Aaron’s Favorite Lasagna

Tue, Mar 2 • 0

My grandpa, Aaron Jelliff, 1906-1971

My grandfather loved to cook, even back in the Eisenhower days, where the men went out to work, and the women stayed home and kept the house. He was a fabulous bread maker and started my mother on her endless cookbook collecting. He is also very much remembered for this recipe. It dates back to the 60’s, so the only kind of parmesan cheese Grandpa knew of came in a green can. The recipe also doesn’t take advantage of many fresh herbs or the new no-boil kind of pasta either, though I’m sure it couldn’t hurt at all to make those replacements. Rinsing pasta is usually frowned upon, but it’s important to do it in this recipe, otherwise the noodles will stick together and become completely impossible to handle.

1 lb. sausage (sweet italian or bulk)
1 clove garlic, minced
1 tablespoon basil (dried)
1½ teaspoons salt
1 can of chopped tomatoes (16 oz)
2 cans tomato paste (6 oz. each)
10 oz. lasagna noodles
3 cups ricotta cheese (whole milk is best)
½ cup grated parmesan cheese
3 tablespoons dried parsley
2 eggs, beaten
2 teaspoons salt
½ teaspoon black pepper
1 lb. mozzarella, sliced thin (or same amount, shredded)

In a large frying pan, brown the meat slowly. Spoon off the excess grease. Add garlic, basil, salt, tomatoes, and tomato paste, and simmer uncovered for 30 minutes, stirring occasionally. Cook the noodles according to the package, drain, and rinse under cold water until you can handle them. Combine the ricotta, parmesan, parsley, eggs, salt and pepper. Put half of the noodles in a 13x9x2 baking dish, spread half of the cheese mixture on top, and a layer of 1/3rd of the mozzarella cheese, and half of the meat sauce. Repeat the layers, finishing off with the rest of the mozzarella. Bake at 375° for about 30 minutes. Let it stand 10 minutes before serving.

Sorry for the lack of updates…

Fri, Feb 26 • 1

I’ve been completely distracted with buying a new house.

If any of you have had to deal with a short sale, especially with Bank of America, I feel for you. We put our offer in on a house in June — an offer about $10k more than the asking price. And we waited, and waited, and waited. More than six months, we waited. Every week, asking our agent if there was any news, and never getting any answers. Every few months, we’d get a panicked email from our agent telling us that the house had gone back on the foreclosure list, and that we had to scramble to get paperwork out to prove that we really did want to buy the house. (Come to find out, we learned later that this was usually caused by the seller not providing the bank with some paperwork in a timely manner, and when those deadlines expired, the bank would start the steps towards foreclosure.) The bad part about that was that though we were able to take the house off the foreclosure list, the short-sale process would start back to point zero.

In the end, the only thing that seemed to work to get the ball moving was an email I sent to the office of the President of BoA. I told him about the nightmare process we’d been going through. It seemed to work, because a month later, I got a phone call from a representive of the President of BoA, and while she couldn’t discuss details on the mortgages the seller had, she assured me that she’d oversee the process to completion. Three weeks later, the bank finally did approve the sale. I can’t say whether this tactic would work now, though. The then CEO Ken Lewis stepped down in the beginning of 2010, and I don’t even know who the new one is or how responsive he or she would be. (I can tell you that the address of the old CEO was ken.d.lewis at bankofamerica dot com, so maybe you can figure out their email address naming convention to figure out the address of the new one, if you ever need to.)

So, after many months of waiting for the bank  to process the short sale, we were finally granted permission by the bank to purchase the house we wanted in early January, 2010! BUT…

But, we were undone by the neglectful and idiotic seller.  Even though he apparently lived less than a mile from the property, it seems that he long ago gave up any emotional attachment in his property because he failed to winterize the house, allowing a pipe to burst. The water damage went undetected for several weeks, and a crop of nasty toxic mold grew. Even though my wife and I had invested more than six months of our lives in waiting for the property at 4300 Rock Creek, we decided to walk away from it. Inevitably, the house will now fall into foreclosure, and some investor will buy it for a song, fix the mold damage, and probably never tell buyers that the house was tainted.

