Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Quincy Pasta Queens

Our beloved Quincy Natural Foods co-op has been offering weekday evening cooking classes taught by community members. Last week I attended a class offered by the self-proclaimed "Pasta Queens" of Quincy. They are two local women who share a passion for pasta and clearly a great friendship. Their style of teaching and cooking was fun and casual. They had the whole class participating in rolling and cutting and filling pasta creations. We made pot stickers and ravioli and cannelloni and even some fettuccine with the extra dough. 

I've done homemade pasta in the past but I never got in the habit of making it. Come to think of it, my husband even made me homemade pasta while we were dating. He also made me rack of lamb one funny time (story for another post). But anyway, he TRICKED me! I thought he was interested in cooking but since he really hasn't cooked since, it is clear that he was just trying to impress me. Very sweet this husband of mine. 

But even after taking the class where I was reminded of how simple pasta is in principle (the pot sticker dough was literally made from just flour and water), it still seems like a bit of a production. Certainly having some basic equipment like a pasta dough roller would help if you are making any kind of quantity. I could see getting a couple friends together once a year for a little pasta making party. You could set up a production line and make a bunch to eat that week and a bunch for the freezer.

Being the last one left in the class still indulging in all of the delicious creations we made and cooked up, I was the lucky recipient of some big hunks of extra pasta dough. In the next couple of days at home I made ravioli with it. Some I filled with a roasted butternut squash filling with dreams of covering it with a nutmeg cream sauce. Others I filled with a blue cheese walnut concoction. The pasta dough itself was colorful. One of the Pasta Queens made a beet and also a carrot dough. See below.

The lovely hands-on mess of our pasta making class
Flour and water transformed!

At home roasting butternut squash to fill ravioli

Love the colors!
I used a canning jar lid to cut and press the ravioli. I used the thin side to cut through the two layers of dough to form a circle and then flipped the lid over and pressed the fat side onto the circle of dough to seal the edges. This worked surprisingly well. These were frozen on the baking sheet and then bagged up once they were hard. 
P.S. I pulled some from the freezer over the weekend to serve to guests covered in nutmeg cream sauce (garlic, butter, chardonnay, cream, freshly grated nutmeg). Dream fulfilled.

They turned out well. Yummy to eat and fun to look at. If not a Pasta Queen, I at least felt like a Pasta Princess for a day.


Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Spring Begins!

It's Spring! Aren't you glad?

Monday, March 19, 2012

Welcome Rain and Photo Drama

We received 8 inches of much-needed rain last week. Five of the eight came all in one soggy, wet day. Then we finished it all off with a dusting of snow and a power outage. I realize that I miss power outages. When I was a child in rural Sonoma County, our power lines were some of the last to be repaired. That sometimes meant 2 or 3 days without electricity. It can be humbling and quiet-cozy and Little-House-on-the-Prairieish. Electricity is certainly something that most of us in this country take for granted. Our outage on Saturday evening was too short. Just long enough to spread candles around the house and do some shadow theater on the ceiling.

On another note, while we were inside watching the rain come down, the tulip and jonquil plants outside shot up 6 inches. They are the dependable yearly harbingers of spring in our yard.

On yet a third note, when I began this blog months ago, I thought that I would not include any photos of my family. I felt like that was too personal to share with the cyber-world. As I grow more accustomed to this medium and because I know most of my audience, I'm becoming more comfortable with the idea. Unquestionably it is common practice. So here goes. Actually this is just a random little boy who I asked to participate in a fun exercise. I named or described an emotion and he made a face to express it. I was very impressed with this 5-year-old's ability to capture the essence of an emotion on his face quickly and accurately. This was an amusing rainy day activity and I also liked how it opened up the conversation and increased awareness about the large range of emotions and feelings that we humans experience.

Future actor?


Sunday, March 11, 2012

Espresso Almond Cookies


OMG, I used to buy these from the Arcata Co-op when I was in college at HSU in the early 90's. I didn't buy them very often mind you. I was on a student's budget and at the time they went for 90¢ plain and a dollar for chocolate-dipped. An entire loaf of the co-op bakery's most basic whole wheat bread sold for 99¢ so one had to prioritize. Yeah, that was 20 years ago. But guess what, those cookies are STILL big sellers. And when I visit Arcata, which I try to do once a year in October (it's beautiful then), I stop by and pick up a couple for old time's sake. Thankfully, my financial situation has improved enough that I can't tell you what I've most recently paid for them.

