Friday, April 17, 2009

Eating With The Seasons - April, Still Chilly!

April feels like an old car to me. The engine needs a kickstart to really get going. Most days it just sputters and dies out, resulting in bitterly cold days. Other days you can feel every nut and bolt moaning and groaning as it gets off to a shaky start, which means that you see a lot of grey skies and endless rain. Then once in a while, the good juices finally kick in and April's engine starts humming and it zips off like a teenager - and those are the days that I love, because it translates to sunny skies and warm days, filled with the scents of new grass and spring flowers.

Of course, till those days come around (remember, they've been pretty rare so far around my neck of the woods), I know I can rely on the ooey-gooey-cheesy-goodness of my Beef & Spinach Lasagne to get me through. I've decided to feature this recipe as my entry for this month's Eating With The Seasons (hosted by the lovely blogger Maninas: Food Matters) because it features a healthy dose of lovely, earthy spinach and sweet carrots. And, here's what I really like about it, it's still warm and comforting enough to get you through the chilly April weather. I think I'll also submit this for Presto Pasta Nights, because it's one of those generous events that allows you to submit one entry to multipe food blog events. Created by Ruth from Once Upon A Feast, the next round-up will be hosted by Hillary from Chew On That.

On a side note, may I just say something? I know I know, it's my blog, I can say whatever I want - well almost, but that's another story. Anyway, I digress. I wanted to give a shout-out to whoever invented the "no-boil" lasagne noodles! HIYOOOO! Those things are awesome! Why have I not been making lasagne with them my entire life?! I'll tell you why. Years ago, when I first decided to make lasagne by myself, I used a recipe that called for these so-called "no boil" lasagne sheets. Dubious at first, I trotted off to my local grocery store to hunt down these fabled noodles. And I don't know what game the Big Guy was playing with me that day, but my grocery store didn't have any such pasta, nor did the very UNhelpful grocery store clerks have a clue as to what I was talking about (pppfftttt ... teenagers!). So I just thought, this recipe is WRONG! And foolishly went back to using my regular lasagne sheets, which used to fall apart during the boiling process and were basically a pain. Recently however, I discovered the "no-boil" lasagne in my pasta aisle at the grocery store and POUNCED! One word. Genius. My lasagnas have never been better because of them. Yes yes, feel free to laugh at my expense because you've been using this product for years now, but better late than never for me, right? Right?! (note to self: learn to keep up, you idiot)

Beef and Spinach Lasagna (using the recipe from Food Mayhem - really creative, fellow New Yorkers; currently going through some site improvement. Thanks for a GREAT recipe guys!)

Meat Sauce
1 teaspoon vegetable oil
1 cup chopped onion
1 cup shredded carrots
1 tablespoon tomato paste
1 pound 11 ounces (90% lean) ground beef
1 (28oz) can crushed tomato with basil
2 cloves garlic, thinly sliced
1 bay leaf

Cheese & Spinach Filling
10 ounces frozen spinach, blanched, drained and cooled
1 pound shredded whole milk mozzarella
15oz tub of whole milk ricotta

9x13 baking dish
16 (no boil) lasagna sheets (8"x4" each)

1. Heat oil in a medium pot on medium high heat. Stir in onions, bay leaf and soften for about a minute. Add carrots and stir around for another minute. Stir in tomato paste until well distributed.
2. Add ground beef and stir around until browned, about 5 minutes.
3. Add crushed tomatoes and garlic. Bring to boil. Stir and reduce heat to a simmer. Cover and cook for 30-40 minutes, stirring occasionally.
4. Remove from heat and remove bay leaf. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F while meat sauce cools a bit.

Cheese & Spinach Filling:
1. Ring out spinach with paper towels.
2. In a medium sized bowl , combine spinach, mozzarella, and ricotta.
1. Spread 1 cup of meat sauce on the bottom of the pan.
2. Lay 4 sheets of lasagna down.
3. Spread 1/3 of cheese and spinach filling on top of lasagna sheets. Spread a little more than 1 cup of meat sauce on top.
4. Repeat steps 2 and 3 two more times. Lay another layer of lasagna sheets on top. Cover with remaining meat sauce. Spread remaining cheese mixture on top. If you have parmesan, sprinkle it on top now.

