s all about the summertime

I just realized that I entitled my previous post “14 July 2007.” Apparently my subconscious is a year behind schedule.

It’s amazing what some leftover fruit and yogurt can do:

Smooth, sweet, and slightly tart, this beaut was a great complement to a lazy summer afternoon. Speaking of lazy summer afternoons (I’ve experienced many in the last two months), they’re also ideal for light, playful lunches. I made a platter for two consisting of Jersey tomatoes, Monterey Jack cheese (leftover from my bbq a couple weeks ago), and some chicken I found chilling in the fridge, all with a touch of black pepper. I served with some multigrain crackers, and the kick from the cheese made this dish golden. And the color on those tomatoes really is lovely.

For dinner one night, I made a vegetable stir-fry with carrots, mushrooms, eggplant, onions, and jap chae noodles. Boil the noodles for a couple minutes and give them a cold bath. Cook the veggies in some vegetable oil. I tossed in the onions first with some garlic, then took those out and cooked the carrots, mushrooms, and eggplant. After those cooked for about 10 minutes, I threw the onions and the noodles in, adding salt and pepper to taste, as well as some sweet soy sauce and some oyster sauce. I added some corn starch in to thicken the liquid from the mushrooms, and drizzled with sesame oil before serving.

D also whipped up some chicken wings and drumsticks marinated with soy sauce, scallion, and ginger, which were finger-licking awesome.

Over the weekend, I had a low key potluck picnic with some friends in the park. Among the delicacies:

McDonald’s McChicken sandwiches contributed by some lazy bums :). I haven’t had a fast food burger in awhile, but I have to admit, this chicken patty nestles itself quite delectably in its bun bottom:

My good friend C made these wonderfully quaint cucumber sandwiches, which reminded me of one of my favorite plays, The Importance of Being Earnest:

We also had some subs, brought by some other lazy bums:

And I made a spinach, sun dried tomato, and bacon pasta:

Here is a recipe for a similar dish from Serious Eats.  I like mine better because the bacon adds so much flavor, and dare I say depth.  However, this dish minus the bacon would make for an excellent summertime vegetarian meal.  Some strawberries and watermelon, some touch football, and lots of mosquito bites = good times.