Monday, April 21, 2014

Our favorite lasagna




Vu and I have an on and off relationship with Italian food.  Sometimes we crave for it.  Other times, we stay away from it for months for no particular reason.  When the cravings hit, they strike hard and send us to the nearest store to pick up ingredients for recipes that we know by heart.  



Today, we are sharing with you our take on the classic lasagna.  The traditional lasagna consists of layered pasta sheets alternating with generous amount of ragu, bechamel, and Parmigiano-Reggiano.  After years of making lasagna, Vu has perfected the recipe for our go to lasagna dish--spinach and turkey lasagna.  



We buy fresh spinach lasagna sheets from our favorite pasta store, Assenti’s Pasta, in Little Italy. Lately our schedule keeps us pretty busy so we resort to store bought Ragu sauce instead of making our own marinara sauce.  One thing that we do not deviate from the recipe is using homemade ricotta cheese, usually made the day before.  Store bought ricotta cheese doesn’t quite bring the wow factor.  We also use ground turkey instead of ground beef for a healthier alternative.  



With Aiden keeping us so busy, we have come to appreciate one pot meals like lasagna to fuel us for a few days.  



We hope you’ll love this lasagna as much as we do!




Spinach Turkey Lasagna (original recipe)


6 spinach lasagna sheets
1 tsp salt (for lasagna sheets)
2 tbsps olive oil
2 cloves garlic, chopped 
1-1.5 lbs of ground turkey (depending how meaty you like your lasagna)
1 tsp salt 
¼ tsp ground pepper
2 cups of Roma tomato, cubed 
1 16 oz jar of Ragu roasted garlic sauce (you can use your favorite sauce or make your own)
2 tbsps sugar 
1 ½ cups of homemade ricotta cheese
2 cups of shredded part-skim Mozzarella cheese 
¼ cup of grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese  

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. 
2. In a large pot, bring several quarts of salted water to a boil. Add pasta sheet one at a time (to prevent them from sticking together) and cook until very al dente, about 2 minutes (follow the cooking instruction for the pasta you’re using). Remove from water using a spatula and place on a towel lined baking sheet.
3. Place the olive oil and garlic in a large saute pan over medium-high heat.  Add ground turkey and saute until lightly brown, breaking any large lumps, until it is no longer pink, about 10 minutes.  Season with salt and pepper.  
4. Add Roma tomato and Ragu sauce to the pan and bring to a boil.  Add the sugar.  Season with additional salt and pepper if needed.  Reduce heat and let it simmer, about 15 minutes.  (If the sauce is too runny, let it cook for another 10-15 minutes.)
5. In a separate bowl, combine the Mozzarella cheese and Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese.
6. In the bottom of a 7x10 inch baking dish, spread ¼ of turkey mixture in bottom of the dish and arrange 2 pasta sheets over turkey mixture for the first layer.
7. For the second layer, evenly spread ½ cup of ricotta cheese.  Spread ¼  of turkey mixture over ricotta cheese.  Spread ¼ of cheese mixture (mozzarella and Parmigiano-Reggiano) over turkey mixture.  Place 2 pasta sheets over cheese mixture.
8. For the third layer, evenly spread ½ cup of ricotta cheese.  Spread ¼ of turkey mixture over ricotta cheese.  Spread ¼ of cheese mixture (mozzarella and Parmigiano-Reggiano) over turkey mixture.  Place 2 pasta sheets over cheese mixture.
9. For the final layer, evenly spread ½ cup of ricotta cheese.  Spread 1/4 of turkey mixture over ricotta cheese.  Spread ½  of cheese mixture (mozzarella and Parmigiano-Reggiano) over turkey mixture.  
10. Cover the lasagna dish with aluminum foil. Put on the middle rack of the oven and bake for about 25 minutes. Remove cover and continue to bake for another 15 minutes.  
11. Remove lasagna from oven and let it stand at room temperature for about 15 minutes before serving.

Sunday, March 16, 2014

Introducing baby Aiden


The blog has been quiet for the past 6 months.  Yes, 6 months!!!  A lot has happened since August.

The birth of our son, Aiden.  Being new parents.  

