Monday, June 20, 2011

Quick and Easy Lasagna!

You guys know how much I love to cook and bake... but sometimes, after a long day of work, I'm in the mood to do anything but. Sometimes we go out to dinner on nights like those, but on nights like tonight where we're craving real food, I cheat a little. I must confess... sometimes I use pre-made things to make a homemade meal. I know, you gasped, but sometimes pre-made foods can actually be really good! 

Have you ever wanted to make a lasagna and serve it in an hour? That would be impossible if you had to make your own sauce and let it simmer for 2 hours as well as shred pounds and pounds of cheese... So if you or your family is craving lasagna and you don't feel much like cooking, and you don't feel like serving dinner at 10pm either, this is the recipe for you. 

First a note about buy pre-made foods:
They are certainly not created equally. That jar of Ragu on the shelf that says "contains real meat!" will not do your body good. Don't buy a jar that has meat already in it, that's a sure sign of a crazy amount of preservatives, including salt. Instead look for a plain and simple canned version. Try and find one with fewer ingredients as you have fingers on one hand. Really, it should just be tomato puree (paste), water, diced tomatoes, spices. That's it. Anything else and it's not going to be as healthy, or as tasty. The same goes for pre-shredded cheeses, there should only be cheese in the ingredient list. If there's a word you can't pronounce, you probably shouldn't eat it. Sometimes, especially in the case of shredded cheeses, buying a quality one may mean spending an extra couple of dollars. You're paying for the time you would have spent doing it yourself... isn't that worth the extra $2.50?

Now to the actual recipe. 

Quick and Easy Lasagna:
-3 packages of shredded cheese, any assortment of your choosing, though I went with mexican and mozzarella. 
-1- 28oz can tomato sauce
-1- 28oz can italian style diced tomatoes (diced tomatoes and spices)
-2 lbs ground beef
-2 red bell peppers
-1 egg
-2 small cartons of cottage or ricotta cheese
-1 box +3 extra lasagna noodles (the three extra are for the edge, if you're not too picky about how it looks or if you're using a smaller dish, 1 regular sized box is fine)
-spices of your choosing

Preheat your oven to 350*F.

Fill a pot of water and bring to a boil. Gently drop in your lasagna noodles and cook for about 10 minutes or until al dente. (Usually you only soak noodles before baking, but this will cut your bake time down by half!) While you are waiting for the water to boil, and while they're cooking, wash and chop your red bell pepper. 

Mix together both the pasta sauce and the diced tomatoes. Taste and correct with whatever spices you choose. I used garlic, pepper, salt, red pepper flakes and basil. Browning your ground beef and season as you wish. 

Carefully drain your noodles, they will be quite soft and prone to breaking if you're not cautious. By now it's been about 20 minutes and already you have your veggie chopped, your noodles cooked, your sauce made and you meat browned. Crazy, no?

Not much left to do anymore, just mix your ricotta/cottage cheese with your egg (I also added a dash of nutmeg, a pinch of cayenne and a sprinkle of parsley). Now all you have to do is assemble and bake!

Layer sauce (to prevent your noodles from sticking to the dish) then noodles, sauce again, veggies, ricotta/cottage, then shredded cheese, then another layer of noodles. Continue on until you're out of noodles. 

Bake in your preheated oven for 25 minutes, just until heated through and cheese has melted. Remove from oven and let sit 10 minutes to set. 

All in all, including baking and resting time, this took me an hour and 5 minutes! And the last 35 minutes are pretty much just wait time- enough time to wash the dishes... or put your feet up and relax while your family does the dishes!

And don't forget to follow!

Comment Questions:
1. What's your favourite week night dish?
2. What do you think about pre-made packaged foods?

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Strawberry-Raspberry Pie!

Hello again! Today you are all in for a real treat. Two, in fact. The first being this beautiful pie, 

Beautiful, right? I'm really proud of this pie. I got the idea firstly from Bon Appetit- the same issue my Pasta Al Pomodoro came from, actually. (I'm really loving this magazine!) I put it on my to-bake list to make eventually, but after seeing it on Lottie + Doof I knew I had to get in the kitchen right away. 

Being here in Panama has at the same time been both amazing and difficult. The weather is always a sunny 30*C. and the only time you ever need a sweater is to go to the movies as they always crank the A/C too high. The air is thick and in the breeze you can feel the ocean mist on your face. It really is an incredible feeling.

But, I miss the cool breezes of Canada, and the fresh smell of the earth after a good rain. Oh and variety. I miss being able to go to a store and find 2 different brands of fresh raspberries and being able to choose which basket looks freshest. Man do I ever miss fresh berries... 

This pie cured a little bit of my homesickness. 

