In which I cook for myself, and then for my parents, and it doesn’t totally work either time…

There was a Sunday a while back that had me in the mood for cooking. That happens a lot, but I am not always as productive as I managed to be this particular Sunday. It was a while ago, so I don’t actually remember the particular circumstances, but pancakes and homemade pasta are a great day, no matter the circumstances. 

Perhaps you remember these… 

shimeji

  

I also had these…  

...and the gang

  

Maybe Shimeji and the Gang will be the name of a band I start someday when I learn how to sing or play a musical instrument.  

I decided to use my surplus of mushrooms and a fennel bulb that I had lying around to make a ravioli filling. I wanted to use a butternut squash that I also had lying around with it as well, but I wasn’t sure how to convert the butternut squash to a sauce. I suppose I could have made what was essentially a butternut squash soup and use that, but I was averse to that idea for some reason, and I also think I didn’t have any cream at home, and I was able to do this whole dish without going to the store. That almost never happens, so I was making it work come hell or high water. I diced the squash in small enough cubes that I could pan cook them and I had some ricotta, so I figured if I sprinkled the ravioli with the squash, and then finished it with a quenelle of ricotta and some shaved parmesan, that perhaps it would make it cohesive enough that I wouldn’t miss a sauce. I wasn’t exactly right.  

I started with the pasta making, and again, didn’t take pictures this time (though when I made this for my parents I did, stay tuned, photos below.) While the pasta dough was resting, I diced the mushrooms and fennel pretty finely, and sautéed them over medium heat with some thyme and sage until the mushrooms released their liquid and fennel became soft.  

step one, we can have lots of fun

 

Then I cooked the cubes of squash in a combination of olive oil and butter until they were soft and cooked through, and they had browned a bit.  

step two, there's so much we can do

 

And while good things were happening to the squash, I rolled out the invisible pasta dough into sheets, mounded the cooked mushroom mixture on one sheet, covered it with another sheet of pasta, and used my ravioli cutter to make pretty little squares.  

step three, it's just you for me

 

Then the final steps, pasta went into the boiling water until it was cooked through, drained and then plated, I spooned the squash on top of it, put a quenelle of ricotta right in the middle, and then shaved parmesan on the top.  

step four, I could give you more

 

It looked so pretty, and the flavors were great, and I wouldn’t exactly call it “dry” but it needed a sauce.  But it was a start, and I would not be cowed, so I thought I would try again at some point and see if I could improve it. The chance came when I was home at my parents’ over Thanksgiving. It was Saturday night and the rest of the siblings had already left, and I decided to cook. This time I thought I would add some pasta water to the squash at the end of cooking, hoping that it would emulsify with the butter and oil and create more of a sauce. It didn’t, but I didn’t know that until the end, and there were some other fun things going on for this attempt so I am sharing anyway.  

The first thing I did this time, was make pasta again, and I DID take pictures. This is what the dough looks like in the food processor, remember how I couldn’t describe it the last time I talked about it?  

in the processor

 

The other day I thought of  a good word to describe what this looks like, but now I forget. Once it comes out of the processor, you knead it for ten minutes. I even got a shot of that part.  

an action shot: stand back.

Then while the pasta rested this time, I added another awesome step: I made ricotta cheese for the top. I got the idea from here. This actually could not be easier, and it makes you feel kind of awesome, because when you tell someone you made ricotta cheese they look at you like you might be a crazy person. Plus it tastes delicious and is nice and creamy. The components are these: 

dairy and acid

Did you notice the change in scenery? That lovely window there is located in my mom and dad’s kitchen. The only thing missing from this photo is the pinch of salt, so four ingredients is all it takes. Boil together a quart of milk and a cup of heavy cream with a pinch of kosher salt. 

the boil

Add two tablespoons of fresh lemon juice, turn the heat to low, stir for two minutes until it curdles. 

the curdle

Pour it through a colander lined with cheese cloth and let it drain. 

the drain

And that’s all it takes. You’ve got yourself some ricotta cheese. 

the cheese

Pardon that picture, it’s not a great one. 

So while the ricotta was draining, I did the mushroom and squash thing again. The mushrooms this time were button and cremini. The squash was still butternut. The mushrooms went in the pan with butter, shallot and fennel again, and oh, another thing I did differently was to keep the mushrooms in larger pieces and run the mixture through the food processor after it was cooked. Turns out I don’t have a preference which method to use. 

the 'shrooms

And the squash went into the pan with olive oil and butter again. 

the squash

Note to self, pick up one of those All-Clad french saute pans or whatever they are called. They are nice. 

The pasta got rolled out again, though this time I was using my dad’s pasta machine, and for some reason, it and I don’t get along. We were able to mostly put aside our differences for the sake of the meal, but I haven’t quite forgiven or forgotten. 

more action

This time, I just put the mushrooms on the top half of a sheet of pasta I laid out, and folded it over on itself. Easier and I wasted way less dough. 

another terrible, but illustrative photo

And here they are. 

ravioli

The rest of the process was the same, as I cooked and plated the ravioli, I sloshed some pasta water into the squash pan in the hopes that it would saucify. It didn’t really. AND I undercooked the pasta. Which stunk, because it actually turned out not as good the second time. But the ricotta was delicious. And the flavors were good. And it was not totally a lost cause. And I will rise again. 

take two

Oh yeah, the ricotta didn’t quenelle, because I drained it for a while, and the texture was more like goat cheese than cream cheese, but it did not make one iota of difference, and I think it looked prettier this way anyway. 

So that was my tale of two pastas. I am not giving up, and some day I will return to this blog triumphant in victory and ready to share a recipe that accomplishes what I am going for. I imagine you can’t wait.

PS WordPress wanted me to spell “step” “steppe” as you would. And it is giving me serious agita with the formatting. If there is anyone out there that is an expert, I implore you for your help in this matter.

In which I get it together…

So apparently when you hit “Publish” instead of “Preview” you can’t actually unpublish, so here is the end of the prematurely posted post from earlier.

Chinese-Style Spare Ribs from Fine Cooking (serves 4-6 as a main course)

2 full (13-rib) racks of St. Louis-cut pork spareribs

Kosher salt for sprinkling

1 bunch of scallions, green parts only, sliced thin

Chinese Spice Rub

2 tbls ground coriander

2 tbls hot chili powder

2 tbls dark brown sugar

1 tbl five-spice powder

1 tbl ground fennel seeds

1 tbl kosher salt

1 tsp dried red chile flakes

Stir together all ingredients.

For the ribs:

Position a rack in the center of the oven and heat the oven to 300 degrees (or 325 if you are me.) Sprinkle and press 1/4 cup of the rub on both sides of each rib rack (you can do this a day in advance if you like, it makes it even better!) Put the ribs, meaty side up, on a broiling pan or wire roasting rack set over a baking sheet (or line the entire oven rack with aluminum foil, and put them directly on that, if you are me.) Lightly season the ribs with salt and put them in the oven. After the first hour rotate the pan every 30 minutes (if you are using two baking sheets, rotate their position in the oven as well.) (Or just switch the ribs spot on the rack, if you are me.) The ribs will sizzle gently as they cook, and they’ll become tender after about 2 hours in the oven.

To test for doneness, pick up the center of the ribs with tongs; the ends of the ribs should flop downward and a skewer inserted between the ribs should meet little resistance (or don’t bother with the skewer part, if you are me.) If the meat between the ribs is still tough, keep cooking, checking them every 15 minutes.

Remove the rib racks from the oven, put them on a cutting board meaty side down and slice them into individual ribs. Arrange the ribs on a platter and sprinkle with scallions and either drizzle the dipping sauce over the ribs, or serve it on the side.

Asian Dipping Sauce

1/4 cup soy sauce

2 tbl granulated sugar

2 tbl rice vinegar

1 tbl minced fresh ginger

1 tsp toasted sesame oil

In a medium saucepan over medium heat, bring all ingredients to a simmer, stirring occasionally. Remove from the heat and let cool to room temperature.

yum.

In which I make boy food that girls like too…

Pardon the interruption, but I need to own this: http://www.nytimes.com/2009/12/09/dining/09sous.html?_r=1&ref=dining. I just had to share. Now back to your regularly scheduled programming. 