Let’s backtrack a little.  Last October, I went into labor early and due to a few complications ended up having a c-section.  The news of an unplanned c-section was quite overwhelming.  I have never had any surgery.  Working at the hospital did not prepare me for being on the other side, being a patient myself.  The smell of my flesh burning and having those surgeons mucking around down there were beyond terrifying.  Before I knew it, our son was pulled out.  His loud cry brought me to tear.  It was beautiful and reassuring.  Aiden was all right.  He was handed to Vu while I was being patched up.  I got a glimpse of our baby but could not hold him.  Hours later, I was transferred to a private room from the post op area.  




I saw Aiden for the first time.  One look and I was lovestruck.  Mesmerized by his tiny facial features.  Those delicate fingers.  Those little toes.  His breaths.  His strong, rhythmic heartbeats.  I vividly remember them through the doppler during my OB visits but they sounded even more beautiful with my ear pressed against his chest.  Just hours before, he was trying to make his way into the world.  Finally he was in my arms..  My heart overflowed with joy.  I took it all in, this little miracle that we were blessed with.








That night, our journey as new parents began.  The high of the delivery wore off and sheer exhaustion creeped in as Vu and I woke up every two to three hours for diaper change and feeding.  After four days, we got the ok to go home.  




Those first few weeks were rough as we learned to care for our newborn.  He was always screaming and crying and nothing we did would appease him.  Many times, both Vu and I were beyond ourselves.  I found myself in tears many nights, questioning my ability as a mother.  As my doctor aptly put it, having a baby is not only a shock to your body but your mind, and no amount of parenting books or classes can prepare you for becoming a parent.  Sleep deprivation and constant worries established their permanent presence and simple things like preparing a meal or showering became a luxury.  Becoming a parent is one of the most sudden and dramatic transformations of adult life.  We couldn’t have made it through those difficult few months without the love and support of friends and family.  While parenthood is plagued with many challenges, it also comes with immense joy.  The joy of seeing our baby grows and develops.  His gummy smile.  His infectious laugh.  The way he reaches out his arms for us.  All the precious moments and milestones forever imprinted in our memory.   




These pictures were taken when Aiden turned three months since we were too preoccupied in the beginning to take any newborn pictures.  I am happy to tell you that things have gotten a lot better.  For those parents with newborn, hang in there.  It will get better. You and your partner will establish a rhythm as you get to know your baby's needs. Of course, you will see a lot more pictures of Aiden but I promise you will see posting of food and travel again.  We can't wait to share this new chapter of our life with you!  

Thursday, August 22, 2013

Celebration



You probably have noticed our absence on the blog lately.  The past few months have been a whirlwind for us, moving to a new place, traveling and spending time with our loved ones who have fallen ill, while preparing for a new addition to our family.  Yes, we are EXPECTING a little one.  It came as a wonderful surprise for both of us.  



We had been trying for a while with no success.  Fear.  Disappointment. Frustration. Sadness.  Those feelings overwhelmed me as many months passed and my body would not cooperate.  We were ready to see a specialist when it happened.  




I selfishly kept the news to myself for a few days, grinning from ear to ear as I went about my daily routine and thought about the new life growing in my belly.  Millions of thoughts raced through my head.  Every fiber of my being resonated with joy.  



After a few days, I could no longer contain my excitement and broke the news to Vu.  He was ecstatic.  The perfect present for his birthday.  Celebration was in order.  For this occasion, I made vanilla cupcakes with a mixed berry compote and marshmallow frosting. 



It took me three attempts to get the batter right but I finally found the perfect recipe.  You can make a cake in place of cupcakes if you want to something special for your own celebration.  




These cupcakes were perfect for our celebration of this new life growing inside my belly. 
   



Vanilla cupcakes with berry compote and marshmallow frosting


Vanilla cupcake (adapted from Martha Stewart's Baking Handbook)

1 1/2 cup cake flour (not self-raising)
1 tsp baking powder
pinch of salt
1 1/2 stick of butter, at room temp
3/4 cup of sugar
1/2 cup of milk
3 large egg whites
2 tbsps sugar

1. Preheat the oven to 350˚F.  Line cupcake pans with paper liners and set aside. 
2. In a medium bowl, sift together flour, baking soda, and salt then set aside.
3. In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat the butter and 3/4 cup of sugar until light and fluffy, about 4 minutes. Mix in the vanilla.
4. With the mixer on low speed, add flour mixture in three parts, alternating with the milk, beginning and ending with flour.  Transfer to a large bowl and set aside.
5. In the clean bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the whisk attachment, beat egg whites on low speed until foamy.
6. With the mixer running, slowly add in 2 tablespoons of sugar, beat on high speed until stiff, glossy peaks form, about 3-4 minutes.
7. Gently fold in half of the egg-white mixture into the flour mixture until combined.  Gently fold in the remaining egg-white mixture.
8. Divide batter evenly among liners, filling about 2/3 full. 
9. Bake, rotating pans halfway through, until a cake tester inserted in the center comes out clean, about 15 minutes.
10. Transfer pans to a wire rack and let the cupcakes cool completely.
11. Once cooled, use a small spoon and scoop out a small hole in the center of each cupcake, creating a cavity.