So it was, in mid January, that my wife and I joined our agent on the house hunt again, looking at all the properties in our area that were for sale in our price range. One Sunday, we went to 16 different properties. Ugh. We settled on making an offer on a recently remodeled three-bedroom, two-bath house 15 minutes south of where our apartment is now. Our agent set up a rigorous closing schedule, and I’m happy to report that as of February 18, my wife and I became proud home-owners!

The kitchen was completely remodeled, with all new appliances, and it’s quite big, too. We’re doing a little more remodeling now, and scheduled to move in at the end of March. So, if you don’t hear much from me in the next few weeks, you’ll know why. Wish us luck!

Recent Food Neologisms

Sun, Jan 10 • 0

A look at some of the new words and phrases about food.

Foodoir n. A memoir that includes recipes or that is focused on food, meals, or cooking. [Blend of food and memoir.]

Whole Foods Republicans n. “Independent-minded voters who embrace a progressive lifestyle but not progressive politics. These highly-educated individuals appreciate diversity and would never tell racist or homophobic jokes; they like living in walkable urban environments; they believe in environmental stewardship, community service and a spirit of inclusion. And yes, many shop at Whole Foods, which has become a symbol of progressive affluence but is also a good example of the free enterprise system at work.”

Koodie n. slang. A kid keenly interested in food, especially eating, cooking or watching reruns of Julia Child. A kid who has an ardent or refined interest in food; a mini-gourmet; usually trained by one or both parents to have an unusual, and sometimes fanatic, desire to eat unusual foods. Evolution from the now defunct word “foodie.”

TweetWhatYouEat, n. (commonly known as “twye“). A Twitter application that helps people track what they eat, thereby encouraging them to eat more healthily.

Men-tertainers n. an increasing number of males are spending their free time organising dinner parties for their friends.

Courtesy of The Double-tongued Dictionary, Word Spy, and Schott’s Vocab.

Better Roast Chicken

Sun, Dec 27 • 0

So it seems pretty straight-forward, but I never actually tried it until last week. A better way to roast a chicken. I’ve often lamented the fact that the thighs and drumsticks are rarely ever completely cooked to my liking, or if they are, the breast meat is completely overdone. Taking a cue from recipes for roasted turkey, I decided to try twirling the bird.

First, salt and pepper the bird, inside and out. If you want to get fancy, put a couple spoonfuls of compound butter underneath the skin of the breast. Then put the 3 to 3½ pound chicken on a roasting pan that’s preheated in a hot oven (425°), but put it in on its side, and let it cook for 15 minutes. Then turn it on its other side for another 15 minutes. Finally, roast it breast side up for 25 to 35 minutes more, basting the bird every 10 minutes. You should hear the chicken sizzling the whole time while it’s in the oven. (You know it’s done when the joints move easily.) Then let it rest outside of the oven for 15 minutes more, covered with foil.

The result is an very moist and completely cooked chicken. What’s more, as with other roast chicken recipes, it’s just as easy to cook two chickens at the same time, either to feed a crowd or for copious leftovers. And though it’s a little more work, and I can’t wander far from the kitchen, it’s definitely going to be my go-to way to roast a chicken from now on — or, at least until some novel method presents itself.

Mincemeat Tartlets, Update

Wed, Dec 23 • 0

So here’s what I ended up doing from my last entry, trying to come up with mincemeat pies that would better survive the shipping process, since the shortbread I used was really just too fragile.

I next tried my standard pie crust recipe, which ended up quite flaky and delicious, but was still way, way too fragile.

