Sunday, 29 March 2009

March Baking Challenge

Lasagne of Emilia-Romagna - Daring Bakers March 2009 Challenge

The March 2009 challenge is hosted by Mary of Beans and Caviar, Melinda of Melbourne Larder and Enza of Io Da Grande. They have chosen Lasagne of Emilia-Romagna from The Splendid Table by Lynne Rossetto Kasper as the challenge.

This is my 2nd Challenge and to make pasta from scratch! I have made lasagne before but always with ready made pasta sheets, so I thought ok, here we go then. First time for everything.

I did think of halving the recipe as it says that is will serve 6 - 8 people as a main course, but I thought - never mind I can always keep the pasta in the freezer for another time.

The pasta recipe asked for 2 eggs but I had to add another 1/2 egg as the dough could not gel and form a dough. I think for a first timer, my pasta turned out fine and Pat and Liana enjoyed their lasagne.

My rolled out pasta

All recipes below from The Splendid Table: Recipes from Emilia-Romagna, the Heartland of Northern Italian Food by Lynne Rossetto Kasper (published by William Morrow and Company Inc., 1992).

Lasagne of Emilia-Romagna (Lasagne Verdi al Forno)
(Serves 8 to 10 as a first course, 6 to 8 as a main dish)

Preparation Time: 15 minutes to assemble and 40 minutes cooking time

10 quarts (9 litres) salted water
1 recipe Spinach Pasta cut for lasagna (recipe follows)#1
1 recipe Bechamel Sauce (recipe follows)#2
1 recipe Country Style Ragu (recipe follows)#3
1 cup (4 ounces/125g) freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano

Working Ahead:
The ragu and the béchamel sauce can be made up to three days ahead. The ragu can also be frozen for up to one month. The pasta can be rolled out, cut and dried up to 24 hours before cooking. The assembled lasagne can wait at room temperature (20 degrees Celsius/68 degrees Fahrenheit) about 1 hour before baking. Do not refrigerate it before baking, as the topping of béchamel and cheese will overcook by the time the center is hot.

Assembling the Ingredients:
Have all the sauces, rewarmed gently over a medium heat, and the pasta at hand. Have a large perforated skimmer and a large bowl of cold water next to the stove. Spread a double thickness of paper towels over a large counter space. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit (180 degrees Celsius). Oil or butter a 3 quart (approx 3 litre) shallow baking dish.

Cooking the Pasta:
Bring the salted water to a boil. Drop about four pieces of pasta in the water at a time. Cook about 2 minutes. If you are using dried pasta, cook about 4 minutes, taste, and cook longer if necessary. The pasta will continue cooking during baking, so make sure it is only barely tender. Lift the lasagne from the water with a skimmer, drain, and then slip into the bowl of cold water to stop cooking. When cool, lift out and dry on the paper towels. Repeat until all the pasta is cooked.

Assembling the Lasagne:
Spread a thin layer of béchamel over the bottom of the baking dish. Arrange a layer of about four overlapping sheets of pasta over the béchamel. Spread a thin layer of béchamel (about 3 or 4 spoonfuls) over the pasta, and then an equally thin layer of the ragu. Sprinkle with about 1&1/2 tablespoons of the béchamel and about 1/3 cup of the cheese. Repeat the layers until all ingredients are used, finishing with béchamel sauce and topping with a generous dusting of cheese.

Baking and Serving the Lasagne:
Cover the baking dish lightly with foil, taking care not to let it touch the top of the lasagne. Bake 40 minutes, or until almost heated through. Remove the foil and bake another 10 minutes, or until hot in the center (test by inserting a knife – if it comes out very warm, the dish is ready). Take care not to brown the cheese topping. It should be melted, creamy looking and barely tinged with a little gold. Turn off the oven, leave the door ajar and let the lasagne rest for about 10 minutes. Then serve. This is not a solid lasagne, but a moist one that slips a bit when it is cut and served.

