Sunday, May 20, 2012

Baked Ham Feta Pasta

I've always laughed at recipes that state the obvious:  "Stir occasionally."  Oh really?  Because I like my pasta in one big  lump.  "Simmer on low."  Huh.  So "simmer" doesn't mean "boil at top speed"?  

Then my friend Julie sent me this recipe, and man:  I screwed it up six ways from Sunday.  First time I made it, I baked the pasta for 15 minutes uncovered it, stirred it, put it back in the oven--

--and promptly turned off the heat.  

 Needless to say, when I checked on the oven thirty minutes later, the pasta was kind of, uh, raw.  

The second time I cooked the dish, I missed the part where, after baking for 15 minutes, uncovering and stirring, I was supposed to RECOVER the pasta.  So that time my pasta was cooked to a crisp.  Even Lucy, my culinary adventurer, said, "It taste good daddy.  Except for the crunchy parts." 

Third time, though, I got it right, and had no regrets.  This is a tasty dish, and very kid friendly:  the feta and tomatoes add just enough zest to give it some kick, and the thyme makes sure you know you're not eating frozen pizza.  

Two notes:  First, notice that the dish has to bake for 45 minutes (covered the whole time--have I mentioned that?).  So this isn't one of those things you can throw together between soccer practice and piano lessons.  That said, what prep is there is pretty quick.  

Second, when Julie gave me the recipe, it called for four tomatoes and no onions.  I cut back on the tomatoes because one of my kids isn't crazy about cooked tomatoes.  I added the onions (in teeny-tiny, minced little bits) because I wanted a bit more kick.  And if you chop 'em small, kids won't even know they're there.  

Ham Feta Rigatoni

12 ounces rigatoni (or other medium-sized pasta)
1 1/2 cups diced ham (about 8 ounces; don't go cheap here:  get black forest or smoked ham, at the very least)
3 large plum tomatoes, chopped
3 Tablespoons micro-minced red onion

1 cup (or slightly more) crumbled feta cheese 
1 cup grated mozzarella cheese (about 4 ounces) 
1 1/2 teaspoons dried thyme 
1 cup whipping cream 

  1. Preheat oven to 375°F. 
  2. Butter 13 x 9 x 2-inch glass baking dish. 
  3. Cook pasta in large pot of boiling salted water until just tender but still firm to bite. Drain. Place in prepared baking dish.
  4. Mix in ham, tomatoes, feta cheese, mozzarella cheese and thyme. 
  5. Pour cream over. Sprinkle with salt and pepper and toss to blend. 
  6. Cover with foil. 
  7. Bake pasta 15 minutes. Uncover and stir to coat pasta evenly with melted cheeses. 
  8. Cover again. Have I mentioned this?  You should cover again.  And leave the oven ON. 
  9. Bake another 15 minutes.  Uncover and mix again.  
  10. Recover.  
  11. Bake another 15 minutes or less, until cooked through.  

Family Ratings

Will, who likes ham:  10
Jamie, who for some bizarre reason won't eat the ham but likes everything else:  7
Lucy, who picks out most of the tomatoes until we yell at her:  9
Ellen:  10
Paul, who's pretty much going to love anything that has two different kinds of cheese plus butter in it:  10

Friday, May 11, 2012

Deep-Fried Sweet and Sour Tofu

The trick to this recipe is to lie.  When your kids ask "What's for dinner," tell them, "Sweet and sour chicken."


Actually, our kids like tofu.  This always surprised me, but then I met other parents who said the same thing (about their kids, not about mine).  And I guess it makes a little sense:  after all, the texture of tofu is generally inoffensive, and it simply picks up the tastes of everything it's cooked with, so as long as you cook it with good stuff, what's the big deal?  

This recipe comes from Gary Rhodes's Great Fast Food.  Because he's English, this is in the "Hot and Spicy" section of the cookbook.  Lord knows what he and his editors were thinking, because it's neither.  

This is served over egg noodles.  It also works with rice.

Deep-Fried Sweet and Sour Tofu

14 oz. (or thereabouts) firm or extra firm tofu, cubed
Vegetable oil
1 tsp. peanut oil
4 English Cucumbers, cut into chunks (no need to peel; regular cukes will also work, although you will need to deseed)
4 ounces unsalted peanuts
4 Tablespoons sugar
6 Tablespoons soy sauce
6 Tablespoons rice vinegar
2 Tablespoons tomato puree (you can usually buy this in a tube in the Italian section)
2 tsp. cornstarch mixed with a little water to make a paste
Egg noodles to serve.  

  1. Heat 1.5-2 inches of vegetable or canola oil in your wok.  When it's really really hot, add your cubed tofu. 
  2. Cook for 3-6 minutes, until golden brown.  You should stir some, but not too much.  Let it cook.  
  3. Spoon the tofu out of the wok, setting aside on a plate lined with paper towels.  
  4. Drain off the oil from the pan and wipe with a paper towel. 
  5. Heat the peanut oil in the wok.  When it's hot, add the cucumbers and peanuts.
  6. Cook 3-4 minutes.  Remove from pan, leaving behind juices. 
  7. Mix tofu and cucumber in a bowl, and cover. 
  8. Mix the soy sauce, sugar, rice vinegar, and tomator puree together in the wok.  
  9. Simmer for 1-2 minutes.  
  10. Add the cornstarch mixture and allow sauce to thicken. 
  11. Spoon over the tofu/cucumber mixture, and serve over noodles.  

Family Ratings:  

Jamie, who, yes, does think the tofu is chicken:  10
Will who actually likes tofu, especially with the peanuts:  10
Lucy, who likes the idea of tofu more than the actual tofu:  9
Ellen, who thinks we should have been eating this stuff for years:  10
Paul, who likes deepfrying crap until it's barely healthy anymore:  10