Pasta Factory

By Lisa

Some people eat long noodles, other families eat blackeyed peas, but we have a pasta-making tradition on New Years Day.   Actually, the tradition has been that I make the pasta and everyone else eats it.  Mostly, I don’t mind. Mostly, I love making pasta the way other people love meditating, or running, or taking a nap.  There are few other tasks in the kitchen that I find more therapeutic, and even fewer that have a better reward.  But this year, I just didn’t want to make all that pasta only to have it disappear a few hours later, nor did I want  to make the extra batches all by myself.  Plus, there’s no kitchen gadget my kids love more than the pasta roller. So I decided: It was about time the kids and Kory learned how to make pasta.

First, you clear the table and dump 2 1/4 cups “OO” type flour into a small hill at each work space.

Next: you make a pit in the center of your flour mountain, volcano style.  Crack 3 eggs into your crater.

(Even Finn could do this–mostly.)

With a fork, puncture the yolks, then scrambled the eggs.  Slowly incorporate the flour into the eggs.

When the dough begins to comes together, you drop the fork and begin to knead, incorporating flour bit by bit until the dough is no longer sticky. Eventually, it will be smooth and elastic and will spring back when you poke it.

It’s messy teaching kids how to knead, so I couldn’t take pictures. But you’ll trust me when I say we ended up with 4 beautiful batches of pasta.

3 batches were packed away, unrolled and uncut in ziplock bags and stored in the freezer for another day.

The last batch, we rolled into fettucine.  Actually, Ella and Finn rolled it,with some help, then cut it on their own. Teamwork. We don’t have it every day, nor did we even have it all day on New Years Day, but we had it in this moment.  This is one of my goals for this year: remembering that harmony, in small ways, matters.

Horseradish Cheddar Fondue

By Lisa

If you ask my kids, they will tell you their favorite restaurant is the Melting Pot, a chain of fondue restaurants.  Everything I wrote almost exactly one year ago remains true.  Yet in spite of the price, we have eaten there three times this year.  We didn’t anticipate that our promise to celebrate certain accomplishments would become  such an expensive one.

So, Santa thought it was time to leave a fondue pot for the family, which we used almost immediately to inaugurate a new tradition:  New Years Eve Fondue.

We all helped prep: cutting bread and dipping vegetables and apples and setting them on the table on small bowls. grating cheese in the food processor; chopping and measuring the aromatics and liquid; covering the table in butcher paper and then setting it.

Everything ready to go

We have the Cuisnart electric fondue pot, so when everything was prepped, we brought the ingredients right to the table to cook.  The pot gets up to temperature almost immediately, so if you have your prep under control, this is a very fast dinner, one you could even do on a busy weeknight. The fondue comes together in less than ten minutes, even if you make, like we did, enough fondue to feed a small regiment of Swiss gendarmes.

We took turns with the cooking: I sauteed the garlic, kids added the beer, then we all  added handfuls of cheese, the aromatics, and stirred until the fondue came together.

Then we ate.

It was one of the most pleasant, easy meals we’ve had this season. I reckon we’ll save about $600 a year in restaurant bills. There’s something about cooking together over a single pot, then eating out of a communal bowl that brings our family together in the way no other meal can. (True, the sticks help.)  I think the next time an ugly conflict rears it’s head, or I need a good bribe reward, I might suggest fondue for dinner and all will be well.  Really, it’s like family therapy.

Horseradish Cheddar Fondue

Makes enough for at least 8 hungry people, so adjust accordingly. Follow the directions on your fondue pot for cooking and warming.

  • 1 1/2 lbs mild cheddar cheese, shredded
  • 2 tablespoons cornstarch
  • 1 1/2 cups beer (we like Stella Artois)
  • 1 tablespoon butter
  • 1 minced clove garlic
  • 1 teaspoon horseradish mustard
  • 1-2 dashes tabasco

Ideas for dipping:

  • bread cubes
  • carrots
  • broccoli (lightly steamed if you prefer)
  • mild pre-cooked sausage
  • fennel and/or celery
  • apple wedges, cut in half
  1. Toss shredded cheese with corn starch and set aside.
  2. Saute garlic quickly in melted butter.
  3. Add beer and bring to a gentle simmer.
  4. Slowly add in cheese, stirring to melt evenly.
  5. Add mustard and tabasco.
  6. Serve immediately.

