Friday, January 17, 2014

My Cooking Evolution.

We are halfway through January nothingness.  Even when you don't have the chaos of the holidays time seems to go so fast.  I have been embracing January for all of its settling back into calm.  However, I am beginning to feel the familiar itch of spring time longing.  It is many months away so I get a little nervous when the itch begins so early.  It's been fairly warm out and sunny giving hints to springtime.  This in Montana's idea of a cruel joke because there will be many, many cold and snowy days long before spring actually makes any sort of appearance.  Sigh.  Same story, different year.  

I have realized with the holidays this space has been lacking in the food department.  Now, there has been no lack of cooking and eating going on, just not so much writing about it.  To get back to where part of this blog began, I thought I'd get back to it.  For starters...
Fried Mozzarella Ravioli with Marinara~
I have mixed feelings about homemade ravioli.  Of course I believe most things made from scratch taste better, but with ravioli I'm not sure if the effort makes it that much better.  I tend to run out of patience after the first few, so then the rest get over stuffed because I'm trying to get it over with.  Over stuffed means they fall apart in the water and it all ends up a big mess.  I've got making pasta down and very rarely buy store bought noodles...ravioli is a different story.  But then I got a pasta maker for Christmas and it changed the game.  I have seen how it makes noodles twice as easy so decided to attempt ravioli.  And, then to up it a notch decided to fry them because what is better than fried cheesy pasta?  Using the pasta machine definitely made the process easier.  The dough was pressed thin enough to make assembly easier and look much more like real ravioli than the thick, uneven dough I used to get when I tried rolling it out.  They really were delicious...all ooey-gooey and dipped in the warm marinara.  I'm not going to say I'll never buy store bought ravioli again, but I was pleasantly surprised making them this time.  (I'll put the recipes at the bottom!)

I've been doing a lot of experimenting in the kitchen.  My cooking has evolved over my adulthood and has taken several major turns through the years.  The first big change was going from cooking a ton of processed, pre-packaged meals to a more natural, organic approach.  When Matt and I were first married, I proudly took on the roll of him amazing meals of Hamburger Helper and a lot of tacos.  I thought browning some beef with a pre-packaged taco mix and dicing a few tomatoes made me ready for Top Chef.  Fortunately we had both just graduated college so this was a step up from our usual Top Ramon and Burger King so all was good.  Enter little Miss Ava and everything changed.  Instead of working all day I was home taking care of a baby and watching more than my fair share of day time television.  A favorite, besides my guilty pleasures of trashy reality TV, was the cooking channel.  I watched Giada and the gang cook with real food and not out of a box...I was fascinated.  I also had a sudden interest in doing everything the "right" way with Ava so took an interest in what she was eating.  Reading baby books put the fear of chemicals in my head and I began to look at organic in a different way.  Add these things with the extra hours I had at home and needing something other than taking care of a baby to put my focus on and I turned to the kitchen.  It began slowly...carefully following a recipe to make chicken parmesean and not missing a step for fear I would ruin it.  As the years went on, so did my confidence.  I began to rely less on recipes and more on my intuition of what tasted good together.  Now, with a few basic ingredients I can pull something together.  I still devour cookbooks and recipes for inspiration, but feel comfortable making adjustments as needed and creating my own.  I have found a love of food and cooking it.  I have also found that at the end of the day, a time some find to be a struggle, I turn on the music, pour a glass of wine, head to the kitchen and cook.  I love it.  

