Monday, April 23, 2012

Cookies and Cream Cupcakes

Cookies and cream is a flavor combination that I've loved since I was a little kid. Other preferences have come and gone, but there's still something about cookies and cream that I just find very, very appealing. Naturally, applying that to a cupcake seems like the greatest idea in the world.

Cookies & Cream Cupcakes

Although I loved the look of the lightly speckled frosting, if I had to do it again I'd definitely add even more Oreo to flavor the frosting. I wasn't particularly enthused with using shortening in the frosting, either. A local cupcake bakery, New York Cupcakes (the cupcakes are New York themed, not from New York), makes the most amazing Oreo buttercream frosting -- far superior to the one used in this recipe, taste wise. If you're more concerned with aesthetics, use the recipe -- it makes beautiful snow-white frosting with specks of Oreo cookie. Otherwise, making your favorite buttercream recipe and use lots of crushed-up Oreos.

The original recipe calls for either breaking the Oreo cookies up into pieces or placing them whole into the cupcake wrappers. Surprisingly (because I didn't expect to), I preferred the latter method. It created an unexpected crunch in the middle of the cupcake, but rather than detracting from the overall experience, it added to it. Then again, I am the sort of person who likes a bit of crunch in everything I eat (I love lining my sandwiches with potato chips, for instance), so your mileage may vary. :-)

Cookies and Cream Cupcakes (adapted from Bakerella)


For the cupcakes:
  • 1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 cup unsweetened cocoa
  • 1 1/4 cup sugar
  • 3/4 tsp baking soda
  • 1/2 tsp baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 2 eggs
  • 1/2 cup canola oil
  • 1 tsp vanilla
  • 3/4 cup milk
  • 3/4 cup hot water
  • 24 Oreos, plus more for crumbs
For the frosting:
  • 1 cup shortening
  • 1 lb. powdered sugar
  • 1 tsp vanilla
  • 3-6 tbsp milk
  • 2 or more tsp Oreo cookie crumbs

For the cupcakes:
  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees and line a muffin tin with cupcake wrappers.
  2. Place a whole cookie into each cup or break them apart and place the broken pieces into each cup.
  3. Mix the flour, cocoa, sugar, baking soda, baking powder and salt in a large mixing bowl using a wire whisk.
  4. Add the eggs, oil, vanilla and milk and mix until thoroughly combined. Add the hot water and mix until combined.
  5. Transfer the very liquid batter to a large measuring cup and pour batter into each baking cup so that it's about 3/4 full.
  6. Bake cupcakes for 16-18 minutes.
For the frosting:
  1. Beat the shortening in a mixer until smooth.
  2. Add vanilla and mix until combined.
  3. Add the powdered sugar in three additions, scraping down the sides after each addition.
  4. Add a tbsp of milk at a time and mix together until you achieve the consistency you like.
  5. Add the cookie crumbs and mix until completely combined.
  6. Place the frosting in a decorator bag and pipe onto each cupcake as desired. Another option is to mound the frosting just over the cupcake, then dip the top into a bowl of Oreo crumbs to coat.
  7. Insert a cookie (or part of one) on top of each cupcake for decoration.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Lemon-Scented Pull-Apart Bread

This is a great bread to serve to guests. It's beautiful and fairly non-threatening in every way (unless the guest dislikes lemon). I'm not going to lie; it takes a bit of effort to prepare, as is the case with most yeast breads, and this one has the added complication of dough layering. But also like most yeast breads, it's incredibly satisfying to bask in the fruit of your labors.

lemon-scented pull-apart coffee bread

Pull-apart bread seems to be the rage these days, and this is my third attempt at one, though I think it's the first one I've posted about. I've also made cinnamon-sugar and cheese pull-apart bread, both of which were delish... but only after I picked off the top burned bits. The problem I had with all three pull-apart breads -- and this is probably particular to my oven -- is that the tops tended to brown very quickly, which meant that by the end of the required cooking time, the tops were way overdone. Because I'd had the experience with the first two breads, I managed to (mostly) avoid that fate for this lemon one. Still, do check on your bread about halfway through, in case you have an oven like mine. If it already looks nice and golden brown, cover it with foil and let it finish baking.

