Saturday, December 19, 2009

Raindrops Keep Fallin' On My Head

So.. I've been a bit under the weather.  A long-term cold has had me rather out of my mind.  As such, I'll be a little late on the posts.  But rest assured, I have things a-hatching.

The holiday baking is pretty much out the door this year.  It wouldn't be the first year thats happened, but I had hoped to get a few things out, and just haven't.  Once I get around to one particular family-favorite cookie, I'll post about that since it is rather unique.

As for bread, I have my ingredients together for Bagels, but I just haven't had time and mental clarity to put them together yet.  Soon, I say. :-)  I have been keeping track of my sour dough starter, however, and am rather pleased that the barm is doing well.

Once I'm back up "on my feet", I'll bring you more entertaining tales of my attempts at culinary greatness.

So until we meet again, happy cooking, and keep your flour in the bowl!

Thursday, December 10, 2009

BBA: Adventures in Babysitting - Sour Dough Starter

So at the risk of jumping ahead a bit, I opted to try to build a sour dough starter to work with my Artos bread and any upcoming need.

Following the instructions in the book, I progressed with what worked out to be a thick, sweet-smelling lump that had no apparent lift. At least, it was too thick to show it had lift.

I opted to feed it again, and upped the water content just a tad to loosen it up a little, and ended up watching it burst forth.  I halved and fed it again, and at that point, it just up and fizzled.  Sydney, as I had anthropomophically named the starter, just kinda blew her reserves and left me with what was distinctly not a good smelling result.  Down the sink she went, sadly.

Upon trying again, I ended up accidentally leaving my Day 1 concoction out an extra day, and the most amusing looking thing happened.

The recipe from the book to build the starter begins rather dry and solid.  There is just enough moisture to bring it together.  On Day 2 of Day 1's ingredients, I noticed the surface of the dough-lump pock marked where bubbles had burst at the surface.  It was strange to see.  And looking at the spots where the starter was up against the clear container, I did see bubbles forming.

Encouraged by this, I halved Sarah, and fed her, and she doubled in size easily!  She was frothy and gooey and doing wonderful things and smelling as a proper starter should smell.

Giving her a chance to settle in and double again, she produced nicely, so I rolled her into the barm recipe, and let it sit its requisite 4 hours.

Frothing nicely, I fridged it for its 3 days of rest, and when it came time to feed, Barney was doing very well.  Nothing quite like the yeasty/soury scent of dough just dying to be used.

I fed him and let him sit, and then fridged him for another 3 to make sure we're doing well.  So far, so good.

I'm going to feed him tonight, and then prep dough for some bread on Friday.  Looking forward to it!

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Having to Risotto to a different kind of dining....

So I have to admit my experience in true fine dining is rather limited.  I think this is as much to do with my humble upbringing as to my own personal desire to enjoy food for foods sake, and not for the ambiance. 

Along those lines, I never enjoyed the pleasure of fine-dining-staple risotto until more recently.

Part of what drove me to make it is inspiration from being a rather fervent fan of the high-strung profanity-filled episodes of Hell's Kitchen.   Boot camp for the kitchen, I always think of it.  While he may come across as a complete and total git, he demands a certain level of excellence not found at just any place.  And big shock, I'm a fan of such things. :-)

One of the Ramsey restaurant regulars is risotto.  After finally having finally enjoyed it a time or two in various settings, I decided that I must try it.

Generally speaking, Risotto is a very simple dish.  A good starter or a really yummy starch side to go with roasted meats or fish. Basically you brown the onion, fry the rice, de-glaze with wine, let it absorb, and then continue to feed it stock until it's creamy and wonderful.  Some risottos don't even have rice!

There are lots of schools of thought on how risotto comes together, and I find myself trying different techniques as I go.  Some chefs add all the stock all at once.  Some live by the as-it-soaks-it-in method.   Some recommend near constant stirring, and others let it simmer on its own.  Some take out the extras after you fry them, and some leave them in.

So really, it's whatever you feel like experimenting with.  I'd recommend finding a recipe and working with it for a while.  Then find other recipes and compare. 

