Me, myself, and food.
As is per this time of year for any college student, I have been hellaciously busy over the past few weeks. A lot of my courses are sprinting towards the “projects before Thanksgiving” deadline, so all of my weekdays have been spent foregoing the comforting verbal arena of the Internet in lieu for self-portraits, painting series that change mid-project period, and the ever-present weekly deadline for making a book. By Friday, I was longing desperately to get back to my writing communities, as it seems that all my friends there are specifically crafted to be the penultimate cheerleaders in your life (and if any of you are reading this? Thank you so much), but also because I’ve found myself to be a little rusty at the edges in terms of using the English language. All my creative energy was being invested in the visual, so when it came to catching up with my creative collab work elsewhere, I found myself lacking. Ergo: this entry.
I’ve had quite a few entry ideas for this tiny blog throughout the week, to boot. The horrors of undergraduate figure drawing are probably going to be up pretty soon (especially as one of those aforementioned cheerleaders in life may or may not have said something to the point where I need to relate my ongoing adventures in this subject), as well as a general art dump that I figure this place warrants. But my first topic to get me back on the writing horse is something that quite a few people asked me about a few weeks ago, thereby making this a long-overdue entry (especially, in all places, this blog): my relationship with food.
I think many of my friends will attest that it doesn’t take me long to start talking about cooking, baking, or what I had for lunch a few days ago if you’re patient — or, well, not even that patient. It’s a self-induced tradition that I stress-bake during my final projects period to take off the edge of the constant gun at my head just before a big project is due, and my studiomates end up enjoying the fruits of my labor during final critique. Making my lunch each evening for the next day at school is not only a daily chore but a chance for yet another creative outlet — what will I pack today? How will I give these leftovers new life? Will my grain du jour be couscous or toasted tortilla to go with my homemade hummus? When friends have food problems (e.g.: I have x, y, and z in the cupboard and nothing else — what to make?!), I love playing my version of Lynne Rosetto Kasper‘s Stump The Cook to help out. In short: I may be a bit of a foodinista.
Admittedly, I may be in denial as to whether this is a healthy hobby. Shortly after my mother became pregnant with my baby sister, I went from a scrawny kidlet to your garden variety American Fat Kid within a handful of months due to a steady diet of Hamburger Helper (one of my first forays into gustatory “excellence”) and fast food. Although I’ve peaked and subsequently lost weight throughout my college career, I am still clinically overweight — that is to say, a fat lady. Forgive the slight tangent, but people always become offended when I admit to being fat, as if saying such is akin to saying that I’m ugly, and I guess this is enough of a chip that I need to address it before I talk about the rest of the story of Allison and Food. That is to say: hi, stop putting words in my mouth on this subject! First of all, ugly has one extra consonant; secondly, it is all defintiely in incorrect order. If we’re going by medical standards today (and we are, I am pretty sure), yes — I am technically “fat.” But do I think I’m ugly? Haha, not really. My present endeavor to lose weight is so that I don’t have to rock out like my mom thirty-odd years later and desperately attempt to lose weight and worry about my family’s historical battle with high cholesterol and hypertension to a greater degree, not because I think that I’m a hideous cow. I mean, if you’re friends with me on Facebook, you have seen my great number of camera-whoring self-portraits, right? I am no supermodel, but I am happy with how I look. But food has, in fact, made me slightly fat.
Does that mean that I’m going to stop loving food, though? No. And why, you may ask? Oh, I don’t know, food may be, in fact, fucking essential. And herein lies why my primary point as to why I like to get creative with food: if you need it every day, make it fun. Although I said all that stuff above about how I managed to get roughly twenty pounds overweight (for getting into the 120s makes me edgy, BMI), I also want to make a point that I no longer have the palette right now for appreciating the very foods that hedged me into that junction in the first place. I loathe sodium because I grew up making it optional after my mother’s hypertension sky-rocketed shortly after my sister’s birth, most sweets do not make me go to the moon despite my appreciation for baking my heart out, and overtly fatty stuff makes me as sluggish as the day is long. Even when I was a kid, I was the strange one that went out of her way to eat vegetables — carrots, broccoli, spinach, and even Brussels sprouts were my friends. Now that I’ve grown older, I’ve found that many of the most exciting recipes from Everyday Food to my brand-new Indian cookbook are veg-based. Perhaps it’s because a lot of the other cultures and societies of the world find vegetables to be so instrumental in their diets due to veg being a cheaper alternative in terms of protein or because we’re all going cuckoo for Green-coa Puffs; regardless, I’m finding that I end up learning more from food when it’s healthier. Food from my past is laden with the fatty, and I’m always the sort that wishes to progress with this delicious nonsense — “new tastes all the time” is probably a great motto for me! Food allows me to try new techniques, which is something that is reflected in my art and writing, and that’s how I keep on going back to the kitchen to busy myself. After all, your brain needs nourishment too.
