Saturday, September 29, 2012

Frittatas and my Experiment with Gluten-Free Dining


Blah blah blah, just skip to the recipe

I always thought of wheat allergies as one of these sketchy phobias new age people develop. It just seems every time you meet someone who says they’re gluten free, they also believe in crystals and talk about “the Goddess.” But recently a friend suggested that my stomach problems and propensity for ligament/ tendon injuries could be related to gluten, so I tried going gluten free for a while. The result was my chronic, lifelong stomach problems improved vastly.

Dropping gluten meant giving up sandwiches and bagels and a lot of other stuff. I tried those expensive, inferior, gluten-free versions of bagels and breads, but decided what I really needed was something new to eat. Eggs seemed a good place to start, and I found a huge list of egg recipes on wikipedia (the Japanese mix them raw into rice, which I found a little gross). That’s how I wound up learning to make frittatas.

A frittata is sort of like a quiche without a crust. They’re often cooked pie-sized and served in slices. I either make a single size for myself in a small pot or a pie for my girlfriend and myself in a small frying pan. I never tried any specific recipe, I just read several and split the difference, resulting in a couple of terrible meals before I got the hang of it. But eventually I found I could make really tasty frittatas.

Time: Probably around 20 minutes, maybe less.

Eggs (I use two large or extra large eggs per person).
Grating cheese (parmesan, romano, asiago, etc.).
Other cheese(s) (cheddar, muenster, swiss, gouda, whatever).
Vegetables (I’ve used zucchini with mushrooms or onions or both. Spinach and broccoli are also be good).
Meat, if you like. (Salmon is pretty good; I haven’t tried anything else.)
Basil or oregano..

Get a sauce pan or a frying pan. I use my smallest sauce pan for my individual-size frittata, but when I make it for two I use my smallest frying pan.

Chop up your vegetables (and meat if you’re using any). I chop everything pretty thin and in fairly small pieces, although not even close to minced. Put a little oil in the pan and swish it around (I always use extra-virgin olive oil because I’ve heard it’s healthier). Swish the oil along the sides too, to make it easier to get out. (Keep in mind that I use non-stick pots, and I don’t know what this experience would be like without them.)

Heat up the oil a bit, then toss in the veggies. I usually cook things like mushrooms and onions on high, stirring constantly, for perhaps five minutes, then I toss in the zucchini for another couple of minutes and turn the heat down to low.

Keeping an eye on the veggies and still stirring them now and again, break the eggs into a bowl, add a little milk and scramble them. I use an egg whisk because I read it gets more air into the eggs and that is presumably what you want.

Grate your cheeses into the eggs. The tricky part is you can’t taste test as you go, so you have to use your best judgment as to how much you’ll need. If you grate the cheese finely, like you would grate parmesan, the your eggs will wind up about the consistency of a medium-thick sauce. 

Sprinkle a little basil or oregano (or both!) into the mixture. Then pour the veggies into the mix, stir it all up, and pour it back into the sauce pan. Put that back on the stove and cook it on low for seven or eight minutes. You want to cook the frittata until it’s almost cooked through, but still a little liquidy on top.

Now you need to cook that top part, which can be done on the range or in the oven. I prefer the oven, because trying to flip it over in a sauce pan would be tricky. Just turn the oven to broil and put the pan in for three minutes. Make sure you have an oven mitt so you can remove the pan again. If you want to flip it and cook the top on the range, I’d say a minute or two would probably be fine. Good luck with that.

If you’ve done it right, it should be awesome. If it’s not awesome, you probably just need more cheese. Honestly, I don’t think I’ve ever cooked something and then said, “there’s too much cheese in this.” 

Thursday, August 30, 2012

Fettuccini Alfredo/ Pasta Primavera and An Introduction


Blah blah blah, just skip to the recipe

I once had a mother-in-law who spoke in the pearly tones of an aristocrat and was fond of saying, when asked if she liked to cook, “I don’t like to cook, I like to eat ... well.”

