Sunday, February 17, 2013

Helpers in the Kitchen (Noodle day!)

Basic Pasta

Over the holidays I spent some high quality time with my sister's family and we had a great time making homemade pasta. We aren't Italian, but that doesn't mean you can't make great pasta and enjoy doing it.  My sister raises chickens, so we had the privilege of using her fresh delicious eggs which impart a nice colour and flavour.  See below for this easy recipe and with the Kitchen-Aid pasta maker attachment, rolling and cutting are a snap.

My older sister and my nephew Alec helping make pasta. 

Pasta is a classic staple in many of our homes.  Fresh pasta is a delicious alternative to the standard noodles both in taste and texture.

To Make
- Combine in the mixer bowl:  4 large eggs, 1/2 c. water, 3 1/2 c. sifted flour, and 1/2 tsp salt
-  Use the flat beater (also known as a paddle beater, or the one that looks a bit like a spade) and mix for 30 seconds on speed 2 (medium).
 - Now, put on the dough hook
- Turn back to speed 2 and let the dough knead for 2 minutes. Remove dough and knead by hand for 1-2 minutes, or until the dough is firm and smooth.
- Cover and let it rest for 30 minutes in the refrigerator. This is very important - do not skip this step!

IT'S ALL ABOUT THE GLUTEN (science time!)
In this step what you are doing is allowing the gluten that you just developed to relax.  Let me back up one step further - within the wheat kernal (the grain) you have the outer later (the bran), the oil sac (the germ), and the starch endosperm (what gets ground up and becomes what you think of when I say flour).  Whole wheat flour contains all of these components and goes rancid much faster due to the oil oxidation (oil exposed to oxygen).  Keep it in the freezer to reduce the enzyme activity for spoilage.  But - back to the gluten -> within wheat, you have several types of proteins, I will not go into all of the different types. However, there are 2 that really make the difference: Gliaden and Glutenin.  When you combine both of these proteins (though mixing) with the presence of water then you are able to create a strong and elastic protein matrix called "Gluten"!!   The proteins give strength and support to your pasta while also having a nice elastic rebound. Think about it like a stretchy elastic cord.

Whole grain flour normally makes for a heavier/ more dense bread - because the cellulosic bran layer (no gliaden or glutenin) and the oily germ layer prevent the gluten from stretching. Think about this like adding a plastic crimp in your elastic cord - it doesn't stretch very well in that spot - hence, becoming tougher.

This is also the reason that different flours are found in the grocery store - they are all specified by their respective protein content.  For bread, you want to have a strong crumb structure and develop a lot of gluten and you will find that the standard of identity for bread flour is 13% whereas a cake is much softer (also aided by the addition of sugar), but cake flour typically contains around 9% protein.  An "all-purpose flour" typically contains around 11% protein.

I have made basic egg-pasta with both all-purpose and bread flour and both turned out great. However, if you do want to substitute some of your flour for whole wheat flour, I would recommend using bread flour for the white flour in your recipe to boost the available proteins.

After you have mixed together the dough, the proteins will be tight. Allowing the dough some time to rest will relax the proteins (decreasing the tension in the matrix) and give you better stretching with less rebound.

- After your pasta has rested (and now you know why) - divide it into 4 pieces.
-You may need to use a little flour at this point, but refrain from adding too much. You don't want them to taste like flour.
- Pass this through the pasta maker (smooth rollers) to the desired thickness.
-Do this 1 piece at a time and place on a floured towel after you've rolled it out.
-I like to start at the larger setting and then reduce the thickness gradually so that it becomes more even. If you set it on the smallest setting first, it will clog the top of your machine and has a tendency to tear because you are putting a lot of shear stress (stretching in the direction of travel) on the dough.

- You can use the sheets you have made to assemble ravioli or you can change attachments like we did and add the linguine attachment. Roll your sheet through one more time and  - "Ta-Da!" you have perfect linguine.

The sheets get longer and longer - use the back of your hand to support the draping pasta as it goes through the machine. 
-Allow to dry draped over a clean rod (yardstick), or on a towel. If you use the towel, it will take longer and you might have to turn them.

Once they are dry, store in an airtight bag.  If you want to store them before they are dry, simply allow to dry for 1 hour and then place into a freezer container.

A fun activity for a cold winter day when we are all stuck inside. 

As you can see, any rods will work - this is about being creative and using what you have!

