Sunday, February 22, 2015

Lasagna with Spicy Roasted Cauliflower

Before I share an incredible recipe, let me first tell you a story.

As I write this, I’ve been without an internet connection or cable TV for a week. When I first discovered the issue, I tried the unplug-wait 30 seconds-replug thing — twice.  Then I called Comcast and chose the automated option to “send a refresh signal to my modem” pretty confident that would do the trick.  

I was wrong.

So I had to do the thing most of us absolutely dread…call Customer Service.  

The automated attendant told me my wait time was “less than four minutes.”  That information was helpful.

And true.

So Nancy gets on the line and I explain my predicament. She informs me that the reason none of the usual tricks worked is that my modem is outdated and I need a new one. She launched right into “you have three choices….” This is what happened next:

Me: “Hold it, before you give me my three choices, why didn’t Comcast inform me prior to loosing service that I needed a new modem?’’  
Nancy:  (Seriously, this is what she said!) “We don’t have your email address on file.”  
Me: (After I composed myself) “Really?! Do you realize how incredibly ridiculous that sounds….my personal e-mail account is through Comcast!”
Nancy:  “You have three choices.”
At that point I realized resistance was futile and I chose the “send me the modem self-set-up kit” option.  Well, between two daughters, a future son-in-law and me, that didn’t work either and now I have to wait for a technician scheduled to come at 3:00 on Sunday.

Still no service.  You can’t make this stuff up.  There's the source of my consternation, right up there.

In other less technical and complicated news…it was my turn to cook this past Wednesday and I made Lasagna with Spicy Roasted Cauliflower.  I love the New York Times.  Not only is it a widely read and respected news publication, it’s also a dependable destination for delicious recipes.  I subscribe to their recipe blast called NYT Cooking and this recipe was one of the jewels shared recently.

I also love spicy food and often wondered why some peppers are spicier than others.  The answer is a little chemical called capsaicin.  The higher the level of capsaicin, the more potent the pepper.  Pepper heat is measured using the Scoville Scale, a method developed in 1912 by the chemist, Wilber Scoville.  The method requires diluteing the capsinoids of different varieties of peppers in water until the spiciness was no longer detected…the higher the dilution required, the hotter the pepper.  A bell pepper rates a “0” on the scale and a habanero rates a 200,000 on the scale, meaning the capsaicin had to be diluted 200,000 times before the heat was unnoticeable.  Recently, more precise methods have been developed to measure heat…ones that don’t rely so much on the fickleness of the human palate.

Capsaicin resides in the pepper’s white membrane and the coating on the seeds, so it’s important to wear gloves when slicing them or your fingers will BURN.  I learned the hard way.

Capsaicin has been used in cancer research and some studies show that it efficiently attacks cancer cells leaving healthy cells unharmed.

Lasagna With Spicy Roasted Cauliflower
By:  NYT Cooking (adapted)

1 ½ pounds cauliflower (market did not have fresh cauliflower so I used two bags of frozen)
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
Salt and freshly ground pepper
½ teaspoon red pepper flakes
3 cups marinara sauce, preferably homemade from fresh or canned tomato (I used a good quality jarred sauce…don’t be mad)
7 to 8 ounces no-boil lasagna
12 ounces ricotta cheese
1 1/2 cups of grated mozzarella (my addition)
1/4 cup roughly chopped parsley (my addition)
1/4 cup vegetable stock or chicken stock
Pinch of cinnamon
4 ounces (1 cup) freshly grated Parmesan

Preheat the oven to 450 degrees. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Cut away the bottom of the cauliflower stem and trim off the leaves. Cut the cauliflower into slices 1/3 inch thick, letting the florets on the edges fall off. Toss all of it, including the bits that have fallen away, with the olive oil, salt and pepper. Place on the baking sheet in an even layer. Roast for about 15 minutes, stirring and flipping over the big slices after 8 minutes, until the slices are tender when pierced with a paring knife and the small florets are nicely browned. Remove from the oven, toss with the red pepper flakes and set aside. Turn the oven down to 350 degrees.

Blend the ricotta cheese, mozzarella, parsley, stock, cinnamon, salt and pepper. Set aside.  Oil a rectangular baking dish and spread a spoonful of tomato sauce over the bottom. Top with a layer of lasagna noodles. Spoon a thin layer of the ricotta mixture over the noodles. Top with a layer of cauliflower, then a layer of tomato sauce and a layer of Parmesan. Repeat the layers, ending with a layer of lasagna noodles topped with tomato sauce and Parmesan.

Cover the baking dish tightly with foil and place in the oven. Bake 40 minutes, until the noodles are tender and the mixture is bubbling. Uncover and, if you wish, bake another 10 minutes, until the top begins to brown. Remove from the heat and allow to sit for 5 minutes before serving.

You can prepare this up to a day in advance, cover with foil and refrigerate until ready to cook.  I just roasted the cauliflower the night before and assembled it right before baking.  For roasting the cauliflower, I did not use the parchment paper but I did let my baking stone get hot in the oven before I added the prepared cauliflower.   The parchment paper does does make clean-up easier and if you want to eliminate some of the olive oil, parchment will keep roasted vegetables from sticking to the pan. 

This recipe is deceptively good….very satisfying with a good balance of flavors.  The roasted cauliflower is naturally sweet, the cinnamon is a savory secret and, of course, the red pepper flakes add the heat!  Do try this for a stick-to-your-ribs-meal!

