Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Homemade pasta

I admit to being a carboholic. I would not do well on a strict low-carb diet. Good bread and especially pasta are amongst my comfort foods. Mac & cheese. Carbonara. Almost anything with pappardelle....you get the idea.

Throughout my foodie education, I have learned why some pastas are cheap and some are expensive, comparatively. Your nice dried artisan pastas are exuded through brass dyes, which give the pasta dough its shape, and often its rough, craggy texture. Look at your linguine next time! If it's a good quality one, you'll see
and feel the roughness on what in inexpensive brands would be a smooth surface. The shaped pasta is then left to air dry -- and herein lies the key. All dried pasta really is is durum semolina flour and water. Through in an egg if you're making egg noodles. When pasta air dries, that semolina is left to ferment just a tiny bit, giving your cooked pasta a fuller-bodied flavor. The Italian brand Rustichella d'Abruzzo is a fantastic quality pasta, available in many different shapes, and found in places like CM & WF. Try for yourself!

So having experimented with various brands of dry pasta, I've now been trying to conquer making fresh pasta on my own. Getting there! The typical method is a mound of flour with a well made in the center; break an egg into it, and with a fork, start blending the flour and egg together until you get a dough. When I tried this last night, obviously my well wasn't big enough, as my egg promptly went running overboard, escaping its flour walls. Messy. It was a very stiff, unworkable dough with crunchy flour globs throughout. Yum. Not.

Then I remembered the adorable Jamie Oliver. On one of his shows from his "Jamie at Home" series, he literally made pasta in 3 minutes as the camera rolled the entire time. His trick -- the food processor! Flour, eggs, pinch of salt go in (maybe EVOO too, can't remember), and a nice malleable ball of dough comes out. He kneads it about 3 times, and then starts putting it through his hand-cranked pasta maker. The dough gets thinner and longer, and then he's cutting it by hand into fettucine or pappardelle strips. Into the salted, boiling water, and voila! Dinner.

My versions makes 2 decent servings of handcut noodles.

1 cup "00" flour (double zero flour.... regular AP is okay, but this has less gluten, making it a more tender dough)
1/4 tsp salt
1 egg
1 tsp olive oil

-- Put it all in the blender, and pulse a few times until dough begins to come together. (I used my mini-Cuisinart, and I think the motor is starting to go, so I didn't want to subject it to a big dough ball. Next time, I'd try it in the regular Cuisinart, though the motor on that one has also been a little wonky lately....)
-- Turn out onto countertop, and knead 3 - 5 minutes until dough is smooth and elastic.
-- Form ball, cover in plastic wrap, and let sit at room temp for 20 mintues. (Allows the glutens to rest, so it doesn't get tough.)
-- Get your pasta machine ready.... mine is "technically" for modeling clay, bought at Michael's with their 40% off coupons.... It was about $10. No pasta cutting attachment like for linguine or fettucine, but that's fine by me.
-- Start on the widest setting, and start cranking your dough through; I ususally do 2 - 3 passes on the wider settings.
-- Keep putting the dough through; as it stretches out, and if you are the only one making it, it's probably best to cut your long sheet in half.
-- Once you get it down to the lowest setting (or sometimes the second lowest), you're ready to cut it. I folded it in quarters, and trimmed my scraggily edges, and then into roughly half-inch wide strips. You may want to dust with cornmeal before you fold it, but immediately after cutting, you want to separate the strands so they don't stick.

-- Boil water, and salt it well (salt gives it flavor!). Add pasta -- it will be ready in about 2 minutes. Don't over cook it! Even just real simply, with good olive oil, salt, pepper, and real parmesan cheese -- it's worth the effort!

Next time, I will have to try the Jamie no-knead (relatively speaking), no resting time method and see how that compares. With my fresh pasta, I made a delicious and fairly easy dish with pancetta and fennel, from epicurious.com (click here for link).

Red Chile Sauce

Do you know how hard it is to find a recipe that uses FRESH red chiles to make a red/enchilada sauce??? They pretty much all use dried whole chiles or variations of chile powder. Of the several New Mexico cuisine cookbooks I have and a number of internet searches yielded two recipes for fresh red sauce. So I took the two and improvised....here's my take:

Fresh Red Chile Sauce, makes about 2 cups
6 - 8 good sized fresh red New Mexico chiles, roasted & cooled
2 - 3 Tbls. grapeseed oil (or other neutral oil, like veg)
1 medium yellow onion, chopped
4 cloves garlic, chopped
1 tsp. ground cumin
1 tsp. dried oregano
1 cup water or broth
kosher salt to taste

-- Peel, seed & chop the chiles. (To roast, put them on a baking sheet under the broiler for a couple minutes per side, or until skin begins to blacken & blister. Once fully blackened, remove from oven, and place in zippered bag; seal, and let sit for 20ish minutes. When they are cool enough to handle, the skins will slip right off.)
-- Heat oil in a heavy bottomed skillet or saute pan.
-- Add onions & garlic, and cook on medium heat, until onions begin to get translucent.
-- Add in chiles, cumin, oregano & salt; stir well to combine.
-- Add about 1/4 cup water & mix well; remove from heat.
-- Pour everything into a blender, and puree very carefully! (Take out the little donut hole that's in the blender lid, and cover it 75% of the way with a towel; the steam needs a place to escape!)
-- Return puree to pan, and gradually incorporate the remaining water.
-- Check for seasonings.... I think I added a bit more cumin and salt.
-- Let simmer over low heat for a good 20 minutes.

