Tag Archives: practice

Recipe: The art of old school fettuccine

A couple of days ago I extolled the virtues of making your own pasta. Then it dawned on me that what if… just what if, someone read that and thought, “you know what?! I’m going to try it.”

I felt an immediate twinge of guilt because I know what lies ahead. Google “making pasta” and you’ll get a ton, A TON, of recipes that say, “it’s so easy!”

Well, it’s not.

But do not be discouraged. Remember the wise wisdom of Jimmy Dugan? Say it with me now, “if it was easy, EVERYONE, would do it! It’s the hard that makes it great.”

So I decided to add one more recipe to the incessant clutter that tries to walk you through the steps of making your own pasta, and to do it realistically.

For starters, let me be specific about this hard/easy thing. It is easy once you get the hang of it. Pasta has only four ingredients. You can’t really screw it up, so even your less-than-Effin-Artistry pastas will taste good. We love eating our failures in the Test Kitchen.

The hard is in the artistry. Learning the feel of the dough. Learning to roll it consistently. Learning how far is too far to let it dry. This is a long recipe that goes into all the pitfalls. You only have to read it once. Then boil down the key parts when you make it. I hope it helps you have an enjoyable successful time of it.

I am still evolving in all of this. But I’m getting better. I keep at it. So follow these steps and enjoy. I couldn’t be more thrilled if you try making dough on account of these posts. And please, click in the reply and let me me know the good, bad and the ugly of your work. If I screw you up here, I want to hear about it!

Let’s get started.

1) Make room. – pasta is not meant to be confined. Clear the counter tops, remove the knicknacks and give yourself a good, clean work space. As you can see here, I have a massive Italian made platter I use and even that doesn’t keep it all contained.

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Next: pour two cups of flour and a hefty teaspoon of salt in the middle of your work area. Right on the counter is fine, or in a large glass bowl, or like I did on my platter.

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Then crack two eggs into the well. Let’s take a minute to talk about this well thing. First time I did it, poosh, the hens broke out of the chicken coop and raced down my sloped counter to hide underneath the God forsaken microwave. That’s when I decided to use the platter to guard the eggs from escape. Since then I’ve gotten better at the well. The key is to use your other hand to swoop the edges as you mix the eggs up. It’s a bit tough to explain, but as you slowly whip the eggs you incorporate part of the dough with the right hand. With the left you push up the edges of the well to keep it all contained. If you run out of room, push down in the middle of the well to compact it a bit and have it all sink down deeper into the well. Make sense? If not, reply below and I’ll make a video or something. It’s not hard… just takes practice! Or maybe I’m just a slow learner.

Next, put four tablespoons of hot water into the well. (Remove your rings… they get all buggered from the dough and never clean up right). Now push from the outer edges into the middle. I use my fingers like a rake dragging the thing into a pile like I’m piling up leaves. It gets a bit messy here, which is really fun. Once it starts to come together start to shape a ball. I like to add two more tablespoons of water here just to make sure it all incorporates. I prefer sticky dough to dry because its easier in my opinion to add flour as I knead it then it is to add water.

Next, knead.

Next, knead.

Next, KNEAD. A word about kneading. A mindset is needed when it comes to kneading. This is the stuff. This is not a chore. Don’t try to avoid it. Embrace it. Get those hands working, smooshing and bashing and pulling and patting and let your mind fly to whatever heights it needs to climb, unfettered by the chaos of the day. So many recipes try to avoid kneading. They use food processors and dough hooks and “no-knead” tricks. But kneading is just playing with Play-Doh, which we did for hours as a kid.

I’d go about ten minutes. There’s no specific time here. This is the thing that will evolve over time. Eventually you’ll notice the dough turns more silky than grainy and that’s what you want.

