Friday, 27 March 2009

Lasagne Emilia-Romagna


It's the end of the month and that can only mean one thing - Daring Bakers Time!

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.

Okay, so fresh from hosting the DB challenge in February, I have a new found respect for all those hosting DB Challenges and from the very outset, I want to thank the hosts for their hard work in hosting this challenge!

I have to admit that when I saw this challenge, I wasn’t particularly excited nor was I really all that keen to do the challenge. This in no way reflects on the hosts but rather reflects on me, the lack of time I’ve had in March and well, a myriad of other reasons.


You see, the only time I have for making DB challenges are my weekends. With one week off in March for School holidays, we wanted to take the kids somewhere - so there went one weekend. Two other weekends were no goes either so that only left the weekend of 21/22 March.

I was really tempted to skip this challenge. The more I thought about skipping it though, the more I felt I really shouldn’t. After all, the only DB challenge I’ve missed since joining was the Pizza challenge and to miss the second Italian food challenge would just go against my Italian Blood – okay, so I lie. There’s nothing Italian about me – unless of course you count that lovely Italian girl – Oh Wait, this isn’t a Bond post!

Now, the human mind is a strange thing. The minute I decided that I Would do this challenge, was the minute that I started to get excited about it. I mean, home made pasta? That was certainly a challenge and certainly something exciting. I couldn’t understand why I thought it wasn’t exciting to begin with.

I had decided straight off that I would use my own meat sauce recipe and since the b├ęchamel recipe provided is almost like the one I use, I decided to follow that one. So all that was left was to make the pasta sheets.

Making the pasta wasn’t really all that difficult, at least not as difficult as I thought it might be. I had to use a little bit more flour as I think my spinach maybe had a bit more water in it. Kneading the dough was hard work but it finally all came together rather nicely. I also have to admit that I didn't read the instructions in as much detail as I normally do so I blanched the spinach first before chopping and that would probably also explain why more flour was needed. That probably wasn't such a bad idea as it ensured that the spinach was cooked.

I don't have a pasta machine so my arms had a great workout rolling the pasta sheets out. Again, I had to use quite a bit of flour on my countertop to stop the pasta from sticking and that explains the white powdered stuff on the sheets. I do think I managed to get the pasta fairly thin, although maybe not as thin as it should have been? I made the sheets rather large though...



Here it is drying out a little on the back of my dining chairs lined with tea towels. The Lovely Wife thought it was quite an impressive sight seeing the pasta draped that way!

Assembling the lasagne was probably the hardest part as I realised I would first have to half each sheet and than cook each sheet separately and then assemble it as I went along. I didnt have a skimmer either so I had to resort to using one of my flat ladles and then scooping it out of the boiling water and into another pot of cold water, then assembling it as I went along. All good fun really but tiring nonetheless.

It was also at this point that I realised I had forgotten the Cheese. Yes! Altogether now, WHERES The Cheese??!! For those that don't get the joke, its an old Aussie TV Advert that used to run in the late 80's (my uni days) starring Peter Russel Clarke. But I digress once again.

Anyway. I wouldn't have used the Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese as it is too expensive here but I would definitely have gotten a nice block of cheese at the very least. But we all know I forgot, so once again, everybody shout - WERE'S the Cheese??!!

Well, I used about 5 slices of processed cheddar... (hangs head in shame) - but it still turned out pretty darned good!!

As instructed, I tried to go with the "Mere films of b├ęchamel sauce and meat ragu coat the sheerest spinach pasta" and so I stinged on the meat sauce whereas I normally like lots of meat. I had to make a double measure of beachamel sauce though as there just didnt seem to be enough bechamel to go around. I used about 6 sheets for my Lasagne and bear in mind that I made two medium sized lasagne dishes and one oval dish full of Lasagne! So yes, quite a lot!



Into the oven went the three dishes of Lasagne, all covered with foil. I went to have a shower, feeling rather pleased with myself at my pasta making and thinking up Italian names to call myself in my make believe Italian restaurant in Emilia-Romagna. Incidentally, when I first saw the recipe, I though Emilia-Romagna was a person. Now I know that it is a region in Italy - an administrative region of Northern Italy to be precise. It comprises the two historic regions of Emilia and Romagna and the capital is Bologna. This is where Bolognese sauce comes from too!

