Monday, June 27, 2011

Hello again!

Wow, life can come at you fast! A whirlwind has been in the Curious Kitchen for the past....2 months. Another one is coming up, but I hope to get out a few more posts before then.  Thanks for visiting!!

I will be travelling to Crete soon, so I hope to have a special travel post or two.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

8 minute (or so) Pomodoro Penne with Herb-Garlic Compound Butter

A frantic lunchtime was the inspiration for this recipe today. A lightning-fast, full-flavoured pasta dish that can be made in no time, and it is so delicious!

The base sauce is halved cherry tomatoes (although wedges of regular tomatoes work too), sauteed with olive oil and shallots (or onions and/or minced garlic). The heat quickly breaks down the tomatoes, releasing juices and dainty seeds to make an instant rustic sauce. A dash of pasta water brings it all together, before adding the pasta. The compound butter was a last minute flash of an idea, it adds specks of green and a light garlic aroma (and the richness of butter!). I was able to do a first harvest of my herb garden - chives, tarragon, and parsley, making it even more tasty.

For a spicier sauce, add a dash or two of hot pepper flakes to the hot oil and shallots.

My camera has malfunctioned, so you will be treated to the worst photos in blogging history, courtesy of my Blackberry.

8 Minute (or so) Pomodoro Penne with Herb-Garlic Compound Butter
Serves 2, or more as a side dish

2 cups penne (or other pasta of choice)
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 small shallot (or half small onion), thinly sliced or minced
1 cup cherry tomatoes, halved (larger tomatoes, quarter at least)
kosher salt and freshly ground pepper
freshly grated Parmesan cheese

For the compound butter (makes extra, great for garlic toast; freezes well):
Combine together:
2 tablespoon butter
1/4 teaspoon (or to taste) kosher salt
1/8 teaspoon (or to taste) freshly ground pepper
1 tablespoon minced fresh herbs (chives, tarragon, parsley, etc.)
1 small clove garlic, finely minced

Boil a larger saucepan of salted water, and cook pasta according to directions.

Meanwhile, heat olive oil in a saute pan over medium heat. Add shallots, a pinch of salt and pepper, and saute for 1 minute.

Add the tomatoes, and saute until tomatoes breakdown to make a sauce, about 5 minutes. Add a 1/4 cup of pasta water (from the currently cooking pasta), and simmer to reduce slightly. Season with salt and pepper to taste.

Drain pasta and toss with sauce in pan to coat. Throw a nubbin (a tablespoon or more) of herb butter, and toss until it melts. The herbs distribute, and the sauce has a lovely glisten to it. Plate (or dish) and serve with Parmesan.
A delicate sauce in the making

Pre-butter toss - things are about to get real tasty!

Addendum to Addictive money saver

The new issue of Bon Appetit focuses on Italy and they have a very helpful guide to making quality stove top espresso. The key is to not overheat the water, nor brew too long. The result is a sweeter, smooth brew.  After following their tips, I have to concur!

1. Use heated (hot) water in the base - this prevents it from overheating and burning the coffee

2. Fill basket with coffee ground finer than drip coffee, but coarser than espresso. I use the first notch in the espresso option when grinding at the grocery store - not the finest grind. Fine grinds clog the pot.

3. Level grinds (don't pat) and screw top on tight to prevent leaking.

4. With lid open, heat over medium-low heat. Once there is a steady stream, close the lid and remove from heat.

5. Wrap base with a cold, wet cloth to stop the brewing process.

A cold wet hug for the Bialetti - it works!

Monday, April 18, 2011

Addictive money saver

I received for Christmas one 'Moka pot' - a small stove top coffee pot straight from Italy. It produces an espresso-like coffee (read: strong, dark, potent!) that has totally slowed my need to stop at the local coffee shop on an almost daily basis (which likely saved me about $400!).

Grocery store grinders usually have an espresso grind setting (
The heated water is pressurized upwards, brewing the grinds
There's some crema!

If you are looking for a beautiful thick crema on top, go to a high end model. I appreciate the finer qualities of an excellent barista (check out the Peace Coffee shop in Minneapolis - some of the best!), but I will not be too picky for the daily hit of caffeine that gives a warm and cozy feeling that lasts. And thinking of warmer weather, will be an easy way to make iced coffee this summer.

Lovely latte art - the espresso-tinged foam is so delicious! (

Cornmeal fried Onion Rings

Something new in the Curious kitchen - deep frying! I wanted a little adventure and a little sinfulness, even if it is still Lent. To take the chill off the early spring, the menu on a Sunday was grilled ribeye steak with fresh-fried onion rings. The recipe comes from Barefoot Contessa at Home by Ina Garten.

I have not tried deep frying before because it seems to me it makes a great mess and maybe complicated too. To counter this, to fry I have used a deeper pot (a Le Creuset in this case) to prevent splattering, and had everything in place before starting the process. In the end, it was a simple recipe and the end result is addictively delicious!

Useful tools: deep and heavy pot, candy thermometer, metal tongs

Cornmeal-fried Onion Rings
Serves 4-6

3 yellow onions (or 2 Spanish onions) - peels and sliced to 1/2-3/4 inches
3 cups buttermilk or 3 cups milk and 3 tablespoons white vinegar (let sit 5 minutes)
kosher salt and freshly ground pepper
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1/4 cup medium cornmeal
1 quart (4 cups) vegetable oil

Heat oven to 200F and have sheet prepared with paper towel, when ready to fry the onions.

