Homemade Brilliance

Did I mention that I love food? Have I made mention of that fact on this blog yet?

I hope so, because I got to share my love and craft of food with some friends who'd never eaten my food before last night. I banged out another creative, sweat-producing dinner for my people.

Handmade designer vegetable pasta
with sausage tomato gravy


Cheesesteak pizza


Garden salad with cornbread croutons


Peach ice cream with snickerdoodle cookie garnish

Designer pasta? What's that? Have you seen alphabet, wagon wheel or star-shaped pasta in the store? What about spinach fettucine? Designer pasta is a mixture of the two: different colors (red, yellow, green, purple, pink) and shapes. CLICK here for examples.

I posted a dish that used Mother's In Law Tongue pasta, a designer pasta, in May. I wanted to try my hand (literally) at making my own, so I did!

Fresh pasta dough is easy to make and even easier to cook. I am not an expert or even a faux-authority on pasta. I only know of what Mario and Emeril have taught me.

Fresh Pasta Makes 1 lb of pasta total
from foodnetwork.com

3 1/2 cups all-purpose flour (divided in half)
4 extra-large eggs
1 cup golden beets, diced, cooked, cooled
5 oz frozen spinach, drained dry

Mound one divided portion of flour in the center of a large wooden cutting board. Make a well in the middle of the flour, add two eggs and beets. Using a fork, beat together the egg mixture and begin to incorporate the flour starting with the inner rim of the well. As you incorporate the eggs, keep pushing the flour up to retain the well shape (do not worry if it looks messy). The dough will come together in a shaggy mass when about half of the flour is incorporated. Do the same for the other portion of flour, eggs, and spinach.

Start kneading the dough with both hands, primarily using the palms of your hands. Add more flour, in 1/2-cup increments, if the dough is too sticky. Once the dough is a cohesive mass, remove the dough from the board and scrape up any left over dry bits. Lightly flour the board and continue kneading for 3 more minutes.
Repeat the former instructions for the spinach pasta as well.

The two piles of dough should be elastic and a little sticky. Continue to knead for another 3 minutes, remembering to dust your board with flour when necessary. Wrap the dough in plastic wrap and set aside for 20 minutes at room temperature. Roll and form as desired.

I faced two challenges when I set out to make my pasta: no pasta maker and no pizza cutter. I am not a fan of one-type use kitchen gadgets (an avocado peeler? corn holders? please) and I don't make a lot of pasta, so there is no need for me to get a pasta maker. I don't want corn meal, semolina, or flour all over my kitchen. I don't have a Kitchen Aid mixer with attachments galore (if you'd like to donate one to my kitchen, I'll gladly take it), and I'll get another pizza cutter soon.

I'm resourceful chick. I made it work. I was going to scrap the whole idea but I spent too much time kneading and waiting, so I had to follow through.

I rolled out small pieces of each dough very thin, using my rolling pin, dusted with flour. I was going to use a chef's knife to cut rustic pieces, But I got creative at the last minute. I had a pair of unopened pinking shears in the hall closet. After a quick 3-sink compartment wash, they turned into kitchen pinking shears. Cut, cut. Snip, snip.

You can kind of make out the ragged edge on one of the noodles. I swear, I'm not going to do this again. Well, if I were on a TV show and I had to, I would. But other than that? NO.

Sausage Tomato Gravy
2 Tbsp extra virgin olive oil
2 medium onions, minced
4 clove garlic, chopped
1 pound Italian bulk sausage, sliced, casing removed
8 slices bacon, sliced into lardons
2 (28-ounce cans) diced plum tomatoes, including the liquid
1/4 cup fresh oregano, chopped
1/4 cup fresh parsley, chopped
2 bay leaves
2 teaspoons salt
1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

In a stock pot or over moderate heat, warm the oil and cook the onions and garlic, stirring frequently, until onions are translucent, not brown. Add the sausage, bacon, and bay leaves. Cook, stirring, so meat does not stick, until brown. Add the tomatoes, herbs, and salt and pepper. Bring the mixture to a boil. Reduce the heat to low and simmer, stirring occasionally, for 1 hour.

Let's talk about cornbread. Now, I know about cornbread. Cornbread and I, yeah...we're kind of dating. But we're not seeing each other exclusively. He knows about Biscuits, Gravy, and Roast Chicken.

Good cornbread starts with good cornmeal. Just like grits, they come in all colors, shapes, and sizes. Cornmeal=polenta.

Cornbread Makes 12 muffins or corn sticks

2 Tbsp butter
1 cup cornmeal
1 cup all-purpose flour
1 tsp kosher salt
1 Tbsp baking powder
2 eggs
3 Tbsp honey or agave syrup
1 1/2 milk
2 Tbsp oil

Preheat oven to 400 degrees F. Put the butter in your baking vessel of choice and place it in the oven while it's warming up. Sift meal, flour, salt and baking powder in a medium mixing bowl. Make a well in the center of the bowl. Beat eggs, milk and oil in the well. Alternatively, beat the eggs, milk and oil in a separate bowl and add to dry ingredients. Stir until thoroughly mixed. Pour into greased muffin tins, 8-inch square baking pan or cast iron corn stick molds. Bake 15 to 20 minutes. Serve hot.

