Thursday, October 29, 2009

Sweet Potato Chili w/Cornbread Croutons

Well I didn't win the chili cook-off in my department at work today...but I did get 2nd place...out of 4 people. So I know that isn't a shining endorsement of my chili but I'm telling you, it's good. Rich and meaty with some spice rounded out with the addition of sweet potatoes and finished with a hint of nutmeg to give it a nice "fall" taste.

I topped it with cornbread croutons which is just your favorite cornbread recipe (mine comes from a little blue box, don't judge me! I'm not actually Southern :)) made in a larger pan so it comes out thinner and more dense, slice into cubes and then put in the oven on a baking sheet at 400 degrees until the cubes crisp up.

Ryan's Sweet Potato Chili

1-1.5 lbs. meat (I’ve used beef stew meat and boneless pork ribs, could use just about anything that holds up well for slow cooking)
1 poblano pepper
1 red bell pepper
1 med white onion
2 strips bacon
3-4 cloves of garlic (more or less depending on how much you like it)
2 tomatillos (optional)
2 med sweet potatoes, diced
2 cans diced tomatoes (regular or the kind made for chili with spices added)
1 can great northern white beans
1 can pinto beans
1 can black beans
1 12oz bottle of dark beer, I used a recent favorite Lazy Magnolia Southern Pecan Ale
Salt, pepper, cumin, chili powder, nutmeg

-Season meat with salt, pepper, and chili powder overnight or for a few hours then chop into bite sized pieces
-Dice peppers, onion and tomatillos into small pieces or chop in food processor with garlic
-Cut bacon into small pieces
-Over med-high heat, combine bacon, chopped veggies and garlic in large stock pot
-Add meat to brown, does not need to cook all the way through
-Reduce heat to low and add beer and enough water to cover the meat and veggies in the pot
-Add about 2 tsp. each of salt, pepper, cumin, & chili powder – more or less depending on your taste, add a bit of cayenne -pepper, hot sauce or both for heat if you like your chili hotter
-Cover and simmer for about an hour (longer is fine too)
-Meat should be cooked through and tender by this point, remove lid and add the beans, canned tomatoes and sweet potatoes
-Add a sprinkle of nutmeg and cook slowly over low heat until chili thickens and comes together, about 3-4 hours

Friday, September 18, 2009

Please forgive the non-food related post

A friend of mine is casting for a new TV show to be filmed this Fall/Winter - get your house organized and be on TV! I can vouch that the production company is legit with several shows on cable currently :)


We are currently casting couples and families for a new design show that will air in April on a national cable network.








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Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Vegas Baby!

The day after tomorrow I'm heading to Vegas for 3 nights and 4 days of relaxing, gambling, drinking and of course...eating!

I'm meeting my mom, sister, and cousin there and we have a very nice suite at the Mirage that I'm pretty excited about until I realize that I'm the only dude so I will likely end up on a couch or pull out bed or something. Oh well, I don't plan to spend my whole trip in the room!

So far my Vegas eating list includes burgers at In-n-Out, mmmm double-double animal style. And Hubert Keller's Burger Bar. Sushi at Yellowtail. I'm hoping for some decent dim sum? But trying not to get too excited about that. I'm sure there will be a buffet or two in there, and maybe dinner at Mario Batali's B&b Ristorante if anyone else is up for it.

If anyone has any Vegas "must try" places to send me before I leave, leave a comment here. Thanks!

Sunday, August 30, 2009

What's the Occasion?

