Handmade Pasta: First Attempt

I was lucky enough to stumble upon a fantastic deal at my local thrift shop the other day: a hand-cranked pasta machine still in its box, for only $7.99! Given that the absolute cheapest pasta machine reatails at WalMart is $43 or so, this was one heck of a deal. Now, if you’ve been reading this blog for any length of time you’ll have heard me go on and on about how hard it is to find good ramen noodles around here, and how I really need to give it a go on my own. Here is my opportunity! Well, eventually. First, I need to master this machine — or at least become reasonably competent, anyway.

From the packaging and the printing inside the instruction manual, I’d estimate that it is from the 1970’s.

Honestly, it looks as if it’s never been used — or at least was very well taken care of. Maybe it was originally an ill-chosen wedding gift?

I followed the most basic of pasta recipes: 400g flour, four eggs, and a bit of salt. I kneaded it all together by hand, but my first go wasn’t terribly dough-like.

However, running it through the sheet setting of the pasta machine a few times helped even out the consistency.

Then Thing 2 helped me roll all the dough out into sheets — she really enjoyed herself, I think because it’s a lot like a Play-Doh machine. I know that the sheets aren’t perfect like the pictures in the cookbooks, but I thought they weren’t bad for a first attempt.

Then I ran each sheet, once again with Thing 2’s help, through the larger of the cutting wheels.

It all made enough noodles for a family dinner — although in retrospect, I think I should have rolled the sheets quite a bit thinner before slicing.

I served the homemade noodles with the last jar of basil pesto that I froze last summer, alongside a few tiny lamb chops with rosemary. Sadly, I let my attention be taken up almost entirely by making the pasta, and I overcooked the lamb quite a bit. It was still very tasty, but a bit chewy.

So lessons learned for next time: give myself more time/attention to make the pasta, and roll it out as think as possible without it falling apart. But otherwise, I think I made a passable first attempt! There weren’t any leftovers, what with the family all going back for seconds.

Birthday Dinner Woes

Yesterday was my husband’s birthday, so at his request I cooked him a special birthday dinner. I’d say that overall it was a learning experience.

The dinner itself was one of his favourites: chicken thighs marinaded in Pataks Tandoori Curry Paste and coconut milk, cooked on the smoker grill (which is finally fixed). Despite appearances, it wasn’t actually burned, although it was definitely overcooked. Now that it’s running properly, the grill heats up better and faster than before, and I failed to take that into account. As sides I toasted some garlic naan bread on the barbecue, and we also had steamed butternut squash with butter and salt. I know I’ve prepared this meal better in the past, but it was still tasty.

The difficult part — and the greatest learning experience — of my husband’s birthday dinner was actually the dessert: a frozen lemon torte. We’d had this dish at a barbecue hosted by my husband’s boss a couple of months ago, and we both really liked it. Sadly, I could only have a mouthful, as it was filled with whipping cream. As we were leaving the party I requested the recipe from my husband’s boss’ wife, and she made sure to send along a copy a few days later. Sadly, I have no idea what recipe book it comes from, since she just sent me a photocopy of the one page.

The challenge for me was making this dish without the use of cow’s milk. I was sure that I should be able to make it with coconut milk instead; internet research indicated that it is possible to make an imitation whipped cream from coconut milk. Strike 1 against me was that the milk hadn’t separated after I’d placed the can in the fridge overnight; most instructions for whipping the cream call for using only the solids from the can. I’m not sure if it’s a canning/processing technique or an added ingredient, but my coconut milk didn’t separate. Further Googling told me that I could probably make whipped cream even with non-separated coconut milk, but I would have to whip it longer (15+ minutes), use a thickening additive, and it would still only form soft peaks. Well, mine didn’t even get that thick. I whipped it with a hand mixer for almost half an hour and just got slightly fluffier milk. By this time it was almost two in the morning and I was exhausted, so I combined all of my ingredients, threw the pan in the freezer, and hoped for the best.

I was really worried about removing the springform pan after dinner, which is why I took photos in advance just in case it all fell apart without support. It wasn’t quite that bad, but it did get mushy really quickly. I’d say that the lemon layer, which was supposed to have a mousse-like texture, was a lot more like ice cream. I mean, that wasn’t bad overall, but it wasn’t what I was hoping for. Also, the lady finger bottom crust, which should have been held down by the mousse, actually floated to the top of the too-liquid lemon mix, and then froze that way. After adding the meringue on top, the cookies ended up being more of a central layer than a crust.

In the end, the torte ended up being more of an ice cream cake with a meringue topping — but at least I could eat it! I really want to have a go at this recipe again, with less of a time limit and more than one brand of coconut milk to try whipping. Actually, I noticed on a grocery store trip today that there is a brand that sells full-fat coconut cream, so that may be the next thing I try. If I ever get the non-dairy version working to my satisfaction, I will post the recipe, I promise!

Fish Fillet Sandwich on Beer Bread

I’m still trying to perfect that beer bread recipe, this time experimenting with added flavour. Although the bread is lovely plain, I really liked it with caraway seeds. I think that the recipe is just about ready to be published… Maybe next week, after I’ve tried one more test loaf.

I served the bread as part of a lightly-breaded fish fillet sandwich, and I followed this recipe to whip up some tartar sauce. I really liked the sauce, but that might have been because I am partial to the dill pickles I made last year (and am still working my way through). I served the sandwiches with cubed watermelon and the sour turnip pickles that my friend made for me (of course I didn’t eat the turnip and the watermelon together, because yuck).

Feeling the Pressure

All right, I’ll confess. I ordered pizza for the family for dinner last night. It wasn’t even particularly nice pizza, just cheap, chain fast food. After working on costumes all day, and working out, and dealing with the kids, I just didn’t have any inclination to cook. I know, I know, that’s not like me most of the time, but we all have our off days.

And it’s all because currently my cutting table looks like this:

Although Mom has been doing most of the cutting. We are doing a couple of cosplays together this year for Ottawa ComicCon (it’s a multi-generational thing in our house), so we’re working on our costumes together as well.

My basement couch looks like this:

Completely covered in what I hope are all of the materials for five (I must be insane) costumes that I have to have completed by this time next month. I mean, it’s no ridiculously large dragon, but it’s still a lot of work. And, as my husband is quick to point out, I do this to myself every. Single. Year.

I’ve been spending most of my time sitting here at the sewing table. At least one vest is almost done… But after pricking myself pretty nastily with a very sharp pin, I deemed that it was time to give it up for the night and start again with fresh eyes in the morning.

Best wishes to everyone who’s in con crunch mode right now!