Another birthday

Yesterday Eric and I drove to Lake Odessa to visit with Mark’s family and celebrate October birthdays (Eric and Mark, in fact). Since Eric already got his gift, I didn’t bring it with us, but he got some very thoughtful gifts from the folks there.

Mark is my mother-in-law’s boyfriend, and he is a wonderful man. He is very generous, thoughtful, and he is super geeky, so we get along great. He bought the furniture that is in our guest room, and he is basically just a great person. I didn’t know exactly what I wanted to do for him, but after they came over for dinner one night, and he seemed very appreciative of my homemade pasta, I decided to make him “Italian Dinner in a Basket.”

I forgot to get pictures, but here’s the process:

1. I opened a beer and played some Hugo on my iTunes.

2. I made some sauce from scratch. At the suggestion of my mom, who is brilliant, I cooked the tomatoes for about an hour instead of just blending them right away. I blanched them first, peeled them, chopped them, then let them simmer in oil, red wine vinegar, garlic, and spices. This was the best sauce I have made yet.

3. I have semolina flour finally! So I did half semolina, half all purpose, and I made some fettuccine with my pasta maker.

4. I canned the sauce and let the noodles dry over night. Then I bagged the noodles.

5. We bought a middle-of-the-road wine (Mark used to work at a winery, actually) and included that in the basket.

6. I wrote an instruction card, and we covered the whole lot in a nice dish towel.

We also made him a card. I bought a pack of photo cards (you put your own photo in there) on my last day at Michaels, and we painted the front to make it look less…white.

It was quite a hit! And, fittingly, my sister-in-law gave him a decorative cork holder. In vino veritas, my friends!

So now it’s onto my mom’s birthday gift and then Christmas. I am getting excited about it all. I am also getting psyched for NaNoWriMo, and it will be interesting to see how I fit writing and crafting and cooking and full time retail in together.

Coming up next: I will turn an over sized t-shirt into a fitted tee! Theoretically.

A tale of 12 ravioli

I mentioned in my last post that I made a fresh meal for my mother-in-law yesterday, and I also promised to post about the ravioli I made. Before I do that, though, I have to explain why making ravioli is so important to me.

My maternal grandmother, Margaret, was, above all else, a very loving woman. She was also an insanely talented cook. I grew up on the East coast, and during that time, she lived in California. I can count on one hand the number of times I met her, and I can count on one finger the number of times I had her ravioli. But to this day, that ravioli haunts my taste buds. For years, I listed “ravioli” on my favorite food choice in surveys, though the truth was that it was specifically her ravioli that I desired. No store-bought or chain-restaurant-made ravioli has ever come close.

Mine didn’t, either, but I’m willing to chalk it up to years of being tortured by the lack of her ravioli. She died 11 years ago, and the recipe went with her, so I am left to try only what my infantile culinary skills can put together.

Earlier this week, I made cannelloni for Eric, and because I only made half of the package of the shells, I still had a good amount of the cheese mixture left over. While prepping the pasta for his mom yesterday, the thought struck me to make ravioli! My birthday present this year included the pasta maker and the ravioli press, so it only seemed fair to try it.

Since Eric’s mom doesn’t eat cheese, I still made some spaghetti, as well. I also made the sauce. But I used frozen veggies because, I mean, c’mon. How much work can one person really do these days? Also…I had forgotten to buy enough produce. Oops.

I learned from last time, when the pasta didn’t dry long enough. So this time, I started the dough around 9am, while talking to my mom on the phone. I let the ball of dough dry for about 3 hours (some people say to wait a whole day!), and then I ran it through the pasta maker, and used the ravioli press. Our guests arrived almost half an hour after I had finished with the pasta maker. We then went about going to garage sales and what not, and the pasta had about 4 hours to dry on its own. We put a fan on it, just in case.

It came out great! And so did the ravioli. There were quite a few compliments, which is awesome for a person who is hungry for a good ego-stroking, like myself. The sauce was the best yet.

It got me all excited and confident to try out the canning supplies I got.

Anyway…here are the pictures:

Twofer Tuesday 1: Mmmmmanicotti

Eric specifically requested some sort of baked pasta this week for a dinner, and in the interest of doing something new, I decided to make “manicotti.” Of course because it is a weeknight, and because I have been feeling a bit lazy lately, technically what I made was cannelloni, but who’s keeping track, am I right?

This was amazingly easy. Mostly because I cut a lot of corners.

I boiled the pasta for about 7 minutes, just a little under cooking it. I only made half the box.

I beat an egg and mixed ricotta, mozzarella, and parmigiana in a bowl while the pasta cooked.

I stuffed the pasta shells with the cheese/egg mixture, added some broccoli to the pan, and covered it with canned tomato sauce.

Baked for about 45 minutes while we went out for a run, and DONE!

I give it a B+. I have a lot of leftover cheese mix, so I might make some more this week and give them away. Or something.

Stuffing cheese into the pasta. Mmmmm!

Sunday Dinner (from scratch)

The original plan today was to go down to the beach, but schedules didn’t quite sync, and by the time we would have been ready, there would have been a line of cars waiting to get in. Besides, we had some errands to run (namely, return a shower head and buy the supplies to make a dress form).

