Friday, October 21, 2011

Cooking for the Masses, Or How Many Lasagna Cupcakes Might Fit in My Oven

Tomorrow (or, at this point, later today) is my sister-in-law's baby shower, and I am on deck to provide the vegetarian options. 

About a month or so ago, I saw an episode of Aarti Party that was baby shower themed.  One of the items Aarti prepared was "Lasagna Cupcakes," which are essentially little individual lasagnas made with wonton wrappers, rather than noodles.  I thought a vegetarian version of this dish would be a cute idea for the baby shower.

Mind you, the original recipe serves 12, and there will be 30 adults and 7 kids.  So, I quadrupled the recipe, which meant eight trays of lasagna cupcakes.  To get to the eight trays of my version of the cupcakes I needed 112 ounces of canned crushed tomatoes with garlic and italian seasoning, 3 pounds of mozzarella cheese, 3 pounds of grated parmesan, 3 pounds of part skim ricotta, two large onions, four enormous zucchini and 192 wonton wrappers.

All the ingredients that I was able to fit on the counter.
I made the sauce in a five quart sauce pan.  Since I knew I had a full night of chopping ahead of me, I decided to use the food processor to chop the onion.  I basically pureed it, but it was still chunky enough to add texture to the sauce.

The original recipe called for chicken sausage.  Normally, when I  vegetarianize a pasta dish, I sub mushrooms or eggplant, since they have a nice, meaty texture.  However, my sister-in-law is very allergic to both mushrooms and eggplant and you really don't want to poison the guest of honor.  So, I decided to go with zucchini, which I thought would be chunky enough to make the sauce interesting.  While the Indian elements of the recipe sound good, I decided to omit the mango chutney and the cinnamon and cloves and go with more of an Italian vibe.
Most of the 48 lasagna cupcakes, pre-baking.

The sauce making and ricotta filling went well enough.  However, when I got to the assembly part, I started to lose my mind a little bit.  After all, I was putting down a wonton wrapper, layering sauce and then layering cheese 192 times

So, at this point, I did what anyone in my position would do at 10:37 in the evening.  I called my mother.

"I am about to have a wonton wrapper related psychotic break.  Please entertain me," said I.

"How many of these things are you making again?"  said Mom

"48.  But there are FOUR LAYERS.  Plus an individual basil leaf inside each!" said I.

Mom graciously stayed on speakerphone with me through the lasagna building process, which did make the whole shebang go much faster.  I ran out of parmesan (I don't think I bought a full three pounds after all), but we have leftover sauce and filling that will go into a pasta in the next few days.

All 48 lasagna cupcakes!
Anyhoot, I am glad I decided to do 48 and not 60, because the eight trays literally took up our entire oven and all of my counter space. I put them in for the entire 20 minutes and then moved the bottom trays up to the top rack so they could brown properly.

I finished all of this around 11:45 and which point I started the second dish, a vegetarian version of Ina Garten's Orzo Pasta Salad from Barefoot Contessa at Home.  I've made this one tons of times, and it's great for parties.  Ina's recipe calls for shrimp, but it tastes just fine without it. 

I triiple-plused this recipe, which allegedly serves 8-10.  I used three one pound boxes of orzo, three cups of dill, three cups of parsley, three whole bunches of green onions, one extra large red onion, 14 lemons, two cups of olive oil, two two-foot long hothouse cucumbers, and two pounds of feta cheese.  It ended up being so much pasta salad that I had to split it into two bowls while I was making it.

Yes, this is a ridiculous amount of food for 37 people, some of whom are too young to have all of their teeth.  It's even more ridiculous when you keep in mind that I have the makings for a large fruit tray and a large veggie tray also in my fridge.  Oh, and I'm also not the only person bringing food.

Lots and lots of lemony orzo pasta salad goodness.
However, I am genetically predisposed to making too much food.  This dates back to my great-grandmother, if not earlier.  Nanny Sadie was legendary for making two roasts for Sunday dinner to serve eight people.  Thus, down my mother's family line, all of the women were pre-conditoned to assume that whenever we are preparing a meal, the entire Eagles roster, plus the practice squad, the cheerleaders, the coaches, the medical staff, the beer guys and several season ticket holders would show up unexpectedly, and none of them would have eaten since breakfast.

Have I mentioned I typically make five pounds of mashed potatoes at Thanksgiving?  We do at least eat all the leftovers.

Anyhow, five hours later, everything is in the fridge and ready to go for tomorrow.  The only things I need to do are load all the food and serveware into the car, reheat the lasagnas, put together the fruit & veggie trays, garnish the lasagnas, take pictures of all the food, eat and watch my sister-in-law open presents.  :)

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Vegetarian Dining in Atlanta

Yummy lavender gin thingee
Greetings from Atlanta.  I'm attending a convention for work, so I've had a lot of events and catered functions.  However, I have had time to sample some vegetarian dining options around town.

Sweet Corn Ravioli at Loews Hotel
I'm staying at the Loews Atlanta, which is located in Midtown.  The lobby bar and restaurant are quite good and get quite lively.  The first day we arrived, the bartender was experimenting on new cocktails and made a lavender and gin martini that was just awesome.  We also had their margherita pizza, which was quite good.  But, the real star of the show here is the Sweet Corn Ravioli, which comes with a basil puree, corn and a spring corn box salad.  It was easily one of the prettiest meals I've ever eaten, and the texture of the crunchy corn with the softer ravioli and roasted tiny tomatoes was perfect.

Vegetarian Mole Enchiladas at Pozole
We also got to explore the Virginia Highlands area and ate at a neat little Mexican place called Pozole.  I had a Pomegranate Margarita, and then shared fajita nachos with my colleagues.  The kitchen was nice enough to put the meat on the side, so both my meat eating colleagues and vegetarian yours truly could enjoy the dish.  For my dinner, I had the Vegetarian Mole Enchiladas, which included one roasted corn & mushroom enchilada and one bean & cheese enchilada, with avocado, tomato & cucumber salad on the side.  Truthfully, I didn't realize until I checked back to look at the menu description that I had two different flavors, but it was a tasty dish and packed some welcome heat.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Still Alive and Cooking

Yes, it's been two weeks since my last blog and likely that long since I actually cooked a meal that didn't involve macaroni and cheese or reheating pizza.  Fear not - I've had a number of work related dinners out over the past few weeks, so I have been eating meals other than those usually consumed by picky three year olds.

While I finally had a night at home, I'm headed out of town on yet another business trip tomorrow.  So, I decided to go simple tonight: whole wheat rigatoni with sauteed onion, mushrooms, garlic, yellow pepper, spinach and grape tomatoes.  The "sauce" was made with tomato paste concentrate, parmesan, black pepper, italian seasoning and a touch of white wine.  It was a light dish perhaps more suited to summer than a Fall, torrential rain filled evening, but at least it didn't come from a box.