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Double Duty Bobby Flay Day





This weekend was the final week of Love 4 Lasagna at Piccante Dolce and I had decided that I was going to try to make some sort of Lasagna Carbonara for poor Shack. He liked the pastitsio alright but none of these lasagnas have really rocked his world and I am feeling a bit guilty. I wasn't sure how I was going to manage doing a carbonara because the eggs would scramble when baked and that would most likely NOT score me any brownie points with anyone. I was looking around and reading recipes when Food Network Canada announced a cooking club challenge in which you must make Bobby Flay's Macaroni and Cheese Carbonara . Come on, now perfect is that timing??

I had already decided that I would also make the pasta from scratch this time so this is what i did today:
I made a half batch of homemade pasta with italian parsely and mixed up some ricotta and swiss chard  and made a small lasagna with half the ingredients and I made a mac and cheese like in his recipe with the other half.

Pasta:
1 1/2 cup all purpose unbleached flour
2 eggs
1 tlbs olive oil
1 tbls salt


Pulse all the ingredients together in the food processor and when it comes together in a ball, take it out and knead it for a few minutes until the dough feels smooth and elastic. I had to add a couple of tbls of water for some reason but the dough came together nicely in the end. I also added about 1/4 cup of chopped parsely to the dough. Wrap in plastic wrap and leave it out at room temp for at least an hour rest.



I could blather on and on with instructions but here is a really straight forward guide to making pasta dough and rolling it out that will make much more sense than I ever will











Because I was making lasagna noodles, I left them in wide sheets and just cut the length to fit my small baking pan.




I then sauteed a bit of swiss chard in a tbls of olive oil until it was just wilted, let that cool and mixed it in the with 1.5 cup ricotta and 1 egg , salt and pepper and set that aside.


I followed his recipe right up to the point of assembly so I will repost the recipe here:



From Bobby Flay’s Throwdown! cookbook
Preparation time: 15 minutes 
Cooking time: 40 minutes 
Yield: 4

Ingredients

  • Unsalted butter, for the baking dish
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 slice (1-inch-thick) pancetta, cut into small dice
  • 4 cloves garlic, finely chopped
  • 3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
  • 5 cups whole milk, or more if needed, hot
  • 4 large egg yolks, lightly whisked
  • 2 teaspoons finely chopped fresh thyme leaves
  • 1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper
  • 2 cups freshly grated Asiago cheese, plus more for the top
  • 1 1/2 cups shredded Irish white cheddar, plus more for the top
  • 1 1/2 cups American cheddar, such as Goot Essa Mountain Valley, plus more for the top
  • 1 cup grated aged fontina cheese, plus more for the top
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 pound elbow macaroni, cooked just under al dente
  • 1/2 cup coarsely chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley leaves

Directions

  1. Preheat the oven to 375F. Butter the bottom and sides of a 10 × 10 × 2-inch baking dish and set it aside.
  2. Heat the oil in a large sauté pan over medium heat. Add the pancetta and cook until golden brown on all sides, about 8 minutes. Remove with a slotted spoon to a plate lined with paper towels.
  3. Add the garlic to the fat in the pan and cook until light golden brown, 1 minute. Whisk in the flour and cook for 1 to 2 minutes. Whisk in the hot milk, raise the heat to high, and cook, whisking constantly, until thickened, 3 to 5 minutes. Whisk in the eggs until incorporated and let cook for 1 to 2 minutes. Remove from the heat and whisk in the thyme, cayenne, and all the different cheeses until completely melted. Season with salt and pepper. If the mixture appears too thick, add additional warm milk, 1/4 cup at a time. (I stopped here to make the lasagna with half of the cheese sauce)
  4. Put the cooked macaroni in a large bowl, add the cheese sauce, reserved pancetta, and the parsley, and stir until combined. Transfer to the prepared baking dish.
  5. Combine the additional 1/4 cup each fontina, cheddar, Asiago, and Parmesan in a bowl, and sprinkle evenly over the top. Bake until the dish is heated through and the top is a light golden brown, 12 to 15 minutes. Remove from the oven and let rest for 10 minutes before serving.






























swiss chard 
The one thing I added to the recipe in order to make the lasagna was adding a mixture of 1.5 cups of ricotta, 1 egg and some sauteed and cooled swiss chard (you could use spinach or kale or rapini or any sort of green you like but we all know how rapini goes over around here so although that would have been my first choice, I am trying to make friends here so i used chard)
 Too assemble the lasagna, I put a couple of ladles of the cheese sauce in the bottom of  my buttered baking dish and then layered on two lasagna noodles. I then spread a thin layer of the chard/ricotta mix over that, a bit of pancetta and then ladled enough cheese sauce to cover. Repeat this until you are out of room to go any higher - my pan let me do four layers. I then covered the whole thing in more cheese sauce and piled on a whack of the mixed cheeses I had used in the sauce.





