Outfitting a Kitchen

Communal Meal: Fresh Pasta

Inspired by a pasta-making class, a friend suggested that we hold a pasta cook-off. The ingredients were identical – flour and eggs. The combination of semolina flour and “00” flour gave the pasta both texture and lightness, while the eggs added density, color, and richness to the dough. We could agree on those basic components, but we differed in our processes. Our challenge lay with the implements used to mix the flour and eggs (fork versus fingers) and in the rolling and stretching of the kneaded dough (her KitchenAid versus my hand-cranked pasta machine).

There was flour on both sides of the kitchen counter, as we sieved and measured the night away! My friend used a fork to mix in the beaten eggs, whereas I used my fingers for a more old-fashioned approach. While we waited the 30 minutes necessary for the dough to rest, we cleared the kitchen, set the table, and drank wine. Then we rolled (rolling pin versus hand-stretching) and folded the dough before passing it through the KitchenAid or the hand-cranked machine. She trimmed the dough by hand into wide strips, while I got more uniform spaghetti-thin and wider strips from my cutting attachment. However, both of our pasta was uniformly delicious! We served the pasta with three different sauces that we’d previously made and brought to the cook-off, matching flavors with the differing widths of pasta. The widest pasta was reserved for the rich pork ragout, the medium-cut pasta with an eggplant and roasted pepper sauce, and the spaghetti-thin pasta worked well with the plain marinara sauce.

We ended up with the best of a potluck and communal meal at the end of the evening. Cooking together allows people of all ages and abilities to contribute to a meal, something to keep in mind for the holiday visitors soon to come! (If you need ideas, other favorites include cheese fondue, shabu shabu, and injera)

Pasta

“00” flour – 2 cups, sieved

Semolina flour – 2 cups, sieved

Eggs – 4, plus two yolks

  • Heap the two flours separately. Bring them together, forming a small well in the middle.
  • Break an egg into the middle, and using your fingers (or fork) start to form a mixture pulling in the two flours from the sides of the well to combine with the egg – until you get a runny consistency. Keep pulling the flour into the middle of the well and mixing and kneading as you go.
  • When the mixture loses its stickiness, break the next egg into the middle. Continue the process, until all the eggs and two yolks are incorporated into the dough.
  • Pull, stretch, and knead the dough, adding flour as needed. The dough is ready, when pulled apart there are no sticky bits in the middle. The dough should be just firm enough, such that an indented thumbprint would show.
  • Place the dough in a wet towel to prevent drying.
  • Set aside for at least ½ hour.
  • Sieve the excess flour and keep it aside, ready for dusting.
  • When the dough is ready, slice the dough into four equal parts.
  • Work with one portion at a time, while keeping the others covered in moist cloth.
  • Flatten the dough with your fingers. Feed the dough through the machine that is set on the lowest setting (1). The first pass lengthens the dough a little. Fold over the dough and pass through the setting at least 4-5 times, continuing to fold the dough both in half and along the edges. Dust with sieved flour to keep the dough from sticking to the counter.
  • Move up the setting to 3, and repeat at least three times, making sure you get a straight edge, working with aligning the dough. Continue, until you have an even sheet of stretched dough.
  • Move the setting to 5 or 6 and pass the now lengthened sheet through at least twice, dusting with flour as needed.
  • Cut the thin sheet into shapes, or use the cutter on the machine to make thin, medium-size or fat ribbons.
  • Repeat with other sections.
  • The cut pasta can be placed on parchment paper, until ready to cook. Alternatively, freeze the pasta to use within a month.

 

Serve with your favorite sauce. Tomato sauce.

 

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Raclette Grill

I posted several communal food blogs over this past year, and all of the featured meals worked well when friends and family visited. As we all gathered around one pot, the kitchen buzzed with collaborative activity and commotion. Each person took charge of one aspect of assembling the necessary ingredients around the main event. It seemed appropriate to usher in the New Year with a communal meal, working with a familiar theme and a favorite ingredient – cheese.

My niece’s Christmas present, a raclette grill, inspired me to borrow a German New Year’s Eve tradition to usher in 2016. The raclette grill is a combination of a table-top hot plate and small spade-like pans called coupelles. Many more people can hover around a raclette grill than a fondue pot, while melting individual pans of cheese and interspersing them with fondue favorite accompaniments of boiled potatoes, green beans, and pickled onions. Fresh tomatoes and peppers were reintroduced, as they added color and contrasting texture. New additions, such as kielbasa, bratwurst sausages, and shrimp sizzled on the hotplate. Some of us scattered raclette cheese on the accompaniments to set under the grill, while others preferred to slide the melted cheese right off the coupelles on to the dinner plate. Whatever our choices, going into the New Year was remarkably easy.