Monday, February 9, 2015

Lentil and Sausage Soup

Have you ever browsed through a yard sale and found an absolutely fantastic deal?  It’s happened to me several times…like this chair I bought for $15.   The seller explained that it belonged to her grandparents who lived in the Gem State of Idaho.  I couldn’t imagine why she was parting with a piece of family days-gone-by but I didn’t want to ask too many sentimental questions for fear she would change her mind.  I did ask, more than once, if she was sure she wanted to sell the heirloom.   Sometimes, our second-hand finds are free, or almost free, like the bookcase you can read about here and the cabinet you can read about here, both of which were lovingly transformed from trash into functional treasures.

This talk about yard sale finds is connected to our dinner last Wednesday.  I promise.

Mr. Architect bought C. a cookbook calledTrattoria Grappolo at a yard sale and the phenomenal Zuppa Di Lenticchie (Lentil and Sausage Soup) that she made on Wednesday was from that very $3 find.  When I write my posts, I like to do a little research.  I discovered the book is a collection of recipes from a bistro of the same name in Santa Ynez, California.  C. said that she loved her flea-market find because it’s filled with delicious, simple to prepare, go-to recipes and the reviews in the book -- from some very famous people -- concur.   One such star, who hosted the Oscars in a white suit and was responsible for staging a now-famous, star-studded selfie, said that the food was some of the “best she’s ever eaten.”  I agree... this soup was savory, stick-to-your-ribs-hearty and totally delicious.

The bistro’s chefs, the Calabrian-born Curti brothers, host many other celebrities who enjoy authentic Tuscan dishes such as Angel Hair with Fresh Tomato and Basil, Roasted Chicken with Lemon and Herbs and Grilled Lobster with Sage and Cannellini Beans.  And to keep everything in the nabe, each recipe suggests a local wine pairing. 

The next time I am in central California, I might just have to visit Trattoria Grappolo.

Assuming, of course, I can get a reservation.

Zuppa Di Lenticchie
(Lentil and Sausage Soup)
Trattoria Grappolo

1/4 cup Olive Oil
1/4 cup diced onion
1/4 cup diced celery
1/4 diced carrots
1 clove garlic, smashed
2-3 sausage links, out of casting and broken into pieces (C. used spicy chicken sausage)
1 pound lentils
6 to 8 cups of chicken stock
1 cup diced potato
1 small bunch of cilantro, roughly chopped

In a stockpot, add the olive oil and heat on high.   Add the onion, celery, carrots, garlic and sausage.  Stir until vegetables are lightly golden, approximately 2 minutes.  Add the lentils and 6 cups of chicken stock.  Bring to a boil and then reduce heat to medium.  Cook for another 45-60 minutes.  Add remaining two cups of stock as needed.  Add potato and cook for another 10 minutes.  Add cilantro before serving.  Serve with crispy bread or rolls and a bright and fruity Pinot Noir. 

Saturday, February 7, 2015

Quinoa Cakes

Every now and then, I get behind in my posts but I have a good excuse this time — I started a new job and, HOORAY, it’s in Philadelphia.  So no more driving 40 miles a day….I can relax and let SEPTA Regional Rail escort me to my new destination.  Regardless, my tardy tales are a problem because sometimes that’s how we remember whose turn it is to cook next…our hosting rotation in is alphabetical order.

That’s easy enough, right? 

And, as you have read before, we all know what we bring to each host’s house.  When we are at A.’s house, I bring wine.  This time I brought a bottle of Roadside Red (mainly because I like the image of the rooster on the label), a varietal blend loaded with layers of violets, black currant, blueberry and spice (at least that’s what the label says).  Wine Enthusiast rated this wine with 88 points saying "... a great bargain.  You'll be pleasantly surprised by the lush red fruit, spice, mocha, and anise flavors and how easy this wine is to like."  So if you looking for a nice, inexpensive bottle of red with a playful label, give this one a try!

Last Wednesday, A. made Quinoa Cakes and when I asked her to send me the recipe, she said, in her typical foodie fashion, “I pretty much made it up!”  I was not surprised….I like to watch her in action because I learn so much from her casual and confident cooking style.  I usually follow a recipe but I am getting better at looking at the ingredients and knowing what would substitute nicely.  

I could not just whip something up.  At least nothing edible.

Anyway, like barley, buckwheat and bulgar, quinoa is a healthy alternative to other small pastas such as couscous and risotto.  It’s actually the seed of a beet relative and has an earthy, nutty flavor.  Quinoa comes in a variety of colors, but the red, black and white are the most common.  Packed with amino acids, fiber and iron, quinoa is cooked just like rice — a cup of grain to two cups of water, bring to a boil, lower heat and simmer for 15-20 minutes — and happily accepts a panoply of other ingredients for a tasty and healthy side dish.  Toss in some pine nuts, parmesan cheese, basil and bell pepper and, abracadabra, you got yourself a side!

Quinoa Cakes
3 cups of cooked quinoa
2 eggs
1 cup frozen corn
3 scallions, diced
3/4 cup of cheese (A. used fontina but any cheese will do)
Salt, pepper to taste
Paprika to taste and for a bit of color
Cilantro for garnish

Mix everything and form into patties - you should get about ten. If the patties feel a little wet, mix in some flour to stiffen them up a bit.  Heat canola oil in a pan and fry each patty until golden.  Serve with avocado cream.  Sprinkle on some cilantro.

Avocado Cream
2 avocados, chopped
1/2 cup sour cream
2 tablespoons mayonaise
Juice of one lime
Add all ingredients to a cuisinart or blender and blend until smooth and creamy.

For dessert, C. made a delicious and beautiful crustless Goat Cheese Cheesecake and here is the link to the recipe.  She didn't have enough goat cheese so she substituted some ricotta cheese.....improvising at it's best!