Monday, November 26, 2007
Saturday, November 24, 2007
- 1-2 Tbs olive oil
- 1 chopped red bell pepper
- 1 chopped yellow bell pepper
- 1 cup chopped onion
- 4 medium zucchini, halved lengthwise and thinly sliced
- 16-oz sliced cremini mushrooms (also called Baby Bellas)
- 1 leek, halved lenthwise and thinly sliced
- 3 garlic cloves, minced
- 8 oz part-skim mozzarella cheese, shredded, divided
- 1 1/2 cups part-skim ricotta cheese
- 2 oz grated Parmesan cheese, divided
- 1 egg
- 5 cups marinara sauce (a little less than double the recipe I use for marinara), divided
- 12 no-boil lasagna sheets
- Heat olive oil in a large Dutch oven over medium-high heat.
- Saute the bell peppers, onion, zucchini, mushrooms and leeks in oil for about 10 minutes, or until vegetables are crisp-tender.
- Add garlic to vegetables and saute for another 30 seconds.
- Drain vegetables in a colander to get rid of the excessive leftover mushroom liquid.
- Combine 1 1/2 cups mozzarella, ricotta, 3/4 cup Parmesan, and egg, stirring well.
- Spread 1 cup marinara sauce over bottom of a 9x13 baking dish; top with three noodles.
- Spoon 1 cup marinara sauce over noodles. Top evenly with 1/3 ricotta mixture, and 1/3 vegetable mixture.
- Add another layer: 3 noodles, 1 cup marinara, 1/3 ricotta, 1/3 vegetables.
- Repeat step 8 one more time.
- Top with last 3 noodles, then remaining 1 cup marinara.
- Sprinkle with remaining 1/2 cup mozzarella and remaining 3/4 cup Parmesan.
- Cover and bake at 350 degrees for 45 minutes.
- Uncover and bake an additional 10 minutes.
NOTE: this recipe makes a LOT of lasagna. One of the great things about using the Barilla sheets is that, since they are much shorter and slighly wider than normal lasagna noodles, it is easy to halve this recipe and bake the smaller quantity in an 8-inch square baking dish to yield four servings. Just use 2 of these smaller noodles per layer instead of 3.
Friday, November 23, 2007
Wednesday, November 21, 2007
I don’t eat turkey. Nor do I eat gravy or stuffing. And it’s not that I’m just going through some vegetarian phase. I’ve never eaten these things. Ever.
To top it all off, The Carnivore and the three-year-old have decided to build a fire today. While normally this might seem sweet and cozy and traditional and all that, it is going to be seventy degrees outside today. And the bloody fireplace is in the kitchen where I am cooking all day long as I prepare for Thanksgiving WHILE wearing a 10-pound infant in a sling around my chest. I’m sweating buckets here.
This is not how I pictured my life.
I blame The Carnivore. Ten years ago, we had our first date during Thanksgiving weekend. That particular Thanksgiving morning, I straggled out of bed, after staying out too late the night before, just in time to take a quick shower, drink a pot of coffee, and drive to my mother’s house for Thanksgiving lunch. I didn’t cook anything. I was 24 years old and too oblivious to do anything but show up empty-handed, eat my fill, and mosey on back home to see if my housemate wanted to go out and see a band play.
It was either that night or the following night that I ran into The Carnivore at the now-defunct Engine Room and thus began the romance which led me here, to this day, in which I find myself roasting a couple of turkey legs in the oven so that I can use the (argh) drippings in my stuffing. Which, like I said, I won’t even be eating.
Two years after that first date, The Carnivore (then at boyfriend status) and I spent Thanksgiving weekend in Charleston for a friend’s wedding. My first inkling that Life With The Carnivore was going to be a little upside down for me should have come when I spent the reception dancing with the best man because The Carnivore was outside watching the UGA vs. GA Tech football game on a mini handheld television that he had smuggled to the wedding.
And still I married him. And I love him to this day. Even as my house fills with the smell of roasting turkey.
The mind boggles.
Tuesday, November 20, 2007
Saturday, November 17, 2007
Thursday, November 15, 2007
Time went on, and the binder became more full. And we gradually became more picky. Of course I can’t be sure if our standards are higher now because I’ve become a better cook, or if we only seem choosier in comparison to how easily impressed we once were.
