Friday, April 27, 2012

moving day!

I have volumes to say about what got us to this point, but, it's finally moving day, so I'll spare you for the moment. I don't actually own my apartment yet, but I am legally allowed to move in to it. I'll take it. 

ps-these are pretty much just the boxes for the kitchen, which, in case you were wondering, is by far the smallest room in my new place (LKTC indeed). 

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

my sweatshirt recipe

Do you ever think about how things like onions and peppers can become a part of so many different meals? I know, I know, it's as profound as yesterday's gem on timing. I suppose it's right up there in culinary "lightbulb" moments like "oh yeah, I guess quality ingredients really do make a difference." Give me some credit, I'm still (kind of) new to this whole regular cooking thing. 

Anyways, I'm sure this isn't the very first time I've had the ingredient versatility thought, but it's the first time I felt compelled to articulate it. Lucky you, I know. The thought came to me as I was rummaging through my fridge and cabinets for the components of angry paella. I found myself dicing up the leftover onion and red pepper from last week's pad thai experiment and thinking "I'm being so economical!" You know, little pats on the back and all that. We'll ignore the fact that I got distracted from dinner prep by testing paint colors for upcoming stencil projects. Just focusing on the positives here.     

pardon my unusually careless handwriting. and my bottle of wine holding the whole experiment up.
I decided earlier yesterday afternoon that I wanted to make angry paella to use up the last of my arborio rice. The fewer things I have to pack at this point the better, considering I still haven't started that little chore. Angry paella isn't always made in anger, by the way. It just so happens that the first time I made it, I was angry, and the nickname stuck. 

So while yesterday I was not angry, I was tired and am facing the reality of imminent "homelessness." Or at the very least, a gap between when my current lease ends and when I can close on my new apartment. The details are peculiar, and I'm too drained to recount them right now, but at some point you'll hear plenty, I promise. Bottom line is, the bank has deemed me loan-worthy. My future building on the other hand, is not-so-loan worthy, it seems.  

Which brings me to how, aside from pantry emptying goals, I found myself making angry paella for dinner. You see, it's my sweatshirt recipe. You know how you come home from work and immediately ditch the real clothes in favor of leggins and an old sweatshirt? (That's not just me, right?). It may not be the most creative or attractive combo, but it's comfortable after a long, stressful day in heels and hose. The appeal isn't in the appearance, it's in the familiarity. And that's what angry paella is to me. 

I make it more from memory than from a recipe. I really only measure the rice, everything else happens by sight/feel. I always know just how it's going to taste. It always has just the right level of heat and the right touch of smokiness from the sprinkle of smoked paprika I started adding a while back. No matter in what country, or in whose apartment, I've made it, it has never let me down. So on a rainy, cold day full of stress, it's just what I need.

This is why I don't bother measuring things. I'm going to end up using as many peas as I feel like, and the measuring cup just gets in the way.

problems -> solutions

angry paella + what turned out to be a perfect syrah/malbec blend

And maybe the best part is, I have leftover paella for lunch (and wine for later, when mom descends on DC and we start figuring out what to do about this most recent real estate drama/dilemma). It's practically the next best thing to actually being able to wear my sweatshirt and leggins at work...

Monday, April 23, 2012


Timing is a funny thing (I'll give you a minute to let the profundity of that statement sink in). I don't think it often makes sense, at least not until much later down the road, which is problematic for me and my (sometimes neurotic) need for things to be logical. But every so often, timing surprises me. This morning was one of those moments. 

See, I'm a worrier. I generally don't discriminate with my worry. It encompasses most aspects of my life to some degree. Yes, I am aware that I'll probably die of a heart attack at age 35. In fact, I worry about how my worrying will affect my health.

This, by the way, is why I was completely unsuccessful at maintaining this position for more than approximately five minutes on Sunday. 

