Thursday, May 26, 2011

Ricotta vs. Béchamel Sauce for Lasagna

I didn't have an oven when I was in Japan.  It doesn't come with a stove like in USA.  So I was so excited to have one in the tiny tiny studio apartment in NYC.  I had a good recipe for meat sauce so I knew that would make great lasagna.  Since all the lasagna I had in the States were layered with ricotta cheese, I started to make it with ricotta.  I liked it, and J liked it.  I vaguely remembered that lasagna I had in Italian restaurants in Tokyo were usually made with béchamel sauce, but I thought that it was because it's hard to get ricotta cheese in Japan.  But as I lived in USA, I found that Italian cooking books suggest béchamel sauce for lasagna.  But using ricotta is so much easier.  You just have to go to store for it whereas you have to MAKE béchamel sauce.  So once a while I made lasagna with béchamel sauce when I feel like working hard.  J said it tasted different.  Not bad, but not same.  I didn't quite like the reaction, so I continued cooking with ricotta.

But One day, I realized that the milk gravy that is used for southern fried chicken is basically béchamel sauce.  I am not sure why fried food has to be smothered with butter, milk and flour, but it tastes good and J likes food like that, so I made fried chicken with milk gravy.  

And there was left over milk gravy a.k.a. béchamel sauce in the pan.  I had all the ingredients to make Lasagna next day.  So I decide to make 2 kinds of lasagna to compare the taste.

We definitely preferred the one with béchamel sauce.  It brings the taste of meat forward whereas the ricotta is watering down (or ricottaing down?) the taste of the meat.  I was wondering béchamel sauce will be too rich, but, no, it compliments the tanginess of tomato sauce and evens out the complexity of vegetables while the taste of ground beef and liver is brought to spotlights.  It was perfect.

I guess I will make lasagna with béchamel sauce now on.  

I finally started to sew something other than curtains.  It is so nice to sew in my own sewing room.  I'm making a dress for my daughter to wear for wedding next month.  

12 years old is not easy to make a dress for.  It can't be too cute, but it can't be too adult.  Such a complex  age.... The last bit of childhood is still there.  As much as I hope her to grow up, I will probably miss it when it is gone.

Friday, May 20, 2011

Spring is here and so are the Farmers Markets

The farmer's markets in my area are finally opened.  I am so happy!  Even though the scale of the markets are much smaller compared to Union Square Farmer's Market, there are lots of nice local produces.  And each town has their own market, so I can visit different ones easily and that's fun, too.

Tomatoes are very reasonable at the market and the wether is getting warm, so I decided to make fresh tomato pasta one day.  This recipe is adapted form the cook book written by Sophia Loren, the Italian actress, which was translated to Japanese and published in 74.  My parents must have bought it when it came out.  It is really a precious cooking book for me.  Same version translated in English is published in 98 as " Sophia Loren's Recipes and Memories".  The English version has more pictures of the actress and nicely styled food photos, but the Japanese one has more recipes.  

* Fresh Tomato Pasta (For 4)*
2 large tomatoes
10 green olives
3 teaspoon capers
1/2 small onion
A bunch of parsley
2 cloves garlic
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
1 table spoon oregano
Salt and pepper to taste

1 box of your favorite pasta 

< 1 > Chop tomatoes to bite size.  Chop olives and capers to small pieces.  Mince onion and parsley.  Crash garlic with the blade of large knife so the extract will seep out. 
< 2 > Put everything together and keep it in the refrigerator for at least 12 hours.  (It will keep 1-2 days).
< 3 > Just boil the pasta to al dente and pour the tomato sauce over and serve.  Don't forget to take out the garlic cloves.

I always feel like that I should put fresh squeezed lemon juice in when I'm putting all the ingredients together, but it is not called for.  The tartness from olive and caper is enough, yet more gentle than lemon juice so the sweetness of the tomato stands out more.
Don't press garlic through a garlic press.  The juice comes out from the crashed cloves is just right amount of garlic taste.  More than that will be overbearing.  A slight garlic taste is more suited for this dish.  I have to admit that even though I'm a garlic lover.

This pasta makes me feel like it is finally spring.  It was nice weekend lunch.  Although we had a cold spell this week.  

The strawberries are in season right now, too.  I found a gallon of them for $10.  That is a lot of strawberries and we ate them in many ways.

Strawberries with pancakes, strawberry mojito, strawberry and grapefruits sorbet, strawberry roll cake, strawberry and rhubarb pie.....  They were all very enjoyable.  Simple strawberry sorbet is in my freezer right now.

Other thing that I must write is these donuts at the Farmer's Market.  These donuts are very famous in this area.  Mennonites fry them and glaze them right in front of your eyes.  I am not a big donut fan.  Not a even small fan either.   I only eat them every 3 to 5 years.  I love sweets like tarts and cakes, but I was never attracted to donuts. 

There is always a long line of people trying to buy these donuts.  The first time I saw it, I though: they are probably good, but I definitely wouldn't stay in the line for 20 minutes to get something like donuts!  But J sent me for them one day because he ate it at his office and it was very good.  The day, the market was not too crowded because it was early and drizzling a little, so I stayed in line for 5 minutes.
These donuts are not donuts that I knew.  It's fluffy, light, not greasy, not too sweet, has nice aroma of vanilla, so simple.  They are the best donuts I've ever eaten.

Now that I know that they are the donuts form heaven, I must fight the urge to stay in the line every time I go get fresh vegetables....  It is spring now and summer is around the corner.   I can't put on weight right now.

Wednesday, May 4, 2011


I became addicted to come up with ideas for Financiers.  I guess I had never thought of using powder made of nuts until I started to making Financiers.  I love varying the nuts and adding different flavor to it.  
From left top to right bottom : Walnut and brown sugar with tiny bit of soy sauce .... tribute to Japanese sweets, Kurumi-Yubeshi.
Green tea Financier and basic financiers with chocolate shavings.
Basic financiers with chocolate chips.
Hazel nut and chocolate financiers.
Earl Grey Financiers with rose pedals.
Pecan financiers with chocolate swirl.
Strawberry financiers.
Pecan financiers with chocolate shavings.
Chocolate financiers with raspberries.

I love using walnuts and pecans!  Hazel nut is great with chocolate.  Cashew and coconut flake make financier more tropical.  There are so many ingredients to experiment with...  It's sometimes far from financiers.  Shall I call them nut cakes?  

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