Dish one down.

For the baked mac and cheese I just followed the directions from #4 down. I had held back about 1/4 of the pancetta and I cooked about 3 cups of Cavatappi pasta and so I threw the pasta, the pancetta and the parsely into the cheese sauce and mixed it all together and put that in another casserole pan just like the directions told me to do.
Cavatappi


I baked them both at 350F and It was not ready after 20 minutes so i added 10 more and they both were bubbling at the 30 minute mark. I waited ten minutes and I tasted the baked mac and cheese but I left the lasagna to be reheated later on for dinner. It was tasty but i the sauce was a bit grainy and not all that smooth, which is probably totally my fault but even disregarding the bit of textural issues, the overall taste is not mind blowing. I am not a huge mac and cheese fan to begin with but I am pretty sure the cheese sauce should be really smooth and creamy. To be honest, this dish cost quite a bit of money to make, what with all the cheeses and i am not sure that this is the dish I would choose to splurge on. For the money I spent of cheese, I could have bought a lobster or a couple of pounds of crab and make something more to my liking. We will be eating the lasagna later on for dinner and I will be back to report on that. Perhaps that will thrill me a bit more and not leave me thinking that i kind of wish that I had turned the pasta into papperadelle and just tossed it with olive oil, hot chilis, fresh basil and fresh parmeggiano reggiano.

Okay, I just tasted the lasagna and I think that it actually works better as a lasagna. I am not sure why, but the sauce feels less grainy and i really like the fresh, green taste of the chard agains all that richness (oh how I would have loved it more with rapini but this week was not about me). It is really, really rich and heavy but if you like that sort of thing, it is pretty darned tasty. It's not as pretty and it's certainly not as photogenic as the mac and cheese but I do think it's tastier and the fresh pasta is really delicate and I think that is needed in a lasagna where there is not much happening other than cheese, bechamel and more cheese.


I do still kind of have a hankering for fresh papperadelle with olive oil and chilis though.

It's Friday So It Must Be Soup! Nov26/10


I really love soup. I love almost any soup and I can't recall the last time I ate a soup that I disliked enough to think "well, I will die happy if I never have to eat THAT soup again".


Now that winter is closing in on us, I will most likely make at least one soup a week until spring when I will become obsessed with grilling and forget all about soup. This is my first soup of the week and I will endeavour to share a new soup every week and I will call it "It's Friday So It Must Be Soup!"


I love red lentils and so I am always on the look out for new and exiting things to do with them. While I was perusing Taste Spotting, I found this great looking recipe for Morrocan Red Lentil Soup at Alice In Paris Loves Art and Tea and it will definately be something I make again this winter.


2 Tbsp Olive Oil or Canola (25 ml) 
2 Onions, chopped
 
5 cloves of Garlic, minced
 
2 Celery stalks
, chopped
(1 Carrot ,chopped.....my addition) 

1 tsp Pepper ( 5ml)
 
1 1/2 tsp Turmeric (6
 ml)
1 1/2 tsp Cinnamon ( 6ml)
 
2 tsp ground Cumin ( 10 ml)
 
1 tsp fresh Ginger grated or 1/2 tsp. ground (2ml)

salt to taste

6 cups of water or stock (1.5L)( if using water add some low sodium bullion cubes)

1 cup Red Lentils (250ml) 
1 Tsp Tomato Paste (15ml)
 
2 Potatoes peeled and cubed( I used one regular and one Sweet Potato) (
 Can also use Squash instead of potatoes) (i used a sweet potato as one of my potatoes)
1 can stewed Tomatoes (19oz/540ml)
 
