Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Happy Birthday, Cast-Iron Darling!

That's right, my little blog is already one year old!

To celebrate, I wanted to do something special so I had my friend Jen over and we cooked up a feast! Plus, I tried my hand at something I had never attempted. It had been on my list for a while: make my own pasta. Without a pasta maker. Not because I'm a masochist; just because I don't own one. Although after reading this, it may seem like the former is also true.

I believe I followed Jamie Oliver's directions because he always seems to make things sound straightforward and tells me I don't have to worry. I halved the recipe because we were only two and the pasta was a side, not the main. We served it with a lovely braised pork butt and the carrot-celery ragout in which it cooked, and a delicious beet roesti, thanks to Mark Bittman - those recipes soon.

300g flour
3 eggs

and away we go with this deceptively simple recipe! I wasn't so keen on getting my counter all eggy so I put the flour in my Kitchenaid, since Jamie says you can use a food processor and so I decided a Kitchenaid was close enough. Maybe this was my first mistake.

Actually, my first mistake was not using "Tipo 00" flour. I searched; I could not find any and I didn't feel like going all the way up to Little Italy. So I used all-purpose. Things.... did not go ideally. The dough really didn't want to stick together. It was not as straightforward as Jamie had promised! It seemed like the dough was too dry!

Finally I got it to stick together enough to attempt rolling. I hope you've been working out, because this is serious business. My arms were still sore three days later! Maybe I should do this more often... I digress. Jamie says you should roll it out until it's as thin as a CD. I was really tired so mine was more like a CD and a half. Maybe two CDs. It wasn't thin enough, anyways. But I was proud and happy and rolled up the thin dough and sliced it into thin strips and unrolled it onto the counter. Pasta! It looked like Real Pasta! I was happy.

When we cooked it up, it tasted SO GOOD. DELICIOUSLY GOOD. SO GOOD THAT TWO DAYS LATER I WANTED MORE. I still didn't have a pasta maker. I still don't, come to think of it.

This time, I went and bought some Semolina flour from the bulk store, thinking this would be nice -- isn't Semolina what Real Italians use to make pasta? This may be true, but I am not a Real Italian. I am not even a Fake Italian.

Half-way through making it, I began to think that I should not have approached the Semolina, and I really should not have tried to make pasta A SECOND TIME with only my non-buff arms to roll out the dough. Clearly home-made pasta is good, because nothing else would be able to drive me to these lengths to get it.

This time:

1 c. Semolina
1 c. all-purpose flour
pinch of salt
1 Tbs olive oil
3 eggs (I ended up using 4)

Making this pasta made me want to cry. It would not stay in a well-behaved ball. It crumbled if you even looked at it. It looked like a mound of cheese curds when at rest.

 Proof: Cheese curds, or pasta dough? Impossible to tell.

I left it alone for 30 minutes and let it think about its bad behaviour. When I returned, it had repented. I squooged it into a ball and it stayed. It even allowed itself to be rolled out, with reluctance. My sister called. She was coming for dinner. She wanted to bring a friend. I eyed the take-out numbers on the fridge, made the sign of the cross, and agreed.

It looks impossible at this point that the dough will allow itself to be rolled as thin as a CD.

I don't think my wrists will ever be the same again. However difficult rolling out pasta made from regular flour was, Semolina is beyond the pale. I swore. I made promises I couldn't keep. I vowed vengeance on the pasta.

My poor, red, puffy hands.

It still took 40 minutes to roll out and cut all the pasta, and even then it was not to Jamie's requisite CD-thinness.

Two CDs are better than one, right?

I felt so proud though. The pain made me blind to beauty, as a new mother, fresh from labour, is to her mediocre newborn. My pasta was so beautiful. Perfect. Golden. Nothing could surpass it.

To accompany my beautiful pasta, I made a light sauce of toasted walnuts, minced garlic, and chopped beet greens. 

About 3/4 c chopped walnuts, toasted in a dry pan over medium heat until fragrant. Move those to another dish, and heat 2-3 tbs olive oil and saute the garlic with a pinch or so of coarse salt. Add the beet stems, about a cup or more, and saute as well. At the end, throw in the chopped leaves, about 2 cups, and saute until wilted. Toss with the pasta and more olive oil and some pepper to taste.

It was very well received. The pasta was al dente in a way I had never tasted before. I guess that's the difference of having it fresh. The all-purpose flour pasta I had made the first time tasted more like the spaetzle I sometimes make; the Semolina tasted like Real Italian Pasta.

