What’s In a Name?

I hope you’ve noticed that I changed the name of my blog. “Lia’s Blog of Big Eating” is now “Kitchen Raised”. I’ve been toying with a name change for quite some time now. I liked what the original name evoked…me and my culinary adventures, bigger is better, etc. I am not always a big eater and not always in your face and louder than life. That name doesn’t speak to my attitude in the kitchen – my kitchen, my parents’ kitchen or your kitchen.

I try to be methodical and build on what I’ve learned in the past to create memorable meals for the present and future. I know I’ve mentioned this before, but I really was raised in the kitchen.  I am one of five children and we were required to help out – only if we wanted to eat – and speaking from experience, I know it’s why we all can hold our own in the kitchen.

I grew up hating asparagus. I did not get how anyone could enjoy it. I couldn’t even say the word “asparagus” without gagging dramatically, which my parents thoroughly enjoyed. Enter my mid-20s. My mom started roasting asparagus in the oven, sprinkling it balsamic and shaved parmesan. Now I would gladly eat asparagus every day if I didn’t think it was unfair to other vegetables.

As kids, we learned how to clean and prepare vegetables, make an omelet and frost a cake. We learned menu planning and time management (still not so great at that) and important things like how to cook pasta and meat thoroughly. We accompanied my mother on trips to the grocery store and farmers’ markets.

As adults, we drink from my parents’ vast wine collection and peruse my mother’s ever expanding cookbook collection. When I go to mom and dad’s, I toss my belongings wherever, rarely hanging up my jacket and head straight for the fridge. Much to my parents’ chagrin, I’ll stand with the refrigerator agape and demand; “Do we have anything to eat?” before rummaging through blocks of cheese, hard salami and whatever else I can get my hands on. Sitting at the kitchen table, the same table I’ve eaten family dinners at for years, I’ll read Julia Child, Thomas Keller, and Mario Batali and drink too much wine. This is home.

I hope you understand the name change – it speaks the knowledge I’ve gained as someone who seeks out the kitchen in every home I visit and my desire impart the joy of cooking to my readers. Thanks for joining me.

As always, please feel free to comment or ask questions.

Feeding Hungry Masses: Lasagna

I’ve been making lasagna for years. It’s a dish I grew up with; it made frequent appearances at our dinner table and was a good standby at potluck dinners. I don’t know if I ever asked for a recipe from my mom, or after watching her make it countless times I just figured it out.

It’s great for Sunday dinner because you will inevitably have leftovers – unless you’re really hungry or feeding a crowd – and it’s nice to have at least one planned leftover for the week.

My friend Justin has been asking me for months to teach him how to make lasagna. I can’t remember the origins of the conversation, but I suspect it has something to do with him perhaps not entirely believing I can cook.

Regardless, I did promise the guy I would show him how easy it is to make the most comforting, cheesy deliciousness that is lasagna. After some back and forth, we settled on a date and he even wrote it in his calendar. And I doubted his commitment to cooking.

Before Justin and his entourage of hungry men came over, I had a slight panic attack. I’ve never written down a recipe for lasagna. I just wing it. And it turns out wonderful each time. I come from the “It’s hard to mess up a pot of Bolognese” school of thought, but still, I knew he would need a recipe.

I trolled the Internet for lasagna recipes; I needed to know that what I had cobbled together by memory was pretty close to what epicurious.com and the Food Network would show me. I pick those two websites, not because I like their recipes all that much, but it’s easy to find basics and build from there. I was on the right track, or at least close enough. A couple of recipes called for cottage cheese instead of ricotta. Now, I am no culinary purist by any stretch of the imagination, but that is something I will not use in lasagna. You can if you want to. I believe that ricotta has a smoother, richer taste. And yes, you can purchase low fat ricotta and the lasagna will still be delish.

I also consulted the new edition of “The Joy of Cooking”, and found its recipe for Bolognese Sauce to be superior to what I planned to use. I didn’t have pancetta in the house; otherwise I would have considered using it. But my worry slowly subsided. I’ve made the roughly the same “recipe” when I’ve made lasagna for years. No one has ever complained that it wasn’t meaty or cheesy enough. If anyone hasn’t liked it, they’ve never told me.

I called my friend Stephanie over, as I put it, “I may need you to regulate. I have no idea what to expect.” She arrived with two beers in hand.

