Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Gourmet's Lasagna Bolognese

This month's issue of Gourmet will be its last, and I felt obliged to commemorate its productive and wondrous life somehow. With the cold weather making its way to California (cold being the low 60's of course), I was inclined to make something comforting to the soul, warm to the belly and unforgettably delicious.

Lasagna seemed to fit the bill. Lasagna Bolognese, to be exact.

The beauty of this recipe is that the ingredients are simple and few, so that aside from the pasta, cheese, a few vegetables and ground beef, you may likely have most of the items at home. I went to Whole Food's to pick up these items, and I ran into a problem I didn't expect--the market didn't carry fresh pasta sheets.

I could hear my culinary instructor smiling and asking, "You know how to make pasta don't you?" Well yes, but the idea of hauling out my pasta machine from its dusty stupor and making a bigger mess than I desired didn't appeal to my lazy self at the moment.

Off I went to the dried pasta aisle, and there I stood for about 15 minutes. No-boil lasagna sheets or original lasagna sheets? Whole Foods brand or Barilla? I hated myself for the indecisiveness but eventually I made a decision (mostly based on price)--Whole Foods branded no-boil lasagna sheets. I prayed it would work, since my last attempt with lasagna (three years ago) ended in a raw and inedible failure.

What I have come to love about Gourmet over many other food magazines is that their recipes always worked.

Until now.

It was strange--I followed the recipe but the half cup of white wine never quite cooked away, even after 45 minutes. I turned up the heat towards the end but was afraid to overcook the meat so I ended up just draining away the excess. As for the second step, I only added in half the amount of liquid and was glad I did--after four hours there was still a bit of liquid left.

Their bechamel sauce didn't succeed either so I ended up adapting it with the techinque I learned in school. When all was said and done, the lasagna baked beautifully and was delicious. But as I sipped my wine, I realized I was no longer as devastated over Gourmet Magazine's decease--needless to say, it seemed as though its recipe testers didn't always do a thorough job.

Below is a recipe for success, I promise!

Classic Lasagna Bolognese
-adapted from Gourmet Magazine (with my edits)

1/2 pound no-boil dried pasta
1 cup grated Parmigiano Reggiano cheese
2 T olive oil
2 T butter
1 small onion, chopped
1/2 c chopped celery
1/2 c finely chopped carrot
1 lb ground beef
1/4 c dry white wine
2 c canned plum tomatoes, seeds removed and roughly chopped
1/2 c tomato juice (reserved from the canned tomatoes)

1) Heat the oil and butter together over low heat in a pot until the butter is melted.
2) Add the onion, celery, carrot and cook until wilted.
3) Add the meat, breaking up the meat with a fork or spoon. Cook over low heat, stirring frequently. Season the meat with salt/pepper, add the wine and allow the wine to cook down until it is almost dry. If it cooks down too quickly, you can add a little more. Cook the meat until it is just barely pink.
4) Add the tomatoes and 1/2 c tomato juice. Simmer over low heat for 3-4 hours, stirring occasionally. If the tomato juice cooks off you can add a little bit of water. If you still have juice remaining at the end of 4 hours, drain off the excess.

Bechamel Sauce:
3 cups milk
6 T butter
6 T flour
1/2 t salt
1/2 t finely ground pepper

1) Heat the milk over low heat but do not boil (it should be hot enough so that your finger can only stand the heat for 2 seconds).
2) In a sauce pot, melt the butter over low heat. When it is completely melted, quickly take the pot off the heat and whisk in the flour slowly to avoid lumps. Bring the pot back to the heat, and cook for about 1-2 minutes over medium-low heat. The flour should have a slight toasty smell.
3) Gradually pour in the milk, and whisk over medium heat until slightly thickened (it should completely coat a spoon). Take it off the heat. The whole process should take no longer than 5-10 minutes. Should your sauce become too thick and gloppy (this will happen if you don't take it off the heat right away), take it off the heat immediately and pour in a small amount of milk. Whisk until it is thoroughly incorporated.
4) Cool for 10 minutes before using. Meanwhile, preheat the oven to 375 degrees.

To assemble:
Spread the bottom of a baking pan with a thin layer of bechamel. Lay the no-boil pasta sheets over the bechamel in a single layer. Spread a thin layer of meat over the pasta, then a thin layer of bechamel, and then a sprinkle of cheese. Repeat until the meat sauce is used, then cover with a final layer of pasta. Spread bechamel and cheese on top.

Bake for 45 minutes. If the top has not yet browned by this time, you can broil it for 1-2 minutes (but keep your eye on it!).

Bon appetit!

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Quick and Easy Mango Sticky Rice

If there's one thing my husband and I order at every Thai restaurant we dine at, it's the mango sticky rice. I could be too full for dessert, and we will still order the mango sticky rice. I could not have an appetite for dinner, and we will still order the mango sticky rice.

It eventually dawned on me that the ingredients for mango sticky rice were so cheap it made economical sense to make this dessert at home. A plate of fruit brunois and rice with coconut milk is $1-$2 per plate and here we were, paying $6 a plate (and happily doing so, I might add). I knew how to make rice and dice mango--how hard could it be to put the two together?

When a guest chef came to my culinary school to demonstrate Thai cooking and mango sticky rice was on the menu, I was elated. Finally, I would learn how to make this dessert, and never again would we have to overpay for this dish. I mentally calculated how the four buckaroos would add up to our rainy day savings.

Oh, but life is seldom so easy. Apparently the proper way to make mango sticky rice takes two days. Two days! I was not going to waste two days to make a dessert. I'll pay six dollars any day to save two days of my life.

Or maybe, it could be easy. I reread the recipe when I got home, and decided to take some shortcuts. I'm normally not a fan of cheater avenues as often times it doesn't feel genuine, but in this case I wondered if I could save a lot of time without sacrificing a lot of the taste.

Eventually, this recipe came to being. I served it to a friend of mine recently, and after she heard my story I joked I could be the new Rachel Ray.

"But gourmet," she said, as she polished off the last grain of rice.

Quick and Easy Mango Sticky Rice
Serves 4

2 c sweet rice

Rice Seasoning
2/3 c unsweetened coconut milk
1/3 c granulated sugar
generous pinch of salt

Coconut Sauce
1/2 c coconut cream (scraped from the can of the coconut milk; if you don't have enough substitute with more coconut milk)
1/4 c brown sugar

1 ripe mango, peeled and small diced
4 T coconut, toasted

1) Follow the instructions on the rice bag and cook the rice appropriately. A rice cooker is best but a small pot will do.
2) Toast the coconut at 300 degrees for 3 minutes or until it is a light golden brown.
3) When the rice is nearly done, combine the coconut milk, sugar and salt in a saucepan. Bring the mixture to a simmer over low heat and stir until the sugar dissolves. Remove from the heat.
4) Combine the coconut cream and brown sugar in a seperate sauce pan and bring to a simmer over low heat. Stir until the sugar dissolves, then set aside.
5) When the rice is done, let it rest for about ten minutes. Then pour the rice seasoning over the rice, and gently combine with a rice paddle or a rubber spatula.

To serve:
Fill a small ramekin with the rice and gently push it down with a rice paddle (or spatula). Invert it onto a plate, spoon some of the coconut sauce over the rice and then sprinkle 1 T of the toasted coconut on top. Spoon some of the diced mango around the plate. Repeat with the remaining three plates.

For optimal flavor and texture, serve immediately or within an hour. After an hour the rice starts to become a little gummy.