Archive for February, 2011

Lasagne, Day Two

February 8, 2011

I will admit, lasagne is not as pretty on day two.  This one in particular because it has some broccoli in it and that vibrant green fades to dull army yuck after a night in the refrigerator.  Still, this was a big hit at Saturday’s yoga retreat and I got multiple requests for the recipe.  Lasagne is not something I make often but it is the perfect thing to make when you need to feed a lot of people.  The tricky thing for me is finding a recipe that isn’t a total gut bomb.  I knew these yogis would be hungry after a two hour hot yoga class (I certainly was) but no one wants to undo all that good-for-your-body yoga with a bad-for-your-body lasagne.

Many lasagne recipes use a béchamel sauce (which is a cream sauce with a roux base) and while those certainly taste good, they are not the healthiest.  I try to avoid that type of lasagne but what you are often left with are the boring lasagnes or the “super quick” ones that rely on lots of cheese and bottled sauce.  I thought this was a really good version.  The filling is quick-sautéed red bell peppers mixed with steamed broccoli and ricotta.  Broccoli might sound weird in a ricotta filling but I thought it was terrific.

Make no mistake. You are not going to find this dish at a wellness spa.  But here is a good example of how I like to eat.  There is regular ricotta, regular mozzarella, and regular Parmesan in there – I find the low fat versions of those things to be disgusting.  I just used a lighter hand with the cheese.  I doubled this recipe and I had way too much broccoli, so I am adjusting the recipe below.  I have never had success with those no boil lasagne noodles, but I bought mine at Whole Foods this time (their brand, super inexpensive) and they became meltingly tender in the oven.  The sauce here was a star.  I’m a big fan of sundried tomatoes in general but had never used them in a sauce.  Turns out they lend a smokiness and depth to an otherwise simple sauce.

All in all, this was a wonderful dish.  One I would make for gatherings big and small.

Lasagne Previously on Dana Treat: Lasagne with Eggplant and Chard
One Year Ago: Roasted Butternut Squash Soup
Two Years Ago: Mushroom Enchiladas

Red, White, and Green Lasagne
Adapted from Gourmet
Serves 8

I assembled the entire lasagne the day before and let it sit in the refrigerator overnight.  I baked it for an additional 20 minutes or so.

Olive oil
2 large red bell peppers, chopped
15 ounces ricotta cheese
1 pound broccoli, cut into florets
1 box dry no-boil lasagne noodles (you won’t need all the noodles)
8 ounces mozzarella, grated
1 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
Rich Winter Tomato Sauce (recipe follows)

Put a large skillet over medium heat.  Add just enough olive oil to coat the bottom and then add the peppers and a large pinch of salt.  Sauté, stirring occasionally, until peppers are crisp-tender, about 7 minutes.  Allow to cool slightly.  Put the ricotta into a large bowl and stir in the peppers.  Steam the broccoli until crisp-tender, about 3 to 5 minutes.  Allow to cool slightly, then give it a rough chop.  Stir into ricotta mixture and season to taste with pepper and salt.

Preheat oven to 375ºF.

Pour 1 cup tomato sauce into a baking dish, 13 by 9 by 2 inches, and line the bottom with lasagne sheets, not overlapping.  Drop about 1½ cups ricotta mixture by spoonfuls onto pasta and gently spread with back of a spoon.  Sprinkle ¼ of the mozzarella and ¼ of the Parmesan over ricotta mixture.  Make two more layers in the same way, beginning and ending with pasta.  Spread remaining sauce over pasta (you may have a bit left over), making sure the pasta is completely covered, and sprinkle with remaining mozzarella and Parmesan.

Cover dish tightly with foil, tenting slightly to prevent foil from touching top layer, and bake in the middle of the oven for 30 minutes.  Remove foil and bake lasagne 10 minutes more, or until top is bubbling.  Let lasagne stand 5 minutes before serving.

Rich Winter Tomato Sauce
Makes about 3 cups

The recipe instructs you to use a food mill to purée the sauce but I don’t have one.  I used my handheld immersion blender.  It was fairly chunky but I liked that.

½ cup packed dried tomatoes (not packed in oil)
1 cup boiling water
1 large onion, chopped
3 garlic cloves, minced
2 tbsp. butter
28-ounce can whole tomatoes with juice
1 tsp. sugar

In a small bowl soak dried tomatoes in boiling water 30 minutes and drain.  While tomatoes are soaking, heat a saucepan over medium-low heat.  Add butter and when melted, add onion and a large pinch of salt.  Once soft, about 5 minutes, add the garlic and stir another 3 minutes.  Pour in the tomatoes and the sugar and another pinch of salt and cook, stirring often to break up the tomatoes, until thickened, about 30 minutes.  Season to taste with salt and pepper.

