Friday, February 27, 2015

Fresh Pasta

Pasta-making has been on the to-do list for years since receiving a pasta maker as a gift, but I just haven't gotten around to it, until a little snow storm slowed the pace enough to seek an educational project in the kitchen.

I had no idea what I was doing, but it was super fun, and in the end, worth every single bit the effort. Fresh pasta is pretty incredible.

Here's how it goes:

You crank the dough through metal rollers, reducing the width gradually, ending up with sheets of pressed gluten and egg, and if you use a bit of whole wheat; flecked with bits of wheat hull.

Place the sheets on a slightly damp cloth to keep from drying out while you crank the rest. Then you send the sheets (of your desired thickness and shape) through the cutting device.

This is where the manual that came with the machine left me without any further instruction. So I winged it:

Drape the cut pasta over one hand and dredge in more flour to prevent noodles from sticking to one another.

From here I was a little lost, but felt like I wanted to air dry the noodles a bit before cooking, so I got out the trusty laundry racks, and this worked just great (but was perhaps unnecessary?)

If left too long they would dry out too much and become brittle.

After about 20 minutes bring a large pot of salted water to a boil, meanwhile sauteing some frozen asparagus with chicken and garlic, and dousing in marinara. When water reaches a rolling boil, reduce heat to a gentle boil, then drop in the pasta. The noodles will only need about 3-4 minutes.

Then drain and add to the saute pan of marinara with a pinch of of the pasta water, to simmer for another minute or two. Plate and cover in grated Parmesan.

And this marks the beginning of a new love story.

Fresh Pasta Dough:
*3 cups organic all purpose flour
*1 cup organic whole wheat
*1 teaspoon sea salt (optional)
*4 fresh eggs

Blend flours and salt together in a medium mixing bowl. Make a well in the center. Add eggs and blend into flour with a fork. Add enough water to create a mailable dough, but not sticky. Kneed dough until consistency is just right (not too sticky, not too dry) adding water or flour to adjust. Then follow instructions above combined with those that accompany your pasta machine.

Sunday, February 22, 2015

Thursday, February 19, 2015

Chicken Confit

While slow food has become a household term, it hasn't necessarily won the affection of each and every household.

Contrary to the images associated with slow-cooking, (the housewife in hand-dyed flax and woolen clothing, slowly simmering something slain by her own hands over a wood-fired cook stove, taking time out to change cloth diapers and tend the garden) it's possibly one of the most accessible means of taking humble food to special depths without toil. Considering slow food's reputation for requiring excessive time and effort, of the two, effort is not always essential.

Crockpots and slow cookers make slow food simple, with the advantage of electric settings and timers. Using time as the main ingredient, inexpensive, bone-in meats can render slowly in their own fat and marrow producing a fairly unbelievable dish: confit.

The process is simple: break down a whole chicken or use a few pounds of legs, thighs and breast meat with skin and bone.

Once rinsed, dry with paper towels. Place in a DRY crockpot, slow cooker or heavy braising pot. Season liberally with coarse sea salt. I like to add a few sprigs of dried lemongrass and possibly some garlic or onion, but you can keep seasonings as simple as salt.

Fit with a lid and place on medium setting, or low heat if cooking on stovetop. Then walk away for about 12 hours. Don't lift the lid or stir. Just forget about it (mostly). Sleep. Dye some wool. Watch your "stories." Go outside and enjoy the snow. 

When you remove the contents from heat, a transformation will have taken place.
The slow, relatively low heat works to pull fat, marrow and juices from bones and skin, poaching the muscle. The meat will fall away from the bones with a nudge, the salts and fats having worked their way in.

From here you can serve the shredded meat in tacos, return it to a saucepan and douse with bbq sauce, make soup, quiche, chicken salad, anything. But it will be the best version of these dishes you've had, because the meat is so packed with flavor and meltingly tender.

The cooking juices can be strained and will become gelatinous once cooled. From here you can water down the concentrated liquid for soup bases. This is maybe one of the best ways to get all you can from your ingredients, with hardly any active prep.

Enjoy. Stay full....and warm!

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

A Girl In An Apron All Time Favorite For Valentine's: Heart Beets

At a farm party years ago, my friend Susie stood over a plate of roasted beets cutting out heart shaped bites with a paring knife. Her fingers were deeply stained and hauntingly beautiful. She called them heart beets.
This is my favorite Valentine's Day side dish, sprinkled with flaky sea salt and served with herbed chevre. Since early Roman times, the juice of beets has been considered an aphrodisiac, so ditch the libido-suppressing cupcakes and go savory.

