Sorta-homemade lasagna with actually-homemade ricotta
I’ve been resisting making this post for a week and a half, for two reasons:
1) My photos didn’t come out all that well, and
2) My ricotta didn’t come out all that well. I couldn’t get it to set up properly. Cooking from the Market’s buttermilk ricotta is much more reliable for me, and the texture is right, while this was rubbery.
This is the first recipe in Cheesepalooza, though, and I have lots more chances to get it right. Besides, the resulting lasagna was ASTOUNDINGLY good, so hey, success!
Here’s the cheese draining on the faucet:
And here’s the lasagna after I ate all my dinner, went “Oh, shoot! I need a photo!” and put a little more on a plate to photograph.
It was so darn good, we managed to polish off that little more, too. SO good. And way easy, because I only sort of homemade it. You don’t even really need a recipe. What I did was bought four sheets of fresh pasta (two regular, two spinach) and layered them with jarred sauce, the homemade ricotta, and sliced whole-milk mozzarella. I ran out of mozzarella at the end (I used a pound), so I added some shredded cheddar on the top layer. This went together in maybe five minutes, and then I baked it at 350, covered, for about a half hour, then uncovered it and baked until everything was hot and bubbly. SO good!
And now here’s the worst pic of all. This doesn’t do this delicious thing justice, I promise you.
[Edit: Here’s a photo of an old batch of ricotta, made with the recipe linked above:]
When you hear “vegan and gluten-free,” do you feel a pall of dullness wash over you? Let me show you it doesn’t have to be that way!
When I’m doing one of these fun/silly diet challenges (not “diet” in the sense of weight-loss, which I’m not into, but “diet” as in “what I eat”), the best time to do them is a time like this month, when I’m working at home and have all the time in the world to cook. You can expect to see lots of posts this month; brace yourselves.
Lunch: Salad with vinaigrette (olive oil, cider vinegar, a touch of agave nectar)
Afternoon snack: guacamole and chips (James made the guacamole with onions, jalapenos, and garlic. He asked me if I wanted him to clean it up for photos, but I said Nah, we’re just gonna sit and watch movies with it; this is how it looks.)
Dinner: Polenta with wild mushrooms. The morels didn’t look good, so I got porcini, chanterelles, and baby buttons. Cooked down with onion, garlic, olive oil, salt, pepper. Served over fried polenta sticks. I used this method, but left out the animal products and added olive oil and a little bit of nutritional yeast for “cheesiness.”
These photos are by way of saying that even if there’s a food you don’t or can’t eat, you don’t have to sacrifice abundance. I don’t believe in deprivation, and there’s no reason a vegan, gluten-free life has to be dull and drab.
Oh, and here’s the recipe for the ketchup. Let me know if you improve on it. I love ketchup!
The texture isn't the same as bottled ketchup, but this version is free of white/refined sugar, and uses gluten-free apple cider vinegar. You can actually leave the agave out, but then the ketchup will be (obviously) less sweet.
1 small can (6 oz.) tomato paste (I used organic, because the only ingredient is tomatoes)
1 tablespoon apple cider vinegar
1 tablespoon amber agave nectar, optional
¼ teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon finely ground black pepper
2-4 tablespoons water
Mix everything but the water, then add the water a tablespoon at a time until the ketchup is the consistency you want. Makes about a cup of ketchup.
[Note from Serene: Please forgive my lateness in posting this. Chris uploaded it weeks ago and I’ve been snowed under, as I mentioned. I hope that Mertie would forgive my negligence, and I hope you all will, too.]
Now, for Chris’s post:
I would like to dedicate this Mertie’s Monday to Mertie herself, who passed away 30 years ago this week. She would never have made something like this, but I think she would have liked it had I made it for her.
I’ve been laid up for a couple of weeks in hospital, eating pretty bad food, and feeling sorry for myself. So when I got out earlier this week, I decided that I’d cook something in a couple of days and have some homemade cuisine. However, I must confess, the first meal I had when I got out was Beef with Green Pepper and Black Bean Sauce and Vegetarian Spring Rolls from our favourite Chinese restaurant. And last night HWMBO (He Who Must Be Obeyed, my husband) bought a Crispy Aromatic Duck packaged by Waitrose, our upscale supermarket (think “Whole Foods” without the high prices.) It was surprisingly good. But these are only asides.
A few days ago our favourite newspaper, the Guardian printed a recipe in its G2 section (daily magazine). Angela Hartnett (a hot-shot chef here in London) contributed a recipe for Sausage and Kidney Bean Stew.
