Sunday, May 31, 2009

Raspberry Cake

I haven't been cooking much lately (I mean obviously I eat, but there is nothing exciting enough to post) and I certainly haven't been baking thanks to the Atlanta heat, lack of paycheck, desire to save on my electric bill, and overabundance of chocolate (still have stuff from Valentine's Day that I should probably be working on). So I decided to post a few of my favorite recipes, recipes that I've had requested every time I make them. And probably the most requested is raspberry cake; I haven't made it lately, but I'm thinking I'm going to next weekend for my birthday celebration since it is the one cake everyone (except vegetarians, there's gelatin in it) like; I have friends who hate chocolate, friends who are allergic to peanuts, friends who hate frosting (and really, you have to have a pretty special cake for it to be right without frosting), but magically, everyone likes this. It is the easiest recipe ever and so perfect for summer picnics.

1 package white cake mix
1 small package raspberry gelatin
10 oz frozen sweetened raspberries undrained (usually a plastic container)
4 eggs
1/2 c. vegetable oil
1/4 c hot water
1 carton whipped topping (I use light)
10 oz frozen sweetened raspberries
In a large bowl, combine dry cake mix and gelatin. Add raspberries
with juice, eggs, oil, and water. Beat until well blended. Pour into
greased 13x9 inch baking pan. Bake at 350 for 35-40 minutes. Cool
before frosting.
Frosting: Fold whipped topping into raspberries. Spread over cake.
Refridgerate for 2 hours before serving.
Cook's note: I prefer to refridgerate the cake and frost right before
serving because it doesn't keep well.

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Gnocchi with Red Pepper Sauce

My lemon basil gnocchi was tasty, but I ate all the veggies before I could make more, so I decided to get right into the roasted red pepper sauce. I made a roux with cream and flour, then added some milk. I did not add enough cream, so it was kind of lumpy, but it turned out okay. Then I pureed a roasted red pepper and threw it in, pressed a clove of garlic, added a frozen basil cube (from Trader Joe's), and it tasted... bland. Oh, I'm supposed to add salt... added salt and pepper, then it tasted salty and bland. So I threw two more cloves of garlic, another pureed pepper, some cayenne pepper powder, another basil cube, but it still tasted like it was missing something. The something was probably white wine, but I do not have the money to buy wine, so I just dealt with it, added some fresh spinach and (al dente) steamed asparagus, and poured it over the gnocchi and it was actually pretty good. The light, vague lemony flavor of the gnocchi complemented the sauce well (so on it's own, it needed some sort of tart/acid flavor, like wine) and almost made eating asparagus tolerable :-P. It still could have used more garlic and/or onions though. Oh well, I got two tasty dinners out of it.

Monday, May 18, 2009

Zuni Ricotta Gnocchi

So here it is, the first Daring Cooks challenge. I will without a doubt make this again, it was phenomenal, as many others said, little pillows of deliciousness. Because I'm not an actual daring cook, I have the advantage of reading the posts of everyone else, to learn from their mistakes (and have inspiration from their sauces). I added a pinch of lemon zest and some nutmeg, but unfortunately, the pinch of lemon zest was not small enough, as they tasted a little bit too lemon-y. But they really were wonderful, super light and fluffy and cheesy with a lemon flavor. So tasty. Because of the extra lemony-ness, my first version was an attempt at a lemon basil sauce with veggies, but I didn't want to make a cream sauce since the gnocchi were themselves a little creamy. I really don't like zucchini or squash, but I've had a similar dish (potato gnocchi with summer veggies and lemon basil sauce) at Maggianos where I could tolerate them and they were on sale and I need to eat more veggies, so I threw them in it and tried to eat them that way. And it worked! I cooked them up with a little extra virgin olive oil, lemon juice (the other half of the lemon after I made ricotta) two cloves of pressed garlic and a basil cube and sauted them until they were kind of brown and translucent. I heated up a similar sauce and poured it over the top, but it was a little too acidic. It actually would have been really good without the additional sauce (not that it was bad with the additional sauce, just a little acidic, especially on the veggies, it was good on the gnocchi). And I have extra veggies, so... Actually in a few days I'll try making a roasted red pepper cream sauce with spinach and asparagus (which I also do not like but want to be able to eat) with some of the leftover gnocchi. Yum. I might actually be able to eat the leftover veggies because they are in such a tasty sauce.

A few other notes. The instructions say to make sure the ricotta is dry. I had no problem with this because I made it myself, so I really would encourage that. It's super easy and pretty cheap (and milk is even cheaper this week at $2 a gallon). Also, in step 2 it says to mash up the cheese and if you see any curds to push it through a strainer. I didn't think there were any lumps... until I had added the eggs and the cheese. So I would recommend pushing it through a strainer even if you don't think you need to. It didn't ruin them, but I did find a lump in a piece of gnocchi, not really a big deal, but, well it was there. So here's the recipe:

The inaugural May 2009 Daring Cooks' Challenge was brought to us by Ivonne of Creampuffs in Venice and Lis of La Mia Cucina
We have chosen a recipe from the stunning cookbook by Judy Rodgers, named after her restaurant, The Zuni Café Cookbook.
On the surface, this is a very straightforward recipe. The challenge is in the forming and handling of the gnocchi. What you do with the recipe, in terms of variations, is up to you.

