Ricotta-Vanilla Ravioli in Orange Beurre Blanc Sauce

We made ravioli from scratch! And we succeeded! When we saw that even some of the Worst Cooks in America could do it, we knew we could. Thus inspired, we spent about three and a half hours making and kneading our pasta dough (according to the directions on the package of  Hodgson Mills Pasta Flour), rolling it out using our hand-crank pasta machine, filling and cutting out ravioli, then boiling them and serving them in our delicious sauce. It was time consuming. And, we imagine, easier to do with four hands than with two. But it was a fun weeknight project and the delectible results made it worth every second.

There are plenty of books and websites that can explain how to make and roll out fresh pasta much better than we can, so we'll focus on the filling and sauce. The vanilla sweetened the ravioli in a delicate way and the orange zest in the filling was enhanced by the orange juice and zest in the sauce. The mint in the filling gave it a hint of herbal freshness, while the shallots and wine in the sauce offered nice depth of flavor. We used Simply Recipe's recipe for the sauce (only using 1 1/2 sticks of butter instead of two)and, again, it was an amazing pairing with our ravioli filling. We boastfully pronounced our ravioli "restaurant worthy" and were so proud of ourselves that we brought in samples for friends to taste. All gave two thumbs up.

Note: We used Mineola oranges for the zest and juice. 
For the filling:
1/2 cup whole milk ricotta
2 tablespoons sugar
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1 1/2 tablespoons fresh mint leaves, chopped
2 teaspoons orange zest
1 vanilla bean, split lengthwise, seeds scraped out (as in photo)

Prepare fresh pasta. Mix all of the above ingredients in a medium bowl. Spoon a teaspoon's worth of the ricotta mixture onto one pasta sheet, about two inches apart. Brush the edges of each ravioli square with water, then top with additional pasta sheet, pressing to squeeze out air bubbles. Cut the ravioli squares and set aside to dry on a clean dishcloth. Repeat process with remaining pasta sheets. Cook ravioli in batches of 6-8 in salted boiling water for about 3 minutes, or until pasta is al dente. Top with sauce and enjoy. 


The Cupcake Craze

It's not that we're late coming into America's Great Cupcake Craze. In fact, we enjoyed some delicious cupcakes at Butta' Cakes during a fall weekend getaway to Greenport, Long Island. In Pasadena at Dots Cupcakes, mini cupcakes, in flavors like strawberry lemonade and cookies-and-cream, were a tasty late-night indulgence. And one time, in Boston, Amy joyfully skipped into a shop called Johnny Cupcakes with the hopes of biting into a buttercream-topped confection, only to find that it's a clothing shop. For, like, skater-type youngsters. (We won't discuss how old that made her feel.) While one magazine recently claimed that cupcakes are "out," we'll always love the idea of having our very own, frosting-topped, sugar-n-carb snack cake. They're even portable!

All of this is to say that we finally made it to our local cupcake factory, an easy-to-miss bakery in Glastonbury called Sugarbelle. We tried several of the flavors that were beautifully displayed in the case on a recent rainy afternoon: Tahitian vanilla bean (shown, right), red velvet (shown, below), coconut cream, berry almond, each with its own expertly made and matched frosting (which is the most important part, of course!). There are only two words to say about these cupcakes: simply irresistible. Why did it take us so long to visit? How soon can we go back? Exactly how many pounds are we going to gain?

Sugarbelle not only offers six to eight varieties of cupcakes each day, but also makes cakes of all kinds (including wedding), petit fours, and cookies, and takes special orders. Get over there and treat yourself - we'll see you there!


Espresso Chip Ice Cream

With all the farm fresh eggs in the house, we've been searching for recipes to use them. Then it hit: ice cream is one! We tried the espresso ice cream recipe from the Williams-Sonoma Ice Cream book. It's a custard-based ice cream so it turned out rich and creamy, and we added chocolate chips for a little crunch and chocolatey goodness (although the Godiva cookie helped...). While any ice cream is good, in our opinion, homemade ice cream is the best, more so because we can actually pronounce all of the ingredients!


Pollo Canzanese with Sage Polenta

Pollo Canzanese. Chicken in the style of Canzano (a town in the Teramo province of Abruzzo, Italy). We found this recipe in an ancient computer file of Amy's, copied and pasted into Word, perhaps from Mario Batali on The Food Network, or even from Chef Anna Teresa Callen, as they are quite similar. The one was actually followed was Mario's, although we used four drumsticks and four thighs (no butcher's work tonight!) and left off the parsley altogether. You can rarely go wrong with one-pot dishes, so this served our purposes on the Sunday that marked the (sigh) end of February vacation.