See? You just learn so much from being a member of the Daring Bakers. Application forms located on the fourth table from the left. No, not that one, the other one, the table without the Lasagne on it!



The Lovely Wife and Kids had gone out for a while as I slaved in the kitchen and as they came pounding back into house, they declared they were starving and asked if dinner was ready. I told them they would have to wait a little while and I guess the wait was worth it as the kids and The Lovely Wife all enjoyed this challenge immensely. One lasagne dish together with the oval dish were polished off at one sitting! My son declared that he liked the green pasta and especially the creamy bit on top.


I really, seriously have to say that I am sooo glad that I did do this challenge! Making the pasta was a lot of work, sure, but it was so rewarding. It was such an amazing feeling being able to make my own lasagne sheets and the taste of the finished product was simply wonderful. I was surprised that with 6 sheets of Lasagne, the finished product seemed to meld together and it was only the layers of meat that could actually be seen clearly. The Lasagne tasted better the next day after being in the fridge overnight too.

All in all a highly satsfying and succesful challenge. I'm very tempted to go get my own pasta machine now as I am seriously contemplating making my own pasta from now on....



For the Meat Sauce:
300g minced beef
4 cloves garlic - chopped
1 large onion - chopped
1 tsp oregano
1 tsp basil
4 large tomatoes - quartered
1 large carrots - diced
1 small can tomato puree
Salt
Black Pepper
[I usually add in mushrooms and capsicum but left them out this time]

Method
Sautee Bay Leaves, Oregano, Basil, Pepper, Onion and Garlic till fragrant. Add the minced meat and continue cooking till meat is well cooked. Add fresh tomatoes and continue cooking till tomatoes are soft. Add in Carrots. Mix well
Add salt to taste. Add in the tomato puree and Capsicum. Cover and Simmer for about 15 minutes. Add some water if sauce is too dry.


And for the recipe from the Challenge:
#1 Spinach Egg Pasta (Pasta Verde)

Preparation: 45 minutes

Makes enough for 6 to 8 first course servings or 4 to 6 main course servings, equivalent to 1 pound (450g) dried boxed pasta.

2 jumbo eggs (2 ounces/60g or more)
10 ounces (300g) fresh spinach, rinsed dry, and finely chopped; or 6 ounces (170g) frozen chopped spinach, defrosted and squeezed dry
3&1/2 cups (14 ounces/400g) all purpose unbleached (plain) flour (organic stone ground preferred)

Working by Hand:

Equipment

A roomy work surface, 24 to 30 inches deep by 30 to 36 inches (60cm to 77cm deep by 60cm to 92cm). Any smooth surface will do, but marble cools dough slightly, making it less flexible than desired.

A pastry scraper and a small wooden spoon for blending the dough.

A wooden dowel-style rolling pin. In Italy, pasta makers use one about 35 inches long and 2 inches thick (89cm long and 5cm thick). The shorter American-style pin with handles at either end can be used, but the longer it is, the easier it is to roll the pasta.
Note: although it is not traditional, Enza has successfully made pasta with a marble rolling pin, and this can be substituted for the wooden pin, if you have one.

Plastic wrap to wrap the resting dough and to cover rolled-out pasta waiting to be filled. It protects the pasta from drying out too quickly.

A sharp chef’s knife for cutting pasta sheets.

Cloth-covered chair backs, broom handles, or specially designed pasta racks found in cookware shops for draping the pasta.

Mixing the dough:
Mound the flour in the center of your work surface and make a well in the middle. Add the eggs and spinach. Use a wooden spoon to beat together the eggs and spinach. Then gradually start incorporating shallow scrapings of flour from the sides of the well into the liquid. As you work more and more flour into the liquid, the well’s sides may collapse. Use a pastry scraper to keep the liquids from running off and to incorporate the last bits of flour into the dough. Don’t worry if it looks like a hopelessly rough and messy lump.

