Tuesday, December 28, 2010
Wednesday, December 15, 2010
One October evening when Jonah is sleeping over at a friend's house, Miles and Sarah take a ghost tour of New Bern (several of Nick's books take place there--fitting since that's where he lives. I've never been there in person, but I hear it's a fabulous little town), and afterward they head over to her place. Sarah prepares a warm, romantic meal--lasagna, a favorite in my house; with French bread, salad, and (most importantly) a bottle of wine. They enjoy their dinner by the light of a blazing fire.
So what kind of dilemma would I possibly have about lasagna? My mother-in-law, Grandma B, gave me her special pasta sauce recipe (or "gravy" as the Italians call it) years ago on the condition that I would never share it with anyone. It's one of her secret family recipes that's been handed down through many generations. It's been a while since I've made her sauce, and I was tempted to make it last weekend for my "Nicholas Sparks Thing," as my family calls it. I knew I couldn't share the recipe with you, though, and I thought it would be a little bit cruel to tell you all about the delicious lasagna I made with this amazing sauce, post pictures, and then say, "Oh, sorry, I can't tell you how I made it. You're on your own for this one." Another choice might have been to make her sauce, and find a different recipe to post. I scrapped that idea as well, though, because I want to post what I actually prepare. My final solution was to find a totally different recipe and save Grandma's for another time when I'm not blogging about it. (My fourth option could have been to go with my usual sauce-making method: pop open a jar of Ragu'. Not this time.)
When I did a Google search on lasagna, the first one that popped up came from AllRecipes.com. (That site might soon be my favorite one for recipes, since I've found so many great ones there.) After browsing through several other recipes, I decided to go with the first one:
World's Best Lasagna
1 pound sweet Italian sausage
3/4 pound lean ground beef
1/2 cup minced onion
2 cloves garlic, crushed
1 (28 ounce) can crushed tomatoes
2 (6 ounce) cans tomato paste
2 (6.5 ounce) cans canned tomato sauce
1/2 cup water
2 tablespoons white sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons dried basil leaves
1/2 teaspoon fennel seeds
1 teaspoon Italian seasoning
1 tablespoon salt
1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper
4 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley
12 lasagna noodles
16 ounces ricotta cheese
1/2 teaspoon salt
3/4 pound mozzarella cheese, sliced
3/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese
1.In a Dutch oven, cook sausage, ground beef, onion, and garlic over medium heat until well browned. Stir in crushed tomatoes, tomato paste, tomato sauce, and water. Season with sugar, basil, fennel seeds, Italian seasoning, 1 tablespoon salt, pepper, and 2 tablespoons parsley. Simmer, covered, for about 1 1/2 hours, stirring occasionally.
2.Bring a large pot of lightly salted water to a boil. Cook lasagna noodles in boiling water for 8 to 10 minutes. Drain noodles, and rinse with cold water. In a mixing bowl, combine ricotta cheese with egg, remaining parsley, and 1/2 teaspoon salt.
3.Preheat oven to 375 degrees F (190 degrees C).
4.To assemble, spread 1 1/2 cups of meat sauce in the bottom of a 9x13 inch baking dish. Arrange 6 noodles lengthwise over meat sauce. Spread with one half of the ricotta cheese mixture. Top with a third of mozzarella cheese slices. Spoon 1 1/2 cups meat sauce over mozzarella, and sprinkle with 1/4 cup Parmesan cheese. Repeat layers, and top with remaining mozzarella and Parmesan cheese. Cover with foil: to prevent sticking, either spray foil with cooking spray, or make sure the foil does not touch the cheese.
5.Bake in preheated oven for 25 minutes. Remove foil, and bake an additional 25 minutes. Cool for 15 minutes before serving.
I cheated just a little bit by using those oven-ready noodles that you don't have to boil, and pre-grated cheese instead of slicing up a hunk of mozzarella. That one was because I didn't read the ingredients carefully before going to the grocery store.I wanted to make my own French bread in my bread machine. I consulted my Bread Machine Cookbook but didn't find a recipe that I liked, so I went online and found a good one at--where else?--AllRecipes.com:
1 cup water
2 1/2 cups bread flour
1 tablespoon white sugar
1 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 teaspoons bread machine yeast
1 egg yolk
1 tablespoon water
1.Place 1 cup water, bread flour, sugar, salt and yeast into bread machine pan in the order recommended by manufacturer. Select Dough cycle, and press Start.
