Monday, December 29, 2008

Spaghetti with garlic, anchovies and capers

After all the festivities of Christmas, I was in the mood for something clean and simple. This pasta dish has always been a favorite and you can't really get much simpler than this. Because this recipe has so few ingredients, technique is crucial in bringing out the best in the dish. And when I say technique, it's not that this dish is difficult to make. On the contrary, anyone can make this! There are just a few minor details that make a whole lot of difference in the end product.

1 lb spaghetti
2 whole cloves garlic, peeled and minced finely and uniformly (crucial point #1)
6-8 anchovy fillets
1/2 to 1 tsp. chili flakes
1/2 cup good olive oil
1/2 cup capers, drained and chopped

1. Cook the spaghetti according to package directions. Don't forget to salt the water and make sure not to over cook the pasta. (crucial point #2)
2. Meanwhile, place olive oil, garlic, anchovies and chili flakes in a large pan. Cook over low-medium heat (crucial point #3), stirring occasionally and breaking up the anchovies as you go along. Cook until garlic if soft but not brown. The point of using low heat is to cook the garlic very slowly until it becomes sweet, soft and mellow. If you use high heat, the garlic will burn and will acquire a bitter edge to it. That's definitely not what we want for this dish!
3. When the garlic is soft, turn off the heat and mash the garlic and anchovies together with the back of a spoon or spatula. You don't need to make a homogeneous mass, but you want the flavors of the anchovies and garlic to meld together as one. (crucial point #4)
4. Add the capers at this point.
5. By this time, the pasta should be about done. Drain briefly and put the pasta into the pan with the "sauce." Toss well and make sure each strand of spaghetti is coated with garlicky goodness.

That's it. Done!

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Cheesecake on a stick

This was my Christmas "project" this year :-) I thought it would be a fun thing to bring to our office holiday potluck.

Some of my coworkers said that these 2-3 bite versions were perfect because cheesecake is such a rich dessert. I agree, but really now, who can ever stop at just one piece!?

5 blocks cream cheese
2 cups sugar
1/4 cup flour
pinch of salt
5 eggs + 2 yolks
2 tsp. vanilla extract
1/4 cup cream or half-and-half

melting chocolate
graham cracker crumbs
etc., etc.

1. Cream the cream cheese with the sugar, flour and salt until well mixed. The trick here is to make sure that you start with room temp cream cheese so that you can get it smooth and creamy.
2. Add the eggs one at a time, mixing well after each addition.
3. Finally, add the vanilla and cream. Mix well (again).

Pour the cheesecake batter into a 9x13 cake pan and place this pan in a larger pan. Fill the larger pan with boiling water until the water comes halfway up the sides of the 9x13 pan. Bake at 325 for about 40 minutes. Cool the cheesecake slight then place in the freezer until very firm.

Once the cheesecake is firm, scoop out balls and place them in a single layer on a parchment-lined cookie sheet. I have a small cookie scoop that worked very well for this step. Insert a stick into each ball and place the cookie sheet in the freezer until the cheesecake balls are frozen.

When everything is good and frozen, melt your chocolate over a double boiler (or you could microwave it). Dip the frozen balls in the chocolate and decorate before the chocolate hardens up. Place the finished balls on another lined cookie sheet and keep in the fridge until ready to serve.

This recipe isn't difficult but does take some planning since you have to cool the cheesecake, freeze the balls, cool the finished products, etc. I must say though that this is probably the most fun I've had in the kitchen in quite a while!

Cheese Pimiento

Cheese + mayo + pimiento (roasted red peppers) + a secret ingredient = one of my favorite spreads in the world! Nothing brings back memories of afternoon meriendas like cheese pimiento sandwiches. I think this spread is best on simple white bread (none of this 7-grain, flax seed stuff) or Fita crackers (which I guess is the Filipino version of Ritz crackers).

To make this spread, I used one small block of Cracker Barrel extra old cheese, one jar of roasted red peppers (which contained about 8-9 whole peppers), Hellmans low fat mayo, and the secret ingredient....don't gasp....condensed milk(!!!)....yes, yes, it's unusual to say the least, but trust me on this.

This recipe couldn't be simpler:
1. Grate the cheese into a large bowl.
2. Mince the pimiento and drain very, very well. You may need to push the pimiento against your colander to get out as much liquid as possible. Add this to the cheese. The chopped pimiento, not the liquid, ok?
3. Add 6 heaping tablespoons of mayo.
4. Add 2-3 heaping teaspoons of condensed milk.
5. Mix well.

The intermingling of the saltiness of the cheese, the tangy creaminess of the mayo, the kick of the pimiento and the hint of sweetness from the condensed milk is truly addicting.