Turkey Sausage-Spinach Lasagna with Spicy Tomato Sauce

One of the biggest myths about making a lasagna is that it’s too hard. That idea is false.

When I first started receiving Bon Appetit, it was nearly ten years ago. Back then, the only type of food I knew I liked cooking was pasta – especially lasagna. Needless to say, most of my Bon Appetit magazines went untouched. When the March 1999 magazine arrived on my doorstep with an amazing looking lasagna in it, I ran to the grocery store to buy the ingredients and try it out. To be honest, I had never even heard of turkey sausage, and didn’t know if it was even available – that’s how much of a cooking novice I was. The next few hours were spent in an amazing cooking adventure, as I had never made a meal so involved before. Desserts, yes. Actual food, no.

I hate to say it, but alas: A good lasagna is a labor of love. That’s why this post doesn’t have the “Weeknight Cooking” tag anywhere near it. Sure, you can throw together any lasagna recipe you see (I’ve even made a few) but to make something spectacular, it takes time and usually a little more money than you normally spend on ingredients. The sauce, having nothing to do with crap in a jar, takes time to simmer before it gets anywhere near ricotta and noodles.

Recently, I pulled this recipe out again. Because it takes a while to cook, I made it on a Friday night and, by the time it was done, my spouse was ready to throw one of our cats on the George Foreman with some bbq sauce and eat it. This is one of my most favorite meat lasagnas and anyone can make it, as long as you have the time.

Spicy Tomato Sauce
3 tablespoons olive oil
1 medium onion, finely chopped
6 garlic cloves, minced
1 teaspoon dried oregano
3/4 teaspoon dried basil
3/4 teaspoon dried marjoram
3/4 teaspoon dried crushed red pepper
2 28-ounce cans Italian-style tomatoes
1 cup canned crushed tomatoes with added purée
1/2 cup dry red wine

When I’m going all out on a recipe like this, I don’t skimp. I want it to taste as amazing as possible, and that means good ingredients — and no jarred garlic.

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Just looking at that makes me hungry!

Heat up your oil and toss in your onion, garlic, oregano, basil, marjoram and crushed red pepper.

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Let that cook for about ten minutes, then add everything else. Simmer gently and stir occasionally, breaking up the tomatoes.

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When the sauce reduces down to about eight cups (after about an hour and a half of simmering), it’s done. You can season with salt and pepper if you want, but I leave it plain as the sausage that is added to it is more than enough salt for me. This sauce can be made a couple of days ahead if you want, or you can let it cool and start turning it into a lasagna.

Turkey Sausage Spinach Lasagna
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 1/4 pounds hot Italian turkey sausages, casings removed
Spicy Tomato Sauce
1 15-ounce container ricotta cheese
1 10-ounce package frozen chopped spinach, thawed, squeezed dry
1 3/4 cups grated Parmesan cheese (not that green-canned garbage!)
2 large eggs
3 tablespoons whipping cream
1/2 teaspoon dried basil
1/2 teaspoon dried oregano
1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper
9 uncooked lasagna noodles
3 cups shredded provolone cheese (about 12 ounces)

Remove sausages from their casings and brown them in a frying pan, about 7 minutes. Add Spicy Tomato Sauce (or, add your sausages to the sauce). Simmer for about five minutes to let the sausage flavor permeate the sauce. The hardest part of the lasagna is now done.

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Wasn’t even that tough!

Now, place your the rack in the center, and preheat the oven to 375°F.

While the oven is warming up, let’s get the other components together. Whisk ricotta, spinach, only 1 cup of the Parmesan, eggs, cream, basil, oregano and pepper together.

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…becomes…

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Set it aside.

Spread one cup of the tomato sauce in the bottom of a 13x9x2-inch glass dish. Recipes will usually say “spoon” but I just take a one-cup measuring cup and dump it in there, then spread it around. It’s just easier.

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Lay three lasagna noodles on top. I use a kind that doesn’t have to be pre-cooked – there’s so much liquid in the lasagna that the noodles will cook perfectly during the baking process.

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Spread another cup of sauce over the noodles.

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Now for the part that is a little messy. The first time anyone does this, it’s bound to feel a little awkward: Take one cup of the ricotta-spinach mixture and spread it on top of the noodles and sauce. I will take a utensil (spoon, fork, spatula, knife, whatever works) and spread it around as gently as possible. Keep in mind that the entire glass dish will fill up with liquid, and the contents of the lasagna will move around during the baking process, so don’t worry about being too exact. Just gently spread it around without breaking up your noodles. (And even if you do break your noodles, no one is going to know – it all tastes the same going down.)

