Braisin’ Failure: Lasagna Muffins

[image: a muffin tin filled with good intentions]
[image: a muffin tin filled with good intentions]

Sometimes things don’t go as planned.

The backstory: when I was 7 or 8, my parents asked what we should have for for Christmas dinner. The young Hussy was a fan of Garfield at the time, so she answered “LASAGNA!” and a tradition was born. However, as the years have passed, and the family has grown, my brother has taken over Christmas dinner, and his choice is a rib roast. No more lasagna. ūüôĀ

Another tradition is held on Christmas Eve, which we call “(Family-Last-Name) Eve.” It consists of massive amounts of hors-d’oeuvres. One year, in an attempt to blend the old with the new, I thought I would turn the 9×13 lasagna into bite-sized appetizers. I lined a muffin tin with lasagna noodles and filled them with meat sauce, ricotta, mozzarella, and parmesan. I baked them up and proudly served them.

Big ol’ NOPE.¬†The lasagna noodles were too thick, contact with the muffin tin made the outsides become tough and chewy, and on the whole they were just too big and messy to deal with as a finger food. Everyone gamely tried to struggle through, but yeah…

A Braisin’ Failure.

Cold Brew Iced Tea

[image: product photo of Lupicia's Handy Cooler (Half) in Yellow]
[image: product photo of Lupicia’s Handy Cooler (Half) in Yellow]

My friend TeapotGirl gave me Lupicia’s Handy Cooler as a gift last year. I have been using the hell out of it to make cold-brew iced tea. It’s great. I can drink so much of that stuff.

Here is the cooler in action. It’s got a fine-mesh insert that you put loose tea leaves in. You can also use bags without the mesh insert, if you prefer. Fill the cooler with cold water and place in the fridge overnight. Drink up, yum.

Making iced tea with cold water takes a bit longer, but the taste is really delicate and completely lacking in any bitterness.

I visit Lupicia’s physical stores a few times a year. Two of my favorite loose teas from them right now are La Belle Epoque and Peach. Both make excellent iced tea. For bagged tea, I have a particular fondness for Triple Leaf’s Ginger Tea, which is basically just a bag of dried ginger. It’s lovely on a hot day.

Vincanto and Ben Ryè

Ben Ryè
[image: a half-bottle of Ben Ryè, a sweet Italian dessert wine]

This wine, man. THIS WINE. But let me start at the beginning…

I was absent from the blog for a couple weeks because I was in Italy! I love Italy. Generally I tend to stick to the north, the Florences and Venices and whatnot, because man oh man do I love visiting churches. But this time my parents and I flew into Rome and headed south. We stayed in Pompeii for a few days, doing the ruins there and in Herculaneum as well as visiting Mt. Vesuvius and Naples and Capri.

Our hotel happened to be about two or three blocks from this restaurant, Vincanto. We ended up going there twice because we had such a good time and the owner, Yuri, was excellent at making us feel welcome. Before we visited the first night I had read up on some reviews online, and they suggested talking to Yuri and letting him choose. I was able to convince the parents to go along with this plan, and we had such a lovely, lovely dinner. Vincanto is ostensibly a wine bar, but they’ve got plenty of small plates, and honestly, a bottle of wine and some munchies are all we need to be happy in this world.

Our first course was a potato and salumi croquette, which had explosions of salt. Next there was a wee eggplant parmesan, which had smoked cheese in it and was so good. The eggplant tasted incredibly sweet. Let’s see, then there was a panini we split that was made on “ancient” bread (I think it was spelt or farro? some olden-style grain) that had amazing cured meats and cheeses again. The last savory course was a round of vegetables and THESE WERE OUTSTANDING. There were these wheels of spinach and a soft cheese which I loved, a fennel salad, and a golden tomato bruschetta that blew Mom’s mind (“How did they get tomatoes that taste this fresh this early in the season?!”).

But what stuck in my mind the most was one of our after-dinner drinks. Yuri had brought over three dessert wines, and the best of these was the Ben Ry√® from Donnafugata. It tastes like late afternoon in summer, if the sun were an apricot. It’s so delicious. I decided that I must, MUST find this in America.

