Feast 17 – Ravioli and Asparagus

August 31, 2009

Italian mothers must either really love their families or else hold them in the highest contempt. I say this after a loooong afternoon of rolling out pasta for homemade ravioli. granted there are pasta machines, highly recommended and granted i was only making enough pasta for two people, main course and dessert. the physical effort that goes into making pasta by hand is, to say the least, back breaking. i woke up this morning with a sore back and tender shoulders. in order to get the pasta rolled out to the proper thinness, it took quite a bit of bearing down with all my weight, rotate and repeat. rotate and repeat. ad nauseum. i have a high level of respect for those that make it for an entire family on a regular basis. for me, i’m glad its an occassional thing and in limited amounts. don’t get me wrong, i consider it very worthwhile to take the time to do but the amount of effort makes it something that i will not do that often.

this week i decided to go with an italian theme, based around homemade ravioli. i opted to make a main course pasta stuffed with portabella mushrooms topped with a white asiago/proscuitto sauce and a fried dessert pasta with marscapone cheese and hazelnuts drizzled with honey. for the side, i went with pan grilled asparagus served simply with freshly shaved parmesan cheese. it was a bit extraneous with the starch of the pasta but i have been on a bread baking kick as of late so i threw together a basil and olive loaf. Eddie brought over a black bean hummus and a nice bottle of red, altogether a well-rounded meal, quite pleasant and without much complication.

When i am in the kitchen, i feel that i cannot relax enough to have an adult beverage until the cooking is progressed to the point that the outcome is no longer in question. once i have everything rolling, i usually crack a beer or make a mixed drink, my way of relaxing after whatever frantic actions that went into the days meal. some days it’s not until the food is plated and on the table that i feel comfortable to the point of getting that first beverage. other days, like today, things go incredibly well and i am way ahead of schedule. although dinner wasn’t served until 5:30 by one o’clock i was basically done with the exception of the just in time things that shouldn’t or couldn’t be started ahead. and so, my reward, a nice healthy white russian made with smirnoff vanilla vodka. quite tasty.

because of the prep time needed for the pasta, i started working at around 11:30 in the morning. the pasta itself is easy to make, take 2 cups of flour, pour onto a flat work surface and form a mound. dig a crater in the center of the mound and add 2 eggs and 2 egg yolks. mix from the inside to incorporate as much of the flour as possible. the dough will be extremely stiff and hard to work with. thats normal. halve the dough and form into two balls. working with one at a time, roll out the dough with a rolling pin until you have a flat sheet around 14 inches by 8 inches. yeah, its easy to type that in a recipe but understand that it will take considerable effort and time to do it by hand. that’s ok, just do it. if you have a pasta machine by all means, now is the time to use it.

at some point during this process, you want to make the filling for the savory pasta. in a startling development, this began with 1/2 an onion and 3 cloves of garlic sweated down in a bit of olive oil. you want them finely minced so that they will be nice and smooth in the filling. while they are cooking down, mince one large portabella mushroom, one hot pepper and four or five basil leaves. add these to the ingredients in the pan and cook until soft. season with salt, pepper, oregano, whatever else tickles your fancy. transfer to a bowl and cool in the fridge until you are ready to form the pasta.

Ingredients for filling cooking away

Ingredients for filling cooking away

ok, take one of the sheets of pasta and cut off any ragged edges so you have a fairly uniform rectangle. with the short side towards you, drop about a tablespoon of the filling onto the pasta at regular intervals on the left hand side. leave enough space in between to seal the raviolis. using the egg whites that you separated when making the pasta do (you didn’t throw them away did you?) do some finger painting along the edges of the pasta and in between each pocket of filling. fold over the right hand side to cover the filling and gently press the dough around the filling, trying to get a much air out of the ravioli as possible. air pockets + boiling water = exploding pasta. you aren’t sealing them yet, just forming them. once you have them formed, cut them apart with your chef’s knife or a pizza cutter if that suits you better. working with each pasta in turn, seal all the edges with the tines of a fork, making sure to get a much air out as possible. place the formed pastas on a plate and freeze until ready to boil. the freezing makes them easier to work with and more likely to keep their shape.