After the ricotta is spread, sprinkle 1/4 cup of Parmesan and 1 cup of shredded provolone on top.

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It’s coming together! Repeat the process: One cup of sauce. Three noodles. One cup of ricotta. 1/4-cup of Parmesan and one cup of Provolone.

For the last layer, the Bon Appetit recipe has you go slightly out of sequence: lay the last three noodles on top, pour one cup of sauce on there, and sprinkle the last bit of the cheeses. Then, dollop the remainder of the ricotta on top into six little rounds. Pour the rest of the sauce around the dollops. It looks like this, only less blurry:

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You can definitely do this if you’d like, or, you can repeat the last layer normally and get the ricotta mixture integrated between sauce and cheese. Personally, I prefer to not do this dolloping thing on top, because when I eat it, I get a huge mouthful of the ricotta mixture, and for some reason I just find it unpleasant. But it’s a personal thing, and you can do it any way you want. When it comes to layering, there really is no right or wrong. It’s what you like to do.

The end result is a delicious and spicy lasagna with bold, layered flavors. It isn’t as scary to make as you may have thought in the beginning, just a little time consuming. My suggestion would be to make the sauce one night, then the lasagna the next night.

Serve with remaining wine, some bread and a little salad. Enjoy!

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Pseudo News: Iron Chef Japan Returns to TV

Yesterday, we received an email through our website messaging system. I wasn’t going to post it, but the sender referred to us as “ninjas” in the opening of the email. This leads me to believe he is some poor intern who is paid minimum wage and forced to sift through the vast tubes of the internet (serious business) to find websites and blogs that pertain to whatever he’s been told to market. This dude took the time to read our FAQ and sent us an email with the appropriate heading as “Ninjas” so, Orli, this post is for you: Iron Chef Japan returns to TV!

Unfortunately Iron Chef Japan is only returning to television as RERUNS, so this is being flagged as “Pseudo News”.

To: adminATamateurswithknives.com
Date: April 22, 2008 8:39:13 PM EDT
Subject: [Amateurs with Knives] Contact from Orli Ninjamaster (surname changed – a ninja’s identity must not be revealed)
Reply-To: (deleted)

You are being contacted via Amateurs with Knives by Orli Ninjamaster. Orli Ninjamaster has provided the following information so you may contact them:

Email: (deleted)
Phone:
Website: http://
Reason: Other (explain below)

Message:
Hi ninjas,

You guys seem like the types to get really excited about the following information:
Iron Chef Japan is returning to TV!

Was I right? If so, read on. If not, delete.

So…. Iron Chef Japan is finally coming back! It’ll air every weeknight at 11pm on Fine Living Network, starting May 5th. For more info, check out the Iron Chef Japan website here: Fine Living Network

And lots of fun videos, all of them embeddable, here: Fine Living Network’s Page on You Tube

Feel free to share with all your readers, and let me know if you have any questions or feedback.

Cheers,
Orli Ninjamaster
360i on behalf of Fine Living Network

I love Iron Chef Japan. It’s ten times better than the American version — whether it’s because it’s so much more dramatic, or because it’s the original, or because Chairman Kaga is so badass, who can say.

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Maybe it’s all of the above. If anything, I like watching the American version because the producers have the American Chairman doing all sorts of goofy things – and sometimes they add sound effects. I swear, that dude gets more comical with every episode.

At any rate, if you’re a fan, tune in to Fine Living Network starting May 5 or, at the very least, set your DVR to record.

Allez! Cuisine!

Food News: Dinner Impossible

If you keep up on food news and celebrity chefs, you’ve heard by now that Robert Irvine, the host of Food Network’s “Dinner: Impossible” was fired for lying about his resume. Whether his termination was justifiable was a heated debate among fans of the show and fans of the network, while AwK authors pretty much felt that anyone who got a little too flirty on television with Paula Deen should just be taken out back and flogged.

Now that the media frenzy has died down, a new host has been announced to take over Dinner: Impossible…

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The newest Iron Chef, Michael Symon. His comments can be found on his blog, Symon Says. The show is being expanded to an hour, and will involve some of the Iron Chef’s “friends” making appearances as sous chefs. The new series will air in July.

Good luck to Chef Symon!

