Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Beef Vegetable Soup

"Mom, when I go to class tomorrow, I'd like to take a pot of Beef Vegetable Soup."

That, I can gladly oblige.

There's nothing like a hot, savory soup to warm the bones on a winter day. When my daughter requested this recipe to share at her homeschool co-op, I could practically taste it.

This one is a slo-o-o-w recipe because it's cooked in a crock pot. Normally, I don't care a whole lot for crock-pot cooking because it tends to be bland, turns things mushy, and most recipes rely on highly-processed foods like Velveeta and canned soups. But this recipe doesn't. As a matter of fact, this recipe is very flexible. I make it differently almost every time I throw it together. But I'll share with you the general idea of Beef Vegetable Soup. Do with it what you like.


Beef Vegetable Soup

Brown two pounds of meat. This can be stew beef, ground beef, ground turkey, venison...whatever.

Into your crockpot, place:

A medium-sized bag of mixed veggies, or you can throw in a small bag of peas, 1/2 cup or more of sliced carrots, and a small bag of corn. Whatever veggies you like will work.

Add to this:

Four or five medium-sized potatoes, cubed
Two medium onions, chopped
A large jar of spagetti sauce (I used leftover pizza sauce)
A couple of teaspoons each of your favorite herbs, like thyme, oregano and basil.
A bay leaf or two, if you have them.
Salt and pepper to taste
A few dashes of hot pepper sauce, if you like

When the meat has been browned, add it to the mix.
Add water or broth to cover (beef broth is especially good).

Now, here comes the slo-o-o-w part. Cook it in the crock pot for about eight hours on low or six hours on high.


My family devours this with cheddar on top, with a handful of crackers or just like it is.

After all, soup is Good Food!

Heavy Pizza Sauce

This pizza sauce comes from Diane Morgan's book Pizza. She calls it a robust sauce that won't make the crust soggy. This recipe makes 3 1/2 cups of sauce--enough for several pizzas or a couple of pizzas, with extra to freeze.

2 12 ounce cans of tomato paste
3/4 cup water
1 1/2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
2 tablespoons sugar
1 1/2 tablespoons table salt or 2 1/2 tablespoons kosher salt
1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon dried oregano
1 teaspoon dried basil
1 clove garlic, minced
4 chopped basil leaves or three additional teaspoons dried basil

In a large bowl, combine the paste, water and olive oil.

Add the rest of the ingredients and whisk well.

Can be stored in the fridge for five days or in the freezer for two months.

Monday, January 29, 2007

A Perfect Pizza Party and Pizza Sauce? Forget the Jar!

Yesterday afternoon, the Time to Cook kitchen was all aflutter. Crusts were mixing and rising. Food processors were chopping. Pots were bubbling on the stove. All of the Time to Cook family was at work in some way preparing for a pizza extravaganza; in just a few hours, we would be welcoming nineteen children and six adults to make pizzas from scratch. Fifteen-year-old Z was my right-hand-man, crumbling the feta, slicing the garlic, making his first-ever batches of pizza dough and mixing up this no-cook sauce in no-time.

The recipe Z threw together is not only delicious, but it's quick! Taking time to cook doesn't always mean cooking, and it doesn't always mean hours of labor. Sometimes it just means doing more than twisting off the top of a jar of store-bought pizza sauce.

This sauce meets the criterion. It doesn't need cooking, only takes a few minutes to assemble and--BONUS--it goes quite well with this crust.

If you don't make your own paste or have your own home-canned tomatoes, you can substitute by using store-bought.

This recipe comes from Diane Morgan's book Pizza. I very highly recommend it if you're a pizza lover, like I am.


New York-Style Pizza Sauce

1 can (14.5 ounces) diced tomatoes in juice OR whole tomatoes put through the food processor briefly
1 can (6 ounces) tomato paste
1 1/2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
2 tablespoons chopped basil or 2 teaspoons dried basil
1 1/2 teaspoons dried oregano
1 1/2 teaspoons sugar
One clove of minced garlic
3/4 teaspoon table salt or 1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt.

Mix all of this together, then adjust seasonings to taste. Use immediately or store in the refrigerator up to five days or in the freezer up to two months.


This was one of three sauces we made for the evening, including this slow-simmered sauce, and this other heavy, no-cook sauce, in addition to an alfredo for white pizza.

About an hour before the guest were to arrive, we turned on both ovens and I assembled a Deep Dish Onion and Spinach Pizza Pie so there would be something to munch on while the guests' crunchy creations were cooking. I pulled out the pizza screens I'd ordered from A Best Kitchen Supplies (great prices! quick shipping!) and we began laying out the toppings.

What a variety! We had:

Chopped spinach
Sun-dried tomatoes
Feta cheese
Sliced garlic
Banana peppers
Sliced roma tomatoes
Chunk roma tomatoes
Grated Parmigiano Reggiano
Sliced red onions
Sliced mushrooms
Olive oil
Crushed Red Pepper

Kids and adults alike had fun taking turns around the big butcher-block island and arranging toppings, coming up with some wonderful creations. Some were tried and true. Some tested the boundaries. A square personal pizza? Why not? Nothing but tomatoes, garlic and olive oil along with a sprinkling of basil and oregano? What the heck? Never eaten Feta on a pizza before? Give it a shot!

The Onion and Spinach Deep Dish was a big hit, even among the young ones and those who claimed an aversion to garlic. I think my personal favorite pizza combination was the alfredo sauce with sliced garlic, feta cheese, chopped spinach, parmigiano reggiano, then drizzled with olive oil. And not just because I made it myself.

Clean-up was a snap, since the mamas of the families dove in to do and dry dishes.

And there were leftovers. I froze the extra dough and sauce. And the leftover pizza?

Breakfast, of course!

Sunday, January 21, 2007

Another fascinating food blog:David Lebovitz

When you've mastered your yogurt making, surf on over to David Lebovitz's food blog and check out the recipe for Strawberry Frozen Yogurt. This recipe may even push me over the edge and force me to buy vodka or kirsch, something I've never done.

Photo from David's page.

Fettucine with Carmelized Onions and White Wine Sauce and A New Kitchen Tool

There are times when chaos rules all around me and I just don't care. Today was one of those days.

We'd just returned from morning service at church and I'd decided to experiment with a new pasta and a couple of sauces. The kitchen was still in a state of limited functionality after my previous day's venture into cleaning the spice drawer and reorganizing the pantry and cupboards. Everything hadn't been put back into place yet, but I didn't care. A clean washcloth to make a clear surface on my butcher block, my food processor and a couple of pots and pans were all I needed. Everything else could tumble down around me.

And it practically did.

Kids were tracking snow through the house. Other kids were scattering toys. Other kids were playing board games on the floor of the piano room. There was delightful chaos everywhere, and I was embracing it.

After sixteen-year-old Bard finished the Simple Hot Cocoa, I enlisted her help to make the two sauces I'd be tossing the fresh egg noodles in. She did all of it but chop the onions. The food processor did that.

She even used the best cheese grater in the world to turn a block of Pecorino into a bowl of light, fluffy flakes. If you regularly grate hard cheeses, the Microplane Classic Zester/Grater is the only way to go. It runs about $13.00 at the MegaKitchenType store and is totally worth it. Microplane originally began as a woodworking tool until the wife of a hardware salesman picked up a rasp to zest an orange for a cake after her other zesters just didn't cut it. She was pleasantly surprised by the results and made the Microplane Grater a regular kitchen tool. After trying rotary cheese graters and not being impressed, I'm thrilled to have added the Microplane to my list of favorite kitchen tools. I hope to soon add the Medium Ribbon Grater for soft cheeses, butters, chocolates and apples. It may even give my Cuisinart a run for its money!

Both of the sauces were good, but the one that follows was delicious and proved the favorite of my seven testers. I'm not sure it was quite enough sauce for one pound of fresh egg noodles, and I did have to add some cream during the last stage, but it was still quite tasty. It even stopped the chaos long enough for the masses to be fed.

