Coal Miners Spaghetti ~ Pasta Carbonara

I admit it, I’m a pasta junky! I have made my fair share of different pasta dishes, but Carbonara has alluded me until just last week. I’m really not sure why? Maybe it was the egg yolks that concerned me? It turns out those egg yolks make the most amazing rich sauce, that perfectly coats each fine strand of spaghetti! I think I might have thought that Carbonara was harder to make, but it’s actually very easy. The peas pop in your mouth adding great texture. The salty bacon and the hint of sweetness from the peas will almost guarantee you help yourself to a second portion.

The exact origins of Carbonara is a little foggy, but it is thought to have been invented in Rome, Italy around the time of World War II. Eggs and bacon were being rationed out by U.S. Soldiers, the basic components of this tasty treat. While on post, U.S. Soldiers couldn’t get enough of the newly invented pasta dish and it made it’s way back to the United States with them. Overall an easy dish to make that is simple in terms of ingredients, but shockingly flavorful!

Oh yes, in case you are wondering ~ Carbonara means charcoal burner and is sometimes referred to as coal miners spaghetti.

What you will need –

1 Tbs Olive Oil
10 oz Frozen Peas
8 oz Bacon
¼ Cup Pecorino Romano Cheese (plus extra for topping)
3 Large Eggs (2 whole eggs, one yolk) Room Temperature
¼ Yellow Onion Chopped fine
2 Cloves Garlic Chopped
¼ tsp Pepper
¼ tsp Salt
1 lb Spaghetti

You are going to need a bowl to mix the pasta in (use a metal bowl if you have one). Place that bowl under your pasta strainer in your sink. We want to warm the bowl with the pasta water, so that it helps to keep the pasta hot to cook the eggs once they are added. Defrost your peas (I heated mine in the microwave for a few minutes).

Start your water boiling. Once the water boils add your spaghetti and cook according to the directions on the box. While the water is heating up, in a large frying pan add your olive oil and heat your pan over medium heat. Once your oil is hot add your bacon and cook until browned. Remove the bacon with a slotted spoon, leaving the oil in the pan… I’m sure you will try a piece, I did! Add your chopped onion to the frying pan and cook until translucent 3 – 5 minutes. Add your garlic and cook for about 2 minutes, don’t let the garlic brown or it will become bitter. Once the onion and garlic is cooked, remove the pan from the heat. Poor off any excess fat, leaving about 1 Tbs in the pan. Return the bacon to the pan. The bacon, onions and garlic must be finished before you can strain your pasta.

In another bowl crack two of the eggs. Then for the third egg you need to separate the yolk from the white. This is pretty easy, you crack the egg over a separate bowl and pass the yolk back and forth between the halved egg shells. The egg white will fall into the seperate bowl and you will be left with just the yolk. Add the yolk to the bowl with the other two cracked eggs.

Add the Pecorino Romano cheese, salt and pepper. Whisk vigorously to add some air to the mixture.

Timing at this point becomes critical, because you are going to use the heat of the pasta to cook the eggs (or bring them to a temperature that is safe to consume) and not scramble them.

Strain your pasta making sure to collect the water in the bowl placed under the strainer. Quickly shake you pasta to remove any excess liquid. Pour the spaghetti into the frying pan with the oil, bacon, onions and garlic, toss together. Carefully pour the water out of the bowl. Pour all of the ingredients from the frying pan into the now heated bowl. Add the egg mixture and stir vigorously with a wooden spoon to coat all of the pasta with the egg mixture. Add your peas and mix them into the spaghetti. Plate, top with a sprinkle of Pecorino Romano cheese and eat at once!

{Top Photograph taken by Carly Dunn}


Lamb Chops Served with Arugula Salad & Couscous

I am not a fan of prepackaged spice combinations. I usually mix or add my own spices depending on what I am cooking. While living in New Hampshire, my local butcher introduced me to Harris’ Pelham Inn seasoning. He told me to sprinkle a little on a prime rib roast I was purchasing. What a great recommendation! Harris’ Pelham Inn seasoning is a pretty simple spice combination with celery salt being the predominate flavor. For years I’ve been having it shipped to me from New Hampshire. It’s only available in a few local shops in the New England area. The seasoning is just incredible and is a wonderful compliment to beef and lamb!

