Bucatini alla Carbonara (2 versioni)

Ciao di nuovo! It’s been another long while since I’ve posted. I have not been cooking anything interesting. In fact before making this yummy Carbonara, I made a mushy pot of black beans and brown rice . . . trust me; it wasn’t blog-worthy. Also these past few weeks have been stressful because of constant teaching and grading.  So in order to retain the little bit of sanity I have left from my busy schedule, I still think about my blissful months in Reggio Calabria, Italy.

MARIANGELA VERSION: While in Reggio Calabria, my boyfriend’s mom, Mariangela (the same who shared her pizza dough and pizza recipe with me), asked me what was my favorite pasta dish, and without hesitation, I said, “Pasta alla Carbonara.” For my birthday, she surprised me with this dish but made it with proscuitto instead of pancetta and spaghetti in place of bucatini. It was AMAZING, and I knew I wanted to recreate this dish upon my return to the States.

In the past, every time I made Carbonara, I would have to go on a long search for guanciale or pork cheek, the official meat used in traditional Carbonara, and I could never find it. I am confronted with perplexed stares and am asked to repeat my request multiple times by supermarket workers. I have always had to resort to pancetta, but now that I have tried Carbonara with proscuitto, I am happy that I no longer need to look far and wide for guanciale because I have found a good, substitute version of traditional Carbonara.

Even though the Carbonara originated in Rome, when I think of this dish with proscuitto, I think of the best moments of my life in Reggio Calabria…

TRADITIONAL VERSION: I started with the “Mariangela version” of Carbonara because it is a nostalgic dish for me; it is my preferred version, and it is not considered the traditional way to make the dish.

A traditional Bucatini alla Carbonara is comprised of bucatini (the pasta), guanciale(pork cheek), parmiggiano reggiano or pecorino romano or both (the cheese), eggs (the sauce), black pepper (spice), and pasta water, if needed. However, many Italians may substitute guanciale with pancetta, or in Mariangela’s case, with proscuitto.

In the States, however, Italian-American restaurants serve Carbonara with pancetta or bacon, cream, and sometimes peas or other add-ins! *gasp!* I much prefer the more traditional way or with prosciutto served with a crusty knob of hot bread.
Bucatini: A few weeks ago, I was happy to find bucatini, which is the pasta used in the traditional version of Carbonara. My boyfriend encouraged me to use spaghetti instead of this type of pasta, but I wanted to try it out for myself and for the blog :).
As you can see in the photos, this pasta is much thicker than spaghetti, and there are holes in the middle. Once I took a bite of the Carbonara, I understood immediately why my boyfriend had discouraged me from using it!Even though it is more traditional to use bucatini, in the future, I will use spaghetti since they are thinner and more manageable to eat and enjoy.
Bucatini alla Carbonara
75-115 grams of spaghetti or bucatini per person (reserve some of the pasta water)
1/2 Tbsp of a light oil such as sunflower oil (I had only extra virgin olive oil on hand)
2-4 Tbsp guanciale, pancetta, or proscuitto
1 large egg per person
2-3 Tbsp parmigiano reggiano per person
black pepper to taste (q.b.)
Boil water and prepare pasta. Be sure to salt your water until it is almost as salty as the Mediterranean Sea (as they say). Once the pasta is 3 minutes away from being done, start cooking your pork of choice in a hot skillet brushed with light oil (I used a small amount of extra virgin olive oil, but Mariangela used soybean oil because it is lighter.).
While the pork is cooking, put the grated cheese and egg in a bowl and mix together well. Once the meat is ready, remove the skillet from heat and transfer the cooked pasta to the skillet. Stir the pasta and pork together well. Next pour the egg and cheese mixture on top of the pasta and pork and mix well. Serve immediately and sprinkle the top of the dish with plenty of fresh black pepper.

