Leftovers III – The Final Frontier

So, we did wild rice and chicken and a wonderful meal, then we had more chicken in a nice salad for the first leftover flight, and that was killer too, but…

Open the hangar door and what do we find on day 3? Still more leftovers! OK, there are two viable schools of thought here:
1. Make less food, dummy, and
2. USE what you make when you make a lot!

Of the two options, I like to use what we make; maybe it’s the restaurant roots, maybe it’s just ojos grandes, but either way, we CAN make a concerted effort to not waste food and still enjoy fresh ideas each and every night.

Here’s a for instance for y’all: We love comfort food, (Obviously), and fairly often, this takes the form of casseroles. In so doing, we discovered that if we make a cream-based sauce concoction, (Our faves are the venerable macaroni and cheese, and tuna-noodle, which we will cover here shortly!), we tend to eat it all up within a day or so: On the other hand, when our invention is tomato based, although they’re really yummy, we don’t tend to eat those so quickly, which can lead invariably to waste. The solution? We make the same big initial batch, but instead of putting everything in one casserole dish, we use ramekins, and freeze about half for later dining pleasure. Simple you say? Sure is; so why did it take us years to figure that out? (Don’t answer, that was a rhetorical question…)

Anyway, here are standing before the open fridge, and what we have left is wild rice. So what to do that’s fun and yummy and new?

Soufflé, of course!

I LOVE eggs, not the least because they’re so versatile. Using eggs as a light, fluffy component to bind and enrich other great stuff, (Read wild rice and great cheese in this case), is just a wonderful thing indeed. It looks tough, but it’s not really, and it’s always a joy to pull out of the oven!

Cheese Rice Souffle

The basics of soufflé cooking are really quite simple – Again, it may look fancy and difficult, but it ain’t – Dive in and have some fun!

4 eggs
1 cup milk
3 tbsp flour
3 tbsp butter
1 1/2 cups cheese

Couple of key things for y’all – First and foremost, pull all your ingredients an hour or so before you start to cook; you want this stuff at room temp. Secondly, don’t dilly dally while you’re doing this – Because we’re going to beat egg whites with a lot of air, which is critical to the pretty appearance we’re after, you need to keep things moving along – Not frantic, just steady as she goes!

Preheat your oven to 350° F.

OK, you’re going to do a slightly heavier version of a classic white sauce, AKA béchamel, if you want to get all continental about it.) So we start with a roux, which is nothing more than fat and flour in equal measure: Your butter goes into a sauce pan until it’s melted over medium-low heat. Add your flour and whisk the two together into a paste. Now it’s time to decide whether you like your roux dark or light; if it’s light, (Less of a browned butter taste, naturally), we’ll move right into adding milk. If you prefer things a bit darker, as we do, then allow that butter and flour mixture to gain a little color first. Add your milk VERY slowly, so that you’re never outpacing the elasticity of the flour/butter mixture. Once it’s nicely whisked together, remove the pan from the heat and set it aside for a few minutes to cool.

Note: Classic béchamel has some seasoning involved, FYI; usually onion, salt and pepper. In this application, we’re gonna forgo further seasoning until we got to building our final soufflé mix.

Separate your eggs and put them into small bowls as follows:
3 egg yokes
4 egg whites

Now, as for cheese, what you use is what floats your boat! We used 2 year old WSU Cougar Grate Gold, and incredible white cheddar produced at the Washington State University Creamery, (Which you can find and buy online just like we do, and if you got any jones for killer cheese, you WILL do that!). Grate your cheese.

Whisk your egg yolks until they’re well blended. Now add cheese and egg yolks to your white sauce and mix them together well.

Question you might just ask at this juncture: “OK, Ace; we’re making a soufflé, and I’ve heard of soufflé dishes – How important is that?
EXCELLENT question! Answer; pretty important! A soufflé dish has straight sides, and believe it or not, the wonderful thing y’all are about to make needs and wants those straight sides to climb up. The good news is, they’re available all over the place and cheap. You can also use straight sided ramekins to make individual soufflés, as we did.

Prep a soufflé dish by lightly buttering the sides and bottom, and then lightly coat that with flour: The butter keeps the little beast from sticking, and the flour gives ‘em something to grab ahold of as they make their way to the top!

Put your egg whites in a non-reactive bowl, (I like glass best), and start beatin’ ‘em. You want to beat your whites stiff, but not dry.

