Kentucky Woman

Dear Anne,

I have been in the Commonwealth of Kentucky for almost a month, and I have to say I don’t hate it.  I never thought I’d be living in the South, at least not this part of the South, and I certainly never thought I’d enjoy it.  My first weekend here, a friend from home visited.  She recently moved to the Carolinas to teach outside of Charlotte, which is about 8 hours away.  I’m glad she did because it forced me to get out of my apartment and explore Louisville.  Our adventures were quite fun, and definitely had a culinary theme.  We took a ride on the Spirit of Jefferson, walked the pedestrian bridge to Indiana, walked around Cave Hill Cemetery and saw Colonel Sanders’ grave.  Later, we stumbled up on the world’s fanciest KFC — KFC 11.  No one knows why it’s so fancy, but it is.  We also went to Comfy Cow, which is number two on this recommended list by Buzzfeed, Tom + Chee, which is now a franchise that only sells variations of grilled cheese and tomato soup. I discovered this place when I lived in Cincinnati, but didn’t realize they had expanded.  You cannot go wrong with grilled cheese and tomato soup.  Saturday night we went to a comedy show at the Laughing Derby and had a good time.  Sunday was magical.  We started the day out by brunching at The Monkey Wrench, which serves Southern-style cuisine and provides you the opportunity to design your own mimosa or Bloody Mary.  They also have banjos playing every Sunday morning. Amazing!  I ordered the biscuits with mushroom gravy (delicious!) and took a stab the Bloody Mary bar.  I must admit I was sorely disappointed by the Bloody Mary bar.  My ideal Bloody Mary has spicy pickle juice in it, and there were neither pickles nor juice to be found.  I also really don’t care for vodka, so maybe my ideal Bloody Mary is briny tomato juice.  Who’s to say?  That afternoon we hiked the pedestrian bridge over the Ohio River.  After we walked to Indiana and back, we foraged for a barbecue place because if I’m going to live in the South, I’m for sure going to try to eat as much pulled pork as humanly possible without getting the meat sweats.  Based on the name alone, I am 98.64% certain you would love this place:  Momma’s Mustard, Pickles, and BBQ.  It was well worth the 20 minute drive from the riverfront.  I had a pulled pork sandwich with baked beans and mac and cheese.  I have been dreaming about going back since we finished that meal.  (Memo to self: make friends so people will go get BBQ with you.)  Since that weekend, I’ve been trying to prepare my own food because dining out is expensive, but I’m glad I explored Louisville.

The other day I read an article on The Toast called “On Cooking For One,” which completely summed up my feelings on solo culinary adventures.  So many people in my life complain about the difficulties of cooking for only themselves.  I wholeheartedly disagree with their sentiments, though I respect their right to express their opinions.  Cooking for myself is an act of self care and a little bit of meditation.  I find peeling vegetables and methodically preparing a meal to be soothing.  I will concede cooking for one can be daunting in the beginning, spurring questions like “What do I make,” “Why does my grocery store assume I’m cooking for at least four,” and “Is this going to get expensive?”  Fortunately, five years ago you sent me off to grad school with this book:  Going Solo in the Kitchen, by Jane Doerfer

 

Jane so brilliantly discusses the philosophy of cooking for one and how to shop for one.  I’ve made a number of her chicken recipes and her sweet biscuits with a cold fruit compote are delicious.  Sadly, as I am back in the land of Kroger, so much of my produce is prepackaged or pre-portioned.  I have found a more local grocery store that allows me to purchase only what I need, but it’s kind of out of the way.  I’m sure after a few more disappointing Kroger runs, I’ll be more willing to schlep out to the Highlands for produce.  Fun fact: this book made it’s way to England this past winter as I lent it to a former intern of mine for her study abroad this semester.

