Thursday, November 18, 2010

A Love Story Featuring Ravioli

Recently, Kelly and I celebrated our 2nd Anniversary.  I know...2 years isn't any big accomplishment but when you consider the fact that we spend 24 hours a day together it seems a little more impressive.  Kelly and I met in culinary school and never really dreamed we'd run a restaurant together one day.  We have always been a great team but I had my own restaurant with my sister and he had one with his mother.  Somehow the stars aligned and in May of 2008 Kelly came on board as co-owner of Adelea's.  We definitely have our hissy fits but when all is said and done, Kelly and I are blessed to get to see each other every day.  I can't imagine if he went off to work somewhere else.  That would be no fun at all.  So now as you tire of me droning on about my wonderful, hard working husband (who really is quite perfect),  I shall get to the point of my post.

Anyone who knows me can attest to my love for all things Italian.  Thin crust pizza, pasta, mascarpone, prosciutto, prosecco, bellinis, risotto...the list goes on and on.  While my husband Kelly is not Italian (but I love him anyway) he does share my affinity for Italian delicacies.  This could possibly be why he decided to take me to Italy for our honeymoon several January's ago.

We planned our trip to coincide with the slow time here in Salado.  We didn't think twice about the rainy weather or the freezing temperatures.  We just wanted to experience Italy together and thought snuggling under an umbrella at a deserted cafe sounded rather romantic.  As it turns out, it was ridiculously romantic and when we weren't huddled together for warmth, we found our way into some fabulous places.  Sure we saw all there was to see in Florence, Bologna, and Verona but food is always at the top of our list, especially when we travel.

There was the pizza place where no one spoke English, on who's wall Kelly managed to spill an entire glass of wine, and the candlelit five course dinner in Verona where the risotto was well worth the nightmarish 48 hours of flying on our return trip.  (I should add here that I'm terrified of flying and actually didn't get on a plane for a year after this trip...for me to say it was worth the crazy flight back is really saying something.)  We had fabulous meal after fabulous meal but the one that stands out the most was in a little cafe in the heart of Verona where the bartender led us upstairs into a deserted room and basically ordered the Lime Ricotta Ravioli in Brown Butter for us.

It is this ravioli that Kelly and I returned home to recreate for each of our special occasions and celebrations.  There is something so loving about kneading pasta dough together and cutting out the little round shapes.  Something so decadent about the warm butter and creamy ricotta.  Build yourself a fire and you've got a rather sensuous date planned.  It's definitely a process but one that's well worth the trouble.  And you can freeze the ravioli so your day of work can be enjoyed countless times.  We now feature it on our Fall menu and I must say, I just don't get tired of eating it.  I'm (of course) not supposed to since it's not exactly a Nutrisystem entree but who am I kidding?  Handmade ravioli makes me happy.

What follows is the recipe we use at the restaurant for our Lime Filled Ricotta Ravioli.  One cold winter's night, when your cable goes out, build yourself a fire, grab your honey (or mom, kid, bestie, neighbor, etc.) and make some pasta! It might inspire you the same way it does us.

Lime Ricotta Filled Ravioli with Brown Butter

Pasta:     4 cups of Semolina Flour
              6 tablespoons white wine
              6 eggs
              Pinch of kosher salt

Filling:   2 cup ricotta cheese
               Zest of one lime
              3 tablespoons lime juice
              1/4 cup grated parmesan
              Salt and Pepper to taste

Sauce:    4 tablespoons unsalted butter
              1 clove garlic
              1/4 teaspoon kosher salt

Additional items:
             Pasta roller
             Small cup of water
             Round cookie cutter
             Sheet pan lined with parchment paper
             Damp dish towel to keep pasta from drying out
             Large pot of salted, boiling water
             Slotted spoon
             Small sauce pot

First you will need to prepare the pasta dough.  Place semolina flour and salt in a large bowl.  Make a well in the middle of the flour.  Add eggs and white wine to well and beat with a fork until combined.  Gently stir the egg and wine mixture into the flour mixture.  When it begins to come together, remove from bowl onto a semolina floured surface.  Knead dough for 20 minutes and add splashes of wine if dough is breaking apart or more semolina if dough is too sticky.  Your finished dough should be like playdough...soft and malleable but holding it's shape.  Wrap the dough in saran wrap and let rest for another 20 minutes.  In the meantime, mix the ingredients for the filling together and set aside.  Also, now is the time to put salty water on to boil.  It should be salty like the sea.  Trust me, it's a lot saltier than you think.