Amateurs guide to Tea

Tea has many important benefits, such as the ability to grant superpowers and correct the mistakes you make in your daily diet. Speaking seriously, I drink 4-10 cups of tea each day. I keep a stash of tea at work and a smaller stash at home, since I don’t want to drink too much at night. I have no interest in being a snob about tea, first because I could get schooled by someone who really knows their stuff and second because that’s useless. I want more people drinking tea for their enjoyment, not less.

For those of you who think “I don’t like tea”, I can think of two reasons why. One, you simply never will like tea and that’s ok. Two, the tea you’ve had to date is bagged. There’s nothing inherently wrong with bagged tea except that so much of it contains little tea, mostly twigs and leaves, and is usually too black if its black tea and a total lie if it claims to be green or white tea. I’m going to try to organize this post by your familiarity level with tea.

1. Tea Equipment (the boring part)

If you’re at home, a boiling pot will do just fine. You can buy a metal infuser at most grocery stores, near the tea and coffee, or in any shop selling tea.

For work purposes, I microwave a cup of water. You’ll have to do a bit of experimentation since all microwaves differ. If you have bottled water, use that, otherwise try to use filtered water. If you have to use tap water, use cold water and simply microwave it longer at lower power. For most tea, you don’t want the water boiling anyway, if its letting off steam it’s fine.

2. Beginner: You’ve had the occasional cup of tea, but you don’t like it much. I can fix that.  Let me try to guess what you might like:

Iced Tea: Since summer is approaching, this is a great idea.  Use a Lipton bagged tea, and buy a lemon or two.  If Lipton has some new brand specially made for iced tea then use that, otherwise normal bagged Lipton is from Sri Lanka, the stuff they use is usually sold loose as Orange Pekoe or Ceylon Orange Pekoe or something similar.  It’s not orange flavored or anything like that, the name refers to the color.  The term “pekoe” describes the two-leaves-and-a-bud pick from the tea plant.  Put enough ice in a pitcher to make yourself happy, some sliced lemons, and use two bags for every 8 oz cup of brewed tea you use.  If you prefer sweetener, add it to the iced tea hours later.  If you prefer sugar, put about 8 oz of water in a saucepan with 2 tablespoons of sugar, stir that up and get it boiling to make a nice syrup for the iced tea.  Let it cool a bit and dump it in the pitcher.

Hot tea, something to wake you up:  If you’d like to try loose, I recommend an oolong.  Go to a place where you can see the tea leaves, you want a green looking oolong. If it smells like grass, fantastic.  If you’re using bagged tea, the important part of oolong (and anything green or black) is to take the bag out after the steeping time on the bag.  If you leave it in you’ve got a bitter-tastic cup of fail.

Hot tea, something at night to calm you down:  I highly recommend rooibos.  If you’re getting bagged rooibos, try to find one that isn’t too expensive (it’s generally not) and isn’t flavored.  Regular rooibos is just great, the trick is to use a lot.  Use twice as many bags as the box recommends, more rooibos is always always better.  Plus when you make it stronger (no caffeine at all, relax) you can add cream and sugar and you’ve got yourself what they call in South Africa a “red latte”.

2.  Intermediate:  You drink tea a few times a week, and you’d to try some more.

Iced Tea:  You might be ready to try something a little fancy.  Flavored green teas make great iced tea.  If you can go to a place with loose tea then try to get something that looks green and smells nice, if you can’t, go online or go to the store and get a green flavored with a citrus, or a regular green and add plenty of lemon.  If you’re going to the store, Rishi makes some good loose teas, if you’re going online, try Teavana or Adagio or Stash Tea, all are great.  Follow the same directions as above, except this time try to steep something loose or a good bagged green with orange flavoring.

Hot tea, something to wake you up:  Some good black teas are Keemum, anything with the word “Imperial” (trust me, its a form of black) or an oolong.  If you’d like to use an english or irish breakfast tea, or anything with the word “breakfast” or “grey”, keep in mind that these teas are designed to be swamped with cream and sugar or sweetener.  They are teas blended to be very, very strong and bitter by themselves.  They can be great with a hearty breakfast with milk and sugar.

Hot tea, something for the afternoon:  Again, an oolong is great in the afternoon.  If you’re using bagged tea, another thing to remember is that cloudiness is bad.  It either means something is in your water or more likely, something is in your tea, like twigs and bits of non-tea that got in there.  Switch to another brand.  If you get to smell the oolong, fresh and grassy smelling means its nice and green and mellow, otherwise it should have a clear reddish color.