‘Nuther Question Time! “Stiff but not dry? I thought we were making food here?”
Good point – You’ll see a number of instructions down the line for the level of egg yolks to be beaten to; soft peak, stiff, dry among them. Once you do this a few times, it WILL make sense to you! When beating, you’re really just adding air to the egg whites; they have a great affinity for holding air in a matrix. As you incorporate more and more air, the volume of the whites increases and the consistency goes from a definite liquid to more of something that starts to look solid to you. At the low end of this semi-solid phase, if you take a beater or whisk and flip a little pit of the mixture straight up, it’ll kind of hold a little peak, like a soft serve ice cream cone, kinda – That’s a soft peak. Beat a bit more and the mix will start to look almost rigid; do the flip again and your little peak will stand pretty much straight up – That’s a stiff peak. Beat it more and you’ll notice that the mix doesn’t glisten as much, and starts to look kinda like Styrofoam; that’s dry – Get the picture? Good; onward!

OK, now your whites are to the stiff peak phase. Poke a finger into your wet mix, (The sauce, egg and cheese stuff), and make sure it’s not hot to the touch; we want to mix, not cook at this phase, OK?

Gently scoop your egg whites into the wet mix and, using a spatula, GENTLY fold the white thoroughly into the mix. Remember, we spent a bunch of time and effort getting all that air in there, so don’t let it out – Slow and easy on the folding!

Pour your soufflé mix into your prepared pan or ramekins. Slide ‘em gently into a middle rack in the oven and bake at 350° F for 20 to 30 minutes. They should rise to and over top of your dishes and look amazing when you open that oven; that said, remember what happened to our popovers? It happens. To everyone. Some time. DON’T worry if they’re not picture perfect, ‘cause they’re gonna be perfectly delicious and there’s always next time!

Enjoy!

Round II – USE Those Leftovers!

Well, as often happens with great food, you find you’re cookin’ hungry and maybe, just maybe, find your ojos were bigger than your estómago and you end up making a lot more than one meal’s worth of grub!

What to do? Well, there’s always snacking ‘till it’s gone, but come on, gang, let’s get organized and do something cool with grits that good, huh? When it comes to stuff like we made the other night, you gotta give it a little pizzazz again, even for the reruns, and most importantly, it’s gotta be easy, ‘cause you already paid your dues with the original prep, right? Right! So, no problema, let’s use the stuff that will go bad first, (Chicken), and make something good and cool to look at for tonight.


Chicken Salad with Cheese Biscuits, (Sort of…)

First and foremost, make it EASY! A nice green salad to start, cut your remaining chicken breast into rounds, and off you go!

We cut a grapefruit into supremés, which sounds hoity toity, but simply means we took a sharp paring knife and cut the beautiful meat away from all the fibrous stuff and skin, leaving perfect bites of very tart, juicy fruit – They look cool and taste even better.

For the dressing, we went with a grapefruit vinaigrette, by substituting freshly squeezed grapefruit juice for vinegar, then whisking that into olive oil at a 2:1 ratio of oil to juice, and adding a dash of salt and pepper.

Biscuits were made by a basic popover recipe, but they did not rise all that well, as you can see… (WHAT? You made something that DIDN’T TURN OUT LIKE YOU THOUGHT IT WOULD? And you not only ATE IT, but SHOWED IT TO US??!) In a word, yup. Fact is, best laid plans of mice and men, yadda yadda; I’ve made thousands of popovers, but sometimes they don’t pop – In this case, the most likely culprit is fat, (AKA the WSU aged cheddar we used in the little buggers); fat and popovers don’t get along all that well, hence the lousy rise. That said, they still taste fantastic and to throw them away would be criminal; that goes for MOST of your future cooking oopses – If it tastes good, eat it, and unless you’re trying to impress somebody really important, serve it – We’re all human, we all make mistakes, and some of those are still delicious, OK?

Popover batter is dang near crepe batter; the diff between the two is steam – That’s what lifts popovers high and leaves crepes flat as a, well… pancake, of course, (Sorry…). We’ll cover popovers thoroughly soon, and make them right to boot, so stay tuned – In this case, they didn’t rise well, so they become… Cheese biscuits, (Ever watch Chopped on the Food Channel? Ever see a pro have something go wrong and change the name of what they were serving as a result?)

This was a delicious, fresh meal; the veggies and tart dressing were a perfect counterpoint to the savory chicken.

