Monday, August 30, 2010

A bouncing baby lasagna?

As this paleolithic cave drawing illustrates...since human beings have been giving birth... someone has been bringing the new mother lasagna. OK... well maybe it hasn't been that long...and maybe... just maybe I drew this particular cave painting and did a really crappy job doctoring it to look like ancient cave art. But I still think that womankind has had this particular tradition for a very long time.

I love to cook and what better way to help out a friend in need than to bring them a ready made meal in a pan. I have always found comfort in casseroles delivered by friends during happy times, such as the birth of a child, or even during times of sadness and loss. It is a tradition that I try to keep in my own life. Usually I make my favorite recipe for lasagna... it's simple, I can make two at a time (one for my family and one for my friend), and it freezes well (just in case a dozen other friends had the same idea at the same time). A week ago a good friend delivered a beautiful baby boy... and so today I delivered a beautiful lasagna to her door. Here is my recipe for lasagna.

Jenn's Lasagna

Double this recipe to make one for your family and one for a friends.

2-3 links Italian sausage
3 ½ cups (32- oz. jar) thick spaghetti sauce
2 cups (15-oz. container) ricotta or small curd cottage cheese
3 cups (12-oz.) shredded mozzarella
½ cup grated Parmesan cheese
2 eggs
One red bell pepper, roasted, peeled and seeded (set in broiler until skin is black, cook and peel)
1 tsp. Salt
¼ tsp. Pepper
8 oz. lasagna (9 pieces)

Set your oven to broil and roast your bell pepper until the skin is black and charred…or roast them outside on the grill.

While the pepper is cooking make the lasagna noodles according to package directions. You can also begin to brown Italian sausage (draining off excess fat).

Then in a large bowl combine ricotta, Parmesan , half of the mozzarella and eggs. Once the pepper is blackened and cool you need to peel it and dice it.
You are now ready to assemble your lasagna.

Pour about 1 cup sauce on bottom of 13 x 9 x 2- inch baking pan. Layer 3 pieces of cooked lasagna over sauce; Spread ½ of cheese filling over sauce. Sprinkle with cooked sausage and another cup of sauce.

Repeat layers of lasagna, sauce and cheeses filling… this time adding the roasted bell pepper. Top with layer of lasagna and remaining sauce and the other half of the mozzarella cheese.

Cover with aluminum foil and bake at 350 degrees 45 minutes. Remove foil; bake about 15 minutes longer. Allow to stand 10 minutes before cutting for easier handling. Makes 8 to 10 servings.

This recipe can be made ahead. Before baking either refrigerated for up to 24 hours or freeze for up to 2 months. Bake refrigerated lasagna the same as above. Bake frozen lasagna for about 2 hours at 350 degrees. I like to print the instructions right on the foil... that way if they decide to freeze it they don't have to keep up with a little slip of paper giving them the cooking time.

I had just finished assembling my lasagna when I remembered that our oven was out... so we made this one by cooking it indirectly on our outdoor grill. It turned out wonderfully! The bottom was slightly charred on one side... but it was still terrific!

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Banana Pudding

It is certainly nothing special... a box or two of vanilla pudding... some banana slices and some good ol' vanilla wafers... But there certainly is something special about making something with your kids so that in the end they can proudly bring it to the table and serve it knowing that they helped make it.
When I was a kid I always enjoyed making banana was a dessert that everyone loved that I could make all by myself. I especially loved making a happy face on the top with bananas and cookies. We always made it in a bright yellow bowl... much like the blue bowl pictured in the photo. I think my mother still has that bowl. I know there are more complex and probably better tasting versions of this recipe... but this is how I've always done it... and it is a perfect recipe to introduce kids to the joy of cooking.

Banana Pudding

2 boxes of instant vanilla pudding (plus the milk needed to make it- 4 cups)
1 box of vanilla wafers
2-3 bananas, sliced

Make the pudding according to the package directions. Have your helper slice the banana (this is great for kids because they get to chop something up and all they need is a table knife to do it). Line the bottom of a bowl or baking dish with cookies and bananas. Add a layer of pudding and continue layering until you are out of pudding. Decorate the top as you see fit. Chill until you've cleaned your plate and then dig in!

Monday, August 23, 2010

Hatch Chilies

The New Mexico, or the hatch chili, is an aromatic pepper that is milder than the jalapeno. Like the jalapeno, however, it is a versatile chili that compliments many dishes. It can be served a variety of ways, but it is best when roasted and peeled. The green chili is central to New Mexican cooking. Right now it is Hatch chili season and they are being celebrated all over the Southwest. They are really inexpensive right now... so I like to buy a lot, roast them, and freeze whatever I don't use. The trouble is I think of so many ways to use them that I rarely have any left in reserve once the season is done.

How to Roast a Pepper: Place the oven on broil…or even better heat up the outside grill. Puncture each chili to prevent explosion. Place peppers on a cookie sheet or if cooking outside place directly on the grill. Cook until the skins begin to blacken and separate. Turn occasionally.

