slow cooker spinach mushroom lasagna

crockpot lasagna 12

Lasagna cooked in the slow cooker is not that different from lasagna cooked in the oven. It has the same ingredients, the same layers, the same browned cheesy top – and the same amount of effort required to make it. Really the only thing that’s different is the amount of time it takes to cook.

crockpot lasagna 4

This was good news in a way. I was surprised that the lasagna wasn’t watery and that the top looked almost exactly the same as a baked lasagna. The problem, of course, was that it wasn’t any easier to put together.

crockpot lasagna 2

Another problem is apparently that béchamel sauces curdle in the slow cooker. This recipe was originally based on a cream sauce instead of tomato sauce. Since béchamel didn’t work, the recipe called for a jar of Alfredo sauce.

crockpot lasagna 8

I’m not usually one for dumping jars of prepared foods into my recipes, but after a scan of the jar label revealed no unrecognizable ingredients, I had just about acquiesced to buying it – until I looked at the fat content. Jarred Alfredo sauce (like homemade Alfredo sauce) is almost pure cream, and I just couldn’t stomach the idea of adding all that fat to what I intended to be a weeknight meal.

crockpot lasagna 7

Replacing the cream sauce with tomatoes made this recipe very similar to my favorite vegetarian lasagna, but that’s okay, because they’re flavors I like. In fact, the lasagna had a lot of qualities I love, with its meaty flavor without any meat, plenty of cheese, and plenty of vegetables to even out the cheese.  While it wasn’t any better than oven-baked lasagna, it wasn’t any worse, and it can’t hurt to have the option for a longer cooking time.

crockpot lasagna 14

One year ago: Basic Pancakes
Two years ago: Brioche
Three years ago: Salad with Herbed Baked Goat Cheese

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Slow Cooker Spinach Mushroom Lasagna (adapted from Cook’s Illustrated’s Slow Cooker Revolution)

Serves 6 to 8

I have a 4-quart slow cooker, but I don’t see any reason this wouldn’t work in a 5- or even 6-quart cooker.  The lasagna just won’t be as tall.

I did not line the slow cooker with foil, because it seems so wasteful. Individual slices of lasagna were still surprisingly easy to serve intact, although the first one was messy.

I used half this amount of cheese. I’m sure the full amount is great, but I was trying to lighten it up a bit.

nonstick spray
8 curly-edged lasagna noodles (7 ounces), broken in half
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 onion, chopped fine
1½ pounds white mushrooms, trimmed and sliced thin
2 garlic cloves, minced
16 ounces fresh baby spinach
1 (28-ounce) can crushed tomatoes
1 (15-ounce) container ricotta cheese
1¼ cups (2½ ounces) grated Parmesan cheese
½ cup minced fresh basil
1 large egg
4 cups (1 pound) shredded mozzarella cheese

1. Line the slow cooker with an aluminum foil collar: Layer and fold sheets of heavy-duty foil until you have a six-layered rectangle that measures 16 by 4 inches. Press the collar into the back side of the slow cooker insert. Fit two more large sheets of foil into the slow cooker, perpendicular to each other, with the extra hanging over the edges of the cooker for a sling to help remove the lasagna later.

2. Bring 4 quarts water to a boil in a large pot. Add the broken lasagna noodles and 1 tablespoon salt and cook, stirring often, until the noodles are al dente. Drain the noodles, rinse them under cold water until cool, then spread them out in single layer over clean kitchen towels and let dry. (Do not use paper towels; they will stick to the noodles.)

3. Heat the oil in the same pot over medium-high heat until shimmering. Add the mushrooms, garlic, and ¼ teaspoon salt, cover, and cook until the mushrooms are softened, about 5 minutes. Uncover, add the onions, and continue to cook until the mushrooms are dry and browned, 5 to 10 minutes longer. Stir in the spinach, cover, and cook until wilted, about 2 minutes. Stir in the crushed tomatoes and ½ teaspoon salt.

4. In a bowl, mix the ricotta, 1 cup (2 ounces) Parmesan, basil, egg, ½ teaspoon salt, and ½ teaspoon pepper together. Spread ½ cup of the mushroom-spinach sauce into the prepared slow cooker.

