Mario's Maccheroni alla chitarra and Bottarga

This dish was an experiment, prompted by some Japanese cooking I did for the Daring Cooks last challenge.  In their cuisine, dried bonito flakes get used quite a bit for stocks, marinades, soup, etc.  Which left me with a ginormous package of it.  Thinking what to do with all that fishy stuff, lit a bulb upstairs - could this stand in as a cheap form of bottarga??  Maybe not is the answer, after giving it a try.  Those bonito flakes were not the taste experience I was hoping for on my spaghettini.

Wikipedia says bottarga has been termed the poor man's caviar, but don't be fooled, that stuff is expensive. Not that I've ever eaten it, only heard about it online, and in cookbooks.  Though I have actually considered preparing my own, since bottarga is a form of preservation and we are into that, what with Charcuteapalooza happening and all.  You just need a source of tuna or red mullet roe and some salt.   But that will be another story.


Grilled Ahi and Vegetable Pasta Toss

 Sometimes you just have to call it like it is.  If I mumbled the title in Italian, I'm sure this dish would sound more impressive.  But, just so you know ahead of time, the taste is impressive enough in any language.  And a dish that starts off with fresh, good grade, locally caught ahi tuna, is going in the right direction.  As long as you don't mess it up by over-cooking.  You want it barrrrrrly done.  Even a bit pink inside.  And luckily,  the veggies take the same amount of time.  Which is no time at all.

Assemble some fresh vegetables to complement the fabulous fresh fish, a few herbs and seasonings, you're on a roll.  The veggies serve as a sort of rack for the tuna.  Get that pasta water started.  The oven pre-heated to broil with a rack about 4 inches from the flame.


Chocolate Topped Butter Mochi Bars

 Just a fair warning.  These are not low calorie, diet or fat-free munchies.  They are over the top with butter, evaporated milk, coconut cream, and sugar.  Then there is the chocolate on top.  Think Mochi on steroids.  Or, Indo-European take on dessert austerity.  Though I do really like plain mochi, and in various flavors (with exception noted below).  These are just another level up.  Anyway, as Ruhlman says, it isn't fat that makes you fat.  It's eating too much.

The exception.  I do not look on beans as a prospect for dessert.  Not when there are so many other tempting things out there, chocolate aside.  Strawberries, mangoes, pineapples, apples, oranges, etc. etc. etc. and nuts.  Just think of all the possibilities.  Beans and rice, pork and beans, beans in tortillas with cheese, or in Cassoulet, okay.  I'm fine with that.  Probably just upbringing.  But, still...
And, the only pounding we did was on those little blocks of chocolate before sprinkling it on top of the hot, almost finished mochi bars.  That was the easy way.  Probably next time I will melt the chocolate and pour on top when the baking is completely finished.  Just for aesthetic reasons.  It didn't alter the fabulous taste.


Guanciale for Charcutepalooza

If you can pronounce the words in my title, there is a special prize. I (don't ask why) have decided to attempt this year-long challenge of preparing a different type of charcuterie, each month with the participants of Charcutepalooza, currently taking place at Mrs. Wheelbarrow's site. It has been called A Year in Meat, and is hosted by Cathy Barrow and Kim Foster. These two women have come up with the quite inspirational idea for us to cure, smoke and salt our way right through Michael Ruhlman‘s how-to cookbook, Charcuterie.

January's challenge was Duck Prosciutto, which came and went before I had a chance to join in.  Though, I would say making Duck Confit several times comes close, as it involves salting, then slow cooking and preserving in fat, rather than dry curing.  At any rate, the hosts have decided to extend the January Challenge, allowing late posts throughout the coming year.  So, I'm okay, and certainly looking forward to doing Duck Prosciutto, and especially eating it.

The February challenge is the salt cure, either bacon, pancetta, guanciale ("gwan-chi- ah-lay") or lamb prosciutto.  Folks, this does not mean that I am not committed to using less meat.  Only to preparing more myself, and from humanely raised animals.  At any rate, for non meat eaters, salmon, salt cod or even lemons can be done with a salt cure on this challenge. One of the things I do with the lemons life gives me.  Lemon Mead is good too, but that's another story.
Salted Lemons
Having procured some small farm, locally raised hog jowl, I began the simple (very) process of preparing homemade guanciale.  From what I was able to read, this fatty cut of meat, the jowl or cheek,  has a more intense piggy flavor than bacon or pancetta.  Which, if you enjoy pork, is a good thing.  According to Mario, in The Babbo Cookbook:
Guanciale is the very distinctly flavored bacon made from the jowls and cheeks of our hero, the pig.  It has a depth of flavor and intense richness that is simply not present in commercially made American bacon.  It is quite simple to make at home; we make fifty pounds a week at Babbo and use it with abandon whenever possible.
Whoa, if Mario uses it with abandon, it is likely pretty darn good.  However, having never heard of it before (goes to show that I don't read every word in my cookbooks), seen it in a store, or eaten this item, it's all new to me.  But, being up for trying something different and tasty, away we went.


