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The Worst Cook in Columbus: Pasta

I am a terrible cook. If you read the last issue, you already know that. As a result, pasta is a staple in my kitchen—it makes a great practical-looking decoration when displayed in a glass jar, or placed on a countertop. For very little money and effort, dried pasta not only beautifies your living space, [...]
Laura Dachenbach

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I am a terrible cook.

If you read the last issue, you already know that.

As a result, pasta is a staple in my kitchen—it makes a great practical-looking decoration when displayed in a glass jar, or placed on a countertop. For very little money and effort, dried pasta not only beautifies your living space, but also makes you look productive and knowledgeable. No one has ever questioned my ability to make pasta, not with the evidence stacked neatly in four glass jars next to my stove.

Until now.

I’m back at The Commissary on Dublin Road, a proud graduate of my salad class in September, and owner Kate Djupe has put fresh pasta and sauce on the lesson list—the next step in repairing my atrocious culinary skills.

Making pasta is both easy and hard. When my pasta instructor Matt Swint pulls out the ingredients we will need—eggs and flour—I’m surprised. I honestly thought pasta would be a little more… complicated. But as we begin talking about glutens stretching and lining up and the responsiveness of dough, I realize this task was going to take some serious work.

Pasta requires an instinct. Despite carefully following the instructions on a recipe, developing a sense for how a dough should look and feel takes practice. If you try this at home, be prepared to experiment, and maybe throw away some dough. (I won’t tell anyone.)

Fortunately, that instinct is in Swint’s DNA. Raised on the east side of Cleveland among Slovenian and Italian families, Swint, the genius behind Matija Breads, bleeds red sauce.

“I grew up with this food,” he says, his early memories filled with homemade breads, polka music, and falling asleep in pizzerias. Swint most recently teamed up with Dan Kraus to create Baba’s, an old world eatery on Summit Street. I feel confident that whatever I mess up, Swint can fix.

We start with two cups of flour on the counter (literally—on the counter) in front of me. Swint, with his own pile of flour in front of him, teaches me the “well method” of making pasta dough. I shape my flour into a doughnut, and Swint instructs me to crack two eggs in the middle. We begin breaking the yolks with a fork and using the tines of the fork to gradually lift in a bit of the flour at a time, so that a lumpy, yellow liquid begins to look a bit more like a recognizable dough that can be handled and kneaded.

“You really can’t overknead the dough,” he tells me, which is good, because I need a lot of practice. Swint’s deft motion of folding part of the dough into itself, pressing it forward with a palm, and then quickly turning it, has me pretty stymied. Eventually, it becomes a smooth, cream-colored ball which he puts underneath an overturned metal bowl to “rest”–a process, that when described to me, seems to make up for the simplicity of the ingredients.

While that’s happening, we start a Puttanesca sauce. Swint swirls a generous amount of EVOO in a heated saucepan while explaining his preference for California oils (Corto, Lucero, Bariani) over Italian imports. We add a chopped onion and sauté it until it’s translucent. Then we add a can of whole tomatoes, fresh minced garlic, capers, and some pitted olives. Normally, Swint would also add anchovy, which adds savoriness to the sauce, but to his disappointment, this vegetarian writer doesn’t eat them. We’re subbing roasted garlic cloves instead.

The dough has rested—which means the glutens have lined up and created an elastic superstructure ideal for reshaping. Swint teaches me how to roll out the pasta, both with a rolling pin and a pasta roller. (I highly, highly recommend the latter. Just be careful not to drop your pasta as the dough gets progressively thinner.)

The strip of dough in front of me feels a little leathery, and Swint assures me that’s a good thing. Coming out of the roller, the pasta is a couple feet long. Swint cuts off the uneven ends and shows me how to fold the pasta from each end towards each other—about three inches per fold, cut the folded pasta into noodle-sized strips, and slide a knife under the strips to pick them up and release them, like strings dangling from a mop. I admit, when I do this—and it works—I scream a bit in excitement.

From scratch, pasta only takes a minute or two to cook in very salty water, and once it’s strained out, it should go in with the sauce for a minute or two. (Tip: some of the noodle water, full of starch and salt, can be added to the sauce at this point if needed.) Basil and lemon zest garnishes the dish, and Swint and I each grab a fork and start twirling.

Fresh pasta is a truly different food from the dried version. It has a slippery, almost silky texture, yet not oily. I feel like I’ve done something impactful myself, like get one of those VO5 hot oil treatments or taking an art class. Seriously, I’m pricing pasta rollers.

That dried pasta may be sitting next to the stove a little bit longer.

The plan

So there are four basic ingredients for pasta and sauce. Here’s the least you need to know.

Flour Swint uses unbleached, unbromated flour, preferring organic flours for a more responsive dough. (I still don’t know what that means.)