Zuni Ricotta Gnocchi

Source: From The Zuni Café Cookbook
Yield: Makes 40 to 48 gnocchi (serves 4 to 6)
Prep time: Step 1 will take 24 hours. Steps 2 through 4 will take 1 hour.
- If you can find it, use fresh ricotta. As Judy Rodgers advises in her recipe, there is no substitute for fresh ricotta. It may be a bit more expensive, but it's worth it.
- Do not skip the draining step. Even if the fresh ricotta doesn't look very wet, it is. Draining the ricotta will help your gnocchi tremendously.
- When shaping your gnocchi, resist the urge to over handle them. It's okay if they look a bit wrinkled or if they're not perfectly smooth.
- If you're not freezing the gnocchi for later, cook them as soon as you can. If you let them sit around too long they may become a bit sticky.
- For the variations to the challenge recipe, please see the end of the recipe.
Equipment required:
• Sieve
• Cheesecloth or paper towels
• Large mixing bowl
• Rubber spatula
• Tablespoon
• Baking dish or baking sheet
• Wax or parchment paper
• Small pot
• Large skillet
• Large pan or pot (very wide in diameter and at least 2 inches deep)
Videos that might help:
- Judy Rodgers' Gnocchi Demo
- Making Fresh Ricotta Demo
- Making Ricotta Gnocchi
For the gnocchi:
1 pound fresh ricotta (2 cups)
2 large cold eggs, lightly beaten
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
2 or 3 fresh sage leaves, or a few pinches of freshly grated nutmeg, or a few pinches of chopped lemon zest (all optional)
½ ounce Parmigiano-Reggiano, grated (about ¼ cup very lightly packed)
about ¼ teaspoon salt (a little more if using kosher salt)
all-purpose flour for forming the gnocchi
For the gnocchi sauce:
8 tablespoons butter, sliced
2 teaspoons water
Step 1 (the day before you make the gnocchi): Preparing the ricotta.
If the ricotta is too wet, your gnocchi will not form properly. In her cookbook, Judy Rodgers recommends checking the ricotta’s wetness. To test the ricotta, take a teaspoon or so and place it on a paper towel. If you notice a very large ring of dampness forming around the ricotta after a minute or so, then the ricotta is too wet. To remove some of the moisture, line a sieve with cheesecloth or paper towels and place the ricotta in the sieve. Cover it and let it drain for at least 8 hours and up to 24 hours in the refrigerator. Alternatively, you can wrap the ricotta carefully in cheesecloth (2 layers) and suspend it in your refrigerator for 8 to 24 hours with a bowl underneat to catch the water that’s released. Either way, it’s recommended that you do this step the day before you plan on making the gnocchi.
Step 2 (the day you plan on eating the gnocchi): Making the gnocchi dough.

If the ricotta is too wet, your gnocchi will not form properly. In her cookbook, Judy Rodgers recommends checking the ricotta’s wetness. To test the ricotta, take a teaspoon or so and place it on a paper towel. If you notice a very large ring of dampness forming around the ricotta after a minute or so, then the ricotta is too wet. To remove some of the moisture, line a sieve with cheesecloth or paper towels and place the ricotta in the sieve. Cover it and let it drain for at least 8 hours and up to 24 hours in the refrigerator. Alternatively, you can wrap the ricotta carefully in cheesecloth (2 layers) and suspend it in your refrigerator for 8 to 24 hours with a bowl underneath to catch the water that’s released. Either way, it’s recommended that you do this step the day before you plan on making the gnocchi.
Step 2 (the day you plan on eating the gnocchi): Making the gnocchi dough.
To make great gnocchi, the ricotta has to be fairly smooth. Place the drained ricotta in a large bowl and mash it as best as you can with a rubber spatula or a large spoon (it’s best to use a utensil with some flexibility here). As you mash the ricotta, if you noticed that you can still see curds, then press the ricotta through a strainer to smooth it out as much as possible.
Add the lightly beaten eggs to the mashed ricotta.
Melt the tablespoon of butter. As it melts, add in the sage if you’re using it. If not, just melt the butter and add it to the ricotta mixture.
Add in any flavouring that you’re using (i.e., nutmeg, lemon zest, etc.). If you’re not using any particular flavouring, that’s fine.
Add the Parmigiano-Reggiano and the salt.
Beat all the ingredients together very well. You should end up with a soft and fluffy batter with no streaks (everything should be mixed in very well).
Step 3: Forming the gnocchi.

Fill a small pot with water and bring to a boil. When it boils, salt the water generously and keep it at a simmer. You will use this water to test the first gnocchi that you make to ensure that it holds together and that your gnocchi batter isn’t too damp.
In a large, shallow baking dish or on a sheet pan, make a bed of all-purpose flour that’s ½ an inch deep.
With a spatula, scrape the ricotta mixture away from the sides of the bowl and form a large mass in the centre of your bowl.
Using a tablespoon, scoop up about 2 to 3 teaspoons of batter and then holding the spoon at an angle, use your finger tip to gently push the ball of dough from the spoon into the bed of flour.

At this point you can either shake the dish or pan gently to ensure that the flour covers the gnocchi or use your fingers to very gently dust the gnocchi with flour. Gently pick up the gnocchi and cradle it in your hand rolling it to form it in an oval as best as you can, at no point should you squeeze it. What you’re looking for is an oval lump of sorts that’s dusted in flour and plump.
Gently place your gnocchi in the simmering water. It will sink and then bob to the top. From the time that it bobs to the surface, you want to cook the gnocchi until it’s just firm. This could take 3 to 5 minutes.
If your gnocchi begins to fall apart, this means that the ricotta cheese was probably still too wet. You can remedy this by beating a teaspoon of egg white into your gnocchi batter. If your gnocchi batter was fluffy but the sample comes out heavy, add a teaspoon of beaten egg to the batter and beat that in. Test a second gnocchi to ensure success.
Form the rest of your gnocchi. You can put 4 to 6 gnocchi in the bed of flour at a time. But don’t overcrowd your bed of flour or you may damage your gnocchi as you coat them.
Have a sheet pan ready to rest the formed gnocchi on. Line the sheet pan with wax or parchment paper and dust it with flour.

