Friday, September 12, 2014

Frittata fiesta!

Frittatas are the most wonderful things. Easy, yummy, quick to make, and people will be impressed when you say you whipped yourself up a frittata last night. Because impressing people with food is what life is all about, after all.

Basically, a frittata is a dressed-up omelette pancake with some sort of starchy binder. According to Wikipedia, the Italian word "frittata" translates to "egg-cake". Classy, no?

I use rice or couscous most often, and pasta (especially spaghetti) cut up into small pieces works really well too and bulgur wheat will do in a pinch.

The best part about a frittata, though? You can use literally anything in the fridge that hasn't gone bad to make it. Last night, I used left-over couscous and chicken, the last quarter of an onion, and the rest of my cherry tomatoes. Didn't cost me a thing and it was delicious. Perfect college gourmet meal.

I've been watching my father make frittatas for years, and here is his fool-proof, fail-proof recipe. It is nearly impossible to mess this recipe up, because even if your frittata burns a little (like mine did yesterday), it only tastes even better.

Ingredients: (makes about an 8-inch diameter frittata, enough for 1 for dinner or 2 for sharing/leftovers)

2 eggs
1 cup cooked couscous/rice/bulgur wheat
1/4 chopped yellow onion
Olive oil
Handful of cherry tomatoes, halved (optional)
1/4 cup chicken (optional)
Any other vegetables/meat/cheese your heart desires

1. Combine couscous, any other add-ins, and eggs in a medium bowl and mix well. Desired consistency: runny but not too runny, similar in runniness to pancake batter

2. Put enough oil to sauté onions (about 1 tablespoon) in pan and heat over medium heat. Once oil is hot, add onions and stir occasionally. Once onions have become translucent, add cherry tomatoes and let cook for just a couple of minutes.

3. Use a spatula to position onions and tomatoes into the middle of the pan in a circular shape the desired size for your frittata. Pour the egg mixture in on top of the sautéed vegetables.

4. Adding the egg mixture will cause the onions and tomatoes on the edge to push out towards the sides of the pan. Use the spatula to press them back up against the frittata.

5. Let cook for about 10 minutes, or until you can smell the frittata and it slides around easily when you lift and tilt the pan. If you lift an edge, the bottom should be brown.

6. If using a gas stove, turn off the gas. If using an electric stove, you can leave the heat on or turn it off. Lift the pan and slide the frittata gently onto a plate. (I had to use a cookie sheet, as my pan was wider than the plates I have at my apartment. You want to be sure that your plate is the same width or bigger than you pan!) The raw side of the frittata should be facing up.

7. Turn the pan upside down over the frittata. Use a hot pad to hold the bottom of the pan. Hold the plate and pan together. Flip upside down so that the raw side of the frittata ends up face-down on the pan. (Don't despair if you don't get it perfectly the first time! It takes a while to master!)

8. Remove plate/cookie sheet and return pan to stove. Turn heat back on if turned off.

9. Continue cooking the frittata until it has fully cooked (see #5 for how to tell).

10. Turn heat off and slide onto plate. Enjoy!

Saturday, September 6, 2014

5 kitchen items that apartment F does not need

I love my roommates. Really, I do. But I don't understand their need for useless kitchen utensils. I mean, I love the USS Enterprise pizza cutter as much as the next Trekkie, but it just takes up valuable space in our two-butt kitchen.

Other things we don't need in our apartment:

1. Garlic press

Sure, it's fun to use and watch garlic forced through little holes like Play-Dough. I think you would also find it's about as easy to clean as Play-Dough out of the carpet. It's also a bit redundant when there are several perfectly good knives you could use to mince the garlic.

2. Counter top rice cooker

Unless you eat copious amounts of rice on a very regular basis, this device is a space waster. Boiling water on a stove top and waiting for rice to steam doesn't take that much more time or effort. Easy rice recipe: 2 cups water, 1 cup rice. Boil water. Add rice. Cover and remove from heat. Let sit 30 minutes. Fluff with fork and eat. (4 servings)

3. Bread pans

I love baking. A lot. Like, more than your average nineteen-year-old. But with just four square feet of counter space, I'm not going to be doing a lot of intensive baking and, as my roommates all have more active social and work schedules, they're not either. And baking bread from scratch is the definition of intensive baking. Just go to the store.

