Sunday, March 30, 2014

True Confessions (and Baked Ravioli)

During this season of Lent, our family has been practicing confession of our sins, our shortcomings and frailties at the dinner table.  We have this wreath in the center of our table with a little dish of toothpicks.  We stick a "thorn in the crown" representing our sin.  We have done this during this pre-Easter season for the past few years.  It is so convicting and powerful.  [If you don’t know of this ritual and want to know more (and the beautiful conclusion)- read about it HERE].

My kids have really engaged with this practice.  They quickly grab for the toothpicks, ready to confess.  They are aware of their struggles and the ways they have lived out of a selfish place.  This humility and self awareness seems so important.  (We have had a lot to confess lately- as we've had some rough days). It has been a beautiful and convicting experience to have my children model conviction for me.

One of the most humbling parts of it this year has been the repetition of sin in my days.  As I ponder the day's words, thoughts and deeds, I find that I repeat the same sins over and over.  The other day, I followed my kids’ lead by grabbing a toothpick.  And then I just held onto it.  My daughter asked, “Are you going to share your sin?” I said, “I’m thinking.” She replied with some suggestions of sins from my previous week, (thank you very much) “What about self pity, judging, impatience?”  Yep. Those are the ones.  The ones that keep surfacing.

The silver lining of this disappointment is that it has made me sick of myself! I have thought, “NO MORE SELF PITY!! THIS IS GETTING OLD!” And it has prompted me to resist when the urge to “compare and despair” rises up in me.   I have been fighting the temptation to let my comparison lead me to judging myself or others. (My comparison typically tends to lead to one or the other.)

While I’m confessing, here’s another. (Not nearly as ugly.)  I am tired of dinner.  I am tired of dinner planning, of preparation, of dinner itself.  I wish that we could just make a peanut butter and banana sandwich, or have a salad, or open a can of tuna, or take some "dinner pill" and call it a night.  But I have people in my house that like a real meal for dinner.  Sigh.

I am grateful for the longer days of sunshine, as it helps with my motivation.  My friend Lindsey was telling me this week that last month she planned out the entire month of dinners for her household.  I'm so impressed.  She said she went ahead and bought all of the non-perishables for the month and then bought perishables each week.  I think this is brilliant (and ambitious) and I'm hoping that maybe she will just give me her month-of-menus and I won't even have to think! We like the same kinds of meals, so I would be happy to adopt her plans. 

If my daughters had it their way they would choose pasta every meal.  I really try to limit it to one dinner a week.  I felt like I needed to add another pasta dish to my repertoire.  I was trying to think of something easy but different and delicious to make.  I didn’t want to do a meaty lasagna- for the sake of cost and trouble and my meat-adverse people.  My family loves ravioli.  I found a recipe from Martha Stewart's EVERYDAY FOOD for Baked Ravioli.  It is so simple and is lasagna-like in that it has the pasta, cheesy and savory filled, with red sauce in between, but much less work. 

I followed her recipe, and even made the sauce she instructed to make.  It was so delicious.  I think next time, I confess, I might just make it with jars of good quality pasta sauce. The homemade sauce didn’t make that much of an impact.   Then the recipe would be even simpler!!  I also think I'll attempt to sauté some vegetables to layer into the dish- maybe zucchini and squash to incorporate some healthiness.

(adapted from Martha Stewart’s EVERYDAY FOOD)

2 Tbsp olive oil
1 medium onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
coarse salt and ground pepper
1 ½ tsp. dried oregano
1 tsp. basil
1 can (28 oz.) diced tomatoes
1 can (28 oz.) crushed tomatoes
2 (1 lb. bags) store-bought frozen cheese ravioli
2 cups shredded mozzarella
½ cup grated Parmesan cheese

 [OR if you are making it with bought sauce- omit first 8 ingredients and replace with 2 jars of pasta sauce. ]
And, if you are making for a smaller crowd, you could make it with one bag of ravioli and one jar of sauce and make it in a square baking dish.

Preheat oven to 425˚ degrees.  Heat oil in a large saucepan over medium heat. Add onion and garlic, and season with salt and pepper; cook, stirring occasionally, until softened, about 5 minutes.  Add spices.  Bring to a boil, reduce heat and simmer, breaking up tomatoes with a spoon, until sauce is thickened and reduced (about 20-25 minutes).  OR heat up 2 jars of quality pasta sauce.

Meanwhile, cook ravioli in a large pot of boiling water, salted.  Cook for just a few minutes- until pasta rises to the top of the pot.  Drain pasta.