lemon-scented pull-apart coffee bread

So as I mentioned above, you have to cut squares of dough and stack them in your bread pan, which is what makes the bread "pull apart." It's not difficult to do; it just takes a little bit of extra time.

lemon-scented pull-apart coffee bread

The dough is a fairly sticky dough. As long as you keep your board and hands floured, it should be fine; I did add a bit more flour to the dough itself but kept it pretty sticky. Also, I used all lemon zest rather than lemon and orange. (As you can see from this photo, I still checked on the bread a little too late and the ends came out a lot darker than I might have wanted.)

lemon-scented pull-apart coffee bread

What I wasn't too crazy about though? The cream cheese glaze. It gave the whole thing a nicer, more finished look, but flavor wise didn't add much. Next time I'll either find a different cream cheese glaze recipe to try or just leave it out altogether.

Finally, the recipe source calls this "lemon-scented pull-apart coffee cake." I'm not sure why. It's definitely not a cake. I've opted to call it by a less confusing and more accurate name!

Lemon-Scented Pull-Apart Bread (adapted from Flo Braker)


For the sweet yeast dough
  • About 2 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1/4 cup granulated sugar
  • 2 1/4 tsp (1 envelope) instant yeast
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1/3 cup whole milk
  • 2oz unsalted butter
  • 1/4 cup water
  • 1 1/2 tsp pure vanilla extract
  • 2 large eggs, at room temperature

For the lemon paste pie filling
  • 1/2 cup granulated sugar
  • 3 tbsp finely grated lemon zest (3 lemons)
  • 1 tbsp finely grated orange zest
  • 2oz unsalted butter, melted

For the tangy cream cheese icing
  • 3oz cream cheese, softened
  • 1/3 cup powdered sugar
  • 1 tbsp whole milk
  • 1 tbsp fresh lemon juice


Make the sweet yeast dough

  1. Stir together 2 cups of the flour, the sugar, yeast, and salt in the bowl of a stand mixer. In a small saucepan, heat the milk and butter over low heat just until the butter is melted. Remove from the heat, add the water, and set aside until warm (120 to 130°F), about 1 minute. Add the vanilla extract.
  2. Pour the milk mixture over the flour-yeast mixture. Using a rubber spatula, mix until the dry ingredients are evenly moistened. Attach the bowl to the mixer and fit the mixer with the paddle attachment. With the mixer on low speed, add the eggs, one at a time, mixing after each addition just until incorporated. Stop the mixer, add 1/2 cup of the remaining flour, and resume mixing on low speed until the dough is smooth, 30 to 45 seconds. Add 2 more tablespoons flour and mix on medium speed until the dough is smooth, soft, and slightly sticky, about 45 seconds.
  3. Sprinkle a work surface with 1 tbsp flour and center the dough on the flour. Knead gently until smooth and no longer sticky, about 1 minute, adding an additional 1 to 2 tbsp flour only if necessary to lessen the stickiness. Place the dough in a large bowl, cover the bowl securely with plastic wrap, and let the dough rise in a warm place (about 70°F) until doubled in size, 45 to 60 minutes. Press the dough gently with a fingertip. If the indentation remains, the dough is ready for the next step. While the dough is rising, make the filling.
Make the lemon paste filling
  1. In a small bowl, mix together the sugar and the lemon and orange zests. Set the sandy-wet mixture nearby (the sugar draws out moisture from the zests to create the consistency).
Make the coffee cake
  1. Center a rack in the oven and preheat the oven to 350°F. Lightly grease a 9x5x3-inch loaf pan.
  2. Gently deflate the dough. On a lightly floured work surface, roll out the dough into a 20-by-12-inch rectangle. Using a pastry brush, spread the melted butter generously over the dough. Cut the dough crosswise into 5 strips, each about 12 by 4 inches. Sprinkle 1 1/2 tbsp of the zest-sugar mixture over one of the buttered rectangles. Top with a second rectangle and sprinkle it with 1 1/2 tbsp of the zest-sugar mixture. Repeat with the remaining dough rectangles and zest-sugar mixture, ending with a stack of 5 rectangles. Work carefully when adding the crumbly zest filling, or it will fall off when you have to lift the stacked pastry later.
  3. Slice the stack crosswise through the 5 layers to create 6 equal strips, each about 4x2 inches. Fit these layered strips into the prepared loaf pan, cut edges up and side by side. (There should be plenty of space on either side of the 6 strips widthwise in the pan, while lengthwise it will be tight. When the dough rises it will fill in that space.) Loosely cover the pan with plastic wrap and let the dough rise in a warm place (70°F) until puffy and almost doubled in size, 30 to 50 minutes. Press the dough gently with a fingertip. If the indentation remains, the dough is ready for baking.
  4. Bake the coffee cake until the top is golden brown, 30 to 35 minutes. Transfer to a wire rack and let cool in the pan for 10 to 15 minutes.
Make the tangy cream cheese icing
  1. In a medium bowl, using a rubber spatula, vigorously mix the cream cheese and sugar until smooth. Beat in the milk and lemon juice until the mixture is creamy and smooth.
  2. To remove the coffee cake from the pan, tilt and rotate the pan while gently tapping it on a counter to release the cake sides. Invert onto a wire rack, then turn it so that it's right-side up.
  3. Slip a sheet of waxed paper under the rack to catch any drips from the icing. Using a pastry brush, coat the top of the warm cake with the icing to glaze it.
Serve the coffee cake warm or at room temperature. To serve, you can pull apart the layers, or you can cut the cake into 1-inch-thick slices on a slight diagonal with a long, serrated knife. If you decide to cut the cake, don't attempt to cut it until it is almost completely cool.

