Friday, June 27, 2008


I have rediscovered lasagna. The last time I made it, I lived in Cleveland and made my own pasta for it. I vowed never to do that much work again. I'm so kidding. I loved it, but I hadn't made it since.

One of my coworkers is out on maternity leave. Another coworker wanted to do something nice for her and asked if I would make a dinner to take over. The new mommy requested lasagna and key lime pie. I was up for the task! I also made Tyler Florence's roasted broccoli.

Now, there was no way I was making my own pasta this time, although we know it can be done. However, I still wanted kick-butt taste. Enter The Best Make Ahead Recipe or you can use Cover & Bake. Both are by Cook's Illustrated. I didn't follow the recipe exactly, but close enough to count. Let's do it.

Sauce first. Here's the first departure: start with the trinity. CI just has onion. Since there is a heavy Italian influence in New Orleans, I felt I had the blessing to use celery, bell pepper and onion in my sauce. Sweat these in a little olive oil. Season with salt and pepper. Once the trinity gets a head start, add the garlic and lots of it. I made two batches of lasagna. In the one for me, I also added cremini mushrooms sliced thin.

After the veggies soften, add your meat. Y'all know I don't do read meat or pork, so it's all about the turkey. I used Jennie-O sweet and hot sausage for this. Just take it out of the casing and add it to the pot. As it browns, break up large clumps. This is where my Oxo wooden turner rocks.

Don't allow the meat to caramelize, just get the pink off of it.

Here's the secret ingredient - heavy cream. Let it work out in the pot for a few minutes.

A tomato sauce has to have tomato right? Never fear. I won't break the tradition.

Allow this to simmer so the flavors can meld. Let's move on to the cheese filling. I just get really excited about fresh herbage. I guess I should tell you what's in it: ricotta, Parm, egg, salt and pepper. I guess I should stir it.

Is that better?

Let's assemble, shall we? Throw down a layer of sauce. If you skip this step, you will have cemented noodles. This is not a good thing.

Next, place three noodles on top of the sauce. A word about the noodles -- Barilla No-Boil Lasagna Noodles, please. No substitutions. You'll need 12 of them. I hate that this foil pan is wider than a traditional 9x13, but what can you do?

Reach for your cheese mixture. Spread it nice in thick. Please don't skimp like I did on this layer.

Top with shredded mozzarella.

Next? Start all over with the sauce. You should have three layers. After you've built your third layer, place the last three noodles on top of the sauce. Top with the remaining sauce. Sprinkle with the last of your mozzarella and hit it with Parmesan cheese.

Cut a piece of foil to fit the pan. Spray it with non-stick cooking spray. Cover the pan (oiled side down) and bake at 375 degrees for 15 minutes. Remove the foil and bake for 25 minutes. The sauce should be bubbly and the cheese nice and browned. Here's the bait and switch. I took the lasagna in the previous pics over my coworker's house unbaked. Here's the one I baked for me.

It's so unfair that you can't taste this. You just have to believe me when I say it was awesome.

Tools of the trade:

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

For the Foodies

A friend came over the other night and mentioned the Disarono and blue cheese pairing she had at a local festival. Well I had artisanal blue cheese and Disarono. Why not recreate? You'll need tasting or appetizer spoons to pull this off. It's amazingly simple.

Place a good bite of blue cheese onto to spoon. Use another spoon to add about a teaspoon of amaretto. I also added strawberries and pecans to round out the plate.

Cool, huh?

Tools of the trade:

Saturday, June 21, 2008


Chocolate cupcakes. What could be better? Okay coconut cupcakes, red velvet cupcakes, yellow cupcakes with chocolate icing. Okay. I really like cupcakes.

I choose the smaller cakes because they help me with portion control. They are also much easier to save and store than regular cakes. I had the taste for chocolate on chocolate this time around. Both the cupcake and icing recipes come from Cook's Illustrated.

Cupcakes first. I decided to rock my mis en place skills.

Chop chocolate into small pieces. Use a serrated knife.

Combine the butter, chocolate and cocoa powder in a double boiler.

Whisk until smooth. Remove from heat and allow to cool to the touch.

Whisk the dry ingredients together. Whisk the eggs, sugar vanilla and salt together.

Add the cooled chocolate.

Sift 1/3 of the flour over the chocolate and egg mixture. Whisk to combine. Whisk in the sour cream. Sift in the remaining flour and whisk to combine. You should have a thick, well-mixed, but not over-mixed batter.

Prepare your cupcake pan.

Portion the batter evenly in the cups (think ice cream scoop.) Bake until a toothpick inserted in the center of the cakes comes out clean.

While these cool, lets move on to the frosting, shall we? Measure out your bittersweet chocolate.

Place it in the food processor and give it a good buzz.

I believe that chocolate goes with coffee at all times, so I added some espresso powder and coffee liqueur. Coffee enhances chocolate's flavor.

Heat heavy cream and corn syrup in a small saucepan. Bring to a boil.

With the food processor running, add the hot mixture to the chocolate. I was afraid of spills, so I used a funnel.

Scrape down the bowl. Now with the processor running, add in the chunks of butter. You'll end up with this.

Allow to cool until spreadable. I got a little fancy and piped it onto the cupcakes.
I chose these recipes because they promised punch-you-in-the-face chocolate flavor. They delivered!

Tools of the trade:

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Greens Fees

The first time I made these sauteed collard greens, I told one of my aunts. My brother called me two days later and asked, "Who told you you could fry greens?!" Now you understand my family.
Let's get to it. I've adapted this recipe. The original is from Chef Eric Wells in Cleveland. Grab a pot. Add some water. Slice a lemon or two in half and add it to the pot. Heat the water to boiling.
Let's get to work on the greens. Oh, the joy of cleaning greens ...

Grab a leaf. Inspect both sides. You're checking for excessive grit and bugs.
If all is good, fold the leaf in half along the vein and tear the leaf from the vein.
You should end up with something pretty like this.
Drop these beautiful leaves into the sink to soak. Use a good amount of water.
Remember patience is a virtue:
Agitate the water. Let it settle. Lift the greens out as gingerly as possible (to keep from disturbing any sediment on the bottom of the sink.) Place them in fresh water on the other side of the sink. Drain the original water and rinse any dirt out of the sink. Repeat this process until you don't find any dirt in the sink after you remove the greens. I think this picture is after the first soak.
You are now ready to cook the greens. Grab a few of the leaves and roll them into a tight cigar shape.
Slice across the cigar. If you were doing thin slices, the technique would be called chiffonade. We're making much thicker slices.
Place your cut greens into a bowl.
Your lemon-water should be boiling by now. Salt it liberally with kosher salt. Add your greens and cook for 15 minutes. Strain into a colander and then squeeze the excess moisture out of the greens. I just grab a small handful and squeeze by hand. You'll end up with little balls of greens.
After you're done squeezing, unravel the balls. I wish you could keep the bright green color, but oh well.

Now (actually you should do this while the greens are boiling), slice a good amount of garlic. You can chop, mince or press yours if you like.
Since this is for me and I love garlic, I don't mind biting into a toasty slice.
Add olive oil, garlic and red pepper flake to a cold skillet.

Heat on med-low heat until the garlic starts to sizzle. Once you hear that snap, crackle and pop, add the greens and toss them around to evenly blend everything. I like using tongs for this. Check your seasonings.

Plate and hit them with a little fresh-squeezed lemon juice. Watch out now! Sauteed greens!

Tools of the trade: