Tax Refund Coming? Think “Pasta Maker”

I love my KitchenAid Stand Mixer.  I still remember the day I brought it home, so proud and excited…I had dedicated my whole tax refund to it that year and I couldn’t be more pleased for having it. I felt like I’d hit the Big Time. It’s still my favorite appliance.

One of the perks of having a KitchenAid is that the mixers have the benefit of accepting attachments and KitchenAid makes sure there are plenty of tantalizing — and expensive — attachments from which to choose. One year, for Christmas, Santa brought me the highly coveted Pasta Maker attachment. I was SUPER excited. And then I waited almost a year to try it because I was intimidated by it. I’m not sure why.

One day I was visiting my friend and her mother-in-law decided to make pasta like it was no big deal. So, I watched her. And, it’s no big deal. Of course, she has been doing it for years, so it looked even easier and smoother than it actually is the first few times but, with a little practice you’ll see there’s nothing to fear.

So, if you have that pasta attachment — or, you’re expecting your tax refund and want to invest a chunk of it in either a KitchenAid or the pasta attachment —  I say go for it! (You could also make the dough by hand — very easy — and crank it through a much less expensive tabletop pasta roller for a lot less $$ investment and a tiny bit more time and muscle investment. )

I decided to try making some Spinach pasta the other day. I had the last of my summer pesto to use and a handful of pine nuts looking for a place to land so I gave it a whirl. Spinach has quite a bit of moisture in it, so it requires a little extra handling when you are sheeting it (putting it through the rollers). I learned this after the fact.

Flour, flour, flour.

Other advice? Don’t fall so in love with the way your pasta looks that you set it down to take pictures of it because what used to be an ethereal delicacy of thinness is now a hot mess of clumpy fresh pasta. Have the back of a chair at the ready for draping.

And flour, flour, flour.

Spinach Pasta

(from the KitchenAid Pasta Sheet Roller and Cutter Set instructions, slightly modified):

y= 1 1/2 lbs. dough

1 package (10 oz) frozen, chopped spinach, thawed

1 tbsp. water

4 large eggs (7/8 cup)

4 cups sifted all-purpose flour

Place spinach in a towel and wring out all the water until the spinach feels very dry. (I didn’t do this — I just squeezed it — so that might have contributed to my moisture situation). Finely chop spinach using a food grinder attachment, food processor, or blender. (Hmm. I didn’t do this either, but I don’t think it matters. It’s “possible” I didn’t read this part of the directions and just went at it…)

Place chopped spinach, water, eggs, and flour into mixer bowl. Use beater paddle to mix 30 seconds on Speed 2 (low). Exchange paddle for dough hook. Knead 2 minutes on Speed 2. Remove dough from bowl and hand knead for 1-2 minutes. Divide dough into 8 pieces and process with roller attachment.  Cook as you would dry pasta, but adjust cooking times down. Fresh pasta takes considerably less time to cook than dry pasta. Check after 4 minutes.

Buon appetito!

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Try This At Home, Kids!

There are lots of baking and pastry photos I take in my labs which don’t necessarily make it into a specific blog post. You can see these photos, and other interests, on Facebook on my Bean Pie And Baking page, so “Like” us on The Book! You can do that by clicking the link, or by finding the “Like” button on the right-hand side of this blog post.  And this semester, especially in my Advanced Pastry class where we sometimes divide up to produce a dozen different items, I’m coming across a lot of really good recipes. So, if you see a photo which interests you and are thinking you might want to try it at home, let me know. It’s highly likely that I could share the recipe.

Here’s a recipe we tried out last week in class. Pretty tasty, and fairly straightforward. The recipe calls for fresh figs, but we used dried figs in class and it was very nice. My only advice if you are using dried figs might be to consider the size of the serving pieces relative to the size of the sliced figs. These figs look gorgeous, but they were a bit of a mouthful. Dried figs are sticky and don’t bite cleanly — you need to take the whole piece in one bite, and half a fig can be a bit much for one bite. It can also push the goat cheese-to-fig balance a bit out of whack.

Fig and Goat Cheese Tart

Fig and Goat Cheese Galette before the edges are turned up and the galette is baked.

Candied Fig and Goat Cheese Galette

Yield = 8 –  four inch tarts

2 each Puff Pastry, pre-made sheets

1 1/2 lb. figs, fresh (can use dried, but slice into bite-sized pieces)

8 oz. goat cheese

1/2 oz. star anise

3 cups sugar

1/2 cup water

1 cup Brandy

1/2 cup honey

Combine the water, brandy, sugar and star anise into a sauce pot and bring to a boil. Cut the figs into halves or quarters (stay on the smaller side if using dried figs). Lower the heat on the poaching liquid to a simmer and add the figs. Mind you don’t boil them — keep them at a gentle simmer — you don’t want them banging around the pot getting disfigured. Poach the figs until the skin is tender, but before the meat begins to break down. Remove the star anise.

Cut the puff pastry into 5″ circles (or 4 1/2″x4 1/2″ squares) and place onto a sheet pan lined with a silpat (or parchment paper). Evenly distribute the goat cheese on each of the circles, and spread it leaving a 3/4″ rim without cheese. Arrange the poached figs decoratively onto the cheese. Fold the edges of the galette up and over toward the goat cheese to form a crust. Bake at 375 degrees F until the pastry is golden brown. Cool the galettes, then drizzle a small amount of honey onto each one.

