Archive for the ‘Cuisine’ Category

The World’s Best Lasagna

Yes, it really is. If you disagree, make this one and then tell me why yours in better ;-)

I’ve been perfecting this recipe since I started making it after I got married. It’s based on one in the old Betty Crocker cookbook; the cinnamon is a tip from Dan’s mother, who got it from her Italian neighbor, Mrs. Oro. The flavor gets better if you make the sauce the day before. Since there’s only two of us, I make this recipe in two 8×8-inch pans, then bake one and freeze one. Just cook a few more lasagna noodles and cut them to fit the pans with kitchen scissors.

Lasagna and salad
Lasagna and salad

I generally make it once a year, for Dan’s birthday. This year, though, he talked me into making three huge pans of it for a group of 35 teachers he and a couple of colleagues took on an overnight trip as part of a professional development class they conduct. And he’ll get another one next month for his birthday! Lucky guy ;-)

I’ve never made that much sauce or lasagana before, but apparently the recipe scales well because I got a lot of compliments and a few requests for the recipe. So here it is.

The World’s Best Lasagna

1 pound bulk Italian sausage
1 medium onion, chopped (about ½ cup)
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 16-oz. can whole tomatoes
1 24-oz. can tomato sauce
1/2 cup Chianti
1/2 cup fresh parsley, chopped, divided use
1 teaspoon sugar
1 tablespoon fresh basil, chopped
1/2 teaspoon dried oregano
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese rind
16 ounces ricotta cheese
1 cup grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese, divided use
1 tablespoon fresh oregano, chopped
1/8 teaspoon cinnamon
1 teaspoon salt
8 ounces provolone cheese, sliced
16 ounces shredded mozzarella cheese, divided use (reserve 4 oz.)
9 uncooked lasagna noodles

Cook and stir Italian sausage, onion, and garlic in 3-quart sauté pan until sausage is lightly browned; drain. Add tomatoes with liquid, tomato sauce, wine, ¼ cup parsley, sugar, basil and ½ tsp. salt. Heat to boiling, stirring occasionally. Reduce heat and simmer uncovered until mixture is consistency of thick spaghetti sauce, about 1 hour.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Cook noodles as directed on package. Reserve ½ cup of the sauce. In a medium bowl, mix ricotta cheese, ½ cup Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese, 1 tbsp. parsley, cinnamon, 1 tsp. salt and oregano.

Layer ingredients in ungreased 13x9x2-inch baking dish, or two 8×8-inch baking dishes, in this order: thin layer of sauce on the bottom; 1/3 of lasagna noodles; 1/3 of ricotta cheese mixture; 1/3 of sauce; 1/3 of provolone cheese; 1/3 of mozzarella cheese; repeat for two more layers. Spoon reserved sauce on top, sprinkle with reserved mozzarella, and top that with remaining Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese.

Bake uncovered for 45 minutes. Let stand 15 minutes before cutting.

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Thai Red Curry with Shrimp

So, after a bit of a hiatus, I’m back to blogging! I posted a pic of this dish on Facebook, some people asked about it, so here’s the recipe.

Dan and I both love bell peppers. I especially like the beautiful rainbow of colors available, so we buy a “stoplight” package – one each of red, orange and yellow peppers – plus at least one green pepper, almost every week. In the summer, we grow our own. That saves a lot of money! Can’t wait to get the garden going.

I also grow Thai basil in my herb garden. If you have some, use that; otherwise, regular Italian basil is a good substitute.

Thai Red Curry with Shrimp

Thai Red Curry with Shrimp

2 tbsp. peanut oil
1 medium onion, peeled, halved and sliced
2 cups bell peppers, any colors, seeded, halved crosswise and sliced (I used 1/2 each of red, yellow and orange peppers)
1 stalk celery, sliced 1/4-inch thick
2 cloves garlic, minced
3 tbsp. Thai red curry paste (I use Thai Kitchen brand)
2 tbsp. fish sauce
2 tsp. palm sugar or light brown sugar
1 14-oz. can light coconut milk
1/3 cup raisins
1 pound medium shrimp, peeled and deveined
3 tbsp. Thai basil leaves, coarsely chopped (optional)
3 tbsp. cilantro, chopped
3 cups jasmine rice, cooked, for serving
Sriracha hot sauce, optional, for serving

In a large sauté pan, heat oil over medium-high heat. Add onion and sauté a few minutes to soften. Add bell peppers, celery and garlic and stir a few more minutes. Add curry paste and stir until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Stir in fish sauce and sugar, then coconut milk and raisins. Bring to a boil; reduce heat and simmer till slightly thickened, about 2 minutes.

