Saturday, October 25, 2008

Cookblog III: What Price Popularity?

Before we start the next installment of Paul's Adventures in Chefdom, a plea to the public:

Will someone please teach me how to shrink (e.g., halve) recipes?

I get the obvious step (reduce all the ingredients proportionally). But presumably one doesn't cook, say, half the food for as long as one cooks the original recipe (as there's less mass to heat, and thus one would burn it). But, likewise, presumably one doesn't reduce the cooking time proportional to the reduction in the ingredient amount. (Reductio of that idea: take 1/45 of a recipe that takes 45 minutes to cook: does one cook it for one minute? Obviously not.)

I imagine there's probably some formula for this? Or at least rules of thumb? Or something?

Right now (as you read), several readers are probably reflecting on the fact that they know how to do this, but are hoping that someone else will go through the effort of explaining it. Well, that won't do. Homey don't play no bystander effect. In order to avoid it, I'm going to use the technique professors have used for centuries: cold-calling.

And I call on Helen. Helen, you are a professional: you edit cookbooks for a living. You also have a foodblog, for which you are paid money. You are more than qualified to tell me how to do this, if there is a way to do so. As you are also my friend, I like to think you're disposed to do so. And I know you're reading, because I'm about to send a link to you. Help?

(Help from others also appreciated.)

Why this urgent appeal? Well, the recipe I am about to post feeds at least 6, and probably closer to 8 if you have friends with small appetites. Here's the thing. I'm not going to eat lasagna for six or 8 meals in a row, and it won't keep in the fridge forever. So this is something I can only make for other people. Today, I made it for a potluck. It made me very popular. I arrived 45 minutes late, yet it was the first item finished. It also cost me thirty-five dollars, mostly in cheese. This cannot continue. If I am to ever try, or eat, this again, it must be in vastly reduced size.

Right. On to the cooking.

Ingredients, tools, etc.

-9x13 lasagna pan + various knives, bowls, cheese graters, etc. (already owned)
-two pre-made jars spaghetti sauce ($4.98) (the person who gave me this recipe specified "something thick with LOTS of veggies" -- I went with heavy garlic -- and I was *this close* to adding more garlic too)
- no cook lasagna noodles (already had, from the last time
- ricotta (15/16 oz. container) ($5.99)
- parm cheese ($8.10 for the smallest hunk they had in whole foods, almost all of which I used)
- mozarella cheese ($5.26, likewise on size and usage)
- a packet (like 4) of turkey/chicken sausages ($6.99).

This time, incidentally, I came to my senses with the sausage. No more mango sausage or anything like that. I got pre-cooked cajun andouille sausage, although it wasn't nearly strong enough, and doesn't work nearly as well as it should -- I suspect partly because pre-cooked, and partly because andouille should be made with pork. New Orleans food shouldn't be abused this way. Oh well.


(my camera is producing alarmingly blurred pictures lately, possibly because I held it over the steaming grill for the last cookblog. This is worrisome: I've no idea how to clean a camera lens...)
- oregano ($1.99)
- parsley ($1.49)

You can see immediately why I may be the first person in the history of personal finance driven into penury by quitting eating out and cooking more for himself.

Paul's Financial Downfall:


1. 1. If buying raw sausage, throw it in a pan and cook them up with oil and butter or just plain. frying pan, on stovetop. Fortunately, I didn't do this.

2. Preheat oven to 350
3. Cut 1 pkg (4 saus) sausage into little bits like centimeter thick or so.

I am developing knife skills. I managed to chop all four sausages at once.

Be Impressed:

2. grate 1/2 cup parmesan (with the medium-sized gratey bits)

3. grate 2 cups of the moz

4. Chop (mince, I guess) 1 tbsp oregano and identical amount of parsley. I am again impressed by myself, for 1) being able to remove the leaves from the oregano very efficiently (grab at the top, run fingers down -- against the grain -- and all but the topmost leaves just fly right off!), and also for my further development of knife skills: I managed to mince it all at some speed by just smushing it all together and having at it with a knife.

