Monday, September 26, 2011

Fettuccine Pasta from Scratch

Cooking for one doesn't have to mean that I'm stuck eating pb&j sandwiches and bowls of cereal. With Jim traveling for work I thought it was a good time to give homemade pasta making a second try. You can read about my first pasta making experience here, which was actually for my parents...Jim didn't get to try that either. For this meal I tossed homemade fettuccine with slivered Brussels sprouts, caramelized onions, parmesan and cream. Dinner took me about an hour and a half to assemble but it was the most fun 90 minutes that I spent with myself in the kitchen.

I did it. I finally broke down and bought myself the KitchenAid 3-piece pasta roller and cutter set.

The adjustable roller lets you work the dough through the press until its so thin it's practically transparent. There is also a spaghetti cutter and a fettuccine cutter in the pasta kit.

There are many recipes for pasta dough - various ratios and all types of flours. For this batch of homemade fettuccine I sifted one cup of all purpose flour into my mixing bowl along with 1/4 teaspoon of salt.
Making a well in the center of the flour, I cracked two eggs.

Using the paddle attachment, turn speed to 2 and mix for 30 seconds.

Next, exchange the paddle for the dough hook.
Mix on speed 2 for two minutes. After kneading for two minutes in the mixer the dough will form a ball around the dough hook.

Remove the dough to a floured surface and knead by hand for 1 - 2 minutes.
The ball of dough will become smoother, wrap in plastic wrap and set under a bowl to rest for 15-30 minutes.
And THIS is the second item I purchased at Williams-Sonoma. It's a 3 QT All-Clad Pan Roaster. I cracked up when I opened the box, and the pan was wrapped in a silk bag. Ha!
Isn't she beautiful?

And what an inaugural meal to break her in with!
I didn't quite use an entire bag of Brussels sprouts, but lopped the bottoms off and removed any outer leaves that were wilted.
Here are my ingredients for my entree: the Brussels sprouts, caramelized onions, fresh garlic, butter, chicken bouillon, parmesan cheese, cream and St. Francis chardonnay. Not pictured is a chicken breast seasoned with salt and pepper.
To sliver the Brussels sprouts I used the slicer disk on my cuisinart food processor.
This shreds the small cabbage quickly and uniformly.
Since the caramelized onions were already done, I have all the ingredients prepped and ready to go.
Before I start the next step I go ahead and open the wine. This St. Francis chardonnay will bring the right amount of lemon flavor and acid I need to balance out the creamy sauce for the pasta. If you want to be like me, pour yourself a glass to sip on while you prepare dinner.
Now that the dough has rested for enough time I unwrap it and work on a floured surface.
Because it's impossible to work with a big hunk of dough at one time I cut this in half. If I had made more pasta dough I might have even cut the ball into quarters.
Before I even start pressing it through the machine I flatten it by hand and stretch it into a rectangle shape.
With the pasta roller attached to my KitchenAid and the thickness knob set to the largest setting I start the speed at 2 and feed the dough through the press.

Fold the dough over onto itself and flour as needed to keep the dough from becoming too sticky.
The goal is to work the dough through each setting a couple of times until it is smooth and pliable.
Repeat folding and kneading, reducing the thickness of the pasta roller as you go.
Thinnest! Before I sent this through the cutter I took my chefs knife and cut this into two smaller pieces.

I tried cutting at several speeds and learned that as long as the dough is well floured, it works best at a speed of 2. See Cole there in the background watching me make pasta?
Lay the cut fettuccine on a floured surface. I used my baking sheets for this.
Separate the noodles by hand.

Repeat until all the dough has been pressed and sent through the cutter. Because I was using the pasta right away I just left them on the tray to dry out while I assembled the rest of my dinner.

In my new pan I added a touch of olive oil and a touch of butter, and sauteed a boneless, skinless chicken breast. Because this pan is NOT Teflon, I was able to get a great deal of lovely bits of flavor stuck to the bottom of the pan! Yippee!!

Next I added the onions that were already caramelized and 1/4 cup of chardonnay. The wine steams and bubbles, giving me the perfect opportunity to grab a wooden spoon and scrape the bits of flavor off the bottom of the pan.

I also added 1/2 cup of chicken stock and let the mixture reduce together before removing to a plate.

I simply moved the onions to the plate where my chicken was also resting.

Without cleaning out the pan, I added a pat of butter.

Then threw in the slivered Brussels sprouts in one layer to sear.

I didn't touch the Brussels sprouts for about a minute so they would get dark and crispy on one side. Then I added back the caramelized onions and any juices from the plate.

