Monday, January 1, 2018

Happy 2018


It's already 2018 in Australia, and in a Christmas-vacation-week fit of inspiration, I've already come up with a list of manageable (and measurable) resolutions/goals for myself. I'm applying one of the lessons I learned in 2017 from reading this fascinating book, and publishing them here as a way of providing external accountability for myself.

1 new recipe/week - to broaden my cooking horizons (and provide RL blog fodder, I hope).

2 new books/month - I spent a lot of 2017 escaping reality by doing what a friend calls "comfort reading" and what I call "re-reading all my favorite books." So this year I'm tackling the very large piles of unread books which have been collecting next to my bed, in my living room, behind my desk...(note: cookbooks don't count). I'm also open to recommendations.

3 minutes meditation/day - the next step of meticulous mindfulness.

4 fasting days/month - I tried intermittent fasting about 5 years ago and found it had a positive effect on my eating habits generally. So I'm going to try it again this year, aiming to start with one day a week. (Maybe some new recipes from this also!)

5 30-minute exercise sessions/week - linked to #4; I've been managing to do some form of dedicated exercise 3 times a week pretty consistently for the last 5+ years, and have found it beneficial for both my physical and mental health, so I'm going to try to bump this up.

6 pages creative writing/week - some for here, and some for destinations TBD.

I'm planning to update on my progress here monthly. If you're looking for external accountability too, feel free to share your 2018 plans/goals/resolutions too.

Happy New Year!

Sunday, December 3, 2017

Coffee cake


I've been getting more interested in coffee cake lately, after one of our guests brought a particularly delicious one to the Lasagna Lunch. I've also recently rediscovered one of my favorite flavor combos from my first stint in Australia - rhubarb and peaches - when the first peaches of the season turned up at the farmer's market. I combined them to make a coffee cake which, though I say it myself, was thoroughly delicious.

Rhubarb-peach coffee cake

Dry ingredients
8 oz/240 g self-raising flour
1 tsp/5 g salt
4 Tbsp/60 g sugar (I used my citrus sugar here)

Wet ingredients
4 oz/120 g milk
4 oz/120 g Greek yogurt (for a slightly denser and more complex muffin)
1 tsp/5 g vanilla
2 eggs (= 4 oz/120 g)
4 oz/120 g (1 stick) butter, melted

Embellishments
1 cup chopped rhubarb and peaches, tossed with 1-2 oz/30-60 g sugar
Crumb topping (I used a combination of roughly 2 oz/60 g each butter and sugar + 4 oz/120 g flour)


Heat oven to 350F/180C. Line an 8 in/20 cm square cake pan with parchment paper. 

Make the crumb topping by whisking together the ingredients. (I also added some cinnamon, cardamom, and ginger to the mix.) Set aside.

In a medium-sized bowl, whisk together the dry ingredients. In a medium-sized jug, whisk together all the wet ingredients except the butter; add the butter slowly and carefully last, so as not to scramble the egg. Dump wet into dry and whisk until just combined.

Scoop all but about one cup of the batter into the prepared baking pan. Scatter the fruit across the surface of the batter, then do the same with the remaining cup of batter and the crumb topping.

Bake for 25-30 minutes or until lightly browned, rotating pan halfway through.

Saturday, November 4, 2017

Mass quantities

Despite the length of time since my last post, I can't face doing another round-up write-up. It feels like too much of a chore, and counterproductive to the practice of meticulous mindfulness. (Or mindful meticulousness; I still can't decide.) So for the time being, I've decided to take a different approach: I'm going to work through my photo backlog, one at a time. I'm hoping having a well of inspiration to dip into will motivate me to get back into a more regular habit of doing actual writing, as opposed to rapid-fire updates.

In any case, this one deserves its own post: it's my family recipe for lasagna, and as well as being iconic, it is fairly massive, as you will see. To give you a sense of how massive: I made this in August for a Sunday lunch we hosted for a group of DP's students and their families - 12 adults and 15 children, including us. Given the numbers, I decided to multiply the base recipe by 1.5. And we had leftovers.

