You can make amazing pasta at home

Have you always wanted to make homemade pasta but felt overwhelmed by the process? It is actually a lot easier that you think. I have been making homemade pasta for years, so when Mary Nolte asked to write a guest post about the process, I knew you would all love it. For me, there is nothing better in the world than a bowl of homemade pasta.


pasta 6

Want to feel like a gourmet chef? It’s not that “store-bought” pasta is incredibly expensive, but this recipe will help you save a few pennies with the added bonus of making you feel like a gourmet chef. Your friends and family are sure to applaud your efforts when you serve up this pasta in any of its versatile varieties.

Basic recipe:

Begin with about 3/4 Cup of all-purpose flour. Make a well in the center. Crack an egg into a clear juice glass or a small jar. Check it for any small pieces of shell. It’s easier to remove it from a small clear glass than after it’s already in the recipe. Pour the egg into the well of the flour.

If you have a KitchenAid mixer, use the dough hook and mix on slow. If you do not have a fancy appliance, fear not! My grandmother mixed pasta by hand and it tasted all the more delicious. Actually, use a standard table knife to mix the dough. It will be easier to clean than a fork and will be just as effective.

To the flour and egg, I use up to a teaspoon of salt. Salt quantity is to taste, but I recommend that you use at least 1/2 teaspoon.  I use Himalayan pink salt, but standard table salt or sea salt is perfectly acceptable.

Mix these three ingredients until a stiff dough is formed. Remove the dough and seal it in a baggie until you are ready to form the pasta. If I intend to make several batches, this is a good breaking point. Simply keep placing the dough balls into baggies and into the refrigerator until you’re ready for the next stage.

Variations:

There are many delicious variations of Home Crafted Pasta. Simply add the additional ingredients while stirring in the egg. Here are a few ideas:

Garlic: Add minced garlic (fresh or from a jar is fine).

Herb: Use your imagination! I use oregano and thyme.

Spinach: This is slightly more involved. I process a few hands full of spinach in a blender with a few tablespoons of water along with the egg. More flour may be required to accommodate the additional liquid, but the pasta is so delicious that you won’t mind having a little extra.

Any of the above in various combinations!

At our local farmer’s market, there is a vendor who sells many other variations, including beet, mushroom, lime and cilantro, garlic and chive, lemon and pepper; and black pepper and basil. I suggest that you use your imagination and search online for other ideas and variations.Pasta 2

To craft the pasta, remove the dough from the baggies and either roll it out old-fashioned style onto a floured table top or use a Pasta Maker. I only got my pasta machine very recently. Until I got it, I modeled my Grandma Emmie’s method by using a rolling pin. I LOVE the machine. It runs about $25. I lucked out and got mine when it was on sale for $20.

Once the pasta is rolled to about 1/8 of an inch thick, you can leave it to dry for a while, or you can cut the pasta and then let it dry. Again, you can cut it the old-fashioned way by using a knife or even a pizza wheel. Perfectly symmetrical and evenly cut pasta is not necessary. That’s the beauty of it all! Cut the pasta narrow or wide, anywhere from 1/8 of an inch up to approximately 1/2 inch wide.pasta 4

Once the pasta is cut and slightly dried, “fluff” it into some flour to keep it from sticking together. Gently roll it into “nests” and protect it well in baggies and containers until you’re ready to use it. If you’re going to use it within a day or two, it can be refrigerated. If you are stocking up, it can be frozen and will keep nicely in the freezer for 4-6 weeks.

A key point for when boiling home crafted pasta is that it doesn’t need to be boiled as long as store-bought pasta. For example, spaghetti sized home crafted pasta really only needs to boil for about four minutes. Since this seems to be a matter of personal taste, I recommend that you set a timer and check the pasta at each one minute interval beginning at four minutes. Some people like their pasta more al dente than other people, right?

Home Crafted Pasta has double potential because not only do you get to be creative with the actual pasta; you also get to be creative with the sauces and embellishments. Here are a few ideas:

Your favorite go-to sauce: I use a very inexpensive store-bought sauce and to each jar I add one teaspoon of sugar and one teaspoon of minced garlic. The sugar causes this sauce to darken slightly as it heats through. You can make this more hearty by combining it with ground meat as per your tried and true method.

