Trying Something New: Homemade Pasta

I love pasta. We eat it more than once every week. Its great for picnic lunches quick dinners, filling snacks, hot or cold, meat or veggie…… The number of options is endless which is why when I see people making pasta on Masterchef or (my new guilty pleasure) My Kitchen Rules, I find it somewhat odd that so many of them choose to make a pasta dish. It’s great but it seem somewhat everyday and straighforward for a cooking competition…….

But……

the contestants always make their pasta from scratch. How much better does this make it? I tried making pasta once when I was a lot younger and living in Italy. The pronblem was I worked too slowly and the dough dried out before I could get it thin enough to be perfect. This early experience put me off until now.

What’s changed?

A very kind gesture from Mr. Elbi:

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The second he offered a pasta roller I marched him off the road to the kitchen shop where we looked at two models. The Imperia at £60 and another which was a third of the price. On returning home to investigate further, the conclusion we reached was that anything cheaper than the Imperia was not worth the money as customer reviews all said the cheaper models lasted a couple of uses before breaking. Regretting his offer to buy one slightly, Mr Elibi suggested ebay where we found one for £25 pounds apparently used once then left on the shelf. It’s here and I am desperate to try it so it will be my Trying Something New for this week.

Before using the roller, I need some dough. The previous owner of my pasta machine left their recipe in the box and I decided to use it:

INGREDIENTS

8oz ’00 pasta

a pinch of salt

1 tsp olive oil

2 eggs

additional flour for dusting

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Place the flour on a surface and then make a well in the centre. Some recipes call for the flour to be sifted first but if I am completely honest, I couldn’t be bothered with this. Place the remaining ingredients in the well and gradually incorporate the flour. This will be a STIFF dough. If you are used to bread, it will feel wrong but persist and it will come together. Once you have a ball of dough, wrap in clingfilm and leave it in the fridge to rest for at least an hour.

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The Imperia need to be clamped to a table. None of the work surfaces in our kitchen are suitable so I had to use the dining table with an old appliance manual to protect the wood. When I started to feed the dough through the pasta maker on the widest setting, I thought it had gone wrong. Instead of the smooth sheets I was expecting I got:

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Remembering an old episode of Masterchef Australia where a similar thing happened, I kept feeding the dough through the machine and it started to come together:

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Once I had nice smooth dough, I fed it through again and again, reducing the width setting by one after each 2 passes until I got these gorgeous thin sheets.

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As this is my first use of the pasta machine, I kinda wanted to carry on playing so I cut the pasta using the thinnest setting. Although it is technically fettucine, it can easily pass for spaghetti as long as you are not a purist.

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I didn’t dry this pasta but sprinkled it with flour to keep the strands separate and then cooked immediately. This pasta cooks really quickly. I put it into boiling water and when it returned to the boil it was ready. The texture was amazing and overall, the rolling process and cooking only took me a few minutes longer than cooking dried pasta from a packet. It is definately having a go at making your own pasta. It makes the pasta a feature rather than a filler. I am very very happy with my pasta pesto 🙂

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Cutting Fabric for Patchwork

When I made my first quilt as a present for a friend’s baby, I cut all the pieces out by drawing around a cardboard template and cutting with scissors. I cut 36 squares from each of the three fabrics I used making the patchwork making a total of 108 squares. There is only so many individual squares a girl can cut out with one pair of scissors so I folded the fabric into thirds and cut three at a time. This method did have the advantage thar I could adjust the placement of the template to give more pices with full birds on them but the movement of the fabric meant that not all of the squares cut at the same time had the pattern in line with cuts. I did manage to find a way around the problem which you can read about here.

When I embarked on the second quilt, I wanted to cut more accurately to make the sewing part of the project a bit more enjoyable. There are a lot of interesting posts about the best way to cut out fabric on the internet and most of these suggest that a rotary cutter and cutting mat pairing is the best way for accuracy. With that in mind, I decided to splash out on a few more sewing goodies. It has been an expensive couple of months so I shopped around online and manage to find an A3 cutting mat and rotary cutter for about £8 on ebay. The cutter in particular looks as though it is not quite as sturdy as the one that most bloggers use but as an experiment, it is a cost effective tool for trying out cutting fabric this way. I also bought an 18″ ruler to use as a cutting guide.

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If you look at the spots along the raw edge of the pruchased fabric you can see that the print is not aligned with the raw edge.

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In order to cut nice neat square that line up with the print, the first thing to do is quare off the fabric edge:

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Next, using the newly cut edge as a starting point, measure the width you want and mark it.

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The fabric can be folded at this point so it all fits on the mat and then cut. The markings on the mat help to ensure the cutting guide is straight.

If you are cutting a lot of strips, it is worth squaring it off again after a few cuts in case it goes off grain.

Overall, the cutting out took about a quarter of the time that cutting the squares for the first quilt did. Additionally, sewing the suares together was a lot quicker and easier becauseall I had to do was match up the raw edges and use the quarter inch foot to guide the seam. So, without pinning and using the presser foor to guide the seams, I was able to assemble the quilt with almost all of the corners matching up.

