Sunday, March 29, 2009

Daring Kitchen Challenge: Lasagne Verdi al Forno

The March 2009 challenge is hosted by Mary of Beans and Caviar, Melinda of Melbourne Larder and Enza of Io Da Grande. They have chosen Lasagne of Emilia-Romagna from The Splendid Table by Lynne Rossetto Kasper as the challenge.

I'm going to be completely honest that I was a wee bit disappointed to see that the Daring Bakers challenge this month was lasagna. They have a new site and, as you see above, new logos. They also go by "Daring Kitchen" instead of Daring Bakers...which is cool since not everyone likes baking sweets like I do. I get it. It isn't all about me. I accepted the challenge after time and asked my sister if she'd help me while she was visiting from RI.

I've made pasta one time before and it was ridiculously awesome. I made long noodles and topped them with olive oil, capers, olives, sun dried tomatoes, and artichokes. It was more than amazing. Making the pasta this time wasn't as easy as I remember. I wasn't sure that dough was going to come together. I was prepared to trash it and go to The Cup for dinner instead. We were persistent and it did form a nice smooth ball. Time was ticking so we allowed the dough to rest only about 30 minutes and allowed the pasta to dry only about 45 minutes. Everything turned out to be just fine. I ended up cooking the noodles only 2 minutes which was perfect.

The final picture of the lasagna kind of sucks but people were around and I was feeling a bit rushed. I promise you that it was delicious. Homemade pasta is no comparison to the boxed dried stuff in the store.

When I renovated my kitchen I wanted to have an island so that people could sit and chat and watch food being made. I love it that Cate and Boyd sat there and watched us struggle with that dough.

She is very fabulous. Very punk.

Lasagne of Emilia-Romagna (Lasagne Verdi al Forno)
Serves 6 to 8

10 quarts (9 litres) salted water
1 recipe Spinach Pasta cut for lasagna (recipe follows)
1 recipe Bechamel Sauce (recipe follows
1 cup (4 ounces/125g) freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano

Assembling the Ingredients:Have all the sauces, rewarmed gently over a medium heat, and the pasta at hand. Have a large perforated skimmer and a large bowl of cold water next to the stove. Spread a double thickness of paper towels over a large counter space. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit (180 degrees Celsius). Oil or butter a 3 quart (approx 3 litre) shallow baking dish.

Cooking the Pasta:Bring the salted water to a boil. Drop about four pieces of pasta in the water at a time. Cook about 2 minutes. If you are using dried pasta, cook about 4 minutes, taste, and cook longer if necessary. The pasta will continue cooking during baking, so make sure it is only barely tender. Lift the lasagne from the water with a skimmer, drain, and then slip into the bowl of cold water to stop cooking. When cool, lift out and dry on the paper towels. Repeat until all the pasta is cooked.

Assembling the Lasagne: Spread a thin layer of béchamel over the bottom of the baking dish. Arrange a layer of about four overlapping sheets of pasta over the béchamel. Spread a thin layer of béchamel (about 3 or 4 spoonfuls) over the pasta. Sprinkle with about 1&1/2 tablespoons of the béchamel and about 1/3 cup of the cheese. Repeat the layers until all ingredients are used, finishing with béchamel sauce and topping with a generous dusting of cheese.

Baking and Serving the Lasagne:Cover the baking dish lightly with foil, taking care not to let it touch the top of the lasagne. Bake 40 minutes, or until almost heated through. Remove the foil and bake another 10 minutes, or until hot in the center (test by inserting a knife – if it comes out very warm, the dish is ready). Take care not to brown the cheese topping. It should be melted, creamy looking and barely tinged with a little gold. Turn off the oven, leave the door ajar and let the lasagne rest for about 10 minutes. Then serve. This is not a solid lasagne, but a moist one that slips a bit when it is cut and served.

