Thursday, February 26, 2009

Fresh Pasta

After the rigors of hand rolling pasta dough for ravioli only to find that, as thin as it was, it was still way too thick, Brett and I decided to get a pasta rolling machine.  We had a Williams Sonoma gift card from Christmas (thanks Bob and Nan!) so that is where we bought ours.  It is bright red, which I love!  I spent Wednesday afternoon "seasoning the machine" to get rid of little bits of dust and metal that collected inside during manufacturing.  I got a preview of what rolling the pasta would be like and I realized that it would be advantageous to have a third (or maybe even fourth) hand.

By the time Brett (a.k.a. my third and fourth hands) arrived home, I had almost all my prep done for the entire meal.  We eagerly got to work.  Now just because we used a machine does not mean that it took all the work out of it.  Rolling pasta is still an incredibly involved process and probably took the same amount of time as rolling it by hand.  The advantages are that there is no physical exertion and the dough is rolled evenly to the proper thickness.  I fed the dough into the machine while Brett cranked.  Usually Brett is a "slow and steady wins the race" kind of guy in the kitchen, but he must have been hungry (or maybe he was just having fun) because he cranked that thing really fast!

Once the rolled dough had rested, we began cutting it.  This time I cranked (slowly) while Brett caught the fettuccine.

Strangely, Brett is not big on pasta.  He doesn't like tomato sauces, cream sauces, or pesto sauces.   You'd think that finding a pasta recipe that he will agree to would be hard, but I pretty much just opened my Bon Appetit Cookbook to the pasta section and found one right away: "Perciatelli with Shrimp and Garlic Breadcrumbs."  Obviously, we used fettuccine instead.  I made fresh breadcrumbs and sauteed them with some garlic in olive oil until they were crispy.  Then I sauteed the shrimp and some more garlic in olive oil while the pasta was cooking and tossed in some lemon zest at the very end.

The pasta was supposed to float to the top when it finished cooking and that didn't take long at all.  We thought we were going to have a giant "oops" on our hands, but everything stayed in the pot.

I didn't think that since I had halved the rest of the recipe, that I should probably half the amount of pasta as well, so we just dumped all of the pasta in.  Oh well.

My first comment about the pasta dish was that it was "inoffensive." Everything about it was mild and subtle.  Which is a good thing.  Perhaps if we had used less pasta there would have been stronger flavors, but I would hope that they wouldn't be too strong.  We both gave it the thumbs up, and I have leftovers for lunch today.  I usually don't get too excited about leftovers, but this time I am.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

The Sharper Your Knife, the Less You Cry

I can finally check The Sharper Your Knife, the Less You Cry by Kathleen Flinn off my reading list and (if you haven't read it already) I highly recommend putting it on yours.

The book chronicles the author's time earning a diploma at Le Cordon Bleu in Paris and her personal growth along the way.  It is not only funny, heart warming, and educational, but it also inspires the reader to do what they love and to not waste precious life being stuck in a rut.  

I have casually toyed with the idea of going to culinary school, but after reading this book I am thoroughly convinced that I would go for pastry only.  Pastry does not involve scaling, gutting, killing, or chopping the head off of anything.  If I was wincing just reading about those things, there's no way I could physically accomplish them.  The author claims that she was eventually desensitized, but I can't see myself ever getting to that point.

One aspect of the book that I can relate to is that cooking is personal.  The author's food gets verbally bashed by one of the head chefs at one part of the story when her sauce was really no worse than anyone else's.  Cooking for others involves putting your heart (and ego) on the line.  If someone doesn't like your food, its kind of like a part of you is insulted.  There's the cliche "secret ingredient" of love that gets put into every meal so maybe that's why it feels so personal.  That's why I relish getting complimented on my cooking (even if I've made it a thousand times) and I always try to genuinely compliment something when I eat someone else's food.  I understand that it's more than a common courtesy.

There's much more that I can say about this wonderful book, but I'd rather you just read it and experience it for yourself!

Saturday, February 14, 2009

Linzer Heart Cookies

Happy Valentine's Day everyone!  I've had my "heart" set on making these cookies for quite a while now and they are perfect for Valentine's Day.  They come from my Martha Stewart's Baking Handbook and they are just adorable in the picture.  (This is not exactly the same recipe I used, but it's very close)

The dough sounded incredibly interesting.  It contained the usual suspects of butter, sugar, flour, eggs, vanilla, baking powder, and salt, but the interesting parts were lemon zest (not too strange,) cinnamon, and a cup of ground hazelnuts (I did the grinding in my mini-food processor.)  I opted to use my stand mixer for making the dough, but I didn't quite lock the bowl in place so when I turned on the mixer the bowl jumped out.  Nothing spilled though and I was able to turn it off pretty quickly.