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Homemade Bacon

There has been a lot of experimentation going on in my kitchen, primarily having to do with the new stovetop smoker that I got. It's been a blast. I love smoked food, but am not much of an outdoor griller. I was skeptical that you could produce great results with a stovetop smoker, but I was happily wrong. If you're a smoking purist, then sure, it might not work for you... but for me, it's fantastic!

I made some truly delicious baby back ribs -- twice -- before getting to use the smoker for the purpose for which it'd originally been intended... making homemade bacon. That's right, my friends, that most wonderful of pork products can be made very simply at home. It's a relatively easy process, and you can make it exactly how you like it.

If you like bacon (and really, who doesn't -- I know vegetarians who miss bacon most of all the meat products they've given up), you will LOVE what you make at home. Homemade bacon is insanely good. Not only does it taste better than store-bought bacon, it's also healthier for you because you can cure it without using sodium nitrates. I said healthier, ok. Not healthy. :P

It does require some investment (in a smoker and a meat slicer), but in the end it'll be worth it, if you love bacon and/or consume a lot of it in your house (like many things, it's cheaper to make yourself). In fact, some would say that it doesn't require any investment in special equipment. My personal opinion is that to get bacon that tastes the way I like, a smoker's pretty much required. Smoking is what gives bacon that distinctive flavor. Still, you could just cure the bacon and not smoke it -- that's still bacon (pancetta). As for the meat slicer, the first time I made bacon, I didn't have one. I figured it would be fine -- after all, anyone with a knife can slice a slab of bacon. But as I quickly found out, only a meat slicer can get the bacon into thin, uniform slices that make it, well, bacon.

First you start with these beauties: pork bellies. If you're going to make homemade bacon you might as well make the effort worthwhile! You want about 5 pounds of pork belly.

stacked pork bellies

Make a wet cure, which consists of a 1/4 cup each of packed brown sugar, honey (or maple syrup), and kosher salt. This slightly sweeter cure is good for breakfast bacon. If you want to use sodium nitrate (aka pink salt) for extra protection against botulism, go for it, I won't judge you much. Mix the cure ingredients together until well blended.

cure for homemade bacon

Put the pork bellies into heavy duty freezer Ziploc bags so that they're not stacked on top of each other. (I used 2 bags.) Rub the cure all over the bellies. The cure might seize at first, but as you keep rubbing it will soften and stick to the bellies. Release as much air out of the bags as possible, then seal them. Every other day, flip the bags over so that the curing liquid gets evenly distributed. And yes, there will be liquid. The curing process is basically drawing as much liquid out of the meat as possible so that it will keep. As the days pass, you can check the bellies' firmness... as the water draws out they'll get firmer and firmer. Do this for about 7 days, give or take. They're ready when the bellies feel very firm at the thickest point.