Welcome to cooking…

Birds of a Feather

Every Thanksgiving, someone says something to the effect of, “Why don’t we cook turkey more often?” Usually, I think it’s left at that, but for us, a few years back, we started to and we still do: Often enough, however, we find a turkey of any size just a bit too much for the two of us, so we’ve taken to downsizing with a nice chicken. I’m sure most of us have walked into the store and seen the ubiquitous pre-cooked chickens sitting there getting old, but since they’re on sale for $3.99, (Such a bargain!), we buy one, right? The problems with these things are myriad, but among the chief violations are these:
1. We have no idea where this bird came from or how good it is as raw product, and
2. We have no idea when it was cooked, and
3. The ‘seasoning’ is commonly barbaric

So, next time you’re tempted, pass the pre-cooked crap, head over to the poultry section, and check out whole roasting chickens.

We have a very nice, natural, no weird crap injected or fed, non-antibiotic filled brand available here and I’d bet you do too; that takes care of concern number one. You’ll notice, while reading the label to assure quality, that a very nice sized bird goes for roughly the same price as the pre-cooked junk, so there’s your bargain.

We’ll cook this ourselves, with fresh herbs and citrus, and that’ll take care of concerns two and three.

One other common concern we’ll address here is this: It goes something like, “OK, I get one good meal and maybe some sandwiches, but that gets boring after a few times…” This, of course, is the absolute wrong answer; stay with me and I’ll explain why.

First off, yes, you should start with a really nice meal. That bird is simply divine, as far as I’m concerned, and the joy of the whole shebang as we do it, a la that Thanksgiving feast, with turkey, dressing, gravy, cranberry, Brussels sprouts, crème brûlée, is just too good to only do once a year. Light that menu up any month you like and you’ll have diners lining up at your door. That said, you needn’t go so whole hog to do a really great fresh chicken dinner; simple is best, so start there.

Unwrap, rinse and unpack your bird when you get it home, (how many embarrassing tales of cooked birds with the giblet packet tucked neatly inside must we hear, anyway?).

Follow all your standard safety precautions for handling poultry – Use separate tools, cutting boards, etc, and wash everything, including you, thoroughly afterwards.

Preheat your oven to 375º F.

Now raid the fridge; grab whatever citrus you have, oranges, lemons, limes, grapefruit all work great. Use maybe a large orange, or a couple of smaller lemons or limes, as you like and have on hand: Cut the fruit into 8ths or thereabouts and throw ‘em into a large mixing bowl. Add a splash of olive oil, a few more of white wine, half a rough chopped onion, then rosemary, thyme, salt and pepper. Mix all that up, put your bird on a rack in a roasting pan and stuff the bird with it. Grab the ends of the bird’s little legs, (AKA drumsticks), and tie them together with kitchen twine, (You DO have kitchen twine, right?!)

Now take a couple tablespoons of butter, a couple more of olive oil, a little more rosemary and thyme and salt and pepper, and mix ‘em all together. Slather the skin of your bird liberally with the mix.

Anything left over from stuffing or slathering? Throw it all in the roasting pan along with 3 or 4 cups of water.

Throw that sucker into the preheated oven.

OK, now a few words about cooking poultry, (Actually, damn near any flesh, truth be told). If you’re a seasoned pro who cooks for a living, I will believe that you can look at and touch a hunk of protein and tell when it is not only done, but properly done to rare, medium, well, etc. If that sentence does not describe you, then you can’t tell just by looking or poking, OK? One of the greatest crimes against good food is improper cooking, so get a leg up, face facts, jump into the 21st Century and buy a decent cooking thermometer. Actually, get several, seriously… I have a candy thermometer and an instant read, both of which are dirt cheap, as well as a nice, probe-equipped digital beast that reads both internal food temp and oven temp; got the latter online for about $20 and it’s well worth it.

Going back to that pre-cooked store bird, let me ask another question; with all the potential; liability of selling cooked poultry, which side of done do you think they’re gonna lean to? If you answered “Grossly, obscenely overdone,” then in the words of Ed McMahon, you are correct sir! For properly cooked whole poultry, we’re looking for an internal temp of 165º F, measured in the thickest part of the bird; once again, take the guesswork out, get a good thermometer and start cooking chicken that makes folks’ mouths water, OK?