Kneading:
With the aid of the scraper to scoop up unruly pieces, start kneading the dough. Once it becomes a cohesive mass, use the scraper to remove any bits of hard flour on the work surface – these will make the dough lumpy. Knead the dough for about 3 minutes. Its consistency should be elastic and a little sticky. If it is too sticky to move easily, knead in a few more tablespoons of flour. Continue kneading about 10 minutes, or until the dough has become satiny, smooth, and very elastic. It will feel alive under your hands. Do not shortcut this step. Wrap the dough in plastic wrap, and let it relax at room temperature 30 minutes to 3 hours.

Stretching and Thinning:
If using an extra-long rolling pin work with half the dough at a time. With a regular-length rolling pin, roll out a quarter of the dough at a time and keep the rest of the dough wrapped. Lightly sprinkle a large work surface with flour. The idea is to stretch the dough rather than press down and push it. Shape it into a ball and begin rolling out to form a circle, frequently turning the disc of dough a quarter turn. As it thins outs, start rolling the disc back on the pin a quarter of the way toward the center and stretching it gently sideways by running the palms of your hands over the rolled-up dough from the center of the pin outward. Unroll, turn the disc a quarter turn, and repeat. Do twice more.

Stretch and even out the center of the disc by rolling the dough a quarter of the way back on the pin. Then gently push the rolling pin away from you with one hand while holding the sheet in place on the work surface with the other hand. Repeat three more times, turning the dough a quarter turn each time.

Repeat the two processes as the disc becomes larger and thinner. The goal is a sheet of even thickness. For lasagne, the sheet should be so thin that you can clearly see your hand through it and see colours. Cut into rectangles about 4 by 8 inches (10 x 20 cm). Note: Enza says that transparency is a crucial element of lasagne pasta and the dough should be rolled as thinly as possible. She says this is why her housekeeper has such strong arms!

Dry the pasta at room temperature and store in a sealed container or bag.

#2 Bechamel

Preparation Time: 15 minutes

4 tablespoons (2 ounces/60g) unsalted butter
4 tablespoons (2 ounces/60g) all purpose unbleached (plain) flour, organic stone ground preferred
2&2/3 cups (approx 570ml) milk
Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
Freshly grated nutmeg to taste

Using a medium-sized saucepan, melt the butter over low to medium heat. Sift over the flour, whisk until smooth, and then stir (without stopping) for about 3 minutes. Whisk in the milk a little at a time and keep the mixture smooth. Bring to a slow simmer, and stir 3 to 4 minutes, or until the sauce thickens. Cook, stirring, for about 5 minutes, until the sauce thickens. Season with salt, pepper, and a hint of nutmeg.



Wednesday, 25 March 2009

Black Forest Trifle - 2 versions



I'm sure i've mentioned that The Lovely Wife absolutely adores Trifle. In fact, she love Trifle so much that I once made her a Trifle Cake for her birthday. I usually like to make a more fancy dessert when we have guests over for dinner although I am slowly learning that there are in fact, quite a large number of people that actually like Trifle quite a lot! Another reason, that drives The Lovely Wife crazy is that I always like to try something new - to boost my repertoire and also to blog about it! So when we recently had a couple of friends over who like Trifle, I decided to try something new by making a Chocolate Trifle!





I actually had two occasions to make this Chocolate Trifle and I made two different versions. Both were made with layers of sponge, jam, black cherried, chocolate custard and cream. The first chocolate custard was loosely based on a recipe from a book The Lovely Wife got me called Chocolate Box.

I made the cake using the Perfect Party Cake Recipe from Dory Greenspan, then I sandwhiched the cake with Blackberry Jam, covered the whole lot in Black cherries and then covered that with chocolate custard and cream. Very, very delicious.



The second time, I followed the same idea except I made a different chocolate custard. This recipe was based on the Chocolate Eclairs Pastry Cream from another previous Daring Bakers challenge. The cake however didnt turn out as springy and spongy and that was because I didn't cream the butter and sugar quite as much as I should have. The cake was still lovely except that it was extra rich and buttery rather than soft, white and light like it should have been. The pastry cream was much nicer though. I also covered the trifle with almonds the second time around.