At the end of the 7 days, rinse off all the cure and pat the pork bellies dry with a paper towel. They'll look something like this:

pork bellies after they've been cured

Some would say that at this point, you have bacon. You can slice it and fry it, and I'm sure it would taste pretty dang good. But for me, true bacon requires another step.

Put the cured bellies on a tray and store them in the refrigerator for another half day or so, uncovered. This will help dry off any remaining surface moisture, and the meat will feel tacky when you touch it. This will help the smoke stick.

Prepare your smoker. Smoke the bellies (unstacked, so it might require doing it twice, as mine did) at 200°F for about 2 hours, until a thermometer inserted at the thickest part reads 150°F. Once it's smoked, it might look like this:

slab of smoked bacon

Slice off the skin while it's hot, leaving as much fat on the bacon as possible. (You can make the skin into delicious pork crackling.) Next time I may just leave the skin on. NOW it's bacon. Taste some of it off the side -- it's OK, you've earned it, and it's fully cooked now. You can hand slice it at this point or bust out your meat slicer and make those thin slices. Here was my final haul:

sliced homemade bacon

My bacon wasn't red/pink like supermarket bacon. It looked like cooked pork. That's because in addition to its preservative function, sodium nitrate also gives the meat a nice, attractive red color. And of course, I didn't use that. Once you fry it up, though, it just looks like regular bacon. I like my bacon on the slightly burnt side. :D

strips of homemade bacon

Commercial bacon is pumped full of water, so when you cook it, the bacon shrinks. Homemade bacon shrinks very little, if at all. I froze most of what I made in 'packs' of 8 slices. Although the curing process should make the bacon last a long time, because this bacon doesn't have the preservative power of sodium nitrate it's safer to keep the unused portion frozen. No nitrates... just deliciousness!

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Lemon Ricotta Cookies with Lemon Glaze

These cookies are called cookies, but texture wise they're more like little cakes, soft and pillowy, not crumbly. Whatever you want to call them, they are delicious. They have a nice, tender crumb that's like a more cakey version of a sugar cookie -- only they're infused with lemon flavor.

Lemon Ricotta Cookies

This isn't the first time I've made these cookies, but the last time I made them was a year ago. Because I had a bunch of Meyer lemons (from making preserved lemons) on hand, I wanted to make them again. I had a small panic attack when I realized that I'd never posted about these -- I use this blog to store recipes I've tried and loved -- and who the hell knew where I'd gotten the recipe in the first place?!?! I beat myself up for about 10 minutes for being so careless as to not keep some sort of record for a recipe I'd loved, then calmed down and thought about it, and remembered. WHEW. Never doing that to myself again!

A Bowl of Meyer Lemons

It was remembering the ricotta part that was key. If you search for "lemon cookies" on the Internet, a whole ton of stuff comes up. But if you search for "lemon ricotta cookies," the one I was looking for, by Giada De Laurentiis, pops right up. She even has an enticing little video to go with these.

They really are that simple to make. Most of the ingredients are ones you probably already have in your pantry and fridge, with the exception of the ricotta. Heck, maybe you have that lying around all the time too. I didn't, so I had to run out and get a tub.

Lemon Ricotta Cookies

I adapted the cookies slightly by using Meyer lemons, because that's what I had on hand, but I used regular lemons the first time and it was just as fabulous. In fact, if anything, regular lemons made the end result more lemony, maybe because they're not as sweet and subtle as Meyer lemons. I also accidentally made them healthier, because the recipe calls for whole-milk ricotta, and I thought I picked up a tub of that, but it turned out to be part skim. The good news? I didn't notice a difference at all. So yay, fewer calories and you don't have to pay the price in terms of flavor. (Don't worry, there's still plenty of "good stuff" in them to make them delicious!)