Olive oil and garlic: Heat a desired amount of olive oil in a sauce pan. Do not overheat. Add minced garlic, to taste. Drizzle over the pasta.

Alfredo: Because I would be as big as a house if I ate Alfredo sauce on a regular basis, I try to avoid this one. Recipes are easy to find and I have made it a time or two, and it is delicious.

Herbs, pesto: I absolutely love basil! I recently learned that the word pesto is a variation of the word pestle and doesn’t necessarily mean just basil. You can pestle anything with a little olive oil and sea salt, including:

Spinach: Process some spinach and sea salt with olive oil and use as a pesto. Delicious!

Veggies: Roast or lightly sauté fresh vegetables such as zucchini, tomatoes, onions, mushrooms, etc. Toss with your home crafted pasta for a delicious vegetarian dinner.

Meats: Try broiling chicken or salmon with any of the combinations described and top your pasta with all of the deliciousness that you can imagine.Pasta 1

To any of these, you can add favorites like black olives, feta cheese, Parmesan cheese, capers…the possibilities are endless! Enjoy!

Have you ever made homemade pasta? 

Mary Nolte is the author of The Ice Cream Truck, a collection of food related short stories. She is currently working on two new books. For more information on Mary, you can check out her website.

Meal Plan for the week of July 23

It’s been warm outside recently and heat makes me act like our cat Thor. I just want to flop on the couch and not do much of anything. This week’s meal plan will be simple. We have central A/C but going out in the heat zaps my energy. Some of these recipes might not be exactly heat friendly but they are quick.

Sunday: Homemade Pizza

Monday: Dinner out with a friend

Tuesday: Hot Dogs with carrot sticks

Wednesday: Pasta Chu Chu (FYI- if you make this one, it makes a ton of food. Could feed three or four with this recipe)

Thursday: Steaks with salad and homemade bread

Friday: Pork enchiladas

Saturday: Peanut Butter Chicken

Corn Chowder

picture of corn chowder

It’s cold, it’s snowy and I didn’t have anything defrosted for dinner. I wanted something warm and comforting for dinner.

This is when my brain starts going to work. Wouldn’t it be nice if I could make some chowder. I’ve never made chowder but how hard could it be? I knew that I could figure it out. So, down to the kitchen I went.

I start to take stock of what I have. I’ve got some half-and-half in the fridge from the chicken, mushroom and roasted red pepper alfredo I made earlier in the week. I’ve got potatoes, carrots and celery. I don’t have any onions but I do have shallots. I also have some bacon in the freezer and we all know everything is better with bacon.

I grabbed a big stock pot and turn the stove to medium high. I started by chopping six slices of bacon. The bacon went into pot on medium high for 5-7 minutes until the bacon is crisp. Using a slotted spoon, I removed the bacon, leaving the drippings behind.

While the bacon was cooking, I chopped a shallot, two carrots and two pieces of celery. When I chopped the carrots, I quartered them the long way and then chopped them. I sliced the celery lengthwise and chopped it. I also chopped three potatoes in small 1/2 cubes. Once the bacon was out of the pot, I turned the heat to medium and added all of the veggies to the pot. The veggies cooked for about four minutes to get that nice bacon flavor cooked in. To thicken the soup, I added 1/3 of a cup of flour. You have to stir everything around and cook it for a few minutes to get rid of the raw flour flavor. At this point, I added salt, pepper and a teaspoon of dried thyme.

Now I have to start thinking about soup base. All milk would be way too heavy. So, I decided that the base should be mostly chicken broth. I added a large can (49.5 oz) of chicken broth and turned the heat to high. Once the soup came to a boil, I turned it down and let it simmer for 8-10 minutes until the potatoes are cooked. At this point, I added a few dashes of hot sauce. I know it’s not traditional chowder but just a bit really brought the flavor up a notch. Don’t add too much, just a bit so there is a tiny bit of heat.

I went to the freezer and realized that I didn’t have as much corn as I thought I did. I would have liked to add about two cups of corn but I only had about a cup. Oh well! When you are cooking from the pantry and fridge, sometimes things don’t work out exactly as you planned. So in went the corn as my soup continued to simmer.

