Category — Recipes

The Best Food Blog Ever Video Episode #2

How to Roast a Chicken from DDL on Vimeo.


May 25, 2009   Comments

How to Grill Chicken

There’s something quite primal about cooking over fire – tossing something raw over smoldering coals, hearing the fat sizzle as it melts and drips into the flames, the smell of wood and meat and smoke comingling briefly before being carried off by the breeze of a slightly chilly spring evening.  Three years ago, one of the deciding factors in our electing to purchase our first home was our leasing company’s ludicrous prohibition on outdoor grilling – those were dark years, and I swore to never go that long without grilling ever again.

I now have my own deck, and on it sits a steel monstrosity forged in the very bowels of Amish country, three hundred pounds of black metal that serves as my mechanism for transforming meats into meals.  My name has become a grilling word.

I used to think that everyone knew how to grill, but now I’ve come to reconsider my presumption after having witnessed the embarrassingly cringe-worthy performance of someone who was unfamiliar with charcoal and afraid of fire.  I’ve never seen a situation where more food ended up under the grate, withering away on the coals, than on the grate where it belonged.

So, with that, I’m presenting a short primer on how to grill chicken -  specifically, chicken thighs.  For newcomers to the thrills of outdoor cooking, chicken thighs are fairly forgiving, because their uniform size and shape, combined with the amount of fat that is laden throughout the meat, means that there is a very low likelihood of ruining dinner.  And with the long Memorial Day weekend coming up, there’s a good chance that more than a few of you will be grilling for a crowd.

When you’re shopping for chicken thighs, try to select pieces of poultry that are roughly the same size, to ensure that they will all cook at the same rate.  When you get them home, rinse each piece under cool running water, then pat dry with a paper towel, season with salt and pepper, and transfer to a plate for transport to the grill.  Pick up a nice bottle of barbecue sauce, one that’s hopefully not too sweet and not packed with corn syrup, or make your own.

About an hour and a half before you plan on eating, start your coals, preferably in a chimney starter (which allows for the preparation of coals without the chemicals of a liquid starter – hover over the link for a picture).  I presume you are cooking with charcoal – if you aren’t, I can offer no guidance, since I’ve never used propane.  Once the coals have turned ashen, about 20 minutes, spread them in your grill, mounding slightly on one side, and set your grate into place.

Now comes the part of grilling that’s filled with fun and danger.  Using tongs, place your chicken thighs, skin down, on the grate over the higher portion of the charcoal mound.  Squeal with delight as the fat from the chicken skin drips into the fire, causing massive flareups!  Don’t panic – just take your tongs and move the chicken pieces that are over the flareups to the side of the grill that contains fewer pieces of charcoal, and wait for the flames to die down.  Every so often, move the chicken pieces around and flip them over – your goal is to achieve a nice char on both sides of each thigh.  Treat it like a big game – the fire wants to eat your chicken, and you have to play keep-away.

Once all of your chicken is browned, with a nice, crisp skin, move the thighs to the cooler part of the grill (skin up) and close the grill by setting the cover on it.  Open the vents slightly to let air through.  During this time, the grill will act as an oven, roasting each chicken thigh to doneness.  Since the thighs are dark meat, they will remain moist even if left in the grill for a few minutes longer than needed.

You’ll notice that I haven’t yet called for barbecue sauce.  A lot of novice grillers make the mistake of putting their barbecue sauce on their chicken/ribs/whatever too early, which only serves to insulate the chicken from browning properly.  It also guarantees that the high heat of grilling burns the sugars in the sauce, resulting in a carbonized, blackened mess.

After about 35 minutes, pour some barbecue sauce into a small bowl and equip yourself with either a large spoon or, preferably, a basting brush.  Take the lid off of the grill, flip each chicken thigh over, and splash a dollop of sauce on each piece, using either the spoon or brush to coat each chicken thigh evenly with sauce.  Flip each thigh over, so that the skin faces up, and repeat.  Replace the cover, cook for 10 to 15 minutes more, then serve.

May 20, 2009   Comments

A BFBE Original Recipe: Kitchen Sink Mac and Cheese

This all started because I had a nostalgic craving for macaroni and cheese mixed with cut-up hot dogs. By the time I was finished, I had created an original recipe, which I now present to you here as Kitchen Sink Mac and Cheese.

