Still cooking in Seattle…
Lordy, lordy, where did all this food come from? Oh, yeah. We bought it and toted it up here.
Well, waste not, want not, little goomers. It was time to use up whatever we could.
Breakfast was easy. I can pull together berries and cream without needing to be awake. The blackberries and raspberries were large and luscious and flavorful. Michele had already taken care of several containers of the ugly, but fabulous, strawberries. It was a good thing we left Seattle when we did, or I would have had to investigate a 12 step program for her new addiction to those little red juicy bits of pleasure.
No seafood was left, and the only meat in the refrigerator was a little of the cooked Italian sausage. I had fried up the bacon and used it to make a really quick and easy cross between a carbonara sauce and an Alfredo sauce. We’ll call it Carbon-Alf. Even Ken, who normally isn’t a pasta lover, gave it high marks. How it escaped the ever-present lens of our cameras, I have no idea, but I can describe it for you and you can conjure up a vision in your head. Just imagine sugarplum fairies, but different.
Use your kitchen scissors to cut up a pound of bacon into 1/2 inch pieces. Place the little shards of nature’s perfect food (yes, I am referring to bacon. Duh!) into a cold skillet, turn the heat to medium, and fry until the bacon is nicely browned. Lift the pieces out with tongs and place them on a plate which has been covered with a couple of layers of paper towel to drain. Pour all the bacon grease but one tablespoon into your bacon grease keeper. (What do you mean, you don’t have one? Oh, dear heavens, please don’t tell me you throw bacon grease away! We’ll have to discuss this at a later point in time.)
Throw two tablespoons of minced garlic into the bacon grease over low heat. Put a pot of water on to boil for pasta. See, you’re multi-tasking already! After a couple of minutes you will slowly add a tablespoon of butter and 1 1/2 cups of cream (to the bacon grease — not the water!). In the meantime, watch out — those little nuggets of garlic will try to impersonate Rice Krispies from the “Snap, Crackle, Pop” commercials, so be sure you have your protective gear, i.e., apron, firmly in place. Stir the bacon grease. Wait. That is a terrible sounding term. I’m going to call it essence of bacon from now on, so stir your essence of bacon, butter, and cream together as you heat it just to the boiling point. Turn it down to simmer at that point and simmer five or ten minutes. Throw your pasta into the water, which should be boiling now.
If you have a tankless hot water heater, like we do, one of the cool things is that you can use really hot water right out of the tap to start with and getting from that point to boiling takes a very few minutes. If you have a regular hot water heater, don’t do it! They’re full of sediment and when you turn on the hot water tap and fill your pan, you’re getting more than you bargained for. If you can’t start with hot water, use a lid on your pan to speed up the process of bringing the water to a boil. Just remember to leave off the lid while the pasta is actually cooking or you’ll have a starchy little mess. Experiment, if you don’t believe moi.
As your essence of bacon and cream mixture is nearing the end of its cooking time, add a cup or cup and a half of really good shredded or grated Italian cheeses. When I’m home, I buy a four cheese Italian blend in a big tub, but you can pick and choose and go with one type, or several, grate it by hand, or whatever. The mission, should you choose to accept it, is to get the cheese into the skillet and allow it to slowly melt into your cream sauce.
Drain your cooked pasta. If your timing’s off and the pasta is done too early, pull it out of the pan with tongs, leaving the hot water behind. Keep the water in the pan hot while your pasta sits in the colander draining. When it’s almost time to serve, throw the pasta back in the hot water for just a minute or two, then pour the water and pasta through the colander. You end up with hot pasta that is not overcooked.
At this point, you have choices. You could mix the pasta into the sauce, or you could put the pasta on the plate and ladle the sauce on top. Purely personal preference. Either way, sprinkle the bacon pieces on top. You may also want a bit of parsley for color.
You are probably nervous with anticipation over the answer to the question “Do we really use the ENTIRE pound of bacon?” The answer is . . . no. You use a third or a half (this recipe should easily make pasta for four) and sequester the rest in a baggie to be deployed later in a salad or an omelette, or even in chocolate cookies. Yes, we had a contestant from Oklahoma in the Pillsbury Bakeoff who whipped up a batch of chocolate cookies with a surprise. The surprise in her cookie, in case you weren’t following my drift, was none other than nature’s perfect food, so don’t be thinking I’m nuts. I’m just planting seeds in ground that has already been plowed.
