Saturday, May 26, 2012

A Series of Fortunate Food: Bad Beginning, Good Pasta

Our kids are big fans of the Lemony Snicket stories, A Series of Unfortunate Events.  Joe read all of the books to them when they were small, and now we're making our way through the audiobooks.  We thought it would be fun to take a break from Nicholas Sparks and cook something from a story the whole family enjoys.  (And truthfully, with only three Nicholas Sparks books left on my shelf, I'll take any excuse to postpone the end of this blogging project...)

A Series of Unfortunate Events is made up of thirteen books, all tales of the three Baudelaire orphans and their never-ending quest to escape the clutches of the evil Count Olaf, who is their legal guardian but whose ultimate goal is to kill them and steal the enormous fortune the children's parents left when they died.  The first book in the saga, The Bad Beginning, tells of the fire in the Baudelaire mansion that killed Mr. and Mrs. B while their children, Violet, Klaus, and Sunny, were relaxing on a beach.  They are immediately taken to Count Olaf, their closest relative, and there the orphans' troubles get much worse.  Olaf is a lazy, self-centered, greedy villain who puts the children to work doing endless chores.  One day he orders them to cook a meal for him and ten or so of his cronies.  Olaf's neighbor, Justice Strauss, is a kind and gentle soul who helps them choose something to prepare and shop for the ingredients.  (If only Justice Strauss were their guardian, things would be oh so much better for the children...)  After browsing through Ms. Strauss's cookbooks, they choose Pasta Puttanesca.

From a street vendor, they purchased olives after tasting several varieties and choosing their favorites.  At a pasta store they selected interestingly shaped noodles...Then, at the supermarket, they purchased garlic, which is a sharp-tasting bulbous plant; anchovies, which are small salty fish; capers, which are flower buds from a small shrub and taste marvelous; and tomatoes, which are actually fruits and not vegetables as most people believe.  They thought it would be proper to serve dessert, and bought several envelopes of pudding mix.  Perhaps, the orphans thought, if they made a delicious meal, Count Olaf might be a bit kinder to them.  (The Bad Beginning, p.41-42)

(Side note:  I had planned to try to make pudding--from scratch, of course; but, just didn't happen.  Another day, another blog post.)

I found this recipe from Rachael Ray:



·         2 tablespoons (2 turns around the pan) extra-virgin olive oil
·         4 to 6 cloves garlic, chopped
·         1 tin flat anchovy filets, drained
·         1 /2 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
·         20 oil-cured black olives, cracked away from pit and coarsely chopped
·         3 tablespoons capers
·         1 (32-ounce) can chunky style crushed tomatoes
·         1 (14.5-ounce) can diced tomatoes, drained
·         A few grinds black pepper
·         1/4 cup (a couple of handfuls) flat leaf parsley,, chopped
·         1 pound spaghetti, cooked to al dente (with a bite)
·         Crusty bread, for mopping
·         Grated Parmigiano Reggiano or Romano, for passing, optional


Heat a large skillet over medium heat and add oil, garlic, anchovies, and crushed pepper. Saute mixture until anchovies melt into oil and completely dissolve and garlic is tender, about 3 minutes: your kitchen never smelled so good! Add olives, capers, tomatoes, black pepper, and parsley. Bring sauce to a bubble, reduce heat, and simmer 8 to 10 minutes.  Toss sauce with cooked pasta.

I was a little bit hesitant to make this, for two reasons:  1.  I'm afraid of anchovies.  Whenever we get an anchovy pizza (for Curly and Joe, definitely not for me) I can't stand to sit near whoever is eating it because of the smell.  But I made Caesar's Salad recently I couldn't taste them so I was willing to try.  2.  I don't like capers.  At all.  But I wanted to stay true to the recipe, so I used them anyway.

I varied Rachael's recipe slightly;  I used a can of diced tomatoes as well as some fresh ones instead of a big can of crushed.  I had curly parsley on hand, which tastes almost the same as flat-leaf.  And I decided to use Kalmata olives instead of plain old black ones.  And fresh pepper.  It just didn't seem right not to use it.

For the pasta, since the Baudelaire's selected "interestingly shaped noodles," I found some bowtie and spiral-shaped pasta to use instead of spaghetti.

That sure looks like an awful lot of anchovies...

I was afraid the anchovies and garlic would stink up the kitchen, but to my surprise it had a nice savory, nutty, garlicky aroma.

After putting the tomatoes, olives, capers, and crushed red pepper in the food processor, I transferred it all to the skillet with the anchovies and garlic.  It smelled delicious.

Curly wanted an Aqueous Martini with his Pasta Puttanesca.  That's just plain water and an olive served in a martini glass.  That beverage is featured in a later Lemony Snicket book, The Ersatz Elevator.

The verdict?  I didn't care for it much.  It must have been the capers.  Joe and the boys liked it, though; so I would say it was a success!

I got my camera back this week!  Soon (I hope) I'll be making some special sandwiches on homemade bread, and custard-style ice cream for dessert.  Stay tuned for my next post, the wonderful short ribs my family made for me on Mother's Day.  Without my camera, I couldn't help taking some photos with my phone.  (I haven't really looked at them, to tell you the truth, so I have no idea if they'll be any good.)

Have a wonderful Memorial Day weekend, and Happy Pentecost Sunday!