Pull your bird out when it hits 165 and let it rest for 10 to 15 minutes before you cut it; second greatest crime with the preparation of good meat is carving into it right after it’s pulled out of the oven; what that does is virtually guarantee that all the juices are gonna pour out, and you end up with nasty, dry flesh, just like the store bought version – Be patient, let it rest, and you’ll get the juicy, tender stuff you’re after!

Serve this bird with whatever you like; you can’t go wrong with a nice, crisp salad and some spuds. You really must, however, make gravy, right?

Heat a sauté pan to medium high. Pour in an ounce or so of bourbon, and let the alcohol flash off. You do NOT need to light the stuff on fire, gang, just let is simmer and use your nose; when you smell the nice, smoky smell without the booze smell, you’re there. With a baster or ladle, take some of those lovely pan drippings out of your roaster, (And yes, we do want fat, gang, that is what makes gravy great), and pour it into the sauté pan. Let the liquids incorporate and get nice to a nice low simmer; adjust your heat accordingly. Add a couple tablespoons of flour, slowly and gradually, and whisk constantly as you do, to blend everything smoothly and avoid clumps of flour. Stop adding flour when your gravy is a bit thinner than you care for and allow the mixture to thicken by heat alone. Add a little salt and fresh ground black pepper to taste and bring it on!

The variations for this kind of thing are endless – How about southwestern style, with cilantro, onion, garlic, green chile and apple for stuffing and rubbing? Italian, go with shallot, basil, thyme, and balsamic vinegar – Get the picture? As with spice rubs and blends, pick some flavors that you like and that seem complimentary and experiment – The next great blend should come from YOUR kitchen, OK?

Now, place yourself in the not-too distant future. That wonderful meal has been eaten, the leftovers wrapped and boxed and stuffed in the fridge – What happens now?! Well, as we mentioned back a ways, there always is sandwiches; Warren Zevon, shortly before he died, gave this advice: “Enjoy every sandwich.” Indeed we should, Mr. Z… My dad was a sandwich artist, and I like to think I inherited some of his passion and talent – There are few things better than a chicken or turkey sandwich with fresh cut bird, fresh bread, crisp veggies and homemade pickles; do the sandwiches and thank me later.

But there is so much more waiting in the wings, Gang! (Sorry, couldn’t resist). First and foremost, you have the perfect source for stock, and stock means soup or stew, and, well.. Nuff said, right? Take that carcass out, remove the remaining meat by carving or, as I prefer, simply ripping big old chunks off. Throw the remains into a big ol’ pot. Add water to cover, a volume of mirepoix appropriate to the size of your bird, (Remember mirepoix? 50% onion, 25% each carrot and celery, rough chopped), a couple bay leaves, salt, pepper, and put it all on a simmer. Let it do its thing for as long as you can, the better part of a day as a good measuring stick. When you can’t stand the incredible rich smell any more, strain out the remaining carcass and mirepoix, and return the stock to a large pot on medium low heat.

Raid the fridge again, and add what floats your boat; carrots, potatoes, peas, green beans, black beans, cilantro, garlic, corn, white beans, (or kidney, red, pinto, garbanzos – Get the picture?), rice, small pasta, (Boil first and strain well), chicken meat, a little bacon – Viola; homemade soup that puts everything else to shame. Maybe do up some French baguettes while it’s simmering, or fresh corn bread, (More on those later if that thought gave you a ‘Huh?’ moment…)

If you don’t feel like soup, fine – Let the stock cool, pour it into glass containers or plastic bags if you must and freeze it for later use – Nothing makes homemade soup, stew, or gravy better than homemade stock. Pour some of it into ice cube trays and freeze it; then when you’re ready to do up some great green beans you found at the market, pop out a cube, melt it in a sauté pan, add a little butter, and coat your steamed beans in that prior to serving – that’ll generate a wow moment for your diners, guaranteed!

Finally, how about what do afterwards if you DO do the whole Thanksgiving enchilada? How does one avoid the boring doldrums here? Easy, and one word for ya; terrine… The art of Garde Manger is the art of creatively using leftovers, and this is one of my favorites; I think I came up with this one, but I doubt it, frankly; it’s too easy and to good not to have been done before.

