Monday, 23 December 2013

Snow Storm Cookies

Oh, Canada, land of the perpetual snowstorm… I like snow, it’s very pretty when it falls and makes everything look like an iced gingerbread house. The old brownstone buildings in my neighborhood do!

However, when you get all but snowed in your apartment because 30 odd centimeters of the stuff decide to plop on your city almost overnight… yeah, not the most practical situation… But this massive snow storm turned into a source of inspiration: you see, I had this sudden craving for cookies, and when I realized that getting to the grocery store was going to be almost as epic as climbing the Everest, given the unplowed sidewalks, I thought to myself: “Hey! Lazy ass! Make your own damn cookies if you want them so badly!” Sometimes, a little self-inflicted kick to the backside is necessary to get me baking, but I never regret it!

These are not just snowstorm cookies because of the current weather: they also contain a sprinkling of delicious snow-colored ingredients that make cookies worth living for: white chocolate and coconut flakes.

I know, I know: white chocolate is not technically chocolate, it’s mostly sugar, with barely any cocoa in it (if at all). I don’t really care. Sometimes, a sugar fix hits the spot. The coconut is there both because it’s pretty and looks like snowflakes, but also because it gives that sweet hint of exotic flavor, just to remind us that the snow will eventually melt and we won’t have to dress like Siberian yak hunters to go to work.

I found the recipe on Tracey's Culinary Adventures.

1 1/2 cups plus 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, at room temperature
1/2 cup packed light brown sugar
1/4 cup granulated sugar
1 large egg, at room temperature
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon coconut extract
1/2 cup white chocolate chips
1/2 cup sweetened shredded coconut

Preheat oven to 350 F. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper. In a medium bowl, whisk the flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt together. In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream the butter and both sugars on medium speed until light and fluffy, about 3 minutes. Beat in the egg and then the vanilla.

With the mixer on low, gradually add the dry ingredients, beating just until combined. Stir in the white chocolate chips and coconut until evenly distributed.

Using a small cookie scoop, portion the batter onto the prepared baking sheets, spacing the cookies about 2 inches apart.

Bake for about 9 minutes (rotating the baking sheets halfway through) or until the edges of the cookies are set (the centers may look underdone - don't overbake!).

Transfer the baking sheets to wire racks and let the cookies cool for a few minutes then remove the cookies to the wire rack to cool completely. Repeat with all of the dough.

Yeah, so I don't have a cookie scoop - I didn't even know that existed until I read the recipe (FYI, it's basically a small ice cream scoop. Doh!), so I just made little balls of dough with my hands and flattened them slightly before putting them on the baking sheet. Speaking of the dough, don't freak out if it doesn't look wet enough. Maybe it was because it mixed all my ingredients by hand instead of using my stand mixer (which still hasn't been unpacked), but it wasn't sticking together until I went in there and made each little dough ball by hand. Go figure. It's important to let the cookies cool off completely before eating them or putting them away. If you want them to be chewy, they have to still be soft in the middle when you take them out of the oven. Patience, young gluttons, patience! They are so worth the wait!

Chewy, sweet cookie comfort… Nothing like a good book, a steaming cup of tea and some delicious cookies on a cold December evening. And those were some good cookies! They had that perfect pale gold hue, just enough sweetness and that great moist texture... Irresistible!

This recipe makes about 20 cookies (the original recipe says 30, but I guess I like 'em big), so as you can imagine, I didn’t eat the whole batch. The Holidays are all about sharing, so I made a few happy camper: I brought a bunch to work, turned around for a minute and the Tupperware was empty... so I went back home and made another batch...

Have a very merry Xmas my darling readers! I hope you have a very good time and lots of very good food! xxxxx

Update: My colleague Nicole fell in love with this recipe and has been making a batch almost every week since the Holidays! However, she makes it with semi-sweet chocolate chips, instead of white chocolate chips. Of course, dark chocolate and coconut go very well together, and her cookies are the bomb! It makes me very happy when people enjoy my recipes, and it makes me especially happy in Nicole's case, as she often brings some cookies to work and gives me one! Miam!