You can cook the gnocchi right away, however, Judy Rodgers recommends storing them in the refrigerator for an hour prior to cooking to allow them to firm up.
Step 4: Cooking the gnocchi.
Have a large skillet ready to go. Place the butter and water for the sauce in the skillet and set aside.
In the largest pan or pot that you have (make sure it’s wide), bring at least 2 quarts of water to a boil (you can use as much as 3 quarts of water if your pot permits). You need a wide pot or pan so that your gnocchi won’t bump into each other and damage each other.
Once the water is boiling, salt it generously.
Drop the gnocchi into the water one by one. Once they float to the top, cook them for 3 to 5 minutes (as in the case with the test gnocchi).

When the gnocchi float to the top, you can start your sauce while you wait for them to finish cooking.
Place the skillet over medium heat and melt the butter. Swirl it gently a few times as it melts. As soon as it melts and is incorporated with the water, turn off the heat. Your gnocchi should be cooked by now.

With a slotted spoon, remove the gnocchi from the boiling water and gently drop into the butter sauce. Carefully roll in the sauce until coated. Serve immediately.

Note: they say you can experiment with adding things like onions or sundried tomato to the gnocchi, but this gnocchi is pretty delicate, so they might break apart when cooking. So be careful!

Saturday, May 16, 2009

Daring Cooks + Homemade Ricotta

Okay, I'm just so excited about this recipe that I can't contain myself. Those of you who know me know that I am very good at stalking online (and once I get excited about something, I'm somewhat one-track mind about it, case in point my Experimental Brownies which I spent a week dreaming up and procrastinating my homework, and I do need to try again. This time they might even end up milk free.) Well I've done a couple Daring Bakers recipes, and they were fun and I learned something from them (like that maybe grad students with limited equipment/space are not destined to be daring, haha), but I love baking. Now The Daring Kitchen also includes The Daring Cooks (who post the 14th of every month), which is probably better for me, since I'm not quite as comfortable with cooking as I am with baking (really, look through the recipes in this blog: mostly breads, brownies, cookies, muffins, and the few Daring Bakers recipes I've tried, and on the cooking side we have a few simple soups and sauces). Plus, it allows me to try my hand at being creative (with a whole blogroll of people who have already done it, so I can seek inspiration from them).

Well this month's challenge is Ricotta Gnocchi. After succeeding at lasagna, I was planning on eventually trying gnocchi, and hey, a recipe fell on my lap. Plus this is a cheese version, which is lighter than the traditional potato, preferable for summer. Since it's been posted, I've probably spent hours trying to figure out the perfect sauces. Then I decided to put it off because I'm currently broke, but I've been too obsessive about it, I just need to do it. Plus, it's largely stuff I already have (which means it's relatively inexpensive stuff), and I realized I don't have anything planned for dinner next week. But in terms of sauces I've decided that I can't decide, so I'm going to make small amounts at a time, and try a variety. Two that I am particularly excited about are a lemon basil sauce (I've failed at this very many times, but after learning how to properly make a roux, I think I might be able to get it right) with a tidge of lemon zest in the gnocchi, and a sweet gnocchi (replacing the parmesan cheese in the gnocchi with powdered sugar and lemon zest) with a strawberry sauce. I also intend on trying this in a few weeks, again with a roasted red pepper cream sauce with spinach (and maybe asparagus). I'll figure out another sweet one, I have many ideas (strawberries and kiwi with a maple syrup glaze, some sort of sticky honey/nutmeg and ginger? sauce, that one might be weird, I'm putting it off because I want to taste the gnocchi first). Anyway, I'm really excited about this (obviously).

So the first step of this is to make ricotta, which is the picture. I'm super excited about it. However, everyone else says it smells really good (it doesn't) and the picture, well, it looks like ricotta, but it is kind of disgusting. Oh well, I'm sure it tastes good.
So this is what I did:
Homemade Ricotta Cheese
1 quart skim milk (all recipes called for whole, but I really don't want to buy whole milk or eat the super high fat ricotta it would make and most recipes had comments that it worked with skim)
1/2 cup heavy (whipping) cream
1/4 tsp kosher salt
1 1/2 tsp lemon juice
Cheesecloth! (not really an ingredient, but you can get it at the grocery store and might not have it on hand as equipment)

1. Bring milk, cream, salt to a simmer in a heavy saucepan, stirring occasionally
2. Once the mixture is simmering, add lemon juice, turn down heat so it doesn't reach a hard boil.
3. After a minute stir
4. After a minute (or a little longer) it should pretty much all be curds and whey. Pour mixture into into cheesecloth lined colander in a bowl, and let it strain for an hour at room temperature.
5. Place in an airtight container overnight.

So I forgot to buy cheesecloth, but instead used one of my thin dish towels (muslin maybe? I'm not sure what muslin is, but some recipes said you could use muslin or cheesecloth and i thought it worked pretty well). I was worried the cheese would stick to it, but it didn't seem to (of course it's not done yet).