Forming the Pasta

Forming the Pasta

For the dessert pasta, i took about 4 heaping tbsps of marscapone and worked in a small packet of chopped hazelnuts. season with cinammon. i would also, in retrospect, add a bit of honey or a bit of milk chocolate to the mixture as well. use this mixture and the second sheet of pasta as detailed above. freeze until you are ready to serve dinner.

i went with a very basic bread recipe, my go to recipe when i just want some bread. i’m not sure where i picked up these proportions but they are the ones that stick in my head and are pretty reliable. 3 1/2 cups of flour in a bowl, make a well in the center and add 2 tbsps yeast. around the outer edge, drizzle a bit of olive oil, a couple twists of salt and 2 or 3 pinches of sugar. pour 1 1/4 cups of warm water around and mix until it comes together in the bowl. turn out onto a floured surface and knead until it is smooth and elastic, around five minutes. pour some olive oil into the bowl you were using and swirl to coat the bottom and sides. place the dough ball in the bowl, turning to cover all the surfaces with oil. cover with a towel and place on top of your oven, turning the oven on to 325 degrees. wait an hour or so until the dough is doubled in size. turn it out onto a floured surface, punch it down and place whatever mix-ins you want on top of the dough. i went with some diced black olives, a handful of chopped basil, a handful of mozzarella cheese and a scant amount of crushed red pepper for accent. press these ingredients into the dough and then knead to evenly distribute the ingredients. form into whatever shape you want for the bread and place on a oiled pizza pan, cover with a towel and let rise again for a minimum of an hour. don’t touch it again when you are ready to bake it, straight into the oven for about 15 – 20 minutes at 325 and serve immediately.

Bread texture was very nice this time

Bread texture was very nice this time

the asparagus is so simple its another one of those dishes that i am reluctant to even describe. trim the woody ends off the asparagus and toss in some olive oil. season with salt and pepper. heat up a cast iron skillet to medium-high. add the asparagus in a single layer and cook until slightly blackened, turning to ensure all sides and nicely done. grate some parmesan cheese over top and serve.

the savory pasta was boiled for about 5 – 8 minutes. drop them in the boiling water and when they float to the top, they are ready to roll. i made a simple white sauce to spoon over them, starting with a basic bechamel, which is my absolute favorite basic sauce (a stick of butter melted in a saucepan, 2 tbsps of flour added to make a roux and about 1 1/2 cups of milk stirred in, cook to thicken) and adding 1/4 lb of chopped proscuitto, 4 oz of grated asiago and salt/pepper to taste.

Plated and ready to eat

Plated and ready to eat

for the dessert pasta, take them out of the freezer before you serve up dinner so that they can come a little closer to room temperature. heat up some canola oil in a pan, around 2 inches deep. dip the pasta in a bit of beaten egg and then roll in panko bread crumbs. fry in the oil until golden on both sides. drain and serve with a bit of honey drizzled over.

Fried Ravioli Dessert

Fried Ravioli Dessert

the meal turned out great with a nice balance of flavors throughout. my only regret is that the dessert pastas were not as sweet as they should have been, the preparation and methodology was good but the filling should have been a little more dessert-like. overall, decent result with a nice level of effort.

next week we will be conducting cooking class in the dorm room. i will leave it at that for now.


Feast 16 – This is Love, Greek Style

August 24, 2009

It’s been a difficult week. i have been working long hours without much sleep and the little details have been difficult. on friday, i made my shopping list for this weekend’s meal… although the recipes were right in front of me, somehow i managed to omit about 1/3 of the ingredients. i blame the exhaustion. i mean, for real? one of my dishes this week is eggplant salad and for whatever reason, i managed to make a shopping list without eggplant on it. really.

i hit a spark the other day and decided that it would be nice to have a little greek food. one of the few cookbooks that i brought with me to korea was bought for me by my wife a year or so ago called The Olive and the Caper by Susanna Hoffman… i highly recommend this book, you should all rush out today and buy it. or at least add it to your amazon wish lists. not only is it chock full of really good recipes, it is filled with the culinary history of greece with many asides about the cultural impact of the food. even if you aren’t cooking, it’s the kind of book you can pick up and learn something from. i selected three recipes from it that appealed this week and made them. two of them were very successful and the third, well, i only recognized the failure when it was too late. more on that later.

