Sunday, March 29, 2009

Daring Bakers Challenge: Lasagne of Emilia-Romagna

I was beyond ecstatic about this month's challenge. Was so ready for savory recipes!

The sauces are pretty easy. Have always made my own ragu sauce, so it's not a biggie, until I read the recipe. Celery and carrot. Really?! Just never thought of mixing in celery and carrot in it. Interesting. The way the sauces sounded, bechamel and ragu sauce..mmhh, I knew it'd be super delicious. And spinach is one of my favorite vegetables. What a combo.

I was so thrilled, or to be exact, so sure about my memory that I went pouncing to kitchen ready to make the lasagne shells without printing nor writing down the recipe. Flour, spinach, eggs. As I mixed in the dough, I though to myself, shouldn't this be somewhat sticky in the beginning? 'Nawh' - keep mixing keep mixing. )#()@!!!! This does not feel right.

Ran to my laptop - holycow!!! Spinach measurement!! 300 gr FRESH spinach or 170 gr FROZEN!!! Used frozen but with 300 gr (150 gr since I halved the recipe) as measurement. So 1 egg and 200 gr flour with 150 gr frozen spinach. Of course only time like this that I only had less than a cup of flour left in my flour tin. And no eggs!! Grrr!! Wait, I have some egg whites in fridge, leftover from some baking couple days ago. Hm. So it came down to, sprinkle some flour and egg whites and had to mix it by feel. Oh please please, let it come out alright!

The dough was not as pliable as I thought it'd be; I think I could safely blame it to my totally wrong ratio of ingredients! Such a simple and short list of ingredients and I just had to measure it wrong! Didn't roll the dough as thin as I would love to, simply because if I spent another 30 minutes to roll out the dough, I'd have no energy to lift my fork to eat the end result!! If I were to do this everyday, I would be able to omit all the dip and curl in the gym, for sure. Thin or bit thick pasta - did not seem to have a major impact on our appetite. No leftover!

Decided to skip out the meat part and used chopped up cremini mushrooms, red peppers, zucchini and artichoke. For having said that, I just couldn't say no to pancetta and prosciutto. It's just way too important of ingredient to be left out. :D The ragu sauce came out so good that I was so tempted to serve it right away with plain ol spaghetti.

The March 2009 challenge is hosted by Mary of Beans and Caviar, Melinda of Melbourne Larder and Enza of Io Da Grande. They have chosen Lasagne of Emilia-Romagna from The Splendid Table by Lynne Rossetto Kasper as the challenge. And it is absolutely one of my favorites challenges and recipes from Daring Bakers!

#1 Spinach Egg Pasta (Pasta Verde)

Preparation: 45 minutes

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

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

Working by Hand:


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

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

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

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

A sharp chef’s knife for cutting pasta sheets.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

#2 Bechamel

Preparation Time: 15 minutes

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

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

#3 Country Style Ragu’ (Ragu alla Contadina)

Preparation Time: Ingredient Preparation Time 30 minutes and Cooking time 2 hours
Makes enough sauce for 1 recipe fresh pasta or 1 pound/450g dried pasta)

3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil (45 mL)
2 ounces/60g pancetta, finely chopped
1 medium onion, minced
1 medium stalk celery with leaves, minced
1 small carrot, minced
4 ounces/125g boneless veal shoulder or round
4 ounces/125g pork loin, trimmed of fat, or 4 ounces/125g mild Italian sausage (made without fennel)
8 ounces/250g beef skirt steak, hanging tender, or boneless chuck blade or chuck center cut (in order of preference)
1 ounce/30g thinly sliced Prosciutto di Parma
2/3 cup (5 ounces/160ml) dry red wine
1 &1/2 cups (12 ounces/375ml) chicken or beef stock (homemade if possible)
2 cups (16 ounces/500ml) milk
3 canned plum tomatoes, drained
Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

Working Ahead:
The ragu can be made 3 days ahead. Cover and refrigerate. It also freezes well for up to 1 month. Skim the fat from the ragu’ before using it.

Browning the Ragu Base:
Heat the olive oil in a 12 inch (30cm) skillet (frying pan) over medium-high heat. Have a large saucepan handy to use once browning is complete. Add the pancetta and minced vegetables and sauté, stirring frequently with a wooden spoon, 10 minutes, or until the onions barely begin to color. Coarsely grind all the meats together, including the prosciutto, in a food processor or meat grinder. Stir into the pan and slowly brown over medium heat. First the meats will give off a liquid and turn dull grey but, as the liquid evaporates, browning will begin. Stir often, scooping under the meats with the wooden spatula. Protect the brown glaze forming on the bottom of the pan by turning the heat down. Cook 15 minutes, or until the meats are a deep brown. Turn the contents of the skillet into a strainer and shake out the fat. Turn them into the saucepan and set over medium heat.