If you’re interested in her original recipe, follow the link. There is also a nice picture there, much nicer than mine. I liked the look and the imagined taste of the stew, so rooted around for ingredients to make it for tonight. What I write below is my thought process when planning the meal.
I had British sausages in the freezer, and decided on a traditional recipe pork sausage. If you are not in the United Kingdom do not under any circumstances use breakfast sausages for this. I imagine they will not only taste terrible in this kind of sauce, but will ooze lots of fat which will make the stew stodgy. In the United States I would suggest sweet Italian sausage, or even hot Italian sausage. That will give it a tingle, and it will be closest to what we eat here in England.
When I looked at the recipe, I thought that limiting the vegetables to sliced onions might lack a bit of a crunch. So I added to my shopping list a bunch of celery. I have a bottle of pickled sliced jalapeno peppers in the fridge, and thought I’d substitute those for the chile.
So here’s my altered recipe, and HWMBO liked it, so that’s all that counts. I hate it when I cook something and he doesn’t care for it. After all, he’s the breadwinner and he deserves good tasty food because he supplied the ingredients.
6 traditional British sausages. Do not skimp on these. Run-of-the-mill sausage will not be tasty and will cook to a pap.
(in the US, substitute hot or sweet Italian sausage. Do not use breakfast sausage.)
2 medium onions, sliced
4 ribs of celery, sliced
2 tbsp olive oil
1 can of chopped tomatoes in juice
1 can of tomato paste (or if in the US, ¼ tube of tomato purée)
1 can of kidney beans, partially drained
1 tablespoon of bottled jalapeno slices, with liquid, OR 1 sliced seeded chili
Adobo seasoning, or salt and pepper to taste
In a medium stewpot, sauté the sausages in olive oil and a gentle heat, browning them on all sides. Remove and set aside.
Add the sliced onions and celery (and the sliced seeded chili if you're using that), and sauté them until the onion is transparent but not caramelised.
Once the vegetables are done, dump in the tomatoes, rinse the can with a little water and add that to the stew. Add the tomato paste, the jalapeno slices, and the beans. I decided that lots of the goodness of the beans was in the liquid with it, so I poured a couple of tablespoons of that into the stew, then drained the beans and added them. I stirred to mix everything, then added the sausages. I put Adobo seasoning in it instead of salt and pepper--a holdover from my days living in the Bronx and cooking Red Beans and Rice every few days. I also added a teaspoon of dried oregano and one of dried basil. Whenever I cook with tomatoes, I always add basil, as basil and tomatoes go together like a horse and carriage...um....yeah.
Some devil in me drew me to the fridge, where I took out the bottle of Tabasco Sauce and sprinkled it liberally into the stew. This was a mistake. The peppers added enough of a kick and the stew was a bit spicy when I got finished with it. However, you may want to try a splash (no more than that) and see whether you like it that way.
Simmer for 20 minutes so that the sausages are cooked through. Stir occasionally so that nothing sticks to the bottom of the pot. Serve in a soup bowl over white rice, and enjoy. This particular recipe would serve 3. As good UK sausages usually come in packages of 6, allowing two for each person is just right. You could double everything but I think the stew might not be as good if 12 sausages were crowding out the liquid. I haven't tried that yet.
Another substitution that I would be eager to make is pork chops or pork steaks for the sausages. Pork chops can be pretty dry and tough if not treated right. Imagining this stew with pork chops makes me want to try it—perhaps you’ll try it and report back to us. I suspect that the stewing action will tenderise and moisten the pork chops. Before using them, though, be sure to trim the fat and brown them on both sides just as I did the sausages.
Experimentation is a good thing
Note that while I generally followed Ms Hartnett’s recipe, I felt free to experiment. Some of the things I tried worked—the jalapenos and the celery really made this dish sit up and sing! Other things I tried didn’t. Too much Tabasco Sauce can actually be a bad thing and while it adds its own taste to blander foods, when you have something full-bodied like this I’d recommend leaving the bottle at the table and letting those who wish add some to their own plates.
I can’t stress too much: when you are cooking from a recipe, feel free to experiment according to your own and your family’s or guests’ tastes. When I cook with tomatoes, I always think “oregano and basil”, even if they aren’t in the recipe. I use my experience to do what in the physics lab would be called a thought experiment, but what I would like to call a tongue experiment. When you look at a recipe, think of other dishes you’ve cooked or eaten that had similar ingredients. Feel free to add things you like. Also, feel free to leave out ingredients you don’t like. If you don’t like anchovies, for example, substitute a bit of salt or perhaps some Thai fish sauce in the recipe.