As someone who cooks alone more often than not, it was fun to have a noisy kitchen. Justin is an easy student, albeit slightly demanding. If I tried to scoot in front of him to check on the sauce’s progress or mix the cheese and eggs, he’d say, “Hey! Aren’t I supposed to be doing this?!”  And he says I have a Type A personality…

The lasagna was a hit and Justin proved that he’s no slouch in the kitchen. For those of us who do cook, there is a prideful feeling we get when we teach someone how to make something we love.

Lasagna

Ingredients:

1-1/2 pounds ground beef

1 pound hot Italian sausage, casings removed

2 cloves garlic, minced

1 28-ounce can of whole tomatoes

2 6-ounce cans tomato paste

4 tablespoons dried parsley, divided

2 tablespoons dried basil

1 teaspoon salt

3 cups ricotta cheese

2 whole eggs, beaten

½ cup Parmesan cheese (grated or shredded)

2 cups fresh baby spinach, optional

1 pound mozzarella cheese, grated

12 lasagna noodles, cooked al dente

Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil.

In a large skillet, or saucepan, combine ground beef, Italian sausage (remove from casings) and minced garlic. Cook over medium-high heat until browned. Drain ¾ of the fat. Add tomatoes, tomato paste, parsley, basil and salt. Mix well and turn down heat to medium low. The sauce should simmer for about 30-35 minutes.

Add lasagna noodles to boiling water and cook until al dente, about 7 minutes. Strain noodles. If you would like, you can sprinkle the noodles with a small amount of olive oil to prevent sticking. Otherwise, just hang the noodles over the edge of the colander.

In a medium bowl, mix ricotta, beaten eggs, Parmesan, remaining parsley and 1 teaspoon salt. Mix with a wooden spoon or rubber spatula. Gently stir in baby spinach, if you’re using it.

Preheat oven to 350°F.

To assemble:

Arrange 4 cooked lasagna noodles in the bottom of a 9 X 13 baking pan, overlapping if necessary. Spoon half the cheese mixture over the noodles. Spread evenly. Spoon a little less than half of the meat sauce on top of the ricotta. Next, sprinkle a layer of grated mozzarella. (Note: we used sliced mozzarella based on the recommendation of someone who shall remain nameless. Either pony up the cash for grated mozzarella or use a grater. A food processor will get the job done nicely, too.)  Repeat steps, ending with meat sauce mixture. Sprinkle generously with extra Parmesan.

Bake for 30-35 minutes, until the top is hot and bubbly. Let stand for 15 minutes before you serve it.

Justin browning beef and Italian sausage.

Cheese, meat and pasta...yum.

Hot bubbly goodness. Let it sit for about 15 minutes so it all sets up. It's worth the wait!

Stranahan’s Whiskey | Batch 66

 

Filling Bottles.

Labeling.

Stranahan’s Colorado Whiskey | Batch 66

Just recently (and I mean very recently) I became a fan of whiskey. I love that I can sip it slowly and feel incredibly grown up. I like it without accoutrements – no soda, ice or water for me. I like my whiskey neat.

Being new to whiskey, I’ve only had a few brands, and have considered them drinkable. I like Jameson, it works for me. I will drink Jack Daniels, but only if that’s all that’s available. I prefer, when available, whiskey from small batch distilleries where I can read the stories of the people behind the amber-hued spirit, and learn what the company is about.

I had heard soft, drunken mumblings about Stranahan’s: “It’s Colorado Whiskey! As a Colorado girl, you should love a Colorado whiskey!” I did a little research. Not a lot. Just enough to find out that it was a ten minute drive from my home in Washington Park, and I could convince a co-worker to tour the place.

The tours are free. “You get to see how they make whiskey!”, was my argument for why he should be interested and willing to come pick me up and drive us down there. It worked.

We went on the tour. It was everything you expect a distillery tour to be, informative, a little over your head and fun. I won’t pretend to understand the finer points of distilling whiskey, but I do know this about it:

– I like it. A lot.

– It goes well with a little ice or nothing at all

– A little goes a vey long way

After our tour, we were given samples and led through a guided tasting of the whiskey. If you’ve never done this, I encourage you to do so! It’s an amazing experience and beneficial to have an expert walk you through the finer nuances of whiskey.

We signed up to be volunteer bottlers. “What’s a volunteer bottler?” you ask. Why, it’s like winning the whiskey lottery for a day. You get called (emailed) and report for duty for a 5 hour shift during which you bottle the whiskey. You’re not paid, per se, but you do get a 750 ml bottle of Stranahan’s Colorado Whiskey for your troubles. The nice folks at Stranahan’s also feed you.

We started at 8:30 this morning, and Jake, the head distiller walked us through the process. Volunteers get to try almost everything, except fill the actual bottles, that’s done by “Charlene”, a filing machine manned by a Stranahan’s distiller. We corked the bottles, affixed labels, attached caps, shrink-wrapped seals, and packed up the filled bottles to be sent to distributors. Our team of 20 bottled 2500 bottles of whiskey in three and a half hours.

I love personal stories behind food – and beverage. To read the Stranahan’s labels as we were bottling is such a treat. The required information is there:

Batch Number: 66

Alcohol by Volume: 47%

Volume: 750 ml

Proof: 94

Distilled: 12-30-08

Comments: Listening to Johnny Cash

When distiller Rob was working, he was also writing on labels that we would later place on bottles. Other distillers wrote about what they were doing at the time:

“Listening to DeVotchKa” (my favorite Colorado band!), “Reading The Fountainhead” and “Listening to ‘This American Life’”.

I love picturing these men in the distillery, just waiting for the whiskey to move on to its various stages, while reading, listening to music, or watching South Park.

Go see what’s out there. You won’t always get the chance to meet the people who bottle your whiskey, grow your tomatoes or break down your beef. But if you have the chance, why not take it? The relationships you can build with those individuals are tremendous.

And if you have the chance, go work at Stranahan’s for a bottling. Sign up here.

My bottle, which I have still not opened – I’ve only had it in my possession for eight hours – has “Listening to Johnny Cash” written on it. I did hear “Ring of Fire” today, so it seems apropos.

Go check out Stranahan’s Colorado Whiskey for yourself.

Straight Rocky Mountain Whiskey. Head Distiller Jake signed my label. Nice guy!

Mushroom and Barley Soup

Browning the barley with mushrooms and carrots.

 

Every year, about this time, I yearn for spring. My anticipation stems primarily from my love of baseball and being outdoors without having to wear a parka. I love spring because the world seems awash in color; bright green grass and trees basking in the sun, daffodils and crocuses popping up everywhere.

Back to reality: it’s January in Colorado, which means it’s cold, gray and snowing. It’s the perfect weather to spend inside in the kitchen making something to warm your soul and wait out winter.

This morning I was thinking about mushrooms. I love mushrooms because they smell like the earth. I can’t think of a more organic smell than mushrooms. I would eat sautéed mushrooms everyday if I didn’t think it was ridiculous.

I came across Mark Bittman’s recipe for Mushroom and Barley Soup. It’s extremely easy – chop up your veggies, sauté the mushrooms and carrots together, then brown the barley, add broth and let it cook away. It tastes so hearty, that the only accompaniment you need with it is some good crusty bread…and I don’t even like bread.

For this soup, I used about 12 ounces of mushrooms total (8 ounces baby portabella, 2 ounces fresh shiitake and roughly 2 ounces of rehydrated wild mushrooms). Bittman doesn’t call for onion in his mushroom soup, but I like the flavor.

I chopped up half onion and sautéed it in 2 tablespoons of olive oil. I sautéed two sliced carrots and the (cleaned and quartered) mushrooms (including the rehydrated ones; squeeze out the liquid and save it). Add a cup of pearled barley and sauté until browns; it should have a nutty aroma.

Then, add liquid. If you want vegetarian soup use 6 cups of vegetable broth and/or water. I had leftover chicken stock and purchased vegetable broth. Add a bay leaf and salt and pepper to the pot, and bring to a boil. I immediately put the soup into a slow cooker and let it simmer for about 20 minutes, until the barley soaked up the liquid and the grains split. Cooked barley looks somewhat like brown rice.

The soup is perfect for winter, but the earthiness of the mushrooms make me look forward to spring.

If you have Mark Bittman’s “How to Cook Everything”, the recipe is on page 139. If you have the iPhone app, it’s listed under “Vegetable Soups”.

Baby Bellas

I hope you have the opportunity to make this very easy and satisfying meal.

Mushroom and Barley Soup.

Eggs for People Who Don’t Have Time to Cook Eggs

 

I believe perfect food exists. And it is, unequivocally, the egg.

