Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Meals with Marcella [three]: TBTL

Sauteéd Broccoli
Butter and Sage [with Homemade Fettuccine]
Mussel Soup
Pork Braised with Milk

Tee-bee-tee-elle~! Doom--ch---doom-ch! Doom--ch---doom-ch! Do-do-do-do-do-do-do-doo~.

Welcome to a TBTL-inspired edition of Meals with Marcella. My name is Michael and I'll be your chef for today's menu. Ohhhhh yea.

If none of that made any sense to you, I'm sorry, but not really. Well, just a little. Just kidding. But not really. TBTL, or Too Beautiful to Live, is a podcast based in Seattle, WA that just might be too beautiful to live. It's hilarious, has a mission to end world loneliness, puts a smile on my face every day, and is always doing something with its menu. I can't recommend this podcast enough. So if you ever find yourself feeling down or tired, take a deep breath and massage your mind with an episode of TBTL. It'll make you feel happy of yourself.

If you're still not convinced to check out this podcast, but want to have some inkling of an idea of what the heck I'm referring to in the first paragraph of this post, download any podcast of theirs and listen to the first thirty seconds.

That said, if you do somehow take my word and listen to an episode of TBTL and completely hate it, no hard feelings. But I'd like to make one last suggestion regarding your relationship with TBTL and say that any healthy development of a TBTL addiction requires at least a week's worth of episodes. It's like when you show Arrested Development to someone else for the first time. First episode by itself? Not so great. After you force your friend to sit through five episodes, every episode of Arrested Development is hilarious. Just like TBTL. But that's just my take on it. The force may be unnecessary though. Unless you're fighting stormtroopers.

Okay, okay. In the interest of completely losing your interest in checking out the rest of this post, however, I'll restrain myself from begging you to listen to TBLT and from dropping TBTL references in every sentence. Just assume that if you read something that makes zero sense, it's probably TBTL-related.

Today we're going to take a look at my third Meal with Marcella, which just happened to coincide with a TBTL-instigated national blind taste test of three of its sponsor's (Chateau Ste. Michelle) wines: the 2009 Indian Wells Merlot, 2008 Syrah, and 2008 Cabarnet Sauvignon. To ensure we would all be able to participate, we labeled each bottle with a random number.

To accompany this blind taste test, I prepared my third Meal with Marcella. To accompany the selection of red wines, I decided to do a pork dish, a neutral pasta dish, a neutral vegetable dish, and a mussel dish for the hell of it. Plenty of bread and butter with some Maldon salt doesn't hurt either.

To start things off, I got the pork braise going.

Throw in some butter and wait for it to melt.

Brown all sides of the pork loin with the ribs removed.

When all sides are browned, add the first batch of milk.

Let the pork braise for a couple hours on low, turning the pork every so often. I went with every fifteen minutes.

Don't forget to throw in the pork ribs at some point to really get that pork flavor in that braise.

The pasta sauce recipe recommends a homemade noodle, preferably a fettuccine. While the pork was braising, I worked on making some fresh pasta. This was my first attempt at fresh pasta, and thankfully, Marcella Hazan's recipe is simple and delicious. No surprise there.

First, combine two eggs for every one cup of flour. She recommends the old school method of creating a ring of flour around the eggs and combining the flour slowly. I tried to do this, but I just found the stand mixer method easier. The stand mixer's dough hook doesn't work the dough completely, but it definitely helped to speed up the process a little.

If you handle the dough and there's still noticeable residue that clings to your skin, add flour a little bit at a time until you get a consistency that leaves very little or no residue on your skin.

My first pre-kneaded ball of dough, ever, literally looked like this.

Next I worked on kneading the dough as directed in Marcella Hazan's book. She suggests a stretch and fold method.

After firmly folding the dough onto itself with the palms of your hands, rotate the dough clockwise 45 degrees and repeat.

After about eight to nine minutes of kneading, the dough looked like this. She says that the texture should feel like a baby's skin.

Next, divide each 2:1 (egg:dough) ratio ball into six pieces, flatten each piece, and run each sixth through the pasta roller. Start with the widest setting and run the dough through several times. Each time you roll the dough through on the widest setting, you're supposed to fold the dough on itself like a tri-fold brochure. I ran it through like a brochure three times and then ran the dough through two times without folding.

Keep narrowing the width setting.

Eventually, you'll end up with beautiful, flattened pieces of dough. If you're curious, I stopped at setting "5" on the pasta roller attachment. Leave these out to dry on kitchen towels for at least ten minutes before sending them through a pasta cutter. I dusted a little flour onto each side to ensure that the eventual strands of pasta wouldn't stick to each other.

