homemade pasta

I love pasta. It's such a versatile food. It goes well with fish, meat, or can be done vegetarian. It can even be the star of the show all by itself. Dressed really simply with good extra virgin olive oil, garlic, salt and pepper, a squeeze of lemon, some fresh herb like parsley or basil, and maybe a pinch of chili pepper. Aglio e olio style.
And there's no better way to showcase the pasta than to make it yourself. If you don't have a pasta machine, you can definitely roll it out and cut it by hand. Just make sure you generously flour it to prevent sticking, keep it moving on the rolling board, and roll it really thin. But you're going to love it so much that you'll want to make it again. So you might want to invest in a pasta machine someday. It'll change your life. You'll probably, like me, still use dried pasta all the time, but you'll long for that fresh pasta texture and flavor that you just can't get elsewhere.
I try not to use overly exotic ingredients that I can't find in a normal grocery store, so I'm giving you a perfectly appropriate alternative to the way I did this. I bought my semolina and durum flour at a specialty food store, so if you can't find it, don't worry. Unbleached all-purpose flour will do a perfect job on it's own. Unbleached is preferable in this case because it's been through less processing and has a higher amount of gluten. That produces a firmer pasta, which is definitely desirable. That's the case with all of my bread and most of my baking, except on the rare occasion I use cake flour for some delicate desserts. Semolina flour is what most store-bought pastas are made of. It provides elasticity to the dough, but can be hard to work with because it's fairly stiff. So, a combination of unbleached all-purpose, durum, and semolina flours has been my favorite combination so far. I might change my mind later with more experience, but for now, that's what I'm sticking with.

Fresh Pasta
makes 1 lb
1.5 cups unbleached all-purpose flour*
1/4 cup semolina
1/4 cup durum flour
3 large eggs, beaten

*if you can't find semolina or durum flour, use 2 full cups of unbleached all-purpose flour instead
  1. Pulse the flour in the food processor to aerate. Add the eggs and process until the dough forms a rough ball, about 30 seconds.
  2. If the dough is too dry add water, 1 teaspoon at a time. If the dough sticks to the sides of the work bowl, add flour, 1 tablespoon at a time. Process until the dough forms a rough ball.
  3. Turn out the dough and any small bits onto a clean counter and knead until smooth. Cover with plastic wrap and let rest for 15 minutes before rolling.
  4. To roll using a hand-crank pasta machine, cut about 1/8 of the dough and form a disc, and recover the remaining dough with the plastic wrap. Run the disc through the rollers set at the widest setting on the pasta machine. Fold in half and run it through the machine again. If it seems to be getting to wide, fold again lengthwise to run it through again. If it seems too narrow, fold crosswise and run through again.
  5. Set the rollers one size smaller and run it through the machine. Keep lowering the size until you reach the smallest size. Set the dough sheet aside, sprinkle with a tiny bit of flour, and repeat with the rest of the dough.
  6. Once finished, you can hand cut to desired width, or run the sheets through the cutting attachment for even widths.
  7. Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil, and cook pasta to al dente, or until the pasta floats to the top and lightens in color slightly. Remember that fresh pasta cooks much faster than dried.

comfort food

This is an egg-less, multi-grain fish and chips batter. Not because I'm trying to be healthy. I did, afterall, fry these pieces of fish. I did it because I didn't have eggs in my fridge (for the first time in  my life, probably), and because I found a cornmeal-fried fish recipe that sounded delicious. And you know what? It was delicious and crunchy and stayed on the fish just fine. I just had to come up with a few tricks, that miraculously worked. I love it when that happens.

I played volleyball in high school and on away games or far away tournaments, we would always stop at gas stations and get jo jo's. I don't know if anyone outside of the Pacific Northwest calls them jo jo's, but that's just what they are. Like seasoned steak fries. And we always dipped them in ranch dressing. I'm probably being super un-authentic here, and I hope I don't offend anyone. I tried to recreate my memory of them.