As I mentioned earlier, I’ve been cooking for myself again.  Getting into a routine took longer than I anticipated, so my cooking has only begun in the last couple weeks, and it’s mostly been staple foods that I can freeze for later.  Two of my standby basic recipes are crockpot (not) refried beans and black beans.  Both recipes com from Budget Bytes, which is by and large my favorite food blog on the interwebs (aside from Dear Broccoli).  I know I’ve written about Beth and her blog before, but I will not stop singing her praises.  The black beans are the easiest recipe I’ve even encountered because it’s a bag of dried black beans and water in the crockpot for hours.  That’s it.  Each one pound bag makes about three cans of black beans.  I freeze them until I use them in soups or enchiladas.  The (not) refried beans are only two steps more difficult because in addition to water and beans, you throw in some diced onion and jalepeno, plus some herbs and spices.  After the beans have cooked for their requisite time (heat setting dependent), you mash them with a hand blender.  Those beans are also sitting in my freezer until I make some enchiladas.  I’m waiting to make the enchiladas because last week I made chicken taco bowls, which are also from Budget Bytes.  Again, this is a crockpot recipe.  All you do here is load your crockpot with some chicken breast, a jar of salsa, a can of black beans, frozen corn and some herbs and spices and let ‘er go. I added a can of mushrooms to help beef up the meal. Once everything has cooked (read: chicken is not raw), shred the chicken.  Serve over rice and top with cheese.  I was too lazy to make rice.  Also, I didn’t have the cooking instructions for this particular kind of rice and could not find them online. . .  At any rate I ate this for lunch almost everyday this past week.  Without the rice, it’s sort of like a really thick chicken chili.

Thanks to your post about Iowa sweet corn, the best corn in the world, I did end up making a couple dinners that didn’t come from a crockpot.  The first was sauteed mushrooms and green beans with a side of corn.  Okay, I lied.  The corn was the main part and the mushrooms and green beans were the side dish.  They just awkwardly sat there while I nearly inhaled the first corn on the cob I’ve eaten in almost three years.  Kentucky sweet corn is just not as good as Iowa sweet corn (what is, really?), but it certainly hit the spot.  I had an ear leftover, so I cut the corn off and tossed it with the remaining mushrooms and green beans and served it over some Ramen at work the next day.  I bought some more corn yesterday with the intent of trying out your recipes.  I want it to be tomorrow night already so I can make the corn.  I’d make it tonight, but I’m headed to a coworkers for a Labor Day get together this afternoon and going to a University of Louisville football game tonight.

Remind me to tell you about pies and Brussels sprouts next time.  I promise it’s not a Brussels sprouts pie.  I don’t know how I feel about that.

 

xoxo,

Carolyne

 

 

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Pasta Straight from My Kitchen

Dear Anne,

I have not been doing enough cooking lately.  Because things have been busy, and they aren’t going to stop any time soon now the holiday season is upon us, most of my culinary adventures are relegated to the weekend.  Fortunately, the holiday season means I can bake to my heart’s content and people at the office will make less fuss about me constantly bringing in food. This weekend I got a little crazy and made pumpkin pancakes and cavatelli from scratch.  However, I heard no complaints from roommate Wesley.

The pumpkin pancakes were not as good as I had hoped, but I think that’s my own fault for building them up in my head.  The recipe called for a pinch of cloves, and I was too generous in my pinching, because the clove flavor overpowered the other, more desirable flavors, such as cinnamon.  In the future I will most certainly be increasing the cinnamon in this recipe.  Also, I served this with butter and real New York maple syrup, but it was too sweet.  I spent the rest of breakfast trying to figure out how to make this better.  Perhaps a fruit compote, like apples with cinnamon for instance, would be preferable.  It wouldn’t be too sweet, but would keep the overall experience from being too dry. (Sorry no pictures because I am the worst.)

Most Sunday evenings, some coworkers and I place euchre.  We rotate houses, and whomever is hosting that week makes dinner for all of us.  This week, Wesley and I hotsed.  Wesley made this beauty of a cheesecake:  pumpkin nutella cheesecake.  Please take a minute to appreciate the amazingness this dessert.  It took a lot of will power to not sneak bites all afternoon.  There are two pieces left in the fridge as I type this, and I am thinking about getting one even though I am not at all hungry. It’s that good.

