Tuesday, February 15, 2011

An Exercise in Domesticity: Truly Homemade Lasagna

For Valentine's Day Weekend, my roommate and I hosted a romantic evening to celebrate love, food, friendship, and domesticity. My mom's response to this activity was that I'm a foodie fanatic or her words may have been that I am a "lunatic". My roommate says that at least I'm a "happy, well fed lunatic". Either way, this was one of my favorite meals in a long time and gave me a lot of pleasure.

We prepared all the ingredients for the lasagna from scratch including the following: ricotta cheese, mozzarella cheese, lasagna noodles, and pasta sauce. We also sauteed spinach in olive oil and garlic and used that as well. As you can see, most of the components of this lasagna have already been posted to the blog. The glory of this meal was putting all the pieces together.

Basic Vegetarian Lasagna (adapted from Smitten Kitchen)

What You Need
- 1 pound lasagna noodles
- 1 pound mozzarella
- 2 cups ricotta cheese
- 1/2 cup Parmesan cheese (freshly grated)
- 32 ounces whole tomatoes (we used the ones my roommate and her family canned from their farm this summer, the can includes a handful of basil leaves)
- 4 tablespoon olive oil
- 6 cloves garlic, crushed
- Salt and pepper to taste
- "A couple glugs red one"
- Several cups baby spinach

What You Do
1. Prepare the ricotta cheese, if making at home.
2. While you are waiting for the ricotta, prepare the mozzarella, if making at home.
3. Prepare the noodles, if making at home.
4. Heat 2 tablespoons olive oil in a medium sized pot.
5. Add 4 cloves garlic and allow to heat on medium (2 minutes) Do not burn.
6. Add can of tomatoes, basil, "glugs of wine" (which means just a couple little pours from the bottle), and a little salt and pepper.
7. Break up the tomatoes with a wooden spoon and allow sauce to simmer which you finish getting everything else prepared (minimum of 10 minutes).
8. Heat remaining 2 tablespoons of olive oil and add in the last 2 cloves garlic to a mid-sized pan.
9. Saute spinach.
10. Add spinach to the ricotta cheese.
11. Assemble the lasagna in the following order: sauce, noodles, ricotta mixture, sauce, noodles, ricotta mixture, sauce, noodles, sauce, sliced mozzarella.
12. Sprinkle with Parmesan cheese.
13. Put lasagna into a preheated oven at 375 degrees.
14. Bake for 35 minutes or until golden and bubbling.
15. Allow to rest for 10 minutes before serving.

Excellent and worth trying. The whole process took us 3 hours total from start to finish (which includes 1 hour of waiting for ricotta and 35-45 minutes waiting for the lasagna to bake). We were able to pass the time listening to music, snacking on bread with olive oil, garlic, and balsamic vinegar, and enjoying some wine.

The Winning Birthday Cake

The winning birthday cake recipe was a combination of a couple that my roommate and I reviewed over the past few months. My roommate ended up making the Cocoa Layer Cake, previously posted to the blog. The major difference from the initial post was that the instead of using a layer of icing in the middle, she spread raspberry jam. Wow! What a fantastic combination. For the frosting, she used the frosting from the Chocolate-Red Wine Cake, which just involves 3/4 cup hot cream and 3/4 cup chocolate chips. This birthday cake was perfect and, of course, I enjoyed all the trial runs.

As you can see, I was a happy birthday girl.

Thank You Smitten Kitchen: Part 2

I love cauliflower. So, of course, it had to make an appearance at my birthday dinner. Here's another great one from Smitten Kitchen.

Cauliflower Salad (from Smitten Kitchen)

What You Need
- 1 small firm head cauliflower, about 12 ounces
- 1 hard-cooked egg
- 2 scallions, including an inch of the greens, thinly sliced
- 1 cup diced celery heart with leaves
- 1 small green bell pepper, thinly sliced
- 1 small cucumber, peeled, seeded, and chopped
- 12 pimiento-stuffed Spanish green olives, halved
- 1 tablespoon capers, rinsed
- 1/2 cup parsley leaves
- 1 or 2 garlic cloves, coarsely chopped
- salt and freshly milled pepper
- 1 1/2 tablespoons sherry vinegar or aged red wine vinegar
- 1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
- 6 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

What You Do
1. Pound the garlic with 1/4 teaspoon salt in a mortar until it breaks down into a puree.
2. Smash the hard-cooked egg yolk with the garlic and salt.
3. Combine the garlic, vinegar, yolk and mustard in a small bowl, then whisk in the oil and season with pepper.
3. Taste and correct the balance (dressing should be on the tart side).
4. Slice off very thin slices of cauliflower, working your way around the head. Quarter then thinly slice the cauliflower. Be sure to include the stalks, too, peeled and thinly sliced.
2. Dice the egg white and toss it with the vegetables, olives, capers, and parsley. Add the vinaigrette and toss again.

Thank You Smitten Kitchen: Part 1

You might have noticed by now but I love Smitten Kitchen. My birthday potluck was just another excuse to try some more of her fabulous recipes. Here is one for an onion tart that I love love loved and would definitely recommend it for any events or potluck you attend.

