Saturday, August 22, 2009

Pasta: check!

Now...that pasta. It had been something I'd been toying with for months and months now. It's not that it seemed all that difficult, or that I was worried it wouldn't turn out. I just always felt it would take so long. All that rolling and cutting...especially without a pasta maker. Which I think is still a valid point after my first attempt.

But anyway, it was delicious. I had a friend comment that homemade pasta didn't really seem to be worth the effort (without a pasta maker anyway) compared to storebought fresh pasta. I would disagree, but this could be mainly because I rarely buy the stuff. Most of the time I feel fresh pasta is ridiculously expensive when in THEORY I could make it myself for a mere fraction of the cost. I really only buy fresh ravioli or tortellini - basically only stuffed pastas that I reason would take a lot MORE work to make at home. So I'm not sure how this compares to say, storebought linguine. But was good. Soft, chewy, and delicious even just eaten plain, coated with some butter, salt and pepper (I did this before adding the sauce and couldn't stop picking out strands after dinner) I would admit that it wasn't exactly an immediate revelation, but it tasted better with each bite. YUM.

To be fair, it was quite a bit of work without a pasta machine. It took awhile to roll the dough out thin enough (especially considering my limited counter space) and cutting it into thin strips felt like AGES. But really, it was probably only twenty minutes. And I remembered after the first batch that you can roll the dough into a flattened log (floured) and cut that into strips instead. The strands from the first batch did look nicer but the second process took considerably less time, so I'll do this in the future.

Also...the recipe below makes enough pasta for two, with some leftovers. Being relentlessly gluttonous, I doubled it even though there WERE only two of us because I wanted to be sure there would be enough leftovers. So it was a LOT of pasta. We were eating it for a few days...not that I was exactly complaining! Just probably don't need to unless you really want a LOT of leftovers.

Homemade Pasta
adapted from Pastor Ryan's Homemade Pasta, which is basically the 3:2 Pasta ratio

1 cup flour
2 eggs
dash of salt

1. Measure out flour into a medium-sized bowl and mix in salt. Make a well in the centre and add eggs (as you can see from the pictures above, the eggs didn't exactly stay in the well but it didn't seem to make a huge difference)

2. Slow swirl eggs with your fingers and incorporate the flour. Make sure you don't do this too quickly or else you'll get clumps. Continue until all the flour has been blended in and you have a shaggy looking dough.

3. Dump out onto a slightly floured countertop and knead for about 10 minutes, until the dough is smooth and pliable. Let it rest now for a few minutes; this will make it easier to roll out.

4. Roll out the dough on a floured surface as thinly as you can get it. The pasta will plump up as it cooks, so get it as thin as you can. Then using a sharp knife or pizza cutter, cut pasta into thin strips (again as thin as you can get it). Alternatively, you can also flour the pasta and fold into a flat "log" and cut the roll into thin strips, then unroll.

5. Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil, and cook for about two or three minutes. I actually probably cooked it about four to five minutes, but I tend to like my pasta somewhat overcooked and not a lot of people seem to share my opinion. Serve with Ryan's Bolognese sauce, or just some butter and parmesan. De-lish!

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Just Peachy

Note: this post is from a few weeks ago and is photo-less...I wouldn't normally point this out but some circumstantial events have prevented me from posting for a few weeks and I just wanted you all to know that I realize the arrival of peach season isn't exactly "new" news.

So. It's peach season. Finally. Last summer was my first living in Toronto with easy access to the St. Lawrence Market. For some reason, I didn't realize it was peach season (or that I liked peaches? I'm not really sure what happened here) until it was practically over. So I spent the last couple weeks of August buying baskets of those gorgeous, juicy peaches and baking a couple of cobblers here and there, but mostly just using them obsessively for smoothies. I really didn't get the chance to use the glorious little suckers in the way that they deserved. And I've been waiting patiently for peaches to arrive in Ontario since the beginning of summer.

Well, last weekend I finally went to the market and saw baskets of peaches for sale. YES! They were still a few days from being fully ripe so I left them in the paper bag and planned out my first baking experiment.

The obvious choice was pie, and I'd seen a few fantastic looking recipes on the net in the last couple of weeks. But I was alone at the apartment for a few days, so I thought I would bake something that would be a little easier to take into work the next day for my co-workers to enjoy. I'd been re-reading some of the Anne of Green Gables series lately (I know, I'm a huge dork) and those PEI folk sure talk a lot about plum cake. I've never HAD plum cake before, but it seemed tasty enough and something that couuld be easily substituted with peaches, so that seemed like a good way to go.

The recipe I used is a plum cake recipe from Patent and the Pantry, which got the recipe from Dinner with Julie. I love butter, and browned butter always seems SO good but I've never actually tried or used it in a recipe before. Perfect! Plus, the pictures were so pretty and basically made me start drooling.

I tried really hard not to adapt this recipe too much - pretty much all I changed was the fruit (obviously) and added vanilla, because vanilla is SO good with everything. And I left out the nutmeg because I didn't have any.

Anyway...the only real problem I had here was that it was more of a cobbler-cake, as I used probably too many peaches. But that wasn't really a problem unless you're concerned about making a bit of a mess while you eat it. And it shouldn't be, because this was GOOD. Not too sweet, but delicious from all the fresh fruit and a bit nutty from the browned butter. I'm sad that I don't have photo documentation but if you go to the source blogs their photos are much prettier than mine anyway. But if you have some extra peaches lying around, try this recipe. Please!

