Cook-venture: Ravioli with Butter and Sage Sauce

Even though I went on a huge hiatus from blogging last year I was still taking pictures of food I made in the hopes I'd get the chance to eventually post it. Well, the time has come (or my free time is finally here) so here's a catch up post from a meal Errol and I made last summer (gasp!) for Errol's final visit before school started.

First we made some pasta (see my How-To from Florence!). Then mixed some ricotta cheese, thawed frozen spinach, salt and pepper to taste, and an egg to bind it all. 

Place about a tablespoon of the mixture into the middle, place another layer of pasta and crimp the edges with a fork. 

Oh hey, there's Errol! This was his first time making pasta because he did not take the cooking class with me in Florence. He was enjoying his first lesson :) 

Once the ravioli are finished, place them into boiling water. I would recommend a larger pot to boil and/or cook in batches. The nice thing about handmade pasta is that it just takes a few minutes for it to be cooked compared to dried! 

In the meantime, make the sauce! Melt a few tablespoons of butter and then place some whole sage leaves into the hot butter until they are slightly wilted. 

Once the ravioli are done, put on a plate, pour the butter sage sauce over them, and place fresh shavings of parmesan cheese and enjoy! 

Our first adventure making pasta after Italy was a success. The small kitchen makes for a challenge to rolling out the pasta so I actually rolled out one batch of dough into 4 rounds to accomodate my cutting board. I can't wait to have granite countertops and a larger kitchen!


Italy Trip (Catch-Up): How To Make Pasta From Scratch

One of the highlights of my trip to Italy last summer was the cooking class through Food And Wine Academy of Florence! All cooking classes are expensive. But for the price, I picked this one compared to lots of others I researched for a few reasons: 
  • It's a long course (about 6 hours) so it takes your whole day, BUT you get a huge meal out of that would cost some hefty Euros at a restaurant (plus drinks, seating charge, etc.).
  • These classes have a 10% student discount, PLUS I was able to add in a Rick Steves travel guide code that was in his book. Bonus! 
  • Class begins with a tour of the Central Market of Florence where you get your ingredients for the day, AND a cheese/balsamic vinegar tasting (food education + snacks!)
  • You walk away with the recipes from the day PLUS some other ones to try at home

In this class, we made pasta and tiramisu, but I'll save the tiramisu for a separate post. Here's a shot from above of our work space for the day! This was after a couple hours at the Central Market (also saved for another post). 

Prep materials! 

Chef Giovanni taught us a lot, even though he was slightly condescending to American food culture (but hey, I'm not blaming him when we have McDonald's to be proud of...). He dispelled a lot of myths, like: 
  • Fettuccine alfredo is NOT ITALIAN. Italians use smaller noodles with white sauces (angel hair, penne, etc.). 
  • Spaghetti would also not be used with a meat sauce. Italians use the thicker pasta noodles (like the pappardelle we made that day) for hearty meat sauces because they can withstand it. 

He started by measuring out our individual flour portions. We used Tipo "00" flour, which is a finer type of flour. I can't seem to find it in the US except for on Amazon in huge portions, so I have semolina and all-purpose at home. 

Start out by making your pile in a neat circle, then using your thumb and first few fingers, create a well in the center. Plop your egg in, some olive oil, and pinch of salt. Take a fork and scramble the egg, and every so often add in some flour from the side of your well until fully incorporated. This is a messy step, so when I'm at home I do this inside of a mixing bowl then will put on a flat surface to knead. 

Speaking of kneading, do it for about 15 minutes. Yes, you will get tired if you're like me and incredibly out of shape. I also blame my height for not having enough leverage to use my body weight. You want to keep kneading it until it becomes smooth on the outside, and create a pretty ball. Then you're going to wrap it very tightly with plastic wrap and let sit for 30 minutes. This lets the dough soften for when you roll it out. 

In the meantime, Chef Giovanni took us to the stove to make the Bolognese sauce. It was in here I answered his quiz question that the sauce got its name because it originates in Bologna (go me!). 

Once the dough is finished sitting, roll out the dough. Put some flour on the counter and on top of the dough. Every now and then keep flipping the dough as you get it thinner and thinner. If you think the dough is thin enough, keep going. We were told to roll it until you can see the granite through the dough (if you look really hard you can see it in the picture). 

To make the pappardelle, lightly fold the dough and simply cut it to pappardelle thickness! The order of noodles from thinnest to widest are: Angel hair --> Spaghetti --> Fettuccine --> Tagliatelle --> Pappardelle 

We used half the dough to make pappardelle, and the other half to make ravioli. The filling is a simple ricotta and egg mixture. 

Similar to the pappardelle, fold the dough but this time to the thickness of your ravioli cutter (in this case, a glass!). In the first step, do NOT cut the pasta, just use the glass to get the correct width. Instead, first cut the dough in long ribbons with the correct width. Place the ricotta mixture in a small ball on one ribbon, and then place another on top. You may need to stretch the top layer slightly to make it over the ricotta. 

NOW you can cut the ravioli in pretty circles. Take a fork and crimp the edges to seal. Be careful not to puncture the cheese in the process! 

Here are the fruits of our labor for the day! 

