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Archive for December, 2009

I have been making this lasagna for years!  It was the first thing of my mother’s that I learned to cook.  Back then, it felt like a huge task to make this dish, and a wonderful accomplishment when the lasagna came out of the oven bubbling, cheesy, and appetizing!  Now, this lasagna is something that I “have-in-the-bag”.  I can make it with little effort!  I decided to make this lovely layered pasta dish because soon we will be enjoying the feast of Christmas, and lasagna is not on the menu for our holiday dinner.

This lasagna is designed to be easy, quick, and flavorful.  I use store-bought spaghetti sauce to cut down on the preparation time, though I think it would be amazing to make your own sauce from scratch.  I also use frozen chopped spinach for the same reason.  After cooking the lasagna noodles, assembling it, you can just pop it in the oven and forget about it for an hour.  During that time, the house starts smelling of cheesy, saucy goodness!

Adam loves my spinach lasagna and I love making it for him.  It tastes just like my mother’s!

Spinach Lasagna
by Anne
12 lasagna noodles
1 -1 1/2 jars of spaghetti sauce
2 -3 cups of ricotta cheese
1 package frozen spinach, defrosted
1/2 cup Parmigiano Reggiano
1 bag shredded mozzarella cheese
1 tsp onion powder
1 tsp garlic powder
1 egg
Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.  Spray a 13 x 9 baking pan with cooking spray, set aside.  Cook lasagna noodles according to package directions to just before al dente.  You’ll want to make sure the noodles still have a little “bite” to them because they will continue to cook in the oven.  Drain and let rest in the colander until cool enough to handle.

In a bowl, combine ricotta, egg, onion powder, garlic powder, Parmigiano Reggiano, and spinach until blended.

Spoon 1/4 of sauce into bottom of the baking pan. Place 3 lasagna noodles lengthwise on top of sauce, and one at the end crosswise and trim. Do not overlap noodles. Spread 1/3 of cheese and spinach mixture over noodles, top with 1/4 of sauce and 1/3 mozzarella cheese. Repeat layers, ending with noodles and sauce.  Sprinkle a little bit of mozzarella on top, reserving the rest of the mozzarella cheese for later.

Cover pan with foil and bake for 45 minutes.  Top with remaining cheese and bake 15 minutes uncovered to brown-up the cheese slightly.  Let rest 10 minutes before serving.  Enjoy with garlic bread!

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“Oh the weather outside is frightful…”  The first snow storm of the season hit New York this past weekend, and Adam and I hunkered-down in our apartment with hot chocolate and movies on TV.  The cold, snowy weather is prime soup-making time.  A creamy, hearty potato and leek soup with bread seemed to be the perfect thing to make.

I wanted to make Adam go, “Hmm” by adding bacon.  Yes, bacon!  Bacon and potatoes just go together, and I thought it would add a nice layer of flavor to a chicken broth based soup.  Many potato and leek soup recipes call for the soup to be puréed, however, for this soup, I wanted to be able to bite down into the pieces of potato and leek.  Next time I make this soup, I think I’ll purée half of soup to thicken it up a little bit, but still leave chunks of potato.

As I predicted, Adam exclaimed “Ooh!  There’s bacon in here!”  The potato and leek soup warmed us up as we watched the snow fall on New York.

Potato and Leek Soup
by Anne
Printable Recipe

2 leeks, white and light green part only
4 sprigs fresh thyme
1 – 1/4 pound russet potatoes, peeled, diced
2 TBS butter
1 TBS oil
2 strips bacon, diced
1/2 cup heavy cream
5 – 6 cups chicken broth
salt and pepper to taste

Using a sharp knife, halve the white part of the leek lengthwise and rinse well under cold running water to rid the leek of any sand. Slice thinly crosswise and set aside.

In a large soup pot over medium heat, melt the butter in the oil, and add the bacon. Cook for 5 to 6 minutes, stirring occasionally, until the bacon is very soft and has rendered most of its fat. Add the chopped leeks and cook until wilted, about 5 minutes. Add the chicken stock, potatoes, thyme, and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to a simmer and cook for 25 minutes, or until the potatoes are soft and the soup is very flavorful.  Add the cream and heat through.  Add salt and pepper to taste.  Serve immediately with bread.

