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Spaghetti a la Carbonara (or bacon and eggs Italian-style!)

15 Feb

Nowhere does it say that Hot, Cheap & Easy means low-fat, low-carb or low-cholesterol. As it happens, a lot of what I prepare and eat is on the lighter, greener, and grainier side, but I am never averse to bacon and eggs; in fact, sometimes I feel that they are the only possible answer.

Bacon and eggs for dinner? Yeah.

Bacon and eggs and pasta for dinner? Double yeah.

Bacon and eggs and pasta and cheese for dinner? Bring It On.

Thus spaghetti alla carbonara, a dish from Rome that  shows once again, no matter the state of their government, economy or traffic, no one can as consistently make as many people happy with food as effortlessly as the Italians.

Leandro and I threw this dish together in less than 20 minutes. He is getting very handy with the egg-cracking and beating and whether it was pride in his own handiwork, or just the ineffable joy of bacon grease and cheese, he made short work of two heaping bowls of it. We will be doing this on our next camping trip; I may try to make it a one-pot affair and will keep you posted!

Spaghetti alla Carbonara

1-2 Tbs olive oil

1-2 Tbs butter

4 oz bacon (about four rashers), or pancetta if you’ve got, cut into ¼ inch squares

1 lb spaghetti or other long pasta

4-5 fresh eggs*, well beaten

½ Cup grated Parmigiano Reggiano or Grana Padano or, more typically Roman: Pecorino

Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste

Heat the oil and butter in a skillet; add the bacon and sauté until golden and crisping up. Remove from fat and drain on paper towels.

Cook the pasta according to package directions. Make sure you have the next step completed before that pasta is cooked so the pasta is piping hot when you turn it into the bowl.

While the pasta is cooking, beat the eggs, ¼ Cup of the grated cheese, and pepper in a large serving bowl. As soon as you drain the pasta, turn it into the bowl and toss well. (If you are worried that the egg hasn’t cooked enough, return it to the pasta pot and stir it around over the still warm burner or a low flame for a minute or two). Add the remaining cheese and serve.

*To make sure eggs are fresh, place them in a bowl of water to cover. A very fresh egg will stay completely submerged. A relatively fresh egg will float up on one end, while the other end remains on the bottom. An egg that floats is an egg that is rotten.


Bits and Bobs Broccoli Pasta (FAST)

9 Oct

My dad took Leandro for a haircut when we got home from the workday– they love to do the man thing at the barber together  — so I dashed off to do some solo grocery shopping which I find heavenly (It is a sad commentary on the state of my life that an unaccompanied trip to the supermarket has replaced dinner and a show on my top-five list of things to do). Then it was off to the farm for pick-up and then I headed home with no time to fuss over dinner, but nothing prepared and a child about to realize – with the suddenness of an improvised explosive device — that he is STARVING.

I did call my dad on the way home to see if he could get water on the boil, which he did! Masha danki, Padushi! (Mark Bittman – the NYTimes Minimalist food writer and one of my heroes — says whenever you get home you should get the water going, so you can throw anything in there, inspired or not). So on the rest of the 15-minute drive home, I did a mental inventory of all the scraps in my fridge and larder that needed using – Multigrain pasta, check. Leftover olive oil from tortillas, check. Unused peeled onion halves from another dish, yup. Too many peppers from the farm, uh-huh. The ever-present broccoli that represents probably 50 percent of Leandro’s vegetable consumption (heavy sigh), right. Dab of tomato paste I didn’t need for the meatloaf…etc. etc.

And by the time I got home, I was good to go and get dinner on the table in about 15 minutes (6-minute pasta was key). You should note that tomato paste is a great thing to add tomato tang and depth. I guess it is thanks to its concentration that it releases its flavors with just a bit of sauteing (unlike purees or whole peeled tomatoes, which much be cooked for a while to get really good). That’s a criollo trick I learned in Puerto Rico!

