Monday, July 27, 2020

Bucatini All'Amatriciana

  As I was looking for yummy summer pasta recipes, I happened upon this recipe that I had seen on TV about a million years ago. Back in the day, before Chef Anne Burrell had her Worst Cooks in America thing going on, she used to have her own show, and honestly, it was great to just watch her cook. Wait... before I go any further.. am I the only one who misses those old TV cooking shows where we just watch a chef cook? You know, like Jacques Pepin and Sara Moulton and of course Miss Julia... they were always my favorites because I'd look at them and say "I bet I could make that too", ya know? My young self learned quite a bit from them, so I really do miss how informative those old shows used to be. As much as I love a competition cooking show, or whatever baking challenge we're up to, it's kind of not really the same.
ANYWAY.....Anne Burrell used to have a show called Secrets of a Restaurant Chef.. and on one particular episode, she made this pasta recipe. Of course, it looked so simple, I thought "yup.. definitely making that." And then I promptly forgot all about it. Until now. Aaaaaand we're back.
  I was just gonna make the recipe as I had seen it, but then I thought I'd compare several recipes, just for funsies, to see how different chefs have different variations. The first thing I read is that it's not really authentic to use any herbs in this sauce, or even garlic. I mean, I guess that makes sense. What is the point of coming up with a new tomato sauce recipe if you're just going to add all the same ingredients to it, right? So I knew right off the bat that I wasn't going to add any oregano or basil or garlic, as with your usual basic marinara. But still, many chefs do. Bobby Flay adds parsley and oregano and garlic and finishes his sauce with a couple pats of butter.. I read another recipe that adds fresh rosemary. I saw another version that included a big splash of white wine. Clearly this recipe was open to interpretation. So I looked for the things that seemed to be constant in all of them. The pasta was always bucatini, hence the name, and the sauce always had chopped chilis or crushed red pepper flakes for a spicy kick.
 But the most important thing, it seemed, was to include the star of the show... a specific cut of cured pork called guanciale. Annnnd now you might say "what's guanciale???"  Well, it's actually the cheeks or jowls of the pork. It has quite a lot of fat, and has a stronger porky almost gamey kind of flavor. It's treated like bacon, and it's quite luxurious! The problem is that it's not always the easiest thing to find. So, then I discovered that the next best thing is to use pancetta. Aaaaand now you might say "what's pancetta???" Well, it's similar to guanciale, also a cured cut of pork, but it comes from the belly of the animal instead of the jowls. Think of it as bacon that is cured but not smoked. It's a little expensive, but you only need 8 oz and it's SO worth it. If nothing else, you can just use regular bacon! (actually, that's what Bobby Flay uses in his recipe). It'll add a little smokiness, but that's not really a bad thing here. Anyway, after all that, I decided to just go back and use Anne Burrell's recipe. It's simple, it's straight forward. And I love that she gives the recipe like she's talking to you, especially when she talks about the marriage between the pasta and sauce. LOL It's kinda like many people tell me about this blog. They say "I can hear you talking!" which always cracks me up.
 So there we have it. You absolutely MUST add this recipe to your recipe repertoire. It's SO amazingly delicious, only takes a few ingredients, and is simple enough that anyone can make it. I'd say it's even good enough for when you want to impress someone! It took me forever to finally get around to making it, but it was certainly worth the wait!

Extra virgin olive oil
8 ounces guanciale, cut in 1/4-inch strips
2 large onions, cut in 1/2-inch dice
1/2 to 1 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
Kosher salt
2 (28-ounce) cans San Marzano tomatoes, passed through the food mill
1 pound bucatini or perciatelli
1/2 cup grated Parmigiano-Reggiano, plus extra for garnish
1 tablespoon minced chives, for garnish, optional

Coat a large saucepan with olive oil. Add the guanciale and saute over low heat. Cook until it is brown and crispy and has rendered a lot of fat. Remove and reserve 1/3 of the guanciale for garnish. Bring the pan to a medium heat and add the onions and crushed red pepper. Season generously with salt, to taste. Cook the onions until they are translucent, starting to turn golden and are very aromatic. Add the tomatoes and bring to a boil, then reduce the heat and simmer the sauce for about 1 hour, tasting periodically. Adjust the salt, as needed.
Bring a large pot of well salted water to a boil over high heat. Add the pasta and cook for 1 minute less than the instructions on the package. Remove 3 or 4 ladlefuls of the sauce from the pot to a bowl, as an insurance policy. You can always add it back in but it's harder to take out once the pasta is in the pan. You're looking for the perfect ratio between pasta and sauce. Drain the pasta from the water and add to the pot of sauce. Stir to coat with the sauce. This is how you always finish pasta; you cook it in the sauce to perform the marriage of the pasta and the sauce. Add more sauce, if necessary. Add in the cheese and drizzle with olive oil to really bring the marriage together. Toss to coat and serve in shallow bowls garnished with cheese and the reserved guanciale. Sprinkle with chives to finish, if using. YUUUMMMEEEEE!

