Sunday, December 18, 2011

Holiday Hiatus

Merry Christmas to me, it's time to have oral surgery!  My wisdom teeth have become a problem, so I'm having one removed tomorrow morning.  I'll be eating mostly liquids for a while, and those just aren't terribly exciting to blog about.

Once I'm recovered, it's off to Chicagoland to visit family, then to California with Kristin to see my mom and stepdad's new place.  We're pretty excited, but we probably won't be the ones doing the cooking.

Cogito, Ergo Consume will be on hiatus until early January.  Have a fantastic holiday, eat well, and we'll see you in 2012!

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Christmas Cookies: Spritzers

Baked goods are an essential part of the holidays.  Kristin's family makes these little Spritzer cookies most every year, and she has some fun stories about all the ways that these seemingly-simple cookies can go all wrong.  We experienced one - our first attempt we made something more like Christmas Wafers than cookies.  It was no good.  This batch turned out great.  We'll see if they last more than a day or two.

It's not Christmas without Christmas Cookies - nor can it be Christmas cookie season without swearing at the cookies that refuse to turn out.  Thankfully, these are quick and easy to whip up, so if something goes terribly wrong, just try, try again.

Not too many ingredients here.  You'll need flour, sugar, shortening, vanilla, almond extract, baking powder, and a single egg.  Sprinkles and decorating sugar can jazz things up a bit, but aren't strictly necessary.  But you don't really want boring, unsprinkled cookies, do you?

You'll also need one of these bad boys - a Spritzer machine.  We found ours for about $10 at Target and it works great.

First, you'll need the always-exciting bowl of white powders.  Combine the flour and baking powder in a mixing bowl and set aside for now.

The next several steps are much easier with a mixer of some sort.  A hand mixer does the job, and of course a stand mixer could do it, too.  First, combine your 1 1/2 cups of shortening with 3 tbsp of water and beat until its combined and fluffy - about 30 seconds should do it.

Now add all that other wet stuff: the sugar, vanilla and almond extracts, and the egg.  Beat again until everything is combined and the texture resembles frosting.

Slowly add the dry ingredients and mix well until combined.  This can take some time.  The dough will be fairly dense.

Add some dough to your spritzer machine, and start pressing it into shapes onto ungreased cookie sheets.  Ungreased is important, otherwise your shapes will refuse to stay shapely, or even to stay on the pan at all.

Some will be prettier than others.  Some will refuse to come out of the machine entirely, or will be hideously deformed.  Just toss these ugly cookies back in with the rest of the dough and press replacements until you're satisfied.

Cover liberally with whatever sorts of decorations you like.  Be exuberant - make sure to spill more of those decorations onto the pan than you get onto the cookies.  It's important.

Now bake them!  They'll bake up very quickly - just about 6 minutes at 400 degrees.  They'll look almost unchanged on top, but if you bake 'til they're brown then the poor cookies will be dead, dead, dead.  Just the bottoms should be ever-so-slightly brown.

Make plenty of different shapes!

No really, make plenty.  Cool on a wire rack - or on top of other cooling cookies.

Consider using some food coloring - Kristin was pretty proud of her little green trees.  There's really no wrong way to decorate.  Have fun!

Once you're done, make sure to try one of each shape and pick a favorite.  An hour later, you'll doubt your choice, and have to test all over again.  You should probably also test to see which tastes best dunked in coffee or cocoa.  You know, for science.  It's important.

Bake plenty, eat plenty, and even share if you're feeling particularly kindly.  If you run out, just bake some more.  They're worth it.