Lemon Ricotta Cookies

Lemon Ricotta Cookies with Lemon Glaze (recipe adapted from Giada De Laurentiis)


  • 2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1/2 cup unsalted butter, softened
  • 2 cups sugar
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1 15oz container whole-milk ricotta cheese
  • 3 Tbsp lemon juice
  • 1 lemon, zested

  • 1 1/2 cups powdered sugar
  • 3 Tbsp lemon juice
  • 1 lemon, zested


  1. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F.
  2. In a medium bowl, combine the flour, baking powder, and salt. Set aside.
  3. In a large bowl, beat the butter and sugar until light and fluffy (using a stand or electric mixer), about 3 minutes. Add the eggs, 1 at a time, beating until incorporated.
  4. Add the ricotta cheese, lemon juice, and lemon zest. Beat to combine.
  5. Stir in the dry ingredients.
  6. Line 2 baking sheets with parchment paper. Spoon about 2 tablespoons of dough for each cookie onto the baking sheets. Bake for 15 minutes, rotating the sheets from top to bottom and back to front about halfway through, until slightly golden at the edges.
  7. Remove from the oven and let the cookies rest on the baking sheet for 20 minutes.
  8. While the cookies are cooling, combine the powdered sugar, lemon juice, and lemon zest in a small bowl and stir until smooth. Add more lemon juice, a few drops at a time, to thin if necessary.
  9. When the cookies have cooled, spoon about 1/2-teaspoon onto each cookie and use the back of the spoon to gently spread. Let the glaze harden for about 2 hours before packing them into an airtight container.

Meyer Lemons

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Preserved Lemons

Preserved lemons are all the rage these days, with cookbooks and food bloggers singing its virtues to the heavens. Used primarily in Moroccan and North African cuisine, preserved lemons have finally come to the attention of the rest of the world, and foodies everywhere are discovering that this extremely versatile ingredient is making a huge difference in their cooking. Added to soups, stews, chicken salad, grilled seafood, and generally any dish where lemon might (or might not!) make sense. I recently had some delicious artisan olives that were marinated with preserved lemon. A little goes a long way, and when you add a bit of it to your dish, you get an extra dimension of flavor that makes people go "Wow."

Preserved Lemons

You may have seen perserved lemons in gourmet grocery stores, but they're fairly pricey considering it's really nothing more than lemon in brine. However, those are ready to use immediately, whereas if you make your own you do have to wait a minimum of 3 weeks before they're ready to use. But homemade preserved lemons are just as good, cost much less (if you have a lemon tree, it's practically free), and if you make a jar (or more) of them, you'll have enough preserved lemons to last a year (at which time you'll want to make a fresh batch, anyway).

A Bowl of Meyer Lemons

Traditionally, preserved lemons are made with regular lemons. In the foodie world, Meyer lemons are popular because they're thinner skinned and sweeter. The peel (with pith) is considered the desired end product, but many people use the flesh as well, particularly in soups and stews where it'll just disappear. The longer they've been preserved the saltier they are, so watch how much salt you add to the dish when using preserved lemons -- always taste!

There's no real recipe to making these beauties. Sterilize a glass jar by running it through the dishwasher (with your other dishes, of course, no need to waste that much water on one jar!) or boiling it, completely immersed in water, for 10 minutes. Quarter your lemons, but don't cut all the way through -- keep them attached at the stem. I've also seen people make one cut almost all the way through, then turn the lemon 180° and rotate it to the side 90° and make another cut there, so that it's almost like an accordion effect. Both methods are pictured here, pick the one you prefer:

Meyer Lemon Cut for Preservation

Meyer Lemon Cut for Preservation

Have a big bowl of kosher salt ready (I used coarse salt, but it doesn't need to be), enough for all your lemons. Open your lemon and stuff salt in. Open the other cuts and stuff salt in there as well.

Meyer Lemon Packed with Salt

Put the lemon in the jar. Repeat, gently but firmly smashing down the lemons in the jar as you go, releasing their juices, until you've filled the jar about 2/3-3/4 of the way. Top it off with some more salt.

Preserved Lemons

Ideally you'll have enough juice to submerge all the lemons, but you probably won't. Meyer lemons, which are what I used, are super juicy, but I still didn't have enough juice to reach the top. Many people recommend then filling the jar up the rest of the way with extra lemon juice from spare lemons, or even water, but it's not really necessary. Eventually, the lemons will release enough juice to submerge themselves (or if they don't, after the 3-week period feel free to add more lemon juice). Topping it off at the beginning aids in the fermentation process so that you're able to use them sooner, so if that's a factor feel free to do so.

Preserved Lemons

Keep your lemons in the fridge. About once a day (or more), shake your jar of lemons (making sure the lids are tightly closed first!), redistributing the brine and getting the lemons at the top in on the action.

