Wednesday, July 30, 2008

useless in Useless Bay

We spent the past few days visiting friends on Whidbey Island.

exploring Sunlight Beach

One night we were treated to nine different varieties of pizza made from scratch!

sand dollars
(I learned they are black when alive - my first experience seeing them live on the beach!)

the guest house where we slept

fun on the beach

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Abbott's choice

Lasagne in the middle of summer might not sound good to you, but it is Abbott's favorite meal, and I wanted Jean, our houseguest, to try this version - with bechamel! - before heading back to France. After making this for the first time, a few years back, I haven't made another version since.

Beef Lasagne
from Pasta & Co By Request by Marcella Rosene

"This is the lasagne we have made and sold for over a decade. Several things set this apart from the dozens of other lasagne recipes. Its sauce is strongly seasoned with oregano. It calls for a thick filling of bechamel instead of ricotta cheese. It uses feta cheese to step up the flavor of the dish. And it takes advantage of fresh lasagne noodles, which can go in the dish without any precooking. Our sales of this product are the best proof that the formula works."

Serving notes: Make a day ahead and bake when needed, or do as we do and freeze. Take the lasagne straight from the freezer and adjust the cooking time accordingly. Be sure to let the lasagne sit for 20 minutes before serving.

*I always double this recipe - I like to have extra to freeze or to feed a large crowd.

1 1/4 # lean ground beef
1/4 cup pure olive oil
1 1/3 c coarsely chopped onions
1 heaping tablespoon oregano
1 1/2 teaspoons finely minced garlic
1 1/2 teaspoons basil
1 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes
1 cup plus 3 tablespoons dry white wine
3 1/4 cups Paradiso brand crushed tomatoes in puree. (There will be a couple of ounces left in the 28 ounce can. Save it for assembling the lasagne.)
5 ounces frozen spinach (half of a 10 ounce bag), thawed and drained of liquid

3 cups mozarella cheese, grated
1/2 cup feta cheese, crumbled

1 1/2 cups milk
1 cup cream
big pinch white pepper
big pinch thyme
big pinch nutmeg
big pinch basil
3 tablespoons butter
1/3 cup plus 1 tablespoon flour
1/3 cup plus 1 tablespoon grated Parmesan cheese
3 tablespoons grated Romano cheese

uncooked lasagne noodles, enough for three layers in a 9 inch by 13 inch pan

1/4 cup unseasoned bread crumbs
2 tablespoons freshly grated Parmesan cheese
1 teaspoon very finely chopped parsley

To make the sauce, cook the ground beef in a saute pan over medium heat until the pink is gone and the meat is crumbly. Remove from heat and pour through a colander to drain off all the fat. Reserve the meat.

In the same saute pan, heat the olive oil and add onions, oregano, garlic, basil, salt, black pepper, and red pepper flakes. Cook over medium heat until the onions are translucent. Add the wine, bring to a boil, and cook until the alcohol has evaporated - about 10 minutes. Stir in the tomatoes. Add the spinach and the reserved meat. Continue simmering for a few minutes. Remove from heat and reserve.

Mix together mozzarella and feta cheeses and set aside.

To make the bechamel, heat the milk, cream, white pepper, thyme, nutmeg, and basil in a small saucepan until it nears a boil. Turn off the heat. Melt the butter in a medium size saute pan. When the foam recedes, remove from the heat, add the flour, and mix well. Return to medium-low heat and, stirring frequently, simmer for 2 to 3 minutes to cook, but not brown, the flour. Gradually stir in the hot milk and cream mixture. Raise the heat to medium-high and continue stirring until the mixture is smooth and thick - about 5 minutes. Add the Parmesan and Romano cheeses and whisk until smooth. This should be the texture of wallpaper paste, not of the white sauce more often associated with bechamel.

To make the topping, mix together the bread crumbs, Parmesan, and parsley. Reserve.

To assemble and bake:

Preheat oven to 400F.
Spread 2 tablespoons of the tomato juices left in the tomato can on the bottom of a shallow baking dish. Lay in one layer of the uncooked lasagne noodles. Spoon on 3 cups of the meat sauce. Spread 1 cup of bechamel across the sauce in two diagonals. Top with 2 cups of the cheese mixture. Lay on another layer of lasagne noodles and repeat, using the same amounts of sauce, bechamel, and cheese. Top with the last layer of noodles, and with your fingertips, press lightly to distribute the bechamel smoothly in the layers. Using a long metal spatula, "frost" the top layer of noodles with the remaining bechamel. Be sure to completely cover the noodles so that they do not dry out in baking. Sprinkle evenly with the reserved bread crumb mixture.

Bake at 400F for about 60 minutes or until sauce bubbles around the edge and top is nicely browned. If the top browns too quickly, cover with aluminum foil during the last 10 minutes of cooking. If baking the lasagne straight from the freezer, add about 20 minutes more to cooking time.

