the ultimate comfort food: spaghetti with clams

When I need comfort food, there is very little than can compete with a big bowl of perfectly al dente spaghetti, butter, clams, garlic, and yes, a fabulous pecorino.  I don’t care if all of Italy sneers in my face because I enjoy shellfish with cheese. I happen to like it, so THERE.  I totally understand the argument that cheese can mask the natural aroma of great seafood, but I’m tired of this antiquated myth circling about that eating cheese and seafood will give you an upset stomach, and/or make you a trashy human being. It won’t and if you like the taste, I hereby give you permission to grate away.

This quick dish can be filed under 10-minute meals.

Ingredients:

  • 1/2 pound of pasta
  • 4 Tablespoons of butter
  • 1 medium shallot, loosely diced
  • 2 cloves of garlic, minced
  • 2 cans of clams (I used the 6.5oz cans of Trader Joes’ Maine Whole Cherrystone Clams)
  • Salt to taste
  • Grated Pecorino or Pamesan (optional, to taste)

Recipe:

  • Vigorously salt a large vat of water and bring to a boil.
  • Throw in the pound of pasta once the water is hot and time it according to your preference. I usually cook spaghetti for 8 1/2 minutes, testing it along the way until it has the perfect bite.
  • Meanwhile as the water boils and pasta cooks, heat 2 Tablespoons of butter on a skillet. Be careful not to let it burn (I love ghee, or clarified butter for this very reason).
  • Once the pan is hot, toss in the shallots and cook for one to two minutes. Then add the garlic. After another minute finally add in the clams.
  • Drain the pasta and then throw it back into the pot, along with the clams. Toss 2 more Tablespoons of butter (or however much you need to get the pasta coated).
  • Salt to taste and grate fresh pecorino or parmesan over each serving (optional).

Salmon, Fusilli & Homemade Pesto

I am so behind on posts, it’s border-line ridiculous. I have dozens of great recipes and posts to publish and I am devoting tonight towards writing  a few entries.

This morning Dhiren and I were talking about the impending New Year and 2012. I was complaining expressing how overwhelmed I feel with all my “projects.” I love photography, cooking, teaching and singing equally, but finding time for all of those things in one day is close to impossible. On top of this, I’m also committed to getting fit and losing weight (down 10lbs since September!) and that takes tons of time and a wholelotta commitment as well. Days when I’m able to sing, get some photography work done, cook, eat well, practice, work out and teach come about once a month. Most days I’m left feeling… frazzled.

BUT, Dhiren reminded me that the beauty of this food blog is that it helps to keep me sane. It’s nice having a hobby where you don’t feel a pressure make money with. It’s a total labor of love. And since I need to eat  on a daily basis (sometimes hourly) it’s easy to incorporate it in my life. So here’s a toast to this food blog, for keeping me sane in 2011 and giving me the chance to test out a LOT of different recipes and ideas in the kitchen.

Today I’m highlighting one of the tastiest dishes I’ve had in a long time– oh, and it’s healthy too! Salmon on a bed of fusilli topped with homemade pesto. Dhiren made the pesto, and since it’s his recipe, I’m going to ask him to write a guest post on it soon. This doesn’t even warrant a recipe, since I didn’t season the fish myself either.

I simply bought a package of Wild Pacific Chimichuri salmon at TJ’s, boiled the pasta, let Dhiren make the pesto and threw it all together. This was literally ready in 15 minutes! I LOVE easy, filling meals that keep you full for a long time.

The next couple posts will be much more detailed. Stay tuned for Sicilian Fig Cookies, Homemade Calzone and Bread Pudding! MMM. ‘Tis the season to break your diets.

Eggplant & Zucchini Lasagna

While at a student’s house a couple weeks ago I was talking to a parent about ideas for a lasagna. She described a delicious zucchini and eggplant lasagna that she makes sans lasagna noodles.

I decided to make the naughty and high carb  version though and include the pasta this time. I used the Eggplant & Zucchini Mélange from Trader Joe’s at the recommendation of the parent. This has become my product-of-the-month! You can find it in the frozen section for $3.99. A little pricey compared to prepping the raw vegetables yourself, but it saves you time and is delicious!

Ingredients:

  • Lots of sauce (6-7 cups)– make it yourself if you have the time!
  • Package of lasagna noodles– I recommend the no-boil kind
  • 1-2 packages of Eggplant Vegetable Mélange (I supplemented one package with a medium, sliced and grilled eggplant… one package isn’t enough for larger pans)
  • Ricotta (one medium container)
  • Parmesan, grated (1-2 cups)
  •  Mozzarella, grated (1-2 cups)
  • Basil (optional, for garnish)Recipe:

1. Set the oven to 375. Take out a 13 x 9 Pyrex dish.

2. Prepare lasagna as directed on the package. Mine required submerging in warm water. Some noodles require you to boil and partly cook the pasta though, so make sure you check what type of pasta you get (I’ve made this mistake before, and came out with undercooked lasagna…ick).