Exhausted after working seven straight days, and plagued by a case of the rainy day blues, I thought for sure I'd finally be content to sit still, watch some tv, just relax. Instead, I was propelled by stress, and ended up pinging around my apartment like one of the little metal balls in a pinball machine. 

It was a sight to behold, I'm sure, my bouncing around between washing dishes, painting my nails, putting away my clothes, and baking bread. This all consumed my time only until noon, by the way, when Sophie rescued me from my morning of pointless chores with an invitation to have brunch and watch hockey with friends. 

And so while I actually accomplished quite a lot yesterday, I got home after a lingering dinner with a friend and was kicking myself for how little I'd done (especially on the "packing for the move" front). The successful loaf of bread on my counter (more on that later) seemed trivial compared to, say, packing up my kitchen. 

I woke with the same sense of discontent this morning, and on my way in to work, I read this post from one of the many random blogs I read. The timing couldn't have been more perfect. The author seems to share my proclivity for minimizing accomplishments, and often reaches a point in time (i.e. the end of March) and bemoans the lack of things she's done up to that point. So for this year, she decided to keep a running list each month of things she did manage to do, even if they were seemingly insignificant.

There's no question I need to (and plan to) take a page from her book (err, blog?). I have been especially critical of myself lately in terms of decisions and accomplishments, and there's just not enough room in my life right now for that kind of worry and stress. So, I'm going to follow Holly's lead and start giving myself credit for the little stuff. And the big stuff. Like finally getting parking permits for the moving truck that will transport my life from Arlington to DC on Friday. Go me.  

Now about that loan that still isn't final...           

Thursday, April 19, 2012

playing chicken

I think I'm normally a pretty risk-averse person. Snooze-worthy, I know. I chalk it, along with many of my other quirks, up to being the firstborn child. But this spring, I've strayed from my usually cautious ways. I went out on a limb and joined a new team at work, which has ultimately been rewarding, but is a pretty big departure from the comfortable, safe little work life I had with my old team. 

On the heels of that decision, I also took tangible, terrifying steps towards home ownership (mentioned briefly here). A logical part of my risk-averse nature is an inherent frugality, so while my monthly rent payment pains me, talking about purchasing things that cost hundreds of thousands of dollars makes me downright squirmy. 

But for many reasons, I decided it was time to take the leap of faith. It's been an extremely draining, oftentimes frustrating process, the details of which I may or may not eventually subject you to here. I've felt, for most of the time, like I'm playing chicken. 

See, the loan hasn't come through yet. And I'm due to close in less than 7 days. But I've already given notice of intent to vacate my current apartment. And hired movers. And daydreamed (again) about paint colors and DIY projects. And cringed (and drank a big glass of wine) when the real estate agent cashed my earnest money check. And requested that Pepco set up electricity. And...

So, that, coupled with 10+ hour days and weekends in the office, is really doing a number on my frugal, risk-averse tendencies. I know this because I now get regular emails from both my mother and my real estate agent assuring me that this is a)going to happen, b)a good thing. 

All of this hectic-ness, by the way, is how I found myself doing yet another out-of-character thing recently: cooking for stress relief. I'm forever trying to actually use the recipes I pin on Pinterest, and I had a rare weekday without post-work obligations. Enter chicken pad thai with peanuts and lime from this cool blog I randomly found (it's called Technicolor Kitchen, and the author reviews a movie and a recipe in one go).    

there's a lot of up-front chopping to be done, but, it otherwise comes together quickly

It's not so much that I enjoy prep work (or cooking), but, I do find them to be a perfect distraction from the extremely obnoxious little voice in my head that features a constant loop of nagging questions/worries (a la the news ticker on the ABC 7 building in Rosslyn) about this upcoming move/major life purchase.

I ended up tweaking the recipe a little bit, by the way, by subbing tofu for chicken, adding strips of red pepper, and leaving out the fish sauce (which I tend to loathe...with a passion). I put a couple drops of dark sesame oil and a dash of siracha in the sauce instead. Mine, as you will see when you look at my photo above, and the blogger's version below, came out looking, well, totally different. I'm not sure why hers is so much lighter in color, but, it tasted delicious, so, I'm not complaining!

no clue why Technicolor Kitchen's version and mine (above) look so different...