Preheat your oven to 350º F. Grab a loaf pan and lightly oil it. Now pull out all your Big Dinner leftovers; spuds, carrots, Brussels sprouts, dressing, cranberry, turkey, the whole shebang. Take your dressing and, by hand, line the loaf pan all around with a thin layer of that wonderful stuff. When you’ve done that, start layering the goods inside; turkey, spuds, carrots, everything except gravy, (Which will make things swim – Not good…) When you’re all layered up, cover the whole shebang with dressing. Pop it in the oven and let it do its thing for 30 minutes. Pull it out and let it rest for 15 minutes, minimum. Carefully cut a slice of the terrine and using a spatula, throw ‘er on a plate; add gravy and maybe some more cranberry; yum yum noises are optional but likely.

P.S. to loyal readers: Notice a diff on this entry? No standard recipe formats with exactly this much of this and that? Exactly; we’re starting down the road to cooking intuitively. Go with peace in your hearts, friends and neighbors! Look, if you’re not up to winging it 100%, OK, but you want to be and you will be and you have to get there somehow – Dive in, use your best judgment and trust that you’ll do fine; worst case scenario is a few learning experiences followed by a lifetime of joy and pleasure.

An Egg by Any Other Name

This just in from Jenn Digby;
“Any ideas on what to do with eggplant (other than deep fry and serve under melted cheese)? it seemed a lot less intimidating when I was a vegetarian, but now they cheer and bump fists when I close the fridge door in defeat.”

Oh let’s whip those saucy little buggers into shape, shall we, girlfriend! The eggplant is much maligned because, like tofu, it, in and of itself, is not a stellar performer, but use it for the qualities in which it shines and you’ll be a happy camper, (And the little buggers will sit in stony silence when you shut the fridge door…). Eggplant, (Aubergine in French), is another member of the same family as tomatoes, sweet peppers and spuds; they are a great source of dietary fiber and have a bunch of nutrients, so let’s give them the shot they deserve, huh?

So, you ask, what IS that stuff good for? Well, again, just like tofu, it can take on a variety of textures and sucks up and holds good flavors like nobody’s business; eggplant needs just a little work to truly shine, so watch them prep steps, eh?

Jenn noted she wants something other than deep fried under melted cheese, and the first thing that comes to mind is a variation on Eggplant Parmigiano made with a lighter hand; it’s a wonderful dish, basically a veggie lasagna, if you will!

Eggplant Veggiano with Homemade Ricotta Cheese

2-3 good sized eggplants
5 – 6 fresh tomatoes of your choice, (Canned/preserved is fine too!)
1-2 carrots, shaved with a peeler
1-2 small shallots, minced
1-2 sticks celery, minced
½ cup fresh basil, chiffenade
Dash of balsamic vinegar
1 clove garlic, fine diced
Olive oil
Thyme
Rosemary
Salt, Pepper to taste

Blanch your tomatoes, cool and remove the skins. Puree/blend/motor boat until a nice smooth consistency. In a couple tablespoons of olive oil, sweat your shallots, celery and garlic on low heat. Raise heat to medium low and add tomato puree, dash of balsamic vinegar, then add basil, thyme, rosemary, salt and pepper to taste, allow to simmer for about 20 minutes or so. Pour your sauce into a bowl to cool and leave the pan just as it is, ‘cause you’re gonna use it again in a sec or two…

Choose eggplants that are nice and shiny purple and firm; avoid really big ones or anything where the skins are white; remember the adage; baby tender, old guy tough! They may look gnarly, but they’re actually a pretty sensitive veg; store them whole, unwashed, at about 45 to 55 degrees, ideally, and no longer than any other fresh veggie.

OK, so to prep the eggplants, check ‘em for dirt and critters; wash gently, cut off the ends and then you’re ready to go. Use a stainless steel bladed knife when cutting the eggplants; they have some nutrients in ‘em that will turn them a nasty black color if you introduce them to carbon steel!

For this recipe, we want the eggplant to emulate pasta; cut them into roughly ¼” slices. If you have a mandolin, (The kind for hand slicing, not the kind Sam Bush plays), you can slice quite thin and that’s just fine. Lightly salt the slices and stick ‘em in a colander, or on a tight weave wire rack, with a cookie sheet underneath as a drip pan; let ‘em sit for about 30 minutes: This is kind a room temperature sweat, if you will, just designed to pull some moisture out of the eggplant and tenderize them a bit. While that’s working, it’s cheese making time…

“Cheese making time,” you say, “In 30 minutes?! Yeah, gang, yeah; it’s that easy; OK, so maybe you could do this first if you’re worried about time, but… Everybody needs to try their hand at homemade cheese; that’s my story and I am stickin’ to it – The quality is like nothing you’ve ever bought, short of very good artisanal offerings. It is super simple, incredibly satisfying, and your guests will gaze on you with wonder and admiration as they chow down… Ricotta is a great first effort; it’s so simple it’s silly. The buttermilk does all the work for you, so let’s get after it!