The three dishes that i chose for this week are Country Style Eggplant Salad, Spanakopita and (get this) Beef with olives and 100 cloves of garlic. yeah, that’s right, 100 cloves of garlic. i’ll admit, between us, in my case it turned out to be around 76 cloves of garlic but that was more than sufficient.

out of respect for the author and to encourage you to buy the cook book, i am only going to gloss over the highpoints of these recipes, my experiences with them. i know some of you would like to go right ahead and cook these but trust me, you need this cookbook on your shelf…

baked eggplant

baked eggplant

The Eggplant Salad: I would have to say that you haven’t lived until you have heard an eggplant explode in your oven. yup, it happened and amazingly enough, not a single splatter to clean up. the first step in this recipe is to roast an eggplant in a 450 degree oven for around 50 minutes or until it collapses. yes, you need to prick it to prevent pressure build up and yes, i did indeed poke it good with a knife but as i was chopping the other ingredients for the salad (onion, tomato, garlic, parsley, oregano, mint (which i excluded)) i heard a large pop from the oven. opening the oven, i discovered that the eggplant had built up pressure and burst but it burst from the bottom, remaining on the pizza pan i had baked it on. cool the eggplant, skin it, roughly chop it and mix with the above ingredients and dry mustard, red wine vinegar, lemon juice, olive oil, salt and pepper. toss well and refrigerate until dinner time…

Eggplant Salad

Eggplant Salad

Spanakopita: This is one of the classic dishes in greek cuisine that i always key in on. the layers of feta and spinach interwoven with crispy filo pastry turn this into a damned tasty dish. however, the negative is that it involves working with filo which if you remember back to my adventures with borek a few weeks ago, i was none too pleased with. well, here’s a little secret. this is basically a casserole so it doesn’t matter if the filo tears. just go with it. the key to this is making sure you have at least 4 but optimally around six layers of filo in each stratus of the casserole. this will give them the chance to puff up and be downright delicious. the secret is to oil each piece of filo as you layer it, just a little bit. i use a spritzer bottle full of olive oil and work my way up slowly. as far as the filling, wilt some spinach in a pan, add some scallions, shopped well. mix this with 10 oz of feta, 3 beaten eggs, parsley, dill and a bit of salt. mix well to combine and layer with the pastry. brush the top layer of pastry with a bit of egg and bake at 375 degrees for about 45 minutes. serve and enjoy the praise of your guests.

Spanakopita

Spanakopita

Beef with olives and 100 cloves of garlic: here is where i made the one mistake of the day. it turned out ok but the dish could have been elevated to another level altogether, the level it belongs at. more on that in a second but first, given the fact that this dish calls for 100 cloves of garlic, i have a few words to say on the matter.

Some of the many many many cloves of garlic

Some of the many many many cloves of garlic

Anthony Bourdain said (i paraphrase) if you can’t be bothered to peel your own garlic then you don’t deserve fresh garlic. Damn it, Tony, i know you are right but jesus, 100 cloves? shortcut? anyone? made me wish that my sous chef was here with me, bless her 6 year old heart. peeling garlic is one of the things she enjoys helping with although we would probably still be waiting on them at the rate she peels 🙂

as far as peeling garlic cloves, i’m sure every chef has their own technique. i use two methods, based on if i need the cloves whole for a garnish or whatever or if the clove is going to be chopped up or used in a sauce. if you want to keep your cloves whole for presentation, you are pretty much stuck with using just your hands a fingernails, working quickly but gently and preserving the clove intact. however, if you plan on chopping the clove or otherwise rendering it into another shape or form, there is a quick shortcut that i take with my trusty chefs knife that speeds the process along a bit. after you separate the cloves, cut a small bit of the root end off and cut a small slit in the rounded edge of the clove. thats it. it makes them so much quick and easier to peel, i know if sounds obvious but thats me, captain obvious.

beef stewing away

beef stewing away

for the amount of flavor this dish packs, it is deceptively simple. start with three pounds of boneless chuck and cube. brown this off in batches while you are peeling your garlics. after all the meet is browned off, continue peeling garlic. then, peel some more garlic. okay, guess i flogged that dead horse. i deviated from the book recipe by using my crock pot for this. i’m a sucker for it, i think its a great way of making these sorts of dishes. all the browned meat into the crock pot. meanwhile, add the 100 cloves of garlic to the pan you browned the meat in, add 48 olives, 4 cups of dry red wine, 1 tbsp tomato paste, 2 bay leaves and a generous amount of black pepper. bring to a boil to deglaze the pan and pour over your meat in the crock pot. the original recipe called for 1.75 – 2 hours in the oven at 425 degrees so i decided, ok, crock pot on high, 3.5 hours, should be job done. well, serving time came and the meat was not quite as tender as i would have hoped. the sauce was also not rendered as described. pity that, i thought, should use a better cut of meat next time. so, eddie and i ate and i decided, ok, lets go ahead and continue cooking this, see if i can get a decent consistency out of the meat. result? well, 3 hours later, the meat was melt in your mouth tender and the sauce had developed into a thick gravy, all the garlic breaking down and becoming one with the juices and wine. it was extraordinary. i have it in the fridge for leftovers and regret that i served up the shallow shadow of the dish for dinner yesterday. pity. well, lesson learned, use the crock pot but give yourself alot of extra time. slow cooking is just that: slow. and so worth it.

