Sunday, January 22, 2012

No Packer Game, I Pasta Time Away Differently

I just completed an all-day, from-scratch Sunday of cooking. Inspired by my recently purchased The Mozza Cookbook, I decided to make a fettuccine and Mozza's house tomato sauce. What an undertaking!

First, the easy part—well, sometimes it's the easy part—making the dough ball. I've included a picture of how I do it. Many pasta dough recipes will say to mound your flour on a flat table then make a "well" in the mound in which you add your eggs and oil. I tried this method first, but I wound up messing it up. The problem is if you lose the well, the liquid contents will spill and it's difficult to reincorporate the spilled liquid. This happened on my first attempt and I failed miserably trying to blend the ingredients Using a large bowl makes so much more sense. It's easy to make the well in the bowl hand whisk the eggs gradually into the dough without worrying about a spill. Attempt number two worked perfectly and I was able to perfectly combine the ingredients (1 cup all-purpose flour, 1 cup semolina flour, 3 eggs, and a tablespoon of extra virgin olive oil).

Once the mixture thickens to the point that it can no longer be whisked with a fork, it's time to get your hands dirty! Start kneading the sticky ball into itselfpicking up the dry dough remaining in the bowl. When you've got all the dough incorporated that you can get, the workout begins: for about 10 minutes, knead the dough ball with your hands. It becomes  firmer as it's kneaded. When complete, wrap the ball tightly in plastic wrap and store in the refrigerator for at least an hour.

The sauce ingredients are pretty standard: canned whole tomatoes, garlic, onions, thyme and olive oil, but the one surprising ingredient is a grated carrot! Some say the carrot is key. It's used in Milwaukee chef Michael Feker's Il Mito tomato sauce too. Just before adding the tomatoes, the sauté looks like the picture to the right. Once the tomatoes are tossed in, the sauce is simmered for about a half an hour. (I went longer as I wanted a thicker sauce and the light simmer boiled off some of the excess water.)

While the sauce simmers, the time is perfect to remove the resting dough from the fridge and start preparing the fettuccine. I don't make my own pasta enough to get good at it and this step can make me crazy. Usually I start out nice and calm, but 20 minutes in I'll be cursing my stupid idea to make my own pasta.  Fortunately, today's episode went perfectly, albeit, it was very time consuming. The key, I figured, was to work with smaller pieces of dough, and that seemed to work. It helped, too, that the dough was perfect and it didn't stick to the rollers—frequently my greatest source of aggravation.

Also important is liberal use of dry semolina flour to coat the finished noodles in to prevent them from sticking to each other. Some folks will hang the noodles strips to keep them from tangling with each other. I don't mind the tangling—they're going to get that way in the pot anyway, but I don't want them sticking to each other so I'll often grab the noodle pile and gently massage the noodles with flour as they drop back to the table.

Sauce well-simmered, I then tossed it into our blender. The recipe I was using calls for using a food mill. That's the one kitchen appliance we don't own. I am not sure how different the outcome would have been as the blender seemed to work well. I tried not to overdo it and kept the blend rather coarse.

One thing about fresh pasta: it cooks in a blink! Just a quick dip in salted, boiling water (about 3 minutes) is all it takes to get perfect al dente pasta. Follow with a quick drain through a colander and toss in the sauce pan to coat. Plate and serve with a couple with a couple of crusty chunks of buttered bread and you've got yourself a meal! I also topped the pasta with some Bel Gioso shredded Parmesan. It was good without the parm, but with it, it was the extra dimension that made this a perfect dish.

It took a good chunk of my day to make this meal—about 5 hours, but when I finally got to sit down and watch some football with a delicious bowl of this rustic homemade goodness, it was all worth it!

Bon Appétit friends and readers!

P.S. If for some inexplicable reason you wish to see more pictures of me making a homemade pasta meal, click here.

Monday, January 9, 2012

I've Got Mozza on the Brain!

*** Excerpted from my workout post ***

I've got an irrational desire to own "The Mozza Cookbook: Recipes from Los Angeles's Favorite Italian Restaurant and Pizzeria." Ever since hearing a cookbook reviewer on NPR state that it was as fine of an example of a cookbook as there ever was and that it was filled with delicious, thrice-tested recipes with beautiful, appetizing photography, I knew I had to have this book. My desire didn't subside when I read other reviews by the likes of LA Weekly ("This cookbook is freaking awesome."), former NY Times restaurant review Frank Bruni ("lavish") and countless other Amazon 5-star reviews.

For tonight's 4-mile run, I set my goal to run to the local Barnes & Noble where surely they'd have a copy. It was 2 miles to get there. Once inside, I stood in the cookbook section scanning the shelves up and down for the word "Mozza." After one pass, no sign of "Mozza" anywhere. Sweat dripping from brow into my eyes, I looked again. Nothing. Still sweating; again, no "Mozza." So I walked over to the self-help computer and typed in (you guessed it!) "Mozza." It was not in stock. Sold out.

This made me want it even more.

So I ran back home and headed straight to my computer, where, before typing this dailymile update, I browsed over to and searched for (say it with me ...) "Mozza." Now in a few days, I'll be the proud owner of a brand new cookbook that I'll probably never make one single recipe from, but dang, it will sure be fun to look at the lavish, freaking awesome pictures of really appetizing food!

Thursday, January 5, 2012

Forest? What Forest?!

*** Hypocrisy Alert! ***

What I am about to say is entirely hypocritical. I am guilty of the same charges that I am about to levy upon others.

The charges?

Technology overuse and abuse.

During our recent trip to Barcelona we saw this offense on numerous occasions. Sadly, what I saw in others was a reflection of myself ... and I did not like the view.

