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Inside Pastificio's Kitchen

my kitchen is for dancing.

What?! I thought it was for cooking? Yes, of course it’s for cooking, I just love this phrase!

It captures so well what the aura of a home kitchen should be. Take a minute to ponder what dancing feels like to you. For the most part, I can say that the majority of you thought of dancing as being fun, liberating, fluid, expressive, rhythmic, inspirational, and… well you get the point. For those of you that think of dancing as a horrifying deed, well then, think of the kitchen as a celebration. And if thinking of a celebration is tortuous for you…well…well…you’re just out of luck. HAHA!

Anyways, as I was saying! Dancing is usually associated with a joyous, non-stressful event--exactly what cooking in the kitchen must be! Cooking in your home should never, I say NEVER, be looked at as mundane chore. You must let yourself go and be creative. Cooking fills the soul with warmth and satisfaction. Just as dancing does! Plus, there is nothing better than to see your family or guests enjoying your food.

Even if you think to yourself “oh my gosh, I am THE worst cook ever,” or “seriously, cooking + me! That’s a joke!,” try looking at it in a different, more positive and invigorating light. I mean, you know, you’re human – practice makes perfect. So, before you ditch the deed for life, give it a couple more rounds of love and diligence.

Here are some tips and tricks that may make that dancing just a little more smooth flowing! Some might seem simple and dimwitted, but, HEY, you’d be surprise at how many people don’t think of them! Now, let’s break out those moves!!

First and foremost, you got to get that body heat pumping! You can jump onto the dance floor without a short warmup! Therefore you must…

Example of Mise En Place

…always set up your MISE EN PLACE. What’s that? you ask. Well, this French term literally means to “put in place.” As you can imagine, setting up your mise en place means gathering and preparing all the ingredients and tools you will need at hand to complete your cooking task. It’s key to the organization of the task. By preparing the ingredients, I mean partially preparing them. For example, cleaning or chopping any vegetables, weighing any dry ingredients, measuring out any liquid ingredients, etc. Now, you don’t need to partially prepare all the ingredients, just remember the more you have prepared before you jump into the recipe, the more smooth flowing your dance will be. Oh wait sorry, your cooking will be! Plus, setting up your mise en place helps you be sure you have not forgotten any ingredients and saves the hassle of running back and forth from the fridge and pantry!

2. When using a cutting board, always place either a wet towel or rag underneath to anchor it from sliding. We don’t want no injuries on that dance floor!

3. ALWAYS ALWAYS use sharp knives. You might not believe it, but they are actually less dangerous than using dull knifes. Plus, they are just easier to use and cut more precisely.

4. Wood cutting-boards should be washed with straight vinegar or lemon juice for disinfection. We don’t want any nasty bacteria present at the party!

5. Avoid using reactive cookware - aluminum, cast iron, and unlined copper - when cooking acidic foods. It can compromise the flavor of the food and we don’t want that, do we?

6. Always have a “trash” container close by for discarding any food scrapes, etc. Helps keep your cooking area clean and tidy.

7. Clean up as you go! This means clean any dirty bowls or utensils you are finished using right away. Not only does it give you more space to work with, but you will feel less overwhelmed or anxious. Remember mess = stress! Also, you will have less to clean up when you're finished cooking.

8. Wooden spoons will be your good friend! You can use them not only to stir your preparations, but to help you determine whether oil is hot enough for frying. Just place the tip of the handle into the hot oil and if little bubbles form around it, the oil is ready for frying. However, never leave a wooden spoon resting in the food while it’s cooking. Residue from the previous food preparations can penetrate your new dish! Gross! Try putting the end of the wooden handle in the pot handle hole. Like so… or just use a spoon rest :)

9. Cast iron skillet!!!!! Yeah! Y’all heard me! This will be one of the best purchases you’ll ever make! Just make sure to “season” it first - if not already. You’d be amazed at how many foods you can prepare in it! And, the results are amazing!

10. “Wait! Don’t throw that out! That frying oil, I mean.” You can reuse it. Just let it cool completely and filter through at least two layers of cheesecloth. If cheesecloth is not at hand, filter through a fine sieve at least two times. Then refrigerate until ready to use. Discard after three uses. And NEVER reuse oil that has smoked or been used to fry fish.

11. “And, wait! Not that! Don’t throw out that bread!” That’s right. You don’t necessarily need to throw out stale bread! Try this just for kicks! For crusty style bread, pass briefly under cold water and wrap tightly in aluminum foil. Heat at 300℉ on middle rack of non pre-heated oven for 30 minutes (15-20 for smaller loaves). Then remove foil and bake another 5 minutes to crisp up. For softer style bread, follow the same process. However, do not run under cold water. Discard any bread that is uneaten. If reviving the loaf is of no interest, simply make bread crumbs by grinding up in a food processor.