Remove from heat and place in a bag or a bowl with a lid to sweat. After 15 minutes or so peel and discard skin. If you wish to freeze some for future use leave skin on until you are ready to use.

New Mexico Green Sauce

If Hatch chilies don't happen to be in season right now... or you just don't live somewhere where they are common you can substitute other mild peppers like Poblano peppers for the hatch chilies. This is a good sauce for eggs, enchiladas, and burritos or just as a dip for chips.

6 New Mexico or Hatch chilies
1 C. warm water
2 T cooking oil
3 T flour
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 Cups veggie broth
1/2 small onion diced

After you roast the chilies in the broiler or on the grill and place them in a bag to sweat you will then want to remove the peel and seeds. Place 3 chilies in the blender with water and blend.

Sauté the flour in oil until slightly brown. This is the roux that will thicken up the sauce when you add the remaining ingredients.

Add garlic and onions and sauté until translucent. You can also heat up the broth at this time. You can use either vegetable broth or chick broth depending on whether you wish to make this a vegetarian meal.

Add other ingredients and cook until thick. Dice the three remaining chilies and add to mix. Serve hot or cold. Or use to top a New Mexico Style Burrito.

New Mexico Corn and Zucchini

2 t. veggie oil
3 New Mexico chilies-Roasted, peeled, etc…
1 Chopped onion
2-3 ears of corn
3-4 Cloves of garlic, minced
2 zucchini, sliced

Heat oil and sauté onions and garlic until translucent. Add the chilies, corn and zucchini. Cook until zucchini is tender, but not falling apart. Add salt and pepper to taste. Use as a side dish or a filling for tamales and burritos.

New Mexico Style Burritos
This is a recipe my husband Paul likes to make. The recipe is based on a burrito I ate at a small brewpub in New Mexico. The pub called the burrito “The Fatty”… and it is fat indeed!

1 recipe sauce
Burrito size tortillas
1 can black beans
1 recipe New Mexico corn and zucchini
Potatoes fried with onions, garlic and cumin. (cooked well-almost like mashed)

Wrap beans, potatoes, and veggie in tortilla and top with sauce. Garnish with cilantro and top with cheese if you wish. I also like to just put beans and potatoes in the burrito and serve the corn and zucchini as a side dish. You can stuff the burrito with whatever you wish... just make sure to top it with plenty of sauce!

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Mayan Food Then and Now...

Our sixth day in Honduras was fantastic. We woke up early and had another great breakfast at our hotel, Casa de Cafe. I had waffles, fruit, juice and coffee. I knew I was going to need a filling breakfast for the hike ahead so I devoured every crumb. After that we walked through town in search of the road to the ruins. It was a wonderfully peaceful walk along a cobblestone path. There were interesting glimpses of daily life along the way: we bought yet another corn husk doll from two young girls, we saw a rancher leading his cows out into the fields, and we watched people walking out to the ruins for work or play. At the entrance to the ruins we met a nice guy from Israel named Avi and ended up sharing a guide with him for our trip through the ruins. The guided tour was fantastic: beautiful views, tons of information, and photo opportunities galore. I learned more about early Mayan culture than I ever thought I wanted to know. I learned the grisly details of ball games and human sacrifice, the Mayan beliefs about the afterlife, and how the royalty lived.

After the tour of the ruins we went to the museum. After having such and informative guide through the real thing the museum was a bit of a let down. I found myself learning more about Israeli politics from our new friend than I did about Mayan culture. So after a casual stroll through the artifacts we headed down the road to the second set of ruins. This was where the common folk lived. Our guide there was Spanish speaking, but easy enough to understand. He showed us how the average citizens spent their time... where they buried their dead (it turns out that they laid grandma to rest under the bed...yikes), how they spent their time, how they made a living, and what they did for fun. Finally I got to the place in the tour where they showed us the ruins of a kitchen and I asked the question that I'd been wanting to ask all day. "¿Qué comieron?" (what did they eat?). Our guide turned to me and said "carne, frijoles, calabaza, maíz, plátanos y tortillas" (meat, beans, squash, corn, plantains and tortillas). I wanted to laugh... because that is just about the exact thing you find on the platos tipicos of today... and it is almost the exact thing that I had eaten for lunch and dinner for the past few days. I guess it goes to show that when you get it right the first time, there is no need to change a good thing?

Friday, August 13, 2010

Cold Water in Paradise

On the evening of our fifth day in Honduras we ordered a bottle (or two) of wine and dined on cheese and bread at a cosy wine bar not far from the central plaza in Copán Ruinas. We enjoyed an assortment of breads and crackers with smoked mozzarella, an aged Gouda, and a soft cheese with Herbes de Provence. It was all nicely presented on a cheese board with a handful of pecan halves. Other than the crackers (club crackers rather than water biscuits), it was something that you would find in a cafe anywhere in the world at at least twice the cost. It was a lovely place, and the perfect place to end a pleasant day.