3. Grate a couple cups of mozzarella and parmesean and mix with the ricotta.

4. Spread some sauce on the bottom of the pan. Then layer pasta, cheese, vegetables, sauce, pasta, cheese, vegetables, etcetera… ending with pasta.

5. Sprinkle some cheese on the top layer. Cover with foil (or not– depends on whether you like the burnt cheese look). And bake until noodles are fully cooked and everything is bubbly and delicious-looking. (Mine took an hour.)

Added benefit is that it lasts for several meals or can serve a big group with minimal effort. Just the way I like it! Enjoy.

You say Chickpea, I say Garbanzo

I’ve always wanted to make falafel, but assumed it was a complicated dish and avoided it. Well, it isn’t complicated and it’s a great quick, “kinda healthy” meal. You toss a bunch of ingredients in a blender or food processor, mash it into a little ball and fry it. Pretty painless, although it took me a while to assemble the ingredients since I didn’t have most of the spices and tahini. Here’s the recipe for a Mediterranean feast. You’ll need:

Falafel

  • 1 15-oz. can chickpeas, rinsed and drained
  • 3 Tbs. tahini
  • 1 large egg
  • 2 Tbs. grated lemon zest
  • 1½ tsp. ground cumin
  • 1 clove garlic, minced (1 tsp.)
  • 1 tsp. lemon juice
  • 1 tsp. ground coriander
  • ½ tsp. chili powder
  • ¼ tsp. salt (or to taste)
  • ¼ cup all-purpose flour
  • 2 Tbs. finely chopped onion
  • 2 Tbs. chopped parsley
  • ½ tsp. baking powder
  • Olive oil, for frying

Yogurt Sauce

  • 2 cups plain nonfat yogurt
  • 3 Tbs. chopped cilantro
  • 2 Tbs. lemon juice
  • 2 Tbs. grated lemon zest
  • 1 Tbs. ground cumin

1. Pulse the first ten ingredients (through salt) in a blender or food processor until mostly smooth, but still chunky. Dump it into a large bowl and stir in the flour, onion, parsley, and baking powder.
2. Pour enough olive oil into large skillet to have 1/4 inch in bottom and heat. I always test the readiness with a couple breadcrumbs or a few drops of water. If the oil crackles and scalds you, it’s ready.
3. Shape 1/4 cup chickpea mixture into a patty like the one in the photo, and then lightly pat breadcrumbs on it and drop it carefully into the pan and cook 3 minutes per side until golden brown. Transfer to paper-towel-lined platter to drain. Don’t let the falafel stick together!
4. To make Yogurt Sauce: Combine all ingredients in serving bowl. Season with salt and pepper.

These turned out delicious and moist– one of my biggest complaints about falafel is that it tends to be super dry at some restaurants. I also put together a couscous salad. To make the couscous you prepare as directed on the box with slightly less water and no butter, then add around 6 Tbsp of olive oil, 1/2 chopped onion, a tomato, parsley and seasoning. I pretty much stuck to the recipe on the back of the TJ’s couscous box. Not very creative, but yummy. The boyfriend made a gyro out of his and wedged the falafel in a warm pita with hummus. I’m getting kind of hungry thinking about it.

WARNING: for those of you who don’t like chickpeas or have never used them, please note that chickpeas are the same thing as garbanzo beans. I traveled to three separate grocery stores like a moron searching for chickpeas with no luck. I like the name garbanzo better, and think it would also be a good name for a cat.

Next up to bat: Southbeach Diet

I’m running back into the arms of my old time lover, Southbeach diet:  the only “diet” that has strict guidelines but doesn’t make me feel obsessive or like Lindsey Lohan.  The only problem: no sugar.  It’s a problem when my first love in life is sugar.  That’s also the main issue with diets that revolve around quantity>quality:  I end up eating 1200 calories or 24 points of Frappachinos and dark chocolate bars (because dark chocolate is “healthier”).

So tomorrow I’m going on Phase I of Southbeach diet, which I’ll update daily on my progress.  Since my weekdays are pretty much a no-go in terms of exercise (sometimes you really don’t have 30 minutes Ms Oprah!) I’m aiming to work on Fridays-Mondays.

Aside from that, I feel nauseated because I just ate three servings of Lime & Chile Mixed Nuts from TJs.  GREAT START!  I need to stay away from TJs during this diet.  That place is hell in disguise– everything is sooo tasty and comforting and gourmet (and LOADED in calories and sat. fat)  😦  mmm… chocolate covered macaroons.

Anyhow– hopefully this Southbeach Diet will work, though more realistically, I hope my motivated will work.  I REALLY want to squeeze comfortably into a size 14 for my recital gown.   In the words of Tyra Banks to the Kardashian sisters:  “If people are calling YOU fat, then what about girls who are size 14 and 16???”

Yeah, it makes us feel pretty gargantuan.

So, interesting story on an overweight Miss England contestant:

http://www.dailymail.co.uk/femail/article-554870/A-role-model-ordinary-women-No-Miss-England-finalist-fat-lazy-poster-girl-ill-health.html