Sarde a Beccafico – {Sicilian Stuffed Sardines}

A while back I came across one of the many food & travel docs-series on Netflix. It just so happened to be Ainsley Eats the Streets. I had never known of him before or seen his shows in Britain. After devouring the entire series he quickly became one of my most favorite television chefs. He exudes joy and it shows both in his television programs and in his cooking.

One of the episodes in the series was his visit to Sicily. During the show he prepared a fairly easy recipe of sardines stuffed with a variety of ingredients. I did a little research on the recipe and it’s fairly straightforward and easy to compose. I am not entirely positive there is a single traditional recipe for these sardines so I took the basic elements of what I could find online and on the show.

Here’s how I did it:

Before you do anything you need to find fresh local sardines. Obviously you probably won’t find them as fresh as in Sicily but local farmers markets should suffice. Fresh ingredients is the key here!

For an appetizer suitable for 2-4 people:

1.5lbs – 2 lbs of fresh sardines (Ask you fish monger or farmers market to scale them – It will save you a lot of extra work at home.)

Start off by cleaning your sardines, removing the head and innards along with the small back bone that runs thru the entire length of the small fish. An easy way to do this is make a small cut underneath the tip of the backbone and use your fingers to pull it out.

You will notice sardines have a lot of small little bones that run alongside the backbone as well. It’s up to you if you want to spend the time to remove each one but most are small enough that they will dissolve in the cooking process by itself.

Once your sardines are cleaned, half them with a sharp knife and set aside. I like to run them under cold water again after I cut them in half.

In a non-stick pan you want to lightly toast 1/2 cup of pine nuts along with a 1.5 cup of bread crumbs (preferably seasoned). Add in 1/2 cup of raisins along with another 1/2 cup of finely chopped parsley. Mix together until warm.

In a large bowl add 1.5 cups of EVOO and the juice of 1 lemon. Slowly add your dry ingredients, mixing slowly to incorporate well.

Take roughly 1 spoonful of the mixture and stuff each sardine. Carefully roll each one up securing it with a toothpick placing it carefully in an oiled glass dish. I’ve found small square glass dishes work the best. Once your dish is full drizzle some EVOO on top and add in a few springs of fresh rosemary and bay leaves. (No salt – remember the sardines have enough saltiness to them already naturally.)

Place in the oven at 350 degrees for 15 minutes.

Remove and let cool for 10 minutes. (Don’t forget to remove the toothpicks!)

You can add a dash of balsamic vinegar for that extra little kick to this lovely little delight from the sea.

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Cacio e Pepe

Cheese & Pepper. What could be better? I dare you to find a better, more satisfying combination of simple ingredients when combined with the right technique that make for one of the best and most beloved pasta dishes ever created.

I first tasted Cacio e Pepe the proper way – while in Rome. I remember sitting in a little side street restaurant, the rain pouring down outside and not another patron in the joint. The two waiters huddled in the corner looking anxiously up at the small tv where their beloved Roma futbol club was playing a match. I remember looking around the restaurant after my first bite, as if my head was on a swivel desperately searching for someone else to share in my new found discovery of pasta I had never dreamed could taste as good.

Needless to say I devoured my first experience of Cacio e Pepe during my time in Rome, returning home to eventually attempt the creamy and peppery dish myself in my humble little kitchen.

I’ll spare you the details of my first few attempts. I’ll just say this – it took me a number of times preparing this dish to get it correct. The term correct could easily be replaced with acceptable.  I still cant get the dish to taste as incredible as it did in Rome, nor should I ever expect to.

This dish in theory is super simple, utilizing only a few ingredients. That was the easy part for me. The technique and preparation was the sticking point that seemed to cause me to stumble every darn time. Time after time I managed to make simple mistakes in the preparation of this dish leaving me frustrated and perplexed each time. I pushed on and came up with this technique that seems to work for me the best, with little notes along the way as always.

Ingredients:

  • 1lb of spaghetti or long pasta
  • Fresh ground pepper
  • Fresh Pecorino Romano Cheese
  • EVOO (optional)

Preparation:

Bring a large pot of water to a rolling boil. Some recipes call for adding salt to your pasta water. I’ve found this to give the overall taste of the pasta afterwards over the top salty. Remember, the Pecorino Romano already has a lot of salt in it and for me that was all the saltiness I needed in the dish overall.

