Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Making Pasta

Another cooking class S and I took taught us how to make pasta. S really got into that, too, and has made pasta at the house several times since then. Actually, there have been a couple of times I've set out to make pasta and he comes in and takes over the project. He really likes doing it. So, after already making the pizza dough for the party you read about yesterday, he decided to make some pasta while the counter was all floured and the mixer was out.

To start making pasta, you create a well of flour and put three eggs in the center. Then, with a fork, while carefully trying to not break the side of the flour well, you start incorporating the egg with the flour. I have no photos of this part of the process. You see, I'm new at this blogging thing and didn't think to get my camera out before he had the two ingredients fully incorporated. Then, the battery was dead and I had to switch it out. Then, there was no CF card in the camera. And, S, wasn't stopping for anyone, so I caught up with him at the stage where he was preparing the dough to go through the pasta attachment.

At this stage, you separate the dough into four equal sections. That's what S is doing in the background of the photo. The attachment to the mixer is up front.

Then, you begin to run the dough through the machine. Look at S concentrating!

The little dial on the end makes the opening the dough goes through larger and smaller. You start with a large opening and keep dialing it down to a smaller opening, depending on the kind of pasta you're making. S was making linguine, so he was dialing it down to a pretty thin sheet.

All of this pasta making makes S a little maniacal. He goes from a nice, sweet domesticated husband to DR. PASTASTEIN, ruler over all pasta activities. Taking normal kitchen ingredients and combining them into something you can EAT that is tasty with TOMATO SAUCE.

Anyway, back to the pasta - so, it gets thinner and longer until it's the right consistency to go through the cutting attachment.

We have two cutting attachments for the mixer - one is linguine and one is angel hair pasta. We also have ravioli trays to cut sheets of pasta into cute little ravioli squares. But, they don't attach to the mixer. I made this yummy chicken ravioli once and put it in a tomato cream sauce with some roasted walnuts on top. Woo-ee. It was good. But, I digress.

I didn't get any photos of the pasta cutting attachment. I don't know why. There was a lapse in time where S kept working and I went off into LA LA land and did something else for a few minutes. I digressed, but in real life, I guess.

Anyway, what happened next was that thin pasta sheet went through an attachment that looks a lot like the one in the above photo, but it cuts the dough into linguine.

Then, you take the wet linguine-shaped dough to a location where it can hang to dry.

Our location is an old broom handle that has been carefully washed and placed between the shutters on our kitchen window. You can purchase very expensive pasta drying racks. We didn't go that route, as you can see.

S kept up the cutting and the hanging to dry until all the dough was used.

You can see also in these photos the state of the edges of our kitchen - yes, we have new cabinets and countertops, but the walls and trim have yet to be finished. It's functional but not pretty.

Once the dough is dry in an hour or so, you can take it down and bag it until you use it. Since we used regular flour, you have to use it pretty quickly - it has a very short shelf life. If you use semolina flour, it lasts much longer. When you make this pasta and put it in the water to boil, it boils up in about 4 minutes. No kidding. And, it tastes amazingly better than that stuff you can buy at the store. So, I'm glad S likes to make pasta. My tummy's glad too.

Monday, September 29, 2008

A Pizza Party

S and I took some cooking classes last year for something fun to do together. They were fun, and S has really gotten into cooking a few of the things we learned there over the past year. One of the classes we took taught us how to make all different kinds of pizza doughs and sauces. We learned what makes a New York dough different from a Chicago dough, how to use the dough to make a calzone, what types of sauces each dough uses, etc. And, let me tell you, like anything you make at home, this pizza is GOOD.

S will occasionally make up a few batches of dough on a Saturday and then freeze them so we can use it to make a pizza in the middle of the week. But, last Saturday, he made up some dough to use that night. We have done a few of these "make your own pizza" parties with family and friends. They've been a hit.

And, we've gotten better at getting the pizzas to the table before we all turn into pumpkins. The first few times, people at in shifts about 20 minutes apart as we waited for the pizzas to cook. So, we added another pizza stone to our other oven and sped that up quite a bit. Then, some people really like the weigh their pizza down with toppings. S would then sometimes fling all those toppings to the back of the 550 degree oven and char them immediately. Which, in turn, turns the house into a smoke stack. So, we started pre-cooking the dough halfway.

Anyhoo - we have some fun together making the pizza dough and sauce, so we had S's brothers and their families over, as well as our former neighbor and his daughters on Saturday night for a pizza party. Our old neighbor's wife (and also our old neighbor) was visiting her sister in Atlanta. We missed having here here, but I'm sure she had a really nice time on her trip!

Before everyone arrived, S took the dough that was made earlier in the day and split it into individual pizza sized balls. Then, he rolled the dough out to prepare it to be pre-cooked.

Then, he put each pie in the oven for just a few minutes with a little olive oil and Parmesan on the top long enough to get the edges firm so people could really pile on the toppings if they wanted to. This photo shows where he's piling them up after their little trip to the oven.

My job is to make up the sauce. This is pizza sauce - full of spices. Pizza sauce does not necessarily make good pasta sauce, in my opinion.