Copyright – Memoria James – http://www.mangiodasola.com

Italian Inspired Burgers

I’m back! Sort of :).
Italian Inspired Burgers. In May of 2008, I first fell in love with Italy. For my first solo trip abroad, I visited Firenze, Pisa, and Venezia and promised myself to return here for good. So on the 2nd of July 2012, I flew from Los Angeles to Berlin to Roma. For almost 9 months now, I have been living in Europe trying to realize my dream of remaining in Italy (yes, even with its economic and political problems) for the rest of my life. Although it does not look like it is going to happen this time around, I plan to come back here after 90 days; and while in the States, I plan to apply for a long-term visa.
I currently live in the southern part of Italy (the big toe of the boot) in Reggio Calabria. This city is not a touristy one, but I love it just the same. While Roma, Napoli, Firenze, Palermo, Venezia, etc are fantastic, glorious cities to visit, I would not want to actually live there. I am a small- to medium-sized city kind of girl.
Reggio Calabria is relatively small, calm and is situated near the Mediterranean Sea and Sicily (one of the advantages of living in Reggio Calabra is that  I can see Sicily and Mt. Etna from just about any point). While in Italy, I have been to Roma, Napoli, Palermo (other Sicilian cities), and other cities in the southern region of mainland Italy. I have hiked up Mt. Etna (near Catania, Sicily) and Mt. Vesuvio (near Pompei and Napoli). I have swum in the sea and have eaten things that I never thought I would. I have met new friends and have found a new partner, and I get to speak and hear Italian all day long!
Due to the Schengen agreement, I can be in Italy for only 90 days at a time. Therefore, once my first 90 days were up, I went to England and lived in a town north of London called Bishop’s Stortford (near Stansted airport). While residing there, I was blessed to have wonderful excursions and experiences as I traveled to Cardiff, Wales; Edinburgh and Glasgow, Scotland; and Dublin, Galway, and Limerick, Ireland. In England, I visited Bath, Cambridge, Reading, and of course, London. I then returned to Italy at the end of December.  Now, for my departure trip back to the States, I will be passing through Canterbury and Dover, England and revisiting Paris, France via the English Channel. In other words, I have been living a dream these past few months, and my heart breaks every time I think about how it is all about to end.
So, in order to distract myself from deep depression, I have been baking up a storm with my little oven here in Reggio Calabria. I have been making many things (mostly for my boyfriend’s family) such as cookies/biscuits, brownies, cakes, and bread – lots of bread, such as these hamburger buns (even with the availability of ciabatte and focacce (and they are super cheap!), I prefer making my own bread).
In this city, the supermarkets are actually more ethnocentric than those of the States or the UK. Therefore, almost every time I try to create a non-Italian dish, such as Tex-Mex enchiladas, buttermilk biscuits (~savory scones), or burgers, they end up becoming “Italianized” by default due to the lack of certain ingredients characteristic and essential to the desired dishes. For instance, when I discovered there were no jalapeños, cilantro, or Mexican or cheddar cheeses to make my favorite Tex-Mex enchiladas, I had to use pepperoncini, fontina, mozzarella, and Kraft Sottilette Classiche instead. For the buttermilk biscuits, I tried using the baking powder they have here only to find out it is available only with vanilla powder added(!), so the biscuits turned out sweet when I wanted savory (I remedied this problem by purchasing some regular baking powder in the UK).
These burgers here are another example. I was craving a good, old-fashioned burger that you would find in the States, so I started out with my favorite hamburger bun recipe. Instead of bacon and cheddar, however, I added in pancetta and fontina inside of the meat. In the meat I also added a bunch of oregano, thyme, garlic powder, and Lawry’s seasoning salt (my mom brought Lawry’s to me when she visited for Xmas break. Thanks, mom!). Then, I placed the Kraft Sottilette Classiche (white, processed cheese that tastes most similar to Kraft Singles), sautéed mushrooms, and lettuce on top along with homemade, french fries on the side. Needless to say, this burger meal was amazing, and it was so huge that I skipped dinner that day.

Although I miss the gastronomical variety found in my country of origin and the UK, I am thankful that I have acquired the skills and the freedom to make my own creations in the country I love. Although I grow sadder and sadder each day, I am beyond thankful for everything I have been able to do and will do while in Europe. I have had a taste of my ultimate dream, and it will forever linger on my tongue. Although I pray every day that I will be able to return here soon, I need to remind myself to enjoy and appreciate the time I have left, in other words, the here-and-now.

Italian Inspired Burgers
(not really a recipe. Just a list of what I used to make the burger.)

1/2 kilo or 1 lb of ground beef or turkey
The following to taste: seasoning salt (Lawry’s!), pepper, oregano, thyme, rosemary, basilico, pepperoncini, fontina, and pancetta cubes
Mushrooms sautéed in butter or oil until soft and brownish
Lettuce, mayo, or whatever extra fixings you prefer

Mix the seasonings, cheese, and pancetta cubes into the ground turkey or beef. Do not overmix! Form 2-4 patties (depending on how big you want them). Cook the burgers to your desired doneness, and sautée the mushrooms while the burgers cook. Place additional cheese (if using) on top of the burgers during the final 1-2 minutes of cooking. Once the cheese has melted, transfer the burgers to a paper towel to remove excess grease (unless you prefer grease-soaked, burger buns). Place the mushrooms on top and any other fixings you prefer, and enjoy!