Recipe: Spritzer Cookies
Prep Time: 10 Minutes | Cook Time: 20 Minutes | Difficulty: Easy | Servings: 60 Cookies

  • 3 1/2 cups Flour
  • 1 1/2 cups Shortening (pref. butter flavor)
  • 3 tbsp Water
  • 1 cup White Sugar
  • 1 egg
  • 1 tsp Baking Powder
  • 1 tsp Vanilla Extract
  • 1/2 tsp Almond Extract
  • Optional - Decorating sugars and sprinkles
  1. Pre-heat oven to 400 degrees.
  2. In a mixing bowl, combine flour and baking powder.
  3. In a large mixing bowl, beat shortening 30 seconds until fluffy.  Add sugar, egg, vanilla, and almond extract and beat again 60-90 seconds until combined and fluffy.
  4. Gradually add dry ingredients, beating until well-blended.
  5. Add dough to spritzer machine and press into shapes onto ungreased cookie sheets.
  6. Optional - Add decorating sugars and/or sprinkles before baking.
  7. Bake cookies 6-7 minutes at 400 degrees.  Cookie bottoms should be barely brown.
  8. Cool on wire racks.

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Roasted Vegetable Lasagna

I'm not always the biggest fan of traditional lasagna - the kind with ricotta, tomato sauce, and ground beef.  It tends to be dry, and the ratios are often skewed from what I'd really like.  I generally find that I'd prefer something like a baked ziti with similar ingredients than a lasagna of that kind.

That's not the whole story on lasagna, though.  There's more out there, and sometimes it really makes sense to do things in layers, rather than all mixed up in a casserole.  This roasted vegetable lasagna is one of those tasty alternatives.  Three different layers of roasted vegetables sit between pasta in plenty of creamy, white sauce, all with toasty cheese on top. 

This is a somewhat complicated, time-consuming recipe, but feeds a lot of people and ends up very tasty.  It's good, and not even terrible for you, all things considered.

Lots of ingredients here, but they're almost all vegetables.  You'll need lasagna noodles, of course.  You can vary the vegetables, but I used red peppers, zucchini, spinach, onion, and butternut squash.  The sauce is made from milk, lots of garlic, some flour to thicken, and various other spices - I used oregano, thyme, and red pepper this time around.  And, of course, you'll need some cheese, both for the sauce itself and to melt on top of everything.

First, pre-heat your oven to 400 degrees.

Lots of chopping to do!  Dice the onion, and cut the butternut squash down into pieces about an inch on a side.  Quarter the zucchini lengthwise.

Arrange the squash and zucchini on an un-greased baking sheet.

Grease another small baking sheet, and place whole red bell peppers on it.  Make sure to remove the stickers!  Cover the peppers in just a bit of oil.

Now put both of the baking sheets into the oven for about a half-hour at 400 degrees.  Check everything at 15 minutes and turn it all over.  The zucchini may be plenty soft at this point - take it out, if so.  Let the squash and peppers both go until the squash is quite soft and the peppers' skin is blackened.

In the meantime, saute the onions with some minced garlic in a large stock pot or dutch oven for several minutes until they are translucent.

Once the onions are soft and translucent, add washed spinach and a few tablespoons of water. Turn the heat up to medium-high, cover, and let the spinach wilt in the steam for a couple of minutes.

While the spinach wilts, put 5 cups or so of milk in a stockpot.  Add salt, pepper, and your herbs, and bring slowly to a boil.  Take it easy on the heat, or you're likely to burn the bottom and create a very unpleasant taste.  Once the mixture boils, reduce the heat to low and let things stand for a few minutes while you take care of some other tasks.

Check the spinach 3 minutes or so after you put the cover on its pot.  It should be nicely wilted and most of the water evaporated.  Saute with onions and garlic another minute or two over medium heat to work out some of the excess moisture, then set the mixture aside in a bowl for later.

Mix a few tablespoons of flour with about a half cup of cold milk until smooth.  Pour this into the milk mixture and stir slowly to thicken.  When thickened, add 1 1/2 cups shredded cheese.  Continue stirring slowly over low heat until sauce is smooth.

At this point, the vegetables are almost certainly done, so when it's time, pull them out.  Chop the zucchini into small pieces and set aside.

Place the roasted squash in a bowl with lots and lots of minced garlic - half a dozen cloves or so ought to do.  Mash the squash with a fork and mix the squash and garlic together.

There are any number of ways to get the blackened skin off of roasted peppers.  My personal preference is to shock briefly in a bowl of ice water.  The skin should loosen and pull right off after just a couple of seconds in the water.

Remove the skin from the roasted red peppers and cut down into small, bite-sized strips.  Set aside with the zucchini - these two will be a vegetable layer in the lasagna shortly.