Eggs Farm-fresh and cage-free. Make sure the chickens have eaten well, so you can, too.

Tomatoes These can be canned, but preferably whole. The less processing, the better. (And crushing the tomatoes with your bare hands is fun as hell.)

Onions Hard to screw this one up. Just use a “cat’s paw” (curling all digits underneath your hand) to hold the onion as you cut it so you don’t remove any fingers.

Everything else is really up to you, and, as Swint says, you should make pasta the way you like it. “These super simple ingredients can become something complex without a whole lot of work.”

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The Future of Food (Is Now)

Living with a gluten intolerance means sacrificing warm and gooey chocolate chip cookies, my mom’s mouth-melting dark chocolate cake and everything bagels smothered in cream cheese, all for the sake of a happy and functioning digestive tract. Some foods have made valiant attempts to fill this void, but despite the new era of gluten-free awareness, [...]
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Living with a gluten intolerance means sacrificing warm and gooey chocolate chip cookies, my mom’s mouth-melting dark chocolate cake and everything bagels smothered in cream cheese, all for the sake of a happy and functioning digestive tract. Some foods have made valiant attempts to fill this void, but despite the new era of gluten-free awareness, finding decent baked-good alternatives has been a long and disappointing quest.

Enter: Éban’s Bakehouse, a gluten-free bakery that creates bread, cookies and specials sold at grocery stores and markets around Ohio. Started by Eric Braddock and Adrienne Novak in 2011, the business was inspired by a desire to provide the indulgent experience of baked goods to those who typically live without. Hence their motto: No Gluten. No Regrets.

The annual event showcases Columbus’ best food while raising funds for Columbus State Community College, and its honorees are Columbus State alumni doing innovative work or providing a service in the local food scene. For Novak (Class of 1995), she’s also being honored for her roles in some of the nation’s finest country clubs, restaurants, inns, hotels, and gourmet markets, including Rocky Fork Hunt and County Club, Winegarder & Hammons Hotel Group, and Cameron Mitchell Restaurants.

“You get to see the culinary landscape of Columbus all in one night,” said Jesse Jones, this year’s Taste the Future organizer. “It is the big foodie event, but also it’s a great time.”

Besides Novak, Taste the Future is also recognizing Titus Arensberg (Class of 2008), lead carver and master food artist at Rock on Ice, and Avishar Barua, executive chef at Middle West Service Bar, for their food and drink contributions.

“Food is one of the few things that allows you to incorporate everything…you taste it, smell it, you see it, you touch it, you hear it,” Avishar Barua said. “It’s something that brings people together.”

Barua became interested in cooking later than many in the culinary profession, finding a fondness for food after he started at

Ohio State University. He was supposed to be preparing for medical school, but he wasn’t thrilled about that idea, and once he got sick of the stereotypical college diet, he stumbled upon a new career option.

“I decided I couldn’t live off ramen noodles anymore, so I started getting cookbooks from the library,” Barua said. “From that point on I realized I was doing more cooking than studying, and I thought maybe there was something there.”

Barua, who graduated from Columbus State in 2013, now blends his Midwestern upbringing and Bangladeshi roots in the food and drinks he makes at Service Bar. It’s all about experimenting with new recipes—the restaurant takes this to the next level by making its own liquor through Middle West Spirits—and Barua favors creations that require long, drawn-out processes that produce food anyone can enjoy. Though, he admits sometimes “our mind goes beyond our skill level.”

This year is the 30th annual Taste the Future, and along with Middle West’s presence at the event, the restaurants represented will range from Barcelona and Lindey’s to Crimson Cup and Platform Beer Co. Each has the freedom to design their own menu; two years ago, bacon was the ingredient of choice for chefs, and this time around Jones says tacos and finger foods seem to be on trend.

Not all those at Taste the Future showcase their talent on a plate or in a glass, however: Titus Arensberg food sculptures often stand alone, and have earned him wins at multiple Ohio State Fair Food Art Championships and a 2016 US National Championship. Before Arensberg graduated from CSCC in 2008, he started out as a young cook trying to impress his old-school chef. He’d work on his carvings secretly while his boss was preoccupied at meetings, but was pleasantly surprised when the chef warmed up to Arensberg’s creations.

Now as the lead carver and master food artist at Rock on Ice, Arensberg and his colleagues go through 2,000 blocks of ice and hundreds of pumpkins and melons annually. His sculptures end up at celebrations like high school graduations, weddings, grand openings and football games, but Titus also does competitions around the country, and that’s where he comes up with his most memorable pieces.

“The contest pieces allow me to freely design and create without any restrictions,” Arensberg said. “They allow me to express myself and even celebrate events throughout my life, like two years ago my girlfriend and I told the world we were having twins by me carving a stork carrying a baby in a national contest.”