Reducing and Simmering: Add the wine to the skillet, lowering the heat so the sauce bubbles quietly. Stir occasionally until the wine has reduced by half, about 3 minutes. Scrape up the brown glaze as the wine bubbles. Then pour the reduced wine into the saucepan and set the skillet aside.

Stir ½ cup stock into the saucepan and let it bubble slowly, 10 minutes, or until totally evaporated. Repeat with another ½ cup stock. Stir in the last 1/2 cup stock along with the milk. Adjust heat so the liquid bubbles very slowly. Partially cover the pot, and cook 1 hour. Stir frequently to check for sticking.

Add the tomatoes, crushing them as they go into the pot. Cook uncovered, at a very slow bubble for another 45 minutes, or until the sauce resembles a thick, meaty stew. Season with salt and pepper.

Oh and the new logos are just way too cool!

My favorite is of course the Chopping Ninja!! Love my knife!

Friday, March 20, 2009

Belated Chinese New Year Dinner Post

Growing up, my grandma's menu for Chinese New Year has always been lontong/ rice rolls and its fixings. Oh, the memory I have. My grandma with her huge pot - she and her tiny frame of 5'1" could easily fit in the pot!! A week worth of cooking. She is about 80 now and still fixing up this dish for the New Year. So I thought, okay..let's do lontong this year!

Note: I sent her a photo of finish product and she giggled, chuckled and I think...sorta proud. Or so I hope.

It was lontong, lodeh (mixed vegetables in mild coconut milk gravy), tauco (sliced up chillies cooked in salted soy beans sauce), rendang (beef in spicy coconut milk), sambal kering kentang and a must of such dish, shrimp crackers to top it up. The trio lodeh, tauco and rendang will have their own designated posts soon.

And guess what was the hardest part of all? Frying up the sambal kering kentang! The fried potato stick thing. Three attempts!! I was so flabbergasted. I couldn't even bring myself up to ask my mom what I did wrong. She'd laughed her head off. Seriously. The spices was a cinch. My mistake was not frying up enough oil for the spices (I have a tendency to cut back oil to minimal)..and they all turned up clumpy.

Recipe for Sambal Kering Kentang:
- 1 kg potatoes, cut up like matchsticks, soak in water and drained thoroughly. Deep fry and set aside once crispy.
- 1 tsp vinegar
- 3 tbsp fried onion

Grind to paste:
- 8 small shallots
- 2 garlic
- 10 candlenuts
- 1 tbsp dried shrimp
- 2 tbsp sugar
- 10-15 red peppers (though I only throw in about 4, half of our guests can't stand much heat)

- Heat about 4 tbsp oil and stir in spice paste, add vinegar and keep stirring until paste is somewhat dry up. Toss in fried potato sticks and fried onion. Stir and mix well with spices. Quickly turn off heat.
- Let cool before storing in a jar.

Mini chicken pies and curry puff as starters:

And it's only complete to serve some pineapple tarts with it:

I had to thank Lidia of 'Bianca's and Jordan's Mom' on her tips about whipping up pineapple jam/filling using canned pineapple!!! Oh what a time saving tip and less expensive too.

I have always wondered about using canned pineapple for these tarts but never tried it out, so when I heard she successfully did it. Why on earth would I spend time grating pineapple?? :D

Pineapple Tart:
- 700 gr flour
- 100 gr sugar
- 500 gr butter
- 3 egg yolks
- 2 canned crushed pinapple
- sugar to add to pineapple jam
(My mom recipe calls for old way of measuring : 1 rice bowl of fresh grated pinapple + 1 rice bowl of sugar) *sigh* And that's what I did all the time before using this quicker simpler method of canned pinapple!!

- Making the jam: Drained most of the juice from canned pineapple, leaving maybe just few tablespoons of it. Dump crushed pineapple to soup pot with medium heat on.
- Add sugar a little bit at the time. I forgot to measure how much I actually put in it. Hmm. But I am sure everyone has their preference in sweetness. I have always liked my jam/jelly on the tart side. I use hand blender to crush it some more. Then keep cooking until it reaches consistency of thick jam. Set aside and let cool.
- Making the tart dough: Beat sugar and butter until pale and creamy. Add in egg yolk, one at a time.
- Using hand/spatula, mix in flour and knead until it leaves the side of bowl.
- Take about 1 tablespoon of dough and roll to ball, make indentation in the center (like mini cup) and fill with pineapple jam. Gather back dough over jam and shape it back to round ball shape. Glaze with egg wash.
- I top mine with cloves - that is maybe the oldest method of making pineapple tart. Easy and sorta cute, no?
- Bake in 375 oven for about 30 minutes or until golden.

To end the night, some light fluffy cream puffs.