Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Homemade Tagliatelle and Ragù Bolognese

I've made Bison Bolognese several time since presenting the recipe in February 2011. I cannot say that it has been met with universal enthusiasm. The main offender was the addition of Italian sausage. My kin can snuff out a fennel seed like truffle hogs. "Death seeds" are considered outside the limits of justifiable cooking and are not tolerated. And you thought your family was picky.

I love Bolognese so I've been searching for a new recipe. It didn't have to be bison, either. I regularly pick up the 96/4 lean ground beef at Trader Joes. It's as lean as you get and it's still quite flavorful. I even drain the fat from it when using it to make Tacos. Anyway, I read a lot of recipes and settled on one from a food blog called Food Nouveau. I only changed it a teeny bit. I should mention that her recipe is a blend of two others - one from Josée Di Stasio, a Canadian cook and TV host, and the other from The Geometry of Pasta.

One interesting point of fact: nearly every Bolognese recipe that appeared to be worth its salt called for the addition of a cup of milk. Some recipe authors claim it helps tenderize the meat.

Making the new Ragù also meant making some fresh pasta to go with it. I hadn't made fresh pasta in eons. In the process, I re-wrote my standard pasta recipe which was based on the commercial amounts I used to turn out at Cafe Nola. The pasta recipe will generously serve a family of four. Here are those recipes:

Ragù Bolognese
Print recipe only here

Serves 4, generously

2 tablespoons olive oil
1/2 large yellow onion, finely  chopped
2 carrots, peeled and finely  chopped
2 stalks celery, finely  chopped
2 garlic cloves, very finely chopped
3 slices pancetta (cut into 1/2-cm cubes)
Kosher salt
Freshly ground black pepper
1 # lean ground beef (I like the 96/4 variety)
1/2 cup white wine (I used a Pinot Grigio)
1 cup lowfat or nonfat milk
1 15-oz can whole peeled tomatoes, diced (you will use both the liquid as well as the tomatoes)
1/2 cup beef stock

Place a large saucepan over medium heat and add the oil. Add the onion, carrot, celery and garlic with a pinch of salt and sauté for 5 minutes, stirring often. Add the pancetta and cook for a further 10 minutes, until vegetables are softened and pancetta is golden.

Increase the heat to high and add the meat a third at a time, stirring and breaking lumps with a spoon between each addition. Adding the meat gradually allows the water to evaporate – which is key if you want to brown your meat and not boil it. After the last addition, when no pink can be spotted in the meat and no lumps remain, set a timer for 15 minutes. You want your meat to caramelize and even become crispy in spots. More water will evaporate and flavors will concentrate. You want golden bits of meat to stick to the bottom of your pan – this flavorful crust will then be deglazed with white wine. Watch over your pan as you don’t want your meat to burn. When you see some caramelization happening, lower heat to medium to each the end of your 15-minute sautéing time (on my stove, that’s after about 8-9 minutes).

Over medium heat, pour the white wine into the sauce pan. With a wooden spoon, scrape all the brown bits stuck to the bottom and sides of your pan. Push the meat all around to make sure you scrape it all off. By the time you’re finished, the wine will be evaporated (2-3 minutes).

Add milk, diced tomatoes (with liquid), beef stock, another pinch of salt and a good grinding of pepper. Bring to a boil and then lower to the lowest heat and let simmer, half-covered, for 4 hours. Stir once in a while. If your sauce starts sticking before the end of your cooking time, add a bit of stock or water. In the end, the sauce should be thick, more beef than sauce based. Adjust the seasoning one last time, then stir into a drained bowl of cooked pasta and serve.

Fresh Pasta
Print recipe only here

Serves 4, generously

3 cups flour
4-5 eggs
1 t salt
1 T olive oil

2-3 T semolina, for dusting

Measure flour and salt in the bowl of a food processor, or in a mixing bowl or onto a clean counter.

Add eggs and olive oil and pulse until combined and takes on the appearance of wet sand.

NOTE ON THE EGGS: All flour has a different moisture content. My best estimation is that you can safely add 5 eggs to this recipe. If your eggs are particularly large, try four. You can always pulse in another if the dough feels dry.

If working without the Cuisinart, make a well, add the eggs and oil, whisk together and incorporate flour. It should resemble the mixture in the photo below.

