Lasagna and clafoutis and cocktails - oh my!

In other weekend eating news, I tried Sweet Amandine's clafoutis recipe with a few too many berries (again with the moisture issue), but it came out gorgeously. (See the pre-batter photo, as the post-baking result wasn't as pretty as it was delicious.) The clafoutis was dessert for a rather decadent dinner involving lasagna and a newly invented cocktail.

But first, the lasagna. I followed the America's Test Kitchen Family Cookbook recipe (if you don't have this book, buy it immediately). The
y handily start with a vegetarian version (Simple Cheese Lasagna) and offers options for other versions (Meat, Mushroom & Spinach, etc.) and clear instructions.

First, the sauce recipe (it is delicious for lasagna or other pasta).

1 T olive oil
1 minced onion

6 cloves minced garlic
1 can crushed tomatoes (28 oz.)
1 can diced tomatoes (28 oz.)
1/4 t. dried oregano (I used fresh)

1/8 t. red pepper flakes (I used cayenne)

You basically do what you would expect to: cook the onion until it softens, add the garlic until it's fragrant. If you're making it MEATY, add the meat (I used 1 lb. ground turkey and 1/2 c. diced prociutto) now. Then tomatoes (don't drain!) and season with oregano, cayenne pepper (or pepper flakes), and salt and pepper to taste. Simmer until it's a little thicker.

And then the process of the lasagna itself. The book (quite rightly) recommends no-boil noodles, but I only had yes-boil noodles on hand. There are four basic layers that you repeat as long as your pan holds out.
  1. Sauce. You can make the sauce from the recipe above or use jar sauce.
  2. Noodles. Three standard lasagna noodles will cover the bottom of a 9"x13" pan.
  3. Happy, rich ricotta mixture. This is comprised of 15 oz. ricotta mixed with 1 c. Parmesan, 1/2 c. minced fresh basil, an egg, and salt and pepper.
  4. Mozzarella, grated.
Layer these one over the other until the pan is full. If you've ever seen me packing a suitcase, you understand the method I find useful to employ: pour in more goodies and apply pressure until it all fits. Just be prepared to get a little dirty. Finish this layering process with a layer of noodles, then sauce, then a cup of mozzarella and the final 1/4 c. Parmesan. Then cover the lasagna with oiled aluminum foil and bake for 15 minutes at 375. Remove the foil and continue baking for 25 more minutes until bubbling and brown on top.

But, as I mentioned before, there have been a couple of cocktails created in the last week: First, the heady one. I have a little herb garden growing on my balcony, which includes a curious plant called Pineapple Sage. It is primarily decorative and aromatic, but is perfectly safe for culinary use and I had read it recommended for cocktails. So, I got adventurous.

For four generous pours:

8-10 small Pineapple Sage leaves, roughly chopped
2 T. brown sugar

Mix in about 4 oz. gin

Pour about an oz. of this mixture into each glass and top with ginger ale. Garnish with an additional sage leaf.

The other cocktail was a little less aggressively flavored (probably a good thing, as it followed lasagna and clafoutis and we were all practically collapsed with heavy food). It was smooth, citrusy, and herby and went down quite easily.

ca. 5 large basil leaves, roughly chopped
2 T. powdered sugar
1 lime, cut into eighths

Mix in about 4 oz. vodka. Pour about an oz. of this mixture into each glass. Top with club soda. Drink up! Oh, and I haven't named these cocktails yet. Any ideas?

More Cooking Adventures

It's not often that I find myself arrested by a recipe with an urge to try it immediately, but it happened yesterday. A few weeks ago the New York Times did a profile of Twitter-users who tweet recipes. The most impressive of them is, in my opinion, Cookbook. She tweets entire recipes in the allotted 140 characters, with the help of a battery of abbreviations and sometimes curious punctuations. This epicurean Morse code is sometimes difficult to parse, but the effort of condensing them and eliminating all those pretty words seems herculean. Anyway, over the weekend the following popped up in my feed:
"Olive Oil Cookies: beat egg/7T oil/5T wine. Fold+c flour/6T sug/.5t mince fresh rosemary/.25t bkgpdr&s+p. Form~20t's; 12m@375F/190C to brwn."
"Hark!" I said to myself," Hath someone shown me the way to eat olive oil and sugar at the same time!?" And I sprinted to my kitchen. A scant 25 minutes later, the lovely, chewy little morsels you see to the right came out of the oven with a puff of olive oil scented steam. A note, however. (And this was a theme of the weekend.) The dough for these cookies came out more like a batter, so I added a little more flour to thicken them up. This may have been unnecessary, but I couldn't see a way to "form" anything out of the slurry that resulted from the above proportions.

In any case, the cookies came out (with a little extra baking time, which confirms my suspicion that my oven runs cold) delicious, chewy in the center, crispy on the edges, and with a complex, sweet, mildly salty, peppery flavor that surprises and challenges the taster. These cookies go equally well with wine and coffee and on their own. Oh, and being lighter than butter cookies (blessed, blessed olive oil), it's easier to eat a whole batch in one sitting. Try these immediately!


The promise of things to come

I've decided that maybe the key to making beautiful photos (as Jess does over at Sweet Amandine) is to consistently surround myself with beautiful things.