I finally settled on a pocket pie crust recipe as described on Alton Brown’s Good Eats show. This all-shortening dough recipe is incredibly easy to work with. Unlike other pie doughs, you want to build up the gluten in it, which makes it more durable, capable of standing up to — well — carrying a pie in your pocket. So rolling the dough out, and then rerolling it and re-re-rolling it, to use up all of the remnants to make more pies won’t hurt it a bit. (Try doing that with a regular pie dough.) Granted, it’s quite a long way from the shortbread little cups with stars in it, as described in Nigella’s television show, but these are much more practical. Of course, the proof will be in the pudding. I mailed off several packages today with a couple of these pies inside. We’ll see how well they hold up.

In addition, the way you cook the dough is very versatile. You can bake it, like I did, or pan fry the pies in a little butter (like a pot-sticker), or you can deep fat fry them. And apparently the dough works equally well for sweet or savory fillings, though I personally think the addition of a little sugar to the mix might go a long way to improving the crust, as well as perhaps adding a little more browning in the oven.

And I have a few more distant friends and relatives who I plan on sending some belated Christmas cheer to, so I’ll be making at least one more batch. This time, though, I intend on making smaller, more bite-sized pies than the ones described in the recipe. And I might even try deep frying them. We’ll see how they turn out.

If you’d like to watch the episode where the recipe is demonstrated, it’s been uploaded to Youtube and is in 2 parts — below.

Part 1 : A Pie in Every Pocket , Good Eats, S09E12

Part 2 : A Pie in Every Pocket , Good Eats, S09E12

Mincemeat Tartlets

Thu, Dec 17 • 0

I saw a version of this recipe on Nigella Lawson’s Nigella’s Christmas Kitchen and thought I’d make them and send them off, far and wide, to distant relatives for the holidays. In the end, though, they’re really just too fragile for shipping, so only my local loved-ones will get these from me, but  I may make little turnovers using more traditional pie crust, filled with the “mincemeat,” which I hope will end up being a bit more durable. I may update this entry after I’ve made a batch.

First, the “mincemeat,” which I put in quotes because it’s really not. It’s more like a spicy, boozy cranberry/orange chutney. Mincemeat, traditionally, has some in common with this mixture, like raisins and currents and booze, but it also usually has lard in it. This one  is, as advertised, a much lighter version.

2½ oz brown sugar
2fl oz ruby port
1 tablespoon molasses
12oz fresh cranberries (1 package)
1 teaspoon ground ginger
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
½ teaspoon ground cloves
2½ oz raisins
2½ oz dried cherries
1 oz dried cranberries
1 navel orange, zest & juice
1fl oz brandy
few drops almond extract
½ teaspoon vanilla extract
2 tablespoons honey

In a medium saucepan, melt the brown sugar in the port wine over low heat. Stir in the cranberries. Add all of the spices, the dried fruit, and the zest and juice from the orange, and bring to a gentle simmer and cook for 20 minutes. The pectin in the cranberries will quickly thicken the sauce. Stir occasionally and cook until all of the fresh cranberries have popped — which might need a little coaxing by pressing them against the side of the pot with a wooden spoon. Once everything has broken down, remove from the heat, and let it cool down a little before adding the rest of the ingredients. (If the mixture is too hot, you’ll evaporate all the alcohol in the extracts and the brandy, along with all of their flavor, too.) Stir the mixture until everything is pretty much broken down into a chunky jam. From there, you can store the mixture in your refrigerator for up to 2 weeks.

So while I was amassing the ingredients for all of this, I was completely shocked at the price of whole cloves. The store I was shopping in wanted $11 for a 1.25 ounce jar. With all of the dried fruit, extract, and booze in this recipe, it’s definitely something you’ll want to save for the holidays. I ended up buying enough to make 3 batches, and I think I easily spent $60 on the ingredients.

