Lasagna alla Vodka: Part 1

This time last week, I embarked on an epic adventure – Lasagna Alla Vodka.

Lasagna

Sure, you’ve seen penne alla vodka before, and I’ll bet you have a favorite recipe for lasagna too. Now combine the two and we’re onto something big.

The BF and I are big fans of both, and the BF might be the biggest pasta fan out there.

In an attempt to make this something really special to kick off his birthday celebrations, I spent all of last Sunday cooking like crazy. Today I present to you the first step in this beautiful meal.

Part 1: Prepare tomatoes

Time to completion: 45 minutes

Peel tomatoes

I was inspired by this mish-mash of images that Buzzfeed took from around the interwebs, so I roughly followed their instructions to poach and peel my own whole roma tomatoes, a feature ingredient in every quality vodka sauce out there.

The good news: it worked! And it was easy!

The bad news: this adds a considerable amount of time to your lasagna making. If you start with this step in the recipe, be prepared to add an additional 30-45 minutes of prep-time. It is slightly more cost-effective to do so when tomatoes are in season, and will create a creamier sauce that will save you a few calories along the way since you will need to add less heavy cream to the finished product.

To begin with – gather tomatoes and prepare a large bowl of iced water to blanch your tomatoes. Start a large pot of unsalted water to boil. There should be enough water to full submerge the tomatoes. For my recipe, I used 15 roma tomatoes, or about 2.5 pounds worth.

Tom and water

Next, core and score all of your tomatoes. Don’t worry about scooping out all of the seeds; they will cook down and puree later. Just remove the stem for now. For scoring, you can make a deep cut across, or actually score the skin lightly, whichever is easy for you to handle.

core and score

Working in batches, place tomatoes in the boiling water. I was able to fit about 5 at a time. Boil until the skin begins to crack in such a way that it will be easy to peel, or for up to 1 minute.

crack side

Once the cracks are visible in some of the tomatoes, dunk the tomatoes into the cold water for 1-2 minutes.

tom to water

Peel the tomatoes with a paring knife or your fingers (or a combination of both!) and place in the medium bowl.

peel

Break apart the tomatoes gently with your hands, using caution not to spray tomato juice all over your kitchen like I did.

crush

Set aside while you continue with your sauce.

Part 1 = complete!

Stay tuned for Part 2 coming tomorrow: Making the Sauce!

Condensed version

Ingredients: 2.5 pounds roma tomatoes

Instructions:

  1. Fill a larg bowl with ice water.
  2. Boil water in large pot, using enough water to cover the tomatoes.
  3. Core the stem of each tomato, and score the bottom of the skin with a large “X”
  4. Working in batches, boil as many tomatoes as can be submerged in the water for up to a minute, or until the skin begins to peel back from the tomatoes.
  5. Move boiled tomatoes to the ice water bath to blanch the tomatoes.
  6. Allow tomatoes to cool 1-2 minutes.
  7. Peel tomatoes gently with a paring knife or with hands.
  8. Repeat with all of the tomatoes.
  9. Crush tomatoes in half to break open for juices.

Birthday-Sized Margaritas

The weekend is here, and not a day too soon!

The BF is celebrating his birthday on Monday – coincidentally on his first day on the new job too! So we’re celebrating in advance to usher in the holiday, the weekend, and the birthday celebration.

And I LOVE birthdays.

To me, they’re one day or weekend (or heck, week!), that can be unabashedly about you! Unlike thanksgiving, in which we come together with family, or Christmas, which we share we thousands of others, birthdays are often celebrated for one person alone.

So day 1 of our birthday bash and pre-4th of July celebration is a Margarita Day!

Main margarita

Also – new festive glasses + cocktail shaker. Yay, festivities!

This recipe is from Bon Appetite’s “The Secret to a Perfect Margarita“, and it is pretty spectacular. It might even be better than a Donny T’s margarita in LexVegas.

Yeah, I went there.

Shelled lemons

So squeeze out a couple ‘a limes to get started.

No key lime nonsense. Big, fat, juicy limes are way more time/cost/energy efficient. Organics for us were $0.50 each, but lovely and limey.

