Thursday, January 19, 2012

Adventures in Pasta Making

I asked for and received for Christmas the pasta making attachments for my Kitchenaid Stand Mixer. Why would I want to go through the trouble of making my own pasta, you may ask? For one thing, I have tried several whole wheat pastas at the grocery store and don't like them much at all. We eat a lot of pasta at my house, and I want us to be able to eat "healthier" pasta. I figured if I make my own, I can experiment with several whole-wheat recipes until I find one I like. Also, making pasta reminds of playing with play-doh when I was little.

I finally had the time this week to give this pasta making thing a whirl. One of the reviews I read of the pasta making attachments discussed running a batch of "practice" dough through the attachments to clean out any residual oils, metal shavings, etc. that might still be left on the attachments from manufacturing. This seemed to make sense to me, and if I screwed up the pasta on my first time out, it wouldn't be a batch I intended to eat anyway.

This is the attachment set that I got for Christmas. It contains the pasta roller and two cutter attachments, one for fettuccine and one for spaghetti.

I used a Basic Pasta recipe I found online because this particular recipe only called for one cup of flour. Since I knew I wasn't going to eat this first batch, I didn't want to waste a lot of flour. A couple days later, I made a second batch and doubled this same Basic Pasta recipe so I could make more than the first practice batch yielded. The instructions for the pasta attachments said to mix the dough using the flat beater for about 30 seconds then use the dough hook on it for another 2 minutes.

I next had to hand knead the dough for about 2 minutes on a floured board. I bought this nice big board specifically for pasta making, and the fact that I only had a really tiny cutting board previously. Although, I'm thinking that I will only use this side that has the pastry markings on it for dry ingredients and may use the other side for non-raw meat cutting. I like my plastic cutting board for meat because I can just spray the hell out of it with bleach to clean all the germies. But I digress. After I kneaded the dough, it had to rest for 20 minutes. Not sure why the dough had to rest when I did all the hard work!

Next it was time to attach the roller. There is a lever I twist to unscrew the Kitchenaid logo cap on the front and then insert the roller and tighten it up. After I turned the mixer on, I was a bit confused because the part where you usually put the beater was still going around. I guess I thought it would stop and only the attachment on the front would run. But when I looked at the roller, it was indeed running. Whatever.

Switching between the different roller and cutter attachments was pretty easy.  The reviews I read about the attachments said that being able to make pasta with the Kitchenaid attachments versus a hand-roller pasta maker is that you can use both hands to guide the dough in and out of the roller or cutter. I fully understand this now, especially when I was trying to use one hand to take photos with my iPhone while I was guiding the dough in and out. I can't imagine trying to do this with a hand-roller.

The dough gets put through the roller several times on 1, then I start increasing it until I reach the desired thinness of the dough, which for fettuccine was 5, for the spaghetti I went to 6. I apologize for any blurriness in these photos. Like I said earlier, trying to take photos and guide the dough at the same time was not easy. And, my photo taking abilities leave a lot to be desired.

This is the fettuccine going through the cutter. 

This is the spaghetti. 

I also got this nifty drying rack for drying the pasta. The instructions said that you don't need to dry it if you're going to cook it right away. Otherwise, if you want to use it later, then dry for an hour.



I cooked the fettuccine (I guess I didn't really have to dry it after all, but whatever) so I could have it for dinner. With the spaghetti, I used my handy dandy food sealer to put the pasta in an airtight package and put it in the fridge. The directions say it can stay in the fridge for a month or for a year in the freezer. I found when taking the pasta off the bars of the rack, it sometimes broke. Not sure if there is a better method for removal so as not to break the pasta in half. If I figure out a better way, I'll update in a subsequent post.

The fettuccine took about 8 minutes to cook. I don't like my pasta al dente, otherwise it probably would have been done in about 5 - 6 minutes.

I made a simple Alfredo Sauce then added a couple tablespoons of jar pesto that I had in the fridge. I LOVE pesto!! Once I get my herb garden going again (my hydroponic herb garden will be the subject of subsequent posts), then I'll have more basil to make my own pesto. I digress again, I got distracted by the pesto. I have whipped up this Alfredo Sauce before. It's quite yummy and quick to put together. I did not use evaporated milk or whipping cream (I didn't have any) as the recipe calls for; I used 2% milk instead which I think would make the sauce lighter in calories and fat. If I was making this sauce for someone besides myself, I would use heavy cream and fresh-grated parmigiano reggiano rather than the Kraft Parmesan Cheese I had on hand. But even the ghetto version still tasted good though.