For Easter a few years ago, I served lamb chops slathered in garlic and seasoned with Pelham Inn seasoning. I received nothing, but rave reviews. This past weekend I attempted to figure out the right combination to make my own Pelham Inn inspired seasoning. Let me tell you, it wasn’t hard. All of the ingredients were listed on the label. My attempt was a success, and I’m ready to share it with you!

I love lamb chops and adding a little minced garlic and Pelham Inn seasoning makes these little puppies explode with flavor! A side of arugula salad topped with Parmesan cheese and couscous… Can you say gourmet dinner! A gourmet dinner, made fast and with ease.

You Will Need –
Enough for 2 Portions – You can easily double or triple the recipe if desired

Amazing Lamb Chops –
1 lb Lamb Chops
4 Garlic Cloves, Minced
Pelham Inn Inspired Seasoning (recipe below)

Spice Rub Inspired by Pelham Inn Seasoning –
1 ½ tsp Celery Salt
½ tsp Paprika
1 tsp Garlic Powder
1 tsp Onion Powder
½ tsp Salt
½ tsp Pepper

Arugula Salad –
2 Large Handfuls Arugula
3 Tbs of Olive Oil
Juice of 1 Lemon
Salt & Pepper
Parmesan Cheese, shaved

Couscous – I use Near East, Roasted Garlic & Olive Oil
Prepare according to the directions on the box

Start your water boiling for the couscous. Combine all of your dry spices in a bowl to make the Pelham Inn inspired seasoning. Mince or press your garlic and rub each side of the lamb chops with the garlic. Sprinkle each side of the lamb chops with the seasoning. Don’t be skimpy!

In a salad bowl squeeze the juice of one lemon and add the olive oil. Mix vigorously with a whisk to create an emulsion, where the oil and lemon juice come together. Add salt & pepper to taste. Add 2 large hand fulls of arugula and toss. Cook your couscous according to the directions on the package.

Grill your lamb chops to your desired doneness. They cook very quickly, only 2 – 3 minutes on each side. I actually used a panini press to cook mine. It’s kind of like a George Forman grill on steroids. You can broil the lamb chops in an oven or cook them on a grill. Plate your lamb chops on top of a bed of couscous. place your arugula salad next to the lamb chops and top with the Parmesan cheese shavings. That’s it, a great quick gourmet dinner. Go, cook, eat and enjoy!

Questions, comments, love the dish? I would love to hear your comments below.

Restaurant Quality Pizza – Made at Home

About six years ago my wife and I moved from the Boston area to Texas. We left an area rich with great Italian food and… amazing pizza! We were both a little shocked to discover that the pizza in Texas, just isn’t that good. Sorry Houstonians! You may think your pizza is good, but clearly you have not eaten pizza in the North End of Boston. Great pizza is chewy and crispy with a perfect combination of flavorful cheese and tangy tomato. That great combination is difficult to find here in Texas.

Luckily I worked for several years as a restaurant manager in an Italian restaurant and have learned the finer art of pizza making. In my years working in the restaurant industry I have made thousands of pizzas. Since my options for finding good pizza in Houston were non existent, I decided to figure out how to make great restaurant quality pizza at home.

Over the last few years I have been perfecting my cheese combination and sauce recipe. I have experimented with different cooking techniques to produce a perfectly cooked pizza in my home oven, not some special pizza oven. The results have been sensational and I am excited to share them with you! This video and the recipes below are my secrets to making great pizza… at home.

Tools you will need –
– 1 or 2 Stoneware Pizza Stones – Available here
– Pizza Cutter – This is the one I use
– Pizza Peel – Available here
– Pizza Ladle / Spoodle – A ladle bent flat, see video – Order here

Place your pizza stone into your oven, and then preheat your oven to 500 degrees. It is critical that before turning your oven on, that you place your pizza stone into the oven, so that the temperature of both rises simultaneously. Once your oven reaches 500 degrees wait 10 – 15 minutes before starting, to ensure that your pizza stone comes to temperature. Now you are ready to start making pizza!