I get this question a lot. Who/what are you cooking for? The answer is me, and the occasion is that it's Sunday. A few years ago I had gotten out of a relationship that had gone on past it's expiration date, we're still good friends and she's a lovely person but we really weren't meant to be together long term and live together. (she didn't eat meat or want to have cable television in the house - for anyone who knows me, it's a wonder that we shared an apartment for 2 whole years). Anyways, for the first time in awhile I found myself living alone and re-thinking a lot of things in my life. It's also when I really discovered cooking and that I had an enjoyment of it and a little bit of skill at it. I had obviously been feeding myself for much of my adult life but I had never really taken much of an interest in it other than making sure I was eating and trying to do it somewhat healthily. I was living in a beautiful basement apartment in the Central District of Seattle. The owners lived upstairs - he was a contractor and she was an architect and they had restored this beautiful, big Victorian home and made the street level into a one bedroom + small den apartment. My friend Michal lived there and it was one of those places that you go see when your friend moves in and you say, "if you ever move out of here, I want a heads up because I would totally move in". And sure enough, a year later I did. It was within walking distance/short easy bus ride of downtown, the waterfront, Capitol Hill, Pioneer Square, the Seahawks stadium, everything I needed. It was totally cheap, had a huge bathroom, a washer and dryer and also a great kitchen - these things rarely come in a place for under $1000 in Seattle. And I found myself cooking more for myself as a way of being nice to myself and taking care of myself. I would invite friends over for dinner, and a large part of winning over my now ex-wife was done in that kitchen. (thinking about that now, it's amazing I still want to cook at all!)

I don't remember how it started but I started making pretty large and elaborate dinners for myself on Sundays. I was usually recovering from some sort of fun on Saturday night and had a kitchen full of groceries and would make myself something comforting and good every Sunday whether it was just me or a house full of friends. I've really kept that going all this time. Saturday is usually a day I run around, get things done, clean, do laundry, go out, etc. but Sunday is a quieter day at home and I always cook something. It's only lately that I've been talking more about what I cook, it's part of a process of gaining confidence in what I make and sharing it with others. As I consider making this my life's work, I need to really be ready to share what I make and accept people's thoughts on it - good or bad. But regardless of who's here, if I'm alone or entertaining people, Sundays are always a big dinner at my house. Whether it means I'm eating the leftovers for a week or not! It doesn't matter how much work or how complicated a dish is, I won't just heat something up on Sunday night or make something easy. I'm worth a big dinner to start off my week and this is my way of giving myself a nice treat before returning to work on Monday morning.

So that's what the occasion is on Sunday and why I make a big Sunday supper. Part of it is probably the Italian in me, but it's how I like to wind down and prepare for what lies ahead on Monday and I love the feeling of going to bed with a full belly after a nice and fun weekend.

So I guess since it is Sunday I should talk about what I made tonight. Yesterday at the Farmer's Market I found some great local NY strip steaks. I threw one on the grill tonight very simply seasoned with salt and pepper, then topped it with some sauteed mushrooms and caramelized onions and horseradish creme fraiche. But the star of the meal was the salad - OMG the salad. At Mirror, a local restaurant they have an amazing fried goat cheese salad that I love but haven't had in awhile. I was thinking about it this morning and wondering how hard it would be to recreate at home. I did a little reading and found a John Besh recipe for a similar dish with fried goat cheese and followed those instructions. It's easier than I thought - slice goat cheese into rounds, dredge in flour, dip in a beaten egg, then coat with bread crumbs and cool in fridge. Right before you want to serve them you heat up a pan with oil and fry at a high temp so the outside is crispy and browned but the inside is creamy goat cheese goodness. I threw them on top of a simple arugula and tomato salad with olive oil and red wine vinegar and it was out of this world. I almost forgot about my steak!

And of course no Sunday supper is complete without dessert. I had some buttermilk in my fridge I needed to use up so I found a recipe for a lemon buttermilk ice cream and added some vanilla to it. Ran it through the machine earlier and it's resting in the freezer now. A scoop of that, with some fresh blackberries will be the perfect way to top off my evening - while watching the premiere of Tool Academy 2 on VH1 - don't judge me!!

Thursday, August 27, 2009

If I say it out loud it will happen

My therapist suggested I read Eat, Pray, Love. I can't believe I've never read this before, of course I had heard of it but I hadn't realized how closely it mirrors my ideas, my dreams that I'm trying to make a reality. I'm devouring it. I recently finished reading The Sharper Your Knife, The Less You Cry by Kathleen Flinn (which I HIGHLY recommend) and so I've entered the mindset of figuring out what I would do with my life if I could do anything I wanted. This is a very new concept for me. I've made a living doing basically the same thing since I was 16 years old. I've worked my ass off to move up to the level I'm at now, and constantly pushed myself further, faster, and educated myself as much as I can because I've always felt that not having a college education means I need to prove myself so much more. The truth is, I've never really thought about a career being something you aspire to. I have a career and a pretty successful one, but I always have told myself that this is just how it is and you get a job and stay with it, work hard, save and then when you retire you can do what you want. Travel, live a life of leisure, etc. But what if it doesn't work that way? What if you spend your life working for that day and it never comes? What if you're too old, too tired, your retirement fund has been drained by some asshole on Wall Street, or you give your life to a job that eliminates the need for you just before you're eligible for retirement? Why not do all that stuff you want to do now? Well most of the time it's because you have responsibilities, you can't just walk away from your life, your family, people who depend on you, etc. But what if you're 34, divorced with no kids and find yourself waking up to the possibility that you want more for yourself?

