Monday, October 15, 2012

Lessons in Mini Pies

So Adam and I got married [actually, to the day] a month ago. When we first started planning our wedding, I did the typical girl-thing and read a LOT of wedding magazines, blogs and boards looking for ways to make our day special and unique (yea, I know it's never going to be THAT different if you're looking for ideas on the Internet....). And I came up with a lot of ideas for things that we wanted to do on our own which may or may not have been a good idea ("Let's take apart old wooden crates to make a base for our centrepieces!") but the one thing that I was set on pretty much from the beginning was to handle SOME portion of the food. I wasn't crazy enough to consider handling the actual meal, so it was probably going to be dessert. I briefly considered baking our wedding cake, but the truth is that I don't bake a lot of cake not to mention we wanted carrot cake which I've never actually made....once. I did know that I wanted pie to be present in some way at the wedding because I LOVE pie, and I was leaning toward an edible favour so aha! Pie wedding favours!

A lot of people tried to talk me out of doing this, with arguments such as "WHEN are you going to make 200 pies", "How/when are you going to bake them when we're leaving for Niagara-on-the-lake the day before the wedding?" and "you are crazy. I am not helping you". But I decided to just go for it. How hard could it possible be? I didn't even have structural concerns like I would with a cake! I just had to make a LOT of small pies (muffin sized, in muffin tins). And figure out how to package and label them. Easy.

So many boxes!
The plan was to make and freeze (but not bake) 200 pies in the month or so leading up to the wedding, and bake them off the morning before. Since we were spending the night out of town, everything had to be baked, cooled and packaged/ready to go by noon on the Friday. Honestly, I wasn't really concerned at all about making and freezing the pies. As long as the work was stretched out, it felt pretty doable. I was most stressed out about the morning baking session, as even when baking 24 pies at a time at 30 minutes each would be at least 8 batches. Luckily, Laura's parents have two ovens so we could bake 48 at a time which meant 2-3 hours of baking. Right? Right!

So I started baking. I was planning to make three or four different flavours of pies: pumpkin and strawberry-rhubarb which I had tried and tested recipes for, an apple crumble and possibly a peach which ended up turning into a peach-blueberry pie. I did a few test rounds and learned a few things, which are noted below.

To be honest, there were a few very long baking sessions involved and there were some aspects (specifically the packaging) which look a lot more time than I originally anticipated. But I 100% do NOT regret my decision and would totally do it again. Of course, I had help. My mom graciously lent me some kitchen and freezer space (which I very much lack in my condo). My bridesmaids were AMAZING and helped with everything from creating colour-coded labels, assembling and stamping the boxes, and baking off the pies so I can't say I could have done it all on my own. But with all the other crazy planning and decision making going on, making the pie favours was honestly the thing that I felt most sure about and excited for. I knew that as long as I made the time it wouldn't be a problem, and it added such a perfect, personal touch to the day. And seriously, they looked so cute!!

The good news is, you can make mini-pies for ANY occasion and you don't need to make 200. You could even make some, freeze them and bake off a couple at a time and call it portion control? I actually made some more for Thanksgiving once we got back from our honeymoon because in all the craziness we didn't actually get to TASTE any of the favours. So below are my tips and recipe for my personal favourite from the day! (apple crumble)

If you cut strips of parchment to line the muffin tins with, it'll make it easier to get the pies out once they're baked.

Mini Pie Tips

1. Mini pie crusts need to be more flexible than regular pie crust.
Since you're going to be rolling these out thinner than you would a normal pie, you need something to make these a little more pliable than your standard crust. The regular recipe that I use also tends to be super flaky (meaning, crumbly) so the first round was okay, but not ideal. I ended up adding buttermilk to my liquid which helped a lot.

2. Mini pies = a VERY small dice for fruit fillings
This is pretty obvious in retrospect. Small pie, small dice right? Except my understanding of "small" didn't really compute until I tried to fill my first apple pies and got like, 5 hunks of apple into the crust. If you don't cut up your fruit pretty finely, you won't get very much in your mini pie and then you'll just have a dry pie with a bad filling:crust ratio.