Once out of the oven, let it set up for about 20 minutes before serving (critical for ease of serving).

Sunday, July 13, 2008

Discovery Park

Mt. Rainier as seen from Discovery Park

We live within easy biking distance of Discovery Park. This park is a favorite destination for many Seattleites for hiking, biking, and enjoying the natural beauty of Puget Sound.

Saturday, July 12, 2008

weekend beginnings

This has been our week for visiting the places we have memberships to, like the aquarium, zoo, and yesterday the Japanese garden.

The boys also got haircuts yesterday.

Abbott has been busy making lego race cars all morning and taking votes on the best car. This one was voted the winner (best looking, I guess), though it didn't end up being the fastest.

Our tomatoes - our first experiment with gardening - are coming along nicely; they seem to love the western exposure and the watering Cal is always eager to do.

Friday, July 11, 2008

What's for dinner

This recipe is my one of my favorite pasta meals, and is reasonably doable on a weeknight. I first made it when Abbott was an infant, while we were living in San Francisco. (The recipe was published by Cook's Illustrated in November 2002, when Abbott was 3 months old.)

Orecchiette with Broccoli, Sausage, and Roasted Peppers
adapted from Cook's Illustrated 11/2002

To roast the peppers: Cut them into 4 pieces, remove the cores and seeds, place on a foil lined baking sheet, skin side up, and broil for 15-20 minutes, until the skin is charred (I use 2 peppers for this recipe). Put the peppers in a bowl with plastic wrap over the top for several minutes to steam, then rub the skins off with a paper towel. I recommend roasting the peppers before putting the water on to boil for the pasta.

Serves 4 to 6 as a main dish

1 pound orecchiette
1 pound sweet Italian sausage, casings removed
3 medium cloves garlic, pressed through garlic press or minced
1 cup roasted red peppers (8 ounces), cut into 1/2-inch squares
1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper
2 pounds broccoli, florets cut into bite-sized 1-inch pieces, stalks peeled, halved lengthwise, and cut into 1/4-inch thick pieces
1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
1 cup grated Pecorino Romano cheese (2 ounces)

Bring 4 quarts of water to a rolling boil. Add 1 tablespoon salt and pasta, stir to separate, and cook until just done. Drain and return to stockpot.

While pasta is cooking, cook the sausage in a nonstick skillet over medium-high heat, breaking it into small pieces with a spoon, until browned, about 5 minutes. Stir in the garlic, roasted peppers, 1/2 teaspoon salt, and pepper; cook, stirring constantly, until fragrant, about 2 minutes. Increase heat to high; add the broccoli and 1/2 cup water, then cover and cook until the broccoli begins to turn bright green, 1 to 2 minutes. Uncover and cook, stirring frequently, until water has evaporated and broccoli is tender, 3 to 5 minutes longer.

Add broccoli mixture, oil, and cheese to the pasta in the stockpot; toss to combine. Serve immediately.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

The Puzzle Museum

One of the best things about summer for us is the large amount of unstructured time. Research indicates that children need unstructured time every day to promote healthy brain development, creativity, and well-being. It's always a treat to see what the boys find to do; witness the signs for the puzzle museum!

Monday, July 7, 2008

play ball!

Our summer wouldn't feel complete without baseball...even if the ending was sad for the Mariners (1-2 in the 15th inning)...

Friday, July 4, 2008

Independence Day

The cake was great fun to make; Cal was giddy with excitement and what isn't fun to do with a giddy three year old? Also, it was delicious to boot. The only problem was the didn't survive well sitting on the counter for several hours before serving. If you make this recipe, be sure to refrigerate it if you aren't going to eat it right away! Abbott, Cal, Jean and Alexi did the decorating while I showered.

We learned from Jean that the French are hopeful that Obama will win the election. We talked about the importance of the French in winning the revolutionary war, and the French revolution being influenced by the American.

We had friends over this morning to hang out at the beach with us and have lunch. Later this afternoon I enjoyed a long chat with my sister via cellphone during a leisurely walk around Greenlake; the boys biked around the lake. I always like talking to friends and family on holidays - the sense of collective relaxation.

My first memory of watching fireworks is of a time in 1975 in Texas at the high school football field. I remember it vaguely as a thrilling experience. This will be Abbott's first fireworks experience he'll likely remember; I'm less certain Cal will remember tonight. (We took Abbott to the fireworks when he was 10 months old but he was sleeping. We had just moved back to Seattle from San Francisco and were staying at the Inn at the Market. We wheeled him to the roof of the Inn for the show in his stroller.)

Later: I loved being able to walk to the fireworks and the sense of neighborhood camaraderie while sitting on the grass. The 10pm show was hard for the boys, who are usually in bed at 7...

Thursday, July 3, 2008

low tide

Some of the lowest tides of the year here are happening this week; here's a bit of what Alexi and the boys saw today: