Friday, August 2, 2013

Homemade Pasta

by Ann
Making pasta from scratch?  Really?  Is that a good idea?  Is it cheaper?  I'd have to say "it depends" to the first question, and definitely "no" to the second.  Yet I've got to blog about it because I just spent a stupid amount of money on a pasta attachment, and that's with my hefty discount at Sur la Table!

We have lots of pasta classes at the store, so that must mean that lots of people want to make it from scratch.  I get that.  At high-end Italian restaurants when I ordered something simple like lasagna I wondered why the heck it tasted so much better than what I could make at home.  The answer lies in the melt-in-your mouth noodles that are so different than those that come from a package.  With that said, you can find a box of pasta on sale for a buck -- the attachment for the Kitchen Aide mixer is $200.  There is no way on earth that I'll be making 200 batches of homemade lasagna before it's all said and done.  (Oh yeah, with my discount I don't have to make quite that many, but it still won't be happening -- plus if we're getting picky about costing it out, I'd need to include the cost of the ingredients!) 

I am three batches into ownership of the pasta attachment.  The first one was a bit of a disaster, but the second two were fabulous.  I have worked several pasta classes, so had seen it done, but looked at a couple of You-tube videos prior to doing it on my own.  One suggested using the dough-hook attachment of the Kitchen Aide to actually make the dough.  Great idea -- or so I thought, until the dough was so tough and dry that it was hard to roll out in sheets.  The machine will keep incorporating all of the flour, when in contrast if you do it by hand you will get the "feel" for when it is pliable and just right. Lesson learned -- the next two times I did it by hand, which is a very easy procedure.
The ingredients are amazingly simple - 2 1/2 c all purpose flour, 1 T kosher salt and four large fresh eggs.  The recipe says adding a tablespoon of olive oil is optional -- I didn't think of it until after the photo below, so sprinkled a drizzle over the mixture, but think I could have been fine without it.
This is not something you'd want to do if you were finicky about getting your hands dirty (or about handling raw eggs....).
Knead the dough for 5-10 minutes until it is pliable but no longer sticky.  This was where I got in trouble using the machine.  The Kitchen Aide had no trouble incorporating all the flour, but it was way too tough and dry at the end.
When the kneading is done, the dough needs to be wrapped and allowed to rest at room temperature for 10 minutes or up to an hour.  If made in advance, refrigerate and then allow to sit out until it reaches room temp.  The pile of crud to the left is all of the excess flour that was tossed.

After the pasta has rested the fun begins.  Speaking of fun, we'd invited two couples over for dinner to help provide the material for this post, and to have a fun evening together. My co-chefs were my dear friends Kim and Sally.  The husbands were plenty entertained just watching us make the pasta.

The rested dough was divided into thirds so each of us had a manageable piece to work with.  Each third was kneaded a bit more before it was ready to start processing through the machine.  The first run is rough, but after folded into thirds and run through again the sheets begin to look like fresh pasta.
Prepare each portion of dough to fit through the roller set at a wide setting.
The first time through the dough looks rough, but that's ok.  Each piece goes through the roller about six times before it is the melt-in-your-mouth-amazing homemade pasta.
Take the first time through rough sheet, fold it in thirds and then send it through the wide set roller again.  After the first time it sticks together.  The process is to then adjust the roller tighter and tighter each pass through of the dough.
See how it's hanging together better the second pass through?
Sally is supervising Kim on what I would guess to be the third or fourth pass through the roller.  The sheet gets longer and longer as the pasta gets thinner and thinner.
Once the pasta is the desired thickness the attachment is changed to the cutting roller to make spaghetti or fettuccine.  

Since the pasta is fresh it takes only a couple of minutes to cook in the boiling salted water.  Use plenty of salt in the pan!  (No picture -- you can visualize it, I'm sure...)

My guess is that most of you, our dear readers will NOT be going out to buy a pasta machine, but I hope that reading this has helped you gain an appreciation for what is going on in the kitchens of restaurants that prepare their own pasta.  For a "take-away" that is more applicable, here's a word of advice on preparing red sauce.  Prior to serving make it mellow, extra-delicious, and decadent by adding a splash of cream (about 1/2 c for six servings). At Sur la Table it seems like we "finish" most recipes with cream or butter.  Maybe I don't want to do that for every meal, but this fabulous pasta deserves an equally fabulous sauce, so the heck with those added calories!
Dinner is served!

Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Pool Floating

by Sheila
Cathy, Edie and Heather in Ginny's pool

Here in the desert,we have a favorite summer pastime;  floating in the pool.  This is not to be confused with a family pool party where the youngest swimmers strut their stuff with a "Watch me, Nana!" or a rousing game of pool volleyball where the competition gets pretty stiff.  It is not laying by the pool with a stack of magazines working on your tan (please forgive us dermatologists).  It is a fun afternoon full of lively discussion where everyone's opinion is welcome, and we do our best to solve problems and celebrate victories in each other's lives and the world at large. 

Ginny & Ann relaxing poolside
"Floating" is a girls-only activity; guys are allowed to serve us pool drinks and bring extra snacks, but that's about it.  As you might have guessed, floating devices are welcome, so we bring an assortment of rafts, noodles, and sit-in pool chairs.  Food and drink are a basic requirement, and for us that undoubtedly means some wine.  Everyone brings a snack and beverage to share, and the fun is on.  Some snacks are specifically requested, such as Edie's caramel corn - it's delicious.  We always end up with a tasty smorgasbord to keep us going all day.

The snacks...
Sadie - she's a girl, so she's allowed too :-)

Sometimes we plan these events weeks in advance.  For example, our book club group plans two floats per summer.  This lets us get caught up on everyone's vacations and helps us stay connected without the pressure of a formal book discussion and the hostess putting together an elaborate spread. Other times it's a phone conversation with a friend that ends with "what are you doing tomorrow?  Let's float!".  Either way, it's a great way to beat the heat and have some bonding time with your girlfriends.  So if you have wondered how we tolerate these really hot summer days in Arizona, this is one of our coping mechanisms.  Not so bad after all, huh?
My Granddaughters - Future Floaters strutting their stuff!

Sunday, July 28, 2013

Fashion Rules (that I Make)

by Heather

I believe that ensembles should match. Call me crazy.  I know the matchy-matchy look is not the fashionable thing nowadays but I have to admit that I'm at my most content when things match. For those of you in my age range, you'll remember Doris Day's matching coats and dresses and then a little later, That Girl (Marlo Thomas) with her complete coordinating outfits down to the hats, shoes and purses. I loved those outfits.
I had the yellow and tan hat (Loft) from last year in my closet; the sweater (J Crew) was a new addition this year.
Linen pants are from Chico's; cami from WHBM.

Do you get that warm, happy feeling when you discover that a new purchase matches something that's already in the closet?  I recently bought a yellow and tan sweater and found that I had the perfect matching hat already. Finding items that match is bound to happen sooner or later since my purchases are usually from the same color palette, but it's always a pleasant surprise. This summer my color choices have definitely been navy, yellow, and mint (and orange). Last summer I was into brown and turquoise (and orange).
Steve Madden sunglasses (Nordstrom's)
Early in the spring I told myself that my clothing rule for the spring/summer season was to buy only navy and white items (this was after buying that wonderful Michael Kors navy and white striped purse), but that was before I saw the mint...and the yellow...and of, course, more orange.  I was hoping that by limiting my colors, I would buy fewer items. Riiiight.
Loft hat (last year)
Juicy Couture bracelet, Michael Kors watch
Brina Box necklace
Do you make rules for yourself when it comes to buying clothing and accessories? 

One of my rules last year was to only buy clothing that I would wear when rolling down the road in our RV (we don't have one yet; it's about three years away but I thought I would get ready). I made a fabulous Michael Kors long nubby knit cardigan purchase that will be perfect for continuous travel...but I discarded the "rule" when I discovered linen blazers on sale at Nordstrom's (which are probably not an optimum choice for RV'ing). 

One of my current rules is to only buy items that will suit my retired life style (but then how did the darling new navy and white polka dot dress end up in my closet? Oh yeah, it fits the navy and white rule).
Marc Fisher wedges, Michael Kors purse (both old)
Libby has rules but she doesn't follow them either.
I had a boss once who called me a renegade (I'm pretty sure he didn't mean it as a compliment).
Am I still a renegade when I'm breaking my own rules?

Have a wonderful week breaking any and all fashion rules!