Pecorino Romano Caprese Pasta

Another of my addictions, in addition to corn, is cheese.  The stinkier, moldier, smellier, the better.  One of my favorites is Pecorino Romano.  When it's real - that is to say imported from Italy with the stamping on the rind to prove it - it's outrageously pungent and flavorful.  It smells a bit like a boy's locker room filled with sweaty feet.  Which means it's damn good.

Even though it is so bloody hot outside my corn is actually turning into popcorn right there on the stalks, I'm a bit tired of grilling.  Well, not grilling per se; I'm just over eating a ton of meat, which we tend to do during the summer.

I wanted to add a bit of my garden to the pasta so I decided to saute some cherry tomatoes with garlic.  I cut up some basil to add some bright freshness to the somewhat heavy pasta.  You will need the Pecorino Romano grated finely, which you can do on the small holes on a box grater or (as I did) cut it into chunks and zip it in the food processor.

The rich, creamy sauce gets it's heft from the pasta water itself.  Normally, we cook pasta in tons of water to give it room to dance and twirl around in the pot.  This recipe uses very little water to concentrate the starches released by the pasta.  It goes against what we've always been taught but it works to our advantage here.

Pecorino Romano Caprese Pasta
Serves 4-6

4 oz. Pecorino Romano cheese, finely grated (about 2 c.)
1 lb. thin spaghetti
1-1/2 t. table salt
2 T. heavy cream
2 t. olive oil
1/4 t. pepper
1 pint cherry tomatoes, halved
2 t. olive oil
4 garlic cloves, thinly sliced
8-10 large basil leaves

After grating the cheese, place it in a medium bowl.  Put a colander in a large bowl to collect the pasta water.

Bring 2 quarts water (measure it!) to boil in large stock pot or dutch oven.  Add 1-1/2 teaspoons salt and pasta.  Stir frequently so it doesn't stick, until cooked.  Drain pasta into colander, keeping the cooking water.  Measure out 1-1/2 cups pasta water and throw out the rest.  Put the pasta in the large bowl that is now empty.

Meanwhile, heat 2 teaspoons olive oil in saucepan.  Add cherry tomatoes and cook over medium heat until starting to burst.  Add garlic and saute another few minutes until garlic begins to brown.

Slowly whisk 1 cup of the pasta water into the cheese until smooth.  Whisk in cream, 2 teaspoons oil, and pepper.  Add cheese sauce to pasta and toss to coat.  Let sit another minute to absorb sauce.  Add remaining 1/2 cup reserved pasta water if needed, mixing as you go.

Stack basil leaves , roll up, and slice into thin strips.

Serve pasta topped with tomatoes and fresh basil.

Recipe somewhat adapted America's Test Kitchen 


Grilled Beef Kebabs

Last night we took the girls and a friend to dinner at a pub. This place is a total hole in the wall.  It's old and the furniture looks like it was purchased in 1968. There are neon beer signs everywhere, as well as shuffleboard games and pool tables. The clientele usually go there to drink but they really do have killer chicken tenders (brined, hand-battered and deep fried to order).

We arrive and our 6-year old daughter says to the waitress, "My seat is dirty." Well, cupcake, that's because the bench has probably been sticky for about 17 years now.

A man, complete with tattoos, piercings, and a shaved head walks by and she says very loudly (due to her hearing issues), "That man is creepy!" Luckily he didn't turn around and cold-cock my daughter (or husband) and simply chuckled to himself. Good thing it was only 6:30 and he hadn't had time to get too much of his drink on.

We all know what kebabs are, right? So we also all know how they usually end up - overcooked meat with undercooked vegetables. Or charred veggies and flavorless meat. Not these, my friends! Before I begin with the recipe, we're going to have a little kebab cutting lesson, if you don't mind.


Cut off the top.
Cut off the bottom.
Slice down one side, cut out seeds and ribs.
Lay flat like a book and cut into chunks.

Cut the top off.
Slice down the sides to remove the skin.
Cut in half, then cut planks around fiber core.

