Archive | May 2011

Bacon-Tomato Pasta (Divine)

So, perhaps you’ve just made the split pea soup from my last post and you have a half a pound of thick-cut bacon leftover. What to do? Might I suggest maximizing its potential as one half of the finest flavor duo known to mankind? Bacon and tomatoes. An indubitably fated coupling, much like Laurel and Hardy, Hall and Oates, Pinky and the Brain. One can get on without the other, but together, they’ve found their calling.

It’s a proven fact that bacon is a miracle food that can make anything spectacular. It’s like the circus freak of the edible kingdom–you can add it to anything and it’ll perform to standing ovation. Bacon could probably make dirty laundry taste good. But add it to tomatoes, especially in a slow-cooked sauce poured over my favorite carb, topped with cheese, and you’ve basically given your taste buds an expletive-deleted, moment of intense pleasure explosion.

It needs a better name, really, but I can’t come up with one that really pinpoints the titillating properties. Bacasm?

Perhaps My Favorite Pasta

1/2 lb. thick-cut bacon, roughly chopped
1/2 yellow onion, peeled and diced
2 garlic cloves, peeled and diced
1 c. white wine
3 sprigs fresh thyme
2 bay leaves
1 12 oz can fire-roasted tomatoes
1 8 oz can V-8 juice
salt & pepper
1/2 lb. penne

Bring a pot of salted water to a boil for the pasta.

In another large pot, cook the bacon over med-low until it renders its fat, about 5 minutes. Add the onion, garlic, salt & pepper, thyme, and bay leaves: cook until the veggies become translucent. Add wine and reduce by half.

Run the can of tomatoes through a blender or food processor.

Add the tomatoes and V-8 and simmer for a good half hour. Adjust salt to taste.

Cook the penne al dente. Add to the sauce to coat. Serve with freshly grated parmesan.

Save a piece of bacon for Charlie, who is as obsessed with it as I am:

cat loves bacon

i can haz bacon?


Pea Soup Soto’s

One of my favorite things to do is to drive along the coast of California. I went to college in Santa Cruz, and I used to make the drive back and forth to LA all the time. Those trips in my little Ford Escort were most certainly where I cemented my love of road trips. I get how long drives might be tedious to some, but I adore the in-between space it affords: open road, open time ahead of you, tunes, a view. Somewhere along the way, I discovered Pea Soup Andersen’s–a small roadside diner specializing in pea soup. The diner looks like the Tiki Room at Disneyland gone Swedish (cuckoo clocks instead of singing birds). And the soup, for all the hype, is truly fantastic.

The best eateries in the world are roadside diners. To get people to turn off the highway and get out of their cars, roadside restaurants know they have to be pretty special. The Madonna Inn, for instance, is just up the road from Pea Soup Andersen’s, and does nothing less than a pink-and-brass mambo all over your senses–pink sugar, waterfalls in the men’s bathroom, amazing pancakes. Can any place match the roadside genre in themes, decor, and comfort food? When there’s nothing but the lonely road ahead of you, you want something that sticks to your guts, both in food and funky kitsch.

This is a soup that you want with you on the open road. There are a million ways to approach it, but here’s a rustic, hearty one. Vegemetarians can easily skip the bacon and cook the veggies in olive oil instead.

Pea Soup

1 c. dried green peas
3 garlic cloves, peeled and diced
1/2 yellow onion, peeled and diced
1/2 lb. of thick-cut bacon, roughly chopped
3 bay leaves
6 sprigs of thyme
1 c. white wine
2 russet potatoes, peeled and roughly chopped
16 oz. stock
2 c. water

In a sieve, rinse the peas and set aside.

In a large pot over medium heat, cook the bacon until the fat renders, but don’t let it get too crisp. With a slotted spoon, remove the bacon and set aside.

Add the garlic, onions, and carrots to the bacon fat, and sprinkle salt and pepper over them. Let them cook until they soften, about 5 minutes. Cover the veggies in the wine and let it reduce for a few minutes. Throw in the bay leaves and the thyme.

Add the peas and potatoes and coat them in the veggies and oil. Cover in stock and water and turn the heat to medium-high. Let it come to a boil and continue to boil for awhile, stirring frequently. Reduce heat to medium and cook until peas and potatoes are cooked through. Add the bacon back in. Add salt to taste. With a potato masher, smoosh everything to desired consistency (smooshy).

(Guest Blogger) Swedish Pancakes with the Swedish Chef

Yesterday, Joel schooled me in the joys of Swedish dessertery. Turns out, Swedes can flip a mean pancake!

My flipping skills could use a little work, but these pancakes are super easy and delicious.

Dispatch from the Swedish Chef:

This weekend I got an extra day by virtue of some failed brakes, and the trains to Indiana being down for construction. The thunderstorms had already come and gone, and although I think Chicago weather reported those storms to be coming from the east, in my limited experience the lighting I left behind in South Bend was only anomalously related to that of Chicago. I’m Swedish, and when I was a kid and caught inside all day, Swedish pancakes (pannkakor) made by my mom were worth waiting for even more than the storm’s pass.

Joel teaching his brother how it's done

swedish chef in training

Swedish Chef in training

In fact, the pancakes Kate and I made on Sunday just may have brought the sun with them. Since it’s still in the forties though, the old Swedish tradition of pea soup and pancakes (which, since the Middle Ages, have been eaten on Thursdays before the Friday fast- and are still served on that day in Swedish cafés, sans Catholicism) is perfect for taking the edge off whatever spring transition might have caught you unawares.