It takes a good bit of time to make fresh egg pasta, so be sure to set aside an hour for a pound and another twenty minutes or more for the sauce, depending on how quickly your onions brown.

For a bit of variation, try browning a 1/2 pound of bacon, removing the bacon and leaving 1/4 cup of grease, omitting the olive oil and browning the onions in the bacon grease instead. Continue with the recipe from there.

For best results, serve the pasta in warmed bowls. It loses heat fairly quickly.



After making your egg pasta into one pound of fettucine, bring four quarts of water to a boil.

Grate 1/2 cup of Pecorino Romano very fine, maybe a bit more if you like to sprinkle the cheese on top of your pasta. Maybe even more, because you must sample it after you've grated it. It's just too light and fluffy to resist. Don't use pre-grated. It doesn't melt as nicely. It's better to just invest in a good grater and buy fresh wedges of cheese. Often, the pregrated cheeses are of lower quality and have anti-caking agents and other preservatives added to them. If you can't find the Pecorino Romano, you can substitute a good-quality parmesan, like Parmigiano Reggiano but you still need to fresh-grate it.

While the water is boiling and the egg pasta is resting, chop four onions very fine.

Heat 1/4 cup of extra-virgin olive oil in a saucepan that will be big enough to accomodate the noodles and the sauce. Saute the onions in the oil (or use the bacon variation suggested above) until well browned but not black.

When the onions are just about done, add two cloves of minced garlic and saute until onions are finished and garlic is lightly sauted.

Turn the heat up to medium and add 1/2 cup of white wine. Bring this to a simmer and make sure all of the onion bits are scraped off the bottom of the pan. Simmer it for about three minutes.

Add 1/4 cup of heavy cream to the pan and heat just until warm. Taste it and add salt to taste.

When your water comes to a boil, add one tablespoon of salt, then add your egg noodles. Cook them just until al dente, then quickly drain them and add them to the sauce, along with the 1/2 cup grated cheese.

Serve it warm with some more cheese on the side. A nice dish of steamed broccoli would go really well with this.
It will be worth the chaos, I assure you. Dishes, after all, can wait until tomorrow.

The First Snow and Steaming Cocoa

Last Christmas morning, my darling little ones gasped when they first caught a glimpse of the pile of loot. Sleds! Because they're so huge--and so Christmassey in and of themselves--we didn't bother to wrap them. I just leaned them picturesquely against the tree and let them take center stage, giving the first impression on the most magical morning of the year.

You know what happens when I give my kids sleds for Christmas?

It doesn't snow.

And so it was, the winter of 2005/2006 held no snow for my sweeties to try out their treasures. Every week, I would say, "It's still winter. There's still time. It'll snow. Just wait and see!"

They waited through January, and February, and March, and even April.

But they never did see.

This year, we feared the same fate would befall the sleds as did last year. Would they be destined to hang around in the barn loft, amidst the old farm sink and schoolhouse lights, both of which are waiting for our next building project? It seemed to be so. We passed through November, December and the better part of January with little more than a few fickle flurries, but nary an accumulation. The little noodles had all but lost hope.

And then, this morning as we sat through our church service, the Creator was crafting a world of white. After I'd done my morning gabbing post-service, I stepped toward the front door to find Sweetheart, my seven-year-old, lying flat out in the yard of the church, her arms sweeping wildly, here hair soaked with snow, flakes drifting onto her rosy little cheeks. She was absolutely delighted.

My eldest son brought a friend home from church, and the neighbor boy made his way over the hill. Soon, they were all digging through the piles of gloves, then dragging the long-neglected snow equipment out of the barn. There were snowbikes and snowboards and sleds, oh my, and the bundled boys made short work of turning these Amish hillsides into their own personal snow resort. Even The Baby, age three, bundled up in her brand-new (read: thrifted) hat, gloves and buttonhole scarf, and her hand-me-down snow coat--the same one that had fit her older sister four years ago, and her older brother four years before that. I took in every moment as I watched through the window, the sill decorated with a fluffy dusting of snow that looked so much like the soft pile of Pecorino Romano my eldest daughter Bard had freshly grated for today's lunch.

While I began preparing a Sunday afternoon pasta feast (more on that later), I called Bard into the kitchen to whip up a pot of scratch-made hot chocolate. She was almost caught in the act by her siblings twice, who came in to change their soaking-wet gloves or take a potty break. But she made a quick recovery.

"Are you making hot chocolate?" Asked the inquiring sibling.
"No," answered the misleading older sister.
"What is it?" The sibling persisted.
"Melon soup," she lied.

Disappointedly, they trudged back out into the crisp air.

Hot chocolate is so much better if it's a surprise.

Normally, we top off our cocoa with a dallop of homemade whipped cream, but the heavy cream was reserved for today's pasta meal, so the cocoa had to go naked. For you, however, I'll provide the recipe. You'll have to make it yourself, though.


Simple Hot Chocolate

1/2 cup sugar or honey (more or less to taste)
1/4 cup cocoa powder
dash salt
1/3 cup water

Mix all of this together in a saucepan, bring it to a boil, then stir and boil for two minutes.


4 cups milk (I use raw, whole milk, of course :-) )
3/4 teapoon vanilla, or, if you want minty-flavored cocoa, some mint oil

Heat it, but don't boil it. Ladle into mugs and dallop with whipped cream. Serves two big mugs or four small mugs. Double it for best results.

You can make the sauce part ahead of time, put it in a jar and keep it for when-you-need-it use. Just pour a bit of your syrup into a saucepot and add milk to your likeness, heat it up and serve.


Once inside, the children and their visitors were pleased to find not cold melon soup, but steaming mugs of rich, real hot cocoa. The didn't even mind that it was naked.

Ah, yes. Sustenance for more outdoor adventures in the long-awaited snow.

Real Whipped Cream

Use this whipped cream to top the delicious Simple Hot Cocoa or your favorite hot beverage. Mixing with the whisk attachment of a stand mixer makes the task go much quicker than whisking by hand, but either way, you'll want stiff peaks of cream.

1 cup whipping cream
1/2 teaspoon vanilla
3 tablespoons powdered sugar

Beat with a whisk until fluffy and firm.

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

There are OTHERS? Butter Pecan Ice Cream from Simply Recipes

I'm not completely naive. I did realize that other people probably blogged about food. I just didn't realize how many others! And how amazing they all are!

Elise Bauer is one of them, with her food blog Simply Recipes . I am completely floored by the sheer number of recipes she has on her beautiful, mouth-watering blog.

Now, I don't want to chase you away, but you really have to go see this post which shares a recipe for butter pecan ice cream.

I can't believe that:

a) We just had our first very cold day after a long, grey, rainy winter, and;
b) I just started reading French Women Don't Get Fat, and;
c) I'll have to run an extra interval...

and I'm still going to pull out the ol' hand-crank ice cream maker and whip up a batch of this. Even though I just stocked up on ice cream when Breyers went on sale at the local market for $2.98 a half-gallon.

I've had my eye on a butter pecan recipe in a little booklet that stares at me from the racks by the check-out line every time I go to the grocery. I will not, I say to myself, pay that much for a little booklet wrapped in plastic so that I can't read the ingredients. I mean, I read labels for everything, so I'm not going to plunk down my cold, hard cash for a recipe whose potentially mediocre ingredients I can't read first!

Now I don't have to.

Thank you, Elise. I'm really looking forward to trying this amazing-looking recipe with our next batch of fresh, real, raw milk.


Butter Pecan Ice Cream
from Elise Bauer on Simply Recipes

An ice cream loving friend was in town this weekend, giving me the perfect excuse to make a new batch of ice cream. This time the flavor is one of my all time favorites, butter pecan. In this recipe the butter flavor comes in the custard base, achieved by browning the butter first before adding the other ingredients.