This preparation was largely driven by what was available in my refrigerator, and, as with any Mac and Cheese recipe, you are more than welcome to take liberties with ingredients and amounts. I had put a lot of thought into what types of cheese to use, and ultimately decided on a majority of sharp cheddar, a little bit of bleu cheese to add tang, and a small mound of grated romano cheese. We had some cherry tomatoes sitting on the kitchen island that we like to snack on, and I picked out a handful of those to add a little bit of flavor and color. Then, feeling guilty about the overly indulgent aspects of a dish that involves pasta wallowing in a slurry of melted cheese, I opted to add some chopped kale to the mix, just so that I could say that it’s got a serving of vegetables in there.

Oh yes, the hot dog aspect. I didn’t have any hot dogs, but I did have some turkey kielbasa, so I took about half of a package, diced it, and folded it into the mixture just before putting the casserole into the oven.

Kitchen Sink Mac and Cheese, as with every recipe of this type, starts with a bechamel sauce, into which the cheeses are melted until you have a nice, thick, satin-smooth sauce. Toss with boiled pasta, add your supplemental ingredients, top with bread crumbs, and set into the oven for about 30 minutes.

The results of my hodgepodge approach were surprisingly tasty, and quite photogenic. The sauce was far from bland, which avoided the cardinal sin of most single-cheese preparations – the bleu cheese added sharpness, the cheddar contributed body, and the romano possessed a salty aspect that brought out the best in everything else. The rest of the ingredients presented a nice contrast of textures – kale holds up well under cooking, so it doesn’t disintegrate into nothingness like spinach and still retains some crunch, and kale’s bitterness presents a nice counterpoint to the sweetness of the cherry tomatoes, which were little mini-explosions of fresh tomato flavor whenever you encountered them on a fork. Plus, hey, kielbasa chunks!

Kitchen Sink Mac and Cheese

4 Tbs butter
1/4 cup flour
2 cups milk

Splash of hot sauce
4oz sharp cheddar, cubed
Small bit of bleu cheese, about 3 or 4 Tbs
1 cup grated romano cheese

16oz penne, rigatoni, or some other tube-shaped pasta

16oz kale, washed and chopped (available in bags for convenience)

8oz kielbasa, cubed

Handful of cherry tomatoes, halved

Bread crumbs (two slices of bread spun in a food processor)

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees, set out a casserole dish, and boil and drain your pasta according to the directions on the box.

Make the sauce by melting the butter in a large pot over medium heat. When the butter has fully melted, add the flour and whisk continuously. You’ll begin with a thick flour-butter paste that will loosen as it cooks. Continue to cook the roux until it toasts to a light brown color, then whisk in the milk until the sauce is smooth and uniform. Bring the mixture to a simmer, then add the cheeses, whisking until everything has melted. Splash in the hot sauce, then taste and adjust with salt, pepper, and more hot sauce.

Add the chopped kale to the sauce – it will look like a lot of kale, but it will wilt quickly as you fold it in. Once the kale has been incorporated, add the cherry tomatoes and the kielbasa, then fold in the pasta.

Turn the mixture into the casserole, then top with bread crumbs. Set the casserole dish on a cookie sheet (to catch spillage) and bake on the center rack of the oven for thirty minutes. Let sit for ten minutes before serving.

May 7, 2009   Comments

Announcing the Best Food Blog Ever Gnocchi Challenge

The gnocchi post really hit a nerve – apparently the Internet loves gnocchi!  So, in celebration of our shared adoration of this versatile dish, today I am announcing the Best Food Blog Ever Gnocchi Challenge.

The rules, much like gnocchi, are simple: over the next two weeks, develop a gnocchi recipe and post it to your own blog during the week of May 5th, and send me a link to it at ddl(at)bestfoodblogever.com.  Over the weekend of May 11-12, I will post the results of the Gnocchi Challenge here, with links to all of your recipes.  With any luck, and a good level of participation, we’ll be able to collect a goldmine of gnocchi recipes in one spot.

