Lasagna, dammit.

Do I curse too much for someone writing a blog about food?  Fuck if I know.

Let’s make lasagna.

For the sauce, you’ll need:

  • an onion
  • a few cloves of garlic
  • a 28-oz can of tomatoes (whole peeled)
  • olive oil
  • a splash of red wine
  • spices (salt, pepper, oregano, thyme, marjoram, sage, cayenne, fennel seed)

Alternatively, if you don’t have time to make sauce or you’re a big turd (or both), you can just buy a jar at the store.  You’ll need about 3 cups of sauce.

For the rest of the dish, you’ll need:

  • a package of lasagna noodles (I use brands that don’t require precooking, but maybe you’re more of a purist than I am.  But if you’re gonna be a purist, you should just make the lasagna noodles from scratch, right?  Or, what, are you some kinda coward?)
  • a 16 oz container of ricotta cheese
  • 32 oz of shredded mozzarella cheese
  • Parmesan cheese for grating
  • about 8-10 oz of spinach
  • an eggplant

You can swap out the eggplant for other veggies, of course – zucchini would probably be good, maybe peppers if you want a little crunch, sweet potato if you want your lasagna a little thicker and starchier – use your imagination.  Just, for fuck’s sake, don’t use mushrooms.

Ok, first the sauce.

  1. Before you do anything, slice your eggplant into thin (1/4-inch or thinner) slices, salt them well, and put them in a colander.  Set the eggplant to the side.  You won’t need it for the sauce, but if you’re making the whole lasagna in one go (as opposed to making the sauce in advance), you’ll want to salt the eggplant now to save time.
  2. Chop up your onion and garlic.  Doesn’t have to be finely minced (it won’t matter later).  Sauté them in a saucepan with olive oil and salt.
  3. Let the onions and garlic caramelize a bit.  Once they’ve browned, pour in a splash of red wine.  I used a Malbec when I was making my sauce.
  4. Throw in your can of tomatoes, including the water/juice in the can.  Stir that shit around and throw in your herbs and spices.  As always, you don’t need much cayenne, but use plenty of everything else – you don’t want weak sauce!
  5. Let the concoction simmer, stirring occasionally, for as long as it takes for the sauce to thicken up.  You shouldn’t reduce it to sludge (that would take forever anyway), but you don’t want it to feel watery.
  6. Be sure to taste the sauce every now and then, too, and add herbs and spices as you see fit.
  7. Turn off the heat and let the sauce cool for a few minutes.  Then get out your

****ImMeRsIoN bLeNdEr****

…and blend it until it’s the consistency you want.

(Alternatively, you can pour the sauce in a regular blender and do your dirty work there, but why would you do that if you have an

****ImMeRsIoN bLeNdEr****

?)

Now:

  1. Remember the eggplant that you salted and let sit off to the side?  Get it and rinse it and press the slices dry with paper towels.
  2. Preheat the oven to 350-375 degrees.
  3. Heat up a frying pan/skillet and pour in some oil.  You don’t need a lot, just enough to coat the bottom of the pan.
  4. Sauté the eggplant, cooking as many slices at a time as will fit in the pan.  Make sure the oil is hot – if it’s not hot enough, the eggplant will just absorb oil and it will look sad and you will feel sad.  Flip the slices over to make sure both sides get cooked, and season with salt and pepper on both sides.
  5. Once the eggplant is nice and golden brown on both sides, remove the slices and let them rest on paper towels.  Repeat with the remaining slices, adding a little oil between batches, until the eggplant is all cooked.

Quick note on timing – the sauce will take a while to simmer to the right consistency, so you’ll probably want to start cooking your eggplant while the sauce is still chugging away.

Once your sauce and eggplant are ready, it’s time for the assembly.

