Friday, March 27, 2009

Springing into Action

Spring + 1 week.....and it still feels like Winter. Ugh!

I did not take any major Spring Break trips this week, although Simon and I had a really nice, quiet, simple weekend at the cottage on Whidbey. I came off of the island feeling quite refreshed and ready to face a busy week at work.

Many of my classmates are finishing up a business trip to Europe this week. I declined the trip out of work obligations and...well..I wasn't really impressed with the jam-packed technical business focused itinery....I don't have any desire to visit Microsoft in Prague....that is not my idea of a vacation. But I do have a desire to visit Prague and Budapest and Paris and I have always wanted to just take my time touring all over Italy...just eating well.

I was very excited to get my first Daring Baker Challenge this month (even though I didn't think I was going to have time to do it!) and I was thrilled to find out that the recipe for this month is from an Italian cookbook that I happen to have in my own collection: The Splendid Table, by Lynn Rossetto Kasper.

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.

I picked up this book over a decade ago- it has such wonderful pictures and anecdotes along with the recipes that just sound so amazing. (I confess- I have never made a single recipe in this book, although I wanted to! My Bad.)

Yesterday I made the ragu, and last night Simon and I rolled out sheets of homemade spinach lasagna pasta by hand- this is very hardwork- having Simon help was fun and very necessary! In her cookbook, Lynne says that after a bit you become one with the pasta- your body moves in sync with the motion of rolling out the dough...I never felt that. (and, lord knows I wanted to feel good about rolling that pasta out) It was not easy and I don't think I will attempt that again without a proper pasta making machine.

What I will definately do again is the Country Ragu. It was fabulous. I used ground sirloin, mild italian sausage, ground veal, pancetta and proscuitto. This will be a staple at the Cook Home in the future.
When completed, the lasagna looked fabulous in the pan and tasted very good. Simon ate two big platefuls. My son was less enthusiastic (very finicky- he could not get past the green pasta - but that just meant more for us!). His friend, Paul, ate two platefulls as well.

I am excited to have leftovers for lunch tomorrow. I am sure that this is one of those dishes that just gets better the next day when all the flavors have a chance to meld a bit more.

All in all, I give this first challenge high marks. It turned out tasty, I finally used that Italian Cookbook, and I really felt challenged - making pasta is not so difficult, really.

Lasagne of Emilia-Romagna - Daring Bakers March 2009 Challenge - Posting Date March 29th

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)

Bechamel Sauce (recipe follows)

Country Style Ragu (recipe follows)

1cup (4 ounces/125g) freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano

MethodWorking 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.

Spinach Egg Pasta (Pasta Verde)Preparation: 45 minutesMakes 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)

Working by Hand:EquipmentA roomy work surface, 24 to 30 inches deep by 30 to 36 inches (60cm to 77cm deep by 60cm to 92cm). Any smooth surface will do, but marble cools dough slightly, making it less flexible than desired.A pastry scraper and a small wooden spoon for 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, Enza has successfully made pasta with a marble rolling pin, and this can be substituted for the wooden pin, if you have one.Plastic wrap to wrap the resting dough and to cover rolled-out pasta waiting to be filled. It protects the pasta from drying out too quickly.A sharp chef’s knife for cutting pasta sheets.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.

Kneading: 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.
Bechamel 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.
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
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. kim 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.

Friday, March 20, 2009

Spring has Sprung!

Happy First Day of Spring!

10 Very Spring like things to do today...

1) Feed a Robin...refill those bird feeders!

2) Clean out a closet and a drawer and another drawer- have a cleaning frenzy!

3) Eat asparagus, brussel sprouts or another springy vegetable

4) Buy yourself a bouquet of tulips

5) Plan a garden space

6) Start something new

7) Bake some wonderful flower shape cookies and frost them in pink and yellow and green!

8) Invite a neighbor in for tea...and a flower cookie

9) Do a Happy Dance

10) Take a walk around your neighborhood and see if anything is sprouting.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Spring Break!

Just 5 days until SPRING!

This has been an incredibly busy week. I have been burning the midnight oil trying to finish my final marketing plan project for school so I can officially start my spring break!
I have been trying to create some balance as well, between school and work and family. So, yesterday - when I really could not afford to get away- I took a little spring break from my project for a visit with Terri and Daphne at Eden Organic Salon in Monroe*. Terri is an amazing woman- she is skilled at being healthy and balanced and in listening to her gut when she makes decisions. Her salon uses only gentle products and I think I go there as much for haircuts as for the inspiration. I got a great spring haircut, a great dose of enthusiasm, and then Daphne- with her bubbly personality- delighted my feet with a fabulous spa pedicure. A little "goddess" purple on my toes and a dash of dried lavendar and I am so ready for flip flop season.