Your gnocchi recipe can be as simple or as complex as you wish, and you can use any combination of flour, potato, and ricotta as you please.  You should strive to keep your sauces simple – the showcase of your Gnocchi Challenge recipe should be the gnocchi themselves.

Now go crazy with your gnocchi-making self.

April 24, 2009   Comments

Introducing The Best Food Blog Ever Video Series

(Google Reader may not display this – looking for a fix, but, for now, please click through to watch!)
Best Food Blog Ever S01E01 from DDL on Vimeo.

April 20, 2009   Comments

Nyuk, Nyuk, Nyuk, Gnocchi

I’ve never made gnocchi before. I’ve had the dish in restaurants, seen recipes for it while reading through my cookbook collection, and even bought them frozen from Talula’s Table. It’s not that I regarded the dish as overly complicated, it’s just that I’ve never really thought about making the dish at all. So, I was somewhat surprised, when I really put my mind to making gnocchi, to find that they’re one of the simplest, yet most versatile, dishes that one could conjure up in the kitchen.

Trying my hand at gnocchi for the first time, I wanted to keep things as straightforward as possible. When going down the gnocchi path, you have three options – flour, potatoes, or ricotta. I chose ricotta based on what we had on hand that day, and because ricotta gnocchi also seem to be the easiest to assemble, if you have access to the right equipment. Potato gnocchi require potatoes to be cooked, pressed or mashed, then cooled before proceeding. Flour-based gnocchi are typically rolled out into thin ropes, cut, then boiled. By comparison, ricotta gnocchi can be whipped up in one bowl using a hand mixer in less than five minutes. If this recipe were going to fail, I’d want to get there sooner rather than later.

The gnocchi mixture is essentially ricotta cheese (15 oz) blended with eggs (3), with flour (1 cup) added to give it body. I had mentioned that you need the right equipment to make ricotta gnocchi – since the batter is far looser than flour-based gnocchi, it can’t be rolled out and cut by hand. Instead, you use a pastry bag, or something similar, to pipe small lengths of gnocchi batter directly over boiling water. It seems to be a bit faster than the rolling-cutting-shaping routine of flour-based gnocchi, but you’ll have to wait until I tackle those before I can weigh in with an honest opinion. I used a mechanical pastry bag for this recipe, and it worked beautifully. Pressing the plunger against my chest, I extruded small lengths of batter through the tip (recalling early childhood experiments with Play Doh), using a knife to sever the dough into the roiling, salted water below. Each batch made about 30 gnocchi, which took about five minutes to cook (like most boiled things, they are done when they float to the top), and as each batch was done, I fished them out using a large Chinese bird’s nest scoop, placing the gnocchi on a plate lined with parchment paper.

After all of the gnocchi had been boiled, I melted some butter in a nonstick pan and fried them up in batches, giving them a quick toss to make sure they had all browned evenly. Accompanied by a quick tomato sauce and a grating of parmesan, these light and airy ricotta pillows turned out to be a substantial, inexpensive meal. You could even freeze the gnocchi after boiling them, and they become quick dinners that can be sauteed, sauced, and on the table in less than 30 minutes.

My gnocchi eyes have been opened, to say the least. This was a very basic test recipe – some obvious additions would be parsley and chopped spinach. I can’t wait to try out different compositions and flavor components (sweet potato and sage come to mind), and you’ll see the results right here, every time.

April 17, 2009   Comments

Off With Their Heads!

I’ve lucked into one of the best situations, food-wise, that one could possibly have stumbled upon – my neighbor loves to fish, but he and his wife don’t cook on a regular basis, and even if he did cook the fish, I don’t think she’s at all interested in eating it.

A few weeks ago, mere hours after getting his Pennsylvania fishing license for the season, my neighbor called me.  “Want some fish?” he said.  He has a knack for wading into water and, ten minutes later, emerging with the catch of the day.

This brought up something of a dilemma for me.  For one thing, I was just about to put dinner on the table, so the fish would have to be refrigerated for at least a day.  More importantly, I had never cleaned a fish before – in fact, I had never even handled any type of whole fish in the kitchen.  For me, fish is something that comes cleaned and filleted and wrapped in butcher’s paper from the guy behind the seafood counter.