Turn out onto a floured counter and knead, incorporating more flour as needed, until smooth.

Wrap in plastic and let sit for 30 minutes.

Dust two baking sheets with semolina. Cut dough into four even pieces. Keep three loosely wrapped in the plastic wrap. Lightly flour a work surface and flatten one of the pieces of pasta dough, pressing flour into both sides.

Using a pasta machine set to the widest setting (#1 on my Atlas) feed the flattened dough through the rollers. Fold the dough over onto itself and roll through, on the same setting. Do this a total of 4 times, dusting with flour as necessary.

Change the setting to the next widest (#2). Feed the pasta through, fold over and feed through again. Run it thru #2 for a total of three times.

Change the setting to #3. You no longer need to fold the dough, unless the surface appears rough or uneven. Run it through this setting 2-3 times. Let the dough rest for a minute or so. Or pick up another chunk of dough out of the plastic wrap and begin to roll that one out, starting at the widest setting.

Run the dough through the rollers until the desired thickness is achieved. I use #6 as my final for tagliatelle, and #7 (the thinnest setting) for lasagna. Run the pasta through each setting at least twice. At the thinner settings, let the dough rest for a minute between rollings to allow it to relax a bit.

At #6 the pasta can be fed through the cutting rollers or cut to the width you prefer by hand. Once you cut it into the desired shape, spread it out on the baking sheet. Allow to dry for about 30 minutes before cooking.

Cook in a large pot of well-salted water (and a splash of oil) for one minute. Drain gently, toss with sauce and serve.

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Chain of Command in the Family Kitchen

Four years ago, I mused about teaching my children to cook by letting them be the sous chef in the family kitchen. The experiment was short lived. I didn't make it fun, or even pleasant. Maybe the failure was that the kids were too young, or I was too impatient. Or, maybe, in assigning them the role of sous chef, the under-chef or not-boss, I had it all wrong.

My daughters are older now. They're at the point I imagined when I wrote the piece: old enough to be responsible for dinner one night a week. We started the practice this summer, which was good timing as everyone has more time on their hands and it's still light out at 8pm. Each Monday morning they decided on a  dinner menu. I had final edit to ensure it wasn't going to be French Toast or Elbow Pasta with Butter and Garlic Powder. Often they shopped for their menu with me, though not always.

I think the success of the exercise was that they got to be chef. I was the sous chef. I did whatever they wanted me to. My job always included getting the animal protein out of whatever packaging it came in, transferring it to a pan, marinating it, or trimming the fat. The part they liked best: picking a menu they were excited about (including dessert) and then taking all the credit for its success. I was present in the kitchen for the entire prep/cooking period (it wasn't a night off cooking for me entirely). They took the responsibility seriously and I think they learned a lot. And we ate really well.

We fell out of the routine during our summer travels and several weeks passed without a kid-cooked meal. But with the CTU strike we are finding ourselves in need of some weekday structure.  On the kids menu last week: Grilled Chicken Caesar Salad, and Fish and Chips with a Pinch House Salad on the side. The practice isn't always confined to a single night. Last night my oldest contributed a wonderful Baby Spinach Salad to my homemade tagliatelle and Ragu Bolognese (check back for those recipes). And tonight the little one is going to make Grilled Salmon Sandwiches with Dill Aioli and Steamed Artichokes. Tomorrow night, my oldest is going to make Fajitas.She hasn't decided yet if she'll make them chicken or steak but they will feature Guacamole and her Chipotle-inspired rice (basmati tossed with fresh cilantro and a bit of fresh lime).

You live. You learn. School or no school.

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Monday, September 10, 2012

Trending: the Pimm's Cup

Last summer I posted on three favorite cocktails: Hendrick's Gin & Tonic, the Moscow Mule, and the Dark & Stormy. Now I have a new one to share: Pimm's Cup. I'm not sure where I caught onto this trending historic cocktail, but I'm guessing it was probably in New Orleans in July. I picked up a bottle of Pimm's at Binny's and we've been bringing out the Cups for guests - and ordering them off of cocktail menus - ever since. One reason I love it: it employs both English cucumber and ginger beer, both of which are always on hand chez moi. The other reason: it has all the delight (and no cloying nada) of my 2011 Summer Cocktails but with a perky twist.