The next week and a half is going to be overwhelmingly busy, but, at some point I'll be back with more details on (and many photos of) the new digs!

Wednesday, April 11, 2012


Once again, I'm not feeling particularly nostalgic about anything. I suppose that has a lot to do with life being too hectic and complicated for wistfulness (or dishes or cohesive ensembles or home cooked meals or laundry or...) lately.  

So, in the absence of any of that business, I figured I might as well turn my attention to an often-forgotten list: kitchen covets. I'm going to preface this post with the firm statement that no, I do not have a drinking problem, I just happen to have had my eye on two alcohol-related kitchen items for a while now. Please do not call a)my mother, or b)Betty Ford after reading this. My mother would say "you go Jenny!" and Betty Ford would say "that girl is way too poor to detox on our terms."

Anyways, now that we've established that I'm not at all rehab-bound, may I present the first thing on my list of eventual "to buys." Whiskey rocks. I'm not a big liquor drinker (minus holiday season 2011, in which all I drank was straight liquor, but, that's another story for another blog), but when I drink it, I want nothing muddying it. Definitely not soda, but preferably not even ice. Enter whiskey rocks, which keep your liquor chilly, but unmarred by other liquids. And I find them strangely stylish in a rustic way. Heaven.

photo care of uncommon goods' site

Speaking of keeping alcohol cold, but undiluted, I find this little invention fascinating and amazing. It's a corkcicle. As in, a cork with a faux icicle attached. You fill the faux icicle with water and freeze the whole thing. Then, once you pop open a bottle of white wine and pour a few glasses, you put the corkcicle in place of a regular cork, and it keeps the wine chilly. For those of us who live in shoebox apartments short on space and/or just do not have the patience for a whole ice bucket getup, this is perfect! I think this would be the perfect addition to my Monday night dinners with Sophie (which will hopefully resume when the busiest two to three weeks of my life conclude on/about April 30), and it's at the top of my birthday wish list. 

photo care of uncommon goods' site

And now, I will stop talking about booze and go consume just a little bit of it at girls' night with the coworkers. Happy hump day, everyone. 

Monday, April 9, 2012

(f)easter dinner

Saturday was the much-anticipated (F)easter dinner with coworkers. We served salad, rosemary olive oil bread, two types of pasta (made by Trader Joe's, not me, sadly, after my failed experiment), bolognese sauce, pesto sauce, tiramisu, and toasted almond gelato with espresso (known as "affogato"). I'm not kidding when I say that every so often, I just need to make a ton of time and labor intensive food! It's an urge that strikes rarely, but when it hits, you're best served to just get out of the path of the oncoming apron-clad little blond girl and just let her go to town.

I'm happy to report that everything turned out well, despite the general haze of exhaustion through which it was all prepared. My pesto succumbed to the horrors of oxidation, so the thin top layer of it was a lovely brown color, but the rest was unscathed, and it all tasted just as pesto should. I highly recommend Ina Garten's pine nut and walnut recipe. As far as I know, I'd never made pesto from scratch before, so that and the gelato were the only two new things I added to my repertoire this weekend. As much as I like to try new recipes, sometimes the classics are just calling your name. 

But I digress. As much as we all enjoyed everything, I have to say my absolute favorite was the affogato. I had gotten in my head about a week ago that yes, yes we did need two desserts, and that gelato + warm espresso just had to be one of them. That was the end of that discussion. The toasted almond gelato recipe came to me entirely by accident, but I'm so, so happy it did. I'm not sure I could imagine a better flavor to meld with the espresso. I must say, Williams-Sonoma has yet to lead me astray, and this recipe was no exception. 

