Saturday, December 31, 2011

Agnolotti of Leeks, Kale and Magic Nuts

I have a modest kitchen. Since it's just Heather and me eating, I don't need to cook large quantities of anything, so I don't need a large pantry for staples, I get by with a normal civilian range and oven, and I don't like gadgets so I don't need storage for a crap like a duck press, egg slicer and cherry stoning machine. In a normal week's cooking I'll literally only need one knife, one skillet, one pasta pot and one rice pan. Occasionally I'll break out the dutch oven if I need to braise something or bake bread, but that's about it. I sometimes use a food processor, but they seem a little bit too fiddly for most chores and they're annoying to clean. We don't have a dish washer, and Heather, bless her heart, has never washed a dish in her life, so the less I have to clean, the better. I own a KitchenAid mixer but I haven't used it in years, and I don't have any attachments for it. I'm solidly against attachments, because they require attaching, detaching, cleaning and other things that aren't cooking. I'm pretty sure the KitchenAid is in the cupboard under the toaster but I'm not sure. I suppose I'll find out when we move.

About the only gadget I don't mind is the pasta machine. If you're going to make pasta, you either need a giant work surface and long pin for rolling it out by hand, which I don't have, or a pasta machine and a nine-inch square spot on the counter. That's my jam right there, the nine-inch one.*

I make cut pasta sometimes, but that requires an attachment**, so I'm more likely to cut sheets of pasta with a knife, or just use dry pasta from the store. Usually if I'm making fresh pasta it's for ravioli of some kind. I don't have any ravioli molds, so usually I just fold the pasta over the middles into little agnolotti or sometimes use a glass to cut circles for mezzalune.

Tonight's pasta was a way to use up the remaining kale from a massive kale indulgence brought on by some particularly nice bunches at the fruit stand. I had some endive, kale and a leek, and made a plan to stuff ravioli with the mixed greens and serve with some browned butter. I cut some bacon into 1/2-inch cubes and started them rendering in the skillet with a little olive oil, then added the leek to get it wilted. I like almonds with greens, so as an experiment I added a bunch of chopped cashews and almonds to the skillet. More about them later, they did magic. While all that was underway I stripped the green kale leaf web off the stems and chopped it into ribbons.

When the leek was tender I added the kale and salted everything. The kale goes in before the other leaves because it takes more time to cook. If I were using collards I'd put them in first, same with beet, turnip or mustard greens. Softer greens like escarole, frisee, spinach, celery leaf, herbs -- basically anything you might eat uncooked -- take much less time to cook, and can disintegrate if cooked too long. I'm always charmed by how much the volume of fresh greens cooks down. You start with an afro and end up with a burr. I chopped up the curly endive, and once the kale had wilted I added the endive and a handful of both celery and mint leaves, which have the effect of brightening any cooked greens..

Sometimes greens can have a slightly dank, musty undertaste, so when everything was tender, I took it off the fire and added a splash of rice vinegar to keep the muddiness at bay. I didn't want to make a puree out of it while it was still hot, because the bowl of the processor is plastic and I seldom feel comfortable about putting hot things in plastic, not just because I might distort the plastic, but because maybe some mutagen chemical could cook out of it and I'd get face cancer or grow a dick out of each armpit. I tasted a bit of the greens and liked them, but doubted the wisdom of adding nuts because they didn't seem to be doing anything. How little I knew then.

I turned my attention to the pasta, which was the same simple recipe I've used forever. I put enough flour on the counter (I guess it's about a cup and a half), then crack an egg into the middle of it, making a little well, add an additional egg yolk, some salt and a spoonful of olive oil, then start stirring the egg with a fork, gradually incorporating more flour into it until it becomes a mass of dough, then grab the whole pile and knead it with the remaining flour until it comes together as pasta. I used semolina this time, but the same basic technique works with almost any kind of flour. It seems like the flour will bind with the eggs until satisfied, then no more flour joins the party, so you basically can't fuck it up. I'm all for things I can't fuck up.

