Dinner for Three-Caprese Salad with Homemade Mozzarella

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Simply delightful

Well, it seems that I am still a completely unreliable blogger. Some things may never change. Since my last apology for not posting often enough, my wonderful boyfriend and my almost as wonderful best friend and cooking partner have gotten an apartment together. Which leads to the introduction of a new series here at Engineer Food, Dinner for Three, in which me and Larry and sometimes Will prepare a recipe (often from Bon Apetite or the NY Times) and tell you what we think. This being the first installment, however, I feel no need to stick to an established pattern. I’m funny like that.

This time I am going to tell you about a fantastic birthday present that Larry gave me:

Clearly, I was planning on being part of this documentation as evidenced by my wearing an over-sized t-shirt

That’s right folks, a very fancy, Williams-Sonoma cheese making kit. I meant to take pictures the whole way, but I was completely occupied with the whole making mozzarella thing. Sue me. While I was separating my curds and whey and slowly cooking in the microwave. Larry sliced up some tomatoes and bread and retrieved basil from the fridge.

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So damn pretty

Anyway, about 50 minutes after that horrific picture of me was taken, one gallon of whole pasteurized (but not ultra-pasteurized) milk was turned (with the careful addition of citric acid, rennet and some cheese salt)  into one pound of mozzarella cheese.

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Alright, the texture was a little off but it tasted right.

For Caprese Salad:

  • 2 Ripe Jersey Tomatoes, sliced
  • 1 Loaf of Bread, sliced
  • 1 Sprig of Basil
  • 1 lb Mozzarella Cheese (Making it at home optional)
  • Kosher Salt and Pepper, to taste
  • Extra Virgin Olive Oil
  • Balsamic Vinegar

Difficulty Level-Extraordinarily Easy

Before eating, generously salt and pepper the tomato slices.

Cut each slice of bread in half, if they are significantly bigger than the tomatoes. On each half, place several small pieces of mozzarella, a tomato slice, some basil and drizzle with olive oil and vinegar. Eat with a fork and knife or be a savage and just dig right on in. Enjoy with a light white whine (chilled Chardonnay pictured above).

Baked Chicken with Pesto (and Bacon!) and some news

 I have some very exciting news for those of you who have been silently bemoaning how completely shitty my photography is. I (finally) got a Cannon DSLR! So now I can take pictures like this:

Honestly, I fell in love with this picture and didn't have any where else to put it.

Anyway…for the past few months, I have been searching high and low for the perfect pesto recipe. Last night, I found it. If you haven’t made Ina Garten’s (aka The Barefoot Contessa) Pesto, you need to. It is a religious experience. Words simply can not describe.

All you do, is take some basil, salt and pepper, nuts, cheese and garlic

 

And process them for a few mintes in ye-olde food processor.

After I made this wonderous dish, I thought to myself: “Self,” I thought, “you should throw some of that deliciousness down on some chicken.”

So I did

 And then I remembered something that everyone on the internet knows. Bacon is awesome, so I wrapped it all up in bacon and threw it in the oven.

And behold what I have wrought

Chicken with Pesto and Bacon:

  • 1 1/2 cups Basil, packed
  • 1tbs Walnuts
  • 1tbs Pine Nuts
  • 1/2 cup Olive Oil
  • 3 Cloves Garlic, chopped
  • 1/3 cup Grated Parmesean Cheese
  • 1 pinch each Salt and Pepper
  • 3 Chicken Breasts, halved
  • 1lb Bacon

For the Pesto:

Combine nuts in the food processor and process for 15 seconds. Add Garlic, Basil and Salt and Pepper. While processing, slowly add the Olive Oil and blend until the basil pieces get as small as they are going to. Add the Cheese and blend until combined. Makes 1 Cup.

For the Chicken:

Preheat the oven to 400F. Spread about 1tbs of Pesto over each piece of Chicken. Wrap in two to three strips of Bacon, and bake until bacon is browned and chicken is cooked (~45 minutes).

Roasted Red Peppers

Everyone has a list of things that they simply will not pay for. If roasted red peppers aren’t on your list then they should be. You can pay up to $10 for a bottle of them OR you can make them yourself for the cost of red peppers (~$1/lb around me). Your call.

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For Roasted Red Peppers:

  • 2-6 Red Bell Peppers
  • 2 Cloves of Garlic
  • 3 tbs Olive Oil

Preheat the oven to 450F. Place rinsed and dried peppers a hot, dry pan on high heat and cover. Turn every 5 minutes or so until peppers are evenly blackened (about 20 minutes). Place the peppers on an aluminum lined cookie sheet in the oven for one hour.

Do Laundry or some other productive thing (I watched Myth Busters).

Remove the peppers from the oven and place in a brown paper bag until they are cool enough to handle. This allows them to steam a little bit (yay residual heat). Once they have cooled, remove the skin by gently rolling the pepper between your hands and peeling it off (similar to a hard boiled egg).  Pull the pepper apart into strips and carefully remove any seeds. Put finished strips in a bowl with olive oil and garlic. Refrigerate until ready to eat. Will keep, refrigerated, indefinitely (I don’t actually know how long they keep because I usually eat them all right away).

