Thursday, March 26, 2009

lasagne of emilia-romagna, daring bakers march challenge

The March 2009 challenge is hosted by Mary of Beans and Caviar, Melinda of Melbourne Larder and Enza of Io Da Grande.  They have chosen Lasagne of Emilia-Romagna from The Splendid Table by Lynne Rossetto Kasper as the challenge.

so this was going to be a real challenge for me-you don't tell a pastry chef that she will be making pasta with bechamel and ragout and expect her to consider it baking.  that is cooking, no matter what happens to it in the oven! in the professional world, this is the kitchens job, not the pastry departments responsibility, therefore, it is not baking.  but i really like lasagne, especially spinach lasagne.  and then there is that pasta machine lurking in the storage area of the basement...what about those mushrooms growing in the closet?

my husband and i both like to cook with spinach and we always have a bag of it in the freezer.  i thawed some and proceeded with the recipe.  the dough seemed a bit like cement after kneading it so i made it a second time.  

after allowing both balls of dough to relax for about 4 hours, i pulled out the old atlas pasta machine, hooked it up to the counter and began to roll out the sheets.  this was so easy to work with.  the first batch actually worked out better than the second.  both were a little dry and required water but i will attribute that to egg size.  since all i had were large eggs, i used water to make up the extra moisture.

currently, we have a small zoo living with us-3 cats and a dog, so i opted to lay out the sheets on parchment and keep them in the fridge until i could cook them rather than hanging them to dry.  the next day, i made the bechamel but opted not to make the ragout.  instead, i sauteed off additional spinach with onions and garlic and also sauteed off some sliced mushrooms.  to assemble the lasagne, i followed the directions except for cooking a couple sheets of pasta at a time and then assembled the lasagne by alternating a layer of bechamel with a layer of spinach, mushrooms and a pizza cheese blend. 

my husband is an amatuer mycologist-he's into mushrooms.  recently, he gave a lecture at a lawn and garden show and this box of dirt was part of his display.  it is a ready to grow kit that if handled correctly, it will produce portobellos and white buttons.  you can see some of them in the box.  
since the kit has only just begun to produce fruit-mushrooms are actually the fruit of the mycelium which grows under ground and when the conditions are right, they produce fruiting bodies or what we call mushrooms, i had to buy some to make the lasagne.

the finished product, it was very green and similar to a white pizza in flavor.  we enjoyed it but if i ever do it again, i will most likely add a little tomato, perhaps some diced tomatoes to the spinach layer to balance out the flavor-it needed something to cut the richness, a little acid to brighten it.

my thanks to the hostesses, it was a stretch for me but i had fun and the pasta machine made it into the kitchen for the first time in years!  check out some of the other blog entries by visiting and if you like italian food, check out the splendid table by lynne rosetto kasper.

rock on you party animal

today is day two of my fantastic staycation-yes even i have fallen into the trend.  this morning was all about me, after partying until 9pm with 200 perspective beekeepers, i was ready to get it on.  after taking devon to school, i arrived home to find that i was not going to get a newspaper today.
last week the folks at the tennessean claimed it is profitable, i guess it is if you don't bother to deliver it.  

after quickly scarfing down a bagel, i needed a good carb load after the fun of last night, i set off to chores.  dusting, polishing, vacuuming and mopping...woohoo, i can party like a rock star.  now as i sit here at the mac, typing this out, i am day dreaming about all of the laundry i shall fold soon as well as making up the bed.  watch out, i'm on a roll.

shine on you crazy diamond...bee keepers at 6, i'm ready to par-teee...

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

the joys of scrubbing toilets and other housewifely duties

it has finally arrived, my big 6 day vacation from work.  i had a few days to use or lose and i decided to take them this week so i could do all of the things i have been wanting to do.  my first morning found me sipping coffee in front of the tv, at 5:30am.  what a party animal, next time i should try staying up until 5:30 rather than crawling out of bed to start the day.  

next on the agenda, making sure my daughter got to school on time, 6:50am.  do i know how to have fun or what?  i arrived back at home with my wet newspaper, it's raining, (great weather for a vacation) then i proceeded to scrounge up some breakfast.  after perusing all 12 pages of the paper-it may be profitable but it is shrinking daily, i fed the cat some bananas-she'll eat anything, really i am not kidding.  on to the next task, laundry...followed this up with scrubbing the tub and toilets.  wow, what a wild day off.  after a trip to the big box store for some coffee, bagels and printer cartridges i will stop off and visit scot for a haircut.  top this off with a quick trip to the gym to get in some cardio refreshment and i will be ready for my big night out on the town!

about that, the husband has quite a bee in his bonnet, literally.  after inoculating logs and building a small shiitake farm in the back yard he has moved on to bee keeping.  we start the classes tonite.  does life get any better than this?  somebody, please save me.  i'm drowning in my own dorkdom and i can't get up...