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It’s that time of year again – cookie baking time!  I love baking cookies, but due to my sweet tooth and ever-expanding derrière, I try to keep cookie baking to a minimum.  The holidays, however, mean that I get to bake for other people!  Perfect!  This year, I made cookies for Adam’s co-workers, and friends of ours.

I titled this post as “Holiday Cookies”, because I actually baked 2 types of cookies that are Christmas-y (Peanut Butter Blossoms and Cranberry Bliss Bars) and 2 that are more Hanukkah-like (Coconut Macaroons and Hamantaschen).  The coconut macaroons did not go as planned, and are not featured in the photo.  This is the first time that Ina Garten has failed me.  She recommended a cooking time that was way too long, and an oven that was way too hot.  I burned them – burnt sugar bottoms and crispy coconut – not completely charred, but I did not want to give them away as gifts.

I started off with the Peanut Butter Blossoms.  They are one of my favorites, and I make them every year.  I love the crisp sugary outside and the chewy center paired with the added bonus of the Hershey’s chocolate kiss!  Chocolate and peanut butter are a blissful match & a crowd pleaser!

Next up, the Cranberry Bliss Bars, which I found on this website.  They were inspired by the Cranberry Bars served at Starbucks during the Holiday season.  These bars are sinful!  There are white chocolate chunks and cranberries mixed into the batter, cream cheese frosting, and a drizzle of chocolate on top (I used semi-sweet instead of white chocolate).  Truly decadent!  I am definitely going to keep a few pieces for just Adam and I!

Last but not least, Hamantaschen.  Adam’s favorite “Christmas cookie”.  Hamantaschen cookies are traditionally served during the Jewish celebration of Purim.  We do not typically celebrate Purim, but feel that Hamantaschen should be enjoyed throughout the year!  Hamantaschen are buttery cookies filled with fruit or sometimes even a poppy seed mixture.  Adam and I prefer apricot Hamantaschen.  I made a few huge ones, and a bunch of smaller cookies.

Cranberry Bliss Bars
recipe adapted from A Year in the Kitchen
Printable Recipe

Cake:
1 cup butter, softened
1 1/4 cups light brown sugar, packed
3 eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
3/4 cup diced dried cranberries
6 ounces white chocolate, cut into chunks

Frosting:
8 ounces cream cheese, softened
3 cups powdered sugar
1 teaspoon lemon juice
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Drizzle:
4 oz. semi-sweet chocolate, or white chocolate
1 tbsp. half & half or heavy cream
1/2 cup dried cranberries

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.  Beat butter and brown sugar with an electric mixer until smooth.  Add eggs, vanilla, ginger, and salt; beat well.  Gradually mix in flour until smooth.  Mix 3/4 cup diced dried cranberries and white chocolate into the batter with spatula.  Pour batter into a well-greased 9×13-inch baking pan and spread evenly.  Bake for 30 to 35 minutes or until cake is light brown on the edges.  Let cool.

Combine cream cheese, powdered sugar, lemon juice and vanilla with an electric mixer until smooth.  When the cake has cooled, spread frosting over the top of cake.  Sprinkle cranberries over top.  In a double boiler, or in a bowl resting on a pot of simmering water (not touching the water), add chocolate and half & half for the drizzle, melt whisking continually.  Drizzle over the top layer using a fork, chill for 4 hours.  Slice into triangles, makes 16-20 triangles.

Peanut Butter Blossoms
Printable Recipe

1 bag Hershey’s Kisses
1/2 cup butter, softened
3/4 cup creamy Peanut Butter
1/3 cup granulated sugar, plus extra for rolling
1/3 cup packed light brown sugar
1 egg
2 tablespoons half & half
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1-1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt

Preheat oven to 375°F.  Remove wrappers from chocolates – start with half the bag.  Beat butter and peanut butter in large bowl until well blended. Add 1/3 cup granulated sugar and brown sugar; beat until fluffy.  Add egg, milk and vanilla; beat well.  Stir together flour, baking soda and salt; gradually beat into peanut butter mixture.  Shape dough into 1-inch balls. Roll in granulated sugar and place on ungreased cookie sheet.  Bake 8 to 10 minutes or until lightly browned.  Wait 1 minute, and then press a chocolate kiss into the center of each cookie; cookie will crack around edges.  Remove from cookie sheet to wire rack. Cool completely.