Stir shrimp into curry and simmer till just cooked, about 2 minutes.

Remove pan from the heat and stir in basil, if using, and cilantro.

Serve over jasmine rice. Sprinkle with sriracha, if desired, and garnish with cilantro sprigs.

Makes 4 servings.

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Grilled Steak with Chimichurri Sauce

I am a vinegar fiend. I just checked my cupboard and I have 11 different kinds of vinegar. So when I came across this recipe for chimichurri sauce in Cooks’ Illustrated magazine a few years ago, I really wanted to try it. It’s kind of like a kicked-up version of Italian dressing with a larger proportion of vinegar and uses red-wine vinegar – my favorite.

Chimichurri sauce is a condiment from Argentina generally used as a steak sauce, but it can be used on all kinds of grilled meats. There are variations that include cilantro or oregano, but I found I didn’t like those flavors as well, so I just use parsley. I also am not fond of the bite of fresh onion and garlic, so I reduced the amount of garlic and soaked it and the onion in the vinegar to remove some of their pungency.

Even though summer is unofficially over, there are lots of good grilling days ahead, so try this with your next cookout.

Chimichurri Sauce for Grilled Steak
Adapted from Cooks Illustrated

1 cup parsley leaves (reserve stems for another use)
1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil
1/4 cup finely minced red onion
1/4 cup red-wine vinegar
3 medium cloves garlic, peeled and sliced
2 tbsp. water
1 tsp. salt
1/4 tsp. red pepper flakes

Add red onion and garlic to red-wine vinegar and let sit for 10 minutes. Place all ingredients in a food processor or blender and process until fairly smooth. Taste and add salt, if needed. Will keep refrigerated for one week.

Steak with chimichurri sauce

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Pork & Tomatillo Posole, Revisited

A friend asked for this recipe, so I’m reposting it with a couple of changes I’ve made since I first posted it in 2010. I like to serve this with roasted red pepper and cheese quesadillas.

It takes a long time to chop up all the ingredients, so sometimes I chop them in the evening while watching TV and then make the stew a day or two later. The original recipe called for dicing the pork into bite-sized pieces; that’s really tedious, especially with a bone-in roast, so I found an easier method.

Pork & Tomatillo Posole, Revisited

4 pounds bone-in pork butt or shoulder, trimmed of fat and cut into 3-4 large pieces
Coarse salt and freshly ground black pepper
1/4 cup canola or corn oil
2 yellow onions, diced
1 1/2 pounds tomatillos, husked, cored and chopped
4 jalapenos, stemmed, seeded and minced
4 garlic cloves, peeled and minced
1 tablespoon dried oregano (preferably Mexican)
8 cups chicken stock
2 cans yellow or white hominy, undrained
1 bunch cilantro, chopped

My Favorite Garnishes
2 limes, cut into wedges
2 avocadoes, cut into slices
Fried tortilla strips

Traditional Garnishes
1/4 small head green cabbage, thinly sliced
1/2 small red onion, finely diced
10 radishes, trimmed and thinly sliced
2 limes, cut into wedges

Heat the oil in a large (at least 5.5 quarts) heavy-bottomed pot over medium-high heat. Sprinkle one side of the pork pieces with salt and pepper and add, seasoned side down, to the pot. Brown pork on both sides, making sure to get them nice and golden brown. Season the second side, turn browned side up, and continue browning. Don’t crowd the pot or the meat will steam, not brown. You may need to do this in batches. When done, remove pork to a medium bowl and set aside.

Add the onions and a large pinch of salt to the pot. Saute for about five minutes, scraping up the browned bits on the bottom of the pot. Add the tomatillos, jalapenos, garlic and oregano and continue to cook for another few minutes to soften the vegetables.

Add the reserved pork, any accumulated pork juices and chicken stock to the pot. Cover it, turn the heat to high and bring to a boil. Remove the lid, turn the heat to low and simmer until the pork is tender and starting to fall apart, 1 1/2 to 2 hours. Add the hominy for the last half hour.

Use a slotted spoon or spider to remove the pork from the pot and place it in a medium bowl. Use two forks to pull the meat into large shreds. Return the pork to the pot and simmer for five minutes to reheat the meat.

Stir in the cilantro and taste. Add salt and pepper if necessary. Ladle the soup into bowls and serve with the garnishes.

Four jalapenos will make this stew a bit spicy. Most of the heat is in the ribs and seeds of the peppers. For our taste, I remove half the ribs and seeds; feel free to adjust to your heat tolerance.

Mexican oregano is a little different from Italian or Greek oregano and worth seeking out for this recipe. It’s available in Mexican grocery stores, including La Familia Market in Chesapeake.