Drape the pasta over rods or place on a floured towel to allow the strands to dry. 

 - Fresh pasta cooks much faster than commercial dry pasta.
- Place in boiling, salted water and cook for 4-6 minutes, depending on the thickness of your pasta.

My 2-year old niece doing some 'quality control' on the finished product - I think it's a hit! 

Sunday, February 10, 2013

The Plaza (Food Hall) & Strawberry-Jalapeno Prosecco

The Plaza (Todd English's Food Hall) - PLUS - spice up your Prosecco with a Strawberry-Jalapeno   mash recipe (Amy's creation)

The Plaza Hotel in NYC ( is known for two amazing things: one being a glamorous Cinderella-spot for weddings and the other being an amazing food castle sitting beneath the hotel.  Given my current state of affairs, you can guess that I chose the to be princess of the food castle rather than the fairytale wedding.

The Food Hall, opened in 2010, has an amazing restaurant as well as several (for lack of better terms) "high end, artesian food stalls" or small booths outside of the restaurant where you can mingle around and find some exquisite treats. It actually reminds me of the Food Hall in the ritzy Harrods's Dept. store in London (on a smaller scale). See below for pictures of this fun food-tourism adventure.

Todd English is the chef in charge of the Food Hall restaurant bearing his name. 

I know it's hard to see - but these are marshmallows! 

Strawberry-Jalepeno Prosecco (I asked the bartender to blend it for me) with Lobster Hush puppies and a truffle aioli sauce.  See below for how to make this drink at home! 

Gorgeous and zingy fish tacos - Slice & seared tuna, chili-lime aioli, jalapeños and a zippy radish slaw

Brick-oven baked pizzas! This is the fig & prosciutto with gorgonzola cheese - rich and delicious! 

Francois Payard: This delightful chocolatier blesses us with another french delight - Macaroons (in the food hall).  I  absolutely LOVED the violet macaroon. I find many try to make good macaroons, but few actually succeed in reaching their goal.  This place actually deserves the right to continue making them. My favorite macaroons are from a La Maison du Chocolat when I was in Paris (there is a La Maison in the Food Hall, which I did not yet try) and these were a good resemblance form the ones I had in Paris. Well done, yet again, to the French.

Give me the bubbly stuff any time.  But amidst the world of fancy cocktails, you will occasionally find some containing Prosecco (let's dare not desecrate true Champagne).  On the drinks menu, I found a fancy drink which had a strawberry-jalapeno mash and wanting to add a little creativity to my bubbly, I asked the bartender to add some of the mash to my drink.  What I found was a delightful little kick to make the sweet bubbly have a little more complexity.  It also gives a little visual appeal to the clear liquid.

Strawberry-Jalapeno Mash

1 c. chopped strawberries, separated
2 jalapeño  peppers* - finely chopped, separated
2 Tb. water
2 Tb sugar
1/4 tsp salt

Using your immersion blender (remember, I love this tool), blend together 1/2 c of the strawberries and 1 of the jalapeño peppers, water, sugar, and salt.  Blend until smooth. Stir in the remaining strawberries and jalapeños. For best results, allow the flavors to blend and equillibrate in the fridge for at least 30 minutes, but this will keep a couple days in a covered container. Add 1-2 Tb of mash to your bubby and enjoy!

You could also free portions in an ice cube tray (I would recommend only filling the standard ice-cube only half full) and then when you want a fun add to your drink - just place one cube in the bottom of a glass and add your bubbly on top. This will help keep the drink cold as well as allow you some extra preparedness before your guests arrive.

*I don't find jalapeños too spicy, but if this seems like it will be too spicy for you and your guests, feel free to only use 1 jalapeño.

Saturday, February 9, 2013

Browned Butter Creme Sandwich Cookies

Browned Butter Creme Sandwich Cookies  - rich and buttery.

I absolutely love the flavor of browned butter. If you've never tried this flavor, just image caramel notes combined with the luscious melt-in-your mouth texture of a butter cookie. We had a cookie exchange and these special little cookies were a big hit! I bet you'll be surprised to find that they only have 8 ingredients.

Taking my finished cookies to the cookie exchange in a fun tin :-) I was living in the UK during the Royal wedding and enjoyed bringing home some fun memorabilia.