The pasta was perfect on a day that was overcast and cool, and sliced tomatoes tasted exquisite with it as a side dish. Next time, I’ll take a picture and you can let me know how it well it matches your mental image.
Squash blossoms are ever so delicate. Ideally, they should be picked early in the morning when they are open wide and stuffed before they close. Ours were looking a little long in the tooth, but they’re hard to acquire, so I was not inclined to want to pitch them.
I pulled out the Italian sausage and gave it a rough chop. I grabbed the leftover sour cream/cream cheese herb mixture we had made a couple of days earlier. A beaten egg, the blossoms, and CarbQuick (flour) seasoned with salt, pepper, paprika, garlic powder, completed my ingredient list.
The sausage and cream cheese mixture got stirred together and stuffed inside the tender petals of the blossom. My food prep gloved hand (no way was I touching a mixture like this without them) then dipped the flowers into the beaten egg and rolled them in the seasoned CarbQuick mixture. (Did I mention that I had preheated my skillet, then covered the bottom of it with about 1/2 inch of canola oil? Well, that’s what I had done.)
I fried the blossoms at about 375 (which is probably medium high, depending on the stove) in the skillet until they were golden. I thinned out the remaining cream cheese mixture with much more sour cream, so it was considerably thinner, and added about a teaspoon of dry Good Seasons dressing mix to about a cup of the sour cream mixture. This “dip” got plopped into the bottom of a margarita glass, my blossoms went on top, and I garnished the living daylights out of it with whatever was laying around, including lemon pinwheels I had made and had intended to put on the shrimp scampi, but forgot.
So, we came to the final evening and we would be eating out. For the record, the guys had Cioppino and loved it. Whatever I ordered was not the least bit memorable. I can’t recall what Michele had either.
We still had food left at the condo, but it wasn’t prepared food, it was more like raw ingredients. Still, I couldn’t bear the thought of seeing it go to waste, so I pretended I was a painter and fashioned a still life of what remained and photographed it endlessly. Those were very photogenic fruits and veggies, I must say. The result was just like a class picture where everyone actually smiled.
The next morning, it was time to leave. The set of instructions for how we were to leave the condo was almost comical. We had to dispose of the trash according to the rigid recycling rules in Seattle, strip the beds, gather up dirty towels and deposit them on the kitchen floor. Vacuum, straighten. It was to be left the way we found it. Good thing we had pictures… We even left behind a few items that will be of benefit to the next occupant, such as a couple of vases, some dish towels, and a pepper mill full of pepper. Good karma for us, don’t you think?
I held the platter of remaining vegetables and fruits in my hand, poised above the trash can, ready to say goodbye. I couldn’t do it. I grabbed one of my carry-ons, stuffed the fresh matter into a bag, and packed it to take home. Perhaps I should disclose how it is we came to have room in any of our suitcases. You can attribute that to two visits to The UPS Store. On one occasion alone, we shipped home 81 pounds of God-knows-what. What else could we do?
Finally, we were at the airport. No dinging from the machine as I walked through the security checkpoint. My bag, however, was another story. The nice TSA gentleman pointed to one of the pieces of luggage I was planning to carry on and said, “Ma’am, it appears you have liquids in here. I am going to have to subject it to a hand search.” “It’s fine to search it,” I replied, “but I assure you I coughed up my liquids (all in 3 oz. bottles or smaller) in that one quart baggie that already passed through. In this bag, you’ll find shallots, fennel, artichokes, baby bok choy, tomatoes, and a fig or two.” After confirming my story, he zipped up the bag and sweetly asked, “What time is dinner?”
So, there’s our trip. Here’s your postcard.
It was definitely time to go home, but we have so much left to tell you about our garnish escapades, plus we just have to share with you some of the indispensable tools you simply must have in your kitchen. Seattle was only the beginning. The gourmet adventure continues. Stay tuned!