Thursday, February 26, 2009

Easy One-Sauce Lasagna

As the days go by, I've come to realise that Cloud9Food is all about comforting, home-style food that is not only tasty to eat, but is also heavenly for the chef ie. simple to prepare! Another favourite of mine which falls into this category is my One-Sauce Lasagna.

I love lasagna, but the thought of preparing the bolognese meat sauce, bechamel sauce, layering everything and then baking it sends me running to find something else that's faster to cook. Hence the One-Sauce version. 

Instead of making bechamel sauce from scratch (which I find terribly tedious), I make a large portion of "creamy" tomato meat sauce. The sauce is then layered with instant lasagna sheets and baked. It still takes some time, but is much faster than the original 2-sauce version, and I don't find I lose much taste-wise. This lasagna is still tomato-y, creamy and cheesy. The meat sauce can even be made in advance and frozen, which cuts down preparation time even more. And yes, I cheat and buy tomato soup (the no MSG, no preservative variety!) to add further flavour to the meat sauce. Who has time to boil and boil and boil the sauce?

For bento lunch makers, leftovers can be packed in microwaveable safe containers for lunch the next day.

Continue reading for the recipe...

Easy One-Sauce Lasagna
(makes one large lasagna in a 2.5 L capacity dish)
500g pack of instant lasagna sheets (which does not require pre-cooking)
6 -7 cloves garlic, chopped
1 Tbsp light olive oil (or other cooking oil)
400g minced beef or a mix of minced beef and pork (as lean as possible)
2 large carrots, chopped into small cubes
2 x 400g canned tomatoes
5 heaped Tbsp tomato paste
500 - 600g creamy tomato soup (look for the no MSG, no preservatives, organic soup variety if possible. For reference, I use Pacific Natural Foods Organic Creamy Tomato Soup)
black pepper
1 -2 bay leaves (optional)
1 cup milk (low-fat, skim milk is also fine)
100g cheddar cheese
additional 200g - 250g cheddar and/or parmesan cheese (for layering and topping the lasagna)
1. In a large saucepan, add the olive oil and fry the garlic lightly until fragrant. Add the minced meat and stir to separate the mince until the meat is cooked. Add the chopped carrots. (If you are pressed for time, microwave the carrots to soften them first.)

2. Add the canned tomatoes and tomato paste. Season with some salt and pepper, and stir. Add 1 -2 bay leaves here for added flavour (optional). Bring to the boil, then simmer over medium heat for 20 - 30 minutes. 

3. Add 500g of the creamy tomato soup and simmer for another 5 - 10 minutes. Remove the bay leaves.

(When making the meat sauce in advance, allow to cool and transfer into a freezer-safe container for freezing at this point. To defrost, transfer the frozen sauce into a large saucepan and heat until defrosted.)

4. Add the milk and 100g cheddar cheese to the meat sauce and stir. Season with additional salt and pepper to taste. You should have quite a lot of meat sauce at this stage as it replaces both bolognese and bechamel sauces.)

5. Pre-heat your oven to 200 degrees C. Lightly grease a 2.5L capacity ovenproof dish. Ladle some meat sauce into the dish to cover the bottom. Add a layer of instant lasagna sheets (you may need to break them to fit the size of your dish), then a sprinkle of cheddar or parmesan cheese, then some more meat sauce. Repeat until the meat sauce is used up. (There may be leftover lasagna sheets as well.) End with a layer of meat sauce, and sprinkle some cheddar/parmesan (or a mix) of cheeses on top.

Tip: Around 3/4 of the way through layering, if it looks like you don't have enough sauce, add another 100g or so of the creamy tomato soup to the sauce and mix. 

6. Bake the lasagna in the oven according to the time indicated on your packet of instant lasagna sheets (approx 30 -45 minutes). Serve with a side salad.


Pan Seared Foie Gras with Raspberry Apple Sauce

foie gras
Yes, yes, I know. Foie gras ("fat liver") is cruel to geese. But what can I say? It's only of my guilty eating pleasures. It was the day after Valentine's Day, and I was at the supermarket - to my surprise, I saw a packet of foie gras on sale - 2 decent sized pieces for HKD49.90 (USD6.40)!!! What an incredible bargain. Of course I could not resist and bought the last two packs. I pan fried them with glee and served them with a tart raspberry apple sauce to a surprised and happy YH as a post V-day treat. 
Continue reading for the recipe...