The original recipe called for rhubarb and raspberries, but since there was no way I'd ever find rhubarb in this country I subbed in for strawberries. Strawberries were always the first sign of summer for me anyway. Of course though, I couldn't find fresh raspberries here either, and fresh strawberries are unbearably expensive here so I had to use frozen. It still turned out perfectly. The original recipe was also for a crostata, but I have a pretty pie dish and pies are more convenient to make anyway since you can store them in the same dish they're baked in... plus aren't pies cuter in the end?

Imagine the best butter cookie you've ever had, slathered in a perfectly sweetened strawberry and raspberry jam. That is this pie. 

I used my usual pie dough recipe for this pie instead of the one they suggested in the original recipe since there was no way I could find whole wheat flour in this country- and besides, why fix what isn't broken? 

If you haven't noticed so far, this pie is way different than the original recipe that was featured in Bon Appetit. If you'd like to see the original recipe, you can read it here. 

Jamie's Strawberry-Raspberry Pie:

-1/2 tsp vanilla
-8 tbsp buttermilk
-2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
-2 tbsp white sugar
-1/2 tsp salt
-2 tsp lemon zest (optional)
-1 cup very cold butter, cut into 1/4" pieces
-powdered sugar for dusting
-2 large eggs, gently beat, for brushing
-white sugar for sprinkling

-1/4 cup cornstarch (if you're using frozen berries, add another heaping tablespoon)
-4 cups strawberries, thawed and drained if frozen
-6oz. raspberries, thawed and drained is frozen
-2/3 cup granulated sugar
-1 tbsp lemon juice (optional)

In a small bowl combine buttermilk and vanilla. Stir to combine and set aside. In the bowl of a stand mixer fitter with the paddle attachment, combine flour, sugar, salt and lemon zest, if using. Mix to combine.

Add in butter by the piece, and mix on low speed until the mixture resembles a course meal and pieces are less than pea-sized.

Add buttermilk mixture and stir until dough comes together. Transfer dough to a powdered-sugar covered surface and shape into two flat disks. Two thirds of the dough ball should go in one disk, and the other third into another disk. You won't need the smaller disk, however you will have both leftover dough and filling- enough to make handpies! Wrap tightly with plastic wrap and chill in the fridge at least 2 hours. 

Dissolve cornstarch in 3 tbsp water (add an extra teaspoon if adding an extra tablespoon) in a small bowl; set aside. Combine strawberries, raspberries, lemon juice and sugar in a large heavy saucepan. Cook over medium heat, stirring often, until sugar dissolves and juices are released, about 4 minutes. Stir in cornstarch mixture and bring to a boil. Transfer to a boil and cool for about 30 mins (or chill in the freezer just while you do the next step).

Preheat oven to 400*F.

Transfer dough to a powdered sugar surface and roll out the bigger dough ball until half a centimeter thick (5 millimeters). Transfer to a prepared pie dish and shape as you wish. Use a fork and poke tiny holes all over the crust. Brush with egg wash and sprinkle with sugar- make sure to get the edges of the crust too! Pour filling into crust; depending on the size of your pie dish, you should have about a cup of filling leftover. The left over filling will freeze very well, as will your leftover dough. Keep frozen for up to 3 months. 

Bake pie until crust is golden brown and filling is slightly bubbly- about 40-45 minutes. Check halfway through baking time, if the crust is looking too dark on the edges, cover lightly with tin foil and continue until all crust is cooked fully. Let pie cool on a rack until it is no longer hot to the touch and the filling has set. Serve with sweetened whipped cream or vanilla ice cream.

Definitely the perfect summer treat for any BBQ, family dinner, or really any day of the week!

The second treat I said I had for you is... well I bought you all a little something. A hand made Panamanian pot holder. I bought one for myself yesterday and I thought you guys might like one too. So now you're wondering how you can get your hands on it... it's easy really. All you have to do is click the follow button on the top of the page. You have to be registered with Blogger. Once I get 50 Blogger registered followers, I will have an official giveaway post that you all can comment on to win. If you're already following- good job! Go ahead and tell your friends! Don't have a blogger account? If you're following already in some other fashion, leave that in the comments below and tell your friends! Not following and also don't have a blogger account? They're easy and free to sign up for... now might be the perfect time! Also, please tell your friends! 

Well that's all for today. Hope that makes up for my lack of posting this month. My life has been utterly crazy, and I've also been quite sick this week- this is the first time I've gotten into the kitchen in over a week! 

And don't forget to follow!

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Oreo Chip Cookies

I actually made these cookies in preparation for a trip I took this weekend to Las Olas Resort in La Barqueta, Panama. It's about an 8-9 hour drive from Panama city and I figured it would be nice to have something to snack on on the way there. These were perfect. (More on the trip in a whole separate post). 

The recipe is simple: You make the base for a chocolate chip cookie, but instead of adding chocolate chips, you add bits of crushed Oreos. Sounds delish, right? You really just can't go wrong when you're using Oreos. 

