Wednesday, February 16, 2011

The Way to our Hearts is through the Kitchen

About a month ago Jon, my husband, and I made ravioli using the ravioli press I had gotten him for Christmas. We like to cook together.  Our kitchen time is excellent bonding time. However,  four words pretty much summed up the endeavor: It was a disaster. That might be a bit of exaggeration, but...

Careful, the filling will ooze into
every nook, cranny, and gap
Neither of us had mastered the use of the pasta machine.  By adding too much flour and overly working the first quarter of the dough we ended up with pasta crumbles. Well, fine, we needed to use some dough to clean the machine anyway.  Our technique improved with the second and third quarters of the dough, but we let the fourth quarter get too dry and once again we were left with crumbles.

It was relatively easy to use the ravioli press, except for the ravioli filling oozing out all over the place.

Three hours later we had 26 filled ravioli. After all that work, they were only okay.  The filling was kind of bland, though the sauce made up for it, but certainly nothing that would merit that sort of effort again. The whole endeavor left room for improvement.  Lots and lots and lots of room.

Our filling tasted a lot like this.
At least we made better sauce
It should be said the relationship part was not a disaster.  That part was fine.  It was the edible results of our attempt to make ravioli that was the disaster.

So, we come to this weekend.  Our first pre-Valentine's day weekend as a married couple.  We like to cook up special dishes for ourselves and weeknights simply are not conducive to dinners that take several hours to prepare. So we decided to make it a weekend of high-effort meals.

Earlier in the week, Jon had mentioned we should make cheesecake.  We decided on an old favorite, the individual chévre cheesecakes with raspberry sauce from the Lunds and Beyerly's magazine. Though I don't make cheesecake very often, when I do I'm struck with it's simplicity.  In many ways one of the easier desserts to make.

Add dollops of filling, fold lengthwise, seal, and cut
With a dessert idea well in hand, we had to figure out what to have for the main course.  We really like homemade pasta and felt that we should attempt to improve our previous efforts.  We bravely set forth on another ravioli making quest.

Instead of a plain cheese filling, we used ricotta, spinach, onion, and Parmesan filling on the Cook's Illustrated* website, along with directions for filling ravioli by hand.  In addition to CI, I looked through Epicurious and other websites for instructions on rolling out pasta.

Fresh tomato sauce, boiling ravioli,
simmering raspberry sauce
It seems our biggest problem was over-rolling the dough.  The pasta maker instructions seemed to imply we should send the pasta through multiple times per setting.  Other sources said to roll the dough through the widest setting, fold, and re-roll a couple of times and then run the dough one time through each of the incrementally narrower settings.

Anyone have more fresh pasta making advice?

Net result?  Fantastic. Much less labor intensive than we thought and much more successful.  We were even able to freeze a bunch of the ravioli for a future meal.  There's still room for improvement.  I think I over-boiled the ravioli and we definitely didn't get them drained enough.  Still, we were rather successful and had a perfectly wonderful dinner.

Apparently I didn't make enough cinnamon raisin biscuits
Sunday morning brought us cinnamon raisin biscuits with powdered sugar frosting.  If one wanted to be fancy, I suppose one could call these scones, but they're not.  These were fluffy and light with that melt in your mouth tang.  I'm still leery of making classic biscuits, but these seem to turn out successfully almost every time.

If you must know, lunch on Sunday was quesadillas using up the leftover fajita fixings from earlier in the week.

Sunday night we prepped a pan of lasagna for Monday and made Beef Wellington for dinner.  Both recipes are from the 2009 Cook's Illustrated Cooking for Two**.

There was a remarkable amount of cooking and spending time together in the kitchen over the weekend.   It gives us time to tease each other, discuss random topics, calm ourselves, and laugh. AND LAUGH A LOT. It gives us time to learn together - about something new and about each other.  It allows us to be gently taken to task for our various tendencies - me for my perfectionism (you see the purple ruler in the picture, right?); he for focusing on only the current instruction.  It gives us time to share memories of our past.  It gives us time to make our own memories and traditions. It gives us time to be a couple and revel in each other.

By Monday we were off to work, flush with weekend success. The pre-work exchange of Valentine's cards was followed several hours later by lasagna, garlic bread, some wine, and more cheesecake.

What says love better than 70% cacao on a cheesecake on a plate stolen from Mom's kitchen?

*Yes, I too have some issues with Cook's Illustrated marketing tactics and their excessive amounts of emails.  I will say that I emailed them asking only to get the newsletters and not the advertisements and they complied.

**The Cooking for Two series is great for small households - main courses of 2-4 servings, suggestions for using up ingredients, plus all the cooking instructions and product recommendations CI is known for.

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