Friday, March 31, 2017

Sake lee and miso marinated grilled salmon 鮭のハラスの粕味噌焼

This is a variation of sake lee marinated grilled fish. The usual marinade for this kind of dish is made of mostly sake lee with  a small  amount of miso. This past new year, however, I made two kinds of herring roe; one of which was marinated in the mixture of sake lee and miso. Although this marinade is a mixture of miso, sake lee and sake, it differs from the one described above in that it has much more miso. After I removed the herring roe from this marinade, I used it for fish and vegetables. I realized I have not posted it, so I used it again for my usual filet of salmon, belly portion (or "harasu" ハラス) . I served the marinated salmon belly with my cucumber onion salad as a first small dish for the evening.

1. I scaled the skin (I always have to do this since it is usually not properly scaled at the store. We suspect this is because not many people enjoy the skin as we do so the fish mongers don't "waste their time" carefully scaling it since the skin will generally be discarded). I then separated the belly portion.
2. In a small ziploc bag, I put a small amount of the sake lee miso marinade and pressed to spread making a thin layer. I then put in the salmon, and added more marinade on the side which did not already have the marinade. I pressed and spread the marinade to cover the fish.
3. After sealing the bag, I kept it in the refrigerator for a few days to a max of 1 week.
4. Just before grilling, I took the fish out and washed it in cold running water to remove the marinade and patted it dry using sheets of paper towel.
5. I grilled this in the toaster oven but I had be very careful not to burn the skin too much. I also moved the toaster oven under the hood of the stove since it creates some smoke. I started from the meat side and them cooked the skin side so that when finished, the skin was crispy.

Although we like salmon belly just salted and grilled, the marination adds subtle flavors and a different texture which is very nice for a change.

Tuesday, March 28, 2017

Nagaimo and salmon sausage Isobe fry 長芋とサーモンソーセージの磯辺揚げ

This was inspired by the vegan cooking by a Buddhist monk in Kyoto. He briefly cooked the nagaimo 長芋 rounds in broth, soy sauce and mirin to season it before making a type of tempura called "Isobe-age" 磯辺揚げ with the batter containing dried "aonori" 青海苔. I also made salmon sausages we got from my mother for new year into a similar tempura. I served it as a drinking snack with green tea salt, wedges of lemon and skinned Campari tomato.

I cooked the nagaimo a bit too much but I just used the leftover nagaimo dish and converted to the current dish.

Ingredients (for two small servings):
Nagaimo, peeled and cut into half inch thick rounds (four)
Dashi broth, soy sauce, mirin and sake
Salmon sausages, sliced diagonally in half inch thick (four)

For the tempura batter
Cake flour and potato starch
Cold water
Dried "Aonori"

1. Cook the nagaimo in seasoned broth (Japanese broth seasoned with soy sauce, mirin and sake) for few minutes and let it cool in the broth (see below, this one is cooked longer than called for in this dish).

2. Make the tempura batter by mixing the flours and "aonori" with cold water until desired consistency (I made this rather runny). Coat the nagaimo and sausages.
3. Heat vegetable oil (I used peanut oil) to 350F and deep fry for few minutes.
4. Drain and serve immediately.

Since this was converted from "simmered Nagaimo" dish, the nagaimo was cooked more than needed before it was deep fried. Still, it had nice crunchy texture. It has nice crust with aonori flavor. The salmon sausages also tasted much better than when we tasted as is. This was  unusual but quite good tempura items.

Saturday, March 25, 2017

Braised canned Mackerel in brine with Daikon 大根と鯖の水煮

We really like mackerel simmered in miso sauce. I usually make it from fresh mackerel but it is a bit of work. The other  day when we were at our Japanese grocery store, I bought canned mackerel in miso sauce or "saba-no-misoni" サバの味噌煮 and mackerel in brine or "saba-no-mizuni" さばの水煮. We had the canned mackerel in miso sauce which was pretty good but as per my wife, she thought mine was much better. In any case, I decide to use up the remaining canned mackerel. I came up with this dish made with diakon and canned mackerel which is inspired by a recipe I saw on line. I also served seasoned kelp or "konbu-no-tsukudani" 昆布の佃煮 since I made it as the by-product kelp after I made Japanese dashi broth from kelp and bonito flakes.

I garnished it with green part of scallion finely chopped.

Here is another serving.