Because I'm naughty I added about 1/4 cup of cream.

Then I threw in a small handful of parmesan cheese. I turned the heat to low and covered while I cooked the pasta.

Fresh pasta is really something else - in a category all it's own! Bring a pot of salted water to a rolling boil and drop in the fresh pasta. It will cook in as little as two minutes. It doesn't take long at all.

As soon as pasta is ready, add it to your Brussels sprout mixture.

Toss together to coat the noodles and throw in more parmesan cheese too!

I served the sliced chicken on top of the fettuccine pasta. OMG, caramelized onions, caramelized Brussels sprouts, creamy parmesan! The flavors were explosive.

In other news, Jim comes home TONIGHT and I couldn't be more excited. We found out his request for vacation was granted on Friday so I've been jumping up and down all weekend in anticipation of his return.

This dinner was so heavenly that I will surely make it again for Jim. I know he's missed my home cooking so I will definitely wow him with homemade pasta, there really is nothing like it. I hope you give it a try!


I couldn’t let this date pass without at least pausing to acknowledge that my life changed drastically one year ago today. If you think I’m talking about the day I married my best friend, you are wrong. On September 26, 2010 I received a phone call in the early morning that my parents were in a very bad accident. Over the next 10 days I practically lived in the ICU at Ben Taub Hospital in Houston. I went into “crisis mode” making sure that our friends and family were updated, organizing meal delivery, comforting my mom, delegating tasks, fielding questions. By December 2010 I thought the worst was behind us and I helped my parents through a celebratory Christmas Party. I honestly thought I would go on with life, and get back to where I was on September 25th before all this nonsense happened.

Life kept throwing curve ball after curve ball. My mother’s injuries from the accident, although minor, were not treated properly and by January she was in constant debilitating pain that kept her from walking, talking, and living. She was shut down and my dad had a hard time coping, as he was still healing himself. I again popped myself back into crisis mode and gave everything I had to assisting my dad through this very difficult time. In March 2011 my mom was taken by ambulance for emergency surgery after doctors discovered a large infection pressing on her spinal cord. One wrong move and she would be paralyzed. A very risky surgery took place, and she woke up in ICU with a halo brace screwed into her head.

At this one year mark, I can exhale and report that my parents have done a tremendous amount of healing, and have overcome steep odds. None of us are the people we were one year ago. This long and painful year has revealed a great deal to me – most of which I appreciate but there are some heartbreaking realities that I wish I never learned. In the midst of a catastrophe, true character is exposed. I saw the good and bad in my family and friends. Friends who I considered close suddenly stopped calling. It didn’t take long before I was unable to keep up the facade that everything was okay. I gave up on small talk and reserved make up for special occasions with Jim. In order for me to keep from completely crumbling I had to refocus my energy at work and within my marriage. Jim has been an unwavering rock for me, amidst dealing with a frustrating job search. His positive attitude and encouraging words have helped me put one foot in front of the other. I realized that without putting my faith in God, I would be a pile of nothing. I feel very loved and blessed. Jeremiah 29:11 says that the Lord has a plan for me and that plan is not to harm me but to give me hope. Psalm 23 is a beautiful verse about how the Lord leads us. Here is the New Life Version of the scripture:

1 The Lord is my Shepherd. I will have everything I need. 2 He lets me rest in fields of green grass. He leads me beside the quiet waters. 3 He makes me strong again. He leads me in the way of living right with Himself which brings honor to His name. 4 Yes, even if I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will not be afraid of anything, because You are with me. You have a walking stick with which to guide and one with which to help. These comfort me. 5 You are making a table of food ready for me in front of those who hate me. You have poured oil on my head. I have everything I need. 6 For sure, You will give me goodness and loving-kindness all the days of my life. Then I will live with You in Your house forever.

I definitely felt God’s presence through the “valley” and I want to experience Him just as prominently tomorrow as I did yesterday. I pray for continued healing for my family – both physically and emotionally. I pray for those who stepped up to the plate to extend a kind hand – that their good deeds would be repaid to them. Likewise, I pray for my enemies. I pray also that I would become a better example of what it means to walk with Christ. I pray that I will be slow to anger, quick to forgive, and love unconditionally again.

Friday, September 23, 2011

Five for Friday

For Jim, I love you so much:

  1. You surprised me at the office by sending a bouquet of flowers to cheer me up.
  2. You call me sweet cheeks.
  3. You put in a vacation request for next week.
  4. You understand how important my reunion is to me.
  5. You sent me pictures of your California road trip and of my favorite nephew in the world.