For a brief period a few years ago, I spent more of my time making and printing photos than doing almost anything else. Anyone who knows me has heard me say that the best part of the process was being in the darkroom and experiencing what my (batty) photo teacher called the "alchemical process" of developing photos. I liked to watch the photo paper swimming around in the developer and the faint ghost of an image creeping onto the paper and then the full, vivid image appearin all in a rush.

I feel sort of the same way about my plants. I like counting the buds of new leaves and blossoms and watching them unfurl by the day. And now I have vegetable plants that are similarly exciting to watch! And so, here are a few mundane flower and veg shots to get myself back in the swing of things.Figure 1. My sweet little "Bell Boy" pepper plant! Near the top you see two teeny little peppers and at the bottom, one bigger one! The biggun is about two inches long and about an inch in diameter.
Figure 2. One of the meaty little Peonies I bought yesterday.Figure 3. The meatier of the two Peonies I bought yesterday.Figure 4. And look what they did today!Figure 5. You can imagine how I'm ogling these sweet little green buds. And the actual snappy blooms aren't bad either.


Clip Show: June is almost over?

This is what I've been doing lately.
Fig. 1. Photobooth pictures were taken.
Fig. 2. Rooty trees were ogled.
Fig. 3. Just maybe the happiest place on Earth was visited.

Feast for a visiting friend

Recently, the puppy and the hubby and I played host to a dog called Snoot - Lucy's best friend from puppy-hood who tragically moved to California with his human, whom we shall call Ishmael. Ishmael came over to visit Snoot one day and I cooked a little feasty goodness for lunch. So very lovely to see this good friend and his gorgeous dog. Ishmael calls himself a Vegetarian of Convenience, so we decided to be a little inconvenient and eat fish (which he adores and which you all know is a recent project of mine).

I did a rerun of the lemon-tomato-baked chicken I posted about earlier, this time with Scrod purchased from the Court House Fish Market (about which I will be separately posting very soon). But! Before we get to the main course! The appetizer - swoon.What you see there is the end - it was so good I forgot to take a picture of the whole dish before diving into it - of a small green salad topped with some olive oil, some SERIOUSLY good Balsamico, and one plump, moist, delicious, melt-in-your-mouth, gorgeous scallop* with a little ribbon of prociutto. The salad was simple. A few mesclun and butter lettuce leaves, oil and vinegar, and that's it. The scallop was almost that simple. I wrapped the prociutto around the scallop and tossed it in a pan with a little olive oil (loose ends of the prociutto on the bottom for starters) and cooked it til it was golden brown on that side (about a minute?) and about 30 seconds on the other side (just til it started to brown). This resulted in a little crispy edge on each bite, but a creamy just-done middle. Delicious.

So, Ishmael, we enjoyed having you and Snoot visit. I hope you enjoyed the food enough to induce a repeat visit!

*Note: If you know me, you know that next to chocolate, nothing makes me go weak in the knees quite like a perfectly-cooked scallop.


Cute Puppy Photo of the Day

Sesame Crusted Mahi-Mahi with Orange-Soy sauce

A success story from last week's creative cooking! I took two frozen mahi-mahi fillets, defrosted them and crusted them with sesame seeds (dredged in egg, rolled in sesame seeds). Then I pan fried them (canola oil) and made a little glaze-y orange-soy sauce. (garlic, juice of one valencia orange, drizzle of soy sauce, salt, pepper) Served with steamed Asparagus. Delicious!


Necessity is the Mother of Invention

My need, in this case, is twofold: One: to get healthy; Two: to lose a little weight. My problem with these projects is also twofold: One: I hate working out; Two: I hate diets. And 'healthy' food.

So, in this series I'm going to try to cook healthily (i.e. less pasta, more healthy protein, less cholesterol) within the guidelines of the South Beach Diet, with which I had a lot of success in the past.

IMPORTANT NOTE: This is the only mention of the Diet that I will include (save the occasional Phase notation). My plan is not to write a Diet Blog (Those irritate me and you all don't need the blow-by-blow of my fight with my thighs.), but rather to share some recipes - some plundered, some invented - that are indistinguishable from Real Food. Wish me luck.


Lunch: Turkey burgers

-ground turkey
-drizzle of olive oil
-salt, pepper, garlic powder to taste
-smidge of pesto

Smoosh all the ingredients together, form into burger sized balls, squish onto hot griddle and cook until done (juices run clear, golden brown surfaces, internal temp of ca. 165° F).

Dinner: Crock Pot Lentils

-16 oz. bag of dried lentils
-1 carton chicken broth
-1/2 can crushed tomatoes
-1 small yellow onion, diced and browned
-2 cloves garlic, sliced
-salt, pepper to taste
-generous heap of Ras el hanout (thank you, Jamie!)
-smidge of ground cumin
-a few mushrooms, quartered
-also a dash of cinnamon

I searched briefly for a good crock-pot lentil (not soup) recipe, but quickly became bored with samey recipes that included many many ingredients I don't have on hand. This recipe is very much a "what do I have on hand" invention. I know it really needs some freshening up - celery would do wonders. Carrots would also be nice, but this is a Phase I recipe. I'll be adjusting liquid and seasoning as it goes, but my goal is to cook it on high for about 5 hours and hope they don't turn out too soupy. At this moment, they smell disarmingly like the chili my mom made when I was a kid.

I'm going to serve this as a side with some as-yet-undetermined chicken or fish dish. Yes, I need to go to the grocery. Stay tuned for updates.