The only things to be careful of here are not to experiment too much with things like baking methods for breads and cakes, or cooking methods for meat, fish, and eggs. If you’re cooking pork, make sure it’s cooked through no matter what method you’re using. Rare pork isn’t a gourmet delight. If you’re roasting a chicken, make sure that you use a meat thermometer and place it between the thigh and the body, directly into the bird. I have often roasted chicken or chicken parts, and plunged my fork into the meat and the juices ran clear. What I encountered when I cut it apart was a red patch right in the middle. The microwave cures that, but it detracts from the taste.
In baking think “chemistry set”. When you are baking, the ingredients should be accurately measured and substitutions should be made with care and only when you are a successful and competent baker. Otherwise, you may end up with a flat loaf of bread rather than a nice risen one.
In short, the stew was indeed spicy. It was very tasty, however, and the kind of a stew that really goes down a treat on a cold day. The blandness of the sausage was complemented by the complexity of the rest of the stew. It sure beats Bangers and Mash as a way to make a British sausage into a great meal. I hope that if you make it you’ll enjoy it as much as we did.
Great weekend so far. Tomato bounty, huge vat of split pea soup, and oh, yeah, I don’t have cancer!
So far, it’s been a pretty joyful long weekend, where the Mom Food Project is concerned. I had off from work Thursday and Friday, and there’s been a lot of food joy in my house.
First, I realized this blog turned a year old a few weeks ago. Oops; didn’t realize it, so it came and went unheralded, but it still makes me happy. Also, the post before this one was my 200th! Again, didn’t realize.
Another great thing: No cancer! Blood tests and scans all came back negative. My first cancer surgery was in 2007; this is great news, as you can imagine. Okay, it has nothing to do with the blog, but I had to tell you!
In serendipitous food news, the Berkeley Bowl (@BerkeleyBowl) tweeted yesterday that they were having a special on flats of pesticide-free tomatoes on the vine. About 45 cents a pound. I jumped on it and bought these:
I made a big bowl of the tomato stuff with four and a half pounds of them. Hey, that’s from the first official post, so we’ve come full circle!
The rest I blanched, skinned, and turned into a massive vat of tomato sauce, with onions, garlic, veggies, and olive oil (click thumbnails if you want to see bigger pics):
And now, in the same vat, I’ve just made the mother of all pots of split pea soup, with a huge smoked turkey leg. It’s delicious, and it will fill my freezer. Recipe later, and photos, but James offered to put it away for me, and I took him up on it, so I don’t wanna bug him just now. He also made us grilled mozzarella sandwiches to go with it. He’s the best.
You don’t have to be sneaky, but you can if you want. I won’t tell.
I don’t do sneaky food. That is, I don’t serve TVP and pretend it’s ground beef, or puree carrots to add vitamins to the mac and cheese. I figure if I tell the family the yummy spaghetti has pureed squash in it, and they don’t eat it, that’s more for me. And if I forget to tell them, it’s not because I’m keeping it a secret, and besides, it’ll end up on the blog eventually anyway and the cat will be out of the bag, so no sense lying about it.
But I’m not judging you.
If you want to make this really good spaghetti sauce that’s just brimming with vitamin A, and you don’t want to tell your kids about it, I say that’s your business.
(I started to set up to take photos of it, but you know? It looks like any other bowl of spaghetti and meat sauce, and I need to save my energy for the Austin Powers marathon tonight.)
“Sneaky” Spaghetti Sauce This sauce was born of the fact that I had too much pumpkin left over at Christmas, so I froze it in one-cup servings to use later. Now it’s later.
2-4 tablespoons olive oil
1 onion, chopped
3 cloves garlic, chopped
1 tablespoon dried basil, or 1/4 cup chopped fresh basil
pinch of salt
1 30-ounce can tomato puree
1 cup pureed pumpkin or other squash
1 cup ground seitan or crumbles or TVP or other meat or meat substitute, optional
1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese, optional
Heat oil over medium heat. Sauté onions until translucent. Add garlic and basil and sauté another minute or two. Add remaining ingredients except cheese, along with a half a tomato-puree can of water, and stir.
Bring to a boil, then reduce heat to low and simmer 10-15 minutes, until thick and heated through. Remove from heat and stir in cheese. Serve over pasta.
Makes about 6 cups. I use about 2 cups per 1/2 pound of spaghetti.