Easier said than done. But I did it! I was able (after several emails and phone calls, and if you know me, you know this must have been liquid gold since I hate hate HATE talking to people on the phone) to find a local(ish) place that sells it. I have an event this weekend I’ll be bringing it to so I can share it with friends. And they better like it, or… well, or else I’ll get more to drink. Win-win, really.

So yes! If you’re in Pompeii, go to Vincanto and say hi to Yuri. And check out their Facebook page too, Yuri posts a lot of photos from the restaurant. I want that place to succeed wildly! Great service, great meal. I’d eat there again in a heartbeat.

P.S. Check out my mom’s blog entries on our trip at marymom.com!

Mujaddara

homemade mujaddara
[Image: a white bowl containing mujaddara, a rice-and-lentil dish with caramelized onions]

This was my dinner tonight. Mujaddara is a vegetarian rice/lentil/onion dish that I very much like, ever since I first discovered it back in 2009. Of course, the mujaddara I had back then was VERY different than the recipes I have found since.

restaurant mujaddara
[Image: a plate of food containing very yellow mujaddara, hummus, and a tomato-cucumber-pepper salad]

This is the mujaddara plate from Mediterranean Grill House in Mountain View. I started going there occasionally in 2009, after I lost my job. The mujaddara was the biggest bang for your buck there. You got a TON of food for cheap. As a bonus, you always got your food super-fast because they didn’t have to grill any meat. I tried it once on a whim, really liked it, and continued ordering it there even after I got a new job. I continued visiting Mediterranean Grill House until I moved, back in January. (Also, they had switched their soda machine from Coke to Pepsi, which broke my heart.)

So yeah, I thought¬†mujaddara was supposed to be bright yellow for the longest time. And that it should contain macaroni (?!). Imagine my surprise when I ordered the same dish from Palo Alto’s Mediterranean Wraps. That one was much more inline with the recipe I made tonight as well as basically every recipe I’ve seen on the internet. (It also instilled in me the idea that since both my local places offered it, every Mediterranean or Middle Eastern restaurant would have this on their menu. This is not true, and it super-bums me out that my current local kebab place doesn’t have¬†it.)

I’ve tried a couple different recipes, and none of them have quite hit my craving yet. Tonight’s recipe was from Budget Bytes. I’ve also tried this one from Food 52. I’ve looked at this¬†recipe on Smitten Kitchen, but I haven’t tried it yet. Once I hit upon a combination¬†I dig, I’ll post the recipe here.

Tomorrow morning I’m going to have it with an over-easy egg for breakfast. Yum.

Lupicia Golden Honey Dew Rooibos Tea

Lupicia Golden Honey Dew Rooibos Tea tin
[Image: a round metal tin of Lupicia’s Golden Honey Dew Rooibos Tea. Image from Steepster.com]

I visited Lupicia’s San Francisco store last weekend with my friend¬†TeapotGirl, and it never fails that I pick up something new. However, if a new tea comes in, another must leave. And so it is with sadness that I bid farewell to Lupicia’s Golden Honey Dew Rooibos Tea, which is one of the most delicious iced teas I’ve ever tasted. I don’t even like honeydew melons, but this is so good.

A steeping note, if you ever find yourself in possession of this beauty. Since it’s only available in leaf form, I don’t recommend pouring the water over whatever your¬†steeping mode of choice is. The leaves/twiggy components in the tea are very small and easily jostled out of a bag (I get¬†my bags in¬†giant packs at Daiso). Pour the water first, then gently place the bag into it.

Lupicia’s Golden Honey Dew Rooibos Tea can be ordered here.

Tea Time!

I had my friend Joa over for tea today. Joa used to work with me, but she left to go have an adorable baby. Luna is so cute. She’s 7 months old, crawling all around, pulling herself up (and falling right back down again). We had a delightful time.

I made banana bread and some tea sandwiches. The plums on the outside tree are about a week away from full ripeness. I made a sandwich with some cream cheese and the closest to ripeness plum I could find, sliced thin and sprinkled with sugar. For a more savory sandwich, I buttered some bread and put slices of cheddar cheese with some Branston Pickle.

Look at this hella fancy spread.

