Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Tortellini 101

And then there was the tortellini.  Little bites of yumminess filled with ricotta, ground turkey, spinach, red bell peppers, shallots, and spices. When we lived in Florida, we ate at Carrabba’s on a regular basis. It's an Italian chain restaurant, but the food is really decent and it's a kid-friendly place.  My husband’s favorite menu item was the Mezzaluna. Ravioli pillows filled with chicken, spinach and ricotta and served in a tomato cream sauce. This was my attempt to duplicate that dish.  Except I used turkey.  And I added red bell peppers.  And I made it in tortellini form.  And…well, never mind. You get the idea.

First of all, check out the photo below.  How lucky am I? I have my own personal sous chef.

Look at him go! He’s slicing, he’s dicing. Maybe we could get him his own infomercial. Pretty sure we’d have to do something about the hair first.  Just saying…

I also have my own dishwasher.  Miss Thing LOVES washing dishes. How long do I have before she figures out it’s really not all that much fun?  I can promise you I won't  be the one who breaks the news.

Okay...back the subject. First, we browned our turkey and added the shallots, peppers, etc. Cook until the shallots are translucent and then drop in the spinach. Because spinach has so much water, I let it cook until most of the liquid has evaporated. It needs to be a little dry. If it’s too wet, you'll end up with squooshy tortellini.  No one wants that.

See what I mean? That big bag of spinach cooked down to almost nothing.  By the way, I don't worry about pre-chopping the leaves or removing the stems.  I used baby spinach, so the stems are pretty tender and it's all going in the food processor with the ricotta anyhow.  Besides, all the best spinach vitamins are in the stems.  Okay, yeah...I did make up that last part.

After you put your pasta through the rollers, dole out little bits of filling. Use of a Little Mermaid spoon is optional.

Using a pizza cutter or a ravioli cutter, cut the pasta into individual squares. In my case, multiple helpers meant we used both types of cutter. Hence, ours have some straight edges and some zig-zag edges. Whatever. I'm not Martha.

To fold them up, bring the opposite corners together to make a triangle, making sure you seal the edges. Bring the points of the folded edge together and pinch. Miss Thing is dabbing a little water on the edges of this one before she folds it. That will ensure everything seals up nicely.

Here’s how the finished product looked. Notice the 'square' ones on the left side. Miss Thing got bored with doing it my way and wanted to make some "other shapes."  What can I say...variety is the spice of life.

At some point, the lure of folding tortellini lost out to other activities and I lost all my help.  I was left alone to finish assembling tortellini on my own.  Unfortunately, I made the proverbial butt-load of filling. A pound of turkey and a pound of ricotta go a looooong way when you’re only using a tiny bit in each tortellini. I gave up after the third batch and put the rest of the filling in a couple of freezer bags.  We’ll thaw it later and make some more.  If I open a bottle of wine, will you come help me fold?  Anyone?     

Friday, February 19, 2010

Remembering the Rollercoaster

They're heee-errre!  The dreaded teen years.  Not officially, of course, because he's just getting ready to turn twelve.  But, the first group of ill-mannered hormones are apparently unconcerned about the finer points of chronology and have decided to come to the party early.  *Sigh*

I once heard a comedian describe teenagers as "hormones with feet." I think that may be appropriate.  Yesterday afternoon he got off of the school bus in a deep, blue funk.  Shortly thereafter, irritation with mom set in because, clearly, I know NOTHING.  Upstairs he went.  Half an hour later he's back down, raiding the pantry, cracking jokes and being silly.  I got a big, unsolicited hug.  We ran the whole gamut again before bedtime.  My emotions can't keep up. 

It's painful to see this coming.  Not so much because he's growing up (that's fodder for another day), but because you know how crazy the puberty rollercoaster is and you can't make it better. Seriously, who among us would willingly go through puberty again?  Remember?  Body parts growing at disproportionate rates.  Braces being put on teeth.  Hair appearing in places other than the top of your head.  Pimples lurking beneath the surface of skin that was completely clear yesterday.  And, all of this starts happening at around the same time that you discover the opposite sex is pretty darn cool.  How unfair is that?

I remember being in English class the day after I got my braces on.  I laughed at something and covered my mouth with my hand.  My teacher called me out in front of the whole class and told me not to cover my mouth just because I had braces.  "You'll develop a bad habit and keep doing it when they're off," she declared.   Really?  Could she have made me feel a little more conspicuous?  She may as well have gotten out her megaphone:  "ATTENTION, EVERYONE!!  RONA KAY NOW HAS BIG, SILVER BRACES ON HER CROOKED TEETH!  PLEASE LOOK AT HOW UGLY THEY ARE!"  Now, I know she meant well, but at the time I was just mortified.  Because when you're twelve, you can't see that every other person around you is going through the same things.  Remember? 

Remembering.  Maybe that's a big part of parenting through the early teen years.  Remembering how easily embarrassed you were as a young teen.  Remembering the feeling of things changing so fast.  Remembering all those untamed emotions that keep popping their heads up for a look.  Remembering that fervent desire to be independent (or at least appear that way).  Remembering how self-centered your world was.  Remembering that need to be special, yet inconspicuous.  Remembering how much you needed to fit in somewhere.  Remembering how even smart kids will do stupid things.  Remembering how important friends are.  Remembering how, even though you didn't want to admit it, you really did need your parents. And, remembering that it's all temporary. 

Thank God.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Little Things

My 6-year-old and I made homemade fettuccine a few weeks ago.  It was our very first attempt and it was pretty darn good, if I do say so myself.  Even my 11-year-son said it was "awesome."  (In case you didn't know, "awesome" is the highest form of pre-teen praise).  The whole time, I kept thinking that I could just buy the box of fettuccine at Kroger for $1.29. So...why didn't I?

What is it about making something yourself that is so satisfying?  Sure, you know exactly what is in it.  It's fresh and not loaded with preservatives and other 'stuff.'  But that's not the real reason -- at least not for me.  I've been thinking about it a lot lately.  In my case, I'm quite sure a lot of it is sentimental.  It gives me a connection to my past, particularly to my wonderful grandmother.  My grandmother was an amazing, talented, loving woman.  She was a gifted seamstress.  She could crochet like nobody's business.  She made the world's most fabulous chicken and dumplings.  She made homemade jellies and fig preserves that could bring a tear to your eye.  She had the greenest thumb imaginable.  She took me fishing.  She taught me to play gin rummy and solitaire.  She took me blackberry picking.  She encouraged and taught and advised and loved and hugged and made me feel like I was special.  She was, quite simply, the perfect grandmother.  Though she's been gone from this earth for nearly twenty years, I still miss her everyday.

So now, when I'm planting flowers or making a homemade pound cake, I think of her.  I can almost feel her there beside me.  And, now, I have this amazing little six-year-old and she loves to help me.  And I try REALLY hard to let her, even when it means things take longer and the mess is bigger, because I remember how much fun it was to help my grandma and how good it made me feel to do something "real."

So, if I make homemade pasta it takes longer.  Big deal -- what's my hurry?  This amazing little person whom I am fortunate to call my daughter is going to be gone before I know it.  I mean, really.  How did she get to be SIX already??  She'll have her own life and, maybe, her own family.  But one day, perhaps she'll be standing in her own kitchen making pasta and remembering that we used to do it together and that it was good.  'Cause it's not really the pasta or the dumplings or the blackberry picking.  As an adult I can see that it's the TIME my grandma gave me that was the real gift. 

Thanks, Nana.  I love you.