Sunday, January 6, 2013

Food, Food, Food.

I realized that with all of the holiday type things going on I haven't been cooking or sharing as many recipes.  I wasn't adventuring much in the food department.  There was of course a lot of baking, but those aren't usually my recipes to share.  Now as we kick off the new year I've been back to cooking.  With some new cook books and cooking appliances I got for Christmas, I have been freshly inspired.  Because of the lack of food the last month, I felt it was time to dedicate a post to one of my favorite things...food...cooking and eating.  

I'll begin with this amazing dish I made last night....Lasagne al Pesto, or pesto lasagna.  This one was inspired by the Italian book I got from Matt and let me tell you, it was fantastic.  It is not like any typical lasagna you would think of.  It was more a rich, creamy, pesto pasta dish...warm and cheesy and perfect to share on a winter night with friends and a few bottles of vino.  We didn't plan on having company...I don't usually like to try something I've never made before when other people will be over.  However, we ended up having an impromptu dinner with neighbors so suddenly I had a bigger audience.  It took most of the afternoon to create all the components and I even had to have Matt help.  I am just not strong enough to roll out the pasta dough thin enough for a lasagna dish.  I love a lazy afternoon of cooking a long, slow meal.  Kids all playing happily, music on and me in the kitchen.  Happy girl.  What we ended up with was worth every single moment of cooking...
Making the pesto portion, putting my man to work and the final product.  (I'll put recipes at the end!)
It is layers of homemade pasta sheets, a pesto bechamel sauce, lots of fresh mozzarella and Parmesan cheese all baked to bubbly perfection.  Again, I was a little nervous serving it to guests without trying it (especially when one said guest is a restaurant owner himself) however there was no need to worry...it was a total hit.  (Said restaurant owner even said it was "f-ing awesome"  I'll take that compliment)  It was one of those really nice evenings of great food, wine, company and lots of happy kids playing around.  

That was the biggest hit of the week, but there was definitely more good eating going on.

First, the giant burgers. I had to throw a little meat in.  We probably eat red meat a couple times a month and it is almost always a hamburger.  It has been almost two years now since we started a more vegetarian type diet.  Within the first couple months of that, I knew hamburgers would have to come back to my life.  I have not missed chicken or pork in the least, but I need a burger once in awhile.  I like to experiment and try them all different kinds of ways.  This particular night I roasted some red peppers and sliced them to go on top and really spiced the burgers up.  It was a take on a Rachel Ray recipe...someone who I go back and forth between thinking is totally adorable or completely annoying.  Either way, the burger was delish...especially with the ketchup/sour cream/pickle sauce we added to it.  Burger craving kicked for another week or two.  

Next was date night food...Mediterranean Mac & Cheese.  It was Matt's turn to cook and I have to say he's getting good.  It's funny when we first got married Matt did most of the cooking.  At that time, my specialty was Hamburger Helper's Four Cheese Lasagna.  That made Matt's chicken stir fry's seem very impressive.  My how times have changed.  Once I had Ava my entire perception of food changed and I started to enjoy cooking.  Now, besides Sunday breakfasts Matt does little cooking.  It's been nice having him join in some of it for date nights and this mac & cheese was fantastic.  I don't have the recipe for this one because it was his dish.  However, I know it was full of tomatoes, kalamata olives and feta cheese...very nice combination.

Last was gnocchi.  Now, I make gnocchi a ton...at least once or twice a month.  But, I have never made it without using potatoes.  This one was made using semolina flour and baked instead of boiled.  Totally different, but so so so good!  You still get the fluffy texture, just with a crunchy bite to it.  It was also pretty simple and there was no need for sauce.  I just topped it with some Parmesan cheese and bread crumbs before baking and it needed nothing else.  I love how the simplest ingredients come to together to make amazing food. 

That's a lot of food talk, but I thought it was time.  I've been neglectful in that area.  We've just been busy with Christmas break type things.  Things like a whole lot of sledding and ice skating.
Up the hill and crashing down.  "Kaboom" as my nephew would say

We haven't had much new snow so it's more like flying down an icy hill.  I try really hard to not freak out as Matt spins them and sends them flying down the hill.  Especially when you hear their squeals of excitement.  I can't help it, I'm the mama...it's my job to worry.  

We've squeezed in some cousin time.  Baking, playing, sleepovers and such.
All snuggled watching Garfield

Silly girls
Using up some Christmas M&M's
Now it is the night before school starts again.  I'm with Ava...she doesn't want to go back.  It has been such a wonderful two weeks with my girls.  I like having them home.  I like lazy mornings, staying in pj's, playing with friends and cousins.  Going back to reality sucks.  I am not ready to make sack lunches, homework, early bedtimes and all that.  I feel the apprehension of sending them coming back to me.  Time has passed since the horrible shooting, but it is still in my mind and I can't help but have the worry in my head.  I really liked knowing they were home safe with me or if I was at work they were just playing with Grandma.  I know it had to end and school is good, blah blah blah...but I'm not ready.  I want another week.  

