Food & Drink

Culinary Keepsakes: Retired chemist learns cooking isn't always a science

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  • Armin Meier pulls out a noodle from his pasta press while making lasagna with his wife, JoAnn, on Friday at their Sea Pines home on Hilton Head Island.
    Armin Meier pulls out a noodle from his pasta press while making lasagna with his wife, JoAnn, on Friday at their Sea Pines home on Hilton Head Island. JAY KARR/The Island Packet

    Armin Meier slapped and shaped a mound of dough on a recent afternoon like a potter working clay. He used to cook more like the scientist he was prior to retirement, following the recipes exactly and measuring ingredients precisely. But as the Sea Pines resident got more comfortable in the kitchen, he began to improvise and experiment.

    Taking after his wife, who actually is a potter, he found art in cooking.

    His medium in recent years has been pasta. He works a simple mixture of flour and egg into a velvety dough, then cranks it through a press to create long, soft noodles.

    It's a process that took time to perfect, but he did. And he made it his own.

    Armin and his wife, JoAnn, moved to Hilton Head Island 12 years ago when he retired from his job as a textile chemist. Like most retirees, he had more time on his hands than he knew what to do with. Armin played tennis, but he needed an indoor activity. His wife came home one rainy afternoon to find a food processor, large pots and a pasta press on the counter.

    He had found his new hobby.

    The inspiration came from a video he checked out at the library -- "How to Make Homemade Pasta." It showed an Italian man with a thick accent and his American wife. They demonstrated their different ways of cooking. His pasta was hand-kneaded. Her pasta was made with a food processor.

    Armin had the pasta press, but it took time to make the noodles come out just right.

    "Sometimes it just ended up in the trash," he said. "But you learn to improvise a bit."

    He did the same with his sauces, experimenting like a mad scientist, his wife said.

    They've tried the old-fashioned way -- starting with a mound of flour with eggs in a depression and then just kneading, kneading, kneading -- but prefer to use a food processor to mix the dough.

    Pasta making was Armin's first serious venture into cooking. He's developed a passion for it, and has since expanded his repertoire.

    He went through a puff pastry phase that included a vegetable Wellington and a dessert with whipped puffs shaped to look like a swan on a chocolate lake.

    At a Super Bowl party, he spent most of the day swapping cooking tales with a fellow guest, coming home with a recipe for a light, fluffy tiramisu.

    His palate reflects his upbringing. He grew up in Switzerland, close to the German and French borders.

    "I like to say it's the French finesse and the German quantity -- the best of both, perhaps," he said.

    His favorite dish is Swiss -- diced veal in a cream sauce and home-fried potatoes. Comfort food.

    His wife's favorite is his lasagna, layered with a creamy white sauce and a tomato sauce of ground beef, veal, Italian sausage, mushroom, onion, garlic, basil and oregano.

    They make four or five pans at a time and freeze it.

    "It feels like we have lasagna for a year," she said, "which is fine by me."

    Diced Veal in Cream Sauce

    Makes: 6-8 servings

    1 pound veal scaloppini or veal roast, thinly sliced and diced into 1/2-inch pieces

    1/2 pound freshly sliced mushrooms

    1 packet beef sauce mix (suggested: tube of Knorr concentrated beef stock)

    Salt and pepper to taste

    1 cup whipping cream

    1/2 cup white wine

    Preheat oven to 200 degrees.

    Dust veal with flour. Sautè veal in olive oil or butter, add mushrooms and simmer briefly.

    Take out the veal and mushrooms and keep warm in the oven.

    Deglaze the pan with white wine and add the sauce mix. Simmer briefly, then add the veal and mushrooms to the sauce. Add cream and serve.

    Roesti (Swiss Home-Fried Potatoes)

    Makes: 6-8 servings

    2 pounds medium

    Yukon Gold potatoes

    1 medium yellow onion, thinly sliced

    6 bacon strips, cooked and crumbled

    Salt and pepper

    Cook potatoes in salted water for 15 minutes, cool and put in the refrigerator overnight.

    Sautè the onions in olive oil or butter. Add crumbled bacon. Peel and grate the potatoes and add them to the pan. Fry until golden brown on both sides. Season with salt and pepper.

    Recipes from Hilton Head Island resident Armin Meier