With a whole day ahead of us and myself being woefully short the supplies to build a TARDIS, I decided to focus on dinner. I love to eat; I love to cook, and I love pushing myself to rely as little as possible on store-bought items. Part of that stems from a desire to avoid the long list of additives, and the other, larger part, is all about the bragging rights. I mean, obviously, I blog about this stuff all the time, right?

Sundays always make me think of early pasta dinners. And donuts. But I didn’t have donuts.

What I did have were 2 lbs of Roma tomatoes, garlic, spices, broccoli, some chicken sausages, flour, eggs, and salt. In other words, I had everything I needed for a scrumptious Sunday dinner…made from scratch. For bragging rights.

The sauce is easy; I’ve done it before. The first time, I used my cousin Vinny’s recipe and technique, which yielded delicious results, as expected. Eric liked it, too. Today, however, I had a whole lot of tomatoes, and I wanted to make something a little bit thicker that I could freeze and use like canned sauce later. So I kept the seeds, blended everything, and I added a little bit of cornstarch to thicken it up. It came out great. There is nothing quite like fresh sauce.

The sauce: Cut slits in the tomatoes (the shape of an X) and stew in near-boiling water for about 4 or 5 minutes. Check one to make sure the skin comes off easily. If it does, place them in cold water, so you don’t burn yourself! Peel the tomatoes, chop them up, and throw them in the blender. Add a teaspoon of garlic, some onion powder, some Italian spices, a couple of squirts of balsamic vinegar, and if you want, a pinch of cornstarch. Blend it. Done!

The new part, though, was finally using the pasta maker that Eric got me for my birthday this year. It’s just been sitting in its box in the kitchen, looking at me forlornly every time I walked by. Not today! I pulled that sucker out today and made my first-ever batch of fresh pasta, too.

Flour, eggs, a pinch of salt, and some olive oil – that was it. The pasta maker was great; it’s not electric. It’s a Marcato Atlas 150, crank powered, but still easier than rolling out the dough and cutting it by hand.

The pasta: 1 cup all-purpose flour, 1 cup whole wheat flour and salt go in a bowl – mix these together. Lightly beat three eggs and pour them into the middle of the flour. Mix this as much as you can; if it doesn’t mix well, add some water or olive oil. I still had some wheat flour that was stubborn and didn’t mix. That’s okay. There was still plenty. Follow the directions on your pasta maker, dry pasta for about an hour, then cook desired amount for 2 minutes. Voila.

Then I sauteed some broccoli and those sausages, let the sauce simmer, and after about an hour of drying, I cooked up half of the pasta I made today. It was amazingly fresh. The pasta absorbed the sauce better than anything I’ve cooked from the store; it was salty and chewy, and the sauce was very fresh. All in all, I think it was one of the better Sunday dinners I’ve made.

It was a great way to end the weekend and get ready for the week. Especially one where I have to start my days at 4am.

Now…what for dessert? Oh, I know…some cookies!

PICTURES!

Twofer Tuesday 2: Leftovers, Italian style

Pop quiz!

You are looking for something to make for lunch. You are at home with time, but you are going away for the weekend, so you don’t want to make anything big, and you don’t want to leave any leftovers in the fridge to start decomposing over the next two days. What do you do?

If you’re Italian, or just a person with good taste (ah ha ha!), then you probably have some sort of pasta in your fridge from earlier in the week. And if you like fresh produce, then you might have some seasonal veggie, say, zucchini?

By now, you have probably guessed that this is clearly rhetorical, and I’m going to tell you what I did with these very ingredients. You are correct. I made Indian food tonight, but I forgot to take pictures, so I’m reheating the yummy lunch I made last week for my second post today.

Also, I apologize, and I will not use any more puns in this post. I think. So!

On Sunday, I think, I made chicken parmigiana with rotini. The chicken and fried tomatoes had been consumed earlier in the week, but I made a whole pound of pasta in my mania, so I still had a good serving and a half left, along with the remaining sauce. Since we were leaving for the weekend, I didn’t want to have to come home only to throw away pasta.

I had a zucchini, too, and for some reason, I’ve had terrible luck keeping those suckers around lately. I definitely did not want to have to throw out a delicious vegetable, so I saw a great solution: pasta + zucchini = delicious!

Rather than just slice up some zucchini and throw it on the pasta, though, I thought it would be fun to play with a few extra flavors, so I warmed up some oil and vinegar, threw in a little garlic and various and sundry Italian spices to cook the slices in.

Don’t worry; the burner’s not on!

This is one of my favorite way to cook zucchini or squash. Depending on what kind of vinegar you use (red wine vs balsamic), you can have a tangy topping or something sweet. I went with balsamic to balance the sweet tomato sauce. It is simple, and it takes about 5 minutes.

Once the zucchini was all cooked up, I nuked the pasta and topped it.

Exhibit B. Delicious.

I had a little bit of zucchini left over that I just munched on through the afternoon while I packed and cleaned a little bit. It was a great break in the day, and it tasted good. I guess it has some of that nutritional value, too.

Tomorrow, by the by, I will showcase the wedding favors that I made for a “Wedding Wednesday”. I thought about something 4th of July related, but that would have required some more forethought on my part, so wedding stuff it is.

I also might post a poll – I am having some trouble with a project I’m working on, and I always welcome advice. Look forward to that!