Comfort Food – Lasagna

Every once in a while, I do something quite genius.  And this summer,  I had a genius moment.  I decided to cook lasagna, the same recipe I’ve used for years from Emeril Lagasse, which calls for ⅓ lb. ground beef, ⅓ lb. ground pork, and ⅓ lb. ground veal.  The store I shopped at only sold ground veal in 1 lb. packages.  So, in my moment of genius, I decided to buy a pound of each and make, here it is, 3 batches of sauce:  one to use then, two to freeze for later.  Right?!

This Friday, when I had occasion to make a lovely, homemade meal for a special someone, I decided that since I already had the sauce made, I’d just throw together the cheese filling and boom baby, a home-cooked meal in half the time.   And guess what… it worked!

This lasagna is time consuming, but truly delicious.  Heavy on the garlic, heavy on the cheese, heavy on the meat, heavy on the comfort.

I’d like to recommend that you throw 3 pots on the stove one afternoon and make 3 recipes of the sauce, then you can feel genius later, too.  When you cook up your sauce (or thaw out the one you made before), the kitchen will smell divine.

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Then you can begin to prepare your cheese mixture.  I recommend using a food processor for all the grating.  It’s a huge time saver.  And note:  this time I used extra sharp provolone and it was ah-maze-ing.

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Next comes the assembly.  Another note:  when you live in a 1920s house with no counter space, your assembly station looks like this.  Tiny but darling, right?

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All assembled and ready for the oven…

assembled

In 45 minutes to an hour, you get this.  And as a bonus, we used our Christmas dishes!

finished lasagna

Emeril’s Lasagna

Ingredients

  • 2 cups fresh ricotta cheese
  • 8 oz. grated Provolone cheese
  • 8 oz. grated Mozzarella cheese
  • 8 oz. grated Romano cheese
  • ¼ cup milk
  • 1 Tbsp. chiffonade of fresh basil
  • 1 Tbsp. chopped garlic
  • Salt
  • Freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 recipe tomato sauce – recipe to follow
  • ½ lb. grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese
  • 1 package dried lasagna noodles
  • 1 egg

Instructions

Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.

In a mixing bowl, combine the ricotta, Provolone, Mozzarella, Romano, egg, milk, basil, and garlic.  Mix well. Season with salt and pepper.  To assemble, spread 2 ½ cups of the meat sauce on the bottom of a deep dish lasagna pan.  Sprinkle ¼ of the grated cheese over the sauce.  Cover the cheese with ¼ of the dried noodles.  Spread ¼ of the cheese filling evenly over the noodles.  Repeat the above process with the remaining ingredients, toping the lasagna with the remaining sauce.  Place in oven and bake until bubbly and golden, about 45 minutes to 1 hour.  Remove from the oven and cool for 10 minutes before serving.  Slice and serve.

Tomato Sauce

Ingredients

  • 2 Tbsp. olive oil
  • ⅓ lb. ground beef
  • ⅓ lb. ground veal
  • ⅓ lb. ground pork
  • Salt
  • Freshly ground black pepper
  • 2 cups finely chopped onions
  • ½ cup finely chopped celery
  • ½ cup finely chopped carrot
  • 2 Tbsp. chopped garlic
  • 2 (28 oz) cans of chopped tomatoes
  • 1 small can tomato paste
  • 4 cups beef stock
  • 2 sprigs fresh thyme
  • 2  bay leaves
  • 2 tsp. dried oregano
  • 2 tsp. dried basil
  • Pinch of crushed red pepper
  • 2 oz. Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese

Instructions

In a large saucepan, over medium heat, add the oil.  In a mixing bowl, combine the meat.  Season with salt and pepper and mix well.  When the oil is hot, add the meat and brown for 4 to 6 minutes.  Add onions, celery, and carrots.

Season with salt and pepper.  Cook for 4 to 5 minutes or until vegetables are soft.  Add the garlic and tomatoes.  Season with salt and pepper.

Continue to cook for 2 to 3 minutes.  Whisk the tomato paste with the stock and add to the tomatoes.  Add the thyme, bay leaves, oregano, basil, and red pepper flakes.  Mix well.  Bring the liquid to a boil, reduce the heat to medium and simmer for about 2 hours.  Stir occasionally and add more liquid if needed.  During the last 30 minutes of cooking, season again with salt and pepper, and stir in the cheese.  Remove from heat and let sit for 15 minutes before serving.

Yield:  about 1 ½ to 2 quarts

 

 

 

 

Holiday Stuff and Such

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It’s the advent of Advent.

And since I am always—ALWAYS—standing at Michael’s on the first Sunday of Advent afternoon, begging for someone, anyone to show me a pink taper candle in November, I thought I would share my newest and greatest discovery:

THERE ARE PACKS OF ADVENT CANDLES FOR SALE ON AMAZON!!!