3. Freezing before baking helps fruit fillings from boiling over while baking
Normally, when you're baking full-sized pies you sometimes have a problem where the crust cooks before the filling. This can be solved by covering your pie with foil once the crust is finished to prevent over browning. With mini pies, you have the opposite problem. The filling cooks up much faster since there is so little of it, and so with "jammy" fillings you may have a problem with the filling boiling over before the crust is browned. So if your pies are frozen in advance, this will help extend the cooking time of your filling. I still had some issues with the strawberry-rhubarb and peach-blueberry pies, but they were SUPPOSED to look homemade, right? ("It's rustic!")

4. Crumbles and "topless" pies are your friends
Small pie tops are annoying. I used a lattice crust for the strawberry-rhubarb, and a regular crust for the peach-blueberry. What a PAIN.

5. Proportions are a little confusing when converting recipes. Don't let it stress you out!
I made a lot of extraneous filling when I made the pies. I basically guessed as I went along trying to figure out how much filling to make, and sometimes it didn't really come out right but if you have extra filling, you can always make a crisp or crumble. If you have extra crust, freeze it for later.

Boxed and ready to go!

Apple Crumble Mini Pies

18 ounces flour
6 ounces butter
6 ounces vegetable shortening (I use Tenderflake)
5 ounces ice-cold water
5 ounces buttermilk
1/2 tsp salt
1 tbsp sugar

2 1/2 pounds of apples (I used Paula Gold and Crispin)
1 1/2 tbsp flour
1/2 cup sugar
Zest and juice of one lemon (start with half the juice and add to taste - I really like lemon and thought it made the pie, but Adam claimed this was too citrusy)
1 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp nutmeg
1/8 tsp ground cloves

Crumble Topping
1/4 cup flour
1/4 cup rolled oats
1/4 cup brown sugar
1/4 cup cold butter, cut into cubes
1/2 tsp salt
Mush it all together. Add more of any ingredient if you want. Exclude the oats if you don't have any. Add nuts if you like nuts. This is pretty flexible.

1. Prepare crust - Cut out butter and shortening amounts, and freeze for about 1/2 hour Making sure the ingredients are cold is incredibly important when making pie crust. I try to store the tools I'm going to be using in the freezer while my butter and shortening are in there as well to keep everything cool.

2. Measure out flour, salt and sugar into a large bowl

3. Cut in (or grate in) butter and shortening into the flour

4. Add water and buttermilk mixture a couple tablespoons at a time, until flour mixture starts to clump together. Form a ball with your hands (be careful not to overwork the dough or it will end up tough)

5. Divide into two discs, wrap with saran wrap and refrigerate for about 20 minutes or until ready to use

6. Peel, core and dice apples into VERY SMALL PIECES. Probably around 1/4 inch pieces.

7. Toss the apples with lemon zest and juice, sugar, salt, flour and spices. Set aside.

8. Roll out crust to around 1/4 inch thick. Make sure you're using plenty of flour as you roll out, because if you don't the crust will stick and it won't be fun trying to pry it off the counter. Cut out circles that are a little wider than your muffin tin and line your pan.

9. Fill the crusts with the filling, basically as full as you can without the apples spilling over the sides, and making sure you leave some room for the crumble topping. Sprinkle the crumble topping on top.

At this point, you can either freeze the pies overnight and then pop them out of the liners and into ziploc bags until ready to bake, or bake at 350 degrees Farenheit, 175 degrees Celsius for 25-30 minutes or until the crust is browned. You don't necessarily need to worry about the filling with apple pie as these won't boil over.

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

How to Impress your Family at Thanksgiving!

