Chicken lasagna: A colossal pain, but worth it in the end

12 Feb

So it seems like whenever friends have a baby, I make them my mom’s chicken lasagna. I’m sorry for everyone who lives not within drop-off distance. I think the reason is two-fold. One, lasagna is easy to cook and freezes nicely and feeds you for many days so it seems like a smart thing to give to sleep-deprived new families, and two, it’s a giant pain in the ass to make so I need a good excuse.

But just because it’s a pain does not mean you shouldn’t try it when you have time. It’s delicious! It’s lighter than traditional lasagna and the bell pepper sauce is a nice difference. I’ve found if you do some things ahead of time, like make the bell pepper sauce the night before or cook the chicken, it will seem like less work.

For one pan of lasagna, you will need:

Bell pepper sauce:

2 large cans of whole, peeled tomatoes

1 regular can of crushed tomatoes

1 large onion

1 bunch flat parsley, chopped

2 large red peppers, or 4 small

2 large yellow peppers, or 4 small

4 cloves garlic

Chicken sauce:

1 pound boneless, skinless chicken breasts

1 stick butter

4 cups chicken broth (maybe more, buy two large containers if you’re not making your own)

3 cloves garlic

2 cups or so of flour

Plus mozzarella cheese, about 1 pound, shredded

1 pound of lasagna noodles

First, put the oven on to 350 degrees and cook the chicken breast on a cookie sheet with olive oil, salt and pepper. It’s boring but that’s not the point. They need about 35 minutes to cook fully. Take them out and let them cool.

Bell pepper sauce:

Julienne the peppers, chop the parsley and mince the garlic.

In a large sauce pan on medium heat, sautee the peppers and onion and garlic with olive oil and throw in some chopped parsley. The peppers will reduce down significantly, and there may be some water in the pot. If so, drain the peppers then go to the next step.

Smush the whole peeled in your hands and add them to the sauce.

Put the small can of tomato puree in there as well and let it simmer for at least a half hour.

While it’s cooking, put salted water on to cook the lasagna. When it’s cooked, douse it in cold water to stop the cooking process and coat it with olive oil to stop it from sticking together. Set aside.

The cream sauce:

It’s not really a cream sauce. Rather, it’s a rue that you thin with chicken broth and added cooked chicken breast.  So to make the rue you need butter, garlic and flour. (A traditional rue is just butter and flour but we want garlic to flavor the sauce.)

Melt the butter on low with the garlic. Then you want to add flour until the mixture is dry, like a dough almost.

Looks something like this:

Once you make the rue you can keep and use it to thicken other things, just FYI. So now check your bell pepper sauce, if it’s thickened and cohesive, turn it off but you can keep cooking it until you’re ready to assemble the lasagna.

Dice the chicken. The smaller the chicken the better it works.

Now you’re going to thin out the rue, which you do by adding chicken broth and whisking whisking whisking. This process is labor intensive, and requires concentration.You have to do it on low heat. Whisk and then let it bubble and then whisk some more. Keep whisking until it has the consistency of Alfredo sauce.

For example, this is too thick still:

This is about what it’s supposed to look like:

So then, add the diced chicken to this sauce.

Now you’re ready to assemble. Line the pan with lasagna noodles, then the chicken sauce, then mozarella cheese and the bell pepper sauce. Repeat as much as you can. Be sure to finish it with a layer of cheese! Stick it in the freezer, bake it for 45 minutes at 350, or give it to friends.

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(Kind of) Spanish tortilla

4 Feb

When we had a dinner that involved oven-browned potatoes, the next morning was almost always one of two things for breakfast: potatoes and rice with eggs, or a tortilla. So. damn. good. Later when I went to Spain I learned my mom’s version differs from the traditional type of Spanish tortilla, but it’s still delicious nonetheless. So back off, purists.

If you have a cast-iron skillet your life is made considerably easier for many reasons, but especially because you don’t have to worry about flipping the thing, which I’ve done successfully on a number of occasions and am available for consult if necessary. But really, this works best.