With Prime shipping even. Which means you could have your Advent candles whole DAYS before Advent begins.

I know, I know. #ThisJustIn

Also, Thanksgiving is three days away which means you have probably not yet done your menu planning and/or shopping.

Have no fear. Dana and I are here for you.

Here are our favorite holiday meal recipes from years past.

Pumpkin PieCranberry Sauce, Cranberry mustard, Holiday Cobbler, Caesar Salad

Plus, I highly recommend this Brussel Sprouts and Quinoa recipe with a lemon vinaigrette. BUT. If you click that link you need to know it’s a Thug Kitchen recipe. So there will be curse words, mostly ones that start with F.

We’re going to try and post a daily Advent reflection starting Sunday November 29 on our Facebook page, so join us over there if you’re interested.

And lastly, just in case this is the year that you are ready to do the Advent thing with the little people in your house, here are our two previous posts with ideas and resources.

A Time of Sacred Leisure and 2nd Annual Advent Ideas.

Have a wonderful and blessed Thanksgiving.

May your turkey roast to perfection, may the marshmallows brown but not burn on your sweet potatoes and may your gravy hold and not break. And if you don’t know what any of that means, may you remember to the hug the people who do.

We’ll leave you with this prayer of grace, given to us by a great man many Thanksgivings ago:

Dear Lord, thank you for this food and especially for those who grew it, those who cooked it and those who brought it to the table. Thank you for the friends and family who gather round to share it. Help us to always remember and honor our blessings, come to us through your goodness and mercy.

In your name we pray,

Amen.

Welcome Autumn 2015!

While I am nervously watching the trees in our town, praying the leaves don’t change and fall before my parents arrive in three weeks, I know my family and friends in So Cal are still knee deep in the 90s.

Autumn—such as it is in So Cal—is coming, I promise. And I’m not being snarky. I’m bitter. We’re paying good money for a pool membership that extends to September 30—never mind that we haven’t been able to swim since the last day of August.

So revel in your September swim parties and beach days. Come March I’ll be pricing flights south and cursing my boots, and you’ll already be in flip-flops.

In the meantime, enjoy this recipe for Kitchen Witch’s Pumpkin Bread (originally posted in 2013)

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Well, it’s official.  Autumn is finally here!  And no, I don’t mean just the arrival of the Pumpkin Spice Latte at Starbucks (although that is quickly becoming one of my favorite things of autumn!).

I’ve always loved autumn, and when I moved to Austria, I fell in love with it even more.  The changing of the seasons is visible everywhere there. The local restaurants begin to change their menus to represent the seasonal fare.  My favorite restaurant in our town had something called Wild Woche or Wild Week in which they slow-roasted venison, wild boar, wild hare, all of which had been caught in our forest, and served them up in wonderful, hearty sauces, with earthy root vegetables, all meant to fatten the townspeople up, steeling us against the harsh winter that was sure to come.

But more than the beautiful colors, the comfort food, the inviting scents, there’s just something different in the air once autumn comes.  I’ve always felt it, that magic electricity.  It’s like in Mary Poppins when Burt sings “Winds in the East, mist comin’ in, like somethin’ is brewin’, about to begin!”

This past Sunday was the Autumnal Equinox, a time of equal light and equal darkness.  The balance has tipped and we descend into darkness.  This happens not only literally as the nights are now longer than the days, but for many people, it happens in a spiritual sense as well.

The bright warm days of summer, which beckon us outdoors to the beach, the mountains, or even just the backyard, are over.  As the temperatures cool, we turn our focus inside, many of us decorating for fall and burning pumpkin-scented candles.  Our tendency, when things get dark, it to turn on more light, to fill our already busy schedules with even more things.

But I invite you this autumn to take some time in the darkness, to sit quietly with your soul and take stock of what you have done this year.  How have you grown?  What seeds did you sow in the spring and tend in the summer that are now coming to harvest?  How can you prepare yourself for the craziness that the holiday season can bring on?

Pull out your favorite snuggly sweater or blanket.  Get some pumpkins to put on your front porch.  Put some gourds on your mantle.  Make some of your favorite comfort foods.  And if you want a new favorite fall recipe, I’m sharing my very best one with you, A Kitchen Witch’s Pumpkin Spice Bread.  And have a glorious autumn, everyone!

