Friday, August 6, 2010

The Secret To Great Pasta Discovered!

Bob's Red Mill Semolina Flour
I think it's apparent by now that I have a mild obsession with pasta.  There are many reasons for this strange noodle compulsion of mine.  What started as an easy meal has turned into an all absorbing crusade to create the finest pasta noodle imaginable.
I'm not fooling myself. I know that I can't beat the great chefs. I know that somewhere in Italy a wrinkled old woman is laughing at my endeavor. Do I care? No. No I do not.  I have been pushing ahead in my experiments to discover what creates that special "bite" in a noodle.  What is that golden time the noodles should stay in the water.
Because I'm so obsessed with these great pasta mysterious I have fallen victim to some pretty deadly traps.  I've over cooked my pasta more than one. I've made my noodles too thin on occasion. I've forgotten salt more times than I can count. I've even *brace yourself* purchased a pasta extruder from a TV infomerical.  That machine is now living somewhere in the Charlotte Municipal Dump.  I used it once and that was enough.
Like so many of us, I failed to remember one golden rule.  Always stick with simplicity.  It was thru this, and the wonders of the Internet, that I've found that Semolina Flour is the magical secret I was hunting.  Semolina flour is made from the purified wheat middling of durum wheat.  What that exactly means, I don't know. Wiki says it, so it must be true. What I do know is that if you follow this easy recipe you'll be able to create Pasta that will satisfy the noodle Nazi in you.
Semolina Flour Goodness

What You Need:

3/4 Cup Semolina Flour
3/4 Cup Unbleached Flour (All Purpose or Bread flour are fine)
1/2 Tsp Salt
2 Eggs (I prefer to use the cage free eggs)
2 Tbsp Water (more if needed)
2 Tbsp Olive Oil

Mix all this goodness up until you've made a well incorporated dough. If you are using a mixer like me, then this will be easy.  If you are doing this by hand, just knead the dough much like you would bread, using the heel of your hand to push in the dough.
When the dough is all mixed, cover with rag or plastic wrap and let rest 20min. Once your ready, roll out the stuff like you normally do (using a pasta machine or rolling pin if by hand).  Make sure your water on the stove is at a boil (also don't forget to salt your water!). Pasta will be done when it floats to the top.  This typically happens in 2 to 3 minutes top.


Monday, August 2, 2010

The Almost Smith's Bakery Cookies

We all have memories of bakeries from our childhood.  Every one of us has that "perfect" cookie we drool for throughout our adulthood. My ultimate cookie is made by Smith's Bakery in Bakersfield California.  I love them so much that I would have paid mucho dinero to have them at my wedding instead of wedding cake. Sadly, they don't ship ANYTHING.  It's probably good that they don't ship or I'd be so fat you'd see a special on me on the Discovery Health Channel.  You can't stop eating'll sacrifice having normal bowel movements just to have one more bite of their sugary goodness.

Although my cookie recipe doesn't come close to the insane goodness of Smith's Bakery, it's a pretty damn good imitation.

What You'll Need:
  • 2/3 cup shortening
  • 2/3 cup butter
  • 1 1/2 cups white sugar
  • 2 eggs
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 3 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon salt (I like my cookies a little salty so I put in more)
  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees
  2. In a mixing bowl, cream together the butter, shortening and sugar. Stir in the eggs and vanilla. Combine the flour, baking powder and salt, stir into the creamed mixture until dough is thick and slightly sticky.. Put dough in fridge for about 2 to 3 hours if you want to make cut out cookies. If you want to make drop cookies then just place a walnut size ball of dough onto a cookie sheet.. Place them on an unprepared cookie sheet about 2 inches apart.They cookies do not lose their shape.  you put a ball on the cookie sheet, you get a ball shaped cookie.
  3. Bake cookies 10 to 12 minutes in the preheated oven, until bottom is light brown. The cookies will look a little under done on the top, but don't worry, they really ARE done.. Remove from baking sheets to cool on wire racks or paper towel. 
 Once the cookies are cooled it's time to do the icing.  Smith's has a very particular recipe for their icing.  It is so particular it's a level secret. I've searched and searched for someone who might know it and leak it me...but nothing.  The Pentagon needs to talk to Smith's about how to keep things secret.  

While this isn't as good as Smith's royal icing, it's pretty close. 

What You'll Need:
  • 1 cup confectioners' sugar
  • 1 tablespoon light corn syrup
  • 2 tablespoons water
  • 1 tsp Vanilla
  1. In  bowl, mix the confectioners' sugar and water until the sugar is completely incorporated into the water. It shouldn't be completely smooth, but close. You may need more water, so don't freak if have to put in more. Add sparingly though. Too much water is a bad thing.
  2. Add in the light corn syrup and vanilla.  Mix this until the icing is smooth and shiny, but not too loose. You want the icing to be on the thicker side.  Add food color if you like at this stage.
I used a decorating bag and tip to do designs on the cookies, but you can spoon on a bit of you like.  I like to put the icing on the cookies when they are barely warm so that the icing will smooth out a bit.  Wait about 20minutes for the icing to set up and enjoy!

The cookies will never get hard...they stay chewy forever and the royal icing becomes hard and crunchy.  Perfect combo in my book!