Heart Beets:
*4-5 red beets, un-peeled
*olive oil for roasting
*sea salt
*herbed chevre

Preheat oven to 375. Line a baking sheet with parchment. Wash beets. Cut each beet in half and place on baking sheet. Toss with olive oil to coat.
Roast until a fork can easily pierce through beet flesh. Remove from oven and allow to cool. Peel off skins.
Slice beets 1/4-1/2 inch thick. Using a paring knife, cut beet slices into heart shapes. Sprinkle with sea salt and serve with chevre.

or try combining them with this previous recipe to make heart beet, goat cheese stacks:

Heart Beet Stacks:
*As many beets as you like, in various sizes and colors
*enough chevre for layering
*small beet leaves or chives for garnish

Preheat oven to 375. Line a baking sheet with parchment. Cut away beet greens (save for another application), and rinse roots. Place beets on the lined baking sheet and roast until tender, time will vary depending on size. Pierce thickest portion of beet with a fork to check for tenderness. When it goes in without the slightest protest, remove beets from oven.

Cool completely before peeling away skins. Slice with a very sharp knife into 1/4 inch rounds. Place a small amount of goat cheese between beet slices to make little stacks. Press down on the top of each stack to encourage the cheese to emerge slightly from between the layers. Garnish each stack with a little beet green.
Try and assemble shortly before serving, as the color from the beets will bleed into cheese. If you don't mind this colorful merger, stacks can be made in advance and stored in an airtight container in the fridge.

*Serve with a napkin

Thursday, January 22, 2015

Make Your Own Elderberry Syrup

Aside from the pleasant flavor of elderberries and their flowers (used widely in European cordials and liquors, and appearing here in crepes), the properties of Sambucus nigra have been part of preventative medicine for centuries. 

I personally love the plant as a precious addition to a native landscape. The flowers are lace-like and fragrant, bees butterflies and other pollinators love them.

Medicinally, not just for its reputation in the prevention of and treating symptoms of flu, elderberries seem to also strengthen the immune system and help relieve allergies.  

The Journal of Complementary and Alternative Medicine published a placebo-controlled study on Sambucus nigra's effects on the "inhibition of several stains of influenza." The results showed: 

"reduced hemagglutination and inhibited replication of human influenza viruses type A, type B, and of animal strains from Northern European swine and turkeys,  and A in Madin–Darby canine kidney cells," 


"A placebo-controlled, double blind study was carried out on a group of individuals living in an agricultural community (kibbutz) during an outbreak of influenza B/Panama in 1993. Fever, feeling of improvement, and complete cure were recorded during 6 days. Sera obtained in the acute and convalescent phases were tested for the presence of antibodies to influenza A, B, respiratory syncytial, and adenoviruses. Convalescent phase serologies showed higher mean and mean geometric hemagglutination inhibition (HI) titers to influenza B in the group treated with SAM than in the control group. A significant improvement of the symptoms, including fever, was seen in 93.3% of the cases in the SAM-treated group within 2 days, whereas in the control group 91.7% of the patients 
showed an improvement within 6 days."

Here's the kicker:

"A complete cure was achieved within 2 to 3 days in nearly 90% of the SAM-treated group and within at least 6 days in the placebo group (p < 0.001). No satisfactory medication to cure influenza type A and B is available. Considering the efficacy of the extract in vitro on all strains of influenza virus tested, the clinical results, its low cost, and absence of side-effects, this preparation could offer a possibility for safe treatment for influenza A and B."

As comforting as this evidence is, it is not expensive nor off putting to take elderberry syrup as a daily regimen, unlike some other preventative measures (coffee enemas and garlic clove chaw anyone?). 

Even for non-believers, sipping the concentrated juice is a treat, much less a tonic. With the added benefits of cinnamon, fresh ginger, clove and raw honey, it's hard to be critical about such a means of prevention. And this time of year, when the flu is knocking people out left and right, it's important to take every means possible to dodge getting sick. Even kids are eager to slurp this recipe up, and gain from its tasty defenses.  

Elderberry Syrup: (From my friend Tanya)
*3 cups filtered water
*2/3 cup dried elderberries*
*2 tablespoons fresh ginger, peeled and chopped
*2-3 whole cloves
*3/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
*3/4 cup raw honey

Place water, elderberries, ginger, cloves and cinnamon in a medium saucepan over medium high heat. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat to low and simmer for 45 minutes. Strain contents through a mesh collander. Pour warm liquid into a jar and add honey. Tighten with a lid and 
shake until honey is dissolved. Store in fridge.

Take 1/2 to 1 full teaspoon per day for children and up to 1 full tablespoon daily for adults. Take every 4 hrs while fighting the flu virus.  

*Note: Dried elderberries can be ordered in bulk online or found at most health food stores.