Something I make regularly with baked fish in our household is a mushroom risotto flavored with lemon.

It starts with heating up stock to a simmer in a saucepan on a separate burner from where you'll make the risotto.  Hot stock is needed so that as you add it to the dish while you cook, it doesn't "shock" the rice.  Doing so changes the way the rice absorbs liquid and makes it more difficult if not impossible to cook. How much stock you need is really dependent on a few things.  First, the absorption ability of the rice (you'll have to try it out a few times to get a feel).  And also how high you have the heat set.  Part of the struggle is learning where the balance lay.  I tend to work with about 3 cups of stock, but your mileage may very. Shoot for more rather than less so you don't have to hurry to heat up another portion if you need it.  Eventually you'll get a feel for how much you need.

Next, a shallot minced finely, and lightly cooked in a large pan in about a tablespoon or so of olive oil.  Heat until the shallot turns translucent.  Then pour in a cup of short grain rice (short grain is best, and most recipes go with Italian Arborio rice, but it tends to be kinda pricey.  Long grain rice will not work.) and stir and make sure each grain is well coated in oil.  Continue stirring and allow rice to fry for 5-10 minutes.

Pour in about a cup of dry white wine and bring everything up to a slow bubbling simmer.  Stir regularly and allow the wine to cook into the rice.  When the wine is used up, stir in about a cup of the heated stock.  Let it simmer until it soaks in, stirring occasionally.

If you decide to use dried mushrooms, reconstitute them in a cup of boiling water.  Incorporate the mushrooms and the water into the risotto.  Fresh mushrooms can instead be chopped and added with the subsequent cup of stock.

Add another cup of the stock..  Continue stirring occasionally until soaked up.  Keep this up until the rice is just al dente.  At that point, take it off the heat.

What i do different at this point is instead of mixing in about 2 tablespoons of butter, I mix in 2 tablespoons of a garlic lemon dressing I make with olive oil, minced garlic, lemon juice, lemon zest, and salt and paper.  Gives the dish a nice zing.

Then I stir in the traditional quarter cup of Parmigiano Regianno.

Serve hot with a baked fish fillet. 

It is the Yum!

Sunday, November 22, 2009

BBAC: Formula #2 - Artos - Greek Celebration Bread

Artos has its roots as a part of a Greek East Orthodox ritual involving the blessing of said bread as a symbol of the physical presence of the risen Christ during Bright Week, or the week long celebration including and following Easter.   It is held intact and often venerated throughout the week, and then divided and consumed on the Saturday at the end of Bright Week.

The book has several recipes for a few different versions including a basic bread, and versions with dried fruit and walnuts.

The one I recall having when I was in grade school was served around Easter, and the dough is braided around 3 hard boiled eggs that are dyed bright red.  After it bakes, when you pull the bread apart, you see that the dye leaches into the dough and turns the bread bright red in those areas.

This dough calls for a pre-ferment, and one that can take several days depending on which you decide to use.  A barm is what most think of as a traditional sour dough starter.  That can take several weeks to get going in order to get the wild yeast and bacteria going.  You can also use whats called a poolish ferment, which in this context is a shorter ferment created with just baker's yeast, flour, and water left to ferment for 4-5 hours at room temperature, and then fridged.  It generally has the texture of thick pancake batter. 

I opted for the basic version of the bread, and a poolish ferment for a starter since I didn't have any barm on hand.  My intent, once my barm is made and lively is to remake this bread again.

Relatively easy to put together.  A poolish is best with at least one night in the fridge, so I planned time to do that. 

The rest of the ingredients came together rather easily using the KitchenAid.  By hand, I read that it can take a bit to mix the poolish through, but the mixer's paddle had no trouble. 

Kneading was interesting.  The dough needed at least half a cup more flour, and I probably could have gotten the dough more stable with even more flour kneaded in.  In the end, it was a little sticky yet, but I opted to go with it anyways.  I believe it helped create problems when I had to shape the dough later, but more on that in a bit.