Homemade Ricotta:

½ gallon whole milk
½ gallon buttermilk

Pour all your milk into a non reactive pan over medium high heat; use the best pan you got, preferably one with a nice thick bottom to store heat well.

Stir the milk just about non-stop, taking care to check the bottom of the pan often, making sure that things aren’t burning.

As the milk gets hot, you’re gonna see curds starting to rise to the surface. As you see this happening, use a flat whisk or spatula to scrape the bottom and free up more curds, (Yes, they will get their whey… Sorry, couldn’t resist…)

Snag a large colander or chinoise, the wider the better. Line the colander with cheese cloth; if you use real cheese cloth, you need a good 6+ layers to avoid stuff running through too much.

On a tip from Michael Ruhlman in his book, Ratios, I bought some cheap, plain white handkerchiefs and use them for straining and after a good washing; they do a much better job, are reusable and are generally more satisfying to work with.

When your milk mixture gets to roughly 175º F, you’ll see the curds and whey begin to separate; (The curds are the white globs and the whey is the watery leftovers, FYI).

Pull your pan off the heat and with a ladle, carefully transfer your curds to the lined colander; do NOT press on the curds; let the moisture leave of its own accord! Gently grab the corners of your cloth, draw them together and tie ‘em with kitchen twine, (You DO have kitchen twine, right?) Let the cheese drain and cool for about 20 minutes. Makes about 2 cups of finished cheese; placed it in an airtight, glass container to store; it’s good for a few days refrigerated, but it really shouldn’t even last that long, should it?

Rinse your eggplant thoroughly under cold running water until you get all the salt off. Reheat the pan you did up your sauce in to medium high heat and add another tablespoon of olive oil. Place your eggplant and carrot slices and lightly sauté them.

Preheat your oven to 375º F. Lightly grease an appropriately sized glass baking dish with a little olive oil. Place a layer of eggplant down, followed by carrots and then layers of sauce and your fresh ricotta. End with sauce and if you’re feeling frisky, sprinkle on a little hard cheese like Parmigiano or Pecorino.

Bake for +/- 35 minutes, until sauce and cheese and browned and bubbling.

Enjoy!

Variation: If you don’t want as much olive oil in your dish, (Although I can’t imagine why not…), as an alternative to browning your eggplant and carrot slices, you can steam them; it’ll give a very nice, lighter taste note.

Cucina Romana

I blame Tony Bourdain for lighting the memory fire, in a recent episode titled simply, Rome, and shot entirely in black and white to honor the work of Federico Fellini… As often happens watching No Reservations, M and I saw something prepared/served/enjoyed that made us look at each other for a moment, and then say, almost simultaneously, “Tomorrow night?” Yup…

Pasta Cacio e Pepe was the thing; pasta with cheese, butter and black pepper and not a damn thing more. If this doesn’t fly in the face of the common sentiment that making pasta dishes takes too long and is complicated, I don’t know what does. I do not remember specifically eating Cacio e Pepe when in Rome, but I do remember spaghetti Carbonara; add eggs and bacon to Cacio, and in fact, that’s what you’ve got, so maybe that was the memory nugget, eh? In any case, fall is coming and that signals a slow shift to the wonderful comfort foods of the cooler seasons, and what better way to start than this?

Note that our version used Parmesan instead of Pecorino Romano, which is probably blasphemous, but it’s what we had and we love it and, if nothing else, if affords us an opportunity to try it again down the line with the real cheese, right?

Our meal shaped up as follows; while prep and cooking were certainly a collaborative effort, the credit for this goes to Monica, who put everything together and had it ready to assemble and finish off when I got home from work.

Pasta Cacio e Pepe with homemade angel hair noodles,
served in a parmesan cheese bowl.
Haricots Verts
Fresh green salad
Peach crisp.

For the pasta, M combined 50% Semolina flour with 50% general purpose and eggs; this was our first run with genuine Italian Semolina flour, which we bought online from A. G. Ferrari. I have to say that this was a big reminder about the origin and quality of ingredients. Homemade pasta is great; homemade pasta with the best ingredients is as good as it gets anywhere… The pasta dough was phenomenal; it was the prettiest golden brown, it was a joy to handle, dried wonderfully, cooked well and tasted out of this world; how’s that for high praise?