  • 3/4 c. firmly packed brown sugar
  • 1 cup butter or margarine, softened
Using my cookie scoop to portion out the dough

5. Bake at 325F for 10-13 minutes or until they start to get golden brown. You really don't want to overbake these. 

Pressing the dough balls with a fork to give them a decorative look
To make the Browned Butter frosting: 
1. Place 2 Tb butter (no substitutes) into a small saucepan or skillet.

2. Heat over medium heat until the butter turns a light golden color. Depending on how hot your range gets, this can take a few minutes. Watch carefully because once the reaction starts, it will go quickly. If you burn it (it gets the color of bacon), then discard the butter (save to use on something else?) and try again.  All the flavor in the creme comes from this step, so there is no point in ruining all your hard work for only 2T of butter!!

*What you are actually doing in this step is applying heat to the dairy proteins in the butter and driving the Maillard browning reaction which is what develops the delicious flavor. This is also the reason you can't use margarine because it is made from vegetable oil which doesn't contain protein, therefore it won't brown.

3. In a mixing bowl, combine:

  • browned butter
  • 1 1/4 c. powdered sugar
  • 1 tsp vanilla
  • 2-3 Tb milk
Blend until the creme reaches a spreading consistency. 

To assemble the cookies: 
1. Take 2 of your delicious cookies and spread about 1-2 tsp of creme between them. 
2. Sandwich together and enjoy!!

Cookies can be made and frosted and the entire sandwich (or just the cookies) could be placed in the freezer in a freezer-safe bag or container for 3-6 months. 

Sunday, February 3, 2013

Spinach and Black Bean Burgers with Sweet Chili Sauce

Spinach and Black Bean Burgers with Sweet Chili Sauce (Vegetarian & Gluten Free)

I like changing up the routine and having vegetarian meals at least once a week. Black beans are fat free and high in fiber. I blend them with fresh spinach and garlic which makes really tasty meal. These can also be made in advance and then frozen for an easy meal.

You can make a lot or a few burgers with this recipe as the proportions can very to you liking. Feel free to experiment.

To Make:
-1 egg
- 1 small yellow onion
-2-4 fresh garlic cloves, peeled (you decide based on your love for garlic)
-1/2 bag (1 cup) of dry Black beans cooked* or 1 can (16oz) black beans
- 2 cups fresh spinach
-1/2 cup pureed butternut squash (if you don't have this on hand, you can substitute pureed eggplant, pureed roasted red pepper, or any other vegetable which will impart some flavor and body, this will help bind everything together).
-1 cup rolled oats or bread crumbs
-Salt & Pepper to taste
-Sweet Chili sauce

In a medium bowl, add together the egg, garlic, onion and 1/2 of the cooked black beans. I love to blend this together using my Cuisnart immersion blender (LOVE this kitchen tool!)

Add the pureed vegetable of your choice and some of the spinach. Continue blending and adding more spinach until all of it is chopped and well mixed.  Stir in the remaining black beans (this keeps some of them intact, rather than get pulverized).  Add the salt and pepper. At this point, the mixture will be very wet. Stir in the oatmeal or bread crumbs. This will still look wet, but trust me, after an hour in the fridge, the starches will soak up and retain all of the moisture. If you added enough oatmeal at this point that you could handle the mixtures then your burgers would DEFINITELY be very dry.

Cover the mixture and allow it to rest for 30 minutes (min) or up to a day in the refrigerator. This is really easy to blend together at night and then make them the next day.

To cook - heat some olive oil in a large skillet.  I use a food ring to keep the shape and size consistent, but if you don't have one, you can just estimate the sizes. You will fry these like you were making pancakes. Your goal is to get the mixture hot and heated through to cook the egg.  Start with a medium-high heat to get the outsides nice an crunchy, like a real burger. Allow to cook and flip when golden.

To Freeze - Simply put to cooked and cooled burgers in a freezer container (ziplock bag or plastic container) and keep in the freezer for 3-6 months. Reheat and Enjoy!

To Serve - I first served these with brown rice and sweet chili sauce - a really nice accompaniment to the garlic and spinach.  However, I also tried putting a burger on crusty bread which I had spread with the tangy sweet chili sauce and then topped with slices of  fresh avocado - delicious!!

Feel free to experiment with different vegetables and ratios - let me know how it goes!

*I soak the black beans overnight in water and then I simmer them in water in a saucepan on medium heat for ~ an hour. Doing it yourself imparts less sodium than commercially canned beans and you will find that the beans are  not over-cooked, that is - unless you forget about them and boil them to death.  :-)