Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Mangosteen Tasting!

A small delivery of mangosteens appeared at the culinary school on Monday! I'm not sure how or where they came from, but a few of the chef instructors had them, and my Monday night instructor was generous enough to share his with us.

None of us really knew much about the mangosteen other than, 'Hey, isn't this that really crazy fruit that was banned in the US until last year and costs so much money that it hardly matters that we can import it now?' We definitely weren't sure how to cut it open or what to expect once we did. So dutiful culinary explorers that we are, we huddled around a cutting board
shoulder to shoulder, made preliminary gestures with paring knives and fillet knives and chef knives, until we finally got tired of being delicate and THWAP! The mangosteen was breached.

My pictures didn't turn out very well, so I only have this one. If you want to see how a mangosteen should be properly dissected, take a look over HERE. There aren't instructions, but I'm thinking that you use a paring knife to cut around the equator of the fruit about a half inch deep and then pull the cap off. That husk is pretty tough, so it must be tricky to use enough force to cut through it without damaging the fruit within.

I also found surprisingly little information on mangosteens during my quick 10 minute search just now, aside from that it was illegal to import it into the US until recently, it's crazy expensive, and it purportedly has some nifty healthy benefits...if you can manage to acquire enough of them in one place (and don't have to share) and then continue having access to them for a long period of time.

The outer skin and husk is inedible (though some of my research says that can be used as a nice fabric dye!). You eat that white flesh in the center--scoop it out with a spoon and eat it just like that. Once removed from the husk, the flesh looks like a milky mandarin orange and--also like a mandarin--there's a little seed in each quarter that you have to spit back out. (I really like the posh delicacy vs. pedestrian vulgarity of this fruit!) The texture in the mouth is a cross between the juicy burst of an orange and the melty flesh of a strawberry. And completely contrary to this, the taste was like a cross between coconut and banana--to me anyways.

Have any of you had the chance to try a mangosteen? What do you think--is it worth the hype?!

Sunday, January 27, 2008


I had some leftover brisket wallowing in my fridge on last week and got it in my head to make some mini-calzones over the weekend. I thought I'd add some caramelized onions and roasted red peppers, but got stumped on the cheese. I stood in front of the cheese fridge at Trader Joe's for at least fifteen minutes picking up one cheese and then another, squinting my eyes and tasting various imaginary flavor combinations in my mouth. Goat cheese? No.... Sharp cheddar? Possibly... Maybe with some BBQ sauce? Sigh.... And then my hand wavered over some smoked gouda. I can't remember the last time I had gouda. No reason, really, I just...haven't.

And standing there imaging how gouda would taste with my smoky brisket etc. etc., I remembered my dad coming home from work with a shopping bag, all excited and jittery as he pulled out a round of smoked gouda and some tart apples. I was probably fourteen or fifteen at the time, and I just remember how happy he was as he cut up the wedges of apples and arranged them around some slices of gouda. "Here," he said, pushing the plate toward me, "Try this!" And with a fair bit of curious trepidation (likely disguised as teenage sass), I mirrored him as he took a slice of apple and layered on a slice of gouda. I bit off a corner and oh my! Good stuff!

I think this was the first time that I realized that cheese could be something other than what was sprinkled over pasta. It could be something more. It could transform my quiet, reserved father into a euphoric, cheese-pushing gourmand. That's some powerful stuff, right there.

And that's how I ended up with smoked gouda in my calzones. Not precisely a 'traditional' filling for calzones, true, but then I've never exactly been one to stand on formalities. I think my calzones and I will be juuuust fine.

I started making these mini-calzones a while back as part of my open-ended quest to find healthy, better-tasting, freezable, and easily-transportable lunch alternatives instead of things like Hot Pockets, Cup-o-Noodles, Lean Cuisines, and their ilk. It took a while to find a crust that fit the 'healthy' profile, until it dawned on me
(like a skillet to the forehead) to use my thin-crust pizza recipe. Duh. That dough is perfect for this--thin, but chewy; easy to make and healthy to boot; just enough flavor to give you a nice bread-y background but not so much that it steals the show. Splitting the dough into eight portions seems to give just the right amount of dough for a six-inch calzone. Poi-fect.