Lemon hull

 

This catch-all juicer is great. But if you don’t have one, just roll the whole lime back and forth real quick to warm up the juice, then cut and squeeze. Use a fork to press out any additional juiciness. But if you plan to make margaritas often, I highly recommend the upgrade.
All ingredients

Add some fanciful tequila, and scale up to Reposado if you’d like to up your game. This is the first type of tequila that goes through an aging process.

Tequila = Extra Anejo > Anejo > Reposado > Oro > Blanco.

And since we’re not drinking the tequila straight, the reposado, with 100% agave, will go down smoothly and blend nicely with the 3 other ingredients in this drink.

Petron is crazy expensive – try some Hornitos or a comparable reposado tequila for half the price.

Lemon juice

So!

Place ice in shaker.

Pour tequila, triple sec and fresh lime juice over ice.

Place lid on shaker.

shaking

Shaka-shaka-shake!

When glass is frosty…

BAM. Pour smoothly.

Pouring

The birthday boy even did the honors!

So check it out! Bon Appetite’s recipe is spot-on.

My measurements (for others who don’t know how to measure ounces offhand):

  • 3/4 cup reposado tequila, like Hornitos
  • 3/4 cup triple sec, and the cheap kind is just fine
  • 1/2 cup freshly squeezed lime juice = ~ 2 full, juicy limes

Shake to combine, and pour over a handful of ice cubes in a festive glass.

Makes: 2 generous birthday-sized, 4th of July-ready margaritas!

 

 

 

Banana Bread Breakdown: Recipes by Number of Bananas

Doesn’t it always seem like banana bread recipes call for an entire bunch of bananas?

For me, banana bread is a treat I make out of ingenuity and necessity rather than careful planning.

“Ewww I’m not eating that banana anymore. Banana bread time!”

Complete with a reusable  sandwich bag!

Complete with a reusable sandwich bag!

And then a quick internet search reveals that I don’t have even close to the recommended number of bananas.

Sure, sometimes it’s possible to divide a recipe in half. But it’s awfully hard to divide a recipe in half that  calls for 3 eggs, or even one! And it is possible to do some complicated math to 2/3 a recipe, but I would just rather have a no-fuss guide.

After some googling research, here is my banana bread breakdown!

If you have…

6 Bananas: For those times when you actually do forget about an entire bunch of bananas, check out this Six-Banana Banana Bread over at Averie Cooks. This recipe is perfect for those who worry about “wimpy or lackluster banana flavor,” and need an in-your-face breakfast treat.

5 Bananas: Did you know that every recipe calling for 2 and 2/3 cups bananas is actually calling for 5 bananas? This recipe comes from a blog post “5 Bananas, People!” in the minimalist blog Obvious State. The pictures to this bread look densely delicious, but now you know you can use 5 bananas for any 2 + 2/3 quantity of bananas.

4 Bananas: To mix up the list, this “Jacked Up” banana bread recipe calls for vanilla and bourbon, and makes 2 whole loaf pans. (1 for you, 1 to share?) “Elise’s Friend Heidi’s Friend Mrs. Hockmeyer’s Banana Bread, As Jacked Up by Deb” actually calls for 3-4 bananas, but more bananas will give the bread a smoother texture.

3 Bananas: For a heart-healthy oatmeal banana bread with 3 bananas, Joy the Baker has an excellent “Low Fat Oatmeal Banana Bread.” Her recipe comes in at 4 points per slice, and is great for a half-bunch of dropping bananas.

2 Bananas: I have two recipes that I use personally when I have 2 bananas leftover for a treat, and both come from the monolithic recipe bank Allrecipes. The first is a rich banana bread stuffed with sour cream, and the second is a spectacular pumpkin banana bread.

And finally my own 1 Banana recipe! This was adapted from the Sereneity Now blog, the “Banana Bread Recipe with One Banana.” I’ve added some oats, subbed out the white sugar for brown and traded some for natural maple syrup. There’s less butter with some yogurt instead, as well as the addition of cinnamon.

The stronger you would like the banana flavor to be, the riper the banana should be before mashing.

That said, this recipe is also perfect to serve to those with anti-banana preferences. The maple and pecan shine in this recipe, with the banana playing second fiddle. Put another way, this recipe is great to make when you’re tired of a 1-note banana bread!