Saturday, 21 December 2013

Cheese O.D. Baked Mac n' Cheese

Hello everyone! As promised, I am back with a new recipe!

For those wondering, my move went very well and very smoothly. A huge thank you to this awesome moving crew: Véronique, Mike, Paul, Richard, Sam, Jonathan, Amanda, Karine and John! I could never have done it without you!! The place came together in a pinch and I already feel right at home in my new digs! If you want to see what it looks like, keep an eye on my Instagram (punkygabz), as I plan on putting up pics very soon! As you can see, the cat wasted no time getting comfortable:

Once my books were unpacked (15 boxes!), all I wanted to do was to break in my lovely new kitchen! I also promised my readers some delicious comfort food recipes, and I am nothing if not a woman of my word!

In the broad category of "comfort food", does anything hit the spot better than macaroni and cheese? Gooey melted cheese, pasta, gooey melted cheese, pasta... Sure, it's a sin against decent nutrition, but who cares? Sometimes, it's just was the Feelgood M.D. ordered!

When I got the urge for some of that decadent pasta bake, I absolutely had to made it from scratch: the color of Kraft Dinner is enough to make my stomach churn, never mind the taste and texture... But most mac and cheese recipes I have come across require you to prepare a tedious bechamel: I didn't want to spend time making that (no to mention the extra pot and pan cleaning... ugh), I just wanted to stuff my face with cheese until I had to roll out of my chair.

Thank goodness, Nadia G's recipe was exactly what I was looking for: just cheese! I took the liberty of adding a hint of garlic (come on, Nadia! What kind of Italian are you!) and a bit of nutmeg, which tends to elevate dairy-based dishes to a whole other level of "OMG-this-is-crack" (my gratin dauphinois, for example).

Fontina cheese might be something you've never tried before: it's a nutty, semi-soft Italian cheese. The real deal is quite pungent, but the imported stuff tends to be a lot milder. If you can't find it, or don't like it, emmental or mozzarella are great substitutes. You could even use some Parmiggiano-Reggiano if you prefer sharp-tasting cheeses. As long as it's a cheese that melts well, you're fine.

1 package dry macaroni or fusilli pasta
2 tablespoons butter
1/4 cup yellow onion, minced
2 cloves garlic, finely minced
2 cups milk
1 bay leaf
1 pinch grated nutmeg
1 cup aged Cheddar cheese, grated
1 cup Swiss or Gruyere cheese, grated
1 cup Fontina (or emmental or mozzarella) cheese, grated
Sea salt and ground pepper
A handful of bread crumbs

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Boil pasta in salted water until half cook, 6 to 7 minutes. Drain, and set aside. Preheat a large pan over medium heat. Add 1 tablespoon of butter, the onions and garlic. Sauté until soften, about 8 minutes.

Add the milk, bay leaf and nutmeg. Bring mixture to a slow boil, then turn the heat to medium-low.

Throw in the cheeses and some freshly cracked pepper. Stir until melted, then taste; adjust seasoning.

Remove the bay leaf. Grease a baking dish with 1 tablespoon of butter. Add the pasta to the sauce; mix to coat every noodle. Pour in the baking dish and sprinkle liberally with bread crumbs.

Bake for 30 to 40 minutes.

I'm cheese-crazy, so I grated extra Swiss cheese and extra mozzarella on top of my pasta before sprinkling my bread crumbs. Sue me.And trust me, it was as amazing as it sounds. You should have seen my best friend and I stuff our faces as if our lives depended on it...

I am familiar with the tradition of adding cocktail sausages to a batch of mac and cheese. But after an amazing dinner at Diablos BBQ, I strongly suggest using chopped chorizo instead, especially if you like a little spicy kick. I mean, if you are going to put yourself in a cheese and pasta induced coma, why not add some spicy sausages? Cut some chorizo into little bite-sized pieces until you have about 1/2 cup and throw in the sauce along with the pasta (remember to get rid of the thin skin from around the chorizo before adding it to the sauce).