Voila! Finished product!

Next time I will start to experiment with different whole wheat pasta recipes until I come up with a recipe that I like. I also want to experiment with making ravioli, but I'll need to buy a ravioli cutter. I saw a nifty one in the SkyMall magazine on a flight to Virginia last month, but I can't find it on their website. I fly again in a couple weeks, maybe I'll find it this time and actually write down the name of it. 

Overall, I have to say making pasta was really pretty easy and painless. I will likely make up large batches on weekends and then seal them up and refrigerate and/or freeze them. So, the next time I invite you to dinner, you may just be eating some of my homemade pasta!

ADDENDUM: As I was editing this post and adding in the hyperlinks, I found the attachment that makes rigatoni, macaroni, etc. WooHoo!!! I know what's going on my Amazon Wish List next!!!

Sunday, January 8, 2012

Cooking in the Modern Age

I've already confessed my cookbook addiction and mentioned my recipe collection on my computer in my last post. This digital collection started several years ago. I subscribe to various cooking newsletters, and have some recipe gadgets on my iGoogle page. As I would come across recipes that I wanted to keep, I would print them as a PDF and save them to a folder on my hard drive called "Recipes".  Thus began my digital recipe collection. I currently have about 300 recipes in this folder. I would peruse this folder when making out a menu for the week, then print the recipe when I was ready to cook. I have a drawer with many of these printed recipes, so I don't always have to re-print them.

Then, I got an iPad and my whole world changed. Ok, I'm being a bit dramatic, but it did change the way I collect recipes. I have used Microsoft OneNote from time to time and like how it gives me the ability to collect different bits of information from various sources about a particular topic and organize it into a notebook. But, it doesn't work that well for my recipe collection. After I got my iPad, I started reading various articles and ebooks that discussed different apps for the iPad. A former coworker actually turned me on to Evernote when he got his iPad. It's a much simpler version of OneNote but includes the ability to save your notes to the "cloud" meaning they are accessible from anywhere. OneNote can do this too but it's kind of convoluted and a pain to use. My use of Evernote completely changed the way I collect recipes.

I have the Evernote app installed on my iPad and iPhone, and I have it installed on my desktop PC. Now when I come across a recipe online, I can select all the text of the recipe on the webpage (I usually first choose the Print option on the recipe to put it in a better format for copying). Next, there is an option on my browser right-click menu called "Evernote web clipper" that lets me clip the selected text. The selected text automatically gets copied as a new note in Evernote which then pops up on my status bar with a notification that a new note has been created with an option to edit the note. At this point, I have options to put the note into my Recipes folder in Evernote and can add "tags" that let me further categorize the recipe such as beef, chicken, pasta, soup, appetizer, vegetarian, etc. you get the idea.

Here is a screenshot of my recipe collection in Evernote.

The two best reasons for keeping my recipe collection in Evernote are: (1) accessibility, and (2) search.

These recipes are accessible to me via my desktop PC, my iPad, and my iPhone. I suppose I can log in from any computer with internet access, I just haven't tried. If I am at the grocery store and remember a recipe I want to make, I can open the recipe from Evernote on my iPhone and get the list of ingredients. When I am in the kitchen, I can open the recipe from Evernote on my iPad to follow the directions.

Having the ability to search my recipes means that in addition to using the tag definitions I've placed on the recipes, I can also use keyword searches for specific ingredients. For instance, say someone gave me a bottle of Brandy and I wanted to find any recipes I had that included Brandy. I can search across all my recipes for Brandy.

I was also able to import my existing PDF recipe collection as notes into Evernote. Now I have all of my digital recipes in one location. Evernote provides me two more advantages: (1) I always have a backup because my Evernote recipe collection is saved in the cloud, and (2) Evernote provides a sharing capability that allows me to share my recipe collection with others. So, if you want access to my recipe collection on Evernote, send me an email, and I will send you an invite to access my recipe collection. I haven't tried this before, so I apologize in advance if there are some kinks to work out.

While using Evernote provides me much flexibility in my recipe collection, I still really enjoy sitting down with a cookbook, thumbing through the pages, looking at the pictures. Perhaps one day I will get ambitious enough to scan some of my favorite recipes and put them in Evernote.