Rising was beautiful.  The poolish worked really well.  It was easily doubled in the hour allotted for the rise. 

When I pulled it out to shape it for proofing, that was when I experienced problems.  The dough rolled out of the bowl still rather soft and sticky, and I had difficulty getting a good tight skin on the shaping.

Proofing was also very productive, though as a result of my prior difficulties, I didn't get as much height as I had hoped and the dough spread out more than it spread up.    The hope was for a bit more height, but I was left to hope for oven spring.

Baking was quick.  I've taken to using temp guides to know when my bread is ready and it seems to be working really well.  I flipped at the 20 minute mark and then checked temp about 15 mins later and it was ready to go. 

I mixed up the recommended glaze, but I suspect I overdid it.  Or something didn't quite work in how I assembled the glaze because it dried really sticky.  The bread turned out really wonderful, but it's fun to hold and cut without getting glaze all over my hands.

It has a very spicy but not exceptionally sweet flavor with the cinnamon, cloves, allspice and nutmeg in the dough.  The glaze adds a nice but limited sweetness.

Overall, this is the first bread I've ever baked with a nice soft crumb and crust.  I'm very pleased with the leavening and the gluten and really am happy with my progress.

Next time: Bagels!

Friday, November 13, 2009

BBAC: Formula #1 - Anadama Bread

Anadama bread is a New England bread made with corn meal and molasses for flavoring.  There are several myths as to its origin and name, most related to a tale of a fisherman who, after tiring of a corn meal porridge with molasses served daily by his wife Anna, added flour and yeast to create the resulting bread, then cursing his wife.  "Anna, damn her!"

The preparation begins with an overnight soak for the corn meal.  Many other recipes I've looked at call for the corn meal to be cooked prior to preparation, but as with what goes along with the theme of this book, taking your time to allow the ingredients to do their thing builds flavor that all techniques to rush it miss out on.

I prepped my soaker in a small plastic container with a lid and left it on the counter for the night.

Bringing it together with the initial fermentation ingredients, I left them to liven up per the formula for an hour.

Returning to a frothy mixture, as expected, I added the remaining ingredients and prepped the dough.

The recipe mentions that the molasses offers a lot of flavoring to the bread and that depending on your preference for the darkness and harshness of molasses, it is sometimes best to find a particularly light version.  I used the standard kind found in the jar at the store.  Nothing special or any particular brand.

The formula states that the dough should come together as a firm but not particularly sticky, and it suggests sprinkling with flour as you knead to tighten it up.  It took over half a cup of flour to do that for me.  Reading other attempts, this seems to jive with other people's experiences.

Once it was together and sporting an almost golden orange color, I left it to ferment another hour and double in size.

I really need to find an easier way to separate out dough.  The formula says that the dough can be separated in 2 equal portions for larger loafs, or 3 parts for the smaller loaf pans.  I have the larger ones, so I cut it into two portions.

This formula does not have a second kneading or degassing.  You just form the loaves and drop them in the pans and let them proof.  I did so, but my loaves always come out uneven so I'll have to work on that part.

About 2 hours proofing (until they crest the top of the pan), and then into the oven for about 40 minutes, turned halfway through.  Pull when they are nice and brown.  Rest an hour at least once they are out

It was a relatively easy recipe and aside from my problem dividing the dough, the flavor and the crumb are wonderful!

The molasses does impart a strong flavor, and I can understand the suggestions of using a light molasses versus a stronger one.  I may try it with lighter molasses in the future.

I'm tempted to use a smaller loaf pan just to get a little more height out of the loaf.  The other thing I might do is double the recipe and split the dough 3 ways into 3 pans like the ones I already have and see if that works better.  I could let the loaves proof longer, but I already noticed small air pockets forming.  Proofing any longer, and I'd have caverns and the bread would fall in the middle.

So we'll see how it goes.  All in all, not bad!

Next time, Greek Celebration Bread!

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Chile for Chili On an Enchilada For a Chilly Night

I have a different perspective on Mexican food than most I know.  Part of it comes from where I grew up.