Monday, September 19, 2011

Beef and Pepper Stir Fry

This was the last meal that I made Jim before he left for his California business trip. It was quick to pull together, giving me more time to snuggle with him on the couch. Even though it's Beef with PEPPERS, it was not at all spicy. Besides it being easy and quick to make, the second best part was that the leftovers tasted even better than it did fresh out of the wok.

Not pictured are the peppers, onion, flank steak and rice noodles. This photo are the ingredients I used in the marinade:
Low Sodium Soy Sauce
Corn Starch
Fish Sauce
Dry Sherry
Chili Garlic Sauce
Brown Sugar

I'm not saying you have to have ALL these ingredients, but this is what I used on this particular day...and it was so so so yummy! Here is how it all went down:

In a large mixing bowl, add 1/2 cup soy sauce and 2 tablespoons of brown sugar. Be sure to pack the brown sugar into your measuring spoon.

Next, add 2 tablespoons of corn starch - this will help to thicken the sauce and cling to the meat.

Using a whisk, blend that together until the cornstarch is dissolved.

Now for mucho flavor! Chop 2 cloves of garlic, mince 1 tablespoon of fresh ginger and add that in the marinade along with 3 tablespoons of dry sherry and as much chili garlic sauce as you can handle. I used a teaspoon of the chili garlic sauce but wish I had used more. We like things spicy down here in Austin and this turned out pretty mild.

Fish sauce. I wouldn't recommend smelling this...or tasting it for that matter. Trust me! When just a splash of fish sauce is added to savory cooking, it creates that mysterious fifth taste that makes people say, "Mmm, this is good, and I can't quiet put my finger on what it is." At that point you just grin and keep quiet about the secret ingredient. Believe it or not, you can find fish sauce in most grocery stores now. I had to go to the Asian market for this bottle - and it will last forever, you only need a squirt. I added about a teaspoon to the marinade.

Now that the marinade is made, lets chop all the meat and veggies. Once you start the stir fry, it goes quickly. I've mentioned that we love the heat in this house so I left the seeds in this jalapeno and sliced it up.

Slice an onion.

Flank Steak is perfect for a stir fry and my secret for slicing it paper thin is to stick it in the freezer for 15-30 minutes.

When it is partially frozen you can take your very sharp chef knife and slice against the grain into thin strips. Once the flank steak is sliced, add it to the bowl of marinade.

Slice two bell peppers - whatever color you have is fine! Lop the tops off and throw away the seeds, then slice into strips or rings.

It's time to Wok and Roll! I know I'm cheesy. I like to use a combination of oil in my stir frys. You need an oil that has a high smoking point like Canola. I like to also add peanut oil for the flavor. Add 1 tablespoon of each or two tablespoons of canola oil in your wok.

When the wok is very hot, toss in your onions and sliced jalapeno. Spread these out and let them char quickly and then toss and let them char a little bit more. We want to give them quick color without them wilting too terribly much.

Remove the onions to a plate and then do the same thing with the peppers and remove those to a plate.

If you need more oil in the wok, add a splash and let it heat up again. Add about a third of the meat slices to the wok and spread them out in one layer. After about 30 seconds, flip the meat. This goes fast because the very thinly sliced meat will cook fast. Remove each batch of the cooked meat to the plate with the onions and peppers.

When all the meat has been seared, add all the ingredients back into the wok and pour the remainder of the marinade over everything.

Toss this around and let it cook for a few minutes.

Have a pot of water already boiling on the back burner. I like these vermicelli rice sticks because they are so thin and seem to absorb flavors really well.

I only cooked about 1/3 of the package and used my sharp kitchen shears to cut just what I needed off this large nest of hard noodles.

When the pot of water is boiling, add the rice noodles and they will cook in less than 3 minutes. I lifted them right out of the pot and transferred them over to my wok.

Stir this all together and watch the flavorful sauce coat the noodles. It's ready!

If you have chopsticks, use em!

These bowls? Why they are two of my favorite noodle bowls EVER and we received them as wedding gifts from thoughtful friends. The holes on each side are perfect for threading your chopsticks through when you are not using them. They are from Crate & Barrel. Love.

Every bite is incredibly flavorful, the meat practically melts in your mouth. You could throw literally ANY vegetable into your wok and make this stir fry your own. My version was loosly based on a PW recipe which I of course changed as I went. Try carrots, broccoli, snap peas, mini corn, mushrooms (if you like that sort of thing). Instead of noodles, try serving the meat and veggies over brown or white rice. However you make yours, be sure to save some for the next day - I swear this gets better overnight in the fridge.