Friday, August 8, 2008

My Pasta Maker

I have a new love-- aside from writing and photography and camping and biking and home decorating and reading and film and travel and all of the other things that I have used to occupy my time-- I am now in love with my pasta machine.

I am attributing this love at least in part to my time as a preschool teacher who played with play-dough and still loved the feeling of squishing it and molding and cutting it. We were originally going to purchase the Kitchen Aid version that would attach to our stand mixer. However, the set of three attachments retails for $129 on amazon and is seldom seen in stores. Also, the rollers must be switched out from the receptacle on the mixer to be used, whereas with the table versions a crank merely has to be moved. What we ended up purchasing was a mixer very similar to the one pictured here, however, our machine cost less than this. We actually feel pretty fortunate because we think that the one on Amazon was made by the exact manufacturer, but sold under another name.

For my initial trial I decided to do a simple lemon basil recipe that was in the booklet that came with the pasta maker. I wanted to make one that seemed to be foolproof and that one had just a few ingredients. My fear was that somehow I wouldn't be able to successfully make anything close to resembling noodles, which I realize is a ridiculous fear considering the relative simplicity of making pasta compared to driving a car or editing a photo in Photoshop.

Pressing and cutting the noodles was fairly easy. The only even remotely complex parts were catching the dough in such a way that it didn't fold and insuring that the crank didn't fall out while in use or as I was moving the pasta.

Drying the pasta was another task. Some stores sell racks of rods to dry pasta on, and Jim and I will probably purchase some dowel rods which we will cut and sand, but for my first try I decided to put them on a cooking spoon over a pot and flour canister. I also laid a few out flat on a plate, but eventually found that it was easiest to place some butter knives between the pages of one of my favorite cookbooks-- which is also one of the biggest and hang them there. The only issue with this was that as the pasta dried it left creases in the bends that were easily broken. However, once the strands were in hot water these evened out.

For dinner tonight we ate the pasta and I made a butter and cream sauce with mushrooms and parm. and we had a Cornish game hen with juniper berries, bay leaves and peppercorn. Yum.

Honey is excited to try the process out himself and tomorrow we are planning to make spinach noodles and whole wheat pasta. We are also going to try using the rollers and a tool that I once devoted to crinkle soap slices as I cut them to make the edges of bow-tie pasta and ravioli. we are also hoping to find a good recipe for won ton and egg roll wrappers that we can roll out.

We are not going to only eat organic, and we are not going crazy with health food (I just used half a stick of butter and a cup of cream in a sauce) but we are trying to get more connected to what we are eating and purchase more staples and fresh ingredients and use those for cooking. This will lead to less preservatives and more frugality. We still have a love for pre-made and frozen Cordon Blu chicken breasts, and a good frozen pizza, but this is a simple way to eat food because it is really what we want, not because it is the sauce on sale.

My next culinary purchases will hopefully be a food mill and the tools that I need to do some canning when fall arrives. We just got a large stock pot from the free section that we can use for this, but I need the jars and the tongs to grab the jars. We would like to find a good farmer's market, but that can be hard in the city. There are a couple that operate downtown in places like the Nicollet Mall, but that is a main thoroughfare for city buses, and Jim is worried about the smoke when he has seen it on his lunch breaks. Hopefully at the State Fair we will find some good farmers who sell there wares, or at least some ideas for small stores that have what we want and don't charge you $5 for a squash.


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