1 cup frozen Peas( 250ml)
 (i left out the peas)
(I added a handful of chopped cilantro because it felt like it was screaming for cilantro)
1/4 cup Sour Cream ( I used non-fat Balkan yogurt)
 (i left out the sour cream but would try it with greek yogurt next time)
2 Tbsp parsley(25ml) (again, i used cilantro instead)


Preparation
1. In large heavy saucepan or Dutch oven, heat oil over medium heat; cook onions, garlic and celery, stirring occasionally, until softened, about 5 minutes.
2. Add salt, pepper, turmeric, cumin, cinnamon, ginger, and saffron (if using); cook, stirring often, for 2 minutes.
3. Add water/stock, lentils, tomato paste, potatoes and tomatoes, breaking up tomatoes with spoon; bring to boil. Reduce heat, cover and simmer for 40 minutes.
4. Add frozen peas; simmer until peas are cooked, about 5 min. Ladle into bowls. Dollop each with sour cream; sprinkle with parsley. 






Calzones Do A Girl Good




It was a terrible, no good, windy, rainy, chilly horrible day and I refused to go outside anymore than I had to. I had to take Little Shack to school (the poor kid went on a field trip to Pioneer Village today - better him than me! ) and I had to go pick him up again but that's it.

I had a couple of choices. I could spend the day doing housework, cleaning, putting laundry away, washing floors, cleaning out cupboards etc. OR I could make something for dinner that would be labourious enough to justify not actually doing all that housework. Guess what i chose?

Shack has been asking me to make calzones for weeks and I have been too busy thinking of lasagne to pay any attention to him. You know, every time I text him to ask him what he wants for supper, he texts back "veal parmesan" and I always ignore him and make something else. I don't really like veal parmesan so I just can't get exited about making it and sometimes I feel a bit guilty about that, especially since he has only really loved one out of the three lasagnes I have made this month for Love 4 Lasagne . I like calzones better than I like veal parmesan so although I am STILL ignoring his desire for veal parm, I am making him calzones so I am this much closer to being a kind and considerate person.

Last week we bought some sausages from a really great east end Toronto Ecuadorian butcher we like Meating On Queen . They make an amazing array of sausages on the premises and we like to grab a couple of new treats whenever we go there. I decided to use two of their chicken/ricotta/and something red that is either red pepper, sun dried tomato or tomato but i honestly forget and it doesn't matter because all three of those options make me happy.
I also had 1/2 a bag of mixed Italian cheese - provolone, asiago, mozz and parmesan and so that would go in there along with some ricotta. I know that some people put sauce right in the calzone but i don't. It can make them soggy and way too messy to eat so I like to make a nice, light tomato sauce to serve on the side and we dip each bite into that.

The dough, of course, is the Olive Oil Dough from Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day: The Discovery That Revolutionizes Home Baking , the book that has turned me into a bread baker. It makes a great pizza dough and I have also baked it up into a boule and that was really tasty as well, which is a good thing because I rarely use the whole recipe for pizza.

For the dipping sauce, I do what I learned from a lovely Italian woman, Lydia and her mother, Nona. They taught me this when we were making a bazillion home made pizzas for a fund raising lunch at school because we are three crazy people who do that sort of thing on a monthly basis. For the pizza sauce, they just drained good quality canned plum tomatoes and let them sit in a strainer while they prepped the dough and then they whizzed the drained tomatoes up in the blender with a good glug of olive oil, salt and either some fresh basil or some oregano and garlic. That's it! All those years wasted trying to come up with a great pizza sauce and that was all there was to it. It was absolutely perfect on the pizza and it is the only way I have made pizza ever since.
I make that sauce and then i just heat it up a bit before serving so that it's warmer than just warm but not piping hot either. Perfection.

One of the things i really like about calzones is that they freeze beautifully and they are really easy to reheat. You can throw them in the oven from frozen. If I am planning to freeze them, I put them on a cookie sheet and freeze them uncooked and then when they are frozen I throw them in a zip lock bag. You can take out as many as you need and throw them straight into the oven at about 350F for about 30 minutes. Because you don't even have to defrost them, they become the perfect "Oh, for the love of pearl, I totally forgot that I have to feed these people and I have nothing to make for them" food. You end up looking like a rock star because calzones feel like such a special treat that nobody will ever know that it was either that or Kraft Dinner and your family is thrilled because you clearly love them enough to make them something so delicious and fancy.
Win, win!