Homemade Ramen Noodles

by Caroline

At some point this summer, I picked up the inaugural issue of David Chang’s new food magazine, Lucky Peach, and then, overwhelmed by work on this book, I let it drop to the bottom of my reading pile. Because this is not the kind of food magazine you flip through, tearing out recipes, and then toss in the recycling; it’s a reading magazine, and I was doing enough reading about food — in the amazing essays by our contributors — that I really couldn’t handle any more.

But this weekend (having submitted the manuscript; hurray!), I pulled it out and read it. I read the journal of David Chang and Peter Meehan’s trip to Japan, I read the story about the New Yorker, Ivan Orkin, who’s opened a ramen shop in Tokyo, I read about the invention of instant ramen and I studied the map of regional ramens. I read Ruth Reichl’s instant ramen taste test (she spent $80 on ramen noodles, so you know it’s thorough) and laughed at the recipes, like Instant Ramen Cacio e Pepe, which reminded me of the Instant Ramen Stroganoff or the Instant Ramen Primavera my college housemate and I used to make. And finally I read Harold McGee’s fascinating piece on alkalinity and alkaline noodles and I learned what gives ramen noodles that slippery feel in your mouth: alkaline! And I discovered that it’s really not too hard to make homemade ramen noodles. So I did.

I probably wouldn’t have been so drawn to the recipe if I weren’t living with a couple of young scientists who are fascinated by the chemistry of food and cooking, and who had just recently asked me why acids get so much more play in the kitchen than alkalines. I won’t go into the science of it all here — just go find a copy of Lucky Peach and read Harold McGee’s piece — but any recipe where you start by baking a pan of baking soda is kind of fascinating, don’t you think? After that, though, it’s not so different from making pasta:

rolling out noodles

mise en place



Igloo Meatloaf

By Lisa

Last week, when I made this chive meatloaf, I made double.  I rolled and froze the second batch, and took it out last night for a quick dinner. I baked it in our convection oven on the self-timer early in the day, around 3 pm.

But I also had mashed potatoes left over, and so when the meatloaf had cooked and cooled, I molded the potatoe into a little igloo over the loaf. I used my hands. Then, I suddenly remembered something from my childhood. Cheese in mashed potatoes ? Cheese on twice-baked potatoes?  I quickly dumped some grated cheddar and monterey jack all over the potatoes, then baked everything at 350 degrees for 2-25 minutes.

The cheese crust turned golden and slightly crispy, and the kids were a little baffled, but then they tasted it and thought it was one of the best things ever.  Finn ate two helpings and Ella just kept saying, “These potatoes are so good.” And she’s not much of a potato eater. Really, it’s the definition of comfort food, and it made for a very happy, easy dinner.  In fact, the only thing more fun for the kids than this, which they thought was a totally new meal, was playing Finn’s new game, “Who Am I?” while they ate.

In this case, he is most definitely not what he is eating.

In Which the Husband Saves the Day

by Caroline

I had a little meltdown the other day.

It had been a day in which various bad things and mistakes piled up, and when my kind, dinner-cooking husband asked if I wanted a stir fry for dinner, I didn’t take it well. We’ve been eating a lot of stir fry lately, but that wasn’t the problem so much as that I suddenly couldn’t make a decision at all. Lisa and I are making dozens of decisions, big and small, every day about the book as we ready it for the press; Tony and I are making even more as we read foundation applications. My kids haven’t stopped being their clamorous, questioning, fabulous 6 and 9 year-old selves just because I have two big deadlines. I shut down.

“I want dinner,” I said, “And I don’t want to cook or make a decision about it, and I know this is totally selfish, but I want something new, too.”

Half an hour later, Tony was back from the market, chopping and stirring, while I ignored supervised the kids’ homework and emailed with writers. “Everything is cooking,” Tony announced, “but I don’t know what I’m making.”

An hour later, we were sitting down to dinner. Nothing fancy — steamed green beans with lemon and sliced almonds; jasmine rice; lentils with caramelized shallots — but it was tasty and different, and I didn’t cook it. Tony even had it in him to set the boys a challenge (to eat their rice without soy sauce), so the boys accessorized with squeezes of lemon and lime juice. Eli declared it “definitely probably the best dinner I’ve had this month and the last month.” I’d have to agree.