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Friday, March 25, 2011

Random Food Fridays - Basic Covey Family Lasagna

A speedy photo during Wednesday night dinner with Pat and Bill.

Lasagna is one of those dishes that everyone can and should make. Even the most novice kitchen adventurers should be able to execute this dish with aplomb. Those with more daring and experience can make it their own unique creation. If it's yummy and can be layered, it can be lasagnaed!
Lasagna mes en plas.

This is the traditional Covey family basic lasagna - Italian sausage and mushrooms in red sauce, seasoned ricotta, grated Italian cheeses and noodles.
Simply prepare the ingredients and layer away. I made this one, froze it and took it to the in-laws for one of our weeknight visits. Delish!

Basic Covey Family Lasagna
2 tbsp. olive oil
1 lb. sweet Italian sausage
1 large shallot, diced
1 large clove of garlic, minced
8 oz. mushrooms, sliced
24 oz. jar of spaghetti sauce
1/2 cup wine, divided
15 oz. ricotta cheese
1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese
1 egg
hand full of chopped parsley
grated nutmeg
salt and pepper
12 oz. grated Italian cheese blend
9 lasagna noodles

Set a large pot of salted water to boil for the noodles. Meanwhile, heat the oil in a large skillet. Remove the casings from the sausage and break it up into the hot skillet. Add the shallots, garlic, mushrooms and allow all to cook down and brown. Add 1/4 cup of wine to deglaze the pan. Add the spaghetti sauce. Use the remaining 1/4 cup of wine to swish the sauce out of the jar. Check the sauce for seasoning. Doctor it up to your own tastes. We often add a healthy amount of cracked black pepper.

For the ricotta cheese filling, place the ricotta, Parmesan cheese, egg, parsley, and a few grates of fresh nutmeg. Mix thoroughly. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

Cook the noodles according to package directions. Drain.

Layer the ingredients in the pan like this:
Layer - Ingredient
1 - 1/4 of sauce
2 - 3 noodles
3 - 1/4 of sauce
4 - 1/2 of ricotta cheese filling
5 - 1/3 of grated cheese
6 - 3 noodles
7 - 1/4 of sauce
8 - 1/2 of ricotta cheese filling
9 - 1/3 of grated cheese
10 - noodles
11 - remaining 1/4 of sauce
12 - final 1/3 of grated cheese

Cover and freeze for later use or bake in a 350 oven until browned and bubbly - 20-30 minutes.
If frozen, thaw before baking.

Makes 6 Covey servings or 12 normal servings.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Sweet Red Onion Pickles

This recipe is the first pickle I attempted to make when I started canning last year. The original recipe comes from the canning blog that helped me get started, Food in Jars. These pickles are delicious, easy and have lots of great uses. When I run out, it's a serious situation.

The only draw back to onion pickles is peeling and slicing a large quantity of onions. I'm very grateful to my cousin, Genny, who turned me on to these onion goggles. They really work! You don't usually get to see me at work, but I asked Mr. Dwayne to take a picture of me demonstrating the goggles. I peeled and sliced 10 pounds of onions, pain and tear free!
If you plan to use a Mandolin or V-slicer, cut to tops off of the onions and peel back the skin, leaving the root end intact.
My cheapy V-slicer worked just great to slice these onions quickly and evenly.

Marisa's recipe starts with 3 lbs. of onions. I really needed to make a big batch, so I started with 10 lbs. Everything is proportional, except I use more sugar - double - for the brine. These end up being a true sweet pickle for me. For ten lbs. of pickles, I used 4 batches of brine and had a lot of brine left over. (Left over brine is not a problem. Ask my delicious beets.) Check out Marisa's recipe if you want to start out with a more manageable quantity.

Sweet Red Onion Pickles
10 lbs. red onions
8 cups apple cider vinegar
2 cups water
6 cups sugar
4 tbsp. pickling salt
8 tsp. mustard seed
4 tsp. celery seed
2 tsp. red chili flakes
Prepare jars, lids and boiling water bath.

Peel and slice onions. Combine brine ingredients in a large pot. Bring to a boil, remove from heat and set aside.

Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Blanch the onions in the boiling water for 4 minutes. I had to blanch this quantity in two batches. I scooped the first set of onions out with tongs and a slotted spoon and let them sit in a colander while I blanched the second set. Once the onions are all blanched and drained, add them all to the brine and mix thoroughly to distribute the spices. Fill the hot jars by using tongs to push the onions through canning funnel into the jar. Fill to about 3/4 inch of the jar top, then slowly pour some brine in. Use a chop stick to poke down the sides of the jar. This releases the air and allows the brine to percolate down. Top off the brine, leaving 1/2 inch head space. Wipe rims and top with lids and rings. Process in boiling water bath for 10 minutes. Turn off the heat and wait 5 minutes. Carefully remove the jars to a towel lined tray. Allow to cure 3 or 4 days before serving.