Another thing that draws me back to global gustatorial experimentation is that I always find food to be an instrumental key to identity, which is something that fascinates me. Being an European mutt who only has “English” and “Swiss” guaranteed stamped into my genetics, I’m not necessarily convinced that I have a great wealth of culinary heritage. I could probably go on and on about white middle class guilt and how it touches every aspect of my life, but I think that exploring food from the world is yet another way to feel a little more special than your garden variety white kid. Although I should probably beware of saying this as I’m no Rick Bayless, I do identify with the Southwest and their version of Mexican food as family heritage courtesy of my mother’s background as a Flagstaff native. There is nothing happier in the holidays than the day we spend being tamalerias, and few things are tastier to me than getting behind a full-wattage blast of muy caliente salsa — real salsa, mind you, not that bullshit that 95% of any damn food chain tries to push on you. My greatest aspiration? Making a perfect mole. But I also have aspirations towards specializing in a good old-fashioned korma and pierogies, too.
Another gustatorial aspiration that I have is hosting the perfect dinner party, which probably leads me to my final point as to why I love food: food nurtures and displays love. I’m not a hugger or maternal in the most ideal sense, but when it comes to whipping out a batch of cookies to make somebody feel better, you bet your bottom dollar that I’m on it. Most of my friends are spread out across the country and globe by this point in my life, so sharing recipes in lieu of yours truly crafting a dish to make you feel better is the closest I can intimately say “I’m sorry” and mean it. In my family, love is feeding each other — it’s a lot of other things, too, and is capable of making us angry at each other, but it’s probably the easiest way to make someone feel positively for whatever good or ill that says on our psyches. When someone praises a recipe I developed or specialize or a pastry I bequeathed on that stress-bake studio, that warms my heart even moreso than a thousand “you did great!”s during that critique because I know that they liked something that I made and thought it was useful. In times like this, I often forget that I can be useful to others, so food affirms that. And really, that’s why I like it so damn much.
One of my favorite recipes to make on a chilly Sunday evening is my lasagna. It’s not kosher, by any means, nor vegetarian — but is it delicious? You bet your ass it is. I’ve worked for years on perfecting the ricotta-spinach mix, and experimenting with doctoring canned sauce (yes, I know) has been something that’s interested me more and more in recent years. Next on the dockett to make this my ultimate lasagna? A proper bolognese sauce to go with it; Bell’ alimento probably has just the ticket, I’m sure.
PLEASE NOTE: I am really general when it comes to measurements on this recipe, since I pretty much have made it in my sleep since I was a wee babe (or twelve), so if you have questions, please post below! I’m happy to clarify anything and everything when it comes to any and all confusion on my part. Also: don’t be afraid about the list of ingredients! It just sounds like a lot, but when you make things in steps, it really won’t seem that overwhelming — cross my little heart! Thanks and I hope you like this!
LASAGNA WITH SAUSAGE AND SPINACH RICOTTA
PREP: 45-60 min., COOK: 60 min.
FOR THE RICOTTA FILLING:
- 1 tub ricotta (any type of fat will do, seriously, although low-fat ain’t helping you much here, sister) — roughly 2 cups?
- 1 egg
- 1/4 – 1/2 cup Parmesan-Reggiano cheese; mind you, this is totally according to taste.
- 1 package frozen spinach, which should equal 1 lbs. of this great greeny stuff!
- 1 tablespoon dried basil*
- 1 teaspoon dried rosemary, crushed*
- 1 teaspoon dried thyme*
- 1 teaspoon dried oregano*
- 1 teaspoon dried red pepper flakes*
*This is all to taste — and please, taste as you mix! If you’re squeamish about ingesting tiny bits of raw egg, add it in last during the mixing process!
