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Saturday, January 18, 2003

testing, testing

recent readers may recall that i bought the pasta roller attachment for my kitchen aide stand mixer. today i made my test batch of pasta.

i'm a total pasta newbie. so it was an adventure, one i highly recommend.

made the basic recipe: 3-1/2 c. king arthur unbleached all purpose flour; 4 large organic eggs; 1 tablespoon water; 1/2 teaspoon salt. that's it.

lightly beat the eggs & water together with a fork. dump all ingredients in the mixer, attach the flat beater, and mix on speed 2 until the doughclumps roughly on the beater.

add another tablespoon of water if necessary to make this happen. change to the dough hook and knead on speed 2 for 2 minutes. knead by hand for 2 minutes. flatten into a disc, wrap in plastic, and let rest in the fridge for an hour.

my, isn't that simple! this first batch has to be wasted because the roller parts have a lot of packing and metal dust in them. you just have to work this out. but it's good practice too!

now i have to warn you that you will need plenty of surface. in my bklyn apartment, which is large by new york standards, i have a marble dining table that seats 8. and i filled it with pasta sheets from the above 1 lb. dough recipe.

so take my advice -- clear as much surface as possible while the dough rests. you'll need every inch.

also, find an extra salt shaker or something and fill it with flour. put newspaper on the floor in front of the mixer.

drink half a glass of wine. channel your inner nonna. put your hair up in a bun, roll up your sleeves, and take off all your rings and bracelets -- the roller has a strong pull and we don't want to get anything caught in it!

put on some relaxing music. now the hour has passed, and we're ready!

take the dough out, unwrap it, and use your handy baker's knife (the kind with inches marked on the blade is most handy here) to divide the dough in 6 or 8 pieces.

flatten these pieces to about 1/2-inch thick. attach the roller to the mixer's nose, tighten the thumbscrew, take off the beater or dough hook, and turn the mixer to speed 2. here we go!

knead the dough at setting 1 by just feeding it through. it's so easy! when the dough comes out, lay it on the counter top, shake some flour on it, smooth the flour out, and fold the dough in half or thirds.

turn it 90 degrees and feed this end through the roller. repeat the process. now the dough is kneaded, and is silky smooth.

you'll see already little dust and metal bits in the dough, especially on the sides that have touched the edges of the roller. don't worry.

now it's time to thin the dough. pull and twist the roller knob to setting 2. feed the dough through. flour. fold. feed again.

set the knob to 3. feed the dough. flour. fold. feed again.

set the knob to 4. i think you have the idea. by this time the pasta sheet will be long. you might want to use your baker's knife to cut it in half or even thirds to make it easier to handle. try to keep each cut pasta sheet about 8 or 9 inches long. (too short and the pasta will look stubby. who wants stubby fettucine?)

you may have to fold up the ends and sides to get neat squares between rollings. if so, be sure to press out all the air. otherwise the bubbles pop forcefully and make holes in the dough.

how thin to roll? having done it, i now personally think to setting 6 for ravioli, tortelloni, or soup noodles. setting 4 for fettucini, lasagne, thick spaghetti, or pappardelle. setting 5 for delicate linguini.

so roll out all 8 pieces. since you will have cut them in about 3 pieces lengthwise by the time you're done, you'll end up with about 24 8- or 9-inch long pasta sheets. see why you need surface?

dust all these with flour. admire your acre of pasta. 1 lb. of dough makes a tremendous amount of rolled fresh pasta. thank goodness you can freeze this stuff!

ok, the roller comes with a linguini cutter and a fettucini cutter. turn the mixer off and swap the roller for the cutter of your choice.

take your setting 4 pasta sheet, cut it all nice and square with your baker's knife so it will look pretty, and feed through the cutter.

wa-llah! picture-perfect silky beige fresh fettucine that smells deliciously eggy.

feeding setting 4 dough through the linguine cutter gives you something that looks like thick spaghetti.

setting 5 dough through the linguini cutter gives you delicate linguini. for lasagne, leave the sheets whole. pappardelle, dust sheets with flour, lay flat, and cut by hand into 1/2-inch slices with a bread knife or the baker's knife for a rustic look. etc.

now what to do with all this pasta? the books coyly say "use right away, dry or freeze."

but what do these options really entail? if you stick a handful in boiling water, it cooks quickly. in about 1 minute! as soon as it floats, it's done. you can't eat it because of the metal dust, but if you bite a strand in half and spit it out, you'll find lovely, tasty, al dente pasta.

drying it is tricky. it's very fragile as it dries, until it's really really hard. which take hours and hours. i have a few test strands that have been drying straight and flat on the table for about 5 hours now. and they're not ready.

