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.

sauce

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.

cheese

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?

kitchen

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

 

 

 

 

Gabriel’s S’More Truffles

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

IMG_1783

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.

IMG_20150519_185611

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:

IMG_2553_0083

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.

What To Do When You Don’t Know What To Do ~ Dana

image-42

A good friend of mine texted me last week to me know that her father passed away. He had been sick for a long time and over the course of his illness, she and I had many conversations about this process of losing a parent to cancer. When I told another friend the news, she said to me, “Oh, she’s lucky to have you. You must have known just what to say.” But the truth is, I didn’t. I don’t.

Having lost my father just over a year ago, I definitely know what NOT to say. I’ll give you the top three: 1. “Don’t worry. It gets better with time.” Here’s the thing: no it doesn’t. I’ll never have a daddy again. There is nothing better about that. Ever. It felt so dismissive when people told me this, as if in just 6 months I would just be over it all. 2. “I know exactly how you feel.” I understand the sentiment behind this one, but truthfully, no one knows exactly how you feel. Everyone’s relationship with their father is very different. Some people are close with their father, some aren’t. Some carry around anger and resentment. Some have tremendous guilt or regrets. I know how I feel, but that doesn’t mean that any one else feels the same way. 3. “Just be happy that you have your daughters.” This one bugs me because it ignores the gray areas in life. The happiness that I have in my daughters is unrelated to the sadness that I still feel about losing my dad. Absolute joy and gut-wrenching grief CAN actually exist together, thank goodness.

But what TO say, then? I don’t know what to say to my sweet friend because I know that there was nothing that anyone could have said to comfort me. Every sentence I thought of saying to her seemed so empty and superficial compared to the hurt that I could hear in her voice. So I hugged her, and told her how sorry I was. And I meant it.

Then I did for her what so many did for me and my family when we were in the midst of hospice and funeral planning: I brought food. During those horrible days, I cannot even remember who brought what, but our friends descended on my parents’ house, bringing homemade cookies, BBQ’ed chicken and hamburgers, chicken salad from Costco, croissants… it was a cornucopia of goodness that made our lives so much easier. There was so much to be done, especially when we brought my dad home, that we absolutely did not have time to cook, and there were only so many meals that we could stomach from the local fast food joint. I remember just crying after one of my mom’s friends from church literally brought us boxes of food. Their gifts of food nourished our bodies and our souls. It was just one less thing that we had to worry about.

The recipe I made for her is a simple, but delicious pasta dish that travels well and can just be microwaved or heated on the stove. I threw in a green salad, some Italian bread from a local bakery, and a bottle of wine, packed it all up in a Trader Joe’s bag, and sat with her in her father’s house. I’m including the recipe here. It’s a staple in our home, especially in the fall and winter. Try it for your family, and try it for a friend in need. Win-win.

Pasta e Fagioli

Ingredients:

3 Tbsp olive oil
1 onion, quartered, then halved
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 15 oz can tomato sauce
1 15 oz can diced tomatoes
2 cups water
3 ½ cups chicken stock – 2 14 oz cans or homemade (click here for our recipe)
1 Tbsp dried parsley
1 ½ tsp dried basil
1 ½ tsp dried oregano
1 tsp salt
1 15 oz can cannelloni beans (or white beans)
1 15 oz can garbanzo beans
½ cup fresh grated Parmesan cheese (plus more for garnish)
½ lb ditalini pasta (or elbow macaroni, cellentani, or other curved pasta)

Directions:

1. In a large pot over medium heat, cook onion in olive oil until translucent. Stir in garlic and cook until tender. Reduce heat, and stir in tomato sauce, diced tomatoes, water, broth, parsley, basil, oregano, salt, beans, and Parmesan. Simmer 40 minutes.

2. Add pasta and continue to simmer for 20 minutes.

3. Serve with extra Parmesan for garnish.

Beef Goulash ~ Dana

IMG_20131102_182049

It’s still winter. And even though here in So Cal we’re sweating, we know that lots of our folk are freezing their tails off this weekend.  This goulash is just what the doctor (or weatherman) ordered.  So whether you’re in need of warmth down to your toes, or would just like a bowlful of comfort, it’s sure to hit the spot!

Beef Goulash (from Tyler Florence)

4 slices bacon, chopped

3 pounds boneless beef shank, trimmed and cut into 2-inch cubes

Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper

3 Tbsp flour

2 Tbsp olive oil

2 medium onions, chopped

3 garlic cloves, minced

2 roasted red peppers, peeled and sliced

3 Tbsp Hungarian sweet paprika

2 tsp caraway seeds, toasted and ground

2 Tbsp red wine vinegar

1 (15-ounce) can whole peeled tomatoes, hand crushed

6 cups low-sodium beef broth

4 russet potatoes, peeled and thickly sliced

½ cup sour cream

Place a large heavy pot over medium heat and add the bacon.  Fry for about 5 minutes until crisp and remove to a paper towel and reserve.  Add the beef to the hot bacon fat and brown it evenly on all sides, turning with tongs; season generously with salt and pepper.  While the beef is searing, sprinkle the flour evenly in the pot and continue to stir to dissolve any clumps.  Add a little oil if necessary to keep the meat from sticking to the bottom of the pot.

Toss in the onions, garlic, roasted peppers, paprika, and caraway, cook and stir for 2 minutes until fragrant.  Stir in the vinegar, tomatoes, and broth.  Bring to a boil, then lower to a simmer and cook for one hour, covered, stirring occasionally.

Add the potatoes.  Crumble the reserved bacon into the stew and continue to simmer for 30 minutes, partially covered, until the potatoes are tender.  Season with salt and pepper.  Remove from heat and stir the sour cream into the goulash just before serving.