M’s Homemade Angel Hair

1 cup all purpose flour
1 cup Semolina flour
3 large eggs
1 Tablespoon Olive Oil
Pinch of Salt

Combine flour and salt in a large bowl; make a well in the middle of the flour and add eggs and oil. Incorporate eggs into flour mixture with a fork by gently turning the flour into the eggs. Work by hand until well kneaded and very elastic. Cover with a dry cloth and refrigerate for 30 minutes. Flatten out dough and cut into quarters to work into noodles.

We contemplated using the pasta attachment on our KitchenAid, but to be honest, we haven’t used it very much, so when we got out that, plus the required sausage maker, and started looking at pieces and instructions and… We looked at each other and M said, “Let’s do it by hand,” so out came our trusty Marcato Atlas and we were off to the races. This maker is the king as far as I am concerned; they are not cheap, so if you ever find a good working used one for under, say, $40, snap it up, (They go around $75 new).

M’s recipe serves 4, so we took the ‘leavin’s,’ (The short sections of noodles), and froze them for later use in soup or more pasta, or… We hung the cut pasta up to dry on a rack for about 20 minutes or so while we got ready to cook.

M grated a whole bunch of Parmigiano; for the bowls, she used a small sauté pan and glass ramekins for molds. She melted a layer of cheese in the pan on medium heat, and when it was nice and bubbly and starting to turn golden on the cooking side, she flipped them onto the molds and let them cool.

Pasta water was prepared with a little olive oil and plenty of Kosher salt, (Your pasta water should taste like it has salt in it, FYI; not knock your butt over sea water, but definitely present!).

For the Haricots Verts, M trimmed the ends as needed, then trimmed the fat from and diced bacon. She sautéed the bacon until almost done, then added diced shallot. She deglazed the sauté pan with a little red wine, added about ½ cup chicken stock and reduced the mixture by about 50% for plating.



Terminology digression:
What is deglazing and why would I do that? Excellent question, invisible Muse! Deglazing is done when foods are sautéed, fried, etc; what you’re doing is simply leaving the heat on, and then using a liquid to loosen up and incorporate all the little naughty bits the cooking process left behind. By getting all that stuff loosened up and in suspension with your deglazing liquid, you get all the wonderful depth and breadth of flavor you’d missed if you didn’t deglaze. In M’s example above, she used the red wine to pull all the bacon and shallot flavors off the pan she might have missed, then combined that with the chicken stock to get a really nice background flavor profile, then reduced it all to concentrate the flavor further. Deglazing is one of another easy little secret that makes a huge difference in taste, so DO IT! You can deglaze with wine, stock, vinegar, marinade, juice, what have you. Try a flavor you feel will be complimentary; experiment and develop your own favorites!

M did a nice green salad, and added fresh wedges of avocado, which was a super touch; the creamy cool of the avocado was amazing with the pasta!

For fruit crisps, M makes the crisp in bulk and freezes it; that way, when she finds some nice fruit, she just pulls some crisp out of the freezer, does it up and viola!


Fresh Fruit Crisp

Choose whatever you like and find in season! Apples, pears, berries, peaches, you name it! Add sugar to taste, cinnamon or nutmeg, maybe some chopped nuts as you see fit. For the crisp;

¾ Cup all purpose flour
¾ cup dark brown sugar
¼ cup rolled oats
4 ounces of unsalted butter, chilled and cut into ¼” cubes
¼ teaspoon salt

Combine all ingredients and mix by hand or with two knives until the butter is pea sized, about half the size of your original cubes. That’s it! Spread an even layer over your fruit mixture in ramekins or a fairly shallow baking dish.

Bake at 350 for about an hour, or until crisp is brown and, well, crispy!

A meal like this needs to be coordinated in preparation to come out just right; you can see we had several balls in the air at one time, so working as a team is not only a joy, it gets it done right. Fresh pasta is gonna wanna cook for maybe 2 minutes, max. You do not want it sitting around for longer than a couple minutes after cooking or it will want to get sticky, so you need to have everything ready to go. We plated the cheese bowls and salad and then finished the pasta.

