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Winter Greens Lasagna

11 Mar
Lasagna

Winter Greens Lasagna

Everyone loves lasagna yet I know great cooks who won’t bother to make it at home, myself included for a long while, because it seemed too much work. 

Not true, not true!

I’ve learned over the past few years lasagna can be pretty damn easy to make, particularly when someone reveals to you, as my great friend and great cook Tiffiny told me, that you don’t have to boil the lasagna noodles. That blew my mind, given the one time I tried to boil the noodles, then layer them, was a nightmare of near biblical proportions.  I never got that tray of lasagna into the oven and I never tried again until Tiff told me, no you don’t have to do that. Just layer them into the lasagna out of the box.  Genius.

Ultimately, lasagna is simply layers of flavors you stuff in the oven and bake. Yes, the layers themselves determine how good it will be and you want to make sure it isn’t too dry. But particularly with some quality store bought ingredients, you can prep and layer a terrific homemade lasagna in 30 minutes or less. Lasagna also sits beautifully so you can prep it on a Sunday, have it ready to shove in the oven when you get home Monday and then have wonderful leftovers all week. 

While I love me a classic red lasagna, my best version is one I invented a couple of years ago. I call it ‘Winter Greens Lasagna’ because I came up with it in January, a perfect time for this luscious white lasagna made with tons of greens available in winter. But you can enjoy this any time of year with all kinds of greens. I invented it because I am addicted to greens of all kinds. You could even throw some collards in here, though I’m not sure I’d make it with only collards.

Like most lasagnas, Winter Greens Lasagna is ridiculously adaptable and, more importantly, ridiculously easy and ridiculously good. When I made it last week to take some photos and get the recipe firmly set, everyone who was bouncing in and out of the house said it was the best lasagna they’ve ever had. I’ll take the compliment and tell you, yes, this is a killer dish. The only real work involved is sautéing the greens which, while it takes 25 minutes or so, is also high on the easy scale 

Give this a try.

Lasagna

Winter Greens Lasagna

WINTER GREENS LASAGNA

NOTES:

  • This is very much a ‘throw a bunch of stuff together’ recipe that is hard to mess up, as long as you make sure to flavor your greens. I’ve tried to be particular about the amounts, which is not my forte, but a little more here and a little less there won’t mess you up.
  • A ton of greens cook down to very little greens. You want more greens than you think you need. They will reduce. With my latest version I started with three large Costco bags of mixed kale, chard and spinach (so easy, no washing or chopping) and they reduced way way way down. Just keep reducing and adding. Make sure you have enough to start. If you have extra, wow, awesome, more greens. 

 INGREDIENTS

  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 medium sweet onion, medium dice
  • 6 – 10 medium garlic cloves, sliced thin 
  • 2 cups cups heavy cream
  • 1 pound red kale, washed, tough stems removed, and coarsely chopped (about 10 cups)
  • 1 pound swiss chard, washed, tough stems removed, and coarsely chopped (about 8 cups)
  • 1 lb spinach, washed and coarsely chopped
  • 1 cup chicken or vegetable broth and/or white wine or combo
  • 2 5 oz containers of crème fraîche (I like Bellweter Farms)
  • 1 9-ounce box lasagna noodles (gluten free is fine!)
  • 1 15 oz tub of ricotta
  • 1 cups finely grated Parmesan 
  • 1 cup finely grated Pecorino cheese (mix the cheeses)
  • Salt, pepper, red pepper flakes

INSTRUCTIONS

  • Heat the oven to 400ºF and arrange a rack in the middle.
  • Sauté onion in olive oil over medium-low heat, seasoning with salt and freshly ground black pepper. Cook until getting soft, stirring occasionally, about 8 minutes. Add the garlic and a few good shakes of red pepper flakes and continue to sauté until garlic begins to soften. 
  • Fill your pot (the bigger the better here) with handfuls of greens, toss with the other ingredients and cook, stirring occasionally, until slightly wilted. Add a few glugs of white wine (if using — which I recommend for flavor — if not start with your broth) and continue adding greens, more handfuls at a time, tossing when you add then, until all the greens are wilted.
    • Note: when the wine is about to burn off, start adding broth. Make sure there is always some liquid in the pot, helping the greens reduce.