#1 Spinach Egg Pasta (Pasta Verde)

Preparation: 45 minutes

Makes enough for 6 to 8 first course servings or 4 to 6 main course servings, equivalent to 1 pound (450g) dried boxed pasta.

2 jumbo eggs (2 ounces/60g or more)
10 ounces (300g) fresh spinach, rinsed dry, and finely chopped; or 6 ounces (170g) frozen chopped spinach, defrosted and squeezed dry
3&1/2 cups (14 ounces/400g) all purpose unbleached (plain) flour (organic stone ground preferred)

Working by Hand:


A roomy work surface, 24 to 30 inches deep by 30 to 36 inches (60cm to 77cm deep by 60cm to 92cm). Any smooth surface will do, but marble cools dough slightly, making it less flexible than desired.

A pastry scraper and a small wooden spoon for blending the dough.

A wooden dowel-style rolling pin. In Italy, pasta makers use one about 35 inches long and 2 inches thick (89cm long and 5cm thick). The shorter American-style pin with handles at either end can be used, but the longer it is, the easier it is to roll the pasta.
Note: although it is not traditional, Enza has successfully made pasta with a marble rolling pin, and this can be substituted for the wooden pin, if you have one.

Plastic wrap to wrap the resting dough and to cover rolled-out pasta waiting to be filled. It protects the pasta from drying out too quickly.

A sharp chef’s knife for cutting pasta sheets.

Cloth-covered chair backs, broom handles, or specially designed pasta racks found in cookware shops for draping the pasta.

Mixing the dough:
Mound the flour in the center of your work surface and make a well in the middle. Add the eggs and spinach. Use a wooden spoon to beat together the eggs and spinach. Then gradually start incorporating shallow scrapings of flour from the sides of the well into the liquid. As you work more and more flour into the liquid, the well’s sides may collapse. Use a pastry scraper to keep the liquids from running off and to incorporate the last bits of flour into the dough. Don’t worry if it looks like a hopelessly rough and messy lump.

With the aid of the scraper to scoop up unruly pieces, start kneading the dough. Once it becomes a cohesive mass, use the scraper to remove any bits of hard flour on the work surface – these will make the dough lumpy. Knead the dough for about 3 minutes. Its consistency should be elastic and a little sticky. If it is too sticky to move easily, knead in a few more tablespoons of flour. Continue kneading about 10 minutes, or until the dough has become satiny, smooth, and very elastic. It will feel alive under your hands. Do not shortcut this step. Wrap the dough in plastic wrap, and let it relax at room temperature 30 minutes to 3 hours.

Stretching and Thinning:
If using an extra-long rolling pin work with half the dough at a time. With a regular-length rolling pin, roll out a quarter of the dough at a time and keep the rest of the dough wrapped. Lightly sprinkle a large work surface with flour. The idea is to stretch the dough rather than press down and push it. Shape it into a ball and begin rolling out to form a circle, frequently turning the disc of dough a quarter turn. As it thins outs, start rolling the disc back on the pin a quarter of the way toward the center and stretching it gently sideways by running the palms of your hands over the rolled-up dough from the center of the pin outward. Unroll, turn the disc a quarter turn, and repeat. Do twice more.

Stretch and even out the center of the disc by rolling the dough a quarter of the way back on the pin. Then gently push the rolling pin away from you with one hand while holding the sheet in place on the work surface with the other hand. Repeat three more times, turning the dough a quarter turn each time.

Repeat the two processes as the disc becomes larger and thinner. The goal is a sheet of even thickness. For lasagne, the sheet should be so thin that you can clearly see your hand through it and see colours. Cut into rectangles about 4 by 8 inches (10 x 20 cm). Note: Enza says that transparency is a crucial element of lasagne pasta and the dough should be rolled as thinly as possible. She says this is why her housekeeper has such strong arms!

Dry the pasta at room temperature and store in a sealed container or bag.