I have always loved eggs. Growing up, I learned how to scramble them with a flat wooden spatula, scraping back and forth, pushing the little pile of eggs to the middle of the pan, then around the pan a few times. My early scrambled eggs were pretty dry, it would be years before I learned to turn heat down and whisk the eggs into soft submission. I also learned how to fry an egg, flipping it with a spatula and being immensely proud if the yolk remained intact. My mom taught all of us to make omelets,

In our home, food preparation was a group effort. On school mornings, the first fully-clothed and ready for school kid into the kitchen in the mornings got to pick what was for breakfast. If I was the first one we’d have fried eggs or scrambled eggs, toast, juice and be on our way to school. If it was my older brother, we had cereal. This plan of my mother’s (to have five kids who could fend for themselves in the kitchen) worked pretty well, even when we all went to different schools and had breakfast at five different times.

As I’ve gotten older,  I’ve refined my tastes – or so I would like to believe. These days,  I eat fried eggs on hamburgers (pretty classy and packs a protein punch) and am always looking for interesting fillings for deviled eggs. My favorite thus far is smoked salmon, fresh dill and crème fraiche. It is indulgent and naughty – and perfect for lazy afternoons.

My new favorite breakfast is Mark Bittman’s Baked (Shirred) Eggs. The recipe is simple, the results are delicious. This is really easy for people who have trouble getting out of the house without causing utter chaos. (I am one of those people.)

First, preheat your oven to 375. Do this after you’ve showered, but before you dry your hair. Spray the inside and sides (lightly) of two ramekins. If you like creamy eggs, pour a couple of teaspoons of cream into each ramekin. Break an egg into each cup and then set them on a baking sheet.

Go dry your hair.

Bake for 10-15 minutes. During this time, finish getting ready, but stay near the kitchen. If you like your eggs a little soft, take them out at about 11 minutes. Sprinkle each with a little salt and pepper and serve. I like to eat them with a spoon.

If you have leftover vegetables (I like spinach, especially), serve the eggs on top of your reheated veggies.

Julia Child’s recipe calls for the ramekins to be placed in a pan of hot water and baked for 10 minutes. Her method yields very custardy eggs – heating the cream in the ramekins first, then adding an egg to each once the cream is hot, pouring more cream and a pat of butter (really!) over the egg and baking for 7 minutes.

New Year’s Resolution Breakfast it is not. If it makes you feel better, have some whole grain toast and fruit on the side.

 

Promises, promises.

I’ve been slacking so much on this blog. I’ve no reason to be behind; I just haven’t felt like I’ve had anything to write about. But now, it’s a new year, a chance to start over and do what I set out to do last year.

I’m far from perfect (surprise!), but I have very specific, solid goals for this upcoming year. The first is to post to this blog at least twice a week in January and February, and then three times a week March and April. Depending upon how interesting my writing is by then will determine my writing schedule for May and beyond.

Writing is easy. I have always loved it. I love words, grammar and the way sentences form over the course of a pot of coffee, or a glass or two of wine. Sometimes it’s hard to find the time to write. Or to find the time to cook. I find it’s even more difficult to find the time to do both, one right after another.

It is necessary to give credit where credit it due. My dear friend, Erin Keefer, started a blog recently. Today she posted about setting 11 Goals for 2011. As I read her post, I remembered how excited I was to start this blog, and my desire to truly be dedicated to my favorite things: writing and cooking. So, Erin, thank you for being the impetus to my newfound focus. You can find Erin’s blog at http://erinmoncheree.blogspot.com/.

Here’s the good news. Christmas was very good to me. My older sister, Molly, gave me Mark Bittman’s new and revised “How to Cook Everything” (which, incidentally, I gave to her for Christmas about 8 years ago). My dear friend, Stephanie, gave me the revised “Joy of Cooking”, which I am so excited to familiarize myself with.

I’ve gotten better about planning this year, already. I know what I want to write about for both official posts this week. Eggs and Whiskey…not together, mind you. Tomorrow, I will make coffee and eggs. It’s a simple breakfast, and ridiculously easy, but I have to start somewhere. I am sure by the end of the year I’ll be making Beef Wellington. (Just kidding.)

Chew on this: The shell of an egg is mostly calcium carbonate and weights only 9-12% of the total weight of an egg. (Source: http://www.aeb.org/egg-industry/egg-facts-101)

Butternut Squash Gnocchi with Sage Brown Butter

Last week I made Lidia Bastianich’s Butternut Squash Gnocchi with Sage Brown Butter, from October 2010 Bon Appetit magazine. This was my first foray into making pasta, and although it didn’t turn out perfectly, it won’t be my last. The next time I make gnocchi, I will start with a basic recipe. Using add-ins, especially watery ones like squash, is best suited for people with some experience.