Pan Seared Foie Gras with Raspberry Apple Sauce
4 pieces of raw, chilled foie gras
1 red apple
handful of raspberries (frozen or fresh)
sugar (to taste)
1. Make the Raspberry Apple Sauce first by chopping up the apple into small cubes. Heat up a small 20cm frying pan and add the apples. Stir over medium heat until the apples are stewing slightly, then add a similar amount of raspberries into the pan. Stir and crush the raspberries as they heat up. Add a little sugar to taste (the sauce should be tart and not too sweet). Continue frying and mixing until the fruit disintegrates into a thick sauce-like texture. Transfer the sauce to a side dish.

2. Liberally shake salt and pepper over the foie gras pieces. Lightly grease a large frying pan over high heat.

3. When the frying pan is very hot, add 2 pieces of foie gras. The foie gras will start "melting" so you have to work quickly. After around 10 seconds, flip the pieces over to sear the other side. When both sides are nicely browned and the foie gras has shrunk slightly, remove and set aside. Repeat for the other 2 pieces. 

(I cook 2 pieces at a time so I have better control over timing - the worst thing is to overcook your foie gras. You can of course cook all 4 pieces at once)

4. Serve immediately with the Raspberry Apple Sauce.

You can also serve your seared foie gras on top of freshly toasted slices of French Bread, or with sweet caramelized onions, and other tart/sweet fruit such as pears, plums, figs, etc.


Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Simple Crêpes

Yesterday was Shrove Tuesday, or what is now more commonly known as Pancake Day. As my parents are in town visiting, and both my dad and YH love pancakes, I thought it would be appropriate to make some pancakes to celebrate. Apparently, in the past, Catholics used to eat pancakes on Shrove Tuesday, as it was the day before Ash Wednesday (the start of Lent). Pancakes were made to use up the household's supply of eggs and fat (which was restricted during Lent). 

I asked my dad which type of pancake he would like to eat - thick, fluffy American ones, small pikelets, etc. and he chose crêpes (thin pancakes made from wheat flour that originated in Brittany, France). My cooking, as always, tends towards the quick and simple, and these crêpes were no exception. The ingredients are just tossed into a blender (or food processor), blended, then poured out and cooked. Perfect for a "lazy" cook, and the results are pretty decent, too. (If you don't have access to a blender or processor, the ingredients can be mixed by hand as well.)

I served my crêpes with some sliced bananas, vanilla ice-cream, pure maple syrup, and also some homemade orange syrup, but you could also use strawberries, chocolate sauce, lemon juice and sugar, or anything else you like. 

Continue reading for the recipe...

Simple Crêpes
(makes around 12 crêpes when using a 20cm pan)
1/2 cup plain flour
2 tsps caster sugar
1 cup milk
2 eggs
60g butter
1 tsp pure vanilla essence
1. Place the flour, sugar, milk, light beaten eggs, melted butter and vanilla essence into a blender or food processor.

2. Blend/process for 15 - 20 seconds until ingredients are well combined and lump-free. 

(If you don't have a blender/processor, mix the wet ingredients and sugar together first, then slowly sift the flour into the mixture and stir well together until combined.)

3. Transfer the mixture to a jug (or bowl), cover, and leave for 10 minutes. This will allow the flour to absorb the liquid and produce a better batter.

4. Lightly grease a 20cm non-stick pan. Pour around 2 - 3 Tbsp of batter into the pan and swirl around until the batter covers the bottom of the pan evenly. Cook over medium heat for around 30 seconds or until the underside is golden. Flip and cook the other side of the crêpe until golden.

5. Transfer the crêpes to a plate, and cover with a tea-towel or paper towel to keep them warm. Repeat Step 4 until all the batter is used up.

6. To serve, fold each crêpe into half, and then half again to form a quarter circle, and serve with your favourite toppings - vanilla ice-cream, banana slices, pure maple syrup, chocolate sauce, lemon and sugar, etc. The crêpes can also be filled with cream or fruits, and then rolled up.