Monday, April 30, 2012

A Sweet Start

Sweet ricotta  handkerchief    

When I was looking for a good recipe to make semolina pasta, I came across some interesting facts. It is a well know fact that pasta's delicious history goes back thousand of years. But what was a discovery to me is that pasta was an elitist food of the wealthy up until the nineteen century, same century when pasta met tomato! 
Two hundreds years later, and pasta is a very affordable food for poor and/or unemployed (like me). 
Another interesting fact about pasta is that at first it was served with sweet seasonings and fruits. I can do it, was my thought this morning. So I quickly stirred up some dough and made my all time favorite (as of today): 

Sweet ricotta on a handkerchief with a strawberry jam... 


  • 7 2x2 inches (5x5 cm) squares of pasta fresca (fresh pasta) -  handkerchief 
  • 1/2 cup ricotta cheese
  • 2 tablespoon strawberry jam (or any other jam)

Cook pasta squares to al dente, drain. Place handkerchief  on a plate, top with a teaspoon of ricotta, then place another handkerchief, another teaspoon of ricotta. Them top with a strawberry jam (it will run down your handkerchief "mountain"). Serve immediately.

Have a sweet week, my friends!

See you, 

Sunday, April 29, 2012

Strawberry Jam

Strawberry jam with Pecorino Romano cheese - my favorite!

I love the taste of homemade jam with a real berries in it, just as my grandmother use to make it. I love to smell a strawberry all over the room when I open a jar. I love to pull a spoon full of strawberries with a dark thick liquid sliding over the sides... And as I lick the drippings from the bottom of the spoon, I love to close my eyes and dive into the strawberry "nirvana"... That's what the real strawberry jam is all about for me. 

Here is how my grandmother use to make it, my mother makes it, I follow their recipe, and I hope my kids would do it too.

I have much more fun if I pick the strawberries...

Start with a strawberries, I like to use the smaller size, if available. Wash it, remove the stem, and measure.
For many generations in my family the ratio stays the same: two parts of strawberries to one part of sugar (*- see note below). 
Cover the berries with sugar in a pot it will be cooked, and let it sweat to release the juice (it would take about 3-4 hours). Then place the pot on the stove and bring it to a boil, reduce the heat to a medium high and boil it for 5 minutes, stirring it once or twice. 
Turn the heat off, skim all the foam on the top, and let it cool completely. Make sure the area is clean and pot is away from a heavy kitchen traffic so nothing gets into the pot.  
Repeat the boiling and skimming process three times, letting the jam to cool completely between the boiling.  
After the third boiling, pour the jam into a clean jars (** - see note below), let it cool and place in the dry cool area for a storage. I keep mine in the refrigerator. Mother keeps hers in the cool basement (cellar).

Mother calls this recipe "Five minutes in tree days jam" as she cooks it three times during three days before she cans it (so do I). 

* Note: many books and USDA website suggest using twice more sugar and pectin to make strawberry jam. 
** Note: follow the canning guide.

Have a sweet week! 

See you,

Saturday, April 28, 2012

All Jammed Up

What was I doing since my last post? Making jams, all kinds of it: strawberries, black mulberries, even chilli jam. I was picking berries for the jams, then cleaning it, cooking it, then canning it... See for yourself...

Strawberry jam

Black mulberry jam, and strawberry jam

Black mulberry jam

Chilli-quince jam

Chilli jam was an unexpected creation. A good friend gave me about two liters (1/2 gallons) of frozen quince juice. When I boiled it and tasted to decide what to do with it, this jam came right up to my mind. Quince juice's tartness that was complimented by the kick from the chilli pepper, enhanced by added sugar. The taste was superb: I tried it on my sandwich, with a chicken, and in a salad dressing. I also had it plain with a tea. We loved it so much that it's almost gone. 

Chilli-quince jam

Have a cup of mint tea with a jam and come back for recipes.