What do you do with your sauce now that you've made it? The easiest is enchiladas. Get some corn tortillas, precooked & shredded chicken, and a bit of cheese. Oven to 350. Spray a casserole pan with non-stick spray. Pour a good spoonful of your sauce on the bottom of the pan (I used an 8 x 8 pan, and 4 tortillas for 2 generous servings.) Place some chicken down the middle of the tortilla, about a tablespoon of the sauce, and a bit of shredded cheddar. Roll up, put seam sides down, and repeat. Pour the remaining sauce all over the top of the tortillas -- try to cover their entire surface area. Sprinkle with more cheese -- here I used feta in lieu of Mexican-style queso blanco. Bake about 15 - 20 minutes or until heated through. Here's what you get:

Tuesday, September 23, 2008


Uchi (www.uchiaustin.com) is consistently voted as one of the top five restaurants in Austin, if not the #1 in most published reviews. The food has become legendary -- it's Japanese modern with flair; Executive Chef Tyson Cole was named one of Food & Wine Magazine's Top 10 Chefs nationwide in 2005.

My parents and I have dined there before, and for his birthday, my father wanted to go back. So a reservation was made about 3 weeks in advance (yes, even for a Monday night) through their online system. Just a side note, I made the reservation online, and received an automated confirmation. The confirmation was again sent out on Sunday, AND one of the hostesses called on Sunday to ensure our arrival. My mother thought this was a bit much....for the top rated restaurant in the city, I get it. They can easily fill the table were it to be vacant.

We arrived a few minutes early for our 7 pm sitting, and they seated us immediately. They have both the regular menu, and a list of nightly specials. It took a while to decide! Everything is served family style, on fairly minimalistic, but impeccably designed plates. The food started with the crudo (exquisite -- buttery sea bass with citrus vinaigrette), scallop hot rock (thin slices of diver scallop that you sear yourself for a few seconds per side, with orange oil), brie sencha (who knew "Japanese food" consisted of fried brie? yum!), Japanese pumpkin tempura that had a really light tempura batter, done with soda water (which helps keep the batter light and effervescent, as I explained to my mother!), and the ika sansai, an extremely tender marinated squid salad with what I think were long angel-hair like strands of hot house cuke and maybe some daikon. Did I mention how tender that squid was?

We each ordered an item off the specials menu as our "main" course. My father's arrived first -- omaaru ebi, a cold dish of Maine lobster (claw meat), Thai chili, cukes, butter pear, and a lemon sorbet. It was his birthday, and while he offered, he was very content with it, so we didn't try any of it! Mom got the aka yaki, a whole rouget (a Mediterranean fish, about 8 inched long, tip to tail; similar to a redfish) with lobster mushrooms, figs, tamarind & grapefruit sauce. When we had previously asked what rouget was, our waitress informed us that it was a very smelling dish -- warning us, but also saying it was delicious. It was, indeed. The grilled fish went wonderfully with the figs in particular. I had the okai maki, a tempura-fried opah roll with a yuzo miso sauce, avocado, and pinenuts for garnish on top. While the menu didn't say, we're pretty sure there was green chile in there too! These were tasty, but maybe not quite as good as the other items. The pitchfork roll (always one of my favorites) with its lovely wagyu beef & tiny crispy leek slivers arrived around the same time. All of this was had with a fantastic bottle of wine my father picked out -- a 2001 Rolly Gassmann Vin D'alsace Auxerrois, light grapefruit, mineraly, extremely drinkable, and complimented everything we ate. Including the dessert -- a mango pannacotta with coffee crumbs around around it.

It was truly a fantastic meal; our service was attentive but not obtrusive. Our server was able to answer the questions we had about the menu. When we left around 9 pm, there were a couple open tables and a few seats at the sushi bar, but things had been pretty full most of the night. Uchi is always a delight...until we meet again!

A few local eats

Sunday, we poached around the house all day, and watched the Redskins beat the Cardinals. Late afternoon, we decided to head out to Spicewood (35 miles to the west of Austin) for some good ol' Texas BBQ.

