Eggplant and Beef Lasagna with Bechamel Sauce

What’s better than a nice fall lasagna?

And this one has eggplant in it.  Who doesn’t like eggplant?

This recipe is adapted from Martha Stewart’s Every Day Food.  It uses no-boil lasagna noodles, which makes everything so much easier.

First you need to make up a basic béchamel sauce.  Don’t freak out — it’s not that hard.

Béchamel Sauce

Melt 5 tablespoons butter in a medium saucepan.

Dice a small onion and chuck it in.

Add a clove of garlic, or a spoonful of garlic-in-a-jar.

Cook that stuff until the onion is soft, about 4 minutes. 

Add in 1/3 cup all-purpose flour, and then cook, stirring, until the mixture is pale golden and has a nutty aroma, about another 4 minutes. 

Add in 2 1/4 cups whole milk (or suitable substitute) and whisk constantly the whole time.  Add in another 2 1/4 cups milk and whisk until smooth.  Cook, stirring constantly, until sauce comes to a boil and thickens, about 10 minutes.

Use it immediately or press plastic wrap to the surface (to prevent it forming a skin) and let it cool.  You can keep it in the fridge for up to 5 days like that.

Lasagna

Preheat your oven to 400°F.  Put your oven racks in the middle and upper third of the oven.

Slice up 1 1/2 pounds eggplant into 1/4″ rounds and divide between two baking sheets.

Toss with a little bit of olive oil and salt and pepper and bake until tender, stirring and rotating halfway through, about 20 minutes.  Allow to cool, but leave the oven on.

In a large skillet, heat some oil over medium-high.  Add in 1 pound lean ground beef and stir until cooked through, about 4 minutes.  Add some allspice and dried oregano and season with salt and pepper.  You can also add some fresh chopped mint if you like.  Remove from heat and transfer the meat to a bowl.

Pulse 1 1/4 cups (3 1/4 oz) romano or parmesan cheese in your food processor, or use the pre-grated variety.  I prefer using whole cheese because it tends to be less dry.

In a baking dish (size dependent on your noodles, mine were slightly smaller than a 9×13″ pan), spread one cup sauce on the bottom of the dish.  Top with no-boil lasagna noodles to cover (I used three).  Make sure to leave some space between the noodles, as they will expand as they cook.

Layer with half the meat, then another cup of sauce and 1/4 cup of cheese.

Add more noodles, then half the eggplant, a cup of sauce, and 1/4 cup of cheese.

Repeat with the remaining ingredients, reserving the last 1/4 cup of cheese.

Cover lasagna loosely with foil and bake on the top rack until the sauce is bubbling, about 35 minutes.  If you’re worried about spillage from a bubbling lasagna, place a baking sheet on the middle rack of the oven to catch drips.

Remove from oven and heat your broiler.  Take off the foil, sprinkle on the last bit of cheese and broil the lasagna until the cheese is browned and bubbling, about 3 to 5 minutes.

Allow your lasagna to cool for about 20 minutes before cutting and serving.

Makes great leftovers.

 

Easy Roasted Vegetables

It’s still winter here.  Honest.

Comfort food time.

Roasted vegetables are a good way to get in your food groups in a way that will keep you interested in maintaining your quotas.  I don’t eat roasted vegetables as often as I should, but they’re a nice way to jazz up a regular plate of meat, side, side, and they’re as easy as Pie (he’s really easy, trust me).  Plus stuff that has been sitting in your refrigerator for a little too long roasts just as well as the stuff you just bought.

Vegetables that roast well are things such as squash, zucchini, eggplant, onions, carrots, potatoes, and garlic.

I am also experimenting here with parsnips and turnip.  You should also experiment.  Try tomatoes, pears, greens … Just give ’em all a good scrub first.

Preheat your oven to 400°F.

Cut up your vegetables (in this case, carrots, parsnips, rootabega, squash, onion, red pepper, and eggplant) into pieces of a good size – the kind of size you’d want looking at you on a plate.