The ricotta is supposed to be really dry for the gnocchi and everyone said making it yourself is the best way to ensure that. And it might actually be cheaper, milk was on sale last week, making a quart $.75, the lemon was 33 cents but I needed the zest anyway, and the cream was $1.39 for a cup, but I would buy it for the sauce anyway and probably end up wasting half (I rarely use cream), so it's $2.47 minus whatever I would have bought and wasted anyway (lemon zest, possibly half a cup of cream), which I think is cheaper than store bought ricotta. Plus, you are supposed to use "fresh" rather than the overly processed grocery store kind if possible, which would mean a trip to the farmer's market for some more expensive fresh stuff. Plus this actually takes less time since you don't need to drain it as long (okay, it saves fridge space for less time) and don't need to go to the farmers market? But really, when DON'T I need to go to the farmers market (noting I've been in Atlanta since August and have only been there 4 times).

Friday, May 15, 2009

A Spin on Tuna Salad

So I actually talked to my hair dresser about tuna salad when I was home getting a hair cut (she has cut my hair since I was about 3, so I know her pretty well). I told her i just make the standard tuna: tuna (white albacore packed in water in the bag, not the can), mayo, celery, green onions if I have them, maybe some almonds on top (or pineapple by suggestion of a friend). I mean, it's decent, but nothing spectacular. But if I want tuna it works. She told me about a recipe she was inspired by when she was in Jamaica. I couldn't find a Jamaican recipe, so I winged it. It's missing something... salt? Maybe. But something else. I'll try throwing cumin in it. I just found a blog that talks about the wonders (and flexibility) of cumin. She puts it in chocolate pudding! I'm going to try that. Wow, this paragraph was full of ideas that aren't organized very well.

And it's getting hot in Atlanta. It's only 80 and I'm drained all the time; I'm worried about what summer will bring. Then again, it's the humidity combined with the high pollen count and the heat is probably what is getting me. One of those things will not be around in a month.

But the heat and low energy require high protein/high fiber COOL lunches. And tuna is the perfect option. And as we know, I have trouble eating veggies, so I packed this with them:

1 package tuna, drained
Half a green pepper diced
1-2 Tbsp cilantro (or maybe more, it's pretty green) chopped
1/2 red onion diced
1 plum tomato
Juice of 1/2 lime (the other half is in Corn Salsa, that I crave almost weekly in summer)

Note there is not oil or mayo in this. To keep it together, I blended it (and chopped the onion and green pepper) in my Magic Bullet.

To be honest, it doesn't really taste like tuna at all. The onion is really strong (are they really strong at this time of year? all of them I've found have made me cry, even red and vidalia onions, which I'm usually fine with), and this bunch of cilantro tasted especially plant-y, as opposed to cilantro-y (as in it tasted like a leaf, rather than having the distinctive cilantro flavor). So the tuna salad is a little... strong. I guess it just tastes like a plant-y onion. But really, I'm okay with that at this time of year. I might play with it a little, until I get a really good recipe, especially since tuna is a staple for me in summer.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Food Blogging

So far, I've essentially been posting recipes on here with little discussion or witty comments. I've decided I'm going to try to change that (well, I'm not very funny in print, so the humor might still be missing). I read a lot of food blogs, usually at random times, like when I'm trying to figure out leftovers, but sometimes I use them to aid in my weekly planning. And they are chatty or funny, or at least of interest beyond the recipe, and I'm going to try to do that. Maybe I'll review some products or talk about my restaurant adventures. Actually, that's not a bad idea. I eat at ethnic restaurants a lot. I have a goal of eating food from every country of the world, and I'm about to stagnate (I think there are about 8 countries represented in Atlanta that I haven't tried). I might have to cook some foods to get them in too (there aren't any Lithuanian restaurants in the U.S., at least not that I can find online). Maybe I should focus on those adventures a little more.

For the record, countries I've checked off in the past year: Serbia, Ethiopia, Israel, Vietnam, Korea, Cuba, Iran, Canada (the only way I would count Canada is if I ate food in Canada, which I did). I know it's nothing impressive yet, but I'm getting there.

Anyway, if you want food blogs better than mine (or some sort of reference to what I might be thinking about directing my blog towards), the Top 100 Food Blogs according to Frugal Gourmet (yay for cheap eats!). Also, my favorite (and where I get tons of my recipes or at least ideas) is Smitten Kitchen. For one thing, the pictures make me drool, but the recipes are reasonable and creative. And she seems to like sweets as much as me! And speaking of pictures, I really need to learn to take better photos of my food now that I have a nice pretty apartment.

Apricot Bran Muffins

Despite the fact that I'm not a big fan of them, I've been craving apricot lately, but I hate their texture, so that means that I need to work with dried apricots. Plus it's spring, and I want to try to bake/cook seasonally a little more. But I've also been trying to figure out muffins, after my disaster on Mother's Day (I forgot salt in the applesauce muffins I made, oops). So I thought the perfect thing to make would be apricot bran muffins. I essentially combined two recipes, and they aren't perfect, but I think they are a good place to start (I hate to say it, but i think they need either nutmeg, cloves or allspice, none of which I use unless absolutely necessary). I realize now that I was very safe on the cinnamon, too, and I will definitely increase that next time I make these. Others might like them with molasses, but I don't really like (or use) molasses, so I didn't want to buy it just for the muffins. But the bran flavor is good, with a little sweetness and an occassional burst of apricot. I'd say they're a keeper. Which is good because now I have a whole box of bran to figure out what to do with. Also, another place of improvement. I put a whole bag of dried apricots in, and thought that it looked like a lot (it seemed like the batter was half apricot) but once the muffins rose, they definitely could have used more. I put my ingredient comments by the individual ingredients because if you are like me, you skim when buying the ingredients and then realize you should have done something differently when reading them comments. It will help me in the future to have it laid out like this, and it's also how I mentally organize things, rather than going back and filling in the details.

