30 September 2012

Recipe: Gingersnap Cookies (with Grandchildren)

I took a day off on Friday. I stayed home and my wife and I took care of our two grandsons for the day. I went early to the Minneapolis Farmers Market and bought a bushel of tomatoes. (More about them later.) Then I went by my son’s house and picked up Leo. Shortly after I got home, my son-in-law dropped off Trey. BettyCrocker

In the afternoon, after their naps, we made gingersnap cookies. I relied on my standby recipe from my Betty Crocker Cookbook. The poor thing is getting pretty old and worn. As you will see in the photo, the cover now is being held in place with duct tape. I positioned two of the cookies on the book cover just to show how they turned out. I once looked into getting a new cookbook. But I discovered that they’ve changed some of the recipes. So I guess I’ll just keep using this book that I bought more than 40 years ago.

Gingersnaps are my favorite cookie. Maybe the boys would have preferred chocolate chips. But no one complained. They had fun helping and then sampling the finished cookies.

Their parents and sisters came over for dinner on Friday, as is our usual family practice. We had gingersnaps for dessert. Toward the end of this post is a picture of my wife and me with all four grandchildren on the hammock outside.

Gingersnaps (from Betty Crocker Cookbook, copyright 1971, 9th printing)

3/4 cup butter

1 cup brown sugar

1 egg

1/4 c. molasses

2 1/4 c. flour

2 teaspoons soda

1 tsp. cinnamon

1 tsp. ginger

1/2 tsp. cloves

1/4 tsp. salt

Mix thoroughly butter, sugar, egg and molasses. Blend in remaining ingredients. Wrap in plastic wrap and chill for 1 hour.

Heat oven to 375 degrees. Shape dough by rounded spoonsful into balls. Dip tops in granulated sugar. Place balls sugared side up on baking sheet. Flatten slightly (using cookie press or back of spoon). Bake 10-12 minutes. Immediately remove from baking sheet to cooling rack.ShabbatCookieKids

Makes 4 dozen cookies.

Krik’s tips: OK, the Betty Crocker original recipe calls for shortening. But I work for Land O’Lakes, so I changed it to butter. The original recipe doesn’t call for flattening the balls of dough before baking. I do it to get thinner, crisper cookies. I’m also sort of compulsive about uniform size cookies. So I divide the dough into four pieces, and roll the pieces into a short log (about 1 inch diameter, 4 inches long). Then I cut each log into 12 pieces, and dip the tops in the granulated sugar. This process eliminates the step for flattening the balls. Also, you can take one or more of the rolls, wrap in plastic wrap, place in a freezer bag and then freeze. Then, anytime you want a dozen fresh cookies, just take out one of the logs, slice into 12 pieces, dip in sugar and bake.

21 September 2012

Blue Point, Wayzata, made this dinner special

My wife had a hard time deciding where to go for a special birthday dinner this year. We brainstormed a list. She hemmed and hawed and went back and forth between several favorites. Finally she called me with her decision – Blue Point in Wayzata. It turned out to be a great choice.

It seems like a lot of the hot new restaurants opening in the Twin Cities offer limited menus and small portions. There’s nothing wrong with that really, unless the limited menu is so limited that you can’t find something that you really want.

But it was a relief when we opened the familiar Blue Point menu and saw so many tempting choices that it was hard to decide what to order finally. And another advantage of choosing an old familiar restaurant is the confidence that your going to be served something that tastes good. I like experimenting and innovation with cooking. But you don’t always know if you’re going to actually like some of the unusual combinations being offered these days.BluePoint

Which is not to say that even an old standby like Blue Point is immune to glitches. My wife started out by ordering an apple, pear, and endive salad. She took one bite and called the server over. “Does this salad have cilantro,” she asked. The server said she was quite certain it did not, but she went to the kitchen to check. It turns out, the dressing had cilantro. But she quickly replaced the salad with a cup of clam chowder, that my wife liked very much.

For my starter, I ordered the tomato and feta salad. It was excellent. My wife’s entrée was pistachio crusted halibut. She enjoyed it very much, and the serving was ample enough that she had leftovers to bring home. I ordered grouper “en Pappillot.” I love how cooking the fish in a pouch results in a moist, succulent meal. It was excellent.

