Carbonara

*Spoilers ahead for Netflix’s “Master of None” so if you’re not caught up on that show or haven’t watched it (in which case, what’s wrong with you?!), skip this post until you have*

At the end of Netflix’s “Master of None” Aziz Ansari’s character, Dev, makes fresh carbonara and this leads to the discovery that he’s really good at it so he moves to Italy to learn how to make pasta. Ever since I saw that episode, the show premiered in November of 2015, I’d been craving homemade carbonara. I’d never even eaten carbonara but Aziz/Dev made it look delicious so I was like “I gotta get on that!” When we decided to embark on this project, one of the things I was certain about was I was going to make carbonara during Italian week. I had originally hoped to make the pasta myself, just like Dev (!), but after the ramen disaster, I decided to buy my spaghetti pasta and then just focus on getting the best ingredients.

Carbonara is considered a peasant’s dish and due to that, it’s very simple. It consists of pasta, eggs, cheese, and bacon. That’s it. I guess some people add cream to it but from what I’ve read, that’s a big no-no. Also, some people add peas? Gross. Peas are delicious but I don’t think they would work with this dish unless you get fresh peas and who has fresh peas?! Anyway, I couldn’t get fresh eggs because our farmer’s market is only open on Saturdays and I planned on making this meal later in the week so the eggs would lose their freshness; same thing with the cheese. With all that, I made it my mission to get the best bacon possible! Most of the recipes I saw suggested using guanciale bacon and I was going to drive into central Austin and buy some but then I remembered my HEB sells pancetta, which is a decent alternative, and my HEB is only two miles away. Central Austin, with traffic, is a half hour away. I think you know where I ended up…Well I should have made the damn trek because my HEB didn’t have pancetta, for TWO DAYS IN A ROW. I was very frustrated but not so frustrated as to actually drive into town so I ended up buying regular bacon.

The biggest obstacle in making carbonara is making sure the eggs don’t scramble when you add the egg/cheese mixture to the pasta. The way to avoid this is to stir very quickly and add water when needed. I followed the recipe exactly and I did not end up with scrambled eggs. Look at that! I’m a mini-Dev!

It was so good, so, so good! It was saltier than I expected and even though I didn’t used to be a fan of salty food, that changed over the course of the year. Because of that, I loved this dish, salt and all! It wasn’t overpowering but just more than I expected. It was creamy and I loved the crunchiness of the bacon here and there. The girls gobbled it up but I knew they would because it was pasta. Those girls love their carbs!

Definitely check out Master of None and then celebrate your binge-watching by making this dish. It will make all that time sitting on the sofa worth it!

Recipe

Manicotti

Seeing as how we had eaten so much Italian influenced food during Argentina week, it only made sense to follow it up with Italian week. We’ve had our fair share of Italian food so it was difficult to find things we hadn’t eaten. When I’ve had difficulty finding recipes in the past, I’ve turned to friends who have first hand knowledge of the cuisine so this go around, I contacted my friend Kym for some help.

I actually “met” Kym through her husband, Tim, and I “met” Tim through our blogs over ten years ago. Yep, we’re cyber friends! If memory serves me well, Tim and Kym weren’t even engaged when I met him but I think they got engaged shortly after. Regardless, it’s been awesome to see their journey and it’s probably been the same for them watching mine and James’. Now that I think about it, I’ve turned to Kym numerous times for advice on things like planning our wedding, getting things ready for the birth of the girls, and how to survive parenthood. Kym, you have been a fountain of knowledge and I appreciate you so much! Thank you!!!

This manicotti recipe is one Kym uses with a few changes.  For the filling she uses two pounds full fat ricotta, half pound shredded mozarella, a half pound pecorino-romano, and two eggs. She also adds oregano and basil to her mixture but did mention that’s not necessary if you’re using a flavored sauce. You can use pre-made tomato sauce but it’s really easy to make your own so I highly recommend it. I always make my own sauce from a can of San Marzano tomatoes (pricier but worth it for the flavor), garlic, S&P, and oregano and basil. If I’m feeling frisky, I add in shredded parmesan. Oh, and she also doesn’t use oil in the crepe batter. She said the key is to make the batter thin enough to where you can put a spoon in it and the batter pours out.