The second change in my cooking came a couple years ago when we headed down the vegetarian road.  I grew up in a big meat eating family.  I didn't think anything of it, but had to separate the animal=meat part in my brain.  It sounds a little crazy, but one night Matt and I were flipping through Netflix and ended up watching a food documentary and it changed everything.  We had literally just eaten a huge roast dinner and by the end of the movie decided to feed the leftovers to the dog.  My thoughts on this...if we had truly been carnivores I think the show would have left an impression for a week or two and we would have been back eating steaks.  However, it turned out neither of us missed the meat in our meals.  I believe this means that deep down, I've always been a vegetarian at heart.  BUT!  Not a hard core one.  After a few months we would have the occasional burger...bought from a local ranch raising happy cows.  I liked the idea of knowing where my food was coming from and just like I prefer eating veggies fresh from our garden or CSA, I liked eating meat from a Montana ranch instead of who knows where.  This semi-vegetarian way went on for awhile with me being more into it than Matt.  He would indulge more often in meat and I started thinking maybe we should begin to introduce a bit more into our meals.  I was feeling stumped and uninspired with the vegetarian cooking.  As I was settling into the idea adding meat back into our meals Matt had a change of heart and decided to jump full force into vegetarianism.  He even tossed around ideas of becoming a vegan and although I would support him 100% I have no desire to give up cheese.  Or ice cream.  No way.  Luckily that idea didn't last, but if he was considering the vegetarian route I knew I needed to embrace it and find my inspiration with it.  I haven't joined him completely in this endeavor.  I no longer cook with meat because Layla and I would be the only ones who would eat it and that's just not worth it.  I will, however, indulge in a burger at a couple restaurants in town.  Thanks to a couple fantastic vegetarian food blogs I have become re-inspired with this type of cooking.  My favorite has been Oh My Veggies.  I love her entire philosophy regarding it.  They are easy recipes with seasonal ingredients and so much variety.  There are no politics about vegetarianism...only cooking.  I have made a ton of the recipes from there and they have all been fantastic.  Who knows when or if our eating or my cooking style will take another turn in the future.  Right now I'm quite comfortable and enjoying this pretty-much-vegetarian-with-the-occasional-burger type cooking.  

This morning I overheard the end of a conversation the girls were having in the bathroom.  It made me smile...
Ava  "Yes, Layla lots of people get married...sometimes it's a girl and boy, sometimes it's two girls and sometimes it's two boys.  If it is two girls or boys they have to adopt a baby because you need a mommy and daddy to make a baby"
Layla  "But, it two girls have a baby then the baby wouldn't have a daddy!!!"
Ava  "That's okay.  The baby would get to have two mommies."
It made me smile because I like that they understand families can look many different ways.  They get to see that within our own family with step-parents and half siblings, cousins that are like siblings and friends that are like family.   I like that they see family isn't defined in one's only defined by love.  Smart girls.

Happy Friday friends.  

Fried Ravioli
Pasta dough:
1 1/4 cups flour
3/4 cups semolina flour
3 eggs
1 tbls olive oil
1 tsp salt
1 tbls water
Combine flours and salt on a clean surface and make a well in the middle.  In a small bowl mix eggs, olive oil and water.  Slowly add to the well of the dry ingredients while incorporating with a fork.  Once all is mixed, knead the dough for a couple of minutes.  Wrap in a towel and let rest for 20 minutes.  

Divide dough into quarters and work with one at a time.  Keep remaining sections covered.  Flatten the dough out you are working with, dust with flour and run through the pasta machine to flatten  (I need two times on setting 1 & 2, then once on 3,4, 5)  If you don't have a pasta machine...roll out with a roller as thin as you can get it.  Lay the sheets out on a floured service.  

Fill two of the four sheets with a small piece of mozzarella and basil.  Place another sheet on top and press around the mozzarella.  Cut into squares to make ravioli's and use a fork to seal the sides.  Repeat with the other two sheets.  

To Fry:
Dip each ravioli in an egg wash and then in a mixture of half bread crumbs, half panko crumbs.  Fry in hot oil around 3 minutes.  Work in batches.  

For Marinara:
Olive Oil
2 garlic gloves, minced
1/2 onion, chopped
1 carrot or 1/2 zucchini or both, diced
1 can tomato paste
1/2 tbls sugar
1 tsp each...oregano, basil, marjoram
Salt and pepper
Heat olive oil and add garlic and onions.  Cook around 8-10 minutes.  Add carrot and/or zucchini, cook 5 more minutes.  Add tomato paste, 2 cans of water, sugar and herbs and stir together.  Bring to a slight boil, then lower heat to simmer for around 45 minutes.  You can keep it chunky or puree for more of a traditional marinara.  Sprinkle with some parmesean cheese. 

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