until it can stand handling and being put in a tall jar, i think you're talking 8 hours or overnight. so your surfaces are going to be tied up for a good while!

on the tv food shows, you see the experts just shake some flour on the fresh pasta, coil it into little nests and call it a day. hah! not so simple!

don't try this until the pasta has sat for about 15 minutes after cutting, and really cover it well with flour or else you'll get a gooey, useless ball. trust me! i wound up with several gooey balls. all bad.

i guess after you've let the cut pasta rest, covered it in flour, coiled it into non-sticky, non-gooey nests, shaken more flour over it -- only then should you pack your nests in a single layer in a freezer-proof container and then freeze the stuff.

except you can't do that with this batch, because of the dust, remember? after that, have another sip of wine and contemplate the many feet of pasta you have to throw away. . .

but seriously, the pasta roller attachment is fun and easy. give yourself about 3 hours to make the test batch. some people report their roller parts have so much dust, they had to make 2 or 3 test batches.

so be aware of this possibility. use the test batches to figure out how to arrange your surfaces etc. for when you really have all this fresh pasta to deal with.

what the heck to do with it all??? that's the only problem i see. . .

posted by fortune | 7:14 PM | top | link to this | | email this:   |

Friday, January 17, 2003

bread renaissance in pittsburgh?

why is it that lately when i check my email somebody's sending me a report of yet another artisan sourdough bread baker in pittsburgh, pa.? don't growl if i ask why the bread culture there is suddenly in a ferment. . .

"a dose of simple pleasure, artisan breads have made a niche in this country's otherwise prefab bread world," sez one pittsburgh artisan baker.

"as kids, we made swords out of dough, and when the dough was baked, we had battles using them. then we ate them," sez another, who's set up shop with his brothers.

finally, a nice article about one of new york's artisan bread stars, jim lahey of sullivan street bakery.

posted by fortune | 4:34 PM | top | link to this | | email this:   |

Thursday, January 16, 2003

conversion story

"before he met norman saurage [of community coffee], chef brown didn't know it, but 'I was serving bad coffee all day long.'"
yes! a story of a chef who gets it, it being the importance of improving restaurant and food service coffee. it's so disappointing to go have a great dinner and then discover that the after-dinner espresso is horrible swill thrown together by an untrained busboy.

those toque-heads need to realize that coffee often has a better markup than liquor. you can make lots of money on those teeny demitasses, chef! and finally, we meet chef patrick brown, who has seen the light. hallelujah and pass the beignets!

later on in this article, one chef brigtsen remarks, "i think a lot of new orleanians judge a restaurant on the quality of its bread . . . and coffee." no wonder i've always been a big big fan of new orleans! because for the most part, the bread and coffee there is quite good.

this article also has a cute sidebar. . .

finally, we have to root here for the government of italy's struggle against the e.u. italians prefer chocolate without the addition of lecithin, and the government wanted to prevent the sale of chocolate with lecithin added. alas, this conflicts with the official e.u. definition of chocolate, which allows lecithin. thus, there was a court tussle, which sadly italy has lost.

obviously, we need to set minimum standards for pure and healthful food, and create labeling to protect consumers. but to prevent italy from maintaining or improving the quality of its food is ridiculous! i see no problem with the italian government labeling lecithin-free chocolate so that the public can understand what it is buying. . .

posted by fortune | 4:37 PM | top | link to this | | email this:   |

Wednesday, January 15, 2003

crank/no crank day

as i mentioned the other day, i ordered the pasta roller attachment for my kitchen aid stand mixer. and today it arrived. it was good news in the nick of time too -- work had been one of those days. i was a tad cranky.

to my surprise, it's actually 3 heads, not one: a roller, and 2 cutters; one for linguini, the other for fettucini. they're substantial. heavy duty. non-dishwasher safe! in fact, you have to clean them with a brush and a toothpick. they look exactly as if the evil child phil from toy story had cut off the heads of several hand-crank pasta machines.

come evening, i hopped by the store, picked up some eggs, and thought to make an experimental batch of dough. i understand you have to waste a batch to clean the packing dust out of the heads, so that's what i planned to do. buying the terrifyingly expensive fresh pasta from the gourmet store will soon be a thing of the past.

i mean, 4 cups of italian 00 flour costs US$0.75; 4 organic eggs, US$1. a pound of pasta made at home is thus about US$2; bought at the store, US$6! it oughta be a crime, as we say here in brooklyn. . .

cannelloni alla partenopea, i'm on my way! as for that pappardelle with boar sauce, i understand from elizabeth david that if you marinate pork in juniper berries and red wine for a few days you can passably imitate the flavor of wild boar. (if you think i'm nuts on this -- hey! at least i'm not alone!)