After dough has fully rested, break the ball into five equal parts.  Using a pasta roller, gently roll one mound of dough beginning on the number 1 and moving eventually to the number 7.  Once you get it to a number 7 thickness, the dough is ready to be made into ravioli.  Put each sheet as you finish rolling it onto the parchment paper lined sheet pan and cover with the damp dishtowel.  The pasta will dry out quickly and become too stiff to cut.  Place the sheet onto a semolina floured surface.  Put teaspoon size mounds of ricotta mixture onto the pasta sheet about 1 inch apart.  Using your index finger, wetted from your bowl of water, make a wet circle around your ricotta mound.  Lay another sheet of pasta over the ricotta mounds, gently pressing around the mounds to seal the two pieces together.  Using your round cutter, cut out circles making sure the ricotta mound is centered.  Pinch the edges of the ravioli to make certain they are sealed and place onto baking sheet and cover with the damp dishtowel.  Repeat until all pasta is used.  Save the scraps for a rustic pasta night.  It is at this point the pasta can be frozen.  Make sure none of the ravioli are touching and place sheet pan in freezer.  After they are frozen you can put them into individual serving bags and just pull one out when you get the yearning for homemade ravioli.

Now for the most wonderful and simple sauce out there.  Place butter, garlic, and salt in a sauce pot and melt over  medium high heat.  You will notice the butter bubbles quite a bit.  This is the water being cooked out of it.  When the bubbling slows down, it's time pay very close attention to your butter.  I swirl mine in the pan until the butter turns a very light brown and then turn off the heat.  Set aside.

Place the ravioli in small batches into boiling water.  Because they are fresh, they should take about 4 minutes to cook.  When cooking frozen, double the cooking time.  Remove pasta with a slotted spoon and place into a bowl.  Spoon brown butter over pasta and top with a sprinkling of shredded parmesan.   Pour yourself some wine and enjoy the fruits of your labor!

Friday, November 12, 2010

Survive the Holidays like a Professional Caterer

If you all are anything like me, the thought of cooking for your in-laws, family, and friends during the holidays makes you feel a little queasy.   In all fairness, I must point out that I've never actually cooked a holiday meal.  My sweet Mother and Aunt take on all the cooking because they say we cook too much as it is.  Having said all of this, I will admit to catering a lot of multi-course dinner parties which can also inspire the same kind of deep seeded horror.  Imagine all the trauma of cooking for your family but add to it a paycheck so now everything must be cooked perfectly, on time and fabulous.  Adds a little bit of pressure don't you think?

So as the holidays draw in on us with all the subtlety of a freight train, I got to thinking.  How can I make cooking for your loved ones easier?  The secret to a stress free holiday meal can be summed up in one key phrase: Always have a plan.  In light of this, I've compiled some thoughts on what I do to get ready for an event so that I can easily feed anywhere from 10-75 people without wanting to shoot myself.  I've made them into Jen's Rules for Successful Holiday Eating.  Consider this my holiday gift to you!

Rule #1: When you fail to plan you plan to fail.
This rule is first because it is most important and can make or break your event.  After planning your menu, make a timeline for your event and the days leading up to it.  For instance, if you know it will take your turkey three days to thaw out in your refrigerator then make sure on your timeline you plan on Monday to move your turkey from the freezer to the refrigerator.  This timeline should be as detailed as possible.  Also figure out what you can do ahead of time.  Certain things like cranberry sauce, pumpkin pie, and cornbread dressing can be made in advance and just reheated the day of the event.  It is important to figure out what these things are and eliminate them before the actual holiday.  This will give you plenty of time to visit with your guests and tackle last minute problems.  As an added bonus I've included a timeline for my imaginary Thanksgiving Dinner.  Feel free to adapt it to your needs.

Rule #2: Do not be afraid to assign tasks to those who offer to help.
This is often the hardest rule to follow.  It's your big holiday meal and you want all the credit.  It's hard to hand over something to someone who might not do it as well as you.  I have three words of wisdom for you. Get.  Over.  Yourself.  I'm a type A personality too and have issues asking for help. That being said, the holidays are a time for family and for teamwork.  If your great aunt Susie wants to bring a ham from HEB then let her.  If your kid wants to make mashed potatoes, then more power to him or her.  When they turn out lumpy you can always loudly thank little Jimmy for contributing the mashed potatoes.  The object of this event is to provide a way for your family to sit down together and catch up, not to see who puts on the most spectacular display.  Also, make sure on the day of the event you have tasks assigned to family members.  Assign easy tasks like filling the glasses with ice to the little kids and harder ones like lighting the candles or pouring the tea to the older kids.  Any thing you can assign means more time for you to do the really important stuff like making homemade whipped cream a la minute (that's of the minute for those of you who haven't been to culinary school).

