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On the search for second-hand cookbooks

When it comes to books, I am a hoarder. I have 4 of those floor to ceiling bookcases, each stacked in such a way to be conducive for storage, and not for perusing and choosing. There are books underneath my bed, next to my bed, in my bed, in my living room, and some scattered downstairs. I usually have a book in my purse and backpack in case work/professor/friends bore the hell out of me and I need an escape. I like books. I also like money, and the two don’t exactly coincide in amounts.

I figure that the pasta section is a good time to talk about my favorite places online to buy second-hand books. Visuals really help when following directions to roll, cut and fill pasta. It’s nice to have a reference book on hand at three in the morning when “the hunger” sets in. Each of these sites have a pretty good selection and they either have a $25 minimum purchase for free shipping or free shipping outright. Here, just take all my money.

Garage sales, estate sales, local used bookstores and the Goodwill are great places to unearth some finds too. I get more satisfaction from buying in person if I get to dig and search for books. The problem that I continually have is that I never have a “must have” list with me when I shop. Don’t be like me – make a list you can carry with you during your excursions. Happy hunting!

Funky flavors for homemade pasta

After tackling the plain Jane homemade pasta, I wanted some variation. I bought the cookbook Making Artisan Pasta recently for “Christmas,” since I have absolutely no intention of wrapping it, and it has some amaaazing looking pastas with ingredients I wouldn’t have ever thought of.

The most intriguing to me, besides the saffron and white wine pasta, was the chocolate pasta. “Say What?! I can make pasta for desert?” Oh yeah, most def. The book paired it with a berry-flavored sauce and a grated white chocolate to mimic parmesan. Um. Sold. The blog Food Babbles features the pasta within a lasagna. It’s like a chocolate orgy. And it’s the only orgy I would put in my mouth.

Spinach pasta is another recipe I frequently see that I’ve yet to try. I love hiding veggies in my meals, even when I know they’re there. There’s something about them not being in their initial form that I like. It makes them much easier to shove in my mouth. The spinach pasta would be really great paired with an alfredo sauce for some nice contrast. Now I just need to find ways to hide things that are bad for me in my foods. Nothing better than believing something is good for you. And I have a feeling I won’t have any trouble with that task.

Homemade pasta with your pasta maker

“Okay, Jes. I’m hungry, damn it.” Yeah, yeah, me too. Let’s quit talking about making pasta, and make some freakin’ pasta, shall we? Below is a video that will take you through the steps of making pasta and using your pasta maker. The biggest tip I can give you is to try an employ someone who loves you or lives with you (hey, you can live with people you don’t like) to help you with the process. Two sets of hands are better than one. I’m going to attempt to wrangle Mr. Right into the kitchen with me, but since he usually employs this method on me, I may end up drunk and alone in the kitchen. Let’s hope he will partake in some wine as well and I can convince him to help. Or I can withhold the finished product and he can just starve to death. Either way.

To cut your pasta, you can use the attachments provided with your pasta maker to cut it, or for a pasta that screams, “Yeah, that’s right! I made this!” you can use a pizza cutter. Depending on how I’m feeling (=how lazy I am that day),  I will do either one and get fantastic results. Remember: It’s a carb. You can’t really screw it up.

To really appreciate the godliness that this encompasses, a basic pasta recipe is what you should start out with. Get creative later – let’s hurry up and eat some of this.

Primo ingredients = Primo pasta

An important thing to remember in the kitchen: crap begets crap. If you use shit ingredients (low quality, sub-par, wrong, expired) your result is going to be quite similar to their initial composition. It’s like using rotten eggs in a cake and expecting it to be delicious. Eat that, and then get back to me.

Quality doesn’t always have to mean expensive. Okay, most of the time it does, but in the case of pasta, you can use supermarket ingredients and produce awesome results. Make sure that your ingredients are fresh and that they are the right ones.

When you make a mental list of different types of flours, what ones come to mind? If the “white, powdery one in my pantry” is your only response, don’t worry. Here’s a crash course on some flours that can be used to make pasta.