I would like to state for the record that the pink serving plate with the big flower is NOT, I repeat, NOT mine. I live in a furnished apartment, so yeah, not mine. I would never voluntarily own anything pink! 😛

Hamburger Buns/Light Brioche Buns

adapted from Smitten Kitchen
Yield: Eight 4- to 5-inch (10-12 cm) burger buns

1 cup (250 ml) warm water (~100 degrees F/38 degrees C) (I do not have a thermometer here, so I know it is ready if I can swirl my finger around in the warm water without feeling too uncomfortable.)
3 Tbsp (44 ml) warm milk
2 tsp (7 gms) active dry yeast (or 25 g/one cube of fresh yeast)
2 1/2 Tbsp (28 gms) granulated or caster sugar
2 large eggs, room temperature
3 cups (381 gms) bread flour (farina di grano tenero per pane)
1/3 cup (42 gms) all-purpose or wheat flour
1 1/2 tsp (7.5 gms) table salt
2 1/2 Tbsp (35 gms) unsalted butter, softened
Sesame seeds (optional)

  • Yeast Activation and Variation: If using active, dry yeast or fresh yeast: In a glass-measuring cup or a bowl, combine warm water, milk, yeast and sugar. Let stand until bubbly for about five minutes. If there is no bubbling/foamy activity after 4-5 minutes, the yeast is most likely dead due to hot water or accidental introduction of salt. DO NOT PROCEED with the recipe, if the yeast is dead. Just start over. It is better to lose these 4 ingredients than to lose all that flour, butter, and time waiting for the dead dough to rise (it won’t…at least not enough). If using instant yeast: simply mix ALL ingredients, except for sesame seeds, together. There is no need to leave it in warm water for 5 minutes (most dry yeast powders I have encountered in Italy follow this method.).
  • In a large bowl, whisk flours with salt. Add butter and rub into flour between your fingers, making crumbs. Using a dough scraper, stir in yeast mixture and beaten egg until a dough forms. Scrape dough onto clean, lightly-floured counter (despite what many bread recipes state, try to use as little flour as possible to yield a more tender, hydrated bread) and knead by scooping dough up, slapping it on counter and turning it, until smooth and elastic, 8 – 10 minutes. The dough will be on the sticky side so be patient, and stay away from the bench flour! The dough is ready when it bounces back when you touch it or it creates a think film when you stretch a piece of it. However, if you kneaded consistently for 8-10 minutes, it is definitely ready.
  • Shape dough into a ball, put a little bit of oil in the same mixing bowl, and place the dough in the bowl. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap, clean shower cap, or a clean towel and allow it to rise in a warm place until doubled in bulk for about one to two hours.(If you do not plan to make the buns immediately, you can place the covered dough in the refrigerator for 3-4 days. If it inflates too much, GENTLY push down the dough. Take the dough out 1-2 hours (depending on the temperature of the room) before you bake it.)
  • Line a baking sheet with parchment/oven paper or Silpat. Using a knife or a dough scraper, divide dough into 8 equal parts (use a scale!).Gently roll each into a ball, and arrange them 2-3 inches (5 to 8 cms) apart on baking sheet. Cover loosely with a piece of plastic/cling wrap lightly coated in oil or nonstick spray, and allow buns to rise in a warm place for 1-2 hours. (I froze half of my bun balls (haha). When I’m ready to use them, I will put them in the fridge one day before then take them out of the fridge 1-2 hours before baking them.)
  • Preheat oven to 400 F (200 C) with rack in center. Beat remaining egg with one Tbsp (15 ml) water and brush some on top of buns. Alternatively, you could brush on the egg and then with your fingers, spray water on top while in the hot oven to create steam and bubbles on top of the bread, which is what I did). Sprinkle with sesame seeds, if using.
  • Bake for approximately 15 minutes. They should be golden brown. Transfer to a rack to cool completely.
Copyright – Memoria James – http://www.mangioeviaggiodasola.com

Bacon, Egg, & Cheese Quesadillas and An Award!

My lame attempt to “tell a story” through a food photo. Before leaving for Brazil, his home country, my friend lent me this collection of works from Mark Twain. I cannot wait to read it!

I rarely eat bacon, but I had some in the refrigerator that needed to be used up. Also, I never buy store-bought flour tortillas since homemade ones are so much better, but my mom was too impatient to wait for me to make some for her, so she bought some instead. Therefore, I took advantage of her impatience and frustration with my laziness by making these quesadillas with her tortillas.

