Sunday, January 30, 2011

Success and Failure

For me, the only thing better than eating really good food is making really good food. I have a whole handful of recipes that are my go-tos that I totally NAIL and feel proud of but naturally I like a challenge.

As do my fellow- female- family- food people (aunt Julie, Grandma, Mom and aunt Jill)...

One Christmas Jill and Mom attempted to make Timpano, a super crazy Italian casserole type dish seen in the movie Big Night that involves: hand made meatballs, hand made pasta, sauce, hard boiled egg, a pasta CRUST and so much more. They failed. Twice. and after days of eating it we begged them to stop. It was the 'crust' that took them down- they tried to use pie dough instead so even though we made them promise to never do it again, now that I'm a pasta pro I want to do it soooooooo badly. Next time Jill comes home for Xmas from silly Texas we're gonna do it!!

So, sometimes you fail. But when you totally nail that recipe that you shopped all day for AND it looks just like the picture...ahhhhh it's so worth the risk!

FAIL: Croquembouche

Christmas is like the Superbowl for my family. we train all year and test things out to get ready for the big game and end up trying some outrageous or just never been done recipe. (see: Timpano) This year it was Salty Caramel Croquembouche with Ricotta Cream.

I came home early from SF after my homecoming, bar-hoping, friend reunion extravaganza the night before so I'll admit, I was not on my A-game. My hangover was not to blame, however. It was the recipe.

I know, I know- it seems like a cop out to blame the recipe when traditionally these types of failures are entirely user-errors. NOT in this case. First of all, we're seasoned cooks! But most importantly, the problem was the Pate a Choux dough (Pate a Choux is what the cream puffs are). It was tooooooooooooo runny! The recipe calls for 10 EGGS!! Other recipes I read online were about half that. Because the dough was too soupy the puffs wouldn't keep shape and ended up running all over the pan so when they baked, they were flat and stupid.

I tried adding more and more sifted flour but to no avail. We had to throw away a bunch and the ones that remained were pale and sad.

The second problem we had was the salted caramel. We burned the first batch, the second batch got too cold too quickly and I think we had to make 2 more batches to have enough to 1. dip each puff and 2. swirl it around the lop-sided tower of sad, flat, filled puffs. PLUS it burned the shit out of your fingers trying to dip our puffs into the scalding hot sugar.

The end result was a lop-sided tower of pale, pathetic puffs and a caramel that was so hard on each puff that it hurt to eat them! You risked major mouth gashes from the super hard, sharp candy.

With that being said, the entire thing was GONE at the end of my parents annual Christmas party so it wasn't completely inedible. (It was a riot watching people from afar trying to eat them though!)

For the record, we were not the only ones who had this problem. Below is a letter to the editor that my mom found in her next issue of Fine Cooking:

I tried to make the Salty Carmel Croquembouche with Ricotta Cream on the cover of the December-January issue but the Pate a choux dough turned to soup - it was more like a batter than dough that could be piped. What did I do wrong?

Temperature is the key here. Pate a choux becomes soup if the flour mixture isn't cool enough before adding the eggs. If the bottom of the mixing bowl feels even the slightest bit warm to the touch, the dough needs to cool more.

Bullshit. It's a bad recipe.

WIN: Ragu alla Bolognese

I first made this recipe last year for my friends. Not only was it my first time making the ragu itself it was also my first time making pasta. AND I TOTALLY NAILED IT.

I hadn't made a 'family dinner' for me and the boys in awhile and I really wanted to try it again since it totally blew everyone away the first time. The recipe I use is from La Cucina Italiana and it's a totally traditional, classic Ragu alla Bolognese.

While it takes about 4 hours (about 1 hour of prep and 3 for cook time) it's a really easy recipe all in all. The man power is really in the fresh pasta butttttt it ain't no thang for me anymore since I'm such a pro...

battuto (carrots, celery and onion finely chopped together) + Italian sausage and pancetta. Ground pork, veal and beef- that picture is so obscene but kind of awesome.

Red wine, San Marzano whole peeled tomatoes, beef base and tomato paste...

PERFECT tagliatelle...

three hours later...


I topped it off with cracked black pepper and a mix of Parmigiano Reggiano and Pecorino Romano (I like the salty, sheep-y quality of Pecorino with that classic, nutty, sweetness of parm)

So. Good. plus we had some crusty Italian bread and $7 Isigny Ste Mere, buerre demi sel butter (I go a little nuts with my luxury dairy products sometimes) and a cheap Tempranillo.

The bonus is that I have about 3 cups in the freezer for later! If you're really nice to me I'll re-create it for YOU!

Alright that's it. Until next time...



  1. I would totally have been one of the people eating the puff ball things even though it hurt.

  2. ahahaha that Croquembouche! highlight of the damn party.