Cold Hiyashi Soba Salad with Tempura

 I can't say that I remember ever cooking soba / buckwheat noodles before.  I've eaten it in Japan, in a Sobaya (restaurant that specializes in those noodles), but haven't bought any to fix at home.  When I went looking, I noticed that many brands have wheat flour as the first ingredient.  The one I ended up purchasing had more buckwheat flour, but still not 100%.  If that exists, it's not around here.

The February 2011 Daring Cooks’ challenge was hosted by Lisa of Blueberry Girl. She challenged Daring Cooks to make Hiyashi Soba and Tempura. She has various sources for her challenge including japanesefood.about.com, pinkbites.com, and itsybitsyfoodies.com

All of which meant that I would be sourcing and cooking buckwheat noodles for a cold salad, and making tempura.  I have prepared Tempura, in the distant past, though nowadays I generally avoid deep fried foods.  But  exceptions to rules may be made in the interest of learning new techniques.

I decided to use only vegetables: pumpkin, sweet potato, eggplant and mushrooms for the tempura.  The Hiyashi Soba had cooked chicken and slivers of omelet, so we were well covered for protein.  I think little cubes of marinated tofu would go nicely on top of the salad as well, for vegetarians, or anyone really.


Spelt Penne with Mixed Vegetable Ragu

  After making a preparation, which I will not yet name (big secret challenge) I had these vegetables left: 1/4 eggplant in slices, 1/2 small Kabocha pumpkin, 1/4 Portobello mushroom and 1/4 red bell pepper.  So, the idea was to use all that up.  In something delicious, hopefully.  And, this is where a half box of penne pasta came in handy.  And a few other items.  I was thinking of flavorings reminiscent of Puttanesca.  With the anchovies, garlic, capers, red pepper flakes, in a sauce composed of meltingly tender vegetables.  The ones above, with added onions, and tomatoes.  Taste that pops out at you.

And, yes it certainly did.  Pop with flavor that is, in a sauce where the vegetables really shine.  But, that's why we love pasta.  For its endless versatility.  The relationship doesn't get old, when all these new combinations we come up with keep us interested.


Super Bowl Pizza or Socca or Sourdough Flatbread, Hurray!

This is my latest pizza and, OF COURSE, I happen to think the best.  I've posted about Mark Bittman's Easy Flatbread recipe before, and this is another adaptation.  It has the benefit of using up some of that ubiquitous sourdough starter as well.  You should try keeping one of those pets for awhile.  Seriously, I am quite fond of my starter.  Her name is Genevieve, and she is past 200 years old.  Really.  A truly ancient babe. So, even though she has elements of gluten, I think we'll keep her. But, those of you who want this totally gluten-free, just follow the strict Bittman directions. 

I love pizza.  Bob is not all that crazy about it, so I occasionally have it for lunch.  When he's not around.  However, as he has been hinting about dips, appetizers, etc. for SUPER BOWL, maybe this will be for the rest of us?  That's a sprinkling of the fabulous, absolute best cheddar cheese on top.  Cougar Gold from Washington State University.  Very kindly sent to us by Bob's Uncle Johnny.  Thank you Uncle Johnny.  It is sooooo good.  And, a portion of the proceeds from their sales go toward the educational support of Food Science students.  Yea!  I'm all for that.  And, Go Cows!  They do a lot of the work, should get some credit.     

A crust where the flavors of the grains involved come through just a bit.  Not overpowering.  I used equal parts sourdough starter, corn flour and chickpea flour (besan).  If you don't have sourdough starter, then you're with Bittman on this.  He doesn't use it either.   I have made some changes to the one I posted last (above link).  Make two and vary the toppings.  Then, slice and serve as pupus (Hawaiian for appetizers).


Chicken Cannelloni with Alfredo Sauce

This is the gluten-free cannelloni/crepes post I mentioned was in the works, on the Guava Muffin post.  I was very happy with those nutty little crepes and used the extras for Chicken Cannelloni last night.  Sort of a re-cycled Sunday, since we had crepes for breakfast and roast chicken for dinner.  Left-overs becoming the best of both meals.  As far as the photo, if I'd had any brains (wasn't too hungry to think straight) that would have been some fresh tarragon sprigs on top.  Since that's the herb I used inside.  So, use your imagination.

You can buy gluten-free flours, but I like Shauna, the Gluten-Free Girl's idea of mixing up your own AP flour and having it ready to use in a nice container.  That way you can control just what goes in, and it's a great way to start using less gluten.  There may be flours in the store bought mixes that don't agree with you, or you just don't like. I had a lot of miscellaneous flours around, so the added advantage was actually putting them to constructive use.

The idea is to do a combination of 70% whole grain flour and 30% starch.  I used corn flour, sorghum, teff and brown rice flour.  For the starch portion, potato, tapioca and white rice.  Having a digital scale helps a lot.  Just measure 700 grams flour to 30 grams starch, then whisk it all together lightly to mix and aerate the flours.