Sunday, February 28, 2010

Vegetable Lasagne

I don't remember the last time I made a traditional meat & tomato sauce lasagne. Not that I don't like it, but I love this variation with spinach & carrots even more. I usually make this in a 9" x 9" casserole (more on that below), which means you have to trim the noodles to fit the pan and the layers are quite thick. Alternately you could use a 9" x 13" pan, which would result in thinner layers. Depending on how much crunch you like, you may want to parboil the carrots for a minute or two. I often add them to the spinach towards the end of it's cooking time, and then you can just drain all the veggies together before adding them to the rest of the filling.

Miscellaneous question: why do lasagne noodles always shred when you boil them??

9 cooked lasagne noodles

2+1/2 cups ricotta
1 cup shredded mozzarella and/or fontina cheese (I used an Italian cheese blend this time)
1 cup diced carrot
1 package frozen spinach, cooked & well-drained
1 egg, slightly beaten
1 large onion, finely diced (use 1/2 for filling, 1/2 for sauce)

Mix all ingredients and season with salt & pepper. Spread one layer of noodles in a 9" x 9" or 9" x 13" pan and top with half the filling. Top with layer of noodles, other half of filling, and final layer of noodles. Go to sauce directions...

1 - 2 tablespoons olive oil
2 tablespoons flour
1 cup chicken broth
1/2 cup ricotta

Sauté remaining onions in the oil until soft. Add flour and cook for a minute, then whisk in broth and remaining ricotta. Bring to a boil and simmer until it thickens slightly (shouldn't take long). Season with salt & pepper, if necessary. Pour sauce over the lasagne layers. Sprinkle with additional mozzarella if desired. Cook at 375° for 30-45 minutes, until bubbly around the edges and top is lightly browned.
Below is a favorite casserole that my mother made. Unfortunately, after years of service it has developed this scary crack down the middle. Every time I use it I'm afraid it may be the last. But it held up this time!

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Wild Rice Chowder

This is a great comfort food for a snowy day like today. It's not as dense as some chowders--it doesn't have any flour or potatoes to bulk it up--but it thickens somewhat when when you blend up part of the soup. Though the wild rice should be tender by the time the soup is done, it still provides a nice, chewy texture. This is adapted from Bon Appetit (I think, not positive).

2 tablespoons butter
1 onion, chopped
4 ounces smoked ham, diced
2 celery stalks, chopped
1 carrot, chopped
1+1/3 cups wild rice (I only had about a cup on hand and supplemented with a wild rice/long grain mix)
7 cups chicken stock
1 bay leaf
1/2 cup whipping cream
frozen corn (optional)
parsley, minced (optional--mainly for color)
salt & pepper, to taste

Melt butter in a large pot over medium heat . Add onion, ham, celery and carrot, and saute until vegetables soften, about 10 minutes. Add rice and stir to coat. Add the stock and bay leaf, and simmer until rice is very tender, stirring occasionally, about 1 hour. Mix in cream. Pur ee 2 cups of the soup with a blender (or immersion blender). Return puree to the rest of the soup and season with salt and pepper. Add corn , if using, and bring to a simmer. Garnish with parsley, if using, and serve.

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Hi-Hat Cupcakes

In case you can't tell from the photos, these are chocolate cupcakes with a mound of meringue on top, covered with a thin chocolate shell. I'm not going to write out the (long) instructions because Martha Stewart's website recipe is perfectly adequate--and it would take forever to re-type! I will say the following...

1. I love these cupcakes!
2. The chocolate cake base is awesome and perfect for any occasion whether you do the meringue part or not.
3. The meringue is a bitch--but worth it. One time I was using a smallish bowl while beating the egg whites. I stopped holding it for a second, the bowl started spinning like a crazy dervish, and meringue flew everywhere! I was picking off bits of meringue from around the kitchen for days. So use a big bowl!

Monday, February 8, 2010

Tuscan Beans & Pasta

Something to know about this up front: you will have to sweep your floor after making this dish. Things get a little hairy for about 5 minutes because it turns out brittle spaghetti does not like to be stirred. But ultimately, it's worth it. This pasta is cooked like risotto, in that you add liquid to the starch and wait for it to be absorbed before adding more liquid. This is a--gulp--Rachel Ray recipe (adapted), though how she made it in 30 minutes I have no idea. Plan on closer to an hour.

5 - 6 cups chicken stock
2 tablespoons olive oil
1/4 pound chunk pancetta or bacon, cut into small dice
4 cloves garlic, minced
6 - 10 ounces spaghetti, broken in half
1 medium onion, chopped
1 carrots, cut into small dice
1 bay leaf
5 - 6 sprigs fresh thyme (dried is fine too)
1 15-ounce can Roman beans or small white beans
1 cup dry white wine or vermouth
1 cup grated Parmesan
salt & pepper
1/2 cup flat-leaf parsley, finely chopped
lemon wedges (optional)

Bring the stock to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer. Heat the olive oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add the pancetta and brown slightly. Add the garlic and spaghetti and toast the pasta slightly, 3 - 4 minutes. [This is when everything starts flying. Be patient!] Add onions, carrots, bay leaf and thyme. Soften veggies a bit, about 5 minutes. Add wine or vermouth and allow it to be completely absorbed. Add beans, then a few ladles of stock and stir the pasta. Keep adding stock a few ladles at a time, allowing liquid to be mostly absorbed before adding more. When the spaghetti is cooked to al dente turn off the heat, add a little more liquid and stir in the cheese. Adjust seasoning. Remove the bay leaf and thyme stems. Garnish with parsley and lemon wedges.