1 c flour (I used all purpose because I'm out of whole wheat, but the recipe it was closer to used whole wheat flour)
2 c bran (I used shreds, but there are store brand flakes for half the price, so you could probably use those)
2 tsp baking powder
1 tsp baking soda
1 tsp salt
1/2 c packed brown sugar (this was the perfect amount, but you could probably cut it back if you wanted to make the muffins healthier)
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1/4 c oil
1/2-3/4 c milk (depending on the consistency)
1 egg
~1 c finely chopped dried apricots

I actually mixed up the dry ingredients the night before, but that probably is not the best way to do it. I'll copy and change the directions from one of the recipes I adapted.

Combine flour, bran, baking powder and spices in mixing bowl. Dissolve soda in milk, and beat in egg. Add wet to dry ingredients.

Stir in oil, apricots, then enough more liquid to make proper muffin batter consistency.

Spoon batter into 12 VERY WELL GREASED muffin cups and bake at 375°F for 15 to 18 minutes.

(Note, I got 14 muffins and baked them at 400, like the other recipe I used suggested, but 375 is probably better, as they ended up a little crunchy on top when their insides were completely baked.)

Saturday, May 9, 2009

Daring Bakers March 2009

This was my second "Daring Baker's Challenge," the one from March. Again, I am not officially a daring baker, but it's fun to attempt their challenges. I'm not going to do the April challenge, as it is cheesecake, but I might go through some of the archives if I get bored this summer. And the photography is not great (or at all inclusive of the entire process); I'll work on that. I've moved into a new apartment which has a kitchen large enough to attempt these sorts of feats, so get ready for more daring baking/cooking.

Lasagne Verdi al Forno - thin but tasty

The March 2009 challenge is hosted by Mary of Beans and Caviar, Melinda of Melbourne Larder and Enza of Io Da Grande. They have chosen Lasagne of Emilia-Romagna from The Splendid Table by Lynne Rossetto Kasper as the challenge. This is what the hosts have to say about lasagna: “Lasagne is a dish that has successfully transcended borders and is today made around the world, albeit with many variations from the Italian original. Even within Italy, there are many variations and each region has its own lasagne tradition. But, as Lynne explains in her introduction to the recipe –and Enza, as our Italian expert for this dish, also agrees - the dish should always be a “vivid expression of the ‘less is more’ philosophy of cooking. Mere films of béchamel sauce and meat ragu coat the sheerest spinach pasta. Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese dusts each layer. There is nothing more; no ricotta, no piling on of meats, vegetables or cheese; little tomato, and no hot spice. Baking performs the final marriage of flavours. The results are splendid.”
I'm still somewhat novice in this whole world of cooking, and this was my first time making lasagna period, much less making my own pasta. Because of this, I recruited a friend who had made lasagna before and it made the time go faster, and made it a lot easier. This was definitely a challenge for me, but the results were fantastic. Though probably not worth it for even a regular special occasion. It would have to be a super special occasion, one involving someone who loves lasagna, or who I was trying to really impress with my cooking prowess. I used a different recipe for the meat ragu than the one given. I found it at, and it's supposedly the authentic ragu all Bolognese. I liked that and the fact that it didn't contain veal (I don't eat baby animals, I know, I'm weirdly picky).
From The Splendid Table: Recipes from Emilia-Romagna, the Heartland of Northern Italian Food by Lynne Rossetto Kasper

Serve 8 to 10 as a first course, 6 to 8 as a main dish (I probably got about 12 meals out of this, and don't get me wrong, I am not complaining about that)
Preparation Time: 15 minutes to assemble and 40 minutes cooking time
10 quarts (9 litres) salted water
1 recipe Spinach Pasta cut for lasagna (recipe follows)#1
1 recipe Bechamel Sauce (recipe follows)#2
1 recipe Country Style Ragu (recipe follows)#3
1 cup (4 ounces/125g) freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano
Working Ahead:
The ragu and the béchamel sauce can be made up to three days ahead. The ragu can also be frozen for up to one month. The pasta can be rolled out, cut and dried up to 24 hours before cooking. The assembled lasagne can wait at room temperature (20 degrees Celsius/68 degrees Fahrenheit) about 1 hour before baking. Do not refrigerate it before baking, as the topping of béchamel and cheese will overcook by the time the center is hot.
Assembling the Ingredients:
Have all the sauces, rewarmed gently over a medium heat, and the pasta at hand. Have a large perforated skimmer and a large bowl of cold water next to the stove. Spread a double thickness of paper towels over a large counter space. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit (180 degrees Celsius). Oil or butter a 3 quart (approx 3 litre) shallow baking dish.
Cooking the Pasta:
Bring the salted water to a boil. Drop about four pieces of pasta in the water at a time. Cook about 2 minutes. If you are using dried pasta, cook about 4 minutes, taste, and cook longer if necessary. The pasta will continue cooking during baking, so make sure it is only barely tender. Lift the lasagne from the water with a skimmer, drain, and then slip into the bowl of cold water to stop cooking. When cool, lift out and dry on the paper towels. Repeat until all the pasta is cooked.
Assembling the Lasagne:
Spread a thin layer of béchamel over the bottom of the baking dish. Arrange a layer of about four overlapping sheets of pasta over the béchamel. Spread a thin layer of béchamel (about 3 or 4 spoonfuls) over the pasta, and then an equally thin layer of the ragu. Sprinkle with about 1&1/2 tablespoons of the béchamel and about 1/3 cup of the cheese. Repeat the layers until all ingredients are used, finishing with béchamel sauce and topping with a generous dusting of cheese.