      Wintergreens

      My first handfuls of greens

  • When all the greens are wilted, pour in a cup of cream and cook over low about 5 minutes more, tossing frequently, reducing the liquid a little more. Season with additional salt, freshly ground black pepper and red pepper flakes and remove from heat.
    • NOTE: The greens are the main source of savory flavor in the dish. Get these greens seasoned well. I like them with some kick because the creaminess of the rest of the ingredients will temper the spice considerably.
  • Spread a carton of the crème fraîche evenly over the bottom of a 13-by-9-inch baking dish. Cover the crème fraîche with a layer of noodles: break them up to fit… if they overlap slightly no big deal. Using tongs, spread 1/3 of the greens mixture from the pot and evenly spread over the noodles. Then cover with 1/3 of the ricotta and 1/4 of the Parmesan. Pour a little cream over the top. Repeat to make two more layers, ending with a final layer of noodles on top. Evenly pour more cream over noodles, about 1/4 cup but use more if you need it. Mix together the second container of crème fraîche with the remaining Parmesan/Pecorino mixture and spread evenly over the top.
  • Cover with foil and bake until bubbling and starting to brown, about 45 minutes. Remove foil and bake until top is browned completely and sauce is bubbling, about 10 minutes more. Let cool at least 10 minutes before serving.
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Winter Greens Lasagna, out of the oven, resting

Spicy “Get Well” Chicken Soup

5 Feb

I’ve been sick for a month and I never get sick. Apparently the whole world is feeling it. For me, every time it seems over, with my defenses down a different bug comes barreling in and takes over. Plus, try as I might when I don’t feel well, I don’t eat well. Comfort food city, you know?

But I hit a wall this weekend: “I’ve had enough of this $@#%~!” 

So I created a spicy chicken soup designed to shock my system with fresh, healthy and spicy ingredients, something I could detox on all week. 

Spicy Get Well Soup

Turns out, though, it also happened to end up one of the best soups I’ve ever made. This is light, fresh and incredibly healthy soup with a spicy kick.  But you don’t have to have the flu to love this soup. I’m even having it for breakfast. It’s that good. 

If you do have the flu, an appetizer of my garlic salad and a bowl of this chicken soup will have you well on the way to recovery. After a weekend of eating both, I seriously feel 100 times better.

And so I present to you: 

TOM’S SPICY “GET WELL” CHICKEN SOUP

This is a great “throw a bunch of stuff in a pot without worrying too much about the amounts and it still comes out amazing” kind of recipe. You could easily vary the ingredients and it will turn out well. But use the specific ingredients noted here the first time you make it to get the genius. Then you can start messing with it.

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Best Cookbooks 2017

13 Jan

Better late than never, right?

These lists can be a bit silly because I obviously did not read nor cook from every cookbook released this year. I am a proud cookbook whore, however, and read and cooked from quite a few. These are the cookbooks I particularly loved this year, you can’t go wrong with any of them. 

And remember, if you are building a cookbook library, always a great thing to do, I have a good primer here: Building Your Cookbook Library Vol. 1.

On to the best… If you don’t want all five (!!!), see which food type strikes your fancy and pick that one. Or just buy:

GJELINA

 

Based on the recipes from one of Los Angeles’ most highly acclaimed restaurants, this is my cookbook of the year. From the wonderful recipes, much easier than you might expect, to the technique beautifully taught including marvelous pantry items to have in your cupboard and fridge, this is a book I will use the rest of my life. These are rustic dishes exploding with fresh vegetables and amazing flavors. Fish, chicken, beef, lamb, soup, vegetarian… the book has it all. I also love how easy the book is to use… many cookbooks have spines that make them difficult to prop open on the counter. Gjelina has a wonderful spine I wish every cookbook publisher would mimic. It easily flops open and stays open right where you want it. Read, cook and enjoy.

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Your Perfect Thanksgiving

17 Nov

While this is an amalgam of previous Thanksgiving posts, I hone every year. I know you have your favorites! We all do. But trust me… add a few of these (the cocktail and the turkey in particular.. and the dips… and, well, you know… ) and you will have the best dinner ever. Hell, just follow it all! I won’t let you down. 

Not a lot of writing below… you can scan other Thanksgiving posts for more detail. If it’s on the list below, I’ve made it many times, it’s easy, and your friends and family will be thrilled. 

