Saturday, March 28, 2009

DB: Lasagne of Emilia-Romagna

When I saw this month's Daring Bakers Challenge was going to be homemade lasagne I was genuinely disappointed. Oh how I love things sweet. But as always, I was up for the challenge. The March 2009 Challenge is hosted by Mary of Beans and Caviar, Melinda of Melbou
rne Larder and Enza of Io Da Grande. They have chosen Lasagne of Emilia-Romagna from The Splended Table by Lynne Rossetto Kasper as the challenge.

The making of the noodles started out pretty good. My mountain of flour with the well of spinach and egg started out just fine.The spinach and eggs mixed together well, and the addition of the flour went well. I twas when it came time to make it the correct consistency that I was confused. I ended up add
ing 4 (or 5?) large eggs instead of the 2 jumbo it called for in order to have the d
ough be wet enough to absorb all the called for flour.
The kneading was hard. Not like kneading the other soft breads and other doughs I've kneaded. It was firm dough, didn't want to give a bit.
I tried my best to knead that s
tuff, but I was struggling. I even put it in my stand mixer, but the mixer made a weird noise and didn't seem to tolerate it well, so I took it out and tried to hand knead it as best I could. Here's my dough ball while it was resting.While the dough rested I got on with the ragu. It went pretty well I guess. I only used ground beef and turkey for the meats instead of all the variety of meats the recipe calls to put in a food processor.
I'm not sure about the ragu....I guess it turned out right? It didn't look how I expected it to. It was dry, not very much water, the milk didn't seem to make it creamy, and the texture was lumpy dumpy. Not a fan, probably won't make again.

Back to the pasta. It was more work to roll it out. I tried following the directions on how to stretch and roll, but it just wasn't happening. I did my best, but they were definitely not transparent (one of the "key" steps) sigh. Here are the sheets, rolled and dried, ready for boiling.
I didn't photograph the bechamel. It was just a cream colored blob. It tasted heavenly though. I had a heavy hand with the nutmeg, and I thought it was simply delicious. The bechamel was easy and tasty. Definitely something I'll make again in a different recipe.

Assembly wasn't too bad. I felt like I should have doubled the bechamel to have enough for all the layers. My lasagne turned out a bit dry. As I stated, I wasn't a huge fan of the ragu and it covered up that delicious bechamel. I probably should have cooked my thick noodles a bit longer, because they weren't as tender as I would have liked in the finished product.
Overall it was a good recipe. The fam enjoyed it, but we still have leftovers in the fridge from last weekend... Not a great sign. Usually the good experiments are gobbled up until there is not a crumb remaining. With a few adjustments and some store bought pasta, I would make it again. The pasta was too much effort for the outcome, and I probably won't be making it again. Good dinner overall though!

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

One of my best performances...

Two words: Oh WOW! When the BF won a bet and I was obligated to make him a meal of his choice of protein, he requested steak. I was a little nervous, my previous steak encounters have been alright, but not fantastic. I surprised myself with this one. The BF even called it exquisite, heavenly, tender and more! I read about steak and protein cooking in my Cookwise book (awesome book, I can't stop reading it!), and armed with knowledge, I went to my average, local, grocery store. I contemplated a cheaper cut of meat, but decided to go with the King of Steaks, the Filet. Expensive, yes, but juicy, tender and full of flavor. After this meal, I'm ready to go back to the store RIGHT NOW and buy more.
Using my Cookwise smarts and after reading a few bloggers experiences I went for it. I decided to marinate the room temp steak for 30 min. Then I wrapped the steaks in center cut bacon, and seared. There was some smoke, and a lot of noise, but it created a nice crust. After searing on all sides I transferred the whole skillet to the oven which had been set at 275 for the Mini Cheesecakes, and let them finish off for a few minutes in there while I got on with the sauce. I sauteed mushrooms coated in flour and bacon with some olive oil, added wine, fish sauce, soy sauce, sour cream, pepper, water and let it reduce a bit.
For the potatoes, I started them in the oven, but they had a failure to progress, so I nuked those suckers until they were soft. Then I mashed them with whipping cream, butter, brown sugar, nutmeg and white pepper until they were silky smooth.
All the BF could say was, "whoa, this is really good....really really good." For the next hour after he keep talking about how good the steak was, how it was better than a restaurant. He gushed praise for it. My brother got a small piece of steak as a leftover, and he loved it. He also said it was better than a restaurant. My recipe is definitely different and interesting, but it works! Who needs to spend $100 bucks at an expensive steakhouse when you can beat the flavor at home!? Jess 1, Steakhouse 0.
Seared Bacon Wrapped Filet Mignon
2 8 oz filets
approx 4 tbsp: soy sauce, fish sauce, red wine
4 strips center cut bacon
3 tbsp oil
Marinate steaks in liquid mixture in a zipper bag and leave to come to room temp for 30 min or more. Remove steaks from bag, pat dry, season with salt and pepper. Wrap each with bacon, and secure with toothpicks or wooden skewers.
Heat heavy non coated ovenproof pan over med-high heat until hot, add oil. Turn on fan. It will begin to smoke almost immediately, so work fast and put steaks in immediately. Let cook a few minutes on each side....maybe 3-4 min each side, so bacon gets crispy and steaks have a nice crust. Move entire pan to hot oven preheated to 275. Turn off oven, and let finish cooking to desired doneness, about 8 min or so.