A Kitchen Witch’s Pumpkin Spice Bread

Ingredients:

2 cups pureed pumpkin (fresh roasted or canned)

3 cups sugar

1 cup water

1 cup vegetable oil

4 eggs

3 1/3 cups flour

2 teaspoons baking soda

2 teaspoons cinnamon

1 teaspoon salt

1 teaspoon baking powder

½ teaspoon nutmeg

¾ teaspoon ground cloves

Instructions:

Heat oven to 350 degrees F.  In a large mixing bowl, combine pumpkin, sugar, water, vegetable oil, and eggs.  Beat until well mixed.  Measure flour, baking soda, cinnamon, salt, baking powder, nutmeg, and ground cloves into a separate bowl, and stir until combined.  Slowly add the dry ingredients to the pumpkin mixture, beating until smooth.

Grease two 9×5 inch loaf pans and dust with flour.  Evenly divide the batter between the two pans.  Bake for 60-70 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean.  Cool 10-15 minutes then remove from pans by inverting them onto a rack and tapping the bottoms.  Slice and serve plain, buttered, or with cream cheese.

Gummy Bear Stew

George is a legitimate Oregon outdoorsman.

He fishes. He crabs. He hikes. He hunts.

And he is the inventor of Gummy Bear Stew, which like all good ideas, was born from a mix of necessity and ingenuity.

Last summer, George took his son Jack and his nephew Hayden on a weekend camping trip. They unpacked the tent, the clothes, the sleeping bags and the camp stove. Then they unpacked the beer and the gummy bears and rested.

They are male, after all.

When George went back to unpack the food for dinner, he realized that somehow his keys had gotten locked in his truck.

He could have called his wife Angie, but it was getting dark.

So first, he built a fire. Then he drank some more beer. Then he cut the tops off the cans and turned them upside down.

He melted the gummy bears in the bottoms of the cans, stuck a spoon it in and called it dinner.

If you’re thinking Ewwwwww, I’m with you.

But the children must be fed.

We camped with George and Angie this weekend, and you better know Gummy Bear Stew was on the menu. Any kind of candy is fair game. Our stew had Gummy Bears, Sour Patch Kids, Rolos and marshmallows.

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This is not haute cuisine. And it tastes about how you imagine—like a melted Halloween candy bowl. If you don’t eat it fast enough, it hardens into a Gummy Bear Stew lollipop. One taste and my teeth almost fell out.

But camping moms know that the food rules are a wee bit different in the woods. And not 20 minutes earlier I was the mom who yelled “Don’t give me that natural bug spray crap! The baby needs DEET!!! NOW!!!”

The kids ate that stuff up. And then bounced off into the woods with flashlights to search for windigos and stump trolls, too amped up on liquid sugar to be scared.

Fishsticks and Champagne

The story goes like this:

In August of 1969, my aunt and uncle were celebrating their 5th wedding anniversary on August 15 and my mom and dad were celebrating their 1st anniversary on August 17. They all lived in San Francisco, my parents having recently graduated from the University of San Francisco and my uncle finishing up law school in the city.

My mom and dad on their honeymoon, August 1968

My mom and dad on their honeymoon, August 1968

So Lesley doesn't know when this picture was taken, but I am guessing late 70s.

My aunt and uncle, late 70s.

My parents lived in a small walk-up near the university. This means is that they had a second story apartment in an already hilly city. Think stairs, indoors and outdoors. Everywhere.

This will be important later in the story.

They had no money. My mom and dad were 23, my aunt and uncle not much older. But they decided to celebrate the anniversaries together. So my mom cooked up a bunch of frozen fishsticks and someone—probably my uncle—found deeply discounted (because their labels had fallen off) bottles of champagne.

I know exactly what this party looked like, even though I was only a prayer two years in the future. I have seen the four of them like this many, many times in my life—joyful, loud, carefree. Full of laughter.

But not always making top-notch decisions. Because, fishsticks. And champagne. A combo that has trouble written all over it, like prosciutto and margaritas, or brie and beer.

Sure enough, by the end of the night, they were sideways. My dad was getting reacquainted with his fishsticks. My aunt couldn’t manage the stairs down the hill to the street in an upright position. She slid down them on her bum, howling with laughter all the way. Of course.

Then some poor fool had the audacity to cut my uncle off at a stop sign.  The way he tells it, he just barely got hold of the back of her pants to stop her tumbling out the window after she rolled it down to give the guy a piece of her mind.

This night is legend in our family, part of the fabric that holds us all together. Not just how silly and funny it was, but how my uncle’s eyes still twinkle when he tells the part about my aunt. Or the lesson we absorbed about the importance of celebrating wedding anniversaries, even with fishsticks. How my mom tilts her chin defiantly and says “That’s all we had, so that’s what we did!”

This August, they will celebrate their 51st and 47th anniversaries.

Last week, we were in Canada with my cousin and her family for their 11th anniversary. It was the last day of a visit that had ten of us staying in one house—six kids under the age of 10. A big night out was not in the cards.