So I have a whole backlist of things to post about. The 200 mini-pies that I made for our wedding three weeks ago, all of the amazing food we ate on our honeymoon in Maui plus some actual other cooking that I did while I was too busy planning a wedding to write about. But first...Thanksgiving is this weekend. Now, we had our turkey dinner LAST weekend as my aunt and uncle from Korea were still around from the wedding festivities and it happened to be Chuseok, the Korean autumn harvest festival or "Korean Thanksgiving". My aunt made the traditional songpyeon (a steamed sweet rice cake) that are traditionally eaten during the harvest festival, but beyond that we had our usual Canadian Thanksgiving meal. Which means that I can post some recipes before you make YOUR turkey dinner this weekend!

Now I've been "in charge" of the turkey dinners in our family for a pretty long time and I have a little theory about what makes a Thanksgiving meal (or Christmas, or any holiday involving a large roasted hunk of meat) truly impressive.

And here it is: It's all about the sides!

Honestly, ANYONE can roast a turkey. It's really not that hard. Yea, you can brine it, use a rub, inject a marinade, deep fry it, barbeque, or whatever other cooking method is trending this year OR you can just buy a turkey, season it with some salt and pepper and throw it in the oven until a meat thermometer in the thigh reads 165°C. Seriously. Try it sometime! And if the breast meat is a little dry? That's what gravy is for! I really REALLY love turkey, but I've never had one that was SO exceptional. Where you can really impress is the "other stuff". So here's my menu!

Kim family Turkey Dinner

Turkey (just Google it)

Gravy (I can't really help you here. I've still figuring out gravy. I use Bistry gravy granules to supplement my drippings!)

Pioneer Woman's Thanksgiving Stuffing with some extras...usually with some chopped dried or fresh cranberries to add a bit of colour, sometimes giblets, I used chestnuts this year too! Go nuts.

Mashed Potatoes (my only tip here is to use either a potato ricer or a masher that has little holes on the ends instead of a wavy pattern becuase it'll mash the potatoes finer, and use plenty of butter and milk and salt. don't use a hand blender, it makes them gluey!)

Kraft Dinner (ORIGINAL - it tastes good with turkey, I swear)

Harvest Buns (brush them with melted butter once they come out of the oven, they'll look so good and shiny that everyone will be SO impressed)

Cranberry Sauce (see recipe below)

Pumpkin Pie (see recipe below - I made mini pies this year but I'll post about that later)

Cranberry Sauce

12oz fresh or frozen cranberries, washed
One orange
3/4 cup white sugar

1. Zest the orange and set zest aside; juice the orange and add enough water to make one cup
2. Combine orange water, sugar and cranberries in a medium saucepan over high heat and stir to dissolve sugar
3. Cook until the water mixture boils, then reduce to medium and keep cooking until the cranberries pop and turn into a sauce (it will be lumpy but start to resemble jam - if you don't like whole berries you can also strain it at this point)
4. Remove from heat, stir in the orange zest and let cool. Refrigerate until ready to eat.

Pumpkin Pie with Spiced Whipping Cream

adapted from Anna Olson

1/2 recipe Pie Dough, chilled (or you can just use a frozen crust. The Tenderflake ones are decent)

2 cups canned PURE pumpkin (not pumpkin pie filling! I HAVE made my own pumpkin puree in the past - get a sugar pumpkin or butternut squash, roast in the oven until soft and then scoop out the insides and puree in a food processor or hand blender. It's better, but I can't say it's REALLY worth the effort)
3/4 cup light brown sugar, packed
1 tbsp fancy molasses
1 tsp cinnamon
1/4 tsp ground nutmeg
1/8 tsp ground cloves
1/2 tsp salt
3 large eggs
1 can evaporated milk

Spiced Whipped Cream1 cup whipping cream
1 tbsp sugar
1/4 tsp cinnamon
pinch nutmeg

1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees Farenheit, or 204 degrees Celsius

2. On a floured surface, roll out dough to just under ¼-inch thick, it should be about an inch wider than your [9-inch, preferably glass] pie plate. Try to shift the dough a bit while you're rolling so that it doesn't stick too much to the surface. Loosly roll the dough onto your rolling pin and unroll over the pie plate. Trim the edges and put into the freezer while you're preparing the filling.