Taste the Future typically raises $200,000, and although tickets are on the pricey side at $100 a piece, attendees get all-you-can-eat access and four drink tokens to almost 50 food and drink establishments. Perhaps more meaningfully, Jones says, they’re also investing in students who will be Columbus’ future employees.

“[This is a] place where a lot of careers start, a lot of careers pivot, a lot of journeys begin.”

More than serving as the largest culinary event in Columbus, proceeds from Taste the Future (8.14, 6–9 p.m.) support student success at Columbus State. In its three decades, it has grown to host more than 1,300 people and 50 food stations. To purchase tickets or learn more about the event, visit tastethefuture.com.

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Coast to Course

Matilda Riby-Williams, or Tilly, as she’s known, is hovering over a steaming pot of onion and tomato puree, seasoning it with her favorite spices: garlic, ginger, Goya Adobo and Ghanaian cayenne pepper. A small crew of onlookers watch through teary eyes—courtesy of the three large onions—while Tilly explains the recipe she is using to make [...]
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Matilda Riby-Williams, or Tilly, as she’s known, is hovering over a steaming pot of onion and tomato puree, seasoning it with her favorite spices: garlic, ginger, Goya Adobo and Ghanaian cayenne pepper.

A small crew of onlookers watch through teary eyes—courtesy of the three large onions—while Tilly explains the recipe she is using to make doro wat, a traditional Ethiopian tomato chicken stew.

It’s a scene that her daughter, Kuukua Yomekpe, has witnessed likely many times.

This city’s ethnic food scene offers some of Columbus’s best eats, and Yomekpe, is part of that world. She owns Asempe Kitchen found in the Hills Market in Downtown Columbus, where she creates Ghanaian food. But Yomekpe and Riby-Williams take their cuisine beyond the restaurant, bringing it into everyday people’s kitchens, and they aren’t the only ones.

In the past few years, a wave of groups working to teach folks around Columbus different ways to cook has emerged, providing opportunities for people to expand their culinary repertoire and learn about other cultures in the process.

Here are five organizations hoping to spice up kitchens across the city:

Create Your Curry

createyourcurry.com

Bidisha Nag first started teaching Indian cooking classes as a way to get to know her neighbors after moving here in 2016. She likes to teach—she has a PhD in human and cultural geography—but she prefers cooking over lecturing to unenthused undergrads.

At first, her classes consisted of just a few people, but as interest started to grow, she realized she needed to establish a business. Hence, Create Your Curry, born in January 2017.

“My cooking classes are a combination of cooking as well as some cultural geography and how people eat differently in different parts of India,” Nag said. “I want people to not have fear about cooking something unknown.”

Nag uses ingredients available at the local grocery store and just a few spices to create one rice item and one healthy entree, like chicken tikka masala or palak paneer. Her classes, which run around $40, typically have a maximum of 12 people, which she says allows for a hands-on and personalized experience.

Retro Dinner Diva

retrodinnerdiva.com

Moms and dads know how hectic life can be. Splitting time between soccer games and dance classes and birthday parties and drama club can make getting dinner on the table every night seem like a daunting task.
But Chief Dinner Diva Stephanie Eakins wants to help. Her company, Retro Dinner Diva, specializes in family-size, freezer-friendly and oven-ready food. She has a delivery service, and every few weeks she hosts workshops and freezer meal parties for people who want to learn how to prep and cook similar meals—pastas, chicken pot pies, casseroles and stews—themselves.

“I have a niche and it’s comfort food,” Eakins said, adding that in the beginning, she was getting requests for different diets that were stretching her thin and out of her realm of expertise. “I finally was like, you know you can’t please everyone. This is your niche, and this is what I’m good at, and this is what I’m going to do.”

Her freezer meal parties usually cost around $189, but participants walk away with eight family-size meals. Other courses, like her Instapot classes, are $35.

1400 Food Lab

1400foodlab.com

Formerly The Commissary, 1400 Food Lab is the place that centers and connects many of these organizations. As a food incubator, it provides space and resources for small food business in Columbus. Create Your Curry, Better Plate and Retro Dinner Diva all use the commercial kitchens for classes, but 1400 Food Lab also helps organize a wide range of courses for the public.

Karen Chrestay, the Food Lab’s general manager, said some of the most popular classes they’ve hosted, unexpectedly, were the butchery classes. They’ve done knife fundamentals and croissant making, and Chrestay said she’s looking forward to the vegan series coming up this spring. 1400 Food Lab classes vary in price, and registration is required.

Better Plate

Community Columbus

betterplatecolumbus.eventsmart.com

The class Riby-Williams was teaching was organized by Better Plate Community Columbus, a group founded in 2017 that encourages cross-cultural exchange through food-related community events. Some classes it offers, such as Tilly’s Ethiopian cooking session, are in home kitchens and typically host around seven people, while others in larger commercial kitchens can accommodate more.