4. 20 coffee mugs

4. We need 4 coffee mugs. One per person. Maybe a few extras to be able to serve friends. But 20 is overkill. Way overkill. Even for people who love tea as much as we all do.

5. Electric tea kettle

As with the rice cooker, this is another device that doesn't save much time and takes up counter space. Boiling water in a traditional kettle takes about eight minutes. The electric one takes five. And you can store a kettle on the stove, because there are few times when you'll need all four burners at once.

(Thanks to and for the pictures.)

Monday, September 1, 2014

Miracle Mirepoix

Mirepoix is my favorite word. To me, the word invokes every comfort of home cooking and family and love and good food.

For those who don't know, a mirepoix contains mostly equal parts onions, carrots, and celery, finely diced. It appears in many, many dishes, from osso buco (braised veal shanks) to soups. There are no more versatile vegetables than carrots, onions, and celery, and together they are unstoppable, invincible.

I have often daydreamed about going back in time to meet the first person to have used that delectable combination of vegetables in a dish. He (or she!) must have been a culinary genius. The first person credited with using this specific combination is the chef of Gaston Pierre
de Lévis, an aristocrat during Louis XV's reign in France. But the technique had no doubt been in existence long before.

Tonight I made my first from-scratch pasta sauce. As I chopped the vegetables for my sauce (the aforesaid mirepoix, zucchini, and heirloom baby tomatoes), I noticed how good everything smelled, even before I started sautéing. Truly, these are miraculous, marvelous plants.

As big a fan as I am of the mirepoix, I am as equally as big a fan of sautéing. It is one of the easiest and tastiest ways to cook vegetables. I browned my meat (a chicken, feta, and spinach sausage, out of the casing) first, which meant that I didn't use olive oil to sauté the vegetables and that they could cook in rich, yummy, meaty juices. After the onions had started to get translucent and the carrots and zucchini were softer, I added to the pan petite cut tomatoes in a light puree from a carton. I covered the pan and let it simmer on low heat while I cooked the pasta.

Mirepoix+zucchini+heirloom cherry tomatoes+sausage

My national pride goes completely out the window when I cook, especially for Italian foods. I only buy imported Italian olive oil (extra virgin, of course) and imported Italian pasta. The carton of tomatoes I bought were also from Italy. For good Italian food, you have to use good Italian ingredients. Though I am on a student budget, I see no problem in splurging for the good stuff, especially when it yields yummy results:

Simmering, scrumptious, savory sauce

Double, double, toil and trouble! Fire burn and pasta boil!

The final result: a large, hot, deliciously yummy bowl of pasta.

Now that I have successfully made my own pasta sauce, I don't know that I can ever go back to Ragu. It's official: I'm a pasta snob, and I have the marvelous mirepoix to thank.

Recipe: (I got about about 4 servings from this)

1/4 yellow onion
1 stalk celery
8-10 baby carrots (or probably about 1 regular-sized carrot)
A handful of cherry tomatoes, halved
1/2 zucchini
1 26 oz. carton of diced tomatoes in puree
1 sausage, casing removed

Fusilli pasta (The spirals hold the sauce nicely. Spaghetti would also work.)

Parmesan cheese

  1. Brown the sausage in a skillet over medium-high heat. Break up large chunks of the sausage into smaller pieces.
  2. Add onion, celery, and carrots. Cook, stirring occasionally, until onions start to turn translucent.
  3. Add in cherry tomatoes and zucchini. When carrots and zucchini start to get soft, turn heat to low and add in carton of diced tomatoes.
  4. Cover and let simmer while pasta cooks. Once pasta has cooked (usually 9-11 minutes for al dente) and drained, stir in enough of the sauce to lightly coat the pasta. This prevents the pasta from gumming up and sticking together, and makes the flavor of the sauce integrate into the entire dish.
  5. Serve pasta with sauce on top. Top with Parmesan to taste.