Friday, September 30, 2016

iFood - lasagne Bodini

Right. Here another "technical" post on a different technology :)
Lasagne.  Yes, I use the term "lasagnE" rather than the other term "lasagnA", is more commonly used from where I'm coming from :)
Apparently we geek love lasagne :)

I want to share here our recipe we use to prepare lasagne (we, my wife and I).
I'm not claiming this recipe to be "the" recipe, there are millions ways to prepare lasagne but surely is more Italian than many recipes I saw here in USA.
This is ours and we love it :)

Attention ! This recipe requires a LOT of time and a lot of work, up to two days to prepare everything !
This recipe should allow to prepare two big baking pan and a small one of lasagne, plus some extra
It should be enough for at least 10-12 people.
To prepare this recipe, you need to have three things :

  1. The meat sauce (ragu' di carne)
  2. The pasta
  3. The besciamella

The three things are needed to be prepared in the listed order.
It is suggested to prepare the sauce the day before since it can take between 7 to 9 hours to be ready.
It is also possible to prepare lasagne the day before to eat it.

The meat sauce

The meat sauce, or “ragu' di carne”, also known as “bolognese”, is a meat based sauce.
Tools needed :

  • a big pot
  • (optional) a big crock pot

Ingredients :

  • Grounded lean Beef Meat (at least 4 pounds)
  • 2 or 3 big Onions
  • Garlic (2 or 3 small cloves)
  • 2 or 3 carrots
  • 3 big cans Crushed tomatoes
  • Extra-virgin olive oil
  • Sugar
  • Salt
  • Pepper
  • Dry white wine

Cut the onions, the carrots and garlic in small pieces.
Put them in the big pot with some oil and bring up to medium-high heat and cook for few minutes, until the onions starts to have a lightly golden color.
Put the ground beef in the pot and cook the meat until it turn all brown, mixing it with the onions and
It will take a while.

When the meat is all brown, add some dry white wine and let it evaporate.
Then add the tomato, add salt , some sugar (helps to reduce the acidity) and a little sprinkle of black
pepper and cook until the sauce starts to be hot (bubbles starts to come out).

If you have a big crock pot, capable to contain all the sauce prepared, move the sauce in the crock pot
and set it up for 6/7 hours at high temperature, or 8/9 hours at lower temperature.
If you DON'T have the crock pot, reduce the heat to low and let cook for at least 4 hours, checking that the sauce doesn't become too dry.
Add hot water if necessary to keep the sauce moist and mix the sauce not too often.
At the end of the cooking on the surface should be present a lot of grease/oil (it depends about the kind of meat used. Lean meat will leave less grease/oil)
Gently, with a big spoon, remove as much as grease/oil as you can.
Don't trash the oil away in the sink !! It will clog the pipes and create problems to the sewer system!
Collect it in a old bottle and recycle it.
The meat sauce is ready.

The pasta

Of course the most important ingredient for lasagne is the pasta.
It is possible to buy ready-to-use pasta for lasagne, however is much better to prepare the pasta from
the scratch.

Tools needed :

  • (optional) Bread machine
  • Pasta maker
  • a big bowl
  • dough cutter or small pizza cutter
  • A large area where to put pasta

Ingredients :

  • 4 Eggs
  • 4 cups white Flour
  • Water

The bread machine is perfect to mix the raw ingredients and create the dough.
Put in the bread machine pan the 4 eggs and 500 g of flour (about 4 cups).
Start to mix and add little bit of water until the dough starts to be firm.
If become too wet (sticky) add white flour until is fixed.
If become too dry add little bit of water.
Without the bread machine you need another way to mix the ingredients.
Can be manually or another kind of machine. The bread machine is the best option for my experience.
At this point we need to prepare the “sheets” of pasta.
To do so, we need to use a tool called “pasta maker”.

Here a step-by-step guide to prepare the pasta sheets :

  1. From the main dough, cut it out a little piece and form a small ball, about 2-3 inches diameter
  2. Select the maximum opening on the pasta maker and put the ball in it , then start to roll it
  3. Repeat the process folding the sheet of pasta and spreading a little bit of flour between every passage
  4. When the sheet of pasta start to be tight and without crumbling and without “holes”, select the medium opening and repeat the process two or three times
  5. Select the smallest opening and pass the sheet of pasta in it. A long sheet of pasta should come out.
  6. Cut it in pieces, 5 or 6 inches long and place them on a table. Better to cover the table with a cloth.
  7. Repeat the process from 1 until all the dough is done.
If everything is done correctly, the entire table should be covered by 5 or 6 inches pieces pasta sheets.

The besciamella

The besciamella is another sauce based on milk and butter.
To prepare it is necessary to have just a medium pot.