 

Italian American Gravy

This post is an exceptionally long one because it is a recipe I grew up with and is very dear to me. There was nothing better than the few times a year when I would wake up at eleven and come downstairs to see my dad standing over the stove stirring a gigantic stock pot full of tomato sauce with the smell of fresh meatballs filling the kitchen.
For those of you who have yet to be blessed by the wonders that unfold in your mouth when you eat gravy (some heathens call it sauce) and have no idea what awaits you, gravy is a typical red sauce with meatballs, sausage, large chunks of chuck steak and whatever cheap cuts of meat you can find. This is different from bolognaise in that bolognaise uses finely chopped or ground meats whereas gravy uses whole cuts, making it a full meal in one dish (a rarity in Italian cooking, which is heavily course-based).
When you buy meat for a gravy style sauce, don’t be afraid to reach for the tougher but cheaper cuts. You will be cooking them for a long enough time that, by the end, they will be falling apart.
The secret to perfect gravy is time. I try to start cooking about eight to ten hours before I plan on eating. Yes that is a long time. Yes it is worth it. Yes you need to plan ahead.
What you will need:
  • For the sauce:
    • Several cans of different brands of diced and pureed tomatoes. You will need about two large cans for every three people you are planning on feeding. It is important to have multiple brands because each company treats their tomatoes slightly differently, so you will get a greater variety of flavor combinations.
    • 1/2 a medium onion finely diced.
    • One clove of garlic, sliced very thin. (People who have followed my recipes know that I generally try to vampire-proof my recipes, garlic wise. Don’t worry, we’ll get there)
    • Salt, Pepper, Basil, Oregano and any other spices that suit your fancy
  • For the meats:
    • Equal parts ground veal, pork and beef. The Shoprite near me has a “meatloaf mix” where you can buy all three in one package
    • One pound chuck steak
    • Six to Eight Sweet Italian Sausages
    • Any other meats that strike your fancy. I got some spare pork ribs, but they didn’t fit in my pot. Try to plan so that about a third to a half of the total volume of your gravy is meat.
    • A head of garlic (less one clove)
    • Two eggs and about two cups of bread crumbs for every pound of ground meat
    • The same spices as above
Order of Operations:

A note in advance, I am going to list the parts in the order that they need to be started. Please note that you will still need to keep half an eye on the other portions of the meal.
Now that I’ve scared you, let’s begin!
First thing’s first: start the sauce
  • If you have an immersion blender, go ahead and plunge it into the cans of chopped tomato to puree it a bit. If you don’t have one, get one because immersion blenders are awesome, but in the mean time blend it in a blender.
  • Take the biggest sauce/stock pot you have. Yes, that one that belonged to your great-grandmother and has been sitting in the back of your cabinet for months after that one time you used it to make sangria. Put it on the stove and turn the heat on to high.
  • Into the dry pot, drop the sliced garlic and the diced onion, and stir it around until you begin to get little caramelized marks at the bottom of the pot. Add in a bit of salt, a lot of pepper, some basil and a touch of oregano. When you can just smell the spices start to singe, add in all of your tomatoes and re-add each of the herbs and such you added before.
  • Bring it to a boil and then lower the heat and let it simmer. Get started on the meatballs.
  • Let it simmer for as many hours as you can. Stir it often to keep it from burning or sticking to the pot
Next: the meatballs
  • Preheat the oven to 375F
  • Get yourself a large mixing bowl and a foil pan
  • Put your ground meats, your eggs and breadcrumbs and a pinch of salt, a bunch of pepper a lot of basil and some oregano. (As a side note, and in no way related to my last batch of mildly disappointing meatballs, dried basil and dried oregano look very similar. Check the labels.)
  • Wash your hands
  • Get your hands dirty in that bowl and mix everything together until you have one gross, homogeneous ball of meat
  • Shape the meatballs by hand. I make about 2″ balls, but you can make them smaller if you find that intimidatingly large. Place them directly in the tin pan. You don’t have to keep them from touching, but also don’t pack them super tight (I was able to get a dozen in a large pan).
  • Wash your hands
Set and wait
  • Put the rest of your meats in foil pans. If for some reason you actually like the environment more than your convenience, you can use cookie sheets or keep the pans and wash them.
  • Take the head of garlic and remove cloves but leave them unpeeled. Scatter three to five pieces in each pan of meat and meatballs.
  • Put all of that in the oven for about two hours, or until all of the meat is cooked.
  • Take out the meat and put it in the tomato sauce (which has, by now, been simmering for about 2-1/2 hours)
  • Let that simmer for at least another three hours if not longer
When you have stalled as long as you can, serve with a hearty pasta like rigatoni or large linguine with grated parm and a nice red.

