Beet Pesto Pasta & Scallops & Bacon

Thing 1 had been pestering me to make scallops again, but I can really only afford to buy them on sale. Luckily there was a good deal at a local supermarket recently, albeit on the teeny tiny ones. Even so, I think I was able to put together a pretty tasty meal.

I boiled up some store-bought penne rigate, drained it, and added a jar of the beet pesto that I’d frozen in the fall. I still find the colour that it turns the noodles completely fabulous! (Although I think I needed a higher pesto to pasta ratio in this particular case for the best results; I’d forgotten that beet greens have a much more subtle flavour than basil.) I cooked up some bacon in the microwave and chopped it into bite-sized pieces. While that was cooking I lightly fried the scallops in a dollop of butter and a sprinkle of salt. Then I served the pasta with the scallops and bacon on top. Thing 1 couldn’t have been happier!

However, I think next time I’d fry the bacon on the stove and cook the scallops in a bit of the grease for added flavour. I guess I just wanted to cook with a low-spatter method, but nothing beats the sheer level of taste of cooking in bacon grease. Back when I was a kid, Mom and Dad (I think mostly Dad in this case) would fry up bacon, cook the eggs in some of the grease, and then use the remaining grease to make fried bread. It was so bad for you (and these days my stomach probably would rebel), but it was so incredibly good… The grease-fest that I loved so much is probably way more than I need at this stage of my life, but perhaps I can apply a bit of the technique to obtain better overall results in my cooking.

Instant Pot Ground Beef Stroganoff

I was perusing my cookbooks the other day for a quick meal that wouldn’t require a lengthy trip to a grocery store, and I decided on Ground Beef Stroganoff from The Ultimate Instant Pot Cookbook (Coco Morante, 2018). It’s very different than the stroganoff that I was taught to make way back when (I learned so long ago that I honest can’t remember), but it was still quite nice. The only alteration was that I made the dish using lactose-free sour cream instead of regular sour cream.

I really liked that this was truly a one-pot meal; the sweating of the onions and garlic, the browning of the meat, and the cooking of the noodles are all done in the Instant Pot. This is the kind of situation where the saute function really shines. And I really liked that the short pressure cooking time was just long enough to get the prep mess cleaned up and the table set. What a great meal for a busy weeknight!

Leveling Up the Mac and Cheese

Believe it or not, I’m still trying to use up the Christmas leftovers, although at this point I’m left with the stuff that keeps well like cold cuts and hard cheeses. Last night I decided to continue using up some of those leftovers by making a batch of Mom’s Homemade Macaroni & Cheese.

Now, it may look a bit anemic because I didn’t use a cheddar that was dyed orange, but taste-wise it was anything but! The cheese was one of my personal favourites, Balderson Royal Canadian (2 Year) Cheddar. This brand has the added bonus of being relatively local; their original factory was in Lanark County, although they’re now owned by Parmalat. Although this mac and cheese can be made with just about any cheddar or other sharp, hard cheese (and I think I’ve used them all over the years), including cheap store brands, it really shines with something with a bit more flavour. Despite making an entire batch, after last night’s meal there were no survivors leftovers, which is the ultimate compliment to the cook.

As an addendum, I’ve discovered that there is lactose-free milk and lactose-free cheddar, so if you’re like me and are lactose-intolerant, you can still make this dish. Unfortunately, so far as I know Balderson doesn’t make an official lactose-free cheese yet. However, according to Life Hacker, grocery chain Wegman’s says:

An easy way to check for lactose in cheese is to look at the Nutrition Facts under “Sugar”. Since the sugar in cheese is lactose, you can easily see how much lactose the cheese contains. If the sugar is listed as zero, then the cheese contains no more than half a gram of lactose per ounce. Compare to 12 grams of lactose in an 8 ounce glass of milk.

According to the Balderson Royal Canadian (2 Year) Cheddar official nutritional information, the sugar content is 0g, so if a lactose-intolerant person is going to treat themselves to cheese, this would be a good choice. So, like me, you could combine lactose-free milk and this delicious sharp cheddar (although you may be a bit paranoid and want to take some Lactaid in advance just in case).

Handmade Noodles With Beet Pesto

I cooked up all of my beets and served them cold, chopped up with a bit of Dijon mustard and mayonnaise. But there was all kinds of beet juice left behind, so I thought I’d freeze it for use later. If it’ll stain anything, it should make a good colouring, right?

So I bought some 00 flour for my next pasta attempt, and I added my four eggs, and then a couple of cubes worth of beet juice. The problem was, that added more liquid, which meant I then had to add a bunch more flour in order to make the noodles the proper consistency. In the end, the colour didn’t change all that much. I was hoping for a vibrant beet red, but what I got was a kind of light peachy orange. I think that either I need to omit the eggs and use just beet juice (which will probably affect the flavour of the pasta), or boil the beet juice down an awful lot so that it’s very concentrated and doesn’t add much liquid with the colour.

