Mom’s Easy Lasagna

April 25, 2009

Adapted a bit, because I’ve somehow lost the handwritten recipe my mom sent me off to college with. The principle is the same though: it’s ‘easy’ because you don’t have to pre-cook the noodles. The way my mom did it when she had to feed three kids on little time was use a jar of store-bought sauce (probably a 28 oz. jar), watered down, and obviously you can do that too. But making your own sauce is really no effort, and even though it takes the better part of an hour, it’s bubbling on the stove while you’re doing other stuff. ANYWAY.

A tablespoon or two of olive oil

A few cloves of garlic and/or an onion

3 14 oz. cans peeled plum tomatoes (do not drain!)

12 oz to 1 lb of mozzarella, depending on how cheesy you want it (I used three 125g balls of fresh mozzarella)

Parmesan

One package ordinary lasagna noodles (not fresh, not with egg, just dried pasta)

1. Make your sauce. Heat the olive oil in a medium pot on medium-high, then saute your lightly crushed garlic cloves and/or sliced onion for about five minutes, seasoning with salt and pepper. Then add the cans of tomatoes and one can-full of water, bring to the boil, then turn the heat down and partly cover so it simmers. Let it simmer for at least a half an hour, 45 minutes is better. Smush the tomatoes a bit with the back of your spoon to make a smoother sauce. Taste and add salt if necessary.

2. Preheat your oven to 375º. Slice your mozzarella into half-inch thick slices. In whatever pan/dish is perfect for  your vision of lasagna (I use a big rectangular glass pyrex pan), ladle a layer of sauce on the bottom. Top with a layer of noodles–don’t hesitate to break some and fit in place so you’re covering the whole surface with noodles. Top with another layer of sauce (the noodles need to be completely covered), then add 1/3 of your mozzarella slices. Grate some parmesan right into the pan. Repeat layers of noodles, sauce, cheeses, noodles, sauce, cheeses, in that order.

3. Cover with foil tightly and bake in oven for 1 hour. Try not to burn the roof of your mouth when eating.

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Tomato Sauce I

November 16, 2008

You know, for pasta.

This is the first of three basic tomato sauces that you should have in your arsenal. Pasta is a cooking person’s dream: it’s quick, cheap, healthy, and tasty. We have some variation of pasta with tomato sauce at least once a week.

A little olive oil
2-4 garlic cloves OR a small onion
2 14 oz cans peeled plum tomatoes in juice†
Parmesan
1/2 lb pasta, any kind you like

1. Heat the olive oil (maybe 2 tablespoons) in a large frying pan over medium heat, like a notch above exactly medium. If you’re using garlic, just lightly crush the cloves, keeping them whole (so you can take them out later). If using onion, slice it thinly or chop it into small dice. Saute garlic or onion in olive oil for about 5 minutes, until soft, adding salt as they cook.

2. Meanwhile, put a big pot of water on another burner, add a generous palmful of salt, and turn the heat up to high. Drain the juice from the cans of tomatoes and add the tomatoes to the pan, smashing them up a bit with your wooden spoon. Stir it together, but don’t go crazy with the stirring; let the sauce come to the boil and then turn the heat down a little.

3. When your water is boiling, add your pasta, and cook as long as the package tells you to. The tomatoes only need to cook for about 15 minutes for the thing to become sauce. You’re looking to keep it at a moderate bubbling throughout—not crazy boiling, but not just sitting there in the pan either. Taste for seasoning, keeping in mind that tomatoes love salt. Oh and don’t forget to take out the garlic, if you used it. When your pasta is done to your liking, drain, and mix with the sauce. Top with grated parmesan and ground pepper.

†Two cans of tomatoes actually make enough sauce for three people, which is a pretty annoying reality. This leaves you with two options if you’re cooking for two. You can:

  • use one can and eat pasta like the Italians do, with the sauce more like a condiment for the pasta, which is supposed to be the main event; or
  • use two cans (like we always do), and ask yourself if you actually give a shit how you’re ‘supposed’ to eat your fucking dinner, and instead just let yourself enjoy the fact that you can afford to buy two measly cans of tomatoes and thus can live like a fucking king eating twice as much delicious sauce as those poor suckers still stuck in the old world.