The plan:

3-4 months of travel. Driving across the U.S., visiting friends, seeing things, experiencing things, eating things and writing about it all. Then Europe, Italy in particular. Learn to cook from my Italian relatives - eat everything, taste everything, experience everything.

Culinary school. Vancouver, Canada. An accelerated 6 month program at Pacific Institute of Culinary Arts. Learning culinary basics and professional cooking in one of my favorite cities in the world with access to everything fresh and amazing and local. Seafood, meat, poultry, cheese, produce, all of it. Getting a truly international food experience and education while staying close to home.

WWOOF. Worldwide Opportunities in Organic Farming. An "internship" type program in organic farming and more. Room and board provided in exchange for work all over the country/world. Get in the dirt, see first hand where food comes from and how to cultivate it. 6 months to a year of learning and working and immersing myself in food at it's most basic source.

Then work, finding work in the food world somewhere. Ideally in a small inn, resort, cafe, etc. Living and working somewhere beautiful and feeding people with my hands every day. A simple life, a life with purpose and integrity, nourishing people.

That's my dream. My goal. Now to make it happen.

Monday, August 24, 2009

Shredded Pork Tacos

I tried something new tonight and it turned out so good that I had to immediately blog about it so I didn't put it off like usual. Also I'm trying to be better about paying attention when I'm cooking so that I actually have some sort of recipe to include in the post rather than my usual style of "a little of this, a little of that" and having no idea what I put in something by the time it's done. How I usually cook new things is to research a bunch of recipes online, pull parts from each that sound good and then throw something together - unless of course I'm baking where I'm more precise with measurements and tend to stick to one recipe at a time.

So I've been wanting to make this Tyler Florence Mexican Pork Chili ever since I first came across it but summer in Tennessee is not exactly chili weather and also...I can admit it...I'm scared of cooking with tomatillos. Not sure why, I love eating them in things but just have always been intimidated about using them myself. So the other day I came across some boneless pork spare ribs in my freezer and was thinking about what I could make with them and I was thinking about the chili recipe when I came up with the idea to braise the pork with tomatillos, onion, poblano pepper and garlic then shred the pork for tacos, enchiladas, taco salads, etc. and pureed the veggies and braising liquid into a sauce. I planned to do this over the weekend but ran out of time so I seasoned up the pork last night so that I just had to throw everything together tonight when I got home and let it sit in the oven and do it's magic. The result was a late taco dinner but very much worth the wait!

-Season pork ribs (I used about 2 lbs) with salt, pepper, garlic powder, cumin, chili powder, paprika & a little cayenne
-Chop 1 medium onion, 1 large pablano pepper, and 3 tomatillos into large chunks
-Preheat oven to 375 degrees
-Cover bottom of large covered dutch oven with olive oil and heat over med. high
-Brown pork ribs on both sides
-Add in vegetables
-Add 2 cups chicken stock, 1/2 cup good tequila, juice of 1/2 lime, 2 tablespoons minced garlic (or less, I like garlic!), and about a cup of water until the meat is covered with liquid.
-Place cover on pan and cook in oven for 2 hours
-Remove meat from liquid and rest before shredding
-Skim fat from liquid and pureed with hand blender or in food processor, reduce down to desired consistency

That's it - awesome shredded pork with tons of flavor and a great texture plus a tasty sauce for tacos or enchiladas, burritos, etc. I'll be eating this pork all week y'all!

I used the pork and sauce in a couple of corn tortillas with avocado, cheese, sour cream and cilantro above - so good!

Sunday, August 9, 2009

Adventures In Ice Cream and Pizza

Salted caramel ice cream. Made of awesome (and heavy cream, sugar, eggs, vanilla, salt). Trust me it tastes better than this pic looks, I really need a new camera for proper food photos or I need better lighting in my kitchen...or both.