Mushroom Wine Sauce
1 Tbsp Olive Oil
1 package baby bella mushrooms, sliced
2 tbsp flour
2 strips center cut bacon, sliced into bite sized pieces
1/4 cup red wine
3 Tbsp fish sauce
3 Tbsp soy sauce
2 Tbsp sour cream
Heat med skillet on medium heat, add olive oil and bacon. Cook bacon until crisp. Toss mushrooms with flour to coat lightly. Drain extra flour off with sieve (or your hand), add mushrooms to pan, sautee about 5 min until starting to become tender. Add red wine, fish sauce, soy sauce and sour cream. Let reduce 10 minutes on low heat. Add salt and pepper to taste.

Mashed Sweet Potatoes
3 med sweet potatoes
1/4 c brown sugar
4 tbsp whipping cream
3 tbsp butter
Cook potatoes thoroughly. I punched holes with a fork in the skins and microwaved for about 10 min on high heat or until soft throughout. peel skins and put flesh into bowl. Add butter, brown sugar and whipping cream and whip with a fork or potato masher until homogeneous. Add 2 tsp fresh grated nutmeg, or to taste. Serve!

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Go a Leprachaun!

Happy St. Patrick's Day! To celebrate the luck o' the Irish I made Irish soda bread and cupcake number 6 of my Martha's cupcake countdown, Cheesecake! Who doesn't love cheesecake? I put green food coloring in it to make it more festive. They were super easy to make, especially when you substitute a single vanilla wafer in the bottom of each muffin liner instead of the given crust! It's a simple switch, and it cuts down on like 20 min of the recipe. You can find the recipe here. I also made a blackberry sauce to go on top instead of the apricot jam topping. YUMMM!!
Mini Cheesecakes
Makes 18.
18 vanilla wafers
1 pound cream cheese, softened (2 blocks)
1/2 teaspoon pure vani
lla extract
2 large eggs, lightly beaten
1/2 cup sour cream
Green Food Coloring (if desired)
Pinch of salt
Berries, and sugar to taste
Preheat oven to 275 degrees. Line 18 cupcake tins with
liner and place one vanilla wafer in the bottom of each. Beat cream cheese with a mixer on medium speed until light and smooth. Add remaining 1/2 cup sugar, then vanilla. With mixer running, add eggs slowly, scraping down side of bowl. Add sour cream and salt. Add food coloring if desired. Fill almost to top.
Bake until sides are set but centers are wobbly, about 20 minutes. Let cool in tins on wire racks. Wrap tins tightly with plastic, and refrigerate 4 hours or overnight. Macerate berries and sugar, let sit 30 min, to let the berries soften and juices release. Top with berries and serve! Enjoy!