In the Southwest, Mexican food, or food of that nature, is dominated by one ingredient:  Green Chile.  And this is not the same sort of pepper you find around here in the Pacific Northwest that purports itself to be Green Chile.  These impostors are called Anaheims which are grown, as you might guess, in California.  This pepper of several varieties comes from fields of my home state, in the desert where the hot dry climate coupled with the short but deep rainy season couple to form a delicious fruit of great flavor and heat.

Whether fresh roasted or dried, this pepper finds its way into all manner of cooking and cuisine, and even in some of the Southwestern decorating motif.  Most non-local tourists enjoy seeing and obtaining long strings of bright red bundles of chiles.  These are called ristras which is the preferred method of drying the green chile.  While beautiful, they also are a practical means of storage though the winter.  Much like a string of garlic, you can continue to remove what you need as you need it.

And boy, is it a big part of the culture!  There are rarely a restaurant, even non-Mexican, where you can't get Green Chile even in processed packets like a condiment for your burger or your breakfast.  Nothing quite like a Green Chile burger or scrambled eggs with a small pile of Green Chile atop it.

So when I think of Mexican food and I am meaning back home, what it really means is Mexican food with the Southwest influence which I prefer to call New Mexican food. 

I have recipes for various different things using both fresh roasted and dried powdered form and I may cover them all over time, but one of my favorites is making red chili enchiladas. This is based from how my mom made them, and they are always my favorite.

The sauce is really just an elaborate gravy mixed with red chile powder.  Very simple, and very tasty.  What you add to it in terms of protein is up to you, though an important thing to remember is that there is some need of fat to make the rue either from cooking the meat itself, or added in the form of butter or oil. Ground beef or turkey is a favorite, and you can also make it with pre-cooked chicken.  The following "recipe" is a little loose because you can do a lot of variations based on the same concept.  And this combination is good for two hearty portions.  Adjust as you will.

First you start by cooking your meat in a deep sided skillet  Brown your ground meat or prepare your chicken.  Reserve any rendered fat.  Remove the meat and set aside.

Next, add about a quarter cup of all purpose flour sprinkled over the hot fat in the pan, still on medium high heat, and scrape and stir until the flour absorbs the fat.  Add extra oil or fats if needed to form a thin paste.  You should see it spread out a little on the pan rather than stick together in dry lumps.  Continue to stir until the rue browns.  How much is kinda up to you, but the darker the rue, the more flavor it takes on, and the less like cereal your sauce will taste.  I like my rue at a nice rust hue.

Once the rue takes on the right color, add in 3 cups of water or stock, and whisk vigorously to break up any lumps that may form.

To this, add about a tablespoon of dried New Mexican red chile powder (you can often find this in the grocery store in the ethnic food aisle with other Mexican spices, or sometimes you'll find whole dried pods that you can pulverize in a mortar and pestle or a food processor.)  Also a teaspoon or so of garlic powder, and an equal amount of onion powder.  You can also of course mince and saute fresh as you are cooking your meat and add it all back in later.  I also add about a teaspoon of salt.

Continue to stir and bring to a light boil to get the flour firming up the sauce.  Then lower the heat to a good simmer, and add the meat back in.

Then let it simmer.. and simmer... and simmer.  Stir regularly to keep it from sticking on the bottom.  The sauce should tighten up and it should start sticking to the back of a spoon.  At this point, if you decide you like it thinner, you can proceed as is or even add a little hot water to thin it further, or if you are looking for something thicker, you can blend in a teaspoon or two of corn starch with half a cup of water and stir that in thoroughly and let it simmer a bit longer.  However, keep in mind that as the sauce cools, it will continue to thicken a bit.

To serve, I like to go with the traditional Southwestern style of enchilada which is open-faced and stacked.

Prepare 3-4 corn tortillas for each person.  You can steam them, or I like to fry them lightly to get them to soften up.

Lay down a single tortilla, top with meat-chili sauce, sprinkle other toppings such as fresh minced onions, shredded cheese, and then layer with the next tortilla.  Continue, and then top the whole pile with even more cheese.

It's a gooey knife and fork affair, but it's worth every morsel. 