While they tasted amazing. I was just missing one thing – salsa. There weren’t anymore tomatoes in the house, and I didn’t feel like going anywhere, so I had to eat them as is. If you decide to make these yummy, simple quesadillas, please make sure you have some homemade or store-bought salsa on hand. I’m sure that cold, red, flavorful concoction would amp these quesadillas up a few notches.

Versatile Blogger Award: 

I was so blessed to be awarded by Lynne of Cook and Be Merry a few days ago, and I feel so honored to be awarded by such a talented blogger and food photographer. Her photos are so bright and clear; the presentation is lovely as well. I can only wish that I could photograph as well and consistently good as she does. One day I’ll get there, though. Anyway, thank you so much for the award, Lynne!!

The guidelines for accepting this award are:

Thank the person who gave it to you.
Tell 7 things about yourself.
Pass the award on to 15 bloggers whom you have recently discovered and think are fantastic.

So, here are seven facts about me:

1. On my mother’s side of the family, I am an only child and was raised as such since my dad wasn’t around.
2a. I changed my last name to my mother’s last name so that she could get all the credit for how awesome I was to become! 😀
2b. I am humble. LOL
3. Despite what I wrote in #2, I have very low self-esteem.
4. When people write or say “anyway” with an “s” at the end, my mother and I cringe.
5. I have been in a tumultuous, yet amorous relationship with a woman for more than 10 years off and on.
6. Even though I don’t write well, I love to talk about grammar more than any other topic, including cooking and baking.
7. I detest watermelon and very rarely eat fried chicken despite the racial stereotype ;).

I am passing along this award to the following 15 bloggers I have recently discovered. However, I won’t be hurt if you were chosen yet don’t feel like participating. I know how it is.

  1. Hilah Cooking – I love her personality on the videos and the fact that we live in the same city.
  2. Namely Marly – The lady obsessed with names (including mine!) and vegan cooking. She is so lovely!
  3. Asopaipas – He comments on each and every post I create, and I adore him for that, the fact that his native language is Spanish, and that he shares great, simple dishes. ¡Este premio es especialmente para ti, José Manuel! Gracias por ser un lector tan fiel.
  4. Like Mother Like Daughters – One of the daughters of this blog was a student of mine! I adore her and the fact that this blog is written by her, her sister, and her mother. 
  5. Jessiker Bakes – This woman loves sweets even more than I do! I love to see what she makes.
  6. Scrambledhenfruit – I discovered her lovely blog because of the paella pan giveaway, and she actually won! 
  7. Baked Bree – I’ve been going to Bree’s lovely blog for a little while now. I love how bright and clear her process photos are. I’m constantly envious of how much light she gets in her kitchen.
  8. Frieda Loves Bread – She makes bread as much I wish I could make bread. Seriously.
  9. Ambrosia e Nettare – Check out the lemon cheesecake on this blog! Complimenti, Lucia!
  10. Cake on the Brain – The name of the blog itself tells you why I included this one on the list. YUM!
  11. Jolts & Jollies – Another fellow Daring Cook! I love her process photos.
  12. One Cake Two Cake – The blog title lured me in. Then the photos of yummy desserts kept me there.
  13. TheArdentEpicure – Run, not walk to this website, and check out the enchiladas. Goodness!
  14. Baking Powders – I love the title and the blog. Fantastic large photos and delectable treats. YUM!
  15. i am mommy – I’m sure just about everyone knows about this blog. Her treats are so AMAZING!

And there you have it! Remember, this is a list of recently-discovered blogs, so there are a LOAD of amazing blogs I’ve known about for a long time that I didn’t include here. Have a great week, everyone!

Bacon, Egg, and Cheese Quesadillas
Yield: 2-3 quesadillas

3 – 4 strips of bacon
1 1/2 – 2 Tbsps unsalted butter, separated
2 eggs
salt and pepper to taste (don’t use too much salt because of the bacon and cheese)
1/2 – 3/4 cups of monterey jack or cheddar cheese
4-6 taco-sized flour tortillas (homemade or storebought)

Prepare the bacon on a clean skillet. At the same time, prepare the eggs in another skillet after melting the half a Tbsp of butter. Lightly season the eggs with salt and pepper. Set the bacon and eggs aside.

Wipe the skillet that had the bacon in it clean with a paper towel, and place half of a Tbsp of butter in there. After the butter has melted, place one tortilla in the skillet; add some of the eggs and bacon. Add half (or a third if making 3 quesadillas) of the cheese on top of the bacon and eggs. Place a second tortilla on top of the mixture. Grill the tortilla for about 2-4 minutes per side until both sides have browned and the insides are melted. Repeat the process with the other tortillas. Serve with fresh salsa. YUM!