Spinach Egg Pasta (Pasta Verde)

2 jumbo eggs
10 ounces (300g) fresh spinach, rinsed dry, and finely chopped; or 6 ounces (170g) frozen chopped spinach, defrosted and squeezed dry
3&1/2 cups (14 ounces/400g) all purpose unbleached (plain) flour

Mixing the dough: Mound the flour in the center of your work surface and make a well in the middle. Add the eggs and spinach. Use a wooden spoon to beat together the eggs and spinach. Then gradually start incorporating shallow scrapings of flour from the sides of the well into the liquid. As you work more and more flour into the liquid, the well’s sides may collapse. Use a pastry scraper to keep the liquids from running off and to incorporate the last bits of flour into the dough. Don’t worry if it looks like a hopelessly rough and messy lump.

Kneading: With the aid of the scraper to scoop up unruly pieces, start kneading the dough. Once it becomes a cohesive mass, use the scraper to remove any bits of hard flour on the work surface – these will make the dough lumpy. Knead the dough for about 3 minutes. Its consistency should be elastic and a little sticky. If it is too sticky to move easily, knead in a few more tablespoons of flour. Continue kneading about 10 minutes, or until the dough has become satiny, smooth, and very elastic. It will feel alive under your hands. Do not shortcut this step. Wrap the dough in plastic wrap, and let it relax at room temperature 30 minutes to 3 hours.

Stretching and Thinning: If using an extra-long rolling pin work with half the dough at a time. With a regular-length rolling pin, roll out a quarter of the dough at a time and keep the rest of the dough wrapped. Lightly sprinkle a large work surface with flour. The idea is to stretch the dough rather than press down and push it. Shape it into a ball and begin rolling out to form a circle, frequently turning the disc of dough a quarter turn. As it thins outs, start rolling the disc back on the pin a quarter of the way toward the center and stretching it gently sideways by running the palms of your hands over the rolled-up dough from the center of the pin outward. Unroll, turn the disc a quarter turn, and repeat. Do twice more.

Stretch and even out the center of the disc by rolling the dough a quarter of the way back on the pin. Then gently push the rolling pin away from you with one hand while holding the sheet in place on the work surface with the other hand. Repeat three more times, turning the dough a quarter turn each time.

Repeat the two processes as the disc becomes larger and thinner. The goal is a sheet of even thickness. For lasagne, the sheet should be so thin that you can clearly see your hand through it and see colours. Cut into rectangles about 4 by 8 inches (10 x 20 cm). Note: Enza says that transparency is a crucial element of lasagne pasta and the dough should be rolled as thinly as possible. She says this is why her housekeeper has such strong arms!
Dry the pasta at room temperature and store in a sealed container or bag.


4 tablespoons unsalted butter
4 tablespoons all purpose unbleached (plain) flour
2&2/3 cups milk
Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
Freshly grated nutmeg to taste

Using a medium-sized saucepan, melt the butter over low to medium heat. Sift over the flour, whisk until smooth, and then stir (without stopping) for about 3 minutes. Whisk in the milk a little at a time and keep the mixture smooth. Bring to a slow simmer, and stir 3 to 4 minutes, or until the sauce thickens. Cook, stirring, for about 5 minutes, until the sauce thickens. Season with salt, pepper, and a hint of nutmeg.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

TWD: Blueberry Crumb Muffins

First, let me start out by saying...BOO BOO THE BAKER!

You'd better be careful or she might eat your face like Hannibal! (OK gross)

Now onto the real reason I am posting this blog. Blueberries and procrastination. I didn't think I was going to be able to complete this challenge due to time constraints. Mondays and Tuesdays are Pilates days. Wednesday is wife and hubby day. Thursday is dance. That is how is goes. Every week. Hubby has to work tomorrow so I skipped Pilates to spend time at home with him. This gave me a chance to complete this weeks TWD challenge! Sihan of Befuddlement chose Blueberry Crumb Cake (Muffins). A sweet crispy topping and a moist blueberry bottom. Deliciousoso as Catie would say. Can't wait to have one for breakfast. And share one with the MIL!