Finally, it's time to assemble!  First, put about 1/2 to 3/4 cup of the sauce in the bottom of a 9x13" pan.  Add a layer of noodles over the sauce, then spread the squash mixture over those noodles.

The process will go like this from now on: sauce, noodles, veggies.

Add more sauce and noodles over the squash mixture, then spread zucchini and roasted red peppers over the new noodles.

One more vegetable layer!  After adding more sauce and noodles, add the spinach and onions.

Now finish off the sauce in two more steps.  Add the usual sauce over the spinach and onions, followed by a top layer of noodles.  Then, add whatever sauce is left over those noodles.  Cover as best you can, as these top noodles will do their best to overcook and dry out.

It's time!  Throw the pan into the oven for 30 minutes at 400 degrees.  Be careful, it's a heavy pan.

After the half-hour is up, you're nearly there.  Pull the lasagna out and heat up the broiler.  Cover the lasagna with a layer of cheese.

Broil 2 minutes until cheese is bubbling and beginning to brown.

It's finally ready!  Let it cool 10 minutes or so so that it doesn't all fall apart when you cut it, then serve hot with salad.

Recipe: Roasted Vegetable Lasagna
Prep Time: 15 Minutes | Cook Time: 1 Hour 30 Minutes | Difficulty: Medium | Servings: 8-10


  • 1 package no-boil Lasagna Noodles
  • 1 large Butternut Squash, peeled and cubed
  • 1 large bunch Fresh Spinach
  • 1 large Sweet Onion
  • 2 large Red Bell Peppers
  • 2 medium Zucchini
  • 5 1/2 cups Milk
  • 2 cups shredded Italian Cheeses (mozzarella, fontina, provolone, asiago, parmesan)
  • 2 tbsp Olive Oil
  • 8 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1/2 tbsp Oregano
  • 1/2 tbsp Thyme
  • 1/2 tbsp Salt
  • 3 tbsp Flour
  • 2 tsp Black Pepper
  1. Pre-heat oven to 400 degrees.
  2. Chop down vegetables: dice onion, cube butternut squash, and quarter zucchini.
  3. Arrange squash and zucchini on an ungreased baking sheet.  Place washed red peppers on a greased baking sheet and oil lightly.
  4. Roast vegetables at 400 degrees approx. 30 minutes, checking and turning halfway.  Zucchini may be done sooner.
  5. In a stock pot or dutch oven, saute onions and garlic until translucent.  Add spinach and 3 tbsp water, increase heat to medium-high, cover, and cook 3-4 minutes until spinach is wilted.  Reduce heat and saute an additional 3 minutes to remove excess moisture, then set aside in a bowl.
  6. In a large saucepan, combine 5 cups milk with salt, pepper, and herbs.  Bring slowly to a boil.
  7. Whisk together flour and remaining 1/2 cup milk.  Add to milk mixture and stir over low heat until thickened.  Add 1 1/2 cups cheese and melt over low heat.
  8. Once vegetables are roasted, chop zucchini and set aside in a bowl.
  9. Shock red peppers in cold water and remove blackened skin.  Cut into small strips and add to bowl with zucchini.
  10. Combine 6 cloves minced garlic and roasted squash in a large bowl.  Mash squash and mix with a fork.
  11. Assemble lasagna in layers of sauce, noodles, and vegetables:
    1. Spread 3/4 cup sauce over bottom of pan.  Cover with noodles, then spread squash mixture.
    2. Cover squash mixture in 3/4 cup sauce.  Add noodles.  Cover with zucchini and red peppers.
    3. Add 3/4 cup sauce and a layer of noodles.  Cover with spinach and onions.
    4. Add 3/4 cup sauce and a final layer of noodles.  Cover with remaining sauce.
  12. Bake lasagna 30 minutes at 400 degrees.
  13. Remove from oven.  Pre-heat broiler.  Cover lasagna in remaining shredded cheese.
  14. Broil 2 minutes until cheese is bubbling and browned on top.
  15. Cool 10 minutes before cutting.
  16. Serve hot with tossed salad.