(My foot photo disclaimer: it is very difficult to photograph your feet! Just try it- you will agree with me! I will never be a foot model. Simon thinks I have "Fred Flintstone" feet but that is no excuse not to pamper them. I think Daphne did an awesome job with what she had to work with...don't you?)

I wonder if getting a pedicure doesn't send a little message out to the universe that it is time for spring??? Maybe if everyone went out immediately and got thier feet happy, we could make spring happen! I love that idea...and even if we aren't able to tiptoe through the tulips because it is too cold out still, you always have great looking feet to cheer you up, right?

Moving straight from feet and spring to tonight's dinner (there was no easy way to transition from feet to food, I apologize). I still have some editing to do on my project, so I was looking for a quick and easy dinner and stumbled upon a recipe that Simon and I picked up at Central Market in Mill Creek.

If you are looking for a quick and easy way to prepare your favorite steak, this recipe for Balsamic Steak is perfect.

Balsamic Steaks


  • 2 (8-10 oz) steaks, your favorite cut
  • Olive Oil
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 3T balsamic vinegar
  • Pinch of sugar
  • 1 T unsalted butter

  1. Heat a large skilet over med-hi heat.
  2. Lightly coat the bottom of pan iwth oil.
  3. Season steaks well with salt and pepper.
  4. When the oil is shimmering, add steaks.
  5. Cook until deeply browned and cooked to desired doneness (If steaks are very thick, preheat oven to 400 degrees.)When both sides of steak are browned, transfer to oven to finish cooking
  6. Transfer steaks to a plate and cover loosely with foil.
  7. Remove pan from heat. Carefully pour out most of the fat, leaving enough to coat the bottom of the pan.
  8. Add vinegar and sugar. Stir once or twice to disolve the sugar. The pan should be hot enough to sizzle the vinegar- if not, return it to heat just long enough to bring it to a boil.
  9. Add butter and swirl until melted.
  10. Pour the sauce over the steaks and serve immediately.
I chose thick rib eye steaks (Costco had a good deal on a four pack) and served these with a side of fingerling potatoes and some creamed spinach from Trader Joes. We also picked up a loaf of Sour dough bread and finished off a bottle of Rex Golaith Merlot.

* Terri Curtis is owner of Eden Organic Salon in Monroe- if you are in the area and want a haircut, spa treatment, great products or just some good inspiration check her out!

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

This is no Spring Chicken (Casserole)

10 more days until SPRING!

This is more of a winter chicken casserole. It is quite chilly out and I think nothing beats a nice hot casserole for warming you up inside.

We have been quite busy so I have been a bit more reliant on packaged prepared vegetables. My vegetable preference is fresh, and while it is a little more spendy to buy veggies ready to toss in the microwave- these work well for us right now! Trader Joe's has been a great source for these. I picked up a medly of yams, turnips and butternut squash and mashed them together for a starchy side and Simon cooked up some brussel sprouts for some leafy greens.

I like this dish because it is very easy to assemble, but looks and tastes quite elegant.

Baked French Chicken Casserole

For each serving:
1 boneless, skinless chicken breast
garlic powder
1 Roma tomato, seeded (2 if they're very small)
med. size mushrooms (sliced) to equal amount of tomato
Fresh or dried parsley
1/4 cup heavy cream
1/3 cup mozzarella cheese (I have experimented with many different cheeses- feel free to do the same)
olive oil
Pam spray coating

Wash chicken breasts under running water. Dredge breast(s) in flour. Place in frying pan with a few tablespoons of olive oil. Season with salt, pepper. and garlic powder. Brown on both sides. Spray baking dish with Pam. Place chicken breasts in pan. Cover with tomatoes, mushrooms, parsley, and heavy cream. Season with more salt, pepper, and garlic powder. Bake at 350 degrees for about 30 minutes. Add cheese and bake 10 minutes more.

For variety:Add a mixture of several types of mushrooms.Instead of fresh roma tomato (or in addition to), substitute sun dried tomatoes. Sprinkle in some fresh or dried Tarragon.

Bon Appetite!
*The spring chicken print is by Marylou's Art (Ad)venture at Marylou does some other great artwork as well, please take some time to check out her blog!
**I adapted this recipe from Gail Greco's Recipes for Romance Cook book : Baked French Chicken Casserole
***I mashed the Autumn medly with a drop of heavy whipping cream and a little Tbsp butter. A very nice side dish - a little sweet and very good for you.

Monday, March 9, 2009

Think Spring

Just 11 days until Spring!

Thinking spring is easier said than done when you wake up a week into March and find snow on the ground, as I did just this morning.

