How About Some PAN ASIAN CUISINE!

After my marathon hummus clean up, I napped.

When I woke from this nap I set out to make Coconut Shrimp with a mustard sauce over fried rice. The end result was a bit disjointed, but with strong constituent parts.

I’ll start with the sauce because it’s the least involved. It was Dijon mustard, mayo, soy sauce, curry powder and lemon juice all mixed together and cut with milk. It was a powerful and robust sauce. It wasn’t spicy, but the mustard and curry gave it a definite kick. In hindsight, it was too heavy of a sauce for the light, sweet coconut shrimp, but on it’s own it’s a good sauce. If ever I do this shrimp again (which I don’t expect) I should use a thinner, sweet and sour sauce.

The shrimp. I should start by saying that I am getting along much better with my cast iron skillet after this adventure. In my Lenten shopping spree, I bought 5 pounds of gulf shrimp tails. This was our first pound. Ryan helped me peel and butterfly the shrimp. I told him they didn’t need to be butterflied, but he said it made them look nicer. The shrimp were covered in batter, dreged in coconut and then pan fried. This was the most interesting way to batter shrimp I’ve seen yet. It started with flour and salt like normal, then you add milk to make a doughy paste. Once the shrimp were coated in the paste, one by one they were covered in coconut (leftover from my macaroon puddles (see: Valentine’s Lasagna the Whole Story). In hindsight, I shouldhave cleaned off most of the batter and covered the shrimp sparingly

Me and my cast iron skillet getting along

with the coconut. The first few I put in the oil cooked too quick, the coconut burned before I could do anything about it. After turned the heat down it went much smoother. The only reason I say I don’t expect I’ll do this again is it’s level of involvement. It honestly wore me out. Plus I did not find that the shrimp added anything to to coconut. It was more like a medium on which to eat fried coconut. Tasty indeed, but just not worth a second round.

Coconut Shrimp

The fried rice. I found a good deal of fried rice recipes surfing the intertubes, but I ultimately went with the one in my Better Homes and Garden’s cookbook. Most recipes said to scramble and egg, put it to the side, cook the rest of the veggies and then add cooked rice and the egg back in and mix. I imagine this is the easy American way to do it. Better Homes and Gardens had

Sit until Set
And i'ts stuck
And it's stuck

a more involved method using two skillets. In a small skillet you pour a beaten egg. You let it sit until it is set. I’ve never made an omlette, but I imagine it is similar to that. To remove, place a baking sheet on top of the skillet, flip it upside down and voila the egg falls off on the sheet. Yeah right. How often do things happen as easily as they do in recipes? Or egg stuck and eventually Ryan had to scrape it out. It was cooked and we were still able to cut it into strips like the cookbook wanted us to, but it wasn’t as pretty.

In a larger skillet, sautee asparagus pieces, green onion and garlic. I substitued green peas because I didn’t have any asparagus. When the asparagus are crisp, add cooked rice and soy sauce. Add the pieces of egg only in the last few mins.

In typical Kelli fashion, the rice turned out too runny and weird tasting with the peas. However, the fried rice is the only part of this whole monstrous meal I want to make again. I am scouting new recipes, however, hoping for better results. Any fried rice suggestions?

Coconut Shrimp with Mustard Sauce over Fried Rice

I Went to Manderley Again

I finished the last Nero Wolfe book of the 1940’s and I began to re-read Rebecca by Daphne Du Maurier. In junior high, one of my favorite teachers said this was her all time favorite book. I checked it out of the library, got two chapters down the long drive at Manderly and couldn’t go any further. It all went over my head and I didn’t get it. Years later as a senior in high school, it was our required reading during the fall semester. I absolutely fell in love with it and have not stopped raving about it since. It was this book that brought me and my future roommate\bridesmaid\best friend together. We worked together on the final project for this book and immediately bonded. In fact, our favorite quote from the book was written (literally) on our dorm room wall.

In my latter high school years I started to appreciate authors and enjoy story tellers and writing styles. I revere Jeffery Archer as a great story teller and giggle at Rex Stout’s larger than life characters. But no author has my endearing captivation quite like Daphne Du Maurier. She takes control of your imagination and then suddenly turns it against you to terrify.  Ryan can attest that I did not sleep for a week after I read The Birds. Don’t Look Now  and The Split Second honestly took my breath away and left me utterly dumbfounded. Anytime I think of  Kiss Me Again, Stranger it makes my skin crawl.