If you'd rather counter the guilt of stuffing your face with all that cheese with some veggies, broccoli and/or cauliflower florets and a small can of diced tomatoes (drained!) will make it a somewhat healthier pasta bake.

Grab a fork, a glass of dry white wine and devour a big bowl of this little cheesy sin while watching something equally cheesy!

Friday, 8 November 2013

Don't Bury Me, I'm Still Not Dead Yet!!

Ladies and gentlemen,

I am very sorry I haven’t posted anything in such a long time, and this little note is my mea culpa, and it’s also to reassure you that I have not gone away permanently, but that circumstances made it necessary for me to take a wee break from my blogging.

Unfortunately, the Punk Housewife is now single, which makes this blog’s title a bit of misnomer… but I like it, so I won’t change it! No need of a partner to be a housewife if you like to take care of your home and cook yummy food! However, as you can imagine, this recent change in my circumstances has made me rather busy with terribly mundane things like finding a new apartment, organizing my move and all the headaches that come with such an operation. This meant a lot less time for experimenting with new recipes and sharing them with you guys. I miss it terribly, but my head is so full of stuff like packing, address change notifications and IKEA trips that I just have no energy for the blog at the moment.

For the readers who are hungry for new recipes, I will be back in action as soon as possible, you have my word! I move at the beginning of December: give me time to unpack and get over a bit of the Holiday madness, and you’ll find lots of delicious comfort food recipes popping up! The site will also undergo a little revamping before the spring, so stay tuned for a new look, new pictures and mouthwatering new recipes!

I am really blessed with a bunch of truly wonderful, supportive, helpful and sweet friends, and I want to take this opportunity to thank them for the drinks, hugs, rides, hot meals and millions of other little ways in which they have shown their support in this rough patch I am going through: Véro, Maude, JD, Steeve, Alex, Paul, Mike, Amanda, Samuel, Patrick, André, Sophie, Gil, Phil and all the ones I am forgetting at the moment. You guys are sweethearts, and I wouldn’t have made it without you.  I’ll bake you all a big pile of gratitude cupcakes as soon as my new kitchen is set up!

I also want to thank my readers for their patience and loyalty. I write this blog because I love to cook and I love to share the recipes with you all: I believe in home cooking as a fun, economic and relaxing way to spend one's time, and I will never stop making a mess in my kitchen, but it always makes me so happy to get your feedback and hear about the recipes you found on my blog and enjoyed in your own kitchens. I’ll keep it up, so keep on reading and cooking!

Lots of love, and see you soon!


Monday, 30 September 2013

Garlic Lemon Shrimp Pasta

These are really the last few nice days of the year... Even if there is great stuff about the fall (like my birthday, scarves, leather jackets and Doc Martens being tolerable again, etc.), I still resent the cold. What can I say, I am happy in the summer, even the really weird ones like the one we've had this year. It was rather rainy, and besides that unbearable heat wave in early July, it's been pretty chilly... but it was summer!

Oh well, all good things come to an end, I suppose. But it's not because the days are shorter and less sunny that I can't enjoy a little sunshine on my plate!

My boyfriend brought home a shape of pasta I had never seen before: cute little curly cues!

I decided I would use them along with a classic summer-y combo of ingredients: garlic, lemon and shrimps. I've made a gorgeous risotto with those glorious flavors once, and it was little plate of sunshine. Exactly what I needed to cheer me up from looking at the weather forecast...

1 package dry pasta
3 tablespoons olive oil
1 pound medium or shrimps, peeled and deveined
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
4 cloves of garlic, thinly sliced
1 lemon, zested and juiced
1 teaspoon chili flakes
1/4 cup white wine
1/2 cup fresh Parmesan, grated (optional)
3 tablespoons toasted pine nuts (optional)
Lemon wedges, for garnish

Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Add the pasta to the boiling water and cook according to the package directions, or until al dente. While the pasta is cooking, heat 2 tablespoons of the oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add the shrimp in a single layer.

Sprinkle with salt and pepper, to taste. After 2 minutes, turn the shrimps over, add the remaining tablespoon of oil, the garlic, and red pepper flakes.