You can of course top it with anything else you'd like such as sour cream, or even maybe some fresh cilantro.  And you can experiment with other spices in the sauce such as cumin or even oregano.  But as with most things, I find that keeping things simple makes for better and easier meals.

And for the record, chile is a pepper used to make chili sauce.

Friday, October 30, 2009

The Bread Baker's Apprentice Challenge!

So in addition to just finding a place to share stories and recipes from my life, one of the other reasons I started this blog was to post results from what is being called the Bread Baker's Apprentice Challenge.  A food blog I follow called issued a challenge to readers to obtain  Peter Reinhart's  The Bread Baker's Apprentice: Mastering the Art of Extraordinary Bread, and work through the recipes, and then come together as a community to help each other out as they went.  

The book covers old world techniques and learning the art of dough and bread making.  Lots and LOTS of really yummy recipes and I'm looking forward to working through them and of course posting my results as I go!

My first experiences with fresh homemade bread came from dinner at my Godmother and Godfather's home.  Good friends of my parents, we would visit with them fairly regularly when I was younger, and my Godmother, trained as a chef, would prepare the most amazing meals.  This meant that bread with dinner whether loafed or rolled was always fresh and hot out of the oven.  Some of my fondest memories of bread are sitting in her kitchen enjoying a piece of something she just baked.  The amazing smells filling that kitchen are unforgettable even to this day.

And while I've tried my hand at bread a time or two, I've never felt competent.  Part of that of course is just more practice, and at this point, I can definitely make something edible and reasonably tasty, but I'd really like to turn it up a notch.  I've never made things like bagels, or even French bread.  And I've really wanted to find and make the perfect cinnamon roll recipe. 

I'm excited to try my hands at things I never would have thought to try, and I'm looking forward to really learning the process.  Yay for Costco memberships and ingredients in bulk!  At this rate, I may not have to turn on the heat this winter which will be an additional cost savings in this process.

Anybody care to play?

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Hand me my tongs, Q!

So it wouldn't be a geek blog without a talk about kitchen gadgets.

I tend to be of Alton Brown mind when it comes to gadgets.  I wouldn't say I'm hard core about not having uni-taskers in my kitchen, but I understand the sentiment.  I live in an apartment with limited space.  If I'm going to bring something in that takes up space, it better have worthwhile use.

In my humble kitchen, I do have a few things I tend to favor and appreciate.

Waiter's Helper/Corkscrew

I know these days there is a love of the lever style corkscrews that come from all the finest makers of wine accessories.  Clamp it on, squeeze it down, and then lever it out.  But they just have never called to me.  I have friends who keep theirs in the fine wooden, felt or satin lined box in which it came, and it becomes quite a ceremony to open a bottle of wine.  While I appreciate the pomp and circumstance, when I'm cooking with it, I just really like to get into the wine.  For myself, I keep around a nice Waiter's corkscrew.  Designed to be operated predominantly with one hand, you can cut the foil, drive in the screw, and lever out the cork rather effortlessly.  And whats best about them is that not only are they not so expensive as their high end cousins, but they multitask as well, typically having a bottle opener built in.  Whether its wine with the ladies or beers with the guys, I've got it squared away in one simple tool.

KitchenAid mixer

I will admit, there is nothing wrong with a little elbow grease when it comes to cooking and baking.  Getting arm-deep into your ingredients and forming a connection with your concoction is half the fun.  That said, there are times when you just want to get it mixed, blended, or whisked, and you want to have the power and the finesse to pull it off.  My KitchenAid mixer was one of my most prized gifts.  Aside from the basics of whisking and mixing and even making dough, KitchenAid mixers come with an accessory port that can be host to all sorts of useful attachments including meat grinders, juicers, and pasta makers.  They are sturdy, powerful, die-hard, and are found in some of the greatest home kitchens in the world.  I can't speak highly enough, and wouldn't trade mine for anything.