Hamantaschen
adapted from Mele Cotte
Printable Recipe

½ cup shortening
½ cup unsalted butter or unsalted margarine
l ¼ cups sugar
3 eggs
¼ cup milk
2 teaspoons vanilla
(scant) 4 cups all-purpose flour
½ teaspoon salt
3 teaspoons baking powder
Egg Wash of whole egg & milk or cream
Apricot filling (or fruit filling of your choice)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.  Combine flour, salt, and baking powder; set aside.

Cream the shortening and sugar.  Add eggs and blend until smooth.  Stir in milk and vanilla, then in flour mixture until a firm (but soft) dough forms. Form into a smooth disk, cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 1 hour.  Roll out dough on lightly floured board to a thickness of 1/8th inch.  Cut dough into 3-inch rounds.  Fill with a heaping teaspoon of filling, and fold three sides towards into center, pinch sides together.  Brush pastries with egg wash.  Bake 18 minutes, or until golden brown. (Makes 48-60 cookies, depending on size)

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Braised Cabbage

I found this recipe for braised cabbage on simmer down! (a food lover’s blog), and I knew I had to make it.  I know, it is strange that I would go gaga over cabbage, but it’s true. Imagine, cabbage so tender and buttery that it just melts in your mouth, onions and carrots so sweet you forget that they are good for you, and then the heat of the red and black pepper making sure that your taste buds are still paying attention.

I grew up eating cabbage around holiday times in the form of halupki (stuffed cabbage roll), haluski (cabbage and noodles), and sauerkraut.  My mother’s side of the family is Ukrainian with some Polish influences.  For Christmas Eve, every year, my mother makes traditional perogies from scratch!

There are a variety of cabbage types:  Savoy, Napa, Chinese (Bok Choy), Red, and of course Green.  The green cabbage is quite dense and compact, and the cabbage of choice in my family.  The green cabbage is a gorgeous shade of green, but when cooked, transforms into buttery yellow, and becomes almost translucent.

Braising is a wonderful way to display cabbage in all of its glory, and the carrots and onions balance out the flavors.  It would be great as a side dish to any meal.  I served mine mid-week with an easy grilled chicken breast and a glass of white wine.  Enjoy!

Braised Cabbage
from simmer down! (a food lover’s blog) (adapted from Molly Stevens’  All About Braising)
Printable Recipe

1 green cabbage, approx. 2 lbs (ok if it’s over)
1 carrot
1 medium to large onion (about 8 oz.)
¼ cup olive oil
¼ cup chicken stock (use vegetable stock or water for vegan version)
sea salt, pepper, & dried red pepper flakes

Preheat oven to 325° F.  Core your cabbage; if it weighs over 2 lbs, remove a wedge or two and reserve for another use.  Cut the remainder into 8 wedges.  Peel carrot and cut it into coins.  Peel and slice the onion into ¼-inch-thick rings.

Brush a 9 x 13 baking dish with a little of the olive oil.  Season the cabbage wedges with salt & pepper on both sides and place into the baking dish, overlapping them slightly.  Scatter the carrots and onions over the top.  Sprinkle with red pepper flakes.  Drizzle the remainder of the olive oil over the vegetables, and pour the ¼ cup stock or water into the bottom of the dish, tilting slightly to distribute.  Cover tightly with foil and bake for 2 hours.  Check after an hour or so to make sure the pan is not dry; if it is, add a small amount of water or stock.

After 2 hours, remove the foil and increase the heat to 425°.  Bake for an additional 15 minutes or until the cabbage begins to caramelize and brown a little on top.  Sprinkle a little sea salt on top and serve.

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Each year for Hanukkah, Adam and I make potato latkes.  For weeks, I thought Hanukkah started on the 12th (today).  My calendar says so.  Yesterday, however, in the late afternoon I got a text message from Adam telling me that Hanukkah actually started that day the 11th at sundown.  No potatoes in the house, no oil, no candles, no apple sauce, nothing.  Frantically, I ran to the grocery store to pick up the necessary items.

