Homemade pasta making around the kitchen island bar, smoking a ham outside on the porch, and being treated to Asian specialties. These were just several of the fun and tasty food-based activities and meals we enjoyed together, while our sons were home over the holidays.

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Eldest son’s girl was also here for two weeks, and R was determined to show off every aspect of our family’s traditions here in Pittsburgh! On the first day everyone was home, we attended a frigid Steelers game, followed by gourmet pizzas while decorating the live Christmas tree.

Another evening, we visited Phipps Conservatory’s annual Magical Flower & Light Show. Afterwards was barbeque and craft beers at a favorite local brewery. Because of the pandemic — and with three of us coming down with bad colds (omicron?) — that was the only night we ate dinner out.

Instead, everyone helped out making snacks and meals together. Many times, that included sipping on special cocktails, craft brews or wines. We all worked together in the kitchen to prepare both Christmas Eve and Day dinners. Hubby made his mini crab cakes to accompany beef fondue on New Year’s Eve, and then apple cinnamon waffles for brunch the next day. And V prepared not one, but three Asian meals!

But, special dishes and family meal making activities shouldn’t be limited to just the holidays. These days, anytime we can gather with family and friends is an occasion to celebrate, right? Hoping you find inspiration here to eat, drink and make merry all year long!

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Smoking a Ham

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Here is the bourbon-glazed, smoked ham my family enjoyed over the holidays. It not only looked magazine-worthy, but smelled fabulous! The aroma coming from the smoker outside almost drove the poor dogs crazy, lol.

Last Christmas, our eldest son, R, generously gave both his brother and dad Traeger smoker grills. Younger son D’s grill is resident on the rear stone patio of his 101-year old home. While our smoker sits on the back porch under the pergola.

NYC-rooftop-terrace-urban-garden-carrot-harvest

Both our boys love to entertain, cook and garden. Check out their amazing NYC Urban Garden: Up on the Roof and Philadelphia Rowhouse Urban Rooftop Garden.

Living in condo’s in first Manhattan and now Hoboken, R is unable to own a smoker grill himself. So this year, he was excited to lead the charge and make our family’s first-ever, smoked ham.

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R arrived home from the store with a huge ham — enough to feed an army! So, in addition to including the ham in our Christmas Eve smorgasbord-style dinner, we also enjoyed hearty sandwich’s for lunch. Dad was in charge of carving.

Still, I immediately put three sizable uncarved packages of smoked ham into the freezer. Later, hubby and I were able to enjoy the ham again for dinner on New Years, and other meals into January. The other frozen packages accompanied the kids back home. It was the ham that just kept giving!

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I’m not sure if the pictures do it justice, but the smoked ham turned out super moist and flavorful! It’d also be great for Easter dinner, and would work particularly well for serving a gang buffet style.

Have you ever smoked a ham? If so, do you use one fresh or cured? And, how do you glaze yours?

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Prepping smoker for BBQ ribs on July 4th.

Smoker Grill Not Just for Summer

Both our family’s smokers get used year round — even when there’s several inches of snow and frigid temps outside! What a treat it is to have smoked barbeque in January and February!

Over the past year, all three guys have really enjoyed experimenting and cooking with the smokers, They are constantly trying different meats and foods, wood pellets, techniques, and sauces.

That includes smoking barbeque pulled pork (butt) for sandwiches, beef brisket, ribs, and chicken wings. There’s also been grilled vegetables, and the best macaroni and cheese I’ve ever tasted! Read and see more, at how Using a Smoker Grill Enhances Meals.

While we were in Philly for Thanksgiving, the guys made our first-ever smoked turkey. But before cooking the turkey, they splayed the legs out flat. Splaying is a fast-growing trend that allows you to achieve a delicious, evenly cooked bird — fast. Ever splay a turkey?

Homemade Pasta Making

Another gift we received the previous Christmas was a pasta machine. It was the same classic Marcato Atlas 150 model that R and V used for pasta making in their apartment. The Queen of Theme’s sons’ gift-giving had a common theme —new things to do while homebound in a pandemic.

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The hand-cranked machine makes fresh pasta making fun and relatively easy. Although a motor is an optional accessory, experts agree that an electric model is overkill for most people with a quality machine like the Marcato.

Here the boys are feeding dough into the pasta maker, which has a clamp to temporarily attach it to the kitchen island. (In the background you can see Christmas Cookie Cutter Cheer decorating the upper kitchen cabinets.)

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Pasta machines are basically made of two rollers, which start at a wider width, then taper inward. As you reduce the space in between them with each passing, the pasta sheet gets thinner and thinner — and longer.

An Italian design icon, the Atlas 150 makes lasagna, fettuccine and tagliolini pasta shapes. It’s compatible with an electric motor, and has 12 optional accessories. We also have the handy ravioli cutter.

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Semolina pasta dough wrapped in plastic while resting.

Fresh Pasta Takes Few Ingredients

There are only three main ingredients to homemade pasta making —flour, eggs (for color and richness) and water. Some recipes substitute olive oil or vegetable juice (spinach, beet, tomato, carrot) for the water. Others may also include adding herbs and spices for color and flavor.