Stir constantly for 1 to 2 minutes. Add the lemon zest and white wine to the shrimp. Stir to reduce the wine slightly. Stir in the lemon juice.

Drain the pasta and add to the skillet with the shrimps, along with the Parmesan and pine nuts. Toss well to mix everything together.

Serve with extra lemon wedges, and a drizzle of olive oil.

Just like my risotto, this dish tasted just like a summer evening by the beach should: briny, lemony and garlicky. I have a feeling I will keep this little recipe handy every time the weather will get grey, rainy and generally miserable. It will be the perfect way to cheer up when the sun won't show it's face through autumn clouds!

Sunday, 15 September 2013

Ultimate Gingerbread Cupcakes

I am usually the person making cupcakes for every imaginable occasion. Let's face it, few occasions are cupcake-inappropriate. Birthdays, holidays, PMS, bachelor party, thank-you-awesome-tattoo-artist-present... And since I love baking, there is always butter, eggs and various sprinkles all over my kitchen.

So you can imagine how refreshing is it when someone bakes me cupcakes!! My friend JD, photographer extraordinaire and raging geek, is also a very good cook (sorry ladies, he's married!) and he knows how much I love ginger. So when he couldn't make it to my birthday dinner, he made it up to me by whipping up a beautiful batch of cupcakes that shall henceforth be known as the ultimate gingerbread cupcakes.

I can't tell you how excited I was when he dropped those off at my place! We had dinner, opened a bottle of bubbles and enjoyed those little ginger bombs watching David Fincher movies. What? It was my birthday!!!

JD is such a sweetheart that he even shared his recipe with me so that other people could enjoy those wonderful cupcakes: fellow ginger-addicts, rejoice!

Gingerbread cupcakes (24 cupcakes):
2 cups flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
1 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1 cup sugar
3/4 cup brown sugar
1/2 cup canola oil
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 eggs
1/3 cup molasses
1 cup hot water

Line two cupcake pans with paper liners and preheat the oven to 350. In a small/medium sized bowl, combine the dry ingredients: flour, baking soda, baking powder, ginger, cinnamon, and nutmeg. Carefully whisk them together. In another medium sized bowl or the bowl of a stand mixer, combine oil, sugar, brown sugar, and vanilla. Mix well. Add eggs and mix until incorporated. Next, add the molasses and mix well. Add half of the dry ingredients and half of the hot water to the sugar mixture and mix until incorporated. Repeat with the second half of the dry ingredients and hot water. Transfer the batter to the cupcake pans and fill each liner about 2/3 full. Bake 15 to 20 minutes, or until a cake tester comes out clean.

Maple cream cheese icing:
1 8oz package of cream cheese
1/4 cup (half a stick) butter, room temperature
2 tbsp maple syrup
4 cups powdered sugar

In a medium sized bowl or the bowl of a stand mixer, beat butter and cream cheese on medium high speed until smooth and creamy. Add 2 cups of powdered sugar, one cup at a time, mix until incorporated, and scrape the bowl after each addition. Add the maple syrup and mix well. You can test it at this point and decide if you want more maple syrup or not. Add more powdered sugar and mix, until the icing is the desired consistency.

Ginger syrup:
1 cup sugar
1 cup water
a few pieces of fresh ginger, peeled

Put the ingredients in a sauce pan, bring to a light simmer and let simmer, uncovered, for 30 minutes. Let cool overnight. Remove the pieces of ginger.

When the cupcakes have cooled, frost with the maple syrup cream cheese icing and drizzle the ginger syrup on top. Top each cupcake with a piece of candied ginger.

And voila! Ultimate gingerbread cupcakes!

The cakes were wonderful, moist and just spicy enough, and the very sweet and rich icing is perfectly balanced by the tangy ginger syrup. It took a lot of self-control not to eat the entire batch in one sitting, but I guess I am getting a bit wiser as I get older (not!) and I made the cupcakes last all weekend.