Dough –

If you have a good recipe for pizza dough feel free to make your own. Mario Batalli has a good recipe that you can find here. I prefer to purchase a few dough balls from a local pizza restaurant. They usually only charge me a few dollars for two or three dough balls and it makes the process a little easier. Ask the manager at your favorite local pizza shop if they will sell you large dough balls, in my experience most will not have a problem with it.

– Make sure that your dough temperature is at 60 degrees fahrenheit before pounding out your dough. If your dough is too cold you will end up with lots of bubbles when you cook the pizza.

{UPDATE} I get a lot of questions about making dough – Janae Monir has a great post about pizza dough on her food blog – Click here.

Pizza Sauce –

Enough for 4 large pizza’s

1 28 oz container Pomi Strained Tomatoes (You can substitute Hunt’s Tomato Sauce if Pomi is unavailable)
1 6 oz Can of Hunt’s Tomato Paste
½ tsp Garlic Powder
1 ½ tsp Salt
1 tsp Oregano

Combine all of the ingredients in a bowl and mix together until smooth. If you have time, let the sauce sit for at least an hour before making your pizza. You want all of the flavors to come together. You can even make the sauce a day ahead and store it in your fridge until you are ready to use it.

Cheese Combination –
I like the following combination, but feel free to experiment and try different cheeses.

– Sliced Provolone cheese (I like Sargento or Boar’s Head)
– Sliced or shredded mozzarella (Some mozzarella cheeses, especially the shredded version don’t have a lot of flavor)
– Shredded Sharp Cheddar cheese
– Grated Pecorino Romano Cheese

Toppings???? Go crazy, have fun, be creative. Pizza is such a fun dinner to make at home, because the combinations of toppings are endless. Get your kids involved and make it a family adventure in the land of pizza making. (For more on toppings see one of my newer posts on pizza toppings)

If you have any questions please leave a comment below, I will make sure to answer. Have fun and enjoy making tasty pizza in the comfort of your own home!

Wintery Beef Bolognese

There is truly something special about sitting down with friends and family and sharing a meal together. It can be a wonderful time of deepening relationships that can last a lifetime. I enjoy spending time cooking for my wife’s aunt and uncle and their five children. We have made great memories over the years breaking bread together, really getting to know one another. The older kids are now off at college, so we have fewer and fewer meals all together. When we all do get to sit down together, it’s special. With college classes set to start again, we gathered for a send off meal of Beef Bolognese served over pappardelle pasta. Extra wide noodles, perfect for holding on to the thick meaty sauce.

Beef Bolognese is a delicious hearty meal with a touch of tomato, perfect for a cold day. Not a lot of prep time is required and you slow cook the sauce for several hours in a slow cooker. Slow cooking the sauce for 5 to 8 hours brings all of the great flavors together. This is a meal that can be made ahead of time, allowing you to spend more time with your friends and family.

Wintery Beef Bolognese Sauce

Makes 4 – 6 Servings

2 Tbs Olive Oil
1 lb Ground Beef lean
1 lb Ground Pork
1 Cup White Wine
1 Medium Yellow Onion
3 Stalks Celery
3 Cloves Garlic
½ tsp Garlic Powder
½ tsp Onion Powder
1 6oz Can Tomato Paste
2 Cups Chicken Stock
Salt & Pepper
1 lb Pasta (I like pappardelle)
Peccorino romano cheese

In a pot heat your olive oil over medium heat. Once your oil is hot add your onions and celery and cook until translucent, 4 – 5 minutes. Add your garlic and cook 2 – 3 minutes, don’t let it darken or it will become bitter. Add your ground beef and ground pork. With a wooden spoon, break the meat apart. Cook through until no longer pink. Season with 1 Tbs of salt, 1 tsp of pepper and the garlic and onion powder. Once the meat is cooked add the wine and cook until all of the liquid has evaporated. Add the chicken stock and tomato paste. Stir and let come to a simmer.