So because I'm sleepy, and have about a million billion jillion house-related things to tackle in the next 2 1/2 weeks, I'll stop rambling, and leave you with a slew of photos from the feast. Recipes appear at the bottom, and on the LKTC-tested recipes page!  



tiramisu sampler (to make sure it tasted ok, and that none of the eggs were bad before I served it to a group of people!)

the pan of tiramisu for the crowd

the espresso for the affogato, percolating away in my stovetop machine, which was saved from the garbage by this trick

since I didn't manage to capture the affogato, I offer Williams-Sonoma's photo instead

We all had a great time stuffing ourselves silly, and given that (F)easter dinner was the night before, you guessed it, Easter, and we are a group of many religious views, we had some amusing discussions on the tenets of (and misconceptions of) different beliefs. Perhaps my favorite was my coworker who asked me to explain the Holy Trinity, and when I did so, said "oh, I thought the holy spirit was Gabriel!" 

Anyways, hope you had as enjoyable of a weekend as I did. And if you're also feeling a strange but prominent desire to spend a day in the kitchen, here are the recipes I used. I promise the day will quickly slip away between whisking and kneading and mincing and simmering. And also that you'll have a meal that is entirely worth it. Enjoy!  

Recipe Roundup:

ps-many thanks to Neha, who remembered at the last minute to photograph everything!

Sunday, April 8, 2012

rust buster

I know you're just dying to hear about (F)easter dinner, but I'm just too sleepy and drained from a busy weekend. So, instead I offer you an awesome little trick I learned while preparing one of the desserts. See, I needed freshly brewed espresso, but I hadn't used my cute little stove top espresso maker in ages. The base had some suspicious rust/maybe mold going on, and I really didn't want to give the dinner guests any sort of food poisoning, but I wasn't pumped about the prospect of buying a replacement, either. Imminent home ownership has really put the whole budgeting concept into perspective, that's for sure.

Anyways, I turned my attention to google, and came across a method that seemed too good to be true: equal parts vegetable oil and salt. You pour the oil and salt on the rusty surface, scrub with a paper towel or a cloth, and once the rust is gone, you wash the area with warm water and dish soap. I had no idea how that would be effective, but it sounded a whole lot less harsh than pouring bleach in there, which was a common suggestion, so I gave it a shot. And much to my surprise, it was both quick and effective, which was great news, because I consider the espresso-based dessert the sleeper hit of (F)easter.

So if you, too, find yourself facing some nasty rust on something metallic, give the veggie oil and salt a shot.  Now if you'll excuse me, I have to continue my apparent goal of growing out of all of my clothes via over-consumption of Easter basket candy. 

(what, your parents don't still send you holiday care packages?)

Friday, April 6, 2012

(f)easter preview

Easter at the lake, circa 1994. So glamorous, I know. 
The idea of a Thursday happy hour is great, especially in the spring, I think. Slipping out of work a little early for a drink on a patio is one of my more favorite things to do when it gets warm. And I'm lucky in that I'm really happy with the group of friends I've made through work. My former offices in DC weren't as conducive to extra-office socializing, which has its benefits, of course. But I prefer the atmosphere in which there's always a group, or at least a person, to grab coffee, lunch, or a drink with at any given time.

No matter how nice the weather or the group at Thursday happy hour, I must say that the Friday post-happy hour reality is not always so great. Let's just say we were all a little slow to get going this morning, which sounds an awful lot like my complaints of exhaustion from last Friday. 

So while I have a great pesto recipe to tell you about, and a few cool kitchen-y links to share, I am just too darn lethargic to properly articulate either point. 

See, I've devoted all my (limited) energy today, and really for the past couple of days, to being so very excited for a new little tradition that my aforementioned work friends and I are starting this weekend. "(F)easter" dinner. It's a play on "Friendsgiving," which ended up being such a great experiment/adventure/success that Neha and I have been itching to throw another food-centric party (on a smaller scale, this time). We had a great holiday party in December, but decided to keep it simple on the food front, so we're long overdue now that it's April. 