3. Whisk pumpkin with brown sugar, molasses spices and salt with a stand mixer or hand blender if you have one. Whisk in eggs, then evaporated milk. You can also do this by hand, but I find that the filling is a bit "fluffier" if you use a mixer. Pour into the chilled pie shell (I always ALWAYS find that there is too much filling here, unless you're making mini pies. Then it's perfect for 2 dozen)

4. Bake for 10 minutes, then lower temperature to 350 degrees Farenheit, 175 degrees Celsius and bake for 20 to 30 minutes, until filling puffs just a little around edges but still has a bit of jiggle in center when moved. Allow to cool to room temperature before eating.

Spiced Whipped Cream - Whip cream with sugar and spices until medium peaks form. Sometimes I use the magic bullet and it's SO FAST.

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Asian Chicken Noodle Slaw Salad

(this photo is terrible - I swear it looked really good in person and tastes delicious too!)

As a kid, I was a pretty picky eater. I didn't eat most vegetables, I hated spicy food (which is extremely unusual as a Korean) and I wouldn't touch most traditional Korean banchan (i.e. kimchi) with a ten-foot pole. It didn't really help that my mom had no problem with making three different meals for dinner and rarely challenged my specific tastes. So it was a long time before I started venturing out and trying things that I (thought I) didn't enjoy as a kid.

There are quite a few things that have started to grow on me probably in the last 5 years or so. Spicy food, red peppers, bean sprouts are all on the list. A fairly recent one is cabbage and slaws in general. I always thought the idea of letting a salad sit in dressing, getting soggy to be completely disgusting. Yes I know cabbage isn't the same thing as salad but it was basically the same thing in my head.

So anyway, I like cabbage now and I bought a head for coleslaw one night a few weeks ago. The thing with cabbage is that a little goes a long way. I buy some for one meal and then I'm left trying to figure out what to do with it for the rest of the week!
This noodle salad is a bit more heavy on the veggies (read: cabbage) and light on the noodles. The beauty of recipes like this is that you can really use whatever combination you like, as long as you have enough dressing for it. And you can sub in other veggies...bean sprouts, carrots, can't really go wrong. And its a perfect leftover meal for the next day!

Asian Chicken Noodle Slaw Salad
adapted from Serious Eats

1 boneless chicken breast (or about 1 cup of cooked chicken meat)
5 ounces soba noodles
1/2 a red bell pepper
1/4 a red cabbage
1/2 a cucumber

2 scallions, thinly sliced

5 tbsp soy sauce
2 tbsp seasoned rice wine vinegar
2 tbsp canola oil
1 tbsp Asian sesame oil
2 tbsp crunchy peanut butter
2 garlic cloves, roughly chopped
1 tbsp minced fresh ginger
1 tbsp sugar

1. Make the dressing: combined all ingredients in a small saucepan over medium heat and bring to a boil for just a minute, whisking while it cooks. Remove dressing from heat.

2. Prepare the chicken: between two pieces of saran wrap, pound chicken breast with a mallet until it's about 1/2 inch thick.

3. Drizzle with some olive oil, salt and pepper and cook in a skillet over medium heat. Let it cook for about 3 minutes on one side, then flip and brush with a bit of dressing. Repeat a couple times until the chicken is cooked through (should really take no more than 10 minutes since it's been pounded down). Remove from heat and set aside.

4. In the meantime, bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Cook noodles according to package instructions, stirring occasionally so they don't stick. Drain and rinse well under cold water.
5. Using a mandoline if you have it, julienne the bell pepper and cucumber into very thin strips. Slice the cabbage and green onion thinly.

6. Shred or chop chicken breast into bite sized pieces.

7. In a large bowl, toss the chicken with the noddles, veggies and peanuts (if using). Drizzle with dressing to taste. I personally prefer to dress the individual portions as I eat vs. dressing the entire salad though I find that it keeps beautifully with the dressing on as well. Serve immediately.

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Smashed Chickpea Salad/Spread (aka the easiest lunch EVER)

(*edit: Laura made this last week and actually DID take a photo, so here it is!)