Main muffin-2

Nutty Maple Oat (Banana) Muffins

Adapted from: Serenity Now
Makes: 6 Muffins
Time: 35 minutes

Ingredients:

  • 1 large very ripe banana
  • 1 egg
  • 1/2 cup milk
  • 1/4 cup butter, softened
  • 2 tablespoons plain yogurt
  • 1/2 tablespoon vanilla extract
  • 3/4 – 1 cup flour
  • 3/4 cup old fashioned (or rolled) oats
  • 1/4 cup maple syrup
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1/4 cup chopped pecans

Instructions:

  1. Preheat oven to 350F.
  2. In a large mixing bowl, mash the banana until it achieves a smooth consistency.
  3. Whisk in the egg, milk, maple syrup, butter, yogurt and vanilla, pausing to incorporate each one.
  4. In a separate medium bowl, stir together 3/4 cup flour, the oats, brown sugar, baking soda, cinnamon and kosher salt.
  5. Stir the dry mixture into the wet, adding the additional 1/4 cup of flour if you would like a more cake-like consistency.
  6. Pour batter into 6 pre-greased muffin tins. Top each with a sprinkle of chopped pecans.
  7. Bake for 22-25 minutes or until a cake tester/toothpick comes out clean.
  8. Once set, let cool for at least 5 minutes before removing the muffins from the tins.
  9. Serve immediately, or place in a sealed container for up to four days. To reheat, microwave for 45 seconds before digging in.

Today’s Kitchen Jams: Doing it Right by Daft Punk ft. Panda Bear

Farmers’ Market Shopping and Afternoon Iced Vanilla Coffee

Moving to a big city from a small college town has had one immeasurable foodie benefit: farmers’ markets.

(Spelling correction for my journalism friends out there: the apostrophe is technically correct, since some “believe it indicates that “farmers’ markets” exist “for farmers and by farmers.”)

Portland has a wonderfully vibrant market community, which is not at all surprising given the city’s commitment to the small, the local, and the fairly-produced. Every week there are three farmers’ markets within walking distance from me (and a good handful more outside of my walking reach). There’s the Monday market downtown just a few short blocks away from my work – perfect for picking out some lunch time produce. Then the Thursday market has a quaint few sellers for me to pick up some quick dinner supplies.

On Saturday mornings though, the Mother of the Markets opens on the campus of PSU. There are more than 150 vendors and food stands to choose from, including the best reason to get up early – Pine State Biscuits at an easy commute.

Farmer's finds

So this morning, I found gigantic cherries for $3.50 a pound, local asparagus at $8/3 bunches. The real value prize from the markets though, is the selection of squash and zucchini. The traditional kind were $0.75 each, and we even discovered a new variety: patty pan squash!

Patty Pan

This gorgeous gem sold at $0.50 for a squash bigger than my spread hand. The fun flower-like shape came for free, of course. It was also much bigger than what I found at the supermarket when I looked for this particular variety. There it was called a “Sunburst Squash” and was closer to the size of the beets next to it.

 

Size compare

Which leads me to my first adventure for this blog!

“Meet a Veggie” – Learning about new veggies and cooking techniques to expand my healthy cooking range.

Just like traveling, new foods can be intimidating and foreign at first. But once we become accustomed to eating new foods, and learn how to prepare them, you can quickly feel just as at home with a bowl of beautiful new veggies as a tried-and-true pile of mashed potatoes.

Episode 1 to come – Patty Pan (or Sunburst) Squash

But for now — coffee.

After a long morning of adventuring, I was craving a cool iced coffee. Sure, I could buy one for a few bucks and a plastic cup. But what fun is that?

coffee overhead

I kept with the simple syrup theme for this one, since it really is the best way to add flavor to a cold drink. A little caffeine, a little sugar and a little vanilla-flavored comfort, for less than $1 in supplies.