Use an immersion blender, a food mill, or a traditional blender to purée sauce.

White Chocolate Tiramisù

February 7, 2011

Do you need a dessert that feeds at least 18 people?  Do you have a stand mixer (preferably with an extra bowl and paddle) and a handheld mixer?  Do you have at least five mixing bowls – six if your white chocolate seizes like mine did?  Then have I got the dessert for you!

Saturday was our seasonal yoga retreat and to change things up a bit, Jen decided to do an afternoon session followed by dinner.  It seemed like the right thing to do.  Winter is dark and gray here and hunkering down for a cozy dinner with friends after an invigorating yoga session – what could be better?  In past yoga retreats (this was our eighth!), we have always felt a bit of let down at the end of the day.  It has felt like all participants, Jen and I included, were not ready for the party to end.  Re-entry into chaotic lives was difficult.  So, having a dinner with wine and no real end to the evening sounded wonderful.

I was challenged to find a meal that would serve 24 people without a lot of last minute prep.  My mind went in many different directions but ultimately settled on an Italian theme.  I made two different kinds of pasta, Caesar salad and a roasted tomato caprese.  I made garlic bread and an antipasto platter starring these peppers.  And I made 2 desserts – White Chocolate Tiramisù and some cannoli.

The first and only other time I made this Tiramisù (or any Tiramisù for that matter) was years ago, soon after Randy and I were first married.  We went to a party and the hosts requested that I make dessert.  I was never a big fan of Tiramisù but this recipe caught my eye because it said that it served 18 and I knew the party would be on the large side.  This dessert is always at the back of my mind because of that fact, that it serves a lot of people, and because one of our hosts absolutely fell in love with the dessert.  We see him only about once a year now but he always asks me, “Hey, have you made that amazing Tiramisù lately?”

Now, if you are going to follow my suggestion to K.I.S.S., then don’t make this recipe.  There are others which are much simpler, that take fewer bowls, that don’t make your kitchen look like a tornado touched down.  I was hating hating this dessert as I was making it.  When I have plenty of time to get things done, I am very Zen in the kitchen.  I work methodically and smoothly and things seem to fall into place easily.  When I am crunched for time, as I was in the case of this Tiramisù, I start getting sloppy and making stupid mistakes.  Lesson learned: leaving the somewhat time consuming, dish heavy, and multiple steps dessert until the end of a cooking day is not a good idea.

But as I started to assemble it, tasting each piece as I went, I was pretty happy that I endured the mess.  This is a very impressive dessert.  The pan itself weighed more than the lasagne I made.  Three layers of coffee and booze soaked ladyfingers and an incredibly rich white chocolate and ricotta cheese custard is pretty hard to beat.

One Year Ago: Caramel Cake
Two Years Ago: Roasted Orange Pepper Soup

White Chocolate Tiramisù
Adapted from Bon Appétit
Serves at least 18

I made this, as the recipe suggests, in a 13×9-inch Pyrex pan.  The filling extends well beyond the pan and kind of sticks to the foil that you use to cover it.  It turns out fine, but I thought next time I would add another 6 ounces of ladyfingers and make the whole dessert in a bigger pan.  I used my hand mixer for the egg yolks, my stand mixer for the cream cheese, then my hand mixer again for the egg whites and also for the cream.

2½ cups hot water plus 2 tbsp. water
¼ cup instant espresso powder
6 tbsp. dark rum
8 ounces good-quality white chocolate, chopped
8 large egg yolks
1¼ pounds cream cheese (two and a half 8-ounce packages), room temperature
4 large egg whites
¾ cups sugar
1½ cups chilled whipping cream
90 soft ladyfingers from four 3-ounce packages
2 tbsp. unsweetened cocoa powder

Pour 2½ cups hot water into medium bowl.  Add espresso powder; stir to dissolve.  Stir in rum.  Cool espresso mixture.  Place chocolate in medium bowl.  Set bowl over saucepan of simmering water and stir until melted and smooth.