I am a horrible blogger y'all. I blame it on time and lack of photos but then I have time and I have yummy things to write about and I sit here and stare at a blank screen. Then it's midnight on a Sunday and suddenly I want to sit down and blog. My creative energy is not friends with my corporate work schedule.

Ok so I've wanted an ice cream maker for a long time now and always talked myself out of it for one reason or another. I hate single use kitchen appliances (with the obvious exception of the coffee maker that I would be lost without) so it always seemed silly to buy a machine just to make ice cream - why do you need a machine, why can't you just make ice cream and put it in the freezer? Well because you can't or actually you can, but it's called semifreddo and that's different. Anyways, to get the proper texture for ice cream it's really tough to do it without an ice cream machine so I broke down and picked up a used on on Ebay a couple weeks ago. Totally worth it. My first attempt was rather ambitious but hey if you're going to do it you should just jump right in, right? There was a salted caramel ice cream in last month's Gourmet that looked heavenly so of course it was the first ice cream I wanted to make. It did take me two attempts to get the base right, the first one involved me turning the custard into scrambled eggs, swearing a lot, dumping like $8 worth of good whole milk, cream, and eggs down the drain and muttering to myself that Ben & Jerry's is totally delicious - but then success! I made the base as directed, let it sit in the fridge for several hours, poured it in the ice cream machine and like 30 minutes later there was ice cream! I transfered to a container and froze overnight and of course first thing when I woke up I headed to the kitchen for a spoonful - I don't normally have ice cream for breakfast, but it was really hard to stop at that spoonful!

After the success of the first batch I decided to use up a bunch of rainier cherries I had and made a frozen lemon custard with cherry puree and chopped cherries. This one didn't have the rich texture I was looking for, but was still delicious. This week I'm attempting a key lime watermelon sherbet. I'll let y'all know how that goes.

I'd been wanting to make pizza on the grill for while now but haven't gotten around to it until this weekend. I picked up some pizza dough in the bakery at Publix which worked just awesome for this. I wanted something really light and simple so I took some ricotta and mixed in some lemon zest and handful of fresh herbs from my herb garden (basil, flat leaf parsley, chives, and thyme) and sliced up a nice heirloom tomato I needed to use up. I heated up the grill, brushed the pizza dough with olive oil and threw it on the grill. After a few minutes it was crisping up and getting some nice grill marks so I flipped it over, spread the lemon herb ricotta on and added the tomato. Then I just shut the lid to the grill and gave it a few minutes to finish. It was one of the tastiest things I've eaten in awhile, the crust was perfectly crisp with a little softness to it, the ricotta was bright and fresh and the tomato was sweet and delicious.

I'm planning on making this again tomorrow for a meatless monday dish, I may swap out the tomato for roasted beets though and throw a little arugula on top. That sounds really good. I can't believe how simple and quick the meal was and it was a nice summer dinner that I could cook outside and not heat up my kitchen on a hot night. Perfect.

I also saw Julie and Julia today, which was very entertaining. I don't know if I think it's as good as the book, it's hard to compare because it's two books woven together and the Julia Child part of the story was really great to have in the movie. Overall it was worth the ticket price and of course it made me head over to Whole Foods afterwards and pick up all kinds of yummy food. I realized on my very long scooter ride back to East Nashville from Green Hills that what I really love about cooking is that it makes me feel alive. There is a part in the movie where Julie is making a chocolate cream pie and talking about how awful her day was and how great cooking is because there are constants, if you follow the recipe you will get the result (well, most of the time anyways). There are few things like that in life, but when I'm in the kitchen I always know that I'm going to put work into something and it's going to yield a result I'm looking for (again, MOST of the time). It's comforting to me and no matter how simple or how fancy of a dish I'm making, being in the kitchen is always the best part of my day because I know I can do something right there.

Alright, enough kitchen philosophy here, time for bed!

Monday, July 6, 2009

A sweet, soft Southern thrill

Ok, so it wasn't exactly a "Dixieland Delight" but I did make a pretty damn tasty TN summer supper last night. Sadly I did not take pics because we were too busy eating it all!

