Lasagna Mia!

This past Saturday at 12:01 a.m. I sat staring at these letters during a tight Scrabble match at the Weary Traveler:

Yijuxy?

On their own those letters have a lot of scoring potential- but having them all at once, not so much. I came in last. But that’s okay, I was too busy enjoying my Bell’s Two Hearted Ale, the banter with Dan and Dr. Hotbody and eavesdropping on the guy behind us who had a completely backwards and twisted definition for karma (No, I don’t think you acquire good karma by getting drunk before asking your co-workers to cover your shift for ‘personal reasons’ so that you can continue drinking.) After the tavern Dan and I listened to his Rick Danko record and then it was off to bed.

The next morning unable to sleep I grabbed the closest book to me which happened to be Eat, Pray, Love. I read this book a few summers ago and found the India praying section to be a bit long-winded, but I love reading about food so I opened up to Italy. I read about gelato, olives, asparagus, pasta, pastries and pizza and repressed Americans and before long I had to wake up Dan for a walk down to Batch Bakehouse where we purchased 12 dollars worth of baked goods, including a gruyre-filled croissant and one of the best scones that I have ever had in my life (it had walnuts, raisins and cinnamon glaze). From there we walked to the Willy Street Co-op to pick up ingredients for dinner- I had a hankering for lasagna. We bought whole milk ricotta! And 2% milk! And Nutella (still unopened and sitting on the shelf)! No repressed American here!

After a run, (do Italians believe in exercise?) I started dinner. I had intended to follow a recipe from my January issue of Bon Appetit. When I glanced at it I noticed that it was vegetarian and had swiss chard and mushrooms. When I sat down to read the actual entire recipe it lost me at ‘Turkish bay leaf.’ It might be time for me to admit that I don’t have a lot of patience for following recipes- this is always true for baking and sometimes true for cooking. I also realized that the recipe didn’t call for tomato sauce. What?! And they wanted me to blanch the swiss chard before sauteing it. I’m out. Let the creative process begin.

This is my adaptation of a recipe for lasagna loosely based on a recipe from Bon Appetit that wanted me to travel to Turkey in order to obtain a bay leaf. I call  it, ‘Lasagna Pile,’ in honor of the fact that I have no clue how to evenly spread ricotta over the rough terrain that is all of the other ingredients (why don’t they keep lasagna noodles in 9′ by 13′ sheets?) and as an homage to the great song, ‘Dutch Pile’ by the Happy Schnapps Combo.

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Lasagna Pile

serves 1-6, depending on if you plan on entertaining Clay Matthews

Béchamel sauce:

 2 cups 2% milk

4 tablespoons (3/4 stick) unsalted butter

1/4 cup whole wheat flour

1/2 teaspoon coarse kosher salt

1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg

Swiss chard, spinach and mushroom layers:

 1 bunch Swiss chard

handful spinach

4 Tablespoons olive oil

1 1/3 cups chopped onion

1 large garlic clove, chopped, divided

1/4 teaspoon dried crushed red pepper

Coarse kosher salt

1/2 pound crimini mushrooms, sliced

Lasagna:

8-10 whole wheat lasagna noodles

Extra-virgin olive oil

1 15-ounce container whole-milk ricotta cheese (preferably organic),

8 tablespoons shredded Parmesan cheese, divided

tomato sauce (I like Muir Glen)

For béchamel sauce:
Bring milk to simmer in medium saucepan; remove from heat. Melt butter in heavy large saucepan over medium-low heat. Add flour and whisk to blend. Cook 2 minutes, whisking almost constantly (do not let roux brown). Gradually whisk milk with bay leaf into roux. Add 1/2 teaspoon coarse salt and nutmeg and bring to simmer. Cook until sauce thickens enough to coat spoon, whisking often, about 3 minutes.

For swiss chard and mushroom layers:
Heat 2 tablespoons oil in heavy medium skillet over medium-high heat. Add onion, half of garlic, and crushed red pepper. Sauté until onion is tender, 3 to 4 minutes. Mix in chard and spinach and season to taste with coarse salt and freshly ground black pepper.