While I was waiting for the pasta to dry, I quickly boiled some salted water and threw in the broccoli for the vegetable sautée. What I love about this recipe is that it requires very little deconstruction of the broccoli.

Before heading back to my pasta, I checked in on my pork again. Looking good, home slice.

Speaking of slicing, time to cut the pasta. This has to the be the easiest and most satisfying part of making pasta. As I was cutting the pasta, I took a second to reflect on the fact that making homemade pasta really isn't all that hard when you have the equipment to do so. It's super cheap to make and takes about forty-five minutes. And it only gets faster with more experience. Most importantly, fresh pasta, especially when the sauce in question benefits from fresh pasta, takes any pasta dish to another level of deliciousness.

After a restrained dusting of flour on the cut noodles, I set them aside in an airtight bag until I was ready to cook them.

Next, the mussels. Allocate plenty of time to scrub the mussels and rip out the barnacles and hairs attached to the mussels. Also allocate a good amount of time to let the mussels sit in water three separate times, each time for at least fifteen minutes. This ensures that all the sand gets out of the mussels. While you handle the mussels, keep an eye out for any mussels that don't clamp shut. Toss those, because they're dead and no good.

Get a pot going with garlic, olive oil, parsley, chili pepper, and canned tomatoes. All you've got to do with the mussels at this point is throw them in the pot and let them cook. You'll know they're cooked when they've all pretty much opened up to revel their mussely goodness.

After sufficient braising, add a second batch of milk. Once you've allowed the milk to reduce a little, you should pretty much be ready to serve.

Cook the homemade fettuccine, which should only take a minute or so to get al dente, melt some butter in a saucepan, briefly cook several sage leaves in the butter, and strain the pasta. Toss them all together or simply pour the sauce onto the pasta when you're ready to serve.

While the butter is melting and the sage is cooking, sautée the broccoli in garlic, parsley, and olive oil.

The Sauteéd Broccoli is definitely one of the best preparations of broccoli I've ever had, right next to oven-roasted broccoli. The sautéed exterior opens up to a tender interior, and the classic mix of parsley, olive oil, and garlic makes each bite hearty and comforting. I also love how the recipe utilizes the broccoli stem in its entirety. Some people hate broccoli. Other people only like the heads. And still others only like the stems. This recipe is the great equalizer of all broccoli-related preferences.

The Butter and Sage [with Homemade Fettuccine] was unstoppable. Actually, we, the eaters, were unstoppable. This pasta was turbo delicious. Especially with some parmagiano-reggiano in the mix. The cheese and butter were thoroughly infused with intense notes of sage, and the sage itself took on a great, almost crispy texture from its brief, solo dip in the butter. The sauce all clung to the pasta really well and the pasta was satisfyingly toothsome.

My favorite of the night, however, was the Mussel Soup, which really turned into steamed mussels. The local Penn Cove mussels were very meaty and the accompanying parsley, garlic, and parsley made for a surprisingly delicious broth. I say surprising only because mussel broths tend to be prepared with white wine. This recipe proves that white wine is absolutely unnecessary, especially when you've got some great canned tomato juices. Parsley, garlic, olive oil, and tomatoes: another classic combination that wrapped itself around every mussel morsel. Because the chili peppers weren't really coming through, I added in some red chili flakes for good measure. Needless to say, lots of bread dipping into this hearty broth.

Finally, the Pork Braised with Milk. I was afraid this one would be overcooked, and I have to say, it was just barely overcooked, but only at certain parts. The remnants of the braising sauce helped a ton, though, to compensate for any dry parts. The perfectly cooked parts of the pork were priceless. They melted in my mouth like a pork-infused creamsicle. Minus the orange. The sweet savoriness of this dish was addictive. And even with the drier portions of the loin, the flavors came through. As much as I loved this dish that night, I might have to try this one again in the future to get it just right.

For our small, five-person wine tasting, the 2009 Indian Wells Merlot took first (label #3), the 2008 Cabarnet Sauvignon took second (label #2), and the 2008 Syrah took last (label #1). Those chunks bitten off the slip of paper there were courtesy of my dog, Remy. The overall winner of the nationwide wine tasting phenomenon was the 2008 Cabarnet Sauvignon.

So if you find your eyes rolling over in a glaze as you stare at that huge wall of wine at the market tomorrow for Thanksgiving, have no doubt and look for the Chateau Ste. Michelle label, especially if it's the 2008 Cabarnet Sauvignon. Or if you're like me, the 2009 Indian Wells Merlot. They were definitely a great addition to this third meal in a collector's series of Meals with Marcella.

A huge thanks to TBTL for inspiring a great night with great friends. Expect a short post tomorrow previewing my Thanksgiving menu, but until then, please remember, no mountain too tall, and good luck to all.

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