So, I am not sure if i am allowed to share the recipe for the olive oil dough from Artisan Bread because it kind of seems like nobody ever does which makes me think they  may have some sort of copyright issue and I don't want to get sued so you can use any old pizza dough recipe you like.

For the Calzones:
Preheat the oven to 450F

Two cooked sausages that have been cooled and then slice them up
(you could also take them out of the casings and fry them up like that but these had cheese in them and i was afraid that would get ugly)

about 1.5 cups ricotta

about a cup of mixed, shredded Italian cheeses of your choosing

I added one steamed and chopped head of broccoli because the kid asked for it and what kind of mother can say no to a kid who is asking for broccoli?

a good sized pinch of kosher salt and a couple grinds of black pepper

Mix up the cheeses and the sausage and the broccoli and set aside while you roll out your dough into circles that are approx. 6 or 7". It's up to you how big you  make them, but I don't like to make them too huge. You can really pile on a generous amount of filling because you are going to stretch the dough over to seal it anyway. I just pinch down the edges of the half circle and use a fork to press them tightly together. You can get fancy and crimp or whatever you like to do with your dough edges. I also poke a couple of holes in the top and then brushed the tops with olive oil and sprinkled with some kosher salt and a mix of chia seeds, pumpkin seeds and flax seeds.



I sprinkle a generous amount of cornmeal onto an inverted cookie tray and lay the calzones onto that for easy sliding onto the pizza stone

Slide them onto the pizza stone (or, if you don't have a pizza stone, cook them right on the inverted cookie tray) for about 20 minutes.

While they are cooking,  gently heat up your dipping sauce which can be my version of a pizza sauce, a basic marinara or your own favourite tomato sauce.

Serve them with a small bowl of dipping sauce for each person.

It's All Greek To Me- Adventures in Pastitsio





It's week three of Love4Lasagna and so far, I am kind of batting 0 for 2. Shack didn't like the rapini in the lasagna roll ups and last week, he thought there was something bitter in the chili verde lasagna, although Little Shack and The Neighbours loved both. This week I decided to make pastitsio, a greek dish that is very lasagna like but traditionally it is made with lamb. Shack HATES lamb.


When I was younger I spent quite a lot of time in Greece because I worked in Athens for a couple of long stints. To be honest, I only ate this dish once when i lived there because it was always the dish that was kept out at room temperature for days on end, beside the moussaka and it would get all congealed and kind of disgusting looking, to be honest, and it was really horrible. Now, why would I want to make a dish like that?? 
I am assuming that freshly made, still warm from the oven eaten on the day it was made, not three weeks after it had been put out on the counter, it might be a totally different kettle of calamari. It can't be terrible. It's got pasta and everyone likes pasta. It has a cheesey bechamel sauce and you would have to be crazy to not like bechamel.  It has what amounts to a bolognese sauce but cooked until there is little liquid left and instead of basil and oregano, it has oregano, allspice and cinnamon. Okay, that doesn't sound all that appetizing but I am an open minded eater!


I decided I would just make it with ground beef in an effort to win Shack over this week but I am kind of afraid that he is not going to like the allspice in the meat or the nutmeg in the bechamel or the lime in the coconut again and I will be stuck with this giant casserole of really heavy pastitsio that I can't even feed to Reno because it is full of milk and butter and cheese and Reno becomes a disgusting, gassy mess if she ingests even the smallest crumb of cheese.


Yesterday I went to The Danforth, Toronto's Greek area, to buy kefalotyri cheese and had to pick up some fantastic sheep's milk feta and tzaziki while I was there. I can't stop into the Greek House Food Market without picking up a few extra goodies. They make all of their own dips, their own greek yogurt and they often have goodies like bottle of olive oil that somebody's grandfather brought back from greece the week before. 






After I bought my greek treats, I met my friend, Alexander for coffee and invited him over for dinner to try my pastitsio but he is watching his girlish figure and declined. To punish him I am going to share a photo of him declining my dinner invitation.


I think that he had actually made a date with the lovely young lady sitting beside him and that is why he is not here for dinner.