NEXT: This is important if you ask me and I’ve never seen it explained in a recipe. Make a dough ball. Sounds easy I know, but when I was 15 and worked in a Mafia-owned pizza parlor, they wanted the dough a certain way and we made sure we did it the way THEY WANTED IT. Turns out this was important. They wanted it with no broken edges so when you toss out the pizza, the crust stays together. To do this you have to form a good, cohesive dough ball. I liken it to tying off a balloon. Wrap your right hand thumb and forefinger in a loop around the mid-section of your dough ball. Then softly twist the dough in your hand as you bring your thumb and finger together toward the top of the dough ball. You’ll end up with what looks like the end of a balloon at the top. Push this into the dough and smooth it out. Whaalla. You’ll have a seam-free dough ball. (If someone is so gracious as to try this, please contact me and let me know if this A) made sense, and B) worked?!)

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Now take the dough and wrap it in plastic for an hour. This is perfect break time, which as you can see above, I used to make a powerhouse energy smoothie! Delish.

An hour later break out the pasta roller. I prefer the kind here, a simple old-timey gizmo with a hand crank. I know there are all kinds of motorized ones, but I like my dough to be machine-free. Here’s where you take advantage of all that space you cleared. Divide your dough balls into six different ones all about the same size and weight in your hand. You can feel that they are close enough. I again go back and make perfect little dough balls,”tied” off at the top, six more times because I like playing with dough and those scary pizza parlor guys banged it into me.

Once you have the dough balls cover them back up with the plastic wrap to keep them from drying out while you work the dough into sheets.

The basics of working into sheets is straight forward. Set the machine to the widest slot and run the dough ball through four times. This just wakes up the dough. I have learned to take a bit of care to send it through the machine straight. This helps keep the sheets straight at the end. Ruler straight isn’t necessary. Some waggle is fine and creative looking. We’re not machines. Our pasta should reflect it. Crank the machine down a notch at a time until you get to the second notch. Now you’ll have a nice long sheet of pasta running from one hand through the crank and caught by the other hand. Lay it out on the platter or counter or hang from the rack and dust it in flour. DONE! (Note: I’ve done some stopping at the third notch so they have a bit more chew and actually I like it. But officially, whatever that is, fettuccine is supposed to be on number 2. You decide!)

Do this five more times with the next five balls. If something goes awry don’t sweat it. Mash it all back into a ball and start over. It’s pretty forgiving.

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Notice I’m using a pasta rack to dry the noodles, but you don’t have to. I go back and forth. I prefer to just lay them on my platter, dust them with flour and put a tea towel (tea towel… HA… I’ve been reading too many recipes. What the hell is a tea towel? I use dish rags my daughter dyed to make pretty) over them. But I do use the rack too. Either way. (Shrug). In fact, I used both ways this time.

Here’s one of those key things they don’t tell you. You want the dough to sit a bit before you cut it. It stiffens which makes it easy to cut and less sticky when you’re done. BUT don’t let it get hard. Stiff, but not hard. Got it? Probably not, but once you do it a couple of times you will. Hard will crack and splinter going through the cutter. Stiff will cut delightfully.

One at a time slide the pasta sheets through the cutter part of your pasta roller. (If you want to be artsy here you can cut them with a big chef’s knife and make them different widths, which is pretty cool, but eh… I like the crank-y cutter thing). I like to drape the pasta off the machine so I can crank with one hand and catch the pasta with the other. This is not necessary. You can let it all drop as it cuts. But I like to catch it so I can lay it out on the big platter and dust a bit more flour on it so it all doesn’t stick. When I do this I feel like I’m being unnecessarily anal. So take it for what it’s worth.

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Once its all cut put some flour on your hands and riffle through the pasta lightly letting it all fall spread out on the platter or counter or a baking pan, sort of like your fluffing through hair. This helps the sticky ones fall apart and keeps them from globbing up in the water.

Now the water. Let’s get serious here. This is important. Don’t use a small pan. I don’t get this whole chuck pasta in water and that’s all there is to it thing. You need a big pan of water. You need a pretty healthy pile of sea salt. You need that water to get to a roiling boil. Don’t do anything until you have those three things. Then you slide your noodles into the water, give them a swirl and let them be for about three minutes.