When the recipe says "season generously with salt, to taste", I kind of held back a little because I knew the pancetta would be very salty. Maybe the guanciale isn't as salty as pancetta, but it's something to keep an eye on. Yes, I used pancetta instead of guanciale. Who even knows where to buy guanciale??? Also I used more than 8oz. Why? because pancetta is just so GOOD!
Since I only like a little spice, I only used a half tsp of crushed red pepper flakes, which gives it a nice slow burn. But if you like the heat, go for the full teaspoon. Or more! You could even add a fresh pinch right at serving.
I like it a little chunky, so instead of passing my canned tomatoes through a food mill, I just emptied the cans into a large bowl and then squished them with my impeccably clean hands.

Monday, July 20, 2020

Cherry Pie Bars

  I was recently invited to visit some of my family members who were vacationing at the Jersey Shore. Of course, my first question was "what can I bring?" They said they wanted "a picky uppy dessert", which is a very technical term we like to use and it basically means something such as a brownie, something cut into squares that is easily picked up and eaten out of hand (instead of needing plates, bowls, spoons, etc.)
 Well, I knew right away I didn't want to do anything chocolate since the heat was so relentless. I didn't want to arrive at the shore with a melted mess. So I decided to make these little cherry gems.
 I actually found the same exact recipe on several websites, which usually means that's the go-to recipe, but on every website, the recipe always used a 15x10 sheet pan, and I only have 18x13 sheets. hmm... that won't work. Then I thought, well, usually whenever I make a picky uppy dessert, I use a 9x13 pan... yes, I think sounds like the better option than a sheet pan. So I needed to find a smaller version of the same recipe, or figure out different quantities for all of the ingredients. (Wait, did all of that make sense??) Resizing pans... makes my brain hurt.. anyway... The listed recipe is basically the same as all the rest, and the amounts have been adjusted to work for the smaller 9x13 pan. I think that's usually the pan most people use anyway, so there we go.
 The recipe is SUPER easy to do, and it came together in a snap. Everyone LOVED them, and they were gone in no time at all. Side note, they still wound up becoming a little melty (melty?) because of the 80 mile drive to the shore, but no one seemed to mind the extra gooey-ness!
I know I'll definitely be making them again. You should too!

1 cup butter, softened
1 3/4 cups sugar
4 eggs
1 tsp vanilla
2 1/2 cups flour
1 1/2 tsp baking powder
pinch salt
1 (21oz) can cherry pie filling

Heat oven to 350ºF.
Spray a 9x13 inch baking pan with nonstick spray, line with parchment paper with an inch or two hanging over the edge, and then spray again. Set aside.
In a large bowl, cream together the butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Beat in the egg and vanilla. Combine the flour, baking powder and salt; stir into the creamed mixture. Reserve 1 1/2 cups of the dough and spread the rest into the bottom of the prepared pan. Cover this layer evenly with cherry pie filling. Drop the rest of the dough by spoonfuls on top of the cherry layer and spread to cover the best you can.
Bake for 35 to 40 minutes, until top is slightly golden. Drizzle with a confectioners' glaze when cool for sweeter bars. Let cool completely or chill before cutting into bars.

For the glaze, I just added water to about a cup of powdered sugar, just a few drops at a time, until it was the right drizzling consistency. (Can use milk or even fruit juice instead of water). I also added a 1/4 tsp of almond extract. Be careful when adding water to the sugar, a little goes a long way, so just add a tiny bit at a time and whisk it together. Same goes for the almond extract. A little goes a long way.
Not a fan of cherries? Try any kind of pie filling you like!

Monday, July 13, 2020

Joey's Orange BBQ Chicken

 Many years ago, my family was obsessed with a specific chicken recipe called Honey Chicken. We had it for EVERY big family event, and everyone always loved it. It was also super easy to make... bake it low and slow in the oven for an hour, and then baste it with sauce for another hour..... the chicken always turned out perfectly tender and delicious. Well, ever since then, I always wondered if I could do the same cooking method, but use a different sauce....
  My first thought was to do a BBQ sauce, but that's kinda boring. Anyone can open a bottle of BBQ sauce and pour it over some chicken. Still, it seemed like I was on the right track. Hmmm.. I'll mentally set it on the back burner, and maybe one of these days something will inspire me.
And then one night, I ordered Chinese take out orange chicken. Inspiration strikes! This was my ah ha moment! As I was eating my dinner that night, I thought THIS is how I want my oven BBQ chicken to go! Great! Now it's time to come up with an orange sauce.
  I knew I wanted it to be sweet, sticky, salty, savory, and spicy.  So I stirred together a few Asian-inspired ingredients, and this is where I landed. The orange flavor definitely comes through, and so does the slight heat from the fresh ginger and the crushed red pepper flakes. Perfect! And, once again, the chicken turned out every bit as tender as it was when we made the honey chicken, just as I had hoped it would be.
 If you're looking for a different BBQ experience, you should give this one a try. I'm so pleased with how it turned out. Also, you should keep lots of napkins at the ready! Just sayin'!