Multi-grain Battered Fish
serves 4
 4 cod loins, patted dry and cut into 3 equal pieces
kosher salt and fresh ground pepper to season the fish
1/4 cup cornmeal
1/4 cup buckwheat or whole wheat flour
3 tablespoons toasted white sesame seeds
2 tablespoons potato starch (potato starch gets crispier, but corn starch will work just fine)
3/4 cup water
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
canola (or peanut) oil
  1. Pat the fish dry with a paper towel. Season the fish with salt and pepper on all sides.
  2. In a medium bowl, combine the cornmeal, buckwheat flour, sesame seeds and kosher salt. In a small bowl, combine the potato starch and 2 tablespoons water until completely mixed. Add the rest of the water and potato starch mixture to the dry ingredients and stir until just combined. If it's too stiff, add a little more water. Don't overmix.
  3. Heat a deep saute pan or skillet over medium heat. Fill 1/4~1/3 up the sides with the frying oil. Once the oil is heated, take one piece of fish and coat completely with the batter, letting excess drip off. Repeat with about half of the pieces of fish. Place gently in the oil, and let cook until lightly browned, about 2~4 minutes. Flip the fish over and cook the other side, about another 2 minutes. Drain on a cooling rack resting in a paper towel lined baking sheet. Repeat with the rest of the fish.
  4. Serve with lemon wedges, vinegar, or a little bit of Japanese mayonnaise.
My Jo Jo's
serves 4
4 large Yukon Gold or medium Russet potatoes, cut into 6~8 wedges each
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon fresh ground pepper
1 teaspoon smoked paprika
1 garlic clove, minced or grated
1/2 teaspoon herbes de provence, optional
2 tablespoons olive oil
  1. Preheat the oven to 450°F. Place a large baking sheet in the oven.
  2. Pat the potato wedges dry. In a large bowl, place all of the ingredient. Toss to coat the potatoes evenly.
  3. Pull the hot baking sheet out of the oven, and pour all of the potatoes on it in a single layer. Put back in the oven, and back for about 20~30 minutes, depending on desired darkness. Let the potatoes rest for a few minutes before serving.
  4. Serve with ranch dressing (optional:)).

vanilla sugar

A pantry item I love to have on hand is vanilla beans. But they're so expensive and yield such a small amount of useful seeds that it feels so wasteful. So here's one way you can use your vanilla bean "carcass" over and over.

Vanilla Sugar
1 vanilla bean pod, seeds removed and used elsewhere (like in a delicious crème brûlée)
2 cups of granulated pure cane sugar
  • Combine the 2 ingredients into an airtight container and let the vanilla aroma flavor the sugar. After a few hours, you can add it to your herbal tea, or whatever you want. Just keep adding sugar to the container as you use it up, and the pod will keep flavoring it.

a fresh start

If you're here, that means you've followed me through a long journey of discovering myself, and discovering an even deeper respect for food than I thought I had. Thank you.

Let's begin.

We're starting with pancakes. Everyone loves pancakes, and they can be so simple! And this version is full of texture, delicious, easy, and really good for you. And with my blackberry kiwi sauce on top with a little dollop of lightly sweetened whipped cream, you won't be going back to a box mix again.
 This recipe is based on a basic pancake recipe, which is inspired by Japanese-style hot cakes. Japanese hot cakes are thick and sweet and fluffy, with lots of vanilla fragrance. They're often eaten as an afternoon snack instead of breakfast. In our house, we eat them for pretty much any meal of the day.
This version, though, has things like wheat germ and cornmeal and yogurt that make you feel pretty good about letting yourself take another one. And with some fresh fruit sauce on top, you might even be ok with adding a little dollop of whipped cream. This is my kind of mid-week breakfast. Easy, tasty, and good for you.

Multi-grain pancakes with blackberry-kiwi sauce
for the pancakes:
1/2 cup whole-wheat flour
1/4 cup cornmeal
1/4 cup wheat germ
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons honey (or agave nectar or maple syrup)
1/2 cup fat free Greek yogurt
1/2 cup low fat milk
2 tablespoons light olive oil or canola oil (or other light tasting oil--or butter, of course)
1 large egg
1-1/2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
  1. Preheat the oven to 200°F; have an oven proof platter ready in the oven to keep cooked pancakes warm while you finish your batch. In a small bowl whisk together flour, cornmeal, wheat germ, baking soda, baking powder, and salt.
  2. In a medium bowl, whisk together honey, yogurt, milk, oil, and egg. Add dry ingredients to milk mixture; whisk until just moistened (do not overmix).
  3. Heat a large skillet or griddle over medium heat. Using a paper towel folded and moistened with canola oil, rub the griddle with very light coat of oil.
  4. Spoon about 3 tablespoons of batter onto the oiled griddle, using the back of a spoon to spread the batter into a round. (*hint: if you spray the back of the spoon with cooking spray, it won't stick to the batter)
  5. Cook until surface of the pancakes have some bubbles. Flip over and cook until the other side is lightly browned, 1 to 2 more minutes. Transfer to the platter in the oven. Serve warm.
for the sauce:
8~10 oz fresh blackberries, washed
4 kiwi, peeled and diced
2 tablespoons vanilla sugar
1 tablespoon agave nectar or honey
  1. In a medium saucepan, add all of the ingredients. Place saucepan over medium-high heat and cook, stirring often, until fruit begins to break down and soften, about 5 minutes. Break fruit pieces with the wooden spoon as you stir. (*hint: using a potato masher will make this job a lot easier and faster)
  2. Turn the heat to medium-low, and let the fruit mixture thicken. (At this point, you want to taste it to make sure it's the right sweetness. Depending on how in-season the fruit is, you might want to add some more agave nectar for sweetness or a little squeeze of citrus for brightness) Once it reaches the desired thickness, take off heat and let cool slightly. Serve over hot pancakes.