Pasta Straight from My Kitchen

Dear Anne,

I have not been doing enough cooking lately.  Because things have been busy, and they aren’t going to stop any time soon now the holiday season is upon us, most of my culinary adventures are relegated to the weekend.  Fortunately, the holiday season means I can bake to my heart’s content and people at the office will make less fuss about me constantly bringing in food. This weekend I got a little crazy and made pumpkin pancakes and cavatelli from scratch.  However, I heard no complaints from roommate Wesley.

The pumpkin pancakes were not as good as I had hoped, but I think that’s my own fault for building them up in my head.  The recipe called for a pinch of cloves, and I was too generous in my pinching, because the clove flavor overpowered the other, more desirable flavors, such as cinnamon.  In the future I will most certainly be increasing the cinnamon in this recipe.  Also, I served this with butter and real New York maple syrup, but it was too sweet.  I spent the rest of breakfast trying to figure out how to make this better.  Perhaps a fruit compote, like apples with cinnamon for instance, would be preferable.  It wouldn’t be too sweet, but would keep the overall experience from being too dry. (Sorry no pictures because I am the worst.)

Most Sunday evenings, some coworkers and I place euchre.  We rotate houses, and whomever is hosting that week makes dinner for all of us.  This week, Wesley and I hotsed.  Wesley made this beauty of a cheesecake:  pumpkin nutella cheesecake.  Please take a minute to appreciate the amazingness this dessert.  It took a lot of will power to not sneak bites all afternoon.  There are two pieces left in the fridge as I type this, and I am thinking about getting one even though I am not at all hungry. It’s that good.

While Wesley encapsulated heaven in cheesecake form, I made cavatelli, which is an Italian pasta with potato in the dough.  It’s similar to gnocchi, but it uses much less potato.  I guess you could call it a light dumpling.  I choose to call it wonderful.   Every Thanksgiving, my family makes thousands of cavatelli.  Then with our turkey, stuffing, and mashed potatoes, we have cavatelli in red sauce.  I may have described the cavatelli-making process with you before, but I’m going to relay it again because 1. I repeat myself often, and 2. I won’t be participating in Thanksgiving cavatelli this year, so I must relive the experience in my mind.  At the Comito Family Stead, aka my mother’s kitchen, a myriad of relatives convene.  Everyone has their role, one they’ve usually been doing for years with the hope that someday they will be old enough to move up to a new job.  However, there really is no upward mobility in the Comito Family Cooking School.  You do what you’re told, and you don’t ask questions.  For cavatelli, my role is usually “cranker,” meaning I get to feed the pasta through the machine.  This is a role I lobbied for years to win, and one from which I do not plan on retiring  anytime soon, regardless of my lack of participation in the last couple years. I spent a lot of years rolling dough before I got to be cranker.  Anyway, the real magic of cavatelli-making is the atmosphere. It’s hard to accurately describe, but I will sum it for you in this haiku:

Insults thrown, laughing

Vince Guaraldi blasting loud

Who is crying now?

Did I ever make cavatelli for you, Anne?  I know I never made it from scratch for you, but maybe I brought some back to Wash 6 and made it with red sauce? Last night, I chopped up half an onion (more accurately, Wesley heroically  cut the onion half), sauteed it with some mushrooms, wilted some spinach, tossed it all with the cavatelli, and sprinkled some good parm on top.  The group devoured it, and we have no leftovers.  However, we do have quite a bit of cavatelli in our freezer since I made a bigger batch of dough than I anticipated.  Sometime after Thanksgiving I’ll make some sauce, but don’t think it the recipe will make it to the blog.  Nice try, Annes.  However, if I can figure out how to ship you some, I will.

Cavatelli

*Note:  This is another vague Comito family recipe, where you are required to go by feel.

Ingredients

Flour

Large Eggs

A mashed potato (use a starchy potato)

Milk

Salt

*These are the basic ingredients.  The ratio of flour to eggs is 1:1. For example, I used 5 cups of flour and 5 eggs.  When I called Aunt Jackie she said to to 5 cups of flour and 4 eggs, but four eggs weren’t enough for me. I think when my family does this, they use jumbo eggs, which would make the 5:4 ratio more accurate. Also, I don’t think we ever use more than one potato ever.