In a separate large bowl mix your Pecorino Romano (about 1 – 1/2 cups) and your freshly ground pepper, incorporating nicely.

Cook your pasta until al dente. Drain your pasta but keep some of the pasta water over low heat. Add a large spoonful to your large bowl of cheese and pepper, stirring vigorously. Continue to add spoonfuls of hot pasta water until your cheese and pepper mix becomes more of a paste. Add in your steaming hot pasta, mixing continuously. Continue mixing everything together until you get a creamy coating on your pasta.

I’ve found the cheese can lump up if your pasta water/pasta is not hot enough. If this happens, continue to add small amounts of hot pasta water and continue to mix until your result is nice a creamy throughout. Add additional pepper as needed.

Note: The technique you use is where this recipe will come together or get ruined – as I have found out many times before. The crucial aspect of this preparation is to make sure the cheese melts evenly and coats your pasta in a thick and creamy sauce. Don’t get discouraged as I did at first, wondering why I was messing up what was supposed to be such an easy recipe. If at first it doesn’t come out, simply try again until you work out the kinks in your preparation – because ultimately this dish can easily become one of your most favorite foods to impress your friends with!

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Vanilla & Cinnamon Milk Tart

When it comes to anything involved with pastry my anxiousness begins to slowly creep up. I am fairly competent at pasta dough – but pastry dough is another story! That said, I am getting better and learning more each time I set out for another baking adventure in the Salt & Starch kitchen.

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Recently I was thumbing thru one of my cookbooks I had admittedly neglected for some time – The Jamie Oliver Comfort Food cookbook. As I flipped thru the pages I really began to fall in love with this book and remembered why I bought it in the first place. The recipes along with the food photography are incredible. I found myself stuck on the Milk Tart recipe as it caught my attention last Sunday. I began to read up on it to see if I could give it a go.

From my research online I found that Milktart or “Melktert” is traditionally a South African pastry that is delicate, sweet and creamy.  I was really intrigued and read a number of different recipes online along with the Jamie Oliver recipe from the book. I decided I would give it a try, putting my little personal touches on it as I do with everything I cook (or bake in this instance). In general I followed the Jamie Oliver recipe which was quite simple but I’ve included notes along the way which were not in the cookbook that I found helpful.

Here’s what you will need:

Pastry:

  • 1 2/3 Cups all-purpose flour, extra for dusting
  • 1 large egg
  • 1/3 cup confectioner’s sugar
  • 1/2 cup unsalted butter
  • 1/2 cup of 2% milk

Filling:

  • 2 1/2 cups 2% milk
  • 1 Vanilla Bean
  • 1/2 cup of unsalted butter
  • 2 large eggs
  • 2 tablespoons of cornstarch
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
  • 1/3 cup superfine sugar (see my notes)
  • 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon

 

Making pastry dough is fairly straightforward, although I find it difficult at times given the little kneading necessary. I always catch myself kneading it too much.

Pastry Dough:

Start off with running your flour and confectioners sugar thru a sieve into a large metal bowl. Cut your butter into small cubes and then combine your mixture together gently. Add your egg and a pinch of high quality sea salt. (I use Maldon).  Mix for another 30 seconds and then add in your milk slowly. Continue mixing together until you have what looks like a very flaky or ‘scruffy’ ball – as indicated in the Jamie Oliver cookbook.  Again, this is where I struggle because I want that dough to look shiny and golden like pasta dough! Remind yourself it is pastry dough and not pasta dough! Set aside in the fridge for 30 minutes.

The next part is where I screwed up originally when making this pastry. While my pastry dough was cooling in the fridge I began making the filling. Big mistake! Allow some patience (something I typically do not have much of) with this recipe and let your pastry dough to fully cool in the fridge before you do anything else. This is a recipe you can’t skip ahead on and get away with.

Ok, so now it’s been 30 minutes and you’re chomping at the bit to get this thing moving! Take out a 9 or 10 inch tart pan and spray some PAM into it, making sure the sides are coated well. You can use other oils here as well but the baking PAM spray I have found works well. Remove your pastry dough from the fridge and begin rolling it out to roughly 1/4″ thickness. Remember, this isn’t pasta dough so your dough is going to be flaky and crumbly & possibly sticky.  Continue to put your rolling pin skills to the test until you have a nice even section of dough rolled out – large enough to cover your tart pan. It’s ok to sprinkle all-purpose flour on your surface and dough throughout this process – as your dough is probably a bit sticky. Use the flour to tighten it up if needed.

