The final installment to this series of guest posts, comes from a very funny pastry chef, and by funny, I mean extremely humorous. I have known Jenni for a while now, and even though her focus is on pastries (and I keep begging her to delve into gluten-free versions of her goodies) that I can’t eat, I love her down to earth and hilarious posts. She does also feature more savory dishes on her blog, The Balanced Pastry Chef,especially her Sunday Suppers series.
I read a lot of diverse blogs, and for many reasons. Some I learn from, some help me stay up to date with longtime blogging friends, some are inspirational, and some are just downright FUN to read, and that’s Jenni’s blog. She is so very down to earth, and as a former teacher turned pastry chef, she is here to help people who want to cook learn the methods and techniques that arm the average person with the skill to cook amazing meals at home! So please check out her blog!
We have a lot in common – she also raises chickens, and cares about food waste in the world. She founded the Four Pounds of Cheese Project, which is now a facebook group that discusses tips and tricks for reducing food waste. So check that out too!
First off, I must say that I am very Excited to have been asked to write a post over here at Jenn’s place. I’ve known Jenn online since we were both miserable in Florida (apologies to any Florida lovers out there). Now, we’re both happy–me in North Carolina and her in Vermont. Which I’m a little jealous about, since I have always had a non-specific but real Desire to visit Vermont. At any rate, I am happy that these words, at least, are on a blog that originates from The Green Mountain State. Thanks for having me, Jenn, and hello to all of Jenn’s readers!
When Jenn asked me to write a guest post, I knew that I wanted to make something utilizing local ingredients. And that, of necessity, means that if you don’t live right around here, you can’t use exactly what I use. But that’s okay. It’s more than okay, actually. It’s the way it should be. Pricey gourmet shops have sprung up like mushrooms because the Fancy cook book or magazine recipe says that you have to use pollen from Peruvian llacon* or the leaves of the Malaysian pandan tree*. But cooking should be local. It should be about what is growing in your yard, or your neighborhood or your community.
So, if you live in Peru, go harvest some llacon pollen. If you’re Malaysian, by all means use pandan leaves. But if you can’t find those things, don’t let it limit you. Let it free you to do your own experimentation.
Let me just say now that I am not a homesteader. I don’t make my own kefir or yogurt. And I don’t own goats. I think it is the Height of Awesome that Jenn is living her dream, but I know my limitations. I am limited by a Procrastination Gene that prohibits me from working too hard. Being a procrastinator does not mesh well with being a homesteader. We do keep chickens, but only for eggs. And God forbid we try to have goats. I hear they can’t wait until I finish Lounging to be milked. So, we try to buy happy meat or no meat at all. Happy meat, by the way, is my short-hand way of saying “naturally raised, antibiotic-free, hormone-free, romping-in-pastures, eating a natural diet, allowed-to-have-sex animals who lived carefree lives. Until they were slaughtered in as humane a way as possible. So we can eat them.” But that takes a long time to say, let alone type, so I normally just go with Happy Meat.
I’m happy to buy what I don’t have the time –or want to take the time–to make, and I try to strike a balance between local/organic and cost-effective. It’s not always easy, but I feel like we generally do a good job. And we eat pretty well, if I do say so myself.
As a matter of fact, sometimes my tendency to procrastinate results in a Surprisingly Yummy Meal. Take, for instance, last night’s meal. I knew that my husband and I had to attend a class at our chiropractor’s office at 6:30. I knew it all day long. Until I finally stopped knowing and started realizing, at about 5:45, that I should probably make something to eat because we’d have to be Out The Door by 6:20 to get there on time. And once I am committed to action, there is no stopping me.
Here’s what went on in my brain:
Okay, pasta is fast. It’ll take about 6 minutes for the water to boil and another 10-11 for the pasta to cook. In that amount of time, I can have a reasonable meal on the table. What to do…what to do. Oh, there’s a lovely pepper from Roberta’s garden (next door neighbor)! And we have marinated feta from Prodigal Farm. Onions…half&half…olive oil. Oh, eggs! I’ll beat an egg and add it in with the sauce to make a kind of carbonara-type deal.
Heat a pan…chop some onions…add some olive oil. A lot of olive oil. Toss in the onions to sweat…cut the pepper into strips but reserve them so they stay crisp. Turn the heat down and melt in some of the feta. Wow, that doesn’t melt too, well. Oh, well, it’ll taste Amazing and should mix in well with the half&half and egg…
I won’t subject you to any more of my crazed stream of consciousness mental cooking chatter. Suffice to say that the meal was Quite Good. It was a bit rich, but the barely-cooked peppers added a nice green counterpoint to all the dairy goodness. And if you’re gluten-free, you can absolutely sub rice pasta for the wheat pasta. I’ve had a lovely rice penne from Trader Joe’s, and penne would work really well in this recipe.
So, are you going to be able to use Roberta’s peppers or Prodigal Farm marinated feta? Probably not. But you will be able find some sort of vegetables. (Asparagus would be perfect for this. Now I have to wait for spring…) And you will be able to scare up some cheese and some milk (or cream or half&half) and an egg. Use whatever short, fat pasta you have on hand, and prepare to Wow your family. You don’t need to wait until the last minute to make this, but I find that victory is so much sweeter when you have to rush a little!
Procrastinators’ Delight: Orecchiette Carbonara
Carbonara usually contains bacon, and you can certainly add it here. I left it out because it was one extra step between me and dinner and being on time. This served 2 generous portions. Scale accordingly to serve 4, 6 or even 8.
- 2 Tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
- 1 clove garlic, minced
- 1/4 cup chopped onion
- salt and pepper, to taste
- hot pepper flake, to taste
- about 1/4 cup marinated feta
- 1/4 cup half&half
- 1 small bell pepper, cut into strips
- 8 ounces orecchiette, or other short, fat pasta shape
- 1 egg, beaten with about 1 tablespoon half&half
Put on a large pot of water and let it come to a boil.
Meanwhile, heat a skillet over medium heat and then add the olive oil, garlic, onion, salt and pepper.
Sweat the vegetables until soft–you might need to turn down the heat a bit as you don’t really want anything to brown.
Turn the heat down to medium-low, and add the hot pepper flake and the marinated feta. Mash the feta so it sort of melts into the oil. It will look a bit grainy. Don’t worry, that’s how feta looks melted.
If your water is boiling, salt it so it tastes like the ocean, and add the pasta. Mine took about 11 minutes to cook.
Add the half&half to the skillet and bring the heat back up to medium. Cook for about 5 minutes, and then add the vegetables. You want them warm but still crisp, so how long you let them cook will depend on what vegetables you choose. If you’re using spinach, it’ll only need a minute or two. I let the pepper strips cook for about 5 minutes over medium heat.
When the pasta is ready, reserve about 2 tablespoons of pasta liquid and drain the rest.
With the skillet off the heat, whisk in the egg mixture and the reserved cooking water until well blended. Add the drained pasta and toss everything together over medium-low heat until the pasta is nicely coated. Do this fairly quickly and keep everything moving so you don’t end up with scrambled eggs.
And that’s really it. Pair this with a nice green salad, and you’ve got a lovely meal. If you’re me, plop some on a plate, be grateful and then inhale it so you’re not late to the chiropractor’s office.