Both versions went down very well with the guests we have over. The second version was served for dessert at home after going out for lunch with Lynn and another friend, Ms Kong Piang, back in February and who also posted about it on her blog.

I think this Chocolate Trifle has definitely become a favourite dessert of mine to serve and more importantly to enjoy!



Chocolate Custard recipe from Chocolate Box
6 egg yolks
55g casetr sugar
1 Tbsp corn flour
500ml milk
55g dark chocolate

Place egg yolks and sugar in a bowl and whisk until thick and pale. Stir in the cornflour. Put milk in a saucepan and heat until almost boiling. Pour onto the yolk mixture, stirring all the while. Return to the heat and bring to boiling, stirring constantly until it thickens. Remove from the heat and allow to cool slightly. Add in the chocolate and whisk till it is all melted and blended into the custard.

Friday, 20 March 2009

Got my grubby hands on some Maple Syrup!


Now that my PC is cured of its virus (fingers still crossed) I'm trying to catch up on my posts. I've also realised, and I've said this before, that I have a whole backlog of posts that haven't seen the lightsaber of cyberspace (sorry, just trying to play on 'light of day' - not funny, I know!) So anyway...

Both my son and daughter love the Pancakes that The Lovely Wife makes for them. My son, however, is more of the pancake lover than my daughter is. Since Maple Syrup is so darned expensive here, we usually use maple flavoured pancake syrup or just some honey. So when my brother had to go on a business trip to Canada in December last this year, I asked him if he could get us a bit of Maple Syrup and he didnt disappoint! Apparently Canada makes 80% of the worlds Maple Syrup, so its good that we got the Canadian variety.




Funnily enough, I had quite forgotten about the pictures I had taken of the Maple Syrup bottle and of my son enjoying the original stuff. It came back to me in a flash when I saw that my good friend Val had posted about Maple Syrup with some rather interesting information on how it is produced.

Since I had already procrastinated long enough in posting about our own bottle of Maple Syrup, I decided I'd better do it before the pictures became too out of date!



Suffice to say, the original Maple Syrup tastes a whole lot better that Maple Flavoured syrup. My son really enjoyed the Maple Syrup as did all of us. I just wish the darned stuff was cheaper so that we could partake of it more often...

Thursday, 19 March 2009

The Salami doth make the difference...



I know I've posted about a Spicy Salami Pasta before although I named it with a fancy Italian sounding name.

This version is a little different too because unlike what I did before, I didn't 'adulterate' the salami with tomatoes or capsicum this time. I did however, add in some mushrooms. The biggest taste differentiator however is the quality of the Salami. This salami was really spicy, a lot more meaty and I definitely used a whole lot more than the last time! It's true that quality ingredients give you a better tasting meal and this Salami was really top notch!





I made this dish just last weekend when some good friends,Balan and Mae, who have since migrated to Melbourne, came over for a visit. We had originally invited them over for dinner but we had to change it to lunch. Another good friend, Lynn, who also knows Balan and Mae well came over too.

Since it was lunch, I kept it fairly simple by just making this pasta together with my Swedish Meatballs. The Lovely Wife had actually bought a bottle of Lingonberry Jam from Ikea and our guests actually thought the meatballs were from Ikea!

The Salami was some that The Lovely Wife's brother had brought back for us from his recent trip to Melbourne. It was really spicy and covered in chilli flakes so there was really no need to add more chilli.

I simply chopped up the salami into strips, sliced some mushrooms, fried them all together with a little oregano and basil and then tossed the whole thing together with spaghetti. What could be simpler??!!

Taste wise, it was pretty darn awesome or as some of my blogging buddies like to say, Pretty Dharm Awesome! Ha Ha!



I'm submitting this to Presto Pasta Nights created by my friend Ruth at Once Upon a Feast and hosted this week by Pam at Side Walk Shoes.

Wednesday, 18 March 2009

A Virus... A bad, bad Virus!

I haven't been very regular with my posting of late and that is due to a number of reasons. I've been extra busy at work, I've been extra busy at home and most importantly, I was hit by a very bad virus. Not me actually but this PC!