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Chocolate Cupcakes

Last week I was in a mood. I was sitting at my office thinking about laying on my couch in the sunshine with a cat on my lap, reading a book, eating one of these with (ideally) a glass of whole milk. Not much of that happened. I got to have one of these after work with a glass of skim milk. I'll take what I can get.

These are so sinfully chocolaty. If you need a chocolate fix whip up a batch of these. Previously I had always made this as a cake but it much easier to share cupcakes as opposed to cake. I brought two to my in-laws, two to my office mates, and one to my pal Kacey. I later found out that my MIL didn't get her designated cupcake so she got a special delivery. The MIL and the DIL. We take care of each other. :)

Don't mind the Halloween cupcake liners. I don't discriminate.

Hershey's Perfectly Chocolate Cake
Source: Hershey's (of course)
Yield: 30 cupcakes

2 cups sugar
1-3/4 cups all-purpose flour
3/4 cup HERSHEY'S Cocoa
1-1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1-1/2 teaspoons baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
2 eggs
1 cup milk
1/2 cup vegetable oil
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 cup boiling water

Heat oven to 350°F. Line cupcake tin with papers. Stir together sugar, flour, cocoa, baking powder, baking soda and salt in large bowl. Add eggs, milk, oil and vanilla; beat on medium speed of mixer 2 minutes. Stir in boiling water. Pour batter into pans. Bake 22 minutes or until wooden pick inserted in center comes out clean. Cool 10 minutes; remove from pans to wire racks. Cool completely.

Hershey's Chocolate Frosting
Yield: 2 cups

1/2 cup (1 stick) butter
1/3 cup HERSHEY'S Cocoa
3 cups powdered sugar
1/3 cup milk
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Melt butter. Stir in cocoa. Alternately add powdered sugar and milk, beating to spreading consistency. Add small amount additional milk, if needed. Stir in vanilla.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Bake for Hope

Hope is hip. Hope is dope. Hope is happening.

I'm beyond excited to be holding, to my knowledge, the only Bake for Hope event in the state of Maine. This is a nationwide event being held in cities and states during the week prior to Mother's Day. What a way to show our mothers, daughters, sisters and friends that we care. All money raised locally stays local. That means that whatever I raise at my Bake for Hope event will go to Komen Maine. It helps the women here get mammograms. It helps educate the people in your community. That is what I love.

I anticipate having about 25 volunteers baking goods for me to sell on May 6th at Higher Grounds in Hallowell. If you are local and you would like to volunteer please drop me a line bldvdb at gmail dot com. If you are local and you want something delicious please stop in! We will have breads, pies, cakes, cookies, brownies, coffee, espresso, laughs and love. This is going to be amazing...I can promise that. Please do you part and pass the word on. Check out to see if there is an event happening in your area.

Those of you that know me in real life know why I do this. For those of you that don't know, I do this for my mother. I want everyone to know about her. I want people to know that because she didn't survive doesn't mean that she isn't a hero. My mother is my hero. She was the strongest and most wonderful mother in the world. She told me all my life that I was the light of her life and now she is the light of mine! This is my passion. My belief is that EVERY SINGLE PERSON needs to be educated. I'm sick of audience targeting. I'm sick of fluff and stuff. This is real. This is a horrific disease. It is never going to go away. Prevention IS the cure.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Stinky Pee

I just really like this picture. I love asparagus. I do believe it is my absolute favorite vegetable (despite the result of pee that smells a little off). This bundle was able to serve me and my husband for two meals. The first time I steamed it and topped it with a dab of butter and salt and pepper. The second time I was roasting potatoes so I popped the rest of the asparagus in with some olive oil and salt and pepper. I think I may prefer it roasted. I love the olive oil. I know it is popular to top it with some sort of cream sauce or do something fancy with it. I'm not a popular type of cook. I'm very traditional. I do things just like my mom and dad and Shirley Dill. It's my roots.