Fruit and Vege Marinade

Cut into 1-1/2 " cubes, then cut through
the middle almost all the way through.

Grilled Beef Kebabs
Serves 4-6

1/4 c. olive oil
5 cloves garlic, minced
3/4 t. table salt
1/2 t. pepper
2 lbs. chuck blade roast (about 2" thick), cut into 1-1/2" to 2" cubes, then cut thru again (see above) 

Veggies and Fruit
1 pineapple, peeled, cut into chunks (see above) *You will only use half the pineapple for this recipe.
1 red pepper, cut into chunks (see above)
1 orange or yellow pepper, cut into chunks (see above)
2 T. olive oil
1 red onion, ends trimmed, peeled, halved, cut into chunks

Combine oil, garlic, salt and pepper in a Ziploc bag.  Add meat and marinade for 1-24 hours in refrigerator.

Toss pineapple and peppers with 1-1/2 tablespoons olive oil in medium bowl.  Season to taste with salt and pepper.  With onions, brush with remaining oil.  Season as well.  

Take the meat out of the fridge and allow to come to room temperature.  If you are using wooden skewers, soak them in water for half an hour while the meat comes to room temp.  

Pre-heat the grill on high heat.  Meanwhile, assemble the kebabs by threading a piece of pineapple, onion, meat (skewering it as if it was not cut almost in half), each kind of pepper, and repeat.  Brush any remaining oil over skewers.

Grill kebabs covered over high heat until meat is well browned and marked, anywhere from 8-10 minutes total, turning kebabs to get all sides.  

Recipe adapted from Cook's Illustrated May 2000


Huli Huli Chicken

I've never been to Hawaii.  So I'd never experienced the delicious Huli Huli Chicken of the tropical state.  Typically they roast the split chickens on huge rotisseries and are continuously turned over hot coals and smoking special Hawaiian wood called kiawe.   While on a recent family trip to Gatlinburg, my cousin Chad (who is fondly known as Choo Choo) made an easier version of Huli Huli Chicken for dinner one night.

I've talked about my family a bit before in other posts, so for those loyal followers out there, you know how much I love them.  We are spread all over the country, and even the world, and we try hard to get as many of us together as often as we can.  We decided over Christmas that we'd plan a summertime family trip to Gatlinburg, Tennessee.

It was amazing.  We rented a chalet (Gatlinburg talk for  a pimped-out log cabin) and decided we would have to check all electronics at the door.  This rule in place because the men-folk, and a few of us women, tend to spend our quality family time in front of a lighted screen.  There were 9 adults (including our teenage son) so we divided up the cooking for each night.  Chad's night was a masterpiece called Huli Huli Chicken.

This chicken is sticky and smoky and flavorful.  The marinade keeps the chicken moist and flavored throughout.  The glaze is sweet and spicy and tangy.  Try it paired with Hawaiian Pasta Salad for a tropical treat.

Keep in mind the photos in this post are of a large amount of Huli Huli Chicken and it's ingredients.  He was feeding a crowd, after all.  He suggests doubling the sauce and adding more garlic, but I've put the original recipe below.  Also, he used chicken parts rather than whole chickens split in half.

Huli Huli Chicken
Serves 4 to 6

2 qts. water
2 c. soy sauce
1 T. vegetable oil
6 garlic cloves, minced
1 T. grated fresh ginger
8 lbs. chicken, bone-in parts

3 (6-oz.) cans pineapple juice
1/4 c. packed light brown sugar
1/4 c. soy sauce
1/4 c. ketchup
1/4 c. rice vinegar
4 garlic cloves, minced
2 T. grated fresh ginger
2 t. Asian chili-garlic sauce
2 c. Mesquite wood chips

Combine water and soy sauce in large bowl.  Heat oil in large saucepan over med-high heat until oil is shimmering.  Cook garlic and ginger 30 seconds.  Remove from heat and stir into soy sauce mixture.  Add the chicken and marinate in the refrigerator, covered, for 1-8 hours.