#2 Bechamel

Preparation Time: 15 minutes

4 tablespoons (2 ounces/60g) unsalted butter
4 tablespoons (2 ounces/60g) all purpose unbleached (plain) flour, organic stone ground preferred
2&2/3 cups (approx 570ml) milk
Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
Freshly grated nutmeg to taste

Using a medium-sized saucepan, melt the butter over low to medium heat. Sift over the flour, whisk until smooth, and then stir (without stopping) for about 3 minutes. Whisk in the milk a little at a time and keep the mixture smooth. Bring to a slow simmer, and stir 3 to 4 minutes, or until the sauce thickens. Cook, stirring, for about 5 minutes, until the sauce thickens. Season with salt, pepper, and a hint of nutmeg.

#3 Country Style Ragu’ (Ragu alla Contadina)

Preparation Time: Ingredient Preparation Time 30 minutes and Cooking time 2 hours

Makes enough sauce for 1 recipe fresh pasta or 1 pound/450g dried pasta)

3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil (45 mL)
2 ounces/60g pancetta, finely chopped
1 medium onion, minced
1 medium stalk celery with leaves, minced
1 small carrot, minced
4 ounces/125g boneless veal shoulder or round
4 ounces/125g pork loin, trimmed of fat, or 4 ounces/125g mild Italian sausage (made without fennel)
8 ounces/250g beef skirt steak, hanging tender, or boneless chuck blade or chuck center cut (in order of preference)
1 ounce/30g thinly sliced Prosciutto di Parma
2/3 cup (5 ounces/160ml) dry red wine
1 &1/2 cups (12 ounces/375ml) chicken or beef stock (homemade if possible)
2 cups (16 ounces/500ml) milk
3 canned plum tomatoes, drained
Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

Working Ahead:
The ragu can be made 3 days ahead. Cover and refrigerate. It also freezes well for up to 1 month. Skim the fat from the ragu’ before using it.

Browning the Ragu Base:
Heat the olive oil in a 12 inch (30cm) skillet (frying pan) over medium-high heat. Have a large saucepan handy to use once browning is complete. Add the pancetta and minced vegetables and sauté, stirring frequently with a wooden spoon, 10 minutes, or until the onions barely begin to color. Coarsely grind all the meats together, including the prosciutto, in a food processor or meat grinder. Stir into the pan and slowly brown over medium heat. First the meats will give off a liquid and turn dull grey but, as the liquid evaporates, browning will begin. Stir often, scooping under the meats with the wooden spatula. Protect the brown glaze forming on the bottom of the pan by turning the heat down. Cook 15 minutes, or until the meats are a deep brown. Turn the contents of the skillet into a strainer and shake out the fat. Turn them into the saucepan and set over medium heat.

Reducing and Simmering: Add the wine to the skillet, lowering the heat so the sauce bubbles quietly. Stir occasionally until the wine has reduced by half, about 3 minutes. Scrape up the brown glaze as the wine bubbles. Then pour the reduced wine into the saucepan and set the skillet aside.

Stir ½ cup stock into the saucepan and let it bubble slowly, 10 minutes, or until totally evaporated. Repeat with another ½ cup stock. Stir in the last 1/2 cup stock along with the milk. Adjust heat so the liquid bubbles very slowly. Partially cover the pot, and cook 1 hour. Stir frequently to check for sticking.

Add the tomatoes, crushing them as they go into the pot. Cook uncovered, at a very slow bubble for another 45 minutes, or until the sauce resembles a thick, meaty stew. Season with salt and pepper.

Friday, 27 March 2009

Cake covering

Cake covering

Last day today! We learnt the correct way to cover a cake with icing and after which we were given a free rein to do any design that we wished. This is my masterpiece!

The class was split in 2 groups and there were 26 of us in total. Most of us in Group B agreed that the flower making could have just been 1 day. We were happy to make the peony and then spend 2 days learning more piping work instead of just the one day. In any case, it was money well spent and hope to be able to remember what I learnt and make use of it.

Thursday, 26 March 2009



Today is the day that I have been waiting for. To learn how to make figurines. It was altogether a fun day. I will let the pictures do the talking.

So, whatdya think? Passable? hehe

Wednesday, 25 March 2009

Brush Embroidery

Brush Embroidery

Today is the 2nd day of class and we learnt "Brush Embroidery". This is painting icing on a plaque and "pulling" the icing to imitate embroidery. It looks nice and apparently it is a dying art. The other thing we learnt was how to pipe.

Tuesday, 24 March 2009

My belated Christmas present

My belated Christmas Present

Remember this? My Christmas present from Pat,this was the voucher that Pat made as the actual course is in March and it started on Monday! Took my 1 week holiday for this course. Am so excited!

It is a 5 day course and yesterday and today was making 2 different kinds of flowers. Yesterday was a Bauhina and today is a Peony. These are my handiwork made from Sugar Paste.



So what do you think? Not bad for a first try eh?

Thursday, 19 March 2009


Now that Pat and Liana have gone to work in their new office and can no longer have lunch at home, they normally buy lunch from Subway. So I thought I'd bake them some bread to take to work. This recipe is taken from Alex Goh's book and I used my breadmaker to knead the dough and this is a keeper. It keeps soft for about 3 days, if any left!

Bread with chorizo, sun blush tomato and olive filling

Tuesday, 17 March 2009

Minced Pork Balls

Dish my mum used to make

This is a simple dish which my mum used to make when I was a child. It is minced pork balls with onions and potatoes. I have modified her recipe slightly!


400gm minced pork
1 onion sliced
2 potatoes - sliced into thin rounds
oyster sauce
dark soy sauce
ground panko or jacobs biscuits(ground)

1. Mix minced pork with seasoning and make into balls
2. Flatten the balls and into the ground panko or biscuits.
3. Heat some oil in pan and fry the balls until brown on both sides. Remove and set aside.
4. Fry the potato slices until brown. Add sliced onions, oyster sauce and soy sauce and 1/2 cup water and simmer for 10 mins. Add meat balls until well coated and serve.

Sunday, 15 March 2009

Pictures of Bruges

Pictures of Bruges!

Our conference was a day and a half - Thursday and Friday. Pat came to join me on Friday afternoon and we spent that Friday and Saturday in Bruges and on Saturday evening, we took the train to Brussels to stay at Y's house.

When we arrived on Wednesday evening, we invited delegates to join us for some beers at one of the pubs. This pub had like 100 over different kinds of beer but I don't want to bore you with pics of different beers, so here is the one that is home brewed by this particular pub - La Garre and is 11.5%... so they only limit you to 3 glasses of this!

The very first hotel in Bruges but sadly has now become a residential home because of the health and safety procedures which it did not pass so could not continue as a hotel.

Bruges City Hall

One of the many quaint buildings in the square

The old hospital

The Beguines - apparently in the 12th/13th centuries when the men went to fight the wars, the ladies had nowhere to go, so the city build huts for them so they could stay and keep out of the streets. After that rich spinsters lived in these buildings and the last Beguines in Bruges died in 1920 and now it houses the Sisters.

The last few wooden houses in Bruges as there was a huge fire a long while ago and destroyed most of the wooden houses.

After doing our walk of Bruges and we were walking back to the hotel to catch a taxi to the station. Heard sound of a band playing. If not for Pat who was trying to find out what the sound was about, I would have walked straight back to the hotel and missed the carnival that followed the band. I have only posted 2 of these pictures!

Main square in Brussels

Maneken Piss - I had to show this picture as this is the landmark of Brussels!

Monday, 9 March 2009


Sorry for the lack of posting!

Dear Friends

Have been very busy leading up to the conference we were holding in Bruges, Belgium last week, so haven't had time to post anything.

The conference was on Thursday and Friday but we were there on Wednesday evening. Pat joined me on Friday and we stayed a night in Bruges and a night in Brussels.

Pictures will be up soon!