Technology is powerful and our advancements ought to be embraced, but like any vice, it should be used in moderation. Before technology, there was an old idiom that read “one cannot see the forest for the trees.” In that example, one’s attention was presumed fixed on a detail that prevented them from seeing the greater beauty about them (the tree; not the forest). In our current world, that idiom could be rewritten to “one cannot see the forest for the mutual capacitance touchscreen handheld wireless device used to transmit digital electronic data transglobally to their BFF in Poughkeepsie. Haha. LOLZ!!”


Whether at a zoo, a national park, museum, concert, restaurant or bar, us “moderns” seem obsessed with keeping a connection to our virtual realm and, in the meantime, we miss the simple pleasures and beauty of the real world. This was never more evident than when we visited four UNESCO World Heritage Sites dedicated to the works of Antoni Gaudí (Casa Batlló, Park Güell, la Sagrada Família and Casa Milà). I swear people did not stop and look at Gaudí’s works. Instead they just ran from site to site and snapped picture after picture. They could not see the art for the viewfinder. And if not a camera, it was a foursquare checkin, a facebook checkin, a twitpic, a tweet, a post, a text, an email and so on. And with digital cameras’ capacity to take thousands of photos, their users exercise no restraint. Give ‘em a 4GB card, they’ll fill it with pictures; give ‘em a 32, they’ll fill that too ... with video!

As a Gen X’er (I always hated that term, but that’s what they call me) and a bit of a gadget nerd, I am transitional. I still remember record players, dial phones (on party lines!), having to get off the couch to change the channel and so forth. I find it scary that today’s youth have been born into this (un)wired world never knowing any other way. Terrifying even. Maybe technology won’t be novel to them and they will use it in a strictly utilitarian fashion, thus enabling them to appreciate art and beauty and share only what is valuable or necessary.

But I doubt it.

While in Spain, a bartender at Scobie’s Irish Pub was kind enough to provide access to his bar’s wi-fi network. Scobie’s owners know that free wi-fi in a tourist area is good for business and, if they don’t provide it, the establishment down the street will. However, once Scobie’s patrons successfully navigate their way onto an Internet connection, it’s to facebook (et al) they go where they bury their faces for an hour. While doing so, they ignore the bar and the people within. Nondigital interpersonal communication dies. The bartender was funny, albeit a bit incensed. He said “I’m gonna unplug the Goddamn thing! Nobody talks to each other anymore. They just stare at their phones and don’t even bother to get to know the guy sitting next to them!” He was right. Just sit at a bar at any airport; you’ll see the exact same thing.

Look, I’m not proposing we go back to being primal. This tech stuff is pretty cool and to be able to snap a pic 3,000 miles from home and send it back to mom to let her know that you are doing well is not a bad thing, but somewhere within we need to realize that we are not doing ourselves or society any favors if we can’t stop for a moment, relax, and take in the place and people about us. Mom and BFF can wait.

I’ve made no resolutions, but in 2012 I am going to more carefully meter my use of digital gadgets. And maybe, at the end of the year, I'll have seen more and made a few new friends along the way!

P.S. -- Don’t even get me started on GPS-enabled fitness watches and people who video concerts ...

The Holstee Manifesto Lifecycle Video from Holstee on Vimeo.

Monday, January 2, 2012

Perspective, Altered (The Importance of Travel)

On Gaudi near La Sagrada Familia
My wife and I just returned from a week in Barcelona. We have visited Europe a number of times, but let me assure you: you cannot go wrong with spending 7 days in the Catalonian capital. There is so much to do and see (and eat!). One week is definitely not enough and I look forward to the day that we return.

But more importantly, even if we did not choose Barcelona to visit, getting out of our home country and comfort zone was key. I strongly believe that travel -- particularly International travel -- is good for the mind and soul. It changes one's perspective on the world and can be good for resetting priorities and outlook.

The life history of Picaso is an interesting example.

While in Barcelona, one of our must-sees was The Museo Picasso (Picasso Museum in English, of course). I knew little of Picasso's story going into the museum. All I knew is that he was one of the most famous of the Modernist artists and widely known for his expressions in Cubism. (Also, that he was quite the womanizer!) The museum was a real eye-opener. It follows Pablo from his birth in 1881 to his death in 1973. Certainly he didn't make any notable or recordable works of art at or near his birth, but it didn't take long -- by 14 years of age he had already shown that he was artistically gifted and on his way to becoming a great.

Picasso's Three Musicians
As one advances through the museum and simultaneously through Picasso's early years, his improvement as an artist is noticeable, but remarkable and rapid advancement only happens after singular events in his life occur. Those events? Travel.

Once Picasso changes his point of view by traveling to Paris, his exposure to works by Post-Impressionist great Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec is quickly evident in his works. Other artists' work, too, influences him and alters his artistic output for life.

It's Tapas Time!
My aim is not to detail Picasso's life -- there are books, museums, websites and Wikipedia articles for that -- but it is to highlight the significance of travel on his life. As I walked through the museum, I felt a strange parallel to myself and the artist -- as I was observing the angular change in his life arc evident from his excursions to other lands, the exact same thing was occurring to me! In this museum, in Barcelona, in Spain -- I, too, was changing. I could feel an adjustment happening inside me that I would hopefully carry through life. A prism, if you will, in which I could see the world through that would offer growth of mind and purpose.

If you can, the next time you are considering your annual getaway(s), strongly consider a trip that places you outside of your normal comfort zone. It can be exhilarating, educational and fun, and upon your return, you just may find yourself a little bit different ... in a very fulfilling way!

Travel internationally. Your mind will thank you for it.