5. Arrange 4 lasagna noodle pieces in the slow cooker, overlapping if necessary, then dollop 9 rounded tablespoons of ricotta mixture over noodles. Sprinkle with 1 cup mozzarella, then spoon 1 cup more mushroom-spinach sauce over top. Repeat the layering of lasagna noodles, ricotta mixture, mozzarella and mushroom-spinach sauce twice more. For the final layer, arrange the remaining 4 noodles in the slow cooker, then top with the remaining mushroom-spinach sauce and sprinkle with the remaining mozzarella and remaining Parmesan.

6. Cover and cook until the lasagna is heated through, about 4 hours on low. Let the lasagna cool for 20 minutes. Using the sling, transfer lasagna to serving platter and serve.

crockpot lasagna 13

baked eggs in mushrooms with zucchini ragout

zucchini ragout 5

When Cara asked me to guest post and offered the suggestion of focusing on a vacation that I’m excited about, I jumped at the chance to chatter to a new audience about my upcoming trip to Italy. Italy! Venice! The Cinque Terre! Tuscany! Rome! And then there’s the stuff that I’m really excited about – wine and espresso and cheese and pesto and bread and seafood. Also wine. Check out Cara’s blog to read about the Baked Eggs in Mushrooms with Zucchini Ragout I made, which involves no wine or espresso or pesto or bread or seafood. At least there’s cheese.

chocolate hazelnut biscotti

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I went through a phase a couple years ago, when I was unemployed and had plenty of free time to bake, where I made a lot of biscotti for Dave. He doesn’t usually like to bring treats to work to share with coworkers, but he got in the habit of bringing a couple extra biscotti every day to give to his boss.

chocolate biscotti 2

His boss was impressed with the almond biscotti. Then a week later, I made the same recipe, substituting hazelnuts and dried cherries for the almonds. But I was experimenting with different methods for the second bake, and they didn’t get as crunchy.

chocolate biscotti 4

Dave’s boss said: “Too much egg, I think. Last week’s was better, almost perfect; this week’s needs work.”

Huh? Too much egg? He might be an expert in contaminant migration, but he doesn’t know squat about biscotti.

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I made these shortly after the batch with “too much egg.” Mindful of recent complaints about biscotti that was too soft in the middle, I erred on the crunchy side and left the biscotti in the oven, with the heat turned off and the door propped open, for half an hour after the recommended baking time.

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There were no complaints this time, although I did think they were a little crumbly and difficult to roll into logs (maybe they needed more egg?). Not only were the biscotti hard enough to dip into coffee, but the rich chocolate flavors were brought out by the dark espresso overtones. Jacque chose this recipe for Tuesdays with Dorie, and she has it posted.

One year ago: Dressy Chocolate Cake
Two years ago: Honey Peach Ice Cream
Three years ago: Cappuccino Cream Puff Rings

chocolate biscotti 8

pizza with caramelized onions and fennel

After a year and a half living in a small town, I still haven’t fully adjusted to the grocery store situation. I don’t think I’ve walked out of the store here once without thinking wistfully of Wegman’s. My new store isn’t a bad place; I’m just spoiled. They do occasionally stock random items, and I’ve learned to jump on those opportunities and worry about finding recipes later.

Sometimes I buy the item just to encourage the store to keep it up. In the last few months, we’ve eaten haricot vert, Copper River salmon, yellow carrots, and now fennel. Since I moved here, I’ve bitterly overlooked fennel recipes, thinking my fennel days were over, and then once I found fennel, I could only remember one of those recipes.

It’s a memorable recipe because it has a lot going for it. For one thing, it’s pizza, which is always good, but it’s even better since I’ve started playing with a new crust recipe recently (which will be the next blog entry). For another, the onions and fennel are caramelized, and who doesn’t like turning vegetables into candy?

Lindsay laments that this pizza was pale and homely, so I added some color in the form of black forest ham (ideally prosciutto, but my store was out of it) and a sprinkle of parsley. Not only is the splatter of pink and scattering of green welcome, but the salty bites of ham and bitter bits of parsley complimented the sweet onions and the licorice of the fennel. It’s too bad I don’t know when the next time I’ll find fennel is, because I’d love to make this one again.

One year ago: Quinoa Tabbouleh
Two years ago: Croissants
Three years ago: Franks and Beans

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Pizza with Caramelized Onions, Fennel, and Fresh Mozzarella (adapted from Love and Olive Oil)

Serves 6

I cooked the onions and fennel separately (not because I love doing dishes and wanted to use more than necessary; I had leftover caramelized onions to be used), and I found that the fennel didn’t caramelize, it just browned slightly. It may behave differently if onions are around.

