Monday, March 30, 2009

Chocolate Bark

You know that you have an obsession when the only thing you can think to include in care packages is food :-). I had been searching for good ideas of fun things to send down to Florida, had already gone the video game, necessary items route, sent cookies as well, and now I was looking for one final item to send. Something that would go over well with a couple dozen men far from home.

A few months ago one of my favorite Boston based food blogs wrote a couple of entries about chocolate bark, and how well it went over with all of their friends and family. I decided to try my hand at it because it sounded easy, and like something that could weather the trip down.

I have to say -this was the easiest thing Ive ever made. I melted down extra dark chocolate chips in a glass bowl over boiling water on the stove. On a cookie sheet I rolled out wax paper and broke up pretzels into large pieces over the sheet. Then I added Reeces Pieces, and mini Vanilla Oreo Cookies. Once the chocolate was fully melted I poured it over the dry mix in the cookie sheets. I moved the concoction to the freezer, to let it set and then the next day I took a knife to it and broke it up in smaller pieces.

This stuff was delicious! The dark chocolate was just bitter sweet enough, the pretzels were salty and crunchy, the Reeces Pieces added that perfect about of peanutty-goodness and the mini oreos were just a completely different texture addition.

I momentarily considered keeping a bag of the bark for myself to munch on, but quickly sealed them both into a mailer box. So far- its been a very well received package.

Monday, March 23, 2009

Fresh Home Made Pasta, and a sausage sauce

About a year ago I made a goal for myself that I wanted to learn how to make fresh pasta. I know it isn't hard, and its so worth it, but for some reason I just never got around to doing it. Friday evening, I finally settled into my kitchen and rolled out my very first batch of fresh pasta.
I had searched all over the Internet and finally asked many friends for assistance in finding a recipe that they knew would work- I was given on that combined 1 3/4 flour, 6 egg yolks, plus one full egg, a teaspoon and a half of olive oil and a teaspoon of milk. The quantities were great- and I liked the fact that it used milk in it- many of the recipes I found didn't, and I felt as though the milk would add something to it. So I measured out my flour, and shaped it into a mound on my wooden cutting board, with a well in the center as Ive always seen it done. Then I mixed together the wet ingredients and started to pour them into the well. First mistake-my well was by NO means large enough. I ended up with a bit of a mess-the liquid spilled over the side and the idea of mixing the flour into the liquid from the inside out completely fell apart. So instead I did everything in my power to keep as much liquid on the board and mixed from there. Not the most elegant approach, and dough, flour and egg ended up in a lot of places that it shouldn't have- but it worked. I had also read that having water on hand to add is a good idea to ensure that you get the dough to the right consistency- but then I also heard that just running your hands under water and then kneading from there would add in a fair amount of water. I chose that method for fear of adding too much water other wise. So I kneaded the dough for about 10-15 minutes, until it became smooth, texturally consistent and dough like. Then I mounded it into a ball and let it rest for about a half hour.
I had purchased a pasta rolling machine a while back, so I was excited to use it for the first time- while the dough was resting I set up the machine, fastened it to my table, and read the directions. I have to say-the directions weren't very helpful- but piecing together what I'd read online and what the pamphlet said, I got it together. I cut the dough into eight slices, then, using the largest setting on the machine, I rolled the dough through the wheels. Then I rolled it through again and again using smaller and smaller settings until I got to the thickness I wanted. Occasionally I found that small holes would appear in the dough after the first roll through, but then if I folded the sheet in half and passed it through the machine the next time- the holes would disappear. I'm not sure if those holes were because of a mistake in the dough-or if those just happen. If anyone knows-please share-I'm very open to critique. After I had rolled out all 8 pieces, I then ran them each through the cutter end of the machine. It has two settings- spaghetti and fettuccine, I chose the latter. I ended up with a small bowl full of strands of fettuccine-it actually looked delicious.

I decided that I wanted to make a sausage sauce for it, not quite a Bolognese because I wanted a little tomato in it, but not quite a general red sauce. I started off by heating a pan with a little olive oil, and then adding lots of chopped garlic, red onion, red pepper flakes, a little salt and lots of parsley to the pan. Once the onions were a bit translucent, I removed the sausage from the casings, and broke it up in the pan so it would really incorporate the rest of the flavors. After the meat had browned a bit, I added about a 1/4 of a cup to a 1/3 of a cup of red wine, cooked out the alcohol and added some fire roasted tomatoes that I had in my cabinet. A little more salt, a bit more parsley and I had a tasty sauce.

I boiled the pasta for about 10 minutes, drained it, and added a few tong fulls to the sauce. Unfortunately I had made enough sauce for just me, but the pasta was enough to feed at least family of four. After mixing the pasta with the sauce for just a few moments I tonged a portion of it into a big bowl, topped it with some chopped parsley, basil and fresh mozzarella.

I have to say-this was one of the most delicious, comforting meals I've had in a while. The pasta was beautifully fresh and tender without being mush, the sauce had a slight kick to it from the fresh pepper flakes, and the fresh herbs really made it feel like it was straight from the garden. I love pasta, and though I don't allow myself to have it often- this was a great way to celebrate Friday on a cold evening.

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Thanksgiving Turkey Burgers

Lately I have been playing with the idea of a "Throwback to Thanksgiving" burger. A burger that will bring together all those great flavors of Thanksgiving while we're standing around a grill in the middle of June (yes-I'm rushing the season a bit). I feel as though Turkey is often the forgotten about bird when people consider their dinner options, and I feel as though that is quite a shame. Turkey is normally leaner than chicken, has a more pronounced taste, and is just as easily accessible in your grocery stores. I also really love substituting a Turkey burger where normally Id eat a beef burger- often the difference is incredibly subtle, and while saving some fat calories, your finding the same satisfaction as you would from a normal hamburger. I digress though, my goal was to find a way to recreate Thanksgiving in a fraction of the time, and when the snow finally melts, outside.

Up front I'd like to say that this is a work in progress. Condiments and accompaniments have yet to be determined.

I started by chopping dried cranberries, fresh sage, red onion and portabello mushrooms. In a saute pan, I heated about a tablespoon of olive oil, salt and pepper, and then added the chopped onion. Once that started to turn translucent, I added the mushrooms and the sage. Finally, a few moments later, I added the cranberries and allowed their flavors to mingle for a bit while all of the ingredients softened.

In a small mixing bowl I placed the ground turkey meat that I had purchased, (dark meat for richer flavor), and mixed in a few teaspoons of poultry seasoning. Once the veggies had cooled a bit, I added the mixture into the bowl with the turkey meat and mixed together with my hands. When there appeared to be even distribution, I divided the mixture, made it into patties, and "grilled" on my cast iron grill pan. Side note-as an apartment dweller living in the city without regular access to a real grill- I love my grill pan. I honestly don't know how I would live without it.

As it was my first trial run with them, I ate the burgers simply on wheat toast with mustard, spinach and sliced red onion. I have to say-I loved them. The sage was really present in the meat, and with the cranberries, was a perfect reminder of Thanksgiving. I can definitely picture these at a bar-b-que this summer, though now its on to think of condiments to continue the flavors with!

Restaurant Reviews: A dead art?

Last December I declared 2023 the year I would return to food writing.  It was a bold statement (even now as I look at my last published dat...