*Okay, now get this. I was about to guess that the cookies might cost a buck and a half by now when I decided to give them a call to find out. Twenty years later, they are just 95¢ and $1.15 dipped. Wow, that is low inflation. I'm impressed. I should have asked how much their basic whole wheat loaf is.

Anyway, these cookies are worth every penny and more. They are rich, dense, buttery, chocolately, nutty and caffeinated. You have to try them. And guess what? You won't need to go all the way to Arcata, Ca to do so. I am going to share the recipe with you right here on this hedonistic-farm-girl blog. One day, during my three years in Arcata, I asked the North Coast Bakery (inside the co-op) for the recipe. They already had some photocopies of the handwritten recipe on some North Coast Bakery stationary and happily handed me a copy! That same photocopied page, slightly yellowed, lives in my recipe drawer

They don't contain any eggs which contributes to their density. Also they use whole wheat pastry flour and ground almonds so they are heavy-duty cookies.

Espresso Almond Cookies
Pre-heat oven to 350°. I make quick work of this with a Kitchenaid mixer but, of course, it can be done by hand.
Cream together
1 cup soft butter
3/4 cup brown sugar (I now use muscovado)
4 1/2 teaspoons of instant espresso (I usually substitute 3 or 4 t. of 
   finely ground good coffee)
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon almond extract
Combine and add to creamed mixture:
1 c. finely chopped almonds (I use a food processor and go pretty fine)
1/2 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips
Finally add:
2 cups whole wheat pastry flour

Roll into a log. Slice into approximately 24 rounds. Flatten slightly with hand before baking. Bake at 350° for 14 minutes. Let cool completely.
If you tend towards the hedonistic, you can also melt a half a cup or so of the semi-sweet chocolate chips either in a bowl over hot water or carefully in the microwave and slather some chocolate over half of the top of the cooled cookie. Because they are so rich, I usually freeze some for later, which works great.


Monday, March 5, 2012

Kitchen Inspiration and The Idea Board

Kitchen inspiration comes in waves. Sometimes I am overwhelmed with ideas and enthusiasm and other times I can't think what I should create; my attention is elsewhere. In the summer of course, there are more fresh ingredients lying about that need to be used. So then, as with most of the time, what I choose to create is dictated by what I have on hand. The wasting of good, quality ingredients feels like a mortal sin to me. I work hard, especially in the summer and fall to ensure that no fruit or vegetable finds itself withering or, heaven-forbid, molding in my kitchen but instead that each and every cherry, if not consumed fresh, will find its way, at its peak of ripeness, to its next incarnation as jam, a galette, a crisp, in mead, or ice cream. Or at least to a freezer bag for later use. And later is now. This is the time of year when I appreciate being able to go to the cupboard or the freezer for edibles carefully put away earlier.

Last year I purchased a chalkboard for the kitchen from IKEA. It's nice having an erasable and visible slate for jotting down inspiration when it strikes. At first it was used as a menu board which announced the evening meal but it has now become a kitchen-creation-idea-board.
Some things that I've made lately that showed up on the board are: 
Cherry Fairy Galettes made with last summer's pitted and frozen cherries from the neighbor's tree.
Biscuit-Crusted Savory Pie made with solar dried tomatoes and frozen pesto from last summer's bounty. This was right up my husband's alley. He loves savory comfort foods. Think chicken and dumplings, lamb and mashed potatoes, shepherd's pie...

White Bean Artichoke Rosemary dip made from dried cannellini beans, jarred artichoke hearts, and dried rosemary from my parent's epic bush. I will share this recipe because I found the dip to be flavorful, tangy, easy, and healthful.
Other ideas that have been knocking around in my head or finding their way to the IDEA board are making some more of my own liquors like a Grand Marnier, an Amaretto, and a honey Kahlua. Also, various salad dressings are begging to be made: A French catalina-syle, a creamy poppy seed, Pangaea's orange dressing, my mom's lemon paprika dressing, and a balsamic vinaigrette. I'm sure I'll be doing a salad dressing post soon! Although my inspiration waxes and wanes like the moon, it always seems to return to the kitchen and the creative possibilities to be embarked upon there.

Artichoke White Bean Rosemary Dip 

1 clove garlic 
2 1/2 cups of cooked white beans
1 cup artichoke hearts packed in oil
Juice of one small lemon
1/2 t. of crushed dried rosemary (or 1 t. chopped fresh rosemary)
1/4 t. kosher sea salt or other salt

Macerate garlic clove in food processor. Then add beans, artichoke hearts, lemon juice, rosemary, and salt and blend until smooth. Serve with pita chips, asparagus, and/or carrots for dipping.