To keep the pasta from sticking to itself, I made an improvised drying rack by putting wooden spoons or long cooking chopsticks under dishes in the cupboards with the long end sticking out. As silly as it looks, it worked! The noodles didn’t stick to each other at all. I think, though, if I’m going to do this a lot in the future, I’ll have to invest in a proper drying rack.

The pasta ended up being a fantastic shade of pinky red, though, because I used the jar of beet pesto. I also ran the pasta through the absolute thinnest setting this time and the consistency was just right! I’ve already learned so much after just two times working with pasta. I’m really looking forward to learning more!

Garlicky Pasta Primavera

Last night I was inspired by Delish to make their Bowtie Primavera recipe. It was originally posted back in 2016, but the video popped up again on my Facebook feed, and, well, I had lots of cherry tomatoes that needed eating, so I figured it was timely.

This dish features a lovely rainbow of vegetables: asparagus, zucchini, cherry tomatoes, and mushrooms. I find it funny that it’s advertised as a “spring pasta” because really the only spring part is the asparagus; the zucchini, cherry tomatoes, and most mushrooms are late summer/early fall produce. I actually couldn’t find fresh asparagus at the grocery store right now and so had to use frozen, but that works just fine cooked in a sauce anyway.

My cherry tomatoes were really juicy and released a lot of that juice when cooking, so I found that 1 cup of reserved pasta water was excessive. I ended up having to boil down the sauce in order for it not to be, well, soup. Additionally, I used lactose-free sour cream, which I don’t think make a huge difference to the consistency but it did mean that I could actually eat it. (I would assume that, to make this dish vegan, a cream cheese substitute could be used effectively.) I also didn’t garnish with chopped basil because, to be completely honest, I forgot to buy any.

All that being said, I was really happy with the end result. This dish was creamy but not cloying, came together quickly (although not as quickly as the recipe indicated), and was both healthy and tasty. I will definitely be making it again.

Handmade Pasta: First Attempt

I was lucky enough to stumble upon a fantastic deal at my local thrift shop the other day: a hand-cranked pasta machine still in its box, for only $7.99! Given that the absolute cheapest pasta machine reatails at WalMart is $43 or so, this was one heck of a deal. Now, if you’ve been reading this blog for any length of time you’ll have heard me go on and on about how hard it is to find good ramen noodles around here, and how I really need to give it a go on my own. Here is my opportunity! Well, eventually. First, I need to master this machine — or at least become reasonably competent, anyway.

From the packaging and the printing inside the instruction manual, I’d estimate that it is from the 1970’s.

Honestly, it looks as if it’s never been used — or at least was very well taken care of. Maybe it was originally an ill-chosen wedding gift?

I followed the most basic of pasta recipes: 400g flour, four eggs, and a bit of salt. I kneaded it all together by hand, but my first go wasn’t terribly dough-like.

However, running it through the sheet setting of the pasta machine a few times helped even out the consistency.

Then Thing 2 helped me roll all the dough out into sheets — she really enjoyed herself, I think because it’s a lot like a Play-Doh machine. I know that the sheets aren’t perfect like the pictures in the cookbooks, but I thought they weren’t bad for a first attempt.

Then I ran each sheet, once again with Thing 2’s help, through the larger of the cutting wheels.

It all made enough noodles for a family dinner — although in retrospect, I think I should have rolled the sheets quite a bit thinner before slicing.

I served the homemade noodles with the last jar of basil pesto that I froze last summer, alongside a few tiny lamb chops with rosemary. Sadly, I let my attention be taken up almost entirely by making the pasta, and I overcooked the lamb quite a bit. It was still very tasty, but a bit chewy.

So lessons learned for next time: give myself more time/attention to make the pasta, and roll it out as think as possible without it falling apart. But otherwise, I think I made a passable first attempt! There weren’t any leftovers, what with the family all going back for seconds.

Scallop and Bacon Pesto Pasta

Thing 1 told me last week that she’d just realized that she’d never tried scallops before, and that she really wanted to know what they tasted like. Well, this week the little frozen scallops went on sale at the grocery store, and I saw a great chance to let Thing 1 try them without spending a fortune.

I whipped up a quick pasta dish where the scallops took center stage. The green noodles were Catelli SuperGreens Spaghetti, and I tossed them in the last of the basil pesto that I froze last summer. At the same time, I fried the scallops up in a dash of olive oil and a sprinkle of garlic powder. To serve, I laid down the pasta first, then a sprinkle of bacon bits, then the scallops, and then a few sliced grape tomatoes.

And the verdict is: Thing 1 absolutely loved the scallops! Next step, I think, is to invest in some of the larger, pricier scallops and serve them wrapped in bacon. Grilled, maybe? Or in a chowder? There are so many possibilities!