You know what, this pain-in-my-butt Semolina pasta was worth the agony. It was worth the trouble and the sore wrists and the red palms and the cursing. I would make it again in a second.

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Thursday, March 11, 2010

Look up...

Look waaaaaay up!* I've got a new banner! It has a little cast-iron skillet! And my name! And it's pink!

I thought it was time for a more personal look for my little corner of the internet, so my friend Megan Wolf, a graphic designer, kindly offered to design one for me!

So let's all say it together now, THANK YOU MEGAN! :D

*10 points to anyone who knows the reference.

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Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Peanut Butter-Chocolate Lava Pots

Since that last post wasn't really a recipe so much as pretty pictures and links to techniques, here is a bonus recipe for you. It actually goes really well with the steak just posted. Actually it goes well with anything, because it is chocolate and peanut butter and it's melty and warm.

This recipe is adapted from Citrus and Candy, a site with lovely pictures and delicious recipes. The recipe there makes 10 and we are only two, so I halved it and fiddled a bit with the amounts. Note that any "leftovers" keep uncooked in the fridge at least for a couple of days and are just as nice as the ones cooked right away.

You need:
A kitchen scale (seriously - they are $12 and make you look like you mean serious buisiness)
150g chopped dark/milk chocolate. I used a combo.
80g peanut butter. I had smooth natural on hand. Don't know how it would work with the sweet kind.
10g chopped butter
3 eggs separated, yolks beaten.
100g icing sugar
50g flour

In a double boiler (so a metal bowl set atop simmering water in a pan on low) melt the chocolate with the butter and peanut butter. You could probably do this in the microwave too, but I always burn chocolate that way because it's so tricksy.

Cool the mixture and then stir in your beaten eggs. It needs to be cooled a bit because otherwise you will scramble your eggs and that is not very appetizing. If you are imptatient, you could turn your egg whites into soft peaks while you're waiting for it to cool, because you are going to have to do that anyways in the next step.

Beat your egg whites into soft peaks, and then whisk in the sugar.

GRADUALLY fold the whites into the chocolate mixture along with the flour. Pour into 4 greased ramekins and rest in the fridge for one hour.

Preheat your oven to as close to 338ºF as you can - 170ºC if you can do that. The recipe is in metric - sorry. Pop those ramekins into the oven for about 15 minutes. I had to watch mine and guess. They should look cooked on the outside but you still want them lava-like on the inside. When they start to cool, the middle should sink a bit. That's how you know they're ready to eat.

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Gold Medal Meal

Technically this was our Valentine's Day dinner - we stayed at home and I cooked and M ran out to the tiny and excellent burger place on the corner to buy the best frites in the city and then we watched Alexandre Bilodeau win Canada's first gold medal on home soil at the Olympics.

Steak with shallot butter, green beans, and frites from Patati Patata

This was my first successful foray into cooking steak INSIDE. Mid-February is still winter here. (OR IT SHOULD BE!) At any rate, you can't get to a barbecue unless you are very determined and/or your barbecue is a lot closer to your back door than ours is. Also I think ours is broken. But as I discovered, inside steak is actually quite delicious - that's how they do them in restaurants, after all.

The trick is to try to replicate the serious heat a restaurant stove can kick out - a domestic stove just does not have the same kind of heat-producing capabilities. The other problem is that steak is expensive even at the grocery store. Thanks to the combination of two pieces of sage advice from two well-known stores of wisdom, YOU TOO CAN COOK DELICIOUS STEAK AT HOME. Just have one person on hand to wave a towel at the smoke detector - it gets a little smokey.

Tip number one, from The Steamy Kitchen: Salt your steak and let it sit in salt (a lot of salt - like a thick layer) for a while before you cook it. This draws moisture out of the steak so when you are cooking it, especially in a pan, it doesn't steam and get tough and nasty. This enables you to buy cheaper steaks and still have them be tender and lovely. Just rinse and dry the steak off thoroughly after it's been salted for a good amount of time.

Tip number two, from The Kitchn: Use a cast-iron pan and heat it up under the broiler until it is SCALDING scalding hot. Your broiler gets way hotter than your stove-top so use that to your advantage. Heat up the pan, then stick it on the stove on high and cook the steak in the scalding pan for thirty seconds a side. Then stick it back in the oven for two minutes.

There you go. Medium rare steak with a beautiful meaty crust on the outside and a juicy, tender centre.

I made shallot butter to serve on top, just like at a fancy restaurant! Mince a shallot finely and whip it into softened butter (not melted). Wrap the butter in saran wrap and shape into a log with your hands. Then chill until you're ready to use.

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