Suffice it to say, then, that the prospect of decapitating and gutting a fish was somewhat intimidating – but the fish were out of the water, and were going to go to waste unless I agreed to take them off of my neighbor’s hands.  With some measure of reluctance, I told my neighbor to come on over, and in ten minutes he was standing in my kitchen with a plastic grocery bag filled with four trout.

He said he would teach me how to clean fish, and that it wasn’t hard to do.  You know what?  He was right.  Sure, it’s messy, but no more messy than dealing with the gizzards from a chicken or turkey.

Dinner was placed in a holding pattern while, at his instruction, I lined the kitchen island with a double layer of newspaper.  I had not expected the fresh fish to be so slippery, almost slimy – it is the antithesis of what everyone comes to expect from kitchen ingredients, since in every other instance, a slimy ingredient is a sure indication of spoilage and rot.  But here, it meant that the fish were the freshest you could possibly hope for.  The newspaper helps to keep the fish in place, more so than a cutting board would, and you’ll appreciate the absorption that it provides when the knives come out.

I know that I haven’t sharpened my knives in a while, and nothing demonstrates the need for a sharp blade more than cleaning fish.  Holding each trout firmly in one hand, I used my other hand to cut the heads off – something that ideally should only take one or two swipes, but with a dull knife can be near impossible – it took me a couple of whacks, but wasn’t an overly frustrating ordeal.  Flipping each fish over, I removed the tails in a similar fashion.  For the squeamish, I can say that the trout did not bleed as much as I would have expected – on the other hand, you should also know that, unlike supermarket chickens, their innards are not neatly held in a little paper bag (but, on the other other hand, they don’t have very many innards, so it’s not like you’re cutting open a tauntaun with a lightsaber).  A turn of the blade, and each trout was butterflied – emptied and rinsed thoroughly under cool running water in the sink.  At this point, they were ready to be placed into a plastic bag and refrigerated.

Fast forward to the next day.  Since the fish were so fresh, I wanted a very simple preparation that would highlight the trout in its purest form.  I decided to steam them with some ginger, garlic, and soy – a preparation that almost doesn’t even need a recipe, but I’ll mock one up here for you off of the top of my head.

Steamed Trout with Ginger, Garlic, and Soy

Trout, cleaned
1 knob of ginger, peeled, sliced thinly
2 cloves of garlic, peeled, sliced thinly
2 Tbs white wine mixed with 2 Tbs soy sauce and 1 Tbs sesame oil
Scallions, chopped
Salt and pepper

Set some water in a pot over high heat.  Get your steamer insert out and keep it nearby.  Rinse the trout thoroughly under cool running water.

Lay each trout open on a clean working surface, and sprinkle with salt and freshly ground pepper.

Layer the ginger, garlic, and chopped scallions inside of each trout, and spoon the wine/soy mixture over all of that.  Fold the trout closed to make a packet and place into the steamer insert.

When the water is at a full boil, place the steamer insert into the pot, cover, and steam the fish for fifteen minutes.

How to Eat Whole Fish

Yes, steamed fish deserves a “How to Eat” section in the recipe, because if you attack any kind of whole fish willy nilly with a fork, you’ll end up with a mouthful of tiny fish bones and come away with a generally unpleasant experience.  This is probably why more people don’t eat whole fish.

Once you have your fish on a plate, use your fork to gently pull and scrape away the skin, leaving only the delicate white flesh (don’t flip it over until you’ve eaten the top half).

Orient the fish so that the spine is on your left, tail end pointing away from you.  On the left side, you’ll find a nice, thick ribbon of meat running the length of the fish.  Use your fork to gently pry the fish up and away from the bone – this is the easiest meat to extract.  You can either choose to eat this now or continue boning.

Now, from the center of the fish, going to the right-most edge (the belly) are the very fine bones that make up the fish skeletal structure.  Use your fork or a spoon to gently scrape the flesh from left to right, which should encourage the meat to slide along the axis of the bones and right onto your plate.

When you’re done, just flip the fish over and repeat for the other side.

April 13, 2009   Comments

Chinese Chicken Nuggets!