I was nursing a pretty serious hangover all day Saturday so my 4th of July plans turned out to be me on the couch watching Margaret Cho and falling asleep by midnight. I know, I know, you can barely contain your jealously. Between napping, whining about my headache, drinking water and watching many hours of news coverage of Steve McNair's murder I didn't even drag myself out to buy groceries and my fridge and pantry were looking pretty sad. Finally I scrounged together the ingredients for a pretty dang tasty mac n cheese with smoked sausage I found in my freezer. I've realized that the trick to homemade mac n cheese is mastering the bechamel sauce which I feel pretty confident about these days thanks to my lasagna making adventures. I need to experiment with some more cheeses but the Tillamook cheddar and goat cheese version I made this weekend was great.

I've had a friend in town this weekend and wanted to send him off with a tasty homemade meal full of Tennessee goodness so I took a trip to the farmer's market yesterday and put together the following:

A bright, juicy, fresh local tomato simply sliced with salt, olive oil, balsamic and fresh basil from my herb garden

Roasted beets with local goat cheese (ok, the cheese came from the Turnip Truck not the farmer's market)

Sweet potato cornbread

Sweet corn and fresh herb risotto

For a cocktail I pureed a couple of my first batch of TN peaches for the year and mixed with a little lemonade and Corsair Artisan vanilla bean vodka. Perfect.

I love summer and coming up with new and different ways to use all that's fresh and available in this area. I'm finally starting to appreciate what's available here locally without always pining for my faves from back home....well ok, there's still some pining.

The day after tomorrow I'm heading down to Mobile, AL to take my first cruise. We are taking a quick cruise to Cozumel, Mexico. I'm really looking forward to a few days away from work, stress, responsibility, and life in general to lounge, catch up on some reading, get a little sun, and relax. Awwwww, I can't wait. Look for updates on the cruise food (should I expect it to suck and not get my hopes up?) and interesting things I may eat and drink on vacation after I get back. I know that we're stopping in at the Dew Drop Inn in Mobile to eat the cheeseburger that inspired Jimmy Buffet to write "Cheeseburger in Paradise" so that should be a good time.

Friday, June 26, 2009

The obligatory food blogger post about Food, Inc.

I've been told recently that people are actually reading this so I guess I need to be better about updating it!

I've just returned from the Nashville premiere of Food, Inc. at the Belcourt Theater with a terrific panel discussion afterwards of food producers and activists. I feel like there probably isn't much for me to say about the film that someone else hasn't already said a lot better than I could - except to beg anyone reading to go see it, convince others to go see it, and spread the message of what's happening to our food supply.

I think a few of the things that really struck me given what I do for a living is how powerless the government really has become in terms of food safety and regulation in this country. I work every day with government regulations on products being imported from other countries (I don't currently deal in any food products), and we are inundated with regulations on everything from where the materials come from that make up the product to where it is manufactured, how it is labeled, etc. I can't import a Christmas ornament without supplying a ream of documents showing who made it in which country and that it is labeled correctly so the end consumer knows what they are purchasing - yet the meat packers in this country can sell a hamburger in the supermarket containing beef from hundreds of cows (in ONE burger) that could have come from several countries and they don't have to label that product in any way that the consumer can trace it back to where it came from. Take the toy recalls of last year for lead paint and other dangers - within days products are removed from the shelves, the company selling them identifies the factory in China where they came from, notices go out to consumers, etc. And this is on a product that causes developmental damage in children - not mitigating the danger there, but it's a long term effect of repeated exposure that is the problem with lead poisoning. E coli poisoning can kill a child within a matter of days and it can take WEEKS to trace back to the source of the problem and for the manufacturer to track and pull product off the shelves once a sample tests positive for food born illness. It makes no sense to me. Since 9/11 we've heard so much hype about the danger of terrorists infiltrating the food supply in America and how devastating that would be. The food supply has already been infiltrated and it's not only accepted by our government, most of the folks in a position to make laws to regulate the food safety in this country are former lobbyists or executives of the companies they are supposed to regulate.

Food safety is just one issue presented, but I think it's an incredibly important one to get out there because I think selling people on the idea that food grown responsibly and sustainably is also food that is healthy and safe is key. No one wants to feed their family something dangerous, no parent wants to feed their kid burgers that have been washed with ammonia because the beef is so diseased and contaminated that it is the only way to make it edible (true), but they don't know it's happening because the system is set up to keep them in the dark. The system is set up to grow food cheaper, faster, and bigger - at the expense of pretty much everyone except the few large corporations that profit from it. There's so much that I could write about it's almost making my head spin right now. I can't think of any other issues that fire me up more than food and the importance of a safe, responsible, healthy food supply system.

I realize that I come at this from a position of privledge (OMG y'all I swear as I typed that sentence MJ's "Man in the Mirror" just came on my iTunes - Michael is telling me from the grave to make some changes!). I'm single, I made decent money and perhaps most importantly I have the luxury of access to information and time to educate myself on where my food comes from. I'm not feeding a family, I don't have to make a lot of hard choices about where my next meal comes from. I can spend a saturday afternoon browsing the farmer's market to pick out fresh produce, local meat and eggs, etc. and then spend hours cooking all kinds of tasty things. A large part of my free time is spent around food, reading about food, making food, eating food, etc. It's a passion for me and something that I'm very invested in learning about, I know this isn't the case for most people. But the thing that gets me most fired up I think is that it shouldn't be like this. It shouldn't be considered a luxury or some sort of elitism to have access to fresh, non-processed food. Arugula shouldn't be something that Republicans use to paint Obama as elite and out of touch with "hometown USA", it should be growing in every backyard in America and something that anyone can throw with a little oil and vinegar as part of their meal for much less than they can buy a cheeseburger at McDonald's. When we can buy a burger that has been processed from so many sources, trucked all over the country, frozen, reheated, etc. cheaper than we can buy a bunch of carrots that came out of the farm less than 20 miles away - something is very wrong with our food system.

So yeah, as I suspected this film just solidifies my desire to get out there and do more work, more direct activism, and more education. I can feel a fundamental shift happening in the way I look at the world and my place in it and unplugging from "the system" a little more each day.

Go see this film if you're even the slightest bit interested in what you put in your body - but especially if you're not interested. Don't continue to think that meat comes in a nice wrapped package in the supermarket and there is not an animal life attached to it and several human lives affected by the process of killing it and getting it to you. Don't think that all food is equal and that the FDA/USDA will protect you and your family from contracting a food born illness or put human safety above corporate profit. And most of all, don't forget that corporations do not care about feeding you and nourishing you and your family. Any time we take responsibility for the act of feeding ourselves and those we care about, we are doing a part to create change in the system. Cooking your own food, learning where it comes from and making informed choices, these are becoming subversive acts in our society. Don't wait until all the good choices are gone and these small farmers trying to do good are pushed out by big agriculture before you speak out. Vote with your meals and your food budget, if enough people demand good food the companies who supply it will have no choice but to make it happen.

Good lord y'all, when did I become such a hippie?

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Lasagna Bolognese

My grandfather went off to Italy in WWII and brought back more than a love for Italian food - he brought back a wife and they had 6 children, the second oldest of which is my mother. My mother and her siblings all had multiple children, I am the second oldest of 18 grandchildren. We all spent many years growing up in and around my grandparent's huge Victorian home, and many of my favorite memories involve what we ate. Way before I knew that it was anything special I was eating fine, hand crafted Italian food and drinking amazing espresso. It's funny how most people develop a taste for finer food as they age, I think I've spent most of my adulthood coming back to the food of my childhood that I never fully appreciated when I was young. What's that joke about what do Chinese call Chinese food? Food. I never realized how spoiled I was, food-wise, as a child. I grew up with a heavy Italian influence in the way upper northwest corner of Washington State, right on the Canadian border. Holidays and family birthdays were huge feasts of all you can eat salmon (grilled and home smoked), crab just hauled from the bay across the street, oysters, clams, salads right out of the garden, salami, fresh bread, biscotti, and the family favorite - my grandmother's lasagna bolognese. We had lasagna all the time - some families have an Easter ham, a Thanksgiving turkey, Christmas goose, etc. - the Bennett clan ate those normal holiday foods too but there were always huge pans of lasagna on the table as well. It was a staple, layers of fresh handmade spinach noodles, meat sauce, bechamel sauce, and cheese. It was what they call in foodie circles, rustic. Simple. Beautiful. Delicious.