Roll or place your rolled out pastry dough over top of your tart pan, being sure to push in nicely along all the edges inside. Cut the excess dough around the edge of the tart pan. Take a fork and punch holes through the base of the dough. (A tiny detail I forgot to do my first time making this dish! Poking holes in the bottom will help the dough to cook evenly, prevent it from sticking to the bottom, and will also help the baking process of the filling.) Pop the tart pan into your freezer for 20 minutes to firm up.

Preheat your oven to 350 degrees. Remove your tart pan from the freezer and place a sheet of tin foil over top of your tart pan pastry, being sure to push into all the corners gently. Take some rice or baking beans and fill up the tart pan, again putting enough into the pan to get into all the nooks and crannies. I should mention this process confused the hell of me when I read it in the cookbook. The purpose of this process is to cook the pastry dough somewhat before adding the forthcoming filling. This will allow the dough to ultimately be fully cooked. If you do not do this step your dough will not cook fully in the oven the first go around, leaving you with a doughy mess.

Take your tart pan (now filled with rice or baking beans on top of a tin foil sheet) and bake for 10 minutes. After 10 minutes remove from your oven and dispose of the rice or beans and tin foil. Place back into the oven for another 10 – 15 minutes uncovered.

While your pastry is in the oven for the 2nd time, you can begin working on your filling. Pour your milk into a sauce pan and place on the stove over low heat. Cut your vanilla bean lengthwise and scrape out the seeds, adding to the milk on the stove. Throw in the bean stalks as well. (You will remove them later). Allow to simmer for roughly 15 minutes.

In a separate bowl beat your eggs, cornstarch, all-purpose flour & superfine sugar.

Note: Superfine Sugar is NOT confectioners sugar. I have found that superfine sugar can be somewhat difficult to find at a local grocery store. If you cannot find superfine sugar you can easily pop it into a food processor and blend on high for roughly 30 seconds or until the sugar is visibly powdery and much more fine. Your food processor blades will not like this but it’s a work around if you don’t have access to store bought superfine sugar.

Remove your milk & vanilla from the stove which should now be nicely simmering. Remove the vanilla stalks from the sauce pan. Add in your butter, mixing continuously until fully melted. The recipe in the cookbook called for 1 ‘pat’ of butter – which was again confusing to me. What the hell is a ‘pat’ of butter. The term is subjective from what I found. I used 1/2 cup of unsalted butter cut into small cubes which worked nicely. Most recipes would probably say that is too much but it worked for me.

Next gradually stir in your flour/egg/cornstarch mixture into the milk, stirring continuously until fully incorporated. At this juncture I added my own little personal touch to the recipe and put in a dash of vanilla powder. Vanilla powder can be difficult to get but probably can be acquired at any good spice store or farmer’s market.

Place your sauce pan back on stove over med-low heat. Here is another point where your patience will pay off dividends. Continue to stir until your mixture becomes thick. This usually takes 10-15 minutes. Your mixture will get thick and become a pudding like consistency.  Once at this point, remove from the heat and allow to cool for a few minutes – or until it is not steaming hot anymore.

Carefully pour your filling into your pastry tart pan, being sure not to overfill the filling above the rim of your tart pan. Sprinkle some ground cinnamon on top and bake for another 20-30 minutes.

*The Jamie Oliver recipe added some glazed caramel to this dish. I gave it a try and after a disastrous first attempt which included ruining the first tart and nearly burning my thumb off from the glaze – I managed to get it right.  If you would like to add a little caramel glaze to this tart it is actually fairly easy – but the timing is the important part.

For the optional caramel glaze:

Allow your tart to fully bake before preparing the glaze. Your tart should be cooling comfortably on the kitchen counter before you start your glaze.

Take 1 cup of regular sugar and a splash of water and put into a small sauce pan over med heat. Stir regularly until your sugar begins to thicken both in consistency and color. Continue to stir until you have a beautiful golden brown color of caramel and the thickness is still workable. Once the consistency is thick but still ‘pour-able’, remove from the stove and carefully pour over top of your now finished tart.

Note: This is where I burned my finger horribly the first time I did this. The glaze might not look hot but it is like lava! – trust me! Be careful during this step!