This little dinner party just so happens to fall on Easter weekend, hence the (awful) pun. We're also celebrating one of our coworker's first trips back to the states after a long four months in Afghanistan. And indulging my odd and infrequent desire to cook a whole lot of time-intensive things. Win win win.

I won't spoil the surprise of what I'm cooking (most if it isn't new, sadly, but old favorites are favorites for a reason). I know you're on the edge of your seat, really. If you're at all interested in Italian food or a long overdue homemade ice cream recipe, check back next week!

For now, I'll leave you with one cool Easter related link. NPR's food blog published an article today on why Catholics don't eat meat, but can eat fish, on Fridays during Lent. Being a lifelong Catholic who does her best to observe that rule, I always was more than a little embarrassed when friends would ask me "why does that exist?" and I wouldn't be able to answer. But now I can!  

Happy "whatever you celebrate" this weekend! Family, I hope you're having a lovely time in Georgia without me for the holiday. Eat a waffle or two for me?     


Thursday, April 5, 2012

peas (if you please)

After going on at length yesterday about my happy but accidental subscription to My Recipes' "dinner tonight" emails, I figured I might as well mention another success born out of the daily missives: herbed mashed peas. 

(courtesy of "my recipes")

Ok, I realize if you're anything like my mother, just the word "pea" made you stop reading. I personally didn't discover my love for peas (or whiskey, or country music) until I lived in Italy, and may've joined you pea-haters in turning up your noses at the notion of eating them in any form prior to that point. But now I devour them constantly, and while I can't figure out what led to this change of heart, the point is, you should give the little green guys a second chance.  I can't imagine my life sans peas (or whiskey, or country music) at this point!

I most often eat them covered in a little pesto or a dash of olive oil and fresh pepper, but was intrigued by this recipe for herbed mashed peas that landed in my inbox as March 16th's recipe. I didn't expect the execution of the side dish or the procurement of the supplies to be difficult. Luckily I was right on the actual preparation part, but unfortunately my normally trusty Trader Joe's failed me when it came to tarragon. It also had only very pricey salmon, so I reverted to chicken. And in my rush to get in and out before the dinner rush, I forgot to buy a lemon. 

So I had to also hit the nearby Whole Foods on my walk home for the tarragon and lemon, but considering it's maybe 2 blocks from TJ's, and on my direct route to my apartment, it wasn't a huge inconvenience. 

In retrospect, I wish I hadn't been able to find the tarragon or lemon at all. In my culinary ignorance, I didn't realize tarragon has a distinctly licorice flavor, which is so not my cup of tea. I would've stuck with just the prescribed basil, maybe upping the quantity, and skipped the tarragon altogether. I also think the suggested 2 tablespoons of lemon juice was too much. I don't think the lemon flavor is totally out of place, but in our peas, it was just too strong. Lessons learned: 1)tarragon is icky, and 2)don't dump all the acid in at once, test your peas first!

Tarragon and lemon diatribes aside, Sophie and I still liked the mashed peas. They were a nice change from rice or potatoes, which I feel like I make too often. But the best part was how easy they were to make. I may or may not have struggled to cut the leek at first, but that little road block was quickly vanquished by a switch from my chef's knife to a paring knife. From there, smooth (and rapid) sailing.  

I have happy hours the next few days (and a busy weekend ahead), so I won't have a chance to try any more daily dinner recipes this week, but maybe next week I'll manage to strike a better home cooking/happy hour balance...     