Instructions

1. Peel and boil potato

2. Mash potato, add a little milk

3. Combine flower and eggs. Dough will be mealy and dry. Add a little potato. Maybe some milk.

4. Knead until you have a slightly sticky dough, and it is malleable enough to form decent ball of dough. (You will likely need to add more milk and potato before you get to this point. Like I said earlier, this is a vague, play-it-by-ear recipe.)

5. Let ball of dough rest under a bowl for 30-60 minutes, or whenever you remember you’re cooking

6. Get out your amazing cavatelli machine, courtesy Aunt Jackie.  Properly assemble.

This is not the exact machine I use, but it’s basically the same.

7. Slice dough into decent sized pieces. (Again, you’ll just have to eyeball this.) (At this point, your dough should be a beautiful and supple ball of dough that is smooth to the touch and bounces back ever so slightly when pressed.)

8. Roll dough into ropes.

9. VERY LIGHTLY DUST ropes with some flour. (For the love that is all good and holy, do not over flour this stuff. It will make your life terrible.)

10. Place a floured cookie tray under your cavatelli machine.

11. Send those VERY LIGHTLY DUSTED ropes of delicious dough through your cavatelli maker.

12. Make sure to spread out the cavatelli as you make them.  You don’t want them to stick together.

13. After you fill up a tray, put it in the freezer.  (Letting them freeze makes them easier to handle when putting them in bags or containers for storage.)

14. Keep doing this until you run out of dough.

For consumption:  boil water (remember to salt the water), add cavatelli to boiling water, and cook for…I want to say 10-ish minutes. I could be wrong about that.  I literally just taste the cavatelli at various points during the cooking and turn off the heat after I’ve determined they’re done.  Strain cavatelli, and enjoy with your favorite sauce.  We usually just use a red sauce, but you can do just about anything with them.

Kisses and kitten,

Carolyne

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All I Ever Do is Make Bacon in The Oven

Dear Carolyne,

Firstly, I am the worst and I am sorry it has taken me so long to write. There have been kitchen experiments, like this pumpkin beer bread, which I found to be…underwhelming. It was lacking in both spices and pumpkin. I wanted it to be more moist (sorry) and for the flavor of the beer to come out more. Mostly it turned out like basic bread with a few spices.

More successfully, I made some of my friend Kim’s potato leek soup after a trip to the Saint Paul Farmer’s Market last weekend.  You’ve probably read this recipe before, but here it is again for posterity’s sake (copy-pasted from Kim’s original message):

“2-ish T butter
3 leeks, white/light green parts chopped (fairly fine slice)
1 small white onion, chopped
2-3 cloves garlic, chopped finely
2-3 carrots, chopped
2 stalks celery, chopped
1 shallot, chopped (not really necessary, but I have fun shoving onions in this soup)
4 or so red potatoes, peeled (if you feel like it) and diced
4-ish cups veggie broth
roughly 1/3 to 1/2 c heavy cream
some herbs if you feel like it (I like dill or chives or both if I have any on hand)
BACON, cooked and chopped
CHEEBS

In dutch oven or large sewp-making pot or whatever, drop the butter in and let it melt. When the butter has gotten all nice and melty, drop in the leeks and let them cook for a minute or two until they soften. Add the garlic, onion, carrot, celery and shallot, stir it around and let
it hang out for about 5 or so minutes so that all those veggies start to soften and start smelling yummy. Then dump in the potatoes and the veggie broth (and any extra water you might need to make the broth level just cover the potatoes) and any dry herbs you might want to use. Bring it to a boil, drop the heat and let it hang out on the stove for about 45 minutes – an hour or so until everything is nice and soft and falling apart.
When it’s hit that stage, remove it from the heat, dump in any fresh herbs you might want to dump in (chives are awesome) and let it cool for a few minutes,
and then blend it either in batches through a blender or with an immersion blender or what have you (you could probably mush it to bits with a potato masher,
honestly). When it’s all blended, stir in the cream and adjust the seasonings. I usually serve with a handful of bacon and a handful of cheebs thrown on top, but you could probably mix that in too and it would be good.”

Not the best picture, but totally the best soup.

I almost never follow the amount of vegetables precisely, tossing in whatever I have lying around. This time I added in some hot Thai chilies (also from the farmer’s market) and seasoned it with smoked salt and smoked paprika.

It was definitely worth the injuries I sustained cutting the potatoes. :/

Anyway, it’s the best soup ever. Filling, delicious, smoky, and autumnal. Plus any opportunity I get to use my immersion blender is a good one.

