Tuesday, June 30, 2009

The Way to a Man's Heart...

Hello fellow foodies! I'm excited for our next installment which I've been thinking about all week. There are so many ideas and recipes I'm wanting to share with all of you. But first, I must take a moment to thank all my friends and family for the kind emails and Facebook postings complimenting my blog. It's exciting to see how far around the world the written word travels these days in such a rapid fashion!

So this week I really wanted to be sure I clarified for those still in question what a "supertaster" truly is. There's tons of information on the internet these days about this phenomenon that was evidently originally studied/discovered by Dr. Linda Bartoshuk of Yale University. "The 'neon taste world' of people who Dr. Bartoshuk calls 'supertasters' is roughly three times as intense as the 'pastel world' of the nontasters. This is because the tongues of supertasters have a higher concentration of taste bud-containing structures than the tongues of less taste-sensitive groups"(FoodNavigator.com, Feb. 19, 2003).

Since first hearing about this, I had no doubt I am a supertaster. I regularly taste hints of flavors in foods, often fascinating friends and family when the ingredient is determined a reality. I have become quite the wine lover in the past few years, able to taste certain nuances of flavors there as well. And, several of the foods I absolutely abhor seem to be similar to those of other supertasters (olives, raw tomatoes, cabbage, grapefruit and bitter coffee like espresso--none for me--I'll take my raspberry or cherry chocolate flavored cup of Joe over drinking tar any day, thank you very much!).

So, according to Dr. Bartoshuk, a supertaster has a higher concentration of taste buds, or officially, "fungiform papillae," that house the taste buds, on the tip of the tongue. A fun little test can be taken to confirm this by swabbing blue food coloring on the tip of your tongue, placing a piece of paper on your tongue, with a 7mm hole punched into it, and counting the papillae within the circle. They will remain pink, while the tongue is blue. (See a great depiction of how to do the test at this link: http://www.northernneckuncorked.com/super_taster.html). I lost count at 50. Anywhere over 35-40 confirms the theory, coming as no surprise to me! Thus, the designation found it's way into my blog title, and hopefully it will be a positive experience to your taste buds, too (unless you absolutely LOVE raw tomatoes, as I'm afraid you'll not find those recipes here).
Speaking of tomatoes, though, it's time for this week's recipe (using
cooked tomatoes, which ironically I do like) and the story behind it. As I stated in my last post, I've been married to my college sweetheart for over 22 years. We married young by today's standards (he was 21, I was 20), and my food is partially to blame. You see, I've been cooking for him since our days in the piney woods of East Texas at our small, private college campus.

Thanks to all that time spent in the kitchen working side-by-side with my mom, when it was time to choose extracurricular classes in high school, the Home Economics options were the only ones truly of interest to me. I took every single one offered in our small Texas Panhandle town, and ended up serving as President of the Future Homemakers Association Chapter to boot! In a special unit on microwave cooking, I learned the wonderful talent of constructing a gorgeous lasagna without pre-cooking the noodles. This method involved a hearty and wet meat sauce, and microwaving at medium power for maximum effect. It was absolutely delicious, and something I eventually easily re-created at college with a limited kitchen and only a microwave at my disposal. Being the creative type, I even figured out the "semi-homemade" style of doing this (before Sandra Lee had even thought about becoming a household name) and ramped up bottled store sauce with herbs and spices to make it worthy of my particular palate.

So, back to that man's stomach. One weekend I carried all my groceries and supplies over to the kitchen above the racquetball courts and constructed my lasagna for that adorable boy and his buddies, along with some warm chocolate chip cookies. He might not admit it was love at first site that particular evening, but we've been together ever since, and it was this lasagna that went out the door with him this week for his guy's golf and lake trip at his special request!

I'm grateful to all those Home Economists that work for the big food companies who must also have been students of my favorite teacher at some point. They have now developed the pre-packaged noodles available to us today, created purposefully for no cooking: a dream to those of us struggling to get dinner on the table in a timely fashion.