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Hazelnut and Chocolate Chip Biscotti

A slightly (but hopefully not too) late post for yesterday. This weekend I had my first attempt at biscotti. I love these little coffee accompaniments. The sweet nuttiness goes so well with the bitter dark taste of freshly brewed black coffee. Plus, on saturday kitchen this week, James Martin made biscotti which means that this weekend, I must make biscotti.

As a first attempt at biscotti, I wanted to keep it simple and add only a couple of additional ingredients. I scouted around the internet and the classic combination of chocolate and hazelnut caught my eye (and taste buds). These beauties here look especially fantastic. Oh and these. There are so many fantastic recipes it’s hard to choose. However, getting my sensible hat on, I decided not to put cocoa into the biscuit mix. It may sound ridiculous but I sometime find it hard to judge the “golden brown” stage of unfamiliar recipes that have cocoa in them.

So……here we have Hazelnut and Chocolate Chip Biscotti

INGREDIENTS

2 eggs

100 g caster sugar

250 g plain flour

1/2 tsp bicarbonate of soda

25 g hazelnuts

50 g dark chocolate

1/2 tsp vanilla essence

1. Whisk together the sugar and the eggs until light and fluffy. (I would definitely recommend an electric whisk for this. Normally I use a low-tech balloon whisk but this defeated me)

2. Sift the flow and bicarbonate of soda into a separate bowl. Roughly chop the hazelnuts and chocolate and add them to the flour

3. Add the vanilla essence to the eggs and then fold in the dry ingredients a little at a time. (I also added some pistachio essence at this point because I can’t get enough of that flavour at the moment)

4. Once your ingredients are combined into a dough, turn the dough onto a floured surface. Shape into a sausage about 35-30cm long and then press until it is around 2-3 cm high.

5. Bake at 180 degrees C for 30 mins until golden brown the remove from the oven and reduce the temperature to 140 degrees C

6. Slice the sausage into 1.5 cm slices and lay these out on a baking tray cut side up and return to the oven for 20 mins

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NOTE The biscotti pictured here had only half the amount of chocolate in the recipe but I increased the suggested quantity because they could do with a boost

Quilt Number 2 – Fabric Selection

Following the success of my first quilt and how pleased the parents were with the homemade gift, I have decided to make another one for some friends expecting their first child in September. This time, I managed to rope Mr Elbi into coming to Fabricland with me so that he had a bit of input into the gift. Despite much complaining, I choose to believe that he enjoyed it although he said that I somewhat ignored his opinion.

I liked the size of the finished first quilt so I decided to go with a similar quantity of fabric – 3 quarter meter pieces for the patchwork design and a meter for the backing (all 45″ wide cottons from Fabricland). As usual there was a substantial array of prints to choose from and despite some questionable suggestions from my other half who at times definately seems to be colour blind, we managed to reach a consensus with a green/blue colour palette.

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The cream “French Hen” print fabric is the same design as one of the fabrics that I chose for the first quilt in a different colourwork. I like the fact that these prints have a variety of colours that can be picked out with the accompanying fabrics to make the birds pop in the overall finished design. I also chose the blue “Astoria” print which is a different colourwork of the same pattern as in the first quilt chosen to match the blue in the French Hen print.

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The third fabric is green “Tree Owls” print which again matches the “French Hen” print. The left hand photo is unfortunately a bit washed out due an unanticipated burst of sunshine. I didn’t notice this until after I cut the fabric and I wanted to show how sweet this print is when whole. I love to googly eyes and the variety of colours in this fabric – perfect for a baby/small child.

Although this is a present for a baby boy, there is something lacking in this fabric selection to make the colours more balanced. Therefore, I chose a solid red to make a border and pick out the reds in the bird print fabrics. Mr Elbi was also fairly insistent on the inclusion of a more stereotypically masculine motif so I gave him free range for the backing fabric and he chose this “Aeroplanes” print.

I have made some changes to my methods for this quilt from the first one which I will discuss further in the next post.

Exciting Delivery

I got  a very exciting parcel today. A parcel from TrixieLixie containing the two Sewaholic patterns I ordered.

Sewaholic Patterns

Sadly I didn’t manage to get to the post before Mr Elbi who was bewildered by the arrival of new patterns when there “are already sooooo many.” Bless him that he thinks that my pattern collection which has not yet reached double figures is extensive. He will learn with time.

These are the first patterns that I have bought from Sewaholic or indeed any “indie” designer and I will perhaps share my thoughts on that in a later post. However, I decided I needed some summer dresses to take on holiday with me and I just loved the relaxed drape of the Saltspring. I also loved the versatility of the Cambie pattern which keeps popping up in the blogosphere in endless new guises. I can’t wait to get sewing and see how these turn out. Now to fabricland so I can buy some fabric 🙂

(Smoked Mackerel) Fishcakes

Mr Elbi and I are daily shoppers. In my short (20 min) walk home from work I pass no fewer than four supermarkets and there are another six or seven in reach with a five minute diversion. Therefore, we rarely shop for a whole week at time and usually decided what we are going to eat while in the supermarket. However, there are days when shopping loses its appeal and a good stock cupboard/leftovers recipe is very useful.