The other thing I’ve been doing a lot of lately is making bacon in the oven, a trick I picked up (somewhat to my shame) from Pinterest. Basically, you line a cookie sheet with parchment paper and lay out the strips of bacon. Put everything in a cold oven and then turn it to 350°F. Give it 20-40 minutes, you can usually smell when it’s done.

I don’t know if this necessarily yields tastier bacon than doing it in the skillet does, but it is easier and less messy (let the bacon fat congeal on the parchment paper and discard, then you usually don’t even need to wash the cookie sheet).

I’ve also found that this works better with normal-thinner cut bacon. I tried it today with some thick cut bacon (also picked up from the farmer’s market-why are farmer’s markets the best things ever?) and the result wasn’t quite as satisfying. Also, did you know free range bacon is a thing? I was not aware. I know “free-range” is a kind of loose term and can basically mean the animal in question just has a large yard as opposed to a stall or pen, but I like the idea of pigs running around eating whatever before they become my delicious breakfast.

I am not a good person.

Anyway, fall is here too (obviously), and while Midwestern fall may not be quite as thoroughly pretty as New England fall, it’s still pretty great.

View from my balcony. I don't know if you can tell, but it's a little Tim Burton-y today.

The other thing I have to report is that it is time for my annual trip to Minnesota’s Largest Candy Store:
Pretty much autumnal Disneyland.

This place is basically a giant yellow barn full of candy. They also sell pies and baked goods (made on site), tons of weird soda, local hot sauces and jams, and, weirdly enough, puzzles.

I will take pictures and report back!

Miss you lots!

Anne

Gingerbread

Dear Anne,

Right now I have some gingerbread in the oven.  It’s your grandmother’s recipe.  I’m not sure how it will turn out because I used a little too much baking soda.  I may have got a little distracted belting out “Maybe This Time” with Liza.  Oh, I should mention I considered not using vegetable shortening for a hot second, but then I imagined Grandma Pat running after me with a wooden spoon, threatening me within an inch of my life for not using shortening, particularly Crisco.  It was terrifying.  Needless to say, I used the Crisco.  I think it will pay off.

This effort is not my best.  As I mentioned earlier, I was very distracted by my debut in Cabaret, playing one night only at Carolyne’s Kitchen, but on top of that, I don’t actually own an 8×8 pan, which is called for in the recipe.  I’m using something that looks like an 8×6, so we’ll see how that turns out.  The gingerbread has been baking for about 20 minutes thus far, and it still looks pretty wet in the middle. (The recipe says to bake for 25 minutes.) Now, while we wait for the gingerbread to finish baking, why don’t we all listen to some Liza?

I decided to make gingerbread tonight because yesterday was the epitome of a fall day.  The sky was a brooding, steely blue, threatening to rain at every turn, red and yellow leaves decorated the streets and sidewalks, and the air had that telltale crisp chill.  Above all, it smelled like fall.  Yesterday, I spent the entire workday listening to Nina Simone and drinking copious pots of tea, all while working, of course.  Today was beautiful, nearly perfect.  The sun was shining, and it was almost warm.  Tomorrow is supposed to be rainy, which is perfect for more tea and a deliciously spicy and warm baked good.  I am all about preparation.

The gingerbread is out of the oven.  It took about 40-45 minutes to bake.  Hallelu! I didn’t ruin it!  You can’t taste the extra baking soda.  The sides aren’t dry.

Image
(Note to self: learn to take better food photos.)

I have not frosted the whole pan of gingerbread because I firmly believe that everyone has the right to choose how much frosting to put on their baked goods.  I am usually not a huge fan of frosting and am often forced to scrape a bunch off, and really that’s just wasteful.

The plan for this gingerbread is to pair with a giant pot of coffee and become breakfast for Ellie and me tomorrow morning.  What a charming way to start a dreary day in Upstate.

Dearest Anne, you already know this recipe, but for our potential readers, I post it below as you sent it to me.