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

oops ("dinner tonight" link)

After consciously employing the awful noodle pun in today's earlier post, I forgot to use mine, and didn't include any sort of link to help you subscribe to the awesome "dinner tonight" emails I rambled on about at length. Even worse? I didn't even notice the omission myself! One of the friends I met for happy hour tonight pointed it out. Anyways, if you'd like to subscribe, just click here

use your noodle(s)

no, i'm not nostalgic about noodles. read on! (ps- photo from here)

Yes, yes, I know, it's Wednesday, and subsequently a regularly scheduled nostalgia day. But oddly enough, I'm not feeling especially nostalgic lately. Work is becoming more consuming by the day and I'm talking to my mortgage and real estate brokers so often that I feel like I'm dating them both. Not to say there aren't exciting things to come in the very near future, but I'm just left without much spare time to pine away for my days sidled up to the counter at Bar da Gino in Venice, perfect cappuccino in hand.

So instead of subjecting you to any sort of wistful musings today, instead I'll just tell you about this great, entirely free service I accidentally signed myself up for recently. In some weird email quirk, I started receiving magazine-related emails meant for my mom a couple weeks ago. I ignored most of them, but one from Coastal Living caught my eye. I'm not usually one to enter contests, but their offer to enter to win a $5000 kitchen makeover seemed worth the effort. See, if I do buy a place, the kitchen is likely going to need the most work. So why not enter?  (When I was young I used to win random stuff all the time in little contests, and while I think that kind of luck has long since left me behind, a girl can dream {of new cabinets and a breakfast nook}).

When you enter, there's a whole slew of things you can opt to sign up for (along the lines of weekly newsletters and special promotions). I didn't think I had signed up for any of them until I started getting daily "dinner tonight" emails. At first, I was all that's so annoying, I really need to opt out. And then I started paying attention to them. Almost all of them sounded good (and more importantly, pretty simple, cheap, and like something I'd eat). So now any time I get one that fits the "simple/cheap/something I'd eat" qualifications, I save that sucker via Pinterest. Then, when I'm on the train home (or sitting on my couch at home), I can quickly see all my ideas in one place and pick something based on what I have on hand or what I can grab easily. 

Sunday was the first time I actually tried one of the many I've now saved. I had been feeling weird most of the weekend, but was finally pretty hungry Sunday evening. Having walked all over DC Saturday and Sunday, I wasn't inclined to go back out for ingredients, but this Asian noodles with chicken option played to everything in my pantry (minus the chicken, and we all know how I feel about cooking meat, so that deficit was fine by me). 

I'm not sure why the recipe says it takes 30 minutes, although I suspect it has to do with a)cooking chicken, and b)using rice or soba noodles, which soak in hot water for a long time versus spending 10 minutes or less in boiling water like traditional pasta. All I had was whole wheat spaghetti, so I just used that. Start to finish, I think the whole thing took me 10 minutes. While the spaghetti was boiling, I threw the sauce together with time to spare. And for the minimal effort involved, it was delicious. 

Oh and I just realized that I lied about just being short on chicken. I was lacking in green onions and cilantro, so I'd be curious to try the recipe again with all the suggested ingredients, and maybe tofu in lieu of chicken, but the  point is, if you, like me, have most of what is called for here, it's still going to be a perfectly satisfying Sunday evening dinner (and tastes perhaps even better straight out of the fridge on Monday for lunch). 

I've since tried a couple of other recipes (eventual reviews to come), but I've tested (and saved) enough of them to suggest that you also give this (free!) service a test drive. I think it's especially well-suited for people like me who don't really plan ahead, are often indecisive on the recipe-selection front, and who could often use a little inspiration standing in the grocery store aisles or in front of the pantry. 

Oh and bonus? The service is provided by My Recipes, which is a sister site of Cooking Light, so at least all of the recipes I've seen so far have been pretty healthy.

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

dessert before dinner

Sophie and I haven't done a Monday dinner in a while now. It's been so nice out that maybe three or so weeks ago, we did a waterfront picnic, then two weeks ago, we went and visited the cherry blossoms (visual proof below), and last week, I was on the ill-fated MegaBus adventure back from Charlotte. So, yesterday was a long overdue dinner that a)I actually cooked, b)we ate in my apartment, which was much more in the spirit of the original idea. 

Anyways, cherry blossom distractions behind us.... 