In this recent version, I used two tablespoons of the reserved olive oil that I had used to saute the onions and potatoes for a recent tortilla, which adds a nice flavor, but you can just use extra virgin olive oil as stated in the recipe.

Not only did this work for Leandro’s evening meal, but he asked for the leftovers for lunch the following day and I was very happy to oblige. You can see the lunch he took to school here!

Typical Leandro lunch: pasta, yogurt and mini-muffins for dipping

Bang Together Bits and Bobs Broccoli Pasta (makes two kid servings)

6 oz whole grain medium pasta shells(about half a 13.5 oz box)

A handful of broccoli florets separated into forkfuls (and peeled and chopped stems, if you like)

2 Tbs extra virgin olive oil

½ onion, peeled and chopped fine (about ¼-1/2 Cup)

½ green pepper (Cubanelle, sweet or bell are fine), chopped fine

1 clove garlic, peeled and chopped

1 Tbs tomato paste

2 tsp chopped herbs of your choice (basil, oregano, thyme, culantro; halve for dried herbs)

Grated cheese (such as Parmigiano Reggiano or Gran Padano) or nutritional yeast (optional)

Prepare pasta according to package directions in a medium to large pot, adding the broccoli 3-4 minutes before the boiling is finished. Drain, reserving ½ Cup cooking liquid.

Let the same pot dry over the burner, add the olive oil and heat at medium high until loose and fragrant. Add the onion and green pepper and stir to coat. Add garlic and lower heat to medium and cook for a minute. Add tomato paste and herbs and stir around until fully incorporated. Add the pasta and mix thoroughly (if you find it too dry, add tablespoons of the reserved cooking liquid). Add cheese and serve.

Quickie Criollo Tomato and Avocado Salad (great side for spicy, salty or otherwise highly seasoned food)

3 Oct

A go-to side for spicy creole cooking!

This is a super-quick, healthy side dish that we use in the Caribbean to accompany really salty stuff, like bacalao (salt cod) dishes, or to cool the palate between bites of something spicy. It goes wonderfully with creole soups, or as the lightest, yet most satisfying of dinners when you don’t want to fuss (A hard-boiled egg or a scoop of tuna would be a fine protein accompaniment). The colors and slices lend themselves to festive; this dish looks like a party, even if it’s just a party of one.
We had it tonight with a mini-tortilla española (potato and egg stovetop frittata) I made while doing a bigger sized one for our Restoration Farm potluck on Sunday, green salad and some string beans blanched and then sauteed with garlic and oil (and a bit of bacon fat, truth be told).

Quickie Tomato and Avocado Salad

1 ripe avocado (responds to pressure, but isn’t totally mushy*), sliced into eight wedges and peeled

1 ripe tomato, cut into eight wedges

¼ red onion, peeled and sliced thinly, lengthwise

Extra virgin olive oil for drizzling

Salt for sprinkling

Freshly cracked pepper, if desired

Arrange avocado and tomato wedges on a small plate, alternating

Scatter red onion on top. Drizzle olive oil as desired.

Sprinkle salt and optional black pepper and serve cold

*Buying avocado is not easy, I know! Lately I have had a 50-50 record of success with the little black Hass ones, despite my years of practice. I don’t know what’s up with that, but the general rule is to buy it hard and stick it in a paper bag — with an apple, if you’ve got — for a couple of days. If you are buying an avocado for the very same day, look for something that yields to pressure, but doesn’t totally mush. If it is ripe but you are not ready to use it, it will keep in the fridge for a couple of days.

Quick Cannellini Bean Salad (great with tomatoes or on toast!)

9 Sep

Cannellini beans have come to the rescue a couple of times this week – once when I needed something to take across the street to dinner that would show off one of the tomatoes we grew in our backyard and then when we had a mom and kid playdate and I wanted a quick addition to a snack-y type table, along with hummus, veggies, crackers, grapes, sun-dried tomatoes and cheese.

These little white beans are tasty right out of the can, so you are only seconds from a hearty snack when you have it in your pantry. I think I’ll be using this recipe a lot this winter to add dash and protein satisfaction to otherwise ordinary salads.