  1. You’ve got everything, right?  Your noodles, your sauce, your eggplant, your ricotta, your mozzarella, and your Parmesan?
  2. GOTCHA!  Don’t forget the spinach!  It’s the only green thing in the whole dish, you’ll feel guilty if you forget it.
  3. Layer as follows (you may need to press down on the whole thing every now and then to compress it):
    • A cup of sauce, spread evenly around the bottom of the pan
    • Noodles (break some if you have to, to fill out the pan)
    • A third of the ricotta, in dollops around the pan
    • A few fistfuls of spinach (it’ll cook down when it’s in the oven, don’t worry if it looks too voluminous)
    • Noodles
    • Another cup of sauce (spread it as best you can; it may be tricky on an uneven noodle floor)
    • Eggplant slices (cut as necessary to fill out the pan)
    • About half the mozzarella (you want a thick blanket across the whole pan)
    • Noodles
    • Another third of the ricotta
    • The rest of the eggplant (it may not take up the whole pan)
    • Another few fistfuls of spinach
    • Noodles
    • The rest of the sauce
    • The rest of the ricotta
    • As much mozzarella as you can fit on top
    • Grated Parmesan over the whole thing
  4. Hopefully now you have a weighty behemoth that rises above the rim of the pan a little (not too much, of course, that would be unwieldy).  If that is the case, and there’s cheese in contact with the sides of the pan, you might just rub a little olive oil along the edge to prevent sticking.
  5. Cover the pan in aluminum foil and stick it in the oven for 50 minutes.
  6. After 50 minutes, check if it’s done — if a knife slides effortlessly through the fray, it’s done.  If the noodles still feel undercooked, give it a few more minutes.
  7. DON’T EAT IT YET.
  8. Let the lasagna sit, under the foil, for at least 10 minutes or so.  That’ll help it set and finish cooking the noodles.

Now hoist a big slab onto your plate and eat it!

LEFTOVER TIPS

This is the rare dish that actually comes out pretty close to its original form when you microwave it.  Just sprinkle some water on it before you nuke it so it doesn’t dehydrate.

 

 

Hummus

Hummus: more serious than peanut butter, less fickle than baba ganoush.  Heartier than mayonnaise, less startling than mustard.

Let’s make some hummus.  Since I learned how to make it myself, I have stopped buying it from stores.  Ok, except that one time, but that was only because I was about to move and I needed my hummus fix but I’d already packed away my cooking utensils, look, it wasn’t my fault, and the stuff I bought was so mediocre that if anything it was a good thing, because now I know never to buy it from the store again, ok?

Another recipe that is neither original nor representative of a complete meal (unless you just eat hummus for a meal, which, I mean, I guess I can’t blame you), but good to have and easy to incorporate elsewhere.

For about one and a half cups of hummus, you’ll need:

  • A can of chickpeas
  • Tahini
  • Olive oil
  • A few cloves of garlic
  • The juice of half a lemon
  • Salt and pepper, to taste
  • Other spices (I like to use cumin, coriander, cayenne, and a little smoked paprika)

A note on equipment: a blender or food processor is, I think, the typical way to go, but I don’t own a blender or a food processor.  I do, however, have a stick blender (aka an immersion blender, aka a handheld blender) and a tall cup made to fit it, so that’s what I use for making hummus.  Use whatever you’ve got.  Sorry, a fork and a never-give-up attitude probably won’t be enough.

  1. Drain and rinse your chickpeas, reserving the liquid from the can.
  2. Combine a quarter cup of tahini, a quarter cup of olive oil, the garlic, the lemon juice, a large pinch of salt, a healthy sprinkling of pepper, and the chickpeas in whatever blending vessel you’re using.
  3. Blend.  If you’re using a stick blender, you may need to stop a few times to scrape the thick goop off the sides of the blade.
  4. Keep blending until it looks like it’s all mixed evenly.
  5. It’s probably a little thicker than you want it to be.  Add about a tablespoon of the reserved chickpea liquid (you didn’t throw it away, did you?) and blend until mixed.  If it’s still thicker than you want, add a little more liquid and blend again; repeat until it’s the consistency you want.
  6. Taste and add salt as needed.  Add your other spices and stir around to mix those in.  I like to go heavy on the cumin and coriander, lighter on the smoked paprika (a little goes a long way here), and as always just a dash or two of cayenne.

Go nuts!  Spread it on things, dip things in it, eat it by the spoonful, etc.  Just don’t put it on mushrooms.  They don’t deserve it.

LEFTOVER TIPS

Tupperware works, or if you’re like me and you made it in a tall cup with a stick blender, you can leave it in the cup and cover it with plastic wrap.  It’ll keep for several days, but why would you let it last that long?

Damn Good Tacos

As promised: tacos!

Now that you’ve made a fleet of corn tortillas, it’s time to put something in them, fold them up halfway-ish, and shove them into your face.

This is a pretty basic recipe, nothing special, but it’s satisfying, dammit.  I’ll get to the fancy fillings and sauces and shit later on.  For now, we’re gonna just have simple tacos.

What goes in a simple taco?

