Category Archives: meals

Birthday Feast!

It was my mother’s birthday yesterday. My present to her was her favorite meal: homemade pasta and sauce.

So we have a green salad (courtesy of my mom), rosemary olive bread (more on that below), meatballs, pasta, tomato sauce and my go-t0 green beans with lemon zest and pine nuts.

Making pasta is one of those things looks harder than it is. Really when you come down to it, it’s more tedious to make than it is difficult. It’s worth the effort though. There is nothing quite like it. The meal came out well, I think.

I  really wish I did not have to use canned tomatoes for the sauce. They’re ok, but not the same as sauce from fresh.

So this summer I am determined to get a bushel of tomatoes from a farmer’s market and make and freeze sauce from scratch.

Anyhow, I am really really proud of the bread. 

I have made the Mark Bittman no-knead bread before, but I’ve always done the shortened version (the one that takes about 12 hours). This time, I went for the 24 hour version. Half whole wheat flour, half white. flour. I added in chopped, pitted oil cured olives and fresh rosemary. Coated the dough in olive oil and let rise for 18 -20 hours. This is the result (well there’s another rising in there, but you get the idea).

It was great to celebrate with friends and enjoy this meal.

And now, I think I am going to go enjoy some salad and a slice of this bread for my supper.

Top Chef Masters

Bravo has given their Top Chef franchise a bit of a spin with Top Chef Masters. Instead of a bunch of newbie chefs, culinary school students, and whatnot, the contestants are world reknowned chefs who don’t need to prove anything. They’re not competing for money for themselves; they’re competing for a charity of their choice. There’s no living together. No having their every move filmed.

It’s a better show for all of that.

Couple of things have been markedly interesting. First of all, a lot of the contestants have acted as judges on the show. All of them have commented on how much harder it is to compete in this format than they thought. There have been chefs who haven’t managed to plate in the allotted time. Chefs who have had their dishes turn out badly. Chefs who have experienced the fun of malfunctioning product placed appliances.

The judging seems less erratic also. Although the Food and Wine judge shows up now and then, it’s mostly been really good food critics who know their stuff.

All of this has provided for a really stellar program. The manufactured drama is so not missed–at least not by me. There’s a genuine pleasure to be had watching experts working at their craft.

Plus watching Hubert Keller cooking in a dorm room in and of itself was worth my time.

Fantastic place to eat

The Spiced Pear – butter poached Maine Lobster

Seriously good eats.

Pasta and my new go-to dessert

So I had the family over for my mother’s extremely belated birthday dinner. Per her request I made homemade pasta, which is not all that hard.

Fresh Pasta

3 cups sifted flour
1 tsp salt
4 eggs
1 tbsp olive oil
2 tbsp water

Put the sifted flour and salt in the food processor and gradually add one egg at a time. Add the olive oil and water, and pulse until the mixture forms a dough. Wrap in plastic wrap and put in the fridge for at least an hour.

Cut the dough into four quarters which will make it easier to work with. Take one quarter and using flour to make it more pliable run it through the pasta machine until the dough is somewhat translucent and almost like a really soft piece of leather. Then use whatever die on the machine to form the pasta you want (mine only does spaghetti and linguine).

(If you don’t have a pasta machine, you can still do this. Roll out the dough by hand. You are still looking for the same qualities you’d get above. When you’re happy with the thickness, roll up the dough as you would a jellyroll. Slice into whatever thickness you want. Unroll and you have pasta!)

Cook in boiling salted water for about 3 minutes.

I served this with Giada DeLaurentiis’ Basic Marinara sauce and some sauteed zucchini and garlic, along with a salad.

But, reader, the dessert! A friend recommended making a pavlova, which involves a meringue shell that is then filled with whipped cream and fresh fruit. It is named after Anna Pavlova, the ballerina. Apparently it was created and served in her honor in New Zealand.

So here’s the recipe I used (I have got to get my hands on the Silver Palate Cookbook from whence this came).

The meringue came together quite well and I had high hopes when it came out of the oven.

Pavlova shell
Pavlova shell  from the oven

Getting it out of the springform pan was more of a task. I will be more liberal with the butter on the inside of the pan next time.

Pavlova unsprung

I’m afraid I’m not much of a decorator when it comes to desserts, but no one seemed to mind.

the Pavlova!

Everyone had seconds and thirds! So this one is a keeper.

Thanksgiving redux

So I found out I will be hosting Thanksgiving again. Oddly enough, I’m kind of pleased. Last year I was panicked. Now that I’ve cooked a turkey and I know that there isn’t all that much to it, I think I’m going to enjoy stretching my culinary wings (pun intended).

Now it’s just a question of the menu. I’d like to do something a bit more challenging with the dressing.

To this end I’ve been going through all of my cooking magazines for ideas. I have way too many of them. Two were gift subscriptions. One I got because of air miles on an airline I refuse to fly. And the other two were choices.

Food & Wine (air miles) – not renewing and I’ll tell you why. Most of the recipes call for things like essence of violet and squab. The reviews are for restaurants in places like Bali and Gstaad, and their idea of an affordable wine starts at $50 a bottle.

Cooks Illustrated – I love this magazine.  Great illustrations, very easy to follow recipes, and everything is tested extensively.

Penzey’s One – Another one I really love.  They generally come from the readers so it’s considerably more folksy and homespun then say Gourmet, but all the recipes have been hits.

Gourmet & Bon Appetit – (gift subscriptions) They look like they should feature recipes with ingredients like essence of violet, but man, that isn’t the case.  Excellent all around.

I can afford to subscribe to 2. So the question is which will make the cut.

The simple pleasures

I went into Wegman’s (awesome grocery chain) to buy some tomatoes and ended up spending $25 on expensive cheeses and fresh bread. I have to tell you it was worth it.

Their bakery is pretty decent. I took a baguette, toasted it with a little truffle oil, and added some sliced tomatoes and some really yummy St. Agur blue cheese.

Reader, it was heaven.