Brown Butter Peach Cake

adapted from various sources, noted above

6 peaches
1/2 lemon
3/4 cups + 3 tbsp sugar, divided
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp vanilla
1/2 cup butter
2 large eggs
1 cup all-purpose flour

Preheat oven to 350 degrees Farenheit - butter a pie plate or cake pan

1. Peel peaches - bring a medium sized pot of water to a boil. Remove from heat and add peaches. Let sit for 45 seconds, then remove with a slotted spoon and immediately immerse in a water bath. The skins should just slip right off - it's like magic! I know this is probably a pretty basic concept but I've never peel peaches like this before so I was pretty amazed.

2. Cut peaches into large slices and toss with a squeeze of lemon juice, 2 tbsp sugar and cinnamon. You can do this directly in the cake pan/pie plate. Set aside.

3. Brown butter - in a small saucepan (make sure it's doesn't have a black bottom so that you can tell when the butter is brown!) melt butter and cook for about 5 minutes until it's a golden brown colour. Immedidately take the pan off hte stove and if you can, dip the bottom in a bowl of water (I just used the same bowl I had the peaches in, to save a bowl). I don't think you NEED to do this step but apparently the butter keeps cooking a bit after you take it off the heat, so be careful if you don't. I actually have a feeling that I didn't let my butter brown enough, but again this was a first try at this so I was super paranoid about burning it.

4. Pour butter into a medium sized bowl. Add 3/4 cup of sugar, eggs, vanilla and flour and stir to combine. Pour over fruit and sprinkle with remaining sugar (I didn't use a whole tablespoon here...probably more like a teaspoon).

5. Bake for 40-45 minutes, until top is golden brown and juices are bubbling up the sides.

Monday, August 10, 2009

Second Try

As previously discussed, I haven't been doing some well with the cooking or blogging lately. So my whole "to cook" list for July didn't work out so well - I only made ONE item on the list (pie). I know it's technically August now, but I'm feeling slightly rejuvenated and I think I'm already off to a better start. I made some fresh pasta tonight (we'll talk more about that later) AND I have plans to make burgers this weekend. I'm going to take the other two off though - summer FINALLY seems to have arrived in Toronto and baked beans aren't exactly sounding appealing in 30-degree weather. Neither is the idea of standing over a hot vat of oil. So anyway, here is the August list:

Hamburgers - I'm going to make some nice homemade buns to go with these on the weekend. Yum!

Pasta - I know this is technically cheating since I already made it, but as it's August I'm going to leave it on, more so I can cross something off :)

Ice Cream - I don't have an ice cream maker but apparently you can do it without. I'm not expecting spectacular results but as I've never made homemade ice cream before (unless you count using my three-minute ice cream maker as a kid - man that thing was amazing) I'd like to try it

Chipwich - I'm not sure if these are still around anymore but I haven't seen any in recent years. If you don't know what a chipwich is, it's just an ice cream sandwich made with chocolate chip cookies, and rolled in chocolate chips. It's delicious, and I'm going to make some!

Brioche (with chocolate) - I don't really think I need to explain myself here. Bread - good. Bread with chocolate - better.

Saturday, August 8, 2009


Okay...I've been talking about this Ratio book a LOT lately so I thought I'd take some time to actually write about it. I wasn't originally intending on writing book reviews, but it seems relevant so I'm going to try it out.

I have this weird guilt when people compliment my cooking, or say I should open a bakery, or restaurant etc. I really don't believe that I'm an exceptional cook by any means, and definitely not a creative one at that. I'm a recipe follower, and I can say with very little hesitation that the main reason why I'm good at cooking and baking is because I am really good at following instructions. Seriously. I never understood why people COULD NOT cook, because what could you possibly do wrong? Just follow the instructions. Use well reviewed and received recipes and cookbooks so that you at least know the writer knows what they're talking about. But follow the instructions, and you can't be that far off from your desired end state.

The problem with this way of cooking is that it becomes difficult to develop your own style, and the dishes you make are limited to the recipes you use. I've been increasingly trying to get away from this obsessive recipe-following lately in order to become a better cook, and not to have that "I'm a fraud" feeling about my cooking.

Ratio was a really fantastic book for someone like me. Ruhlman outlines several simple but useful weight-based ratios for making all sorts of things. By knowing the ratio of main ingredients that is involved in, say a loaf of bread, you're then freed from following specific recipes, and trying to figure out how to scale them properly. You start with the basics, then add to create different variations on very fundamental dishes.

In five main parts, Ruhlman covers the simple ratios behind such basic concepts as bread dough,chicken stock, mayo and custard. And by removing the fancy techniques and ingredients that clutter up many recipes out there, he makes it sound SO EASY. I've never even thought of making my own mayonnaise before, as it seemed difficult and intimidating. But can I whisk oil, egg yolk and water together? Sure! Why not? In every section the constant thought running through my head was "But I could do that! I should make that!"

I should point out that the ratios in this book are almost entirely based on weight, not volume. I don't actually have a kitchen scale yet, so I've never really cooked by weight before. However, Ruhlman really emphasizes the usefulness of this concept. By using a scale, you don't necessarily need to measure ingredients separately before adding to the bowl - you can simply add items directly to your mixture until you have the appropriate weight. And that makes sense to me - less dishes to wash! A scale is definitely the next item on my "to buy" list. And either way, Ruhlman does include the "recipes" for all his ratios with a volume conversion so that you can make everything in the book without a scale.

So overall...I think you can tell that I enjoyed the book. It was simple, concise and really gets you thinking about how many things you can really make at home in the kitchen. If you're a compulsive recipe follower like me, I would really recommend reading this book. And once you've mastered the basics, there are so many variations that allow you to be creative with these concepts and make your own recipes!