To make the lasagna, you'll need the following ingredients and about a full hour and a half for preparation, cooking, and setting. I hope you enjoy it as much as we do, as comfort food like this doesn't last long around our house!
"Almost Cheating" Microwave Lasagna
1 med. onion, chopped
1 lb. ground Italian sausage (or ground beef or turkey if you so prefer)
1 clove garlic, minced
Combine sausage, onion and garlic in 2 qt. casserole dish and microwave on high for 4.5 to 7 minutes, or until meat loses pink color. Drain fat.
(Note: If you prefer the stovetop and have it at your disposal, by all means brown the meat that way. I actually did this last night as I have a gas cooktop for the first time in 17 years, and I cannot quit using it! Another little hint is on draining fat. When I microwave ground meats, I use my Tupperware brand stacker cooking colander set (these were popular back in the early 90's and you can still find them on eBay and other sites). The meat browns nicely and the fat runs into the lower section for quick clean up. If I brown on the stove top, a trick I've found habit-forming is sitting a metal colander with feet into a small square pan and straining the grease out that way. The corners of the pan work famously for pouring off the fat into a jar or can for quick and easy disposal and clean-up!)

Now for the rest of the sauce:
1 24 oz. jar prepared pasta sauce (I prefer Bertolli Olive Oil & Garlic)
1 13.5 oz. pkg. Bertolli Premium Summer Crushed Tomato & Basil Pasta Sauce
(Note: This is a more liquid sauce and I chose it due to inclusion of herbs. If you cannot find it, then just add the approximate equivalent of canned crushed tomatoes, which can also be purchased "Italian-style" with spices added if you prefer.)
2 T parsley flakes
1/2 t salt
1 t dried basil
1 t dried oregano
1 t brown sugar
Add the above items to the browned meat and microwave
covered on high until thoroughly heated through (about 5 minutes).

Ricotta Cheese Layer:
1 16 oz. carton ricotta cheese (I prefer the lower fat)
1/4 cup shredded or ground parmesan cheese
2 eggs
1 T parsley flakes
1/2 t black pepper
1/2 t salt
Mix together above ingredients in medium glass mixing bowl and set aside.

1 8 oz. package Oven-Ready lasagna noodles (Skinner is a nice brand with built-in ridges)
3 cups shredded mozzarella cheese
1/4 cup parmesan cheese

Final Assembly:
In 12 x 8 (or 13 x 9) baking dish, spoon in a very thin layer of sauce mixture then layer 1/3 each of noodles, ricotta cheese mixture (spreading with a skinny spatula works best), sauce and mozzarella. Repeat the steps of noodles, sauces, ricotta mixture and mozzarella 2-3 times (depending upon depth of your pan). Sprinkle top of final layer of mozzarella with 1/4 cup parmesan chese. Microwave at 50% power for 20-30 minutes or until bubbly, rotating dish 1/2 turn after half the cooking time (or you can bake in a 350 oven for about 45-50 minutes). Be sure to let the lasagna stand for at least 15 minutes to set before cutting into it! This is by far the most difficult part of the whole process as your olfactory nerves will be in overdrive! Sorry!

If you make this lasagna, or have any ideas for great variations, please be sure to comment below! I would love to hear from you, particularly if this dish (or any of my others to come) helps you snag the man of your dreams--but unfortunately this writer can make no promises or offer guarantees--just hope!

Wednesday, June 24, 2009


Hello friends, family and fellow foodies! And welcome to the inaugural posting of my new blog, sharing my memories and musings through my passion and love for food. I'm Andrea Siebert Peterson, a 43 year old suburban mom with a business degree and hours toward a masters. My 22+ years experience in the working world revolve around business operations and meetings & events management in the real estate industry and non-profit sectors. I have been married to my college sweetheart for 22+ years and we enjoy raising 2 beautiful daughters who are rapidly forcing us into "empty nesthood."

Family is a huge part of our lives as I'm the eldest daughter in a group of 7 children. Being raised in mid-western and then Texas Panhandle farm communities, it's no small wonder I've probably spent more working hours in the kitchen than any other room in the house!