By relying on an old standby, my wife enjoyed a delicious, almost-hassle free birthday dinner. Blue Point remains on our list of special occasion restaurants.

18 September 2012

Return visit to Lavagna, DC

I was in DC earlier in September – the only trip I have planned for the month. I’ve written before how the Barracks Row part of Capitol Hill is attracting lots of creative eateries. So on this most recent trip, I had made up my mind to try someplace new. I was going to be in the neighborhood anyway for a reception. So I planned to just wander up the street and look at a few menus.

My plan fell awry, however, when I walked by Lavagna. I ate there last January, and really liked it. Nothing that I’d seen while wandering so far looked better. So I abandoned by plan to try someplace new and got a table at Lavagna.

Some things have changed since I ate there in January. For example, in my original post, I mentioned that ‘Lavagna’ not only is the name of a town in Italy, but it’s also the word for ‘slate.’ When it first opened, Lavagna posted its menu on little chalkboards. But no longer. The owner, Stephen Chueng, was circulating through the restaurant chatting with customers. I asked him about the slate menus. “Too difficult to manage” was the short version of his answer.

One thing that has not changed is the three-course special – a starter or half-order of pasta, a pasta or entrée, and dessert for $27. It’s a great value and convenient way to sample the variety of the menu. They also offer flights of Italian wine for $10.

I went with the suggestions that the owner gave. I started with an artichoke bruschetta. The toasted bread was layered with a creamy ricotta and topped with artichoke puree and tomatoes. The artichoke was like a pesto and not at all chunky.

For my second course, I went with his recommendation to try the ravioli ricotta. The way he described it, it was a whole egg yolk and ricotta inside the ravioli. When the ravioli is cooked to al dente, the yolk is warmed but stays soft, so that when you cut into the ravioli, the warm yolk flows out creating a rich sauce. The whole dish is topped with parmesan cheese, tomatoes, and a marinara sauce.

When my meal arrived, I cut into the ravioli with eager anticipation. But alas, the yolk was overcooked. The flavors were delicious, but when Stephen Chueng stopped over to see how I liked it, I pointed out that the yolk was not soft. He insisted on taking it away and bringing me a new order. When the replacement arrived, this time the yolk was soft and runny as intended, and it really did make a difference. As I was finishing the dish, the chef came out and personally apologized for the first mishap and asked how I enjoyed the dish. It was excellent.

For dessert, I had a choice of tiramisu, panna cotta, or gelato. I went with the panna cotta, and really enjoyed it. I ended with a nice cup of espresso.

I was happy to have had a repeat visit at Lavagna, even though I started out with the intent to try someplace new.

17 September 2012

Recipe: Eggplant Lasagna w/ Parsley Pesto

My wife’s birthday landed on Rosh Hashana this year. So I prepared the festive meal with help from family and guests who shared the evening with us.

Here’s what I made – turkey (roasted on the charcoal Weber Grill), eggplant Lasagna with parsley pesto, mashed potatoes, challah, and applesauce (apples from my parents’ farm). My son and his wife brought a delicious apple cake. My daughter and her husband brought a recipe by Giada De Laurentiis for Sweet Pea Crostini (a crowd-pleaser every time). Another guest brought a delicious kale salad with walnuts and dried cranberries. Another guest brought roasted asparagus and red peppers. Any my wife’s sister brought a tray of chocolate peanut butter brownies.RoshHashana2012A

We had a total of 12 adults, three kids, and one toddler for the dinner. There was plenty of food. No one went home hungry.

The lasagna that I made was something new. I’ve made lasagna with roasted fall vegetables before. But the eggplant lasagna was unusual (at least for me). I didn’t think of it at the time, but it was almost like moussaka. I found the recipe on Epicurious. It originally appeared in a 2003 issue of Gourmet magazine (RIP). I followed the recipe pretty closely. The recipe called for no-boil lasagna noodles; I used dried noodles and boiled them according to the package directions.

The only addition – I had some shredded mozzarella in the refrigerator, so I sprinkled that over the lasagna before baking it. Also, the recipe said there’d be about 3/4 cup of pesto leftover. I only had about 1/4 cup left for drizzling over the finished lasagna. The recipe says it serves 8. Since we had so much other food, I cut it into 12 pieces, and several people only took half pieces.

