Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Pasta pasta....

SOPHIA LOREN has revealed the secret behind her enduring beauty: spaghetti and olive oil baths. The 71-year-old actress was recently voted the most naturally beautiful person in the world, beating stunning stars less than half her age. She credits her love of life and spaghetti and "the odd bath in virgin olive oil". Now I didn't need that reason to propose a pasta making party for my moms group but it certainly helps validate our reason that eating pasta is definitely a good thing and especially when it is made from scratch...

Five eager friends and their toddler children turned up at my home where the pasta making fest went into full force by making home made ravioli with two different fillings, one with butternut squash, ricotta, nutmeg and goats cheese, the other with spinach and goats cheese and Parmesan. We based our pasta recipe on the simple everyday pasta presented in Jamie Oliver's book " The Naked Chef" which is just 5 eggs and 1 lb of tipo 00 flour ( if you can't find that, you can use bread flour). Combine these two ingredients in a food processor or Kitchen Aid and once they come together, take it out and work it on a surface strewn with some flour until you dough is shiny and elastic. Let it then rest in the fridge covered for one hour. Each participant was instructed on how to make the dough and made a batch for themselves so they could easily replicate this process at home. I was truly impressed with the kneading skills of some of the moms, it was clear they were bread making experts!

The fillings were also so simple to make, I made up my own recipe which goes something like this for the butternut squash filling - one roasted and cooled flesh of one butternut squash, 1.5 tubs of full fat ricotta cheese, nutmeg to taste, salt, pepper, 2 ounces goats cheese, 2 ounces of shredded Parmesan cheese, just mix it all together until it blends into a delicious mouth watering homogeneous mix!

The spinach and goats cheese filling was also very simple, take a large organic box of spinach, saute in a small amount of olive oil in a big pot and then once it is cooked down and cooled, you can push the liquid out of it, chop it finely, add it to 6 ounces of goats cheese, some grated Parmesan, and season to taste.

Then the real fun began, we worked in groups of two and using our hand crank pasta machine, we rolled out long length of pasta, then quickly moved these rolled out sheets to another assembly line of ravioli fillers and assemblers. It was amazing to watch how engaged our children were with the process and how much they wanted to observe and check in to see what was happening. We finally took a well deserved break with a lunch of our hard earned labor of pasta making which I made by cooking some of the ravioli in a pot of salted boiling water for about 6 minutes, draining them and then returning them to the pot and added 400 ml of whipping cream ( you could also use creme fraiche) about 1/2 glass of white wine, some grated Parmesan, some of the leftover sauteed spinach and let them all come together in a delicious marriage of amazing flavours, note this dish is not for those following a low fat diet....

Silence then descended on the dining room as mothers and children experienced the pasta, as you may know to have silence with five toddler in one room is no mean feat so we took that as a sign that our quest to create delectable pasta had been achieved on this wintry Midwestern morning!

Friday, July 3, 2009

Birthday cake!

Well birthday time rolled around again for my husband R and I finally gave in to his wish for a yellow cake with chocolate frosting, apparently his dream cake that brings back good memories from his childhood. I have been browsing a book from my collection for some time called 'Sky High" by Alisa Huntsman and Peter Wynne and found a vanilla buttermilk cake with instant fudge frosting that sounded close enough to what my husband was looking for. I had a few challenges yesterday like a basement that flooded, and my nearly two year old driving me crazy that could have twarted my efforts to make this cake but I prevailed...this cake is super simple and I made just a few changes


4 whole eggs
2 egg yolks
2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 1/4 cup buttermilk
3 cups cake flour
2 cups sugar
4 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 sticks (8 ounces) unsalted butter, at room temperature

Preheat the oven at 350F. Butter the bottom and sides of three 8 inch round cake pans. Line the bottom of each with a round of parchment paper. Note: I didn't have three round tins, so I baked the entire mixture in a square 10 inch cake tin and it turned out fine...
Put the eggs and yolk in a mixing bo
wl , add the vanilla and 1/4 cup of the buttermilk, Whisk to blend well.
Combine the dry ingredients in a mixing bowl, add the butter and the remaining one cup of buttermilk and blend together on low speed. Then raise the speed to medium and beat until light and fluffy, about 2 minutes.
Add the egg mixture in three additions, and mix until all incorporated together. Divide the batter amongst three pans if you have them or in my case in the square pan.
Bake for circa 30 minutes until the a wooden toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean and the cake begins to pull away from the side of the tin. Let the cake cool in the pan for 10 minutes, then carefully turn out and place on a wire rack to cool completely.

To assemble the cake, once it was cool, I cut it in two and filled the center with chocolate frosting ( recipe to follow) and fresh raspberries, then out the frosting on the top and sides.
Instant fudge frosting - makes circa 5 cups
6 ounces unsweetened chocolate melted and cooled
4 1/2 cups confectioners sugar
3 sticks unsalted butter at room temperature
6 tablespoons heaving whipping cream or half and half
1 tablespoon vanilla extract

Method: Place all ingredients in a food processor and pulse to incorporate. Then process until frosting is smooth

Whilst on the subject of birthday cakes, I am starting to think about my sons 2nd birthday which is coming up in September. Last year I did a train theme cake that was really fun to do and although it was a last minute effort in making it, I was really happy with the creativity I found somewhere in my brain to pull it off....I hope I can be as creative this year....

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

First post!

Last weekend I finally decided
to start to write a blog so I could share my cooking and mothering adventures. I felt like it was time to really commit to eat seasonally so I could really enjoy the produce of my own garden, the Community Farm CSA and the local Ann Arbor farmers market. So enjoy this tomato, basil, potato and zucchini tart that I created for our evening dinner which I adapted from a classic quiche recipe my friend AD gave me
Pastry recipe:
1.5 cups all purpose flour, 1 stick of cold unsalted butter, 1 teaspoon of salt, 3-4 tbsp ice cold water. Mix flour and salt, add butter in a mixer until mixture resembles fine breadcrumbs, add water one tablespoon at a time until dough comes together and than STOP, as over mixing the dough will make it tough. You can wrap it in Saran wrap and place in the fridge for min 30 minutes.
Preheat the oven to 400 F and roll out the dough into a 12 inch round tart tin or dish and prick it with a fork, cover with grease proof paper and line with pie weights. Bake for 15 minutes and then remove the paper and weights and bake for a further 5 minutes until the pastry is pale golden.

Whilst the dough is baking,
you can prepare the filling which is as follows
2 zucchini
1 tbsp olive oil
12 oz cooked new potatoes, sliced
4 oz Gruyere cheese
basil leaves
3 eggs

200 ml creme fraiche
150 ml milk
4 tbsp Parmesan cheese

Lightly brush the zucchini slices with oil and season. Cook in a pan until lightly brown on each side and remove from the pan to cool. Layer half of the potatoes, zucchini and tomatoes in the pasty case, season between layers and sprinkle a little Gruyere and a few basil leaves. Repeat this process finishing with a layer of tomatoes.
Beat together the eggs, cream fraiche, and milk, season with salt and pepper, then stir in the remaining Gruyere and half the parmesan. Pour this over the filling and sprinkle with the rest of the

Bake for 35-45 minutes, until golden and firm to the touch. Place remaining basil as a garnish. Cool for 10 minutes before serving.

This tart is great served with a green salad for a perfect classy and tasty seasonal lunch with friends! Enjoy