One of the hardest things I find about trying to maintain a food blog is taking photos. I'm a pretty terrible photographer by nature and I don't have much of an interest in getting better (aside from the fact that I would like nicer pictures on this blog). And then it's just the timing of it. The recipes and meals that I "plan" to blog about don't always necessary work out, or taste that good. Conversely, sometimes a recipe looks so simple that it doesn't really seem worth it at the time but then is SO good I really want to tell people about it!

The other day I was really craving a falafel for lunch. I had most of the necessary ingredients, but falafels take time. Time for chopping, shaping and frying/baking which just isn't going to happen when I'm ALREADY hungry (and believe me, the unreasonable hunger rage can occur with no warning at this point). I'd read something about a mashed chickpea spread recently so I decided to see what options I had. And this smashed chickpea salad recipe from Smitten Kitchen was the perfect alternative! All the falafel flavour with a mere fraction of the work involved, and lighter too (no frying!). Seriously. Amazing.

Smashed chickpea salad/spread
adapted from SmittenKitchen

1 15 oz can chickpeas, drained and rinsed
1 tbsp finely chopped red onion
1 tbsp chopped fresh parsley (I did not use this as I didn't have any, and frankly I'm not a huge fan of parsley. But I might use it next time, falafels always seem to have it as an ingredient so you may miss it without)
Zest and juice from half a lemon
1-2 tbsp olive oil (I'm not really sure how much I used, just put enough in until it comes together a bit)
salt and pepper to taste

Throw all ingredients into a bowl. Mash the mixture with either a potato masher or a fork, until its the consistency you want. You'll probably have some whole chickpeas left but that's cool. Season to taste and eat in a pita with some veggies (we had cucumber and tomato) and tzatziki. See? So easy!

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Behind the Times

I like to believe that I'm not so easily susceptible to fads; I'm definitely not the first one to jump on every trend bandwagon that comes along, preferring to stick to classics (and this is true for many things - fashion, books, food!). Of course, this also means that when a "fad" is clearly not going away anytime soon and I eventually succumb, I'm left wondering why on earth I held back for so long on something that is so awesome. This happened with Harry Potter, leggings (don't laugh) to name a few....and no-knead bread. 

The first no-knead recipe was published by the New York times in 2006. Yea, It's been FIVE years. When it came out, I was totally of the "why wouldn't I just knead my bread? I LIKE kneading bread" argument so didn't bother trying out the recipe. Also I find stirring a stiff batter way more difficult than kneading dough so I didn't really see how this would be easier. I was also turned off by the VERY long rising time since I'm not really a "plan my recipes ahead" kind of girl. But parts of the recipe did appeal to me - the long rising time would develop more flavour and complexity in the bread and also require less yeast, and the very moist dough baked in a dutch oven produces a "steaming" effect which leads to light, holey bread with a crackly crust. So I've used recipes in the past the borrows from these techniques but have never actually tried the REAL no-knead recipe.  

Then last weekend I knew I wanted to bake some bread on Sunday and had some time to plan in advance. And to be honest, now that I make bread and pizza that much more often sometimes all that kneading does get a bit tiring. So I decided to finally try it out....and? I really seriously cannot believe I have waited THIS long to make no-knead bread. It actually makes me sad. SO easy and SO good! The dough is actually so wet that you have none of the problems with stirring it, and the flavour and texture really IS amazing. So light and fluffy on the inside with a super crackly crust. Yum. Adam tried a slice and immediately started chanting "MORE BREAD, MORE BREAD" which shows just how good this is since he is not the carb-obsessed bread lover that I am. So anyway. Please, if you haven't made it yet try it. It is definitely worth the time and planning ahead!