There are three kinds of wheat flour for pasta making: semolina, all-purpose, and high-protein, finely milled “00” flour. Semolina adds a heartiness and rougher texture that help sauces cling better to noodles. Silkier noodles are made from using 00 flour with its powdery texture.

The eggs and flour are mixed into a stiff but pliable dough that’s kneaded, rested, and then rolled (usually through a machine) and cut.

The more you work the dough, the more elastic it becomes. Both hubby and V have a knack for kneading the dough and enjoy doing it.

Last Valentine’s Day was the first time we — actually hubby— used the pasta machine. I was busy caring for an Energetic & Playful Scottie Puppy we had just brought home days before. Mr. Buzz used all-purpose flour already in our pantry, and the fresh fettucine turned out great! Since then, however, he favors using the semolina flour.

Pasta Party for Family & Friends

A pasta making dinner party can be fun for families of all ages, several couples or a group of friends. The hosts (or more experienced) could make and rest the pasta dough ahead of time.

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Guests could take turns feeding the dough through the machine, and cutting or shaping it. Everyone could participate in some way, such as preparing the sauce(s), salad, and pouring the vino!

Several articles I’ve read, stressed that there is no such thing as the perfect pasta. That’s partly because pasta making is very forgiving. It comes in all many shapes, sizes, textures, colors and flavors. Have you made fresh pasta?

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Here the fresh cut fettucine is hanging on the rack. Just minutes away from being cooked.

Why make bother to make fresh pasta? Fresh is considered superior to dried pasta in several important respects—namely for its tender, silky texture; rich eggy flavor; and soft yellow hue.

shrimp-marinara-sauce-homemade-fettucine-pasta

While the three kids were primarily involved in pasta making — kneading, threading and cutting the fettucine — hubby prepared a shrimp and marina sauce. Yours truly took pictures while pouring the wine, setting the table, and preparing the salad and bread.

It was a delicious meal and everyone had a great time in the kitchen together.

Mien-Ga-Chicken-Glass-Noodle-Soup
Photo credits: delightfulplate.com

Asian Cuisine 1-2-3

Eldest son and sweet V, arrived in Pittsburgh with a car packed full of presents, snacks, craft beers, wines and specialty ingredients from an Asian market.

It was a real treat for all of us! I especially appreciated having a break from planning, shopping and preparing dinner every day for five adults.

Mien Ga with Glass Noodles

The first was a hearty Miến Gà (Vietnamese Chicken Noodle Soup). V used a fast and easy recipe that included low sodium chicken broth, fish sauce, shredded chicken, chopped green onion, cilantro, black pepper, and squeeze of fresh lime.

To cut the preparation time, V used already-shredded roasted chicken from the grocery store.

What made the dish particularly special, were the wonderful bean thread bundles. Slender and gelatinous, the noodles are made of mung beans. Widely used in Asian dishes, the bundles look clear or transparent. I guess that’s why they are also called cellophane or glass noodles.

Although Mien Ga is traditionally served for the Chinese Lunar New Year, it’d be good anytime of year. V made an enormous pot, enough to accompany lunch the next day. And, with several of us nursing those colds, the soup really hit the mark!

Vietnamese-dish-oxtail-pho

Mien Ga is much less involved and intimidating to make than classic pho. Here is the ox tail pho that V made for us on another visit. Read about pho and other unique, wonderful dishes you can make at home at, Cultural Cooking Adventure: Vietnamese Dishes.

Spicy Lamb with Hand-Ripped Noodles

Photo credits: xianfoods.com

My son and V also had a meal kit delivered from one of their favorite Chinese restaurants in Manhattan, Xi’an Famous Foods.

The second dish V prepared for us was Spicy Cumin Lamb with Hand-Ripped Noodles. Wide biang biang noodles were mixed in with Xi’an’s proprietary sauce of soy sauce and black vinegar.

Biang biang are wheat flour noodles that are hand-pulled into a long, thick and broad shape. They have a chewy texture and are often served with a pungent, spicy dressing.

I wish I had watched V pulling the noodles! It’s a skill that probably requires practice, and definitely takes some elbow grease.

Although the meal kit was for said it served four, there was plenty for five hungry adults who all loved the lamb dish.

Japanese Curry Beef

Another dish V made was Japanese Curry Beef. It’s like an Asian-flavored stew with carrots, onions and potatoes, served with rice.

Japanese-curry-lamb-rice

Packaged curry roux cubes (see link below) make a rich and savory sauce for this hearty and tasty meal. The rice “bowls” were microwavable and found at our local grocery store.

Hoping you’ve found inspiration here to host your own meal making party, try a new dish, or experiment in the kitchen. Or maybe a gift-giving idea for a food enthusiast later this year?

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I regularly participate in: Metamorphous Monday, Centerpiece Wednesday, Share Your Style, Tablescape Thursday, Thursday Favorite Things, Crafty Creators, Fabulous Friday, Saturday Sparks, Happiness is Homemade, and Love Your Creativity.

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