The dough chilled in the fridge for a few hours so when it was time to roll it out it was good and HARD!  I managed to muscle it flat and then chose to ignore the direction of putting it in the freezer before cutting out the cookies.  I don't think it mattered.  I cut out plain hearts first and then the top heart window pieces.  I did let them freeze for a few minutes before going into the oven (per the directions) and it actually made them much easier to transfer to a cookie sheet.  Brett was the assistant and helped mostly with the more delicate heart windows.  

Once they were cooled, I couldn't wait to assemble one for immediate consumption.  We set up a little powdered sugar station and a jelly station.  The recipe called for raspberry jelly, but we already had strawberry so we went with that.  Aren't they cute?!  They were also very tasty.  The hazelnuts give it an interesting flavor that I've never had in a cookie.  They are also the kind of cookie where one is enough, not because they aren't delicious, but because they are so big and filling.  YUM!

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Celebrate with Cherries

It's my blogiversary today!  I can't believe that I have been blogging for an entire year!  I have made some friends, found some great recipes, had more than a few laughs, and above all, I have really pushed myself in the kitchen.  Foolin' Around in the Kitchen has inspired me to try lots and lots of new recipes.  After all nobody wants to read (or write) about the same five things over and over again.  A year ago, I never would have thought that I would have a big jar of yeast in the fridge, that I would regularly make pizza dough from scratch, or that I would have made homemade ravioli.  It has been an incredible year!  Celebrate with me!

I had a wonderful dessert at Brett's aunt's house around Christmastime that was cooked in a crock pot.  When I like something, I usually ask for the recipe.  I was unprepared for the answer, "Oh it's so easy.  It's a can of cherry pie filling, some canned pears, a yellow cake mix, some butter and a packet of instant oatmeal.  It's on the Food Network website.  It's one of Sandra Lee's recipes!"  UGH Sandra Lee!  The one person that I have to turn off quicker than Rachael Ray.  There's just something about her that grates on me.  I think part of it is that her kitchen is redecorated for every episode.  And I can't stand her "tablescapes."  But I also think that her recipes are just too easy.  It's barely even cooking.  It's more like assembling.  So I almost just forgot all about the recipe, but tasting is believing, and this one was really good.

It is officially called Pear and Cherry Buckle but it's pretty much a dump cake.  There were only a few things that I changed in the recipe.  I swapped pears in syrup for pears in juice which I think made the final product a little thinner (next time I won't put all of the juice,) I put significantly less butter, and I left off the almonds.  You pretty much just plop everything in the crock pot and let it cook for 4-6 hours.

It turned out thinner than I remember, but it was oh so sweet and delicious.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Fried Rice

I have no idea why we don't make this more often but I'm pretty sure that now we will.  Brett and I both LOVE fried rice.  I MMMMMMMed all through dinner.  I can't even tell you the last time we made it (before last night of course.)  Not only is it delicious but it's also very very easy.  Although my mom's recipe is very good, Brett always insists on making his recipe which I think came from his sister and is also very good.  I think the peanut oil is the not-so-secret ingredient that really makes this fried rice so yummy .

Fried Rice
2 eggs beaten
3 T peanut oil
1 cup finely diced cooked ham
3 chopped green onions (put more if you like)
4 cups cold rice
2 T soy sauce
1/2 tsp sugar
1/2 tsp salt

Fry the beaten eggs in oil until firm.  Remove from heat and cut into shreds.  Cook meat and onions about 3 minutes.  Add rice and put the eggs back in .  Mix soy sauce, sugar and salt; dribble over rice.  Stir until rice is hot.

Friday, February 6, 2009

Pulled Pork Sandwiches

I will most likely order a pulled pork sandwich if it's on the menu in a restaurant.  I really like them.  The best one I've had lately (Brett's Dad is still talking about how good it was 3 months later) was from Karl Strauss here in San Diego.