After a fairly recent corporate layoff, I have been trying to find my new niche in the working world. No matter what book I read or where I turn, doing what I love always brings me back to food. So, it's time to find out where that passion can take me. It seems a blog is a great way to start, since it is a commitment to a regular diet, in a manner of speaking, manifested in both word and deed! I hope to share with you the most about the memories of food that have made up the quilted tapestry of my life. It's a long list, often fraught with some tears, but also celebrating great triumphs.

To begin at the beginning I must share with you my first ever kitchen triumph. It started on a hot, sticky day in our Nebraska kitchen. I was only 8 years old yet had already spent numerous hours (years!) on a stool working side by side with my mother who seemed to always be in the kitchen. Keeping up with the hunger needs of my dad, older brother, cousins, and hired hands, who were helping with corn planting, irrigating, wheat harvest and the like, was no small feat. In those days at our house there were 4 main mealtimes instead of the standard American 3. Around 4-5 pm my dad and the boys would all come in for fortitude to sustain them through the evening working hours that often didn't end until dark or later. Usually we served sandwiches on slices of thick, soft homemade white bread my mother baked by hand once a week. In my visual memory bank I see huge pitchers of sweating iced sweet tea and cold watermelon on the table and whatever homemade goodies my mom happened to decide to bake that afternoon. Chocolate chip cookies, banana bread, marshmallow brownies, my aunt's amazing chocolate cake, and scotcheroos (a peanut butter crisped cereal treat covered in milk chocolate) all come to mind (and will be shared with you soon).

This particular day as I recall, one of the little ones was fussy. Mom asked me to step up and bake a cake. "You can do it without me," she directed, "you know how now." OK, so it wasn't from scratch (thank you Duncan Hines), but it was the remembering to preheat the oven (something my mother did for me by default for many years, causing problems later in married life, but that's an entirely separate story), correctly greasing the pans, following the directions on the box to add proper ingredients, waiting the requisite time to remove from pans once baked, and assembling with beautiful icing to create a two-layer, orange wonder that were my 8-year old accomplishments. None of this compared, however, to what happened next.

My father is child number 9 in a family of 10 children. I don't think the birth order books can truly address his personality due to the sheer size of this tribe. But, I can tell you he is one of the most honest, hard-working, individuals I've ever known. He is one of those rare individuals who simply cannot pass up stopping to help a wayward soul along the road experiencing car trouble. In this case a stranger had a flat tire, and despite the busy-ness of Dad's summer day, it was no exception. This was the 70's folks--the times of no cell phones and rural roads for us specifically. I will never forget the timing of dad bringing home this man who needed to "phone a friend to help him to the next level" and ended up around our late afternoon table. I will always remember the pride on my father's face, showing off his little darling's cake and sharing it with this stranger! It was that day that fireworks burst in my brain and one of the biggest "AHA" moments of my life occurred: You can make people happy--deliriously happy--by simply serving them your food! This thought clearly took root that day and has been manifest throughout my life. Food that is fostered in love becomes a jubilant experience, both for the creator and the partaker! The stranger, who I never laid eyes on again in my life, oohed and awed about my cake, how wonderful it was that I was so young and yet did such an excellent job, how special it was to be given such a rare treat!
And, for me it was not pride so much as the reality that food has power. The creating, the timing, the giving, each provides it's own certain reward. (And, in a strange way, the old adage that "the way to a man's heart is through his stomach" was clearly in the mix that day as well.) As the years have flown by, I've watched the family gather and the food fill stomachs and the stories begin. And the other common denominator for me has been the indescribable feeling I get from seeing the pleasure on the faces of those who taste my food, fork suspended (sometimes with eyes closed) experiencing a moment of euphoria and often creating a special memory that will last through the ages. I literally live for those moments since I've experienced so many of them behind the fork at others' tables and restaurants myself!

Thus, we begin this journey together to experience the sanctuary of this supertaster: my kitchen, the heart of my home. And even though I didn't include a recipe today, hopefully there will always be 1 or 2 to tempt your tastebuds. I look forward to sharing with you and hearing from you and dreaming about you with your fork poised in the air!