The combinations for fillings are really endless. I usually do a medley of meat, cheese, and sauteed veggies--whatever I have on hand.
Keep in mind that they are mini-calzones, after all, so there's a limit to what you can stuff in them. I usually weigh out a half-ounce of meat, a half-ounce of cheese, and then layer on as many veggies as I think will fit. Some combos I've done in the past are spicy pulled pork/goat cheese/caramelized onions and red peppers, sausage/cheddar/veggies, eggplant/kalamata olives/feta. You can also throw in a sauce of your choice--BBQ sauce works really well and a dab of tomato sauce is never out of place. Obviously, these calzones can be entirely vegetarian--even vegan, since the crust doesn't have any dairy! Woot!

The only drawback is that these are pretty labor-intensive to make, so I usually set aside an afternoon, make a double-batch of dough and keep on trucking until my fillings run out. I have found that it helps to lay out little piles of fillings in a row so you can just scoop and fold, scoop and fold.

Once they're cool, I wrap them up in saran wrap and throw them in a zip-lock bag in the freezer. A few minutes in the microwave gets the cheese melty and all the insides piping hot.

(makes 8 with one batch of dough)

1 batch of thin-crust pizza dough (Recipe HERE)
4 ounces of cooked meat, separated into 8 half-ounce piles
4 ounces of cheese, separated into 8 half-ounce piles
sauteed veggies of your choice (onions, green or red peppers, eggplant, zucchini, mushrooms, etc.)

Pre-heat oven to 475-degrees F.

If you haven't already done so, cook your meat and set it aside to cool. Then sautee your veggies in a little olive oil until they are mostly cooked through and set them aside to cool. It's important to cook these ahead of time because they won't cook all the way through in the oven. Also, if you add the veggies raw, they will likely release a lot of liquid in the oven and you'll get mushy calzones.

Find a bowl in your kitchen that is about 6 inches across (in diameter). Use this bowl as a guide to trace 8 circles onto parchment paper. Cut the parchment into 8 pieces with once circle on each piece of parchment. Flip the parchment upside down so the actual pencil/pen mark of the circle is against the counter and your food-surface is clean.

Cut the pizza dough into 8 equal pieces. Place one piece on a piece of parchment paper in the middle of the circle. Press down on the center of the dough and then use the heel of your hand to gently push outward on all sides until you've filled the circle. The dough will be about 1/8 i
nch thick. Repeat with the remaining pieces of dough and parchment.
Cover each rolled-out circle as you finished with saran wrap or an upside down bowl to keep it from drying out while you finish the rest of the circles.

Place the meat and cheese in the center of the dough and layer on as many veggies as you think will fit (you'll get a feel for it after making one or two). Leave about 3/4 - 1 inch of space around the edge.
Lift one side of the dough over onto itself and pinch the dough together in the middle. Pinch all the dough to one side closed and then go back and pinch the other side closed, forming a half-moon. I find it easiest to do this if I pick up the calzone and hold it upright in my left hand like a taco, and then I use the fingers of my right hand to pinch the rest of the dough closed. You can poke any errant bits of filling back inside. Repeat with remaining calzones. (Note--the parchment paper will continue sticking to the dough and that's fine! When the calzone bakes, the parchment will gradually un-stick itself.)
Arrange as many calzones as will fit on a sheet pan. Just before baking, use a paring knife to cut three steam vents in the top of the calzone--go right through the parchment paper. Bake the calzones for five minutes and then flip them over. Bake for another 5 minutes and flip them over again. Bake for another 3-5 minutes until the calzones are golden and browned in spots. This whole baking process takes about 15 minutes in my oven, but it may take shorter or longer in yours. Since the filling is already cooked, you're really just looking for the crust to be a nice browned color. If the edges start to char, that's a sign that they're likely done cooking.

Remove calzones to a cooling rack and bake off any remaining calzones. Once they're completely cool, wrap each calzone in plastic wrap and keep them in a ziplock bag in the freezer. They'll last in there for a few months (if you don't manage to eat them all first...)

I don't get too worried about the calzones splitting open, honestly. These are more functional than beautiful and I'm usually the only customer I have to please! Once they're cool, I tuck any tumbling bits of filling back into the shell and wrap it all up in saran wrap so it's a tidy package for grabbing in the morning and sticking in my lunch bag.