This kelp dish was not as strongly seasoned since we usually eat as a drinking snack rather than with rice.

This is canned mackerel in brine. I just noticed "Taste of Japanese Mom's cooking" on the can.

This is how it looked. The fish was cooked in brine with bone-in but bone is soft (probably pressure cooked). I tasted it and it was rather salty so I adjusted my seasoning accordingly.

Diakon, 1/4, peeled and cut daikon in quarters lengthwise and sliced it1/4 inch thick. This is called "icho-ni-kiru" イチョウに切る since the shape is similar to the "icho" or ginko leaves.
One can of mackerel in brine.
Oil 2 tsp (I used light olive oil)
Soy sauce
Scallion 2, finely chopped

1. I added the oil and daikon pieces to the pan and sautéed for several minutes.
2. I added the mackerel and the brine to the pan.
3. Using a bamboo spatula, I broke the mackerel in small pieces and cooked on medium heat for 5-10 minutes.
4. I tasted it and added 2 tsp of light colored soy sauce and 1 tbs of mirin (the seasoning needs to be adjusted depending on how salty the brine is).
5. I kept cooking until the daikon was soft and the liquid reduced in half.

This was much better than I expected. The combination of daikon and fish was excellent. This is a perfect snack with sake. Between this dish and the seasoned kelp, the sake went down well.

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Hot cross buns 2017 ホットクロスバンズ

As Easter is approaching, my wife decided to bake another hot cross buns (shown here without the cross). This recipe is from King Arthur's and is the best hot cross buns she ever made!

1/4 cup rum
1/2 cup mixed dried fruit
1/2 cup raisins or dried currants
1 1/4 cups milk, room temperature
3 large eggs, 1 separated (use the extra yolk in the dough)
6 tablespoons butter, room temperature
2 teaspoons instant yeast
1/4 cup light brown sugar, firmly packed
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon ground cloves or allspice
1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1 3/4 teaspoons salt
1 tablespoon baking powder
4 1/2 cups All-Purpose Flour (with more as needed to form dough)

1 large egg white, reserved from above
1 tablespoon milk

1) Lightly grease a 10" square pan or 9" x 13" pan.
2) Mix together all of the dough ingredients except the fruit, and knead, using an electric mixer, till the dough is soft and elastic. The last few minutes of kneading mix in the fruit.
4) Let the dough rise for 1 hour, covered. It should become puffy, though may not double in bulk (#1 below).
5) Divide the dough into pieces, about 2 1/4 ounces each. Round them into balls. Arrange them in the prepared pan (#2 , each bun weighed for uniform size).

6) Cover the pan, and let the buns rise for 1 hour, or until they've puffed up and are touching one another #3). While the dough is rising, preheat the oven to 375°F.
7) Whisk together the reserved egg white and milk, and brush it over the buns.
8) Bake the buns for 20 minutes, until they're golden brown #4). Remove from the oven, and transfer to a rack to cool (#5 and #6).

This is really good. We tasted one while they were still warm.  They had a nice texture and top crust with rum flavor. We felt we do not need the icing.

Sunday, March 19, 2017

Salmon sausages from Hokkaido サーモンソーセージ

For the New Year, my mother sent us her usual "care package". For reasons, particularly unknown to us, the package took well over a month to arrive.  An investigation into the tracking indicated that it arrived in the U.S. where it just disappeared (so much for the usefulness of tracking). We had actually decided that the package got "lost" in transit never to be seen again--someone had an interesting free New Year's feast? Imagine our surprise when it showed up on our door step several weeks later (no explanation from USPS). In any case, all of the food included in the package was either smoked, dried or processed seafood of Hokkaido and was, therefore, not the worst for the delay.  These items are from Satou Suisan 佐藤水産 in Sapporo 札幌市 which specializes in Hokkaido's famous seafood especially salmon. We have been enjoying salmon "toba" 鮭のトバ and salmon "chips" サーモンチップス for some time especially with bourbon and water. We almost finished everything in the package. Before its all gone, however, I decided to post a few of the items left. This was a starting snack one evening. Dried salmon chips (right upper), soft "atarime" あたりめ which is a type of dried and pressed squid (same as "surume" するめ but "suru" in Japanese means "to lose, especially in gambling, so by replacing "suru" with "atari" which means to "hit a jack pot" for a good luck, right lower) and two kinds of salmon sausages サーモンソーセージ (left upper and lower).