Baking and Serving the Lasagne:
Cover the baking dish lightly with foil, taking care not to let it touch the top of the lasagne. Bake 40 minutes, or until almost heated through. Remove the foil and bake another 10 minutes, or until hot in the center (test by inserting a knife – if it comes out very warm, the dish is ready). Take care not to brown the cheese topping. It should be melted, creamy looking and barely tinged with a little gold. Turn off the oven, leave the door ajar and let the lasagne rest for about 10 minutes. Then serve. This is not a solid lasagne, but a moist one that slips a bit when it is cut and served.
#1 Spinach Egg Pasta (Pasta Verde)
We had trouble making this as thin as it recommended, largely because we were rolling it on a table, which it stuck to pretty badly. When I tried to roll it super thin, it would tear, so we backed off and rolled it as thin as we could without ripping holes.

Preparation: 45 minutes
Makes enough for 6 to 8 first course servings or 4 to 6 main course servings, equivalent to 1 pound (450g) dried boxed pasta. (it made a whole heck of a lot more than this)

2 jumbo eggs (2 ounces/60g or more)
10 ounces (300g) fresh spinach, rinsed dry, and finely chopped; or 6 ounces (170g) frozen chopped spinach, defrosted and squeezed dry
3&1/2 cups (14 ounces/400g) all purpose unbleached (plain) flour (organic stone ground preferred)
Working by Hand:
A roomy work surface, 24 to 30 inches deep by 30 to 36 inches (60cm to 77cm deep by 60cm to 92cm). Any smooth surface will do, but marble cools dough slightly, making it less flexible than desired.
A pastry scraper and a small wooden spoon for blending the dough.
A wooden dowel-style rolling pin. In Italy, pasta makers use one about 35 inches long and 2 inches thick (89cm long and 5cm thick). The shorter American-style pin with handles at either end can be used, but the longer it is, the easier it is to roll the pasta.
Note: although it is not traditional, Enza has successfully made pasta with a marble rolling pin, and this can be substituted for the wooden pin, if you have one.
Plastic wrap to wrap the resting dough and to cover rolled-out pasta waiting to be filled. It protects the pasta from drying out too quickly.
A sharp chef’s knife for cutting pasta sheets.
Cloth-covered chair backs, broom handles, or specially designed pasta racks found in cookware shops for draping the pasta.
Mixing the dough:
Mound the flour in the center of your work surface and make a well in the middle. Add the eggs and spinach. Use a wooden spoon to beat together the eggs and spinach. Then gradually start incorporating shallow scrapings of flour from the sides of the well into the liquid. As you work more and more flour into the liquid, the well’s sides may collapse. Use a pastry scraper to keep the liquids from running off and to incorporate the last bits of flour into the dough. Don’t worry if it looks like a hopelessly rough and messy lump.

With the aid of the scraper to scoop up unruly pieces, start kneading the dough. Once it becomes a cohesive mass, use the scraper to remove any bits of hard flour on the work surface – these will make the dough lumpy. Knead the dough for about 3 minutes. Its consistency should be elastic and a little sticky. If it is too sticky to move easily, knead in a few more tablespoons of flour. Continue kneading about 10 minutes, or until the dough has become satiny, smooth, and very elastic. It will feel alive under your hands. Do not shortcut this step. Wrap the dough in plastic wrap, and let it relax at room temperature 30 minutes to 3 hours.
Stretching and Thinning:
If using an extra-long rolling pin work with half the dough at a time. With a regular-length rolling pin, roll out a quarter of the dough at a time and keep the rest of the dough wrapped. Lightly sprinkle a large work surface with flour. The idea is to stretch the dough rather than press down and push it. Shape it into a ball and begin rolling out to form a circle, frequently turning the disc of dough a quarter turn. As it thins outs, start rolling the disc back on the pin a quarter of the way toward the center and stretching it gently sideways by running the palms of your hands over the rolled-up dough from the center of the pin outward. Unroll, turn the disc a quarter turn, and repeat. Do twice more.
Stretch and even out the center of the disc by rolling the dough a quarter of the way back on the pin. Then gently push the rolling pin away from you with one hand while holding the sheet in place on the work surface with the other hand. Repeat three more times, turning the dough a quarter turn each time.
Repeat the two processes as the disc becomes larger and thinner. The goal is a sheet of even thickness. For lasagne, the sheet should be so thin that you can clearly see your hand through it and see colours. Cut into rectangles about 4 by 8 inches (10 x 20 cm). Note: Enza says that transparency is a crucial element of lasagne pasta and the dough should be rolled as thinly as possible. She says this is why her housekeeper has such strong arms!
Dry the pasta at room temperature and store in a sealed container or bag.

We put it on wire racks, and let it dry through that.

#2 Bechamel

  • 4 tablespoons (2 oz / 60 g) unsalted butter
  • 4 tablespoons (2 oz / 60 g) all purpose unbleached (plain) flour, organic stone ground preferred
  • 2 & 2/3 cups (approx 570 ml) milk
  • salt and ground black pepper, to taste
  • freshly ground nutmeg, to taste
In a medium-sized saucepan, melt the butter over low to medium heat. Sift over the flour, whisk until smooth, and then stir (without stopping) for about 3 minutes.
Whisk in the milk a little at a time and keep the mixture smooth. Bring to a slow simmer, and cook, stirring, for about 5 minutes, until the sauce thickens. Season witih salt, pepper and a hint of nutmeg.

