Monday, December 10, 2012

Alfredo Sauce: The Recipe

After my #1 reader (thanks, Mom!) informed me that I was slacking on my blog, I decided (well, she decided) that it would be smart to take a little holiday, so this will be my last entry until after the holidays. To keep it sweet and simple, I decided to take on Alfredo Sauce, which holds a sweet memory in my mind as the food I ate at the Olive Garden the day of my middle school graduation. That dry, summery San Diego afternoon, I sat surrounded by family, sipping on an Italian soda, sharing food and laughter over the large dining table. It truly did look like an Olive Garden commercial... "When you're here, you're family."
This is something that I will always love about food. No matter how old you get, how refined your palate becomes, or how many "better" versions of a dish you experience, any food memory has the power to extract vivid moments in time and bring them into the present. It's the sort of thing, as my cousin Lorri so eloquently puts it, that makes you go:
Of course, my smile faded a bit when I looked at the ingredients and realized it was butter plus cream plus cheese (and a few extras). So I turned to one of my favorite parts of America's Test Kitchen Feed, the section called It Doesn't Taste Low Fat. They did not let me down, and I was able to find an Alfredo Sauce recipe "minus 261 calories and 31 grams of fat." Let's see how it fares for this week's memorized family dinner.

The Recipe: Lower-Fat Fettucini Alfredo, adapted from Cook's Country on America's Test Kitchen Feed
Yield: 4 servings

Ingredients:
  • 1 tbsp. unsalted butter
  • 2 tsp. all-purpose flour
  • ¾ cup whole milk
  • ¼ cup half-and-half
  • 1 garlic clove, peeled and lightly crushed
  • Salt and pepper
  • Pinch nutmeg
  • 1 cup grated parmesan cheese
  • 1 (9-ounce) package fresh fettuccine

Preparation:
  • Bring 4 quarts of water to a boil.
  • Meanwhile, heat butter over medium heat in large saucepan until foaming. 
  • Whisk in flour until mixture is smooth and golden, 1 to 2 minutes. 
  • Whisk in milk, half-and- half, garlic, ½ teaspoon salt, ½ teaspoon pepper, and nutmeg and bring to simmer. 
  • Reduce heat to medium-low and simmer until sauce is slightly thickened, 1 to 2 minutes. 
  • Discard garlic, stir in Parmesan, and remove from heat.
  • Stir 1 tablespoon salt and pasta into boiling water and cook, stirring constantly, until al dente, 2 to 3 minutes. 
  • Reserve 1 cup pasta cooking water, then drain pasta.
  • Return sauce to low heat, add ⅓ cup pasta water and cooked pasta; toss until evenly coated. 
  • Cook until sauce has thickened slightly, about 1 minute. 
  • Add more cooking water as needed to thin sauce to proper consistency and adjust seasonings.
  • Serve immediately.
Time to Memorize: 3 days

Sunday, December 9, 2012

Ethiopian Feast: The Results and Modified Recipes

Serve family style on a "plate" of injera
The Process:
The process of memorizing the four different Ethiopian dishes (besides the injera) came down to minuscule but significant differences. Essentially every dish I prepared looked like a variation of this basic recipe:


  1. Heat 1/4 cup oil with finely chopped onions, garlic, ginger, and spices
  2. Cook for 10 minutes or so, stirring frequently
  3. Add the main ingredient and some water
  4. Cook until it is soft but not watery, about 30-40 minutes, stirring frequently

Somehow this process allowed me to make four very different tasting dishes. As long as I remembered all of the small variations (red vs. yellow onion, which spices to use for each dish, and what the main ingredient is), the rest was either based on the pattern above or just made sense (I know what it means for something to be soft but not watery, so I don't have to memorize the cook times).


Misir Wat: Red Lentils with Berbere
(red lentils, red onion, and berbere/nigella set this dish apart)
Kik Alicha: Split Peas (split peas, yellow onion, no berbere,
and turmeric/cardamom make this dish different from the Misir Wat)
Like I mentioned in my last post, as soon as all the spices are secured (I spent about $30 for a good supply of berbere, nigella, turmeric, cardamom, and shiro), the other ingredients are not expensive at all. Also, these dishes can be made in enormous batches, so the hour-long preparation time is well worth it if you enjoy leftovers.

The Verdict:

This story has a sad beginning and a happy ending. I had let the injera batter sit overnight (I realized that the volume and weight measurements were woefully inaccurate on the Food & Wine recipe-- 4 cups do not equal 5 ounces-- so I used the measurement that made most sense, volume). I prepared the hot pan, poured in the batter, let it bubble (the top looked really good!), covered it for 30 seconds, and flipped the injera out onto a wooden cutting board to cool only to find that the bottom of the injera was still soaking wet. It was like a pancake that had just been put on the griddle. In other words, it was gross. Determined to make my own injera despite this set back, I started experimenting. I'll spare you the details, but it basically went like this:


  • Attempt #1: 1/2 cup batter in hot dry pan
  • Attempt #2: 1/2 cup batter in hot dry pan (expecting different results... am I insane?)
  • Attempt #3: 1/4 cup batter in hot dry pan
  • Attempt #4: 1/2 cup batter in pan with safflower oil
  • Attempt #5: Mixed 1 cup of coconut flour into the batter, then 1/2 cup batter in hot dry pan
All of the results ended up on my cutting board in a sad clump of sadness (I do believe that is the appropriate culinary term). My roommate walked by, gave an impressed nod at the cutting board, and when hearing that my bread was terrible, said, "Oh... that's not meat?" Ouch.

Left: The meat-like remains of failed injera attempts
Center: The watery batter
Right: The way I felt 
My other two roommates saved dinner by running to our nearest Ethiopian restaurant, Queen of Sheba, which sadly does not have gluten-free injera. My gluten-free friend would just have to settle with rice, because I was NOT feeding her the abomination of a pancake that I had made out of teff flour.

Now you know the sad beginning of my story, but the happy ending is short and sweet:
  • The other food was awesome (we all had favorites, but at least one person dubbed each dish their favorite)
  • The Queen of Sheba injera was amazing, as usual
  • We had two new family dinner guests
  • We had very few dishes to wash-- 4 pots and 2 serving trays
I am still determined to find a gluten-free injera recipe that works, but until that happens I must respectfully veto the reappearance of the Food & Wine injera recipe on this blog. All others can be found without modifications on the Ethiopian Feast: The 5 Recipes page.

Grab a piece of injera, scoop the filling you want, and enjoy.
No silverware, no plates, no problem!