It was one of those viruses that was hidden deep down in the system. The anti virus programs that I installed said the infected files were in 'globalroot/systemroot' - don't ask me, even though I am pretty IT savvy, I couldn't find where these files were located. Apparently these are known as Rootkit Trojans as they hide themselves in the System or Root and can't be found with a simple search.

I tried downloading Malware and Spybot (other detection software) but after downloading, the programs just refused to run. Research on the web showed that the virus would prevent these programs from running and a way out was to change the filename of these detection software.

Wouldn't you know, that fixed the problem of the programs not running!! It was finally able to detect the Trojans and remove them (hopefully for good!) As I finish up this post, my PC is undergoing a full scan which thus far seems to show positive results!

With that, I hope to get back to more regular postings! See you soon.

Friday, 13 March 2009

Caramel Pears



It's amazing that I haven't posted about this before, because for a long, long time, this was my son's Favourite Dessert. I can't even remember when I hit upon the idea of serving pears with caramel but suffice to say that I did and the very first time, I used canned pears. However, as time went on, I tried it with fresh pears and I must say it is far nicer with Fresh pears. The pears are not so sweet and you can also get a little crunch out of them as opposed to canned pears.

This dessert is not at all difficult yet turns out to be a real crown pleaser. This is what I do.

Ingredients
6 fresh pears, peeled, cored and halved
300 ml cream
1 cup sugar
½ cup water
2 tsp rum (optional)


Method
Preheat the oven to 200°C.
Make the caramel by melting sugar with water in a heavy saucepan.
Bring to the boil without stirring and continue boiling till sides of syrup start to turn golden.
Allow the caramel to cool slightly and then add in the cream. Be careful as the mixture will splutter. Continue to boil until it becomes thick.
Bake the pears for about 30 minutes or until tender.
Spread 1/3 of the caramel over the pears and bake for another 15 minutes. If using rum, add it into the remaining sauce and mix well.
Serve the pears with the remaining sauce.



I usually serve my Caramel Pears with whipped cream but this time I decided on serving it with Ice Cream. To be honest, I cant quite remember when this was served but that doesn't really matter, does it!





My son now says that this is ONE of his favourite desserts and that to me is a good thing as it simply means that he his tastes have matured a bit and it also means that both The Lovely Wife and I have increased choices to make our children happy with their favourite desserts!

Monday, 9 March 2009

Disciplining your Child - The Daily Tiffin

It's Daily Tiffin time again and last month, I actually forgot to put a link on my blog to the article I wrote at the Daily Tiffin!

For this article, I discuss discipline and how I think it is very important in bringing up children. I also discuss how I feel about 'Sparing the Rod'. So if this interests you, head over to the Daily Tiffin to read my article on
Do you Disclipline your Children

Friday, 6 March 2009

Ratatouille with a fishy twist


One of our dear friends, Priya, who has been vegetarian for a long time has recently taken to eating fish as well. Usually, I would make something vegetarian just for Priya while the rest of us would indulge in meaty goodness. However, this time, I decided to make things a little easier and make one hearty dish filled with loads of veges and throw in some Tuna. A Ratatouille with fish in it!

I also wasn't really too fussed about the main meal simply because this was the same night that I was serving the Chocolate Valentino and Ice Cream tested and made for the February DB Challenge that I co-hosted.



As it is, the Fishy Ratatoullie turned out really, really well! This is what i did.

Igredients
2 cloves garlic
1 medium onion
1 tsp Basil
1 tsp oregano
2 eggplants
2 carrots
2 zuchini
2 leek
2 green capsicum
350g Button Mushrooms
4 tomatoes
1 can stewed tomatoes
3 cans tuna chunks
Salt
Black Pepper

Method
Cut all the vegetables into large chunks.
Sautee Onion and garlic till soft. Add in basil and oregano and fry till fragrant. Stir in the egglplant and lightly fry before adding in the rest of the vegetables. Mix together and cook well, seasoning with some salt and pepper. Add in the can of tomatoes, and allow to simmer till everything is cooked. Add in the tuna, taking care not to break it up too much. Mix well, allow to simmer to meld all the flavours and season with more salt and pepper.