Heat remaining 2 tablespoons oil in heavy large nonstick skillet over medium- high heat. Add mushrooms and remaining garlic. Sauté until mushrooms are brown and tender, 7 to 8 minutes. Season with coarse salt and pepper.

For lasagna:
Cook noodles in medium pot of boiling salted water until just tender but still firm to bite, stirring occasionally. Drain.

Brush 13 x 9 x 2-inch glass baking dish with oil to coat. Spread 3 tablespoons béchamel sauce thinly over bottom of dish. Arrange 3 noodles in dish to cover bottom. Spoon some tomato sauce over the noodles. Spread half of chard mixture over pasta and sauce, then half of mushrooms. Drop half of ricotta over in dollops and spread in even layer (good luck with this). Sprinkle with half of Parmesan cheese; spread 3/4 cup béchamel over. Repeat layering with 3 noodles, sauce, remaining chard, mushrooms, ricotta, Parmesan, and 3/4 cup béchamel. Cover with 3 noodles and remaining béchamel. DO AHEAD: Can be made 2 hours ahead. Cover with foil. Let stand at room temperature.

Preheat oven to 400°F. Bake lasagna covered 30 minutes. Uncover and bake until heated through and top is golden brown, 20 to 30 minutes longer. Let stand 15 minutes before serving.

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For photos of this recipe, please see Wordless Wednesday: Lasagna pile. I served the lasagna with a baguette from Batch Bakehouse, steamed  kale, and red wine.

Bon appetit! And don’t forget to do something unrepressed this weekend!

Snow Day Eve Pizza Par-tay

I was prepared to do a snow dance.

It worked in 1991 when my best friend, Meagan, and I took a break from listening to our Vanilla Ice cassette tape to run outside and chant to the snow gods. Back then we had to wait it out until the morning to find out if school was cancelled… Watching the banner across the bottom of the television we scoffed at the A’s (when does Adams-Friendship ever have school), waited painfully through the B’s, C’s and D’s and felt a rush of adrenaline as they approached the M’s. Usually we were disappointed as Madison was skipped over and we quickly found out that kids in Mineral Point, Monona and Monroe (yay Berghoff) got to stay home for the day. But in ’91 our snow dance did the trick and we had two whole days off of school to play Scattergories at Meagan’s house.

This time around a snow dance wasn’t necessary. These days they take all the fun out of it and announce snow days the evening before- in fact, as I was leaving school at 4:30 p.m. on Tuesday I was informed over the loudspeaker that schools would be closed on Wednesday. It was a little snowy and windy as I drove home from school, but when I drove home from the gym around 7 p.m. we were in the midst of a full-blown blizzard. Luckily Dan had obtained provisions at Star Liquor and Willy Street Co-op and we were prepared for a snowed-in pizza party.

Onions, olives, Muir Glen sauce, chili paste and cheese

 

Rustic crust
Olive-y pie
Roasted broccoli on the side

While we waited for the pizza to bake we played a game of cribbage, enjoyed an Ale Asylum Ambergeddon and listened to the wind howl. When the pizza was ready we served it up with some roasted broccoli (toss broccoli and olive oil on a baking sheet and roast in a 375 degree-oven for about 10-12 minutes, sprinkle with sea salt and freshly ground pepper and squeeze on some fresh lemon juice)… Yum. Dessert was a cup of tea and a three chocolate cookie cookies (recipe coming soon).

It's hard to leave when you can't find the door

After a breakfast the next morning of transcendent eggs and french press coffee, I was ready to face what the blizzard had to show for itself. The first challenge was getting out the front door. While it may not have had the same mystique as snow days past,  it was a snow day nonetheless. An occasion to be celebrated; a day to remember. Happy Snow Day.

Taco Friday: Roasted cauliflower and black beans

I have fallen in love with cauliflower.

Cauliflower is the new kale

Lately I have been putting it on a baking sheet, drizzling it with olive oil and roasting it in a 375 degree oven for 15 minutes or so. Right before serving I shake on sea salt and a couple of turns of freshly ground pepper. Yum.