No-Knead Bread
Adapted from the New York Times
Total time: About 1½ hours plus 14 to 20 hours for rising

3 cups all-purpose or bread flour, more for dusting
½ tsp instant yeast
1½ tsp salt

1¾ cups water (I'm going to note here that the original recipe calls for 1 5/8 of a cup which is a very specific amount. I ended up using a little more so I'm just rounding to 3/4 here...just use as much water as you need to get the consistency as described below)
Cornmeal or wheat bran as needed (I used cornmeal)

1. In a large bowl, combine flour, yeast and salt. Add water and stir until blended; dough will be shaggy and sticky. It shouldn't be batter-like but you definitely shouldn't be able to knead it at all with your hands. Cover the bowl with saran wrap and let dough rest at least 12-18 hours at warm room temperature. When dough is ready, the surface should be dotted with bubbles. If you don't want to bake the bread for a few more days, keep it in the fridge and let it get back to room temperature for a couple hours before you continue to Step 2.

2. Lightly flour a work surface and place dough on it; sprinkle with a little more flour and fold it over on itself once or twice. Cover the ball loosely with plastic wrap and let rest for about 15 minutes.

3. Using just enough flour to keep the dough from sticking to your work surface or fingers, gently and quickly shape dough into a ball (I used more flour than I thought I would in this step; this dough is REALLY sticky). Generously coat a cotton towel (not terry cloth) or a silicone baking sheet with flour, wheat bran or cornmeal; put dough seam side down on the towel and dust it with more flour, bran or cornmeal. Cover with another cotton towel and let it rise for about 2 hours. When it is ready, dough will be more than double in size and will not readily spring back when poked with a finger.

4. At least a half-hour before you're ready to bake, preheat the oven to 450 degrees Farenheit, 232 degrees Celsius. Put a 6 to 8 quart heavy covered pot (cast iron, enamel, Pyrex or ceramic - I used my dutch oven) in the oven as it heats. When the dough is ready, carefully remove the pot from oven. Slide your hand under the towel or silicone baking sheet and turn the dough over into the pot, seam side up. I probably won't look very nice or much like a loaf of anything but don't worry too much about that. Shake the pot a couple times if the dough is unevenly distributed; it will straighten out as it bakes. Cover with lid and bake for 30 minutes, then for another 15 to 30 minutes with the lid off until your loaf is browned and delicious looking! Cool on a rack and try to let it rest for about 20 minutes before you cut it.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Cinnamon Rolls!

Anyone that follows the Pioneer Woman knows her cinnamon rolls are kind of a big deal. She talks about them alot. People seem to like them. And most importantly, they look delicious. Tons of butter and sugar and cinnamon...all good things. Now I have to admit, I didn't use quite as much butter or sugar. I am not by any means the type of person that counts calories or uses non-fat ANYTHING but there is a LOT of both in the recipe and it scared me a little. And more importantly, I didn't really believe I needed it to make delicious rolls. And I was right! These still contain plenty of fat and sugar and are defintely not good for you. I also halved the recipe but it still makes a lot of cinnamon rolls. I made these for Mother's day and still have a bunch saved in the freezer. Yay!

Cinnamon Rolls
adapted from The Pioneer Woman

2 cups milk (I used 2%)
½ cup canola oil
½ cup sugar
2 ¼ tsp active dry yeast
4 cups (1 cup separated) all-purpose flour
1 cup whole wheat flour
1 tsp baking powder
½ tsp baking soda
½ tbsp salt

½ softened butter
¼ cup sugar
genereous sprinkling of cinnamon

½ bag icing sugar
1 tsp vanilla or maple syrup (I used vanilla but will try maple next time)
¼ cup milk
⅛ cup melted butter
⅛ cup brewed coffee (I used instant)
dash of salt

1. Mix the milk, vegetable oil and sugar in a pan. Heat until the mixture is just about to boil, turn off heat and leave to cool 45 minutes to 1 hour. I'm not going to lie, I cheated a bit here...I think I let it cool for about 20 minutes and stuck it in the fridge for about another 5....basically let it cool until it's warm to the touch but NOT hot anymore or it will kill the yeast! Sprinkle in the yeast and let sit for a few minutes, until it starts to bubble. Add 3 cups of all-purpose flour and 1 cup of whole wheat flour. Stir mixture together. Cover and let rise for at least an hour in a warm place.