Opie's (www. opiesbarbecue.lbu.com) is one of the best places around, and it doesn't hurt that they've got a new building with lots of seating, and friendly service. As we parked and walked to the entrance, you could see the smoke from the outdoor pit billowing in the air, and the aroma of fresh roasted pig wafted our way. We got the prime rib & a half rack of baby backs; a little spicy corn, cole slaw, and pinto beans accompanied our meal. The prime rib was great -- lightly pink in the middle, and served with an optional au jus and horseradish. The ribs were flavorful and tender, but this rack was a bit on the fatty side. They had a healthy dose of spice rub on them, as did the lightly vinegary BBQ sauce. I've had better ribs there before, but this won't deter me from coming back!

For lunch on Monday, we went to an old Austin standby, Kerby Lane -- www.kerbeylanecafe.com It's a 24 hour place, with breakfast served all day, and good salads, sandwiches, tacos, etc. Dad got the very dense gingerbread pancakes -- 2 flapjacks, about 10 inches in diameter, and a good 1/2 inch thick. Mom got salmon tacos, and I had a ceasar salad with grilled chicken. I asked that they not put too much dressing on the salad, and it was perfect! It was a really good salad, that could be made better if they made their own croutons, instead of using a commercial one.

Bison Pot Roast

I am a little behind in doing some writing. My parents have been here for a visit since Saturday afternoon. I had told them I would cook dinner on Saturday night, and what would they like? Dad wanted pot roast. Now I like a good pot roast, but I have never actually made one. So I spent the past week consulting a few recipes, and found one from Gourmet, via www.epicurious.com that called for a 4 lb beef chuck roast to feed 8 - 10 people; I'll be cutting that recipe in half! When I was at my friendly Central Market Westgate, I saw a bison chuck, with good marbling, but not the hunks of fat that the beef had.

I made it on Friday night, as it needed almost 3 hours to braise. At some point, I'll remember to take pictures of these things as they are being made and/or finished, and not a few days later. Whatever. It was a very tasty dinner, complete with roast garlic mashed 'tators and green beans. The bison had a nice flavor to it -- this one was a lot like beef actually; a pretty dense piece of meat, but it wasn't dried out. Though the bison had a LOT less fat than the beef, it still had enough to render, though the bacon that gets sauted at the beginning also helps with the fat (and flavor!). Oh, and a kick-ass key lime pie, if I don't say so myself! Picture taken a couple of days after the fact....still cold from the fridge, but looking tasty!

Monday, September 15, 2008

Honeycrisps, round 2

Oh, maybe it was all just a big tease! There were no Honeycrisp apples today at Central Market. One of the Produce guys said he thought that the ones from the weekend were just an early shipment, as they only received like one box of them, from California. He thinks the ones from Washington are the best, but said those usually don't come until November. He let me try a Jonagold, and it had nice sweet-tart flavor, but the texture wasn't nearly as crisp. Not the same.

I had my heart set on a nice juicy, crisp HC.... sniff, sniff.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Honeycrisps in the house!

If you've never had the perfect lightly sweet but not too tart apple, now's your chance! Central Market has gotten their first shipment of honeycrisp apples in. They're organic, grown in California, and currently $3.49/lb. Yes, that's a lot for an apple, but I can guarantee it will be the best apple you've ever had!

Many apples, like Granny Smith's (a favorite of mine for making pies -- good crisp texture and great tartness), are available year round. HC's are not.... they are a fall-only apple. A cross between Macoun and Honeygold apples, developed in the 1960s, they have a fantastic firm texture, and a great snap to them. Look for them! Often grown in CA, MN & WA. For those outside of Austin, check your local Whole Foods for availability. Simply the most fabulous apple you can find.

(And great photography there too.....oops. I was trying to get a legible close up of the produce sticker, so you could really tell it's a HC... take my word for it!)

Recent tastes

Cupcake vendors seem to be sprouting like alfalfas. Trendy South Congress Ave. has been home to the lovely airstream trailer Hey Cupcake for many moons now. Their cupcakes are nice and big, have delicious buttercream frosting, and are available in your standard vanilla, chocolate, carrot cake, red velvet.... and something else I am probably forgetting. It's frequent long lines from the corner of a dusty vacant lot prove it's following, though as they say: location, location, location.

In what looks like a rejuvenation along South First street, a new storefront opened in the past couple weeks -- Sugar Mama's Bakeshop. They make daily specials, so everyday won't be the same! I tried the French Toast and the Lemon. Both have a large crumb that's a bit on the dry side; the cupcakes themselves were on the small side, but according to their website that's going (or already has been) upgraded. The French Toast is a maple cake with a cream cheese frosting.... very good, but I don't know that I would order it again; probably my personal aversion to maple flavoring, unless it's pure maple syrup on my real French toast! The Lemon cupcake though, was a knockout! Lucious buttercream, but not overly sweet, nice lemony pucker. An instant favorite! Kudos!