I am much the same way. I have no particular fondness for cooking, and would live on Trader Joe’s frozen meals if I could afford to, but I like to eat well, and cheaply, and achieve this with a minimum of effort. And over the years I have learned how to do just that.

If I’m hungry, I want to eat within the next 20 minutes – I refuse to use recipes that ask me to prepare something the day before and let it sit overnight. My dishes vary depending on what ingredients happen to be in the apartment. I rarely measure things, instead putting in what seems like the right amount, just because I’m too lazy to wash measuring cups.

Over the years I have, through a mix of googling and experimentation, come up with a bunch of what I would have to call, because “recipes” is too strong a word, recipestimates. And the purpose of this site is to share these with those who just want a very simple idea of how to make something good and quick.

Now, we all have different ideas of easy. I knew a woman whose idea of making pasta was to boil and drain spaghetti then pour a can of cold tomato sauce on top. I don’t do that. And for all my laziness, I grate my own cheese because the powdered stuff is crappy. So you can be even lazier than I am, and if you are, feel free to change my recipestimate to suit your slothfulness. It’s your mouth; you decide what you want in it.

I’m going to start with exactly the sort of recipe I like; one that seems fancy and yet is brain-dead easy.  I found a recipe for Fettucini Alfredo on the Internet long ago, and was thrilled to discover that something so gourmetish was so insanely easy. It is also a good example of my use-what-you-want rule; I rarely make Fettucini Alfredo with fettucini because I consider it a troublesome pasta.

I use the same sauce and methods for both Fettucini Alfredo and Pasta Primavera, so I’ll tell you how to do either here.

Time: 15-20 minutes.

Pasta (while fettuccini is traditional, it’s also a pain, since it tends to stick to itself if you don’t stir constantly. I generally use some sort of corkscrew pasta like rotini or rotelle, although if I want something fettuccini-ish I’ll use linguini, which is less bothersome. Frozen tortellini or ravioli are also good in a cream sauce.)
Heavy Cream
Grating Cheese (parmesan or romano are good, although I generally use asiago because it’s the cheapest grating cheese at Trader Joe’s).
Black Pepper (optional)

If you want Pasta Primavera you’ll also need:

Vegetables (vegetables I like with a cream sauce include mushrooms, zucchini, and carrots).

Boil water in a pot. Throw in enough pasta for however many people you’re cooking for (I’m pretty good at eyeballing it; keep in mind that some pastas expand and some don’t). Cook it for however long the instructions tell you to.

While the pasta is boiling, get a sauce pan and melt some butter in it. You’ll want enough butter to coat however much pasta you’re making (my guess is I use around a tablespoon per serving). Once the butter is melted turn off the heat so it doesn’t burn.

If you are making Pasta Primavera you can cook your veggies while boiling the pasta. I have a steamer, so I usually just steam them, but feel free to sauté them in oil or butter. Keep in mind that some veggies cook faster than others, so put in carrots and mushrooms earlier than zucchini or eggplant).

When the pasta is cooked (I usually pull out one piece and take a bite to see if it is), drain it. Thec pour the drained pasta into the pan with the butter and stir it around to coat the pasta.

Pour a little heavy cream in (I’ll guess about as much cream as butter).  Keep in mind that the more cream and butter you use, the more cheese you’ll need to put in to keep your sauce from getting soupy. Stir it up.

Mix some grated cheese into the pasta. You want to put in enough to create something the consistency of a cream sauce, although if it’s too thin or thick it won’t kill you; as long as it tastes good. Put some cheese in, taste it, if it doesn’t taste cheesy enough, put some more in.

If you made vegetables, toss them in. Put on black pepper if that’s your thing (black pepper is actually supposed to be good for you, so if it’s not your thing, try it out anyway).

If it doesn’t come out quite the way you like, next time try more butter, or less butter, or more cream, or whatever.