Sunday, May 26, 2013

Homemade cannelloni



I have an ongoing battle with myself. It happens in the grocery store, at the farmers’ market, at Costco. Every time I walk past a packet of fresh pasta, whether it’s noodles or ravioli or whatever, I have a momentary urge to make it mine, regardless of what I’ve put on the meal plan for the week and am supposed to be buying at that moment. My appetite for fresh pasta is insatiable.

But then the battle happens. It’s entirely internal, and it goes something like this:

Id: Ooooh, fresh pasta! Let’s have some of that.

Super-ego: Look at that price! What a rip-off! We could make that at home for a fraction of that cost.

Id: But it’s so much work. And I want some now.

Super-ego: Tough toenails. Homemade is not only way cheaper, it tastes about a million times better and it’s not that much work. We’re not wasting money or calories on this garbage.

Id: But I want some noooow.

And so it goes. The super-ego almost always wins; after the economic and aesthetic arguments are exhausted, we can always move on to the political/moral arguments (we shouldn’t encourage Big Food; whatever happened to concentrating on single-ingredient items? etc., etc.) until the id, which really has only the one argument, caves.

And every so often, the id is rewarded with a batch of homemade pasta – inexpensive, delicious, and morally upright. (Probably super-calorific as well, but who’s counting?)

Homemade cannelloni

These give you all the flavors of ravioli with a lot less work. For making, I follow essentially the same procedure as for making ravioli, with two significant differences:

1)    I mix a batch of sautéed greens (spinach, kale, chard – whatever you’ve got going on) into the filling.
2)    After rolling out the dough, I cut it into squares, place filling as shown, roll up, and place in a baking dish.



As with ravioli, I think serving these with a basic marinara sauce (I put some in the bottom of the baking dish, spread some over the cannelloni, and keep some more hot on the stove for serving) and topped with a shower of grated pecorino romano is the best way of showing off the flavor combination.

Saturday, May 18, 2013

Sniffling Saturday



I have a cold. A knock-you-flat, no-energy, even-spicy-Thai-food-doesn’t clear-your-fuzzy-head cold. A sneezing-so-hard-I-may-have-just-sprained-something cold. A so-zonked-I-can’t-think-of-one-coherent-thing-to-say-in-this-blog-post cold.

DP has it too. And he never gets sick. Especially not so sick that he cancels things on the schedule, which he did today, rainchecking a dinner guest invited for tonight until next week. Probably for the best, since the very thought of cooking anything beyond the most basic dinner makes me want to go lie down. To say nothing of passing this germ along to an unsuspecting visitor.

But after having sat aimlessly at the computer for a good chunk of time, when I had intended to do something productive (why, I don’t know), I thought I could at least share my latest successful jam-making experiment. I don’t have a recipe as such, because I kind of wing-it with jam-making nowadays. I followed my usual procedure (based on Julie’s jam without a recipe), using these components:

~8 green pears
~6 purple plums
raw sugar (half as much sugar as fruit)
lemon juice (~2 Tbsp/kilo of fruit, or ~1 Tbsp per pound)
a chunk of fresh ginger (~2.5 cm/1 in long), peeled and grated finely
generous sprinkles of cinnamon, cardamom, and nutmeg

I chopped and cored/stoned the fruit; I didn't peel it, but put it through my food mill when the fruit has softened completely. And produced Spiced Pear-Plum Jam – otherwise known as Autumn in a Jar. Perfect on toast on a chilly Canberra morning, and something for you northern types to file away for about five months from now.

Thursday, May 16, 2013

Wednesday digest


Sydney, May 2013 - nearly-winter here not quite the same as nearly-winter in Canberra! 
Here I am again, getting caught up with the latest happenings around casa RL.

Work/school Pleased to report that DP worked from home one day last week! I can’t remember the last time that happened. He did school drop-off and pick-up, and we went out to lunch alone together for possibly the first time since before we left Missouri last May. Miss B is immersed in Term 2, and the other day ran in the school-wide cross-country event. Each senior student (years 3-6) in her school is assigned to one of four houses, which compete against each other in various events, so on cross-country day they divvied up the entire school into houses, who sat on the junior oval, cheering on their housemates and generally making a ruckus when it wasn’t their turn to run an event. With the rest of the kids born in 2004, Miss B ran two circuits of the grounds, for a distance totaling 2 km. Given that a) Miss B is the smallest kid in Year 3 and b) kids who were born in 2005 who tower over her only had to run one circuit, I was thoroughly impressed with her perseverance and spirit in finishing the course. As for me, I am already up to my ears in preparations for my .org’s next major meeting, which happens in mid-September. Even though I know rationally that this is four months away, it feels as though it’s just around the corner because there’s so much stuff we’ve got to put in place now, before people start booking their travel arrangements.