Thank you JD, for the wonderful birthday cupcakes! And a big thank you to the wonderful friends who celebrated with me Saturday night! You guys are the best, and I am so lucky to have you in my life! xxxxx

Tuesday, 10 September 2013

Portobello and Goat's Cheese Risotto

My baby brother just got his wisdom teeth removed... I've been through some rather intense dental surgery in the past, so I know first-hand how much it sucks to hardly be able to open your mouth to talk, let alone eat. And then chewing is incredibly painful...

To cheer up the bro, I got him the new Franz Ferdinand album and I made him a batch of something delicious he would not need to chew to enjoy! This is what's so wonderful about risotto: it's rich and creamy, but it's got a perfectly soft consistency that requires very little teeth! It's also great comfort food, and it's very filling.

Thanks to my best friend's careful instructions, I got pretty good at whipping up a delicious batch of risotto (my own tomato-basil recipe and this shrimp-lemon risotto were both huge, delicious hits), and I had wanted to try this recipe for a while. My brother loves mushrooms and cheese, so it was absolutely perfect!

The original recipe (from "Cookin' for Trouble" by Montreal's own Nadia G.) called for Gorgonzola cheese, and not goat's cheese. Personally, I love Gorgonzola, but it's a very strongly flavored blue cheese, so it's not for everyone... My brother has always preferred milder cheeses, and really, can you go wrong with goat's cheese? No, you can't. Choose a cheese with a soft, crumbling consistency as opposed to the ones that are very creamy and runny.

As with any other risotto recipe, get all your ingredients prepared and measured in advance. A risotto requires constant attention, so if you realize you have to run off to get your Parmigiano, do it at the risk of rice sticking to the pan. Just sayin': this is one instance in which being organized pays off. Also, an angled spatula is the best tool with which to stir to ensure no tiny grain of arborio is left behind.

My advice to make the 30-or-so minutes spent stirring go by faster: pour yourself a glass of the white wine when you are done measuring the cup that goes in the pot, and blast some fist-pumping music. Trust me, your risotto will be ready before you are done with the wine.

4 cups chicken or vegetable stock
1 tablespoon butter
1 tablespoon olive oil
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 yellow onion, finely diced
3 portobella mushrooms, stems removed and discarded, caps diced
2 cups arborio rice
1 cup white wine
1/2 cup goat's cheese (or Gorgonzola, if you feel adventurous), crumbled
1/3 cup Parmigiano-Reggiano, finely grated
Sea salt and ground pepper

Pour the stock into a medium pot and heat to a simmer; keep it simmering over medium-low heat. In a large pan, heat the butter and olive oil over medium heat. Sauté the garlic for about 1 minute, until golden. Add the onion and mushroom and sauté them for 3 minutes, until the mushrooms start releasing some moisture and become nice and fragrant.

Stir in the arborio rice and cook for 2 more minutes, stirring to make sure the grains of rice are covered with oil.

Deglaze the pan with the white wine and let it reduce completely, stirring.

Once the wine is gone, add the simmering stock 1 ladleful at the time. Let the rice absorb the stock, stirring constantly, and add the next ladleful, and so on until all 4 cups are mixed in and absorbed.

Fold in the cheeses and stir for a few minutes, until they have melted and are well incorporated.

Add a generous pinch of sea salt, several pinches of freshly cracked black pepper, mix and serve.

Now my brother is lucky I love him as much as I do, because as soon as I tasted the final result, I could have just kept on eating straight from the pan until there was nothing left... Earthy mushrooms, creamy, gooey, cheesy-ness, al dente arborio rice... My stars!!

My brother was very happy to get this luxurious risotto as a get-better treat! I wasn't there to see how fast he wolfed the whole thing down, but knowing him, it must have been gone in the blink of an eye.

Hope you get better soon, baby bro! xx

Sunday, 18 August 2013

Southern Barbecue Shrimps

I think one of my favorite things about home-cooking is the part where you get to sit down and share it with awesome people. Never has that been more true than Friday night, when I had dropped by my (now infamous) friend Paul's house to gossip (it happens), and his boyfriend Richard spontaneously invited me and my man for dinner. We quickly grabbed a few ingredients from the grocery store and Richard lit up the barbecue. Before you know it, we were all cooking, eating, drinking beer and having a great time! It was truly a moment of awesome urban-family time.