The day started out with a wonderful breakfast at our hotel. Eggs and toast served with rich coffee in a beautiful garden by a friendly staff. We walked around town and caught the World Cup games. We even found a few cute gifts for our daughters. I couldn't have asked for more. Well maybe I could have asked for a room with reliable hot water... or at least someplace with electricity that didn't flicker out at even the suggestion of a thunderstorm. Dining by candlelight is romantic... but stumbling back to the hotel in a blackout, using snatches of reality seen through lightning strikes, can be a bit tricky... and taking a cold shower (or no shower at all) after a night of candlelight and wine can do a lot to kill a mood.

But that is Honduras. Things that most of the world sees as luxuries not only grow on trees... but fall to the ground and rot because they are so common... Beauty abounds and it seems that you could never go hungry with so much life surrounding you. But what if you get sick and need a doctor? What if you just want a glass of clean water? Or what if you want to do something as trivial as mail a letter, buy a watch, or make a phone call? That is when the rose color glasses come off. The lack of hot water in my hotel room is a petty gripe in comparison to the real problems that people face in a country that lacks infrastructure.

Don't get me wrong... I'm not saying that Honduras isn't a wonderful place to vacation... In fact I think that you should go there and spend lots of money, if you are so inclined. Buy wine and cheese with abandon, get a good massage by the ocean, and shop yourself silly. Sure there are better ways to give money to those in need (and you should do those things as well)... and I'm sure most of the tourist dollars spent in Honduras don't go to those who need it most... But a vacation is to be enjoyed not something to feel guilty about. Go there and have a good time. Just remember that when you take that cold shower.... for god's sake have the sensitivity not to complain about it.... because things could be a lot worse.

Friday, August 6, 2010

The World Cup in Motion... or How to Drink a Heineken in Honduras

While planning our trip to Honduras I was delighted to find out that Honduras had qualified for the World Cup... The last time they qualified I was in braces... well I never actually wore braces... but if I had it would have probably been sometime around 1982. In this years cup they were underdogs for sure... but I was rooting for them all the same.
By the time we arrived they had already been eliminated... but there were still plenty of soccer fans to be found...and I was excited about watching soccer in a country where people actually care about the game. Due to the timing of our trip, however, the first day of the quarter finals was set to be on one of our day long travel days. We actually considered staying in Roatán one day longer just so that we could watch the games... but alas we decided to head for the mountains on our fourth day in Honduras and hopefully catch the games on the road.
We caught the first half of the Netherlands vs Brazil game on the ferry to the mainland. Thankfully the ride was smooth sailing compared to the stomach churning ride we had experienced just a few days earlier and I was able to watch the game. My husband was born in the Netherlands... and most of the people on the ferry were fans of Brazil... but it was a good natured rivalry with a lot of laughing and back slapping. Maybe it was just because Honduras and the US were both out of the running... but somehow I don't think that was the whole story. Honduras just seems a little mellower about their soccer than my World Cup experiences in Mexico.
The taxi ride to the bus station in La Ceiba was a bit scary. We were one of three fares stuffed into a small Toyota... honking, swearing and swerving down narrow streets. We stopped somewhere Central... and then made our way to the hospital with a girl with a broken leg...then finally we arrived at the bus station. We were able to watch a little more of the game on a small TV while we waited in line for our tickets... we got to see the Netherlands pull ahead... but we had to leave with ten minutes left on the clock.
It was hours before we arrived in San Pedro...and no one seemed to know the final score. We had a long layover in a room full of other people who had been on the move most of the day... While we were there we watched most of the game between Ghana and Uruguay. The room would fill and empty with each coming and going... Everyone trying to catch a glimpse of history in the making on their way to some place else. The game was just reaching its exciting conclusion...there had been a red card and the game was still tied after overtime... it was a shoot out and we had to board the bus. Thankfully the bus driver put the radio on so that we weren't left on pins and needles...It was a sad day for Ghana... but it was a beautiful day in Honduras.
For the next few days in Copan Ruinas we caught games at bars and cafes around town. We enjoyed a meal here... a beer there... the company of other travelers with jerseys supporting this team or that. It was a lot of fun meeting people and cheering with them or against them. My favorite world cup experience of the journey happened after one of the worst moments of our trip... it will be a story for another day... but let's just say when your staying in a finca in the mountains don't leave nothin' in your clothes. We returned to Copan a day early after a trip to a coffee plantation in search of a place to stay. The hotel we chose just happened to be owned by a Dutch Ex-pat... so we watched the Netherlands vs Uruguay while eating Dutch food and sipping on Heineken. Dutch food isn't all that great... and I'm not a huge fan of Heineken either... but it sure tasted better than the Honduran beer I'd been drinking for days...It also put a postive spin on an otherwise crappy day. It was nice to share a beer with fellow soccer fans and to let the negativity of a bad experience wash away in stream of Heineken. I enjoyed the moment under a canopy of orange and white streamers , marveled at what a wild and wacked out world we live in ,and lived to enjoy another day of travel.


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