Growing up in Litchfield we had a decent sized garden. In the front corner was the round patch of asparagus which is a perennial. I would get so excited when I'd go out in the spring and notice the nubs of asparagus coming through the soil. After a few years I knew just the right height to cut them at so we could have them for dinner. Once allowed to over grow asparagus gets really bushy. A great place to hide when playing with your friends.

That was a nice trip down memory lane.

Julia Child's White Bread

I don't think I've ever made a Julia Child recipe before. I recently read a book, Julie and Julia, in which a young woman in New York City attempts to make and blog each recipe in Julia's book, Mastering the Art of French Cooking. This got me thinking about two things; starting a food blog and looking into the recipes of Julia Child. I accomplished the food blog and looked into some of her recipes but have to admit...I'm not a great cook. I'm a good baker.

I happened upon this recipe on the food blog, breadbasketcase. I'm always willing to try a new bread recipe. While this wasn't one of my most favorite bread recipes it was simple and good.

Classic White Bread
Source: breadbasketcase blog
Yield: Two loafs

2 1/2 cups warm water
2 1/2 tsp active dry yeast
1 tbsp sugar
6-7 cups all-purpose flour
1 tbsp salt
4 tbsp butter, very soft

Combine 1/2 cup of the water with the yeast and sugar in a large bowl and let stand until foamy - about 10 minutes. Add the remaining water, 5 cups of flour and the salt to the yeast mixture. Mix with a wooden spoon (or in a mixer), adding the remaining flour a few tablespoons at a time, until dough pulls cleanly away from the sides of the bowl. Knead in butter until dough is smooth and not sticky. Turn dough out onto a lightly floured surface and continue kneading for an additional minute or two, until it is smooth and elastic. Shape dough into a ball and place in a large, lightly oiled bowl to rise until doubled, about 1- 1 1/2 hours.

Butter two 8x4 inch loaf pans and set aside. Place dough on a lightly floured surface and divide in two equal portions. Working with one piece at a time, roll the dough out into a 9 inch wide x 12 inch tall rectangle, with the short side towards you. Fold one third of the dough down, then fold it down again. Pinch the bottom seam to seal. Your rectangle should be approximately 9x4 now. Turn the seam side up. Fold each end over about 1/2 inch, tuck in any loose ends and pinch to seal. Place the loaf seam side down into a greased 8x4 inch loaf pan. Cover loaf pans lightly with oiled plastic wrap and allow to rise until doubled in size, about 45-60 minutes. Dough will rise above the top of the pan.

Meanwhile, preheat oven to 375F. Place loaves in oven and bake for 36-40 minutes. The loaves will be golden and will sound hollow when tapped on the bottom when they are done. Remove loaves from pans immediately and let cool completely on a wire rack before slicing.

Pink Tie Ball 2009

A night dedicated to raising funds to aid the fight against breast cancer. I joined this committee in hopes of bringing a breath of freshness to the ball. I felt that in the two previous Pink Tie Balls things were a bit stiff. We were bored. I personally wanted to see a larger presence of education. While I do not think my goals were accomplished the ball was better than ever. The live auction piece lended a lot to the layout of the evening. This was my first time bringing Seth. In years past it had been a girls night for me and Toria and Tina. I was so happy to have my husband by my side. He reminded me of my purpose in participating on this committee. I don't want thanks or recognition. I want breast cancer to go away.

Sunday, March 8, 2009

Oh, Rats!

My husband and his friend Walter have the coolest and best punk/folk/country band in the state. Years ago they were part of a band that made it pretty big in the state called Marks the Spot. This was long previous to meeting him. A year or so ago he and Wally decided to start a new project called Oh, Rats!. They write a lot of their own music and have done a couple covers, one Blink 182 song and Lefty Frizzel's "Long Black Veil". I'm not sure if my favorite is "Tell her to aim lower" or "Not if I see you first". Both very different songs and both excellent. These are some talented guys. Check out their music at

Tomorrow night they have their first gig in 5 years. They are playing at Higher Grounds in Hallowell with Glen Theory and Mike Hale, both signed. This is big for the small drunken town of Hallowell where they rotate local artists. Everyone I know is looking forward to this show. It is going to be amazing...just like my husband.