Berry compote

1 cup blackberries
1 cup raspberries
1/2 cup blueberries
1/2 cup of sugar

1. In medium saucepan over medium-high heat, bring the berries and sugar to a boil, stirring constantly until thick. 
2. Remove from the heat and chill until cold.
3. If you don't have berries readily available, you can use seedless or strained berry preserves.


Marshmallow Frosting (adapted from Meringue)

2 large egg whites, room temperature
3/4 cup sugar
4 tbsps water
1/2 tsp cream of tartar
pinch of salt
1 tsp vanilla extract

1. In a stainless steel mixer bowl, whisk together egg whites, sugar, water, cream of tartar, and salt. 
2. Gently lower the bowl over a simmering pot of water and immediately begin beating with an electric hand beater.  Do not leave the egg white mixture unattended or stop beating any time during this process.
3. After about 3 minutes, remove the bowl from the heat.
4. Attach the bowl to the electric mixer fitted with the whisk attachment, beat the egg-white mixture on high speed for 5 minutes.  It should look like marshmallow fluffiness. 
6. Remove the bowl and fold in the vanilla extract. Set the frosting aside and allow the mixture to cool. 


Assembly

1. Place the cupcakes on a flat surface.
2. Fill each cavity of the cupcake with 1 teaspoon of berry compote.
3. Add the marshmallow frosting to a pastry bag and generously frost each cupcake.
4. Using a hand blow torch, lightly torch the marshmallow frosting to your liking. 

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Poached egg with grilled asparagus and Serrano ham



I love eggs, perhaps a bit too much.  There was a time when I had eggs for breakfast just about every day--boiled, scrambled, or sunny side up with baguette and a touch of Maggie soy sauce.  I grew up with the last dish.  In Vietnam, you can get freshly baked baguette, or banh mi, from a local bakery every morning.  Imagine the crispy baguette exterior and its warm dough smothered in luscious egg yolk.  Pure bliss.  It is definitely one of my breakfast staples.  Since I started cooking, I played with other ingredients to build on my basic egg dish.   


Recently, I found a combination that I really enjoy-Serrano ham, Parmesan cheese, pesto, and asparagus in addition to egg and baguette.  The flavor profile is a mix of French and Italian.   


This breakfast is packed with a lot of flavors and many sources of nutrients.  Enjoy!



Poached egg with grilled asparagus and Serrano ham (4 servings)

2 tbsps white wine vinegar
4 eggs
One bowl of ice water
16 asparagus spears, washed
2 tbsp olive oil
8 pieces of Serrano ham or proscuitto
8 slices of toasted baguette
4 tbsp pesto
¼ cup of grated Parmesan cheese
Salt and freshly ground pepper

1. To poach the eggs, fill a medium saucepan with 8 inches of water. Add the white vinegar and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to a simmer. Gently crack one egg into a large spoon.  Using a wooden spoon, stir the water at the edge of the pan in a circular motion to create a whirlpool then lower the egg into the water. Cook the eggs for 3 to 4 minutes.  Using a slotted spoon, remove the egg from the saucepan and place in the bowl of ice water.  Repeat with the remaining eggs. 

2. Heat a grill pan to medium-high heat.  Holding the tip and stem of each asparagus spear, break off the less tender bottom end. Toss the asparagus with olive oil and salt to taste.  Grill the asparagus until slightly charred, about 3-5 minutes depending on the size of the asparagus spears.

3.
Gently return the eggs to the saucepan until heated through, about 1 minute. Remove the eggs from the pan with a slotted spoon and gently blot on a paper towel to remove excess water.  

4. Place the toasted baguette and Serrano ham on a plate.  Add the grilled asparagus.  Place one egg on top of the asparagus.  Drizzle each plate with pesto and sprinkle some Parmesan cheese, salt, and pepper to taste.