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Feb 4, 2011

 
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Crackers & Ciabatta



I'm having my first dinner party in our new place tomorrow, and I decided to make the cheese ravioli with homemade ricotta that Kate and I made when I was in LA a couple weeks ago. That day I had purchased some thin garlic crackers which we used to inhale the ricotta we didn't use for the ravioli, and the combination was so good I knew I wanted to serve it as an appetizer. However, I didn't know that I'd be able to find the same crackers here, and, you know, I'm a little touched, so what the hell, I decided to make my own.

A google search quickly led me to a recipe for Olive Oil Crackers at 101 Cookbooks, which is a blog I love. I've made several of Heidi's recipes and they've never failed me. This one didn't either. I used AP flour instead of whole wheat, and replaced the olive oil with a garlic infused grapeseed oil. YUM. I made a test batch a couple days ago and pretty much ate them as fast as they cooled.

I rolled the dough to 5 on my pasta machine (instead of 4) and found that when divided into 12 pieces the sheets were kind of long and sort of pain to work with. So this time around, I divided it into 36 pieces (and yes, because I'm a geek, I weighed the dough and figured out that each one was just about 20oz). Each piece rolled out to a manageable size, and from there I cut them in half with my pizza cutter and sprinkled them with a little kosher salt. I baked 3 at a time, at 450, for 6 minutes on my pizza stone.

You really, really, really need to wait for them to cool completely before eating them to get that awesome crunchy goodness. They are good by themselves, with ricotta, and they go great with other soft cheeses like Brie, or a triple cream.



Now...while I was busy rolling dough balls into crackers, my ciabatta dough was tripling in size. This recipe is by far the easiest one I've ever made because, well, it's kind of a food hack. There's no folding or turning, or any such thing, just beat the hell out of the dough, let it rise twice, flip it over, toss it in the oven. The only tip you really need when working with dough this hydrated is this: WET YOUR HANDS. Don't over flour. I did that the first time and wound up with great tasting bread with a burnt flour crust. It wasn't horrible, but it wasn't awesome either. Now I don't flour at all. I oil the hell out of the bowl, oil the parchment paper I pour it out on, and only touch it with wet hands.

You know what else you can make with this dough? AWESOME PIZZA. I usually pull about a third of it right after mixing and toss it in the fridge. Then I bake two loaves of bread, and when I get around to it, pull that last piece into a roundish shape, pile on pizza goodness, and bake. I don't really worry about the triple in size part for the pizza, even in the fridge the dough will rise, and it's usually in there a couple hours at least before I get back to it. Of course, it's perfectly fine to leave it there overnight too.
 

Jan 28, 2011

 
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Kate's Kookies



I'm sure these cookies have a more formal name, like Awesome Sugar Cut Out Icebox Cookies, but I got the recipe from my best foodie friend Kate, thus they are Kate's Kookies. They are also super simple, not too sweet, and delish.

By super simple I mean:

• Cream 1 cup of butter with 1 cup of sugar
• Mix in 2 tablespoons of milk and 1 teaspoon of vanilla
• Gradually beat in 2 1/2 cups flour
• TADA

From there you just refrigerate the dough (45 min to an hour), roll it out to about 1/8 inch, and cut out adorable little shapes with adorable little cookie cutters. I don't have adorable little cookie cutters, thus I used one from my MOMA collection. This one is blob-ish; I have another one that looks like a happy sperm, but I only use that for special occasions.

Oh right, and bake @ 375 for 8-12 minutes.

As you can see, I embellished mine with chocolate chips, almond slivers (ideas I stole from Kate), and lavender sugar (which I got from Kate). So, in other words, Kate is basically awesome.

The dough is easier to roll when it's cold, ergo the refrigeration. It is NOT easier to roll when it's frozen, so don't do that. Also, if you break it up into 3 or 4 parts (wrap in wax paper or saran) before putting it in the fridge, you can work with one batch at a time.