The recipe we made is quite simple, and a little tweaking of the spices could give it a whole other tone, but Paul has a thing for Southern cooking. Also, who am I to say no to shrimps marinated in garlic and butter? If you keep the marinating to a minimum, this meal takes less than an hour to make, and the results are wonderful! We kept it moderately spicy, but you can play with the quantity of cayenne depending on how sensitive your tongue is to heat.

about 60 medium shrimps, heads removed and deveined
1/4 cup unsalted butter
4 cloves garlic, minced
2 tablespoons lemon juice
1 teaspoon paprika
1 teaspoon cayenne
1 teaspoon tumeric
Sea salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste

Melt the butter in a sauce pan over medium-low heat. Once the butter is melted, add the garlic and cook for 3 more minutes, until the garlic is fragrant.

Remove from the heat and add the lemon juice, paprika, cayenne, tumeric, a touch of sea salt and ground pepper and mix well.

Place the shrimps in a large freezer bag or bowl and pour in the marinade. If needed, add a drizzle of olive oil and a little more lemon juice to make sure the marinade has an oozy consistence and covers the shrimps well. Shake the bag around (or mix everything well in the bowl) so that the marinade covers the shrimps well and let sit in the fridge for 30 minutes up to overnight.

When ready to cook, remove the shrimps from the bag or bowl, and pour the marinade in a small sauce pan. Bring to a boil, stirring constantly, then remove from the heat and reserve. Put the shrimps on wooden skewers (5 shrimps per skewer makes for 4 brochettes per helping).

Preheat a grilling pan (or barbecue, of course) over medium-high heat and spray with a touch of non-stick cooking spray. Cook the brochettes about 2 minutes on both sides, until the shrimps are pink and firm, basting them with the marinade.

We also grilled sliced ciabatta bread on the barbecue, brushed a bit of the deliciously zesty marinade on the crunchy croutons, and served the whole thing with a spicy rice pilaf.

What an incredibly tasty meal that was! Simple, and bursting with garlic and lemon flavors. The firm chewiness of the spicy shrimps on those croutons: my god!

You could be more reasonable than we were and grill yourself some bell peppers or corn on the cob, if you must have more veggies in there. Just don't forget to generously brush your veggies with olive oil and a pinch of sea salt as it grills!

It was Friday (in Verdun, no less), so we washed all that deliciousness down with some Sleeman beers, but if you feel fancy, a fruity white wine would rock those shrimps.

Sunday, 11 August 2013

Maple-Glazed Pork Tenderloin

If you've read my recipes for a while, you probably know how much I love maple syrup. You might also remember how happy I was when I discovered how delicious it is with pork chops. That recipe made me curious to see how else I could use the two ingredients together to make some tasty meals.

A recipe is mostly about a good balance of flavor (hence why sharp flavors like balsamic vinegar go so well with maple syrup), so I tested various amounts of garlic and Dijon mustard (another very good friend to pork) until I found the lip-smacking proportions that made the dish shine. I added a bit of heat with some chili flakes and it was perfect!

This recipe is now one of my weeknight life-savers: it's very easy, comes together in about 30 minutes and it is utterly delicious, in that wonderful, sticky-sweet and salty way. Add some mash potatoes (or fries, if you are feeling especially naughty) and some steamed, crispy veggies, and you have a gorgeous retro dinner to enjoy!

All-purpose flour, for dredging
1 pork tenderloin, about 1 pound
1 tablespoon butter
1 tablespoon olive oil
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 small onion, finely chopped
3 cloves garlic, finely chopped
1 teaspoon chili flakes, or more, to taste (I will use up to a tablespoon)
1 tablespoon dried thyme
1 1/2 tablespoon Dijon mustard
1/3 cup maple syrup

With the rack in the middle position, preheat the oven to 350 °F. Sometimes, cutting the tenderloin in half makes it easier to manipulate as you cook it (those loins can be BIG pieces of meat). Dust the tenderloins with flour.