6 large egg yolks
6 Tbsp butter
1 cup brown sugar
1/4 teaspoon salt
2 cups heavy cream
2 cups whole milk
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 cup pecans

Special equipment needed
An ice cream maker, or a KitchenAid mixer with an ice cream attachment


1 In a medium sized heat-safe bowl (metal, ceramic, or glass), whisk together the egg yolks until well blended. Set aside.

2 Pour the cream into a metal bowl set in a larger bowl of ice and set a medium-mesh sieve on top. Set aside.

3 In a medium thick-bottomed saucepan on medium heat, melt the butter cook it, stirring constantly, until it just begins to brown. Add the brown sugar and salt. Stir until the sugar completely melts.

4 Slowly add the milk, stirring to incorporate. It will foam up initially, so make sure you are using a pan with high enough sides. Heat until all of the sugar is completely dissolved. Do not let boil or the mixture may curdle.

5 Whisk in hand, slowly pour half of the milk and sugar mixture into the eggs, whisking constantly to incorporate. Then add the warmed egg mixture back into the saucepan with the remaining milk sugar mixture.

6 Stir the mixture constantly over medium heat with a wooden or heatproof rubber spatula, scraping the bottom as you stir, until the mixture thickens and coats the spatula, about 5-7 minutes.

7 Pour the custard through the sieve and stir it into the cream. Add vanilla and stir until cool over the ice bath. Chill mixture thoroughly in the refrigerator.

8 While the mixture is chilling, preheat the oven to 350°F. Lay out the pecans on a roasting pan in a single layer. Bake for 6 minutes, until lightly toasted. Let cool. Once cool, roughly chop the pecans and set aside. Note, if you want an extra punch to this ice cream, brush the pecans with melted butter and sprinkle with salt before roasting.

9 Once the ice cream mixture is thoroughly chilled, freeze in your ice cream maker according to the manufacturer's instructions.

10 Once the ice cream has been formed in the ice cream maker, it will be fairly soft. Fold in the chopped pecans. Put in an airtight plastic container and place in the freezer for at least an hour, preferably several hours. If it has been frozen for more than a day, you may need to let it sit at room temperature for a few minutes to soften it before serving.

Makes 1 1/2 quarts.

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Ode to My Redi-Check

It's the classic situation. I have a basic need. I have a few dollars. I see a killer application. I must have it. Budget? What budget?

That's about the story behind my acquisition of the bestest gadget I have in my kitchen. Yes, I love my KitchenAid mixer, and my Cuisinart is always at hand, but they are only shadows of themselves without my RediCheck remote kitchen thermometer.

It's true. I didn't have the money to spend on the RediCheck, since it was going for about $40 and I had, roughly...uh, nothing. But I was preparing to make something fabulous and yummy on the grill, and when I saw this beauty, I knew it had to be mine.

Now, it wasn't an impulse buy. Oh, no. I stood in the aisle of the Kitchen, Bath and Bedroom Superstore and really, truly considered whether or not I needed such an extravagance when I could have spent a measly couple of dollars on yet another cheap meat thermometer that would go through the dishwasher after I've said five million times that food thermometers and dishwashers are not friends. My husband, waiting for me in the car, would likely not understand how amazing this little device was, how often I would use it, or how I could justify spending $40 on it. But I knew it would be worth it. And I knew that, eventually, the love of my life would see the wisdom of my ways and thank me for it.

Because, see, I'm very terrible about knowing when meat is done, or when candy has reached the soft ball or the hard ball stage, or when the yogurt is precisesly 110 degrees farenheit. A tool like this could improve my cooking 150%. Who could put a price on that?

So I bought it. And then I started explaining. Fast. My spiel probably went a little something like this:

The RediCheck has so many great features, I almost don't know where to start. I guess I'll begin with the fact that you can stick the probe into your food and then walk away. Literally. There's a cool remote unit that you can clip to your belt and then you're off. Go do some laundry, make potato salad, take a nap, and the signal will beep when your food has reached the appropriate temperature, either using the mode for meat doneness, or the temperature you set manually.

The next great feature is that it's very accurate. I've been using it for everything from grilled thanksgiving turkey to homemade vanilla caramels and have had very good success with it.

Finally--and this might be my favorite feature--the temperature probe is attached to the main unit by a heatproof cord, allowing the probe to be placed into the cooking item--in the grill, or in the oven, or on the stovetop--and left there while the unit itself sits on the countertop or near the grill, safely and happily displaying the temperature of the roasting bird or bubbling candy.

Yes, it stretched my budget to buy this gadget, and yes, it does have its problems, like the fact that you have to turn on both the send unit and the remote unit at just the right time to allow them to synchronize, but, all in all, this is one gadget I don't think I could live without.

My husband does see the wisdom of my ways, and now even he uses the RediCheck to do his grilling.

RediCheck. The kitchen gadget even a husband could love.

Monday, January 15, 2007

Homemade Yogurt: Using your Oven and Making it Plain

I decided to do an experiment with making yogurt in my gas oven for those of you who have a gas oven and don't want to buy a yogurt maker, or who would like to make the five-quart version. I'm happy to say that the experiment went well, though it took a bit of babysitting and a little tweaking.

Also, I made this one plain so that I could make it into yogurt dip for this coming Sunday's carry-in.


Quart Version of Plain Yogurt
(If you want sweetened vanilla yogurt, see this post):

1 quart of milk (I use whole raw cow's milk--Jersey milk has the highest butterfat content and makes a very creamy yogurt)
3 oz evaporated milk (which, I think, is a little less than 1/2 cup)
1/4 cup yogurt which has live active cultures. PL says it doesn't matter if it's plain or vanilla. I've used both with the same results. Once you make your first batch, you can use yogurt from your own batches to keep it going until the cultures weaken, then you have to buy more.

Partially fill a sink with cold water and get all of your ingredients ready and measured. It goes quickly, so you want to be ready. Temperatures are very important for good yogurt.

For raw milk, heat the milk to 180-190 degrees F. It creates a creamier yogurt.

Turn of the heat.

Add the evaporated milk. Stir well.

Place your pan in the cold water and stir. Your goal is to quickly cool the milk to between 110 and 115 degrees--temperature is important This happens more quickly than you'd think.

When the milk has cooled, add the yogurt using a very clean whisk. Bad bacteria can take over and make your yogurt clumpy and yucky. Very thoroughly mix in the yogurt.

Pour the mix into a quart container or yogurt maker.

The yogurt must incubate for between 4 and 10 hours at around 100 degrees. Too hot, and you'll cook the yogurt. Too cool and it won't incubate properly. Some people fill a cooler with hot water, place their jars or containers in it and leave it alone until it sets.

For my experiment, I warmed my gas oven to 110 degrees by turning it on and then turning it off after just a minute or so. I use the RediChek remote thermometer for everything like this. I LOVE it. It's one of the best investments I've ever made.

I placed the container in the oven, closed the door, and checked the thermometer occasionally. If the temp seemed to be dipping down too far, I'd turn the oven on for a few seconds (DON'T walk away or you'll cook your yogurt).

Don't touch it. Don't open it. Wait for about four hours, then very carefully check it. If it seems thickened and creamy, you can taste it to see if it's tart enough. If it is, put it in the fridge until it's cool, then you're done! If it's not, you can incubate it more. It will thicken up a bit more in the fridge, but it should be nice and thick when you're finished incubating it.

That's it!

Fresh Egg Pasta with Alfredo Sauce

Just as with the egg pasta, the alfredo sauce is beautiful because of the few ingredients it requires. Heavy cream, unsalted butter, salt, Parmesan cheese, pepper and nutmeg. The result of combining these ingredients with fresh egg pasta is divine. Serve this as an appetizer, because it's so rich, and you'll have enough for 4-6 people. If you want to make a full meal of it, better double it.