Re-heat for 1-3 minutes on High. I've also eaten them cold (like cold pizza) if they've been thawing in the office fridge for a few hours.

For interested parties and Weight-Watchers folks: The calzone shell alone is 2 points. A half-ounce (14 g) of meat is usually 1-2 points, and a half-ounce (14 g) of cheese is also usually 1-2 points. If I only use a dab of olive oil for the veggies, I usually count them as zero points. So! One calzone is usually 4-6 points or so. Not too shabby for a meal-on-the-go!

Friday, January 18, 2008

Photo of the Week: Behold! More Pasta!

Shaking excess flour from cut pasta.

I know! Pasta! It's really just so cool! And I know you're all out there going, "Yes, Emma! I'm with you! Pasta is really just so cool!" Excellent. I knew I liked you.

This here's some spinach pasta--same basic pasta recipe with a pound of steamed spinach cuz it's pretty. And also because it's "good for growing girls and boys." We rolled it out fairly thick (Level 5 on most pasta machines), so it had a nice chew to it. And it slurped up nicely with a Gorgonzola Cream Sauce.

Tagliatelle Verdi Al Gorgonzola
(c) Roberta L. Dowling 2004, CSCA

Pasta Dough
1 lb fresh spinach, de-stemmed, steamed, squeezed dry, and chopped (I'd imagine you could also use frozen grocery store spinach here if you wanted to save your self some steaming)
3 eggs
4 cups of flour

Stir the eggs together with a fork and then stir in the spinach. Make a well in the flour and pour in the egg/spinach mixture. Gradually incorporate the flour into the egg/spinach with a fork until it comes together in a cohesive ball. (Note: You'll probably end up using more flour with this pasta because of the spinach.) Knead until smooth and let rest for a half hour. Roll out and cut into thick noodles.

4 oz. butter
1 c. heavy cream
1 lb gorgonzola, rind removed and cut/broken into small chunks.
3/4 c. Grana Padano cheese, grated
1 pinch nutmeg
salt and pepper
chopped parsley for garnish

Melt the butter and add the cream until it simmers. Cook for a few minutes on low heat. Add the Gorgonzola and half of the Grana Padano cheese tot eh cream sauce and stir gently over low heat until thoroughly melted. Add the nutmeg and season with salt and pepper. Cook the pasta in large amount of salted, rapidly boiling water. Drain the pasta and toss with the Gorgonzola sauce. Serve with an extra sprinkle of Grana Padana and some chopped parsley.

Sunday, January 13, 2008

All done.

Well. This is it. The end of an era. This Friday was my last day at the Noodle Factory. I'm off to try my hand at making actual, edible noodles instead of intellectual ones! That's right--it's time to see how this whole 'cooking thing' works out.

This change has been in the works for quite a while, but I haven't wanted to talk about it much until it was real. I'm actually not sure what to say now that it's actually here and happening. I think I keep waiting for...Something To Happen. The sky to fall. Or a million gongs to start gonging in celebration. Or someone to appear on my doorstep and hand me an official announcement that "The Deed is Done."

But instead, I wake up and find that I am still me. And that this change is really just the newest incarnation of a series of changes that have been playing out over the past year. Or several years, if you really want to get big picture on me. I think back to that Joseph Campbell quote that was so powerful to me a little over a year ago right as all of this changing was beginning to happen: "The adventure that [the hero] is ready for is the one that he gets."

A lot of people have been telling me how brave I am to be leaving my job and this career. Hearing myself described as 'brave' caught me off guard, though now that I've had time to think about it I think I understand what they meant. Leaving a stable job, a defined career path, a community of incredible colleagues, a place where your role in things is known and understood--it does take a certain kind of courage to do this, but it's a courage born from the feeling that this is just what needs to happen now.
I don't really feel brave. I do feel ready. I feel like this adventure and I have been traveling together for a long time without knowing it, shaping each other and getting a feel for what's ahead.

Right now, what's ahead is an internship at Cook's Illustrated/America's Test Kitchen. It starts in another week, and I'll be working in their test kitchen doing prep work, helping the test kitchen cooks with their recipe testing, doing background research on recipes and articles, and answering calls of "Hey! You! Intern!"