I have yet to read a short story of hers which I did not like, however I find her novels hit or miss. Her plots are great in saturated doses, but sometimes she doesn’t have enough driving force to pull through an entire novel. The exceptions I have found to this rule are Rebecca  and The King’s General. I will admit that I have not yet read Frenchmen’s Creek, but both My Cousin Rachel  and Jamaica Inn left me a little disappointed.

Rebecca however, is classic. The majority of the story is a casual turn of events, but there is enough intrigue within the characters to move the plot. The story is told from the perspective of an un-named narrator recanting the story of her life from the time when she met her husband-a widower and estate owner–  through the first 3 months of their marriage together. It is not until the last 100 pages that the plot explodes in your face and turns everything you’ve been told thus far on its ear. The story itself is rich in irony, suspense and foreshadowing and nestled in a wonderfully gothic Cornish estate—complete, yes, with blood red flora, an ominous bellowing sea, fog to boot and haunting effects of a deceased.

The characters are exquisite. Max, the widower husband, is plagued by inner demons, the likes of which are not clearly understood until the very last. Frank the non-assuming estate manager calm on the surface but wracked with guilt underneath. And the towering Mrs. Danvers. I have a copy of the radio episode of Rebecca Alfred Hitchcock did and in the intro it is said that he thought Mrs. Danvers was the greatest suspense character of all time. Judith Anderson played Mrs. Danvers in Hitchcock’s 1940 rendition of Rebecca and was nominated for best supporting role. For that matter, Lawrence Olivier and Joan Fontaine were both nominated for lead role and the movie itself won best picture.

Ryan hasn’t read it yet so I won’t go further, but I am have about 120 pages left, I’m at the morning after the fancy dress ball when the boat crashes in the bay. Big exciting things are about to happen and I’m giddy with excitement. I dare say this has been more fun to read the second time around.

With the Humility of a Sesame Seed

Ryan and I often take leisurely walks. Since the city we live in is not all that hospitable to walkers, we have to make our own paths. When we got tired of walking round and a round rich people’s neighborhoods, we decided our walks needed destinations. So it began that we walk from our house to Town Centre, our destinations usually Whole Foods or Books-a-Million. One night it happened that we walked to Whole Foods. On this particular night, I was fighting the temptation to eat a whole cow fried in butter. Whilst meandering through the organic grocery, I decided on a tub of hummus and pita bread instead (mainly because they didn’t have butter fried cow).

On the top shelf of the cabinet we use as a pantry are the remnants of our past gastric endeavors–all manner of flour from Ryan’s bread days, 1 quart of Karo consequently not used in pralines (see Rite of Passage: Pralines) and various beans from that freshman year when Ryan did not eat meat. I used up the last of the red-looking beans last week. They were not kidney beans and therefore did not swell when I soaked them overnight giving me a very runny pot of “red beans” and rice. I decided to make a dent in the half pound of garbanzo beans taking up space and try my hand at hummus.

Fixings

To see where I really went wrong you need to know the whole story. Don’t worry, it isn’t a long one, but it does smell.

For starters, my recipe called for a can of garbanzo beans. Since I was starting with dried beans, I had to first cook the beans. Lucky for us, my mother-in-law had a spare pressure cooker and graced us with it a year or so back. Our dog and myself are terrified of this hissing clanking thing which spews hot vapor. We choose to stand back and not have anything to do with it while it’s in use. Enter Ryan to save the day and cook the beans.

Note the hot vapor and imagine the hiss
Note the vapor and imagine the hissing

It was then a matter of toasting sesame seeds, sauteing onion with garlic and mixing with Tihini, soy sauce and lemon juice. It was at this point I realized three things–I had not bought enough sesame seeds, what seeds I did have were creating a rancid burnt smell in the oven also, that I had bought tihina.

Tihina is not the off-brad tihini like I originally hoped. Tihini is sesame seed paste and Tihina is sesame seed paste with onion, garlic, lemon juice and garbanzo beens. Why tihina is not hummus I’m not sure. But for some unreasonable reason I foraged ahead to see what I could make of it. Well, I made a royal mess.

