"Things won are done,
Joy's Soul lies in the Doing."
- William Shakespeare

Monday, April 23, 2012

All Sorts of Good

This past weekend has been a huge treat.  Summer weather, which is uncommon around here in April, had us loving on some outside time, getting up to all sorts of good things, with good friends.

There may have been a little rope swinging action.

There may have been some archery.

...with cute baby bumps.

As you do.

(Actually, it's not something we usually do, but it was indeed fun.)

And best of all, there was pasta making, my friends.

Which, like the archery, was a first for me.  And it was all sorts of good.

You need some extra hands for this one, preferably those of some very dear friends, like our M & J, (who brought the pasta maker, as well as the bow and arrows) perhaps a couple of Kiddos to help with cranking the dough through the rollers, and a Mister, to snap photos of the whole thing.

J found the recipe here on cook-italian.com, and it worked amazingly well.  Not that I have much, ahem, any, experience with making fresh pasta.  But M is Italian, grew up eating fresh pasta, and he wholeheartedly approved, so there you go.  You can trust him.  Being the slacker that I am, and lacking the finesse (as well as confidence) in my dough working abilities, we cheated, and adapted the recipe for the pasta setting on my bread machine.  I must say, major pat on the back for that clever move.  (M's the one who told me about the pasta setting, too.  Very hip to it, that guy.)  So, I'm sharing instructions for how we made our pasta, if you want to roll lazily along, like we do.  If you're a little more hardcore, and prefer to do it by hand, just visit the site for complete instructions.

Also, the recipe said the amount fed only 1 to 2 people, so we tripled it, and Mamma Mia!  Did we ever have enough pasta for four adults, and two Kiddos, with leftovers.  I'm giving you the doubled amount of the original, to feed six easily.

Here you go:

Fresh Semolina Egg Pasta - adapted from cook-italian.com
 - serves six

4 large eggs, beaten
2 cups semolina flour (Bob's Red Mill makes this, and you can get in in bulk at Fred Meyer too)
1 cup all purpose flour
4 Tbs olive oil
4 or 5 Tbs water
1 tsp fine sea salt (plus more for boiling pasta)

In your bread machine pan, place the beaten eggs, olive oil, and 4 tablespoons water, followed by salt, and the flours.  Set the machine to the pasta setting, if you have it (or use the dough setting, and take it out after about 10 to 15 minutes, once thoroughly kneaded).  After about 5 minutes, peek in and make sure the dough is combining well, if it appears dry, add another tablespoon or two of water.  If it looks too wet, you can flour your board and knead in extra flour soon.  The dough will appear much stiffer than bread dough.  This had me concerned, but M assured me it was right.  And it was.

Once the pasta cycle is complete, and the dough is nice and smooth, place it in a covered bowl, or plastic bag, and refrigerate for 20 minutes, up to overnight, to rest.

Here's the fun part.  Divide your dough into four to six pieces, keep the ones you're not working with covered, in the fridge.  Roll out a piece to a thickness that will fit into the pasta machine, approximately 1/4 inch thick.  Starting on the largest setting ("1", in our case), roll it through the machine. 

Keep at it, until it's your desired thickness.  (We felt good with "5")

Next, you get to decide what type of pasta you're craving.  We went with fettucini.  I'm fantasizing about some serious lasagna next time.  And spaghetti.  And ravioli.  Mamma mia!

Hang the pasta to dry on a pasta rack, if you have one.  If you run out of room, because of copious quantities of pasta (which is never a bad thing), you can use hangers, like we did.  

How lovely is that?  Let the pasta dry for about 20 minutes or so, while putting a very large pot of heavily salted water on to boil.  Drop the pasta in carefully, and cook for 2 to 3 minutes, until al dente, with a bit of a bite to it.  You may prefer to do this in two batches, because it's rather tricky getting that much pasta into the water quickly, and not dropping the temperature too low.  If you do this, use tongs or one of those groovy pasta scoop things, to fish out the first batch, then bring the water back to a rolling boil for the second.