While Wesley encapsulated heaven in cheesecake form, I made cavatelli, which is an Italian pasta with potato in the dough.  It’s similar to gnocchi, but it uses much less potato.  I guess you could call it a light dumpling.  I choose to call it wonderful.   Every Thanksgiving, my family makes thousands of cavatelli.  Then with our turkey, stuffing, and mashed potatoes, we have cavatelli in red sauce.  I may have described the cavatelli-making process with you before, but I’m going to relay it again because 1. I repeat myself often, and 2. I won’t be participating in Thanksgiving cavatelli this year, so I must relive the experience in my mind.  At the Comito Family Stead, aka my mother’s kitchen, a myriad of relatives convene.  Everyone has their role, one they’ve usually been doing for years with the hope that someday they will be old enough to move up to a new job.  However, there really is no upward mobility in the Comito Family Cooking School.  You do what you’re told, and you don’t ask questions.  For cavatelli, my role is usually “cranker,” meaning I get to feed the pasta through the machine.  This is a role I lobbied for years to win, and one from which I do not plan on retiring  anytime soon, regardless of my lack of participation in the last couple years. I spent a lot of years rolling dough before I got to be cranker.  Anyway, the real magic of cavatelli-making is the atmosphere. It’s hard to accurately describe, but I will sum it for you in this haiku:

Insults thrown, laughing

Vince Guaraldi blasting loud

Who is crying now?

Did I ever make cavatelli for you, Anne?  I know I never made it from scratch for you, but maybe I brought some back to Wash 6 and made it with red sauce? Last night, I chopped up half an onion (more accurately, Wesley heroically  cut the onion half), sauteed it with some mushrooms, wilted some spinach, tossed it all with the cavatelli, and sprinkled some good parm on top.  The group devoured it, and we have no leftovers.  However, we do have quite a bit of cavatelli in our freezer since I made a bigger batch of dough than I anticipated.  Sometime after Thanksgiving I’ll make some sauce, but don’t think it the recipe will make it to the blog.  Nice try, Annes.  However, if I can figure out how to ship you some, I will.

Cavatelli

*Note:  This is another vague Comito family recipe, where you are required to go by feel.

Ingredients

Flour

Large Eggs

A mashed potato (use a starchy potato)

Milk

Salt

*These are the basic ingredients.  The ratio of flour to eggs is 1:1. For example, I used 5 cups of flour and 5 eggs.  When I called Aunt Jackie she said to to 5 cups of flour and 4 eggs, but four eggs weren’t enough for me. I think when my family does this, they use jumbo eggs, which would make the 5:4 ratio more accurate. Also, I don’t think we ever use more than one potato ever.

Instructions

1. Peel and boil potato

2. Mash potato, add a little milk

3. Combine flower and eggs. Dough will be mealy and dry. Add a little potato. Maybe some milk.

4. Knead until you have a slightly sticky dough, and it is malleable enough to form decent ball of dough. (You will likely need to add more milk and potato before you get to this point. Like I said earlier, this is a vague, play-it-by-ear recipe.)

5. Let ball of dough rest under a bowl for 30-60 minutes, or whenever you remember you’re cooking

6. Get out your amazing cavatelli machine, courtesy Aunt Jackie.  Properly assemble.

This is not the exact machine I use, but it’s basically the same.

7. Slice dough into decent sized pieces. (Again, you’ll just have to eyeball this.) (At this point, your dough should be a beautiful and supple ball of dough that is smooth to the touch and bounces back ever so slightly when pressed.)

8. Roll dough into ropes.

9. VERY LIGHTLY DUST ropes with some flour. (For the love that is all good and holy, do not over flour this stuff. It will make your life terrible.)

10. Place a floured cookie tray under your cavatelli machine.

11. Send those VERY LIGHTLY DUSTED ropes of delicious dough through your cavatelli maker.

12. Make sure to spread out the cavatelli as you make them.  You don’t want them to stick together.

13. After you fill up a tray, put it in the freezer.  (Letting them freeze makes them easier to handle when putting them in bags or containers for storage.)

14. Keep doing this until you run out of dough.

For consumption:  boil water (remember to salt the water), add cavatelli to boiling water, and cook for…I want to say 10-ish minutes. I could be wrong about that.  I literally just taste the cavatelli at various points during the cooking and turn off the heat after I’ve determined they’re done.  Strain cavatelli, and enjoy with your favorite sauce.  We usually just use a red sauce, but you can do just about anything with them.

Kisses and kitten,

Carolyne