Combine egg yolks, powdered sugar, and remaining two tablespoons of water in medium bowl.  Set over saucepan of simmering water and whisk constantly, until mixture thickens slightly and reaches 160ºF, about 6 minutes.  Remove bowl from over water.  Using electric mixer, beat egg yolk mixture until cool and thick, about 5 minutes.  Using electric mixer, beat cream cheese in large bowl until smooth.  Beat barely lukewarm melted chocolate into cream cheese.  Fold egg yolk mixture into cream cheese mixture.

Using electric mixer fitted with clean dry beaters, beat egg whites in another large bowl to soft peaks.  Gradually add ¾ cup sugar, beating until stiff peaks form.  Fold 1/3 of beaten egg white mixture into cream cheese mixture to lighten.  Fold in remaining egg white mixture.  Beat whipping cream in medium bowl to medium-stiff peaks.  Gently fold whipped cream into cream cheese mixture, creating mousse.

Lightly dip 1/3 of ladyfingers 1 at a time in espresso-rum mixture and place in single layer in bottom of 13-9-2-inch glass baking dish.  Spoon 1/3 of mousse over ladyfingers, spreading evenly.  Dip next 1/3 of ladyfingers in espresso mixture and place atop mousse.  Top ladyfingers with another 1/3 of mousse.  Repeat with remaining ladyfingers, espresso mixture and mousse.  Sift cocoa powder over top of tiramisù.  Cover; chill overnight.


February 2, 2011

This is my baby.  Four years ago, I had a 2:30pm appointment to have this baby.  My previous baby, who ended up only weighing 6 lb. 13 oz., would not come out the traditional way, despite 18 hours of labor and 3 hours of pushing.  My doctor was all for trying a VBAC (vaginal birth after caesarian – sorry guys) but a late term ultrasound showed that baby #2 was going to be bigger than baby #1.  And so, I made an appointment to have a baby.  Who, by the way, ended up weighing 7 lb. 12 oz.

With a planned c-section, they want you to deliver at around 39 weeks to avoid going in to labor (which would just complicate things).  My due date fell on a Saturday so my doctor gave me a choice.  Did I want to have a baby on February 2nd or February 5th?  What a weird thing to decide.  Randy and I like even numbers better than odd (which is odd, I know) so we settled on the 2nd.  And besides – it’s Groundhog Day!

So my little, or not-so-little, groundhog.  Who are you at four?  You have some of the same traits you did at three.  Still obsessed with vehicles, especially garbage trucks.  Still very independent with a mind of your own.  Still so big but more tall than stocky these days.  Your hair is less blond (sob!), your belly is a little flatter (sob!), you are potty trained (yay!) and sleeping in a big boy bed (yay!).  We still have a nightly bedtime conversation, but now you always want to talk about birthdays.  We have to start with Thanksgiving, then move through Graham’s birthday and everyone else in our family until we get to yours.  You share your bed with tiger, doggie, giraffe, and blanket – incredibly imaginative names, I know.  After the birthday ritual, you want me to “sweep” with you.  (Your “l’s” are still “w’s”).  I lay next to you and your put your face right up next to mine.  Your big beautiful eyes with their impossibly long lashes so close I can’t really see them.  Breathing softly onto my face.  How is your breath so sweet?

Your facility with language and ability to process complex concepts is astounding to us.  You ask soulful questions and tell long-winded stories with lots of “and then”.  Truthfully, sometimes I zone out while you are talking so I don’t always hear what you say, but I am deeply soothed and satisfied by the sound of your surprisingly high-pitched (for such a big guy) and raspy voice.  There are very few words that you say incorrectly anymore.  Instructions are constructions and umbrella is umbabrella.  Currently you want to marry Stella, a former preschool classmate.  Why?  Because “she has a headband.”  And you never answer just yes.  It’s “I sure do” or “I sure will”.  You are incredibly bright and funny.

I have a million nicknames for you.  Pooky, pickle, noodle, noodley pants, lovey bug, cute face, sweet sweet, yummy yum yum, and my favorite – 2T.  I started calling you that when you were just a year and fitting into 2T clothes.  Now you are four and fitting into 5T.

Recently you asked me, “When Graham and me are grown ups, who are our kids going to be?”  How do you answer a question like that?  You also asked me whether or not your legs came off.  When I told you no and why were you asking, you said, “Well then how did they make me?  Who made me?  You and Daddy?  How did you make me?”  I don’t think you are quite ready for that answer yet.

You might be this guy now.

But you used to be this guy.

And this guy.  Happy birthday my sweet.

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