Latkes are potato pancakes.  Potato pancakes can be found in traditional Polish, Ukrainian, German, Irish, and Yiddish cuisines.  Latkes are eaten during Hanukkah and fried in oil.  The oil for cooking the latkes is reminiscent of the oil from the Hanukkah story that kept the Second Temple of ancient Israel lit with a long-lasting flame that is celebrated as a miracle.  This is also the reason for lighting the menorah.

Our wonderful friends let us borrow their menorah for Hanukkah this year!

I have had to learn how to make latkes over the years, as I was raised Catholic.  Adam’s grandmother gave us a recipe, but alas, it too is in storage.  I remember most of the ingredients and improvised the rest.  They turned out really well.  The outsides were crispy while the insides stayed nice and moist and flavorful.  Latkes can be served with a variety of condiments – from savory (sour cream) to sweet (apple sauce and  sugar).  We like ours with a sprinkle of sugar and apple sauce.

Happy Hanukkah!

Latkes
by Anne
Printable Recipe

2 1/2 pounds russet, or baking potatoes (about 4 large), scrubbed, peeled, halved
1 large onion, peeled and quartered
1 large egg
2 TBS flour, or matzoh meal
1/2 tsp baking powder
1 tsp salt
1/2 tsp black pepper
Mazola Canola Oil for frying

Preheat oven to 250 degrees F.  Line a large baking sheet with two layers of paper towels; set aside.

Using the grating disk of a food processor, shred the potatoes and onion together.  Transfer potato and onion mixture to a large colander set over a bowl.  Using both your hands, squeeze the potato mixture vigorously, trying to get as much of the liquid out as possible, letting the liquid drip through the potatoes and colander into the bowl underneath.  Once you have finished squeezing, let mixture stand over the bowl for a minute or two.

Lift colander out of the bowl.  Pour off the watery brown liquid in the bowl, but save the layer of pale beige paste at the bottom. (This chalky-looking stuff is potato starch, and you need it to help your latkes stick together.)  Scrape up the paste, dump in the potato mixture, and mix together with a spatula.

Mix in flour or matzoh meal, salt, pepper, baking powder, and egg until it is evenly incorporated – you may want to use your hands.

Pour oil into a large skillet  to a depth of 1/4 to 1/2 inch.  Over medium-high heat, heat oil until a shred of potato mixture instantly sizzles when dropped in.  In batches, pack potato mixture in a 1/4 cup measuring cup and place carefully in the oil.  Repeat, with 2 or 3 others – do not overcrowd the pan.  After 1 minute of cooking, use a slotted spatula to flatten out into a small disk.  Let fry until deep golden brown, about 4 or 5 minutes, then flip over and continue frying until both sides are well browned, about 8 to 10 minutes for each batch.  Using the slotted spatula, transfer latkes to the paper-towel-lined baking sheet.  Place baking tray in the oven to keep latkes warm.  Once all of latkes are cooked, serve immediately with your favorite condiment (apple sauce, sugar, or sour cream).

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Adam and I are cat people.  We love our cats like they are our children.  We worry about them, make sure we are feeding them the best food, and we want them to be happy.  We, like other cat people, believe that our cats are special.  I mean, heck, I even devote a post a week to them on my cooking blog!  Our Amos and Sadie have very distinct personalities, and likes and dislikes.  They are not pretentious or prissy, however, they do have some favorite things.  Cue music:  “Raindrops on roses and whiskers on kittens…”  These are a few of their favorite things:

1) Napping

Amos and Sadie, like every other cat in the world, love to nap.  They sleep for the majority of the day.  Amos prefers sleeping on soft things – a folded up towel on a chair, the comforter on the bed, a blanket on the couch, and separated laundry on the floor.  Sadie will sleep just about anywhere, including the floor, however, she loves to nap on the office chair.  Oh, and did I mention that I’m usually sitting in the chair, too!