Hot tea, something to relax with:  You can try some lightly flavored rooibos if you like, I also recommend a cup of white tea.  Two or three cups of white tea and you’re back up again, but one cup doesn’t have enough caffeine.  White tea is nice in that you can let it steep as long as you want.   It should be a clear yellow color.

3.  Advanced: You have a few cups of tea per week, you’ve tried a few different teas and you generally like tea:

Hot tea, something to wake you up:  You’re used enough to tea to try the subsitution of 3-4 cups of green instead of your morning coffee/caffeine drink.  A few cups of green tea doesn’t give you the instant jolt coffee does, it ramps up and keeps you perked for a couple hours.  It’s great.  You also don’t get jittery, like you can from coffee/espresso.  I recommend trying some loose, unflavored green teas until you find something you like.  A favorite of mine is Dragon Well, aka liongjin (spelling may differ).  The risk with unflavored green tea is that you may find you want to change the brand/store you buy green from.  A lot of brands and stores will use lower quality green (or black/oolong) teas and mask the quality change with extra heavy flavorings.  Again, the key here is fresh and grassy.  When you finally open the package, it should smell like nature.  It should have a clear yellow to orange/reddish color.  You may need to buy a few small samples until you find the thing you like, but when you do, you won’t switch from it.  I buy dragon well by the pound now.

You may have noticed a few things from reading this.  For one, I don’t recommend any “decaffeinated” teas.  This is because unfortunately in tea, they still haven’t found a way to remove caffeine from tea without also removing much of the flavor.  You may also have noticed I specify a clear color to any tea.  This is because many bagged teas are in fact leftovers from the loose tea.  This isn’t bad in itself, but sometimes bagged tea brands will allow twigs and other bits into the tea, and you’ll get cloudiness when you steep the bag.  You shouldn’t settle for that.
If you’d like a nice breakfast tea and don’t like english breakfast, irish breakfast, or earl grey (or lady grey or any other “grey”), try a darjeeling.  They can be quite nice.  Again, english teas, darjeelings, and chais are meant for cream and sugar, not by themselves.  They’ll either be bitter or spicy.

And if you find yourself with leftover steeped tea in a pot or cup, get in the habit of keeping a pitcher or bottle around you can throw the remaining tea water into.  You’ll find it makes a nice iced tea, this “leftover pitcher”.  I keep one in my fridge and dump all sorts of leftover tea pots in there, I get some interesting blends.

If you have specific questions I’d love to address them further!

Top Chef, Season 4 Episode 4: Zoi Is Whiny

MM: Episode 4, “Film Food”, did not disappoint. They started out with a very tough Quickfire being judged by none other than Daniel Boulud. The challenge was to showcase three “techniques”. This challenge really brought to light a lot of the things we’ve been talking about before, where the challenges have really stepped up everyone’s game, separating the weak from the strong early on. Honestly, I felt confident for about three of the chefs, and that was about it.

CC: Yeah, it was pretty apparent that this was a harder challenge for some than for others. I thought what the winners all had in common was that they made composed plates that happen to have evident knife skills, where the others were obviously just making a pile of brunoise this and baton that.

MM: Some were just doing a generic veggie platter – case in point, the chick who didn’t season her zucchini before throwing it on the grill. You can grill a hunk of zucchini – uh, good job.

CC: “Oops, I forgot people were still going to actually eat this.”

MM: (Laughs.)

CC: The winner’s plate looked amazing though, and I’m glad to see my current favorite faux-hawk d00d in the top 3.

MM: Although I knew we were going to see a lot of chefs struggling with the challenge, I was shocked at just how many said the technique challenge “wasn’t their thing.”

CC: Proponents of the new “no cutting” style of cooking that’s all the rage in Hollywood.

MM: So the winner, Heung II, was given immunity and allowed to choose the team he would be on for the Elimination Challenge. Or is it Heung Deux?

CC: (Laughs.) And he picked my boy, uhm, what is his real name?

MM: Richard.

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CC: The elimination challenge I thought was a really cool idea, making a dish inspired by a movie. My favorite movie is Fight Club, but that doesn’t translate well to food unless you want to serve a really rare steak or maybe some homemade napalm.

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MM: Mashed potatoes with some sort of new-fangled contraption that explodes gravy onto the eater. I’m sure your boy Richard could figure out a device for that.

CC: I did like that it was still all about the food though. They let one team get away with using Top Secret as an excuse to cook beef, because the dish was good.

MM: Even though Mark had never heard of “A Christmas Story”, I thought their dish was extremely appropriate. Thematically, I think that one was my favorite.