It begins, as many of our dinners do, with chicken.  We eat a lot of chicken because it’s versatile, affordable, and freezes well – unlike beef, which never emerges from the freezer in quite the same condition as it had when it first went in, and pork, which is affordable but requires some mental effort to determine a worthy preparation.  Chicken, by comparison, comes in neat little single serving thighs or breasts, can be sauteed quickly in a bit of olive oil, and ka-chow, there’s a meal on the table.

That being said, we were still getting a little fatigued from chicken, chicken, chicken – but that’s all we had on hand at home.  That, and a bunch of cilantro left over from our weekend party.  So I cast my net into the waters of the world wide web, did a search for ‘chicken and cilantro’, and I found this recipe.

Coming out of Epicurious.com, they call it ‘Chicken and Cilantro Bites’, but as I formed them and fried them up, the term ‘chicken nuggets’ kept coming to mind, so that’s what I’ve come to rename them.  Chinese Chicken Nuggets!

There’s a lot to like about this recipe.  For one thing, it gave me a chance to break out my Kitchenaid grinder attachment, which I bought last year, used once to grind meat for burgers, which then turned into miserable failures – I had not trimmed the beef, and gristle had clogged the holes of the grinder, resulting in burgers that were dense and flavorless.  Intimidated by that incident, I put the grinder attachment away and have not touched it since.  But this recipe, which calls for a pound of ground chicken, was perfectly served by the Kitchenaid, which produced a nice mound of ground poultry in a matter of minutes.  I used chicken thighs which I had deboned and stripped of skin, but this preparation could just as easily be made with boneless, skinless thighs, or just a purchased package of ground chicken, if it’s available at your market.  The most surprising aspect of this dish is how light and airy the nuggets turn out, despite being made with the heavier, fattier dark meat.

This recipe also demonstrates how effective cornstarch can be as a coating for pan-fried foods.  I had always used flour, or dried bread crumbs, or panko as my coating of choice – but the cornstarch lends an airiness to the finished product that just cannot be achieved by any other means.  It’s important to roll the chicken lightly in the cornstarch, passing the poultry from hand to hand, as if you were juggling.  Any firmer handling would cause the cornstarch to be incorporated into the chicken, instead of coating it.

I made a few departures from the original dish, most notably in the preparation steps.  Epicurious specifies that the chicken should not be white meat – since I used thighs, I can’t speak to using white meat, but I don’t see the recipe failing outright if you want to try it.  Also, because I used dark meat, and because chicken needs to be completely cooked, I followed up the pan frying with a stint in a low oven for 20 minutes, just to be safe.

Chinese Chicken Nuggets

1 lb ground chicken
1 large egg, beaten
1/2 cup finely chopped fresh cilantro
2 scallions, finely chopped
2 teaspoons Asian sesame oil
1 teaspoon salt
cornstarch

Combine the egg, cilantro, scallions, sesame oil, and salt in a mixing bowl.  Add the chicken and mix thoroughly using a rubber spatula or fork.

The mixture, I will warn you, will be very loose.  Get a plate, wet your hands, and form the mixture into nuggets, about an inch or so in diameter (they will actually end up being more oval-ish than round).  When you’ve run out of room on the plate, wash your hands thoroughly with soap and hot water, and dry them (you’ll probably get through all of the chicken in two batches).

Set a large frying pan over medium high heat and coat it with about 1/4 cup of vegetable or canola oil.  Preheat the oven to 250 degrees.  Set aside a large cookie sheet with a rack on it.

Spread a sheet of parchment paper or aluminum foil on your workspace.  Pour a small mound of cornstarch onto a plate or wide bowl.  Using your fingers, scrape up a nugget of chicken and drop it into the cornstarch, then sprinkle, toss, and flip the nugget gently until it’s coated, then place it onto the parchment/foil.  Repeat for the other nuggets, working quickly before the prepared ones get too soggy.

Using a pair of tongs and a gentle touch, pick up each coated nugget and place it into the hot oil, filling the pan with as many nuggets as you can comfortably fit without crowding them.  After five minutes, use the tongs to turn each nugget over, frying for another five minutes and then rotating each one so that you achieve fairly even browning on all sides.  As each batch is done, transfer the nuggets to the cookie sheet.

When all of the nuggets have been fried, place them into the oven for 20 minutes.  Serve with soy sauce, chinese black vinegar, or peanut sauce.