Best wishes for festive and shared meals in the New Year!

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Double Boiler: To Make Hollandaise Sauce Or Melted Chocolate

The first asparagus spears that push through frost and dirt need only a dusting of salt and pepper to bring out spring’s freshness. Later in their season, the more hardier and fibrous asparagus tips benefit from embellishments of shaved Parmesan cheese or a creamy Hollandaise sauce.

Hollandaise is the “mother” in a family of buttery sauces, which also includes Béarnaise and mayonnaise. Béarnaise is used with meat and Hollandaise sauce usually accompanies milder flavors such as eggs or asparagus. The base for Hollandaise and the others is an emulsion of egg yolks and butter, which is combined together at the right heat for a velvety-rich textured sauce. Monitoring the heat is key; too hot, the yolk can curdle or the emulsion separates, and if there is not enough heat, the emulsion does not form.

Controlling the temperature is accomplished by using a simple utensil called a double boiler. A double boiler or bain-marie (water bath) can be bought, but can also be improvised. A double boiler, like a homemade steamer, uses two pans. The main pan is filled with water, and the second pan sits snugly above the first without touching the simmering water. The steam, which is at a lower temperature than the boiling point of water, cooks the ingredients in the inner pan. Using a double boiler prevents overcooking, burning or curdling, and is a more foolproof option for making delicate sauces or melted chocolate than using a microwave or direct heat.

Hollandaise

Egg yolks – 3, beaten well

Butter – 5 tbsp

Lemon juice – 1 tbsp

Kosher salt – ¼ tsp

White pepper – ¼ tsp

  • Set up the double boiler. Start to simmer water in the bigger pan.
  • Warm the butter in a separate pan, and keep aside at room temperature.
  • Add salt and pepper to the egg yolks in the smaller pan that fits inside the larger pan of the double boiler. Whisk the yolks continuously for 6-8 minutes. Keep the water at a simmer. The color will change from deep yellow to a creamy pale yellow as the sauce thickens. Stop when the whisk or fork leaves a trail in the pan. If the temperature is too hot, remove from heat and keep whisking. Do not let the eggs cook.
  • When the mixture is creamy, remove from heat. Drizzle in the lukewarm butter and keep whisking until all the butter has emulsified (mixed) with the yolk mixture. The sauce will be rich and creamy yellow.
  • Add the lemon juice. As whisking generates heat, mix gently to prevent any more cooking.
  • Serve Hollandaise with grilled asparagus or shrimp.
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Looking A Gift Horse In The Mouth: My New Spiralizer

Other than owning a basic food processor and blender, a spice/coffee grinder, and a coffee machine, I tend to stay well away from kitchen gadgets. I prefer to improvise with tools that I already own. On the other hand, the rest of my family loves gadgets. When N. decided that the family needed a present for the holidays, I ended up with a Spiralizer!

A Spiralizer is a simple cutting tool; a hand-held device with blades that slice vegetables into strands of varying thickness and length. Although I was a little reluctant to add another gadget that would take up shelf space, now I cannot seem to stop spiraling vegetables. Instead of grating them in a food processor, I added carrot ringlets to make carrot cake for a birthday celebration. I served long strands of zucchini noodles instead of crystalline rice noodles with stock from last week’s Vietnamese soup, Chicken pho. (As befits a coincidence, the Williams-Sonoma catalog arrived in the mail with a catchier title than I thought of: faux-pho). I also made curly zucchini fries dousing them liberally with herbes de Provence.

 

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Surprisingly, I’ve been inspired by the Spiralizer and have been substituting all kinds of ingredients with ribbons and curly strands of vegetables.  Zucchini was the winner this week – replacing spaghetti to be served with meatballs, cabbage in coleslaw, and green papaya in a Thai salad.

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Kitchen Gadgets

It is always shocking when someone close to you dies at a young age, especially when they are in their twenties. I spent this weekend sad and found myself pottering around in the kitchen: cooking my favorite comfort food, planting chili seeds in a pot by the windowsill, and grinding fresh pepper and steaming vegetables with my improvised kitchen gadgets.

Kitchen shelves are often stacked with tools for every cooking need. However, you can save space and money by using each gadget for multiple purposes. Remember that A. and N., when you are tempted by an aebelskiver maker or electric knife at that well-known kitchen store!