Saturday, January 7, 2012

Confession: My Addiction

Hi. My name is Lori. And I'm a cookbook-aholic. I know the first step is admitting you have a problem. I LOVE cookbooks! I have 50+ cookbooks. That may seem excessive to some and not that much to others. The reason I don't have more is that I really resist in buying more as much as I can. I'm afraid to go into Half Price Books for fear of buying more. You know it actually never occurred to me to go there for cookbooks until just now as I was writing this. Oh crap! I may be in trouble now.

So do I use all of these cookbooks? Yes, some of them. Usually when I get a new cookbook, I thumb through it on a lazy Saturday or Sunday afternoon and put Post-it notes on all the recipes that I would like to try. Then when I am ready to make a menu for the week, I'll look at the marked pages to see if I want to make any of those recipes that week and then make out my shopping list.

Now just because I have all these cookbooks doesn't mean that we eat a different dish every night of the week. There are some recipes that are favorites or easy to fall back on when trying to decide what we want for dinner, especially if I haven't taken meat out of the freezer until the afternoon.

So what kinds of recipes do I like? I like simple recipes in that they don't require a lot of ingredients or ingredients that I wouldn't necessarily have on hand or can't find easy enough at the store. I don't like recipes that take a lot of preparation unless it's REALLY worth the trouble. One of my favorite cookbooks is by Sandra Lee, of the Semi-Homemade fame, called The Complete Cookbook. I like that her recipes cut corners where it doesn't affect the quality of a dish but still gets you to the end result faster. I mean, c'mon. Is it really necessary to spend all day making a marinara sauce when you can pop a jar on one, add your own stuff to it, just to dump it on chicken parmesan and spaghetti? Jarred spaghetti sauce is a great base for just about any good italian meal. I always add my own fresh onions and peppers, spices, etc. anyway.

I also like cookbooks that give you instructions and tutorials on cooking techniques. I've learned many of these along the way, but enjoy learning something new and finding out that it's really not that hard to begin with. One really good one is Better Homes & Gardens New Cook Book. It has great reference information and color photo techniques and tips pages. Anyone wanting to learn how to cook should have this cookbook. Another good one for those of us that are Southern cooks is Paula Deen's Southern Cooking Bible. Yes, I have a signed copy because I'm an addict. When I read through this book, I was one part disappointed and one part excited that I knew so many recipes and techniques that she discusses for Southern cooking. I thought I would learn more, but then I realized that I really am a good Southern cook, so I was excited that so much of it was familiar to me.

So now you know the truth about my addiction, or most of it anyway. I also have hundreds of recipes saved on my computer and subscribe to many cooking/recipe newsletters. But, that's a topic for a future post. In the meantime, I may need to make a run over to Half Price Books.  ;-p

Friday, January 6, 2012

Here We Go

I've resisted for many, many years to start a blog. Why do people write blogs? Blogs to me seemed rather egocentric as if the author is projecting "Hey, listen to me; I'm so awesome that I have something fantastic to say!" I'm not being critical, just stating the fact that authors of blogs obviously feel that they have something important or interesting to share. The authors of blogs that I follow usually DO have something interesting to say, and are often very good, entertaining writers. I follow upwards of 50 or so blogs, some are for professional purposes, others belong to friends, or personal interests.

I didn't want to start a blog for a long time because I didn't really think I had anything interesting to say or share. I'm already on Twitter and Facebook. I use Twitter mostly in my professional life, and tweet when I have something I want to share with the rest of my professional community (largely focusing on legal technology). I don't tweet every day and often times not every week either. I use Facebook to keep up with friends and family and will share items there that interest me personally or what may be happening in my life at the time.

So, why a blog? Why now? My kids are all grown and either married or in college, so I have more free time on my hands than in previous years. Those that know me know that I LOVE to cook. I've been thinking about writing a blog about cooking in the modern age, and what that means to me. But I don't want to limit my blog postings to just cooking, because I think about all kinds of things from time to time. Therefore, I've decided to start a blog where I can share stuff I've been thinking about, and if anyone actually reads it, perhaps I'll get back others' thoughts on the same topics. One of the things I like about Facebook is being able to start a discussion and have different people chime in their thoughts. I respect others' opinions even when it doesn't match my own. I often learn more from differing opinions. But I don't want to limit my discussions to just my Facebook friends, thus the reason for a blog.

I hope you find something interesting here. I can't guarantee how often I will post. Just when I feel like I have something interesting to say.