Nigella’s program showed her using this mincemeat in little tartlets she made using small muffin trays, lining each with a layer of shortbread dough, and topping each with a shortbread star. I tried following her recipe from both the television show and the web (which were identical), but the quantities given were given in metric. I believe I converted them correctly into standard measurements. Her recipe called for equal parts butter and vegetable shortening, along with flour, a dash of salt, and fresh orange juice. I deviated slightly, by also including the zest of the orange as well. In the end, the results were awful, and I don’t think I can blame the zest. The cooked dough was way too dry and crumbly, to the point that I couldn’t even swallow it.

I searched on the net for a standard shortbread recipe, and came up with this decent one.

1 cup butter, softened (2 sticks)
½ cup confectioner’s sugar
2 cups flour
¼ teaspoon baking powder

Cream the butter and sugar together in a mixing bowl. Add the flour and the baking powder and mix until it forms a ball. Wrap in plastic and form it into a disk and chill in the refrigerator for at least 30 minutes, enough time to preheat your oven to 350°. Roll it out to a thickness of a ¼ inch, and cut 2 inch circles. Line each cup of a mini-muffin pan with the circles, and fill each cup with a spoonful of the cranberry mincemeat. Top with some of the leftover shortbread — you could do as Nigella did and cut little stars, but I didn’t have a star-shaped cookie cutter, so I just cut little strips of shortbread, 4 strips to a tartlet, and made little latticework, just like you might do with a pie. Put these in the middle of the preheated oven, and cook for 12-15 minutes, or until the shortbread starts to turn golden brown.

Braised Lamb Shanks with Barley and Winter Roots

Sun, Dec 13 • 0

Lamb_Shanks2 or 3 lamb shanks
1 onion, chopped fine (or substitute the same quantity of leeks)
3 or 4 carrots, peeled and cut into 1 inch pieces
3 or 4 parsnips, ditto
2 or 3 turnips, ditto
1 can of tomato paste
6 whole cloves of garlic
16 oz. good english or trappist beer (or substitute cider, stock, or water)
misc herbs (thyme, rosemary), chopped, to taste
2 or 3 bay leaves
4 or 5 crushed juniper berries (optional)
ground black pepper and salt to taste
1 cup pearl barley, rinsed
1 teaspoon salt
2½ cups chicken stock (or water)

Preheat the oven to 300°F.

Season the shanks with salt and brown on all sides in a hot cast iron pan — 3-5 minutes per side.

In a good sized dutch oven, brown the onions and vegetables in a little butter or oil until the onions have gone translucent. Add the tomato paste, and stir, cooking the tomato paste for a couple of minutes. Add the herbage, the spices, and the garlic, as well as the shanks. Pour over the beer and bring to a boil, stirring. Cover, and cook in the oven for 2-4 hours, checking occasionally, turning the shanks. Keep cooking until the meat pulls from the bone easily.

45 minutes, before serving, bring the chicken stock and the salt to a boil in a lidded saucepan. Add the barley and resume boil, then simmer, covered for 45 minutes, until liquid is gone, and barley is soft but still chewy.

Remove the shanks from the pot, and take the meat off the bone, cutting it into bitesized chunks and removing the fatty bits and any gristle. Remove the bay leaves and optionally, the juniper berries that you can find. Return the meat as well as the barley to the pot and stir.

Boston Baked Beans, take 2

Sun, Dec 13 • 0

Bean_Pot_Large_4_5_Qt_You might find, in the Cooking Monster archives, an entry I wrote about my attempt to make a batch of homemade baked beans, and how I lamented that the results really weren’t worth the effort. Well, urged on my my brother, I have since purchased an authentic bean pot in Zanesville, Ohio, and decided to try my hand at it again, having rehydrated a batch of beans and then changing my mind about what I’d do with them. The results were much better this time, though not without some pitfalls. Be sure to boil the beans after you soak them until they are tender. I scrimped on this step, and my beans, though edible, were a little tough. Also, watch the vinegar content in your bbq sauce — too much, and the acid might do nasty things to your beans.

