The Functional Hermit

musings from a homebody

Archive for November 2009

NFL Week 12 Menu: Linguine with Meat Sauce

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I was thinking of doing something lighter for Sunday dinner after fattening myself up all week, but my wife made an awesome call: pasta with meat sauce. It’s been a while since we’ve made any and it just sounded like a great idea. It’s really easy to make which probably added to its allure; I was cooked out after hosting this last holiday meal.

Start with two diced onions. You can do more. I’m always tempted to. Cook the onions in some olive oil for about ten minutes or until they get translucent.

Then add some minced garlic. I chopped up five cloves. Mix it in really quickly but don’t quick it for more than a minute.

Add your meat. I used 3/4 of a pound of ground sirloin and 2 sweet pork Italian sausages (about a 1/2 pound). Mix that into the onions and garlic and brown all the meat until no pink remains. Make sure to break up the meat so there are no large pieces.

Drain what fat that you can but don’t be psycho about it. Add 2 tablespoons of tomato paste. Mix that all together and cook the mixture for a couple of minutes, stirring often.

Now add two 28-ounce cans of tomatoes (preferably the San Marzano variety). I also added a handful of chopped fresh basil and flat parsely, but only because I had some on hand. Herbs are good but optional in my opinion.

Mix this all together and bring to a simmer. Now, just let it simmer for a while. I let this batch go for four hours, stirring it every once in a while to make sure nothing sticks on the bottom (å la Goodfellas). Taste for seasoning. I’m really bad at waiting to do this but so much moisture simmers out of the sauce it is best to wait. The flavors really end up concentrating.

When you’re about ready, boil some salted water for your pasta. We used linguine. Cook until the noodles are almost al dente, then drain. Return the pasta to the pot and add a ladleful of sauce. Cook the pasta in the sauce for a minute or so. This finishes the pasta and infuses it with the flavor of the sauce.

Now enjoy.

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Written by the bee dub

November 30, 2009 at 3:01 pm

Posted in Hermit Grub

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NFL Week 11 Menu: Lasagna 2.0 / NY Giants Lasagna

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I’m not happy with the lasagna recipe I’ve been using. Cooking one with cottage, cream and cheddar cheese just didn’t feel authentic enough for me and trust me, I’m no purist. The problem with finding a replacement has been the internet. This is a great example of how the internet gives you loads of information but doesn’t make it easy to filter through it. There were just so many recipes to look through it was like searching through a roll of toilet paper looking for one particular square.

Finally I started looking through a few cookbooks I had and found a great candidate in an Ina Garten book. It’s pretty basic even though it did include goat cheese which in lasagna, I refuse to use on principle. It also isn’t unnecessarily indulgent which a lot of the recipes I saw are, suggesting the use of turkey sausage instead of pork. No matter how the recipe worked, I knew it was going to have the taste of victory with the Giants eeking out a win over the Falcons. After four straight losses, I’ll take it.

Start by heating 2 tablespoons of olive oil in a big skillet over medium heat. Add a chopped onion, cooking until translucent, maybe 10 minutes or so. Add a couple of chopped garlic cloves and cook another minute.

I couldn’t find any turkey Italian sausage. Surprisingly, Whole Foods (where I was sure I’d find some) only had chicken Italian sausage. So I got 1 1/2 pounds of it, removed the casing and then added that to the onions.

Make sure to break it up as it cooks until no pink remains. I’ve found the best way to break it up at the end is to use a potato masher. At this point I drained a fair amount of the fat.

Add a 28-ounce can of crushed tomatoes, 1/2 cup of chopped fresh basil, 1/4 cup of chopped flat parsley (chop 1/2 a cup and save the other 1/4 cup for later), 1 1/2 teaspoons of salt, 1 teaspoon pepper and 1 whole 6-ounce can of tomato paste. Cheers to Ina Garten for creating a recipe that uses a whole can of tomato paste. Every other recipe that uses it only calls for a tablespoon or so. The amount of tomato paste our society wastes and discards will come back to haunt us one day. Mark my words.