Anyway, I read tons of recipes and took inspiration from each from each one to make my final dish. I will post a link to the three that i took from :

I followed the second recipe from Joe Horn at My Cooking Quest very closely with only a few changes and i kept the bread crumbs even though that is not traditional because i thought a bit of crispy top crust might be a nice foil to all that richness underneath. 


Pastitsio (makes 10 – 12 portions)
adapted from the cookbook Modern Greek
For the Pasta:
  • 1 pound ziti
  • 2 eggs, lightly beaten (I used 3 eggs)
  • 3 tablespoons grated kefalotiri or parmesan cheese
  • 1 cup bechamel sauce
For the Pie:
  • 2 tablespoons butter, melted
  • 5 cups meat sauce
  • 3 cups bechamel sauce (I used 4 cups)
  • 3 tablespoons breadcrumbs (I used panko)
  • 3 tablespoons grated kefalotiri or parmesan cheese
This recipe is all about the order.  Make the meat sauce first.  When you have about 30 minutes left before the meat sauce is done start on the bechamel and start the pasta water.  When you are about 15 minutes from from the meat sauce being done, cook your pasta.

Pasta – Bring a large saucepan of salted water to a boil.  Add the pasta and simmer for 10 minutes or until almost soft.  Drain in a colander and transfer to a large bowl.  Allow to cool and then add the beaten eggs, cheese and bechamel sauce. Toss the pasta until well coated with the mixture.


To Assemble – Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Brush the bottom and sides of a rectangular 9×13 inch baking dish with the melted butter.  Spread a third of the pasta evenly in the dish can cover with half of the meat sauce.  Add another third of the pasta and cover with the remaining meat sauce.  Add another third of the pasta and cover with the remaining meat sauce.  Spread the remaining pasta over the top and spoon on the bechamel sauce, smoothing it over the top.  Sprinkle on the breadcrumbs and cheese.  Make for 40 minutes or until the top is golden brown.  Let rest for 10 minutes before cutting and devouring!
Bechamel:

  • 4 cups milk (I used 5 cups of milk)
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 1/2 teaspoon allspice berries or ground allspice
  • 8 tablespoons butter
  • 1 cup all-purpose flour
  • 4 tablespoons grated kefalotiri or parmesan cheese
  • 1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper
Heat the milk, bay leaves and allspice in a saucepan over low heat or in the microwave in a glass bowl.  Don’t let the milk burn.  You are looking for 150 degrees or so.  Melt the butter in another saucepan or saucier, then add the flour and whisk for about 5 minutes until combined.  Slowly ladle or pour, be careful, the hot milk into the flour mixture (discarding the allspice and bay leaves) and whisk constantly until the sauce thickens.  Remove the saucepan from the heat and, when slightly cooled stir in the cheese and nutmeg.  Add salt and pepper to taste. (makes 4 cups)
Meat Sauce:
  • 4 tablespoons olive oil
  • 2 medium-sized yellow onions, peeled and diced
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • 2 celery stalks, diced
  • 1 tablespoon finely chopped fresh flat leaf parsley (i left out the parsely)
  • 1 teaspoon dried oregano
  • 1 sprig fresh thyme (i left out the thyme)
  • 2 pounds lean ground beef
  • 1/2 cup red wine, (drink the rest of the bottle while making this, I did)
  • 1 15 ounce can chopped tomatoes
  • 1 tablespoon tomato paste
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1 teaspoon allspice ( I used about 4 allspice berries and removed them at the end)
  • 2 bay leaves
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper
Heat 3 tablespoons of the olive oil in a large saucepan over medium heat and saute the onions, garlic, celery, parsley, oregano and thyme for about 5 minutes until softened. Transfer the mixture to a bowl and reserve.

meat simmering
Add the remaining 1 tablespoon of olive oil to the saucepan and saute the ground beef, stirring often to break up the pieces, for about 10 minutes until browned.  Add the red wine, tomatoes, tomato paste, cinnamon, allspice, bay leaves, salt and pepper and saute for another 5 minutes. Return the onion, garlic and celery mixture to the saucepan, stir well and simmer the sauce for 45 to 60 minutes or until the sauce has thickened. (Makes 5 cups).




