Lasagne of Emilia-Romagna - DB March

I, for one, was very exited to make this month Daring Bakers challenge. Not only do I have far too much time on my hands (curse you, unemployment!) and not only was I thrilled to have a new pasta dish to make everyone eat, but there was the enjoyable fact that I've kind of always wanted to make my own pasta. My camera, on the other hand, apparently was a little over-excited because when I turned her on, she whirred to life and then flickered out.

Broken? No, not really. Just refusing to work. I wasn't even concerned because I knew it would be back in
order before all the lasagne was eaten.

Oh, what a fool I was. I'm glad I took a couple of cell phone pictures because, seriously, this did not stick around very long. And on that note, I would like to apologize for the fact that my pictures of this are so very, very bad.

It isn't a very good camera phone. But it is a very good recipe!

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.

This a delicious, amazing meal of multiple steps. I did a large chunk of it at about four or five in the morning, but I wouldn't suggest that. Unless you, like me, are having some insomnia issues and figure that hand-rolling some pasta out is the ultimate cure.
Step One: Make The Spinach Pasta

2 jumbo eggs
10 ounces fresh spinach, rinsed dry, and finely chopped
3&1/2 cups all purpose flour

"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."

My pasta? Did not want to behave. I presume it was because my eggs were simply large, so I chucked in an extra one. And you know what? This really did help.

"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."

At first, I thought this would not work. At first, I thought I had done something wrong. At second, I cursed that extra egg. And finally, I held the green dough in my hands and said "oh! alive! I get it!" and giggled happily, wrapped my dough in foil, and watched a movie.

"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."

All I can say is I have no doubt, at all, that Enza's housekeeper has probably the best guns at the gun show because oh my goodness, this was intense. I don't own a rolling pin, but I do have wine bottles! So I used one of those. I sprinkled some flour on the counter and set to work using little bits at a time. Limited space and all.

I was actually really pleased with how this worked out, but was terribly concerned that I didn't have my pasta thin enough. I had a drying rack set up that that held all my pasta. It looked like real, honest to goodness pasta. And on some level, I thought this might be victory enough.

Thankfully, it also tasted like awesomeness in my mouth. So. I didn't have to settle.

Step Two: Make White Sauce

4 tablespoons unsalted butter
4 tablespoons all purpose unbleached flour
2 2/3 cups 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.

* I didn't have nutmeg, but I did have this cinnamon/nutmeg/christmassy spice that I used instead. I also added a dash of dill. I like dill. And I like this sauce. And I like that this is the first time I didn't freak out over the roux and do it the "mix butter and flour together by itself and then sprinkle in towards the end" thing that I like to do. I like doing it that way, but doing it this way was exciting.

Step Three: Making the ragu.

I opted to use my own pasta sauce recipe, that is based off of (what else?) a Jamie Oliver recipe. Oh, be still my beating heart.

olive oil
4 cloves of garlic, peeled and finely sliced
1 can of whole tomatoes
1 can of diced tomatoes with basil and onions
courgettes, sliced and chopped
salt, pepper

First I cooked some onion and garlic in the oil, then chucked in everything else. I let this simmer for about a half hour, drizzled a litle balsamic in, and later added:

chicken, mushrooms, a little more garlic - all cooked and delightfully seasoned

and allowed to reduce. Holy mother of pasta, this was amazing.

You can find the actual Jamie recipe here.
Step Four: Making the actual lasagne.

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."

This was sort of amazing.
I was concerned about my pasta being too thick, so I was very careful about the noodles and exactly which ones I used. As it turned out, it worked out wonderfully.

Also, I am now a hero to my people. (hero to my stomach?)

Also, I feel like I wrote this whole entry in a very odd way. I apologize. I am sick. I have some meds in my system and sort of feel like cotton. It really is entirely my bad. Still, I didn't want to be late.


Bacon Chocolate Cookies: Take One.

Oh, bacon. Is there anything you can't do?

I never tried the Vosges bacon bar or, really, any sweet taste with a crispy bacon undertone. It wasn't even that I missed the boat, I just never got around to meandering by the lake. I'm pretty sure if somehow bacon and sesame chips came into existence together, I would have shoved someone out of the way to get it in my hands like one of those desperate girls who will take your eye out if you get between her and the wedding boquet. But they didn't, so I didn't, and I went on just eating bacon in things like...a plate of bacon, a turkey burger, or an Elvis sandwhich.

This brings me to the point where I promise to make and document an Elvis sandwhich for your viewing pleasure soon. Ish. My camera is out of battery power and, well, I can't find my batteries and refuse to spend money on some when I *know* that I have them. Oh, it's so frustrating. Money! Unemployment! No time for batteries!

This is not the point and I apologize for getting so far off track. I promise, I will do it again. It's in my nature.

I decided today that I wanted to check out this new trend that isn't actually new anymore, as far as I can tell. Frying up my bacon, it was sort of a "one for the cookie dough, one for me..." game planned in advance. A good thing, seeing as how I ended up eating a good bit of the bacon when I was hacking it all up for the cookie. I was using a recipe from The Culinary Sherpas and I halved it, but did add some extra vanilla. (see link for the recipe)

I am not my poor, allergic friend. I love vanilla. I also love cinnamon! Just so you know, in case you ever want to get me something delicious.

At any rate, it went well. Which is good! Because I have a confession.

...when I make cookies? I usually somehow misstep and they, well, they melt.I get a mass of tasty cookie mess, not a bunch of cookies. My gingerbread men? Gingerbread puddle. People like it fine enough, but I don't usually make cookies. I'm hard on myself. Oldest Child Syndrome, maybe?