After a few minutes, I turned the heat to low and started looking for something to turn my soup into chowder. I pulled a cup of half-and-half out of the fridge and added it to the pot. It was starting to look like chowder, but it wasn’t quite there. Back to the fridge! I found some sour cream. I add 1 and 1/2 cups of sour cream. The flavor is good but it is not thick enough. I take some of the liquid from the pot and add a heaping teaspoon of cornstarch. I mixed my slurry and add it to the pot.

I have two thickeners in my kitchen: flour and cornstarch. Flour is for making rues before adding liquid. Cornstarch with liquid added is for thickening liquids after they have been added to a dish.

After a few minutes, my chowder is thickening up. Jeff decides that it needs some cheese. I added about 1/2 a cup of shredded cheese. It was a good addition and it finished up the package of cheese. Lastly, I added the crumbled bacon back to the pot and stirred everything together.

I was a bit worried as we were putting this together but I have to say this is the best corn chowder I have ever had. It was amazing. For me, the best part of cooking is having no plan at all and coming up with an amazing meal to put on the table. I find the more I cook, the more I learn what favors work. Experiment. Try new things. Try this chowder.

Corn Chowder (makes 6-8 servings)

  • 6 slices of bacon, chopped
  • 1 small onion, diced
  • 2 large carrots, diced
  • 2 celery stalks, diced
  • 3 medium or 2 large potatoes, diced into half inch cubes
  • 1/3 cup of flour
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • 1 teaspoon of dried thyme
  • a few dashes of hot sauce
  • 6 cups of chicken broth or stock
  • 2 cups of corn
  • 1 cup of half and half
  • 1 and a 1/2 cups of sour cream
  • 1 heaping teaspoon of corn starch
  • 1/2 cup of shredded cheddar cheese

Cook bacon in a stock pot over medium-high heat until crisp. Remove with a slotted spoon leaving behind the drippings. Add onion, carrots, celery and potatoes to drippings. Turn down the heat to medium and add 1/3 cup of flour. Stir to incorporate the flour and cook for 2 or 3 minutes. Add salt, pepper, thyme and chicken broth. Turn heat to high and boil until potatoes are soft but not mushy, about 8 minutes.

Turn heat to medium-low. Add a few dashes of hot sauce and the half-and-half. Stir to incorporate then add sour cream. Keep stirring until the sour cream is fully incorporated. Remove some of the liquid to a small up and combine with the cornstarch to create a slurry. Add the slurry to the soup and heat until thickened. Add the cheese and bacon. Stir and taste. Add salt and pepper if needed.

Meal Plan and Turkey Club Pasta

This week’s menu is all about repurposing food. It’s easy to get sick of  the same old leftovers, so why not turn them into something new. The meal plan is as follows:

Monday: Turkey Club Pasta (see recipe below) w/meat from last night’s turkey

Tuesday: We have a dinner party tomorrow night. No meal needed

Wednesday: Honey & Spice Baked Chicken, stuffing and green beans

Thursday: Shepard’s pie w/ leftover potatoes from Sunday’s turkey dinner

Friday: Client Christmas Party

Saturday: School Christmas Party

Sunday: Chicken Chimichangas w/leftover chicken from Wednesday

This is going to be a very busy week so I wanted to make the cooking simple.

For more meal planning ideas, check out Menu Plan Monday at Orgjunkie.com

Last night’s turkey came out great. I don’t know what I was thinking when I purchased a ten pound turkey. Oh yeah. I was thinking ‘It’s three dollars. You’ll eat it.’ One of my favorite sandwiches is a turkey club from Nat Hayden’s in Windsor, CT. In the winter, I love comforting pasta dishes, plus I had all this turkey left over. I wanted a recipe that combined my favorite flavors from the sandwich into a hearty casserole. It was delicious. This would also be good with chicken but the turkey and bacon together in a swiss cheese sauce was a home run.

Turkey Club Pasta

1 lb of rotini pasta
8 to 10 slices of bacon
1/3 cup of flour
3 cups of milk
1 cup of half and half or another cup of milk
8 oz of shredded swiss cheese
1/2 cup of parmesean cheese
1 T Dijon mustard
1/2 t garlic powder
1/2 t freshly grated nutmeg
salt and pepper to taste
2 cups cooked turkey, chopped into bite-sized pieces

Heat a large pot of water to boiling and add salt to the water. Cook rotini until al dente. You want to take it off the stove a few minutes before you think it’s done because it will continue to cook when you bake it. Rinse pasta with cold water to stop the cooking process.