After about 3 weeks, they'll be ready to use. Cut off as much as you need for your dish, then return the jar to the fridge. The lemons should keep for at least a year.

Saturday, January 21, 2012

Homemade Spinach Pasta

It's been snowing... and snowing... and snowing in Seattle. I've pretty much been shut in my house for the last 5 days or so, which I suppose is what inspired me to finally do something I've been meaning to do for ages... make my own pasta. I guess it's always been an intimidating concept, despite having the pasta roller/cutter attachments to my KitchenAid mixer for years. And like so many things that seem daunting, in practice it wasn't at all. It was easy and fun.

Homemade Spinach Pasta

You start with some basic ingredients: flour and eggs. My first batch of pasta was just a plain egg pasta; couldn't have been easier. It took 2 eggs and 1 cup plus of flour. I'm blogging about my second attempt, which was basically just like egg pasta, except you add spinach to create a lovely green pasta. Anyway, you start with a mound of flour, creating a well in the center, where you add the eggs. Start beating the eggs (and spinach) as you would scrambled eggs, adding flour from the sides of the well as you beat. Keep adding flour slowly, because depending on numerous factors you may not need the full amount of flour. You may also need more. If the dough is still sticky even after you've used up all the flour you began with, keep adding flour a bit at a time as you knead until the dough no longer sticks to your hand.

I based the recipe and method that I used on Marcella Hazan's Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking and Canal House Cooking Volume No. 7: La Dolce Vita. They're both wonderful and I recommend them highly. I particularly enjoy how Hazan flat out states her honest opinions on various ingredients and methods.

If you want to use spinach, you'll need about 10 ounces. Clean it thoroughly so that no trace of dirt remains, and remove the stems (or use baby spinach, as I did). Get a pot and place the clean, wet leaves inside, and cook over medium heat with 1 tbsp of salt. No other water is needed. Cook for about 5 minutes or until the leaves are tender, then rinse with cold water. Using your hands, squeeze as much water out of the spinach as possible, then chop it up. It should be added to the flour well at the same time as the eggs.

DSC 8771

Although I am a fan of using my mixer to knead dough, Hazan recommends doing it by hand, so I did. Immediately after incorporating all the starting ingredients, this is what I had. I continued to knead for about 8-10 minutes, in that time adding more flour. I started with 1 1/2 cups of flour; in the end I used about 2 cups. It all depends on the temperature and humidity of your kitchen, what kind of day it is, etc. You may use more or less.

DSC 8774

What you want is a final ball of dough that's smooth and tacky but not sticky. The biggest mistake that people make when they make pasta at home is a dough that's too wet. A too-wet dough will be difficult to handle, and will also stick to your rollers/cutters, creating a mess to clean up.

DSC 8776

What you need a lot of when you make pasta at home is -- space. Particularly if you're using a machine to roll and cut your pasta (which, unless you desire wider noodles such as tagliatelle or shapes such as orecchiette, I highly recommend -- you get a much more uniform result, and the pasta is thinner than a normal home cook would be able to create by hand), you're going to end up with some very long, thin sheets of pasta that need to be kept separate from one another.

First, you have to roll the pasta. Divide your dough into six parts (or three parts for every egg you used). Start the roller on the widest setting. Flatten out one of the portions of dough, then run it through the roller. Fold it into thirds as you would a letter, then press the dough around the folds so as to remove as much air as possible. Run it through again on the narrow end, fold into thirds again, and run through again, a total of three times. Lay the dough onto some dry paper towels and repeat with each portion of dough.

DSC 8777

When all the portions of dough have gone through the widest setting, set the roller to the next setting up (narrowing the rollers). Run each sheet through. Keep going to the next setting until each sheet of pasta is the desired thickness (I stopped at the second to last setting). You'll notice as you run each sheet through the roller at the next-narrowest setting that they'll get longer and longer and longer, so make sure you have the space for them -- let them hang off the edge of your table if need be! For the ones that got really long (my dough portions weren't even), I ended up cutting in half with a sharp knife.