COCKTAIL

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Cranberry Daiquiri

This is my signature cocktail for people from Thanksgiving thru New Years. Not too sweet and incredibly tasty. Once you have the syrup made, you can make it fast anytime:

Cranberry Daiquiri

DIPS

Pim Cheese corn dip

Spicy Pimento Cheese Dip

The pickle dip is killer. The pimento cheese dip is now referred to as “crack” by everyone who has tried it. Both will make you supremely happy:

Dill Pickle Dip

Spicy Pimento Cheese Dip

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Homemade Butter… in 5 minutes

14 Sep
Homemade Butter.jpg

Butter made in 5 minutes

One of my favorite movies of all time is Rosemary’s Baby, still as chilling and brilliantly acted and directed as it was almost 50 years ago when it debuted. A favorite line in the movie has a modern relevance regarding food.

Rosemary (Mia Farrow), as you should know, becomes pregnant after moving into an old gothic apartment building on Central Park. On the advice of her doctor, she begins drinking a fresh, healthy milkshake every day, mixed and delivered by her next door neighbor, Minnie Castavet (Ruth Gordon deservedly won an Oscar for this role). According to Minnie, the shake contains raw egg, gelatin, herbs, and something called Tannis Root.

Rosemary Baby Shake 2

Mia Farrow and Ruth Gordon in “Rosemary’s Baby”

Rosemary, along with the audience, slowly begins to suspect there is a conspiracy to steal or harm her baby. Famously, very little happens in the movie yet it ruthlessly crawls under the skin. The ordinary becomes terrifying as we wonder if something is actually happening or if Rosemary’s imagination is running wild. 

When the book (1967) and the movie (1968) were each released, both phenomenal hits, our country and much of the world was in the midst of a decades long embrace of chemically created food over natural: formula over breast milk, margarine or oleo over butter, Saccharin and corn syrup instead of sugar, boxed food over food made from scratch, etc, etc. It seems so obvious now that something natural would be healthier than something created in a lab. But given years of misinformation and outright lies from both the government and food corporations, there was no reason for the public to believe otherwise. (I really despise the FDA, a rant I’ll reserve for another post.)

What’s fascinating today about Rosemary’s Baby is that the shake, made from natural ingredients, is one of the creepiest things in the movie. It becomes a focal point and a source of fear for the audience, and then Rosemary herself. A knot begins to form in our stomachs every time Rosemary takes a sip. As her paranoia increases, she finally snaps and revolts against what she perceives is being done to her. Rosemary then delivers the line I love:

“I want my vitamins from pills, like everyone else!”

Crafted and created in a lab is what was healthy and normal to audiences at the time. Natural was not. Even with our modern perspective, we are thrilled when Rosemary takes this stand. Is she too late? Is anything actually wrong? You’ll have to watch this brilliant movie to find out. (Note: It’s free if you have Amazon prime… the movie is gorgeously shot by William Fraker so try to watch it on a big screen!)

We are thankfully moving away from the days of margarine and corn syrup (lies, LIES!) and the idea that crafted in a lab is good for you. We have returned to the wonderful knowledge that something as simple and wonderful as butter can be enjoyed without the guilt that was thrust upon us for years. It actually is healthy!

Yet true, decadent butter is still hard to find, at least in the USA, thank you FDA. Years ago I was in Italy and ate at a small family owned hotel/restaurant on a farm. After I sat down, they brought me bread and butter. I tasted the butter on the bread and thought my head would explode. I’d never tasted anything so good. I called the owner over and in my very broken Italian kept asking him, ‘What is this??” He kept shrugging and saying, “It’s butter.” I kept saying,  “No, this is NOT butter.” He became frustrated and looked at me like a stupid American and finally threw up his hands. “It’s just butter!” I realized later it was butter that had been churned that very day, with no pasteurization. My goodness, was that incredible butter, so different than what we buy in most stores. 

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Il Falconiere

I’ve recently discovered you can make such butter at home, fast, without a churn! All you need is some heavy (whipping) cream and a food processor. With basically no effort at all, you will have fresh, incredible butter. Give this a try (and let me know what you think!)

For the recipe, click here: Continue reading

Simple Fruit Tarts

24 Aug
tart

watercolor by Frances Newcombe

This post should actually be entitled Fruit Tarts for Dummies…  or rather, Fruit Tarts for A Dummy. Because, listen, if I can do this … I, me, someone with absolutely no patience for baking or dough or measuring exactly or any of that silliness… if I can do this, you can do this. And you will be so happy.