Kitchen Computer

What true geek in the kitchen doesn't keep a computer around?  Not every one may have a dedicated computer, but no one can deny the usefulness of having one.  I have an old beater laptop that performs admirably. Between looking up new recipes or researching kitchen gadgets, or even researching ingredients for that next amazing dinner, having a window into the information age really brings a lot to the table.  Even just having your virtual cookbook open so you can follow as you cook is a wonderful thing.  And aside from those basics, you can even find more elaborate ideas that incorporate shopping lists and bar code readers that allow you to keep an inventory of your perishables and suggest recipes based on what you have on hand.  And when that's all said and done, you can even spin off a blog entry to immortalize your fun. :-)

Instant thermometer

In every good cookbook or recipe with regards to cooking a slab of animal protein, done-ness is never a function of time.  And how could it be?  Everybody's grills, ovens, and cook-tops are all different, each with their own eccentricities and quirks.   The true test recommended by chefs and health specialists alike is temperature.  Digital or analog, knowing how heated through your meat is can make the difference between a flavorful meal and a trip to the hospital. 

Condiment Squeeze Bottles

I never realized what I was missing until I finally bought a few of these.  These are generic versions of the bottles you see sometimes in restaurants for mustard and catsup.  They are very versatile and work for everything from homemade sauces to oils or dressings.  I keep a couple of them half-filled with my two favorite cooking oils so I have easy access when I need a squirt in the pan.  They are easy to fit on a shelf or on a stove ledge and even in the fridge as necessary, and I always feel like I have more control when it comes to putting what I want where I want it.

Cookie Scoops

This is another one I've been slow to adopt.  I've never been a fan of the ice cream version of these, but for things like cookies and batter, these rock.  Portions are always consistent, and with the wiper, I almost always get full release.  Makes lining up cookies on the cookie sheet fast and easy.  And with a spritz of non-stick spray, they work great for batters when filling molds and the like, or when you really need to keep control of how much you use.  Highly recommend these in a couple of sizes.


Whether metal, or bamboo, or plastic, tongs have a lot of uses in the kitchen.  I find them easier to use than any other utensil when frying and griling things.  They provide distance between your hand and hot or messy situations, and they can even be used for cutting in a limited capacity.  I keep a couple of sizes of metal ones for regular duty, and I have a pair of bamboo ones for working on the non-stick.

So those are a few of my favorites.  Like I say, I don't generally go for elaborate ones, which I know can take from my geek cred, but there is really something to be said for simplicity.  Both in cooking gear and in a meal itself, simple wins.

What are some of your favorite cooking gadgets?

Monday, October 19, 2009

A Burger By Any Other Name....

One of the interesting things I find with regard to my history of food is learning that there exists a great dichotomy in terms of how I view food my family would make.  There are certain dishes for which no other will compare.  It doesn't matter who makes it or how much better it should be, it will never compare to my Mom or Dad's home cooked version.  Then again, there are some things for which, to this day, I am confused that we ever ate in such a state. 

Burgers is one of the latter.

I think it stems in part from my Mom's over-zealousness with food preparation safety.    Meat in our household had a tendency of getting cooked past the point of flavor into the realm of charcoal.  It wasn't until much later that I realized my disdain for things like pork chops and good steak had more to do with the fact that I never had really had any, and once I did,  it was all downhill after that. :-)

It was difficult for her in other respects as well.  My father tended to have very simple tastes, and while he did appreciate spicy food, he never was overly keen on flavorful food.  My mom, on the other hand, grew up with a budding home chef for a father and he tended to make all sorts of amazing food with very simple and cost effective ingredients.  As such, my mom always felt like she was holding back when cooking for the family.

Burgers in our family generally were very simple.  Form the patties with ground beef.  Throw them on the grille.  Top them with cheese as desired, and eat.  Most often, we ate them in fresh homemade tortillas instead of buns, and my father would top his with fresh roasted New Mexico green chile. And even with such simple burgers, there is something to be said for a good tort-burger.

It wasn't until I was at a barbecue at a grade school friend's home that I realized that burgers could actually have flavor and that I might actually have a choice in how done they could be.  That experience changed my whole view of a burger.