CC: I thought they were going to get knocked for using quail instead of duck.

MM: So did I, but they presented it somewhat well. Quail with cranberry dressing and an egg roll – I thought it was hilarious.

CC: I thought the Willy Wonka plate was great, and I have to begrudgingly give Andrew, aka K-Fed #1, props for making a hydrocolloid… But then I take them away again for wanting to dress up like an Oompa Loompa.

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MM: I’d give negative points for that.

CC: So let’s talk about hot lesbian girl whining. Not a fan.

MM: Yeah, she’s been featured in the last couple of episodes doing that. There’s a lot of crying and complaining going on with her, and I find it unbecoming of a Top Chef. She’s been in the bottom a couple of times now.

CC: Her whining is beginning to outweigh her hotness, which to be honest is only propped up by her lesbianness.

MM: There is no hotness and has never been any. Sorry.

CC: You prefer your lesbians more butch?

MM: I don’t know if I would say that, but I think her girlfriend is a little more put together and she has cool hair. That said, I wouldn’t go out on a date with her, no.

CC: I’m sorry I’m making up the rest of this conversation in my head and it is MUCH hotter. I am surprised none of the team picked a “foodie” movie, like Big Night or Eat Drink Man Woman or something like that.

MM: Now we didn’t even talk about the other loser dish yet: Good Morning, Vietnam, the Vietnamese dish. Manuel was voted off because he didn’t step up and put his opinion in about the dish, and just went along with whatever his partner was saying.But I don’t know if I agree with that decision.

CC: I thought Spike was going home for that one for sure. The judges said they had to make the decision “their own way” so I’m assuming they brought past performance into account.

MM: Let’s back up a second, because I have to get this out – I thought the whole Judges’ Table for the losing teams was decided strangely. It seemed the only reason the “Talk to Her” team was brought to the Judges’ Table was because they did not make the connection between the dish and the movie as well as they should have, although the judges all agreed that the dish was good. There were harsher things said about some of the other dishes, such as the pasta dish.

CC: Which is what saved them in the end.

MM: Well, I can understand that the judges would not be happy that they may not have followed the whole movie connection as well as they could have, but the dish was a really good dish. It just seemed to me that some other team with a weaker dish should have been there. The only reason they were there wasn’t because of the food, it was because of their dumb explanation about the movie. I get why they were not happy with the team, but I don’t think that warranted the Judges’ Table.

CC: I don’t remember them being too critical about any of the dishes, so I assumed Spike and memo’s dish was the clear loser. Oh, but Manuel’s speech at the end, that was classy I thought. He thanked both chefs and the judges panel, and then talking to the other contestants he said, “I’ve never been surrounded by a more talented group of people,” or something to that effect.

MM: That was nice, but I don’t think he should have gone home for Spike’s complete and utter douchiness. That isn’t a word, but you get my meaning.

CC: So here’s the debut of a new feature in this series: EXPERT PREDICTIONS -IONS -IONS -IONS …. Where we predict the next Chef to get the heave-ho! Had to stop myself from saying “getting the axe”.

MM: Ok, so the next Chef to go… I have a couple of least favorites that I think will be gone in the next couple of episodes: Nikki, Spike, Zoi. Actually, scratch that. I think Ryan will be gone before Zoi is.

CC: Yeah, I was going to mention Ryan as my sleeper d00fus. Ryan and the K-Fed twins would be my ‘want to go’. But what is your answer to who is GOING to go??

MM: I think it’s a toss up between Nikki and Ryan.

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CC: I’m gonna go with, somewhat regrettably, Zoi.

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MM: Let it go, dude. It’s OK.

Top Chef Season 4, Episodes 2 and 3

Editor’s Note: Citizen Chef and Miss Macchiato have agreed to go review Top Chef together and already they are behind. CC went on vacation and MM is a big slacker. They have agreed to power through the next couple of episodes to catch up. Episode 4 will be reviewed tomorrow. Hopefully.

MM: So this review will combine both episodes 2 and 3 together. AwK readers (all 4 of you) have probably watched episodes 2 and 3 by now.

CC: You’re only saying that because you don’t remember what the challenge was.

MM: I remember! The Quickfire was a little interesting, but it left something to be desired. Basically, the chefs were taken to a small Farmer’s Market, given a budget, and told they could only use five ingredients for their dish.

CC: BAH!

MM: And I remember that Mark, my favorite chef so far, won even though he forgot one of his ingredients. I was surprised that one of the chefs was not careful about the ingredients he was buying. Instead of being choosy, he just bought whatever was handed to him, then spent the rest of his time hanging out at the market, listening to folk music. When he returned to the Top Chef kitchen, he saw how bad his ingredients were.