but life does happen. i arrived home to discover that the building's boiler had burst, meaning we had no heat or hot water on an unusually frigid day. the super sadly reported that the boiler needed a part from jersey -- possibly a day and a half to repair.

and then i discovered one of the few foodtv chefs i can endure, alton brown, was doing a new show on -- you guessed it -- making fresh pasta. so with the oven turned on (for heat) i bundled up on the couch with the tomcat (living body warmer) and watched alton destroy an ironing board in the name of homemade ravioli.

so emboldened, i fastened these heavy pasta heads onto the nose of the kitchen aid. surprisingly, that little thumbscrew holds 'em on pretty well. i examined the heads more carefully -- the roller head has 8 thickness settings, just as most of the hand-crank ones do. the adjustment knob, which you have to pull out and twist, seems a bit stiff; it won't slip on you when you have the motor running. all good.

but by this time it was too late to actually make a test batch and i retreated to the bedroom, where i curled up in a nest of blankets with my anatomy of hatha yoga. test pasta may have to wait until saturday afternoon. . .

posted by fortune | 4:36 PM | top | link to this | | email this:   |

Tuesday, January 14, 2003

the coffee corps

i don't know how many -- or if any! -- of you long-time readers are coffee professionals. by which i mean, roasters, importers, traders, marketers, agronomists, company executives, etc. but i wanna tell you about a great new program anyway.

you may recall that i've talked about how the development agency usaid is aiding coffee-producing nations to help them survive the current world-price depression known as the coffee crisis.

i was skeptical that usaid would do anything except issue a blizzard of reports. well, one of the things usaid has set in motion is a volunteer program modeled on the peace corps. they're doing this in concert with the coffee quality institute and on the heels of a similar project in peru started by seattle's best.

in the new coffee corps, coffee professionals will volunteer to work with farmers, processors and cooperatives in coffee-producing nations to explain to them how to grow, process, and market high-quality coffee. so, you coffee professionals, run on over to the coffee corps website and sign up now!

basic expenses will covered by usaid funding, but your time, dedication, and love will be pure karma yoga. if you're a coffee farmer or cooperative, rush to the coffee corps site and request assistance now.

posted by fortune | 4:59 PM | top | link to this | | email this:   |

Monday, January 13, 2003

what i need

actually, i think everyone needs one. it will transform commerce: the chocolate business card.

this australian invention should sweep the world. i personally would order them in el rey bucare, if at all possible.

finally, a psst! to all you VF_yoginis -- i see you. you've been coming here off and on for a good while. pleased to have you swinging thru. . .come by anytime!

posted by fortune | 4:53 PM | top | link to this | | email this:   |

Sunday, January 12, 2003

yoga safety

new year's resolutions being what they are, i'm seeing a lot of new students in my regular yoga classes. and this all good! practiced with insight and care, yoga is a life-long activity that can be beneficial to everyone. practiced carelessly, competitively, and with a bad teacher, yoga is a fast ticket to injury.

so with the flood of new students also comes a surge in injuries. new students often try to do too much. it's important to remember that in yoga you are beginner for at least the first whole year.

the poses take time to learn and time to refine. even dancers, gymnasts, runners, weightlifters -- the "superfit" -- should be in a basics class for 6 months.

i've often seen new students, the naturally flexible, rush into open or intermediate classes, fold themselves into pretzel poses where they don't belong, and end up tearing a ligament! i've also seen strong but stiff weightlifters strain their knees trying to do lotus without prior practice!

in yoga, more than other activities, the student has to use caution and judgement when going to a class for the first time. if a teacher's assist seems too aggressive or assertive, you have to say no with a gentle "thanks -- but i'm taking it easy today."

sadly, in yoga right now there are too many underqualified teachers. it's easy for a new student to find themselves in a class with a bad teacher.

to my mind, most younger teachers should have been practicing at least 3 to 5 years regularly and taken a minimum of 200 hours certified training before they should be leading a class. 500 hours would be even better. (of course there are those senior teachers who have been doing yoga for decades and who have lived in india for a long time studying with a master teacher. but you know who they are already by their reputation.)

so many times new students go to classes and see all the fancy tricks others do. they don't realize these people have been doing yoga for 5 years, and the teacher for 10!

finally, a dirty little secret of many power yoga teachers is that they often spent years in a gentler form of yoga perfecting their alignment before they moved on. the noted ashtanga teacher richard freeman is a good example -- he studied iyengar yoga intensely first!

thus my advice to new students is: read about beginning yoga; make sure your teacher is qualified; and in those first classes, under-do.

posted by fortune | 7:03 PM | top | link to this | | email this:   |

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