A delicious salad that makes a meal. Look at those glorious tomatoes.

Quick Cannellini Bean Salad (great with tomatoes!)

1 15oz can cannellini (white) beans, rinsed and drained

1/4 onion, peeled and minced (red onion preferred, but use what you’ve got)

1 tsp extra virgin olive oil

¼ -1/2 tsp red or white wine vinegar

¼ – ½ tsp balsamic vinegar

½ tsp oregano/Italian herbs/your favorite dried herb. Double the quantity for fresh chopped herbs.

Pinch salt

Freshly cracked black pepper

(optional, small chunks of tomato, seeded)

Place beans and minced onion in a bowl. In a separate bowl or cup, whisk together oil and vinegars (you can adjust vinegars to your personal taste). Pour over beans, add remaining ingredients. mix thoroughly and serve.


Spider Dogs – a kid-cool way to grill hot dogs

1 Aug

Hot dogs are quintessential BBQ and camp favorites – easy and convenient, tasty and filling. But we stepped the fun up a notch at our latest beach camping adventure with a recipe culled from a most excellent camping prep book called Camp Out! The Ultimate Kid’s Guide by Lynn Brunelle.

Called Spider Dogs by Brunelle (and Octo-Dogs by us when we are making them at the beach)  they are skewered hot dogs skewered, sliced and cooked so that they become eight-legged spiders (or in our recent case of camping: octopii).

Your kids will really dig them, you will raise your cool quotient and they are still as easy as throwing a few dogs on the grill.


(Note: There is quite the fire storm about the relative healthfulness of hot dogs. Nitrates and nitrites may or may not be bad or good for you…I really don’t know. We use Applegate Organic hot dogs, which apparently have as much nitrite and nitrate as conventional brands, but are made with organic meat and “natural” curing sources. Does it make a difference? Who knows? But Leandro likes them. I find the whole thing confusing, so I can’t offer solutions, but here’s a New York Times article that can at least explain the source of the confusion:

Grilled Spider-Dogs

Packaged hot dogs

1 skewer for each hotdog

You’ll want a hot grill going for this.

Stick a skewer halfway through each hot dog lengthwise.

Carefully cut the free half into quarters, lengthwise.

Lay the sliced ends of the hot dogs on the grill. The slices will curl back away from each other as they cook. When the sliced end is cooked and curled, carefully remove the dogs from their skewers, skewer through the cooked end and slice uncooked half into quarters lengthwise. Lay the uncooked ends of the dogs on the grill and cook until they are also curled back and you have a spider (or octo-) dog!

You may also like:

A Camping Week Come A Cropper – And What We Cooked

Spaghetti A La Carbonara for camp stoves

Spanish-style Tortilla adapted for camp stoves

Quesadillas adapted for camp stoves

Aglio Olio et Peperoncino (simple garlic and hot pepper pasta dish) for camping

Better Scrambled Eggs for a Camping Trip

Fast track Spanish-style tortilla (camping friendly, no potatoes)

22 Jul

I love me some camp stove scrambled eggs, but it is not hard to step up the game a bit and make something fancier and more satisfying, even in the minimalist camp kitchen. The following recipe makes for rocking outdoor breakfast/brunch eggs: a cross between an omelette and a tortilla.

This is where you learn that it doesn’t have to have potatoes to be a tortilla…this one celebrates the zucchini season, but amps up the wow factor with a bit of spicy chorizo. It does justice to that big appetite that the outdoor life gives you, but cuts cooking and prep time in half.

(Love that fresh local flavor: my eggs come from Makinajian Poultry Farm in Huntington. It is hard to mess up eggs when they are that good)

Take your omelette to a new level....

Shortcut tortilla for camping

6 eggs, lightly beaten

1 Tbs extra virgin olive oil

½ medium onion, peeled and diced

½ medium zucchini, diced

3-4 oz Spanish (hot, dry) chorizo, peeled and diced

Salt and pepper to taste

Set aside the lightly-beaten eggs in a large bowl.