Note the leftovers, as well. If you’re going to make this, cook the potatoes before hand. Cut them small and roast them with olive oil and salt and pepper and garlic or whatever you like. Be sure to save at least a cup for the tortilla.

So, you’ll need

1 1/2 cups of roasted potato

12 eggs

1 medium onion or 1/2 a big yellow onion.

olive oil

salt and pepper

1/4 cup milk

oven on to 350 for finishing

Ok here we go:

On a medium heat, dice the onion and saute with olive oil until translucent and fragrant.

Further dice your potatoes so they are small bits, and coat the bottom of the pan. Let them warm for about 3 minutes.

In a large bowl, crack the eggs, and add  the milk, beat till they look like scrambled egg batter, then pour over the potato and the onion. Salt and pepper it.

Turn the pan down to low and let it cook.

You’ll let it cook until the egg is firm, but there will still be runny egg on the top. When the bottom is firm and there’s just a thin layer of runny egg, you finish in the oven for about five to 10 minutes, while you either make the fruit salad I made, or a green salad with arugula, hearts of palm, and avocado and vinegar and oil.

Let it sit. This should be eaten at room temperature, or even chilled. The eggs will be spongy.

For the fruit salad, I used clementines, blueberries and raspberry.

Winter

28 Jan

My sister and I were lamenting today about how we needed some sunshine, here in the throws of winter in New York. Actually it’s not been bad this season, no snowpocalypses so far. (That photo is from last winter.) But you know how it is as the season wears on, feeling drab, exhausted, kind of sad, and cold. I think part of my problem anyway is the foods I tend to eat during this time of year. I mean, how many times can you eat pizza or chicken pot pie before things start to turn ugly.

I wish for mountains of fresh fruits and vegetables, gigantic tomatoes, basil that I can pick on my fire escape. And blueberries from Michigan. And my mom’s roasted vegetable medley.

Instead, I’m going to eat some grapefruit salad. Fresh, with olive oil, and arugula and salt and pepper. Then I’m going to go buy a box of clementines.

Maybe we all can get some Vitamin C that way until the sun comes out.

Slow-cooked pulled pork

17 Jan

My brother bought me a crock pot for Christmas a few years ago. For some reason, I thought only people who couldn’t cook used them for things I traditionally want no part of. Like those little hot dogs with the barbecue sauce, for example.

However, I recently discovered the Crock Pot is awesome. You can put something in there that would normally take hours in your dutch oven, and actually leave your home. This concept is amazing. So with that, for all you people out there who use these things, or have them and don’t, here’s a recipe for easy pulled pork that Mom suggested when I told her I had leftover pork shoulder.

Depending on the size of your crock pot you can make more or less of this.

Pulled pork

You need:

At least 1 pound of boneless pork shoulder

1 onion

1 cup broth, either veggie or beef

BBQ sauce. You can make your own, but since we’re going for minimal trouble here, Mom suggests buying Open Pit and Sweet Baby Ray’s and mixing them both. It works. It’s delicious. I’m not ashamed to say it.

Hot sauce

Dice the onion

Cut the pork shoulder into chunks

Add both to the pot and add enough broth to partially, but not totally, submerge the pork.

Salt and Pepper

Put the lid on and let it cook on low for about 7 hours. *Drain the liquid from the pork, using a strainer, then put it back in and seperate it with a fork.* From there, you can add the sauces directly, which is what I do, and cook it another hour or so, or you can mix up sauce and put on the side for people to add as they like.

Coleslaw

I hate mayo, so my Mom offered up this coleslaw recipe in exchange. It’s tart and delicious on a sandwich with the pulled pork.

You need:

Shredded carrots, white and red cabbage. I’d say a cup of each.

Here in New York, the land of you-can-get-anything, they pre-slice this for me at the vegetable shop near my house. (Thank you K&Y) But for you suckers who lack access to such decadence, you have to shred yourself.