2. Once the dough is doubled, add 1 more cup of flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt. Stir together. Refrigerate if you're not using immediately for up to a day.

Preheat oven to 400 degrees Farenheit, or 205 degrees Celsius

3. When ready to prepare rolls, take the dough and form a rough rectangle on a lightly floured surface. Roll the dough thin, trying to stay in a general rectangular shape. I tried to roll the dough to about 1 cm thick but you're just going to have to go with your gut here. I think I rolled the dough too thick in the middle so my rolls had a pretty big range in sizes but they still turned out yummy :)

4. Spread the softened butter over the dough. Now sprinkle sugar over the butter (you can use more than I did...the original recipe calls for half a cup) followed by a generous sprinkling of cinnamon.

5. Begin rolling the dough along the long side in a neat line toward you. Keep the roll relatively tight as you go. Next, pinch the seam of the roll to seal it (umm...I JUST read this. I did not do this step. My rolls did not collapse but it's probably a good idea in retrospect)

6. Grease a few pans with butter. I used one 9x13 pan and two round cake pans. Cut the rolls about 1 inch thick and place them in the buttered pans. Let the rolls rise again for another 20 to 30 minutes.

7. Bake for about 15 to 18 minutes, or until lightly golden.

8. While the rolls are baking, make the frosting: mix together all the ingredients listed and stir until smooth. It should be thick but pourable. Taste and adjust as needed. Generously drizzle over the warm rolls. Use more than you think you need, because the rolls will soak up the icing and the icing is GOOD. I don't even really like icing. Just trust me on this.

Saturday, May 7, 2011

Eat Your Heart Out, Galen

This is actually the first lasagna that I've ever made. I'm not a huge fan of traditional lasagna - I generally prefer a simple bolognese with noodles, and to be honest lasagna has always seemed like too much work to bother. But veggie lasagna...yes, it could be worth it! Especially if it was modeled after the PC Vegetable Lasagna with 7 Cheeses. SO good. This stuff is like crack. I was introduced to it by a couple of roommates in university. We'd buy the Club Pack size and go through it within a day. You could delude yourself into thinking this stuff is healthy (there's VEGETABLES in it!) but it's also 25% cheese according to the product page. That's a LOT of cheese.

I think I went in originally with the mentality that I was somehow going to make this healthier than the PC version. But as I starting putting the ingredients together I moved to a different mantra: Even if I use the exact same ingredients, it should be a LITTLE better just because it's from scratch, right? And doesn't include the preservatives at the very least? Anyway, I have no idea how the calorie count on this thing compares to PC's but I can guarantee it still doesn't fall into the "low-fat" category. It's not a weeknight dish, but perfect for a rainy Sunday at home!

(proof that there were, in fact, a LOT of veggies used in the making of this recipe!)

I was actually surprised that I couldn't find a copycat recipe online. Everyone I know loves this lasagna. But I guess most people don't spend their time trying to replicate their favourite frozen foods from scratch, and really it's probably cheaper to just buy it at the grocery store. So this did mean that I had to make up my own recipe.

While I cook a lot, I'm a baker at heart which means I like to follow recipes. It was a bit tricky to write my own so I used a few similar lasagna recipes to form a "base" and then used the ingredient listing from the PC page to help me out!

According to the PC product page, the ingredients are:

Lasagna noodles (durum wheat semolina, water, dried whole egg), water, seven cheeses [white and yellow cheddar, part skim mozzarella, ricotta, asiago, swiss, romano and parmesan (whole and partially skimmed milk, bacterial culture, salt, microbial enzymes, rennet and/or pepsin, whey, white vinegar, colour)], seven vegetables (broccoli, carrots, zucchini, cauliflower, corn, onions, spinach), cream, palm oil margarine, bread crumbs (contain soybean oil), modified corn starch, skim milk powder, cheddar cheese base [cheddar a
nd blue cheese (whole milk, bacterial culture, salt, microbial enzymes), water, sodium phosphate, white vinegar, salt], lactic acid, flour, sugar, salt, spice, garlic powder, onion powder.