Regardless, it is what it is. Cooking has become second nature for me and my skin has gotten thicker. The Carnivore rarely even hesitates anymore to let me know when a new recipe isn’t worth keeping. It would take more than that to hurt my feelings.
Recipe testing went by the wayside during the recent pregnancy. Most of the time I was too tired at the end of the day to feel any sort of creative urge to begin with, and naturally I was a little nervous about nausea and preferred to stick with the tried-and-true, so we tended to eat meals pulled from my nice thick recipe binder. Desserts were the obvious exception to this rule. Rarely a Saturday went by that I wasn’t happily tinkering around with various pie and brownie recipes. I am The Brownie Queen.
But now, oh, how I have the time, energy and NEED to spend time creating in the kitchen. My stack of Recipes To Try had grown absurdly tall, and with the vast majority of my time spent caring for two children under the age of four, I was beginning to become afraid that my brain might atrophy if I didn’t find something, anything, to give me a feeling of accomplishment.
Though I believe I might have overestimated the expected success rate here.
Two nights ago, after yet another snooze-fest of a new entrée recipe (kale, three bean and roasted garlic soup - it wasn't bad, just painfully boring), I started feeling a wee bit discouraged. And once I spent the time reviewing my recent menus, I went to the trouble of calculating the failure rate based on the number of new recipes that went straight into the recycling bin rather than being confidently added to the repertoire. Out of 19 new recipes (consisting of main dishes, side dishes and desserts) attempted during the past three weeks, only nine of them were deemed worthy of the binder. That is a 53% failure rate. And sure, I could try and put a positive spin on it by claiming the glass is half full and recognizing my 47% success rate, but no matter how you parse the words here, we’re clearly being disappointed more often than not.
That’s worse than I had suspected.
Which means I either need to develop an even thicker skin or I need to spend more time sticking to the 200 or so recipes that we KNOW we like. Which of course I’m genetically incapable of doing. So I’ll just beat myself up instead. Truly, I probably just need to spend less time watching these Chef-Reality-TV-shows so that I’ll feel slightly less intimidated. Anytime I start to get above my raising in the kitchen, I watch an episode or two of The Next Iron Chef, and I realize (yet again) how stinking little I really know about cooking. Which makes me want to become more adventurous with my recipes.
Lately I have gone back to the basics in a way. My own little version of Cooking 101. For too long, we have put up with a marinara recipe that was, at best, adequate. After I got over my initial distaste of cooking, and especially once I started striving to eat as little processed food as possible, I was willing to put up with less-than-the-best in order to avoid buying a jar of commercial spaghetti sauce (which, let’s admit, always has to be doctored up considerably to make it edible in the first place). I had to admit I didn’t have the knowledge to develop my own recipe without some help, so I consulted numerous cookbooks and online sources, but was always left feeling less than satisfied. Each recipe would lack in some capacity (too acidic, too sweet, not spicy enough, etc), and still I wasn’t capable of finding the trick that would fix it.
And then, finally, after much trial and error, I stumbled upon the winner in a 1987 The Top One Hundred Pasta Sauces cookbook that I can only assume was found at a yard sale by my mother. The recipe is so easy it can be put together in less than half an hour, but it has much more depth of flavor than most quick-marinara recipes than I’ve tried in the past. And now that I’ve mastered it (meaning I can actually cook it without consulting the recipe any longer), I feel confident enough to start tinkering around with it. Eureka. Success. At long last.
I served this sauce recently with an October 2007 Cooking Light recipe for Spinach and Ricotta Stuffed Shells, and we ate it for three days straight. Seriously. And we didn't MIND eating it day after day. (Actually, we kind of had to eat it for numerous meals because it made so doggone much - but, hey, we enjoyed it each time).
The pasta recipe can be easily multiplied for larger crowds, halved for smaller families, or even frozen (filled shells frozen separately from the marinara sauce) for quick dinners during the week. We're in love.
