A while back, I was asked, “When was the last time you did something for the first time?”
Oooo. Several months, and going from a step class to a step master class isn’t really all that … first-y.
And thus: Beginner’s Mind was born!
Beginner’s Mind will document my first-time attempts, complete with sidebars and photos and links and the occassional fumbling come-on.
And what says fumbling come-on quite like Italian Cooking?
BEGINNER’S MIND: HOMEMADE RAVIOLI.
- Surely it would be time consuming.
- The ingredients were probably expensive.
- I don’t want to be frying food any more.
- Seriously, I could get valuable work done instead of dicking around in the kitchen.
BUT! Armed with my newfound resolve, on Sunday, I found a recipe and went to town.
STEP ONE: FIND THE RECIPE
By which I mean, the recipe for dough. I’d already decided to fill the ravioli using chicken sausage cut into tiny pieces and pre-shredded cheese.
So I found a great recipe online, which I lost, Goddamit, but it’s cool, I can HANDLE this.
STEP TWO: FAKE THE RECIPE FROM MEMORY
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon olive oil
What attracted me to this recipe was the friendly note, “If you don’t have a mixer with a dough hook …”
You can make a mound of flour and salt, form a well in the powdery mixture, and pour the eggs and one tablespoon of oil into the well. Use one hand to weild a dangerous, manly fork to beat the eggs into the flour, while the other hand protects the outer side of the wall.
I did fine with the dangerous and manly bit, but the protection?
I had egg and oil running out of the well like Hun saboteurs behind the Maginot Line within seconds.
STEP THREE: PANIC!
My first thoughts here were, “How could you be so STUPID and ARROGANT to think you could make pasta by HAND, Buddha CHRIST, clean this up! Feel terrible for days! Never speak of or order ravioli again! You will die alone and unloved!”
Because honestly, my brain is not my biggest fan.
My second thoughts were, “Look, shut the hell up, I am thinking goddammit. The eggs have absorbed enough flour to be moving slowly. I can probably mix the treacherous treacle into the flour if I tilt the board this way with my spare hand like a delicious pinball machine.”
Hey guess what? IT WORKED. Score, like, eighty for my stupidity and arrogance!
Strut strut strut strut in your FACE, Brain, in your nonexistent FACE.
I was left with crumbly, floury dough, and so I mixed in another egg. Maybe two. It’s a little fuzzy right now, but in the end it worked.
STEP FOUR: LET THE DOUGH REST ALREADY ITS NERVES ARE SHOT
To be fair it had been a hard ten minutes on all of us.
So I oiled the dough up, cooed over it, wrapped it in Saran and left it alone to go read for half an hour.
It was rather like one of my earlier relationships.
STEP FIVE: DID WE REALLY NEED TO KNOW THAT?
You can’t unsee it now.
Also, if you’re reading this, darling, sorry.
STEP SIX: ROLLING THE DOUGH
Now the recipe calls for a pasta machine with a rolling attachment. I’d bought the lovely missus a pasta machine two years ago for Christmas, but turns out it’s a Tubular Bells machine, more extruder than roller.
But I have a rolling pin and about one square foot of counter space in the kitchen. Surely I could get the dough “so thin you can see your hand through it.”
It took a lot more flour to keep the pin and board from sticking, and I realized quickly I had to move the dough around to keep it from sticking to the board. But in the end, I had a square foot of thin pasta dough.
STEP SEVEN: AN EGG WASH
You beat an egg with a tablespoon of water, then brush it over the dough. This acts as a glue.
Appetizing. But useful!
You should also put a pot of salted water on to boil right about now, or pay the penalty later on.
STEP EIGHT: FILLINGS
I cut the sausage – Trader Joe’s mild Italian fully cooked chicken sausage – into slices about a half inch thick. Then I took a pinch of shredded Quatro Formaggio cheese, laid it down on the sheet of pasta about two inches apart from each other.
This was only on half the pasta sheet, mind. Like setting up for a game of Stratego.
I topped the cheese with the sausage slice, and folded the pasta sheet over itself. You’re supposed to press out all the air pockets around the filling, which I did, poorly; but that’s not crucial until Step Ten.
The recipe called to cut around each of the filling pieces, then press pretty pretty patterns into the edges with the tines of a fork. What am I, middle class? NO.
I used the ravioli cutters alluded to above, like a pasta making champion. I did notice if you kind of wiggle the cutter side to side, it cuts the dough more effectively, so I turned on the Reverend Horton Heat’s “Wiggle Stick” and poured another glass of wine.
You then want to dust the ravioli with cornmeal, to prevent sticking, and set it aside.