  • Beans
  • Avocado
  • Cheese

Let’s do it.

For the beans, you’ll need:

  • 2 cans of black beans, drained and rinsed
  • 1 yellow onion
  • A few cloves of garlic
  • Olive oil
  • A can of vegetable broth (or water, if you’re bland)
  • Salt and pepper
  • Spices (I use cumin, coriander, smoked paprika, cayenne, and chili powder)

For the avocado topping (I wouldn’t call it guacamole), you’ll need:

  • 4 avocados, ready for mashing
  • 1 lime
  • A clove of garlic
  • A few scallions
  • Salt and pepper and a dash of cayenne

For the cheese, you’ll need:

  • A bag of shredded cheese.  What, did you think I make my own cheese?  I like to think I’m an ambitious home cook, but I’m not about to store sour milk in sheep intestines or whatever the fuck you have to do to make cheese.

These amounts will make enough fixings for 16-20 tacos, depending on how hefty you like your tacos.

First, the beans:

  1. Mince your garlic and slice your onion (for the onion, I just leave it in long thin strips, rather than dicing or mincing).
  2. Set a pan to medium-high heat and put in a couple tablespoons of olive oil.
  3. When the oil’s hot, throw in the garlic and onion.  Season with salt and pepper and let them cook until translucent and starting to soften, about 5 minutes.
  4. Throw in the beans and season again with salt and pepper.  Stir it all around, and don’t be gentle with the beans.  Ideally you’ll want to smash them as you stir, but don’t worry about being too thorough.
  5. Pour in some of the vegetable broth and stir everything around.  At this point you may want to turn the heat down to medium.
  6. Stir the beans periodically, smashing them with your spoon as you stir (again, don’t worry about being thorough; it’s nice if it doesn’t have a completely uniform texture).  Keep an eye out for the broth — as the liquid evaporates and runs low, pour in some more broth.  Keep doing that until the can of broth is gone.
  7. Towards the end, the broth may start puddling due to saturation and/or spite; if need be, skim the excess liquid as it continues cooking (this is what culinary school students call depouillage, and it is fancy as fuck).
  8. The beans are done when you’re out of broth and the mixture is neither wet nor dry.  If you’re worried that putting a scoop of the beans onto a tortilla will make the tortilla soggy, then let them keep cooking until a little more moisture has evaporated.

Next, the avocado topping:

  1. Cut all your avocados in half, scooping their innards into a bowl.  Include the pits.
  2. Add the juice of one lime.
  3. Chop up a few scallions and add.
  4. Mince the garlic and add.  I like to grate my garlic through a microplane zester for this, since it pretty much liquefies the garlic, but a garlic press or fancy knifework will suffice.
  5. Throw in as much salt and pepper as you want, and throw in a dash of cayenne.
  6. Using a fork or spoon, mash everything up until it’s mixed and the avocado is broken up into a chunky spreadable goop.

Now the cheese:

  1. Open the bag of cheese.

Now, the assembly!  Beans first, then avocado, then cheese.  If you deviate at all from this order, a man in a black suit and a fedora will come to your house to deliver the bad news you’ve been dreading this whole time.  You know exactly the news I’m talking about.  About Martha.

But you forgot the sour cream!  And what about lettuce!  And what about tomatoes!

Sure, add them if you want, I don’t care.  Do you need a recipe to tell you to do that?

Well, no, but… I mean, you included storebought shredded cheese in your recipe…

Shut up.  Eat your damn tacos.

LEFTOVER TIPS

Tupperware, fridge.  Reheat the beans on the stove — should only take a couple minutes in a pan on medium-high heat — or in the microwave, if you’re a coward.  Reopen the bag of cheese.

Corn Tortillas

There was a time when I would spend actual, real, legitimate money on prepackaged flour tortillas.  I can admit that now because I don’t do it anymore.

Yes, making them yourself takes longer than pulling a couple disks of compressed napkin pulp out of a bag, but doing your laundry takes longer than just pulling your clothes out of the hamper, spraying them with Febreze, and putting them back in your dresser.

Short of rice in microwaveable pouches (which I’m not above!), corn tortillas are maybe the simplest meal staple to make at home.  There are only 2 essential ingredients (one of which is water), it takes about 10 minutes, and the cleanup can be done with a damp paper towel.

This isn’t an original recipe, nor is it a recipe for a complete meal, but I wanted to include it here because I intend to talk more about tacos in the future.  And a good taco starts with a good tortilla.  You didn’t hear it here first, and if you did, then you don’t get out enough.