FIERY TOMATO SAUCE (makes 3 to 4 cups, adapted from The Top One Hundred Pasta Sauces)
- 2 Tbs olive oil
- 1 medium onion, diced
- 2 cloves garlic, minced
- 1 tsp dried crushed red chiles
- 28 oz can whole tomatoes, undrained
- 1 tsp sugar
- salt and pepper, to taste
- Heat the oil over medium heat.
- Gently fry the onion and garlic, with the lid on to prevent browning, until softened.
- Add the crushed chiles and saute for another minute.
- Add the tomatoes with their juice, sugar, salt and pepper.
- Cook on high, uncovered, for about 20 minutes, stirring occasionally.
- Turn heat off, and crush the tomatoes with a potato masher until the texture is to your liking. Adjust seasoning, if necessary.
SPINACH AND RICOTTA STUFFED SHELLS (serves six, adapted from Cooking Light)
- 2 1/2 cups part-skim ricotta cheese
- 1/2 cup (2 oz) grated Parmesan cheese
- 1/2 tsp onion powder
- 1/2 tsp dried oregano
- 1/4 tsp salt
- 1/4 tsp freshly ground black pepper
- 10-oz package frozen spinach, thawed, drained, squeezed dry, and chopped
- 1 large egg yolk
- 1 garlic clove, minced
- 24 cooked jumbo pasta shells (a little less than one box)
- 3 cups marinara sauce, divided
- Combine ricotta and next 8 ingredients (through garlic) in a large bowl, stirring well.
- Spoon about 1 1/2 Tbs filling into each pasta shell.
- Spread 1/2 cup marinara sauce over bottom of a 9x13 baking dish, and arrange stuffed shells (open side up) atop sauce.
- Top shells with remaining 2 1/2 cups marinara sauce.
- Cover and bake at 350 degrees for 30 minutes.
Tuesday, November 13, 2007
- 2 cups all-purpose flour
- 2 cups rolled oats
- 1 tsp baking soda
- 1/2 tsp salt
- 2 sticks unsalted butter
- 1 cup granulated sugar
- 1 cup firmly packed light brown sugar
- 2 eggs
- 2/3 cup crunchy peanut butter, plus 1/2 cup for icing
- 1/2 tsp vanilla extract
- 2 cups confectioners sugar
- approximately 1/2 cup evaporated milk
- Combine flour, oats, baking soda and salt.
- With an electric mixer, beat butter and both sugars until smooth and fluffy.
- Add eggs to butter mixture and mix well.
- Add peanut butter to butter mixture.
- Gradually mix dry ingredients in.
- Mix in vanilla.
- Spread in a lightly greased 11x14 inch jellyroll pan.
- Bake at 350 degrees for about 20 minutes, until edges just begin to turn golden (mixture will still be soft). The trick is to NOT overbake these.
- Combine confectioners sugar, 1/2 cup peanut butter and about 1/4 cup evaporated milk. Add milk, little by little, until you get an icing of thin, spreadable consistency.
- Spread icing on bars right after baking.
Monday, November 12, 2007
In lieu of flowers, the family has requested that donations in Ted's name be made to Nuci's Space, an Athens non-profit organization that provides emotional and physical support to musicians.
Saturday, November 10, 2007
We rarely eat out anymore. Moving out to the country (um, we only moved about 12 miles from our former in-town home, but it seems like another planet) was most of the reason that we stopped hitting restaurants. And of course we now have two young children, which makes leisurely, romantic restaurant meals virtually impossible. Then there’s the fact that I love to cook…
When we do dine out though, we have a few local favorites that we tend to patronize. Agua Linda is our hands-down favorite for Mexican food, and was only a couple of blocks away from our previous residence. On special occasions, I always ask for Farm 255, the local-and-seasonal-foods restaurant associated with Full Moon Farms, the CSA that we joined this past summer. When I want tofu (which I have never quite mastered the art of in my own kitchen), I request The Grit, a crazy-popular local vegetarian restaurant whose cookbook blessed me with my favorite hummus recipe.
The Grit is one of those places that could have fallen victim to its own hip-ness, but itt’s been around for something like 25 years now and has only grown in its popularity. The menu leans toward comfort food, though like I said, it’s a vegetarian place, so its kind of like a Southern meat-and-three (only without the meat). Nearly every musician and artist in town has worked there at some point and though the wait staff is heavily tattooed and far hipper than me, it isn’t unusual to see carnivorous conservatives at the dining tables alongside members of well-known out-of-town bands.