Mix that together and bring to a simmer over medium-low heat for 15 – 20 minutes, thickening it. Give it a good stir now and then. Next time I need to use a larger skillet. This one was at the very limit of maximum capacity. It all worked out though.

Meanwhile in a medium-sized bowl, combine 16 ounces of ricotta cheese, a beaten egg, the remaining chopped parsley (1/4 cup), 1/2 teaspoon of kosher salt and some pepper. It was at this point that the original recipe called for 4 ounces of goat cheese and I didn’t use any. More on that later.

Now it’s time to build some lasagna. I used three layers of noodles so portion the ingredients appropriately. Ladle some sauce to cover the bottom of a baking pan. Add noodles, the ricotta mixture, some mozzarella cheese and more sauce. Repeat twice. Then top with 1/4 cup of shredded parmesan cheese.

At this point I stashed it in the refrigerator to catch the rest of the Giants’ game. Though ugly, at least we got the win.

Put the lasagna in a 400 degree oven. If your cooking without refrigerating, it probably needs about 30 minutes. From the refrigerator I gave it 40 minutes.

Man, was it good. There’s a few things I’m going to change next time. First off, I’m going to use a little less sausage next time. Maybe around a pound. Second, I’m going to use a bigger skillet. Third, without the goat cheese I think I need to add around 4 ounces of cream cheese to the ricotta mixture to make it a bit creamier. Lastly, I need to make sure all the noodles are completely covered with sauce because the exposed parts of the noodles got too dry and crunchy. So live, eat and learn.

Written by the bee dub

November 23, 2009 at 9:13 pm

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My life as a goat

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Many years ago, the first time I lived in Atlanta around 1997 or so, I had friends who lived in a dilapidated apartment complex. Atlanta wasn’t nearly as developed or gentrified then as it is today. The units were populated by a mix starving students, young, non-legitimate adults and immigrants who as best as I could figure, came from East Africa. All the apartments had their outdoor air-conditioning units placed right outside their front doors. Very classy.

Living right underneath my friend’s place was what looked like a family of twenty-seven cramped into a two-bedroom apartment. Tied to their air-conditioning unit was a goat. I kid you not. They had a pet goat that would always greet me with a friendly goat greeting anytime I arrived. These were highly-polluted and drug-addled days for me, so the goat was a source of non-stop entertainment and hilarity.

One day I arrived to find the goat missing. Instead, the sounds of cooking and the smell of curry emanated strongly from the cramped apartment underneath my friend’s place. I came to realize that goat was no pet. I felt saddened, but was glad I was unaware of the situation as I probably would have tried to free the goat and shepherd it to safety. That’s the kind of thing that seems like a good idea at the time but the reality of finding a safe place for a goat was far beyond any responsibility I could handle back in those days.

Why am I telling this story? These days at work I feel like that goat. I sit tied to my cubicle everyday, waiting for the smell of sauteed onions and curry to foretell my demise…

Written by the bee dub

November 19, 2009 at 11:26 am

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Why I love John Gruden as an NFL analyst

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I’ve really been enjoying John Gruden on Monday Night Football. I think the current three-man team is the best they’ve had on the show in years. Jaworski is a passionate football spaz. Tirico is the straight man. Gruden is the knowledgeable ex-coach fresh off the sidelines. He’s still learning his way and sometimes has trouble turning his football knowledge into verbiage the average fan can understand. But on the whole I find him informative and entertaining, kind of like Madden was before he became…Madden.

Last night on Sportscenter there was a great example of why I enjoy Gruden’s analysis.

Mike Tirico: So what can you say about the Cleveland offense?

Gruden: What offense?

Written by the bee dub

November 17, 2009 at 10:59 am

NFL Week 10 Menu: French Onion Soup

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I have to admit to you all that I think I had a teeny bit too much to drink on Saturday night. Or maybe I just wanted to keep things simple. For me, the answer to either one of those scenarios is almost always soup. French Onion seemed a good choice because it’s pretty simple but still has that hearty, satisfying feeling to it that Sunday dinner demands. It’s a pretty easy thing to make with very limited and easy-to-find ingredients.