1 pound pizza dough, fully risen and at room temperature (½ of this recipe)
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 large onion, thinly sliced
1 large fennel bulb, cored and thinly sliced
Salt
8 ounces whole-milk fresh mozzarella cheese, coarsely grated
4 ounces prosciutto, cut into slivers
freshly shaved Parmesan cheese
sprinkling parsley

1. Place a pizza stone on the bottom rack of the oven and preheat the oven to 500ºF. Divide the dough in two and shape each portion into a ball. Set the balls of dough aside, loosely covered, to allow the gluten to relax.

2. Heat the oil in a medium nonstick skillet over medium heat. Add the onions, fennel, and ¼ teaspoon salt; cook, stirring occasionally, until the onions start to brown, about 5 minutes. Reduce the heat to medium-low and continue cooking and occasionally stirring until the onions are golden brown, about 15 minutes.

3. Work with one ball of dough at a time on a lightly floured surface or a damp cloth. Flatten the dough, then pick it up and gently stretch it out, trying to keep it as circular as possible. Curl your fingers and let the dough hang on your knuckles, moving and rotating the dough so it stretches evenly. If it tears, piece it together. If the dough stretches too much, put it down and gently tug on the thick spots. Transfer the round of dough to a large square of parchment paper; slide onto a pizza peel.

4. Top the dough with half of each of the caramelized vegetables, cheese, and prosciutto. Slide the pizza with the parchment onto the hot baking stone. Bake for 8-10 minutes, until the crust is browned around the edges. Transfer the pizza to a cooling rack without the parchment; top with parmesan slivers and a sprinkle of parsley. Let the pizza rest for 5 minutes before serving. Repeat with the remaining ingredients.

semolina bread

Supposedly, my freezer is organized to have a shelf for meat, one for bread, one for prepared foods, and one for ingredients (mostly green chile and egg whites). In reality, bread tends to find its way onto each of the other shelves and eventually takes over. During my last freezer overhaul, I gave baked bread its own shelf and bread dough got moved to the ingredient shelf, which has plenty of open space now because we are, sadly, almost out of last year’s crop of green chile.

Besides our weekday snack supply of muffins (for Dave) and whole wheat bagels (for me), there’s usually homemade hamburger buns, hot dog buns, and sandwich thins, several bags of pizza dough, odds and ends of loaves whose genesis I don’t remember, and both baked and unbaked versions of whatever rustic bread I’m playing with at the time. The lovely s-curve of this semolina bread recipe caught my eye as soon as I got Peter Reinhart’s Bread Baker’s Apprentice, years ago. I know I could have used that shape for any free-form loaf, but I saved it until I made the recipe it accompanies.

The three loaves of this semolina bread, one baked immediately and two frozen after shaping, didn’t last long in the freezer. I found every opportunity to bake up another loaf of this chewy golden bread. I’d start a new batch if there was any room in the freezer for what we don’t eat in one night.

One year ago: Brown Sugar Cookies
Two years ago: Brandied Berry Crepes
Three years ago: Breakfast Strata with Mushrooms, Sausage and Monterey Jack

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Semolina Bread (adapted from Pane Siciliano from Peter Reinhart’s Bread Baker’s Apprentice)

1 recipe pate fermentée (recipe follows)
1¾ cups (8 ounces) bread flour
1¾ cups (8 ounces) semolina flour
1¼ teaspoon salt
1¼ teaspoon instant yeast
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 tablespoon honey
1¼ cups water, room temperature
sesame seeds

1. Remove the pate fermentée from the refrigerator 1 hour before mixing the final dough.

2. Stand mixer: Mix the pate fermentée, flours, salt, yeast, oil, honey, and water in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the dough hook. Mix on medium-low speed until the dough is elastic and supple, about 8 minutes. You may need to add a little more flour or water to get the correct consistency – smooth and tacky, but not sticky. Transfer the dough to an oiled bowl and cover with plastic wrap or a damp dishtowel.