I also added mayo with Japanese 1 flavor hot pepper flakes 一味唐辛子 and soy sauce with skinned Campari tomato and blanched broccoli.

The below are pictures of the packages of the salmon sausage. As we posted before, I never liked fish sausages as a kid and as an adult I still do not like it. The left below is the salmon sausages; one is black since it contains squid ink and black pepper. The right below are "Salmon chips" and dried squid "atarime". This particular "atarime" was not just shredded dried squid but also pressed thin which made it not too chewy and easier to eat.

We liked the salmon chips and salmon toba. "atarime" was also nice especially heated up briefly in the toaster oven. The salmon sausages were supposedly made of 100% salmon meat but for us, it tasted about the same as any fish sausage. We did not experience anything that tasted like salmon and we could not distinguish any difference between the regular and black salmon sausage. In short, both were tasteless but had a nice texture. Although my mother was worried that the package was lost and when we told her it arrived, she was worried everything had been spoiled but nothing was bad and we stretched out our enjoyment of these items for a few months.

Thursday, March 16, 2017

Chicken Cheese mini-pies ミニパイ

This is a drinking snack my wife came up with. It goes well with red wine and is also a means of "leftovers" control. This is vaguely based on the recipe she saw on line but she essentially made this without a recipe. The picture shows two mini-pies. The square one on the left is filled with cheese and jalapeno pepper. The round one on the right is filled with minced barbecue chicken, caramelized onion, and cheese.

Although the focus of the exercise was on making the chicken pies, my wife found herself out of chicken filling but with a fair amount of defrosted pie dough left. So "on-the-fly" she came up with the cheese filling so as not to waste the dough. Although she carefully sealed the edges of the pie, most of the cheese melted out (left) leaving a hollow shell with a  nice cheesy jalapeno flavor behind. The chicken filling stayed in the pie (right).


A package of frozen pie dough thawed.

Filling for chicken pies:
Cooked chicken (we used leftover dark meat from the barbecue the prior weekend). (This is where the leftover control comes in), 2 legs, finely chopped.
Cheese, grated,
Chopped arugula (or spinach)
Onion, half, medium, finely chopped and caramelized

Filling for cheese pies:
grated cheddar and smoked Gouda cheese
Jalapeno finely minced

Mixture of flour and water to seal the two pieces of pie dough.

For the chicken pies, caramelize and cool the onions, finely mince the cooked chicken, mince the arugula and grate the cheese.
Mix all the ingredients in a bowel. For the cheese pies, grate the two cheeses and mix with the jalapeno.
For both types of pies roll out the defrosted dough and cut into circles of whatever size you like.
Put a scoop of the chicken or cheese mixture on the bottom round (#1) and top with another round of pastry (#2).
Use the paste mixture to seal the edges and crimp with fork (#3).
Cook for 18 to 20 minutes in a 400 degree oven until golden brown (#4).

The chicken pies were quite good. The smokey barbecue flavor blended with the caramelized onions and the cheddar cheese to make a very hearty and satisfying taste. The cheese pies were a bit less successful. Although they were sealed the jalapeno cheese filling melted and seeped out. Although they were basically hollow they still tasted good. The cheesy and fresh pepper flavors permeated the flaky dough. Both were a good snack with a glass of wine.

Monday, March 13, 2017

Boiled Octopus 煮だこ 

Initially I didn't think this was worth posting but I am running short of items so here it is. I made this before the New Year since I could not get my usual boiled octopus leg for the holidays (boiled octopus was sold out at our Japanese grocery store by the time I got there). I had some small frozen octopuses in the freezer.  I found them some time ago in the frozen case of our regular grocery store.  I felt we had to have octopus with our new years daikon namasu dish 大根なます and decided to cook up these small fellows. I served it on top of the daikon namasu with Ikura salmon roe. I also added "karashi sumiso sauce" 芥子酢味噌 on top.

As I have mentioned before, this is packed by an American company called PanaPesca (#1). After thawing, I washed (#2) and salted them. I then massaged them vigorously until slim/bubbles developed (#3). I then washed them and repeated the same process several times (in the hope to make it tender). I slowly lowered just the tentacles into a pot of salted boiling water to which a splash of sake had been added holding the octopus body suspended above the water. The tentacles immediately curled up. I then dropped in the rest of the body to submerge it in the boiling water.  I let it cook for just 30 seconds and took it out to cool (#4).

