January 26, 2012

Spaghetti with Creamy Clam Sauce

You may have noticed that I have this thing for comfort foods, particularly nostalgic comfort foods. Sometimes, I crave the foods from my childhood...and not necessarily always Grandma Green's homemade noodles or Grandma Martin's cabbage rolls.

Sometimes, I crave the foods that I haven't eaten in 25 years and probably wouldn't even like today...like the Chef Boyardee pizzas made from that kit-in-a-box. My dad used to make those for us all the time, and I loved them....the little pepperonis, the packet of powdered cheese. I bought a pizza kit for dinner once when I was in college. I was so excited because I'd remembered those pizzas being so yummy. My roommates, on the other hand, were very skeptical. The pizza turned out bland and chewy, and I was so disappointed. (Though, we did end up eating all that pizza after a night out at the bars....and it tasted pretty good then!)

My friend Stephanie, whose father also used to make those pizzas for her, recently wrote about her memories of that particularly nostalgic food.  I'm a little afraid to revisit those foods I loved as a kid, for fear that they won't be good and it will destroy my whole idea of good and evil, right and wrong...

Ok, maybe I'm being a little over-dramatic. I just don't want my good memories to be clouded by my current food-snob self.

Another nostalgic food for me is the spaghetti from The Old Spaghetti Factory. It was my favorite place to eat when I was growing up (well, there and Red Lobster). I would order the Pot Pourri, a 4-sauce sampler with mizithra cheese & browned butter, a rich meat sauce, a creamy white clam, and a marinara sauce. The mizithra cheese and clam sauces were my favorite. (I unsuccessfully tried to recreate the mizithra dish several years ago.) I haven't eaten at a Spaghetti Factory in nearly 16 years, and I'm sure I'd be disappointed in the food if I went today.

Nevertheless, I've been wanting to make white clam sauce at home for a while. I've never had clam sauce except at OSF...and I'm sure that today I'd love pasta with whole clams in a garlic, winey sauce. But, I'm saving that for a more special meal.

Instead, I was craving that creamy sauce I had when I was a kid, so I picked up a can of whole cherrystone clams at Trader Joe's and decided to try to recreate (and update) the dish at home. I found several sources online that touted the "original" Spaghetti Factory recipe. I used that as my base and tweaked the seasonings & method just a little.

The result? PRETTY GOOD. I would make this again (though, I would probably use fresh clams from Bob's Seafood in St. Louis). Since I used canned clams, it was...well...pretty clammy tasting. I balanced that with some lemon, pepper, and fresh parsley.  The key here is to mix the clams in at the very end, with enough time left to just heat them up, since they are already cooked...any more time on the heat will result in over-cooked, rubbery clams.

Spaghetti with Creamy Clam Sauce

January 20, 2012

Banana Cream Pie with Chocolate Crumb Crust

Here is another recipe from the Momfuku Milk Bar cookbook: a luscious, intense banana custard in a bittersweet chocolate crumb crust. It's the first banana cream pie I've ever made.

The easy part is that this pie doesn't need to be baked. The slightly difficult part is that it takes several steps to complete: making the crumb for the crust, mixing the actual crust, mixing & cooking the banana custard, whipping cream to fold into the cooled custard, THEN assembling the pie. But it was worth it.

Next time, I would make individual parfaits by layering the cooled chocolate crumbs with the banana filling & sliced bananas in small ramekins, topping each off with whipped cream and shaved chocolate.

January 17, 2012

Andouille & Corn Chowder

What can I say about this recipe? I mean, do you need a whole back story or quirky anecdote this time?  It's just soup, after all. Well, it's really good soup, good enough to share soup. Thick, rich, flavorful, spicy soup. Comforting soup. Pretty soup.

You know how when you say a word over and over and it starts to sound kinda weird? Yeah, that.


Well, actually, this is chowder. Chow der, like saying "chew, duh." Chowder. Chowda.

Look at the word chowder for a while and tell me that doesn't look weird.

Now, look at this picture of the andouille & corn chowder that I made tonight and tell me that doesn't look delicious.

January 11, 2012

Bit-O-Honey Ice Cream

On New Year's Day, my friend Kyle showed up to my pizza party with bottles of wine and bags of Bit-O-Honey. "I got a whole case of these for Christmas," he explained. "You should make something with them."

While we briefly considered putting a few on a dessert pizza, I knew I could rise to the BOH challenge. My initial idea was ice cream, but I had to figure out how to incorporate the candy. Chopped & mixed in to almost-frozen, churning ice cream would create little hard chunks...not good.  I didn't think they would melt very well, either. But then, after browsing around online, I had a BRILLIANT idea...freeze several candies for about 10 minutes, just until they are hard enough to blitz to a powder in the Vitamix, then slowly melt the powder into the hot custard as it thickened.


Damn, I love that VEETAmix.

January 2, 2012

S'more Shooters

With the holiday gluttony and new year celebrations behind us, most people are detoxing and making resolutions. But, I say, fuck that shit. We should live life to the fullest every day, not just during the holidays.

I've been thinking about how people only celebrate on "special" occasions. They only use great-grandma's good China once or twice a year, they are saving that expensive bottle of wine for the perfect moment, or they only take time to visit family & friends during the holidays.  The problem with saving something for a special occasion is that the occasion may never happen. Life is a fickle bitch, and she'll smack you upside the head when you least expect it. I learned this very quickly when my mom suddenly dropped dead at age 47 (sixteen years ago this month).

Last week, my oldest and bestest friend lost her house in a fire. Luckily, she and her family were out of town at the time, so they are all safe. But, they've lost pretty much everything they owned. I can't even imagine this kind of devastation. Of course, contemplating the "what-ifs" is the worst thing (the fire seems to have started in the middle of the night, in the basement underneath their 10-year-old son's room, a room which was completely destroyed by the flames).

This has made me think a lot of my life and the things I am grateful for. Overall, I am pretty damn lucky, and I should appreciate what I have. I need to just celebrate good life in general.

So, I'm going to break out my Waterford champagne flutes for Sunday morning mimosas. I'm going to keep in contact with my family more often. And, I'm going to indulge in little treats like S'more Shooters for no special reason at all:

Makes 12

12 large marshmallows or 35 mini-marshmallows
1 cup half & half
8 ounces bittersweet chocolate, chopped
1 ½ cups whole milk
¾ cup amaretto
½ cup graham cracker crumbs
Bacardi 151 or other flammable liquor

1.  In a small saucepan, bring the half & half to a boil. Place the chocolate in a medium bowl. Pour the hot cream over the chocolate & stir until melted.

2.  Return the chocolate to the pot & whisk in the milk. Over medium heat, bring to a simmer & stir in ½ cup of amaretto.

3.  Pour the remaining amaretto into a small bowl. Place graham cracker crumbs on a small plate. Dip the rims of shot glasses into the amaretto, then the crumbs.

4.  Transfer the hot chocolate to a measuring cup with a spout and fill the shot glasses. Top each with one large marshmallow or three mini-marshmallows, and pour a tablespoon of 151 over each class. Ignite with a lighter to toast the marshmallow. Blow out before drinking.

5. Say a toast & drink up!