Last Sunday night after the Packers won the NFC Championship, Dan and I took our now traditional ‘Packer March’ to the Laurel Tavern for a quick victory celebration. Upon returning home famished, we ordered my favorite take-out in town, Burrito Drive. I always get the same order (they even have it in the computer): Build your own tacos- flour tortillas, black beans, asadero cheese, red pickled onions, romaine lettuce, green salsa, and seasonal vegetable. When the delivery man arrived with our food, I squealed with delight to discover that the ‘seasonal vegetable’ was cauliflower.

After a Thursday night out at Alchemy for dinner and a couple of acoustic sets by Dan and Pat (Clovis Mann duo), Dan and I decided to have a mellow Friday evening at home. Inspired by my tacos from Burrito Drive, we made roasted cauliflower and black bean tacos. I can’t quite call this a recipe, more of an assembling of ingredients- just in case you want some suggestions, these are my favorite tortillas, fillings and toppings:

Ezekiel Sprouted Grain Tortillas, Eden Black Beans and cheese
Red cabbage, avocado, onions, and yellow bell peppers
Roasted cauliflower
Sour cream, fresh Willy Street Co-op salsa and sriracha

I like to mash up the avocado with chopped onions and fill the tortilla with the veggies, shredded cheese, black beans (that have been heated up), and avocado mixture. On Friday we decided to assemble the tacos and then grill them in a non-stick pan:

Right before eating, pile on the sour cream and salsa (and hot sauce- if you are into the heat- which I am). Enjoy.

Happy Sunday.

Under the weather

At some point over the long weekend I had that sense of impending doom where you know that you are about to get clobbered over the head with a cold.

View from my chair at Mickey's Tavern

Before the cold hit I enjoyed a lovely Friday evening at Mickey’s Tavern with Dan (due to a rare Clovis Mann bye weekend) where I mowed a wedge salad with blue cheese dressing (minus the bacon) and macaroni and cheese (sans the kielbasa) and discussed politics and pets with our friend, Dr. Hotbody (who showed up part way through our meal). It was snowy outside and cozy and warm inside the bar- especially with the amount of cheese that I consumed.

Java Stout at Alchemy

After dinner we walked to Alchemy where we enjoyed Pearl Street Lava Java Stout and I amazed a new friend with the contents of my large bag (“Look, I even carry a cribbage board in here!”) and bequeathed him my green tea breath mints which I believe had been in there untouched since 2008.

Saturday belonged to the Packers. Dan and I performed our pre-game rituals and gathered, as tradition states it (unless we are at Lambeau), in front of my 13-inch television. We ate green olives and Wisconsin cheddar cheese, drank Hinterland Pale Ale from Green Bay (via Star Liquor on Willy Street) and cheered our Packers on to the NFC championship game. It’s going to be one hell of a game on Sunday.

By Monday I was in the thick of it. Ransacked with a cold I sat on the couch and stared out the window at the fat snowflakes. I wondered about the origin of the term “under the weather” and drank tea. I felt sorry for myself and listened to sad songs by Merle Haggard, Gram Parsons and Hank Williams. Finally, I baked banana bread. And you should, too.

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This recipe comes from the book, A Homemade Life, by Molly Wizenberg

Banana Bread with Chocolate and Crystallized Ginger

6 tablespoons butter

2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour

3/4 cup sugar

3/4 teaspoon baking soda

1/2 teaspoon slat

3/4 cup semisweet chocolate chips

1/3 cup finely chopped crystallized ginger

2 large eggs

1 1/2 cups mashed bananas (from about 3 large ripe bananas)

1/4 cup well-stirred whole-milk yogurt

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Set a rack in the center of the oven, and preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Grease a standard-sized (about 9 by 5 inches) loaf pan with cooking spray or butter.

Put the butter in a heatproof bowl and melt in the preheated oven. Set aside to cool slightly.

In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, sugar, baking soda, and salt. Add the chocolate chips and crysatallized ginger and whisk well to combine. Set aside.