Allow your tart to fully cool – for a few hours before even thinking about removing it from the tart pan or serving. The best course of action I have found here is to let it cool on the counter for a few hours and then stick it in the fridge overnight. The subtle flavors of the creamy filling will come thru better the next day after it’s been cooling for a while. You’ll be left with a delicate, creamy and impressive pastry dish which you can add creme fraiche too, decorate with fresh blueberries or simply with the caramel glaze.

 

Fish Sauce Spare Ribs

This is a go-to dish for me. I absolutely love Fish Sauce Spare Ribs. I’ll make a wild guess and say you might have never tried fish sauce spare ribs? Am I right? If so, read on!

Put down the BBQ sauce and give this incredibly easy recipe a try for a super flavorful take on spare ribs you won’t forget.

*Some of the recipes I share on Salt & Starch outline exact measurements for cooking certain things. I share what works for me and what doesnt. For this entry I am mostly leaving it up to you to figure out. There are many variations I have found when preparing this dish so what better way to figure out what works for you! When I first cooked FSSR’s I used the now defunct Lucky Peach 101 Easy Asian Recipe cookbook.

After a few attempts I of course changed up the recipe slightly to suit what I felt made a better result. But that’s the beauty of cooking – experimentation with flavors, spices, amounts, and preparation until you get it just right for your tastebuds. So that said, below is a general outline of what you need. Feel free to add, take away and tweak the recipe to make it yours.

*Note: If you are not familiar with Fish Sauce I suggest you read this quick little article first.

It’s packs a sweet, powerful and funky flavor to dishes and it can easily be overused on your first few attempts cooking with it – I mention that based on experience!

So, my general rule of thumb with Fish Sauce is ‘less is more’. The powerful flavors of the sauce will still come thru in the dish you prepare and as mentioned above – you can always tweak your amounts to your flavor profiles as you get accustomed to using Fish Sauce as a main ingredient.

General Ingredients suggested:

  • 2 Racks of Spare Ribs (St.Louis cut if possible)
  • 3/4 Cup of Fish Sauce (Found at most Asian supermarkets)
  • 1 Cup Sugar
  • Lime Juice
  • Fresh Ginger, minced
  • Kosher Salt

How To:

Mix together in a large bowl 1/4 cup of your fish sauce and 1/4 cup of sugar. Rub each rack of ribs liberally with the mixture. Arrange each rack separately on its own baking sheet, wrapping each rack in foil – crimping the foil at the top.

Now the recipe I followed originally indicated to bake at 350 Degrees until tender but not falling apart, around 90 minutes. For my kitchen and stove I found this to be too long and the ribs were falling apart by then. I cook mine for roughly 70 minutes at 350 degrees, checking them every so often to make sure they are not overcooking.

Remove from the oven and let the ribs rest in their foil pouches for at least 20 minutes.

While your ribs are cooling, finish preparing the remaining ingredients using the general outline below:

Combine the remaining sugar, water and salt into a sauce pan over medium heat.  Add some of the lime juice and stir. I like to add just a little bit extra lime juice because I like the ‘tartiness’ it brings forth in the mix. Continue stirring for roughly 10 minutes. Remove the pan from the heat and add your ginger. Gently swirl the pan to incorporate the ginger. (You can also add garlic as an extra kick as well)

Add a bit more lime juice and another 1/2 cup of the fish sauce. Lucky Peach’s recipe calls for adding sambal at this stage if you are so inclined to. Add a dash of pepper and allow to bubble over low heat, stirring gently to incorporate.  You are making a ‘Fish Sauce Caramel’.

Repackage your rack of ribs into new foil wraps, arranging them meat side up on the baking sheet. Take a brush and liberally brush some of the fish sauce onto the ribs. Roast for 5-10 minutes, remove and baste with more of your sauce. Continue this process until you have exhausted all your sauce giving your ribs a shiny glaze with a nice char.

Let cool for 15 minutes, cut into slices and enjoy!

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Continue reading “Fish Sauce Spare Ribs”

How to make Challah Bread

I am no baker, that’s for sure. However, I have made my fair share of bread in the past and I continue to bake bread occasionally all while trying to understand the magical chemistry that occurs between yeast, water, flour, etc.

Challah bread is a beautiful way to start making bread, and it’s fun to make! It’s rich texture along with a very slight hint of sweetness can be noticed when trying it for the first time. It’s recipe is straightforward and the end result is almost always impressive to look at. I particularly like making challah bread on occasion because I can never seem to get it just right. My braids always open up on top but the end result still looks fantastic and most importantly the taste is great.