While pasta is cooking, cut bacon into thin pieces. I used my kitchen scissors for this and it worked very well. Add bacon to a large frying pan or pot and cook on medium to medium high heat until crispy. Remove bacon from pan with slotted spoon, putting on paper towels to drain. Reserve four tablespoons of bacon drippings in the pan, removing the rest.

Reduce heat to medium or medium low. Add flour to drippings and cook for 1 to 2 minutes until well incorporated. Slowly whisk in milk and half and half. Bring the sauce to a simmer, stirring constantly until thick and creamy. Stir in mustard, garlic powder, nutmeg and salt and pepper. Add cheeses and stir until melted. Finally, return the bacon to the pan and add the turkey.

Pour the pasta into a 9 x 13 baking dish. Pour sauce mixture over the pasta and smooth with a spoon. The sauce will fill the tube pasta, no need to stir. Bake the dish for 30-35 minutes at 350 degrees until heated through and the top begins to brown. Serve with a simple green salad or vegetable.

Recipe: My favorite hamburger

I love making hamburgers at home. Not those preformed, flavorless (sometimes frozen) hamburgers, but real hand formed burgers. Tonight, I needed a quick meal I could get on the table fast because I had a meeting to go to. Hamburgers won.

Making your own awesome hamburgers at home is easy. First, start with good ground beef. Tonight, I was using 90% naked (no hormones, no antibiotics) beef. The reason I’m willing to spend a bit more is because I want really good beef flavor in my burgers. Going out to get burgers is going to cost you at least $5.00 per burger, even if you go to McDonald’s. And my quarter pounders are WAY better than McDonald’s. Cost for the meat was $3.00.

For each burger, crumble a quarter pound of beef in a bowl.

For each burger add a a quarter teaspoon of salt, pepper, garlic powder and dried minced onion. I like using dried minced onion because it soaks up the beef juices and adds awesome flavor. I’ve experimented with all types of seasoning mixes and this is the one that my husband and I like the best.

Now, take off your rings and wash your hands, because we are going in with both hands! Lightly mix the spices into the meat then divide the mixture into quarter pound servings. Roll each serving into a ball and then start to flatten it. Use the palm of your hand to flatten the ball against your other hand. I make my hamburgers thin because they will shrink and fatten up as you cook them. I hold the patty with two hands and use my thumb to shape the patty into a kinda-sorta round shape. You don’t want the edges to be too much thinner than the center or else the edges will be dry by the time the center is done. Once they are shaped, use your index and middle fingers to put a divot in the center of the burger. Have you ever made burgers that looked like they were pregnant? The divot keeps the budget from bulging up in the center. In the picture below, you can see the little divot in the patty. Don’t make it too deep or your burger will have a crater.

There are a number of ways you can cook your burger. I’m using my trusty griddle/grill pan. I love this thing. I got it for $20 at Target. It’s flat on one side (great for pancakes) and has ridges on the other (great for grilling just about anything). I use this pan at least three times a week.

If you don’t have a griddle pan, you can use a regular frying pan or grill them outside. I use medium high heat to heat the pan (between 7 and 8 on my gas stove) to heat the pan for a good five minutes before placing the burgers on the pan. You want a hot pan or else the burgers will stick. You are looking for searing and you should hear sizzle when you put them down.

Cook the burgers on one side for about 4 minutes or until you see that they look cooked about halfway up the side. Flip the burgers. If they are sticking to the pan, they aren’t ready to be flipped yet. Don’t force them. You’ll rip your pretty little burgers.

Aren’t the grill marks pretty? They are delicious, too. At this point, I sprayed my bun with a bit of cooking spray (you can use spray butter or brush with olive oil instead) and placed it on the grill. Jeff doesn’t like grilled buns. Cook the burgers a few minutes longer until they are done to your liking. I’m terrible at getting them to the right temperature for the perfect medium or medium rare burger without using a thermometer. I cook them til the juices run clear if I don’t have a thermometer. If you use good beef, they will still be juicy even if they are medium well.

If you like your cheese a bit melted place cheese on the burgers about 30 seconds before you take them off the grill. I like my cheese a bit melted but Jeff just puts his cheese on the bun. Don’t be stingy with the cheese!