Makes 12 pint jars.

Turkey and avocado sandwiches. Hot dogs. Burgers. Pitas with goat cheese, hummus and cucumbers. Tuna salad. Flat bread with avocado and salmon. Deviled eggs. Egg salad sandwiches. Garlic sausages. Brats. Meatloaf sandwiches.
You get the idea.

Saturday, March 19, 2011

My Family's Recipes - Grandma Betty's Orange Jello

"Blob Stage"

I have mixed feelings about Jello. I try not to over think it. My historic cookbooks have lots of molded salad, some sweet and some savory. The earliest ones are aspics, which are gelled soups that often emphasize their animal origins. I grew up on J-E-L-L-O. It's another one of those comfort foods. I always want it when I'm sick. I look forward to this salad at every family gathering. We all have our specialties for family pot lucks and this is Grandma Betty's. Recently, she's tutored my mom as she learns how to take the reins on this traditional dessert.

There's a question for you. Is it dessert? Is it salad? My friend Paula told me that in her childhood home, green Jello was salad and any other color was considered dessert. At our family pot lucks, this one is served as a salad. I made one alteration to Grandma Betty's recipe - I used whipped cream instead of Cool Whip. I don't fuss about Cool Whip when I'm a guest. It tastes good to me. It just doesn't seem like food to me. Neither does Jello, for that matter. But here I am, recording a recipe for my descendants, and I will have the foundation to monkey around with this and make it with other fruits and juices. I have a box of unflavored gelatin and dreams of wiggly, crystalline desserts.

Grandma Betty's Orange Jello
1 6 oz. box orange flavor Jello
2 cups boiling water
1 cup pineapple juice (drained from crushed pineapple)
1/2 cup cold water
1 20 oz. can crushed pineapple in juice, drained, reserve juice
2 15 oz. cans mandarin oranges in light syrup, drained
1 small container of Cool Whip, thawed
(or equivalent of sweetened whipped cream - 1 pint heavy cream, 1/2 tsp. vanilla, 1/4 cup powdered sugar)

Dissolve Jello in boiling water. Stir to dissolve completely. Add the pineapple juice and cold water. (Alternatively, put 1 cup of pineapple juice into a 2 cup measure and add ice cubes until liquid reaches the 1 1/2 cup line.) Place the Jello into the refrigerator to chill. (If using whipped cream, prepare it while the Jello is chilling.)

When Jello has reached "blob stage" (Grandma's term) fold in all ingredients. Place into a two quart serving dish and chill until firm.

Random Food Fridays - Fried Potatoes and Brats

In recent weeks, I've rediscovered my infatuation with potatoes. When one has been counting calories and increasing bean consumption, potatoes can, as an unfortunate side effect, be left behind. Well, no more! Potatoes are full of vitamins and fiber and are a whole food that is alive. When I first started cleaning up my diet, I looked at it, not only scientifically, but energetically and thought, "I will eat mostly foods that have been alive recently." This leaves out a lot of processed foods and food-like products. I think this is why Michael Pollan's advice to "Eat food. Mostly plants. Not too much." resonated with me. This approach seems to be a good basis for running a human body without getting too fussy or worried.

That being said, let's talk about meat. We recently discovered a Sacramento landmark, Morant's Old Fashioned Sausage Kitchen. I won't bore you (and embarrass myself) by listing everything we bought during our first frenzied visit. I will let you know that I had never had bratwurst before. We got two kinds, uncooked Sheboygan brats and precooked white brats. The Sheboygan brats were a revelation. The texture was like nothing I've had before and they were green with herbs. Can a sausage be refreshing? I pan fried the Sheboygan brats until crisp and served them with oven fries and sweet and sour greens. The precooked brats were used in the dish you see above.

We're talking about pretty humble foods here. The kind I like best. What takes potatoes from filler to transcendence is treatment. Even the simplest dish, with a little care, can become something memorable. For this dish, the extra step that makes all the difference is to cook the potatoes separately from the sausage and onions, then toss them together at the last. This way the onions don't get burned and the potatoes are allowed to become nice and crispy at a higher temperature and without the additional moisture the onions and sausages would exude.

Fried Potatoes and Brats

6 medium red skinned potatoes

2 shallots, peeled and sliced

¼ cup olive oil, divided

1 lb. cooked brats, sliced diagonally

Salt and Pepper to taste

Wash and poke whole potatoes and precook. (On a weeknight, I do this in the microwave. You can also used leftover baked potatoes.)