The real keys to richness and thickness are to use cream that has not been ultra-pasteurized, to use really good, fresh-grated parmesan cheese (the pre-grated stuff has stuff added that makes it lumpy and isn't fresh enough to melt properly), and to cook the pasta to al dente before adding it to the sauce and then completing the sauce and the cooking of the noodles. These tips come from The Complete Book of Pasta and Noodles by Cook's Illustrated, a fabulous source for pasta and sauce recipes, hints, tips and step-by-step instructions.

::.[(.oOo.)]-*-::.[(.oOo.)]-*- ::.[(.oOo.)]-*- .::

Fresh Egg Pasta with Alfredo Sauce

1 2/3 cups heavy cream, preferably not ultra-pasteurized
5 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 Pound fresh Egg Pasta cut into tagliatelle
1 cup high-quality Parmesan cheese (I used Parmigiano Reggiano)
Ground white pepper
Pinch ground nutmeg

Bring four quarts of water to a boil.

Combine 1 1/3 cups cream and the butter in a pan big enough to hold both the sauce and the pasta. Heat over low until the butter is melted and the cream just begins to come to a simmer. Turn off the heat and set aside.

When the water comes to a boil, add one tablespoon of salt and add the pasta. Cook until almost al dente, drain it, and then add it to the sauce.

Add your last 1/3 cup of cream, the grated cheese, salt to taste, white pepper to taste (you can use black pepper, but the white pepper leaves the sauce white), and a pinch of freshly-grated nutmeg (which isn't necessary, but my tasters really love it).

Cook over very low heat, toss to combine ingredients, and watch carefully until the sauce is slightly thickened, a couple of minutes.

Divide among 6 warmed bowls and serve hot!

::.[(.oOo.)]-*-::.[(.oOo.)]-*- ::.[(.oOo.)]-*- .::

The Pasta Experience

As part of my current obsession of making my own pasta dishes, I recently acquired an Imperia pasta machine which arrived on Saturday. Sunday, I promised, would be the day to make our first home-made pasta.

The beauty of pasta is that it requires only two ingredient: flour and eggs. How much more basic can you get than that? The time element to making your own pasta is in the actual rolling and cutting of the dough into noodles. Having a pasta machine is very helpful for this process. While you can make noodles without a machine, using a rolling pin and knives or rolling cutters, the pasta machine makes it much easier. The dough is rolled very, very thin, to the point where you can see the silhouette of your hand through the rolled dough.

You can get more fancy with the ingredients than just the flour and eggs, but it's not necessary. Still, I hope to experiment with some other recipes and techniques, and I'll pass those outcomes on to you as I find them.

The first experiment in The Pasta Experience was to make tagliatelle with alfredo sauce. It took us a long time to make the whole dish, from start to finish. I think the total time was about two hours, and some of that time was spent figuring out how to work the machine and exactly what the dough should feel like. Actually rolling the dough through the machine was not hard at all. My best cooks, which are my two sons, jumped right in to help, and my older son, who is 15, ended up finishing the noodles while I started the sauce. Having an extra hand helps. Even the three year old got into the act, turning the handle to produce long tendrils of fresh noodles. This is a very fun family activity. Make a few appetizers to stave off hunger, whip up your dough, and start rolling! Better than television any day.

So turn off that one-eyed monster. It's time to cook!

Are you ready? Here we go!


We'll begin with an easy-way-out method, and that's using a food processor to make the dough. If you don't have a food processor, keep your eyes peeled because we'll experiment with hand-mixing the dough.

2 cups of all-purpose flour
3 large eggs, beaten

Ingredients should be at room-temperature before you start, so if you keep your flour in the freezer, like I do, be sure to let it warm up before starting. Start with very fresh eggs, too.

Put your flour in the work-bowl of the food processor, fitted with the steel blade. Pulse it a few times to get the flour all nice and fluffy.

Add the eggs and process the eggs and flour together for about thirty seconds. After thirty seconds, you should see the dough form a rough ball. If it really sticks to the sides of the work bowl, add a bit more flour, little by little, until you get a moist, cohesive dough. On the other hand, if it's too dry and looks like crumbles, add water 1/2 teaspoon at a time until you get the right consistency.

Put the whole mass, including any crumbs or chunks or un-mixed egg, onto a clean work surface and start kneading. It'll be a little tough, not like bread dough, so you're basically just going to keep folding and turning and folding and turning until you get a nice, smooth dough.

Put the dough into a zip-type bag and let it rest anywhere from 15 minutes to 2 hours at room temperature.

Divide the dough into about six or eight pieces, take one out, and put the others back in the baggie. Flatten your piece a bit and lightly coat it with flour on both sides.

If you haven't used your pasta machine before, you'll want to throw this piece out after you run it through. I had to throw out two pieces before the pasta machine ran the dough clean. This is a good chance to experiment with the dough and the pasta machine, so have fun with it.

When it's time to run your first real piece of dough through the machine, start it on the lowest number, which is the widest setting. Fold the dough ends so that the meet in the middle, and then put the piece through the machine again on the widest setting, feeding the open end of the dough through first (not the folded end, but the other end). Run it through the widest setting again, getting a nice, smooth dough. Remember to use flour when the dough gets sticky, but not too much so that you make a tough dough.

Now, each time you run the dough through, narrow the setting until you've run the pasta through the narrowest setting and your dough is very, very thin.

At this point, if the dough is stable enough, you can run the pasta through the cutter attachment. If you want to make all of your dough sheets first and then cut them, stack your sheets of dough between layers of moist, clean kitchen towels. If the dough seems too sticky to cut, let it rest a few minutes before you cut it.

After the dough has been cut, hang it on a rack to dry for about fifteen minutes to cure before boiling it. You can leave the noodles out for up to two hours before cooking, if you need to.

Then, you're ready to make your pasta and sauce!

For excellent instructions with photos and illustrations, see The Complete Book of Pasta and Noodles by Cook's Illustrated and The Pasta Bible by Jeni Wright. Check your local library for other books on pasta, pasta-making and sauce.

Up next, Fresh Egg Noodles with Alfredo Sauce.

Sunday, January 14, 2007

More on Yogurt

Reader Jill would really like to make yogurt, but she's afraid to try. Jill, I'm encouraging you to go for it! As a matter of fact, I'm so much encouraging you to go for it that I spent a portion of time this afternoon experimenting with making yogurt without a yogurt maker, and I'm pleased to say that I had fabulous results.

Check back here tomorrow for details on how I did it and a modification of the yogurt recipe published here.

Pasta Success!

Today, we christened the pasta machine and turned out two pounds of eggs-ellent egg pasta, tagliatelle-style. We cooked it up with a nice, creamy alfredo and all of my testers devoured it gladly. It was thumbs up from them! One tester rated it above the local authentic Italian restaurant.

Sound delicious? You can do it, too!

Stay tuned here tomorrow for details and recipes for today's dish, and join me for the next couple of weeks as I experiment with different pasta recipes, techniques and sauces!

Saturday, January 13, 2007

It's here!

Finally, my pasta maker has arrived! Believe it or not, after all of this waiting, I'm now feeling intimidated by this hunk of metal sitting on my kitchen table.

But I shall not be deterred. Fresh pasta tomorrow, I tell you.

Friday, January 12, 2007

In Today's Bookbag: Pasta Books

Now, let's veer back to my current obsession--pasta--just long enough to drool over these two books I brought home in today's library bookbag. I can't go into depth with them, because my pasta maker has still not arrived (this is now Day Five of my wait. Sigh), so I only tortured myself with the stacks and stacks of Italian cookbooks long enough to determine that I must own these two books:

This one truly is a bible of pasta knowledge. It covers all of the different types of pastas-- fresh, dried, designer pastas, shaped pastas--as well as instructions on how to make, cook and serve pasta, what wines to serve with your pasta, creating striped and silhouette pasta, sections on herbs and seasonings to have on hand, oils and vinegars, tomatoes and cheeses. And, of course, there are tons of recipes--over 150--for soups, salads, sauces and baked dishes. Be sure to look for The Pasta Bible by Jeni Wright if you've found pasta to be your current obsession, too.