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CC: You can obviously get good meat at a farmer’s market, but with the ingredient limit I don’t know why you wouldn’t make sure that all 5 of your ingredients are screamingly fresh.

MM: He was more careful about his ingredients from a grocery store than the farmer’s market. That makes no sense to me.

CC: I normally don’t like recipes that limit the number of ingredients because they seem too “dumbed down” most of the time. As if putting in an extra two, three things would be too much work or something. But if you start off with a few really good things and you work really hard NOT to mess it up, you’ll succeed every time.

MM: When he returned from the market and saw how bad his meat was, why didn’t he decide to do something vegetarian?

CC: To quote Chef Tory Miller (yes, again) “A lot of chefs out there will tell you they like to let the products ‘tell the story’, but then they add so many other things to it you’re like ‘hey, where did the story go?'” When you’re working with only a few ingredients, or even making something vegetarian, the dish should come naturally from the products instead of forcing it. The best vegetarian dish is one that you go “oh wait, I guess that was vegetarian wasn’t it?” I’ve been subscribing to a CSA for a few years now, and the first few elaborate recipes I tried incorporated a lot of the different vegetables at once. I realized that I was paying a premium for great produce, and that it didn’t need the artifice of elaborate cooking styles.

MM: I’m not sure I get what you’re arguing. Are you saying that the Quickfire was doomed to fail because they were forced into only using 5 ingredients? I don’t buy that.

CC: No not at all, I’m saying if you go to the farmer’s market and buy great produce, you don’t NEED any more than a few supporting ingredients to make that produce shine. What I am arguing against is five-ingredient lasagna.

MM: I’m with you there. I have actually seen recipes for 5-ingredient lasagnas and they are gross. Lasagna that calls for a jar of premade meat spaghetti sauce is… I don’t even know. I wouldn’t put that on top of cheap noodles and eat it, so why would you put that in a lasagna?

CC: Right, that’s a prefect example of using 5 when you need 10, because 5 is somehow easier. As opposed to using 5 because you have the best corn you’ve ever tasted and you don’t want to hide it.

MM: So, Ryan, who wasn’t careful about his ingredients, also wasn’t paying attention to the challenge either, because he used more than 5 ingredients for his dish. Mark, who even forgot one ingredient but was able to improvise.

CC: I’m going on record now as saying both of the K-Fed twins need to go post haste.

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CC (continued): But onto the zoo elimination challenge, which I thought was a great idea. Tell me you wouldn’t have made a beef Carpaccio and put a “gorilla tartare” sign in front of it to make the zoo people faint.

MM: Yeah, I totally would.

CC: Actually gorilla tartare wrapped in banana leaves sounds kinda good doesn’t it? Of course if you steamed it, it wouldn’t be a tartare any more. Hmm… I’m going to have to spend some more time in development on that one.

MM: Don’t let PETA find out, if you do.

CC: Anyway, let’s cut to the chase: the loser. DON’T MAKE BLINIS AHEAD OF TIME, YOU DOLT.

MM: Actually, there were a lot of losers in that challenge.

CC: Did ANYONE think that wasn’t going to be a disaster?

MM: I did.

CC: You did think it was not going to be a disaster?

MM: I did think it was going to be a disaster. Those blinis had “gross” written all over it.

CC: Deftly escaped my double negative web there, well done.

MM: Thank you. I worked hard to develop such a skill. The winner was K-Fed #1, aka Andrew.

CC: K-Fed won the competition with his pseudo phat beats! Also, there was a shoe-exchange moment with the lesbians. Unfortunately they were sensible shoes, which was an opportunity wasted. Hell it’s Bravo, they could have made a whole spin-off series on that if they were stilettos.

MM: Um, no.

CC: On to week 3! Quickfire challenge: please let’s all tell Rick Bayless about how WE think Mexican food should be prepared. Apparently they were all too busy “keepin’ it real” to listen to instructions.

MM: That’s what I kept telling my TV set all through the Quickfire. I kept looking at what the chefs were doing and asking, “How is that fine dining?” At no point did anyone say, “Give me street food.”

CC: Most of them took it on themselves to say that the taco can’t be done as fine dining, while standing in front of the chef who has become world famous for doing just that. I also thought, “the person who uses a different ingredient as the taco shell is going to win this.” Boom! Jicama for the win!