Pancakes

October 15, 2008

You asked for it, you got it (eventually). Recipe adapted from the always dependable Mark Bittman:

Basic Pancakes
Makes 4-6 servings (note: leftover batter can be kept, covered and refrigerated, for several days)

2 cups all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon sugar
1 or 2 eggs
1 1/2 to 2 cups milk

1. Mix together the dry ingredients. Beat the egg(s) into 1 1/2 cups of the milk. Gently stir this into the dry ingredients, mixing only enough to moisten the flour; don’t worry about a few lumps. If the batter seems thick, add a little more milk.

2. Heat a skillet (non-stick is best) to medium or medium-low heat (every stove is different—you’re gonna have to adjust it as you see how it works). Add a teaspoon or two of butter or neutral oil (corn, peanut, etc) before you add batter each time. When the butter foam subsides or the oil shimmers, ladle batter onto the skillet, making any size pancakes you like. Adjust the heat as necessary; usually, the first batch will require higher heat than subsequent batches. The idea is to brown the bottom in 2 to 4 minutes, without burning it. Flip when the pancakes are browned at the bottom; they won’t hold together well until they’re ready.

3. Cook until the second side is lightly browned and serve, or hold on an ovenproof plate in a 200ºF oven for up to 15 minutes.

Notes on “Lebanese Chicken”

May 20, 2008

Hooray! I’m glad to hear that you’re getting into the swing of things. It sounds like it was a success! A few comments:

1. It looks like you got a pretty big bird; this may account for it taking longer than expected. You’re right, though, a lot of factors can affect cooking times, including your particular oven. I will say that it’s definitely worth the extra cost to buy free range, organic, and/or kosher chickens. What they lack in breast size they more than make up for in flavor.

2. Re: “the wrong pan,” that blackening you got is ’cause your pan is so big. Ideally you want a pan without a lot of room around the chicken. Who cares though? If you want to avoid killing yourself scrubbing that black stuff off of your pan, just put a layer of aluminum foil on the pan before you add your chicken.

3. I’m strangely pleased that you went out and bought a mortar and pestle. I will tailor my future directives accordingly. As you may have already guessed, for the Lebanese Chicken recipe, in addition to the coriander, you can (nay, should) smash the garlic to a paste in the mortar and pestle as well. I do it like this:

  • roughly chop up garlic into a few pieces, add it to mortar with the salt
  • pound that shit until it’s a paste
  • now add the coriander seeds, and crush kill destroy
  • in the mortar, add yr oil and lemon juice and mix it right there
  • Anyway, nice job!

Spicy Roasted Chicken Thighs

May 20, 2008

In the hopes that you will be persuaded to cook the following dish forthwith, I shall hereby lay out its many advantages over other, inferior, dishes.

1. Ease of preparation. I think you will find that the preparation of this repast requires no special training or expert skill. Requirements include:

  • the mincing of small vegetables, with a knife
  • the squeezing of a citrus fruit
  • the mixing together of generally compatible ingredients

I am in no doubt as to your capability of completing the above tasks, and without hindrance.

2. Speed of preparation. The preparation of this meal, in addition to its manifest ease, has the virtue of taking very little time to accomplish. My conjecture is that the entire culinary construction will take you no longer than three quarters of an hour, including thirty minutes during which you may indulge in some other pursuit, confident in the knowledge that the oven is performing its duties unheeded.

3. Cost of attaining the necessary ingredients. In addition to the above enticements, I think you will discover, if you inspect the ingredient list below, that this is a dish of the utmost economy. I wish to impugn neither your wealth nor your capacity to afford the finer things; I only wish to suggest that surely it is better if those finer things are, on occasion, not so dear.

I trust that you will find this dish one of those finer things, and, indeed, appetizing as well.

Spicy Roasted Chicken Thighs
(Serves 2)

4 chicken thighs
2 or 3 cloves of garlic, peeled
1 1-inch piece of ginger, peeled
1 small chile pepper (like jalapeno), seeded, or a large pinch of cayenne or red pepper flakes
1/2 lemon
1 tablespoon tomato paste
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp ground cumin
1/2 tsp ground coriander

1. Pre-heat oven to 400ºF. Mince garlic, ginger, and chile. Put in a bowl, add the juice of the lemon, the tomato paste, salt, cumin, and coriander. Mix to a paste (if it looks a bit dry, add another spoonful of tomato paste).

2. Rub mixture thoroughly onto chicken. If you want, you can make the recipe up to this point as much as 24 hours in advance, and leave the chicken to marinate, covered, in the fridge.