I am the designated Merch Girl (mostly self designated) and thought that you can't have Mrs. Sweet Cheeks running a merch table without selling cupcakes. My dear friend Kacey and I brainstormed and came up with the idea to make Oh, Rats! cupcakes. We had so much fun today making these. I won't post a recipe because they are just boxed cake mix (curse me if you want) and buttercream icing.

Of course we had company while we baked the cupcakes. He loves hanging out with the girls. Even though Kacey put a bag over his head and he fell off the island.

I love this picture of the icing we had just colored.

We tried to make rats on the cupcake but found they look more like mice or gerbils. One of mine looked like a sleeping cat. Whatever.

This little mouse/rat has a tramp stamp to show her support of breast cancer awareness!

Of course we had to make a couple for ourselves...and taste test!

Saturday, March 7, 2009

Creamy Tomato Alphabet Soup

SUCCESS! I've made quite a few tomato soups looking for one that was just right (at least to my palate). Some have been too runny. Some too bland. Some with too much tomato. This time I was going to do it right. I wasn't going to follow a recipe.

I'm lucky enough to have some basil and thyme growing in a pot in my upstairs where it is warm. These two are a must in tomato soup. Another must, cream. I like my tomato soup a bit creamy and thick. I also like some sort of noodle in my soup and chose alphabets for their size. Not too much noodle to take away from the tomato.

I served this to my lady friends with a grilled cheese on Sesame Semolina Bread.

Creamy Tomato Alphabet Soup
Source: ME!
Yield: 6 servings

1 onion
3 cloves minced garlic
2 T butter
3 T flour
2 can vegetable broth
1 big can crushed tomatoes
1 small can diced tomatoes
1 heaping spoon tomato paste
1 t sugar
1/2 cup cream
1 cup alphabet noodles

Melt butter and EVOO over medium high heat. Add onions and saute 7 minutes. Add garlic and saute 2 minutes. Sprinkle with flour cooking 2 more minutes. Stir in broth, all tomatoes, paste, sugar, herbs, and season with S&P. Allow to simmer. About 20 minutes before serving add cream and noodle.

*I made mine in the crock pot

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Tuesdays with Dorie: Chocolate Armagnac Cake

This month's challenge is brought to us by Lyb of And then I do the dishes- Chocolate Armagnac Cake - The Cake That Got Me Fired.

Sunday was the first KVB Baking Day. Kacey, Victoria, and myself gathered in my kitchen to tackle Dorie's cake that got her fired. We each wore an apron. Kacey's was super cute with a ruffle at the bottom.

We had a great time and I think I did a great job not taking over (I have a tendency of doing that in my kitchen). I have to say I'm getting a bit sick of this folding of beaten egg whites in every one of her recipes. Yes, it is meant to lighten the cake. No, I don't like doing it.

We are in an economic crisis. I just had my hours cut back at work. I'm not about to go out and buy a bottle of booze that I may never use again. In my alcohol cabinet...Irish Whiskey. Perfect. I soaked my raisins (instead of prunes) in this and allowed them to sit for a few hours.

Overall we each enjoyed the cake. Quite chocolaty. The nuts add a nice crunch here and there. The raisins...hmm. Why? Kacey and I didn't mind them, they added something different. I don't think Toria was too impressed with them. I would have enjoyed a stronger taste of whiskey.

The next KVB Baking Day will be held at Victoria's house in a few weeks. Here and there we may host a guest baker. The hostess (with the mostest) is allowed to pick the project. I believe we are doing something with whiskey, stout, Baileys. What could it be??

Monday, March 2, 2009

Breakfast of Champions

Not like that Aunt Val.

A few weeks ago I saw someone had posted homemade Pop-Tarts on Food Gawker (a bunch of elitists). I thought to myself, "I can do that! Shirley Dill taught me to make great pie dough!"