2.When the cycle has completed, place dough in a greased bowl, turning to coat all sides. Cover, and let rise in a warm place for about 30 minutes, or until doubled in bulk. Dough is ready if indentation remains when touched. 3.Punch down dough. On a lightly floured surface, roll into a 16x12 inch rectangle. Cut dough in half, creating two 8x12 inch rectangles. Roll up each half of dough tightly, beginning at 12 inch side, pounding out any air bubbles as you go. Roll gently back and forth to taper end. Place 3 inches apart on a greased cookie sheet. Make deep diagonal slashes across loaves every 2 inches, or make one lengthwise slash on each loaf. Cover, and let rise in a warm place for 30 to 40 minutes, or until doubled in bulk.
4.Preheat oven to 375 degrees F (190 degrees C). Mix egg yolk with 1 tablespoon water; brush over tops of loaves. (I skipped the egg wash since Moe is allergic to them.)
5.Bake for 20 to 25 minutes in the preheated oven, or until golden brown. (source)
My family was lurking behind me as I took the bread out of the oven, waiting impatiently for me to hurry up and take a photo so they could all have a sample. Most of the larger loaf was gone by dinnertime.
Our favorite Virginia wine: Cabernet Franc from Horton Vineyards.
The lasagna was a little bit runny. Seems I always end up using twice as much ricotta and egg as the recipe calls for. It was delicious, nonetheless, and almost as good as Grandma B's. I even made a little one for Moe, with dairy-free "cheese" and of course, no egg.
Friday, December 3, 2010
On the Sunday after Thanksgiving, the air was chilly at our house. While the men in my life were outside blowing and raking leaves and hauling them to the road (and you could say they were also playing in the dirt--their shoes and their coats and their clothing were covered in grime when they finally came inside) I made our favorite beef stew and some cornbread to go with it. Now, I told you earlier that Moe and I were the only ones who liked beef stew--well, now I'm taking that back. Everyone loved it, even Joe. "I thought you didn't like beef stew," I remarked when Joe raved about how good it was. "I don't," he said. "But I like THIS beef stew." When Curly was born, a friend brought a batch of it for us to enjoy, and I will admit I wasn't too excited because I had never really liked beef stew. It was so delicious that I asked her for the recipe. And when I read about Denise preparing a pot of stew for the men in her life, I knew exactly which recipe I would use--it's the only one I've ever made as far as I know. But first, the cornbread. Which isn't mentioned in The Rescue; but at our house, cornbread is a must when we're having beef stew. Or chili, for that matter.
Golden Sweet Cornbread (courtesy of AllRecipes.com)
1 cup all-purpose flour
1 cup yellow cornmeal
2/3 cup white sugar
1 teaspoon salt
3 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1 cup milk
1/3 cup vegetable oil
1.Preheat oven to 400 degrees F (200 degrees C). Spray or lightly grease a 9 inch round cake pan. 2.In a large bowl, combine flour, cornmeal, sugar, salt and baking powder. Stir in egg, milk and vegetable oil until well combined. Pour batter into prepared pan. 3.Bake in preheated oven for 20 to 25 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into the center of the loaf comes out clean. (source)
Because of Moe's food allergies, I had to make it with Egg Replacer. The last time I made this cornbread, it was quite crumbly (the egg replacer works well as a binding agent but real eggs work better) so this time I tried substituting honey for half of the sugar. I was asked my the menfolk if I would please make it that way again. I'm happy to oblige.