5. Cover with aluminum foil and bake for 40 minutes. Remove aluminum foil and bake for another 5 minutes (I turned on the broiler for 5 mins). Take it out of the oven. Continue grinning and jumping with joy about how gorgeous it looks and smells. Let it cool for 5-10 mins, then cut yourself a big cheheeeeeesy chunk!
Verdict: Everybody loved this dish. No matter if they were 5 year olds or 50 year olds, everyone who tried this, really really enjoyed it. And it's ridiculously easy! Plus, it's got to be healthy, what with all that spinach and carrot mixed in there, right?! And let's not forget about those "no boil" noodles! I've made this lasagna several times now, and have never gone wrong with it. It feels so damn good to find a recipe that you can always count on to please any crowd.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

A Little Romance In The Hamptons

Recently, us Long Islanders were all abuzz because we had The Hamptons Restaurant Week. I just want to hug and kiss the person who came up with the whole idea of Restaurant Week! I don't even care if it feels a little patronizing (I imagine it started off with some snooty restaurant owner saying something like "let's give these lower-middle classes a week of affordable dining at our restaurant, and get a piece of their wallets too"). Right now, I'm pretty sure all us foodies agree that it's an event that gets us jumping up and down and doing the happy dance!

Everyone has their favorites place of course, which they immediately call up to make reservations. And if I could, I'd try one Hamptons restaurant each day of this special week, but it's just doesn't make sense for me, since I live about an hour away. *sigh* ... still, I did manage to get dinner reservations at my very favorite restaurant -
North Fork Inn & Table. I have no problems driving an hour for this place. Let me tell you, it's not just my favorite Hamptons restaurant, it's my favorite restaurant, ever. EVER! I don't say this lightly either. Look, I've been fortunate enough to eat some wonderful food in my life; I've had some stunning dishes at other places, both high-end and road-side. But the reason why this place gets my title for "My favorite restaurant EVER", is because every single course that comes out of their kitchen is perfect. Every single thing I've eaten there, each time I go there, has been memorable. Plus, the restaurant is beautiful, intimate and romantic. The service is always sincere and never pushy. I've never felt rushed. And best of all, DH feels the same way. Each time we've been to this restaurant, we've had so much fun, with the food, with each other, and come away with memories to last a lifetime. DH desperately wants to marry Claudia Fleming, the restaurant's pastry chef, and I've given him permission to do so! As long as I get to have a little fling with Gerry Hayden, the executive chef, on the side!

I wish I had better food pics for you, but it was dinner and the lighting was pretty dim (and my camera sucks, but that's another story). So please excuse me. Just use your fertile foodie imaginations as I describe the courses. Here goes ...

DH loved the CRISP COD & YUKON GOLD POTATO CAKES with Truffled Tartar Sauce and Micro Herb Salad. He gets this everytime, and is pleasantly surprised by how great it is every single time! He wants to lick the plate, but stops when I give him "the look" ... which is sad, because "truffled tartar sauce" deserves shameless licking! (just not in public)

I ordered a generous appetizer of HOUSEMADE RICOTTA CAVATELLI & SLOW-BRAISED VEAL-TOMATO RAGU with Broccoli Rabe, Mascarpone, Espellette Peppers and Parmesan. That pasta was soooooo satisfying, with just the right amount of fluffiness and chewiness. Oh lord, I want some more!

DH lied to me when he said that his GRILLED & SLICED BLACK ANGUS HANGING TENDER with Crispy Red Onion, Red Watercress, Horseradish Whipped Potato and Red Wine Reduction was just "ok". I felt bad for him, so I suggested that we switch plates. That's when he got this crazy glint in his eyes and yelled "NO! I lied! I just didn't want to share!!! Leave my dish alone!". I did manage to scrounge one bite - perfect steak, really well-seasoned and great crust. I'll order that next time.
I was so sad when I was too stuffed to finish my ORGANIC CRISPY SKIN EBERLY FARMS CHICKEN with Asparagus Risotto, Assorted Wild Mushrooms and Roasted Chicken Jus. Because it was the best roast chicken and amazing risotto combination that I've ever put in my mouth (my palette was singing, I tell you!).

But I'm glad I saved some room for my UPSIDE-DOWN CARAMELIZED PINEAPPLE COBBLER with Crème Fraîche. You minx, Claudia! I'm not even a big pineapple fan, but you made me love this dessert!

I barely got this shot of DH's COFFEE-TOFFEE ICE CREAM SANDWICH with Roasted Bananas and Peanuts, because he was so impatient to start digging into it. Claudia makes the best meringues ever. DH was making little joyful whimpering sounds as he cleaned up the entire plate.

The prices during Restaurant Week are a great motivator to go to fancy restaurants, but this is one place that I'd gladly pay full price for. And I do! Claudia, my sweet, I'll see you soon.