In an ovenproof skillet (I used my cast iron pan), brown the meat in the butter and oil. Season with salt and pepper. Remove from the skillet. Set aside.

Add a little butter in the skillet, if necessary, and soften the onion along with the garlic, chili flakes and thyme. Add the mustard and maple syrup and simmer for about 1 minute, until it thickens.

Return the pork to the skillet and coat with the sauce.

Transfer the skillet to the oven, and bake for 20 to 30 minutes, depending on how done you like it. Remove from the oven and cover with aluminum foil. Let it rest for 5 minutes before slicing. Spoon some of the caramelized onions on top and serve garnished with fresh thyme.

The end result is so pretty, in a simple, understated elegant way. Be careful not to overcook the meat: tenderloin does have the word "tender" in it, and you definitely want that melt-in-your-mouth feeling when you tuck in. Everyone I have ever served this dish to (and a bunch of my friends who spied the picture on my Instagram) raved and begged for the recipe. Well, here it is, gluttons!!! Enjoy!

P.S. My friend Patrick tweaked the recipe a bit, and added about a shotglass worth of Disaronno to the sauce. The result made him make the following NC-17 statement: "If it this food had been sex, I would have been coming a few times each bite". This is by far the coolest recipe review, ever. I love you, Pat!!! xxxxx

Friday, 2 August 2013

Fresh Pasta Dough: A Novel

I can't believe it took me 28 years to get around to making pasta dough from scratch. I mean, I can't really go longer than 4 days without eating pasta before turning into a zombie-like creature who riffles through the pantry for a bag of spaghetti, eyes blood-shot and twitching. I should know how to make some of the stuff from the basic ingredients I always have at home... just in case...

But fresh pasta dough is a slightly intimidating recipe (at least, it was for me) and while my mother is very proud of her Italian heritage, she was also a single mom with 3 kids, leaving her little time for the delicate operation that is making your own fresh pasta, so it was one of those things I didn't get a chance to learn when I lived at home.

But I left home a long while ago: it was more than time for me to get on the task of pasta dough, but I was quite nervous to try it without some basic guidance. That was when my awesome friend Alex (king of pancakes) came to my rescue! He had the necessary know-how (an Italian chef's recipe) and hardware (the pasta-machine attachment for his Kitchen-Aid stand mixer). I hopped and skipped over to his place with my apron, and we made pasta!

What I learned is that just like pie crust dough and other so-called scary recipes, making pasta dough is a lot more simple than I anticipated! If you have a pasta machine (either the manual type or the attachment for the stand-mixer), it is time-consuming, granted, but also very straight-forward and simple. It's also a remarkably sensual process, because the only way to know if the dough is good and ready is by relying on how it feels as you are working and touching it.

Which means: no making pasta dough in a food processor!! Not ever. Get that idea out of your head right now, wash you hands, use them, and put your back into it when kneading! Alex's trick was to make me take a bit of a judo pose next to the counter (slightly on the side, right foot forward) and to make me support my weight against the counter with my right hand (I am right-handed). That is the kind of resistance you are supposed to feel when kneading pasta dough, and a food processor will never do the "stretch and fold" motion the way your hands will.

Also, when making pasta dough, clear a large working surface and keep it very clean, because this dough is sticky and will pick up anything that's laying around on the surface it's being worked on.

This recipe makes about a pound of pasta dough, which can then be cut into whatever shape your pretty little heart desires!

1 pound all-purpose flour (454 grams)
4 whole eggs
1 egg yolk
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
1 to 2 tablespoons very cold water (keep a bowl of water with a couple of ice cubes in it)
Sprinkle of sea salt

Put the flour on a clean work surface and form a deep well in the middle of the flour. Make sure the well is deep enough that it will not break when you pour the liquids in.

Put all the other ingredients in the well.

With a fork, mix the ingredients from the well and out towards the rest of the flour. Be careful not to break the well or things will get very messy.