By hand: Cut the pate fermentée into 8-12 pieces. Mix the flours, salt, and yeast in a large bowl. Make a well in the middle of the dry ingredients and add the pate fermentée, olive oil, honey, and water. Stir the mixture until the dough comes together. Transfer it to a floured board or countertop and knead, incorporating as little flour as possible, for about 10 minutes, until the dough is elastic and supple. You may need to add a little more flour or water to get the correct consistency – smooth and tacky, but not sticky. Transfer the dough to an oiled bowl and cover with plastic wrap or a damp dishtowel.

3. Ferment at room temperature for about 2 hours, until the dough doubles in size.

4. Divide the dough into three equal portions. Very gently pull the edges of each portion around to one side and pinch them together to form a ball. Roll the dough between the palm of your hand and a lightly floured board or a damp kitchen towel (my preferred method). With the seam side up, push the sides of your thumbs into the dough, pulling the dough into an oblong. Pinch the seam together; repeat the process once more on the same dough ball to form a rope. Roll the rope, pushing it out into a longer rope, until it’s about 24 inches long. If it resists you at any point, let it rest for a few minutes before trying again. Then, working with each end simultaneously, coil the dough toward the center, forming an S-shape. Arrange the shaped loaves on parchment paper and sprinkle them with sesame seeds. Cover loosely with plastic wrap and refrigerate overnight.

5. The next day, remove the dough from the refrigerator. Let it warm up and, if necessary, finish rising, which will take a couple hours. The dough is ready to bake when it has doubled in size and remains dimpled when poked.

6. While the dough is rising, place a baking stone on the bottom rack of the oven and a heavy metal baking pan on the top rack. Heat the oven to 500 degrees.

7. Transfer the risen loaves with the parchment paper to the hot baking stone. Pour 1 cup hot water into the metal pan on the top rack and close the door. After 30 seconds, open the door and spritz the sides of the oven with water. Repeat twice more at 30 second intervals. After the final spray, lower the oven temperature to 450 degrees and bake for 25 to 30 minutes longer, until the crust is golden brown and the internal temperature is between 200 and 205 degrees.

8. Transfer the bread to a wire rack; cool 45 minutes before serving.

Pate fermentée

1⅛ cups (5 ounces) unbleached all-purpose flour
1⅛ cups (5 ounces) unbleached bread flour
¾ teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon instant yeast
¾ cup to ¾ cup plus 2 tablespoons (6 to 7 ounces) water

1. Stir together the flours, salt, and yeast in a 4-quart bowl (or in the bowl of a standing mixer). Add ¾ cup of the water, stirring until everything comes together and makes a coarse ball (or mix on low speed for 1 minute with the paddle attachment). Adjust the flour or water, according to need, so that the dough is neither too sticky nor too stiff. (It is better to err on the sticky side, as you can adjust easier during kneading. It is harder to add water once the dough firms up.)

2. Sprinkle some flour on the counter and transfer the dough to the counter. Knead for 4 to 6 minutes (or mix on medium speed with the dough hook for 4 minutes), or until the dough is soft and pliable, tacky but not sticky. The internal temperature should be 77 to 81 degrees.

3. Lightly oil a bowl and transfer the dough to the bowl, rolling it around to coat it with oil. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and ferment at room temperature for 1 hour, or until it swells to about 1½ times its original size.

4. Remove the dough from the bowl, knead it slightly to degas, and return it to the bowl, covering the bowl with plastic wrap. Place the bowl in the refrigerator overnight. You can keep this in the refrigerator for up to 3 days, or freeze it in an airtight plastic bag for up to 3 months.

I’m donating my Bourbon Pound Cake to Bloggers Bake for Hope.  This and over fifty other treats are available to be shipped directly to you. You can bid on your favorites starting May 4th; all proceeds go to Massachusetts Komen for the Cure.

 

green pea ravioli in lemon broth

My notes call this Saturday night cooking adventure “Light Italian Meal”. I was experimenting with wet scallops – scallops that have been treated with sodium triphosphate to help them retain moisture. Cooks Illustrated has a recipe designed to make wet scallops palatable, so I gave it a go. I tried to keep the rest of the meal relatively light to compliment the scallops, starting with these ravioli, then moving onto insalata di crudita before serving the seared scallops with almond cream sauce. Pinot grigio and whole wheat ciabatta accompanied every part of the meal.