Rule #3:  When making your timeline, keep your oven space in mind.
This is often the most overlooked part of menu planning.  If you just have one oven, how in the world are you going to bake the rolls, heat up the turkey, the dressing and the green bean casserole all while waiting for the marshmallows to brown on the sweet potatoes?  You're not.  Instead you will run around your kitchen like your hair is on fire and fend off hundreds of questions about when dinner will be ready.  Believe me...I've been there.  Your best defense is a good offense.  Make sure you put the casseroles into dishes that can fit side by side in the oven and the rolls are rising on a sheet pan that can be set on top of your casseroles.  This leaves you a whole shelf to heat up the turkey and the ham.  Brilliant I know.  Basically the point I am emphasizing here is that you have to think about these details before you even make the items.

Rule #4: Assign serving pieces and their place on the table.
This rule might sound a bit on the anal side but I can tell you from lots of experience with overeager helpers that having your serving pieces ready in advance as well as where they will go on the table or buffet will allow everyone to easily help you as everything makes it way to the table.  My Mom uses sticky notes and while we all make tons of fun of her (it wouldn't be the holidays without picking on someone) my sister and I both do this any time we cater.  It just makes this simpler especially when you can't be there to direct everything and are tired of answering questions.  It also helps you avoid searching through your china cabinet moments before dinner looking for your great Aunt's gravy boat.

Rule #5: Set the table several days in advance.
I'll admit setting the table is one of my favorite parts of any meal, second only to the menu planning.  All of my weird quirks aside, setting your table in advance allows you to locate all the napkins you'll need, wash the glasses that have been sitting in your china cabinet since last Christmas, and find all the extra chairs you'll need to fit 20 people into your house.  You'll also have plenty of time to refill salt shakers, find those cute sugar and creamers you got for your wedding that you never thought you'd use and find a little something to hold the lemons.  All things that are fun and easy when you do them in advance.  Leave them until the day of the event while you're trying not to burn the rolls and setting the table becomes mass chaos.

Rule #6: Do the dishes later.
Seriously, are you afraid the dishes might get up and leave?  Perhaps you're worried that Martha Stewart might come over for coffee and see your dirty dishes.  Regardless of your issues, nothing makes guests feel more uncomfortable than when you jump up and start cleaning the kitchen.  It's the international sign for "it's time to go home."  Relax.  Enjoy a second cup of coffee while your Uncle Johnny tells funny stories about your Grandpa.  These moments are what the holidays are all about.  That special time, after everyone is fat and happy and most of the work is done, when the real talking begins.  It's the time when you think to yourself, "I will remember this moment always."  I'm getting sentimental here because it really is my favorite time of each family meal but in all seriousness, when else are you going to hear all the stories about your parents and grandparents to pass down to another generation?  Dishes can wait...they'll be there when everyone is all talked out.

So now you have it.  Exactly what I would do if I was having my own holiday dinner.  Lucky for me, my fabulous Mom and Aunt always handle it all for us.  All we have to do is the dishes and for right now, that's just perfect for me.

Thanksgiving Timeline:

Weekend Before:

  • Do all shopping
  • Set table
  • Assign serving pieces


  • Put turkey into refrigerator to thaw on lowest shelf
  • Clean out refrigerator to make room for all the new food
  • Make pies/cakes   

  • Make cranberry sauce
  • Make turkey stock for gravy
  • Make green bean casserole

  • Cook ham, slice
  • Cook turkey, slice
  • Prepare cornbread dressing
  • Make gravy
  • 8 a.m.-Put rolls out to rise
  • 10 a.m.-Make tea
  • 10:15 a.m.-Put butter on table along with cream and sugars and lemons
  • 10:25 a.m.-Turn oven on to pre-heat
  • 10:30 a.m.-Cook cornbread dressing
  • 10:35 a.m.-Put water on to boil for mashed potatoes
  • 10:45 a.m.-Make sweet potatoes and bake
  • 11 a.m.-Make mashed potatoes
  • 11:15 a.m.-Cook rolls
  • 11:16 a.m.-Re-heat ham, turkey, green beans, etc.
  • 11:20 a.m.-Whip cream, refrigerate
  • 11:30 a.m.-Heat gravy on the stovetop
  • 11:45 a.m.-Put ice in glasses, light candles
  • 11:45 a.m.-Ready coffee so all you need to do is start it after the meal
  • Noon-Place everything on the buffet or table and call your crew to lunch     

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Welcome to my life!