Drain the pasta, being sure to save a cup or so of the water.  Toss the pasta with some of your preferred sauce, a bit of pasta water, a glug of olive oil...and serve it up, family style, with some good parmiggiano.

Okay.  Just one more:  
Mamma Mia...what a good day.

Monday, April 16, 2012

Cheap & Cheerful

This Cheap & Cheerful, my friends, is one to stock in your pantry at all times.  Especially if you have kids.  Even if you don't have kids, come to think of it.

Cheap and cheerful in its truest form.  El Pato salsa is making a rather regular appearance around these parts lately.  The wee 7 3/4 oz cans run about $1, but I often see them on sale for 59¢, and of course, I grab several.  There's a very slight amount of heat in the red can, which the Kiddos love, and gobble up with their "specialty" (make-it-yourself, school-night quesadillas).  El Pato makes two other versions, one in a yellow can, one in green.  For some odd reason, the yellow's the spiciest, and I can't tell the difference between green and red, but whatever.  It's tasty and quick.  A smooth salsa, rather than the usual fresh, chunky style we tend to see more around the Pacific Northwest.  Perfect for those nights when dinner's delayed, and a little nibble of chips and salsa is necessary to appease the hunger pangs.  (And to postpone the inevitable "When's dinner?!" whining).  Or for when you're trying very hard to stick to eating in season, and tomatoes are a long way off from being locally available.  However you slice it, this is a no-brainer. 

Go grab some, and enjoy!

Have a great day!

Monday, April 9, 2012

Phoning it in

Last week was Spring Break for the Kiddos.  Unfortunately, instead of the planned gatherings with friends and trip to the zoo, The Boy and I managed to pick up some mystery bug, which knocked us out of commission for the last several days.  On the good side, we did get to spend some serious quality time snuggled up in bed, watching movies, reading books, knitting, and napping.  (Napping?  I think the last time I engaged in that activity was in the bygone Before-Kids Era.)  So, when Easter rolled around yesterday, and we found ourselves still not quite up to scratch, health-wise, we had to kind of phone it in, as far as festivities and feasts go.

We did manage a tame egg hunt, while gale-force winds threatened to sweep the Kiddos away...

I did manage to knock up a nice little aioli (Un petit aioli rather than Le grand aioli?) in the afternoon...complete with sweet potato fries.  Which I suppose could sound odd, but was very tasty.

And best of all, in my phoning it in frenzy, I did manage to score on finding a Martha Stewart recipe that was so incredibly simple to prepare, and so delicious to eat, that I must share it with you.  With only three, count them, three!, main ingredients, the Asparagus and Gruyere Tart pretty much made my day. 

 A simple store-bought sheet of puff pastry, topped with some grated Gruyére and fresh asparagus.  The asparagus is spot-on for ripeness right now, and it roasts up atop the tart so nicely.  I sprinkled a little coarse pink Hawaiian salt (gifted to me by G), over the asparagus, and oh my!  This one, my dears, will completely fool your people...they'll have no idea you phoned it in.  And if they do, they won't care, it's so tasty.

Here you go:

Asparagus and Gruyére Tart - adapted from marthastewart.com

One sheet of frozen puff pastry, thawed
1 cup shredded gruyére*
Approx 1 1/2 lbs asparagus
olive oil, for brushing
coarse pink salt, sel gris, or kosher salt, to taste
freshly ground pepper, to taste

Preheat oven to 400 deg F.

On a lightly floured work surface, roll the thawed sheet of puff pastry out to an approximate 10" by 16" rectangle, then transfer to a baking sheet.  Using a sharp paring knife, lightly score 1" from the edge to mark a rectangle, then prick with a fork inside the rectangle, every 1/2".  Bake in oven for 15 minutes, until lightly golden.

Remove pastry from oven.  Trim your asparagus to fit crosswise within the inner rectangle (see above photo).  Cover pastry with cheese, then lay the asparagus over the top, and brush lightly with olive oil, and season with salt and pepper.  Bake for another 20-25 minutes, until the asparagus is tender.  Serve immediately.