The Williams-Sonoma book, Mastering Pasta, Noodles & Dumplings includes, as expected, lots of gorgeous pictures, recipes for basic and flavored pastas, and step-by-step instructions on pasta making, accompanied by plenty of photographs. While I haven't made any of the recipes in the book yet, it sure is delicious eye-candy!
Enough torture. As soon as that pasta maker arrives, we'll be revisiting these books for recipes and inspiration.

Thursday, January 11, 2007

Homemade Yogurt

Let's take a little bit to veer off the main road--which has been pasta and pizza--and let's talk about dairy. I posted my recipe for granola here, so now you need something to go with it.

I'm thinking about this for two reasons: First, my pasta maker hasn't arrived yet. Argh. Secondly, I've made this yogurt several times since I received my yogurt maker but today was the first time I used my yogurt to make smoothies. Can I just say Oh. My. Goodness?!? Let me tell you, folks--this ain't no Dannon yogurt. It almost feels WRONG to eat something this good.

And once you make it, it's like a whole 'nother culinary world has been opened up to you. Once you know how to make yogurt, you can make your own mock sour cream (delicious), yogurt cheese (very delicious), yogurt pancakes (quite delicious), and smoothies (absolutely delicious). Entire books have been written about how to make and cook with yogurt. Here are just a few of the ones that I've read:

101 Things to do with Yogurt by Geneva Stringham
The Book Of Yogurt by Sonia Uvezian
The Stonyfield Farm yogurt cookbook by Meg Cadoux Hirshberg
Making Cheese, Butter & Yogurt by Storey Books

We'll explore a few recipes using yogurt later, but first, let's make the yogurt, then we'll go from there.

I use raw milk, so if you have access to that, do definitely use it. It's absolutely delicious.


Quart Version:

1 quart of milk (I use whole raw cow's milk)
3 oz evaporated milk (which, I think, is a little less than 1/2 cup)
1/4-1/3 cup sweetener (I used 1/4 honey in one and 1/2 cup honey in one, and neither were super sweet. Today I used 1/3 cup sugar)
1/2 teaspoon vanilla
1/4 cup yogurt which has live active cultures. PL says it doesn't matter if it's plain or vanilla. I've used both with the same results. Once you make your first batch, you can use yogurt from your own batches to keep it going until the cultures weaken, then you have to buy more.
(PL adds gelatin to hers, but I couldn't figure out the right ratio, so I left it out. Because we use whole jersey milk, it thickened just fine without the gelatin.)

Partially fill a sink with cold water and get all of your ingredients ready and measured. It goes quickly, so you want to be ready. Temperatures are very important for good yogurt.

For raw milk, heat the milk to 180 degrees F. I was hesitant to do this because I wanted the good health properties of the raw milk, but my first batch didn't come out so well. When I called PL, she said that heating it creates a creamier yogurt. I tried it, heating it to about 186, and she was right. Very creamy.

Turn of the heat.

Add the evaporated milk, sweetener and vanilla. Stir well.

Place your pan in the cold water and stir. Your goal is to quickly cool the milk to between 110 and 115 degrees. This happens more quickly than you'd think.

When the milk has cooled, add the yogurt using a very clean whisk. Bad bacteria can take over and make your yogurt clumpy and yucky. Very thoroughly mix in the yogurt.

Pour the mix into a quart jar or yogurt maker.

This is the tricky part, and this is why I asked for the yogurt maker. The yogurt must incubate for between 4 and 10 hours at around 100 degrees. Too hot, and you'll cook the yogurt. Too cool and it won't incubate properly. Some people fill a cooler with hot water, place their jars or containers in it and leave it alone until it sets.

Don't touch it. Don't open it. Wait for about four hours, then very carefully check it. If it seems thickened and creamy, you can taste it to see if it's tart enough. If it is, put it in the fridge until it's cool, then you're done!

Add fruit and stuff after it's done.

One Gallon version (makes five quarts):

One gallon of milk
2 T gelatin
1/2 cup cold water
12 oz can evaporated milk
1 1/4 cup sugar or 1 cup honey
2 t vanilla
1 cup yogurt with active cultures

Follow instructions above, except that you should dissolve the gelatin in the water before you start, if you plan to use it. Add the gelatin when you add the milk, sweetener and vanilla. Follow the rest of the directions, pouring your mixture into five quart jars or containers (doesn't matter if it's glass or plastic, just as long as their really, really clean).

90-120 degrees makes yogurt, so keep your temp within the range. I think around 90-95 is optimal.



Wednesday, January 10, 2007

Deep-Dish Spinach and Onion Pizza Pie

When you make this pizza, keep in mind that it's going to be small in diameter but big in flavor...and tall! Since it's a pizza pie, it will also be stuffed with cheese, onions and spinach, a combination that has so much substanance that you won't even notice it's meatless. In addition, the thick sauce you add during the last minutes of baking really adds substantially to the dish. Two slices and not only is the pizza stuffed--so are you!

The time elements in this recipe are the sauce and the dough. This recipe is a bit more labor-intensive because of the several steps in assembling and baking the pizza, so there is more than just waiting involved. This one actually takes some hands-on work.

But it's worth it! Take the time and enjoy the process!


Spinach and Onion Pizza Pie

Preheat your oven to 450 degrees F. and put your pizza stone or rack on the second to the bottom space of the oven.

Coat a 9-inch round springform pan with olive oil. From your ball of dough, remove a small ball (about 1/4 of the ball) to reserve for the top crust.

Using the rest of the dough and starting in the middle of the dough, press the dough into the springform pan, starting in the center, cover the bottom and about 2 inches up the sides of the pan. Cover the pan and let it sit for about 10 minutes.

While it's resting, get your ingredients ready:

8 ounces of baby spinach, chopped coarsely
2 cups of coarsely shredded low-moisture mozzarella cheese
3 ounces of thinly sliced mozzarella cheese
1 large onion, chopped into large hunks
1 tablespoon olive oil
Red pepper flakes, to taste
2 cups sauce
1/3 cup freshly grated parmesan

Saute the onion in the olive oil until slightly limp. Combine the onion, red pepper flakes, spinach and mozzarella in a bowl and set aside.

Now, get your pan back out and readjust the dough if it has slid down the sides of the pan. Lay the mozzarella slices on the bottom of the pan, completely covering the bottom of the crust. Pour the spinach mixture in the pan.

Remember that little piece of dough you saved back? Stretch that out with your hand to form a 9" round circle, and then prick it all over with a fork. Top the spinach mixture with this crust and then fold the two edges of dough down to make a crust around the edge of the pizza. Try not to make it too thick, or you'll end up with a too much crust on the edges.

Now, working very quickly, put the pizza in the oven so you don't lose heat. Bake about twelve minutes, until the top is lightly browned. Take the pizza out of the oven, ladle the sauce over the top but not around the edges, sprinkle the parmesan on, then put the pizza back in the oven.

This time, once the pizza's in the oven, release the clamp on the side of your springform pan, but don't take it off. Bake the pizza until it's all nice and browned, about ten more minutes or so. Before you take the pizza out, carefully re-latch the pan using oven mitts. Take the pizza out of the oven and set it on a cooling rack. Now you can take off the springform rim completely. Let it cool for about five minutes. Slice into wedges and serve.



It took some time, but it was worth it!

Be sure to check the original version of this pizza and other recipes from Diane Morgan's book, Pizza. The recipes are fabulous!

Tuesday, January 9, 2007

Deep-Dish Pizza--Starting with the Crust

Making deep-dish pizza takes a little extra effort, but not much. If you've never eaten deep-dish pizza--and I don't mean what they serve at fast-food pizza places but true, Chicago-style deep-dish pizza--think pizza pie, because that's what this is. It's a big, stuffed pie and one or two pieces can stuff a person.

This pizza is a variation of the stuffed spinach pizza found in Diane Morgan's book, Pizza, a delightful exploration of many different pizzas from Neapolitan to dessert pizza, explaining all the basics of pizza making, including ingredients and equipment. Lots of delicious photos in this one. If you check out here website, you'll find other pizza recipes there.