Plated and ready to serve

Plated and ready to serve

Overall, quite happy with this meal. my only regret is that because of work, i was prevented from drinking any alcohol with it. i think a nice red or even a nice beer would have rounded this experience out quite well.

ok, i’m also very proud of the fact the Eddie has gotten bitten by the culinary bug. he brought over a Roasted Red Pepper Hummus and some toast rounds. the hummus turned out great both taste wise and visually. he is coming up with things that i never thought of, i won’t spoil it but he’s got a few new tricks to teach sunny side up egg.

Eddie's Roasted Red Pepper Hummus

Eddie's Roasted Red Pepper Hummus


Feast 15 – Chicken Pot Pies, perfect sunday food

August 17, 2009

ok, i have to admit up front, i’m not feeling particularly witty as i type this. if i weren’t committed to this project, i probably would have blown off cooking all together this week. those of you that know me probably realize why, today of all days, stuck on a 12 hour shift, this first of 10 over the next two weeks. it’s going to be a shitty time and not exactly how i planned on spending my birthday. yeah, i’m a little kid about it but hey, its my birthday. i’ll cry if i want to.

it probably didn’t help that i was a bit “under the weather” yesterday. there were more than a few liquid refreshments on saturday night so sunday morning was a non-starter. i did plan ahead a bit and scheduled a meal that wasn’t terribly difficult, one that had a nice payoff and lots of steps where all i had to do was wait for things to cook… it worked out alright over all. i went with a chicken pot pie for the main course and a peach pot pie for the dessert. easy peasy.

for the chicken pot pies, first thing i did was start so chicken thighs to boil in a large pot. enough water to cover, salt and pepper, thats it. bring it to a boil, cover the pot and reduce heat to medium. wait three hours or so… by this time the meat should be falling off the bone and the broth thick and flavorful. drain the thighs, reserving the liquid. shred the meat by hand and separate out the bones, gristle and skin. great for flavor but they don’t go in a pot pie!

at some point while the chicken is boiling, make a nice double batch of pie crust. i was making 4 pot pies so the double batch was needed. the recipe calls for lard but of course, i wasn’t able to get any so i subbed butter for that part as well… it adds a bit too much moisture into the crust but overall turns out alright. this is closely following an alton brown recipe, he’s the man and in my state yesterday, not much i could even consider to do to better one of his procedures. this calls for a food processor but since i don’t have one with me, i used the tradition one, my left and right hand. its really nice and visceral to mix up a pie crust my smushing that ingredients together with your bare hands. i am basically in favor of it.

8 oz butter
2 cups flour
1/2 tsp salt
water in a spray bottle

mix the butter, flour and salt together until you have a course crumb like texture. group it together in a mound on a lightly floured surface and mist with a bit of water. press the mixture together with your hands, adding just enough water until it comes together as a solid piece. shape into a disc and chill for about 30 minutes. then, divide the dough into 8 pieces. roll each piece out into a rough rectangle and line 4 rectangular foil loaf pans with crust, reserving the other 4 for the lids. i blind baked these for about 10-15 min at 375, too lazy to weigh them down with beans so i dealt with the little bit of air bubbling that popped up. i’m easy and it didn’t stress me one bit. set the lined loaf pans aside and work on your filling.

pie shells, ready to fill

pie shells, ready to fill

you may find this as a surprise but i started the filling by sweating down a whole chopped onion in a bit of olive oil. add to this 6 cloves of chopped garlic, 1 finely chopped potato, 2 chopped carrots and a handful of frozen peas. season with salt, pepper, oregano, basil and sage. cook until the potatoes just start to soften. mix the veg with the shredded chicken. be sure and mix well to incorporate all the different ingredients so you don’t get pockets of flavor in your pot pie.

filling cooking away...

filling cooking away...

fill two of the lined loaf pans with this mixture. i used a bit of the chicken broth to deglaze the pan, picking up the little bits of flavor goodness left behind. i then poured the chicken broth into the pot pies about 1/2 up and then sealed them with the remaining pie crust. bake in a 375 degree oven for about 20 minutes or until nicely browned on top. i got impatient and turned on the broiler for about 3 minutes at the end of cooking to accelerate the browning but please, have more patience than me.