In order to make octopus tender it is important to either boil it briefly or simmer it for long time. Although legs were a bit smaller than they should have been for New Year dishes they tasted ok. At least, we had octopus to grace the holiday.

Friday, March 10, 2017

Egg tofu 卵豆腐

On the Japanese food scene, it appears that any food which is rectangular in shape and has a soft texture is called "something"-tofu whether or not tofu actually makes an appearance as an ingredient. Dishes that actually include tofu would include the "Avocado-tofu" I posted previously. However, "Goma-dofu*" which is a signature appetizer at Sushi Taro does not include tofu at all. It is made of sesame paste and "kuzu" starch 葛粉. This is a foundation dish in Japanese vegan or "shoujin ryouri" 精進料理. It also made an appearance, as a vegetarian dish at a dinner we had many years ago, at a Buddhist temple "shukubou" 宿坊 in Koyasan 高野山. Then, there is a dish called "Gisei-dofu" 擬製豆腐, which means "pseudo" or "imitation"-tofu giving the impression that it does not include any "tofu". But, just to further confuse the issue, Gisei-dofu does, in fact contain tofu.  So, bottom line; any dish with a name ending with "tofu" or "dofu*" may or may not contain tofu. Just to be crystal clear, the dish I posted here  is called "tamago-dofu" 卵豆腐 and it does not contain any tofu, although the shape and texture closely mimics silken tofu.

*In the Japanese language, when a compound word ends in a noun starting with the letter "t" like "tofu", the first letter is replaced with "d" and becomes "-dofu" as in "goma-dofu" or "tamago-dofu".

In a perfect world, tamago-dofu should have a totally smooth surface but mine is not a perfect world. Some small bubbles and holes developed (called "su-ga-hairu" 巣が入る) as you can see in the above picture (the steam must have been too strong) but it still had a nice silky texture.  It is often served cold with a bit of sauce and "Kinome" 木の芽, the young leaves of the Japanese pepper tree called "sansho"  山椒. Unfortunately, I do not have access to sansho (one of these days, I would like to have a Japanese pepper tree in my backyard). So, for this serving, I garnished it with dried nori or "aonori" 青のり.

This one I served it with a dab of real wasabi.

Tamago-dofu is essentially a firmer cousin of "chawan-mushi". It is made with a mixture of seasoned broth and eggs but the ratio is 1:1.5-2 instead of 1:3-4.

4 eggs (about 200 ml)
1.5 times seasoned dashi broth (about 300 ml), I made the dashi broth from dried kelp and bonito flakes and seasoned it with mirin, light colored soy sauce and salt. It should taste a bit stronger (saltier) than clear soup or "suimono" 吸い物.

Sauce: I mixed the dashi, light colored soy sauce and mirin to taste.

Special tool
Japanese stainless steal mold (mine is 7.2 x 7.2 inches or 18 cm, see composite picture #1). The insert lifts out for easy removal of the final product. You could also use a shallow rectangular loaf pan or baking dish but getting the final product out will be more difficult. I would prefer a smaller mold but this what I have.

1. Beat 4 eggs and mix with the seasoned broth.
2. Pour the egg mixture through a fine sieve into the mold (#2). It is important to strain out all the chalaza (thick proteinaceous material that is attache to both poles of the egg yolk). This is necessary to attain a silken smooth texture. This is the same when making chawan-mushi.
3. Place the mold in a steamer on low steam (If the steam is too strong the tamago-dofu, will develop holes. This is apparently what I did causing holes to form in this batch). Wrap the lid with a kitchen towel to prevent water condensation from dropping down on the surface of the egg mixture. Steam 25 to 30 minutes(#3).
4. Run a thin bladed knife along the edges of the pan and lift out the insert (#4) to make sure it is done.
5. I then put the insert back and covered the mold. I placed it in the refrigerator to cool.
6. Using a blunt edged knife (such as butter knife to prevent damaging the mold), cut the tamago-dofu into small squares (#5).
7. Using a small plastic spatula, remove each squares (#6) just before serving.

I am not sure if tamago-dofu is worth the effort but it did taste good with a nice texture. Of course, in Japan, this is readily available in individual plastic containers sold everywhere, even in convenience stores. I like chawan-mushi better but this can be served quite elegantly.  I combined cubes of the tamago-dofu with cubes of silken tofu in a clear soup (I did not take a picture). The tamgo-dofu was yellow and more flavorful than the silken tofu but if you were not paying attention, it would be difficult to tell them apart. The consistency was almost identical. I may try again for a more perfect tamago-dofu.