MM: I have to confess, weird hair molecular gastronomy boy is winning me over.
I hope he continues his odd creations through the series and goes on to the finals.

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CC: Yeah, he is my favorite for sure. I thought with this new more-qualified batch of contestants we would have weeded out the knuckleheads beforehand, but apparently not.

MM: you mean eliminated, or identified?

CC: Eliminated and not allowed on the show! Identifying them is our job.

MM: Oh, no way. That won’t be until at least the fifth or sixth week. There are a lot of knuckleheads to vote off the show. I mean, Spike? Come on. It’s only a matter of time.

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CC: Yeah, I allowed myself to hope. But, skipping ahead a bit, this episode got rid of one of them.

MM: During the elimination challenge, the chefs went around to people’s houses to try and “shop” for food in people’s pantries. Bravo is making much ado about Spike’s “sabotage”: When a fellow chef asked Spike about one of the houses, and he said not to go there, when, in fact, but there was a lot of food left.

CC: Oh yeah, that was pretty lame.

MM: He’s also the moron who didn’t follow the instructions on the previous week’s Quickfire. He had too many ingredients and was too busy listening to the local music to carefully choose his ingredients.

CC: And one of the K-Fed twins who need to go, as mentioned previously. Andrew even failed to impress me with the challenge he won.

MM: The premise of the elimination was interesting and challenging if you consider that they were shopping for ingredients from “normal people” pantries. I do have to say this, though: Given the spirit of the Quickfire challenge, which was to take a taco and make it upscale I would have thought the chefs would have taken a cue from that and make a slightly upscale bbq.

CC: That’s a really good point. Whereas the losing team took almost the exact opposite approach, and decided to ignore the judges entirely and cook “for the people”.

MM: It makes sense, given that so many of them ignored the instructions of the Quickfire and just went with street food, because they wanted to stay true to the original spirit of the dish. I guess that tells us where the minds of the chefs are — they’re cooking for all sorts of strange reasons, and won’t seem to budge.

CC: Yeah they seem to be intent on making really stupid decisions.

MM: Not following directions, not listening to the spirit of the challenge… it doesn’t bode well for any of them.

CC: Like making corndogs and letting them sit for 2 hours in a steam tray. That’s not a chef mistake, it’s not even a cook mistake. It’s “anyone who has ever eaten anything in their life” kind of mistake.

MM: Bread. Steam. Do the math.

CC: bread + steam = KEEPIN IT REAL, BEYOTCHES!!!!

MM: I don’t care what kind of corn dogs you make in your restaurant – what kind of upscale is a corn dog? It’s food on a stick. You can’t five-star that up, lobster or not. The whole challenge was an utter failure for most of them. When I saw someone was making a mac and cheese with velveeta, I thought that was fine. You really can make something decent with velveeta — that is, if you’re just going for your down home bbq. If you’re going to let that hunk of plastic sit around for two hours… It’s velveeta, for crying out loud.

CC: Again I’ll agree with Collichio, these are entry-level blunders being made by professional chefs. It’s ridiculous. “Gee does velveeta melt well?” Are you kidding me? It is genetically engineered to melt!

MM: Maybe her excuse is that she is a fine dining chef and has never worked with velveeta in her life. But that’s a stretch.

CC: The challenges and Quickfires have been really good so far, the chefs not so much.

MM: Perhaps the problem is that the Quickfires and Elimination challenges have been so unique and unexpected that they are geared to weasel out the weak earlier on. In previous seasons, the weaker contestants continued on somehow.

CC: There is a lot of talent on the show, and I’m excited to see them really showcase that.

MM: First we have to weed out the weasels. It’s hard when we’re watching the show because we see so many people who need to go right away, and you can only kick one person off every week. It’s painful. Speaking of painful – the Judges’ Table. The losing group was really shocked to be there.

CC: What’s up with the mouthy K-Fed twin who said, “This is my house, and I’m not leaving.”

MM: I couldn’t believe he said that.

CC: I expected Colicchio to say, “Actually, it’s my house and we do have security guards.”

MM: There had to have been more that was edited out. In the end, the K-Fed twins got to stay, and Erik, our tough guy, was sent home for his corn dogs.

CC: Oh and as a final note, and a callback to last week’s post, my sister-in-law made pasta from the Brett Favre cookbook for Easter and it was really good, so there!

MM: Your sister made Brett Farve pasta for Easter?

CC: You aint laughin at Brett Favre are you? Or my sister-in-law?

MM: I’m laughing at Brett Favre pasta.

