Saturday, January 28, 2012

A Gift From the Heart

Handsome Stranger has struggled for years when it comes to gifts for me, and I really feel bad for him. I never think "For cryin' out LOUD, you've known me for over 33 years, why the HELL can't you read my mind??" because I don't know what I want myself most of the time. I am also cheaper than than the day is long, and will, immediately upon opening any gift, will think (in my head most of the time) "Where did you buy this? Was it on sale or did you use a coupon? Did you check online to see if you could get it for less?"....I can't help it. He overthrew the flowery romantic notion of buying jewelry long ago since I just lose it; the last such items were a new rock in my engagement band because apparently the other one broke off and is probably in a landfill or one of our former custodians teeth (I think it happened in the file room), and a simple anniversary ring for our 25th that I am actually wearing right now. And that is fine with me - the man played his hand when he bought me the Camaro for my 50th so he can do what he wants.

It is also difficult to surprise me. I hate knowing what I'm getting, so I've had to be very careful during the month of December to not look at my bank account (I clean up the aftermath on the 26th), avoid rifling through his wallet and drawers, and run away if I see a box/bag/mysterious lumpy thing that appears to be in one of our big suitcases...ruins the surprise. But this year he was successful...I had no clue (except the box of Sees, I could smell the damn raspberry creams through the wrapping paper) and was delighted when I unwrapped a set of Kitchenaid pasta making attachments I have always wanted but was too cheap to buy. I've seen the occasional one at Goodwill, but after noting cat hair in one, determined that purchasing one second hand would be like using a toothbrush you found in a gas station bathroom. And he used a coupon....I love that man!

So my first experience was making lasagne only use one attachment, the roller, and just have to run the rested dough through on several different settings until it's the width of the roller and as thick as you like, then lay it out on towels while you make the rest of the ingredients so you can put it all together. It was AMAZING lasagne...the sheets were thin, and had a more pastry-ish quality - tender and almost creamy, without that rubbery bite but not mushy either. Best lasagne I have ever had....anywhere. The second was a marathon session where I made TWO batches of lasagne and two of fettucini....that day I made traditional and veggie alfredo lasagne, and once again, could not have been more pleased with the results. Then I used some of the fettucini for a huge batch of cottage cheese, noodles and bacon that Ethan requested for days afterwards, and then some with bolognese sauce for him one night we were eating something highly objectionable to him (he's not really picky, just 10) to a very happy outcome. I also shared some of the dried fettucini with a friend, and she said it was really good...I choose to believe her.

Today everyone was watching the Maltese Falcon, and I was bored because it was in BLACK & WHITE....sheesh, we used to have to watch that in the middle ages (1960's), and they didn't even bother to colorize it. I love that they were SO un-PC back then, and we got some pretty good guffaws out of some of their mannerisms and choices of vocab, but it wasn't enough to keep me entertained so I grabbed an apron and noodled up. I rolled the sheets a bit thicker, then cut them by hand into strips about as wide and long as my thumb....then I made chicken veggie soup and threw those delicious eggy strips of heaven into the pot. Not very many people make noodles by hand, mostly cause it's a giant pain in the arse - that is unless you have magical machines to do the hard part, but either way...BEST. CHICKEN. SOUP. ON. THE. PLANET. I should build a shrine to Kitchenaid, but that would be false idolatry so I won't, but man-oh-man you should try it takes a bit of elbow grease to roll out pasta dough, but this soup is SO very worth it!

Chicken NOODLE Soup

So if you want to use homemade, the recipe will follow for the pasta, otherwise I highly suggest you buy fresh or the frozen egg noodles....the kind in the bag are never as good. Or you can make the soup with no noodles and avoid the carbs - sometimes I add butternut squash I've roasted and that's good too. But I have suspected for years that the Manna the Israelites found every morning in the desert for 40 years while they wandered lost because Moses didn't have GPS was actually noodles....they just changed the name later.

1 T. olive oil
3 large raw chicken breasts, cut into 1/4" dice
1.5 C. celery, cut in 1/4" slices
1.5 C. onion, diced
1.5 C. carrots, cut in half and 1/4" thick
2 C. frozen or fresh corn
1.5 C. crookneck squash, 1/2" dice (they will break down a little)
1/2 LARGE cabbage, coarsely chopped
16 C. Hot water OR chicken broth
5 T. chicken soup base (the paste type is the best) if using water
1/2 tsp. turmeric (yellow curry)
Salt and FRESH GROUND black pepper to taste
1 lb. fresh pasta

Heat olive oil in large stock pot until smoking, add chicken, celery, onion, carrot, corn and saute for a couple minutes. Add squash and cabbage and cook a couple more minutes until it all kind of wilts, then put in water, soup base (or broth), and seasonings. Bring to a boil and cook for about 8 minutes, then add pasta and stir, continuing to cook at a low boil about 5 minutes or until pasta is at least al dente. It will continue to cook from the heat in the pot, but you can serve immediately or let it sit a while....the flavor will actually improve if you can believe that.

If you want to make the pasta, I will give you the recipe I use for the Kitchenaid, but you may have to actually mix it with your hands if you don't have a fancy mixer...OR you can use a food processor, just not a hand mixer unless you want a new one when it burns up from attempting to mix concrete.

Egg Noodles

3.5 C. sifted AP flour
1/2 tsp. table salt (kosher grains are too big)
1 T. water
4 whole eggs

Put all ingredients in mixer and use the flat beater, beat on 2 for 1-2 minutes until flour is incorporated, then switch to dough hook and knead on 2 for 2 minutes. Remove dough from hook/bowl and knead for another 1-2 minutes or until smooth. Let rest covered with a towel for 20 minutes or it will just laugh at you if you try to roll it out. This is where I run it through the rollers on 1, folding it every time and repeating 4 or 5 times, then roll it once at 2, once at 3 and once at 4 to make thick ones (I think it goes up to 7). If you are doing it manually, you just cut the dough in 4 pieces, and start rolling with a rolling pin.....they should be about as thin as...well....a noodle. Then cut into smaller squares, then in whatever size noodle you want.

I used them fresh, just cook in whatever for 4-5 minutes for the thick ones, but you can dry them on a towel for later, just make sure they are separated and don't stack...they will stick together and you will say very bad words and cook the whole deformed mess, then cry bitter tears of disappointment while you eat your noodles with a steak knife and fork, raking them through a puddle of melted butter and they will STILL be delicious. And THAT, my friends, is a gift from MY heart.