In a medium bowl, lightly beat the eggs with a fork. Add the mashed banana, yogurt, melted butter, and vanilla and stir to mix well. The same fork works fine for this.) Pour the banana mixture into the dry ingredients, and stir gently with a rubber spatula, scraping down the sides as needed, until just combined. Do not overmix. The batter will be thick and somewhat lumpy, but there should be no unincorporated flour. Scrape the batter into the prepared pan, and smooth the top.

Bake until the loaf is a deep shade of golden brown and a toothpick insered into the center comes out clean, 50 minutes to 1 hour. If the loaf seems to be browning to quickly, tent with aluminum foil. Cool the loaf in the pan on a wire rack for 5 minutes. Then tip it out onto the rack, and let it cool completely before slicing- unless you absolutely can’t help yourself, in which case, dig in.

Note: Fully cooled, this bread freezes beautifully. And it tastes delicious cold, straight from the freezer. To protect it from frost, wrap it in plastic wrap and then again in aluminum foil.

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I also added some chopped walnuts. It was delicious and is getting better with time. I think I will have a thick slice for breakfast with some medicinal tea. Here’s to getting back out into the weather.

Frazzled

My mind is a bit frazzled this morning. There is fresh snow on the ground and I feel like what I should be doing is getting some air and schlepping through the snow on my old cross-country skis, but instead I am furiously checking craigslist, facebook, email and text messages, drinking coffee, starting to do the dishes, stopping cleaning the dishes to go back to the computer…

It’s been awhile since I have needed to look for a new place to live and I have forgotten how much this stresses me out. Dan and I found an upper flat in one of my favorite neighborhoods with hardwood floors, a dishwasher, a deck but for some reason I just can’t fully commit. Now I am looking at houses outside of the city and wondering how much I would mind having to drive an hour a day… Much of this deliberation has to do with not knowing if either Dan or I have any chance of having a permanent job next school year. Let’s just say that our school district has a vague hiring policy with many different opinions on how one goes about getting a job… I’m also wondering whether or not it’s more important to have a yard in the boonies or a sweet deck in a central location. Is it better to have a house all to yourself or risk co-habitating in a two-story home with strangers with potential strange habits? Making decisions is not my strong point. And these are the places my mind is visiting this morning. Sorry to bring you along for the ride.

Cauliflower with onion-ginger sauce

Here is what I do know: I made an awesome new vegetarian Indian dish last night for dinner and I think you should try it too. My mom passed this recipe on to me from The Splendid Table. I made the recipe as printed (I used olive oil) except that I used cilantro stems instead of the coriander, I made it in my Le Cruset instead of a skillet and I decided to garnish it with fresh cilantro and lemon (there are an abundance of lemons in my fridge right now). I served it with brown rice, shredded carrot and lemon juice salad and Sierra Nevada Torpedo India Pale Ale beer. It was delicious- fresh-tasting, tangy, crunchy and hearty. Yum.

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Cook to Cook: The cauliflower can be steamed a day ahead and reheated before serving. The onion sauce could be made ahead as well (without the final touches of lime, coconut and cashews). It holds in the fridge for 4 days and for 6 months in the freezer. Broccoli, Brussels sprouts, potatoes, yams, green beans, tofu, chicken and seafood take to this sauce, and you could combine any of these at will.

Cauliflower with Ginger-Cashew-Onion Sauce

Copyright  2010 Lynne Rossetto Kasper. All Rights Reserved
Serves 4 to 6 as a main dish with rice and Indian breads, or 6 to 8 as a side dish

Canola oil or good-tasting extra-virgin olive oil
3 medium onions, thinly sliced
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
4 large garlic cloves, minced
1-inch piece fresh ginger root, peeled and minced
1 whole jalapeno chile, minced (with the seeds for greater heat)
8 stems fresh coriander, finely chopped
1/3 cup raisins
1 25-ounce can chickpeas, rinsed and drained
1/4 cup vinegar (rice, cider or wine)
2 tablespoons tomato paste
1/2 cup water
1 large cauliflower, cut into large flowerettes
Salt
Juice of 1/2 large lime or lemon
1/4 cup shredded sweetened coconut
1/2 cup salted cashews, broken into large pieces

Film the bottom of a 12-inch skillet with oil and set over medium-high to high heat. Add the onions, salt and pepper. Saute over high heat, stirring often, until onions begin to color.