Spoonful by spoonful I put the cooked beans and a bits of the tihina mixture in my food processor. When I out grew the food processor, I moved the whole operation to the blender. I was blending blending the blades were on my side… and then it died.

In the Food Processor

Fake tihini hummus killed my blender. I thought at first that I had just over heated the engine, but no, I tried to use it when I made alfrado sauce a few days later (that more successful story to come soon) and the lights came on like it wanted to blend, but alas, the blades did not turn.

After that, our house smelled like smoked plastic, burnt sesame seeds and a rancid blend of onion and tihina. Adding insult to injury, it took over an hour to clean the kitchen and now I need a new blender.

Ryan composting my failed hummus

Don’t Mess with Your Ju-Ju

So, housewives of a certain age usually get laughed at because they have that one fonky old stained pot that they claim is the only pot they can cook sauce in, or chili in or whathaveyou. This pot was probably passed down from a mother or grandmother or aunt and it may very well be the only pot they have ever made sauce, chili or whathaveyou in. Do not laugh at them (unless of course the chili is always bad) in that pot or that pan is their ju ju. And don’t mess with a cook’s ju ju!

Back when Ryan was a long haired freshmen at LSU he was a fan of The Smiths and consequently believed that meat was murder. It was during this freshmen year that I found a recipe for vegetarian pot pie. It’s a really good pot pie and I always make the filling in a skillet even though the recipe calls for a sauce pan.  The truth behind this is that, at the time I didn’t know a sauce pan wasn’t a skillet, but that’s another story.

For some un-known reason, last night I used a sauce pan like the recipe called for. And that one decision, grabbing a pot instead of a skillet cost me my ju ju. First you melt butter and saute 6 cups of vegetables. After 5 mins of cooking add one clove of garlic and continue cooking 5 mins. Then sprinkle about 1/4 of cup of flour on top and stir in until veggies are good and tender. This is like making a roux piece by piece. It is at this point that the filling should really start to thicken up, it almost becomes a veggie dough ball. Once they are all tender, add 3 cups of warm broth and cook for about 10 mins. Stir in seasonings (pepper, soy sauce, parsley) and pour into a prepared pie crust, covering with another pie crust. That’s all well and good, but when I cooked the filling in the sauce pan, it never thickened up. I added more flour, cooked it higher and longer, no go.

I’ve mentioned before that I’m no good under pressure. I went to pour the

Too Runny Filling

filling in the pie shell, and it became obvious the mixture was too runny and it would not all fit in the shell. Rather than using logic and telling my hands- stop, it won’t all fit, my brain told my hands- it won’t all fit, keep pouring to prove me right. Overflowed my pot pie 😦 After I sopped up the counter and dried the edges of the dish, I put it in the oven.

I prefer to make the pie shells from scratch. I know it is easier to buy the pre-made shells, and it does save a good 30-45 mins, but home made crusts make such a difference in the final result. It is a small labor of love I know my husband appreciates and  it is a small way to eat less preservatives. My pie shell recipe is 6 tablespoons of butter, 1 1/2 cup of flour and 3-4 tablespoons of water or milk. You cut in the butter one tablespoon at a time. The flour should resemble coarse cornmeal (is there any other kind of cornmeal besides coarse?). Then, add the liquid of choice one tablespoon at a time until it forms a dough ball. Cut the ball in half and you will be able to roll out two 12″ crusts. Between the pastry knife and the rolling pin, it is a quite the upper body work out.

In the end, it turned out ok. That is to say, Ryan ate it and went back for thirds after finishing the little bit left on my plate. But I have learned a lesson, and don’t think I haven’t, when you have a method of making something, don’t mess with your ju ju.This pot pie is good, even when it comes out wrong. It does lack meat, but the flour and broth thicken it up such that it is just as filling and the vegetables make it far more re-freshing. With a homemade, flaky crust it is a win every time.

A Variation on a Similar Salmon

I’m not sure how many cute epigrams I can come up for this post. I mearley want to say that I tried this and it was way good. My mom is very good to us. I like to think that while she strolls through grocery stores she is reminded of her early married days eating up and down the family block and how much her family helped them out in the early years. I think it is these memories that compel her to buy, in bulk, frozen meat for us. We would be much hungrier if it were not for the pounds and pounds of boneless, skinless chicken breasts my mom has picked up for us while she was at Sam’s. One such gift was salmon steaks. I will admit that we went though the chicken a lot faster than we did the salmon.