I also prepare all the toppings. This usually means frying up some Italian sausage and cutting up vegetables. I can handle that.

Alexandra, S's niece, was the first to arrive, with her mom and dad, S's brother and sister-in-law. And, took in her meal before the festivities began. As soon as I took the camera out, she was looking at me, waiting for me to take a photo.

As people arrived, one by one, they took one of S's pre-cooked doughs and loaded it up with fresh ingredients in any way they saw fit.

And S watched over their cooking carefully in the ovens. Then, people would go eat their creation.

There is no getting rid of the delay completely when it comes to cooking the pizzas, but we did more or less eat at all at once - its just that some pizzas came out before other pizzas, as I'm sure you can ascertain. We don't have a large commercial oven that can bake them all at once in our little ol' kitchen. But, with our improvements to the process described above in this post, the wait is way less than it used to be.

Mark, S's brother and Alexandra's dad, is checking out Alexandra playing while we're all sitting down to eat. S's sister-in-law, Brooke gathers some condiments before sitting down.

Our old neighbor, Mike and his daughter, little Sadie, get ready to eat.

The festive eating had begun. Here, our old neighbor Sophie and Alexandra's parents, Kim and Mark, sample their creations.

I'm sure Sophie is saying, "S, I sure do like that pizza!"

And, then, something like, "Enough with the camera, Amy."

After eating pizza and then some brownies and ice cream dessert, it was time to play. We have this basket of "toys". I use the term loosely. Yes, there are bonafide toys in there, but there are also trade show gifts, random stuff I didn't know what to do with, old stocking stuffers that have no home, and general junk. But, it's all stuff kids don't have at their house, so it's interesting to play with at our house.

Here, Sophie and Mark sport the same facial expression, and Sophie dons two items from the "toy" chest - my "graduation" hat from the Disney Institute and a Hawaiian lei.

Before long all the "kids" were into the "toys". We retired to the den to check them out.

Here, S's brother Michael shows off his twirling skills to Brooke, Sophie and Sadie.

That baton was my mother's. I played with it when I was a little girl. It's one of the coolest toys in the chest, in my opinion.

Kim and Alexandra took in all the action happening with the big kids.

Mark shows Sadie and Sophie how the stocking stuffer from 2006 works.

You just push that round thing off the top of the stick and it flies around the room! It can take an eye out, skin off a finger, or break a vase, so it's cool toy!

Sadie says, "Cool - do it again!" Of course, Mark complied.

Then, the sun was waning and it was little girls' bedtimes. So, the party broke up and everyone went home. We're glad everyone was able to come over. We had a great time!

Saturday, September 27, 2008

A "Professional" Gig

My good friend, Errika, used to work with me at my place of employment. But, now she works at the Dallas Black Dance Theater. My good friend Errika also has this crazy idea that I know what I'm doing when I'm taking photos. And, I'm pretty sure my good friend Errika didn't have money in her budget for this event to hire a real photographer. I mean, let's get real - those of us who work for non-profits know the drill.

So, her new job had an awards event the other night and she asked me to take the photos. After telling her NO about a thousand times and why this was really a bad idea she was still calling me asking me to do it. So, since I could find no other excuse to give her, I told her I would do it, but really, she'd get what she paid for...

The event was Tuesday night. It was to thank their donors at high levels for their support. It was held in their newly renovated space, the old Moreland YMCA.

When guests arrived, they signed in and were offered a glass of wine.

Then, they were served a nice spread in their function room.
People were having a really nice time.

After a bit of time, everyone was invited upstairs to the main studio for a dance presentation and the awards presentations.

Here is another shot of the dance presentation with a little bit of an action blur.

There's no real reason to show you the individual "award" photos - since they are pretty much three people and an award, and more meaningful to the people in them. But, more or less, they did come out OK. But, I am sure a REAL pro would have done it differently. That said, it was fun to take in the event and have an opportunity to take the shots. So, thanks Errika...but don't get any ideas!

Friday, September 26, 2008

Plano Balloon Festival

S had some passes to this year's Plano Balloon Festival, which was held this past weekend. With everything else going on in our lives last weekend, we weren't sure when we were going to get out there. So, when it was ascertained that John's party was early evening and the balloon festival was open until 10, we decided it was a good idea to head to the festival after John's party.

So, we drove like mad to get there and get to a parking place on the grounds of the Collin County Community College. Then, we hauled out of the car to rush down the hill to see the nightly "BURN". Which was pretty cool. Photos of the burn are the only ones we got at the festival, and seen here in this post.

There were more people than we ever imagined would be in this little area - thousands of people, which you can sort of see in the photos. We realized what was happening next in this mass of humanity was fireworks were set to go off. It was then that we decided to just walk back to the car and LEAVE before we were there until midnight struggling through traffic with all these people. So, that's what we did. Yep, we drove to the festival to see the burn for about 10 minutes and left.

I will say, however, that I hope next year we have more time to really go to the festival and see a launch, etc. It did seem like a very nice event. Enjoy the rest of the burn photos below!

The End!