Yogurt, about three table spoons

Sour cream, 1/2 tablespoon

Whole-grain mustard, 2 tablespoons

White wine vinegar, about a 1/3 of a cup.

Mix the carrots and cabbage in a large bowl. In a smaller bowl, mix the dressing ingredients.

Pour into the shredded veg and mix:

I also make roasted brussels sprouts with this. Super easy. Heat oven to 400. Cut brussels sprouts in half

A light dusting of olive oil, salt and pepper, broil till brown and crispy, 30 minutes.

Easy party appetizers for that post-holiday empty space on your calendar

9 Jan

Welcome back after the holidays and happy 2012! 

Below are three really easy party appetizers that make you look good and make your guests happy:

Sauteed mushroom crostini, cannellini bean and parsley pesto crostini, and prosciutto and fig pizza.

I somehow lost the images I took while doing work for this little holiday party we had, so forgive me.

We’re talking about probably 30 crostinis total and one pizza, cut into small thin personal pieces. If you need more, double the recipe.

You’ll need:

Really good olive oil, first pressed. I’m partial to this type, which my mom sells at Dunning’s Market, if you are in the Chicago area you can buy it there, or they sell it here in Brooklyn.

2 baguettes

1 large flat bread, like this:

07-flat-bread.jpg

about a pound of crimini mushrooms

3 bunches parsley

2 cups cannellini bean (you can cheat and get canned, but don’t tell my mom you did.)

1 pound aged pecorino romano, grated

garlic, 1 bulb

shallots, probably 4

1/2 pound of prosciutto, doesn’t have to be super expensive but needs to be thinly-sliced

Fresh mozzarella cheese, probably 2 large balls

Fresh rosemary, 3 sprigs

Figs, preferably fresh but they’re not in season so get dried and I’ll teach you how my mom told me to reconstitute them. Boil water and submerge the dried figs for about an hour until they puff up slightly from where they were.

Food processor

Saute pan

good knife.

Crostinis:

You’re going to make two at the same time. Turn on your oven to 350. Slice the baguettes into small ovals and spread them out on large cookie sheets. Wash olive oil over the bread, salt and pepper it. Put it in the oven and keep watch, it takes about 15 minutes and you don’t want them too crispy. Yours won’t have grill marks, but you get the idea.

Cook the beans the night before so they’re already done, or if they are canned, don’t sweat it.

Cut the mushrooms

Mince about 4 cloves garlic

dice both bunches of  parsley. Set aside two generous handfuls.

Toss some olive oil in a saute pan (the kind I showed you a few weeks ago or something similar) and throw in the garlic, and a small handful of parsley, let it brown a few minutes and then toss in the mushrooms and let them sweat. Turn the heat down, medium to low.

While they are cooking, put the remaining parsley into a food processor with 1 clove fresh garlic, salt and pepper and a generous amount of olive oil. The pesto should be oily but not soupy. Blend until it’s a paste. Add about four large handfuls of pecorino romano.

Combine the pesto and the beans in a seperate bowl. Et voila.

Meanwhile, your mushrooms are cooking, cooking, cooking down. They start to smell really good. Add some salt and pepper. When they are 1/2 their size, or even smaller, turn it off and add a handful of cheese, and then another 1/2 handful. Let them rest. The mushrooms will turn a deeply rich color of brown. 

Remove the bread and spread the mixtures on the bread. Use your remaining handful off parsley to garnish.

Pizza: Credit for this belongs to my sister, Claudia. Genius idea. 

Rub olive oil on the flat bread and bake in 350 oven for 10 minutes, alone, remove.

Slice shallots and carmelize (which means saute slowly, with olive oil until they are translucent and soft and smell sweet) This process will take about 15 minutes or so at a medium heat.

Slice figs, probably 10

Slice mozzarella cheese

Dice rosemary

Assemble:

Olive oil, shallots, 1/2 rosemary prosciutto figs, then mozarella on the top and 1/2 rosemary.

Bake until the cheese is brown and bubbly. Let it sit and serve in slices.

I can’t believe I don’t have a photo, it was so beautiful!