It's a strange little dish, to be sure (photo above is before adding the prosciutto and wine and cooking). The odd mix of ingredients and the brown-grayish color the chicken turned after braising could have been a turn off, as it was to the recipe raters on Food Network, apparently. However, once the house filled with the delicious smells (herbs! garlic! wine! cloves!), we set our fears aside. We left the so-called "sauce" in the pan - it never really reduced and so was quite watery and had all those cloves in it after all - and served the chicken pieces and prosciutto bits with a side of sage polenta. The chicken was falling off the bone tender, even after only 35 minutes in the pot, and it had great flavor and depth. Unlike the recipe raters, we'd give it three stars, not just one. However, the polenta was the real star of the night (with respect to Mario, of course). It was creamy, it was herby, it was buttery and cheesy. We especially liked how it picked up the sage in the chicken dish. To sum up, it was delicious, and here's our recipe:


1 quart water
2 teaspoons salt
1 cup coarse yellow corn meal
3 tablespoons unsalted butter
4 fresh sage leaves
1/4 cup grated Grana Padano cheese (Parmegiano would work well also)
salt and pepper to taste

Add the salt to the water and bring to a boil. Slowly whisk in the polenta and cover. Cook over medium-high heat, whisking often, for 45 minutes, until the polenta is thick and creamy. In a separate small saucepan, cook the butter over medium heat until it just starts to brown and smells nutty (about four minutes). Add the sage leaves to the butter to infuse the butter with flavor. Fry the sage for about a minute, turn off the butter, and set the sage leaves on a paper towel to dry. Stir the sage butter and grated cheese into the polenta, then season with salt and pepper to taste. Garnish with the fried sage leaves.


Meet Me at Foxwoods?

Stopped into David Burke Prime in the Foxwoods Casino after a long day of gambling making donations to the Mashantucket Pequot tribe. Each bite of the four ounces of chilled jumbo lump Maryland crabmeat was so sweet it was like eating crab candy (but better than that sounds). The contrast of a zippy, zesty remoulade sauce and a glass of bubbly dry Prosecco made me feel like a high roller, even if losing was my only game that day.


Foodie Book Friday: Making Toast

Amy writes:

Lately, I've been thinking about loss. A good friend is facing the impending loss of her cousin to cancer. Several have lost, or are on the verge of losing, their jobs. Chris and I lost our beloved cat, Stanley, last week, the suddenness of which has blindsided me and, if I were to be honest, sent me into a mild depression. I realize that losing a family member is much different from losing a job, which in turn is different from losing a pet, nonetheless, all of these are a loss to those involved.

While I've been thinking about this, I've read the book Making Toast by Roger Rosenblatt. The book is a touching memoir about the author and his wife making the decision to move in with his son-in-law and grandchildren after the sudden death of their 38-year old daughter. The title refers to the one daily chore the author takes loving care to perfect - making each child's toast exactly how he or she likes it.

It was then that I began to contemplate the different roles food can play in our lives. "Comfort food" has a certain connotation these days; one thinks of mac-n-cheese and meat loaf, fried chicken at a local diner or that high-end gourmet restaurant serving deconstructed pot pie. But it's not just the eating of that pot pie that reminds you of your carefree childhood, or the mac-n-cheese that satisfies you in a warm, carb-laden way that is comforting. It's the careful, loving creation of the simplest of foods, like toast, for a child. Or the sharing of leftover meatballs with a friend who is having a bad week. Or the drop-off of a quart of Stew Leonard's lobster bisque to a neighbor who just lost their kitty. As part of the every day, food - cooking it, sharing it, and eating it - can get us through difficult times.

As for the book, it's not really a "foodie book" per se. While there is, of course, the underlying sadness of a grieving family, it is not just about loss either. Rosenblatt tells anecdotes of a family coping with their loss, and he does so with wit and the dry sense of humor for which is is known. He also leaves much unsaid, and that sense that something is missing is reminiscent of the woman (daughter, wife, mother) who is now missing in their lives. Not overly sentimental or weepy, the book is written in journal-like entries that paint the picture of people moving on with their lives, focusing on the day-to-day, figuring out how to get through each one. Readers can learn a lesson on how to do exactly that from reading this lovely family tale.