I also made an Irish Soda Bread! MKMW this month chose Ireland as the destination, how fitting! I wanted to make corned beef, but was behind the eight ball in terms of brining the meat for 2 weeks as I saw suggested! It all turned out fine though, the bread was delicious, and not something I probably would have made by my own volition.
I was worried because I tasted one version at our local grocery store and I did not like it one bit! It was dry and salty and a little bitter from the soda. Not a fan. But I went ahead and made it anyways, and boy am I glad I did! It is cakelike, but with a thicker crust, and less sweet. I added cinnamon and golden raisins instead of caraway and raisins... I don't have caraway in the spice cabinet, and I prefer golden raisins. It is FANTASTIC served with butter toasted. Super good! I will definitely make it again and I'm contemplating trying to turn it into french toast... hmm.. we'll see!
Irish Soda Bread
2.5 cups all purpose flour
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 tablespoon baking powder
3/4 teaspoons salt
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 cup (1/2 stick) unsalted butter, cut into cubes, room temperature
1 1/4 cups raisins
2 tablespoons cinnamon
1 1/4 cups buttermilk (I used milk with vinegar, buttermilk had succumbed to spoilage)
3/4 large egg
Preheat oven to 350°F. Generously butter 9 in cake pan. Whisk first 5 ingredients and cinnamon in large bowl to blend. Add butter; using fingertips, rub in until coarse crumbs form. Stir in raisins. Whisk buttermilk and egg in measuring cup to blend. Add to dough; using silicone spatula, stir just until well incorporated (dough will be very sticky).
Transfer dough to prepared pan. Bake until bread is cooked through and tester inserted into center comes out clean, about 1 hour 15 minutes. Cool bread in skillet 10 minutes. Turn out onto rack and cool completely. (Can be made 1 day ahead. Wrap tightly in foil; store at room temperature.) Serve toasted with a generous application of butter!
Lastly, I would like to shout out Bev's Ice Cream, here in Richmond, Va, for a Samoas ice cream that really made my rainy Saturday special!!! Bev's is a local ice cream shop that makes in store all sorts of delicious ice cream flavors and other yummy desserts. It's the perfect way to end a meal! They have a standard set of about 12 or so flavors, then featured flavors of ice cream, sorbet, sugar free, etc. It is a gem of a place, worth every penny! This Samoas ice cream was homemade chocolate ice cream, caramel, coconut and chunks of samoa cookies. DELICIOUS!

Saturday, March 7, 2009

My First Real Macarons....

Today is the day! I am so excited! I feel like a proud mama with a hoarde of little babies...except that I want to eat the entire batch, which I guess makes me like those spiders who carry around their young on their backs but if a young one falls off mama eats it! Anyways, totally random thought. I actually got up the nerve to try, and made macarons successfully today. Diana, culinary genius of Thyme to Lime and I decided to make these at the beginning of the week, but it wasn't until Friday afternoon that our dreams came to fruition. Please check out her first macaron experience here! I can't believe they actually turned out alright! There were so many possible hindrances: my baking experience, humidity, not grinding the almonds up fine enough, first time ever making real macarons, the list goes on. I did attempt Nigellas Pistachio Macaroons. They didn't turn out great either, but the recipe is fraught with short cuts. Definitely not the "official" macaron technique.
This time, however, the stars were aligned. Like they say in the commercial, on my side I had a high degree of culinary expertise combined with years of practice... haha right! I did read up on the recipes first off, believe me! I read every post I could find on Veronica's Macaron Chronicles, as well as Tartelette's blog, and I read Tartelettes Tutorial in the Desserts Magazine probably 3 times at least. I used her basic almond macaron recipe listed in the magazine, as well as the Bittersweet Ganache (Same as Toffee Bittersweet Ganache, minus the toffee). My little hamburger looking confections turned out fantastically!
Here's my step by step approach, adapted from those two macaron masters:
Almond Macarons:
3/4 c whole almonds
2 C sifted powdered sugar spooned into measuring cups
3 egg whites
1/4 c granulated sugar
Pinch cream of tartar.

Prepare parchment paper by measuring and cutting to size of sheet, and then using small end of shot glass to trace circles. Flip over so pencil is on back side of paper.

Grind almonds and powdered sugar in a food processor until almonds ground into smithereens and sift twice. I even put the little chunks that got sifted out back in with a little bit of the sifted through sugar and pulsed again to try to further blitz them to bits.

Add the cream of tartar to the egg whites and beat at medium speed until frothy. Slowly add the granulated sugar and continue beating until the whites medium-peaks and are glossy. I used Tartelettes upside down trick-If you can hold them upside down in the bowl and they don't fall out they're ready!

