Sunday, February 3, 2013

Killer Lasagna
An Excerpt from Laura's Valentine's Tribute and her Famous Recipe for Meerkat Lasagna

I first "met" Laura Anne Gilman through HARD MAGIC (a copy of which is her giveaway with this post!) her Paranormal Scene Investigations spin off of her Cosa Nostradmus series. Here's the description:

Welcome to P.U.P.I.—Private, Unaffiliated, Paranormal Investigations. A handpicked team trained to solve crimes the regular police can't touch—crimes of magic.

My name's Bonnie Torres. Recent college grad, magic user and severely unemployed. Until I got a call out of nowhere to interview for a job I hadn't applied for. It smelled fishy, but the brutal truth was I needed the work—so off I went.

Two days later I'm a PUPI—me and Nick, Sharon, Nifty and Pietr. Five twentysomethings, thrown into an entirely new career in forensic magic.

The first job we get is a doozy: proving that the deaths of two Talents were murder, not suicide. Worse, there are high-profile people who want us to close up shop and go away. We're sniffing out things they'd rather keep buried.

Looks as if this job is gonna get interesting. The only problem is, we're making it up as we go along... (Amazon)

I really loved her characters, the humble, smart and funny Bonnie Torres, the serious military-type Venec, all the other Pupis.  But more than that I liked how much self-respect Bonnie had and how much respect Laura had for her characters and her readers. Laura Anne writes to an intelligent reader, but has managed to stump me a couple of times with new words. I love that!

For today, Laura wrote an entire short story about Venec and Bonnie, who in DRAGON JUSTICE finally got into a serious relationship. But, the story became much longer and we decided to share it between our sites. So, here is an excerpt from Laura Anne Gilman's latest short story, Killer Lasagna which is followed by the recipe for the very dish Bonnie cooks for her first Valentine's Day dinner with her beau, Venec.  Even this recipe is interesting and different, just like Laura's books!

From “Killer Lasagna”

I didn’t translocate back to my apartment, much though I was tempted. It’s not as easy a thing as twitching your nose: any use of current burns calories, and slinging yourself across space burns a hell of a lot of calories. And since I didn’t want to pass our before dinner, or ruin my appetite, I took the subway like everyone else.

I’d gone through three apartments since moving to New York. The first I’d gotten kicked out of, when a mischief imp decided to make me his target. The second, someone was killed upstairs, and my co-workers had staged an intervention to get me out. I still think that they overreacted, but I had to admit that my new apartment - all of seven months - had one feature that the other two had sadly lacked. An Actual Kitchen.

Friends who didn’t live in New York laughed, but having something more than a galley kitchen was a miracle, and the moment I’d seen this apartment I’d been lost. Now, I got home, changed out of the remains of my work clothes, kept the sweatshirt on and added a pair of jeans, and reached for an apron to throw over it.

Valentine’s Day is a silly, commercial holiday where all the restaurants, chocolatiers and florists salivate. But I had always still loved the holiday, even when I was a little kid and all it meant was that my mentor would sneak a tiny box of chocolates into my lunchbox with a note telling me I was loved. So when Venec had oh so casually mentioned that by the way, next week was Valentine’s Day, he knew damn well he wasn’t going to get the traditionally “oh it’s just a silly holiday” scoff from me. But I didn’t want to go out anywhere fancy. Food was love, in my family. I was going to cook for him.

And not just any food, either. I might be Anglo-Latina, and my mentor, lord love him,was as WASPy as they came, but the only proper meal for blustery February day was a hearty lasagna. I pulled the ingredients out of the fridge, set them all on the counter, and stared at them.

“You can do this. It’s just Venec. You’ve cooked for scarier people before.” I’d cooked for heads of state, in fact, and heads of Council, and once rather terrifying night, I’d cooked with the current darling of the cordon bleu set, while J sat back with a glass of wine and laughed his genteel ass off at the two of us. Cooking for the guy who’d been my boss for nearly four years, who’d been inside my head more times than I wanted to consider, thanks to the Merge we’d somehow been tagged in for almost that long, who’d only recently become my lover…

He didn’t judge. Not about stuff like this. Stuff like this, I knew, the effort really was what mattered to Ben. But the end result mattered to me.

And he knew that. So, no pressure, and a hell of a lot of pressure. That was probably why I’d been so stupid at work this morning: stress.

The meat went into the pot for browning, then I strained it off and set it to rest, while I put together the sauce. The secret to a really killer lasagna is the sauce: you have to add just the right stuff and then let it simmer down. I left it to do its thing, and turned on the stereo, punching up a soft rock station. IPods and whatnot maybe the modern choice for music tech, but for a Talent, it’s better to keep it as simple as possible. My stereo was grounded seven ways from Sunday, and the speakers were old enough to be pretty resistant to current surges. The Pretty Reckless kept me company as I soaked the fresh noodles in water, laid them out on a sheet, and sent a surge of current through them. It wasn’t the traditional way to cook pasta, maybe, but they stayed soft and fresh better than boiled, in my experience.

While the sauce simmered, I cleaned up the kitchen, then went and put fresh sheets on the bed. Hey, it was Valentines Day, right? We’d only been having sex for a few months, so it was still this weird new thing. Weird because I’d been in his head before I was in his body, so to speak, and we weren’t either of us exactly inexperienced, but it still felt…new. Really new, like First Time New.

I’d tried to figure it out a couple of times, but finally shrugged and was just enjoying the ride.


"meerkat's lasagna"

This is the recipe. I should note that friends used to beg me to tell
them the recipe, and then when I did they were all "seriously? You do
that? Well...ok, it DOES taste great...."

1 lb ground beef (80% lean, no more!)
2 T olive oil
3 1/2 cups (32 oz) plain tomato sauce (or crushed whole tomatoes, if you
like it chunkier)
8 oz tomato paste
8 oz shredded mozzarella
28 oz ricotta

Brown the meat in a large saucepan and drain off most but not all of the
fat. Add the tomato sauce and add a pinch of oregano, a double pinch of
basil, and another pinch (or two, or three, or four) of ground cumin.
Yes, cumin. Really. My More-Italian-than-Italy friends freaked out,
but then started doing it, too. Add it a little at a time as the meat
simmers, until it's to your taste, for about 15 minutes.

Meanwhile, mix the ricotta and mozzarella together in a bowl, gently:
just enough that they combine but not so much it becomes mush.

Boil the pasta until it's al dente, and drain, keeping them separated
and moist. Spread half of the tomato paste on the bottom of a 13x9
baking ish, and cover with a layer of lasagna. Cover that with a layer
of the cheese mixture, and ladle the sauce over that. Repeat layers as
needed (I do 2 layers, usually). Sprinkle with shredded Parmesan.
Cover the dish with foil and bake at 375 degrees for 30 minutes, or
until bubbling. Remove the foil and bake another 5 minutes and serve,
or store in the freezer for later.


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