Sunday, March 23, 2008

Sausage Ziti with Four Cheeses

Sausage ziti with four cheeses?! A fat family shouldn't be eating this! Is that what you're thinking? Well you're right. This is a fattening, rich, yummy dinner that is perfect for when the in-laws have descended and you have little time in the kitchen, many hungry mouths to fill, and maybe just a little bit too much wine in your belly.

Yes, it's Easter, and the in-laws are down. We had a lovely time in the afternoon gabbing and drinking, and by 6:30pm everyone was hungry for dinner. This was a hit (and super easy to make). Serve it with a green salad and some good warm Pugliese bread.

Sausage Ziti with Four Cheeses

16oz penne rigatoni (penne with ridges)
1 pound bulk Italian sausage
1 pound Italian sausage links--if you like a little spice, get hot Italian links
1 jar good spaghetti sauce. I liked Classico's "Traditional Sweet Basil" in this.
Four cups fresh spinach, chopped (get the washed and ready to eat kind)
1/2 onion, chopped
1 clove garlic chopped
5 oz bag of shredded mixed "Italian" cheese, including mozzarella, Parmesan, and provolone.
Red pepper flakes

Boil water, add salt and oil for cooking pasta. Cook according to directions. While pasta is cooking, in a non-stick skillet at medium, add bulk sausage. Turn up to medium-high heat and brown, breaking up into bits. If your skillet is big enough, add links, and brown those well. You'll be cooking them entirely in the pan, so give them good color and let them cook through. Drain the pasta, reserving one cup of the pasta liquid. Put pasta in a big bowl--really big, because you're going to be mixing everything in this bowl.

As sausage is done, add it to the pasta. Wipe out the skillet with a paper towel, and use the paper towel to lightly grease a 9x13" pan. Add chopped onions to the skillet and brown on medium heat. When brown, add garlic and cook until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Add spinach. If the pan is too dry, add a little of the pasta water. Let the spinach cook down, then add the sauce and heat through. Add red pepper flakes and fresh ground pepper to taste.

In the meanwhile, reserve about 1/2 cup of the cheese and add the rest to the pasta. Toss the pasta to mix through. Now add the sauce and mix thoroughly. Put the pasta in the prepared pan and press it down into the pan. Top with the extra cheese.

Heat in a 400 degree oven for twelve minutes, then put it under the broiler for three minutes to gently brown it.

***Test for seasonings. My in-laws don't like a ton of seasonings so I just kept it simple.

Saturday, March 15, 2008

Lemon Blueberry Muffins

It's a funny Northern California Saturday in March--cool and sunny in the morning, turning to clouds and damp mid-day. As I typed that sentence I heard the strange sound of rushing water outside only to find nickel-sized hail suddenly coming down.

This morning was the first day that all of us are whole again after a nasty stomach bug. It hits for about eight miserable hours and leaves the victim wrung up for the next 36 hours. I ate toast and bananas for three days afterwards, and still don't feel ready to face things like a big bowl of bibimbap and kimchee.

I've decided once and for all I'm changing the ways I feed my family. No more running through the drive-through because Juiceboy can't find a thing for dinner (or I'm more in the mood for a burrito than I am for soup, or salad, or a ham sandwich....). And no more cheaping out not getting the stuff that I know is best for the family because I feel it's too expensive. Take for example, milk. I know organic milk is the best way to go with two growing boys. But I see the $6/gallon price tag and choke, knowing I can get two gallons of regular milk for the same amount.

And yet, I'll spend upwards of $80 a week just getting take-out and coffee.

So, this morning, I made some muffins. Muffins?! you say, "muffins are fattening and terrible for you!" But look at this recipe. It's got low-fat yogurt, flax, and big, fat blueberries. This recipe yields 12 smaller muffins or 10 to 11 larger muffins, and results in moist, fluffy, sticky muffins that needed no butter or jam.

Lemon Blueberry Muffins

2 cups minus three large tablespoons all-purpose flour
3 heaping tablespoons whole wheat flour
1 tablespoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons ground organic flax (optional)**

2 large eggs
1 cup low-fat plain yogurt
1/4 cup packed light brown sugar
3 tablespoons honey
1/3 cup sugar
4 tablespoons warm melted butter
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 teaspoon lemon zest (add more to taste)
Juice of half a lemon

1 1/2 cups frozen blueberries

Whisk together the dry ingredients in a large bowl. Then, in a smaller bowl, whisk the wet ingredients. Add the wet ingredients to the dry and mix with a few strokes until the dry ingredients are just moistened. Don't overmix--the batter will be lumpy. Gently fold in the blueberries. Spray your muffin pan or line with muffin cups, then divide out the batter. I like to make eleven slightly bigger muffins and put water in the last cup to add moisture to the oven (I don't know if this really works....).