3. Put thighs in a roasting pan, skin side up, then put in the oven to roast 30-35 minutes, until done.

Chicken in Yellow Curry

May 10, 2008

So you made yesterday’s dish, and it was obviously a success, but yesterday’s gone, man, yesterday’s gone. It’s today, and, as it happens, you’ve got to eat dinner tonight again. Also, you’ve now got this thing of curry powder that you don’t know what to do with. What are you gonna do, make the same dish again? Come on.

The following is a recipe for “a curry,” which is essentially a dish that is spiced with a “curry powder,” which is essentially a spice mixture that varies pretty widely throughout Southeast Asia. Helpful, huh? This particular curry is Thai-like—although it’s not ‘authentic’ in that it’s not got a lot of the ingredients you’d find in a real Thai curry, it’s not exactly a gringo dish either. I don’t know what kind of heat tolerance you have, but obviously use or omit the chile as you wish.

Chicken in Yellow Curry
(Serves 2)

2 tablespoons peanut or vegetable oil
1 small onion
2 cloves of garlic
1 piece of ginger, about an inch long
1 small chile (a jalapeno will work) or a pinch of crushed red pepper flakes
1 tablespoon curry powder
3/4 of a can of coconut milk
1 lb of boneless chicken, dark or white meat, cut into bite-size pieces
salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 lime
a bunch of cilantro (optional)

1. Mince the onion, garlic, ginger, and chile. Put the oil in a deep skillet or pot and turn the heat to medium. Wait a minute, then add the onion, garlic, ginger, and chile, and a little salt. Cook, stirring frequently for about five minutes, until the vegetables seem tender, more like a paste. Add the curry powder and cook, stirring, for another minute.

2. Add the coconut milk and raise the heat a little. Cook for about 10 minutes, stirring occasionally, until it reduces a bit.

3. Add the chicken pieces, a few pinches of salt, and some black pepper, and cook, stirring frequently, until the chicken is cooked through, around 10-15 minutes. Chop up the cilantro leaves and add them, if you’re using them.

Serve over rice, with lime squeezed over top.

A Dinner of Chicken and Couscous

May 9, 2008

This is the sort of meal I imagine you’re looking for: quick, easy, tasty. The chicken dish is from Amanda Hesser’s book; it really is one of those head-scratchers of a recipe—put all this stuff in a bowl and it ends up tasting this good? Weird. The chicken dish has lots of delicious sauce; you’re gonna want to soak that shit up. Hence the couscous. Couscous is a good staple to have in your cooking repertoire. It’s quicker to make than rice, and much more difficult to fuck up. Of course, you can go crazy with it, adding all sorts of pine nuts, raisins, celery, herbs, whatever, but I tend to like it just fine as a basic grain.

I promise that you’ll be able to find mango chutney at the supermarket.

Chicken Roasted with Lemon Juice, Sour Cream, and Mango Chutney
(Serves 2—if you don’t want leftovers, you can divide everything in half to make it with one breast.)

4 boneless, skinless chicken breast halves (or, you know, 2 chicken breasts, each cut in half)
1/2 cup mayonnaise
1/2 cup sour cream
2 tablespoons “Major Grey” mango chutney (or any mango chutney you can find)
1 teaspoon curry powder
Juice of 1 lemon
Freshly ground black pepper

1. Preheat the oven to 450ºF. Lay the chicken flat in a roasting dish that’s large enough to fit the pieces in one layer. In a bowl, mix together the mayo and the sour cream. Add the chutney and the curry powder and keep mixing until smooth (you may find a fork works better than a spoon for this). Add the lemon juice a little at a time and taste as you go. It should be quite tangy. Stop when it’s to your liking (honestly, I almost always juice the whole lemon—it really brightens up the dish).

2. Spoon the sauce over the chicken. Place in the oven and roast until the chicken is just cooked through, about 15 minutes. After you take it out of the oven, grind fresh pepper over top.

Basic Couscous
(Again, serves 2. Feel free to divide or multiply the amounts; what’s important is you want 1.5 times the volume of liquid to couscous.)

2 tablespoons butter
3/4 cup couscous
A little more than 1 cup hot water (or stock if you have it)
Salt

1. Turn on two burners, one to medium-high, one to the lowest possible setting. Put a small pot on the medium-high burner, and add 1 tablespoon of the butter. When it melts, add the couscous, stirring it so the butter coats the grains. Let the couscous toast in the butter for a minute, and season it with a couple pinches of salt.