I took fresh Tellicherry pepper berries and worked them in the molcajete to a medium grind. A rounded teaspoon of berries is plenty for darn near anybody’s taste; be careful with adding the pepper, taste steadily so you don’t go uberbort! I ground extra to fill a shaker with for the next few days use, just ‘cause…

While the pasta water heated, I put a teaspoon of extra virgin olive oil in a sauté pan with 4 ounces of unsalted butter on medium-high heat. I browned the butter to a nice medium tone and then added roughly 1 teaspoon of ground pepper and ½ cup of pasta water and incorporated quickly.

Add the pasta to the sauce and toss thoroughly; we did not add cheese to the sauce/pasta mixture until it was plated, but you can add and toss that as well if you prefer.

Load a generous portion of pasta into a cheese bowl, add haricots and garnish, (We used more cheese and fresh garlic chives from the garden) and serve right away!

The pasta was simply amazing; truly unbelievable the depth of flavor just from cheese, pepper and butter. Impossible to describe adequately, so y’all will just have to try it yourselves: As Mario likes to say, Buon Appetito!

Chiles Rellenos

OK, now don’t get skeert – We’re gonna open with the mother of all chile dishes, the Relleno! This is one of the finest uses for great peppers and this is my take on an all time fave style.

You’ll see that I’m offering the complete homemade version, but listen, if you don’t wanna go whole hog right off the bat, just buy some sausage and some cheese and do the relleno part; just make sure you do the whole thing afore too long, hear? So, get you some of those HUGE, beautiful Poblanos I saw over at Grant and Christy’s and get to stuffin’, y’all!

😉

REMEMBER: This is interactive as you want it to be, so if you got questions, ask ’em!

Eben’s Oaxacan Chiles Rellenos

Chorizo:

2 lbs pork butt
1 pound beef chuck

3 Tbsp salt
½ cup apple cider vinegar
2 Tbsp smoked paprika
1 Tbsp chipotle, flaked or ground
4 cloves garlic, fine diced
1 Tspn Mexican Oregano
1 Tspn ground black pepper
½ cup water

Grind the meat, add all ingredients to that in a non-metallic bowl.

Stuff into 1.5”/40mm hog casings.

Allow to hang and dry overnight.

Queso Blanco:

One gallon whole milk
1/2 cup lime juice
Salt to taste

Heat the milk in a non-aluminum pot on medium-low heat for about 10 minutes or until it looks like it’s just about to boil (DON’T let it boil!); temperature should be 185 degrees.

Add lime juice. The curds will separate from the whey and the mixture will look grainy, kind of like you’ve just thrown a bunch of corn meal into a pot of skim milk. Simmer for a few minutes.

Pour contents into a cheesecloth-lined colander and let it drain thoroughly: To save the whey to make ricotta, put the colander over a pot.

Sprinkle the curds with salt; go saltier than you normally would; the salt will drain from the cheese as it dries. Now is the time to add any herbs, spices or chopped chiles if you like.

Gather the curds in the center of the cheesecloth and tie the ends; hang the cloth on the faucet to drain for a few hours, (At least four hours, overnight is better.

Refrigerated, it keeps about the same as fresh milk.


Oaxacan Rellenos:

Sauté chorizo and allow to cool; combine with queso 50/50;
add ¼ cup fine diced roasted or sautéed almonds and set aside.

Heat 3 Tbsp of lard or pork fat in a sauté pan top medium heat.

Add 1 medium onion, diced; sauté onions until well browned.

Puree 6 medium tomatoes and add to onions.
Add:
½ tspn cinnamon
½ tspn ground black pepper

Raise heat to medium high and reduce to a thick tomato sauce consistency, then reduce heat to low.

Prep fresh Poblano chiles, and heat a skillet with at least 1” of oil to 350º F and fry the chiles for a minute or two until well blistered. Remove and cool chiles.

Stuff chiles with filling mixture and stitch with a tooth pick.

Separate the whites and yolks of 6 eggs; add ½ tspn salt to the whites and whip until they hold a stiff peak; beat the yolks into the whites until thoroughly blended and then beat in 2 Tbsps flour.

Set 1 cup of flour on a plate as a dredge.

Take each chile, roll it on the flour dredge, and then dip it thoroughly into the batter, and then fry about 4 minutes on each side until golden brown.

Heat oven to 375 and place chiles on a baking sheet for about 15 minutes to heat thoroughly.

Bring tomato sauce to a low boil.

Ladle sauce into a bowl and place a relleno on top of the broth. Garnish with cilantro and serve hot!