Add your dry ingredients slowly to the meringue taking about 4 additions all in all, but fold like you mean it. According to Tartelette it sounds like she really goes for it. Test the batter on a plate, put a little bit down, if it flattens by itself then its ready. If it stays tall it probably needs a few more folds.

Pipe the batter to little mountains. Put tip perpendicular to paper about 1/2 inch above. Pipe and batter will spread automatically with the force, and then as you let them settle on their own they'll spread out into little discs of even height instead of mountains. Let rest for 30 minutes to an hour before baking.

Bake for about 10 minutes, turning if necessary midway through.

My parchment circles (ugly picture! If you look closely, close one eye, and tilt your head to the left you can make out the circles):

My blob of batter, folded in, and a little chunky from the almond bits.

Batter piped into circles:
Fresh out of the oven! And I think they have feet! Still not exactly sure what feet mean, do, or how they get there, but I'm pretty sure that's them!Bittersweet Ganache 1 c heavy cream 1 c bittersweet chocolate Heat cream to boil, take off heat, add chocolate, let sit 2 min, stir to combine, let cool to pipable consistency.
Not everything was perfect though. I had two racks of macarons going, the top rack and the bottom rack. The gorgeous ones I photographed are the top rack. The bottom rack didn't get as much heat and so were underdone. So I put them back in, but it didn't really solve the problem. Not bad, but not as breathtakingly beautiful as the top rack batch. The texture was a little different too, but overall taste was GREAT in either. In the picture below you can see the ones on the bottom right look a different color, almost mottled, not the smooth shiny topped ones to the left. Those were the bottom rack dwellers.
All in all, this was a fantastic experIence! I'm leaving for vacation in a few short hours. Ridiculous, I know, who makes macarons right before packing to go to Turks and Caicos for a week!? They are so tasty and so sophisticated! I'm so pleased, I can't wait to come back and try more flavor combinations!
Special thanks to Veronica of Veronica's Test Kitchen and Helen of Tartelette, both of whose glorious baking talents I admire, for making it so easy for me to get this right!

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Beets and Peanut Butter Cookies

We're currently in the progress of cleaning out the fridge in preparation for VACATION! WOOHOO! My mom and little bro came over for dinner. We had some leftover Tikka Masala Chicken, Sri Lankan Cabbage and Thai Soup. My brothers eat like 2-3 times a normal serving, so I also made a Miso Glazed Salmon and roasted some golden and red beets. I thought the beets were pretty, so I photographed! I love the DEEP pink color of the beets, and the concentric circles the alternating dark and light colors make. I'd never seen golden beets before so I had to buy some of those. They tasted good, but they weren't quite as tasty as the red ones. Boy were they pretty though!
Roasted Beets
Clean beets with water and a clean rag to get all the dirt off. Trim tops to an inch or less. Wrap individually (or a few small beets together) with a bit of olive oil drizzled over and salt. Bake at 375 until fork pierces easily. Or if you run out of time like us, put on a microwave safe plate and nuke em until soft. Slice and enjoy!

After dinner, 15 year old kid brother wanted to make some cookies, so we snagged a peanut butter cookie recipe by Alicia of Confessions of a Bakeaholic. It looked so good on Tastespotting that we decided to give it a try. We followed the recipe exactly as she did except for the addition of a little granulated sugar (as Alicia noted) and we accidentally melted the butter instead of softening it...oops! Oh yeah, and we didn't cool the batter. We're way to impatient for that!
Peanut Butter Cookies
These were the December 28th Cookie of the Day: Martha Stewart
  • 1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1/4 teaspoon table salt
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/4 pound (1 stick) unsalted butter, room temperature
  • 1 cup packed light-brown sugar
  • 1 large egg
  • 1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
  • 1 cup smooth peanut butter
  • about 1/4 cup granulated sugar


  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Prepare a baking sheet with parchment paper or a silpat.
  2. Sift together flour, salt and baking sodea, and set aside. In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat together butter and sugar on medium speed until light and fluffy. Add egg and vanilla, and beat until well combined. Add peanut butter, and beat until smooth. Add flour mixture, and beat on low until combined.
  3. Form each cookie into a ball using about a tablespoon of dough. Place cookies on the prepared baking sheets, about 1 inch apart.
  4. Press fork slighty into the cookies to make a decorative top.
  5. Bake until golden, about 10 minutes. Remove from oven, and place on a wire rack until completely cooled.