Here’s how to do it:

  • Ingredients: 1 loaf
  • 1 cup water – best if lukewarm or room temperature
  • 2 teaspoons of dry yeast – you can use active dry but I tend to use the instant yeast
  • 4 to 4 1/2 cups of all purpose flour
  • 2 teaspoons of salt (regular salt, not sea salt)
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1/4 cup sugar
  • 1-2 large egg yolks separated – (Save the egg white in a small bowl, set to the side)
  • 1/4 cup vegetable oil such as Canola oil – (Do not use olive oil here!)

How to:

The first step you need to do is to dissolve your yeast. Place your yeast in a small bowl with the water, adding a little pinch of sugar. Mix well until all is incorporated. At this point you want to let your bowl stand for 5-10 minutes. The yeast should be doing its magic and you should see a cloudy or frothy layer form across the top of the water. If you do not see this your yeast has most likely expired and you will need to start over.

Mix your dry ingredients: Place your 4 cups of flour, your sugar and salt into your stand mixer bowl. Make a well in the middle of your flour and add the oil, eggs and egg yolk. Pour the yeast mixture into the mix and stir together with a wooden spoon until you get a messy dough.

*You can add sprinkles of dry flour as you go – that will help with the wetness of the mix and will assist in it all coming together. (Don’t go overboard however with adding more dry flour at this step – use it sparingly to assist with the dough coming together).

With a stand mixer, fix the dough hook and knead the dough on low speed for roughly 6-8 minutes.  If you do not have a stand mixer you can knead by hand for 10 minutes.  If the dough feels sticky or wet you can sprinkle dry flour into the mix as you continue to knead. The goal is to get a silky smooth texture that easily forms a ball.

Once the dough is kneaded and form nicely, place the ball of dough into an oiled bowl. Cover with plastic wrap and let rise for roughly 1-2 hours. The dough needs to double in size – use this visual measure of the indication it is risen enough.

Divide the dough into 3 equal parts. Stretch each part to roughly 14-16 inches in length creating ‘ropes’. Many times while doing this you will notice the ropes tend to shrink up. If this happens let them rest for 5 minutes or so giving the gluten more time to relax.

For a 3-stranded challah you want to gather the ropes at the top, pinching together. Braid the 3 ropes together (as if braiding hair) making sure your braid is relatively tight.

Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Place your braided challah on top and sprinkle with a little dry flour. Place a kitchen towel over top and let rest for roughly 1 hour in a warm and dry place.

While your braided challah is still resting (roughly 20 minutes before you put it in the oven), add a little water to your egg whites that you set aside from earlier. Whisk the mixture gently. Brush and coat the challah bread with the egg wash making sure you get into all the crevices and especially on top.

Pre-Heat your oven to 350 F.

Bake for roughly 30-35 minutes, checking every so often to ensure the top is evenly being baked.  The challah should be browned thoroughly on top.

Let the Challah cool on a baking rack until just warm.  Serve & enjoy!

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*You can add caraway seeds to the top before baking to add a little spicier flavor if desired.

 

 

 

 

Verdure Gratinate

Baked vegetables with bread crumbs is one of the easiest side dishes you can prepare. I love this dish because it sets up perfectly for new cooks. It allows for a newbie in the kitchen to practice their knife skills and prepare an incredibly easy and flavorful dish almost every time within minutes.

The other beautiful aspect of this dish is you can use virtually any vegetables you like. You’re not bound by only a few certain vegetables. So, that said – pick your favorites and get started! I’ll show you how …

Common veggies I like to use:

  • Eggplant
  • Peppers (Green, Red & Yellow)
  • Zuchinni
  • Onions
  • Tomato
  • Fresh herbs of your choice. Parsley, Oregano & Marjoram work wonderfully.
  • Salt & Pepper (Try to use high quality salt, not iodized store bought salt. Good salt such as Maldon Sea Salt or other sea salts make a huge difference in cooking. Freshly ground black pepper should also be a staple in your kitchen)
  • Extra Virgin Olive Oil. (Don’t skimp on quality here either. Get the good stuff)
  • Bread Crumbs – roughly about 1-1/2 cups

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How to:

Take your fresh herbs and put your knife skills to the test, getting them fully chopped finely.  Once you have a lovely mix of herbs (finely chopped) add them to your bread crumbs in a large mixing bowl – stirring well to make sure the herbs are fully incorporated with the the bread crumbs.