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The recipe I have calls for two pounds of onions, sliced thin. I probably used more like three pounds or even a bit more. I love onions. Carmelized onions I love even more. They run a close second behind bacon as something that makes almost anything they’re added to better.

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Take a heavy saucepan and heat 1/4 cup of vegetable oil with three tablespoons of butter. When the butter starts foaming add the onions, stirring regularly until they soften and become translucent. With this many onions, it took a while, maybe as long as twenty or thirty minutes just to get them to that stage.

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At this point I added two tablespoons of sugar and lowered the heat to medium. (I also added a couple of dashes of hot sauce, but don’t tell my wife.) This gets them to start carmelizing. Again, the carmelizing process took longer than I anticipated, probably about thirty or forty minutes overall because I used so many onions. But your patience will be rewarded.

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Now add a 1/4 cup of flour. Mix it in with the onions and cook, stirring constantly for a minute or two.

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Then add eight cups of beef broth. I try to avoid any that uses MSG. That shit is evil. Bring to a boil, lower the heat and simmer for forty minutes. Taste for seasoning. Be careful with that. I started seasoning a little early and ended up with a hair too much salt.

If you want to get fancy, which sometimes I do, I add a gruyére cheese croute on top. To do that, take a slice of baguette and cover it with gruyére cheese (or any cheese you like). Put it under the broiler for about a minute until the cheese bubbles. Serve on top of the soup. Enjoy.

Written by the bee dub

November 16, 2009 at 4:10 pm

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Hermit Cinema: The Thin Red Line

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I saw this movie when it first came out and thought it interesting but not much more. This may be because when initially released it was weighed down heavily by expectations with its star-studded cast and the fact that it was Terrence Malick’s first movie in twenty years. Perhaps this all warped my ability to watch this movie with an objective eye. Today I’m here to tell you that in my mind, this is one of the very best war movies ever made. It follows none of the regular conventions of the genre and is a very meditative take on war and it’s effect on the human psyche.

This may be lazy, but a good way to discuss what makes this movie so unique is to compare it to another successful WWII movie released around the same time: Saving Private Ryan. Spielberg’s was a visceral onslaught, completely immersing you in the intensity of battle from the moment the ramp of the landing craft goes down on Omaha Beach. It focuses on the more ‘noble’ part of WWII – the European theater. Though compelling, it does follow traditional plot format (intro, character exposition, conflict, climax, resolution, denouement) and wasn’t the most intellectually challenging movie. (Don’t get me wrong, it’s a fine film and is worthy of praise.)

The Thin Red Line, on the other hand, follows no traditional structure. It’s more free-form and doesn’t focus around any obvious conflict-resolution. It’s driven by revelatory flashbacks and inner dialogue, while the ugliness of battles are interspersed with scenes of incredible natural beauty. To me, that’s the central point Malick is trying to make but more on that later. This movie also takes place in the less-discussed and less-celebrated Pacific theater, one where the Japanese were willing to sacrifice their own lives simply to kill more enemy. (Much like our current quagmire in Afghanistan, but I digress.) Even when performing courageous acts, here the soldiers all look scared shitless.

The movie focuses mostly on Private Witt (Jim Caviezel), a rebellious type of soldier who draws the ire of his 1st Sgt (Sean Penn). Witt has seen another world within this one, a world of light and beauty. Penn’s character seemingly hates Witt’s perspective on life in addition to his soldiering. Witt though, loves Charlie Company. “They’re my people,” he explains. The other character who gets the most exploration is Private Bell (Ben Chaplin), a former officer who resigned his command because he couldn’t stand being separated from his wife, only to be sent to a frontline infantry unit as punishment for his action. Meanwhile the Battle of Guadalcanal awaits. And when the loading ramps lower for them, it opens with a bang. Actually, no. It opens with them being opposed by nothing but the tropical breeze (another way it differs from Private Ryan).