sweet and savory, pre-baking

sweet and savory, pre-baking

meanwhile, the sweet pies… this is the lazy quick way to do this while you are cooking with a hangover, feel free to get fresh fruit and peel it if you are properly motivated… take a bag of frozen peaches, dump them in a saucepan, cover about 1/2 way up with water. dump a liberal 3/4 cup sugar on top. bring to a boil. boil them for a few minutes. sprinkle in a handful of flour, a liberal dose of cinnamon and just a touch of nutmeg. a more motivated me would have squeezed a bit of lemon juice in as well but see above for condition of cook during this preparation… stir well to ensure the flour is completely incorporated, no lumps in this, its easy and simple so don’t mess up the small details… pour the mixture into your remaining two loaf pans, seal with crust and bake same as the savory pies.

the payoff is a really easy, self contained meal with a satisfying dessert. for some reason my appetite wasn’t up to its normal rate so i still have half a pot pie wrapped in foil ready for leftovers. these turned out great and keep in mind the ingredients are completely flexible. the whole point to a pot pie is to use up leftovers, originally, so whatever you feel like throwing in will work just fine.

dinner is served...

dinner is served...

i promise a bit more effort next week, really, you have to understand the state i was in…


Feast 14 – Homesick Part 2

August 10, 2009

I have been around long enough to know that being overseas, it pays to have a backup plan. with this in mind, i went to the store to do the shopping for this week’s meal. the sticking point: Salsa Verde. yeah, you can get it almost anywhere in the states. yeah, if your local grocery doesn’t have it, there is probably a mexican grocery somewhere near you that carries it. or some snotty store in the mall if all else fails. yes, there are options… however, i am constrained to this one store, this one set of choices when it comes to any non-oriental food items. so, i needed a backup plan. okay, says i, i will look for salsa verde… but, as i am skeptical as to it’s availability, i will have a plan, just in case you know… salsa verde isn’t all that complicated, i’ll just whip up a batch from scratch, easy peasy lemon squeezy… i saw last week that they have what i need to make it, no problem says i… so i look, every aisle of the place and of course, no big surprise, there is no salsa verde. as a matter of fact there is no variation in salsa whatsoever in their selection. oh, you can get chunky or smooth, mild or “hot” but its all that insipid pace picante style red salsa. none of the variants that i am so accustomed to, salsa verde being the least of which… no black bean salsa, no peach salsa, no salsa with corn, nothing but your plain salsa that might as well come out of a packet at taco bell. well, that’s fine, honestly unless i just plan on a quick night of kicking back with a few corn chips and a bit of dip, i always make my own anyway, even given the vast selection of a real grocery store. so, ok, fine. no salsa verde… i can cope. well, i thought i could. i started gathering the ingredients and lo and behold, although they had them last week and still had a sign up marking the price, there were no tomatillos to be had. they had thoughtfully filled the bin with heads of garlic, in addition to the other two bins filled with garlic. if the spaces are filled, the selection must be great right? well. so, plan A failed as expected and plan B turned out to just spite me. i spent a considerable amount of time trying to find any suitable sub for a base, no green tomatoes, no tomatillos, no nothing. i ended up finding some off brand of bottled green taco sauce and using that as a starting point. it wasn’t the same but when it comes down to it, what are you going to do? i guess the answer to that is suck it up for 9 more months and waste peoples time by bitching about it in a blog. that is the modern way, isn’t it.

ok, now that i got that out of my system, this week i decided to follow on to last week’s concept of meals that are in heavy rotation in our household. it feels like cheating because i can make these almost on autopilot, they are comfortable and they are comforting. and i could use a little comfortable. also, it gives me a chance to be a food emissary and introduce my dear friend eddie to some things he might not ever try otherwise. as it turns out, this was the first (but not the last he assures me) time he has ever had a grilled fish taco.

this is a recipe that i clipped out of bon appetit magazine, one that i instantly took a shine to when i read it. i believe it is from may of 2008 and since then we have made it on a fairly regular basis. its one of those meals that tastes much more complicated than it actually is. another advantage is that all the combining of the disparate ingredients is done tableside so it is very accommodating to picky eaters (yes i am looking at you christina). it takes a bit of prep ahead of time to start the fish marinating but once you are ready to eat, this one is on the plate withing about 20 minutes of starting in earnest. the recipe below calls for marinating the fish for about 30 minutes per side but i like to either start it first thing in the morning or the night before. it both gives the fish more time to absorb flavor and doesn’t fill up your afternoon with the prep. you can make it two distinct bodies of work, the prep for the marinade and then the final throw together and cooking of the rest. whenever you start the fish marinading, make up the lime mayonnaise at the same time. it only gets better chilling in the fridge for a few hours.

