Sunday, March 29, 2009

Daring Bakers Challenge; Lasagne Verte

Jumbo eggs with twin yolks!

Lasagne is a dish that has successfully transcended borders and is today made around the world, albeit with many variations from the Italian original. Even within Italy, there are many variations and each region has its own lasagne tradition. The dish should always be a “vivid expression of the ‘less is more’ philosophy of cooking. Mere films of béchamel sauce and meat ragu coat the sheerest spinach pasta. Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese dusts each layer. There is nothing more; no ricotta, no piling on of meats, vegetables or cheese; little tomato, and no hot spice. Baking performs the final marriage of flavours. The results are splendid.”

Whew! I'm finally done! This was quite the challenge. I really loved the taste of the spinach in the pasta. So much better homemade then the dried stuff, not sure if I can go back to the dry expensive pasta in a box.. That can only mean one thing! HONEY.... I really NEED a Kitchen Aid mixer with a pasta attachment thing :-) in copper pleeeeeeeeeeeeeeze

The March 2009 challenge is hosted by Mary of Beans and Caviar, Melinda of Melbourne Larder and Enza of Io Da Grande. They have chosen Lasagne of Emilia-Romagna from The Splendid Table by Lynne Rossetto Kasper as the challenge.

Lasagne of Emilia-Romagna (Lasagne Verdi al Forno)
(Serves 8 to 10 as a first course, 6 to 8 as a main dish)

Preparation Time: 15 minutes to assemble and 40 minutes cooking time

10 quarts (9 litres) salted water
1 recipe Spinach Pasta cut for lasagna (recipe follows)#1
1 recipe Béchamel Sauce (recipe follows)#2
1 recipe Country Style Ragu (recipe follows)#3
1 cup (4 ounces/125g) freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano

Working Ahead:The ragu and the béchamel sauce can be made up to three days ahead. The ragu can also be frozen for up to one month. The pasta can be rolled out, cut and dried up to 24 hours before cooking. The assembled lasagne can wait at room temperature (20 degrees Celsius/68 degrees Fahrenheit) about 1 hour before baking. Do not refrigerate it before baking, as the topping of béchamel and cheese will overcook by the time the center is hot.

Assembling the Ingredients:
Have all the sauces, rewarmed gently over a medium heat, and the pasta at hand. Have a large perforated skimmer and a large bowl of cold water next to the stove. Spread a double thickness of paper towels over a large counter space. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit (180 degrees Celsius). Oil or butter a 3 quart (approx 3 litre) shallow baking dish.

Cooking the Pasta:
Bring the salted water to a boil. Drop about four pieces of pasta in the water at a time. Cook about 2 minutes. If you are using dried pasta, cook about 4 minutes, taste, and cook longer if necessary. The pasta will continue cooking during baking, so make sure it is only barely tender. Lift the lasagne from the water with a skimmer, drain, and then slip into the bowl of cold water to stop cooking. When cool, lift out and dry on the paper towels. Repeat until all the pasta is cooked.

Assembling the Lasagne:
Spread a thin layer of béchamel over the bottom of the baking dish. Arrange a layer of about four overlapping sheets of pasta over the béchamel. Spread a thin layer of béchamel (about 3 or 4 spoonfuls) over the pasta, and then an equally thin layer of the ragu. Sprinkle with about 1&1/2 tablespoons of the béchamel and about 1/3 cup of the cheese. Repeat the layers until all ingredients are used, finishing with béchamel sauce and topping with a generous dusting of cheese.

Baking and Serving the Lasagne:
Cover the baking dish lightly with foil, taking care not to let it touch the top of the lasagne. Bake 40 minutes, or until almost heated through. Remove the foil and bake another 10 minutes, or until hot in the center (test by inserting a knife – if it comes out very warm, the dish is ready). Take care not to brown the cheese topping. It should be melted, creamy looking and barely tinged with a little gold. Turn off the oven, leave the door ajar and let the lasagne rest for about 10 minutes. Then serve. This is not a solid lasagne, but a moist one that slips a bit when it is cut and served.

#1 Spinach Egg Pasta (Pasta Verde)

Preparation: 45 minutes

Makes enough for 6 to 8 first course servings or 4 to 6 main course servings, equivalent to 1 pound (450g) dried boxed pasta.

