Sunday, August 26, 2007

Welcome Home Cooking

After altered travel plans, the delay of their furniture, brief health scares, and a visit from My Fabulous Aunt and Uncle, My Wonderful Parents have finally settled into their new home, conveniently located once again in my town.

In order to celebrate this fact and to kick off their new life here in style, I planned a special meal for them, featuring all local foods and some newly gained skills.

I spent the morning making a pan of vegetable lasagna for dinner. While you might not think it would take that long to make lasagna, consider this: I had decided to make the pasta, the cheese filling, and the sauce all from scratch. I know that's pushing dangerously close to Martha Territory, but it's just another one of those little challenges that I wanted to see if I could meet.

The sauce, thank heaven, was already sitting in the refrigerator, made in advance for this very purpose. The cheese, however, gave me fits from the start. I attempted to make it with the remains of the half-gallon of milk I had on hand, and though the expiration date was listed as tomorrow, it curdled in the pan and then failed to give me a substantial amount of curds. What a waste!

After I finished canning tomato sauce, I headed up to the grocery store and bought fresh (local) milk and (non-local) yogurt, and I returned home to try again. This time I was successful, and I set aside the pan of curds for later.

For the pasta dough, I used local spelt flour and egg yolks as well as some non-local salt and olive oil, and after chilling the dough for a couple of hours, I rolled it out and cut it into broad strips. (Sorry I didn't take pictures... it was so easy that it went quickly, and I didn't think to grab the camera!)

I mixed the curds with the egg whites left over from the pasta dough, some chopped fresh local parsley, a smidgen of salt and pepper, and some local shredded mozzarella cheese. I spooned dollops of this over the layers of pasta before smearing it all with the pasta sauce.

After the final layer, I spread the last of the sauce and sprinkled the last of the mozzarella on top, covered the pan with foil, and slid it back into the refrigerator until it was time to leave.

My Dear Papa's sister, My Tattooed Aunt, showed up on my doorstep before she visited my
folks, so I showed her around the apartment, enjoyed a good chat with her while I packed my bags full of food and ingredients, and handed her the lasagna while I carried a box of home-canned pickles and jam along with the pot of basil I had put together for My Wonderful Parents' homecoming.

When we arrived at my folks' apartment, we immediately set to work: My Tattooed Aunt helped My Dear Papa put away clothes and such while I cleared off counters in the kitchen and rearranged a few things for easier use. (I also whipped up a small batch of fried okra to share with Dear Papa since he enjoys it as much as I do.)

Come late afternoon, I preheated the oven, slid in the lasagna, and let it bake nearly an hour at 375 F, waiting for the cheese on top to bubble and brown.

I also heated slices of the house bread from the new local bakery, and I threw together a salad with lettuces and cucumber slices from the Gentleman Farmer's Wife. I had intended to make a plum crisp, too, but that never happened. Still, we at least opened up the bottle of Redemption (red wine) I bought from The Winery at Wolf Creek.

(No, the salad dressing wasn't local. I thought I'd let everyone choose for themselves from my folks' collection. Almost perfect, though!)

I'm pleased as all get out to report that the lasagna was a big success, tender and flavorful despite the sauce and the cheese being a little watery, and everything else met with approval as well. I don't think I would make lasagna completely from scratch every time I make it, but it's definitely worth doing again sometime... when I have plenty of time.

So here's to My Wonderful Parents and their safe return home (to where I can keep an eye on them)! It's good to have them in the area again.

And maybe I'll spoil them with a little home cooking now and then.


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