April 9, 2009   Comments

I’m Bringing Lasagna Back

I don’t think I’ve tried to make lasagna once in the past ten years, if not more.  What I can tell you is this – at some point since moving into our house, I did pick up a box of lasagna that has sat in our pantry ever since.  It’s on a shelf with the other, more convenient forms of pasta, like fettucine and linguini, but whenever I’m in a pasta-making mood, my hand naturally gravitates away from the lasagna.  I guess I’ve always thought of lasagna as such a high production dish to make, what with the boiling of the noodles, the cooling, the assembly of not only the lasagna itself but also all of the other components, then the baking – it all seemed to be antithetical to the quick and easy boil-sauce-serve nature that is the hallmark of pasta dishes.

I was close to throwing away the ancient box of lasagna (it was taking up a lot of room) when I happened upon the ideal lasagna-making environment – a lazy Sunday, with nowhere to go and nothing to do, with the imminent threat of a snowstorm that would surely ground us for the entire day on Monday.  So, I dug out the box of lasagna, picked up the rest of the ingredients, and set out to overcome my trepidation about this classic casserole.

Now, I’m not sure why I was even hesitant about making lasagna in the first place.  I mean, I spent one dinner this past summer making fresh pasta, which is surely a bigger and more involved endeavor than working with dried sheets.  But I can tell you this – I am over my reluctance, and you can surely expect more lasagna variations to appear here in the near future.  Lasagna is freaking awesome.

This recipe is actually a mishmash of various recipes and preparations culled from pasta boxes, cookbooks, and the internet.  It also happens to be meatless, because I didn’t happen to have any suitable meats on hand.  You can basically break this particular lasagna recipe down into three components – the sauce, the ricotta filling, and the pasta.

You’ve seen the sauce here before.  Actually, part of the reason why I decided to make lasagna was because I needed to make a tomato sauce, and the reason why I was compelled to make a tomato sauce was because I recently realized that, thundersnow notwithstanding, the weather is starting to get gradually warmer, and I’ve been overly conservative about digging into my underground cache of wonderful canned tomatoes from last August.  So, to save you the trouble of bouncing from page to page on this site, I’ll throw together a quick recipe here for the tomato sauce.  It may vary from my original recipe because this is the dead of winter, so it uses dried herbs instead of fresh.

Basic Tomato Sauce

1 quart canned tomatoes (or use a 28oz can of crushed tomatoes, store bought)
Bunch of garlic, peeled and minced (more or less to your liking, at least 4 cloves)
About a tablespoon of dried oregano
Half a tablespoon of dried thyme
Half of an onion, chopped
Olive oil
Salt and pepper
Tomato paste (optional)

Place the chopped garlic into a cold saucepan and coat liberally with olive oil, then place over medium heat.  Once the oil warms and the garlic begins to sizzle, give it a few stirs now and then, making sure not to burn the garlic.  Once the garlic is lightly golden, add the onion and stir occasionally until the onion has wilted and started to brown around the edges.  Add the dried herbs and let saute for about a minute.

Add the tomatoes and bring to a simmer.  Let the whole thing cook down, at least 20 minutes but probably longer is better, then season with salt and pepper.  Especially when you are making lasagna, it’s important to make sure that your sauce is not too watery, or it will make the overall dish soggy or overcooked.  In my case, I had packed this particular quart of tomatoes in water, so I needed to simmer the sauce until most of the water evaporated, and even then I added a little bit of tomato paste to make it thicken up.  When you are ready to assemble the lasagna, the sauce should have a very quick consistency, but take care to stir it often so that it does not stick and burn.

The other major component to lasagna is what I’ll call the white part.  I call it that because some recipes will use a bechamel sauce as the filling, which is made from flour, milk, and butter, while other recipes use ricotta cheese.  Since I wasn’t sure of my lasagna-crafting skills in the first place, and also because it was easier, I opted for ricotta.  While you could just pop open any tub of ricotta cheese and start dolloping away, I did find a few recipes that performed a few tricks on the ricotta filling before assembly, and I’ve adopted them here.