Oreo Chip Cookies: 
-1 cup butter, softened
-1 cup white sugar
-1 cup packed brown sugar
-2 eggs
-2 tsp vanilla extract
-3 cups all-purpose
- 1 tsp baking soda
-2 tsp hot water
-1/2 tsp salt
-2 cups crushed Oreos

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.
Cream together the butter, white sugar, and brown sugar until smooth. Beat in the eggs one at a time, then stir in the vanilla. Dissolve baking soda in hot water. Add to batter along with salt. 

STIR in flour and Oreos with a spoon, not a mixer, one cup at a time, alternating between the two. 
Bake for 10-12 minutes, or until edges are lightly set and the bottoms are golden brown. 

These keep well for about 10 days (if they're not all eaten by then!) if sealed in a Ziploc bag. These also freeze well.
And don't forget to follow!

Comment Questions:
1. How was your weekend?
2. Do you have any trips planned for the summer?

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Pasta Al Pomodoro ...A la Jamie

Today I bought my first issue of Bon Appetit - the food magazine- and I must say, I LOVE it! Being in Panama at the moment, it has been difficult for me to find English reading material, so when I saw the magazine in the rack hiding among all the Spanish magazines, I knew I had to at least give it a look. It's the Italy Issue. For those of you who don't already know, I love Italian food. More than love really, but I can't think of a word big enough for what I feel about Italian food. Every time a foodie magazine says it's "The Italy Issue" or "Learn to cook like an Italian" I just have to pick it up (so far I have the Italian issues of Jamie Oliver's magazine "Jamie", and "The Food Network Magazine"). So, even though it cost me $7, that's exactly what I did.

The cover boasts that they have the recipe for the simplest, silkiest sauce you'll ever make. And oh boy, they're not kidding. This sauce has butter in it. Not even for a roux; real butter, just for butter's sake. Really, how could you go wrong with that?

The original recipe is fantastic, and really there's no need to tweak it but, of course, I just happened to be out of the main ingredient- whole canned tomatoes. It was too late to run out to the store, but I didn't want to give up. I was determined to make the sauce that looked and sounded so good on the cover.

So I improvised- I used 3 vine tomatoes and one orange bell pepper, along with half a 28oz can of unseasoned tomato sauce. And it turned out delicious. I also had to substitute mozzarella for Parmesan cheese for the garnish because that's what we had, and it worked really, really well. And then I also subbed farfalle for spaghetti, because my boyfriend doesn't like long noodles... and then I added some ground beef. Okay, so it's no longer strictly Pasta Al Pomodoro, but it's a variation... a very delicious variation.

Below I have written the original recipe, and included notes on my substitutions.

From Bon Appetit:
Pasta Al Pomodoro:
-1/4 cup EVOO
-1 very finely minced medium onion
-4 very finely minced cloves of garlic
-a good pinch of crushed red pepper flakes
-1-28oz can of whole, peeled tomatoes- pureed in a food processor (I used 3 vine tomatoes, 1 orange bell pepper both pureed in a food processor, and then half a 28oz can of unseasoned tomato sauce (tomato puree with water))
-salt, basil, bay leaves
-12oz spaghetti (I used an equal amount of farfalle)
-1/2 cup of pasta water reserved before draining your pasta
-2 tbsp unsalted butter
-Parmesan cheese for serving
I also added:
-2 lbs browned and lightly seasoned (salt, pepper) ground beef

Heat the olive oil in a 12", deep skillet on med-low, and softened your onion. Once translucent and aromatic, add the garlic and cook a couple more minutes until fragrant. Add the crushed red pepper flakes and cook for another minute to allow the peppers to infuse the oil.

Turn up the heat to med and add your tomato puree, and lightly season with salt, bay leaves, and basil (if using fresh basil, leave it out at this step). Cook for about 20 more minutes on medium, stirring occasionally to thicken the sauce and cook through. (If using fresh basil, now's the time to add it, once the 20 mins are up).

Meanwhile, boil water and cook your pasta until two minutes short of al dente. Drain, reserving half a cup of the starchy water.

(If you're using fresh basil, remove any large pieces now, it has done its job). Heat sauce over high heat and add the reserved pasta water, stirring to loosen up the sauce. Bring to a boil and add the pasta. Cook for about 2 more minutes, until al dente.

Now here's where the real magic happens... Remove the pan from heat and add the butter. Stir to melt and combine. If you browned some ground beef, now would be the time to stir it in. Scoop onto plates and garnish with a generous amount of cheese. Yum.

Mmm... my boyfriend, as you may already know, is a picky eater but he loved this dish so much not only did he ask for seconds, but he asked to reserve the leftovers for himself for lunch tomorrow. That's really the best compliment I could ever get, and my heart swelled. I'm proud of what I made. 

And don't forget to subscribe!

Comment Questions:
1. Do you read food magazines? If so, which?
2. What's your family's favourite go-to meal?

PS- No, Bon Appetit did not pay me to write this, though I would be flattered if they asked, I just really liked this issue of their magazine and the recipe they had on their cover.