I served this with rice and it was a very tasty and hearty meal. The kids loved is as not only had they had watched the Ratatouille Movie but they also love Tom and Jerry (the cartoon). They joked that about how Jerry had cooked the ratatouille together with a fish that Tom had caught. Obviously my warped sense of humour has rubbed off on them!

Wednesday, 4 March 2009

Pomegranate Cucumber Raita



Raita is a great dish to serve to accompany a Fiery Curry. Usually, The Lovely Wife makes the Raita and she just uses shredded cucumber and yoghurt with maybe a few spices. This time, she chose to jazz it up. This post actually completes (finally!) the menu that we served for lunch when my dear friend, Naomi, came to visit many months ago.

I really dont know how The Lovely Wife hit upon the idea of using pomegranade for Raita but I have to say it gives the Raita a lovely flavour as well as added colour. Sometimes she adds raisins to the raita but I think pomegranade is so much nicer! My little princess loves anything with Yoghurt in it and she loves nothing better than Rice with Raita, so this was certainly a favourite with her.

It would be kind of difficult to give you a recipe for Raita simply because a lot depends on your taste. Some people like it really yoghurty while some prefer it with just a dash of yoghurt and more cucumber. Bear in mind too that the cucumber lets out water while it sits with the yoghurt so the mixture can get a little runny too. That, to me, just adds to the beauty of this dish.



Anyway, what The Lovely Wife did with this creation was to cut up the cucumber into tiny chunks rather than shredding it like she normally does. Then she added in some yoghurt, seasoned it with a little salt and pepper and added in pomegranate and some mint leaves. As easy as pie! Except that this is Raita and not Pie... get with the program, please... :)



So! As I mentioned earlier, this post completes the meal that we served for lunch and this was the menu:

Pomegranate and Cucumber Raita
Spicy Pork Patties
Murgh Masala or Fiery Chicken Curry
Sambar
Kangkung Belacan
all served with Rice of course.
and for dessert Double Chocolate Mousse Cake
Quite a lovely lunch, even if I do say so myself!

Monday, 2 March 2009

Apple Nut Squares and the Red Hatters



One of the greatest joys of The Lovely Wife is to while away the afternoon at a bookstore. Even more of a joy is when said bookstore is having a clearance sale and she can search for good bargains! One afternoon, not too long ago, she bought a couple of books at a sale and nested in between all of them was this dessert cookbook. The book is Eat Dessert First! from the Red Hat Society Dessert Cookbook series. I had to laugh a little at the book simply because I knew that The Lovely Wife had No Idea what the the Red Hat Society is and I couldn't quite imagine her in a purple dress and a red hat! The only reason I know who the Red Hatters are is only because I watch (and enjoy!) The Simpsons...but I digress as I oft do.




Since I am usually the one making desserts for the family, The Lovely Wife decided she was going to try one of the recipes from this new found book. My son is partial to fruit based desserts and so she picked Apple Nut Squares to make. This is the recipe:

3 Large Eggs
1.75 cups sugar
1 cup vegetable oil
2 cups flour
1 tsp baking soda
1 tsp cinnamon
1/4 tsp salt
4 to 6 red apples, peeled and chopped
1 cup chopped nuts

Preheat oven to 180C. Lightly grease a 13x9 inch baking pan. In a large bowl, blend eggs, sugar and oil. Set aside. In a medium bolw, combine the flour, baking soda, cinnamon and salt. Combine the flour mixtre with the egg mixture and stir until thouroughly mixed. Fold in the apple and the nuts and mix well. Spoon into prepared pan. Bake for 50 minutes or until a wooden skewere comes out clean. Cool and cut into squares. Sprinkle with icing sugar if desired.

We served this with Ice Cream and it was just super!



The Lovely Wife now knows who the Red Hat Society is, we both have a new cookbook to share and I personally think it is great to have a bunch of older ladies wearing purple dresses and red hats having a lot of fun throughout the world. I keep kidding the wife that she should start thinking about purple dresses and red hats but she keeps reminding me that I will turn 50 before she does. So maybe I should start thinking about red shirts and purple pants... or maybe not!

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