Ryan found a great salmon recipe in which one breaded the steak with bread crumb, lemon juice and other various mixings. It was very very good and we made it at least twice.  We had two remaining salmon steaks and I was determined to cook them with something besides lemon. Thanks to Cooks.com, I did it! Marinated Barbecue Salmon.

Marinate the salmon steaks for at least half an hour. I made the marinade and had the steaks soaking when we got a call from Toby that Yazoo had crawfish, so my salmon soaked over night. Make the marinade from the following:

  • 1/4 c Soy Sauce

    Fixings
  • 1/4 c White Wine (sold in small bottles for the t-totaler cook or the more discrete wine-o)
  • 3 Tbsp Peanut Oil
  • 1 Tbsp Ginger
  • 1/4 c Teriyaki sauce (I had a jar of stir fry sauce, so that’s what I used. I’m frugal like that)
  • 1 Tbsp Sugar
  • 2 Cloves of Garlic
  • 1/4 tsp Onion Powder
  • 1/2 tsp black pepper.

After the steaks have marinated, put them on a baking sheet and broil 6″ from the coils for 5 mins, turn over, baste with the marinade and broil another 4/5 mins. Heaven’s to Betsy, it was delicious, juicy and tangy and savory. I am going to try this same marinade with chicken and see what happens with that. That’s all. It was good and should be tried my many people.

Valentine’s Day-The Whole Story

Ryan declared  my Valentine’s Lasagna a success. It was a long, long process. I’m exhausted and the kitchen is a disaster, but I will sleep easy tonight knowing I made a lasagna my husband enjoyed.

I’ve mentioned before how challenging making my mother’s family’s recipes are because of their cryptic nature. When I was young, much younger than I am now (as one often in is stories), my grandmother told me about the envelopes and report cards and other scraps of paper on which  her mother-in-law wrote her would-be-recipe grocery lists. She told me how she had learned to cook from her mother-in-law and that was the only reason she knew what the grocery lists meant. Fearing that I would one day come of age and not know the code for the recipes, I began typing out the lists with my grandmother filling in the details making them recipes. I didn’t get very far, alas.

Last year, my family hosted for me, a bridal shower, for I was to be a bride. The final gift I received was a cookbook my aunt and cousin put together for me with all of our family recipes de-coded. It is this cookbook I have held steadfast to, my anchor in the swarming seas of stews and sauces. I found out tonight, however, that I have taken this record book for granted. When my aunt and cousin compiled these recipes and typed them out with care, they left out steps! Luckily, for the sake of the lasagna, I paid attention during those “life lessons” mom made my sister and I listen to, and I already knew you put sauce on each layer of a lasagna.

Ryan and I are poor. Together, we do not make much money. We are pinching pennies until Ryan graduates in May and finds a “grown-up job.” So for this, our first Valentine’s Day as a married couple, I gave to my husband, a fine dining experience. Or at least as close as I could muster. Dinner consisted of the following, to be described in detail: Lasagna, Asparagus, Garlic Bread and Lemon “Macaroons.”

How the Lasagna Came to Be:

As blogged before, I started the sauce yesterday. This afternoon I added the browned, seasoned meat and cooked the sauce some more. Since the sauce thickened up so much last night, I put the pot over a low heat and more or less heated up the sauce very slowly all day. While the sauce was warming, I made the noodles. Ryan fixed the dough and I rolled it out into noodles. This time I measured with a standard mean and each noodle was eight inches long and four inches wide. I made them as such to fit my 8×8 pyrex pan.

A Lasagna Noodle
Noodles Drying- I made 8

Once the sauce was hot and the noodles were finished, I began assembly. It was about this time that I realized my aunt left out some ingrediants in the layering process. First, I put a thin layer of sauce on the bottom of the pan (it is the same idea behind greesing a pan to keep the noodles from sticking). Then I began the lasagna layering– bottom layer of noodles, dollops of ricotta cheese and sauce…layer of noodles, dollops of ricotta and sauce. I was able to make three layers. The top of the lasagna is a layer of noodles covered with mozzarella cheese. Finally, into the oven at 350 for 30 mins. It is the same as with Manicotti: it isn’t that anything needs to cook, it’s just a matter of it all melting together all gooey like.