4 chicken legs, bone-in and skin on
4 chicken thighs, bone-in and skin on
salt and pepper
1/2 cup orange marmalade
1/2 cup honey
1/4 cup soy sauce
1 tbs lemon juice
3 tbs butter
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 tbs grated fresh ginger
pinch crushed red pepper flakes

sesame seeds or sliced scallions for garnish (optional)

Heat oven to 300ºF.
Line a baking tray with parchment paper. Place chicken pieces on tray, leaving space between them. Pat chicken pieces dry with paper towels. Season well with salt and pepper. Place tray in oven for 1 hour. Now it's time to make the sauce.
In a small sauce pot, combine remaining ingredients. Bring to a low simmer over low-mediumn heat. Let the sauce reduce until syrupy, stirring often so that it doesn't burn. Remove from heat and set aside until you're ready to use it.
Brush the chicken pieces with the sauce until they're well coated. Place the chicken back in oven for another hour, periodically brushing with more sauce. At this point, you could place them under the broiler for a little char, or finish them off on the grill, but it's really not necessary. Remove chicken from oven and top with sliced scallions or sesame seeds, if desired.

Taste the sauce to make sure it's what you want. Is it sweet enough? Add more honey or even some brown sugar. Salty enough? Add another splash of soy sauce. Is it bright enough? Add more lemon juice or some grated orange zest. Can you taste the ginger and garlic? Feel free to adjust it to how you like it!
If your sauce becomes too thick, you can thin it down with a tablespoon or two of orange juice.
I like to use the bone-in chicken with the skin still on. It gets nice and crispy and it keeps the chicken moist. With this method, you definitely don't want to use boneless chicken breasts. They just don't need that long to cook and will come out dry and overdone. If you'd still like to use boneless chicken, then just grill the chicken and brush with sauce as you normally would, instead of the low and slow method.

Monday, July 6, 2020

Peanut Butter Cupcakes

  Recently, my niece Casey Case with the Pretty Face celebrated a milestone birthday, so of course I offered my baking skills for the party effort. I asked what her favorites are, and I was told that she love love LOVES peanut butter. OK, I can work with this! How 'bout if I make Peanut Butter Cupcakes? "Perfect! She'll love 'em!" But wait... then I realized.. I have no peanut butter cupcakes on my website. WHAT?? How is that even possible?? Well, we must find a go-to recipe right away!
 It didn't take me long to find just the perfect recipe on one of my favorite blogs, Sally's Baking Addiction. I don't think there is even ONE recipe I've tried from Sally's blog that wasn't absolutely perfect. And these cupcakes turned out perfectly! So there we have it. I did, however, make one slight change. Not to the cupcake recipe, but for this occasion, I decided to do a Peanut Butter Swiss Meringue Buttercream instead of the peanut butter icing that Sally posted. Honestly, the results were life changing. I don't even know how else to describe them. If you've ever made Swiss Meringue Buttercream, the recipe was the same, only I swapped out some of the butter for peanut butter. Sheer peanut butter heaven! And as My Kristin always says "the peanut butterier, the better."
 At the party, the cupcakes were a huge hit, and Casey loved them! I'd say that's a solid mission accomplished right there. And if you're also a peanut butter fanatic, you'll definitely want to make these. I'm telling you... LIFE CHANGING. Not even kidding.

1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/4 tsp salt
1/2 cup vegetable oil
1/2 cup creamy peanut butter
1 cup packed light or dark brown sugar
1 large egg
1/3 cup sour cream
1 1/2 tsp pure vanilla extract
3/4 cup whole milk
1/3 cup very finely crushed or chopped peanuts

Preheat the oven to 350°F.
Line a 12-cup muffin pan with cupcake liners. Line a second pan with 2-3 liners because this recipe yields 14-15 cupcakes. Set aside.
Whisk the flour, baking soda, and salt together in a medium bowl. Set aside.
Using a handheld mixer, stand mixer fitted with a whisk or paddle attachment, or a whisk, mix the oil, peanut butter, brown sugar, egg, sour cream, and vanilla extract together in a large bowl. Add the dry ingredients, milk, and peanuts and whisk or beat together until completely combined. Avoid overmixing. Batter will be slightly thick. Pour/spoon the batter into the liners, filling only 2/3 full to avoid baking over the sides. Bake for 21-23 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean and the tops of the cupcakes spring back when gently touched.
For around 35 mini cupcakes, bake for about 11-13 minutes, same oven temperature. Allow the cupcakes to cool completely before frosting.

It should be noted that the original recipe suggested that all ingredients should be at room temperature for better mixing. I didn't have time, so a few of my ingredients were straight from the fridge. Sorry Sally.
I also didn't have any peanuts to finely chop or crush, so I just left them out. I did, however, add an extra pinch of salt, just to drive home that salty peanutty flavor. Turned out great!