Combine buttermilk, 2 teaspoon salt and 1 teaspoon pepper in a medium bowl. Add onions and soak for at least 15 minutes (up to a few hours). In a separate bowl, combine flour, cornmeal, 1 teaspoon salt, and 1/2 teaspoon pepper.
Soaking and dredging stations

Heat oil to 350F in large pot (use a candy thermometer or equivalent to measure). Working in batches, lift out some onions and dredge in the flour mixture. I found using a fork made this easy. The rings should be lightly coated - just this amount makes a crispy flavourful coating.
Ready to go in the fryer
Drop the rings into the oil (don't crowd), and fry for 2 minutes. Flip using tongs once, frying until golden brown.
Readjust the heat if the oil gets to hot or cools off
Put the finished rings onto the sheet and sprinkle liberally with salt.

Keep them warm in the oven until all the onions are fried. They keep for about 30 minutes. Serve them hot!

These were excellent with a hot grilled steak:

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Spring Vegetable pasta with Lemon-Saffron butter

Another dish to celebrate spring! It is a simple saute of vegetables, livened with a hit of citrus, and the exotic flavour of saffron.

Saffron derives from the crocus flower, and is worth more than its weight in gold. Don't be put off by its very different scent (said to be like hay). When it is worked into a dish in the right amounts, it is magic. I am loving the wiki on this spice! Check it out for lot of fun chemical information (if that's up your alley).

Saffron was originally cultivated in ancient Greece - like here in Santorini (sigh)

This recipe is inspired by one of my favourites in Fields of Greens, a great vegetarian cookbook. If you can't find saffron, substitutions can include chopped basil, parsley or mint, or just plain butter. The original recipe calls for Orange-Saffron butter (use 1 orange for the recipe), and this is very delicious too (I just don't have oranges!). I think this would make a lovely Easter side dish.

Ps: My camera battery died, so not a lot of visualization here!

Helpful tools: Colander, zester (like a Microplane brand zester)

Spring Vegetable Pasta with Lemon-Saffron Butter
Serves 2-4

4 tablespoon unsalted butter, softened
1 generous pinch of saffron threads, soaked in 1 tablespoon hot water
Salt and pepper
1/2 pound asparagus, woody ends removed, in 2 inch lengths
1/2 pound English peas (shelled, about 3/4 cup), or substitute frozen peas
1 tablespoon olive oil
2 shallots, thinly sliced
1 leek, white part only, thinly sliced
1 clove garlic, finely chopped
1/4 cup wine or stock
Juice from 2 lemons
Zest of 2 lemons
1/2 pound fresh pasta or dry spaghetti or linguine
Grated parmesan cheese

Set large pot of water to boil on stove (this can be used for both the vegetables and pasta). Cream the butter with the prepared saffron, 1/8 teaspoon salt and a few pinches of pepper. Set aside.

If using fresh peas, boil for 1 minute, scoop from water and rinse with cool water in colander. Boil asparagus for 3 minutes, until tender crisp, and repeat as with peas. Frozen peas can be added to the saute (see below). Keep water boiling for pasta.

Heat olive oil in a large saute pan, and add shallots. Saute over medium heat for about 4 minutes, then add leeks (and frozen peas), saute for another 2 minutes. Add garlic, wine or stock and lemon juice, and saute for another minute.
A fragrant saute of leeks, asparagus and peas, hurray for google search (

Meanwhile, cook pasta until just tender. Just before adding pasta, reduce heat on saute pan, and add asparagus (and fresh peas), 1/4 teaspoon salt, and the lemon zest. Drain pasta in colander, shake excess water and add to saute pan. Quickly toss the vegetables and pasta, then add the saffron butter. The butter will combine with the pan juices to make a light sauce. Serve with freshly grated Parmesan.

Friday, April 1, 2011

Green kitchen cleaner

A non-edible recipe to share. I have been using this rock star spray cleaner on everything in the kitchen: painted walls, wood, tile, countertops, sinks, my ceramic stove top, high chairs, and even some stainless steel appliances. It will cost you about 14 cents a bottle to make (move over Caldera!), and your kitchen will smell lovely, and be clean without a lot of nasty chemicals.
Who are we kidding? But at least it can smell nice!

Gleaned from the internet, Alice's Wonder spray, makes just over 32 ounces. Might be a nice idea for gifts too, if you find some fancy spray bottles and mix up your own signature scent.

Alice's Wonder spray
1 cup white vinegar (anti-microbial)
2 teaspoons borax (works with surfactants to increase dissolving 'power'; oxidative (bleaching property); anti-microbial) - look for "20 Mule Team Borax"
32 ounces hot water
20 drops essential oils (your choice - most are anti-microbial; I use 15 drops Tea Tree, 5 drops lavender)
1/4 cup dish soap (surfactant, dissolver of all that is junk), if you want to be as natural as possible, try to find a soap product that is too

* Mix vinegar and borax in hot water to dissolve.
* Combine dish soap and essential oils, then add to the vinegar-borax solution
* Adjust scent to your liking.
* Pour into a re-usable, labelled spray bottle

Some combinations I would like to try in the future are: grapefruit & mint, chamomile & lavender...hmm, lots to choose from.