Remove from heat and transfer to a slow cooker. Cook on low heat for 5 – 8 hours. I like to serve this over pappardelle. If you can’t find it you could use linguini or fettuccine. Serve Bolognese over the pasta and top with about 1 Tbs of Peccorino Romano cheese. The Peccorino adds a very nice salty element that really enhances the dish.

Stuffed Cabbage… It’s Good!

Saturday mornings in our house usually include, a cup of fresh brewed coffee, maybe some music for background noise and a stack of cookbooks to peruse for meal ideas for the upcoming week. My son will usually be tugging on my PJ’s looking to sit in my lap, which always makes me smile.

After evaluating the weeks activities we usually pick a few of our GO TO meals, which we conveniently keep listed in Evernote (I highly recommend it). Evernote is perfect for storing recipes or even just pictures of recipes, and both are searchable.

I like to try at least one new recipe each week. Those new recipes may just turn into GO TO recipes in the future. I also like to keep things new and fresh. Food boredom is for the birds. I will either choose a specific recipe that excites me or search for inspiration. I might look at 2 or 3 recipes for the same dish and pull out what I believe are the best aspects of each, creating a hybrid of sorts.

This weeks “lets try something new dish” turned out to be stuffed cabbage. We have a new Slow Cooker Essentials cookbook by Williams-Sonoma and have found several great recipes in it. I was a little skeptical at first, but  the recipe called for bacon! What’s not to like? It was outstanding! Cabbage isn’t always a family favorite, but the way you slow cook this dish you almost don’t taste the cabbage. Sometimes cabbage dishes can be bitter, not this one! Get out of your comfort zone, take a risk, you won’t regret it!

Stuffed Cabbage – Adapted fromEssentials of Slow Cooking, Williams-Sonoma

Serves 4 to 6
1 Green Cabbage about 2 lbs
1 lb Lean Ground Pork
1/2 cup Cooked Rice (I used brown rice)
1 Egg
3 Green Onions, thinly sliced
1/4 tsp Nutmeg
Salt & Pepper
4 Slices Bacon
1 Yellow Onion, Chopped
1 Rib of Celery, Chopped
1 Carrot, Chopped
1 tsp Caraway Seeds
1  28oz  Can Crushed Tomatoes
1 Cup Chicken Broth
1 Tablespoon Red Wine Vinegar

Fill a pot with water large enough to boil the cabbage. Preheat your oven to 325 degrees if you are crunched for time and only have an hour and a half for cooking. 200 degrees if you are going to slow cook the stuffed cabbage for several hours. (I slow cooked mine for 4 hours). Chop your vegetables and set aside. Once the water comes to a boil, place the cabbage in the water and boil for 5 minutes. Once cooked, drain and set the cabbage aside to cool. In a Dutch oven (I use a Le Cruset) cook the bacon over medium heat (don’t let it burn). Once the bacon is crispy, remove it from the pan and place it on a plate covered with paper towels. Add your chopped vegetables, the onions, carrots and celery to the Dutch oven and cook until soft, about 5 minutes.

Remove one or two of the outer leaves from the cooked cabbage and chop, about 1/4 cup. In a bowl add your pork, green onions, rice, nutmeg, 1/2 tsp Salt, 1/4 tsp  Pepper, the 1/4 cup of  chopped cabbage and a beaten egg. Mix all of the ingredients together with your clean hands. As the Barefoot Contessa would say “the two best tools in the kitchen.”

Once the vegetables are soft, add to the Dutch oven the caraway seeds, crushed tomatoes, red wine vinegar and the bacon crumbled. Simmer over low heat.

The cabbage should be cool enough to begin peeling the  leaves from the cabbage. Carefully peel off about 12 leaves. depending on how much of the pork mixture you put in each cabbage leaf, you may only yield 8 total. Take a small handful of the pork mixture and gently roll it into a large meatball. Once pealed the cabbage leaf will take the natural form of a bowl, place the pork meatball into the thicker end of the cabbage. Fold in the sides and roll forward. Place the stuffed cabbage into the Dutch oven with the tomato sauce seam down. Repeat until all of the pork is used. Spoon some of the sauce over all of the stuffed cabbage. Cover and place in the oven.