Toss them in a roasting pan with olive oil, sea salt, pepper, and the dried herb of your choice (optional, but rosemary works well).  Here I used whole black peppercorns.

Roast, tossing once or twice, for about an hour, until everything is shriveled, crispy, and tender.  Serve hot with your meal. We had it with pork tenderloin.  Turnips/rootabegas, by the way, need parboiling before roasting.  They just cook so much slower than everything else.  The vegetables are also good cold the next day.  I plan to make a soup from the leftovers.  Stay tuned for that recipe.

Risotto Cakes with Roasted Vegetables in Rose Sauce

I went to lunch last Saturday with Kª (of KK fame, otherwise known as The Lady Downstairs) at The Rooms, St. John’s only museum/archives/art gallery/restaurant.

One of the few vegetarian options on the menu was risotto cakes with roasted vegetables in a rosé sauce, so I ordered it, and I enjoyed it thoroughly.

The Pie and I kind of have a policy where we won’t order it in a restaurant if we can make it ourselves, and I think this is one of those things that I could easily re-create.

I had to think about this for a bit, and do some research.  I haven’t made risotto in years and the last time I did so things ended badly.  Not only did this risotto have to be well-done, but I had to figure out how to bake it into wedges.

I also had to think about the sauce I was going to use.  I could just buy some rosé sauce in a jar from the store, but I figure if I was going to take the time and have the patience to make risotto that turned out right, then I was going to make the effort to create an original sauce to put it in.

Also, I was on a quest for the right kind of roasting vegetables.  The vegetables I had at the restaurant were red, yellow, and green peppers, with eggplant and I believe zucchini.  I was going to do it with red peppers only, onions, zucchini, and butternut squash because I couldn’t find any eggplant anywhere (you make do with what you have, right?).

The nice thing about this recipe, I think, is you can do all three parts separately and ahead of time, and then heat the whole thing up later on.

Toss in a bowl with pepper and salt.
Oiled up like a Turkish oil wrestler.

So let’s start with the vegetables.  Preheat your oven to 400°F. Cut one large onion into eighths and chuck in a large baking pan.  Chop 2 small zucchini into thick discs and add it to the pan, along with a red pepper, cut into long thick strips, and one butternut squash, seeds and stringy bits removed, cut into wedges.  Season with salt and pepper, and toss with olive oil until all the vegetables are coated.  It’s easiest to do the tossing in a bowl, actually.  Cover tightly with foil and bake until golden and aromatically soft, about 30 minutes or so.  I then uncovered them and baked them for a further 30 minutes so they crispened up a tad.  Use your judgment.  Leave the vegetables to cool for a bit while you do other things, but leave the oven on.

Roasty toasty.

While the vegetables are doing their thing you can start on your sauce.

Finely chop about 6 or 7 regular-sized mushrooms.  Sauté them in a large pan with a bit of butter and a bit of olive oil (the oil keeps the butter from burning) until brown and tender.   Add 3 or 4 teaspoons of minced garlic (from a jar, because that’s how I roll) and reduce the heat.

Sautee with butter.
Spice it up.
Add cream and stir carefully.

Add a 28oz can (about 800mL) of crushed tomatoes to the pan.  Add a 5oz (150mL) can of tomato paste and mix evenly over medium heat.  Sprinkle in generous amounts of dried parsley, dried basil, and dried oregano.  Let this simmer for about 15 minutes, then add 1/4 to 1/2 cup heavy cream (whipping cream).  Alternately, you can use plain yogurt or coconut milk.  Stir carefully until fully integrated, then reduce heat to low and leave it like that, stirring occasionally to prevent sticking.

Now we can work on that risotto of ours.  In a medium saucepan, melt some butter with some olive oil (again, to prevent the butter from burning), and chuck in one whole onion, diced.  Sauté that sucker for a little while until translucent.