So. This is it. Ok, Mister Campbell, I'm following my bliss. Fingers crossed.
P.S. This lovely picture is me hard at work at the Noodle Factory last summer dressed in my Launch Specialist Uniform. That's right: Emma C, launching manuscripts to production since 2005! ("launching" = "move 'er down the conveyor belt"--a fav bit of Noodle Factory Lexicon)

Saturday, January 05, 2008

Cous Cous Salad with Winter Squash and Cranberries

We're in the home stretch of winter with daylight hours increasing bit by bit, but with farmer's markets and fresh produce still many months away. This cous cous salad made with winter squash and a handful of pantry staples is a bright and tangy hint of springtime, and yet it's hearty enough to fuel us through another day of slush and wind. This salad can be served room temperature or cold.

Cous Cous Salad with Winter Squash and Cranberries

1 medium butternut squash (or other hard winter squash)--peeled and cut into 1-inch chunks

3/4 cup un-cooked cous cous

1 cup water

1 onion-diced

4-5 Tablespoons white wine vinegar

2 Tablespoons olive oil

Zest of one orange

1/2 teaspoon coriander

1 teaspoon cinnamon

1/2 teaspoon nutmeg

1 teaspoon cumin

1-3 teaspoons salt--to taste

1 can garbanzo beans--drained

1/2 cup dried cranberries

2 oz goat cheese (if desired)

1/2 cup walnuts-coarsely chopped (if desired)

Pre-heat oven to 400-degrees. Toss squash with a bit of olive oil and spread on a baking sheet. Roast squash, stirring occasionally, until tender--about 30 minutes. Allow to cool before combining with other ingredients.

Heat water in sauce pan to boiling. Add cous cous and stir. Remove pan from heat, cover with a lid, and let sit for about 15 minutes, until the cous cous has absorbed all the water. Fluff with a fork and set aside.

Saute onion in a skillet over medium-high heat until translucent. Set aside and allow to cool.

In a small bowl, whisk together vinegar, olive oil, zest, spices, and 1 teaspoon of salt.

In a large bowl, combine squash, cous cous, onions, garbanzo beans, and cranberries. Pour on the vinegar-oil dressing and stir to combine. Taste to check seasoning and add salt if needed.
If including, crumble the goat cheese into chunks and gently fold into the salad. (Note: Make sure the salad is room temperature at this point, or the goat cheese will melt.)

Top each serving with a sprinkle of walnuts and enjoy.

Makes about 5 cups.

Tuesday, January 01, 2008

Photo of the Week: Making Gnocci

I am finding that I love love love making pasta. Perhaps this is unsurprising given my fondness for all things carbohydrate, but still. Pasta! By hand! How cool is that?! And it's surprisingly simple, if labor intensive. The pasta dough itself comes together pretty quickly. Combine ingredients. Knead knead knead until smooth and uniform and, if you cut into it with a knife, you don't see any air pockets.

And then comes the Shaping of the Pasta--your tortellini, your ravioli, your gnocci. Yes, it's a jolly time...for the first ten minutes or so. You think to yourself, "Oh! Look at that little ball of dough! How much pasta can that cute little ball actually make? This will be a snap." But really there's a whole car-
full of clowns in that ball, tell me you.

It's best to get a group of willing and/or unsuspecting volunteers to help you out. With everyone jabbering away, only half focused on the dough in their fingers, it's easy to imagine that you're actually in the Italian country side, the scent of basil drifting through an open window, perhaps a bottle of wine or three brought up from the cellar just for tonight. Words like "soothing" and "community" and "let's move to Italy" drift through your mind.

Still. There's a lot of pasta to be made. I guarantee there will be a moment when you all fall silent and find yourself hypnotized by the motion of your hands, reaching for the next nub of dough, smooshing it into shape, tossing it onto the floured sheet pan without looking to see where it lands. To hell with uniformity, NEXT NUB! Let's go people, NEXT NUB!
But push on, I say! There's good pasta ahead!