But there was champagne in the fridge.

We contemplated fishsticks. We really did. For a good half second. And then we got our feet under us and ordered sushi. Luckily, we are twenty years older than our parents were on that fishstick night and more financially secure. We crammed everyone around the dining room table, poured the champagne into half-pints because we couldn’t find any Solo cups, and went at it.

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Alas, we only had one bottle of champagne, so the night was tame. No sliding down the stairs required.

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Yes, a tiara is normal Friday night attire for Lesley. It’s one of the reasons I love her so much!

Gabriel’s S’More Truffles

This is my sweet boy, Gabriel. He just turned 9.

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I call him Pie, short for Pumpkin Pie Guy which is what I called him when he was a wee bit. But the nickname proved prophetic.

This child of mine likes to cook.

He has his own sharp knife, given to him by Sue. He learned to make her sauce before I did.

He can light our grill and cook some steak. He likes to season the meat, but after a foray into “secret ingredients”–cinnamon in the hamburgers–he has to clear his recipes with me.

But this one, something he cooked up on the stove over Easter break, is a winner.

He calls them S’more Truffles.

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Ingredients:

12 oz chocolate chips

½ cup half and half

Mini marshmallows

Graham crackers

Directions:

In a double boiler over medium heat, melt the chocolate chips and half and half.

Spread parchment paper on a cookie sheet. Using a spoon, drop the melted chocolate into circles about two inches wide. Top with marshmallows and crushed graham crackers. Freeze for at least three hours.

Gabriel wants me to say that if you have one of those fancy blowtorches, you could brown the marshmallows before serving. But he’s not allowed to use one yet, so he’s only guessing that would be good.

I love these because they are a light and delicious mouthful. Not too heavy, not too much. Just perfect for summer twilight dessert time!

Easy Homemade Pasta Sauce from an Expert

This is Sue:

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Sue has been in my life since high school. Her son Ryan and my brother Joe were best friends and teammates. She and my mom and dad got close sitting together at football games. Then, since most of Sue’s family lives in Nor Cal, she started coming to holiday meals. Then Family night. Then twenty years ago on Christmas we officially adopted her into the family. Now she is Annie’s godmother.

Sue is Italian on her mom’s side and let me tell you, this woman can cook. And she cooks the old school stuff, off of handwritten recipes from her mom and grandmother. These recipes come two ways: no measurements or measurements enough to feed 40. The cookie recipes she makes at Christmas have things like “2 lbs of butter” and “4 lbs of flour”.

Then there’s this sauce recipe. When I asked her how she made her veggie sauce, this is what she sent me:

zucchini and/or yellow

squash

fresh carrots

yellow onions, shallots and/ or green onions

all fresh tomatoes and/ or canned

artichoke hearts

eggplant

couple of celery ribs

garlic

Itailian black olives

olive oil

oregano, bay leaf, parsley (fresh is best)

salt and pepper or pepper flakes if you like it spicy,

sometimes I put jalapenos in too

toss it all together, roast at 375 until everything is soft and yummy, remove bay leaves/leaf

Transfer to a large sauce pan in which you have already sautéed a few more onions and some anchovies (you will never taste them in the finished sauce) in olive oil, stir in canned tomato sauce (I use San Marzano ) let it combine, then get the boat motor out and puree until you have the consistency you like.

If you let the whole “an Italian lady who is renowned for her cooking and baking sent me this recipe” go to your head, you’d never try it, right? Because Good Lord, how can we ever compete with someone who knows cooking so well that there are no measurements?

But let me give you another way to see it. This is the most powerful lesson I have learned cooking at Sue’s side: Alton Brown be darned, you don’t have to be constrained by measurements. It’s ok to experiment. It’s ok to make it taste the way you like. And recipes like this are very forgiving.

I don’t use everything on her list. I use what I have. I wait until the bag of little red, yellow and orange peppers are on sale, then I make sure I have some roma tomatoes and onions. This time I didn’t have carrots or celery, but I had asparagus and artichoke hearts, onions and garlic and nice juicy tomatoes.

So to review: make sure you have at least peppers, tomatoes, onion and garlic. Any other veggie is also welcome. Chop them up, sprinkle some olive oil, salt and pepper and roast it all at 350 degrees for 30-45 minutes, depending on how much you have.

In a large sauce pot, combine a bit of olive oil, some more onions, garlic and—if you must—anchovies, then add the tomato sauce. Add the seasoning, then the roasted veggies and let it cook for a while to incorporate. Then you can blend it—a food processor works just fine, but Sue got me a $20 Hamilton Beach hand mixer that goes right into the pot. Then I always let it simmer a bit longer. Salt and pepper to taste.

That’s it.  Fresh food and a nice heavy pot.