2 jumbo eggs (2 ounces/60g or more)
10 ounces (300g) fresh spinach, rinsed dry, and finely chopped; or 6 ounces (170g) frozen chopped spinach, defrosted and squeezed dry
3 1/2 cups (14 ounces/400g) all purpose unbleached (plain) flour (organic stone ground preferred)

*The recipe calls for 2 eggs, my pasta was too dry to knead, I added a 3rd egg and a bit of water. Also note in the first picture, one of the egg has twin yolks!

Working by Hand:
Here is what you will need: A roomy work surface, any smooth surface will do, but marble cools dough slightly, making it less flexible than desired. A pastry scraper and a small wooden spoon or blending the dough. A wooden dowel-style rolling pin. In Italy, pasta makers use one about 35 inches long and 2 inches thick (89cm long and 5cm thick). The shorter American-style pin with handles at either end can be used, but the longer it is, the easier it is to roll the pasta. Note: although it is not traditional, I was successful with a marble rolling pin. Cloth-covered chair backs, broom handles, or specially designed pasta racks found in cookware shops for draping the pasta.

Mixing the dough:
Mound the flour in the center of your work surface and make a well in the middle. Add the eggs and spinach. Use a wooden spoon to beat together the eggs and spinach. Then gradually start incorporating shallow scrapings of flour from the sides of the well into the liquid. As you work more and more flour into the liquid, the well’s sides may collapse. Use a pastry scraper to keep the liquids from running off and to incorporate the last bits of flour into the dough. Don’t worry if it looks like a hopelessly rough and messy lump.

With the aid of the scraper to scoop up unruly pieces, start kneading the dough. Once it becomes a cohesive mass, use the scraper to remove any bits of hard flour on the work surface – these will make the dough lumpy. Knead the dough for about 3 minutes. Its consistency should be elastic and a little sticky. If it is too sticky to move easily, knead in a few more tablespoons of flour. Continue kneading about 10 minutes, or until the dough has become satiny, smooth, and very elastic. It will feel alive under your hands. Do not shortcut this step. Wrap the dough in plastic wrap, and let it relax at room temperature 30 minutes to 3 hours.

Stretching and Thinning:
If using an extra-long rolling pin work with half the dough at a time. With a regular-length rolling pin, roll out a quarter of the dough at a time and keep the rest of the dough wrapped. Lightly sprinkle a large work surface with flour. The idea is to stretch the dough rather than press down and push it. Shape it into a ball and begin rolling out to form a circle, frequently turning the disc of dough a quarter turn. As it thins outs, start rolling the disc back on the pin a quarter of the way toward the center and stretching it gently sideways by running the palms of your hands over the rolled-up dough from the center of the pin outward. Unroll, turn the disc a quarter turn, and repeat. Do twice more. Stretch and even out the center of the disc by rolling the dough a quarter of the way back on the pin. Then gently push the rolling pin away from you with one hand while holding the sheet in place on the work surface with the other hand. Repeat three more times, turning the dough a quarter turn each time. Repeat the two processes as the disc becomes larger and thinner. The goal is a sheet of even thickness. For lasagne, the sheet should be so thin that you can clearly see your hand through it and see colours. Cut into rectangles about 4 by 8 inches (10 x 20 cm). Note: Enza says that transparency is a crucial element of lasagne pasta and the dough should be rolled as thinly as possible. She says this is why her housekeeper has such strong arms! Dry the pasta at room temperature and store in a sealed container or bag.


Preparation Time: 15 minutes

4 tablespoons (2 ounces/60g) unsalted butter
4 tablespoons (2 ounces/60g) all purpose unbleached (plain) flour, organic stone ground preferred
2 2/3 cups (approx 570ml) milk
Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
Freshly grated nutmeg to taste

Using a medium-sized saucepan, melt the butter over low to medium heat. Sift over the flour, whisk until smooth, and then stir (without stopping) for about 3 minutes. Whisk in the milk a little at a time and keep the mixture smooth. Bring to a slow simmer, and stir 3 to 4 minutes, or until the sauce thickens. Cook, stirring, for about 5 minutes, until the sauce thickens. Season with salt, pepper, and a hint of nutmeg. **For flavor I always add a few tbsp of grated Parmesan cheese**

#3 Country Style Ragu’ (Ragu alla Contadina)

Preparation Time: Ingredient Preparation Time 30 minutes and Cooking time 2 hours

Makes enough sauce for 1 recipe fresh pasta or 1 pound/450g dried pasta)