For last night's dinner, I emailed Sophie with four options. I was feeling especially stressed on the whole "trying to get a loan" front, and didn't want to have to make a single extra decision, not even what to cook. Option 1 was what is typically my personal default dinner "some sort of salad and a really unhealthy dessert." Sophie picked option 4 instead, which involved herbed mashed peas + some sort of protein. By the time Sophie emailed me with her choice, though, I'd already decided these chocolate caramel cookies with sea salt really needed to happen. I'm by no means a Pinterest addict, but I go through phases where I save a lot of recipes using the site, and this is one of the desserts I've had my eye on for ages now. 

So the desire to work my way through saved recipes + my raging sweet tooth + a case of the Mondays = how I ended up with a mash up of options 1 and 4. The herbed mashed peas were alright, more on that some other time, I suppose. The more essential recipe to add to your arsenal rightthisminute is the one for the cookies. I'm here to tell you that it'll accomplish all of the aforementioned goals, and while they're nowhere near as lofty as world peace or a well-rounded meal, well, they're still worthwhile.  

my version

Don't they look delicious? I should've figured out how to get some artsy shot of them a la "two peas and their pod" (the blog from which this sinful recipe came).  

from the original recipe

In the spirit of full disclosure, I followed their directions to the word, and my cookies were not very flat (as you can tell from the "my version" snapshot). I used kind of thick, oval milk chocolate coated Werther's caramels (because Trader Joe's, Whole Foods had exactly zero caramels, and the chocolate covered ones were all Walgreens had), so perhaps that's to blame for the decidedly round nature of my cookies. 

Spherical shape aside, they still tasted absolutely, insanely amazing. I ate one right out of the oven, and forced a still-warm one on Sophie when she arrived. Then we ate all but two of the rest while we watched trashy tv and the NCAA championship game. There was dinner somewhere in between all the cookies. I think we both probably gained five pounds between the cookies and the wine. Naturally we both agree it was entirely worth it. 

Had I not sent the extra caramels and plain yogurt home with Sophie for her to try her hand at recreating the recipe, I'd be making another batch to devour tonight. 

ps-yes, plain yogurt is an ingredient. I thought it was weird, too. When I tasted the raw dough (don't worry, no eggs!), I could definitely taste the tang of the yogurt, but it was entirely unnoticeable in the final product. 

Sunday, April 1, 2012

edible play-doh

I generally fail both at sleeping in and the lazy weekend morning concept. Today I decided that because I couldn't sleep in, I'd try to make fresh pasta again. My sister gifted me a pasta extruder attachment for Kitty the Kitchenaid stripper a while ago, and shamefully I'd only used it once before today.

Last time I made pasta from scratch, the resulting noodles were a little too thick and kind of a weird texture. So I've been doing some research online to see if maybe I made some grave error the last time around. All I really learned, though, is that there's a pretty wide range of recipes, techniques, and opinions on the dough-making process.

Ultimately I landed on a tutorial by Giuliano Hazan, son of of the famous Italian chef and cookbook author Marcella Hazan. Not only was the page I found extremely detailed, it also included a helpful "how-to" youtube video embedded within. As if all of that weren't enough to convince you that you, too, could whip out pasta like a Hazan, there are pictures of little kids with mounds of flour and egg in front of them. See? So easy a kid can handle this.

So instead of keeping things simple, I decided to try a couple of dueling methods/recipes. I made a dough solely of whole wheat flour and eggs (from Hazan's tutorial), and one of a combo of whole wheat pastry flour, regular flour, eggs, olive oil, water, and salt (from here
). Originally I planned to split them each in half, and put half of each recipe through the pasta extruder, and roll the other half by hand. Hence this set up:

Normal people go to brunch or church or a museum on a Sunday. I conduct ill-fated culinary experiments. Is there a specialist out there I could discuss this disorder with, I wonder? No time, I have eggs and flour to play with...