Next time, I promise.

Snowed-in soup problem

14 Dec

Kellie is my college roommate. She’s also a journalist and likes to cook, and that’s a good thing because she’s recently found herself living in a small town in central California without many of the food options she was used to in Los Angeles, or in Shang hi where she lived before.

So Kel was snowed in the other night and wanted to make a bean soup because she had a bunch to use and couldn’t get to the store. She called me, which is usual, but I’ve never really made bean soup and so I had her call mom.

She did a post and here it is:

As a winter storm approached, my thoughts turned to dinner. A hearty bean soup seemed perfect for the chilly night, but I wasn’t sure how to make it. As usual, I turned to Colleen for advice, but for once, she was perplexed. “I don’t know,” she said. “You’ll have to ask my mom.”  So I, too, called Maureen for advice. Here’s what she told me.

Snowed-in bean soup:

Ingredients:

Two cups of beans, lentils and peas

Cup of crushed grape tomatoes

1 cup each: celery, carrots and yellow onion

9 cups chicken stock

1 tsp salt

Several cloves garlic

Several bay leaves

1.       Soak the bean mixture in water for several hours then drain

2.       Sauté the celery, carrots and onion in olive oil until soft; sprinkle with salt and add garlic

3.        Add the bean mixture

4.       Crush the tomatoes and add in (alternatively, you can use tomato paste)

5.       After about ten minutes, add chicken stock and bay leaves and let simmer

I had limited supplies in my kitchen, and, with snow on its way, I didn’t want to leave. But  Maureen offered some ideas for next time: Add salsa for a spicy kick; try flavoring the broth with smoky ham or pork; or even use my own chicken stock. Maureen’s creative attitude was inspiring, and I ended up adding a few of my own touches. Before serving, I added some baby spinach leaves and a splash of balsamic vinegar.  Delicious!

Don’t be afraid of mustard greens

5 Dec

I love kale. Spinach, broccoli, collard greens and all manner of lettuce. But for some reason mustard greens scare me. I think it’s because they are so bitter, or they seem so … wild that I’m never quite sure how to cook them. But today, as we were wandering around the neighborhood farmer’s market, Andrew tasted a sample and decided he wanted some. They looked so pretty, all purple-tinged and fresh. So we bought them. And lo and behold, they’re delicious! And easy! Peppery, bitter and fresh. How did I ever not cook them?

Mom’s in California this weekend visiting Bob’s daughters, so I had to track her down on one of their phones. “They r like any other BITTER greens,” she typed on some random number. Which means, they’re easy to cook.

You need:

1 bunch mustard greens

salt

pepper

olive oil

Cut the bottom stems off so they’re just leafy. The key here is to blanche them first. If you’re not familiar with how to blanche, it’s really quite easy. Fill a saute pan with water almost to the top and right before it boils, toss the greens in. Looks sort of like this, forgive the photos I have an older smartphone.

Let it sit in the near-boiling water for about 5 minutes or until they’re a bit soft. Then take them out and set them aside, briefly. Dump out the water.

OK so, if you’re cooking something else, like pork tenderloin which would be great, or fish or something, (we had shrimp, again, I’m on a shellfish kick) Let these greens hang out until about 10 minutes before everything else is done.

Pour a thin layer of olive oil into the saute pan and heat it up. Toss the greens back in for about 5 minutes. Salt and pepper them.

And seriously, that’s all my mom told me to do. Well, she said I could add bacon if I wanted to but that’s another story.

Go buy some! They’re tasty.

My mom says the secret of Porcini mushroom risotto is to stir it like crazy

30 Nov

Risotto is one of those things I never make because I think it’s going to be too hard. Except, it’s not. It’s easy, and it just TASTES like it was really difficult to make. My mom says the secret is that you just have to stir it, a lot.

So I made this the other night after I tracked her to down to ask how much broth you need to add. (Her answer, as usual, was “as much as it takes” so I’m estimating that here.)