Friday, March 13, 2009

you want pie with that?

crazy as it sounds, i was looking for a way to fill some spare time.  hard to believe that i actually have any with all that goes on at home; large garden and many beds to tend to, the master gardeners association, the possibility of another book, the girls...the list goes on. but really, i was looking for a way to amuse myself and do something that i like to do-bake.  not just random baking for consumption, but baking with a purpose.  when i wrote my book, i learned a lot about baking even though that is what i do for a living.  baking is a lot of chemistry and physics and it is never so obvious as when you are configuring recipes and testing them for the resulting baked product.  in order to keep myself entertained, i joined two baking forums, the daring bakers and you want pies with that.  recently, i posted my first challenge with the daring bakers and now it is time to do the same with you want pies with that.  the daring bakers pick a specific recipe for a baked good-any baked good and everyone prepares that recipe.  each member adds a little tweek of personality but bakes the same thing and the result is hundreds of examples of how the same thing could be executed.  for you want pies with that, a theme is chosen and everyone bakes a pie or a tart to fit the theme and this results in many different things but all are technically pies.  for my first pie challenge, the theme was herbs and spices.  how seemingly vague but never the less, very challenging.  after all, what do you choose to do with a theme like that?  sweet or savory, yin and yang, classic or crazy-foodie?  what's a soccer mom to do?  i gave it some thought and settled on a pear pie.  how dull, says you!!! but not just any pear pie, my pear pie had the yin and yang as well as the herbs and spices and the results were fabulous.

lets start with the herbs and the spices.  on this plate is a collection of herbs and spices that when blended makes up a moroccan blend called raz al hanout.  the spices pictured are; cinnamon sticks, green and black cardamom, mace, star anise, nutmeg, peppercorns, turmeric, cloves, hot chilis, coriander and cumin.  the herbs in the picture are lavender and rose petals and not in the picture are ginger and anise seeds.  

all of the spices were placed in a blender and whirled until it was powdered and then sifted to remove any large pieces.  this was very noisy!  the results were incredible.  i enjoyed my visit to the local indian and international markets to pick up the ingredients rather than using someone elses blend of spices.  raz al hanout is morocco's version of curry, everyone has their own blend and it can contain as many as 50 spices.  i chose to keep it a little simpler and ended up with 17.   

while in K&S world market, i found a bag of black sugar.  it is from south korea and it is raw sugar with caramel.  it has a larger grain than brown sugar and it tasted a little like caramel and not like molasses.  

i peeled a bunch of ripe d'anjou pears, zested a lemon and tossed it all with the black sugar, raz al hanout and some corn starch to fill the shell.  now for the yin to the yang of the filling, a pie crust that was made with a combination of butter and apple wood smoked bacon fat which added a hint of smoke flavor to the crust as well as some flakiness.

here is the pie after it came out of the oven

i love warm fruit pie, so does my husband.  we cut into it just as soon as possible and we savored every bite!  for more info on the raz al hanout, check out my other blog-will travel for food.  it is a blog devoted to restaurants, food and markets of all kinds.  here's to pie in the sky and next month's challenge!!!

Saturday, March 7, 2009

bunglish spoken here...

i spend my day at work among many people who speak either very little english or very bad english.  not a problem because the people in question speak spaninsh and my spanish is just as bad as their english.  it makes the day interesting.  we spend time playing a version of charades that only people who don't speak the same language can understand.  my favorite part of all of this is the "glaze over".  it's that point when the eyes of the person you are attempting to speak to suddenly glaze over and they just agree with you.  even funnier is the point afterwards when you realize what you just told them and why it didn't make any sense to them.  this is when the dictionary comes out and both of you start searching for and pointing to the right words.  

the best part is listening and helping my non-english speaking coworkers learn new words.  english is a difficult language to learn because there are so many grammar and pronunciation rules that even most of us natives do not understand.  some of them have learned a lot of english and in return they have helped me to learn a lot of spanish.  together, we bungle our way through both languages laughing as we go.  in the end, we actually have many conversations that we all understand.  to think that the city of nashville almost declared itself english only is awful.  my coworkers were happy to hear that voters refused to let it happen.  we made the news all over the country, even in the big cities.  

every day is a new opportunity to learn new words and proper usage.  but did you ever notice just how quickly immigrants learn to use the worst parts of the language perfectly?  oh well, there isn't much i can do about it except bungle on...