For this deep-dish pizza, you're going to need a new crust, and the one I made was in Diane's book, as well.

Before you begin the crust, you'll need a batch of the the sauce posted earlier. Get that started, then come back to begin your crust. Diane gives instructions for mixing the dough by hand and in a mixer. I'm giving you the mixer method. Pick up Diane's book for the hand-mixed method.

Chicago-Style Butter-and-Garlic Deep-Dish Pizza Dough from Pizza by Diane Morgan

1 package (2 1/4 teaspoons) active dry yeast
1 1/4 cups lukewarm water (90-100 degrees farenheit)
1 teaspoon sugar
3 1/4 cups unbleached bread flour (I use King Arthur bread flour), plus more for dusting
1/2 cup medium-grind cornmeal
1 teaspoon table salt or 1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt
1/4 cup unsalted butter, melted
1 or more cloves or garlic, minced to a paste
vegetable oil for oiling the bowl and the pan

In the mixer-bowl of a stand mixer, combine the yeast with 1/4 cup of the warm water, then add the sugar and 1/4 cup of the flour.

Using the dough hook, mix on low speed until combined.

Place a clean, damp kitchen towel over the bowl and let this rest for 20 minutes. This is called a "sponge."

After twenty minutes, add the remaining 1 cup warm water and three cups of flour, the cornmeal and the salt. Combine the butter and the garlic, and add those.

Mix on low speed until all the flour is incorporated and the dough forms a coarse ball, about four minutes.

Let the whole thing rest for about 2 minutes.

Mix on medium speed until it's all smooth and sticky, about three minutes.

Turn the dough, even if it's sticky, onto a well-floured work surface and knead for a minute or two until it's smooth, adding up to 1/4 cup of flour, if necessary.

Lightly oil a large bowl (I use a rubbermaid-type container and lid), add the dough, turn to coat, and set it somewhere warm, but not hot, to rest and rise.

You can either let this rise for about 1 1/2 to 2 hours in a warm spot, or you can slow-rise it in the refrigerator for 10-12 hours. Bring it to room temp before the final rise.

When the dough has doubled, knead it for 2-3 minutes and press it into your pan.

For our recipe, it's going to go into a springform pan, so we'll continue with the dough in the Deep Dish Spinach and Onion recipe in my next post.

Monday, January 8, 2007

Pizza from Scratch--starting with the sauce

::whistling patiently::

While we're waiting for the pasta maker to arrive, let's talk Italian. Pizza, to be more specific. Pizza crust and pizza sauce, to be very, very specific.

When I go to the store and see the Boboli shells and other pre-made pizza crusts, I can only think of one thing to say. Why?

I mean, I know why. It was a rhetorical question, actually.

But making your own crust is SO easy! And, while it is slow, it's not as slow as driving to the store and spending too much money on mediocre pre-made crusts!

Pizza crust is basic. And if you make an easy one, it's very basic. Remember, just because something takes time doesn't mean it's complicated.

So, for the next couple of days, we're going to make very uncomplicated but delicious pizzas. Beginning, of course, with the sauce.

The sauce, you say? Doesn't the pizza start with the crust? Why, sure it does. But the sauce takes longer to cook down, and it's essential that it's fully cooked down and cooled before you begin, so, we'll begin with that.

Now, if we were going to start from scratch, we'd begin with our own tomatoes and fresh basil, but since not everyone has access to their own tomatoes, we'll begin with regular, whole canned tomatoes and make accomodations for the fresh basil. Then we'll go from there.

This batch of sauce will make four 14" pizzas or 2 deep dish pizzas. You can use it right away, refrigerate it for a couple of days, or even freeze it. This is a variation of a recipe from Pizza by Diane Morgan.


Delicious Pizza Sauce

4 cans whole tomatoes or home-canned tomatoes
1 large onion, chopped fine
1 teaspoon Kosher salt
2 tablespoons dried oregano
lots and lots of fresh garlic
1/2 cup of fresh basil leaves, chopped, or three teaspoons dried basil

In a big saucepan, dump all four cans of tomatoes, the onion, the kosher salt and the oregano. Here's the fun part: take a potato masher and squish each of the tomatoes, releasing all of their juice into the pan. Turn the pan on medium-low heat and bring it to a simmer. Simmer it like this, uncovered, until all of the liquid is gone. This can take up to an hour-and-a-half, so start this early and be patient. Stir the sauce every once in a while to make sure it's not burning on the bottom.

After all of the liquid has cooked off, take the sauce from the heat and let it cool to room temperature.

When it has cooled off, add lots and lots of fresh, crushed garlic (six cloves or so, more or less depending on your preferences) and your basil.


While the sauce is cooking, start your pizza crust.

Super Easy Pizza Crust

Super easy pizza crust

Originally found on Fine Cooking. This makes two 14" pizzas.

1 package of active-dry yeast (2 1/4 teaspoons)
1 1/2 cup very warm water (110 degrees)
4 cups all-purpose flour
1 1/2 teaspoons of salt
2 tablespoons of olive oil

Dissolve the yeast in the water and set aside.

Put a little less than 4 cups of the flour and all of the salt in a food processor with the steel blade and process it for a bit to mix it up.

Turn on the machine and add the yeast water through the food tube in a steady stream.

Turn off the machine; add the oil; pulse for a few seconds to mix the oil.

When you take the dough out of the food processor, it should be slightly sticky. It's okay if it's not fully mixed.

Scoop the dough onto a lightly floured surface and knead it a few times until it's nice and smooth.

Divide it in two, form each half into a smooth ball, lightly coat a container with oil (I like to use a rubbermaid-like container with a lid, one with plenty of room for the dough to double) and roll the dough in the oil. Cover it and set it in a warm--not hot--place to rise until doubled.


Now go check on your sauce.

Pizza from Scratch

Homemade pizza fills the house with such a fabulous blend of aromas and inspires such creativity that, before you know it, everyone will be in the kitchen suggesting toppings or jumping in to make their own. My fifteen-year-old son said to me today as we were assembling pizzas, "I love it when we make pizza. We always end up in the kitchen together." See? You're making more than pizza, here.

After you've made your sauce and your dough has doubled in size, it's time to form the crust and assemble the pizza.

The very best way to form the crust is by stretching it with your hands. Some people try to use a rolling pin, but that just traps the air bubbles and stretches things in the wrong places, leaving you with a cattywampas, holey crust.

You can see a video of someone forming crust using the hand-stretched method here.

After you've shaped your crust, put it either on a pizza peel or a pizza pan sprinkled with cornmeal or a bit of flour. Then it's time to top the pizza.

My personal favorites are the simplest ones. For me, I prefer leaving the sauce off of the crust, sprinkling the crust with generous amounts of sliced garlic, adding a bit of kosher salt, generously sprinkling the whole thing with chopped fresh basil, then drizzling melted butter over the whole thing. Sometimes, if I have fresh tomatoes, I'll add slices of them, too. Top it with freshly grated parmigiano-reggiano cheese and pop it in the oven. I have a pizza stone (five bucks at the thrift store!), so I heat the oven to about 500 degrees while mixing the dough so that the stone is thoroughly heated, and I place the whole pizza pan on the stone on the bottom rack of the oven and bake it until the toppings are bubbly and the crust is golden brown and crisp. If you have a pizza peel, use a quick jerking motion to transfer the pizza to the pizza stone and bake until it's done, about fifteen minutes.

Take the pizza out, slide it off the pan or peel onto a cutting surface and let it rest about five mintues. Then use a sharp spatula or knife, using a rocking motion, to cut the pie. Rotary pizza cutters generally just drag your toppings across the pizza, so I don't use one.

Using your deliciuos sauce, top the pizza or serve it on the side.

Of course, you can do things the traditional way, too, by smearing the sauce on the crust, topping with mozzarella, and adding your favorite toppings.

