5 Easy Tips to Making Better Pasta

Everyone knows how to boil pasta, right? -Think about the last soggy rigatoni salad you ate before you answer.- The good news is that making perfect pasta is easy is if you know the rules.

1. Use plenty of water, (About 2 quarts for every cup of pasta).

Cleaning bigger pots is a pain, but sticky clumps of pasta are worse, more water means more room for your pasta to move

2. Bring water to a full boil before adding pasta

Do I need to mention the clumps again? A full boil means you can stop adding oil to your water to keep the pasta from sticking, hooray!

3. Season your water

Bland is a really mean food description. Seasoning your water is seasoning your pasta. Italians say that pasta water should taste like the ocean which is roughly 1 teaspoon per quart of water. Those with salt concerns should check out this article in the New York Times.

4. Set a timer

Pasta cooked al dente holds its own against your sauce instead of soaking it up like a soggy sponge. Every package of pasta has a recommended cooking time that varies by pasta shape and size. Two minutes can mean the difference between magic and mush, so most Italians and serious cooks use a timer to keep track.

5. Do not wash the pasta

Washing pasta makes as much sense as rinsing a marinated chicken. Fresh water strips your pasta of all the flavor you cooked in. If you have to do it for a pasta salad, be mindful and re-season if you think it’s necessary.

Pretty basic, right? Give these tips a try and I’m sure you’ll see a difference. I had to make a lot of mistakes in various Italians kitchens to win this wisdom, so use it assured that there is only one RIGHT way to boil pasta.

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Hot Dog Nightmare

“What’s pink sauce?” I was standing in front of a low take out counter, three large flat screen TV’s flickered the menu over my head far too quickly to read. The darkness of the room and strobe like flashing made me feel like I was in a Reggaeton video and disoriented me just enough to inhibit my common sense. How else could I explain ordering the house special at Los Perros?

Picture it, an all beef hotdog with mozzarella cheese, ketchup, mustard, sour cream, pink sauce, pineapple sauce and grinded potato. I was visiting my friend, Mira, in Ft. Lauderdale and her neighbors had raved about the place. After reading the menu, I was inclined to believe them. The flavor combination was so bold and out there that it had to be great, right?

It took me two big bites to realize what I was really eating. The grinded potatoes were actually chip crumbs, and pink sauce was ketchup and mayonnaise blended together. As I write this now, my stomach turns. The cheese, which was not mozzarella, coated the dog like a thick white water proofing, but the myriad of sauces still managed to soak the bun.
As if waking from a dream, I looked around wondering how I got to this place. Why was I eating the teenage boy’s dream sandwich?
Personal recommendations are my favorite way to find great places to eat. Ninety-nine percent of the time, I can’t go wrong, but the other one percent… I’m like an overconfident AIG executive- destined to fail.

Jan Hagels

What’s in a name? A friend introduced these buttery, easy to make, cookies to me about a week ago. They are so good that I have already baked my own batch at home, but what’s up with the name? Pronounced yan hagels, they sound more like a complicated squat thrust exercise than a cookie. Research revealed that these cookies are actually Dutch and they’re usually made around the holiday season. The cookies are topped with rock candy and almonds in the traditional recipe, but I prefer the simple walnut topping my friend uses. These cookies are fantastic with a cup of tea and, dare I say it, even easier to make than chocolate chip.

Jan Hagels
1 cup butter
1 cup sugar
1 egg (separated)
2 cups flour (sifted)
½ teaspoon cinnamon
1 tablespoon water
½ cup chopped walnuts

Begin by greasing a 15x10x1 inch cookie sheet with a little butter and preheat your oven to 350 degrees. Cream the butter and then add the sugar and egg yolk. Gradually add the two cups of flour and cinnamon. The mixture will seem crumbly, but keep blending until it is smooth and forms a large round mass in your bowl. Remove the dough from the bowl and press it flat and even into the cookie sheet. The result should be about ¼ inch thick. In a separate bowl, beat egg white and water until bubbles begin to form. Pour the egg white mixture over the cookies, spreading evenly. Sprinkle the walnuts over the cookies and don’t be afraid to add a few more if your cookies look naked. Place in the oven for 20-25 minutes. The top should have a very light brown color when finished. Cut cookies into rectangular strips immediately and allow them to cool in the cookie sheet. I have found that these cookies are at their prime two days after baking.

The Chinese/Mexican Restaurant: A New York Phenomenon

Have you ever walked into a Mexican restaurant only to find it staffed entirely by Chinese people? For those of you outside the New York area, I’m sure the answer is no. Last week I wrote a piece about this subject for bushwickbk.com and thought it might be interesting to share with a wider audience.

In 1991, motivated by the market saturation of Chinese restaurants, a Chinese immigrant named Mr. Zheng opened his first Fresco Tortillas on the eastside of Manhattan. His model was quickly copied and spread. These places are very cool because they are cheap, the tortillas are made fresh in house and compared to other fast food, they’re really nutritious.

At my local Fresh Taco I can get a black bean burrito with sour cream, guacamole, rice and cheese for $3.50. Like most Chinese take-out places, the menu is organized into a numeric system like A17 the Chicken Broccoli with melted cheese taco special.

Some critics of my original article, wondered why I would what to eat “fake” Mexican when I could have the real thing. To begin, there aren’t many places where you can get “the real thing” for $3.50. And I like odd fusion food, there’s something to learn eating one culture’s interpretation of another’s cuisine.

I’ve started to hear rumors that these places are popping up all over to the east coast. Have any of you seen them? What do you think?