Sauce the Pan
Layer of Noodles
Dollops of Ricotta
Sauce

How the Macaroons Tried so Very Hard to Be:

I browsed through the Better Homes and Garden Cook Book my mom had given Ryan back in his psudo-veggitarian days to try to find a good dessert for my fine dining meal. I decided on Lemon Macaroons because they didn’t look too hard and they had a fancier name than “cookie.” First I had to seperate two eggs. I did good with the first egg, but not so much with thesecond. Four eggs later, I had the whites of two eggs. The instructions were to whip the egg whites, 2 tablespoons of lemon juice and 1 tablespoon of lemon zest in a medium bowl with a hand mixer until soft peeks formed. Simple enough, I thought. Wrong I was. I whipped and beat and mixed all in earnest and all I got was a noise complaint and frothy lemon juice. I kept mixing hoping and wishing, but my mixture had plateaued and there was no hope. Since I had already sent Ryan out for coconut, I decided to forage ahead  and add the sugar and coconut. The time for narrative has passed, the only thing for me to say is…this is what happened:

Macaroon Puddles

But, in true Carruth fashion, we scooped out the centers and ate a macaroon hash which was really very tastey.

All in all, I had a lot of fun cooking the fancy meal and documenting it. These are the pictures I couldn’t find space for in the post.

This is why we buy a dozen eggs
Macaroon Hash

Lasagna

Lent Twenty-Ten

As is custom, Ryan is fasting from meat for the 40 days before Easter (April 4). I am going to do as best I can to abstain from meat with him but at the absolute very least our dinner meals together will be sans meat. This is quite the throwback to Ryan’s vegetarian days, but I am still having trouble coming up with non-meat meals. This is what I’ve come up with so far:

  • Red Beans and Rice
  • White Bean Soup
  • Vegetarian Pot Pie
  • Cheese Ravioli
  • Fish Sticks

 With my imagination, we won’t get through the first week of Lent. Any suggestions that don’t include Tofu? We’re hoping to stock up on greens (mustard, turnip and\or collard) tomorrow at the farmer’s market.  What’s a tasty way to cook greens without bacon fat? We also have garbanzo beans (leftovers from Ryan’s veggie only days) and I want to make hummus and pita pockets, but can’t think of anything besides slices of meat to put in. Any ideas?

The full story of our pre-lenten Valentine’s Day lasagna is on its way. I just need to finish editing and put in pictures this evening.

Valentine’s Lasagna

After Ryan and I were engaged, but before we were married, my mom made for my dad a birthday lasagna with sauce from scratch. After his first cheesy bite, Ryan looked at me and said, “you know how to make this, right?” So I have set out this Valentine’s Day to pay my dowry and make for my husband, a lasagna from scratch.
I’ve started today (the day before) by making just the red gravy, starting with less water in the pot than in my first attempt. The sauce has been simmering for just over an hour and already it is much thicker than last time. I’ll let it cook another 3 hours or so tonight. I’ve also seasoned the ground beef to be added tomorrow. I folded in salt, pepper and 2 tablespoons of crushed fennel seeds. Fennel is my new favorite spice.

Tomorrow, I’ll brown the ground beef and add it to the sauce and let it simmer again for another 3-4 hours. This should make it good and thick.

Already one hour in and things are looking good. Fingers crossed, updates to come.

———————————————————————————————–

Begin Day Two. February 14, 2010

We started today with flowers, a clean kitchen and long and over due lunch visit  with my grandmother. When we returned home from lunch, I browned the ground beef which I had seasoned last night. The sauce went back on the front burner and it plus the meat are slowly cooking until 7 or so tonight. I’m killing time until Ryan gets home from the adoration chapel so he can make the pasta dough and until it’s close enough in time to start my macaroons!

Our Valentine’s Day thus far:

The Words We Read

Like I said, there is more to being the Carruths besides just eating. We also read. So, to further share the wealth of our lives with others, I submit for your viewing pleasure, a new segment. The Words We Read will chronicle the books we are currently reading, the thoughts we have about them and our critiques.

Between us both, there are many varieties of material: Feminist works, Immigrant stories, Shakespeare, Detective Novels, Epics, Poetry, Theology, Art and so on. So if you’re interested not only in the cuisine de Carruth ( or not interested at all) but the spirited glows of Western Literature, this segment is for you.