Heat half the olive oil until fragrant in an 8 or 9 inch skillet, then add onion and zucchini and sauté until tender. Remove from heat and stir vegetables into the egg mixture.

Wipe skillet (leaving a bit of grease) and add chorizo, cooking at medium until it begins releasing its oil. Then add to egg mixture and allow to rest five minutes. In the meantime, wipe the skillet and add remaining oil. Heat the oil on medium high until fragrant and add egg mixture, seasoning with a bit of salt and pepper.

Once the bottom of the egg mixture begins to set, shake pan to loosen and lower heat to medium. Cover and cook five minutes or until the whole egg mixture looks mostly set. Uncover and place a flat plate on top of the egg mixture and carefully turn skillet over so tortilla comes out. Slide tortilla back into the skillet and cook the other side till set. You may flip it several times until completely set.

Flip finished tortilla out of pan and onto plate. Allow to cool somewhat before cutting into wedges and serving.

Zesty Zucchini and Sizzling Squash with lemon and oregano

21 Jul

This is a simple seasonal recipe that highlights the flavors and freshness of summer (and can be done in a jiffy at a campsite).

Summer squash refers to vegetables such as zucchini and yellow squash, that look like gourds, but have thin, tender skins. Right around this time of summer backyard gardeners start to harvest so many of them, they will be giving them away. This is a fast and easy way to take advantage of the bounty without working too hard!

How this dish looked at our campsite on the beach

Sauteed Summer Squash with Oregano and Lemon

1 Tbs extra virgin olive oil

1/2 medium onion, peeled and diced

2 medium summer squashes (yellow/zucchini), quartered lengthwise and sliced

Tsp dry oregano

Juice of half a lemon (you may add by teaspoon to taste)

Salt and pepper to taste

Heat olive oil in a skillet at medium high until liquid and fragrant. Add onions and stir to coat. Add zucchini and stir to coat. Lower heat and cook until just tender, about 5 minutes. Add oregano, lemon and salt to taste and cook until flavors are blended, just a minute or two, longer if you want it very tender. Serve over rice, with pasta or just on its own.

Marianne’s Black Bean and Sweet Corn Salad (Summer BBQ/Buffet Dish)

8 Jul

Marianne has been one of my closest friends since we were 13, so when she offered to bring something over for our last BBQ, I was not afraid to ask for exactly what I wanted: her black bean and sweet corn salad! It’s something I make myself fairly often, but I like her version better and now I know why; the balsamic vinegar gives it a touch of sweetness that balances the onion and plays well with the crunchiness of the corn.

This dish works well with virtually all grilled meats, including fish. And in a pinch you can substitute frozen or canned corn, but a Long Island summer calls for real corn off the cob….MMmmmmm!

Marianne’s Black Bean and Sweet Corn Salad

2 1 lb cans of black beans, rinsed and drained

4 ears fresh sweet corn, shucked and silk removed

½ medium red onion, peeled and finely chopped

1 medium red pepper, seeded and diced

3 Tbs balsamic vinegar

1 Tbs extra virgin olive oil

Bring abundant water to boil in a large pot. Boil corn to your liking (Marianne says 15 minutes; I usually boil for a maximum of three minutes, but since her recipe is so delish, I defer to her on this one!). When the corn has cooked, cool and then, holding the corn upright at an angle, cut kernels off corn. In a bowl, toss all ingredients together gently. Add salt and pepper to taste. Make this salad on the day of your event for the crispest veggies, but enjoy the leftovers — if you have any — for several days!

¿Que qué? ¡Quesadillas! (Camp stove friendly)

9 Jun

Finger food supreme

One day I will be an eater of sandwiches.

But for now aside from the odd grilled cheese, I am not a sandwich girl. Just don’t like all the bread, the sliced deli meats, cold salads inside…I just don’t get it. Unless of course it is a pressed Cuban sandwich, con todos los poderes, de Elegguá pa’bajo…you know, like real bread, toasted, mad quantities of stuff, greased up…I can do that. In Miami. Or San Juan de Puerto Rico (ah, Kasalta). Occasionally.