NOTE: if you're thinking: hey idiot, you forgot the egg! I didn't! There is none!

(PS: I'm such a geek I used my sewing gauge to measure the dough thickness)
 

Jan 15, 2011

 
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My weekend > your weekend



This weekend the husband is at NAMGLA (North American Man Gear Love Association - otherwise known as NAMM) which means that I get to spend the weekend with my best foodie friend, Kate. Yay for me, and you too if you'd been invited to dinner. As you've probably already guessed we made pasta, more specifically, ravioli. On one hand, yes, it was plain cheese ravioli. On the other hand, omgwow, it was we made our own ricotta cheese ravioli.

Over the years I have discovered there are certain things you just might never think to make, but once you do, you'll never buy them again. Butter is one of those things. When I tell people I make my own butter they look at me like, seriously? and you can tell they're wondering if this somehow involves a cow. Well, I mean, of course it involves a cow, but that part doesn't involve me. For my part, it's just cream, salt, and a food processor.

As it turns out, ricotta is also one of those things. Milk, salt, lemon juice, heat, a couple minutes of your time, and did I mention, omgwow? We used half to make the ravioli, and the other half we practically inhaled. It was especially good on garlic crackers with a bit of black pepper. We strained ours longer than called for in the recipe just so we'd have nice firm ravioli, but when they cooked up they were amazingly creamy and fantastic. Little pillows of awesome, I think Kate called them.

We took both the filling and pasta recipes from Joy of Cooking and just sort of winged from there. We served the ravioli with a meat sauce Kate had already made, and pesto that we tossed together with walnuts because we forgot to buy pine nuts. Honestly, I couldn't tell the difference, but that's probably because of all the garlic. I suppose the whole process could be considered somewhat time consuming if you don't like to spend time in your kitchen. But then, if you don't like spending time in your kitchen, you probably won't be making your own ravioli.

Tonight, we sample the other half of our experiment: dessert ravioli. We have mascarpone/blueberry, drunken fig, marzipan (hey why not, she had some handy) and banana. Chocolate sauce and powdered sugar for drizzling and sprinkling. Should be good fun.

Oh, and you know what I learned this weekend? All these years I've been pronouncing mascarpone, marscapone. Oops.
 

Jan 7, 2011

 
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Roll your own

I really got into making my own pasta a couple years ago, and I think the only reason I haven't done it in a while (except for that whole pierogi thing) is because my current kitchen is not exactly user friendly. In any case, homemade pasta is an extra special kind of awesome and I highly recommend you give it a try if you haven't already. I have a super easy egg pasta recipe I'd be happy to share with you if it weren't for the fact that it's shoved in a box somewhere in a house in Tempe I'm not moved into yet. So, I promise, when I dig it out, I'll post it. I know, I know, I'm such a recipe tease.

However, all is not lost. I found this Mark Bittman article / video at the NYT today that does a great job of talking you through the process. I don't recall using quite as many eggs, and I mix my dough in a Kitchen Aid mixer rather than a food processor, but beyond that my recipe/process is just about the same. Even for the pesto! Recipe here.

 

Dec 23, 2010

 
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Garlic Rosemary Rolls



I've been making these Garlic and Rosemary Cloverleaf Rolls for a couple years now and they have never failed me. I don't particularly think they are any more time consuming than any other bread-thing you might make, unless it somehow bums you out to spend an hour roasting garlic.

I follow the recipe almost exactly - except (this is me we're talking about) I double the garlic, and on the rare occasion I use dried rosemary, I double that too. As a result of the extra garlic I find the dough needs more flour - I'd guess I use probably 3 1/2 - 4 cups. Honestly, I don't measure beyond the first 3 cups, I just do that whole add flour by the spoonful as the Kitchen Aid mixer is doing it's thang, til the dough clears the bottom of the bowl. It's a little tacky when I pull it out, but nothing that isn't solved by the first rise.