As mentioned above – I cooked mine for about 4 hours at 200 degress, but if you are in more of a hurry you can cook it at 325 for about an hour and a half. If you decide to slow cook the stuffed cabbage for 4 hours, cover the Dutch oven with a sheet of tin foil before placing the lid on it. This will ensure that the liquid does not evaporate. Once the stuffed cabbage has cooked, plate and enjoy!

Hurricane (IKE) Chili

With Hurricane Ike spinning its way towards Houston just hours before making land fall, most Houstonians decided to get out of town. The memory of Hurricane Katrina and New Orleans was fresh in people’s minds. Millions of Houstonians packed up their cars and tried to head north. Traffic was so bad that some sat in their cars traveling only 5 miles in a period of 8 hours.

It was easy to make the decision to “hunker down” as they say here in Texas. If we wanted to leave town, we couldn’t. The brunt of the storm was felt by Galveston Island. Our house, sitting south west of Houston was thankfully undamaged. Getting through the storm was one sleepless night, but living without power for a week was a challenge! You quickly realize how much you take electricity for granted. I was constantly flipping light switches on, and for a brief moment wondering “why didn’t that light come on?” We had no power, a freezer of defrosting meats, and little to do. It seemed like a perfect time to make Chili! Local grocery stores where either closed or had a very limited supply of ingredients. We had to make due with what was on hand. It seemed as if everything but the kitchen sink went into our chili. The original version included steak tips, ground beef and even some ground buffalo. (Feel free to add either if you would like). A little of this and a little of that made a crowd of nine say “Wow! This hurricane chili is great!” Hurricane (Ike) Chili – created September 14, 2008.

Hurricane (Ike) Chili
Makes 6 – 8 Servings

2 Tbs Olive Oil
1 medium Yellow Onion – Chopped fine (I use my trusty food processor)
4 Cloves of garlic – Chopped fine
1 ¼ lbs of turkey or ground beef – Your choice
1 Cup Red Wine
¼ tsp Onion Powder
¼ tsp Garlic Powder
¼ chili de arbol powder (if you can’t find chili de arbol powder,  substitute another chili powder)
2 tsp ground cumin
1 tsp Smoked Paprika
1 tsp Cayenne Chili Powder
1 28 oz can of Tomato sauce
1 28oz can of Crushed Tomatoes
1 6oz can of tomato paste
1 15oz can of Pinto Beans (Ranch Style Beans is a brand I like)
1 15oz can of Kidney Beans (Rinsed)
1 Heaping Tbs pureed Chipotles in Adobo (see Notes below)
1 Square Unsweetened Bakers Chocolate
1 Heaping Tbs of Honey

Plus your favorite Chili toppings

The Original List of Ingredients

Heat a large thick bottomed pot (I use a Le Cruset) over medium heat. Add your oil. Chop the onion and garlic fine. Feel free to use a food processor if you have one, but make sure not to puree the onions. You want some small finely chopped pieces not mush! Add your chopped onions to the pot and cook until translucent, about 4 to 5 minutes. Add your chopped garlic to the pan and cook for 2 to 3 minutes, until you can smell the garlic aroma. Add ½ tsp of salt to the onions and garlic, add a few pinches of pepper.

Once your onions and garlic (Soffrito) are cooked, add your ground meat and directly season it with 1 tsp of salt. While the meat cooks, in a bowl combine the dried spices. Cook the ground meet until no pink remains. Add the red wine and cook until the liquid has evaporated. Add the tomato sauce, crushed tomatoes and tomato paste.