I love football season. Except the Patriots are freakin killing me this year. Bums. Nothing better than a chilly Sunday afternoon with my peeps and some good football food. I used to have people over a lot on Sundays. And when I say people, I pretty much just mean my cousins, but they used to come over a lot. And then they got a new fancy tv, and my tv just doesn’t measure up, and also they moved, and the walk to my house is longer than 30 seconds, so it doesn’t happen as often anymore. But anyway, cozy Sunday afternoons with football and food are my fave. I am not sure what it is about football – maybe because the games are so long, and there are usually three on in a row. It just isn’t the same with baseball or basketball. 

My brother was up from NY for three weeks or so recently working with one of his buddies, so I got to see him more than usual, and one of those times was a Sunday. The Giants were on and he decided to come over and hang out all day, and that lured my littlest down from New Hampshire, and my cousin over from the far reaches of Charlestown. It was fantastic and just like old times. All we were missing was the almost littlest, and a few more cousins and my life would have been complete. 

I made guacamole, ribs and mac and cheese. I have already done mac and cheese around here, but this time I used ras el-hanout instead of mustard powder. It was delish. 

Macaroni and Cheese redux

 

The ribs are ones that I have made before on several occasions. I have made them for 4, and I have made them for 40… 

lunatics

 

They are always a success. They originally came from Fine Cooking (do you notice that comes up a lot? Get yourself a subscription, stat. I love this magazine, I have never had a bad recipe from them, and they are always easy enough to not be at all intimidating, but not at all dumbed down. They are always great for entertaining. Run and pick one up, I promise you’ll like it) but get modified slightly almost every time based on what I have in the house (or in this particular case, what I totally forgot to add because I am a space cadet.) 

It starts with St. Louis style pork ribs. They get a dry rub, some low, long cooking time and a sauce to drizzle at the end, and they are delicious and easy. St. Louis style ribs just involves creating a more uniform rack of pork spare ribs by removing the rib tips and skirt from the top of the ribs, and removing the tough membrane from the boney side of the rack. Ask your butcher to do it. Or look it up on the webs and try to do it yourself. Or if you are cooking for 40 hungry crazies and don’t want to take the time to trim 12 racks of ribs to the St. Louis style, don’t bother. It actually does not matter at all for these, as it turns out. 

This is the beginning: 

rubbed and ready

 

Uh, I just went looking for that photo and realized how many things I still have in the queue to tell you about. I am a slacker. 

This is an Asian flavored recipe. The rub has chili powder, brown sugar and chinese five spice powder, and the drizzle is mostly soy sauce. This particular Sunday I was out of a couple things and instead I used, surprise surprise, ras el-hanout with the five spice powder. Guess what?! It was delicious! That is some remarkable stuff. I also totally forgot to add brown sugar. Oops. Didn’t matter though. Still good. I am including a link for ras el-hanout, because if I am going to talk about it so much, I should probably hunt down where you might be able to find it, or else that’s just mean, since not everyone has little sisters that head off to exotic places and bring them spices. Which reminds me, I have been wanting to show you this…she flitted off to Budapest about a month ago and brought this back. 

saffron

 

Can you even stand it? Look at that little scoop! The best part is that I think this bag cost her like 50 cents, and it would have cost like 50 bucks in the States. Thanks Al! 

The ribs get rubbed with the dry rub, and then put in a 325 degree oven for 2 or 2.5 hours. Technically the recipe says a 300 degree oven, but perhaps I have mentioned that my oven burns 125 degrees too hot, so 325 is the lowest I go. This should be inconvenient enough that I get it fixed. It is truly a demonstration of my laziness that I have not, since it would take an explanation to my very dear, but not very english speaking Italian landlords, and I can’t quite imagine how that would go, and don’t often have the energy for such things. I just avoid recipes where I would have to dehydrate things (I am looking at you, Alinea) and I can’t really use my oven as a warmer. So far I have survived. 

After two and a half hours or so, the house smells fantastic and the ribs are very tender and they bend in half pretty easily when you try to lift the rack up with tongs. I took them out of the oven, sliced between the ribs, drizzled with the soy dipping sauce and sprinkled with scallions. Voila. 

meaty and delicious

 

These were pretty tasty, as I have come to expect from this recipe. The boys and the girls were happy. I finished off the afternoon with some brownies that I made from the recipe on the back of the Ghirardelli cocoa container. They were also pretty tasty. 

dessert

 

And with that, I am going to leave you with the recipe, and head off to plan my next post because I am rambling like a crazy person today. I need to work on my focus for next time.