A new look at cooking and home decorating...with an attempt to add more greens to the plate, more vegetarian options & hopefully lots of new ideas to explore

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Christmas 2008

These days before Christmas are crazy. With gifts to buy and wrap, a menu to plan, who needs a little help know and then? – I know I do. That why, I was so pleased when I found this box as well as a box of sugar cookie dough and cupcake mix in whole foods. The both the dough and cupcake batter are organic and very easy to use. I thought these mixes might help you out a little around the holiday.

I have been busy trying to prepare for Christmas and have found that it is a huge help to get things done ahead of time. Make to do lists, which include checking place setting, cleaning glassware, and setting a menu. All of this will help you to sleep better at night.

My menu for Christmas day is as follows

Chestnut soup
Arrugula salad with Prosuttio
Baked pasta served in individual gratin dishes
Roast prime rib of beef
Onions in balsamic syrup
Stuffed tomatoes (Julia child style)
Sautee of mixed mushrooms

For dessert
Italian Trifle
And perhaps a Yule log if I ever get around to it

I don’t know if it will help you at all to know my menu, but I find that a simple reminder to write thing out ahead is always helpful.

Monday, December 8, 2008

Lori’s Lasagna

My friend Lori made a version of this dish as part of an Italian wine tasting dinner, which I organized. This is a great make ahead dish. Lori uses low fat or skim versions of cheese, I went for the full fat flavor. Also, Lori omits the egg in the ricotta mixture, I left it in.

Meat Sauce:
1 pound ground beef, broken up in chunks then browned in a skillet, set aside
1 tablespoon oil
2 yellow onions, peeled and finely diced
2 medium cloves of garlic, peeled and minced
2 cans, 28 oz each, crushed tomatoes
Pinch of sugar
½ teaspoon kosher salt
1/8 teaspoon fresh pepper
½ teaspoon marjoram

In a medium Dutch oven, add the oil, and over medium to medium low heat, sweat the onions for about 7 minutes. Add in the garlic and cook 1 more minute. Add in the tomatoes, sugar, salt, pepper, and marjoram. Add the cooked meat and simmer, semi covered, for about 30 minutes. May be made ahead.

For the Lasagna-
1 recipe for the meat sauce
16 oz of grated mozzarella
1 8 oz box of no boil lasagna sheets
1 ½ cups ricotta cheese
1 egg, beaten
¼ teaspoon kosher salt
½ teaspoon marjoram
¼ cup Parmesan cheese, grated

In a small bowl combine the ricotta, egg, salt, marjoram and Parmesan.

In a 9x 13” pan spread ¾ cup meat sauce over bottom of pan. Then, 3 sheet of pasta (no boil sheets should not overlap because they expand as they cook) on top of which will be-

2/3 cup of ricotta mixture spread over sheets, then 1 cup meat sauce spread on top, then 1 cup mozzarella cheese. Repeat again, lasagna, then meat sauce, and mozzarella until you run out of ricotta.

Your final layer will be 2-3 sheet of lasagna, then as much of the remaining meat sauce as you can fit, then the remaining mozzarella (about 1 cup) cover with aluminum foil. You can assemble this ahead, and when ready, bake in a 375 degree oven for 50-60 minutes. Let it rest 10-15 minutes before cutting.

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Cookbooks as gifts

Thanksgiving is now over, and it is time to start thinking of Christmas gifts. I though it might be fun to give you a few suggestions.

Back to Basics - by Ina Garten
Ina always provides recipes for great home-style meals that are simple to make. There looks to be about 80 recipes in total, which is fairly common in her books. A beautiful photograph accompanies almost all of the recipes. The photos are quite helpful for those who don’t cook often. Honestly, I just love looking through her books because they make you feel as if you are at a party with her in the Hamptons. For those who have her cookbooks already, many of the recipes may seem “familiar”. For those who cook often and want to be challenged by new ingredients you might want to try my next recommendation instead. All in all, I think out of 80 recipes there are about 30 which looked appealing enough to try and don’t seem like repeats from prior books. The cookbook is on sale on line for about $18-21 and for that price I would say it is worth a try.

Chanterelle- by David Waltuck
This is a great book for the more experienced cook on your Christmas list. This is for the “I like to make my own duck stock” crowd. It is a beautiful cookbook, reminiscent of French Laundry in style. I would love to try every one of the recipes (there are about 130or so) if only I had a staff of chefs working for me and an unlimited budget. There are some recipes that I can afford to make, like lentil soup, which was one of the best versions of lentil soup that I have ever had (though beware I think it was actually lentil soup with truffles!) Anyway, you get the point, If you have a wealthy friend, who like to cook, and doesn’t mind hunting around for ingredients, this is really a very lovely cookbook- its about $50 in bookstores.

Urban Italian- Andrew Carmellini
Recommended by the gourmet book club, this is a fun book. It is somewhere in between Back to Basics and Chanterelle in terms of the skill level required of the cook. I love the Chanterelle book, but cannot cook from it everyday. I like Ina Garten if I am in a hurry or just want a recipe to work even if it’s not “flashy”. This is a cookbook by a great chef who is cooking Italian food at home. He takes food like meatballs and turns them into “shrimp Meatballs” Or “Lamb Meat balls Stuffed with Goats cheese” Best of all, I loved all of the stories. It was very enjoyable to read the introduction, how he became a chef, and many of the blurbs above the recipes. If you are into Italian cooking with a fun urban twist this may be the book for you.