Fried Polenta

12. “Why is it whenever I reheat polenta, it’s never as smooth and creamy as before?” It is not to guarantee that it will make it exactly like it was when you first made it, but, hey, it’s pretty dang close! Cut that stiff, blocky clump of leftover polenta into cubes and push through a potato masher or sieve. Then re-heat in a sauce pan over low heat while slowly stirring in some cooking liquid of your choice (about ¼ to ½ cup per cup of polenta). If you're bored of the same old polenta, try reviving it by cutting into small rectangles, frying them until crispy and seasoning with salt. So delicious, you’ll pop them in your mouth like popcorn at the movies!

13. Basic ratio for vinaigrettes: 3:1 ratio of oil to vinegar. Adding an emulsifier, like mustard, mayonnaise and honey, helps keep the vinaigrette stable for longer, meaning that it will remain a homogeneous mixture for longer.

14. When making risotto, always add COLD BUTTER during the mantecatura, the process of adding fat at the end of the preparation to make it thick and creamy. This helps binds all the ingredients together creating the beautiful texture you’re looking for.

15. Don’t forget to date your products! It is always helpful to date the food items that you store in the refrigerator or freezer. For the items you want to put in the fridge, put the date the food was prepared and that of about 7 days out. This helps reduce waste, and more importantly tells you if the food is nearing its expiration. For the items you want to store in the freezer, put the date they were prepared. When removed for use, if there are leftovers, date 5-7 days out and store in the fridge. Believe me, you would be amazed at how much this helps with waste! Though it might be a tedious, a little more effort will save you some money. And, you know, everyone loves saving a little money!

16. If you’re a freezer junky and love freezing bulk portions of your prepared foods for later use, I’m sure you’ve seen your freezer in disarray at least once before. Well, here’s a tip-- freeze flat and stack! For example, fill heavy duty plastic zip-lock bags with your soup or sauce and lay flat to freezer. Once frozen stack each bag on top of each other. This helps with freezer space, and most importantly, saves time for freezing/defrosting. Flatter and wider allows the food item to freeze and defrost faster, which improves the quality of the food. The longer something takes to freeze, the more cellular damage and chance it has for developing freezer burn. And we don’t want that now do we! P.S. If you have vacuum sealer, use it! It’s a life saver!

Freezing "Flat and Stack"

17. While we’re on the topic of freezing. Here are some items you want to freeze directly.

  • Fresh Bay Leaves: store fresh bay leaves directly in the freezer. This preserves the freshness and flavor of the leaves much more so than if stored at room temperature.

  • Nuts: they are high in fat content, meaning they can become rancid rather quickly. Therefore, to preserve their freshness, store in the freezer. There is no need to thaw before using.

  • Butter: if you have any extra butter lying around, it is always better to store in the freezer in a sealed zip-lock bag. If stored in the fridge for a long period of time, even if un-opened, it can develop off-flavors.

18. “Oh my! Why are you crying?” “Oh don’t worry I’m just chopping some onions!” Onions are funny: they smell, make you cry, and for some reason, can play magical tricks. Well, maybe not magical tricks, but depending on how you cut them, they can change flavor!

  • If you desire a stronger flavor, chop the onion into fine pieces. The finer you chop, the more flavor compounds develop and the stronger the flavor.

  • If you would like a milder flavor, chop the onion into coarse pieces.

  • Cutting an onion against the grain also help develop a stronger flavor.

  • Cutting with the grain develops a milder flavor.

  • For raw uses: mellow the onion flavor by soaking the pieces in cold water for about 15 minutes. GREAT FOR WHEN MAKING SALADS.

19. Have too many fresh herbs? Don’t want to wait long for them to dry out? Pop them in the microwave for about 1-2 minutes, and you got yourself some dried herbs. Yup, it’s that easy and that simple!

20. Finished that tasty wedge of parmesan cheese? Save the rind! They add a lovely texture and flavor to any soup or stew! Put in zip-lock bag and store in the freezer. They keep indefinitely and there is no need to thaw before using them!

21. “Ugh! Gross! What’s that smell?!” Well, that, my friends, is egg! If metal utensils or bowls were used in a recipe with egg, the metal and egg react leaving this indescribable smell. But, I think you know what I’m talking about. To make sure this smell doesn’t develop on your cookware, first wash with hot water and soap. Then rinse quickly with cold water. If the smell does not subside, repeat process.

22. Saving the best for last! Considering that Pastificio is all about pasta and what-not! Now, remember there is no wrong way of doing things, but this is just a simple guide to help you decide what type of pasta you should use with that sauce. You need to get pasta and sauce in every bite. Not to mention, you want to have a shape that pairs well with the texture and consistency of the sauce.

Now, hit the dance floor, and show us your moves!!

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