Cook in a 400-degree oven for approximately 22 minutes. You can check for doneness by sticking a toothpick into a few of the muffins. If it's clean, they're ready. Let cool for a few minutes, but serve warm. If not serving immediately, let them cool on a rack, or they'll get soggy bottoms. And no one likes a soggy bottom.
**Costco carries organic ground flax in a nice big container with screw-top lid. It even comes with a handy scoop. Mine was under $10 and I found it in the cereal aisle.

Wednesday, March 05, 2008

Utter failure.

I have a lumpy, sodden mass of smelly dough in my refrigerator. It didn't rise. I'm tempted to try to bake it just so I can dispose it in a less gross way. Then again, tomorrow's garbage day. I might just scrape it into a bag tomorrow morning before I head off to work.


Tuesday, March 04, 2008

Feed the Beast...Day 3

The sourdough starter has bubbles and a decidedly SOUR aroma, just like Joy said it would. Somehow I pictured rapid bubbles, like it was boiling. I also thought it would be much more spongey, and not thick and heavy.

I've started the dough for the sourdough bread: 4 cups bread flour, 1.5 cups lukewarm water, and 2 cups sourdough starter--which was the whole thing. If this works, and it's good, I'll need to start over from scratch.

I can't imagine who smelled that mess and one day said, "Aw, forget about it--let's just bake it and tell the customers it's SUPPOSED to taste like that!"

The way that food evolves just amazes me.

Monday, March 03, 2008

Very Excited!

I'm so very excited! Okay, I know by writing the word "excited" into a blog with the title "Food Fetish" is going to result in even *more* frustrated people in Moscow, Poland, and other European countries coming to my blog. For some reason, I have a lot of misguided people from "over there" who come looking for food fetishism. I love food, but just not in that way.

So why am I so excited? Because my flour mix is starting to show signs of LIFE!!! There are a few bubbles forming on top of the mixture. Tonight I mix in another half cup of bread flour and quarter cup of room-temp water, then cover with new, un-perforated plastic wrap. I continue feeding the mess every twelve hours and eventually it's supposed to be a spongey, bubbling mess. And sour smelling.

Doesn't that sound like something YOU'd like to eat?

Sunday, March 02, 2008

The starter

So the recipe for sourdough starter is so simple, there's no way I can mess it up. 1/2 Cup bread flour mixed with 1/4 cup room temp water every 12 hours. Easy, right?

So how was I able to mix in REGULAR flour instead of the bread flour?? I was so concerned about getting it in the right time period; getting the right amount of air holes in the plastic wrap--but couldn't get the FLOUR right?

We'll see if it's right.

Since I don't know if it's okay, I thought I wouldn't post the boring flour picture. Instead, here is a picture of our GIANT baby, who is 7 months, but in 18-month clothing. He is OFF the charts!

Saturday, March 01, 2008

Sourdough Starter

I had the most delicious bread in Washington DC. It was at a little bistro near my hotel (read more about the dinner here) and that bread was the highlight of my stay. Well, outside of seeing an old friend, but the two don't really compare, now would they...?

This bread had a hard, chewy crust. Sweet, thick center, with bite and resistance. It was lovely. And I've been craving it ever since.

I took a luxurious nap this afternoon (sleep when the baby sleeps, and all that). During my nap, I dreamed of bread. So when I awoke, I decided I should bake bread. But the stuff I make in the bread maker has disappointed me lately. The crust is okay, but the heart of the stuff was like Wonder Bread--all air holes and flavorless.

I remembered the year I spent making simple loaves of bread by scratch. They weren't pretty, but they tasted good.

So out came the good old Joy of Cooking. Did I really want standard white bread? No. I wanted that bistro bread. What was it that separated great bread from standard bread? Is great, bistro bread made with a sponge or a starter? Maybe. Maybe.

So I've started a sourdough starter. I can't help remember Jeffrey Steingarten's tales of woe in making starter in Manhatten. Will the fact that I live two stone's thows from a vineyard help? Will all the grape yeast be flying around the air, even if it's winter?

We'll see. It's day one. I'll post as things progress (or don't!).