Since we eat out so seldom now, when we do venture out of our hole and actually go to a restaurant, we’re most apt to order something that I would never make at home. I don’t deep-fry, so when we have lunch at The Big Easy, we order po-boys. If we’re at Agua Linda, I’ll get a bean-and-rice chimichanga (again the deep-frying issue). At The Grit I want The Golden Bowl, a luscious rice and tofu dish that is much more addictive and delicious than it sounds.
I have a copy of The Grit Cookbook, which is probably fairly obvious to anyone who knows me at all. I love to support local establishments, and cookbooks are near and dear to my heart to begin with. The Golden Bowl recipe is RIGHT THERE in the cookbook, so you’d think I wouldn’t have to order it at a restaurant. After all, no evil deep-frying is involved. Ingredients are readily accessible at all times of the year. The instructions are easy-to-follow.
But, oh, how I failed at this recipe. When I attempted it for dinner a year or so ago, I found it to be nearly inedible. The husband (one of the many local carnivores who LOVE The Golden Bowl) deemed it “not awful” and actually ate it, but I stared woefully at my plate and schemed to go eat at The Grit as soon as possible so I could order The Golden Bowl and commit its taste and texture to memory so that I could make another stab at the recipe in my own kitchen.
Truly, I want to think it’s my aversion to Teflon that caused my miserable failure with this recipe. Instead of using a non-stick skillet (as the recipe CLEARLY instructs), I pulled out my trusty nearly-non-stick cast iron skillet. The problem I ran into though, was the soy sauce, and then the nutritional yeast rendered my oiled cast iron skillet into the most stickable (sic) surface any scientist has ever seen. The crust never fully developed (because it was too busy sticking to my doggone skillet) and the flavor just never happened. Actually, the end result was precisely what you might have once-upon-a-time expected from any recipe that uses tofu. I ended up with a bland, oddly textured, icky seventies-style vegetarian meal.
The recipe can’t be to blame, because other people I know have mastered it effortlessly. Obviously, I should check in with some of Those People to see what kind of skillet they used, but I’m afraid they will say they used the cast iron skillets as well. And then I will most assuredly have to admit that I’m just no good at this. My technique bites.
The reason I even mention this right now is because Ted Hafer, who owned The Grit, died yesterday. The story is tragic and very depressing and I wouldn’t even link it here except that the now-displaced former Athenians who read this blog will want to know the whole story. Ted was young and well-known around here. He was a musician, an artist, a husband and father, and a local business owner who supported charitable causes.
If you’re a praying person, then pray for Ted’s family and friends. And buy the cookbook. Consider it your contribution to his children’s college fund.
Maybe you’ll have better luck with this recipe than I did.
Grit-Style Tofu (serves two, from The Grit Cookbook)
- this recipe has been edited to include my tips for getting the tofu perfectly seared
- One 15-oz block firm tofu
- Vegetable oil
- Soy sauce
- Nutritional yeast
- Cut tofu into cubes slightly smaller than playing dice.
- Heavily oil a non-stick skillet (you want a good, thick layer of oil - not enough to deep fry, of course, but the oil should be about a 1/4-inch deep) and place over high heat.
- Allow oil to heat until shimmering, and add tofu.
- Cook, leaving the tofu in place for a few minutes to develop a nice, lightly golden brown crust on the bottom, and then carefully turn each piece over to achieve the same result on the other side.
- Sprinkle fairly liberally with soy sauce (about 1-2 tablespoons) and sauté briefly, lightly tossing with a spatula, to further brown tofu.
- Add a little more oil to keep the bottom of the pan slick, and then a little more soy sauce (another tablespoon or so), and continue to cook, keeping the tofu moving with a spatula until well-browned.
- Sprinkle with nutritional yeast to coat tofu cubes and, tossing vigorously, saute for another minute or two and remove from heat.