If I wanted to show you a picture, though, I would google search terms like "no, there are no nuts in here, how strange" and "people looking skeptical and then vowing to give me their first born".

I've also stashed some of the dough in a container (cleverly labeled YOGURT bwa ha ha!) in order to see if it is true. Does cookie dough that hangs out in my fridge taste better after some wait time?

The Great Bacon Cookie Experiment will continue. There may be pictures.

Even if they are just pictures of me and my friends, laughing, from older times.

PS: I suggest enjoying this decidedly not vegan snack with a glass of milk. I'm just saying. I'm out of milk, but imagine it would be awesome.


Being broke doesn't mean you don't eat.

Club Kitchen was well underway yesterday when I realized that I was going to need dinner, not just cupcakes. I'm not sure why I thought I would need something else, but I did and oh man, was it ever as delicious as I'd hoped it would be.

Since being unemployed, I've been finding ways to try and make every penny count. Now, I've always tried to live cheaply, but these days it isn't as easy as it used to be. Or maybe it is, but I'm just more stressed out about it. That tends to get in the way. Then I caught a lucky break.

Lentils. A delicious bean that was only a dollar per bag at the grocery store. A dollar! I swear, I was filled with a great joy when I saw the orange price tag. I can't even remember the last time I cooked lentils, but they were cheaper than the pinto beans I had originally gone to buy. So, I'm standing there in the grocery store and I realize - lentils! I have a carrot at home! I have some chicken! Mushrooms!

LENTIL SOUP! For under five dollars! (or maybe just over? the lady didn't charge me for the onions.)

- chopped onion
- sliced mushrooms
- thinly sliced carrot
- minced garlic cloves
- one and half chicken breasts, cut into bits
- chicken broth (rather, i chucked a bullion cube into the water)
- lentils, not quite a cup
- seasonings of my delicious choice
- drizzle of vanilla

I cooked the lentils according to the packet instructions, using the chicken broth instead of plain water. Towards the end of the beans cooking, I sauteed the onion and garlic with a little butter and oil - then cooked the chicken bits, then added the veg. Seasoned with salt, some dill, a quick dash of cayenne, and the barest hint of honey.

I added the veg/chicken to the lentils and let everything rest while I made very quick drop biscuits.

Super delicious. Super affordable. Super happy supper.

And since yesterday was a blustery, rainy, awfully grey Chicago day? It was exactly what was needed.

On being burned.

Oh, it started off innocently enough yesterday.

That may be incorrect. It started off early, though, and I was warm and dry while the outside was soaked and blustery. Around eight in the morning, I realized I really wanted to be baking. I just wanted to devote a whole day to being covered in flour and maybe make bread that didn't need yeast or something. (my plan? irish soda bread or maybe railway cake.)

Instead, I heard rumors that my roommate wanted there to be cupcakes in existence when she got home. So I set to work! I made essentially the same chocolate cupcakes that I posted about previously (click the tag that says "cupcakes" on the sidebar if you missed it) but I added chopped up chocolate. Also! I have stopped having cupcakes fall in on themselves. So, essentially, I am brilliant. (and stopped taking them out that little minute too early. sorry, cupcake gods!)

At any rate. While my delicious, full-of-chocolate-but-less-mocha-powder cupcakes were baking, I decided to wash the other cupcake pan that was sitting on the stove from a few days ago. I tapped it - not hot - and picked it up and set it in the sink. I then turned on the water, and touched a different part of the pan. Oh. Oh, that was hot. There was a lot of swearing and leaping back, turnng off water and continued cursing.

Yes. Turning off water. Why? Because I recently read on Chaos in the Kitchen that a fresh-cut onion can help with a burn. And you know what? It did. It really really did. So all was good in Club Kitchen.

...sometimes, when I cook, I like to have really clubby music playing. I can't be positive, but I am relatively certain that while I was whipping up a fresh batch of sour cream frosting there was some singing and rocking out to Justin Timberlake. (whereas right now, in a normal non-cooking moment, the music of choice is currently The Airborne Toxic Event. they sound a lot like The Arcade Fire, if you ask me, which is a good thing.)

Come for the cooking, stay for the music recommendation.

At any rate. I couldn't just stop there, yesterday, with the cupcakes and the frosting and my (stupid) burned hand. I made some cookie dough which tastes pretty good, but hasn't been baked yet. Ask me later.


March Mehness.

I feel like I should have some sort of list. A list of things I'd like to make so that sometimes, when I can't think of anything and realize I've made stir-fry fifty billion times (last time there were carrots and sometimes there are freshly made chow fan noodles from a local Chicago place. there is no end of joy when reading Halsted on the noodle label) or something like - everyone makes tuna salad or egg salad. Or when I realize I've been eating bread and butter or this pasta bake that my roommate and I love love love (but I keep not taking snaps of it, so I can't exactly post it).

The point here is. I need to branch out! Document better! Try new things!

Which is, of course, one good thing about being so very very poor (due to being so very very unemployed). Creativity is a must. Especially when I've got to keep a tight watch on my allergy and my nickles. So maybe I'll get on that.

Of course, I have been feeling like not doing anything at all (thus eating things like bread and butter as a meal) because my brain is not what you might call "happy" these days.

In other news, Top Chef. Really? Hosea? He's such a tool, much like Stefan, but so much more annoying and so much less talented and so much less of a decent human. Carla was the nicest of the three, though I kept waiting for her to snap suddenly and violently. Really I just wanted Jaime and Fabio to be there, being awesome. Winning. Making everyone else pay. So at least Fabio won Fan Favorite.

And at least Jamie was adorable.

Plus, isn't my new Daring Bakers badge adorable? The Daring Kitchen now hosts all your daring needs!