Just as referral :

  • 1 Tablespoon=15g
  • 1 Teaspoon= 5g
  • 1 cup = 250 ml

Ingredients :

  • Butter (100 g - ~7 tablespoon)
  • Milk (1 liter - ~ 4 cups)
  • Flour (130 g - ~9 tablespoon)
  • Salt
  • Nutmeg

Put all the ingredients in the pot and cook at medium-low until a “sauce” medium tick is forming.

Let's prepare lasagne !

Without the tool is better to place 2 or 3 sheets of pasta in the water at the time, leave them in it for 3-4 minutes, then retrieve them with a big fork or something that can drain the water.
When some pasta sheets are ready (cooked) is possible to start to build the lasagne.
Better to be at least in two. One cooking the pasta sheets and preparing them ready to be used, and the other building lasagne.

  1. Pick a up one baking pan
  2. Scrub the entire pan with butter
  3. Start to put a layer of pasta
  4. Put on it a thin layer of grated Parmesan cheese
  5. Put on it a layer of besciamella
  6. Put on it a layer of meat sauce
  7. Go to the point 3 and repeat until there are enough layers of pasta to reach the top of the baking pan

Cover the baking pan with aluminum foil. It is ready to put in the oven.
When all the baking pan are ready, pre-heat the oven for 400 and then put the pans in it for at least 40
Lasagne are ready !

What to do with leftovers

Usually some pasta sheets and some meat sauce are left over.
A neat way to use them is to cut the pasta sheets (using the pasta maker tool) in spaghetti or fetuccine.
Cook the pasta in the water used to cook the other pasta sheets, for 3-4 minutes.
Remove the pasta from the pot and add in it some meat sauce.
You end up with a wonderful home made “spaghetti alla bolognese” plate.
Extremely yummy ! Add some grated Parmesan cheese on the top.

Saturday, September 24, 2016

Playing with Alexa

It is amazing how time's fly !
Are already almost two months since my last post !

Many things happened of course, busy life, work work work and only recently I restarted to play with something new, for fun.

Amazon made public a demo project to use a Raspberry Pi to be like an Echo, the Amazon  vocal command toy.
So I decided to try, I did put my hands on a Raspberry Pi 3 (in order to have embedded WiFi and Bluetooth), a nice USB microphone and a speaker (as suggested in the Amazon project) and one evening, with a friend, we followed the instructions and installed Alexa on a Raspberry.

Here few notes about


It took about 4 hours to install everything. The longest time was spent updating Raspbian, probably the update alone was about 1 hour and half.
The installation of tools and environment (the project is in Java, uses Node.js and Maven) took the other long part and the configuration the rest.
And yes, we did enjoy ourself watching Youtube (comedians) while waiting :)

Is it working ?

YES ! Amazingly it did work immediately and all considered is not bad at all !
It is possible to hear some static/digital noise in the speaker, especially if a monitor and USB keyboard is connected to the Raspberry, but the audio quality is not bad.

Let see some pro and cons


  • Relatively cheap
    A Raspberry Pi, a speaker and a microphone is what is needed. Many of us have this stuff in some box by sure :)
  • Easy to install
    The instructions are quite clear, some not updated to the last version parts but for somebody who plays with Raspberry or somebody with a basic computer science knowledge is not a problem.
  • It works
    Well yes, is a pro :)


  • You need an Amazon account. No problem for me but is important to realize that Alexa become a part of the Amazon account.
  • Is not an Echo !
    This is important !! The project is a demo and has some not intuitive/cumbersome way to activate Alexa, so don't expect Echo performances !
    In details :
    • A X11 graphic environment is needed ! Specifically they suggest to use VNC in order to connect from other computers.
      Is not a real embedded system like Echo.
    • Everytime the Raspberry is turned On is necessary to open terminals and start a local server plus a client.
    • When the client starts it is requested an https connection to retrieve a certificate.
      A browser is needed thus plus some manual operations.
      Once retrieved the certificate Echo works until the Raspberry is shutted off or the application is stopped
    • Some functionalities are disabled by default, like streaming music.
      Need to investigate if is possible to enable them.


So far I tried different things. The default of course is asking Alexa things like the time, the weather, news, etc.
And I have to say I'm impressed with the capability to recognize my accent !
I tried many vocal command systems in the past and all of them, ALL OF THEM, always failed to recognize my English.
I estimate for Alexa a recognizing average of 90/95% of what I say !
Simply amazing !!

Then I was able to interface Alexa with my google calendar and now I can handle it via voice. Cool.
Another interface was with IFTTT, so I can now create different triggers. So far I installed a trigger to call my cell phone.

So .. what is for ?

Fun ! :)
And is a relatively cheap way to test the capabilities of Echo.
I'll investigate few things in the next week or months (no time as usual ..) to see if is possible to modify the code to build something more close to the real Echo with maybe some custom capabilities. 

For example connecting a bluetooth microphone, controlling I/O, interfacing something personal like my Logitech Squeezebox, enabling the streaming music, connecting a bluetooth speaker and so on.

Surely the evaluation aspect of this project is worth alone the time spent to put together the gadget and playing with it