Now for the main attraction:
Hearty Beef Stew
2 T all-purpose flour
1/2 t salt
1/4 t ground black pepper
1 lb. beef stew meat, cut into 1-inch pieces
2 T vegetable oil (I use olive oil, but that's just me)
1 small chopped onion (about 1 cup)
1 cup (2 stalks) thickly sliced celery
2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
1 3/4 cups (one 14.5-oz can) diced tomato, undrained
1 cup (2 small) peeled, thickly sliced carrots
1 t. beef bouillon (a splash or two of Worcestershire sauce is a good substitute in a pinch)
1/2 t. ground or dried thyme (or about 1 T chopped fresh thyme)
1 large potato, peeled and cut into 1-inch pieces
Combine flour, salt, and pepper in medium bowl. Add beef, toss well to coat. Heat vegetable oil in a large saucepan or soup pot on medium-high heat. Add beef, onion, celery, and garlic.Cook, stirring frequently for 6 to 8 minutes or until beef is no longer pink and vegetables are tender. Add tomatoes with juice, carrots, bouillon, and thyme. Bring to a boil. (I usually end up adding a little water of beef stock as well.) Reduce heat to low; cover. Cook about 5 to 10 minutes and then add the potatoes. Cook, stirring occasionally, for 15 to 20 minutes more, or until beef is tender. When cooking the beef, etc. in the oil, it will probably stick to the bottom of the pan, but after adding the licquid it all comes up and mixes with the rest of the stew. This recipe makes 5 servings; I almost always double the recipe so I'll have leftovers for the next day.
Saturday, November 13, 2010
One night Taylor and Denise go out to a nice restaurant for dinner while Taylor's mother watches Kyle for the evening. When they return to Denise's house, they top off the evening with strawberries and champagne. The next morning ('cuz he stayed at her place all night, don't ya know), Taylor cooks them all pancakes, eggs, and bacon. Now, I cook pancakes, eggs, and bacon all the time. This was going to be a no-brainer. Then I thought, why not have a champagne brunch? Okay, a champagne breakfast-for-dinner. We could pretend it was brunch. With my favorite pancake recipe, some strawberries, a little twist to my usual scrambled-eggs-with-cheese, and some little two-serving bottles of champagne I found, I could put together a quick and delicious meal that Taylor and Denise would love.
I used my favorite pancake recipe from my favorite cookbook, The Ultimate Southern Living Cookbook:
2 cups all-purpose flour (sometimes I use half white flour and half whole wheat. Not this time.)
2 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
3/4 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons sugar
2 large eggs, lightly beaten (or 1 heaping tablespoon Egg Replacer with 1/4 cup water)
2 cups buttermilk (since Moe is allergic to dairy, I use a combination of soy milk, rice milk, and "regular" milk)
1/4 cup vegetable oil
Combine first 5 ingredients, stir well. Combine eggs, buttermilk, and oil in a bowl; add to flour mixture, stirring just until dry ingredients are moistened. For each pancake, pour about 1/4 cup batter into a hot, lightly greased griddle. Cook pancakes until tops are covered with bubbles and edges look cooked; turn and cook other side. (It says you can save any unused batter in a tightly sealed container for up to one week. I always cook all of the batter and if there are any leftover pancakes, the boys eat them for breakfast during the week.) Yield: 18 4-inch pancakes.
I added a little grated apple and some cinnamon. We all have different tastes when it comes to what we like in our pancakes.
For the eggs, I chopped up an onion and a red bell pepper, and sauteed them in olive oil until they started to get soft. .
I cracked about eight eggs into a bowl, added a little milk, salt and pepper, and a teensy bit of cheddar cheese. (Curly was in charge of cooking them.)
Once the eggs were cooked to a consistency that I--er, Curly--liked, we put them into a serving bowl and sprinkled shredded cheese on top. Just before serving, we melted the cheese in the microwave.
A couple of strawberries and a nice thick slice of bacon on the side--Brunch (uh, Dinner) Is Served!
Champagne for the grown-ups. The boys had sparkling apple cider in their mugs.
Today I found a new butcher in town. You don't know how excited that makes me, because now I can get local free-range meat year-round, and I can get just the amount and the cuts that I want. My next project will probably be beef stew (which Moe and I both love, and the rest of them don't care for--too bad for them), and I might even take a stab at venison later if I can get it for a reasonable price without having to buy half a deer or something. This new butcher will love me and my blog, and Nick might just be his new best friend--although I would probably be a regular customer anyway, with or without this crazy cooking adventure of mine.
Wednesday, November 3, 2010
I don't know if it was the brandy, the tenderizer, or that they were pretty good cuts of meat--but let me tell you they were AMAZING. Our youngest son Moe (for the record, that's not his real name. For blogging I call our boys Larry, Curly, and Moe, and my husband is called Joe. That's not his real name, either) was particularly impressed. This is definitely going in my "To Definitely Cook Again" pile. As for the meat tenderizer I bought, it will NOT go to waste.