Coffee grinder as mortar and pestle

A coffee grinder can work for both grinding coffee beans and for making fresh pepper or spices. To prevent cardamom-flavored coffee (although this may not be a bad combination!), wipe down the grinder very thoroughly between the different processes. However, if you plan to grind coffee beans daily, it is better to invest in a second grinder just for spices.

Colander as steamer

You don’t have to buy a steamer; you can adapt a colander to work as a steamer. Place the colander over a pot with a lid. (It is typically cheaper to buy a colander that fits over a pot than buying a new pot). Fill the pot with water. Make sure the water comes up to but doesn’t touch the colander. Let the water start to boil, and then arrange the vegetables, clams, or mussels in a single layer on the colander. Cover the colander with the lid. Steam until the vegetables are done to your liking, and the clams or mussels open. If the food isn’t done, do remember to add more water as needed.

Grater as mini food processor

Food processors are expensive and it is worth investing in a good one. However, if you don’t plan to cook a lot, a good metal grater is nice stopgap tool. You can finely grate or slice cheese and vegetables like potatoes, cabbage, and carrots. Grated garlic and ginger are as good as minced.

Rice Cooker

I still don’t own one. I use the two-finger rule for cooking rice. (Note: I do not mean the rude hand sign!) After you have cleaned and washed the rice, fill the pot with water (a two-finger measure) above the rice. Once the water comes to a boil, lower the heat to simmer, cover with a lid and cook until done. White basmati rice takes about 12-14 minutes to cook and brown basmati rice about 20 minutes. Let the rice sit in the covered pot for 5-10 minutes. While the rice is cooking, you have enough time to prepare accompanying vegetables.

Muffin Pan as taco maker/bacon bowl

I saw this trick on the Food Network. Turn over your muffin pan. Place a soft taco in between the mounds, and bake in the oven for 15 minutes. You have a shaped taco to pile on your favorite fillings. By wrapping overlapping slices of bacon around the mound and cooking it for longer, you get a bacon bowl. Clean up was messy, but it was a fun way to eat eggs for Sunday brunch!

Frying Pan or Skillet

The term for flat-bottomed pans are now essentially interchangeable. The difference is that a skillet is shallower and the sides flare outwards to a rounded lip, whereas a frying pan is deeper with sides that come straight up. Both frying pans and skillets are made of cast iron, aluminum, anodized aluminum, or stainless steel. You don’t need both. Buy either, depending on your budget. Just remember to use wooden or plastic tools to avoid scratching non-stick surfaces. Both work well for sautéing, frying, poaching, and warming up leftovers.

A Student’s Kitchen

When N. started an internship this summer, she was sharing a kitchen with three other students. She wanted to start cooking; we needed to buy her some inexpensive cooking tools as I didn’t want her to borrow and lose any of my favorites! For her summer rental, we bought two non-stick pans: a frying pan for omelets and frittatas and an 8-inch deep pan for boiling noodles/pasta/soup. She also needed a sharp medium-sized knife (for fruits/vegetables/meat). She did, however, borrow a colander, a baking sheet, and some Tupperware from home.

I would suggest buying a wok as a first addition to these basics – I love using a wok. Its shape has three main benefits: 1) heat is evenly distributed; 2) you can use less oil as a little goes a long way in terms of sautéing or stir-frying; and 3) the curved sides hold in food as you toss it. Less cleanup is always a plus!

Woks can be bought inexpensively at kitchen supply stores. Pick the shape and size first. Choose a wok that fits right above the heat source on your cooktop as the food should cook evenly. I like the round-bottomed ones because I have a gas range, but the flat-bottom steel woks work best for an electric range. Material is usually carbon steel, aluminum, or stainless steel.
I prefer non-stick carbon steel as it cleans up easily.

Note that a wok needs to be seasoned (seasoning and care directions follow) before use because manufacturers coat them with a protective layer. After that, a seasoned wok becomes a lifelong friend. Happy cooking!

As always, feel free to ask question or post comments below.

Seasoning:

Wash the new wok in hot water. Scrub with a non-abrasive sponge and a little liquid soap.

  • Rinse and dry.
  • Heat over high heat for about two minutes. Remove from heat.
  • Smear the inside of the wok with oil, wiping it evenly with paper towel. Heat for another five minutes. Wipe off any residue.
  • Repeat the process, a few more times, until the paper towel has no black residue.
  • The wok is ready to be used.

Cleaning:

  • Clean after every use with warm water and a non-abrasive sponge.
  • You might want to brush the surface with oil for a few more times to prevent food from sticking.