3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil (45 mL)
2 ounces/60g pancetta, finely chopped
1 medium onion, minced
1 medium stalk celery with leaves, minced
1 small carrot, minced
4 ounces/125g boneless veal shoulder or round
4 ounces/125g pork loin, trimmed of fat, or 4 ounces/125g mild Italian sausage (made without fennel)
8 ounces/250g beef skirt steak, hanging tender, or boneless chuck blade or chuck center cut (in order of preference)
1 ounce/30g thinly sliced Prosciutto di Parma
2/3 cup (5 ounces/160ml) dry red wine
1 1/2 cups (12 ounces/375ml) chicken or beef stock (homemade if possible)
2 cups (16 ounces/500ml) milk
3 canned plum tomatoes, drained
Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

Working Ahead:
The ragu can be made 3 days ahead. Cover and refrigerate. It also freezes well for up to 1 month. Skim the fat from the ragu’ before using it.

Browning the Ragu Base:
Heat the olive oil in a 12 inch (30cm) skillet (frying pan) over medium-high heat. Have a large saucepan handy to use once browning is complete. Add the pancetta and minced vegetables and sauté, stirring frequently with a wooden spoon, 10 minutes, or until the onions barely begin to color. Coarsely grind all the meats together, including the prosciutto, in a food processor or meat grinder. Stir into the pan and slowly brown over medium heat. First the meats will give off a liquid and turn dull grey but, as the liquid evaporates, browning will begin. Stir often, scooping under the meats with the wooden spatula. Protect the brown glaze forming on the bottom of the pan by turning the heat down. Cook 15 minutes, or until the meats are a deep brown. Turn the contents of the skillet into a strainer and shake out the fat. Turn them into the saucepan and set over medium heat.

Reducing and Simmering:
Add the wine to the skillet, lowering the heat so the sauce bubbles quietly. Stir occasionally until the wine has reduced by half, about 3 minutes. Scrape up the brown glaze as the wine bubbles. Then pour the reduced wine into the saucepan and set the skillet aside.

Stir ½ cup stock into the saucepan and let it bubble slowly, 10 minutes, or until totally evaporated. Repeat with another ½ cup stock. Stir in the last 1/2 cup stock along with the milk. Adjust heat so the liquid bubbles very slowly. Partially cover the pot, and cook 1 hour. Stir frequently to check for sticking. Add the tomatoes, crushing them as they go into the pot. Cook uncovered, at a very slow bubble for another 45 minutes, or until the sauce resembles a thick, meaty stew. Season with salt and pepper.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Red Wine-Porto Risotto....& Balls


3 cups of good chicken broth
2 tbsp olive oil
1 tsp minced chives or shallots or onion
2 cloves of garlic chopped
3/4 cup of sliced mushrooms
3/4 cup Arborio rice
1/2 tsp balsamic vinegar
1/3 cup of red wine
About 3 tbsp of Port (Tawny or Ruby) **Optional, will be great with just red wine.
1 tbsp butter
1/4 cup of grated white cheddar (I use Port flavored aged cheddar) delish!
2-3 tbsp of grated Parmesan or Romano cheese. (This is essential in adding creaminess)
About 10 fresh basil leaves
1 sprig of fresh thyme or a generous pinch of dried.

1-In a stock pot, heat broth and herbs, simmer gently without boiling.

2-In a large pan, non-stick if you have one; heat olive oil & add chives, garlic and mushrooms. Stir 1-2 minutes (don't burn the garlic).

3-Add rice, stir to coat rice really well, DO NOT BROWN. (The purpose in coating the rice with olive oil is to help control the absorption of the cooking stock) If onions seemed to have soaked up most of the oil, add more oil.

4-Add red wine, port and vinegar. Allow to absorb.

5-Ladle in some stock, enough to just cover the rice and cook on low heat. Keep stirring and adding stock. Try to leave the herbs out of the rice when transferring stock. (they are just to flavor the chicken broth)

6-When the rice is almost tender, allow the present liquid level to drop until 90% absorbed. Stir in the butter and cheese vigorously, then turn off the heat.

The butter and cheese will provide and elegant "creaminess" that good risotto is noted for.
Garnish with parsley and grated Parmesan or Romano cheese.
What to do with leftover risotto the next day?? BALLS !!!! AKA Arancini

The next day, all I did was to shape the rice into palm size balls. I then inserted a square piece of cheese of your choice. I used a sharp cheddar and mozzarella. You then roll the balls in flour, then in a beaten egg mix, seasoned with salt and pepper. I then rolled then in a mix panko crumbs and Italian crumbs. If panko is not available, simply use Italian or plain bread crumbs available at your grocery store. Then fry them in a deep fryer or heavy bottom pot (this is what I used) with at least 2 inches of vegetable oil (canola will do).
I always drain whatever I deep fry on a brown paper bag as opposed to paper towel, the food stays crisp that way.
I also made several balls, without frying them and froze them for future use. They taste just as great! Perfect for those "unexpected" 4pm guests!