 As we ate some bruschetta that was made for us, Chef Giovanni put the dishes together:
  • Pappardelle with Bolognese sauce
  • Ravioli with butter and sage sauce

I've already made these dishes multiple times at home. And although I can't re-create the exact flavors because the meat in Italy is fresher, I believe it still tastes good! I have also been able to teach family and friends how to make pasta as well, which is always fun! 

I highly recommend doing any cooking class of some sort if you're interested in that sort of thing. It was relatively basic, but I was still able to learn something from it and makes a great store. It's an experience you'll never forget! 


Review: Buku (Triangle Restaurant Week)


Yesterday was the last day of Triangle Restaurant Week (TRW), a week where tons of restaurants in Chapel Hill, Durham, and Raleigh create pre-fixed menus at pre-fixed prices for people to explore. These prices are generally much cheaper than when it's not TRW and is an innovative advertising opportunity.

This TRW, a few friends and I tried out Buku: Global Street Food. It is truly a global restaurant with twists on classic dishes ranging from:
  • South America (Colombian arepa, Argentinian short rib)
  • Europe (Polish pierogi, Belgian steak fries, German soft pretzel knots)
  • Asia (Burmese deviled eggs, Vietnamese crepe)
  • Africa (South African lamb kebabs)
  • (Just to name a few!)

It was really exciting to even see twists on Filipino classics: 
  • Lumpia with chili-mango ground pork, mango salad, and cilantro chutney
  • Duck Adobo with coconut rice, atchara, and fried duck egg

The lumpia wasn't on the prefixed menu, but I had to get it. It was delicious! The meat tasted just like home, but the twist with the mango salad and cilantro chutney was amazingly refreshing. And I loooove cilantro. 

First Course: Laotian Duck Larb
Duck leg confit, sticky rice, cucumber, Laotian herb pesto, lime 

This was my first time having confit, and anything Laotian, so I had no idea what to expect. The duck had a strong flavor of salt and spice, and the cucumbers were necessary to balance that out (along with lots of water).  The taste was great, but I generally prefer sauces with meat and this was relatively dry. I didn't finish this course (a theme throughout the meal) but still liked it!

Second Course: Macademia-encrusted Red Snapper
Purple sweet potato puree, mango, coconut-papaya salad, taro chips, passionfruit reduction

I was pretty full by this point (blame the water from the confit) but kept trying to power through. These were more flavors I'd never had; the sweet potato was really good. I wasn't the biggest fan of the sweet potato texture but I always like starch with a meal. The salad was pickled, which I didn't expect, and it was very good. The taro chips were a great texture in addition with the macadamia crust on the fish. 

Dessert: Normandy-style Roasted Apple Cake
Golden raisins, chevre buttercream, Calvados-vanilla bean ice cream, fried sage, cider reduction

I needed some sweet to round out the meal and this hit the spot. The ice cream was my favorite part of the entire meal! The cake is a dense one, but it's not too sweet (my kind of dessert). The raisins add a nice texture and flavor to the dish as well.

Overall, I would come back to Buku. It's definitely a place with dishes I couldn't recreate without spending a ton on fancy ingredients and taking some cooking classes. It's great to see a place that has such a wide variety of dishes from all over the world; it's like traveling to different countries all in one night!


Food-venture: Stromboli

So starts the week of making meals from whatever I have in the pantry and fridge to make my meals. I must admit I cheated I bit, and that I bought these ingredients during a prior week and didn't have the opportunity to make it. 

I was disappointed when I looked up information about stromboli that its origin is actually the United States, despite its Italian name and ingredients. Although, it was from Wikipedia so any other information would be welcomed. When I was in Italy last summer I actually learned that fettuccine alfredo is actually of United States origin as well (#mindblown). 

But anywho, this was a super easy dish with infinite variations. I decided to start with classic pepperoni and mozzarella cheese filling to start, then will try more later.

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F. I started with pre-made pizza crust from a tube.

It's a pretty big deal that I opened this all by myself since I'm quite easily startled. Unfortunately, the tube didn't open by simply exposing the dotted line. I had to use the spoon against the crevice method. But it worked! 

Flatten out the crust. Tastes great, I just wish that I had thinned out the crust a bit more before using. But this did fit perfectly on my cutting board. 

First layer were pepperoni slices...

...then shredded mozzarella. These were pre-shredded which I know is a big no-no but it made making this that much faster! Next time I'll use more cheese.

Fold the bottom third up...

...then the top third downward. Seal the sides and the top. 

I melted 1 tablespoon of butter and brushed it over the top, then sprinkled Italian seasoning on top. 

Place on a baking sheet (my Silpat has been seeing a lot of action!) for 15-20 minutes until healthy brown. 

All done! 

Slice up and dip in marinara sauce. Yum!

It doesn't really get easier than this, and it will last for a few lunches. It's a cleaner version of pizza that takes up less surface area for transport. I'm a fan. 