I’d never made crepes before but I made masala dosa (I will never stop bragging about that) and they’re basically one and the same so I wasn’t worried. My batter came out thin just from following the recipe and Kym’s note to not add oil so I was grateful for that. It took a few crepes before I got good at making them a decent round shape but once I did, I was on a roll. The recipe said it makes 24 crepes and it was not wrong, I got exactly 24. Then it was just a matter of filling them and baking them. I will note that the recipe says this will feed eight to ten people but there were only four of us so I halved the recipe for the filling.

So my manicotti didn’t come out looking like the pictures on the recipe but they were still delicious. When I posted on Instagram and FB, I mentioned they looked like enchiladas and Kym said they’re basically Italian enchiladas so yay, I got it right! The girls love tortillas, like LOOOOVE tortillas, so the way I got them to eat the manicotti was by telling them they were stuffed tortillas. I think they each ate half a manicotti and then asked if they could just eat the tortillas; they each ate about three.

These things were filling but they were so good! I thought they would be harder to make but it was actually pretty easy. Yeah making the crepes took some time but whatever, it wasn’t terrible. I had about twelve crepes leftover and I refrigerated them in the hopes of using them for breakfast crepes a couple of days later but that didn’t happen. But just so you know, you can refrigerate them for up to a week and freeze them for up to six months so it’s not a complete waste of food.

Thanks to Kym, the first night of Italian week was amazing! I’m definitely saving this recipe because it’s so easy and it’s way better than using the pre-made shells. Also, I learned how to make crepes.

Recipe

Chicken Fried Steak, Mashed Potatoes, Mac n’ Cheese, and Fried Okra

In honor of America’s birthday, we ate American food last week. I asked for meal suggestions on Facebook because while I’m very familiar with Texan and southern cuisine, I’m a little lost when it comes to the rest of the country. I mean, I know basics like deep dish pizza from Chicago, chowder from the northeast, and pretentious vegetarian food from California but the rest of the country is a big ‘ol question mark. There were some very good suggestions, like the Italian beef I’d never heard of and plan on making tomorrow, and many eye roll inducing suggestions like “Fried everything” and “Super sized food.” Haha, I get it, we’re a country of bad eaters, bahaha, so funny. I never knew how patriotic I was until my friends started making fun of themselves and the rest of the country.

So you can imagine my “Goddamit!” moment when I decided on chicken fried steak, mac n’ cheese, and fried okra for our first meal. Fried meat, carbs smothered in butter, and fried vegetables. Cholesterol heaven! But the truth is, I love this meal and it’s one of my favorites. I have told my husband many times that I don’t ever want to live in a state where they don’t serve chicken fried steak and I’m serious. A life without chicken fried steak is not a life worth living. I think I’ve also told him that should I ever end up on Death Row, I will probably request chicken fried steak as my last meal. I mean, at that point, why do I need to worry about clogged arteries?

Considering this is one of my favorites, I’ve never made it. Aside from the mashed potatoes, I’ve never made any of the parts of this meal. I’ve made instant mac n’ cheese but that doesn’t count. I’ve made roasted okra and okra casserole but never fried. And I’ve made my fair share of actual fried chicken but not chicken fried steak*. The reason is simple: it’s work. You wouldn’t think frying stuff would take a lot of time but you have to watch frying food so you don’t burn it and mac n’ cheese is pretty sensitive as well; it’s very easy to get clumpy cheese and that will ruin the whole thing.

Before I started, I got everything out and did the whole mise en place to make life a little easier and to not ruin my meal. I highly recommend doing this otherwise your kitchen will look like a disaster. I mean, mine still looked like I got a bag of flour and some grease and sprayed the whole kitchen but it could have been so much worse. I still failed at timing everything so it was ready at the same time. I ended up finishing the mac n’ cheese earlier than expected and let it sit in the oven, with the oven off, an extra three minutes so it came out a little dry but still fully edible. My okra was also room temperature but in retrospect, that wasn’t a bad thing. Hot okra is never fun.

But what was fun was me eating this meal! I was in hog heaven, complete with food coma afterwards. I’ve had chicken fried steak that was dry because it was fried too long but not mine #humblebrag. Mine had the right amount of breading and was still very juicy. The mac n’ cheese, although slightly dry, was CHEESE OVERLOAD but in a good way. And the okra was perfection! Crispy on the outside, smushy on the inside, and I was popping it inmy mouth like popcorn. Everyone was happy and how could they not? This meal is the definition of southern comfort food.

So yeah, maybe we are a country of fatties but whatever, we’re happy and you can kiss our grits.

*Chicken fried steak gets its name from the fact that it’s steak prepared in the manner of fried chicken.

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