5. Mix, in a large bowl, 1/4 cup of the parm (that is, half of what you've grated -- I forgot what one does with the rest, so I just put it all on top at the end), all the riccotta, the oregano and parsley.

As the recipe calls for "vigorously" mixing all of this, I decided to do it with a whisk. This was a mistake.

6. Spread half the sausage and half the sauce in the pan.

7. Cover that with one layer of noodles (which comes out to be 4, but they don't fit well).


They suck ass. Never buy them. They come out hard and icky. Next time, I think I'll have to get the real kind of noodle.

The Enemy:

8. Spread half of the cheese mess over the noodles -- maximizing coverage. (I accidentally used too much in this stage.)
9. Spread half the mozzerella likewise

10. Repeat steps 6-10 for a second layer.

11. Cover with foil (NOT PLASTIC -- I was tempted, but it will melt. If your instincts are like mine, you too will need to be reminded of this) and cook for 30 minutes. Put it as close to the middle of the oven as possible.

12. Remove the cover, then cook uncovered for 15 minutes. or just cook for 45 uncovered.

How do you remove the foil without burning yourself? I now own a pair of tongs!

I also noticed that the Atrocious Crap Noodles had managed to poke themselves up from the outside after uncovering, so I smushed them back down before the last 15.

Rise of the Demon-Noodles:

11. Let stand outside oven for 15 mins before serving.

12. Eat. Nummy.

Verdict: this actually tasted yummy. I would have preferred more spicy and more garlic-y, but one can't have everything. Also, I have a white hot rage at those noodles, which came out hard and yet gummy: difficult to cut, and not pleasant, texture-wise, to eat. They also seemed to shrink while cooking, so that they did a very poor job of covering the rest.

So this recipe is a keeper, but for the cost and the wretched noodles.

Credit for this goes to my friend Danielle. Some weeks ago, I e-mailed a random cross-section of my local friends and invited them to horribly exploit me: to come over and eat at my expense, in exchange for teaching me how to make yummy things, and suffering my incompetence/neurotic note-taking/inquisition-style* interrogation as to every miniscule detail of the requirements for preparing the food in question. Danielle is the first person who took me up on it, and she taught me this, whereupon numerous political scientists descended on my studio to drink my wine and eat lasagna, at, in other words, even more outrageous expense than this time (since I had to pay for the wine too, as well as buy a lasagna pan, and buy a box of those noodles that anger me so). That time, I also didn't have any aluminum foil, so I just put it in the oven for 45 minutes. (I'd thought that was why the noodles turned out hard that time, but, nope, they were still hard this time around too. The noodles just suck ass.) So, in other words, this is my second try at this recipe. This time, however, I did it on my own. Be proud of me. I actually produced something yummy, unsupervised!

Also, Stanford people are wussies. The person whose party it was remarked that the lasagna was "spicy." My ass it was. I thought of making it spicy, but decided against it on grounds of compassion toward the weak. Next time, I'm unleashing the dark forces of the occult and opening up a can of hot pepper whoopass on the whole thing.

Now, if you'll excuse me, I need to go burn down my kitchen, as the dirty dishes have taken over all available surfaces. Also, I haven't gotten a single scholarly sentence written today, between cooking, writing this post, and spending a couple of hours at the gym. Bad Paul.

* The inquisition**, let's begin
The inquisition, look out sin
I'll bet you're wishin'
that we'd go awayyyyyyyyy
But the inquisition's here and it's here to stayyyyy!

Torquemada, Torquemada, what do you say?
I just got back from the auto de fe!
Auto da fe? What's an auto da fe?
Something you know you shouldn't do but you do anyway!

the Spanish Inquisition song, from Mel Brooks's History of the World, Part I. It makes me happy. I've been known to burst into it completely at random on the streets.

** Nobody expects...