This was the only recipe I made that night that I was really excited by. The only reason the ciabatta doesn’t qualify is because I didn’t follow much of a recipe, and the salad, although crisp and fresh, was a fairly typical side salad. The scallops were a disaster. Not only was the almond cream sauce too rich, but the scallops themselves didn’t brown until they had overcooked into balls of rubber. What’s worse, while I set them aside to finish the sauce, the cooked scallops released a freaky blue liquid. I choked a down few and filled up on bread.

I wish I had made enough ravioli to fill up on those, rather than teasing myself with a small starter course serving. These pasta pouches with their vibrant filling were the highlight of my meal that night. There aren’t many ingredients in the filling, but each one has something to offer: the peas are both sweet and earthy, the shallots are bright, the parmesan salty. This humble mixture might have not had much to live up to compared to the rest of the meal, but it would have been just as special on its own.

One year ago: Vodka Gimlets
Two years ago: Pasta with Roasted Red Pepper Sauce
Three years ago: Cinnamon Rolls

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Green Pea Ravioli with Lemon Broth (adapted from Gourmet via epicurious)

6 servings

I’ve doubled the amount of filling, because I only had enough filling for 9 ravioli, not the 18 the original recipe indicates.

Pasta:
1⅓ cups (6.4 ounces) all-purpose flour
2 eggs, lightly beaten

Filling:
2 cups baby peas, defrosted
1 tablespoon olive oil
2 shallots, minced
Salt
6 tablespoons freshly grated parmesan
6 tablespoons fresh bread crumbs

Broth:
4 cups chicken broth
2 garlic cloves, smashed
1 teaspoon freshly grated lemon zest
Squeeze fresh lemon juice

Garnish: fresh chervil or parsley and cooked peas

1. Combine the flour and eggs until smooth (either by hand, with a food processor, or with a stand mixer). Add more flour if the dough is sticky or more water if it’s crumbly. If you stick a dry finger into the center of the dough, it should come out nearly clean. Wrap the dough in a damp towel and set aside to rest while you prepare the filling.

2. Force the peas through the fine disk of a food mill into a bowl to remove their skins. Heat the oil in a small skillet over medium heat; add the shallot and a pinch of salt; cook until shallot is softened, 3-4 minutes, stirring occasionally. Combine the pea puree, cooked shallot, parmesan, and bread crumbs.

3. Divide the dough into 6 portions. Working with one portion at a time, flatten it and fold in thirds, like a letter. Roll it through the widest setting on a pasta roller. Repeat the folding and rolling 3-4 more times, flouring the dough as needed to prevent sticking. Adjust the pasta roller to the next thinnest setting; roll the pasta sheet through. Continue thinning the pasta until the next-to-thinnest setting. Lay the thinned pasta sheet on a dry dish towel. Repeat with the remaining portions of pasta.

4. Place one rounded teaspoon of filling every 3 inches along the length of a pasta sheet. Using a pasta brush or your fingers, wet the pasta in between the rounds of filling. If the pasta sheet is at least 4 inches wide, fold it lengthwise over the filling. If the pasta sheet is too thin to fold lengthwise, lay a second pasta sheet over the filling. Press around each ball of filling to seal the two layers of pasta together. Use a pizza roller to cut between the filling to form squares of ravioli. Store the ravioli on a dry dish towel (there’s no need to cover it). Repeat with the remaining dough and filling.

5. Combine the broth, garlic, lemon zest, and salt and pepper to taste in a saucepan; bring to a simmer. Lower the heat and cover to keep warm.

6. Bring a large pot of water to a boil; add a tablespoon of salt and lower the heat until the water is at a lively simmer. Cook the ravioli in small batches until al dente, 2 to 3 minutes, using a skimmer or large slotted spoon to remove the ravioli from the boiling water. Divide the cooked ravioli between six soup bowls.

7. Discard the garlic in the broth. Ladle the hot broth over the ravioli. Garnish with herbs and cooked peas, if desired; serve immediately.

caesar salad

I didn’t always get Caesar salad. It seemed like it was just salad that was all lettuce and no goodies. Where’s the tomatoes, hard-boiled eggs, carrots, or cured meats?

I understand now that that’s the point of it – that even without a range of colors, a salad can have a range of textures and flavors. Crisp lettuce, crunchy croutons, creamy dressing; salty parmesan, lightly bitter romaine, and most importantly, stinky garlic and wonderful savory anchovies.