You can find more ideas for pizza toppings here.

We'll explore some more pizza options tomorrow, including deep dish pizzas! Yum!

Sunday, January 7, 2007

An Heirloom Recipe: Tutti-Frutti

The other night while I was making yogurt, my dad happened to remember a recipe that his mother and father used to make, something that involved "some type of whisky" and a lot of different fruits.

"You could put it on ice cream," he said, "and Ma would make cakes out of it. "

It took him a while to remember what it was called, but he eventually remembered that the stuff was Tutti-Frutti.

After a search, I located one recipe, and Dad confirmed that, yes, this is the one.

For the sake of slow foods, I'm publishing the recipe here. It's a really, really slow one...like all growing season long! Dad remembered the recipe while I was making yogurt because he said that when the Tutti-Frutti jar ran low, they'd have to use the remaining sauce as a starter for the next batch.

I'm kicking around the idea of making a batch of this for my dad this summer, if I can figure out what a "sweet" jar is.

Keep in mind if you try this that I have not tested it in my kitchen.



Put a pint of brandy into a thoroughly sweet three-gallon stone jar.

Beginning with strawberries, the first fruit of the season, add in succession the various fruits as they appear in market, taking care to choose only those which are choice, firm and fresh.

Add a pound of sugar to each pound of fruit until the jar is almost half full, then use three- quarters of a pound of sugar to each pound of fruit.

Stir the mixture thoroughly for several mornings after each addition of fruit and sugar to dissolve the sugar, using for this purpose a wooden or granite-ware spoon and taking care not to mash the fruit.

Cover the jar securely and keep in the cellar or in a cool, dry place.

Use the following proportion of fruit: Two quarts strawberries, one large pineapple, one quart red cherries, one quart yellow cherries, one quart red raspberries, one pint large currants, one quart apricots and prunes, plums and peaches to fill the jar.

Leave the berries whole, cut the pineapple into suitable pieces for eating, seed the cherries, pare the apricots and peaches and cut into halves or quarters, and stone the plums and leave whole.

From lovetoknow recipes.

I'm the proud owner of an Imperia 150!

It was a close one, but I won the bid in the last six seconds.

My husband and I danced around the room when I won.

I'll be watching the ol' lane for the delivery man to bring my new pasta maker straight to my door, and for $20 less than the one at the specialty shop.

And then? Pasta time!

Pasta Maker Quest

After reading several books on pasta and doing some searching on the web, I determined that there are generally two hand-crank pasta makers that are the best, the Atlas and the Imperia. So this week, as an anniversary gift from my husband, we went on a quest for a pasta maker.

Now, that might sound grammatically incorrect, like the quest was the anniversary gift. But there is no error in grammar here. Truly, the quest was all we ended up with. So far.

Together with my long-suffering husband, I searched EIGHT kitchen supply stores or stores that featured very large kitchen departments, including one home/kitchen/bath supply mega store, one department store, one kitchen appliance store, one specialty imports store, two high-end discount stores, and two small kitchen specialty shops.

Ironically, it was at the second small kitchen specialty shop, just fifteen minutes from my very rural country home, that I found not one, but three brands of pasta makers in several different package choices. Unfortunately, they were all about twenty dollars higher than I had found them to be suggested during my online searches.

I really struggled with this, standing in the aisle debating about whether to buy one immediately for the higher price and have pasta steaming on the table by dinnertime, or go home and do some online shopping where shipping might negate the savings and I'd have to wait a week.

While staring googly-eyed at the choices and trying to make a decision, another more seasoned couple entered the pasta-maker zone. They hadn't done much research, they said, but the did have an electric pasta maker, and it wasn't worth a darn, they said, so they wanted a hand-crank (this confirmed what I'd read about the bread-machine-like pasta machines). They did know, however, that the Imperia brand, the one I was leaning very heavily towards, was the one they'd heard was the best.

My husband and I determined to buy the model I thought I wanted--the Imperia with just one cutter for $59.99--try it, and return it if it didn't work the way I had hoped. Unfortunately, the store had a no-return policy on items that had been used, which is perfectly understandable but didn't help my decision too much.

Then again, I suppose it did.

I decided that, since these pasta makers were just minutes from my home, I would go home and do some more research and return if I found that I couldn't purchase these more reasonably online. Part of me feels badly about doing this; I should support local businesses--especially ones that carry otherwise hard-to-find items. Part of me feels badly about the idea of spending an extra $20 on something when that money could be better spent.

Eventually, my husband found a variety of both makes of pasta makers on eBay and we're currently watching several of them. The prices for them this way were decidedly cheaper--along the lines of thirty dollars cheaper, including shipping.

So I guess I have to wait.

After all, this cooking blog is about slowing down, isn't it?

Saturday, January 6, 2007

My Current Obsession: Pasta

My current obsession is fresh pasta.

About six months ago, my sons made fresh egg pasta as a science project, and I was completely blown away by the difference. I've had what was called "fresh" pasta at finer restaurants, but there was simply no comparison between those and the ribbons of thick, delicious, flavorful pasta my sons turned out that day. We topped it with a simple alfredo, and it was fabulous.

So, I have been reading extensively about fresh pastas and homemade sauces, different types of cheeses and cheese graters, and searching both local stores and online sources for a hand-crank pasta cutter.

The two top recommended types of pasta cutters are the Atlas and the Imperia. Reviewers say that the Atlas is the best, most stable and easiest pasta cutter they've ever used. Cook's Illustrated says that either can be difficult to find in kitchen or retail stores, so to buy whichever one you find; they both cost around $40 each and don't seem to have any distiguishable differences that would set them apart from each other. If you have a different opinion, be sure to let me know.

The one thing I really like about the idea of a pasta cutter is that you never need to clean it. Okay, maybe that's a bit of a hyperbole. You do need to clean it, but only with a soft cloth and a little dry brushing. It's not to touch soap and water.

To journey along with me on my quest for s-l-o-o-w-w pasta, check out The Complete Book of Pasta and Noodles from the Cook's Illustrated folks. I have recently fallen in love with Cook's Illustrated, and if you are just getting into real cooking and want to learn more, you should, too.

In the days and weeks to come, I'll be experimenting with fresh pasta, different recipes, different ways of cutting it and different shapes, different ways of preparing it and different sauces to combine with it.

If you have experience with fresh pasta, pasta cutters or makers, sauces or other pasta-related information, share 'em in the comments.

Friday, January 5, 2007

Big, Chunky Granola

For years, I looked for the granola of my dreams. I wanted something crunchy that featured big, substantial chunks of goodness. I'd tried many granola recipes and none were quite what I wanted. Until...

About a year ago, I spoke at a ladies' brunch and one of the buffet items was a delicious granola that perfectly fit the bill. After I found out who the creator was, I nagged her for months until I finally got the recipe out of her.

I've modified it some, and I encourage you to modify it some more. Remember that granola is a perishable food, especially since this one is filled with so much wholesome yumminess, so it must be consumed within a week of making it. To always be ready for another batch, I fill baggies full of the dry mix and pop them in the freezer (to keep the mealy bugs away). Then I just have to mix the wet ingredients and bake.

The time-consuming part of this recipe is the baking. It takes 25 minutes at a higher temperature, 25 at a lower, and then an hour with the oven off.

About the ingredients:

Nuts: generally I add whole sliced or slivered, raw almonds, which can be purchased at large warehouse stores, like Sam's Club or through your local food cooperative. You can also add pecans, walnuts, peanuts, or no nuts at all. Experiment! Have fun!

Sweetener: You can reduce the amount of brown sugar and add real maple syrup in its place. You can also use sugar instead of honey, if that's what floats your boat. You can reduce or increase the sweetener to your taste as well.

Oil: I use canola or peanut oil which gives you a chunkier granola. You can also use melted butter. The butter tends to make the granola crumbly, not chunky.