Ingredients:

  • Masa harina (You can get this at your big brand grocery store, but I haven’t seen it at Trader Joe’s.  Look for Maseca brand, that’s the good shit — and don’t get tamal flour by accident!)
  • Water
  • Salt
  • Other spices, if you want (I like to use pepper, smoked paprika, cayenne, and coriander)
  1. Measure out your masa harina in a mixing bowl.  To make four or five tortillas, you’ll want about six tablespoons of masa.  Scale it up or down accordingly, depending on how many tortillas you want.
  2. Add a pinch of salt and whatever spices you want to use to flavor your tortillas.  Stir it all up with a fork.
  3. Add the water, a tablespoon at a time, mixing with your fork as you go.  You want to add just enough water that the dough can be shaped into a ball (the right ratio of masa to water is going to be about 4:3).  If it’s still dry and crumbly and there are pockets of loose flour, add a little more water until it just comes together.  As it gets closer to that point, you’ll probably need to get in there with a hand or two.
  4. Set aside your dough, and lay a damp paper towel over it.  Put a griddle or skillet over medium-high heat.
  5. Here’s where you’ll have to MacGyver the best tortilla press method that your kitchen allows.*
    • In my kitchen, I have a flat countertop (no lines between tiles), which makes life easier.  If you don’t, you can use a cutting board or a plate.
    • Whatever the bottom half of your homemade tortilla press is, set a layer of plastic wrap down on top.  If it’s your countertop, you’ll have to pin down the corners so that it can’t move (cans of vegetables do the trick).
    • For the top half of your tortilla press, a saucepan or pot will work — something with a flat bottom.  Cover the bottom with another layer of plastic wrap.
  6. Break off and roll up a clump of tortilla dough, about the size of a golf ball, and set it down on the plastic wrap on your counter/plate/cutting board/other flat surface.  Now take the other half of your tortilla press and SMOOSH!
  7. You’ll need to apply some muscle; don’t worry, the tortilla can take it.  When you feel like you’ve given it enough, take off the top of your tortilla press.  If everything has gone according to plan, the tortilla, now flat and about 4 or 5 inches across in diameter, will be sticking to one of the sheets of plastic wrap.  Carefully remove it, letting it flop into the palm of your hand.
  8. Your griddle/skillet/other flat stovetop surface should be hot now, so smack that tortilla right onto it.  And I do mean smack — you’re not spiking a volleyball, so don’t get carried away, but you want there to be some force behind the tortilla’s entrance into the pan in order to prevent air bubbles.
  9. Flip your tortilla after a minute with a fork or spatula.  About a minute later, it’ll be done (if you want it a little firmer, keep it in the pan a little longer), so take it out and set it on a plate.
  10. Repeat until the dough is gone.  (Depending on the size of your griddle/skillet, you’ll probably be able to make multiple tortillas at once.)

Now you have corn tortillas!

LEFTOVER TIPS

I haven’t even talked about what to do with your tortillas yet, but if you end up making more than you can eat in one sitting, just stack up the remaining ones and wrap them in plastic wrap or stick them in a plastic bag and refrigerate them.  To reheat, put them in a pan on medium-high heat for a minute per side, or wrap them in a damp paper towel (5 or 6 at a time) and microwave them for about 30 seconds.

(Probably) coming next: what to put in your homemade corn tortillas!

 

*If you have a legitimate tortilla press at home, what the hell are you doing reading some random blog post about making corn tortillas at home?  Don’t you already know what to do?  Can I have your tortilla press, if you’re not using it?

Ratatouille

I think most people (at least, in America) who know that ratatouille is a dish only know it because of the movie.  You know, the one with the rat.

Well, ratatouille should be a staple of any vegetarian’s repertoire, because

  • it’s easy
  • it’s filling (so all those “but you need MEAT with your dinner!” people can suck it)
  • if — God forbid — you actually do like mushrooms, then I GUESS you can add them.  I’ll give you a weird look for sure though.

Just a heads up: this ratatouille will look nothing like the one in the movie.  Who’s got the time?