What you will need:

A large sautee pan, kind of like this:

Ingredients:

Serves 4:

1 cup arborio rice

5 cloves fresh garlic

1 onion

1 cup dried porcini mushrooms or 2 cups fresh, can also use crimini or button mushrooms

Chicken broth, probably 3 cups

White wine, 1/4 a cup

About 24 jumbo fresh or thawed shrimp, cleaned, tails off  (depending on how hungry you and people are)

Salt

Pepper

Olive oil

Fresh grated parmesan cheese, about three handfuls

Fresh parsley, chopped

If you have dried mushrooms, put them into about a cup of boiling water and let sit while you do this other stuff. If you have fresh mushrooms, cut them up and stand by.

Dice the onion, mince the garlic.  Put about 3/4 the garlic aside for the shrimp.

Throw some olive oil in the pan, enough to thinly cover the bottom. Medium heat, toss the onion and garlic in.

When the onion is translucent, toss the rice in, folding the olive oil and onion, garlic in.  Cook another five minutes, then remove the mushrooms from the water, set them aside and toss mushroom-y water in, or  use a cup of chicken or vegetable broth and stir, stir, stir. Reduce heat.

Fresh mushroom peoples: In another pan, saute the mushrooms with a little olive oil, salt and pepper until they reduce down, then set them aside.

Continue to stir the rice until the broth is near gone, then add 1/4 cup of white wine and stir some more. Salt and pepper it.

As the rice boils down, it gets a sort of creamy consistency. Continue to add broth after the liquid reduces down until the rice looks translucent. That’s about 35 minutes. You can add a little more wine too if it needs more of a kick.

If it looks like this, then it’s not done yet:

At the 25 minute mark, or so, fold the mushrooms in to the risotto.

Taste it! Is it crunchy? If so, it needs more time and more broth or wine. If it’s not crunchy, it’s done. Add about three handfuls of grated cheese.

Let it sit.

Meanwhile, heat up a second pan and toss in the rest of the garlic, parsley and more olive oil. Saute the shrimps until they’re pink and feel fleshy instead of mushy. That takes very little time, about 10 minutes.

And here it is:

Thanksgiving sideshow: Cranberry deliciousness

24 Nov

Here’s a recipe for super easy, super fast, super delicious cranberries. Eat them for Thanksgiving or for a snack.

What you will need:

1 package of fresh cranberries
2 seedless juicing oranges
2 granny smith apples
1 cup of suger
Put the raw cranberries in the food processor,
Cut the apples from the core and slice up the oranges, including the rinds.
Toss everything into the food processor
Add cup of sugar (more to taste if need be)
And blend blend blend until it’s a relish.
It’s so good, you won’t believe. And really easy.
Toss in the fridge and you’re ready to go!

Turkey brining 101

24 Nov

 

So, I realize it’s Thanksgiving and so this may not be so useful today but hopefully for the future, or for some other fowl. We decided to brine the turkey this year, well Andrew did really, I am a turkey purist but I was semi-willing to try something new. Mom’s store was busy  — she sells Ho-Ka Farms fresh turkeys and they are delicious in case anyone wants to buy one next year, as well as every side imaginable. But she took the call anyway, and here’s what we decided on the brine.

What you will need:

1 cup of kosher salt

1 cup sugar

1 cup dried herbs of your choosing (we used dried parsley, rosemary, thyme, and garlic)

1/4 cup peppercorns

Peel of two lemons

1.5 gallons of water

Boil about half the water with the salt and sugar so that it dissolves. Combine the rest of the water and the herbs, add ice or let it sit.

 

IMPORTANT: Don’t put hot water on your turkey! It will be bad times.

Let the solution cool. Put the turkey in a bag and dump the solution in. The turkey should be submerged. If it’s not, add more water.

 

Let the turkey sit in the brine, 1 hour per pound. We let ours go a little longer since we put it in the night before and I’m hoping it’s not too salty. I’m just cooking a small guy this year, 8 pounds.
Take the turkey out, rinse it off, pat it down and voila! Ready for stuffing.