Archive for October, 2008

Beef Lasagna

Posted on October 29, 2008. Filed under: bake, beef, pasta, patience, recipe |

Lasagna is awesome.  There’s no ifs, ands, or buts about it.  It takes a wee bit of work, sure.  So worth it, though.  I encourage you to use grass fed beef.  It really makes a huge difference, both in flavor and in the way we treat the enviornment.  More about that soon.

2 lbs. Ground Beef, 15-20 % fat content
6 Cloves Garlic, smashed
32 oz Ricotta Cheese
2 Cups Mozzarella Cheese, shredded
1 Cup Parmigiano Reggiano, shredded
1 Egg
2 Tablespoons Italian Seasoning
1/2 Teaspoon Nutmeg (optional)
64 oz Tomato Sauce, homemade or your favorite
Lasagna Noodles

Begin by mixing all the ricotta cheese and half of the other cheeses in a bowl.  Add egg, 1 tablespoon Italian seasoning, nutmeg, salt, and half the garlic.  Set aside.
Season ground beef with salt, pepper, and the remaining Italian seasoning & garlic. In a large pan, lightly brown the beef.  While browning, break the beef up into small bits.  This will get easier as the meat cooks.  The whole process should take about 4 minutes.  Don’t worry if all the beef isn’t brown- it’s best not to overcook it.  Drain fat, and stir in about 1/4 of the tomato sauce.

Cover bottom of lasagna pan with sauce.  Add lasagna noodles (check package to see if you need to pre-cook).  Add a layer of beef, then a layer of cheese, cover with sauce and a new layer of pasta.  Repeat the process twice more, so you have three layers of goodness.  Cover top layer of pasta with more sauce, then top that with the remaining mozzarella & parmesan cheese.

Cover lasagna pan with foil.  Poke a few tiny holes in the foil with a knife.  This will allow some steam to escape, and help prevent the foil from sticking to the top layer of cheese (a sad sad sad thing).  Move to a 375 degree oven, and bake for 45 minutes.  Remove foil, and broil an additional 10 minutes, or until cheese is golden brown. 

Let cool for at least 20 minutes.  Seriously.  After all this work and time, you’re going to be tempted to dig right in.  Don’t do it buddy.  Everything will fall apart if you do.  Give it time to cool a bit and settle.  Life will be better that way.  It always is.
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A Lasagna for Obama

Posted on October 27, 2008. Filed under: bake, beef, favorite, hodgepodge, recipe |

While I was watching the final presidential debate, I suddenly felt inspired to do something. I am part of a group of people who grew up as the tail end of Generation X- not quite the slackers of the group before us, but certainly still feeling the pull of apathy about government. Something has changed in the last few months. People all over the country are engaged, desiring to pitch in and do something. So it was that I decided to throw a dinner party to raise money for Barack Obama and Joe Biden.
The party started off with a prosciutto and melon appetizer. This is a perfect example of a dish in which quality of ingredients means everything. I mean, everything- there are only two pieces to the dish! I was really happy with the cantaloupe I found; lucky guess, really- I don’t know much about picking them out. I grabbed one that had a nice light yellow color throughout and smelt slightly of a musky perfume. The prosciutto was quite good, though I think I’m ruined for life after eating the heavenly home cured prosciutto at Downey’s a few months ago. Some tastes never leave the soul of your belly.

The main event was a killer grass fed beef lasagna (for Obama). The beef was from J&J, one of my favorite local beef companies. Really excellent stuff. If you’ve never had grass fed beef before, you’re in for a real treat. A smaller spinach lasagna, a Vice Presidential lasagna for Biden (he has a Popeyeish quality, don’t ya think? I mean, you know the guy eats his spinich.), was also served. It was pretty damn tasty, especially for a first attempt. Mixed green salad, featuring peppers from my garden, was served on the side.

Tasty, fresh baked, apple pie (thanks Cass) and a homemade ice cream were served for dessert.