Anyways, the whole wheat/egg dough was what I would, at first, have described as an unmitigated disaster on par with that night I ate wine for dinner or the recent mug cake fail.

I didn't whisk enough flour in to the eggs, resulting in a runny mess when I put the fork aside and tried to incorporate things with my hands. Once I contained the egg runoff, I couldn't get things to come together at all. After adding probably 1/8 to 1/4 cup of water, I managed to get the crumbly mess in to some semblance of a cohesive ball. Frustrated and unsure of what to do, I threw it in some saran wrap to rest, and turned my attention to the other recipe.

In what would be my first real deviation from any sort of standardization in this experiment, I threw all the ingredients in my kitchenaid to let it do the combination step, a blatant attempt to avoid another eggy mess on my cutting board. I quickly realized I had a Goldilocks dilemma on my hands. My first dough was too dry. This dough, on the other hand, was the picture of sticky, and with its olive oil component, smelled more like bread than pasta. I yanked it out of the bowl and kneaded it for a good long while trying to incorporate sufficient flour. When I thought I'd reached a sufficient level of flour, I put it in saran wrap and turned my attention back to the dry whole wheat dough.  

The whole wheat dough was too dry to even thing about rolling out with my rolling pin, so I attached the pasta extruder to Kitty and picked the "large macaroni" plate. Strike two (or three?) for my original experiment. I slowly fed walnut-sized pieces into the hopper, and was greeted with fairly normal looking rigatoni-ish noodles. The whole ordeal was far less Laverne and Shirley at the chocolate factory than my last attempt, for which I was quite grateful. 

Once I'd patiently used up every last ounce of whole wheat dough, I taste-tested a few of the smaller noodles. Not bad at all, I conceded, with a healthy level of surprise.

So I arranged it all on a new Ikea towel and set it aside to dry (a state of this adventure that is still in process, I am annoyed to report). 

Then, in my third (or fourth) violation of the original tenets of the experiment, I opted to roll out the pastry flour dough. You're only supposed to run you're kitchenaid mixer for something like 30 minutes straight, and Kitty had definitely been working longer. I'm the picture of penny pinching these days, so a new Kitty is not in the budget. And I figured using a rolling pin would be my version of exercise today. 

I'm sure I didn't get the dough anywhere as close to the "proper" level of thinness, but I produced some pretty little disks. 

Then I let them dry about 10 minutes until "leathery," per my pal Giuliano's suggestion. At that point, I rolled up each disk and cut papardelle-width noodles. Upon un-rolling each strand, I wasn't happy with the looks of things. So I rolled each one back up and cut something more along the lines on linguine-width noodles. I tossed groups of about six noodles into bundles to dry. 

My taste test of the papardelle noodles (pre-second round of cutting) wasn't as promising as the whole wheat dough. The noodles were thick and kind of slimy. Much of the same issue I had with my last attempt at pasta. I haven't tried them again since trimming them down to a smaller size. I'm not holding my breath, although part of me obviously holds out some hope for the little suckers, because I didn't just pitch the whole batch or anything. 

Had I not used up every last "oh shoot these are about to expire" eggs, I probably wouldn't tried yet another recipe/method. In case you've really started to worry about my sanity at this point, rest assured that I was up so early that I actually completed all of this prior to 11am. After my kitchen was covered in flour and drying noodles, I popped out to meet up with a friend at Eastern Market. My stomach has been queasy for a couple days, so I didn't actually eat anything, but we wandered around for hours. It was the perfect spring day.

Now, however, I am exhausted. I think I've earned some couch time before what promises to be possibly the busiest month of my life. Think I'm exaggerating (now why would you think that?!)?  Just stay tuned. 

ps-If Giuliano Hazan's name sounds familiar, it may be from the recipe of his I used for dark chocolate gelato here. Yum. That reminds, me, Fiona could really use a workout...

pps-yes, that blog make-under lasted all of one day. I tried to browse through my archives and it was such a hassle that I changed things back straightaway.