Toss sauce with pasta.  Pour into a large baking dish (13 X 9).  Sprinkle with mozzarella and parmesan cheeses.  Bake for 20 minutes or until golden on top and bubbly.  Cool slightly before serving.


boil for 3 minutes

pile in a dish

stir in sauce

top with cheeses and bake


I hope you are having a lovely beginning of spring, a meaningful season of Lent (if this is something you practice), and inspired dinners!

Monday, March 17, 2014

Irish Soda Bread: Top O' the Morning to You!

March is a full month- it holds Lent (the liturgical season leading up to Easter);  it’s National Reading Month (which I love); it’s National Social Work Month (of which I am a part); and St. Patrick’s Day.

I have been thinking “Irish”, in anticipation of St. Patrick’s day.  Our family tradition is eating Lucky Charms and wearing green.  Last year we ate Lucky Charms for dinner- and that was a hit, so we plan to repeat that tradition this year.  I’ve been learning about Irish Soda Bread and have attempted a few loaves of different varieties, made with different recipes, and have found one that I think is delicious and a great go-to loaf of quick bread! 

If you don’t know about Irish Soda Bread, here’s the story. It is called "soda bread" because it is made with buttermilk and baking soda- causing the reaction which allows it to rise (rather than yeast which requires rising and resting time).   It's sometimes made with currants or raisins and other times a more nuttier brown bread version. The Irish oftentimes make this as a dinner loaf of bread.

The first loaf I made was from the Back in The Day Bakery cookbook which contained currants.  It was so tasty with butter and jam and great for breakfast.  It was just a touch of sweet because of the currants but perhaps a little deceiving, as it is not a sweet bread, as one might think by the looks of things.

When I brought it to my office to share, my colleague Jenny mentioned having recently seen the America’s Test Kitchen episode where they made beef stew and Irish Soda Bread, and it made her want to make it especially since they had melted butter brushed on the baked loaf!

So I came home and looked up the episode and watched it and it looked so good (as did the Beef Stew, which I wouldn’t typically crave, but looked exceptional).   America’s Test Kitchen is the source of Cook’s Illustrated magazine and the BEST RECIPE cookbooks, which I have mentioned HERE.  I had never watched the Cook’s Country Show, and I’m so glad Jenny mentioned it, because I loved it!

Since watching the episode, I have made the bread 3 times- each time learning more about it.  It is more of a nutty “brown bread” recipe.    I think for a meal bread, it’s more universal to make this version without the currants, though I like the sweetness and texture of the currants.  Instead of the whole wheat/ white flour combination for which the recipe calls, a couple of times, I simply used white-wheat flour.  It worked well. 

With the first loaf of this version,  I sliced it and served it with butter and jam at church.  A couple of days later, I made a loaf to go with the Chicken and Wild Rice Soup we had for dinner.  It was a treat to have a fresh loaf of bread with dinner.  It is that quick and easy. You really should try making it!

This recipe produces a dense and wheaty loaf with a buttery, and craggy crust.  

From America’s Test Kitchen

2cups all-purpose flour
1 1/2 cups whole-wheat flour
1/2 cup toasted wheat germ
3 Tbsp. sugar
1 1/2 
tsp. salt
1 tsp. baking powder
1 tsp. baking soda
1 3/4cups buttermilk
3 Tbsp. butter, melted (divided)

Adjust oven rack to lower-middle position and heat oven to 400 degrees.
Line rimmed baking sheet with parchment paper.
Whisk all-purpose flour, whole-wheat flour, wheat germ, sugar, salt, baking powder, and baking soda together in large bowl. Combine buttermilk and 2 tablespoons melted butter in 2-cup liquid measuring cup.
Add wet ingredients to dry ingredients and stir with rubber spatula until dough just comes together.
Turn out dough onto lightly floured counter and knead until cohesive mass forms, about 8 turns. Pat dough into 7-inch round and transfer to prepared sheet. Using sharp serrated knife, make ¼-inch-deep cross about 5 inches long on top of loaf.
Bake until skewer inserted in center comes out clean and loaf registers 195 degrees, 40 minutes, rotating sheet halfway through baking. (I had never used a thermometer to determine the doneness of bread, but it was such a help).

Remove bread from oven. Brush with remaining 1 Tbsp. melted butter. Transfer loaf to wire rack and let cool for at least 1 hour. Serve.

It's important to keep in mind that you have to eat it (or freeze it) in about 24 hours, as it hardens more quickly than some bread.  It is good toasted on day #2.
Happy March, and all that it holds, and happy bread-baking!