Tuesday, March 7, 2017

Pre-Hanami Hanami 早咲き桜の花見

Due to the record warm weather we experienced this February in Washington, DC, the smallest cherry tree in our backyard decided the first weekend of March, although extremely early, wasn't such a bad time to bloom after all. The sun smiled on the little tree for a few days but, as could be expected, the temperature dipped down to seasonal levels just above freezing. (Luckily the other trees in our yard know better and are holding back, although a few more warm days will result in a very early Hanami this year).

Nice blue sky in the background.

This little tree is the furthest from our house. It was a volunteer which has always struggled because it was surrounded by large trees and didn't get enough light. Then, a few years ago a derecho slammed the Washington area knocking down several of those big trees opening up the canopy. Ever since, this little volunteer cherry tree has been extremely happy and thrived. Hopefully this cold snap won't set it back.

Although the other cherry trees are not yet blooming, as you can see in this picture, they are getting ready.

We just couldn't let the little cherry tree's valiant early bloom go without appropriate commemoration so we had a mini- and early-Hanami 花見 . It was far too cold to sit outside so we stayed inside and admired the tree though the window. I served three appetizers in small containers we got at Nishiki market 錦市場 in Kyoto 京都.

I also made dashi-maki だし巻き Japanese omelet (I added chopped scallion this time). I served blanched asparagus dressed in Bonito flakes with soy sauce アスパラのおかか和え, skinned Campari tomatoes and broccoli for color (after taking the pictures I put our home-made Ranch dressing on the tomatoes).

The three appetizers in the small dishes are Marinated cucumber きゅうりのキューちゃん, fine strips of chicken breast meat (barbecued the prior week) dressed in sesame dressing 鶏の胡麻和え and burdock root salad ごぼうのサラダ (from left to right).

I also served another small plate of chicken "Matsukaze-yaki" 松風焼き that I made the day before and seasoned kelp 昆布の佃煮 (recycled kelp from making broth) and my salmon salad.

Despite the cold weather, I also barbecued pork and we finished with slices of pork and my  potato salad. My wife served chocolate Junket for desert. This was perhaps the earliest Hanami we ever had but the best is yet to come.

Saturday, March 4, 2017

Marinated "Kyu-chan" cucumber きゅうりのキューちゃん

When it comes to cucumbers we much prefer Japanese cucumbers. While not large, they have a rich cucumber flavor and nice crunchy texture. They are quite different from American cucumbers which are large with a thick skin, generally tasteless, and watery. While we really like Japanese cucumbers, they are hard to come by. Sometimes, they are available at the Japanese grocery store but we never see them in the regular grocery stores. In desperation, we even tried growing our own only to discover the existence a nasty insect that snacks on the growing plant and infects it with a bacteria that eventually ends up killing the entire plant. It was heartbreaking to watch perfectly healthy growing plants wither and die just before the ripening cucumbers could be harvested.

For a while, we used English cucumbers, which were much better than the American variety. Several years ago, however, we switched to "mini-cucumbers" when they started appearing in our grocery stores. Although, not as good as Japanese cucumbers, they are the closest thing we can have to the taste and texture of a Japanese cucumber. They come 5 to 6 in a package and it is not easy to use them up before they go bad. So making cucumber salad or pickles is a good means of inventory control. As a result, I am always looking for new pickle recipes. I saw this recipe and decided to try it.

This is called "Kyuri-no Kyu-chan" きゅうりのキューちゃん and appears to reproduce a 
popular commercial product of the same name. I have not tasted or seen the commercial product. It is described on the company's website as first being salt pickled, then washed and soaked to remove excess salt, finally, marinated in a secret marinade (of a special soy sauce mix) with ginger. According to the website, all the processes are temperature controlled (i.e. chilled). Interestingly, all homemade recipes I found use hot (temperature) marinade. In any case, this is the result.

This is after 2 days of marination. The cucumber pieces have gotten darker in color.

The below is the first day after it was made.

