Saturday, December 30, 2006

Lasagna Lies

In the course of making the spinach lasagna for my holiday guests, I reflected on the concept of "no-boil" lasagna noodles. (Wow, that made it sound like I was peacefully cooking, everything on time and organized instead of dropping things on the floor, burning my hands and praying that everybody would show up an hour late... I suppose the truth is somewhere in between.)
Anyway, I'd like to offer you, dear reader, a challenge, your own Holy Grail if you will: find me the lasagna noodles that DO have to be boiled first. I posit that in fact, there is no such thing. They are all no-boil! Many years ago in a frantic moment before a Valentine's Day Comfort Food Party, I threw my uncooked, very ruffly lasagna noodles into the baking dish and prayed it would not be a crunchy dinner. You know what? It was better than usual.
Back when I boiled the noodles first, the lasagna usually had a swimming pool of tomato water, ick. Who wants soupy lasagna? Dried noodles are ruffled sponges that essentially suck up sauce as the dish bakes. Plus, which would be tastier: noodles boiled in water or those "boiled" in tomato sauce? Come on.
My artistic interpretation (love the new camera!):

Lastly, "no-boil" noodles cost more. It's entirely possible the myth that only special pasta could go in unboiled was dreamt up by a desperate ad exec for the Barilla company who had to figure out a way to charge more money without actually changing the product.
So let me know if you find a noodle that disproves this theory... I'm willing to eat a lot of pasta to prove my point. Really, for science. Seriously. Damn, now I'm hungry.

Thursday, December 28, 2006

I Even Carved The Roast Beast!

Belated Merry Christmas, dear reader! I had a marvelous holiday, I hope you did too. December is traditionally a dark month for me, but after the Winter Solstice my heart lightened up. whew Which allowed me to prepare one of my favorite meals yet, and I had the good fortune to share it with ten dear, lovely friends! Good food, people I love: there is nothing more I need. But enough with mushy feelings, on to the food!

I made a fantastic roast, ay Dios mio. The secret of roasting big hunks of meat is simple: start with the highest quality ingredients you can find (you do get what you pay for with meat), then don't mess with it too much. I went to my favorite butcher, Marconda's in the farmers market at 3rd & Fairfax... though to be fair, I haven't tried many other butchers in L.A.
Side note: butchers are a flirtatious lot, my goodness. I think it's handling huge chunks of raw meat all day, they can't help but be ribald. And to be honest, I kinda love it. Gloriously marbled meat *and* men who call me beautiful? I'll be a repeat customer.

I salted and peppered my 5 lb. joy, then seared it in a huge dutch oven with olive oil before sprinkling it with my excellent English roasting salt (big fat crystals that pop in your mouth). I slid it into a 250°F oven for an hourish, then raised the heat to 500°F and roasted it for another half hour until it reached an internal temperature of 140°F. I was worried it would be too well-done (it went ten degrees higher than I wanted), but in fact it was perfect. This is what half of it it looked like:

And hey, this photo is compliments of my parents who gave me the shiny digital camera I was hoping for! Thanks Mom and Dad. Prepare yourself dear reader, many more photos on the way!

I sliced up the roast beast, warmed baguettes, made horseradish sauce and assembled the most delicious sandwiches that I topped with peppery arugula. Wowza! Two non-red meat-eaters (they have other fine qualities) even partook. Hah hah~ I love leading peaceful eaters astray. I made a heavenly spinach lasagna (imported Italian tomatoes make it sing) for those able to resist the roast beast, and tossed some green beans in an almond-pink peppercorn vinaigrette. Lovely.
Brendan foolishly showed up first, which means he got pressed into service. He looks evil in this photo, but the green beans turned out great.

Now I'm enjoying my other favorite holiday tradition: inviting friends over for delicious leftovers while I have the luxury of time off.
Does it get any better? Probably not.

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

She Wore Red Velvet?

I will never understand Red Velvet Cake. Maybe you have to be from the South to get it, or maybe you just have to like cake more than I do. I was out with my friend Alessandra tonight at Fred 62, a hipster enclave on the edge of Silverbake. We worked together at the magazine; though I have an excellent palate, she has a highly developed sweet tooth and isn't afraid to use it. I had to ask her if the cake was quality, all it did was annoy me. She said it was a good one; I defer to her wisdom.
For those of you who haven't encountered it before, this is a Southern treat the Devil could call his own. I was 23 the first time I witnessed its electric cherry-bomb interior, and was terrified my Yankee eyes might burn out of my head. It scared the bejeezus out of me. Nothing should be that color-- there's a reason they recalled those red M&M's in the 70's. Sweet Lord.
And all it tastes like is sugar. It is tooth-achingly sweet, without much else going on. Tonight's version was very moist, but I swear I could taste the chemical edge of that red dye. Yikes!
Also, it turned my lips red. As I blotted the napkin, I left bright juicy lip marks. If I pay $11 for a tube of gloss to do that, it's ok. But in my cake? Somehow that ain't natural.
Though I did like the cream cheese frosting. To be fair.

Monday, December 04, 2006

Back on the Caf

One of the terrible side effects of FOUR DAYS of food poisoning is that even the most faithful among us, the most devout of devotees, cast aside our daily worship practices.
I'm sure some of you are thinking, "That's terrible, there's no excuse for ignoring your God, Tory."
While other, more gentle folk might be thinking, "The Goddess understands, the important thing is to get back to your practice once you're feeling better."
To which I reply, What on earth are you people talking about? I'm writing about coffee here. This ain't no religion blog.
Ahh, my true source of power and wisdom: the lusty bean. I don't know how long it's been since I didn't have a cup of joe in the morning. I had to drink green tea for several days while my body was in protest; it got the job done, but wasn't the same. The smell of coffee is so welcoming and enveloping, it says, come here friend, you are loved and everything is ok.
I like knowing that regardless of what is happening in my life or in the world I can still be greeted by a cup of coffee and feel good. People die, jobs end, a romance goes sour-- through it all I can fire up my espresso machine and find solace in the earthy brown elixir.

Now I have friends in AA who've shared about their gnawing need to drink, how alcohol and drugs made them feel warm and whole when their world seemed empty and bleak, how it was the one friend, nay lover, who (at least for a while) didn't let them down. One of these kind folk recently observed that I seem to "need" coffee to function, that my attitude towards it sounded obsessive. He noted when I don't get coffee in the morning, I become, how do you say, hmmm, I believe the word he chose was hostile.
You know, I can stop any time... I don't need coffee to have a happy life... it's not interfering with my daily living... mmm, must go to Peet's... ah, hello coffee my old friend, my precious...