Pouring

 

Iced Vanilla Coffee

Makes 4 16 oz glasses
Time: 20 minutes

Ingredients:

  • 5 cups brewed hot coffee
  • 1/2 cup water
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 cup milk
  • Several cups of ice

Instructions:

  1. Pour hot brewed coffee into a wide, deep pan so that it can cool. Cover loosely and set aside for 15 minutes.
  2. In a small saucepan over medium high heat, bring the water to a boil. Whisk in the sugar. Once dissolved and the liquid clears, add vanilla. Reduce heat to low and allow to simmer for 5 minutes, stirring occasionally. Remove from heat.
  3. Fill four 16 oz glasses 3/4 of the way with ice cubes.
  4. Measure 2 tablespoons of the simple sugar mixture into each of the glasses. Save any extra simple syrup in a small separate container in the fridge for up to 2 weeks.
  5. Pour coffee over each glass, stopping about 1.5″ from the top.
  6. Divide milk among each according to taste, using up to a 1/4 cup in each.
  7. Stir.
  8. Enjoy before the ice melts!

Brown Sugar Peach Cherry Pie Popsicles

After trying my first homemade fruit popsicle, I’m not sure I’ll ever go back to the frost-bitten ice blocks sold at the supermarkets.

Peach Cherry Pie Popsicle
Except maybe for an good orange creamiscle. But once I master making those, the popsicle business might lose me for good.

These homemade pops are bitable, lickable, and oh-so savorable. They are inspired by my favorite of pies: my mom’s unbeatable peach pie, and the All-American cherry pie.

The secret ingredient to making both heavenly?

Almond extract.

And that’s exactly what you need to fuse these two rarely-friendly fruits together.

Traingle

Did I mention there’s an extra sweet treat? – A brown sugar simple syrup gives these pops a decadent smooth consistency for pouring and keeps them from breaking down into smaller chunks during the freezing.

With all that fruit in there, you can still feel good about enjoying a healthy treat too!

Pro-tip: before attempting Popsicles, I strongly recommend investing in some decent popsicle molds. In a pinch, Dixie cups and Popsicle sticks will do, but for something a little less wasteful, go for something that sticks it out for more than a single treat. (hehe sticks…)

I originally tried a cheap $5 store brand, as a way to test if I would actually make popsicles, but my advice…?

DON’T SETTLE.

Otherwise you will spend a whole day getting excited for the delicious morsels you’ve created only to discover that it’s ridiculously difficult to extract them from the rigor mortis grip of the plastic. (Imagine a sword in the stone in which you pull the hilt off the blade, thereby killing the magic.)

I don’t want you to suffer too, so please – do right by your popsicles.

Main Popsicle
(Alternatively, you can find an incredibly patient boyfriend, girlfriend, or neighbor-person to run them under warm water for several minutes and show you up by extracting one sans grumbles. I still advise the former.)

I scoured the internet reviews for popsicle molds, and judged the Zuku Slow Pops with the Rounded Silicon to be worthiest (aka best value). You’re welcome to find your own perfect match, but these have been simple to pour, clean and enjoy.

Unwrap

My only critique is that the two pieces that fit together to make the base leak a bit. But what’s a summer popsicle without sticky fingers?

So here is my first pop-worthy popsicle recipe. Enjoy!

Peach Cherry Pie Popsicles

Ingredients:

½ cup water

½ cup packed brown sugar

½ teaspoon almond extract

3 cups chopped yellow peaches (roughly 2 medium peaches)

1 cup chopped bing cherries

2 teaspoons lemon juice

Instructions:

To prepare brown sugar simple syrup:

  1. In a small saucepan, bring the water to a rolling boil over medium-high heat.
  2. Whisk in sugar and reduce heat to medium low, keeping at a gentle simmer for 5 minutes. Stir frequently.
  3. Add almond extract, and keep over heat for another 5 minutes to allow syrup to thicken.
  4. Remove from heat and allow to cool while you prepare the fruit.

To prepare popsicles:

  1. Using an immersion blender or full blender, blend together the peaches and cherries until smooth.
  2. Whisk in simple syrup.
  3. Add lemon juice.
  4. Pour into clean popsicle molds.
  5. Freeze for at least 12 hours.
  6. Enjoy individually or in droves.

 

Today’s Kitchen Jam: Like the Rain by Clint Black

(Summer in Portland = Rainy Fridays)
 

A Sunday Brunch Treat: Chocolate Raspberry Swirl Pancakes

My Sunday brunch pancakes had two delicious secrets today:

  1. Semi-sweet chocolate chips
  2. Homemade raspberry syrup swirl

Or they were secrets, until I adorned them with extra raspberry syrup and a handful of extra chocolate chips. I guess it was fairly obvious that these were no ordinary pancakes.