i served this simply with some refried beans topped with a bit of mixed mexican style cheese. to wash it down, michiladas was the order of the day. of course, a michilada finds it form with a dark mexican beer, negra modelo by my choice but being in korea, well, see above about the salsa verde, no need to flog the horse. we used corona and they turned out quite passable. it may have been the heat outside or the tastiness of the tacos, regardless, the beer went down smooth…

i was struck by eddie’s comments on this meal. he said that these experiences were having an impact on his families table. that in particular made alot of this seem worthwhile. an experience that isn’t shared is nowhere near as enjoyable. i am very pleased that these little rants and sunday feasts are having an impact and making an impression beyond keeping me fed for a day. makes me feel like i am doing something good. needless to say, the tacos were a big hit, no leftovers here.

Ingredients staged to make the tacos

Ingredients staged to make the tacos

grilled fish tacos

Bon Appétit | May 2008

Ingredients

2 cups Chopped white onion, divided
3/4 cup Chopped fresh cilantro, divided
1/4 cup Olive oil
5 tablespoons Fresh lime juice, divided
3 tablespoons Fresh orange juice
2 Garlic cloves, minced
1 teaspoon Dried oregano (preferably Mexican)
1 pound Tilapia, striped bass, or sturgeon fillets
Coarse kosher salt
1 cup Mayonnaise
1 tablespoon Milk
Corn tortillas
2 Avocados, peeled, pitted, sliced
1/2 Small head of cabbage, cored, thinly sliced
Salsa Verde
Lime wedges

Preparation
Stir 1 cup onion, 1/4 cup cilantro, oil, 3 tablespoons lime juice, orange juice, garlic, and oregano in medium bowl. Sprinkle fish with coarse salt and pepper. Spread half of onion mixture over bottom of 11x7x2-inch glass baking dish. Arrange fish atop onion mixture. Spoon remaining onion mixture over fish. Cover and chill 30 minutes. Turn fish; cover and chill 30 minutes longer. Whisk mayonnaise, milk, and remaining 2 tablespoons lime juice in small bowl.

Brush grill grate with oil; prepare barbecue (medium-high heat). Grill fish with some marinade still clinging until just opaque in center, 3 to 5 minutes per side. Grill tortillas until slightly charred, about 10 seconds per side.

Coarsely chop fish; place on platter. Serve with lime mayonnaise, tortillas, remaining 1 cup chopped onion, remaining 1/2 cup cilantro, avocados, cabbage, Salsa Verde, and lime wedges.

Tacos and Beans plated and ready to eat

Tacos and Beans plated and ready to eat

The pictures didn’t turn out that great this week, sorry about that… all credit for the above goes to Bon Appetit, if reposting the recipe is a violation of any sort, please let me know and i will remove it. it’s a great recipe that everyone needs to make at least once however…

Next week may prove interesting. i am trying to decide what to make as a treat for myself. someone is having a birthday 🙂


Feast 13 – Homesick Part One

August 2, 2009

I can’t deny it. i miss home. i miss my wife, i miss my kids, i miss my house, i miss my kitchen… all that being said, i’m feeling a bit nostalgic and connected to life as it was before this little trip. there is a certain comfort in routine. and i miss that comfort.

every family has a group of meals that they rotate through cooking, perhaps a large complicated selection, perhaps a small selection of instant microwavable meals. the point is that this is one of the many things that defines family as a distinct subgroup within the larger group of a subculture and the larger still group of society as a whole. our individual family meal choices are colored by the mores of society and trends of our subcultures but each and every table in your neighborhood has something different to offer. i find it fascinating. those of you who have been following this blog probably have already figured out that i have a penchant for culinary experimentation. i like to try new dishes, pass them by the test of the family palate and if they are successful, they get entered into the informal rotation that makes up our meal selection. this has no timeline, no structure… things fall in and out of fashion without a word, it just happens. some things are so firmly entrenched in our rotation that they have become traditions. Sushi is the best example of this. almost every other sunday, we, as a family, make sushi. it’s an ideal family meal for us as everyone has their role in the setup and everyone rolls their own sushi at the table. it’s a great way of being independent together… it’s these sorts of rotational culinary dishes that i latch onto now, missing the structure of family, the closeness of sharing meals that we have shared many times before. and so, this week and next week i will be making two of our “traditional” meals that have been in heavy rotation, my silent salute to my family that i miss so much and a chance to give Eddie a glimpse of what dinner time is like at our household.