DSC 8780

Once you've got your sheets of pasta at the desired thickness, wait for them to dry a bit -- this is particularly important if you want to store your pasta rather than using it right away. Hazan recommends waiting at least 10 minutes, but again it depends on your house/kitchen. I waited for about half an hour, flipping the sheets occasionally. You want the pasta to still be pliable, but dry enough that the strands/shapes won't stick together once they're cut.

DSC 8783

Once you've reached that point, you're ready to cut! I made fettuccine. Because the dough wasn't too wet, it slid easily through the cutter, leaving no extra bits of dough behind. At this point, you can cook the pasta. Fresh pasta requires less time to cook than dry, and cook times depend on the cut. For my fettuccine, I cooked it for about 4-5 minutes to get it al dente.

DSC 8784

For storing long noodles, Hazan recommends creating "nests" from several strands, so that they can be easily stored in an airtight container. Just let the pasta sit out at least 24 hours for the pasta to become completely dry -- otherwise it'll develop mold once you put it in storage. If you let it dry out properly, it will keep in your cupboard for months, just like store-bought dried pasta.

DSC 8786

Be careful with the pasta once it's dry... it will be extremely brittle. According to Hazan, air drying is a natural process and the pasta will retain its original nutritional value and flavor once reconstituted (unlike what is marketed today as "fresh pasta" in the grocery stores, using artificial means to keep it soft and pliable). Fully dried pasta will take a little longer to cook than when using it fresh.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

My birthday dinner. :-)

My birthday was actually earlier this month, but I'm just now getting around to posting about it. Sorry that some of the photos are blurry. Dark restaurant, evening, no flash, etc.

This year, I chose to go to Ethan Stowell's Staple & Fancy Mercantile, specifically wanting to order their "Fancy" chef's choice meal. All this means is that you hand your menu back to the server and the kitchen decides what you will eat that night, based, of course, on their best dishes. This obviously doesn't work for people who have food issues, but it's great for me!

It was the second time I'd been there and was very good. The only criticism I had was that the starters all seemed to come out in a rush (I would have liked some time to savor each dish), so we felt like we had to devour it all quickly because it seemed like the food was coming out really fast. However, after we ate the starters in a hurry, we then had to wait...and wait...and wait... for the next course! That was kind of WTF. It would have even been fine for it to come out that way had we been told by the server that it was perfectly OK to linger over the food, that we could take our time with it. But anyway, the food itself was superb. I would definitely do the "Fancy" meal again in a heartbeat.


Sliced baguette with olive oil and vinegar for dipping.
Bread and Green Olives

Rich and buttery green olives. I wish gourmet olives weren't so salty, but these were better than most.
Green Olives

Ahi tuna crostini. The perfect amount of flavor, creaminess, and crunch.
Ahi Tuna Crostini

Thinly sliced beef tongue with a bit of salad garnish. Yummy.
Sliced Beef Tongue with Garnish

Deep-fried oysters with chili aioli. There are few things I enjoy more than a deep-fried oyster. Mmmmmm.
Deep-Fried Oysters with Chili Aioli

A steaming bowl of clams in a wine broth and plenty of parsley.
Steamed Clams

Radicchio salad. I liked it initially, then it got too bitter. This was probably the dish that was liked least by our table, because none of us are big fans of radicchio.
Radicchio Salad

Not pictured -- argh, I thought I had gotten photos of everything -- soft-cooked egg with white anchovy draped over the top. Delicious.

Pasta Course

Squash ravioli with little bits of squash and seasoned with brown butter and some cinnamon.
Squash Ravioli

Seafood Entree

Grilled opah. This is the first time I've had this fish, which was a firm, white fish like cod.
Grilled Opah

Meat Entree

Roasted chicken breasts on a bed of pureed parsnip. Really tender and full of flavor.
Roasted Chicken Breasts


Chocolate boudino with whipped cream. Much lighter than regular pudding. Really wonderful.
Chocolate Boudino

Ricotta cheesecake with figs and saba. This is the best plain cheesecake I've ever had. So light and creamy, without the denseness that cream cheese gives, nor the sometimes unpleasant (at least to me) after flavor. The photo doesn't do it justice at all (it's a creamy white in reality), but then cheesecake doesn't really look fancy anyway. If all cheesecakes were like this, I wouldn't be iffy about them.
Ricotta Cheesecake