Weird food habits run in my family – most of them related to texture. My father, for example, won’t eat fruits of any kind except plantain that is barely ripe. He won’t eat tomatoes for the same reason and for 35 years my mother has been cooking him sambar (which he loves) and surreptitiously fishing the tomato pieces out before he sees them. Every time we hired a new cook, she’d have to go through the whole process of explaining that the tomatoes were allowed in every dish but must be cut into large size chunks so that they could easily be separated prior to serving or chopped so fine that they’d merge into the gravy. Every single one of the cooks thought she was nuts and my father nuttier but this is the kind of thing that makes me believe my parents must truly love each other – she, because she does it even though she thinks my father is being a diva; he, because he eats the dishes that he knows have been tainted with the touch of the mushy tomato.
My own No-No is curd. It’s a long story (short version: a close encounter with an itch worm in my childhood led to an even more intimate encounter with a tub full of curd and ever since then the mere smell of it turns my stomach). Ideally, I wouldn’t even have it in my house but since a tremendous amount of Indian cooking involves the darn thing (including my favorite mix of MTR Rava Idlis and a whole bunch of kebabs), I’ve managed to get over my aversion to the point where I’ll acknowledge its existence long enough to cook it into some dish. This makes my mother happy because she spent my entire childhood trying to con me into believing that curd could only be eaten as is, never to be incorporated into anything I ate, especially things that I loved to eat. My mommy loves me.
But curd is now at the center of an argument that she and I have been having for the past couple of days. I was reading this post on Cooking the Hard Way about churning your own butter and it all sounded very easy. I thought I’d try it out some time and get some fresh buttermilk in the process. I’ve been meaning to try out a new pancake recipe and this would be perfect. I mentioned as much to my mother. Big mistake.
“That’s not how you make butter,” she scoffed. “Or buttermilk.”
“But Ma, she has pictures of it!”
“Rubbish! That’s not how you make butter! I make butter all the time [note: this is true] and that’s not how I make it.”
“Well, how do you make it then?” I asked.
“You take curd and you beat it until it separates into solids and liquid. The solids you press into butter and the liquid is buttermilk.”
“Ew!” I said, grossed out. “That’s disgusting!”
“You’ve been eating it for years,” she informed me. “You didn’t think it was disgusting then.”
“Ma!” I said, shocked. My father was right after all – if the devil got into her she could make you eat horrible things and you’d never even know! “How could you?”
“Do you want to know how to make butter or not?” she asked, unrepentant. “If you do, then this is how we make it. And it’s delicious!”
So my question to all of you butter churners is: how do you make butter?
On a different note, reading Kate’s entry on lasagna brought back memories of the first time I tried making some. I didn’t make the noodles like Kate does but I have used the freshly made ones rather than the kind you get in a box and they do make a difference. It’s slight but it’s good – and I wouldn’t give myself sleepless nights if I couldn’t find any or make any. I found the recipe on Epicurious (which also gave me my favorite Carbonara recipe) and till date it’s the best one I’ve found:
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 cup chopped onion
3/4 cup finely chopped peeled carrots
2 tablespoons minced garlic
8 ounces lean ground beef
6 ounces spicy Italian sausages, casings removed
1 28-ounce can crushed tomatoes with added puree
1/4 cup tomato paste
1/4 cup chopped fresh basil
1 tablespoon golden brown sugar
1 tablespoon dried oregano
1 bay leaf
1/2 teaspoon dried crushed red pepper
15 lasagna noodles (about 12 ounces)
2 15-ounce containers part-skim ricotta cheese
1 cup grated Parmesan cheese (about 3 ounces)
1 10-ounce package frozen chopped spinach, thawed, drained,
2 large eggs
4 3/4 cups grated mozzarella cheese (about 1 1/4 pounds)
FOR SAUCE: Heat oil in heavy large saucepan over medium heat. Add onion, carrots and garlic; sauté until softened, about 12 minutes. Add beef and sausages to pan; sauté until cooked through, breaking up meat with back of spoon, about 5 minutes. Add remaining ingredients. Cover and simmer until flavors blend and sauce measures about 5 cups, stirring occasionally, about 15 minutes. Discard bay leaf. Cool.
FOR LASAGNA: Preheat oven to 350°F. Cook noodles in large pot of boiling salted water until almost tender, about 7 minutes. Drain; cover with cold water.
Combine ricotta and 3/4 cup Parmesan cheese in medium bowl. Mix in spinach. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Mix in eggs.
Drain pasta and pat dry. Spread 1/2 cup sauce over bottom of 13×9-inch glass baking dish. Place 5 noodles over sauce, overlapping to fit. Spread half of ricotta-spinach mixture evenly over noodles. Sprinkle 2 cups mozzarella cheese evenly over ricotta-spinach mixture. Spoon 1 1/2 cups sauce over cheese, spreading with spatula to cover (sauce will be thick). Repeat layering with 5 noodles, remaining ricotta-spinach mixture, 2 cups mozzarella and 1 1/2 cups sauce. Arrange remaining 5 noodles over sauce. Spread remaining sauce over noodles. Sprinkle remaining 3/4 cup mozzarella cheese and 1/4 cup Parmesan cheese evenly over lasagna. (Can be prepared up to 1 day ahead. Cover tightly with plastic wrap and refrigerate.) Cover baking dish with aluminum foil. Bake lasagna 40 minutes; uncover and bake until hot and bubbly, about 40 minutes. Let lasagna stand 15 minutes before serving.
It sounds a bit complicated but your major investment is really time, which only bugs you during that last fifteen minutes when you’re waiting for it to cool and going crazy from the aroma. The thing that shocked me about this recipe was how well it came out in spite of my never having cooked Lasagna before in my life. This makes rather a lot of it but that’s ok – it keeps rather well and the sauce, which is excellent, actually tastes better on the second day. Also, you just need a salad to accompany this (or not) and you’re all set. Although wine is always a help, especially if you’re unsure of the outcome. If you don’t feel like making lasagna, then that’s cool too: pour the sauce over spaghetti. The reviews all told me to increase the sauce amounts by 50% because they were all running short and I guess that’s true if you have a real deep lasagna pan. I made mine (still do) in a normal deep dish that I had with me. It didn’t allow me to make too many layers but what I had was more than enough.
Oh, and if you’re like some of my desi friends and are constantly looking for ways to desi-fy a meal, I’d suggest you wait until you’ve made this at least once before you try to innovate – unless you know what you’re doing and are a really good cook, of course. I’m an unimaginative traditionalist so all I do is triple the crushed red pepper.