Not everyone thinks anchovies are wonderful, I know. Some people – people who are otherwise not picky at all despite their reticence toward brownies – think they’re actually quite disgusting. Those people were not implicitly told about the anchovies in this recipe, and even when the amount was accidentally doubled one time, those people (or the one of those people I regularly cook for) still raved about the salad. Do not fear the anchovy.

But if you want to fear the raw egg (which I do not, as we all know from my cookie dough habit), you may, because I tested this out with mayonnaise instead of the yolks, and it was nearly as good as the original. With the addition of some leftover shredded chicken, this salad becomes a simple (if surprisingly unhealthy) meal.

One year ago: Cherry Tomato Salad
Two years ago: Lemon Poppy Seed Waffles
Three years ago: Sushi Rolls

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Caesar Salad (from Cooks Illustrated)

Serves 4

I confess that I did not care for this method of toasting the croutons. I was not able to achieve evenly browned croutons on the stovetop, probably because I wasn’t willing to use the full amount of oil. I’ll reproduce the original recipe below, but in the future, I’ll toast the lightly oiled croutons the oven and then toss them with the oil/garlic mixture.

If you don’t want to work with raw egg, substitute 1-2 tablespoons of mayonnaise for the yolks.  This will result in a slightly thicker dressing, but not a bad one.

Croutons:
5 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1 medium garlic clove, pressed through a garlic press (or pureed on the tines of a fork)
5 cups (¾-inch) ciabatta bread cubes
¼ cup water
¼ teaspoon table salt
2 tablespoons finely grated Parmesan

Salad:
1 large garlic clove, pressed through a garlic press (or pureed on the tines of a fork)
2-3 tablespoons juice from 1 to 2 lemons
½ teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
6 anchovy fillets, mashed to a paste with a fork (1 tablespoon)
2 large egg yolks
5 tablespoons canola oil
5 teaspoons extra virgin olive oil
1½ ounces (¾ cup) finely grated Parmesan
Ground black pepper
2-3 romaine hearts, cut crosswise into ¾-inch-thick slices, rinsed, and dried very well (8-9 lightly pressed cups)

1. For the croutons: Combine 1 tablespoon oil and garlic paste in small bowl; set aside. Place bread cubes in large bowl. Sprinkle with water and salt. Toss, squeezing gently so bread absorbs water. Place remaining 4 tablespoons oil and soaked bread cubes in 12-inch nonstick skillet. Cook over medium-high heat, stirring frequently, until browned and crisp, 7 to 10 minutes.

2. Remove skillet from heat, push croutons to sides of skillet to clear center; add garlic/oil mixture to clearing and cook with residual heat of pan, 10 seconds. Sprinkle with Parmesan; toss until garlic and Parmesan are evenly distributed. Transfer croutons to bowl; set aside.

3. For the salad: Whisk garlic paste and 2 tablespoons lemon juice together in large bowl. Let stand 10 minutes.

4. Whisk Worcestershire sauce, anchovies, and egg yolks into garlic/lemon juice mixture. While whisking constantly, drizzle canola oil and extra virgin olive oil into bowl in slow, steady stream until fully emulsified. Add ½ cup Parmesan and pepper to taste; whisk until incorporated.

5. Add romaine to dressing and toss to coat. Add croutons and mix gently until evenly distributed. Taste and season with up to additional 1 tablespoon lemon juice. Serve immediately, passing remaining ¼ cup Parmesan separately.

scampi fra diavolo

I remember last semester, when I was teaching in the evenings, I had all these plans for what I wanted to do once the semester ended. I was going to organize my recipes and study photoshop and learn Italian and basically rule the world. Instead, I’ve been cooking.

So if you’re in my little town on a Saturday night, the best meal in town is at my house. There’ll be appetizers, there’ll be wine, there’ll be some sort of meaty main course, there’ll be a dessert you have no room for but can’t resist anyway. There’ll probably be bread. In between courses, there’ll be live music courtesy of Dave. You’re all invited! Just keep in mind that I live hundreds of miles from a major airport. Plus Dave thinks you’re all secretly rapists. Okay, I take it back, you’re not invited.

Which is too bad, because you’ll be missing out on some good food, the best of which I believe was this shrimp. A cross between the bright flavors of shrimp scampi and the heat of shrimp fra diavolo (“shrimp of the devil”), this fresh spicy dish was the perfect opening to a evening of cooking and eating. Around these parts, that’s just an average Saturday night.