All purpose flour. That is surely the white, powdery stuff that you were talking about. If you don’t want to make a special trip to the store for some special flour, this one can be used on its own. You can be a little daring and mix it with others to create a different texture and flavor. Try to shy away from, if you can, any flour that has been chemically bleached. I like knowing the composition of things that I am ingesting. And I know that I prefer to ingest chemicals in other ways besides in my flour. Oh, you like to OD on information instead? Here’s some information about flour, you square.

Semolina flour works great, and the finer the texture, the better. This yellow grain can be used in breads, pizzas (my fave), and in your pasta. My supermarkets here are kind of lame in the realm of stocking unique ingredients. I usually don’t have a problem finding it here. Bob’s Red Mill is a brand to go for if you’re checking your local market out.

00 flour is common in Italy for making pasta. Well, I’m not in Italy, am I? No, I’m not. King Arthur Flour knows this, and they’ve stolen the Italian’s secret recipe and copied it. Well, not exactly, but they do have their own Italian-Style Flour that produces the silky results this flour is famous for. Although this flour doesn’t have the checkered past I long for when obtaining ingredients (or when choosing a suitor during my teenage years), it gets the job done. Plus, it’s shipped to my door. Huzzah!

Other flours. Any flour that you find, and are curious about whether or not it will work for pasta, is worth trying out. Pasta is cheap to make, easy to assemble, and simple to throw away with none the wiser if it tastes horrendous. If there is a type of flour that you want to try, but it’s kind of expensive, do some research on it. Find a recipe, besides the pasta one, that uses it. Versatile products are always worth a buy, I tell myself. If you still can’t think of any others to use, besides the powdery white one still, check out some message boards on chowhound.

Stay away from pre-mixed flours like King Arthur’s Perfect Pasta Blend. You may ask what’s wrong with me, since I tout the company just minutes before, and shun them in this one. Well, they shouldn’t take all the blame, since many companies do this to try to capitalize on those who could be called “lazy in the kitchen.” Make your own damn pasta flour blend. It will be perfect, since you were the one who made it. Start picking some of the ready-made ones up to check ingredients to get ideas on what blends they use. It’s cheaper, and you can tell people that you use your own blend of flour to make your dough, making you a veritable bad-ass in the kitchen. I’m pretty sure that’s everyone’s dream, isn’t it?

Cleaning a new pasta maker

In your excitement of purchasing your pasta maker, you hurried into the kitchen, opened the box, mixed some dough up and started rolling. As you begin rolling out your first sheet, fantasizing about shoveling it in your mouth straight from the steamy colander, you notice something don’t you? There seems to be a grimy, black gleam to your dough, right? Well, you’ve made your first mistake. Cry later. Let’s get down to bidness.

Pasta machines need to be cleaned, even when they’re coming straight from the box. But don’t wash them under running water. Or sitting water. Or dancing water. Put. the. scrubby brush. down. Water will make it rust. Here are a few tricks to get that spanking new pasta maker ready for rolling.

Make faux dough. Typically, you can get the excess grease/oil/general ickyness out of the maker by pushing dough through it. Just don’t eat that dough. No one likes dirty dough. No one likes people who serve them dirty dough.

Invest in a pastry brush. I’m a fan of OXO’s silicone brush. Don’t use that here. Get yourself one with actual bristles to brush out the flour and little dough pieces that might get caught inside. They’re cheap and you’ll use them for other things around the kitchen. If you’re not a total internet skank like me, and prefer to buy stuff in person, test them out. Push on the bristles; you want something that has a little resistance since you are trying to remove dried up dough, not add rouge to your face.

Fante’s was kind enough to have a pictorial for care and cleaning of your pasta maker. All of these tips can be used on the KitchenAid attachments as well. Be sure to remove it from the mixer before cleaning, in case it turns on. I don’t know how to clean out fingers and hair from the pasta maker, so you’d be on your own.

If you bought a used one, received a hand-me-down, or you’ve been neglectful of cleaning it, there is a deep clean method that involves taking it apart. Just be sure to keep track of where you put the parts and where everything goes. It always sucks when you end up with “extra” parts after re-assembly.