I like the idea of beating an egg or two into the ricotta, which helps it firm up as it cooks, and also the addition of a bit of nutmeg, which adds a hit of sweetness overall.  I had mentioned earlier that this was a vegetarian lasagna, so this is where I decided to add some thawed frozen spinach to the mix.  Parmesan is always a plus, but with the massive amounts of mozzarella, it’s not really necessary.

Ricotta Filling for Lasagna (Spinach Edition)

1 15 oz tub of ricotta cheese
1 egg, beaten
10oz package frozen chopped spinach, thawed and squeezed dry
1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
1/4 cup of grated parmesan cheese (or grana padano, or romano)
Fresh ground pepper

Mix everything together until uniform and set aside.

This all leads us to the grand performance, the lasagna itself.  From this point on, anyone who’s made lasagna before will find this recipe quite familiar.

Spinach Lasagna from The Best Food Blog Ever

1 box dried lasagna noodles
Basic Tomato Sauce
Ricotta Filling for Lasagna (Spinach Edition)
1 small block of mozzarella cheese, grated

Bring a large pot of water to a boil and cook the lasagna noodles according to the directions on the package.  While the noodles are cooking, lay a large sheet of parchment paper on a work surface (kitchen island, kitchen table, counter – remember to lock the cat up) and get a bunch of paper towels ready.  When they are done cooking, drain the noodles, place them under running water, and lay each noodle down on the parchment, covering each layer of noodles with a paper towel before building a new layer.  Make sure the noodles don’t touch each other, or they’ll stick.  Noodles are done.  Set your oven to 375 degrees.

Take a 9 by 13 inch lasagna pan and give it a quick dose of Pam spray, or coat lightly with olive oil.  Using a ladle, coat the bottom of the lasagna pan with Basic Tomato Sauce, then place a layer of noodles over it.  Use a spoon to dollop some ricotta filling evening over the noodles, followed by a sprinkling of grated mozzarella.  Another layer of sauce, and start over again, ultimately ending with a mozzarella strata.  If you’ve got it, grate some parmesan over the whole thing.

Cover the lasagna with foil and place the pan on a cookie sheet or other large tray, to catch any drips.  Bake the lasagna for 45 minutes, then remove the foil and continue baking for another 15 (keep an eye on it – you want it to brown lightly but not burn).  Let the lasagna rest for about fifteen minutes before cutting and serving.

March 3, 2009   Comments

Yes, I Made The Ratatouille from Ratatouille

I stumbled across this photo while looking through my Picasa web album that serves as the host for all of the images on The Best Food Blog Ever.  I guess I uploaded it with the intention of writing about it and never did.  Since all I’ve seen for the better part of a week, when I looked out of my kitchen window, is not-melting-fast-enough piles of snow, I decided that it was time to write out-of-season again and try to pretend that we’re not weeks away from any true sense of spring.

In case this doesn’t look at all familiar, it is the dish from Pixar’s Ratatouille, which we’ve seen twice and absolutely love.  We had a dinner party planned, and I was inspired by the movie.  So, it was on one of those warm summer evenings last year that I got the crazy idea to try to replicate the titular dish from that movie.

The actual recipe that is represented here, and which appears in the movie, is Thomas Keller’s Confit Byaldi.  It’s a colorful mosaic of red, yellow, and orange peppers, tomatoes, Japanese eggplant, yellow squash, and green zucchini.

As would be expected, you spend the majority of your time in this recipe with the preparation and assembly – slicing all of the vegetables to an exacting thickness, then layering them in tight groups of seven colors in a spiral pattern in a roasting pan.  Beneath all of this is a simple tomato sauce accented with garlic, onion, and thyme, and the whole affair is liberally drizzled with a vinaigrette before being set into an oven for a couple of hours, then flashed under a broiler right before serving.

The result?  Sure, it’s pretty, but for the effort I probably wouldn’t attempt this dish again.  It takes quite a while to slice all of the vegetables (I used a truffle slicer, and even then it still took longer than expected), and in the end, the dish tastes exactly like its components – there’s no magical transformation, no ascension to some uber-level of otherworldly deliciousness, but then again Keller probably has access to better quality produce than I do.  It’s a great showcase for seasonal vegetables, to be sure, but you’d probably achieve the same overall taste with a quick chop, a saute in olive oil, and the addition of the same herb vinaigrette.

February 10, 2009   Comments