Wednesday, November 07, 2007
After I mentioned my new hand washing pact in my last blog entry, I got a couple of comments on whether hand washing is, in fact, a more efficient use of water. And while I got my hopes up for a couple of minutes there (because truly, my dream was that someone would show me the numbers proving that the dishwasher is better), after plodding through numerous discussions of this question online, I found that not only does no one seem to agree on the answer, but that the only studies "proving" dishwashers are more water-efficient appear to have been sponsored by the manufacturers.
So, here’s the thing. I’m not a scientist. And I can never be totally sure that anything I've read online is completely true. But I do love a challenge.
What I found so far is that the average dishwasher uses between 9 and 15 gallons of water in a cycle. Half of the things I’ve read online claim that even the most conservative hand washer will use more than that washing a load of dishes. For the most part, I initially begged to differ. When I hand wash the dishes, I turn on the faucet to rinse the dishes in the beginning, then I turn off the water entirely while I scrub everything with soap on a sponge, and I turn the faucet back on to rinse everything at the same time. Total time to do this whole process on a typical day, when I’m washing three sets of dishes along with the pots and pans and everything else used to cook an entrée and one or two side dishes takes less than 10 minutes. And obviously I’m not running the water during that entire time.
When I was still using the dishwasher (sigh), I ran it an average of once every two days, working out to about 7.5 gallons of water usage per day. So clearly, the question is whether I’m using less than 7.5 gallons of water when I hand wash the dishes each evening now, and I thought the answer was patently unclear. But how on earth was I supposed to figure this out for sure? And why was it that I couldn't find an answer to this conundrum online? Could it really be possible that I’m the first fool to try and compute this number? Say it ain’t so…
Well obviously I’m not the FIRST person to think of this. A little bit more googling yielded the following answer: a typical kitchen faucet uses 4 to 7 gallons of water per minute. Hmmm. Now the variance seems large with that answer, but even if my faucet uses the low end of that number (4 gallons of water per minute) and even if I’m only running the water for 4 minutes, then I’ve already used more than the dishwasher would have used on a full load. And I would have only been hand-washing HALF of what would fit in my dishwasher (on the basis that it took me two days to fill a dishwasher load).
Here’s the rub though: if you use the sink to pre-rinse each dish before putting it in the dishwasher, then you would still have to add that kitchen faucet usage to the dishwasher usage in order to see your total usage, and that final number would probably get ugly. However, I’ve read in countless places that pre-rinsing dishes before putting them in the dishwasher is a complete waste of time and water, and that there is no compelling reason to do so.
Of course, there’s still the caveat of not trusting everything you read online, but suffice to say, I’m shocked that the dishwasher APPEARS to be the winner here. And I’m relieved. SO VERY RELIEVED. Actually, I’m so doggone happy that I would do a jig if only I knew how. I’m definitely making dessert tonight.
Note: I’m not taking energy usage into account for now. It is obvious that dishwashers use more electricity than hand washing, and I’m nowhere near smart enough to figure out what happens when one weighs the water savings against the added energy usage to get the best environmental answer. Truly though, in a time of water crisis, I would rather err on the side of using more energy in order to use less water. So for now...
Tuesday, November 06, 2007
- Cooking spray
- 2 cups all-purpose flour
- 3.5-oz bar of dark chocolate (60% cacao is a good choice), chopped into chunks
- 1/2 cup white chocolate chips
- 1/2 tsp baking soda
- 1/4 tsp salt
- 1-1/2 cups granulated sugar
- 1/2 cup packed light brown sugar
- 1/2 cup crunchy peanut butter
- 2 Tbs vegetable oil
- 2 tsp vanilla extract
- 2 eggs
- 2 egg whites
- Combine flour, chocolate chunks, chocolate chips, baking soda and salt in a bowl.
- Combine granulated sugar, brown sugar, peanut butter, oil, vanilla, eggs and egg whites in a large bowl; stir until well-blended.
- Add flour mixture to sugar mixture; stir just until blended.
- Spread batter in a 9x13 baking pan that has been coated with cooking spray.
- Bake at 350 degrees for 20-30 minutes, or until a knife inserted into the center comes out almost clean. (Note: convection ovens do a great job with brownies, cooking the outside nice and crispy while keeping the center moist).
UPDATE: To see where I later realized the error of my ways (and ate my words) regarding the use of the water-efficiency of dishwashers, see the next post.