I'll put the recipes I've mentioned here at the end in case you want to give them a try.  (And, I strongly encourage you to try the pesto lasagna...you will not be disappointed.  Just make sure you have time)  Before, I have to share a photo of my girl that I just love...
I totally dig her rocker chick style with the tee and stone wash jeans.  She's like the cool girl I want to be friends with.  I think stone wash could make a total come back.

Pesto Lasagna (From "Cooking with Italian Grandmothers")
PASTA:
-2 Cups plus 6 tablespoons flour (use type 00 pasta flour if you can, but plain works fine also)
-3 eggs at room temp
Put the flour on a clean surface and make a well in the middle.  Crack the eggs into the well and with a fork start beating the eggs while slowly incorporating the flour into the well until it starts to turn into a dough.  At this point, I put it in my kitchenaid with a dough hook and let it go for ten minutes.  If you don't have one, just knead for ten minutes adding a little water if it seems a little dry.  You should end up with a nice elastic dough.  Cover and let rest for at least 15 minutes.  Slice into four pieces and roll each out as thin as you can get it.  (Paper thin)

PESTO:
-3 cups fresh basil leaves
-5 cloves of garlic
-3/4 cup olive oil
-1/2 cup toasted pine nuts
-2 cups fresh grated Parmesan cheese
-lemon zest from one to two lemons
-pinch of salt
In a food processor mix basil, garlic and olive oil until pureed.  Add the rest of the ingredients and pulse until you have a nice paste.  Set aside

BECHAMEL SAUCE:
-1/2 cup butter 
-5 tbls flour
-4 cups whole milk
-1/8 tsp nutmeg
-salt and pepper
Melt the butter over low heat in a heavy pot.  Stir in the flour and stir continuously for 2 to 3 minutes.  Add the milk VERY SLOWLY, stirring continuously.  You have to go SLOW for this...adding just a couple tablespoons at a time for the first 1/2 cup.  Then you can pour the remaining in a slow drizzle.  Once all the milk is in, bring it to a gently simmer for about 20 minutes until it thickens a little.  You need to stir it every few minutes so it won't stick or burn.  Turn off the heat, whisk in the nutmeg, s &p and put a lid on slightly ajar and let cool until you are ready to assemble. 

Other ingredients:  2 balls of fresh mozzarella (thinly sliced), 1 cup Parmesan cheese

Put it all together:  lightly grease a 9x13 baking dish.  Whisk the pesto into the bechamel sauce.  Ladle a scoop of it onto the bottom of the dish.  Place one pasta sheet on top.  Put another ladle full on top of that and sprinkle with some Parmesan cheese and slices of mozzarella.  Continue to layer that way ending with the bechamel pesto and the cheeses.  Bake in a 375-degree oven for 45 minutes to an hour until it is puffed up and the cheese is golden brown.

Pepper Burger
-Roast a red pepper until blackened and blistering.  Remove the skin and seeds, cut in slices and set aside for toppings.
-Melt a tbls of butter in a skillet, add some chopped onion and garlic and cook until soft.  Add around 1/4 cup of a dry white wine, stir.  Remove from heat and let cool
-In a mixing bowl combine 1 pound ground beef, 2 tbls paprika, 1 tbsp marjoram, 1 tsp chili powder, 1 tsp all spice and some s&p.  Add the onion/garlic mixture and mix well.  Make patties and grill.  (of course add some cheese at the end!!)
-Top the burgers with the roasted peppers and any other toppings you like.  And, this sauce:  Mix 1 cup sour cream, 3/4 cup ketchup, 2 tsp hot sauce and diced pickles.

Flour Gnocchi (Also from "Cooking with Italian Grandmothers"
-1 quart milk
-3 tsp salt
-1 cup semolina flour
-1 cup Parmesan cheese
-2 large eggs
-1 tbls butter
-bread crumbs
Heat the milk and salt in a sauce pan over med heat.  When it starts to simmer sprinkle in the flour whisking constantly.  Reduce to medium low and whisk for 7 to 10 more minutes until it is thick.  Remove from heat and stir in 1/2 cup of the cheese, the eggs and putter.  Pour the batter into a large, shallow baking pan and spread it out to 1/2 inch thickness.  Set in the fridge for about an hour.
Cut them into gnocchi using a shot glass or 2 inch cookie cutter.  Dip the glass in water to help with sticking.  Lay them on a parchment paper lined baking sheet.  Sprinkle with the rest of the cheese and bread crumbs.  Bake at 400-degrees around 30-40 minutes...until brown and crispy.  We ate them just like that, but you could top with any sauce you like.

Enjoy and Happy Eating!!!

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