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

OVA Organic Wine

Price: $ 18.95 CDN
Wine, Red Wine,
14.5% Alcohol/Vol.
Sugar Content : D
Made in: South Australia

So far, we have been unlucky with wines this year. 2005 wines are slim pickings, so we have to resort to 2007. No two snowflakes are the same. And neither are two palates, but is it just me or is 2007 a terrible year?

I recently was at LCBO (Ontario) and found this little gem, yes it's a 2005 :-)

A veritable cornucopia of aromas are present in this beautifully made Shiraz/Cabernet blend. At first, classic aromas of cassis and ripe wild blackberries present themselves, then notes of toasted caramel and mint start to linger. This very tasty wine is not a fruit bomb, though. Fruit is there, but on the mid-palate balancing tannins and acids bring structure. I found it to have a perfect soft finish. We finished this wine way before dinner started (bunch of winos we are!). However, this wine would be a perfect match for a rare steak with brown butter. Enjoy!...While there are still some on the shelves.

FYI..those are real grapes in the picture! I know, they look so perfect!

Doggie Dance

Cashou gets reallllllllllly excited when she hears the word "auto" (car in french).

Thursday, March 19, 2009


I have had Cassoulet maybe twice in my life and I never forgot about it. This weekend I was feeling adventurous and we also had 4 legs of duck confit in the freezer. Spring was in the air, so I decided to do a Cassoulet. Well, this was my first and last attempt. While everyone was taking advantage of the nice weather, I was inside slaving away in the kitchen, babysitting my chef d'oeuvre all day! I must say, it was rich and delicious, but soooooo time consuming to make.

This recipe is composed of bits and bites of what I found on the net and also suggestions from my friends at Ottawa Foodies and this is what came out. Looking at the pictures right now, they don't look appetizing..but trust me, it's pure comfort food.

Remember; "A recipe is merely words on paper; a guideline, a starting point from which to improvise. It cannot pretend to replace the practiced hand and telling glance of a watchful cook. Of course when you cook it once, it becomes yours, so personalize it a bit. Add more of an ingredient you like or less of something you don’t like. Try substituting one ingredient for another. Remember words have no flavour, you have to add your own!"
Chef Michael Smith

5 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
Two 1/2-inch-thick slices of pancetta (4 ounces), cut into 1/2-inch dice
4 duck leg confit
2 to4 garlic sausages
2 thick slices of pork belly cut into small cubes
2 thick slices of bacon cut into 1/2-inch pieces
2 medium onion sliced
1 pound dried flageolets or Great Northern beans, rinsed and picked over, soaked overnight in cold water
4 thyme sprigs
4 sprigs flat-leaf parsley
1 bay leaf
2 quarts water
1 quart chicken stock
1 head of garlic, separated into cloves and peeled
a pinch of your best salt
1/2 cup dry white wine
4 plum tomatoes, cored, seeded, and chopped
1 teaspoon tomato paste

Preheat the oven to 325°

I used dried flageolets , also known as green kidney beans.
I have seen some recipes use white navy beans as well...


1-In a large saucepan, heat 3 tablespoons of the olive oil. Add the pancetta and cook over moderate heat until the fat has been rendered, about 5 minutes.

2-Add the onion and cook, stirring occasionally, until softened, about 7 minutes.

3-Add the beans, herbs and bay leaf, 2 garlic cloves, water and stock and bring to a boil. Simmer uncovered over low heat, stirring and skimming occasionally, until the beans are al dente, about 1 hour***Please note that for the type of beans I used, 1hr was not enough. In the end, the beans were not as tender as I would have liked them to be**

4-Discard the thyme sprigs. Drain the beans, reserve the cooking liquid and let cool to room temperature.

5-While the beans are cooking, Heat 2 tablespoons of duck fat in a frying pan over medium heat. **I always keep a tub of duck fat in my freezer, you can freeze/defrost/freeze again many times without affecting the quality. If you don't have duck fat, use a mix of olive oil and butter**

When hot, add the fresh bacon and brown. Transfer to a plate. Prick the sausages several times with a fork and add them to the pan. Lower the heat to medium and brown the sausages on all sides. Transfer the sausages to a plate and cut each sausage into 4 pieces.