Later I found out that "grandma's lasagna" was a collaboration between my grandmother and one of her good friends, Bruna - who my family affectionately nicknamed "grandma's kitchen slave". When my grandmother moved over here from Italy she did not speak English (almost 60 years later, some days it's debatable whether she does even now!), she knew no one other than her husband, but she got hooked in with the Italian community in nearby Vancouver, Canada (about 45 min. north) and we had many "honorary relatives" from Canada who would come down for weekends and parties. I could write a whole blog post about Bruna, she's in her 80's now and has lived in the same apartment in East Vancouver for decades. Never married, loves to drink and gamble, picture the stereotype of an old Italian spinster who loves a good brandy and to argue about politics and you've got Bruna. My mom remembers Bruna coming and staying at their house when she was young, Bruna would be doing laundry, cooking, ironing, whatever needed to be done. I like to joke that Bruna was paying off some secret mafia related debt to my grandparents for years and years by doing domestic work but she was probably just a lonely older lady with no family of her own so she was happy to help out in exchange for companionship. Who knows. Anyways, her and my grandmother would get together several times a year for an all-out lasagna making marathon.

I wish I had paid more attention to this when I was a kid. I wish I had watched them make the sauce, roll out the fresh pasta dough, assemble the huge hotel pans of delicious lasagna goodness. But I didn't, I ate that stuff, along with the rest of my cousins, like there was a never-ending supply. In 2001, my grandmother was making a batch of lasagna when she got the phonecall that her oldest son, my uncle Benny had died from a sudden and very unexpected heart attack. She has not made lasagna since that day, that is how powerful the memory is. She says the smell would make her sick now. I was 26 then and had not yet grasped that things and people from my childhood would not be around forever. I grew up in a small town that never seemed to change fast enough when I was growing up and all of a sudden things were starting to disappear that I assumed would always be around. A lot of these things I associate with food - as I lose people in my life, move to new places, etc. I have taught myself to cook things as a way to hold onto memories of people and places I love. I can make my mother's beef stroganoff from memory now, one of my favorite foods growing up. I spent years trying to make my grandmother's very basic chicken soup but pretty much have it down, I can make a mean tater-tot casserole just like my aunt Linda, tollhouse cookie bars just like my mom's and this past winter I spent a few weekends trying to make a cookie bar like I used to beg for every time we went to Nordstrom as a kid.

A couple of weeks before Easter, my grandfather passed away. He was my hero in so many ways and a man who taught me so much about life, family, business, food, and hockey - among other things. He would have turned 80 on April 14th, I always associate his birthday with Easter because we would frequently have a big family get together to celebrate both holidays at once. For Easter this year, thousands of miles away from my family - I wanted my grandmother's lasagna for dinner. I wanted to remember what I consider to be my family's signature dish, feel connected to those memories of big family dinners, and celebrate the life of my grandpa with one of his favorite foods.

So after researching various recipes I chose a recipe for a Bolognese sauce from, I bought some semolina flour which had a simple pasta recipe on the package and I set out Easter Sunday to make a lasagne.

First up, sauce. I started cooking the meat sauce early in the day to let it simmer for several hours. It started like this:

and then ended up like this:

It smelled exactly like I remember my grandma's sauce, meaty and rich. I was feeling good that maybe I was actually going to do this.

Then it was time to make the pasta - I was nervous but it ended up being so easy and since I was making a lasagna that would be layered with sauce and cheese, I didn't have to worry about cutting the noodles so they looked perfect and pretty!

Eggs, water, olive oil, flour and salt

Now, my pasta did have more of a "rustic" look than more experienced pasta chefs would make! But it worked and I chose to immediately make the lasagna and let the noodles cook in the dish rather than boil first because they were fresh and wouldn't take long at all to cook. A layer of sauce, pasta, a little Parmigiano-Reggiano, bechamel sauce, repeat.

Waiting for it to bake and then cool a little before eating was torture - the whole house smelled amazing. The first bite took me right back to my childhood and my family and it turned out to be the perfect way to feel connected to my family when I'm far away.

I'm heading out to Colorado in a few days, meeting up with family at my sister's house for a few days. I'm looking forward to making the lasagna for everyone and enjoying some some great times with great food.