One year ago: Whole Wheat Brioche
Three years ago: Almost No-Knead Bread

Scampi fra Diavolo (tweaked from Bon Appétit via epicurious)

3 tablespoons butter, divided
⅓ cup panko (Japanese breadcrumbs)
½ cup chopped fresh Italian parsley, divided
1¼ pounds uncooked large shrimp, peeled, deveined, tails left intact
2 tablespoons olive oil
1½ cups thinly sliced red onion
5 garlic cloves, minced
½ teaspoon dried crushed red pepper
⅔ cup dry white wine (preferably Sauvignon Blanc)
Lemon wedges

1. Melt 1 tablespoon butter in a medium nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. Add the panko and stir until it’s golden and crisp, about 2 minutes. Transfer to a small bowl; mix in 2 tablespoons of parsley. Wipe out skillet.

2. Sprinkle the shrimp with salt and pepper. Melt the remaining 2 tablespoons of butter with the olive oil in the same skillet over medium-high heat. Add the red onion and sauté until it’s beginning to soften, about 3 minutes. Stir in the garlic and crushed red pepper and sauté 1 minute. Add the shrimp and sauté until barely opaque in center, about 1 minute per side. Add the white wine and simmer until the liquid is slightly thickened and reduced, 2 to 3 minutes. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Stir in the remaining parsley. Transfer to a shallow bowl. Top with the sautéed panko and serve with lemon wedges.

eggplant rollatini

The only thing I can remember cooking for the last several years that turned out so badly that not only did I refuse to eat it, but even Dave did, is grilled eggplant. I don’t remember what went wrong – cook time too long? cook temp too low? too high? salt, don’t salt, cut thicker cut thinner, I don’t know – but the resulting mush of eggplant goo is all too vivid still.

I hadn’t eaten eggplant since. I’ve seen recipes in which every other component sounded like something I would enjoy, but as soon as I spotted that nefarious eggplant in the ingredient list, I scrolled right on past. I knew I’d have to try eggplant again someday. But I wasn’t ready then.

Now I am. Cheese and tomato sauce is never a bad way to ease into an ingredient. Each grilled slice of eggplant is rolled with a slice of cheese, then topped with a quick marinara sauce and heated until the flavors meld and the cheese softens. For me, they were too messy to serve as a hand-held hors d’œuvre, but instead made for a very nice plated first course. That’s right, a recipe with eggplant was very nice. I’m one step closer toward liking eggplant again.

One year ago: Pasta with Baked Ricotta and Sweet Tomato Sauce
Two years ago: Vegetarian Chili
Three years ago: Salmon Pesto Pasta

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Eggplant Rollatini (adapted from Cara’s Cravings)

I just stick a pair of kitchen shears into the can of tomatoes and chop away a bit. It’s coarser than a puree, but still just fine for sauce. If you want it smoother, puree the tomatoes in the food processor.

We grilled the eggplant; I haven’t personally tried the roasting technique recommended in the original Gourmet recipe.

4 small Italian eggplants or 2 regular eggplants
Kosher salt
1 tablespoon olive oil
2 garlic cloves, finely chopped
¼ teaspoon dried hot red-pepper flakes
1 (15-ounce) can diced tomatoes, chopped, undrained
½ teaspoon salt
¼ cup coarsely chopped fresh basil
16 thin slices provolone cheese
½ ounce (¼ cup) finely grated parmesan cheese

1. Peel 2 opposite long sides of each eggplant. Cut each eggplant lengthwise (to form long skinny ovals) into 1/4-inch slices. Sprinkle both sides of the slices with kosher salt; set aside for 30 minutes. Heat the oven to 425 degrees.

2. Heat the oil in a medium skillet over medium heat until it flows like water when the pan is tilted; add the garlic and red pepper flakes and cook, stirring constantly, until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Add the tomatoes and ½ teaspoon salt; cook, stirring occasionally, until thickened, 8-12 minutes. Remove from heat; stir in the basil.

3. Prepare a grill for direct-heat cooking over moderate heat (or line a large baking sheet with foil and heat the oven to 450 degrees). Brush any remaining salt crystals from the eggplant; pat the slices dry and spray both sides with nonstick spray. Grill the eggplant, turning once, until tender, about 4 minutes total (or bake for 20 minutes, turning once). Transfer to a work surface.