Future variations: 
  • Spinach, feta, and mozzarella
  • Salami, pepperoni, cheese, capers
  • Ham, pineapple, mozzarella
  • Buffalo chicken, blue cheese


Another Week of Food for One

I'm the kind of person that goes in and out of phases, and I'm still not convinced that this food obsession isn't just another one of my phases. From a positive perspective, maybe now that pharmacy school isn't so insanely hectic it is giving me more time to try new things. How long do I have to keep this up for it to be cemented into my routine? If only working out would have the same effect on me...

I must say, this new method of meal planning has definitely cut down on my random purchases at the grocery store. I still spend an hour at the store wandering through each aisle, but if I see something I want I think, "What could I make with it?". If nothing comes to mind, I sadly put it back down. 

But that's not to say that Nutella didn't make it into my cart, even though it wasn't on my list. Although I would consider that an essential pantry stock item. 

This weekend I've decided not to go grocery shopping. Instead of buying new ingredients to try out new recipes, I'll work with what I already have and try to shave down my pantry a bit. Shopping and cooking for one is extremely difficult! 

Some of the things I have in mind to make from things currently in my pantry and fridge:
  • Venezuelan empanadas 
  • Tortellini cooked numerous ways 
  • Whole wheat bread sandwiches 
  • Cucumber and feta salad 
  • Good ol' faithful: EGGS
We will see how this salvage week goes! 

Review: Inferno (SPOILERS)

**If you haven't read the book and don't wish to know any plot, don't read any further!**

***Clearly, this post is coming months after I went to Italy but I felt was definitely worth sharing***

I was very excited when I heard that Dan Brown was going to have a newest installment of a Robert Langdon adventure. Two reasons for this: 1) love Robert Langdon 2) was disappointed in The Lost Symbol and wanted his story salvaged!

The coolest part was the timing because the book is set in Florence and Venice (along with a third main   location in Istanbul) and that's where Errol and I were headed! My roommate got me the book for my birthday, which arrived at my home just in time to be packed for travel. Throughout the plane ride and Rome and Greve days, I managed to finish in time to explore the book whilst in Florence and Venice!

Ceiling of the Hall of 500, where Vasari wrote "cerca trova" on one of the paintings. 
View of the Ponte Vecchio from the top floor of the Uffizi Gallery
Hall of 500: Unfortunately the room was not available to the public so we couldn't go down and search for "Cerca trova" 
Unassuming hallway containing Dante's mask
Supposed death mask of Dante Alighieri 

Hall of Geographical Maps, including the map of Armenia
Map of Armenia! You can see in the middle of the right side frame there's a small pin handle. 
We asked one of the staff if it opened, and she opened it for us! Going through is a separate paid tour. 

Baptistery of San Giovanni

Inside the Baptistery where the Dante's mask was found

The REAL Doors of Paradise are actually in a separate museum!

St. Mark's Basilica (Venice) was being cleaned, but you could still see the horses! 
The perfect timing of this book made the trip to Italy that much sweeter. And I'm lucky that I went with someone who was just as excited as I was! 

Overall, I felt that Inferno was a really great book that brings up some controversial topics in an entertaining way. It's highly unpredictable (or maybe I'm just bad at predicting things) and keeps you wanting more. 


Bake-venture: Chocolate and Caramel Biscotti

I had the random inspiration to make biscotti this weekend. Baking is something that is unfamiliar to me - honestly sticking something in the oven and hoping it comes out right makes me nervous. At least on the stove, you can tend to it and give it attention and adjust as needed. I think the only way to get over this is to bake some things successfully.  I think I'm on my way! 

I used this recipe for my biscotti: http://jellytoastblog.com/2013/02/salted-caramel-chocolate-biscotti.html/

3/4 cup sugar
1 1/2 tsp vanilla extract
2 large eggs
2 & 3/4 cups all purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
15 caramel candies, unwrapped and chopped small


Preheat oven to 300. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper and set aside (I used my Silpat!)

In the bowl of a stand mixer, beat together sugar, vanilla and eggs until white and creamy. 

In a separate bowl whisk together flours, baking soda and salt.
With the mixer on low, slowing add dry ingredients to the wet ingredients. Mix until just incorporated.
Fold in caramels and 1/3 cup of chocolate chips. 

Divide dough in half and form into two 12 inch logs on prepared baking sheet. Flatten slightly so logs are about 3/4 inch high. 

Bake for 35 minutes, and take a peak because you've never see biscotti pre-sliced before!

Remove and allow to cool for 10 min. I picked off the caramel leakage on the sides and ate them. No shame in that.

With a sharp knife, slice each log. I used a serrated bread knife, just be careful not to damage the loaf too much. 

Lay biscotti down on the cut sides. 

Bake again for 10 minutes. Flip the biscotti over and bake for an additional 10 minutes or until biscotti are nicely dried. 

Voila! I believe they turned out really well. Ideally I would have melted chocolate, drizzled it over the biscotti, and sprinkled with sea salt to make them salted caramel biscotti. I tried twice to melt semisweet chocolate chips and both batches seized up, so I gave up. Another adventure for another time. I don't have much of sweet tooth, and these are not too sweet (but still sweet enough for everyone!). 

As a side note, I'm in love with my Silpat! Nothing stuck to it - even the caramel that seeped out of the biscotti loaves. 

Bakeventure a success! It lifted my confidence a bit, until next time...