Hearts All Aglow

Faith Middleton, public radio personality and host of the weekly food talk show The Food Schmooze, has been holding signature themed events featuring hot local chefs. We attended the last one, Hearts All Aglow, at which Faith challenged five chefs to create one hors d'oeuvre and one course each that would be both delectable and heart healthy. The event was sponsored by the Pat and Jim Calhoun Cardiology Center and was held at The Society Room (formerly Joe Black's) in Hartford last week, just in time for Valentine's Day.
First of all, the space was gorgeous. The building was once a bank, with high ceilings and opulent ornamentation, and the dramatic decor definitely added to the luxurious feel of the event. The feasting began upstairs with passed hors d'oeuvres and the Carpene Malvolti Brut Rose poured freely. Each beautfully displayed nibble was a perfect mouthful. My favorite was a seared scallop served on a spoon with a bit of applesauce and diced pancetta, an excellent mingling of sweet, smoke and salt. Chris loved the smoked salmon with fennel gelee (photo below), a nice herby bite, and the faux sushi - a roll made with sweet potato, mango chutney and almonds wrapped with brown rice. Shots of refreshing gazpacho were passed on a tray covered in red roses and carnations, and amaretto shrimp came out on a glowing tray of white flowers. All five tastes were presented in such a pretty way, and all were so delicious that we would have been satisfied with the cocktail hour alone.

However, there was a lot more to come. As we glided down the sweeping staircase, we saw a dozen or so elegantly set tables prepared for a five-course meal awaiting us below. House Chef Stefan Drago created a nappa cabbage salad (photo at top of post) wrapped with a thin slice of cucumber and dressed in a spicy soy vinaigrette. All at our table loved the crispy freshness of the salad and the creative use of the cucumber to contain the greens. Miya Sushi's Chef Bun Lai made a roll that he cleverly named "Ann and Nancy Wilson's Favorite Barracuda Sushi Roll" -alluding to the Heart theme. Next we enjoyed braised monkfish saddle, a tender yet meaty fish, served with with parmesan-cauliflower gnocchi with lobster oil made by Chef Daniel Chong Jimenez of The Spa at Norwich Inn.
Braised oxtail ravioli topped with wild mushrooms and potato foam seemed to be a favorite in the room, with people hmmming and nodding and wanting more. Kudos to Ibiza's Chef Manuel Romero - we'll definitely be visiting your restaurant soon.
And how can you go wrong with chocolate soup for dessert? Chef Jordan Stein of The Pond House Cafe made this bittersweet concoction even more delicious by adding crunchy cocoa puffs and a cloud of Devonshire cream. To top it off, each course was paired with a perfectly matched wine, none of which we had ever tried, but all of which we will look out for.

It was an elegant and enjoyable evening. We mingled with local foodies, including the food columnist for our local paper, got our pic in said paper (this is us!) (thanks, MaryEllen!), and enjoyed a heart-healthy gourmet meal. We left holding hands, full, happy, and "hearts all aglow," looking forward to the next Food Schmooze Signature Event.


"Four-P" Risotto

Risotto, like pasta, is a comfort food to us. The endless possibilities of ingredients that can be mixed in. The calming rhythm of stirring and stirring until it's just right. The final result of a big plate of steaming hot, creamy rice that warms you through and through. This post by fellow blogger "gourmet traveller" sparked first the idea, then the craving, in us for what come to be known as our "Four-P" (parmigiano, pancetta, peas, and patience) Risotto.

Patiently allowing the rice to soak in the chicken stock slowly is very important, and is part of the calming comfort of the dish. Just standing at the stove, zoning out and stirring, for about a half hour, does wonders to our stress levels. And even if one is using the best, freshest ingredients, making a pot of risotto is way cheaper than therapy. More delicate than pasta, but just as versatile, risotto is a great dish to work into your comfort food repertoire.


1 quart low-sodium chicken stock
1 tablespoon olive oil
2 tablespoons butter, divided
1 medium onion, diced
1/2 cup pancetta, diced
1 cup arborio rice
1/2 cup peas
1 cup parmigiano-reggiano, grated
salt and pepper to taste

Bring the chicken stock to simmer in a large saucepan. In a large skillet or saucepan, heat the olive oil and one tablespoon of butter over medium heat. Add the onion, a dash of salt, and cook until the onions turn soft and translucent, about eight minutes. Add the pancetta and fry for 4-5 minutes. Add the rice and fry for two minutes, so that the rice toasts a bit and is well coated with the butter and oil. Add the first addition of simmering stock, about 1 cup or ladle-ful. Stir until most of the liquid is absorbed. Add another addition of stock and stir until most of the liquid is absorbed. Repeat this process until the mixture is creamy and the rice is al dente (20-25 mintues). When there is one ladle left of stock, stir in the peas as well. When the stock is gone and the rice is creamy, turn off the heat. Stir in the parmigiano and season with salt and pepper to taste. Enjoy and be content.