Copyright – Memoria James – http://www.mangiodasola.com

Old-Fashioned Bacon Meatloaf

Why do so many cooks still act like they assume only women cook? For instance, aside from using “y’all” all of the time, Paula Deen frequently addresses her audience as “ladies” or “women” even though she has two sons who love to cook. On Spanish-speaking cooking shows, the male and female hosts address the audience as “señoras” (“ladies” or “women”). I just don’t get it; it is so frustrating to me. Click here for more…

Another related pet peeve of mine is when people say something like “Oh, this [insert comfort dish] is just like how your mom or grandma used to make.” ARGH!!!! Most of my readers know that I am proud that my mom doesn’t know how and doesn’t like to cook. My dad, on the other hand, was a great cook before he had his stroke. Just because someone is female doesn’t automatically mean she should be in the kitchen, and contradicting examples of that assumption are everywhere!!
I only mention these pet peeves of mine because it reminds me of this meatloaf. This wonderful, flavorful, moist, amazing meatloaf was inspired by the recipe on Paula Deen’s website and Food Network. According to her site, the meatloaf has two titles: “Old-Fashioned Meatloaf” and “Basic Meat Loaf Recipe” and some of the cooks/readers wrote comments about how it tastes just like mom or grandma used to make. WHATEVER THAT MEANS!! A meatloaf from my mom would be…well….Mother’s Day is coming up, so I will just fill that blank with “I LOVE YOU, MOM!”

I modified this meatloaf recipe so much that I can no longer say it is from or even adapted from the “Lady PD” (hehe), so I’ll just say that it was inspired from her recipe. My version is a bit more involved than that of Paula Deen, but I think it is much more flavorful because I cooked the veggies, added another type of ground meat along with crispy bacon. The broken-up bacon pieces add a great contrast to the soft texture of the meat!
I added Worcestershire sauce to the glaze, and just put it over the top of the loaf. I accompanied the meatloaf with a quick version of the mashed potato recipe on Pioneer Woman. It was quicker because I didn’t bake it after mashing and heating up the potato mixture over the stove. Not baking the potato mixture made the mashed potatoes much smoother. Lastly, in order to incorporate more veggies in my diet (yes, you’re still on my blog hehe), I made a simple salad with Romaine lettuce, fresh tomatoes, cheese, and Ranch dressing.

I hope you make this dish. It is so comforting and adaptable. It tastes just like how your mom, dad, grandma, grandpa, aunt, uncle, cousin, OR favorite restaurant used to make it LOL!

Old-Fashioned Bacon Meatloaf
recipe inspired by Paula Deen’s recipe on Food Network
5-8 pieces of bacon
1/2 large onion, chopped
2-3 garlic cloves, peeled and chopped
1 green bell pepper, chopped
2 stalks of celery, chopped
1 handful of fresh (or dried) parsley, chopped
1 lb ground beef
1 lb ground pork (you could also use more beef, ground turkey, veal, or chicken)
1 1/4 teaspoon Kosher or seasoning salt
1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper
2 eggs, lightly beaten, room temperature
2 freshly cut tomatoes or 16 oz canned, diced tomatoes (w/o juice) (I cut 2 fresh tomatoes)
1 cup quick-cooking oats

2/3 cup ketchup
4 tablespoons brown sugar
2 tablespoon yellow mustard (or Dijon, if you like that flavor)
1-2 Tbsp Worcestershire sauce

Preheat oven to 375 degrees F. Render the fat from the bacon in a skillet. Remove bacon and set aside. Place chopped veggies (I chopped the veggies together in the food processor) in the bacon fat, and cook until translucent. Allow veggie mixture to cool, and prepare the rest of the ingredients.

Season the ground meat, and place it, along with the crispy bacon, eggs, tomatoes, and oats in a big bowl. With a slotted spoon, remove the cooled, cooked veggies on top of the meat mixture, and mix everything with your hands (using your hands helps prevent over-mixing and helps you feel when the mixture is fully amalgamated). Place mixture in a loaf pan, and shape or flatten it into a loaf.
Mix ingredients for topping and spread on loaf. Bake for 1 hour. (I accidentally placed the topping on the meatloaf AFTER baking it. You could put half of the mixture on the loaf before baking and the rest afterward. The sauce is so addicting!)

Copyright – Memoria James – http://www.mangiodasola.com