Pancake stack

This recipe combines a strong breakfast sweet tooth with the best of early summer fruit. It is the first day of summer, after all! Raspberries are everywhere, and I got a pint for a cool $3 at one of the Portland farmer’s markets. Plus, this recipe only uses half that, so you can save the other half for snack times or creating other unique desserts.

Though the inspiration for this recipe was serendipitous (how can I make a fun breakfast with raspberries on their last legs?), it was influenced by a few different sources. The first was the ubiquitous cinnamon roll pancakes over at The Recipe Girl, and the other was the Pioneer Woman’s perfect pancakes. Combine the two, throw in some undeniably delicious chocolate chips, and you have my first original recipe: Chocolate Raspberry Swirl Pancakes.

{Also, if you’re reading this and don’t know who The Pioneer Woman is, go check her blog out first! Then come back. Please.🙂 }

My overripe raspberries were so ready to start their tasty transformation.

The raspberry sauce is also adapted from a simple go-to recipe from Allrecipes. I found that an extra slow simmering heat helped to break down the raspberry seeds, so they didn’t especially need to be strained. This gave the sauce a fuller body and saved me a cleaning step too! If you find raspberry seeds too crunchy to bear though, you’re welcome to endeavor the lengths of pushing this syrup through a strainer and/or some cheesecloth.

Homemade raspberry preserves

I was pretty content with the easy version though.

…plus I don’t have a mesh strainer. #smallapartmentproblems <- [a running theme in my cooking saga]

For general pancake advice, always test out a dummy pancake first. My first pancake is typically my worst. Anyone who says otherwise needs to teach me their secrets.

Sad pancake

See? Always a bum first pancake for me. But the first pancake is a great opportunity to warm up the griddle and test if the batter is to your liking.

Did you add enough milk? Is the pancake creamy and sweet enough? Has your flour been adequately fluffed?

You can fix all of these problems except for the last one. Really gotta fluff that flour, folks!

So after your first taste, adjust the batter if need be, and then make your first pancake for reals. With the syrup.

The key to an even pour of the syrup is to keep it warm but not scalding. You’ll dump the mixture into a container to cool it off, and once that is cool to the touch you’ll then dump the syrup into a zipcloc bag. Seal off the bag, push all of the syrup down to one end, and cut a tiny sliver off the other end (so the syrup doesn’t come gushing out). Make sure that corner stays propped up until it’s showtime too.

Like so:

Snipped Corner

The steps: Pour batter into hot pan. Gently rearrange the baggy in your hand so you’re ready to paint your pancake canvas. Swirl from inside to out (or outside in, if that’s more natural). Drop chocolate chips delicately over swirls. Resist urge to eat all chocolate chips before pancake making is done.

Swirls on Swirls

Swirls on Swirls

One chip for pancake, one for me, two chips for pancake, four for me…

Or just munch away unabashedly. It’s your Sunday and you’ve earned the chocolate.

The most important part: the flip. As deliciously as these will turn out, raspberry syrup is still just delicious sugar. The filling will stick to your spatula when you pull it off the griddle, so be prepared with a paper towel or similar apparatus to wipe off the warm goop. The heat will cook off most of the moisture from the syrup, leaving the underside of the pancakes coated with trenches of raspberry sugar.

Mmmmm… raspberry.

Chocolate Raspberry Swirl Pancakes
Serves: 2 hungry adults as a main course
Time from start to serving: 30 minutes (if using griddle, more for making individual pancakes)
Ingredients:
Raspberry Sauce –

  • 1/2 cup cold water
  • 1 tablespoon cornstarch
  • 2 tablespoons white sugar
  • 3/4 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
  • 1/2 pint (or 1 cup) fresh whole raspberries

Pancakes – 

  • 1 and 1/2 cups all-purpose white flour
  • 1 and 1/2 tablespoons baking powder
  • 2 tablespoons white sugar
  • 1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1 cup milk (I used 1%)
  • 1 large egg
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla
  • 2 tablespoons butter, melted and slightly cooled
  • Stick of cold butter, to grease pan
  • 1/2 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips

Instructions:

For sauce

  1. Whisk cornstarch and water together in small saucepan. Add sugar and lemon juice, and place over medium heat, stirring occasionally.
  2. When the mixture reaches a simmer, add raspberries. Bring to a simmer again, whisking occasionally to break up raspberries until no whole raspberries are left.
  3. Reduce to medium-low heat and simmer gently for 5 minutes. While sauce is simmering, prepare the pancake batter.
  4. After 5 minutes, pour syrup into glass container to cool for 5 minutes.
  5. When container is cool to touch, pour syrup into ziploc bag. Squeeze to one end and snip the corner of the other as shown in above picture to make an opening less than 1 cm wide.

For pancake batter

  1. While sauce is simmering, combine flour, baking powder, sugar, and salt in a medium bowl.
  2. Whisk milk, egg, and vanilla in a separate small bowl.
  3. Pour wet mixture into the dry, whisking constantly. Ingredients should be combined as the last of the wet mixture is poured in, and may still be slightly lumpy.
  4. Whisk in cooled melted butter.

For swirled pancakes

  1. Ensure the raspberry sauce is ready in bag before beginning.
  2. Heat large skillet or griddle on medium heat.
  3. When pan is hot, quickly butter pan.
  4. Measure an eighth of a cup of batter into the pan for a tester pancake.
  5. When large bubbles appear over most of the pancake, check to see if bottom side is browned. If so, flip pancake.
  6. Cook for another minute.
  7. Sample pancake for flavor/texture.
  8. Adjust pancake batter for sweetness or thickness.
  9. Lightly butter skillet.
  10. Pour a quarter cup of batter into the pan.
  11. Wait for small bubbles to appear.
  12. Pour syrup mixture onto pancake in a steady spiral motion, using caution not to get too close to the edge.
  13. Sprinkle a tablespoon of chocolate chips onto pancake in a swirl pattern.
  14. Flip when large bubbles appear over most of the pancake.
  15. Place onto individual plate.
  16. Repeat steps 9-15 for the rest of the pancake batter.
  17. Serve with remaining raspberry sauce, extra chocolate chips and whipped cream on top.

 

Today’s cooking song jam: I Wanna Get Better by Bleachers

Time and resolutions

I’ve never understood why we make resolutions in January.

Sure, it’s a new start to the calendar year, and in the human construct of time this minute increase in years helps some create a mental divide between who we were yesterday and who we will try to be tomorrow. 

But let’s be honest.

Are you really going to start running in the snow on Jan. 1? Am I actually going to start cooking clean and healthy foods in the middle of winter, when all I want is rich, fatty foods to keep me lusciously warm? And please. Don’t even get me started about trying to wake up earlier for productivity when the sun’s not even up yet.

So not happening.

But why not start a tradition for mid-year resolutions? This is the time of year when the days are long, the mornings are bright, and the produce is fresh. This is the prime time of the year to look forward with hope when everything in the natural world is blooming around us.

My resolution is to cook more. To eat healthier. To reinvigorate my love for photography. So I’m starting a food blog.

What’s your summer resolution?

So Voodoo. So happy.

So Voodoo. So happy.

I'm a child.

I’m a child.

Oh, I’m Randi, by the way.

If we’ve never met, it’s a pleasure to meet you now. I think about food day in and day out, so it was only a matter of time before I started putting all of these bizarre thoughts into words, and started creating content to add to the wonderful world of food bloggers.

I’ll probably talk about other things from time to time. Like travel, or the environment, and perhaps even politics. These are all important things that bear discussing. But don’t worry – it always comes back to food in the end for me.

I like to think of myself as an adventurer, but not in the traditional climbing mountains and jumping off waterfalls sense. That stuff is scary, and that’s how you break things.

I love to travel. I love to eat. I love to adventure. For me, a life where I’m not constantly engaging, learning, experimenting, adventuring is scary too. As I pay back my student loans from undergrad (…yay), I’m focusing on adventuring within a limited budget. Local travel and kitchen adventures are becoming the best routes to discovery, and I hope to inspire you as well.

So here begins another adventure!

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