Saute until translucent

Add in one cup arborio rice (that’s right, it’s not actually called risotto — risotto is what you make out of it), one cup of dry white wine, and a heaping tablespoon of powdered vegetable broth.  Stir at high heat and allow the liquid to evaporate.

Add wine and rice.

Add one cup boiling (or very hot) water to rice and stir occasionally to release the stuff that sticks to the bottom.  After about 3 or 4 minutes, the water will have been absorbed by the rice.  Repeat this step twice more, so the total amount of liquid you will have added will be 3 cups of water and one cup of wine.  It will take about 20 minutes for the risotto to achieve its signature creamy consistency.  While it’s doing that, carefully butter a springform pan and set it aside.

Creamy risotto

Add 2 tablespoons butter to the rice as well as 3 tablespoons grated romano cheese.  Remove from heat and beat in 2 eggs.

Quickly stir in the eggs.
Level the top.
Bake until set and golden.

Pour the risotto mixture into the buttered springform pan and level the top.  Pop the pan in the oven and bake for 30 to 35 minutes, until the ‘cake’ is firm and golden.  Allow to cool for about 15 minutes.

Run a soft spatula around the edges of the ‘cake’ and pop it from the springform pan.  Allow to cool a bit more, then cut into wedges.

Cool and cut into wedges.

While the risotto cake is cooling, go back to your vegetables.  Peel the skin from the roasted squash and roughly cut the vegetables into bite-sized pieces.

Add the vegetables to the rose sauce and heat the whole thing up until it starts to bubble a bit.

Heat up the vegetables and sauce.

Arrange one or two wedges in a bowl and surround with vegetables and sauce.  Sprinkle with more grated romano cheese.  Serves 4-6.

I hope you're hungry.

Experiments with Tintex Fabric Dye

“it doesn’t look like you dye-it” – Stef

In February of this year, as I was procrastinating studying for my exams, I decided to try to dye my dining room curtains, just to see if I could.  Before the wedding last summer, the Pie and I painted both the living room and the dining room a cream colour, and the white cotton curtains (from IKEA) I had in there made the room look too stark. We didn’t have the money to purchase new curtains, so something had to be done with what we had.

I thought, why not purple?  A rich, deep, eggplant.  Yes.

I’d always passed the boxes of Tintex fabric dye in the grocery store and wondered how the process worked.  Now was my chance to find out.  While I was picking out my purple, I also picked up some forest green (in case the Pie objected to purple) and I read the instructions on the back of the box.  It suggested I remove all traces of the old colour or stains on the fabric with the Tintex colour remover, so I picked up two boxes of that, as well as two each of the purple and the green.  The dye amount is by weight, and I figured each curtain panel would warrant its own box.

Now, if you know me, you’ll know that I have a tendency to spill, drop, tear, break, or otherwise destroy things.  The idea of me in charge of a vat of purple dye was enough to give the Pie arrhythmia, but I promised to be careful.  And, to my credit, I was, very careful.  Nothing got dyed that shouldn’t have been.  I wore long rubber gloves, tied my hair back, and wore my oldest clothing.  And I didn’t spill a drop!

Everything ready and waiting for the colour remover.

In order for fabric dye to set it requires that the water in which it is dissolved be as hot as possible, boiling if at all possible.  There was no way I could put an entire curtain panel in even my largest pot, so I needed a new venue.  Luckily I had an extra-large Rubbermaid bin, and I set this in the bathtub to avoid spills.  I boiled up some water in my big lobster pot, and poured it into the tub.  I followed that up with water from the faucet.  Fortunately our water heater is brand new and about three feet from the bathroom, so the water that came out of the tap was near to boiling itself.  I also turned up the heat in the bathroom (which normally hovers around sub-zero).  This was the best I could do.

The instructions on the box also recommended that I dye each piece of fabric separately, but I didn’t trust myself to either time it properly or get a uniform water level between the two batches, and I needed these panels to come out the same colour, so I did them at the same time.

Having the colour removed.