It's now in the oven and i just checked it at the 45 min mark and I am going to leave it in for another 10 minutes so the timing seems to be about right. I am serving it with a salad - not a true horatiki, just mixed greens with tomato, cucumber, feta and a light dressing of olive oil and greek vinegar. This dish is CRAZY rich and heavy and I can't imagine serving bread or anything else other than a light salad and it needs something green so I am adding the mixed greens so we don't all get scurvy. I will report back after dinner with the results!



Okay, I just got back from eating dinner and it was actually really, really delicious. Even Shack loved it! Little Shack said he wasn't loving the bechamel (i think it was the nutmeg) but ate all of the insides, The Neighbours said it was delicious and both ate seconds. When it was in the oven, I had decided that this dish was best left to loving old Greek grandmothers with nothing else to do but cook and dirty half the dishes in their kitchen. I had bechamel debris everywhere and it was a really, really terrible clean up. If blood looked like bechamel, my kitchen looked like a CSI crime scene.
That was before we tasted the pastitsio though. I would really love to make it again with lamb and i just might do that even if Shack hates lamb because I love lamb and The Neighbours love lamb and it can't just be all about Shack now, can it?


Week Round Up and another of my favorite things

So, it's Friday and I have to say, I haven't really eaten anything that has blown me away this week, unless you count my bbq ribs at Kentucky Greg's in Buffalo, NY last friday. I didn't write about our adventure because my friend and blogging mentor, Jen At PIccante Dolce , already did, but that was an exiting day. I had fabulous bbq ribs, tasted a bazillion types of olive oils and bought an 18 year old balsamic vinegar and huffed spices at Penzy's PLUS got to buy groceries at Wegman's. A day doesn't really get much better than that even if I would have never dreamed that day would occur in Buffalo.

bbq ribs, baked beans and collard greens from Kentucky Gregs





Sunday was our mexican lasagna for her Love4Lasagna challenge and although it was very tasty, that sort of heavy dish is not really my thing. To be honest, I actually enjoyed the leftover chili verde that i ate on it's own for dinner on Monday more. Shack has not loved these first two lasagnas I have made for this challenge and just this morning, Little Shack informed me that the cheese/bacon omlelet i made him for breakfast "wasn't his favorite".
Little brat.

 Since it has not been an exiting week as far as cooking goes, I thought I would share another one of my favorite cookbooks. I collect cook books. I have an entire book case full of cookbooks and i pour over them, from cover to cover, like they are Steve King novels with pictures but I rarely cook recipes from them. I read them so often that i half memorize my favorite dishes and then when I get around to cooking them , I go by memory and i let five different versions of one dish muddle together in my noggin and I just let it happen. There are a couple of exceptions. Aristan Bread in Five Minutes a Day is one. I don't mess with baking - if i bake, i follow a recipe. Another is Off The Shelf by Donna Hay

 

It was my first Donna Hay cookbook and although I have since bought many others, it is on of the only ones that i have actually cooked a recipe from and it is the only one i regularly refer to. I also buy it for people as a gift because I really think that she is a master at creating simple, flavourful recipes that can be whipped up on a busy weeknight providing you have a well stocked pantry.

 To be honest, of all of the celebrity chefs that admire and love, when it comes to the actual food I would like to every day, Donna Hay is my girl. If i could hire someone to be my personal chef, it would be Donna Hay. In fact, i might just want Donna Hay to adopt me and then not only would she could cook for me every day, I wouldn't have to pay her and I would probably live in some spectacular beach home on the ocean outside of Sydney or something because I assume she is much wealthier than I am and I would rather move into her house than have her move into mine.

 She divides the book up into different categories like asian, Mediterranean, pasta etc and each of those sections are then divided up into 4 sections: basics, tricks and tips, recipes and then a section called "short order" where she has a page of really quick, simple recipes for foods that you can whip up in no time for even quicker, week night meals. If you keep your pantry stocked up there is no excuse for ordering pizza unless you really just want greasy, take out pizza. It doesn't hurt that i also find  her aesthetic very appealing. I love the clean, no fuss food styling, the white, high key back grounds, the sparse presentation. The highlight is the food and every single dish looks mouth wateringly delicious to me.

I love this book to death. There is a recipe in there that actually changed the way we treat leftover grilled meat and seafood. I am ashamed to admit that for years, I routinely threw out leftover grilled meat and seafood because neither of us really loves leftovers unless we are talking stew or soup. They would just sit in the fridge for days because it killed me to just throw them out. I would hold on to them until they were no longer safe to consume and then i threw them out without guilt because clearly, I can't feed anybody leftover flank steak that has been sitting in the fridge for five days! I could kill somebody!