Cut your veggies roughly 1/4″ in thickness, or a bit thinner depending on your preference. This is another good exercise for your knife skills because you will have a few different vegetables to cut. Make your cuts even focusing on even lengths for all your veggies. This will make your dish look even better when its plated. (see photos)

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Place your cut vegetables on a baking sheet that has been drizzled with a little EVOO, spreading them out evenly. Don’t overcrowd them on the baking sheet. Sprinkle your breadcrumb mix on top of the veggies but don’t go crazy here putting more than is needed. This is a common mistake, one I committed the first time I made this side dish. If you put too many bread crumbs on top you’ll be left with burnt vegetables and a mushy breadcrumb pile on top. Less is more in this situation.

Drizzle some EVOO over top of the vegetables to finish.  Bake for roughly 45 minutes at 375 F until breadcrumbs are browned on top.

Sprinkle a little high quality sea salt on top and serve!

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Smoked Duck with Fresh Herbs

Last week I finally managed to get my garden all taken care of. I planted a plethora of fresh herbs, tomatoes, beans, peppers, and even threw in a couple sunflower plants for good measure. With the weather on the east coast lately I came out to my garden yesterday and had fresh rosemary, basil and cilantro already ready for the picking!

I’ve had a frozen duck in my freezer for a while now, just waiting for the right time to cook it. I figured it was time to de-thaw it and give it a whirl. I decided to smoke it on my bbq using indirect heat (setting the duck on the opposite side of where the coals are) and let it cook on low for a few hours outside.

This recipe is open to interpretation because essentially you can prepare this duck any way you prefer. A lot of frozen ducks come with a traditional orange glaze you can use for flavor. I used the orange glaze along with some extra soy sauce and a bit of honey to combine for a homemade glaze.  I utilized my herbs from the garden and put fresh cilantro, basil and rosemary atop the duck.

I got the charcoals going pretty well, until they were glowing while I set two small foil tins next to them on the lower level of my grill. I filled the tins with apple juice.

I set the duck on the opposite side of the charcoals, on top of the foil tins as shown in the photos. I checked the duck approximately every 45 minutes or so, making sure the temperature stayed below 200 degrees. The total cooking time on this duck was around 3 hours with a couple glazings in between. I removed the now glowing duck from the grill after a nice char formed and I wrapped it in tin foil for roughly another hour to continue cooking.

And there you have it – a nice and easy Sunday dinner prepared and ready to go!

*If you’re adventurous you can smoke the neck, liver and any innards left in a small tin foil pouch alongside the duck. *pictured

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Funfetti Cake with Vanilla Buttercream Frosting

Baking doesn’t have to be difficult. Many times it is. Many times I’ve stared thru the little glass door to the oven, nervously hoping I didn’t overfill the cake pan with batter. Inevitably when the batter pours over the edge of the pan I reconsider why I even attempted baking a cake in the first place (again).

But it doesn’t have to be difficult or nerve-wracking. After a few attempts and failures at making a layer cake I’ve managed to figure out some easy steps you can use also to bake your next cake.

Today I decided to give the all to popular ‘Funfetti’ cake a try. It’s all the rage on the foodie shows, and perhaps the funnest cake one can bake without too much hassle.

Here are a few easy steps to follow:

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Buy 3 boxes of cake mix from the store. (You can make your own but remember – this is the easy recipe option!)

Follow the easy instructions on the cake mix box which usually is 1 cup water, 1/2 cup vegetable oil, cake batter and 3 eggs. If you have a stand mixer use that option, as it’s easier to mix together with a stand mixer rather than try to mix it together old school style by hand.

Once the batter is mixed thoroughly add up to 1/2 cup of sprinkles into the batter, allowing the mixer to get them well incorporated within the mix.

Take three 8″ cake pans and coat them liberally with either PAM cooking spray or Crisco.

Pour the batter into the cake pan being sure not to overfill the pan – a common mistake!