Mix together all glaze ingredients (except the wood chips, of course) in an large empty saucepan.  Bring to a boil, then reduce heat to medium and simmer until thick and syrupy, which takes about 25 minutes, unless you double the sauce like Chad.  In that case, it'll take a lot longer.

Meanwhile, soak the wood chips in water for 15 minutes and drain.  Place in foil packet or aluminum loaf pan, sealed with foil, and poked with holes.

On your grill, make sure to open the bottom vents to allow for good smoke circulation.  Light coals in chimney and spread over the bottom of the grill when covered with grey ash.  Arrange the wood chips packets directly on the coals.  Put grill plate back in place, cover with vent halfway open, until hot.  After about 5 minutes, the wood chips will begin to smoke.

If you're using a gas grill, put your packet directly on primary burner.  Heat all burners on high, with cover on, until the smoke pours out (about 15 minutes).  Then turn all burners to med-low.

Don't forget to scrape and oil your grill grates!

Remove chicken from the brine and pat dry.  Put chicken on the grill, not directly over the wood chip packets, skin side up.

Grill covered (ignore the foil-wrapped corn cobs above) until chicken is browned on bottom, about 20 to 30 minutes.  Flip chicken over and cover grill again.  The skin will crisp up and brown.  You want the thigh meat to register 170*-175*.

Transfer chicken to a platter and brush on half the glaze.  Let sit 5 minutes.  Serve with remaining glaze.

The brine and glaze can be made ahead of time (up to 3 days).

Recipe adapted from Cook's Country June/July 2009


Cornmeal Biscuits

I am under treatment for a self-diagnosed (have you heard about my ability to diagnose despite the fact that I do not have a degree??) addiction.  This little habit of mine involves eating pretty much anything made from corn.  It's really an obsession.  I love corn on the cob, frozen corn, corn chowder, caramel corn, canned corn, cream corn, corn with bacon, corn fritters, pop corn, hush puppies, cornbread (both northern and southern), polenta, Johnny Cakes, fried corn, corny jokes, Mexican grilled corn, corn casserole, spicy corn, corn in salads, cornbread crumbled into milk, corn dogs, corn muffins, and hominy.

Which brings to mind a funny story.  No one in my family had ever eaten hominy before.  One evening, I opened a can (of whoop ass, then the hominy), heated it up, and had everyone try it.  The smell reminds me of a barn.  Like the feed corn used on a farm plus the odor of manure.  Seriously.  Open a can and you'll see.

So each of my kids dutifully ate one piece of hominy, and my husband bravely took a spoonful.  All at once I hear groans and moans of disgust.  The girls were asking if they could spit it out because it was so gross.  My husband was trying to choke it down but he was literally gagging on his hominy.  He and my son are the two that faithfully eat any and everything without fail, and love it most of the time.  This was different.  All four of them looked like someone had just dropped a deuce in the middle of the floor.  Of course, being the sadistic loon that I am, was doubled over in laughter, tears streaming down my face as I watched my family suffer. See, told you I was sick.

Back to corn.  Although I could (and sometimes do) eat corn for every meal, sometimes I'm craving a good biscuit too.  The recipe for Cornmeal Biscuits is the best of both worlds.  You get the buttery flakiness of a biscuit and the corn flavor of cornbread.  The trick is to soak the cornmeal in the buttermilk which softens it enough to eliminate any graininess.  If you don't have buttermilk, you can stir 1 tablespoon lemon juice into 1-1/4 cup milk and let sit 10 minutes.  Cornmeal Biscuits are easy enough to whip up to accompany a meal and you won't have your family gagging in disgust.

Cornmeal Biscuits
Makes 12

1 c. cornmeal
1-1/4 c. buttermilk
1 T. honey
2 c. flour
1 T. baking powder
1/2 t. baking soda
1 t. salt
12 T. butter, cold, cut into pieces

Pre-heat oven to 450*.  Line baking sheet with parchment.

Whisk cornmeal, buttermilk, and honey in a large bowl.  Set aside for 10 minutes.