Onion Tart with Mustard and Fennel (from Smitten Kitchen)

What You Need
- 2 1/4 teaspoons active dry yeast (a 1/4-ounce package)
- 1/2 cup warm water (105 to 115°F)
- 1 1/2 to 1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
- 1 large egg
- 1/3 cup plus 1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil, divided
- 2 1/2 teaspoons salt, divided
- 2 teaspoons fennel seeds
- 3 pound yellow onions, halved and thinly sliced
- 2 tablespoon Dijon mustard (or as much as you need)
- 1/2 cup grated Parmigiano-Reggiano

What You Do
1. Stir together yeast and warm water in a small bowl and let stand until foamy, about 5 minutes. 2. Put 1 1/2 cups flour in a medium bowl, then make a well in center of flour and add yeast mixture to well.
3. Stir together egg, 1 tablespoon oil, and 1 1/2 teaspoons salt with a fork.
4. Add egg mixture to yeast mixture and mix with a wooden spoon or your fingertips, gradually incorporating flour, until a soft dough forms.
5. Transfer dough to a floured surface and knead, working in additional flour (up to 1/4 cup) as necessary, until smooth and elastic, about 5 minutes.
6. Transfer dough to an oiled bowl and turn to coat.
7. Cover with plastic wrap and let rise in a draft-free place at warm room temperature until doubled, 1 to 1 1/2 hours.
8. While dough rises, heat remaining 1/3 cup oil in a 12-inch heavy skillet over medium-high heat until it shimmers, then sauté fennel seeds until a shade darker, about 30 seconds.
9. Stir in onions, remaining teaspoon salt, and 1/2 teaspoon pepper, then reduce heat to medium-low and cover onions directly with a round of parchment paper (I was confused by this, but go with it! It works!).
10. Cook, stirring occasionally, until onions are very tender and golden brown, 1 to 1 1/4 hours (I've never cooked onions this long... but it was amazing!).
11. Preheat oven to 375°F with rack in middle.
12. Knead dough gently on a floured surface with floured hands to deflate.
13. Pat out dough on a large heavy baking sheet into a 15- by 12-inch rectangle, turning up or crimping edge. Note: I found this part of the recipe a bit difficult as my dough did not want to become a rectangle. No matter what the shape, though, the onions steal the show so do not worry.
14. Brush mustard evenly over dough, leaving a 1/2-inch border around edge.
15. Spread onions evenly over mustard, then sprinkle evenly with cheese.
16. Bake tart until crust is golden brown, 30 to 35 minutes.
17. Cut into 2-inch squares or diamonds and serve warm or at room temperature.

I wish I had a picture to share but it was eaten so quickly, I couldn't get one!

Another Take on Risotto: Pie?

I've mentioned this before but it would be possible for me to rename this blog "Risotto Heaven" or "Risotto Fanatic" with the amount of time I dedicate to risotto recipes. But, I love it. Here is another one that was a huge hit at my birthday potluck dinner on Feb 4th. The recipe is a bit complicated because of its various components and dealing with filo dough (which I've only done once before for spinach pie). I made the huge mistake of forgetting to take the filo dough out of the freezer to allow it to thaw properly. This led to a frenzy when it was time to put all the pieces of the pie together. Without a microwave, I stuck the frozen dough into a warm oven and allowed it to warm up. It turned out wonderfully even with the chaos and I was left with only one piece by the end of the night. But, please, do not forget to defrost the filo dough!

Filo Risotto Pie (from Essential Vegetarian Cookbook)

What You Need
- 2 large red peppers
- 1 cup white wine
- 4 cups vegetable stock
- 2 tablespoons oil
- 4 cloves garlic, crushed
- 1 leek, sliced
- 1 fennel bulb, thinly sliced
- 2 cups arborio rice
- 2 oz freshly grated Parmesan cheese
- 10 sheets filo pastry (thawed)
- 1/4 cup olive oil
- 1 lb spinach (recipe says to blanch this, I sauteed it with olive oil very quickly instead)
- 8 oz feta cheese
- 1 tablespoon sesame seeds

What You Do
1. Cut the peppers in half lengthways and remove seeds. Cut into quarters.
2. Roast the peppers until skin blackens and blisters.
3. Put roasted peppers in a paper bag or cover with a towel and allow to cool.
4. Peel the peppers and cut into smaller pieces.
5. Begin making the risotto by warming up the vegetable broth.
6. Heat oil and garlic in a large-heavy based pan.
7. Add fennel and leek and cook over medium heat until lightly browned (5 minutes).
8. Add rice and stir for three minutes.
9. Add wine and stir until evaporated.
10. Add 1/2 cup vegetable broth to risotto at a time, stirring constantly until all the stock has been used. This will take 40 minutes.
11. Remove from heat and stir in the Parmesan cheese and season with salt and pepper. (Note: I prepared the risotto and peppers the night before and then started again the next day at #12)
12. Brush each sheet of filo with olive oil and fold in half lengthways.
13. Arrange like overlapping spokes on a wheel in a 9 inch springform pan with one side of pastry hanging over the side of tin. (This was not graceful for me because of my filo mess described above-- but don't worry too much about it)
14. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
15. Spoon half the risotto over the pastry and top with half the red peppers, half the spinach, and half the feta cheese.
16. Repeat with the remaining ingredients.
17. Fold pastry over the filling and brush lightly with oil and sprinkle with sesame seeds.
18. Bake for 50 minutes or until pastry is crisp and golden and pie is heated through.

Yum! This was my first time cooking with a springform pan and it was very fun. Next use for the springform: cheesecake.

Monday, February 14, 2011

Feb full of celebrations

This month has been hectic at school, in the lab, and in the garden (more info to come) but there has been plenty of time to cook delicious meals and enjoy them with friends. I have lots of recipes to share from the last two weeks, including photos of homemade lasagna with homemade ricotta cheese, mozzarella, pasta noodles, and tomato sauce! Until I can post these fabulous recipes and share photos with you, here is a cute photo of Logan from our hike this weekend: