Food. Then came the blog

After some agonizing over the subject/content of my first blog post, I’ve decided to post about what I’ve been doing a lot lately: cooking. Ever since discovering the Food Network in college, I’ve been trying out recipes here and there but ever since getting married, I’ve been cooking a lot more, because let’s face it, cooking for two is so much more rewarding than cooking for one. Plus I get to use all my fancy schmancy kitchen gadgets from our wedding registry which makes cooking so much more fun and convenient. Not to mention, it helps to have a husband who loves to eat!

To get this blog off the ground, a good friend volunteered to help me with the technical stuff. So of course I had to feed him a good meal since he was doing me a huge favor (I’m not tech savvy. AT ALL.) So without further ado, this is what I made the day caraparkliving.com was born. (Sorry for the atrocious photo quality, courtesy of the iphone, unsteady hands, and eager stomachs. Hoping for a better camera soon and therefore much better photos on the blog in the future!)

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Pasta bolognese and my specialty pizza, arugula pesto. Recipes below.

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Pasta Bolognese
(Adapted from Anne Burrell)
Serves 6 – 8

Ingredients:
1 large onion or 2 small
2 large carrots
3 ribs celery
4 cloves garlic
Extra-virgin olive oil
Kosher salt
3 pounds ground beef
1 – 2 cups tomato paste
3 cups red wine
Water
3 bay leaves (if you don’t have bay leaves, italian seasoning or any kind of dry herbs can substitute)
1 pound spaghetti or spaghetti squash (for a healthier, lighter version)
1/2 cup grated Parmigiano-Reggiano (or any kind of Parmesan cheese)

Directions:

In a food processor, puree onion, carrots, celery, and garlic into a coarse paste (if you don’t have a food processor, cut into small dice). In a large pan over medium heat, coat pan with oil and add the pureed veggies. Season generously with salt. Bring the pan to a medium-high heat and cook until veggies are nice and brown, stirring frequently, about 15 to 20 minutes. Set the cooked veggies aside and add the ground beef to the pan. Again, season generously with salt. Cook the beef for another 15 to 20 minutes until it’s nice and brown. Add the veggies back into the pan with the beef and add the tomato paste and stir for another 4 to 5 minutes. Add the red wine. Cook until the wine has reduced by half, another 4 to 5 minutes. (If you haven’t noticed, this recipe required a bit of patience. Cooking down each ingredient well is crucial to the final flavor so be patient!)

Add water to the pan until the water is about 1 inch above the meat. Toss in the bay leaves (or any dry herbs you have in your pantry) and stir to combine everything. Bring to a boil and reduce to a simmer, stirring occasionally. As the water evaporates, gradually add more water, about 2 to 3 cups at a time. This step of adding and reducing water is where big rich flavors develop. If you try to add all the water in the beginning you will have boiled meat sauce rather than a rich, thick meaty sauce. Stir and taste as you go. Season with salt, if needed (you probably will). Simmer for 30 minutes to an hour. The longer you simmer, the better and richer the end flavors will be!

During the last 30 minutes of cooking, bring a large pot of water to a boil over high heat to cook the spaghetti. Be sure to salt the pasta water really well! If your pasta water is under seasoned, your pasta will be under seasoned, and your complete dish will taste under seasoned. When the water is at a rolling boil add the spaghetti and cook to al dente, or 1 minute less than what it calls for on the package. Turn the ragu off the heat and sprinkle the Parmigiano generously over it and stir well. Divide the pasta and sauce into serving bowls or 1 big pasta bowl. Top with remaining grated Parmigiano (I also add whatever I have on hand to top it off with the cheese, parsley or arugula if I have some in the fridge). Serve immediately.

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Arugula Pesto Pizza with Mushrooms and Caramelized Onions
Serves 2 – 3

There’s several steps involved for this dish: making the arugula pesto and pizza dough. I keep the arugula pesto on hand in the fridge at all times for various things (you’ll be seeing it pop up a lot in my recipes) and pre-baked pizza dough in the freezer which makes putting together this dish a breeze.

Arugula Pesto
(From Giada De Laurentiis)

2 cups packed arugula
1 clove garlic, peeled and halved
1/2 cup olive oil
1/2 cup grated Parmesan
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

For the pesto, blend the arugula and garlic in a food processor until finely chopped. With the machine running, gradually add the oil until well blended. Transfer to a large bowl and stir in the Parmesan and salt and pepper.

Pizza Dough
(From Ina Garten)

1 1/4 cups warm (100 to 110 degrees F) water
2 packages dry yeast
1 tablespoon honey
3 tablespoons good olive oil
4 cups all-purpose flour, plus extra for kneading
2 teaspoons kosher salt

For the dough, combine the water, yeast, honey, and olive oil in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with a dough hook. Add 3 cups flour, then the salt, and mix. While mixing, add 1 more cup of flour, or enough to make a soft dough. Knead the dough on low to medium speed for about 10 minutes until smooth, sprinkling it with flour, if necessary, to keep it from sticking to the bowl.When the dough is ready, turn it out onto a floured board and knead by hand a dozen times. It should be smooth and elastic. Place the dough in a well-oiled bowl and turn it several times to cover it lightly with oil. Cover the bowl with a kitchen towel. Allow the dough to rest at room temperature for 30 minutes. The dough from this recipe can be divided into two pizzas on two sheet pans (each serves 2 – 3 people).

Whew, now that’s all done, let’s get to the actual pizza.

Pizza ingredients:
1 cup arugula
1 cup sliced mushrooms (any kind will do)
1 onion
2 – 3 strips bacon
1 cup mozzarella cheese
1 cup Parmesan cheese
1 tbs balsamic vinegar

Pizza assembly:
Cut the onions into thin slices and toss them into a pan with oil on medium heat. Season the onions with salt and cook the onions on low heat for 10 – 15 minutes. This is key! If you cook the onions quickly over medium or high heat, they will saute and not caramelize. Cooking them over low heat allows them to soften slowly and release their natural sweetness. Once the onions are brown and soft, add the balsamic vinegar. This will give the onions a tangy sweetness. Set the onions aside to cool and add the bacon to the pan. Cook the bacon on medium heat until crispy, about 3 – 5 minutes. Once the bacon is cooled, cut them into bite sized pieces.

On the rolled out dough (I roll it out to the size of my baking sheet), spread a layer of the arugula pesto. Sprinkle half of the mozzarella and half of the Parmesan. Evenly distribute the caramelized onions, mushrooms, and bacon over the cheese. Put the pizza into a preheated oven on 375 degrees for about 10 – 15 minutes. Take the pizza out and top it with the fresh arugula and finish off the pizza with the remaining cheese over the arugula. Pop it back into the oven for another 5 minutes until the arugula is slightly wilted and the cheese is melted. Serve immediately and enjoy!

So, with satisfied stomachs and the table cleared of plates, we got down to business and this blog was born. A big thank you to all those who put up with me while I rambled on about launching this blog for months, gave me amazing ideas, and tons of support to make it a reality! If this post is any indication, food will definitely be a big part of caraparkliving as I dig deep into my inner Nate Berkus, Martha Stewart, and Ina Garten while chronicling my journey towards a greener, less cluttered, “less stuff, more meaningful experiences and relationships” life!

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