Garrett served baked potatoes and salad along with the steaks. He had a store-bought bag of salad in his refrigerator and Theresa added some tomatoes. I wanted to put one together myself, so I used some things I happened to have: lettuce and watercress I had picked up at the farmers market, plus I still had some red cabbage leftover from our picnic. I found this recipe online for a watercress salad with oranges; my version was a lettuce-watercress-cabbage salad with mandarin oranges. That one wasn't the big hit that the steaks were, but that's because the men in my life are picky eaters. I thought it was yummy, especially with honey-mustard dressing. (Unfortunately I was so excited about the watercress and oranges and honey-mustard that I forgot about putting in tomatoes. Shoot!)
(See my other blog, Musings of a Catholic Mom, for more adventures from last weekend. The italicized passages in this post are from Chapter 8 of Message in a Bottle.)
Wednesday, October 20, 2010
Ciabatta bread, sliced
1 container store-bought pesto
1/4 pound sliced salami
1/4 pound sliced provolone
1/4 pound sliced turkey
1/4 pound sliced mortadella
Iceberg lettuce, torn into leaves
Plum tomato, sliced
Slather bread slices with the pesto. Build your sammie by placing a couple slices each of salami, provolone, turkey and mortadella. Top with lettuce leaves, sliced tomato and another slice of bread. Cut diagonally across sandwich to make 2 triangles. (source)
1/3 cup sour cream
1/3 cup mayonnaise
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
3 Tbs. Champagne vinegar
1 tsp. kosher salt
1/4 cup plain rice vinegar
3-1/2 lb. Yukon Gold potatoes, scrubbed clean
3 large hard-boiled eggs, diced
1-1/2 cups thinly sliced celery (include the leaves, roughly chopped)
1 cup small-diced sweet onion
Garrett provided the Coke and 7up for the picnic. Of course, he had no idea that Theresa had found his letter to Catherine or that she had come to North Carolina specifically to meet him. They had a lovely evening together, and thus began their romance.
Wednesday, October 13, 2010
For the story of my burnt biscuits and too-salty chicken, click here.
One slight correction--in my last post I told you that my mother got the recipe from her Betty Crocker cookbook. Actually, it was a Better Homes and Gardens one. The error has been corrected, and I apologize to anyone who consulted Betty Crocker and didn't find it. (Not that anyone did; I can probably count on one hand how many people read this blog...and many thanks to those who do stop by!)
This weekend we'll be packing a picnic basket with love (a la Message in a Bottle), and hopefully a blog post will follow very soon after.
Saturday, October 2, 2010
Since Moe is allergic to eggs I took a few tablespoons of Egg Replacer mix and added a little water until it was about the consistency of egg. It worked just fine.
Here's the biscuit recipe from my mother's 1962 Better Homes and Gardens cookbook:
2 cups Sifted all-purpose flour
4 tsp. baking powder
½ tsp. salt
½ tsp. Cream of Tartar
2 tsp. Sugar
½ cup shortening
2/3 cup milk
Sift together flour, baking powder, salt, cream of tartar, and sugar; cut in shortening till mixture resembles coarse crumbs. Add milk all at once; stir only till dough follows fork around bowl. Turn out on lightly floured surface; knead gently ½ minute. Pat or roll ½ inch thick; cut with biscuit cutter (Cut straight down; do not twist). Bake on ungreased cookie sheet in very hot oven (450o) 10 to 12 minutes. Makes 16 medium biscuits. Mom's note: I use dry milk for all of my baking, adding 1/3 cup (per cup) right after I cut in the shortening. Then, you just add 2/3 c. water. For this recipe, just use the whole 1/3 cup.
(Sharon's note: Moe is allergic to milk, but only slightly; I used half soy milk and half real milk in these biscuits.)
I don't have a biscuit cutter; I always use the outside part of my Pampered Chef Measure-all cup. I'm not sure why the recipe says to cut straight down and not twist, but I did my best. Of course, this was the day my oven's thermostat decided not to work properly causing the oven to overheat and burn the biscuits! Luckily I rescued them while they were still edible; the boys liked them because they were doughy in the middle. (The oven has worked just fine since. Go figure.)