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In the case of today’s evening meal, we had some leftover smoked mackerel and potatoes from meals earlier in the week. This is a great idea for using up leftover fish and/or potatoes and can be done with any fish you have to hand. The advantage of using smoked mackerel is that is affordable, strong flavoured so a little goes a long way and it is an oily fish which means that it is very healthy. These are a great way to introduce fish into a diet even when cooking for people who don’t normally enjoy fish e.g. kids or stubborn boyfriends.

INGREDIENTS (makes 6 patties which seerves 3 for a main course)

400g cold mashed potato

140g smoked mackerel – flaked

4 spring onions – finely sliced

1 tsp dijon mustard

1 tsp grated root ginger

small bunch of fresh coriander chopped

juice of half a lime

1/2 tsp chilli flakes (optional)

salt and pepper

sunflower oil for frying

1. Ensure that the potato is cold and not to lumpy. I usually like my mash lumpy but not for fishcakes.

2. Combine the fish and onions and then mix together incorporating the ginger, coriander, lime juice and chilli flakes if you are using them.20140702_161721

3. Stir the dijon mustard through the mash and season to taste with salt and pepper

4. Combine the fish mixture with the potato and stir well.

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The advantage of using smoked mackerel is that eveything is cooked at this pont and can be tasted to make sure that the flavours are balanced. There are a lot of strong flavours in these fishcakes and sometimes they need to be adjusted. In this batch I added a little more lime juice at this stage.

5. Shape the mixture into 6 patties

6. Heat 1 tbsp sunflower oil in a frying pan over a medium/high heat and fry the patties for 4 minutes on each side.

Serve with veggies and salad depending on your appetite. Like everything else in our house, these are served with chilli sauce and in the case of this particular meal, sweet chilli sauce is the preferred option.

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OPTIONAL: If you prefer your fishcakes with breadcrumbs, you can dip each patty into egg and then breadcrumbs before frying. I personally prefer them without and this has the added advantage of keeping them gluten free.

Quilting my very first quilt…..cont. from yesterday

In order to make a quilted blanket from my patchwork layer, I made a sandwich with the patchwork top layer, a layer of wadding and then the backing fabric which for this quilt was a neutral floral print. I was unsure what weight of wadding to use for this blanket but in the end I went with the medium wadding which was 4oz. The result was a thick spongy quilt which will make a good blanket for a baby to play on but may be too warm to get much use as a cover. In fact when I was finishing all the threads for this quilt, my legs were getting very warm.

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My plan was to use my sewing machine to do the quilting and follow the lines of the patchwork squares to dreate a checkerboard quilting pattern. I will admit that I was very unsure about what I was doing for this part of the project. I read a few bits and pieces online and having recently purchase a new sewing machine complete with quilters pack, I knew that the pieces I needed to use were all in that box. In fact, this project was in no small part driven by the fact that I wanted to play with the cotents of the quilters pack.

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I attached the walking foot to my machine and added the extension table. and then started sewing. I began with a line going across the quilt (it was a few inches shorter) somewhere near the middle. The three layers were held together by small dressmaking pins which with hindsight were insuuficient for the task. They kept working their way out and pinging onto the floor where they lay in wait for an unsuspecting de-shoed foot. If there are any secrets to doing this kind of machine quilting, I would love to know them. The final result that I obtained is picture below but that was after endless rounds of unpicking and resewing. I could not get these to be reliably straight. This did improve with time and in the end, with an increased stitch length I was able to get some good results.

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Tip If you are going for a similar quilting pattern to the one that I have used here, keep all the layers of the fabric as taut as possible while you are sewing all of the parallel lines. If you don’t do that, when you come to doing the second set of lines, you will be creating small puckers/pleats at each layer of stitching where there is too much of the backing fabric because it has been allowed to puff out.

For this quilt, I decided not to use bias binding around the edge like so many of the quilts that I have seen online. I wanted a wider border so I made the piece of backing fabric much larger than the top and the wadding with the wadding a bit larger than the patchwork piece. Once all the wuilting was finished, I trimmed the wadding to size such that it extended 8 cm past the edge square minus seam allowance. I then folded the backing fabric over to cover the additional wadding and trimmed it so it had a 5/8″ seam allowance. I then pressed under 1/2″ and topstitched all the way arounf the border going through all the layers of the sandwich. The aspect of this wuilt that I am most unhappy with is the corners of the border. They are nowhere near as neat as I would have liked them to be. I did my best with them but the problem was that the quilting gathers in the backing fabric so that when you extend into an unquilted region, the grain lines are no longer anywhere near parallel with the patchwork squares. This makes a crisp mitred corner extremely difficult to acheive.

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Overall, I am really happy with the final result of this project and it was very gratefully recieved. I am looking forward to making the next one 🙂

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