Mint tea with lemon

See you,

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Mastering the Pasta Dough


While Julia Child, one of the greatest and my favorite chefs, was mastering the art of French cooking, I've been mastering the art of Italian cooking lately. I think the fact that I was born about 600 miles East from Italy has something to do with my tastes and preferences, specifically in pasta department. See for yourself: I grew up on polenta, different types of homemade pasta, lots of vegetables, homemade breads and cheese. Those Southern European countries, kissed by the sun, have many similarities in their cuisines. Since I discovered lately that I do love pasta, homemade and fresh, I went on a quest to find out more.

"Remember to stay away from mass-produced cheap pasta, you will just be disappointed come dinnertime" warned Justin Demetri
Well, I know that the hard way, ten-years-of-hating-anything-pasta-way. 
I was disappointed and I didn't eat pasta until mother came to the rescue: during her visit last winter she made some pasta and I fell in love with it again. 
Then mother showed me the family recipe and I've been rolling since. Making pasta is a  fun process and is considered to be a meditation, especially the kneading part (I do it by hands). 

Semolina flour

I've read that semolina flour is quite tricky to work with so I decided to try it slowly: I made the first batch with two parts of regular flour (unbleached unbromide wheat flour) and two parts of semolina flour. I did add 4 eggs and four tablespoons of water. 
How did it go? Here is the evidence:

I let it rest with hope that gluten will develop and it would be easier to work with...

Not exactly the way I wanted it to go. 
Something was wrong: a) not enough moisture or b) not enough kneading. I think it's both. If you have another idea, please, do let me know. 
It had to be fixed by more kneading, I thought... 15 minutes later still the same results. 


And the dough was though to knead, at some point I  would jump and press on it with all my weight , then jump and press again... My arms were getting sore but the dough was still stubborn and not elastic. 
Then I decided to add more water. That's a very tricky part, it's easier (and better) to add flour than to add water. 

Roll, pat with some water, fold and repeat... (my way of fixing the dough)

What I did was I ran the small pieces of dough through pasta roller, then I would rinse my hands and pat the dough with my hands, then I would fold the dough in half and pat again, repeating this process a few time until I had a perfect elastic dough coming through.

...until it came out just perfect.

I spent five (!) hours doing this but the result was totally worth it. 
Now, don't get discouraged by my experience. I experimented without researching first (semolina flour needs more water, and I know it now! - the hard way, though), and my first college degree in food microbiology helps me to get things done most of the time.

Over sized bow ties :)

Do your homework, find a recipe you like and be patient: dough loves attention. Allow yourself plenty of time to knead the dough, turn on some music (Italian maybe?!) and relax during the process. I assure you, the result is fantastic. 
I make both fresh and dry pasta (which is fresh pasta that is let to dry for about 50 hours or so), and this pasta I certainly can eat every day, cooked al dente!

I was playing with different shapes of pasta...:)

I think I found out why I can't eat store bought pasta: the taste of pasta enhances if you air dry it, preferably on the sun (that's how I remember grandmother and mother made it).  I've seen pictures with rows of pasta drying outside in Italian towns, a very fascinating view.  And the best flour to make dry pasta is semolina flour.
My next challenge will be a pasta dough made with 100% semolina and water (which is required by Italian law for dry pastas!), then dried outside on the sun. 
However, it won't be in the next post. :)

The Pasta Eater, Pasta Agnesi Museum, Oneglia

I sure NEED to go to Italy to learn to make pasta from the best! 
Wouldn't you?

See you,

Monday, April 23, 2012

Ravioli (Mastering the Pasta Dough)

Ricotta cheese ravioli

Over the weekend I have "mastered" the semolina flour pasta dough. It was challenging but outcome was beyond my expectation. I was surprised by the taste of pasta and ravioli, and that inspired me to work on my pasta making skills.

Pasta with a cottage cheese and a lemon zest. Simple and tasty.

Next time I will tell you what obstacles I had to overcome and how I managed to do it. Quite fun experience if you ask me!

What surprised you today? What inspired you? 

See you,

Sunday, April 22, 2012

Just to Enjoy Day


This weekend The Husband was at home, and for a change he wasn't "hiding" behind a barricade of all sorts of medical books. He had a real "just-to-enjoy" weekend.  
Saturday morning, we had a lazy breakfast with coffee and a strawberry jam. Then we got in the car and went on a little road trip to Bentonville and Fayetteville. Teenager refused to come with us, claiming his weekend sleep. 
Our thirst for an art was satisfied at Crystal Bridges Museum.