The Pimm's Cup (aka Pimm's Fruit Cup) heralds from England.  I had never heard of a fruit cup so I did a little digging. To my yankee ears it's a silly moniker, akin to referring to Coca-Cola as "pop." Anyway, a fruit cup is also known as a summer cup and is usually gin-based. Oh, and it is traditionally garnished with a bit of a fruit salad (strawberries, fresh mint, orange) but I don't go that route.

The cocktail was created by James Pimm in the 1840s in his London bar and is based on his fruit- and herb-infused gin, Pimm's No. 1.  At one time there are seven Pimm's products but only Cups Nos. 1, 3 and 6 are still available (No. 1 is the only one on the shelves at my local Binny's). The difference between the seven is the base alcohol.

From the Wikipedia entry:
Pimm's No. 1 Cup is based on gin. Can be served both on ice or in cocktails.
Pimm's No. 2 Cup was based on Scotch whisky.
Pimm's No. 3 Cup is based on brandy. Phased out, but a version infused with spices and orange peel marketed as Pimm's Winter Cup is now seasonally available.
Pimm's No. 4 Cup was based on rum. 
Pimm's No. 5 Cup was based on rye whiskey.
Pimm's No. 6 Cup is based on vodka. Only produced in small quantities.

Sidebar: There is a difference between whiskey and whisky. Read about it here.

Preparing a Pimm's Cup is simple: Pour a splash of Pimm's over ice, add a jigger of Hendrick's Gin, squeeze in half a lime and top with ginger beer. Garnish with cucumber, and enjoy. You can get jiggy and first muddle the cucumber (save some to use some as a garnish). Gary Oldman made it this way at Acadia and it was wonderful. Here's our recipe:

Pimm's Cup
Print recipe only here

Makes 2

Splash Pimm's No. 1
2 jiggers (about 3 oz) Hendrick's gin
2 jiggers Ginger Beer (Goslings or Barritt's are good choices)
Fresh squeezed lime (barely half a lime)
English cucumber, cut into thin rounds for garnish
Ice cubes

Add Pimm's, Hendrick's, lime juice and some ice to shaker, cover, and shake vigorously 20 times. Fill two highball glasses with ice. Strain mixture into glasses and top with ginger beer. Garnish with a few thin rounds of cucumber and serve.

Read more:
1. From the New York Times
2. From Pimm's 
3. From Bon Appetit

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Saturday, September 8, 2012

Picking the Right Egg

I don't give much thought to egg selection. When I need an egg I just grab one. But I don't grab willy nilly. I select one egg from either end of the carton so that the carton is balanced with remaining eggs in the middle. It's nice to have control over certain things.

The practice, strange though you may find it, goes back to my professional pastry days where I dealt with several flats of eggs in a single day. (FYI, a flat is, like, 3 dozen eggs, on a squarish, carton with no lid.) You can't just leave an egg in one corner while the others are snuggled together on the opposite corner and expect the single one to stay put during transport.  The flat needs to be balanced.  One time when I was pulling out a flat of eggs from the walk-in, an egg alone in a corner like just described launched itself into a perfect arc, jibonked off the edge of the shelf (at which point it cracked) and landed in another cook's cooling stockpot. What a biff.

Of course at home I'm not the only one tucking into the carton. Frequently the carton reveals total disorder, like pictured above. This sight ignites my brain wheel and demands answers to these questions:

1. What is wrong with these eggs that they weren't picked?
2. What kind of person would leave perfectly good eggs this way?
3. Why don't people do things the way they're supposed to be done?
4. Were the eggs that were picked larger or smaller than the ones left? And, as a follow-up: What were the forager's criteria for selection?
5. Have I been picking the wrong egg all my life?

These questions can be applied to other domestic operations, especially those where laundry is involved.

Like undoing a knot in a necklace chain or unhitching the chain of paperclips that some monkey left in my desk drawer, egg carton disorder compels me to action. And so, this morning, after selecting a random egg I relocated all remaining eggs to spots in the center of the carton. And it was good.

As for answers to questions 1-4, there are none. I cornered the other egg foragers but the criteria either don't exist or would not be revealed. So I will continue to rearrange eggs to my liking. As for #5, after a cup of coffee and a self-assessment I'm certain of the answer: not a chance.

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