2 cups dried beans (navy, great northern, or flageolet)
12 oz. salt pork
1 onion, finely chopped
3 tablespoons molasses
2 teaspoons salt
¼ teaspoon ground black pepper
¼ teaspoon dry mustard
½ cup bbq sauce (or ketchup)
1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
2 bay leaves
¼ cup brown sugar

Soak the beans for about 8 hours, or overnight. In the same liquid, simmer the beans until they’re tender — about 2 hours. Drain and reserve the liquid.

Preheat the oven to 325°F (165°C).

Combine the beans with the rest of the ingredients in a bean pot or covered casserole dish, stirring to combine, then add some of the reserved bean liquid (or fresh water) to the top of the bean mixture.

Bake with lid on for 2 hours, then check the beans for moisture, and add more water if necessary. Remove the lid, and stir. Cook for an additional 2 hours — or more, provided you add more water if the beans are getting too dry.

Beef & Barley Stew

Thu, Dec 3 • 2

Now that Gourmet Magazine is no more, I’m getting emails from their successor, Bon Appetit. The other day, they sent me an email that described a stew that sounded great, although their recipe was fully vegetarian and relied on mushrooms for the umami. Mushrooms just don’t cut it in my house, since my wife seems to have some sort of allergy to them, so I made the recipe but replaced the mushrooms with small diced pieces of chuck. The results were quite delicious. A fine dinner for a autumn or winter night.

1 tablespoon olive oil, divided
1 8-ounce chuck steak, half-inch dice and trimmed of almost all fat
1 ½ cups chopped leeks (about 2 small stalks; white and pale green parts only)
2 garlic cloves, pressed
1 teaspoon minced fresh rosemary
1 teaspoon minced fresh thyme
1 14.5-ounce can diced tomatoes in juice
1 cup pearl barley
4 cups (or more) vegetable broth
bunch kale (about 8 ounces), trimmed, center stalks removed, leaves coarsely chopped.

Brown the beef in a little bit of the olive oil. Remove from pan and set aside. Sweat the leeks with a little salt in the residual fat, adding more oil if necessary – about 5 minutes. Add the garlic and herbs, and cook until fragrant – about 30 seconds. Stir in the tomatoes, the meat, and the barley, and add the vegetable broth. Bring it to a boil, and then cover and lower the heat to a simmer, and cook for 20 minutes. Add the kale, and maybe a little more stock if you have it (or water, or chicken broth). Simmer with the lid on for another 10 minutes, or until the kale and the barley are completely cooked.
Count on 5 or 6 good sized servings.

“Quick” Meat Sauce

Mon, Nov 9 • 0

This is a quicker substitute for bolognese sauce, which normally takes a long afternoon of simmering. This only takes about an hour and 20 minutes, total, and has satisfying, rich, deep flavors. I use ground bison, but you could substitute ground veal, or a mixture of veal, beef, and pork.

2 tablespoons olive oil
2 tablespoons butter
6 chopped scallions
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 pound ground bison (or other chopped meat)
salt & pepper
1 cup rosé or zinfandel
2 tablespoons tomato paste
1 28-ounce canned plum tomatoes
1 cup water
2 teaspoons minced fresh rosemary

Heat the oil and butter in a large saucepan over medium-high heat. When the butter has melted, add the scallions and cook for a minute or two to soften. Add the garlic, and cook for 30 seconds, until fragrant. Add the chopped meat as well as some salt and pepper, and brown, breaking it into small pieces, until no pink remains. Add the wine, bring to a boil and simmer until the wine has reduced to one-third … about 10 minutes. Stir in the tomato paste, and cook for 2 minutes. Whiz the canned tomatoes in a food processor until smooth, and add to the pan, rinsing the processor bowl with the water, and adding that and the chopped rosemary as well. Bring to a boil, and then simmer for 45 minutes to an hour. Sauce will be quite thick. Taste for seasoning. Serve over ziti, penne or rigatoni with lots of grated parmesan.

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