After running a restaurant with my wonderful husband Kelly for 2 1/2 years, I decided it was finally time to put my education to work and start a blog (you are welcome Mom and Dad!).  This blog will be just for me!  I'll talk about all the things that drive me crazy in the restaurant world, the things I love, the tricks I've learned and about how I manage the rest of my life while I work 80 hours a week.  And believe me, I do have a life...sometimes it's just hard to track down.  So...I vote let's just jump right in!

As a woman in the culinary field, I am constantly worrying about my weight.  Losing weight isn't brain surgery but once you realize I'm around food (and fabulous food at that) 24/7 my struggle becomes much more of a travesty.  I began culinary school at 160 lbs. and have watched my weight climb to an astounding 195 lbs.  None of my clothes fit and my husband is now only 8 pounds heavier than me.  Sooooo not okay.  I'm excited to say that I have finally decided to do something about it!  I've tried everything and nothing seems to work with my lifestyle.  I mean eating dinner at 10 p.m. is just not the best way to shed some pounds.  And who can say no to homemade truffles or pasta or mashed potatoes???  I'm guessing that most of you don't have husbands who say "I made your favorite mac and cheese from scratch."  How do you say no to that???  Needless to say counting my Weight Watchers points was just not working (I should point out here that it has worked twice in the past...once for 50 lbs and another time for 25 lbs).  One dose of mashed potatoes smothered in beurre blanc and my daily points went right out the window.  After having my cholesterol checked and realizing that I weigh as much as I should when I am 9 months pregnant I decided it was time to do something.

Late one night, as I clicked through the channels, I saw Marie Osmond droning on about all the great food you get to eat on Nutrisystem.  The reason I actually stopped was her hair but that is another matter for a different blog.  As I saw all the success stories I started to think...a program where I just add in fruits and veggies (readily available at the restaurant) and have all the rest of my meals planned for me just might actually work.  If I could simplify my food choices down to cottage cheese or yogurt, an apple or some pineapple, asparagus or broccoli?  By golly, this diet might actually work with my crazy schedule.  So I ordered it.

I am proud to say that I was right.  It is easy.  I don't want to eat the restaurant food because I have paid over $300 for the food waiting for me at home.  To date I have lost 14 pounds and have about 25 more to go.  I'm feeling much healthier and having a lot more energy.  I'm even starting to fit back into some of my clothes.  I'll admit the food is hit or miss...I love the frozen meals and all of the pastas but when they describe the pizza in the commercial it's the ONE frozen pizza you get every two weeks that's about the size of a small salad plate.  And when does microwave pizza ever really get all cheesy and melty like that???  The other pizzas they offer are merely chewy bread with tomato sauce and a sprinkling of cheese.  Good for a night when you come home at 11 p.m. and could care less if you eat or not.  Otherwise I'm not sure how I would feel about them.

This system seems to be working for me but the real test will be once the food stops coming.  At that point, I plan to make skinny versions of all of our favorite items at Adelea's.  I've already been working on the Butternut Squash Soup.  We finish the soup with a healthy dose of heavy cream that adds roughly a billion grams of fat to an otherwise healthy soup.  It got me thinking...why not substitute the heavy cream for fat free half and half?  Well folks, it worked.  The soup is still luscious and reminds me of all the things I love about Fall.  Here is the skinny recipe so you can enjoy it this weekend.  And you can freeze this in small batches (before you add the half and half) to pull out whenever you need a little comfort soup.  Just heat it up, add the half and half and you've got yourself a warm bowl of heaven.


Butternut Squash Soup
Ingredients 2 butternut squash, halved lengthwise, seeded
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
2 cups diced onion
3 carrots, peeled and diced
3 stalks celery, peeled and diced
2 teaspoons minced fresh ginger
3 garlic cloves, minced
4 cups canned chicken broth
1/2 cup fat free half and half 
Salt and Pepper to taste

2 apples, peeled, seeded and diced
2 tablespoons brown sugar
1 tablespoon butter

Preheat oven to 375ºF. Spray baking sheet with Pam and place squash, cut side down, on baking sheet and bake until very soft, about 45 minutes. Let cool and remove squash with a spoon. Set aside. Heat 1 tablespoon vegetable oil in a large pot over medium-low heat. Sauté carrots for 5 minutes and then add onion and celery until soft, about 3 minutes. Add ginger and garlic and sauté until soft, about 1 minute. Add chicken broth and squash and boil for 15 minutes. Remove from heat and place soup in small batches in a blender and blend until smooth. Return to pot and add fat free half and half and salt and pepper to taste. For caramelized apples, melt butter and brown sugar in a saucepan and sauté apples until tender, about 10 mintues. Add as topping to soup.