These days, I generally still keep it simple.  I've come to appreciate enjoying the burger itself without all the need for extras.  Thats not to say I don't enjoy a few extras now and then, but really, if they take away too much from the flavor of the meat, I don't go there.

I generally take about a pound or pound and a quarter of middle of the road fat content ground beef.  Too fatty, and most of your patty ends up leaching out.  Too little, and you lose not only flavor, but your patties won't stay together very well without filler.

To that, I mix a good sprinkle of garlic powder (maybe a teaspoon), a good shake of Montreal Steak Seasoning (minced garlic, salt, black pepper, and a little bit of cayenne), and a light dusting of dried dill (1/8 teaspoon).  I mix that in thoroughly and form patties.  Works out to be about 3 large patties or four modest ones.  You can of course up your meat and seasonings to accomodate however many you'd like.

Cook them on the grill until they are just on the edge of done and top them with a thick slice of sharp cheddar or some other interesting cheese.  Toss it on a bun, and thats about as simple as it gets.

Alternately, I often also like to top it with pepperjack, and then whip up some homemade guacamole to spread on the bun.

And I too have been known to take the same burger, cheese it as desired, slice it in half, top it with fresh roasted green chile, and roll it in a fresh flour tortilla.

Simple, but delicious.  And a long way from the cheese-covered hockey pucks I grew up with.

And now, if you'll pardon me, I'm drooling. :-)

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Who's alfredo of the big bad pesto?

One of my all time favorite dishes is fettuccine Alfredo.  Add to that  basil pesto and chicken, and I fall in love!

Alfredo sauce is one of those things I always felt afraid to make, and when I tried the first time, I ended up with a greasy lumpy mess.  But with the help of recipes and patience, I managed to come up with something smooth, creamy and delicious.

The basics for two servings are pretty straight forward for this.  I pre-make my pesto when Basil is fresh in the store.  A basic blend of basil, olive oil, and pine nuts that I make in the food processor.  I freeze it in an ice cube tray lined with plastic wrap and then pull them out and bag them in a zip-lock bag.  Then I can pull them out and use them whenever I want to add pesto to a dish.  Since they are mostly dry, I drop them straight into the sauces and as they defrost, they blend well.

So I start with a little bit of olive oil and a 2 tablespoon pat of butter that I heat up in a large saucepan.  To it, I add 2 or 3 minced cloves of garlic.  Heat them up on low heat just to get the garlic releasing its awesomeness, but not hot enough to brown.

To that, I add about a pint of heavy cream.  I drop in two "cubes" of the pre-made pesto (about 3 tablespoons).  Then I give it a good few turns of fresh ground pepper from a mill and then I bring up the heat and let it begin to bubble.  Don't want to boil it, but want to get it up to a good simmer, stirring frequently.  I like using a silicone scraper to mix.  It's heat resistant, and it does well to scrape the sides of the pan where splash-ups will thicken faster than the rest of the sauce.

Once it heats through and starts to thicken up a little, I add about 1/3 cup of shredded parmigiana in small sprinkles at a time.   The idea is that the cheese needs to blend and not lump.  I sprinkle a little, let it heat, and then I switch to a whisk (plastic or silicone if you're using a nonstick pan), and then I beat the hell out of it.  Little more cheese.  More beating, and so on until its incorporated.  The sauce should be hot enough that the cheese won't lump and stick to your whisk.  If you find it is, pick up the heat just a bit, and remember to keep up the whisking so it won't stick to the bottom.

One thing to keep in mind is that the sauce will thicken as it cools, so if you find your sauce is hot and already thickening up too much, you can whisk in a small splash of milk to bring it down a little.

And that's the basics!

I toss some fettuccine or even sometimes some angel hair pasta in salted boiling water and pull it out just as it turns al dente.  Grill or fry up a chicken breast, cut it up, and serve it over the bed of pasta and smother it in the sauce.  Serve with a baby spinach salad, and you have a meal fit for a food coma.

So these days I'm not so afraid.  Like with most cooking the trick is to keep up with it and not step away.  And boy is it worth it. :-)