STEP NINE: THAT IS A LOT OF WASTED DOUGH AND WOW I AM A CHEAP BASTARD
All that dough made about 16 ravioli. Which is, to be fair, three to four servings. But there was a LOT of wasted dough.
I tried to re-roll it out but between the excess flour and egg wash it was just too stiff, so I wound up tossing it.
When I do this again, I’ll do it at the dining room table, where I have more room than my kitchen counters. I could have cut a lot more ravioli out of a wider, thinner sheet, and wasted less dough. You should do the same.
STEP TEN: BOIL BOIL TROUBLE AND YES GOD THEY KNOW YOU WERE IN THEATRE STOP IT
The ravioli can now go into the boiling pot of water to be cooked. Since I used pre-cooked chicken sausage, four minutes is sufficient.
The recipe says the ravioli, once done, will float to the surface of the water. This relies on your being a lot better than me at elminating the air pockets in Step Eight. All of mine were bobbing like an insecure fraternity pledge the moment I dipped them in the water.
Note to self: Seriously, your mother reads this. Edit that out.
Note to Note to self: Don’t google “sluttiest fraternities” on a work computer.
Actually, don’t google “sluttiest fraternities” at all.
STEP ELEVEN: THE FRUITS OF YOUR LABOR
They turned out really well in the end!
The dough was a little thicker and more overdone than the ideal – the amount of work to get it so thin, I think, toughened it up some. And the sausage isn’t great, but it’s easy; and the main thrust of this was to get the dough and assemblage down. I mixed them with some Trader Joe’s Arrabiatta Sauce and they made three nice meals for me!
It was bound to happen sooner or later …
My friend Dawn Gerth, of Le Petit Marché bakery and wineshop in Crystal Lake, Illinois; serves Saturday lunch plates and Sunday brunches which have become local legends. For the month of January, she’s chosen to honor the publication of FAMISHED: THE FARM with two dishes!
FAMISHED: THE SANDWICH is made of pulled pork in a whiskey barbecue sauce, smothered in grilled onions and served on a pretzel bread. They will be served on Saturdays; while the FAMISHED NO MORE brunch consists of a layer of potato pancakes topped with pulled pork, fried eggs and grilled onions with barbecue sauce on the side – perfect with a Bloody Mary.
I’m inordinately pleased to have entered the local ranks of Sandwich celebs! If you find yourself in McHenry County, do yourself a favor and stop by to try these new concoctions – you can put off your resolutions for at least one day.
It’s a well-known fact that I love cooking and eating as much as I love writing. FAMISHED: THE FARM wouldn’t be half the story it is without an understanding of scents, tastes, and textures that come through cooking. And who doesn’t like coming to a horror blog to see red meat on the table?
I used to order ropa vieja at Cafe 28 in Chicago on a regular basis, but since moving to a more rural community, my Latin American cravings have to be fed by tacos and fajitas alone. So this weekend I tried making one of my favorite Cuban dishes for the first time. Ropa vieja means “old clothes,” since the final result looks remarkably like shredded clothes straight out of the wash. This recipe was adapted from Food & Wine magazine’s “Best slow cooker recipes.”
- One 2-pound flank steak, halved lengthwise and cut crosswise into 4 pieces
- Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper
- Two cans fire-roasted tomatoes with green chilis
- 1/2 cup water
- 1 red bell pepper, thinly sliced
- 1 green bell pepper, thinly sliced
- 1 medium onion, cut into 1/4-inch dice
- 6 garlic cloves, thinly sliced
- 1 jalapeño, seeded and thinly sliced
- 1/2 teaspoon dried oregano
- 1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
- 1 bay leaf
- 1/2 cup pitted green olives
- 2 tablespoons capers, drained
- 3 tablespoons coarsely chopped cilantro
1. Tenderize the flank steak and season with salt and pepper. Slice as instructed above.
2. In the slow cooker, arrange the next 10 ingredients, and place the flank steak on top.
Push the steak under slightly to allow full saturation of the meat.
Cover, and cook on high for at least 5 hours.
3.Transfer the meat to a cutting board, rest for 10 minutes.
Discard the bay leaf and stir in the remaining olives, capers and 1 tablespoon cilantro.
4. Shred the meat using two forks into the distinctive texture of ropa vieja.
Return to the sauce to warm through thoroughly.
Season to taste with salt, pepper, and crushed red pepper.
Spoon meat and sauce into bowls over white rice or warmed tortillas.
This made enough to feed two people for about three meals each (so far). I served it alongside sauteed garlic poblanos over moros y cristianos to soak up the delicious sauce, and with a crunchy cucumber-celery salad on the side to add a vinegar tang to an otherwise rather sweet meal. I did omit the red pepper in the salad, since we had MORE than enough in the main and side dishes.