Fruit trees are one of the many benefits of living in Southern California. Not just fruit trees, but bountiful fruit trees that need very little upkeep. I am as bad at gardening as I am at baking (that patience issue) yet I have in my yard lemon trees, orange trees, apricot trees, a pomegranate tree, a kumquat tree, avocado trees, a macadamia nut tree and a glorious fig tree that goes crazy in season. Consequently, I’m always looking for ways to use the fruit.

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Prepping Fruit Tarts

I’ve written before about Patricia Wells, a chef whose writing and cooking had an incredible influence on my life. In her book At Home In Provence, there’s a gorgeous Apricot-Honey-Almond Tart you can also make with figs. It looked so incredible, and so easy, I had to give it a try. My first attempt turned out so well I kept making these tarts over the summer, in different variations, to master the tarts and see which fruits worked best. And so I give you below my slightly tweaked take on her recipe.

Did I mention how %@$# incredible they taste? Wow, are they wonderful. This recipe slays everyone by both beauty and taste. Anyone you serve the tart will have no idea how simple it is (and there’s no reason to let them know!) They’ll look at you like you had Patricia fed-ex the tart from her kitchen in France. Because it’s best served room temperature, it’s perfect not only for your home but to bring to a picnic or to a potluck. My goodness, these taste good. And they are light as well! While gorgeous, this tart is the opposite of a heavy, dense dessert. But you get all the pleasure just the same. 

Apricot Tart

apricot tart, right out of the oven

ONE NOTE: Hearty fruits such a stone fruits or figs are best with this recipe. The blueberry and raspberry versions I tried tasted great but those soft fruits started to break down into mush by the time they were finished cooking.

***!!! As an added treat this week, my beloved friend Frances Newcombe did some art for the post, including a downloadable PDF of the recipe – click here to download what you see below.

For the recipe and download, click here: Continue reading

Garlic Salad, My Most Requested Dish

10 Aug
GS Ingredients

Ingredients for Garlic Salad

Given all the food I cook, it should be annoying that something so ridiculously simple as my garlic salad would be the dish people currently request the most. Annoying, that is, if I didn’t love it myself and could eat it every night.

And often do.

GS - salad

Garlic Salad

I say its “my” garlic salad because I landed on this recipe after many, many attempts and variations. But to be honest, it’s my attempt at recreating a favorite dish from growing up, Mama Colichia’s House Salad. Colichia’s Italian Village was opened by Mama Colichia in 1935 in Port Arthur, Texas. I’m not sure the original location but when our family was going, which was often (same for much of my hometown), the restaurant was in the Colichia’s house on Proctor Street. The tables were set up in the living room and dining room and Mama Colichia worked out of her kitchen. 

The food was pure old fashioned Sicily and absolutely wonderful. I always ordered either the Veal Parmigiana (mostly) and the lasagna (on special occasions). The Spaghetti and Meatballs were also a town favorite. But the most remarkable dish that came out of that kitchen was the house salad Mama Colichia served with every meal. She made each salad by hand right before it came out of the kitchen. She used — and pardon my Texas-French — a shitload of garlic and distilled white vinegar. Good Lord, that salad. You can live on it.  We would talk about it as a family, obsessing on it. My dad, whom Mama Colichia loved, thought for years she put a dash of Dr. Pepper in the salad, because she used a Dr. Pepper bottle to hold her vinegar. (It works great!) You could see her making the salad when the swinging door dividing the kitchen from the dining room would swing back and forth when the waiters walked through the door. 

While Mama Colichia passed years ago and the house on Procter is no longer an Italian Village, her children and grandchildren still run updated versions at home and I always slide in to have the salad. 

Over the years, I’ve tried different variations to see if I could get close. I’ve finally ‘mastered it’, if you can call the rather ramshackle recipe below mastering. No matter. I will in no way claim this is a good as Mama Coilichia’s, but if/when I ask people what they want for dinner, I hear this the most. And so I give it to you.

Don’t be scared of the garlic. It’s good for you and you will love this.

Oh, and when I made this salad to take the pictures for the blog, I ate the whole bowl. It’s all I ate for dinner, with a martini, so don’t think I’m a pig. And I’m a rabbit, I love all salad in general. But yes I ate the whole bowl. It’s that good.

GS garlic salad

My dinner

For the recipe, click here: Continue reading