CC: Hey it was good, what can I say? It had noodles in the shape of awesome, and the sauce was made out of victory and honor, and some yellow onion.

Weeknight Cooking: Spanish Chicken & Rice Bake

I’ve been on this one-dish meal kick for a while now. Why not? It’s a huge time-saver, I usually say. But that’s not the only reason I make them: Sometimes I’m just tired and have very little motivation to cook. That isn’t the snooty, culinary thing to say, but it’s honest. There are nights I come home and have neither the time nor the energy to cook. If I want to eat, I have to cook something.

Enter the one-dish meal.

I began my search on Recipezaar.com, a great place to find these types of meals. No, the recipes aren’t fine dining, but you can find some good “weeknight cooking” gems if you look hard enough. The contributors are all a big community, and I have yet to see a rating given by someone who did not cook the dish – an irritating trend that is rampant on sites like the Food Network. If I only had a nickel for every time someone posted a five star rating to a dish just because they like Giada’s breasts… and I’m not talking about a chicken. But I digress.

In the spirit of Citizen Chef’s article on how to choose a recipe, I offer the three things I look at when browsing Recipezaar.

1. Ingredient List

As CC mentioned, I look at the ingredients and make sure most things in there are what I will eat. If Velveeta turns you off and this dish calls for a lot of it, move on or consider a substitute. After a while, you’ll get better and better at figuring out what combinations will work before you cook them.

2. Nutritional Content

I’m not a health fanatic, but I’m not interested in clogging arteries, either. Not everyone has the same worries when they cook a meal — a lot of people are happy when they can produce a dish that the family will eat. With obesity being such a huge issue in the United States, I can’t help but be concerned when I come across some of the highest rated dishes and find they all call for a brick or two of cream cheese. Even if you use a low fat cream cheese, there’s still a high fat content. Personally, I’d feel better serving peanut butter and jelly sandwiches.

The same goes for a lot of Asian-inspired dishes. The idea is that stir-fry is good for you, but when you’re adding a half cup of soy sauce, the sodium content goes through the roof.

3. Comments

As I mentioned above, the comments section is a great place to go to find out what people actually thought of the dish. I suppose this is helpful, although it isn’t really what I’m digging for. What I go to the comments for is to find out how people altered the dish to suit their tastes. It’s rare to find a perfect recipe. Period. If you dig through the comments, you’ll find a trend of what a lot of the cooks do to make the dish better. I often either print the comments with the recipe or scribble notes/substitutions down on the recipe after I print it. When I first started cooking from online recipes, I was a little scared of the comments section, but I’ve learned that a community of people actually cooking this dish makes it better.

This is one of my favorite one-dish recipes that I have found on Recipezaar. If you have low energy, yet want a substantial meal, this is a great option. You basically put your ingredients into a glass dish, stir, slap some chicken breasts on top, sprinkle with seasonings, and bake. That’s it.

Spanish Chicken and Rice Bake


1 (10 3/4ounce) can low fat/low sodium cream of chicken soup
1 cup salsa
1/2 cup water
1 cup frozen whole kernel corn
1 cup canned black beans, drained (optional)

3/4 cup uncooked long-grain white rice
3 – 4 boneless chicken breast halves
1/2 teaspoon chili powder
1/2 cup shredded cheddar cheese

Preheat your oven to 400°F.

In a glass dish, dump in the cream of chicken soup, salsa, water, corn, and rice. I add black beans to mine. Instead of measuring them out, just dump in the whole can so as not to waste food. Notice there are no seasonings that go into the rice portion of the dish. Most of your seasonings will come from the salsa, so make sure you get something with a good, strong flavor. Sometimes I use spicy just to kick it up a bit, but mild is fine. I once used a jar of homemade salsa that a family member had given me, and the dish came out bland because the salsa was watery and lacked punch. So make sure you go with something that has a lot of flavor. Stir everything up.

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Lay chicken breasts on top of the rice/sauce mixture. Sprinkle with some salt, pepper, and chili powder. If you want more heat, use more chili powder. The recipe above actually gives measurements, but I just sprinkle until I think it’s fine. Go with your best judgment here.

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Seal this tightly with foil. This is another one that doesn’t cook right unless you seal it tightly, because the water will steam out and the rice won’t cook.

After 60 minutes, the dish will be done. Sprinkle with cheddar cheese and enjoy. Once in a while I will also indulge a little sour cream on the side, too… But not often. You know, the whole nutritional content thing… 😛 Enjoy!

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