I remembered seeing a recipe for pulled pork sandwiches on another one of my favorite blogs, Culinary Adventures of a New Wife, and found it in her archives under May.  That means I've had these sandwiches in the back of my brain for a very long time!  They were quite memorable because the pork tenderloin is cooked in root beer to tenderize the meat.

In order to make this I had to buy two things that rarely enter our household: a large hunk of raw meat and soda.  I was utterly disgusted by the raw pork tenderloin, but I managed to trim some of the fat off, get it seasoned, and into the crock-pot on top of some sliced onions before gagging.  I  poured a bottle of IBC root beer over the top and let it cook on low for 5 hours.

Usually I love using the crock-pot because it fills the apartment with such wonderful smells all day long, but this time it was just a weird, somewhat unappetizing smell all day long.  I pulled all the meat apart meticulously, doused it with BBQ sauce, and put it back in the crock-pot for another hour.

When it was time to eat, I was so hungry that I forgot to take a picture until I was a few bites in, so here's my half eaten sandwich.

It was delicious, except every once in a while the root beer flavor would come through and taste a little strange.  Overall, it was a big success though.  Thanks Sharon!

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

French Toast Oops

Think of the worst meal you could possibly drop on the floor... whatever you're thinking of has to rival what I dropped last night.

When I make Baked French Toast I soak the bread in a pyrex dish and then I stack all the sopping, eggy, milky bread in one precarious tower of death while I rinse out the pyrex and get it ready for baking.  The tower has fallen over before, but always onto the counter.  As I was stacking last night it did cross my mind that it looked more precarious than usual and sure enough, as soon as I turned my back to rinse the dish out, PLOP!

I yelled, "Oh no!" but of course Brett is used to hearing that, so it wasn't until the second, "Oh no," that he responded.  In the meantime I had picked up all of the bread pieces (5 second rule right?) and put them back where they came from but not stacked.  The floor was recently cleaned, and there was no visible debris so... into the oven it went.


(If you haven't read any of my other food on the floor stories then here are the links...yes links is plural.  Thai Veggie Pizza,  Floor Spaghetti)

Monday, February 2, 2009

Potato, Leek and Fennel Soup

I have been curious about fennel ever since my honeymoon (three years ago!)  At a restaurant we were served bread with some kind of spread that was delicious!  We asked what it was and were thoroughly confused when we were told "Sun Dried Tomato, Fennel Aioli."  We knew sun dried tomato but we had no idea what fennel or aioli was.  Since then I have watched a lot of cooking shows and looked at many blogs and learned a lot.  I was disgusted to find out that aioli is really just a fancy mayonnaise (one of my least favorite foods of all time.)  And I was also disappointed to hear that fennel has an anise flavor (black licorice is quite possible the grossest candy in existence.)  But because that spread was so good, my ears still perk up when I hear the word fennel.

I was thumbing through my Bon Appetit Cookbook and saw a recipe for Potato, Leek, and Fennel Soup.  I suggested it to Brett and he shot it down immediately because of the fennel.  He has also learned of its anise flavor which has completely scared him off.  Rather than turning the page, I decided that I would make the soup just for me for lunch during the week.  Brett wouldn't have to even look at it.

I had never worked with fennel before, so I was very excited.  I sauteed the chopped fennel and leeks in a tiny bit of butter, but I think they went a little too long because brown was starting to show in the bottom of the pot.  I deglazed with some chicken stock which made the soup a deep brown and then I threw the chopped red potatoes in to boil.

In the past I have had bad luck with pureed soups.  The  Spiced Squash and Apple Soup was one of a few that I've tried and have not been able to eat an entire bowl of.  Brett always gets stuck with the leftover pureed soup.  So you can imagine that when the recipe called to puree the soup I got nervous.  You might be thinking, "Just don't puree the soup!" but pureed soups pose a dilemma for me because I LOVE using my immersion blender.  Do I have fun using the blender and risk an inedible soup?  Or do I leave the blender in the cabinet and not have textural problems when eating?  Well, the blender won.

It made an already questionable soup look even less appetizing.  I don't even think the reserved fennel fronds for garnish could have helped this look good.  But I always value taste over appearance and I have to say that this is a keeper.  The texture did bother me a little, but that was far outweighed by the flavor.  There was no anise flavor that I could detect, it was just yummy!  I did have leftovers and happily ate them for the next two days... Brett missed out on this one!  The only change I might make next time would be to fish out half the potatoes before pureeing it.  That way it will still have some of the creamy texture but not enough to distract me.