Overall, $265 was raised for the campaign. While quite a bit less than my friend Karen (who clearly has a future in fundraising should she choose to depart from a world of creative awesomeness), I was pretty stocked we beat my goal by $15. Also, the food was totally fantastic, and my friends and I had a kick ass time. U.S.A.! U.S.A.! U.S.A.! (Yeah, that’s right, I’m taking that chant back from the crazy wingnut militia types. U.S.A.!)

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The Jujube: Not So Awesome

Posted on October 23, 2008. Filed under: favorite, fruit, hodgepodge |

I’ve been exploring a variety of exotic fruits recently. Perhaps it’s a reaction to the fact that I’ve been nearly everything I’ve eaten this year has been grown locally. Maybe not though- all of the exotic fruits I’ve tried so far have been procured from the farmers’ market. So maybe it’s the best of both worlds, exotic and local. I like that.

Well, unlike the passion fruit and the guava, the jujube is not awesome.

I thought maybe it would be. Last week, at the Culver City farmers’ market, I noticed a few vendors had large piles of strange brown items. The looked like a cross between a chestnut and a date. Seemed worth trying, so I got a variety of them- some yellow turning brown, some deep brown and smooth, some deep brown and wrinkled.

The fruit is believed to have first been cultivated in Southern Asia, and is widely used in Chinese medicine as a treatment for stress. It is also believed to soothe sore throats.

Sadly, the flavor doesn’t move me. Ripe when fully brown, and, I thought a little better when slightly wrinkled, it tastes of a dull apple. The texture is reminiscent of a sponge. With apple season upon us, you might want to skip these little brown bugaboos, and grab an heirloom apple instead.

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Meatballs, Amazing Meatballs

Posted on October 22, 2008. Filed under: beef, in advance, recipe |

This is my version of my Aunt Arlene’s amazing meatballs.  While I’ve never been able to achieve the gum-soft tenderness of her creation, these come remarkably close.  The flavor is deep, the process easy.

Beef Mix
1.5 lbs. Ground Beef
15 – 20% fat, grass-fed if possible
1 Egg, beaten
1/2 Cup Bread Crumbs
1/4 Cup Parmigiano Reggiano, grated
1 Tablespoon Garlic Powder
1 Tablespoon Oregano
1 Tablespoon Salt
1/2 Tablespoon Thyme
The Sauce
32 oz. Crushed Tomatoes, fresh or canned, depending on season
1 Cup Water
5 Cloves Garlic, smashed
2 Bay Leaves
1/2 Green Bell Pepper, cut into strips
1/2 Cup Fresh Basil, chopped

Combine beef mix ingredients and let sit for 15-30 minutes, to let flavors incorporate & bread crumbs to absorb moisture.  Roll mix into balls.  You want the balls to be somewhere in between golf and tennis ball size.
Combine all sauce ingredients except basil.  Bring to a boil.  Add meatballs, then cover, and reduce heat to simmer.  Simmer for at least 45 minutes, and up to three hours, stirring occasionally.  The longer they go, the more tender the balls will be (!).  The sauce will also have a deeper flavor.  Add fresh basil just before serving.  Top with extra grated Parmigiano Reggiano cheese.
Don’t be tempted to use a lower fat ground beef.  The idea is for the fat to melt out of the meat, enhancing the texture of the meatball.  Stress not about the fat, you can skim it off the top of the sauce.  Goodness!
This dish can be prepared in advance, as it benefits from sitting in the fridge.  It also freezes really well.
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Quck Hit Grocery Review: Berkeley Bowl

Posted on October 16, 2008. Filed under: Uncategorized |

Oh boy.  This might be the greatest place in the Bay Area. 

I only had about five minutes to explore the wonderland that is Berkeley Bowl.  It was love at first sight.  Nearly 1/4 of this giant grocery is devoted to produce, at prices and quality the rival farmers’ markets, and a diversity of goods that can’t be beat.  My jaw was dropped to the ground as I made my way through 10 different types of grapes, scores of heirloom apples, and a rainbow of exotic fruits.  The majority of the produce is locally grown, though exceptions are made for out of seasonal items from other locales.