Next you are going to add your beans. If you are using Ranch Style Beans they come in a nice flavorful sauce, don’t rinse them. however rinse the kidney beans and if you use plain pinto beans, rinse those too. Once the beans are added, bring to a simmer over medium low heat. Add your dried spices, pureed chipotles in Adobo, Bakers Chocolate and honey. Stir and let come to a simmer. Remove from the heat and transfer into a slow cooker. Continue to cook in the slow cooker for 3 – 5 hours on low heat. Serve in a bowl topped with your favorite chili fixings – mine are sour cream, cheddar cheese and green onions.

A few Notes –

– Chipotles in Adobo are smoked jalapenos that come in a can and are usually found in the Latin section of the grocery store. Place the entire contents of the can in a food processor and blend until smooth. You will have leftovers after making the chili, which can last up to a month in your fridge. Adding some to mayo will make a great kicked up spread on your next sandwich!

Pureed Chipotles in Adobo

– If you don’t have a slow cooker or don’t want to transfer the chili, you can continue to cook the chili in a dutch oven (I use a Le Cruset) in your oven at around 225 degrees for several hours. Before placing your lid on the dutch oven place a sheet of tin foil over the chili to make sure none of the liquid evaporates.

– Chili is a great party food and Super Bowl parties are right around the corner! Get creative, you can use this chili recipe to make some delicious nacho’s and other fun snacks.

Mom’s Chicken Marsala

Last week my Mom was raving about a dish she cooked for her and my Dad for dinner, Chicken Marsala. She was going on and on about how great it was. So I thought heck, email me the recipe and I will try it. Growing up, cooking with my Mom we never used a recipe and she rarely wrote anything down, we cooked to taste. The same is true to this day. As you can imagine this causes some major issues when you try to get a recipe from her. How do I make your Chicken Marsala Mom? “You add some of this and a little of that.” Never does she give exact measurements, it’s just not how she cooks. Honestly it’s not really how I cook either, but I’m working on that. Blogging equals sharing, right? My Mom tells stories of cooking with her Grandmother, who didn’t use a recipe or exact measurements either. My great Grandmother would tell my mom to add a pinch or point to the palm of her hand to reference a measurement… Yes real exact. My Mom passed that same style of cooking down to me. A few palms, a few pinches and a list of ingredients, the inspiration for my Mom’s Chicken Marsala recipe. The measurements… left to me to decipher.

What I love about this chicken Marsala recipe is the big meaty mushrooms and the kick you get from the chili powder. The chicken is also just dredged in flour with no heavy batter. I would recommend serving this dish with mashed potatoes.

Mom’s Chicken Marsala –

Serves 4

3 Boneless Chicken Breast Butterflied
2 Cups Chicken Stock
1 ½ Cup Marsala Wine
1 lbs sliced mushrooms
2 Tablespoons Butter
4 Tablespoons Olive Oil
Chili Powder
Onion Powder
Salt & Pepper

You are going to start by butterflying the chicken, but instead of keeping the butterflied chicken as one piece you are going to cut them into two pieces. What you want is thin pieces of chicken, hence the reason for butterflying the chicken. With your chicken sliced thin you are going to season the chicken with salt & pepper, onion powder, oregano and the chili powder. You want just a light dusting of each of the spices on the chicken. Don’t over do it with the chili powder unless you want a lot of kick!

In a frying pan heat your olive oil and 1 tbs of butter over medium. Drudge the chicken in flour on both sides shaking off the excess. Add your chicken and cook until browned on both side and cooked through. Remove your chicken from the pan and add your 1 lbs of sliced mushrooms. Add a little salt and cook for several minutes until the mushrooms are cooked down. Remove the mushrooms from the pan.

Add the 2 cups of chicken stock to the pan after removing the mushrooms and bring to a boil. Deglaze the pan by using a wooden spoon to scrape the brown bits off the bottom of the pan. Add your Marsala wine and reduce the liquid by half. Once reduced, add the remaining 1 tbsp of butter and check the seasoning. You may need to add salt & pepper (See Chefs Note Below).  Add the chicken and mushrooms back to the pan and toss in the Marsala sauce. Plate and enjoy!

Chefs Note – If the Marsala sauce is not sweet enough you can add a little honey or sugar, whichever you have.