George Henry Smillie Coastal Scene, New York

Charles Demuth, Sail: In Two Movements

Mary Cassat Summertime

William Trost Richards Along the Shore

Hans Hofmann, Sun at the Wall

And more sun outdoor...

...while hiking numerous trails around the museum

With a lifted spirit we headed for a bite at the museum coffee shop. 
Oh yes, I need that dessert please!

Next stop: the brewery we heard has some good beer to offer. 
Well, I have to admit, not only the beer: I had my best ever portobello mushroom burger. The Husband loved the beer, as designated driver I loved a little taste and atmosphere at the bar. We certainly would go back.

On the way home we were singing along with a radio. 
And what a beautiful "just-to-enjoy" day it was! 

Life is not just black and white, or gray. 
It has many colors, we only need to stop and see it.
Have a good week, and have a simple things to enjoy, my friends!

See you,

Friday, April 20, 2012

Remember this? Pan Fried Potatoes

Pan fried potatoes, garlic wedges, radish and grilled chicken

On Friday nights we often have a relaxing dinner with wine, simple food, a movie (from Netflix) or guitar music (from the Husband). Tonight wasn't exception. The theme was college, not intentionally, it just came out that way. 
We went to different colleges, lived in different dorms, but the student atmosphere was the same: a daily dose of happiness with a little money, a very little time, and a little food. And we made sure to take it all in.

Pan fried potatoes - favorite student's food!

Most desirable food for most college students was pan fried potatoes in which my husband would have a PhD. It's not just a simple process of frying in a cast iron pan some sliced potatoes, no. 
It's rather a student's ritual of gathering with friends, peeling a couple of kilograms of potatoes, cutting it into long strips, while chatting (or gossiping) and sipping some wine. 
When potatoes go into the skillet it's important when to turn it: not too early to prevent it from mushing, and not too late (burned potatoes don't taste good, you know that, right?). 
How do you know when it's the right time? One guitar song - time to turn, another song - turn again. Third song - turn, season and cover. And the forth song - set the table, pour the wine, and grab your fork!  

Dinner tonight

Have a daily little dose of fun, my friends!

Music, especially guitar music, makes everything better. Add some good wine and enjoy! 

What was your favorite college meal?

See you,

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Infused Strawberries Drink

I find this drink to be better when it's made during the strawberries season. And it's healthier when you buy your strawberries on a Farmer's Market or pick it yourself. Those strawberries have all the aroma and flavor (you should smell my house - no air freshener would perfume my home finer!) 
With a lot of strawberries in the house after a couple of trips to the Wild Things Farm, I had everything needed to make this cold, refreshing and beautiful drink. 

You need a cup of strawberries, cut;  4-5 fresh mint leaves, 2 liters (1/2 gallon) of water and sugar to taste. Sugar actually is optional (but mandatory for the Teenager!). 
Place all ingredients in a small jar (enough to fit), boil some water and pour to over the strawberries. Cover it with a coffee filter and let stand for 12 hours (I usually leave it overnight). Then stir the infusion and transfer through a strainer into a pitcher. 
Add the remaining water and enjoy! Strawberries and mint wed perfectly in this drink. And your kitchen would smell so good you would want to linger there longer, maybe to make some dessert?! 

What is your favorite way to use strawberries?

See you,

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Hello, Strawberries!

With a very mild winter and an early spring strawberries are in season and are ready to pick up. 
This morning I decided to skip the gym and went to the Wild Things Farm (6 miles from home) to pick some fresh strawberries. I defended myself with a though that I would still have some workout (crawling on my knees, lifting not to heavy buckets) and a good dose of vitamin D (which I can't get at the gym!)

Rows of inviting red drops on each side...

Cute one

Another pretty ones

It took me about 30 minutes to fill up those two buckets, and I wasn't rushing myself

Is there anything can be fresher than this?!

The Wild Things Farm: I had my yoga mat in the car... the place is inviting...

I came home and was "greeted" by my sweet peas...

My favorite...

Have a great day, my friends! 
Come back for more Stroberieada!

See you,