Pulse flour, baking soda, baking powder, salt, and butter in food processor until mixture looks like coarse meal.

Add flour mixture to the bowl with the buttermilk and stir to form dough.

Knead dough on a lightly floured surface 8-10 times until smooth.  Pat dough into 9-inch circle, about 3/4-inch thick.

Use a 2-1/2 inch biscuit cutter dipped in flour to cut out biscuits and transfer to baking sheet.  Pat out remaining dough and continue cutting until it's gone.

Bake 5 minutes, then turn down oven to 400*.  Bake 8-12 minutes until golden brown.  Let cool 5 minutes on sheet, then on wire rack.  Serve warm or room temp.

Recipe from Cook's Country


Garden ~ What's growing now

Petunia Easy Wave Red

For those of you who have followed my successes and failures this season in the garden, you'll be happy to hear (or perhaps not - it depends on how you feel about me) that the garden is a raging success as of now.

Petunia Easy Wave in May

Check out these Petunias! Remember them a bit ago??  This was in May.  A bit more than a month later and they look like the above photo.  I'm telling you, it takes a while to grow from seed, but I ended up with 16 Petunia Easy Wave plants for $5.  It's a deal.

Cucumber baby

Everything is growing beautifully, with the exception of a few that have died along the way.

Cucumber White Wonder

For example, I lost 4 of my 8 cuke plants so I'm planning on direct sowing in their spots to have another round of harvest.

Cantaloupe Amy

I've got two varieties of cantaloupe going but one isn't looking so good.  I've got Amy and Ambrosia but the Ambrosia is struggling.  The weeds have been so horrible this year, especially in the top bed because it's all vines in there.  I decided to use the last bit of garden fabric leftover from around the deck to at least eliminate one strip of weeding.

Watermelon Gold Crown blossom

I've never grown watermelon before so it's a new experience.  I hope I get some dammit.

Pumpkin Knucklehead

I must say I'm surprised at my pumpkin plant.  I grew pumpkin last year, Big Max and Conneticuit Field, but only got one pumpkin in... July.  Really?!  However the vines grew everywhere on those plants.  The one above, Knucklehead, is this really cool unusual one that has knobby warts all over it.

Pumpkin Knucklehead blossom

And these blossoms are huge!  Lovely!

Corn Kandy Korn

I've never grown corn before, but some of you may know about my addiction to corn, so it's no surprise. It'd actually be nice to have an IV of corn really.  Kandy Korn is supposed to be super sweet and juicy.

Rogue plant amongst tomatoes

And I've got several rogue plants among the tomatoes, including tomatoes.  The one above is a product of dumping the compost bin into that area, I think.  What do you think it is?  Cantaloupe? Cucumber?  The mystery continues...

Tomatoes - many varieties

I'm so bloody excited about tomatoes I almost can't stand it.  We don't have any yet, but those red (and yellow and purple and green) babies will be making their appearance very soon.

Holy deliciousness growing

I'm chomping at the bit to get to these red beauties.  And the ones below are yellow.

Tomato Sungold

I have 32 tomato plants, 10 varieties:
* Burpee Burger
* Fourth of July
* Brandy Boy
* Cherry Sweet Million
* Cherry Sungold
* Cherry Sugary
* Cherokee Purple (heirloom)
* Big Rainbow
* Early Girl
* Lemon Boy

Basil Genovese

My basil plants get huge ~ like a 3-4 ft. bush.  This year I decided to try something new and stake them with ordinary tomato stakes.  Maybe it will help control the long branches.

Cute little bug atop a pepper plant

How cute is this little guy?  Looks like he's poised to pounce!

Hot Pepper Anaheim

If you look closely you can see the little bugger again on the Anaheim pepper plant.

Squash Sweet Zuke

And finally, one of my zucchini plants.  I have neighbors getting zucchinis already but I've yet to see one.  Grrrrrrr.

Petunia Easy Wave

What are you growing?  What have you had the most successes with?