Take a 1/2 cup of the starchy water out of the pan before you dump it. Then strain the noodles. Don’t rinse them because the starch helps the sauce stick.

Then put the noodles back in the big pan and let them just briefly feel the heat of the bottom of the pan. Then put some of the reserved water as they cook. Next add the sauce and let it heat together for a minute before serving.

Sauce? What sauce you say?

I’m glad you asked. Check back in a couple of days for a good Alfredo sauce recipe.

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Add ice cream to the DIY list

I am reasonably sure that most creative people have tried to make ice cream at home. When they do, they find they love it. But they also find it lacks that texture and consistency, that “quality,” that comes when you pry open a pint of Ben and Jerry’s.

When we get right down to it, it’s hard to make ice cream. At least it seems that way as compared to opening the freezer, grabbing a spoon and prying off the top of a pint of Ben and Jerry’s.

But like all things that are worth it… you’ve heard this before… say it with me now… “It’s the hard that makes it great!” (A bow of deference to the great Jimmy Dugan).

It’s not really hard per se. (what does per se actually mean, I wonder…) It’s that it takes practice. There it is again… roll the tape: I’m talkin about practice, man. Practice.” If you try it a few times and fiddle with it a bit, it is perfectly reasonable to never, ever buy ice cream again.

I didn’t realize this until a confluence of two thoughts made their way through the labyrinth of my brain this week. The first was an earlier post when I listed off the things I won’t buy any longer: Sauce, Salsa, Peanut Butter. Then as The Bride and I made our grocery list with her talking and me hardly paying attention, she said “Ice cream… uh no… you like to make your own ice-cream don’t you?”

About ten seconds later her words finished the cerebral cortex gauntlet and I said, “Yes. Uh No. No ice-cream. I’ll make it. Yes.”

The Bride was long gone on this thought and kept right along with her list, but I fermented a bit. Add Ice-cream to the list of things I’ll never buy again? Perhaps. Because finally, I realized, my creations lack nothing I get when I pry off a lid of Ben and Jerry’s.  In fact, the best recipes I have come from the Ben and Jerry’s Ice Cream Cookbook, so I’m really not missing out. Over the years I tweaked the recipes to perfect them. The last batch I made — with Effin Artist Peanut Butter I might add — was, well, I’d say the batch was … evolved.

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That’s how I’d say it, EVOLVED. It kept well for several days, tasted like fresh peanut butter (served over Effin Artist Brownie) and when finished had that grainy, creamy texture, that “quality” homemade ice cream used to lack.

It was one of those Effin Artist moments, indeed.

So knowing my love for lists, ice cream is now on the Things-I-won’t-buy list for good.

Here’s where the real ding went off in my head. It wasn’t hard anymore. Through practice, I have worked out the recipe to realize that it isn’t that hard at all.

Sort of life like when you get down to it. As M. Scott Peck wrote, “Life is difficult.

“This is a great truth, one of the greatest truths. This is a great truth because once we truly see this truth, we transcend it.  Once we truly know that life is difficult—once we truly understand and accept it—then life is no longer difficult. Because once it is accepted, the fact that life is difficult no longer matters.”

Just like ice cream.

Cyber recipes come up short compared to grandmothers

Dough is my thing. The more I mess with it the more I am enthralled by it. I have painfully neglected my pursuit of chocolate art this last month at least in part because I keep circling back to dough.

But like chocolate, I have a lot of hits and a lot of misses when it comes to dough. That “something,” that fine line between a great dough and a blob, is what keeps me coming back (not to mention the eats afterward– even the blobs taste pretty OK).

In all my kneading I learned something vitally important: All those helpful hints and videos and pins and such don’t do justice to the art of truly creating beautiful food, especially things that require a veteran touch like dough.

I realized this when my dough pursuits wandered off the familiar territory of my Italian heritage and explored working with Hispanic dough’s — tamales and tortillas.

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The methods are similar. Dough is dough at “the root of the root” as the poet said. But the finished product proved to me I have a lot to learn. Second and third tries taught me it wasn’t a measurement or a better recipe, but the deft art of know how. I have it working with things my grandmother taught me. I don’t have it — yet — with things I’d have learned if Nonie was my Abuela.

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We never made tamales when I was a kid. I lack the expertise, the hands-on experience with a true expert who made them so often she didn’t even realize how exceptional they were. Grandmothers cooked in a different time, long before such things made them celebrities. They made food so we could eat and seeing us enjoy it was all the star-power they needed. Nonie made us sauce and ravioli and apple rings and fried bread, things I make with a confidence that comes from seeing her, watching her and eating her creations.

I didn’t have that training with tamales and tortillas and frankly the results prove it.

Don’t get me wrong. I had fun and the product of my labor still ended up getting consumed.

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But the artistry remains elusive, which when you come to think about it, is thrilling! If the art of truly cultural food could be captured in a five-minute YouTube, would it be special?

Remember our favorite sage Jimmy Dugan (“that’s good advice!”) who sums up Effin Artistry when he said: “It’s supposed to be hard. If it wasn’t hard everybody would do it. It’s the hard that makes it great.”

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It is the hard that makes it great. I want to discover the great as if I had an Abuela to teach me.

Back to the masa grind stone.

Meditation in vogue but is it just talk?

I can’t help but notice a lot of folks are talking about meditation these days.

In the Twitterverse, for example, I read a Daily Health Tip that said 20 minutes a day of meditation can help your physical health. Sounds great. Folks tweeted and retweeted it. And I just wondered… do they actually do it?

I’m not trying to sounds all hooty-tooty-spiritual-guruie, because I’m no such thing. I just try to meditate a bit and try to pray most days and I’ve found it’s really EFFin hard. Few things I do regularly that I suck at this much, so I’m just wondering do all these folks who talk the meditation game actually meditate?

I read a while back that Deepak Chopra meditates for two hours every morning. TWO EFFin HOURS?! My mind was completely shot into orbit. Everyday?

I wanted to toss down my dollar bill and yell, “BULLSHIT! I CALL bullshit!”

But then I thought about it, and if a guy that prominent says he does it, I assume he has a whole gob of people waiting in the wings to tear his ass down. Isn’t that pretty much how it works. Those “tell alls” pay and the posse gotta get get paid, even the posse of a spiritual, positive guy like Deepak I assume. So if he isn’t doing it, I suspect someone would have outed him by now.

Two hours… man, that’s some serious hang time.

I’ve developed a fairly routine meditation and prayer practice. I rarely top 20 minutes. In fact, about a year into it, I became sort of disgusted with what a wimp I was and decided to track my meditation time in a totally non-Zen, very Western-goal-driven-I-gotta-whop-this-ass kinda way. I kept track of both how many minutes I meditated and an overall grade of the quality.

My journal filled with things like this:

“Meditation time: 12 minutes. Actual quality time free of thoughts: 17 seconds…. Well, shit.”

Or this:

“14 ragged ass minutes of mediation today.”

You get the point. Like I said, I’m not very hooty tooty guruie about this stuff. I just want to try to practice it and hopefully get a bit better.

Maybe its just me but it seems meditating is more like watching a two-year-old than blissing out with a higher power. Moment by moment I’m constantly chasing my mind around, ripping its fingers out of light sockets and taking away the scissors. Day by day, the more I think I’m moving toward Deepak Hang Time, I realize those 14 ragged ass minutes look pretty good after all.

But here’s the rub: As you can see I’m already hard enough on myself about something that’s supposed to be basically judgement free. So then, with a really backass mindset I go read about all these meditation benefits and how everyone is doing it, doing it, and… well… let’s be honest here… it pisses me off. Like, what the hell am I doing wrong?