This stew takes some time to prepare, but the rich broth, pleasant heat and zing from the lime juice combine with the yummy combination of vegetables to make it all worthwhile. It freezes well, or you can invite a group of friends over to share.

Pork & Tomatillo Posole, Revisited
Pork & Tomatillo Posole

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Moroccan Preserved Lemons for Tagine

A couple of years ago, after I admired it in the Le Creuset outlet store in Williamsburg, Dan gave me a beautiful tagine (Moroccan cooking pot) for Christmas, along with a Moroccan cookbook. I haven’t used it a whole lot, but it looks great in the kitchen ;-)

Tagine (Moroccan cooking pot)

I want to use it more, but it seems like most of the recipes call for preserved lemons, which I haven’t been able to find around here. Preserved lemons are used as a flavoring in Moroccan cuisine, especially stews. The preservation method softens the lemons skins, like watermelon rind pickles, and gives a sharp lemony-salty kick to the dish.

It costs $10 for two preserved lemons in a jar from an online source, which seems like a lot to me. So I’ve just kept putting it off. I’ve thought about making my own preserved lemons; there’s a recipe for them in the book. But I’ve felt uncomfortable about the idea. Would I poison us?

But then, if you look at the recipe, the lemons are brined for a month in pure lemon juice and salt. Not much could survive that environment. And since I canned homemade salsa, watermelon rind and hot peppers last summer, I feel a lot more comfortable about preserving food at home.

Then in January, Andrea of Andrea’s Recipes wrote a blog post on making preserved lemons. A couple of weeks later, another food blog I follow, Food in Jars, posted an article on preserved limes that referred to a previous post on preserved lemons. The article on preserved lemons had over 70 comments where people described different ways of using the preserves.

So finally, on March 4, I made preserved lemons. They’re still softening up in the fridge, but they should come out nicely in another 10 days or so. And they’ll keep for at least a year. Can’t wait to start using them.

Making preserved lemons

Preserved Lemons

Adapted from “Cooking at the Kasbah: Recipes from My Moroccan Kitchen” by Kitty Morse

The traditional method for preserving lemons involves cutting the lemons a different way and sprinkling salt into the cuts; I found it awkward, so I just cut the lemons into wedges. This also makes it easier to remove a small amount for a recipe.

  • 1 dozen lemons, five cut into eight wedges, the rest reserved for juicing (I bought organic lemons, since we’re eating the rind)
  • 1/2 cup pickling salt or fine sea salt (kosher salt isn’t a good choice because you want the salt to dissolve quickly)
  • 1 quart-size canning jar
  • Place the salt in a medium bowl. Press both sides of each lemon wedge into the salt and place into the canning jar. Juice the remaining lemons until the juice covers the wedges in the jar. Cover and refrigerate. Turn the jar gently every few days to redistribute the wedges. They’re ready to use after 30 days.

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Food-writing class: Recipe writing

For the food-writing class I’m taking at the Muse, we have an assignment to take a badly written recipe and rewrite it in proper format with good directions. Patrick gave us several to choose from and we practiced in class.

This selection sounds like it would make a good casserole for a potluck, and since this is the season … enjoy.

Garden veggies from our 2008 garden
From our 2008 garden: ingredients that could be used in this dish

Black Bean Tortilla Casserole

A meatless meal with lots of zip. Good for vegetarians and those on a budget.

2 tablespoons olive oil
2 medium onions, chopped
2 green bell peppers, chopped
4 ounces jalapenos, minced
4 cloves garlic, minced
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1 14.5-ounce can diced tomatoes, undrained (or, if in season, 2 large tomatoes, chopped)
3/4 cup salsa
2 15-ounce cans black kidney beans
12 6-inch corn tortillas
2 cups Monterey Jack cheese, shredded (divided use)

2 medium tomatoes, sliced
2 cups lettuce, shredded
3 green onions, sliced
1/8 cup black olives, sliced
1/2 cup sour cream, optional

Heat oven to 350 degrees. In a large skillet, heat olive oil over medium-high heat. Add onions, peppers, jalapenos, garlic and cumin. Saute for five minutes. Stir in undrained tomatoes and salsa. Bring to a boil; reduce heat and simmer, uncovered, for 10 minutes. Stir in beans.

Spread 1/3 of the bean mixture over the bottom of a 13”x9”x2” baking dish. Top with half of the tortillas, overlapping as necessary, and half of the cheese. Add another 1/3 of the bean mixture, the remaining tortillas, and the rest of the bean mixture. Cover with foil and bake for 30-35 minutes until heated through.

Sprinkle with remaining cheese and let stand 10 minutes. Top with tomato slices, lettuce, green onion and olives. Cut into squares and serve with sour cream.

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