Recreation This kind of overlaps with work, but I was thrilled to discover another member of my .org who is based in Canberra. (This brings the total, as far as I know, to three of us.) She brought her two little ones over for tea (adults), slab scones (everyone), and a play (children) the other day. Between bouts of wrangling three children among two adults, we managed to have some grownup conversation about work stuff that we’re both interested in and might collaborate on – very nerdy and enjoyable. Makes me realize how much I miss having people around who understand what the heck I’m talking about most of the time. In other news, we took the new car out for its first road trip and went to Sydney for the weekend. DP not only voluntarily went shopping on George Street (Sydney’s main shopping district) on Saturday afternoon, it was his idea. (This is ‘what have you done with my real husband?’ territory.) He took Miss B to a hobby shop so that could look at trains and planes and so on, and I got to browse in Dymock’s by myself. For a whole hour. It was blissful.

Food Nothing revolutionary to report on the cooking front; I’ve been trying out some other people’s recipes, and revisiting some of my own favorites:
Weather All the soup is because it’s suddenly cold for real in Canberra – as in, time-to-break-out-the-winter-coats cold. And getting dark at 5pm. Still weird to have that happening in May.

How about you?

Saturday, May 4, 2013

Gratin dauphinois


This is a dish that has frustrated me for years; I love it, but I never seemed to get consistent results when I made it. One time it would be cooked to perfection; the next time the potatoes would be cooked inconsistently, or the sauce would be too thin and sloppy, or some other disappointing variation. (And the latter seemed to happen much more often than the former. Even though I thought I was doing the exact same thing every time.)

Then, a few years ago, I came across a book called Don't Sweat the Aubergine: What Works in the Kitchen and Why, which actually explains what happens when you follow the steps of a recipe. In the section on gratin dauphinois, I found the following sentence: "It is impossible to give a recipe that you can guarantee will work every time." (What a relief to know it wasn't just my ineptitude!) The author, Nicholas Clee, then goes on to enumerate the many variables that can affect how the recipe works, including size and composition of the cooking vessel, absorption of the potatoes, etc. He also suggests - revolutionarily, for me - that you should heat all the ingredients on the stovetop before putting the gratin in the oven. He proposes using a saucepan to start, and then tipping the heated ingredients into a casserole dish to go in the oven, but when I revisited this recipe recently, I decided that this made unnecessary work and washing up, plus made the final presentation somewhat sloppy. Therefore I called one of my beloved cast iron skillets into service to do double duty. I've made gratin using this method twice in recent weeks, versus once using the cold-into-the-casserole-and-the-oven method, and the skillet/heating method wins hands down. Try it for yourself.

Gratin dauphinois
Adapted slightly from Don't Sweat the Aubergine by Nicholas Clee
This is a great dish to make when you're having company for dinner, as all the prep is done well ahead of time and then the potatoes can bake away quietly in the oven while you get on with other things. Plus anything made with this much cream is probably better shared with a group.

1 medium-sized potato per adult being served
butter
1 clove garlic, minced
salt 
1 cup/8 oz/240 ml full cream*
.5 cup/4 oz/120 ml milk*

Heat the oven to 325F/160C. Slice the potatoes thinly ("no thicker than a pound coin" - about .25-inch thick, or .5-cm; I use a mandoline for this) into a bowl of cold, salted water. They can be held like this for a bit if you have other things to do before assembly.

When ready to assemble the gratin, grease the inside of the skillet lightly with butter. Drain the potatoes and arrange in the skillet in layers, sprinkling strategically with salt and bits of garlic. Continue until you have used up all the potatoes.

Mix together the milk and cream in a small jug or measuring cup and pour over the potatoes, until the liquid is level with the top layer. If necessary, add more milk to ensure that this happens.

Place the skillet on the stovetop over medium heat and leave until liquid is bubbling around the edges and you can feel warmth coming from the potatoes when you hold your hand above the skillet. (I usually put a lid on the skillet to help this process along.)

When the gratin is heated through, remove the lid (if using) and place the skillet in the oven uncovered. Leave to cook for 1 - 1.5 hours, or until the surface has browned and the liquid has reduced and thickened.

In my experience, this holds together better and slices more neatly if you can let it sit for about 10 minutes after coming out of the oven.

Serve directly from the skillet.


* These amounts should provide enough liquid to cover about 4 potatoes' worth of slices, insofar as it's possible to predict with this recipe.
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