Here’s the recipe as it appears on Epicurious.

Eggplant Lasagna with Parsley Pesto Gourmet | November 2003

Yield: Makes 8 servings


For béchamel
1 garlic clove, minced
3 tablespoons unsalted butter
5 tablespoons all-purpose flour
5 cups whole milk
1 Turkish or 1/2 California bay leaf
1 teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon white pepper
For pesto and ricotta mixture
1 1/3 cups hazelnuts (5 1/2 ounces), toasted and loose skins rubbed off in a kitchen towel
4 cups loosely packed fresh flat-leaf parsley leaves (from 3/4 lb)
3 ounces finely grated Parmigiano-Reggiano (1 1/2 cups)
2/3 cup plus 1/4 cup olive oil
2 garlic cloves, finely chopped
2 teaspoons salt
1 1/4 teaspoons black pepper
1 large egg
1 (15-ounce) container whole-milk ricotta
For lasagna
4 pounds medium eggplants (4), cut crosswise into 1/3-inch-thick slices
6 tablespoons olive oil
1 teaspoon salt
3/4 teaspoon black pepper
9 (7- by 3 1/2-inch) oven-ready lasagna noodles (sometimes called "no-boil"; 6 oz)
1 1/2 ounces finely grated Parmigiano-Reggiano


Make béchamel:

Cook garlic in butter in a 3-quart heavy saucepan over moderately low heat, stirring, 1 minute. Add flour and cook roux, whisking, 3 minutes. Add milk in a stream, whisking. Add bay leaf and bring to a boil over moderately high heat, whisking constantly, then reduce heat and simmer, whisking occasionally, until liquid is reduced to about 4 cups, about 10 minutes. Whisk in salt and white pepper, then remove from heat and discard bay leaf. Cover surface of sauce with wax paper until ready to use.

Make pesto and ricotta mixture:

Coarsely chop 1/3 cup hazelnuts and reserve for sprinkling over lasagna.

Purée parsley, Parmigiano-Reggiano, 2/3 cup oil, garlic, 1 teaspoon salt, 1 teaspoon pepper, and remaining cup hazelnuts in a food processor until pesto is smooth, about 1 minute.

Whisk egg in a bowl, then stir in ricotta, 1 cup parsley pesto, remaining teaspoon salt, and remaining 1/4 teaspoon pepper until combined well.

Stir together 1/4 cup pesto and remaining 1/4 cup oil in a small bowl for drizzling over lasagna.

Roast eggplant for lasagna:

Put oven racks in upper and lower thirds of oven and preheat oven to 450°F. Oil 2 large baking sheets.

Brush eggplant with oil on both sides, then arrange in 1 layer on baking sheets and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Bake eggplant, switching position of sheets halfway through baking and turning slices over once, until tender, 20 to 25 minutes total.

Assemble lasagna:

Put oven rack in middle position and reduce oven temperature to 425°F. Lightly oil a 13- by 9- by 2-inch glass or ceramic baking dish (3 quart) and line a larger shallow baking pan with foil.

Spread 1 cup béchamel in baking dish and cover with 3 pasta sheets, leaving spaces between sheets. Drop 1 cup ricotta mixture by spoonsful over pasta, spreading evenly (layer will be thin), then top with 1 layer of eggplant, cutting rounds to fit if necessary. Make 1 more layer each of béchamel, pasta, ricotta, and eggplant. Spread with 1 cup béchamel and cover with remaining 3 pasta sheets. Spread remaining cup ricotta mixture over pasta, then spread ricotta with remaining cup béchamel and top with remaining eggplant in 1 layer (you may have a few slices left over). Sprinkle Parmigiano-Reggiano over eggplant and scatter with reserved chopped hazelnuts.

Tightly cover baking dish with oiled foil (oiled side down), then set dish in foil-lined pan (to catch drips) and bake lasagna 30 minutes. Remove foil and bake until golden and bubbling, 10 to 15 minutes more. Let lasagna stand 15 to 20 minutes before serving.

Serve lasagna drizzled with pesto.