I kneaded the pasta for a while to develop the gluten and make it elastic enough to stretch around the middle of the agnolotti, which I expected to be lumpy from the nuts,*** then put it aside to rest for a few minutes. If you let fresh pasta rest before you roll it, it doesn't retract after rolling as much and rolls down to thickness easier.

Then the magic happened. I put the greens in the basket of the food processor and pulsed them. When I stopped to check the consistency, I grabbed a pinch and tasted it, and was surprised to find that the nuts had given up some of their fat **** and emulsified the greens into a creamy mousse. It was both richer and nicer to eat than the greens straight out of the skillet. I suddenly felt like a goddamn genius and like I invented something and started hollering for the patent attorneys again. I couldn't wait to get the pasta ready.

I rolled the pasta out in a scorched panic, laid it out on the table in yard-long strips and filled it with the greens like I was trying to win a medal in it. Only then did I realize I had no water boiling yet. I sorted that out, and while the water was coming up I ran out into the alley and grabbed a couple of big fuzzy leaves off Old Man Sage. It's incredible, Old Man Sage is still happy out there in his bucket in the dead of winter, laughing, pimping, dancing on the graves of all the other herbs. When I got back indoors, the water had come up to boil, so I salted it and tossed in the agnolotti, and while they boiled I browned the sage in the skillet with some butter and garlic.

 The sage butter was ready precisely when the agnolotti were, so I strained them into the skillet and tossed them until the butter and the residual pasta water emulsified into a light sauce. I plated the agnolotti, dusted them by grating the last of the homemade cheese and decorated them with finely sliced scallions and black pepper.

The nut transformation was evident even inside the pasta, making the greens rich and smooth, and the toasted flavor of the nuts made the agnolotti more complex, which married nicely with the butter sauce. Made it worth breaking out two gadgets for one meal.

* Said the Bishop to the Actress
** Said the salesman in the sex shop
*** Said the Bishop to nobody in particular. Maybe an actress.
**** Bishop again.

Friday, December 30, 2011

Food Friday: Sauerkraut and Oysters

"I like your cooking , I just don't like it when you cook stuff from 1870."
      --My youngest son to me after being asked why he didn't like Pink Stuff.

Contrary to popular belief I do not make my children eat foods from the 1870s, for the most part. For the Holidays I decided to go ahead and make Pink Stuff, a jello dish I described in a previous post. While the adults loved it, the children were less then thrilled. They complained that the mixture of ingredients sounded awful (dry jello, cool whip, pineapple and cottage cheese) and that they didn't like the texture of cottage cheese.

Honestly, that suited all of us adults fine because that meant there was more for us.

For this Food Friday, I am posting a recipe for a dish where the ingredients don't sound like they would be good together but like Pink Stuff, this dish might be great. Sauer Kraut and Oysters is not a combination most people eat today. However, I love sauerkraut and like to imagine dishes aside from hot dogs were its use is embraced. 

This recipe is from the "Cloud City" Cook Book by Mrs. Wm H. Nash (Ladies Congregational Church). Leadville:Co. Herald Democrat Steam Book and Job Printing House. 1889. Available from Internet Archive at . The recipe was submitted by Mrs. Werner and can be found on page 44.

The history of Oysters in the United States is an interesting one. Our ancestors loved oysters and they were plentiful . I would highly recommend the book by Mark Kurlansky. The Big Oyster: History on the Half Shell. New York: Ballantine Books, 2006.

Friday, December 23, 2011

Food Friday: Oh The Things We Eat During The Holidays

I love that the Holiday season is like a time of free reign over eating pretty much everything and anything. Foods you would not eat during the rest of the year become fair game during the winter months.

So what types of things do you eat during the Holidays? I came across a series on unique holiday foods on NPR called Chompsgiving to Chew Year's: Holiday Dishes. This is a great series that shares family recipes and I highly recommend it.

From Flickr Commons
One of the reminiscence in this series is about ambrosia salad. Entitled, When Ambrosia Salad Spells Dread it tells the story of one man's repulsion to a jello dessert that in my family was officially called "Pink Stuff."