For the vegetables, I halved and sliced a medium-sized onion, diced up a jumbo-sized carrot (this made about a cup of chopped carrot) and chopped a medium-sized zucchini. I fried 4 slices of bacon and set them aside, drained the excess fat, and added a little olive oil to the pan. Once the olive oil was hot, I added the onions and carrots and sautee'd them until they started to get soft, then added the zucchini. I had some Emeril's Essence on hand and threw in a couple of tablespoonfuls of that. (You can see my first attempt at this for my crab feast here; putting in more seasoning definitely helped. You can make the seasoning yourself--here's the recipe--and I think I've seen it in the spice aisle as well.)
Once the vegetables were cooked, I crumbled up the bacon and mixed it in. My husband convinced the boys to try them, saying they didn't tase like vegetables but like bacon instead. I wouldn't go so far as that but the bacon really made a big difference.
Don't forget the veggies! Of course I HAD to make mashed potatoes to serve with them. The boys said I forgot the gravy, because after all, gravy ALWAYS comes with the mashed potatoes when we bring it home from Popeye's or KFC.
Thursday, September 23, 2010
Nick's new book, Safe Haven, just came out last week. I hope I have the willpower to wait until it comes out in paperback, or at least until the price for the hardcover comes down a little. I wonder what we'll be cooking for this one? We still have quite a number of books to get through first.
At our house, fried chicken a' la The Notebook is on the menu this weekend; stay tuned! (I think we'll be watching the Dear John movie, too. I'll let you know what I think. Chances are I'll like it.)
Friday, September 10, 2010
Years ago, before I had read any of Nicholas Sparks' books, I happened upon an interview with him on EWTN's The World Over with Raymond Arroyo. At the time I had seen some of his paperbacks in the checkout line, and his name was vaguely familiar. My first reaction upon seeing Nicholas for the first time was to think to myself, "Oh, my! He's cute!" Watching the interview, I learned that Nicholas is a devout Catholic, married for many years, and he and his wife have five children. He talked about how his Catholic faith shapes his life and his stories. ("But wait!" I hear you saying. "There's SEX in Nicholas Sparks' books! Outside of marriage!" True. Nobody's perfect. There are also many Christian themes in his books as well. People go to church and read the Bible. Clergy are respected members of the community. The men treat their women with respect; the ones who don't are the bad guys. Family bonds are essential, and children are welcomed, even if they are conceived out of wedlock. Curse words are few and far between, and even those are what most people would consider mild ones.) When Raymond asked Nicholas what his next project would be, Nick's reply was something like, "Um, well, It's a story about a guy and a girl who meet and fall in love in North Carolina." He shrugged and grinned sheepishly, and Raymond laughed and teased him, trying to get him to reveal more about the book. I wondered at the time what was so funny. Little did I know. When my family asked me why I wanted to write a blog about food that people eat in the books I read, I told them the truth: For fun. So here goes.
(He is kinda cute, you gotta admit...but that isn't why I read his books.)
Allie and Noah chop up some zucchini, onions, carrots and okra (we aren't okra eaters, but since I cheated on the crabs I wasn't going to cheat on that) and fry them up in a pan. When I prepared the vegetables, I put chopped onions and carrots into a skillet with some olive oil, and sauteed them for a couple of minutes; then I added the chopped zucchini and okra along with some salt, pepper, rosemary, and thyme. I also added some local shiitake mushrooms I had on hand, along with a little bit of Emeril's Essence for a little extra flavor. You can't have a crab feast without sharing it with someone, so we invited our next-door neighbors over and enjoyed a FABULOUS evening with them. They brought the beer and apple pie--and with a hunk of crusty bread and corn on the cob (no corn in The Notebook, but what's a crab feast without corn on the cob?), it made for a fantastic dinner. This was the first time their kids had tried crabs, and my husband had fun showing them how to crack them open and extract the meat inside. My friend said the vegetables were delicious, and I didn't think they were half bad. (Next time though, I'll skip the mushrooms and okra and put in more Emeril's Essence. Maybe I'll yell "BAM!" as I'm throwing it in, like Emeril used to do.)