6-Chop the remaining onion, add to the pan with the browned bacon and cook over low heat until softened and sort of caramelized. Add the remaining garlic, the wine and bring to a boil. Deglaze the pan, using a wooden spoon to scrape up the browned bits from the bottom. Stir in the tomatoes and tomato paste and simmer until reduced slightly, about 10 minutes.

7- Stir the reduced tomato and onion mixture into the beans and season with salt and pepper, remembering that the confit will add some salt to the finished dish.

8-Put about half the bean mixture in a large Dutch oven or casserole. Now place the pieces of pork belly, and duck confit on top, making sure the different meats are well distributed. Cover the meats with the remaining bean mixture and push the sausage pieces into the top bean layer so they almost disappear into the beans. Pour in enough of the reserved cooking liquid to come up almost to the top of the beans.

(Reserved cooking liquid)

9- Bake, uncovered, for 3 to 4 hrs hours or until a golden crust has formed over the creamy textured beans. Also make sure the cassoulet is not becoming dry, adding more of the bean cooking liquid when necessary.

10-Serve the cassoulet straight from the dish, sprinkle some of the bread crumbs mix on top.

Garlic Crumb Topping

1 tablespoon minced garlic
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 1/2 cups coarse fresh bread crumbs (from a baguette)
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon black pepper
2 tablespoons chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley

Prepare garlic-crumb topping while cassoulet finishes baking:
Cook garlic in oil in cleaned 10-inch skillet over moderate heat, stirring, until fragrant, about 1 minute. Add bread crumbs, salt, and pepper and cook, stirring, until crumbs are crisp and golden, about 3 minutes. Transfer to a small bowl and stir in parsley.
Serve cassoulet with crumb topping.

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Bread Pudding with Caramel Sauce

Perfect inexpensive dessert that uses that leftover bread!

1 cup each of whole milk & heavy cream (or 2 cups half & half)
1/4 cup butter
2/3 cup sugar (white or brown, depending on taste preference)
3 eggs
1 cinnamon stick
Pinch of ground nutmeg
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
3 cups bread, (french bread works best)-leave the crust on.
1/2 cup raisins (optional)

1. In medium saucepan, over medium heat, heat milk/cream (or half & half) with cinnamon stick, just until film forms over top.Remove from heat and put lid on and let cinnamon infuse.
2. Combine butter and milk, stirring until butter is melted. Cool to lukewarm.
3. Combine sugar, eggs, nutmeg, and vanilla. Beat with an electric mixer at medium speed for 1 minute. Slowly add milk mixture.
4. Cut bread into 1/4 inch thick slices. Cut each slice into quarters, setting aside the rounded top pieces
5. Place bread in a lightly greased 9 by 12 inch gratin dish or glass baking dish. Arrange the reserved bread tops on top in a decorative pattern.
6.Pour mixture all over bread and press firmly so bottom layer of bread absorbs mixture.
7. Let sit about 20 minutes to allow bread to soak up as much a possible.
8. Sprinkle with raisins if desired.
9. Bake at 350 degrees F for 45 to 50 minutes or until set.

Serve warm with a drizzle of caramel sauce. The best parts are the sides and the top, crunchy and so tasty!

-2 cups of brown sugar
-4 cups of golden corn syrup
-1/2 pound of salted butter
-1 (10oz) of sweetened concentrated milk
-Melt first 3 ingredients on low heat in a saucepan, do not boil.
-Remove from heat when all melted and mixed well.
-Add the milk and your favorite extract, vanilla or maple..while constantly mixing.
Refrigerate, will keep in airtight container in the fridge for a few months.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Food Porn

A collection of 50 Great Chefs and their Final Meals / Portraits, Interviews, and Recipes.

What an intriguing book...not quite a recipe book, and certainly not a coffee table book. It's a book in a class of it's own. As a self-professed gourmet, this book provides a glance into the lives and desires of some of the biggest and most influential names in the modern American culinary scene. The pictures ....well what can I say, it's pure pornography. I Love it! Anthony Bourdain poses totally nude, strategically wielding a butchered leg bone. But perhaps no picture is more memorable than Dan Barber's, posing alongside a massive boar named Boris. His last meal is rack of boar, of course: "If I'm going, so is Boris." So you get the idea what this book is about.

"My Last Supper" is a beautiful book with substance and sustenance (though not provided, that's up to you)! All I wanted to do after reading this book was to eat, drink, and be merry! Every foodie should own a copy.