February 9, 2013

My Kitchen Wish List

Do you know about New York City kitchens? Perhaps you're reading this in nearby Queens or lovely Westchester County where I was raised, but I'm proud to report folks from Germany, Austria, Russia, Switzerland, and Australia [to name a few] are reading my blog. That makes me pumped to keep going, but I bet my kitchen woes probably aren't unique to New York. I have a very small kitchen. It's not so much a kitchen as it is a wall of cabinets and appliances on one side of our living room. New Yorkers, it seems, prefer to entertain in large living rooms and must cater or order in. We don't. We're on a big savings kick right now, so home cooking is the way to go.

I imagine Berlin and Moscow have their fair share of small kitchens and yet people make it work. I'm not always happy about it, but I manage. My husband can probably judge my frustration with a recipe by the number of times I use phrases like When we move... and You know what I need? I really need a...

And that brings me to my wish list. Storage space in my cabinets is at premium, so this list is not lofty. It's practical. The list of what I'd like when I'm in the kitchen of my dreams is much, much longer.

Le Creuset 10 inch Cast Iron Skillet

This skillet is the next kitchen item I want most. Since my obessession with my French oven--just take a look at the image at the top of my blog--I've grown to love what cast iron does to food. I know this would work miracles on dinners like hanger steak and it can go from the stove top into the oven perfectly. Just looking at this skillet makes me crave bacon.

Wusthof Paring Knife

As wedding gifts, we got three excellent Wusthof knives: a large chef's knife, a small Santoku knife, and a carving knife. At a recent knife skills class, I learned that the Santoku blade is the most common knife used in Japan. These knives are excellent quality and since the class, I know how to best use them and how to take care of them--I'm honing before every use!

Still, there are some jobs that the ever verstile chef's knife can't manage well and that are too delicate for the Santoku. The short blade of a paring knife is ideal for trimming fats off proteins before cooking, deveining shrimp, and peeling. Before I lose a finger, I need to add a paring knife to my collection.

Calphalon Jelly Roll Pans

I'm cooking in larger quantities than ever to make sure we always have leftovers for lunch and to help stock the freezer. When I'm roasting vegetables, they're pretty crowded in the one 12 x 9 baker I have. These roll pans seem to be ideal for everything from roasting broccoli to baking cookies and they're far cheaper than more baking dishes.

New York City Dream Kitchen featured in House Beautiful

I have somewhat realistic aspirations. We're New Yorkers through and through, so a large kitchen with an island isn't in our future. Still, I think one day my culinary dreams will come true with a kitchen like this one. It is meticulously designed so every cabinet and draw has an explicit purpose and not an inch of storage is misused. I also appreciate the all white look; very crisp. How long will this crying cook need to wait?

February 5, 2013

Baked Ziti

I cannot make lasagna. I've tried, but the noodles and the amount of sauce get me every time. I've blundered boiling the noodles; they stick together, rip, and tear. One of my lasagna attempts with one of the no-boil pastas was swimming in a pool of sauce. The optimist in me wanted to present it as lasagna soup.

Choose your culinary battles wisely. Ziti, to this total non-Italian, has the same flavors as lasagna with 100% less headache. I make two batches at a time because it's not at all double the work and then I have a entire dinner with leftovers in the freezer. I started making double batches of ziti when my husband and I, then dating, first moved in together. We were living in a smaller Brooklyn apartment that had a kitchen that was comparatively enormous to what we have now. Go figure.

Ingredients & Tools
  • 2 lbs. ziti
  • 2 lbs. ground turkey [beef or chicken]
  • 2 28 oz. cans of crushed tomatoes
  • 16 oz. shredded mozzarella
  • 15 oz. ricotta cheese
  • 2 defrosted boxes of frozen spinach
  • 2 tablespoons oregano 
  • 2 tablespoons garlic
  • 1 tablespoon basil
  • 1/2 tablespoon red pepper flakes
  • 4 teaspoons Kosher salt
  • olive oil
  • 2 large pots with lids
  • collander
  • 2 oven and freezer-safe dishes

Add about 2 tablespoons of olive oil to a large pot and brown the protein. I'm making beef stew this week, so I went with ground turkey for this dinner.

Drain the protein of your choice and fill another pot with water for the pasta. Crank up the heat and cover it.

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

In the pot where you cooked the meat, add another 2 tablespoons of olive oil and the dried herbs. Ina Garten cooks dried herbs and spices to "wake up" the flavors. She's a genius, so I do what she does. This "waking up" takes under a minute.

Add both cans of crushed tomatoes.

Add 4 teaspoons of Kosher salt. Add the ground turkey/beef/chicken and cover the pot. Allow the sauce to simmer for about 20 minutes, as the pasta cooks.

Cook the pasta just under al dente, following the directions on the box. I cooked my ziti for 9 minutes. Drain and get the assembly line ready. Start by placing a thin layer of sauce at the bottom of each baking dish to prevent sticking.

Add a layer of ziti. Look, it doesn't matter if they're all lined up! In fact, it'd be pretty hard to line up ziti noodles. Rejoice in the freedom.

Totally drain the thawed spinach. This involved squeezing the life out of these greens. You don't want to add unnecessary liquid. Add all of one box of spinach to each of the dishes. I know lasagna doesn't traditionally have spinach, but I like to have a vegetable with dinner and this is an easy way to get a serving in.

Add another layer of sauce and the ricotta.

Cheese loves cheese. Add a layer of mozzarella. If you're all about equal distribution, think one fourth of the total amount of mozzarella.

Add another layer of ziti. Look at the chaos!

Finish it off with the rest of the mozzarella.

Bake at 350 degrees for 30 minutes and when it doesn't cut into a perfect square when you serve it, know it's supposed to be that way. Enjoy!

Evernote for Teacher Organization

It's an Evernote love fest! I just posted about Evernote Clipper after the first Evernote post became the second most read post to date [Wonder Bread remains in the top spot]. Now, check out how you can use Evernote in the classroom.

Maia Heyck-Merlin wrote The Together Teacher: Plan Ahead, Get Organized, and Save Time! It's a practical book for educators, with tons of applications for folks in other fields. I was interviewed and featured in the book and you can check out her latest post over on The Together Teacher blog. It's all about how I use Evernote as my teaching encyclopedia.

The Together Teacher Book