So today at work I got a solid day in. Missed the gym, but got 2,000 words written on Idolwood’s final stages of character development in the afternoon. And I came home ready to get to some serious cooking.
I’ve made the Herbes du Provence before, and it’s dead easy so long as you have the herbs and a decent mortar and pestle for the fennel seed. Last time I did it on a pair of pork chops for myself, but I really wanted L to have a taste of it, and she doesn’t care for chops. Luckily, pork tenderloin is right in line with what she does enjoy: Buttery and tender. Like my voice.
While I was getting the herbs ready I had three heads of garlic roasting in olive oil in the oven. Once the herbs finished up, I sliced the silverskin away from the tenderloin and drizzled it over with a tablespoon of extra virgin olive oil, then rolled it in about half the herbs pictured above, patting and rubbing it in with extra care paid to the ends – after all, they’re the best part, might as well be the most heavily herb-crusted, right?
This done, I called up Dawn at Le Petit Marche in hopes of getting some baguettes, but she’d sold out earlier in the day. Good for her, and (as it turned out) good for me – I ran up to Joseph’s Market to pick up french bread and came home with salad fixings, including a beautiful bulb of fennel to slice up as a complement to the dried fennel in the rub. Grabbed some lima beans as well – frozen, but L’s been working hard on the 2011 taxes, so I wanted her to have a quick side option. The original plan had been for roasted sweet potatoes and onions, but between the time issue and the addition of bread I thought that might be a little much.
Once home I threw the pork on the grill on indirect heat and set to the garlic paste. I immediately ran into trouble, as the garlic didn’t provide as much as I’d hoped. Additionally, I put in a bit too much salt and sugar when estimating and eyeballing. I was about ready to call it quits and just set up a flavored butter when I realized the recipe called for extra water as needed. I’m normally leery of thinning the sauces, but this was just what it needed! Two tablespoons of distilled water and an extra 1/4 cup of parsley, throw it in the food processor, and voila!
(I promise you, it tastes better than it looks. Because it LOOKS like ambergris mating with slugs. But it was delicious.)
We pulled the tenderloin inside and rested it in a ceramic cloche while L finished up the salad. Mom brought by a great dry Reisling (recommended, once again, by the wonder that is Dawn) and homemade pfefferneusse cookies for a dessert. We enjoyed the wine and some cheese over the french bread before slicing into the tenderloin.
Smoke ring? Check. Done throughout? Check. Moist? Well, let’s say moist enough. I think an extra five minutes and I would’ve lost it, but I wanted mom and L to be comfortable with the doneness. Left to my own devices it would’ve been in ten minutes earlier and still a luscious pink just on the inside.
Overall, though, a rousing success. Next time I think I want to roll the garlic paste into the tenderloin before rubbing it in the herbs – create a one-two punch and keep the meat a shade moister. We’ll see what happens.
For now, though, L is back to her paperwork. I’ve got a few fingers of twelve-year MacAllan and setting the word processor to stun for another (hopefully) 500 – 600 words before bedtime. I’m enjoying this trend and I’d like to keep with it.
Anyway, you guys, I know this is something that probably most cooks learn to do at the age of like negative two months, but it’s the first time I’ve cooked a fish that wasn’t a side of salmon, and I’m so pleased!
See, the missus doesn’t care much for the smell of fish; and it wasn’t exactly a big part of my diet growing up about as far from a coast as non-Siberians get. Today, though, we had a big breakfast, I’d planned a calorie-intensive dinner, the missus was going to be locked in her art studio, and I’d found this recipe at skinnytaste.com yesterday.
THE PERFECT STORM. [end Peter Falk impression] [RIP Peter Falk]
I altered the recipe slightly:
Two tilapia filets
Salt & Pepper to taste
2 Tbsp minced oregano (from the garden)
2 cloves minced garlic
1 Tbsp bread crumbs
Season the tilapia with salt, pepper, oregano and garlic.
Drizzle with olive oil and bread crumbs.
Grill on indirect heat for 10 minutes, move to direct heat, grill (covered) about 5 minutes.
Squeeze lime onto filets, serve over light salad and grape tomatoes.
I also threw some leftover French bread on the grill the final two minutes, because I wanted some carbs desperately. It was light and succulent, with crispy oiled bits along the side and plenty of fresh earthy flavor from the herbs and lettuce. Eating it outside made everything better, too.
One thing I would change: I served it alongside a glass of Argentinian Torrontes white from Crios, which is delicious on its own but a little heavy for the meal above. I’m looking forward to finishing the bottle over smoked pork tonight, though.