We actually had a full blown blizzard by noon, so I decided to leave work early and ended up having a white-knuckled commute most of the way home. I made myself a cup of tea once inside our little cozy bungalow in an attempt get my blood pressure to subside a little. It was very scary driving. I am officially done with Winter!

Interestingly, when I look outside now, I see that the sun is shining and blue sky is trying to break through the gray clouds. If it weren't so cold and blowy out, you might think that the morning's winter storm was just a figment of your imagination. You might even find that you can imagine SPRING is here (just don't go outside!)

I have one more week of school until Spring Break and absolutely no time to cook and bake. But this is supposed to be a food blog (primarily) and so I would be remiss to not talk about food. Notice that I haven't really blogged this month at all- and I do apologize. I am learning that they don't just hand these MBAs out to everyone...they are actually making me work for it!

But back to Spring....

When I think of spring, I think of tulips and daffodils and inevitably that gets me thinking about the Netherlands.

My paternal grandfather was a Dutch American. His parents were immigrants from Holland. The Dutch influence on my family was slightly upstaged by the Italian influence. As you can imagine, Italians are a little louder...a little more boisterous...and the Dutch are a bit more reserved. As a result (and this is only my theory) the only evidence of my dutch heritage was that my Grandfather looked very Dutch with his blue eyes and blonde hair and he passed on to me a very Dutch surname that I carried for most of my life: "VanderHouwen".

A few months ago, a coworker of mine had returned from the Netherlands with a few packages of these most delightful morsels called a "stroopwaffel". I had never tried these before.

Stroopwaffels are composed of two thin, cinnamon-flavored, waffle-like wafers with a smathering of caramel in between. The caramel just oozes through the biscuit, making these stickey, gooey, slightly crunchy and everso addictive.

So you can imagine how pleased I was to come across a bag of these at Trader Joes recently. They call these "Caramel bites" and they are a quite tasty stroopwaffel alternative.

Trying these again, naturally led me to wonder just how wonderful homemade Stroopwaffels would be (I bet they would blow these little caramel bites right out of the kitchen!) I came across a recipe on the Cream Puffs in Venice website that definately piqued my interest. I have added this recipe to "Post MBA - Baking to do list!" I will do a whole post on these just as soon as I find some time to bake 'em!

In the meantime, check out this fabulous Stroopwaffel report:

Thursday, March 5, 2009

Spring Forward

Just a quick blog entry before heading to bed. On Sunday we will be Springing Forward which unfortunately means that the weekend will be one hour shorter than it usually is.

I am not at all happy about this because, quite frankly, there were already not enough hours in the day and I do feel like I need every hour I can get my hands on these next two weeks (especially my weekend hours!) as I attempt to finish my second to last quarter of school and to manage my projects at work. I am busy with a capital B...and a little tired too- trying not to get sick.

My wonderful husband has been mancleaning and chauffering and cooking and even took my son out tonight to practice parallel parking. If I had that extra hour, I most certainly would spend it on them.

Monday, March 2, 2009

March is all about ......Spring

Springtime makes me wish I could paint....and that I had a little more time to hang out outside.
My March theme is SPRING. (It officially begins 18 days from today)
A few things that I am looking forward to this month:
  • I joined the "Daring Bakers" this month, and when they found out I was joining, they were so excited that they went and started a whole new daring division called the "Daring Cooks"! (okay, it might have been a mere coincidence..but what are the odds?). The Daring Bakers/Daring Cooks are a group of foodie bloggers who attempt a specific challenging recipe each month and then post the results on their blogs. I have received this months Bakers challenge, and I am thinking it is quite "daring" , but I cannot reveal it until a specific day this you will have to sit back and just wait and see. The Cook's challenge has not yet been announced. (I am waiting patiently)

  • Daylight Savings Time begins on Sunday March 8. My dear grandma Muriel used to curse changing the clocks back and forth twice a year- I always think of her when I spring forward and fall back (or was it spring back and fall forward....better look that up.) Let me be the first to remind you to replace your smoke alarm batteries! (Add them to your grocery list right now!)

  • St Patrick's Day is March 17th. My friend Katie Jean has turned me on to Corned Beef. I could never tolerate it because it was always so salty. Apparently it doesn't have to be that way if you cook it long enough. Looking forward to making some soda bread, and carrot cake with Bailey's Irish Cream Frosting.

  • Spring Begins on March 20. Haven't decided what we will do to celebrate, but my spring break will be in full swing at that point so the possibilities are much greater than they would be if I were in school.

  • On March 26, my big brother and his wife arrive from Denver, Co. I am most excited because I will finally be meeting my nephew, Charlie. I am eager to have a baby in the house!

  • On March 31 my grandma Elaine will be turning 80. We are having a surprise party for her on the 28th. At least one of her three older sisters is planning to attend. (We have some kick ass genes on that side of the family indeed)