Cucumbers, 6 American mini-cucumbers (see picture below), washed, cut into half inch thick rounds.
Kosher salt

For marinade
Soy sauce 80 ml
Concentrated noodle sauce 20ml
Sugar 1 tbs
Rice vinegar 2-3 tbs
Mirin 2tbs
Ginger, thin julienne, 1tsp
Japanese togarashi red pepper 唐辛子, whole, cut into thin rings, seed removed

1. Salt the rounds of cucumber and let them sit for 30 minutes. Wash and pat dry.
2. Place the marinade ingredients in a pan and bring to a boil. Cut the flame and add the cucumber (see below).
3. Let it sit until cooled to room temperature.
4. Remove the cucumber and set aside. Turn on the fire and let the marinade come to a boil.
5. Repeat 2, and 3 three times.
6. Add the ginger and red pepper in the last marinading step.
7. Let it cool to room temperature then place it in a sealable container.

Initially, the marinade appeared too small for the amount of cucumber but the liquid coming out of the cucumber made the marinade more than enough. According to the recipe, the tastes gets better amalgamated after 2 days in the refrigerator.

Although we have never tasted the commercial variety, we really liked this pickled cucumber. It still had a nice crunchiness. The taste was sweet, sour and salty with hints of heat and ginger making this a pickle with a complexity of flavor. We had this as is for a drinking snack but I am sure this will go well with rice.

Wednesday, March 1, 2017

Home made pasta with squid in beer sauce 自家製フェタチーニのイカビールソース

My wife surprised me with a Valentine's day gift of an automatic pasta maker. I had made fresh pasta using a hand cranked pasta machine many years ago but we decide it is not worth the time and effort since the resulting pasta was rather soft and did not have much of the texture. The pasta machine with which I was gifted, was like a bread machine for pasta. Just put in the flour, add liquid  (i.e. egg and water), flip the switch, watch it knead the dough for a while and be prepared to collect the pasta it extrudes in 15 minutes or less. I have to admit I was a bit skeptical about the "extruded" part but since my wife got me a pasta machine, I had to try it. After one failed attempt (too much water results in glop), I successfully made homemade "extruded" fettuccine which had a surprisingly nice firm texture. Since I had a leftover tapa "squid in beer sauce", I used it as a pasta sauce.  I had also just made meatballs, I added one (top in the picture below).

I garnished the pasta with  our favorite spicy Spanish olive oil

I also added blanched broccoli for color and adjusted the seasoning with Kosher salt and freshly clacked black pepper. The long cooking made both the squid bodies and tentacles very tender and flavorful. The fettuccine was nicely chewy and satisfying.

The pasta machine is a small 2 person model made by Phillips.  As per the instructions I used 200 grams of flour (Hodgson mill Semolina Pasta flour, since I could not find straight semolina flour at my grocery store. This flour is a mixture of Semolina and Durham wheat flour). The amount of liquid is 75 grams including one egg. This means the amount of the water you need to add is very small. It mixes and kneads for 3-4 minutes and then it reverses the turning direction of the paddle loading the mixture into the extruder (#1 in the picture. Very clever!). The dough looks very dry and the kneading does not form into a single mass but when it started extruding, it came together (#2 and #3). Since I made the pasta in the morning, I placed it on parchment paper and covered it with a towel (#2 and 3) until noon. This further dried the pasta.

I cooked the pasta in boiling water with added olive oil and salt (#4). I checked several times until still al dente but cooked (probably took 5-7 minutes). I drained and coated with olive oil (#5). I added the pasta to the warmed up squid in beer sauce (#6) and stirred so the sauce would cling to the pasta (#6).

This was much better than expected. The pasta had a nice chewy texture and went well with the squid. I learned that the amount of liquid should be between 75 to 80 grams including the egg for 200 grams of flour.  The amount of pasta it made is supposedly for 2 servings but for us small eaters, half was enough for the two of us. This dough was much dryer than the one I made by hand. I made the first batch too wet like regular hand made pasta dough, but only half of the dough got extruded and the rest remained in the machine. The resulting pasta came out as a blob and could not be separated. The dough has to be fairly dry so that the it will go into the opening of the extruder. I assume that the pasta's firm chewy texture derives from the fact that the pasta is rather dry when extruded and dries further when left out. I have to play with the machine some more (adding olive oil and salt comes to mind immediately). There are also several other dies that I have to experiment with not to mention vegetable juice to substitute for the water. I have to admit that my wife hit on just the right kind of gift to keep me "happily playing the sandbox" for some time to come. We were pretty pleased with the results.