Onion pile

Stir in the garlic, ginger, chile, coriander, raisins, and chickpeas. Stir over medium- high heat 2 minutes then add the vinegar. Cook, stirring occasionally, until all the vinegar has evaporated, about 2 minutes.

Chickpeas entering the mix
Jalapeno, ginger, cilantro stems and garlic- into the pot!
Mmmmmmmmm

Push the saute to the sides of the pan so the center is empty and add the tomato paste. Saute about 30 seconds, then add the water and combine with the paste until smooth. Now blend everything together, cooking another 2 or 3 minutes. Taste for seasoning and set the saute aside. (It could be refrigerated overnight at this point).

Set a collapsible steamer in a 6-quart pot, add several inches of water, cover the pot and bring the water to a boil. Add the cauliflower, sprinkling it with a little salt. Steam until the cauliflower shows a little resistance when pierced with a knife. With long tongs remove the cauliflower to a large shallow bowl.

Heat the onion saute until hot then spoon it over the cauliflower, using any liquid in the pan. Squeeze the lime or lemon juice over the saute then scatter the coconut and cashews on top. Serve hot or warm.

Eat it before it disappears!

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That’s all for now… too frazzled to try to end this post wittily.

Transcendent eggs

Okay my friends, this is going to be a quickie because I have a Packer playoff game to get ready to watch, but I made something so delicious for breakfast this morning (afternoon technically) that I feel that I need to share it right away. I don’t think that I have ever seen Dan so excited about something that I have made to eat before- he even declared that it transcended eggs and cheese and became a “miracle.” Whoa.

My mom got this recipe from her college roomate and it is called “Baked Roquefort Eggs.” My mom would make them for me when I was growing up when I begged her to… they are not the healthiest, but so delicious!

Ready to go into the oven

Here is how my mom wrote the recipe in the cookbook that she made for me about 10 years ago: “You need an oven proof dish- custard cup size. I put about a tablespoon of butter in the dish. Add 1/4 teaspoon spaghetti sauce seasoning. Then I put this in the oven briefly until it melts. Then crumble bleu cheese or roquefort cheese (amount is your choice) into the melted butter. Crack the egg and add it to the dish. Put a little more butter on the top (optional), salt and pepper and let it bake 10-12 minutes in a hot 450 degree oven. The 12 minute time will give you a hard yolk. This is good with toast.”

When I woke up this morning I knew that I wanted to make these for breakfast- Dan gave me four custard-size dishes for Christmas for the purpose of making these eggs- but I had neither bleu cheese nor spaghetti sauce seasoning. Instead of running to the store, I decided to adapt the recipe. My first instinct was to use a hard parmesan cheese that I had purchased at the Willy Street C0-op. Then I grabbed a softer white cheese and pondered that for a moment before finding a container of shredded parmesan that my mom had left behind in our refrigerator. Upon discovering that the shredded cheese was from Illinois I disgustingly put it back in the fridge- you do not use cheese from Illinois on Packer game day. Searching further I opened some moldy-looking feta (when my mom comes for Christmas from Oklahoma she brings the contents of her refrigerator to merge with our fridge here and always leaves me some goodies behind), threw it away and returned to my original plan of the Wisconsin parmesan cheese. It was a good call. Instead of the spaghetti sauce seasoning, I found some Country French Vinagrette seasoning from Penzey’s Spices. Other than that, I followed the recipe exactly as written (except I used about half the amount of butter).

Ready to eat

We enjoyed these eggs with a piece of whole wheat toast, as my mom suggested, and coffee. Cue Dan declaring the bit about these eggs transcending food. Yum. I am off for a quick run to burn off some of that butter and then it is Packer time. Go Pack Go. Happy Sunday!