4. Top each slice of eggplant with a slice of cheese; starting at a short end, roll the eggplant and cheese into a spiral and seal with a toothpick. Repeat with the remaining eggplant and cheese. Arrange the eggplant spirals in a shallow baking pan and top with the sauce; bake until the cheese is melted, about 10 minutes.

fettuccine alfredo

I am healthy. I am not perfect. But I am thin. I am fit. And I’m tired of holding myself up to an impossible standard.

I eat more fruits, vegetables, and whole grains than anyone I know. I exercise regularly. I don’t drink alcohol on weekdays. My lifestyle now is healthier than has it ever been.

And yet it is not enough. Not enough to feel confident in a bathing suit, not enough to lose this bit of pudge around my belly, maybe not enough to balance my slowing metabolism.

I’ve spent most of my life convinced I should exercise harder or more intensely, I should eat as healthy on weekends as I do on weekdays, I shouldn’t eat until I’m overfull. I should be perfect, or at least perfecter than I am now.

It will never happen. It isn’t worth it to me. I won’t give up baking or the batter-eating that accompanies it, I won’t give up sharing a bottle of champagne with Dave on Sunday afternoons, I won’t give up the too many hobbies that keep me from longer workouts, I won’t give up eating sushi rolls until I nearly burst, I won’t give up pasta, I won’t give up butter, I won’t give up cream.

Instead, I will give up bikinis. I will give up pants that don’t quite fit. I will give up guilt. I will not eat differently than I do now, but I will stop believing I should.

I am healthy. I am thin. I am fit. And I can eat pasta coated in cream and still be all of those things. I will never give up pasta and cream, but I will give up feeling bad about myself for eating it.

One year ago: Oatmeal Raisin Muffins
Two years ago: Crispy Bagel Roll
Three years ago: Fish Tacos

Printer Friendly Recipe
Fettuccine Alfredo
(from Cooks Illustrated’s The New Best Recipe)

6 appetizer servings

I’ve reproduced Cooks Illustrated’s recipe exactly below. But, in step 1, I found I needed to heat the cream-butter mixture over higher heat (medium-low to medium) for the cream to simmer.

To heat the bowls, either put them in a warm oven for a few minutes or ladle some of the hot pasta water into the bowls; leave the water in the bowl while you mix the pasta and sauce.

1⅔ cups heavy cream, preferably not ultrapasteurized
5 tablespoons unsalted butter
Salt
1 recipe fresh egg pasta, cut into fettuccine (below)
2 ounces (1 cup) parmesan cheese, freshly grated
Ground black pepper
Pinch freshly grated nutmeg

1. Bring 4 quarters water to a rolling boil in a large pot.

2. Combine 1⅓ cups of the cream and the butter in a sauté pan large enough to accommodate the cooked pasta. Heat over low heat until the butter is melted and the cream comes to a bare simmer. Turn off the heat and set aside.

3. When the water comes to a boil, add 1 tablespoon salt and the pasta to the boiling water and stir to separate the noodles. Cook until almost al dente. Drain the pasta and add it to the sauté pan. Add the remaining ⅓ cup cream, the parmesan, ½ teaspoon salt, pepper to taste, and the nutmeg. Cook over very low heat until the sauce is slightly thickened, 1 to 2 minutes. Serve the fettuccine immediately in heated pasta bowls.

Fresh Egg Pasta (adapted from Cooks Illustrated)

You can mix this in the food processor, but for me, it’s easier to mix two ingredients by hand than it is to wash the food processor (even in the dishwasher).

You can also use store-bought pasta dough instead of making your own. You’ll need a pound for the amount of sauce in the alfredo recipe.

2 cups (10 ounces) all-purpose flour
3 eggs

1. Measure out the flour into a large bowl. Make a well in the center and add the eggs. Use a fork to break up the eggs slightly. Use a rubber spatula to mix the eggs into the flour until the dough is smooth. If it’s sticky, knead in more flour. If it’s too dry to mix in all the flour, knead in water ½ teaspoon at a time until the dough comes together.

2. Divide the dough into 6 portions. Spread dry kitchen towels under the pasta roller and over the counter. Set the pasta machine at its widest opening. Working with one portion of dough at a time and keeping the others covered, roll the dough through the pasta roller. Fold it in thirds like a letter and roll it through the wide setting again. Repeat four more times, adding flour as needed to prevent the dough from sticking to the machine.