That’s all I can say for now.  I was so enamored by the produce section, and my time so limited, that I didn’t have a chance to do anything else but buy a nutrient packed hippie bar.  Fear not, I’ll be back soon with a full review.

In the meantime, check out their website.  If you’re in the Bay Area, go here.  Now.

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Review: Thai Basil

Posted on October 14, 2008. Filed under: hodgepodge, review, travel |

Thai Basil is a tiny eatery located in downtown Capitola, CA.  If there was no sign on the outside, you’d probably just walk by, thinking that an old Thai lady was serving a few friends a meal in her living room/speciality shop.  

I really wasn’t sure what was happening when my friend led me into Thai Basil.  It’s a tiny place.  Five tables, I believe.  One wall is covered in various imported sauces, all available for purchase.  I assume that these sauces are the base for many of the dishes.
Speaking of dishes, it’s pretty amazing that there is such a variety on the menu.  Amazing because…this place is run entirely by one woman, Tan Manichanh.  She takes your order, then walks into the kitchen an cooks it.  I suppose that’s why there are only 5 tables!
The food was hot, and fantastic.  Thai peppers and coconut milk seem to be the base for just about everything, and that’s alright with me.  We had a rich clear chicken soup (not clear at all- the soup was red with pepper), a sweet beef curry special, pineapple chicken, and a really interesting and intense mint noodle dish with roast pork.  My only complaint is that duck
 wasn’t available to throw into another dish!  
Overall, Thai Basil is a tasty, and unique experience.  I’m looking forward to returning and jumping deeper into the menu.  One thing to take note of- be prepared to spend some time here.  Ms. Manichanh might be a great at making Thai home cooking, but, that’s what you’re getting, home cooking.  Nothing is fast.  She cooks each dish to order, so even if it’s just your party and one other, things are going to take awhile.  It’s worth the wait.
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Foodbuzz Publisher Community Launches

Posted on October 14, 2008. Filed under: hodgepodge |

This Man’s Kitchen is a featured publisher on a wonderful site called Foodbuzz.  Over the last few months, I’ve enjoyed watching Foodbuzz develop into an exciting and informative food community.  This week, the site moves from it’s beta test phase into a full launch.

Eating Good Food is something that’s universally enjoyed.  Foodbuzz has allowed food writers globally to connect.  I’ve found quite a few great ideas reading other featured publisher’s blogs.  Additionally, I’ve been provided with constant inspiration to improve my cooking and food writing.  With Foodbuzz, we’ll be able to reach not other like-minded people, but, hopefully, expand the reach of food thought to the public at large, encouraging them to eat better, too.

Foodbuzz has been great to the featured publishers, too.  They’ve arranged for fantastic meals, so bloggers in the same region can get together.  I attended a SoCal dinner last month, and found it very exciting to meet other SoCal food writers, some of them with blogs that I have followed quite a bit.  Today, I received a kick ass Foodbuzz apron.  You better believe I’ll be wearing that when I throw my next dinner party!

Congratulations to Foodbuzz on the official launch. 

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A Chicken Curry: Early Attempt

Posted on October 10, 2008. Filed under: poultry, recipe |

I was unsure of what to do with a bunch of late season tomatoes from my garden.  I’ve sauced, sliced, made salad of them, and, frankly, was starting to get bored.  Rather than walk into the complex and girlie world of canning, I decided to turn up the heat a bit.  Thus, my first curry adventure was born.

2 Cups Tomato, pureed
1 Cup Coconut Milk
1 lb. Chicken, cubed
1 Tbs. Curry Powder
1 Clove Garlic, diced
1 Small Onion, diced
1/4 Cup Cilantro, chopped
2 Tbs. Ghee