Here’s what you’ll need for a ratatouille that serves 4-5 people (or 1 very selfish person for a couple days):

  • Half a medium-large onion (Vidalia or yellow)
  • One large eggplant, or two medium eggplants
  • Two large zucchinis, or three medium zucchinis
  • Several cloves of garlic (about 10)
  • Three or four tomatoes (beefsteak or plum, or heirloom if you’re feeling fancy)
  • One or two bell peppers, if you’re so inclined (I usually skip them)
  • Olive oil
  • Herbs and spices (including, but not limited to: salt, pepper, thyme, marjoram, sage, Herbes de Provence, coriander, and cayenne)
  • If you want to have some nice garlic bread with your ratatouille (and I assure you, you do), you’ll also want to have a loaf of bread (I prefer ciabatta; I just buy my bread already baked, although if you also have the time to bake a loaf of bread, bless your heart) and parmesan cheese

It’s worth noting that it doesn’t really matter what vegetables you use.  Eggplant and zucchini are pretty standard, but you can use pretty much any vegetable that you would conceivably roast.  But don’t use mushrooms, ’cause… come on.

  1. Cut up your eggplant.  You’ll want big chunks, the size of your finger or bigger.  Throw those chunks of eggplant in a colander and salt them.  Let those sit somewhere else while you proceed with the next steps.
  2. Preheat the oven to 375-400 degrees.  Get out the pan(s) of your choosing — I use cast-iron skillets, but a baking dish will do.  Just don’t use a cookie sheet.  Not that you would…?
  3. Cut up the rest of your veggies into big chunks, throwing them in the pan as you chop them up.  You may need two pans to hold it all.  It’s worth noting — unlike roasting vegetables outright, you don’t need to leave space between the veggies, and in fact you shouldn’t.  It just might take up two pans anyway.
  4. Throw in the cloves of garlic whole or, at the smallest, cut in half.
  5. Where’d you put the eggplant?  Well, bring it back!  Okay, you’ll need to squeeze out the eggplant before you throw it in the pan with the rest of the veggies.  I like to take paper towels and squeeze a handful of eggplant chunks at a time.  Maybe you feel like that’s a morally questionable use of paper towels.  I don’t care.  Squeeze out your eggplant however you need to, then throw them in the pan.
  6. Douse the vegetables in olive oil.  You don’t want so much olive oil that it puddles up at the bottom of the pan, but you definitely don’t want to skimp.
  7. Season the shit out of your vegetables.  Be generous with every herb and spice you throw in there, with the possible exception of cayenne (a little goes a long way, of course).  I know using Herbes de Provence as well as marjoram and thyme is perhaps redundant, but I don’t care.  And if there’s a vegetable in sight without a blanket of herbs on it, you probably should use more.
  8. Now mix them up!  Toss and turn those veggies until the oil and herbs are more or less evenly distributed.
  9. Stick the pans in the oven.  Don’t touch them, don’t even think about them, for a half hour.
  10. Has a half hour gone by?  All right, take the pans out of the oven and give the veggies a stir, make sure nothing’s sticking where it shouldn’t.  Now stick them back in the oven.
  11. If everything is cooperating, it should take another half hour or so for your ratatouille to be done.  To determine whether it’s done, take a fork or knife and try piercing a few eggplant chunks.  If your utensil is met with little or no resistance, then you’re good to go.  If it’s still giving some resistance, give it a few more minutes.  Why?  Because eggplant is best when it’s been cooked to mush.  If you disagree, then enjoy your weirdly chewy eggplant and go to hell.
  12. When the ratatouille is done, take it out of the oven.  Eat it while it’s hot!

But wait, we were promised garlic bread!

DAMN STRAIGHT YOU WERE.

Take as much bread as you want and slice it how you please.  Pull those piping hot garlic cloves out of the ratatouille — they should turn to mush with a little pressure, and if they don’t then you probably didn’t cook your eggplant all the way through either, you scoundrel — and smear them on that bread.  Is it smeared all over?  Cool.  Now drizzle some olive oil on that bread.  You don’t need a lot, just a smattering.

Now grate some goddamn Parmesan cheese on your bread.  You missed a spot.  No one wants just a little cheese in the middle of their bread, Scrooge.  Make sure it’s everywhere, even the corners.  Come on.

Ok, stick the slices of bread in the oven (you didn’t turn it off already, did you?) and let them toast up for a few minutes, until they start turning brown.  Alternatively, you can use a toaster oven (I just don’t have one).

Once your bread is ready, then you’re ready to eat!

LEFTOVER TIPS

If you have leftovers, reheating them on the stove or in the oven is far preferable to microwaving them, but do what you have to.  You may even have some garlic cloves left over with which to make some more garlic bread.  If so, I salute you.