FOR THE SAUCE:
- 1 very large can or 2 regular-sized cans of your favorite spaghetti sauce
- 1 package Italian sausage, heat level to your specifications
- 1 1/2 teaspoons dried basil**
- 1/2 teaspoon dried thyme**
- 1/2 teaspoon dried oregano**
- 1/4 cup red wine — my house prefers merlot, but essentially make sure that you’d drink it before you’d put it in your food, since Christ you’re still ingesting it here.
** See above RE: tasting, you pussies.
FOR THE ASSEMBLY OF THE DELICIOUSNESS:
- 1 package lasagna noodles
- Salted water, to boil (and although they say that salt is important in water in my house, I’m not sure if this is the case! I’ve been very out on this position as a cook, myself.)
- 1 package fresh Mozzarella cheese, sliced into 1/2 inch slices
- 1 – 2 cups shredded Mozzarella cheese for the top, depending on your opinions on cheesiness
- 1 glass baking dish, roughly 8″x10″ (although don’t quote me on this)
- BEFORE ANYTHING ELSE: Preheat your oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit, bitch.
- PREPARE THE RICOTTA MIXTURE. Defrost the spinach in the microwave, then drain in a colander and set aside. Dump ricotta and Parmesan-Reggiano into the bowl and start mixing that puppy up! Season with aforementioned herbs, then add in spinach after properly drained. When pleased with flavor balances in cheese, add in egg to hold this cheesy party together and reserve in refrigerator to meld those happy flavors into a tasty party for later.
- PREPARE YOUR SPAGHETTI SAUCE. Slice your Italian sausage out of its casing, break into tiny pieces that may or may not resemble meatballs depending on your preference, and fry those puppies in a skillet on medium-high heat until all sides are browned and things are popping in this neighborhood! Dust your meat with half of your basil and all of your thyme and oregano in the final five minutes of cooking — if it’s dried, make this time even shorter so that your oregano doesn’t burn and taste like ass, but otherwise wilt those puppies quick! When everything is nice and cooked, add your first can/first half of your spaghetti sauce into the mix and stir that sucker up. Pour your wine into the bottom of the spaghetti jar, cap it, and SHAKE IT UP — that way, not only do you incorporate some delicious wine into your sauce, but you also get the extra sauce on the bottom and top of your jar. Sprinkle on the rest of your basil, salt and pepper, and taste. If something’s missing, adjust to your preferences or ask a more seasoned cook/taster for advice RE: what it needs. Turn your burner to low and let this puppy stew in its delicious, scrumdiddlyumptious juices.
- BOIL YOUR PASTA, GENIUS. Hopefully, you’ve been boiling your pasta water while Saucegate 2009 is brewing, but if not: get to it, Punky Brewster! Fill a sauce pot 1/2 to 3/4 of the way to the top with water and splash some salt in there if you think that salting water is important to the pasta-making process. Put it on high AND BOIL. When you get a rolling boil, dump your lasagna noodles in (and don’t worry if they stick up!) and cook according to directions! Once the bottom of those lasagna noodles soften, stir the pot to make sure that all the noodles are in for a cooking party. Drain and cool.
- ASSEMBLE YOUR DELICIOUS PASTA DISH. So, you have all of your segments — now it’s time to get this show on the road! If you haven’t already, slice your fresh Mozzarella and set aside with your sauce, ricotta mix, and noodles. (NOTE: this will take a lot of countertop space, so feel free to get creative with how you make your assembly line! Most of all, remember: shit can clean up in a kitchen, because it is designed to be easy to clean.) That being said: pour half of your second spaghetti can onto the bottom of your baking dish and slide it all around — consider this a marinara version of greasing your pan. Then, do the following steps twice: lay down a layer of noodles, spoon out some sauce, then spoon out your ricotta, and layer some fresh Mozzarella. (NOTE TWO: if you mess up the order, it is okay. Everything is going to melt into a mouth party anyway.) Once you’re finished with your second layer, you’re probably pretty close to the top and have used all of your materials, so this is how you cap it off: put down a final layer of noodles, pour your second half of your spaghetti sauce can, and then pile this sucker high with shredded Mozzarella for a cheesy, delicious crust.
- BAKE IT! Cover your masterpiece with aluminum foil and bake in that 350 degree oven for 45 minutes. After 45, take off your foil and bake for another 15, or until that cheesy crust is bubbly and golden brown.
- TAKE THAT MOTHERFUCKER OUT AND EAT IT!
YIELD: 6 – 12 servings (???), although that depends on your appetite. Great for leftovers!