I tried to stay pretty true to these ingredients, obviously without the preservatives and a few very small additions. I added some roasted red pepper because I love red pepper and I had some in the fridge. And I used *gasp* SIX cheeses instead of seven! Blasphemy!

Anyway, this recipe is a bit of work but well worth the effort. And it makes a pretty big lasagna so you can always freeze some for leftovers another day! Enjoy.

Cheese and Veggie Lasagna

1 lb cauliflower (about half a large head), washed and cut into bite sized pieces
10 oz broccolli (2 small heads), washed and cut into bite sized pieces
2 red peppers, washed and seeded, halved
1 large carrot, peeled and grated
1 cup corn
2 medium zucchini, washed and sliced into 1 cm half discs
1 medium onion, diced
3 cloves garlic, peeled and minced
Olive oil
salt and pepper to taste

1 1/2 cups sharp white cheddar
1 cup asiago
1 1/2 cups mozzarella

1 bunch spinach, washed and trimmed/2 cup flour
15 oz ricotta cheese
1 egg

1/2 cup flour
1/2 cup butter
4 cups milk
1 1/2 cups sharp white cheddar
1/2 cup parmesan cheese
50 g blue cheese
1 tsp dried basil
1 tsp dried oregano
1 tsp dried thyme
1 tsp red pepper flakes

1/2 cup breadcrumbs
1/2 cup parmesan cheese

10 lasagna sheets

Preheat oven to 375 degrees Farenheit or 190 degrees Celsius

1. Place cauliflower, broccolli, corn and zucchini on a large cookie sheet. Drizzle with olive oil and season with salt and pepper. Roast in preheated oven about 20 minutes or until veggies are soft but not mushy. While they are roasting also throw in the red peppers (you can do this directly onto the rack) until they are somewhat charred and soft. When you remove the peppers, place them onto a plate and cover with saran wrap for about 15 minutes. When they're cool, remove skins and dice. Add these to the other cooked veggies and set aside.

2. In a large sauce pan or wok, saute onions in olive oil until translucent, about 5 minutes. Add grated carrot and cook for about 5 more minutes. Add garlic and cook for one more minute. Remove from heat and add to the other veggies.

3. Saute spinach in the pan until wilted. Lightly beat the egg and combine with spinach and ricotta. Set aside.

4. In the same pan, melt butter over medium heat. Add flour and cook together until it's a golden brown colour. Slowly whisk in the milk a little at a time until it's fully incorporated and smooth. Add in 1 1/2 cups cheddar, 1/2 cup parm and blue cheese bit by bit, mixing as you go to make sure it blends in. Stir in herbs and season with salt and pepper to taste. Add veggies to the sauce and stir to cover.

5. Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Cook lasagna sheets 2 or 3 at a time until al dente. I used fresh pasta so this only took about 3 minutes per batch. I also did these as I layered because I was scared of sticking, but this didn't really seem to be a problem so you could probably do this all at once before you start assembling your lasagna.

At this point, if you've turned your oven on put it back to 375 degrees Farenheit, 190 degrees Celsius

first layer: veggies in cheese sauce

6. Assemble the lasagna! Start by spreading some of the cheese sauce/veggie mixture in the bottom of your pan. Lay down 2 1/2 sheets on top to cover, then spread with 1/3 of the ricotta mixture, 1/3 of the remaining cheese/veggie mixture, then 1/3 of the remaining cheese. Repeat twice. Lay down the last noodles then sprinkle with the breadcrumb/parm topping.

Note: I think that if you had a "real" lasagna pan you could get four noodle layers in. I maxed out at 3 so I actually made a second smaller lasagna in a small pan and froze it, but I'm leaving this recipe as it is.

7. Bake lasagna for about 35-40 minutes until it's bubbling and the top is browned. Try to let it cool for about 10 minutes before cutting because it will really help it stay together when you slice.