Traditional Ragu alla Bolognese

  • 300 grams minced beef – The recommended cut is thin flank aka skirt (finta cartella in Italian) but any good quality mince will do.

  • 150 grams unsmoked pancetta — minced very finely

  • 50 grams carrot — finely chopped or minced

  • 50 grams celery — finely chopped or minced

  • 50 grams onion — finely chopped or minced

  • 30 grams triple concentrated tomato puree(if using double concentrated, increase the quantity by about a 1/3)

  • 1/2 glass red or white wine

  • 180 milliliters fresh milk

  • olive oil

  • salt and pepper

    1. Fry the pancetta gently in a little olive oil until it starts to release its fat. Be careful not to burn.
    2. Add the vegetables and fry until the onions are transparent, stirring from time to time.
    3. Add the beef and cook until it is lightly browned. When it starts to make popping noises, it’s done.
    4. Add the tomato puree and the wine and mix well.
    5. Add the milk, little by little until it is completely absorbed.
    6. Season with salt and pepper, cover and cook very slowly for 3 to 4 hours.
    7. Stir occasionally and if it looks like drying out, add a little more milk.

    Wednesday, May 6, 2009

    Cinco de Mayo

    At least since taking Spanish in middle school, I've always celebrated Cinco de Mayo, through food. When it falls on weekends, I've gone out for Mexican with my parents (when I've been home), and this year I decided to try to cook the most authentic meal I could.

    I'm still not at the point where I am making my own recipes, especially for ethnic stuff. But at least that maintains some of their authenticity, right? For our cinco de mayo feast we made Enchiladas verdes (which are probably my favorite Mexican food), stuffed peppers and flan! It was a lot of work, but it was delicious! Actually, the flan was the only thing that was particularly hard, but coordinating everything around that wasn't easy. I apparently am terrible at melting sugar and putting it evenly into custard cups. I'll post the recipes below, and just to note, we made 8 custard cups, which meant we needed a little extra sugar to spread over the bottoms. But I can do it now, at least. A better flan recipe is surely out there, but I liked this one because it was made to serve 4, my family of 4 even had leftovers (probably because a serving was what the recipe called half a serving). Unfortunately, I do not have the recipe for rice (my mom made it) used to stuff the peppers, but we basically stuffed peppers with Spanish rice and baked them with a little cheese on top (we wanted to keep them vegetarian and simple as to not overpower the enchiladas). I should have blanched the peppers ahead of time, but we didn't have any clean pans after making the flan and I just wanted to get them started.
    Enchiladas- I (obviously) added cilantro to the green sauce. Apparently they were kind of spicy, I didn't really notice in taste, but they definitely cleared my sinuses. If you don't like spicy, back off on the peppers (or at least seed them, I didn't because I just chopped off the tops and threw them in the water. I thought it was the perfect level of spiciness, but hey, that's just me. I think my heat tolerance has increased a lot this year (it was pretty decent to begin with) from all the Asian/Indian food we eat out.
    Flan-Like I said, there are definitely better recipes out there (and probably easier, if you make it in one dish, rather than individual ones), but this one served four.

    Tuesday, May 5, 2009

    Corn Salsa

    One of my favorite summer treats (which I can eat as an entire meal) is my fresh corn salsa. On hot days I don't have much of an appetite, so it's nice to just eat some cool vegetable packed salsa. I've made it the past few summers when I'm home, and my dad now requests that I make it whenever I visit. Unfortunately, last year I made it right in the midst of the tomato/jalapeno/cilantro contamination and ended up with salmonila, which was awful. But it's still one of my favorite foods, cool and refreshing, yet flavorful and interesting. The recipe I've been making was inspired by random varieties I've found at markets, one a teammate on the swim team made, and a recipe a friend sent me a few years ago. I've been working on perfecting it for some time now. Since it's Cinco de Mayo, we are having a Mexican feast for dinner, so it's only fitting to make salsa today (one of the first things my dad said when I got off the plane was that he wanted fresh salsa), and I made a double batch since I would be home, likely eating it for every meal for the next few days. This time I made it a little different, the onions were way too strong to put in fresh salsa, and it was a little bland without onion, so I added a few shakes of cumin and it was as tasty as always. It's definitely customizable (some use avacadoes, vidialia onions, green onions, garlic, or red bell peppers, plus there's probably other varities I haven't considered, also, as I mentioned you can add cumin, red pepper or chili powder), but this is the blend I like:

    One can (or half a bag frozen and defrosted) corn
    One can black beans rinsed and drained
    One large tomato, diced
    One jalapeno, minced
    One green bell pepper, diced
    1/2 to 1 red onion, diced
    Cilantro, to taste (which for me means probably around a quarter of a cup, and I always wish there was more), finely chopped
    dash salt
    juice of 1/2 lime (make sure it's a nice, heavy juicy one)

    Combine first seven ingredients. It's important to make sure you cut everything small enough for it to distribute evenly, this is especially important for the onion, jalapeno, and cilantro, but it's easy to cut the the green pepper too big too. Add lime juice and mix thoroughly. Add salt as needed (I like to just dip a few salty chips in to test it, and usually need very little additional salt).