Charlie Company is commanded by Captain Staros (Elias Koteas), a quiet leader who cares about his men too much to send them to certain death without protest. (I’ve always felt Koteas to be an underrated commodity in the acting community.) Lt. Colonel Tall (Nick Nolte) has no tolerance for this approach. He’s hungry for glory and recognition, regardless of cost. Others in Charlie Company include characters played by John Cusack, Adrien Brody, John C. Reilly and Woody Harrelson. George Clooney and John Travolta also make cameos. (Like I said, this movie has A LOT of folks in it.)

I don’t want to get into too much of what happens. It’s the Battle of Guadalcanal and we all (hopefully) know how it ends and at what heavy human cost. But the historical results of battle are irrelevant here. The cost on the casualties and the survivors is what’s really explored here. The battle scenes are well done and includes more of the insanity that goes along with it. The scenes of Japanese soldiers praying or simply going insane mid-battle are truly eye opening.

But there’s a bigger picture here and it’s one that doesn’t fall directly out of any obvious themes of most war movies. Here, Malick seems to be making a statement on conflict as an inherent part of nature. War is not good or glorious and it is perhaps, unavoidable. What it’s survivors give up they can never get back. This is a long movie at almost three hours. But it was time spent that was paid back in full and then some. I couldn’t help but become completely enthralled by some of these characters. The demise of one nearly brought me to tears.

I give this movie an A-plus.

NFL Week 9 Menu: Lasagna

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Sunday was a tough day of football for me. I lost in fantasy again. The other guy’s tight end scored three touchdowns. If you know anything about fantasy, that’s about a once-every-million-years occurrence. Then I started watching the Giants. To start the game, they marched right down the field. The set up for an easy 39 yard field goal. And missed. I turned the TV off right away. I just knew they were going to lose and they did in such painful fashion, I’m glad I missed it. But the lasagna I made was kick ass so the day was not a total loss.

This was originally a Paula Deen recipe that I’ve tweaked a little bit for my own purposes. After making it today I’ve got a few more tweaks the next time I give it a go too. It all starts with the sauce.

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Here I’ve got a can of tomato sauce, a can of diced tomatoes, one chopped onion, five chopped garlic cloves, a diced red onion, about a 1/2 cup of chopped fresh basil and three bay leaves. Combine all this in a large pot with a cup of water, 1 1/2 teaspoons of Italian seasoning, 1 1/2 teaspoons of seasoned salt, 1 1/2 teaspoons of sugar, 1 teaspoon of kosher salt, 1/2 teaspoon of garlic powder and fresh ground pepper to your liking. Mix, bring to a boil and then cover and simmer for one hour. Mix occasionally.

Meanwhile, take anywhere from a pound to a pound and a half of ground beef or turkey (I used turkey), brown and then drain it. After the sauce has simmered about an hour, add the browned meat into the sauce, mix and then simmer for another thirty minutes or so. Once that’s done, you’re ready to start assembly.

Preheat your oven to 350 degrees. Take eight ounces of cottage cheese and combine with half a cup of grated parmesan and a beaten egg. Divide eight ounces of cream cheese into however many layers you want. Take a baking pan and spread enough sauce over the bottom to cover. Add a layer of lasagna noodles (oven ready or cooked is fine, I used  oven ready). Now spread some of your cottage-cheese mixture, some pinches of cream cheese and a sprinkle of grated cheddar over the noodles.

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Now repeat (sauce, noodles, cheeses) however many times you want or for however much stuff you have. I usually have enough for three layers. At this point you can refrigerate or put it into the oven for about 20 minutes. If you refrigerate it first, you’ll probably want to put it in for an extra 10 minutes or so.

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Carefully remove from oven and sprinkle with some grated mozzarella. Return to oven for 15 minutes. When finished, let it sit on a counter for a few minutes so it sets, otherwise the whole thing will fall apart when you try to remove a slice.

Now if I had to do it all over again, I’d probably end up cutting back a little. There’s more sauce than I really need. I’d also use less cream cheese. A little bit of that goes a long way so I don’t think I’d miss it if I put a little less in there.

That being said, this recipe turned out very tasty. Though lacking in some authentic Italian ingredients, I’d never guess it from the way it eats. Mangia, mangia…

Written by the bee dub

November 9, 2009 at 5:07 pm

Posted in Hermit Grub

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