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.

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.

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.

Roast Pork with Apples and Rhubarb

Tue, Oct 20 • 0

Preheat oven to 375º.

Score the fatty side of a pork loin roast, just to penetrate the fat layer. Generously season with salt, pepper, and herbs de Provence. On the stovetop, brown all sides of the roast, 3-5 minutes per side.

Core and slice golden delicious apples (3) and stalks of rhubarb (2), and place under the roast. Put the whole thing in the oven, and cook uncovered for 45 – 60 minutes, or until the internal temperature reaches 165º.

Remove the roast and let rest 10-15 minutes. Meanwhile, saute the apple mixture, adding a little butter and agave or maple syrup if desired. Slice the pork into ¼” slices and serve the apple mixture on the side.

Roasted Winter Squash Pasta

Mon, Oct 12 • 0

So I had this scheme to make pasta with the flesh from some autumn squash. It turned out pretty good, though I’m not sure if it was worth the trouble. In the end, I couldn’t really detect any flavor difference, though the pasta did have a nice golden-orange color, and I imagine it had more fiber than it would have otherwise.

hubbardI started out with a red hubbard squash, a variety of buttercup, which has a dark orange flesh and a mottled red-orange skin. I cut it in half, removed the seeds, and put a little olive oil on the exposed flesh. Then I put it on a baking pan, cut side down, and cooked it in a hot oven for about an hour, and then turned it over and cooked it for another 30 minutes. The flesh was quite soft, but still really, really moist — in fact, too moist.

So I scraped out the flesh from the skin, and mashed it with a fork. In my food processor, I put three whole eggs, and 3 good sized handfuls of semolina flour, and a healthy dash of salt, along with about a cup of the squash. I also added a teaspoon of smoked paprika, in hopes that I could maintain the red-orange color. Well, like I said, the squash was really moist, and I ended up adding quite a lot more flour. I sort of lost track with how much I added, but I ended up adding all-purpose flour along with the semolina. Despite that, the resulting dough was still quite sticky.

If I were to make this again, I would probably figure out some way to strain the squash of some of it’s excess liquid — though I’m not sure how, exactly. Maybe like you do for yogurt to make yogurt cheese.

Anyway, in the end, the dough was a beautiful golden orange. I kneaded it, and ran it through the pasta machine, making strips of dough ultimately at the #6 thickness, and then I cut it into rough ¼” fettucini.

I served it with brown butter and sage sauce. The pasta had a great consistency, and my wife was quite impressed because when I first told her about my plan to make squash pasta, she made a face like she didn’t think it would be that good, but she really liked it.

Maple-Glazed Ham Steak

Sat, Aug 8 • 0

¼ cup water
¼ cup maple syrup
1 tablespoon butter
1 tablespoon soy sauce
1 tablespoon ketchup

1 ham steak

Combine water, syrup, butter, soy sauce, and ketchup in a frying pan big enough to hold your ham steak. Bring to a slow boil, and lower the heat to a simmer. Add the ham steak, and put on the lid. After 5 minutes, turn the ham steak. After 5 more minutes, remove the lid and the steak, increase the heat to medium, and let the cooking liquid condense to a thicker sauce. Once it’s back to the consistency of the maple syrup, return the ham to the pan, and coat all the sides. Serve immediately.

Eleven Herbs and Spices Revealed?

Mon, Jul 27 • 1

Ron Douglas, author of America’s Most Wanted Recipes, claims he has discovered the secret recipe after lots of chicken, and years of testing. According to an article in The Guardian, the secret ingredients are :

1 teaspoon ground oregano
1 teaspoon chili powder
1 teaspoon ground sage
1 teaspoon dried basil
1 teaspoon dried marjoram
1 teaspoon pepper
2 teaspoons salt
1 teaspoon paprika
1 teaspoon onion salt
1 teaspoon garlic powder
2 tablespoons Accent (MSG)

Unfortunately, it’s still pretty difficult to duplicate the fast food chain’s cooking methods, since they use pressure cookers to fry their chicken. However, the home cook does have the advantage of being better able to drain the excess grease from the fried chicken, since we’re not cooking dozens of chickens at once. Also, home cooks have the option of buying better quality, organic, free-range chicken if they choose to. The Guardian even claimed to have come up with what they call a superior mix of herbs and spices, that doesn’t include MSG. This is their recipe and recommended process, the best I can interpret it from the article, as they only roughly describe the process, but they do give a detailed listing of their choice of herbs and spices. The recommend poaching the chicken in milk to insure the chicken is cooked completely to the bone, but that’s a step I’ve never seen in any fried chicken recipe.

“It’s worth noting that chicken marinaded and poached in milk has an unbelievably suave flavour and texture, and that the poaching liquid thickens to create the most soothing cream of chicken soup I’ve ever achieved,” says the article.

1 half gallon whole milk
1 whole chickens, each cut into 8 pieces
1 tsp smoked paprika
1 tsp mustard powder
1 tsp sage
1 tsp celery seeds
1 tsp sugar
1 tsp dried onion flakes
2 tsp salt
1 tsp ground black pepper
1 tsp ground white pepper
2 cups all-purpose flour
peanut oil
for frying

Cut the chickens into 8 parts, splitting the breast in half to allow for even cooking, and saving the backs, necks and wing tips for stock. Marinate overnight in the milk. The next day, lightly poach the chicken in the milk bath for 15 minutes. Remove from heat, and drain. Use enough peanut oil to make a depth of 1 inch in a frying pan. Bring up to 350º heat. While the oil is coming to temperature, mix the spices with the flour. Coat each piece of chicken with the flour mixture, and let set for a couple of minutes, then re-coat each piece. Fry the chicken in the oil, 6 minutes on each side, or until the coating is golden brown. Remove the chicken to a rack and allow excess oil to drip off.

The results were ok. Nothing fantastic. Each piece of chicken was fully cooked, but I didn’t really detect the suave flavor and texture described. In fact, some of the skin was a little chewy and flabby. And frankly, the coating did not come near the flavor of KFC, or any other chain-store fried chicken place I’ve tried. In fact, I’d say it was comparable to cheap grocery store fried chicken.

In the end, my wife and I just didn’t think it came close to competing with my personal favorite recipe for fried chicken, which I think is better than anything you can buy. What I may do, though, is use most of my technique from that recipe, but try to spice it up with the different herbs and spices from these new recipes. Look for that in the coming weeks.

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