They turned out very well. Very tasty. My only complaint, as with most peanut butter cookies I make is that the texture turns out sort of chalky. Not very moist and chewy. Maybe this is my fault due to the melted butter, or the non-chilling, I'm not sure. If you have ideas, please let me know. I'd love to figure this out. They never come out moist, gooey or chewy like chocolate chip cookies for example, and I'm not sure why. Hm... Either way, we put chocolate chips in the last batch and they were even better.

This is my poor runaway dog Lily, who came home after a 5 day excursion with an enormous abscess on her neck and although it has been drained she still cant quite extend her neck to look up...she just looks side to side with her head down. so tragic.

Sunday, March 1, 2009

R2R: Ricotta Cheese- Adventures in Cheeseland

I was thrilled and scared (as usual) at the sight of this months Recipes to Rival challenge- Ricotta cheese. I've never made cheese, and as much as I love to eat all varieties, I am unforgivably lactose intolerant. This challenge was a both intriguing and astonishing science experiment.

Here's the recipe
Fresh Ricotta
(from Lauren at I'll Eat You, the culinary genius that hosted this month)
1 gallon milk, you can use 1 percent on up, remember that the more fat in the milk, the more cheese it will yield
1 quart buttermilk
-cheesecloth,a good, tightly woven one, not the kind you buy at the supermarket - If you don't have one of these, you can get by with a slotted spoon, but you may lose some of the cheese. ( I used supermarket cheesecloth & just doubled it. That worked just fine.)
-a thermometer
- A colander

You start with milk and buttermilk in a pot with a thermometer and heat it up. Simple enough. Then, before your eyes it seems to look a little chunkier....and a little chunkier...and then you get the guts to stir it and its a wonderfully thick globular mess. A little more cooking and the curds ready to scoop onto the waiting cheesecloth. All the while chanting: Little Miss Muffet, sat on a tuffet, eating her curds and whey...Then I tied the cheesecloth with the curds, rigged it to a coat hanger (I had it on the cabinet pull at first- not a good idea), and let it drain.At this point I probably made a slight mistake. The recipe says to let it hang for 10-15 minutes, and I didn't have that. So I squoze. Retrospectively, do not squeeze! I think I squoze too much liquid out and made it a little drier than it should be, but here's my finished dry ball o cheese. I still need to figure out what to make with it....Not sure how the dry (hard even) status will work in cheesecake, or the pasta I had planned on making... but we shall see. Regardless, I can't wait to do this culinary science project again!
Addendum: I made a really easy but tastes fantastic pasta dish. Here's the rough layout, I never measure ingredients so I dont know how much of each for sure. The extra firm ricotta worked out fine! I had to cut it with a knife, and then it crumbled kind of like feta, but it worked out fine. It tasted fine, and my pasta tasted great!
Ricotta Sausage and Penne
2 packages Italian Sausages, I like the spicy ones
Brocolli- 1-2 heads chopped into bite sized florets, and blanched briefly
1 box penne cooked, reserve 2 c pasta water
Ricotta- one of the med sized tubs
Tomato paste- small can
Onion and Garlic chopped
Hot Pepper- fresh chopped or dried
Bay Leaf, Thyme, Oregano and other herbs and spices as desired
Salt and Pepper
Cook sausage in large pan, sear first in small amount oil, then add water and braise until almost cooked through. Remove from pan and slice into bit sized rounds. Add onion, garlic peppers, and spices to pan and cook until sausage is cooked all the way and onion becomes transparent. Add brocolli to pan. Add half of ricotta to pan with tomato paste, stir until combined. Add enough pasta water until sauce becomes easier to stir. Add penne to pan, stir to combine. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Add more ricotta to that so that some chunks remain in addition to the creamy sauce. Serve!

It's really easy, only takes maybe 20 minutes to prepare, with the longest time being the sausage cooking part! It's my brother's favorite pasta dish. What's not to like- sausage, pasta, spice and cheese. You don't get much better than that! I didn't use all the ricotta, so maybe I'll make something else with the ricotta tomorrow during my snow day!
Check out the snow!! woohoo!