I found this recipe and it became my go to, day or two after a big grilled dinner meal. It doesn't matter what the protein is, it always works and it's always delicious and it tastes like summer to me. The combination of fish sauce, lime juice and all the fresh herbs makes something so fresh and vibrant and sunny and delicious that , frankly, I could eat it every day.

I changed it slightly over time, but this is the basic recipe by Donna Hay:

Shredded Chicken and Mint Noodle Salad

200g (7 oz) of bean thread or dried thin rice noodles *

 3 cups cooked chicken breast fillets, shredded   (I use whatever leftover meat I have and i just shred it up because for some reason, if it's in big strips or chunks, it's too much against the delicate noodles)

1 cup shredded mint leaves   (i use 1/3 fresh mint/cilantro/thai basil)

100g (3 1/2 oz) bean sprouts or snow pea sprouts   (i often use leftover grilled veggies thinly sliced or julienned)

3 tbls sesame seeds


dressing
3 tbls fish sauce
2 tbls sugar
3 tbls lime juice
1 mild chili, seeded and chopped

 Place the bean thread noodles in a bowl and cover with boiling water. Allow to stand 5 minutes, then drain. Toss the chicken with the noodles, mint, bean sprouts and sesame seeds. To make the dressing, combine the fish sauce, sugar, lime juice and chili. Pour the dressing over the salad and chill until ready to serve. Serves 4
 *if using rice noodles, cook in boiling water until al dente, then drain and rinse under cold water.

 That's all there is too it. I did nothing to change the dressing and I prefer to use the combination of the three types of fresh herbs but if i only have one or two of them in the house, i use that. I have used leftover flank steak, strip loin, pork tenderloin, chicken, shrimp, salmon and other types of fish. I also use leftover grilled asparagus, red or yellow peppers, zucchini, etc. It's always delicious and I no longer throw out leftover grilled food, which does wonders for my ability to sleep at night and therefore, keeps me looking youthful and fresh. It's a win/win situation all around for everyone.


Viva Las Lasagna

This week's lasagna for the Piccante Dolce Love 4 Lasagna Challenge was something I wanted to try as soon as i read about this challenge. I will be honest with you, I don't make lasagna often. I don't make rich, cheesy, gooey food much although Shack would love me more if I did. When I make this sort of food, I do really enjoy it once it's out there but it just never occurs to me to make it in the first place, so I really appreciate this challenge. My thighs will not not appreciate this challenge if I am not careful, of course, but it's been fun to make food that is really out of my comfort zone.

One of those comfort zones happens to be Mexican food so i knew right away that I was going to try to incorporate those flavours into this challenge. I am sure there is a restaurant chain in there somewhere,  "Paco and Pasquale's"?  Gnocchi a la Veracruz? Carnitas ravioli?

One of my favorite stews to make is a green chile verde with pork. I would love to tell you the story behind how my Old El Asso chile verde came about but it's a salty tale and not at all PC. The bottom line is that I got my original recipe from an online friend of Mexican heritage and I have played with it and tweaked it over the years. I thought that if I made that but tried to make it less soupy and substituted the ricotta for queso fresco and added a bit of Monterey jack in place of mozzarella, it might work. Basically, if you switched out the pasta for layers of corn tortillas you would have an enchilada so there was no reason for it not to work.

I was, once again, happy to see that when i googled "chile verde lasagna" that i actually found quite a few recipes like this one over at closet cooking that looked like something i would like

I made the chili verde this morning using the crock pot and the three main changes I made to my regular recipe was to add less liquid, leave out the potatoes and leave out the jalepenos so that Little Shack would eat it. Sometimes I make my chili verde too spicy and he doesn't eat it and normally I am happy about that because it just means that there is more for me but I wanted him to actually eat this.


I used canned poblanos and canned tomatillos because, frankly, since this was going to end up in a cheesy baked dish where all the flavours were going to mash all together I didn't think it was as vital that I use fresh tomatillos and peppers and char them first and do all of that. If I make this to be eaten on it's own as a stew, I would definitely do my best to use fresh, charred veggies but the canned chiles and tomatillos were more than fine in this particular dish.

stew in the crock pot ready to cook


After the stew was finished, I let it cool completely and I ended up using about 3/4 of the meat. I strained out almost all of the liquid so it would be a bit thick and was left with kind of a tasty soup with a bit of pork that i will add potatoes too and maybe some chick peas for dinner tomorrow. Bonus!