I feel guilty about this to be honest. to date, each of my feasts has been something i have either never made before or a new way of making it, new ground broken. i discussed it at length with Eddie and i have came to the conclusion that although these meals are old hat to me and the family, this in no way invalidates their quality and the worth of sharing them. i hope that some of you out there try them out and even enjoy them. the great thing about culinary traditions is that nothing is lost in the sharing. you can add them to your rotation in your family and it won’t lessen our enjoyment of them one bit. these meals aren’t exclusive, they’ll taste great for anyone, the dirty little tramps.

anyway, enough of that, lets get down to business… today i made lasagna rolls, slightly modified from a recipe by Giada De Laurentiis whom in addition to being incredibly hot is quite the chef and champions so great traditional italian cooking. my standard disclaimer, if the posting of this recipe in any way violates any intellectual property rights, please contact me and i will remove it. just please don’t sue me, i have kids to feed. To go along with the lasagna rolls, i ventured once more into the breach and made a quite passable spicy olive loaf. A new corkscrew also ensure that the reluctant bottle from last week gave up its goods.

i’ve had such bad luck with bread recently that i just said to hell with it, i’ll not worry about recipes and just make bread. people have been making bread for eons without the help of recipes off the internet so why not me? and honestly, this turned out better than the bread i fussed over for hours last week. simple, anyone can do it, here is how. 3 1/2 cups of flour in a large bowl, make a crater in the center. 2 tbsp dry yeast into the hole, sprinkle salt around the edge of the flour, a drizzle of olive oil and 1 1/4 cup of warm water. stir this to combine until it starts clumping together then turn it out onto a floured counter. knead the dough for no less than 5 minutes, not stopping until it is smooth and elastic. pour a bit of olive oil into your mixing bowl, shape the dough into a ball and place it in the bowl, turning it to cover all side with oil. place a dish towel over the bowl and leave in a warm place to rise for 1 hour or until about doubled. i cheat a little and turn my oven on to 350 degrees and leave the bowl on top of the stove in the back. the rising heat helps the yeast out quite a bit.

dough sprinkled with mixed in ingredients

dough sprinkled with mixed in ingredients

after the first rise, turn the dough out onto a floured counter again and punch it down. i spread mine out into a flat oval to facilitate the addition mix ins as seen in the photo above. i used chopped olives, mixed italian cheese, oregano, black pepper and red pepper flakes but whatever suits you will work just as well, its easy like that. dry out any excess liquid such as my olives had so that you don’t change the water/flour balance of the dough too drastically. knead the bread again to evenly distribute the ingredients and shape into whatever shape you plan on going with for a loaf. i went with a large ball, no real reason, just because.

kneaded and ready for the second rise

kneaded and ready for the second rise

put the loaf onto an oiled pizza pan or cookie sheet, cover with your towel and let rise for another 45 minutes in a warm place. uncover the bread and make two gentle cuts across the top of the loaf in a cross. brush the top of the bread with olive oil and bake at 375 for around 12 to 15 minutes or until nicely browned.

bread, missing a slice for some reason...

bread, missing a slice for some reason...

the constant discussion in our household regarding this dish is in relation to the two sauces and the balance thereof. i prefer a heavier balance of bechamel while my lovely wife prefers more tomato sauce. that is an issue you will have to work out for yourself but as for me, since i’m the one cooking, i doubled up on the bechamel. i can’t resist it, its just too damned tasty. however, here is where my deviation from standard began… in addition to making a double batch of bechamel, i found myself out of nutmeg… so, although not tradition or an intended substitute of any sort, i kicked it with a little sprinkle of cayenne, subtly changing the impact of the dish. it certainly suited me. in addition to this minor change, i decided to make a homemade tomato sauce, its the least i can do since people take the trouble to read my blog. here is my directions for the tomato sauce followed by a cut and paste of the original lasagna rolls recipe.