Begin by heating ghee in a saucepan over medium fire.  If you don’t have ghee handy, you can substitute 1 tbs butter and 1 tbs olive oil.  Add your favorite curry powder.  I used a masala blend, which, as it turned out, was really hot!  The flavor, however, was amazing.  You can find good curry blends at most groceries.  If you have the chance, check out a local Indian food market- you’ll find a wide range of choice!
Heat powder for one minute, then add garlic and onion.  Continue to cook for another minute.  Your kitchen will smell fragrant and fantastic, as it will throughout the cooking process.
Add tomato puree and coconut milk.  Add pinch of salt.  Bring to a boil, then cover and reduce heat to medium-low.  Allow to simmer for 15 minutes.
Meanwhile, get to work on your chicken.  Cut into one inch (approximately) cubes.  Season with salt & pepper.  You have several choices on how to proceed.  You could simply, after sauce cooks for 15 minutes, drop in chicken and cook for another 15.  Easy peasy.  
For a greater depth of flavor, brown all sides over high heat.  Or grill chicken.  Or, go a little crazy.  Lightly bread and quickly deep fry the cubes.  That’s badass!  You could also marinate chicken overnight in a yogurt/spice blend, then cook.  However you do it, add the chicken to the sauce and cook for 15 minutes.
Finally, add chopped cilantro.  Serve.
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Posted on October 7, 2008. Filed under: fruit, healthy, hodgepodge |

Guavas are a remarkable fruit.  For most people, guavas will be a special treat, an exception to eating locally.  These tasty little treats are certainly worth indulging in a little long distance commerce. (For those of us lucky enough to live in the agricultural bounty of Southern California, you can find guavas at the Larchmont Village farmers’ market on Sundays.  Look for the punk rock exotic fruit dude.  You’ll know him when you see him.)

The first thing you’ll notice when shopping for guava is the smell.  It’s intense, almost like a fruit punch scented perfume.  The floral aroma will fill your kitchen with an energizing scent.  
Look for guavas that are either pale yellow or pink, depending on the species.  The fruit should be firm to the touch.
Guavas can be eaten whole, if desired.  However, the center is filled with hard seeds & the outer rind has a gritty texture.  Sadly, these are also the most nutritious parts of the fruit.  Isn’t that the way it always is?  Grrr.  
Nutritious is is, though!  I’m sure guava will become a cure-all, greatest thing ever, make your life like heaven on earth superfood trend one of these days.  Surprised it hasn’t yet.  Well, once acai runs out its welcome, look for guava to take over.  It abounds in vitamins  A & C, contains potassium, magnesium, and other dietary minerals.  The seeds are rich in omega 3 & 6 fats.  The skin contains the highest amount of antioxidants.  the whole fruit is an extraordinary source of dietary fiber. 
So run out and get yourself some guava before all the other trendy fools start making a run on the market.
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Parmesan Crackers

Posted on October 2, 2008. Filed under: easy, recipe |

This is crazy simple, and yet, people will be really impressed.  Parmesan crackers are like the Rice Krispies treat of high class eating.  You can serve them just about anytime- football game snack to fancy pants garnish- these little treats are perfect.  All you need is one thing: Parmigiano Reggiano cheese.

Don’t screw it up, buddy.  Avoid the green canned ‘parmesan cheese’.  Notice that can is nowhere near a refrigerator?  That, my friend, is a red flag.  See, cheese, as you probably know by now, if refrigerated.  Thus, green can product does not equal cheese.

Now, you might be tempted to by a lower cost parmesan cheese that’s located near the good stuff.  Well, it’s refrigerated at least, so we know it’s some kind of cheese.  In certain cases, this cheese might even do, especially if you’re on a budged.  But since we’re making a one ingredient dish, it’s best to get the best.  So go for the real stuff.

I’m not trying to be super snotty here, either.  The flavor of cheese is very affected by the specific diet of the cows, as well as the manner that the milk is processed.  This process has been the same in the Parma region of Italy for centuries, thus, we enjoy the specific flavor of Parmigiano Reggiano cheese.

To make, simply grate the cheese.  On a non-stick baking tray/silpat/parchment paper/anything else that won’t stick, form into cookie size blobs, packing the cheese together slightly.  Place in a 425 degree oven, and bake until the crackers turn a sweet golden brown.  This should take about 5 minutes, but keep an eye out after 4 to make sure they don’t burn.  Allow to cool. 

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