Enjoy!

The Chocolate Zone

The finished tray of filled chocolates

The finished tray of filled chocolates

Chocolate. When she is good she is very, very good, but when she is bad, she is horrid.

Working with chocolate is a trip. It’s simple and complicated at the same time. If you get it right, you can turn out these amazing creations in a fairly straightforward manner. But get it wrong? Well, be prepared to chuck it and start over.

Maybe chocolate is like any other artistic medium: you have to get to know it if you want it to respond to you. And it is very responsive. The chocolate has to be just right, and you have to be just right. Too much caffeine today? Good luck piping that heron with the thin beak. The chocolate is ready for piping but you need some for spackling? Prepare to cool your heels while you wait and watch the chocolate cool down to what you need second by second. Let it go 30 seconds too long and you’ll be starting over so take a deep breath and focus.

I suppose that is what I am saying: chocolate requires focus. If you can prepare yourself to be highly focused and calmly relaxed at the same time, if you can get in that zone? Chocolate can be very, very good.

(Click on the photos to see them fully.)

On Being A Prepper

It turns out I was right to be nervous in “And It’s Off to the Races!,” but not quite for the reasons I thought. I was worried that the classes would be hard — which they are — and that I would be slammed for time — which I am — but I didn’t expect to be so thoroughly flummoxed by the material. I also didn’t know I was skipping ahead three classes.

You might remember that I’m back in school as a career-changer pursuing a Culinary Arts Entrepreneurship certificate. I thought that the combination of business and culinary classes sequenced in the certificate would give me great flexibility when I re-enter the job market. Then sometime around the middle of last semester — with just one semester and three classes left to go, mind you  — I decided that it didn’t offer me quite as much marketability as I wanted, so I made an eleventh-hour decision to add a second certificate — Baking and Pastry — to my load. The problem was, I didn’t want to extend my completion date, so I had to cram the additional two lab classes of my second certificate into my last semester along with the units I was already scheduled to finish. This resulted in my having to take three pastry labs simultaneously. That’s a lot. Not a lot of people sign onto that plan. I knew this would make me crazy, but I decided it was necessary. I consulted my advisor, explained my time constraints, was approved, and set everything in motion.

It turns out that the reason people generally don’t take three labs at a time is because not only does it make you mean as heck but it places you in the very vulnerable and delicate position of concurrent learning. That is to say that tasks in one class are largely dependent on skills learned in one or all of the other classes. Which, if you took those classes last semester, is fabulous. If, like me, you are taking them all RIGHT NOW you just cross your fingers that the skill you are going to need in class “C” on Friday is one you’ll learn in classes “A” or “B” on Monday (because, naturally, two of my labs have to be back-to-back gracing me with a 12-hour stint on Mondays). Otherwise, you’re screwed.  To make things even more delicious, one of the courses I’m in is largely premised on two classes not required for my certificates so when I had the feeling that first day of class that everybody knew what was going on but me…well, I was right.

And anyone who knows me knows I hate not knowing what’s going on. I self-identified as an over-achiever in “For the Curious and the Stout-Hearted: Year One Reflections”  (which I continue to believe is an asset, not a liability). I take school very seriously — way too seriously, actually — and I try to prepare and prepare until not one thing is left to chance.  I’m an academic prepper. And, usually, this pays off. But I might have met my match. Because no amount of normal — or even my customary brand of way overboard — preparation can make up for what I don’t know. Still I tried. I spent the last two weeks (which has actually felt like an eternity) in mental overdrive trying to figure out how to get this situation back under control. I ordered three of the extra “Recommended” texts. I spent hours watching pastry videos on the internet.  I even asked if I could have all the Power Point slides from the other classes I didn’t have to take so I could read them to try to catch up. That’s how badly I wanted to be prepared. (That request was denied, by the way.)

What a nut, right? And that’s when I knew I had to let it go.

Socrates placed great value on knowing that you don’t know something. He thought that true learning could happen best when you proceed from the acknowledged place of not knowing because when you are aware you do not know something you are then glad for the chance to learn the thing you don’t know.**

I don’t have a problem admitting what I don’t know, but I learned that I might have a problem with allowing myself to be in that state for very long. I’ll struggle to get out of it as quickly as possible even if it makes me (and the people who have to listen to me) frantic. I’m results-driven, not process oriented. I always think things could be happening faster which is why I am usually looking at you like I want you to hurry up when you are explaining something. (You only need to say it once, friend.) But, sometimes, it seems, when you are rather thoroughly out of your element, you actually have to go through the process in the ordinary way complete with all its slow, messy, uncertain parts. And I am going to try to not let that drive me crazy.

So maybe they did me a favor by not letting me have those notes. I might not get an “A” in this class as a result — and I’ll have to figure out how to let that go — but I’m pretty sure I’m going to learn a lot because I clearly have a lot to learn.

Stay tuned for some really cool pictures.

**(You can read this very interesting argument in full for yourself if you care to work your way through Plato’s “Meno.”)