(Note: if you overfill the batter into the cake pan you will quickly have a mess in your oven and unfortunately might need to start over after cleaning up the mess)

Bake all (3) filled cake pans in the oven at 350 degrees for 18-23 minutes depending on your oven. (I check the center of the cake with a dry knife every 5 minutes or so after the first 10 minutes in the oven)

The next step is the frosting. Personally I am not a huge fan of over frosting. For this recipe I decided to make a Vanilla Buttercream Frosting – just enough to fill the layers of the cake.

In your clean mixer add 3 cups of confectioners sugar, 3 tbsp of Vanilla extract, 1/3 unsalted butter that is room temperature. Start the mixer allowing the ingredients to incorporate fully. Slowly add a tablespoon of whole milk as your mixture comes together until the texture is creamy and soft. (see photo below).  Put the frosting mix in the fridge while your cakes finish off in the oven.

Finally, remove your cakes allowing them to cool for at least 30 minutes before you remove them from their pans. I like to cut the the dome tops off the cakes so everything is nice and even. Take your frosting out of the fridge allowing it to return to room temp. It needs to be room temp to spread on the cake – if it’s too cold or stiff you will tear the cake very easily.

Liberally spread the buttercream frosting on the first layer, add the second layer, and if you choose to the top layer. For me, as mentioned earlier, I only like a little frosting so I decided to only incorporate frosting to layer the cakes but not to top the cake or for the sides. Plus I like the open top showing off the sprinkles!

And just like that – you have Funfetti cake. Enjoy!

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Pasta – The importance of tradition

This isn’t a post about how to make homemade pasta. It’s not a post about how much flour or water to add to make the perfect ball of dough. This post is about the importance of tradition when it comes to making things from scratch – in particular fresh pasta learned from those that have made it in their kitchens for decades before me or you ever came along.

So why is making pasta so important? Why not just buy dried pasta from the store? Why not just go out to eat? I think as a cook, at least a home cook, sometimes we ask ourselves “why do things the hard way?” When in reality the hard way is many times the correct way – especially when it comes to making and crafting a dish from scratch.

Bill Buford wrote so eloquently in his book HEAT about the art of making pasta. The art of learning how to make pasta from masters of the craft.  The art of basically fucking it up 1000 times before getting it right. Making food from scratch is indeed an art, probably more true with crafting pasta than any other food in my opinion.

With it carries responsibility. Tradition. The ownership of passing along the knowledge to those younger, those willing to listen and learn, those willing to fail time and time again in hopes one day they will get it just right. The cycle continues.

So I leave you today with not a recipe for perfectly made homemade pasta – mostly because I am still fucking it up myself. But instead a few images of the craft itself so beautifully displayed as pappardelle and garganelli.

Everything you see I owe to spaghetti – Sophia Loren

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Basted Sea Bass with Himalayan Pink Sea Salt

Spring is finally here and Summer seems just a few weeks away. With the warmer weather I always start to think about fresh fish and the adventures to be had at the local farmer’s market. Luckily I have access to a number of incredible farmer’s markets, authentic food stores and smaller grocery stores near me. I avoid shopping for ingredients at larger food chains at all costs if I can avoid it.

Last summer I was playing around with Sea Bass, in particular basting it with clarified butter to infuse the fish with a sweet and salty taste.

The result: Basted Sea Bass with Himalayan Pink Salt

Here’s what I did:

  1. Choose a fresh fish from your local farmer’s market or fish monger. It does not have to be Sea Bass. Go with a fish you like but choose a fish that will hold its integrity while cooking. Choosing a fish that becomes super flaky will be difficult with this recipe.
  2. Clarify half a stick of  unsalted butter in a small sauce pan.
  3. Cut your fish into chunks, large enough to hold their integrity.
  4. In your pan place the chunks of fish in the butter. Make sure the temperature is on low. High heat will ruin this dish quickly.
  5. Have patience. Slowly baste the fish with the butter until color begins to form on the top side. Flip and repeat.
  6. Plate atop a garnish of fresh spinach leaves or whatever you prefer.
  7. I made a homemade pesto sauce to accompany the dish but utilize any sauce that fits your flavor.
  8. After plating, sprinkle just a tiny bit of Himalayan Pink Sea Salt on top of the fish. Don’t use too much, just a touch to add a salty taste to accompany the sweetness of the butter taste.
  9. Enjoy.

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Lemon Lime Shell Pudding

If you’re looking to make a good impression on some dinner guests or simply test your culinary fortitude when it comes to presentation – this dessert might be for you!