Friday, May 18, 2012

The Lucky One: Taco Night!

 I still haven't seen the movie.  I haven't had time.  I'll probably wait until it's on DVD, which is what I always do when there's something out I want to see and I never get to the theater to watch it.  These days when we go to the movies it's a family affair, and we see the fast-paced action flicks.  (Most recently it was The Hunger Games.  And I wouldn't be surprised if you find us at Men in Black III in a couple of weeks.)

In my last post, I told you about how Logan has walked from Colorado to North Carolina to find a woman whose photo he found in Iraq.  When he finds Beth, he rents a house near hers and gets a job at her Nana's kennel.  When Nana goes away for a few days, Logan starts spending more of his time with Beth and her son, Ben.  (Good grief, I'm making Logan sound like some creepy stalker, aren't I?  He's really not like that, I promise...)

One evening when Logan is preparing to head home after work (the kennel is conveniently located on Nana's property, and of course Beth lives there) and saying that he really must be going but not really wanting to leave, Beth asks him would you like to stay for dinner and I hope you like tacos, and it's no trouble really, we'd love the extra company.  Well of course, tacos sound much better than what Logan would probably be eating at home, like a turkey sandwich or something boring like that. 

Beth uses pre-packaged taco seasoning, and OF COURSE there's no way I was going to do THAT!  Here's a recipe I like to use, from a blogger who calls herself "Not Rachael Ray."  It's almost as easy as opening up a packet of seasoning:

Homemade Taco Seasoning
1 Tbsp chili powder
1/4 tsp garlic powder
1/4 tsp onion powder
1/4 tsp crushed red pepper flakes
1/4 tsp dried oregano
1/2 tsp paprika
1.5 tsp ground cumin
1/2 to 1 tsp sea salt (more or less to taste)
1 tsp black pepper
1. In small bowl, mix all ingredients and store in airtight container. (Or you can mix it together in the container you are going to store it in–just give it a shake!)

Silly me didn't take any pictures of the beautiful seasoning mix until after I added it to the meat...
 2. Add 2 to 3 tablespoons of this mixture plus 1/2 to 3/4 cup of water to one pound of cooked meat (of your choice). Simmer over medium heat, stirring frequently until there is very little liquid left in the pan.
3. Serve with your favorite taco topping! I recommend lots of sour cream, fresh salsa, guacamole,* lettuce, cheese and tomato.

*I did not make guacamole for these; not this time.  I've grown to love guacamole, and I don't make it as often as I'd like.  Sometime I'll blog about that.

"Okay," she said, pulling another pot from under the stove, "let me whip up the salsa."
She poured in a large can of tomato sauce, then added the onions and peppers and a dash of Tabasco, along with salt and pepper.  She stirred them together and set the heat on medium.
"Your own recipe?"
"Nana's.  Ben doesn't like things too spicy, so this is what she came up with."
The Lucky One, p. 129

Every so often, I find myself talking to Nicholas Sparks while I'm cooking.  "I'm not too sure about this, Nick,"  I'll say skeptically.  "Are you sure this will actually work?  I mean, this is NOT the way I would make this."  I had my doubts about Mike's Creole burgers and Lexie's pasta sauce, and I told Nick as much.  Telepathically, at least.  When I make salsa, I take fresh tomatoes and onions and garlic and hot peppers and cilantro and lime juice and salt and pepper, and throw them all into the food processor.  This one seemed like it would be more like a jarred salsa like what you would buy in the grocery store, and a pretty bland one at that. 

Hmmm...a pretty boring-looking salsa...but how will it taste?
 As always, however, Nick was right and I was wrong.  It turned out great.  (OK, I will admit that I still prefer fresh salsa, but this one was MUCH better than a jar of Old El Paso.)

The toppings, including the leftover peppers and onions.  Not pictured:  sour cream.  Seems I'm always leaving something out of photos like these...
Beth puts the taco shells in the oven for a few minutes before serving them.  I've never done this, but from now on I will.  I've always found pre-packaged taco shells kind of chewy and stale, but heating them up makes them nice and crispy, and makes for a much better taco.

Delicious with some fresh asparagus from the Farmers' Market.
 Oh!  And do you know what else Beth, Logan, and Ben had with their tacos?  Beer for the grown-ups, and fresh-squeezed lemonade for Ben.  Lemonade is a no-brainer and you don't need a recipe; just mix a little lemon juice with about the same amount of sugar, and 3 or 4 times as much water.  You can adjust the amounts of each according to how you like it.  (Usually I use the store-bought lemon juice.  I decided to squeeze my lemons this time, but guess what?  I wanted more lemon juice so I supplemented with a little of the bottled kind.  Big mistake.  Next time I'll just squeeze more lemons.  Using fresh lemons makes a huge difference.)

Gluten free beer or lemonade?  Can't decide.  I'll have both.

I still don't have my camera back.  The camera store had sent it off to the repair center, and they called this week to tell me they had an estimate for the repair job.  An estimate.  After nearly four weeks.  It will probably be at least another two weeks before I finally get it back.  I've got one more project finished, though, and I will share that one with you in my next post:  PASTA PUTTANESCA a la Lemony Snicket!  After that, I'm planning (assuming I get my camera back sometime within the next few weeks) at least one more post from The Lucky One, in which once again I'll need my ice cream maker.  And just in time for summer, too!