Take gnocci, for example. I love the chew of gnocci between your teeth. I love spooning out just one and letting it roll on my tongue for a second before I bite into it. Yes. That's bliss.
Gnocci Di Patate Alla Piemontese
courtesy of CSCA, copyright Roberta L Dowling 2004 (with modifications by EmmaC)

2 lb. 4 oz potatoes (Maine or All-Purpose)--scrubbed, skins left on
Salt and white pepper to taste
1 egg, beaten
7 oz. flour (approximately--you will likely not use this much unless you live in a rain forest, but have there if you need it)

Cover the potatoes with cold water, bring to a boil, and cook until they are soft and can be mashed. Drain and peel them as soon as you can handle them (it's easier to peel them while they're hot). Puree them through a food mill or ricer, or mash them very very very well. Add the salt and pepper and egg. Mix well. Add a little of the flour at a time, gathering the dough into a ball and--when able--kneading until the mixture is soft, smooth, and no longer sticks to your hands. Add additional flour as necessary.

Lob off a chunk of the pasta (somewhere between a golf ball and a tennis ball size) and roll it into a thick pencil-like stick the size of a cigar. Cut into 3/4-inch pieces. Hold a fork (tines down) in your left hand (this is for right-handers; switch if you're a leftie). Place a nub of dough on the back of the tines and press down on the lower half of the nub with your thumb. Using the palm of your hand, Roll the thick, top part of the nub over the flattened part, and roll it off the fork. (See the topmost picture above) You should have a little pill-bug shaped piece of dough (yum!).

Keep the gnocci on a floured sheet pan and (when you're finished shaping aaaaall of them) freeze them until you're ready to cook.

Bring a very large amount of salted water to boil. The more water the better, as a) it will come back to a boil more quickly after you add the pasta and b) it will help the starch disperse so your pasta is chewy without being gummy. The salt just flavors the pasta.

Cook the gnocci in the water for a few minutes until they float to the surface. Remove with a slotted spoon and drain.

Serve with any sauce or simply with some Parmigiano Reggiano cheese and melted butter. Mmmm...butter.

Oh, look! It's 2008!

It started snowing halfway through my run (the best run of 2008!) and by the time I got home, my glasses were so fogged and flecked with water that I couldn't see how gorgeous it was. Look! Gorgeous! The most gorgeous snowstorm of 2008!

I had the Engineer and some friends over last night and made them eat food until we were so full that we couldn't even be bothered to go to any of the First Night events downtown and stayed home to watch Ratatouille instead. I think it was right around that point in the movie when all-is-lost-but-surely-will-turn-out-ok that my friend Troy looked down at his watch and said, "Oh. Happy 2008, guys!" We scrambled to open a bottle of champagne, toasted each other, and watched the end of the movie. And then I fell asleep and had the best night's sleep of 2008.

Happy 2008, guys!

I only have one real resolution this year, and that is, simply, to relax. It's more of a theme, really. Or a mantra. I'd just like to be able to get my shoulders down from around my ears. Maybe just remember that there's this thing? Called a 'big picture'? Or something? For me, relaxing means letting go of the little things--like not being hard on myself if I don't go running. When it's about to snow. And I'm getting over a cold. And the Engineer is being cozy on the couch. (P.S. It just took me about five minutes to write that line because I couldn't think of good examples and then I couldn't figure out how to write it and hit that perfect funny-yet-serious note. This is what I'm talking about, people!)

Relaxing for me also means--this is really new and big and scary for me--asking for help when I need it. It means admitting that sometimes I need a little help and that's ok. It's so automatic for me to just take care of everything and git 'er done and push through, that I don't even realize that there are folks around that might be willing to...oh...pick up dinner. Or drive me to the store. Or hold my hand when I'm feeling scared about jumping off of all these cliffs.

There's a lot of big changes coming in the next year--and especially the next few months--and I have a feeling that I'm going to need to remind myself to relax quite frequently. Relax, unfog my glasses, and take a look around.

Here are a few personal goals I have for the new year to look forward to:

*Finish the Engineer's sweater (Because it is finally, truly, thankfully time)
*Finish Angelina's Scarf (Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus, and yes, Angelina, there is a scarf! And it's almost done!)
*Knitting something for myself that is all mine. Something big. And cozy. And maybe sweater shaped.

*Roast a chicken (Can you believe that I have never roasted a chicken?!)
*Learn how to can
*Learn how to make infused liquors

Reading n' Writing:
*Finish Omnivore's Dilemma by Michael Pollan
*Start my Great American (Young Adult) Novel