Tomato sauce a la greg

it’s nothing special but was tasty and passable for this dish. take 1 and a half onions, roughly sliced and cook them down in a bit of olive oil. man, almost everything i cook starts that way. weird. add to this 6 cloves of chopped garlic and 4 chopped tomatoes. cover and cook over medium heat until everything is very soft, around 15 minutes. season with oregano, basil, salt, pepper and red pepper flakes. bonus points for a tsp of sugar to cut the acidity of the tomatoes but i left it out today, not critical to this dish. break out your immersion blender and puree the sauce. cook it down until its reduced to a nice thickness and spoon over the lasagna rolls as below. it would thicken quicker if you used tomato paste but i like the fresher flavor of using nothing but fresh tomatoes and cooking them down. or just buy a jar of your favorite storebought sauce. up to you, really…

Tomato Sauce simmering

Tomato Sauce simmering

i have probably reworded the text of the below when i put it in my recipe box but it is taken wholesale from Giada’s recipe, all credit to her please, i just made it today…

Lasagna Rolls
Recipe courtesy Giada De Laurentiis
Show: Everyday Italian Episode: Italian Fast Food

Ingredients
Sauce:
2 tablespoons Unsalted butter
4 teaspoons All-purpose flour
1 1/4 cups Whole milk
1/4 teaspoon Salt
1/8 teaspoon Ground black pepper
Pinch ground nutmeg

Lasagna:
1 (15-ounce) container whole milk ricotta cheese
1 (10-ounce) package Frozen chopped spinach, thawed, squeezed dry
1 cup Plus 2 tablespoons grated Parmesan
3 ounces Thinly sliced prosciutto, chopped
1 Large egg, beaten to blend
3/4 teaspoon Salt, plus more for salting water
1/2 teaspoon Freshly ground black pepper
1 to 2 tablespoons Olive oil
12 Uncooked lasagna noodles
2 cups Marinara sauce
1 cup Shredded mozzarella (about 4 ounces)

Preparation
To make the sauce: Melt the butter in a heavy medium saucepan over medium-low heat. Add the flour and whisk for 3 minutes. Whisk in the milk. Increase the heat to medium-high. Whisk the sauce until it comes to a simmer and is thick and smooth, about 3 minutes. Whisk the salt, pepper, and nutmeg into the bechamel sauce.

Bechamel in my baking dish

Bechamel in my baking dish

Preheat the oven to 450 degrees F.

Whisk the ricotta, spinach, 1 cup Parmesan, prosciutto, egg, salt, and pepper in a medium bowl to blend.

Lasagna Roll filling, whisked together

Lasagna Roll filling, whisked together

Add a tablespoon or 2 of oil to a large pot of boiling salted water. Boil the noodles until just tender but still firm to bite. Drain. Arrange the noodles in a single layer on a baking sheet to prevent them from sticking.

Butter a 13-by-9-by-2-inch glass baking dish. Pour the bechamel sauce over the bottom of the prepared dish. Lay out 4 lasagna noodles on a work surface, then spread about 3 tablespoons of ricotta mixture evenly over each noodle. Starting at 1 end, roll each noodle like a jelly roll.

Three Lasagna rolls about to be rolled

Three Lasagna rolls about to be rolled

Lay the lasagna rolls seam side down, without touching, atop the bechamel sauce in the dish. Repeat with the remaining noodles and ricotta mixture. Spoon 1 cup of marinara sauce over the lasagna rolls.

Lasagna Rolls -  before the cheese they photograph better!

Lasagna Rolls - before the cheese they photograph better!

Sprinkle the mozzarella and remaining 2 tablespoons of Parmesan over the lasagna rolls. Cover tightly with foil. Bake until heated through and the sauce bubbles, about 20 minutes. Uncover and bake until the cheese on top becomes golden, about 15 minutes longer. Let stand for 10 minutes. Meanwhile, heat the remaining marinara sauce in a heavy small saucepan over medium heat until hot, and serve alongside.

Plated and Ready to Eat

Plated and Ready to Eat

Well, what can i say… it was a fairly easy meal to make since i was covering well trodden ground but it one that i really enjoy and could probably eat on a weekly basis. it was by definition comfort food and my only improvement would have been to have made it in another land for my family. sorry Eddie but given the choice, well, you know…

The wine was well worth the weeks wait and it’s rich flavor was incredible with the lasagna rolls. overall, a nice evening meal.

and i think i sparked Eddie into getting this one into his families rotation. he is even talking about trying his hand a baking bread. it makes me feel good to think that in addition to keeping me relatively sane, this blog is encouraging others to get into their kitchens and cook something that they normally wouldn’t.

until next week…