Spiced Cornbread Croutons

2 cups left over (dry) cornbread, cut into cubes
1 stick butter, salted
1 tsp pepper
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp ground ginger
1/2 tsp ground allspice

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Place cornbread cubes in a bowl. Add butter and seasonings to a sauce pan over medium-low heat. Melt butter in the saucepan and stir occasionally, until all butter has melted and foam subsides. Pour butter over evenly cubes in bowl and toss to coat. Pour the contents on a baking sheet and bake until cubes are lightly brown and crisped, around 15 minutes.

Peach Ice Cream Makes about 1.5 quarts

2 cups heavy cream
1 cup fat-free sour cream
1/2 cup Dixie Crystals Extra Fine Granulated Sugar or alternative sweetener
4 medium peaches, peeled, small dice
1 tsp vanilla extract

Heat both creams, sugar, and peaches in a small saucepan only until the sugar is dissolved. Alternatively, microwave this mixture in a microwave-safe bowl, until the sugar is dissolved. Strain into a bowl to rid mixture of lumps, stir in vanilla, cover and chill well. Freeze the mixture in an ice cream freezer according to the manufacturer's directions. Spoon into a freezer container and allow to chill in the freezer for a few hours.

Snickerdoodles Makes 45-50 cookies

1 cup unsalted butter
1 cup plus 2 Tbsp Dixie Crystals Extra Fine Granulated Sugar or Z sweet sweetener
1 Tbsp vanilla extract
1/4 cup egg substitute
1/4 cup water
3/4 teaspoon vinegar
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 1/2 cups cake flour
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon baking powder
2 Tbsp ground cinnamon

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.
Lightly oil a cookie sheet and set aside.

Cream or blend together butter, sugar and vanilla in a medium mixing bowl with an electric mixer, or by hand. Blend until butter is softened. Add egg substitute, water and vinegar. Mix briefly. Add flours, salt and baking powder. Mix on low speed, until dough is formed. Do not overmix.
Remove dough from bowl and place on a floured work surface. Divide dough in half. Pat each half into a circle and cover with plastic wrap. Refrigerate approx. 1 hour, allowing dough to chill.
Remove dough from refrigerator and roll cookies into 1-inch balls or roll out onto a floured work surface to desired thickness to cut with cookie cutters. Combine 2 tablespoons sugar and 2 teaspoons cinnamon. Roll the balls in the sugar-cinnamon mixture and bake 8 to 10 minutes. Place cookies on prepared sheet.
Bake in a preheated 350 degrees F oven 10-12 minutes or until lightly browned on the back. Cool on a wire rack.

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About the author

Nikki Miller-Ka

Nikki Miller-Ka

Ms. Miller-Ka is a classically trained chef with a BA in English from East Carolina University and a Culinary Arts Associate Degree from Le Cordon Bleu-Miami.

Formerly, she’s worked as a researcher, an editorial assistant, reporter and guest blogger for various publications and outlets in the Southeast. She has also worked as a catering chef, a pastry chef, a butcher, a baker, and a biscuit-maker. Presently, she is a food editor, freelance food writer, and a tour guide for Taste Carolina Gourmet Food Tours.

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  1. Wow, your dinner is awesome. I have to move near you. Do you like wine? I gotta bring something :)

    I saw cornbread, and I saw cheesesteak pizza. Those are two of my favorite foods ever. How did you crawl into my head Nik?

    Beautiful meal and beautiful pictures. Funny thing though, I thought cornbread was a girl? Maybe it's something different all together :)

  2. Wow Nikki! An excellent post. What a magnificent dinner. And you gave us all the courses. Thank you. I think you're a great blogger, really I do. I'm dying to try your Sausage Tomato Gravy, it sounds delicious.

  3. wow, look at you making pasta from scratch without a pasta maker! When we got our Kitchen Aid as a wedding present it was one of the first attachemnts we got.

  4. Adam: I'm luring you toward practicing in NC, eh? And I do like wine.

    Hey, it's what I do: crawl into people's heads! And our friend, cornbread? Definitely a shapeshifter.

    Teresa: Thanks! I forgot to post the pic of the pizza! The tomato gravy is SOOooo delicious! I can't wait for you to try it either!

    Kat: It was all novel and cute while I was making it, but I really will never do this again. Well, If I want to make orecchiette, by hand is perfect; Other than that, A RESOUNDING "NO"

  5. Where was my invitation? And that desert just out it over the top!

  6. Oh wow - check you out - fresh pasta and all....when's my invite to dinner?


  7. Courtney: Oh, sorry, girl. My apartment can onl hold but so many people, and the crotchet lady across the hall would have called the cops, I'm sure.

    Darius: Well, next time you're in this neck of the woods, check me out and there'll be a FEAST!

    Rachel: It's excellent. Better than I could have imagined. I am not a bacon fan, but I figured, "Why not?" I had some male guests over and men like bacon, right?

    Jenn: Just like I told Darius, any time you're in this neck of the woods...we'll cook up something great together! Or if I make it down to FL :)


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