Today was a snow day for state workers here in Maine. I wasn't expecting a full day off and wasn't prepared with projects to get me through the day. I sat here thinking of things I could make with limited eggs, no milk, no fresh veggies. Bread, if I could find the right recipe for my ingredients on hand. But I was hungry for breakfast. The perfect time for homemade Pop-Tarts!

These were heavenly. I did half raspberry and half strawberry. I had one of each plus a belly ache. So much better than any of that store bought crap full of preservatives and stuff you can't even pronounce. These are full of love!

Of course Bonnie Lee would be upset if you left any scrap dough unused. Ball it up and roll it again.

Source: Me again.
Yield: 6

Pastry Dough (use your own or that icky store bought stuff)
Powder Sugar

Roll out dough. Cut into rectangles. Spread half with jam. Fold over. Pinch edges to seal. Bake at 350 for 20 or so minutes.

For icing, thin sugar with a bit of milk. Pour over pastries. Sprinkle with sanding sugar or sprinkles.

Anna, Damn Her.

The legend has it that Anadama bread got it's name when a New England fisherman cursed his wife for not fulfilling her wifely duties, "Anna, damn her."

Anadama bread isn't something that you get often. (at least in my travels I don't see it too often...not that I travel far) I enjoy the texture of Anadama bread as well as the sweetness that the molasses provides.

The day after I made these rolls I ended up with this outside:

As much as I hate it, being a plowman's wife, I couldn't help but be struck but how beautiful it was.

Anadama Rolls
Source: Bon Appetit
Yield: 18 rolls

1 cup whole milk
1 cup water
2 teaspoons salt
1/2 cup yellow cornmeal
1/3 cup light molasses
6 tablespoons unsalted butter
1/2 cup warm water (105°F to 115°F)
1 envelope dry yeast
5 1/2 cups unbleached all purpose flour
2 teaspoons sesame or poppy seeds

Bring milk, 1 cup water and salt to boil in heavy large saucepan over medium heat. Slowly whisk in cornmeal. Cook until mixture thickens and boils, whisking constantly, about 2 minutes. Remove from heat. Whisk in molasses and 2 tablespoons butter. Transfer mixture to large bowl. Cool until thermometer inserted into center of mixture registers 115°F, whisking often, about 15 minutes.

Pour 1/2 cup warm water into small bowl; sprinkle yeast over. Let stand until yeast dissolves and top looks spongy, about 13 minutes. Stir yeast mixture into cornmeal mixture. Gradually mix in 4 3/4 cups flour, about 1 cup at a time, to form soft dough that pulls away from sides of bowl. Sprinkle 1/4 cup flour onto work surface. Turn dough out onto floured surface; knead until smooth and elastic, sprinkling with more flour by tablespoonfuls if needed, about 10 minutes (dough will remain slightly sticky). Form dough into ball.

Coat large bowl with 1 tablespoon butter. Add dough to bowl and turn to coat dough with butter. Cover bowl with plastic wrap. Let dough rise in warm draft-free area until doubled in volume, about 1 hour 15 minutes.

Punch down dough. Cover dough with plastic wrap; let stand 10 minutes.

Coat each of two 9-inch-diameter cake pans with 1/2 tablespoon butter. Roll dough into 18-inch-long log. Cut into 18 equal pieces. Using floured hands, form each dough piece into ball. Place 9 dough balls in each pan, spacing apart. Cover each pan loosely with towel. Let rolls stand in warm draft-free area until almost doubled in volume, about 30 minutes.

Position rack in center of oven and preheat to 400°F. Melt 2 tablespoons butter in small saucepan over medium heat. Brush top of rolls with melted butter, then sprinkle with sesame or poppy seeds. Place rolls in oven and immediately reduce temperature to 350°F. Bake rolls until golden brown, about 30 minutes. (Can be made 1 day ahead. Cool completely. Store airtight at room temperature. Wrap rolls in foil and rewarm in 350°F oven 10 minutes.) Serve warm.