Because Ryan is still in school, most of what he is reading is boring. However, some is not. Fulfilling a 2 year-long dream, Ryan is taking a Classics class at LSU. As of 1:56 p.m. February 10, Ryan has finished The Illiad and I am assuming as of 2:02 p.m. February 10 Ryan has begun The Odyssey. He is excited to finally read and learn these monumental and foundational texts of western

*stops abrubtly*

*Enter: Ryan*

Kelli’s almost right about starting The Odyssey immediately after finishing The Iliad, if we squeeze between them a jaunt to the library, an article about Shakespeare’s lack of formal classical learning, and a tall mocha from CC’s. But, having finished the 16,000 lines of The Iliad, I can finally attest in small way for its excellence. It’s everything a reader could want: high drama, stunning similes, towering heroes, cunning exploits, lustful lovers, meddling gods, and a ton of action in all its blood and sweat and gore. It’s portrayal of the complications of heroism and the contradictions of the Greek system of reciprocity between nobles — a quid pro quo system, as it were, similar to the feudal lords of the Middle Ages —  is worth considering (a theme that remains relevant today, cf. “Achilles in Vietnam,” by Jonathon Shaw, or “The Godfather”). Being founded upon an irony which sets the entire plot in motion around the “divine anger” of Achilles, Homer drives the story to its blood, yet touching end with great force and “swagger.”

It is, admittedly, not for the faint of heart, as the gore is excessive at times, the long battles difficult to follow, and the Greek names often challenging to remember (Not only the name itself is given, but often a “Son of ____” is used as well). Nevertheless, besides being perhaps the most enduring epic in the classical tradition, it is a veritable treasure trove of Greek myth and culture (for good and bad). Moreover, Homer’s epics themselves serve as the rhetorical and poetic standard all throughout the classical, medieval, renaissance, and neo-classical periods, being the hero of great rhetoricians and poetics such as Horace, Longinus, and Alexander Pope:

“But when t’examine every part [Maro] came,
Nature and Homer were, he found, the same…
Learn hence for ancient rules a just esteem:
to copy nature is to copy them.”
— Essay on Criticism, ll.133-5, 139-140

The reason the Iliad is still around after 3000 years is because, not only has it served as the background for all Greek and Roman poetry, but because it is an exciting, mesmerizing story full of “godlike” heroes filled to the brim with anger, pride, love, lust, heroism, joy, and sorrow. What’s not to love about that?

[I may give more specific thoughts on the subject in the next few days, but this is my personal “book report” which you may take or leave]

*Kelli takes back the keyboard*

Back to me. I have 50 pages left of the The Second Confession A Nero Wolfe Mystery by Rex Stout. This is his last book of the 1940’s. When I finish this novel, I will have read every Nero Wolfe story (novel, novella and short story) published from 1937-1949. The novels published between 1944-1947, were rather dull, if I can say that without sounding too un-patriotic. Rex Stout was a very social and politically involved member of society and his novels reflect this even if his characters do not. During the “war years” the stories he wrote were saturated with politics-Archie became a Major in the United States Military, Wolfe volunteered his services to the CIA, members of obscure government departments carried on subtle rivalries between themselves. Maybe a contempary audience would appreciate the murder of the Director of the Bureau of Price Regulation at a well-to-dinner for the National Industrial Association, but it was lost on me. By the time 1948 rolled around, the world, America and Rex Stout were in higher spirits. Now Nero Wolfe is cautious not to step on the toes of the mysterious X, a national crime lord whom no one can identify, as he tries to track down the murderer of a known Communist. Oh, I have high hopes for the 1950’s novels!

After I finish these 50 Wolfe pages, I am going to pick up Rebecca by Daphne DuMaurier for a second read. There are only two books I’ve ever read more than once, but I can’t remember what they are. So to re-read Rebecca will be a real treat. Last night whilst on a brisk walk, I got a hankering for some DuMaurier, and resolved to read my favorite novel by her again. I further resolved not to start it until I had finished Nero Wolfe.

Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner

My parents’ German neighbors gave to us, as a Christmas gift, a guestbook. It is a way for us to remember those we’ve hosted in these the young years of our marriage.  The last entry is as follows:

1/15/10-Mr. Brad Doyle-fresh pasta manicotti covered in homemade red gravy with steamed spinach.