Lasagna alla mia famiglia
As noted, even this base recipe makes mass quantities - it involves more than 15 lbs (~7 kilos) of ingredients. (When I say it like that, multiplying it seems kind of insane. But then, like Nigella, I am never knowingly undercatered.)

One of the good things about this recipe is that you don't have to do it all in one go; when I made this last time, I cooked the meats and the sauce the day before. This made assembly on the day much simpler. 

Sauce
a double batch of Disruptive Bolognese (or substitute your favorite Bolognese-type sauce; the key components you need are ~2 lbs/1 kg of hamburger/beef mince, and ~48 oz/1400 g tomato passata or equivalent. More is better than less.)

Lasagna
2 lbs/1 kg pork butt (confusingly, this American term actually refers to a cut from the upper shoulder of the front leg; also known as Boston butt)
2 lbs/1 kg sweet Italian sausage
4 lbs/2 kg good-quality ricotta cheese4-6 jumbo/extra-large eggs
3 cups/~10 oz/~300 g grated pecorino romano cheese, divided
2 lbs/1 kg lasagna noodles (ready-to-cook are fine)

Preparing the lasagna components
1. Make the sauce as you normally would.

2. Heat oven to 350F/180C.

3. Slice pork butt thickly (it takes much longer to cook if it is one piece), place in a shallow roasting pan, and put in the oven.

4. Line another shallow roasting pan with foil; place sausages in this pan, and put in oven as well.

5. Cook both meats for 40-50 minutes, or until just cooked, turning once. (Remember that they will cook further in the lasagna.)

6. In a large bowl, mix together ricotta, *2* cups of the pecorino, and as many eggs as you need. (The consistency of this once mixed should be creamy and somewhat grainy, more of a batter than a cheesy consistency. You may get to this point with only 4 eggs, or it may take all 6. Likewise, you may need a bit more than 2 cups grated cheese, but save some to sprinkle over the top of the finished lasagna.) Put aside.

7. After both meats have cooked and cooled, cut into bite-sized pieces. Put aside.

(Please note that all steps to this point can be completed up to a day ahead. Refrigerate the components separately until you are ready to assemble.)

Assembling and cooking the lasagna
(If you are using ready-to-cook noodles, skips steps 8 and 9 and proceed to step 10.)

8. Bring a large pan of water to the boil. Add 2 heaping Tbsp of salt, a few drops of olive oil, and the noodles.

9. Cook noodles for no more than 10 minutes after water returns to boil. Drain noodles and return to colander to cool for a few minutes, shaking to distribute so they're less likely to stick together.

10. If not already on, heat oven to 350F/180C.

11. Cover the bottom of a very large roasting pan with sauce to a depth of ~.5 in/1 cm.
(Please note that when I say "very large" - my mother used an oval 18 in x 12 in x 4 in/~46 cm x 31 cm x 10 cm turkey roasting pan to make this. I make it in 2 rectangular 14.5 in x 11 in x 2 in/36.8 cm x 27.9 x 5.08 cm roasting pans. Either way, you should be aiming to get three complete sauce-noodles-cheese-meat layers in a pan, plus a noodles-and-sauce cover, so divide your ingredients accordingly. I assemble both pans at the same time, essentially treating it like one giant lasagna, so I can divide the cheese and meat by 3 and the noodles by 4.)

12. Place a single layer of noodles in the bottom of the pan, making sure they cover it completely with no gaps. (Slightly overlapping the noodles at the edges is okay, as is breaking the noodles to  get a good fit.)

13. Cover the noodles with a thick layer of the cheese mixture.

14. Scatter a portion of the pork and sausage over the cheese.

15. Generously cover layer with sauce.

16. Repeat noodles-cheese-meat-sauce twice more. You should now have used up all the cheese and meat, and have some noodles left.

17. Cover the pan(s) with the remaining noodles. Spread top with sauce, and sprinkle with remaining grated cheese.

18. Cover pan with foil and bake in oven for 45-60 minutes, until hot and bubbling. During last 15 minutes, remove foil to allow top to crisp.

19. When fully cooked, shut off oven, re-cover lasagna, and allow to rest for at least 15 minutes before serving.

20. Serve topped with more sauce and grated cheese.


Serves about 20. Can be halved or multiplied.
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