Nonetheless, I made it anyway. I got to my parents’ house mid-afternoon and made the realization that I had no idea what I gotten myself into. Luckily, my mom had already cooked the squash, but I had to reduce it to get the excess liquid out. It’s a fairly simple process; it just takes patience and the willingness to rely on your gut instinct.

Around the time I was mixing all the ingredients together for gnocchi, I had an audience. My older sister and mom were also in the kitchen, both asking if I needed anything, yet keeping their distance. They sensed my desire to get it right and my fear of serving squash glue for dinner.

My mom coached me through it, even though at some point she wondered aloud why I had chosen to make gnocchi with squash for my first go-around. I pointed out that to her that when I suggested the menu that she didn’t bat an eye and went so far as to say, “That sounds great.”

Once we got our ropes of gnocchi dough lined up and then cut, we rolled the gnocchi along the back of a fork, pressing ever so slightly, and giving it an indentation, a place for the brown butter with sage to rest.

We had finished our gnocchi after what seemed like an extraordinarily long amount of time. According to the Bon Appetit recipe, you’re supposed to cook the gnocchi for 15-17 minutes. That has to be a misprint. Seven minutes is about right. I don’t know what would happen to the gnocchi if you boiled it for 15-17 minutes, but I imagine it wouldn’t taste very good and the texture would be awful.

I browned the butter and added the sage. The smell is incredible. It’s what fall should smell like. You stir in the gnocchi at the end to get it coated with the butter and sage and serve it with Parmesan. It was an amazing meal. It wasn’t perfect, and Lidia probably would have been more impressed with people trying her recipe than the actual result, but it’s the thought that counts.

Butternut Squash Gnocchi With Sage Brown Butter

by Lidia Bastianich

1 1-pound butternut squash

1 tablespoon olive oil

1 12-to 14-ounce russet potato, peeled, quartered

3/4 cup finely grated Parmesan cheese, divided

1 large egg, beaten to blend

1 1/2 teaspoons freshly grated nutmeg

1 teaspoon salt

1 3/4 cups (or more) all purpose flour

1/2 cup (1 stick) butter

2 tablespoons chopped fresh sage

Additional grated Parmesan cheese

Special equipment: Potato ricer

Preheat oven to 400°F.

Cut squash lengthwise in half; discard seeds. Places quash halves, cut side up, on baking sheet and brush with oil. Roast until squash is very tender when pierced with skewer and browned in spots, about 1 1/2 hours. Cool slightly. Scoop flesh from squash into processor; puree until smooth. Transfer to medium saucepan; stir constantly over medium heat until juices evaporate and puree thickens, about 5 minutes. Cool. Measure 1 cup (packed) squash puree (reserve remaining squash for another use). Meanwhile, cook potato in medium saucepan of boiling salted water until very tender, about 20 minutes. Drain. While potato is warm, press through potato ricer into medium bowl; cool completely. Measure2 cups (loosely packed) riced potato (reserve remaining potato for another use).

Mix squash, potato, 1/2 cup Parmesan, egg, nutmeg, and salt in large bowl. Gradually add 1 3/4 cups flour, kneading gently into mixture in bowl until dough holds together and is almost smooth. If dough is very sticky, add more flour by tablespoonfuls. Turn dough out onto floured surface; knead gently but briefly just until smooth. Divide dough into 8 equal pieces.

Line 2 large rimmed baking sheets with parchment. Sprinkle parchment lightly with flour. Working with 1 dough piece at a time, roll dough out on floured surface to about1/2-inch-thick rope. Cut rope crosswise into 3/4-inch pieces. Working with 1 piece at a time, roll gnocchi along back of fork tines dipped in flour, making ridges on 1 side. Transfer gnocchi to baking sheets.

Repeat with remaining dough. Cover loosely with plastic wrap and chill at least 1 hour. DO AHEAD: Can be made 6 hours ahead. Keep chilled.

Working in 2 batches, cook gnocchi in large pot of boiling salted water until very tender, 15 to 17 minutes (gnocchi will float to surface but may come to surface before being fully cooked). Using slotted spoon, transfer gnocchi to same parchment-lined baking sheets. Cool. DO AHEAD: Can be made 8 hours ahead. Cover loosely and chill.

Cook butter in heavy large skillet over medium heat just until golden, stirring often, 3 to 4 minutes. Add sage; stir 1minute. Add gnocchi; cook until heated through and coated with butter, 5 to 7minutes. Season with salt and pepper. Transfer to bowl. Sprinkle with 1/4 cup Parmesan. Serve with additional Parmesan.