Such a special guest deserved a special meal. I won’t spend much time on the spinach because as we all know, it’s boring. The fresh manicotti, however, was delightful. Vocabulary lesson. Manicotti is a large, cylinder noodle stuffed with ricotta, mozarella and parmsean cheeses. These cheeses when mixed with a beaten egg make a tempting paste. Canilloni is the same noodle stuffed with meats. Both are covered in sauce, red most typically.

Manicotti is my all time favorite and one of those special meals only made a handful of times per decade. But one of the joys of living on your own, is deciding when to make a special meal. And if there are perks to being poor, one would be that special meals are made more special because you know how much ricotta cheese actually costs.

The recipe my mom gave me at my bridal shower calls for 12 boxed manicotti noodles. When we had to make 100 of these for my high-school graduation, we found that you can make mini-manicotti with won-ton wrappers. Ain’t America-the-melting-pot great? If you use the boxed noddles, you need to first boil the noodles careful not to break any, then let them dry before stuffing. If you’re using fresh noodles or wonton wrappers, you need only stuff.

This dinner date has been scheduled weeks before and in the preceeding days, Ryan and I went back and forth over what to cook: spaghetti, turkey burgers, sandwiches? Finally we decided on manicotti, because in my mind I reasoned it was cheaper than lasagna but classier than spaghetti. Ryan had not yet started his Spring Semester at LSU so he was home all day. He spent the day cleaning up and he was charged to make the dough so that when I got home, I could cut the noodles and go. Returning home from work, late, I walk into our contankerous townhouse to find our countertops buried under piles of wirey, partialy dried strips. Ryan had lost sight of the plan and in his earnest ferver to be the absolute most helpful he could be, made fetichinni for the spaghetti we decided not to cook. While I quickly ran upstairs, Ryan did an instant re-do and made a new ball of dough.

I cut the dough ball into small sections, flattened them through the pasta machine to about a 4, then cut them into rectangles to make the individual noodles. I can’t really say what size the rectangles were other than to say, they were one tile high and one and a half long on my counter. When I move, I’ll have to figure it out all over again.  Once the rectangle was cut, I put a line of filling down the middle and rolled it up fig-cookie style ( I didn’t close in the ends). To help keep the crease closed, I wetted a fork and tamped down on the edges–similar to sealing the edges of a raviolli just being more careful not to poke through. I tried to half my mom’s 12 manicotti recipe, and I ended up with 10. Oops.

About the point I got half way through, Brad arrived.  He and Ryan munched on Christmas Salsa from Sarah and stuffed ‘shrooms I had made the night before (conspicuously left out of this post). Brad felt truely honored to have such tender love and care put into his meal and was happy for Ryan to have such wife-ing in his home.

To cook the manicotti, I put a layer of sauce on the bottom of two 9×13 pans, which in theory keeps  the noodles from baking to the bottom, although I did not have such luck. I lined up the noodles and covered with the rest of the sauce and baked at 350 for about 30 mins. Since there is nothing really “raw” in it, the baking is just a matter of melting the cheese and heating up the sauce. You know it’s done when it’s all bubbly like and delicious looking, but not before.

Making fresh pasta takes longer than cooking the boxed noodles, but they are much easier to stuff. If you’re using boxed noodles, once they are dried you need to stuff the cheese filling. A piping bag may be an easy solution, but we’ve always used a teaspoon and got really messy. Oh and if you’re making canilloni, be sure to cook the meat first and have fun figuring out a way to get it in a noodle.

A Manicotti- One tile x One and a Half tile.
The Finished Pan

We sat around the table for over an hour an a half. I won’t embarass anyone by counting the amount of servings we each had, but needless to say, there wasn’t many left overs. The conversation drifted seamlessly from Catholic topic to Catholic topic, sprinkled by my own interjections. Because we weren’t ready for the evening to end, we went to TCBY for ice-cream passing as yogert, this change in setting also allowed a shift in the conversation to more Kelli-friendly topics. All in all, it was a most enjoyable evening and I look forward to hosting Brad again.

It’s been almost a month since we’ve had anyone over for dinner, but hopefully the next entry will be an Oscar’s Party 😉