2. Pour in the hot water, and stir to mix. When it comes to a boil, cover the pot, and move it to the burner set to low. Leave it there, covered, and don’t touch it for about eight minutes. Don’t stir, don’t peek, don’t worry. After eight minutes, all the water should be absorbed. Stir through the grains with a fork to fluff them up a bit, and then stir in the second tablespoon of butter (you can leave this out if you want to cut down on fat). Taste and adjust for salt.

Lebanese Roast Chicken

May 4, 2008

All that is to say: here’s a recipe for a whole chicken.

Lebanese Roast Chicken
Easy as hell and really delicious. If you make this for a woman, you’ll probably get laid. This has become my standard roast chicken recipe; it’s so good that I don’t do it any other way anymore.

A note about marinating: the difference between marinating something for an hour or two or overnight is not really something you’ll notice. Likewise, if you only have time to rub the marinade onto the chicken and put it in the oven right away, by all means do it. It’ll still be great.

1 chicken, around 3 lbs*
2 cloves of garlic
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
1 tablespoon ground coriander
a lemon
3 tablespoons olive oil
freshly ground black pepper

1. Bash the hell out of your garlic cloves, then mince them really finely with a 1/2 teaspoon of the salt. The idea is to get them juicy, which the bashing helps, as does the salt. Put the minced garlic in a bowl with the rest of the salt and the coriander (if you have the means—a mortar and pestle, a food processor, or a coffee grinder—buy whole coriander seeds and grind/bash them yourself).

2. Add the juice of the lemon, then the olive oil. Stir it with a fork until it comes together a bit, but don’t worry about mixing it too well—it’s not important.

3. Rub the mixture all over the chicken, inside and out. You’re gonna end up with a bunch stuck to your hands, but don’t worry about it. If you can, refrigerate the chicken overnight, or for an hour or two, or for as long as you’ve got.

4. Pre-heat the oven to 450º. When it’s there, put the chicken in a roasting pan, breast side down (this helps protect the breast from overcooking), and grind some pepper over it. Put roasting pan in the oven and roast for 20 minutes. Then turn the oven down to 390º, cooking at that temp for a further 15-20 minutes, until the bird is quite brown. At that point, turn the chicken over, put back in the oven and roast for another 10 minutes or so, until the breast browns nicely.

5. A lot of people will tell you to let a roast rest for 10-15 minutes after you take it out of the oven, for the juices to run back into the meat. This will make things taste better, but again, it’s another one of those things that doesn’t matter that much. If you’re ready to eat, carve that fucker up. Obviously, check to see if it’s done first: pierce the skin; if the juices run clear, not pink, it’s done. If you’re still not sure, just cut into a meaty part of the thigh (away from a bone) and look in there.

*With the way chickens are now being bred, it may be difficut for you to find a 3 lb. bird (small chickens=tastier chickens). If you end up having to buy a chicken that’s a bunch heavier than that, change the cooking times to this: 10 minutes at 450º, turn down to 325º for 20min/lb (i.e., 1h20m for a 4lb bird), or until it’s nicely browned, then turn the chicken over until the breast browns.

Paul’s Cooking Course I: Chicken

May 4, 2008

OK. I’m pretty sure I remember you buying tons of frozen (boneless, skinless) chicken breasts from Costco. I think maybe you told me that that’s what you usually use. I’d like to break you from that habit.

Dave’s reasons to use thighs and legs (dark meat) instead of breasts:
1. Economy: Even buying in bulk, you’re not gonna find chicken breasts for less than $2.49/lb, whereas thighs and legs will go for $.99/lb.
2. Flavor: Preferring dark meat to white meat is not just a preference based on taste—white meat is much harder to cook well, because it overcooks and dries out so easily. Dark meat has more moisture, and thus you have a much more flexibility in cooking it—you’d have to work pretty hard to fuck up cooking a chicken thigh, whereas if the phone rings when a chicken breast is on the grill, you’re left with something with the texture of an old shoe.
3. Ease: I definitely understand the appeal of boneless pieces of chicken…they cook quicker, and they’re easier to eat, obviously. This is no longer a point in chicken breasts’ favor, however, as you can now find boneless thighs everywhere.

That said, obviously, chicken breasts have their place, I cook them sometimes. I just think you should let some dark meat into your life.

I’m gonna start this thing off with a bunch of chicken recipes, as per your needs.