Salt: Critical Mass

I think I’ve finally hit the edge of what is too much salt in my snickerdoodles. I made a batch on Saturday. I doubled the salt (1 teaspoon table salt), added a dash of kosher salt to the cinnamon-sugar mix, sprinkled the baking sheet with kosher salt, and finally put a few crystals on top of each sphere. I’m not even sure these are cookies anymore. They’re totally my division when it comes to sweets, but I think they won’t be finding many champions in the general populace. I’ve also added an additional step to my baking of them. When rotating the baking sheets, make sure to whack the bottom of the sheet on the open oven door. This makes them collapse more quickly. Salty and crispy. I like to call them “cookie chips” in the same tone that the ad announcer says “coooooooooookie crisp.”

In other news, man is it a pain to remove infinite scrolling from one’s blog. =/

Kimchi Hot Dogs

I went to a housewarming party this weekend held by my friends Sylvie and Chris. They made a lot of great food‚ÄĒcheesesteaks, short rib sliders, Brussels sprouts‚ÄĒbut the absolute best thing I ate was kimchi hot dogs. There’s not really a strict recipe for this, but it’s along the lines of:

soft hot dog rolls
hot dogs (preferably Nathan’s)
kimchi, chopped
green onions, chopped
bacon, chopped and cooked
mayonnaise (Kewpie)
sriracha

Mix the mayo and sriracha together. I don’t have proportions, just taste as you go until you have something spicy and smooth and delicious. Grill the hot dogs, do not toast the rolls. Top the dogs with everything and cram it in your mouth.

Braisin’ Turkey

Last month, I opened up a bottle of red wine only to find out that it had gone all corked and musty. I didn’t want it to go to waste, so I did a few searches to see if it could still be useful. After an attempt to “un-cork” the wine with plastic wrap didn’t really work, I decided to follow a suggestion of turning it into a marinade. I emptied the wine into a pot and reduced it with about a cup of sugar and three or four whole rosemary sprigs. I cooled it, popped it in a ziploc, and stuck it in the freezer. I think I ended up with about a cup and a half in the end. There it sat in the freezer for several weeks, awaiting beef or lamb or some other sort of meat that I never buy.

On Wednesday, I decided to take advantage of some of the rather ridiculous Thanksgiving sales and buy a gigantic 20-pound turkey for $10. Although it was far too big to fit in my tiny oven, I figured I could dissect it and fit the parts in that way. Thursday was Thanksgiving, of course‚ÄĒI went to my parents’ house and ate their amazingly good pesto-stuffed turkey thighs while my bird slowly defrosted in the fridge. On Friday (while it continued to slowly slowly defrost), I read a Cook’s Illustrated method for braised turkey and thought, “Oh, what a decent idea!” It’s been a while since I braised, which seems like rather a shame given my wonderful internet moniker.

So come Saturday morning the bird was defrosted (well, mostly‚ÄĒthere was some blood slush still left in the cavity). With no small effort on my part (meaning christ I was sore today from wrestling with it), I was able to remove the leg quarters and breast and jam them into my (meant for no more than probably a 5 pound stewing hen) roasting pan. I didn’t really follow the CI recipe at all. Basically just the cooking temperatures and times. I didn’t brine, I used my red wine reduction instead of white, and since I abhor gravy, I disregarded the vegetables they wanted you to roast alongside the bird. There was no space left in the pan, anyway. One misstep and I would have had burns from boiling hot liquid spilling over the side of the pan.

The wings, neck, back, and innards went into the stock pot along with some chicken bones I’d been saving. A problem I find often when making chicken stock is that afterward you are left with spongy and tasteless meat. But the turkey left behind after making turkey stock still tasted quite a bit like turkey. So I removed the bones and other stock detritus as best I could and reserved the turkey meat for future use in salads or soups. It’s already nicely shredded and everything. Waste nothing!

Kimchi Fried Rice

On Labor Day, I went over to SK’s house for some all-American Korean food. She made (and attempted to teach me how to make) kimchi fried rice. I gave it a try tonight. Of course, my “recipe” consists of a list of components and nothing else, like I would remember exactly how much of everything and what order things went in. I muddled through well enough, although there is WAY too much spam. I think I’ll give it another try before writing the recipe out for the blog.