“Food is very different and yet the same across cultures,” Amanda Warner, co-founder of Better Plate, said. “It’s something interesting for people … to think about the commonalities and differences.”

Better Plate has hosted cooking classes from many corners of the world. They’ve covered Syrian, Ghanaian, Russian, Indian and now Ethiopian. Registration is required, and classes typically cost $35.

Turkish American

Society of Ohio

tasocolumbus.org

The Turkish American Society of Ohio hosts cooking classes on the third Saturday of every month. Organized by and run for women, the classes offer not only a taste of authentic Turkish food, but also the opportunity to share and learn about each other.

“It’s not just about teaching people how to cook,” said TASO Cooking Class Coordinator Hamide Kusan. “It’s about sharing culture.”

February’s class featured Turkish chicken soup, güveç yemeği, babaganus and bride’s cake. The women chatted about cooking tips, like how they had discovered that one Turkish teacup equals half a cup in the U.S., and how using vanilla powder, rather than vanilla extract, was important because some Turkish women don’t drink alcohol. Later, after everyone had eaten, the conversation turned to Turkish politics. It seemed like this wasn’t out of the ordinary, especially since many of the American women who came to the class had already been involved with TASO for months or even years, though they had plenty of seats around the table for those who want to join in. An RSVP is required for TASO cooking classes, and each session costs $20.

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Reinventing the Meal: Home Cooking Classes

Have you ever stared into the cooler at the grocery store, wondering how the hell those cellophane-wrapped packages somehow morph into a colorful and fragrant meal? Do your culinary endeavors turn into Pinterest fails, despite following the recipe to the letter? Curious as to why your bacon is never crispy, but only burnt? Sounds like [...]
Jeni Ruisch

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Have you ever stared into the cooler at the grocery store, wondering how the hell those cellophane-wrapped packages somehow morph into a colorful and fragrant meal?

Do your culinary endeavors turn into Pinterest fails, despite following the recipe to the letter? Curious as to why your bacon is never crispy, but only burnt? Sounds like you could use some professional help.

Lucky for you, not all heroes wear capes. Some of them wear aprons.

Olivia Tipton is the lead Research and Development chef at Jeni’s Splendid Ice Creams, one of the folks who make all Jeni’s ice cream dreams into a reality, by researching and sourcing ingredients and experimenting with products and techniques until they are the perfect creamy concoction you find in the giant buckets at the scoop shops and on shelves. A Dayton native, she trained at Johnson & Wales University in Providence, Rhode Island to obtain the culinary master skill set that she now hopes to spread around the capital city. While at JWU, Tipton was a student teacher, and lead community cooking classes offered by the university to the public. There, she discovered a love of teaching. And she’s damn good at it. Stock & Barrel got to sit in on one of her home classes, and we can tell you, she’s great at communicating her expertise to those of us who have more questions than notches in our chef belts. Using approachable language and deft demonstrations of her own proficiency, Tipton helps her students navigate various techniques on their own terms as they journey through a recipe together.

Her biggest motivator for in-home classes is that she wants people to be comfortable in their own kitchens. She brings just a few spare items with her to her visits, hoping to show the client how to work with what they have. While most of the culinarily-challenged public may not own a zester, for example, they likely have a cheese grater that can perform double-duty. During the planning process, Tipton communicates with her client about their goals for taking the class. She finds out if there is a specific cuisine or dish they want to make, if they want to learn a particular skill or cooking technique, or maybe focus on healthy cooking. After honing in on their goals, she comes up with two to three menu options that encompass them. The client chooses from the list, and Tipton creates her lesson plan. After checking with the client to make sure they have the staple pantry items necessary, she purchases everything else needed for the meal and brings it to their house. The goal is to make it as easy and stress-free as possible for the client. A standard class lasts about two and a half hours and costs $60 per guest, while advanced classes will run you $75. The cost is all-inclusive, all the way up through the ingredients for your meal. In a standard 2.5 hour class one dish is created, and students will learn two to three major cooking techniques. Advanced classes are longer, cover more in-depth techniques, and may result in more than one dish (such as an entree and dessert). Be sure to ask about her super-secret onion dicing technique.

Once the class is rolling, students find themselves gently guided through knife skills, and learning intricacies of ingredients. Tipton has lessons built into the recipe process, and students parlay with questions that naturally come up along the way. In the age of Pinterest and The Food Network, the pendulum has begun to swing back toward the recognizance that you can’t just Google an education. Tipton and her mental library of reference material can take some of the sweat out of planning, pick the right ingredients, and place students light years ahead of searching “How to cook chicken.” And she can she can do it all in the most welcoming atmosphere one could think of: Your own home. 

To inquire about home cooking classes, email Tipton directly at [email protected]

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