This was my burger with grilled bun and melted cheese. I like mayo and ketchup on my burger. Jeff likes yellow mustard on his. Did I mention he also likes yellow cheese? Yes, we buy white and yellow American cheese in our house. We are strange folks.

This dinner took me about 15 minutes to make from start to finish. Serve it up with some veggie sticks or some potato salad and you’ve got a great dinner that was a lot less expensive than a trip to the drive-thru and so much more delicious.

A meal plan experiment: Cook twice, eat all week

As I mentioned a number of times on the blog, Jeff and I have crazy schedules. Trying to put together a meal plan has been somewhat difficult do to all of our meetings and obligations. Making sure we always have leftovers to bring to work for lunch has also been hard.

This week, I decided to try something different. Sunday night, I made a good-sized lasagna; Monday night, I made stew. Since I had meetings Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday, I wasn’t home to make dinner but Jeff and I were able to eat leftovers all week long. We were also able to take these leftovers to work for lunch. Having two of our favorite dishes made it easier not to get bored with the food. We even had stew tonight for dinner rather than making something.

This may not be something I do every week but for those weeks that are especially busy, this was a great option for us. I even made braided cheese bread which was beautiful and delicious. It’s probably the best bread I ever made. It looks complicated but it’s actually very easy. We ate that with the stew and was good even tonight. I took my slice and put it in the toaster for a few moments on low. It was wonderful.

Sometimes making a few large recipes for the week is a great way to go when you know you are going to be super busy. I think after all the take-out we ate the week before, home-cooking was a welcomed change.

SNAP Challenge Meal Plan for the week of October 10

After my near breakdown on Friday, I strengthened my resolve to finish the challenge. I decided that I would purchase the sale items at Stew Leonards, but save them for next month after the challenge is over. I thought that was a good compromise and kept me going. I also noticed that my freezer is full. I mean FULL so this week, I’m doing a bit of shopping from the freezer for my meal plan. We also had some stuff left over from last week, like roasted chicken, cheese and deli ham which we will use this week.

That chicken went really far last week. We got two dinners out of it, plus I made stock from the bones and picked off the rest of the chicken. I have another two cups of chicken which I will use for sandwiches and enchiladas this week. I also purchased that big package of ground beef and chicken last week so I won’t have to purchase any meat this week.

Breakfasts this week will be cereal (leftover from last week), english muffins with peanut butter (also leftover from last week) or breakfast sandwiches with eggs, sausage and chese (again leftover from last week). Lunches will be leftovers. I made fruit and jello cups for snacks (50 cents for a can of mixed fruit and 50 cents for a box of jello), plus later in the week I’ll make some peanut butter cookies. We still have bananas left from last week as well and I made apple sauce over the weekend with the apples purchased last week. I think we are doing very well in the snack department and most of them include fruit!

Last week we didn’t have tortellini soup (I made pizza that night with leftover sauce from the spaghetti, homemade dough and bits of cheese leftover from last week)

The dinner plan this week is:

Monday – Baked pasta with garlic bread sticks and salad

Tuesday – Sausage and cheese omelets, toast

Wednesday – Tortellini soup with grilled ham and cheese sandwiches

Thursday – Baked pasta with ham and green beans

Friday – Chicken, stuffing and corn

Saturday – Chicken and bean enchiladas (trying to make my own enchilada sauce based on the recipe linked. I’m going to change the seasonings a bit based on what I have access to)

Sunday – Shepard’s pie (I’m substituting the gravy ingredients with leftover gravy from the mini meat loaves I made last week)

 

I took some items from the pantry:

Can of fruit (50 cents)
Packet of jello (50 cents)
2 boxes of pasta ($1 each)
3 cans of tomato paste (33 cents each)
1 bag of tortellini ($1.50)
1 bag of mozzarella cheese ($2.00)
1 box of stuffing mix ($1)
1 bag of corn (69 cents)
1 bag of frozen green beans (69 cents)

Total: $8.37

What do I have to buy this week? Milk and butter. That’s it. I had $95.54 left over after last week’s shopping. I have spent $8.37 cents so far this week, leaving me with $87.17. I was really worried after last week but I did great this week. My planning last week really paid off.