Monday, April 2, 2012

Making the Most (of Beets)

I usually have the very best of intentions when it comes to not being wasteful of food.  I sometimes find it tricky, though, to use every last bit of certain foods, even though they taste lovely.  Beet greens are often my downfall, as far as wastefulness goes, anyway.  I adore beets.  Everything about them:  their vibrant, almost obnoxious color; their sweet, yet earthy taste; how they adapt to so many preparations...steamed, boiled, roasted (especially roasted!), pickled, juiced...And yet those greens often elude me, and I find myself guiltily snipping them off, wilted from not being used immediately, and chucking them. 

I detest wasting food.

Not so last night, though, my friends.  I made the most of those beets, greens and all.  I'd been picking through Tender (again), and lit upon one of Slater's ever-so-helpful recommendations on an accompaniment to beets.  Get this:  gherkins.  (That's a cornichon to the French, and pickled, for us Americans.)  Beets and pickles, you say?  Hmm.  I mulled it over, and found it made sense.  After all, beets and dill are a perfect pairing, and how delicious are pickled beets?  So, I decide to make a salad out of my beet greens, which were young, tender, and rather sprightly (thus, I absolutely could not waste them, yet again), some roasted beetroot, and some cornichons.  A little pomegranate and shallot vinaigrette...and away we go.

Here you have it.  A salad that's just crazy enough to work:

A Salad of Roasted Beets, Wilted Beet Greens, and Cornichons - serves 4 as a side

1 bunch (3 or 4 small to medium) beets, with tender, fresh greens still attached
3/4 cup cornichons, sliced into bite-sized pieces
balsamic vinegar
olive oil
smoked flaky sea salt (regular flake sea salt will do fine)
freshly ground black pepper

2 Tbs pomegranate red wine vinegar (or balsamic)
1 tsp minced shallots
1/2 tsp dijon mustard
1 tsp packed brown sugar
4 - 6 Tbs extra virgin olive oil (I used about 4, for a tangier vinaigrette)
smoked sea salt (or regular)
freshly ground black pepper

To prepare the beets:

Preheat the oven to 425deg F.

Snip the beet greens off, about an inch above the root.  Thoroughly wash the beetroot, scrubbing away any mud or dirt.  Check in the stems particularly, clumps of sandy mud often hide in there.  Rinse the greens (separately) in a sink partly filled with cold water, leaving to soak for a couple of minutes, to loosen any grit.  Drain, then wrap in a paper towel, and refrigerate until ready to assemble the salad.

Quarter or halve the beets, depending on size, and place on a large square of aluminum foil.  Drizzle with a bit of olive oil, some balsamic vinegar, and season with smoked sea salt and pepper.  Wrap the packet tightly, place atop a baking sheet, and roast for 45 minutes to an hour, until beets are fork-tender.

To prepare the vinaigrette:

Once the beets go into the oven, whisk together the vinegar, dijon, shallots, brown sugar, salt and pepper, until thoroughly combined, then drizzle in the olive oil, and whisk until emulsified, about a minute or so.  Leave at room temperature to let the flavors mingle until you dress the salad.

To assemble the salad:

*Note*  My beet greens were rather small, and quite tender, thus, needing no more than a little wilt from the hot-from-the-oven beetroot.  I'd advise using similarly young greens, or if that is impossible, either substitute another slightly bitter green (such as arugula, or mustard greens), or give older beet greens a go quick go around in a hot pan, to wilt them down a bit, before tossing the salad together.

In a large serving dish, toss the greens with small amount of vinaigrette, then the (still hot) beetroot.  Dress with a bit more vinaigrette, then scatter the cornichons over the salad.  Serve immediately.

You really could play with this salad, and change it up, by altering the dressing ingredients, or adding a tangy goats cheese to contrast with the sweetness of the beets, and the tart cornichons.  Have fun with your food, and make the most of it!