    Also, I should probably tell you to wear gloves when you chop the jalapeno, like all responsible recipe-givers would, but I don't. I've made it enough that I'm pretty much tolerant of the capsaicin in the peppers. The heat of peppers is similar to heat in temperature, as it can physically burn you, which is why when something tastes spicy, we say it tastes hot. It's the same reaction. However, unlike the heat in the temperature sense, we can build tolerance to the heat from spicy foods (capsaicin being chemical that makes things spicy) by gradually building up the spicy food you eat. This doesn't mean that they won't be spicy, and you do have to push to a little bit of a burn (just like exercising) for it to do anything, but it makes it easier to tolerate.

    Sunday, May 3, 2009

    The Winning Bread

    So I've been baking bread for some time, and this was certainly one of my favorites. It made peanut butter and jelly sandwiches FANTASTIC. I just wanted to eat them all the time. It was also an easier bread and it turned out really well. I cut it in half because the blog I found it in said she double it. That and I can only handle one loaf at a time and didn't have room for it in the freezer. I found the recipe here. I guess it was from the King Arthur Whole Wheat Flour bag. I ran out of whole wheat flour at about 3 cups, so I substituted a cup of all purpose flour (I guess I could have used bread flour but this was shortly before I moved and it was packed already). This was definitely my favorite and I will make it again. I'll let you know if something bad happens next time.

    Saturday, May 2, 2009

    Daring Bakers Long Overdue

    So I found this circle of blogs, called Daring Bakers, where each month they present a baking challenge and all the members blog about it with their own unique twists. I'm not officially enrolled, but I've done a few (and I might do one more when I go home) and haven't posted them. I'm not going to do the most recent because it's cheesecake. Ew. I'll do the "grad student" twist if you didn't gather that from the concept of this blog. The first one I did was the February challenge (which was posted at the end of February, so you could do it in March, yeah, it's a little overdue for me to post) for a friend's birthday. I was looking for a good chocolatey treat without frosting, and stumbled upon this Chocolate Valentino Cake. I didn't make the ice cream like they told you to because, well, there isn't (well, wasn't) any room in our freezer. That was one of my grad student sacrifices. I did make cocoa whipped cream though. So:

    The February 2009 challenge is hosted by Wendy of WMPE's blog and Dharm of Dad ~ Baker & Chef. We have chosen a Chocolate Valentino cake by Chef Wan; a Vanilla Ice Cream recipe from Dharm and a Vanilla Ice Cream recipe from Wendy as the challenge.

    Use your favorite chocolate – the finished cake will taste exactly like the chocolate you use. Be creative with your chocolate. I used Trader Joe's 70% Cacao chocolate, I probably could have just used dark, but I liked it this way.
    - A higher cacao percentage increases the bitterness of the chocolate.
    -Equipment - it is optional to use a heart shaped pan. For a real Valentino, bake it in a heart shaped pan or cut it out into a heart shape. You may use any shape pan that gives you an area of 50” - 6x8 or 7x7. An 8” spring form pan works with great results as do smaller pans or ramekins.
    I didn't have any of these (my spring form pan came back with me after spring break, but this was before for my friend's birthday) so I used a regular 8" pan and wasn't able to unmold it, we just ate it out of the pan.
    -An instant read thermometer highly recommended. (this is one of my top birthday presents)

    Note on recipe - the recipe consists of 3 simple ingredients and how you interpret them is part of the challenge. The simplicity of this recipe gives credit to the ingredients much in the same way of French baguette.
    -This recipe comes together very quickly with a hand mixer.
    -This is a very decadent cake that will sink a little as it cools but will still hold its shape.
    -Very dense and fudgy cake that tastes divine.
    -The top forms a light crust kind of like a brownie

    Chocolate Valentino
    Preparation Time: 20 minutes
    16 ounces (1 pound) (454 grams) of semisweet chocolate, roughly chopped
    ½ cup (1 stick) plus 2 tablespoons (146 grams total) of unsalted butter
    5 large eggs separated

    1. Put chocolate and butter in a heatproof bowl and set over a pan of simmering water (the bottom of the bowl should not touch the water) and melt, stirring often.
    2. While your chocolate butter mixture is cooling. Butter your pan and line with a parchment circle then butter the parchment.
    3. Separate the egg yolks from the egg whites and put into two medium/large bowls.
    4. Whip the egg whites in a medium/large grease free bowl until stiff peaks are formed (do not over-whip or the cake will be dry).
    5. With the same beater beat the egg yolks together.
    6. Add the egg yolks to the cooled chocolate.
    7. Fold in 1/3 of the egg whites into the chocolate mixture and follow with remaining 2/3rds. Fold until no white remains without deflating the batter.
    8. Pour batter into prepared pan, the batter should fill the pan 3/4 of the way full, and bake at 375F/190C
    9. Bake for 25 minutes or until an instant read thermometer reads 140F/60C.
    Note – If you do not have an instant read thermometer, the top of the cake will look similar to a brownie and a cake tester will appear wet.
    10. Cool cake on a rack for 10 minutes then unmold.

    Notes: I overbeat the egg whites, which made it a little dry. Don't do this. If I made it again I would first, of course, use my springform pan, and second probably be a little more experimental with it. I might throw some cinnamon in it since I love the chocolate/cinnamon combination.

    Also, cocoa whipped cream:
    I pint whipped cream
    Dash vanilla
    cocoa (to taste) I went light on it to just provide a subtle tie between the cake and whipped cream. No one appreciated it, including me, since I don't like whipped cream, even when it's chocolate flavored

    Beat the ingredients.