Jes rolling in dough: Choosing a pasta maker

My “friends” signed me up to play on their club soccer team for the season. Don’t they know that they only conditioning I’ve been doing is working on stretching my stomach out for the holidays? Anyways, it has awakened an intense hunger for carbs. What better way to sate the beast than with pasta?

Making your own pasta will require a little more than opening a box and reading the side of it for the “al dente” time, but it is worth it. The first big decision to make is to decide what kind of pasta machine will work for you.

I’m a total control freak, so the hand crank model was a given for me. If you have a Kitchen Aid mixer, you’ve probably seen all their attachments that can turn that baby into a total multi-tasker. It’s motorized and will set up higher than a traditional pasta machine clamped to your counter tops. Whatever you decide, make sure what you buy is made in Italy and contains all-metal parts. Nothing more frustrating than buying something that has plastic parts on it that break and are next to impossible to replace.

Price is another important aspect of purchasing an appliance. The KitchenAid attachments will set you back 200 bucks, while the hand crank models range from 30-100. Try to refrain from buying the cheapest model, you damn cheapskate. Or buying the most expensive, you yuppie bastard. Find one that works for you and buy it because that is what you want, don’t base it solely on its price.

I like to hear what other people have to say about their purchases before I take the dive. It’s easier to have someone else make decisions for you sometimes. I usually check Chow’s discussion boards and read reviews on Amazon to get a better idea of what would work for me.

I decided on the Marcato Atlas Wellness 150 Pasta Maker because it was in the middle on price and I didn’t need one that had a ton of attachments or folded my clothes for me.

You always have a third option: hand-rolled pasta. I did that … once. Pissed off and covered with flour, I signed into my Amazon account and bought a machine to do it for me. You can decide whether or not you want minions in your kitchen.

Cranberry King: Using leftover cranberry sauce

Whew … did everyone else just wake up from food-induced coma, or was it just me? Yeah, I thought so. After wearing stretchy pants for the last six days, I feel it’s time to come back to the real world … and to real clothing I guess. Along with purging myself of pie, I need to clean out my fridge and rid it of all the leftovers. My problem (and my waistline’s problem) is there aren’t many leftovers to be had here at the homestead. One thing I have a bounty of is my delicious cranberry sauce.

Cranberry sauce is highly underrated in my opinion. It’s tart, sweet, fruity, and juicy and it goes great with turkey, cheese, ice cream, pound cake, etc. etc. It’s so much more than the gelatinized abomination that people have been slopping out of a can and plopping onto a plate for years. “Oh, you want some cranberry sauce. Here’s a knife dearie.” Uh, no thanks.

  • Cranberry brownies. This makes it healthier since cranberry is a fruit, right? Most of the time, I wouldn’t sully such a staple in my diet with a fruit, but this recipe intrigues me. I. must. have. brownie. But please, don’t use a box brownie mix. If you do, don’t tell me.
  • Deep fried brie with cranberry chutney. Just ’cause there’s a recipe for chutney, doesn’t mean that you can’t use your cranberry sauce. Just slap it on the stove and thicken it up.
  • Dirty chai pancakes with cranberry and vanilla compote. You had me at dirty. And chai. She uses a homemade chai concentrate, but you could use a liquid concentrate from the store in a pinch. Cook down your cranberry sauce and throw a little maple syrup in there. Then throw ’em down the hatch.
  • Cranberry white chocolate tarts. Okay. I was going to start finding some savory recipes, but I found this and I had to add this one. White chocolate and cranberry getting married and having delicious little babies. That’s what these are. You can make little tartlets or one regular sized one. Either way, you’re going to O.D. on them.
  • Turkey sandwich with whatever fixings you like. I found this bread that needs to be made in your kitchen. It contains all the ingredients that make stuffing awesome, and it’s called, surprise, surprise, thanksgiving stuffing loaf. This is much easier than smashing stuffing together trying to do makeshift bread slices.

I hope these recipes showcase the wonderful cranberry to you in a new light. A positive light. A tasty light. I think I may have put up the stretchy pants too soon.

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