2) Wet Food

Sadie and Amos are not finicky cats, they like pretty much everything that you put in front of them.  Both Amos and Sadie go crazy for Friskies Meaty Bits.  As soon as Adam walks through the door at night, they run into the kitchen and start meowing incessantly.  I hate the fact that they are addicted to this stuff because I don’t feel that it has any nutritional value.  We give them high-quality, made for sensitive stomachs (Amos has tummy issues) dry cat food.  However, Amos loves lapping up every drop of the gravy, his tummy tolerates it, and we like to make both of them happy.

3) Cat Dangler Toy

Speaking of happy, the next item on the list of Amos and Sadie’s favorite things is the Purrfect Feather Cat Toy™ .

This little beauty provides hours of fun.  Seriously, if you have a cat, you need to get this!  It comes with an insert, so once they destroy the first one, you have a back-up.  They go bonkers for it, I mean “certifiably insane” for it – spinning in circles, jumping in the air, flipping, and diving!

4) Scratching Post

Another cat essential, that Amos and Sadie love, is a scratching post.  They love stretching out while scratching and it steers them away from the couch.  We actually have a large cat climber/scratching post in storage.  This is similar to the one that we have in our sublet.

These are only a few of their favorite things…

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Beef Kabobs

I recently was able to rescue some of my pans from our storage unit, and lo and behold, my grill pan was included!  I missed this grilling-beauty over the summer months.  It is practically impossible to grill in New York on an outdoor grill, unless you illegally cart your BBQ grill to your local park.  Seeing as it is illegal, and that space in your apartment is precious (where would you store a grill in your apartment, come on!), I resort to a stove top grill pan.  I certainly put it to good use last night, and made beef kabobs.  Meat and veggies on a stick – Yum!

There are many different ways of spelling kabob – kebab, kabob, kabab – depending on where they are from.  Kabobs can be found in Turkish, Persian, Iraqi, Arabic, Greek, Indian, Asian, U.S., Armenian, and a whole bunch of other countries’ cuisines.  Each region, culture, and religion have their own way of making kabobs.  Usually kabobs include pieces of meat and some vegetables cooked on skewers.

In Los Angeles, we lived in an Armenian neighborhood, where the kabobs were dynamite!  I didn’t even attempt to make kabobs there because we could just walk (yes, we actually walked in LA) around the corner to find 3 different kabob houses that could blow mine out of the water.  I can’t remember the last time I made kabobs.  So, I decided to make an Armenian influenced beef kabob.

I marinated the beef and veggies (separately) for 4 hours before popping them on the skewers.  I chose acidic items to marinade the beef to break down the muscle fibers allowing for more absorbtion of the liquids, and thus yielding a juicier piece of meat.  Oh, and it was juicy & flavorful!  I served our kabobs over rice pilaf.  The butteriness of the pilaf with the succulent beef and the hearty vegetables was a winning combination.  There is something very medieval about eating meat off a stick!

Beef Kabobs
by Anne
Printable Recipe

1 lb beef, cubed
8 oz mushrooms, whole
1 red onion, cut into wedges, 1/4 of onion reserved for marinade
1 zucchini, cut into half-moons

marinade for the beef:
2 TBS olive oil
2 TBS lemon juice
2 tsp dried oregano
2 TBS red wine vinegar
1/4  diced red onion

2 garlic cloves minced
marinade for the vegetables:
1 TBS olive oil
1 TBS lemon juice
1 tsp dried oregano
1 TBS red wine vinegar
1 garlic clove minced

Place the beef in a resealable plastic bag, or bowl.  In a small bowl, whisk together the marinade ingredients for the beef.  Pour over the beef and stir to coat all pieces evenly.  Seal the bag, or cover the bowl with plastic wrap.  Place onion wedges (each layer released), zucchini, and mushrooms in a separate container.  Whisk together the marinade for the vegetables in a small bowl, and pour over the vegetables.  Stir to coat evenly.  Seal or cover, and refrigerate both the meat and vegetables for at least 4 hours or up to 8.
If you are using bamboo or wood skewers, make sure to soak in water for 30 minutes to an hour to prevent burning.

Thread on skewers, alternating the meat and vegetables.  Make sure to leave a little space between each piece to ensure even cooking.  Broil or grill the skewers until the beef is nearly cooked through – approximately 3-5 minutes per side.  Serve hot with your choice of side dish.

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