“Grandma McLeod’s Gingerbread”
1/4 c. vegetable shortening (and it’d better be Crisco, or Grandma Pat will find you and scold you)
1/2 c. sugar
3/4 tsp. baking soda, divided
1/2 c. molasses
1 1/2 c. white flour
3/4 tsp. baking powder
1 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp ginger
1/4 tsp ground cloves
1/8 tsp salt
3/4 c. boiling water
1 large egg, beaten

Preheat oven to 325F.
Cream the shortening by mashing it against the sides of the mixing bowl until creamy.
Add the sugar and beat thoroughly.
Put 1/2 tsp of the baking soda and the molasses in a small bowl and beat until the molasses becomes “light and fluffy”. Then, mix into the shortening/sugar thoroughly.
In a bowl mix together the flour, baking powder, spices and salt; set aside.
Stir together the boiling water and remaining 1/4 tsp baking soda. Gradually add about one third of this mixture to the molasses mixture, then add one third of the dry ingredients. Repeat until you’ve added all of the water and dry ingredients, then add the beaten egg and stir batter thoroughly.
Grease an 8 x 8 baking pan and sprinkle with a bit of flour. Pour batter into the pan.
Bake for about 25 minutes or until an inserted toothpick comes out cleanly.
THEN EAT THEM.

Kisses and kitten,

Carolyne

This post isn’t about broccoli, either.

Dear Anne,

Thanks for setting up this cooking blog! (I had to fight the urge to use the word “rad.” This is not the 90s, Carolyne.) I am very excited to share my recipes with you, and possibly the world, or at least some of our friends…maybe…

Shortly after I returned to Upstate after visiting you, I discovered this recipe for plum cake.  That Carolyn’s plum cake looks much better than my plum cake (see below), but this was a good first attempt.

Image

I know how you feel about fruit in general, but what’s your take on plums?  I thought this cake was sweet enough without being overbearing, reminiscent of a coffee cake.  Out of fear of the cake not being cooked all the way through, I left it in about five minutes too long, resulting in a drier product that desired.  However, I fixed that right up with a scoop of vanilla bean ice cream and a cup of tea.

It would have been nice to have you here to enjoy this cake and some coffee with me, perhaps whilst playing a game of Apples to Apples.

Warmly,

Carolyne

Amazingly, the first post is not about broccoli

Dear Carolyne,

Hooray, we have a blog! I think this is going to be excellent, even if we are the only ones who read it.

I wish you had been here last week when I decided it would be a great idea to try and sort of recreate the Savory Quinoa Waffle I had at Birchwood Cafe back in April (side note: right now they have a Pumpkin, Millet and Gruyere waffle and I want to go to there). I do not, however, own a waffle iron, and I thought I could somehow take essentially the same elements (quinoa, asparagus, cheese, and bacon) and make them into muffins pretty feasibly.

Feasibly indeed.

Pardon the questionable phone picture I snapped, but here they are. They are not exactly what I wanted, having turned out a little sweeter and a little, um, breadier than what I was shooting for. They are pretty solid, though, and definitely edible. I wish you were here to eat them with me, though, because no one in close proximity likes asparagus. No one appreciates food like you, mon amie.

Here is what I did:

2 cups cooked quinoa
1/4 cup olive oil
2 cups all purpose flour
3/4 cup brown sugar, packed
1 1/2 tsp. baking powder
1 tsp salt
1/4 cup asparagus, cut into small pieces and softened in the microwave with some butter
3 pieces cooked bacon, cut into small pieces
3/4 cup shredded truffle cheese from Trader Joe’s
3/4 cup milk
1 egg

Preheat the oven to 350. You know the song and dance here, mix the dry ingredients in one bowl (including the asparagus and cheese and bacon), but save the quinoa for last. Combine the milk and egg in a separate bowl, then combine with the quinoa mixture. Don’t over mix it.

Prepare a muffin tin in whatever way suits you best. You could probably grease and flour the individual cups, but that seems like work. I opted for stylish muffin wrappers, and I only mildly regret it, as  the paper does seem to stick to these a little bit.

Fill each section 3/4 of the way full or so. The batter is pretty thick so I mostly just plopped a large spoonful in each one. Bake for about 30 minutes, and you’ll know they’re done with you insert a toothpick and it comes out clean.

I got about 16 muffins out of this, but you would probably get more if you are more stringent about measuring the amount of batter that goes into each muffin.

If I had these to do over again, I would increase the amount of extra savory stuff. More asparagus, more bacon, and maybe some roasted garlic or some shredded carrots too.

Negating any health benefits these might have, I find they are best slightly warm with a little butter and a dusting of grated Parmesan.

I do truly wish you were here to help me eat them, but at least we’ve got this blog thing going now!

Fondly,

Anne