Saturday, September 3, 2011

Hostess with the Mostess

I had been looking forward to making dinner for Jeff's family for the last few weeks, so I was excited and a little nervous when his sister requested my home cooking for her last American meal before heading to Spain. I knew just what I wanted to make - spaghetti carbonara, recipe courtesy of my mom and Cook's - but I had only made the dish once before and recalled a lot of stress and bacon grease. I enlisted Jeff to act as my sous chef, loaded up on my ingredients, and made Jeff's family promise to be kind. To accompany the carbonara, I decided to make sauteed chicken breasts, and veggie filled salad, and mixed berry shortcakes with lemon whipped cream. Was I putting too much on my plate? Possibly, but promises are meant to be kept, and off I went!

One major thing I've learned on my adventures in the kitchen is how important prep is to being successful. Do not start heating the oil for minced onion if you haven't started mincing the onion, for example. I have failed to photographically document lots of meals that I've made recently because I've been running around like a madwoman, so for this meal, I decided to give myself lots of time. I prepared the fruit and stuck it the fridge. I chopped the squash and tomatoes for the salad and set them aside. Before starting to heat the olive oil for the bacon, I cut off the fat and cut the strips into 1/4 inch pieces. All of these little steps made the entire experience much less stressful and made cooking that much easier.

Chicken breasts with onion and garlic powder, salt and pepper
Nothing better than bacon, olive oil, white wine
Mixed greens with cherry tomatoes and raw yellow squash
Beautiful chicken - nicely done, Jeff!
Carbonara deliciousness
Edible delight
Must have dessert
Tired chef ready to dig in!

Everything tasted great and by prepping before I started, the timing was pretty perfect. The carbonara turned out well - the combination of bacon, Parmesan cheese, egg, and wine is beyond delectable, while not feeling heavy like a cream based pasta. This dish is all about timing, so it's very important to make sure that the pasta is hot when mixed with the egg and that it's served immediately. As for dessert, there are few sweets that make me as happy as fruit and cream, and the addition of lemon to the whipped cream is a surprising treat. Give these recipes a shot and let me know what you think!


Spaghetti Carbonara:
(Makes 4-6 servings)

1/4 cup olive oil
1/2 pound bacon (6-8) slices, trimmed of fat and cut into 1/4" pieces
1/2 cup dry white wine (I used Cabernet Sauvignon)
3 eggs
1 cup finely grated Parmesan cheese
3 small garlic cloves, chopped
1 pound spaghetti
Black pepper to taste

Heat water in a large pot for spaghetti, add spaghetti when water is boiling
Heat oil in large skillet over medium heat until shimmering but not smoking
Put in chopped bacon and cook, stirring occasionally until lightly browned and crisp (about 8 minutes)  
Add wine and simmer until alcohol aroma has cooked off and wine is slightly reduced (6 - 8 minutes) 
Remove from heat and cover to keep warm
Beat eggs, cheeses, and garlic together in a small bowl, set aside 
Warm your serving bowl in the microwave, about 30 seconds (Very important!)
When pasta is cooked al dente, drain pasta, leaving slightly wet
Transfer to warmed bowl
Immediately pour egg mixture over pasta, toss well to combine
Pour bacon mixture over and toss again
Season generously with black pepper 
Serve immediately

Mixed Berry Shortcakes:
(Makes 8 servings)

1 container strawberries, raspberries, and blueberries
1 pint whipping cream
1 lemon
1 container (8) Pillsbury biscuits (I used Honey Butter,  but I have used Original in the past. I don't know how to make my own, or I would!)
2 tablespoons sugar
4 teaspoons vanilla

Wash fruit, cut strawberries and raspberries (if large)
Sprinkle 2 tablespoons sugar and toss with 2 teaspoons of vanilla
Cover and put in the fridge for 1 hour or more (You could serve immediately, but I like to let the sugar and vanilla set a little)
When you're ready to serve the dessert, follow instructions for biscuits
Whip cream in electric mixer
After about 30 seconds, add the juice of lemon, 2 teaspoons vanilla, and 2 tablespoons sugar
Finish whipping cream, cut biscuits in half
In dish or bowl, layer the bottom of one biscuit, a large dollop of whipped cream, a heaping spoonful of fruit, and a small dollop of whipped cream


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