Our cooking was aided by the virtuoso pop dramatist Jens Lekman:

Swedish Pancakes
2 ägg (2 eggs)
6 dl mjölk (2 2/3 c. milk)
3 dl mjöl (1 1/3 c. flour)
1 msk smör (1 tbsp. butter)

3 dl = 1 1/3 cup

In a large mixing bowl crack 2 eggs, and add 1 1/3 cups milk. Whisk and then add 1 1/3 cups flour- whisk that in, and then add another 1 1/3 cups milk- whisk again. This can be made before the soup and put in the fridge. When you turn the frying pan on begin by melting one tablespoon of butter- add that to the batter.

The pan should be quite hot. Add enough batter so that when you twirl the pan it reaches to the edges. Swedish pancakes are slightly thicker than French crepes, but are by no means American pancakes. We did notice bubbles though, or little translucent areas in the middle. That’s good. After a couple minutes loosen the edges of the pancake with a spatula, until you find your way under it and flip! The loosening is the most difficult part, and expect it to take practice. The underside of the pancake should have brown rings or spots. Don’t use the spatula to even out the flipped pancake unless necessary, rather lift the pan up and shake the pancake flat. It shouldn’t take more than a minute on its second side. Then flip it onto a plate to stack. You can fold into quarter size in the pan first if you like. Or just feed it directly to whoever’s waiting. (My younger brother and I would shingle our pancake consumption as Mamma served us from the pan.)

Pannkakor can be sweetened with lemon juice and sugar, or your favorite jam, watered down a bit in a small bowl. (We used blackberry, and strawberry is classic.) Spread the topping down the middle of your pancake in a line and fold over there and then roll the same way you folded. It was a great pleasure as a child to just feed this tube into my mouth with bare hands, but now I get a comparable kick from the ruse of sophistication provided by knives and forks.

Lemon Pound Cake with Balsamic-Marinated Strawberries

pound cake balsamic strawberries

Traditionally, pound cake is made with a pound of butter, a pound of sugar, a pound of eggs, and a pound of flour. Essentially that’s four pounds of crazy. Who can eat all that? This version is much more manageable: loaf size. It’s not a cake of the super moist variety, but has a consistency more like a breakfast bread. As such, it holds up beautifully to the marinated strawberries. The balance of zingy and sweet here is delightful. Balsamic and strawberries are a genius combination that I was introduced to by Kat Santore many moons ago. Thanks, Kat!


Lemon Pound Cake with Balsamic-Marinated Strawberries

1 lb. strawberries, rinsed, hulled, and sliced
juice of 1 lemon
1/2 c. balsamic vinegar
1/4 c. sugar.

Combine all ingredients well and let sit in the fridge while you make the pound cake. The longer, the better. With a slotted spoon, spoon the strawberries on top of each slice of cake to serve.

lemon pound cake

Lemon Pound Cake
1/2 c. light brown sugar
1/2 c. white granulated sugar
2 sticks butter
4 eggs
1 tsp. lemon extract
1 tbsp. lemon zest
1 3/4 c. all-purpose flour
1/2 tsp. baking powder
2/4 tsp. salt

Preheat oven to 350.

Grease and flour a loaf pan.

In a large bowl, beat sugar and butter until fluffy. Beat in eggs, one at a time. Add lemon extract and zest.

In a separate bowl, combine flour, baking, powder, and salt. Gradually add to the sugar mixture.

Pour batter into the prepared pan. Bake for an hour, or until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean.

lemon pound cake

Ramp and Brussels Sprout Pasta

pasta spring greens egg

You know the Portlandia sketch “Put a Bird on It”? I’m kind of like that, but with pasta. Got a bunch of gorgeous veggies you’d like to make into a meal? Put it on pasta. Leftover sausage? Put it on pasta. There are many other fine grains out there, and I do try to diversify. But pasta just calls to me. I open the cupboard and it says, “C’mon Kate, you know who’s your favoritest carb. Why fight it?” What can I do but give in?

Which is exactly what I did yesterday when I received my first Fresh Picks box, filled with gorgeous spring greenery. Most exciting of all was a bunch of ramps, which I’d never seen before and at first mistook for scallions. After a bit of careful research (Mr. Google), I learned that not only are these creatures delicious, but they are, in fact, responsible for the name of Chicago itself! A 17th-century explorer named Robert Cavelier described a thick growth of vegetation near Lake Michigan as the wild onion, called Chicagou in the language of the native tribe. Recently, it was found that these wild onions were actually ramps.

So it’s clearly an act of civic pride to eat these by the barrelful. And, did I mention that they are delicious? The whites are a milder version of the scallion, and the greens have a lovely, delicate onion flavor. Put them on some pasta, why don’t you!

Ramp and Brussels Sprout Pasta

1 c. cashews, unsalted
2 c. brussels sprouts, quartered with ends removed
1 bunch ramps, whites diced and greens julienned
parmesan cheese, grated
1 tbsp. good, aged balsamic vinegar, or reduced balsamic vinegar if it’s not that aged
olive oil
1 egg
1/2 lb. penne

Preheat oven to 450. Put a pot of salted water over high heat and bring to a boil.

Lay the brussels sprouts out on a cookie sheet and coat with olive oil and salt and pepper. Bake for about 15 minutes, or until they have reached your preferred level of crunchiness (I like mine really crunchy). When done, put them in a large bowl.

In a dry, heavy-bottomed pan, toast the cashews until they turn brown. Add to the large bowl.

In the same pan, warm some oil over medium and saute the ramp whites until they are soft and translucent. Sprinkle with salt and pepper. Add the greens and cook until they wilt, maybe a minute. Add the bowl with the cashews and brussels sprouts.

Cook the pasta until al dente. Add to the bowl and toss, adding olive oil until lightly coated.

Bring the same pan with another tbsp. of oil to medium, and fry an egg, about a minute on each side.

To serve: dish out the pasta, then drizzle some good vinegar–no more than maybe a tbsp. Add the egg to the top, grate cheese over it, and finish with salt and pepper.