Heat two skillets over medium heat. To one, add two tablespoons olive oil, shallots and brats. Reduce heat to medium low and let the shallots melt down and brown a little.

Meanwhile, in the other skillet (a large skillet is better) heat the remaining oil. Half the cooked potatoes lengthwise then slice ¼ inch across. Add potatoes to the hot oil. Try to make one layer. Season generously with salt and pepper. Turn carefully to brown both sides. Browning both sides will take about 15 minutes. Add the onions and the brats and toss to combine.

Makes 4 servings

382 calories per serving

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Kumquats Preserved in Honey and Rose Water

These sure turned out pretty. I think they are just what they should be. I'm not crazy about raw kumquats, and these preserved kumquats are pretty darn sour, but I think they are what preserved kumquats should be. The floral aroma of the rose flower water is the perfect compliment to the sour fruit and sweet honey. I think these would be great with something rich, like pound cake or cheese cake.

My process was based loosely on this recipe. Many of the recipes I researched requested that the kumquats be left whole. As you can see, mine had a lot of seeds. One recipe suggested fishing them out one end of a whole kumquat with some kind of tool. I might be fussy, but I'm not crazy! I cut mine in half to ease seed removal and so the floral design of the segments could show.

Kumquats Preserved in Honey and Rose Water
3 1/2 lbs. kumquats
2 3/4 cups honey
5 cups water
1 cup sugar
Juice of one lemon
1 tsp. rose flower water

Prepare jars, lids and boiling water bath.

Wash the kumquats. Cut them in half and pop out the seeds. Place the kumquats, honey, water, sugar and lemon juice in a large pot. Bring to a boil. Simmer until the kumquats are translucent and the syrup reaches 220 degrees. Remove from heat and skim foam. Stir in the rose flower water. Carefully ladle into prepared jars. Wipe rims and cover with lids and rings. Process in boiling water bath for 10 minutes. Turn off the heat and wait 5 minutes. Carefully remove the jars to a towel lined tray. Let stand over night. Test seals and label.

Makes 6 half pints

Update 2/17/12
I was able to make this again and this time I actually like it - a lot! I made some alterations because the amount of kumquats I had to work with was 2 pounds, rather than 3 1/2. I reasoned that extra honey kumquat syrup could not be a bad idea, so I kept most of the other proportions. I cooked them a little longer and ended up with a gelled syrup rather than a thick, honey like syrup. Here are the changes:
2 lbs. kumquats
2 1/2 cups honey
5 cups water
1 cup sugar
(I omitted the additional lemon juice. It was plenty acidic.)
1 tbsp. rose flower water

Friday, March 4, 2011

Random Food Fridays - Exotic Fruit Salad

Kumquats, Dragon Fruit, Coconut Jelly, Pineapple

I work in South Sacramento, where there is a vibrant Southeast Asian community. For the last 10 weeks, I've been stationed near some of the best Vietnamese food in town. When there is so much fresh, bright, delicious food available on the cheap, it's easy to get out of the habit of packing a lunch.

This Tuesday, I went to Huong Lan Sandwich for Banh mi. Banh mi are beautiful little miracle sandwiches. Imagine this: the freshest French roll, crunchy on the outside and soft on the inside with flavorful marinated and grilled pork and do chua, a tangy carrot and diakon pickle. Add onions, cilantro, jalapeƱo, and a delicious sauce with savory, sweet and crunchy bits, including peanuts, and you've got a sandwich for the ages. It is an archetype of deliciousness. At $3 each, they are one of the best deals in town!
Dragon Fruit

Whenever I have Huong Lan sandwiches, I have to browse SF Market. It is full of exciting and mysterious foods. I'm exploring the exotic tastes they have to offer a little at a time. Shopping there is almost the opposite of eating local, depending on what you buy. I especially enjoy the exotic produce. This time I found kumquats, dragon fruit, coconut jelly and pineapple. The kumquats will soon be preserved, but the rest went into this yummy salad.

I love coconut in almost any form. These little cubes of coconut jelly are full of flavor and offer just the right resistance when chewed. The syrup is heavenly and infuses the other, more tart, fruits with a lovely perfume. This is simple as can be.

Exotic Fruit Salad
1 20 oz. can coconut jelly, do not drain
1 ripe pineapple
1 ripe dragon fruit

Open the coconut and pour the cubes and syrup into a large bowl. Peel, core and cut up the pineapple and add to the bowl. Peel and cut up the dragon fruit and add to the bowl. Give it a gentle toss and enjoy!