Now I must admit that I was considering making it for our Christmas luncheon. I like the stuff and I wonder what's not to like; it has dry jello folded into Cool-Whip with cottage cheese and fruit. It's not like some jello salads that I have seen recipes for that include ingredients like fish and cheese.

But to each his own. The one lesson in this is, write down those holiday recipes that are unique to your family so they can be passed down the generations.

Here is our family's recipe for the Pink Stuff though this is just one variation of the salad. I've also heard of people adding different canned fruits and even nuts.

Pink Stuff
This is a Jello dessert salad that my mom would make to serve at different holiday dinners.

1 package Strawberry Jello (You are using it in powdered form, do not prepare it)
1 tub of Cool Whip
1 contained of Cottage Cheese (small curd)
1-2 cans of mandarin oranges

Mix all the above ingredients together, mix well or the Jello crystals won’t dissolve. Once mixed, put in the refrigerator for a few hours to “set.”

You can choose to use different flavors of Jello and different fruit combinations.

Friday, December 9, 2011

Food Friday: Sandwich Spread

Is it just me or do sandwiches always taste better when someone else makes them? I can use the same ingredients as a friend but when she makes the sandwich it tastes so much better. Maybe that explains the popularity of sandwich places where you pick what you want but someone else makes the sandwich right before your eyes. You could make your own gigantic sandwich at home but one a stranger makes tastes different, even with the same ingredients.

Today's Food Friday comes from the Ladies' Auxiliary of the Illinois Rural Letter Carriers Associaiton (1935).

From the Collection of Gena Philibert-Ortega

What could make a sandwich even better is if you used a sandwich spread.  The following recipes may provide you some ideas for a homemade sandwich spread. These recipes also provide ideas for any green tomatoes that you might have.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

War Time Food: Remembering Pearl Harbor

World War II in the United States was a time that affected all Americans. If we just focus on food, civilians were encouraged to eat less meat, use up all they had and grow as much as they could. Publications and propaganda posters of the time suggested ways to can and preserve foods, grow victory gardens, and how to substitute certain foods. Ration coupons helped insure supplies of both food and goods.

As you think about preserving your family's food heritage, consider finding out more about what your family ate during World War II. Look around your home and the home of relatives for cookbooks, recipes from newspapers, recipe booklets, and ration stamp books. Ask your family questions.

Bringing up the subject of food during World War II might stir up memories in family members you are interviewing. Some types of questions to consider might revolve around how what they ate was different during the war years (consider things like alternative meats that were consumed, food substitutes and rationing). Did the family grow and preserve their own foods to supplement what they purchased? What recipes do they remember from this time period?

Food history is a part of your family history. Now is the time to record this more recent food history so it's not lost to future generations.

Friday, December 2, 2011

Have You Documented the Holiday Foods You Ate?

In my Thanksgiving blog posting, Thanks for the Memories: Thanksgiving I provided some ideas for questions to answer about your memories of Thanksgiving. The Advent Calendar of Christmas Memories, a month long series of blogging prompts, encourages bloggers to write up their Holiday food memories for December 2nd.

Check out the blog for links to blogger's posts about food memories. Remember, you don't have to be a blogger to record your food memories. That information can be included in a journal, family history book or a family cookbook.

Food Friday: Cheese Loaf

Cookbook appears courtesy of Gary Clark,
Now my true confession for this Food Friday is that I love cheese. Cheese is my food downfall and probably will result in a future heart attack. However, the following recipe for Cheese Loaf makes me wonder what the end result would taste like. The combination of cottage cheese and peanut butter is... interesting. This recipe is from the Bentley (Kansas) Community Cookbook 1942.

 It's hard for me to imagine how you would use this. Would you slice it for a sandwich? Would you use it as a side dish? If you have partaken of the Cheese Loaf, please feel free to leave a comment for this posting and let me know.

The onions and peanut butter in this  recipe also reminds me of a jr. high school history teacher I once had who enjoyed peanut butter and onion sandwiches. (But that recipe will be left for a future Food Friday).