Need some ideas for your meal plan? Check out Menu Plan Monday at orgjunkie.com. There are hundreds of menus posted each week with lots of great recipes.

Homemade Toffee

I love toffee and homemade candy makes an awesome gift. Plus, it’s so easy to make, as long as you use the right equipment. Here’s what you need:

  • 1 cup of sugar
  • 2 sticks of butter
  • 1/4 cup of water
  • 1/2 chocolate chips

Melt the butter in a heavy sauce pan (2qt). Don’t use a huge pan or the mixture just won’t come together correctly. Add the water and sugar. You need to keep stirring this the entire time. A candy thermometer is a necessity. Bring the mixture to a boil on medium heat. Make sure you use a heat proof spoon or spatula. My first batch was ruined at the last minute because my spatula melted. You’ll see the mixture become lighter and almost the consistency of marshmallow. Then it will start to darken and become the color of caramel. You are just about finished. This process will take about 10 minutes. When the toffee gets to 280 degrees (I take it off a few degrees early), pour your toffee onto a cookie sheet covered with aluminum foil. Top with chocolate chips. After about a minute, the chocolate will have melted enough so you can spread it over the toffee. If you wish you can top the chocolate with finely chopped nuts. After an hour, break the toffee into smaller pieces and package it up. If you are making this in warm weather, put the cookie sheet in the fridge for 30 minutes. Awesome, inexpensive gift that will really impress people. Who makes candy anymore? WE DO!

Philly Cheese Steak Pasta

We had this tonight and it was awesome. The Velveeta was on sale and I had the rest of the ingredients on hand so it didn’t hurt my budget at all. If you don’t have sandwich steak, use ground beef or roast beef instead.

What you need:

about 1/2 to 3/4 of a pound of sandwich steak, from the meat counter or the freezer section.
whatever veggies you like on your cheese steak: onions, peppers, mushrooms, etc.
3/4 of a lb to 1 lb of pasta, shells or bowties work well.
1/3 to 1/2 a cup of milk
3/4 of a lb to 1lb of Velveeta
black pepper
You’ll notice the measurements are kind of all over the place. Well, I don’t measure stuff and I’ve found that people have different preferences. You might like your pasta a little drier or with lots more sauce. You might put in a lot of veggies and just a little bit of meat. It’s up to you.

Put on a pot of water and cover it. In a large skillet on medium high, start cooking up your steak. It’ll cook fast so watch it. I cooked my frozen steak a few pieces at a time. While cooking the steak, cut up your veggies. I like the onions and peppers in long strips. After you’ve cooked all the steak, put it in a bowl and add the onions to the skillet. Turn down the heat to medium and add the other veggies. Cook until they just start to soften.

When your water starts to boil, add the pasta and some salt. Stir and set your timer for a few minutes less than the directions on the package. Then you’ll know when to check it. Put the meat on your cutting board and chop it up a bit. Then add it to your skillet. Add the milk and the pepper. Cut up your Velveeta and add to the skillet. Stir the Velveeta and the meat mixture until the Velveeta melts. When the pasta is ready, drain it and add it to the skillet. Mix everything together and eat it. I really like this one. I hope you do too.

Tortellini Soup

I’ve been eating this for as long as I can remember. My husband had never had tortellini soup until I made it for him the first time. Now it’s one of his favorites. This goes well with a nice grilled ham and cheese sandwich on a cold winter day.

Tortellini Soup

1/4 cup onion, small dice
2 to 4 cloves of garlic, depending on preference
2 stalks of celery, sliced
2 good sized carrots, sliced
1/2 cup shredded cooked chicken, optional
1 box chicken broth
1 bag frozen cheese or chicken tortellini
dried or fresh parsley

In a heavy bottom pot, add a bit of olive oil and heat over medium heat. Add the onions and the garlic. I use my Microplane Grater to grate the garlic. Then no one gets big pieces in their soup. Make sure you don’t burn the garlic. After a few minutes add the celery and carrots. Cook for four or five minutes. Add the chicken if using (I usually don’t unless I have some in the fridge from another meal).  Add the chicken broth and bring to a boil. Once you’re boiling, add the tortellini. Boil a few minutes until the tortellini are cooked to your liking. Turn it off and add your parsley. The parsley gives it nice flavor.