Of course, I know better. It’s not a race. My practice is mine, not yours and it doesn’t really matter if you’re Kung Fu Woman and I’m Kung Fu Panda. Still… sigh…

Anyway, chime in here if you want. Tell me your stories. Don’t be shy. Tell me how you meditate for 90 minutes and see only clouds in your mind. I’m game. I love the abuse (no, really, I’d love to learn more, hear more… seriously… those aren’t fingers crossed behind my back at all… scouts honor) and would love to hear your experience.

I’m off to sit a while alone with my thoughts and … try not to stab the scissors of my mind into a light socket.

Oh yeah… namaste.

New revisions for new year– free of resolutions

I don’t do resolutions for the New Year. I do revisions.

For years I did the whole resolution thing. It’s a tired topic by now. We are split into two groups: those that try every year and those who know better. I’m in the latter.

If I lacked the discipline to fix up my life on Dec. 29, I likely don’t suddenly have it on Jan. 1. Only when I started living with daily intent did I find the discipline I badly needed to fix my life. I think it started in July a few years back. All I know is by January that year I was slimmer, sober and for the first time in my life disciplined. I didn’t need a resolution. I was living it and that has lasted now for several more years.

That doesn’t mean the effort doesn’t need tweaking now and again. I often stop and pause and refocus. I call these revisions. I take what I’m doing and tweak it, like tuning up an engine I’d imagine (since I have no idea how to tune an engine). I try to recapture a clearer sense of balance and better use of my time. I revise my plan for life to make sure its humming along with peak performance.

This new year I am aware of how many changes have come these last few months. I know my routines are out of whack and some practices are slipping through the cracks. I accept that it won’t always be the same. I resolve to  let some of it go, and refocus my energies on what I don’t want to see diminish. These are the revisions I’m making today for the months to come. From hoof to head I know I still have plenty of work to do, which I welcome. But I also celebrate the me I am now, rather than being absorbed on some fictional future me that will likely never emerge, no matter how many resolutions I muster.

I am free to be me, to revise as needed, to grow and most of all to celebrate in this moment. I am not besieged by my inadequacies and guilt that fuel most resolutions. It’s a relative small shift of thought, but on these first few days of the new year, I believe the focus is vital to starting the year off right.

Screw resolutions that make you feel bad. Instead revise and feel great.

Happy New Year.

Practice? We talkin’ about practice, man

Remember Allan Iverson’s famous rant? At the height of his all-star basketball career, his outburst to sportswriters became a famous rant — perfectly embodying our cultural ethos.

Recall it here… it gets better as he warms up.

“We talkin’ about practice man, not a game. Practice. We talkin’ about practice.”

Iverson’s interview struck a chord because it embodies American ideals. Practice doesn’t matter. Results matter. The journey is irrelevant. The final score is all that’s remembered.

Yet, if I learned anything in yoga it’s the importance of “the practice.” Being rather than doing. What you do, you do to do it as well as you can, without worry of how others do it. You become an observer of yourself, watching your practice and celebrating what your body can do, what your hands achieve, without concern of someone else’s hands or someone else’s body. That’s what EffinArtistry is all about.

This practice mentality has spurred me to learn the guitar, simply to enjoy the practice. To celebrate a well-played chord or note. Forget a whole song or some type of performance. My practice isn’t there and I don’t really care if it ever is. I tell friends and family all the time that I love playing guitar, I just don’t play for people.

Likewise I’m learning Spanish. Poorly, probably. But the practice is the reward.

And of course, everything in the test kitchen is at its bottom line about the practice. Chocolate is an art form. One that takes a tremendous amount of practice. Yet talk about celebrating the practice! I’ve never known anyone yet who didn’t enjoy the samples we’ve made, regardless of how short of true artistry they may fall. Our latest made a nice late November pumpkin themed birthday gift. It was just practice, but it tasted good and the recipient seemed to like them. What’s not to love? And guess what? Nobody kept score.

If something is worth doing, its worth doing well, yes. But doing it well is what you do every time you do it consciously, in practice, and celebrate where you are at this moment in your life without regard for where you someday may be.

Because we are talking about practice man.