Ramen Week Day One: Ramen with Spinach and Tomato Sauce

Whelp, it’s that time of the semester again. Midterms have forced me into a temporary hiatus from blogging. So, now I’m back, sick of engineering optimization, heat transfer theory, differential equations and applied motion. Time for cooking!
Unfortunately, eating out and ordering in while I was studying for all of my tests has cut a pretty deep gouge into my budget. You know what that means. It’s my semesterly Ramen Week! 
Yay?

 Here are the rules:

  1. Every day for one week, I must have at least one ramen based meal. 
  2. I refuse to use flavor packs 
  3. The meal must be healthy
  4. It must cost under $5.00 per serving
Today I made Ramen with Spinach and Tomato Sauce
My price list, for two lunches:
  • 1/2 Package of Spinach (The other half to be used for a salad for dinner): $1.25
  • 4 Chicken Tenders (From a package of 22 purchased for $7.26): $0.70
  • 1 Can of Chopped Tomatoes: $1.25
  • 2 Packages of Ramen: $0.36
Total: $4.26 for two meals (One for me and one for boyfriend)

First thing’s first. Put a pot on to boil for your ramen packets.

While you are waiting for that, steam your spinach by putting a large amount of it in a pan over medium heat and cover it tightly until the spinach is thoroughly wilted.

Actually yay. I love spinach.

Once that is achieved, put in to the pan a healthy dollop of olive oil and the can of tomatoes and season with salt, pepper, garlic and onion powders, a touch of lemon juice and, if you are a fan of spicy, some red pepper flakes and sriracha (rooster) sauce.

Easy? Yes. Delicious? Abso-freaking-lutely.

Bring that to a boil and then bring it down to a simmer until the rest of the meal is complete. While that is happening and you are waiting for the ramen to cook, pull out another pan and throw in some chicken with olive oil. Once that and ramen are finished, throw everything in a bow and enjoy!

Pretty colors, shitty presentation.

Tomorrow: Ramen and Steak Stir Fry

Spaghetti with Mussels Arrabiata

My find of the day the other day was that the Kings near me sells a pound of mussels for three dollars. Naturally I had to make something fantastic with them.
The biggest challenge with mussels is that you need to clean them. If you don’t, you will get sand and barnacles and fish poop in your sauce.  First you must sort them into living and dead. Any of them that are at all opened are dead and will begin to rot. You should throw them out. If any of them open in the cleaning, toss them too.
Place all of the remaining (live) mussels in a pot of cold water and grab a (disposable) toothbrush and scrub each of the mussels . I usually put them into a nearby bowl as I work. Throw out the water and repeat two more times. You probably won’t get much the third time but that’s how my Great-aunt Mildred always did it, so that’s how I do it too.
Not visible: the pile of sand at the bottom of that pot.

Next (or while your boyfriend is cleaning the mussels), begin preparing an arrabiata sauce.

Combine in a pot one small can of tomato paste, two small cans of chunked tomatoes, one small (tomato paste sized) can of water, a small. diced onion, salt, pepper, garlic, red pepper and a couple splashes of tobasco sauce (I would have used sriracha, but I couldn’t find any at my supermarket), and bring it to a boil for twenty minutes, then lower it to a simmer.

Warning, this is spicy
Once the sauce is simmering put on a pot of water to boil. When the water is boiling, put the mussels in the sauce and the spaghetti in the water.  The mussels are done when they are all opened (if one refuses to open three minutes after his brothers, just toss him) and the pasta is done when it sticks to the ceiling. (Don’t test that last one.) Lay the mussels and sauce over the pasta
Savory and spicy 

Italian Sausage with Peppers and Onions

This past weekend was Hoboken’s Feast of the Madonna Dei Martiri, the biggest Italian Festival in a very Italian-American town. This three day party is full of cannoli (including the one from Carlos’ Bakery of Cake Boss fame, which I diligently avoided), zeppole and fried oreos, pizzas, ices and, my personal favorite, sausage and peppers. 
How could you not love this?
Every time a festival comes to town, I cannot resist buying zeppole, and Will needs to get his fried Oreo fix, but we never buy sausage and peppers, because, frankly, I make them better. Here’s how:
Take a package of five sweet Italian sausages and put them in a hot, dry pan.
Sausages even look good raw.

While your sausages are cooking, cut a green pepper into centimeter wide strips and chop up an onion into chunks. Once the sausages are singed on the outside, remove them from the pan and cut them into quarters. Throw them back into the pan along with the vegetables, some olive oil, salt, pepper and a huge amount of garlic powder (or, if you are a vampire, no garlic). Cover it and let it cook on medium high, stirring occationally, until the onions are translucent, the peppers are soft and the sausage is cooked through.

As a non-vampire, I can never have too much garlic.

Take a small sub roll (or a hoagie roll if you are a heathen) and cut it open and in half and rip out the delicious doughy insides. If you can resist eating that now, you can dry it for some great bread crumbs. Place the mixture into the roll and eat it now or wrap in tinfoil and take it to go, Italian style.

I’m salivating with the memory