As i was assembling the lasagna, i realized I still had a bit of pico de gallo left in the fridge so I did this:
Oiled the lasagna pan lightly, added a bit of sauce to the bottom of the pan, layer of pasta, layer of queso, sprinkling of pico de gallo, pork stew meat, a light sprinkling of grated jack cheese, lather , rinse , repeat for three layers and top the whole thing with lots of grated jack cheese.

a bit of pico made a great last minute addition


After a good bake, the lasagna was bubbling and the top was just starting to brown nicely. I took it out, let it rest for 15 minutes before cutting it up and serving it.


Once again, Little Shack and I really enjoyed this dish (Little Shack had two large pieces) but Shack found something too bitter again. Last week it was the arugula and this week I think it was the tomatillos, which are pretty acidic. I think that the bottom line is that for Shack, lasagna = rich, meaty tomato sauce, mild, creamy ricotta, mozz and pasta. Period.

He ate it but he didn't love it. My friend, Nancy was here and I gave her a piece and she loved it too so I would most definitely make this again but I have to admit, I wouldn't do it often and I would still rather eat the stew with some rice. I am just not really a huge fan of all of this cheese and goo. I hate to admit that I am more exited about doctoring up the leftover chile than I am about eating the lone serving that is sitting in the fridge but I am not a cheesy, gooey girl so that doesn't really reflect on the deliciousness of this dish.

Perhaps next week I should make a lasagna with tandoori chicken and paneer? 
"Salvatore and Singh's"?
Greek lasagna with spinach, feta and dill?
"Sal and Spiro's?"
I have always wanted to open a Jamaican/Polish restaurant and specialized in jerk chicken perogies and call it Jah Polski.
Swear to God.

Chile Verde Lasagna
CHILE:
1 1/2 lb pork , cubed (i have used pork butt, a pork roast and pork tenderloin - depends on how rich and fatty you like it)
1 onion, finely chopped
3 cloves garlic
2 small tomatoes or one large, chopped
1 27.5 oz can Poblano Chilies , drained and chopped
1 850 mil can tomatillos, drained
500 ml chicken stock
200 ml beer
one bunch of cilantro root and stalks
1 tbls mexican oregano
handful of chopped cilantro leaves
a couple of limes

Cut the meat into stew meat sized cubes and season with kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper.
Heat oil in a heavy pan and brown the pork, remove and put in your slow cooker. Add a bit more oil and saute the onion and garlic in any pork drippings. While the onion/garlic cooks, add the rest of the ingredients (except for the cilantro leaves and the limes) to the slow cooker with the pork and finally, add the browned onion/garlic, cover and cook for the first hour on high.
Turn the heat to low and cook for at least another 5 hrs, the longer the better. 
When the meat is falling apart, add the chopped cilantro and squeeze in the lime juice to taste. Set aside to cool.

To make the Lasagna:
preheat oven to 350F

Mix about 1/2 lb queso fresco with 1/2 cup ricotta and 1 egg
salt and pepper
put aside

1/2 cup or more of fresh pico de gallo if you have it

cook lasagna noodles, rinse in cold water and set aside while you get all of your elements together.

I found the chili verde to be too soupy to use straight up so i used a slotted spoon and took out the pork and the solids and left the broth in the pot. I will eat that later as a soup and add some potatoes and maybe chickpeas. 
Shred the meat up and set aside that mixture.

grate about 1/2 cup or more of monterey jack cheese, depending on how cheesy you like things

Oil the lasagna pan lightly and add a bit of sauce to the bottom. Start to layer:
Noodles, 1/3 of the queso mixture, a sprinkling of fresh pico de gallo if you have it, 1/3 of the stew, a light sprinkling of jack cheese and then do a couple more layers ending with a generous layer of jack cheese.

Bake the lasagna for about 45 minutes until it is bubbling and the cheese on top is starting to brown a bit. Take it out of the oven and let it sit for at least 15 minutes before you cut it up and serve it.




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