Also, I don't know, I guess because I'm lazy, I don't baste them with butter before I bake them, instead I add about 1 1/2 teaspoons of dry milk to the dough when I'm mixing it, and that sort of makes everything evenly brown.

Apparently these freeze well, which I've never tried - but to save myself time come holiday season, I do bake them about 2 days in advance, and toss them in the fridge. Then on feast day I wrap them in aluminum foil and reheat at 375 for about 10 minutes.
 

Dec 21, 2010

 
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Who makes the pierogi? I make the pierogi!



My mother is not fond of cooking. Which is not to say that she isn't good at it, just that she'd rather not. So it might seem odd then that she's the one who always hosts Thanksgiving, Christmas, Easter, 4th of July, your birthday, his birthday, etc... It's not because no one else will, in fact you pretty much have to fight her to host it yourself.

In any case, now that we live in the same state, I try to take some of the pressure off her, and while I have yet to have any success at wrestling a holiday out of her hands, I do make about 30% of any given feast and truck it over to her house. Which leads me to the pierogi...

See, mom's mom, well, I don't know if she loved to cook, but she was certainly awesome at it. Not awesome like gourmet chef awesome, awesome like Polish Grandma awesome. So every holiday, mom's kitchen split personality emerges, in that on one hand she complains about cooking, while on the other she laments that she never learned how to make any of the dishes that her mom made.

Now one would think that growing up with Grandma she would have just absorbed some of this knowledge, but it apparently it didn't work that way. Also, there's no, like, Long Lost Grandma Cookbook because she didn't have one. She never wrote a recipe down, never read one, never ripped one out of a magazine. I don't think she even owned a cookbook. She never measured anything, she just tossed stuff in a bowl, mixed it up with her trusty wooden spoon, and viola! feast. So there is no recipe for grandma's pierogi or sauerkraut, or kolachky, or nalesniki, or that plum cake thing she made, or whatever the hell that stuffed cabbage thing was called.

There are many differences between me and mom, but with respect to this post the main one is this: I LOVE TO COOK. And as I mentioned, I try to make things a little easier on her by at least taking care of veggie main dishes (I'm the only vegetarian in the gene pool), and various side dishes, and bread, as I like to bake too. I mean, seriously, why eat those crack-the-can crescent rolls when you can make your own?

No really, I'm getting to the pierogi. Here we go.

It's a couple days before Christmas and we're going over who is making what. Oh, I just want it to be easy, she says. Don't worry mom, I'll make those garlic rosemary dinner rolls you like, and sure, no problem, I can make a couple sides, so on and so forth. And then it hits me: when grandma was alive, and she was the host, there was no such thing as dinner without pierogi. So I think to myself: I'll surprise mom!

Off to The Goole I go. And what I discovered in dough recipe after dough recipe was sour cream. Please. I may not have grandma's kitchen IQ, but I know she never used sour cream. This is a woman who started life in the Ukraine, got shushed around Europe during WWII, eventually landed in Germany, and then left for the US after the war. I don't think she had electricity or running water most of the time, much less sour cream. But she always had pierogi.

So, trying to be as Authentically Grandma as possible, I turn to my Treasured Polish Recipes For Americans cookbook, which I picked up in Chicago in a previous life, and have giggled at often, but never used. The dough recipe in that book is much more grandma-like: flour, eggs, water, salt. PERFECT. Grandma's fillings were: potato, sauerkraut, cheese and plum, so I chose the first two and sort of made it up from there, trying to keep everything as simple as possible, because that's how grandma would have done it.

SUCCESS. I nailed that pierogi on the first try. I knew it before I even plopped it into boiling water just by the smell of the dough. And suddenly I remembered being a little-elle in her kitchen, I remembered the juice glass she used to make the dough circles, her giant mixing bowl, her wooden spoon, her rolling pin.

So now I have a freezer full of pierogi which I will take to mom on Christmas day. I guess I will truly be able to say I nailed it (or not) when I see the look on her face, but I have a feeling all will end well...
 
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