Using a pastry scraper, scrape the sides of the well to get the flour in and continue mixing until the ingredients are forming a blob that holds itself.

Mix in any crumbs that fall out as soon as possible. Continue mixing until the dough is a ball.

Knead the ball of dough for about 10 minutes, by stretching, turning and folding it until it feels silky.

The dough is kneaded enough when it is pliable and stringy when it tears (this means gluten has developed).

Wrap the dough tightly in plastic and let rest for 30 minutes at room temperature (if using right away) or in the fridge (if using later). When ready to use, cut the ball of dough in manageable pieces and set the pasta machine on the largest setting.

Take a portion on the dough and flatten it by hand until it can be rolled. Roll the dough in the machine, fold the dough over itself, then adjust the machine to the second largest setting and roll it again. Fold the dough, adjust the machine to the third largest setting and roll it again. At first, the dough will be "veiny", a little bit like a leaf. The picture below shows dough that is not ready to use yet because you can still "see" the texture (it's not easy to capture on camera, but once you do it yourself, you can totally tell).

Repeat the three levels of rolling until the dough is uniform and very soft. This picture shows the super-smooth look of dough that is ready to be cut (again, tough to illustrate with a picture). It's really important to trust your senses here: the texture of rough-pasta dough versus ready-pasta dough is quite noticeable. It becomes incredibly light, smooth, silky and pleasant to touch.

Once the dough is ready, adjust the machine and roll it progressively (and I mean progressively! If you try to roll it too thin too fast, it will get caught in the machine and tear, and you will have to start all over again. Take. Your. Bloody. Time.) to desired thickness, then cut into the desired shape. Remember that pasta thickens as it cooks, so roll thinner than you expect to need it. It should have a nice elasticity, so don't be afraid to get it really thin, until it's a little translucent.

Most pasta machines come with cutter-rolls, that will allow you to just roll your sheet of pasta through and end up with a nice pile of fresh spaghetti or fettuccine. They also usually include what is know as a pasta bike, a little manual rolling cutter that you can use to make the little squares necessary to assemble stuffed pasta, like ravioli or tortellini.

When you cut your pieces of pasta, lay them carefully on a piece of parchemin paper until you are ready to use them. If you are making a lot of pasta and want to save space, simply cut a rectangle of parchemin paper, lay your cut dough on top, add another layer of parchemin, and so on until you are done.

If you have any dough you are not using, wrap it tightly in plastic wrap and either refrigerate it for a couple of days (bring it to room temperature before you start rolling it), or freeze it. It should keep in the fridge for about a month, like most egg doughs.

You can also dry your cut pasta to cook them later: sprinkle a bit of flour on top of your cut dough and let it air-dry for a few hours, then keep them in a sealed plastic container in the fridge until ready to cook.

Obviously, I wanted to cook with that pasta dough ASAP! The most forgiving recipes when you are still new at making fresh pasta dough is lasagnes, for a relatively obvious reason: no fancy shapes to cut! For a traditional Italian lasagne, you also need a lot of layers, so it's hard to waste fresh pasta dough on that. Alex is a mad genius who came up with an interesting and highly unusual lasagne idea that we had a lot of fun experimenting with and devouring... Stay tuned, because I will post that magnificent creation very soon!

Until then, here are a few more tips: fresh pasta cooks in hardly a couple of minutes in boiling water, so if you make linguini or agnolotti, your pasta will be ready before you've had time to blink. However, if you are baking them in a lasagne, it will take a bit longer to cook, and you really want them to fully cook: about 30 minutes in a 350 degree oven should do the trick. Undercooked fresh pasta has a very flour-y taste and texture that's not very appetizing.  On the other hand, if it is cooked well, it will all but melt your mouth.

I really want to give a huge thanks to Alex for opening his kitchen to my manic note and picture taking, and for patiently and generously sharing his knowledge with me. I had so much fun learning how to make pasta dough with him, and I learned tons of new things watching him cook. I am very impressed and humbled by the experience. I am also terribly jealous of his apron...

Thank you so much, Alex! And thanks for the pasta machine! Next time, it will be my turn to cook for you!!