First, I boiled the water and dissolved the colour remover in the tub.  I plopped in the curtain panels, which were white, but which did have a few stains and marks on them that could have stood to be removed.  I sat on the edge of the tub for the time allotted, stirring my cauldron of smelly, steaming liquid and poking the fabric back below the surface with a long metal slotted spoon (from Lee Valley – I highly recommend them).

When my time was up I tipped out the liquid and rinsed the curtains as best as I could.  It is really backbreaking work, and quite hard on the wrists to bend and squish (but not wring) a huge pile of wet fabric from your knees.

I repeated the boiling water process with the purple dye.  The powder itself looked black, and billowed up in a multicoloured cloud as I poured it.  I was wiping red, blue, green, and black dye particulates off the walls of the shower for a week afterward.  Once the dye was dissolved it made an opaque, wine-like liquid that steamed and smelled quite evil.  I dumped in my wet, rinsed curtains and poked at them for the requisite amount of time.

Bubble Bubble Toil and Trouble.

Already tired from my rinsing of the colour remover, and solidly bored from having to sit by myself in the bathroom for over an hour, I was not all that enthused about rinsing the newly dyed curtains.  The Pie, bless him, helped quite a bit, running the removable showerhead over the fabric as I worked it with my gloved hands.  Eventually, after about the ninth rinse, I gave up and put them on an extra rinse cycle in the washing machine.

Draining the Vat

I figured there wasn’t enough dye left in them to do any real damage to the machine (we had a residual bleach accident when we first moved in that made us reticent to put fabric altering substances in the washer), but there was enough still in the fabric that it might rub off on something else when it was dry.  The nice thing about the rinse cycle is that it did a better job of wringing out the fabric than I ever could, so I didn’t have to worry about drips while it was drying.

Hanging from the shower rod to dry.

I hung the fabric to dry, and the next day I hung them in place in the dining room.

They weren’t a perfect job, by any means.  There are several patches of white remaining on the fabric.  I think this is either the result of me not rinsing them enough after the colour removal stage, or the dye didn’t penetrate that far into the folds of the cloth while it was in the tub.  Next time I might just time and measure it better and do each panel separately to ensure better coverage.  But for a first attempt, I’m quite pleased with them.  They turned out the colour I wanted them to and they really make the dining room much cozier.

Back in the dining room.

Cleanup was nearly a breeze from this experiment.  I was very careful to have no spillage, so anything and everything was fortunately contained within the tub.  The tub, however, is very old, and a lot of dye worked its way into the tiny scratches on its bottom and sides while I was doing the rinsing.  It took some scrubbing with vinegar, baking soda, and borax to get it out, but it was easier than I had expected.

Cleanup was a snap.

Flushed with my success, I took the remaining dye (the forest green) to one of the lampshades in our living room.  This lampshade is one of the cheap ones from IKEA, and is made of paper overlying some sort of plastic.  It was getting dingy and dirty, and during the day, when the light was off, it looked quite yellow.  I dusted it off with a clothes lint brush and took it into the kitchen.  I laid down a garbage bag and then several layers of newsprint on top, and took one of our sponge brushes from the closet.  The lampshade was too wide to fit into a pot, and I was concerned that the paper part of it might dissolve if I were to submerge it.  Instead, I planned to paint it.

Painting on the Dye.

I filled a 4-cup measuring cup with boiling water and emptied in the green dye, which also looked pretty black, and dissolved the whole thing.  I let it cool slightly, and then set to painting.  I let the sponge brush fill with dye and ran it gently up and down the sides of the shade.  I had to let it thoroughly dry between coats so that I didn’t destroy the paper, but I managed four coats before I was satisfied.  An unexpected effect was that the paper on the shade was actually crinkled, with wrinkles running here and there along the sides of the shade.  The dye darkened the wrinkles more than it did anything else, and so now the shade looks sort of like dark green leather.  When the light is on, the lines stand out even more.  It’s quite nice, actually.  Another decent first effort.

Finished, Greenskin