But not being a sandwich person in this American life is to miss out on a lot of convenience and portability. So, I have discovered the quesadilla. Take whatever you’ve got in the fridge, spread it over half of a tortilla toasting in a skillet, sprinkle melty cheese, fold it, flip it, and allí está…a sandwich worth eating. Slice it like a pizza and you can dip it into hot sauce too.

It worked very well on our camping trip. Leftover black beans, some Monterrey Jack and sriracha and go, baby, go. Other things I have stuffed into quesadillas include pollo guisado; cheddar cheese and tomato slices; leftover sliced steak; roasted vegetables; sundried tomato and smoked mozzarella…all awesome and all done in no time, sealed with a kiss of cheese. You can slip avocado in the middle where it won’t get hot to give a lovely creaminess (plus health benefits, I am sure, but who cares?)

Quesadillas (with your choice of stuffing)

1 package of large soft tortillas (flour or corn)

a spritz of cooking oil on a good iron skillet or nonstick

1-2 cups filling (LEFTOVERS! cooked beans, cooked veg, stewed meat, sliced cooked meat)

couple of fistfuls shredded meltable cheese

1-2 Tbs herbs/hot red pepper flakes/salsa – it’s up to you to make the matches

Heat the skillet and the oil to medium. Lay a tortilla on it. Cover half with filling (Not too thick! Maybe 1/4 inch – you don’t want a mess). Sprinkle cheese (especially around the edge to make a seal). Fold the empty tortilla half over. Allow to cook a minute, then flip with fingers if you are daring, or a spatula. Turn a few times until a bit crispy and transfer to a plate. Start again with another tortilla. You can slice into wedges and serve with whatever condiments go with your filling.

Better Scrambled Eggs (another campsite cooking fave)

6 Jun

Rustic and Righteous

I love scrambled eggs anytime (and that includes lunch and dinner), but as a camping breakfast they are especially delicious (and quick and easy).

We managed to find some terrific organic eggs at a supermarket during our week out in Montauk; if you keep your eyes sharp in farm country, there is usually a farmstand that has something fresh and local.

You can tell an egg is very fresh if: 1) it stays completely on the bottom of a pot of water and 2) if the yolk is rounded (not flat) when you crack it open. IMPORTANT: If one end of the egg floats up it is quite edible, but less than fresh. If the whole thing floats, it’s rotten. While camping, eggs that are kept chilled will keep for about five days. And white eggs and brown eggs have no appreciable difference in nutritional value; some breeds lay brown eggs; some lay white. Brown eggs just look more virtuous and granola-y.

Here, the addition of herbs and cheese makes a plain egg breakfast memorable.

Scrambled eggs with herbs and cheese

(figure on 2-3 eggs per person, depending on appetites and whether you have accompanying bread/toast. If cooking more eggs, do not increase the oil and be scanty when you increase the milk)

1/2 Tbs olive oil

6 eggs

1 Tbs milk

1 tsp dried herbs (2 tsp if using fresh) I prefer straight oregano, but have also been charmed by Provencal-type blends. Thyme is lovely, as is parsley.

1/8-1/4 tsp salt (two pinches should do)

1 Tbs grated grana padano or parmigiano reggiano

Whisk (fork is fine) eggs lightly with milk and salt in a bowl. Heat the oil in a skillet until fragrant (a nonstick may need less oil). Pour in the eggs and lower heat. As  the egg mixture solidifies, sprinkle herbs and cheese evenly over. Then, gently drag a spatula over the mixture occasionally as the bottom cooks. Cook to your preference, moist or dry and serve, with bread if you’ve got. Bacon is probably an obvious accompaniment, but on my minimalist camping menu that wasn’t happening. Campers can also serve with prosciutto or a cured sausage and a handful of grape or cherry tomatoes.

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