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Cook's Illustrated

After 10 years, I have finally decided not to continue my subscription to Cook's Illustrated. It's kind of sad because I've always been a big fan and have given gift subscriptions to several friends and family members. I've never had a subscription with one particular magazine for such a long time, and I've kept all my issues (60+). One of the reasons I'm not renewing is that I just don't cook from it very often anymore, so I've decided to go through and index all the recipes (or most, not every single variation and occasionally there's one I just can't stomach) in the hopes that I will reference these more when I'm looking for a particular type of recipe. This project, too, has been traumatic...realizing how my life has changed over the past 10 years, seeing some of my favorite recipes again, coming across the Sept. '01 issue (more for the date than the content--though I still use the Spaghetti alla Carbonara recipe!), realizing how many recipes I haven't made or even given a second glance...

Some of the things I will not miss:
  • Charlie Kimball's folksy, Vermont-laden introductions. I live 5 miles from Vermont now and just find it over the top. Enough already!
  • Chicken recipes. Holy crap! While doing the index I realized just how many chicken recipes they have published (approximately 10% of the almost 700 recipes). In fact, it's standard for every issue to have a beef and pork recipe, and at least one chicken dish.
  • Brussels sprouts recipes...because they haven't done any in the past 10 years!
  • all their self-promotion ads--usually one or two wrap-around covers, and two sets of inserts
Some of the things I will miss:
  • the funky and often funny "quick tips" readers send in (even if some seemed ridiculous), and also a lot of the technique and taste test features (best ever product recommendation: The Unicorn Magnum Peppermill which can be ordered from Unicorn Mills. Quite ugly, but otherwise magnificent!)
  • the pretty ingredient drawings on the back cover
So, I still hope to consult these issues often--perhaps more than I have recently. And I also use their "Best Recipes" book on a regular basis. But I think I've accumulated enough now. To commemorate this occasion, I'm printing my ALL-TIME FAVORITE RECIPE that first came out in the March/April 2001 issue and that I still make at least once a month. (FYI, this is my second favorite.) Most people who know me well know how attached to this recipe I am. Some may argue that I'm a little too attached to it, and especially the amount of garlic I use! Without further ado, Pasta with Garlic & Oil:

1 pound linguine (the original recipe calls for spaghetti)
kosher salt
4 tablespoons olive oil
1/4 cup (or more!) minced garlic
1 teaspoon red pepper flakes
2 teaspoons (or more) fresh lemon juice
3 tablespoons chopped parsley
grated Parmesan

Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Add pasta and salt liberally. Cook to al dente, reserve 1/2 cup cooking water, then drain the rest. While water is heating, add the olive oil, all BUT 1-2 teaspoons of the garlic, and 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt to a large skillet. Cook over low heat. Once it starts to sizzle a bit, stir constantly until garlic foams and is sticky & straw-colored, 10-12 minutes. [It's very important to cook the garlic slowly, you don't want to rush and burn it.] Remove from heat and add remaining raw garlic, red pepper flakes, lemon juice, parsley and half the pasta cooking water; adjust seasoning as needed (may need more salt or lemon juice). Pour this over the pasta and combine. If it's too dry add more of the pasta cooking water. Dump in a warmed pasta bowl or bowls and sprinkle with Parmesan.

(Apparently this picture is pre-Parmesan!)

Monday, February 1, 2010

Brussels Sprout Salad

I am not much of a salad person. But's my current addiction! Here's the original recipe/post if you have fancier ingredients. (For the life of me, where to get Marcona almonds?!) Be careful when toasting your walnuts. I've reduced the suggested temperature from 350 to 300 degrees because of a recent over-toasting incident--though I used the walnuts anyway and the salad was still delicious! Here's my guesstimate amounts for one person:

10 - 12 Brussels sprouts, trimmed of any dried leaves and at the root
1 - 2 tablespoons golden raisins
1 - 2 tablespoons walnuts
Parmesan cheese, shaved
olive oil
champagne vinegar (or whatever you like)
sea salt/kosher salt & black pepper

Dice the sprouts into about 1/4" cubes (many of the leaves will fall off in the process--that's fine). Bring a pot of water to a boil. Add some salt and throw in the sprouts. Blanch for a minute or two until bright green (do not overcook!). Drain the sprouts under cold water to stop the cooking process.

Meanwhile, toast walnuts in a 300 degree oven for 5 - 10 minutes until fragrant. Cool and coarsely chop. Mix together the sprouts, raisins, walnuts and cheese. Drizzle over the olive oil and vinegar, then sprinkle w ith salt and pepper. Toss and serve!

See, not diced exactly, often more wedge-y. Doesn't matter!