Add-ins: My friend Linda, who partially inspired this blog, is also crazy about this granola, but she has her own variations. Linda suggests replacing the oil with peanut butter and adding 1/4 to a 1/2 cup of chocolate syrup.

One key to making it chunkier is to add a bit more liquid (milk or water) and let the mix set for about 15 minutes before baking it. Not necessary at all, but if you're making several batches, you can do this as you're waiting for the previous batch to come out of the oven.

The Best Granola Ever

3.5 cups rolled oats
3.5 cups quick oats
2 cups of coconut, large unsweetened flakes
1 1/2 to 2 cups nuts, either whole, chopped or slivered (optional)
1/2 cup of ground flax seed (optional)
1 cup of wheat germ (optional)

Mix all of the above in a very large bowl.

Then, in a large microwavable bowl or in a saucepan, mix:

1 cup of canola oil or (2 sticks) melted butter (butter will not give you chunky granola)
*1/3 to 1/2 cup honey (I usually eliminate this or use the lesser amount. All of it makes it too sweet for me)
1 cup brown sugar
1/2 cup milk
1/2 tsp salt
1/4 cup real maple syrup
*Optional: add a 1/4 cup raw wheat germ and a 1/4 cup ground golden flax seed

Heat second mixture in microwave for about 40 seconds or heat on stovetop until smooth and warmed-through, and stir.
Pour liquid mixture over the dry ingredients and stir with a big spoon until all ingredients are thoroughly mixed and wet.
Bake in 2 9 x 13" pans or one very large cookie sheet, ungreased.
Bake for 25 minutes at 325
Stir and switch pan positions.
Bake another 15 minutes at 225.
At this time, you could add a cup of dried fruit, such as cherries, craisins, raisins, or whatever.
Stir and switch pan positions.
Bake another 10 minutes at 225.
Turn off oven and leave granola in for one hour.
Take it out, cool, break into desired sized chunks, and store in an airtight container. Because it contains no preservatives, it won't keep for long, but then again, you probably won't let it!

Salted versus Unsalted Butter?

Jill asked if it mattered whether you use salted or unsalted butter in the Pate Brise recipe, and I told her that I don't think it matters all that much. I've used salted butter when unsalted butter was suggested in a recipe without any disasterous results.

I've never really known why unsalted butter is most called for in recipes, when most people keep the salted version in their fridge, so I decided to do some sleuthing to find out the answer.

Basically, it's this: salted butter can vary in its amount of salt, depending on the manufacturer, so if you really want to control the amount of salt in your recipe, it's best to use the unsalted variety.

Salt can also mask odors, so if you have butter in your fridge that smells fine, but has been exposed to tuna noodle casserole for two weeks, it might not taste too great in your lemon tart.

Salt extends the shelf-life of butter, so if you buy unsalted butter, it won't keep as long, so either use it up or make sure you wrap it well, place it in a plastic bag, and freeze it. Just be sure to get it out in time to use it so that it will be thawed properly.

Salt also inhibits yeast growth, so if you're making bread, that can be a factor.

Many professional cooks say that they can tell the difference between salted and unsalted butter in recipes, especially delicate ones like puff pastries, so several sites suggested that you test things for yourself. Make the same recipe twice and decide if you can tell the difference.

The important thing to remember is that if a recipe calls for butter, don't replace it with margarine. Why would you do that, anyway? ;-)

So there you have it. I hope that answers your questions!

Thursday, January 4, 2007

Bacon-Onion Quiche

Now that you've made the Pate Brise, it's time to put something in it! For a rich, delicious, flavorful filling, we're going to make a Bacon-Onion Quiche. This is not a low-fat recipe! The time-consuming part of this recipe is the browning of the onions. After the bacon has cooked, the onions must be sauteed for about 30 minutes, until they're a deep, golden brown. Baking the quiche takes about 30 to 35 minutes, depending on the heat of your oven.

About the cheese: Gruyere is a hard, unpasteurized cow's milk cheese named after a town in Switzerland. It's a great melting cheese that adds a wonderful flavor but doesn't overpower the other stuff in the quiche. But it's expensive. I've tried swiss as a substitute for the Gruyere. It just doesn't work. You end up with a greasy quiche, especially with all of the fat from the bacon (yes, it actually stays in the quiche. Told you it wasn't low-fat). So, even though Gruyere is an expensive cheese, it's worth it.

This recipe originated from Martha Stewart but is an age-old combination.

Bacon-Onion Quiche

1/2 recipe Pâte Brisée

1 tablespoon olive oil

6 strips bacon, cut into 1-inch pieces

2 medium onions, cut into small dice

1/2 cup milk

1/2 cup heavy cream

2 large eggs

1 large egg yolk

6 ounces Gruyère cheese, grated (1 1/2 cups)

Pinch freshly grated nutmeg

Coarse salt and freshly ground pepper

1. On a lightly floured surface, roll out dough less than 1/8 inch thick. Use a 5-inch fluted cookie cutter to cut into rounds. Fit into five 4-inch nonstick tart pans. Transfer to refrigerator to chill for 30 minutes.

2. Preheat oven to 375°. Heat oil in a large nonstick skillet over medium heat. Add bacon, and cook until fat renders and bacon is crisp and brown, about 8 minutes. Use a slotted spoon to transfer to paper towels to drain. Add onions to the same skillet, reduce heat to medium low, and cook, stirring frequently, until onions are dark golden brown, 30 to 45 minutes. Combine onions and bacon in a small bowl; set aside.

3. Divide half of the cheese evenly among the pans. Sprinkle with bacon and onion mixture, then top with remaining cheese. In a medium bowl, whisk together milk, cream, eggs, and egg yolk. Season with, nutmeg, salt, and pepper. Divide evenly among pans, pouring over cheese. Transfer to oven, and bake until just set in the center, 30 to 35 minutes. Cool on a wire rack for about 10 minutes before serving.

Wednesday, January 3, 2007

Pate Brise

Pate Brise is just a fancy name for "short pastry." We're starting with this, because it's basic, basic, basic and can be used to make savory pies, tarts and quiches. Its sister crust, Pate Sucre, is the sweeter version which can be used to make pies and sweet tarts. We'll get to that one later.

Pate Brise has a fancy name, but it's not at all difficult to make. The reason it's a slow food is because it doesn't shortcut with shortening (yuck!) but features butter instead. The butter is a little finicky, so it has to be kept cold, cold, cold. Thus, we start with very cold butter and then, after mixing it with the other stuff, we add very cold water. After it's mixed, we flatten it (because that helps it chill faster) and then we put it in the fridge to get it very cold again. After we take it out and shape it--you guessed it--it goes back into the fridge to get very cold some more. All of this takes extra time, but it's worth it, because you end up with a delicious flaky crust that's not heavy with shortening.

2 1/2 c all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon sugar
1 c cold butter (unsalted, if you have it), cut into small pieces
1/2 c ice water

Put your flour, salt and sugar in a food processor.

Add butter pieces and process for just a bit, about 10 seconds or so, or just until mixture resembles a coarse meal.

With machine running, add ice water a little at a time through the food-processor tube. When the dough just sticks together but before it gets sticky or soggy,
you've added enough. Don't process the mix for longer than 30 seconds. Test
dough by squeezing a little bit of it together. If it is still crumbly,
add water just a little bit at a time until the dough just clings together. If you use too much water, you'll end up with a tough crust. Not enough, and you'll end up with a powdery crust.

Divide dough in half and turn out onto two large pieces of plastic wrap. Press dough into flat circles, which makes it chill faster and makes it easier to roll out after it's chilled. Wrap dough in plastic wrap and chill for at least an hour.

Take the dough out, one disc at a time, and roll it on a lightly floured surface. You might have to knead it just a bit to get it to a rollable consistency, but don't overwork it or you'll have a tough crust.

Quickly work it into your tart pan, pie pan or whatever you'll be making, then chill it for 15 minutes before you fill it and bake it.

After filling, bake just until golden brown.

Now, wasn't that worth the time?