A while back I started to play around in the kitchen with different presentations of desserts with the goal of making the aesthetics of the dish fun and new.  After many failed attempts with cakes, pies, cookies and an unfortunate incident with a creme brulee, I managed to come up with this little gem below.

This is a super easy (for the most part) way to impress your friends.

First: Make the lemon pudding. Here comes possibly your must crucial decision in this whole recipe – instant pudding or fresh made.

The answer to that of course is fresh made lemon pudding!  Here’s a quick recipe:

Food Network Lemon Pudding Recipe

After you’ve got the pudding made and it’s chilling in the fridge, start on your creme fraiche. I like this one:

Creme Fraiche Recipe

Next really comes the pain in the ass. When I first attempted to do this it did not turn out well. I wanted to present the lemon pudding in a hollowed out lime. Turns out hollowing out a lime is not the easiest of tasks. Word to the wise – be careful! I basically used a spoon to hollow out a lime, leaving a little bit of the pulp in the bottom.

Place a dollop of your Creme Fraiche on a 8″ circle plate, placing the hollowed out lime in the middle. Carefully spoon the fresh lemon pudding (which should be cold enough to hold its form) into the lime. Adorn with fresh raspberries and perhaps a sprinkle of crushed graham crackers.

And that’s it. A relatively easy and impressive take on lemon pudding.

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Lucky Peach – The End of a great culinary zine

A few months ago LUCKY PEACH announced on its Instagram account they were ending their beloved culinary magazine in print form. The result among the culinary believers has since been a tearful and frustrating farewell.

I discovered Lucky Peach a few years ago after picking up the issue on Chinatown. I consumed it as quickly as I do a bowl of steaming ramen. I quickly went online and purchased every back issue of LP that I could find, including the coveted Issue # 1 which I am not embarrassed to admit paying $125 for at the time.
(Current value steadily increasing since the news).

Since the news of LP’s magazine closure I have read a number of articles online all basically saying similar things. Culinary foodies outpouring their love in comments about the magazine while acclaimed chefs expressing their sadness for the end of what truly is the best culinary magazine available today. The EATER write up was especially good in my opinion and captured a lot of the sadness and gloominess we are all feeling currently.

EATER Article

For me the beautiful thing about LP was it proved if you are not heavily involved in cooking, the food world, or culinary news in general then you probably wouldn’t be someone to purchase the magazine. That solidified the magazines followers as the real deal and we knew that if you read LP then you most likely have a heartfelt love for food, cooking and all that accompanies it.

A casual culinary reader would typically not pay the $12+ an issue just to skim its pages for recipes.

As LP readers each new issue could not have come soon enough. Some of us (meaning me) would even have each issues release date on my calendar at which time I promptly went and bought my issue.  I never subscribed to the magazine as it was always more fun to go to the store and buy the issue.

Ugg … this sucks.

A week later after the announcement many of us mere mortals in the food world are left wondering what’s next? Where and how will we fill this now huge void in our collections of culinary literature? General consensus about the news is somber but hope remains that the creators of the magazine will  continue to make waves in the food world in other avenues. I sure hope so because the lasting effects of this magazine will soon not be forgotten among culinary circles and those of the like. The food scene had a magazine that ‘got it’ finally and wasn’t just about recipe after recipe but put thoughtful and interesting articles behind every new issue.

The release by LP had a witty write up on the end of the print form but indicated the online content will remain. For me I wanted more. I wanted to understand why the magazine was ending. Was it lack of membership or the cost of print media in general? Were the creators moving on to bigger and better things? Are they just going to focus on cook books now?

What?!

After reading the short release from LP I was a bit disappointed about the lack of information provided as to the reasoning behind the closure. Perhaps it is not for us readers and fans to know. And maybe perhaps more explanation will be given down the road from LP or its creators.

Anxious foodies await any updates I am sure.

The magazine in itself became a collectors piece with each new addition and one would suspect back issues now will increase in value as the news spreads. For a split second I thought about seeing what the entire collection would sell for but I wised up and realized I could not part with my issues no matter how bummed I was. Ultimately I would find myself buying them all back online for probably double what I paid for them.

As for me, sadly I always had a notion in my mind that this day might come. Print magazines at higher price points today just seem to have a limited shelf life unfortunately. I believe the magazine could charge double its cover price and still maintain its followers and sell issues. But alas the print gods had other ideas and for the time being we all await the next fresh new idea within the food world.

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